Poland was the first new-to-me country of the trip which meant that I was extra excited about setting foot on Polish soil. There's always something invigorating about visiting a totally new place. Will I like it? Will I fall in love with it? Will there be accidentally vegan treats hiding around every corner? In the case of Wrocław, our first stop in Poland, I was mainly just incredibly surprised that the city hadn't been on my radar earlier! Wrocław has eight all vegan listings on Happy Cow, including a vegan shop, as well as many great sounding vegetarian spots with vegan options. It's also compact and beautiful making it an absolute joy to explore.
After swinging the van into a centrally located multi story car park (one of my fave things about the van is it's size!) we visited Ahimsa for a spot of lunch. I couldn't understand much of the menu but we thought the falafel platter sounded like a good bet for both of us to share. It came with tabbouleh, babaganoush, falafel, a huge flatbread and salad.
The babaganoush made a lovely change from the hummus that I usually see gracing Middle Eastern mezze platters and the tabbouleh was flavourful and not overly herby. The falafel were the real stars of the show though, you could tell they'd been made that day with fresh herbs and we very carefully split the last one! The dessert case looked fabulous so sharing wasn't going to be an option. Nick was desperate to try the cheesecake and I had my eye on the berry and chocolate torte.
If this had been a dessert battle the berry and chocolate torte would have been the clear winner. They both had some of the cheesecake filling but the chocolate / fruit / cheesecake ratio was balanced better in the torte. It also had the better crust, crunchy and biscuit like, compared to the cheesecakes coconut filled raw base. I would definitely recommend Ahimsa, it has a nice atmosphere, was constantly busy with locals popping in on their lunch breaks and the food was spot on.
I have to admit to only glancing at Happy Cow before we arrived in Wrocław, we had patchy wifi so I took screen shots of a few spots and that was that. Ahimsa was actually our third choice after we found both Machina Organica and The Root closed for holidays / refurbishments but we were then surprised by a fourth option whilst we were exploring the Market Square. Right there in the main square, in amongst some of the city's top tourist attractions, was a 100% vegan restaurant! We paused at Vega for a cool drink but were sadly too stuffed to partake in anything from their vast menu.
The beauty of the city continued to astound me as we wandered around, it reminded me of Vienna or Prague just with way less tourists.
Our final stop in the city was Urban Vegan, Wrocław's self proclaimed 101% vegan shop. Pedantic math stuff aside I was excited to see such a huge vegan store in what is quite a small city.
The shelves were quite well stocked with cleaning products, make up, dog food and snacks as well as basics that I'm guessing are hard to find elsewhere like canned beans, mirin, tahini and miso. Most impressive though was their wall of fridges which were chock full of seitan, tofu and tempeh products alongside soy yoghurts and mayonnaises. I loved how cute this brand was and we picked up some seitan.
We even found a kitty to show some love to on our way outa town.
Wrocław has shot to the upper echelons of my vegan friendly European cities list, I loved the whole vibe of the place. I'd say it should be a strong contender for a weekend getaway if you're in the mood for exploring a small and not too overwhelming city.
The next stop on our tour of Poland was Auschwitz-Birkenau which, depressingly, everyone has most likely heard of. It was a sobering day but I felt like I had to visit somewhere that was such a huge part of European history. It still blows my mind that this happened within the last century and it serves as a good reminder of why we must never sit silent when fascists want to spread their message of intolerance. I didn't take any pictures because it's not my history and taking what would essentially have been a tourist snap in a place of so much recent suffering would have been, in my opinion, super inappropriate.
I have no idea how to segue from talking about something as awful as Nazi concentration camps to something as seemingly trivial as Krakow's vegan options so consider this my clumsy attempt. Mastering the busses from our outa town campsite into the city centre was surprisingly easy and we were soon outside vegan burger joint Nova Krova bang on opening time.
Their burger menu is vast and varied and we were able to choose between seitan, tofu, tempeh, bean, kasha, quinoa and falafel for the protein part of our burger and then from a list of eight sauces and 14 toppings to round it out. Each protein listed helpfully came with a list of suggested additions so I went with one of those. Nick had to be difficult and go the DIY route where you can pick five toppings and two sauces and confuse everyone working there by only wanting one topping and one sauce.
I went with the tofu burger (of course!) which was grilled marinated tofu with vegan mayo topped with lettuce, fried mushrooms, avocado and roasted leeks. It was a delicious combo and the only fault I found with the burger was that the bun wasn't really squishy enough to accommodate all of these fillings and fit into my mouth. I have a pretty decent sized mouth and I've never been defeated by a burger before (no, not even the ridiculous creations from V Revolution!) but this was was too much for me and I had to resort to a knife and fork. Sacrilege. It was super filling and totally delicious though so I'll let them off for making me look like I don't know how to eat a burger. I was a little sad not to have any room for dessert but I wish that I'd remembered to grab something to take away.
After we were suitably stuffed it was time to explore and we headed for the Kazimierez area to wander the streets, check out the street art and architecture, and visit the Galicia Jewish Museum. I've always been drawn to photography museums and this one was huge and needed to impart a lot of info alongside the pictures so we were there for a while.
