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Gdansk, Poland

Gdansk is an old city on the Baltic Sea in the north of Poland. Established by the Hanseatic people (who also built most of the Baltic states) in the tenth century, the city was formerly known as Danzig – not to be confused with the rock band. It was already several hundreds of years old when the Teutonic Knights turned it into a major port in 1308. Destroyed by the Germans in World War II, it was painstakingly rebuilt by the Polish who are rightly very proud of the city. It is still maintained well today. The attention to detail shows in the incredible architecture of the old city.

There are some really huge and impressive buildings here that transport you back to when they were originally constructed. The largest brick church in the world is one of those – it dates from the 14th century. These old buildings really stand out in the old town as they look so different from anything we have in the US and even in many other European cities which lost their Medieval buildings.

Two neighboring cities, Sopot and Gdynia are also quite old and picturesque. Sopot has been described as the Ibiza of Poland – for American readers, Ibiza is a Spanish island (in)famous for its nightclubs, ravers, wealthy European tourists and non-stop party culture. With tourists flocking to the seaside town in the summer months, the Tri-Cities (Trimiasto) area has become quite affluent.

Most of the tourists here are Polish, but there are also several groups of foreigners to avoid tripping on. Gdansk is a stop for some Princess Cruises so there are quite a few tourists roaming around who don’t know and aren’t terribly interested in speaking the language. I’m often mistaken for one of them. When I speak and order exclusively in Polish (it’s not that impressive, the words are written on the menus) I get English in reply. I suppose that’s to be expected, I am probably butchering the subtleties of the pronunciation.

There is an immensely tall tower in the church and I made the decision that I would climb to the top of it. It only cost 2zl to enter and 4zl to climb. Some sadist bothered to number the steps, which number over 300. Apparently the Polish tour guide has such helpful commentary as “at this point you’ll wish you’d quit smoking” and “here you’ll wish you’d gone to the crypt rather than the tower.” Yikes! The walk is quite strenuous, but even my overeating underexercised body was able to struggle through it. At the top you’re treated to a gorgeous view of the entire city and surroundings. Or I imagine you would be if there weren’t dozens of heads packed like sardines into a small observation deck. But I found that the worst part was the walk down the winding spiral staircase barely 3 feet wide. The gentle upward breeze carried the smell of hundreds of European tourists who have done strenuous exercise in an enclosed area in Summer.