A Visit to Toruń

Andy and I had heard good things about Toruń and decided to visit. We left Gdańsk on an early morning train Friday morning, with a ticket to return on a late train Saturday night. The train ride took about 2-1/2 hours.

Toruń is a charming town, famous for gingerbread and as the birthplace of Nicolas Copernicus. Our hotel was the 1231 Hotel, named after the year that Toruń was founded! We spent most of our time in the Stare Miasto (Old Town). Here are some pictures of our hotel and that area including the “Leaning Tower of Toruń” –which my picture doesn’t capture too well.

Toruń is known in Poland, and maybe throughout Europe, for its gingerbread. I highly recommend visiting the gingerbread museum (Muzeum Piernika) to learn the history of this tasty snack and its manufacturing in Toruń. Andy was especially interested in the complicated oven machinery which had an excellent audio-visual display. The museum includes a workshop where you can make your own non-edible gingerbread decoration. You also get a free little edible “Little Kate” gingerbread at the final exhibit in the museum.

Would it surprise you to know that a town known for gingerbread has a brewery that makes gingerbread beer? We stopped at the Jan Obracht Browar (brewery) and restaurant twice. Once, for dinner and a gingerbread beer and the second time to warm up with a mulled gingerbread beer. Both were delicious!

You can’t visit Toruń without noticing that Nicolaus Copernicus (Mikołaj Kopernika) is a big deal here. If you can’t remember who he is, here is a biography. We visited the home where he was born which is now a museum. His family was of the wealthy merchant class, trading in a variety of things including copper (see copper pots in picture). His father died when he was young, and an uncle who was a bishop helped raise and educate him. The museum doesn’t take too long to go through and is interesting, including lots of information about his time period and the science, religion and daily life of the middle ages.

Another fun thing to do in Toruń is a statue scavenger hunt. There is the “torture donkey” which represents a former wooden donkey that was used as a means of torture (read about that here). Filius is a puppy with a hat from a from a popular Polish comic strip: picture missing! I know I took one, but it isn’t on my phone <sad face>. Here is a photo of the puppy, mis-tagged as being from a Charlie Chaplin film. There is a statue of a violist playing to a circle of frogs. In warmer months, I believe this is a fountain. There is a cute little dragon hidden along the side of an alley. And, finally, you’ll need to find at least one statue of Nicolaus Copernicus.

We were lucky to meet up with Fulbrighter Molly, who is teaching English at the MKU (Mikołaj Kopernika Uniwersytet) in Toruń. We had a delicious meal at a Manekin restaurant, our first although they are a chain. Manekin specializes in every kind of pancake you can imagine. Yum! Molly then showed us around her university. The weather was cold, snowy/slushy with a biting wind. It was nice of her to brave the elements for us.

Our evening train left Toruń a little after 8pm and by the time we reached home it was nearly midnight. In a sleepy daze, I walked down the sidewalk to our apartment when Andy grabbed my elbow. The wild boars we had heard about were scavenging nuts and grass along our street. I’d almost walked right into one! Andy’s picture isn’t the best, but it was dark and we were both caught off guard.

Luckily, we made it to our apartment safely. It was nice to be “home” and warm and able to sleep in. I start teaching again on Monday.

I hope you are all warm and safe, too, my friends.

Searching for Amber

Gdansk is famous for its amber, which washes up on its beaches from the Baltic Sea. The history of amber is fascinating, as I’ll let that website explain.

One of my goals in living in Gdansk is to find some amber myself. My first trip to the seaside, in September, let me know I had no idea what I was doing. I saw others picking through debris, and I looked through debris too, not finding anything that fit my idea of amber, translucent and orange. I did find a few rocks/shells/whatever that could be amber? maybe? The pictures of that first amber-hunting expedition are below.

Since that adventure, I’ve visited Gdansk’s very cool Amber Museum, and learned much more about amber. In fact, amber isn’t always translucent orange. I also learned (from the museum and locals) that the best time to find amber successfully is after a storm. Last weekend, a storm was predicted but didn’t materialize. The prediction was moved to Monday. That day, there was a bit of snow and a lot of wind; as a resident of Wisconsin, I wouldn’t call it a storm, but it was the first close-to-a-storm that we’d had, and I wasn’t busy on Tuesday morning, so Andy and I headed to the beach.

