A Surprise Adventure

A couple of weekends ago, Andy’s choir, Non Serio, had an “outing,” and nobody, except the organizer(s), knew where we were going. We met at a McDonald’s just outside Gdansk. Our neighbors, Piotr and Patti, let us ride in their rental car. They find it much cheaper to rent a car when they want one than to own one. (Piotr is in the choir with Andy.)

About a dozen members of the choir, as well a some spouses and one dog, met at the McDonald’s to learn that we would be going to Frombork and its Planetarium! Frombork isn’t far from Gdansk as you can see on the map below. The red dot along the Baltic is Frombork. I couldn’t figure out how to type the name on the image and free-hand writing with a mouse was illegible:

Frombork is a place that Nicolas Copernicus lived for a while. To review, Copernicus is the man who first* came up with the idea that the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around. (*I’m qualifying this statement because it seems to me likely that someone else/others had this idea, and they don’t get credit for it.)

Upon arrival, we went into a walled area that contained a tower, the town’s cathedral, a museum, and the planetarium. Below, you can see the walled area, the tower, and the view from the tower. From the tower, you can see the Baltic and also part of Russia, which looks just like Poland. Borders can be funny that way.

Next we went into the Planetarium and saw a star show. It was interesting, though in Polish, so Andy and I didn’t learn much. Next, we went into the cathedral. This is where Nicolaus Copernicus is buried. There is a series of posters that show the celebration and re-burial, but of course these are in Polish. If you are interested in how and why Copernicus’ body was re-buried in Frombork Cathedral, here is an article in the Smithsonian Magazine.

Next, we left the walled area and went in search of the Holy Spirit Hospital, also called the Museum of the History of Medicine. It had some fascinating and horrifying displays about medieval medicine. I was so engrossed, I only took one picture.

All of this adventuring had made our group hungry, and our organizer(s) had planned for this. We got back in our cars and headed to the village of Tolkmicko and the Fregata restaurant, located on the Baltic. Their specialty was fish, and that is what most of us ordered. Yum!

Our next stop was a small village with a ceramic studio that was, unfortunately, closed. I took a picture of its lovely sign, though. Luckily, this village was also chosen for coffee and dessert, which was delicious.

When we all headed to the parking lot, Andy and I assumed our adventure was over –but no! Our last stop was at a pick-your-own tulip field.

This was the final place we visited. It was almost 9pm by the time we pulled into our neighborhood, although it wasn’t yet dark. The sun stays out late this far north. A long, exhausting and marvelous day. I’m so lucky that Andy joined a fun and welcoming choir.

Non Serio has a concert on Thursday, May 25. Andy even has a short solo that he sings in Polish. If I can figure out how to post a video, I’ll try to do that here.

A Trip to Wejherowo

Sarah, a friend of mine who lives in Gdansk, suggested that she, her infant son Karol, and I go to Wejherowo for the day. We went on Friday, and I thought I’d share our trip with you. I’d heard of this town, because its name is the last stop on the regional train I’ve taken several times. So, we got on the train and took it to the end! The map below can give you an idea of where the town is in relation to Gdansk. The train trip was a little more than an hour.

Wejherowo is a cute town. Being “the end of the line” I somehow expected something very small and rural, but Wejherowo is charming. Take a look:

So, why Wejherowo? This small town is home to a 400-year-old, outdoor, Stations of the Cross park. If you aren’t Catholic (as I am not) and want to learn more, in general, about Stations of the Cross, visit this general-info page. The Stations of the Cross in Wejherowo, or Kalwaria Wejherowska, is impressive. Below is a map of the whole complex. As you can see, there are more than the traditional 14 stations. We entered the park near the palace (picture below and below). As it was an icy, snowy day and we had an infant with us, we decided to go right and only visit a few of the stations.

Palace Przebendowski

Here is my first glimpse of two of the stations. You can see the path leading to the chapels. I’m not sure which stations they are; we didn’t follow this path.

Instead, we took a path that led us to a station depicting Mother Mary visiting Jesus, and then, the station in which Simon helps to carry Jesus’ cross:

As we continued, we discovered that a large group was ahead of us, with a priest and loudspeakers. The priest spoke in Polish, saying prayers or giving instructions. People chanted in a sort of Gregorian chant way (again, I’m not Catholic, and maybe this is no big deal, but it was really cool for me.). At different times, people genuflected, on the ice and snow. I bowed my head and scrunched a little. Sarah helped translate some of what the priest was saying. It was quite an amazing experience.

