Must see Malbork
After visiting family in Germany, we had a little over a week that we planned to spend in Poland. Turns out that there is more to see in the country then one week's worth, but of all the sights that we knew that we wanted to visit, the Malbork Castle had been at the top of our list ever since a coworker had mentioned it as a possible sightseeing stop.
We left Germany in the mid-morning and headed straight across and into Poland. I had mentioned earlier on Facebook how much I appreciated being in a country where the drivers all respected simple rules - using their blinkers and only being in the left lane when passing people - driving etiquette that doesn't seem to exist in the States. It seemed like all was good, but while still in Germany a VW station-wagon flew past us and immediately cut into our lane and slammed on their brakes. A few expletives flew out of my mouth before a LED display in the back window lit up, flashing the following text:
"Polizei", "Folgen", "Police", "Follow"
That's a message that startles one a bit, we followed them off the highway and into a parking area, a split second thought of "We're about to be robbed" went through my head as two plain clothes officers stepped out of the car and headed our way. The initial German-English interaction was helped by Tina's ability to speak German, and they had a chuckle between themselves when they saw we had a rental car. The took our passports and then proceeded to sit in their car for what seemed like 20 minutes before returning to us. The listed the places we had recently been in, "St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Warsaw, Germany?". Tina explained that we had done World Cup and had gone to Schwerin for family before we were heading back into Poland. We asked we we were pulled over - I said not speeding and he laughed at that since we were one of the slower cars on the no limit Autobahn - and they said that they don't usually see cars with Warsaw plates in northern Germany and they wanted to just do a check. That seems strange, but that's the only explanation that we received, and we've just decided that we'll never know the real reason that they pulled us over. After about a 30 minute stop we were back on our way...
Alright, back to Poland. Malbork Castle is a USESCO site, and a 13th century castle built by the Teutonic Knights. We arrived into town at night just before dusk and quickly wandered around the outside of the castle to see the glorious glow of the setting sun on the outer castle walls. This we would recommend to anyone, the evening views are amazing.
From taking photos, we had plans of catching up on small tasks, photo editing, blog, etc., but the late sunset and the wonderful people of Poland intervened, we stopped into a bar built into an old lookout tower from the original city wall and found a group (one guy more so then the rest) who welcomed us in and tried to teach us the basic Polish we would need going forward. We were warned about sounding too German or Russian (hard since we had just come from a month in Russia), but by the time we left the bar we had a few basic words and a knowledge that it was too late for us to do anything but to go to bed.
The next morning we got up and went down to the community dining area, no breakfast was provided, but we had brought some cheese and bread and stored it (along with a few beers) in the fridge. We were (I was, Tina just shrugged and said "This is how Europeans travel on the cheap") as a family of 4 sat down with a full breakfast spread. Full spread, they have a 4 level serving tray full of cheese and meat that they put a cozy over when they were done eating before carrying it to their car looking like it was a blanketed birdcage.
Then the castle, it is amazing, the tour includes audio guides in whatever language you need, they're GPS driven so when you step into a room it'll start talking about where you are - you back up and it stops and returns to the previous information. The place is massive, we spent almost 5 hours touring, a large part of the place has been reconstructed due to heavy damage during WWII. Even knowing a lot of the site was rebuilt, it is impressive, as a castle it was never captured - they had their own internal flour mill, something that prevented them from being subjected to a blockade of starvation to conquer them. It finally transferred hands when a King offered to pay it's soldiers the back pay they were owed by the Teutonic Knights, from then on it has been in Polish hands, to various degrees of usage.
From Malbork we hopped in the car and headed off south, we decided to skip Gdansk on the knowledge that we will be back to Poland at some point and we will visit it when we can give it more priority. But we did decide that we needed to see the cemetery of WWI soldiers from the battle of Tannenberg, just a short drive south at Szkotowo. This one was moving, it's a small, unkempt place and somewhat hard to find. The battle of Tannenberg was a major victory for the Germans and a massive failure for the Russians, finding this site and the well worn, neglected site was eerily disturbing and rather sad.
We gave it our respect and then headed up to see the (what we read online was ruins of the) Tannenberg memorial. The memorial was the final resting place of Hindenburg, but that's all gone now - we arrived there to find an empty field with a sign stating what it once was.
That was enough for us, from there we got back in the car and headed west, on to see our next part of Poland....