Poland Travel

TORUŃ – GINGERBREAD AND ASTRONOMY

Toruń is one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in Poland. Picturesquely located on both sides of the Vistula River at an intersection of ancient trade routes, it has been promoting its vibrant cultural heritage to the world for nearly 800 years. I love walking along the beautiful streets surrounded by majestic Gothic buildings at least once a year, or each time I go back to Poland, and the relaxed atmosphere never ceases to surprise me. Summer or Winter,  Toruń truly is a magical town. Here are a few things that you may not have known about it.

thumbnail_IMG_20180918_144429_135The Gothic buildings in the medieval Old Town were added to the World Heritage List by UNESCO in 1997 and I am always very happy to be walking along the same streets that the merchants and bakers used to walk along in the medieval times. If you wish to experience time travel, just come here.

thumbnail_IMG_20181026_194556_879The city is the birthplace of the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus whose statue stands prominently in front of the Town Hall. Why was he important enough to receive a statue? Well if you know Latin, you can easily find out from the inscription: “Nicolaus Copernicus Thorunensis, terrae motor, solis caelique stator“. But if you are like me and can only speak two languages, neither of them being Latin, it simply means: “Nicolaus Copernicus of Thorun, mover of the earth, stopper of the sun and heavens”. Copernicus introduced the idea that it was the Earth that orbits the Sun and not the other way round as it had been thought of until then. He published his theory on his deathbed and supposedly passed away shortly after reading it for the first time in print. Now that’s both a happy and sad event. Happy that the author was able to see his book published and sad it was for the first and last time in his life.

thumbnail_IMG_20180918_144717_528Did you know that gingerbread comes from…Toruń? Or most likely from there since that’s what the city is famous for. The visit to the Gingerbread Museum is a must because that’s where you will be able to make your own gingerbread dough according to the medieval methods and then bake it in the traditional mold. Now, how cool is that?

thumbnail_IMG_20181108_114144_481You can also just buy tons (if you wish to 🙂 of different flavours of chocolate or glaze coated gingerbread in the official Kopernik shops in the Old Town. I always leave with a bag of my favourites; Katarzynki (the heart-shaped gingerbread) and the ones with strawberry and apricot fillings. They are soft and flavorsome, and the chocolate melts on my fingers before I eat them. Just one of the simple pleasure in life. Nothing better to improve the mood than some chocolate, right? The factory is proud of its 250-year-old traditional method to make them. Now that’s a heritage to be pleased about.

thumbnail_IMG_20181108_114355_638Once your bag is filled with gingerbread, you can have a photo taken with the statue of a gingerbread lady who also has a basket filled with these delicious treats, apparently to commemorate the biggest gingerbread factory opened in 1751. Another time travel experience. Two women with baskets filled with gingerbread, only a few centuries apart…

thumbnail_IMG_20181106_202415_519The donkey with a spikey metal on its back may look like a cute attraction but in fact, it was designed to look like a similar wooden donkey which was used as a torture device for soldiers. They were forced to sit on it (and obviously suffer in a certain area) as a punishment for disobeying or other smaller crimes. Not the most humanitarian way to treat ‘bad guys’ but hey, medieval times had its own rules…

thumbnail_IMG_20181106_202514_714I always look forward to one more experience whilst visiting Toruń. Dinner in the best pancake restaurant in the world, Manekin. The choice of pancakes filled with savour or sweet filling is simply mouthwatering and after having my favorite one with kebab and a tomato sauce, I always share a chocolate banana one with whipped cream with my mama.

 

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Within a short walk from the city centre you find yourself on the river bank of Vistula River which at night reflects the beauty of the town buildings in its calm waters. It is very lively in the summer when the locals enjoy their evening strolls alongside it or have a drink in one of the bars located on board the static ships. It is also a great way to burn off some calories from the pancake feast!

thumbnail_IMG_20181108_122004_629The remains of the Teutonic Knights’ living quarters along the other side of the river are a beauty to look at and the legend has it that the flying dragon used to hide in these walls. Now that’s a mystery to be explored by the adventurers!

thumbnail_IMG_20181026_195057_264The Old Town at twilight turns into the spectacular show of lights. Now that’s the time to really admire the beautiful architecture of the Gothic buildings while sitting in an open-air cafe, sipping a cocktail or a traditional Polish beer.

