You’ve probably heard about the simplicity and generosity of Polish people; well, I’ve been a recipient of these admirable human traits. I recently spent a week in Gdansk in the company of a cordial and considerate Pole and her mum.
Gdansk is one of the five big cities in Poland with about 470,000 inhabitants. (I’d like to visit its capital, Warsaw, one day). This country, which is rich in mineral and agricultural resources, is often referred to as “ex-eastern European nation” when geographically it lies entirely on the north European plain and is in the central European time zone. It’s one hour ahead of standard Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) in the winter months, and two hours ahead from late March to October due to daylight saving time.
I’ve been told by my hosts that winter in Poland is very cold and summer is not-so-warm. I agree with them concerning the later; I haven’t experienced the former yet. I was there in the middle of August but always carried a jumper when I went out. I was lucky to experience several sunny days promenading in the famous Royal Way which included the Old Town Street, where Polish kings used to parade; the Golden Gate; the Torture House; the Prison Tower and Neptune’s Fountain.
The majority of Poles are Roman Catholic, so there are churches and places of worship in almost every corner and street; I went to half a dozen of them. Some Poles belong to the Polish Orthodox Church and various Protestant denominations, such as the Lutherans. Of course, there are also members of minority religious groups.
One of the highlights of my trip was the visit to Westerplatte, where the first battle in the invasion of Poland took place that marked the start of the second world war in Europe. In September 1939, German naval forces and soldiers assaulted the Polish Military Transit Depot (Wojskowa Składnica Tranzytowa or WST) without warning. The German battleship sailed into the free city of Danzig on a ‘courtesy visit’ but had planned to launch an assault on 26th August, which was postponed by Hitler. It was difficult for me not to be sad and angry looking at the photos of the atrocities, but it was also a moment to admire this symbol of resistance to an invasion. Several nights after I had left Gdansk, I still thought of the 182 men (armed only with machine guns and mortars) fighting heroically against a much stronger and better-equipped invader of 2,600 men with planes and battleships for over a week.
Another moving experience for me was the visit to the Solidarity Museum, which has a monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970. Inflation and destabilising economic conditions led to protests and crackdowns. Anna Walentynowicz was fired from work at the Gdańsk Shipyard on 7 August 1980, five months before she was due to retire, because of her participation in the protest. Subsequently, Solidarity was born on 31 August 1980 at the Lenin Shipyards. In September 1981 at the Solidarity’s first national congress, Mr Lech Wałęsa was elected president. However, the government attempted to destroy the union with the martial law of 1981, and several years of repression followed. During these years, in Australia (though I knew almost nothing about Poland), I participated in public meetings and fund-raising events to support the shipyard workers and their families. In Gdansk, I was nearly in tears seeing photos of Australians who were involved significantly in these operations. The contributions of other countries and individuals are also exhibited in the museum.
The roundtable talks between the government and Solidarity-led opposition produced a semi-free election in 1989, and a Solidarity-led coalition government was formed in August that year. Poland was the first country in central and eastern Europe to break out of state communism.
According to the UN World Tourism Organisation and World Economic Forum, the most visited countries in 2016 were 1. France, 2. US, 3. Spain, 4. China and 5. Italy. Some sources ranked the UK 7th while others placed it on 8th.
I believe it is more important to know why you’re going to a particular place rather than the destination per se, and these are some of the considerations:
Purpose – to relax, to shop, to improve our cultural and historical knowledge, to have an adventure, to visit friends and relatives, etc.
Budget – how much we want to spend affects our transport, accommodation, food, activities, etc.
Environment (cold or hot weather) – beach, city, countryside, amusement parks, snow fields/skiing resorts, etc.
Wherever we are and whatever we do, let’s be respectful of local traditions and customs and be open-minded.