Friday, June 16, 2006

Revolutions (June 16)

I probably had my most expensive dinner in Poland last night in Gdansk. I went to Goldwasser, an upscale restaurant on the main canal, and the manufacturer of the liquor with gold flecks (I didn't have any of that). I ordered the soup of the day, the veal cutlet, and for dessert, cheesecake with warm cherry sauce. The soup was a cold vegetable soup with several flavors that I couldn't identify. I'm pretty sure there was beet, dill, and chives, as well as hard-boiled egg pieces, but I'm not sure about the rest. It was quite good, actually. The veal cutlet was good, but not especially interesting. The cheesecake (farmer's cheese based, not cream cheese) was good, and the warm cherry sauce worked great. Nonetheless, at 92 zloty (including tip) it's a bit overpriced for what you get.

Today I left for Torun, and of course, it's back to being warm and sunny. As we approach the solstice, the sun rises earlier and earlier, which means I'm waking up earlier and earlier. I caught the quickest train of the day (under 3 hours). There really aren't express trains in Poland; they start at medium and then go slow, slower, and I can walk faster than this train is going. Apparently, it's because of the quality of the tracks. Not that driving would be any faster. Apparently there are no freeways in Poland.

My hotel in Torun is a short 15 minute bus ride from the station, and just across the park from the entrance to the historic center of the city. The hotel basically resembles a 1960s-era motel built along the Wisla river. They added on at various times, so to get to my room. I walk upstairs, turn left, then right, then left, walk down a long corridor, turn left again, go down stairs, turn right and I'm at my room (which is just opposite the closed swimming pool). I showered, changed clothes, and watched the end of The Count of Monte Cristo dubbed in German. There are no English-language stations on the hotel tv, just 5 Polish and 4 German stations.

Torun is a very pretty city and seems to have escaped the devastation of wars relatively well. The city is celebrating one of its annual "jarmarks" so there are craft booths set up between the city gate and the Rynek (the main square). I got some lunch at a cafe off the square. The menu was entirely in Polish so I just guessed. I ended up with was basically pork schnitzel but instead of being coated in breadcrumbs, it was coated in sliced almonds, and was accompanied by boiled potatoes garnished with fresh dill. Not bad, actually. One eighth the price (including the half liter of diet coke) of last night's dinner, and the main course was more interesting.

Afterwards I toured the City Museum, located in the Ratusz. Polish museums are strangely organized, and I started off touring the wing devoted to Polish art of the 19th and 20th century. They have a pretty good collection, far more interesting than the much larger National Museum in Poznan. I particularly liked a self-portrait by Norbert Strassberg. The painting was made in 1933 and showed the artists against a dark sky, wrapped in a dark trenchcoat being buffeted by strong winds, while the brambles at his feet were in the shape of a swastika. According to the sign, he died in 1941. I hoped to get a postcard of it (no photographs permitted), but of course, none were for sale.

The lower parts of the museum are dedicated to the history of the city over the last 7 centuries. Built up by the Teutonic Knights, the city shares many architectural similarities with Gdansk and Malbork. The lowest levels had medieval art, particularly two dozen 14th century stained glass panels. From there I climbed to the top of the tower where I could see the entire city. The view was incredible, the air was clear, and I could see the whole medieval city. There are, of course, many flights of stairs, but they provide frequent landings, and I even saw two small children making the climb with their parents. The whole stair schema reminded me more than once of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and I kept hearing Charles Laughton's cry "sanctuary! sanctuary!"

Afterwards, I walked down to the old city wall and to the Wisla river. I made my way to the new town square (actually just as old as the old town square, but built as the center for the artisans, rather than merchants). The center of this square is undergoing restoration and isn't as interesting.

Then I decided to check out the gingerbread museum. Torun is famous for its gingerbread, but when I entered the museum (which had locals dressed in historic costume preparing dough for the amusement of a group of school children, I was told that the museum had been reserved for this afternoon, and I would have to come back tomorrow. That was fine, because it really wasn't a museum so much as an elaborate advertisement for buying their gingerbread. Instead, I walked around the corner to a store that specializes in traditional Torun gingerbread and bought three pieces: one apple, one flavor I think was fig, and one praline. They were all delicious.

Finally, I visited the Mikolai Kopernik house (that's Copernicus to your or me). They can't be sure he was born in this house (his family owned more than one property in Torun, but they think it likely this was the one in which he was born. One side of the house is devoted to showing furninishings from the period of his life (late 15th-early 16th century), the other side shows facsimiles of his books and instruments, including a facsimile of his "Revolutions" of the heavens (which only appeared in Polish in the 19th century, when the Vatican finally unbanned it). It was mildly interesting, and, while overpriced at 10 Zl, it's still far less than the 10 Euros I was paying in Vienna (roughly 4 times more).

I'm going back to the hotel to change for dinner. Then I've bought a ticket to a classical music concert in the Dwor Artusa, located on the Rynek. I didn't see a full program, but think that about half of it is Handel, so how bad could it be?

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