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.