ONBOARD WIND SURF-My partner and assistant Melinda and I are greeted this morning in Gdansk by sunny skies and a predicted high temperature of 72 degrees quite a relief to this Floridian who has been suffering through an exceptionally hot, muggy summer.
Those of a certain age might recall that Gdansk was the scene of anti-Soviet demonstrations and unrest through most of the 1970s and 80s. Gdansk Shipyard was the birthplace of Lech Walesa’s Solidarity trade union movement that in 1989 finally overturned the Communist regime of the former Soviet bloc. Walesa became Poland’s president the following year.
However, during our optional excursion (Medieval Gdansk, reasonably priced at $75pp) there wasn’t the slightest hint that the city had for so many decades been hemmed in behind the Iron Curtain. In fact, a jubilant, carefree atmosphere prevailed as the annual St. Dominic’s Fair was well underway with vendor stalls and entertainment venues lining the perimeter of Old Town along the Motlawa River.
Our first stop was the Blue Lion Archaeological Education Centre, a museum of sorts housed in a restored 17th century granary. At one time there were 350 of these towering stone granaries lined up along the river to warehouse grain slated for shipment around the world. The Centre’s exhibits and rich collection of relics demonstrate the significance of Gdansk as a trading center during the Middle Ages. The most popular attraction is the ‘Hanseatic Street,’ consisting of a row of recreated merchants’ stalls, artisan workshops and home interiors from the late 14th century. It gave us a good idea of what life was like at the time.
Trailing our local lady guide into Old Town, Melinda and I were surprised, stunned actually, by the long rows of magnificent buildings and monuments of mixed Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque design lining Dluga Street. Considering that the city was virtually leveled during World War II, it amazed us to find it so completely and expertly reconstructed to resemble what it must have looked like during its Hanseatic heyday. The Communist regime certainly deserves some credit for the beautiful job they did with the restorations.
We visited the Town Hall with its richly decorated council chambers and plodded on to what our guide described as the pride of Gdansk the 14th century St. Mary’s Church. It’s said to be the world’s largest brick church, capable of accommodating some 25,000 worshipers. The bright, expansive interior features more than 30 finely decorated chapels. Its most significant feature is a massive 15th century astronomical clock, complete with the zodiac cycle and a calendar of saints.
The Baltic region is the source for much of the world’s amber, fossilized tree resin valued since antiquity as a gemstone. Countless shops and street vendors in Gdansk offer jewelry made from the lovely stones and several of our tour members purchased broaches, rings and pendants at prices they say were far less than they’d pay in the U.S.
Next, we strolled through the ancient Green Gate and along the Motwala River where, just beyond a modern marina, we could view of the Old Town waterfront with its stone and brick warehouses and iconic crane from 1444. During its time, it was the largest port crane in Europe and today stands as the symbol of Gdansk.
Our tour came to a pleasant and refreshing end at the Brovarnia Microbrewery, tucked away in the riverside Hotel Gdansk (itself a converted grain warehouse), where we watched brew masters make beer using traditional recipes and modern technology.
Brovarnia brews three beers: pale lager, schwarzbier (dark) and hafeweizen (wheat). Mel doesn’t drink beer but was kindly offered wine instead, while I drank her samples as well as mine, washing down a platter of kielbasa in the process.
This was a splendid day. We rated our Gdansk excursion a solid 10.
August 25, 2016
Photos by Dave Houser