40269687_10211424237390842_1187309795917430784_nThis year I was lucky enough to experience the yearly event called the ‘Bella Skyway Festival’, or simply the festival of light. What better place to turn into the fairy tale magical display of lights than the streets of Toruń! The light installations turn buildings into stunning light shows and the real fire and water installations from international artists around the Teutonic castle grounds were breathtaking. I could feel the heat from the torches as I walked by and the white vests with inserted candles which were hanging on the trees seemed out of this world. I would have never expected that! So if you can plan your trip to Toruń around that time, the festival will make you gasp from amazement. Unlike anything, I have ever seen.

39942834_10211404313452756_1155841940634206208_nThere can be many things said about  Toruń but there is one thing I can say with confidence. It is a truly magical place, full of history and it’s worth visiting at least once. If you feel like going back in time when strolling through cobbled streets, there is no better place in this part of Poland. The closest airport is Bydgoszcz. So what are you waiting for? How about some gingerbread, Polish beer and a medieval vibe?

 

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Poland Travel

THE HEALING POWERS OF SALT- ONLY IN CIECHOCINEK

Would you like to spend a day in a town where the air can make you feel reborn? Well, you will have to come to Ciechocinek, the world-famous Polish spa town in Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship, around 12 miles from the city of Toruń.

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I am very lucky because Ciechocinek is within an hour’s drive from my hometown, Chelmza. I try to visit it at least once a year and I always leave it refreshed, relaxed and appreciative of the incredible wooden structures which turn salty water into a mist whilst it slowly drops down the wooden sticks, creating a magical and healthy microclimate. I love breathing in the gentle mist deep into my lungs, turning the walk around these massive structures a meditative ritual.

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The three long, wooden structures are called ‘saline graduation towers’.  Saline water from the natural springs in this area contains chloride, sodium, iodide, and bromide which is used in many medical treatments.  The frame towers date back to the 19th century and are the town’s greatest attractions. These three ventilators measure 1741 meters long and 16 meters high. The framework was built of large wooden timbers and the centers are filled with dry blackthorn shrub twigs and branches laid horizontally.

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The saline water is pumped to the top of the structure and allowed to flow down through the branches. Natural breezes pass through the structure effectively turning them into giant ventilators. Iodine and ozone from the water are picked up by the gentle winds and released into the immediate area with proven therapeutic results.

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The area of the three graduation towers is surrounded by many parks and fountains. Hundreds of people spend weeks and even months in the local health spas which offer various medical treatments.

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The visit to Ciechocinek cannot be without the iconic picture with my mama where we look like a couple ( I never want to be the guy! 🙂

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The town is very touristy, especially in the summer season so it’s good to visit it on a weekday to be able to appreciate the beauty of the area. It’s also much easier to find a table in restaurants offering delicious Polish meals. This time I chose the cod with potatoes and salad. But be warned, you will only know how much to pay for the fish once it’s cooked and weighed before it lands on your plate. The price in the menu when you order it can be a bit misleading. It is something I have never experienced anywhere else in the world so it must be a Polish ‘thing’ 🙂 Still very delicious though!

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The summer is all about…ice cream or at least it shouldn’t be without it. And since it can be eaten whilst inhaling the healing air, it is not so naughty after all. And everyone deserves a bit of pleasure now and again, right?

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There is one more temptation I need to warn you against… It’s called ‘GOFRY’ so waffle-like creations covered with a mountain of whipped cream. Yes I know it’s a lot of calories but a visit to Ciechocinek cannot be without it. My level of feeling guilty- Zero 🙂

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I love my yearly visits to the tranquil and relaxing Ciechocinek and I think you might like it too. So if you ever find yourself in the area, remember about the magical healing powers of the salty air. After all, we cannot underestimate that every breath we take equals life. Without it, we will not live for long. It is an effortless process that our bodies do for us and appreciating its value for us as human beings can only make us happier and healthier. So next time you take a deep breath, think about the air that fills it and be thankful for the wonderful gift you receive with it called LIFE. Here is to every breath we take!

