Our first days in Poland were marked by good weather, pretty medieval towns, countryside hiking and – waymarking! For the first time on our hike, we were actually following a marked hiking trail. The E9 in Poland runs along several existing trails, each marked with a certain colour, which we could find at trees and buildings along the way.
On the part from Braniewo to Elbląg, days 82 to 85 of our hike, we were following the Copernicus trail, named after the scientist and astronomer, who lived and worked in this region.
If you have been waiting for more sea-and-beach pictures, you will be disappointed by this post. We were mostly hiking in the back country and the closest to the water we got was the Vistula lagoon – the twin sister of the Curonian lagoon at the Western side of Kaliningrad, with the Vistula Spit separating it from the Baltic Sea. We hope you enjoy these green pictures nevertheless:
We had a very early start in Kaliningrad to ensure we wouldn’t miss the bus crossing the Russian-Polish border. In the end, we arrived one hour early at the bus station, with little more to do than eating greasy food with instant coffee for breakfast. When we crossed the border to Poland, we didn’t even have to leave the bus, they just collected all our passports to check them. A bit more of waiting in the bus, and off we went to Poland! We got off at the first stop after the border, Braniewo. To our delight, the first thing we saw was a map of the E9!
We made a short tour to admire the old buildings and had an early light lunch before starting our hike.
It was a sunny day, and we enjoyed the surrounding of fields, fruit trees and forests. We had planned to do a short walk, the distance to Frombork was supposed to be 12 km. However, at one point we ignored that fact that there were no way signs where we were walking and when we realized it, we had to do a huge detour, adding 6 km to our hike. In Frombork, we found a camping site where we could rent a domki (small wooden hut) for the night. We were very glad we did it, because a few hours later, heavy showers would have put our little tent to a severe test.
The Polish language turned out to be much more complicated than expected, but we did our best to learn the basic words very quickly: dzień dobry (good day) and dziękuję (thank you). We soon gave up trying to pronounce cześć (hello), but it sounds pretty cool when the Polish say it.
The next day, we started by visiting the tower where Nicolaus Copernicus has done many of his astronomical observations. It was a bit hard to climb the tower with our backpacks, but it was worth it. There is a Focault pendulum in its center and the view from the top was stunning!
After all the climbing and sightseeing, we deserved another coffee, before we started walking to Tolkmicko, following – of course – the Copernicus trail. José walked happily until 10 km, then his foot started hurting, just like in the days before our Kaliningrad break. We finally arrived in Tolkmicko at the end of a hot day and sat down for a pizza. We hadn’t seen any accommodation in the town except for a camping site, so we asked the staff at the pizzeria. Turned out we were sitting in front of a pensjonat (small hotel) and the attendants helped us to get a room by calling the owner. Once more, we were super happy to sleep under a roof, as another strong rain came down that night.
The following day started started sunny and bright, and we were back on our trail. After an easy and flat start, the path lead us into the forest and up and down the hills. It was a beautiful scenery around us, but the trail was really hard to walk with heavy backpacks. When we arrived in the village we had thought to be around lunchtime, it was early afternoon and our energy reserves were exhausted. We entered a place advertising that they rent out rooms, but they were already full. We asked the owner if we could at least set up our tent, as we didn’t want to walk any further that day. She wouldn’t mind, but there was no toilet we could use. That didn’t sound like a good idea, so we walked off. The lady was following us, trying to reach a neighbor who could offer a place for our tent. Unfortunately, her neighbor didn’t pick up the phone, and by then we had reached the road. The lady called a couple who was staying in the neighbor’s holiday house. When they heard about our situation, they readily asked us to come in and pitch our tent in the garden. Of course we could use the bathroom and they would figure it out later with the landlady.
When we were all set, they invited us to sit down and have dinner with them. We spent a great night with Krzystof and Elzbieta, eating, drinking their homemade liquor and communicating for hours with the help of fotos, maps, and the little Russian that we knew. We were happy to have experienced another example of kindness and the only thing which made us sad was that they wouldn’t accept any of our food.
We studied the map carefully before walking again and for the first time, we would be unfaithful to the Copernicus trail/E9. In order to include many beautiful hikes in the forest (with a lot of ups and downs), the trail would go in a zigzag to the city of Elbląg. Instead of a direct distance of 15 km, we would have to walk 25 following the Copernicus trail. Thinking about José’s hurting foot, we decided to take the short way. This involved some road hiking, but finally we could hike on a huge and empty road, waiting for the business development zone to its left and right to take off.
While we were on the last kilometers to the outskirts of Elbląg, we had a serious discussion about the sense of our project. José was in heavy pain, so he couldn’t imagine continuing our trip that way. On the other hand, we still believed it is a great idea to get to know Europe by foot and give ourselves time to think about our lives. We agreed to take a few days off in Gdansk, look for medical treatment for his problem and decide about the continuation depending on the outcome of the treatment.
We found a cheap hotel closeby, got some rest, and went out to explore the hanseatic city of Elbląg – by public transportation.
From this point, the E9 leaves the Copernicus trail and hikers are supposed to cross the lagoon by boat to follow a trail on the Vistula Spit. We found a slightly different solution as you will find out in the next post “In and around Gdansk”.