We were so close to Poland… it was right across the border! I couldn’t resist the urge to try to get in. My first thought was Warsaw or Krakow, the two big Polish hubs most people are familiar with. But taking a train into these cities needed advanced booking in the summer, so we weren’t about to take our chances as we were on a tight schedule. Luckily, there was one train that would take us into Poland, just not exactly the town we were expecting. Early in the morning, we boarded a packed German train heading towards our final destination; Szczecin. Little did we know how entertaining this whole experience was going to be.
You’ll get a good sense of the cultural difference between the Germans and the Polish just by hopping on one of the trains heading to Szczecin (pronounced "Schechin" by the way). The trains are packed with kids running around and parents trying to keep everyone together. There is a harsher, but almost warmer community aspect to the people of eastern Europe, and Poland kinda falls in the center. We were under the assumption this train was going to take us all the way to the train station in Szczecin, but we knew we were going to have to stop at the border and probably have our passports checked…. ya, no. The train did stop at the border, but to our surprise, everyone, I’m talking 150+ people with kids, rushed out of the train car, ran full tilt towards this small train parked in front of us blowing its horn and we had no idea what was going on. So when you don’t know what to do, and everyone is running…. best to just follow the crowd! It was a good thing we did because we jumped onto the train car right as it was pulling away. About 30 min later on this small little polish train, we arrived in Szczecin.
The train station is small, but it has a few little bakeries where you can pick up some snacks! The best part of this whole little day excursion was being greeted by two smiling faces handing out free beers to anyone who walked by. They weren’t trying to sell you anything, not trying to promote, just handing out free ice cold Heineken's. And that folks, is when we fell in love with Poland! We found out later that it wasn't their regular Heineken. It was their non-alcoholic beer and it sure tricked us! We thought it was alcoholic beer the whole time which is a great sign! Heineken did well.
The best way to explore this town is by meandering with a loose goal in mind. Below are a few spots in the city that I found to be really pretty and might give you an idea of where you want to head. I will say, half the fun is finding your own little gems, so wander as long and as far as Szczecin will take you.
The Harbor Front
We started by following the river upstream. The town is fairly small, so we were able to walk most of it. In the summer you’ll notice that Europe is busy with festivals and this remains true while in Poland.
When we visited Szczecin there was a fair along the river bank, and there were stalls along the streets offering delectable polish treats! If you’re interested in some cool photography shots, you’ll notice the industrial look of some parts of the river bank.
Walking the streets
If you head further inland, there are a myriad of authentic polish streets with old architecture, orthodox churches and graffiti all on one block.
This city has really cool little parks where you can just take a break from walking, but there are trams if your feet get tired. Although we didn’t take the trams, if you check out this blog from TraveLux, They have a great explanation on how to use the Szczecin tram system.
Szczecin Old Town
While you’re walking upriver from the train station, you’ve got to check out Old Town! The architecture of the buildings with all the bright colors are spectacular, as well as the great option for shopping and food. This isn’t the largest old town I've seen in Europe, it’s actually quite small, but it’s perfect for a few Instagram pics! While you’re in this neck of the woods, you should definitely check out the Szczecin history museum. Even if you’re not a big museum buff, understanding a little more about the place you’re in, the culture and the history (in my opinion) gives travelers more insight and a little more admiration for the place they're visiting. Taking pictures is awesome, but not having context to those pictures can make the whole experience very shallow (trust me, I’m guilty of this!)
Walk by the Passport Office
I know this sounds strange but once you’ve visited Old Town and you’re still somewhat following the river north, you’ll come to The National Museum in Szczecin and the Passport Office. These two buildings are stunning, and there are two great ways to take pictures of these places (two places I, unfortunately, realized after the fact! But in my defense, these locations were also covered with fair equipment). The first is to make it down onto the lawns in front of these buildings, and the other is to actually cross the river via the Labuda Bridge. On the other side of the river, there are beaches and a marina, here you can take some great landscape shots. If you’re lucky there will be an event going on and they’ll have the old ships docked at the harbor!
Karłowicz Philharmonic Szczecin
This is another awesome spot to take pictures. In fact, it seems like this place was designed perfectly for an Instagram gallery. The modern architecture and the plain white background make for great shots. But I will tell you, it’s a little difficult to get just the right angle. You have to be on the other side of the street to truly capture the size of it. We only had a few hours, so I never went inside, but the Karłowicz Philharmonic Szczecin is actually an Orchestra house.
If you wander far enough, you’ll also find a nifty city park near the Karłowicz Philharmonic. The park is actually concrete, but again, there’s some pretty cool architecture where you might be able to pick up some unique Instagram shots. There’s also a bronze angel standing as a reminder of the riots that took place in December of 1970. There were increases in food prices by 20-40% and the people began to protest. The protests were met with aggression and 1000’s were injured, 40 or so were killed. I've never been a big fan of taking Instagram selfies with memorials as I find it tends to be disrespectful, but I definitely recommend capturing the ominous beauty the angel omits looking over the square, remembering the impact that food deserts and poorly managed governments can have on communities.
For being a little polish town, there are a ton of treasured locations to photograph, fun summer events to participate in and free beer the second you step foot onto Polish soil…. I mean who can complain?
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