On November 9, 2019 I headed to Poznan, Poland for the European Travel Agent Forum (where I will be on a Culinary Tourism Panel) and a post-forum extension to Lodz and Warsaw, Poland. It is not the sort of thing I normally would do, but – full disclosure – this a pretty much fully paid weeklong endeavor to promote Poland and vendors and suppliers that service Poland and other parts of Europe. Honestly, never having been to Poland, I thought it was a great opportunity that was worth taking advantage of.
|Poznan, Poland’s Old Market Square at night|
|Poznan, Poland’s Old Market Squire by day|
Flying consisted of three flights; all of which went quite well. The longest flight (Denver, Colorado to Frankfurt, Germany) was on a Lufthansa 747 jumbo jet. With 747s being retired by most airlines, I was a bit concerned about the condition of the aircraft. However, as Lufthansa has made a decision to stick with the 747 and retire its A380 double-decker jumbo jets, my concern turned more towards my return flight on an A380 (Frankfurt to Los Angeles)!
Upon boarding, I found a surprisingly updated and comfortable interior. As you may recall, I am not a fan of paying a premium for business-class seats as I can sleep pretty much anywhere and paying a high price for what is really a marginal meal is just not my thing. Instead, I always look for the best seats and with my Star Alliance Gold status it is generally pretty easy.
With that I selected Seat 29C, the first row behind Lufthansa’s sorry excuse for Premium Economy (basically it is a slightly wider economy seat with pretty much the same meals and service). This seat has no seat in front of it so it is quite spacious. SeatGuru.com cautioned that the legroom could be restricted due to a bulkhead, but as you can see: No bulkhead and more legroom than I could possibly use.
|Lufthansa 747 Seat 29C|
I also was thrilled that there was nobody sitting in the middle seat on this almost full flight (thank you SeatGuru.com!). Unfortunately I had a “crazy lady” sitting behind me that started to play videos without headphones, consistently kneed the back of my seat and even with the extra space shoved my seatback forward when I reclined it about two inches…until the Lufthansa flight crew told her she either behaved or they would move her to a seat by the lavatories at the rear of the plane. Whew!
With Lufthansa’s included alcohol even in economy policy, I had my standard two Scotch whiskies and settled in. Dinner was served promptly and, with my always ordering a special meal so that I get served a bit of a healthier meal and dine earlier (so I can get to relax and sleep sooner), a Hindi Non-Vegetarian meal with more chickpeas than anyone could imagine was a far better selection than the standard fare.
I was also impressed with the video system with good selections, nice resolution and a pretty cool flight information system.
When I arrived in Frankfurt and walking for miles (as is usual) I had a bit of layover and used the Lufthansa Senator’s Lounge for a refreshing shower and then a beer (I was wearing my beer-themed socks) and a snack before my final flight.
When I arrived in Poznan, Poland I was greeted with smiles and then waited a short while for about a dozen travel agents to get their bags…and then finish a totally unnecessary coffee…and eventually was taken to the Novatel Centrum Poznan. It is a new hotel, promoted as a four-star property, but in reality is a clean, modern, fairly well-designed three-star hotel. Check-in was cheerful and quick.
And then I met everyone’s nemesis: The Elevators! There are two banks of two elevators; each of which operates independently. So rather than their use being balanced by computer management, “elevator chaos” – and thus very long waits – kept me from getting to my room. This would be a constant irritant. (The hotel is aware of the problem and even has signs directing those that read signs to the service elevators as a good alternative.)
My room is basic, but functional and clean. Upgrade from my recent stay at the brand new Hyatt Regency in Seattle: The closet has a door on it and there are plenty of shelves provided, also with a door. (Amazing how such a little thing makes a difference.) The bathroom is a model of Soviet grey decor and has a deep steel and slippery tub with no non-slip mat that I pray I will not injure myself getting into or out of.
|Novatel Centrum Poznan Hotel Room|
It was finally time to meet the organizers and my fellow forum participants. The organizers are charming and on top of everything. The travel agents range from interesting to please don’t make up stories and be so annoying. Pretty much what I expected.
I did meet one man that most certainly brightened my outlook and after the welcome reception and buffet dinner the two of us headed to the Old Market Square; a short walk from the hotel. It is a charming area…right up until less than five minutes in when we were approached to “have a free look” at one of the strip clubs that are right on the Square. We passed.
Wandering to find a place for a cocktail we came across Whiskey in the Jar. Well, you know where we went! It was actually a great little bar with what appears to be excellent food. Apparently, it is required that you have a seat before you can order a drink, so we had a bit of a wait but it was worth it. While we did not have whiskey in a jar I did have a beer and a couple of whiskys.
|Whiskey in the Jar, Poznan, Poland|
As the first evidence of how inexpensive Poland is, our bill came out to less than $25 in total. Amazing. (One travel tip: My research said that tipping on drinks and food is expected, but no one ever expected a tip and there is no option to provide one on any credit card transactions.)
