Krakow: Tonight We’re Gonna Dine Like it’s 1364

After a night of sleeping in fits and bursts, waking drenched in sweat, my mind fresh with the nightmarish image of the woman standing, holding her toddler for four hours on the torture train, we rolled in to the Zilina train station at an absurdly premature hour, ready to fight to the death for a seat. There would be no floor squatting en route to Krakow for us, no sir. We located a coffee machine, which, much like coffee machines the world over, felt exoticly cool. And yet, when I spot them in a 7-11 stateside, I cannot even both bothered. So gauche.

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Of course, we were the clowns sitting on the platform for an hour with our teensy coffees, encountering zero competition for seats and/or space. Not a popular leg on the old misery mobile route, Zilina to Kosice. We ended up in a room again, this one an upgraded version of the last, luxuriously befitted with cloth padded seats and even…be still my heart, a table and a bistro menu.

One short hour later, we were deposited inside of Kosice’s tiny yet sweet train station which dates back to 1860 and marks the end of the line for multiple routes. Some sort of market or fair was in progress across the street, complete with a five person “marching band”. I was shocked to later find out that not only is Kosice the second largest city in Slovakia with a population of 240,000, but also, that it was 2013’s “European Capital of Culture” alongside Marseilles. From our vantage point at the train station, the size and importance of the city was not at all apparent. Our layover was brief, allowing us only a few moments to scope the scene and move on.

I was relieved to find out that if I started to feel peckish, an order of chipsy was only a koruna or two away

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We clambered aboard our second train of the day, a Eurocity express, to find that it was a creature comfort shangrila. Gone were the side oriented hallways and tight little rooms, no longer would we be forced to guzzle large, delicious, canned beers in confinement, not one more time would we find ourselves lurching to an inexplicable stop. This train, it smoothly sped us through the Slovakain and Polish countryside, happily ensconced in the slightly fancy, spacious, air-conditioned, dining car, indulging in a menu of Poland’s greatest hits.

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It was in that dining car that we encountered our first Radler sighting. Europeans have been guzzling Radler’s since the early 1900’s, but to us Americans, the 40/60 beer & lemon soda mixture was a novel discovery.

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We decided to save our induction for a later time, opting instead for our favorite Polish beer, Zywiec.

We marked our border crossing with polish sour soup, which if you’ve never had the pleasure, is a sad state of affairs for you. In San Francisco, a Polish friend of ours whipped us up a batch when he found out we were traveling to his home city. PSS is a genius concoction with a fermented rye bread base, otherwise known as zakwas, which lends the soup it’s sour flavor (much like sourdough bread) beefed up with kielbasa and chopped up hard-boiled egg. I have unfortunately never seen in it anywhere in the states, but if you ever do come across it, say, in Poland, you must take it down with extreme prejudice.

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Followed by pierogi’s (if you don’t love pierogi’s you’re a total loser, just FYI)

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Pickled herring

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A trio of salads; carrot, beet and cabbage

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And one spectacular jaegerschnitzel with dilled potatoes

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We were all taken aback by the skillful execution evident in this food, all of it was expertly seasoned, full flavored, simply excellent. Our server, a super friendly guy, gave me a Zywiec bottle opener/magnet, which has a very special place on my fridge and in my heart.

We soon pulled into our next stop, Katovice Poland, otherwise known as the ugliest town in the world, and I am not talking about the architecture. More on that later.

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The third train quickly put to rest our belief that we had moved into an era of dignified train travel. This torment tube chugged along at a laboriously slow pace, halting to frequent stops in what appeared to be abandoned pastures, and was sadly inhabited by a) smokers and b) an Autstralian woman who absolutely refused to STFU, driving me into a state of xenophobic hatred of her accent (I have since recovered). If that combination of irritants wasn’t enough, the journey was, of course, extended by an inexplicable hour. Germany, this was not.

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I look pretty miserable, no? At least I had space. There was that tiny blessing.

