• Danik Bates

Brief stops and musings around Poland

Updated: May 7

Warsaw’s historical centre

The capital of Poland has had its drama of course during the Second World War thanks to the Nazi Germans destroying everything but since then the city has been rebuilt during communist times to the modern day era. I have checked out Warsaw on a few occasions and the city to explore gets better and better. From the rebuilt old town, the communist structures to the modern day restaurants and bars, here is my guide on what to do and see for first timers to this Central European city.

The Old Town of Warsaw

This part of Warsaw was completely destroyed in the Second World War but walking around the main square (Rynek Starego Miasta) it feels like nothing has gone and the buildings are of that of their original structures. The locals have rebuilt the square and surrounding side streets to its original designs. I am so pleased about this as it felt like I was taking a step back in time but in the summer months it’s fantastic to see people sitting outside the bustling cafes and restaurants.

Just off the square on ul. Nowomiejska is the Barbican and some of the city walls which have survived over the years. The building known as the Barbican was built here to defend the city from attackers from the north but was destroyed in the Second World War. Now it has been rebuilt since then despite the fact there is no need for it as it wasn’t in use many years before it got destroyed. Walking around the old town visitors (and as I found out) can check out the Cathedral of Saint John (as well as the old town’s other 10,000 churches - I am joking but there are several as Poland is a very religious Catholic country) but the other main sight to check out is the Royal Castle (Zamek Krolewski) which was built in the 16th century when the capital of Poland was moved from Krakow to Warsaw. Once again this castle was destroyed by the Nazi Germans in the Second World War but has been reconstructed in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Just northwest of the Old Town Square on pl. Krasinskich is the monument to the 1944 Warsaw Uprising which commemorates the heroes of this historic event. Walking around this amazing monument was a quiet, somber one, thinking about those who gave up their lives to fend off the Nazi Germans. The sculptures represent soldiers and are separated into groups around the square. One group is shown defending the barricades and the other group going into the sewers. The locals used the sewer system to move around Warsaw during the uprising and near to this monument, one of the entrances can be found into the system. The area around the Old Town is probably the best place to grab some food and drinks. Like most cities in Europe, the restaurants around the touristy centres can be the most expensive but don’t even worry about that in Poland. For at least ten years Poland has been one of the cheapest countries to visit and is great value for money, so even a good three-course meal with drinks can be very cheap, so my advice is don’t worry about splashing the cash. Also personally speaking, Poland offers some of the best food and cuisine in Europe and is definitely worth checking out.

South of the Old Town

Krakowskie Przedmiescie is the street which runs down from the Royal Castle southwards towards the central train station etc and is full of modern shops, restaurants and bars. Carry on straight and the road name changes into Nowy Swiat. Down a side street called Foksal there is a bar called Ciechan na Foksal. Here there are sixteen taps supplying the regional beers from the area of Ciechanowie, far away from Warsaw and we managed to get through a few of these Polish delights, including Ciechan, Lwowek and Bojan brews. The taste of the beers are a bit stronger and sharper than other Polish beers I have tried but loved the place (and the staff) to bits and would recommend this bar to any visitor coming to Warsaw.

The City Centre

Visitors to Warsaw are most likely to start and finish their adventures of the city here as the Central Train Station and bus station is located here and also plenty of taxis and airport buses which run passengers to and from the main airport plus the small airport in nearby Modlin (mostly used by no-frills airlines). If doing a journey after Warsaw by public transport and need some snacks, there are plenty of shops and cafes around here to get by on.

