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    Fab Europe Travel

    Our Return to Santorini

    Eleven Years in the Making

    Location: Santorini Greece

    Two weeks shy of eleven years since we visited the incredible island of Santorini.  And nearly everyday since we have wanted to return.  Today that happens.

    Our Return to Santorini

    Santorini 2007

    We only spent one day on Santorini, since we were on a Mediterranean cruise and it was one of our stops.  We loved all of our stops on that cruise, but Santorini was, well, magical.

    Our Return to Santorini

    Santorini 2007

    It was magical for its stunning beauty – that shot the world thinks of when they think of Greece.  It was magical for the view – and one of the most memorable meals I ever had overlooking the crater.  It was magical for the authentic villages – like a movie but better.

    But more important than any of that, it was magical because that day I changed.  It may seem silly, but it’s not silly to me.  That magical day on Santorini I discovered a new person within myself.  The beginning of finding my Fabulous Fifties Life.

    See it happened like this:

    Our Return to Santorini

    Santorini 2007

    Laying on the cruise ship at the pool the day before arriving in Santorini I was reading the guidebook about things to do in Santorini.  In the book it suggested walking from Fira (where the ship tenders) to Oia on the far end of the island.  The walk was six miles and went all along the crater rim.

    Our Return to Santorini

    Santorini 2007

    As soon as I read it, I knew my husband would want to do it.  Should I tell him?  Should I keep it to myself?  Hike six miles?  Yikes I don’t think I can do it.  In the hot sun?  I was torn.

    But I love my husband so I said “Honey, there is this hike on Santorini maybe we can do.”  He was all over it.

    Our Return to Santorini

    Santorini 2007

    That day I was nervous since I hadn’t done a hike in YEARS.  But we left the ship really early and got started before the heat of the day – and well, the rest is history.  That hike changed my life.  Not only was it SPECTACULAR, but it was inspirational.  We saw only two other people (today this rim walk is much more popular) as we maneuvered our way on this rocky island in the middle of the turquoise blue mediterranean sea.  During that six miles and about three hours I became someone who could hike six miles, who could adventure in the unknown, who could feel alive and free in the wild.  A new person emerged who had been hidden inside of me all those years.

    And that is how it began.  Without that hike I would never have tackled hiking from Cusco to Machu Picchu. I would never have tackled walking 486 miles on the Camino de Santiago.  I would never have tackled many of the things I now do everyday, knowing I am capable and not afraid.

    Magical Santorini shaped me and I’m going back to say

    Our Return to Santorini

    Santorini 2007

    thank you.  Just for three days this time, but long enough to remember and pay my respects.  A beautiful and magical place where I was transformed, and my Fab Fifties Life was born.

    Fabulous!

     

    Fab Europe Travel

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Romania’s Beautiful Preserved Medieval Villages

    Location: Transylvania, Romania

    We could have easily spent a month in Romania.  But we only had ten days, and so we decided to focus this time on a Transylvania Highlights Tour – Romania’s Beautiful Preserved Medieval Villages.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Map shows the three regions from 1648

    We will come back again, because there is a lot more to see in this sleepy little country that tourist are just beginning to discover.

    History

    In the Middle Ages, what we know as Romania today, was split into three distinct regions; Wallachia in the south where today Bucharest is, Moldavia to the east, now split into Moldova and Romania and Transylvania in the west.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Map shows the Kingdom of Romania

    Today these regions are often referred to as Greater Romania, the Kingdom of Romania.  A growing interest is to reunite the region and bring Moldova back into the Romanian speaking states.

    “Romanian is an Eastern Romance language, descended from Latin with some German, French, English, Greek, Slavic, and Hungarian borrowings. Romanians are by far the most numerous group of speakers of an Eastern Romance language today. It has been said that they constitute “an island of Latinity”[5] in Eastern Europe, surrounded on all sides either by Slavic peoples or by the Hungarians.” (source Wikipedia)

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    View of Brasov from top of Mount Tampa

    Our time in Transylvania was wonderful.  We had good weather and enjoyed visiting four of the region’s main medieval towns; Brasov, Bran, Sighisoara and Sibiu.

