Saturday, 4 April 2009

Pierogi and Starka!

Today we took the train North East out of Berlin and visited Szczecin (German name Stettin) just over the Polish border. We used a Brandenburg ticket with some friends which meant that the five of us travelled for just 27 Euro between us, return.

This is the first time we had visited Poland, and the contrast with what we had left behind in terms of appearance and culture was very marked. It was like travelling from London to deepest Wales, and indeed in both cases the language could do with a few more vowels.

We followed a red dotted line painted on the streets there to guide us through the highlights of the city. If you want to follow this yourself, then be warned to reserve about three hours of your time to do it, and that the line is frequently meandering, taking you to places you wouldn't normally cross the street to visit (or want to again). But we did find places we might well have overlooked, such as the birthplace of Catherine the Great of Russia, now sadly a bank.

You couldn't really say that Szczecin is picturesque, exactly. Maybe 'ugly' is a better adjective. But then as a major Polish port with access to the Baltic via the Oder, and with large ship-building yards, it did get pretty much bombed during the Second World War. By us. Sorry. But then, I don't think the Red Army did it any favours when it marched past to take Berlin. However it still has many remnants of its long historical past and proud traditions, and while it seems to be struggling to shake off the Communist era and e.g. should start introducing a few shops and cafes (especially Eiscafés - this was a blistering hot day when you visited it you understand), it has a uniqueness that was well worth visiting. Unlike its twin town of Kingston Upon Hull in the UK, which has a great aquarium and a good museum to anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce, but otherwise ...  

The highlight of the day was our introduction to pierogi - which are like raviloi stuffed with cheese and potato (or cabbage and mushroom if you preferred) - and a type of Polish vodka called Starka which is matured for five, ten, fifty years in oak barrels until it takes on a taste like brandy or whisky. Both were a first for us, and for either by themselves a good reason to return some day!

Here are a few images of Szczecin:

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