Krakow: First, the food

What do you do when a Thursday/Friday one-two punch of Dutch holidays collides with Memorial Day in the US? You plan a weekend city break. Destination: Krakow.

The city had long been on our list of places to visit, thanks to a well-traveled family friend who had lived in Krakow on-and-off for some time. He named it among his top three favorite European destinations, and, in advance of our trip, provided an exhaustive list of things to do and see (and eat), complete with a pronunciation guide.

A late flight and a further delay got us to the airport after 11pm on Thursday night. We took a taxi to the hotel – a rare luxury for us, but worth it due to the late hour. Our return trip on Monday would be via the comfortable, reliable, and very cheap train. On Friday morning, we explored the city before meeting up for our afternoon food tour with Delicious Poland.

Food tours have become a standard part of our travels. They are a great way to learn about the local cuisine, find lesser-known eateries, and meet fellow travelers. Plus, any guide worth their salt will give you recommendations to help plan the rest of your visit.

We met our guides, Kamila and Göksel, at a market in the Kazimierz district. They are a couple both personally and professionally, working together to build their tour company around their love of travel and food. They greeted us with bread and salt, a traditional Polish welcome. We were surprised that we were the only people signed up for the tour that afternoon, so we got the VIP treatment!

While Göksel went ahead to prepare things at the first stop, Kamila toured us through the market, which was filled with local farmers selling fresh vegetables and fruits. Then it was off to the first of seven stops on the tour: Przystanek Pierogarnia, to sample Poland’s famous dumplings. We tried four different pierogi, including dessert pierogi, filled with strawberry and drizzled with sweet cream. Yum!

Over the next three hours, we sampled the best of Polish cuisine, most of which I can’t spell or pronounce. The tour was a great combination of strolling around the neighborhood and sitting down for soup or a selection of main courses. Everything was arranged well, thanks to Göksel’s advance work. Throughout the tour, Kamila gave us

IMG_3070

Barszcz (beet soup) with dumplings, for Christmas Eve

some history of the Kazimierz district, and background on the different foods and when they are traditionally enjoyed. We learned a lot about how the privations of Communism impacted Polish cuisine. Chronic meat shortages required Polish cooks to be inventive – they found other flavors and other ways to make filling and satisfying meals.

 

Our favorite stop was Kuchnia u Doroty, a very traditional restaurant where we tried six dishes and a drink, and found the best dish of the day: placki ziemniaczane, potato pancakes “Hungarian” style, with pork and a goulash sauce that was just delicious. (We went back to Doroty later in the weekend and I ordered it again.)

Even though we were starting to fill up, we had several stops to go, including a bakery for a rose-hip jelly filled donut, then a craft brewery for some beer.  A visit to Plac Nowy (New Square) let us try zapiekanki, a sort of French-bread pizza with the toppings of your choice. Zapiekanki is only found in Krakow, and the traditional version is with mushrooms, melted cheese and chives.  It’s sold from small kiosks and shops; that it is both cheap and delicious makes it a favorite late-night snack, especially for students and anyone heading home after a few hours of drinking.

Speaking of drinking…our final stop was a vodka bar where we sampled four different vodkas, one traditional and three flavored, all delicious. We toasted our tour guides with a final Na zdrowie! Kamila shared a map and a list of some of her favorite stops in Krakow, so we were well-prepared for the rest of our weekend. We said our goodbyes and headed back into the neighborhood, full and happy and more than satisfied. If you find yourself in Krakow, check out Delicious Poland – in addition to food tours, they also do vodka and craft beer tours, so there’s something for everyone!

Next time: the Salt Mines, castles and cathedrals, and a visit to one of Krakow’s hidden treasures: the Pinball Museum!

IMG_3100

 

Family, flowers, and food

Not a bad way to spend a week, eh?

Family: We just hosted our first guests at our new apartment. After months of anticipation, I headed to the airport on Sunday morning to meet my dad and my 13-year-old niece Emily. The trip – her first abroad – was Emily’s birthday present from Grandpa, given to her back in October. My father had visited last summer at the end of a long river cruise, but we had all been looking forward to his return trip, and to sharing Amsterdam with Emily. They arrived sleepy from the overnight flight but (as is my way when it comes to fighting jet lag) I forced them to keep going as long as they could.

They had a few days on their own, though we always met up for dinner to hear the stories of their adventures and observations. We had two great days together, as I played hooky from work and enjoyed near-perfect Amsterdam spring weather. I loved hearing Emily’s impressions of what she saw and felt. She is a vibrant, curious, and very funny person. She noticed so many things that I now take for granted: the frustratingly tiny water glasses at restaurants, the full-sized doors on Dutch public bathrooms (great for us tall gals who end up looking over the door), the ease and efficiency of the tram system.image

Flowers: We spent most of one day at the Keukenhof Gardens, that seasonal wonder that draws millions of tourists and very few Dutch. (This is not a scientific study, but I estimate that 7 of 10 Dutch people I spoke to about the Keukenhof have never been.) We went last year as part of a marvelous, memorable birthday adventure for a dear friend, and it was lovely to go back with family and enjoy the gardens again. We took tons of photos, did a boat ride, ate and explored, until Emily announced that she was “all set” with flowers. Honestly, I think I was all set, too. The brain can only absorb so many facts about the tulip trade or the 7 million bulbs that are planted by hand
in the gardens each year. And maybe our eyes can only absorb so much color and manicured beauty.

Food:  Our usual approach with visitors is to simply eat our way through Amsterdam. Over the course of a few days, we introduced Dad and Emily to rijsttafel, stroopwaffels, the appeltarte at Winkel 43, bitterballen, and gevulde koeken. We convinced my chocolate-hating father to try a chocolate cookie from a store that only makes one kind of cookie. My dad, however, failed to convince Emily to try herring while on a food tour of the Jordaan.

More than the food we ate, I loved our meals together. In those moments, over a beer or the world’s smallest water glass, we were able to really connect, and really catch up. We laughed. We listened. We told the same old stories and a few new ones, too. We learned about each other. We had fun. Together. Not a bad way to spend a week.