Tag Archives: Western Europe

Kharkiv train station at night.

Kharkiv, Ukraine: An Introduction

Kharkiv train station at night.
Kharkiv train station at night.

Kharkiv, an unpronounceable city just like Poland’s Rzeszów. Depending on your Cyrillic abilities, you’ll have trouble pronouncing this city’s name. KARkov, KHHHHHARkov, or, if you’re listening to a Ukrainian speaker (not Russian), KARkeev or KKHHAAARkeeev. The “kh” is a gutteral throat sound and the best way to get the pronunciation right is to take a shot of cheap Ukrainian vodka. When you almost gag and clear your throat, that’s the “kh” sound. KHAAAARKeeev.

Taras Shevchenko monument in Kharkiv
Taras Shevchenko monument in Kharkiv.

Kharkiv is a huge city (about 1.5 million folks, many are students) and looks like any other big city. Its streets are much like any paved roads in North America, though many parts are chalk full of potholes. The shopping, fashion and student districts are located on Symska and Pushkinska Streets. The mandatory Taras Shevchenko statue is found in Shevchenko Park beside the concert hall, a venue at which I’d see a couple short film festivals and buskers (including fire eaters and harry karry followers or whatever they’re called.) Walk through the park in the summer and you’ll come across the waterfall, though I forget its name. And let’s not forget Mr. Lenin’s statue overlooking the huge Freedom Square right smack dab in the middle of the city. Apparently Queen played here to some 150,000 folks or some crazy number a few years ago. Where Kharkiv trumps other big cities (even my beloved Winnipeg) is its ornate metro system, much like Kyiv’s. Though only three lines, most of the underground passageways are simply gorgeous. If you’re into long walks, a river runs through the city which allows both a scenic view and a chance to row boats for $10/hr.

Kharkiv metro
Kharkiv metro.

I didn’t intend to stay so far East in Ukraine, but it’s where I ended up. Very little Ukrainian is spoken here, though the residents claim to be able to speak it and Russian, though very few can speak English. Hardly any smiles to be had, people in Kharkiv are “overworked” and “always busy”… or maybe they’re just grumpy. I  particularly dreaded shopping in the evening, especially around closing time, since the ladies working the country no matter how many times I tried to lighten the mood with some joke or smile, they would NOT crack a smile. But they would give me a bag of “go fuck yourself, foreigner” every time I made a purchase. Hot Ukrainian women? Not here. I’ll give some credit to the babushkas working in the markets, however, they would sometimes crack a smile when I tried to order vegetables in Ukrainian and/or Russian.

Kulynichi in Kharkiv
Kulynichi in Kharkiv.

One thing I enjoyed about Kharkiv (and which my students pointed out was probably the worst thing I could do) is eat from the shops on the streets. Eating from the street vendors added to their disgust of my already unhealthy lifestyle of eating kubasa and vereneky at home. Well, as luck would have it Kharkiv has a wonderful little place called “Kulynichi”, a pastry shop. Although they did have delicacies such as chocolate strudels that sold out fast, whenever I tried to order a meat strudel I would get what tasted either like dog shit or liver. Not only that, they had grilled chicken available, too, which my students often said was the worst thing to eat since the chickens had been “dead three times.”

The other thing I noticed is that Kharkiv is much like my home town of Winnipeg. It’s very isolated, especially if you’re from Western Europe or North America. Although Kharkiv has an airport, you can only fly to Kyiv ($50), change planes, and THEN fly to the place you actually want to go. It really doesn’t make much sense and hopefully that will change with the progress that Euro 2012 is supposed to bring. And even though the city is something like 20 miles form Russia, Canadians need a visa ($30) to go there or to Belarus ($200), the next possibly closest country to visit. There are a lot of train connections through Kharkiv, but we’re talking an 11 hour-over-night journey to Kyiv or 23 hours to Lviv or Moscow. Ouch. There are express trains, which aim to cut the travel time by about half.  Oh, and take “kupit” class instead of the “pushkart” class. I’ll have to write about my train adventures some time. I never dared to take a bus, though maybe next time I’ll double dog dare myself to do it. I believe this was my biggest problem with Kharkiv: it’s so isolated from the rest of the developed (or even the more interesting parts of the undeveloped) world.

