Poland: Chapter 3 - Sopot, the summer capital
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They call Sopot the summer capital of Poland. It's an elegant seaside resort on the Baltic coast, dotted with gracious, late 19th century villas and full of ghosts. Who knows what became of all its pre-war residents when Soviet troops arrived in March, 1945? Nine out of ten had been German. As the war reached its grim conclusion they grabbed what they could carry and skedaddled.
You get a deep sense of the town's history at the litle Sopot museum, housed in a villa built in 1903 - 4 by Ernst Claaszen, a merchant of neighbouring Gdansk. There are bawdy cartoons from its early days, showing stout German housewives trying to prevent middle aged husbands from spying on young women changing for the new fangled, health enhancing salt water bathing. The museum also contains some of the furniture and china Claaszen collected, a fair amount of it English. He had served an apprenticeship in England and his company exported sugar there. The First World War put put paid to his prosperity. His first born son Arthur was killed on the Russian front. He committed suicide in 1924.
Sopot had been part of East Prussia but under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles it was embraced by the Free City of Gdansk, under the aegis of the League of Nations. Now, with Gdansk and Gdynia, it is part of the so called three cities. We take a taxi to Gdynia along Swietojanska which was once called Hitler Strasse. It's is a young city, many of whose buildings were designed in the modernist style of the 1920s, with rounded corners. Like Sopot, it was spared the shelling which destroyed so much of Gdansk. Today its waterfront is dominated by a soaring tower block of expensive apartments from which you could watch ferries sailing to and from Sweden, tall ships mooring at the pier and pick out the statue of Joseph Conrad, who sailed from here to England.
Back in Sopot the main, pedestrianised Monte Cassino street is thronged with holidaymakers eating long thin pizzas and the ubiquitous "gofry" or waffle, topped with fruit and piled extravagantly with whipped cream. Poles here mostly have discretionary income. A list of names of eateries and bars will give you the flavour: Coffe Heaven, Kebabistan, Copacabana, 77 Sushi and Szask "chillout and restaurant". We stroll out along the pier in pittering rain, spend a hour or so in the town art gallery, which has a fascinating exhibition of avant garde Russian painters, and check out the many little cafes and fish restaurants along the long, white sand beaches.
We pop into the beachside Grand Hotel for a coffee. Now a Sofitel, it was opend in 1927 and has a gallery of celebrity photographs in room off the main bar. Fidel Castro, General de Gaulle, Vladimir Putin and Henry Kissinger all stayed here . So did Marlene Dietrich, Josephine Baker and Omar Sharif.
The previous evening we had eaten dinner is at Petit Paris, opened by a Frenchman but with plenty of Polish dishes on the menu. I start with a wonderful tartare of raw mackerel, followed by the freshest of grilled cod. The two dishes together cost about £13. Polish is not an easy language but it seems only polite to commit the word for “delicious” to memory.
- Read Poland: Chapter 1 - Gdansk
- Read Poland: Chapter 2 - more Gdansk
- Read Poland: Chapter 4 - Warsaw
- Read Poland: Chapter 5 - more Warsaw
- Read Poland: Chapter 6 - Zakopane
- Read Poland: Chapter 7 - Krakow
- Read Poland: Chapter 8 - more Krakow
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