Donaupark parkrun, Vienna

Donaupark parkrun route, three laps of the park by the Danube.
Donaupark parkrun route. 3 laps, anticlockwise.

Austria started parkrun in Salzburg in August 2021 and now has three events, in Salzburg, Linz and Vienna. Vienna started in October 2021, and was today on its 33rd event. It’s very easy to get to, albeit I broke with my tendency to walk to the start (it being 9+ km away from Westbahn) and hopped on the metro. From Alte Donau (‘Old Danube’) metro, on the U1 line, it’s a 400m walk and you can’t really miss it – take the Arbeiterstrandbadstraße exit, turn right and walk along the road, then cross over once you’re past the Sportcenter and you’re there.

Skyscrapers look over the park, while a hi-viz wearing volunteer gives the German-language briefing. An English one followed.
Introductory briefing from the concrete

By now I am used to hearing briefings in languages I really don’t speak, and enjoy picking out the bits that I can – three laps, clap for volunteers, qr code here if you’d like to help out in the future. But it was a somewhat wasted effort, in that the German-language briefing was immediately followed by a fulsome one in English, from a different volunteer. A nice touch, and helpful given the number of tourists.

The tall Donauturm, or Danube tower, rises in the park and the path and runners head towards it.
After the first turn, you run toward the tower. Even I couldn’t miss it.

I chatted to a couple of English people before the start, and we later found that we covered more-or-less exactly 20 years, with 10 years between each of us. They then took the Mickey out of me for not being significantly faster than them, which was fair enough. Both I and the 59 year old sandbagged; me suggesting I’d run a minute quicker than him, which made for a surprise when he came past me in the last 500m or so. There was little I could do about it, other than congratulate him.

A wide path, with trees and mowed grass on either side
Wide paths

No one really bit on my jokes about no-one knowing the name of the park (“What’s this park?” “Donau”), and how the situation only gets worse if you ask, well, okay then, what’s the river called? but I enjoyed them immensely. It’s good, I think, to have a nice time in your own head. I also had a perfectly decent time running round the park. It’s yet another parkrun with a mini-railway track running near it, and you cross that en-route.

Concrete blocks showing the park name
The briefing area, finish and start just behind here

The run is a fast and flat route, with a slight headwind today down the first/finishing straight to keep us occupied. It finishes in almost exactly the same place as it starts, so couldn’t be simpler, other than remembering to run round the edge of the area marked by the cones, rather than taking a shortcut across the tarmacced area from which the event briefing is given. The course was mostly unmarshalled, but just needed the few arrows it had to keep us heading the right way. Towards the end of the loop you take a smaller path to the right, to loop slightly away from the start/finish, but other than that I reckon I could run it again without markers, which is rare.

Post event we went to the Café Oide Donau (no, oi don’t know either) which is close, though not the cafe that is in the park so don’t head off for a post run cooldown and miss out. I sat chatting with a couple of Brits, enjoying the warm (but not too warm) weather before hopping on the metro with a new friend. Polish parkruns are great, but they do slightly miss out for not so often having a post-event cafe visit, and my three weeks there made this cafe visit all the sweeter. And this is a lovely event, which is never going to be a slow course unless there’s ice on the course. First place today celebrated that by setting a new course record – it’s not out of reach, but a good marker for decent runners to hit in the future. Whether you come for that or just to take in an Austrian parkrun, this is a easy to get to, straightforward to navigate and recommended event.

Results from Donapark parkrun event 33, 9/7/22; 58 finishers.

Poprad to Banská Bystrica, Slovakia

This journey, from Slovakia’s 10th to 6th biggest towns, also takes you from (towns with a view of) the High Tatras to the Low Tatras, though that was mostly serendipitous for me. I had pinned Poprad in my map because it was recommended by a Slovakian in whose AirBnB I had stayed, and travelled to Banská Bystrica because it seemed a fairly obvious way to break up the trip West. Bratislava was recommended by precisely no-one (despite a pretty old town), and so I was happy to spend time elsewhere.

Poprad is the gateway town for access to the High Tatras, and you can take a train to various small stations from which to start your walk, or pay a guide to sort the whole thing out for you. I did none of that, instead enjoying the bus ride from Krakow through the mountains and then walking South of town into the hills, from which the views back to the mountains (North) are dramatic.

A large cornfield fills the screen, with a flat town in the distance and the High Tatras rising behind.
View of Poprad from the South, High Tatras behind

I stayed in a cheap pension in Spišská Sobota, NE of the town (about a mile’s walk from the centre – definitely part of the town, but has its own beautiful town square, which felt very Swiss, or alpine, to me).

On the road heading South from Poprad, numbered 66, are a number of attractions, and there is an obvious patch of walking routes and hill off to the East of that. It seemed an obvious place for a walk, at any rate, so I took myself off that way, struggling up a hill or two before turning West to the lagoon at Banský náučný chodník v Kvetnici (trans as “Mining Educational Trail in Kvetnica). As an old mining site, this is a well-used site, and not a peaceful place for quiet contemplation. There is a quiet spot for barbecues and chilling out just to the East, which is where I cooled off after a few photos. The lagoon has prominent, and widely ignored, signs suggesting no swimming or fishing, and people were enjoying the place in the sun.

