18 July – Provence
I’ve decided that in my next life I’ll come back fluent in French and live in Provence.
On this sunny Monday the kids and I headed off to the Eurostar after getting organized and running some errands. We cabbed it to the station, printed our tix, checked in and grabbed sandwiches for the ride.
To Lille we went for our shorter leg of the journey, lots of reading and writing along the way. In Lille we caught the second train, the TGV to Avignon. En route we passed fields full of sunflowers, vineyards, Charlois cattle and so much greenery.
And once in Avignon we walked over to the rental car place, admired the lovely evening weather (not cold, not hot, just breezy and warm!) secured a little brown Citroen, got directions to the hotel and were off! Twenty minutes later we checked into a lovely boutique hotel – stone with a large porch and a very warm French welcome.
Our original dinner reservation had been moved back due to our 8:30 arrival time. And because the train was late out of Lille it was further pushed back. But the restaurant graciously agreed to serve us if we hurried so we shot off to our room and ditched our stuff. Our room was outside so we were led through the restaurant, exited into the grounds, which were lovely and featured a very inviting pool. Plans were made for an early morning swim…
At the restaurant we made quick decisions, the kids opting to share lamb per our waiter’s suggestion and I ordered the fish. We enjoyed the lovely, quiet dining room, sharing it with a few patrons wrapping up at their tables.
My fish was fabulous, the kids made off well with the lamb and for dessert they asked for ice cream. We were all a bit surprised when magnum – in wrappers – appeared on plates. I had the caffe gourmand per the waiter’s suggestion – little bits of desserts with varying flavors, served with coffee. Very nice finish.
Then to bed in our lovely suite – a large room to the right of the entrance downstairs with king bed, couch, coffee table, etc.
The kids slept upstairs in twin beds joined in a nice little loft space. Truly a lovely property.
We slept well, woke up late to pouring rain – really pouring. Bracing ourselves to be wet, we hoofed it quickly to breakfast, lamenting no pool time. And we enjoyed a lovely buffet French style. The bread, as it should be in France, was fabulous, especially combined with brie, unsalted butter and fancy raspberry jam (what isn’t good w/ brie and butter, I should ask).
We then checked out, got oriented toward Cucoron and were off. The desk clerk at the hotel suggested we stop at a lavender museum midway. We found it easily – a lovely stone building flanked by a field full of lavender. Gorgeous. Also flanked by a crowd of Asian tourists with cameras.
We checked out the museum, which wasn’t big but was interesting, with old presses, photos, history about the area and production processes, uses of lavender through time, etc. I did the audio guide, the kids did a quiz as we perused, then of course we hit the shop, got a lavender-scented candle for Sarah and were off again.
Close to Cucoron was the village of Luberon, where we stopped for a walk around the quaint little town with its winding streets, pedestrian walkways, boutique shops and cafes. By then it had become quite a nice day. Hungry for lunch, we settled on a café with tables outside and the kids had brochettes (chicken kebabs...but doesn't brochette sound so much nicer than chicken on a stick) simply but beautifully done. I had the lunch menu of the day, a lovely cheese, quiche-like starter with pesto sauce and a more adult version of the kebab with a lovely sauce and lots of grilled vegetables. Delicious!
For dessert the waiter brought out ice cream for the kids; he seemed disappointed when I passed on dessert so I agreed to it (any excuse) and he brought out three big bites of decadent dessert (I like all these "mini" desserts). The chocolate fudge like number was so rich I didn’t make it to the other two but did manage a to-go bag.
We continued on about town a bit, I picked up a wide-brimmed hat to protect my face from the sun, which had become quite intense in a fabulous way. We retrieved our car and headed on to Sarah’s through winding roads, gorgeous views along the way – vineyards, tons of trees and greenery.
Not long after we were in Cucoron, easily making our way to Sarah’s along narrow dirt roads through vineyards and groves of olive, peach and almond trees. We received a warm welcome and the kids wasted no time putting on swim suits and sunscreen. The pool was fabulous and just perfect – the kids could touch everywhere. Lillie and the girls had a ball swimming while I took a walk near the village along some trails. The forest was quite close, with trailheads here and there. It smelled so fresh, particularly after the storm.
Back at Sarah’s we helped prepare dinner; she’d made a Provencale casserole specialty along with veal meatballs, tomato sauce and pasta. With that fabulous bread it was an amazing meal, accompanied of course by wine...from Sarah’s boxes of rose and white wine in the pool house fridge. We finished it with cheese for the adults, ice cream and M&M’s for the kids. We’d brought Lillie a bottle of M&Ms from M&M World at Leicester Square. (That was an adventure…M&M world – think really colorful, really loud – as in music – and four levels of M&M related paraphernalia. Mostly overpriced M&M’s and M&M branded stuff. A good one-time stop.)
Lovely evening to sit outside at Sarah’s long table, with beautiful views of the valley in front, the great outdoor kitchen behind.
Wednesday – Cucoron
This a.m. I got up relatively early and went for a walk, this time the opposite direction, to a lovely remote area, down lanes and up hillsides, near the old hermitage (what praytell is an old hermitage?).
Another lovely day, breezy and sunny. We had breakfast outside at Sarah’s long table, pain d’chocolate for the kids, amazing baguettes and homemade jams for the adults. I drank copious amounts of coffee without ever feeling a jolt. Go figure, I later learned it’s decaf.
After some time by the pool we walked into the village with Sarah, then up to the castle on the hill, enjoying lovely views over Cucoron.
Afterward we had coffee (the leaded kind) on the Square, next to a big fish pond. For lunch – again outside (how nice is this) we had some salads, prosciutto, amazing cheese and bread, olives to die for…and of course wine.
In the afternoon: pool time – we adults just laid around, read and napped, chatted with Ollie, Katie, Amber and her 18-month-old daughter, Sophie.
For dinner we drove into Luberon and ate in the courtyard of a lovely restaurant. Beautiful and colorful, we ate beneath a canopy of sorts decorated with small green lights. For a starter we shared antipasto platters; the melted goats cheese in pastry was particularly tasty. The sausage, salami, olives, raosted veg and capers were all fabulous, too.
