Let’s Go Exploring! Poznan, Poland: Enigmas, Goats, and Naked Saunas

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FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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Before coming to Poznan, our knowledge of Poland’s experience in WWII was…less than positive. Namely, getting bulldozed by the Nazis and the horror that is Auschwitz.

We had no clue that the Poles played a huge role in helping the Allies win WWII and it’s something Poland gets very little credit for.

Ever heard of the Enigma machine? It’s the encryption machine used by the Germans to encode their military communication during the war.

Source: By greg goebel (http://www.vectorsite.net/ttcode_05.html#m4) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The thing about the Enigma machine is that it was the greatest encryption device in history. Not only was the settings of the machine sophisticated enough that it could generate 158 962 555 217 826 360 000 combinations (that’s like 1.9 BILLION times the amount of money Warren Buffett has), the Germans used to change the setting everyday at midnight. Since computers didn’t exist back then, it would take 20 million years to manually break the machine even if 10 people worked on trying a combination per minute for 24 hours every day, 7 days a week.

No wonder it was considered by the Germans (and the rest of the world) to be unbreakable.

As a result, the Germans used it for their top military secrets with no fear of their messages being decoded.

The Brits, seeing that breaking the Enigma code as pivotal to winning the war, gathered a group of the best mathematicians and code breakers to work on a top secret project at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire, with the sole purpose of breaking the Enigma.

Long story short, the Brits did end up cracking the Enigma code, with most of the credit given to Alan Turing, who invented “The Bombe,” a precursor to our present day computers. This enabled intercepted German messages to be rapidly decoded, and as a result saved thousands of lives and ended the war.

It also resulted in the 2014 movie “The Imitation Game”, staring sexy sexy Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing.

Oh Benedict, you can decode my nether regions any day…. (source: By GabboT [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

That’s all fine and good, except, very little credit has been given to the Poles, without whom, Turing would’ve never been able to build the Bombe, since it was based on the work by Polish codebreakers Jerzy Rozycki, Henryk Zygalski, and Marian Rejewski. They were the ones who discovered that electro-mechanical machines, called “bombes” needed to be built rather than just rely on linguists—which the Brits used—to break codes.

So it wasn’t for these brilliant Polish mathematicians, Turing would not have been able to break the Engima Code based on years of their work. And it all happened here, at the University of Poznan.

We learned all about this in the encryption museum, a popup museum cleverly set up to look like a box resembling the Enigma Code:

One of our favourite things about world travel is learning that there are two sides to every story. We often learn history through school textbooks, but we never hear the story from other countries’ perspectives. As a result, details end up being omitted, or simply unknown, and when unearthed completely changes your perspective and makes you question everything.

This is why we love travelling. So we can learn about history and question everything.

Oh and also to stuff our faces—which we did plenty of in Poznan.

Rogal Świętomarciński (aka “St. Martin’s Croissant”)

Up until this point, I’d never eaten a croissant that weighed nearly a pound. Tasting more like a decadent after dinner cake than breakfast on the run, its insides were filled with a sweet, nutty paste made of poppy seeds.

This tasty treat is named after St. Martin, a Roman legionary, who shared his coat with a beggar in winter, a symbol for mercy and kindness. That’s why it’s so big—because it’s meant to be shared. And that’s why a local pastry maker, Jozef Melzer who first invented it, distributed it to the poor, in the spirit of St. Martin’s generosity.

The most interesting thing about this pastry is how hard-core the Poles are about it. Apparently, the St. Martin’s Croissants are so revered they are protected by European Union (no, seriously)! Only those Poznan Pastry Chefs who carry a quality certification called a “Rogal Swietomarcinski” and can fulfil strict requirements are allowed to bake it.

So much reverence and prestige—none of which I reflected on as I hovered the whole thing in two seconds flat. I regret nothing.

Lodziarnia Kolorowa

We discovered this ice cream (or “lody” in Polish) shop by accident.

I had already eaten lunch and wasn’t even hungry but when I saw this insane line (which stretched around the block), I had to find out what’s up.

Turns out they were lining up for the best ice cream in all of Poznan. And at 6 Zlotys (1.60 USD) for 2 scoops, the price couldn’t be beat.

I got the snickers and salty caramel flavours and I can honestly say it was some of the best ice-cream I’ve ever had (second only to the rose-shaped Gelato we had in Portugal)

If you’re ever in Poznan, get yourself some lody from this place. The line up is worth it.

