A big crowd always gathers for the daily performance of Poznań’s mechanical head-butting goats. Full story below.
Road trip from Poznań, the cradle of Poland, to Toruń, the home of Copernicus
Road trip! Five-days, 475 miles by car through the cradle of Poland to the birthplace of the man credited with kicking the Earth out of the center of the universe. Plus food ~yum! ~ and a recipe.
On the road again
Taking advantage of the good October weather, we decided to visit a part of Poland we were unfamiliar with.
Heading southwest from our home in Słupsk, we set out for our first stop, Poznań, over the two-lane roads that are typical of Poland. These roads remind me of “blue highways” in the U.S.: two-lane, well maintained and connecting all the villages/towns to each other. Although the speed limits are comparable ~ 35 to 60 mph in the countryside, 12 to 30 mph in the towns ~ it always feels like we’re going slower.
These roads are two-lane except when passing. When cars pass, both the car being passed and the oncoming traffic hug the edge of the road, effectively creating a third lane. The Poles are quite fearless about this, passing much closer to hills and blind curves than we would. This takes a bit of getting used.
We forgot our packed lunches so we had to stop somewhere. Unlike in the U.S., there aren’t that many fast food places or roadside diners to stop at. The most common, and fastest, choice is a gas station. The gas stations here are a combination of gas (diesel) and 7-Eleven type store where you can pick up quickly heated food, beverages and snacks.
In our case, we chose zapiękanka. Wikipedia describes zapiękanka as “an open-face sandwich made of half of a baguette or other long roll of bread, topped with sautéed white mushrooms, cheese and sometimes other ingredients, and toasted until the cheese melts. Served hot with ketchup, it is a popular street food in Poland.”
And they were tasty.
First stop: Poznań, the cradle of Poland
Poznań is in west-central Poland at the intersection of the Warta and Cybina Rivers. The island between these two rivers has been inhabited since the late Stone Age. Eventually, this settlement became an important political center to the Polans tribe. In the 10th century, the first historically recorded ruler of the Polans, Mieszko I, used this settlement as one of his headquarters to create the state that is now known as Poland.
That’s why Poznań is known as the “cradle of Poland.”
The legend of Poznań’s head-butting goats
When the city hall was rebuilt and expanded in 1551, the powers-that-were decided to advertise the city’s riches by incorporating a clock tower. To celebrate the completion of the building, the mayor hosted a feast for local dignitaries. A roasted deer was supposed to be part of this feast, but while cooking the deer the cook fell asleep and the deer burned. Panicked, the cook tried to replace the deer by stealing two goats from a neighboring field. The goats escaped from the cook, ran up to the top of the tower and began butting heads. Everyone found this very entertaining, so the mayor pardoned the goats and the cook, then ordered that two mechanical goats be incorporated into the clock.
The Poznań Fara, seen here in the evening light of our last night in Poznań, is considered one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in Poland.
Next stops: Gniezno and Bydgoszcz
After two nights, it was time to bid Poznań adieu. Our next hotel was in Toruń, but we had a couple of places to check out first.
Gniezno means “nest.”
We hadn’t planned to stop in Gniezno (about 30 miles from Poznań), but based on what we had learned in Poznań, we wanted to stop.
Gniezno is slightly more than a tenth of the size of Poznań, but historically, it’s as important ~ if not more. The Legend of Lech, Czech and Rus (from Wikipedia) explains why:
“According to the Polish version of a legend, three brothers went hunting together but each of them followed a different prey and eventually they all traveled in different directions. Rus went to the east, Čech headed to the west to settle on the Říp Mountain rising up from the Bohemian hilly countryside, while Lech traveled north. There, while hunting, he followed his arrow and suddenly found himself face-to-face with a fierce, white eagle guarding its nest against intruders. Seeing the eagle against the red of the setting sun, Lech took this as a good omen and decided to settle there. He named his settlement Gniezno (from Polish gniazdo – ‘nest’) in commemoration and adopted the White Eagle as his coat-of-arms. The white eagle is still a symbol of Poland and the colors of the eagle and the setting sun are depicted in Poland’s coat of arms, as well as its flag, with a white stripe on top for the eagle, and a red stripe on the bottom for the sunset.”
The city of Bydgoszcz (pronounced like “bid-gōshch) is on the road from Poznań to Toruń. Located where the Brda River joins the Vistula River, these rivers, plus associated canals, reputedly make Bydgoszcz a beautiful city. So we decided to see for ourselves.
The tightrope walker over the Brda River is one of the main attractions of Bydgoszcz. The sculpture, officially titled “Man crossing the River,” by Jerzy Kędziora was unveiled on May 1, 2004, and commemorates Poland’s entry into the European Union. The sculpture stays upright because the center of balance has been shifted below the wire.
Last stop: Toruń, the birthplace of the man credited with rearranging our place in the universe.
Sitting on the Vistula River downstream of Warsaw, Toruń is one of the oldest cities in Poland (settlements as far back as the 8th century). However, it’s only been part of Poland since the mid-15th century.
The trip home was uneventful: a new four-lane highway from Toruń to Gdańsk and then a typical two-lane road to Słupsk. Our packed lunches were still in the fridge, so we had them for dinner.
Our first Polish home was too far out of town for pizza delivery. And ya gotta have pizza on the weekend, right? So, Rosemary used zapiękankas as inspiration to develop this recipe, making adjustments for our tastes and for the available oven.
Rosemary’s Pizza Bread (inspired by zapiękanka)
- 2 soft baguettes or equivalent non-crusty loaves (approx. 1′ long and 3″ diameter)
- 1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or other hard cheese such as Parmesan)
- 1 liter of passata pomidoro rustica or 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 3 T dried oregano leaves
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 t cayenne powder or dried red pepper flakes (to taste)
- One ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced or torn in to small pieces
- 8 slices firm mozzarella
- Pepperoni, thinly sliced
- Turn the oven on to 400 degrees F.
- Make the pizza sauce: drain the passata rustica through a fine mesh sieve over a small saucepan. Boil the resulting liquid until it reduces and is thick (stir and reduce temp to avoid burning). Add the solids from the sieve to the reduced tomato juice, along with the garlic, oregano, and pepper. Stir and keep warm on low temp.
- Cut the baguettes in half lengthwise to produce 4 roughly equal crusts. Top each with a generous layer of Pecorino Romano. Bake on a sheet or rack (with foil underneath) until the cheese is slightly golden and slightly melted, 5–10 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave the oven on.
- Spread a thin layer of the pizza sauce on top of the cheesy crusts. Top with the fresh mozzarella and then the sliced mozzarella (trimmed to the size of each crust) and then the with the pepperoni slices.
- Bake the pizzas until the pepperoni browns in spots and the cheese is well melted, slightly bubbly and brown. Remove from the oven, allow to cool slightly, and slice in half crosswise (if desired) before enjoying with a good Italian red!