Come to Gdańsk they said… Part 2

Come to Gdańsk they said, it’ll be fun they said.
Part 2, in which I go to Gdańsk and then to Łódź.
Adventures in Poland, Polish beer and Polish progressive rock.

I intended to write this, and its predecessor, Come to Gdańsk they said… Part 1, a lot closer to the time when these events happened, while the events were still fresh in my memory, but somewhere along the line I lost my muse. I kept thinking that I should knuckle down and write but I kept falling foul of mañana, mañana.
Mañana, is the thief of time, year after year it steals… if I may paraphrase Edward Young, and that old procrastinator mañana does indeed steal time.

This series of journeys and concerts I’m writing about, for the benefit of those who have no intent of reading part 1, took place in October 2019 but I didn’t get around to finishing writing part 1 until the end of June 2020, I had time on my hands for some reason…

In the autumn of 2019, I was settling into a kind of semi-retirement and was enjoying the simple activity of getting out and walking in the countryside, usually to a pub, and catching a bus back home. Before you know it it’s Christmas and then it was 2020 and we all had other things to occupy us. Once the UK had been locked down in mid-March, I thought again that maybe I should just get writing, it wasn’t as if there was anywhere to go, after all, but that elusive old muse of mine remained steadfast in its absence. I did manage to write a few things but suddenly the frivolity of travelling around Poland and going to concerts seemed ten million miles away and years ago.

I procrastinated then, it was summer and I took great pleasure in sitting in the garden and reading or knocking bits of wood together to make a baseboard to give my Tri-ang trains a bit of a run.

Then, against all the odds, the firm which I had left the year before because they were moving out of the area and I didn’t fancy the commute, contacted me and asked if I’d like to “go back”, that is to work for them from home and I said a cautious “yes” and then I was spending hours sitting in front of a computer once again and the idea of spending more time in front of a computer during my own time didn’t really appeal to me. Sadly, after a few months of work the firm was declared insolvent by its new owners (who had initially enthused about the brightness of the future), was placed into administration and the staff were made redundant. Well, that freed up some time then but still I sat bereft of muse.

Talking of muse, I knocked-off this little ditty a few years ago for, um, Bad Poetry Day as I recall, which is every August 18th.

Muse, by Tony.

I think I’ve finally found my muse
I don’t know where it’s been
I think it must have fallen down behind some large machine
And all the words that wouldn’t scan
Now seem to flow in time
Coalescing into rivers flowing in and out of rhyme

I think I’ve finally found my muse
I picked it from the floor
A little dusty and unkempt but opened like a door
I plucked it from a lonely place
To seed the mind with verse
It seemed to start out fairly good but gradually got worse

No punctuation you’ll note.

Anyway, enough with the preamble, where were we? Oh yes, Poznań.

Tuesday 22nd October, 2019 (evening)

Piwna Stopa, a quirky little pub tucked away on a side street off of the old market square on ul. Szewska, not far from the Małe Garbary tram stop which would be handy for getting “home”.
As I wrote in part 1; I stood there at the bar with Marzena, surveying the beer board and a guy who had been sitting at the end of the bar had deduced that I was English and he asked me, in English, what sort of beer I was looking for and then went on to point out the available beers that he thought were most like English beers.

After going through the whole; I didn’t come here to drink beers “like” English beers routine in my head, I opted for a light (coloured) beer, the Polish don’t really do “light” or “lite” beer as it were, Marzena opted for a “fruity” beer and we took our beers to a table and sat down. The pub had a familiar look about it; I didn’t think I’d been there before, I hadn’t, but it looked kind of… English. Above the bar there hung a glass lamp with the slogan “NO CRAP ON TAP” and there certainly wasn’t.

The guy I’d spoken to at the bar had disappeared behind the bar and had then reappeared to serve a few people; then he came over to our table with a small jug and three glasses, he introduced himself properly and we reciprocated. This guy it turned out was “Stefan”, the owner of the bar; I’ve put his name in quotation marks because Stefan is just an alias, his name is Szymon Ruciński and as it turned out, he had served his time as a barman in various London pubs.

Stefan sat with us at the table and poured a colourless liquid from his jug into the three glasses whilst telling us that this was a home-made vodka and suggesting that we should try it. We did try it and it was rather splendid. My attention wondered back to the beer board, I was looking for a dark beer, Stefan said he had just the thing and went off behind the bar for a few moments and reappeared with a bottle of something called “Dark Forest” an Imperial Forest Baltic Porter, “Forest” because it is brewed with pine needles and other bits of fir and spruce chucked in. I honestly can’t say that it tasted of any of those trees, but it did taste good, very good.

Stefan who had gone back to bar tending duties, reappeared some time later with another container of home-made spirit and fresh glasses and once again sat with us and insisted that we try this latest treat and yes, again it was a treat.

The bar, which was by no means empty when we got there had by now filled quite nicely and after Stefan had again returned to his duties, Marzena and I just sat there enjoying the beer and the general ambience until it was decided that maybe another 9% Imperial Porter probably wasn’t going to be the best move of the evening and we left for the tram stop.

