Ten Most Awesome Icecreams in Warsaw

One thing you can say for sure about the Poles, is that they love their icecream, or ‘lody’. The only people who love it more perhaps are the tourists that flock to Warsaw’s Old Town, in search of it.

So of course I made it my mission to try out as many different icecreams as I could while I was in Warsaw.

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The Swiderki

The Swiderki, meaning ‘fusilli’ (you can see the resemblance to the pasta right), is one of the most popular icecreams you’ll see while walking the streets of Old Town Warsaw.

They generally come in plain vanilla, plain chocolate or mixed, as above. And you can choose from mały (small) or duży (large).

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Syropy do Lodowé

Basically icecream with syrup, I tried this one from a shop just outside the Barbican in the Old Town. There were several flavours to choose from, I chose green apple whi h was really nice. The icecream was super creamy!

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Maczane

Back inside the walls of the Old Town is where you’ll find this treat. Maczane means ‘dipped’ and that’s what you are getting here – a soft serve icecream, dipped in chocolate. OK, not so special in itself, but it’s rather the flavours of the chocolate the soft serve is dipped in that make it a delicious treat. I chose citrus (cytryna), but there was also smurf and strawberry. I had to eat it fast though as it was quick to begin melting all down my hands. Glorious!

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Czarny Bez

OK, so this one I sourced from the Praga side of the river, at a small shop inside Galeria Walenska. A small scoop of black lilac flavoured gelato, slightly tangy, slightly tart, slightly sweet. A nice change from all the soft serve.

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Cookies n Cream

This is your plain old store brand (Społem) icecream sandwich and it was good. Lots of pieces in it and a nice quality icecream. Perfect for the walk home to my apartment.

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Natural Lody

Sourced from a small stall along the river Vistula, this little gem was banana choc chip flavoured. Small, but sweet and totally good for you – I swear!

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Gourmet Lody

Head to Hala Koszyki for this Sernik (cheesecake) flavoured ice cream. Worth the money and the trip.

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Black Cactus

Yes, you heard right. Another store bought treat which I couldn’t resist reaching for when I saw it. And it does taste kinda cactusy, whatever that tastes like, but in a good way.

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Rurki z Kremem

Wafer filled with cream. That’s super sweet mock cream. Good for a lighter treat.

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Store Bought Heaven

Ok, now I can’t for the life of me recall what this super creamy icecream was but I know it was bloody awesome and I got it from one of the Żabka stores near PKIN. Sorry.

The moral of the story? Pretty much any icecream you try in Poland whether store bought or store made is gonna be good.

War-sore

Magda Szubanksi writes in her novel ‘Reckoning’,

My family were proud Warszawians. Warsaw. War-(sore). In Polish it is pronounced Var-SHA-var. Lovely. Like the rustle of petticoats in a Viennese waltz. But the English pronunciation, sadly, is more apt.

What she says is true. The battle scars of war are written across Warsaw’s face. And perhaps nowhere is it quite so obvious as when you stand outside ulica Bielanska 10 – the remants of Reduta Bank Polski.

Established as the bank headquarters in 1926, it became a key strategic target during the Warsaw Uprising and served as a base for Polish insurgents upon capture. It was decimated by German bombs, riddled with bullet holes and left to rot.

Nothing can prepare you for your first glimpse of this building and it quickly transports you back to this sad time in Warsaw’s history. You can imagine people on the other side of the walls, silently praying that the bullets wouldn’t hit them, that they would survive this day. It’s really heartbreaking.

And it presents a difficult situation. The younger generation wish to move on and get over the war. The older generations don’t want to forget what was sacrificed and lost. There are many buildings like this one in Warsaw, many of them are apartment blocks housing people going about their every day lives. Personally, I think reminders such as these should remain.

The Reduta Bank has found a second breath of life as an event space. Joyous occasions such as weddings are held here in this eerily beautiful building. But its definitely worth having a look at if you have the time and inclination to wander the streets of Warsaw.

Festival of the Pierogi

Leaving beautiful Błędowo behind, Paula and I head back to Warsaw to drop in on the Pierogi Festival, which was happening down along the banks of the Vistula.  Hundreds and hundreds of people turned out to try pierogi and dumplings from around the world and enjoy the beautiful summer’s day.

Munchie madness

It was hard to know where to start; we did so by walking around all the stores to see what they had and then diving in. There were fried pakoras and dim sum and croquettes, Indian dumplings and Polish pierogi. But perhaps the most popular stall, certainly the one with the longest queues, was for one of my favourites – bao. Unfortunately the massive queue was in direct sunlight, and I just couldn’t bear to wait in line for much longer than 10 minutes, so we moved on.

