Wednesday, September 25, 2019

A walk along the river Brda at Bydgoszcz

Work has started again with a vengeance and when I'm not teaching, I'm preparing materials for my courses. As a result I don't have much time this week and I've missed my usual weekly posting. I've been wanting to finish off my Polish travel story, but even that will need to be curtailed a little (I can hear you all breathe again), so I thought that for this week, I'd just take you on a walk along the River Brda at Bydgoszcz with me. 

We stopped at Bydgoszcz on our way to Gdansk as Koos wanted to show me the canalised river with its rather special former lock, and I must say I was very glad we did because it was really lovely. Bydgoszcz is a fine city, not quite as charming as Torun, but maybe that was the weather. As you can see from these photos, it was cloudy and quite cool, so that always changes the atmosphere. It even rained a bit but not enough to affect our walk.

I love waterways and locks and to my delight, there was a boat going through the one we came to as soon as we reached the waterside. Follow the path with me and enjoy scenery.

Looking upstream from the lock

A small park near the lock. The glass topped box behind the
bin is full of books that you can exchange. A mini library

See the boat in the lock? What a nice surprise!

Rising to the upper reach

It was a trip boat and we were sorry we didn't have time to do an excursion
I would have loved that

And off she goes with a throng of happy passengers

This is the interesting bit. I hope you can read the text below as it explain
it all.

Essentially the in and out of this lock were on the same side, as the river
and canal were split into two parallel levels at the time. The English
is a bit odd, but I hope you get the idea

The old lock is no longer in use but has been kept as a monument. The new
lock we saw has replaced it and has rerouted the river to make the transition

The new and the old lock from the other side

Then we crossed a few streets to find the real river
and how charming it was

By this time, it was quite gloomy, hence the dark scene, but it was lovely to walk
the path and see the students on the bench enjoying being outside

Looking back along the river from a café terrace where we stopped for coffee

Zooming out a bit.

This was from a bridge over the river showing where the canal and Brda
merge again. You can see the weir to the left

The cleanup crew on the water. Nice job!
Looking downstream where there are trip boats and restaurant boats moored

Lovely to see the water being used by canoeists too

Some of the grander buildings that line the river
After our walk, we strolled back up the hill to the station and continued on our way to Gdansk, but this was a lovely interlude. I think I could bear another visit to Bydgoszcz, so maybe one day I'll persuade Koos to go back and we can do a boat trip and explore more of the city.

Enjoy the rest of your week allemaal! The final stage will be coming soon.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Taking time in Torun

To continue from my last post, we left the Polish town of  Elbląg on Saturday morning. The station was a good couple of kilometres from the centre of town, but in an unusual fit of courage, we decided to walk, so of course by the time we arrived, my rucksack had gained another 5 kilos.

The train journey from Elbląg to Torun was a long one. We first had to go south east to Olsztyn on a regional train and then transfer to an intercity train to Torun. Let me just say here the trains are really good, and if anything, the regional train was smarter, cleaner and more comfortable than the Intercity. I was impressed.

Altogether, the journey took three and a half hours, but we had more than an hour's break in Olsztyn which added to the overall time. We'd thought to have a look around this intermediate (and apparently fine) town, but after we'd stood in line to buy our train tickets to Torun, half an hour of our exploring time had disappeared, so we just popped over the road to the local McDonald's for a cup of coffee, as you do. Once back on the train which sped at Intercity speed through the countryside, the scenery became flatter and less picturesque than the area around Elbląg, but it was still fine in the golden light of an increasingly hot day. I noticed that there were few fences or hedges between the fields in this part of Poland, although there were some ditches for drainage. It made me wonder how farmers distinguish whose land is whose.

Torun station was outside the city centre and across the Vistula river. I was glad Koos had been there before as we had quite a trek across town to find our lodgings for the next two nights. Torun as a whole is large with spreading suburbs, and although our room was in an old riverside district, it took a bus and two trams for us to reach it.

The older suburb in Torun, where we stayed
When we finally arrived, it was around 5:30 p.m. and we were briefly perplexed by being unable to find the self catering apartment we'd booked into. The numbering system was a bit odd and so we found ourselves knocking on a door which opened to reveal an elderly man in his string vest. As you might imagine, this perplexed all three of us. 

Fortunately, the concierge of our apartment must have seen us wandering around looking lost and the next thing we knew we were being beckoned into the inner courtyard of the next door building. Well, when we followed her through, I thought we'd entered some kind of paradise. Unlike the rather forbidding street frontage, this inner sanctum was picture perfect as you can see from the photos below. I would never have believed such a charming garden and cottage could have been hidden within. I was instantly charmed, as was Koos.

We followed our hostess up the stairs and she showed us our room in the apartment. This we would have to ourselves, but we would have to share the two bathrooms with the occupants of the other four rooms (mostly young couples who regarded us oldies a bit curiously). There was also a kitchen where we could make our own meals. Everything was spotlessly clean, albeit on the small side. Koos and I had to pull our tummies in to pass each other in the corridor and even in the bedroom (don't think about that too much...haha).

