Going to Kutno

It’s Sunday now on my trip to Poland. We were up early for some fellowship with friends and then took off to visit more friends in Kutno. Mr. P had rented a car, as he is thinking about purchasing one there in Poland..so we had wheels! It was wonderful to see the countryside this way and my conclusion was that the roads are quite good. Some further out in the country are narrower and don’t have lines painted on them…could be tricky in bad weather or at night, but they were just fine for us. We stopped part way for an early lunch at this restaurant.

Stary Browar in Poznan

Let me tell you something ladies (and gentlemen who like to shop), the new malls in Poland are amazing!!!!! I loved Poland and didn’t feel any culture shock at all, but when I got a little tired from walking and the heat, a trip to a mall fixed me right up! That, and a little Coffee Heaven (like a Starbucks). On Saturday I stayed at the P’s apartment while the others went to a funeral, but when Ian got back, he took me downtown Poznan. We came here to Stary Browar and had some supper, then wandered around the old square and took pictures and listened to street musicians until the sun went down. This mall is near downtown and has several floors filled with many small, interesting stores, not the big anchor stores you think of in the States.

Ok, and I might as well add this confession right here. In case you haven’t already figured it out, I am what is known as a “foodie”. Some people like museums, some go to zoos, but foodies are enthralled with what is on the menu! We love the sights, the scents, the colors, the textures, the unending variety of all things that originally come from mother earth herself. So, as you can imagine, a trip to a foreign country, for a foodie, has to include a lot of photos of the FOOD! Here I am having chicken cordon bleu (not so Polish), kasha, and sauerkraut (very Polish)! What is kasha? Oh, I am so glad you asked! Kasha is any kind of hulled small grain, but usually refers to buckwheat groats…groats being what you call the grain when the hull or seed coat is taken off. Kasha can be a cooked cereal affair, but here the groats are roasted and remind me of an earthy, substantial rice. On wikipedia I found this: This Slavic variety of porridge has been described as “infinitely flexible – served sweet or savoury, a meal unto itself, or as a side dish.” It also states that people have been eating kasha for over a thousand years!

You may look at this and not get very excited, but the combination of creamy chicken, chewy kasha and wonderfully savory sauerkraut was excellent! And if you have only ever had sauerkraut that came directly out of a can, you are missing something! This had mushrooms and many other flavorings added to it.

A historic building, but I am not sure what, in the Poznan old town square. And that brings us to the end of day five in Poland.

Taking the slow train

Hmm, more pause. I seem to be under the weather this time, but I am sure that remembering more about Poland will make me feel better! So let’s see, where were we? Oh yes, the eventful train trip to Ostrow!

I really liked the slow trains in Poland, even though they make a lot of stops. It feels much more open and less crowded than sitting in a compartment and you can open the windows and feel very comfortable. So, on Friday the whole group of us was heading to Ostrow to visit more dear friends, the parents of a special young lady in Poznan. We had a good visit and then were treated to this fantastic Polish meal of hot borscht and nalesniki (I think that is what you would call it), the Polish version of a crepe, it is thicker like a flat pita bread, can be filled with sweets or meats, and has a nice coating of crispy bread crumbs (I like crispy!) Ours was filled with a ground meat.

We were enjoying our visit so much , we almost missed our train back to Poznan though. You should have seen V. fly over the roads back to the little train station! But we got there in time, and were moving on quite nicely when all of a sudden we heard a “thunk”. We were in a small town, so I think we were stopped and trying to get going again. Long wait…….people getting restless……..people getting off the train to see what was going on….in all we were stopped about an hour and a half if I remember right. It was hot, but I thought it was rather festive! Loran walked over to the side of the tracks and picked some wild plums for me, some to eat and more to use for compote the next day (I LOVE fruit compotes!) The wild orange plums were growing all over the place in Poland, truly part of an edible landscape. I was also impressed with the numerous tiny backyard gardens, not only containing vegetables but small fruit trees and often a plastic covered hot house full of tomates and other goodies. One might see 10 or 20 yards like this right in a row. The majority of people seem to be brilliant gardeners! Anyway, we finally got on another train and pulled into Poznan about 8:30 p.m. And that was our eventful train trip.

An Apartment in Poznan

Sorry for the pause from my end….little blip with the internet! The kind people we visited in Poznan had a wonderful apartment and made me feel so welcome and right at home! And since I am into nesting and apartments and cultural elements of “how things are”, I have quite a few photos of the P’s apartment. I just loved how small but wonderfully comfortable it all was.

Here’s Ian, catching up on some e-mail in the living room.

Another view of the living room on a day when I begged off the schedule and stayed “home” to rest. Notice I was well supplied with pillows, coffee and my James Michener book, “Poland”, plus internet access!

I’m almost ashamed to admit that I took over two beds while I was there….but it felt soooo good to spread out of the suitcase for a while. And notice again the amazing windows!