The first sight most visitors see when leaving the station is the huge (but ugly looking) Palace of Culture and Science. This horrible building was a gift to the nation of Poland from its neighbours, the then USSR and was built in the early 1950’s. It is said that the o’mighty Stalin (leader of the USSR and a big bully who likes to kill his own people) said he offered Warsaw a metro system or this building. The people wanted a metro system, Stalin didn’t listen and gave them this building. When it was built it was the second tallest building in Europe but now has the record of being Poland’s tallest. Now for some stupid facts, it has 30 storeys, 40 million bricks were used and the spire is 230m (750ft) high. Anyway, some locals still hate this building because of the history with the Soviet Union (Stalin was a funny character, saves Poland from the Nazi Germans but then was acting like a puppet master with the Polish government, I don’t do politics but thought I mention this) and still calls for its demolition.

However, for a small fee (and I have been up here twice), I made my way to the top level and managed to get some amazing views. Well, Warsaw isn’t the prettiest of cities, it can be ugly in fact with many ugly-grey-concrete-Soviet style buildings but there is a nice river and a modern sports stadium worth checking out. Walking around I was taking in the marvel of the bricks and the architecture and thinking, well, it is an ugly building but this ugly building has its charm and good points as well. I couldn’t put my finger on it but without the history, this building wouldn’t have been built and where then could visitors or myself get views of this amazing city.

Don’t get me wrong, Warsaw has many other interesting things to see and do, many churches to take a peek in, many memorials and museums but what I have written about are the top places to hit in the Polish capital. I usually use the city as a passing through point to get to other towns in the country or take the train eastwards towards Minsk and Moscow or get a cheap bus northwards towards Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and while I have a few hours, I always tick off something new here. Also accommodation in Poland and Warsaw itself are very cheap compared to other countries in Europe and there are plenty of options to choose from.

Malbork Castle: discovering the world's largest castle

I love exploring castles around Europe and I have known about Malbork Castle for a very long time. On a recent trip to Poland, road tripping around Łódź and Torun, I managed to explore Malbork and also four other castles nearby which I was fortunate to see all in one day. Based in Łódź, I took the long drive up to Malbork which is actually nearer to Gdansk and then worked my way down, driving south alongside the River Vistula before hitting the highway back to Łódź. It was a very long day but well worth it.

Malbork Castle

It wasn’t until I arrived at the ticket hall next to the car park that I found out the castle is the world’s largest & also the world’s largest structure built entirely of brick. Before I arrived all I knew about the castle was that it looked very pretty next to the river on a sunny day (lots of postcards showing this image) and that it was in northern Poland. That is all I knew. I came here with a clear head and ready to learn (as well as to do a lot of walking).

Before I even walked into the main courtyard, how can someone class this as the world’s biggest castle. Is it the entire complex or is it just one building? What about buildings which were attached and expanded from the original building and land? Do fortresses count as a castle? I never really thought about these questions before when it came to exploring a castle. Today I had these on my mind. Researching later that day answered some of the questions. Malbork Castle is measured by the land area which is 143,591 square meters making it the world’s largest.

The castle was built in the 13th century and constructed by the Teutonic Knights, a German-Catholic religious order of crusaders. The Teutonic order named the castle Marienburg in honour of Mary, mother of Jesus. Then the castle was sold during some sort of war in the fourteenth century by the Bohemian mercenaries who held the castle at that point. They sold it to King Casimir IV of Poland and then served as Polish royal residence (which was interrupted for several years when the Swedish Empire came in and ran the show!). Then in 1772 the Germans came in and ruled the area, holding onto the castle right up until the end of the Second World War in 1945. The land was assigned to Poland. The castle was heavily damaged so was renovated towards the end of the 20th century and what I saw when I was there, is the finishing result. The castle is now also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of two in the region, the other one being the ‘Medieval town of Torun’ which is around 200km south of Malbork.

After paying the admission ticket which included an audio guide (which I didn’t use but still had it with me), the cost was around €10. Through the main gates I was standing in the middle of the central courtyard. Here there are museums showing furniture, amber, paintings as well as restaurants and souvenir shops dotted around the place.