Admission to the festival was free; filling your body to the brim with delicious dumplings? Not so much!

Dumplings in hand, we headed for somewhere to sit, and like many others chose the steps along the river. This part of the river was set up like a beach, complete with a firepit and toasting tongs, though no-one was toasting up anything today, content to have themselves cooked for.

Paula and I walked along the river and back to my apartment, hoping in vain to try and walk off some of our lunch. We chatted about this and that and talked a bit about my plans for the next few days.

It had been such a wonderful weekend with my cousins. I couldn’t believe I was getting to spend so much time with them – it was just what I had wanted for this trip and I was so grateful. Thinking back to my childhood or even my teens, I never would have imagined having the opportunity to meet my Polish cousins, and certainly not in their countries.

The ability to travel has given me the opportunity to get to know my extended family, both in Poland and in Wales. I am so glad I pushed myself to get out there into the big wide world all by myself. I can’t imagine life any other way now!

Three Bottles of Vodka on the Wall

I arrived back in Warsaw with just enough time to repack my overnight bag, because I was heading to my cousins summer house. Road trip!

Błędowo is located about 45km north east of Warsaw, along the beautiful Wkra River. It’s the perfect spot to hire a kayak and that’s just what most people do here. But that’s not all – fishing, horseback riding and sleigh rides in the winter are also on offer. But kayaking is what we start the weekend with and I’m thrilled, cause I love kayaking.

I meet Paula’s dad, Tadeusz and along with Paula and her Mum Dorotka, we jump into our pre-arranged pickup van to head to the start of our kayak trail. This is what you do, by the way, call one of the many local kayaking companies and they’ll come pick you up, kayaks on board, drop you where you want to kayak from and pick you up at your end point.

Gliding along, two to a kayak, the afternoon is as relaxing as they come. The riverbank scenery is just gorgeous – countryside green, untouched nature, ducks floating alongside, frogs clinging on inside the kayaks.

We spent a leisurely couple of hours kayaking and floating down the Wkra, stopping at one point to try out the swing rope.

At the end point, there was a bar/cafe, which wasn’t open, but I was led to believe most kayak drop points feature these. I could imagine what a great time must go on here when the sun sets.

For the rest of the day and into the evening I was fed silly by my relatives, absolutely blown away by their hospitality.

We picked fresh berries and plums from the yard and walked back down to the river to swim, picking wild flowers along the way. And somehow in between all that, three of us finished up three bottles of vodka without any trouble at all.

My Favourite Museums in Warsaw

Warsaw Rising Museum

I would have no hesitation to call this Warsaw’s Number 1 Museum. Hands down.

Located in the suburb of Wola, it tells you the story of the Warsaw Uprising which took place in 1944. Full of interesting artefacts and information (there’s a plane hanging from the ceiling in one place), I could have spent the best part of a day here. Heartstopping is the 3D movie titled City of Ruins which is a flyover of Warsaw after the uprising. The devastation is insane.

Audio guides are available and although I didn’t get one due to time limitations, I would recommended one.

Admission is free on Sundays.

Vodka Museum

Now this is newly opened museum is well worth the visit. Especially if you are a vodka fan. Housed in the old Koneser Vodka Factory, which has been beautifully restored to bring you the incredible story of Polish vodka.

First a short video is screened in the cinema, outlining the history of Polish Vodka, and in particular the Wyborowa brand. Then you will learn the even longer history of vodka itself, how it is distilled, how many types and brands there are and even partake in some little quizzes – including putting on some ‘beer goggles’.

The tour concludes with three tastings of different types and brands of vodka. It was at this point that my new appreciation for vodka began and I vowed never to drink rubbish vodka again.

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POLIN

The Museum of the History of Polish Jews is considered one of Warsaw’s best museums. It tells the story of the Jewish people in Poland right through World War 2 and up til modern times.

Be prepared for an information overload, as there’s a lot covered here, but its well laid out, with some interactive activities on offer. I would recommend taking advantage of the museum’s cafe for a break.

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Ethnographic Museum

During my first 15 minutes in this museum, I thought I had made a mistake. It seemed like a fairly docile exhibition with some items that didn’t even belong in Poland. But when I ended up in the second part of the exhibition, my mind was changed.

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An array of bright, bold regional costumes lined the outer edge of the floor. And there were all sorts of festival props, Easter and Christmas decorations and general household nicknacks, some of which I’d seen in my Babcia’s home and never known the purpose of.

I was glad I’d ventured further inside and actually got a great deal out of my visit to this museum.

