5 reasons to visit Poland this September

 

If you don’t mind taking a little gamble with the weather (it can go anywhere from 12 to 35 even degrees) Poland is the place to visit now. We are giving you 5 reasons why.

1. Mushrooms – the season for the best forest mushroom starts just now! In England they cost like gold and are available in maybe 5 little delis in London. In Poland mushrooms are sold literally everywhere so don’t be surprised seeing people along every single road offering the best Porcini or Chanterelles you have ever seen. Be careful though and don’t buy them just from anyone! Health and safety first!

Check Alma Delicatessen or Krakowski Kredens for the dried mushroom you can then add to your sauces or stews.
Chanterelles are available also marinated in vinegar – perfect as a little snack with your vodka shots. If you are in Warsaw this autumn try them served in cream sauce at U Kucharzy (Ossolińskich 7)

Mushrooms from the photo above were picked by me, my mum and Ma during our afternoon stroll in the forest close to my parents’ house.

Continue reading 5 reasons to visit Poland in September

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Kraków part II

Let’s continue doing nothing.

(for Part I click here)

It’s time to show you few posher places in Krakow – for those who would like to come here to celebrate something special or spoil themselves with luxury for a price of one night at Holiday Inn somewhere in a forgotten part of north London for example.

I definitely advise you to check at least one of the three 5* restaurants Copernicus, Pod Różą and Trzy rybki belonging to the same family and situated in their luxury hotels Copernicus, Pod Roza and Stary respectively. They probably offer the best food in Krakow and are beautiful enough to visit just to have a look at them.

Copernicus (ul. Kanonicza 16) is maybe the poshest of them – this is where George W Bush Junior chose to stay during his time in Poland and I am sure you can even ask to stay in the same room!

By the way, Kanonicza is my favourite street in Kraków! Unfortunately, as it is on the way to the castle, it’s packed with tourists the whole day but I advise you to go there after dark – a very romantic place.

Copernicus restaurant is quite small and mostly Italian and the food they serve was for a very long time (mostly until Likus family opened their other hotels) considered the best in Krakow. On a nice sunny day you can enjoy the food on a roof terrace with the best view over old town and Wawel. Actually, those roof terraces are specialities of these hotels. My favourite is at Stary (ul. Szczepańska 5) where they also have a little café I visit each time I am in Kraków. The reason is not only the view but their nut and chocolate cake which I could eat twice a day (and I actually do if I happen to be somewhere close. And I do happen to be quite often). If it’s cold or raining you can get the same menu in their bar on ground floor as well.

Stary was once awarded with a prize for their design and I definitely agree with this judgement, actually it should receive this award every year! Just go and check how each detail of this place was elaborated and created with attention and taste. The style combines modern design with old Kraków one.
The food, of course, reaches the same standard.

I have already mentioned that you can get a room there for a place of Holiday Express in the middle of nowhere north of London so what else would you look for to be convinced?

By the way, the best toilets in the town ;)

Pod Różą(ul. Floriańska 14)has not one but two restaurants – Amarone is Italian and a bit cheaper option and Pod Różą offers something that you would call fusion or continental food. For me this is this universal European cuisine with strong influences from Poland and Italy.

The original chef was ‘stolen’ by the owners from the restaurant they enjoyed during their holidays in Italy and came to make a little culinary revolution in Kraków. I am extremely grateful for this!

The family also runs a store at the main square called Likus Concept Store – it’s above the Benetton shop, at number 13 – highly recommended! Their little bar at the underground level is perfect for a small lunch (very good sandwiches) and it’s next to a luxury delicatessen and a wine shop if you want to buy some food to take away. Everything again with subtle Italian influences.

For something traditionally Polish on the other hand I usually go to ‘Pod Aniolami‘ (Grodzka 35). It belongs to the family of ‘Cherubino’ and ‘Loch Camelot’ from Part I. It may seem that Kraków culinary scene is run by two families but trust be there are a few more!

At ‘Pod Aniolami’ they somehow manage to escape from the stereotypes of Polish food but serving actually quite stereotypical Polish cuisine –  made with a little twist and more modern approach though.

Well, my mother (of course) makes it all better but they are as close to the ideal as a restaurant can be! 

