After having to make arrangements for a winter holiday trip to include our dogs because the boarder couldn’t take them and then having to change our plans due to Covid restrictions, we scrambled to find a location we could travel to with the dogs and finally settled on spending five days in Poland. Then, about a week before the trip, war broke out in neighboring Ukraine (Krakow is about 2 and a half hours from the Ukrainian border). After closely watching the news and checking with people we know from Poland, we decided it was safe to still go, so we headed off on the twelve hour drive with a car full of people and dogs.
We drove through a lot of forested areas and open land to arrive in Krakow. As we had been driving all day, our first mission was to get some dinner. We settled on a small restaurant close to our apartment. It didn’t look like much, but the food was really good. We kicked the holiday off right with some Polish beer (both wheat and stout), compote which is a fruit punch type drink, mushroom soup (zupa grzybowa), fried Halloumi cheese, sausage and 3 types of Pierogi (dumplings) which were filled with mushroom and cabbage, spinach, and potato and cheese.
While eating, a demonstration of support for Ukraine marched past the windows of the restaurant. This seemed like enough excitement since we were tired from driving all day, so we called it a night.
After reminding ourselves why we would never want to live on the top floor of an apartment building with dogs, we got them all settled in the apartment and headed out to see Krakow. We first walked to St. Florian Church passing some old remains of a fort or castle (not sure) and a large monument with many interesting statues.
There was a service going on in the church, so we just took a quick look, but it was very gold inside.
After leaving the church, we walked under St. Florian’s Gate, the old city gate leading to Lost Soul’s Alley or the Royal Way which was the path of coronation of kings in centuries past. The path led past many shops (and many pretzel stands so we grabbed a few) to the main square (Rynek Glowny) of the Old Town.
In the main square was the Cloth Hall, this building from the 1500s sits on the location of the market since the 1200s, and St. Mary’s Basilica. This church is home to the largest Gothic Alter in the world. Unfortunately, no pictures of the inside were allowed, but it was very gaudy and there was a lot of blue and red coloration. Outside again, the clock struck the hour and played a trumpet call type of song.
Our walk continued past Saints Peter and Paul Church
to Wawel Castle, which was the seat of the throne (Krakow used to be the capital of Poland), and Wawel Cathedral. We didn’t go inside either, but it was a large complex and quite pretty.
From here, we headed through the old Jewish district, the Kazimierz, where much of Schindler’s list was filmed. We made our way across the river where we saw this interesting bridge with sculptures hanging in its suspension lines.
As we made our way through the residential streets, we saw a plaque commemorating the location of the former Jewish orphanage which the Nazis invaded, immediately killing the children under 3 and taking the older children and the caregivers who refused to leave them to concentration camps where they were murdered. We made our way to Schindler’s Factory for a quick look and then headed back through the city to get some lunch at a great restaurant called Starka.
The meal began with “cottage cheese” with chives spread (more like cream cheese) on bread followed by Pierogi of potato and cottage cheese. The waitress also recommended the apple cinnamon and blueberry vodkas so we gave it a go-apple cinnamon was terrific. For the main meal, we had Borsch beet soup, sour rye soup and pork loin. We ended the meal with the traditional cheesecake with a poppy seed cake bottom-so good. Then they brought us a free dogwood berry flavored vodka. Also good, but the apple cinnamon was still the best.
As we made our way back up the Royal Road, we ran directly into a large demonstration in support of Ukraine and condemnation of Putin. It was really surreal to feel like we were in the midst of history happening and not just watching it unfold on TV.
We got past the crowd and grabbed a few filled donuts (black currant, salted caramel and strawberry with cheese) to snack on in the car as we left Krakow and made our way to Warsaw.
While Warsaw was a much bigger city than Krakow, we were staying in an apartment on the edge of the old town so we walked into that area for dinner. It was another really good meal in a small restaurant with a cool vibe. This time we had Bigos (hunter’s stew with meat and cabbage), fried Camembert, bread, fried Pierogis, ribs and cabbage rolls. To finish off the meal, I had an old style Polish coffee and we all shared a traditional apple pie (kind of like an apple crumble cake texture). They once again gave us a free shot of vodka-this time cranberry.
After finishing, we walked for a bit in the old town area where we found that they still had the Christmas market with ice skating rink set up. There were actually quite a few lit up Christmas decorations and some Christmas trees still. It was pretty, but very cold so we headed in for the night.
We began our day in Warsaw with a walk through the old town to the old city wall. The important thing to remember about Warsaw is that it was almost completely destroyed during the war, but the citizens rebuilt it in an exact replica of what it looked like before.
From the city wall, we walked to Market Place and on to a cathedral.
After a quick look inside, we made our way to Castle Square which was very pretty and has been the site of many important events in Warsaw’s history.
From here, we began down the Royal Road (Krakowscie Przdemiescie). We walked by the Presidential Palace which is where the Warsaw Pact was signed and past Chopin’s former residence. All along the path, there are benches that play Chopin’s music when you push a button on them.
From here we stopped at Holy Cross Church where Chopin had his heart encased in a pillar after his death.
