Landed in Gdansnk yesterday, and find it charming. The customs officials were amused that an American was living in Germany, but let me in and gave me a nice, juicy passport stamp to boot. Then off to reside with a Polish friend in a small bungalow-style house in a suburb of Gdansk. As soon as you get out of Gdansk proper, the city sort of peters out and is replaced by winding dirt roads leading through private orchards and hillside forests, interspersed with Socialist-era housing blocks, which look pretty much like they look all over Eastern Europe. The countryside appears idyllic, with pleasant, airy deciduous forests ranging along gentle hills.
The inner city, which was painstakingly rebuilt after being annihilated by the Nazis (who started WWII in this city), is lovely. It features row after row of townhouses with colorful Dutch facades, and scads of pleasant Gothic churches, as well as a city hall with a delicate 81m spire. The fortress-like St. Mary’s basilica isn’t very pleasant from the outside, but features plenty of sensational Gothic church decoration from Gdansk artists and other artisans imported mainly from northern Europe. If you climb the 300+ steps to the tower, the view is amazing. You can event rent Lorgnetki (binoculars, spelling approximate!) from a sad old man with a big, bulbous nose. Most of the church inscriptions are in German, since this city more-or-less belonged to Germany for most of its existence (don’t ask me the details).
Then it was off to the Baltic sea resort of Sopot, a popular spot for tourists and Polish families. Polish people behave themselves well in public; public drinking is prohibited in big gathering spots, and the ubiquity of children keeps inappropriate behavior (i.e., public puking) to a minimum. Sopot proper is picturesque, but perhaps a little too wedding-cakey for my taste. The vibe is relaxed and cultivated. A sculptor of Dr. Haffner, who discovered the spa resort’s healthful properties, shows him seated on a rock, legs crossed and gazing pensively into the distance. He’s in full 18th-century regalia, with his top-hat and walking-stick ranged on the ground beside him.
Sopot boasts a loungy club, Sfinks, where Polish DJs use old-school vinyl 12" to whip up sinuous, genre-crossing beats in an balmy, tent-like outdoor setting, all the while drinking piwo (beer) and chain-smoking. Which everyone else is also doing. So far, no major discoveries in the realm of Polish beer (they seem to like light, sweet lagers over here), but the sausage is fabulous: spicy, slightly gristly in a good way, and fresh-tasting.
Once again, I find young, educated Eastern Europeans delightful company; they’re future-oriented, curious, hard-working and enterprising. This is a sharp contrast to certain sectors of Old Europe, where even the young, educated folks can’t stop bitching about politics, bitching about the job market, bitching about the shiftiness and stupidity of the lower classes, bitching about the decline of noble national traditions in the face of global competition, bitching about the fact that their countries don’t have much influence on the world stage anymore, etc. It’s a lot more fun to live in a country where the educated young people believe the nation has its worst times behind it, as opposed to ahead of it.
This is typical of a lot of folks I meet from behind the former Iron Curtain. They understand their countries have problems, but radiate a quiet confidence that these problems are slowly on their way to being fixed, and that the future belongs to those who adapt, find niches, and take risks, not those who cling desperately, bitterly and enviously to outmoded social institutions. I wouldn’t mind resettling somewhere here, except for the fact that I’d have to learn Polish (yikes!) and would probably get paid about the same in of zlotys as Euros. (The Zloty/Euro rate is about about 4-to-1).
That’s enough for now, since it’s a balmy, but not brutally hot day, and plenty of sightseeing awaits.