WARSAW, POLAND – The Euros are over and it's time to move to my next 'assignment," where I'll be reporting from Holland and Scotland. But before I catch the next train, I wanted to wrap up the non-soccer side of things.
Most of my time - as was that case for many fans of this past European Championship - was spent in Poland. It was an eye-opener, and I'd like to share what really stood out for those who made the trip.
First, the art and energy in Warsaw is incredible. One of the funny things about this city is how much wild stuff is going on right around the corner from you. What looks like an office building could easily be a poster production factory. That graffiti-covered courtyard? A happening restaurant. Bombed-out warehouse? Over the top three-floor club with a movie theatre and outdoor grill. Noise in the park? Polish hip-hop concert with carnival games. And all of it is covered in some of the best street art you'll see outside of New York and Berlin.
This is world-class entertainment that would have the hipsters in Chicago drooling. The strange part about this scene is how often the natives downplay it. The fact that Poland has repurposed nearly every dreary Soviet artifact and turned them into creative centers isn't just remarkable - it's inspiring.
Now, maybe you live in a city where you can walk from a three-building rock club down the street to a gallery showing cutting edge work from local artists. But most folks do not have that luxury. Poland should be proud of this.
As for the food, hey, a guy has to eat. Now, prior to landing here, my entire concept of Polish food revolved around the pierogi. Pierogi's are fun to make, but very heavy on the stomach. It's fair to say I had limited expectations.
Nonetheless, I was delighted to find that Poland's in the midst of a culinary renaissance. The district where I rented, Ochota, is gaining a reputation as the "little Italy" of Poland, and the fettuccine carbonara that I had there would put some Roman meals to shame.
Stare Miasto, which means "Old Town," is a bit touristy, but the classics they serve up, like chlodnik (that funny-looking "l" symbol is pronounced like "wuh,") a chilled beet soup with yogurt or golabki, cabbage rolls stuffed with meat and/or grains, are truly impressive.
In Praga, the hip district, you can find all sorts of fusion cuisine; from left-field takes on American burgers (delicious) to Indian-style pierogi. In the more down-tempo area of Moktow, you can sit outside at old-school haunt Mozaika and eat a local specialty; tatar, which is raw meat, topped with an egg, and some assorted toppings. It's delicious.
Krakow is a city of monuments, and I don't say that to deride them: the old center of the city is really breathtaking and you can get gloriously lost walking around all the twists and turns of the city. Poznan is an historic city of trade. I found it a bit too gaudy for my taste, but that's me, not the city.
Warsaw is a bit grittier, with large Soviet-era residential blocks. But its parks -- particularly the Lazienki (The Royal Baths) -- are stunning. The real Warsaw seems to emerge after dark, with the Palace of Culture hosting art and cultural events, with a steady string of happenings that flow around the city.
Next up, Amsterdam: the home of Ajax. For now, I leave Warsaw and my new adopted team, Polonia, behind. Dziekuje, Poland. It was great.