Visiting Lodz

November 27th, 2006

We have just come back from a short trip to Poland’s second city, Lodz. This was my second visit – I went there last year to a forensic linguistics conference. This time, the visit was partly as a holiday – I didn’t get a chance to see much of it last time I was there, and partly as research. I want to set some scenes from my next book in Lodz.

We flew from East Midlands airport. Ryanair run regular flights to Lodz – cheap, and in my one experience, efficient enough. It’s a scramble for seats as they operate on a first come first served basis, and I suspect that if they could, they would take the Virgin Trains option and have half their passengers standing. But the crew were pleasant and the flight was uneventful until we were approaching the city. We were flying over the tall, red striped chimneys on our approach to the airport when the plane started gaining height again – horror to a flight phobic like me. I immediately assumed that the wheels had dropped off, but it was bad weather down in Lodz and radar that wasn’t perhaps as up to the minute as it might me. So on we flew to Poznam – a beautiful city that I would like to spend some time in one day soon – and onto a bus for a three hour drive back to Lodz.

I had neglected to exchange phone numbers with Krzysztof, my contact at the university who had arranged to meet me at the airport. I didn’t expect him to be still waiting, so after a rudimentary look round, we got a taxi into town to our hotel. As it turned out, Krzysztof arrived minutes after we had left. He’d left his number at the hotel so we did meet up eventually.

The hotel, the Orbis Grand, is big and imposing and right in the centre of Lodz, on Piotrkowska, the long main street with shops and cafes – and rickshaws. But more of that later. Our room was shabby but comfortable – more or less what we had been led to expect.

Lodz is not yet a clone of every other city. The shops, cafes and restaurants are not the ones to be seen on every high street in the UK (and the US for that matter). There is a MacDonalds – when I arrive in the afterlife I expect to see the golden arches at the entrance to Paradise (or the other place), but no Starbucks, oh joy. What there is, is some of the best coffee in the world, served in a no-pressure environment where you can sit and gawp for more or less as long as you want.

We had four days to see everything. I had a list: the city centre, the industrial architecture, the cathedral, the Jewish cemetery, Lagiewnicki forest, Radogoszcz Prison, the Litzmannstadt Ghetto. Krzysztof asked me to talk to his students about translation, and invited us to his apartment to give us an idea of how people in Lodz lived. It was a full itinerary and we didn’t have a wasted moment. It was also a lot of fun.

Day 1

Day one was get our bearings day. We used it to explore the city centre, wander up and down Piotrkowska and explore the courtayrds. Piotrowska – and other streets as well, I’m sure, has entrances leading onto courtyards. Some are very run down, but others are renovated and exciting. There are cafes, restaurants and shops in these courtyards, and they are a very attractive addition to the city centre. On our first evening, Krzyzstof directed us to a pierogi cafe in one of the courtyards. Nobody spoke English, but pierogi is pierogi (a kind of Polish ravioli) and beer is piwo, so we were happy. Eating out is ridiculously cheap – expect to pay between 15 – 40 zloties per person. At 5 zloties to the pound, that isn’t a lot.

We used one of the rickshaws to travel to the top of Pitrkowska – we chose one where the passenger sits in front of the cyclist. We should have realised that having the padding of two tourists in front of him would bring out the kamikaze in our driver. We took our seats he tore off in the direction of pl Wolnosci, engaging in in a game of chicken with the Lodz equivalent of white van man, scattering pedestrians to the four winds and ending in fine style in a photo finish with another driver also ferrying two white-faced tourists.

We went to the art museum first. Unfortunately, most of its exhibition was closed for renovations, but there were two galleries open, one with some terrific video work, and one set of photos that we studied with a growing sense of familiarity until we realised they had been taken in the Peace Gradens in Sheffield.

We spent the first afternoon at the Manufaktura, a ‘more than a shopping centre’ shopping centre that lives up to its name. It’s a combination of arts, business, leisure and retail facilities on a site where old factories have been renovated. The industrial architecture of Lodz is beautiful and worth preserving, so the Manufaktura is a project worth applauding on all levels – as long as it doesn’t suck all the business away from Piotrkowska! We found our way to Wedel’s chocolate shop and cafe where – in lovely surroundings – we were tempted by pure sin in a cup. Wedels in known for its drinking chocolate, and rightly so. If I lived in Lodz, I would be there every day, and I would weigh 50 stone within a week. It’s evil, and absolutely unmissable.

Of course, the chains are here. there is a Pizza Hut, a Macdonald’s, a KFC.

To be continued….