Brutalist apartment blocks of Poprad with mountains behind
Approaching Poprad from the South

I took the train to Banská Bystrika, which involves a change at Vrútky and takes a few hours. It also costs a bargain €9.xx via www.zssk.sk. Checking routes via the site also pops up alerts for bus services – this seems not to mean there will be a bus replacement, just that you might use alternative bus routes for the same journey. Whether a ticket bought here works on the buses, I can’t tell you. My first train was delayed by over half an hour, though, and so I assumed I’d missed my connection (with a 20 minute gap between the two). I am just old enough, however, to remember how a connected rail service works, and so as I got half way down the steps from the platform, my brain suggested that perhaps the train waiting on the adjacent platform was relevant to my interests. Sure enough, once I asked (both, for some nervy reason) the signaller and guard (actual people working on a railway – they should do away with that as soon as possible, obviously) “Banská Bystrica?”, I got a nod and jumped on. The gent I ended up sat next to immediately chatted sardonically (I think) to me, almost certainly saying something like “isn’t it great for you that we have a national rail service, which can hold one train and save you a two-hour wait, albeit I’ve had to wait an extra 20 minutes for my lovely walk?” but my Slovakian wasn’t up to it, and I made some appreciative noises as we moved off. It was great but progress led by private companies will wipe it out at some point if they are not careful.

The lovely happy gent found his English “thank you” as he hopped spryly off at Turčianske Teplice, and he was not the only backpack carrier to do so, I assume because that’s a good point to start a walk into the hills. The train hooks South then East from Vrútky to Banská Bystrica, with several stops at small towns that all looked inviting. I was happy enough to arrive in town and walk from the train station into town, with the Low Tatras another lovely backdrop. Just as good was the lovely town square, just round the corner from my accommodation, and a great surprise to me – I’d not stopped here for any reason other than convenience and a sense of progression across the country.

That part of town is full of bars and cafes, all with outdoor seating well-used at this time of year. I found a quiet cafe (Kaviareň Poetika) on a side street to the North, which was fabulous, with friendly staff and delicious food. The beer choice was slightly limited on the day – would I like the 330ml Leffe or the litre (it might have been more) of IPA (or “eepa”). I picked the former, given hunger, though machismo very nearly picked the latter.

For my full day in town, I walked the hills which are directly to the South of town. There’s a steepish but otherwise straightforward walk up to a church and then an observatory, though South of there the trails get a little ragged, and an easy exit to the East takes you out onto a busy road, so what might have been a 5-6 mile walk became nearly 10 as I retraced steps and tried an alternate route further South. That did find me some excellent shiny beetles, though, so I called it good.

Iridescent blue and green beetles look like baubles, partly hidden by leaves
Shiny beetles

parkrun Kraków, Poland

Kraków parkrun route map, a loop and a bit of the park.
Kraków parkrun route. Head anti-clockwise to the 734m mark, turn, back to the start/finish and then a complete loop of the park.

Kraków parkrun is easy to find. The start and finish are at the NW corner of the park Błonia, which is walkable from the old town, and has a tram stop directly opposite. I walked from town – about half of that time I was walking to the park, then the other half I was walking along that long straight you can see at the top of the map. It’s about a mile just for that section. That also takes you past the city stadium which this weekend was hosting the European Rugby 7s.

Grass in the middle of the park, very pale after days of sun
Blessed drizzle over the park

I had been in Warsaw at the beginning of the week. It was very warm, but cool enough on the Monday that lying in the shade in a park was pleasant. But no bedroom was air-conditioned, and the heat increased through the week. A cloudy day and downpour on Tuesday was relief enough for me to walk to the bus station on Wednesday, but Krakow was back to the same heat, and then more. As a result, the forecast drizzle and sub-20 temperatures of Saturday loomed like a mirage, even more so as the thunderstorms meant to arrive on Friday moved from the afternoon to evening to night. But sure enough, Saturday morning was cool. The pictures might look a bit dull and drizzly as a result so you’ll just have to trust me that for most of us, this was fabulous.

Chalk marks on the ground to show where to make the first turn.
The 734m turn around point

I chatted to a Frenchman at the start, after he’d explained the course to me. I hadn’t understood why on the way there I’d passed the 4km marker, then the 734m turnaround point. How would we turnaround, but still get to 4km on that stretch? It’s straightforward enough – head off clockwise to the turn, run around it and then do a complete loop anti-clockwise. So although you start on the long straight, you only run the whole length of it at the end, including that 4km marker.

4km chalked on the ground on the long straight
The long straight

I suspect the course is completely flat, but I struggled a bit, feeling like I found a headwind on that long last stretch. It might just have been a general sense of lag after a week of not sleeping very much. My brother, at any rate, thought that my next destination Slovakia suited me. I was just pleased to be warm but not hot. (Did I mention Poland was hot? So hot, for instance, that sitting on a park bench in the shade at 6pm was too warm.)

Wide and damp paths
Damp and lovely
Running along a wide path in the drizzle.
Sweeping turns and long straights
The finish line, marked with the word META
The finish line

Some friendly locals got me and others to sign the visitors’ book (/sheafs of A4) and chatted for a while at the finish line. As with other runs I’ve done in Poland, there’s no culture of heading straight to a cafe here, which is fine in the summer, and there’s plenty of space to mill about after the finish, either off to one side of the course, or the whacking great grassy area in the middle.

Results from Krakow parkrun, event 414, 2/7/22; 154 finishers.

