I was familiar with the word Slupsk many years ago before living and travelling in Poland. My husband used to coach councillors at Carlisle City Council and one of the training rooms was named after this town in western Pomerania. Of course, not a soul could pronounce the name. I still struggle now but I believe it should sound like this, shwoopsk.
During our family holiday in this region of Poland, we decided to take a drive out to the medium sized town. I wanted to visit Koszalin but my son said Slupsk would be more interesting. My son took the wheel while I sat in the back with my grandchildren. The ride was a pleasant one with rolling fields of green with manmade windmills dotted in between cows, horses and sheep.
Our point of arrival was the Neo Gothic building known as the City Hall. There was a huge car park situated in the front of the building so we didn't have to search very far for parking. This was a blessing as we were all dying to use the loo and luckily we found a block of toilets at the side of this building. After paying 2 zloty each, having a brief altercation with the stern toilet attendant and finally relieving ourselves, we decided to take a walk around the town which was very easy to navigate on foot.
Luckily, all the best of the attractions were located close to each other in the vicinity of the Rynek Rybacki so you don't really need a map as such. We did pick up an information leaflet from the tourist information office, opposite the City Hall, on ul. Sienkiewicza 19. The leaflet was written in many languages and although it was small and thin it gave us the layout of the town and where to find the attractions.
**Let's start with the City Hall - Slupsk's major landmark**
You can't help but admire this landmark although I don't think it is the most elegant of buildings. Neogothic in style, this building was built in 1901, a replacement for the original 17th century Town Hall and took two years to build. Karl Zaara and Rudolf Vahl were responsible for its construction. .
I liked the design of the Guildhall tower which opened to visitors in 2003 and stands at 56 metres high. We walked to the observation deck and from here we could see the panoramic views of the town and valley of the River Slupia. On our way to the tower we met an interesting collection of portraits of past Mayors and Presidents. Interesting to note how many of the images in the portraits had stern faces. I wonder why portraits are always so serious. Why not paint a happy face rather than a grim one?
If old portraits aren't your thing then there is an exhibition of Polish eagles as well as a working mechanism of the old clock that still works and has been working for over 100 years.
The Ratusz is a very large building and did take a while to walk around. I found the front façade too large and rather dull. Far too many red bricks have been used in construction and although there were some very attractive arched windows and turrets I preferred the back of the building to look at. Ivy trailed up the walls of the back of the building and I liked the fact that I could see the detail of the red roof tiles and every arched window edged in red brick. The tiny windows at the top of the building were cute - they looked like small faces with pointed hats. The colour balance was good with white walls blending in with the red outlined windows and roof.
On the first floor of the interior there was a figurine of a bear. This bear belongs to the town of Slupsk and he is meant to be a very lucky bear bringing happiness and luck to the town. Here, we also saw the Key to Europe presented next to the lucky bear.
At the far end of the car park there was a very interesting monument made from stone, of a soldier stood holding a sword with a stone pillar as a backdrop. This is dedicated to the Polish soldiers who defended the motherland from 1939-1945.
**The Old Red Tram on Nowobramska Street**
Walking from the City Hall, through the New Gate was a pleasant experience as it led to a cobbled street that once had trams running through. I was surprised and really excited to come eye to eye with a gleaming red tram. My granddaughter was worried that it was coming towards us straight on and suddenly gripped my hand. There was no need for her to worry, the tram was stationery and in the summer months acts as an information office for Slupsk.
Outside the door of the tram was a mounted photograph in sepia showing how Nowobramska Street looked when trams were functional. This shiny red and gold tram had been renovated and placed in front of the New Gate (Nowa Brama) to remind visitors of the route and the history of trams in the town.
I took my granddaughter onboard the tram to see what it was like inside. I had to lift her up as the step was high off the ground. Thinking about it, the old trams in Warsaw are the same. There is a long jump down when the tram stops. Thankfully, the new trams have been designed so that you step off straight on to the platform with ease.
