5 Reasons to Visit Poland

1. PIEROGI
There’s a reason these delicious dumplings are number one on the list of reasons to visit Poland and that is because, well, they are delicious dumplings. We usually ordered the meat pierogi, as the meat was all tender and braised and mmmm. But there are tons of varieties to try! Mushroom pierogi, blueberry pierogi, buckwheat and goat cheese pierogi… At a restaurant, pierogi usually come in portions of 8 – 10, which make them perfect to share as an appetizer or keep to yourself as a small meal. As an added bonus, a portion costs somewhere between $3 and $5. Oh, and did I mention that they’re usually topped with carmelized onion and CHUNKS OF BACON? Because they are.

2. NATURE
The entire country looks like something right out of Lord of the Rings. Misty Mountains? check. Fangorn Forest? you betcha. Mines of Moria? hell yeah. This country is JRR Tolkein’s playground, where rivers wind through mountainsides and even bar tops are made of intricately carved wood. And there are horses everywhere, so the good people of Rohan should be quite happy. For those of you who aren’t geeks and have no idea what I’m talking about, a) you should be ashamed and b) I basically mean that everything looks majestic, mythical, and unspoiled. We spent two full days tromping through forests and mountains and rafting through mountain gorges, and still left feeling awed, small, and like we hadn’t even scratched the surface.

3. THE PEOPLE
The Polish people are, without a doubt, the friendliest, kindest group of people we’ve met on our trip so far. We started our first day in Krakow by getting some hot beverages at a coffee shop on the main square, and the server was so genuinely sweet and helpful we were certain she had to have an ulterior motive. But then our tour guide that morning was the same way. As was our AirBnB host, the other servers we had, the woman who sold us ice cream, and everyone we met in Zakopane–even when they didn’t speak English. So if you want to go somewhere amazing without feeling you’re annoying the locals by your mere existence, go to Poland.

4. KRAKOW
The city of Krakow is adorable and wonderful and perfect. The old town, which is where tourists spend pretty much all their time, is quite walkable. There’s a paved garden path called the Planty that circles the old town, and a lovely afternoon can be spent just wandering around the perimeter, up to Wawel Castle, and down along the Vistula River. (Bonus? Down by the river, there’s a dragon–okay, dragon statue–that breathes fire every three minutes.) The main market square is the center of the action, with plenty of non-intimidating pubs and restaurants, and a trumpeter pokes his head out of the church tower every hour on the hour to play a quick tune. It’s a city of perfectly scheduled delights and well worth a visit.

5. THE HISTORY
How much do you know about Poland? Probably not much, if you’re anything like me. Probably you know that Hitler invaded the country on September 1, 1939, and started Word War II in the process, but not much else. If that’s the case, spending any time in Poland will be a real eye-opener. For example, did you know that Poland ceased to exist on any world maps for a good chunk of time? It was once the biggest, most powerful empire in Central Europe (the Poland-Lithuania commonwealth–look it up), but then it was split into three by Prussia, Russia, and the Austro-Hungarian empires and vanished from maps, only to be reinstated in the early 20th century. Visiting Poland and learning its history from the people who lived it (or from the descendants of the people who lived it) will blow your mind–and remind you how little you actually know, which is an important lesson in itself.

But mostly, go for the pierogi. I really can’t stress that enough.

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Paris, I guess.

Okay, so, we’ve been remiss at updating the blog. I confess there have been times when I thought about writing, and then decided that I would rather go explore the city or drink wine with our hosts or, you know, nap. But most of the delay has been because I need to write about Paris next–and well, Matt and I both have very complicated feelings about our time there. Paris was, really, something of a mixed bag.

Matt and I had both visited Paris before, but this time, neither of us found it quite as magical as it had been in the past. Sure, we enjoyed drinking wine under the Eiffel Tower at night and eating tasty bread as we walked down charming, winding streets in Montmartre, but mostly, the Parisians themselves did a splendid job of robbing Paris of its charms. (To put it bluntly, Parisiens sont bitches.)

