Awakening the Giant: The Return of Poland

December 1, 2002 8:11 pm
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In this issue of Ottawa Life, we begin the first of a two-part series on Poland. That is to say the new Poland – a country with a most intricate history of war and ideological conflict, but also one of sophisticated art and culture. Polish influence extends to Canada and particularly to Eastern Ontario. Poland is becoming a player, both politically and economically, more than most people realize.

In Part I, we explore Poland’s links to Canada and take the reader on a tour of its beautiful sites. Part II will focus on Poland’s rapid economic growth, its ambition to join the European Union in 2004, and its strategic relevance as a NATO partner, as well as the growing importance of Canadian-Polish relations.

The Republic of Poland is about to be impressed on the consciousness of the West. During the Cold War and until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Poland was separated from the West by the Iron Curtain and was a satellite state of the Soviet Empire.

This vital country was hidden from western eyes and ears for decades as a result of its being under Communist rule and Soviet control. Today, Poland is about to make an enormous step into the global arena as it prepares to be admitted to the European Union in 2004 and takes its place as a major player alongside the likes of Great Britain, France and Germany. After all, with a population of almost 39 million people, making it one of Europe’s largest markets, Poland stands to hold a huge percentage of the balance of political power in the EU.

Poland is situated in the very heart of Europe and has played a central role in the cultural development of European civilization in science, architecture, agriculture, music, film and industry. Nicolaus Copernicus and Frederic Chopin were Poles. However, this geographical location that has produced its unique charm has also caused Poland to be a battleground. Poland’s history is marked by turbulent wars and political upheaval, resulting in many waves of immigration as the Polish people searched for peace, prosperity and stability.

Poland Comes to Canada…

By the mid 1800s, during Czarist Russia’s occupation of Poland, many Polish immigrants looked beyond the European continent for places to settle. Canada was a favourite destination of thousands of Polish emigrants. Some Poles settled in the town of Wilno, Ontario (near Pembroke). Even now, Wilno retains much of its rich Polish culture, right smack dab in the heart of the Madawaska Highlands.

Pawel Dobrowlski, Polish Ambassador to Canada, says that Polish immigration is “really the story of Canada, as much as it is the story of Poland:’ What he means is that Canada is a nation built by immigrants. At the turn of the 20th century, Canada took in its largest wave of Polish immigrants. Mainly farmers, this group largely settled in Central and Western Canada and joined in the ranks of the great pioneers who literally built our country from the ground up.

During World War II, Poland once again found itself caught in the middle of the crossfire—this time from Hitler in the West and Stalin in the East. Stalin’s side won and Poland became a Communist state. This resulted in the last great wave of Polish immigrants to Canada. Today, there are about 750,000 Canadians of Polish descent.

Winds of Change —The Poland of Today

Poland has regained its independence and is once again practicing its longstanding democratic and parliamentary traditions. Since the fall of Communism, Poland has made enormous strides in political and economic development. This has as much to do with the sheer size of the country (one of Europe’s biggest) as with its well-established political traditions. In less formal terms, Ralph Lysyshyn, the newly appointed Canadian Ambassador to Poland, really nails it when he says that “Poland is not a little guy and as you take it in the context of European enlargement, whether with NATO or the EU and the other countries joining in, more than 50% of these new members are Poles. You have to recognize the potential of this country.”

Poland is back on track after years of Soviet occupation and is now one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe. Many Poles around the world are now returning to their ancestral homeland. Among this population wave includes international executives eager to do business, as well as tourists looking for something new. The Polish Tourism Organization estimates that tourism will bring in about $4 billion to the nation’s economy in 2003.

Warsaw, Poland’s capital and largest city, is a model of growth and development for other cities in Central and Eastern Europe to follow. Warsaw was blown to pieces in World War II: 84% of the city was destroyed. Incredibly, after the war, it only took 15 years for Warsaw to be rebuilt. The scenic Old Town and Market Square, once turned to rubble, rose from the ashes and once again are the focal point of the city.

Since 1990, Warsaw has again seen a construction boom. Elegant skyscrapers serve as a modern backdrop to the wonderfully restored historical buildings that define the city’s character.

In Poland’s north lies Gdansk, arguably one of Europe’s most beautiful yet little-known cities. Located on the coast of the Baltic Sea, Gdansk has always been a strategically-placed port city and a center of trade in Northern Europe. In fact, during the 16th and 17th centuries, it was one of the leading commercial cities of Europe. In 1919, under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the city was established as the administrative center of the free city of Danzig, a territory 1,953 square kilometres (or 754 square miles) in area, under the control of the League of Nations. With sovereignty, Gdansk (or Danzig as the Germans called it) developed its own unique liberated character. But Gdansk’s freedom was short-lived. In 1939, the German government incorporated Gdansk into the Third Reich. After the war, Gdansk was awarded to Poland and by 1970, had become the center for protest against the country’s Communist government. Poland’s Solidarity labour movement came to life in Gdansk.

Through the years of the Cold War, Gdansk always managed to retain its character as a “free city.” With its rich history, narrow, winding streets and gabled houses with open-air balconies of carved stone, Gdansk is regaining its reputation as one of Europe’s most magnificent destinations.

The city of Cracow lies near the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. Cracow was built by many generations of artists living in the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and Art Nouveau times. Fortunately, Cracow was spared from the chaos and destruction of the Second World War. Dominated by the Renaissance Royal Castle and Main Market Square (often referred to as “the largest European society salon”), Cracow is perhaps the most beautiful gothic city in the whole of Europe. Even today, Cracow still retains an artistic flair and is regarded as the cultural capital of Poland.

Near Cracow are the Wieliczka Salt Mines, which made UNESCO’s First World Cultural and Natural Heritage list. The mine is more than 800 years old, with 300 kilometers of tunnels. What is truly unique about the mine is that it shelters several chapels, including the Chapel of the Blessed Kinga. Everything in this huge chapel is made of salt: the ceiling, the floor, the side walls, the chandeliers and the three altars.

As Poland grows in international stature, these places will become better known. Poland is now being called “an awakening giant.” When it joins the EU next year, it will be one of the big club’s largest countries and fastest-growing economies.

By: Peter Gill

Barbados: The Diamond Island of the Caribbean

January 8, 2002 12:18 am
blue horizon hotel barbados exterior

Steeped in British history, Barbados is the most modern and sophisticated of all the Caribbean Islands. Barbados has a highly educated population and one of the highest standards of living in the British West Indies. Living as they do in a Parliamentary democracy, Bajans are spiritual people with over 35 religions for the 262,000 population. The Anglican Church is most predominant, but there are Muslims, Catholics, Jews and other faiths on the island. The Jewish Synagogue in Bridgetown dates back to the 17th Century. Barbados has churches peppered throughout the island. Next to these small churches, one can usually find a local rum shack. It is a source of amusement on the island that both the church and the rum shacks serve spirituality – just different types – depending on where you are sitting! Barbados has a highly sophisticated telecommunications base and a tourism sector that is second to none.

When travelling from Canada, there are direct flights from Toronto to Bridgetown via Air Canada. A number of charter options are also available. If you are looking for accommodation for business or pleasure, we recommend Gems of Barbados (www.gemsofbarbados.com). Gems have four hotel properties on the island: The Savannah, Blue Horizon, Silver Rock and Time Out at the Gap. The properties are superb and the prices very reasonable. All sites have very hospitable, friendly and knowledgeable staff.

The Savannah

One of Barbados’ most sophisticated hotels, the Savannah combines modern conveniences with the charm of a bygone era. The Savannah’s antique mahogany furniture and four-poster beds create an elegant ambiance, while data port and satellite television in every room provide guests with contemporary luxuries. The new wing offers 80 guestrooms, including nine luxury duplex and ground level suites with direct beachfront access. Features here include two freshwater pools with a cascading waterfall, a spacious fitness centre and a day spa.

The Savannah's dining area.

Situated on a hill topped by the historic main house, the Savannah’s new wing slopes gently toward the ocean and offers lovely sea or garden views. Nature enthusiasts can enjoy on-site turtle nesting, as well as a beautiful waterfall and meandering freshwater pools.

