Monthly Archives: April 2009

San Francisco and Kraków are now twinned!

Or as SFGate chose to put it, “Sauerkraut for everybody!”

Yes, the two cities, which couldn’t be more distant geographically and culturally, are now twinned.

And if you’re in Kraków around the 3rd July, you can witness the official signing ceremony there.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom released a statement, in which he said:

“I am pleased that the beautiful, innovative and destination cities of Krakow and San Francisco are now sister cities. The sister city relationship is a wonderful expression of the strong relations between our two magnificent cities.”

Aaawwww, well put. According to SFGate,

The partnership is intended to foster cultural, business and civic ties between the cities.

So how do they compare?

San Francisco © Stuck in Customs via Flickr

San Francisco: is the fourth most populous city in California and the 13th most populous city in the United States, with a 2008 estimated population of 808,976. San Francisco is characterized by a high standard of living.

The great wealth and opportunity generated by the Internet revolution continues to draw many highly educated and high-income workers and residents to San Francisco. Following the arrival of writers and artists of the 1950s—who established the modern coffeehouse culture—and the social upheavals of the 1960s, San Francisco became an epicenter of liberal activism, with Democrats and Greens dominating city politics.

Indeed, San Franciscans have not provided a Republican presidential candidate more than 20 percent of the vote since the 1988 election. (source: Wikipedia)

Kraków © smif via Flickr

Kraków: is one of the largest and oldest cities in Poland, with a population of 756,336 in 2007. Situated on the Vistula river (Polish: Wisła) in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. It was the capital of Poland from 1038 to 1596.

With the emergence of the Second Polish Republic, Kraków restored its role as a major academic and cultural centre. After the war, under the Stalinist regime, the intellectual and academic community of Kraków was put under total political control. The communist government of the People’s Republic of Poland ordered construction of the country’s largest steel mill in the newly-created suburb of Nowa Huta.

Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish scientific, cultural and artistic life. As the former national capital with a history encompassing more than a thousand years, the city remains the spiritual heart of Poland. It is a major attraction for local and international tourists, attracting seven million visitors annually. (source: Wikipedia)

Very different, but in a strange way also very similar. I only hope that this twinning will raise Kraków’s profile internationally even more as it deserves more attention. And so does the rest of Poland, in fact.

I hope my favourite Kraków blog, writes something about it soon.

And I wonder whether San Francisco’s Polish restaurant Old Kraków will celebrate the news somehow….

SF image © Stuck in Customs, Kraków image © smif, used under Creative Commons licence via Flickr

Workmen find hidden Auschwitz letter

This is an absolutely fascinating – and sad – story I found on AP. Some construction workers  in Oświęcim, the city the Nazis renamed Auschwitz, found a handwritten note hidden in a bottle in a concrete wall. According to the newswire,

The note, written in pencil then rolled up and inserted in a bottle, contains the names of seven young people who probably thought they were doomed to die in the notorious Auschwitz death camp.

Dated Sept. 9, 1944, the note bears the names, camp numbers and hometowns of the seven prisoners — six from Poland and one from France.

“All of them are between the ages of 18 and 20,” the final sentence reads.

“They were young people who were trying to leave some trace of their existence behind them,” said Auschwitz museum spokesman Jaroslaw Mensfelt. He said two of the prisoners survived the camp but he did not have further details.

The school’s three buildings, which are a few hundred meters (yards) from the camp, were used as warehouses during the war by the SS, the paramilitary organization faithful to Adolf Hitler’s racial ideology. The prisoners were compelled to reinforce the cellar with concrete so it could serve as an air-raid shelter.

Museum experts have verified the authenticity of the note, which will be handed over to the museum in early May.

I haven’t really written about Auschwitz on this blog yet, but is there anyone who hasn’t heard about the atrocities?

A trip to Auschwitz wouldn’t certainly be classified as a pleasant experience, far from it. It’s a very sobering one. And one you need to go through at some stage in your life.

Travel tip – Wieliczka

Summer is almost here, many people are planning trips to Poland, time for some travel tips. Every now and then I’ll be publishing short travel tips focussing on some great places to visit in Poland.

I’ll try to keep them brief. To kick the series off, here’s the first one – why not try something really cool this summer, like visiting Wieliczka.


1. What is it?

It’s a stunning old salt mine, the only one in the world which has been in use since the Middle Ages.

