We were there: GDAŃSK
First time I went abroad in early 90s. It was Poland: Przemyśl, Kraków, Katowice. Even in those days, I was astonished by unusual buildings, palaces, churches, foreign language. Then, thanks to my profession, I am a journalist, I have visited many countries around the world. Yet, I did not cease to be excited about what I had seen. Travelling is my favourite activity. Last summer I had my first trip to Gdańsk. My friend lives there now. The city was impressive and memorable. Why? I would like to share it with you.
I unpacked my stuff in the apartment and I went outside to study the marine capital of Poland. Beautiful all together and each separately, buildings met me on the main tourist street called the Royal Route, now Ulica Długa (Long Street) and Długi Targ (Long Market) flanked at both ends by elaborated Gold and Green Gate. The endless raw of cafes decorated with flowers and various restaurants from pubs and confectioneries, to institutions of national Polish cuisine. In one of them I had my lunch, a really tasty soup in a bread loaf called juric (I have something to compare, for instance, the same juric at restaurant in Warsaw). Tourist centre is an old Town Hall which permeates clouds with its sharp spire (Gdańsk met me with rain, it was nice after merciless heat of Kiev).
I wondered, how many of tourists admiring all this beauty, are aware of the fact that they gaze in wonder at not medieval structures, but their image and likeness of the early 50s of the last century? The historical part of Gdańsk - the Main Town – restored its pre-war appearance in 1960. International experts have recognized the reconstruction work to be comprehensive and exceptionally large scaled for its time. The monstrous scale of devastation after World War II shocked photographer Janusz Uklejewski. In March 1945, battered soldier arrived in Gdańsk. The ruins of medieval buildings for a long time were key objects of his photos, coming down the history. Like rebirth from the ashes of the once rich Hanseatic town...
Indeed, this fact from a local guidebook is really amazing: out of 144 thousand houses, 95 thousand buildings were totally destroyed! In the historical part there was not a single resident, since there was no place to live in. The city authorities even had an idea to move downtown to another place... But no! Miraculously, they found photos, old city plans and documents according to which it was possible to reproduce the image of an old city. All the more, after the third historic annexation Gdańsk was returned to Poland. The decision on restoration of the old part was adopted in 1948. "My" Ogarna Street was completely rebuilt within four years. In another two years, Ulica Długa and Długi Targ were adorned with medieval facades of once merchant mansions and patrician houses. The same time restoration work was carried out on other streets. And it was in the most difficult post-war conditions! Just imagine how much the locals love their city and their country, that they worked selflessly and carefully, without foreign financial support (only at the expense of the state and the Poles - so the guidebook says), facade after facade, they restored the historical beauty of Gdańsk which at that time was almost a thousand years old. There were restored Gdańsk Żuraw, town halls, old mill, ancient cathedrals.
Let’s go back to the glorious city of Gdańsk. Wandering through its streets is a pure pleasure. And there are must-visit places. For instance, the Oliwa Park. It is a nice and beautiful destination, the entrance is free including local greenhouse. But the value for me is in the Gdańsk Oliwa Archcathedral of the 13th century, and more precisely, in its famous great Oliwa organ. Have you ever heard the thunder, the splash of water, the sound of wind or the birds singing in the execution of the king of musical instruments? Personally, I had not heard it before I attended a concert in the cathedral. Concerts are held every day for free! The organ itself in rococo style is unusually beautiful. In the centre of stained glass there is the Virgin and Child. Angels, stars, sun and moon can move while music is playing. Authors were creating it for a quarter of century. Nearly eight thousand pipes ranging in size from ten centimetres to about 11 meters! Useless to tell, it should be listened to at least once in life.
One can come to the Oliwa Park by a city tram number 6. Fare is 3 zł. You can buy tickets from the machine at the tram stop. Do not risk to pretend a "fare dodger". Inspectors go there very often, considerable fine is unavidable. One can save money in other place, if you want to walk along the wonderful waterfront in Gdańsk, and also by the Motława River. River trip on a sailboat decorated as ancient boat costs over 30 zł. Next to the Green Gate and along the waterfront there are stops of municipal water tram. Take a pleasure-boat cruises upriver to see a wealth of maritime history: famous shipyard (where started Solidarity with Lech Wałęsa), the Carré fort of the 16th century, the lighthouse with the time ball of exceptional accuracy (accuracy to 1 second for... 200 thousand years), and Baltic sea coast. Ticket price is 10 zł.
Another mandatory, in my opinion, visiting point is an observation deck of the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (St. Mary's Church). The staircase going up is a steep, even breathtaking, it goes up at height of 82 meters, consisting of about 500 stairs. But effort is worth it: view is spectacular. The Cathedral (the largest church in the world built of bricks) with the works of medieval era and baroque, astronomical clock with the puppet theatre of the 15th century will affect the emotional strings. Romantics and lovers of architecture are suggested to have coffee or cocktail at the Virgin Mary Street leading to St. Mary's Church. This is the cosiest and the most beautiful street. No wonder filmmakers are very fond of it.
The biggest in Europe great tile furnace of the 16th century comes to the category of "most-most" for me. It is located in Artus Court at Ulica Długa. At ten meters, 520 handmade tiles are lined up depicting the greatest European leaders: the Polish kings, the rulers of the European Renaissance. In the Artus Court (its roots go back to the days of chivalry of the 14th century) there are a lot of interesting things from the collection of ancient ship models to prototype of the bar counter! The place was designed as an exclusive meeting venue for the local elite: knights, merchants, nobles and luminaries used to come here to socialize over a glass of beer and to do business. Some of them had safes for storing valuables, important documents and money. Safes were equipped with two doors made of wood and metal. However, the splendour of the surroundings should be seen with your own eyes. Mirrors for lovely ladies stretched the reflection, creating optical illusion of absolute slender figure. Therefore, probably, each woman of the upper class was confident in her beauty!
To visit all the interesting places of the city, you have to come here more than once or twice. According to rating of international publisher of best-selling guide around the city Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Travel, Gdańsk is in the top ten of the most interesting cities in the world.