Poland

Poland was a very special country for us. We visited family, met new cousins, caught up with friends and introduced the kids to memories from the past. It’s also the first country planned on our year trip—meaning our trip has officially begun!

We spent 10 days in Warsaw, 4 days in Krakow and 3 days in Zakopane in the Tatry mountains.

Warsaw

The first night we arrived in Warsaw was quite late and by the time we settled in it was already 11pm. We were concerned we’d only find something to eat at a convenience store, but all restaurants were open. Nothing like having bigos, ribs, fried pierogi and beer at midnight. Welcome to Poland!

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It took us (and the kids!) three solid days to adjust to the time change. For the first few days our kids couldn’t sleep until 3am, eating cheerios at 1am and waking up at noon. Slowly they got back on schedule.

The first full day we did a walking tour. It’s the best way to explore a new city as you’re introduced to highlights (typically by locals) and then can come back to what you find interesting. We’re hooked on walking tours and joined up on two more in Warsaw–the Old Town and Praga (a part of Warsaw across the Wisla river). Each tour was approximately 2 hours long and the kids kept up the entire time without complaining (keeping fingers crossed this continues).

While in Warsaw, with a friend’s recommendation, we visited the Copernicus Science Centre. We spent more than 3-hours exploring the various exhibits, the exhibits were interactive enough to not require english translations. At the end of our visit the kids wanted to stay longer, building moving contraptions and sling-shots! That was their science lesson for the month.

The food and drinks were definitely a highlight. Most restaurants were lovely, set with patios overflowing onto cobblestone streets but our favourite were bary mleczne (literally meaning ‘milk bars’). Milk Bars, at one time only served dairy-based meals, originated from early Polish era providing meals in the city centre to workers.   Nowadays, Milk Bars serve traditional polish dishes in a simple cafeteria-style environment.  The menu in Milk Bars are almost 100% exclusively in Polish.  This makes it hard for tourists to eat there, however, we saw one couple who took a picture and handed their order to the cashier.  Milk Bars consist of three stations.  The first station is where you order off the menu posted on the wall; the second window, you hand in your printed receipt to receive your order; and the third window, you drop off your dirty dishes. The service is not very friendly and if you can’t speak Polish, it would be difficult to place an order…but the food is delicious and the prices even better make up for it! Loved all the soups (cucumber especially) and salads (cabbage and sauerkraut) – feels like a home-cooked meal!

As Warsaw was our longer stay in Poland, it was the start of our kids’ homework schedule. In the morning one of us would get a fresh baguette and we’d have coffee and breakfast in the apartment while the kids worked on their reading and writing workbooks.  “Classes” normally started at 11am (since we were all adjusting to our time-zone change) and finish around 1pm, at which time “breakfast” was ready. Our afternoons in Warsaw allowed us to explore the city until evening.  We would cap off the night with kids working on their novel studies until 11pm.  This was month 1—curious how this schedule progresses.

The time in Warsaw allowed us to catch up with friends and family we don’t see often enough. It was special for the kids to meet their cousins for the first time.  Kids speak a sort of universal language where they connect without saying a common word and play the entire evening together in two different languages.  We enjoyed an evening of classic Polish meals and, even more so, classic Polish drinking.  Looking back, we were amazed at how many bottles of Wodka one could drink when accompanied with kabanosas!

We visited close family friends, who we haven’t seen in over 13-years, and had a fantastic evening dinner in their garden.  We caught up over laughter, shared memories, and finished our evening with a promise to meet for a real powder skiing experience in Canada!  Later that week, they joined us at a Polish restaurant for one of the best tartare in Warsaw.  Tartare is fresh raw ground beef mixed with pickles, onions, raw egg, and secret spices.  The dish was prepared at our table by a master chef. Our kids even had some and enjoyed it!

Krakow

Krakow is three-hours away, by train, south of Warsaw.  This was our second major city in Poland we visited. When we left Warsaw the weather drastically changed to what’s more typical for a Polish autumn  (15 degrees as compared to 30 degrees when we arrived), and our daily treats, instead of ice cream and cold beer, became hot tea and mulled wine.  However, the kids still had their lody each day.

