Christmas Market season – again. It seems to come around ominously quicker and earlier as the years pass. Recently, a friend of mine went to Manchester. In early November the city was already decked for Christmas. It’s too early, I know, and I wasn’t surprised when he told me that it was ‘just a load of wooden sheds filled with tat that nobody needed or really wanted.’
But, I suppose the season has to start early if profits are to be as large as possible. There are many who welcome the arrival of the lights, the festive feeling and the excuse to stand in Albert Square with a mug of hot mulled wine straight after work.
We went to Liverpool at the end of November. Wooden sheds, filled with….well, ‘tat’ would be a bit harsh, to be honest. But Liverpool One was crowded with shoppers and early revellers – getting into the mood and spirit of Christmas.
Manchester has regularly been voted into the top 10 Christmas markets in Europe. But to be honest, there’s something different in a seasonal market on the continent if you can escape from home, the damp and the wintry gloom – for even just a few days.
Over the years, we’ve visited markets in Belgium, Germany and Poland; and it’s to Poland again we’re off this time. After Krakow, Warsaw, Wroclaw and Gdansk, it’s time to see what Poznan has to offer.
The flight from Liverpool takes a little under two hours to Poznań–Ławica Henryk Wieniawski Airport. It’s a small set-up, but adequate. We’re ushered efficiently through the non-Schengen section of the Border Patrol and catch a UBER from arrivals to the very heart of the city centre, a half-hour’s drive for £6. It’s ridiculously cheap and Jakub more than earns his tip.
Poznan is Poland’s fifth largest city, lying on the River Warta in west-central Poland. With a population of under a million, it’s home to a university with over 130,000 students. Like many cities in this part of the World, bitter fighting during the Second World War left the Old Town in ruins, but the rebuilding was sympathetic to what was there previously.
We’re staying in an Airbnb on Klasztorna, a street away from the Main Square and the Christmas Market. It’s absolutely ideal for two. Surgically clean, toasty warm, brand new and only £134 for four nights, Not per night, mind – for four nights!
It’s been a long day, so we take a stroll into the Rynek, the Old Square. It’s beautiful – peaceful, Christmassy, not too busy and full of families and couples out for a seasonal stroll, rather than an all-out attempt by gangs of males to drink as much as possible, as is too often the case in the UK. Poznan is off the UK ‘stag and hen’ route; which is another point in its favour.
For two nights during the season, there’s an ice sculpture festival in the Square. Beautiful shapes adorn the cobbles at the edge of the square…but, it needs to be colder. They drip away; their demise unfortunately accelerated by unseasonably warm air.
We eat at Rynek 95 (https://www.facebook.com/rynek95/) on the Main Square. Cod loin with spinach and potatoes and chicken with salad and potatoes…washed down with copious amounts of Żywiec beer. All for under £20. Wherever you go, you receive a warm reception – even if you are British and about to bite the European hand that has fed you so generously for the past few years.
But, as I say, it’s been a long day and time for some sleep. Tomorrow will be busy.
There’s nothing better than finding a piekarnia, a bakery, just around the corner. Unfortunately, the elderly lady behind the counter speaks no English and my Polish is on par with my fluency in Klingon.
‘Dzien dobry. Croissants?’
She reaches for pretzels the size of dinner plates.
Right, that’s me out…..I’m now running on fumes.
‘Er….(I point at the fresh rolls – they’re the nearest item to me that I recognise)…..Three? Er….three….trzy? Know I know that trzy is the word for three, but when you say it in your best Google Translator voice, you could be saying anything.
Three fingers and a point do the trick. I escape with three warm and extremely fresh bread rolls….probably better for me than a croissant, anyway.
Later on, we head out for the day. Monday’s itinerary is to cover north-east Poznan. The first stop is in the Old Square. The Town Hall is a grand building with a host of interesting rooms – when it’s open. But it’s not. It’s not even because it’s Monday. They’re closed for massive renovations and alterations. We content ourselves with walking through the row of 16th century Fisherman’s Houses; tiny doors and windows under a portico, running the length of the top end of the Square.
Not far beyond is the parish church of St Stanislaus. Baroque ornamentation on steroids. It looks more like a cathedral instead of merely a lowly parish church. The power and wealth is there for all to see. But, it’s very much a working church. There’s a queue of men and women, of a certain age, waiting in turn to have their confessions heard by their parish priest. What on earth happened over the weekend, only Heaven will know! However, as the ‘Engaged’ light above the confessional switches off, one penitent leaves, sins absolved, and another takes their place.
Zdrowaś Maryjo, łaski pełna, Pan z Tobą, błogosławionaś Ty między niewiastami, i błogosławiony owoc żywota Twojego, Jezus. Święta Maryjo, Matko Boża, módl się za nami grzesznymi teraz i w godzinę śmierci naszej, Amen
A little over a mile away is the Imperial Castle. By the way, that’s shut as well. It’s all to do with European funds. Clearly a very hefty cheque has come the way of the Poznan City Council and there is a lot of upgrading going on. It’s interesting to see how much development is happening through the auspices of the EU. In years to come, a parent, visiting from the UK, will stand here, turn to their children and say ‘A long time ago, in a country far, far away, funding like this was ours for the taking.’
