And, That’s a Wrap!

It’s funny how quickly coming home turns off vacation mode. As excited as I always am to get home, I always feel a bit lost when I first do. Life has gone on without me while I’ve been away. I always come back wanting to pick up where I left off but it never works that way. It hasn’t since the first time I went away for a year, 25 years ago.

In order to soften the transition a little, I decided to do a highlights post. I’m sure I’m missing some stuff, and it’s possible some stuff is in the wrong order. I’ve chosen photos from each stop on our 2019 Baltic Adventure-From Tallinn to Krakow. I have included five (I changed it to 10- 5 was too few!) photos from each stop… what a challenge!

Tallinn-KGB museum, Hot dogs and fancy dinner, Linen and wool (the Amber Sisters), reindeer tartar

Riga- big Eastern European hair!, the Art hostel with the weird bathroom, the KGB “corner house”, the Cat house, the Three brothers, the Central market, a Depeche mode bar, the National library with their amazing book project, the Jewish ghetto museum, Stalin’s birthday cakeKaunas- top floor of the bus, Bus accident / near miss, blue cheese nuts, Fancy dinner!, Lots of statue pictures!!, music festival, donuts everywhere, beautiful Main Street, church up the hill with a wedding, funicular down the hill, fire at the pizza place

Vilnius- our place in Uzupis right by the angel statue and barber, and our favourite wine bar (Wine and Smile), I had a great bedroom (with the only bathroom) and poor Nina had a sofa bed in the kitchen, kitschy park by the river, Uzupis republic, statues with a prop, big majestic main square, the university garden, wine and charcuterie at wine and smile, teaching Nina to take a selfie, walk to the cemetery, tons of weddings!, a rainy day, Museum of the occupation, my window seat, the jam, egg, prosciutto and cheese breakfast sandwich, Hill of three crosses, delicious spinach cake, Hare Krishna, Jewish ghetto, jumping in a dress and showing my undies, Ukrainian orchestra in the squareMinsk- not quite first class on Belavia, super chatty taxi driver and scary arrival at air bnb, stinky entrance/stairwell to apartment but good location, Minsk is massive!, more pictures with statues, Soviet style cars and buildings, Island of tears, jumping and I hurt my foot, the amazing Metro!, National library (weird shape), Cinema, hip area with burger bar (burger with marinated cherries!), bought a walletLviv- room with a bathroom in a wardrobe through the main bedroom, apartment right on the square beside cherry wine shop, more statues, dinner at shark tank restaurant, amazing street performers, strudel shop next door, less impressive graveyard, cherry wine, last dinner together, early morning wander in city, House of scientists, learning to pose for pictures, picture with wall of flowers, mini-train around townWarsaw- Airbnb across from National Museum, wander on Main Street, Chopin concert in the park, pierogis and palace/castle, Stalin’s penis and A Rainy Day in New York, Warsaw zoo, Metro, food hall, graffiti walk, Neon museum, longest most frustratingly good day

Gdańsk- room with a mural at Hostel 22, Shipyards!!, Philly cheesesteak sandwich, Dluga Street (Main Street), St Dominic’s festival, massive mural project in Zaspa, ring and bracelet and amber ring, Museum of World War II, so much walking, flight struck by lightning, emergency landing in Warsaw, bus from Warsaw to KrakowKrakow- wandered Royal Way, organ concert, herring burger, Jewish ghetto, zapiekanka, Legal graffiti park, Schindler’s Factory Museum, tuna sandwich, Auschwitz- Birkenau, Pizzatopia, Wawel castle and cathedralUntil next time! Safe travels, everyone! xo

 

A Day to Remember

You can only do so much with so few days. I have to keep reminding myself that. I wanted to make sure I could get to Auschwitz on this trip and that proved much more challenging than I obviously imagined. But I was booked for Saturday.

My tour wasn’t until lunchtime so I had been trying to decide how I’d spend the morning.

