Pierogies and Poznań

“Aren’t you going to be freezing?” This was the rallying cry as I informed my coworkers that I was taking a trip to Poland, or in the Israeli accent “Po-leeen”. At the laughable cost of 40 euros on everyone’s favorite budget airline Ryanair, it was hard to pass down a quick weekend, even to somewhere few people have ever heard of. Poznań is quaint and boasts historical and religious significance to Poland. Founded in medieval times, 1253 to be exact, it remains one of the country’s largest cities though it might be known best for their famous St. Martin’s croissants and largely popular Lech Beer. Filling our backpacks as bloated as the airline would allow we set off late Thursday for the four-hour journey from Ben Gurion.

Softened by the Mediterranean sun, we were greeted with what felt like a bitter cold as we arrived by taxi to our AirBnB just after 1AM. Following the night’s rest, we set out, per the owner’s recommendation, to Republika Roz for breakfast and immediately began to admire this town. The Polish zloty is about the same as the shekel, which made the 25 zloty per person ($7) breakfast buffet feel like highway robbery. I know the word “buffet” conjures up images of a Days Inn Continental Breakfast, but this is Europe we’re talking about. A choice of scrambled egg or white breakfast sausage with coarse brown mustard was the first in many selections to be made, with the other offerings patiently waiting on a long wooden table for us to self-serve. Cured meats, local cheeses, and dark breads flanked a fresh quiche and premade yogurt and mascarpone bowls. What a way to start the morning.

With the proper fuel we walked to the closest tram station. The electric, rattling cars whisked us to our first stop, Termy Maltanskie- the sprawling sauna and pool complex at the edge of Lake Malta. For 34 zloty ($9.50) per person for two hours we bounced from room to room. Wet, dry and even a snow room (-15C) there were 14 in all. I had experience in the Finnish brand of sauna so admittedly I was a little more prepared to be fully naked amongst complete strangers than Sam, my girlfriend. We both wound up having a lovely and rejuvenating experience and left feeling refreshed, ready to explore Cathedral Island before touring the Lech brewery in the late afternoon.

Stationed in thenorthwest of city center, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul is the obvious standout with an appropriately grave and gothic feel to match its date of construction, 968. The impressive features did not stop at the outer façade as the golden chapel gleamed gloriously within in spite of the rather bleak and gray day. Following the old royal processional trail we ambled

around the campus, crossing the Bishop Jordan Bridge and completing the cycle by stopping on the other side of the island to view the very lovely Śródka neighborhood. When we drew closer to our 4PM tour, and after stopping for a well-timed granola bar break, we grabbed another tram towards Lech brewery.

The brewery was on the outskirts of town with fermentation tanks painted to look like giant, green Lech beer cans rising up as we passed by a few malls and into the grayer backdrop of the city. Wojtek, our bilingual guide, skillfully walked us through the immersive tour, rattling off trivia and indulging me in some discussion about how our homebrew attempts were going. The tour was definitely a value at over 90 minutes, and the ticket included a free pint of Lech Pils, Lech Original or Pilsner Urquell from the tap. A bonus 200mL pour of Książęce, a newcomer to production, was also appreciated!

At night we roamed the spectacular central square of Poznań, the Stary Rynek. Christmas lights dazzled and smoke engulfed the small stands that had kebab, sausages and other fragrant meats sizzling on the grill. Sam and I decided we’d save that for the last night and we luckily stumbled into an unclaimed reserved table at one of the best restaurants in Poznań, Ratuszova. A bottle of red wine adorned a magnificent plate of Polish cheeses and then it continued to bolster our dishes of traditional, local cuisine with a fancy flair; roast veal for me and pork tenderloin for Sam, both accompanied by hearty, winter vegetables. The splurge was again shocking at 270 zloty total ($75) and we almost immediately slipped into a food coma.

The next morning brought an opportunity to make my sister proud as we ventured east from our apartment to quite a remarkable café. Admittedly ignorant on the subject of good coffee, Café Stragan can go toe-to-toe with any expert café in the States, and with probably much less snobbery. The menu consisted of simple illustrations of maniacal contraptions like a Chemex and Aeropress next to depictions of a latte or cappuccino. Sam and I both went for delicious flat whites. The black and white matched the lovely argyle tiled floor of the same shades. Unbeknownst to us, the humble breakfast pastry, the bagel, was actually a Polish creation and Stragan’s in-home baked offerings were nothing short of fabulous. Mascarpone and greens were my toppings and Sam opted for bacon (you can probably guess who “won” that round of ordering).

We continued onward to the pleasant Wilson Park, which was yearning for more summery days but was still green and contained ducks happily quacking. Our main destination was the Palmhouse, a lush greenhouse situated at the north end of the park that dates back to the early 1900’s. A happy stroll provided lovely photography opportunities before stopping at a second Christmas Market across from Stary Rynek. We sampled a classic kielbasa and warmed red wine before wandering over to the Rogalowe Muzeum—dedicated to the popular and delicious St. Martin’s Croissant. A demonstration provided a chance to learn how to make the tasty treats as well as learn more about Poznań’s place in Polish history. Delicious!

 

A gentle snow flurry greeted us as we exited the small workshop back onto the main square. A small skip away stood the Fara Poznańska, another gorgeous Catholic church. The marble rococo style interior matched the eye-catching pink exterior. To purge the religious tones, a trip to the hilarious Soviet-themed bar, Proletaryat was in order. Once again ridiculously cheap beer awaited Sam and I, as we drank under paintings of Lenin and Castro in ancient, dusty, red chairs next to a warming fire.The impromptu pub-crawl continued but not before a snack stop in the square for bacon-wrapped Oscypek cheese, expertly roasted over a flame and meat filled pierogies. Chmielnik was our next bar stop with wonderful offerings whose name derives from chmiel the Polish word for hops. After a nice stout and amber ale from a Warsaw brewery, we opted to try an interesting sounding peach-jalapeno ale. The pint was novel but not actually that tasty. Bolstered by the beer and warm pubs, we trudged to the National Museum to take in some works of art. As it turned out it was free admission, and good thing too because Sam and I witnessed something neither ofus had ever seen before—someone knocked over a bronze statue!

After this shock and building up a little appetite, we jumped back to the secondary market for dinner where we gorged ourselves. More pierogies, and an abominably delicious, open-faced sandwich smeared with beef lard and topped with two different types of sausage and onions filled us to the brim. There was of course still room for a little smattering of chocolate smothered fruits from yet another stand. The night was completed with perfection as Sam and I made introductions with a gigantic and fluffy husky enjoying the market smells before we finally rolled to bed.

Striking out on another breakfast, we decided to return to Stragan once again for delicious eggs and bacon. They were even so kind as to order us a cab for the airport. Our time in Poznań was, to quote Ms. Poppins, “practically perfect in every way” and we are both eager to see where our next adventure lies.

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