Heineken Open'er Festival

Trip Start Feb 06, 2011
Trip End Sep 15, 2011

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Where I stayed
Siesta Hostel, Sopot, Poland

Flag of Poland  , Baltic Coast,
Thursday, June 30, 2011

The 7.5 hr train ride to Sopot was fairly smooth until I found out 2 hours into the journey that I was in the wrong compartment and I would have to move my bags and my body into a different section of the train at the next stop.  The train was splitting and if I stayed in the same section, I would end up in some random Polish town instead of Sopot.  Thank God there was a Polish girl who spoke English and was able to translate for me.  At the next stop, we grabbed our stuff, got off the train, and ran like madwomen towards the end of the train to an open compartment.  It turns out that everyone was heading north to the coast for an early start to the weekend or to attend the music festival.  Not only were there no seats available, everyone was sitting in the aisles with barely even any room to stand!  It was hot and stuffy (there was no airflow in my section) and anytime anyone wanted to use the toilet, they would literally have to climb over people and bags to use the facilities.  I felt like we were on a cattle train.  I literally stood the entire way for over 5 hours and there were moments when I thought I was going to faint but luckily, I survived.  

The hostel was run by a Polish couple who had done some extensive traveling and decided that they were tired of the 9-5 jobs so they converted a house into a hostel in this quaint beach town. I was the only hosteller in my 4 bed dorm for the first night.  What a treat to not have to use earplugs for one night!  I explored the town the next morning and hit the beach to check out why Sopot is such a popular summer destination for the Poles.  The beach was incredibly crowded and clearly the locals have not seen a lot of sun prior to Sopot because half the people were sunburned! 

 I returned to the hostel in the early afternoon and one of the girls arranged for a taxi to pick us up to take us directly to the festival venue so that we could avoid public transportation with the masses.  The Heineken Open'er has been running for 10 years and is touted to be the most well organized music festival in all of Europe.  It didn't disappoint!  The first festival was in Warsaw but they since moved it to the north of the country in a giant empty airfield so that they could accomodate the 50,000 festivalgoers.  There were 7 different stages, pints of Heineken beers for just over $2 CDN, hundreds of port-o-potties (they call them "toi toi" here), and even outdoor washbasins to keep people somewhat clean.  It was quite the experience to listen to some amazing bands with so many other music lovers and all for only $55 CDN.  Coldplay was the major headliner for the evening and they put on a fantastic show.  They had never played in Poland before so the crowd was especially excited to hear them play.  One of the highlights of the evening was Fat Freddy's Drop, a 7 man band from New Zealand.  They play trombones, trumpets, saxophones, and even the tuba in their roots type music and it was incredibly entertaining.  It was 2:30am and definitely time to go back to the hostel to catch some shut eye.  We took the free festival shuttle back to the train station so that we could take the local commuter train back to Sopot.  When we arrived at the Gdynia train station, it looked like a refugee camp.  There were hundreds of people sitting/sleeping on their bags and another hundred queueing just to buy tickets from the office.  Nobody looked happy.  We didn't like our chances so we just grabbed a taxi and made it back to the hostel.   
Poland was fantastic and as with most places I've visited so far, I wish i had more time to explore the country.  Just some random observations:

-Most older Poles don't speak any English.  When they were growing up, they learned German or Russian or even Spanish as a second language, not English.  Most of the younger generation can speak/understand English since it is now a compulsory component of their education.

-The potatoes in Poland are amazingly delicious.  They're naturally sweet and are hands down, the best potatoes I've ever had in my life.

-The Poles love to incorporate beetroot in their cooking.  Beetroot soup, beetroot juice, pickled beetroot, beetroot sauce, etc.  If you don't like beetroot, be VERY careful what you order in a restaurant.

-The milk bars are a must try for any tourist in Poland.  These eating establishments are the last remnants of the Communist era and I'm glad they've lasted!  Everything is in Polish so don't even think of using any English.  You order what you want from the cashier (I just randomly point) and you pick up your order through a window in an adjacent kitchen.  The food is incredibly cheap and it's just good home-cooked Polish food. 
Yes, I realize that they're all food related.  Are you surprised?
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