Day 13: Malbork and Gdansk

Today was filled with trains, trams, and automobiles as we made the journey from our dorm to the cities of Malbork and Gdansk. It was a true test of everything we have learned about travel so far because we were required to understand train and tram schedules and then figure out where we were supposed to go for each connection.

First we rode the tram from our dorm to the tram station with one of the Bydgoszcz train stations positioned below. We were already familiar with this station because we had ridden out from here to travel to Torun. Since we weren’t sure where the main Bydgoszcz station is, we figured our best option would be to ride a train from the station we knew of to the one we were unsure of. We made it to the station but I hadn’t realized just how airport-like the train stations could be and it took some serious concentration to find the next platform in the ten minute window we had. We had a few more minutes at the next stop before we had to board another train finally bound for Malbork. For those of you who are keeping track, that is three trains before 10:30 AM.

Our first view of Malbork Castle

I had high expectations for Malbork which we had chosen to visit because it is home to the world’s oldest standing brick castle, Malbork Castle. We had heard mixed reviews from some of our Polish guides on Malbork Castle over the last two weeks so I had no idea what to expect. We walked with a some other tourists from the train station to the castle and I was struck immediately by the sheer size of the complex and the intricate details with which I was constructed. As a historian, Sarah suggested that we do the personal audio tour to provide us with a more detailed and understandable tour than a self-guided tour or walking tour might provide. This turned out to be a great suggestion and we all enjoyed listening to Jacob (yak-ob as it was pronounced on the audio guide) tell us about each room and location of the castle as we came to it. The tour was very well done and gave us lots of information we might not have otherwise known.

Crossing the bridge from the inner fortress to the castle courtyard

Jacob first talked to us about the bridges, walls, and guard towers leading into the complex before we made our way inside the complex. The castle itself is separate and divided into an older and newer portion. Malbork Castle, also known as the Castle of the Teutonic Order, was constructed around a fortified monastery after the seat of the Grand Master of the order moved from Venice in 1309. The monastery is the oldest portion and the rest of the castle was built around and next to it including living quarters for the grand master and guests, ornate refectories, and places to do business and hold meetings. Much of the castle fortress was destroyed during World War II and restored in recent decades based on detailed conservation records.

Grand Refectory (dining hall)

Looking out over the dry moat

Our tour took us through ornately decorated rooms with paintings and artifacts to look at. We saw the infirmary, grand refectory, kitchen, meeting areas for cold and warm weather, gardens, Grand Master’s quarters with dressing area and sleeping quarters, the Grand Master’s office, multiple beautiful and long corridors, and two beautiful courtyards among other fascinating sites. Exhibits along the way displayed artifacts and artwork along with images from conservation efforts before and after the war. It was disheartening to see how many precious artifacts were lost and much work had to be put into restoring the buildings to even resemble their former glory.

The castle was fascinating to tour since we do not have many old architecture such as this in the United States. It was truly out of a fairy tale (you know, if the fairy tale was about murdering a group of people who refused to convert to Christianity).

Mariacka Street

Around 3 PM we boarded yet another train to make the short journey to Gdansk which is a city bordering the Baltic Sea. We met Dr. McGahan and Dr. Lambert at the train station and wandered in circles for a while trying to find the city centre before finally deciding to request an Uber. While researching Gdansk, one street had been recommended as a “must-visit” and Mariacka street did not disappoint. It was full of restaurants and performers and street vendors lined the sides. Unfortunately the picturesque church on one end of the street was under renovation but the atmosphere of the street was still magical. By this time we had done of lot walking (about 17,000 steps) and we hadn’t eaten a proper lunch so we were on the lookout for a place to eat dinner. There was a nice looking restaurant boat on the edge of the water so we sat in expectation of some good seafood. I ordered fried baltic cod and vegetables which was good, but not life changing. After dinner we looked around for a little while and ate some lody before taking a taxi back to the train station. We arrived home from the train station about midnight after taking a taxi with a very fast and aggressive driver. I am looking forward to a very restful day tomorrow (Sunday).

Restaurant on the water (on the left)




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