poland
Travel

UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Gdansk Shipyards

We all know the slogan, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” The exact opposite is true of Gdansk.

Their slogan is: ‘What happens here moves the world.’

solidarity gate-gdansk
The Solidarity Gate

The selfie is mine, but this iconic location belongs to the people of Gdansk, (until 1939, known as Danzig, Poland). This particular spot holds a significant place in history as the birthplace of a movement that changed the world.

People Power

Known to many people the world over, via their television sets, the gates to the Gdansk shipyards was where a group of disgruntled shipyard workers formed an illegal, freedom-oriented, trade union, named Solidarity.

Photo credit : inyourpocket.com

Not so significant in itself, you might think.

The Rise of Solidarity

Back in the 70’s and 80’s, this site was a hotbed of protest. The illegal Solidarity Union, led by the charismatic electrician, Lech Walesa, demanded the immediate adoption of (21) reforms to working conditions, including the right to strike and better wages, in total defiance of the Soviet regime and puppet Polish Government. Not only that – they went further demanding the abolition of censorship and the release of political prisoners. From there, Solidarity developed rapidly into a populist, political movement that gained support the world over, but never more so, than in Poland, itself.

The 21 Reforms at the Gates

It had been a sacking of a female crane operator, just months before her retirement, that initially galvanised Walesa and the workers to strike. Risking imprisonment and perhaps execution by the hardline authorities, these protests are considered to be a pivotal moment in history.

One that eventually triggered a reverse domino effect – the eventual collapse of the old Soviet political order in Eastern Europe and an end to Cold War hostilities.

The shipyards in Gdansk today

Lech Walesa

Rumour-mongers later discredited the motives behind Walesa’s actions, suggesting he had, at one time, co-operated with the Soviets when threatened with the loss of his job. However, the authenticity of these documents is disputed and may have been politically motivated, for, in 1989, Lech Walesa became the first President of the newly independent Poland and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

He later retired from politics to lead a quieter life, living in a house that overlooks the same shipyards where he was began his activist journey.

Despite the negative claims, as a high school student in the 70’s whose head was filled with Marxist ideals, seeing Walesa and Solidarity protesting on the TV, was inspirational. Standing up for the powerless, Walesa became an instant hero of mine. Here was an underdog fighting against injustice, and moreover, against the biggest power in Eastern Europe. What guts!

Me in front of the 21 reforms

Walesa’s words maintain potency even today:

“We showed that the biggest problems should be solved at the negotiating table. They should be solved in an intelligent way… using argument rather than force. “

Lech Walesa

Right there – Lech had me on his side.

A Tribute to Workers

Tribute to the shipyard workers

An imposing monument to the fallen workers stands at the shipyard gates. It was a poignant moment reading thepoetic words I found engraved on one of the plaques. It carried a solemn warning:

You who have wronged a simple man…

Burst into laughter over his suffering…

DO NOT FEEL SAFE

Gdansk Shipyard Plaque

The Price of Freedom

For the Polish people, the new political order was both an incredibly exciting and an exceedingly difficult time. I learnt of a Grandmother, who had worked extremely hard for many years under Polish Soviet rule, saving to buy a house. When she had finally saved enough money and was close to her financial goal, independence from the old communist order arrived in Poland.

Unfortunately, along with economic independence came a massive devaluation of Polish currency and a huge financial shock. After independence, I was told the only thing the Polish Grandmother’s savings could buy was a pair of shoes!!

Can you imagine?

Such was the price of freedom!

UNESCO World Heritage

Together with the adjacent European Solidarity Centre – a museum documenting the workers’ struggles, the Gdansk Shipyard Gates are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and have become a place of pilgrimage for intelligent, peaceful protest against oppression.

Ironicially, it is believed in some circles that some Poles think workers are not so much better off today, than they were under Soviet rule.

I will leave that for others to judge.

Photo Cred: inyourpocket

Inspired to Visit Gdansk?

Poland has duly honoured the contribution of Lech Walesa by naming the city’s Airport after him.

Lying 12 km Northwest of the city, Lech Walesa airport is well served by both budget and major airlines such as Ryanair, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines and Polish LOT and is the gateway to beach resorts, such as Sopot and Gydnia on the Baltic Coast.

You can also arrive in Gdansk by Train and Bus from mainland Europe, or Ferries from Sweden.

