As I previously noted, I am visiting Poland and participating in the European Travel Agent Forum as a guest and speaker on a Culinary Panel. Alas, there is always a price to be paid for agreeing to participate in a travel agent forum and even more so for a FAM (or familiarization trip), but at the same time one cannot lose sight of the appreciation for being given the opportunity to travel and to meet potential suppliers that might be of value to your clients. It is with this appreciation and the price I must pay for this opportunity that I write this article.
My third and fourth days in Poland were truly focused on my having seven-minute meetings with 50+ suppliers…and seeking out the two or three gems that I may use once or even for years to come. It is a painful process, not only because of the time, noise and barrage of irrelevant suppliers that I have to engage, but because it is exhausting.
Eric Goldring, of Goldring Travel,
was a Panel Member at the European Travel Agent Forum
But in addition to these one-on-one meetings, there are two lengthy presentations per day…and one lunch where I participated in the Expanding Your Business with Culinary Travel panel along with four other folks. Two were those suppliers I had truly hoped to meet and two were exactly why I do not like or endorse “food and wine” tours, but rather “culinary & cultural” ones.
It started out as a frustrating – if not painful – experience until one of those two gems said, “I have to disagree…just a little” and that gave me the opening to agree with him…and explain the difference: In order to be enriching the experience really needs to be a cultural wrapped around culinary…and that helps you inspire clients and that, in turn, expands your business rather than narrowly focus it on “food and wine”. The warm comments afterward were much appreciated.
Unfortunately for me, I was unable to leave the hotel the entire day and evening, but we were provided a nice dinner and an open bar for the evening, so I was able to meet some very nice people.
Speaking of people, the Polish people I have – in my short time in Poland (or should I say, Poznan, Poland because I have more places to visit) – met have generally been of two types; one disquieting and one quite enjoyable. Huh?
The enjoyable Poles – and there are many – have a dry, sarcastic, sense of humor that find amusement in much of the world around them. (Ya think I might get along well with them??). The other Poles have a solemn manner, never smiling and avoiding interaction, but doing their jobs efficiently. As it was described by a couple of the Poles I met the latter sort is a carry-over from the “Soviet times” when many Poles kept their heads down, did their jobs and made sure they stayed out of trouble. The former were the irreverent ones who pride themselves on having thumbed their noses a the Soviets living with the philosophy of “So what could they really do to us?!” Alas this is multi-generational, so my guess…and it is a guess…may have to do with familial history and/or where in Poland they are from. (Let’s see if I have the same observations later in this journey.)
After the second day of supplier meetings, it was time to head out on the town with my friend for a good local dinner. One of the suppliers I will use in the future, Eat Polska, suggested a restaurant that does not serve Polish cuisine. Interesting. And his creativity and has earned my respect and loyalty!
Not far from our hotel was Cafe La Ruina i Raj; a truly enjoyable sort of hipster funky restaurant that was totally unexpected. Colors, unique signs, flags from many nations and the LGBTQ “nation” along with 1970’s classic rock music coupled with friendly service, an eclectic menu and young Polish patrons made us both say, “This could easily be in New York City.”
First up: Caipirinhas! I mean, “When in Poland…”. (Ironically, it was six years ago to the day that I had my first one; while on a Seabourn cruise Bar Sao Paolo in Ilhabela, Brazil.) It was then a very tasty pho and then Banh mi followed by a somewhat Turkish dish, but this night made with goose rather than beef (probably left over from Saint Martin Day). Everything was delicious. It was an unlikely, but rejuvenating, end to my Poznan, Poland experience.
And then the morning came with our group of 19 on a post-forum FAM to Lodz (pronounced “Woodg”) and then Warsaw. I would have preferred to FAM to Krakow, but it was sold out. It started with chaos, frustration and, “Oh, this is what a FAM is like and why I had never done one before and probably would not do one again!”
There were, from what I can tell, three major factors that made the next two days so frustrating:
- Traveling with agents that really do not “travel”, but rather use FAMs to get cheap vacations;
- Traveling to a city that really has not enough to warrant two days there, no less drive hours to get there; and,
- Traveling with a guide that, while a fairly nice guy, really wasn’t very good.
