Have you been to Poland?
I know, it somehow does not have the romance and allure that Italy, France, Spain or England has. But I’m telling you, it should!!! I am here to become the next Polish ambassador and promote tourism there.
Just kidding, but seriously, if you haven’t been, you should put this on your bucket list.
Poland might not be on your radar because the country was far behind Western Europe and the US because of its communist past. However, it’s changed so much over the last decade that Poland has transformed by leaps and bounds, with new highways, high speed rail lines, skyscrapers popping up, and (most importantly for me) an outstanding restaurant culture. Honestly, we didn’t know what to expect from the country, but I have to say I loved it and was very impressed! Additionally, your dollar can go really far here. For example, a 20 minute taxi ride will cost only a few dollars. At this time, one dollar roughly equals four zlotys!
With Poland, we were visiting our son, Zach and his fiancée, Agata, in Warsaw where he just finished his Fulbright year, working on his Yale PhD dissertation in History. Agata is also working on her PhD in Comparative Literature. Both, smart cookies. For our son, because of his focus, he is the ultimate tour guide, sharing all of his historical knowledge and facts about each place we went. Besides being a proud mamma, I learned a whole heck of a lot!
We did tons of walking – at least 6 miles every day, in Warsaw, Krakow and Mława. Actually in Krakow we walked 11+ miles! Needless to say we ate and drank with abandon and I actually did not gain any weight!! Yay, because the Italian wedding was afterwards and I needed to make sure I’d fit into my clothes!
Poland is beautiful, and super, super clean, with sophisticated restaurants and cool coffee cafes. I noticed that people take the time to really relax and enjoy life with a walk in the park or a leisurely cup of coffee, and they are not always on their phones. We spent most of our time in Warsaw, the capital. As you may know, much of central Warsaw was leveled to rubble during WWII. Well Zach told us the story of how before WW II started, some prescient (or lucky) architecture professor sent his students out to the old city to draw all the buildings there as an academic exercise to learn how they built in those days. Luckily those drawings survived the war, so after everything in the square was leveled, they were able to refer to those drawings and rebuilt everything in and around the square just exactly as it was. Isn’t that amazing??
On our second day, Zach and Agata, in their newly bought car, drove us to a village near Mława, where my father’s family is from. There in the street, we met an 88 year-old man (Agata and Zach translated for us) who was helping his grandkids sweep the street (I told you they were very clean). This village elder actually knew where my grandparents’ family plot of land was, before they left to go to America and settle in St. Louis. The house is not the same but I was able to stand on the same ground. Honestly, it was chilling and thrilling. I was filled with an indescribable emotion. It was very intense.
My cousin, Bob, says that our grandfather left from Bremen, Germany with his brother in 1905. They were both going to be inducted into the Russian Army and wanted to get out of town. In those days “Poland” did not exist. It was part of the Russian, Prussian, Austro-Hungarian empire. My grandmother had a one-year old child, (Bob’s dad) and was pregnant with a second child (our Uncle Eugene) when she came by herself in 1906.
As Bob said, “You know they didn’t make the trip on a luxury liner. Now you know where we get our determination and perseverance.”
It must have been quite a trip.
This village is served by a church and graveyard in a neighboring town. There, dozens of my distant relatives are buried and some of the tombstones have pictures. Agata could clearly see the family resemblance. Crazy, isn’t it?
We also visited The Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, which was totally engrossing and beautiful with so much information, you could spend an entire week in there. This museum just won Museum of the Year for all of Europe!! The exhibits are all amazing and unique.
We had the best meal ever at this restaurant called Nolita in Warsaw!! It was Zach’s birthday present, an 8-course meal that was better than Eleven Madison Park here in NYC.
Just look at these! Every dish was beautiful and scrumptious with no unnecessary foam – all great, DELICIOUS food. At the end of the meal I got to have a conversation with the chef, who trained all over the world but primarily in London and Paris. He said his philosophy is not to have any unnecessary tricks, but elegant, good solid food. My kind of man.
Poland is a must-see place!!! We’re excited to go back next July for Zach and Agata’s wedding in the southwestern part of the country, which is just beautiful with mountains and castles from the Middle Ages.
You all should put Poland on your list for your next big trip!
Just take a look at these pictures for a mini tour.