Fryday

Fries with pulled pork, melted cheese, crispy onions, and delicious garlic and oregano sauce—I’m drooling just thinking about it.

As a Canadian, I’ve eaten my fair share of tasty poutines, but this one blows them all away.

And at 14 Zlotys ($3.70 USD) for a generous portion, you can’t go wrong.

Bar Mlecznys (aka “Milk Bars”)

Now, this might sound like the titled of a strip club, and sorry to disappoint, but Milk Bars are actually wholesome places to have a family-oriented meal.

These are local eateries which originally sold only milk and egg-based meals and was started by a dairy farmer named Stanislaw Kluzewski in 1896. Now they sell all sorts of Polish fare like pierogis, Bigos (hunter’s stew made of meat, sausage and cabbage), and sour rye soup.

Keep in mind, the menus will be in Polish and since these are local establishments, most of the staff can’t speak English. But that’s how you know it’s authentic and it’s half the fun! Plus you get to give your Google Translate app a work out, and at only 26-30 Zlotys ($7 – $8 USD) for a meal for 2 with drinks, your wallet will love you.

After pigging out, we decided to explore more of the historical areas of Poznan.

Old Market Square

Filled with colourful historical buildings and restaurants, the old market square area is always bustling with life.

One of the biggest attractions is the town clock, with two fighting mechanical goats that come out at noon to greet the crowd, a traditional continued all the way from 1551.

source: By Scotch Mist [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Legend has it that a chef, let’s call him “Pete”, was hired to cook an elaborate meal for the mayor and visiting dignitaries. Now, known as the best chef in town, “Pete” decided to go all out and cook some roast deer for the special occasion. But as the pressure got to him, Pete was so distracted and stressed out he didn’t even notice when the venison fell off the spit and into the fire.

So basically, his cooking style is similar to mine. Start cooking, get distracted, then burn it to crisp.

With the piece de resistance of the meal on fire, Pete went to the butcher to get new meat but they were out.

Desperate to save the meal (and his reputation), Pete captured two grazing goats from a nearby field. But before he could cook them, they escaped and ran to into the tower of the town hall. As shocked crowds watched from below, they started fighting and locking horns.

This ended up amusing the mayor so much; he forgot all about the missing meat in his upcoming meal and had a town clock commissioned to commemorate the “fighting goats.”

That’s why the official symbol of the city is two fighting goats. What can I say? The Poznanians love them so goat-on-goat violence.

Termy Maltanskie

source: Termy Maltanskie website

In addition to the food and history, if you’re a fan of spas and saunas like we are, go to Termy Maltanskie. It’s a pool/sports complex/sauna all rolled into one. My favourite part is the adult-only Sauna area, which you can move from steam saunas to woodsy dry saunas to outdoors saunas, made with pine, that makes you feel like you’re in the middle of the forest. And if you go during a weekday between happy hour (from 11am-4pm), you can get a 3-hours access to the gym, pool area, and saunas for only 42 Zlotys ($11 USD).

source: Termy Maltanskie website
source: Termy Maltanskie website
source: Termy Maltanskie website

Only catch: the sauna is mixed and no bathing suits are allowed. This idea may be anxiety-inducing to many of our American readers, but in Europe nudity is much more normalized. Good thing I brought a towel, but since it wasn’t too busy, at some point, we decided to do as the locals do and just let it all hang (pun intended) out. And no, I didn’t take any pictures. That would have been a tad much.

We quickly found out later that we’d be doing much more naked sauna-ing in Germany, but that’s a story for another day…

Overall, the prices in Poznan, just like the rest of Poland was dirty cheap. Here’s how much (or little) we spent during our week there:

Category Cost in USD/couple Cost in CAD/couple Notes
Accommodations: $34 USD/night $44 CAD/night We stayed in a studio apartment 2 mins from the tram stop which got us into downtown within 10-15mins. Like the rest of Europe, public transportation was easy to use and covered most of the city.
Food: $19 USD/day $25 CAD/day ($16/day for eating out, $9/day for groceries) Even though we ate out pretty much everyday for lunch and dinner, we spent close to what we spent eating out in South East Asia. We also took advantage of the many authentic Pho restaurants around the city and milk bars.
Transportation: $5 USD/day $6 CAD/day Taking the tram everywhere was cheap and convenient, at only 9.20 Zlotys for 4 tickets.
Entertainment: $9 USD/day $12 CAD/day There are lots of free parks all around the city, the museum in the old town center is free on Tuesdays so we only spent money on tipping our walking tour guide and the spa/sauna.
Total: $67 USD/couple/day $87 CAD/couple/day

What do you think of Poznan? Would you ever go there?