    Romania sustained minimal damage during World War II, relative to how much the rest of Europe sustained.  Romania’s capital Bucharest was bombed as was the oil industry in the town of Ploiesti.  Which means, luckily for us, the fairytale castles, medieval villages and citadels survived and are intact today.

    If you had come here 25 years ago, just after the fall of communism, you would have found these villages much as they had been for centuries.  A square in the center surrounded by tiny streets that spoke out to the high wall surrounding the fortification.  The center square would likely have a church and a clock tower and the townspeople going about their daily business. Village folk would be selling the produce from the garden, the freshly made bread and cheese.  There would still have been horses and carriages and local artisans. Think  “Beauty and the Beast”.  But today, these towns function primarily for the tourists, just like so many other places in Europe.

    But despite that, we found the places we visited enjoyable, beautiful, friendly and full of wonderful history, architecture and food. Well worth a visit.

    Architecture

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Peles Castle, in Sinai, home to several generations of Romanian royals and still occupied today by Michael I of Romania

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Bran Castle in Bran, occupied for generations by Romanian Royalty and the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula castle

    Much of this area’s habitation is traced back to the Saxons arriving in the 12th century.  They are responsible for developing many of the villages during the middle ages in Transylvania, including the towns we spent time in.  The fortified towns, amazing castles and fortresses and churches and houses still standing hundreds of years later are a result of the craftsmanship and fortitude of the Saxons.

    The Gothic style is prevalent in parts of Transylvania and seen distinctly in the 14th century Bran’s Castle in Bran (the castle that inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula), and the 14th century Black Church in Brasov.

    The middle ages also brought the fortified towns to Transylvania, with Sibiu, Sighisoara and Brasov being exceptional examples of how the design focused on functionality and protection.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Brasov’s only remaining fortress gate

    The city of Brasov today is a mix of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture representing the centuries of development in this mountain town.

    Sighisoara is a nearly completely intact 15th century fortified citadel and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  This tiny village is where Vlad the Impaler Dracul was born, the character that Bram Stoker turned into a fictional vampire.  For the tourists, you’ll see some Dracula kitsch here, but luckily it is not overdone.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    One of several fortified towers in the amazingly preserved town of Sighisoara

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Houses in Sibiu

    Sibiu is the grandest of the three towns, with a main square boasting a fabulous variety of Baroque and Renaissance as well as Gothic buildings and churches surrounded by parts of the remaining fortress and towers.  Sibui was an important trade center with powerful guilds dominating the regional trade.  Houses remain along the cobbled street and are brightly painted.  The historic Journeyman house, where the wood carver guild once reigned, maintains the pole full of sharp objects often left for luck.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Beautiful mix of architecture in Sibiu

    Food

    Transylvania enjoys many of the same foods you can find throughout Romania, but it also has it’s regional specialities.  While in Transylvania we enjoyed;

    Mititei – small rolled sausages without casing grilled and served with mustard

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Eggplant Salad

    Eggplant Salad – we had this two ways, the first mixed with Mayonnaise, the second mixed with red peppers.  Both were the consistence of dip like humus.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Pork Ciorba (soup)

    Ciorba – means soup and the Romanians love soup.  So filling, warm and delicious you can find many delicious soups including a bean soup often served in a bread bowl, chicken noodle soup ( a favorite of the locals), goulash soup, lamb stew, pork sour soup, cabbage soup and many, many more.

    Sarmele is cabbage rolls, similar to cabbage rolls we have enjoyed in other Eastern European countries but slightly different with a sour rye taste and dill.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Cabbage rolls with polenta and pork

    Jumari – deep-fried smoked pork belly or bacon.  I couldn’t stop eating this.

