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Gdansk, Venturing into Poland


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Today was the first of several early mornings that I'll have over the next week. I was up and out of the hotel by 05:30 so I could reach the bus station in time to catch my ride to Gdansk, Poland. The bus station had no signs in English, but I was able to match up the Russian name on the signs with my tickets to find my way. None of the departures signs inside the station listed my departure, which made me nervous. Thankfully, about 10 minutes before we were to leave, the small shuttle pulled up. The shuttle was quite small (and not comfortable to ride in); there were about 10 of us making the 3.5 hour journey to Poland.

The first half of the journey went smoothly and we reached the Russian border control around 08:00. We all had to exit the bus, collect our luggage and go through the customs controls. The bag scans went quite fast, but during the passport control I again was held up. Similar to when I entered Kaliningrad, the guard made several calls after seeing my USA passport; I was asked to wait several minutes before she was cleared to let me pass. By this point all of the other passengers had made it through with no issues.

The Polish border proved easier for me, though more involved for everyone else. I was whisked on through, my passport was stamped and the guard didn't speak a word to me. The other passengers were carefully questioned and each one had their thumb prints scanned. The last person in the group was held up and thoroughly questioned and examined. I'm not sure how her issues were resolved; we were brought back out to the bus while she was waiting. One of the Polish guards was very attractive: a little shorter than me, brunette, muscular (his sleeves were rolled up, tight on his impressive biceps), killer smile. Had it not been at the border control, I would have pulled a "creeper" and snapped a photo!

The remainder of the trip seemed to drag on, probably because the shuttle van was unpleasant to ride in. I was quite pleased when we arrived and I was able to make my way to my hotel. The hotel is located in a complex with the Academy of Music, which is rather nice. It was about a 45 minute walk from the bus station, but near enough to the old town.

Gdansk is everything that I wish that Kaliningrad had been (and what it should have been). Both cities share similar histories (former German cities, turned over to "communist" rule after the Second World War). Right away I was struck by the old European feel to the city. I walked along a small canal, through an old city gate and into a large pedestrian street.

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Cafes and shops lined the street, with beautiful buildings surrounding everything. In the middle of the street was a large building with a tall tower; at the base of which was a really pretty fountain. I had to wait for some very obnoxious older women to finish taking a few dozen selfies before I was able to take any pictures of the fountain.

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I decided to climb the tower; the stairs proved to be quite a workout! There was a small museum about the city in the building as well, but my focus was on the tower. By the time I reached the top I was sweating and out of breath, but the views were well worth the effort. The city stretched out before me and it was amazing. Quite close by was the main cathedral of the city; the top of the tower provided the best views of the cathedral.

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After descending the tower, I went to the cathedral. The cathedral was almost completely destroyed during the war, but it had been painstakingly restored. The interior is rather plain, but this is offset by the amazing exterior of the building.

Nearby the cathedral was a small fountain with four statues of lions, right outside an ornate building that somehow survived the war. There were pictures showing the rubble of the city, but with the building still standing with little observable damage to it. Walking through the city I was able to see some more older buildings and city gates. One of the more interesting buildings was the old docks with an old crane for unloading the boats.

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I decided to take a boat through the canals and up to the area known as Westerplatte, far to the north of the old town. There was a ferry system that transports people between the two locations. The pickup area was quite crowded with other boat tour services; somehow I got confused and I bought a ticket for a tourist boat and not the ferry. My boat still went by the Westerplatte area, so I wasn't too upset about the mixup. The boat sailed through the modern docks, which was quite interesting to see, especially the boats in dry dock being worked on. The trip culminated in seeing the monument at the Westerplatte, before turning around and heading back to old town.

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After the 90-minute boat trip I spent some more time walking around the old town, admiring the charming architecture. Signage all over the place was in Polish, English and (to my delight) German. I always love to see German anywhere I go and this made me happy for some reason. I encountered many, many young people playing instruments (for money) on the street. Rather than just playing the guitar, as so many people do, these kids were playing orchestral music on violins, cellos, etc. There were several small groups playing; my favorite was a quartet playing classical music in one of the city gates. They were incredibly talented and it was a treat to listen to them play.

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I stopped off at a local restaurant for dinner, sitting in the outdoor patio, but away from the pedestrian area (learning from Vilnius). The restaurant specialized in a Polish type of baked potato and offered dozens of varieties. I went with the "three samples" option, which was recommended for first timers; the dish had three types of toppings on the gigantic baked potato: veggies, meat (bacon) and Tzatziki. Each section was amazing, but my favorite was the Tzatziki. I devoured every bite of the food, along with two Polish beers.

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Back to the hotel for an early evening; I've got to be up by 05:00 again to catch my train to Krakow!

Posted by Glichez 09:26 Archived in Poland

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