The Castle exterior (Malbork; Poland)
Not the greatest blog entry title for sure, but this day out involved a train ride from Gdansk involving stops at both the castle town of Malbork and the larger city of Elblag, so it only seems right to reflect upon both places side by side. The town of Malbork is a prominent one in Poland, if only for being the location of Malbork castle, a sizeable tourist attraction set in grounds which could so very easily occupy a full day if you were to cover all of its features at a leisurely pace. This traveller though, has a tendancy to cram it all in, so the mission was to see the highlights of Malbork castle in the time scale of just over an hour.
The Castle interior (Malbork; Poland)
A general admission ticket includes a free audio guide in a language of your choice, and the benefit is that the guide is equipped with a GPS device which picks up on the location in which you are standing, and proceeds to explain the history behind the very surroundings in which you find yourself. The castle itself has pretty much all the regular features which you would readily associate with a northern European castle of its size, such as a refectory, chapels, gardens, moat, drawing rooms, and so on and so forth. The rust-coloured stonework which the castle proper is constructed of makes it stand out somewhat from its more verdant surroundings, and the marquee, stalls and mini-demonstrations which are found on the brink of the castle's exterior add an extra dimension to the visit, and also suggest that this is very much a tourist spot with family appeal.
Fine architecture (Elblag; Poland)
The town centre of Malbork proper is a pint-sized area of sufficient appeal to warrant a stop-off for either refreshments or a spot of shopping in the tiny enclave of stores which the town can offer. Back on the rail route, it is a further 35-minute train ride to the town of Elblag which, upon closer inspection, is a far bigger town than its low-profile name might lead you to believe. The chief reason why any visitor would visit Elblag would be to ride the boat along the Elblag canal, a unique experience which involves sailing over water and dry land on a boat which is mounted on rails for the dry land portion of its journey. Built in the 19th century, the Elblag to Ostroda Canal is a unique monument to the art of hydro-engineering and a very important tourist attraction to boot, which has no doubt increased visitor numbers to Elblag multifold.
A floral display (Elblag; Poland)
The canal deals with the 99.5m difference in water levels by means of a system of slipways, locks, dams and safety gates. Five slipways carry boats across dry land on rail-mounted trolleys and in the summer months, pleasure boat cruises are readily available and very popular. The total length of the canal is in excess of 80km and it takes about 11 hours to get from one end to the other. Since this visitor had a mere 4 hour time frame in which to experience Elblag, the boat ride was substituted in favour of a city jaunt, which involved the most prominent areas of the city, starting with the Old Town, which contains the biggest enclave of historical buildings within the city confines. The most prominent city landmark is quite possibly St Nicholas cathedral, although the clock tower located in the old town by the name of Brama Targowa is another photo opportunity which should be worked into the mix. If it is a rural escape which you seek, then look no further than Bazantarnia Park, a forested parkland area which will attract anyone with a passion for greenery and the calming effects of pure nature in a built-up city. For a city of its size, Elblag, at the time of visiting, was an spookily empty as a random visitor could possibly imagine, and the transportation network seemed to consist of older generation trams, perhaps passed on from Gdansk's tram network in the process of Gdansk modernizing its transportation system. One sizeable plus involved in visiting a city of this nature is the fact that it is largely off the tourist radar which meant that tourist prices did not apply, so bargain-basement shopping abounded, and the scope for browsing and making casual purchases was as great as its modest status would lead you to believe. Heading back towards Gdansk on a 90-minute train ride, the numerous stop-offs at small towns and villages made it evident what kind of substance would be encountered along the way, and the overall conclusion is that anyone with a passion for train journeys would appreciate this unhurried city-to-city trek and all it entails. The initial plan of picking up a rental car gave way to the more favoured rail trip, and other than missing out on the Elblag canal boat trip, due to the compressed time scale involved, the decision was favourable enough to yield an outcome which slotted neatly into the category of 'getting the most out of a city break'.