Anyway, by next summer, they’ll be reopening, I’m sure and the interiors will welcome visitors to their full-restored glory.
Across the road are two massive stone crosses, erected as a memorial to the 1956 anti-communist protests in Poznan. Poland gained its independence from Soviet Russia only in 1989. In that sense, it’s still a ‘new’ country, but one with a history that goes back to the Piasts in the 10th century AD.
Poland is ethnically very Caucasian. In recent polls, Polish people expressed their view that they would be willing to accept refugees from the Ukraine but not from the Middle East. Polish governments have not been at all supportive of the EU policy to resettle refugees across Europe. After years of repression from the East, Poland remains a socialist country with nationalist views. Something of a contradiction. The absence of Middle Eastern refugees, people of colour or Islamic Muslims is quite noticeable.
We wander over to the Market on Rynek Jezycki. It’s an old-fashioned outdoor market selling dried and fresh meat and fish, cheeses a plenty and a wide range of very fresh fruit and vegetables; as well as clothes and knick-knacks. A lady sells hand-painted Christmas baubles and we buy three at giveaway prices. When we tell her we’re from Wales, she exclaims that she’s been to Cardiff. No, we tell her, we’re from the North….the expression on her face convinces me she thought Wales started and stopped at the capital.
In the dainty little Francuski Lacznik cafe on Lazarz, we sit drinking coffee and eating large slices of tarts made from blueberries and chocolate with hazelnuts. I’m not sure why it’s taken its name from ‘The French Connection’ film – unless for the reason that, as a cafe, it’s elegantly French and full of ladies dining out on quiche and delicate teas while catching up on last week’s gossip. I suppose it’s anther example of being ‘lost in translation’.
It’s just around the corner from Park Wilsona, one of the large open spaces in Poznan and home to one of the biggest Palm houses in Europe, I’d imagine it’s impressive inside and it would be interesting to find out, but it’s only open Tuesday to Saturday …and, yep, it’s Monday.
Time to head back to Stare Miasto, the Old Town and a large glass of wine.
In the evening, we eat just on the edge of the Main Square at a little restaurant, Pioro Feniksa, which describes itself as having an ‘American theme’. (https://pioro-feniksa-restauracja.business.site/?utm_source=gmb&utm_medium=referral)
Sorry, couldn’t see it myself. There were some inscriptions about the Mayflower painted on the ceiling….does that count? Once again, the food is excellent. Fresh trout and crispy pork ribs with salad and home baked potatoes – such large portions, it’s a struggle to finish.
It’s a quiet, rather unassuming restaurant. That is until the door bursts open and five women enter. Three large, two small…and one with a cackle of a laugh that would put Betty Marsden to shame. Each wears a flashing Christmas halo and, either they’re all hard of hearing, or they’ve arrived after a few bottles of Prosecco. Worse still…..they’re English. Even worse still…they’re Northern. Swinton? Worsley? I try to pin the accent down as I cringe in my seat and instantly hope the waiter thinks I might be from anywhere else in the whole World but Manchester.
They seat themselves and it begins. Customers turn around at the burst of the cackle. One of the large ones does the click of the fingers and the ‘Oi, waiter!’ shout….not once, of course. There’s once for the menus, once for the order, once for the small plates on which to decant what they don’t like from the meal and once more for more drinks. Everything is discussed at maximum decibels and they share their meals with each other by passing forks laden with food around accompanied by ‘Ooh! I don’t like that’ or ‘I can’t eat that’.
One asks if another can remember the last time they ate together. ‘Don’t go there!’ ‘Why?’ ‘I said, don’t go there’ ‘Why?’ ‘I said, don’t go there!’ Over and over and over again…..
I’m left muttering and chuntering into my Greek salad at this mindless repotia. Sorry, it does take the edge off what was a lovely meal.
I can’t help laughing to myself on the walk home, I wonder who booked this midweek break for them? Their husbands, I suspect. There’ll be more than one of them back home, shoes on the coffee table, dog on the settee, washing up still in the sink, thinking….at last, some bloody peace and quiet!
Today we head north; out past the Old Town to the Cemetery of the Meritorious on Swieta Wojciech. The plaque outside announces that this is the final resting place of Great Poles – buried in order of importance. I can’t help but wonder whether there’s a similar sign in Denmark!
Pride of place seems to go to Stansilaw Mikolajcyk. He is a son of Poznan and was Minister of the Interior in the government in exile during the Second World War. After the war, he revived the Polish People’s Party but soon fell foul to Russian oppression. He fled to England and then to the USA where he died in 1996. In 2000, his remains were brought back to Poznan and interred here in with full honours.