I was quite fortunate to come in the Autumn and there weren't many visitors around but I could imagine the place in the summer months when there would be a lot of visitors. This gave me a lot more freedom (and time) in all the rooms I explored and checking out the fine staircases. There was a chapel which I came across and I loved the stained glass window but also here were displays of old books dating back memory centuries to which I stood here for a very long time studying them, the fine print work and trying to understand what language they were written in (back then, European languages were not the same as of today and I found it to be a mixture of Slavic, German and Swedish...but I could be wrong).

Once I checked out the rooms in the main building, I took a walk around the grounds, inside the main fortress walls, checking out the cute little gardens, the vines going up the buildings and the graveyard.

After I checked out the castle, I left the grounds and headed over to the Nogat River. Here there is a bridge to which I walked across, turned left and about 100 meters further on, stopped and tried to get that picture postcard view. It wasn’t sunny but I tried my best to capture it. It’s been many years since I wanted to come here so I tried my best to get the best photo possible. Looking around there were also a few outside bars and restaurants near the bridge serving grilled meats and vegetables with a glass of beer. Also in the summer months there are river cruises which go along here and is another way to capture the castle. Seriously, this is the best area to check out how big the castle really is!

Now as I mentioned earlier there are four other castles nearby which are a short drive away (some of them can also be done by train from Malbork/Gdansk). Here is a round up of the castles I saw in the late afternoon after a day trip to Malbork Castle.

Sztum: In the small town of Sztum, the castle is located by Lake Zajezierskie which has stood here since the 1320s. Built in the shape of a polygon with two towers, the castle was built by the Prussians. Eventually it became part of the Kingdom of Poland in 1410, before getting destroyed by the Swedish Empire (those Swedes!). After coming back to Poland, two wings of the castle exist but had to be reconstructed in the 19th century alongside the fortification walls, gates and the prison tower. Nice little castle with a nice courtyard but I loved doing the short walk alongside the lakeside before getting back into the car and heading south.

Kwidzyn Castle: A great example of bricked-building alongside some wonderful architecture built by the Teutonic Knights is found in the small town of Kwidzyn. Built at the start of the fourteenth century which was used as a chapter house for the Pomesanians (one of the Prussian clans who had control of this area) before the King of Poland came along and took over the castle whilst doing battles against the Teutonic Knights further north. Eventually the castle was ceded back to the Teutonic Knights, then the Swedes came along (those Swedes!) who partially destroyed the castle, then after a few centuries, the castle was restored to what I see today.

One of the highlights for me is seeing the Dansker (which was supported by five arcades/pillars). Now I thought this was a nice looking tower (as seen in my photo) which overlooks the river down below. After researching what a Dansker is (which was common on German/Prussia castles built in the 13th and 14th centuries, these were used to house the toilets so the sewage can go into the river below. However the Dansker I saw was rebuilt and has lost many of its medieval features.

Gniew Castle: I did a short visit to Gniew and the castle is located on top of a hill overlooking the nearby river. Built again by, you guessed it, the Teutonic Order in 1290. As like the other castles, it became a part of Poland (Poland’s borders have changed a lot over history until its current state in 1945) and has been rebuilt a few times but was totally restored in the 20th century. Today it also hosts a hotel and a conference centre and I think I was gate crashing a wedding which was about to start due to what I saw inside, the tables all lined out with the finest dining cutlery and white balloons dotted all over the place.

The last castle was in Nowe which is also located by the banks of the River Vistula and again, built by the Teutonic Order for the Pomeranians in the fourteenth century (those guys really went on a ‘building-castle-crusade’ in this period of time). Again, the castle was eventually destroyed by the Swedes (again...those Swedes!), and then was handed to Poland. Back to Prussians after a while who deconstructed the castle (not sure why they did this) but they kept the main wing which was turned into a church. After a while it was a warehouse and a fire station before being renovated and turned into a museum. Not quite sure what to make of this castle but it does remind me of the chalet buildings used in the Alpine regions of Europe.