Zamek Malbork – The Malbork Castle Museum

A large sign on a grassy bank spells out Malbork.
Malbork – this is just along the river to the south of the castle

Malbork, a town in Northern Poland an hour or so from Gdansk, lays a claim to having the largest castle in the world by land area. Different people or guides phrase this differently – some mention the fact that it’s the largest brick complex in Europe, probably because that the brick such a distinctive feature. Overall, it may not mean much more than that the walls have been extended to cover a larger area than others chose to. It’s also all a reconstruction, as so often is the case in Poland, and there’s an exhibition on the restoration from 1962, following a fire in 1959 which had added to the damage done in WWII.

Malbork Castle, seen from the riverside, on the South side. Behind the high outer walls, the High Castle stands several storeys higher. All made of brick, it's a perfect storybook castle.

The size of the site means this is a lengthy visit if you see it all, particularly if you listen to all of the excellent audio tour that is included in the main admission price.

A model of the whole of the castle site shows the scale of the walls and the layout of the high, middle and lower castle areas

Visitors are free to walk round the edge of the castle, and there’s an audio tour to guide you round that for 15pln (£2.70). The castle is open 9am-8pm, Tuesday-Sunday. Main admission is 70pln (£12.50), or there’s a reduced rate of 30pln (£5.50) after 5.15pm from Tuesday-Sunday. See the castle ticket webpage for up-to-date information.

The walls are made of red brick. A high arch with raised portcullis leads into the courtyard, past two other gates. The ground is cobbled with large flat stones laid where cart wheels would roll
The main entryway, once past the ticket check

The castle is from the 13th century and was the headquarters of the Teutonic Knights. It’s suitably grand. The tour takes you through the three castles, High, Middle and Lower – I realised on the tour that although these terms are self-explanatory, it had never occurred to me that a “High Castle” was a term in actual use, rather than just a description.

Brick buildings and a tall tower surround a cobbled courtyard with green lawns at the lower castle
Courtyard, lower castle

The guided tour is excellent. It’s location-specific, so you can ignore any particular section by just wandering off, though I was happy to listen and head to where I was told. You can still explore more or less as you want, and some parts are slightly fiddlier to find – exit into the corridor and you’ll see a gargoyle on the wall, he said, but it was a small gargoyle and I looked the wrong way the first time – which added to the sense of exploration.

A very large Great Hall, with a small fireplace to one side. Pillars along the middle of the hall hold up curved arches that spiral out across the ceiling
Curved roof in the grand hall
Curved arches on the ceiling, painted with creeping vines and flowers.
A guided tour
More curved arches in the roof of a corridor, painted with creepers and flowers.
Remember to look up

Along with the grand architecture there’s plenty of paraphernalia to see. Amber is big in the region and the castle has a large collection. There’s an amber museum in Gdansk if you’ve not had enough, too, though one was enough for me.

A courtyard is lit by dappled light shining through the branches of a tall tree. Ivy grows up some of the brick pillars.
Courtyard
Courtyard of the High Castle. All around are high walls with open arch windows (no glass). In the middle of the cobbled courtyard is a well, covered by a structure with wooden stakes and a conical tiled roof.
Courtyard of the High Castle
People walk round a huge range in the kitchen, which has arches covering where the fire would have raged. The lighting gives it a red glow.
The kitchen
A long room, with white walls and painted frescoes above head height. Tall black pillars hold the arches that spread across the ceiling.
Note the outfits of the staff at the far end
A wooden bridge joins two sections of the castle. It is viewed from below, unreachable from here and at about the level of the 3rd storey.
Wooden bridge joins two sections

The castle was built for strength and so was never besieged. After 1457 it became one of the residences for Polish royalty until 1772. Swedish forces invaded and occupied the castle during the 30 years war, in 1626 and 1629, but it has not been the scene of much fighting. The tour therefore concentrates on interesting architectural features rather than historical political to-ing and fro-ing, and is all the better for it.

I enjoyed the tour and was a little sad when it ended and I had no more words from the soothing narrator. As a result, when he suggested downloading a further app and joining him in a tour of Malbork’s medieval city, I did just that (though I saved it for the next day – it really was an exhaustive tour of the castle). The Movi guide has guided tours for plenty of areas in Poland, along with the Kaasmuseum in The Netherlands and The Witold Gombrowicz museum in France. Well worth a look for Poland.

Information about Malbork Castle from Wikipedia.

parkrun Zamek w Malborku, Malbork, Poland

parkrun Zamek w Malborku route. Two out and backs, a long one then a short.

This region is well-served for parkruns. Other than Warsaw, they aren’t always clustered in individual cities, but there are several here that can be reached by a short train journey, particularly from Gdansk. Malbork is just a 40 minute, £2.30 train ride away (over £5 if you get the express train), and I opted to stay in town for a few days to make it even easier.

This event was their third birthday (but only event 84, thanks to Covid), and they had put the word out, upping attendance from last week’s 28 to 73. That, balloons, cake and celebrations made for a festive atmosphere, even if I and the two Irish tourists I’d bumped into on the way understood barely a word.

Group of runners walk to the start, on a path bordered by tall thin trees
Walking to the start

We were made welcome, though, and the run director made sure I knew roughly where I was going. It isn’t tricky, though this is their last run on a temporary route they’ve used while the boardwalk in front of the castle was being renovated, so you won’t need the details. Still; head North for a couple of kilometres, round the U to a turn-around point, all the way back and beyond for a few hundred metres, and back to the finish.