They used to have there cages with real birds singing for your pleasure while you would enjoy the hearty Polish food but I guess this must have been stopped after several complaints from animal loving tourists (the cages indeed were quite small).

With or without the birds (very good Polish style duck instead!) this should be your place if you want to come back from your Krakow trip with some understanding of what Poles eat.

What I love about Kraków, and Poland in general, is how equal things are – this maybe be the only good consequence of the communism regime or the mentality of Polish people but you rarely feel excluded from any part of social life there wherever you come from.

You can mix with people from different backgrounds whenever you go (remember that being a foreigner gives you a huge advantage as people there are still very curious of anyone coming from outside) and what matters is usually the moment and not that much how you arrived to it.

Well, at 2am, after a party we are all equal anyway and all of us would give anything for a nice piece of something fat, big and at least a little bit edible to kill our post vodka hunger. Yes, I know you probably said few times you don’t really drink vodka but I am sure you were made to try a bit during the night (try very sweet cherry vodka called wisniówka – this is what usually makes my parties special).

You will be pleased to find out that solving your pre-hangover cravings is not difficult in Kraków – just find my favourite sausage stand at Kazimierz Plac Nowy (you will of course notice they offer kebabs almost everywhere in the town but on this blog this is probably the first and the last time I have mentioned this name!). Rich and poor, university professors and their students, football fans and cool clubbers from Prozak – they all meet at the not so clean counter of the sausage stand before or/and after their parties for a piece of grilled sausage with bread and mustard. Or grilled mountain cheese from Zakopane, Oscypek, (this one there hasn’t probably seen that much of a mountain I am afraid) served with cranberries.

Get your hands dirty, meet new friends and experienced old school Poland!

You need to know that I am a sausage lover so best places to eat them are going to be mentioned on this blog regularly. I was considering even to open a special section, next to Marta’s cafes, called Monika’s sausages but I will let myself to re-think this idea still.

If you like seafood try the best fish place in the city called Farina (Sw. Jana street). Well, Kraków doesn’t have access to the seaside no matter how hard we have tried so don’t rise your expectations too high!

It’s better than fish and chips in the UK but probably not what you could find in a random restaurant in Provence (I will soon recommend few from there as well!).

 My favourite Italian place in Poland is run by two Italians from Venice who decided to exchange their sinking city for colourful Kraków. It’s actually probably also the best Italian place outside Italy! They called it Aqua e Vino (Wislna 5/10) and offer you the quality of food you could easily find in Italy.

The ambience is somehow cold and not what you have probably got used to already in Kraków – it’s located in a basement so no windows, no daylight and no access to mobile signal.

And what to eat there? Ravioli with speck, pasta with pear (sounds strange but it does work and is my sister’s favourite), salmon and sea food (served on Thursdays and Fridays), grilled scamorza (Italian cheese similar to mozzarella but smoked), salads or anything else really from their long menu.

I have noticed that most of the Italian expats from Kraków eat there regularly – you need any better recommendation!

To consider:

–          Moment – little bar with walls full of clocks and watches. This used to be a small place at Jozefa Street and I am afraid it lost a bit of a charm after moving to Plac Nowy. Still not bad for a drink between meals. Their breakfasts are not bad either but it’s too close to Kolory ;)

–          Restaurancja Gródek – I had great expectations since they opened this place. It is located in a forgotten street on the edge of old town, just next to Planty in a lovely little hotel called Na Gródku. We went there on a nice spring day with Marta determined to check if its worth its fame and we weren’t disappointed! They let us sit on their roof terrace on our own and served really good wine (from their own cellars) and food. That time it might have been this mysterious atmosphere of Kraków seen from above or our good moods but I wouldn’t mind to come back there! Nice and elegant place for everyone! 

–          Dynia (ul. Krupnicza 20)– my favourite place for when I can’t decide if I want to eat in a restaurant, in a café or at home. It combines all three and has a little cool garden open on warm days as well. They were one of the first places in Kraków to become fully non-smoking and for me this is a huge advantage. Unfortunately, you can still smoke in public places in Poland and Kraków is actually famous for its bars being full of cigarette smoke. At Dynia try their cakes (I usually stop there on my last day before going back to London and buy a piece of blueberry cake to enjoy at home) or healthy breakfasts. This is a very popular place for students as it is on the way to many universities from the centre so prices are not that high (good to know after I have recommended you Stary and Copernicus!). 

