Do it in the Tri-City! Alternative guide - part two
Go far out to sea
Gdynia Orłowo, Gdańsk Brzeźno
The pier in Sopot is a Tri-City icon and the city's most popular showpiece. You have to remember, though, that Gdańsk and Gdynia also have their own piers, albeit much younger and shorter. The pier in Gdańsk tends to be a bit problematic, being located between two districts, Brzeźno and Zaspa, as an extension into the sea of a pedestrian precinct situated in Czarny Dwór Street. Although located closer to Zaspa, it is officially part of Brzeźno beach and so you come across the phrase 'pier in Brzeźno' just as often as 'pier in Zaspa', though the former is the correct version. The pier in Gdańsk is a 'mere' decade and a half old, having been constructed in the mid-1990s. At present, this wooden facility is 136 metres in length, although the city plans to extend it. Nearby there is a beach, an all-year-round bar, and wireless internet access along the entire pier and in the vicinity. From Gdańsk pier you can get an excellent view of the Northern Port with the ships coming in, the Westerplatte monument and, in the distance, Sopot pier.
The pier in Gdynia Orłowo was built as early as 1934 and was then over 400 metres long. Up to the present, it has been frequently renovated and rebuilt after storms. Currently it is 180 metres in length and offers a splendid view of, apart the obvious waters of the Bay of Gdańsk and ships at roadstead, an impressive cliff - the steep shore of the Kępa Redłowska.
Take a walk on a cliff
Those tourists who prefer strolling along the beach to lying flat, are most often drawn by the not very long stretch of beach in Gdynia Orłowo, a stretch of a very unusual character for this coastal region. It is no less than a cliff, stretching for several hundred metres and several metres high. At its foot there's a narrow stretch of sandy beach while the top level is covered in a rather thick forest. The cliff itself looks really picturesque, with crevices deep in the ground or unique tree roots, especially from this perspective, as the most spectacular. The cliff is undergoing constant change - a strong wind or rain is enough to sculpt a new surface with the aid of sliding ground or streams of water.
This area is excellent for walks. You can take a stroll along the bottom, just by the edge of water, looking at the cliff soaring up above, as well as along the top, with an exquisite view of the sea. The bonus of the latter option for many walkers is certainly the guns placed on the top - the coastal artillery battery emplacement, which make an ideal tourist attraction.
Look for Bird Paradise
Although Sobieszewo Island is only a dozen or so kilometres from the centre of Gdańsk (and Sobieszewo itself is within the city limits), anyone going there enters another world. Out of season, the island's villages, where you can rest from the bustle of the big city, are small and sleepy. And then in season they turn into typical sea-side locations, but there's still no problem finding a quiet spot for yourself somewhere.
The attraction on Sobieszewo Island is the beach: broad, without basic facilities but, for all that, almost deserted. Certainly not like the Tri-City, where it's sometimes difficult to find a few square metres of sand to call your own. It is separated from the main road, holiday homes and shops by a stretch of forest, a wonderful place for a quiet walk.
The Ptasi Raj (Bird Paradise) nature reserve occupies the Western part of the island. It's almost 200 hectares in size, of which a large percentage is taken up by two sea-side lakes, Karaś and Ptasi Raj. The latter is divided from the mouth of the Wisła Śmiała by a narrow, 19th century, stone causeway which takes you right to the beach. The nature reserve is home to more than 300 plant and over 200 bird species, including the little tern, ringed plover, little crake, bearded reedling and bluethroat.
Another curiosity on Sobieszewo Island is the "Forsterówka" (Orle, Lazurowa 4), the home of SS Obergruppenführer Albert Forster, the leading NSDAP figure in the Free City of Danzig and during the war, the Gauleiter for the whole of Danzig-West Prussia. The residence, a hunter's lodge constructed of larch, was built in 1933 and there is an air-raid shelter nearby.
Park in the park
Gdańsk, Opata Jacka Rybińskiego
In Gdańsk there are a few municipal parks, some small, some big, some in good condition, others in urgent need of revitalisation. But the most famous is the park in Oliva. It dates from the first half of the 18th century and was founded by the abbot Jacek Rybiński, the great Oliva reformer, whose name is now borne by the main street in this part of the district. The greater part of the park was designed in the French style and is therefore very ordered, symmetrical and elegant. It's an ideal place to take a breather from the chaos of the city - even though it's right next to the main route between Gdańsk and Sopot, you can cut yourself off from civilisation here. The harmony of flowerbeds, borders and water features or the incredible scent of exotic plants, specially imported into Oliva all definitely help. Plant-lovers should also take themselves off to the conservatory, with its huge palms and other plants from climatic conditions altogether different from the Polish.
