Shall we Gdansk?

Jul 27th, 2017, 10:22 PM
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Shall we Gdansk?

Travelers: Myself and DD (days shy of 16); and as it turned out, the envy of her friends who were either at Oma’s house; visiting cities and beaches overcrowded with tourists; or running around America on home leave testing air mattresses as they attempted to visit each and every friend and family member.

Motivation for the city break: The Sandman whispered to me one night, “Visit the Polish Copenhagen. You will be impressed.”

Airlines: The national airline of my people, LOT. And thus begins this trip report.

“We start engine and then we fly.”

We flew LOT with connections in Warsaw (no direct from Vienna); below I’ll rate each of the four legs individually, but if you want the abridged report, I assign LOT a Grade of “D”

The check-in for Vienna to Warsaw was of course with issue; the folks at the Austrian/Star Alliance desk only fluently speak “Austrian Airlines.” With the “Economy” fare I purchased I was offered the option to check baggage for a fee. At the appropriate hours before the flight I checked us in, but could not pay for a checked bag. A telephone call to LOT solved the problem and I printed my receipt, just in case.

At the airport there was no record of my having paid to check the bag, and the kind kiosk attendant ushered us to “Special Assistance.” A full 20 minutes were spent trying to connect the receipt with the bag so the computers would not reject the bag during sorting. “Would not it be simpler to just let everyone check one bag for free?.” I wondered.

On a 50 minute flight one should not set unreasonable expectations regarding snacks and beverages; I can report that our expectations were met. The Polish version of a chubby KitKat was offered on the taxi to takeoff. The beverages were offered as we were landing. Nothing like having that sticky sweet taste in your mouth while waiting for a beverage. Grade “C”

Warsaw-Gdansk started strong. We boarded the bus a full minute ahead of schedule, and everyone dutifully filed on board the Bombadier prop. Cabin doors were cross-checked; and the Captain announced, “We start engine and then we fly.” Except we didn’t. It seems the luggage conveyor on “Marshmallow,” as our plane was named (No. Really.) had gone kaput, and each piece of luggage had to be hand loaded. We arrived 20 minutes late on a 40 minute flight. Grade “D.”

Gdansk-Warsaw. The “Marshmallow” departed 20 minutes late again because of the luggage issue. I guess someone forgot to alert the Warsaw advance team, because there was no bus waiting for us upon landing (the second of three 20 minute delays). And no one thought to request a couple of extra hands to unload the luggage, so we all cozied up on the bus waiting another 20 minutes for the luggage crew. That is not entirely correct; passengers needing to make transatlantic connections took turns getting off the bus, walking back onto the plane to ask the beleaguered attendants when we would reach the terminal. Grade “F.”

With 1 hour of our 1 hr, 45 minute layover now behind us, DD and I were psyched to be heading home. The last day of our holiday was wet, to the point where we weren’t sure if we would be leaving Gdansk by plane or by Ark (more on the rain later.) Nie, Nie, Nie. We reached the terminal and looked at the board to see the D-word. Our final leg was delayed 80 minutes, and we were already within the dinnertime zone. Survival instincts kicked in, and we scoured the terminal in search of edible protein, just in case. We were not alone; the Airport Delay Map on flightstats.com showed pretty green dots all over Europe (no delays) and one big, fat red dot atop Warsaw. “LOTs” of us were delayed. Pun intended.

The best of the edible protein had already been scavenged by the 3 hour-delayed passengers hoping to reach Malta, Stuttgart and Barcelona; what was left was picked over by the 2 hour-delayed passengers wanting to be in Paris. We found two little plastic cups of hummus and vegetable sticks cowering in the back of the Costa Coffee snack shelf and snatched them. I swiped my Bankomat at the purchase without looking at the cost. Desperate times…

We boarded on-time, if boarding 5 minutes after we should have landed counts as on-time. Then a miracle occurred: I had the aisle seat and DD had the window. AND NO ONE SAT IN THE MIDDLE. With our little hummus cups and an empty seat between us it felt like Business Class, just without the pre-flight orange juice.

DH sensed (it could have been the SMS, “Why are my people so inefficient? Communism had ended.” I sent him) we would need “Special Assistance” after enduring this First World Problem, so both he and DDog were waiting for us in Vienna. Grade “F” with some extra credit points for the empty middle seat.