Located on the island’s south coast near the capital of Bridgetown and Barbados’ nightlife in the St. Lawrence Gap, the Savannah is an ideal spot for vacationers. Guests can enjoy fine international cuisine enhanced with Caribbean flair at the Boucan Wine Bar and Restaurant. Live entertainment is featured during the popular Sunday brunch.

The hotel’s refined atmosphere, modern amenities and proximity to the airport make it a perfect match for business travellers. High-speed Internet connections are available in all rooms, and suites are equipped with printers and fax machines. Sophisticated conference and business centre facilities are elegantly decorated and feature the latest technical equipment to assist business travellers in executing a successful event. The new 2200-square-foot conference facility can be arranged to suit individual needs, with seating available for up to 200 for large and small conventions and banquets. The Savannah also has a full-time events coordinator who can help you with any special occasion, whether an important meeting or your wedding day.

Blue Horizon

Blue Horizon will delight guests with its colourful ambiance and tropical charm. Surrounded by a lively decor and warm, friendly staff, guests at Blue Horizon are given the royal treatment with special island flair.

Located opposite one of the south coast’s most renowned beaches, Blue Horizon is a stone’s throw away from the island’s vibrant nightlife and conveniently close to the airport and Bridgetown, the capital city of Barbados.

A range of restaurants, shops and activities are located within a short walking distance from the hotel. For those who would rather not leave the hotel grounds, a small shop is located on the premises, offering many of the essentials for an island vacation.

Delicious local specialties are available at the hotel’s Courtyard Restaurant, where an innovative combination of Creole and local cuisine is served on a spacious outdoor patio by the pool. The Courtyard is perfect for casual daytime lunches while basking in the tropical sun, or romantic evening soirees under the stars. Theme nights are also offered, highlighting a variety of international cuisines. The largest of the Gems of Barbados properties, Blue Horizon offers two freshwater pools and conference facilities that can accommodate up to 40 persons theatre-style. The business centre also offers Internet and fax services. Eighty rooms offer full kitchen facilities.

Silver Rock

Silver Rock’s beauty and secluded location offer a perfect blend of solitude and adventure. At this renowned windsurfing haven, the lively surf provides the ideal environment for active vacationers, while Silver Rock’s breathtaking ocean vistas create the perfect setting for romance.

The beautiful beachfront property features 70 rooms, including a honeymoon suite with two private ocean-view balconies. Located on a sparkling white sand beach, Silver Rock also boasts a freshwater pool and poolside bar. Guests can enjoy the tropical sun and refreshing ocean breezes while dining on Jibboom’s open patio, or relax while enjoying the evening’s entertainment under the stars.

Silver Rock’s beach is internationally known for its excellent windsurfing conditions and the hotel is an established haven for the sport. In addition to windsurfing, Silver Rock offers a variety of outdoor and beach activities, including kite surfing, boogie boarding, hiking, beach volleyball and kayaking. Silver Rock’s special program for children allows parents to spend quality time alone, with the knowledge that their little ones are safe and properly supervised. Each day, a new theme or activity is offered. The day’s events are designed to engage children in wholesome activities that are also fun-filled and educational. Dining is a mix of Caribbean and international cuisines, and seafood nachos are a favorite specialty.

Time Out at the Gap

Time Out at the Gap is Barbados newest hot spot for the young at heart. Located in the centre of the exciting St. Lawrence Gap area, Time Out offers the ideal combination of sun, surf and sizzling nightlife.

Time Out at the Gap.

Time Out at the Gap’s 76 air-conditioned rooms offer a range of accommodation options to meet a variety of needs. With the beach directly across the road, guests can choose between luxurious white sand and the hotel’s freshwater pool, situated in a tropical garden. Time Out encourages its guests to explore Barbados, offering access to tours and activities through its “Out and About” shop.

At Time Out’s Whistling Frog Restaurant and Sports Pub, pub-style dining is combined with entertainment and games to enliven the dining experience. We recommend you try the island specialty here, pepper pot soup. Four multi-screen televisions and a large-screen TV animate the bar. Special hotel events like the Friday Night Street Pub feature music for dancing, with tasty Bajan fishcakes and other specialties cooked on the spot. It is the perfect opportunity to mingle with other guests and meet friendly locals. Guests are also welcome to explore a wide variety of nearby restaurants, bars, nightclubs and shops.

