I could say that I haven’t written much about my trip to Poland yet because I’ve been tied up on lots of other projects this summer (many of which are outside of this blog), but I’m not sure that’s quite true.
Yes, I’ve been genuinely busy doing lots of other things, but I think the real reason I’ve been hush-hush about my trip was because I loved Poland.
So. Freaking. Much.
I know that doesn’t quite make sense, but it’s difficult to explain. I had such a connection with the place that I’ve been savoring it and talking about it a ton in my real life, yet I’ve been hesitant to start writing about it because I’m not sure where to start. It really was that amazing for me, and has definitely taken up a permanent residence in my heart (so much so that I’m actually looking into establishing my citizenship there!)
I originally traveled to Poland in search of my roots. I have a TON of Polish ancestry on both sides of my family, both of my parent’s last names are Polish, and I’m frequently told that I look Eastern European. To be honest, apart from the Polish foods we eat at holidays, I hardly knew anything about the country. At one point in university I had plans to spend a summer in Krakow, but that fell through and my research of the place was put on hold.
Prior to my trip I assumed I would like the country, I thought perhaps I would see some physical traits similar to my own, and I really hoped someone could explain my strange last name to me (it’s Gmyr, pronounced like you’re saying gum-ear really fast). I’m happy to say that all of those things came true for me, but what I wasn’t expecting was for Poland to truly blow me away.
I was so happy and enchanted for most of the trip that I decided to take a break from being on social media all the time and taking 5 million photos just to truly soak up the place. Travel blogging is great and all, but it can take away from a really great trip if you’re obsessing over deadlines and social media shares all day.
I’ll share more about my obsession with Poland soon, but for now let’s talk about the jazz scene.
If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile you probably remember that I’m a massive fan of live music, and I seek it out as often as I can when I’m travelling. So you can only imagine how excited I was to find out that the live jazz scene in Krakow is seriously popping!
There are plenty of things to do in Krakow, but you really shouldn’t leave without seeing at least one jazz show. There are a bunch of jazz clubs in old town Krakow where local musicians play almost every single night.
The jazz tradition in Krakow is really strong so the acts aren’t some random dudes who played the sax in Junior High and decided to dig it out of the attic so they could take advantage of tourists’ cash…this is the real deal folks.
The shows are generally in cellars or dens, which make for a really cozy, intimate vibe. The shows are often free, but when they’re not they’re usually quite cheap (approx. 5 euros or so), and you can imagine that the shows you actually buy a ticket for are generally higher quality and have a longer play time.
Jazz is such an integral part of Krakowian culture, that there are actually three jazz festivals held there every year. Yeah, three! I remember being ecstatic about the one I went to in Galway, Ireland…but Galway has nothing on Krakow as far as jazz goes (sorry Galway, I still love you).
There’s a summer jazz festival in July, an autumn jazz fest in October-November, and an All Soul’s Jazz Festival in November, which is actually Europe’s oldest jazz fest. I haven’t been to any of these festivals but I’m going to be bold and say that planning your trip to Poland around one of these festivals would be an AMAZING idea. Just sayin’.
I’ll be honest with you: the first jazz show I saw in Krakow was pretty good but had it not been my first time seeing a jazz show in a cellar bar while drinking a Polish beer, it would not have been overly memorable. In fact, I can’t even remember the name of the bar, besides the fact that it was on Florianska street. The show was free to get into, provided that you purchased a drink, and the band was actually quite good. What was lacking was a certain passion or electricity from the band, who seemed a little bored, and a longer show time. The show only lasted about an hour, which was a huge disappointment for me.
Overall the experience was fun and enjoyable, but it only gave me a small taste of the jazz scene in Krakow while leaving me ravenous for more.
A few nights later I happened upon the Harris Piano Jazz Bar located right in the main square. It turns out that Harris Piano Jazz Bar is pretty much a staple for jazz in Krakow and draws a lot of big acts, locals and tourists on a nightly basis. [quote_right]Tip: The seating for the show was super cramped and I was lucky to get there in time to reserve the last two seats, so make sure to call ahead or stop by earlier in the day if you don’t feel like standing all night.[/quote_right]
The shows during the week are generally free, but you’ll be charged 15-20 PLN (4-5 euros) for shows Thursday through Sunday because they tend to be bigger names that draw a larger crowd.
The night I was there I noticed a few tourists but the majority of the people in the audience seemed to be locals, but I have no idea if that’s the norm or if there was just a lot of local hype about this particular band.
^^A song by the F.O.U.R.S Collective. Note that this was not filmed at Harris Piano Jazz Bar, which was a much more casual venue. Unfortunately the lighting wasn’t quite right for me to take any videos.
The show lasted for almost 3 hours and I would have been happy to sit there for at least 2 more. The passion and talent of the musicians were unmistakable and these guys were so engrossed in the music that it was impossible not to be captivated and taken along for the ride.
These young guys had enough energy, spunk and passion to make up for what was lacking from my first show by ten-fold.
Any other music lover knows the sign of a truly great show is when the band lures you into their magical world where all your thoughts drift away, you feel the same rushing highs and subdued lows as each of the musicians, and when the performance ends you feel simultaneously let down that it’s over and as high as a kite that’s bouncing around on cloud 9.
Unfortunately their album isn’t on iTunes and the YouTube videos don’t do them justice in terms of the quality or richness of their music, so I have to recommend attempting to see a show of theirs whenever you’re in Poland.
You can follow them on Facebook to find out when their upcoming shows are or follow Harris Piano Jazz Bar to find out what bands will be playing when you’re in town. ^^One of the softer songs from their album & the only one with lyrics. Yes, it’s in English ; )
Since I find myself being drawn back to Poland already, I’m planning on making a return trip within the next year, so I’ll be able to scope out some other jazz venues & share some more tips with you guys then.