Let me explain…and begrudgingly relive it.
After our guide stopped insisting our tour left at 9:00 a.m., because we were all told it started at 10:00 a.m. we were greeted by a very small mini-bus that could hardly hold us, no less our luggage. After the driver and guide engaged in a totally futile attempt to fit in the luggage, it was decided that they would hire a trailer to pull behind our mini-bus…but that ordeal took 1.5 hours to sort out. Then it was a three-hour drive to Lodz (pronounced “Woodg”); a place a friend of mine had visited and said there wasn’t much there. He was right. But let me not get ahead of myself…because a very important cultural experience would hit me in the head at the two-hour forty-five-minute mark.
As we drove down the main road, our guide said that we were now traveling over the old Jewish cemetery and – without mentioning the word Nazi – said that the road was originally built utilizing the tombstones from the cemetery (not using the word Jew) and that the buildings on either side were built over the cemetery. He stated nobody knew this was the case until the road was being renovated a few years ago. I knew there was no way this was the case and bit my tongue hard…waiting to explain the truth to the agents later. Breathe…and Never Forget!
We arrived at the Nuro Hotel and, needing a bit of space, headed to my room for the few minutes we had…as were were still 1.5 hours behind our schedule. All I can say is “Ahhhh”. This new property is small, but extremely modern, high tech and comfortable with an Android tablet for room controls and encrypted wi-fi in each room. I won’t go into this wonderful hotel any more because I am fairly confident no one reading this article will be traveling to Lodz, Poland.
The hotel is located across the street from a “palace” (mansion) and former textile factory built in the mid-1800’s now known as Manufaktura; a truly beautiful and huge facility that has been turned into an enormous and striking indoor/outdoor shopping mall with over 300 shops and restaurants.
|Manufaktura – Lodz, Poland
Our first stop was for a very late lunch at Galaicja, a very nice Polish-cuisine restaurant quite near the entrance to Maufakatura. After some local Polish cheese (nice, but not noteworthy) and beetroot pickled herring on a dark bread (delicious!) I tried both a Sour Soup and a thick Beetroot Soup (again delicious and though different in texture brought back memories of my childhood having borscht on a Sunday evening). This was followed by a very good pork sirloin with a variety of pickled salads coupled with a local dark beer (the first beer of note since I arrived).
We then toured a very small area of Manufaktura, including a small, but interesting, textile factory museum. The guide had early on mentioned the former creator and owner’s name; which I picked upon on “Israel Poznański”, but said nothing more. Eventually, as we were about to leave the facility that he said he “obviously” was Jewish…but never mentioned what happened to him, his family or all the Jewish workers that kept the 80 thousand spindles over twelve building operating. Breathe…and Never Forget!
(I subsequently did some research – though there is more to do – and challenged the guide about the history of this important Jewish family. Later on he would discuss another textile magnate and he, again, didn’t mention that he was also Jewish until I asked. As for how the families lost their huge facilities and mansions it was asserted that it was due to a downturn in the cotton textile market in between World War I and II. I’m not so sure that is the whole…or much of…the real story.)
We were then taken to the “famous” Piotrkowska Street; two miles of stores and restaurants; supposedly the longest shopping street in Poland. Along the way the more normal Lodz was seen and, honestly, it reminded me of Newark, New Jersey: It had its time, it fell into disrepair, some efforts have been made to resurrect the area, but it still is Newark. (We do have another morning and early afternoon here, so we shall see.)
Why would I be so harsh? Well, when you are walked down an alley that used to be a movie theatre (Lodz is also known as Holly-Lodz…said like “Holly-woodg”) and you are shown a Mexican restaurant – complete with tacky fountain and a story: If you order the cheesecake, they dim the lights and Zorro comes out and serves it to you.” Ugh…and I am losing patience. Unfortunately, it was too early for that.
As we strolled down Piotrkowska Street in the cold and wind, with silly, irrelevant and repeated stories from our guide bombarded me, my wondering “What the hell are we doing?” got stronger and stronger. Again, unfortunately, I found out “What the hell we were doing?”…killing time until we were expected for two hotel inspections.
