Do it in the Tri-City! Alternative guide - part one

The Neptun Fountain, Sopot pier and amazing cliffs in Gdynia - if you don't see it, you will never know what Tri-city is. Besides the most famous historic monuments which you must visit, Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia have a lot of untypical places worth seeing. Come with us to the night cinema on the beach or try to walk around the longest block of flats in Poland. See the gallery of the most amazing places in Tri-city!

Stroll like a king

Gdańsk, Długa st. and Długi Targ

Gdańsk is one of the few cities in Poland not to possess a main square. Instead, for many years, this role was assumed by the main street, in which the most important institutions functioned and where merchants set up their stalls. At the same time it was the Royal Route, the path taken by kings to their official seat when visiting the city. The street is called Długa (with Długi Targ as its natural extension) and is, today, the most prestigious part of the old section of the city. A section almost totally destroyed during the liberation by the Red Army and just after the end of the conflict. At first, the plan was to rebuild it in the communist style: to create large squares and arterial roads and to stick a few "palaces of culture" here and there. Luckily, the plan fell through and the decision was taken to rebuild the city more or less as it was in the 17th century. The effect is quite pleasant visually, but it has to be remembered that the whole solution is artificial: most of the houses are in fact post-war flats with façades from another era "stuck on".

Długa (Long Street) and Długi Targ (Long Market) are designed to be the gastronomic and club centre of the city. And  they do have a lot of cafés and restaurants, but unfortunately, off-season business in the whole area comes to a halt as soon it gets dark. There is absolutely nothing here at night, you have to venture into other parts of the city.

Stroll along the new pedestrian zone

Gdańsk, Piwna and Chlebnicka streets

Piwna Street is slowly becoming the most popular and the most crowded place in the old part of the city. The city authorities are implementing a quite coherent policy, the aim of which is to create an alternative here to Długa for meeting, strolling and eating. So in the last few years, a host of new restaurants, cafés and clubs has sprung up, so much so that almost every building offers something in that line, including one of the most original locations for Near-eastern food - Babajm (their home-made pitta with kebab or falafels is especially worthy of a mention). You should also have a look at the menu, where some dishes are given fun names - falafel in the afore-mentioned bread is a  'wad', and with the addition of chips - a 'petard'; or the Kos bar, famous for its generous portions and low prices. As well as this, the road is closed to car traffic in summer and so becomes a well-frequented pedestrian area. It's also worth going a little further into the heart of the city, in the direction of the  Motława. Although the street name changes (to Chlebnicka), the character doesn't - in every house there is somewhere where you can eat or have fun, La Dolce Vita, Flisak '76, Red Light, Mon Balzac and several other places.

The Neptune Fountain

Gdańsk, The Long Market

Having a photo taken with Neptune or sending the family a postcard of the fountain is the duty of every tourist in Gdańsk. The Neptune Fountain (also known as Neptune's Well, since a wooden well stood here for over fifty years) was erected in the first half of the 17th century. This characteristic statue (a mannerist figure wielding a trident) was designed by Peter Husen, while the basin and stem was the work of Abraham van den Block. The fountain was activated in 1633 and surrounded, a year later, by an iron fence. During the Second World War the entire well was dismantled and hidden in various locations outside Gdańsk; to be spouting water again by 1954.

Although the fountain's origins are directly connected to the merchant and burgher history of the city, it was nevertheless accepted by the communist authorities and became a symbol of the city (for example appearing before all programmes produced by local Gdańsk Television). A few years ago, some light-hearted vandal would regularly snap off the tail of the sea creature which covered the sea god's privates. Growing impatient with the situation, restorers finally opted for the painful measure of permanently fixing the tail to the parts in question by means of a sturdy screw.

Today the Neptune Fountain is one of the most important landmarks of the city, chosen by tourists as a meeting place and the object of photo sessions. Frequently, pickets and demonstrations by Tri-City residents take place around it and, following the model of Western European cities, Lechia Gdańsk football fans gather around it to celebrate the club's greatest victories.