That said, I’m going to take the easy way out and provide our summary of Paris in list form. Given the fragmented experience we had in that city, it feels pretty appropriate. So, in no particular order and without further adieu, the lists!

OUR TOP FIVE TOURISTY PLACES
— Versailles
— Luxembourg Gardens
— Cafes of Montmartre
— Pantheon
— Guided tour of Omaha Beach

OUR TOP FIVE TASTY STREET FOODS
— Pain au chocolat
— Crepes (Matt’s fave combo was banana / Nutella)
— Baguette sandwiches with tasty meats and cheese and tomatoes
— Fries
— Croque Monsieur (but go easy on the b├ęchamel)

FIVE TIMES FRANCE WAS AWESOME
— Walking around the grounds at Versailles, including stops at Marie Antoinette’s hilarious little hamlet and Petit Trianon (you know, her smaller castle on the grounds of her larger castle–nearby her husband’s second castle. I can’t imagine why the French commonfolk turned on them…)
— When we walked over the Pont d’Art, which glittered with the locks secured to the railings. (Lovers write their names on a lock, secure it to the bridge, and throw the key into the River Seine. Makes for gorgeous, and heavy!, art)
— While out walking in Paris, we came across an entire park full of people drinking wine and playing boules, which is essentially French bocce ball.
— The entire day we spent in Normandy, visiting Omaha Beach, Pont du Hoc, and the American Cemetery. Beautiful country, amazing history, and a knowledgable guide. While this was a rare day where we were proud to be Americans, we would also have been proud to be British or Canadian that day.
— At the weirdly fabulous movie theater at Les Halles where we took a break from a long day to watch World War Z in English.

FIVE TIMES FRANCE WAS TERRIBLE
— At the weirdly fabulous movie theater, we learned the French do not put butter on their popcorn. No butter was available for Americans either.
— Sunday mornings are times for the French to sit and eat brunch for six hours straight. I imagine this was not at all terrible for them, but we were unable to find a cafe with space for us to join them. We ate cheese sandwiches on a bench.
— Every time the Metro smelled like a combination of eggs, sewage, and horses.
— Every time we had to pay to use a toilet, which was most of the time. This is a privilege you should pay for, apparently.
— Every time we heard an American greet a shop owner by saying “Bonjer.”

FIVE FRENCH PEOPLE WE LOVED
— Our guide at Normandy and the other lady at the Tourist Information office. I know these are technically two separate people, but it is their job to be nice to tourists, so it feels like it falls into the same bucket.
— The guy who sold us wine and ice cream at Versailles
— The cafe owner who enjoyed my efforts at speaking French and helped me by pantomiming everything back to us to make sure we were on the same page
— The wine shop owner who chilled and opened our wine for us before we took it out to the Luxembourg Gardens for a picnic
— Marc, our AirBnB host for the first night we were in town. He waited an extra 45 minutes after our train was delayed and, perhaps more importantly, laughed at all our jokes.

FIVE FRENCH PEOPLE WE LOVED A LOT LESS
— Yvan, our other AirBnB host. Every time I asked him a question, he would respond to Matt instead. Apparently women should be seen and not heard, speak only when spoken to, etc.
— The waiter at a cafe who overcharged us for our wine because he didn’t think we’d notice
— The teenagers on the metro who filled the entire train car with French rap music blaring from their speakers. Admittedly, we were not the only people who did not enjoy them.
— The ticket agent at St. Lazare who kept rolling her eyes and sighing
— Pretty much all other Parisians

As you can see, Paris was a bit of a mixed bag. But stay tuned for a post about our adventures in Belgium. Gent is perhaps my new favorite city, and we had quite the carousing time with our AirBnB hosts. Get jazzed, ladies and germs, for music festivals, reunions with old friends, and gourmet food for $7.50. And if you have to choose between Gent and Bruges during your time in Belgium, I have a very strong opinion to share with you.

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