Poland: Plenty to See

Location: Gdansk, Poland

I could get used to these private tours. It’s just amazing to zip around in our own private Mercedes with a guy (a hot young Polish guy, in this case) who knows everything about everything and who can take us right to the front of the line.

I booked a private deal for this port because none of the ship’s tours went where I wanted to go: Malbork Castle. The world’s largest brick castle, Malbork was built by the Teutonic Knights in the 14th century as the headquarters of their grand master. We saw the kitchen, dining hall, living quarters (Copernicus lived here for a while) and chapel, along with a couple of interesting exhibits on amber (a huge industry in this area) and medieval armor. Pretty cool.

That’s all we’d paid to see, but since it was still early, our guide offered to give us a city tour of Gdansk at a discounted rate. Founded in 997 AD, Gdansk celebrated its 1,000th birthday just a few years ago. About 90 percent of the city was reduced to rubble in World War II, but the historic center has been carefully restored, and it’s magnificent. We thought it was much more impressive than Tallinn. I can’t believe we almost didn’t see it.

We also drove by the famous shipyard with the monument to the workers who were killed by security forces during a 1970 strike. The Solidarity movement began here, and in 1989, Poland became the first country to peacefully overthrow the communist regime. We’ve heard many stories of what life was like in Soviet times — to have a peaceful revolution after all that is nothing short of a miracle.

And now we’re off to Copenhagen…