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Poland Travel

CHEŁMŻA- A POLISH TOWN, AN ENGLISH DREAM

THE PLACE WHERE MY DREAM TO LIVE IN ENGLAND WAS BORN

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Chełmża is a small town in the north of Poland, in Toruń County and Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship. It is placed by a stunning lake called Jezioro Chełmżyńskie which reflects it’s architectural beauty. This small town is one of many in Poland and it probably wouldn’t mean too much for many people around the world but for me it is my hometown and where many years ago my dream to live and work in England was born, the dream I followed and described in my ‘Polish GIRL: In Pursuit of the English Dream’ memoir. It took me many years of living abroad through to truly appreciate its beauty and many things I so enjoyed about it. Here, after 14 years of living in England I want to share some of the things I love about my hometown and as much as it is an interesting post for you as a reader, it is also my own testimony of how much I love my hometown.

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Chełmża has a long history since 1277. It experienced the Teutonic wars, was taken over by the Kingdom of Prussia and later German occupation. For me, the town’s focal point is the gothic cathedral which can be visible from a long distance while approaching the town in the car and it gives the feeling of grandness and elegance. It is beautifully reflected in the calm waters of the lake while walking around it. Just as much I could never be bored with the view of the magnificent Windsor Castle when I pop into Windsor, I can never be bored with this view, especially from the other side of the lake.

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When I visit Chelmza in the summer, I love stretching my body on one of many beaches and swim in the warm waters of the lake. There is something very relaxing and calming about it and even though I love the seaside, this is definitely a great replacement. It would take me about 2 hours to drive to of the seaside resorts near Sopot or Gdansk so being able to just jump on a bike and end up on a beach within 15 minutes is a plus. No stress of traveling anywhere, just pure relaxation. The water is warm and clean and some beaches around the lake are so secluded that there are hardly any people there which means it’s…quiet. When I dive into the water I feel like I become part of it, as if melting into the water with every molecule of my body. It always gives me a sense of unity and being part of nature and the universe. It also gives me a feeling that I am not alone, that we as human beings are all connected to the whole universe on a subatomic level. It’s only when we are ready to appreciate it and ‘feel’ it, that we can truly enjoy each moment. With no worries, no problems, no stress, just ‘being’ in the warm waters of the lake, looking at the clear blue sky above. It is a very cleansing experience for the soul for sure.

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The lake is surrounded by stunning nature, including many little paths leading through a forest. It never ceases to amaze me to see the view of the cathedral from different angles and location. It also means that I can choose to be on a different beach with a different view each day. Being so close to nature recharges my battery and gives me a huge sense of peace. Spending time in solitude helps too. It means I can look within my soul, recognize different thoughts and feelings that dwell in it and decide how to react to them. Being able to control my emotions more is thanks to spending time alone in nature. It gives me a fresh perspective on my life, problems and it is easier for me to find solutions to any problems. The newly found skill I love to practice is ‘knowing that there are no problems in the present moment’ and I remind myself to stop worrying about them and enjoy the views of the lake, smell of the forest and feeling of the gentle breeze on my body. It is something I learnt recently ever since my spiritual awakening and I truly believe that anyone can feel and experience it, only if they try and make the effort to stop, relax and let go.

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The newly built bridge on the lake is also one of my favourite locations. There are benches along its whole distance and the views of the town are magnificent. It is also an attractive place for fishermen who seem to gather at many spots specifically designed for them. The lanterns lit the bridge at night and make the atmosphere very..romantic and nostalgic. There is always something magical about bridges, water and lights at night.

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There is a great restaurant in town called Mistral and it could not be situated in a better location, right by the lake and the town beach. The restaurant offers traditional Polish food which is different each day, including vegetarian dishes and many locals hire this venue for birthday parties or weddings. The terrace provides amazing views of the lake and the cathedral.

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Mistral Restaurant

The nearby marina has a few boats for rent and for a small charge one can enjoy the vastness of the lake whilst rowing and catching the afternoon sun. The yearly Sailing Regata takes place here too where sailing enthusiasts from the whole country compete with each other. It is one of the main attractions of the town, just like Days of Chelmza where different performers and singers entertain the locals for a couple of days. This year (2018) we had the pleasure to host the five times winner of the World’s Strongest Man title – Pudzianowski who was now a judge in the Polish Strong Man competition.