Overall: I really did enjoy my day checking out the world’s largest castle with others dotted alongside the River Vistula and other lakes in the region. However there are about another 10-15 castles in the north and north-east regions of Poland and I hope to be checking these out one day. I sure do love my castles in Europe and Poland has some fantastic ones to check out. I highly recommend checking out the smaller castles and the towns along the river but it is best to have a car if you can drive (it's fairly easy to drive around here and there is not much traffic especially at weekends). There is a lot of history here, a-bit that all the castles I saw had very similar history, but away from this region, the history does change due to the changing landscapes of land ownership (i.e. - Poland, Prussia, Sweden, and god knows who else). Even though I am a regular visitor to this amazing country, I am still trying to understand the history in the different regions as it is different, which makes learning fun for me. Overall, if you love castles, history and going to far flung places away from the cities, then check out this castle route I did.

The historic town of Toruń

Toruń, a city I have never heard of in Northern Poland lies off the main highway between Gdansk and Łódź. I didn’t know anything about the area but I knew that I was going to stop here to do a 5km Parkrun event one Saturday back in October 2019, as I was driving towards Malbork to conquer five castles in one weekend. After doing the 5km run through woodland on the outskirts of the city, I had time to head to the historic centre to check out the area which is now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. After quite a bit of time here, I learnt the city is the birthplace to astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, that the city is one of the oldest in Poland as it dates back to the 8th century but was expanded greatly by the Teutonic Knights in the 12th century and hosts the Museum of Gingerbread which the town has been backing gingerbread here for quite some time.

The city once was one of the four biggest in Poland (around the 17th century) before being part of Prussia, then the German Empire. The city returned to Polish hands after the country regained independence in 1918 and somehow was spared bombing and destruction during the Second World War. O’ Adholf and his Nazi friends must have liked the city as it’s architecture is beautiful, ranging with different types from Brick Gothic, Baroque and Mannerism, so they left it alone. Also in the olden days, Toruń was believed to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.

As I parked next to the river Vistula on the outskirts of the old city, the first thing I noticed straight away was the fortification walls. Not much of the fortress from olden times remains but dotted around the city are old towers and walls made from brick. There are also some entry and exit gates of the old fortress at certain parts of the city. The first place I checked out was the ruins of the castle which was first built around the 13th century by the Teutonic Knights. The best bit of the castle which is preserved is the dansker, a sewage tower (basically where you would go to the toilet and the waste falls down the tower into the stream down below which connects to the river). There is a building which is newly built on the castle grounds which hosts a hotel.

Along the cobbled street heading westwards (passing many shops but many beautiful buildings at the same time) I landed up at the Old Town Hall which has stood here since 1274. Here the building now houses the Regional Museum but it was the clock tower I was interested in. After buying a ticket from a small shop in the courtyard of the town hall, I headed up the brick staircase (not one of the faint hearted and there are no lifts going up). It seemed never ending at first, then I finally reached the bells behind the clock face where the st

Finally I made it to the top and what a great view I had. Despite it being cloudy and windy, I took my time up here, checking out the nearby buildings of the old town. In front of me I could see the cathedral, a church, the rooftops of all the pretty buildings down below (there is even one building with a yellow star on top, the building is known as ‘the house under the star’). Even the house of Nicolaus Copernicus can be seen. Not too far away is the river with a lot of trees dotted alongside the shores. For me, despite all the red brick buildings (too much brick for me), I actually enjoyed the views of the old town.

Whilst exploring the city I found out that the folks around here love the theatre and there are quite a few around here. There is even a children’s theatre near the ruins of the castle and I managed to find some beautiful decor around the building. Also as the city is home to Nicolaus Copernicus, there is a planetarium here (unfortunately the shows are in Polish, I would have loved to check this place out as I do love educating myself about space, the moon and the stars).

