Last week I moved to Poland. It was not the first time I moved to another country. In a few days, it will have been exactly three years since I left Salamanca, a small town in Spain where I had lived and studied for nine months. It’s a giant cliché to call Erasmus a life changing experience or the best year of your life, and in quiet some cases this is a lie or at least a big exaggeration. Not for me though. It is impossible to imagine how my life would have looked like without that experience. For those who are interested and understand Dutch (or trust Google translate), you can read more about that here.
This time, Poland was my new destination. After six months of living in Paris and working for UNESCO (about which you’ll find more here) the time had come to start my first real paid job. I was very lucky to get hired by such an international and challenging press agency as Reuters. There was only one condition: I had to relocate to Poland. Even though this was not my first time living abroad, this was new. This time I went for a job, which means the duration of my stay here is undetermined. Maybe I’ll get bored after a few months and just go back to Belgium. Maybe I’ll like it and stay some time until some new opportunity in another country comes up. Or maybe, as some of my friends fear, I’ll love it so much that I find a Polish girlfriend and get settled here. Who knows? All of these scenarios are possible. That makes it all very unpredictable, exciting and also scary. Another new element is the country. Before last week, I had only been a tourist for a few days in this country. My knowledge of the Polish language was (and still is) limited to a few words. And even though I want to make an effort to make myself understandable to the locals, Polish was never on my list of languages I wanted to learn. Neither was Poland on the list of places I wanted to live in.
So what I am doing here? Good question. Starting a new job, that is correct. But as it is still early to talk about that and maybe less interesting, I’ll write about the second thing I want to do here: exploring an area of Europe that is still unknown to me. And I’ll start with the place I live in: the Tricity area. This area consists of three cities: Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia.
Gdansk is the biggest, oldest, most important and by far the most famous of those three. It has always been a crossroad, a port city where all kinds of cultures and nations living in the Baltic area met. This explains the rich architecture of the city center.
Gdansk was also the stage for two of the most important events of the twentieth century: the start of the Second World War and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Both stories teach you a lot about the Polish history, which is both tragic and heroic. Tragic because it has experienced terrible wars and oppression. Tragic also because it has always relied on its alliance with the West, which has never kept the promises that were made. Heroic because of the way this country and in particular Gdansk has always stood up against this oppression. In 1939, the battalion that was supposed to defend the Westerplatte peninsula next to Gdansk for two days fought for a week, waiting for the English support that was promised but never came. In 1970 and 1980, dock workers went on strike and made the communist regime in Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe collapse.
After Gdansk, Sopot is the next city in line. This place is definitely more interesting in the present than it has been in history. It is the smallest, richest and probably coziest of the three cities. It has beautiful beaches, nice shops, bars, restaurants, a vibrant night life but what it is most famous for is the fact that it has the longest pier in Europe. A walk on this pier on a nice summer day is highly recommended!
Last but not least is Gdynia, the city which has become my home. Since there is some rivalry between the three cities, I will have to prove the superiority of my new home. And honestly, it is less hard than what some people from Gdansk seem to think. Gdynia has a very impressive story to tell. No more than one century ago, it was just a little fisher’s village of around 1,000 inhabitants. In less than twenty years, it became a harbor city with 120,000 people living in it. Big modernist buildings popped up like mushrooms and by 1939, Gdynia was the biggest harbor in the Baltic area. Unfortunately, Nazi terror made a brutal end to this impressive growth and most of the population was expelled. Yet today, the legacy of the early days is still visible as the city tries to attract new investments. Once again new skyscrapers are built and new plans are waiting to be implemented. In a certain way, you could say that Gdynia is the Polish version of New York: a self-made city constructed by migrants who left their home in a quest for new opportunities and adventures.
As you can see, Poland’s Tricity has a lot of interesting stories to tell and I highly recommend everyone to come and visit it. Before I started working on Monday I had one week time to discover the area, and I’m far from finished. So come to Poland’s Tricity area. Come and walk on the beautiful beaches, get amazed by the beautiful old buildings in Gdanks’s city center or the modernist buildings in Gdynia, get fascinated by the history and most importantly: don’t forget to bring me some Belgian beer! The invitation is yours.
PS: my dear friends in Paris, your goodbye present has found a nice spot on my cupboard.