POZNAN: Escaping Berlin to dine like kings in Poland
This post is thoroughly delayed, but there sadly just hasn't been enough time for me to sit down and blog of late. Still, I didn't want this trip to go undocumented since it was such a pleasant little diversion from Berlin.
For Pfingsten this year (Pentecost, which is a federal holiday here in Germany), my friend Luke and I wanted to travel to somewhere new to both of us. Given its relative proximity to Berlin, we settled on Poland as our destination of choice. We had heard that it was supposed to be pretty and cheap, and what more do two twentysomethings trying to live frugally in Europe need?
Unfortunately, cities like Gdansk and Krakow were a bit too far away for us for only a long weekend. A bit of research, bolstered by the hearty recommendation of regional expert Mark Baker, pointed us to the city of Poznan, located an easy 3 hours east of Berlin and directly accessible by train. To save money, we decided to take the train there and the impeccably-named and cheaply-priced PolskiBus back. However, DeutscheBahn had other plans for us, as the week of our trip saw Germany besieged by a new round of massive rail strikes, wreaking havoc on train service. Uncertain if our train would be running, we opted last-minute to cancel our train (and receive a refund) and instead catch a rideshare from Berlin to Poznan. This ended up being a great choice, as the ride was as fast as the train would have been, and half the price to boot.
We arrived on a Friday night, a bit uncertain what exactly we'd be doing there. Neither of us had put much effort into planning the trip. We more interested in a nice, relaxing weekend away from Berlin and the chance to see and experience something new. We caught a tram from the train station to the inner city, an easy 15-minute ride, and then walked another couple minutes to our AirBnB. We stayed in the apartment of a Zusanna, a student at the university in Poznan, and her very sweet cat.
After dropping off our stuff and getting settled, we decided to walk around town a short bit to get a feel for things. We made our way to the town square and were quite taken aback by how lively things were. There was some sort of festival happening and there were dozens of food vendors out, plus all the bars, clubs and restaurants on and near the square were hopping. Sure, Poznan is not a tiny town (about 1 million people), and it has a university, so the liveliness shouldn't have been so surprising, but it really felt like a young person's paradise.
Our favorite part of the evening was probably the window shopping we did at the various restaurants in town. We quickly realized that the rumors of Poland's cheapness (at least in relation to Western Europe) were not exaggerated. A normal price for a proper entree at a restaurant there was usually 6-9EUR, compared to the 9-15EUR that is more normal in Berlin. It became clear what our focus of this trip would be: indulging in the thrill of eating proper meals at proper restaurants, something we would ordinarily do sparingly back in Germany. As such, this blog post is mostly going to be about food. Fair warning.
The next day, Saturday, we headed out in the morning to amble our way through the town in search of breakfast. We ended up at Republika Roz, a lovely little cafe that proved to be an excellent start to our meals in Poznan. We had a hearty, cheap breakfast, including an almost comically large (but delicious) hot chocolate for me. We weren't certain how far we would get with just English, but the waitress had no problem providing us with English-language menus and taking our orders in English. This was the case for all other restaurants we went to in Poznan -- everyone was perfectly willing to accommodate our lack of Polish language skills and was overall quite friendly about it. I really appreciated that.
During the day, we did the normal sightseeing activities. We took dozens of pictures of the city's bustling and wonderfully colorful main square. From there we wandered around the bright red Parish Church of St. Stanislaus and the adjoining Jesuits College, both dating to the 16th century. Inside, the church is typically baroque and a bit gaudy, but still lovely. We spent a bit of time enjoying the fresh air at the Park Chopina, named for the famed Polish composer who spent a brief amount of time in the city.
For lunch, we made our way to Papierówka, a restaurant recommended to me by the aforementioned Mark Baker. This was an absolute slam dunk and probably my favorite meal in Poznan (which is saying something). The restaurant was very modern and hip-looking, and they were prepared for English-speaking tourists with a translated menu at the front counter. All of the dishes, which change every day, sounded mouth-watering. I opted for the basil-pesto chicken with parmesan rice and practically licked the plate clean. Afterward, we had an enjoyable stroll through a nearby park with a lovely fountain and charming statues.
