Day 05: Off to Torun

We were up, breakfasted, and out by 9:00 this morning, soon sitting on ulica Dluga for a decent cup of coffee.  As we would find pervasive throughout the trip, many Polish hotels use a form of instant coffee that tastes musty and is almost undrinkable except for the brave who must have any form of caffeine first thing.  I imagine visiting Italians shrink in horror when given a cuppa.

Right after our proper coffee stop we needed to find an internet café, as we had seen on Polish news that morning there had been some sort of explosions in Boston but it was difficult to make out what was going on.  We would soon find out about the Boston Marathon bombings and had about as many questions as the rest of the world as to what was going on.  While at the internet café we met a Polish man who had lived in the US for a few years and he was very upset and angry that someone would do this to the United States.  As an aside, later that day we were in a jewelry store and the owner, a woman who had lived in Chicago for a number of years, was sad and seemed genuinely perplexed that there were actually people in the world who didn’t like the United States or Americans in general.  That last part didn’t seem all that hard to comprehend to us but nevertheless we were perturbed and saddened by the unfolding scene in Boston.

Mariacka Street lined with jewelry stores selling amber

Mariacka Street lined with jewelry stores selling amber

After spending a great deal of time at the internet café we were left with a couple of hours to kill before our bus to Torun left and I decided this would be a fine time to drag Jim into every single amber jewelry store to see about finding a nice little souvenir.  The Baltic coast is specifically known for their amber reserves and, as such, there are dozens and dozens of amber jewelry stores in Gdansk.  Jim complied mostly willingly and without too many audible complaints (even when he resignedly asked which stores I wanted to go into and I replied with, “All of them.”), and it is this sort of act that has put him on a trajectory to sainthood.  We visited a couple outlaying stores before going right to Mariacka Street, a sort of jeweler’s row, if you will.  One by one we went into and out of each store, often seeing the same pieces over and over as you so often see where there is a tourist market and one popular medium.  I finally found a small bracelet that would serve as a nice reminder of Gdansk and we were on our way back to the hotel to scoop up our things to move on to the next town.

Hotel Gromada, a stone's throw from the Vistula River

Hotel Gromada, a stone’s throw from the Vistula River

The bus to Torun left from the main bus station promptly at 13:15 and two and a half hours later, at 15:45, we arrived to the bus station in Torun, got our bearings, and dragged our luggage about 15 minutes into Old Town and our hotel, the Hotel Gromada.  I had found this hotel online and the reviews were pretty positive, and to top it off it was only 100zl/$32 a night.  Our initial impression was that this hotel was absolutely perfect.  Sure, it was dated and Spartan in a sort of the-Iron-Curtain-is-still-up kind of way, right down to the radio console I think the Smithsonian might be interested in, but it was large, clean as a whistle, had a comfortable bed, friendly and cheerful staff, a real, normal-sized hairdryer available from the front desk, a view of the street through big, bright windows, and did I mention only 100zl a night?

One of many gingerbread stores

One of many gingerbread stores

As we only had one night in Torun we couldn’t very well spend our entire time marveling at this find of a hotel, we had work to do.  Torun, you see, is known for two things:  gingerbread and being the birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus (Mikolaj Kopernik in Polish) and we wanted to suss out both.  Per usual, our first stop was to the TI for a map of Torun and to confirm train schedules to Lublin the following day.  Next, it was time for me to get a piece of gingerbread, something Jim wasn’t all that interested in, and I chose a piece that had a dark chocolate on one side. Now, I don’t think Torun was the place where gingerbread was actually invented, or anything, and I’m still not exactly sure why the town is so well-known (in some circles) for it, but I gave it a whirl and can’t exactly say I was moved to buy a full tin to bring home.  The Torun variety of gingerbread is very, very dry and I read where they age the dough first for 12 weeks before baking it.  The amateur baker in me wonders if perhaps we didn’t age it so long maybe it wouldn’t end up feeling like you were biting into a piece of spiced pressed sawdust?

