October 24, day 1
We flew out of John Lennon airport in Liverpool UK. At the airport, they play Beatles songs in the background and there is a yellow submarine in front of the main entrance and song lyrics on the walls. Flight was short but arrived to hotel at midnight. There was a one hour time difference. Today we woke up early and met Margaret, our driver guide for the day.
Gdansk is on the Baltic Sea it was back and forth during the wars between Germany and was previously named Danzig. In between the wars it was designated by the League of Nations a city state. That was what actually saved many of the Jews that lived here before WWII. Most of the city was rebuilt because of the massive bombing damage by all sides during WWII. The building of the city tried and for the most part succeeded in keeping in tradition with the old architecture. It was the first city attacked by Hitler’s Germany on September 1, 1939. The first shots of WWII were at Westerplatte. Margaret gave us overview of history. The place alone has some displays, and remainder of the building where soldiers lived. If you come unprepared, it is not much. I noticed in Rick Steves book he rates it low and recommend to skip it. Maybe for general tourist yet but if you are familiar with WWII and Poland history, in my opinion it is a must. But you really need a good guide to explain it. We had Margaret and she really made a difference.
Westerplatte is 15 minutes from the center of Gdansk. There is a tall memorial and a ruined out building on the site. Back to the city, we visited the only synagogue left in northern Poland. Compared to photos pre war it is a shell of its prior splendor. Krystalnacht occurred November 12, 1938 and by March 1939 most Jews had left the city. Some left on the kindertransport,which occurred three times. They removed the young from everywhere and sent children anywhere they could save them. There is a statue commemorating the transport by the central train station similar to the statue in London, Berlin, and the Netherlands. We had a nice talk with the chairman of the Jewish community of Gdansk, he said the Shul has 62 active members. He shared the fact that the survivors of the holocaust had some problems rejoining the Jewish community. Most survivors from Poland moved somewhere else. Some that returned were reimbursed by Poland for the loss of their homes and possessions. This during the soviet occupation did not sit well with the locals who also lost everything. The locals retaliated and went on a rampage killing most of those that had survived the death camps.
The city is home to Lech Walesa. Solidarity movement started which lead the country to democracy. There is a solidarity museum, monument and shrine commemorating the 24 people who died during the dock workers strike in 1970 that started the movement. Our first day here was busy. The people speak Polish, most of older population speak Russian as well. Everyone we needed to talk to spoke some version of English. The signage was mostly in Polish. The food was wonderful and very inexpensive compared with most of the EU. They are part of the European Union but choose to use their own currency like the UK uses pounds £, the euro € can be used but the prices are listed in Zolty. It’s currently trading three Zolty is one dollar $1.00. We ate dinner for two in a best restaurant Kubicki and appetizers, beer, entrees, drinks, desserts, aperitifs, desert wine and tip for $70.00. I thought it was an amazing price for an outstanding meal with excellent service. We staggered back to our hotel along the waterfront. The town is very alive and very young. It has beautiful Hanseatic feel. The streets are very well lighted and we felt very safe. I was looking and not once did I see any kind of policeman on the streets.
October 25, day 2 Sopot The next day we had a brisk 15-20 walk to the tram. In two stops we were at the central train station in Gdansk. We bought tickets to Sopot a 15 minute train ride. Sopot was the seaside community on Baltic Sea and and it is a nice seaside resort town. But, for me as well for other people who grew in the Soviet Union and it’s satellite countries in Eastern Europe, it was a magic place. Every year there was a major music festival with all famous Soviet Union and world singers performed. For example, Alla Pugacheva, Anna German, also American Band Boney M. But we could never can go there, most people watched it on TV. So I’ve made an effort to go there and see it. It is a beautiful amphitheater in the forest, called now “Lesnaya Opera” (Forest Opera). Now there are no performances (they prepare for Jazz festival). But I was able to go the theater and even climbed on the stage to “perform”. Roaring crowds !!! See my other post on Sopot here.