Wednesday 23rd October, 2019

Wednesday dawned clear and bright; after breakfast Marzena took herself off to work and I went out for a stroll. I walked up towards what may be considered the main road in this part of town, ul. Głogowska, where I would have customarily turned right, but before I got there I turned left, on a whim, and just walked in the bright morning sunshine. I came to Rynek Łazarski, a small market square and then up onto Głogowska and just kept walking. Eventually I stopped and crossed the road to a tram stop, bought a ticket and climbed aboard the first tram to come along going back in the direction I had just come from. I sat on the tram just watching the scenery slide by; no deeds to do no promises to keep. Then that nagging feeling crept into my mind that I really ought to have a plan, a destination.
Which tram was I on?
Number 11.
A quick consultation of the route map.
If I just sat here, I’d eventually end up alongside Park Sołacki…
Okay then, that’s my plan, just sit here for a bit longer.
I got off at the Sołacz stop, which in the direction I was travelling is up a side street going away from the park, and walked the short distance back down the road to the park. I was a lovely day, the sky was blue and the sun was warm but the trees bore evidence of it being autumn. I walked along the side of the small lake here, just ambling really, nowhere to go and enjoying every second of it.

I came to a bridge and crossed it going back along the other side of the lake, well, I say lake, it’s called “Stawy Sołackie” which translates as Sołackie Ponds, there being two largish “ponds” separated by the bridge I’d just crossed. The whole is part of the watercourse of the river Bogdanka which flows through Lake Rusałka some 2 km to the west. Lake Rusałka was formed when the Bogdanka was dammed by the occupying German Nazi forces during World War 2, but the river still flows, in culverts and open channels, through the Sołackie Ponds and on towards the River Warta, the main river that flows through Poznań.

The damming of the Bogdanka touches on yet another sensitive subject stemming from WW2 of which there are so many in this part of Europe and Poland in particular. The Nazis intended to incorporate Poznań into the Third Reich as a model German city and the Bogdanka was dammed to make a lake as part of a recreational area for the new German citizens, slave labour was used to build the lake and Polish Jews, were used as the workforce. As part of the material used to construct the sides and bottom of the new lake, headstones from a nearby Jewish cemetery were taken and used. Last year, with falling water levels bits of headstone began to be visible and the City authorities embarked upon a scheme to recover as many headstones as possible and erect them in a memorial site.

Just south of Lake Rusałka is a 19th century fortification known as Fort VII. One of many such fortifications built by the Prussians to defend the eastern border of what was then in effect the Second Reich of the German Empire, Poland at that time having been erased from the map and divided between Prussia, Austria and Russia. During the occupation of Poland by the Third Reich, Fort VII was converted by the Nazis into the first German Nazi concentration camp built on Polish soil when it was called Konzentrationslager Posen (Poznań Concentration Camp). In 1940 around 2,000 prisoners that had been held in the concentration camp were executed by firing squads in the forests surrounding the lake construction site. These prisoners were in effect political prisoners, members of the Polish intelligentsia and known activists. Konzentrationslager Posen also had the dubious honour to be the first site where the Nazis experimented with gas chambers.

Every time I delve into Polish history my brain just melts, it’s a fascinating and complex subject, and reminders of the past are widespread; at times presented with proud reverence and at others as stark and painful reminders of the past. Lake Rusałka and the Sołackie Ponds are now peaceful places, Rusałka is a favourite spot with the locals for swimming, boating, sunbathing, cycling and walking, fishing and so on.

I walked on until I reached the end of the lake where the Bogdanka runs through a culvert and on to its meeting with the Warta just over 2 km away, I walked back to the side of the lake I’d started on and then ambled back to the road and the first tram stop I came to. It had been lovely just mooching about in the autumn sunshine, sobering history lesson notwithstanding.

Thursday 24th October, 2019

Right! Gdańsk then. We’re finally off to Gdańsk to see the English band, Archive. In stark contrast to the previous day Thursday was a cloudy, grey, damp and misty day. I had packed my bag for I wasn’t returning to Poznań and after a hasty breakfast Marzena and I made our way to the railway station where, trying to enter the station from the western entrance found our way blocked by a small film crew. There was an old-ish car and a couple in what I took to be early 20th century period costume. We stopped to watch for a couple of minutes but not much was happening so we turned on our heels and made our way to the adjacent tram stop where there was a subway into the main railway station.

Our train was timed to depart at 09:30 and we were in good time, we were meeting three fellow travellers; Kinga, Ewa and Kornel. Kinga met us on the platform, the other two were on an inbound train. There wasn’t much for a train nerd to “grice” (see below) so we waited for a while on the platform looking for the other two, it got dangerously close to half past and Ewa and Kornel’s train still hadn’t arrived. Phone calls were made; the train which Ewa and Kornel were on had been delayed, a passenger had become ill and the train had been stopped while medical help was summoned. Kinga and Marzena found the train manager and asked if the Gdańsk train would wait, the answer was yes, it would. Phew! A big PHEW! because Ewa and Kornel had the train tickets from Poznań to Gdańsk for all five of us! Half past came and went and then a train pulled in to the opposite platform; a crowd of people alighted and there amongst them were Ewa and Kornel. Soon we were all seated on the Gdańsk train as it pulled out on its way north.

Grice, there are a few definitions of grice which will be displayed if you type “grice” into Google; other search engines are available but let’s face it most are inferior. One definition of grice is a Scottish term for a young pig; another is something to do with “intention-based semantics”, whatever they are, but the definition I was alluding to is the act of a Gricer, a railway nerd if you will, who left to his own resources on a station platform will grice to his heart’s content.

The day stayed stubbornly grey as we rattled across Poland. Unable to fully contribute to the occasional bouts of conversation I fell to my default position of looking out of the window and was quite happy in my contemplation. The sky became slightly less grey, the fields were empty, the trees losing their leaves. A line came into my head: “On the road to winter.” I started to compose a poem in my head, a song or both maybe. Then I thought that I’d best write it down because I knew if I didn’t, I’d never remember it, so I pulled out my trusty pocket computer and started to write. I didn’t write much but I wrote what had almost spontaneously come into my head.

