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When I realized that my travel alarm had been sounding for nearly 30 minutes, I didn't think I had a chance in catching my train. I threw the few items lying around the room into my bag, signed the bill at the hotel and started on a brisk walk to the train station. I managed to locate the correct train and board with just a few minutes to spare. After finding an empty compartment, I quickly fell asleep again. About 45 minutes and a few stops later, I was awakened by a huge group of schoolgirls boarding the train. I think they filled the entire car, including the remaining seats of my compartment. They were all very excited about their travel and conversation filled the air for a good hour. The noise slowly faded out as they all fell asleep. I did the same.
The morning light finally began to come up but the sun was nowhere to be seen. Another cloudy, rainy day was ahead. The train ride was nearly 6 hours and all of us, schoolgirls included, arrived in Gdansk around 11am. I bought a local map at the station, found the house where I would be staying and headed off. Just my luck, it started to rain heavily. I hid under the canopy of a grocery store for short time but after over 2km of walking (and becoming only slightly lost along the route), I was completely drenched when I finally arrived. The host who greeted me saw my condition and quickly gave me a cup of hot tea in the dining room before showing me the rooms available. As it continued to rain heavily, I feared the whole day would be a complete waste.
I spent about an hour sorting through my bag, changing clothes and hanging my things up to dry. It was almost 1pm and I knew that I needed to collect myself and get out to see some projects, rain or no rain. With an explanation from my host on the local transit system, I caught the bus and went back to the center of the city. As I traveled, the rain stopped and the clouds began to break. Walking towards the river, I saw one of the most beautiful central squares to date.
The combined space of the Dluga (Long Street) and Dlugi Targ (Long Market) is an extended rectangle, lined on either side with architecturally ornamented burgher's houses. The entire length of the space is not perfectly straight. There is a slight curve, just enough to hide the full view of either end of the square. It encourages you to keep walking in curiosity and find out what might lie just around the bend. Near the midpoint of the curve's arc is the tower of the city hall, a reference point visible at all locations. At its base, atop a round fountain, is a statue of Neptune. Together, the Dluga and Dlugi Targ establish engaging and dynamic urban space.
Across the water from the square is the Island of Corn Warehouses, an area formerly filled with buildings for storing grains and other goods for the thriving the sea trade. Like in Warsaw, most of the buildings throughout the city center have been reconstructed since World War II. Most of the warehouses on the island were destroyed during the war and only the ruins of the masonry walls still remain. In the past decade, rebuilding has begun on the island with several museum and institutional buildings at the northern area and residential/retail buildings at the center of the island near the bridge crossing. An entire block of reconstruction has almost been completed along the main road, ul. Stagiewna.
These buildings appear well constructed and well designed. Using the buildings around the main square and city as a reference point, the overall forms seem respectful of the destroyed buildings which once occupied the site. All of the buildings here are given equal attention along the entire street facade, there is no preference or excessive design preference given to corner buildings or other key sites. Each building is weighted equally. In my opinion, this is a better representation of reality. When constructed new, the owners would have placed just as much attention on the design quality of their own building regardless if it was a corner or central street building. Equal consideration would exist across the entire street frontage, not just at the edges.
Looking back across the river, the Hotel Hanza is a recent building occupying the last vacant site along the historic city's waterfront. Though it is a large building, it disguises itself as several smaller structures. The mass of the building is hidden by 4 individually designed facades. It is the first instance of this kind of treatment I have seen in Poland. Usually, each facade belongs to an individual building and are not parts of a larger structural framework.
After more than a week of a diet based primarily of food from street stands supplemented by bread, cheese, yogurt and apples bought at small grocers, I decided to spend a few dollars on a decent meal at a restaurant. The meal prepared by Tomek's wife 2 nights before must have whet my appetite for some of Poland's finer cuisine. I had some soup, salmon (it was the Baltic coast), vegetables, a beer and desert for about 55zl, or US$12.
With about an hour of daylight remaining, I walked around the city looking at buildings and their various details. For me, a seaside city always holds a certain appeal. Perhaps it is the vibrancy of a trading point that brings a wide variety of people together and is eventually reflected in the building fabric. Nautical themes are also present on many building sculptures. Another intrigue may be the intricacy of ship building that is somehow reflected in architecture. I did see one unique sculpture on a bank entrance. Two huge figures, one of a man and the other of a woman, supported the entrance pediment. Never before have I seen such colossal figures of different sex given equal balance in a building composition.
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