Thursday, July 27, 2017

Gdańsk, Poland side-trip

Since we had decided to make Wrocław our home base in Poland, we needed to take a side trip to the north of Poland in order to visit the tiny villages tied to our ancestry.  It actually worked out well because we had wanted to visit Gdańsk anyway after seeing it on The Amazing Race during our travel planning. It was a great base to stay in and easily drive out into the countryside.

We managed to get an Airbnb rental that was pretty simple but the location was one of the best we've had so far for being close to the action.  It is literally a 1 minute walk from our place to arrive at the fountain of Neptune in the Long Market (Długi Targ)

We took a train ride from Wrocław that was very nice to get to Gdańsk.  The train went through lots of beautiful Polish countryside.  A lot of the farmland is brilliant yellow as far as the eye can see.  Turns out this is rapeseed that must be a major cash crop for Poland because it was everywhere.  The photos don't even do it justice.

Brilliant yellow rapeseed crops from the train

From the time we arrived, we explored the whole city on foot.  We had packed light into just two bags for the side-trip, which was a refreshing change from lugging around our full set of gear.  This also made the walk from the train station into town more pleasant so we could get a lay of the land.

Quaint views on our walk into town.

We explored both sides of the river and the Long Market as well as many side-streets and the old town over the few days we were in town.  Near the maritime museum, we spotted a submersible that Spencer said was a highlight of his because he got to see a "real Gup" (from the Octonauts TV show)

Gdansk has some beautiful architecture, including some raised apartments on the side streets that remind me of the brownstones in New York and Boston.  It was a lot of fun to just walk around and gaze at the details of the gates and beautiful historic buildings as well as the surrounding buildings.

The kids were enamored by the ferris wheel in town even though we had already ridden on the London Eye (one of our pre-trip goals).  We all managed to talk about other fun things to do instead that would be better uses of our money and that lead to one of the highlights of our trip.  We had seen these little primary-colored small motorboats in the Motlawa river and decided this would be a fun way to explore the waterways and get up to the shipyards.  The kids got to take turns at the helm and managed to not run into anything! It was slow-going, but a nice afternoon activity.

Cap'n Spencer

View of the historic crane and waterfront from our boat

The historic crane was a highlight to see up-close and talk with the kids about the logistics of getting cargo from ships into the city.  It is definitely an iconic part of Gdansk and was also a highlight during The Amazing Race.  Fortunately, it was restored after considerable damage in the wars.  You could see the enormous winch mechanism that is no longer functional, but preserved in large part right above the portal into the city side streets.

An unexpected highlight of the trip was the amber museum.  It happened to have free admission the day we went, otherwise we probably wouldn't have paid for it.  There are some beautiful artistic works, both modern and historic - even a Fender guitar clad in amber.  And they have a really cool exhibit showing how amber forms and the kinds of critters that have been trapped in amber as well as the frequency they got trapped.  The kids got some road-science out of the trip!

Specimens of trapped insects

Kerry had thrown her back out, so while she was laid up in the apartment, Jason and the kids took a quick trip up the tallest tower in town (over 400 steps!) - the Basilica of St. Mary - to get a birds-eye view of the city.  Amazing to see one of the largest brick buildings in the world.  We were treated to ringing of the bells in the more ornate tower on the other church in town.  Adele was very glad that our bells didn't chime since they were enormous and we walked right by them at the appropriate time.

400 steps...and a few more

Fearing imminent bell ringing on the descent
Views of Gdańsk from the tower

We ate some great food in Gdańsk.  Mornings, we ate breakfast foods from the nearby grocery store (Yogurt (our new favorite European yogurt brand - Jogobela), fruit, pastries or bread)  The first night, we had a relaxing meal along the waterfront with some live music in the background.  It was one of many places that cater mostly to tourists, but further out of the way and with a nice view.

Beef cheeks and a yummy salad

On our way back home, we wandered through some side streets and were rewarded by an amazing sunset over the end of the Long Market that we watched for a while before heading back.

The next night, we found a small place on a side street away from all the touristy restaurants on the market street that was really nice called Slowiańskie Smaki.  I finally got to sample some seafood and have some nice Polish wine.

Beet salad and baked fish with pumpkin

We were supposed to spend the second day in the countryside exploring our heritage, but we didn't book a rental car in advance and had a frustrating time attempting to reserve one online.  I called the next morning and was told there wasn't one available for that day!  I was able to get online to book one for the following day so we shifted our plans a bit. Don't expect you can just roll up and get a car...

There were a few things we didn't get to see we wished we had more time.  We had wanted to see the falowiec apartments up near Sopot (featured on The Amazing Race - the longest apartment building in Europe).  We also had hoped to see the pier in Sopot or one closer to Gdansk (Molo Brzeźno) and gaze at the Baltic Sea, but didn't have enough time after our trip to the countryside.

Polish Gastronomy

One of the most fun things about traveling is getting to try different types of food.  Eating out is obviously expensive, so we are trying to find a good balance between preparing food at home and eating out.

Our rental in Wroclaw had a pretty nice kitchen set up.  There were a couple things missing though.  There was only a single pod coffee maker, not a coffee pot.  We felt bad about using so many pods, so ended up buying a french press.  And we missed having a microwave.