In Krakow, we did our best to figure out the metro but gave up rather quickly, knowing that our airbnb host was waiting for us at the apartment we rented. The cab stand was no different from those in Slovakia, having one cab on offer with a dude asleep in the driver’s seat. I guess it’s just how they roll in those parts. I knocked on his window to rouse him, after which he begrudgingly made some money by driving us somewhere.

The flat was a beautiful two bedroom in Kazimirez, the old Jewish section of Krakow. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/55088

The kitchen was well provisioned with all of the necessary utensils and appliances, the bathroom complete with both a peep toilet and a poop toilet/bidet, along with a washer and dryer that would soon be my undoing, but we are not quite to that part of the story yet. Our host Jacek made the arrival and departure process a breeze.

Kazimirez is a charming part of town, but what’s best is, Krakow is infinitely walkable; the geography quite easy to understand fairly quickly, with Wawel castel being the centerpiece landmark around which everything else radiates. We headed out in the neighborhood in search of a specific pierogi place, which unfortunately had moved and we were not in possession of the forwarding address, resulting in us stumbling around trying to make a plan B, taking in some local scenery along the way.

We landed ourselves in the lovely beer garden of some touristy restaurant where we had an inferior plate of pierogi

Then went back home to get ready for our big meal out at Wierzynek, a 700 year old (literally, it’s been there since 1364) “must see” fine dining establishment, and our most expensive meal planned for the trip. Our friend who made us the Polish sour soup back in the states? He used to be a server at Wierzynek, and by all accounts online, it is THE place to eat in Krakow, not just for the food but also for the beautiful, historical, setting. http://www.wierzynek.com.pl/

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The decor was old school opulent, the space large enough to accommodate a few dining rooms with tables full of people celebrating special occasions. Wierzynek offered both an a la carte menu and two tasting menus; we ended up with two of each tasting menus, one set per couple. The meal began with a chicken amuse, head cheese style, but it was bland and in major need of salt. Sorry, terrible photo

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My starter was pickled herring, a really fabulous version, the herring being very clean and steaky firm, with not a hint of mush. It was served with Krakovian pickles, which in my humble opinion, are some of the best, if not THE best in the world. They are in an absolute league of their own. Unfortunately, none of us photographed that dish. Jake’s meal began with a serving of pierogi’s equally bland to the amuse, and, being our third serving of pierogi for the day, did not elicit any feelings of adoration in any of us.

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My soup course was their rendition of Polish sour soup, this time with rabbit instead of sausage, and one, simple, hard boiled quail egg as opposed to chopped up hard-boiled chicken egg. As I’ve already established, I am an absolute fool for Polish sour soup, making this my favorite dish of the night.

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Jake’s soup was consumme with fresh noodles, quail egg, diced carrot, and celery. While he was impressed with the clarity of the broth, a difficult result to achieve, the flavor was not there, making this another underseasoned disappointment.

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My main was a bland wild boar fillet served with equally bland sauerkraut and gluey potato dumplings.

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Jake’s was overcooked, underseasoned roast duck served with a cranberry jelly topped baked pear. I preferred this to the boar, which is to say, the boar was seriously offensive.

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Desserts were a ricotta style cheesecake and a slice of pie with a layered, shredded, apple filling. Both were perfectly satisfying and Randi was a fan of the shredded apple technique used in the pie, but that’s really there is to say about that.

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There was a bathroom visit, complete with translated sign, lest English speakers find “toalety” to be incomprehensible.

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All of that lackluster food, plated like it was 1995 and Jeramiah Tower just teletransported into the kitchen, for the bargain price of $200/pp. The Most expensive dining experience of our trip and by far the worst. Oh well. It wouldn’t be a vacation for the four of us without at least one ill-fated, over priced, horrible disappointment of a meal.

We went home for an outfit change then went on the hunt for a bar. We soon found a small little place full of dancing Pollacks, which proved to be a people watching paradise.

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One of the better moments occurred as we watched one insanely hammered dude stumble to the bar, order himself a bottle of vodka and a pitcher of coke, then walk off with it, double fisted as it were. Like, they sold him the WHOLE BOTTLE OF VODKA. Just, you know, for him. Welcome to Krakow.

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