Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2007/18 posted by hidden europe on

The last day of school is always an interesting moment to be in Poland, and hidden europe happened to be in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz a week or two back when the school year drew happily to its conclusion. By ten in the morning on a hot and humid Friday, all the tables outside a favoured café were full, as Bydgoszcz youth set about celebrating the end of another school year. Bydgoszcz is one of those unsung Polish cities, the sort of spot where few tourists stop.

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Dear fellow travellers

Today, as it happens, is the official publication day for hidden europe 15. If the posties of Europe and beyond have worked their usual magic, then subscribers will surely have received their copies a few days ago. Meanwhile others can catch the flavour of our latest offering by checking the full table of contents here. The full text of selected articles is available online.

school's out for summer (Poland)

For many school kids around Europe, another year of education is done and dusted as schools recess for the summer vacation. The last day of school is always an interesting moment to be in Poland, and hidden europe happened to be in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz a week or two back when the school year drew happily to its conclusion. By ten in the morning on a hot and humid Friday, all the tables outside a favoured café were full, as Bydgoszcz youth set about celebrating the end of another school year. Bydgoszcz is one of those unsung Polish cities, the sort of spot where few tourists stop. The main city square is still the preserve of the locals, and that Friday morning was a chance for kids in their mid to late teens, all wearing their best suits and party frocks and clutching their end-of-year school reports, to make merry.

Bydgoszcz's main square is as happy a focal point for a town as one might ever wish to find. Not quite picture perfect, but all the better for that. Elegant to be sure, but just sufficiently unkempt to be intriguing. A hint of art nouveau here, a touch of classicism there, and the whole ensemble presided over by a handsome town hall. Behind the town hall, a glimpse of Bydgoszcz's Gothic parish church, a magnificent essay in red brick that a few years back was elevated to the status of a co-cathedral.

By the time the church bells tolled for the Angelus at noon, the kids at the outside tables on the square had all had a beer or two and were on their way. But the last day of school presaged a fabulous weekend of midsummer entertainment in Bydgoszcz. On both the Saturday and Sunday evenings, there was live music in the main square, and Bydgoszcz's affable mayor, Konstanty Dombrowicz, seemed endlessly available for handshakes and photos with young and old alike. The entire city had that kind of homespun buzz that made this industrial community in northern Poland seem the most amiable spot on the planet.

Almagro (Spain)

That Polish foray done, hidden europe headed south to Spain and last Wednesday found us in the small town of Almagro in central Spain. The town is on the Campo de Calatrava, where once the knights of Calatrava, a military offshoot of the Cistercian order, maintained the front line defences against the Moors to the south. This is La Mancha, Don Quixote country, a region with squat windmills on little hills that interrupt a vast melancholic meseta. To the south, lush and exuberant Andalucía, but that's another world from the arid lands of La Mancha.

Almagro turned out to be a gem. The town has some spectacular vernacular architecture, including a celebrated surviving example of an open-air Corral de Comedias. It, and a dozen or more other performance spaces, are the focal points for a theatre festival that runs from now until the end of July. There is a good helping of Shakespeare and Cervantes on offer, including many improvisations around the Don Quixote theme. The latter invariably involve windmills. Some associations, it seems, are just too quixotic to be ignored.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.