There seems to be museums a plenty in Kharkiv and apparently I didn’t go to the biggest one. There are a lot of small galleries, especially around the concert hall. There’s a cinema that plays mostly Hollywood movies with Russian subtitles beside the concert hall, but I was told about a huge department store which hosts a newer, Western-style cinema. Though I couldn’t seem to get motivated enough to visit the place.

YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image

Lastly, there are plenty of markets in which you can practice your Ukrainian and Russian and buy anything from salo and fresh vegetables to DVDs and SIM cards. Geez, for a city in an “developing” country, the only thing that’s missing from the North American comforts is English! And that’s fine by me.

With those things observed, I would learn a lot from my students about modern Ukraine, both good and bad.

Kharkiv market.
Kharkiv market.
A view from a Lvivian cafe.

Ukraine: Second Impressions

A view from a Lvivian cafe.
A view from a Lvivian cafe.

After a couple of months in Ukraine I began to slowly accept the country as it is, for better and worse. I got used to some things, especially after living in Kharkiv for a few months, and yet just couldn’t understand some other aspects of the country and its culture. What follows are my second impressions of Ukraine. You can read about my first impressions here.

My favourite Russian word is “Da” (Да), “yes”. Why? It’s simpler and much more gutteral than the Ukrainian “tak” (так). In one simple groan I could agree to just about anything, “DA!”, and carry on. When I didn’t understand my students (which wasn’t as often as they misunderstood me), I’d put on my international diplomatic smile and say… “Da!”

People are coming to Ukraine to study… Russian? I guess so, it’s a cheaper, littler, Russia particularly as you go further east. I was surprised by the amount of people who said they had come to Ukraine to study Russian. Even most of my fellow travellers associated the country Ukraine with the Russian language with nary a thought of the country’s official language, Ukrainian. I particularly remember one hostel worker being dismayed at the thought that so many foreigners didn’t know any Ukrainian yet knew Russian phrases in his country. It’s as if Russian is slowly displacing Ukrainian as the language of Ukraine.

Now I understand the difference between cities like Warsaw and Krakow or Kyiv and Lviv. Warsaw and Kyiv, both capital cities of their respective nations, have been remodelled and modernized more than their widely accepted more beautiful and cultural cities of Krakow or Lviv. I was told before going to Lviv that it was very similar to Krakow. Go figure, I had the same reaction to Lviv as I did Krakow: cramped, dirty, old. And my reaction to Kyiv was similar to Warsaw: big, modern, thriving pulse.

Don’t eat the kubasa, eat pure pig fat (“salo” or сало) instead. The rational here, after some thinking, makes sense. The cheap kubasa that is sold in the supermarket is mass produced, hello processing plants! Some pointers on buying meat in Ukraine:

1) Don’t buy the kubasa from Billa or Target or Metro, etc., go into the markets and ask for the some good kubasa. “Good” kubasa will run over 100 HVN (~$12). Anything less, I’m told, and you’re eating paper and dead animal parts… kinda like our North American hot dogs.

2) Pure pig fat. Salo. And this confused me for a good portion of my first month here in Ukieland. Instead of eating kubasa which, I think, is made in the same fashion as Western processing plants, salo is reportedly pure pig. As in, the farmer hacked off a piece of the pig’s back and sent it to market. That’s right, imagine if a pig were to run by you and you just took out a knife and sliced off a piece. That’s salo. That’s “natural.” And it’s fucking good. Think bacon, except thicker and juicer. Two ways to prepare it. Cold: get some “black bread”, garlic and maybe even some chocolate and add a slice of salo on top of that. Or, hot: cook up some garlic and onions and throw on a few boiled verehneky and you’re going to get down to some good eatin’. Mmm good! Really good! Good for me! Good for you!

Salo, pig fat
Raw "salo", pig fat from Ukraine.
Prepared salo.
Prepared salo with onions, verheneky and garlic.