Away from the old town and driving out of the city, the place looked rather industrious, as if all the buildings were quickly built, having that old Soviet look about them but lucky when a new building was passed, it did brighten up the place. The city has a mixture of the old and new. Do not let the new parts of the city let you down because once in the old town, walking around, trying the gingerbread, doing some shopping, this place is a hidden gem in Europe which is worth checking out. I wish I had longer here but there were other castles and cities which needed exploring. I found this city by chance and so glad I had the opportunity to check it out.

Spiritual encounter at Częstochowa

Whilst in the city of Częstochowa (about an hour’s drive north-east of Krakow) I had to check out one of the most religious icons in Poland, the Black Madonna (also known as Our Lady of Częstochowa). Located in the heart of the Jasna Góra Monastery, the Virgin Mary has been recognised by several pontiffs including Pope Clement XI way back in 1717.

Arriving at the monastery on top of the hill which overlooks the centre of the city on a cold dreary rainy day, I was glad to take shelter inside. Heading to the main part of the church which is in the heart of the monastery, it was just a typical place of worship with the stained glass windows and rows of wooden benches everywhere (but the organ above the main entrance is pretty impressive).

However, walking to the part of the building next to it, I saw a lot of people sitting down and a service about to start. Looking ahead at the far end of a small room was the Black Madonna and she was looking totally awesome. It's not often something in a church would amaze me but this sure did. There was something about the Black Madonna but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. There were people on their knees, saying prayers, kissing the wall behind the painting (pilgrims can walk around the painting via a separating wall) and to be honest, it was an amazing sight. The monastery estimates that roughly 100,000 pilgrims come here to see this amazing lady.

There is a little story about the Black Madonna. I noticed that on her right cheek there were two scars. Some guys stormed the monastery many moons ago (back in 1430 according to historians) and stole a lot of goods including the Black Madonna. Jumping into the wagon, the guys (known as Hussites - think it was their gang name or something along those lines) could not make their horses move. One of the men got really angry and threw the portrait of the Black Madonna down to the ground whilst the other man drew his sword and inflicted two deep strikes into her to stop her controlling the horses as they thought the portrait was cursed. However when the man tried to inflict a third strike into her face, he fell to the ground and died very slowly. Well, that’s one story of how the scars got there but another reason was that as the rubber struck the painting twice, the face of the Black Madonna started to bleed. Both men got very scared, ran towards the hills and left the painting on the ground.

To this day, the scars are still there and can be seen. Someone has tried to repair it with wax but to no luck. Even though I am not catholic I was glad to make the pilgrimage to Częstochowa to see this amazing art work and to see what this means to others who come here to pray, to seek guidance, to hope, to find answers and above all, to find their way in life.

The colourful town of Zamość

Hidden away in South-Eastern Poland and about an hour’s drive away from the nearest city, Lublin, is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the old city of Zamość. The city was founded in the sixteenth century by a Polish nobleman, Jan Zamoyski. He designed the city from scratch with the main square in the centre with two small markets on each side of it. Over the years some of the city was destroyed (but not much) during the Russian invasion in the nineteeth century but somehow was untouched by the Nazi Germans in the Second World War. On my day trip from nearby Lublin, this is what I found in this small and beautiful old city.

How to get to Zamość: The easiest way to get here is by car, as I found public transport isn’t that great. From Lublin I caught the train which has only a few trains a day. The one I caught was first thing in the morning from Lublin and returned late in the afternoon. This was the best option and only gave me several hours in the city. If anyone is interested, the nearest airport is Lublin then Warsaw.

What the city has to offer: The walk from the train station towards the old city is a nice brisk walk and the first thing I saw was the fortress walls. These were built from day one but over time the walls were expanded and the old city became the fortress I see today. The walls did there job impressivly as Zamość was attacked many time but has never conquered (until the Nazi Germans came along and basically walked in as well as the Soviet Union’s Red Army who had the city for a very brief time during the Second World War). The top area to check out is the Rynek Wielki (Wielki Square) and is one of the most beautiful squares I have come across in Poland. The town houses and arcades surrounding the square are simply wonderful to look at. I found out that the houses were built by Armenian traders who made the city their home. They were rich, so to express their wealth, they decorated their homes with sculptures and painted the facades in bright colours. The heart of the square is the town hall where there is a beautiful staircase directly in front of it.

