I refuse to pay standard parking prices at airports- or anywhere if I can avoid it - so for many years now I've been a loyal customer of Justpark, a peer to peer online parking community where you rent a spot on a person's drive who lives close to an airport for a vastly cheaper price. I have a relatively new contact for Stansted, a elderly chap called John. Problem was - and I only realized this en route - was that every time I've used him it's been during daylight hours, his house is very hard to find down a narrow unmarked track and his postcode dumps you vaguely in the vicinity, not outside his house. I drove to the postcode as indicated by Tom Tom and immediately realized I was in a world of trouble. I didn't recognize a thing and just like the first time I came here I was stationary in a lane in the middle of nowhere with not even the first clue where I was. It was pitch black, no street lights or houses anywhere to try to get a bearing and no phone signal to call John to ask for help. I drove around the frequently flooded anonymous country lanes hoping to see something I recognized but nothing and I was now convinced I would miss the flight; the flight was 0640 and at 0545 I was still fumbling around the bleak lanes five miles from the airport. I was now faced with a binary choice: a mad dash to the official long stay car park and pay drive up prices or give up and go home. Despite it being fifty-five minutes until departure I decided to give it a bash; however forlorn my chances appeared to be.
I got to the car park at 0605, shed a small tear at the £21 daily rate (it was £10.50 the last time I used it) and was grateful to be directed to one of the closest zones and waited for a transit bus to the terminal. It was 0615 when I got on the bus and was berating myself for even attempting to make the flight. The bus driver was more optimistic, saying he'd known passengers to make it with fifteen minutes left. When we got to the terminal this is exactly what I had left prior to departure. With a 'good luck' from the driver I ran. I begged the lady on security to let me use the fast track which she kindly did, nothing on my person or in my bags activated any x ray alarms and from there it was a sprint to the distant gate 46 barging my way through crowds and knocking into several annoyed fellow passengers. I arrived, sweating and breathless and by some miracle, not only was the plane still there and the doors still open at 0635, they also let me on. I was genuinely flabbergasted I had made it. I located my seat and collapsed into it, dizzy from exhaustion.
Upon arrival I passed the time during the long wait to clear passport control chatting to a Polish lady in her 60's who was nice and had a strange mannerism of half whispering as she spoke and laughing at the end of each sentence. I walked through the arrivals hall of Bydgoszcz's tiny airport to a line of waiting taxis. A friendly, stocky driver approached me, greeted me in English and beckoned me to take a seat in the front. He was a very nice chatty man who told me he is a qualified engineer but couldn't find work in his chosen profession so took to cabbing to make ends meet. His English was very good despite only having learnt what he knew from working in Glasgow for two years. We chatted about that, my reason for being in Poland and it was a genuinely pleasant short journey to the train station. I never caught his name but he very much reminded me of Hugh Rowland, the 'Polar Bear' from Ice Road Truckers.
I ventured slowly down the central medieval street of the Old Town of Torun, Rozana and was immediately struck by how beautiful it was. Pedestrianized throughout with high classical townhouses of varying colours and pleasing architecture. I immediately knew it was a good choice in coming here.
Torun is one of the oldest cities in Poland, having existed since the 8th century. Part of the legendary Hanseatic Trading League and was once a Royal City of Poland. It was one of a few Polish cities to completely escape damage during World War Two and thus the medieval centre is original. It was declared a World Heritage Site and then added to a list of The Seven Wonders Of Poland. It is famous too as the birthplace of the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.
Another thing that Torun is famous for, or should I say infamous, is the intense mutual hatred that exists between it and neighbouring Bydgoszcz. It is so intense that visitors are advised not to mention one city in the other. Torun prides itself on its UNESCO status, history, culture, science and for the aforementioned Copernicus, whereas Bydgoszcz points out it is bigger and more economically significant to the region. The history of the bitterness between the two cities goes back over six hundred years. Torun was made a Royal city and was part of the Hanseatic Trading League, Bydgoszcz was a border city set up primarily to defend the Polish state. Trade wars quickly erupted and ships on the Vistula River headed to Torun were either attacked or not permitted to pass. In retaliation Teutonic Knights from Torun attacked Bydgoszcz and caused significant damage. Generally over the years Torun has been thought of as the prettier, more interesting of the two whereas Bydgoszcz developed a reputation as the more industrial workhorse of the region. Things however changed upon the advent of communism after the end of World War Two. The Soviets preferred to prioritize the workforce or proletariat and manufacturing over art, culture and heritage and immediately favoured Bydgoszcz over Torun for investment as its reputation and status as a workers' city was more keeping with Soviet ideology. Suddenly Torun was not top dog anymore and Bydgoszcz seized this chance immediately. Major government offices were switched to Bydgoszcz, university campuses, cultural institutions and significantly and painfully, the local radio station. Many Torunians (not sure if this term exists, it does now) still cannot forgive their neighbour for this!
I just wandered slowly, taking in the sights along to the old town or Stare Miasto to the beautiful market Square, the Rynek Staromiejski.
Right in the centre is the imposing Town Hall, one of the most impressive Gothic buildings anywhere in Europe.
I had been given a photo mission by the Missus- to find and photograph the Filus Monument, no other information other than that. When I found it, conveniently located just behind the main square, I found it was a cute dog with an umbrella who was the subject of a long running cartoon of over fifty years and the loyal sidekick of Professor Filutek, the work of the legendary cartoonist Zbigniew Lengren.
I have a terrible fear of heights as some people know- if I had a fiver for every building I've paid to climb up over the years and had to turn back half way I wouldn't have the debt I have now- but I was determined to climb up this one as I knew the views at the top would be stunning. I paid my 13zl and nervously headed to the wooden stairs winding their way to the top. Despite trembling knees I did make it to the top somehow, and went outside to take in the view I had earned - sure it didn't disappoint.