THE GREAT AMERICAN VACATION
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If you were to describe Szczecin in three words, the words would probably be green, aqueous, and industrial. Above all the city is green and lush, with civilized city parks in tune with Szczecin's superb urban design. It also has an untamed side: wild groves and meadows, numerous little islands only birds can reach that spread along the endless little streams, channels, lakes, and ponds. In the
north, the town melts into the woods of Las Arkoński; from all sides on the other three sides, it is surrounded with forests: Puszcza Bukowa, Puszcza Goleniowska, and Puszcza Wkrzańska.
Though not directly on the Baltic, Szczecin is formed and exists in connection with water. The Odra (Oder), the second-largest Polish river, divides into two parts shortly before it reaches Szczecin, creating the unique landscape preserved in the Park Krajobrazowy Dolnej Odry. The divided river reaches the city as the Odra Zachodnia on the west and the Odra Wschodnia (or the Regalica) on the east. Numerous channels, tiny lakes, and even another short river called the Parnica cut through Szczecin, and farther north many merge into the Jezioro Dąbie, the city's largest lake. This area, although partly inaccessible, hosts Port Szczeciński, the harbor that impedes nature with industrial flair. The best point to admire this landscape from is Wały Chrobrego, the main town promenade, which is perched high above and along the river. The promenade is surprisingly peaceful even during tourist season.
The port landscape, which creates Szczecin's characteristic skyline of cranes, is supported in its industrial glory by a network of roads and highways (particularly the Trasa Zamkowa, which was finished in 1996) that cut through and cross the peaceful land and water. It's supplemented by the buildings of Stocznia Szczecińska, one of the two biggest Polish shipyards, a steel plant, and numerous other factories. The urban, industrial look of Szczecin was created chiefly in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The vast, gloomy, brick or concrete public buildings, reminders of the past Prussian glory, are knitted into a complex unity that also includes a net of steel tramway lines, knots of railways, and bows of steel bridges.
Despite its monuments, interesting 19th-century architecture, good museums, theaters, opera, and outdoor opportunities, Szczecin is not a typical tourist destination, and most tourist traffic bypasses the city. It is, however, an excellent starting point for further explorations of northwestern Poland. To paraphrase Jack London's description of Oakland: "Szczecin is a town from which one starts to see the world!"
Maybe it's the sea air, or maybe it's the mixture of the city's cultural importance and political tumult. Whatever the reason, Gdańsk is special...