Lingo key to making friends

01:58, Apr 07 2014

With such limited time in Europe, holders of a two-year working holiday visa are easily sucked into bouncing from one country's big-name destination to another.

And while that's fabulous - here's looking at you, Barcelona - there's so much beyond the places found in your On a Shoestring.

The Bearded One and I are planning a weeks-long road trip around Europe, part of which will take in some of Poland's bigger centres.

But after a friend raved about it, Mark organised a group to head to Gdansk.

The town on the Baltic coast was a place I knew only from old textbooks as the flashpoint of WWII - and only as Danzig, where a group of post office workers defended the building against invading Nazi soldiers and some of the war's first shots were fired.

Shortly after arriving, I discovered plenty more.


Gdansk is beautiful.

Wealthy merchants made up the backbone of the town, so slender buildings with ornate curlicues etched onto their frontage line narrow, prettily cobbled streets.

Many boast gothic wrought-iron railings, and it's not uncommon to spot an intricately carved fish, presumably one that spurted out water in a former life, blending into the concrete guttering of each building.

As the country's capital of amber, there are dozens of stalls selling trinkets, from insect-encrusted jewellery to glistening Tiffany lamps; commanding churches of red brick hovering over the streets.

There's also plenty of opportunity to while away your time at a sidewalk cafe, drinking a coffee laced with Goldwasser -made with flecks of 23-carat gold - or sample the beers and pork knuckles at one of the town's microbreweries.

Gdansk is also tiny.

Even after spending several hours wandering its atmospheric streets and taking a train out to the nearby resort of Sopot to people-watch on the pier, there was still plenty of time left before our weekend came to a close.

With our Polish limited to just a handful or two of (mangled) phrases, we were keen to see if we could mingle with the locals.

The best way to do that? Head to the pub.

We'd heard of a bar dedicated solely to absinthe. But its location was apparently tricky - so much so, it often eluded outside-the-know tourists.

(This may or may not be deliberate.)

After searching for an age, success: a seedy-on-the-outside, luxe- on-the-inside building, with a menu that was Green Fairy specific.

Soon after watching the bartender perform trickery involving sugar cubes and flames, a cocktail glass tinged a muted pistachio was nestled in my hand.

We'd come to the right place.

Unsurprisingly, though, the conversations around us were all being conducted in Polish.

But everybody knows there is one truly universal language.


Specifically, the type of dance that is full throttle.

The type of dance that sees people stopping to gape - I like to think in awe.

The type of dance that involves contorting your body into shapes once deemed unimaginable, moving from the tops of tables to mere inches above the ground, gathering a group of like-minded Poles and starting to unbutton your shirt in order to move all the more freely.

In other words, the type of dance Mark does best.

Soon enough the vibe morphed from laid back to the kind of nightlife we'd heard Poland was legendary for, language barriers be damned.

After arriving back at the hotel in the wee ones, we all agreed it had been an unforgettable night - despite the absinthe.

Making new pals in a foreign country is a piece of cake.

You just need to know the lingo.


The Southland Times