To the west of the main square is the Cathedral of the Resurrection and Saint Thomas the Apostle. From the outside it just looks like another boring and bland place of worship, nothing to speak about but once I stood inside the cathedral, the place was full of gold and silver. Somehow over the centuries, the city and the cathedral were never raided, so all the decorations I saw here are the originals. I am even surprised when the Nazi Germans were in the city that they never took the treasure and got rich. Very close by is the Arsenal museum where a lot of armoury is displayed and a lot of information on the city during all the wars it has been involved in. Also there are underground tunnels which go from one bastion to another which visitors can walk through (but I was unlucky and they were closed the day I came to Zamość.

Afterthought: I really enjoyed my short day out to Zamość and after checking out the main square, cathedral, walking around the fortress, checking out all the other churches and a few animals in the zoo from the roadside (which is opposite the railway station), I came away from here with very fond memories. I can tell in the summer months a lot of people would use Zamość as a base and go hiking and cycling in the surrounding countryside. The old city can easily be done in a day and has to be hit up. I am really surprised that Zamość isn’t that well known to people outside Poland but seriously, this is one of the most beautiful I have come across in Poland.

The underrated city of Lublin

Lublin is one of those cities which is off the beaten track when it comes to exploring Poland. Flung out in the eastern parts of the country near the Ukrainian border and surrounded by fields and tractors, Lublin for me is not very touristy but very unique to go for a wander. The city itself is not to be missed and can be easily reached. On my discovery I would say a day or two is enough. There is plenty of history, culture, sights to see and cuisine to try out at this time. Easily reached by main motorway if coming by car or a two hour train journey from Warsaw and with a nearby airport, there is no excuse to skip Lublin. Within the city there is a very good trolleybus, bus and taxi service but in the centre, everything can be reached just by walking. I had great times exploring Lublin and learning a lot of history from the sites I visited. Here are the top things to do and see in the city which must not be missed.

Lublin Castle: Located next to the eastern gate of the old town, the castle looks like a palace from the outside but inside the main courtyard there is a tower which is one of the remaining parts of the old castle from many centuries ago The castle buildings surrounding the courtyard look like they have been rebuilt and painted in a bright colour to look more like a palace. The tower itself has been used for different purposes but the main one I was interested in was the history of the Nazi Germans using this as a prison during the Second World War (as I am into the World War history). In the several years they were here, over 40,000 people were held. Inside the tower there are a few rooms which have displays of the history of the castle but at the top there are amazing views of the city to be had. Mind you I had to mind my head on several occasions while walking up the dim-light, brick staircase with a low ceiling.

The buildings of the castle host various displays such as coins and weaponry found in the local area to some splendid paintings but the highlight of walking around the castle (and the city) has to be the Chapel of the Holy Trinity. This historical monument is very unique and I noticed it has a combination of architectural elements of the West and the East. Built in the 12th century, all the walls of the chapel have fully preserved Byzantine-Ruthenic paintings (with some having graffiti on them which was done back in the 16th century!). The frescos here are also original and have not been reconstructed. Walking around the place I was totally gobsmacked as I never come across anything like this on my travels and was looking up all the time in amazement with eyes and mouth wide open.