We decided to explore the Old Market Square a bit more so we wandered out; only to be approached by two other strip clubs offering us various deals. One club offered us: 50 PLZ (zloty) per person for unlimited drinks. At about $13 per person, and knowing what we just paid, we figured “Why not?”…and this is where the “When it is too good to be true…” came into play. We went to pay and they showed the correct amount on the credit card machine (we did not have local currency), but it had nothing to do with the amount they actually charged…so a $2,862.36 charge…and then two more large charges were attempted. But we didn’t know this until after leaving the place, so we had a few drinks (Polish vodka) before heading back to the hotel. (Fortunately, the charges were quickly flagged and removed for obvious fraud.)
It is troubling that this sort of activity is allowed in this tourist and local center, but let’s face it we decided to “dance with the devil”, had a good time and after the hassle of dealing with the fraudulent charge actually drank for free and had a truly local experience. (We were the only Americans in the place.)
Our first morning was a long tour of Poznan which started with a sort of culinary experience on how to make Poznan’s special Saint Martin croissants at Rogalowe Muzeum Pozania. Located in one of the few buildings not destroyed during World Wars I or II, it was very touristic, but actually quite charming. Unlike French croissants, the St. Martin’s croissant is folded into 81 layers and is filled with poppy seeds, nuts, raisins, almonds, sugar, and butter. It is then glazed and coated with nuts. According to the European Union, they must weigh between 150 and 250 grams. They are quite tasty and very similar, not surprisingly, to Jewish rugalach.
|Saint Martin Croissant waiting to be baked|
|Saint Martin Croissant – Delicious…and very heavy|
The cultural side of things was, however, missing for me. Yes, they explained the legend of how a baker felt obligated to feed the poor so he gave away half of all of his croissants to feed them. And he shaped them to be akin to a horseshoe. This baker would become Saint Martin and, just by happenstance, this day is the day celebrating his life (and, secondarily in Poznan, Polish Independence Day).
But I was curious as to how the croissant came to Poland in the first instance and, of course, why it is crescent, or horseshoe, shaped and wished they had explained it. Researching it, the croissant’s origin is actually not French, but seemingly Viennese (though there are other assertions) and that the shape is that of the crescent moon of the Ottoman flag…or Islam…created to celebrate the defeat of the Ottomans by the Polish army with the shape being a reminder. Regardless of the truth, it would have been an interesting addition to a kitschy presentation.
|Pozan, Poland from a new “castle” on a hill|
Our walking tour of Poznan continued on a rather gray and cold morning. While it was interesting I felt it could have been completed much quicker than it took. After we visited the basic sights and it seemed like we would be killing time until the Saint Martin Parade, I and my new friend decided to “go local” on our own.
Just as we decided that, one of the suppliers who specializes in culinary tours told us that there was a great restaurant she discovered that she would definitely suggest to her clients. I mentioned this to our guide and she sort of made a face and then suggested that we try this other restaurant that was small, old and authentic. (Our guide told us the name of the place and, fortunately, where it was located. Why fortunate? We cannot read Polish no less speak it, so how would be able to read the signs? I mean what sound does that letter or letter combination make? Not a clue!)
We decided to check out both. We walked into the local restaurant, Restauracja Wiejskie Jadło. What I didn’t know at the time is that this translates to “Rural Food Restaurant”! It is a small, quaint, rustic, restaurant that was definitely local and offered a pretty wide-ranging Polish menu. But it wouldn’t open for about 20 minutes. So we decided to check out the culinary specialist’s suggestion I was instantly: “That’s a NO!” The place had no soul and what I did see was not inspired. So we went back to the authentic place…and we were very glad we did!
We were “accommodated” as this is clearly a very popular and fully booked local’s restaurant, so we were told we could have lunch, but had to be finished in one hour. OK. Settling into an old wooden table and benches, I ordered my second type of Polish beer (none make me go WOW, but are all drinkable) and reviewed the menu. In celebration of Saint Martin’s Day roast goose is offered throughout Poznan, so I knew I would be having that and started with a bowl of borscht with dumplings.
|Borscht (beet soup) with dumplings|
It was a truly outstanding goose leg with red cabbage and dumplings. I cannot imagine how anyone could eat all those tasty, but incredibly heavy dumplings!
|Delicious Roast Goose Leg with Red Cabbage and Dumplings|
After our meal we were offered a cherry nalewki, a local fruit-based liqueur. Honestly, it tasted exactly like Robitussin, but at least I tried it.
It was then back to the hotel for a rest before the lunch presentation. But, as I do, I saw a road that was barricaded off and wondered “Is the Saint Martin Parade up the road”? Well it was! So, while we missed our guide taking us “to” the parade, we found ourselves “in” the parade…or shall I say…the staging area of the parade; a much better and more local experience!
|A corp of “chefs” parading the traditional roast goose|
After a bit of a nap, it was time for our evening, billed as “Dine Around Poznan”; something I was really looking forward to and it seemed to be really well organized. Essentially we were given a map with coupons for dishes or drinks around Old Market Square and we were sent off on our own. Being the first off the bus (it would have been faster to walk!) we headed to…you guessed it…Whiskey in the Jar! Unfortunately, the “no seat, no service” rule existed and there were no seats. I did want to buy a t-shirt and, amazingly, after buying a t-shirt they were able to find us two seats…and we had our free Passionfruit Whiskey in the Jar. It reminded me of those drinks you have on the beach and, for that, it was tasty.
Interested in traveling to Poland? Please give me a call, drop me an email or send me a Facebook message!
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