(Yes, I used a broken plastic cheese grater to poke through debris and frozen sand.)

Again, I didn’t find anything that jumped out at me as “Amber!” but I picked up some rocks that made me look twice. We also gathered what we thought at the time might be coal, because… coal? There is an energy problem in Europe and maybe somebody would want a few extra pieces? Once everything had warmed up and dried out, what seemed like coal now seems like it might not be coal. I need a geologist friend to look at all this. Kevin and Sherri, want to visit?

One thing I’ve learned in my long walks along the Baltic Sea is that I’m a winter sea kind of gal. The feel of the cold sea air on my face, the frozen sand, and the frigid temperatures are invigorating. Cold air tastes so clean!

Until next time, stay cool, friends!

Gdansk Christmas Market

The Gdansk Christmas Market opened last week and so Andy and I spent Sunday afternoon at the Old Town event. We ate an early lunch first which was a mistake, as the market featured many wonderful smelling foods. We shared a warm raspberry mead which is now my favorite hot drink.

I encouraged Andy to get a kielbasa (we don’t cook a lot of meat at home) which was served with the best mustard I’ve ever tasted!

I bought some cheerful green Christmas lights to put on our little apartment balcony. Cheerful lights are good because the sun now sets at 3:30pm. The green lights are hard to see in the photos. Our balcony is the one below the Ukrainian flag balcony.

We plan to enjoy more food, drinks, and fun at this and other Christmas markets!

Krakow

We took a short trip to Krakow. Short because it was only 2 days. We bought inexpensive tickets, so the actual train ride from Gdansk was 8 hours and went through Warsaw. I enjoyed watching the countryside fly by. Poland looks a lot like Wisconsin, so it is easy to see why so many Poles settled in Wisconsin. Here’s a little map of Poland to show our route:

We stayed at the Atlantis Hostel a great location, walking distance from the train station, the old town square, Jagiellonian University, and the Jewish quarter. We rented a private room with bath at the hostel, which was inexpensive and afforded us a beautiful view of a garden and the city. We got that view because we were on the 4th floor (5th to an American), and there wasn’t an elevator. It’s a good thing we didn’t have a lot of luggage!

Having arrived in the evening, we went out the next morning to explore. Andy had downloaded an audio tour to his phone using the Voicemap app. We each put an earbud in an ear and held hands (so as not to wander too far from each other and pull out the earbuds) and started our tour at the Old Town Square. This was a perfect way for me to do a tour. I have fatigue issues, so with a live tour guide, I’d feel pushed to keep going with the group, even when I was worn out. The audio tour can be paused so I can rest. It can also be paused if you want to spend more time in an area. The Voicemap uses the GPS on your phone, so it knows where you are and presents the appropriate tour information at the right time. I recommend it!

I won’t pretend to remember all the details of the city and tour. At the top of a tower on St. Mary’s Cathedral in the Old Town Square, a trumpeter plays every hour on the a hour. You can read the history and legends about the trumpeter and the song, as well as a reference to Newbery Award-winning children’s novel The Trumpeter of Krakow. I read it as a child and need a re-read. St. Mary’s has two towers and faces the main square. Here is one of the towers from a side street. I snapped the picture quickly when the trumpeter began his song.

One of St. Mary’s Cathedral towers where the trumpeter plays. Krakow, Poland

Again, I’m no historian, but I learned that one of the reasons Krakow is so beautiful is that its buildings weren’t destroyed by war. In 1939, when Germany was invading Poland, the leader of Krakow realized the town could not protect itself against the German armies and surrendered before an attack began, in an attempt to save its citizens and buildings. From Jagiellonian University’s website:

During the Second World War, on 6th November 1939, Nazi German authorities deceived nearly 180 scholars and staff members of the Jagiellonian University into gathering in Collegium Novum, then brutally arrested and deported them to concentration camps, where several of them have met their death. Another group of scholars, captured as military officers by the Soviets (who invaded Poland on 17 September 1939), was executed by the order of Joseph Stalin in Katyn (1940). The Nazi Germans closed the University. As a result, clandestine education commenced in 1942 for approximately 800 students. One of them was Karol Wojtyła, who later became pope John Paul II.

https://en.uj.edu.pl/en_GB/about-university/history

There is a courtyard at the university that has signs about this moment in history as well as other things the university is famous for, such as the vacuum sphere. We also found a park bench where Andy was able to discuss math with Stefan Banach and Otton Nikodym.