Fields of stubble
The harvest gathered home
Russet leaves, the lowering sun
On the road to winter

Ghostly diamond crusted webs
That first hoarfrost to bite you
Frosted blades of grass invite you.

Shadows range beyond compare
Across the barren fields

Shadows roam at length across the fields of stubble, the harvest gathered home.
Spiders’ webs like jewels in the hedgerows glisten
Robins sing the day’s opening but who is there to listen?

Yes… I know, didn’t get very far and it doesn’t rhyme or scan but the above is just jottings, not a finished article. I kept going over the same themes but didn’t come up with much, it seems that even then my muse was packing her bags ready to go… It’s only luck I suppose that I still had that document on my phone, maybe I ought to give it another go – I’ll let you know.

We arrived in Gdańsk in the early afternoon and set out to find our hotel, Hotel Gryf (Griffin) which was barely a ten-minute walk away but I at least, was glad of a chance to stretch the old legs. The hotel was just off of Solidarity Square and not far from the main gate to Stocznia Gdańska, the Gdańsk Shipyard, where were nurtured the seeds of a revolution which eventually toppled the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain. Did I mention the subject of Polish history?

Bags were unpacked and we congregated in a bedroom for the journey debriefing, convivial conversation and to consume some beer that had been procured. As usual I wasn’t saying much but I was intently listening to follow the conversation as best I could and as usual, the introduction of alcohol into a multi lingual conversation allowed greater reign of expression and diminished inhibitions

Food, it was getting on for half three of the afternoon and the sky which had never been really bright all day was already beginning to darken slightly. We set out into town to find an eatery and after about one and a half kilometres we came across an emporium called “Grass”, inside it was fairly full but there were tables outside and as some of the girls wanted to smoke and it wasn’t really what you’d call, cold, in spite of the grey weather, we occupied one of those outside tables.

I think it’s fair to say that over the last six years my already extant, like of, my interest in, Poland and things Polish has developed into a kind of love (yes, despite the rush of the current Polish government to go back to the fourteenth century or even earlier) but that love was tested there in Gdańsk.

Now this establishment, which describes itself thus: “Breakfast & Brunch Restaurant – Modern European Restaurant – Gastropub” had obviously entered into some sort of sponsorship deal with Guinness; other beers and drinks, shots, wines etc. were available but when we’d plonked ourselves down at the table, the waitress wearing a Guinness t-shirt came out and handed us all the Guinness menu.

I kid you not, up there on the Baltic coast, about to go to a concert to see a band from London in a re-purposed part of the historic Gdańsk shipyard, the birthplace of the Solidarity movement etc. etc. see my comments above re: Polish history, we were handed the Guinness menu.

Okay, so, we’d already had a few beers back at the hotel and maybe that contributed to the madness but surveying the Guinness menu a few of us settled on something called “Irish Bomb” (as I said at the time, don’t mention The Troubles… but I think that fell flat). The Irish Bomb was and probably still is, 200 ml of Guinness into which was poured 30 ml of Irish whiskey (although they’d spelled it ‘whisky’) and then a shot glass with 10 ml of Baileys was dropped into the mixture. The whole ensemble was put together, with great aplomb, by the waitress in the Guinness t-shirt, in front of the intended recipient.

The shot glass plops down and the Baileys immediately forms some sort of semi-emulsified gloop with the Guinness/whiskey mixture. 23 zlotys it cost, about £4.50 and it was worth it just for the theatre of watching the drink being prepared. However, when it came to drinking it…

Worst. Drink. Ever.

But it did provide no small amount of humorous entertainment.

Thankfully, we moved on to another establishment, a proper restaurant, and had a fine meal. It was dark by the time we left the restaurant and made our way to the concert venue. Klub B90 is in part of the Gdańsk Shipyard, is unremittingly industrial in its appearance and is a “listed” building of historical interest.
By the time we got to the gig I freely admit that I was feeling just a bit jaded; beers, food, and a bit of a route march across Gdańsk had taken their toll and I was feeling all of my 61 years, starość nie radość, as they say…

But, the lights dimmed, the music swelled and Archive did their thing, even if I was sitting at the edge of the auditorium for part of the performance, but I like Archive, I have some of their albums, the music is quite… atmospheric, and all in all it was a very enjoyable evening and the convivial company helped in no small way towards that. Irish Bomb excepted…

Friday 25th October, 2019

Friday started out as another grey day, not quite as grey as Thursday was but grey and cloudy nonetheless.
The five of us met for breakfast in the hotel restaurant, hmmm, yes, I was hungry and lashed into the offerings. I’d been in Gdańsk before back in 2004, only for a few days and it wasn’t long enough to do justice to the place and I’d always said that one day I’d go back. Well, here I was but I wasn’t going to stay because we had a train to catch this morning, another 09:30 departure from Gdańsk Główny to Łódź Widzew because, this evening we are going to a concert in Łódź, some 300 km to the south-southeast. It’s all go sometimes.

As we left the hotel the sun was trying to break through the clouds affording me a somewhat atmospheric photo shot of the Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970 (Pomnik Poległych Stoczniowców 1970) which commemorates those killed by the Polish Communist regime during various uprisings against said regime in 1970. The monument was erected in 1980 and it is notable for being the first monument erected to the victims of communist oppression in a communist country, as Poland was then.