2. Where is it?

Just outside Kraków, a short drive from the city in the town of Wieliczka.

3. Why bother?

It’s a breathtaking journey through endless underground corridors and chambers, which have been carved in rock and salt by generations of salt miners. The most stunning bits are the massive salt chandeliers, altars and sculptures.

4. And you don’t want to miss…

… the music concerts 135 meters below the surface, the spa and the New Year’s Ball.

5. Want to know more?

Visit their official site (in English)

More tips soon. You too can add yours here! Just email me your tips – ideally in the format above :

email me

Image © Pete Reed via Flickr used under Creative Commons licence

Fact or myth? Poles are leaving the UK

I’ve been asked several times recently whether it’s true that Poles in the UK are going back home for good. The simplest answer is: I don’t know.

To start with, it’s never been clear how many Poles have actually settled in the UK since Poland joined the EU. I remember reporting on the influx of Polish workers in 2004/2005 and there was no reliable source of any accurate statistical data to back up any claims. So all estimates back then – whether greatly exaggerated or diplomatically lowered – were just that – estimates.

Anecdotal evidence would suggest that yes, some Poles, particularly those who were employed in the construction industry or agriculture have gone back.

But the same anecdotal evidence would suggest that many have stayed put.

What’s your view on that? Have your Polish friends gone back home? Are there fewer Polish baristas in London? Post a comment below and let me – and my readers know and maybe together we’ll find an answer…

Polish music: Justyna Steczkowska

I haven’t posted any music for a while, but earlier today came across an artist I used to like some time ago, Justyna Steczkowska.

I haven’t heard her latest music, but if the newest video is an indication of her current musical preferences, I don’t think I’m interested.

Her older stuff is much more interesting. Justyna took Poland by storm in mid-1990s after winning a talent contest on Polish TV (yes, Poland did have its own Pop Idol back then and it was very successful too!). She released her first single ‘Dziewczyna szamana’ in 1996 and I’ve just found a jazzy version of the song, which I quite like:

If you’d like to hear the original version and are using Spotify, here’s the link. I’ve also added the song to thepolskiblog’s Spotify playlist.

But here’s another, quite different video by Justyna, called ‘Grawitacja':

I just hope the recent more commercial, bland stuff is just a temporary ‘problem’….

More Polish Music

thepolskiblog’s Spotify playlist

Easter in Poland – polish your Polish, part 13


I don’t know how it happened, but Easter is already here. It’s time then for another mix of Polish Easter phrases and traditions.

Easter in Polish is


which is obviously the most important holiday in the Christian calendar, and in a deeply Catholic country like Poland, it comes with a whole set of traditions and customs. And phrases.

Although surprisingly, there’s no separate phrase for Happy Easter in Polish, which is the same as, er, Happy Christmas:

Wesołych świąt!

which you may remember from my December post.

I’m writing this post on Good Friday

Wielki Piątek

which, unlike in Britain, is not a bank holiday in Poland. The main two Easter days are:

Niedziela Wielkanocna

Easter Sunday  and

Poniedziałek Wielkanocny

Easter Monday, which in fact is more commonly known as either

Lany Poniedziałek


śmigus dyngus

Lany Poniedziałek literally means ‘watered (wet) Monday’. Strange phrase, I know, but let me explain. On this day women were traditionally, shall we say, sprinkled with water (the extend of that ‘sprinkling’ varies from really subtle to really heavy-handed). It’s an old pagan tradition, which is closely connected with spring and the promise of a new life. But there are numerous other interpretations of this custom, all based around the meaning of water for life.

Śmigus-dyngus (as it’s also known) is still practised all over the country, with some local variations, but unfortunately in some bigger towns it’s a perfect excuse for groups of unruly teenagers to throw buckets of cold water at anyone really.

Another very typical (although not exclusively Polish) tradition is


painted Easter eggs. Pisanka (singular) is a must-have on the Polish Easter table. They are made before Easter and eaten on Easter Sunday. Depending on the technique used to paint them (wax, dye, etc.) they may have different names, but pisanki/pisanka is the most commonly used term.

I wonder whether Lany Poniedziałek is nowadays practised in The UK too. Anyone?

Happy Easter!

→ More ‘polish your Polish’ tips

Image of pisanki © Jarosław Pocztarski via Flickr, used under CC licence