Banja Luka Bar (Krakow, Poland)
Banja Luka Bar, Krakow, Poland. As some of you know, back in October 2011 I moved from my hometown in Birmingham to the beautiful city of Krakow in Poland. Since my move, I admit, I haven't been the most social of people and have only visited a few of the many pubs and bars. However now I am feeling more settled and not ... so stressed about finding work I have had more time to relax and get out more. One of the bars I have been to a few times and also had the pleasure of spending New Years Eve in is the Banja Luka Bar.
== Location ==
The Banja Luka bar is located in the centre of Krakow near the main market square. It is about a 10 minute walk from the central train station and shopping galleries.
The bar is located on plac Szczepanski street and can be accessed by the city's many trams and buses from almost all directions. There are a few pubs on this street but you will easily recognise Banja Luka as it is the only one with a big sign stating 'Just 2 Prices'
== Bar Area ==
As you enter Banja Luka you will walk into an open bar area. The first time I went to Banja Luka I thought the pub looks quite large and very welcoming, however a few hours later when more people arrived I found myself feeling more and more cramped and limited for space. There isn't much seating available, I have been informed by one of the locals that this is because Banja Luka is the kind of bar that people go to for pre-night-out drinks and therefore tend not to need to sit down very often.
As you walk through the door there are a few high stools in the window area with a shelf for drinks. There are also about 3 very tall tables also with high stools around them. These tables come up to my shoulder when I stand at them, I am 5ft 1inch tall (or short!)
The bar itself is located in the centre of the wall on the right hand side of the pub. Considering the size of the pub I would say the bar is quite large. It looks like any regular bar does with beer pumps and stools around the edge. Each time I have been to the bar there have been 3 or 4 members of staff serving and I can breathe a sigh of relief when I want to order a drink as so far everyone who has served me can speak English... I'm still working on my Polish!
The bar staff are always friendly and polite and are really quick and efficient in serving everyone waiting around the bar. I would say I have never waited longer than 2 minutes to be served, even on New Years Eve!
At the far end of the pub are some more seating areas but on every occasion I have been here the seats have been pushed out of the way and most people are standing.
== Menu ==
Banja Luka is a bar which serves food, however I have not tried the food here and with items like Trotters in Jelly and a dish which looks like a raw egg served with a raw burger pate I can honestly say I actually have no desire to even think about trying the food here, I will just stick to the drinks thank you!
The drinks menu however is much more appealing and offers most drinks from the usual beers and wines right through to smoothies and milkshakes. The beer here is usually Polish brands and has a slightly different taste to the brands like Carlsberg and Carling that I became used to living in the UK. The beer does taste good and I have to admit I think it is a little stronger than my usual Carlsberg as after only 2 and a half pints I was starting to feel drunk instead of the usual tipsy! I'm not complaining though, stronger beer for me means I will drink slower and less and therefore save some pennies for more nights out!
As I mentioned earlier we decided to spend our New Years Eve in Banja Luka, I was surprised to see that not many people were in there when we arrived at around 10pm. I was later to discover that this was because most people stayed in the market square area for midnight fireworks before descending on the bars! At midnight the staff very kindly gave out free glasses of Champagne and wished us a Happy 2012 in Polish. After midnight the bar became very busy and the atmosphere was great! Everyone in the bar was talking to everyone else and I seemed to attract a few tourists asking me questions about England! At this point I stayed quiet as although I appreciated their interest there is only so many times I want to have the same conversation over and over again about Birmingham, London and how long people have been learning English!
== The Hangover! ==
Like everyone I know I hate being hungover and in recent years I have deliberately drank less on nights out to avoid having a hangover the following day. However the first time I went to Banja Luka I was blissfully unaware of the strength of the beer and spent the following day in bed feeling like a 22 year old again with the worst headache in the world! Needless to say since then I have been much more aware of the added strength and drank a lot less than this first outing!
== Prices ==
The main attraction of Banja Luka for me was originally the prices. When I first moved here I was on a budget and needed to be extra careful with money as I was still trying to secure work. Banja Luka advertises themselves as "the bar with only 2 prices!" and I am pleased to say this is a very honest claim! Everything in Banja Luka will cost you either 4zl or 8zl. There are no hidden charges or extras to be paid and the menu's are displayed very clearly on the wall next to and behind the bar so you know exactly what you will be paying.