The train was delayed, slightly at first but the delay grew…
It’s PKP, it’s normal, nothing to worry about; this is the sort of reaction that train delays provoke here in Poland; It’s PKP, what do you expect?
I’ve come to realise that this is the reaction that’s usually produced but I’ve always thought that it’s probably ill-deserved. The trains may not always be on time, this one we were waiting for started out in Gdynia about 20 km north of Gdańsk so what had happened to make it nearly half an hour late? But late or not, they run, mostly, and although they may not be the fastest, they run… mostly, and unlike trains in dear old Blighty, they don’t do that ridiculous 30 second stop nonsense.

Quite a few times I’ve arrived at a railway station in Poland to find that the train I want is already on the platform and broken into a run and a sweat as I dash to board it, only to enjoy another 10 minutes or so of sitting at the platform before it departs. And, for a train nerd, the best bit is that most of the long-distance trains, the Inter-City trains, are “proper” trains, a locomotive, hauling carriages, none of your new-fangled multiple units. But hey, everything was okay, the weather was doing its utmost to cheer up and it was nice to be out in the fresh air and let’s face it, I was at a railway station so what’s not to like, eh?

Sometime around 10 o’clock we departed Gdańsk, this was another 3 hours plus journey and the train was bound for Katowice way down in the south of the country, a total journey from Gdynia of nearly 700 km and as we rattled south, south, east, south, south, east I idly wondered how late it would be by the time it got to the capital of the Silesian province. After a couple of hours or so it was decided that beer was needed; beer, yes, why not? We all decamped to what in the UK would be the buffet car but here in more pragmatic Poland it’s the Bar Wagon. There it was, plain as the nose on your face, etched into the glass of the door, BAR WARS. I could see in my mind’s eye the 20th Century Fox searchlights, I could hear the fanfare…
I should mention here perhaps that WARS S.A. is the company that provides catering services on trains in Poland and no, it’s not pronounced ‘wars’, it’s ‘vars’

WARS Podróże Pełne Smaku

We entered the bar area which was fairly well attended; all the tables were occupied but that mattered not, there was a deal of standing space so we bought beer and stood. After a few minutes it had become apparent, even to an Englishman with only a fumbling grasp of the Polish language, that the atmosphere in here was welcoming and hospitable. People were in a good mood, there were conversations taking place; between the tables between our small group and those seated, between others who had chosen the standing option and us and those seated.

The train ran on, the journey fairly smooth for the most part interspersed with periods of being joggled from side to side as we negotiated crossovers and turnouts but that didn’t distract from the feeling of… fun I suppose it was, yes, it was fun to be here. I had a bottle of beer in hand, my back to a sliding door into the corridor which would open periodically to let someone in and I’d have to move, I’d also have to move for people travelling in the other direction but I could see them coming and would operate the door-open button for them, and I’d raise my beer to them with a „Proszę” and a smile and they’d smile back with a „Dziękuję”. By the second bottle of beer, I was getting quite good at this and enjoying it.

We arrived at Łódź Widzew station mid-afternoon and caught a train to Łódź Fabryczna. Łódź is the third largest city in Poland and is situated almost slap-bang in the centre of the country. The main-line railway approaches Łódź from the west, loops around the southern borders of the city and continues east; there are two sizable stations either side of the city, Łódź Kaliska to the west and Łódź Widzew to the east. From Widzew there is a line that runs back into the centre of the city to Łódź Fabryczna station which is a terminus, a new, sub-surface station built on the site of an old, ground-level one; the plan is to extend the tracks in tunnels under the city to re-join the main line near Kaliska. The journey from Widzew to Fabryczna took about 10 minutes and upon exiting the new Fabryczna station, there we were in Łódź.

That evening was the first of two evenings of concerts at the Łódź Cultural Centre, Łódzki Dom Kultury, under the auspices of “Prog the Night”, and indeed, this was, as I wrote in part 1, Prog the Night V, the fifth annual instalment of the concert series. Hotels were checked into and then we were out on the streets, the late October afternoon shadows lay long across ulica Piotrkowska. There was the inevitable visit to a pub and then we made our way to Łódzki Dom Kultury where, in the restaurant, I, at least, had a meal, the first proper hot meal in a couple of days it seemed, not that I was counting or even noticing much, but I tucked in to a plate of creamy chicken something or other with a salad and a side of beetroot.

The first band on stage on Friday night was a four-piece from Warsaw called ‘Traces To Nowhere’; vocals, guitar, bass guitar and drums. The band stand in near darkness which is broken by the occasional ultraviolet fluorescent tube on stage. They describe their genre as a mix of post metal, post rock, industrial, trip-hop and alternative.
I never did like pigeonholing music, too rigidly, neither it seems do they. The description may sound terrible, I don’t even know what “industrial music” is supposed to sound like but the end result is atmospheric. Note about pigeonholing notwithstanding, their music is like post-rock on steroids with vocalist Karolina Mazurska, who also wrote the lyrics of the songs, (all sung in English), giving a very commanding performance. Sometimes her voice is soft and lilting, the music quiet and gentle and sometimes the guitars roar and her voice screams.
Reading that back it doesn’t really do justice to what actually happens; well, as I’ve been at pains to point out before, I’m rubbish at trying to review music. I know what I like and I’m open to new genres, new approaches, new sounds but I can’t really do that whole; sounds like a cross between Band X and Band Y with hints of Band Z. I’d actually seen Traces to Nowhere a couple of years before, right there in that same auditorium and I’d liked them then and I liked Them again last October.

