How amusing is a city by the name of Hel? Really the puns are endless. But, since I'm sure you can come up with a dozen of your own, I won't bore you with mine. Hel is acutally a peninsula north of Gdansk on the Baltic. Turns out much of Poland's north coast is a big white sandy beach! Who would have thought? Not really what you associate with Polish landscape.
Gdansk (as part of the tri-City) is the main one on the coast. It has everything, really. Beautiful, colourful architecture, the history of the Gdansk shipyard, the sea and beautiful beaches, and lots and lots of icecream! In Gdansk we couch-surfed with a fabulous couple host, Dominick and Ida. They lived on the Gdansk/ Sopot border, which exactally where we wanted to spend our time. One day in the city, and one day on the beach. Dominick and Ida, aside from having the perfectly placed apartment, where really friendly and knowledgeable about thier city, and their country. We talked alot about Poland in the E.U, and the country's relationship with Russia, as well as Polish politics, religon, culture and food. (Unfortunatly out of their wealth of knowledge came a (in Jonathan's eyes) tragic, trip -changing truth. Some honey in Poland is made with worms! From that momemnt on, all honey bought in Poland MIGHT have worms in it, and therefore tased a little funny to him, and so, the end of the eating-honey-out -of-a-jar-legacy was over).
After two nights in Gdansk we took a ferry to Hel, across Gdansk Bay. Again, mostly to relax on the beach. The whole Northern side of the peninsula is one big white sandy beach. It was like an advertisement for the Carribean.. although the water, being the Baltic, was FREEZING! We lay on the beach for the afternoon in our sweaters and coats and thought about how close we were to Scandinavia... needless to say, another trip idea was born that day.. but for another year, don't worry!
Another 100km or so down the coast is Slowinski National Park, near the Holiday town of Leba. We probably should have just walked the 100km, but no, we insisted on taking public tranist, which efficiently brought us to Leba in about 6 hours. We had chosen Leba because of the National Park and its famous sand dunes. The biggest being 40m tall! It was like being in the desert. Might as well cross Egypt off the list...well, maybe not, but there was sand as far as you could see in every direction. In its path there were also a lot of tree stumps, as the dunes move about 10 m every year killing just about everything in their path.
We arrived in Leba with very little information, and wandered around a bit to find a place. There was one place behind a bakery that appeared to have rooms free. The young daughter of the owner came down to talk to us, since she learned English in school, and was probably the only one who could speak English. Most toursits here are German, as Leba is pretty close to the German border, and people in Leba speak German as opposed to English as their second language. Anyways, in rather broken English the girl explained that her father wanted to give us a gift (because outside on our balcony he was inthe process of laying tile, and it wasn't finished, and so he felt it didn't look nice enough) and to meet back at the apartment at 6pm. We came back around then, ( we didn't want to be rude.. if he wanted to give us a gift, who were we to ruin his evening!) and when no one showed up, we thought maybe it was a miscommunication, or the daughter had her numbers mixed up and they were going to be knocking on our door at 6am... We were hungry for dinner, so we went for food. When we came back there was a little while plastic bag hanging on our door handle. I ran up the stairs to investigate. Inside was the most perfect 7 layer torte I had ever seen (karly's creations exculded, of course). 7 layers of chocolate and cake topped with real chocolate and a fancy chocolate design! Now, I know I should have left the whole thing for Jonathan. He does need some fattening up, and I "am" on Weight Watchers, but again, I didn't want to be rude and not taste (half) of the cake! It lasted not even 2 days. We ate a whole cake in 2 days.
Feeling fat, we attempted to make it to Berlin for our last 2 nights in continnental Europe. Probably as a direct result of the extra 5 lbs we were each carrying around, we were pretty lazy in Berlin. Oh, I forgot that we climbed that 40m high 'mountain' in Leba, so pretty much we didn't have to exercise again for about a week, but then again, we did eat that entire cake,so maybe those two cancelled eachother out... anyways, whatever. We saw the major sights in Berlin and cafe hopped in between. They have a huge Sony centre where they show movies in their original (English) versions, so on our last night we went and saw ' 10 Questions with the Dalai Lama.' I wanted to see 'Made of Honour', or whatever it is called, but apparently we were beging responsible adults instead. (Where was this self discipline with the cake i ask you!?) Anways, the documentary was VERY good, and very imformative. I would recommend it to everyone. For example, one of the most dissapointing things I learned was that Google and Yahoo, wanting so badly to get into the Chinese market, have agreed to sensor thier search engines to Chinese Government requirements! So, if you type in 'Dalai Lama' in China, you only get back approved results, all of which are negative Chinese written articles about the Dalai Lama! Apparently Google and Yahoo think that their profits are more important than allowing Chinese people access to information about one of the most peaceful world leaders of the time, and that encouraging intolerance between two cultures that are living in the same country is fine because of the massive financial compensation they get. Actually I am quite disgusted. Ok, I will give you a quick run down of the story. So Tibet was a country all on its own, not sitting on any particularily useful land or anything. One day China decides that it is going to take over Tibet. This is apparently cool with everyone, as Tibet doesn't offer any oil, or resources that we need them for, so we dont offer any help. So now Tibet is China and the people of Tibet have to live as refugees in northern India (if they are lucky enough to escape without being killed) as the Chinese people turn thier capital city, Lhasa into an amusement park of sorts. They burn all the monastaries and ancient religious artifacts and any sign of the Tibetan culture. It is illegal to say the Dali Lama's name, or have his picture.
When the Dali Lama picked someone to be the Panchin Lama in the mid-1990s(who is someone with a very strong influence over who will be chosen as the next Dali Lama) the child and his family dissapear, never to be heard from again and the Chinese government picks and instates their own Panchin Lama for the people of Tibet, essentially which means China will be picking Tibet's next political and religious leader. And still, the Dali Lama encourages relations with China and does not hold a grudge! He only wants to protest peacefully and disaproves of any violence. It is really explained better in the film.
That is all for now. It is great to be in Belfast with family! We are being spoiled!
We leave for Donegal (the north- west coast) Sunday for a couple days, and then back to Belfast for a little more visiting, and then home next week.