Spire of St. Mary's Basilica

Gdańsk, Podkramarska 5

The Basilica proudly towers over Gdańsk, after all it is the largest brick Gothic church in Europe.  The characteristic silhouette of the spire is one of the most easily recognised landmarks and the panorama of the city is best observed from this spire. The small observation platform on the top can be reached via 402 steps, and you don't even have to count them yourself since they've been carefully numbered in white paint. The ascent starts on a very narrow staircase and, more or less half-way through, you find yourself above the church ceiling ( which looks really fabulous from above), from which point on, the steps become much wider. The view from the very top is breathtaking - in sunny weather you can see a good chunk of the Tri-City,  Hel Peninsula and the Żuławy (Fens). It is also worth taking a look at the elaborate structure of the church roof.

Sopot Pier

Every visitor to the Tri-City has to walk the length of this, the longest wooden pier in Europe. The structure is truly impressive: constructed from thousands of thick logs and tens of thousands of wooden planks, it extends into the waters of the Bay of Gdańsk for exactly 511 metres. The history of the pier is older than the city of Sopot itself: the first wooden, seasonal jetties had been put up  since the 1820s, their construction initiated by Jean George Haffner, a doctor in Napoleon's army.

Back then the pier, only 40 metres long but extended more and more each year, was not used for walking but helped in . . . transporting sea water to the shore, to be used for medicinal hydrotherapy. The wooden pier acquired its present form in 1927, to commemorate 25 years of the town's existence.

Nearly every year the pier needs to be repaired, as the wooden elements, especially those closer to the water surface, cannot withstand the winter storms. The pier was particularly damaged after the Second World War and therefore the new authorities reached the decision to dismantle it completely. It was saved by Bolesław Bierut, then First Secretary of KC PZPR (Central Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party), who opposed the idea.

Sopot pier is a great vantage point, so it might be worth your while to stop for a moment and sit down on one of the many benches. Weather permitting, the pier offers excellent views of lighthouses on the Hel Peninsula or of ships lying at anchor at the roadstead. It is also a good idea to turn your head towards land and take a look at Sopot lighthouse, the Grand Hotel, the cliff in Gdynia or the port in Gdańsk, and try to spot two other Tri-City piers (in Gdańsk and Gdynia).  At present, Sopot pier is undergoing a metamorphosis - with a marina being built to accommodate a hundred yachts, which should be up and running as soon as the 2011 summer holidays. The pier itself will gain a harbour master's office and a restaurant with an observation terrace.

The Crane

Rybackie Pobrzeże in Gdańsk

This is a remerkable building: a defensive town gate and a harbour crane in one. It is at the same time one of the oldest cranes on our continent for loading cargo onto and off ships: the first mention  dates back to as early as 1367.  Regrettably, we are not in a position to discover what it looked like in those days, as the first Crane perished in a fire several decades later. In its present shape - i.e. as two brick defensive towers and a wooden crane with a gate in the middle - the Crane was rebuilt in 1444.  The building was the property of the city, with the loading mechanism propelled by gigantic wooden wheels, several metres in diameter, operated by longshoremen. The Crane, the older brother of the Gdańsk shipyard cranes, was able to lift an impressive weight of several tonnes to a maximun height of 11 metres and was employed not only to shift cargo but also to erect masts.

Set ablaze by the Red Army in 1945, the Crane was rebuilt after the war and handed over to the Central Maritime Museum. Today, inside the Crane you can see exhibitons on harbour-related themes or go inside the wheels which once propelled the crane's mechanism. Sadly, for safety reasons, it cannot be set in motion any more.

Walk with the stars

Sopot, Bohaterów Monte Cassino St.

This is one of the most popular streets in Poland. A true place of pilgrimage for residents of the Tri-City, and above all tourists, who are drawn here from all over Poland and abroad. Some joke that soon you will have to queue to stroll down this street and there is something in that - just as soon as it starts to get warm, no, as soon as the heaviest frosts begin to lift, swarms of people gather on Sopot's pedestrian zone.

