I’d had a number of people tell me that I **MUST** go to Malbork Castle – the biggest medieval castle in Poland, headquarters of the Order of the Teutonic Knights, amazing and wonderful and marvellous and all that. So, dutifully, off I went.
Trying to buy a train ticket was an experience. There are that many ticket offices, and I went to three wrong ones before making it to the main and very obvious ticket office inside the station. To be fair, the other three were on the way so it wasn’t really a big deal. I discovered that train platforms in Poland are a little confusing at first. Each platform is numbered, and then each side of the platform has its own number, so you’ll go to platform [peron] 4, side [tor] 2 for example. Once I figured that out I managed to get on the right train. It was very comfortable for my 16 złoty.
I got off the train at Malbork, having seen the telltale signs of a castle – tourists and turrets. It was a ten minute walk from the station to the castle.
From the outside it looked pretty impressive. It was definitely huge – there’s no disputing that. However, it’s quite expensive and in my opinion quite overpriced. It’s 39 złoty, so really only about $13, but I didn’t find it to be worth it. Firstly, you’re required to join an organised tour. The next one in English wasn’t for two and a half hours, and there was no way I was going to sit around twiddling my thumbs for that long. So I figured I’d get an audioguide. The place had only been open for an hour, and yet they were completely out of audio guides in every language. I didn’t see the point in joining a Polish language group, as I wouldn’t have understood a word of it, so I sneaked in pretending to be part of a group and promptly abandoned them once inside. I’d seen people try to enter alone and be turned away.
It looks quite nice when you enter, into a large square with grass and benches surrounded by different parts of the castle and fortress. Unfortunately, there are crowds and crowds and crowds of tourists, which I hate. I hate being stuck in the middle of big groups of sweaty smelly strangers, being elbowed and shoved and led like a bunch of vicious sheep by a sharp-nosed overly made up woman carrying a pink umbrella or numbered sign through this room and that, everyone trying to push through to the front of the group so they can get a photo with only thirty people blocking the pretty painting. Even though I was in there without a group, there is no possible way to avoid getting stuck in the middle of them, as they were everywhere. Just when you think you’re safe and can look at this particular window frame alone for a minute, you find yourself trampled by a group of overdressed women in high heels totally unsuitable for castles and brick paths.
You might have noticed that I really hate big groups. You couldn’t pay me enough to hand over a few thousand dollars and spend two weeks on an organised tour where every day involves marching on and off the bus, following the fearless leader in her company coat. I’d rather be working. My intense dislike of these groups [and of cruise ships] is based primarily on the fact that these mobs seem incapable of recognising that Other People actually want to do things too…like walk down the three meter wide path that fifty of them are blocking because they felt like a mass chat.
I had a number of tour leaders ask me where my group was, and I just kept telling them that I’d lost them, but was pretty sure they were just up ahead. Some tried to adopt me into their group [never English speaking] but I would just conveniently misplace them again.
Nothing in Malbork Castle is in English. I understand I’m in Poland, but this is one of their biggest tourist sites and such places usually have information in multiple languages [so far this is the only place I’ve been to in Poland that lacked English language information]. There were no maps of the site, so no way to figure out where to go next. Nothing to indicate which stairs you can go up and which you can’t, aside from the person who shouts at you in Polish when you try to go up or down the wrong ones. All in all, the whole experience was an exercise in frustration.
Actually, I did see something in English – a request for donations to help with the restoration of one of the churches in there. I figured I’d paid a ridiculous amount for the ticket, and wasn’t going to pay anything else voluntarily – especially when the only time they translate something into English is a request for cash.
The whole place is a museum, and in all honesty I found it boring. I’m basically tired of castles, and while this one was significantly more impressive than any I saw in Lithuania, with the number of people there it wasn’t enough to actually get me excited about the place. The museums were cold and lifeless [some people may believe that this is part of the definition of a museum, but I disagree], lacking in information and really lacking in interest. They were dull and sterile. There was a fair bit of detail in Polish, but if you were with a group you wouldn’t have time to look at it anyway as you’re rushed from place to place, glancing only briefly at any artefacts.
When it comes down to it, there was some nice architecture, some nice enough gardens, a few interesting things and too many tourists. If I’d been able to get an audioguide, or if information in the museums was in English, or there had been some kind of maps showing where to go, or I had the place to myself I might have had a better time there. As it was, I personally wouldn’t recommend visiting – I found it a waste of time, money, and goodwill to my fellow man.
The best part of the day was the trains, and catching up on some reading. It probably didn’t help that I was sick.