Most of the drinks come into the 4zl price range and most of the 8zl menu is their vile food items. At the current exchange rate for the pound these prices mean you will be paying less than £1 for a pint and around £1.50 for the food items. The current exchange rate as of February 2012 is £1 gives you 4.9zl (zloty).
== Value for money? ==
I think it goes without saying that you are getting excellent value for money in Banja Luka and I am quite happy to be spending my money in here! With the strength of the beer I find that I don't drink a lot as my aim of going out isn't to get drunk, but to simply enjoy a drink with interesting people.
== Toilets ==
The toilets are the only let down in Banja Luka for me. Firstly there are only 2 toilets, one male and one female. They are in the same room and directly next to each other. I find that I spend easily up to 10 minutes waiting in the queue and the state of the toilets is disgusting! There is an unpleasant smell, usually a combination of stale urine and vomit, which is enough to make me feel sick even before I've had a drink! Thankfully there has always been toilet paper in here so I usually wrap toilet paper around everything I need to touch, not very environmentally friendly I know, but neither are the germs that must be lurking there! The sinks are usually the cleanest area of the toilets, although there is usually no soap left in the dispensers. Hand dryers are provided but they are usually inaccessible due to the queue for the toilets blocking the way!
== Overall ==
Overall, apart from the toilet situation and the food menu, I would recommend the Banja Luka bar. The staff are friendly and multi-lingual. The atmosphere is great and the other customers have always been nice and friendly too. There has been a mix of both locals and tourists when I have been here and this is great if you are looking for other things to do or places to go as most people are quite happy to sit and have a conversation with you!
Thanks for reading :)
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Cafe Ingles (Silves, Portugal)
===Up The side of a hill=== Silves (Sil-vesh) is a very beautiful and historic town, sometimes called the capital of the Algarve. There have been settlers there since the Stone Age! It has a truly imposing riverfront and is full of amenities for the inhabitants and many tourists who come to soak up a bit of history with the ... sunshine. I love the place and when I'm working in the area, any time off will see me driving up into the hills to Silves.
Situated under the imposing walls of Moorish Silves castle, you climb the cobbled steps to gain entrance to this sprawling cafe. Trees shelter the outside seating and the cafe has an old but cared for exterior. The venue couldn't be prettier. The castle walls are very impressive, an ancient Cathedral with interesting windows to the left and a fantastic view of Silves spread out below you. Don't miss the fantastic sculpture of a crusader knight, just at the top of the steps, guarding the castle entrance!
===What's to eat?===
The food on offer ranges from small snacks to full on traditional Potuguese dinners. The salads here are the most beautifully presented I have ever seen and amount to masterpieces of visual and culinary art. I am not exaggerating, they have to be seen to be appreciated. I usually have tuna salad for about 7 Euro. The range of tastes and colours is superb and the helpings are very generous, I have often struggled to finish mine. The bread served on the table is lovely crusty local one and this always complements the food.
There is an impressive range of specials and the fish dishes are quite spectacular, always with an eye to detail and presentation and always fresh and tasty. We had a beef stew in here one evening and it was very tender and free of the gristle that sometimes invades Portuguese cuts of meat.
Everything we have tried over the years has been good and only once have we sent anything back. The meal arrived cold and our complaint was dealt with swiftly and courteously. we were even given a free liqueur as an apology.
The average price for a two course meal would come out at about 18-20 Euros, so whilst not the cheapest place to eat out, the variety and quality of the food warrants the little extra I think.
If you go to the back of the restaurant there is a semi open dining room which houses the most tempting cake cabinet on one side and adjoining that is the cooking area with a large traditional brick oven at one end. Here it it is possible to see the care that is being put into your dinner, whatever you are eating. The decor in here is less formal and large baskets of nuts and other local produce reminds me of Harvest Festivals when I was younger.
The menu is international and has a very good mixture with something for everyone. Vegetarians are catered for but sometimes the choice isn't great. Pescatarians will eat well here! The soup (I have tried the tomato and the vegetable) is fresh and full of flavour.
===Abandon diet all ye who enter here!===
The cake cabinet! Oh dear me! Luscious fig tart, apple crumble, fruit crumble, double chocolate cake, carob cake, carrot cake, strawberry meringue cake, tarte tatin, tarte citron. They all sit their on their innocent, pretty little cake salvers and whisper "Go on, forget the diet, you won't get a chance like this again.." Actually they don't whisper, they shout! The cakes on offer are out of this world and what is nicer than to sit in the sun, stretch your legs and have coffee and cake whilst watching the world go by? I am normally one to choose savoury over sweet but life is too short to resist this quality of cakiness! I tell myself I can always go down to the new fitness trail on the riverside to work it off but funnily enough I never do!