For mains, I had a veal specialty, as did Julian – very nice dish. The kids had chicken nuggets and fries. Others had what looked like fabulous fish.
Stuffed, I passed on dessert but enjoyed another really good espresso. And then we rolled home, late, after a lovely long drawn out meal.
This a.m., taking a queu from yesterday’s decaf, I walked into Cucoron and had an espresso, which perked me up a bit. For breakfast we drove down to the village, picked up pastries and bread at one of the bakeries and took it to a café in the square, where we had coffee and hot chocolate.
Then to the car and off to a nearby abbey for a walk around the place on another of these lovely Provence days, the nicest so far.
Silvacane Abbey is a former Cistercian monastery in the municipality of La Roque-d'Anthéron, Bouches-du-Rhône, in Provence, France. It was founded in or around 1144 as a daughter house of Morimond Abbey and was dissolved in 1443; it ceased to be an ecclesiastical property in the French Revolution. The church was acquired by the French state in 1846, the remaining buildings in 1949. It is one of the three Cistercian abbeys in Provence known as the "three sisters of Provence" ("les trois soeurs provençales"), the other two being Sénanque Abbeyand Le Thoronet Abbey; Silvacane was possibly the last-established.
Afterward we headed home for pool time, said good-bye to Amber and Sophie and enjoyed a lovely lunch. More salads, great bread, cheese, pasta. LOVE the cheese.
Our lazy afternoon included some shopping – Ollie, Katie and I headed into Luberon to browse some boutiques. There are so many lovely unique little stores with friendly clerks. I got a particularly lovely scarf and outfit, the latter such a fun buying experience, with the shopkeep weighing in with her opinion. She was lovely.
I’d tried a different outfit first and that was fine, but the one that originally caught my eye we both agreed was the right one.
I also picked up a little something – a little hanging cloth heart with prism -- for Sarah to replace something Ava broke. She “accidentally” pulled the thing that was holding it up out of the wall.
Katie and Ollie secured their items and some ice cream, so success all the way around.
Upon return I did a little packing, some showering of children and we enjoyed pre-dinner drinks. The girls had gotten plenty of sun – a bit red in spots.
For dinner the kids and I walked into Cucoron and ate in the courtyard of a lovely little French restaurant Sarah recommended. We ate beneath a grape arbour.I had a salad dressed with a delicious balsamic vinaigrette. It came with amazing melted chevre goats cheese croutons. SO good I ate all three of the very generous portions.
For my main I assumed I’d ordered a fish specialty, the daube. Surprise surprise when I received a very tasty beef stew, apparently a typical Provencale dish. No wonder the waiter came back to confirm I was indeed ordering it on one of the warmest days of the year. The gravy, in particular, was exquisite.
We elected to have dessert at the crepe restaurant, which was a great choice. Our table was outside, in another arbor-covered area. We sat in big red chairs next to an open window, which we could look into and see the lovely dining room and hear fabulous music emanating.
It was the perfect ambience, a good thing as we were there for quite some time; our waiter was extremely busy taking care of every guest in the courtyard singlehandedly, it seemed.
After we enjoyed nutella crepes (for the kids) and an almond chocolate crepe (with vanilla ice cream) for me, we walked up the hill for another view of the castly, this time lit at night. It was perfect timing for a gorgeous sunset and rose-colored views of the village.
Shortly after returning to Sarah’s we turned in, tired after a lovely day.
This a.m., our last in Provence, I headed off for a walk, again to the castle, stopping for a double espresso upon return. Lovely with lots of sugar!
We had breakfast with our hosts – breads, croissants, pain d’chocolate and a different variety of a raisin pastry (I’d tried one from bakery #1 yesterday, this from bakery # 2 – we all sampled it and determined #2 was the winner). So good and so rich that a small bit was perfect.
And then on to Avignon. After canvassing France (unintentionally but in the right direction) we made it to the TGV with 15 minutes to spare. Poor Ava threw up en route – those windy canyon roads caught up with her.
We picked up salami and Italian sandwiches for the ride and hopped on our train, this time in the upstairs compartment. Back to London, via Paris rather than Lille. Ah to be French for a week!
2 July 2011 – Warsaw!
Off to unchartered territory for us – Poland! With restaurant reservations (read: priorities!) in hand and a city tour on the books – and really no other plans – we flew out early to Warsaw on this sunny London morning.
With expectations for warm Montana-like summer temperatures, we arrived to chilly, rainy Warsaw.
While this early 7:35 a.m. flight necessitated the 4:20 alarm and subsequent dry, headachy feeling, it was preferable to our other option: the 4:35 a.m. out of Stanstead, a 2+ hour journey from London. That would have taken us to Krakow, then we would have hit Warsaw on the back end. So really, based on flight schedule alone, off to Warsaw!
The flight was uneventful, always a good thing. And the hotel pick up by Christopher was timely and easily recognizable as in hand he held the sign for “Mrs. Weber.” Maybe some day I’ll feel like Mrs. Weber. Right now I still think it’s a better title for my mother-in-law. But I digress.
The Polonia Palace, our hotel, was one of the few buildings that survived the destruction of World War II in Warsaw. Something like 80 percent of the city had been dessimated by Hitler’s forces while the Russian army watched from the other side of the river. Nice. They’re still bitter, per our Warsaw guide. Can’t say I blame them.
We dropped our things off and went in search of lunch. A couple blocks from the hotel we found a little deli with modern furnishings and incredibly delicious smells wafting out. So we opted to find a few items the kids could come to grips with – Claire had a cheese crepe and a big portion of bright red-orange carrots, cut in slivers. Ava had some dumplings stuffed with cheese and some of those colorful carrots. I had baked pieorgis stuffed with vegetables, which were fabulous, served with a small bit of white sauce that’s a common accompaniment, I assumed from the way the woman serving us put my plate together. That too was fabulous, creamy but not heavy.
