During our four-day trip to Poland, we had to make a decision: When you have only one day to see something outside of Warsaw, do you Krakow or do you Gdansk? We decided we wanted to see the sea, so we went North.
A beautiful train ride
The day was only starting when we took the train from Warsaw’s Western train station to Gdansk. The train ride is less than three hours if you take a fast train, more expensive but unavoidable if you’re only planning a quick trip. I am not a morning person, yet I do enjoy mornings in the summer when the sun is still rising and the air not so hot. People are not overwhelming and everything is still quiet. Living in the Western Balkans, I rarely have the opportunity to take the train although it is something I used to enjoy a lot in France. As much as I love Belgrade and Serbia, it’s not a place where trains run smoothly. Therefore this little one-day getaway was a great opportunity to sit back comfortably and look through the window and the rapidly passing scenery.
The train goes through half of Poland. As my best friend, who was with me and happens to be Polish with an amazing sense of humour, said: “Now you understand how easy it was to invade the country. There is literally nothing to stop you!” The country is, indeed, flat. But it is far from being dull so keep your eyes open! Halfway, the train stops in Malbork. Watch out for the Castle of the Teutonic Order. Those people meant business. I added the place to The things to see when I come back list.
Through the Golden gate to the old town
Exit the train station in Gdansk and take a minute to admire the surrounding buildings. You are outside the old centre of the city, but there are some things to check out nonetheless. The old town is only a few minutes away by walk. You enter through the Golden gate (or any other street but this one is really nice) into an entire area that makes you wonder if you’ve jumped into a space-time gate and arrived in Bruges or Anvers. Northern European influence has been very strong in the city through history, particularly the one of the Hanseatic league, and is showing in its architecture with lots of high, narrow buildings standing stuck to one another on a web of cobblestone streets leading to the river. Quite a change from Warsaw.
The train ride left us hungry and we quickly found a relaxed place to have a nice breakfast. The “Long Street” (Dluga) that goes from the Golden Gate to the big square if full of all sorts of cafés and restaurant but we decided to take a side street and sat in Café Rétro (Kawiarnia Retro). I had good muesli, fresh, with nice fruits, and coffee. As we were there before the summer season (in May), and fairly early (around 10 am) we enjoyed a quiet environment and had the time for a good talk between friends.
The centre got buzzier nearby the river and as the day continued. We just walked around, stopping to look at shops, trying to find an acceptable magnet to bring back as a souvenir (fail). Gdansk is also known for its amber and you will find myriads of shops selling all sorts of it. If you feel like buying something nice and if you have some money spared for that, go for it. Gdansk is, after all, famous for being the trade centre of the Baltic amber. However, prices have gone up a lot in the past years according to my friend, which is inevitable and simply follows the increase in tourists.
To the Baltic Sea
On the square at the end of the “Long street”, you’ll find useful information on what to do and how to get there at the tourist information centre. Since we had come for the sea, we decided to go there without further delay so we could tick it off the list and still keep some time for some more sightseeing. At first, we tried taking the boat-shuttle but after waiting for a while in the boiling sun, we figured the schedule did not fit our need so much and decided to take our chances by tram. It was not easy to find our way as the sea is not so near the city and it takes at least two trams to get there. I was lucky to be with my Polish-speaking best friend! It is, nevertheless, feasible and I found people were ready to give you indications. I would still recommend taking the boat, though, as it must be a beautiful ride and a much easier one. However, the tram ride will take you along the famous docks of Gdansk and runs more often than the boat, so your pick.
We arrived finally at the entrance of the park Brzeźnieński them. J. J. Haffnera (stop: Brzezno) and walked straight toward the beach. It felt like it was summer already. People were sunbathing and swimming in the Baltic Sea. I had never been so far north in my life and it felt magical. The water was still very fresh but so nice under this hot sun!
The famous docks’ history
We took a tram on the way back and stopped at the impressive European Center of Solidarity. It is a must-do in Gdansk! Unless you hate modern history and museum, the place gives you a deep insight on Poland’s history under communism and on all the events that happened in Gdansk at that time with the revolution led by Lech Walesa and Solidarnosc. We were impressed by the quality of the exhibition, its creativity, the work of sound and lights, the installations… There is a café inside to take a break and rest, as well as a souvenir shop with some acceptable and very nice things to bring back with you.
By the time we were done, it was way past lunch time and we were absolutely starving. We walked back to the centre, which took another 20 minutes, and found our way to the popular Pierogarnia Mandu, a dumpling restaurant. It was exactly the type of delicious comfort food we needed after all this walking! The fresh lemonade was also exquisitely refreshing.
Tired as we were, we decided to catch another fast train to get back to Warsaw. It also had the advantage of admiring the sunset on Polish vast countryside from your seat. There is definitely more to see in Gdansk and the European Center of Solidarity aside, we did not explore any museum or gallery as it felt so good to be outside. Travelling requires tough choices.