Fotoplastikon

It was a little hard to find, but once inside and after paying not a cent to do so (if you go on Thursdays it is free!) I was glad I had made my way to Fotoplastikon. A pre-cursor to today’s modern cinemas, the fotoplastikon was invented in Germany in the second half of the 19th century. At one time, there were around 250 of these machines in Europe, but advances in film and movie technology moved them to obsoletion.

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This one was received in Warsaw in 1905 and there are now over 2,500 slides available to view in it. Each slide series runs for 20 minutes. While I was there, the photos were taken from Warsaw’s World War 2 period and they provided an interesting glimpse into Warsaw’s war-time past.

Where else in the world would you be able to view one of these?

Riding Trains in Poland

I’ve been catching a fair few trains over the past few weeks, so I thought it would be a good idea to share my tips with you.

First up, are some of the Polish words you will find in and around train stations:

Główny – main (ie. main station)
Bilet – ticket
Peron – platform
Tor – track, as in which track your train will leave from / which side of the platform
Toaleta – toilet
Handlowy – commercial (usually found at bigger stations, kind of a mall)
Uwaga – warning
Przyjazd – arrivals
Odjazdy – departure
Okno – window
Środek – centre
Korytarz – aisle

Next up, how to read your train ticket!

Your ticket should provide you with all the information you need to board the train, except for which platform. For this, you need to make sure you leave time to find out when you arrive at the station – the times are generally posted about 15 minutes or so before the train arrives.

The carriage doors contain the carriage number (wagon number on your ticket) in red, along with the train number and stops. These doors can be tough to open, so you have to grapple with them a little.

I’m not sure about all stations, but at Warszawa Zachodnia (Warsaw West) Station, there are signboards noting the configuration of the trains so you can see where in the train your allocated carriage will be.

Happy training!

The Fighting Goats of Poznan

The streets of the old town were almost deserted when I stepped out to explore them. A couple of workmen were huddled in towards each other, giving me a cheeky smile as they raised small bottles of vodka in my direction. Gotta love Poland.

Given Poznan’s early history, I thought the best way to start the day would be with a visit to Cathedral Island. There’s a museum there called Porta Poznania which brings the city’s historical story to life.

Porta Posnania is a fully interactive museum that tells the story of the creation of Poland’s first capital. The 18zł entry fee ncludes the cost of an audio guide, which steps you through the exhibit. Make sure you head to the rooftop afterwards for a magical view of the Cathedral.

You can catch a tram (No. 8 from Pl. Wielkopolska) or enjoy the walk which, which I did. It only took about 15-20 minutes. It’s worth spending time to walk around ‘the island’ and explore some of the old buildings.

I arrived back in the Rynek to find the Festiwal Dobrego Smaku (Festival of Good Taste) well underway. And as I hadn’t yet had breakfast, was cheered to see the croissant stall. Not just any croissant though, these are the legally protected St Martin’s Croissants (Rogale Marciński). Eighty one layers of pastry filled with white poppy seeds, raisins, orange peel, walnuts, biscuit crumbs and almonds. Eighty one layers of heaven. You can learn more about these croissants by visiting the museum in the Rynek and you can even combine the visit to see the goats fight.

Aside from the croissants though, there were breads, meats, cheeses, honey (miod), dried flowers, wines, vodkas, cakes and more – all available for tasting. No Polish required, just point and take a chance! I chose a beautiful bottle of strawberry wine to share with ny cousins back in Warsaw and tried some delicious snacks, including oscypek (a decorative sheeps cheese from Poland’s mountainous regions) served warm and topped with cranberry sauce.

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The square was truly alive, especially so by the folk dancing and accompanying fiddle music.

Whatever you decide to do in Poznan, you must make sure you are under the town hall clock in the Rynek at midday. Why? Cause of the fighting goats!

You don’t really even need to know where, just follow the crowds because about 15 minutes beforehand the tourists are already jostling for the best viewing position just to see two iron billy goats butt heads.

Why?

History says:

Back in the middle of the 16th century there was a chef in town (some versions call him “Pete”) who was charged with cooking an elaborate feast for the mayor and some visiting dignitaries. Pete set about preparing some roast deer, but things didn’t go so well. Distracted by the festivities of the big event, his beautiful joint of venison ended up falling off the spit, straight into the fire, burning to a crisp. Pete needed some new meat, but the butcher had no more venison. In a desperate move to save the meal (and his own neck) he grabbed two grazing goats from a nearby meadow, but they escaped his grasp and darted off towards Town Hall. They ran up the stairs into the tower, catching the attention of the crowd below when they emerged from the turret, locked horns and began to battle it out. The crowd included the mayor and his guests, who were more charmed than they were angry about the meal, so Pete and the goats were pardoned. A new clock just happened to be in production at the time, so the Major requested that two goats be added to the cuckoo-style mechanism.

