| SIGHTSEEING TOUR OF NORTHERN POLAND
Part 1 - Vistula Valley, Płock and Toruń
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Driving a rental car is an excellent way to tour Poland, to visit castles and towns that ordinary tourists do not see.
Gdansk, Poland's beautiful port city, is a popular destination for all sightseeing tourists. Other ancient cities Chelmno, Gniezno, Plock and Torun, as well as the many medieval castles of northern Poland such as Bytów, Frombork, Lidzbark, Malbork and Olsztyn are rarely visited. This account of a tour by rental car in May, 2003, will introduce them to you. Many of them are also accessible by public transportation and the best way of getting there will also be shown.
First a couple of general observations:
Driving. Much of our travel was on secondary roads. They were all well paved, although some were narrow. Most roads were well marked, both along the center and edges and all direction signs were up to the best West European standards. Some of the secondary roads in the Mazury area were badly in need of repair. Petrol (gas) stations were found around all towns, even the smallest, and on major roads near every important intersection. All were modern, built to West European standards by Aral, BP, and the Polish Orlen Plock organizations and provided clean, well equipped toilets and friendly snack bars offering varieties of coffee, tea and other beverages, as well as hot dishes. The average cost of unleaded 95 octane petrol in 2003 was 3.75 zloty/liter (approximately US$4/US gallon), The only problem - slow moving farm vehicles and tiny Polish Fiats and the occasional hot-rodder (generally driving a BMW or Mercedes). In Mazury, even the secondary roads were carrying heavy truck traffic from the Baltic countries.
Accommodations. All 2 or 3-star category. All were satisfactory to very good, with only one exception. They averaged $40 /night for the two of us, good breakfast included. Most had been reserved in advance. At this time of the year not necessary, but often gets you better rates. The Polish company Poland4U.com provides locations even in small towns - I recommend. Always leave your car in a protected parking place over night. Cost varied from nothing to 20PZN (about US$5).
PART 1 - Vistula valley - Warsaw to Torun.
The best way from Warsaw to Płock is to drive north along the river Vistula on the divided highway #7. Then just past Nowy Dwór take the exit for Highway #62 which leads to Płock. It passes Czerwinsk with a twin towered basilica that dates partly to the 12th century and retains elements of the original Romanesque structure. As you drive along in May many of the fields are bright yellow in color. This is the time when the plantings of rape are in full flower. It is from these plants that canola oil is obtained. You will also notice that the roadside shrines are brightly decorated with fresh flowers and colored ribbons.
The next city of importance is Toruń, which is one of the few major historic cities of Poland that have survived the wars with minimal destruction. The city walls and gates along the river Vistula are still much as they were 600 years ago. Most of the Old Town is closed to traffic and must be visited on foot.
You should start from the Rynek Staromiejski (Old Market Place), which is dominated by the Town Hall with its 42m (138ft) high tower. The lower level dates back to the 13thC., but the upper stories and much of the decorative work was added in the 17thC. Today the building houses a fascinating museum featuring Gothic and 19thC. art as well as tools, seals and artifacts of the medieval craft guilds.
Toruń is justly proud of being the birthplace of the astronomer and mathematician Nicolas Copernicus. The house in which he was born, and the adjacent one, both dating back to the 15thC, now house a museum dedicated to his life and work. Wander through the narrow streets to look at the many beautiful houses, one of the largest is the blue Palace of the Bishops of Kujawy, now the Academy of Fine Arts. Head eastward to the New Market Square (Rynek Nowomiejski) where you can drink a beer in the "Inn under the Blue Apron", which has been functioning continously since 1489. The Gothic brick Church of St. James towers over one corner of the square. It contains well preserved wall paintings from the 14thC. The most remarkable sight is figure of Christ nailed to a tree, the branches of which contain figures of the twelve Apostles. See photos.
From Płock take secondary road #559 to Lipno, where you join the main road #10 from Warsaw to Toruń - about 98km.
A possible side trip is the first capital of Poland Gniezno. Its main attraction is the ancient Cathedral in which a silver casket behind the main altar contains the relics of St. Adalbert (in Polish Św. Wojciech). He baptized king Mieszko I in 966 and was later killed by the Prussians. The 12thC. bronze door of the Cathedral depicts events from the saint's life. See photos.
How to get there. If you don't want to drive a car, you can go by train or by bus.
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Please continue to Part 2 Gdansk and Chełmno
Last update Febrauary 2004