A Taste of Poland - From Michelin Stars to Hidden Gems

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A TASTE OF POLAND: FROM MICHELIN STARS TO HIDDEN GEMS
By Sharon K. Kurtz

 

 

ON BIG BLEND RADIO: Sharon Kurtz shares her recent adventures in the captivating cities of Warsaw, Krakow, and Poznan in Poland. Watch here in the YouTube player or download the podcast on Podbean.

 

Excitement surged when the Polish Tourism Bureau extended an invitation to explore the captivating cities of Warsaw, Krakow, and Poznan and experience Poland’s culinary renaissance. The Michelin Guide’s acknowledgment of 27 restaurants across these cities in its 2023 Poland Guide set the stage for my 9-day adventure, eventually expanding to 14 days as I delved deeper into Warsaw’s vibrant heart.

Armed with an insatiable appetite and stretchy pants, I uncovered a tapestry of flavors that exceeded all expectations in this Central European country of 39 million people with a rich and complex history. From reigning as the largest kingdom in Europe to enduring events like the partition of Poland, World War II, and the fall of communism in 1989, Poland has rebuilt, evolving into a democratic nation and a member of NATO and the EU.

Forget the outdated images of a grey and sad Poland.  Instead, I unearthed a treasure trove of history, from medieval castles to WWII sites and communist-era landmarks. Surprisingly, lush green spaces punctuated the cities, creating a vibrant and modern atmosphere.

Navigating Poland proved effortless, thanks to its accessibility via trains, bike shares, and public transportation. However, the Polish language presented a delightful challenge with its quirky pronunciations, turning my attempts into a fun linguistic adventure.

Poland’s breathtaking landscapes, history, and exceptional cuisine render it a must-visit destination.

Warsaw: A Symphony of History and Flavor

The Warsaw Mermaid, a half-human and half-fish creature, symbolizes strength and resilience in Warsaw.  With a sword and shield in hand, the Mermaid represents the indomitable spirit of the city and its people. This iconic statue stands as a beloved symbol of courage, resilience, and the unwavering determination of the people of Warsaw.

Chopin’s tunes resonate through the city’s musical heart. Lazienki Park hosts free classical concerts, providing a lovely setting to enjoy Chopin’s music. The Old Town, reconstructed after WWII and now a UNESCO site, narrates the city’s strength. The Warsaw Uprising Museum vividly illustrates the city’s complex history. The Praga Neighborhood, a cultural hub, houses the Neon Museum, showcasing cold-war era signs in a repurposed factory.

Exploring Poland’s food scene, I dined at Elixir Dom Wodki, a Michelin-recommended restaurant in Warsaw’s “Vodka House.” Each course is paired seamlessly with over 750 varieties, even espresso vodka with dessert. The first Polish Museum of Vodka boasts the world’s most extensive collection of vodkas, highlighting vodka as a symbol deeply ingrained in Polish history and culture.

Roaming Warsaw’s streets, I admired how the city seamlessly blends history with modern life. The University of Warsaw Library Roof Garden, one of Europe’s most extensive rooftop gardens, offers panoramic views of Warsaw’s skyline and the Vistula River. It’s a tranquil spot with over 20,000 plant species.

Krakow: Charm, Royalty, and Salt Mine

Just a three-hour train ride from Warsaw, Krakow immediately captivated me with its well-preserved Old Town, featuring Europe’s largest medieval square and iconic landmarks like St. Mary’s Basilica and Wawel Castle. The Kazimierz District, Krakow’s Jewish Quarter, pulsates with life.  Don’t miss a visit to Oscar Schindler’s Enamel Factory and Museum —a poignant reminder of humanity’s darkest moments and the remarkable resilience of those who endured.

Strolling through the medieval Old Town pedestrian-friendly streets as night descended was a magical experience. The air resonates with the sounds of roaming street musicians and the lively energy of people enjoying the evening.

A tour of the nearby Wieliczka Salt Mine left me in awe of its history and stunning salt formations. The mine, dating back to the 13th century, spans almost 200 miles and plunges nearly half a mile deep. Inside are numerous chambers adorned with salt sculptures and chandeliers made of salt, including the breathtaking Chapel of St. Kinga. Notably, Pope John Paul II, who served as the Archbishop of Krakow before being ordained as the Pope in 1978, is honored with a salt statue, symbolizing his connection to the city and significant role in Polish history.

Side trips from Krakow to Auschwitz and other nearby WWII concentration camps remind us of the historical importance and atrocities of the Holocaust, ensuring that we never forget the lessons of the past and strive towards a future rooted in compassion, understanding, and tolerance.”

Poznan: Timeless Allure and Contemporary Energy

Once the capital, Poznan effortlessly intertwines ancient charm and modern vibrancy. The city’s beloved symbols, a pair of legendary goats, narrate a 16th-century tale that embodies the spirit and resilience of Poznan, adorning every corner as iconic representatives. The Old Town Market Square is a visual delight with its colorful townhouses surrounding the unique City Hall clock tower, showcasing the appearance of the mechanical goats each noon. Cathedral Island, dating back to the 10th century, is the home to the Poznan Cathedral of St. Pete and Paul. Hidden amongst Poznan’s cobble streets is the Enigma Cipher Centre, which sheds light on the role of Poznan individuals in breaking German codes during WWII.

Poznan’s culinary scene is exceptional, and today, pierogis hold a special place in Polish cuisine, enjoyed by people worldwide. Fun fact: the patron saint of pierogis is Saint Hyacinth of Poland. Astonishingly, there are more than 750 different types of pierogis to savor.

In Poznan’s gastronomy, don’t miss the exquisite St. Martin’s Croissants, a traditional pastry with a 19th-century history exclusive to Poznan, celebrated in the Poznan Croissant Museum and Experience.

My dining journey in Poznan was a delightful spectrum, ranging from the Michelin-starred elegance of Muga, where a memorable tasting menu and wine pairing created a lasting impression, to the affordable joy of Pierozak. Here, skilled women with flying fingers craft pierogi before your eyes for just $5 a plate.

These culinary adventures satisfied my taste buds and enriched my perspective; each bite unraveled a story, and every encounter revealed the warmth of the people.


Sharon’s visit was hosted by the Polish Tourism Organization, but all the opinions are her own. Plan your visit to Poland at https://www.poland.travel/en/

Sharon Kurtz is an Austin-based freelance travel writer and award-winning photographer. She is passionate about exploring the world and sharing her experiences through captivating storytelling.  She is an active member of The Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and The International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA). Follow her travels on https://sharonkkurtz.com/ and https://www.instagram.com/shar_kurtz

 

 

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About the Author:

Sharon Kurtz is an Austin-based freelance travel writer and award-winning photographer.

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