For out part, we stumbled into a unique and memorable party in the little town ofKudowa-Zdrój, a little old spa and resort town on the Czech border. We went out looking for a good traditional Polish dinner to celebrate the evening. But the only traditional Polish restaurant we could find was packed with close to 100 Polish pensioners having a big evening out. After some sweet talking from my Polish buddies, the owner decided to give us his personal table, so us tourists could have an authentic Polish experience.
We started off the night getting a kick out of watching all the older folks dance. But after we delved into the vodka shots and herring that they had been enjoying for a while before we got there, we got right up and joined them on the dance floor. The music was perfect, two guys on synthesizers playing traditional Polish songs, including one that instructed people to sit down and drink vodka every 15-20 minutes. Amazing.
Alina stole the show, as you can tell from the crowd circling around her, and by the end of the night we were all dancing together with the handful of older folks that stayed out after 22:00.
Video from earlier in the night when we were still a bit timid about getting up and dancing:
Road trips usually have good food along the way, and the road to Horní Bečva was no different. We ate out way through each stop, stuffing ourselves with local meats, pastries, and fried goodies. I put on a good 5 pounds on the trip, which makes sense since half of what we ate deserves to be on This is Why You’re Fat.
Some of the highlights were:
Smažený sýr – fried cheese. I’m surprised that Americans haven’t come up with this. The meal consists of a giant lump of deep fried cheese and french fries. I’d roughly estimate that it’s 2000 calories of solid grease with starch on the side. It’s hard to get a sense of scale from the picture, but it’s a ton of cheese.
Polish hot dogs – a hot dog in a crispy and chewy bun that’s basically a hot dog sleeping bag. You fill the sleeping bag with sauces before putting in the hot dog. The result is similar to a corn dog, but with sauce between the dog and dough.
Grundle – ok, so the food is quite different than the link I provided would imply. It’s actually little fish. Fried up and well spiced they go very well with beer. They look like this.
Winter jelly – it’s lard. Plain and simple lard. Just spread over bread, eaten as an appetizer or with beer. I can’t say I recommend it.
I had never heard of Wrocław before we started driving there. I couldn’t even pronounce the name – it’s sounds like Vrotswav. After 16 hours there, I’ve very surprised that I haven’t run into people talking it up more.
About half of the city was destroyed in WWII, which is sadly pretty good by Polish standards. The center of town was left pretty intact, which means there are heaps of Gothic cathedrals and a pretty town square – seen in the picture above. The whole center is wrapped in a canal an river, and the the north, there are a series of islands housing an inordinate number of cathedrals. I don’t think I can stress enough just how many large cathedrals there are in this town. It’s ridiculous. Take a look at the map below and check out how many you can see from above, then imagine the effect that has as you walk around the town and see another old cathedral around each corner. It’s great.
In the summer I can only imagine that it’s a very green and lively city, worth a weekend visit if you can grab a cheap flight out there.
As we started rolling out of Warsaw on our way down south we saw lots of the rusting vestiges of communism and plastic of capitalism. First up were a few tanks left over from the cold war (above). They were attached to a museum of cold war armaments, but were just sitting out in the open for anyone to play with. I found it an interesting part of the narrative of post-cold war arms control. Even though they had their engines stripped, it seemed funny that these weapons would just be sitting out in the open.
On our way out of town we stopped for a night at Marcin’s parent’s house in the little spa town of Konstancin-Jeziorna. The town was packed with giant old houses (example below). During the communist era, the residence of these homes were forced to take in other families. But after the end of communism the new inhabitants were given a partial stake in the house – only fair since they had been forced to move there. The result is quite the conundrum where in many people can’t buy full ownership of their homes. There were a fair number that were uninhabited/partially-inhabited. There were also a fair number that had been super renovated, apparently owned by made a fortune after the call of communism importing goods from Germany.
After a hard night out on day 1, we were a bit slow to get moving around Warsaw. Once we did, we found a town still shaking off the dust of the last few decades. The city was almost completely leveled during WWII and rebuilt by the communists in a Soviet style with massive boulevards and ominous apartment blocks. Since the end of the cold war, it’s been the capital of one of Europe’s fastest growing countries. The result is a city that is modern and flourishing in parts, but within walking distance areas that look like I imagine they did in the late ’80s. For example, check out the Warsaw international bus station pictured above.
Though the spread out city plan makes the city feel quiet, it is very much alive. We ran into families sledding and when we got to the center of old town (where we had run around the night before) we found that we had just missed a flash-mob pillow fight. The evidence:
We spent the night with more new friends, this time a delicious meal of pierogi and borscht. Other than much of the conversations being in Polish, the house parties and apartments reminded me of the US, spacious and stylishly furnished. It was our first real Polish meal of the trip, and started a trend of us massively overeating the whole way through.