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basia Elblag Canal - A travel report by Basia
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Elblag Canal,  Poland - flag Poland -  Warminsko-Mazurskie
24725 readers

basia's travel reports

A Waterway in the Wonder of Nature.

  14 votes
This canal, built in the Mazury district, boasts world’s only fully functional level ramps. It is a unique system designed for sailing enthusiasts visiting one of Poland’s three lake districts, recently nominated to the New 7 Wonders of the World. report of the month contest
Sep 2009

Wheel winding and unwinding the cables.
Wheel winding and unwinding the cables.
In north-eastern Poland, between the valleys of Lower Vistula and Niemno rivers, three navigable waterways find their place. It connects the Druzno Lake with the Drweca River and the Jeziorak Lake, through the Elblag RIver, and further with the Vistula Estuary, or alternatively through Jagiellonski Canal, the Nogat River with the Baltic. Its full length is 83.3 kilometres, of which 43.8 kilometres is man-made, and the rest is provided by the lakes. Including a few branches of the canal, the full length of the waterway is 144.3 kilometres.

Part of the canal, from the lock in Milomlyn to the Druzno Lake, is called Warminski Canal. It is 52 kilometres long, has 5 level ramps and 2 locks. The waterway passes through lakes on various altitudes between Ostroda and the Vistula Estuary. The altitude difference amounts to 100 meters. The natural beauty of the region, amongst the loveliest in Europe, combined with the pleasures of sailing and the unique construction of the canals, make it a wonderful way of spending holiday, or even a long weekend.

The concept to connect Prussia’s lakes with the Baltic came from Frederic II. He invited Georg Jacob Steenke, a Dutch engineer, to design and manage the project. The drawing board phase kicked off in 1837, and the work commenced in earnest in 1844. Since the altitude difference between the lakes and the Baltic was considerable, it would have been impractical to construct 30 locks. And therefore, the level ramps equipped with trolleys on rails, have been brought into the projects. The trolleys are pulled from one level to another. A boat navigates onto the trolley, which sits under water, and then gets pulled up or down to the other level, and the trolleys goes below the surface until the vessel can float out freely.

Favourite spots:
A boat on the level ramps, travelling on the trolley
A boat on the level ramps, travelling on the trolley
I really liked their engineering ingenuity of the waterway. The ramps were truly phenomenal. When the vessel floats between two large barriers equipped with giant wheels on top, which wind and unwind the steel cables, which pull the trolley, the feeling is a real thrill. An adequate analogy would be a walking catfish. It is like hiking from one lake to another without having to step outside the boat or having it fixed with wheels. And the nature surrounding the Mazurian lake is unrivaled in the world. The abundance of the forests and the post-glacial landscape, very typical in this part of the world, which is so scarcely populated, prompted the authorities to create a number of wildlife reserves and parks, which protect the environment and the wildlife.

What's really great:
Departing cormorant
Departing cormorant
The fauna that can be spotted from the canal is exceptional. If lucky, one can spot: beavers, elks, deers, wild boars, lynxes, badgers, in addition to the abundant waterfowl, including herons, storks, swans, ducks, gees, cormorants, egrets. Obviously, the forest is home to other birds - woodpeckers, hoopoes, ravens, owls, and various kind of robins. The noises they make, the song they sing and the sounds of the swaying trees combined with the splashes of the water create a feast for one’s senses. It is utterly relaxing, if a bit mind-boggling.

Old Town of Elblag
Old Town of Elblag
Elblag also boasts the most of the historic sights along the canal. The old town of Elblag was completely destroyed during the WWII, yet a few years back sufficient amount of money was collected, which allowed the authorities to rebuilt a fair section of the historical centre along the banks of the Elblag River. It is now rather atmospheric place, complete with narrow lanes flanked by tall red-brick buildings, housing cafes, restaurants, pubs, boutiques. The city has also a few nice Gothic churches with refreshing austere interiors, the most dramatic of which is of the Elblag’s St Nicholas Cathedral, built in 13th century. I also liked the Fair Gate, rebuilt in its original Gothic style.

