Airports around the world are often named after their most famous nationals. New York has JKF International, Liverpool, John Lennon and flying to Poland’s capital you arrive at Warsaw Chopin Airport. Gdańsk Lech Wałęsa Airport is rightly named after its most famous son.
WWII began when Germany made their invasion into Poland. The first shots of the war were fired just a few miles away from Gdańsk and by the end of the war 90% of the old town was destroyed. Previously known as the “Free City of Danzig”, Gdańsk is still referred to by most Germans we met as Danzig.
Following the end of the war, there was much argument over how to reconstruct the city. Harsh anti-German sentiment wanted to rid the city of all remnants of it (leading up to the war, Germans constituted a large majority of the population), but much debate continued over how to reconstruct it. A homage to the old days, and if so which period? Modern architecture? Socialist realism (Soviet)?
Walking in from Margo’s nearby overnight spot we were immediately struck with how pretty Gdansk is. The buildings are painted in muted colours of, orange, yellow, duck egg blue and pink. Some beautifully decorated with elaborate casings and paintings.
Although the architecture in the Old Town is undoubtedly beautiful and instantly appealing (it had me at first sight), however some would argue it is largely fake. Attractive it most certainly is but the decoration is not original and the facades often sit in front of Soviet concrete buildings rejected by preservationists as inauthentic.
Vaclav Havel, the former Czech president and the Nobel Prize winner, concluded when asked to comment on the importance of authenticity when rebuilding Gdansk’s, Said “beauty, the aesthetic value of monuments matter more to common people”.
The Port of Gdańsk is Poland’s largest sea port, with growing trade in cruise ships as well as international cargo traffic. One recent change for the port of Gdańsk has started (post-Brexit) to receive fish from the UK, including mackerel from the Shetland Islands.
European Solidarity Centre
We had no pre-conceptions of how good this museum would be, but it was brilliant. The building is impressive and is designed to house not only the exhibition that tells the history of Solidarity, but also to host conferences and concerts – we knew that because of the noise of the rehearsals taking place.
The union emerged from a strike which began in August 1980 at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk. Led by Lech Walesa, workers demanded reinstatement of laid off colleagues and wage rises, and over a few days strikes spread throughout most of Poland.
On 31 August, an agreement was reached between the communist authorities and strikers that allowed for free and independent unions, together with freedom of religious and political expression. Within a year the union had 10 million members, a third of Poland’s working age population.
On 22 September 1980, Solidarity, the independent Polish trade union, was formally founded when 36 regional unions united under the name Solidarność.
However, in December 1981, Solidarnosc was forcibly suppressed by the Polish government, but re-emerged in 1989 to become the first opposition movement to participate in free elections in a Soviet-bloc since the 1940’s. Solidarity subsequently formed a coalition government with Poland’s United Workers’ Party.
Lech Walesa, the legendary leader of Solidarnosc and millions of Polish workers, went on to become the president of Poland (1990–95). He received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1983.
Like many good modern museums the Solidarity Centre tells its story by transporting you around the space, in this case by sensors in the audio sets detecting where you are, directing you where to go next then giving clear commentary to accompany what you are seeing. It’s full of detail, a real enlightening, entertaining and enriching experience.
In the place where shipyard life once bustled, a long abandoned stamping press stands proudly as a powerful symbol of the industrial legacy of this place. The now neglected spaces are being slowly adopted by artists. On a ramp nearby, figures “stuck together from a broken typewriter, electrical components, lamps, wheels or springs, appear to be marching up the former launch ramp, seemingly heading towards the city, looking every inch like an invasion from Star Wars.
Cycling back to Margo we had to cross over the Ołowianka Footbridge. We arrived just as it was opening to allow large boats to pass underneath, meaning for us either a long detour or a 30 min wait. Spotting fish & chips at a convenient quayside eatery, we didn’t need to be asked twice. It was delicious. I said to the waitress afterwards it was the best ‘fish n chips‘ we’ve had in the last 72 days.
More famous faces
Going back to airports for a minute, Kraków John Paul II International Airport is named after this man. His stand against Poland’s Communist regime had brought him wide respect. He was also the first non-Italian pope in more than 450 years.
Another well know figure, this time born in Warsaw is the footballer Lewandowski, considered one of the best strikers of all time, as well as one of the most successful players in Germany’s Bundesliga history.
The medieval Malbork Castle is the largest brick castle in the world and guess what, yep, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So it just had to be seen, lets hope the rain holds off whilst we take a few photos.
The town of Malbork (Marienburg) was first founded in the 13th century by the Knights of the Teutonic Order, and it served as the headquarters for what was once the region of Royal Prussia.
Malbork Castle has survived war after war and from a distance the castle looks remarkable in almost pristine condition. However the 1945 image shows how much of it was destroyed during the Second World War.
We would have loved to have looked round inside of the castle but disappointingly, it was a Monday and all museums in Poland close on Mondays so we had to be content to walking around the outside.
Nicolaus Copernicus was an astronomer who proposed a heliocentric system (no I hadn’t heard of it either). In his lifetime, most believed that Earth held its place at the centre of the universe. The sun, the stars, and all of the planets revolved around it.
He proposed what we know today, that the planets orbit around the Sun; that Earth besides orbiting the Sun annually, also turns once daily on its own axis.
Unlike Warsaw or Gdańsk, Toruń buildings were largely spared the bombing and destruction during WWII. Its Old Town and iconic central marketplace have been beautifully preserved. In 2007 the Old Town of Toruń was added to the list of Seven Wonders of Poland (with Malbork that’s 2 down, just 5 more to go)
During our time in Toruń the streets were packed not with tourists, but it was the start of the new academic year. Which in Poland means once the students have attended a 10 o’clock tutorial the rest of the day is their own to roam free.
Lesley and I have both been reading Ben Aitken’s book A Chip Shop in Poznań: ‘My Unlikely Year in Poland’. It contains multiple insights into all things Polish and several interesting references. We searched everywhere for a chip shop (ok we didn’t) but we did go looking for the highly recommended Kolorowa ice cream (Lody) parlour. Made with natural ingredients this is definitely the best ice I have ever had … well maybe!
On a trip like ours it’s quite possible there will be both high and low points. Tonight as we waited for our meals at a pizza restaurant on the edge of Poznan’s main square, a drunken middle aged German and his wife? came to sit at a nearby table. Before he could order he began shouting and bawling at anyone who’d listen. Although we couldn’t understand all he was saying he was definitely full of anger and hatred towards jews. It was deeply disturbing and completely out of order especially in light of the things we’ve recently witnessed on our travels. Fortunately it only lasted 10 -15 minutes before he and his companion were persuaded to leave. The unedifying experience left a cloud over our evening and for days to come.
One of the popular tourist things to do in Poznan at midday is to watch the billy goats bang heads at the Town Hall in the Old Market Square. Needing a coffee, we found a table where we were able to take pictures of people taking pictures of the head-butting goats? I wonder how many like Lesley spotted the bugler on the roof.
Poznan’s historical centre although pretty, is quite small. A short distance away is the huge Citadel Park, where we were able to wander looking for its multiple sculptures, amongst acres of grass, trees and tanks!
Before closing, dId you also know?
The Earth’s tilted axis causes the seasons. Throughout the year, different parts of Earth receive the Sun’s most direct rays (as moves through its 12 month elliptical journey). So, when the North Pole is tilted toward the Sun, it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere. And when the South Pole tilts toward the Sun, it’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere.
There ya go, two more famous Poles..
Toodle Pip, D&L
Next up: A short ride through Germany
Before we left Poland I have to mention our very scary narrow escape.
At an unmanned level crossing just outside Swiebodzin, we joined a queue of 4/5 cars, waiting at the lights and half barrier. After a train passed, the barrier went up and the cars went through.
Just as we started to cross, the lights began to flash again as we were going over. The half barrier on the other side started to come down. Then, only 20 or so secs after we’d cleared the crossing a high speed train went hurtling through blaring its horn.