 

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Chełmża Riviera 🙂

What I really like about my town is that it is easy to get to all the places on foot. Whether it’s the post office or a local bakery with gorgeous smelling bread or a cake shop with the most delicious orange, lemon, chocolate or cream cakes, or even the butchers selling the local smoked sausage. There are also a few street sellers with freshly delivered fruit and vegetables from the local farmers, at a fraction of a cost in shops. There is something endearing about these small specialty shops and even though we do shop in supermarkets, we choose to buy fresh produce in those shops, supporting the local businesses as a result.

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There are many reasons why I love my hometown but I wanted to highlight a few benefits of living in a small town. Maybe it is in the very fact it’s small and where its biggest charm lies in? Maybe it’s not always about big and famous London, Warsaw or New York? Maybe we should be able to see the beauty everywhere we look, even if it means our small local town or village? It took me many years to truly appreciate my town after having lived in England for so long and travelling around the world. Just because we do that it shouldn’t mean we forget about our roots, where we come from and that it was the place where our dreams as children and teenagers started, including our dreams to emigrate to different countries and seeing the world.

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Dream Do Come True

I truly hope you also appreciate where you come from and that you are never ashamed to admit it.

After all, we are who we are also because of where we came from.

Let’s celebrate our own hometowns and give them the credit they deserve!

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Poland Travel

POLISH ARCADIA: IN THE MIDDLE OF THE COUNTRYSIDE PARADISE

Spending holidays in the middle of the Polish countryside may not be on top of your bucket list but I hope that I can inspire you and maybe one day you will want to explore this real-life Arcadia as it does seem to me like this mystical, pastoral paradise of simplicity and happiness whilst being close to nature.

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Over the last decade, I have been spending my summer holidays in Poland. I guess that’s the beauty of being an immigrant when you feel like you belong to two different worlds,  two countries, and two homes which are close to my heart. In the last few years, I have also travelled around Europe and I enjoyed visiting other countries, meeting new people, learning about their cultures and even learning a few words in their language. It has always been part of my English Dream- to live in England but to have the freedom and finances to travel the world. Because I have very close ties with my family, each year in England I longed for those Polish summers and the time when I could visit my hometown – Chelmza to enjoy spending time with my mum, my dog and… myself in order to relax, to reflect and enjoy some ‘me time’ before going back to the big world of climbing up the career ladder, working hard, commitments and responsibilities. Spending some time in Poland has always given me a lot of much-needed peace and time to just be ‘me’ and doing the simple things which I often forgot about whilst living the busy and fast-paced life in England.

I wanted to share with you a few things that give me a lot of joy and happiness, even though they are..nothing special. But by being so…simple, I am sure they would give everyone a fair chance to appreciate their beauty, the abundance of nature, the joy of doing..nothing and the much needed time to gather energy for facing the pressures of our daily lives whilst working, commuting, looking after families, financial commitments, lack of ‘me’ time and daily pressures.

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One of the most enjoyable moments of the day for me are the mornings. I love waking up after seven, or just before eight but not because I have to, but because I want to see the sunrise or the blanket of morning fog wrapping the fields. Having a cup of coffee in my hand, I love closing my eyes and breathing in the fresh air which fills my lungs, waking me up gently for the day to come. Views like this are pure joy for my heart and the overwhelming sound of..nothing is music to my ears. How can you not get a clear focus in your head when all you hear is your thoughts and nothing else..no need for any extensive meditation, just closing your eyes for 5 mins and breathing in the fresh air is enough.

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When was the last time you walked up to a tree and… picked the juiciest and tastiest, bathed in the afternoon sun apple?

Never?

Well, it is one very easy thing to do in the Polish countryside as there are so many orchards with fruit trees that even neighbors themselves often exchange them; plums for cherries or pears for apples. If you decided to stay in the area, I am sure you would be able to experience picking your own apple from a tree and..taste the difference. It’s not the same as the one packed with preservatives in a supermarket.

