Homelands Cruise – Gdańsk, Poland

Day 16 – Aug 5, 2022

If you’re like us, you probably haven’t heard much about Gdańsk, Poland unless you’re a history buff. We only knew it was one of the stops on our itinerary, but we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived. Hopefully by the time you finish reading this post you’ll agree it’s a magical place to visit, and a true gem on the Baltic coast!

Gdańsk is a port city on the Baltic coast of Poland
With seven pilot boats sitting ready at the port, Gdańsk must be a popular destination!

On this port call, we chose Viking’s included excursion “City of Gdańsk on Foot”, but first we had to be bussed to the main city which is only a few minutes from the port.

Big things have happened here, so let me start by talking about that:

First, Gdańsk is the place where World War II began. The huge Monument to the Defenders of the Coast that we saw at the port was built to commemorate the valiant Polish forces who fought so hard to hold off the Nazis. The battle raged for more than a week, but the Nazis ultimately prevailed.

It was also here that the Workers Solidarity Movement brought about the beginning of the end of the Cold War (remember Lech Walesa?). We passed the monument that commemorates it – three majestic crosses with anchors symbolizing hope – which was erected in memory of the bloodied victims of the worker’s strikes in December 1970.

The Solidarity Movement began in Gdańsk’s shipyards, and in 1989 it brought down communist rule over Poland.

And before all that, for hundreds of years the city of Gdańsk bounced back and forth between being a German territory and a Polish territory.

That was just for starters. Our walking tour began on the bridge crossing the Motława River, the waterway that links the city’s docks to the sea, and one of the waterways that made Gdańsk a rich city.

Our tour guide pointed out a huge structure on the riverfront:

Motława River with the iconic Gdańsk Crane structure in the background to the left

Back in the middle ages, the Gdańsk Crane was the largest port crane in Europe. It’s a human-powered device that could hoist loads of up to 2000kg (4,400 lbs)! We wanted to take a tour but it was closed for renovation 😦

The oh so conspicuous Gdańsk Crane soars above the busy waterfront

After that brief stop we continued on, passing through the Green Gate. To me it didn’t look like a gate at all, nor was there a hint of green on it or the building above:

The Green Gate used to be a formal residence of Polish kings, now it’s a branch of the National Museum in Gdańsk
Peeking through the Green Gate

As we passed through the Green Gate we were in awe with what was before us. The throngs of tourists were obviously enjoying this place – colorful, vibrant and bursting with character. We were standing at the Long Market, a wide-open pedestrian street lined with shops, cafes, restaurants and more. This is so unlike major cities in Europe that are known for having quintessential market squares.

My camera and I got busy:

Dlugi Targ Street or the Long Market

Our tour guide showed us several points of interest as we continued; the 17th century Neptune’s Fountain, a symbol of Gdańsk; the richly-decorated facade of the Golden House, completed in 1618; Artus Court, the center of social life, and the Fahrenheit Monument which displayed an antique thermometer in remembrance of Daniel G. Fahrenheit who was born here:

Halfway through we entered into Long Street. I know, it’s confusing – Long Market, Long Street – but nevertheless this whole promenade flanked by the Green Gate on the east all the way to the western end is called the Royal Way. It’s named as such because centuries ago this is where Polish kings walked when visiting the city:

Long Street, or Ulica Dluga Street looking towards Golden Gate

Here we saw ornately decorated mansions and homes owned in the old times (and now) by Gdańsk’s wealthiest citizens. Each colorful building is a bit different, as the owners wanted to display their wealth as creatively as possible:

In those days, structures were taxed based on street frontage, so most of the houses were built skinny and deep. The widest ones belonged to the super-elite, like that black one on the end above and these two below.

Long Street viewed from Golden Gate, facing east

We completed our walk at Highland Gate which marks the beginning, or the official entrance, to Royal Way.

We were reminded while walking down this street that we were looking at Gdańsk’s most ancient history. During WWII the city was leveled, but after the war artisans and architects were brought in to re-create the Old Town and they erased all references to German influences. Instead, what we see today is a restoration of its historic ties with the Netherlands, hence the entire street is designed in the Dutch Renaissance style. No wonder seeing the city reminded me of Amsterdam, although it is more vibrant and colorful here.

More of Golden Gate, under renovation

Next we went inside the largest brick church in Europe, if not the world, St. Mary’s Basilica. From the outside it certainly towered over Old Town:

My vain attempt to capture it all

We were there to see an astronomical clock from the second half of the 15th century. It is functional and runs at the top of every hour. It tracks time, date, phases of the moon, and position of the sun and moon in relation to the zodiac signs. Very cool!

 The clock was completed in 1470, built almost entirely of wood. Damaged during WWII, it was reconstructed after the war. It stands 46-feet high and was the largest wooden clock in the world upon its completion. At noon we watched it run, seeing Adam and Eve (the very top figures) ring the bell, followed by a procession of the Three Kings, the Apostles and Death as they marched across.

Adam and Eve ring the bell every hour
The middle part shows the Zodiac signs

If you’re interested I took a video of what we saw:

Main altar with St. Mary depicted in stained glass

We remained energized after our walking tour and decided to climb to the top of the church’s tower. We paid about 20 złoty ($8USD) to climb 400 steps to the top, and the one-way spiral staircase was narrow and not in great shape. It was a tough climb, but totally worth it!

We were rewarded with breathtaking views of the area, but the platform full of people wasn’t the best place for vertically-challenged individuals like me to take photos. The 360º view from the tallest structure in the city was incredible!

Long Street
When it was time to go back down it was easier to turn around like on a ladder in some places

Steve wanted to buy me some amber, which ends up on the shores of Gdańsk as the tide rolls in. That’s what makes this city the true capital of amber, and home to the one-of-a kind Amber Museum. We were directed to St. Mary’s street to find genuine gems:

St. Mary’s Street is a short and picturesque avenue that goes from St. Mary’s Church to the Old City Gate next to the river. We couldn’t help but notice the ancient granite cobblestones and even more richly ornamented houses that contribute to the area’s unique character:

What do you think?

We had just enough time to catch our breath and enjoy a cold local beer before being shuttled back to the ship:

We were there!

We met some fellow Arizonians and bragged about our climb up the tower:

Ending our day with a cold beer and new friends before going back to the ship – perfect!

There’s a very energetic vibe here, with a mostly young crowd of residents, tourists and folks who have recently migrated into the country from Ukraine.  According to our guide, 25% of the population is now Ukrainian, counting the approximately 3 million refugees who have entered the country since the beginning of the war.

We enjoyed our short visit and put several miles on our walking shoes. Hopefully this long post will help my dear readers get a feel for why we were so impressed and charmed by this vibrant and historic city!


Next up: Karlskrona, Sweden

22 comments

  1. I’ve been thinking about you. We put the Maple Pass hike on our list since reading about it in your blog from your visit to Washington (and us). For several reasons, we just completed it about a week ago. It was wonderful! On a scale of 1-5, it was at least a 7. It would have been higher, except we suffered with some wildfire smoke. The larches and blueberries were in full color. Truly glorious. Thank you for recommending for sharing your travels and highlighting that hike.

  2. First of all…..I LOVE your amber necklace, although it’s almost as big as you are! Both our families have some long ago ties to Gdansk…..mine when it was under German rule and Dave’s when it was Polish. You’ve outdone yourself taking photos and showing us the feeling of the city. So beautiful!

  3. Such a beautiful city! And the history of how they rebuilt after WW II is very interesting. The views from on top of the tower are incredible, but that was a crazy number of people up there! Did you get up on Steve’s shoulders so that you could take your great photos? LOL. I agree with Laura and Sue, your amber necklace is gorgeous. What a wonderful souvenir from a memorable stop on your tour!

    • We did not expect so many people up there! I had to position my camera in between the wire fence and had him use my phone to take some. Thank you, I like my new necklace.

  4. What a wonderful post and such a beautiful city. Your photos are spectacular and really take us into the city. I just love all the colorful, decorated buildings. That church is amazing!! Wow! I was looking at the map to see exactly where Gdansk is along the shore when you mentioned that it changed countries. I expected to see it along the Poland/Germany border. So much history in one town. Love your amber necklace!! Spectacular photos, ML!

  5. Now that looks like a city even we would enjoy — so colorful and interesting! I think the only thing I didn’t like was that big ol’ Ferris wheel. Seems like all the big tourist cities have one now, and I think they look so out of place and dominate the view. Your amber jewel is very pretty and such a sweet keepsake from your honeybunch!

  6. Nice piece of amber Steve got you. As they say in Turkish, “güle güle kullan.” Gdańsk has been on my list of places to visit, but none of our itineraries have included so far. It’s such a lovely place.

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