We all know the world class cities of Europe – London, Paris, Budapest, Madrid, etc. – but sometimes it is the smaller cities that are most enticing. In 2017, I was ‘researching’ Europe’s most desirable cities for visiting, and Gdansk, Poland, surprisingly cropped up. It was enough to pique my interest and plan a post-Eastern-bloc adventure!
After a 13 hour trip which included an eight and a half hour flight to Amsterdam and a further one and three quarter hour flight across northern Europe to the Baltic coast, we landed at the Gdansk Lech Walesa Airport, found the downtown bus, and were deposited right outside the central station, Gdansk Glowny. (A good European travel tip is to do lots of homework and secure a hotel in close proximity to the central station as this affords you the ability to get to the downtown from the airport easily and then walk or take public transit anywhere in the city.)
Our first impression of Gdansk was “wow!”. We entered the city through the Golden Gate and our mouths dropped at the beauty of the Royal Way. As mentioned in my 'Poland, Part 1' post, Poland has suffered many hardships, and downtown Gdansk was levelled by bombing and fires in 1945. But, in stalwart Polish fashion, the entire downtown (and especially the Royal Way) was rebuilt. Today, it is ‘storybook’ in it’s appearance. (A great ‘read’ is ‘Authenticity of Architectural Heritage in a Rebuilt City . . . ‘ by Grzegorz Bukal and Piotr Samol in iopscience.iop.org that explains the refurbishing of Gdansk). After checking into the Hotel Liberum (a funky boutique hotel just inside the Golden Gate), we quickly found a true coffeehouse, run by the 30 year old generation. When Larry told them he was looking forward to finding some European record albums, one of the servers disappeared, only to reappear with a record album in hand, a gift for Larry. This was our welcome to Gdansk. (picture is the early evening view when you stand in the Golden Gate; our hotel was just inside, on the left; St. Mary's Church is in the background)
Here are some pictures from ‘downtown’ Gdansk, the Royal Way - Long Street (ul Dluga) and Long Market (Dlugi Targ).
Poland.travel describes Gdansk as one of Poland’s oldest cities, over 1,000 years old. It is one of the Baltic’s largest ports. The city’s motto is “Nec temere”, Latin for “neither rashly nor timidly” which I think means "confident", a good, middle-of-the-road, way to be! Gdansk was formerly known as Danzig when under German rule. In addition to the Royal Way, an interesting feature of downtown Gdansk is “perrons” which are entrance terraces along cobbled streets lined with stalls selling souvenirs, especially amber items which is Gdansk’s gemstone. Other major sites include the Main Town Hall, the Neptune Fountain, Artus Court, St.Mary’s Church (the largest brick church in the world), Mariacka Street (with it's 'perrons'), and the waterfront. And, of course, there is always my favourite – street art, which is on my bucket list!
(Pictures are of Mariacka Street with 'perrons', the MainTown Hall With Neptune Fountain/Artus Court, close ups of St. Mary's Church, and the canals)
Gdansk was our introduction to Poland’s amazing museums, designed never to forget atrocities of war and repression. The Museum of the Second World War (photo on left), according to Poland.travel, is situated 14 metres underground and houses one of the world’s largest exhibitions relating to world conflict. It is intelligent and graphic, and this is where we saw school busses dropping off hundreds of students, even elementary age, to tour the museum so that they learn to value freedom and to know how hard they might have to fight someday. The museum has experienced controversy, however, as the more 'right-leaning' government took control of some content rather than allowing a more global representation of World War II (politico.eu, 'Poland's WWII museum under political bombardment'). It is still magnificent.
The European Solidarity Museum (photo on left) is at the old Gdansk Lenin Shipyards, the site of the worker uprising under Lech Walesa that was the start of the fight against the communist regime. See my previous post for more pictures.
Because Gdansk is a relatively small city, less than 600,000 in population, walking was our main source of transportation. Trains and busses are common. There are several good day trips to be taken including seaside towns, the world’s largest castle, a concentration camp, the site of the start of WWII, a birding paradise, and Kaliningrad, Russia (if you have a visa!). Thesologlobetrotter.com, in ‘11Day Trips from Gdansk to Plan in North Poland’, has a nice list. We chose to travel to the seaside resort of Sopot by train for a day trip.
It was in Gdansk that we discovered our first ‘milk bar’, cafeterias that opened after WWI and were a cheap source of food for the Polish people. Bar Miezny Neptun is considered one of the best in Gdansk. Milk bars became our favourite places to eat soup and bread (and dessert!) in Poland for about $2.00 a person. I will never forget the old Polish lady closely scrutinizing each green jello dessert and then selecting the most perfect, largest one for us. (the pictures are of the tripe soup and delicious jello at the Bar Miezny Neptun)
Gdansk is the starting point for the trains connecting Warsaw and Krakow. Poland has a fast-train system between the three major cities. Because it was so affordable (I believe it was under $50 for first class, now about $60 per person, for a two and a half hour, 340 km, trip), we hopped on board the Express InterCity Premium Pendolino and rode in 'luxury' with the business travellers for our next stop, Warsaw. (picture is bread and pate on the train)
I would return to Gdansk any day. If you want to go, give me a call.
(All pictures are my own.)