On the day before departure Anna Grace and I pored and planned over the weather forecast, cruel mistress that she is. No Rain, Slight Rain, Sunny, and Everything in Between was predicted, except locusts, and so we packed accordingly. The only downside of our planning was that because of the forecast changing every time we looked at it, we decided not to advance purchase tickets for the very new WWII museum (entrance is limited); this worked against us, and we were not able to visit.
Our driver was at the airport with the, Ms. First Name Last Name-ski” sign and he promptly sped us like a lunatic to our hotel. When he realized that the “ski” part of my name really meant that I was one generation removed from the homeland and could barely speak my native tongue, sadness and silence filled the car. My grandmother would be ashamed.
Sunlight dappled against the pastel colored buildings that seemed to be taken from the pages of a Copenhagen tourism booklet, and my iPhone proved a worthy recruit in snapping scenes. (My aging DSL has been acting funky lately so I patted it gently and left it at home, bringing only my iPhone to record the holiday.) People (but not too many!) walked the cobbled lanes. Nordic, Scandinavian, German, and Polish words filled the air. Quartets playing familiar tunes echoed from the gates. We snapped and Ooohed. And snapped and Aaaahed. We also noticed several sailing crews moving about the town; later in the week these 82 crews would be competing in some racing event in the Gulf of Gdansk.
Across the river the S.S. Sołdek caught our attention. The freighter was the first to be built in the Gdansk Shipyard following the end of WWII, and was open for touring. We toured! The small ticket cost (a theme in Gdansk) was entirely worth being able to scramble about a former sea-going freighter now offering picturesque views of Gdansk (and the opportunity to ring the Captain’s Bell!) as well as to learn a little bit about Gdansk’s shipbuilding history.
The S.S. Sołdek had a Combat Dog, Crewman Pedro.
We awoke the following morning only to a slight threat of rain, and with the temperature expected to reach 16℃. This day we decided would be our outing to Malbork Castle. We dressed in light jeans and brought along umbrellas, which meant, of course, that the day turned out to be 24℃ with bright sunshine! No complaints, just bemusement over why “Weather Forecaster” is a salaried profession.
Malbork Castle rates as one of the most impressive castles we have ever toured, and is deserving of its title as the “heart” of Poland, we think. Castle visitors outnumbered Gdansk visitors, but with 52 acres to roam crowding was a non-issue. The audio guide, provided with the terribly low ticket cost informed our nearly 3 hour self-guided tour into and out of various wings, up and down staircases and back and forth across the courtyard and gardens. Over lunch we debated which we were most impressed with: the castle, or its history, or the love of the Polish people who spent decades restoring the castle after the war.
Malbork Castle at the end of WWII.
Taking advantage of the sunny day, we departed Malbork for Sopot. By this time in the late afternoon, though, the temperature had dropped considerably and the winds were gusting along the coast; at the end of the pier (the longest in Europe) we could spy the sails of the boats in the competition, perhaps conducting trials or something. Would we have regretted not visiting Sopot? Likely not, though it filled the last couple of hours in the day pleasantly.
Around 0200, closing time, a loud group’s noises filtered into the open window and woke me. Three hours later I was awakened again, this time by the driving rain on the glass. The apocalypse had arrived.
In the five minute walk to the bakery we had found on the first morning for breakfast, our shoes and socks were soaked through; the rain splash even turning the legs of our light jeans into clingy, wet cotton. It would just be that kind of day. Those caught unprepared and having to purchase plastic ponchos looked like colorful and humid bubbles. We dubbed gaggles of them, “Bubble Tea.”
First on the agenda was the European Solidarity Center, a quick two tram stops from the old city. Kudos to the curators for putting together an engaging story of Poland’s non-violent “Resistance” to Communism. Over lunch we talked about how the “Resistance” going on in America, with its violence and sense of entitlement is completely different.
The original wooden boards attached to the Gdansk Lenin Shipyards, outlining the striking worker’s 21 demands; the boards now have UNESCO protection.
Gdansk’s Central Market offered us brief respite from the deluge, though we did not find the offerings to be out of the usual, that being kolbasa, house dresses and underclothes. And super cute edible mice. The attendant at the toilet was a bit gruff (the only such encounter we had in Gdansk), refusing to change the 20 Złoty note for coins. Really? I dropped the only coin I had, 1 Euro, into the dish, and queued for the WC anyway.
The Amber Museum held our interest and complemented what we had learned from our visit to Malbork Castle, but both of us found the exhibits on the building’s original purpose, that of a medieval torture chamber, a little too creepy to finish. Amber is also incredibly expensive to purchase, we learned. Thank goodness I have cherished family pieces!
With time remaining only to decide between the History of Gdansk Museum and the Maritime Museum, we made the poor choice of the former. Not airconditioned and over crowded, the soupy, humid building melted us halfway through the exhibits, and we left for a café, watching the rain fall while enjoying ice cream.
The forecast calling for just cloudy skies on our final half day, the vote was to ferry over to the Westerplatte Penninsula. Having missed the opportunity to tour the WWII History Museum, visiting the memorial and exhibits here we thought would be a good concession. Or would have been. Once again the driving rain woke us the following morning. We sighed and changed our plan, touring just Artus Court, once the meeting place for merchants (the local elite) and a center of social life, patterned after the gallantry of King Arthur. By the by too many special interest cliques had formed and civil pleasantries dropped off so the court was repurposed into the stock exchange. Its Gothic Hall is worth the visit.
And taking one more walk along the Amber Street (which, strangely enough, seemed prettier in the rain) before giving up and heading to the airport a little early.