Verheneky (pictured above with salo). My students made me aware that eating kubasa (even the expensive kind) and verehneky every night is bad for your health. I should eat more fruits and vegetables. To which I respond, I’m a single man, I don’t cook. And it’s true. To me, cooking is heating up verheneky and kubasa.

Ukrainian vodkaVodka. I was looking forward to sampling the many types of vodka Ukraine is renowned to stock. However, my enthusiasm was dampened, yet again, by my students. There are 3 distillers in all of Ukraine and they make all of the vodka. Same with the beer. My students tell me that Ukrainian vodka is all the same, just different labels. Allowing for some comedy, I accept what they’re saying with a grain of salt, opting to believe that what they mean is that many of the vodkas have no distinctive taste like Polish or Finnish vodkas. It doesn’t seem wrong to conclude that in Poland you drink vodka, in Ukraine you drink beer.

Ukrainian beer, Obolon.
Ukrainian beer, Obolon.

There is a similar argument for the beers of Ukraine. Although there are such world-renowned Ukrainian beers such as Slavutych, Obolon’ and Lvivsky, I’m told the good beer gets exported while the shit beer stays here in Ukraine. I’m not sure how to verify this since many of my students have not been to Canada or abroad, meaning that they don’t really know what gets exported. So I don’t know how to weigh in on this one just yet.

And don’t drink the tap water, it’s said to contain all sorts of wonderful heavy elements and dirty poop thanks to radiation leakage from Chernobyl’s nuke reactor and years of neglect. The best water to buy is Morshinska, available in 6 litre jugs… though some folks also questioned whether or not it really comes from the Carpathians.

Ukraine reminds me of Cambodia and Vietnam: poverty everywhere. And after having visited Poland, I can’t help but think that Ukraine just isn’t going to survive. Some day it will be cut in two. Lviv will either become a sovereign country or rejoin Poland. Western Ukraine, either a sovereign state or join Russia. Either way, Ukraine is not unified, the people don’t want to be here, and it’s depressing as ever being Canadian knowing full well that my grandparents decided to leave this country and ended up staying in Canada.

After being in the country for only a few months and being completely dismayed and culture shocked by the whole experience, I started looking for sources of inspiration, something to rejuvenate that initial desire to come to Ukraine. Maybe some humour in the situation or some articles that would at least help explain the country as it stands today but by someone who’s been there a while. And that’s when I came across TryUkraine.com. I can recommend a few articles for those who want to go to Ukraine or those who have been and left just as confused as I was.

Forget the Lonely Planet series on Ukraine. Although they recently published a new book, Try Ukraine offers the best (and cheapest) information on Ukraine. This post gives a pretty good overview of what you can expect in Ukraine. I highly recommend starting off with this one:

http://www.tryukraine.com/info/ukraine.shtml

The first is about languages and how English is changing because of all the folks worldwide trying to learn the language, but never becoming fully fluent. It’s a good take on the current situation regarding the Ukrainian/Russian language debate. I think it matters most to folks outside of Ukraine, particularly part of the “diaspora” (first generation emigrants from Ukraine) and anybody interested in how an emerging country develops its own identity after being dominated from outside for so long.

http://www.tryukraine.com/society/ukrainization.shtml
and
http://www.tryukraine.com/info/languages.shtml

And with my second impressions changing in some regard, I posted up in Kharkiv for a few months.

A view from a Lvivian cafe.

Ukraine: Second Impressions

A view from a Lvivian cafe.
A view from a Lvivian cafe.

After a couple of months in Ukraine I began to slowly accept the country as it is, for better and worse. I got used to some things, especially after living in Kharkiv for a few months, and yet just couldn’t understand some other aspects of the country and its culture. What follows are my second impressions of Ukraine. You can read about my first impressions here.

My favourite Russian word is “Da” (Да), “yes”. Why? It’s simpler and much more gutteral than the Ukrainian “tak” (так). In one simple groan I could agree to just about anything, “DA!”, and carry on. When I didn’t understand my students (which wasn’t as often as they misunderstood me), I’d put on my international diplomatic smile and say… “Da!”

