Poland with a budget - Tricity in four days
January 1, 1970
by Johanna Saastamoinen
Poland with a budget – Tricity in four days
Infusion of backpacking lifestyle and motherhood
So you say you can’t go because you have a baby now? You are a single parent and out of money? I used to challenge all young single people to travel and head to the corners of the earth, but now I think that’s just too obvious. Of course you can go, and nobody needs to tell you this as it’s all in your head whether you want to go or not. Having my situation change from a backpacker into a mother (single mother, if that matters), I see what I didn’t see before: sharing the world with the one you love the most is better than any experiences I had before while on the road by myself or with people I met along the way. For that reason I have decided to write not only to the obvious travel audience but also to encourage the parents and single parents to go explore a new location and make memories. It’s not hard, it doesn’t have to be expensive, and most importantly – you can do it!
Having started off in May by booking my Wizzair flights for 45€ in total (there and back) for my son and myself, I was more than happy to have successfully overturned the headache caused by airlines charging for a seat for a two-year old. Paying double for my travel was not on my to-do list when I got pregnant but when you accept the facts life becomes much easier. I booked the hotel Zloty Staw for a reason that it was amazingly priced with stars more than my son can count and more importantly it offered an airport transportation in the middle of the night which was necessary due to our return flight at 6:10 am. The hotel itself was located in the countryside far off the city but had a bus stop nearby and I always choose to save money and go trough some discomfort – just as anyone with a blood of a backpacker or a heart of a tightwad. After an early September flight from Turku, Finland to Gdansk, Poland we were on our way to our 9th country together as a mother and son during his 2 years and 4 months of life.
The only special preparation in addition to buying disposable diapers was to change 20€ of all the cash of 45€ I had into Polish zlotys and check the location of the bus stop in google street view as I always use the public transportation. The Gdansk public tranportation ZTM has a great route finder from place A to B here. I have lost my debit card and taking cash from the atm cost too much (4.5€ + 2%) with the credit card so I figured I will use the visa card on all purchases I can and save the zlotys on buses. We took one backpack each – my son has one a lot smaller than I so he can carry it himself. After all you end up both saving money on baggage and making travel effortless and easy for yourself when you pack light. I do admit I always hide an extra bag with all the diapers in the bottom of the stroller as the stroller goes free in check-in and it doesn’t bother anyone there.
Gdansk – The biggest of the Tricity
Having stepped my foot on a hole in the tall grass on the roadside, pushing the baby stroller and my son in the weeds to the nearest bus stop I got really thankful for the safe side walks I have never appreciated enough in my country. The bus timetables were easy to read although I don’t speak a word of Polish. It’s a really great idea to snap a picture of the bus stop timetable with your phone – you might not remember your bus number, the name of the bus stop or the times of the departures after 5 minutes. We had to change the buses once to get to the city. All the buses were typical European low-floor easy access buses and you had to buy the ticket from the driver and then stamp it on the orange timer to validate it. It was good for one hour and cost only 3.80 zlotys or around 1 €. In comparison, a taxi would be 20 times more expensive! The city also has a unique golf-cart sightseeing tours but they were definitely out of my budget starting from 120 zlotys or almost 30 €.
Gdansk is small enough to experience on a short trip like ours. It was nice to get off the bus in the center and just walk with no specific destination in mind as the weather was good and I never have the motivation to search what to do in a destination in advance. We ended up walking to the memorial site at the Gdansk shipyards where a massive civil resistance, the first one in Eastern Europe, took place in 1980 against Communism and eventually contributed to the fall of Communism. Having met a native Polish man in train who had moved to the USA during the Communist era and vacationing in Gdansk for the first time, it took him by a surprise that today’s Gdansk is very modern and comfortable city with shops, restaurants and entertainment to choose from. Something that was not accessible just a while back in history. I even got to use my proximity payment option on pretty much everywhere unlike at home where still most of the time you need to enter your card into the machine.
Having the entire day in Gdansk with pointy-toe high heels that for some reason started to hurt I opted in for a free map from the big and tall Mercury Hotel. Normally I would just walk around to find all I need but in this situation I wanted to take as little extra steps as possible. I know my backpacker authenticity status has never reached 100% for the sake of my love for high heels but it’s something I can’t give up on just like that. We then got to the main touristic area with well renovated (or well taken care of) buildings with different colors and amazing facades. The gobble-stone roads lead to the channel with all the boats and a ferris wheel. The roads along the channel are the ones you can only find fancy touristic restaurants and bars as well as the ferries and small ships taking off to nearby places.