I love getting up early and wandering the city. It was so different being in the main square with just a few people. It would have been a great time for some statue photography as most are empty and lonely. In all the cities we have visited this trip, we have remarked st the cleanliness. Getting up early you get to see why these cities are so clean. There are masses of working people, mostly older people and in some cities, mostly women, it seems, washing, scrubbing, picking up garbage etc., before the city wakes up again.

It was Saturday and so the Jewish quarter would not be a smart stop as it was the sabbath. I decided to head to the Legal Graffiti Park which was cool but rather underwhelming.

Schindler’s Factory Museum was right around the corner. I had changed plans that morning deciding that a visit might be too much, with Auschwitz in the same day but when I saw the line and realized I was still right on time to go in, I decided to seize the opportunity.

It really was a great museum, creating an atmosphere and a mood and giving you a chance to imagine what the years leading up to the war and then the years during would have been like. And what a story! I loved the personal accounts and narratives.

From there I walked home, grabbed some lunch to eat in my apartment, showered and prepared for my afternoon. It was going to be a hot one!

I was expecting a big coach bus to come pick me up, wondering all the while how it would fit down the narrow streets. I was surprised when Wojtek showed up in his shiny BMW and asked me to sit in the front seat because we were picking up two more people. I figured he was taking us to the coach bus, but instead he drove us the whole way to Auschwitz. Air conditioned and comfortable- I was not complaining.

I had debated doing a tour on my own vs with a guide. In many ways I’m glad I did it with the guide. Our guide was great. Just enough information, nothing too dramatic (as if you’d even need to embellish!) and just enough time to think and process. There were two young Italian boys in our group who were translating everything for their parents. I thought that was amazing because in translating and explaining and answering their parents questions they were processing the information much more than I think some of us were at times. You could see at one point that some people were tuning out the information, hearing what she said but not really listening to the words. These boys couldn’t do that. Their parents had so many questions. I think they’d be able to give a great recount of the history they learned.

Auschwitz I was what you would expect- shocking and horrific and unimaginable. While at the same time, it’s completely unexpected, unimaginable. One little boy exclaimed to his mom at one point, “It’s just like the movies!” meaning that the recreations he’d seen in movies made the setting seem familiar.

Some of the rooms I just couldn’t enter- there was a room with hair from the prisoners.

Once they disembarked from the train, their possessions were taken to be stored “for them” in a place they called “Canada”. This was the place where the most valuable items from prisoners were stored.

According to the literature by Tadeusz Borowski – it was named after Canada as it was regarded as the richest country in the world at the time.

Things left in “Canada” were destroyed as the Soviets advanced through Europe. The Nazis preferred to burn them than to have them taken by the enemy.

Birkenau was immense. And so much of it is gone. I don’t have a lot of words for today. I’m still processing everything I saw.

I’m glad I went. It was a somber, reflective day but as keeps getting repeated, it’s a story we need to keep repeating and talking about so it doesn’t happen again.

The Morning After the Night Before

Being up before most others are up is fantastic. It’s the best time to take selfies with my timer or remote, and it’s also the best time to get pictures with no one in them.

I realized when I was on my way to Auschwitz that I hadn’t yet been to the castle! Oops!

I got there early and wasn’t alone in my thinking. There were a few people milling about, obviously my idea wasn’t original. I took my time, deciding to do some selfies with my phone and camera since it wasn’t too crowded. At one point I had a couple follow me and ask me to take their picture every time I’d done my own selfie. Perhaps they were too tired to scout out their own locations. After the third, I said no and walked in a different location from them.I guess the green dress was attracting attention because I happened across two suited men doing a photo shoot in the park. Not sure for what, but they were doing lots of walking shots and had a photographer following them around. They asked if I’d mind walking through for a couple of pictures. I’m guessing they must have seen my Portrait of a Tourist photo and wanted it in the background of their shot. Thankfully Nina had me practice my walk when we were together. 🙂 I’ve no clue what they were doing and goodness knows where me and that green dress are going to appear. Let me know if you see me somewhere in Poland… or on the deep dark web! 😳

Krakow has been a ton of fun. The first bit was a bit of a haze as I was just so tired, but I think I checked most things off my list. The castle, graffiti park, Auschwitz, an organ concert, the Royal way, countless churches and cathedrals, markets and a couple museums.

