Gingerbread, Torun

Gingerbread from Torun

Torun, a university town in central Poland is “World famous in Poland” for two things: Copernicus…and gingerbread.

Given my boy is only 3 years old, and has a decidedly sweet tooth, I decide to leave the astronomical treasures of the town for a subsequent visit and focus on that which would, at his age, hold more sway…pierniki.

An Aladdin's cave of floor to ceiling gingerbread

This is not difficult. When you arrive in Torun pierniki (gingerbread) greets you – or confronts you depending on your personal prejudices towards this subject – at every juncture. Plain gingerbread in every possible shape and form, iced gingerbread, chocolate coated gingerbread (Katarzynki), gingerbread with all sorts of delightful fruit or nut based fillings to tempt the palate of even the most discerning of connoisseurs. Stores specialising in gingerbread and nothing else are stocked, floor to ceiling, with an array of colourful packaging containing delicious treats for tourists and locals alike to purchase and enjoy… by the kilo! A veritable Aladdin’s cave of jewelled sweets.

Medieval tools for making gingerbread

Whilst exploring the contents of these shops is adventure enough, for those who truly want to indulge in their passion for pierniki, there is also the gingerbread museum, a fully functional 16th century Gingerbread “factory”. Here, visitors can learn, in delightful (if not always easily understandable) prose the secrets of making gingerbread to timeworn recipes originating from this town. Children are provided with spices: cardamom, cloves and a pinch of pepper, as well as honey with which to make the dough. They are then given rolling pins and ornamental wooden gingerbread molds and encouraged to try their hand at the skill of making the sweet biscuits for which Torun is most famous. While the biscuits are baking they can listen to stories and legends about the town they are visiting.

Making gingerbread the old-fashioned way

The Gingerbread Museum is at Ulica Rabianska, 9 Torun, 87-100 Poland and is open from 9am till 6pm daily. It is a good idea to check availability and book – even on the same day – as the museum can be overrun by tourists and school groups – especially as holiday season approaches in June/July. Unfortuantely we missed out on a tour due to the final tour being overbooked and our well-meaning hosts insisted on our eating a proper obiad before visiting the museum …and so missing the earlier sessions. But still were able to loiter, have a bit of a listen and play with the dough.

Tours are available in English although a surcharge applies. The English language option is recommended for non-native speakers as the tour and instructions are delivered by Medieval master gingerbreadmakers and their trainees, in beautiful “old Polish” which can be difficult to understand, especially for children.

Entry is 8PLN for kids and 9.50PLN for adults. Disabled children and youth are admitted free of charge but the museum is in a kamiennica in the old town and entered via a rather long internal staircase – so access with a wheelchair could be challenging.

The museum also has a gift shop where, if your personally baked treats are not enough to satisfy your tastebads you can top up to your heart’s content. This is definitely one attraction we will be honouring with a repeat visit.

Whole stores are devoted to selling nothing other than gingerbread

One weekend every June, Torun holds a Swieto Piernika (Gingerbread festival). This is a musical artistic and cultural festival during which visitors can observe in detail every step of the production process involved in making Torunskie pierniki: the grinding of spices, milling of flour, weighing ingredients, loading the ingredients onto horse-drawn carts. These are accompanied by millers stories of working the flour mill, legends and stories about gingerbread and displays of traditional gingerbread designs.

What: Zywe Muzeum Piernika (Gingerbread Museum)

Where: Ulica Rabianska 9, 7-100 Torun, Poland

Open: 9am till 6pm daily – or other times by appointment. Tours commence on the hour.

Admission: Children and students 8 PLN, Adults 9.50 PLN, Disabled children and youth – free. Prices for demonstration and explanationin languages other than Polish: Children and students 9.50 PLN, Adults 11 PLN

Website: www.muzeumpiernika.pl/index.php?lang=2

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Fountains

Persephone fountain in Poznan’s old town square

Poland is largely landlocked other than for a stretch of Baltic coast in the north. Although the summers are reasonably mild, there are days that can be quite hot. Country children can always take a dip in a local river or lake to cool down. But with private swimming pools virtually non-existent and public pools relatively rare – what do the city kids do in a heatwave?

