Peace Corps Writers
Knight Tracking through Prussia (page 3)
Knight Tracking through Prussia
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If the hotel at Reszel is booked, or if you have grown tired of the oppressive gothic atmosphere of the Teutonic castles, try driving southwest to spend a night or two at the remote palace-hotel Karnity (near Ostroda). On the way, a short but worthwhile stop to consider would be another pilgrimage site, the exquisite14th century cathedral of Geitrzwald. Once at the hotel, enjoy a sunset over the small lake in a relaxed and peaceful country setting. The hospitable German owner speaks fluent English and the restaurant serves numerous regional specialties. The wild mushrooms served in a variety of ways are a favorite in season, but should probably be avoided by those without a strong stomach. Like most specialties in eastern and central Europe the dishes tend to be heavy—sausages, dumplings, wild game—but vegetable soups and salads, assorted cheese plates and fresh dark breads make for a great meal on their own.

The fortified town of Kwidzyn was the first stronghold established by the Teutonic Knights. This castle also functioned as a prison for a short period. The nearby Gniew is definitely the least known of the area castles and arguably the most attractive. Set in a small village on a hill overlooking the river, it also has an excellent hotel and restaurant with stunning views. Consider a quick visit to the town of Chelmno where the Knights first arrived in 1225.

Once in the area, don’t miss the splendor of architectural styles in the city of Torun. Not being the big city type, I found this pleasantly small city to be ideal — full of historical treasures yet devoid of heavy traffic and mass crowding. The birthplace of Copernicus and the most important Hanseatic trading center along the Vistula, both the old and new towns were established during the Teutonic rule. The only way to explore it properly is to leave the car in the large car park along the river before entering the labyrinth of the Old Town’s streets. Climbing the tower makes for a superb panoramic view of the environs and it’s great fun to do like the locals and take a picnic to the park and a stroll along the river-walk, remembering to bring along the town’s specialty — sweet spicy gingerbread.

Waking up in a castle, taking a horse-drawn carriage through the forest and wandering the ancient roads of a fortified town may sound as trite as any tourist cliché, but in discovering the history and legends along the way and letting my imagination take me back to another age has etched this region into my heart forever. In my eyes, Poland became Prussia once again and it no longer felt as if I was simply driving without purpose to meaningless sites listed in a guidebook, but was following the tracks of the Teutonic Knights while feeling first-hand their immeasurable influence on the past, present and future of an entire culture.

Mishelle Shepard has been writing and teaching in a new location every year since her service ended. She has published numerous travel-related articles, and ghostwritten a financial planning book. She is currently living in Girona, Spain and working on her first novel.
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