The park has several extraordinary spots, prepared by its designers with a view to making the casual walker even happier. One of these is the whispering grotto, which uses amazing, if straightforward, acoustics: if a person standing in one of the semi-circular grottoes whispers a few words, a second, standing in the other, a few metres away, can hear them with no problem. Another attraction is the little waterfall, where children, or teenagers trying to impress their classmates, eagerly jump over the stones. In the largest of the park's ponds, you can even see large carp. Granted, they may look gigantic, but the urban myth that they can pull little dogs playing by the edge into the water is just a flight of fancy.
The Abbot's Palace forms the centrepoint of the park. Once the seat of the heads of the abbey, today it houses the Modern Art Department of the National Museum. From there it's just a few steps to the Abbot's Granary, where, in turn, you can admire the collection of the Ethnographic Department. From day to day, the park is a place for walking and playing truant. In August, for the last few years, it's also been the scene of Parking - an unusual event which combines elements of a lazy summer picnic with the most varied examples of contemporary art, and the Mozartiana - a unique festival during which the Viennese Master's work can be heard al fresco or in period interiors.
See an opera in the forest
Sopot, Moniuszki st. 12
In Sopot, it's worth going beyond Bohaterów Monte Cassino St. And not just into the area around it with its charming little streets, but a little more uphill. Literally ? because in Upper Sopot, in the forest on the edge of the Tri-City Landscape Park, is one of Sopot's most important sites ? The Forest Opera. This enormous amphitheatre ? with a total area of four hectares and the capacity for several thousand spectators ? was built in 1909. Its major plus, apart from the attractive location, is the very good acoustics. In more than one hundred years of existence, it has seen thousands of symphonic concerts (the vast stage can easily accommodate an orchestra of 100), concerts by pop, rock and jazz stars, cabaret performances, ballets and meetings ? including Hitler Youth rallies during the war. Nonetheless, the Forest Opera has really become famous for the International Festival of Song, organised there for 60 years and regularly broadcast on television in communist times and beyond. It is, however, most associated with opera. Before the war, many were presented, as the Opera hosted the Wagner Festival. After the war, Gdańsk's Baltic Opera attempted to re-introduce opera onto the Sopot stage and in recent years Sopot has reverted to organising Wagnerian events.
The amphitheatre is currently undergoing thorough renovation, which should last until the beginning of 2012. As a result, the house will be enlarged to 5,000 seats, the stage will be reconstructed and modern dressing-rooms built. The new roof construction will, however, prove the greatest difference, as it will finally be all-year-round ? the previous one had to be pulled across for winter.
Buy amber on a porch
Gdańsk, Mariacka Street
Mariacka Street for many years was the most representative showpiece of the old part of Gdańsk. It is narrow and carefully restored in the medieval style, which leads many to consider it picturesque. Mariacka is also an excellent example of how Gdańsk was reconstructed: particular houses are sometimes made up of sections of several buildings and originally the porches were somewhere totally different to where they are today. This architectural motif, very characteristic of old Gdańsk, had a primarily practical purpose: they were no more than stalls where the merchants living inside could display their ware. Today it's amber shops, more or less every other house, that display their wares. And since amber, although a little passé, is still a popular sea-side souvenir, there's no shortage of buyers. But while a few decades ago, the cafés for the local literary and acting circles enjoyed a vibrant social life, today no self-respecting man of letters or actor would even attempt to go in.
Go down to Lower Town
Gdańsk, Dolne Miasto
Warsaw has its Praga district, Łódź - Bałuty, and Gdańsk has Dolne Miasto (Lower Town). This historic district, today seriously neglected, situated between the Motława circumfluence and the New Motława, lies just a few minutes' walk away from the Main Town. For years, it has been thought of as a place where it is better not to show your face not only after dark, and, while Warsaw's Praga has already been colonised by trendy bars, artists and representatives of the liberal professions, Dolne Miasto is still awaiting such a makeover.
The district acquired its present shape at the end of the 19th century, with its architecture dominated by attractive houses, sadly unrenovated for a long time, as well as industrial facilities. The most interesting buildings can be found in Łąkowa St., the main artery in Lower Town. The most impressive are the former seats of the Royal Gymnasium and the infantry barracks, which, now thoroughly refurbished, serve as the premises of the Music Academy (with a restaurant and a hotel as part of the complex). It is also worth visiting the seriously run-down Royal Rifle Factory and the neo-Gothic church of the Immaculate Conception (formerly the chapel of the nearby hospital complex). At the end of Łąkowa St. you will find a disused tram depot and at the junction with Ułańska St. - a cult restaurant Kameralna, all in purple, crystal and gold.
