our first month in review
We have been away exactly a month now and we have enjoyed every moment and experience! We have seen some mind-blowing, spectacular and confronting things. And we have learnt soooo much more about European history from the countries that we have visited.
Here is our first month in a quick review:
Our first stop was Russia where we visited Moscow and St Petersburg. There we saw some amazingly opulent palaces and got a sneak peak into the lives of the past royals. Our standout moment from here would be setting eyes on St Basil’s in Red Square for the first time.
The Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were next on the agenda. We learnt about the Singing Revolution which we had no idea about and also learnt about the Baltic Way – 2 million people holding hands across the 3 countries to make a 600 km human chain to stand up for their independence. A few of our favourites in this area would be visiting the Hill of Crosses and experiencing the old towns of each capital city
Poland was definitely a little surprise package for us. We enjoyed what the country had to offer; its history, food, people and culture. Here we experienced awe as well as sadness. There were moments of joy and wonderment as we visited the Wieliczka Salt Mines, walked around the Old Town of Krakow and be impressed at the restoration efforts of Warsaw. Then there were moments of heart-break where we shed tears for those who lost their lives during World War II especially when we visited the concentrations camps.
We had a small taste of Czech Republic back in 2006 when we visited Prague for a few days. This time, we had an opportunity to visit Cesky Krumlov as well. One of our highlights in Cesky Krumlov was definitely getting a tour of the Zámecké Divadlo (Castle Theatre). One of the last few remaining wooden theatres still with costumes, props and stage sets. Prague was nothing like we remembered, probably because we came this time with “older” eyes and a different mindset to travel. A highlight would have to be seeing the Astronomical Clock again and really appreciating it for what it was this time.
Now we are in Bordeaux, France and we are loving France all over again. Despite common belief, the French people are very friendly and always willing to help. Two memorable experiences amongst the many so far (as we still have all up another 10 days or so) was watching Moulin Rouge and seeing Mont St Michel. Next stop Carcassonne 🙂
Have a great week ahead, folks!
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the statue of chopin
Frederic Chopin was a Polish composer and pianist. In Lazienki Park, Warsaw, there is a statue dedicated to him.
During World War II, it was the first monument that the Germans bombed in Warsaw. Fortunately, the original mould was still available. And the replica statue, what we see today, replaced the original one in 1958.
But, it’s no ordinary statue. Depending on which angle it is admired, it is possible to see different things.
So looking at it slightly from the right side, it is Chopin sitting underneath a weeping willow tree.
Walk behind the statue and around to the other side, the weeping willow branch, now looks like a hand, with fingers curled over… curled over a piano possibly??
And then stand square in front of the statue, and the weeping willow looks like the head of an eagle from its neck, which is the national symbol of Poland. Can you see its eye?
By the statue, during summer, every Sunday there is a free Chopin recital. We would’ve liked to have done this but unfortunately we missed it this time.
Wise Monkeys Piece of Trivia: Chopin’s music was banned in Poland by the Nazis during World War II as it was believed he represented “everything Polish”. His music united the Polish people.
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polishing off polish food
Polish food is hearty but to us was not in a rich or creamy way. Everything we tried while in Poland was delicious and we never had trouble finishing anything off! Good food like this should never go to waste.
Let’s see what we tried…
The word translates to “big mess’ so picture a stew that uses fresh and pickled cabbage, meat and sausage, onions and mushrooms. All the ingredients thrown together with peppercorns, bay leaves and some other herbs that we couldn’t identify. We are no food connoisseurs but the pickled cabbage (aka sauerkraut) blended well with the rest of the flavours. With each spoonful, there was a burst of flavour.
In one word: flavoursome
These are dumplings and can be found in any Polish restaurant. We were told that if a restaurant doesn’t have pierogi, it is not a real Polish restaurant. We tried fried pierogi filled with meat. The meat was not minced as we expected, it was meat floss and a lot of it. If you have tried meat floss, then you would know the texture is light, fluffy – the pierogi was just that but rather thick and dry.
In one word: dense
Potato cakes, very similar to fritters, served with goulash on top. We tried wild boar goulash with it. The serving was very big and hearty. Plaki has been described as greasy and heavy but we disagree. Where we ate this dish, the chef cooked them beautifully! There was enough crunch to the crispy shredded potato and the wild boar tasted much like beef. The meat was so tender (probably from being slow cooked).
In one word: hearty
A half baguette (approximately 50 cm long) topped with mushrooms and cheese, toasted in an oven which can be topped with pickles, garlic sauce, tomato sauce, meat , cucumber, tomato and/or onions. A must try as it is considered the ultimate Cracovain drunk food. We bought ours from a kebab shop so it was topped with kebab meat – we chose lamb! Certainly tricky to eat, and you can’t eat it walking around although we saw people doing it. We sat on a door step and dug in with a fork as we couldn’t fit our mouths around the zapiekanka with all the filling.
In one word: filling
If we said goulash instead, everyone would know exactly what we were talking about, right? We had pork goulash on buckwheat. When we ordered this, we had no idea of the size. We also didn’t realize it came with a pickled cucumber. This dish was full of texture; the fluffiness of buckwheat, the crunch and bite of the pickle and the warm, thick meat and gravy. The flavours worked wonderfully together.
In one word: synergistic
This is actually a drink rather than a “food”. It is a dried fruit compote. It looks like tea and is served cold. The flavor is almost like a fruit-flavoured iced tea, the closest dried fruit that comes to mind to describe the taste is prune. We would say the first sip tastes a little unusual but subsequent gulps made the taste grow on us. Not entirely sure we would order it again as it was rather syrupy.
In one word: sweet
So, now we would like to know:
If you have tried Polish food, what is your favourite dish?
And if you haven’t, which one of these would you like to try?
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weekend walks: wielickza salt mines
Wielickza Salt Mines is about 10km south of Krakow, Poland. It was built in the 13th century and is one of the world’s oldest salt mines. But… it’s not just any mine. It is filled with dozens of statues, three chapels and a cathedral.
To enter the mine, we needed to take a three-storey lift to head down the mine shaft to about 60-odd metres underground. Each of the lift capsules could hold about 9 people, so it was a tight squeeze.
But once down there, it was FAR from “squeezy” anymore. Some parts had ceilings as high as 30 metres. There was a room where the horses working in the mines were kept, so you can imagine the size.
For about 3km, escorted by a guide, we followed the “Tourist Route” which covered about 20 chambers, 2 chapels and a cathedral. What we saw was so unique. Miners throughout the history of the mines carved the statues (out of rock salt) in the different chambers. There really was salt everywhere.
We head down some stairs to reach the lowest point of the mines accessible by visitors on this tour (about 100 metres below surface) and there we saw the manmade lake.
Without a doubt, the most astounding thing we saw was the cathedral, Chapel of St Kinga! The entire cathedral was carved by miners out of the rock salt, including the statues and images on the walls. The Last Supper was the only one carved out by a professional artist and not by the miners.
It was a wonderful way to spend a hot summer’s day because underground it was a pleasant 15° Celsius! And down this far, there are an eatery, toilets, souvenirs shops and historically, visitors could bungee jump or go up on a balloon ride!
The Salt Mines are a must if you ever find yourself in Poland.
Tip: Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring warm clothing. And can you photograph inside the mines? Yep, but you will need to pay a small fee in addition to your entrance ticket.
Wielickza Salt Mines was listed as a UNESCO Heritage site in 1978.
To see the other UNESCO sites we have visited, click here
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