There is a entrance fee and some old photos of the stars and previous history of this lovely site. It is set in the woods cradled into the side of a hill and creates a natural amphitheatre. After my pilgrimage to the Opera we went to train station and took a train back to Gdansk. After our 15 min train trip back to the Central Station on what had to be an older style train car we decided to eat dinner at a Restaurant Tawerna off the main square, it was also right next to our hotel. Food was good but overpriced and nothing special. The place was not busy but the service was not as good as it should have been. To make it less desirable the charge of 2 Zloty for coat check is a ripoff. October 26 day 3 . Gdansk. We decided to visit the Solidarity center. A new exhibit in Gdansk, well done going through history of movement until independence… Breakfast was at a local café, Nalesnikowo, cheerful décor, and delicious nalesnike (blintzes) with cottage cheese and yogurt. Lunch was along the waterfront. The city has been know since 1598 for a local drink, aptly named Goldwasser. The alcoholic beverage has 23-carat pure gold flakes floating in it. The drink made and promoted as a shining symbol of wealth and good fortune. We ate at a Goldwasser restaurant along the harbor. It is a very nice characteristic placewww.goldwasser.pl We also bought Goldwasser liquor to go and browsed Amber shops. Like Baltics, It is a place for Amber. We are getting quite addicted to Goldwasser liquor as digestiff after dinner J Dinner was at Russian restaurant also located in town square next to our hotel, it was very nice and reasonably priced.
October 27, Day 4, Gdansk – Malbork – Torun Margaret and her driver drove us from Gdansk to Malbork castle. It is the largest brick castle in the world, built by Teutonic Knights in 1088. Very large and so many rooms, corridors and halls. It was mostly rebuilt after the bombing in WWII and the destruction by the Nazi party which used it for occult purposes. Next stop was medieval town of Torun. Nice mostly intact city wall and cute city pedestrian only mall. The 1312 home that was the birthplace of Nicholas Copernicus the guy who told the world that it was not flat and the solar system did not rotate around the earth but the earth rotates around the sun. He was called a heretic for his beliefs. Now he is well known all over the world, in fact so famous that Poles and Germans were competing who gave Copernicus to the world. There is a monument in Warsaw to Copernicus which was moved to Germany and later on was moved back. Margaret booked local guide for us so she told us history of Torun. Very pleasant small town. The road system here is just 2 years old and it’s almost finished. The new 8 lane highway was smooth, extensive, well signed, nicely groomed. My city has been working on road improvement for 10 years and almost half done. Since Poland joined the EU it is amazing how fast the EU standard infrastructure was applied.
We got finally got to Warsaw in the evening. We said goodbye to Margaret and the driver, and checked into our B&B Warsaw/Salon Chopin. It is a lovely B&B ran by owner Yaroslav , originally from Poland, who lived in Chicago and decided to move to Warsaw). He bought a building (description follows from B&B’s website: “The Architect was Edward Eber who, after returning form Germany, brought modernism to Warsaw. When our building 14 Smolna was built it was the first of its kind to grace Warsaw. As you can imagine, people were not very happy to see something so radically different form the then in vogue Art Nouveau. However, it rather quickly grew in esteem and our more prominent citizens chose to make it their home. Among them Roman Dmowski, President of the Second Republic, Stanislaw Wojciechowski, and Count Jerzy Platter. Five years after it had been built, the adjacent Poniatowski Bridge was blown up, and during WWII most of the buildings were leveled. However, our building only lost its upper level, which to this day has not been rebuilt. Even with its difficult history it remains one of the more prominent buildings in the city.” The building is gorgeous, with high ceilings and marble stairs. They had excellent breakfast with international guests sitting at one communal table and one strict by efficient enlgish speaking lady takes care of guest’s wishes. The produce is all “km 0” – local and organic. It seems that everything has been ran with utmost love and care with owner present. He was at breakfast room every morning, socializing with guests, also other local people join. Our guide Monika whom the B&B suggested for us, is an art student and also spends mornings at B&B.
The best thing about this place, however, is Chopin Salon, every evening for $10 ticket, there is small musical room where musicians perform classical music. It was such convenience, and, was a treat! They also serve wine, so atmosphere was so unique and again owner was socializing with guests after performance with wine. Our room was the cheapest room there but cute with small bedroom and bed in alcove. It had real hardwood floors and nicely decorated. However I inspected other rooms and there are nice apartments and suites in the main building. Definitely a find for a place in central location in Warsaw. We had dinner with Witold, who is a young man specializing in Jewish Genealogy and Warsaw Jewish tours. He suggested a trendy place for dinner, called Opasly Tome, it had light soups and salads, after heavy Polish food, it was a good respite. Owned by siblings Agnieska and Marcin Kregliccy, once it was a bookstore. In 60s it was a café, gathering place for intellectuals. Head chef awarded Michelin prize. I see that unlike Gdansk, Warsaw is more cosmopolitan.