The sun shines through the trees that line the route
Shade covers most of this course

Today was a very warm day, comfortably over 20degrees even on the way there, let alone after the start at 9am. Much of Malbork, including parts of the boardwalk, is open to the sun, so this route was a huge bonus on a day like today. There’s an unshaded bit at the top of the course, and we really felt it at that point.

Brick pillars on either side of the path near the turn-around point
The first turnaround, 2km in. I totally missed the sign, but you go round the first barrier at the end

Swapping notes with the two Irish runners afterwards, both of us blokes had missed the sign that pretty clearly marked the first u-turn, but we had other runners to follow and made the turn without incident. The second u-turn, 550m or so from the finish, was marked by both a sign and a marker on the ground, so wasn’t hard to miss. It seemed a long way when I was going it, but it isn’t really – there is a little gradient here, so perhaps that’s why I was wishing it into view.

A wooden structure in front of the path, as the run goes round to the right then back to the left to head along the riverside
Heading back at the top of the ‘n’ shape

The first and last bits of the run are along the riverside (River Nogat), and I presume the percentage of the course that is there will only increase on the new route. Trees shield it from view much of the time, but it’s there, providing a sense of space.

Lush green vegetation by the path as the route heads through a car park
Crossing a car park towards the finish

In common with many events here, it runs with relatively few people, and just one marshal, at the car-park which is on the route. It was very quiet there, I never saw a car moving, and some cones reinforced the idea that something was happening.

The finish is on a narrow section of the path
Running in to the finish/meta

The finish is on a narrow section of the path, so we were all sure to step off the route quickly as people were still coming through the other way. I didn’t notice any problem even with 70+ people, other than a few finishers racing through the finish and having to be chased down by the lady handing out finish tokens.

Finish ("meta") sign on the path after the event, with small boats in the marina behind
A view of the marina

Afterwards we hung around and nattered while the sweat started to dry – it really was pretty warm, and stayed that way – before wandering back towards town via the boardwalk. The view of the castle there is pretty dramatic, and it’s a great backdrop for the whole thing. I had also done the tour the day before, so was filled with thoughts of the Middle and High Castles as we walked by. More usefully for a runner, if you keep going along the waterfront, you come to a man-made beach and a spot where you can take a dip in the river, which was sorely tempting today.

We roped in the run director for a fully international flavour – Polish, Irish, Irish, me.

Results from parkrun Zamek w Malborku, event 84 25/6/22; 73 finishers.

European Solidarity Centre, Gdańsk

Situated to the North of the city centre, the European Solidarity Centre is an imposing building in rust-coloured metal, with a huge statue to memorialise the shipyard workers killed in anti-communist riots.

Tall statue, with three concrete legs with crosses at the top, supporting large anchors in memorial to the steel workers killed in 1970. Rusty-looking Solidarity museum is behind; it is a multi-storey building, but nowhere near as high as the statue.
Solidarity centre and statue outside

The inside of the centre felt entirely at odds with the more brutalist outside, giving a great contrast. It is a vast atrium of calm, free to visit without paying to visit the museum. Plants everywhere help contribute to that atmosphere. When I came out of the museum, a small visiting orchestra was giving a performance of classical music, which fit the place perfectly, though the quiet that followed was also wonderful. It’s a great space, into which a lot of care has clearly been put.

The hall inside the centre, before you get to the museum. A vast atrium of calm with plants everywhere creating a chilled atmosphere
Inside the Solidarity Centre.

I booked ahead for my visit, having been (sort of) turned away the day before. There are timed entry slots, so if you arrive at 3pm, you may be told to push off till 4pm. I didn’t hang around and just booked for the next day, then showed my email at the audioguide station and scanned in to the museum upstairs.

This museum commemorates a hugely important time in Poland’s history, as it fought to be rid of Communism. It’s also salutary for a free Brit, as a reminder and a warning – simply reading the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a rejoinder to recent laws passed by people who I can’t politely describe. Even knowing that there is a group of people who will turn their nose up at any mention of that declaration, sure they are supporting a nebulous idea of freedom and making up their own minds even as they are led down the path of radicalisation, just as the British press did by lying about the EU for years, with otherwise politically-unengaged people knowing they should say “up yours Delors”. To give a funny (but not) example – on Question Time, one responder said she voted to leave the EU because she was fed up of the straight bananas ‘we’ get now. Not only swallowing the lies, but shaping her own reality to believe they had affected her world.

Hard hat are stuck to the ceiling in a room which has recreated the look of the Gdansk shipyards, with exhibits about the protests there
Shipyard exhibit

The museum starts in the shipyard, taking visitors into that time by recreating some of the look of the place. This was mostly not a bloody revolution, so some of the history is a little dry; there are lots of meetings and conversations. But there’s plenty to see, and the individual stories that start in the next room bring the narrative to life. It’s not a story I feel able to sum up, and in any case my reaction was much of the time one of anger at more contemporary events (and yes, for the reactionary right, I did also feel lucky to be able to express that anger, but that isn’t good enough on its own), but the pictures tell some of the story of the museum. For better information, you might start with a page about Lech Wałęsa.