Along the channel there was a long wooden dock path to the direction of the panoramic wheel so we took that mainly to finally walk barefoot but also to check if we might be able to afford a ride up there. Since they didn’t charge for my son I decided the price of 25 zlotys or 6 or 7 euros would be worth it, up we went. The wheel had obviously a great view over the city and offered a great chance for pictures. After 15 minutes we got off for my little one’s relief and continued to enjoy the September sun before taking the two buses back to the hotel that we reached at the sunset. I almost had to take a taxi as I had not taken a photograph or memorized the number of the other bus that went from the city to the stop where I needed to change buses to get to the hotel. Luckily the first picture I had of the bus stop showed the name of the final station of the hotel bus line so I could pick the right bus in the city to reach the same final bus stop and push the stroller along the road back to the 2nd floor -no elevator- hotel room.
Gdynia by the beach
The next day we took the train from the main railway station to Gdynia which is part of the Tricity – three cities merged or grown together in Pomerania, Northern Poland by the Baltic Sea. The trip cost 6 zlotys and last for slightly over 30 minutes I think. You had to stamp your ticket in the tunnel under the platforms but having missed it I got into the train without validating my ticket and got an angry older Polish train-lady lecture me on that matter signing my tickets by hand before slamming the service window on the train on me. Gdynia was nicely located by the beach unlike Gdansk. After finding the place for my long planned laser hair removal appointment, we continued to the direction of nautical horizon and the sea we found. I always book my laser treatments in other countries where I travel as it’s more fun and instead of paying hundreds of Euros in Finland I actually can pay my flights, accommodation and the laser treatment in another country for even little less than here at home.
Gdynia is a very “normal” looking city for me as Northern European. The architecture doesn’t differ much from home with certain exceptions such as a tall jenga-style high-rise and catholic cathedrals. As the weather was amazing and the beach was close, we had great fun watching the jellyfish and swans at the dock. The seaside was not a sandy beach to swim on but either way a very relaxing and peaceful environment all easily reached by the baby push car. There were a few other people at the large dock area but you could definitely tell we were not living the peak of the tourist season just by the lack of crowds at what looks like it has to be the main place of the town’s touristic area.
What caught me slightly worried was the number of train stops in the area. Gdansk and Gdynia have many stops with the name of the city first and then with the name of the station and I was not actually sure where to get off. Google maps satellite blue dot helped me a lot as it located me on the map with the satellite connection but I was also told to get off at the right stop by a local young mother who didn’t speak any English. Many locals don’t speak English but are willing to help. Having had another successful day I was ready to to find out more about the boats that I had seen along the channel or waterway in Gdansk center, but that had to wait until the next day.
Westerplatte – the tip to the Baltic Sea
Gdansk has another historic start of great importance: what could be described as the start of the World War II was a sudden German attack on Polish defense in the Westerplatte peninsula. I had seen an interesting old sail boat that looked like the Black Pearl from Pirates of the Caribbean and was named accordingly. We managed to buy a two-way ticket for 40 zlotys or 9 € and climbed to the tail part of the ship that instead of using sails turned on a motor to sail the 45 minute journey to Westerplatte. The tickets were only sold for cash so I had to make a ridiculously expensive cash withdrawal from my visa credit card but it was worth it.
Not only did we see big and interesting vessels from our little ship but as well we could spend hours on a white, soft sandy beach that left me slightly reddish on my cheeks but so so happy. Beach life is my feeling alive and although the water was too cold, there were jellyfish in there and a dead, bloated corpse of a hyena-looking animal washed on the seashore, I had the time of my life. I didn’t pay for a beach holiday but I got one! The price to pay having ended up on the beach, along with pushing the push car trough fine sand, was that we missed the war monument and other things to do in Westerplatte if there are any, but at least I saw the tall monument on the hill from the galley after departure. Unfortunately my son fell asleep and we had to spend the journey back to the city dock under the deck. Anyhow it was a pleasure to be assisted with the strollers to and from the boat and reaching my hotel just before dark.