October 28, Day6 , Warsaw Today we met Monika, an art student and Warsaw guide who gave us a walking/driving 6 hour tour in Warsaw including the old ghetto and cemetery along with Brand new Polin Jewish museum. Today is its grand opening. Many important guests were in town including also President of Israel. We tried to see as much by foot and car of Poland Old Town (Unesco Heritage site), Socialist Architecture, and City’s Jewish History. Since there were many delegations for opening on Polin Museum, many Jewish sites were busy with visiting people including young people from Israel. It was somewhat crowded but we managed to see as much as we could. Monika suggested dinner in local café Blikle which was somewhat Viennese type. It was lovely with good food. In the evening, after dinner, we attended Chopin Salon at our B&B, a Chopin concert . Last night was the 500 consecutive performances. Afterwards, we mingled with the guest and Yaroslaw the owner was a perfect host to make sure many were included in the conversation.
October 29, Day 7, Warsaw – Zelazowa Voila – Lodz – Krakow. We checked out from Salon Chopin, after saying goodbye to the owner, will definitely will revisit it again. It was a gem. The driver was waiting for us. Today was very busy day. First we went to Polin Museum. It was first opening day and we were excited that we got tickets. Well actually Monika got us tickets. It is and excellent museum, and I can note that unlike other holocaust museums, it highlights rich Jewish history in Poland up to current time. http://www.polin.pl/en . We spent about 2 hours there and then took photos outside with brand new memorial. Monika and driver met us and we left for Zelazowa Voila. That’s the place where Chopin was born. Museum was closed on that day but we have nice walk in the gardens. While he lived there only short time as an infant, nevertheless, Polish people created something like a shrine to Chopin, and due to the beautiful scenery and gardens, it is a place for classical concerts. Music is piped through speakers so in summer good weather, you can just sit down with a picnic in a garden and hear all concert. Scenery was beautiful. Then Monika left back to Warsaw and driver took us further to Lodz and on to Krakow. In Lodz we’ve met a guide and we still managed to see Poznansky former empire – Manufaktura – impressive former factory complex. She also took us to very interesting Jewish cemetery with large mausoleums and funeral parlor of prominent local Jewish families. Then we went to Radegast deportation train station where is very moving memorial. After that we continued to Krakow, it was already dark and foggy. The driver turned of defogger with ac and it was freezing cold. Finally in about 3 hours we made it to Krakow and I was very happy to warm up in Radisson and hopefully be in better shape for my group tomorrow afternoon. Alas, next morning I started feeling start of the cold.
October 30, day 5, Krakow Nevertheless, after breakfast, we decided to check out Galicia Museum from where Michael’s family is from. This museum was not on our group tour itinerary. On arrival, we went usual route but when we got at the end to Eastern Galicia room, there was a group of students who scheduled a private meeting there. We complained that that room has to be open to the pubic but no avail. The only thing I managed to convey that they should write a warning that such and such room will be closed from certain time. They agreed. We took an hour break and came back. The school group left and we had a chance to talk to Holocaust survivor after her meeting to the school group. She did not speak English or Russian, but museum workers translated. After that we left for hotel. I went out and Michael still was talking to museum worker asking for directions to get back to hotel. My cold accelerated and I decided to take taxi. I did not know I could not hail taxi on the street. The taxi stopped by museum and I got it. The driver was saying something in Polish which we did not understand. I told him Radisson but I guess he tried to say it is not where he asked to go by radio. Michael got into taxi as well and I told driver just go. I did not understand why driver was so resistant. Finally I told him if he speaks Russian, he did and explained to me he was called to pick up someone. I asked him if he can continue take us to hotel and then come back. But he said he can’t and drove us back to museum after few blocks away. Oh well. On arrival to the museum with my horror and embarrassment we met holocaust survivor whom museum worker took taxi. That’s from whom we hijacked the taxi! L . The museum worker looked at us and very nicely said, don’t worry, I will get you another one. Looks like they could not get rid of us! In 4 minutes another taxi came and she safely sent us away probably wishing we would never come back. In any case, that was adventure for the morning. I calmed down a bit and in retrospect we’ve discussed that while a bit derailing our schedule, still we managed to visit museum, talk to the holocaust survivor and it was really good to know that students have chance to talk to her as well and know about holocaust. Think globally! Then we grabbed some quick lunch in Italian bakery, and on the way back to hotel, some wonderful street baked breads called “obvarzanek” which is somewhat equivalent to American bagel, Russian Bublik, Turkish cimet . In afternoon, we’ve met members of out group and the guide and we started tour of Krakow . More info on our travel agent fam trip itinerary click here. Or see photos ,
Disclaimer: this report presents just an opinion of individuals who’s been there…. Tastes Differ… Copyrights Jewish Travel Agency, Emco Travel, LLC.
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