Nowa Sól,  Poland

Culture in Western Poland

Nowa Sól
Greg Miniach
Flaki

The Place: Nowa Sól, Poland

“…Nowa Sól represents the changing face of Poland. It’s population is determined to make tomorrow better than today, a sentiment that oozes from numerous construction projects, new entertainment venues, and activities for youths that have sprung up over the last decade.”

Read About Nowa Sól

In much of the West, the true nature of Eastern Europe is obscured by media with a hunger for the sensational; a thirst for the dramatic, the shocking, and the eye-catching. While it makes for entertaining viewing, it means that Western travellers who visit  that part of the world often arrive with warped expectations and prejudices. And so, my first major stop in Poland was full of surprises.

The culture is still miles from that of the UK, but it’s clear within minutes of your arrival that Nowa Sól represents the changing face of Poland. It’s population is determined to make tomorrow better than today, a sentiment that oozes from numerous construction projects, new entertainment venues, and activities for youths that have sprung up over the last decade. Not too long ago, Nowa Sól’s pride rested largely on the shoulders of the gnomes it produced for the rest of Europe, hence the terrifying five metre statues pictured below. Before that, it’s economy was built around the cleaning and processing of salt shipped from the ocean, which is how it got it’s name, literally translating as “New Salt”. Now, the up-and-coming town boasts new opportunity for it’s residents and where 10 years ago people were leaving in droves in search of work, they are now able to remain in their hometown to pursue their careers. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the cobbled streets and historical sites of the Krakows, the Berlins, or the Oslos, but to get a true picture of how a country is reinvigorating itself, Nowa Sól is the place to be.


Please note that we do not fact-check our interviewees, and that their views do not necessarily represent our own.

The Person: Grzegorz Miniach (Greg), 39, Team Leader at AB Foods

“I grew up in Poland, near the place we are now… ‘Nowa Zabno’, which means something like ‘New Frog Village’… I studied civil engineering. I started a job in manufacturing and moved around this area a lot. I met my girlfriend, now wife, and we decided to move to England…”

See Grzegorz' Full Background

I grew up in Poland, near the place we are now; a small village you visited with me, ‘Nowa Zabno’, which means something like ‘New Frog Village’. I finished school and university, where I studied civil engineering. I started a job in manufacturing and moved around this area a lot. I met my girlfriend, now wife, and we decided to move to England. We did that 11 years ago, and we lived for 10 years in Peterborough. We travelled around England, Scotland and Wales, so we really enjoyed our time there. That’s when I started cycling. I always loved cycling, but with my career and other things I kind of forgot about it. Then I was made redundant. So I was looking for something to do, to prove something to myself. So I started cycling again. I wanted to do a trip from Petersborough to Edinburgh. I told my brother-in-law that I was going to do it and he didn’t believe I could. So after some training, I did it in 3 days. It’s 750km. After that, I realised I could go further around the coast, so I covered the coast from Plymouth to Edinburgh. The plan was to go around the whole of Britain, but that’s now on hold because we moved back to Poland, but I continue cycling here. That’s my hobby, that’s me. I have one eight-year-old daughter. She was born in England but adapted very well to school in Poland. So we’ve started a new life since we moved back here February.

What is home to you?

“Home is where I feel safe; where I’m staying with my family. My family means my wife and my daughter… or this is what I thought it was when we lived in England, but… Now I can say that home is here. Home is Nowa Sól.”

See Grzegorz' Full Answer

Home is where I feel safe; where I’m staying with my family. My family means my wife and my daughter… or this is what I thought it was when we lived in England, but something was missing. We missed the rest of our family who we left in Poland. We missed our friends that we’d known since childhood, and we missed the area where we grew up, to be honest. Now I can say that home is here. Home is Nowa Sól.

What is special about Nowa Sól?

“Everybody knows everybody, and everybody knows who you are somehow, even if you don’t know each other directly. There is a great relationship between people.”

