“You didn’t hear this from me,” someone whispers in my direction. “But I’m not sure Poland will be ready in time for the matches.”
I take it with a grain of Polish salt. You seem to hear these things before every big international sporting event – and Poland is about to put itself right in the spotlight when it shares the hosting duties with Ukraine for one of the world’s largest sporting tournaments. In less than two months eight of the countries’ cities will be the home of the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship (Euro 2012).
Sixteen teams will compete in 31 matches. The whole event will run over 24 days and is expected to bring in tens of thousands of visitors. It’s a huge undertaking for any country but particularly one that is still growing its economy and infrastructure after decades of communist rule. It knows, though, that national pride is just as important to grow and this competition is being taken very seriously.
I’m in Poland as a guest of the country’s tourism organisation to see what visitors can expect if they come for Euro 2012. Hopefully they can expect finished stadiums. We were supposed to visit the brand new Municipal Stadium in Wroclaw, one of the four host cities, but when we got there we weren’t allowed in. No real explanation was given, something to do with a miscommunication apparently. It has already been used for some events but is undergoing some changes for Euro 2012. You do wonder whether it just wasn’t in a state to be seen by journalists yet. My impression from the outside, though? It looks like a pretty impressive structure!
Three of the teams competing – England, Italy and Netherlands – will base themselves in Krakow for the length of the tournament. The strange thing is that the city isn’t actually hosting any games, though. Perhaps the decision to be located there is because it’s a fairly central position. Perhaps it says something about a perception of Poland. Or perhaps it’s that the teams don’t want to spend too much time in places they can’t pronounce (Wroclaw, for example, is pronounced ROTZ-lahv).
Visiting Poland for the football
There’s no doubt, in my opinion, that visitors to Poland who are coming purely for the football will be impressed with the country. It may not have been a place they would had come otherwise but it’s impossible not be get caught up in a lotsi of vodka, beer, dancing, meat, history and friendliness. I’ve written a bit already about the Polish food here and I’ll have more to say soon about the hospitality of the people I met.
Poland (and Krakow in particular) has a bit of a reputation as a cheap party destination – particularly for those about to sign their lives away in marriage. The football fans won’t be disappointed but those looking for something a bit deeper will probably have an even more rewarding experience.
These cities have history – but not just the history from centuries ago that we marvel at but can’t understand. There is a history here that happened during many of our lifetimes and that a lot of people alive can still remember. There’s something to be said for visiting a country where the past still has such an impact on the present. It’s to the detriment of any tourist that they forget that.
Despite all the fears and the whispered warnings of the locals, of course Poland will be ready for the Euro championships, that’s a given. The real question is whether all the visitors will be ready for Poland!
* Head here to visit the official Euro 2012 website.
* To find out more about Poland you can visit the official website of the Poland National Tourist Office or check it out on facebook.
Time Travel Turtle travelled to Poland as a guest of the Polish National Tourist Office but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.
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