    Placinta – means pie and the word is used for a pastry filled cheese item, but also used for other kinds of pies including savory pies similar to Sheperds Pie.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Papanasi with sour cream and berries

    Papanasi – possibly my favorite of all the foods we tried is this lovely little dessert.  I’m actually not much of a dessert person but this one is so delicious.  Translated as Romanian Donut, the cheese filled dough is deep-fried, crispy on the outside and very moist and delicious on the inside.  Served hot and then covered with yogurt or sour cream and berries. We had it once with blackberries and once with blueberries and both times so yummy good.

    We have learned so much during our short visit to this beautiful, interesting and delicious country.  We will return again someday to explore more.  But until that day, we thank Romania and its wonderful people for such a pleasant visit.

    Thank you! Multumesc! Fabulos!

     

    Fabulous Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Varina by Charles Frazier

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Varina by Charles Frazier

    You may not know her name, but her story is incredible.  Varina Davis, the wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis endured a remarkable and tumultuous life not of her choosing.  I loved this book by Charles Frazier.

    Frazier, author of one of my all time favorite books Cold Mountain, has an incredible talent to bring the Civil War into a human story.  Like Cold Mountain, Varina tells the story of those who may not have been on the battlefields, but who were fighting the war in their own way.  The story of just trying to survive.

    Varina, a young women with little prospects, finds herself pushed into a marriage with the significantly older Jefferson Davis, who continues to mourn the loss of his first wife and true love.

    Despite their tumultuous marriage their family grows and Davis, as we know, eventually accepts the Presidency of the Confederacy states when the Civil War begins.

    Varina, is left mostly on her own, to raise the children during the horrible war of the states.  She is one of the most intelligent, courageous and amazing female survivors I have had the pleasure to read about.  The loss of people she loves, particularly her children, brings her to the brink and yet she endures.  Her courage during her flight with her small children from Richmond at the end of the war is remarkable. It however, does not end happily.

    Varina is an important American historical figure, who is little known and rarely written about.  I loved the story, particularly because it shines a light on an American women, whose story has been lost in the glut of Civil War stories about men and soldiers.  She deserves to be remembered in history for her courage, her life’s tragedy, and her life’s realization that complicity carries consequences.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Five Stars for Varina.

    Read last weeks review of The Wife Between Us here.

    This blog contains affiliate links and we may be compensated if you make a purchase.  All money earned goes back to the maintenance of this blog.  Thank you.

     

    Fab Europe Travel

    They March On To Die

    My Time in Poland Learning About Hitler’s Extermination of European Jews

    Location: Poland

    No, God will not save them. Nor you, friend, nor I.
    But let us not flinch, as they march on, to die.

    -Wladyslaw Szlengel, Polish Jewish Poet of the Ghetto

    They March On To Die

    Auschwitz famous gate

    Why I Came to Poland

    For many years I have wanted to come to Poland.   My first realization of that desire was when I saw the movie Sophie’s Choice.  My god.  That movie changed me.  I was only twenty-two years old I think.  Very naive.

    “Is it best to know about a child’s death, even one so horrible, or to know that the child lives but that you will never, never see him again?”
    William Styron, Sophie’s Choice

    I don’t remember learning much about World War II or the Holocaust in high school.  Was I absent that day? I remember Anne Frank however.  We read that in junior high.  We discussed it in class, but my memory of it being a bit edited as perhaps they thought we were too young.  They were trying to protect us.  But who protected Anne? No one.

    What is done cannot be undone, but one can prevent it happening again. – Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

    They March On To Die

    Shoes of the Auschwitz victims

    I don’t think you can be too young to hear these stories.  How else can the facts sink in, in a way that it becomes a part of our daily conscious where we naturally abhor intolerance and speak out against it? How else can our youth be fully informed, aware and not jaded – as the horrors of that time in history slip farther into the past?

    Complacency

    WWII had only been over for 15 years when I was born.  It’s been longer than that since September 11th happened (17 years).  Time is a convenient blanket, smothering the memories and protecting complacency.

    They March On To Die

    Jewish families being herded out of Krakow

    Complacency is the world’s evil and our world is full of it today, yesterday and always.

