This post is a continuation of series documenting our travels from the North to the South of the picturesque Central European country of Poland. We had started in Gdansk and on our second day there we had done day trips to the largest castle in the world in Malbork (A day trip to the largest castle in the world at Malbork, Poland) and walked the longest wooden pier on the Baltic at Sopot (An evening in Sopot – The Riviera of the Baltic).
We hadn’t seen the interiors of any of the sights in Gdansk itself. So the third day was dedicated solely to visiting the sights that the port city had to offer. We had walked around the main town on our first day in Gdansk. So we knew the lay of the land well by now. After treating ourselves to a heavy breakfast at the Podewils we set off for the day.
Once again the weather had proven that we can never predict it accurately enough. It was a gloriously sunny day where a cloudy rainy day had been predicted by most leading weather websites. Not that I was complaining!
We took a few photos of the Maritime Museum buildings and the tributary of the Motlawa that ran right behind our hotel before proceeding towards the main town to start our sightseeing.
We reached the Green Gate and the sun was at a perfect angle lighting up the whole waterfront area without any shadows. That delighted the photographer in me, and even though I had taken photographs of the waterfront on each of the previous two days I took some more. Perfect light just cannot be ignored.
It was still quite early in the day and the long market square wasn’t as crowded as it would be an hour or two later. So it was possible to stand in the middle of the square and look around at the differently decorated buildings, each with its own quirky colour and style.
We have a thing for climbing tall towers and the resultant sweeping birds eye view that come with them. In my research I had read that the tallest climbable tower in Gdansk was that of the St Mary’s Church. So that was where we made a beeline for first thing in the morning.
We bought tickets right as the tower opened to visitors and were the first people to climb the tower that day. These church towers get really steep and windy at the top and climbing them when there are people before and after you can get a bit tedious. So we try to get to these towers before the crowds do.
We huffed and puffed our way up the 405 steps to the top of the tower. These are a combination of tight spiral stone steps till you reach the level of the church ceiling & relatively comfortable wide wooden steps till the top where you climb to the viewing platform on a steep staircase.
Once on top we peeled off the sweaters that we had on as we had worked up a sweat after all the climbing. The view from the top was amazing. These tower climbs are always worth it, the views that you get are simply worth all the effort and more.
We took photos of Gdansk spread out below us. The stark contrast between the reconstructed main town and the modern city beyond was very apparent – red tiled roofs of the reconstructed main town vs the blocky communist modern buildings beyond.
After spending about 20 -25 mins just enjoying the breeze high above and taking in the views, it was time to punish our knees again and go down the same 405 steps we took up.
Soon we were back at ground level and we did our church routine of sitting at the pews for a few minutes. Then we walked up to the altar with its beautiful stained glass window, took a few photos and walked out.
We then continued our morning church walk across Gdansk. The St Nicholas Church which has beautiful baroque interiors was closed for restoration. So we moved to the next church, the St Catherine’s Church.
St Catherine’s or Katy (named by the locals, not me!) is the oldest church of the city. From the outside it is the typical red brick church that you will get used to in this country. This church roof was burnt down in 2006 by what was concluded to be a carelessly thrown cigarette. ( That brought memories of the recent images of Notre Dame roof & steeple coming crashing down)
The religious relics and art was saved though by the efforts of the citizens and the church has been rebuilt since then. The interior has been left unfinished, maybe to remind people of the recent tragedy. There are vivid photos and a screen showing footage of the fire in one of the transepts.
We watched the whole footage of the 2006 incident and marvelled at how quickly the city had got the Church back and functioning in such a short time.
After completing our routine in Katy’s we moved to the other church just behind it, St Bridget’s Church.
There was a beautiful statue memorial to Poland’s most famous son , Pope John Paul II outside St Bridget’s. So we paid our respects to the gentle Pope I remember from watching TV in my childhood before moving into St Bridget’s
This church has some interesting ties with the Solidarity movement and it was the home church of Lech Wałęsa during the turbulent days of the 80’s ( More on that in my next post). The Church itself has an entry fee unlike most other churches in Gdansk which are free to enter. We bought our tickets and went in to the the famous amber altar that the church is known for.