Sopot – an exclusive beachfront town
Located by the sea between Gdynia and Gdansk I know there was a train stop in Sopot but I had seen a bigger and newer white ship sail there on the previous morning so I wanted to find out how to get onboard. It turned out the great ship doesn’t go everyday so we took a smaller one instead as I still wanted to go to see what’s up in there. In 2013 I met a Polish man at my work in a restaurant in Dallas, Texas and he told me to go to this place in Poland and I am quite sure the name was Sopot. If he did indeed recommend that place, I don’t wonder why.
Our ferry passed Westerplatte and continued to Sopot harbor on the open sea. The harbor area was very big and constructed of a large wooden dock and beatiful buildings and a green flowery park on the mainland while endless sandy beaches stretched to the horizon on both sides with surprisingly many visitors taking sun and even swimming.
Having most of the ferry people and tourists swarm around the dock area and the big park, I decided not to even test the prices around. We got off walking a path less crowded, and continued at least two kilometers on the discreet beachfront path to a direction I had no idea where it was leading. There were many joggers, bicyclist on the other path parallel to ours, and lots of families with babies in push cars. The path was very quiet but paved, and went trough several gardens and parks sided by trees and tall weeds and hay.
As we passed beach entrances one by one and got to the beach entrance number 30 something I started to feel the trail was one of the never ending ones. I got enough and turned off the road towards the city. The trail itself was definitely in an upscale area and was very well maintained and clean. The area didn’t change towards the city but the exclusivity continued towards the town. The spa-hotels and big private houses were all very beautifully designed and maintained. I didn’t see almost anything I would describe as “Easter European-like” from my previous experience but instead saw a small and wealthy beachfront community.
As usual, I didn’t have a map or knowledge what to do or where to go but I was keeping an eye on finding a train station. The train back to the main station in Gdansk was nice as I bumped at a same group of visitors that my son played with on the ferry. One of the gentlemen told me of his surprise for the change of the area of the one he had left behind long time ago. I truly think Poland has done well to become an independent, free nation. Back at the Gdansk main station I had one bus ticket left and no cash. I better get to the hotel straight as it was my last day in Poland and the wake up was going to be at 3:50 am.
Getting lost in Gdansk
On my bus stop the previous night I had taken a bus number 118 that was not the one I should take but as I wanted to go to a supermarket close by on the way to our hotel and the bus was going to the same direction, I figured I can take it. I could definitely take it, but it turned right before the supermarket and I had no idea where it was going or where we should get off. I took it as an adventure and ended up in Tesco – a magnificent gigamarket we don’t have in Finland but I could easily tell I can buy diapers for my son and supper for us two from there. After getting back from Tesco to a bus number 108 going back to the city we got off at a stop by the main road that I could take my next bus towards the hotel but the injustice was that I was there so late I needed to use an additional bus ticket as one is valid for one hour only. Due to this adventure on the night before, I thought I was wiser and could actually get back to the Tesco but faster this time and still catch my hotel bus within an hour.
Well. We took the 108 but instead of driving to the megamall it went to the suburbs. I got off at the final stop. As the bus driver had been rude to me I had lost my confidence on asking directions and got off walking back as I saw the Tesco building far far away across the motor way. I already knew I can’t get there and walked to the next bus stop to catch the next 108 in half an hour who then happened to continue its way directly to the Tesco stop and from there to the main road as the night before. Had I taken the good old 118 I would have had more time, but I had mercilessly run out of ticket time, again, and my next bus to the hotel was not going to come until in 25 minutes. Having one minute left I took just any bus and went as far as I saw the last common name of the stop that the buses had and started off walking from there on a small country road that I knew to be 5 minute bus drive away from the final stop and from the final stop I could walk to the hotel easily without having to change buses for 3 minutes, especially without having a ticket. I wish I could tell I didn’t break the rules but as the country road got longer and the side walk ended at the next bus stop, I quit there and waited to board the coming bus that took us safely to the final stop in 2 minutes. Now, given a third chance, I am sure I could make it 😉
We spent the rest of the evening eating berries in the hotel room as after 9 o’clock not even the hotel restaurant was open and arriving at 8:59 I knew there was a high chance of me getting something extra in my food had I ordered something a minute before closing. The early flight took us safely back home and my son and I had a very successful and enjoyable trip. The push car is ready for the next destination!
In the end I will add a delicious picture of a local Gdansk beverage truck. Whatever it has inside must taste really unique!