It’s officially summertime in London and time to start getting ready for this year’s World Youth Day! The week-long celebration starts on the 25th of July and takes place in Kraków! The last time Poland was chosen to host the event was in 1991 and more than 1.5 million people turned up, so you’d better believe it’s going to be a busy one. Over the next few weeks we’ll be posting articles about Polish cities, food, art and culture, to help you prepare for what promises to be a busy and amazing experience.
We’re starting with a focus on Łódź (pronounced woo-dge), the third largest Polish city, and probably the oddest.
It’s a place filled with troubled memories of World War II when a huge number of the population was wiped out, and the city’s industrial strength was broken. Any other city that suffered losses similar to this might have bulldozed the red-brick complexes to make way for new initiatives and new memories. However, in this city you’ll find old factory buildings blend with innovative street art, crafts shops and cafés. Likewise, an inherent sadness for the past is offset by the enthusiasm and joy of the locals. Łódź is the capital of repurposing, and a truly unique experience.
Take a stroll down Piotrkowska. At 4.9km this famous street is one of the longest pedestrian stretches in Europe. Everything you could want on a city break is on this street. Seriously. Food, drink, shops, architecture, museums, live music – even beer gardens. And if the prospect of walking the entire length gets to be too much, you can always hail yourself a rickshaw. They generally cost 6 zloty (about £1) for a two-person ride. Just to be on the safe side, establish the price before you begin the journey. The several side-streets are worth a peek too, as they hide some great little cafés and bars.
Street artists from all over the world have left their marks and murals on the walls of Łódź. Just walking around the city you’re sure to see a good number of them, and if you want to catch ’em all just download the map. If you’d like to see some more local art (indoors) then Museum Sztuki is the one. The cultural hub hosts permanent and temporary exhibitions of modern art, including experimental film and performance installations, and is housed in two separate buildings, ms1 and ms2, just a 10-minute walk apart.
Head north of the city centre and you’ll find yourself at the enchanting Manufaktura. This vast complex of red brick buildings used to be Izrael Poznański’s factory, and since 2006 is a main centre of activity for residents and visitors of Łódź alike. The combination of stunning architecture, museums (Of the Factory and City of Łódź), restaurants, clubs, shops and a cinema means that there’s something for everybody here. Galicja is a popular restaurant offering typical Polish dishes with a bit of a twist, and at Pepe Verde it’s pizza all the way. When you need a cold one the best place to look for is the Bierhalle. With a generous selection of beers to choose from, and the (not often found) option to take away, this place is the definition of relaxed.
Łódź is the home of one of the oldest film schools in the world and where the best cinematographers of Poland honed their craft. If you’re a cinema buff thinking about getting in on the action, then why not check out the University as well as the Film Museum and art-house Charlie Cinema just next door? Be sure to keep an eye out too for the Polish ‘walk of fame’ on Piotrkowska.
Łódź is a good place to be when you’re stomach starts making those familiar growling noises, because food is always around the corner and usually found in clusters. For example, there’s the aforementioned Piotrkowska where you will find cafés, any and all restaurants as well as food of the ‘fast and street’ variety. Anatewka is just off the street (on 6 Sierpnia) and celebrates Jewish heritage through its dishes and decor. You might even get lucky and be seated in the room where an exceptional violinist plays, suspended on the wall! Restauracja Manekin, part of the wider Polish chain, is just next-door and is widely recognised as one of the most popular restaurants in the city. They serve a good selection of Polish dishes at very cool prices, but really, it’s the pancakes you need to go for. Sweet or savoury, they’re all delish.
The real culinary jewel of the city though, is OFF Piotrkowska. This is another complex that used to be a cotton mill factory in the 1850s, was abandoned and eventually repurposed in the early 2000s. Restaurants, bars and cafés begin indoors and sprawl throughout the courtyard setting. Head to MITMI for the burgers, dogidog for the gourmet hotdogs, Restauracja Lili for the szarlotka and Spółdzielnia for the vibe.
And that’s it for now. Next stop: Kraków!