We're heading south again, zig-zagging our way through Central Europe. The weather here is sunny, however it's still cold as the summer struggles to wrest control from a stubborn spring.
New country today! This is the first time both of us have ever been in Poland. However, to avoid our last embarrassing moment with Portuguese, we research the language before crossing the border, keeping a cheat sheet of common phrases on our smartphone. Most important one: "Dziękuję" which means "Thank You" and is pronounced nothing like it looks. How do you get "Jen-koo-yeh" from "Dziękuję"? Polish is not phonetical at all.
*ugh* This is going to cause us some problems...
The scenery when crossing from Germany to Poland doesn't change at all since we are on the Autobahn - lots of trees. But you can tell that Poland is not as affluent as Germany, the roads are slightly worse for wear and the small towns that we pass through lack that very self-aware care-to-attention that the pristine German towns possess.
Neda is still on a mission to spend as much time in nature, and she's got a place picked out in southern Poland. Looking on the GPS, our path takes us through a large urban centre called Wrocław. Not knowing how to pronounce this, we kept referring to it as "Rock-Claw" over the communicators. What a cool name for a city! Rock-Claw! Sounds like a super-villain.
One thing we didn't research was the conversion rate for Euros -> Złoty. There are tons of exchange places close to the German/Polish border, some that look dodgier than others, and we don't know if we're getting ripped off when we stop at a diner to change money and grab some lunch. Neda ordered cabbage rolls and I ordered some Polish goulash. At least the food here is much cheaper than Germany! And delicious too!
We're not going to be losing any weight here in Poland...
As we sat in the diner listening to the other patrons and the Polish TV softly playing in the background, Neda turns to me wide-eyed and exclaims, "Hey! I understand some words!" Seems Polish is slightly similar to Croatian. Cool! Language duties have officially been handed over to her! :) As long as we don't have to read anything out loud, we should be fine.
Our hotel. Or close to it...
Our hotel in Wrocław is in an industrial neighbourhood, it's not a bad hotel, but the parking lot is next to a building that's been abandoned for quite a while and made a cool looking picture. When we checked in, we asked the receptionist how to properly pronounce Rock-Claw. She told us: "Vrot-Suave". What? That's nothing like how it's written! So glad we didn't butcher the name of her city in front of her.
I replied, "Jen-koo-yeh" and when she smiled back at us, I didn't feel like such a Tarzan after all. Although I probably said it wrong...
Big celebrations happening in town
We're just passing through Rock-Claw (I like our version better), but we decided to check out the city centre before we left. To our surprise, it was quite busy. But it was apparent that there was some kind of huge celebration today. We parked (for free, I *LOVE* Europe!) and followed the crowds to the city square. Our first impressions of Poland across the German border were a bit misinformed, Rock-Claw was such a pretty place! Multi-coloured buildings formed a backdrop as processions of soldiers and marching bands paraded through the square. Almost everyone was waving a Polish flag as they gathered to watch the celebrations.
Polish flag convention
Different flag design
It turns out that we were in town for Polish Flag Day, which is celebrated every May 2nd. There are two versions of the official flag, one with just the plain white and red stripes and another one which has the coat of arms in the field of white. Flag Day is quite important for Poles, they've lost and won their independence four times throughout the country's history.
Town Hall at Rynek (City Square)
Ever since entering Poland, I was looking forward to trying the pierogi! OMG SO GOOD!!!!
You can stuff a pierogi with any kind of filling, typically it has cheese and mushrooms, and there are also dessert pierogi with fruit inside. Obviously I opt for the meat version. Fried, of course!
Definitely not losing any weight in Poland...
Bearded men are a common subject of Polish folk art, both the Jewish version and the Lord of the Rings kind
Even the motorcycles here celebrate Flag Day
After a nice morning in Rock-Claw, we head south to Neda's intended destination - the Tatra Mountains. She had read that there are some great hikes there. As we climb higher on our bikes, the weather gets colder and much wetter. The Polish roads are all lined with billboards and advertisements that make the natural landscape seem a bit gaudier.
Tatra Mountains ahead. I guess they pay for their roads through advertisements.
We arrive in Zakopane, a Polish alpine resort town
Zakopane lies at the foot of Mount Giewont and is a popular place in the winter for alpine sports, and in the summer for hiking. We are kind of in-between seasons and Neda finds a fantastically luxurious hotel that just opened up and since it was low season, we got an amazing discount so we're going to stay here for a few days.
My man-cave for a few days
Neda goes hiking while I hibernate
Neda is loving the nature!
The Tatra Mountains form a natural border between Poland and Slovakia and offers hikers amazing scenery
I join Neda back in town for a walk around Zakopane
While the big city of Wrocław offered up a modern-day version of Poland, Zakopane was filled with fantastic wooden buildings from the mid-1900s when the population here started to grow.
Walking around the suburbs of Zakopane
We totally got suckered into buying Oscypek from this little old Polish woman
Oscypek is a smoked cheese made from salted goat cheese that's made exclusively in the Tatra mountains. From the small shack where she was selling the large bricks of Oscypek, we thought this little old Polish lady made these by hand back in her farm. Then we walked around town a bit more and noticed they were selling these same "Zakopane"-branded brickettes everywhere.
We totally overpaid for the "cute old Polish woman" factor... :)
These were sooooo delicious
Turns out Neda is not allergic to this kind of cheese. We bought a couple of bricks of Oscypek, one to eat and one to give to our friends that we are seeing later as house-warming gifts. But they were too good. We finished them both... :( No will-power.
So not going to lose any weight in Poland...
The Ural Mountain range is not close to Poland at all...
But here's a Ural motorcycle in the Zakopane market. Boxer engines rule!