They range from about 3 - 6 euros per generous portion and you might be better sharing one! Staff are happy to bring an extra plate and spoon!
===At your convenience===
The loos are spotless and have those clever 'light up as you go in' arrangements if I remember rightly. I don't know how accessible they are to wheelchair users as they are a bit cramped.
Overall I think wheelchair access would be difficult in the restaurant as it is situated on quite a steep hill and you have to go up or down steps to the front door. There might be another way in from the road which I haven't seen.
Parking is available in the town car parks or if you are lucky in the square at the bottom of the Cafe's steps. The tightness of the little cobbled streets and squares can cause a few problems. So you are probably best sticking to the designated car parks which are roomy and well lit. It's no hardship wandering through the town anyway, it is so pretty.
===So Fado, so good!===
The restaurant hosts an evening of Fado (traditional Portuguese Music) most weeks, or you might be beguiled by a jazz evening or local folk music. No extra charge is made for the live entertainment and it really is a great night out. If it's a warm evening you can sit drinking wine or coffee on the roof and just soak up the atmosphere. I have never been rushed from my table but encouraged to "Stay, enjoy!" A timetable of events can usually be found outside the restaurant or at the local tourist information office.
The restaurant reminds me of the Tardis, it doesn't look so big on the outside but inside seems to go on unfolding. The decor changes from room to room and the walls showcase the works of local artists. Although the decor is eclectic there is a feeling of space and light in the main rooms. A piano sits against one wall and the well used visitors books resting on it makes interesting and sometimes charming reading.
I like the fact too, that in good weather you can go up the flower basket laden back steps onto the spacious roof bar and lounge about with the house cats.
The view from the roof is spectacular. Last time I was up there, two large birds of prey soared overhead and into the castle battlements. Next thing I knew the air was full of fleeing doves and then, in a moment I'll never forget, the sky was darkened by dozens and dozens of storks wheeling above me like huge cumbersome kites. I wish I'd had a camera with me that morning.
So, if you just want a breather from your sightseeing excursions and exertions or if you want to sit down to a well prepared meal, the cafe Inglese will be an enjoyable experience.
If you do visit, say "Bom Dias!" to the cats for me please!
Address: Rua do Castelo 11, 8300-144 Silves Portugal Phone+351 28 2442585
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Grycan Ice Cream Parlour (Warsaw, Poland)
If I told you that I never ate ice cream before I came to live in Poland you would probably think I was making it up just for this review. It's actually true. I've never been a big fan of ice cream - probably had the odd one on holiday but never bought tubs of ice cream to store in the freezer and never went to an ice cream parlour until ... I came across the name Grycan.
******Little bit of history about the company, Grycan*********
Warsaw has apparently always been famous for ice cream. For the post war generations the name Zielona Budka (Green Booth) has been synonymous with ice cream of the very best quality. The Green Booth in question stood on Pulawska Street in Warsaw but the firm's history started in Buczacz in Ukraine and not in the Polish capital. Grzegorz Grycan and his son Jozef made and sold ice cream. When Buczacz became Soviet in 1945 the Grycan family moved to Wroclaw, the capital of the province of Lower Silesia, where Weronika Grycan opened the first ice cream parlour in Poland on Wroclaw's Grunwaldzki Square with a sign reading 'Lody Mis' Zbigniew'. They sold cacao, vanilla, coffee, strawberry, woodland strawberry and lemon ice cream. They also offered ice cream Penguins - an ice cream on a stick.
Of the Grycan family's third generation, was a trainee at Warsaw's Bristol Hotel who, after he became a fully-qualified confectioner, bought the family business and developed it into a great factory and chain of shops, bringing this wonderful ice cream into the majority of Polish homes. However, owing to financial problems Zbigniew Grycan sold the company to Roncadin GmBH, only to become dissatisfied with the changes made by the new owners. As a result he left the company to form a new ice cream factory, Grycan - Lody od Pokolen meaning, 'Ice Cream for Generations.' Now Warsaw is home to the ice creams of both Zielona Budka and Grycan and there are at least 16 ice cream parlours dotted throughout the city of Warsaw and also in other cities like Wroclaw, Lodz and Krakow.