Next on my must-visit list was Veganski Bar a vegan bar that serves food. Having visited places like The Bye and Bye and Sweet Hereafter in Portland and Viasko in Berlin, I was excited to try this place to see if it lived up to the high standards that have been set for vegan gastro pubs. As soon as I spotted the entrance I knew that it probably was not. As soon as I saw the homemade sign I lowered my expectations massively, I was now thinking Cowley Club not Bye and Bye. Not a problem, I love The Cowley for what it is. It's no gastrobub but it doesn't aspire to be, instead it's a cool, punky, vegan dive bar with fun events so y'know I was still optimistic.
I fancied a beer and as there was a language barrier I did a lot of smiling and pointing at what I thought looked like beer on the menu, head shaking told me they were out. I pointed at a couple more things but nope, also out. We settled on lemonade which I think turned out to be lemon squash from concentrate. Food wise we went through a similar pointing ritual and eventually settled on a tart from the dessert section. When the food was put in front of us I was... what's the right word? Confused perhaps. Definitely disappointed. Because whatever the tart we'd ordered to share was seemed to be chopped jelly (jello to my American friends) thrown on top of a wholewheat crust.
Now I am a firm believer that you shouldn't slate somewhere without visiting a few times, it can be incredibly damaging to a business if you slate their food because you didn't like it - maybe it was an off day? You have no idea. But I feel like I kinda need to warn people not to eat here. This was a frankly awful dessert no matter which way you look at it. It was literally strawberry jelly with a few unpeeled apple pieces mixed in atop a base that must have been made from wholewheat bread flour and a mashed banana. I really, really, genuinely wanted to like this spot that was very clearly the dream of a few punk kids and their dog but really?! C'mon now! There's no excuse for food this terrible. It was what I would imagine might happen if you let a three year old loose in a badly stocked kitchen. To add insult to injury they brought us two slices which were very challenging to stuff into my handkerchief. We still payed. And tipped.
I have no more words.
After that distressing experience I was almost scared to go somewhere else but we needed a palate cleanser so off to vegetarian Tibetan fusion cafe Momo it was. This seemed like a safe bet as it's actually recommended in Lonely Planet.
We ordered the Tibetan dumplings, or momos, partly because Lonely Planet told us to and partly because I figure if you're naming your cafe after a specific dish it's gotta be good. We weren't disappointed, maybe that was because they weren't filled with jelly, but more likely it was because they were tasty lentil stuffed dumplings.
Momo seems like it'd be a good place to grab lunch in the city for sure and they helpfully mark the vegan options on their menu which is a major win for a travelling vegan struggling to decipher the menu. Another veg spot with marked vegan options is Green Day, we didn't eat there but the 90's pop punk lover within me had to stop and take a picture!
Opposite our campsite was a supermarket where I was able to take my zine, European Vegan, for a whirl. The Polish page helped me work out which breads were really stuffed with cheese and I grabbed some rolls and soy yoghurts for breakfast.
This photo is also serving as a timely reminder that I reeeeally need to dye my roots!
I feel like I'm raving about soy yoghurt in almost every post at the moment but really Europe knows where it's at when it comes to vegan yoghurt.
It was actually the one thing I was seriously craving by the end of my travels in SE Asia and US vegan yoghurts are honestly pretty terrible especially now that Whole Soy has disappeared from the market. Silk can't confirm or deny whether their yoghurts are really vegan (so, they probably aren't then) and I've heard rumours that Daiya are bringing out some yoghurts but I didn't see them whilst I was over there. Since I set foot on European soil in June I've been diving headfirst into huge tubs of Alpro Cremoso whenever I can get it and in the meantime Sojasun is filling the gap nicely.
The next day Nick wasn't feeling great so like the good wife that I am I abandoned him in the van and went to get some pierogis and do some writing. I settled upon Glonojad after it was recommended to me by a friend on Instagram and I was so happy I went with her rec'. I finally got to try pierogis and they were gooood.
They were stuffed with lentils and I went with what I thought would be the most traditional sides, cabbage slaw, roasted beets and carrot and raisin salad. Okay, I didn't think the carrot raisin salad was authentic I just really like carrot raisin salad! This plate of food was my favourite out of all of the things I ate in Poland and I loved the atmosphere at the cafe too. It was bustling all day and despite spending hours there working on the blog (don't worry I kept buying drinks!) I never felt rushed or like I was taking up too much space. Their wifi is also fast which is a win for any travel blogger / digital nomad.
After Krakow we were headed south towards Slovakia and had planned to spend some time exploring the mountains. We settled upon Zakopane which was definitely a bit of a mistake, the campsite we picked was kinda cool - you aren't allowed to light fires at most European campsites but there you could do what you wanted as long as you quietened down by 11pm, but it turns out that Zakopane has been horribly overdeveloped and the streets are lined not only with sad ponies forced to ride people about the place but also with bouncy castles, street stands selling tourist tat and games to play on. Call me weird but I don't think areas of natural beauty need tonnes of blow up toys to entertain you!
We hightailed it outa there the next day and headed for Slovakia and the High Tatras which were ridiculously beautiful. More on that next time. In the meantime do let me know if you've got a favourite off the beaten track location or hidden gem that you think I have to check out in Eastern Europe. I'm in Hungary right now and will be heading to Vienna next then onwards to Slovenia for Punk Rock Holiday at the beginning of August and then I'll head south east from there.