So the flight home was exciting- not struck-by-lightning exciting, but let me explain. Our flight from Krakow to Frankfurt was uneventful but about 15 minutes behind schedule. People often tease me because I like to be in line and on the plane as quickly as possible, wanting to find space for my luggage and settle in to my seat. Other people like to take their own sweet time, dilly-dallying and not letting anything hurry them along. Problem is, those are often the people who want their bag in a specific place and won’t rest until it’s so.

That was the issue this time. A lady had gone to the washroom, and gone and got snacks while we were boarding. So then we were all on the plane, ready to go, as she forced her way down the aisle, knocking every other person in the head as she passed with her oversized carry-on bags and duty-free booze, trying to get to her seat near the back of the plane. It was a full flight, as they kept announcing, and so overhead luggage space was limited. The attendants kept suggesting she stop and try to put her luggage in one of the bins she was passing. Shockingly, the bin above her seats was full. She wasn’t happy about this. She wanted other people to move their bags so she could have hers close, as if they didn’t care where theirs were.

Anyway, point of this story is that by the time they settled her, we were 20 minutes late which was not good news for me and my connecting flight.

We arrived in Frankfurt and honestly, everything seemed to move in slow motion. By the time we started to move and get off the plane, I had 10 minutes until they would start boarding. We were put on the bus to get to the terminal. Once we arrived, I realized we were near the A gates and I needed to get to B. Thank goodness, and unfortunately, I had spent the last 3 weeks walking. My legs were tired but I ran. It was a little different than the walk/run I was used to doing, as I had my backpack which weighed 11kg, my purse which weighed just over 10 and my waist pack/fanny pack/bumbag.

I was doing fine until I came to passport control. I had checked in with my Canadian passport but the lineup was huge for “All Passports” and there were some problems with the young guy talking with border security. I knew if I waited, I’d never make my flight. So, I whipped out my EU passport, jumped over to the empty self-scan lines and ran through. It worked, so hopefully it doesn’t cause me any future problems. Isn’t that the beauty of having dual citizenship and two passports? I’m not sure it is, but it worked.

I arrived at the gate, probably looking like a frenzied traveller, all sweaty and red-faced, gasping for breath and ready to take out anyone in my way. But I made it. And really, that was all that mattered.

The Day After

I arrived to the apartment around 2 and could not sleep. I tossed and turned and finally fell asleep, only to wake up at 6. That was it. It appeared there would be no more sleep for me so I decided it was good a time as any to go get some groceries for the time I’d be here.

By 8 I had eaten and was ready for another nap. I slept until 9 and then figured if I didn’t head out I might just waste the day away in bed so off I went.

To be fair, I was a bit of a zombie, wandering aimlessly, getting lost and ending up right back where I started. I booked a ticket for an organ concert in the cathedral and around 1 headed home for a much needed nap. I slept for an hour, planned my next few days and then it was off for a wander, ending up at the concert.

I love organs in churches and cathedrals and this concert didn’t disappoint. The organist filled that space with such beautiful music. It echoed off the walls and found its way into every corner of that cathedral.

I hadn’t had much other than the breakfast I’d made at 6am so I decided to head for a bite to eat. Krakow has tons of restaurants and I wasn’t sure what I was hungry for so ended at this Polish tapas place where I ate herring. They told me they are famous for their herring burger, so that’s what I had.

There’s so much I want to see but time is limited. I went to the Jewish quarter next but most things were closed so I just wandered and observed. So much going on!

Tomorrow is another day!

World War II and Lightning Strikes LOT Flight #LO3501

You won’t often find me in galleries and museums. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them or find them interesting, but I always want to be outside exploring rather than inside looking at a painting or sculpture.

This morning I decided to go to the Museum of the Second World War. It had a lot of great things written about it and I had a lot of time to just spend in the city so it seemed like a great option.

First off, it was built only a couple years ago and I loved the layout and design. I rented an audio guide, wanting to just have my ears plugged and be able to wander at will, and I’m not sure it was the best way to go. Not surprisingly, it was a lot to take in. The narration was not dramatic but the images and the reality were overwhelming. I had to take a break after room 5. I thought it a good time to come and start recording some of my thoughts.