We climbed up to the city’s castle and learned things I no longer remember. There is a legend about a dragon and a cool statue. Here are the pictures I took about that part of the tour:

After walking around all morning in a drizzly rain, we stopped for lunch at a kind of touristy pierogie place, but the soup was warm and delicious.

By the time we climbed the many steps to our room, we were exhausted. I didn’t think I’d want to go out again, but the clouds cleared and the day was beautiful, so we decided to sit outside at a cafe or bar and have a drink. We ended up, accidentally, in the Jewish quarter which had good signage for doing a self-tour, so that’s what we did. I don’t have any good pictures because I’m terrible at remembering to take pictures.

The next day our train for Warsaw left in the afternoon. Because I was so worn out, we decided to just walk along the Vistula River and hunt for geocaches. (See Andy’s post about geocaching for more info.) It was a nice, low-key way to spend our last morning in Krakow. Here are some pictures of that excursion:

The final, weird and funny, part of our trip to Krakow was all the men in kilts. When you think about Krakow, you don’t think about “men in kilts.” It seems that on the evening we left Krakow, the Scottish national football team was playing Ukraine in Krakow. Andy and I discussed how interesting it is that we, as Americans, try to hide our nationality when we travel. We want to fit in. It’s obviously the opposite for these Scotsmen. Everywhere they walked in Krakow, they were basically shouting, “Scotsman here! Scotsman here!”

Random Rzeczy (things)

Cobblestones have a super-cool look, but if you walk on them too much your feet will hurt.


The Polish language does not have the letters Q or V. (The W sounds like an English V, and really, why does any language need a Q?). Nevertheless, if you attend a football match at Stadion Gdansk, you might be seated in Section Q.


I have three house keys, but one is my favorite. I love my long fancy key.


In Gdansk the bikes are more like pedestrians than cars. In many places, they have their own trail (in red) that borders the pedestrian sidewalk. When crossing streets as a pedestrian, it’s important to look both ways before crossing the red bicycle trail, even before getting to the road. If there isn’t a designated bicycle lane, cyclists use (at least what I’ve noticed) the wide sidewalks and don’t join cars on the streets, as is expected in the US.

Exploring Gdansk

For the first few days in Poland, we didn’t have internet in our apartment and our phones didn’t (still don’t) have service. This makes exploring a little awkward. Our only “map” is the memory of the maps we looked at before we got here. Still, we wanted to explore.

On Wednesday, we decided to head in the direction of the Baltic Sea. We were pretty sure which direction to head, and we didn’t think it was too far. The catch, though, was that we didn’t want to take too many turns so that we couldn’t find our way back to our apartment.

We discovered some cool buildings and parks–I wish I’d taken pictures. After walking for about 2 hours, we were tired, our feet hurt, and the coast didn’t seem very close. So, we turned around and made it home.

Later, when we could check the internet, we saw that we had headed in exactly the right direction (totally Andy), but just didn’t travel far enough. It was farther than we’d thought.

Today, we decided to take a train to the old part of Gdansk. We have internet now (still no phone service), so we could map out our route. We also hoped to find a tourist information area where we could get paper maps. These are not as easy to find as they once were!

Success! I have several maps now. Also, I remembered to take pictures. Here are some of the beautiful sites in the old town of Gdansk:

The highlight of our day, though, was our visit to the Solidarity Museum. If you are ever in Gdansk, I highly recommend it.

The red-rust building in the background is the Solidarity Museum. The top of the Memorial for the Fallen Shipyard Workers is cut off in this picture because I wanted to get these words.

These are the demands of the striking shipyard workers which were written on two large wooden boards and then placed at Gate #2 of the Gdansk Lenin shipyard in 1980. The strike was initiated in defense of a 30-year employee who had recently been fired. This gate was a symbol for the shipyard workers because in 1970, the army shot two and injured several others in trying to stop an earlier a strike.