People are coming to Ukraine to study… Russian? I guess so, it’s a cheaper, littler, Russia particularly as you go further east. I was surprised by the amount of people who said they had come to Ukraine to study Russian. Even most of my fellow travellers associated the country Ukraine with the Russian language with nary a thought of the country’s official language, Ukrainian. I particularly remember one hostel worker being dismayed at the thought that so many foreigners didn’t know any Ukrainian yet knew Russian phrases in his country. It’s as if Russian is slowly displacing Ukrainian as the language of Ukraine.

Now I understand the difference between cities like Warsaw and Krakow or Kyiv and Lviv. Warsaw and Kyiv, both capital cities of their respective nations, have been remodelled and modernized more than their widely accepted more beautiful and cultural cities of Krakow or Lviv. I was told before going to Lviv that it was very similar to Krakow. Go figure, I had the same reaction to Lviv as I did Krakow: cramped, dirty, old. And my reaction to Kyiv was similar to Warsaw: big, modern, thriving pulse.

Don’t eat the kubasa, eat pure pig fat (“salo” or сало) instead. The rational here, after some thinking, makes sense. The cheap kubasa that is sold in the supermarket is mass produced, hello processing plants! Some pointers on buying meat in Ukraine:

1) Don’t buy the kubasa from Billa or Target or Metro, etc., go into the markets and ask for the some good kubasa. “Good” kubasa will run over 100 HVN (~$12). Anything less, I’m told, and you’re eating paper and dead animal parts… kinda like our North American hot dogs.

2) Pure pig fat. Salo. And this confused me for a good portion of my first month here in Ukieland. Instead of eating kubasa which, I think, is made in the same fashion as Western processing plants, salo is reportedly pure pig. As in, the farmer hacked off a piece of the pig’s back and sent it to market. That’s right, imagine if a pig were to run by you and you just took out a knife and sliced off a piece. That’s salo. That’s “natural.” And it’s fucking good. Think bacon, except thicker and juicer. Two ways to prepare it. Cold: get some “black bread”, garlic and maybe even some chocolate and add a slice of salo on top of that. Or, hot: cook up some garlic and onions and throw on a few boiled verehneky and you’re going to get down to some good eatin’. Mmm good! Really good! Good for me! Good for you!

Salo, pig fat
Raw "salo", pig fat from Ukraine.
Prepared salo.
Prepared salo with onions, verheneky and garlic.

Verheneky (pictured above with salo). My students made me aware that eating kubasa (even the expensive kind) and verehneky every night is bad for your health. I should eat more fruits and vegetables. To which I respond, I’m a single man, I don’t cook. And it’s true. To me, cooking is heating up verheneky and kubasa.

Ukrainian vodkaVodka. I was looking forward to sampling the many types of vodka Ukraine is renowned to stock. However, my enthusiasm was dampened, yet again, by my students. There are 3 distillers in all of Ukraine and they make all of the vodka. Same with the beer. My students tell me that Ukrainian vodka is all the same, just different labels. Allowing for some comedy, I accept what they’re saying with a grain of salt, opting to believe that what they mean is that many of the vodkas have no distinctive taste like Polish or Finnish vodkas. It doesn’t seem wrong to conclude that in Poland you drink vodka, in Ukraine you drink beer.

Ukrainian beer, Obolon.
Ukrainian beer, Obolon.

There is a similar argument for the beers of Ukraine. Although there are such world-renowned Ukrainian beers such as Slavutych, Obolon’ and Lvivsky, I’m told the good beer gets exported while the shit beer stays here in Ukraine. I’m not sure how to verify this since many of my students have not been to Canada or abroad, meaning that they don’t really know what gets exported. So I don’t know how to weigh in on this one just yet.

And don’t drink the tap water, it’s said to contain all sorts of wonderful heavy elements and dirty poop thanks to radiation leakage from Chernobyl’s nuke reactor and years of neglect. The best water to buy is Morshinska, available in 6 litre jugs… though some folks also questioned whether or not it really comes from the Carpathians.

