I’ve been neglecting my writing this fall so here’s the first in a series of catch-up’s. This is also pretty picture-heavy so apologies if this takes some time to load!
My parents arrived at the end of August; I met them at the airport around 12:30pm and after dropping off their bags at our apartment, immediately made them stay awake until a “normal” hour in their new time-zone. This included a visit to Nerotal and a short walk. A few days after their arrival, we were back at the airport and all four of us flew to Warsaw.
We were meeting our friends from VA, the Dilworths, who were hosting us for three days while we toured around. They’ve lived in Warsaw for a little while now and had an excellent itinerary picked out for us. This included a vodka/walking tour, a trip to a pretty park, and lots of sampling of Polish cuisine.
Friday morning we headed for Warsaw’s old town; when we first saw the buildings I kept thinking we were back in Stockholm. As it turns out, the two cities shared a monarch for a long time and the styles of building merged. I thought this was another excellent example of how Europe’s ruling classes all intermixed for centuries. Everything was colorful and bright even though it rained most of the day. We met up with a tour guide from Orange Umbrella and had an excellent time. What I didn’t know before this tour, is that 90% of Warsaw was gone after WWII and the entire city, including the old town, was either extensively renovated or completely rebuilt. It seems obvious now but at the time, walking through the allies and squares, it’s really hard to understand that the old town we were in is actually only about 40 years old. We later learned on the tour that the city is almost identical to its former self due to the excellent records and sketches of building plans that were found and then used to rebuild as close to the original as possible.
After the tour we climbed a tower to take in the view, which was great timing because it had finally stopped raining. After this was lunch in a little pub on the main square where we sampled Bigos for the first time. Let’s just say Zach could probably happily subside totally on bigos for the rest of his life 🙂 Then we went out for a walk on our own to revisit some of the spots that were interesting from the tour.
We then caught a taxi to the American Embassy (where our friends work) to meet Chris and Allison to start our vodka tour. There was another couple on the tour besides us and we all fit together quite nicely. The tour included 4 different bars with enough distance between them to get a good look at different neighborhoods of Warsaw. Sadly, I do not have pictures because I was much more focused on eating and drinking. We had seven different vodkas each paired with a portion of traditional Polish cooking. Honestly, I’m not much of a vodka drinker and I don’t know much about different qualities and styles of vodka. However the selections we had and the history behind each drink and meal were fascinating. I had at least a few sips of each drink and some I wanted seconds of! I feel much more educated now and I think there are one or two out there I could happily drink without mixers. The most interesting was Żubrówka, made with Buffalo grass.
This was our last taste and ended in a speakeasy type bar where the chief bartenders were currently competing in the world bartender championships in South Africa. Finally, the day after the tour, the company emails all participants a list of the vodkas we had, where to buy them, the food that was prepared and the bars we visited as well as other interesting details and information about Warsaw. I won’t post the email here, you’ll have to go check it out and I don’t want to spoil it!
The next day we took a walk through this really lovely park,Łazienki Park. I am really loving Europe’s parks; I like Central Park in NYC, but imagine Central Park about twice or even three times the size with more “activities” like boat rentals and more cafe’s throughout. This park has a major hill that Alison, an avid runner, told us is actually the ending point of a race that takes place in the park. Looking at that hill, I think that’s just cruel of the organizers. There is a Japanese section that had little pagodas and lily and Koi ponds, a more Greek, Romantic section with statues, a pond and an amphitheater and way up on a hill is a statue of Chopin, revered throughout the city. In fact, there are benches around old town that play his music if you sit on them.
That afternoon Chris took us to a museum, The Museum of the History of the Polish Jews, and we spent a few hours here. I thought it was a beautiful museum that would quite honestly take days to take in all the information available. I was most interested in the section about Polish beginnings circa 1100 or so. I’m not familiar with the history of this part of Europe and I enjoyed learning a little more. I also really didn’t know Judaism and the history of Poland as a nation were so intertwined for centuries; this museum highlights this part of Poland’s tradition well.
At dinner time we headed to a local pub/bistro that’s a favorite of the Dilworths. We must have ordered $300 worth of food but our total was about $30 a person. Eating in Poland is cheap and so delicious. We stayed here enjoying one of the last warm nights of the season well until it was quite late.
The next morning we attended church with them in the tiniest, prettiest little chapel right on the old town square. The art and frescos inside were stunning. We couldn’t stay for coffee hour however because our train to Krakow left at 1:00.
The train ride was pretty; reminded me of a much hillier Germany. It was also sunny again and the fields and farm houses were so picturesque. I saw that without posting pictures again because pictures from a train just don’t work for me. We arrived in Krakow and got a taxi to our AirBnB in the Jewish quarter. Zach wasn’t feeling very well so my parents and I went out to dinner and took a walk. When we got home, and Zach wasn’t interested in the bigos I brought him, we decided it was time to find some medical help. We called the Dilworths and they helped us figure out where to go the next morning.
So the next morning, my parents went off on a tour of their own and Z and I grabbed a cab to the medical center. Unfortunately, this place did not have any eye specialists so we were directed to another hospital which, when we arrived, informed us there was also no eye specialist and further, they did not have an ER or the capacity to see him right away. Luckily a cab driver overheard us and offered to drive us to the correct hospital. I have to say, he took this very seriously and I’m not sure how many laws we broke on the way there but we did get a very fast and very interesting tour of Krakow and introduction to Krakow drivers.
At the hospital, Z was seen within 20 minutes and given prescriptions that made him feel much better almost instantly, which was a huge relief. We left and went to go find my parents and have some lunch. We all met at a cafe on the Krakow old town square. It was so cold and windy that we spent an hour or so in the inside market to warm up. Afterwards we took a hike up the hill to the old palace site. Again, this whole city reminded me a lot of Stockholm but unlike Warsaw, it was left largely intact from its original version. That night Z elected to stay in again so the three of us went deeper into our neighborhood to try out a different local spot.
The next morning we packed up and left our suitcases in the entry hall so we could see a little more sans baggage before we left. This time we headed back to the market on the square to go to the underground museum. This was so cool; I wish we had had a little more time to see all of it. The museum is built on the excavations that were done under the market hall and the exhibit is basically 13th/14th century Krakow and the remains of buildings. There was a fire at some point and this is about the time this undercity was rebuilt upon. We also went amber and pottery shopping and picked up a few pieces that we absolutely love.
Finally it was time to head back, grab another cab and go to Krakow airport to go home.