It has been taking hours and hours to label pictures thus far so I am going to just send them from here on out with a bit about the stop.
We actually had our port in Gdynia. Gdansk (or some of you may remember it as Danzig) is about an hour away by train. Rich and I got off the boat and took a taxi to the train station. The taxi was about $10 for 15 minutes of pure terror as we took corners without pressing the brakes, etc. The train ride to Gdansk was about a dollar apiece. Not bad! We were on the train at about 9 a.m., on a Sunday morning...sitting across from a young Polish man - older teens maybe - with one of those extra large cans of beer...just drinking away. Rich and I couldn't figure out if he was starting early or finishing off late...
One thing that we noticed straight away was that there was so much graffiti everywhere. We actually mentioned it to a young man that showed us around Gdansk...he really was so accustomed to it that he really never noticed it anymore. He said that he thought it was too bad when the artists decided to practice on people's houses. ???? That was a little strange to us. All the graffiti gave the areas we saw from the train a very slum-looking feel.
Entering Gdansk proper there is a Golden Gate (which is more blue and gold, and it has a blessing for the city in German (Psalm 122) and another blessing for the city in Latin on the inner side of the gate. Just outside the Golden Gate is the former Torture House and Prison Tower. These are big, very old brick buildings. They have since been turned into a museum for amber (which is the big export in the Baltic area). For those of you that don't know what amber is....it is sap from trees that have petrified...so most of it is anywhere from 20-300 million years old. It is becoming more and more rare and is quite expensive, especially if there is something caught in the amber like a leaf or a mosquitoe (think Jurassic Park). They make jewelry from this amber, using it like a stone. It's called the gold of the north. Most commonly it is the color of honey, but it has some 200 different colors.
When we got to the city of Gdansk, it was hard to tell by the map we got on the ship how far away the sites were. There was a college student that was driving people around in nice golf carts and taking them around the city to see the sights of Gdansk. I guess it was a new tourist company that had been in business for about 2 months. It was perfect! He pressed an iPod and the recording told us about wherever we were. We were able to get a good grasp on where things were and we figured out where we wanted to go back to and look at a little more closely.
We really enjoyed the town itself. The people were very friendly and it was a wonderful experience for our first trip to Poland. I have a lot of Polish friends here and it was nice to see a bit of their home country. I hope to go back and see some of the other cities.
There were a lot of artists on the street selling their wares. We bought a really neat tall square glass that was hand made and then painted with the cityscape of Gdansk. The artist was Armenian but had fallen in love with Gdansk when he came for an art exibition 15 years prior. He moved his family there and started his own art studio.
99% of the population of Poland is Catholic. The strong faith of these good people have kept their country united through thick and thin...and there have been plenty of thin times in their history. We saw some gorgeous churches. St. Mary's is the prettiest church in Gdansk...and that is the one we climbed up (that was fun - over 500 steps up to the platform on the top of the church). There is also St. John's church which was built on a bog. The parishioners that died were buried under the foundation of the church...until it became a really big problem, as the foundation started to sink...and has sunk as far as 1 meter in some parts. St. Nicholas is the oldest church in Gdansk and was not touched during WWII. It was built in 1227 and originally housed 200 monks. There is also St. Catherine's - which has a carillon of 49 bells weighing some 14 tons. Then there was St. Bridget's Church, which is dedicated to the Swedish population. This church has the world's largest amber altar of 120 sq m and weighing 8 tons.
The Polish Post Office (I am sure you are wondering why I have a picture of that) is the spot where the first shots of WWII were fired. Did you know that? I didn't! There is a steel metal monument to the postal workers that died during that first fight against the Nazis. This took place on Sept 3rd, 1939. The Nazis need the area because they wanted the port. They filled the post office basement with petrol and used flame throwers to burn the building and the people in it. Only 5 survived.
On to other historical spots, we went to Stocznia Gdanska - Solidarity Square. This is where the workers held their strike and asked for freedom...and many lost their lives. There is a 42 m high monument at that spot making 3 crosses ending in anchors that weigh 140 tons. Pope John Paul II, George H.W. Bush and Margaret Thatcher have visited and placed flowers at the foot of the monument.
There is also the world's largest crane.(the funky looking wooden structure on the waterfront). It has two wheels and uses 4 workers. It can lift 2 tons for 27 meters.
We really enjoyed our time in Gdansk and really hope to go to some other cities in Poland while we are here in Norway.