Landrover-style Popemobile used by Pope John Paul
The Popemobile that John Paul II used
A large video wall shows protests. There is a tablet to browse other information, and photographs of people involved in protests in a glass exhibition cabinet.
Interactive exhibits
An exhibit stands in a room with a mirror-roof. That mirror allows you to see that the curved panels of the exhibition are that shape so they spell out the word "solidarnosc"
Exhibition space in the shape of the word solidarnosc.
Photo of union leader and Nobel Prize winner, Lech Walesa, made up of other documents, artfully arranged
Lech Wałęsa
A broken gate with police riot shields and a vehicle arranged behind, to give a feel of protestors facing the authorities
A protestor’s eye-view of conflict at the shipyard, where authorities broke down a gate with a tank
The road to democracy
A round table recreates the feel of union organisers debating with authorities
The history of the debates shown on video screens
A display of posters of different Solidarnosc candidates standing for election, every one of them photographed individually with Lech Wałęsa
Solidarnosc candidates in the Polish elections, individual posters for each, photographed with Lech Wałęsa – a hugely successful initiative.

There are fascinating exhibits on the size of the Communist bloc in Europe, and its dispersal over time.

A coloured animated map of Europe colours Communist colours in red, then shows them changing to grey as Communism is defeated over time
Decomposition of the Eastern bloc
Large walls in a room carry the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in several different languages
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Part of the Declaration of Human Rights, "Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association"
“Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association” (and because it apparently needs pointing out, ‘peaceful’ means non-violent, not kept quiet because noise is a bit annoying)
"No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile"
“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile” (And perhaps don’t send asylum seekers, perfectly entitled to travel, at vast cost to other countries. Particularly don’t do that and then listen quietly while useful idiots bang on about people not having enough babies)

I found the museum very interesting, if very dry in places – though we should be grateful that for the dullness of people debating in rooms, rather than fighting for supremacy. The audio guide is excellent and guides you through the place expertly. At times I switched off a little and let the feel of it roll over me, and that works, too. It’s close to being a must-visit in Gdańsk, though you might also choose not to go, and appreciate that freedom instead.

Museum of World War 2, Gdańsk (Muzeum II Wojny Światowej w Gdańsku)

WWII Museum

As the stench of corruption in the UK spreads far and wide enough that I can smell it from here, where without the first edition of “the paper of record” (ha) you might have no idea of a powerful man’s second attempt, (that we know of) to give work to his mistress and where the long-running crisis in the legal system (long pre-dating covid, to go with those prompted in health, transport and so on by under-funding or assuming the private sector will do more than look after itself) finally looks to be coming to a head, it seemed a good idea to take a reflective look at where a democratic vote for a legendary fuckwit and media management can take humanity.

A corridor lined with Nazi swastikas and Soviet sickles sets a tone
Nazi and Soviet symbols

I ended up at the Museum of the Second World War, North of the old city. Fortunately this is an excellent museum, informative, reflective and thanks perhaps to Gdańsk’s unique perspective on events, sombre even as you get to the ‘triumph’ at the end.

Gdańsk’s own history is complex, ruled over time by Germans, Poles, Prussians and itself. From 1918 to 1939 it was in a disputed corridor and with a huge majority of Germans in the city, it wasn’t given back to Polish control. In the late 1930s, Poles and their language were excluded from public life and ultimately the status of the city, with its Nazi majority in parliament, was used as an excuse to invade Poland. After the war, though Poland was on the winning side, its rewards for such were ambiguous. Gdańsk itself was annexed by Poland but had a Soviet-installed Communist government.

The museum is split up into several zones. The entrance is down stairs from ground level, and then you head down to floor -3 for tickets and exhibits. You start in a long corridor with exhibitions off to each side, though the first two are small rooms, giving an idea that you will be popping in and out. Then you head into another small room, through and everything opens out, and it is clear that this is not a museum presenting things in small bites. It is very atmospheric, and you could almost wander through and just gaze around you for an experience all of its own.

A large hall, with military uniforms, half a plane 'dive bombing' from the wall and computer screens against the wall
A large hall

That said, there’s also a whole stack of information. In the picture above, which was the first large hall I came to (entirely possible I missed one, so I won’t say it is the first), there are captions in Polish and English for everything. To the right are several interactive displays, again in Polish and English, allowing you to read more about the history of the war, or browse the pages of a journal displayed to one side and so on.

Some exhibits are large, some just small excerpts of life – like the barbed wire, above – that hang on huge walls, often to chilling effect. I got to the end of that long corridor – roughly where the ‘Terror’ sign offers entry to another gallery – and figured I was near the end. Word to the wise (but not wise enough to check a floorpan) – this is about halfway.

A video screen with a film giving an overview of WW2 action
A video display

There are lots of exhibits, even a couple of reconstructed streets to allow you to feel a wartime atmosphere, and plenty of information about battles etc., but it is fair to say this museum is not nerding out on hardware or small detail of troop movements. Instead it is aiming more at a representation of how the war looked and felt to the people involved, particularly in Europe. So there is a tank and half a plane, but lots of uniforms, propaganda and information posters, personal effects from civilians, combatants and prisoners of war. As you might expect of a Polish museum, there’s a section devoted to The Katyn Massacre, a terrible story both in that it happened and that people were further terrorised by being lied to and gaslit (strange to think this for Brits was once a distant idea) for years.

