Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Better late than never, a concluding post about my recent trip to Gdansk.
As my first post showed I loved the place almost immediately, I don’t want to wax lyrical too much but a city has not made that good an impression on me since I first l saw the likes of Krakow, Prague and Vilnius. The fact I arrived to a lovely sunny day which made the colours of the Old Town even more vivid helped. The other major factor was the hostel I chose to stay at. Polish hostels tend to have elaborate names to attract your attention, on previous trips to Poland I’ve stayed at hostels called “Dizzy Daisy” and the “Strawberry Hostel”, this time I stayed at the Happy Seven Hostel right by the Gdansk waterfront. It was literally brand new and I was informed that I was the very first guest to stay there. The owners were great, full of enthusiasm, obviously very proud of their new hostel and importantly of their city. I never asked how they arrived at the name Happy Seven, it wasn’t situated at no7 and could hold more than seven people, but I liked it and it worked.
I planned to go the Hel peninsula on my second day but confusion reigned over the ferry connection. I was told that a ferry left from Gdynia, one of the three cities that make up the Trojmiasto or Tri City of Sopot, Gdynia and Gdansk. However walking to the end of the pier in Gydnia, I was told that there was only one a day and I had missed it, so with no other option I retraced my steps along the railway line to Sopot. This is a town I am familiar with by name only as it twinned with Southend on Sea near where I live.
It was a nice town, not spectacular with a nice wooden pier, the longest pier in the world built completely from wood and the reason I assumed why it is twinned with Southend. Apart from the relaxed seaside feel and ambience there’s not a great deal there but I enjoyed my time and made my way back to Gdansk after a few hours.One odd sight is a hotel and shopping centre in the centre which looks like one of those photos that has been manipulated, it's hard to explain so I'll post a photo. It's a really original idea and very distictive.
With more time on my hands than I had planned and the heavens threatening to open I decided to bring forward my plan to visit the Gdansk shipyards. The historically significant place which is widely thought as bringing about the first chink in the armour of communism, when under pressure from the Lech Walesa led Solidarity movement the hard-line Polish Communist government allowed and recognised the first trade union in the former Eastern Bloc. The movement didn’t last and was eventually outlawed but it had the effect of making the people aware of what could be achieved.
Quite a few shipyards workers died in the protests and outside the gates stands a massive monument to the fallen. As someone who is deeply interested in the Cold War it was very interesting to be in the spot where it could be argued was the beginning of the collapse of the Cold War era.
I asked an American couple who were there if they would take a photo of me and we struck up a conversation, they were a really nice couple and we stood there chatting for quite a while. They also showed me the location of the Solidarity museum that I was having a really hard time finding. It was actually underground with a barely advertised entrance so it was no surprise that I couldn’t find it. Dave, the American even gave me his ticket which the museum had failed to stamp or cancel so I even got in free, that saved me 20zl! It was a good museum, just the right size for a museum which was essentially dedicated to one thing. Quite often with these small museums they try to bulk it out with tediously linked stuff but this wasn’t the case here and it was very interesting, quite sad at times too. One of the last exhibits was a row of red ‘dominoes’ attached to the floor; each one had the name of the countries of the former Eastern Bloc. I assumed you were invited to knock them down to symbolise the falling of the Eastern Bloc and the collapse of Communism in the East; so I did and got a right telling off from a security guard who I hadn’t seen. Easy mistake to make...
On my last full day I went to Malbork Castle, a massive medieval fortress built by the Teutonic’s and the largest brick built Gothic castle in the World. I really wanted to take boat out to Westerplatte which is the spot where the first shots of World War II were fired by the Germans, but unfortunately there were not enough people to run the trip and it didn’t sail, it was my only chance to do it too so I was disappointed. Whilst waiting at the station in Gdansk I heard someone call my name, it was the American guy from yesterday. We got talking again and we went to the castle together, I had planned to go alone obviously but they were such nice people I didn’t mind going together.
The weather curtailed some my plans for the day, the warm sunny days I’d enjoyed previously had gone and the skies were ominously grey and menacing, it was also quite cold. I’d planned to walk around the castle grounds but this wasn’t possible as pretty soon after we’d left the main castle, and probably spending a bit longer than necessary, the rain came and it was torrential. Walking around was impossible so I decided to say goodbye to the Americans and head back to Gdansk. I knew of a station nearer the castle than the main station in Malborg I’d got off at, Malborg Kaldowo. It was within walking distance so I went there. It soon became apparent that it was a minor station, no ticket office and nowhere to sit. The bigger problem was that being such small station most trains didn’t stop there and also I had no means of buying a ticket. I had over an hour to wait for the next train too. I stood on the platform and watched the 1718 train I was expecting to get on sail right through.
My thoughts turned to how the hell was I going to explain to the ticket inspector that I had no ticket? He was unlikely to speak English. I had the good idea of texting Agnes, who speaks Polish, and she sent me an explanation to show the inspector when he asked for my ticket. It worked a treat and I got my ticket with no problems. Think he was quite surprised when he asked for my ticket to be given a mobile phone to read.
I had a nice evening at the hostel, watching the Europa League final with the usual international mix of guests you get at places like that, in the lounge there were French, Germans, Spaniards, Canadians, Americans and Dutch, so it made for a nice atmosphere.
Gdansk is definitely a place I intend to go back to, it really is a gem of Eastern Europe and deserves a higher reputation that it has. Krakow will always be the jewel in Poland’s crown but it isn’t too far behind. It’s nicer than Wroclaw and Warsaw and it’s nice to see it thriving after the tragic past it has suffered, I hope it isn’t too long before I return.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
I had a nice but quiet first day here in Gdansk, didn't do a great deal, I just explored the centre and Old Town on foot and enjoyed the atmosphere and nice feel of the city. It's an immediately likable place, that is to say I liked it immediately! The old town buildings, despite having been painstakingly reconstructed after World War II destruction, are very pretty and give no indication that they are in fact reconstructions. You could easily believe they had been there for centuries, just like the originals.
The Old Town is dominated by Dluga street, otherwise known as Long Market which opens out into Dlui Targ, a beautiful square and the focal point of the Old Town. I stopped here for lunch in an Egyptian chain restaurant and had an average lunch of fried pork meal pieces. The bill came to 44 zl, I gave the waiter 50zl and sat patiently for my change, it never came, the thieving sod kept it although to be fair I have no idea what the Polish custom towards tipping is.
I'd read about something in my guide book that sounded interesting, The Cemetary For Non Existent Cemetaries. Gdansk has had such a tragic history, being overrun countless times and thousands of people killed. During their past the city has been levelled several times and with it the cemetaries destroyed and built over. So the idea to build a cemetary without bodies but to remember those who had died and had had their final resting place obliterated seemed a nice poignant idea. So off I trotted in search of it. I walked about a km past it but I eventually found it. It was a small unassuming garden with some memorial monuments inside. A nice idea I thought.
For dinner I went to Mestwin restaurant, a traditional Kashubian peasant restaurant. Food was OK although I had no idea what the meat in my supposed meatballs were.
Well that was my first day, if the weather hold tomorrow should be good.
Monday, May 10, 2010
I'm off to Gdansk in the morning, should take my mind off recent events. I've wanted to go there for a long time and with all the historial links in the city, Solidarity and the Second World War sites etc, it should be an interesting few days. I'll try to put some new posts on here every now and then should anything interesting happen.