LOTs more to follow.
fourfortravel is offline  
Jul 28th, 2017, 04:40 AM
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I see what you did there. Very clever
RM67 is offline  
Jul 31st, 2017, 12:05 AM
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On the day before departure DD and I pored and planned over the weather forecast, cruel mistress that she is. No Rain, Slight Rain, Sunny, and Everything in Between was predicted, except locusts, and so we packed accordingly. The only downside of our planning was that because of the forecast changing every time we looked at it, we decided not to advance purchase tickets for the WWII museum (entrance is limited); this worked against us, and we were not able to visit.

Our driver was at the airport with the, Ms. First Name Last Name-ski” sign and we promptly sped like a lunatic to our hotel. When the driver realized that the “ski” part of my name really meant that I was one generation removed from the homeland and could barely speak my native tongue, sadness and silence filled the car. My grandmother would be ashamed.

The hotel check-in was smooth and easy; we dropped the bag and hit the town with our cameras ready. DD has a LOMO that she brought along, and it was fun to help “set up” her photos. My aging DSL has been acting funky lately so I patted it gently and left it at home, bringing only my iPhone to record the holiday.

Sunlight dappled against the pastel colored buildings that seemed to be taken from the pages of a Copenhagen tourism booklet, and my iPhone proved a worthy recruit in snapping scenes. People (but not too many!) walked the cobbled lanes. Norwegian, Danish, German, and Polish words filled the air. Quartets playing familiar tunes echoed from the gates. We snapped and Ooohed. And snapped and Aaaahed. We also noticed several sailing crews moving about the town; later in the week these 82 crews would be competing in some racing event in the Gulf of Gdansk.

Across the river the S.S. Slodek caught our attention. The freighter was the first to be built in the Gdansk Shipyard following the end of WWII, and was open for touring. We toured! The small ticket cost (a theme in Gdansk) was entirely worth being able to scramble about a former sea-going freighter now offering picturesque views of Gdansk (and the opportunity to ring the Captain’s Bell!) as well as to learn a little bit about Gdansk’s shipbuilding history.

By this time dinner was calling, but wanting to enjoy the city ahead of the weather apocalypse we walked along under just partly cloudy skies along Ul. Mariacka, the Amber Street. Many of the former stadtvillas have elaborate walkups, with gargoyles that stare, spout, and serve . Truth be, we both found the street far more photographable than it was inspirational for purchasing amber products.

We awoke the following morning only to a slight threat of rain, and with the temperature expected to reach 16℃. This day we decided would be our outing to Malbork Castle, the rational being that we could always visit museums if the rain did arrive later during our holiday. We dressed in light jeans and brought along umbrellas, which meant, of course, that the day turned out to be 24℃ with bright sunshine!

Malbork Castle rates as one of the most impressive castles we have toured, and is deserving of its title as the “heart” of Poland, owing to its role in the establishment of the Polish kingdom. Castle visitors outnumbered Gdansk visitors, we thought, but with 52 acres to roam crowding was a non-issue. The audio guide, provided with the terribly low ticket cost of €9,50 equivalent informed our nearly 3 hour self-guided tour into and out of various wings, up and down staircases and back and forth across the courtyard and gardens. Over lunch we debated which we were most impressed with: the castle, or its history, or the love of the Polish people who spent decades restoring the castle after the war.

Taking advantage of the sunny day, we departed Malbork for Sopot. By this time in the late afternoon the temperature had dropped considerably and the winds were gusting; at the end of the pier (the longest in Europe) we could spy the sails of the boats in the competition, perhaps conducting trials or something. Walking along the seashore, the white sails striking against the heavy and darkening clouds made for exceptional photos. Would we have regretted not visiting Sopot? Likely not, though it filled the last couple of hours in the day pleasantly.

Around 0200, closing time, a loud group’s noises filtered into the open window and woke me. Three hours later I was awakened again, this time by the driving rain on the glass. The apocalypse had arrived.

In the five minute walk to the bakery we had found on the first morning for breakfast, our shoes and socks were soaked through; the rain splash even turning the legs of our light jeans in clingy, wet cotton. It would just be that kind of day. Those caught unprepared and having to purchase plastic ponchos looked like colorful, humid, bubbles. We dubbed gaggles of them, “Bubble Tea.”

First on the agenda was the European Solidarity Center, a quick two tram stops from the old city. Kudos to the curators for putting together an engaging story of Poland’s non-violent “Resistance” to Communism. Over lunch we talked about how the “Resistance” going on in America, with its violence and sense of entitlement is completely different.

Gdansk’s Central Market offered us brief respite from the deluge, though we did not find the offerings to be more than the usual. The attendant at the WC was a bit gruff (the only such encounter we had in Gdansk), refusing to change my 20 Zloty note for coins. Really? I dropped the only coin I had, 1 Euro, into the dish and joined the queue.