After a suitable fag/beer/bog break the second band of the night was ‘Acute Mind’, a five-piece formation from Lublin in the east of Poland formed in 2006. The present line-up consists of two guitars, bass, keyboards and drums; the lead guitarist, a chap called Marek Majewski taking the role of vocalist. Describing their genre as progressive metal/rock they make, all in all, a very agreeable sound, to me at least. The music can be hard and punchy in places but also has a very melodic quality. Acute Mind sing all their songs in English and Marek Majewski, the first time I met him, surprised me by having a splendid command of my mother tongue. I don’t know why I should have been so surprised, after all, many people these days are bi if not multi-lingual but as someone who has tried to get to grips with język polski for many years now with only a smattering of success I’m always taken aback by those who make mastering a foreign language look and sound, so easy.
The band were showcasing their (then) soon to be released second album (Under The Empty Sky), their first album (Acute Mind) having been released in 2010 since when the band had undergone a period of inactivity and line-up changes, only two of the original members remaining.

Another short break and band number three was ‘Let See Thin’; as I wrote in part one, I was excited about seeing Let See Thin as this band was born out of another band, Leafless Tree, that was right there at my immersion into the world of Polish Progressive Rock and which I had come to be very fond of. Unfortunately, due to band politics they disbanded but most of the former members plus some new faces came together to form Let See Thin (the name a pun on Lecithin – a band in-joke I think).
What is it about the music of Let See Thin? I find it hard to adequately describe why I like something but I just know when I do and with Let See Thin, I do. The music of Let See Thin carries on where Leafless Tree left off, continuing and expanding that particular musical theme and as the vocalist is the same guy with his very recognisable voice it’s easy to believe that Leafless Tree are still a going concern. As Let See Thin the band is a seven piece; Vocals, Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Bass, Keyboards, Drums and ‘Electronics’ and they are a home-town band, based in Łódź. This was the third time I’d seen the band, in its present incarnation and once again they didn’t disappoint.

After the music had finished there was the customary “Afterparty” back upstairs in the restaurant where we all sat around chatting and eating and drinking which was very enjoyable and all that fizzled out around 01:30 after which a small group of us mysteriously found ourselves in one of the two branches in Łódź of the Ministry of Herring and Vodka (Ministerstwo Śledzia i Wódki) where the convivial conversation and consumption of alcohol continued. At around 03:30 we were ejected, not through bad behaviour but because the place was closing, and suddenly there we were, our small group, out on the street crowded around one of the Ministry’s street-tables, finishing-off a bottle of vodka. It was sometime after 04:00 when I eventually got to bed.

Saturday 26th October, 2019

Saturday started a bit nippy but soon warmed up as the sun rose… Probably, I don’t really know, all I do know is that I’d missed breakfast and the sun was shining out of a sky with wispy white clouds. No matter, I’d slept and that was, I feel, the important thing.

In the old market square in Łódź there was a tourist attraction, a 55-metre high (just over 180 feet in old money) Ferris wheel, it had come from Szczecin in the west of Poland where it had made its debut and would be in Łódź for a few months before going off elsewhere. A travelling Ferris Wheel, and about a month beforehand I’d seen it advertised as being in Łódź when I was going to be there so I’d arranged with Marzena that we’d go and have a ride on the thing, and today, Saturday, would be the day to do it.

It was actually a nice day, weather wise, not exactly hot but not really cold and there was plenty of sunshine making its way through the misty, hight cloud. We walked up to the Stary Rynek, the wheel looked enormous glinting white in the sunlight. It’s not enormous, by some standards, the London Eye is 135 metres tall, more than twice the size, but standing underneath it, it looked big.

I was quite amused, but not really surprised to any great extent, to find out that “Ferris Wheel” isn’t used in Polish, I was expecting something like “Koło Ferrisa” or “Koło Ferrisowo” – “koło” being “wheel” – but no, in Polish this big wheel thing is “Diabelski Młyn” diabolical or devilish mill, all links to George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. who designed the first Ferris Wheel, being lost. That original and eponymously named wheel from 1889 was just over 80 metres high and mostly made from wood to boot. Diabolical Mill… It made me smile. True, the poles also call these things ” Koło widokowe” Observation/Viewing Wheel and ” Koło Młyńskie” – Mill Wheel but I like Diabelski Młyn. We rode the diabolical mill and the views from the top were brilliant, Poland here is very flat and you could see a long way.

We spent a lazy afternoon, in Park Staromiejski and along Piotrkowska, there may have been a beer or two involved somewhere.

The first band up on Saturday evening was a band from Warsaw called “The Third Project”, a five piece from Warsaw; vocals/guitar, more guitars, bass guitar, keyboards and drums. They came on stage and the three guitarists stood there with the keyboards off to the right and the drummer hidden behind one of the two sets of drums at the back of the stage. The Third Project were new to me, I had no idea what they sounded like but whenever three guys with guitars get up on stage, I always fear the worst excesses of guitar bothering, a bit like Robert Fripp’s unfettered fretwork; there’s an audience for it for sure but I’m not amongst their numbers.

You can listen to a piece of music and whilst you may enjoy it you wouldn’t necessarily want to take it home with you, you know? I think this is especially true of live music, sometimes you may see a band live and enjoy the music because, as ever with live music, there is drive and energy but there’s no way you’d want to buy their CD because the music is just not something that “sits” well with your idea of what you like to listen to when you are snuggled up in your favourite armchair with your headphones on. Does that make sense?

The Third Project describe themselves as playing; hard rock, progressive rock, folk rock and progressive metal, amongst other genre mashups, however, two or three songs in and my worst fears were allayed, yes there was “guitar-play” but not too much, and taking into account the previous paragraph, it was all enjoyable. A lot of their music was instrumental but where there were lyrics they were sung in English. I liked what I was hearing but I wasn’t tempted to buy the merchandise. Then, to finish their set, they played a song that was slightly different to the numbers they had played so far. I stood transfixed as the acoustic guitar replaced its electric brother and began to duet with “strings” produced from the keyboard and odd little electronic flourishes here and there. The song was called “Ember Stones”.