    They March On To Die

    Auschwitz

    Human Numbers

    I am by no means a WWII or Shoah expert.  But I have a place in my heart that aches for what happened here in this beautiful country of Poland that I have fallen in love with these past two weeks.  I want to think of what happened here in human faces and real lives, but the numbers haunt me and I need to share;

    • Three MILLION Jews exterminated in Poland, half of the six million killed in total
    • Only 10% of Polish Jews survived
    • Another estimated but undocumented 1.5 million ethnic Poles killed – many for helping, aiding or hiding Jews
    They March On To Die

    Suitcases of victims

    Human beings like you and me. People with names. Birthdays. Lives. Goals and dreams. Doctors and lawyers.  Teachers and housewives. Students. Rabbis. Men, women, children and entire families. Grandmothers.  Beautiful young women. Little boys. For no reason other than hate.

    “You kill yourself when you hate. It’s the worst disease in the world.”
    William Schiff

    After I saw the movie Sophie’s Choice in 1982 I began to search out books and movies about the topic.  Not just about Poland but about the war, and the death camps.  As you are aware I read a lot.   I have been deeply  touched by many books – in fact many recently, that have come out about this topic. Although some of these books and movies are fictional, many are not.  And there is so much to learn from both the non-fiction and fiction stories.

    They March On To Die

    Jewish Cemetery Kazimierz (Krakow)

    The Nazis

    The Nazis invaded Poland in 1939.  That first year they stripped Jews of their possessions and their jobs and herded them into walled off ghettos.  The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest and contained more Jews than in all of France.  More than 100,000 people starved to death in the Warsaw ghetto. Many more died of horrible disease such as typhoid, cholera and dysentery because medical care was unavailable.  If you haven’t seen the movie The Pianist it’s a must.  Haunting story of the Warsaw Ghetto.

    “Humanity seems doomed to do more evil than good. The greatest ideal on earth is human love.”
    Wilm Hosenfeld, The Pianist: The Extraordinary Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939–45

    By 1941 Hitler’s right hand man Himmler began his calculated plan to

    They March On To Die

    Bullet riddled ghetto wall Warsaw

    annihilate the Jews of Europe through genocide.  Within two years 800,000 people had been shot to death and buried in mass graves.

    But it had only started.  The 1943 Wannsee Conference launched the final solution of the “Jewish question”.  Six death camps began the mass extermination through gas chambers using Zyklon B.  Auschwitz-Birkenau was one of these.

    From the ghettos in Krakow, Warsaw and around Europe the Jews were loaded on trains – told to take minimum belongings and their valuables for their new life in the East.  Thousands would die on the trains, suffocated and

    They March On To Die

    The selection process at Auschwitz on arrival by cattle car

    starved. Their valuables? Pilfered and to this day most unaccounted for.

    Have you seen the movie The Women in Gold? It addresses the issue of the things the Nazi’s stole from their Jewish victims, particular a painting in this case by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt.

    They’ll never admit to what they did, because if they admit to one thing, they’ll have to admit to it all.

           – The Women in Gold

     

    They March On To Die

    Cattle Car that brought victims to Auschwitz

    Death Camps

    Those who arrived at the death camps were quickly processed through selection.  Most were dead within their first few hours at the camp, stripped and taken to the “showers” which of course were not showers.  Anyone lame or old or young or unable to work was exterminated immediately.  The rest would work to death.

    The Paradise of Death

    It was like an old religion
    Dividing the saved from the damned.
    Only that the saved went to hell.
    The damned- to the paradise of death  – Raquel Angel Nagler

    Auschwitz was also home to the notorious Doctor Mengele who did unspeakable things to children, twins and other unusual “specimens” who he used as human guinea pigs for his “research”.  Have you read the book Mischling? One of the most astonishing stories I have ever read.  Astonishing and sickening.

