Gdansk & Hel, Poland

Gdansk is the biggest city of the tri-city (trojmiasto) in North Poland, which consist of Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot. I had been to Gdansk no less than 15 times before, nevertheless just to the train station and the airport. The reason being the cheap connection between Finland (Turku)-Poland(Gdansk) via WizzAir. When I finally had the time to visit Gdansk and Hel peninsula in northern Poland in July, I was more than excited to discover more of the city that I never had time to explore besides the train station and airport.

The plan was to spend three days in Gdansk and Hel area. It was a cold and rainy July weekend. The motorbike journey from Lodz to Gdansk was uncomfortable, but as I couldn’t counter my boyfriend’s reasons for preferring motorbike over car, I was compelled to travel on the passenger seat of the motorbike once again. I was initially very apprehensive about the vehicle, as he had just upgraded his bike to a newer one (1100 cc, which I thought would be a monster) but I did up end up enjoying the frequent over 200km/h speed.

The bike journey of about 4 hours exhausted us by the end of the day. My hair was a disaster because some of it had slipped out of the helmet, which obviously took about 1 hour of shower + fixing. We decided to sit back and enjoy the evening at our rented apartment from airbnb. The plan had been a couple of beers, but the guys had sneaked in some moonshine aka bimber in Polish. (Is it possible for the Poles to party without copious amount of alcohol involved? I don’t think so.) A shot or two of bimber did do good to our wearied bodies.

Sightseeing was to begin from the next day.

Gdansk old town

To my surprise, Gdansk old town was very near from the train station. I couldn’t believe that I spent many hours hanging out around train station, but never actually knew or researched into finding where the old town was. The old town was beautiful. The cobblestone streets were lined with medieval houses.  The influence of German architecture was visible in the buildings, making it unique among other Polish towns. Gdansk doesn’t have a town square, like most other Polish old towns, but a long walking street instead. The long walking street (Dlugi Targ) was filled with people and was very vibrant. From street performers to vendors to food stalls to pubs and cafes, old town in Gdansk was truly happening. We strolled around the old town and saw many monuments such as the Neptune Fountain, the city hall, Gdansk gates, the iconic Gothic-style St. Mary’s church as well as several other beautiful buildings and churches.  I loved walking along the canals  in the night time. I do love cities with canals.

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Climbing the Gdansk old town tower

The tower at the Gdansk cathedral (St. Mary’s church) was the most grand that I had ever seen. There were about 400 steps to climb, which can get tiring.In some places, it was dark and claustrophobic, but the tower body towards the top was so wide that its sheer size was overwhelming. The astronomical bells were among the highlights. I wasn’t expecting it to be big inside. It was a good workout by the time we got to the top. The views were as expected, very beautiful. I would recommend climbing the tower to anyone who is physically fit.

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Hel Peninsula

I had been wanting to go to Hel for a while ever since I knew about it. We took a non-stop water tram to go to the famed Hel Peninsula in the morning from Gdansk old town. The ferry was very crowded especially on the sundecks, although the weather wasn’t very nice. We stayed inside and waited to get to Hel (approx. 2 hours.) I was disappointed at the weather, because it was mid-July but barely hot or sunny. The first stop was for lunch. The streets in the town of Hel were lined with restaurants (mostly specializing in fish) and we quickly found a restaurant serving good fish and beers. I also heard a lot of German, along with a couple of other foreign languages on the streets.

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After the filling lunch, we decided to go to the beach. There were some overcrowded beaches near the ferry stop, and near the crowds and restaurants. But I had read  from some online travel journal that there are nice sandy beaches across the forest on the other side. So we went out into the forest. Crossing the forest took about half an hour on foot and along the trail we saw many military bunkers. After the walk, there it was, a long stretch of sandy Baltic beach with very few people! The water was very cold, I had goosebumps the whole time I was in the water, but that didn’t stop me from swimming. Polish beaches are famed for sands with fine texture, so I enjoyed lying down on the sand. It was partly sunny, but really not warm. We had some beers and chips to keep warmer. I spotted some windsurfers on the distance as Hel is a famous place for windsurfing.

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On the way back, we decided to take the train. We had to change in Sopot for a train going to Gdansk. I was shocked because they sold us tickets but we had no place to sit! In fact, there was barely any place to even stand. We were packed like sardines. People with bicycles were just standing on the alleys. The transportation ticket booth didn’t care that there were not enough seats, they just sold the tickets anyway. And on a Saturday, you didn’t have many options but to take the train or wait for another hour. The coastal road I saw from the window of the train looked beautiful and a drive would have been so much more comfortable and better than an overcrowded train ride!

Gdynia short tour

We left on motorbikes for Gdynia the other day. The guys had discovered of an abandoned sanatorium right next to the sea. We went in and it was filled with broken glasses. The walls had broken windows and a lot of graffiti. It looked so vandalized. I don’t know the history of it, but it was quite big and now looked like a good spot for photographers. I don’t even know if it was legal to just go in there. We went to the top and enjoyed the beautiful views of the Baltic sea.

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Although we decided to skip Sopot and its famous wooden pier, we went on the wooden pier in Gdynia and it was beautiful. There were notices of seals in the sea, but we weren’t lucky to see any. Near the pier, were small beaches. We toured a little on the motorbike and decided to head back to Lodz.

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Impressions: I loved Gdansk so much that it’s my favorite Polish city so far. I couldn’t see that much of Sopot and Gdynia but I would go back. The only drawback was the crowds. The architecture of the area is beautiful and there are many worthwhile places to see.

Fun facts :

  • St Mary’s catholic church in Gdansk is the largest brick church in the world.
  • Gdansk was annexed by the Nazi Germany in 1939 and was under German influence until the end of World War II.
  • Sopot has the longest wooden pier in Europe.

 

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7 thoughts on “Gdansk & Hel, Poland

  1. I loved Gdansk too – it deserves a bigger profile as a city break destination. You’re right about the climb to St Mary’s – when we went up, there were plastic chairs at the top but a security guard made people pay to sit down on them!

    1. Oh I did this year.. And I found it exactly the same!! So charming, loved the center with its selection of pubs and restaurants and shops, and especially loved those cute houses with front yards near the sea.. a change from Lodz! I can see myself living in Sopot, out of everywhere I’ve been in Poland 🙂 I visited this April, so it wasn’t beach weather but I should visit again! 🙂

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