In a small little fairy tale town, I am reminded of a legendary fairy tale . I get a whiff of the freshly baked gingerbread and am transported into the tale of the gingerbread man who comes alive from his mould, only to be devoured by a fox. Torun in Poland is a World UNESCO site with loads of history but it is its legendary gingerbread that makes it irresistible.
We follow the scent and walk into a quaint where we join a group of excited children, waiting to get their hands dirty with chocolate and flour. I am as wide eyed as the children, when I hear that Torun’s legendary gingerbread dates back to the 13th century and India has had a role to play , for the ginger to make this “pierniki” came through the spice trade route.
I am for a moment intoxicated, not just by the flavour but the entire setting that seems to be out of a fairy tale . Large wooden tables with rolling pins, wooden ladles, spoons and buckets lie scattered with wisps of flour and chocolate around in this gingerbread museum.I follow the gaze of the children and see a girl, looking straight out of the medieval times , shying away from the camera as she lovingly massages the flour in her hands. I realize that if I stay a moment longer, I will probably be lost in a medieval world of charming knights and maidens.
I step into the streets of Torun and it does have the effect on me. A chocolate brick tower looks askance at me from an angle. The streets are lined with quaint monuments that look straight out of a colourful postcard .The silence just adds to the quaintness . I stand at an angle to photograph the leaning watch tower as I hear that it was a technical fault that led to its posture. But the heart likes to believe more charming stories like this one. A love story between a knight and a nun goes awry and the knight builds the structure out of redemption, only to find it leaning for like his attachment. Locals say that you can clear your mind of all the guilt by standing below it for just ten seconds as I wonder if I should fight my conscience for all the indulgence in a quaint town.
I am beckoned by some history as we walk down the Old Gothic Town that has miraculously managed to ward off many battles, including the World War 11. Torun ‘s tryst with the medieval times goes to the era of the Teutonic Knights , who were actually men of a religious order from Jerusalem
Invited by the Polish princes to fight against the pagan Prussians, these men of militia decided to build a castle on the banks of the Vistula and make Torun with its river port , their home. Constant wars between the Polish and the knights continued, until the people of Torun eventually rebelled against the knights and laid siege to their castle. It lies in ruins here, but Torun’s medieval monuments have stood the test of time, even the World War 11 which has left the town unscathed.
The fortress, the gates to the city, the medieval walls, the town hall and the Gothic churches , the Baroque granaries, the ancient houses – all lend a quaint touch to Torun. As I gaze at the top of the cathedral tower, I see a huge bell, weighing seven tons referred to as God’s Trumpet . I am however told that this is not a landmark of Torun.
The city revolves around one astronomer, who literally lives today in the city – Nicolas Copernicus Thorunensis. The 15th century astronomer lives today in Torun as we walk into his elegantly designed two storeyed house that retains the original flavour since his time. We climb a wooden staircase and look out into the street from the study. The house , now a veritable treasure house and a museum gives you a peek into his mind.
Copernicus lives on in Torun even till date. Statues and shops, universities and restaurants are all named after this man who observed that it was the earth that rotated around the static sun. The church where he was baptised , his house where he was raised are all living symbols of his life in this city. Even the company that sells gingerbread bears his name. And Torun is proud of the man who showed the world the ways of the universe.
As we leave Torun, we give one last look at the town that lives forever steeped in its medieval era .The Vistula would have probably flowed here when the knights walked around, brandishing their swords and when Copernicus showed that the sun shone bright amidst the all the stars. If you can think of a place where time would have liked to stop, it is probably Torun.
Torun’s Old Town is one of the World Heritage Sites and it is absolutely one of the most beautiful sites to visit. Located near Gdansk and about three hours by train from Warsaw . It is well connected by road as well. For details contact www.visittorun.pl.