Monday, September 19th, 2005
Gdansk, Poland is a bit of a cheat. It’s impressive with its immaculate gothic, Dutch and Baroque Renaissance architecture, huge church spires and archways, all immaculately preserved, it feels like a time capsule from the 16th century – the only thing is, much of it is barely 60 years old. So devestated was the city, formerly called Danzig, in the second World War (90% of it was destroyed), that when it came to rebuilding, the decided to turn back time and rebuild in a style recalling the city’s most glorious period of the Middle Ages.
Gdansk is part of a tri-city complex that includes the resort town of Sopot and the port city of Gdynia, which is where we came ashore. Gdynia is not much of a tourist town, but is notable for being the apple of Adolph’s eye that initially led to the start of World War II – he craved the city’s ports and claimed it actually belonged to Prussia, by way of excuse for attacking it. Modern day Gdynia is pretty depressing, to be honest. It still looks very Eastern European, with drab, stained concrete structures and little post-Communist beautification. Buildings are crumbling, graffitied and kinda sad overall. We bussed through town en route to Gdansk, and the grey, overcast skies did little to help the scenery.
The old city of Gdansk is actually pretty compact. Our walking tour started around the east end as we crossed under the Green Gate into the Long Market. They’ve done a helluva job with the reconstruction of the city, especially if you’ve seen pictures of the utter desolation that was Danzig at the end of the war. The buildings lining the streets are tall and narrow and brightly coloured, adorned with coats of arms, sculptures and decorations. Various sights included the Neptune Fountain outside the towering Town Hall and the enormous St Mary’s Church, apparently the largest brick church in the world, which is impressively huge inside. We also caught glimpses of other landmarks including the Armoury and gigantic medieval crane on the riverfront. It would have been nice to see more, but our tour guide had a bit of an agenda of her own.
Easily the worst guide we’ve had all trip, her English was barely passable and her idea of what constituted a worthwhile “sight” was debatable (“And here is a Holiday Inn… And there is a travel agent where you can buy plane tickets…”) but she also herded us into a jewelery store, ostensibly so that we could see how amber was polished and turned into trinkets but mainly to encourage us to shop there. It was quite evident that she was friends with the proprieters and probably got a kickback on any sales from tour groups. I was not impressed. And I really don’t care for amber, especially after seeing it hocked ad nauseum for the past four days.
Overall, I wasn’t really taken with Gdansk. Not really any fault of the city itself, I think just between getting over being seasick last night, a sub-par guide and generally gloomy weather, it wasn’t really a recipe for a memorable experience. Oh well, can’t win em all. And speaking of seasick, it was pretty rough going night last night. Dramamine is my friend, even if it tastes so very gross. Chewable orange flavour my ass. Tomorrow is spent entirely at sea, I certainly hope the waters are smoother than last night or it’ll be a looong trip. The day after will be spent in Oslo, the second-last stop of this trip. As much fun and enlightening as it’s been, I’m about ready to go home.
And if anyone can come up with a better Polish-themed title for this post is a cleverer person than I.