The Amber Museum held our interest and complemented what we had learned from our visit to Malbork Castle, but both of us found the exhibits on the building’s original purpose, that of a medieval torture chamber, a little too creepy to finish.

With time remaining only to decide between the History of Gdansk Museum and the Maritime Museum, we made the poor choice of the former. Not airconditioned and over crowded, the soupy, humid building melted us halfway through the exhibits, and we left for a café, watching the rain fall while enjoying ice cream.

The forecast calling for just cloudy skies on our final half day, the vote was to ferry over to the Westerplatte Penninsula. Having missed the opportunity to tour the WWII History Museum, visiting the memorial and exhibits here would be a good concession. Or would have been. Once again the driving rain woke us the following morning. We sighed and changed our plan, touring just Artus Palace (delightful!) and St. Mary's Basilica before giving up and heading to the airport early.

Food notes and final thoughts to follow.
fourfortravel is offline  
Jul 31st, 2017, 01:41 AM
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<<....and is deserving of its title as the “heart” of Poland, owing to its role in the establishment of the Polish kingdom. >>>

Malbork is all of that????

Did you get that information from the audio guide?
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Jul 31st, 2017, 03:29 AM
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cdnyul, I think you might be reading more into the quotation marks than I intended. The region including Malbork was once a Polish kingdom; an independent state; a kingdom again; then part of Royal Prussia before becoming part of the Prussian Kingdom. Of course Poland's history is not that simplistic, but I get why visitors are told that Malbork is an important heart of Polish history, if you'll pardon the pun, and that is why I used the "quotes."
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Jul 31st, 2017, 03:40 AM
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Thanks.

I am born and raised in Poland so I disagree, Polish history is very simple:

There is us and there is everyone else
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Jul 31st, 2017, 03:44 AM
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Am looking forward to visiting Gdansk for its many-layered history, but also for the food, so I'll be interested to hear if you hit any of my targets.

Surely the greatest successes of neoliberal propaganda was to get people believing rule by market capitalism produces efficient outcomes. It produces unemployment, under-education & things like United Airlines. It is probably impossible to go to Poland, and Gdansk in particular, at any time in recent history and not find oneself pondering at length the intersection of economic theory & democracy, but most particularly now. I am puzzled however by your associating the "Resistance" in the US with violence. What are you referring to?
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Jul 31st, 2017, 03:48 AM
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Well put. There is us and there is everyone else. Still, in the history of Poland I believe there is room for Malbork Castle.
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Jul 31st, 2017, 03:59 AM
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massimop, I really don't want this to become political. DD saw at the European Solidarity Center the Newsweek magazine cover of Lech Walesa that read, "The Polish Resistance." She related that to the anti-Trump violent protests described as "Resistance" (Inauguration Day protests with burning and looting, for example.) that she and classmates discussed in their History section, relative to the peaceful, non-violent action in Poland. We talked about it over lunch, and that was that.
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Jul 31st, 2017, 04:07 AM
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I was just curious as to the reference. Like I said, I can't imagine being in Poland these days and not thinking about politics.
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Aug 1st, 2017, 12:51 AM
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“Do you have 2 Złoty?” “Do you have change?”

Expecting Gdansk to be like much of Central and Eastern Europe, I was prepared to have a pocketbook of Złoty on my person for the holiday. The problem, however, is that within the old city there are no non-Euronet Bankomats; even the representative at the TI Office smiled knowingly when I asked if there were any „real” bank machines. Euronet machines do not charge a transaction fee, per se, for withdrawls; they charge a „Commission” of 5%! Though I had a couple of hundred Złoty from a previous holiday, I withdrew but a small amount more in the hopes of finding a real Bankomat somewhere.

At dinner on the first night I discovered that Gdansk is happy to take plastic! Here in Vienna, wait staff bring the check and their money pocketbook; when you ask to pay with plastic, assuming the proprietor permits that, the staff roll their eyes and fetch the card reader.

Where cash was the only form of accepted payment, each and every time we offered paper notes, the questions of, “Do you have 2 Złoty?” or “Do you have change?” were asked. On our final breakfast I simply opened my pocketbook and the clerk actually seemed excited to fish out all of the coins! We both found this terribly amusing for some reason.

Pierogis and Potatoes, Flounder and Sushi

Naturally pierogis featured prominently in our dining adventures; and naturally, we never met one we didn’t like. On the rainy day we „took a break” from Polish cuisine, though, to try…Lithuanian pierogies. More like Ukranian pelmini in style, and equally as delicious; the setting being a tiny but charming little bistro near to the Green Gate.

