“I think this is the weirdest restaurant I have ever been in.” Beverley stabbed another fried pierogi, unsure whether she’d find one with a meat filling, a vegetable filling, or, the worst, we-can’t-figure-out-what-this-is filling. I looked around: glass cabinets were filled with porcelain dolls and figurines of page boys and shepherds; intricate murals covered the walls, their colours swirling into one saturated rainbow; mannequin torsos protruded from the walls and ceilings, painted over in shades of violet and indigo. Our server came over, placing an unidentifiable piece of food in front of us; we had ordered the goulash pie, though both of us hesitated to dig in.
“This is definitely bizarre,” I responded, “but I kind of like it.”
We had flown into Gdansk from London mere hours ago; the flight to Poland, lasting only a couple of hours, was found online for £50 return. Our weekend had come about because of a semi-drunken conversation I had with a group of women a month or so earlier.
“Seriously, if any of you want to go away for a weekend, just say the word.” I may have been emboldened by beer, but I was indeed serious. Some of my favourite trips have been the spontaneous ones, the ones where very little is planned other than a flight and perhaps a hostel. The next day, Beverley tweeted me.
“How about Krakow?”
Having been to Krakow, I wanted to go somewhere else, although Poland still held high appeal. Thinking back to a friend’s recent trip, I mentioned Gdansk. Within a few days, our flights and hostel were booked. And then… nothing. We planned nothing else.
I’ve always enjoyed travelling this way. Sometimes the best things in life happen spontaneously. Of course, if you have grand plans of visiting a particular monument, or need to book something far in advance, or are wary of time constraints, booking most of the trip is advised. But when the only thing on the agenda is “wander around and find cool cafés”, I love to just show up and see what happens.
We flew from London on a Friday morning and arrived by mid-afternoon. With only two nights in the city, we knew our time was valuable; after dropping off our bags at the hostel, we went out to take photos in the haze of those early evening hours. The temperature hovered not that high above zero, but it wasn’t unbearably cold.
Trying a few restaurants, we couldn’t find anything that was either a) open or b) had space for us… it was Valentine’s Day, after all, and places were filled with couples sharing champagne. Somehow our route led us to the bizarre restaurant with the fried pierogi; just hungry enough, we managed to wolf down the Polish dumplings, washing it down with cold Okocim beer. I wish I could remember the name of the place, but know this: even if I did know the name, I don’t think I could recommend it in good conscience.
We walked along the river after dinner, the cold wind whipping our hair around. We found ourselves at the communist-themed bar Tom had recommended in his post, and had a few more beers – for 4 zloty each (<£1 or about $1.30), it was hard to say no (No To Cyk, Chlebnicka 2) . In the same few blocks, and right near our hostel, we found the Josef K café (ul. Piwna 1/2), which became our favourite find of the weekend: filled with books, paintings, antiques, and Polish hipsters, the people-watching and decor was nearly as good as the Zubrowka vodka and apple juice we downed all night.
The next day was to fulfil our only item on the agenda, and that we did. There is so much beauty and history in Gdansk; it was, as just one example, the birthplace of the Solidarity movement which eventually played a major role in bringing down communism in Europe. While most of the buildings were rebuilt after WWII, the city is absolutely gorgeous, filled with 17th century style architecture and all the cobblestoned streets you could possibly desire. We stopped for lunch along the river at Zuraw (Dlugie Pobrzeze 32), filling up on delicious boiled pierogi and zurek soup, which is a sour rye soup with boiled eggs (much, much better than it sounds).
We didn’t visit any museums or galleries in Gdansk; we made our way into a few churches, and did some shopping, and stopped for tea when we felt the chill in our bones. Again, sometimes that is the best way to enjoy and explore a city, to simply live in it and be in it and breathe its very air.
The next day, after we had a coffee and breakfast at the adorable Retro Café (Piwna 5/6), we walked to the train station and took the train to Sopot. Only about 20 minutes away, and with trains every 15 minutes or so, it made for a lovely few hours; we walked through the small seaside city until we reached the beach, plodding our way through the Baltic Sea sands. The sun was shining, and it was a beautiful blue-skied day; families flocked to the water, feeding the seagulls and swans that congregated on the shore.
Once back in Gdansk, we only had a few hours before our flight back to London. One last Polish meal was necessary, of course; we ate breaded pork, venison goulash, warm beet salad, and boiled potatoes. Full off of the food, lovedrunk with Gdansk, we drowsily made our way to the airport. It was the perfect weekend.
I highly recommend a weekend in Gdansk (or longer, of course, if you have the time). Trains run often from other Polish and German cities, and Ryanair and Wizz Air both fly there. We stayed at Grand Hostel, which was satisfactory; clear bathrooms, good wifi, and great location.
Would you like to go to Gdansk? What’s your favourite weekend getaway in Europe, North America, or otherwise?
Oh we had the best time! Awesome photos lovely 🙂
Yes – I’m so glad that I got to visit with you! We need to do another weekend away.
I love this post 🙂
I make a pilgrimage to Sopot every year to see my granddad, and I honestly never tire of walking in this part of the world. Your photos really capture this area’s sleepy, but quietly interesting vibe.
