Thursday, May 18, 2006

Toruń: Copernicus, the Teutonic Knights, to Gdynia

We had a quick breakfast at the Helios hotel this morning (the entire place is covered in "art" from Copernicus' journals). I ran across something terrible on a piece of bread, some meat covered in a colorless gell reminiscent of tamarind. I was not in the mood. The rest was tasty, though. From breakfast, we went outside to the face the overcast weather. It wasn't overcast very long, because it started raining within a minute of our departure. This wouldn't have been so bad if we left on the bus, but this was our first walking tour. Needless to say, I was absolutely drenched after two plus hours in the rain. Most people were okay, grandpa rode in a rickshaw with an umbrella.

Our guide for Toruń was very stern. He started us off with a memorial to Copernicus. In Toruń, there's almost as many Copernicus reminders as John Paul II references, which says something. From there we walked a block or two to an old "triangle": a church, university, and prison right next to each other. Apparently there used to be jokes about people going from one to the other, in circles, over their lifetime. I don't know which institution that bodes the worst for...

Another block or two and we stumbled across the old city walls from 1300. Some substantial portions still remain. Apparently the layout of the city itself hasn't changed since that time (you can still use city plans from 1300 to walk around). On our way around the city walls, our guide pointed out a leaning building — it doesn't lean like in Pisa, it's stable: it started falling while it was being built, and they corrected for the tilt with the rest of the construction. These are exactly the metaphors you don't want to see: "so long as you account for your major errors, you can stand the test of time". We stopped by Copernicus' home next; there's supposed to be a little museum inside, but that will have to wait for another day. We also saw the university he studied at — a little four story, 6-window wide building on one of the streets running perpendicular to the Wisła.

Once we had enough of Copernicus, we walked over to the former castle of the Teutonic Knights. It's completely in ruins now, with no plans for reconstruction (no original plans or paintings exist, so it can't be reconstructed). Then over to the marketplace for a little break. There's a fountain with sculpture of a boy playing fiddle and some frogs around him, it's a reminder of a story where he saves the city from frogs by luring outside the city with his music. I love those sort of stories... they can't be completely made up, I always wonder which elements are true.

After some free time we walked over to the gingerbread bakery (besides producing Copernicus, Toruń makes good gingerbread — astronomy and pastries, the two essentials). I learned how to make gingerbread, today: hot honey, cinnamon, cloves, anise, nutmeg, two types of flour, ground and mixed well, in the closet 12 weeks, kneaded, oiled, placed in a mold, baked for 10-15 minutes... and you're set. I'm sure I'm forgetting something essential... anyway, it was really good gingerbread in the end.

It was time for lunch, so we headed over to a local restaurant. Some of these restaurants have been around forever, I didn't check this one... the best part of the meal was the bullion. I finally had some Żywiec— it's a bit bitter, with a hint of fruitiness. Nice with the meal, but nothing too special. I'm no beer aficionado, so that's all I can say — I'm sure those aren't even the "right" words.

From lunch we left to Gdynia. Many hours later, we arrived — one of grandpa's friends, Mr. Iwanowski, arranged two rooms for us on the 11th floor, overlooking the sea. The smell of the air getting of the bus made me smile so big — there's nothing like a cool night by the ocean, especially after being inland for months. I went for a long walk (how could I not?), down to the end of the pier. Gdynia may tie with Zakopane for feeling like "home", and I haven't even really seen this place yet.

Highlights: making gingerbread, the smell of the ocean, Wyborowa at dinner.

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