Travel to Poland: Chełmno and on to Toruń
Wanda Hennig blogs about her month-long ‘roots’ trip to Poland.
Positively Poland: Six
Arriving in Chełmno in the afternoon of Day 5, I have a sense we’re leaving the 20th century — olde world parts of the country, unsophisticated with exceptions — of some of what we’ve seen in the days since we left Warsaw, and moving into the 21st century. Chełmno feels like a small real city.
I quickly get the impression it could win an award for “old town with the biggest number of delis and butcheries selling sausage and cured meats…” It does not strike me as a specially affluent town but every one of these is bustling; busy.
We arrive, check into our comfy rooms in our a small pension, the Stary Spichrz with its ground floor pub and restaurant then head out to the park to drink a beer then into the old town to explore.
We walk into a cavernous cathedral with a mass in progress. It seems appropriate to stop for a while. Breathe in the peacefulness. Four male priests and two women give what I imagine are sermons.
I read somewhere that in the one big old stone church (the Phara Church / Church of St Mary) are the relics of St Valentine and that this is known as the town for lovers. In the park some bushes have been topiaried — is that the word? — into heart shapes. I see people posing next to them for selfies.
Like so many other of these Polish towns and cities, when you Google them, links come up to the Nazi Germany extermination camps set up in Poland during WWII — in this case the Chełmno extermination camp. In Poland, the history always feels part of the present.
Chełmno has a well-preserved medieval center, with five Gothic churches and a beautiful Renaissance town hall in the middle of the market square, I read on Wikipedia before getting there. The Old Town is one of Poland’s official national Historic Monuments, as designated April 20, 2005, and tracked by the National Heritage Board of Poland.
There are a number of Gothic churches, including the Church of St Mary, former main parochial church of town, built 1280-1320 (with the St. Valentine relic) and the Church of Saints Jacob and Nicholas, former Franciscan church, from the 14th century, rebuilt in the 19th century.
As night decends and the town lights up, we decide its time to look for a restaurant.
What we find serves us up by far the best meal we’ve had in Poland to date — in the best restaurant of the trip so far. Our lucky strike is the Karczma Chelminska hotel near the old town wall.
The menu is extensive. The wine and whisky list grand. Appetisers include traditional herring with apple, onions and sour cream, which I find difficult to resist having learned that the herring in Poland is the sweetest and most delicate imaginable. There is fisherman’s tartare, carpaccio of beef sirloin, and my choice, having had too many regular meals to date for a main and this being a favorite dating back to when my Polish dad used to make it: tartare of seasoned beef fillet.
It arrives beautifully presented as separate entities, the fresh chopped raw beef, the egg yoke, the onion, the capers, the pepper, the salt, the gherkins… I look beseechingly at the maitre’d. Would I like him to prepare it for me? Yes please. So he does, in the kitchen and brings it back picture and tastebud perfect.
The vegetarian among us goes for the Russian pierogi with cheese filling; the non-vegetarian for the pierogi with goose and sauerkraut filling. There is also one that sounds good: with leek, bacon and dry tomato filling. The menu is online so I won’t put our prices as prices change.
This being Poland, there is a good selection of soups. The vegetarian goes for the clear red beetroot soup served in a cup. There is also the must-be-tried Polish sour rye soup with white sausage and a hard-boiled egg. Another that sounds delish is the young beet leaves soup.
Mains include grilled salmon with chips and salad, a chicken roulade with chanterelle and spinach filling in Gorgonzola sauce. My meat-eating friend opts for the oven-roasted duck with apple and red cabbage. Nobody is hungry enough for the “huge pork chop” served with stewed cabbage. The pork cheeks are also given a miss as are the medallions of pork loin in forest mushroom sauce, the knuckle of pork in beer served with stewed cabbage or the pork tongue with horseradish sauce. Clearly not a night for pork at our table.
The service is all that it should be as it often is in parts of the world where waiters do it as a career. The wine list is extensive and covers Europe and Australia, largely. Each dish comes with a wine option suggestion.
For dessert I go for the Pavlova with meringue and fruit, this being another of my growing-up treats. OK, I know Pavlova is meant to be either an Australian or New Zealand dessert. They fight over it. But Anna Pavlova was Russian and this clearly transcended the boundaries and the animosities.
Other dessert options were the apple pie with ice cream and whipped cream (so civilized and European to have both — can’t the rest of the world learn?), a selection of ice cream and ice cream with warm fresh raspberries. Polish vodka on the menu includes Wyborowa, Żubrówka (which we choose), Żołądkowa Gorzka, a herbal infusion and an infused Solpica Staropolska,
Over dinner my travel buddies and I google Josef Conrad and the Black Madonna on my iPad. The wonders of free WiFi to add to the conversation when traveling.
I get up early and hit the old town before the fog burns off. I find a morning market has set up, offering piles of gorgeous fresh veggies.
We all go to look for St Valentine’s relics in the church. We come across another mass instead and head off on the next leg of our journey. To quote from our guide’s itinerary: “From Chełmno we will go to Toruń and on the way, we can sightseeing old castle in Golub Dobrzyń and eat there dinner. In Toruń we have two night in center of old town, in Solaris Hotel.
Lots to process. Lots to look forward to.