The Mole Diaries: Gdansk, Poland
Kaja Bronowska is a languages student at the University of Nottingham. Originally from Poland, she has always loved travelling, and has lived in the US, UK, Poland, and recently NZ. She will be spending her third year abroad in Russia. To keep up with her travels, check out her blog.
“Trójmiasto” or, in English, Tri-City is an agglomeration of three large cities – Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia. Poles say that you should work in Gdansk, the most industrial and historic one of the three, you should party in Sopot on its Monte Casino Street, where every other door leads to a club or a restaurant, but you should live in Gdynia, the youngest and most modern of the three.
You can travel between these three cities on buses (that run often and, although sometimes late, are quite reliable and very cheap in Poland) or on the much faster SKM city train (that is also quite cheap, especially if you have a student card which gives you over 50% discount on public transport in Poland, as well as great deals in museums and some bars). Although it may take you over half an hour to get from Gdynia City Centre to Gdansk City Centre many people commute between the two. It all depends on which university you will go to. Most universities are based in Gdansk.
In Poland there are different kinds of universities. Simply “University of… (here they would put a name of the city or someone, who the school was named after)” usually means a school that specialises in humanistic degrees. Of course you can probably study science there as well, but if you want to study such subjects on a better level, you should apply for a “University of Technology”. The same applies to “Universities of Arts/Music”.
Studying here is a bit more demanding than in England. With subjects such as physical education, foreign language or ethics, that are often compulsory for all, you have to be prepared to spend many hours at university. In some universities attendance on lectures is not compulsory, but with multiple exams during the academic year it might be difficult to stay on top on numerous assignments and projects if you decide to skip class.
Living in Poland is quite cheap and there are so many gorgeous places to see here, that you have to be prepared to travel. Trains are very affordable (possible to just pay £10 to get from Gdansk to Kraków), but you have to be patient, because they often run late. But you can also fly between cities on cheap airlines, take the bus or rent a car with some friends.
University accommodation in Poland is very limited. It is usually provided for low-income students, who meet strict requirements. Most students have to search for accommodation themselves. Students would often share a flat with others, to divide costs. It is also not uncommon for students in Poland to share a room, for the same reason. Useful sites for finding accommodation (but also work) are olx.pl and trojmiasto.pl. When renting a flat it might be a good idea to find a place with Polish students, since landlords from the older generation often do not speak English and so it would be probably easier to have someone, who can communicate in Polish to help you deal with arrangements.
You should calculate to pay £200 tops for a single room in 3City. With other expanses you should probably fit in £350 per month, which, compared to life in England, is barely anything. You might actually save money while living abroad!
History and food are huge parts of the Polish culture (and, of course, partying – especially for students!). It might be a good idea to read a bit about this country’s past, so you can understand the discussions that take place and so you do not say something that will make everyone feel uncomfortable. Of course a lot will be forgiven, since everyone will know, that you are a foreigner, but Poles are quite sensitive about their history. They are also very interested in foreigners, so be prepared to answer different questions about your country of origin and to learn some Polish swear words.
If you want to try some traditional Polish food, then you should make friends with a student, who often goes home for the weekend. You are likely to get an invitation to dinner from their family and be treated to an everyday, three course meal. Do not be scared to try different things. They may sound weird (sour cabbage, sour pickles, pigeons, dumplings with fruit), but they taste great! There are so many dishes in Polish cuisine, that you may easily try something different every day. And, if you miss your mum’s cooking, you will probably easily find a restaurant in Poland that serves food from your country. Poles love to try different foods and if they go out for dinner they rarely choose something that they can make at home.
Here are a few of my favourite places to eat in in Gdansk:
A great cafe in Gdansk Old Town. With a wide range of teas and coffees, cosy décor and soft sitting chairs, you can spend hours here during winter afternoons. Definitely try their “szarlotka – Polish apple pie”
A little restaurant in Gdansk Old Town that serves you potatoes in all possible ways. I was surprised that a potato can hold so many tasty secrets
In Gdansk Oliwa, this is a great place to try some traditional (and unique, if you are in the mood for something different) “pierogi – Polish dumplings”
4. Swojski Smak
An affordable, traditional Polish restaurant in Gdansk Old Town, a bit further down the street from Madison Shopping Centre. Great potato pancakes!
