hidden europe 16

A question of balance: Bydgoszcz

by Nicky Gardner


Bydgoszcz is a gritty sort of place. You'll still scuff your shoes on the dust as you walk through town on the footpath that hugs the bank of the Brda river. But Bydgoszcz is all the better for having never quite been tamed.

You go to Krzyz to change trains. One way or another, if you spend enough time in Poland you end up changing trains at Krzyz. Poland cannot help being a big country, and Krzyz is somewhere near the middle. It is a place with long railway platforms, partially sheltered by rotting canopies that leak onto the hapless travellers below.

The question is where to go next. "Go to Torun," said the elderly man with a stoop and a basket of mushrooms. He peered at me over the top of his glasses, in the manner of a professor instructing a dull student. "In Torun you can see the finest town hall in all Poland," the man continued. "The best gingerbread, too," he added as if to imply that all sensible itineraries are constructed around the availability of gingerbread.

I cannot abide gingerbread so I ignored the professorial advice and went to Bydgoszcz instead. "Wise move," said Jola over breakfast at Adam Sowa's the following morning. Adam Sowa is a Bydgoszcz institution. It was more than sixty years ago that old Adam Sowa first defied post-war shortages to serve a decent cup of coffee in Bydgoszcz. Nowadays Adam's descendants run a chain of coffee houses around the city.

But there is more to Bydgoszcz than ham and eggs at Adam Sowa's. The city on the Brda river may not have a town hall to match Toru?'s extravagant essay in red brick, but it does have Poland's most salubrious post office, a handsome range of churches and a lavish helping of good spirit.

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