A map showing Japanese brothels all over Asia
Showing aspects of the human cost – Japanese ‘comfort houses’ in Asia
Several pipes from floor to ceiling rotate, showing metal identity plates from those forced into labour
Revolving identity plates of workers
Hanging displays showing headshots of people killed in the Holocaust
People killed in the Holocaust
A set of propaganda posters from different countries, in the theme of 'careless talk costs lives'
Careless Talk etc.

On the same theme, of the Polish view of the war, there’s an enigma machine and a case with the story of Marian Rejewski, who was first to crack the code, and some stark casualty figures – check the green bar at the top, below, which shows (as a percentage) how many more Polish civilians were killed.

The museum is big, fascinating and clearly lovingly curated. It was busy when I went, but rarely crowded, and there are plenty of seats and free wifi if you want a break. It is open 10-6 Tuesday-Sunday, and you can book tickets online. Though not for Tuesday because, as I found out entirely by accident, on that day it is free. Otherwise the main price is 25zl (£4.62).

If you have a little time before or after, I also recommend the 20-minute experience that is the Piwnica Romańska, a Romanesque cellar offshoot of the Archaeological museum. It shows the remnants of a 13th century Dominican monastery, costs 8zl and although it’s technically a museum, it’s more of a show. I turned up and no one was behind the desk, while a couple of bemused tourists wondered if they should wait, or could just go in. The man of the couple put a foot on the stairs as if to test this out, and was warned off by a grumble from the old lady sat next to the desk who might have been knitting. Or just guarding. I hung around while they scuttled off, and was greeted fulsomely by the lady who returned, though she thought she had already spoken to me and I had already paid. By now I was ready to follow instructions, so I went downstairs and when she said there would be a film at 12, I figured I should stay in the first room, which has a few exhibits to one side, and a screen. 3 others, including the couple, joined me, and though we looked at the next room, which clearly had the results of the dig in, the ticket lady was corralling us into that room masterfully, just by twitching toward the door. We watched the short film, and were then invited into the first room, and she pressed whatever was necessary to start the narration. It was loud and clear, and then talked us from room to room, but we had further instructions from the ticket lady to keep us in the right place. There’s an ossuary and a central room with funky columns and features, and you should go and take it in if you can. If not, these pictures give an idea – imagine being controlled over when you move, and a deep voice talking you through where to look and when to walk.

Gdańsk Południe parkrun, Poland

Route map, hung on railings at the finish line.
parkrun Gdańsk Południe route map.

On a day that saw runs cancelled in France for excess heat, and England was warm too, Poland had ideal weather for running – overcast, warm, a tiny shower after we’d finished and then some sun to enjoy later.I celebrated with my fastest run since Rotterdam, last year, even getting over-excited and catching the young boy who was pacing 22 minutes. It didn’t last, but I was happy just to be in the ball park.

Południe is a district of Gdańsk – the word just means South, so many cities have a “Południe”. I had an easy stroll through parks and quiet streets for 4km or so from the South of the city to the park, ‘Zbiornik retencyjny Świętokrzyska’. It’s more like 7km from the centre of the city, but there are plenty of buses. You also have the choice of Gdansk parkrun itself, at a similar distance from the city, though it was cancelled this weekend for a triathlon.

A flag and banner advertising parkrun in front of the lake. People are chaining their bikes to the railings on a small concrete jetty onto the water.
Banners

The run is a fast and flat one, and a pretty simple course. There are no facilities, so post-run entertainment is provided by the participants, with water and some biscuits with the parkrun name on. They made me pose with one of those, but it was a terrible picture and I’ll not share it. Nice biscuits, though.

A view of the larger lake
The first lake from the South
People gathered on the paved path at the finish, with apartment blocks behind.
The meeting point, with finish line (META) marked on the ground.

The meeting point is the car park at the SE corner of the park, next to some apartment buildings as you can see above. The start is further round the park, on the West side, so everyone wanders over there. That happened organically, but it seemed to slightly surprise the organisers, and I wondered whether if they’d had a moment longer, they might have done the announcements at the initial meeting point. It didn’t matter, they carried the megaphone to the start and did them there – several rounds of applause, some I couldn’t make out, others clearly for milestones (such as someone running their 50th parkrun).

Runners on the brick-paved surface
Running

There were a couple of other English people there, taking a break from a stag-do, which is an impressive effort. We all ran one loop of the Southern-most, larger lake, ran round the East side of it again before heading up the path to the other lake, which is smaller, has a small hill to surmount to get up onto the path, and a fountain in the middle to greet you once you’re up the hill. Back down the path, round the other side of the larger lake and back to the meeting point. Job done.

Not many people spoke English, which isn’t uncommon so far for me in Poland (and if they’re learning a language, it’s more likely to be Ukrainian, to talk to their new friends), but I still managed to have a quick chat about my 500 shirt with a runner – he was breathing more easily than me as we ran down the last straight, asking me first in Polish and then English but I managed to answer his questions. And I had a nice chat via a phone’s translation (typing) with a young girl whose mum had asked me to pose with the Gdańsk Południe biscuit. She wanted particularly to know how long I’d been doing parkrun for to get a 500 shirt, and was kind of amazed that my first event was in 2007. I looked at her and suddenly realised that most of her life, and we communicated that with a big of sign language. She enjoyed it, I pretended to. Yikes.

A crowd of runners by the lake after finishing the event.
Gathered at the finish
Me, in a parkrun Gdańsk Południe frame by the lake
Me, and frame

Results from parkrun Gdańsk Południe event 247, 18/6/22 – 78 finishers.