We’d eaten lunch before our walking about (Karol got to eat too!), and then we got on the train to head home. It was a wonderful experience. Thank you Sarah and Karol!

I look forward to more adventures with this crew!

Fat Thursday

You didn’t mis-read that title, and I didn’t mis-type it. While people all over the world are celebrating Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras), we here in Poland have already celebrated Fat Thursday (Tłusty Czwartek), which is the Thursday before Ash Wednesday.

Poland is a very Catholic country and has many saints days and other religious holidays about which I’m not very familiar. As I am not Catholic, I haven’t joined a Catholic church here and haven’t learned all that much about the Polish-Catholic culture. What I have learned is that you eat pączki on Fat Thursday.

Pączki are filled, glazed doughnuts. I knew this before moving to Poland because, living in the Polish-American hub of central Wisconsin, pączki are available this time of year there. And they are called pączki, not doughnuts, which are available all the time. In central Wisconsin, the pączki I’ve eaten were pretty dense with a prune or raspberry filling that wasn’t all that great. (It’s possible good pączki are available in Wisconsin and I just haven’t had them.)

The pączki here in Poland are better. The dough is lighter and each of the fillings I tried (vanilla custard, raspberry, coconut) were delicious. Some were topped with chopped nuts, candied fruit pieces, a chocolate glaze. Yum.

We were told that we HAD to go out and get pączki on Thursday morning, so Andy left early (while I was still in bed) to visit our favorite neighborhood bakery. He had to wait in a line as many people were already there to buy their Fat Thursday pączki.

I neglected to take a picture before we’d eaten our pączki:

Later that day, we took a tram to a downtown workshop, and I noticed long lines at all the bakeries we passed. The Poles getting their pączki! At the hotel where our workshop was being held, there was a “break table” for participants, featuring water, tea, coffee…and pączki!

So, go ahead and enjoy Fat Tuesday.

But next year, think about starting early. Get some pączki (or regular doughnuts, if that’s all that’s available in your area), and celebrate Fat Thursday.

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.

A Day Trip to Malbork Castle

The town of Malbork and Malbork Castle (the largest castle in the world) are an easy, 30-minute train ride from Gdansk.

The castle was established by the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order in the early 1300s. There are three parts to the castle. The High Castle, surrounded by moats and high walls is where the Grand Master lived and also housed the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Middle Castle housed monks, knights, guests, a hospital, and the Grand Refectory, for large feasts and ceremonies. The Low Castle housed the granary, an armory, a brewery, stables, a chapel, blacksmiths, and other outbuildings and service-type work places, all surrounded by moats, walls, towers, and defensive constructions. In all its history, the castle was never over-taken in battle. However, several sieges did cause the castle to be surrendered or sold. For more history, visit the Malbork Castle Museum website.

We started our day by stopping by a post office and mailing our absentee ballots for the U.S. November election. (Vote!) We’d heard bad things about the Polish postal system, that we might have to wait in line for a long time, so we set out early. The rumors were wrong. It didn’t take more than five minutes to buy stamps and send our ballots on their way. That gave us extra time before our train left. We spent it in an Ukrainian Cafe. The “smoking train” was the train before our train.

Admission to the castle included an audio tour that lasted about 3 hours. It was informative and enjoyable and offered times to take breaks. We ate apples in one of the courtyards about half-way through. Although I have fatigue issues, I had good energy this day. It was so much fun walking through all the small passageways, over drawbridges, under portcullises, through inner gardens.

The Great Refectory was impressively large. The holes on the floor allowed hot air from fires below to heat upper rooms.

Parts of the castle were destroyed during WWII and then reconstructed with great care. An exhibit explained in great detail with many photographs and plans of how the reconstruction took place. Other areas in the castle included museum-type exhibitions on amber, weapons and armory, tapestry and sashes, famous guests of the castle, and more.

After all that walking, we were exhausted. Malbork has an easy self-guided tour of its Old Town, which we we too tired to explore. As we still had a couple of hours before our return train, we found a nice restaurant in town, Panorama, at the top of a sort of vertical mall. It had a view of the castle and town, and because it was about 2:30, we had the place to ourselves. A great way to end our visit.


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.


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!”