Thursday, May 18, 2006

Gdynia, Sopot and Gdańsk

I was really tired this morning, like I was getting up for a day of classes in the middle of a semester. But I went anyway — downstairs with grandpa for some breakfast, and then to the bus with everyone else. Grandpa stayed behind to rest for the day and do laundry.

We started with the pier — it wasn't too much of a surprise, since I took a walk in that direction last night. It's nice to look over the pier and think: only a few times over the horizon is Norway and Sweden (I've been listening to the Kings of Convenience since I'm so close, and DJ Vadim, of course, since Russia [at least the part with Kaliningrad] is only a few dozen miles northeast). At the end of the pier are two monuments: one for Joseph Conrad, the Polish author, and another for everyone who's ever died at sea (at least, that's the gist I got from it). From the pier, we headed to Sopot, and got off a few blocks from the pier. On our way there, we passed the "Grand Hotel" — apparently it was Hitler's favorite place to stay when the area was under Nazi control, which makes it one of the few places that wasn't bombed during the second world war. Right now it's undergoing some reconstruction, to be reopened this summer. They should hang American war propaganda through the hotel about watching what you say (so you don't give information to spies) — but that could get kind of creepy to think that ghosts are listening.

After the pier and a few other beautiful spots, we went to a musical recital. A craftsman spent 25 years working on this single organ at the Oliwa cathedral, it has almost a hundred different voices and I forget how many thousand pipes. The organist recited a few Bach pieces that everyone could reocognize, but there was one really interesting piece in the middle that sounded incredibly modern, almost experimental electronica. I got the name of the composer, "B. Musiowcyk", from the sisters — but the last name doesn't appear on Google. I probably made a mistake in copying it ("musiowczyk"?) — if anyone knows the correct spelling, please let me know.

From Oliwa we went deeper into Gdańsk, the last of the "Tri-city" area. There's a huge shipyard that seems to be out of business (or maybe it's just slow this time of the year). By the shipyard is another monument to strikes/riots against the communist regime (like in Toruń), with three crosses to symbolize three nearby deaths. Then we drove to the main street on this island in the middle of the city, which is, essentially, the "market square" of Gdańsk. There are tons of amber stores, a few museums, and an abundance of beautiful facades. Each store in this area used to be a home, so the facades are decorated to tell a little story about the family inside... you can get a feeling for the town as it used to be by reading the buildings like books. We stopped in an amber store for a short explanation of its origin and refinement — one of the employees even gave a demonstration where he took some raw amber and sanded/polished it.

We had lunch at "Red Door Restaurant"; according to the menu, a "Cosy and tastefully furnished restaurant" that is open "from 12.00 till our last guest wishes to leave". Some more entertaining oddities from the English translation of the menu:

  • Herrings marinated in variousy ways
  • Chicken liver fried in a traditional way or not

We had some free time, and most everyone went straight for the amber stores. I decided to see a little more of the city outside the main street, so I picked a direction and started walking. I found a few more churches, an underground marketplace, and a group of maybe a hundred drunk university students singing "We all live in a Yellow Submarine" in Polish while parading through the streets. You never know what you'll find once you walk away from the other tourists...

There was some traffic, but eventually we got back to the hotel, some time around 5:00. Mr. Iwanowski was waiting with grandpa, and invited me to dinner. We went to Sopot, to this very small, funny restaurant with odd decorations... they were playing American music, very 80s jazz/blues-rock and disco influenced. The food more than made up for the oddities. It was a long dinner, Mr. Iwanowski's wife came as well, so they all spoke in Polish for the majority of the dinner. I listened even harder than I normally do — it was a bit tiring, but I followed some of the conversation.

The sun set a deep orange today, breaking through the low fog; hopefully the weather is better tomorrow.

Highlights: realizing, as the amber was sanded, that its dust is one of the main ingredients in church incense; a very small girl (maybe 4) going around with a large leaf, touching every puddle of water in the main street of Gdańsk; coming out of the underground, just the right light for a certain photograph.

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