The Heroes of Monte Cassino Street, popularly known, if somewhat less elegantly, as Monciak, of course runs right through the centre of this spa-town. And though it would seem to start in the main square by the church of St. George, it's sometimes worth going a little further up to another part of the street, short but picturesque and separated from the rest of Sopot by two underpasses (under the train tracks and Niepodległości St.). Of course, it only gets busy lower down, between the church and Friends of Sopot square, from where you can reach the pier by crossing over the newly-built tunnel.

This stretch contains many cafés, restaurants, clubs and elegant shops, in summer almost all of the locales open up little gardens, which are a real fashion arena, on one hand, and a stragetic point for observing the passing crowds, on the other.

And in the crowds you can see a familiar face with every glance, here a TV star on a short break, there musicians relaxing after a concert and post-concert parties, which often go on into the morning and finish on the beach, here politicians, who also like to show up. The greatest number of stars appear when Sopot, or another part of the Tri-City, is hosting a big event: one of the Sopot festivals, Open'er or the Polish Film Festival, both in Gdynia. It's a good time for notching up points in the "spot-a-celebrity" game. When the season's over, the traffic practically comes to an end, and  Bohaterów Monte Cassino Street, like the rest of Sopot, turns back into a quiet, peaceful and  half-empty spa-town.

Take a seat on Grass' s bench

Gdańsk Wrzeszcz, Wybicki Square

Gdańsk has its Nobel Prize winner -  Günter Grass, a writer who was born and spent the best part of his childhood here. The plot of nearly all of his novels, in their entirety or at least to some extent, is set in Gdańsk and touches on, sometimes very difficult, issues connected with the history of the city. For many years, when Gdańsk's German past was not discussed, Grass did not enjoy great respect here, at least officially. After 1989 this changed radically, and when the writer received the Nobel Prize 10 years later, he was celebrated in Gdańsk with great pomp.

The city is taking more and more care of the places connected with this writer, with his achievement   commemorated in a variety of ways (for example through a play in the Wybrzeże Theatre, based on The Tin Drum), or becoming an inspiration for young artists (during the multimedia festival Grassomania, for example). The writer has also lived to see an original statue put up in the place where he was born, in Lower Wrzeszcz, in the main square of this part of the city - Wybicki Square. It is a statue to the best known of all the characters created by Grass, Oskar Matzerath, the little drummer from the novel The Tin Drum. Oskar is seated on a bench and anyone can sit down beside him. The unveiling ceremony resulted in the writer, known for his left-wing affiliation, entering into an unusual dispute with the city authorities - he stated that the money spent on the statue would have been better employed to install toilets in the house where he was born, and whose present inhabitants are forced, just like the Grass family half a century before, to use a shared bathroom in the corridor.

Gdańsk, Doki St.

Undoubtedly, one of the most original places in the whole of the Tri-City. A relic of one of the largest and most important industrial plants of the entire region, a place where the workers' protest was born which gave rise to the bloodless overthrow of communism. Every day it is being transformed more and more, slowly being developed into the modern office and residential district of the Young Town. But before this happens, you definitely have to make a trip there to see what the shipyard looks like today. In its heyday it covered several dozen hectares. Today, not much has remained of its might - the shipyard as an industrial enterprise now takes up only a fraction of its former area, separated by a canal. The rest is now a space you can walk around relatively freely (of course while exercising caution), only used to some extent for culture or business purposes. You can still see the various elements of the shipyard infrastructure here: from big halls, where U-boats were constructed, to cranes and rusty parts scattered all over the place.

Shipyard cranes

They are gigantic and most of them are still in operation, although the shipyard has put a curb on its production. They are sometimes used for unusual purposes - some time ago a groups of Gdańsk artists prepared a choreographic arrangement in which the cranes appeared in the role of . . .  dancers. For a while the cranes were in great danger - they were to disappear in the future alongside the rest of the shipyard infrastructure. Fortunately they found many supporters. At present,  there's an on-going discussion whether they should be put under conservational protection as monuments and a crucial element of the Gdańsk panorama. For the time being, Gdańsk authorities have leased out one of the cranes which was supposed to be scrapped. In this way, they want to commemorate the victims of the Smolensk catastrophe, associated with Solidarity and the Gdańsk Shipyard - Anna Walentynowicz, Arkadiusz Rybicki and Maciej Płażyński.

