After a last longing look at Krakow’s central square, I hopped my train for the 8-hour trip to Gdansk. I booked a private apartment, Best Stay Old Town Center on a residential street that ran just parallel to Dluga or Long street, Gdansk’s historic center.
Smithereens! As Gdansk had been immediately occupied by the Germans and its port used to supply the war effort, the Allies were merciless in their bombing raids.
In what must have been a mammoth project, the Poles rebuilt the historic city stone by stone after the war. It was only completed in 1954. The result is quite extraordinary, at least in the core of the old town along Dluga and its side streets. Outside of the historic core, the construction is very post-war and uninteresting.
I picked up a local guidebook and got an early start exploring the lovingly recreated old town. As Gdansk (as Danzig) had been part of the Hanseatic League, much of the architecture recalled Hamburg and Stockholm.
The town hall dominates the town center and now houses the Historical Museum of Gdansk.
And what made Gdansk so rich? Amber, baby. Gdansk was the medieval center of the amber trade and traces its history in a surprisingly interesting Amber Museum. It’s still renowned for its fine amber and silver jewelry, much of which is sold on Mariacka Street.
I finished the day at Zapiecek K. Bitel, a restaurant created by a chef who had been a finalist in the Polish version of Masterchef. The excellent pan-fried Baltic salmon made a nice change from my beloved pierogi.
As my train to Warsaw didn’t leave until mid-afternoon I had the morning free to look around some more. I particularly enjoyed St Mary’s church which had the most extraordinary astronomical clock I’ve ever seen. Sun, moon, planets, zodiac, solstices, time and about a million other pieces of information were worked into the creation.
Gdansk is part of a tri-city arrangement that includes Gydnia and Sopot. With more time I would have liked to check out the entire region for more of a sense of contemporary life. With its selection of museums, churches and monuments, a two-day visit to the old town gave me plenty to think about but I had the sense that “real life” took place elsewhere. Perhaps because Krakow hadn’t been bombed and reconstructed, the historical center had a vibrancy that was missing in central Gdansk. Something was destroyed in Gdansk that couldn’t be completely put back together.