At the entrance of the tram were two young assistants sat behind a small desk piled high with leaflets about the town. They were very friendly and willing to assist. I asked if it was okay to take photographs of the interior and they agreed. Inside, the tram was small with an area at the back which had a teak serving counter and two small stainless sinks with fitted cupboards underneath. Blinds covered all windows keeping out the sun and heat and there were three small tables at the side of the food preparation area, near to windows leaving the rest of the floor area for standing. When the tram is not used as a tourist information office it is used as a small diner. Light fittings were modern and functional and the floor covering was a marbled effect type of lino.
I thought the renovations were quite good and the overall look of the interior inside was one of neat and tidiness. The black and white photographs on the walls above the tables were enchanting to look at. Nowobramska Street certainly had character in the days when the trams were running. The street is still very pretty but I think would be much more attractive if the little red trams rolled down the track once again.
**St Mary's Church - a Gothic church with an unusual dragon feature**
Moving on down the street from the tram, St Mary's Church came into view. The building was on a pedestrian walkway and not tucked away in a corner so we could walk straight up to the entrance without having to walk through any special gates. Even though buildings surrounding the church were a mixture of old and new, the church stood out mainly because of its size and the redness of the bricks. It isn't the largest Gothic church I have seen in Poland but it is pretty big. I believe the building was enlarged in 1500 and this extension although Gothic in style is noticeable.
Unusual features were the metal points on the small turrets all along the left hand side of the church. There was a line of Gothic arches varying in size that look like they could have once been small windows and later been blocked up. Also, I saw a line of metal dragons interspersed between the arches. They were attached to the wall with a metal fixture to give the appearance of flying as the dragon's wings were outstretched. From a distance I couldn't work out what these metal bits were. I thought it was a new design of lightning detectors. The closer I approached the dragons I became fascinated as they looked wacky, all lined up waiting to fly off.
St Mary's had three aisles and was originally built in the 14th century. During the Second World War the church received some damage and was rebuilt in 1948. I also noticed that reconstruction work had taken place on the spire and dome of the tower. This happened in 2003. .
There was a large clock in the centre of the 50 metre high tower which loomed on the side near the central walkway. I always like to see a clock when I am visiting a new town; it's comforting and a good landmark.
Highlights inside the church were a fabulous 18th century Baroque candelabra and a selection of 17th and 18th century Baroque candlesticks.
I enjoyed St Mary's Church but there are better examples of Gothic churches in Poland. The feature I loved the most about the church was the eccentric line of metal dragons waiting to fly away.
The River Slupia isn't very wide but on both banks there were numerous trees which cast shadows on the pale green water. Ducks were gently swimming and as we walked close to the edge they came to greet us hoping we would hold out our hands and give them some nibbles or stale bread. We didn't have anything on us so they soon wandered off to the centre of the river.
There were two outstanding buildings to see in this area and each was distinctive in their own way, dating back from the 15th century. One of the most interesting buildings was the Witches' Tower.
**Baszta Czarownic (Witches' Tower) - where was Baba Yaga?**
My granddaughter was excited when we told her we were going to take a walk along the river to find the tower. One of her bedtime stories is Baba Yaga; a story about a witch. We explained that there wouldn't be any witches in the building but it was once somewhere where witches resided. When I say resided I mean it served as a prison in the 17th century for women accused of witchcraft. Very often women were put on trial and condemned to death. The last burning of a witch was in the year of 1701. We didn't tell my granddaughter this morbid information in full as she is only three years old and wouldn't comprehend.
The original tower was built in the 15th century and rebuilt later on in the 17th century. The building that we saw was a mix match of styles and I was a little disappointed that the tower was short and fat rather than tall and slim. I just expected a tower to stand so it reached the clouds. In fact, the tower reminded me of an old mill or farm building in Brittany or Normandy. Made from red brick with a slate roof and only small thin slits of windows to see out of, I can imagine that this was a dreary place to be imprisoned especially in a freezing Polish winter. The tower was attached to another paler building in Art Deco style which was interesting and attractive. This building also had very small windows.
