The wonders of Gdańsk (Erasmus)
It’s been a while since I last wrote and honestly, it’s because I’ve been too busy enjoying my Erasmus experience! I spent Christmas back home in Wales and it was so good to see all my family, friends and very missed dog. But it made me realise just how much I love Krakow. I really missed the city while I was gone and found myself itching to get on the return flight here.
Anyway, almost four months in now is a good time to reflect on everything I’ve done so far. First up – Gdansk.
Generally, the most popular cities in Poland are Warsaw and Krakow, so when my French friend asked if I would like to go to Gdansk I admit that I had to google it…
It turned out to be a beautiful place near the Baltic sea and its fairly cheap to travel to. We went for two days in November and flew with Ryanair (yup, we really did book a one hour flight because we are that lazy!)
When we arrived in the city centre around 11pm, the first thing on our minds was grabbing a bite to eat. But everywhere was closed. This was strange to us because in Krakow the restaurants are open very late. We did eventually find a small kebab shop and this reminded me of being back in the UK.
There was also hardly nightlife and the streets were eerily quiet. It was pretty much a ghost town, so we headed back to our hostel. In the day however, the city had changed remarkably. From its colourful décor and quirky architecture, I found myself asking why on earth I’d never planned on visiting before.
There are a few places I’d recommend in Gdansk:
Go to the beach
Sopot, just a short train ride away, is home to one of the nicest beaches I have ever seen – and that’s saying something when you’ve seen the Gower! The small sea-side town has a pier (by far more spectacular than Mumbles Pier) and there are a number of restaurants dotted along the shorefront, all giving a Californian beach-house vibe.
I never thought I would miss seagulls, but it was great to be back near the sea. The Baltic wind however (pardon the pun) wasn’t all that great, but if it still looked nice in November then it must be awesome in the summer months.
Grab a Goldwasser!
When in Gdansk, you have to try Goldwasser. Go into any bar and they will serve it – and that’s what we did. The bartender told us to take a seat while he brought over chilled glasses (we just wanted one shot at the bar but this felt more like a ritual).
Goldwasser (German for ‘gold water’) is a 40% proof vodka that has speckles of real gold. You might be familiar with Smirnoff Gold, but I was totally unaware that it originated from a small Polish fishing town.
Along the main street, you will see Neptune’s fountain. Legend has it that fishermen would toss coins into the fountain, praying to Neptune for a safe journey at sea. In the end, Neptune got so fed up of having coins thrown at him that he struck his trident against the water, turning the water into alcohol along with the gold coins. It’s definitely an acquired taste. To me it tastes like liquorice and gives quite a burn to the throat. I bought a bottle in the airport to take home at Christmas and it was a hit with some people while others were disgusted. Needless to say, I think the bottle will last quite a while!
Visit the World War II Museum
The Auschwitz-Birkenau museum is the main Holocaust memorial within Poland and is a must see for all visitors. But as it’s become such a big tourist attraction, it can take away the solidarity and feel more like a circus. Not every tourist will observe silence near the firing wall or gas chambers and many will Instagram pictures of the ‘arbeit mein frei’ on the entrance gates. (This is just my experience from visiting – I still believe everyone should see it for themselves if they ever find themselves in Krakow).
The World War II Museum in Gdansk held a much more tasteful and sombre attitude in my opinion. Entrance with a student ID is £4 and you have unlimited access to the exhibitions. These range from Nazi propaganda (including Swastika Christmas baubles!) to military uniform and weaponry including a huge torpedo missile and replicas of tanks. The museum is bursting with information and each section is just as educational as the next. They also have a children’s exhibition of a typical WWII school.
As well as being incredibly factual however, the exhibitions are emotional. When exiting one section, you turn a corner to be immediately greeted with hundreds of pictures of Holocaust victims. My breath hitched when I saw that the exhibition was called ‘People Like Us’. The museum acknowledges that whilst we can all learn about the political aspects of the war, we must never forget the victims.
Take a FREE walking tour
If there’s ever a better way to learn about a city – its taking a walking tour (did I mention it’s free?!)
In two hours we learned so much about the troubled history of Gdansk and it’s favourite fables. I’ll spare you the politics but basically, the ownership of Gdansk has been up for debate for quite some time. Germany owned it, then it belonged to the Polish kings, then Germany took it back and so on..
It was completely guttered during WWII and since then has been re-built from the ground up under the Poles.
In the words of Hosier, Take Me To Church
With Poland being a 95% Catholic country, it’s no surprise to find a few churches here and there. In the town centre, you will find St Mary’s Church. If you’re feeling brave, you can climb the 409 steps to the top of the church tower to witness a marvellous view of the city. I did not do this – I let my friends venture up whilst I quite happily sat in one of the church pews looking like Kevin from Home Alone. During the walking tour, the guide also told us a funny story about the church. There is no steeple at the top of the tower. An old myth tells of a giant that would visit Gdansk, so the townspeople left the peak of the tower flat so he would have a seat! This of course was just a lie made up to cover the fact that they couldn’t afford to complete the construction, but it makes for a nice story.
This place definitely makes a great city break and it’s something different from the norm. Two to three nights is more than enough time to get around and see everything – plus it works out cheaper than other mainstream city breaks so win-win. Gdansk truly is one of Poland’s hidden gems.