This week, our plans changed somewhat. As plans tend to do when you go on a lovely 10k walk along the beach! More on that in a minute, first let me tell you about Gdansk, Sopot & Gdynia. Gdansk is where we will be based, and you’ll find it pretty much front-and-centre on the very northern coast of Poland. Whilst arguably the most famous, Gdansk is actually part of a tri-city, and, as I alluded to earlier, within pretty much just 10 kilometres, you’ve gone through Sopot, which is the next one along the coast, and already reached Gdynia.
Gdansk – as you’ll have seen in last week’s picture, Gdansk has a beautiful ‘old town’, with tall, arrow buildings lining the river, which almost remind me of Nyhaven, Copenhagen, which will probably conjure up images in your mind!
Sopot – Sopot is the baby in between the 2 biggies, but it boasts, drumroll please … The World’s Longest Wooden Pier! I know many of us here at PPF are Essex born-and-bred, and we may be feeling a sense of indignation right now – what about Southend?! I have to admit, this feeling of rage did briefly wash over me when my husband proudly told me this fact. But, keep your socks on, Southend does have the title of the world’s longest pier. The one here is Sopot is the longest entirely of wood, meaning the piles that are sunk into the sea floor are wooden, not iron like in Southend. Sopot is also home to quite a lot of swanky-pants beach-front spa hotels.
Gdynia – And Gdynia is the stylish one. With many much more modern buildings than the other too, and even a larger variety of world food etc on offer, Gdynia is a great place to come to feel those slick city vibes, and splash some cash.
So anyway, as we’re walking along the beach in front of the 3 cities, we started talking about what we would do next. We did have plans to van it around Eastern Europe, but after discussing a few factors, including
- The cost of fuel,
- The imminent temperature drop,
we decided that potentially we’ll take a few flights for some short breaks, since there is a very well-served airport in Gdansk. The cost of 2 return flights to a European city is probably around half a tank of fuel … so, maybe it’s time to park the van up for a few months, until the sun returns!
Once we got to Gdynia, we took the electric scooters all the way back, since we’re now addicted to them. Lesson learned – do wear gloves if it’s getting chilly! Travelling along at 25kph will create quite the cold breeze! We felt much more smug about this scooter journey than our Paris one though. Having learnt now to shop around the apps for ‘first ride’ or ‘refer a friend’ discounts etc, we managed to get the 2 of us the whole way back for under £2!
There are some things we wanted to see in Poland though, so off we set for the last hurrah in the van for this year, probably. As we headed South, our first stop was the Tolun, which, unbeknownst to us, happens to be Poland’s gingerbread capital, with not one but 2 gingerbread museums, as well as multiple factories, shops, make your own etc. The real reason we came here though, was to see Poland’s answer to The Leaning Tower of Pisa – I call it ‘The Leaning Square Building of Poland’. Admittedly, it’s not quite the same tourist hotspot as its Italian counterpart, but we enjoyed posing for some pictures all the same!
Finding places to park up the van for the night has been no problem whatsoever in Poland. We had heard some horror stories of Europe from some other travellers we’ve met along the way, so we were prepared for the worst, but yeah, no problems here! What we weren’t really prepared for though, was that in the 10 days or so since we’ve actually spent the night in the van, the night-time temperature has taken a bit of a dip! We did insulate the walls and ceiling of the van, knowing that one thing that would make life unbearable would be being cold all the time! And we’ve genuinely not had one night of feeling the cold – until today. To be fair though, I was in short pj’s, and we just had the regular duvet, with no extra blankets or anything. So I know that pushing another couple of weeks will be fine, as long as we wrap up!
Obviously, we had to go to Krakow, Poland’s most popular city?! We made it in sort of mid-afternoon, and managed to find a free place to park only about 30 minutes walk from the city centre. After a little wander around, we got down to business – food! We found a really cool restaurant, traditional, and everything was themed that way! I guess it was a mix of Eastern European cuisine in general, as we started with stroganoff, which is Russian – but wow that was delicious! And then, of course, we had pierogi (Polish dumplings), which has to be my favourite Polish dish. There was no room for dessert, but after a little more wandering around Krakow, we did have to give in and buy a donut/pastry thing. Not sure quite how traditional it was, but it was tasty!
Wandering through an indoor market, I also learned that ‘amber is the gold of the baltic’, when seeing hundreds of stalls selling all manner of amber jewellery. Makes sense now why my mother-in-law gave me an amber ring when we got married!
To finish off this week, where else could we go but Poland’s biggest tourist attraction – the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Anyone who has been to Krakow for a weekend has surely taken a trip down the mines. I did try to keep track of some facts to be able to share. I didn’t get a lot since the tour is pretty fast-moving, and I was trying to take it all in too, but here’s a couple;
- The mines go down to a depth of 327m, although the tourist tour only takes you down 135m. Similarly, there are over 300km of tunnels, so our 2.5 hour, 2km walk covered less than 1%!
- A lot of the walls of the tunnels and used chambers are reinforced with timber. A huge amount of the timber down there now is still the original – the salt content of the air preserves and strengthens it so it lasts for a long, long time!
- The origin story (my version): A Polish guy wanted to marry a Hungarian princess, but her father asked for an impossibly large dowry. The princess, Kinga, wasn’t happy with that, so she vowed to find her own riches in Poland. She went to a Hungarian salt mine, and threw her engagement ring down there. When her men struck salt in Poland, her ring was found in the mines there … whether some poetic license has been taken with that legend or not, I’ll leave up to you, but Kinga is now the patron saint of salt miners.
- You can taste the salt .. if you lick the wall. Covid or no Covid, that might not be something you fancy doing, but even just taking a few deep breaths gives you a sense of the salty taste in the air.
Probably everyone’s favourite part of the mine tour is St Kinga’s chapel – a huge cavern, 100m below ground, which was painstakingly carved out for 67 years, depicting scenes of Jesus’ life in the salt on the walls.
And that about wraps up the week really. I am trying to learn some Polish whilst I’m here, and I have got a few apps that I use daily. It’s always fun though, isn’t it, to learn some of those random phrases that just do not translate – idioms. Here’s 2 I’ve enjoyed this week:
- The Polish word for ‘meatball’ is ‘klopsik’. This is often used as a way to describe something cute! Example – we showed Konrad’s grandma a picture of his nephew (her great-grandson) who she hasn’t met yet, and that’s how she described him – ‘klopsik’!
- This one my husband told me, but I cannot seem to corroborate online, maybe it’s a peculiarly Gdansk saying – his friend wanted to tell him he’d gotten home safely, and he said ‘grac na guitarze’, meaning, literally, ‘the guitar is playing’. Quite how that’s the same as saying ‘yeah I’m home safely’, I’m not sure, but it’s interesting nonetheless!
I’m very excited to be carrying on our journey South to the mountains next week, and I’ll keep you posted with any other phrases!
Check out more of our travels here!