“Close your eyes so you don’t feel them. They don’t need to see you cry.
I can’t promise I will heal you, but if you want to, I will try” – Robbie Williams.
16 months into my new life in Poland and I flabbergast myself each day. Poland is a beautiful country and I have noticed the changes since my first visit to Warszawa in 2005. By some twists of fate, I ended up in the best country I could possibly have chosen at this point in life. I really didn’t expect to find my feet and my fate here, or to fall in love and finally reach a settled place in life. So I feel the need to give the love back and spread word to the world about why you should visit Poland and for those nomads, why you should live here. You can read about my own personal journey to Poland here, in the meantime I dreamt up a quickfire top 9 over my latest batch of pierogi scoffing in Warszawa city.
A winter chill calmed my mind as I settled in this sombre tranquility of land, it was about time I was back living in Europe after the madness of a 156 country/region journey which saw me visit all 7 continents, start a travel blog, get a degree and fall in and out of love and engagement. I spent the years backpacking the world, living in 7 million bunged Hong Kong, doing a working holiday in the “G’day mate” of Sydney’s Parramatta CBD, working on farms in Tasmania and those unconfirmed stays in Montevideo and Bishkek. Kyrgyzstan was magnetic and I spent 5 months pondering on whether or not to move there in 2016. But the novelty and idea of relocating to Asia again had left me once I had reached the charming city of Gdynia in July 2016. Life had taken another crazy twist and I found a home in a Polish winter. It was 2016 and I had finally a cosy flat in Brzeźno just a few minutes walk from the beach in Gdańsk.
“To ease your troubled mind” – Tim Wheeler.
However my journey wasn’t all plain sailing, I cannot handle people who lie so there have been seriously sad moments on my journey. In the last 16 months, I had some friends let me down in a big way, which made my mind up – I simply couldn’t move countries anymore – staying alive was enough. Some days I woke up wanting to die, not wanting to be here anymore. Other days I woke up and thought what a beautiful country I live in, walking to the beach with calmness from my flat in Brzeźno, Gdańsk.
The bold fact remains, I have little doubt that I would have committed suicide had I not decided to stay in Poland or had I not found God at a time when it was what I needed. I started going to to church much more often. That’s how much the country means to me now and part of the reason for my outreach and my guest articles on multiple sites now promoting Poland, of which I am genuinely proud:
Careers in Poland – Northern Irishman in love with Poland (July 2017)
Ex Pat Focus – Jonny Blair in Warszawa (June 2017)
Culture Trip – Best Bars in Gdynia (September 2017)
Biskupiec – Polnocny Irlandczyk w Biskupcu (January 2017)
Tczew Newspaper – Irish Blogger on Cycling Tour (October 2016)
Kociewska Newspaper – Tourist Travelled the World and Was Captivated by Starogard Gdanski (August 2016)
Plus I had two new TV opportunities arise in my first 12 months in Poland, I was in a secret studio last week filming one of the pieces. Again, God had shone on me, or was it merely Poland giving back what I gave the country back in 2004 – 2007, my early days here?
At any rate, I wanted it and Polish people warmed to me more when I started the spontaneous and unexpected project “Northern Irishman in Poland” so I could forget the bad times endured during the ill-fated “Don’t Stop Living” travel lifestyle blog (that site is still live and I still sometimes post on it, but it’s doomed). But don’t fear – here are my current 9 Stonewall reasons why I love living in Poland and I’m feeling a bit better today.
1.SAFETY: Poland is the SAFEST country in Europe
Despite once backpacking war zones like Northern Ireland, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Iraq and Nagorno Karabakh, once I got into my mid 30s, I looked for a more peaceful lifestyle. When I arrived back in Poland in 2015, aged 35 I realised how peaceful and safe it was. There was a calmness in the air. Welcome to the SAFEST country in Europe. Jurassic Park. (it’s a film about dinosaurs).
The police, army and right-wing government help Poland remain peaceful. At night, there are very few dangers and as the above map shows, this country has had the least number of terrorist attacks in Europe since September 11th 2001. The number is ZERO. NOUGHT. NONE. ZILCH. And people still ask me why I don’t live in Northern Ireland! Poland is the safest place in Europe in my opinion and it’s also a very relaxed atmosphere without fear. Where else would you want to live?
“Masked gunmen shouted trick or treat, then opened fire” – UTV news report the sad truth of life in a 1993 Northern Ireland, where I grew up.