I like museum inside the Jagiellonian University (Collegium Maius, ul. Jagielońska 15) where Copernicus and John Paul II studied –their opening hours (check here) are not extremely convenient but it’s worth trying though. They organise guided tours only, run in various languages by university staff and if you are lucky you may hear lots of funny anecdotes about the university and their most famous students.

Definitely take a look at the St. Mary’s church in the main square – it’s one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen in my life, with an extraordinary XIV century altar which open few times a day during services.

Unfortunately  Muzeum Czartoryskich (ul Sw. Jana , just next to the city wall) with some Rembrandt and Da Vinci paintings (famous ‘Lady with an Ermine’) is closed for refurbishment and their collections are not available in Kraków at the moment.

Useful tips:

1. You can take a train or a bus from the airport directly to the main train station. Taxis from airport may be a bit expensive but you shouldn’t pay more than 80-90PLN (around £20).

When you book a taxi (ie. in the hotel on the way back) it will be much cheaper and you can also fix the price. You don’t need to take taxis in Krakow while seeing the city because everything is in the walking distance. But if you have a need they are not that expensive in the town and haven’t heard that they cheat a lot to tourists.

A good number to use to book one is +48 12 9661 – they always arrive on time (however I am not sure they speak English!)

2. Choose a hotel in the centre – this will save you lots of time and possibly money and you will really appreciate this while coming back from your party (especially if you join the Polish way of drinking vodka) at dawn.

3. Usually you have to book your restaurant in advance (at least in the morning the same day), especially for dinner or during weekends.

4. Spend some time at Kazimierz (old Jewish quarter) – my favourite part of the city. It’s full of great places to explore and join its colourful crowd of eccentric locals, students, cool tourists and all those aspiring to be artists (which is usually shown by smoking lots of cigarettes and explaining you their life philosophy at Singer or Alchemia cafes).

Another place worth visiting is Podgorze – those who are already tired of the popularity of Kazimierz escape there now. There is soon going to be a walking bridge you can use to get there.

5. Shopping. Apart from Liskus store (expensive though) I have already mentioned you can try one of the shopping malls called in Poland Galeria. One, Krakowska, is just next to the main train station and the other one, Kazimierz, as the name suggest at Kazimierz.

6. Where to party in Kraków? This is not a very difficult question and I am sure you have noticed that every building in the centre hosts at least one restaurant, a café and then a fancy club in the basement. You won’t need to go a long way to find a place you like – just start somewhere and let your new friends help you through the night ;)

I used to (those happy times…) go to Prozak (Plac Diminikanski 6), Rdza or Bledne Koło (both at Bracka opposite to each other).

If you want something extraordinary try a place at Wielopole street which hides not one but three different clubs (Caryca, Lubu-Dubu and Kitsch).

Cool, local, friendly and a bit crazy!

All places from our Kraków story on maps

Kraków Part I

 

 

Don’t be afraid of doing nothing

There is no better place in Europe to get rid of the guilt of doing nothing.

Thousands of nice bars, cafes, restaurants, sausage stands (my favourite!), tables in the middle of every street, clubs open till 11am (and yes, I mean that people actually finish their night at 11 in the morning).

Start with a little breakfast and then just change from bar to bar, from café to restaurant to a club and then nest morning close a club with bar tenders who happened to become your best friends now. It really feels like you overpaid for a hotel as you probably haven’t really been there yet.

I wouldn’t miss seeing the sun rise – you will see it on the way home from your party – it makes the city orange and extremely beautiful and peaceful (the only people who will be watching it with you are going to be cleaners who are making sure that more ‘mature’ visitors don’t see much of that night chaos you created last night)

I like starting my weekend in Krakow with a breakfast in Kolory (Les couleurs) at the main Kazimierz Square (Plac Nowy). This is my sister Marta’s favourite place (you can find her at the table next to the door with her Mac drinking espresso– say hello from me and I am sure she will write a proper review of this place in her section soon as well).