Poznan’s rynek streets are a great place to wander and explore. If you are vigilant enough, you’ll notice a familiar character appearing here and there – he’s called ‘the watcher ‘ or ‘Pan Peryskop’.

Created by street artist Noriaki, Pan Peryskop is Poznan’s favourite piece of graffiti.

Lunch saw me grab a seat outside Brovaria where I combined a bowl of borcht with a beer tasting paddle. Literally, a liquid lunch. Filled with little meat ‘pies’ (mince filled dumplings), the borscht was not a patch on my Babcia’s.

The beer was ok though. There were three on the paddle – honey, pils and wheat ale.

The Lesser Basilica of St Stanislaus is exquisite – in fact it is considered one of most exquisite examples of Baroque architecture in Poland. Built by the Jesuurs, commencing in 1649, construction was interrupted several times until it was finished over 50 years later. Its beautiful, intricate pink trimmings demand you spend time admiring the church, inside and out. Notable things to know here are the plaque devoted to Father Jakub Wujek – author of the first translation of the Bible into Polish – and the fact that the church’s extensive cellars were used to store wine between the two world wars!

Clearly I hadn’t had enough of Poznan’s goats yet, because I found myself buying a ticket to the 3D goat show. I’m not sure if it was the beer that made me do it, but next thing I knew I had joined a mother and her two terrified children and was making my way through a psychedelic version of the goat story. Mental note: no more beer. The goat at the entrance should have been warning enough.

By late afternoon I was feeling pretty exhausted but I knew I would be disappointed in myself if I didn’t make the effort to get to Citadel Park.

Housed in the remains of Fort Winiary are several reminders of those who fought for Poland in both world wars, including cemeteries and a monument to Poland’s wartime heroes.

It was a fair distance from town and I was really flagging when I arrived, having spent the day walking the city. I definitely wasn’t keen to see all those steps on arrival, that’s for sure, but I pulled myself together and headed for the top.

I saw little of the expansive park grounds, literally dragging myself along the pathways now. My feet felt like they were broken.

I did make it to the military museum, checking out the tanks, now stationery in its courtyard.

I was particularly hoping to see the sculpture called ‘the Unrecognized Ones’, but unfortunately I couldn’t find them and had no energy to keep looking for them. To read more about these striking giant legs, click here.

Thank goodness there was a gorgeous garden of dahlias, which I love – note the purple one was on the ground, I did not pick it!

Three Capitals in Three Days

And I was off again. In my reading about Poland, I had discovered that Warsaw hadn’t always been the capital of Poland. The first, it appears, was Gniezno. Road trip! Or, actually train, but who’s judging!

So, how did Gniezno end up as the first capital city of Poland? Let’s find out…

I successfully arrived at the not-too impressive Gniezno station, hoping that what was on the other side of the station looked more welcoming than the side I was staring at.

It did and I was pleasantly surprised by a delightful little park – Park Kościuszki – full of monuments and sculptures, including one of King Przemyśl II.

With my phone gps guiding the way, I found my way to the Rynek. The streets were actually quite lovely. I wandered down through the square, towards the jewel in Gniezno’s crown, Gniezno Cathedral. Home to a spectacular pair of bronze doors, the cathedral served as the coronation of several Polish monarchs. I walked inside the church, careful not to interrupt a service in session, and wandered around the outside.

The sign near the church doors said tours to see the bronze doors would commence in forty minutes time so I wandered back to the Rynek to find lunch. Back at the church by the required time, I and several others stood around waiting for the doors to open. Nothing. Waiting, waiting, waiting….nothing. I had a train to catch to my next destination, so I couldn’t wait any longer. What a shame!

Onwards it was. My next destination and my home for the next two nights, was the city of Poznan. My phone battery had all but run out as I disembarked the train and realized I still had to work out how to get to my hotel. I managed to get a tram route up and disembarked somewhere near the Rynek before it went totally dead. It was off one of the side streets, I recalled that much, but which one? I was passing a little alley when I looked to the right and noticed a hill. I was staying at the Hill Inn, so I turned and in a round about way, there it was.

Beginning as a small stronghold in the 9th century, Poznań became the capital of Poland (with Gniezno) and the residence of Poland’s first two kings. It was considered the historical capital of the Greater Poland region (Wielkopolska). It was here that Poland’s first king, Miesko I, was baptized. The first Polish Cathedral was built here and it was likely the main seat of the first missionary Bishop. The cathedral became the burial place of Poland’s early kings, including our friend above, King Przemyśl II.

