Chanoy Honeymoon: Krakow and Warsaw, Poland, April 2016

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

There’s a friendly rivalry between Krakow and Warsaw in Poland that reminds me of the rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne. Krakow holds a grudge against Warsaw for taking the title of ‘capital city’ away from them, and proudly claims that they have a longer history and local culture. For their part, Warsaw generally pretends that Krakow doesn’t exist and claims to be the epicentre of everything truly Polish.

Both cities have their attractions but just as I’ll always be a Melbourne girl rather than a Sydney girl, I have to say that Krakow rather than Warsaw holds more appeal for me. Built on a slightly smaller scale, Krakow feels more real and authentic, rather than artificial and manufactured. To be fair, Warsaw can’t help being a bit artificial – their ‘old town’ might look old, but it was actually only built in the past 50 years as the city was almost completely devastated by World War Two. As a result, what looks old is actually quite new, and what’s new are entirely cold and alienating monolithic Communist-era buildings.

By far the highlight of our time in the two cities were the free walking tours we did with the Free Walking Tour Foundation. While there are many cities that offer free walking tours, Poland does it particularly well. In each city, they not only offer the standard sights and history tour, but also a handful of themed specialist tours.

We did the Food Walking Tour in Krakow, as well as the Street Art Tour. In Warsaw, we did the Warsaw at War tour and the Alternative Warsaw tour. These specialist tours give you a fantastic insight into not just the ‘old town’ touristy parts of a city, but also into local culture, food, lifestyles. It’s an experience that I can highly recommend – guides are well-informed, knowledgeable and very engaging in the way that they talk about their city as well. You can tell when someone is passionate about their work, and these guides definitely were!

I also recommend doing a daytrip to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Auschwitz when in Krakow. It’s not a fun or exciting trip. It’s incredibly bleak and sad. But it’s important. There was a quote by George Santyana that was painted on a wall in one of the buildings in Auschwitz, and I think it applies in this case: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

While most of us will spend some time in school learning about World War Two, it’s hard to truly understand the true human impact of the atrocities committed in camps like Auschwitz. It’s not until you start to see the photos and hear some of the personal stories of people who were sent to the camps that you really begin to see what it meant to a whole generation of people. Lives were changed irreparably. Families lost loved ones. Whole families were lost. A whole community of people were lost.

Couple a visit to Auschwitz with some of the free walking tours focused on the Jewish history of Poland for a greater understanding of the devastation wrecked by the Holocaust. Be prepared to cry.

The food in Poland can a bit hit-and-miss, more so in Warsaw than Krakow I think. Our meal at Na Bednarskiej Pierogi in Warsaw was highly disappointing and it was really just the pastries we bought from Croque Madame that were particularly enjoyable. Our meals in Krakow were much better, with a good meal at Polakowski and a fantastic food walking tour around the city as well.

To finish this entry, I’d like to reiterate what I said about our meal at FamilijnyIf you feel lucky in being able to travel, then spread your good fortune where you can. Visit a canteen that welcomes homeless people if you go to Poland and order more than you need. Your leftovers won’t go to waste.

Review: Na Bednarskiej Pierogi, Warsaw Poland

As much as we relied on suggestions from locals about restaurants to try while we were travelling around Europe, this method wasn’t always entirely foolproof. People have different tastes, and what’s good for one person, isn’t good for another.

Na Bednarskiej Pierogi in Warsaw was the perfect example of this. It had been recommended by one of the guides we’d met as a place that serves good pierogi, but honestly it was a bit disappointing.

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Our visit started off promisingly enough – as we walked into the restaurant, a group of local office workers were walking out. That’s always a good sign of a cheap and reliable local restaurant! However, things got a little more disorganised from there.

There was only one person in the restaurant when there would normally have been at least two or three. This meant that the one waitress would take two or three orders at a time, go to the kitchen to prepare the meals, serve them, and then go back to the counter to take more orders. While she was very friendly, the whole process was remarkably inefficient and a bit frustrating.

Meat Plate of pierogi, 23 Polish Zloty
Meat Plate of pierogi, 23 Polish Zloty

K ordered the Meat Plate, made up of a variety of different pierogi off their menu. My pick of the bunch was probably the red-skinned spicy Diavolo pierogi, made of pork, beef, paprika, onion, marjoram, and plenty of pepper and salt! While it wasn’t as spicy as I would have wanted it to be, it was still a lot spicier than standard Polish cuisine. Like the pierogi we had at Polakowski in Krakow however, I thought the pastry was much too thick which made the whole dish a bit too stodgy.

