“But now unforgiven, the everlasting, everlasting” – Nicky Wire.
An Autumnal air greeted my spontaneous arrival into the city of Bydgoszcz. I saw this as a place to relax by the tranquil canals and a city without the obvious tourism boom of Krakow, Gdańsk and Warsaw. The generic hat-trick – the usual suspects. Game’s over Busby, give me my backpack back. I didn’t expect to be living in Gdańsk in Poland in 2016 but this was the reality that I was now faced with. I had a flat. I had a home. I was learning Polish. I had appeared in 2 local newspapers (Tczew and Starogard) and I had some excellent media contacts and new writing work lined up. There was no more booking dorm beds or emailing hotels asking for a last minute bed for a travel writer. I had a permanent bed now and life would go on so easily. Everything would be so nice. Happiness was back. Wrong, on so many levels. This is where it all went wrong…but not Bydgoszcz of course. This is a beautiful city, hugely deservant of a spot on Magiczne Miastas.
I couldn’t handle the stationary world and it accelerated my depression at a time when my trust in other people went downhill. I didn’t feel good. Life didn’t feel right. So after 6 weeks of not moving anywhere, I finally decided to head to Malbork, Elblag and Stutthof in Poland to escape the every day charms of my latest hat trick – Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia (Trojmiasto – three cities beside each other). I had made a lot of Polish friends in life, but I trusted them too much. I didn’t realise they could lie to and make a fool out of me – especially on details such as where they lived, how many hours they worked and reasons not to meet for a coffee. They started blocking me on Social Media, one by one, claiming I was the horrible one. I lost myself only because of other people’s lies. The truth doesn’t hurt or ruin me – only lies does. Lies destroys me.
After touring Malbork, I “had the next album ready”, I had 30 blog posts ready to go, including me writing about the best bars in Gdansk and Kaliningrad and my tour of the German concentration camp at Stutthof. But my depression got worse and I was gone. The blog never continued, I posted about suicide, depression, loneliness and despair and I left Poland for Slovakia on a cold Autumn day because I didn’t care any more about websites or tours or beating hearts. The saving grace was delivered nonchalantly by Bydgoszcz. It’s 4 weeks since I wrote ANYTHING on any blog, so forgive me if this is a shit comeback. In fact, don’t read it, click back onto Google and do what you were doing.
Firstly, with a Polish city like Bydgoszcz containing 9 letters, of which (in English at least) only one is a genuine vowel, how do you pronounce the beast? Thanks to my Polish teacher Pani Alina and my time at Learn Polish in Gdansk, I know how to say it. In English, it can be roughly said like this – Beeda Gosht.
It is Poland’s 8th biggest city, it has good rail connections, an international airport and it is a ridiculously cool city to backpack in. This is why I travel, this is why I encourage you to travel, this is the light that hits the gloom on Seal’s grey. Every whackpacker alive told you to visit Krakow and Warszawa. I did too – once upon a time. But now, I’m telling you to ignore that popular brace and come to Bydgoszcz. I change too. The city Bydgoszcz dates back to 1238, survived various invasions of different kinds, and by the early 1920s it was the biggest economic centre in Poland’s Pomerania Province. The Germans ruined the place and destroyed the Synagogue during the Second World War. Now it’s clearly ready for a boom, it’s less the “Venice of Poland” than Venice is the “Bydgoszcz of Italy”. Ah boom boom boom, let me hear you say way oh.
Getting to Bydgoszcz
I love to use Polish trains – I find them by far amongst the safest, cleanest and best run in Europe. Move over Germany and France please. I used the direct train from Gdańsk. Other options include the train from Poznan, Torun, Warszawa and Szczechin.
By bus, I always use Polskibus – so cheap and comfy and I have never had an issue with them.
Airport wise, Bydgoszcz is also pretty well connected, with frequent flights to Germany (including Dusseldorf), England (including Stansted London) and the Republic of Ireland (Dublin). Ryanair also flies here.
Sleeping in Bydgoszcz
I checked into the Hotel Zawisza in Bydgoszcz and set my mind on exploring this city as a peaceful calm, clear and pure Polish air Autumnicised itself upon my Northern Irish wandering soul.
I got a map from the hotel and while I followed the key sights on there, undoubtedly I probably “missed a few gems” and whackpacked a few new spots so here they are. The tourist board have a great website and a good walking tour to follow, I didn’t include all of these and added a few of my own.
I loved these 19 things, you can too, I have included some bars and cafes and I did most of this on foot.
1.Zdzisław Krzyszkowiak Stadium – Stadion
Football intertwined itself on my travels down the years and imagine the delight on my face when I checked into my hotel room at the Hotel Zawisza to find that my window to today’s world in Bydgoszcz was out towards the football stadium – Zdzisław Krzyszkowiak Stadium. SP Zawisza Bydgoszcz play their home matches here and I also found out that the Poland National team played the Republic of Ireland TWICE here. Less exciting for me though – I’m Northern Irish 😉
There was no match on during my day brace here but the stadium was open and I walked inside and around the ground. On a wet Autumn day, I was inside the stadium which will help host the 2017 under 21 European Championships. That said, Bydgoszcz is more of an “athletics city”.
2.Przechodzacy przez Rzeke (Man Crossing River)
On a tightrope across the river in the city’s Stary Port, a silver statue of a man can easily be spotted, halfway across the river.
This statue was added on May 1st 2004, the day that Poland joined the European Union and it has now become a symbol of the city. It was made by Jerzy Kędziora.
3.Stary Rynek (Old Town Square)
What often goes forgotten in Polish towns is the importance or significance of a central town square. I simply love these squares (with the exceptions of Krakow and Warszawa which I now deem too touristic) as they give you a standpoint and central focus area in the town’s history, culture, development and current status.
