72 (ish) Hours in Gdańsk
A collection of experiences and thoughts from my first trip travelling alone to Gdańsk, Poland.
New. It’s a something that many of us strive for in many aspects of our lives: new things, experiences and places. In this case, I just experienced the latter. Gdańsk is located on the Baltic coast of Poland and makes up part of the “tri-city” along with Gdynia and Sopot, in the Pomerania region of the country.
Solo travel was one of my (ambivalent) new year resolutions for 2017 and this was the first time I’d decided to travel somewhere completely new by myself. Naturally, the prospect of travelling alone filled me with both fear and excitement initially. Would I make the flight okay on my own? Would I even get to an airport I’d never been to before? How would I go about communicating with people in Gdańsk with zero experience speaking Polish? It turns out these were needless things to worry about.
Despite concerns about my ability to arrive at an airport and catch a flight on my own, I boarded the plane and after a couple of hours flying, we touched down at Gdańsk Airport. Next challenge: get to the apartment on the bus going in the right direction… harder than you’d think. Luckily there were other English-speaking visitors that had figured out which bus to get on to arrive in the Old Town area.
Meeting the hosts of the apartment was also part of a brand-new experience, as it was my first Airbnb booking too. It couldn’t have gone any better and they welcomed me into their lovely apartment. The stand-out feature was by far the LED lamp that looked like some sort of UFO taking off for outer-space.
Other than the flights and apartment, I had no fixed plans of what I was going to be doing during my stay. My unfixed agenda led me to explore the Old Town area, just a minute walk away or so from the apartment. The main street of Gdańsk, Dluga Ulica, is crammed with tall, colourful buildings that give a welcoming and lively feel to the city.
Research into some of the main attractions Gdańsk offers drew me to the brand-new World War II museum, opened just at the end of March. The striking design of the building alone was enough to tempt me in for a visit. With a cinema and space for a temporary exhibition, the place is huge! Being so new, it was simply the main exhibition accessible. The museum has faced criticism for being state-run however, I found it an incredibly moving experience, largely down to the many personal stories, examples and artefacts one encounters throughout the exhibition.
After a jam-packed morning, I next used the SKM (inter-city rail network) to travel first to Oliwa and then Sopot.
Oliwa is still part of Gdańsk but it takes about 10 minutes to travel there on the train from the centre. Here, I got to walk through the beautiful Oliwa park and see inside the grand Oliwa cathedral. The sunny afternoon also made a great excuse to also climb up the highest peak in Oliwa and then ascend the Pachołek (viewing tower) to get an incredible 360° view of the tri-city area.
Hopping back on the SKM and it was only about 5 minutes until I arrived in Sopot. I learnt two things here:
- Sopot is home to Europe’s longest wooden pier (511.5m)
- There is an unsual, wavy-shaped building called Krzywy Domek which means “crooked little house” that is part of a shopping centre. Inside however, the walls and doors are completely normal.
Friday started with a delicious breakfast at Café Retro, this place was so cool it even had chairs with cushions on and film cameras fixed to the walls.
Westerplatte is a very poignant location due to its significance in the second world war. Here, the first shots of the Invasion of Poland were fired which later became the first battle of World War II.
The 106 bus to the peninsular travelled through the port areas of Gdańsk which are incredibly industrialised: full of workers, large machinery and huge warehouses. I wondered for a minute if I’d caught the correct bus. Luckily it arrived in Westerplatte where I completed the historical trail that led to the monument to the coast defenders (Pomnik Obrońców Wybrzeża). This huge, imposing structure has a very Soviet-style design compared to anything I saw in the city on my visit.
Retuning back to the main area of Gdańsk, the Old Town, the next stop on my visit was the European Centre of Solidarity. This huge, red lump of a building is devoted to sharing the history of Solidarity, the Polish trade union and civil resistance movement. It was particularly moving to realise how much the Polish people went through to achieve independence from communist leaders.
It was a treat to see street fire dancers and the Amber Sky (big wheel) shinning in the dark night-time throughout Gdańsk. Exploring the city during the evening was another great experience to discover how charming the harbour and riverside looked with the city lights reflecting on the calm water.
And so began my last day of the trip. As with every morning so far, I started the day with a (somewhat) traditional Polish breakfast in a new café. I sipped a coffee and ate through baked egg toast and salsa (pretty much a toastie with an egg in the middle!) outside, basking in the morning sunlight.
After the boost from the scrumptious breakfast, I set my sights on the tallest church in the city: St. Mary’s Church, believed to be the largest brick church in the world. It seemed to take hundreds of steep steps but I eventually reached a viewing point at the top of the church tower and the views of Gdańsk were simply stunning.
I finished off by visiting the Amber museum in the centre. It turns out that Gdańsk was incredibly fond of creating objects and creations out of Amber and some of the examples on display were incredibly detailed.
So, what can I, or you, take from this experience?
Firstly, travelling alone can seem daunting but I’ve found that it’s incredibly rewarding and fun. Despite concerns over safety and loneliness, by keeping active, aware and engaged, I could overcome both fears. It should also be noted how friendly people can be! If I was ever stuck, there was always someone willing to translate to their best ability or assist me on my travels around Gdańsk.
So where have you always wanted to go, or what have you wanted to do that seems out of your reach? Perhaps it’s not too difficult to accomplish your goals and aims after-all, I now realise it’s not.