Vasa Museum (Vasamuseet), Stockholm

The Vasa Museum wowed me when I visited it over 10 years ago, did so again on this visit and is surely one of the great museums. Many museums in Stockholm are free to visit; this one is not, but the 190kr (£15) is worth it. It’s located on the same island as the Djurgarden, to the East of the very centre of the city. “Is it the funny-shaped building?” someone asked me, and well, yes, probably. Note that much of the supporting material, audio and visual, is available from outside the museum – see the bottom of this post for links.

Vasa Museum, seen from the Gamla Stan (where the National and Modern museums are).

It has long opening hours, 8:30-18:00, to cater for everyone who calls in during the day. I came reasonably early at around 10 (it was a 4km walk there, too, so that stopped me being super early). That may have been peak time for groups, and it was noticeably quieter around lunch time (midday onwards), but I only really noticed it at a couple of exhibits that were blocked with people being informed, and I went back to those later in any case. As for entering, don’t be put off if you see a lot of people entering – groups have a separate entrance and queue, and individuals can be in within moments. I wandered up to a self-service machine, pressed the screen for adult entry, held my card to the machine, took the printout, had it checked, and I was in.

I sort of wanted to see the ship last, and to hold the pictures of the whole thing till the end, but it makes some sense to just let you see it. My jaw didn’t actually drop, but I certainly stopped (and there is a big, wide space after the entry doors, allowing a lot of people to stop dead if necessary).

Vasa ship from 1628, in a museum
The Vasa.
Vasa from above, showing some of the carvings.
The Vasa from above – different colours mean reconstructed parts, but there aren’t many.

The ship was built between 1626 and 1628. It then set sail, made it 1,000 yards or so, sails set and all gunports open, before a gentle breeze rocked it and another one made it capsize, take on water and sink, with 30+ deaths (some captions still suggest 50, so I think the estimate has come down over time). When I last came I remember distinctly describing it as “set sail, fell over, sank and that’s why we still have it”, and being fairly sure it was bad design. The museum was probably never so definitive. Certainly the ship is not wide enough for the two gun decks and remarkably high ship, but it also didn’t have enough ballast (related to the width, as there wasn’t enough space), the original designer died, and the king interfered and insisted on sailing soon. None of those are pointed to as the main cause, but since an inquest at the time found no-one guilty, we’re left to think it was a combination of those factors (or that it was the otherwise-great King Gustavus Adolphus, and no one was going to blame him).

A smaller model (10ft or so) of the ship stands in front of it
Vasa and mini Vasa

There are several floors, each of which has exhibits and in some cases, especially ground and lower ground, galleries to wander through. The higher floors are mostly for viewing.

To the right of the entrance is the information desk, toilets and lockers, and a cinema with an excellent film about the history of the ship, particularly focusing on the work done to salvage it. Efforts were made periodically, including at the time, but the most successful two were a slightly destructive 17th century set of dives that retrieved a lot of cannon, at the cost of much of the top of the ship, and the 1950s full floatation.

A photo of the ship being floated, in a partial wooden shell, from the 1950s
The recovered ship being floated

The picture below of the rear of the ship gives a small idea of how high above the water she must have sat. The picture is taken from roughly the water line. There is still a *lot* of ship above.

Rear view of the ship, with gun ports open and preserved dark wood
Rear view of the ship
Ornate carving of a lion. They haven't all survived, but it is remarkable how many have.
Lion carving on the back of a gun port

The ship is so well preserved because it luckily – for us – sank in anaerobic conditions, and much of it sunk into the mud, more so after an early salvage attempt. The usual cause of ship decay, Teredo Navalis or shipworm, does not live in the conditions where the Vasa was. Still, conservation was intense from the beginning and continues, with initial supposition that it had been conserved and was now good replaced by the understanding that ‘we have the Vasa, but not forever’.

To give an idea of some of the conservation work: First the ship had to be sprayed with water continuously to prevent the wood drying out. Once it was in a temporary home, the water was then replaced with a Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) solution, which meant continual spraying over days or longer, leaving a mist over the ship. Iron rivets had been driven into the ship underwater in the 1950s and those were more recently found to be rotting and damaging the wood. Most have now been replaced by a special steel mixture. The air conditioning within the building was found not to be powerful enough during one especially wet summer, and had to be completely replaced by a better system. And the ship is in a cradle, for which it is not designed, so is settling (if I remember correctly) by a mm each year, and not evenly, so they are currently trying out new bolsters.

It’s a lot of work.

Look at all those carvings. Incredible. It’s 98% original, and you can generally see the newer bits, as they’re different colours to the dark PEG impregnated wood, and mostly on the top. And people had to walk out onto that bowsprit to get to a lookout (not pictured) at the end.

A long view of the Vasa from behind; the back of the ship is particularly ornately decorated
The ship from behind, and the longboat below
Carvings of people and Sweden's coat of arms on the back of the ship
The stern (back) of the ship. I told you there was a lot of it.

There’s plenty of sea-jargon to take in, if you want to, though it is generally explained. That said, there are a few exhibits that are a little like reading Greek. An excerpt, talking about one of the sails (preserved, if holey, and on display, of course).

