Monday, April 13, 2009

Poland 2

Ten years ago, I’d never have expected to have gone to Poland. It was an unknown place: distant and vaguely alarming, with connotations of invasion, Auschwitz and Communism. Nowadays, however, lots of Polish people are in Scotland (among other places) and we have many Polish students at the college, all bright and pleasant. It’s amazing how meeting some of the people makes the country seem less strange.

Last year I had to teach a class of prospective tourism students how to make presentations, and among these were several Poles. Two did presentations on Krakow and one on Zakapone and both places sounded really interesting. As they turned out to be.

Our apartment in Krakow was off the main square in the old town, which wasn’t bombed during the war but has clearly been restored since then. Round the square the buildings are mainly stuccoed and in an Italianate style,

but the Cloth Hall, for example, is much more East European-looking.

We spent a long time at Wawel Castle – the Cathedral (in the background of the picture above) is on the same site - not far from the main square. There's a whole collection of buildings, added to over the centuries and very much restored, but most parts are very old, some dating back at least 800 years. According to,

People lived on the Wawel Hill at least as early as fifty thousand years ago, in the Paleolithic Age. In the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, i.e. some three thousand years ago, the settlement was apparently bustling with trade, with assorted crafts and with farming. It was at the turn of the past millennium when the rulers of Poland took up their residence here. During the early 16th century King Sigismund I the Old (1506-1548) brought in the best native and foreign artists (Italian architects and sculptors, German decorators, etc.) to create the splendid Renaissance palace-cum-castle which survived, little changed, till now.
We were blessed with lovely warm weather for our entire trip and enjoyed wandering around the grounds, drinking in Polish history. We had a highly enthusiastic and very helpful guide for some parts of the Castle visit and then, for the State Apartments, a hilariously fierce one who whizzed us round at lightning speed without giving us time to look at anything and glared sternly at the three very well-behaved small children in the group, hissing at their rather posh English parents to control them, even though they were being perfectly good. She also seemed to take pride in telling us all the least interesting things she could think of. “Ziz building,” she barked, “has been restored by the Polish government so ze plasterwork is 11 years old.” (Hmm. We have some paintwork in our house as old as that. Should we start giving guided tours?) “Zeese pots” – she pointed to some nice blue and white jars on shelves on the wall – “are very cheap imitations of Chinese porcelain.”

When I blogged about our trip to Rome, people asked for fantastic food experiences (which didn’t stretch beyond margherita pizzas for a vegetarian like me). So I made more effort this time. Wawel Castle has a very nice outdoor café which sold us cake.

Daughter 2 and I decided to share a piece of “fruit cake” between us. It arrived on two plates and even a half portion was amazingly substantial. It wasn’t what we would have called fruit cake but it was delicious, in a sort of school-dinner-trifle sort of way: jelly, sponge and artificial cream with a few sultanas scattered on the top. This sounds horrid but it was quite yum. If you like school dinners.

The central courtyard of the Castle, which isn’t actually falling over as it looks in my photo, is very large and impressive.
There's more...


  1. oh what fun!

    I think I would have gobbled up that cake. Rather quickly.

    I was just thiking how so may countries used to be completely off-limits, and are now so iteresting to visit.

    It's good in a way: they make a lot of films in Poland because it is so unspoilt.

  2. Clearly my 'n' key keeps sticking....

  3. Anonymous11:21 pm

    I have the same associations with Poland as you had. But you have certainly inspired me to think of it differently. It looks beautiful! Except for the cake :)

  4. Anonymous2:10 am

    I love Poland too. I went there for the first time in November 1996 and I went armed with woollen clothes and boots and it was warm enough to prowl around in a short-sleeved shirt. Some of the architecture is indeed beautiful but I did find the juxtaposition (in Warsaw) of some of the beautiful old buildings and bleak housing blocks rather scary. I did still worry then about wondering into areas where I should not have been.
    When I came back from Poland that time I never wanted to see red cabbage again!

  5. Hi - I think my updates aren't showing up for you since I've gone private. Welcome back! I wondered where you had gone!

    Poland sounds an interesting country to visit. It does look beautifaul:-)

  6. Your description of the fierce tour guide gave me a grin. Quite the ray of sunshine, there.

    The thing which strikes me in the photos is the lack of vegetation. Were the public spaces devoid of plants and gardens, or were there some here and there?

  7. I look forward to more.

  8. I'm glad you had such lovely weather and could enjoy sitting outside. There are some wonderful small cafes and restaurants in the streets off where you were sitting!

  9. You are whetting my appetite beautifully for our trip in September... thankyou! Z xx

  10. There's nothing quite like meeting a few people from a foreign country to make it seem less foreign. I hope your culinary adventures included some pirogy's! Though, without my mother-in-law's divine sauce, you might not have been as transported as it is possible to be by a food made from potatoes and cheese.... I do hope you dawdled in rebellion against that crackpot guide! You didn't?? Shame on her for rushing you through like that......

  11. I've got SOCKS older than 11 years!! A candidate for your preparation for tourism course, methinks!!!

  12. Oh, I have sinned against the goddess of apostrophes! How can I live with this shame?

  13. I think I have holiday anxiety (the knawing worry that I won't get to see everywhere!! I also suffer from bookshop anxiety and, occasionally, supermarket anxiety.....sigh)). Still Poland sounds good so I'll try and get there!

    Lesley x

  14. Your comment on my blog - you are just so sweet saying our family sound so nice - really you do need to met us! We really are very normal - or maybe abnormal?

    I love updating on the grandsons and could do a lot more but I think it would end up boring everyone to tears (except their nana)

  15. My Goodness! Just imagine having to clean those huge castles, & buildings!! When I see very large buildings, I am afraid that is my first thought. An indication of my loathing of housework no doubt.
    I would love to see it all in reality.