And here is the kind, wonderful Mr. P. himself, newly retired but definitely not bored! He loves being in Poland and…..buying fresh bread to eat every morning for breakfast, like we had in this nice little kitchen:

The washer cleverly hid under the bathroom counter.

And the drier is cleverly hid on the balcony! There is an electric drier, but many people seem to enjoy letting their clothes commune naturally with the outdoors.

Now one more apartment pic before I head to bed. The eventful train story will have to wait until tomorrow!

The Poles and the Europeans are so much more clever than we are! I just loved these lamps to my feet and lights to my pathway at night, built right into the wall!

Off to Poznan, Day 3 of the Poland Trip

On Thursday morning we left Warsaw and got the train headed to Poznan, a large city where Ian has spent some time. We had English friends to visit there as well as Polish friends. This picture shows nicely “the train phenomenon”! There are basically three kinds of trains in Poland: slow, medium and fast. But regardless of what kind of train you are taking, you have a ticket and you may or may not have a seat assignment. If you are assigned a seat in a compartment aboard a train, you don’t know where your carriage is going to be until the train pulls in and starts to slow down. I’m told you have about 4 minutes to get your body and luggage on the train (and believe me, these trains run on time, to the minute!). So….there is a mad scramble of people going every which way to get to the proper spot. At first I thought Ian was being a little over aggressive, but…..you don’t have much time!

Riding trains in Poland is quite fun, and a very social and cultural experience. Our train to Poznan was a medium fast train, having nothing to do really with its speed, but meaning it stops at fewer stations than a slow train. These usually have compartment seating and Ian and I found ourselves with four strangers to begin each trip. On this day there was a mix up about the assigned seats and two girls had to sit outside the compartment, but they were cheery and even shared their cheese puffs with everyone. Then, after a while, more food came out, as there is no food service on these trains. Sandwiches, fruit, bottles of juice and water, chips, rolls, it was like a picnic. People started visiting more, and by the time we left for our station, every one was telling us good bye and felt like a friend! We passed through small towns with small train stations and saw a lot of wheat straw being baled. There was a little corn, some fields of cabbage, but no soybeans! Since I have been an ag person, I’ll probably post more about Polish agriculture later, but I found it very interesting and would love to go back to learn more!

When we arrived in Poznan, we climbed a few flights of stairs to get to street level and caught a tram out to our English friends. From what I could tell, these boys on the tram are typical Polish teenagers, very polite….have I mentioned I loved Poland!

This shows the overall complex where our English friends live. It’s really mixed use development, the way it should be! One can find a variety of things in the shops below the housing: fresh bread, restaurants, offices, salons, businesses. It is a thriving place, even though it is only a few years old. Loran and Mr. P had a wonderful hot meal waiting for us (Mrs. P was back in England for a few days, but it was just like she would have fixed it!) when we arrived and then we spent a nice evening with some wonderful Polish friends! I’d seen pictures of all these people before, but it was so much better actually being there with them!

Tomorrow I’ll post more from the P’s apartment and our eventful train trip to Ostrow!

In love with Warsaw

On the evening of Day 2, we joined some Irish friends at their home for supper and then strolled around the Old Town at night before heading back to Castle Inn for our last night in Warsaw. I didn’t get a good picture of their sister and parents, but I was crazy about these boys! They were wonderful! I’ll also include some beloved sisters from Warsaw.

Strolling here was wonderful at night. The weather was perfect and the atmosphere was social without feeling like a tourist spot…and…..it was completely safe and relaxing.

Warsaw Day 2

We had one more day in Warsaw. It started with Ian bringing me coffee in bed and then making another shopping run for breakfast: fresh bread rolls, wonderful soft cheese and a yogurt drink. After a good shower and more hanging out the window and just hanging out together, we went to another outdoor cafe for lunch. Guess what I had? More zurek, in a bread bowl this time! Lunch was followed by a visit to a small museum for a movie about the destruction and rebuilding of Warsaw and my first conscious look at items from the 11th and 12th century. Did I mention Poland is very old? Did I also mention that many things in Poland are wonderfully small. Check out this door and remember that I am five feet tall exactly!

From the museum, we caught a bus to the Warsaw University Library Garden, one of the largest roof gardens in Europe and yes, I do mean soil, grass, shrubs and flowers, all growing on the roof, in massive quantities in fact! This visit was a special treat from a son to his part-horticulturist mother!

Here’s the library, and the following photos are taken up on top of the building!

And here is a view of Warsaw from the roof:

I also loved this leaf-covered passage way up on the roof. In my bag is a copy of Winnie-the-Pooh in Polish! It was definitely a Pooh kind of day and for our little smackerel of something after leaving the roof, we indulged in cooling mango smoothies!

Bedtime of Day 1 in Warsaw

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I fell into bed about 6:30 pm. One concern I had before embarking on this trip had to do with pillows. I usually sleep with…well….quite a pile of them, and lately I’ve spoiled myself by bringing them all with me when I travel by car. So….would I actually be able to sleep in Poland once I hit the beds?