5. CIUCIU Cukier Artist
A candy factory, where they make sweets in front of your eyes. You cannot miss it, since you can smell it from far away. Suited on Długa Street in Gdansk Old Town, a great place to get some sweets for friends and family.
When it comes to parties, students in Poland prefer bars, pubs and parties held at home to loud clubs. Of course there are a few student clubs and many clubs in Sopot, but they are mostly aimed at tourists. Students are usually short on cash and tend to spend their time at the beach or at someone’s place, but this does not mean, that they do not dance. Be prepared to dance with someone specific and not just jump in one spot with everyone and to host at least one party at your place. If you do go out, look for deals, since there are often discounts for students or “student nights” held at local clubs. It is also normal in Poland for ladies to have free entrance to a club.
There is a lot of drinking happening in Poland, with beer being drunk at quiet evenings and vodka appearing at longer parties. It is usually accompanied by food, so if you are going to someone’s place it is polite to bring a dish and a bottle with you, to share with others. Do not worry; if others come to your house they will probably do the same.
If drinking vodka you will drink it from shot glasses. And it will definitely not be just one shot of vodka, so be warned! Others will pressure you into drinking. Do not be offended – they do not mean to be impolite; they think that they are being friendly. But if you feel uncomfortable, you can always say that you are taking medication. Or that your foreign liver cannot handle all the drinking.
When it comes to manners, Poles are quite traditional. Maybe they do not seem to be very friendly when they meet you on the street, but they will be very accommodating once you get to know them. This is particularly true if you come from abroad, since they believe that it is their duty to teach you as much as they can about their country and culture. They may come off a bit rude, since they are quite straightforward, but they do not mean to offend anyone - they simply want to get their point across quickly.
Many “old” social customs are still respected in Poland. Men tend to give up their seat for women and help them with luggage in public. They also stand up when greeting others, especially ladies. Some older men may even kiss women’s hand when greeting them, but they should not do that, if the hand is not offered to them. When greeting other men they will shake hands. Women usually greet their friends by kissing them on the cheek (or the air next to their cheek) three times. It is customary for men to give women flowers – be it their girlfriends, older ladies that they may visit in their homes (for example if you go to dinner and meet someone’s mother) or any lady on a special occasion (her birthday or “name day” that is often celebrated in Poland).
There are many things to see in Trójmiasto. You should definitely plan a day trip to each city. There are many museums and parks in all of them. Each city also has a different theatre, with the best philharmonic and opera house in Gdansk and a great musical theatre in Gdynia. Sopot’s theatre is a bit more modern, with one of their scenes being suited on the beach, with the Baltic Sea serving as a backdrop for plays. Your student card should give you great deals on theatre tickets.
Make sure that you visit all the major cities – Warsaw, Wrocław, Toruń, Kraków – because each of them is unique in its own way. They are all built in the traditional Polish way, with an Old Town in the centre, so they may look the same, but they all have something different to offer. Warsaw, the capitol, is known for its museums; Wrocław is the “city of the young”, always busy; Toruń produces the best Polish gingerbread cakes; Kraków is a historic Polish city that attracts the most tourists. But also keep in mind, that the real Polish culture and traditions can be found in tiny places, in small towns and villages. It might be a bit difficult to communicate with the locals there, but once you break through the language barrier, you will experience Poland as no tourist can, seeing how the country functions outside of Western influence.
When it comes to its land, Poland is quite unique, having a bit of everything. There are Tatry, Polish mountains in the South. In the East you can find the Bieszczady Mountains, which are unique because of their rich nature and stunning green hills stretching all the way to the horizon. In the North there is of course the sea, but in the North-East you will find Mazury, the land of the Great Lakes, where you can sail for days through the connected lakes. Whether you prefer water sports, mountain climbs, long quite walks in the forest or busy party cities you will always find something to do, with plenty of activities to try in the winter as well as in the summer.
Our Mole Diaries are insider city guides written by students about their experiences, filled with top tips and recommendations. Please view our 200+ Mole Diaries arranged by language, and if you'd like to contribute, do find out more about becoming a Mole!
For 20% off the booking fee for your accommodation abroad, visit UniPlaces.com and use code THIRDYEARABROAD :)