Here in the Stary Rynek of Bydgoszcz it seems pretty subdued but the truth is that the square has been based here for years and years and today it still seems like a charming place to hang out. I didn’t see it in the Summer time, nor in gorgeous Christmas but the Autumnal charm of Bydgoszcz’s Stary Rynek was clear. The Second World War Memorial sits in front of the Ratusz, Town Hall.
My previous visits to Polish towns and cities have usually featured a church in the top sights. I can’t deny how much I love this part of Polish culture or how I have become more religious in the last 2 years of my life. The man Cathedral sits relatively un noticed near the river and the Stary Rynek.
On a drainpipe on the Cathedral, there is a little crowned eagle embossed in sheet metal. As the only in Bydgoszcz, it had survived the occupation period unnoticed by the Germans, when all symbols related to the Polish State were destroyed. It attracted Bydgoszcz residents, particularly young people, who came here in secret to pay tribute to the coat of arms of Poland.
5. Wyspa Młyńska (Mill Island)
Like my visit to the marvellous Starogard Gdanski, I found an island inside a city and loved it – Wyspa Młyńska. In English, the island known as Mill Island gives you an idea of the milling times in days gone by. The mills remain, their productivity is no longer apparent. It’s a pretty island well worth a walk for the great views it provides, the obvious canal appeal and a glimpse of the mills of the past.
6.Hotel Przystan and Activities Within
There are some magnificent looking buildings and architectural treats in store in central Bydgoszcz. Stay at thew swanky Hotel Przystan right on the canals and next to Mill Island for a real treat.
Activity wise, you can go boating on the lake, relax with a coffee or a beer on the balcony and marvel at the peace and calmness.
Theatre and Opera dominate in Bydgoszcz, with an annual music festival being held here since 1963. It has been called a city of music. Check out the Opera Nova by the river.
8.Bydgoszcz Venice – Canals and Lock
Reminders of my days touring the locks of Camden Town in London, Amsterdam, Suzhou and Italian venice came “flooding back” here as Bydgoszcz is Poland’s answer to that.
There are many places in Bydgoszcz to experience this appeal but perhaps in and around Mill Island is the best, as well as the Lock by Grottgera Street and the many canal boats that sail down past the Stary Port.
9.St. Andrew’s Bobola Chuch
Another church that caught my eye was St. Andrew’s. This was one that gleamed down a street at me in the same way that St. Catherine’s Church in Starogard Gdanski had done about 3 months earlier. The colours were the same too – dirty green rooves and brown bricks.
The Germans destroyed the original Synagogue that was once here and in its place is a monument dedicated to the Jewish people who live here and sadly those killed under the German Nazi era.
11.Old City Walls
Reminders that Bydgoszcz was once a walled city with a castle are few and far between. Those into studying it, can certainly delve deeper than I did. But just behind the Stary Rynek and in front of the Urząd Miasta, there are some walls remaining. It also looks like these have been partly reconstructed but it does give a useful reminders of the city in days gone by.
12.Kasimir the Great Statue
One man on his horse, this statue of Kasimir on a horse can go un noticed if you don’t dander around. The building behind it looks impressive, even once you realise it’s just a multi storey car park.
13.Children and Goose Monument
The children and Goose monument is an unusual one that can also be missed even when you are stood in the Stary Rynek.
14.You Don’t Know Jack – Bydgoszcz’s Oldest Pub
Drinking has been a Polish tradition for generations and I couldn’t resist the temptation to wander into Bydgoszcz’s oldest pub. I didn’t expect much from it – but this place is a masterpiece waiting to be found.
There are about four floors, including a nightclub in the basement, balcony views over the city and a local pub area with low ceilings, relics adorning the walls and really really cheap beer and food. £3 for a beer and a massive pizza?!! I didn’t even get that in 2003 when I was a student in Bournemouth.
The central square/Stary Rynek houses the Ratusz and the main Urząd Miasta, the actual administrative Town Hall sits further outside the city though. It was under a re development when I was here.
Unfortunately I was a bit stupid during my trip to Bydgoszcz. I heard there was a Master Twardowski statue in the main square and I looked everywhere to find it. I didn’t check the internet or ask the tourist board exactly what it was. Then later I found out why I couldn’t see it! Every day, at 1:13 pm and 9:13 pm ,a window opens in a tenement house
in the Old Market Square (number 15), where Master Twardowski appears in a smoke
haze, whooping with laughter!! This reminded me a bit of the statues in the Plac Hallera in Tczew.
I love a good retro themed bar and these types of bars in Poland are becomign way way way too cool. I have become a regular in bars like Jozef K and No to CYK in Gdańsk and loved the quirky Projekt PRL in Starogard Gdański. Here, I chatted to bar girl Ola at Pub PRL about life, over my first Grzane Wino (hot wine) in a long time.
I love the decor of these types of bars with their old telephones, LPs and all things communist era Poland.
18.Po Co Cafe
I’m putting the excellent Po Co Cafe on this list as I was invited here for a coffee sampling and love their approach to coffee. It’s the real deal and the pick of the city’s WiFi cafes.
19.Kraftodajnia (Brew Bar)
Micro breweries and themed bars are hard to find in cities like this, they’re always snuck away and thanks to my chat with Ola, I was able to find Kraftodajnia. As I take a break from alcohol these days, this was the venue for probably my last beer for a long time. I wanted to try some locally made beer so Kraftodajnia was the spot. I met a nice girl in here too – Ania and we chatted about life.
My thanks to the tourist board in Bydgoszcz and Hotel Zawisza and Hotel Przystan for enhancing my stay and helping through a tough period of my life.
Despite taking a huge break from writing, I don’t think you’ve heard the last from me, or from my life in Poland.
Here are some videos I made in the city of Bydgoszcz: