I sensed a fair bit of incredulity from the folks back home when I told them I had decided to move to Poland. But all of that paled in comparison to the amazement that confronted me from the people I met here. Poles seem genuinely shocked to learn that an American would come to Lodz on a permanent basis, not to study or to visit, but to live. And I guess I can see why. After about nine months here, I have to admit the fact that Lodz is not particularly glamorous. It’s not on many “must-see” lists for tourists coming to Central Europe, and it doesn’t boast a quaint town square that many associate with the region. However, Lodz is far from boring, and better than beautiful, I find it different.
It is a place of contradictions and contrasts, whose very name means “boat” – though there is no lake or river to be found. Take Lodz architecture. A more eclectic mix I’m sure you could not find! The art deco facades alternate with crumbling Soviet-style blocks, and old buildings are constantly being reclaimed and re-purposed into new urban spaces. The city’s industrial past is embraced at every turn, from its modern redbrick lofts to its modified “rynek” in the new hub that is Manufaktura. Just as juxtaposed is the art of Lodz; famous pre-War faces are painted on the walls, and the likenesses of classical composers and writers line Piotrkowska street, just around the corner from some of the world’s largest and most celebrated graffiti murals.
How about Lodz as a place to live? For starters, getting around is a breeze. Public transportation, while not always 100% reliable, is surprisingly diverse and blessedly cheap. It’s also fairly walkable, especially once you get downtown (though admittedly not the best for biking). There are plenty of green spaces, parks, and gardens to visit, and even a national forest at the edge of the city. Most places are welllit at night, and despite reports of hooliganism, it feels quite safe from violent crime. I think Lodz gets a bad rap for its origins as an industrial hub. It’s true that we can’t boast as many charming cobblestone alleyways or classical sculptures as Warsaw, and there are no Cracovian horse-drawn carriages in sight. But our history is no less fascinating – the Radogoszcz Prison Musuem, for example, is an absolute must. Tourists come from all over the world to appreciate the local urban art forms, and the city gets more cosmopolitan every day. When I first started visiting almost seven (really, seven?!) years ago, I remember lamenting the lack of spicy food available downtown. Now it seems a new Thai place or sushi joint is opened every week, and the international food aisles in our favorite grocery stores are always expanding. It doesn’t hurt that we’re literally in the center of the country, about as close to Germany as to Belarus, and just as near to the northern sea as the southern mountains.
So though I’ve not yet lived here an entire year, I must say that I see bright things in this city’s future. In any case, for those intrepid travelers that are tired of visiting European capitals, taking pictures of cathedral after cathedral until every city square seems to blur together into one, this town called Boat is the place for you. Zapraszam.
This was a contest submission written by Kelcey Armstrong-Walenczak.