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Torun in Poland

Author : Chris Canty

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Ordering a chocolate sundae at a McDonalds, in a foreign country

Step 1) Wait in the line until it's your turn.
Step 2) Look at the menu as if you have no idea what McDonalds has to offer.
Step 3) Very slowly say 'one choc sundae please', while pointing.

Walking into Torun McDonalds, I felt confident in purchasing a chocolate sundae. After all I knew the process. I waited patiently in the line, looked at the menu, pointed and ordered. For one brief moment it looked as if the 'McDonalds girl' was actually walking towards the sundae/milkshake machine, but to my disappointment she diverted and poured me a coffee. At least they hadn't given me McBiscuits like yesterday

Yes, the language barrier was starving me, my socks were suffocating me and my bedpan hairstyle resembled the dog that ate my McBiscuits, but what did it matter; I was in Poland.

My back knew that my bag was much to heavy, and my shadow, instead of following me, seemed to mock my current difficulties. But for some reason I thought a large snow jacket would come in useful. After all, the only thing I knew about the country centred around 'Schindler's List and 'Three Colours Red', and in both movies it looked cold, even if summer was now in full swing.

I drank my piping hot 'choc sundae', and headed to what looked like a nice place to recover. Sick of being the illiterate traveller, I entered the foyer of the Pod Orlem equipped with the two words I had learnt since arriving. I looked at the typically beautiful Polish woman behind the counter and fired
- Jeden Prosze (one please) -. Don't give me a coffee I thought.
- One what? - she responded in fluent English.
Oh God, this was more embarrassing then yesterday, when I confronted a girl in a street, looked at my English/Polish phrase book and calmly but mistakenly said,- Can I borrow your paint?

- One room please- I said, handing over the 60 zloty (9) fee.

She made a smile probably only reserved for poor creatures like myself, and handed me the key, After a short shower, shave and sleep, I felt rejuvenated. But was I ready for Torun? I knew nothing about the town, except that the Astronomer Copernicus was born here (history class). Only a passing comment by a South African at Warsaw Train Station, had led me on the trail to Torun, with the question

-Do you like Gingerbread?

With my senses returning, I walked out of the hotel half expecting the smell of newly cooked gingerbread to engulf me. Looking back it might have been unlikely, but I swear I smelt something that resembled the heated concoction of flour, milk, eggs, sugar and ginger in the air.

I followed my nose onto the main tourist strip, ul Kopernika, a street squeezed by outdoor cafe seating and the people who chose to sit there. I expected them to be ordering gingerbread from a menu made of gingerbread, but they were not. Instead they feasted on grochowka (pea soup), nalesniki (fried pancakes) and bigos (many meats cooked). All extremely tempting but not what I had hoped for.

Walking into the middle of Rynek Staromiejski, Torun's 14th century main square, I immediately lost the scent. The smell of gingerbread was still in the air mind you, it was just I was very distracted. My ears were burdened with an organ player serenading those under the Copernicus statue, my eyes stood staring at the city tower above, and my nose was being tempted by delights not associated with what I sought.

"Remember what you came for" a voice from the heavens seemed to say, but in reality was my own conscious. And then I saw it. A golden crusted head with an icing smile seemed to walk straight past me, but of course it couldn't have. A middle aged German man and his wife were arguing over something that was important to them, but not to the happy gingerbread man that stood in his coat pocket.

Like the Polish language, I only knew two words of German and I don't think confronting this German man, and saying 'DAVID HASSELHOFF' would be helpful. So I followed him in the faint hope he would either drop the gingerbread, or return to where he had purchased it. A relatively easy job I thought, until the couple walked into the ticket office of the old tower.

Fifteen minutes later and 3 zloty (60p) poorer I found myself looking over Torun in a state of total exhaustion. Not only did my back ache but my legs had been throbbing since yesterday, when I mistakenly pressed an emergency stop button on a Polish tram. After all it did resemble the 'next stop' buttons I had pressed so confidently in other countries. I stopped rather violently.

The 300 or more steps were extremely hard for a person with one working leg, but like a donkey being led by a carrot; I managed to focus on that slightly exposed gingerbread head in front of me. While the others on the tower looked in wonder at the beautiful Vistula River on the far side of the city and grand cathedrals like St Mary's Church in between, I (to the suspicion of the guard) looked at the gingerbread.

Down the stairs I followed, then winding through medieval alleyways and old forts, we (although the Germans had not realised I was there) embarked on an hour-long tour of the city. We saw some fantastic historical sights, but not one gingerbread store. As if sensing my hunger, our next stop was the restaurant The Tros Amigo's. It apparently had the best pizzas in town, but more importantly a tourist map lay spread on its window. Of course! This would show me the way. I knew where to go! I bid farewell to the very confused Germans and set off.

It was exactly how I pictured it to be. Gingerbread hung like wallpaper from the windows and the crusty wooden exterior gave the impression the shop was made out of gingerbread. I ran to the window. There was chocolate flavoured, toffee flavoured, coffee-flavoured gingerbread. Ginger houses, ginger horses, ginger Copernicus' ginger money, ginger everything, ginger heaven. There wasn't even a line to get into the place. It was perfect.

I walked to the door glanced at small yellow sign that read "amykaja" then pushed it. It would not open.

It was then that I realised I had just learnt my third polish word........Closed. It was 7.38pm!

Dejected I went to the only place I knew would be open and ordered the closest thing to gingerbread on the menu.......McBiscuits.

I got a choc sundae.

Christopher Canty

British Midlands, fly twice daily to Warsaw leaving London Heathrow for around 200pounds. Four trains a day leave to Torun from Warsaw Central Train Station (3 hours).
The Pod Orlem is at ul Mostowa 17 (T6225024) and has rooms from 9-20pounds. Gingerbread can be bought at Skelp Firmowy Katarzynka, ul Zeglarska 25.


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