    “The whole world will never look back. And if they do, they’ll probably say that it never really happened.”
    Affinity Konar, Mischling

    It’s disgusting to me there are still those who believe it never happened.  Same people who think we didn’t land on the moon?  Same people who don’t believe in Global Warming?

    Idiots.  This is fact;

    1.5 million Jewish PEOPLE died at Auschwitz; 200,000 of them children

    They March On To Die

    Memorial in Krakow for 65,000 Jews killed from that city

    3 million Jewish PEOPLE exterminated in Poland

    6 million Jewish PEOPLE murdered in WWII

    150,000 Non Jewish Polish PEOPLE died

    23,000 Roma Gypsy PEOPLE killed

    15,000 Soviet POW PEOPLE killed

    25,000 others GONE

    They March On To Die

    Where the death camps were

    Ignorance

    Before the war began Poland had the largest Jewish Population in Europe.  More than 3 million citizens whose ancestors had been in Poland for more than a thousand years. Only 10% of the Polish Jewish population survived WWII and the genocide.

    Many ethnic Poles died trying to help the Jews. But others turned against them.  It was similar in other countries.  While there are many stories of resistance fighters in France and Poland there were other citizens who helped the Nazis.  Recently I read the book Sarah’s Key and learned about the French Jewish Roundup in Paris in July 1942.  I had never heard of this horrible thing before.  Shame on all those whose smugness, prejudice and hate killed so many.

    “The truth is harder than ignorance.” – Sarah’s Key

    They March On To Die

    Where they burned the bodies

    The thing I keep asking myself is why did we not help them? Where was the United States? Where was the League of Nations? Where was the Catholic Church? As early as 1941 it was common knowledge in the world leaders what was happening.  People and governments looked away.  Partly because they were afraid, or busy fighting other battles, but this was genocide.  Pure and simple. And no one came.

    They March On To Die

    The remains of the incinerators the Nazi’s destroyed at the end of the war

    My time in Poland has been both lovely and gut-wrenching.  The Poland I see as a visitor is beautiful.  But I know, like all nations, there are underlying problems and anti-Semitism is here.  As an American I am painfully aware of how ignorance begets hate and intolerance – rampant in my country.  In the past, in the present and more likely than not in the future – there will be hate.  People who can’t or WON’T tolerate anyone who is different from them.

    I don’t believe hate is something you are born with.  It is learned.  Hate and prejudice is learned.  Just like empathy and tolerance is also learned.

    Educate Yourself

    It brings me back to two things I promote on this blog;

    1. TRAVEL –  My message through this blog has always been one of inspiration.  And inspiring anyone to pack a bag and go to an unknown place is my greatest goal.  You will be changed.  You will be full.  You will be amazed, what travel can do to your life, your prejudice, your tolerance and your happiness.  Just go.

    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

    They March On To Die

    Those who didn’t die on arrival lived in hell

    2.  READ –  My other message on this blog is to read, read, read.  And if you can, learn to read outside your comfort zone.  Read history, and fiction and non fiction and more.  There is nothing so simple as reading a book that can open your mind to the world outside your door. Just read.

    “Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.” —Malorie Blackman

    Poland and Auschwitz are sacrosanct now.  Everyone should come here to feel and remember the human lives.  The very real human beings who became ashes.

    They March On To Die

    One women.

    But of course it’s not possible for everyone.  So read.  Watch films. Learn.  And most importantly, remember.  Remember a little girl. An old man.  A family.  Most importantly remember what we humans have allowed to happen in our recent past.  Think about the Holocaust in names and people’s lives rather than numbers and dates.  Don’t let that die.  Otherwise, nothing was gained and we all are lost.