We Recommend

OISTIN’S FRIDAY NIGHT DANCE – Definitely a hi-lite of our trip to Barbados, the Friday night fish-fry, rum-up and dance party begins at around 8pm. Bajans from the fishing village of Oistins gather in the dock area for a fried fish and rum supper. As the evening progresses, the crowds get larger and an open street party/dance takes shape. It carries on often until just before sunrise. It’s an amazing cultural fete, held weekly, and tourists are welcome to join the party.

ISLAND SAFARI TOURS – Take a Land Rover jeep, fill it with tourists and drive all over the island for the day. The Bajan drivers are excellent tour guides and this eight- hour jaunt of Barbados takes you through the jungle terrain, into the sugar cane plantations, across the coastal roads and up to the world-famous surf beach at Bathsheba. After Stopping for a 40-minute break on the cliffs off the east coast, the safari heads into Holetown for a Bajan lunch. It makes for a long day- but you will really have a sense of the geography of the island after the tour with Island Safari. The drivers explain the local customs, food and traditions throughout the day. If you have a bad back – don’t go – some of the terrain is rough – but it’s an adventure not to miss. To find out more, visit islandsafaribdos@caribsurf.com

THE WATERFRONT CAFE in Bridgetown is directly across from the Parliament Buildings, set alongside a picturesque pier in the heart of the city. The cafe features loud music, spicy food, and big bold flavours that conjure up the Caribbean.

NANIKI RESTAURANT – Naniki provides the ideal alternative to the everyday bustle and grind… serving authentic Caribbean dishes, using healthy, organically-grown foods when available. Naniki is a little off the beaten track (a 20 mile drive from Bridgetown) to the freshness of the country and one of the best views anywhere in the Caribbean. The view from the patio of the restaurant is simply breathtaking. The menu is superb. The flying fish is served grilled with Creole sauce. Other menu items include Corn Meal, Breadfruit or Green Banana Cou-Cou, Bread Pudding- Pickled Lambie (Conch), Pepper Pot Soup – Ackee & Saltfish. We tried the sea egg and callaloo, a local delicacy. The service was friendly and the ginger beer went well with the relaxed atmosphere. For more info, email: lushlife@sunbeach.net.

THE SAND DOLLAR RESTAURANT is located at the Bagshot House Hotel on a mile of pink coral sand on the St. Lawrence Coast. Bagshot House combines an informal, comfortable atmosphere with personal service. Bagshot boasts superb swimming in the island’s only natural lagoon, ideal for children and adults of all ages. Breakfast, lunch and tine dining on the ocean features international favourites, seafood and Bajan delicacies. We tried the conch – it was served baked with a light smattering of vegetables. Rum raisin ice cream and cappuccino rounded off the meal. The service was efficient and very friendly. The owner of the Sand Dollar and Bagshot House Hotel is Aubrey Gomes, a transplanted Canadian who has a very loyal clientele. There are lots of repeat visitors, vear after year. Recreation and nightlife abound within walking distance. We highly recommend the Sand Dollar Restaurant, for more info visit www.funbarbados.com

Shopping in Bridgetown at Cave Shepherd – duty free goods, products from around the world. You’ll want to spend at least a day in Bridgetown, touring and shopping. Be sure to spend at least a couple of hours in the Cave Shepherd store- a sort of Baton’s of Barbados.

Barbados Facts

BRIDGETOWN
Bridgetown is the capital and principal commericla centre. Founded in 1628, it has a population od 80,000 and is Barbados’ largest and liveliest city. In Bridgetown, one can find Lord Nelson’s Bronze Statue- at Trafalgar Square. Erected in 1813, 27 years before the British erected a similar statue in London. Bridgetown is also the location of the third oldest Parliament in the Commonwealth.

THE JEWISH SYNAGOGUE
Located about 200 yards from Broad Street. It is believed to have been in existence since the 17th century.

The Barbados Museum.

BARBADOS MUSEUM
The repository of the island’s history, the Barbados Museum houses an excellent collection of furniture, glassware, birds, fish, books, and other records of the island. The Museum is located at the Garrison in the old military detention barracks, erected in 1853. It is maintained by the Barbados Museum and Historical Society.