And with my pierogies some lovely salad dressed with a delicious creamy vinaigrette. I can’t for the life of me recall what Joe had but we all left full and happy so it must have been fine.
From there we sauntered around the block and back to the hotel to meet our tour pick up at 2:00 for a three-hour city tour.
A brown-haired gentleman of medium height (that could describe just about anyone, couldn't it?) officiously greeted us in our lobby at 2:15 and joined three other tourists in a white mercedes van. Off we went to see Warsaw's highlights, including the Royal Castle, Old market Square and Barbican, the Presidential Palace, University of Warsaw, Hoy Cross Church with Chopiin's Heart, a Statue of Copernicus, New Town with a monument of the Warsaw Uprising, the Jewish Ghetto, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Palace of Culture and Science, Lazieng Royal Park with the Palace on the Water, The Chopin Monument and Praga District.
We perused the town a bit, he pointing out various sites along the way. At Lazieng Royal Park we disembarked and walked through the lovely green space. As we went further along our guide pulled out some nuts and called a red squirrel over. This one snagged a nut from Ava’s palm!
On our walk we encountered other birds – peacock and peahen, plenty of pigeons (aren’t there always), ducks, even some mice. We passed by various historical treasures, including art-deco Chopin monument (1926), the palace on the water (remodelled in 1792), an old orangery and a classicist amphitheatre loosely inspired by Herculaneum.
Back in the van we continued about town, stopping at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes designed by Natan Rappaport (b. 1911). This monument was unveiled on April 19, 1948. The stone used to create it was originally quarried for a Nazi victory monument. The bas-relief sculpture on the posterior wall of the monument shows a procession of Jews moving toward their deaths. The primary intent of the Warsaw Ghetto Monument is to commemorate the heroism of the fighters. One must walk around to the back to see this reference to the victims.
We also saw a memorial that was a copy of a sewer cap, a tribute to the way inhabitants of the Ghettos traveled in and out covertly to get food and relay messages during the war. And further along on our tour we stopped at the Umschlagplatz, where 400 Jewish first names have been carved in the memorial to commemorate the 300,000 who passed through these gates.
In the Old Town we stopped for a walk around. This part of town, and many others of course, had been rebuilt following the destruction of the war. This area has been recreated similar to the original and is today largely touristed, as the opera house, royal palace and various museums, churches, etc. exist in the area.
Our first stop was a dash into a public building of some sort as one of the members of our group – an older gentleman from Duluth, MN, rather urgently needed a restroom. While we waited our guide took us downstairs to see two Russian statues given to Poland as a token of friendship during times of Soviet domination.
Each statue showed two soldiers, one Polish, one Russian, arm in arm. Our guide told us that the statues depicted the Russians in dominant position – left side, I think – meant to reinforce who was in charge.
We wandered through Old Town (Stare Miasto), stopped at intervals to hear how buildings had been restored, to learn about the Royal Castle, various churches, many with big signs and large posters hangling out front with Pope John Paul II’s picture on them. He pointed out the Opera House, the Royal Way, Madame Curie’s home (now a museum), the Barbican (semicircular fortified outpost) and more.
At some point along the way the older couple excused themselves – the poor man from Duluth had had a bad case of diarrhea and as a result ruined his pants. Unfortunately it was quite noticeable. And unfortunately he went into quite a detailed explanation. Sometimes less is more.
We carried on, getting an earful from our guide about one of the local restaurants marketing itself as a purveyor of fine Jewish cuisine while serving pork and various other non-kochre foods. And he pointed out a sort of austere-looking eatery that he said was typical of Poland’s pre-democracy days – limited menu and not a place he frequents any more because of the unhappy memories.
In his time with us he told of only being able to buy one pair of shoes per year, standing for hours in line to get that pair that could have been any size, only one color. People would then trade to get shoes of the right size. He remembered traveling a long ways with his father to run this errand as a teenager. Shops around Warsaw were very limited as to what they sold, he said. If two or three people gathered in front of a shop to chat many others would join, thinking the shop had received merchandise to sell.
In contrast today there were at least two shopping centers within a five-minute walk from our hotel – we could see signs for H&M (where isn’t there an H&M!), C&A, TK Maxx, Zara, Esprit.
After Old Town we walked into New Town (adjacent and built shortly after Old Town but had to be distinguished from the former!). Back in the van we drove by more monuments to victims of the war.
After our Warsaw highlights we were dropped at the hotel, where we re-grouped a bit, I worked out, Joe had some calls to make and the kids regained what seems to be a never-ending supply of energy.
Then we were off to dinner, determining a cab to be the best plan of attack as it was pouring. The hotel car/cab dropped us near Il Fukiera, the restaurant Ewa’s family had found for us after I’d asked them to phone a different eatery for a reservation. I’d tried phoning twice and got an answering service in Polish. That place had closed.
So Mark made a reservation for us at Il Fukier, a lovely, Michelin-starred restaurants in Old Town. Our children were the only ones in the place, which seemed quite traditional – lovely flowers out front, lots of floral artwork inside. In one corner was a chatty little parakeet in a lovely cage.
The menu offered all kinds of items that sounded delicious. For the kids we opted to order a dish they could share and asked to modify the pork entrée, similar to weiner-schnitzel – slightly (i.e. no sauce, veg on the side). And Calrie wanted a potato starter simplified (just potato). Ava wanted some plain pasta to start.
The waiter was less than thrilled and let me know it but made notes about our requests. He was also a bit snarky when I asked for bread – apparently I hadn’t been patient enough…I didn’t realize he was bringing it.
I had a Russian style crab cake, which was very good – served with a tomato sauce. Not so much my thing, but tasty and beautifully prepared, nonetheless. Joe’s steak was the star – I had a piece and it was truly out of this world.
The kids did a great job on their pork. My borsht (soup) was excellent, served with an amazing pasty which was filled with a bit of meat. It was fabulous, FABULOUS.
I didn’t finish my soup and was reprimanded by my waiter…I was not winning points with this man.