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Walking around open fields hearing nothing but the tractors in the distance or cows mooing (I think that’s how you say it in English 🙂 is one of the best ways to spend lazy, hot afternoons. All you need with you is a little blanket, a bottle of water and some snacks, or even better, freshly picked apples of pears. You can easily find a cozy spot to have a mini picnic on ( a lot of open fields!) and enjoy the views of the neverending sky above you.

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Flowers are one of the most beautiful plants created by God in our ‘world garden’.

What amazes me is that ever since I’ve started to appreciate their beauty, I now find them everywhere. By the road, on the edge of a forest, in the meadows and I love stopping for one moment and simply admire their beauty. After all, they are also here for us so that we can enjoy the way they look, pleasing our eyes and how wonderful they smell. When was the last time you were thankful for the surrounding nature around you on your way to work or while taking your dog out? Maybe tomorrow you will notice on your path the wonderful plants and trees which you had never truly noticed before? Or maybe you did notice them but took them for granted and never truly appreciated their presence? Um?

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Relaxing and having a chilled beer under a fruit tree may not be your typical way to ‘chill’ in the summer but trust me, you are really missing out.

My favourite Polish beer is Karmi, the dark beer which foams a lot when I drink it but it’s so sweet and moorish that I cannot say no to that simple pleasure. Especially when stretching my body on a sunbed in the warmth of the afternoon sun.

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When you think about the countryside, do you think about the sunsets or the smell of freshly cut barley? This is exactly what the countryside means to me. The big, open space and being able to walk for miles watching the sun slowly hiding on the horizon and turning the sky into the most magical spectacle of light. It is that open space that makes me feel like I am free and alive, giving me so much of the very needed positive energy and peace of mind.

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When I was younger, I rarely looked at a butterfly with excitement. After all, it was always just… another butterfly. Now that I spend most of my time in towns and cities, I almost forgot what butterflies really look like. Gorgeous, gentle and so colourful. When I notice one in the middle of a field, I have to take a picture of it and keep it in my holiday memories file.

Who knows when I will be able to see the next one?

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Corn fields this summer turned into..gold. It was such a hot summer, with temperatures above 30 degrees Celcius that fields turned into one unified colour of gold. It is not usually that hot and summer weather in Poland can vary each year but whatever the weather, the beauty is still there.

It all depends on how we look at it and whether we see that beauty in everything we look at.

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One of my favourite things to do in the summer evenings are bike rides.

What could be better than a cool evening breeze in your hair when you zoom through windy countryside roads covered in gravel. No helmet (even though it’s recommended, I have never used one here on country roads), a loose T-shirt and a mini skirt or shorts and off I go on my sunset ride. The straw basket is always useful in case I find some flowers by the road and I want to see them later on my bedside table. These bike rides are a great way to burn off the calories from the delicious Polish food and cakes before going to sleep!

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Exploring the countryside and driving through small villages you never know what you are going to see. Just like when I found My Man! From a popular TV series called ‘Rolnik szuka zony’ or ‘The Farmer is looking for a wife’ came this idea, probably from the local farmers to celebrate the end of summer and finishing the crops season. This handsome gentleman was waiting for me on the side of the road. I just knew he was the One for me and had to have a picture taken with him 😉 He even had a classic bike for me. How can you not love Polish hospitality!

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There is always one more thing for me to do before going to sleep each night.

Watching the sunset.

What really strikes me is the vastness of the huge sky which just doesn’t seem so big in the city, probably because of the tall buildings blocking my view. The show of so many shades of yellow, red, orange and blue, makes each evening its own theatre spectacle of light and colour. Every evening is a new magical experience and I am never bored with it. It is the idyllic, tranquil setting of days like this that makes me want to come back to my Polish Arcadia each year.

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How to experience it:

Well, come to Poland!

This particular countryside area I have described is easily accessible from Bydgoszcz airport in just one hour drive. I usually fly Ryanair from Stansted Airport and in two hours, I find myself in my own heaven on Earth. I guess this heaven can be found on every corner of our beautiful planet but also here, in the idyllic setting of the Polish countryside. We just need to be able to see the abundance that surrounds us wherever we are.