Just past the church is a statue of Copernicus, who went to college in Krakow, which was taken for melting during the war but was recovered before it was melted.
From here, we left the Royal Road and the Old Town to venture into the city. From a distance, we could see the Palace of Science and Culture which is a skyscraper that was a gift from the Russians under Stalin.
Then we stopped by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where they had just completed the changing of the guard.
From here, we walked all the way through the modern downtown area to the Uprising Museum. The museum was a bit confusing, but it had a lot of information and items from the uprising which was when the residents of Warsaw attempted to fightback against the German occupation. While they did not succeed in retaking the city, it was an interesting look into the spirit of the people and their unwillingness to accept their situation. It was also a bit disturbing to observe some similarities in the situation occurring in our present world when we tend to think of these things as being in the past and are unwilling to believe that they could occur again.
We walked to the Jewish Cemetery of Warsaw where members of the Jewish community have been being buried for hundreds of years. The oldest tombs we saw were from the early 1800s, but the cemetery was kind of unkempt looking and spooky.
We didn’t stay for long before making our way back to our apartment. Our path took us through a park with an old palace on its edge. Across from the palace was the Polish Supreme Court.
At dinnertime, we stopped at St. Anne’s Church. It was pretty dark inside, but we weren’t sure if that was because the sun was setting, or if it is always like that.
We had dinner in a small restaurant where we tried cheese croquettes with a cranberry sauce along with a flight of vodkas including a regular, a premium brand called Bison Grassfed, a lemon flavored and a Tabasco. For our meal, we had assorted Pierogis, potato pancake with mushroom sauce, pork knuckle and Kartacze which was kind of like a very large cheese stuffed dumpling with a mushroom sauce. It was all very good.
After an unsuccessful attempt to see Wilanow Palace and Lazienki Palace in the morning, we began our drive to Gdansk. After arriving and once again getting the dogs situated, we took a walk around the old city to St. Catherine’s Church.
Along the way we saw another cathedral and an old building with an open market in front of it.
After stopping in the cathedral, we saw a lot of cool historic buildings as we made our way to the Golden Gate which was right in front of the old prison tower.
Then, we walked under the Upper Gate onto the Royal Road or Long Street.
There were a lot of old homes and buildings on this street that were very colorful with ornate stonework and artwork.
We stopped in a few bakeries along the way and then took a minute to admire the Town Hall building with its clock tower and Neptune Fountain before heading to dinner at Mandu Periogarnia.
The restaurant is known for its wide variety of Pierogis. We decided on a potato and cheese version and a vegan version with cabbage and meat substitute. The food was okay, but we had some truly awful beer.
After that, we were ready to go to the apartment and try some of the pastries we had purchased earlier. We had a cheesecake type dessert, Kremowka which was a layer of light cream between two thin sheets of pastry, an apple pastry and Makowiec which was a poppy seed cake with fruit and a glaze. Everything was pretty good though the cheesecake seemed to be everyone’s favorite.
On our last full day in Poland, we began with some Polish pastries filled with cream and berries.
We walked to St. Mary’s Cathedral which was quite open and empty seeming when we first walked in, but, on closer inspection, it actually housed a lot of interesting artwork and ornamental sculptures.
From here, we walked to Long Street to look at the Town Hall again as well as Neptune Fountain.
We also saw the Golden House which was a home built for the mayor in the 17th century and the courthouse referred to as King Arthur’s Court.
From here, we walked the rest of the way down Long Street to the Green Gate.
After passing under the gate, we came out on the river and walked along Dluge Pobrzeze which is the old dock area. We also saw the Gdansk crane which is the old machinery used for loading goods from boats to the dock.
We went down Ulika Mariace (St. Mary’s Street) off of the dock area. It was very cute and had a lot of shops selling amber which Poland is well known for.
We walked down some side streets past the armory
on our way to do one of the craziest culinary things we have ever done while traveling- we ate Mexican food in Poland! It was actually toted as a Tex-Mex place and since we really struggle to find Mexican like that in the Netherlands and we had already had a lot of Polish food, we did it. It was not really Tex-Mex as we are used to, but it wasn’t terrible.
At dinner, we decided to redeem ourselves a bit by going to a Ukrainian restaurant. We tried some Ukrainian beer and a liquor with honey and pepper along with a plate of pickled vegetables and a pickled plum-interesting. We also got a traditional Borsch soup with bread, Ukrainian potato dumplings, potato pancakes with mushroom and sour cream and some ribs.
After dinner, we strolled down the Long Street after dark before making our way to our apartment to eat our final pastry which was a white and dark chocolate Kremowka cake which was pretty good.
The last day of our trip was spent driving the twelve hours back home. While not an exciting day at all, we did see a convoy of Red Cross vans and cars carrying what appeared to be refugees as they were filled with women and children. We aren’t sure if they were Ukrainian or Belarusian refugees, but it was a strange feeling to see nonetheless.
And with that, our Polish vacation was over. We really weren’t sure what to expect with this last minute trip, but we actually really liked Poland. The food was very good, it was inexpensive, and it was really quite pretty (albeit a bit cold). We are definitely glad that we made the decision to visit Poland.