My parents were born in 1944 and I often think about my grandparents and what it would have been like not only to live during that time of such uncertainty but also to have young children. What kind of future could they possibly have when there was such devastation and destruction all around? I think of the strength and resilience of the men and women of that time. They must have still held on to hope and faith- I find that moving and admirable. What stories and experiences they lived and survived!

The picture of a scene in winter in Leningrad was created by pages from a calendar. It lasted almost 900 days (871 to be exact)

There are tons of videos from and about the war on display but also current ones of personal recounts. There were so many stories of parents and family members going missing, without a word, and their loved ones only just finding out their fate in 1990.

For 10 years after the war had ended, there were still unspeakable crimes being committed against people suspected of collaborating with the Germans and favouring the fascist.

At the end of the exhibition, there was a short film about how though WWII ended, for Poland it wasn’t really over until 1989 when the Iron Curtain fell and a freer Poland finally emerged. But the tour ends, discussing some of the conflicts of the 21st century and asking the question- Could the Second World War really have taught us nothing?img_2404img_2299img_2293img_2310img_2322img_2323img_2321img_2350img_2298img_2352img_2355img_2309img_2307img_2335img_2372img_2297img_2346img_2347img_2368img_2320img_2389img_2369img_2336img_2396img_2342img_2380img_2328img_2395img_2300.jpgimg_2364Am I ever glad I came to the museum when I did. I followed advice to be here first thing. I got in as soon as it opened. When I finished 3 hours later, the line up was outstanding!

Lunch at a local Polish kebab joint (surprisingly delicious, with lots of cabbage!) and then I headed to the Uphagen house to see what a house on the high street would have looked like inside, back in the day. It was a bit disappointing to be honest as the entire second floor was dedicated to local jewellers and designers and looked more like a store than anything.img_2433img_2408img_2417img_2415img_2439img_2432img_2434img_2414img_2423img_2428img_2424img_2442img_2430img_2438img_2413img_2461img_2445img_2449img_2448I wandered around to kill some time, and caved and bought an amber ring. I was hesitant and unsure if I’d buy one this time as I bought two when I was in Prague (remember the Murray mint, Paula?) and I never wear either of them.img_2467img_2463img_2470I forgot to mention that the St Dominic’s festival is on right now. It’s held every year in Gdańsk.

From the Explore Gdansk website:
From St. Dominic’s Fair in Gdansk is one of the biggest commercial open-air events in Europe. It was established in 1260 by Pope Alexander IV, and since then has been annually organized in the streets of Gdansk – with the short period of a break during and after the Second World War.

There were booths with vendors and people everywhere. I am guessing this is why the Old Town has been so packed and busy all day every day.

Anyway, as I wandered and window shopped, I happened upon a ring I actually really liked and can see myself wearing, so I forked out the cash and splurged.

Had a good chat with the front desk clerk at the hostel as he had tons of questions about Canada. I am always happy to share information and my love for my country and I happily invite everyone to come visit.

It’s been a funny couple days weather-wise with little pop up storms where the rain will come pelting down for two minutes, sending everyone scattering and poor shop keepers scrambling to bring all their wares inside. Then the sun will shine. Or it’ll be blazing hot and sunny but suddenly you’ll feel the rain drops.

On our way to Krakow this evening, our plane was struck by lightning. I was not sure what the chances are of that happening, but I was trying to see it as lucky! Only problem was we immediately changed course (or shortened our course) and were on our way to Warsaw. I’ve already been to Warsaw so this was not super exciting news to me. When anyone asked, the steward just kept apologizing and saying safety was first priority which is why we needed to land and get checked out. I think the hub for LOT airlines is Warsaw. Fingers crossed for an extra empty plane kicking around that we can transfer into and get back on our way to Krakow. I have plans!

The second we landed and the “seatbelt” sign went off, people were up and things got loud. I am not sure what the excitement was as if didn’t look like as we were going anywhere any time soon.

