Where: Krakow, Poland
Plate of food: I loved the food in Poland because it was simple, comforting, and similar to meals that my German Grandmother used to cook for us: sausages, perogies, and sauerkraut. Luckily we visited Krakow in the middle of a snowy winter, so this type of food was exactly what we wanted to warm and fuel us.
We ate mostly at an outdoor market set up in the main square. There we feasted on grilled sausages and small perogies filled with cheese, potato and onion. We washed it all down with mulled wine, as it was just after Christmas when we visited…and mulled wine goes with everything. Everything except a long bus trip, but we’ll talk about that in a second.
The only things that didn’t rock our tastebuds were cheese logs soaked in a salty brine (go figure) and a bowl of pork fat for spreading on bread (you remember our other encounters with pork fat, right?).
The best: Wieliczka salt mines, just outside of the city. These mines functioned for 9 centuries. Now there are tours offered 135m below the surface along the 200km network of tunnels.
We took a rickety tram along snow-covered tracks (can you say “slippery”??) out of the city to the mines. Once there, the crowds were organized into large groups to descend nearly 400 steps to the starting point of the tour. The tunnels and chambers were well lit and the salt crystals sparkled. The miners had carved incredible statues out of the salt. There were beautiful scenes depicting fairy tales, Biblical stories and Polish legends. One does wonder how much mining was happening if the miners were busy creating such works of art! They had even created a cathedral underground. Everything from the chandeliers to the altar to the staircase were made from salt. The cathedral was immense with a huge vaulted ceiling, and the floor looked like polished marble, but it was, of course, salt that had been polished to a high sheen by centuries of footsteps.
We only saw a small portion of the mine, but it was awe-inspiring and hauntingly beautiful. We were transported back up to the surface in large cage lifts. 30 seconds later – back at the top!
One more interesting tidbit: the air is so pure down there that they have a sanitorium for asthma and allergy sufferers. You can stay down there for days at a time as part of your medical treatment. I bet you they serve those salty cheese logs down there.
Story that needs to be told: As I mentioned, we enjoyed the mulled wine on offer in Krakow. One evening we went on our very own Mulled Wine Crawl, a lesser-known cousin to the Pub Crawl. Let’s just say this: it should remain lesser-known.
Many of the bars are underground in central Krakow which lends some mystery and coziness to your evening of beverages. They were gloomy, candlelit places bustling with people. Each bar had their own mulled wine concoction which we felt obliged to try in a compare-and-contrast sort of way. We ended up at our old faithful, the main market, for a midnight snack and a few more cups of wine.
Fast forward (not all that far forward) to our alarm going off very early in the morning. We were booked on the first bus of the day to the mountain town of Zakopane. Cue gargantuan headache, bone weariness, and general malaise. Off we went.
The walk to the bus station nearly killed me. The bus trip itself finished me off. We arrived in sunny Zakopane with the day stretching ahead of us and a desire only to fall face first into the snow.
We thought some food would help matters so we found an alpine themed restaurant on the main street. The complimentary dish brought out to every table? A bowl of fat. I said something that made the sweet couple next to me with their toddler glare at me and shake their heads. I apologize.
Once fortified, we rallied somewhat and walked around this picturesque village. I was blinded not only by the sun glinting off the pristine snow, but by the wealthy Germans strolling about in golden full-body ski suits and glitzy jewellery – and that was just the men. It appeared that skiing was not so important for some in Zakopane, but the ski apparel was very important.
People-watching was the perfect remedy for a Mulled Wine Crawl, but then Matt dragged me through a historical museum which was eerily quiet and had dusty displays of hand tools used for ploughing fields back in the good old days. I buckled.
I spent the rest of our circuitous route lagging 50m behind Matt and whimpering slightly.
Highly recommend Zakopane, though. No, really. Look at this: