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!
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:
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 😦
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
If you’re interested I took a video of what we saw:
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!
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:
We had just enough time to catch our breath and enjoy a cold local beer before being shuttled back to the ship:
We met some fellow Arizonians and bragged about our climb up the tower:
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