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19 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! Poznan, Poland: Enigmas, Goats, and Naked Saunas”

  1. Pho, Enigma, smothered fries, and a crazy sauna? Sounds like a fun week! How did you get tipped off to milk bars?

    If you find yourself near DC, come visit the National Cryptologic Museum a dozen miles northeast of town, adjacent to the NSA (I promise they won’t mind that you’re foreign nationals, probably) — on display are techniques and examples from antiquity to 1990. It’s pretty wild stuff.

    I’ll conclude with this: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/5cz15a/what_are_the_best_names_youve_heard_for_benedict/

    1. I first heard about milk bars from Nomadic Matt (super popular travel blogger).

      Thanks the tip about the cryptologic museum! I dragged Wanderer to practically every museum in DC that last time we were there, but guess I missed that one! Going on our list for next time.

      As for the Cumberbatch reddit thread, I love how someone just said “benedict cumberbatch” and the reply was “that just sounds stupid”. Bwahahah. Can you believe I have a friend who named her kid after him?

  2. I’d love to visit Poland and other Eastern European countries. My friend is in Hungary for 6 weeks to visit families and I’m pretty jealous.
    I’m not sure about the naked sauna, though. We went to a few pools in Iceland and our kid did not like showering with other people around. Americans are uncomfortable with nakedness. 🙂
    Great per day spending too. Iceland was crazy expensive.

    1. After reading your Iceland post I can’t wait to go! It’s pricey but looks like it’s worth it! And now that I’ve been to Poland and will go to Eastern Europe after Iceland, the costs will all balance out 🙂

  3. MMMMMmmmm that food looks good! Okay Firecracker, what about the paleo diet : )
    This is a true concern of mine once I pull the work for a living plug, so much tasty food and so little time! Great food is such a joy!

    1. It’s SO not Paleo, I know 🙂 I’ve decided I’m substituting Paleo with South East Asia diet–as in just go to SE Asia (after gaining weight in Europe), eat whatever you want and lose a ton of weight. It’s the lazy diet 😛

    1. I’m curious as to whether you’ll find some. Apparently they said only the bakers in that specific region of Poland have the approval to bake it, but I’m sure someone can replicate it.

  4. Wow, I never would have guessed Poland would be so awesome — cheap everything! fantastic looking food! spas & saunas!

    $34 per night for accomodations is amazingly cheap! Looks like you guys had a great time too!

    1. Yup, gotta love Airbnb. You could probably spend a little more and get something bigger than a studio, but I decided to save on space and allocate the money towards spas instead. 🙂 Priorities, right?

  5. Poland has never been super high on my travel list, but after your posts, me thinks it is jumping up higher and higher. I totally agree that traveling is the best way to learn about places, people, and history. We continue to learn more and more with every country we visit thus changing our perspective, even just the slightest bit. I am never quite the same person that I was before I left.

  6. That’s great history behind the croissants there! And that spa, amazing. Mixed nude? Ya, doing an American freak. But if they are used it, I agree just go along with it. I love all the traveling you both do. Is it your goal to check them all out?

  7. *check all them out
    aka, countries
    *face palm. my thoughts are doing the talking. not the actual intelligent part of my brain. LOL

    1. That’s how my brain is all the time 😛

      At first we were trying to cross off any many countries on our bucket list as possible, but now it’s more of a slow travel, let’s just go with the flow and meet friends we know from all over the world kind of thing.

  8. I’m British, and I organised a stag trip to Poland some 13 or so years ago, to Wrocław. It was so good a group of us have been going back to Poland, and to a handful of other Eastern European cities, every year since. We did Poznań twice as it was definitely a favourite.

  9. Great history perspective and contribution from Poland. Without the smarts and ingenuity of the Poles, we would have never broken the Enigma machine. I’d love to save enough dough to go see Poznan, Poland and travel like you two.

  10. I love your stories about Poland – mostly because I pine to be FI and when I’m FI, I want to spend lots of time there (since it is so cheap – relative to Canadian prices). It also doesn’t hurt that I can speak the language (both Canadian AND Polish!)

    Any thoughts about hiring a chaperone on your next outing? 😛

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