The location of the Witches' Tower was pleasant, at the side of the River Slupia. There was a walkway at the side used by residents who liked to walk their dogs and visitors. I noticed several litter bins placed along the walkway; always an encouraging sign as I don't like to see litter in this environment or anywhere come to think of it. I also spotted from a distance the black metal witch sitting on a broomstick on top of the red brick tower. I pointed it out to my granddaughter and she smiled and said, 'Baba Yaga.'
Looking at the bottom of both buildings I could see clouds of dampness rising higher into the structure of the building. Perhaps the river is prone to flooding. There were several stone steps with ornamental black railings on either side which led to the entrance of the tower which now houses an Art Gallery exhibiting Baltic Contemporary Art. I would have liked to see an exhibition explaining about the history of witches in Slupsk. Other attractions close by were the Castle of the Pomeranian Dukes and the Mill Gate.
**St Jacek's - the church without an aisle**
St Jacek's Church was situated next to the mill, a little further on than the Witches Tower. The church was Gothic in style and built in the15th century. Like most churches in Poland this one has had a face lift throughout the years and certain pieces of furniture have been added to the collection. While my son was looking at the adjacent mill I took my granddaughter with me to scrutinise the church inside so we could get a better look and take some photos. She was a bit unsure of the environment and stood close to the door while I wandered around.
The overall look of the church inside was one of clutter. There were too many stone figures standing at the back of the church and as this church didn't have an aisle, the ancient pews were packed together. The white ceiling was very high which was very nice, my eyes diverted to the sky. The Renaissance High Altar and pulpit were added in 1602 and I think they blended well with the polychrome preaching altar and baroque organ. The organ wasn't so spectacular to look at but a friend told me that it had a lovely tone and if you passed by the church in the summer months when concerts took place you would be able to pick out its perfect tone.
The sepulchral plates belonged to Duke Ernest Boguslaw de Croy and his mother, Duchess Anna de Croy. The highlight of the church was the staircase. It's the first thing my eyes were drawn to when I entered. I am not sure if it had been restored or not but it was in super condition. I also loved the huge chandelier which hung from a long chain and the small stained glass windows at the back of the church. Interesting to see that there were two or three arches on the left hand wall which would have been doors or windows originally but had since been blocked out. I didn't spend too long inside as I could see my granddaughter wanted to go outside. It seems she doesn't share the same appreciation of churches as I do which I can understand; they are pretty scary places for small children especially with lots of strange stone figures hanging around.
Walking around to the back of the church we came across a small door with a bed of weeds in front of it. I fell in love with this door straight away although it was in need of a bit of attention. The grey paint was peeling at the top and bottom of the door and the grain in the wooden lats was splitting. I thought the huge black hinges were very flamboyant, reminding me of two long legged flowery creatures walking out of the brickwork. From the back I could also focus on the large jade coloured tower which was exceedingly tall and double onion shaped. The big old fashioned clock was built into the tower and I was able to see it from a good distance away.
We enjoyed taking photos of the church and I was pleased to see the interior. By this time my granddaughter had had enough cultural education for one morning. At this point she had her mind set on only one thing; pizza. There is no getting through to her when she is thinking about pizza or pizzy as she calls it. Still, she does okay for a three year old and certainly deserves a slice of pizza now and again as a reward.
Having walked full circle we went back into the domestic part of Slupsk to look for a café or restaurant selling pizza. There were several restaurants with seats outside but not many people were sat out due to the chilly weather. What I did notice as we were wandering around was a block of flats built in true Art Deco style. I pointed these out to my son but I don't think he was impressed. Obviously, he isn't a fan of this style of architecture. I am and was really excited to see this design amongst all the other modern flats.
Opposite the main shopping square I also noticed a row of Baroque buildings painted in pastel colours of blue and pale yellow. Somehow, I don't think these were original buildings. They stood out though and were attractive to look at. On the bottom level was a row of shops, up above, living accommodation.
By the time we had arrived at this point we were ravenous and hadn't found a pizza place so we walked back to the New Gate where my son had seen a kebab kiosk. We ordered kebabs and took them back to the car to eat as we thought our allotted parking time was due to expire.
Looking back I think my son made the correct choice taking us to Slupsk. It isn't a large town but there is a lot to see and I would visit again next time round.