There are many interesting people always there (no matter what time of a day or night it is) and they have free access to internet if you want to take your laptop with you (generally most bars in Krakow offer free internet – just ask at the bar for password). If you are lucky enough to get a place close to the windows you can watch people doing their Saturday shopping at the little square.

They have a flea market there almost every day and Saturday is dedicated to second hand clothes.

In the old centre I recommend Cafe Camelot (ul. Sw. Tomasza 17) – in a beautiful little corner, run by a famous family a very artistic place. In my opinion they have the best apple pie in the city, wonderful tea with raspberry juice (Polish people drink it to get warm in winter, in addition to our vodka of course) and very good selection of breakfasts as well (Who would eat breakfast in the hotel if they had Camelot!).

There is gossip that once The New York Times called them the most snobbish café in the world (not snobbish in the traditional sense of this word but as something different and original I guess – and why? Just go there and check their collection of countryside art) – true or not but I always use this as a nice anecdote to encourage people to visit the place.

There are two things I should warn you about. First, that famous collection of traditional countryside art mentioned above– not everyone finds it comfortable. A number of people I took to this place commented especially on their wooden dolls with hair.

Secondly, it takes a while for the staff to actually notice you. To be very delicate – they are not the most attentive people in the world. But the place, atmosphere, the food and the experience is definitely worth it. Just treat this as a part of your experience. You won’t get this in London!

In the same little corner (it’s somehow unofficial name is Zaulek Niewiernego Tomasza – Unfaithful Thomas Lane, probably the coolest conrenr in the whole city) there is another interesting place ‘Cherubino‘ – an institution in Krakow and I am probably not very original saying that it’s my favourite restaurant in Krakow. Well, it was my first ever favourite restaurant and we have had ups and downs in our relationship but I am still coming back whenever I am in the town!

It’s Polish and Italian food – this mixture really works and sometimes even I have a problem to recognise the origins of their food apart from some obvious cases of course.

You should try their panna cotta (the one with caramel sauce and almonds. If it’s not on the menu just ask and they should still be able to bring it to you) or tiramisu for desert! And grilled meat served with much too much garlic.

I wouldn’t plan any important meetings the next morning either – the taste of garlic in your mouth will accompany you till at least lunch time.

I used to visit this place regularly with my sister on Friday nights, after arriving to Kraków from Wroclaw where I worked that time, we would start with just a little salad and one modest bottle of wine and gradually ask for more wine and then finish when the place was closing.

Ad this is the magic of this place.

Grab a table somewhere close to the door on a warm summer evening and just let the place do its job.

Girls, I am sure you will love their very romantic décor with real old carriages (you can sit inside them as well but I wouldn’t recommend to order anything else but some drinks) no almost no electric light (only candles).

Zaulek Niewiernego Tomasza (Unfaithful Thomas Lane) has another little gem – a bar called Dym (Smoke). Often crowded and indeed full of smoke but if you are in a strong need of telling people about something you can definitely find someone there to listen to. I like sitting at their tables outside in summer just before I go to have my dinner at Cherubino.

By the way, Cherubino and Camelot belong to the same extended family – they own much more than this but their taste is actually quite similar to mine so I won’t complain about this expansion.

I would recommend also Miod Malina (ul. Grodzka 40) with more traditional Polish food (like a very good Polish soup called Zurek served in bread) and even more traditional design.

Usually quite crowded,  so I would recommend to book if you are planning dinner there, lunch should be ok.

Take a look at that little street near by – Poselska. Quiet and mysterious and with at least two restaurants really worth visiting.

Paese – a Corsican (!) restaurant, a bit old fashioned and with a serious need of some redecoration but with an amazing lazy atmosphere and surprisingly good food.

And Ancora (at the edge of the street) which was opened quite recently by one of the Polish celebrity chefs who escaped from busy Warsaw life to the provinces. Expensive and a bit posh but definitely good for celebrating something special!

After a dinner there I like to take a walk in Planty (the park which goes around the old town) starting at the Dominikanska, to the castle and then to the river (check on the map – to be updated soon!). If you are not of course in a rush to start a night of Polish drinking in one of Kraków clubs!

For part II click here

All places from our Kraków story on maps