There it was, that elusive “thing” – that quality in a musical piece that I like but am often at odds to adequately describe; there it was being played for me by five guys from Warsaw in a concert hall in Łódź. The song is called “Ember Stones” and is the last track on their first and, at the time of writing, only album release. Now, I’m well aware that what is to some food, is to others fit only for the swill bucket but I listened with rapt attention as Ember Stones played out and I was sure that this was something special, maybe a foretaste of things to come from this band but then again maybe not but the important thing was I had been there to hear it and in due course I bought the album from which it came.

First beer break.

The second band on was “Tenebris”, a 4-piece formation from Łódź – vocal/guitar, guitar, bass guitar, drums – who have been going in one form or another since 1991, when they started out as a Death Metal act; they list their genres as: alternative, death metal, metal, rock, pagan, thrash…
I’d seen this band a couple of times before, on bills with other bands, and I have to say that they are not quite my cup of tea, metal indeed, but, harking back again to a few paragraphs above, there is something about a live performance, the energy, the verve (that’s the spirit and enthusiasm, not the English band from Wigan) that kind of makes it enjoyable, almost.

Second beer break and bog break.

Third up was a band called “Retrospective” a six-piece hailing from Leszno in the west of Poland; vocals, guitar, guitar, bass guitar, keyboards/vocals and drums. Retrospective is another band that sings their songs in English and also a band that I had seen a number of times before. In the genre pigeonholing department, they cite; rock, art rock and progressive rock. The band have gone through minor personal changes even since I first saw them some six or so years ago but they still sound recognisably Retrospective, what sets them apart from most bands and especially the ones that had been playing that weekend was the dual vocals on offer from the (male) main vocalist and the (female) keyboard player who shares some of the vocals. All things considered they make a very agreeable sound and I quite like it. I said they sing in English, well, yes, they do, but recently they released a mini-album an EP if you will of several of their songs re-recorded and sung in Polish, needless to say, when they sand a few of these re-written songs they went down very well with the audience, even I liked them, well, I recognised the tunes…

Third break before fourth band, the sturdier folk were congregating outside the venue for the purposes of a quick cough and a drag. I also went out for a few minutes, not to mingle with them, but to get a breath of fresh air as it had got surprisingly warm in the concert hall and in just a t-shirt, I immediately regretted it because it was quite cold out there. The concert timings had by now become mere guidelines and we were running well over half an hour late but nobody seemed to mind.

Fourth and last band; the four-man “Starsabout” from Białystok in north eastern Poland. Guitar/vocal, guitar, bass guitar, drums. Naming dream-rock, post-rock and progressive in a long list of influences, this band was perhaps the most genteel and laid-back band of the weekend. Their music is very, mellow, in a post-rock sort of way; they lean towards post-rock but don’t get bogged down in incessant guitar noodling, opting instead for something far more melodic and dare I say it, far nicer. This was the second time I’d seen this band, the first time being the year before, 2018, in Toruń at the 12th edition of the Festiwal Rocka Progresywnego im. Tomasza Beksińskiego and they’d given a good account of themselves then, just as they had in Łódź on this Saturday.

And then it was over, the lights came up and the hall slowly began to empty, slowly, people were mingling, buying merchandise, talking to the band and those not having to go home or elsewhere filed piecemeal, up the two flights of stairs to the restaurant. The Saturday afterparty was not as full-on as the Friday affair and after a group photo session people began to drift off, to their homes, to their hotels and hostels. Some of us though made our way once more onto Piotrkowska and into Ministerstwo and herring and vodka was consumed, although not nearly on the heroic scale of the night before.

Sunday 27th October, 2019

Sunday started out as a bright, sunny and cloudless day; not really what you’d call warm but not overly cold. Today was my last full day in Poland, tomorrow I had to fly home. My last full day in Poland until next year when there would be the “Prog on Days” concerts, the winter equivalent of the autumn’s “Prog the Night”; I was going to spend some time at a week-long English language school residential event as an English native speaker. Then there was the 14th edition of the Festiwal Rocka Progresywnego im. Tomasza Beksińskiego in Toruń, the Baszta ProgFest in Ostrzeszów, and later in the year the 6th edition of “Prog the Night” and no doubt there would have been other things in-between. 2020 though, when It rocked-up, had others ideas.

I was with Marzena and we idled away the hours exploring the nooks and crannies along Piotrkowska street. Gradually, a thick band of cloud slid across the sky and the temperature began to drop. Marzena, Kinga, Ewa and Kornel, the small band of travellers I’d accompanied from Poznań to Gdańsk to Łódź, were leaving in the late afternoon, back to their respective homes. We all met-up, along with Ania, another friend, who lives in Łódź and was at the Friday and Saturday concerts, and made our way to the tram stop on aleja Adama Mickiewicza. The tram stop is officially called Piotrkowska Centrum, even though it’s not on Piotrkowska street, but the locals call it Stajnia Jednorożców – The Unicorn Stable. In June of 2019, a few months before the events recounted here, a statue of a unicorn was unveiled nearby, it was only meant to be a temporary fixture (oxymoron alert?) but when the temporary nature of the placement was announced there was an outcry followed by a vote and it was decided that the unicorn would stay. The unicorn statue itself is rather fanciful, being the front half of the animal that seems to be jumping and galloping out of thin air. It’s now one of the must-see selfie locations in Łódź.