Ukraine reminds me of Cambodia and Vietnam: poverty everywhere. And after having visited Poland, I can’t help but think that Ukraine just isn’t going to survive. Some day it will be cut in two. Lviv will either become a sovereign country or rejoin Poland. Western Ukraine, either a sovereign state or join Russia. Either way, Ukraine is not unified, the people don’t want to be here, and it’s depressing as ever being Canadian knowing full well that my grandparents decided to leave this country and ended up staying in Canada.

After being in the country for only a few months and being completely dismayed and culture shocked by the whole experience, I started looking for sources of inspiration, something to rejuvenate that initial desire to come to Ukraine. Maybe some humour in the situation or some articles that would at least help explain the country as it stands today but by someone who’s been there a while. And that’s when I came across TryUkraine.com. I can recommend a few articles for those who want to go to Ukraine or those who have been and left just as confused as I was.

Forget the Lonely Planet series on Ukraine. Although they recently published a new book, Try Ukraine offers the best (and cheapest) information on Ukraine. This post gives a pretty good overview of what you can expect in Ukraine. I highly recommend starting off with this one:

http://www.tryukraine.com/info/ukraine.shtml

The first is about languages and how English is changing because of all the folks worldwide trying to learn the language, but never becoming fully fluent. It’s a good take on the current situation regarding the Ukrainian/Russian language debate. I think it matters most to folks outside of Ukraine, particularly part of the “diaspora” (first generation emigrants from Ukraine) and anybody interested in how an emerging country develops its own identity after being dominated from outside for so long.

http://www.tryukraine.com/society/ukrainization.shtml
and
http://www.tryukraine.com/info/languages.shtml

And with my second impressions changing in some regard, I posted up in Kharkiv for a few months.

Danzig is German. World War 2 propaganda poster.

Gdańsk and Sopot, Poland: Danzig and Driving Devices

Danzig is German. World War 2 propaganda poster.
Danzig is German. World War 2 propaganda poster.

Day Trip #2 with my homestay folks from Bydgoszcz took us to Gdańsk (I think it’s pronounced Geh-daown-sk) and Sopot (So… pot?), two of the three cities along the Baltic coast that make up what is known as Trójmiasto (or, three-cities). (The third city is Gdynia, but we didn’t have time for a visit.)

The trip started early in the morning, 6:30 am or so, much to the chagrin of Homestay Daughter and I. Homestay Father was ready to go, however. He woke us up, had breakfast ready so we could eat (with eyes closed) while he went and got the car. By 7 am we were in the car, and this is when I learned about Polish road trips.

You see, I didn’t know what Homestay Father actually did for work. I’m sure my friend had told me before but I’d forgotten. So, when Homestay Father plopped a GPS device, a radar detector and a two-way radio into the front seat and began assembling everything, I couldn’t help but wonder. The GPS and radar detector I understood, but the two-way radio? I ask Homestay Daughter. Apparently he works for some transportation company. The two-way radio is for contacting other drivers on highways… especially about highway cops.

Smiling, he pointed proudly to the radar detector and said “Not legal!”

I could do nothing more than nod in agreement.

And so we drove to Gdańsk, conversing with one another, listening to Polish and English pop music, and, every now and then, radioing other cars for info about cops in the area. We had no problems.

Gdańsk

Długa Targa in Gdańsk, Poland.
Długa Targa in Gdańsk, Poland.

Gdańsk (known, in German, as “Danzig,” like the musician) is the port city of Northern Poland. Surprisingly, our stay in the city was very short despite the historical importance of this city. In recent history the city has undergone two momentous occasions.

First, World War II started here. The first attack by the Nazis occurred at Gdańsk’s Westerplatte on Sept 1st, 1939. Apparently the Poles were able to fend off the invaders for a week before they were overtaken. The city was liberated (or almost wiped off the map) in 1945 after a good ol’ bomb-fucking by the Soviets.

The next big thing that happened here were the revolts against communism some four decades later. Those revolts culminated in the “Lenin Shipyards strike” of 1980, and is now commemorated by a huge pillar with three anchors hanging at the top. It would be almost a decade before Poland would be released from communism after the so-called “Round Table” discussions of 1989.

Whew. (Shot of Żubrowka.) History lesson over.