Further down the road is the Citadela. Housed within a park of the same name, the Citadel is what remains of Fort Winery, a 19th century fortification and now a Museum of military uniforms, arms, planes, vehicles and tanks. There is a Commonwealth Cemetery on the site, mainly given over to the graves of prisoners of war from 1914 – 18 and allied airman from the 1939-45 war. There are numerous other cemeteries within the park, including one for Soviet soldiers killed during the battle of Poznan in 1945 when the Soviet troops’ objective was to eliminate the Nazi forces from within the city.
Like many cities and towns in Poland, there are some very dark moments in their history.
Crossing the River Warta brings to you Ostrow Tumski or Cathedral Island. Although residents see the area as part of the New Town, it’s probably the oldest part of the city and home to many ecclesiastical buildings. The Cathedral itself dates back to the 10th century but has been destroyed by fire and rebuilt in the 14th, 15th 18th and 20th centuries. The latest rebuild in brick (probably a requirement by the insurance company!) stands on relics from the medieval age. The bronze statue of Pope John Paul II outside the main doors is in honour of the close relationship between the Pope and the people of Poznan. It’s far more under-stated that the Parish Church of St Stanislaus. Brick instead of gilt, plain timbers instead of carved ornamentation.
At the end of Ostrow Tumski, on Srodka 3, stands one of the finest examples of 3D murals I’ve ever seen. Finished in 2015, the ‘Śródka Tale with Trumpeter on the Roof and Cat in the Background.’ is now a major tourist draw to an area of Cathedral Island once neglected by visitors.
We head home via Plac Wielkopolslki, another of Poznan’s open air street markets.It’s lovely to see and smell fresh fruit and vegetables – such a change from the pre-packed, plastic wrapped, air-mile offerings of chain supermarkets.
There’s a cold wind from the East and it may well freeze this evening. Time to find a restaurant within a stone’s throw of a warm and cosy apartment.
The restaurant at the end of the road is full. Fortunately, I’ve booked a table as the Wiejskie Jadio comes highly recommended. (https://wiejskie-jadlo.pl/) Of the eighty or so covers in the restaurant, there must be five female diners at the most. The rest of the customers seem to be people from the University on Faculty Christmas nights’ out. It’s all very reserved and well-behaved, as well. After all, this is one of the top Polish restaurants in the city. We sit at large heavy wooden tables below a beamed ceiling with the decoration deliberately planned to give it a rustic look.
The food is excellent. We have fillet of beef you can cut with a spoon, moist butter-fried potatoes and salad: sliced beetroots, carrots, cabbage. Large tankards of Lech beer help it along. It’s all wonderfully tasty. I’m not one for the fuss and drama of ‘eating out’ as anyone who knows me will confirm, but the food here is superb and plates are left cleaned.
We stroll across to the Columbus, a pub on the corner of the Square for a final Tyskie before the night ends. The view out of the bow windows onto the square is lovely.
If only it would snow…..
You could probably ‘do’ Poznan in two days if you set your mind to it, but a third day gives you the chance to explore how people live. We’ve already wandered out of the Old Town and taken in various areas to the west and the east. I always try and set aside some time to see where people shop, what choices they have and how the manage when the average monthly salary, after tax, is about £660 and half of that would go on rent if you wanted a one-bedroom apartment in the city centre. (Source: www.numbeo.com 12.2019). Salaries here are 62% below those in Manchester, by way of comparison.
We start at the Galeria MM on Swiety Marcin. It’s a rather small, low-key affair that only holds out attention for a few minutes before we move on to Avenida on Matyi. This is much better. Many independent stores and labels and the mall is busy with shoppers; women with the same thought – stay warm. Good boots, a good coat and a warm hat. Backpacks have replaced handbags and shoulder bags, as they seem to have done across Europe.
Looking at the prices, shoes are expensive. They wouldn’t be cheap in London, even allowing for the increased standard of living. Over here, they must be prohibitively expensive. I can see people saving up for a good pair and then looking after them.
We’ve been blessed with good weather since Day One. It’s cold, hovering around zero for most of the day, but it’s bright and sunny. We walk for half an hour to what must be the jewel in Pozan’s crown – Poznania. 256 stores and 40 restaurants. It’s huge and very impressive. It’s brand new, space-age and caters for customers of all ages. A three-carriage train carries you around the store and, if you’re small enough, mum and dad might rent you one of the Bentleys, or Jeeps by the front desk to save your little legs on the long march around the shops. All the recognisable labels are there as well as a fair sprinkling of the unusual and the exotic.
We’ve booked an evening table at Brovaria (https://brovaria.pl/restaurant). It’s a hotel, restaurant and brewery all in one. The beer menu changes with what has currently been produced in the vast tanks at one end of the brewing hall. We drink Pils, fresh and unfiltered. The food, once again, is excellent. I have duck with soft yeast dumplings – like clouds and pan-fried red cabbage. Wherever we’ve gone in Poland, it’s the same story. High standard food at ridiculously good-value prices.
Poznan. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’ve certainly not been disappointed. It’s an attractive city, vibrant without being crowded or rowdy. The Old Town is lovely, the food excellent and the people warm and friendly.
If only it would snow…………..