A pilgrimage to the shipyards can be combined with a delightful day visiting the Old Town of Gdansk – where the 18th Century comes alives and more UNESCO sites await you.

But more of that next time, at Something to Ponder About.

Linked to Trent’s Coffee Share

iceland
Book review

The Darkest Room – Johan Theorin

Imagine a bitterly cold Swedish winter, on the bleak treeless coastal island, in an old manor house built from the wood of a wrecked ship in which scores of sailors drowned, where one’s only neighbours are 2 lighthouses, one of which no longer works and is haunted. Is there any better location for a thriller/murder mystery?

Iceland

I’d not heard of this author before, but I have had more opportunity to read lately and picked up this Swedish novel, set on the very real Swedish island of Oland, in mythical locations. This is the world that the character, Joakim Westin has recently moved to, with his family of wife and two small children. The grand plans to renovate and rejuvunate the manor house is destroyed when shortly after their move, one of the family drowns not far from the house.

Joakim struggles to come to terms with the death, while others on the island become immersed in a struggle of their own. One is a young female police officer finding her feet in a new beat, and another is a young man involved in petty crimes, who becomes haunted by his the results of his misdemeanors. As Christmas approaches, a sageful relative of the police officer tells of an old Swedish folk tale where the dead come back to visit the living on the darkest night of the year. What does this mean for Joakim, and his family, isolated in the manor house during one of the worst blizzard’s of the decade?

Atmosphere by the bucketload is what you get from Theorin’s spine- tingling novel. Whilst it remains a murder mystery, those who like supernatural touches or ghostly happenings would get their kicks from the story. Theorin weaves a mystery into believable occurrences, yet manages to get the reader to sympathize with the bereaved man and remain hungry for the next chapter.

Theorin also gets into the head of the protaganist and takes the reader on a psychological journey of grief. Themes of retribution/karma also simmer under the surface when it becomes clear what happened to Ethel.

emotion

Despite a head splitting migraine, I was determined to finish the book, such was the effect this story had on me. Be warned….

The good: Dark windswept landscape expertly described. You are there in the blinding snow along with the characters.

The bad:   Would a father leave his children alone?

The ugly:  Depiction of alcoholic tarts…….

Rating out of 10: 9

igeland Sculpture Park, Oslo
Community

Harry does it again. The Redbreast Book Review

Norway

It is 1942: a Norwegian soldiers fighting on the Eastern front, on the German side, is killed. One of his comrades, injured in the same incident, falls in love with a Austrian nurse whilst recuperating.

57 years later, a Detective in Oslo with the unlikely name of Harry Hole is appointed to the Norwegian secret service, his brief is to monitor Neo-Nazi activity in Norway: a fairly mundane assignment that turns out to be anything but….

Norway Akerhus
Akershus fortress in Oslo where scenes in the book are set

 

With many parallels to recent world events and rising anti-multicultural sentiment, Nesbø’s, ‘The Redbreast‘, (which won the Glass Key, the Riverton and the Norwegian Book club Prize for the best ever Norwegian Crime Novel),  will take the reader both on a historic and also a contemporary journey.

Chillingly ironic and yet at times, familiar were some of the attitudes found amongst the more despicable characters in the book. It digs deep into the hearts and minds of those Norwegians who felt passionate enough to risk their lives, fighting alongside and for the Nazis, during the war. They believed in saving Norway from, what they saw, was the Bolshevik advance.

The Novel delves into their individual motives and how they might have felt on their return to Norway, when they discovered they had been labelled ‘traitors,’  shunned by their own society after war’s end; a topic rarely written about in the Western world.

 

statue

 

A different perspective can reveal things hitherto unseen, and at times, I was surprised I that Ifelt a little sympathy for these men, despite philosophically being poles apart from them.  It made me question the modern politic climate of Norway. The massacre on Utøya, Norway and now the terrorist attack on the mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, which appears to have links to Utøya, made me wonder  if there might be some more citizens with these beliefs, hidden surreptitiously, under a guise of normality. Let’s hope not.

 

Oslo fjord
Oslo fjord

The Good: Following a hunch that several murders are linked, Harry pays a high personal price in the book, but still manages to find a little romance in all the horror. I found this an unlikely but interesting diversion, but it provides Hole with a clue vital in solving the mystery.

The Bad: Although we know the killer’s mind from the start (but not who he is), he remains carefully hidden through out the book, his actions being explained by a slightly unbelievable trip to a psychiatrist.