2.FRIENDS: My Polish friends are my favourite, beautiful strangers
It’s as simple as this – my Polish friends are some of the best I’ve had in life and only my Northern Irish and English friends can compete with them in the friendship stakes – sorry Hong Kong, Taiwan, Wales, Scotland, ROI, New Zealand and Australia. But Poland win here. Northern Irish and English people speak English as their native tongue so it’s easy for me to make friends with them. But Polish people speak Polish as their native tongue and despite studying Polish in Warszawa and Gdansk, I’m still only A2 level. What this means is my Polish friends are actually closer and my most beautiful and favourite strangers from the journey since I left Northern Ireland on 26th September 2003. In a weird way, I feel closer to my Polish friends than those I grew up with on the streets of Kilmaine playing football. I’m serious.
“Na na na na na na na na na na na na…beautiful stranger” – Madonna.
You may not see more genuine smiles than my smiles with my Polish friends. I perhaps haven’t told the entire story of my Polish friends and how I grew to love their country but the adventure all started in an ice cream hut in sunny sunny Bournemouth in June 2004.
Until that day, I had no Polish friends nor had I ever met a Polish person. I started working with Piotr, he felt uneasy talking to me at first but we soon became good friends and later were out on the rip together on my return to Warszawa in 2007. Then Rafał and Artur (whose wedding I attended in 2017) followed – they worked with me in 2005 and over the next 2 summers I had over 10 new Polish friends. I first visited Warszawa in 2005 and on my 156 country strong journey, I met and made many other Polish friends including Ania, Cez, Agnieszka, Piotr, Kamil, Aleksandra, Marta, Magdalena, Julia and Mateusz.
“Yesterday YOU were a dog for a girl. Warszawa skies didn’t rain on me.” – Kowalczyk / Blair 2007.
In 16 months I have met many new people and a lot of “beautiful strangers” gave me that smile again. Yes, Polish friends when they become close friends are treasured for life. I didn’t mention everyone’s name on here as some of them are private and don’t want it – some also requested their photos covered up, but you know who you are, I’m delighted to have met you all on my journey and to help promote Poland. Dziękuję bardzo!
3.CATHOLICISM: The Church culture here is amazing – God saved my life
I love the Church culture in Poland, it is stronger here than in Italy, Argentina, Northern Ireland, Armenia, every Christian land I’ve been – in Poland the churches are welcoming and open for anyone who wants to pray and find peace. I love it. I know I found God properly in the last 16 months. I’m so spiritual recently, if you followed my pilgrimages to Pelplin and Częstochowa you will have seen my delight was real on those trips.
“Great God who knowest all our need, bless thou our watch and guard our sleep” – Vesper Hymn.
Not only are there churches everywhere (and I find new ones all the time) but they are open all day, welcoming to everyone and so peaceful and holy. The world and your worries stop once you enter. I believe that God and the church has kept me alive the last year, God will know it. I have visited over 100 churches in the country in the last 12 years, praying in each and every one that I go into. I attended the Christmas Mass in Starogard Gdański in 2016, embarked on the holy Pope John Paul II pilgrimage walk to the hill in Pelplin and loved the Sunday Mass in the pure Catholic city of Częstochowa – home of the Black Madonna. I have also been to two Polish weddings since moving here and continue to pray daily. I do have a local church now but some things are kept private from the blog, my friends know my faith.
4.PIEROGI: I became addicted to Polish Cuisine
As a nomadic Northern Irishman, it might be hard to comprehend that I fell into the Polish way of eating so easily. Even when I lived in Hong Kong, I never truly enjoyed or took to Chinese food. But here in Poland, Bar Mlecznys stole my soul. These are little “Milk Bars” all over Poland selling cheap pierogi from 6 zlotych and up. And juice for a zloty!
“I’ll sell my soul, what is it worth?” – Tim Wheeler.
Of course my favourite Polish food is pierogi (dough in semi circular shapes with a range of fillings), but I also love bigos (Cabbage and meat), sledz (Herring with bread and often consumed with Vodka), zapiekanki (bread with cheese and mushroom sauce lining with a range of toppings), tatar (raw beef with egg and chopped vegetables) and most Polish soups. Drinks wise, I consume a lot of Kefir here – the best Kefir is in Poland and I believe I have authority on this, yoghurts too – hard to beat Polish yoghurts. I have drank Kefir in over 15 countries – POLAND wins and I love it.
Aside from this, I love the Tatar in Poland and Kebab King and the range of quirky up and coming restaurants such as Pyra Bar in Gdynia, Poznań and Gdańsk.