*******Grycan in Arkadia******
The one I want to talk about is situated in Arkadia shopping centre. This is close to me and within walking distance. The address is Al.Jana Pawla II 82 and can be reached by taking any tram/bus to Rondo Radoslawa. Look at the tram/bus timetables outside the stops. If Rondo Radoslawa is listed jump on it. When you get off the tram you will see Arkadia, cross the road and enter the main gate.
Once you have walked through the revolving doors on the right entrance into the shopping centre you will see the escalator straight ahead. Take it and you will come to the top floor, turn right and then right again. In front you will see A Trattoria, a pizza and pasta restaurant. Just behind is the Grycan Ice Cream Parlour.
There are two seating areas; one with white soft leather circular chairs and low coffee tables situated on the right side of the serving area. This is a more relaxed affair where people drink hot beverages rather than ice creams. You usually see people reading a paper or looking at their notebooks in a morning. The glass barricade is at the side of this area and you can look down to the bottom floor or through the huge front windows of the shopping centre. There is a good view from here of Al. Jana Pawla.
The other seating area is much more formal and larger in floor space. The tables are made from dark wood and are highly polished and square. The chairs are some of the most uncomfortable I have ever sat on. They are contemporary in style with very high backs and low seats but the way they have been placed is too far away from the table so you have to reach over and downwards to eat your ice cream. This makes your back ache. You can't really move the chair closer to the table because they are incredibly heavy. They look very smart and trendy but damn uncomfortable.
*****Ordering and serving area*******
No waiters here - it's self service. The semi circular serving and display area is at the back of the ice cream parlour and very attractive with its pale turquoise glass area behind the counter. This is where all the different serving dishes are and there are some interesting shapes from: long, slender fluted glasses, short, stocky, fan shaped, plain white saucers, glass dishes in the shapes of boats, dolphins, bees and teddy bears.
The display counter is shaped in a large semi-circle covered in glass which sparkles as it is scrupulously clean and split into 4 sections. Each section is filled with different containers of ice cream and sorbets - all colour coordinated. It really is fantastic to look at all the different colours. I love the way they coordinate all the berry fruits of which there are many flavours (blueberry, cranberry, forest fruit, raspberry, strawberry, cherry, blackcurrant, redcurrant) together and then all the citrus fruits and other fruits like grapes, melon, pear, mango, pineapple etc. Each tub is decorated on the top with an individual fruit representing the ice cream underneath. The brown, cream, vanilla and coffee colours are flavours like Mocha, Cafe Lait, Chocolate, Vanilla and Honey Cake. These are decorated with fancy biscuits and look delicious. Other types of ice cream and sorbets are made up from liqueurs like Amaretto, Malibu and Cointreau and then there is a selection where spices have been added like ginger and cinnamon. Not forgetting the nut selection covering walnuts, almonds, pistachio and hazelnuts.
For a very special treat Grycan offer a wide variety of desserts which are made from fruits, sorbet, ice cream, whipped cream and various sauces. Biscuits are added too as an extra.
I find it very difficult to choose a flavour of ice cream and every time I visit I stand ages looking at each one. Sometimes I cop out and just order a vanilla flavour as I can't make my mind up and don't want to hold other customers up. Of course when my granddaughter is with me she goes straight for a chocolate flavoured ice cream and generally gets most of it down her dress. The counter is lovely to look at and really is a kaleidoscope of colour.
Once you have chosen your ice cream or sorbet (you can mix flavours) the girl/man behind the counter will scoop out the dessert of your choice and place it in an appropriate glass dish. He then takes it a little further down the counter where there are several dishes with other ingredients which you can have added to your ice cream. The choices are; chopped nuts, profiteroles (the long wafer type with chocolate rolled round at the top), wafer biscuits in different designs, chocolate shavings in dark, milk and white, dried fruit, fresh fruit, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, orange, raspberry sauce.
Before you pay you can also order a hot drink like coffee, tea and chocolate or a freshly squeezed juice. There are different types of juice like regenerating juice, vitamin juice, anti-stress juice and relaxing juice as well as fresh lemonade, orange and grapefruit and a multi vitamin juice. Ingredients used in all these juices vary but you can generally find kiwi, peach, orange, strawberry, banana and apple amongst the flavours. I haven't tried any of the hot drinks because I don't think they go together with ice cream. There are fancy coffees available too and iced coffees. Prices start from 10 zlot (approx £2) for an ordinary coffee with milk up to 25 zloty (approx £5) for a creative cuppa.
