My neck still hurts from visiting Poland, but it’s my stomach that really aches to go back…

I visited Poland in 2011 to attend the World Gold Panning Championships with my brother. My expectations for this trip were that it would be like setting foot in communist Russia. I kept envisioning myself in scenes from Rocky IV: dodging stoic guards strapped with AK-47s, passing babushkas in mule driven carts, or eating stale bread and sipping on bland borscht. The reality was far from what I envisioned.

To get there, we flew from Whitehorse to Krakow via Frankfurt with Condor. Passing over the barren Arctic, eating decent food (for an airline) and getting to Europe in less time and for less money than it takes to get to Toronto, was in itself, an amazing experience.

Poland, simply put, is a beautiful country, and Krakow, is its gem. One stroll into the Rynek Glowny, the oldest medieval square in Europe, and you’ll fall for it too. The cobblestone streets, the art galleries, the historical buildings, outdoor terraces and most noticeably: throngs of beautiful women.

In my entire life I have never seen so many gorgeous women. It seemed like I couldn’t walk five feet without seeing the most beautiful woman in the world walking with the second and third most beautiful woman in the world. They were everywhere! You think you’re imagining things when you notice every other tourist doing the same double takes as they wander through town. While visiting Krakow, I developed a kink in my neck that still hurts today. But enough of the things you can’t have.

Although women and architecture were a great introduction to Poland, it’s the people we met; their culture and traditions that make me want to go back today.

While Poland may not be known as a foodie’s paradise like Italy or France, for normal guys like my brother and I, it was heaven. Unpretentious, filling and inviting, Polish people and food are really as down to earth as it gets. As one Pole told us, Polish food could be described in the following saying: “eat, drink and loosen your belt”. It’s comfort food at its best.

Here are a couple of things you should know about Polish food:

1. Portions are huge. My brother and I once ordered a meat platter that was listed as an appetizer that required two servers to bring it out. This heaping mound of meats must’ve weighed 10 pounds. It was ridiculous, but it was delicious.

2. Vegetarians beware. It’s nearly impossible to find a meal that doesn’t include pork. No piece of the pig goes untouched. Pork hocks, head cheese and sausages can be had for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

3. Don’t tell your doctor. One of our meals consisted of smalec, basically fried pork fat topped with crackling (pork skin) that you spread on bread. It was, as you can imagine, amazing.

4. Be prepared to drink your face off. No meal is enjoyed without a pivo (beer) and “Nazdrovie!” is fun to say. The more you say that, the more you drink. And with over 1000 varieties of vodka (just a guess), you’ll have to try a few.

When we arrived in Krakow we took it in fully, but we stuck to the tourist trap restaurants that catered to English speaking folk. We even ate at the oldest restaurant in Poland, built in 1234. King Winceslas ate there. It was good, but it wasn’t anything to sing a carol about.

It wasn’t until we got away from the throng of beautiful women and visited Babci Molina’s in Old Town Krakow that we got a true experience of Polish hospitality and culture.

Babci Molina translates to Grandma’s Raspberry. The name really says it all. It’s like eating at your Grandma’s place, if your Grandma is very Polish. The walls are clad in boas. Chandeliers hang from the ceiling. A chamber singer belts from an antique radio. It’s not the typical place you would expect to hang out as a couple of twenty-something year olds.

The servers here were Polish and female, so they were stunningly beautiful, but they barely spoke English, which was great, because it allowed us to try out the Polish we thought we knew. Turns out we hadn’t really learned anything. We spent about ten minutes trying to point and figure out what is what was on the menu before finally settling on the few words we knew on the menu: barzcz, pierogi ruski, latke.

What we ended up with was the best meal I have ever eaten; probably not the healthiest, but the best. The barzcz was beet borscht that tasted like beets boiled in the nectar of the gods. The pierogi ruski were Russian style perogies, dumplings stuffed with cheese and potato served with a huge dollop of butter, not sour cream. The piece de resistance for mewas the latke. From my childhood I knew Iatke as tasteless potato pancakes, what we were served at Babci Molina’s was like a Frankenstein version of poutine. Deep fried mashed potatoes topped with cheese curds and smothered in butter and brown gravy. My heart skips a beat thinking of it, and so should yours. I still dream of this dish when I’m eating plain old mash potatoes. No potato product has compared since this latke touched my lips.

Throughout the meal, our server would come and try to ask us how it was, if we wanted anything else, at least I think that’s what she was asking. At no point did she speak to us in English. She allowed us to stumble through with smiles and broken Polish. It was great.

After this meal we were stuffed but so happy. Our server, who seemed to love our attempts at Polish, brought over a bottle, sat down and proceeded to pour three shots from a blank brown bottle without our asking for it. When we tried to ask what it was, she said: “Nazdrovie” and made the gesture to shoot back the shot with her. Not wanting to be shown up, we followed suit. This vodka (I don’t think they serve any other type of liquor) was the perfect way to finish the meal, turned out to be Miodula, a honey based vodka crafted by monks (or something like that). Although we couldn’t converse clearly, we shared some awkward laughs and a few more (WARNING: do not try to out drink a Pole) with our server before stumbling back to our hostel.

By the end of our visit of Krakow we visited Babci Molina’s four times in 6 days and had a few more shots with the same server. Her name was Anna; seems like every woman in Poland is named Anna.

Throughout our visit, we saw the sites, visited the land, met quite a bit of Poles and saw more beautiful women than ever. But as beautiful as the sites and women were in Poland, nothing beat the latkes and vodkas at Babci Molina’s. I can’t wait to go back. Nazdrovie!