Copernicus statue in a place of honor on the main square

Copernicus statue in a place of honor on the main square

We wandered around Old Town some more, took pictures of this and that that looked impossibly old, then went down by the Vistula River to take a breather.  It was decided that we really liked the vibe of Torun, it felt fresh, vibrant, and full of upbeat, easygoing people.  After readily coming to that consensus it was time to wander some more, where in a stroke of fortuitous luck, we passed a shoe store selling Adidas and I was finally able to find the perfect pair of sweet new kicks that I’d been searching out for months.  They are a new-ish version called Adidas Neo and I still bought them in spite of the fact the salesman told me this line was now being shilled by Justin Bieber.  Oh, am I going to be the envy of so many tween girls in the States.  I was riding high after the purchase, as was Jim so he didn’t have to hear about it anymore or be dragged into anymore shoe stores.  He was also a bit peckish, and since I’d already had my gingerbread snack he quickly decided on getting what we like to call the Genius Hot Dog (GHD).  He first saw the GHD in Brno, Czech Republic, a few years ago and was absolutely enchanted by it, talking about it for days and reminiscing so fondly about it in years since.  Basically you take a thick bun (like a hoagie bun), impale it lengthwise with a thick metal spike (taking care not to go all the way through), squeeze some mustard into the hole and slip the hot dog into it so it’s only peeping out one end.  Boy was he thrilled to pieces in finding a GHD vendor in Torun and I had to wrestle him to the ground to get a photo before he devoured it.

The GHD

The GHD

Fortified, we walked around Old Town some more, taking in their version of a leaning tower building and some old bits that we think were from a Teutonic Knights castle before we headed back to the hotel for a rest.  As it was a warm day, we’d had the window open for some fresh air and it was then, while we were laying down to close our eyes for a few minutes, that we noticed there was an outdoor bar in full operation on the street outside our window and we briefly wondered if that would be an issue at night.  Nah, we thought, this seems to be a residential street so it probably shuts down in the evening.

A gate leading to the Vistula River

A gate leading to the Vistula River

After resting up we headed out again in search of dinner and found ourselves at a joint called Leniwa Pierogarnia.  Again we found ourselves to be the only ones in the place but the food was spectacular.  Jim got the mixed meat pierogi sampler and I had the pierogi ruskies (served with the traditional onions and bacon on top) that came with the most delicious garlic sauce.  A quick food note here, I ended up eating a lot of assorted garlic sauces on this trip, a love of garlic being something Polish chefs and I (and Jim) have in common and the shared garlic affection was very endearing.

Some assorted ruins

Some assorted ruins

What was equally endearing is the collective sweet tooth that many Poles appear to have, as it seems a good majority of the population walks around with an ice cream cone (lody in Polish) starting around noon and going into the night.  I would be interested to know how many ice creams the average Pole has a week.  And how, oh how, do they stay so thin?  Regardless, between the garlic and sweets I felt right at home.  That aside, Jim was wanting something sweet after dinner and since he was in Poland he was in luck, as we only had to walk a few meters before we found the Lenkiewicz Café where he got a cone with delicious Snickers ice cream.  I had to help him, of course, before it melted.

Main Square

Main Square

We went for a stroll after the ice cream before finding outside seating on the main square, where it was self-service for beers so I went downstairs into the bar and rustled us up a couple of 0.5L Lech beers.  We sipped on those and watched the world go by until well after dark before deciding we need our beauty rest for the early-ish train in the morning.  No sooner had we gotten back to our room when our fears were founded:  the outdoor bar on the street below us did not close early, quite the opposite, as it only seemed to really get going around 22:00.  The clientele also all seemed to be late teens/early 20s, as Torun is a college town and apparently no one had class the next day or a care in the world, least of which would be about those poor saps in a ½ mile radius trying to sleep.  The party raged on until the bar finally closed at 3:00 am, and in spite of us having the windows shut tight, we could hear every laugh, conversation, whistle, song, squeal, yowl, shout, shriek, chair movement, hello, and good-bye.  It was so sad to think this most perfect hotel ever was not that perfect after all, and sad for us because we virtually got no sleep that night.

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