For the last year and a half, we had been waiting for international travel from outside Europe to be thing again. Finally, the Belgian borders opened to US visitors and my Mum was able to get on a plane.
I hadn't seen my parents since we spent Christmas with them in 2019 just before COVID stopped the world from spinning. We said goodbye at the airport as I was heading back to New Zealand, oblivious to how long the next reunion would take. After nine months I edged somewhat closer, swapping my island home for Europe, but Belgium felt like just another isolated spot in a lonely world, where the only thing able to broach the distance was technology.
Mum arrived in Brussels on Monday. By Thursday we were ready to leave - together - to seek out a country neither of us had visited before. We chose Poland for a variety of reasons, not least because we envisaged cruising the country by train, using the travel to catch up and make plans for the future. With ten days of touring to look forward to, and no idea what the weather had in store, we packed everything from hot and sunny to cool and rainy. Our yellow suitcase was loaded up to the brim but we didn't mind. After all, we'd simply have to pull it along onto a few train platforms as we moseyed our way across the country...
Thursday dawned with drizzle, but undeterred, we marched off to the central train station in Brussels, from where we would catch the first of three trains on a ten-hour journey across Germany via Cologne and Berlin, to Poznań in Poland.
The first sign that something was off came at the train station, when our train seemed not to be running. We were rerouted through Liège in western Belgium, but didn't find out until we got there that the "drizzle" was actually a severe flood in this part of the world. All trains in the region were cancelled. How had we missed this? We were told to head back to Brussels, with the likelihood of travel via Cologne being slim for the immediate future. Starting to understand the extent of the situation, with rail and roads washed away, we realized the only way to go on was by air. By the time we scrambled onto a last-minute flight to Berlin, there were no onward trains to pick up the rest of the journey, so we spent a half-asleep night at Berlin's central railway station. Cosy, eh? As soon as possible, we picked up the final leg of that unattainable train journey from Berlin to Poznań, a beautiful little city which appeared out of a grey and muggy morning into a sparkling start to our vacation.
We arrived by train from Berlin at Poznań Główny, the main station in the city. There are lockers for luggage storage right in the station for just 16 PLN for 24 hours (about €3,50) which is where we left our heavy suitcase for the day. The tourist attractions and old town, including the market square, are all in walking distance of the train station.
Things to do in Poznań
We very much enjoyed Poznań, and were surprised at how picturesque it turned out to be. The vibe was really laid back and peaceful and we had a wonderful first day in Poland simply wandering around and taking in the newness of this place. You'll want at least a day here (if not two, as we had planned) to relax and explore.
1. Learn the history of the Imperial Castle
Built from 1905 to 1910 for the German Emperor Wilhelm II, the Imperial Castle in Poznań is the most recently built monarchical residence in all of Europe - a difference from how most places here are known for how old they are! He only lived there a few years once Poland gained their independence after the First World War. In the interwar years, it housed a university, whose math graduates went on to crack the Enigma code in the Second World War. Another connection to WWII: Hitler had an office here and it was also the residence of the Poznań Nazi governor of the time. It is now a cultural centre and museum.
2. Take in the opulence at one of Europe's most beautiful basilicas
Walking into the Basilica Minor of St. Stanislaus in the heart of the old town your jaw will drop on the floor. Of all the cathedrals and churches I've seen in Belgium and elsewhere across Europe, few can compare with the over-the-top dramatic opulence and sheer extravagance of this place. Pillars of what I imagine is pink marble, winding columns, ornate statues and intricate goldwork, plus detailed paintings fill every square inch of the basilica.
3. Wander through the Old Market Square
What an idyllic market squares, looking like it's straight out of a fairy tale. A lot of care - and restoration - has gone into weaving the finely-tuned buildings into today's picture-perfect sight. Fancy details with pretty colours in the proud architecture surround the four ornate water fountains in the corners of the refreshingly new old-world square. Complete with restaurants a-plenty and the occasional souvenir distractions, the square charms you to linger.
Where to Eat Pierogis in Poznań
Given that we're in Poland, we're making it our mission to indulge in as many pierogis as possible, the country's much beloved dumplings. The spin on the tail is that we'll be hunting down only vegan pierogis, rather than the traditional cheese and meat varieties.
When you're in Poznań, the absolute best homemade pierogis come from a little hole-in-the-wall shop on Wrocławska street, just off the Old Market Square, called Pierożak Pierogarnia. The two ladies whip up all manner of delicious, freshly rolled dumplings which usually cost between 1,20 - 1,80 PLN (€0,25-0,40) each, so you can mix and match all your favouite flavours off the menu. The unleavened dough is wrapped around a savoury or sweet filling and cooking in boiling water. They are often then pan-fried before serving.
My wegańskie pierogis, were filled with a delicious blend of lentils, chickpeas, ginger, chilli, garlic and peanut butter. And for dessert I tried the vegenutella filled with sweet potatoes, peanut butter, cocoa and chia seeds. YUM!