And Zurek IS delicious 😀
Aw, thanks, Kasha! You certainly helped inspire our trip, too. Now I’m craving Zurek… know where we can get some in London??
I do, actually! Centrally, Baltic Restaurant serves up zurek.
Although they don’t serve zurek, Mamuska in Elephant and Castle does really good, really affordable Polish food 🙂
Oh amazing! We should go…
I’m feeling rather big-headed that my post was memorable and inspiration enough for you to base a weekend trip off of it 😉 Seriously though, Gdansk is one of my favourite cities in Europe, and I’d love to return again someday.
All of your posts are memorable – even if I try desperately to forget some of them! See: recent post on bodily discharge moments 😉
Thanks again for the inspiration for Gdansk!
I just came bck from Gdansk, and also just blogged about how I ate a delcious breakfast at the Retro Cafe haha! What a small world. Really enjoyed your blog post, it’s kind of nice seeing things that are so familiar to what I just did only last week. I didn’t manage to get such a gorgeous photo with the swans as your one though!
Oh how funny! Yes, what a cute little café. I loved the typewriters and all the little pieces of kitsch around the room. I’m glad that you had a great time in Gdansk, too!
You always look so stylish Brenna!
I usually go to Montreal, Boston, or Buffalo (for shopping) for my weekend getaways.
Thanks, Christine! And those are great weekend getaways, I love both Montreal and Boston. I’ve never been to Buffalo!
I would love to visit Poland. I have met quite a few Polish people living here in Iceland so this was an interesting post to get to learn a bit more about the country.
Oh great – I hope you get to visit soon!
I love fried pierogis! It’s unfortunate that you had a bad experience with them. I’m glad the rest of your weekend proved to be a much better time. Poland is definitely only my list, along with all the places in the world 🙂
I have had better fried pierogi in my life, that’s for sure! I hope you get to visit Poland soon, it’s a great country.
Love the pictures of the swans! Sounds like a really fun weekend – I wish I lived somewhere where weekend trips were feasible. Being on an island in the North Atlantic makes stuff like that super expensive and difficult. Some day! 🙂
Yes, I can see how that would be very difficult. Hopefully you get to visit Poland soon!
I’ve never been to Poland, I’d love to, and your beautiful pictures only make me want more to go but it’s expensive ! At least compared to other european countries I find it expensive!
My favourite getaway would be … anywhere in Germany! I simply love germany, and Berlin is amazing and so affordable!
Gdansk is cheaper than Berlin – why do you think it is expensive?? I find Poland to be one of the cheaper European countries. I only spent about £100 over the entire weekend, and that included a nice dinner out, lots of drinks, and even a bit of shopping.
Well from Paris at least, getting to Poland is expensive! Much more than going to Berlin! And the times I checked the youth hostel in Warsaw that was more expensive than in Berlin too !
I guess if not in the capital city and if not from Paris it wouldn’t be expensive!
I need to look into that because I’d love to go!
Ah okay, yes, definitely look into Gdansk!
I agree! One of the best ways to explore a new place is just to go and walk around. Ummm, vodka and apple juice??
It is SO delicious, Zalie. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!
“to simply live in it and be in it and breathe its very air” – well said! That’s entirely how I felt wandering the streets of London last week.
It’s the best way to see a place, I believe… you don’t always need museums and sightseeing tours!
[…] As I said earlier, I almost never write about or advertise my support for companies, but I love what Tom and Candace do, and I love that they are fellow travellers. I believe they’ll continue to be very successful, and I think that their business model is working really well. On top of that, as I said, they’re just ridiculously great and generous people (they even sent me the Poland step as a gift after my trip to Gdansk in February). […]
Actually in February I took a last minute (as in, booked the flight on Wednesday and left Thursday night) weekend trip to London. Might I add, I live in Richmond Va! It was a whirlwind 48(ish)-hour adventure, and I absolutely loved every minute of it. I had never been to London before, but I am craving a return trip!
For weekend getaways in the states, we go to D.C. fairly often, and Charleston SC is another favorite of mine.
Wow, that definitely is whirlwind! I’m glad you had such a great time in London, hopefully you’ll be back soon…
I’ve been dreaming of a trip to Poland and this makes Gdansk sound just dreamy. Those picture by the water are lovely!!
You should definitely go, Katrinka! Thanks for the comment.
[…] Tom – 5 ideas: Things to do in Gdansk This Battered Suitcase – A weekend in Gdansk Lines of Escape: Gdansk: Old […]
[…] on a whim, in February Beverley and I booked cheap tickets to Poland. Although it was freezing, the city of Gdansk (and Sopot) was gorgeous. We spent our days taking photos and walking from one café to the next, […]
[…] was one of the most eye-opening and important places I’ve seen in my travels. Cities like Gdansk and Krakow are beautiful, and compared to many countries in Europe, Poland is very […]
Thank you for visiting Gdańsk – my home town.
You got really nice pictures and a lot of information!
I think that this article would be very useful for other travelers.
Please contact me if you have any questions about Gdansk and local area.
Bartek from Gdańsk
I’m visiting Gdansk this weekend and Im so excited. Thanks for posting- your tips are great. Can’t wait to explore!
Awesome! Have an amazing time. 🙂