See Grzegorz' Full Answer

I’m sure you know what is special about Nowa Sól, and I will probably give you the same answer: the people. The people we know, the friends, the fact that I can be going somewhere in town and I see my friend, shake his hand and have a chat. Everybody knows everybody, and everybody knows who you are somehow, even if you don’t know each other directly. There is a great relationship between people. It’s a small place, but there are more opportunities now than 10 years ago, so it’s flourishing. For me, my daughter and my wife, we can enjoy ourselves here. It’s a completely different place now.

What have you learned from living in Nowa Sól?

“The mentality of people in Poland is completely different from people in Western Europe… people are not so open as in England on first contact. But when you break a certain point, they can be more open than the Englishman who is smiling at you and saying all the time ‘how are you?’ but not expecting a proper answer.”

See Grzegorz' Full Answer

The mentality of people in Poland is completely different from people in Western Europe or in England. The Polish people are more miserable. But this is in general, I’m not talking about specific people. We are not so open to others, because we’re not used to it as a nation because we’ve always been cheated. So people are not so open as in England on first contact. But when you break a certain point, they can be more open than the Englishman who is smiling at you and saying all the time “how are you?” but not expecting a proper answer. In England I found that people who asked “how are you?” really don’t care how you are.

 

What is your favourite place outside of Poland and why?

“Since I spent 10 years in the UK, that’s probably my most favourite… In Peterborough… people are not so open because there’s so many immigrants there.. I was just one of many.”

See Grzegorz' Full Answer

Since I spent 10 years in the UK, that’s probably my most favourite. But to pick one or two places in Great Britain… It’s Edinburgh and Devon. In Cornwall people were very open. In Peterborough, for example, people are not so open because there’s so many immigrants there from Eastern Europe or wherever. So the English people there weren’t so open because I was just one of many. But in the South it was better.

What was the hardest thing about leaving Poland to go to England, and Leaving England to come back?

“…to actually adapt in England was a challenge. There was the language barrier; I spoke some English but I never practised it, with the accent and everything… For a couple of years I was just discovering new things; realising how I should act…”

See Grzegorz' Full Answer

Leaving Poland wasn’t so hard. I was able to come back whenever and nothing would happen. But to actually adapt in England was a challenge. There was the language barrier; I spoke some English but I never practised it, with the accent and everything. And also finding a job. It’s a different country. For a couple of years I was just discovering new things; realising how I should act, what I should do and so on. But the decision to leave Poland was quick. But the decision to leave England and move back to Poland with my family took about two years to make. We were thinking very hard. It wasn’t only about us but our daughter as well. We were worried she wouldn’t adapt. Luckily, everything went well. We both got a job very quickly, and our daughter adapted well and made friends, and she’s happy. If she’s happy, I’m happy. The hardest part was making the decision. Even now when I’m looking at the photos from England, and seeing how our daughter grew up, the parks and the places we visited, I feel a little regret that we left. There are so many memories we left in England. But now we’re here, and we’re not planning on going back because that would be too much for our daughter.

Can you think of a time you have been proud of Nowa Sól and Poland?

“…in Nowa Sól… from nothing we built a new town. That’s the effort of the team in the council, who’ve been trying to attract new investors. Investors mean money, and this is what we have.”

See Grzegorz' Full Answer

At the moment I am proud of Nowa Sól. We invited you to stay. For those who don’t know Tieran wrote to me through warmshowers.org to help him with his visit to the town. But at the moment I don’t have space for him to stay in my flat. But I called the right person, who organised everything, even cooked meals, arranged for the bike to be repaired and so on. So all these people, they are travellers as well – I’m talking about Marek and Sławek who looked after you. They know how important it is to help, and so they gave you everything. And I tried to help, too. So we, the three of us, we understand how important it is for travellers to have nice people around you, who you can trust and rely on. So I am proud of these kind of people in Nowa Sól.