Dessert was fabulous – Ava had ice cream, we shared a pancake with a sweet cinnamon filling and an orange flavored piece of cake. As we exited I was relieved – what should have been a fabulous, relaxing treat of a meal was a bit jaded by the server’s attitude. Had the restaurant been opposed to deviating from the menu, he had only to say so…
We all crashed shortly after returning by cab to the hotel – our day had started too early!
This morning we slept in – I worked out, found coffee, read and wrote and still my compatriots slept. Eventually we wandered down for our first Polish breakfast buffet – typical European breakfast options and plenty of them: a very good selection of pastries and rolls, jellies and cheese, an amazing ham leg, its black leg shape standing on the counter to be noticed and enjoyed. I jumped on the ham and those good rolls – reminded me of German breakfasts, which I loved. The kids enjoy buffets so lots of trips for bacon, cereal, nutella, toast…
After breakfast we pulled ourselves together and got some information on the tram as we were headed to Old Town and the Royal Castle. After getting completely confused by the tunnels leading from one side of the street to the other, we found the spot for Tram 4, only to find it was going in the wrong direction. Pouring yet again, Joe spotted a taxi across the street and off we went. A few minutes later we were at the Palace, ditched our wet stuff in the cloak room and wandered through. About the building:
The Royal Castle is a castle residency and was the official residence of thePolish monarchs. It is located in the Castle Square, at the entrance to the Warsaw Old Town. The personal offices of the king and the administrative offices of the Royal Court of Poland were located there from the 16th century until the Partitions of Poland. In its long history the Royal Castle was repeatedly devastated and plundered by Swedish, Brandenburgian, German, and Russian armies.
The Constitution of 3 May 1791 was drafted here by the Four-Year Sejm. In the 19th century, after the collapse of the November Uprising, it was used as an administrative center by the Tsar. Between 1926 and World War II the palace was the seat of the Polish president, Ignacy Mościcki. After the devastation done by Nazis during the Warsaw Uprising, the Castle was rebuilt and reconstructed. In 1980, Royal Castle, together with the Old Town was registry in UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today it is a historical and national monument, and is listed as a national museum.
Hit during the war (what wasn’t in Warsaw) it had been re-built in the same style with similar furnishings. Some things that had been saved were re-installed.
We then perused an exhibit of Oriental rugs next door before wandering to St. Anne’s Church bell tower for lovely views, then paid a visit to the adjsacent church. About this particular church:
St. Anne’s a church in the historic center of Warsaw, Poland, adjacent to the Castle Square. It is one of Poland's most notable churches with a Neoclassical facade. The church ranks among Warsaw's oldest buildings. Over time, it has seen many reconstructions, resulting in its present-day appearance, unchanged since 1788. Currently it is the main church parish of the academic community in Warsaw.
Then on to other parts of Old Town, more Catholic Churches (Poland is 90+ percent Catholic), some that had been re-built. Eventually we ended up at Marie Curie’s Museum, which wasn’t included in the “Free Sunday Museum line-up.” In we went; it was a bit of a rip off, I’d say, lots of photos, some lab equipment, not much depth.
Afterward we stopped at a recommended coffee shop for a snack – iced coffee and hot chocolate. Great cozy ambience.
After popping into a few shops we found a small handicrafted sheep, right up Grandma’s alley, as well as a chess set for our family. Treasures in hand we headed toward The Palace of Culture and Science, the tallest building in Poland. It was originally known as the Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science but in the wake of destalinization the dedication to Stalin was revoked. Stalin's name was removed from the interior lobby and one of the building's sculptures. No, we didn’t go in – this was our landmark to find our hotel as it was across the street from the Polonia Palace.
En route we walked through the park with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They were just finishing the Changing of the Guard ceremony so we caught the end of it. We then traversed further into the park, hearing music as we went. Our guide had told us free outdoor concerts are prevalent in Warsaw; Chopin was born nearby so his music is well-enjoyed in Warsaw.
We experienced one of these events while the kids played in a nearby playground. After about 45 minutes of culture and playtime we wandered to our hotel. I hit the sauna – all this damp was getting to me. And I LOVE saunas.
After baking for awhile I pulled myself out and got ready for dinner, this time at a modern bistro called 99.
We walked there, past the train station and through lots of tunnels to cross the street. This restaurant was in a business district and had very modern décor, a flat screen TV in the bar broadcasting soccer. With 9’s on the door handles and sleek furniture, it had a very hip, urban feel. And lovely service.
Joe had another steak, the kids shared a steak and chip dish (and the waiter was more than happy to accommodate, even bringing them some things to color).
I had fish wrapped in parma ham – all good. Dessert was a chocolate cake with ginger marinated carrots and something else – it escapes me. Tasty, though!
It rained en route and a bit on the return but nothing horrid. Ah…Warsaw in the rain.
4th of July
Independence Day -- an odd occasion to wake up in Warsaw, I think, and to more rain. I do love to sleep to rain so just laid in bed for a long time listening to it. Eventually we roused ourselves, had breakfast and set off to find Wilanow Palace at the end of the Royal Road.
Again, in the pouring rain, we cabbed it, overcharged by the hotel cabbie but it was a ways out of town and there is that value of time saved…
We passed lots of old socialist style architecture, gray, cinder block buildings that have an old, dank feel to them, at least from outside. The castle, in contrast, was cheery golden yellow like the one we visited in Vienna’s – the color of power/royalty from years past. The grounds, too, were lovely, green, sprawling and well kept.
After securing tickets we escaped the rain and our wet jackets in the cloakroom, then wandered through the building, built in the 1600’s and modified/added to over time. A lovely place with tons of portraits. Clearly court painters were in demand.
The rooms varied widely in décor, particularly ceilings, walls and floors – lovely detail, use of materials, ornate designs, particularly the ceilings. And lovely wood floors, too.
My favorite rooms were the last – the men’s hunting rooms, with tons of lovely wood and outdoorsy pictures, guns, etc. They had a rich, warm feel to them. One section held Asian artifacts. Again, beautiful décor with lots of wood.
