Europe poland

A Piece of Family History: Visiting Gdansk, Poland

On June 18-20, 2016 I had the opportunity to visit Gdansk, Poland. (Country # 26!)

This was a very special trip for me because it is the city where my Oma was born (at the time of her birth prior to WWII, the city was called Danzig).


Because I only had a couple of days to explore, I decided to join a walking tour. On the tour, our local guide walked us through the “old town” and explained the city’s history and how during WWII, nearly all of the city’s buildings were destroyed and had to be completely rebuilt. (In the photo above, the tallest building called St. Mary’s Basilica did actually survive the War, and it has been standing at 106 meters tall ever since the year 1505!)

Also during the tour, I noticed a girl was wearing a backpack with the Canadian Flag on it, & I went up to introduce myself as a fellow Canadian. She was super nice, and we had an awesome time talking about our experiences in Europe, and crazily enough- it turned out that she was also from Edmonton… such a random coincidence! (Especially because Gdansk is not even that big of a city). Above are some photos of the view of Gdansk which were taken from the top of St. Mary’s basilica, along with two photos of Zoya and myself.


^ Above is a photo of the historic Neptune’s Fountain, which was built back in 1633!

A side story: On the night I arrived in Gdansk it was about 11pm and very dark outside. I then took a taxi from the airport to the hostel where I had booked a private apartment to stay at. After I checked in, they told me that it was actually about a 15 minute walk to the actual apartment where I would be staying. Because I didn’t have wifi I wrote down the directions on a map and hoped that I would be able to find it without getting lost. After walking around (with my rolling suitcase), I finally found the right street after 45 mins- but there were several buildings and I had no idea which one it was. I tried my keys in so many different doors- but none of them worked, and I started getting really worried because it was so late and I was in an unfamiliar country. All I could really see was this large metal memorial structure thing which had some light on it because there was a street lamp glowing nearby. After about 20 minutes I saw a woman taking her dog outside and I ask her if she would be able to help me find my apartment….. but she didn’t understand or speak any English… :/ But somehow she could tell that I was lost and needed help, and she was actually very nice and helped me find the apartment from the address I had written down. So by about 1am I finally made it inside the apartment!

Now, back to the following day: At the end of the walking tour, our guide took us to the same large metal monument/structure that was right by my apartment! Our guide then explained that the area where all of us were standing was the exact spot where WWII began. :O …… Sooooo the night before when I was lost outside and trying to find my apartment, I had no idea of the dark history of the place I was standing at in the middle of the night :S. The guide also showed us a nearby wall where many people were shot and killed. It was very sad and shocking to hear how much violence took place there, and standing there felt quite unreal. (Below is a photo of the metal memorial where WWII began in 1939- the same one as in my story from the night I arrived).


Because it has been over half a year, the exact details of everything else I got to do/see while in Gdansk are a bit harder to remember, but I am very glad I was able to visit this incredible city. When I returned home to Canada, it was also really nice getting to talk with my Oma about my visit to her birthplace. It felt very special to connect with a part of my family’s history, and it was an experience that I will always be grateful for. ❤

Below are a few more photos I took during my trip:

Thank you for reading! 🙂  


14 comments on “A Piece of Family History: Visiting Gdansk, Poland

  1. Wow, a place of such vivid contrasts. On the one hand you have truly beautiful and multi-coloured architecture and very friendly locals who, despite not speaking English, helped you find your accommodation 🙂 Then on the other you have such a dark history; must have been a ‘wow’ moment to be at the spot where WWII started, and also a moving experience for you overall with your family connection. Great read!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. wellcaffeinatedtraveller

    Shoutout from another fellow Canadian by the way! I have always wanted to visit Poland. It’s history is fascinating and from your photos the town of Gdansk looks like a beautiful place to visit. What a great adventure you had tracing your Oma’s history. She must’ve been so proud and had many wonderful stories to share with you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great to see you exploring your heritage Jackie and nice write up on Gdansk. I visited a few years ago but it was on a football trip so we did not get to appreciate the beautiful architecture as much as you clearly have. As you say, it’s also amazing how the city was rebuilt after the war….strange that it took a war to create something this stunning !

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow Gdansk looks beautiful! I’m heading to Poland myself but Warsaw, but I think after reading this I might need to add Gdansk to the list!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Areas affected by World War have their own stories to tell. I like the way you included your getting lost in the article. What kind of food can we expect there??

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are many great food options in Gdansk! One traditional dish that seems to be very popular there is called Knedle… which is potato dumplings that are stuffed with fruit! 😛


  6. Wow ! Gdansk looks fabulous ! Have been to Poland but to other cities, not here. I like those red colored roofs and the sculptures. Poland has so much of war history that it fills your heart with those stories. Great to see you exploring your heritage.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Gdansk seems lovely…any place with a lot of history appeals to me. And World War ones have its own charm. And the people here seem nice…glad that lady helped with your directions. 🙂


  8. I visited Gdansk as one of the stops on a Baltic Sea Cruise I was on over ten years ago. We visited the shipyards and saw where the solidarity movement started. Since we were on a cruise, we only had a few hours to walk around the city center before we had to head back to the ship. So far that is my only stop in Poland. I need to return to explore more!

    How special to to be able to visit your grandmother’s birthplace. What a conneciton that must be for you both.


  9. Hahah, Jackie, it was fun to read about your adventure, although I woudn’t like to be in your shoes. Glad you liked your stay in Gdańsk. Next time pls take down more notes so that you will remember everything even after one year 😉
    This is my secret to write about places I’ve visited long ago.
    And most important – hope to see you in Poland again! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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