Thursday, July 27, 2017

Gdańsk, Poland side-trip

Since we had decided to make Wrocław our home base in Poland, we needed to take a side trip to the north of Poland in order to visit the tiny villages tied to our ancestry.  It actually worked out well because we had wanted to visit Gdańsk anyway after seeing it on The Amazing Race during our travel planning. It was a great base to stay in and easily drive out into the countryside.

We managed to get an Airbnb rental that was pretty simple but the location was one of the best we've had so far for being close to the action.  It is literally a 1 minute walk from our place to arrive at the fountain of Neptune in the Long Market (Długi Targ)

We took a train ride from Wrocław that was very nice to get to Gdańsk.  The train went through lots of beautiful Polish countryside.  A lot of the farmland is brilliant yellow as far as the eye can see.  Turns out this is rapeseed that must be a major cash crop for Poland because it was everywhere.  The photos don't even do it justice.

Brilliant yellow rapeseed crops from the train

From the time we arrived, we explored the whole city on foot.  We had packed light into just two bags for the side-trip, which was a refreshing change from lugging around our full set of gear.  This also made the walk from the train station into town more pleasant so we could get a lay of the land.

Quaint views on our walk into town.

We explored both sides of the river and the Long Market as well as many side-streets and the old town over the few days we were in town.  Near the maritime museum, we spotted a submersible that Spencer said was a highlight of his because he got to see a "real Gup" (from the Octonauts TV show)

Gdansk has some beautiful architecture, including some raised apartments on the side streets that remind me of the brownstones in New York and Boston.  It was a lot of fun to just walk around and gaze at the details of the gates and beautiful historic buildings as well as the surrounding buildings.

The kids were enamored by the ferris wheel in town even though we had already ridden on the London Eye (one of our pre-trip goals).  We all managed to talk about other fun things to do instead that would be better uses of our money and that lead to one of the highlights of our trip.  We had seen these little primary-colored small motorboats in the Motlawa river and decided this would be a fun way to explore the waterways and get up to the shipyards.  The kids got to take turns at the helm and managed to not run into anything! It was slow-going, but a nice afternoon activity.

Cap'n Spencer

View of the historic crane and waterfront from our boat

The historic crane was a highlight to see up-close and talk with the kids about the logistics of getting cargo from ships into the city.  It is definitely an iconic part of Gdansk and was also a highlight during The Amazing Race.  Fortunately, it was restored after considerable damage in the wars.  You could see the enormous winch mechanism that is no longer functional, but preserved in large part right above the portal into the city side streets.

An unexpected highlight of the trip was the amber museum.  It happened to have free admission the day we went, otherwise we probably wouldn't have paid for it.  There are some beautiful artistic works, both modern and historic - even a Fender guitar clad in amber.  And they have a really cool exhibit showing how amber forms and the kinds of critters that have been trapped in amber as well as the frequency they got trapped.  The kids got some road-science out of the trip!

Specimens of trapped insects

Kerry had thrown her back out, so while she was laid up in the apartment, Jason and the kids took a quick trip up the tallest tower in town (over 400 steps!) - the Basilica of St. Mary - to get a birds-eye view of the city.  Amazing to see one of the largest brick buildings in the world.  We were treated to ringing of the bells in the more ornate tower on the other church in town.  Adele was very glad that our bells didn't chime since they were enormous and we walked right by them at the appropriate time.

400 steps...and a few more

Fearing imminent bell ringing on the descent
Views of Gdańsk from the tower

We ate some great food in Gdańsk.  Mornings, we ate breakfast foods from the nearby grocery store (Yogurt (our new favorite European yogurt brand - Jogobela), fruit, pastries or bread)  The first night, we had a relaxing meal along the waterfront with some live music in the background.  It was one of many places that cater mostly to tourists, but further out of the way and with a nice view.

Beef cheeks and a yummy salad

On our way back home, we wandered through some side streets and were rewarded by an amazing sunset over the end of the Long Market that we watched for a while before heading back.

The next night, we found a small place on a side street away from all the touristy restaurants on the market street that was really nice called Slowiańskie Smaki.  I finally got to sample some seafood and have some nice Polish wine.

Beet salad and baked fish with pumpkin

We were supposed to spend the second day in the countryside exploring our heritage, but we didn't book a rental car in advance and had a frustrating time attempting to reserve one online.  I called the next morning and was told there wasn't one available for that day!  I was able to get online to book one for the following day so we shifted our plans a bit. Don't expect you can just roll up and get a car...

There were a few things we didn't get to see we wished we had more time.  We had wanted to see the falowiec apartments up near Sopot (featured on The Amazing Race - the longest apartment building in Europe).  We also had hoped to see the pier in Sopot or one closer to Gdansk (Molo Brzeźno) and gaze at the Baltic Sea, but didn't have enough time after our trip to the countryside.

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