Thursday, 5 February 2015

Białystok fails to impress

OK, so early February is not the best time of year to see any city, but Białystok must rank among the ugliest of Polish cities. I arrived yesterday, walked from the bus station to my hotel, the Branicki on ul. Zamenhofa (a nicely restored place). At half past six in the evening Białystok was dead; hardly anyone out on the streets, very little by way of cafes, bars or restaurants. Architecturally, the city lacks delights or surprises.

Below: view from my hotel window this morning. Absolutely nothing to write home about.

Below: shopping is not an exciting experience in Białystok, the Ipswich of the East.

Below: early '90s eyesores like this in Warsaw have long been torn down and replaced by something decent looking. File Dom Handlowy Wenus under Polisz Arkitekczer.

And this... Is no one in Białystok town hall responsible for the city's aesthetics? This is hideous! Down the hill from this monstrosity, a big loudspeaker was blaring tinny Disco polo out across the street last night, a cheap keyboard in minor key, synthetic drum beat and the most banal of lyrics. When I walked back this afternoon, the same loudspeaker was still blaring tinny Disco polo.

One bright spot - Al. Marszałka Piłsudskiego has fine examples of street art adorning the blank walls of some kamienicas. The street itself is devoid of retail space, but there's a good cycle path on either side of this main thoroughfare.

Below: according to Google Maps, this is Białystok's centrum - just off ul. Lipowa. Lack of a mediaeval centre makes this Białystok stand out negatively from the other big eastern cities, Lublin and Rzeszów. No charming starówka, or old town district.

But above all it's the advertising, a riot of badly-chosen typefaces on badly-selected background colours, shop signs and billboards that bothers me about Białystok (below).

I cast my mind back to an earlier visit to Białystok - October 2008 - six and half years ago, when I took the photo of the railways station (below)...

...and I returned to exactly the same spot today (below). What's changed? Well, PKP has managed to modernise exactly one platform. It's amazing how not hosting an international football championship has led to stasis.

Probably the city's most depressing building is the PKS bus station (below).

Bye bye Białystok, my bus back to Warsaw is due in an hour. Time for me to go.

But despite the ugliness, Białystok is not a despondent dead-end city where the only the good thing to come out of it is the road to Warsaw - like Radom. Yes, there were a few kantory (bureaux de change), mainly near the stations, offering competitive rates on euros (from Germany), pounds (from the UK) and dollars (from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine). But the retail category that caught my eye in terms of how just many Białystok has - were shops selling wedding dresses. Evidently the younger citizens of Białystok are still tying the knot in town.
This time last year:
Sadness at the death of Tadeusz Mosz

This time two years ago:
Interpreting vs. translating vs. explaining

This time three years ago:
More than just an Iluzjon

This time four years ago:
Oldschool photochallenge

This time five years ago:
Warsaw's wonderful nooks and crannies

This time seven years ago:
Viaduct to the airport at ul. Poleczki almost ready


mat said...

Hey, I think in the meantime they managed to burn down the railway station, so maybe it's not that bad at all that you see no change there

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Mat

Looking at the link and the location, it looks like the accident was a fair distance from the main station in Białystok...

Sigismundo said...

The accident was several km down the line towards Warsaw.

Being quite well acquainted with Białystok, I can only agree that it's a pretty uninspiring place. The best thing that's changed over the past 7 years or so is that the road infrastructure has improved vastly, with dual carriageways and flyovers everywhere. So now you can zip around the outskirts of the city and hardly notice the ugliness at all.

If you want a (relatively) inspiring town in this neck of the woods try Supraśl – 10km out of Białystok. A truly relaxing "rezort" as the Poles like to call them, low rise, mainly wooden buildings, and with an Orthodox monastery dating from the 16th century (reconstructed). And you're never more than a kilometre or so from the huge Knyszyn forest which more or less surrounds the town.

Paddy said...

'Ipswich of the East'...ouch!