5.PILKA NOżNA: The country loves football more than me
I wrote recently about the fact that in my life, I have now attended 501 live real football matches, but Polish passion for football is bigger than I thought on my first trip here in 2005 (which ironically was mostly to watch football!). This is also evident and readable in my Śmieszne Historie o Piłce Nożnej w Polsce series. It’s Piłka nożna, Football. Down the years I have been to 5 Northern Ireland v. Poland matches (2 Northern Ireland wins, 3 Poland wins / 3 in Belfast, 1 in Warszawa, 1 in Nice)
I have now been to over 20 football matches in Poland, mostly for Legia Warszawa, who I have also seen in Europe against teams from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Finland. On my journeys around Poland I have also been inside over 30 stadiums.
6.BARS: Poland Has The Best Up and Coming Bars and Cafes in Europe
Of all the times I toured ridiculous countries and wrote “Thirsty Thursday” articles on best bars and cafes, under the sheets of her blanket, Polska shyly hid her gems. I uncovered them. You can read about the best bars in Gdansk, Gdynia, Sopot, Starogard Gdanski, Bydgoszcz and Tczew on my blog. I also reviewed the excellent Browar Kociewski and attended two beer festivals. Bars first:
And the cafes are also superb, I could have made this a top 10 and given cafes their own section I guess, but 9 sounds like a better number, and unforced. Polish cafes are quirky, creative and inventive. They are great for travel writers to get work done in a safe and friendly environment. I want to write more about the cafes of Poland in future. The Cat Cafe in Gdynia has been a highlight.
7.MIASTA: Poland Has Prettier Cities, Towns and Villages Than Any Other European Country
I cannot think of another European country that has as many beautiful cities, towns and villages as Poland. Not even Northern Ireland or Moldova. Here are just twenty photos, all taken by me and one each from a different town, village or city. Aren’t you amazed? I also picked my top 8 prettiest squares in Poland.
8.DIVERSITY: Poland Has the Most Ridiculous Diversity in Landscape, Beaches, Mountains, Lakes, Islands, Canal Cities, Crazy Activities
Poland is relatively subdued and anonymous even in the travel writing sphere once you escape the big 5 cities (you can guess them). Beyond this – the depth of travel adventure is outrageously diverse here in Poland. There are gorgeous beaches, wacaday republics, regions with their own languages, high mountains, huge lakes, 7 bordering countries, old cities, new cities, national parks, An endless range. Plus I didn’t even mention the crazy things you can do here like sky dives in cities, get your haircut in a cocktail bar, nudist beach visits, and speed dating.
Plus there are crazy festivals, odd events, art galleries and always something going on, even in the smaller towns and villages. It’s a well organised country.
And I have still to explore the mountain and lake region, so lots more to come!
9.CHEAPNESS: Polish has the Złotych and it’s cheap to live here!
As a Northern Irish nationalist and a big believer of separatism and countries with clear borders and identities, Poland excels in these fields. The złoty, or the złote or the złotych is the national currency and for a foreigner living here, I find it cheap. A lot of my travel writing projects are paid in US Dollars of course so the US Dollar and UK pond go a long way in Poland, where beers are still as cheap as 4 złotych (83 pence) in some bars. Weekly shopping at my local in Biedronka (Ladybird – my favourite) is also very cheap for me, I rarely spend more than £20 a week on shopping. Public transport is also so cheap.
Getting around is also cheap using Polish trains and the budget bus company – Polskibus. That concludes my top 9 for now! I hope you take some inspiration and get to visit Poland in your lifetime. If you only ever visit one country in life – go to Northern Ireland. But if you only ever visit two countries – go to Northern Ireland and Poland.
Despite fighting depression, life goes on here and I believe my journey here was meant to be – it was fate and God led me here – it was just a shame that friends lied and interfered in the middle part of that journey, as much as my new readers don’t want to hear that – I need to be pure and honest here, they affected me, those who treated me wrongly (God knows they will also find their peace, I hope). Thankfully those friends weren’t the reason why I came back here in July 2016, nor the reason why I stayed longer – my love for Polish people dated back to 1991 (as most of you will have read), but was cemented in 2004/2005. But perhaps the lies were a blessing in disguise – I ended up in the best country I could possibly have chosen at this point in life. I really didn’t expect to find my feet and my fate here, or to fall in love and finally reach a settled place in life.
I wish you all a wonderful day.
Travel Writer at http://www.northernirishmaninpoland.com/
And http://dontstopliving.net/ – Don’t Stop Living – A Lifestyle of Travel