Eventually they took us off the plane and I followed the crowd. This was a time when not speaking the language put me at a real disadvantage. I had no clue what was happening and the angry people who spoke Polish were too loud to be heard over so my questions went unanswered. Finally I heard the words bus and McDonald’s and using my wonderful seductive reasoning skills, I figured we were supposed to gather our luggage and meet there.

A taxi driver approached me and asked if I needed a ride. I flippantly commented only if he were heading to Krakow. That attached him to my side, talking to me about how he could give me a receipt and I could bill LOT and if they wouldn’t pay then I could sue. I haven’t had a lot of experience with problems with flights but I definitely know not to hope to charge an airline and get compensation.

He finally left me but then two other taxi drivers gathered a small crowd from our flight and were trying to convince them of the same plan. They would take the money that it would cost to hire the coach buses and drive us in vans to Krakow. They were talking to the right people because voices were rising and people were getting more agitated.

In the crowd of unhappy souls, I found two women, perhaps a mother and daughter. I think their names are Yola and Anya. They were from the US but spoke Polish and very kindly translated everything for me and updated me on what was going on. I asked if I could latch on to them and they were nice enough to let me. I tried to keep my distance a bit, not wanting to be a pain, already feeling better with some understanding of what was happening.

We were boarded on a bus (it’s amazing how panic causes people to forget all courtesy and manners), given sandwiches and bottles of water and left to sweat. Seriously. We were on the bus over an hour before they turned it on and started the air.

They took attendance which was funny to watch. As a teacher, I was so tempted to take charge as I watched the very mild-mannered, soft-spoken young guy trying to get people to listen while he searched for names on the really long list of tiny printed names.

I think the thing I find most frustrating about situations like this is lack of communication. It wasn’t the airline’s fault we were struck by lightning. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. That part doesn’t upset me. I also agree with safety first. I am glad they landed us and made us get off the plane if things stopped working (I think it took out a light or something). But making us sit, with no information and no update for an hour and a half… it’s no surprise people were getting upset. It was 25 degrees outside and there was no air circulating. Regular updates- that’s really all it would have taken to diffuse some of the upset. Not all, and not the unreasonable people just looking for a fight, but the rational ones like me who would be appeased. 🙂

We had two small children on our bus who played, loudly and often shrieking with laughter, the ENTIRE 4 hours. Some people were not impressed. It made me think of all the positive things that came out of this lightning strike:

1. We didn’t crash and no one was hurt.

2. I got to take a bus in Poland- haven’t done that before.

3. We had two children who were happy and playing the entire bus ride. I can only imagine what it would have been like if they’d been unhappy and crying.

4. I had an empty seat beside me- I had a chatty Frenchman beside me on the plane.

5. I met Yola and Anya- my translating queens!

6. I actually had something to blog about that might be a little interesting other than what I ate that day (a sandwich and a bottle of water- didn’t take pics. Sorry!)img_2486If all went well and according to plan, (though I’m not sure whose plan), we should have been in Krakow around midnight. It was a good thing I was used to not getting a lot of sleep as I would just be able to go to sleep whenever I finally arrived and get up at a normal time and start the day. It would be just like any other day of my travels. Only this time, there was a little more adventure than normal!

 

These Ballet Flats Were Made for Walking!

I have always loved street art, and even just graffiti and tagging. I remember I did a graduation project with my class one year and we created our own “tags”. It was fantastic! I am not very creative. I am good at designs that are logical, or mathematical, but freeform and creative- that’s not me.

Art inspires and fascinates me. People who are creative and artsy are a mystery to me. And the idea that someone can create such clean, beautiful work with a can of spray paint? Well, now you have my attention. I watched a competition once and was mesmerized for two hours as three artists created amazing works of art on these three big walls.

I will often seek out street art in a new city. Some say it shows the rough and not-nice areas of a city, perhaps that’s true but I think it shows the gritty side, and that’s okay. I noticed when I was in Warsaw that some of the areas I was going to take pictures were a little less than touristy and perhaps a little sketchy. It wasn’t until I got home and sifted through all my photos of an “abandoned” building that I realized there were people in the pictures. Someone was passed out. Two people were having sex. Someone else was “administering medication”. It is lucky they didn’t notice me any more than I noticed them. It could have made for an unpleasant situation.