The Old Town of Lublin: Known as 'little Krakow', the old town has a lot of historic architecture and there is an 'feel-good' ambiance in the air around the market square. As well as the buildings which host churches, restaurants, hotels, bars, there is a feel of magic in the air when I was walking around along the cobbled streets. Lublin is a university city so there are a lot of students around, which means this area has a vibrant music and nightclub scene and some fantastic bars. I am not going to blabber on about the churches and the cathedral here because like all other cities, towns and villages in Poland, the country is very religious (one of the most religious countries I have come across in Europe and everyone takes it very seriously here, even a group of students who I met up with on a Saturday evening stop drinking around 01:00 and went home as they had church service the next morning. Anywhere else in Eastern Europe and we wouldn't have left the bar or club until breakfast time!) but the market square is one of the main places to be as I found several top restaurants here (and possibly the only place in Lublin to do a cooked breakfast until lunchtime!).

Underneath the market square is a hidden gem where there are a series of tunnels to explore. The entrance located on the side and leads down a set of stairs going underneath the building known to locals as the Stary Ratusz-trybunał koronny, is where tours of this network starts. There are not many tunnels to walk along as a lot of it is closed and not open for the public but where the tour did take me, it led me into several rooms where the tour guide (speaking in Polish) talks about the history and the layout of the city over the centuries. The tour was finished with a wooden moving display on what happened when fire struck and spread across the city and was saved by three wise men (I won't say more about the story, it is nice to see and I don't wanna spoil the outcome). Lucky for foreign visitors the tour does come with a script in English and is good to follow while the tour stops in the rooms (just don't bother reading this in the tunnels as the lighting is not so good).

The Baltic seaport of Gdańsk

One of my favourite cities in Poland for history, architecture and generally a good time has to be Gdańsk, right in the north of the country, flung out so far away from other cities like Warsaw, Kraków and Poznań. Gdańsk is Poland’s biggest seaport and has half-a-million people living here, making it the country's fourth largest city. Lying on the mouth of the Motlawa River which is connected to the main river of Vistula nearby (Gdańsk likes on a delta), the city combined with a trip to nearby Sopat (a resort town) and the port of Gdynia, there is a heck of a lot to do here. I am fortunate to come to this city not just once, but twice, ten years apart. I got to see the changes in that time...well...there weren't many. Everything I did on the first trip was still there on the second trip. I still remembered which streets I took in and restaurants I ate at. This post I will tell you the top places which have to be visited and I hope it helps when planning a trip to this amazing city.

But first I need to tell you a little bit about the history (as I usually do on my blogs as it's nice to know a bit before hitting up the place). Gdańsk has been under the rule of Polish, Prussian and German and there was a period when the city was kinda, independent from anyone and everyone. In the Middle Ages shipbuilding was the name of the game around here whilst being a member of the Hanseatic League (trading movement agreement between cities on the Baltic Sea). Before Warsaw became huge and regarded as the country's capital, Gdańsk was the largest and wealthiest city.

Over the centuries Gdańsk was at the heart of a huge dispute between Poland and Germany. Both countries laid claim to the city. This caused a lot of tension which would eventually lead to the Invasion of Poland in the Second World War (more on that later), before the Nazi Germans gathered up the Jews, some Roma and a lot of Polish people who didn’t agreed with them and took them away, most never to return to Gdańsk. After the war and under communism, the city was one of the first places in Europe to get away from the red fist of Moscow and the communist government runned by Warsaw. Gdańsk was the birthplace of the Solidarity movement (which eventually saw the fall of the Berlin Wall amongst other things) and a few years later, communist rule was only seen in Russia after the USSR collapsed.

That’s basically the history guys, now it's time to show you around the city. All the sights are pretty much around the ‘Old Town’ area (as I like to call it) which is around the main street of Długi Targ. This street means ‘Long Market’ and is one of the most beautiful places to check out in the city. I love walking up and down this cobbled street, looking up and checking out all the amazing facades of the colourful buildings. It is here also where you find a lot of good bars and restaurants but remember there are a lot of side streets in this area which also offer good eating and drinking holes, to which some places are slighter cheaper (but not much cheaper, another reason why I love coming back to Poland, it's great value for money!).