QUEEN’S PARK
This was the residence of the General commanding British Troops in the West Indies. Prior to the succession of Queen Victoria, it was known as “King’s House”. Upon the withdrawal of the British regiment from this island during the early 1900s, it was taken over by the Vestry of St. Michael and turned into a park. Opened on the 10th of June 1909, it now falls under the National Conservation Commission. In the grounds of Queen’s Park is one of the largest trees, if not the largest tree in Barbados. This is a baobab, 61 years old. The baobab is a native tree of Africa; no one ever knows how it got to Barbados.

HOLETOWN
Originally called James Town, this is the site of the first landing made in 1625 by the crew of the ship Olive Blossom. A monument commemorates the landing.

FOLKSTONE PARK
An underwater park where marine life can be viewed from glass-bottom-boats. At the park, there is also a small marine museum of photographs, artefacts and specimens of marine life.

ST. JOHN’S CHURCH
The church stands on the edge of a cliff, which affords a magnificient view of the island’s East Coast. The present building is 150 years old, although there has been a church on this site since the 17th century. The tomb of Ferdinando Paellologus, a descendant of the last Greek Emperor, is situated in the graveyard.

THE LION (GUN HILL)
On the South Coast was once a major seaport. It was here that Royalist Barbadians grudgingly pledged their allegiance to Oliver Cromwell and his government in 1652. It is the principal fishing port and the site of a major fish market

Sam Lord's Castle.

SAM LORD’S CASTLE
25 km from Bridgetown, Sam Hall Lord, one of the island’s most colourful characters, built the Castle. It is reputed that Sam Lord placed lanterns in coconut trees to lure passing ships onto nearby reefs. The ships were then looted and the booty stored in tunnels under the Castle. Now a luxury hotel, it features beautiful grounds and carefully restored furniture and paintings.

HARRISON’S CAVE
It is believed that Harrison’s Cave is the only cave in; the world where running water is found along with: colour crystal-like formations. The cave has large chambers, stalagmites, stalactites, lakes, streams and waterfalls.

SPEIGHTSTOWN
The second largest town on the island. Formerly known as “Little Bristol” because of the heavy sugar traffic with that English town. It was eventually renamed after William Speight, a member of Governor Hawley’s Parliament.

FESTIVALS
The Crop Over Festival
A folk festival, which originated on the sugar plantations, “Crop Over” was then, as it is now, a means of celebrating the end of a hard-working sugar cane season. The three-week festival runs from mid-July to early August. It is a lively showcase of all facets of Barbadian culture, a fluid blend of African revival and western modernity. Activities include a King and Queen of the Crop competition, street malls, stilt walking, art and culinary exhibitions, and the “Pic-o’-de-crop” Calypso Monarch competition.

Congaline Festival
Congaline Festival was first staged in 1994 and is recognized locally as the “World’s Greatest Street Party”. It is held on the South Coast, attracting hundreds of locals and visitors alike. It begins during the last week of April and culminates on May Day. This festival has recently been modified as a music festival of African Diaspora.

THE BARBADOS LANDSHIP
Barbados is the only country, which boasts a “landship” movement- a navy that never goes to sea. Established over 100 years ago, through the initiative of Moses Wood, a retired seaman, the fleet is commanded by an Admiral and has incorporated all the ratings of the British Navy. The Club House is the Ship that always carries the prefix BLS (Barbados Landship) before its name. The ship’s crew wears uniforms similar to those worn in a professional navy, and are trained and disciplined in the manner of the military. The language of “Jack Tars” is used. Their manoeuvres are gala affairs, packed with excitement, rhythm and movement.

ART EXHIBITIONS
The Queen’s Park Gallery and the Grande Salle at the Central Bank are two of the exhibiting professional galleries. There are now a number of privately-owned galleries as well.

DINNER THEATRE ENTERTAINMENT
“1627 and All That…” is held at Tyrol Cot every Thursday evening. There is folk dancing and music. It can be described as the history of the island of the island as told by the dancers.

“The Plantation Tropical Spectacular II” – Another evening of folklore, music, song and dance, depicting aspects of Caribbean life.

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