We all go on to the tram for the short journey to the tram stop nearest the railway station, Łódź Kaliska, as their journey to Poznań and beyond was departing from a different station to the one we had arrived from Gdańsk at. By now the day was undeniably grey and cold. The train was delayed, nobody was fazed. Eventually it arrived and we stood in a small group on the platform, shuffling our feet to keep warm and saying our goodbyes. Then it set off into the murk of the evening. I walked back to the tram stop with Ania, rode the tram back to the Unicorn Stable and went our separate ways.

I was feeling… glum I suppose; my two weeks in Poland were almost up, the weather had turned, there was a fine rain in the air, I was, I realised, cold and tired. I went back to my hotel room, then back out to the Żabka convenience shop just up the road, bought some comfort food and went back up to my room where I lay on the bed and watched TV. I didn’t know it but I was in for a treat. I was flicking through the channels on the TV, on a Sunday in Łódź Łódzkie, in the rain… and suddenly there on screen was a scene of something to do with a railway, a group of people, some in what appeared to be railway uniform, there was railway infrastructure. I settled down and watched, it appeared to be comedy caper in a language that wasn’t Polish but with Polish dialogue dubbed over the original. A comedy caper that involved a lot of railway stuff, I was intrigued, I resorted to looking this film up on the internet. I turned to the next channel and then back again so that the details were briefly displayed on screen.
“Gang Olsena na szlaku” the film was called (in Polish) so I googled that. “The Olsen Gang on the trail”.
A Danish film apparently, the original Danish title is “Olsen Banden på sporet” which translated as “The Olsen Gang on the track”, well, that made more sense. OK, so the original dialogue was in Danish and it had Polish dubbed over it. No matter, it was funny and it had trains in it, I was sorted. I watched the film until the end and although I’d only come in just before the halfway mark, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

There is a whole series of these Olsen Gang films, fourteen of them made between 1968 and 1998; the comic exploits of the eponymously named gang of criminals. Then there’s the Norwegian “Olsenbanden” and Swedish “Jönssonligan” versions too. If any of the other films are a patch on the bit of film that I saw then there’s a rich vein of comedy material there to be explored by a somewhat insular Englishman.

Insular, yes, alright, I live on an island but the more that I’ve been exploring Poland, Polish history and the inevitable interconnections to European history in general, the more I’ve come to realise that I know so little of what has been and what is, going on across that muddy ditch of a channel.
I’ve even found out about aspects of British history that isn’t generally taught or even talked about.
The exploits of the Polish squadrons in the RAF during World War 2 and how their part was greatly played-down by the government when victory eventually came.
The Polish code-breakers that did a lot of the dog-work on cracking the codes used by the German Enigma machines.
The Yalta Conference. I didn’t know what that was, I was never taught about that particular twist of World War 2.

I lay on the hotel bed; I was in a much better humour thanks to the Olsen Gang. I was flicking thorough the channels again but nothing took my fancy. I looked out of the window which was two floors above Piotrkowska Street, the paving of the pedestrianised thoroughfare glistened in the rain. It was about half seven, early yet. I donned my coat and hat and took my camera and went out. The rain had looked worse than it actually was. I made my way to the next street and got a tram going up towards Manufaktura where I alighted and walked through Park Staromiejski to the Stary Rynek and the Diabelski Młyn which was now resplendent in lights of every colour and very splendid it looked too. I snapped away with the trusty pocket camera, contemplated another trip on the wheel but thought better of it and walked back to the Manufaktura tram stop and got on the next tram going south.

I got off of the tram a few stops later and walked through to Piotrkowska just below number 123, an easy address to remember, 123 Piotrkowska Street – Chmielowa Dolina. There are a few nice pubs in Łódź, a few that I know at least, but Chmielowa Dolina is probably my favourite. Always an interesting selection of beers and a good selection of music playing. I went in, it was warm inside and not too crowded. I divested myself of my coat and hat, cramming the latter into a pocket of the former and draping the former over the back of a chair and went to the bar to survey the “beer board”. There was an Imperial Baltic Porter at 9% ABV; right then, I’m having one of those, I thought.

Halfway through my second half-litre of 9% IBP I got to thinking that I probably shouldn’t drink too much of this stuff because, you know, I’ve got to get to the airport tomorrow and fly back to dear old Blighty. And then I got to thinking that there’s precious few places in Blighty where you can just rock-up and have a decent sized glass of 9% ABV, Imperial Baltic Porter. Here, you can and there’s none of your; “Well, we’re only going to sell you a third of a pint” and then they charge you £5.60 for it.
Well, actually what I had was not a pint but half a litre (in a lined, oversized glass), but what’s 68.2 ml between friends? About 11 teaspoons…

Imperial Baltic Porter
Imperial Baltic Porter in Chmielowa Dolina

That rather fine tasting Imperial Baltic Porter costs 37zł for a half-litre which works out at about £7.50 a pint, not cheap I grant you but you very rarely get beer of that quality in the average UK high street. It was, as I recall, Imperator Bałtycki (Baltic Emperor) a rum & bourbon barrel aged Imperial Baltic Porter brewed by Browar Pinta, a brewery of which I had come to know of some years back when I was drinking one of their IPAs called Atak Chmielu, a robustly hopped and very Moorish, American style IPA or AIPA.

