With Brussels, Berlin and our days in Sopot behind us, it was time to move on to the next destination. Our stop for day 7 was the north-eastern city of Olsztyn, the capital of the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship, which borders Kaliningrad (an exclave of Russia), and one of the many cities that was under the control and influence of the Teutonic Order during until the mid 15th century.
The main reason for our visit to the city was to trace a bit of family heritage, as my Mum’s father grew up in the area, not far from Olsztyn itself. I was excited to venture further east into Poland, spend a day in Olsztyn and see what there was on offer!
Our train left Sopot at 0751 and we were soon on our way. As the train made its way through the Polish countryside, we passed by Gdansk, Tczew and Malbork, all seeming familiar places, after visits on previous trips. Beyond Malbork, however, we were heading into the unknown! The countryside was a little less-developed, and more and more wild flowers were seen in the fields; it was like turning the clock back thirty or forty years.
The time passed, as did the many small towns and villages, and before too long we were pulling into Olsztyn (1039), the beginning of a new adventure. Despite it only being mid-morning, the sun was high in the sky, and the temperature was already in the high twenties, so after buying the following day’s reservations, we jumped into a taxi and headed to the hotel. The distance wasn’t far but the traffic was horrendous, inching forward, metre by metre. We eventually covered the eight hundred metres or so but it had taken the best part of fifteen minutes, and doubled the taxi fare.
Our home for the night was the Warminski Hotel, a base for both businessmen and tourists, offering comfortable modern rooms, a restaurant and bar, along with plenty of conference facilities – it seemed purpose built and was by far the biggest hotel that we saw in the city. Thankfully one of the rooms was ready, so after checking-in we made our way upstairs, dropped off the bags, refreshed ourselves and had an overdue cup of good old-fashioned English tea!
Once the tea cups were empty we set off to explore. Wandering along one or two of the side-streets we passed the Church of the Sacred Heart, on Adama Mickiewicza, and the Soviet War Memorial (built from remnants of the Tannenberg Memorial). A little further on was the new City Hall which almost seemed to guard the entrance to the medieval Old Town.
Approaching the Old Town along Listopada we entered through the High Gate, part of the earlier fortifications, and walked along Staromiejska, the main route through the town. Lacking the style and grandeur of some of the bigger Polish cities, the Old Town still retains character relating to its former glory days, and can also claim to have been home to Nicolaus Copernicus from 1516 to 1521, when he lived in the castle and worked as an administrator. The Old Town was quite compact with the central focus lying around the Market Place, home to the Old Town Hall and bordered by town houses with their Dutch-style gables, providing an attractive skyline and plenty of photo opportunities for someone like me!
Continuing our walk through the town, along Prosta, brought us out at the point where the river Łyna wound its way around the lower reaches of the city wall, and like Krakow, there appeared a carpet of green which wrapped itself around the town.
Lunchtime was approaching and my stomach was rumbling, so we began the search for a suitable restaurant. We eventually settled upon Staromiejska, which was situated on the corner of the Market Place, and tucked into some good, hearty Polish cuisine. It was also a good place to relax, cool down and, as always, watch the world go by. To top off the delicious main course, my Mum and I couldn’t resist sharing a traditional baked cheesecake, served with hot cherries and whipped cream! Sounds dreamy, right?
Before long we were back out in the hot sun and moving towards the castle, the former administrative headquarters of the Warmian bishops. Sitting outside in the sun and surrounded by tourists was a bronze statue of Copernicus, which looked well-used as a suitable seat for those looking for a photo opportunity and/or selfie with the great man.
Unfortunately, it being Monday, when we got inside the castle, it was closed, but we did get to view the courtyard and get a sense of the place.
Leaving the castle behind we dropped down a level to the riverside and found some shade. Also close by was a small park with fountains which added to the sense of peace and quiet. A slow, leisurely stroll along the river, took us three-quarters of the way around the town and from time to time benches provided welcome resting places.
Once back in the Old Town we decided we had seen all there was to see so made our way back to the hotel. A bit of window-shopping broke the journey back but by late afternoon we were back to base. After a communal cup of tea, we decided to have a few hours to chill before we had our evening meal. Despite the distance to the town not being that far, we agreed to be lazy and try the hotel’s restaurant.
After a very agreeable dinner, in the hotel’s modern and airy restaurant (not to mention a drink of two) we retired to our rooms and made ready for the next stage of our travels.
Compared to our busy days in Sopot, our day in Olsztyn had been relatively peaceful and there had certainly not been as much rushing about to do! Whilst there weren’t hundred of sights to see, the city had provided us with a nice pit-stop and had we had longer in the area I would have loved to visit the surrounding area, known as the ‘land of a thousand lakes’. Maybe next time!
Next Stop: Torun