    Books

    (This is nowhere near all that is out there.  Just some suggestions)

    • The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas by John Boyne
    • Mischling by Affinity Konar
    • Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
    • Night by Elie Wiesel
    • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
    • The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
    • Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
    • Ireana’s Children by Tilar J. Mazzeo
    • The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
    • The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman
    • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
    • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
    • We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
    • Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
    • Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
    • Maus by Art Spiegelman
    • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

     

    They March On To Die

    Where victims were sent

    Movies

    • Schindler’s List
    • Sophie’s Choice
    • The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas
    • The Hiding Place
    • The Diary of Anne Frank
    • The Pianist
    • Life is Beaiutiful
    • Son of Saul
    • Maus
    • Immortal Bastards
    • Europa Europa
    • Au revoir les enfants
    • The Women in Gold
    • Fiddler on the Roof (not WWII but spectacular anyway)

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Fabulous Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Wife Between Us

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekknen

    Well I liked this book, but I didn’t love it.  Here we have another book trying really hard to be the next Gone Girl.  Not. Even. Close.

    I’ve said this before, in the wake of the mega-hit Gone Girl there has been a lot of similar ‘cat and mouse” stories with twists and whodunnit plots around relationships.  None have lived up to the jaw dropping way Gillian Flynn wove the story of Gone Girl.

    Same goes with The Wife Between Us.  And it’s a bit unfair.  Because I like the book.  What I didn’t like was it was raved about as a suspense thriller in the vein of Gone Girl.  So my expectations were too high.

    Here we have again a story of relationships gone awry.  One mate or the other just isn’t exactly what they seem to be.  But who is it?  And what is really going on here? Hendricks and Pekknen take you on a ride through the relationship of Vanessa, Nellie, Emma and Richard.  A tangled web of lives intertwined in unimaginable ways and unraveling in even more unimaginable ways.

    Maybe I’m just too happily married to the man of my dreams to be able to fathom any reality in books such as these.  But perhaps there is truth here…perhaps there is psychopathic spouses, obsessive behaviors, and those who, in the name of love are blind to the truths right in front of them.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️Three stars for The Wife Between Us

    Read last week’s review of Wonder here

    This post contains affiliate links and we may be compensated if you purchase this book.  All money earned goes back to the cost of maintaining this blog.

     

    Fab Europe Travel  --  Fab Food

    The Food of Poland – Pierogi and So Much More

    Location: Poland

    We have spent the past two weeks eating our way through Poland.  If you had asked me about Polish food before arriving, I would have said “well they eat pierogi and drink vodka!”  I think many Americans know only this as well.  But as much as I love the pierogi, I have learned all about the food of Poland – pierogi and so much more.

    Poland’s tumultuous history is identifiable in their foods (history blog coming soon).  Over the millennia the region we know as Poland was controlled by Prussia, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Hapsburg Dynasty, Russia, Sweden, Lithuania, Germany, Soviet Union and others.  Watch this short video to understand how fluid the borders of this area have been. It’s fascinating.

    Poland’s Changing Borders

    So, of course that means for more than two thousand years the region has been influenced by the surrounding kingdoms and countries.  But also, and perhaps more importantly, Poland has endured a great deal of economic hardship, which means developing simple foods with simple ingredients seasonally available or what ever is on hand.

    And you will see that in the comfort foods of Poland.

    Soups and Meats

    The Foods of Poland

    Zurek Sour Soup. My favorite

    In Poznan I had one of my favorite traditionally Polish foods, a soup called zurek.  I really need to learn to make this delicious, bright, flavorful soup.  Often called Sour Soup because of the fermented rye used, it’s very difficult to describe but definitely not difficult to eat.  Want to try it?  Check out this recipe.

    The Foods of Poland

    Duck with beets and dumplings

    Soups are very popular in Poland, particularly in the long dark winter, and in addition to zurek we had tomato soup, seafood soup, beet soup (borscht) and another sour soup with fermented rye and dill called zalewajka. I loved that one too.  Want to try it? Check out this recipe.

    In Poznan and in Wroclaw we also enjoyed wonderfully prepared duck, traditionally served with beets and yeast dumplings.  We also had deliciously hand-made sausages and pickles served with mustard.  Another favorite was a beetroot and strawberry salad served with warm goat cheese.  A remarkable combination of simple ingredients.