The first thing you notice in Poznan’s medieval old square are the decorative merchant houses. They came into being in the 16th century and were a replacement for the merchants ‘herring booths’. From these buildings, you could buy all manner of things including fish and candles.

There wasn’t much time left in the day by now, so I decided to explore a little of the city’s old town streets and grab dinner at a whiskey bar I had heard of. Kind of like Hard Rock Cafe, but entirely themed on whiskey cocktails served in jars, Whiskey in a Jar, was dark and relatively quiet when I arrived. After waiting some time at the entrance, I was finally escorted to a table and given a menu to contemplate for what seemed like it would be the rest of the evening. After about 20 minutes and having watched the guy next to me change his kids nappy at the table, I decided I didn’t need whiskey that badly and walked out.

Along two sides of the Rynek, little wooden booths were being nailed into place, ready for a food festival that was commencing tomorrow. Hopefully I could fit this in with all the sightseeing I had planned.

At a regional restaurant in the square, I ordered grey noodles. I knew from the moment they landed in front of me that the stodgy looking dish would be hard to swallow, even washed down with several glasses of wine.

It was a good thing the local drunks were putting on a good show, cause it gave me plenty of reason to eat slowly, though I could probably also have used them as an excuse not to finish.

A Tale of Two Gardens

Saxon Gardens

The Saxon Gardens (also known as Saski Park) is considered to be one of the oldest parks in the world. Flowerbeds of white and red dot the park, but the main inhabitant here is trees, the oldest one in the park having been aged at around 250 years old.

If you’ve heard of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, this is where you’d find it, two guards standing guard over the tomb, an eternal flame burning in the background. Dedicated to the unknown Polish soldiers who lost their lives in war, it is considered one of Poland’s most important monuments.

The monument itself was created from the only surviving fragment of the Saxon Palace which stood on these grounds until 1944.

Don’t forget to check out the magnificent fountain in the middle of the park – it was designed by Polish-Italian architect Henryk Marconi, who also designed the Hotel Europejski nearby.

Warsaw University Rooftop Gardens

If I was looking for a garden with a difference, then this was it. Entering through the doors of the Warsaw University and following the steps up to the garden, I found myself overlooking Warsaw’s skyline, standing in one of Europe’s largest rooftop gardens.

The green and purple architecture, domes and studded ironwork, gave the garden a real steampunk meets Alice in Wonderland kind of feel. It was definitely worth a visit.

Rain Drops and Tram Tickets

Leaving Paula’s this morning, the sky was grey and rainy. Fat drops of water hung from the trees as I walked towards the tram stop. So far, I had caught trams to and from larger stops and stations, where I could use a vending machine to buy a ticket in English, but today I would have to catch it from a normal street stop and purchase a ticket from the little shop on the street corner. Which meant, I had to buy a ticket in Polish. Oh crap. Think Michelle, think. OK, I know the words for ‘one’, ‘ticket’ and ‘please’. In my mind I put the words together and practiced the line over and over a few times, took a deep breath and stood in front of the kiosk owner to spout the magic words that would get me home. ‘Czy moge kupic bilet’. She returned fire with some more words, that I didn’t know, until something in my brain twigged and I responded ‘normalnie’.

My hard earned tram ticket

I was so proud of myself. When I had finished smiling to myself, I looked up and noticed for the first time, one of my fellow tram passengers…

This little fella rode a few stops, holding his balance against the rocking and sudden stopping of the tram, before walking to the door, waiting for it to open and hopping off, out into the streets of Warsaw. I was loving this place!

Later in the day, I had another birthday to attend (now you know why I had spent so much time learning the Polish birthday song!) and I needed a gift. Today it was the birthday of Paula’s half sister Zuzanna and I had decided on a big bouquet of flowers, in her favourite colour pink. So now I just had to track down a nearby florist and order some flowers. Luckily a nearby shop was easy to find and the staff spoke some English, so I headed for home, feeling more and more satisfied with my day.

The guest list for the party was much larger than Grazyna’s a day or so ago and included the rest of Paula’s and Zuzia’s family, Paula’s stepfather’s sister and her family, some family friends and Zuzia’s boyfriend Dawid. I was lucky once again though as there were English speakers afoot, so the conversation flowed easily, helped along by vodka and wine. I had a fantastic night, and once again delighted in the fact that I was spending normal, quality family time with the relatives I hadn’t grown up with.