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Greetings from Gdansk!

March 15, 2005 2 Comments

We’re here! 🙂

After an uneventful 8 hour night flight (which is all anyone ever wants in a flight, right!?) on Polish LOT Airways, we arrived around noon on Sunday at Lech Walesa International Airport. We then caught a Hello Taxi to the Dom Muzyka. In case you’re ever traveling here, there is an extra fee for taxi service on Sundays, as traditionally this is a day of rest- it equates to roughly one third of the normal fare.

We first stayed in this hotel two years ago & it has undergone stately rennovations & now contains a lovely candlelit restaurant. You would never, ever know it was once a prison.

Large, bright rooms, impeccably clean with the sounds of students practicing their craft drifting through the air at lazy intervals lend a lovely touch to the atmosphere. We definitely recommend staying here- the staff is very helpful & upbeat. All the writing through the building looks Elvish.

They’ve done an amazing job with the hotel & school- it really deepens one’s appreciation for the masterly work of Polish masons & construction workers- who are in demand throughout Europe for the restoration work of many kinds of ancient buildings & churches. Great care & craftsmanship is poured into every detail, down to the pointing on the bricks.

The Academy of Music is just a few short blocks away from the Dlugi Targ Good_neptune_diagonal "Long Market") & Neptune Fountain (we once met an ironworker in Syracuse, NY who worked on the gates surrounding the fountain!) & the world-famous Mariaka Street, lined with amber shops- a bit on the old-fashioned side in terms of style & quite a bit on the expensive side. But if you look you can find a bit of everything here, especially older classical styles with a German flavor.

What you can definitely find here on Mariaka are showstopping amber carvings of all manner of animals, from the whimsical to the realistic- from wild mustangs & stately Polish eagles to delicate spiders & insects.

Teutonic_masters_sculpture_malborkOn our first day, we visited Malbork Castle, historic seat of the Teutonic Knights, about 45 minutes away from Gdansk by train- an immense walled city in & of itself, housing a very special amber collection. In fact we were surprised to realize that we have a very personal connection to this exhibit, because we have a collection of amber art pendants in stock (not online, but we’ll put them up- these are called "Picture Pendants") by an amber artist who is prominently featured in this exhibit.

The curious thing to me in visiting the castle was how very empty it felt. And part of this was perhaps due to the lack of English language signage & captioning available at the museum. I don’t want to sound "the ugly American" here, but I was quite amused that as we viewed this particular amber collection Polish_poster_amber_exhibit_malbork_1
there were other visitors (speaking German) who were being escorted on a paid tour by an English speaking guide, who very pointedly avoided us so we could not listen as he explained the significance of each artefact. We weren’t really trying to horn in on them, they were just going through simultaneously but the guide clearly wanted to ditch us. No wonder, hiring a translator for a guided tour is $50.00! 🙂

You can’t expect the museum to provide resources in all the many languages common to Europe, that would be unreasonable. But if you visit, you may want to come prepared by reading about the castle first, or if you’re on site, visit one of the many gift shops & have lunch or a snack outside or in the little restaurant (good bigos!)  & review a book in your language to help you appreciate the amazing story of the castle. Because it is rather astonishing. It is estimated that 60% of the complex was destroyed in WWII, then lovingly re-created (as so many European cities were) by citizens groups.

Why read up? Aside from the obvious- it helps to know what you’re looking at- I felt a strong sense of emptiness in the castle. There is a complete lack of personal & familiar objects here- no real sign of the original inhabitants remains. There are some magnificent artifacts, to be sure- the armour worn by the war horses, for example & some very serious weaponry.

But the emptiness… for some reason, I was really surprised to see large scattered herds of deer sprinkled throughout the countryside on the train back to the city. I just have this idea of Europe as having been so densely populated for so many eons, having survived the Dark & Middle Ages as well the the violence of the last hundred years that there was no room in my mind for so much as a little rabbit to be hopping around, let alone herds of deer. Of course, this is entirely wrong on my part- consider the amazing ecosystem & the deep love of nature held by the Poles & others: Bialowieski National Park

Actually reading the guidebook goes a long way towards explaining that empty feeling. The castle has been swept clean by the tides of history many many times & there is no real lingering sense of the people who once lived & dreamed here- even to view the brushwork & strokes of paint left by specific fingers in specific moments of time in the few murals left decorating the magnificent ceilings feel as if they were left by ghosts.



Amberif opens tomorrow bright & early, so the the interests of being bright & shiny, that’s all for now. -Holly


Still to come- visits to the Solidarity museum & a return to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa later in the week- but Amberif opens tomorrow & we need to be bright eyed & bushy tailed for our big day.

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