The Ugly: One wonders how many readers might feel sympathy for these “traitors” or even perversely idolize them as historic “warriors,” using this as justification for the Neo Nazi  “thuggish” behaviour. I am not sure.  Yet there is still the theme of redemption offered up to readers too, albeit in small amounts.

This was the first of the Harry Hole series to be translated into English, and since then, every book in the series has been translated and was a best seller.

Recommended for those who like Nordic Noir/Scandi Detective fiction and have not yet read Harry Hole.

StPA’s Rating: 7/10

 

 

logo
Hong kong
Community

Travel Tuesday – Hong Kong Airport

20160715_164828.jpgSpending long layovers at airports awaiting international flights can be a real drag and whilst the Airport in Hong Kong is far from the best I’ve visited, it does have some extra comfort features which others often lack.  If you are heading to Hong Kong in the near future, knowing the following could make your wait time a more pleasant experience.

Power Access

There are power access and charging points located at stations throughout the seating areas, at all the departure gates. Lift the tiny slot and insert your USB charging cable from your device or smart phone for a quick re-charge. Especially handy if you have your boarding pass saved on your device and your phone shuts down due to low battery!

Where can you Rest and Relax?

The departure gates have large seating areas and alternate rows of 3- seater continuum, (i.e. seats without inside armrests), for passengers with long layovers who really need to lie flat to rest. You can also find reclining lounges in the ‘snooze area,’ sectioned off, as it is, amidst potted plants, in a quiet zone behind the shops. Please note that there are only about ten of these highly sought after lounges, so it might be necessary to stake one out, if you wish to secure one, when it becomes free. The reason: many passengers, (annoyingly), place their bags on the vacant lounge and walk away to explore the shops, leaving other family members to guard both the bag and vacant lounge, which they do, in a way not dissimilar to a rottweiler trained to kill any contender who comes a bit too close.

Lounges

There is a pay-to-use lounge open for all departing passengers, upstairs, and this along with the airline’s business lounge, looked to be a fairly basic affair. Massages and the usual gym are also available at a price.

Get Connected

If you are without a smart device of your own, there are still plenty of free internet stations in both terminals, that will grant you web access in free 15 minute blocks (renewable). Just remember to log out of social media/sites to protect your privacy as it is a public computer and stores your history.

Anything Special?

Chek Lap Kok is a very busy airport and the massive glass windows, lining both sides of the departure hall, not only let in lots of natural light, they also allow departing passengers to view the spectacular landings and takeoffs of planes at close proximity compared to many modern airports. In fact, you can see quite a bit of Hong Kong in the distance, again unlike other airports, that I find, are often situated far out of the city areas. A bonus if you are merely transiting through Hong Kong.

20160715_164828.jpg

Food/Drink

Another feature you won’t find in many other airports, is the provision of hot, cold and warm water, on tap – gratis. This is particularly useful if you like your own special type of tea or have a spare teabag/cocoa from generic hotel chain stays or even need to warm the baby’s bottle.  It was a godsend for me. I know the Workplace health and Safety workers are uttering loud audible gasps right about now, but of course quite sensibly, there is a child proof lock on the hot water tap, so it is all good.

Starbucks maintain a store here, as well as several high-end fashion stores. Usual pricing prevails.

The Down Side

Transit passengers at Hong Kong Airport, must go through security a second time before they access the shopping areas. Furthermore, a manual check of hand luggage is often conducted at boarding time, as you pass through the departure gate itself. At least they have safety in mind!

Since the airport’s redevelopment and the Chinese government officially re-gained control over Hong Kong,  there are now many more street and advisory signs written predominantly in Chinese. English language signage is present, but you won’t find it on every corner,  so at times one needs to make use of the picture icons to make sense of the sign, in particular those detailing the airport layout and direction of movement for some of the 68,488,000 passengers that pass through its hall.

Smokers have a specially designated area at the airport but I have, unfortunately, noted that the disabled toilets often reek of tobacco, despite signs prohibiting smoking in those locations. Hefty fines are imposed if caught, so beware!

New Zealand TeMata

And my final tips for an enjoyable layover, are to remember to drink plenty of water or fluids other than tea, coffee and alcohol, (which dehydrates the body), and, walk around the departure hall prior to your flight, as maintaining fluids and exercise are important to reduce the risk of flight related health problems, such as Flight- related Deep Vein Thrombosis.

Travel Tuesday – Something to Ponder About

 

 

Save