Monday, August 17, 2009

Polish friends and great food in Poznan

Breakfast at The Castle Inn was good. Very good. And served with a smile to boot. Certainly a lovely start to the day. We are delighted with the hotel and recommend it very highly - I will make sure that Stay Poland are told how fantastic it is too. Great location, great staff - young, vibrant, friendly and helpful.

We are leaving Warsaw sadly. Given that many people had told us that there was not much to see or do in Warsaw, we have had a wonderful time - and they could not have been further from the truth. Sure, the old town here is smaller, but there is still lots to explore if you want to, and it is easier to see the 'real' side of the city if you want to venture beyond the tourist hype.

Before we leave the old city, we call in to have a look at St Anne's Church that faces out in to the square (and one of four within spitting distance of each other). We have not been able to get near it over the weekend - what with the Feast of the Assumption and weddings on Saturday and our tour yesterday. This is another baroque styled church - yet I can understand why it is popular for weddings - although ornate, it has a quiet beauty to it. First founded in 1454, it was reconstructed a number of times and the present facade and interior date to 1788. We have been surprised all weekend at the number of clergy in Warsaw, and in particular at the number of young nuns and priests. This morning was no exception as this group of nuns from Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity walking in the street clearly demonstrates.

Anyway, we do finally get away after I get a photo while stopped at the traffic lights of a monument to the Warsaw Uprising. We head north west, making a brief stop at a Tesco supermarket for more water and food for the journey. Oh, and i buy a small suitcase for Paris - see Hels, it can be small and yet functional! Today we are headed to the city of Poznan. "Why are you going there?" asked Rafał yesterday. And our reply? "Well, because it is there, and because we can!" I can't believe how many people pooh-poo another area and say there is nothing to see or do. In reality, all they are really doing is showing their own ignorance.

We continue to pass block after block after block of the apartments erected during the socialist rule - huge, drab, grey and depressing. There are some in the outer areas that have been given a coat of paint in an effort to brighten them, but they remain what they are. There is no escaping that! As we get further into the rural areas we see less of them, but as soon as there is some form of sizeable population, there they appear again. Where there are single houses, many of the newer ones are similar to what would be found in many suburbs back home. Oh sure, they are not the four bedroom, two bathroom, outdoor entertaining area style, but they are smart and modern. Oh yes, and it goes without saying that the roadworks continue!

There are lots of people working in the fields. Sun Smart really doesn't appear to be much of a concern here. There are potatoes being harvested, hay being raked and heaped (yes, fields of it by hand), orchards being tended and fields being ploughed, irrigated and fertilized. For the first time in ages we see fruit and veges for sale on the side of the road. Apples, plums, tomatoes, garlic amoungst others. And everywhere you look there are shrines - on roadsides, at the edge of fields, in front yards and in public squares. At the moment they are all decorated with ribbons and flowers - presumably because of the feast day last Saturday. Yes, rural life is alive and pumping today.

Over the last few days we had been a bit perturbed by the proliferation of bars along the roadside, and the number of trucks parked there. Gosh, to think that those drivers then get back out in to the traffic! But after our tour yesterday, we now know that theses are the local milk bars - serving fantastic tasty local home-cooked food. Just goes to show that local knowledge can counter any first wrong impression - ah, we must stop judging the books by their covers!
The weather is hot and the clouds are building. We soon see evidence ahead of us of a big electrical storm and know that we are headed for it. Doesn't really amount to much once we are in its path - I think it has vented most of its energy already. About a quarter of the way in to our journey we get caught up behind a crash. Don't know how far ahead it is, but we see the ambulance go rushing by. After almost an hour where we move less than 10 metres, I decide to take the plunge and follow local traffic down a side road. Took us a few kilometres out of our way, but when we re-join the main road, we are ahead of the blockage.

By now, we are way behind time - we had advised the accommodation that we should arrive sometime between 5 and 6 pm. So I re-programme Kate on to the dreaded motorway. And this one comes with tolls too. Three toll booths for a total of 28.50 PLN (approx €7). But the condition of the road is excellent and if it were not for the trucks wanting to overtake each other, we can sit on 120 kph easily. Mind you, it is little wonder there was a crash - the Polish drive like maniacs. There were a number of times when an oncoming vehicle had to pull on to the shoulder when it was confronted by an overtaking car. And they just love to sit right on your bumper bar - no matter how fast you are travelling.

When we arrived in Poznan, Kate directed us to a street that ended in a car park, around the back of a derelict industrial area, although there was an entry into some unit blocks. Yes, the street name was what we had written down for 'Fancy House' where we are booked in, but the building numbers didn't correspond. So I re-program her to the same address and she points us around the front of the block. Ahh - there it is! A smallish sign above the entry door.
But if the sign was small, the welcome was HUGE. Chris met Michael at the door of the block and then helped him to find us a car parking space just a few places up the road. He even offered to carry our luggage, but when we are only stopping a few days, we have learned to travel very lightly and not take in all the kit and caboodle!

Once upstairs we are introduced to his partner Gosha and their neice Paulana. Gosha is responsible for this small business and has every reason to be very proud. The rooms are decorated very tastefully and in quirky, pleasing themes. The bathrooms are enormous and just as gorgeous as the bedrooms. There is a kitchen with a Krups coffee maker (joy o joy says Michael) and bottles of mineral water. The kitchen is fully equipped - and with enough to be able to cook a proper meal if we wish. Off the kitchen is a balcony with a table and chairs that overlook a small garden. Oh, it is so comfy!

But the real joy is yet to be had! Chris and Gosha are so warm and welcoming! They have lots of local tourism brochures and are generous with their suggestions on what to see and do. And there are heaps and heaps of things to see in the city and the area surrounding it - so much so, that we on-the-spot decide to stay a day longer! (The fact that we are having trouble finding accommodation in Berlin has helped to influence that too!)

And to cap the night off perfectly, they ask us if we would like to go with them for dinner in the old market square. We have not had a meal since breakfast so are hungry and very happily take them up on their offer. It was a joy to have the local cuisine explained to us by locals! So we go to the Gospoda Pod Koziołkami. After much explaining and decisions we finally choose:
Zestawy obiadowe (Set Meals)
Gołabki loki po poznańsku w sosie pomidorowym (Stuffed cabbage in tomato sauce), March wiowa – marchew, jabłka, rodzynki, pomarańcza, olej (Carrot salad – carrot, apple, raisins, orange, oil), Kluseczki półfrancuskie (Dumplings) – Michael
Zapiekanki ziemniaczane z pieczarkami – ziemniaki, masło, śmietana, jajka por, żółty ser, pieczarki, cebulka (Potato casserole with mushrooms – potato, butter, cream, egg, leek, cheese, mushrooms, onion) – Maria, washed down with Źubrówka with apple juice – best polish vodka from the region with apple juice! Man, was it all so good!

So our meal over, we part company from our newest friends and take a promenade around the square. It is beautiful by night, but we want to come back in daylight to take in all the detail. Chris and Gosha leave for home and their two dogs who will be wanting their company by now for sure. And as I finish the blog tonight there is the mother of all storms brewing around us! The thunder has been roaring for about the last half hour and there is a very acrid smell of burning ozone in the air, so I'll sign off before I risk the computer to a lightening strike!

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