Monday, 4 June 2012

Once upon a time, there was Gdańsk

I arrived in Gdańsk on Saturday at 11:00 (for those of you who think that Warsaw to Gdańsk by train takes seven hours - I'll let you into a secret - you can do it in 4hrs 40mins via Kutno and Bydgoszcz rather than directly). The wedding's not until six, so plenty of time to see the sights. And in Gdańsk, these are plentiful. [I'll be updating this post on the fly, so keep popping back:)]

Below: Gdańsk station and in front of it, a statue commemorating the kindertransports - Jewish children sent by their parents to England by train (often alone) just before the outbreak of WWII to escape their impending fate.

Below: in the Middle Ages, Gdańsk was a world-class high-rise city. Most of the kamienice (tenements) in the old town are five to nine stories high. The Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, completed in 1502, is the world's largest (though not tallest) brick church. (Four days earlier, I visited the world's largest wooden church.)

Through the old town's gates (below) on ul. Chlebnicka, and we get to the Motława river and the mediaeval port on the Długie Pobrzeże ('long foreshore').

Below: the żuraw (pron. ZHOOruv, meaning crane - as in mechanical lifting device, and indeed large bird of the order Gruiformes in both languages) on the Motława. The żuraw was originally built in 1444. In the distance, the SS Sołdek, a ship built in Gdańsk in 1948 and named after a Stakhanovite shipyard worker.

The weather on Saturday was a mix of sunny intervals and intense, cold showers. After seeing the Old Town, I took myself by tram to the seaside. I've been to Gdańsk many times over the years, but I never visited the city's beaches. The Number 8 tram from Gdańsk Główny tram stop terminates at both ends by a beach. The north-western end of the line is at Jelitkowo (lit. 'Little Bowelly'), and this is the beach that I visit first. Below: the tram loop, some 400m from the sea.

Below: a shelter from the coming storm - a solidly constructed beer tent, of typical construction to be found all along the Polish Baltic coast. Here I could sit and have lunch while a rain storm lashed the beach mercilessly for about 20 minutes.

I finish lunch, return to the tram loop to catch a Number 8 from Jelitkowo to Stogi Plaża (that's as in the French plage, not the Spanish plaza), through the city centre again, and out the other side to the sea. The weather is still inclement.

Above: the classic view of Gdańsk, the association with the cradle of the Solidarity movement, shipyard cranes standing sombre and immobile against a brooding sky.

Above: Stogi beach, looking east. Turn around to face west, and you will see the gigantic DCT (Deepwater Container Terminal) port (below). The beach itself is impeccably clean.

The clock is ticking away, time to board a tram back into town and catch a Number 6 to Oliwa for the wedding from Gdańsk Główny tram stop. Below: the Stogi Plaża tram loop is situated amid a forest, less than 300m from the sea.

Below: the High Gate (Brama Wyzynna), seem from the tram heading back into the city centre. A map of Gdańsk is essential, as is a 24-hour bus/tram ticket (12 złotys) which - unlike Warsaw - is not valid for the city's SKM trains. Verily, Gdańsk is Newcastle-upon-Tyne (shipbuilding), Southampton (ports), Oxford (historic buildings) and Bournemouth (beaches) all rolled into one.

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