Anyway, the point of telling that is to say that I was excited today to read about this mural project in one of the suburbs of Gdańsk. A residential area is home to over 60 murals painted on the sides of the buildings. The Monumental Art Collection is an outdoor gallery and was started in 1997. Since 2010, the students from the Gdańsk School of Mural have been creating and painting murals. That’s right! They even have a school where you can study how to create these amazing pieces.

It was not close but as I didn’t do a whole lot of walking the day before, I wanted to make up for it today. I was headed to the office where I could get a map of all the murals, but lo and behold, they were pretty easy to find once I got close. I found the office about halfway through exploring and the lovely lady inside gave me the map and some tips about viewing the murals. I asked her what was the easiest way to get back to Old Town, asking if walking was the best option. She kind of chuckled and said, “No! That would take hours. The train would be best.” I tried to laugh it off, mentioning that I had walked there and that it really wasn’t that far. After all it hadn’t taken me two hours- only 1 hour 40! When I planned my outing, the hour and a half to get there and the same back didn’t seem that bad. I didn’t factor in or account for all the walking to look at and find the murals. I was definitely going to take the train back.

I got a lot of funny looks from people who lived in the buildings. I wonder sometimes if we stop appreciating things that are around too long or all the time even. It’s easy to just get used to things, and forget how special they are. It made me think of people, not just stuff. This is something that I try to remind myself. I am fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of really wonderful people. I try not to forget that and it’s times like this, when I am wandering and have a whole whack load of time to think, that I remember I need not take people and things for granted. I don’t want to expect, but I want to appreciate and be grateful.

I even had a little girl follow me at one point, watching where I was pointing my camera and looking up, trying to understand what I was photographing. I guess the murals are just a part of her every day landscape. They have always been there. She doesn’t know different, so they aren’t special to hear, like they are to me. Perhaps. That’s a whole lot of assuming though.

IMG_2253IMG_2221IMG_2220I spent the morning doing a tour of the Old Town and the main highlights of Gdańsk. I knew I wanted to find the Mural Collection, so I got up early and did another Rick Steves’ self-guided tour. There were a few churches I wanted to peek into but I am guessing a number of cruise ships came into shore today because the Old Town was packed. I think that this is the busiest of any of the places so far this summer. They crowded the churches and museums and I didn’t have the patience to wait for them all to pass. I even had a hard time getting in to any restaurants I wanted this evening. It was threatening rain so restaurants were keeping the inside tables free in case the people outside needed to run for cover.IMG_2126IMG_2142IMG_2143IMG_2147IMG_2124IMG_2148IMG_2150IMG_2152IMG_2161After only a protein bar and a bottle of water for lunch, plus a single scoop of some mysterious flavour of ice cream, I thought it would be wise to have a proper dinner. In the end I went to another food hall where I had a delicious Pad Thai and mini bottle of Prosecco to celebrate a successful day in Gdańsk. I love the idea of food halls where they gather all these wonderful chefs and you can have a little bit of everything. Dinner and a view- it was a lovely way to end a great day.IMG_2273

The Man with the Walrus Moustache

All moved in to my newest digs. I must say, all the places we have stayed on this trip have been great. Today’s apartment is no exception.IMG_2047IMG_2048IMG_2045IMG_2046A couple of months ago I had drinks with a dear friend who I hadn’t seen in some time. A lot had happened since the last time we met up but we had written and kept in touch. Whenever I travel, I send him a postcard to say hello. He has the opportunity now to travel more and so we started talking about where to go, dream destinations, planned trips, and then he asked me what it was I liked so much about travel. Why do I do it.

I didn’t hesitate in answering. I told him that travel for me is about people, and culture, and seeing the way other people live. The world interests me, as do people’s stories. Travel gives me a chance to meet people who have different stories than mine. It affords me the opportunity to try to understand and appreciate other people’s experiences.