The street has stood here since the thirteenth century and started up as a merchant road which led to the marketplace. Over the years it became known as the Royal Route as Polich monarchs would use this road from the riverfront when visiting the city. Some monarchs even went into some of the houses on the street to be ‘entertained’ and other places would host feasts for them. Even back in medieval times, the street also hosted executions of criminals and witches.

In the middle of the street (towards the western end) is Neptune’s Fountain which has stood here since 1617 and later on, a fence with Polish Eagles was added. However during the Second World War, the fountain got destroyed and moved to a nearby village, whilst at the same time, Nazi Germans took away the Polish Eagles and destroyed them. This was a way to get rid of traces of Polish history. Eventually the fountain was restored and put back together in the 1950s. Whilst standing around here, I noticed the fountain is used as a meeting place for locals and is also a great place for young children to run around chasing the hundreds of pigeons which would wander the street here looking for food. Overlooking the fountain is the Gdańsk Town Hall. This is surely one of the finest buildings on the street with its Gothic-Renaissance facade. Visitors can go inside the building as it hosts the History Museum for the city.

At the Eastern end of Długi Targ is the Green Gate which separates the street and the river. The designer for the building back in the sixteenth century was clearly inspired by the building in Antwerpen (Belgium), the City Hall. The building also used to host Polish monarchs when visiting but these days life is a little bit calmer as it hosts the National Museum and a few offices which were once used by local politicians.

At the Western end of the street is the lesser known Highland Gate as most visitors believe the street ends at the Golden Gate. This Gothic-style gate was built in the seventeenth century along with the Highland Gate and the Prison Tower close by, which were part of the old fortification walls for this part of Gdańsk. The gate unfortunately like most places in the city was destroyed in the Second World War by Nazi Germans but was restored in the 1950s. I love the inscription here written in German (which was originally put onto the gate during the war) - Es müsse wohl gehen denen, die dich lieben. Es müsse Friede sein inwendig in deinen Mauern und Glück in deinen Palästen which means in English: "They shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces."

Away from the street and down by the riverfront, another noticeable landmark worth checking out is the Gdańsk crane. This is the only fully restored crane from medieval times in the world. It was intacted until the Second World War but needed to be reconstructed due to the damage made. The Zuraw Crane (in Polish) is open to visitors during the summer months but here is a handy tip, it's free to visit on a Saturday. Want views on the city? Then head to St. Mary’s Basilica. This place is one of the largest brick churches in the world but a lot of visitors (especially those from outside Poland) tend to go up the 405 steps in the seventy-eight metre high tower. The views from up here are just amazing (however this was the moment in time my camera battery went dead and I have no photos to show my readers...ffs!).

Another place in Gdańsk if you are interested in Second World War history like I am is the Post Office which is on the outskirts of the Old Town. When the Nazi Germans were firing the first shots of the war at Westerplatte nearby, the troops also targeted the Post Office. The workers here (with no military training but had guns) held off the Nazis for an amazing seventeen hours before they surrendered. Then we all know what happened after that, Poland fell very quickly and came under Nazi control for a while (despite a few uprisings in Warsaw). These days there is a large memorial at the front of the building and behind the building is a display of all the postal workers who were captured and killed by the Nazis. It's very moving and one to see.

One place of huge historical interest is at the shipyard. Here is the European Solidarity Center which is a newish feature to the city, however I came here to see the famous Shipyard Gate number two and the monument of the fallen shipyard workers of 1970. All of these are situated in the same area. In December 1970, this was the place of a huge anti-communist demonstration but during the protest, the military and police opened fire on the protesters and a lot of people were killed (hence the monument). Ten years later the shipyard was the birthplace of the Solidarity trade union movement. Eventually this movement turned more politically and eventually by the late 80’s, the communist party was ousted and the leader of the Solidarity movement, Lech Wałęsa became the president of Poland from 1990-1995. He is still highly regarded and respected by a lot of Polish people (some may differ but isn’t that the case with all politics across the world).

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