Gdansk Pilgrimage 2018 (3): On All Saints’ Day, a Polish national holiday, we strolled and ate and drank.


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: A visit to the beach and pier in Sopot.

At some point on Wednesday afternoon, perhaps while sipping draft Żywiec Porter — okay, gulping is a better take — it was concluded that Thursday would be a good time to visit the European Solidarity Centre, but upon googling the museum for the opening time, we learned it wasn’t. This is when we discovered that November 1 is a national holiday: All Saints’ Day.

On this night, cemeteries are visited and candles and flowers placed on graves as the living say prayers for the deceased. The nature of the holiday does not dictate that only family members’ graves are decorated; old and forgotten graves and the graves of strangers are also visited. On a national level, the graves of important figures and military tombs are honored.

Candles in colorful glass jars that number in the thousands light up cemeteries on All Saints’ Day, and a day that might be otherwise considered a mournful affair is transformed into one of beauty and light. Additionally, it is an opportunity for family members to bond and to remember those whom they have lost.

A Day of the Dead helped to explain a plethora of flowers being vended from seemingly every street corner. We’d already encountered a traffic jam on our very first afternoon in town; we thought at first that people were going into a wooded market area and coming out with flowers, but of course it was the other way around, and upon closer examination on the map, the wooded area was indeed a cemetery.

After the usual buffet breakfast extravaganza at Hotel Admiral, we used our transit passes to ride a few trams and see some of the city off the main axis. Eventually we alighted in an area west of the central station and commenced our autumn in one morning, or a stroll through gently hilly, wooded parkland.

Walking back, I couldn’t help photographing this relic of communist architectural proclivities.

Cutting through the old town, faces kept looking at us.

By the river, communist-era housing blocks and a brand new commercial building flank a 19th-century holdout.

On the north side of the ship-museum “Sołdek” (a branch of the National Maritime Museum) rests this diesel engine from an early 20th-century ship.

This boat may have exceeded the sail-by date.

It’s hard to miss the Crane.

The Crane is one of the defining symbols of Gdańsk and represents what little is left of the city’s great trading age. First mentioned in 1367 the original structure burnt down in 1442 before its current design was created in 1442-1444. As a working crane it was used to transfer cargoes and to put up masts on ships. At one time this was the biggest working crane in the world but it also served a defence function and as one of the gates to the city. It had a lifting capacity of 4 tonnes to a height of 11 metres and this was achieved by two huge wooden wheels at its heart each with a diameter of 6 metres. These wheels were originally powered by men walking inside of them to turn the lifting mechanism. It remained a working crane until the middle of the 19th century and was 80% destroyed in 1945 in the battle for Gdańsk.

Many businesses were closed for the holiday, but neighborhood mini-marts were operating. We were searching for one of them just two blocks from the hotel when it dawned on me that the big brick building to the right the Polish Post Office.

The Defence of the Polish Post Office in Danzig (Gdańsk) was one of the first acts of World War II in Europe, as part of the Invasion of Poland.

On September 1, 1939, Polish personnel defended the building for some 15 hours against assaults by the SS Heimwehr Danzig (SS Danzig Home Defense), local SA formations and special units of Danzig police. All but four of the defenders, who were able to escape from the building during the surrender, were sentenced to death by a German court martial as illegal combatants on October 5, 1939 and executed.

The Polish defence of the post office was also sympathetically portrayed in Chapter 18 of The Tin Drum by Günter Grass, ‘The Defence of the Polish Post Office’.

The obligatory afternoon nap lasted too long (remember, it was getting dark a little after 4:00 p.m.), forcing us to miss the hockey match we’d planned on attending.

What could be done except eat and drink? Our choice was Lithuanian cuisine, courtesy of Familia Bistro, with a tasty meal of specialties from Vilnius; beef and pork with dumplings as an appetizer, washed down with Lithuanian beer — although the glass pictured here is filled with kvass, not beer.

The old town is stunning at night.

A bit of frivolity after dark.

The smokers’ area at the hotel?

Next: The European Solidarity Centre.