We moved towards the glistening altar which has the Black Madonna of Częstochowa in the centre with baby Christ surrounded by various other elements including the Polish Eagle emblem and the Solidarity symbol. All in all a striking looking altar, very different looking from the usual altars.
I then stepped back to take a photo of the entire altar with the roof and the cross overhead and the relics and bronze relief pieces on either side.
As for most of Gdansk, the original Church was bombed flat in the II World war and was only reopened in the 70’s. But the effort gone into the reconstruction and the amazing altar makes this church a must see when in Gdansk.
Having completed the list of churches that we had wanted to visit we then sat for a while at a bench under a tree in full bloom and rested our legs for a while before heading back towards main town to visit the town hall.
The Main Town Hall at Gdansk was the next stop and we bought tickets for the hall, wandered through a temporary exhibit of Polish music before being pointed in the direction of the actual hall itself.
The courtyard inside the town hall is lined up with communist era items and makes for an interesting photo op with the items nowhere to be seen in present day Gdansk.
We then moved into the actual hall itself which had rooms where the city council met. These city halls all across Europe are ornately decorated and have pieces of art and furniture that will put some museums to shame.
We then came to the highlight of the Town Hall known as the “Red Hall” where the council met in summer. This room has a carved wooden door from the 1600’s ( The Polish were wise enough to take it down before the bombs dropped!) that is just gorgeous. Supported by mermen, with the seal of Gdansk supported by 2 lions with the Polish eagle on top the door is a piece of art on its own.
Getting inside the Red Hall the colours just take your breath away. Apart from the bottom half of the walls which are painted red the rest of the room is covered in painted wooden panels which cover the usual suspects of religion and virtue.
The ceiling paintings has an oval centrepiece which shows the special place of Gdansk, elevated higher in the painting than the rest of Poland with God’s hand reaching for the Town Hall Steeple from amidst the clouds. The ceiling was so beautiful that we got a pain in our neck from looking up and gawking at it for a prolonged time. I set my camera on the floor to get as much of the ceiling as possible. Photos can never do any art complete justice, still I gave it a try!
The other piece of art in the Red Hall is the beautiful decorative fireplace with the gilded seal of Gdansk with the flanking lions above. As this was a summertime hall the fireplace was non functional and just to impress the visiting dignitaries. I am certain that it achieved its purpose.
From the red hall we moved to the starker winter hall which was smaller and had a working fireplace with smaller windows. All in an effort to keep the council warm in the cold days of winter.
After the halls we visited the exhibits above which showed the art of the gold and silver artisans of Gdansk. We looked around, took a photo or two of things that looked beautiful and moved on.
The last part of the town hall museum shows us the way of living in Pre war Gdansk / Danzig. There were representative kitchens, living rooms, cafes and even a doctor’s room with chemicals that most doctors won’t even go near today. Shows us how far we have come in a 100 years and maybe today’s medicines may be regarded with similar eyes a 100 years down the line.
That was the last part of the Town Hall exhibit, the town hall tower was closed this season and so we moved out of the Town hall and back onto the Long Market Square. By now it was lunch time and the market square was buzzing with people.
We went to the Bar Pod Ryba restaurant that we had gone to on our first day in Gdansk and settled in for a well earned lunch. I ordered fried Flounder for myself and stuffed potato pancakes for the better half and a typical beet and carrot soup to start us off. The portions were enormous and even though the food was absolutely delicious we struggled to finish the giant servings of food.
At the end of the meal we were tired both from the mornings sightseeing and from eating all that food. I still wanted to visit the Solidarity centre in Gdansk, but we decided to return to our hotel to rest for a while before setting off again to visit the Solidarity centre and roam around a lit up Main Town at night.
But that is topic for another post, some other time, some other day.