For my second installment on Travel, I’m transporting you to … Poland!
The first thing that you’ll want to know is that “piwo” is Polish for beer. You may want to drink some between vodka shots to remain somewhat sober. Or not. Most of the locals didn’t seem to be very concerned with being upright without help by the end of the night.
Although the capital of Warsaw is well-known, it’s not the hippest city. The burgeoning social scene in Krakow seems to be the current preferred destination. If traveling by car, consider an overnight stop in the university town of Wroclaw.
What Wroclaw lacks in sights, it makes up for with quirky charm. Be on the look out for random gnomes, climb the steep tower at the church of St. Elizabeth for a view of the city and check out the Panorama Raclawicka. The Poles apparently have a lot of pride in this work of art, which was somehow removed, rolled up and preserved during the war. It depicts the 1974 battle with the Russians and has become the symbol for Polish freedom. Ironically, the Poles lost that battle. (Okay, insert your Polish joke of choice here.) Stay the weekend if you can. You won’t be disappointed, except maybe with the touristy food options around the square. Instead, grab at a seat at the wooden tables and mix-match chairs outside of a coffeehouse/bar just off the main square. This trendy nameless spot offers only coffee, beer, vodka and the night’s one special: beef tartar- just what you want to eat on a cool night.
But don’t despair because when you move on to Krakow, you’ll surely eat well. Don’t miss the fine dining at Pod Baranem. Bread is accompanied by a spread of pork fat.
Try the starter of venison pate, followed by rabbit in a sour cream sauce or a saddle of venison with forest sauce, accompanied by fried beetroot (barely fried), fried potatoes (delish!), and some sad cabbage (the only disappointment). With drinks – it was under $60 for 2 people!! Well worth it.
Then it’s time to really start experiencing Poland … by drinking lots of vodka. The tiny Wodka Cafe Bar has more flavors of vodka of seats. Try an inexpensive vodka flights for the full experience. Avoid the boring lemon(barkeep’s choice), but the juniper berry and hazelnut were intriguing. The hazelnut was so delicious I bought a bottle at a nearby liquor store. A good thing because it’s not available for sale in the U.S. just yet.
If you’re looking for some other nightlife options, including live music, befriend a local and you’ll get plenty of locations, even if you might have a tough time getting the exact name of the place. Near the Wodka Bar, there’s an underground bar that has a live band and was the coolest place we found. By the end of the night, you’ll likely consume enough beer and vodka that a trip to the legendary Kielbasa Food Truck will be in order. Near the university, it’s a hike for most travelers but the only place we found to satisfy a late-night sausage craving. It was everything you could hope a grilled to order Polish sausage would be.
During the day, check out the Burg and Markt areas, the church of Sts. Peter and Paul, which has cool statues in front and was as equally stunning inside, and, of course, Wawel Castle. Much of the original details in the castle have been preserved and lots of English info is available. Some of the walls are covered in stunning cordova. The most entertaining and famous spot by far is the room with 30 wooden heads on the ceiling. Each head has a totally different personality – and you must describe it that way because the faces are full of expression or in the case of the poor woman who is muzzled, her eyes tell you everything. You may want to get there early because separate tickets with timed entries are required for certain areas. From the castle grounds, walk though the underground passageway called the Dragon’s Lair to view the fire-breathing statue.
You should also check out the Jewish Quarter of Kazimierz, about a 15 min walk from the castle. And by now you’ll be hungry, so check out the food market at Plac Nowy. Try the infamous Zapiekanka — a flatbread with any number of toppings — and an obvious favorite among the locals. It’s made to order with fresh ingredients and no shortage of cheese. Various grilled meats also abound to satisfy your cravings.
If you’re thirsty on your hike to or from Oskar Schindler’s Factory (not really worth it), have a snack and some homemade vodka at Starka (the cinnamon was by far the BEST). A few doors down from there’s Cafe Esze, an awesome bar with swings, funky art, cool couches and decent beer and wine selections.
Of course, no trip to Poland would be complete without some pierogies. Check out Zapiecek Polskie Pierogarni near the main square — they’re open late. (There is also one in Warsaw.) Devour a sampler platter and order more. Have some either before or after a visit to the Anty Cafe, an extremely cool bar with a beer selection that rivals most places. Try one, close your eyes and you could be at any trendy bar in the world. Probably not what you expected from Poland.
Feel free to email me if you want further info. Happy to share any tips.