I loved the neighbourhood around our accommodation. It was home to an eclectic mix of people and made distinctive by its older apartment blocks, trams and tree-lined streets. At the bottom of the road was a beautiful park with magnificent towering oaks, and on the other side of the park was the Vistula river with a harbour and shipyard that we explored on our first evening before even venturing into the city. We also found a handily placed Biedronka supermarket (the Polish equivalent to the ubiquitous Spar) around the corner where we bought provisions for cooking our meals.

Long view of the harbour and slipway

Harbour slipway

Entrance to the harbour from the Vistula
Harbour work boats

A fantasy barge behind the small work boat
The next morning, we walked to the city. It was quite a distance, but the day was fresh and it hadn't got too hot – not yet anyway. What we wanted to do was see the medieval town and then take a boat trip on the river. After that, well, we'd see. We had the whole of Sunday for Torun as we were only going to be leaving on Monday morning.

Walking towards the main square

I must admit I wasn't expecting it to be quite so beautiful. Perhaps the weather helped, but to me Torun is one of Poland's gems, if not its diamond. Elbląg was delightful, but effectively new; Torun was the real deal. I've been to Krakow, Katowice and Wroclaw. I've also been to Gliwice. Of all these, I think Torun was the most impressive (and even Gdansk didn't eclipse this feeling). It is believed to be one of the oldest cities in the country dating back to the 8th century and you can read its history here.

To give it context, I felt it had a similar setting to Krakow, sitting as it did on the banks of a wide river, but its city walls and gates looked somehow more impressive. On the other hand its charming tree-lined streets, and colourful buildings had an intimacy that Krakow lacked. Added to all this, it had the ruined remains of its old castle, which drew me like a magnet, not to mention its own version of the leaning tower of Pisa.

Renovated city wall

An old and renovated gateway

Leaning tower of Torun

City gate from the riverside

Remains of the castle. Guided tours into the dungeons are given!

Original city gate with adaptations

Remains of the former castle

Remains of the old castle

Section of old city wall

One of the several city gates
While we were there in all that glorious sunshine, the city streets were lovely too: colourful, bustling and elegant with cobbled roads and pavement cafés galore. There was even a planetarium dedicated to Copernicus (too lofty for the likes of us - sorry), a rather fine looking prison (fit for noble sinners) and Rolls Royces for carrying star struck tourists (especially those who'd been to the planetarium) around the city.

And then we had our boat trip on the wide, flowing waters of the Vistula River. It looked a bit shallow to me, so I was relieved the skipper had clearly done it once or twice. I had a feeling he had every sandbank and hazard embedded in his brain and could probably have done the whole course in his sleep; probably just as well, as he looked more than suspiciously relaxed at times.

We arrived back at the jetty around midday, so we still had the entire afternoon ahead of us. What to do when it was so hot? The temperature had risen to the mid thirties and with a high humidity level too, we weren't feeling inclined to walk much more. The solution? Tram rides. We each bought a 24 hour ticket, which meant we could go anywhere we liked and still be able to take public transport to the station the next day on the same ticket.

There were only three tram lines and that afternoon, we travelled the length and breadth of two of them. It was interesting to see how extensive the suburbs were, and also how new.  There were rows and rows of low rise apartment blocks in streets with no trees. They must have been very hot as there seemed to be no shade at all.

At the end of one line, we found the university, quietly slumbering in the afternoon heat with no students about except a young man trying to teach his girlfriend how to ride a scooter. At the other end of the same line, we got off at a pętla (loop), effectively the terminus, which was in the middle of a field. Remembering similar tram routes in the Katowice area, this seemed to me a quintessentially Polish spot.

By this time, we were all travelled out, so we took another tram back to our neighbourhood, where we sat on a cool terrace with an even cooler beer before going home for a meal. That evening, we took another walk through the local park in the dark. It was calm and exuded a benign kind of welcome until the first spots of rain drove us back to our lodgings.

To our surprise, we found the outer door of the apartment building closed, but never mind (we thought), we had the entry code. Well alarm set in when it didn't work. Perhaps we'd got it wrong? Several different permutations of the numbers plus several repeats of the one we thought it was still didn't produce any results. Panic. Well, I panicked; Koos didn't, mainly because he remembered he had the concierge's phone number on his phone. He called; she answered. Phew!

The next problem arose when she couldn't understand any English and had no idea what we were asking, but then someone had the bright idea of speaking German, which is definitely the go-to language in this area. What a relief that was. Koos is fluent in German, so in no time, the light had dawned and the issue was resolved. We'd missed a vital symbol at the front of the code and so the door had remained firmly shut. Putting my visions of a night under a cardboard box back in their place, we retired gratefully to our room. The next day, we would be off again for the last stage of our trip: to Gdynia and Gdansk via Bydgoszcz.

So, that was it. Congratulations for getting to the end of this interminable travel blog, allemaal!
Sorry it's so very long, but as you can see, there was a lot to get in. In a nutshell, Torun is gorgeous and so well worth a visit...there, I could have left it at that, couldn't I? 😀