Poland had lots of foods to try and we were pleased that the kids were open to trying everything!  We tried several types of pierogi, which were a favorite for both kids.  Sadly they do not photograph well.  The traditional potato and onion were the biggest hit.  But there were cabbage and meat fillings as well as fruit and cheese.  Dumplings, kielbasa, potatoes and pickled veggies are very common here.
Clockwise: potato dumplings with 3 pickled salads, cold beet soup, cheese pastry, beer platter with pickles, kielbasa, bread and garlic lard.
One of our first traditional food stops was at Przedwojenna.  The menu was simple and painted on the wall.  Drinks were 4 Zoloty, about $1 Usd and food was 8 zt.  So we ordered nearly everything and had a smorgasbord.

We had mixed reviews about the food.  Bottom left is the kielbasa and it was a hit with the kids as it is essentially just hot dogs, but better.  

To the right of the kielbasa is bread, lard spread and pickles.  In my opinion the garlic lard spread is only good after several beers when you are hungry and there is nothing else to eat.  I could eat about half a slice before I couldn't stop thinking "I'm eating lard, gross" and then I was done.  

The square shaped food in the middle is kind of like a savory jelly.  Imagine making a yummy chicken soup with vegetables, you put the leftovers in the fridge and the liquid and fat congeal, and instead of warming it up to liquify, you just dump it on the plate in it's jelly form.  Voila!  Spencer and Jason seemed to enjoy spreading it on bread.

The top plate, almost out of picture, is a savory cottage cheese dish with potatoes.  This was simple and quite tasty.

Not pictured, was a plate of pickled vegetables including peppers, mushrooms and mostly pickles.  My only complaint is that sweet and dill pickles were combined, and it was a surprise each time you bit into one.

We stayed away from the tartar, for what I thought were obvious reasons.  But after seeing everyone else in the restaurant order it, Jason wanted to give it a try.  His review, "it's like making a hamburger and then not cooking it".  He swore it was fine, especially if followed by two shots of vodka and beer.  Meanwhile I tried not to gag the entire time he was eating it.

In conclusion, eating some of these Polish dishes is a mental game.  If you can just stop thinking about what you are eating, you can choke it down pretty quickly and leave feeling full.

Last but not least we had this delicious zapiekanki at the Taste of Europe festival during our last week.  Toasted bread piled with grilled meat and veggies.

The kids had some favorites too.  We tried several lody (ice cream) shops, including one that always had a line going down the block.  But I think their most favorite place was Mr. Pancake in Krakow.  Which for the record is not a breakfast spot, as it doesn't open until afternoon and has a full bar.  They were in pure sugar heaven.  Especially Spencer who ordered one with Snickers and ice cream! "Best dinner ever!"

Of course there was also a lot of partaking in the local libations.  Lots of beer and vodka sampling.  Our kitchen was reminiscent of a college dorm with empty bottles everywhere.  Just kidding...

A family of beer steins in Gdansk

Happy Jason finally found a proper beer tasting.

Our first introduction to lard bread and beer at Spiz in the Rynek.

The first of many vodka tastings.

Kerry a bit excited for her fruity cocktail and oversized burger.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Wroclaw, Poland in a nutshell

Wroclaw, Poland Rynek
Poland made our travel itinerary early in the planning stages.  We were excited to explore Jason's Gruchalla family ancestry.  His family emigrated in the late 1800s from a small town in the north, but we chose to make Wroclaw (southwest) our home base. We spent 3 weeks here and made a week long trip to the Gdansk area and Krakow.

Wroclaw, pronounced "vrot suave", proved to be a lovely, family friendly city with beautiful architecture, parks and tasty food and drinks.

Town Hall
Cities around Poland all have a Rynek, which is the main market square in old town.  Pictures of these colorful buildings was one of the things that drew us to this city.  The ice cream colored buildings are beautiful, but the majority have been rebuilt following WW2 and massive flooding.  The Rynek was a good base for most major sights, especially for finding gnomes.

We were fortunate to explore several museums with the kids.  The architectural details were amazing, the furnishings in the palace brought me back to my school days (history of furniture) and the ethnographic museum's display of textiles and art was stunning. I loved the bright colors of traditional clothing, it was all I could do to not buy the full getup for Adele.
Old beekeeping boxes, textiles, traditional clothing and art from the Ethnographic Museum.
Miscellaneous architectural features
Decor and furniture from the palace
Another favorite spot in Wroclaw was Park Szczytnicki.  For Seattle folks this is their version of Seattle Center.  It is home to Centennial Hall (or "the cake building" the kids called it because of it's shape), the steeple, a multi media water fountain show and Japanese garden.  We stopped by here a few times to play in the fountain, sketch in the garden and eat some amazing food truck grub.  Many events take place here, so it was always busy.  We stopped by the zoo too, and saw several baby animals!

The Steeple

Japanese Garden

Multi media light up fountain and spraypark
Zoo, crazy kids, baby hippo and cutest sloth ever!
Our apartment was about a 20 minute walk from the Rynek.  We enjoyed the location with it's proximity to some beautiful parks and views of the river.  Lots of great spots to relax and let the kids burn some energy.  There was large park and playground across the street that we frequented.  Across the river we found another lovely view with a water feature to splash around in.

Seven swans a swimming

Picnic at the park

Riverside park view
During our visit we happened upon two family carnivals with loads of activities for the kids.  They were over the moon to get their faces painted, jump in a bouncy house and play in a bubble machine.

During our last week, we stumbled upon a Taste of Europe festival in the Rynek.  They went all out for this festival.  Everything from food, drinks, music, shops to beach chairs, sand boxes and an outdoor garden show.  It was a fun way to spend an afternoon.

Just a little garden tic tac toe

Last but not least, Jason and I got to go on a date!  Hopefully this won't be the only one for the next year!

Much needed, well deserved adult time with my love.