Friday, 4 September 2009

Signs and Portents: Poland 2

This week, more odd, crazy and downright strange signs that I've spotted on my travels. Here are some more from my journey through Poland for Lonely Planet in the frosty winter of 2006...


It was a killer costume, but Anna couldn't help wondering how she would actually get to the fancy dress party while wearing that tail.

This gracious lady greets the stranger labouring up the stairs to reach the Oki Doki backpacker hostel in Warsaw (okey dokey... get it?). She's actually an irreverent reinterpretation of the city's coat of arms, a mermaid bearing a sword and shield. In true Central European fashion, no-one has any idea where the emblem came from, but there are some beguiling legends concerning its origin.


Warsaw prided itself on its diversity of shopping outlets.

I saw this sign as I walked down into an underpass that leads past a set of shops to a tram platform. On the left, of course, is an ad for a sex shop; on the right, an ad advertising natural food for diabetics, vegetarians, and the gluten-intolerant. Kind of a yin and yang of the sinful and healthy.


Marcin was actually a vegetarian, but was in it for the funny hats.

I like to see a man who enjoys his work! This guy on a giant poster in Wrocław enjoys his luncheon meat so much, he dresses up to get into the right spirit. The slogan beneath the ham says something like "tasty life", or "life is tasty", though both my own knowledge of Polish and online translators are having trouble with the word Mościpaństwo. I suspect it means something like "gentlemen". Help from Polish speakers welcome!


If one more person mentioned Monty Python, Agata was going to scream.

This curious poster was spotted outside PRL, a "communist nostalgia" bar in Wrocław, an attractive city in the southwest. The pub is very much a tongue-in-cheek take on the bad old days, and its interior is festooned with authentic communist memorabilia taken from people's attics, with waiters wandering by in red tracksuits, and stirring socialist anthems playing over the sound system. All very amusing.

PRL, by the way, stands for Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa, the communist-era People's Republic of Poland. And śledzik is a little herring, eaten as an appetiser with vodka.


Leo couldn't wait to get off work and go bowling.

A lion above the door of a pharmacy in Toruń, my favourite city in Poland, a charming middle-sized burg in Pomerania with a vast collection of Gothic architecture. None of this airy-fairy Renaissance architecture for Toruń, no sir; if a church doesn't look like a red-brick fortress, you just aren't trying.

Anyhow, the pod in this sign means "beneath", as in "The Pharmacy Beneath the Lion". You can have lots of fun in the older areas of Polish cities by spotting business names involving pod (there are a lot of them), then looking upward to see if you can spot what object the business is actually beneath.

My absolute favourite, in Kraków, is Apteka Pod Złotym Tygrysem: Pharmacy Beneath the Golden Tiger!

To be continued...