Some actual accurate info about the place:
Wilanow was built for Jan Sobieski (r. 1674-96), Poland's most dashing monarch. It was Sobieski who led the Catholic Allies in the liberation of Vienna from the Turks in 1683. This baroque belter later passed through the hands of several of Poland's most influential families, and it remained in private hands right up until 1944. Wilanow mercifully survived the war, and today it represents one of the richest attractions in Warsaw. It's choc-full of splendid art, including paintings by some of the biggest names in European art, from Jean-Louis David to Bernardo Bellotto.
Upon departing we tried to hit the poster exhibit but it was closed so we went to the palace church instead – it’s lovely and still in use. The outdoor Stations of the Cross and grotto were particularly nice.
All this traipsing about made us hungry so we stopped at a little Italian café for a bite. This we chose largely based on its proximity to Café Wedel, a famous chocolate café which we decided would be our dessert stop.
At the friendly, bustling little Italian lunch place the kids had veal meatballs and mashed potatoes. I had a pizza bread appetizer with blue cheese and spinach (can’t go wrong with that) and Joe a salad (what’s wrong with this picture…).
Next door I had a frozen coffee drink, Ava had a pirate ship ice creat treat (a sundae with cookies arranged to look like sails), Claire had a blue mystery dessert and Joe a really rich cake, recommended by our 15-year-old waiter. (At least he looked 15.)
He also helped us out by calling a cab, which cost less than half of our first ride…hmmm. As we hopped in the driver turned to us and asked if we were indeed the people from the chocolate restaurant who needed a lift. I suppose we should have introduced ourselves before settling into the cab, closing the doors and putting on seatbelts...
Back at the Polonia Palace Joe packed up, we saw him off and headed to H&M for new leggings for Ava, as hers had a mammoth hole in them. No kids clothes at that location so the C&A fit the bill. And then it was back to the hotel for a chess and wine break at the hotel bar before attempting the tram again.
We were determined to ride the tram in Warsaw!!! Sure enough, more rain. This time we had the direction of tram 4 and after popping out the wrong exit we asked for help, someone pointed us in the right way and voila! On to crowded tram 4. A short ride later we were in Old Town and a few minutes later at our restaurant Zapiecek Polskie Pierogarnie, a casual place known for its pierogis, popular w/ the locals and tourists alike.
A tiny little restaurant, very casual with wooden tables, we popped our things down, perused the menu and pulled out cards. I opted for three different types of pierogis in my dish, as I’d asked if you can mix – so I ordered beef/pork stuffing, brie/blue cheese and mushroom. The kids both ordered drumsticks with veg on the side. All of it was good with the exception of the house wine. When at Zapiecek Polskie Pierogarnie, stick with the beer.
Opting for an early evening and striking out to find a dark rich cholocate to finish the meal, we trammed it back and this time had no trouble finding the correct exit from our tunnel. Ahh the small successes. No chocolate but not to worry, some hotel treats awaited.
After showers the kids were wound up; Tuesday morning would come early!
Tuesday, 5 July
Off to Krakow! This morning we were up and moving early. After our final breakfast at the Polonia Palace we meandered over to the train station, a five-minute walk. The tunnels and stairs were naturally less fun with suitcases during rush hour but this time t least the tunnels were easily navigable. We popped up near the tracks with plenty of time on hand.
Our train to Krakow (Krack meaning prince, incidentally) left on time and we popped into our first class cabin. Just us, so we were able to spread out a bit. The free drink cart stopped by as we traversed, later the paid snacks. And outside it wasn’t raining! Some clouds and blue sky. The countryside was green and picturesque, with lots of farms – wheat, dairy cows, cabbage fields.
At 12:30 or so we pulled into Krakow and, following signs for “taxi” we stepped from the station into a shopping mall! With the only visible signs for shops, we backtracked a few steps to ask about taxis and were told to exit the mall and we’d find one. So it was. By 1:00 we were checking into the Radisson Blu, a lovely, modern property. We hurriedly unpacked and headed to Old Town, which we discovered was a short walk away. Our first order of business was lunch. That we found on the square, a grill connected with Miss Ewa’s recommended restaurant. It was great -- so good we went back another day.
I had a sausage with that really good spicy mustard and carrot salad. The kids had the latter too, along with chicken and pork cutlets. As we sat down a very heavy, short-lived shower hit on top of the arboretum-type roof. It hadn’t been rainy until lunchtime but perhaps we were under a weather cloud on this trip…
From lunch we set off to find our tourist meeting point for our salt mine tour. That was easily navigated so we had dessert nearby before boarding our bus. Claire had a craving for a waffle covered with sweet stuff; they were (literally) huge in Krakow. She got one with chocolate syrup and whipped cream. Ava and I had small but tasty ice creams. And then on to the salt mine!
Our ride there was uneventful; inside the mine we descended something like 800 steps. And this was just to view a very small portion of the mine – I think the guide said we would see 1 percent of it (and we wandered through various tunnels and open spaces, went even further down, for more than two hours – the place is IMMENSE). And very cool, as noted below…
One traveled Frenchman observed in the 18th century that Krakow's Wieliczka salt mine was no less magnificent than the Egyptian pyramids. Millions of visitors, the crowned heads and such celebrities as Goethe and Sarah Bernhardt among them, have appeared to share his enthusiasm when exploring the subterranean world of labyrinthine passages, giant caverns, underground lakes and chapels with sculptures in the crystalline salt and rich ornamentation carved in the salt rock. They have also marveled at the ingenuity of the ancient mining equipment in the Wieliczka salt mine. And the unique acoustics of the place have made hearing music here an exceptional experience.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine, nowadays practically on the southeast outskirts of Krakow, has been worked for 900 years. It used to be one of the world's biggest and most profitable industrial establishments when common salt was commercially a medieval equivalent of today's oil. Always a magnet, since the mid-18th century Krakow's Wieliczka salt mine has become increasingly a tourist attraction in the first place. Today visitors walk underground for about 2,000 m in the oldest part of the salt mine and see its subterranean museum, which takes three hours or so.
