UNESCO Heritage Sites #73 and #74: Strongholds of Teutonic Knights

From Oslo, I flew to the impossibly-spelled and undeniably Polish-sounding Szczecin, from where I started my big train journey through Poland all the way south to Kiev. Over the next seven days I would travel to seven towns, all by train, and three times overnight. I booked so many train tickets with the Polish railway, that I had difficulty keeping straight which ticket was for which leg of the journey. But more on that later…

For now, I was boarding the train from Szczecin to go to Malbork, my first of the four UNESCO sites in Poland. I arrived in the afternoon, a bit too late to dedicate the day to exploring the centre, so I decided to head out of the city towards my hotel. I love when the town is small enough that a half-an-hour walk away from the rail station and across the river takes you out into the countryside. My hotel turned out to be more of a motel in the village really close to Malbork. The room I was given carried a strong smell of cigarettes from the previous guests and unnecessarily had four beds.

I couldn't decide which bed to sleep in, so I divided my time between all of them for a bit.
I couldn’t decide which bed to sleep in, so I divided my time between all of them for a bit.

After a delicious supermarket dinner of vegetables, bread, cheese and meat, I was ready to call it a night and explore the Malbork castle the following morning.

Malbork rose to prominence in the 13th century as the seat of the Teutonic Order. As many religious orders at the time, it started off as a peaceful hospital order for the support of the knights wounded in the crusades in the Holy Land. Within a few short years, the Order militarized, grew in its significance, both religiously and politically, and eventually settled in Chelmno land, presently northern Poland. Teutonic Order became a major political player in the Northern Europe in the 14th century, and its Grand Master ruled from the Malbork castle. Although it was partly destroyed during the Second World War, it has been reconstructed to its former glorious self.

I probably could have spent a lot longer exploring the castle and simply taking in its impressive solemnity, but I had to catch the train over to Torun, so with my backpack out of the storage locker, I set off to make the train just in the nick of time.

Torun is a UNESCO site due to its impressive Medieval old town, as it played a significant strategic role both in the Teutonic Order and the Hanseatic League. However, it is probably best known as the birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus, the first early Renaissance scientist to propose a heliocentric model of the universe. It’s exactly for that reason that I decided to forgo the walk around town in favour of a visit to the Copernicus museum.

Aside from the hypothetical room where the famous astronomer could have worked and calculated positions of the celestial bodies (but never did!), the museum did an excellent job of not connecting any of the exhibits together and utterly failing to shed any light on the life of Copernicus. The three floors of the merchant house were filled with random pieces of equipment with minimal information provided. I left museum with more questions, which had to be duly answered by a thorough Wiki read later in the night. Initially, I was worried that leaving only half a day for the tour of Torun would not be enough, but the medieval part of the city turned out to be so small, that I was able to explore it quite extensively within the few hours left in the day after the museum visit. Satisfied with the abundance of the brick step-gabled buildings and a few charming 19th-century streets, I returned to my artsy hostel, where I had the 12-bed dorm room all to myself. There are reasons why I love travelling through small, not-on-the-trail towns, and that was one of them.

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