Growing up in the same state as Carhenge, my barometer for the ambiguous term “interesting” was set to a different level than many of my peers. In travel, I find the unusual and less-frequented sights as enjoyable as the storied and iconic ones. The Eiffel Tower is your must-see structure in Paris for good reason, but Oscar Wilde’s tomb in Père Lachaise is strangely unforgettable, encased in glass to prevent lipstick-wearing devotees from further weakening the stonework. The baths of Budapest should not be missed, but Memento Park’s towering but dethroned communist-era statues, late evenings in eclectically-decorated, open-air ruin pubs, and quick day trips to the narrow, shop-lined streets of nearby Szentendre are equally essential for making a trip to Hungary an unmatched experience.
In contrast to the wealth of such features in well-known cities are the less-frequented locales rich in local custom and even richer in personality. Tucked away in the northern part of Poland is the medieval town of Toruń. Nearly untouched by the war-time destruction and subsequent rebuilding that defines so many of Poland’s cities, Toruń is a proud but light-hearted city with ample activities in its UNESCO World Heritage-designated Old Town.
Although the ruins of a Teutonic Castle and an impressive ethnographic museum are close runners-up to best attraction in Toruń, the prize undoubtedly goes to the Living Museum of Gingerbread. This museum promises to transport you to medieval Toruń—apparent birthplace of gingerbread—complete with costumed master bakers and medieval “witches” leading the tours.
I had the fortune to explore this nutmeg-scented museum with a troop of 45 Polish school children. While fielding questions from a young girl who was awed by the American in her midst, I learned historic methods for making gingerbread in a brisk, interactive tour that culminated in using an elaborately decorated press to create a personalized piece of gingerbread artwork, which the museum staff baked as a tasty souvenir. To further attest to visitors’ new baking prowess, the staff provided certificates; mine proudly proclaims Amanda from “Nebrasca” now knows the traditional art of gingerbread.
The children’s infectious joy, the museum’s helpful and welcoming staff, and the well-rounded background of a food item many of us rarely consider except perhaps in combination with frosting and gumdrops every December, reflect the overall nature of Toruń—overlooked by many, but rich in history and character.
From the kind old man who escorted me on a personal tour of the sizable ethnographic park to the statue of Nicolaus Copernicus in the town square decked out in giant metal astronomer-sized Euro 2012 apparel to celebrate Poland’s year hosting, Toruń is light-hearted and welcoming. On my way to catch my bus back to Warsaw, I came across a coffee shop with flavored lattes named after each member of the cast of Friends.
I regretted I couldn’t stop for the white chocolate Phoebe to complement my still-warm gingerbread, but I couldn’t help but smile at another odd, but unforgettable aspect of this interesting town.