The answer? Fountains – and luckily Poland has an aboundance of them. And so to the second most memorable thing about our holiday – at least as far as Mr 3 year old is concerned.

Frolicing in fountains – Praga Poludnie – Warsaw

When the hot weather arrives, the local kids strip down to their underwear or bathers and do what kids do best under the plentiful streams of H2O spouting form numerous nozzles embedded in pavements across the country. Now these are no Mannakan Pis type sculptures with a mere trickle emanating from their nether regions, but rather full on geysers that jump unexpectedly out of the ground with a force that could quite easily knock over the uninitiated or unsuspecting.

Whilst I can’t attest to the water quality, and granted, a number of these water features do boast signs proclaiming “no bathing allowed” – the local kids look healthy enough and my 3 year old stripped down at every available opportunity to join in the fray – without a single illness to show for it. The park officials always seemed to turn a blind eye to the forbidden shenannigans. The whole experience very much reminded me of the games we used to play as children under sprinklers – before the days of droughts and water restrictions.

Some of our favourites include:

  • The “dry-fountain” in the Multimedia Fountain Park on the banks of the Vistula in Warsaw. This park is the largest fountain park of its kind in Europe. I know that they say everything is bigger in Queensland/ Texas…but Texas and Queensland have got nothing on the size of the fountains in this park! Whilst the main fountains – which are used on Saturday nights for integrated music and laserlight displays – are off limits, there is a “dry fountain” to the side. Here kids can splash about to their hearts’ content.
  • The Syrena fountain in the old town square in Warsaw. A centrally located piece in the middle of the old town square. the fountain honours the Syrena (or siren/ mermaid) which according to legend is the protectress of the city. The fountain and surrounding area are great for pigeon chasing (see earlier post) splashing and terrorising tourists, local schoolchildren and their teachers. Surrounded by outdoor watering holes, it is also a place where parents and any other accompanying adults can sit back, relax and knock down a cheeky Zywiec and raspberry juice while kids use up some of their endless supply of energy.

Syrena fountain in Warsaw’s Old Town Square

Catching up with a friend over Zywiec and raspberry juice in Warsaw’s old town square

  • The numerous water features scattered across the Kielce town centre. These again belong to the water feature rather than the fountain school of water play options. They are abundant across the town centre. There are fountains at the Plac Artystow (Artists’ square), in front of the municipal offices and also a giant water wall at the multi-story carpark. All have a great splashability rating.
  • The Raftsman’s fountain in Torun. This fountain is surrounded by gilt frogs commemorating the Polish equivelent of the Pied Piper story –  which features  frogs instead of mice. Legend has it that following a great flood, a plague of frogs invaded the town of Torun. No matter what they did, the townsfolk were unable to rid their beloved town of the frogs. The mayor, in disgust, offered his daughters hand to whomever could rid the town of the frogs. A raftsman, who had for a long time been in love with the mayors daughter, came up with an idea. He took his fiddle and with his beautiful music lured the frogs out from their hiding places. Enchanted, the frogs followed him out of the town and to the “wet suburbs” where the marshes were, and there they stayed, never to return again. The raftsman however did return to claim his prize. He and the mayor’s daughter married and bore him seven granddaughters and seven grandsons.  The frogs spout water which is great for splashing, tourists also toss in coins in the hope of one day returning to Torun. The fountain is also a good meeting point. You never know who you may stumble across when visiting it.

Gilt frogs at the raftsman’s fountain in Torun

But don’t feel restricted to this list. There are fountains everywhere in Poland – some more frolic friendly and some less so. So go out explore and if you have any you would like to share please leave a comment.

Posted in Gdansk, Kielce, Things to do, Torun, Warsaw, water activities | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments