I guess calling this post my first impressions of Gdansk is actually a bit untrue. The reason for that is because my friend Jono on Instagram visited and shared a lot about the place. In fact, he recommended that I visit. That being said, this is my first hand first impressions of Gdansk.
First Impressions of Gdansk
Our visit to Gdansk came about because we found a conference for Jit to speak at, which is our usual way to travel. It was a perfect opportunity for us to see another part of Poland and to make it into a useful work trip for us both. It seems that conference seasons works well for us, too. It tends to be outside of the tourist season, which offers us the opportunity to experience places at local pace.
Arriving in the afternoon, with plenty of time before our Airbnb check-in, we opted to take the longer route. This route took us through a local park and led us on our first adventure of following our curiosity.
I am not sure whether it was the low autumnal light behind the clouds, the crunchy auburn leaves beneath my feet or the fact that I was stepping into unknown territory, but my first impressions of Gdansk were very, very, positive. I have to admit that I am a huge fan of Polish towns. They each have a personality or style of their own. They rock their historical past and corners of degradation with pride. And I honour them for that. Unlike many places in the UK, who shuffle visitors off to the polished parts of town in order to save face, Poland encourages you to get to know it. Foibles and all.
While we wandered through the park, we spotted burly cranes on the horizon. Dark, solid warehouses squat between them. This, of course, sparked our interest and encouraged us to veer away from our intended path. We were still to be heading in a similar direction, but along a route of intrigue.
The Ship Yard
I had read the guidebooks and the snippets from my friend Jono, but nothing quite prepared me for how amazing the Lenin Ship Yard actually was. As someone who has an affinity with run down, derelict and forgotten places; this was a great first port of call (if you pardon the pun). Over rickety bridges, dodging puddles and looking out for industrial vehicles breaking our path, we made our way closer to the cranes.
As we wandered around the ship yard with a feeling of trespass, we became quite surprised to discover that we were actually quite within the law. In fact, we were very welcome. This might not seem like much of a discovery, but the ship yard is still working. Those vehicles we were dodging are there to deliver parts of building boats. You can smell the strong chemical aroma from the paints and feel the warmth from the welding tools. To be that close to working cranes and machinery is quite a rarity for us Brits (and I am sure many other cultures too). This made the discovery all the more exciting and interesting.
Following the trail of signs, the time flew by and the sun was beginning to fade behind the clouds bringing a cool breeze. A blessing and a bind, with us being so intrigued by it all, we decided to get back on our way and revisit another day. It also afforded us the opportunity to read a bit more about the place. Besides, it was getting cold and would be more enjoyable replacing our rucksacks for a mug of hot tea.
On making our way back into more inhabited parts of Gdansk, we noticed the style of buildings. There was a certain Dutch style to them, which suggested that there was some kind of connection in the past. Knowing a bit about the Dutch empire, I felt it would have something to do with the ship yard and made a mental note to check my inkling for fact.
Already in our short time in the city, my first impressions of Gdansk were of curiosity and admiration. Not only did we have access to the parts you normally have to fight to get into, there was a plethora of history in a short couple of miles. My kind of place by far. I certainly thought that Jono had made a very good suggestion. The boy knows me well.
View from home
Arriving at our home from home, we settled down; taking the weight of our bags from our shoulders. The view from the window offered another interesting perspective of the city. Old mixed with new. Cobbled streets and modern blocks. The disused Dutch houses or mills instantly brought about a sense of anticipation for the next time we stepped out in to the city.
Despite our eagerness to get back outside, we needed some rest so with a hot tea, we settled for some time indoors. Recharging from a day of travelling and making sure we were able to wander some more into the evening.
Gdansk at Dust
Rested, fuelled with tea and with a shopping list in hand it was time to hit the streets of Gdansk once more. This time, with a mission to find food and supplies. Thanks to Google, we discovered a local modern shopping centre with a supermarket. We headed back into the cold to buy our food.
It is always funny how strange it seems to find such modern design coupled with historic and traditional architecture when you’re in an unfamiliar place. I say that as Manchester is the same. Steel and glass structures between listed buildings. I guess the unfamiliarity of a new place makes them juxtapose that little bit more than at home. One thing we did notice was that the Polish shopping centres have far, far, more nature in them than the stark shell of the Manchester Arndale.
Our bags now weighing heavy again with produce for our meals, we decided to use the last bit of light. We made our way back to the Old Town to enjoy the orange glow of the streetlights on the damp, glistening, cobbles.
It is amazing how just a short distance, over a busy road, can take you from one world to another. This side, where we were staying, certainly had more of a cosy feel. The old Dutch buildings, cobbled streets and glowing lights a stark contrast to the red brick shopping mall. We had hoped for the aroma of spiced grazaniec (the Polish version of hot wine) but had no luck. Being more of a coastal area, the lingering scent of the town was that of mixed seafood. A not all unpleasant smell, but not one we were hoping for.
As day began to fade, we took our final walk before we would head back to our cosy home, but not before following the beacon of the steeple we spotted down a side street. To our surprise, it wasn’t actually part of a church, but a market. A very bustling and full market at that.
With each turn on our walks we were seeing a totally different side of Gdansk. For a small area, we had seen degraded ship yard buildings, Dutch houses, markets and traditional homes. As well as modern supermarkets and shopping areas. My friend Jono had mentioned that the area was seeing some major redevelopment, so it was nice that there were still plenty of pockets of old world between the construction work and modern life.
The tourist bits
To make sure we had seen every side, we also did a mini adventure around what seemed to be the touristy bit. You know the space in most cities where there is a ferris wheel and poop up food stands. So as to give the full picture of my first impressions of Gdansk, here it the wheel. I am not knocking it. But it was a big contrast to the historic side of the water facing it.
My first impressions of Gdansk
My first few hours in Gdansk had me smiling from ear to ear, despite the biting cold. The first impressions of Gdansk were that it was somewhere I could really immerse myself. I had already piqued my curiosity around the story of the differing buildings, the ship yard and the role it played in WWII. (something we would discover more of at the spectacular WWII Museum)
Although tired and ready for food, I was really looking forward to stepping out into the city to find out more. My eagerness would be filled that evening with reading the guide-book, searching for information and delving into the story of Gdansk.
Have you visited this part of Poland before? What were your first impressions of Gdansk?
Let me know in the comments
Got a Gdansk board? Pin me around!