I’ve come to learn that in any trip of considerable length one needs some built-in downtime to recharge and relax. Maybe it’s a sign that I’m not the crazy hardcore sightseer I was in my early 20’s. Or maybe it reflects the slow shift my travel tendencies have made towards visiting every possible museum to sampling all the noteworthy local food and drink spots.
At any rate, in our 16-day trip through Poland, Toruń was the halfway point. And after running around Krakow and Warsaw, a change of pace was certainly welcomed and needed. Luckily Toruń was next on the itinerary. It is a medieval town that boasts two things besides overall cuteness: being Copernicus' hometown, and for producing gingerbread. What better place for my science-minded hubby and his foodie wife to explore?
Of course, I’m not trying to downplay the lovely medieval charm with the mention of Copernicus and gingerbread. The city earned its UNESCO status for its preserved street pattern and medieval brick buildings.
To give you an idea of the smaller scope of must-sees, here’s an example. During a walk to explore the town we came across one of its “attractions.” Move over, Pisa, this is Toruń’s Leaning Tower! It’s a medieval tower (see below) that shifted over time. Instead of walking up it like in Pisa, you stand at the base of the wall with your legs together and arms outstretched in front of you. Superstition is that if you can balance longer than 5 seconds, then you are considered unfaithful (though something else I read indicated the longer you last, the more upstanding you are). I say give it a try, because either way you don’t need a tower to dictate your character - it’s just a fun little exercise. My spastic self is either very faithful or very bad.
Also of note are the brick buildings that helped secure Toruń’s UNESCO status, given the fine example of medieval brick architecture they provide. Be sure to take a peek into one or more of the churches, like this one - St. James Church (Kościół św.Jakuba).
Hopefully by now I’ve convinced you that Toruń is a quaint little Polish city. But for those of you who are like me, you may be wondering about what there is to do, besides walking around. As much as I say that we came to Toruń to rest, the two of us aren’t the best at sitting still sometimes. After all, we’re still fundamentally those two newlyweds who went to Aruba for a week-long honeymoon to relax (not even bothering to read anything about the island) and ended up sitting at the activities center within 24-hours booking tours.
Look no further - the top thing to do is go to the Gingerbread Museum (thankfully for me, more popular and better rated than the Copernicus House). This isn’t your typical “museum” though. You’ll learn about gingerbread but it’s a hands-on, interactive experience.
It’s best to head over in the morning to reserve a spot, and then you’ll be given a scheduled time to come back for the session. The large group demonstration and gingerbread cookie-making instruction is given in both Polish and English, so there’s no language barrier to worry about. However, the particular session we were in was made up of an exclusively Polish crowd, plus us. And we were the only adults in the room not holding a child by the hand. But we’re kids at heart, so it worked out.
Well, until the participatory part started. You know that feeling when you were in school and you just knew the teacher was about to call on you for an answer? Yeah, that happened. I knew I was going to have to participate in some way as the American girl in a sea of cute Polish kids.
According to the museum guides, the gingerbread dough could only be mixed by a woman. Insert my starring role, stepping in to show some muscle (because that stuff was not easy to stir!).
Afterwards we all went to our stations to work with the dough and each make a gingerbread cookie. We were told that they were only for decoration and not for eating, so now I have a wonderful smelling Christmas ornament to add to my collection, handmade in Poland.
If you’re still looking for more to do, the climb up the Old City Town Hall’s tower was another favorite of mine. It offered great views of the city from above, featuring the pretty facades of buildings around Town Hall and those brick Gothic churches.
I love to see cities from above, and I also love to visit art museums. Toruń provided both activities, and I also recommend a stop at the Centre of Contemporary Arts (CSW) (Wały Generala Władysława Sikorskiego), provided you enjoy or are interested in contemporary art.
Toruń reminded me of Bruges, Belgium in some ways. For one, they are both preserved medieval cities that see an influx of tourists during the day and then are calm when the day-trippers leave. And what does one do once the crowds die down a bit? The answer in both places is simple: enjoy a beer. Or two.
We certainly stayed in Toruń longer than the average person, and for more time than was really needed to see the town (we stayed for two nights, and had 1.5 days to sight-see). Though as I mentioned, it was the built-in downtime of the trip and well-worth the slower pace for us. And both nights, our hang-out spot was the Jan Olbracht Browar Staromiejski. This brewery is the place to go for some local beer. My favorite was the gingerbread beer, in keeping with the local tradition of Toruń’s famous treat! While staying over two nights was slightly overkill, I would recommend spending one night in town to see the city wind down and to spend an evening at this brewery.
And that about sums up our visit in lovely, picturesque Toruń! I can't say that it's a little-known destination as I did go based on my handy Rick Steves' guidebook, but it's certainly a smaller and less-visited city than the "big three": Krakow, Warsaw, and Gdansk. It's about halfway between Warsaw and Gdansk and makes for a great stop in between, whether you opt for a day-trip or stay overnight!
Do you have any places you've enjoyed slowing down and exploring at a leisurely pace?
PLAN YOUR TRIP:
Coffee at Kona Coast Cafe [link in Polish]
Chełmińska 18, Toruń, Poland
Open Monday-Saturday from 9am-9pm / Sunday from 11am-6pm
Pierogi at Pierogarnia Leniwa Toruń [link in Polish]
Ślusarska 5, Toruń, Poland
Beer at Jan Olbracht Browar Staromiejski
Szczytna 15, Toruń, Poland
Open Sunday-Thursday from 11am-12am / Friday and Saturday from 11am-2am
Centre of Contemporary Arts (CSW) (Wały Generala Władysława Sikorskiego)
Wały Generała Władysława Sikorskiego 13, Toruń, Poland
Hours: Closed Mondays, September - June: Tuesday - Sunday from 10am-6pm except Fridays (late night until 10pm) / July and August: Tuesday - Sunday from 12pm-6pm
Admission: Adults: 10 pln, Reduced price 5 pln, Free admission on Thursdays (prices as of February 2015)
Old Town Hall tower
Rynek Staromiejski 1, Toruń, Poland
Hours: Closed Mondays, High season (May - September): Tuesday - Sunday from 10am-6pm / Low season (October - April): Tuesday - Sunday from 10am-4pm
Admission: 11 pln regular price, 7 pln reduced price (prices as of February 2015)
Mostowa 1, Toruń, Poland
And as an additional note, the website Torun Tips helped me a lot in planning my trip!