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Top of Chloe’s to-do list was to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine, just outside of Krakow. A friend of hers was recently there and came back excited to reveal you’re encouraged to lick the walls on the tour. We had to go!  Actually, we almost didn’t go since their website allowed us to only purchase three-days in advance, and with only four-days in Warsaw, we thought we blew it.  However, thanks to the helpful information centre, we tracked down a ticket office and booked directly instead of taking our chances onsite the next morning.

Wieliczka Salt Mine shuttles between 4,000 to 5,000 visitors each day up an down the mine.  They have foreign language tours daily in English, Spanish, Italian, Russian, and German.

The Wieliczka Salt Mine dates back to the 13th century.  The guided English tour was close to 3-hours and it only covered 1% of the total underground mine. We took 378 steps down to a depth of of 135 meters underground. Inside the mine everything was carved of rock salt from stairs, statues, chapels, intricate chandelier pieces, chambers, and marble-like floors–incredibly all from salt.

And of course, the kids licked the walls!

Another highlight of our trip was an evening kielbasa after-dinner snack.  We had to try a few while walking back to our apartment.  Kielbasas are not served on a bun, but with a fork and knife with condiments ranging from sauted onions, and of course, ketchup and mustard.

Zakopane

After Krakow we decided renting a car instead of taking the train to Zakopane, a popular mountain town in the Polish Tatry mountains, was our best option.  A car rental provided an added luxury of going at our own pace.  More importantly, the train would’ve taken four hours whereas the car was only two hours – driving according to posted speeds – south to Zakopane.

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On our way to Zakopane we spent time in Chochołów, just outside the Slovakia border.  Chochołów is a small Polish hamlet with heritage wooden houses built by Goral highlanders.  The kids’ highlight was buying candy from their one convenience store—not the stone church, timber-built homes that lined the streets, nor the magnificent mountain views.

We arrived into Zakopane and settled into our hotel around dinner time. Instead of researching a local restaurant for the night, we ended up having a great charcuterie spread made of local meats and oscypek (a traditional salty, smoked cheese made of sheep milk exclusively in the Tatry mountains) in our apartment.

The second day in Zakopane we visited Kasprowy Wierz (15 minutes away) in the Western Tatry mountains—a popular ski area in the winter and hiking spot in the summer.  The mountain range crisscrosses between Poland and Slovakia.

Our plan was to take a cable car up to the top and hike down, and to be honest, we didn’t have high expectations of the mountains.  The ride consisted of two cable cars up: stage one was beautiful that took you to Myślenickie Turnie at 1,325 m; and stage two was mind-blowing (according to the kids!) awesome up to Mount Kasprowy at 1,987 m. As we exited the second cable car, our view was epic…we couldn’t resist climbing higher, even with snow around us, by taking the only ‘difficult’ walking trail up as opposed to the various ‘normal’ walking trails down! The path was rocky and slippery, however, well-maintained and well-travelled. We passed hikers from all over the world, speaking in many different languages, some carrying larger packs with sleeping bags embarking on a much longer route into the mountains. We explored for a couple of hours before starting the three-hour hike down. The weather is unpredictable in the mountains and we got quite lucky—it was sunny and clear at the peak, the clouds only started rolling in as our decent began into the valley.

The experience surprisingly became our top highlight of Poland and we promised to plan a future return trip to the Tatry mountains for a more ambitious hike (properly outfitted of course).

Our final third day we explored the streets of Zakopane, their ancient wooden churches, and historical cemeteries. We couldn’t resist any longer and tried our first fresh Polish ponczki with wild rose hip jam–and enjoyed…every. single. bite.

At the end of our time in Poland, it was officially confirmed…all the walking doesn’t neutralized the eating and drinking we indulged in. Our pants feel tighter.  We started a little workout routine with pushups and sit ups by necessity. I’m not sure if it’ll help much—and slightly concerned as Prague is our next city with more food and drink to explore!

Read about Chloë’s and Elliot’s perspective on Warsaw:

Chloë in Warsaw

Elliot in Warsaw