08.06.2012 - 09.06.2012
Poland is a great country to visit and probably the best value in Europe. It still has its own currency (the zloty) despite being in the European no-border free-trade zone and this in part has helped it become Europe's strongest economy and one of the few countries in the world not to experience experience a recession in the past 5 years. For backpackers this means helpful people, no major safety issues, great low prices for food and accommodation and all the conveniences of the 1st world. However, the primary reason why we came to Poland at the time that we did was the Euro Cup.
The Euro Cup is the second most attended sporting tournament in the world after the FIFA World Cup and it is as much about Football as it is about having a great party. People from all over Europe, and in fact from all over the world, converge on the host country or countries to cheer on their team or their adopted team and drinks TONS of beer. There are Brazilians cheering on the Portuguese, Mexicans cheering on the Spanish and so on. The tickets to the games are allocated using a lottery system and the drawing is done a full year before the tournament starts. There are special ticket allocations to the Football associations in the countries competing so entire planes/buses full of Swedes, Fins, Germans etc. arrive on the days just preceding the matches to attend the games create a wonderful festive atmosphere in the cities. However, don't worry if you don't have tickets to any of the games, the host cities where the stadiums are all have giant Fan Zones that in some cases can accommodate well over 100K people in addition to giant TV screens, stands, beer booths, souvenirs and even carnival style Football themed games. The best part is the Fan Zones are FREE, there are DJ's and live performances, and the party goes on way after the actual Football matches are done.
Having not been lucky enough to score one of the highly sought after opening day tickets we decided to join over 100,000 other people in the fan zone in Warsaw to watch the opening Poland vs. Greece game:
Despite the media pouncing on a few incidents and blowing them out of proportion, the atmosphere throughout the tournament was inclusive and friendly even between fans from countries that may not have had the best history or are currently on bad terms. The large majority of people were open to EVERYONE and we didn't see any incidents of fights or hostility between various nationalities. It was wonderful to see so many people from so many places in the world partying and having a good time together.
The most fun we had was heading our with our Dutch friends to watch the first Netherlands game. We dressed up in Orange colors but unfortunately the result wasn't great for the Dutch.
I was starting to feel like a bad luck charm! So I picked up a Russian scarf from some Russian fans. After all the next Poland game was going to be against Russia and if I was bad luck then maybe it was going to rub off
We had a great time mingling with fans from around the world and stayed and watched the Portugal vs. Germany game then stuck around for the after-party.
While it was great fun hanging out in the Fan Zone, we did eventually get a chance to go to the National Stadium in Warsaw to watch a game. I was lucky enough to have bought tickets to the Quarter Final game from an official resale site ran by UEFA and we couldn't be more excited to get to see Poland play on home soil. It was going to be their first Euro Cup Quarter Final appearance except.... well it never happened Poland would have played in the game had they beaten the Czech republic in their last round robin match but they ended up losing despite being favorites on paper. So instead we were going to watch the Czech's take on one of Euro Cup favorites Portugal.
The whole Euro Cup experience was unforgettable. I will always remember the excitement that you could just feel throughout Warsaw on the day before the first Poland game. It was clear that the entire city and in fact the country was watching and hoping and wanting to see a victory. The team did not end up delivering the victory but the country sure did. The camaraderie between fans from all over the world, the "Polska" chants and white-red outfits everywhere, hanging out with our friends and the wonderful festive atmosphere everywhere we went all went into creating memories that will last a lifetime. Even if you could not care less about Football/Soccer attending the Euro or the World Cup should rank high on your list of must-do experiences.