Despite our trip being well over a month ago now, this blog is still stuck in Poland. Although most of our time in Gdansk was spent wandering from one pierogi shop to another, we also managed to fit in a side trip to Malbork.
The slogan for the town should probably be: ‘Malbork: terrible name, mad castle’. After admiring the Teutonic Knights’ handiwork at St. Marys, we were pretty psyched to see what they were bringing to the table when it came to actual castles. Unsurprisingly, the answer was: a lot of bricks.
Built by the Teutonic Order around the 13th and 14th Centuries, Malbork is a giant medieval brick fortress. It’s apparently siege-proof, a fact that was tested repeatedly by the Poles. The Order eventually gave up the castle in the 1450s, but only because they had run out of cash to pay their Bohemian Mercenaries (they’d probably spent it all on bricks). It was bombed pretty severely in WWII, but has been well restored and is now World Heritage Listed in recognition of the Teutonic Order’s dedication to the humble brick (or something along those lines).
Owing to Ant’s deep love of audioguides, we embarked on a self-guided tour that lasted about as long as your average castle siege. After around 3 hours the guide broke our spirits by cheerfully announcing we’d reached the halfway mark… thankfully his estimate was a little off, but still – it was not for the faint hearted or weak of constitution. It was also clear that while the Polish version must have had multiple voice actors, they cut corners on the English version and only hired one guy without thinking to revise the script at all. This gave the guide a surreal element as the same poor man on the verge of an identity crisis talked about handing us over to ‘Peter’ or ‘John’ as we moved around the castle.
We hauled ourselves up a lot of stairs to get a view from the tower, only to find the castle was too big to really get a sense of from above. But still, we got a satisfying sense of completion from it.
Because the Order was well Christian there was the regulation religious imagery all about the place. I regularly appall Ant with my lack of knowledge of any bible stories except the ones in Christmas carols, but thanks to Malbork I now know all about the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Not to stray too far into the gender politics of religion, but it seems like the person in the story with the poorest planning and organisational skills is the guy cavalierly showing up to his own wedding at midnight, and not so much the women who had to hang around tired and hungry waiting for him. If he had got his act together and left on time, or ideally arrived a day early like a responsible adult, no-one would have wasted all their lamp oil waiting for him in the first place. What a dick. I’m going to re-write this parable with some punchy new lessons around the twin virtues of punctuality and personal organisation for bridegrooms.
When we were finally released from the shackles of the audioguide, we ended up with time to kill waiting for our train. Luckily, not far from the station and in the middle of an otherwise uninspiring light industrial area we found a weird little beer and mead bar. Much like the icecream shop in Gdansk, we were so confused about whether this was intensely hipster, or genuinely ramshackle, or some new kind of state, like post-hipster? I have no idea. The mead was good though, and they had cloudy apple juice laced with cinnamon that tasted like a pie, which begs the question – why isn’t apple pie juice a thing everywhere!?
And there ends our trip to Malbork, with a train trip back to Gdansk where we immediately smashed enough pierogies to offset our arduous tower climb.