Once you have paid the bill you then take your creation to the table of your choice. At this time of year the ice cream parlour isn't busy but in summer it can be very hectic and this is when the tables and chairs are set out on the terrace at the side of the building. It's good fun sitting out here because you can take in the view of Jana Pawla as well as the tram lines and the fountain below and all the people going about their everyday business.
I can only comment on flavours I have tried so here we go. Let's start with chocolate ice cream. For a small scoop with a wafer and some fancy bits on top like profiterole and chocolate shavings I pay 12 zloty (approx £2.50). Obviously, the more flavours and additions you have bumps the price up so you can pay up to 50 zloty (approx £10) if you like for a dessert. I never pay that much - I'm a skinflint plus only have a small appetite.
Chocolate Ice Cream is one of my favourites and my granddaughter loves it too. I think the whole family do although my son likes chocolate mint chip. The colour is quite dark but not a rich brown - like when you mix brown and cream together. The exciting thing about the presentation is the chocolate highlight - big pieces of real dark chocolate mixed in with the ice cream. These are delicious, a very deep taste with a smooth texture.
By the way, the ice cream is gluten free and 100ml gives you these amounts of fat - 11%, saturated fatty acids 1%, salt 1%, protein 6%, carbohydrate 6%
Pear Sorbet is one of the coldest desserts I've tasted. It really does jar your mouth with the icy texture. I suggest you let this one melt a bit before tucking into it otherwise you will get toothache or jaw ache. I tried making my own sorbet once but the texture didn't turn out as smooth and slick as Grycan's. This is okay but I do think the taste of pear is a bit artificial. Very attractive to look at with swirls of green inside the ice but I wasn't keen on the taste.
This sorbet has a different make up containing no fat or fatty acids. It misses out on the protein and salt but has 4% kcal and 6% carbohydrate.
Vanilla Ice Cream is another favourite. Pale cream in colour with lots of flecks of brown which are shavings from the vanilla pod. Super texture, easy to spoon and melts in your mouth. The taste is extremely creamy with a big overdose of vanilla. The smell is gorgeous too - sweet, rich and evocative.
Gluten free again and a lot of fat in this one - 14%, 2% saturated fatty acids, 8% calories, 2% salt, 6 % protein and 6% carbohydrate.
Out of the desserts I usually choose Melba or a Coffee Poem. The Melba is served in a short fan shaped glass which has a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the bottom followed by a soft, light and refreshing strawberry mouse and then is covered with swirl of fluffy, whipped cream and pieces of fresh peach.
The Coffee Poem will give you a kick-start for the afternoon - it's smooth and delicious with lots of coffee. First - in goes coffee and vanilla ice cream followed by cream, chocolate sauce and strong, aromatic coffee. You get two biscuits in the top of this dessert too which are great for dipping in.
You can also buy tubs of ice cream and sorbet which come in 500ml (9zloty) and 1000ml tubs (14 zloty) and I've just noticed that they have started selling frozen ice cream gateaux which sounds interesting. I noticed an advert on my way out the other day so will look into these next time.
The Ice Cream Parlour is okay for disabled persons as there are several lifts in the shopping centre. The spaces between tables are wide enough for wheelchairs or prams. There are no toilet/bathroom facilities in this area but a short walk away there are public toilets with a special disabled toilet and a Mum and Baby Room. The toilets are spotless in this shopping arcade.
Summing up - I love Grycan Ice Cream - it always tastes divine and it is made from the best ingredients. It's a bit pricey because I think the portions are small but then I guess you get what you pay for. I have tried other makes of ice cream when I have been out with my granddaughter and Grycan is by far the most superior. The sorbets are exciting to say the least but I prefer ice cream and the special desserts. The Ice Cream Parlour in Arkadia is very attractive and I can't fault the displays at all but it lacks character and charisma. It's very smart but dead if you know what I mean. The staff are pleasant enough behind the counter but nothing special. I only visit here because it's close by but I think I will try one of the other parlours in the city to see if the atmosphere is any different.
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Address: Studnia Zyczen / Bar / Cafe International / Krakow / Poland
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Address:Ul. Mlynarska 13, 01-205 Warsaw / Bar / Cafe International / Poland. Tel:(+48 22) 251 88 94
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