Hellbrunn parkrun, Salzburg

Map of Hellbrunn parkrun route, a loop round the grounds of the castle
Hellbrunn parkrun route. Not quite three laps, starting at top right and ending at top left

Salzburg is hilly. Hellbrunn palace looks onto hills and a mountain. The parkrun course avoids all of that and has Dutch levels of elevation – 1m in total (there’s always a margin of error, but still).

The palace and gardens are 7km or so from the centre of Salzburg, which meant a bus ride was the best way for me to get there – the no.25 which starts at the main station (and elsewhere) leaves every 30 minutes, so I hopped on the 7.35 to be sure. As a result I was very early, and rode an extra stop to the zoo so I could wander back to the palace grounds.

View of the mountain looking away from the zoo.

I’d visited the zoo a few days before. I wouldn’t normally, but Salzburg’s attractions are all (I thought) slightly overpriced individually, but then a total bargain with a Salzburg card, which covers all public transport and entrance to everything I wanted to do, plus queue skipping for the funicular if needed. 30€ for the day seems steep, though you can easily save with that, but €39 for 2 days, and €45 for 3 becomes more and more of a bargain. I was never actually asked to show the card (digital, on my phone, for me, but real ones are easily available – e.g. at the souvenir shop in the main station) on the bus, but scanned in to other locations willy nilly.

As a result of that prior visit to the zoo and palace, I knew my way around, and strolled through the grounds – essentially, from the zoo bus stop, head left at the zoo and keep following that path. It’s even easier from the palace stop. There are plenty of toilets at the palace, all open around 8am (or earlier, I can only go by when I got there). I used the ones I knew, next to the Trick Fountains, but there are some on the main drive to the palace, and more even closer to the parkrun start, almost directly North of the meeting point, next to the Fürstenweg.

The meeting point is by the small dipping pond – a neat circle on the map, East of the Palace – and that’s where the finish is. The start is further along the path from the palace and the route is nearly three laps. All the way round twice, then the third time, finish at four-way ‘crossroads’ of paths, on the grass. Signs wherever needed, a couple of marshals, and even I couldn’t get lost.

People gathered at the finish line, on the grass where several gravelled paths meet. Trees and grass are on each side.
The finish line

We had a very international crowd. I even knew a couple of them – one I had met at Linz last weekend, and was expecting to see. And tail walking today was “the fast bloke” from Roma Pineto – when I saw his parkrun shirt with the name of the run on it, I recognised him. I ran Roma a few years ago, fresh from finishing first at Roma Caffarella the week before. I hoped for a repeat, but was rapidly disabused by the event director when Luigi turned up and, sure enough, he had a jog and beat me by two minutes. Today, with a sore foot, he walked at the back but I can’t exactly claim revenge – he’d still have beaten me at a jog. We had a photo together for the memories.

There were also runners from Germany (Westpark – another fond memory, as I bumped into a Ware Jogger I knew, and had been racing her son in law (he beat me, too), New Zealand, England and South Africa. The event director was Irish and one of the volunteers from the US, for good measure. To be expected, in such a tourist-heavy place, but still impressive in a field of 31.

Looking away from the finish line – the route comes up the path to the right, then make a sharp right to head along the path on the left. The start is at the end of the left-most path. This is the sharpest turn of the course.

I struggled a little on this very flat course. Partly a week of good food and drink in Salzburg, but also I think that despite the very flat course with only one sharp turn, the ground is gravelly throughout, which takes some of the thrust out of each leg strike. I certainly wouldn’t claim it’s a hard course, but it’s surprisingly un-quick for such a flat one.

There are views on the course, though I’d recommend a good walk around the grounds afterwards to see things properly. If you have a card, or are happy to pay, the Trick Fountains are both tremendously naff and equally good fun and the palace is interesting with a well-curated exhibition on the archbishop Markus Sittikus (show your card at the ticket office to swap for a timed-slot for the fountains; that ticket then gets you into the palace). Most of the participants headed off to the cafe nearby and ended up nattering till midday before hopping on the bus back home. It’s a lovely run/walk, but with the attractions of the palace and grounds on top, you can upgrade it to stunning.

Results from Hellbrunn parkrun event 45, 23/7/22; 31 finishers.