The cranes can be seen up close during a trip around the shipyard grounds. From a distance, they look best from the Góra Gradowa (Hail Mountain) or the Panorama restaurant on the 16th floor of the building of Zieleniak ( Wały Piastowskie 1).

BHP Hall

A 19th century, brick building, one of few shipyard facilities to be entered on the list of monuments. It is protected, though, not on the strength of its exceptional architectural but rather its historic value.This building, during the August 1980 strikes, served as headquarters of the Inter-Factory Strike Committee, from which strikes in the whole country were coordinated. And finally it was in this hall that representatives of the government and Solidarity leaders signed the famous 21 postulates and the photo of Lech Wałęsa with a gigantic red ball-point pen with the image of Pope John Paul II on it circulated the globe. At present, the BHP Hall has been thoroughly renovated while trying to keep 85% of its appearance and decor from three decades ago. It is now used for conference and exhibition purposes, while touring it you can see historic and educational exhibitions prepared by  Solidarity.

Go on a cruise

Since you're at the seaside, there's no way to avoid experiencing a sea adventure, even a token one. This is no problem in the Tri-City, as there are several places where landlubbers can embark on a short cruise by ship, catamaran or water tram. The three most important mooring points are located in Gdańsk (at the Długie Pobrzeże, so not right by the sea but on the Motława which flows into it), in Sopot (at the pier, of course) and in Gdynia (at the pier beside Kosciuszki Square). The ships belong to the so-called white fleet, the name being apt enough with the small vessels servicing all Tri-City routes being painted white for years. On board these vessels, you can go on short cruises, including Sobieszewo Island, the Hel Peninsula or a Bay of Gdańsk cruise. It's nothing to be afraid of, though the floor is not very stable, granted, and it might rock you a bit at times but you will certainly not fall prey to seasickness, unless you opt for a longer cruise to Baltiysk.,,,

See the light on the Baltic

Gdańsk Nowy Port Lighthouse, Przemysłowa 6a,; Gdańsk Port Północny Lighthouse, Budowniczych Portu Północnego 2; Sopot Lighthouse, Zdrojowy Square 2

Although for many years now the entire marine traffic has been directed by means of modern radio and satellite systems, real port cities cannot do without the traditional sailors' guides -  lighthouses.  Three such buildings can be seen in the Tri-City: two in Gdańsk and one in Sopot. Gdynia Oksywie also once boasted a famous lighthouse, completely destroyed during the war and never rebuilt.

Gdańsk's lighthouses differ in almost every respect, mainly as to the date they were built - exactly a century apart. The lighthouse in Nowy Port, one of the most attractive on the Baltic Sea, was completed in 1894, the brick building modelled on a, now non-existent, American lighthouse in Cleveland on Lake Erie. The building has also gone down in history - it was from the Nowy Port lighthouse that shots were fired in 1939 as a signal for the battleship Schleswig-Holstein to open fire on Westerplatte. The lighthouse, out of operation since 1984, can now be visited, with its excellently preserved historic optical instruments or an exhibition devoted to lighthouses; from the top, an extraordinary view of Gdańsk and the Bay spreads out before you.

The lighthouse in Gdańsk's Northern Port, lying between Wisłoujście Fortress and Westerplatte, is the youngest Polish lighthouse. It was activated in 1984 to replace the building in Nowy Port. Its modern appearance singles it out: it is not  the characteristic round brick building but a blue and white square tower with a glass gallery - it looks more like an air traffic control tower than a maritime navigation aid. Unfortunately, it's not open to the public, but it's certainly worth stopping for a moment on the way to Westerplatte.

