Monday, February 18, 2013

Gdansk - August 2012

The historic port of Gdansk, Poland has known its share of important events.  As Danzig, it was part of Germany, and after World War II it was dominated by the Soviet Union.  The first shots of the war were fired near here as Hitler's army poured into Poland in September 1939.  In the 1980's, Gdansk witnessed the birth of the Solidarity trade union movement, a vital step on the road to the nation's freedom from Communist occupation.

I have already had the pleasure of visiting Krakow and Warsaw, so I jumped at the opportunity to go to Gdansk when my German friends (known informally as "The N'Awlins Gang" for reasons I won't bother to explain in this post) decided to make it a long weekend destination in August of 2012.  The historic old town was cleaned up for the spring's Euro 2012 Football championships (co-hosted that year by Poland and Ukraine), the tourist infrastructure was ready for the influx of travelers like us, and I was assigned (er, by me) the vital task of researching the city's Beer possibilities.

Dzien dobry, Gdansk!
Tourist Galleon and The Crane (at right)
The weather was sunny to start, but with a forecast of clouds and rain in the near future, it seemed like a good idea to do the "outdoors stuff" first.  It appeared that the thing to do to orient oneself in the city was to take the cheesy Galleon tourboat out on the river, in our case up towards the shipyards and Westerplatte.
Looking back at the Old City from my Galleon Tourboat

The main route is known as the Royal Way, or the Long Market, or Ulica Dluga.  I followed it from the river past the Neptune Fountain, and made the essential visit to the Main Town Hall which contains a museum explaining some of the history of the city.  It's well worth making the slow climb to the top of the tower for the view! 
Greetings from atop the Town Hall!


Most of the historic city center was destroyed during the Second World War, and a collection of dramatic photographs in the Town Hall's museum illustrate the extent of the damage.  The Gdansk of today is very much rebuilt in the old style.

Of all the historic streets to stroll in the old town, perhaps the most delightful is Ulica Mariacka (St. Mary's Street), bookended by the Mariacka Gate by the river at one end and the enormous St. Mary's Church at the other.  Almost every address features display tables with items for sale, with special attention to amber jewellery.


Gdansk will be forever associated with Lech Welesa and the birth of the Solidarity trade union movement that took on the USSR-back Polish government and won.  The Lenin Shipyards where Welesa worked and where Solidarity first grabbed world headlines is closed and mostly quiet now.  A museum is under construction, a monument is in place, and a temporary exhibit of the movement's birth and the times that followed is just down the street.  It is a strange feeling to stand in an area that was once bursting with passion, anger, and danger.  I came here after visiting the Solidarity exhibit, and felt very moved to stand in the inevitable rainy weather among perhaps a couple of dozen others and meditate upon what took place here. 


Didn't I mention Beer at some point in this post?  Well, I was able to tackle several local establishments and get in on the examples of what is a slowly growing local craft brewing industry.

The best tasting beer I had in Gdansk was from Browar Piwna, along the appropriately-named Piwna street (that's Beer in Polish!) near St. Mary's Church.  It had only been around a year or so when I arrived, and I was very impressed with their Pils (pictured below in a 440ml glass from under $3 dollars).

The largest brewpub in Gdansk is Brovarnia Gdansk, located on the far side of the Motlawa River from the historic city center.  I came here twice, once for the solo beer experience and again for an evening dinner with the N'Awlins Gang.  My verdict on the beer is, well, Not Bad but by no means the best in town.  I enjoyed the photo loop on the room's video screen, featuring celebrities who had been here.  Hi, Chaka Khan!

Other excellent places to sample suds in Gdansk include Degustatornia, which rewards the effort of a lengthy stroll along the riverside with a huge selection of European bottled beers and a small menu of taps.  A big find for me was the Podry Bar, just a few doors along Piwna street from Browar Piwna.  They specialize in potatoes of all kinds, presented in just about every way you can imagine, but I was there for the lovely Kozlak draft and Zywe lager.  Goldwasser also offered local beers in addition to their iconic gold-speckled firewater (and one of the best steaks I've ever eaten).

Not bad for a three-night stay!  If you get a chance to visit Gdansk, do make the trip.  It was definitely one of my happy highlights in the often difficult year of 2012.

NEXT:  As promised, Fish and Chips, and Fish, and Chips!

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