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Gdansk, An Authentic City

by Véronique and Mike

27 January 2016Things didn’t start too well for me in Gdansk. I got off the ship and met the tourist board representative. He told me that there was no easy, cheap way to go to the city of Gdansk from the port. There were taxis (which were too expensive for me alone) and there were the excursions (which I did not want to book). When I asked a couple of fellow cruisers if they were interested in sharing a taxi, they rushed past me with a simple ‘non’, looking at me as if I was a beggar.

Okay plan B. I decided to walk a bit around the harbour area. Usually I’m quite charmed with the industrial atmosphere in those neighbourhoods. Not that much too enjoy this time. I saw a taxi approaching and decided that it was time to swallow my pride and admit I was heading nowhere. The friendly taxi driver agreed to accept my euros (I did not have zloties) and gave me a first introduction of the city we were driving to.

When I arrived in the so-called most beautiful city of the Baltic, the streets were still empty. I strolled through the main street --Dlugi Targ-- and was charmed by the many beautiful and colourful facades and buildings. Many of those are inspired by Dutch architects and artists. The street is located in between the Golden Gate and the Green Gate.

Neptune's Fountain, symbol of Gdansk's connection with the sea.

Things were starting slowly in the Polish town but I found my happiness a bit further. At restaurant Jacobsen I grabbed a place in the sun and ordered their pancakes with spinach, or as they call it there nalesniki ze spinakiem. Things always are so much better after a nice breakfast, wherever I am in the world. 

The charming old town and its Gothic spires in the distance.

On my walk I met Mike and his group during their excursion. And not only their group. Soon the beautiful main street and Long Bridge, the beautiful embankment area along the Motlaw River was crowded by excursion groups and their guides. Still you have to see this street and its most characteristic monument, the largest medieval port crane in Europe. It is at the same time a fortified water gate with two brick towers. Now it is used as the setting for exhibitions of the National Maritime Museum.

Gdansk, member of the Hanseatic league was in the 16th century on top of the world. In 1989 Lech Walesa and his independant trade union, Solidarity started a series of protests which eventually lead to the defeat of the communist regimes of the former Soviet bloc. This beautiful city was attacked and bombed during the second world war and suffered huge damage. The attacks actually started in Westerplatte where German war ship Schleswig-Holstein attacked the Polish positions. Parts of the old town were rebuilt in the 1950s and 1960s. All traces of German influence were removed from the cities appearance and Flemish/Dutch, Italian and French influences were introduced to rebuilt the city. But you can also still see ruins in the old town. 

It's a surprising city with the typical cobble streets and charming houses in the old town but then when you walk in side streets you see another side of the city. 

An old Polish Fiat 126 in the streets of Gdansk. Most of those cars were produced in Poland.

Ah and there is always the local market, a feast for the eyes. Here I saw for the first time entire heads of dead sunflowers for sale.

I actually still had the issue how to get back to the ship. You can imagine how delighted I was to discover a boat service from Zegluga Gdanska running from Gdansk to Westerplatte. It was a beautiful boat ride over the Motlawa River. Also a good opportunity to take pictures from a distance. And then once again I was spoiled. I wrote before how I love old industrial areas. Well, seen from the boat discovering these areas is like stepping into another world. We passed old wharfs, industrial buildings, ruins and cranes. The contrast with the overcrowded pretty old town could not be bigger. We were approaching Westerplatte, the location where the first shots were fired during World War II, hence the many ruins.

I'm writing this down months after my visit and still I can not fully capture the city of Gdansk, full of history and contrasts. It is one of those cities where I can appreciate the uggliness of the abandoned industrial zone near the river, the locals enjoying simple fish and chips near the waterfront and sunbathing nearby the harbour and industry. As Mike would say the beauty in ugly. This is one of those cities it so worth wile to go off the beaten track and discover on your own. Another one to come back to. 

Text: Véronique
Photos: Mike & Véronique

We travelled on board VOYAGER with Belgian cruise tour operator All Ways, discovering the Baltic Sea and St-Petersburg. Mike often joins the excursion, while I mainly go explore myself. In the evening we gather our stories and share on the blog the things we loved most.