Dolne Miasto is also home to the Łaźnia Centre of Contemporary Art, located in an early 20th century bath complex. The centre's major project is the City of Gdańsk Outdoor Gallery, a series of artistic works from all over the world, presented in public space, as part of the plans for the revitalisation of this dilapidated district. So far, works have been displayed in two places: under a bridge in Śluza St. and in the vicinity of the subway in the junction of Łąkowa and Ułańska streets. The exhibits in the first place include an impressive installation Invisible Gate by the New York Front Studio (the entire tunnel underpass in Śluza St. being coated in reflector tinplate) and LKW Gallery (i.e. a massive TIR lorry 'stuck' under the bridge, in whose container art workshops are held). The subway presents a project Staging Anonymous by Dominik Lejman and a work Untitled by Esther Stocker from Austria.
Look at the organ
Gdańsk, Oliva Cathedral, Biskupa Edmunda Nowickiego 5,
Oliva, a forgotten and underrated district, does offer a wealth of attractions. Besides the park and the hill known as Pachołek, one of the greatest - literally and metaphorically - is, of course, the cathedral. Built in the Middle Ages and maintained in a Gothic style, it is 107 metres in length and has two characteristic towers. The interior is interesting in itself, but the most admirable decorative feature is the Rococo organ from the end of the 18th century. The work of master organbuilders from Gdańsk and the Orneta (formerly Wormditt) area, it is impressive not only for its sound, but also in its unusual construction. Apart from almost eight thousand pipes of varying diameter, it was equipped with many moving elements which are activated when the organ is played. Angels blow trumpets, stars revolve with ever increasing speed, every so often it turns out that one of the statues decorating the instrument has moving parts. Organ performances and concerts, such as those as part of the annual summer festival of organ music, are therefore not only a delight for the ear, but also for the eye, an extraordinary show of Rococo 3D technology.
Watch a film on the beach
The Tri-City, like many other places in Poland, often has film screenings in the open air. But here you get to watch films while sitting on a sandy beach with the sound of the waves in the background!
"Film from the Sea" is a cycle of events prepared by the A KuKu Art Society for a couple of years now, to accompany the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia. Every evening on the Plaża Miejska (City Beach) in Gdynia, you can watch an interesting film for free. Last year it was a series of Scandanavian films and in previous years the great attraction was classics of the silent era, with the sound track played live by Tri-City groups and musicians.
The Orange Summer Cinema is completely different in character. A giant cinema screen is erected for the whole holiday period - July and August - at the entrance to Sopot pier. There, after dark, you can watch the biggest cinema hits of the last few months and films considered as cult. For people who like their comfort, deckchairs are laid out, but the screen is just as visible from the nearby beach. No matter if you're watching in Gdynia or Sopot, it's important to remember to dress warmly, since nights on the beach, despite the cinematic thrills, can get quite cold.
Listen to stars at the airport: Open'er Festival
Today the name speaks for itself. No-one who is even the slightest bit interested in culture needs to be told what it is. Open'er in its short existence has become one of the most important and most recognisable music events in Poland and one of the most respected in Europe. It all had rather modest beginnings - from concerts by minor-league foreign stars. Now, for four days the festival stages see performances by over a hundred artists summer festival organisers in Europe and the USA dream of. The artists who come to Gdynia mostly represent the field of rock music, but every year includes folk or hiphop performers as well as those who do not shy away from musical experimentation, and every festival day closes with a performance by stars of dance music.
Today the festival takes place in a location which seems very suitable from the point of view of the requirements of such events - a military airfield in Gdynia. So the rumours that it is very soon to be converted into a civil facility for passenger flights are slightly worrying. Will or won't this clash with the organisation of a festival on this very spot?
Open'er today is a gigantic organisational enterprise, which turns almost the whole of Gdynia and much of the rest of the Tri-City upside-down for a few days. Hardly surprising, since a hundred thousand people come to the city and they all need somewhere to eat and sleep. The state of readiness applies not only to the drivers of Gdynia's buses and owners of all the local eateries, but also to ordinary inhabitants of the city, on whose free beds, and floors, relatives and friends from all over the country sleep
Meet Karolina the octopus
Gdynia Aquarium, Jana Pawła II 1
This is a must for anyone visiting Gdynia - the Aquarium gives you the unrepeatable chance to see aquatic animals and plants from all over the world in one place and in conditions close to nature. Picturesquely situated on the very end of the Southern Pier, Gdynia Aquarium has been open since 1971 (in the early decades it functioned under the name of The Oceanographic Museum and Maritime Aquarium). The Aquarium organises exhibitions on the subject of oceanography and hydrobiology, but the huge aquariums are the main attraction - they can hold between 200 to as much as 10,000 litres. Inside them you can see several hundred species of fish, aquatic animals and plants from every continent, sea or ocean, as well as from fresh water. Among the most interesting of the institution's exhibits is a giant squid (endearingly named Karolina), a reef shark, a marble shark, green anacondas, piranhas, electric eels, jellyfish, sea-horses or Poland's largest living coral reef. The Wet Room where you can stroke live fish is a novelty, as are the aquaterrariums where you can see animals which live on the edge of land and water, including mudskippers - fish which can take to land and climb branches.