Nine centuries of mining in Wieliczka produced a total of some 200 kilometers of passages as well as 2,040 caverns of varied size. The tourist route starts 64 m deep, includes twenty chambers, and ends 135 m below the earth surface, where the world's biggest museum of mining is located with the unique centuries-old equipment among its exhibits.
Occasionally concerts and other events take place in the Wieliczka mine’s biggest chambers.
There is a sanatorium for those suffering from asthma and allergy situated 135 meters deep underground in the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
Our guide was very good – a young man who did a nice job navigating our rather large group while sharing insights with humor. Highlights were the chapels, which could be found throughout the mine, and in particular a large one decorated with statues carved from salt.
In a couple places were wooden statues, too, and wood braces were used for support in the mine. Because salt works as a preserver the wood was very hard.
The mine is no longer in use except for water that is pulled up for safety reasons (flood avoidance). The salt that is evaporated from this water is harvested and sold/used locally for tourism purposes (decoration, souvenirs, etc).
Four hundred people work in the mine now; when it was in full production 1,000+ were employed there. Now it’s used for art and music events, tourism, weddings, etc. The Pope has said Mass in the big Chapel and there is a statue of him inside, as well as other statues of leaders and saints. Each week Mass is held in the big chapel.
Different colors of salt make the tunnels and floors look beautiful – some white like clouds (that’s the purest salt), some colorful veins, some sparking like crystals. Miners even carved statues of elves who they thought of as working and taking care of the mine after they left at the end of the day.
Miners used candles from pork fat with a wick as lamps, starting when they entered in the morning, using them throughout the work day and finishing the candle fat as they made their way out at day’s end.
Small horses were used in the mines. They were blindfolded and lowered in, would then live inside, generally working for 14 years or so, then removed to retire on the farm. Apparently the last one worked inside for nine years and is still on a farm.
The girls got to turn a big hand crank to move a cable which lowered a barrel that would have been filled with salt.
The experience was a good one, quite different from our German salt mine tour, which we also very much enjoyed.
It took us a long time to exit due to the line at the elevator, but once on board a quick ascent. And then back to the bus. Given we would return late, I’d cancelled our reservation at Farina, a restaurant in Old Town known for its fish and pierogis. But alas we were hungry and it was en route from bus to hotel so we popped in to see if they would still seat us and they did. We perched at a tiny table in the window with wooden table covered with a crocheted table cloth. It wasn’t a terribly practical perch for three but a lovely little setting in this quaint restaurant.
I had mussels, the kids tried them too and we all enjoyed them! The pierogis, I can attest, were fabulous. The girls were happy with their spaghetti and ice cream. I finished with a decadent coffee semi-freddo.
And we fell into bed at the Radisson, Claire on the couch, Ava and I shared the bed.
This morning we walked, in the pouring rain, to Wawel Castle, a couple minutes from the hotel. This time we borrowed umbrellas from the hotel and went up the hill to the castle, joining the slow ticket line. We opted to see the private apartments, crowned jewels and cathedral.
Wawel is an architectural complex erected over many centuries atop a limestone outcrop on the left bank of the Vistula River in Kraków,Poland, at an altitude of 228 metres above the sea level. It is a place of great significance to the Polish people. The Royal Castle with an armoury and the Cathedral are situated on the hill. Polish Royalty and many distinguished Poles are interred in theWawel Cathedral. Royal coronations took place there also.
Wawel began to play the role of a centre of political power at the end of the first millennium AD. In the 9th century it became the principal fortified castrum of theVistulans tribe (Polish: Wiślanie). The first historical ruler Mieszko I of Poland (c.965-992) of the Piast dynasty as well as his successors: Boleslaw I the Brave (Polish:Bolesław I Chrobry; 992-1025) and Mieszko II (1025–1034) chose Wawel as one of their residences. At that time Wawel became one of the Polish main centres of Christianity. The first early Romanesque buildings were erected there including a stone cathedral serving the bishopric of Kraków in the year 1000. Since the reign of Casimir the Restorer(1034–1058) Wawel became the leading political and administrative centre for the Polish State.
After ditching the umbrellas, which was required, and inconviently crossing back through poruing rain in the courtyard, we had a great guided tour of the royal apartments:
On the first floor there are private royal apartments, chambers for court members and guest rooms.
Four chambers located to the south of the Envoys’ Stairs were designated for the King’s guests. In this part of the palace there are original larch wood ceilings, and also original painted wall friezes in two of the rooms. In terms of architecture especially noteworthy are the Gothic and Renaissance portals – the artwork of Maestro Benedict. The Renaissance furnishing includes northern European and Italian artwork, including the tapestries with grotesque, landscape and animal themes from the collection of Sigismund Augustus. The last two rooms boast Italian paintings from the old collection of the Lanckoroński family. Over 60 paintings from this collection form a studiolo in one of the rooms in Jordanka, the Gothic tower.
In the north-east corner of the castle, with its Gothic rooms, there is the charming and mysterious Hen’s Foot Tower. In Łokietek’s Tower there is Sigismund the Old’s bedroom, and in Sigismund III’s Tower there is an office with rich stucco decoration from around 1600. In the interwar period this section of the castle served as a formal apartment of Polish President Ignacy Mościcki, along with the remaining bedroom in the Danish Tower. In the northern wing of the palace there are two rooms with objects from the reign of the Wettin dynasty in Poland. Among them is an interesting collection of Meissen porcelain. The last two rooms, one of which is the formal Column Room, are furnished in the Classicistic style.
Then to the Treasury, which was also interesting, and finally on to the Cathedral, which was huge and full of all kinds of things to peruse. We had a quite thorough look at all the chapels, the main body of the cathedral, climbed up the bell tower and were pointed toward the crypt and kings’ tombs.
By then we were ready to be away from castles! And hungry, too, so off to Old Town. En route we popped into an exhibit about Pope John Paul II, purchased mini-rosaries and walked to Cloth Hall in the Square.