At one point, we were walking down a bustling street, when we noticed a lot of people inside a storefront whose windows were still papered up, as if it hadn't yet properly opened. Curious, we poked our heads in and found it was an ice cream shop that would be opening the next week. They were doing a sort of preview day, giving out free samples to people as a way of drumming up business. The women working there were very welcoming to us to us despite our language gap, and they insisted we come in and sample the ice cream too. We stood in front of the counter patiently as one of the workers presented us with sample after sample of their incredible gelato, doing a great job of translating some pretty obscure flavors into English. I was just very struck by the friendliness of that situation -- it would have been so easy for her to have offered us one or two and sent us on our way so as not to deal with the hassle of non-Polish tourists, but she and the shop owner seemed to love sharing their product with us and made sure we had a chance to try everything. This is the shop, and I highly recommend it if you find yourself in Poznan: Frajda Lody Prawdziwe.
In the evening, we headed back out to the main square, where the beer festival (we finally figured out what was going on) was happening. We grabbed dinner from the food stands and enjoyed some local beers. Later on, we had a couple cocktails on the square and ventured into a proper bar. We didn't dive too heavily into the nightlife scene in Poznan, but I am convinced pretty much any type of person could find a scene for themselves in that city.
The next morning we slept in. It was a gorgeous sunny day, so we decided to head to the Park Cytadela, a large city park which used to contain a large Prussian fortress and was a battle site in WWII. First however, we had to eat. I decided that we needed to eat at at least one proper Polish restaurant, so we ended up at Oberza Pod Dzwonkiem. There, I could finally enjoy a heaping plate of authentic Polish pierogi, and they did not disappoint. And once more, we were met with very friendly, English-speaking service.
From there we headed to Park Cytadela. The park itself is quite big, although not the most impressively maintained as the grass was fairly overgrown in many places. One aspect of the park that was a bit frustrating was that it was full of interesting looking statues and memorials, many of which seemed to have specific significance for WWII and the Soviet Era, but there were never any English-language placards to explain things. I would have loved to have learned more about the history of the park. Even without that though, it was very interesting to visit and look at all the different statues. There are multiple cemeteries for WWII soldiers located there, which I found very interesting, and there is also a sort of open air military museum, although we did not pay to go in it.
We lazed around the park for a while, then ambled our way back into the city. In the evening, we headed to Cocorico, a restaurant that had caught our eye the night we arrived. It looked like the right amount of upscale-ness that was still not too expensive, but would really give us a chance to indulge in a way we never would in Berlin. Luke enjoyed a Coq au Vin, and I had Burgundy Beef Cheeks. We dined at the restaurant's charming courtyard and felt quite fancy.
The next day we had to head back to Berlin via bus, but we still had time to check out one more cafe for breakfast. We picked Lavenda Cafe, where I had a fabulous granola yogurt with incredible fresh fruits and Luke had some sort of religious experience with a assorted fruit and lavender smoothie. Overall, it was a great note upon which to end our time in Poznan.
After breakfast, we grabbed our things and headed out to a train station in the southwest of the city, Poznań Górczyn. This was quite a stark change from the charming, colorful old town in Poznan where we had spent all of our time, as the station was essentially just horrendously ugly concrete slabs amidst run-down buildings, and it was poorly signed to boot (it took us several minutes to figure out if this was indeed where our bus would pick us up, and we eventually found the schedule sticker that had been haphazardly slapped on a nearby telephone pole). It was a good reminder that Poland is still very much coming into its own and moving forward from its bleak, communist past.
Still, our trip to Poznan was overwhelmingly positive. We had no difficulties getting around despite not speaking Polish and encountered no negativity in this regard. The old town was lovely, we dined like kings, and overall enjoyed a wonderfully relaxed long weekend away from Berlin.