Nazis, Soviets, and revolts aside, our stay in Gdańsk was more of a walking tour than anything else. The main street is ulicia Długa (dwoo-ga), marked by many pretty buildings and turns into Długi Targ after the Town Hall (see picture above.) Długi Targ is made memorable by Neptune’s Fountain, which sits in front of the historic Dwór Artusa (Arthur’s Court). The Court was apparently built by some folks who were inspired by King Arthur’s Knights of Camelot and wanted their own place to assemble and scheme.

Whoops, that was more history learning. Sorry. (Another shot.)

Then we walked through the Green Gate to the waterfront, admired the view and took pictures.

Gdańsk Waterfront
Gdańsk Waterfront.

We couldn’t miss, however, the staple of any walking tour in Europe: a visit to a church. (Are there any tours in Europe that don’t have a visit to a church?) Walking down ulica Mariacka we visited the monumental and old Bazylika Mariacka, or St. Mary’s Church, built sometime in the 14th century. It was a nice church, complete with images from the Bible, Latin inscriptions, and icons. The bleached-white interior didn’t look anything like the brick exterior. Unlike St. John’s Church in Toruń, which is the oldest brick building in Poland, St. Mary’s Church is the biggest brick church… in the world.

St. Mary's Church altar, Gdańsk, Poland
St. Mary's Church altar, Gdańsk, Poland.

Jumping back into the car, we drove to Sopot.

Sopot

Funky building in Sopot, Poland.
Funky building in Sopot, Poland.

We did a quick tour of Sopot on foot. The main street is ulica Bohaterów Monte Cassino, complete with a funky looking building and a boy on a rope. The main street stops at the beach facing the Baltic Sea and is taken over by the Sopot Pier.

Steve Among Swans.
Steve Among Swans. It was very cold that day.

We walked the pier and took a look at the marina they are building at the end of the pier. Along the way we saw swans, ducks, the Baltic Sea and a camera crew. Maybe my host family and I will be in a Polish movie as unsuspecting extras.

We stopped for dinner, but I forget the name of the place. I thought it was funny that I could try something call gypsy pie. I remember making some comment about “them wretched gypsies,” which Homestay Daughter didn’t find too funny and thankfully Homestay Father didn’t understand. Noting that gypsy-jokes were off-limits, we made other conversation.

The last cultural experience of Sopot was smoked cheese, called “oscypek.” It was good and greasy.

Polish oscypek.
Polish oscypek.

And then we drove back to Bydgoszcz.

I’d been staying in Bydgoszcz for a week before I accepted the fact that my Polish wasn’t going to get any better. Deciding to leave Polish lessons and a singing toilet behind, I decided it was time to leave. Saying thank to my host family and trying to figure out how many kisses on each cheek I was supposed to give, I returned to Warsaw for a few weeks before finally going westward to a town called Poznań.

Danzig is German. World War 2 propaganda poster.

Gdańsk and Sopot, Poland: Danzig and Driving Devices

Danzig is German. World War 2 propaganda poster.
Danzig is German. World War 2 propaganda poster.

Day Trip #2 with my homestay folks from Bydgoszcz took us to Gdańsk (I think it’s pronounced Geh-daown-sk) and Sopot (So… pot?), two of the three cities along the Baltic coast that make up what is known as Trójmiasto (or, three-cities). (The third city is Gdynia, but we didn’t have time for a visit.)

The trip started early in the morning, 6:30 am or so, much to the chagrin of Homestay Daughter and I. Homestay Father was ready to go, however. He woke us up, had breakfast ready so we could eat (with eyes closed) while he went and got the car. By 7 am we were in the car, and this is when I learned about Polish road trips.

You see, I didn’t know what Homestay Father actually did for work. I’m sure my friend had told me before but I’d forgotten. So, when Homestay Father plopped a GPS device, a radar detector and a two-way radio into the front seat and began assembling everything, I couldn’t help but wonder. The GPS and radar detector I understood, but the two-way radio? I ask Homestay Daughter. Apparently he works for some transportation company. The two-way radio is for contacting other drivers on highways… especially about highway cops.

