Baby’s got the blues, and not just in government. No; this time, that sinking feeling comes from leaving the Polish port town of Gdansk in my wake.
My resolve to visit a new place every month is going rather well, if I could be so bold. At the risk of going all Eat, Pray, Shut Up on you, visiting new places calms me. With Romania, Norway, Devon, Portugal, France and Cornwall under my belt in 2017, I could well be in travel deficit; but there’ll be no quitting while I’m ahead here. As long as the Tories keep up their campaign of incompetent arseholery, I’ll be needing to book a holiday every week, not every month.
Woe betide my white girl problems…
However, I made a promise to myself to stop being such a massive Remoaner so if you’re sick of politics, you’re in luck. I’ve got you some Pole-itics!
I’m starting to wonder whether there’s any correlation with how terrible and frequent my punning becomes, and how often I find myself travelling solo…
Having arrived in the thick of night and with no research on the city whatsoever, I’d no idea what to expect of Gdansk.
I’d booked it, as I do with all things, on a whim. The flights were cheap, the coast was close and I was free that weekend. I had no prior knowledge of the city and for that, I’ll forgive myself. Poland is full of world-famous cities like Warsaw, Krakow and Wroclaw, which means one can quite easily sail by its smaller cities.
I was ill-prepared for what I woke up to. It’s all gothic brick, pirate ships and imposing arches leading to cobbled lanes. If Europe is a storybook, I found myself in the first chapter of Game of Thrones.
I pitched up waterside and gave World Gin Day a quick nod, before exploring Old Town.
Unlike most Polish cities, it has no main square to act as an anchor. I liked it though; venturing around was that bit more exciting. Even when you find yourself down a side street, it’s not long before you find yourself back in some grandiose would-be film-set.
I’ve not been to Poland before so I have absolutely zero context, but I’m surprised Gdansk doesn’t get more of a look-in when it comes to the big travel publications.
I know, Town Halls can be kinda boring. If I’m honest, I’d planned on skipping it altogether as it looked fairly dry from the outside.
I’m so glad I didn’t. The glorious interiors takes old-world European decadence to a new level. The gold and blue made it feel like I was standing inside my ever-fabulous Grandmere’s old costume jewellery box.
Continuing through the Hall, you have the option to climb the tower for an extra £2. By the time I did, the sun had gone in, taking the other tourists with it. This meant I was up there alone, which was both eerie and pleasing in equal measures.
Atop the tower you can look down on the stag dos* stumbling between the tall, thin and colourful facades. This chocolate-box skyline is undoubtedly worth the muscle burn of over 100 steps.
*I chose to do this figuratively as well as literally; but you know, it’s totally your call
The rain had well and truly set in at this point, so I power-walked 30 minutes outside of central Gdansk to the European Solidarity Centre.
Other than being an EU-funded advert for, you guessed it, the EU, it’s a comprehensive and immersive storytelling of Gdansk’s (very) recent history. Truly, it’s almost on par with the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul – the best museum I have ever been to.
In a nutshell, the 15,000 dock workers in Gdansk used peaceful protest to win themselves the first Union in the whole Eastern Bloc in 1980. Soon after, Poland became the first Eastern Bloc state to win its freedom.
It’s a compelling story, and well-told. You’re able to sit inside the cab of crane operator Anna Walentynowicz, whose forced redundancy so close to her retirement acted as the catalyst for the whole shipyard to rise up in protest. When you think about the domino effect that happened thereafter – the uprising, the Union, Polish freedom, the break-up of the Eastern Bloc – it’s difficult to downplay the significance of any seemingly small event.
Authentic items are used throughout the exhibition, such as the workers’ helmets you can see on the ceiling here. This is Gdansk’s must-see.
They say good things come in threes and northern Poland’s Tri-City is no different.
That’s right, Gdansk ent just Gdansk. It’s partnered with its neighbouring port towns of Sopot and Gdynia; the former of which is popular for its beaches and beers.
You could quite easily take the train for around £2 and arrive quicker than you can say ‘get outta town‘ (13 minutes, to be precise). But why do that when you could bob down the coastline, peering into the working ports outside Old Town? It only takes an hour and costs the equivalent of around £6.
…was not only my demand, but the slogan I saw on two revellers’ t-shirts when I arrived in Sopot. As you might guess, this place is to Gdansk what Brighton is to Hastings, albeit cleaner.
You could say it’s Sopot-less… I’ll show myself out.
Sopot is tourist heaven or hell, depending on your outlook. Whatever your view on going abroad only to find the same logos you could see at home, Sopot is worth a brief trip for the sea views you don’t get in Gdansk.
Avoid the mayhem of downtown Sopot and opt instead for a quieter spot in the private restaurants on the boardwalk. Your glass of wine will be slightly more expensive, about £5, but it’ll be worth it to Polish it off in peace.
And there you were thinking I’d made it through a 1,100+ word post without making the most obvious pun possible. Oh nie reader, I’ll sink that low.
Hard Brexit or soft, it’s not long ’til visiting Europe will come with its own hurdles for us Brits. We’ll still make our pilgrimages to the blockbuster cities, I’ve no doubt; but I fear smaller cities like Gdansk may fall off the radar*.
*Perhaps that’s no bad thing; stag dos may bring in a shit-ton of złoty but what they take is of equal measure.
The ships of Gdansk and lapping waters of Sopot whetted my appetite for Poland. I’ll be returning in three weeks; this time, to Wroclaw. Tweet me your recommendations @amyjbsmith!