An unusual choice? Maybe. A good one? Absolutely! Why Łódź is top travel destination for 2021
Accustomed as I am to dealing with moronic questions every waking moment, even my mind was blown when a friend asked where I’d like to visit in the months ahead.
Resisting the urge to hang myself by my pants, it was through gritted teeth I replied. “Anywhere,” I answered, with only the slightest hint of menace.
I meant it, as well. As it stands, I’d happily holiday for a week on a housing estate in Stalowa Wola if that choice presented itself, just anywhere so long as it involved journeying beyond Warsaw’s city limits.
Of course, not all travel journalists are as hostile in handing out advice, and a reminder of that came in The Guardian the other week when 21 writers were challenged with much the same question. Diverse and broad-ranging, their answers ran from Norway’s fjords to the Scottish glens via the bars of Madrid and some nutty Danish festival by the name of CopenHell.
And then there was one bloke that volunteered Łódź.
At this point, though, it’s important to caution that this was not a recommendation as some of the local Łódź press would have you thinking, but rather something more akin to a wager between mates: some of the author’s friends had said it would be worth the jaunt, while others had disagreed. A trip to Poland, reasoned the writer, would settle that dispute.
Pedantry aside, it’s a debate in which I’d like to intervene. An unusual choice? Maybe. But a good one? Absolutely.
A far cry from the old days, I still remember my first visit and treading fearfully through the stinking depths of the underpass running from the station before checking into a hotel whose lobby floor had been arrayed with pots to catch the water that was leaking in torrents from the ceiling above. From a murky corner, a haggard prostitute as old as the industry itself surveyed me with intent.
But look at her now though (the city not the hooker). That station, once only fit for trolls, has morphed into an engineering marvel straight from the imagination of a scientist from NASA. And while that hotel I was in still just about stands, choice has expanded to include design-forward projects such as the gorgeous Puro and the immense Andel’s opposite – looking more like a contemporary art gallery, it’s fitting that in the form of MS2 the city’s primary modern art space sits but a whistle away.
In this, I’m aware I’m not saying anything new; at least, nothing that can’t be found in guidebooks or whatever digital platforms that travellers now rely on. So forget all that, instead allow me to babble about what makes Łódź so special.
From a personal point of view, it’s sheer depth of contrast comes somewhere near the top: lavish wedding cake palaces that reference the might once wielded by the city’s power players; futuristic office compounds; blackened, broken tenements; abandoned, creepy warehouses; restored redbrick factories; and PRL blocks of cosmic dimension.
That, quite often, all of these are to be found on just one stretch of street makes for a visual kaleidoscope of baffling beauty. You turn each corner not knowing what you’ll find.
And then there’s the streets themselves. I shan’t harp on about Piotrkowska (though who doesn’t love the overtly tourist thrill of being bombed around by a panting rickshaw driver), but instead give a shout to the city’s famous woonerfs.
Inspired by the Dutch fixation of transforming streets into ‘living organisms’, it’s on routes like ul. 6 Sierpnia that drivers and cyclists weave among tables laid out by specialist cafes and artisan beer pubs.
Having immersed myself in the past by first walking the shattered looking district that once housed one of the Third Reich’s biggest ghettoes, it’s a relief to return to these central streets and soak in the contemporary, urban vibe that the city now presents.
Exciting doesn’t cover it; from a cultural perspective, away from its posey white cube galleries and much-lauded cinematic connections, it’s the grass roots side of things that rings out the loudest: installations such as an entire side alley rendered in mirrored glass or its full-on assault of mega-sized murals – Instagram heaven.
And it helps that the city powers seem so in tune with the spirit of the city: municipal investments have been wise, echoing the artsy soul with ‘what the hell is that’ statements such as the Unicorn’s Stable, a psychedelic tram stop that could house a jumbo jet.
Frankly, it’s a city that hits you in the guts in a big woosh of energy – and were you in doubt, then a nocturnal visit to OFF Piotrkowska, a food and drinks hub in a ramshackle factory, soon sets you straight before lamping you with a hangover to remember.
But therein lies a problem – with so much of the city’s modern greatness seeping from its sense of raw creativity, a big question mark hangs over its post-covid future. Could this natural energy be leeched out by the virus? Can the independent, maverick businesses weather the storm?
A fantastical fusion of crazy ideas, ambitious projects and artistic endeavours, for Łódź to truly flourish these need to be protected and further encouraged. Whether they are, only time will tell.