Testing The Waters
You know the tipsy, suspiciously-chortling, moonshine-filled pirate that carelessly dangles his leg over the edge of the bridge in Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean? I used to hate that guy. Surely, I thought, he would tumble over, land right in my slowly creeping boat, and scar me for life. On my dad's lap, I would bury my head in his shoulder so I wouldn't catch even the slightest glimpse of that pirate. Boy how things have changed.
Cut to me standing in line yesterday for my first cafe latte of the day. "Yo ho, yo ho a pirate's life for me..." unmercifully swirling in my head. At the crack of dawn before hopping on a 2.5 hour train ride to Poland's Lake District no less. I could hear it all. The cheerful fife wheedling its way into the melody. The bass singer bringing that we-mean-business tone to the chorus. The joyful lyrics sung with pride of a life full of drinking, looting, and womanizing. Ahhh... I love Pirates. And strangely, it is now my favorite Disney ride. Then it hit me. I'm living in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride here in Gdansk. And without one Fast Pass, chained-off row, or annoyingly impatient child oblivious to the line moving ahead of him.
To get your bearings... We've been all over!
For centuries, Gdansk's importance as a port town for Poland (the country's biggest) and Europe due to its position on the Baltic Sea has been undeniable. You see it in the historic shipyards where the start of the overthrow of Communism happened. Where massive cranes dominate the horizon like The Empire Strikes Back AT-ATs. Where occasional workers' welding sparks light up the dreary, gritty, mostly deserted surroundings of this once-thriving area like Fourth of July. Gdansk was virtually leveled during WWII, but thanks to relatively quick reconstruction and loyalty to design, there is a salty charm that perseveres. Which is why it was imperative that I jump aboard the beautifully striking Czarna Perla and elbow my way to the bow. Through Gdansk's waterways we stealthily glided, from the old shipyards to the current, lively waterfront. With foot-stomping, Polish folk music playing from the deck below, all I needed were some talking, bandana-wearing skeletons and my Pirates fantasy would have been complete.
A fittingly foggy day on this seafaring waterfront
When you think of Poland, "beach" is probably the last word that comes to mind. But Sopot (I opted not to go to Hel up the coast for obvious reasons), just a 15 minute jaunt by train from Gdansk, has one. A really nice one. It's like leaving Disney's New Orleans Square and going across to CA Adventure. Salty air. Fishy odor. Squawking seagulls. Clean, expansive beach. Turn of the 20th century throwback buildings. Even the longest wooden pier in Europe. I must've walked 10 miles on the inviting brick path that parallels the long stretch of beachy coastline yet traverses through an autumnal-hued forest. An enchanted forest, if you will. You would never have known that the wading swans at the sea's sandy edge were just steps away.
A beautiful, sunny beach adjacent to an autumnal, woodsy walk- loved this combo in Sopot!
And now, on to the last liquidy stop- the Mazurian Lake District. This northeastern Poland reprieve boasts over 2000 lakes, peaceful environs and is a major destination for European vacationers. Not to mention it is curiously the tranquil home to 25% of the world's stork population during the summer months but that is a bird of another color. The dense fog on the day I explored there kept me from getting some good photos but it didn't keep me from recognizing the beauty of which the Poles are so proud. The wavy ribbons of farmland. The tall trees of the forests that collaboratively let as little light through to the trains that sear right through their middles. Punctuated by sizable lakes ready for play. Here in Mazury, combined with the broad Baltic and venerable Vistula River, you never feel Poland's landlocked geography.
Mazury Lake District in northeast Poland
Pirates or not, Poland's waterways tend to transport you to a pretty special place. As my opinion has changed of that ol' Disney ride, so has my opinion of the natural beauty Poland has to offer. Magic kingdom, indeed.
The historic Gdansk shipyards (on the horizon) are never out of sight or mind here.
A great day for a sail on the Czarna Perla (Black Pearl)!
The longest wooden pier in Europe in the coastal town of Sopot
Who knew Poland had beach towns...
The Baltic Sea beach peeking through the adjacent forest trail
The serene Mazury Lake District
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