“The port clew, formed by a seized eye on the bolt rope.
The seizing used is a racking seizing…

A part of the port leech rope with the lowest bowline cringle…

Part of the rope with one of the five cringles for the buntlines.”

A reproduction of the crow's nest overlooking the ship
Your chance to step onto a crow’s nest. Even with the protection, I didn’t go to the edge, thanks
Reproduction of a gundeck with cannons on either side
A reproduction of a gun deck. It is not high, but much higher than they would normally have been, contributing to the top-heaviness.

It’s an extraordinary sight, and I recommend this museum wholeheartedly. I had no doubts about returning, and saved it for my final day in Stockholm. It did not disappoint and I was there several hours. There’s free wifi and a restaurant and then the gardens to wander round afterwards, too.

A front-on view of the ship within the museum.
Designed to strike fear into enemies’ minds, now it just inspires awe in visitors’
My face in front of the ship
A bonus view of me

Links

The Vasa Museum’s own website.

Vasa Museum audioguide (English) – 15 tracks, available in the museum, via the free wifi.

An interactive ‘up close’ guide to the exhibits.

Haga parkrun, Stockholm

Haga parkrun route. Start heading North, through the gates, turn left up the hill, run the loop twice and then back to the beginning.

Haga park is to the North of the centre, an easy walk from where I was staying, near Stockholm Central, a bike ride for some, a jog for others. There’s a car park right by the start, too, for anyone who had driven.

A parkrun flag flying on the grassy area that makes up the finish line. Trees line the path behind. A few runners and several hi-viz volunteers are gathered.
The start (by the finish line) and finish.

This was to be a cloudy and cool day with drizzle, but you wouldn’t have known it from the period up till just after 9, which was very warm and sunny. It was only as we came out of the trees after the second loop of the park that the sun had properly disappeared, making only intermittent appearances afterwards. The run director tried gamely to convince us that this was typical Stockholm weather, but no one was fooled, especially not an English runner who had made the trip from Helsinki. We all enjoyed it throughly, mind.

The Haga gates, head through them shortly after the start.

I arrived early, standing around in the sun, just a little too warm to be wearing a long-sleeved top. Everything was already setup before 9, despite the start at 9.30, so it was very easy to find, but it isn’t tricky – the bottom end of the park, just North of the parking, on the road-side of the first grassy area.

There are no facilities at the park, or all that nearby – toilets at Odenplan, the course page says, which is a little walk away.

We were warned that the left-side of the loop is mostly uphill, and there are two hills/lumps on the other side, too. You’re heading uphill from the start, too, to get through the Haga gates, but none of the hills go on for too long. I had two quick miles, bookending a significantly slower one, and ran exactly the same time as at Vallaskogen, in Linköping, so must have made the most of the downhills. I was pushed all the way by a Ukrainian who was walking up the hills, which was humbling, and he tucked in behind me down the last hill before racing off to the finish, then joining me and a festival-attending Brit for a drink afterwards. It was only the Brit’s second parkrun, and already he has run events in two countries.

Tall trees stand in the park, with open spaces all around.
Heading back downhill at the top of the loop.
Runners on the path to the right of a lake.
Lake on your left as you head downhill

There are just a couple of marshals to check on you as you go round, but plenty of signs at the top right of the course, and no chance to go wrong. Each kilometre is marked, too.

A runner in shorts and t-shirt on a wide path, with trees lining the route.
A kilometre marker on the path.

The paths are all wide, if a little gravelly to slow you just a little. There’s a gravelly area just as you come downhill at the top of the loop, which acts as a brake but is soon over. Essentially, with all this space and tree cover, there’s little to stop you getting on with the event – people are easily avoided, the sights are clear and even on a sunny day you are in the shade often.

Cones mark the finish, heading off the path and onto the grass, with plenty of room for finishers to mill about and a few bikes parked by the finish line.
The finish, and a crowd eating watermelon to celebrate a finisher’s 100th parkrun.

This event couldn’t go ahead on the National Day, because the park was being used for other celebrations, though it still had an attendance spike on the Saturday before, with 133 finishers. We had 87 this Saturday, which is a nice crowd – a fair few people, but soon spreading out. I thoroughly enjoyed my morning, both here and chatting afterwards in the cafe – possibly the wrong cafe, with hindsight, given that only the Ukrainian joined us, but perhaps we were just there and finished before everyone else. It didn’t matter. We managed to confuse the lady in the cafe by putting in two orders – she seemed to think the second order overruled some of the first, so we got exactly half what we’d ordered. Given I’d offered to pay, that was a big saving – orange juice and small pastry, £6.32. I popped into a supermarket on the way back. Perhaps because UK prices have risen/are rising so much, supermarkets seem more reasonable than I remember (two pastries, £1.60). But everything else (hotels, as I found on my first night, when the key had been swiped from my AirBnB, cafes, restaurants etc) is reassuringly expensive.

That evening, as I wandered the decks of a Polferry from Nynäshamn to Gdańsk, I could immediately see the difference, and my wait for a beer was rewarded – even the ferry price was only just over £3. Just remember to always choose to pay in the local currency. On small amounts, the markup when they offer to let you pay in your own seems less of a ripoff than I remember, and it was still a bargain, but I was happy with £3.01 rather than, I think, £3.35. The 50cl topped off my time in Sweden, and memories of running in Swedish warmth, nicely.

Results from Haga parkrun, event 209, 11/6/22, 87 finishers.

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