The historic Market Hall (Hala Targowa) in a lovely 19th century building, was where I stopped daily for oranges. I felt I was entering a colorful old railway station each time. The Polish bakeries there were hard to pass up.
The dramatic Monument to Shipyard Workers Fallen in 1970 is located in front of the Solidarity Museum at the shipyard where it all happened. A 45-minute walk along the waterfront took me from the pristine, reconstructed Main Town to the industrialized area of the old Gdansk Shipyard. Solidarity became the first independent labor union in a Soviet-bloc country in the 1980’s, and led to the peaceful fall of communism in Poland in 1989. The views of the current and former shipyard (now a wasteland) from the top of the museum, helped me grasp how extensive the shipyard had been in the past when the Lech Walesa led thousands of workers on strike in 1980.
The Gdansk Opera House, where I attended an opera with *Servas Host Wojtek one evening, was elegant. Our trolley stop was announced over a loud speaker by the melodic voice of a tenor. I felt under-dressed that night wearing my finest tourist attire among the “gentry.” The performance was superb.
The New Synagogue, the only surviving synagogue in Gdansk, dates from 1929. A man wearing a kippah (skull cap) who greeted me when I rang the doorbell directed me to a display which told, in part, the moving story of the Jews in Gdansk over the centuries. Because of the Nazi influence early in the 1930’s, most of Gdansk’s pre-war Jewish population had time to escape to avoid the Holocaust.
Later I found the former location of the Old Synagogue which had been demolished by the Nazi-dominated government in 1939. It was the largest synagogue in the city dating from 1885. In its place was a dramatic, windowless Shakespeare Theater. The severity of this building seemed appropriate, given the history of its location.
The World War II Museum which traces the fate of Poland during the war, rises majestically out of what used to be wasteland on the outskirts of town. The design of the modern building with its leaning tower and glass facade and ceiling is full of symbolism of the past, present, and future. The impressive presentations raised many questions for me. This prompted me to do some online research about the war at my guesthouse that evening, followed by sending several emails to a friend in the USA to help me with answers.
The lovely new Philharmonic Hall was my destination one evening with Ellen, a Norwegian woman from my guesthouse. We walked over the river a beautifully-lit ultra-modern footbridge to get there. The concert goers were dressed to-the-nines, making people-watching that night superb. The acoustics in the theatre were exceptional.
Ellen is enjoying being a tourist in between her dental appointments in Gdansk. She said that the dentists that specialize in “dental tourism” for foreigners in Gdansk charge half the price for the same procedures in Norway and are equally qualified. I found this particularly interesting given I will be experiencing a similar situation in Costa Rica in a couple of months when I plan to get some dental work done there. Both of us got a good chuckle about this coincidence. Dental tourism on a world-wide scale is here to stay, I thought.
Children frolicking and playing with swans along the Baltic coast warmed my heart on a cold, clear day. * Servas Host Wojtek and I took a half hour bus ride one Sunday from Gdansk to the Baltic coast. The sand was fine; the cold wind coming in from the sea was brutal; snow was on the ground. Joggers and families with baby carriages jostled for space along the icy boardwalk. Everyone we encountered that day seemed oblivious to the frigid weather; we were not.
*Servas is an International non-profit organization of hosts and travelers www.USServas.org
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