Sopot lighthouse, right beside the pier, was, a hundred years ago, the boiler-house chimney for the bathing institute of the time. Gradually, the eyesore was entirely resurfaced, thus creating an observation tower, which in its turn, after the Second World War, became a lighthouse. At present, the building, which is treated primarily as an observation tower, is open to visitors.

Walk around the longest block of flats in Poland

Gdańsk Przymorze, Obrońców Wybrzeża 4-10

A colossus of communist architecture and a megalomanic response to the growing need for housing in Pomerania. The gigantic block in Gdańsk's Przymorze district, in Obrońców Wybrzeża Street, was constructed between1970-1973, and designed by Tadeusz Różański, Danuta Olędzka and Janusz Morek. It is the longest block in Poland and one of the longest in Europe. Going around it is quite a walk as it is 850 metres long, 32 metres high and has eleven floors (a high ground floor plus ten others), 16 stairwells containing 1,792 flats in total. It was built in segments and by the time the second was underway, tenants were already installed in the first.

Contrary to current opinion, these 'waves', as they are known in Polish, do not take their name solely from the characteristic, 'staggered' structure, but also from the specific configuration of the balconies, which are reminscent of waves. Such is the case for the building in Obrońców Wybrzeża. Also characteristic here is the fact that entry to most flats is not from the stairwell, but from an open walkway from the front, which links the various stairwells.  According to many architects and art historians, the block in Przymorze is one of the most significant examples of Polish post-war modernism. This is not, however, an opinion shared by its inhabitants, who complain about the meagre dimensions of the flats and individual rooms (for this reason, it is maliciously referred to as "Drawer-land") and the paper-thin dividing walls, which allow you to hear neighbours from a couple of doors or even a floor away - or the constant wind blowing along the upper walkways. Almost six thousand people live here, which makes it the size of a sizeable town. It is easy to calculate that more or less every eightieth resident of Gdańsk can give this as an address. Gdańsk has other such constructions - in Przymorze, Stogi and in Nowy Port - but not of such impressive dimensions.

Conquer the Jerusalem Bastion

While it is true that there is no longer a medieval castle in Gdańsk, you do find a defensive complex in the very centre of the city, situated on natural morainic hills. Grodzisko Fort is as much as 27 hectares in total, situated above the Central Bus and Main Railway Stations, closed in by Nowe Ogrody, Powstańców Warszawskich, Generała Dąbrowskiego and 3 Maja streets. The area was used for defense purposes as early as the 12th century, but the urban complex as we see it today is mainly made up of buildings dating back to 1867-1874, which have, for the most part, survived in a practically unchanged state. During its history, Gdańsk, Prussian, French, German and even, for a short time, Soviet units were stationed in Grodzisko. The fortifications have protected Gdańsk, for example, from the Swedish Deluge.

It is worth starting the walk around Grodzisko from its most important part, i.e. the Jerusalem Bastion, with its highest point and at the same time the best vantage point - the Hail Mountain (Góra Gradowa), from which you can see the Main Town and the Shipyard area. It is best reached by crossing the park in 3 Maja St. On ascent, you will pass some brick bunkers, covered by earthen embankments and connected via underground tunnels which stretch across the whole area of Grodzisko, linking particular buildings with each other. On your way towards Powstańców Warszawskich St., you pass an impressive fort gate with the former guardhouse,  the Napoleonic Reduit with an observation tower (the most magnificent of all Grodzisko structures) and the middle and southern caponiers. The entire area is covered in greenery and on your way, you can sit down on a bench. The defensive complex also included numerous buildings which are also worth seeing and which today sometimes serve altogether different functions: an artillery coachhouse (today: a residential building) and the military school (now the Employment Office) in 3 Maja St., or the remand centre in Kurkowa St.

Grodzisko is also seat of the Hewelianum centre, located in renovated former fort interiors at the Hail Mountain, a popular science centre aimed at children and teenagers, though not exclusively.  Apart from historical exhibitions, cyclical events are held to promote knowledge in the fields of physics, astronomy, history or biology.

Source: M. Baran, P. Gulda "Do it in the Tri-City! Alternative guide". The bilingual guide you can buy in Cultural Shop.

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