Smiling, he pointed proudly to the radar detector and said “Not legal!”

I could do nothing more than nod in agreement.

And so we drove to Gdańsk, conversing with one another, listening to Polish and English pop music, and, every now and then, radioing other cars for info about cops in the area. We had no problems.

Gdańsk

Długa Targa in Gdańsk, Poland.
Długa Targa in Gdańsk, Poland.

Gdańsk (known, in German, as “Danzig,” like the musician) is the port city of Northern Poland. Surprisingly, our stay in the city was very short despite the historical importance of this city. In recent history the city has undergone two momentous occasions.

First, World War II started here. The first attack by the Nazis occurred at Gdańsk’s Westerplatte on Sept 1st, 1939. Apparently the Poles were able to fend off the invaders for a week before they were overtaken. The city was liberated (or almost wiped off the map) in 1945 after a good ol’ bomb-fucking by the Soviets.

The next big thing that happened here were the revolts against communism some four decades later. Those revolts culminated in the “Lenin Shipyards strike” of 1980, and is now commemorated by a huge pillar with three anchors hanging at the top. It would be almost a decade before Poland would be released from communism after the so-called “Round Table” discussions of 1989.

Whew. (Shot of Żubrowka.) History lesson over.

Nazis, Soviets, and revolts aside, our stay in Gdańsk was more of a walking tour than anything else. The main street is ulicia Długa (dwoo-ga), marked by many pretty buildings and turns into Długi Targ after the Town Hall (see picture above.) Długi Targ is made memorable by Neptune’s Fountain, which sits in front of the historic Dwór Artusa (Arthur’s Court). The Court was apparently built by some folks who were inspired by King Arthur’s Knights of Camelot and wanted their own place to assemble and scheme.

Whoops, that was more history learning. Sorry. (Another shot.)

Then we walked through the Green Gate to the waterfront, admired the view and took pictures.

Gdańsk Waterfront
Gdańsk Waterfront.

We couldn’t miss, however, the staple of any walking tour in Europe: a visit to a church. (Are there any tours in Europe that don’t have a visit to a church?) Walking down ulica Mariacka we visited the monumental and old Bazylika Mariacka, or St. Mary’s Church, built sometime in the 14th century. It was a nice church, complete with images from the Bible, Latin inscriptions, and icons. The bleached-white interior didn’t look anything like the brick exterior. Unlike St. John’s Church in Toruń, which is the oldest brick building in Poland, St. Mary’s Church is the biggest brick church… in the world.

St. Mary's Church altar, Gdańsk, Poland
St. Mary's Church altar, Gdańsk, Poland.

Jumping back into the car, we drove to Sopot.

Sopot

Funky building in Sopot, Poland.
Funky building in Sopot, Poland.

We did a quick tour of Sopot on foot. The main street is ulica Bohaterów Monte Cassino, complete with a funky looking building and a boy on a rope. The main street stops at the beach facing the Baltic Sea and is taken over by the Sopot Pier.

Steve Among Swans.
Steve Among Swans. It was very cold that day.

We walked the pier and took a look at the marina they are building at the end of the pier. Along the way we saw swans, ducks, the Baltic Sea and a camera crew. Maybe my host family and I will be in a Polish movie as unsuspecting extras.

We stopped for dinner, but I forget the name of the place. I thought it was funny that I could try something call gypsy pie. I remember making some comment about “them wretched gypsies,” which Homestay Daughter didn’t find too funny and thankfully Homestay Father didn’t understand. Noting that gypsy-jokes were off-limits, we made other conversation.

The last cultural experience of Sopot was smoked cheese, called “oscypek.” It was good and greasy.

Polish oscypek.
Polish oscypek.

And then we drove back to Bydgoszcz.

I’d been staying in Bydgoszcz for a week before I accepted the fact that my Polish wasn’t going to get any better. Deciding to leave Polish lessons and a singing toilet behind, I decided it was time to leave. Saying thank to my host family and trying to figure out how many kisses on each cheek I was supposed to give, I returned to Warsaw for a few weeks before finally going westward to a town called Poznań.