Daily Meal soup (18 Polish Zloty)
Daily Meal soup (18 Polish Zloty)

I had originally wanted to order some pancakes, Volhynian, with bacon and potatoes. Unfortunately, the restaurant was out of stock so with a bit of panic as I was forced to make a second choice immediately, I opted for the Daily Meal of soup, dish of the day, raw salad and compote drink.

The soup was a mix of pork and vegetables with a bit of cream in the mix. Unfortunately however, it seemed to be the case that the restaurant had chosen to use more offcuts than the nicer parts of vegetables – so the ends of carrots, and the thick parts of celery. It was as though they had taken all the offcuts that would normally be used for making a nice rich stock, and just added cream to the mix to turn it into a soup.

Daily Meal Dish of the Day
Daily Meal Dish of the Day

The Dish of the Day was just as disappointing. While seated in the restaurant, I heard the distinct hum of a microwave, and a cheery ‘ding’. Less than a minute later, this clump of reheated microwaved faux-paella was placed in front of me along with three slices of cucumber as the ‘raw salad’ of the day. Suffice to say that I ate some truly terrible Weight Watchers meals two years ago when I went through my extreme weight-loss period and I would rate this paella in that category.

Locals may like it, but I honestly can’t rate or recommend Na Bednarskiej Pierogi. The daily meal special is extremely disappointing and the pierogi can be a bit hit and miss with their thick pastry. Go elsewhere for a good meal in Warsaw!

Na Bednarskiej Pierogi is located at 28/30 Bednarska ul in Warsaw, Poland.

Review: Croque Madame, Warsaw Poland

If you know anything about me, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of pastries and other baked goods. Just call me the carb-monster, I’ll answer to that name! Europe has been a dream come true for me in that regard, with excellent pastries, bread and baked goods to be found in every country – each with its own unique twist.

While in Warsaw, we got into the habit of stopping into Croque Madame, a little café on the main shopping street, more than once for a mid-morning snack to keep us going till lunchtime.

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The first day we stopped by on a Sunday, the tables outside were all full of guests enjoying a leisurely Sunday brunch. It was quieter on subsequent weekdays as you can tell from the photo above.

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As a café, Croque Madame offers a fairly small range of treats. Coffees and teas are on the menu of course, as are a selection of tarts, pies, pastries and cakes. If you’re after something more savoury, they have a small range of ready-made baguettes (get in early, they sell out quickly!) and salads too. However the real drawcard seems to be their gelato which is popular with many customers.

We didn’t try the gelato though. After having just visited Italy with their fabulous range of gelaterias, we feared that we would be disappointed with anything else! Instead, we tried a few of their pastries and sandwiches as takeaway items for mid-morning snacks over a few days.

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The first was described to us by the waitress as a “Polish cake with blackberries”. This proved to be a soft, sweet and squishy hybrid of brioche and a jam donut. While I liked the powdered sugar on top, the blackberries proved to be much too tart for my liking, with the sweetness of the sugar hardly doing anything to soften the tartness.

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Another choice was a savoury sandwich of brie, cranberry jam and rocket. It’s such a timeless combination – creamy ripe soft cheese with peppery rocket and sweet berry jam. Each element balances the other perfectly, creating a sandwich to die for on crusty seeded wholegrain bread.

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On another day, we tried a raspberry and custard pastry. Glazed with sugar on top, this was a delicious little doughy bun. The sweet custard helped to soften whatever tartness was left in the raspberries, and the sugary crust gave it a nice texture whenever you took a bite. It is quite sweet as a result though, and best suited to those with a sweet tooth!

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The last pastry we tried was a deliciously buttery raspberry croissant. Flaky and buttery, this croissant was lined with a thin layer of raspberry jam right throughout the pastry. Very simple, but the superb puff pastry makes it a treat to be savoured.

Croque Madame is popular with locals for their ice-cream, but their pastries are definitely worth trying as well! Either sit in the sun with a coffee and a pastry like the locals, or if you want to make the most of your time sightseeing in Warsaw, grab a pastry to-go as we did! There’s nothing quite like strolling the Old Town of Warsaw eating a buttery pastry and licking raspberry jam off your fingers.

Croque Madame is located at Nowy Swiat 41 in Warsaw, Poland.