Over the past decade Scotland has seen a steady influx of Polish people coming to live and work here and most welcome they are too! These friendly, hard-working people have made a sizeable contribution to the Scottish economy and if I may say brought a ray of sunshine into our oft-times lacklustre service industries. I sometimes wondered in an absent-minded sort of way though just how they got here! In an old Trabant driven across Europe loaded down with mattresses, goats and chickens? Or maybe a horse-drawn cart with pots and pans dangling off the back? No! They come by Wizz Air, the ultra-modern low-cost carrier that serves most of Eastern & Central Europe. And now I was ‘Wizzing’ my way into Lech Walesa International Airport and Gdansk to find out just what this Central European country is all about.
Before I say anything further, I must apologise unreservedly to any Poles who might take offence at my utter ignorance of their nation. Not at all familiar with the country or culture, I really did not have a clue what to expect when I was invited to come and play golf! Golf and Poland are two words I have never seen in the same sentence. From the airport en route to the first golf course, I was struck by how pleasantly well-ordered and appealing everything appeared, almost Alpine in its appeal, tidy little apartments, amicable looking people strolling in the early autumn sunshine.
Regarding golf I presumed I’d be shuffling round tracks akin to our most basic municipal. How far could this be from the reality that was before me. Sierra Golf Club is a half-hour drive from Gdansk's Lecht Walensa Airport. The clubhouse is a citadel of fine taste, comfort and modernity with Sky Sports showing the latest golf tournament and a tolerable selection of beers and wines behind the bar. The golf course was even more impressive! In fact it was as good as some of the best I’ve played. The flagpoles were made from the finest mahogany... well maybe not but a quality wood trimmed in brass with a hefty feel in the hand. The rest of the course furniture would grace the most upmarket of upmarket garden centres while banks of flowers beds and shapely shrubbery embellished the sides of the fairways. Dainty bridges crossed water hazards and high-spouting waterfalls gave it an Edwardian English country house estate appeal. This was a veritable Capability Brown knockoff! After the round we freshened up in our spaciously modern apartments overlooking the golf course and dined in style at the Sierra Clubhouse.
“Maybe Sierra is a one-off!" I grumbled to myself as we set off in search of more Polish pastures. First though we sampled the culture and cuisine of the somewhat unimaginatively named TriCity; three adjoining urbanisations of Gdańsk, Gdynia and Sopot. Overlooking the sandy coasts of Gdańsk Bay, this is where Poles take their seaside holidays. We strolled along gracious avenues and beachside boulevards. Even in late in September it was warm and cheery. In Sopot we stopped at a waterfront eatery called Bulaj and enjoyed a cavalcade of fine fish dishes the likes of which would grace the finest Michelin-starred restaurant. I began to wonder why Poles would ever want to leave the place.
The City of Gdańsk is a labyrinth of medieval tenement buildings fronted by ancient docks and a glittering new marina. There’s shopping on Amber Street (actually called Mariacka Street), a narrow conduit running from the river to the heart of the Old Town lined with amber-bejeweled shops and street sellers. Poland is famous for these molten golden globules, fossilised tree resin from primordial forests now buried deep underneath the Baltic Sea. Sizeable chunks often wash up on the beaches. At one time amber was as cheap as chips in Poland but nearby mines flooded and now its more scarce and expensive.
Apart from amber, Poland is remarkably well priced! Let’s be frank - it’s cheap! In Gdańsk you can buy a glass of beer for one solitary Euro. You could have something to eat - albeit a snack for 2 Euros. A round of golf at the ultra upmarket, super-suave Sierra Golf Club sets you back a mere 50 Euros - and even cheaper if you book it as part of a package. And to polish things off, a half-litre bottle of the purest vodka in a supermarket will only set you back a mind-numbing 4 or 5 Euros! Things in Poland were beginning to add-up!
The cultural highlight of Gdańsk was a visit to the newly opened Solidarity Museum next to the once infamous Gdańsk Shipyards. The building, inaugurated only a week before our visit offers a riveting insight into the struggle of Lech Walesa and the Polish Shipyard workers and their bid to wrest free from Communist oppression and years of austerity. Their efforts ultimately created the remarkable Domino Effect that brought down the Berlin Wall and indeed Communist USSR. This is one of the best museums of its kind I've encountered and worth a few hours of your time rather than the flying visit we had scheduled.
Talking of flying visits, what was I thinking? Only half an hour before, I was luxuriating by our villa swimming pool, sipping on a post-golf G&T. I blame it on Auntie! Antii to give him his correct spelling is the gregarious Finn who runs Sand Valley Golf & Country Club and who came over to ask if anyone would like to go up in a powered Paraglider. Before you could shout Fore Right! the flimsy contraption was whirring me across the 1st tee and up into the air. All was well for the first 100 feet or so but then the pilot, a wild looking chap with Maori-style designs carved into his hair insisted in climbing as high as was probably possible. he only solution was to keep focusing on my camera, take lots of pictures and at all costs.... DON"T LOOK DOWN!
Getting back on terra firma, Sand Valley is yet another excellent golf course that does exactly what it says on the tin. Built on a geomorphic basin of sand, the fairways snake and shimmy between rivulets of bunkers. Now, I’m generally not in favour of the term, ‘Inland Links’ but I have to admit, Sand Valley fits that description. This is as challenging as any seaside setup on the East Coast of Scotland with the added impetus of some wilfully small greens especially on the Par 3’s that are devils to hit and hold.
Once again, I was highly impressed with the course, the welcome and the wonderful villa we had to stay in and after another G&T or two even began to warm to my ariel exploits. We dined in the nearby town of Elblag allowing the chef to reign on a medley of Poland's finest washed down with multiple nips of neat Vodka, the Polish way of doing things. I planned to play another quick 9-holes early the next morning and when I woke up there was barely a trace of a headache; a Vodka obviously of great purity and taste.
We were heading home but there was still time to fit one more round in. Postołowo Golf Club is handy for the airport, a completely different prospect from the first two courses and perhaps the most challenging of all three. It didn't look difficult, a fairly gentle parkland with plenty water but in practice it was a stern test and somehow I couldn't quite rise to the occasion. Maybe the vodka had taken its toll after all. I would love to play Postolowo again to try and figure it out. Maybe we’ll start with that one next time - as there most surely will be! Poland I have to say was one of the highlights of 2014 and one I must repeat next year.
How to get there: Direct low - cost flight, Wizzair from Glasgow to Gdansk. (approx. 2 hours)
Sierra Golf Club: www.sierragolf.pl
Sand Valley Golf and Country Club: www.sandvalley.pl
Gdansk Golf and Country Club - Polstolowo: www.postolowo.com
Warmia and Masuria travel portal: www.mazury.travel
Pomorskie region travel portal: www.pomorskie.travel
Hotel Elblag: www.hotelelblag.eu
Bulaj Restaurant, Sopot: www.bulaj.pl
For more information on Poland please visit: www.poland.travel