I have been blessed with a wonderful family who love and support me. I grew up happy, and healthy and while I didn’t necessarily get every single thing I wanted, I had more than I needed. I have a great job that provides me satisfaction and fulfillment and the means to enjoy life to the fullest.

I recognize that I haven’t experienced hardship, or turmoil, or great loss or despair in the way that others have. I haven’t had great controversy in my life, or been forced to make choices I didn’t want to make. But there are people in the world who have done all that. And to stand us side by side, you would never know the difference. We get up in the morning, put our underpants on one leg at a time, (or both legs in and jump), and do what we have to do. I find that fascinating. And inspiring. And it reminds me to appreciate and respect all that I have.

Whenever someone asks if I want to go somewhere, I very rarely say no. There aren’t many places that aren’t on my list of places to see. Unless I have been there, and then it’s usually just because time and money come in to play and there are so many other places I haven’t yet been.

Poland has so much history. So much was destroyed during the war and whole cities have been rebuilt. Today I arrived in Gdańsk. This is the city where World War II began.

As I drove from the airport today, I noticed a lot of really cool buildings and graffiti so I marked them on my map, hoping they would be in walking distance from my apartment. I guess that’s one good thing about taxis with drivers who can’t speak any English- you can spend the time planning what to do when you arrive!

I took a walk down to what I thought was the shipyard. Gdańsk is Poland’s principal seaport. The Shipyard has always been private and off-limits to the public but a few years ago they opened up in an effort to share the history of Solidarity and Lech Walesa (the man with the bushy, walrus-like moustache). I read about the strike in the 1980s.IMG_2055IMG_2423IMG_2425IMG_2426IMG_2427IMG_2066IMG_2430IMG_2432IMG_2433IMG_2435IMG_2438IMG_2442IMG_2446IMG_2447IMG_2070In a nutshell, (apologies if I am way off in my understanding and interpretation), this is what happened:

Things were already not great. Then a female crane operator was dismissed and this sparked the workers to take action. Lech Walesa had been dismissed before, but he came back, scaled the wall and convinced workers to form a union.

They locked themselves in the shipyards and waited to forge a deal.

The government eventually gave in to their demands and Solidarity was formed. Lech Walesa was elected chairman- over ten million people joined the movement.

Solidarity kept fighting for reform and at a certain point, a state of martial law was declared, the movement was dissolved, its leaders were jailed and it was forced to operate secretly, underground.

The people did not back down. I read: When Father Jerzy Popiełuszko, Solidarity’s chaplain, was abducted and murdered by the secret police over a million people attended his funeral.

Over a million people! That’s amazing. They resisted and talks resumed and they were once again granted legal status. It was not post-communism and during that first election, Walesa and the party were victorious. He became the first freely elected president of Poland in December 1990 and served until 1995, the party lasting until 2000 when they were officially ousted from active politics.

What a story! Apologies because I don’t think I did it justice. Hopefully my photos make up for it.

A lot of the buildings are empty, in disrepair, but there is still production going on and things happening too. And there are plans to revitalize the area and develop some of those old spaces. It was an amazing place to walk around.

I happened upon the “beach” which is in the center of a very cool outdoor eating space- kind of like a food truck gathering, only it’s permanent. Here I met the owner Pan Baleron, a Philly cheese steak stop. I have never had a Philly cheese steak- funny that my first try would be in Poland. He was awesome. He took the time to tell me a funny story about the Philly Cheese Steak, a little about its history and then he explained the menu to me in English. I wasn’t sure what I was going to eat, but after all that effort, there was no way I was going elsewhere. And it was yummy! 🙂IMG_2072IMG_2073IMG_2076IMG_2080IMG_2088IMG_2093IMG_2092I didn’t manage to walk as much as I had hoped today, but I will try to make up for that tomorrow. I want to see as much of this city as I can! I came home to figure where to go next and when I headed back out the rain was starting. That was all the excuse I needed to turn around and head back to my room. I am going to attempt an early night in the hope that I get some much-needed sleep. Fingers crossed!IMG_2097IMG_2451IMG_2098IMG_2456IMG_2099