09 November 2010

Castle Hunting: Malbork Castle

We stayed in the town of Malbork on our way towards the Lithuanian border, and we visited the incredible Malbork Castle. We've been having terrible weather, so the shots are more atmospheric than good. It was fun, though, and we had a great walkabout in the cold and rain, trying to get a view that encompassed all of the immense fortifications.
The castle has a long and interesting past. It was first founded at the end of the thirteenth century, and was built up over the next century or so. The castle served as the primary base for the Teutonic Order after they were kicked out of their post-crusade headquarters in Venice by the pope, which happened about 1309.
The day was pretty awful, but it wasn't so bad that we didn't have fun. This was a big castle, the biggest in Poland. In fact, some people say that it's the largest gothic fortification in Europe, and I was excited to take some pictures of it - despite the light being dismal and the clouds casting a dismal air over the town.
The scale is incredible. It was impossible to get a good shot of the entire thing, except from across the river. The original castle walls enclosed fifty-acres, which is astounding. At the height of its military importance, the castle housed over three thousand soldiers.
As the pride of Malbork, and of the Polish castle scene, the castle is in great condition, having been lovingly restored and taken care of. The detailing in the brick is amazing, as is the wooden accents and tiling on the roofs. It must take a lot of effort to keep this place up. Nearly half of the fortifications were destroyed during WWII, so a good deal of the brickwork was actually done by modern artisans. It explains the mottled look of the walls.
We had some lunch inside the castle, at their restaurant. We ate near a roaring fire as we waited out the spitting rain. It was nice to have a little soup and sit in the warm room. It also gave us a new appreciation of how thick these brick walls are, and the intricacy of the structure.
This is a food that I'd just as soon forget about. It's called "smalek," and it's very good, but it's also not good. It's congealed pork fat, mixed with crumbled pork cracklings and leftover cooking bits. It's meant to be spread on bread like butter. It's really a terrific thing, but, like I said, it's not good. In other words, the worst part about it is that it's so darn good.

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