    Pierogi and Cooking Class

    The Foods of Poland

    Fresh cured meats with pickles and mustard

    We stayed the longest in the remarkable city of Krakow, where we had time to really dive into the culture and food scene.  Here is where we ate the most pierogi, taste testing traditional favorites as well as a few new creations.  The Pierogi Ruskie is the favorite amongst the Poles, and I have to say that is my favorite too.  Simple ingredients of potato, cheese, and onion burst in your mouth, full of home cooked goodness.  Another favorite we enjoyed was duck pierogi – a more modern take on

    The Foods of Poland

    Duck pierogi

    the traditional food.  We also had mushroom and cabbage, spinach and cheese, blueberry, and raspberry.

    So much pierogi so little time!

    In Krakow I had a wonderful pleasure of spending half a day with Olga of Urban Adventures in her tiny communist era apartment, where we created some delicious pierogi, learning the nuances of preparation.  The dough for pierogi is as simple as pasta dough, just flour, egg, water and a little salt.  Hand mixing and hand forming is important to keep it traditional. Pierogi is always boiled, but left over pierogi is often pan-fried the next day for another delicious way to enjoy it.  And since you can’t just make a few pierogi, there are always leftovers. There are many ways to enjoy Pierogi.  Click on this link for a recipes for several of the most traditional ones, including Ruskie. I have also attached a pdf here with the recipe Olga so kindly provide.Pierogi receipe

    The Foods of Poland

    Forming the pierogi

    While spending the day with Olga we also visited the local Polish market where we learned to order the items we needed – in Polish – while the local merchants smiled and indulged our broken mispronunciation.  At the market we also learned not only about fresh meat and produce, but about the many kinds of popular pickles, pastries, cheese and, surprisingly, lard.  We ate bacon lard spread like butter

    The Foods of Poland

    At the market fresh eggs and a polish cheese called Golka

    on delicious fresh bread.  Who knew that could be so good?

    Christmas Traditions

    Our visit to Krakow also included spending four hours one evening with Delicious Poland, walking around the city and tasting so many delicious polish specialties.  Seriously I thought I was going to explode.  If you come to Krakow definitely do a food walking tour – but DO NOT eat lunch before hand.  So much delicious food.  Here is what we ate:

    Pierogi of course, at one of the city’s most loved family owned pierogi restaurants called Przystanek.  We learned that sometimes fruit filled pierogi is served as a main dish, and the mushroom and cabbage pierogi is always served on Christmas

    The Foods of Poland

    Ruskie Pierogi made in cooking class. The most traditional.

    Eve.

    Christmas Eve is a major holiday and the family gathers to make the pierogi together.  A traditional Polish Christmas Eve meal includes 12 courses, symbolizing riches, the 12 apostles and the 12 months of the year.  The feast begins with the breaking of a wafer and is followed by; red borscht, mushroom soup, carp, herring, mushroom and cabbage pierogi, sauerkraut, cabbage rolls, kutia (grain and candied fruit mixture), gingerbread, dried fruit compote, poppy seed cake.

    The Foods of Poland

    Poppyseed Cake

    Another wonderful Christmas Eve tradition in Poland is that every table is set with one extra seat.  Traditionally set for anyone who may be alone or needing a meal on Christmas Eve.

    Walking Food Tour Krakow

    Our food tour continued at Zalewajke in the Jewish Quarter, where we enjoyed the zalewajke soup and the borscht (mentioned above).  We continued to the Jewish Market square to try a more recent addition to the polish food scene, zapiekanka.  This open face sandwich is the favorite fast food in Krakow, developed in the communist era when burgers were not allowed because they were too “American”.

    The Foods of Poland

    Zapiekanka open face sandwich

    Trying local vodka at Hevre (a converted Jewish Prayer Hall) I realized I actually like vodka, if it’s the good stuff!  My favorite was the Bison Grass; so subtle and smooth.  Next we visited a very popular local brewery called Ursa Major with a woman brew master!  Here we enjoyed sausage and cheese with two beers – a no hop(!) summer ale (interesting) and a

    The Foods of Poland

    Enjoying the Bison Grass Vodka

    session IPA.  Unlike most places we’ve been, American-style IPAs are very popular here.

