Europe Poland Travel Diary

Poland’s transformation, and why I am falling in love with it all over again

I have been amazed by Poland’s transformation.

The last time I was in Poland was 2003, when I studied in Saarbrücken. I thought it was beautiful, I thought the people were friendly and generous and I thought the food was delicious.

The colourful Warsaw old town. Beautiful isn't it? It's a bit of the old Poland that I have seen ten years ago.
The colourful Warsaw old town. Beautiful isn’t it? It’s a bit of the old Poland that I have seen ten years ago.

I thought of many pleasant things about Poland that I fell in love with it.

But I didn’t think it was a country with opportunities.

The beautiful old centre of Gdansk.
The beautiful old centre of Gdansk.

At the time, Poland was in its pre-EU days, and debates of the benefits of being in the European Union didn’t differ all that much from the recent Brexit debates and opinions were also divided as people feared for loss of identify, loss of the ability to sell specialty farm goods and in general, afraid of what the membership might bring them.

Modern shopping malls. Toto, I don't think we are in old Poland any more!
Modern shopping malls. Toto, I don’t think we are in old Poland any more!

For me, crossing the border from Germany into Poland on the train, I saw Poland as a dusty, backwards, still nostalgically communist landscape that didn’t seem to have a future. While tourism brought in some jobs, the opportunities for young people were limited and many, as western European countries experienced, migrated for a better education, better job prospects.

This is smoked cheese, a Polish specialty that the locals feared wouldn't be allowed to be sold under EU membership. However it has gained the EU's traditional specialty label that has allowed farmers and small businesses to continue to sell them as street snacks. It's delicious by the way!
This is smoked cheese, a Polish specialty that the locals feared wouldn’t be allowed to be sold under EU membership. However it has gained the EU’s traditional specialty label that has allowed farmers and small businesses to continue to sell them as street snacks.
It’s delicious by the way!

So you can imagine my utter surprise, when I visited our company’s Gdansk office last Friday, and also visited Warsaw for the first time since 2003, that I encountered a place that is booming and is today, one of the success stories of the EU.

Beautiful modern flats in Gdansk.
Beautiful modern flats in Gdansk.

Having spoken to many people, I account the rapid change to the country’s fortunes to the Pole’s determination to succeed.

Modern arts graduate exhibition. Something the old Poland wouldn't have had!
Modern arts graduate exhibition. Something the old Poland wouldn’t have had!

They are innovative, creative and forward looking, and many young people have taken what they have learned from a Western European education to become entrepreneurs in the ever growing economy.

The beautiful harbour of Gdansk still has reminisces of World War II
The beautiful harbour of Gdansk still has reminisces of World War II

Gdansk was flattened after the second world war, the community was devastated, and re-building work still continues today where new riverside developments border war ruins that are still waiting to be re-built.

The new business district near Sopt and Gdynia are thriving with global corporate names with beautiful offices, surrounded by a boom of modern apartments to cater for the accommodation needs of those who have moved to this area for work.

Trendy, creative spaces like this one outside a Metro station is now a common sight in Warsaw.
Trendy, creative spaces like this one outside a Metro station is now a common sight in Warsaw.

New fast speed (bullet trains) now serve the major cities of Poland, giving many people the opportunity to study and find jobs outside where they are from. Personally I think this is a great feat for London is still struggling to complete the High Speed Rail 2 project, and Australia, well, is still debating the benefit of high speed rail over other forms of transport.

The first of the high speed rail line in Poland was opened in 2014. The journey was superb!
The first of the high speed rail line in Poland was opened in 2014. The journey was superb!

For me, the bigger shock of my trip came when I exited the central train station in Warsaw after a comfortable 3 hours train ride from Gdansk. Brand new office blocks, skyscrapers that look more at home in London than an ex-Soviet city stood in contrast across the road from ‘the wedding cake’ – the Palace of Culture and Sciences – and all around Warsaw were developments and new businesses as well as trendy eateries.

The stark contrast of the past and present cannot be missed here in Warsaw.
The stark contrast of the past and present cannot be missed here in Warsaw.

We are taking sushi bars, Vietnamese soup kitchens, Mexican diners and even more impressively found: Taiwanese / Japanese buns. Adventurous Poles are taking the best of other cities and installing it in Warsaw, and it works!

And all this transformation has taken less than 15 years.

Is this really Warsaw? Poland? Couldn't believe my eyes!
Is this really Warsaw? Poland? Couldn’t believe my eyes!

Sure, I hear some of you say: it’s easier for those who have been victimized, and previously lack opportunities to get more aid and to have the drive to develop.

Streets weren't this clean and fashionable the last time I was here!
Streets weren’t this clean and fashionable the last time I was here!

That may be true, but for a bunch of people that didn’t have the same opportunities as everyone else to succeed in such a short period of time, for them to crawl out of the rubble to become an economic success envied by others in the region: what does that say about the people who live in places where opportunities are abundant (say, UK and Australia) yet, who are so unwilling to change and move on with the times, hence continue to blame others for their failures to succeed?

Old centre of Gdansk.
Old centre of Gdansk.
Beautiful building facades in the old centre of Gdansk.
Beautiful building facades in the old centre of Gdansk.

Of course, the old centre of both Gdansk and Warsaw are still there, oozing all the charm and character that I’ve grown to love about visiting any city/town on Continental Europe, but it’s the new Poland that I’ve come to love, including the can do attitude of those I known and work with.

Poland’s transformation is inspiring, and It certainly now a place where I know opportunities are aplenty and the future is bright!

Share your thoughts below!