Finding no food, we returned to our fabulous grill. This time I had onion soup, the kids had chicken and pork again, though they switched it up. I tried a regional beer – Tyskie -- which was very good.
For dessert we popped into a bakery; the kids got cupcakes and I had a fabulous chocolate-filled pastry.
And then we traversed back to Cloth Hall to look at every stand in search of just the right souvenir, amber on my list. Claire, after deliberating between nesting dolls and painted horses, surprised me by opting for the dolls. Ava saw a cute blonde doll at stand number one and sure enough, we left with said doll after circling back on a second round. I came up short; I was looking for something unique at a reasonable price and with a pleasant buying experience. Here it seemed the clerks were a bit burnt out and bored. No doubt they get worn out with the tourist trade.
Then we went back to the tour office to pay for our Zakopane day out and to arrange airport pick up. En route we stopped to look at more amber and I found a lovely pendant in a shop run by a friendly young woman, so a great buying experience, lovely souvenir and the right price!
Tired, we traversed toward our hotel, stopped in an amazing women’s shop with great linen outfits. The owner was a big, friendly lady with a great eye for fashion. I tried on a hand-painted tunic and three outfits. It was so much fun – she chatted away in Polish, me in English, as she dressed me, showing options with belts, tucking and tying sweaters. I loved the blue sweater and dress with hand-painted blue décor so left with those three items (belt, dress, sweater).
Two other women helped, doing some translating – I think I can safely say we all enjoyed the experience, kids got into it too!
After re-grouping at the hotel we stopped at the shop en route to Chlopskie Jadlo, our dinner spot for the evening!
This restaurant was very casual, very thinly staffed and pretty empty when we came in. With all wooden tables and benches, it was warm and friendly. No one was on hand to seat us but eventually a nice man surfaced from the kitchen and waved us toward a table. No sledge tables as advertised, but we found a comfy spot near a window, away from the loud party in the back.
I tried a framboise (?) beer – lovely beer with sweetened raspberries at the bottom. For dinner I had one of the best meals of my life – a veal dish with an amazing gravy, carmelized onions and mushrooms. It came with small donut-shaped dumplings that were perfect. I ate too much and enjoyed every bit. No dessert necessary! Claire tried peirogis and liked them, Ava had a chicken dish. Very informal, good food, the big hunk of bread served with a big knife sticking out of it.
We walked slowly back to the hotel, falling, sated, into bed.
This morning we were picked up for our tour of Zakopane, joining our female guide, a woman with short hair and a great sense of style. Before we got in she said the Korean laides (there were two) on the trip didn’t speak English. These two little ladies were seated next to each other in the middle of the van; we three took the last row.
As we exited Krakow the guide pointed out a few sites – one a factory where the Pope worked as a small boy, some Soviet style buildings, Shindler’s home, views of the castle from the river, etc.
We settled into our two-hour drive and about halfway both kids felt sick, Ava bursting into tears. So our driver pulled over and we re-arranged the kids to the front seat. In a while we stopped at a little village for a short walk, looking at the traditional wooden homes with two rooms – one the black room with kitchen where the family lived, the other a nice room for more occasional use. Each house was made from a single tree, we were told.
We went in one, where a man was carving a statue of a saint who had bestowed bread upon those in need. It would be placed in a church. The carver had lots of items on display in his workshop, in the black room area. The other space had artifacts from life in the 1700’s and 18oo’s (wheat grinder, tools, saddle, washing board, etc.). We passed a woman washing her house as we walked; apparently the homes here, because they aren’t painted, are washed yearly.
From this stop we proceeded onto Zakopane, stopping at a chapel in the woods where the Pope had led Mass. It was lovely, with stations of the cross carved in wood outside, leading down to a beautiful wooden altar in the woods. We also visited the adjacent church and enjoyed gorgeous views of the Tetra Mountains on our one gloriously sunny day of our Poland trip!
On the hill side were peaks in the shape of a sleeping person and a small cross on the mountain top, a replica of it near the church.
Back in the van we made our way to Zakopane, a well touristed spot with all kinds of kid activities to enjoy – bouncy houses and whatnot. We parked, picked up some local candies and wandered through town to the oldest church in the area. It too was made of wood. Inside were portraits of the children from Fatima who’d predicted the Pope’s assassination attempt. One of the stained glass windows captured this act.
The cemetery nearby had lovely decorated grave sites of people of great notoriety from the area – poets, writers, scholars, rescue workers, ski champions. Quite a mix!
Our guide then took us to the funicular for a scenic ride up the mountain. We disembarked to find another busy shopping village (we’d walked through two busy tourist markets below). Tons of smoked cheese, traditional to the area, wooden décor, trinkets, scarves, etc. We decided we’d try the skinny chocolate/vanilla swirled cones later…
From the funicular our guide walked us to a viewing point, then up to areas where there were rides and activies for kids and grills with great tables to enjoy the scenery. She parted from us with the Korean ladies in tow – they didn’t seem to understand about the 3:00 meeting point. We set off to enjoy our two hours of free time, deciding to eat first and play later. Claire went in for a sausage, as did I, Ava for a chicken kebab. We sat outside at a big wooden table absorbing the view. I loved the weather, warm and sunny, no rain! Our next order of business was the “bunji-jumping” on trampolines, which we spotted before lunch. Both kids had fun with it, Ava lifted off so it was hard for her to touch down a few times.
Then we went onto our ice cream quest; coming up short, we stopped for a toboggan ride, Clarie taking the sled in front of Ava and me. Great fun whipping around the turns.
Then back to the funicular for a ride down the mountain and a wander through the market. We found our ice cream! It was tasty on this warm sunny day. The kids then convinced me they needed lamb pillows so we left with a white one and a pink one. And we made our way back to our meeting point just before the van pulled up.
Our last stop was at the World ski jump facility for a photo opp before heading back to Krakow. This time the kids were merrier, playing games with the guide and asking about her kids, a boy and girl of similar age.