As it turned out, they do have good pillows in Poland but, instead of a top sheet, I was told that the new European thing to have is a comforter type blanket that can be slipped into it’s own casing. Before I realized what it was, I slept on top of it while leaving it folded in half, assuming it was some kind of bed pad! Either way, I slept quite well. And the windows…ah the windows! Most of the buildings had new windows that open both at the top, tilting inward, AND casement style, depending on the position you put the handle in, and no screens. I LOVED the no screens protocol! About 3 am that first night I woke up for a while and hung out the window taking photos!! “Didn’t we get bugs?” you ask. The windows had netted curtains, what we would call sheers, that kept most of the bugs at bay. As a bonus, they blew beautifully in the breeze.

I’ll also briefly mention bathrooms and water in this post. I have to confess, I was prepared for some scary bathrooms, because that’s always what Americans talk about when they travel. Well, yes, in Poland there are some pay toilets with slightly scary, stern looking women taking your zlotys, but other than that, the bathrooms were very nice thank you! Showers tended to be small with removable shower sprays and all the toilets had two options for low flow flushing: a half flush and a full flush….very green! For some reason, no one in Poland seems to drink the water out of the tap though. If you are at home, you boil and then filter your drinking water. On the road, you buy water and carry it with you. You also have the choice of water with gas and water bez (without) gas, that is, bubbly or not! So here is my first Polish bathroom and a 3 am view from our window at the Castle Inn.




More from Day 1 in Warsaw

Most of Warsaw was reduced to rubble in WWII. What you see here has been rebuilt, maybe in the 60’s?? But the charm and the Polishness of it is eternal in many ways. Castle Inn is right next to the clock tower and I absolutely LOVED hearing the time chimed out every fifteen minutes. I wanted to join the children by taking my shoes off and walking in the cool fountain water, but I restrained myself. Instead I rubber necked around, admiring the subtle art of all the buildings, and the COLOR, oh the colors. The photos don’t do it justice. It’s like walking in a picture post card world.

“And what did she eat for her second meal in Poland?” you might ask. Well, it wasn’t BK!

Just a few steps away from our hotel were several outdoor cafes, we picked one, and I went “hog wild” you might say! My favorite Polish food is something called pierogi, a type of ravioli, that can be boiled and sauteed in butter or fried and stuffed with anything from cheese to sauerkraut and meat. The taste is very delicate and comforting.

And then there is zurek…maybe that is my favorite! It’s an incredible soup, slightly sour from fermented rye and always has an egg in it, like a little present floating in flavor. Unable to decide (I was just too tired by then, you know!) I had both.

And Ian ordered pig knuckle. Ok, before you laugh or turn up your nose, read this, and then imagine the most delicious, tender pork you’ve ever tasted in your life. Believe me, the pig skin surrounding this baby is just a disguise to keep the timid from enjoying this feast. And all the time we were eating, we were enjoying the street sounds, the clock, the gentle drift of people around the square, some street musicians and a nice little breeze!

Poland, finally!

I am finally back home after two weeks in Poland to visit my son. It was a perfect trip! I took 600 photos, and needless to say, I won’t try to post them all today! I’ll be posting little by little, mostly to keep the vacation feeling going as long as I can!

After arriving in Warsaw, our first task was to head over to the train station to get tickets for our trip on Thursday to Poznan. Public transportation is awesome in Warsaw. Ian easily navigated us onto buses, trams and the beautiful underground, arriving here at the Warsaw train station, all the while keeping in touch with the rest of the world! Phones are big here too and everyone makes good use of the SMS as they get about 300 text messages for a dollar. And yes, Ian’s Polish is amazingly good for only being there six months and he seems to have the transportation system down pat!

Poland didn’t feel as different to me as I expected. The people are quiet and reserved for the most part until you get to know them. Things are very clean, people dress nicely, no sloppy American stuff. The only times I noticed that I wasn’t at home were when I saw those funny looking words on the signs around me and heard the foreign speach coming out of people’s mouths!

In the malls, I had an especially difficult time remembering where I was. After the train tickets, we headed next door to this amazing downtown mall. Several stories high, laced with escalators, and filled with boutique shops and numerous restaurants and cafes, it was at the top of the modern scale. Not sure if our hotel room would be ready yet, we hung out here for several hours. My doctor had given me suggestions for how to eat in Poland, and for the first meal at least, I paid attention and got a Whopper Jr. while Ian boldly visited Salad Story. And then, guess who joined us for lunch??!!

It was a treat to see this friend from Indiana days who now lives in Ukraine and was visiting Poland. Small world!

To get to Poland, I drove from Iowa to my sister’s in Peoria, then took a charter bus to O’Hare, changed planes in Frankfurt, and finally arrived in Warsaw. My first trans-Atlantic flight wasn’t as bad as I expected, but by afternoon, I was starting to sag. I managed to stay awake until about 6:30 before falling to asleep in this perfectly cozy¬† nest of a room, right in the middle of the Old Town of Warsaw. I’ll finish this post with some pics from our room at the Castle Inn and the views from our windows.