Egret resting between meals
Egret resting between meals
I stayed at the sports hostel in the suburbs of Tolkmicko. The place is often used by scouts, who come to the Mazurian lakes for some projects. The hostel had a range of double, twin and triple rooms with shared bathrooms. It was decently clean. Rooms were minimalistic: side tables and chairs. Common kitchen was available, and a few points where guests could boil water for teas and coffees. Typical for a cheap hostel place, no toiletries or towels were provided. Breakfast buffet was superb. Fresh rolls, croissants, bread, butter, preserves and jams, honey, cold meat cuts, cheeses, cereals, milk, a selection of yogurts, tea, coffee, juices, hot sausages, boiled eggs. A full breakfast extravaganza.

There are many other, more comfortable, accommodation options in other towns and cities along the waterway. The largest choice in Elblag. This is all necessary, when one has no option to sleep on a boat.

A boat on the canal
A boat on the canal
There is not much of nightlife on the canal itself. However, since sailing after sunset is forbidden on the lakes, one has to bring some sort of nightlife activity with them. It could be a guitar, games or cards. When weather co-operates, singing songs on the boat moored at the shore, under the open sky full of flickering stars and the Moon, and sipping wine, is equally attractive as going out in Elblag’s old town. Those, who prefer to have a steady ground under their feet during a night out, local rustic bars provide enough entertainment.

A seagull flying low
A seagull flying low
I brought my own provisions with me to this trip, and I did not need go out for meals. Elblag, being a good size town, it offers a number of decent restaurants and eateries spread out in the centre. In small towns and villages along the waterway, there is usually at least one bar-come-restaurant or a social centre, where simple meals are served. Fish is usually good, no surprise there. Some more sophisticated restaurants also serve game, which is adequately priced.

Other recommendations:
One of the level ramps
One of the level ramps
Depending on how much of the full length of the canal one would like to cover, organising a trip there can be either easy or rather challenging. In Elblag, at one end, and in Ostroda at the other end, is relatively straightforward to get on and get off a boat. Anywhere in between, one has to organise their own transport. Yet, many tour offices in the region organise trips on the portion of the canal, which is a very convenient option. And also cost effective if travelling in a group.

Published on Sunday October 18th, 2009

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Tue, Nov 03 2009 - 09:13 AM rating by mistybleu

Great report - well done on completing your first report.

Wed, Oct 28 2009 - 04:45 PM rating by bootlegga

An excellent first report. Hope for more to come!

Fri, Oct 23 2009 - 10:19 AM rating by eirekay

Sensational report! I love the concept of trolleys for sail boats! You've included some terrific detail on a really impressive system!

Tue, Oct 20 2009 - 04:23 AM rating by frenchfrog

Great report, very detailed lots of information provided. Well done

Mon, Oct 19 2009 - 10:46 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Congratulations for your first report. A pleasant read.

Mon, Oct 19 2009 - 01:51 AM rating by davidx

A fine report on a place unknown to most of us. I always knew you could do it. PLEASE don't make us wait so long for your next.

Sun, Oct 18 2009 - 11:49 PM rating by gloriajames

truly enjoyed your report!
cant wait to see more from you

Sun, Oct 18 2009 - 12:26 PM rating by krisek

Very nice report, Basia. Thank you for discovering new places for us. Excellent pictures, too!

Sun, Oct 18 2009 - 06:27 AM rating by pesu

Big congrats, Basia, on your first report - so well written in English, informative, with very good pictures! I have always wanted to visit Masuria because I am a big fan of lakes. But I had never before heard of these level ramps, very interesting! Thanks for sharing! :)

Sun, Oct 18 2009 - 05:38 AM rating by porto

Great report Basia,excellent info about a really nice part of Poland and nice to see you back on Globo.

Sun, Oct 18 2009 - 04:51 AM rating by jacko1

Very informative and well written, an enjoyable read with good pics.

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