Yes, I had to spend over two hours inspecting a Doubletree and Holiday Inn hotel; not exactly my market, but I was a good sport. That was until…
we were taken to the restaurant in the Holiday Inn for dinner. That’s right, Mr. Culinary & Cultural was about to “dine” in a Holiday Inn. My Polish dinner could not start or end quick enough. Our settings were already with a chunk of tasteless cheese and garnish that I could not eat. Next up a soup that was akin to dishwater with mushrooms, that was followed by (two-day old???) dry and tasteless duck and ending with a bad apple pie…though the accompanying scoop of ice cream did give me some pleasure.
It was finally time to get back to my sanctuary: The Puro Hotel. I had (because I had to) a Highland Park 18 year old whisky, had a nice chat with a few of my fellow FAM people and then headed to bed. Sliding into a comfortable bed with crisp white sheets, great pillows and USB charging ports bedside gave me a bit of relief…and some hope that tomorrow will be better.
Well, as I am sure you could surmise, the next day wasn’t better. After a very nice breakfast at the Puro Hotel, our day started at 10:00 a.m. (or really 10:20 a.m. because certain members of our group just don’t show up on time…ever). We had a bit of drive around town and then were taken to a new, and very empty, train station. I’m talking no trains and no people. And I am asking, “Why???”
|Lodz, Poland’s new – very empty – train station
It was then off to the Centre of Science and Technology and planetarium. Now, you might think this would be a quick walk-around, but nope. This was over two hours of wasted time walking around a brand new children’s museum established in an abandoned powerplant. My bonus: We had to sit through a 30 minute “3D” video meant for children that wasn’t very good, was a few years old…and was British? Huh?
It was at this point I really started to get angry…and it clearly was showing on my face as the guide kept asking me if I was all right.
We then drove to the other abandoned textile factory that is slowly being repurposed into small craft shops, galleries and offices. Our tour was not of any businesses (other than the small tourist office souvenir shop…because certain travel agents were upset there were no shopping opportunities), but rather a literal “walk around the block”. Believe it or not, we were running over 45 minutes late for our lunch (and our much anticipated escape from Lodz a/k/a 1.5 hour drive to Warsaw), but due to travel agent demand we stopped at the downtown tourist office so they could do some more shopping.
Worth a mention is the attempts at street art that Lodz is pushing as a cultural development. Basically, some not very good art has been painted on the walls of abandoned, collapsed or otherwise rundown buildings. I do appreciate they are trying to create Lodz to be more of an artist’s colony – an homage to its history as Poland’s film industry past (also Jewish, but again never mentioned…until pressed that the Jews owned almost every movie theatre and movie set) – but it really came across to me as more akin to lipstick on a pig.
One of the best examples of Lodz, Poland’s street art.
I believe the girl’s sad face pretty much says it all.
Finally something good: Lunch! We were taken to a small, family owned, restaurant named Restauracja Gargoly. The family and staff were wonderful and the food…and there was a huge amount of it…really, really, good. From beef tartar and pate to a super-fresh salad to excellent chicken soup with freshly made noodles to huge pierogis (the best I have had!) and pork sirloin, I was quite happy.
Unfortunately, because we were running so late, the ability to really sit and enjoy this true Polish cuisine was rushed…and made worse when – though knowing we were very late and had appointments in Warsaw – a couple of the travel agents insisted on having a coffee. I would say, “What the hell were they thinking?” but at this point I knew they were not thinking of anything other than their selfish immediate wants.
We were finally off to Warsaw, Poland…almost two hours late and now in rush hour traffic in the rain. Will we make our planned Chopin concert? Only time will tell.
A closing thought: I did take the opportunity at lunch to nicely challenge our guide as to why our time in Lodz, Poland was so sanitized of anything Jewish. The short answer is that his instructions were not to focus on the past, but on the rebirth of Lodz. While we did have a bit of a discussion as to why it is impossible to properly look to the future without remembering and understanding the importance of the past, it was clear that it was time to yet again: Breathe…and Never Forget!
Interested in traveling to Poland? Please give me a call, drop me an email or send me a Facebook message!
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