We were back before 5:30 so had some packing time before walking to our restaurant in Kazimierz, the Jewish part of town. Kazimierz, which lies to the south of the Royal Castle, was once a town in its own right. With its labyrinthine streets and low-standing houses, it feels like a different world to the Old Town, and indeed, you may well get lost here. However, this is not a bad thing, but very much part of the whole experience.
The town was founded in 1335 by King Kazimierz the Great, and as its splendid churches and synagogues evoke, it was once a world of prosperity and tolerance. Yet, despite having set sail on such promising waters, the district was not to have an easy journey. After many ups and downs, the death-knell for Jewish Cracow was sounded in September 1939 with the Nazi invasion. A whole world was swept away.
We had a great table outside in a charming part of town, with live music nearby, great service and good food. The waiter recommended chicken strips for the kids, a Jewish beef specialty for me, served with gravy and dumplings. Bring on the dumplings, I say! I enjoyed it, along with a beet salad – another heavy meal so I passed on dessert. We meandered back to the Radisson to find there’d been a mix up in tour arrangements – apparently another guide had shown up to take us to Zakopane. Hmmm…
And Friday…off to London after a final breakfast in Poland!
Bath – 11 – 13 February, 2011
With a short break in the school routine, we girls (Ava, Claire and me) headed via train to Bath on a lovely Friday morning. We’d arranged for Joe to meet us in Bath, travelling also by train though in the evening.
So we got in after our short journey and walked down to our guest house, a lovely little gem I’d read about in the Telegraph. We checked in and left our things at Three Abbey Green, run by a very nice family. Our suite had a big bedroom with small one attached and a big bathroom. The latter had recently been re-done so was quite nice. And we were right around the corner from Bath’s infamous Pump Room and Roman Baths. Great location, personal touch on the accommodations.
We then made our way to the Fashion Museum and Assembly Rooms. At the museum we perused all kinds of fashion throughout the ages, which was great fun. The collection at the Fashion Museum includes examples of menswear, womenswear, accessories, dresses, coats, jackets, corsets, knitwear, fashion photographs, pockets, shirts, blouses, waistcoats, fans and more. The earliest pieces in the collection are embroidered shirts and gloves from about 1600.
The most up-to-date pieces in the collection are our 2008 Dress of the Year ensembles; a Navy blue and gold star trouser ensemble by Karl Lagerfeld forChanel, which was worn by Kate Moss to her 34th birthday party in 2008; and a button through polka dot dress with 1940s / 1970s shoulder pads by Kate Moss forTopshop.
Mid-way through was a collection of robes, dresses, corsets and whatnot for kids to try on, so they modeled fancy outfits. They also got to color some costumes.
Then we perused the Assembly Rooms, which were “at the heart of fashionable Georgian society, the perfect venue for entertainment. When completed in 1771, they were described as 'the most noble and elegant of any in the kingdom'.”
After our perusal we walked back toward the busier part of town, looking at the lovely shops en route.
We stopped at our hotel to change for our afternoon tea appointment at the Pump Room:
Regarded as the social heart of Bath for more than two centuries, the Pump Room is a striking neo-classical salon where hot Spa water is drawn for drinking.
There we shared a lovely platter of scones, sandwiches and little treats. I had a pot of tea, the kids hot chocolate. As we ate sumptuous food and sipped our drinks, we watched people coming in and out for the famous Bath water at the pump.
Afterwards we slipped back into exploring clothes and shoes and walked along the river, which offered lovely views.
A bit later we made our way to our restaurant – the Marlborough Tavern -- for dinner, not far from the Assembly Rooms. It was a bustling place, with a raucous table of really happy and loud men near us, so after we were moved to a more sedate locale we enjoyed the cheery interior and delicious food. Joe caught up with us there and we all walked back through Bath together.
Saturday, 12 February
This a.m. we started the day with a nice breakfast at the guest house, each dish made to order by our hosts. I so enjoyed the scrambled eggs. Very friendly people and lovely fresh food. Then off to the Roman Baths, where we spent a couple of hours perusing. The place is huge and fascinating. We did the audio guides as they had both kids and adult versions.
Around Britain's only hot springs, the Romans built the
finest religious spa in northern Europe. This great
temple and bathing complex still flows with natural hot
water. The extensive remains and a Roman museum of
international significance lie beneath the Pump Room
and Abbey Church Yard in the centre of Bath.
Afterward we stopped at the Abbey Church. It was founded in 1499 and stands on the site of an earlier Norman Cathedral. The original Abbey Church was built in the 8th century.
Then on to lunch at the very touristy Sally Lunn Restaurant/Bakery. It's a busy place but we hit it when there wasn't a line out the door so lucked out. The Sally Lunn Rolls are really quite good, the big old house it's set in is lovely and quaint.
About Sally Lunn...THE ORIGINAL BATH BUN & ONE OF THE OLDEST HOUSES IN BATH
Sally Lunn, a young French refugee, arrived in England over 300 years ago. She found work at what is now known as Sally Lunn's House and began to bake a rich round and generous bread now known as the Sally Lunn Bun. This bun became a very popular delicacy in Georgian England as its special taste and lightness allowed it to be enjoyed with either sweet or savoury accompaniments.
Sally Lunn’s is in one of Bath's oldest houses and has a museum featuring Sally’s original kitchen.
The infamous bun, which we sampled and found very tasty, is a rich round and generous brioche bun’ similar to the historic French festival ‘breads’. Sally Lunn, a Huguenot refugee (perhaps better known as Solange Luyon) came to Bath in 1680 via Bristol after escaping persecution in France.
After a tasty lunch at the big, touristy old Sally Lunn house, we traversed over to the river for a tour of Bath via boat. Lovely views, good weather. And then some down time at the hotel for kids and Joe; I took a walk around town and sought out the evening’s restaurant, this time The Hole in the Wall Restaurant, which was good, but didn’t quite measure up to the previous night’s dinner spot.
After a nice meal we checked out Bath at dusk.
And the next morning we headed off to London! Great weekend out.