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Published: December 16th 2017
Hello my fellow travellers!
Today we travelled the road to Hel! Well, the town of Hel that is, it's a small town located at the tip of the Hel Peninsula in Puck County. It took us a while to drive there and to be honest I wasn't feeling to well so I was drifting in and out of sleep and therefore I wasn't much of a company for Joanna on the road.
Once we arrived we were greeted by a strong, cold wind though and thankfully it freshened me up and lifted my spirits, and despite the cold wind the weather was nice and sunny. We parked outside a hostel where Joanna knows the owner, we took a toilet break there and chatted with the nice staff and Joanna showed me a room that is named after her.
Hel used to be a military area and closed of to the public, so the area is littered with various bunkers and fortifications. Old gun turrets are strewn across the peninsula and walking around here as a history buff was pure bliss! As this peninsula is the furthest reach of Polish territory it's called the beginning of Poland and since
a few years back there stands a mound here called the Kashubian Mound. Hel is a Kashubian villiage and it's proud of it's heritage as Kashubians are considered to have it's own language and to be it's own ethnic group even though it's similar to the Polish. The Kashubian Mound represents the official starting point of Poland, so we started by visiting this mound and then walking out to the very tip of the peninsula to stand where Poland begins. On the way there we passed by the wreck of the cutter WŁA-55
, an old fishing boat which is a very picturesque addition to the landscape as nature is claiming the remains of it.
Our main reason for coming here wasn't the impressive military installations though, but rather the Seal Sanctuary in Hel. So from the old military zone we walked through the town centre of Hel, which is absolutely gorgeous, to the seal sanctuary to get there in time for the feeding that's held twice a day.
On our way there though, going through Hel, we passed by a large and impressive tree and Joanna said that she'd read that the tree of the year for 2017,
by popular vote, was located in Hel and that it might be that tree so we walked closer and it turned out to be so. The tree is named Poplar Helena after the wife of Zbigniew Przybyszewski (1907–1952), the officer who commanded the coastal artillery of Hel during the early stages of World War II and who served with distinction when Germany invaded. He halted their advance far longer than he should have been able to with the resources he had at hand. Eventually though he was forced to surrender and spent the remainder of the war in a prisoner-of-war camp, he tried to escape twice but was unsuccessful in doing so. After the war he returned to his service but in 1952 he was arrested by the Communists under false charges of espionage and was executed after a mock trial.
Next to Poplar Helena stands a beautiful wooden carving of fishermen pulling up their nets, a tribute to the fishing history of Hel. This is the remains of the twin tree of Poplar Helena which was blown down in a storm, leaving only the tree stump remaining which was made into this beautiful monument by an official decision.
Another small memorial that I found here was a plaque commemorating of Władysław Kotula a man who fought for Polish independence in World War I and then served as the head of forestry in Hel from 1924 to 1929 when he was murdered by officers of the Communist NKVD organisation. Next to it stands another memorial which I unfortunately wasn't able to identify.
Since we still had some time before the feeding of the seals we decided to grab a bite to eat ourselves and went to Kutter, a restaurant that Joanna had been at before. I ordered from a Polish menu using google translate and managed to get a delicious meal of salmon with mushrooms, I did misunderstand the prices though thinking it was per piece when it was actually per 100 grams so I was a bit surprised when I paid for our meals as my piece was 500 grams, but even so it was still far cheaper than Sweden.
While the whole town of Hel is made up of beautiful buildings there are still a couple that stick out such as the Fisheries' Museum which is a branch of the National Maritime Museum. It is
housed inside a former church that was once dedicated to St Paul. In a small park not far from the seal sanctuary there also the dignified Monument to the Defenders of Hel, dedicated to those who defended Hel during the German invasion. There is also a really fun little spot where motorcycle clubs have placed their insignia each year which is labelled Road to Hel(l)!
Entrance to the Seal Sanctuary in Hel was only PLN 5 and an additional PLN 1 to go into the small museum of the sanctuary. At the moment there were five seals here, two male and three female, and they are being taken care of until they are able to return to the wild. They were truly adorable and they showed us some lovely tricks during the feeding and while the staff was doing some health checks of them to make sure that they are in a good condition. Until we came here I hadn't really seen any people around Hel today but here it was packed full with people of all ages. This is apparently a very popular place to visit, but from what I could tell it was only Polish people, perhaps
even just locals from Hel, that came to enjoy the show with their children at a low cost and simultaneously support the sanctuary.
After the show we were pretty frozen so we went into the small museum for a while in order to thaw up. Down on the bottom floor there was a window so that you could see the seals under water as well, but it's was quite murky so I could only see them when they got close to the glass and since there were a dozen or so kids on the tour it was pretty difficult to get close. Unfortunately there were no information in English at the museum but it was nice enough anyway.
Having seen the feeding, and enjoying it a lot, we decided to return to Joanna's home. As we came back I charged up my battery for a while and then I took an evening walk since it was still quite early and I wanted to see a bit of Sopot as well before going home. Since I leave tomorrow I want to spend my last few hours tomorrow in Gdańsk so my only opportunity to see Sopot was tonight and
I used the opportunity to also catch up on some of my Japanese lessons while walking.
I began by visiting the striking St George's Church which was built at the turn of the last century. I also passed by Krzywy Domek (lit. "Crooked Little House") which certainly lives up to it's name. It actually reminded me of the creations of Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona but this one was created in 2004 by the architectural firm Szotyńscy & Zaleski who were inspired by the fairy tale illustrations and drawings of Jan Marcin Szancer and Per Dahlberg.
Another quirky little thing that my eyes fell upon was the small sculpture Parasolnik
(lit. "Umbrella"). It commemorates a unique former inhabitant of Sopot, Czesław Bulczyński (1912–1992). He used to be a circus clown that later opened up an umbrella shop and who would often walk around town wearing bizarre outfits.
I also took a peek at the Balneological Department in Sopot which is located in a really beautiful palatial building that's inscribed on the city's list of monuments. I finished up my little evening walk with a visit to Church of the Saviour also a beautiful church, before I returned to
Joanna. She had already fallen asleep though and since I was getting hungry I went back out and grabbed a bite to eat. When I came back the second time Joanna had woken up again and we ate some soup together and chatted for a while before we went to bed.
We said our goodbyes tonight because she will leave for work early tomorrow, most likely before I wake up, but since she has already given me a key I will just lock when I leave. I've had a really great time together with her in Gdynia and Hel and I will very likely return here some day to see Sopot and Gdańsk more properly and I'll be happy to stay with her again at that time as well.
Tomorrow I'm flying back home but before I do I will spend a few hours in Gdańsk and see what I can before I leave.
Until tomorrow I wish you all peace an happy travels!
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