The Solidarity Museum is amazing and inspirational. My eyes watered more than once. There are placards and signs outside the museum which talk about the current struggles of Belarussians who have been killed, arrested, or forced out of their country by the current oppressive regime in that country.

After walking around the museum and most of old town, we were ready to sit and eat a meal. At one intersection we became confused, and a Polish gentleman offered to help us. It turns out that he gives tours in German of the old town. He walked us to his favorite restaurant: Gdanska Restaurancja. It is incredibly beautiful inside. Visit the website to see. I took pictures of our delicious Polish meals. I had beetroot soup with cream and a pork cutlet with vegetables and potatoes. Andy had a local beer and pork roast with potatoes and cabbage. Highly recommended!

Well, that’s all for now. The Polish national men’s volleyball team is in the finals of some international tournament. We’ve been watching them on television the past few nights. Very exciting! Volleyball appears to be a very big deal in Poland. The tournament is happening in Poland, and the crowds have been amazing. Me, I’ll watch and enjoy any sport.

Do widzenia!

Packing for Poland

Many people have asked me about how to pack for a 10-month “trip.” Well, I like to travel light. I’m not into clothes and shoes and all that stuff, so it’s pretty easy for me to limit what I bring. We get one free checked bag (Kelty), one carry-on (red wheelie suitcase), and a personal item (backpack), so that is what I’m bringing.

A few people offered to loan me a large, wheelie suitcase to check, and I thought about it. There would be more space, and the wheels could have been helpful. In the end, I decided to stick with Kelty. How could I leave her behind? Kelty is a hiking-traveling backpack-suitcase (in the middle, above). When you want to travel on a plane, the back zips up to hide and protect the straps that you can wear when you are hiking or walking from bus stop to apartment (shown below).

This isn’t the first time Kelty has traveled to Europe with me. In 2007, Andy Felt and I led the UWSP study abroad trip to Munich, Germany. I brought Kelty on that trip, although I neglected to take any good pictures of her while we were there. Below are my best attempts to find her.

I’m holding several bags: is one Kelty?
Or maybe here, at our Waldurn youth hostel. Is that Kelty on the ground next to me?

But my relationship with Kelty goes back farther than that fun time in Germany. In 1992, before we had kids, Andy and I went on a 4-day, back-country hiking trip in Glacier National Park. Obviously, Kelty was the perfect choice for hauling my clothes and gear.

Taken before digital cameras or phones that fit in your pocket.

Did I buy Kelty for that backpacking adventure? No, no, no. I bought Kelty in 1986, before I moved to Strasbourg, France and my junior year abroad. Do I have any pictures of Kelty speaking French? I wish! I did find a picture of my dorm room in Louvois 3. I kept Kelty under the bed (not pictured).

Sorry, for the bad picture of a bad picture.

So, Kelty and I go W-A-Y back. How could I leave her at home? She’ll be accompanying me on this adventure, and I’m excited that you, gentle reader, are too.

Pisze ksiazke ?

(Am I writing a book?)

Gdansk. Port city on the Baltic coast of Poland.

Am I writing a book? In Polish? Maybe…

Well, not in Polish but maybe in Poland!

My husband and I are moving to Gdansk, Poland for a year. On a Fulbright grant, he will teach math and computer science at the Gdansk University of Technology. I will teach composition (part time, online) for the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point on a laptop in our apartment.

I may also work on my writing. Or not. I’m keeping an open mind.

Ja nie mowie po Polsku bardo dobre. (I don’t speak Polish very well.) I am trying! I’ve been using Duolingo for almost a year. My vocabulary is small, and my accent probably atrocious, but I’ve always loved learning languages and being surrounded by people speaking in words I cannot understand. Am I crazy? Maybe. It is hard for me to express how totally excited I am about this adventure. I know it will be practically impossible for me to understand Polish at first, but I’ll give it my best shot. I can only improve, right?

We leave in early September and won’t return until July 2023. To be honest, I could use a break from the U.S. There’s nothing like living in a strange place to make you appreciate things you never even noticed about your home.

I’ll post updates about our adventure here. My husband Andy Felt is in the process of creating his own blog, Finding Myself in Poland, so check that out too.

Gdansk University of Technology

More to come!