See Gdańsk from the water
Canals intersect the entire centre of Gdańsk: the Dead Vistula, the Motława, the Motława circumfluence, the New Motława, the Radunia Canal... And although they are not utilised to a sufficient degree (and sometimes even neglected), it is worth paying them a visit. It is best not only to walk along their banks but simply to follow their course. How? In a canoe.
From the water, Gdańsk even for, and maybe especially for, those born and bred here looks really unusual. All buildings and bridges suddenly appear much taller and on both we can spot details and decorative motifs which we have so far failed to notice. Going right in front of the Crane, touching the side of the (suddenly unbelievably gigantic!) Sołdek or a trip down the Gdańsk Shipyard canals, with the towering steel silhouettes of ships and shipyard cranes, is an incredible experience. The brave can try to canoe as far as Westerplatte or Sobieszewo Island, although this would in fact be a long and a tiring journey of several hours. The most popular canoe hire is located a few steps away from the Main Town, in Stare Przedmieście (Old Suburb), in Żabi Kruk St.
Feel the freedom of culture
Headquarters of Gdańsk 2016, Długi Targ 39/40
Where in the Tri-City do I go for a concert? What's on in the cinemas? How do I get to a museum? All this information can be obtained from the Cultural Information Point, operating in the heart of the Main Town, right next to the Neptune Fountain: in the foyer of the Gdańsk 2016 Institution which coordinates the bid of the city and the Metropolis for the title of the European Capital of Culture. There you can get detailed information on cultural events, concerts, exhibitions, cinema and theatre programmes, and cultural institutions. The information covers not only Gdańsk itself but the entire Tri-City, nearby towns included. Of course, you can discover all this in Polish or in English.
You can also search for this information by yourself, by looking through the dozens of brochures, posters, information leaflets or magazines on display there. Among the latter, you can always be sure to find the latest issue of the 'Sztorm Cultural Magazine', published monthly by the Tri-City's 'Gazeta Wyborcza' office. With the sightseeing done, you can also just take a seat on the comfortable beanbags there and have a rest. The Cultural Information Point is open on weekdays between 10-18, and at weekends between 12-16.
Connect Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia
Szybka Kolej Miejska (SKM) "Rapid Urban Railway" the Tri-City equivalent of a metro, the fastest and cheapest way to move between Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia. Round the clock 365 days a year, you can travel between Gdańsk Central, Sopot and Gdynia Central, through Rumia as far as Wejherowo, stopping off en route at such Gdańsk districts as Wrzeszcz, Zaspa, Przymorze or Oliwa, and Orłowo, Redłowo or Chylonia in Gdynia. The entire Gdańsk Central - Gdynia Central route consists of 15 stops in total; at peak times trains, usually painted in a characteristic combination of blue and yellow, run every seven minutes.
SKM in the Tri-City carries around 130,000 passengers daily and over 40 million annually. As well as this, separate SKM trains connect the Tri-City with Tczew and Słupsk.
The idea behind the urban railway goes back to the mid-40s and the beginnings of the Tri-City's reconstruction after the ravages of war. The SKM was put into operation as early as the beginning of the 50s, on its own track, separate from the long-distance line. From today's perspective the investment might have seemed rough-and-ready: for two decades you could only travel from Gdańsk to Gdynia on the so-called "Blues", ex-Berlin S-Bahn carriages , which had found their way to Poland as part of war reparations, and were powered with the aid of . . . warship rectifiers.
The German rolling stock wasn't replaced until as late as the 1970s - superseded by the EN57 type trains, many of which are still running today.
A few years back, a separate SKM track, which had connected Gdańsk Central and Nowy Port since 1951, was closed. It is going to be reopened to carry football fans to the PGE Arena during the Euro 2012 Championships. The coming years will see the construction of another SKM track, this time connecting Gdańsk and Gdynia with Lech Wałęsa Airport in Rębiechowo.
Before travelling on the SKM you need to remember to buy tickets. Special tickets apply, which can be bought at separate ticket offices at train stations (They have to be stamped before getting onto the train!), from ticket machines on platforms or from the conductor at the front of the train (but then they're more expensive). Ticket inspection on the SKM trains is not the most pleasant of affairs but this slight inconvenience can be compensated for by the party atmosphere on the train on weekend nights.
Source: M. Baran, P. Gulda "Do it in the Tri-City! Alternative guide". The bilingual guide you can buy in Cultural Shop.