Before Google … the opportunity tour guide to Poland

“I am going to take you to my friend’s studio. It’s pretty unusual. I think you will like it,” says Ewa, my unofficial manual to Kraków, in certainly one of the biggest understatements of the trip. Leaving the city far beneath, she leads me up a hillside to an old military bunker tucked away within the leafy suburbs. It seems deserted at the start look, but then we’re greeted via a person who, with his gray beard and sheepskin waistcoat, has the appearance of an aging rocker. Hans, a sculptor, has grown to become this forgotten lookout point into his 12 months-spherical home. There isn’t any electricity; the inside is lit only by way of candles. Outside there may be an 8ft-high carved totem pole and the remains of a bonfire from his all-night closing party.

What follows is one of those surreal journey experiences, in which one new friend introduces you to some other and another. Before long we’ve activated thru Kraków’s artistic underground. As a CouchSurfer, I am used to locating golden opportunities via strangers, but the uncommon issue approximately this connection is that it passed off when I attempted to resurrect a 20-year-old tourist undertaking that turned into, in many methods, the precursor to trendy social networking.

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Back to the past due Eighties, US-born Jim Haynes, a former book shop owner and famed supporter of counter-subculture arts, had an idea. Convinced that the high-quality travel reviews come from the people you meet, he set himself an aim: he would fit inquisitive guests with gracious hosts by creating an opportunity guidebook. Commercial advantage becomes no longer a priority, so he commenced in a country with no journey industry that changed into still fighting communist rule. Poland: People to People finally hit bookshelves in 1991, the year of the first unfastened elections inside the USA since the Twenties.

 

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Peer-to-peer websites are ten a penny nowadays, but turning the concept into an e-book lower back then changed into pretty a mission. Jim despatched out a typewritten letter thru his already full-size network of friends and was given it published it in numerous Polish courses. The resulting extent appeared like a person cope with the book, with every contact filed underneath the town they lived in, beginning in Augustów and finishing in Znakowo. The cover rate of £6 bought you the contact info of 1,000 strangers.

Poland: People to People
Photograph: Dave Depares/Brave Spark Media
Jim gave me an out-of-print edition at one of the open-house dinners he runs every Sunday at his Paris home. It changed into like establishing a little time pill. Intrigued by using the concept of taking contemporary networking returned to its roots, I questioned whether, 20 years later, Jim’s hosts might nonetheless be willing to greet an unknown traveler from foreign places?It is my first time in Poland, and Kraków is undeniably amazing. The picture-perfect fundamental rectangular – Rynek Główny, one in all the most important in Europe – is lined with Renaissance homes, energetic avenue cafés and golfing carts ready to take vacationers around the city. I skip the organized tours, although, and head off to fulfill Wladek, a 50-year-antique educational whom I even have tracked down thru his college. We meet in a 19th-century bohemian café, Jama Michalika (Florianska forty-five, jamamichalika.Pl), that’s all stained-glass home windows and theatrical velvet drapes.

 

“During the communist instances, it becomes infamous for having the worst feasible career,” he tells me, giggling as an ultra-well mannered waitress sets down our ice cream sundaes.

Wladek and son Wojtek, 15, who took Vicky to a communist-generation cafeteria
Wladek and son Wojtek, 15, who took Vicky to a communist-technology cafeteria. Photograph: Dave Depares/Brave Spark Media
Wladek has hazy recollections of the people he met via the e-book but says he enjoys the company of site visitors, as they’re curious and inquisitive about others. He suggests me vintage images and speaks of how lifestyles have modified. His 15-yr-vintage son Wojtek, who joins us after faculty, seems slightly bemused via the complete idea but is happy to accompany us to an old milk bar, U Stasi (Mikołajska 16), one of the few no-frills cafeterias that have survived the years of change. Naturally, we order pierogi – the well-known Polish dumplings – and are served a plateful that must maintain any vacationer going for days.

The next morning I have my impromptu bunker journey with Ewa, an artist I found after contacting diverse nearby galleries. She invitations me for dinner at her domestic together with her own family and we spend the night time searching through her canvases. She even unearths the unique typewritten letter Jim despatched in 1989 to introduce the assignment.

“History is coming returned to me,” she says as she flicks via the book. In the Nineteen Eighties, she was a contract interpreter, operating with essential media to cover the shipyard strikes that led to the autumn of the iron curtain.

Krystyna, who tried to tell the actual tale of the 1980s shipyard moves
Krystyna, who tried to inform the actual tale of the 1980s shipyard strikes. Photograph: Dave Depares/Brave Spark Media
“When the TV crews got here to Poland, they all said: ‘Wow, it’s far a completely special region from what we imagined,’ however then when it got here to filming, they went seeking out women with handkerchiefs on their heads and horses with carts. I think I wanted to fulfill people so I should subvert stereotypes and show that no longer all of the pictures you’ve got to your head are real.”

Krystyna’s testimonies approximately the strikes have me gripped, but finally, I have to head off to satisfy my very last touch. Mariusz made himself less difficult to trace after losing a key clue on his authentic profile: “I just made my very own sailboard.”

Was he, I puzzled, the silver-haired man I discover in diverse on line windsurfing action shots? Could he have long passed directly to emerge as a sailing educate for the Polish Olympic crew?

“Sure! That’s me. I take into account this e book!” he replies to my tweet. “There are people from the States who visited, with whom my (now ex-) wife is still in touch!”