Flounder and Cod was well represented in Gdansk, and were our dinner choices on the first evening. Flounder is not for everyone, especially those unskilled in filleting their own fish; we watched in shame as a woman near us picked a couple of bites and wasted the remainder after struggling to filet.

On the Malkbork outing a market-like setting near to the castle had a stand selling Potato Pancakes alongside Polish and Russian pierogi. We placed our order for the pancakes and the Russian pierogi. My name was called to collect our meals, except I was handed a paper basket of pommes. The woman sensed my confusion and added, „The pancakes are coming.” Only in Poland does a potato dish come with a side of potatoes!

For our final night, waterlogged and lacking any and all interest in leaving the hotel to find dinner and equally as uninspired by the room service menu, we attempted to find delivery pierogi, but in the end it came down to sushi. To make up for that, DD and I made pierogies the following weekend at home.

That is all there is to write. We loved Gdansk; the weather, not so much.

Thank you for reading.
fourfortravel is offline  
Aug 1st, 2017, 01:11 AM
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Thanks for sharing. Images of Copenhagen, which I loved, were not coming to mind as I read your report, but perhaps it was my "dodging" the inclement weather.
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Aug 1st, 2017, 01:22 AM
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Interesting. I will be heading for smoked fish & doughnuts in Gdasnk. Pickles too! Also love those colorful candies the Poles make, not so much to eat but the intricacy of them.
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Aug 1st, 2017, 07:17 AM
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Anyone who wants to try Polish food at a reasonable price should
look for a "bar mleczny"

For example:
http://www.barturystyczny.pl/

Google "bar mleczny gdansk" for other choices.
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Aug 4th, 2017, 01:38 PM
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I'm envious of your visit to the Solidarity Museum. We regretted missing this on our visit to Poland, the air service we had planned on taking from Amsterdam was discontinued so we decided to save it for another time and flew direct to Amsterdam.

Just a comment on this: "Over lunch we talked about how the “Resistance” going on in America, with its violence and sense of entitlement is completely different." The Resistance in America is entirely peaceful, consisting largely of phone calls and letters to congress as well as sit ins and peaceful demonstrations. There were some isolated incidents of broken windows or fire on Inauguration Day, that was carried out by anarchists, not the resistance. This was no secret, the anarchists claimed responsibility for it and stated their goal as simply anarchy, not resistance. The Resistance is not only peaceful but is having some success. My husband and I draw a lot of hope from Lech Walesa and the Solidarity Movement in fact.
limmy is online now  
Aug 4th, 2017, 01:39 PM
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Flew direct to Warsaw* I meant.
limmy is online now  
Nov 10th, 2017, 12:28 AM
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If you are going to look for good observation points in gdańsk, well there are many of them. Many good advices about that we can find on: http://visitgdansk.com/weekends-in-gdansk. One of the most interesting of them is the archaeological musem. The Archaeological Museum is located in a historic 16th century building on the bank of the Motlawa. The collection of the Museum covers about 30 000 archaeological, ethnographic, numismatic and natural exhibits. The visitors have access to an observation tower that is 38 metres high from which a beautiful view extends to the Motlawa river and a panorama of Gdansk.
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Nov 14th, 2017, 04:31 AM
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Interesting. I will be heading for smoked fish & doughnuts in Gdasnk. Pickles too! Also love those colorful candies the Poles make. Anyway if you want to visit Gdańsk so bad, then check the site: http://visitgdansk.com/en/weekends-in-gdansk what is interesting about it, is the fact that it provides you with proper list and data about all attractions which you can find in Gdańsk. You are not going to believe, how much you can see in Gdańsk. There are many different attractions, which I personally love in this city.
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Nov 20th, 2017, 11:45 AM
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I really liked Gdansk when I was there a couple of years ago. The Solidarity museum was especially impressive. I watched a video of Lech Walesa's visit to the U.S. Congress. The legislators gave him a loooong ovation--maybe 10 or 15 minutes.

Mr. Walesa doesn't speak English, but he had a translator with him. The first words the interpreter translated were "We the people..."

My eyes teared up.

By the way, I really enjoyed your trip report.
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Nov 21st, 2017, 05:09 AM
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peg, DD and I watched the video at the Solidarity Museum, as well. Being only 16, the video was a different history for her than for me. I found the video moving, including the scene where he is notified that he won the Nobel.

Glad you liked the report, too.
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