Against all my better judgement, I went for a third and sat there as the place slowly began to fill-up, savouring my drink and just enjoying the ambience. It would have been rude not to pop in and drink some 9% beer while I was in a place where you can just pop in and drink some 9% beer.
The glass was eventually empty and my head took charge so I bade farewell to Chmielowa Dolina and headed back up Piotrkowska with only a barely perceptible wobble, past Julian Tuwim sitting on his bench, past Arthur Rubinstein sitting at his piano, past the Grand Hotel to the not quite so grand, Apartamenty BedRooms Piotrkowska 64. Not quite so grand but nonetheless friendly, warm, dry and perfectly adequate for my purposes.

Monday 28th October, 2019

Perversely, Monday dawned clear, cold and bright. I washed, dressed and went down for my breakfast and sitting there in the restaurant I was again possessed of a slight melancholy; last breakfast in Poland for a while… Somehow the jajecznica and kawa tasted even better.
My flight wasn’t until 16:05 so I had a little time to kill. After I’d made sure my bag was packed, I took to the streets and ambled hither and yon. After a bit of directionless wandering, but enjoyable in the morning sunshine, I turned onto Traugutta and walked along to and then past Łódzki Dom Kultury and on to Łódź Fabryczna railway station where I’d arrived as part of a small travelling party, a few days earlier.
I don’t know why but I get attracted to this station, that is to say, this isn’t the first time I’ve come here just to spend some time whilst waiting to go to the airport; to Łódź Fabryczna is new, huge, empty and, more importantly at this time of year, warm. True, I could have stayed in the comfort and warmth of the hotel room with hot coffee on-tap, but I decided to get out and walk a bit.

BedRooms Piotrkowska 64, promises or promised, free coffee; all I have to do is ask. Of course, there is a small kettle in the room with a few sachets of instant coffee and whitener and a small selection of teabags of various flavours, but I have taken to bringing a supply of teabags with me (Yorkshire, if you must know) and nipping to Żabka and buying some real milk for a decent cup of tea in the mornings.
Anyway, here I was on the vast and impressive looking concourse of Łódź Fabryczna just kicking about until I had to go and check-out of the hotel and get a cab to the airport.

I collected my bag, checked-out of the hotel and walked down to the Unicorn Stable and in a mirroring of the previous afternoon, got a tram to the stop by Kaliska station. I walked across to the taxi stand and got a taxi to the airport. Despite my best efforts of dragging my feet, I was early at the airport. Check-in wasn’t open, wouldn’t be open for a while. I popped up to the observation deck. Nothing was happening. there were two flights on the departure board; one that had left for East Midlands Airport at 09:55 and mine to Stansted that would leave in just over three hours. Bloody hell, I was early… I consoled myself with a plate of pierogi and a glass of hot chocolate. I did my best to make them last…

I went through security, I set-off the scanner thing and had to be examined in more detail. Stand over here please, assume the position. The portable scanner thing was waved about and I was pronounced fit to go. I put my boots and belt back on and took a chair. The day had become slightly cloudy by now but the sun was still shining. There’s a strange sort of confliction I nearly always feel at this point. Sad because I’m going home but happy, because… I’m going home.

Duty free, cigarettes for the masses. Not for me you understand but for my long-suffering partner and a friend of ours. I reflected that the next time I did this it would likely be somewhat different; the tacitly implied “as many as you can carry in one bag” deal being scrapped no doubt as I would no longer have the benefit of being a citizen of the EU.

The clouds thickened; the sunlight diminished. The Gate was “opened” which meant that instead of sitting comfortably was could all now go and queue for the exit doors, joining those who had seen fit to queue there anyway. The plane arrived and passengers got off. We were allowed to go out and queue along the side of the departure building in the brisk wind that had blown up.

Somewhat over two hours later I was standing on the tarmac at Stansted looking back that the plane I had just got off of. We do, I think, tend to take these things for granted, and I include myself in that, you get on, you fly, you get off. Easy, run-of-the-mill. I stopped and looked back at the aircraft; a Boing 707-800 series, registration mark EI-DWH, built in 2007. The thing weighs 40 tons – empty. Fill it with fuel, people, luggage, toasted sandwiches and duty-free perfume and it’s nearer 77 tons. Yet we fly through the air with the greatest of ease. I think it’s good to stop and thing of these things from time to time, lest everything just becomes commonplace and taken for granted.

Almost there.
Queued for the passenger shuttle to the terminal building. Queued for the passport gates. Waited for the baggage reclaim. Waited for the next train to London. Emerged into the artificial light of the platforms at Liverpool Street. Does this place ever become empty? Made it through the ticket barrier and across the concourse to the Metropolitan Line platforms. The Chesham train arrived after about 15 minutes and 73 Uxbridge trains. Why are there so many trains for Uxbridge?
Sit back, relax and enjoy your…

Just over an hour later I was home, the bag can wait to be unpacked, get the kettle on, time for a cuppa.


Ember Stones by The Third Project.
I can’t promise you’ll like it, but I certainly did.

A 16 minute taster of both nights of Prog the Night V

9 thoughts on “Come to Gdańsk they said… Part 2

  1. I read this yesterday. I thought it was going to be a quick read whilst boiling the kettle, but no, the potatoes roasted and the fatted cow was killed, metaphorically speaking. I really enjoyed reading about your adventures in Poland and I absolutely love reading your appreciation of the music you listen to. I know nothing abut it,but your enthusiasm is infectious. I read you a bit in the way I used to read the sports pages in the times when I was younger – for the language and the joy of it all. I have even less enthusiasm for sport, but i do have an open mind!
    it also brought back memories of when I went to Poznan and Gdansk in 1971 – they must have changed a bit, but I have been to Lodz more recently as my daughter lived there for a couple of years until 2018.
    Great writing. Tony. Now I must find part 1.

    Liked by 1 person

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