    So we are thinking we probably just have dessert left but no!  We continued on to Kuchina u Doroty where we ate more!  Two of my favorites of my time in Poland I had here – a delicious potato pancake covered in goulash called place ziemniaczane z gulaszem (try it) and a cabbage and sausage stew called bigos (try it) .  In addition we had golabki (cabbage rolls), beetroot salad, kompot (juice) and racuchy, a fried dough dessert that tasted a lot like french toast, covered with yogurt and fresh berries.

    The Foods of Poland

    Potato pancake with goulash

    About this time Arne plopped me in a wheelbarrow and wheeled me home.

    The Foods of Poland

    The women in my cooking class.

    Our time in Poland has been incredibly delicious and that has been incredibly surprising.  Poland is an underrated tourism destination, and now I know the Polish cuisine is also misunderstood and underrated.  I will take everything I learned about the food and culture of this incredible country and refer to it often.

    And someday, I will return.  To eat, to enjoy and to savor all this country has to offer.

    The Foods of Poland

    Arne enjoying some of the local microbrews

    Dziekuje Poland! Fantastyczny!

    Note – Traveling and eating in Poland is very inexpensive.  Some of our nicest meals with appetizers, main course, dessert, wine and beer only cost around $40.  As of this writing the exchange rate is 4 zloty to one USD.

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    Everything Else Fabulous

    Why We Love a Free Walking Tour

    Fabulous Travel Tip

    We are big fans of the “free” walking tour and over the past few years we have done about 15 tours in cities large and small around the world.

    Why We Love Free Walking tours

    Sofia Bulgaria

    I never even knew about “free” walking tours until we arrived in Sofia Bulgaria.  Sofia has a wonderful Free Walking Tour company offering several different kinds of tours at different times of the day.  Our very first Free Walking Tour in Sofia was amazing.  Our guide was outstanding, and from then on we

    Jewish Ghetto Tour Krakow

    were hooked. In fact we enjoyed our first tour of Sofia so much (the Culture Tour), we went back the next day and did the Communist Tour.

    Since then we have done Free Walking Tours in Veliko Tarnova Bulgaria, Plovdiv Bulgaria, Cape Town South Africa (both the Walk to Freedom and the Bo Kapp Tour), Brussels Belgium, Brugge Belgium, Berlin Germany (our best guide ever), Poznan Poland, Wroclaw Poland, Kracow Poland (both the Old Town and the Jewish Quarter tour) and have a tour scheduled in Warsaw Poland.

    I expect we will be hitting several in our next country of Romania.

    Why We Love Free Walking tours

    Brugge Belgium

    Why We Love Free Walking tours

    Capetown South Africa

    So what exactly is a Free Walking Tour? Independent guides work under the umbrella of an organization in each city.  The guides pay a stipend to the organized tour office who does all the promotion for the tours.  The guide does not earn a salary, but rather is paid by the people on the tour, who “tip” whatever amount they feel the guide and the tour was worth.  The guide is responsible to pay the taxes then in the individual city or region.

    Our standard tip is about 10 euro or 10 dollars per person.  We did more for our guide in Berlin, who was absolutely amazing.  It was almost like a performance.  We loved every minute of it.

    Why We Love Free Walking tours

    Brussels Belgium

    But sometimes you have a guide who is maybe not so enthusiastic, or perhaps a bit disorganized.  Sometimes the accent is difficult to understand.  But most of the time it’s a five-star experience.

    Free Walking Tours fall under different company names depending on the city and country you are in.  Tours are usually available in English, German, Spanish and occasionally other languages. Just google Free Walking Tours and the name of the city you want and it will pop up.  And give it a whirl if you haven’t yet.  What do you have to lose? If you hate it, its free!  But I bet you will love it as much as we do.

    That’s my Fabulous Tip! Go Travel!!