 

With Poland, as a nation we have always been together in bad moments. For sure I’m not proud of Poland when we fight with each other for silly reasons or politics; you’re from this party, I’m from that party and we don’t like each other because of that. I’m not proud of that. Regions like to fight. But it’s nice to have these times when we are united, whether it’s by a nice thing or a bad thing. When our national football team is trying to win, and when our volleyball team won recently. This is what how we try to be now as we build our country with the help of the European Union. It’s a good thing, and you can see that especially in Nowa Sól, where from nothing we built a new town. That’s the effort of the team in the council, who’ve been trying to attract new investors. Investors mean money, and this is what we have. So I’m proud of Nowa Sól and I’m pround of Polish people in that we’re trying to do something, to make things better. As a nation, we tend to focus on the bad things, so it’s a difficult question to answer. 10 years ago there was nothing here, but when we came back from England we said “we can live here”. We could have the same life as in the big cities or towns. For me it’s enough; I don’t need a lot of things. I don’t need a crowd around me to feel good.

What is your main concern or worry about Poland?

“…there is always a fight between pro- and anti-government people which is unnecessary… I’m not a specialist, I don’t know if we’re going in the right direction. What do I see? I see the good changes; I’m sure it’s a government plan to grow a seed of patriotism in people.”

See Grzegorz' Full Answer

There’s always concerns about Poland; whether we’re going in the right direction with our government, which is PIS-orientated, or the wrong one. Now, I don’t know. I will see in the next four-to-six years. Like I said, there is always a fight between pro- and anti-government people which is unnecessary, I think. I’m not a specialist, I don’t know if we’re going in the right direction. What do I see? I see the good changes; I’m sure it’s a government plan to grow a seed of patriotism in people. So I can see that people are now kind of proud; proud of their flag, and of our Eagle [the national coat of arms of Poland].

Do you have any memories from when Poland was communist?

“…they’d just brought coffee to the shop and the whole village was lining up for it… there was often no electricity, it was cut off for some reason. My father would tell me ‘the communists took it away!’ “

See Grzegorz' Full Answer

I grew up in a village, so we weren’t so affected by all these changes, I don’t think. I was too small to really be affected, too. But I do remember two things; the queue to the shop to get a coffee, because they’d just brought coffee to the shop and the whole village was lining up for it. The other thing was that there was often no electricity, it was cut off for some reason. My father would tell me “the communists took it away!” He wasn’t a big fan of communism. I don’t remember exactly how offten that was, or whether it was because they were trying to save energy.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in Nowa Sól or Poland in your lifetime?

“There’s more and more bikes on the road… there are more jobs available. People work, they have more money, so they think about their hobbies… there’s more opportunities for them. People have different pleasures now. The main value used to be the money. Now it’s time to look at the other values; nature, travelling, sport…”

See Grzegorz' Full Answer

For sure it’s the infrastructure. This is the biggest change. The roads, and all those things. With people, they are more sporty. There’s more and more bikes on the road. That’s because there are more jobs available. People work, they have more money, so they think about their hobbies, their other values, and there’s more opportunities for them. People have different pleasures now. The main value used to be the money. Now it’s time to look at the other values; nature, travelling, sport – not to be famous but just for fun. People run marathons; you’re not gonna be famous when you’re 40 and you run a marathon, but you do it for yourself, so you know you’ve done it. You don’t need too much money to run, but you need the shoes and the energy, which you get as you become more well off, and you have less worries.

 

Can you think of a Stereotype of people from Nowa Sól?

“…it used to be that years ago, many people went to Germany to steal cars and money.”

See Grzegorz' Full Answer

Especially from Nowa Sól? No. But in this part of Poland it used to be that years ago, many people went to Germany to steal cars and money. The youngsters did it for easy money. But this is gone now.

What is the best thing to ever come out of Nowa Sól?

“…we actually used to be… famous for producing gnomes for the whole of Western Europe. I don’t think it’s the best thing but it’s a chapter in our history.”

See Grzegorz' Full Answer

This park over there, with all the gnomes… we actually used to be, and maybe still are, famous for producing gnomes for the whole of Western Europe. I don’t think it’s the best thing but it’s a chapter in our history. I don’t know if we have any famous people from Nowa Sól. But you know what, maybe it’s not a ‘thing’, but I think everyone has a good thing to say about this place. Nowa Sól is like an example of a town that is developing itself.

