Take a journey with me to Gdansk.
During my European travels back in June, I stopped over in Poland for a day. After arriving in Gdynia, I traveled one hour to one of the oldest cities in Poland, Gdansk.
Here are some facts I learned:
- The lands of Gdynia were first mentioned in the 12th century and Gdansk in the 10th (some archaeologists say even the 8th).
- 300K people live in Gdynia and 500K in Gdansk.
- Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, inventory of the thermometer and temperature scale was born in Gdansk in 1686.
- Zloty is the Polish currency.
- Gdansk is the birthplace of WWII, where on September 1, 1939 a German warship opened fire on the city’s Westerplatte peninsula.
- The highest apartment or commercial building in Poland is only about 40 floors. The average apartment is only seven to 10 floors.
Along with its small stature, the Polish architecture, both in and outside the city center, clearly represented the country’s higher poverty rate. The majority of the buildings, especially outside of the city center, were not glamorous. However, there were many hidden gems to be found!
Despite the run down buildings, wall murals were abundant. Everywhere I turned a brightly colored wall provided me with a new Rorschach test, prompting the viewer to discover a meaning for him or herself.
Walking through the Old City’s Green Gates, I was welcomed into a bustling courtyard.
Like the other Hanseatic cities I visited, Gdansk offered colorful building façades.
Unlike the other cities, each building was not only dressed in bright colors, but also beautifully adorned. Complimenting the bold colors off the buildings were paintings, mosaics, intricate woodwork, and statues.
I started my exploration at Saint Mary’s Basilica, the world’s largest brick church.
Since the 14th century, this Roman Catholic church has been welcoming visitors. Its impressive size and Gothic architecture has attracted many visitors around the world. Luckily, there is plenty of room for all as this church can hold 25,000 parishioners.
Along with two new friends of mine, Melanie and her son Chase, I paid a small fee to climb to the 405 steps to the top of the tower.
The climb is not for the faint of heart. The first 150 steps were up a narrow and spiraling staircase.
You are then ushered under low walkways and across scaffolding until you reach the square tower. Another 250 steps bring you to a ladder.
Finally, you find yourself on the top of a small tower, able to comfortably hold about seven people, with breathtaking views. From all angles you are able to see the red-roofed buildings of Gdansk.
I personally believe the climb is not as hard physically as it is mentally. Aside from the first circular tower, the steps do not ascend too quickly. But the climb as a whole is dark and slightly dizzying. As we were climbing down, three school groups were climbing up. It made for narrow passages on the staircase and, I’m sure, a very crowded vantage point from the top. I would recommend going early in the day, before the school groups.
Well, I had worked up an appetite. I perused almost every restaurant menu in the courtyard of Old City before finally deciding upon Elephant Club, which is house in the famous Golden House.
While looking over the menu, I was having a hard time deciphering the Polish words. Ultimately, I asked the waiter to bring me her favorite appetizer along with one of the local beers they had on tap. I was surprised to find in front of me a grill pineapple, jam and an entire baked Brie cheese log. Although this appetizer might have been better shared among friends, I did finish every last bite of it.
I enjoyed people watching and using the free WiFi to send messages home, especially to my brother for his birthday. As this was my last stop in Europe, I wanted to just sit back and savor the moment.
With a few hours left in my day, I took to wandering the streets, disregarding the map I was given. I wasn’t too worried wondering alone as Gdansk is a small town and I do know a few Polish phrases. In high school, my best friend was Polish and spoke the language fluently. Spending time with Aleks and her family, I learned phrases like: Hello, Yes, No, Thank you, Goodbye, Do you love me? and I love you. I figured at worst, I would get myself into an accidental marriage. Not a bad place to end up!
While wandering, I saw Neptune’s Fountain, constructed in 1615.
I also saw the still-operable Crane while walking along the Nogat River.
I noticed that many people were indulging in ice cream while walking through Artus Court. Although I was still very full from my heavy appetizer lunch, I did stop to check out the flavors. Most were pretty decadent, but I was surprised to see my interesting flavors like Smurf and RedBull.
I continued my walk outside of the courtyard slightly to get a more authentic perspective of Gdansk.
I wandered into what must be the world’s smallest grocery store and navigated my way through the sidewalks, which is where I was surprised to see cars parked.
One our way back to the ship, our tour guide let us stop at Solidarity Square. Here we were able to witness the monument erected depicting the victory of the striking workers in 1970 and the role they played in bringing down the Iron Curtain.
With that, my simple day in Poland ended. Although I did not necessarily accomplish much, it was one of the best days of my trip. With extremely friendly locals, delicious food and drink, inexpensive shopping, and picturesque architecture, Gdansk is a historically iconic city. I highly recommend you venture here in the future!
Is Poland on your travel list? Let us know below.