Gdansk Pilgrimage 2018 (2): Wednesday at the beach in Sopot, a spectacular Baltic Porter, and fermented rye soup.


I’ve prefaced the travel narrative of our visit to Poland (itself backdated to the actual days we were there) with a series called Eight Days of Gdansk, which provides background on a European destination that’s scandalously little known to Americans.

Previously: Our Tuesday arrival in Gdansk.

Our hotel was in Gdansk, wonderfully located for the two planned museum visits and with close proximity to the old town. However, Gdansk is but one of three municipal components of what has been dubbed Tricity; the other two are Sopot and Gdynia.

Altogether, these three cities add up to a metropolitan era similar in population to Louisville’s, albeit more compact in geographical terms. SKM commuter trains running northwest-southeast are the spine of public transit in Tricity (the thick red line below), with tram and bus routes radiating from them to cover the neighborhoods and closer suburbs.

From the standpoint of a visitor, these transit connections are inexpensive and make it very easy to get around. The weather was going to be cloudless and brilliant on Wednesday, so walked ten minutes to the main train station …

… and hopped the SKM up to Sopot. The trains are regularly controlled by officials, so don’t get on without a ticket. Verily, in Gdansk you’re never very far away from the shipyard.

With a population of only 40,000 people, Sopot is far smaller than Gdansk or Gdynia. It makes up for its size with a killer beachfront and resort vibe, and property values that are the second-highest in Poland behind only Warsaw. In Polish terms, it’s swanky.

As discussed here, both Gdynia and Sopot have basketball teams in the primary Polish professional league, but Gdansk does not.

Sopot’s famous wooden pier jutting into the Baltic is more than 500 meters long, or more than five American football fields. The fellow pictured above schlepping beer kegs back and forth from shore to pier pavilion surely was racking up the Fitbit steps.

In non-chronological order, here are some photos from the waterfront in Sopot.

There are two of these “Pirates of the Caribbean” ships operating in the Tricity. They’re a bit overtly touristic for my taste, and yet affordable; on the following Monday we decided to take a cruise on one of them through the Gdansk waterways to Westerplatte, and it was fun.

We made it back to Gdansk just after lunch, having decided not to eat because the sheer volume of the hotel’s breakfast buffet made it possible to skip food at midday.

Beer was an entirely different story. Making our way on foot back to restaurant row on the main street known as Long Market, the first stop was the Golden Gate, built in the 1640s and not fully restored from wartime damage until 1997.

Facing the gate is the 16th-century prison tower and torture chamber. I’m told they serve only Bud Light there.

As you pass through the Golden Gate, there are photos of post-war Gdansk. They’re sobering sights, indeed. As in Warsaw and so many other historic cities in Poland, rebuilding was achieved with the help of old drawings and photographs.

It’s purely subjective on my part, but it seems that in Poland, the communists simply tried harder than the other satellites to reconstruct the country’s architectural heritage. Seven decades later, it remains work in progress.

We stopped to admire Gdansk’s famous Neptune fountain …

 … and flipped a coin to determine a watering hole. For once, we won the lottery. Let us stop to admire and venerate this huge mug of inky black Baltic Porter.

Żywiec is one of Poland’s ubiquitous national golden lagers, and elsewhere I’ll find time to explain why the less common Żywiec Porter has remained one of the world’s great beers, albeit one we find rarely hereabouts, but for the moment, it can suffice to say I wasn’t expecting to find this nectar on draft — hence the uncharacteristically broad grin.

The beer to the left is a Belgian-style Wit, a modern addition to the product line.

The day wasn’t finished yet, even if it took a long while to drink lunch of such thickness. One and a half 9.5% beers left me a bit wobbly on an empty stomach, and we resolved to have an early dinner at Tawerna Dominikańska, overlooking the river, and a short block’s crawl from our lodgings.

It was another good call.

Meet a Polish specialty with which I was entirely unaware, and is now a new obsession: Żurek, or soup made from fermented rye flour and served in a rye bread bowl. In fact there is a whole genre of northern Slavic soups using fermented cereal grains.

The beer is Żywiec APA … American Pale Ale; the old and the new.

Diana had glazed pork ribs with cabbage and potatoes.

In honor of Günter Grass’s novel The Flounder, I dined on fried Baltic flounder. It isn’t clear to me whether this “Baltic flounder” was the recently identified endemic species of Baltic Sea fish, or a generic geographical menu shortcut identifying the flounder already fished there for centuries.

But it was a delicious flounder, regardless of etymology.

Next: An unanticipated Polish national religious holiday, and some suitable wandering.