What do you eat during the Holidays here?

The main dish traditionally, which you probably wouldn’t understand, is a carp. So I would say it’s in every house. Maybe now it’s changing a little… we should have 12 dishes on Christmas Eve, but personally I’ve never counted!”

See Grzegorz' Full Answer

The main dish traditionally, which you probably wouldn’t understand, is a carp. So I would say it’s in every house. Maybe now it’s changing a little. We eat it on the 24th – Christmas Eve. This isn’t just a Nowa Sól thing, it’s a Polish thing. It’s fried and served by itself. There are different versions, but I would stick to this fried version. You put it in flour before you fry it. But of course, we don’t only eat carp! We eat Pierogi with some mushroom sauce – Pierogi is ‘dumplings’ in English. We eat bigos, which is like sour cabbage with some pieces of meat, sausages and mushrooms in it. Zurek as well ,which is a soup. Traditionally, we should have 12 dishes on Christmas Eve, but personally I’ve never counted!

What is your least favourite Polish Dish?

“…I don’t like these fatty things, like Golonka… It’s basically the knee of a pig… It’s supposed to be good, but I’m looking at it thinking ‘…a knee? Really?’ “

See Grzegorz' Full Answer

I don’t have a favourite food, I like all most of it. But I don’t like these fatty things, like Golonka. I ate it once, but the look of it is not nice. It’s basically the knee of a pig [In German, this is Eisbein, which I reviewed after my Interview in Berlin with Claudia Herper]. It’s supposed to be good, but I’m looking at it thinking “…a knee? Really?”

Reccomendation:

“Ok, I have a confession to make…”

See the Reccomendation

Ok, I have a confession to make: after interrogating Greg until the sun dipped below the horizon and we could barely make each other out across the uncomfortable picnic table we’d found vacant beside the water, my recording cut out before his reccomendation. I’ve noticed this happen a few times, so fortunately I’ve made a list of every reccomendation I’ve been given on the trip. However, being the king of organisation that I am, I forgot to attribute each item on that list to a person. So, in this case, I do apologise if to you, Greg, if this was not your reccomendation, but rest assured that, if it’s not, I will get round to reviewing yours since I’ve already tried every Polish dish recommended to me by my interviewees!

Now, without further ado, have a read of my review below of a peculiar Polish dish: Flaki.

Life According to Locals #NowaSól #Poland #InterviewsWithLocals Click To Tweet


The Plate: Flaki

“An inescapable aroma will haunt your nostrils… submerged beneath a watery broth, you’ll find the meat, which is so gelatinous and soft that it feels almost velvety…it’s name is about as appealing as it’s smell, literally translating as “guts”…Flaki’s unusual traits meant intrigue trumped doubt… I was left savouring a tiny hint of spice that left the tongue tingling after each spoonful…”

Read About Flaki

For the more squeamish diners, it’s best not to know what goes into Flaki before you try it. A soup made from tripe (cow stomach), it will introduce itself with an inescapable aroma will haunt your nostrils until well after you’ve finished eating. The peculiarities don’t stop there, however; submerged beneath a watery broth, you’ll find the meat, which is so gelatinous and soft that it feels almost velvety. A recipe from the 14th century that historically has been an integral part of the Polish diet, it’s name is about as appealing as it’s smell, literally translating as “guts”.

Though it’s difficult to make food with the same texture as soggy fabric seem appetising, it’s unusual traits meant intrigue trumped doubt, and, scent and texture aside, I was left savouring a tiny hint of spice that left the tongue tingling after each spoonful, a flavour-packed stew softened by the addition of cheese which gradually melted to thicken it, and the satisfaction of finishing one of the weirder ‘Plates’ I’ve tried on the cycle tour so far. My conclusion: for all the olfactory build-up, Flaki smells a lot worse than it tastes.


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Poland's Identity Crisis

Attempting to cycle from Tromsø in Northern Norway to Baku, Azerbaijan while interviewing locals en route. Despite my chequered history with bikes, here’s to me returning home with an intact facial structure and at least as many body parts as I left with.

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