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.

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!”

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!

Interview with George Rogers

George Rogers

Today I’m welcoming George Rogers to my series of author interviews. George is the co-author of For the Love of Postcards. His most recent book is  Among the Leaves, published by Cornerstone Press in November.

Elizabeth: Among the Leaves has the subtitle: A Collection of Outdoor Essays. How would you explain an “outdoor essay?”

George: Anything that has to do with nature.AmongtheLeaves-Cover

Elizabeth: Could you tell us the topics of some of the essays?

George: I say in the introduction that this isn’t a “me and Joe went fishin'” book. I don’t ignore fishing and hunting but I’m more into other outdoor activities, wildlife and the environment in general. Some of the topics are the Apostle Islands and Isle Royale in Lake Superior, prairie chickens, deer, jackass rabbits (now thankfully called jackrabbits), wolves, camping in Costa Rica and climbing Mount Fuji. But mostly it’s about Wisconsin.

Elizabeth: You’ve been a journalist for more than fifty years. How were you able to choose which essays to include and which to leave out of this collection?

George: I tried to choose topics that appealed to people who liked the outdoors, not just the hook and bullet crowd.

Elizabeth: You grew up in Wisconsin and spent a lot of time in the woods as a child. How do you think that has affected your outlook on life?

George: I was exposed to nature as a kid by fishing with my father and getting to see the ruined old-growth Wisconsin forest, and learning what a grand thing it had once been. That doesn’t mean I’m against logging. I’ve cut many trees in my time (and planted thousands of them), but from an early age I learned logging had to be done judiciously.

Elizabeth: Tell us about one of your favorite vacations or travel destinations.

George: I’ll mention several. Northern Wisconsin is always a good one. I like the Gulf Coast of Texas because it isn’t as overdeveloped (yet) as Florida, it’s on the ocean and it’s low-key. Japan was good, but when I was there I was in the military and not really vacationing. However, it gave me the opportunity to climb Mount Fuji. Also I saw some incredibly polluted waters, which was a real lesson.

Elizabeth: What is your writing process or schedule?

George: I’m not on a schedule. I write an outdoor column and a few other things for a weekly newspaper, the Portage County Gazette, but that’s a relaxed timetable. I write any time the mood strikes me and email my stuff in. That way I don’t get in the hair of the real working people. If I were writing another book, I’d set a target – so much production per week.

Elizabeth: How did the idea for Among the Leaves come to you?

George: I didn’t plan to write Among the Leaves. A co-worker from my daily newspaper days talked me into it. I thought it would be a chore but I found out it wasn’t. I should have known that. All my working career I was on a deadline and learned to live with it. Relatively speaking, this was easy.

Elizabeth: Cornerstone Press is a small press sponsored by the English Department at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. Students enroll in the Editing and Publishing class, and over the course of the semester select a manuscript, design a cover and layout, edit, publish, market and sell the book. What has been your experience working with this group of students?

George: They were good people, really interested in turning out a good product, and quite professional. I predict a bright future for them.

Elizabeth: We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?

George: When I get up in the morning I brew a cup of tea because I don’t like instant coffee and it takes too long to make a pot of regular coffee.

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

George: Both.

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

George: Anything but shopping.

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

George: Much to my regret, I’m devoid of musical talent.

Elizabeth: Mystery or Fantasy?

George: Mystery. There’s already too much fantasy in life.

Elizabeth: Hester Prynne or Scarlet O’Hara?

George: My attitude on this one was adequately summed up by Rhett Butler in his memorable farewell to Scarlett, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

To order a copy of Through the Leaves, visit the Cornerstone Press website.

A big thanks to George for being my guest today.