A four-way path crossing, surrounded by high trees
View of the finish area (taken on a non-parkrun day)
Looking down an avenue of tall trees back through a hedge and to the grounds of Hellbrunn Palace, very small in the distance
View from the finish area towards the Palace Grounds

Lentos Kunstmuseum (Art Museum), Linz

The Lentos Kunstmuseum is right next to the river Danube and just a short walk from the centre of town. Entrance is €10 and the wifi is excellent – that wouldn’t normally be the first thing I noticed, but I had stayed in two places without wifi and had notifications to update.

The museum is in a distinctive glass building. The galleries are all upstairs on one long floor, with a couple of exhibition spaces in the basement, which also has cloakrooms and lockers (€1, refundable). That long exhibition space is supported by two feet – one has the ticket office and shop, the other the cafe. It’s described as a contemporary art museum, pointing to the majority of the main exhibition being modern art, but there are some older, more classical, pieces early on, too. Reviews vary in the amount of time recommended – I was there for an hour and a half, and that was a fairly leisurely pace.

Soap blocks make a large installation, with three videos projected onto the surrounding walls detailing the soap-making process
Sapun Ghar, Iris Andraschek. About soap-making in Aleppo, and the main installation is soap blocks.

The special exhibition at the moment contains work by Iris Andraschek, in a variety of different media. I’d highly recommend finding the exhibition guide by the entrance, though there was only one copy in English when I went. It gave good descriptions and context for the whole thing.

A series of aquariums, with found objects blown by pumps in the water, forming interesting shapes or making continual noise in the case of the balls in one aquarium
Aquariums, Iris Andraschek 1992-2022

There is a Picasso and a Warhol, though in general the museum focuses on art from artists from the area, or with some link to it. That doesn’t seem to limit them too much in where people are from, or in the breadth of exhibits, and I enjoyed my stroll through despite knowing very little about what I was seeing.

Donauradweg parkrun, Linz

Donauradweg parkrun route on this day only – head NE, back to the first (North) bridge and over, down to the South, back to the Southernmost bridge and finish in the same place, but on the grass.

The meeting point for the Donauradweg parkrun is on the North side of the Danube, just next to (under if wet) the Neue Eisenbahnbrücke (New Railway Bridge). Don’t be put off by the name – it’s a pedestrian bridge, so it can be your route across if necessary. Indeed, it was part of the event route this time, though not currently marked as such on the official course page, which shows the out and back route, staying North of the river. The route I ran, as you’ll see in the comments below, turned out to be too tricky to marshal, so you now run an out and back along the North side of the river. Nothing to stop you having a run or walk across the bridges, though, and exploring the South Side.

Unfortunately for us, the usual course setter-up wasn’t there this Saturday, and we completed the first turn-around too soon. I figured it was early; we’d been told the turn was after a km or so, and I was initially impressed by how quickly the first runners were coming back at us. Then I made the turn after 100m or so more myself, was only about 600m in and thought it must be too early. Sure enough, we all got very quick times, though they might later get adjusted to fit!

The course has been changed to make it more interesting than the old out and back, and to let participants see a bit more of the river (and enjoy the climb up to the apex of the bridges) as they go. Other than the turnaround snafu, it’s certainly successful, and worth the work involved in getting permission from two different authorities. It sounded as though they were keen enough, guiding organisers through the nomenclature – parkrun is ‘official’ to us, but with no numbers etc., not so for the authorities, which makes getting permission easier. The parkrun guidelines required written permission, which was harder to get since the authorities deemed that unnecessary, but eventually they managed to make all the edges fit.

There are a couple of little climbs, including one early on – always keep to the higher path is the motto of the route. There are some tight turns, including the two 180s for the out-and-back sections, but otherwise this is a fast and flat route, if you’re not totally distracted by the river to the side.

Linz itself seemed, as I arrived by train, a very relaxed place. The railway station is a little way from the centre, which probably adds to that feeling, but despite being Austria’s third-largest city it isn’t such an obvious tourist destination as some of the others (Hitler spent his youth there and considered it his hometown, but that’s not something they make anything of) so I felt relaxed even in the city centre itself. I stayed up on one of the hills to the South of town, and walked (just under 4km) to the parkrun start though there are buses and trams nearby. There are portaloos and a drinking fountain just to the SW of the start if you need them.

Results from Donauradweg parkrun event 14, 16/7/22; 28 finishers.

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.

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