Gdynia, Part 1

posted 29 April 2005 (updated 24 May 2005)

Written 18 April 2005, ca. 10 :oo p.m.

Here we are in Gdynia, Poland! We spend most of the day on Saturday packing, doing laundry, and cleaning the kitchennette in the apartment, since we'll have very little time to do that next week when it's time to move out. We only have to clean the kitchen— the staff of the Résidence does the rest. We did take some time late on Saturday to walk into Beaulieu, because we had never managed to visit the local museum of "Berlugan Patrimony," which is only open from 1:00 to 6:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Of course, when we got there about 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, it was closed. So we walked back a couple of blocks and visited the Beaulieu Casino instead, another spot we'd never found time to explore. It includes a formal restaurant, an informal restaurant, a bar with a lovely view, a slot-machine room, a gaming room, a ballroom, a movie theatre (with a separate entrance), and the requisite oppulent lobby and grand staircase. We walk by the formal restaurant, which is mostly glass-walled, all the time, at all hours, and we have literally never seen a soul inside, except the maitre d', who stands patiently by the door in case a customer should arrive. The menu is mainly plain, grilled meat and fish, which can't compete for our custom within two blocks of places ranked G-M 13, 15, and 17/20. Even for simple suppers, we preferred the place up the street with the great mussels in four flavors of sauce and the paper-thin wood-fired pizzas.

We've also never really seen anyone walk in or out, so we were suprised to find about 20 people working the slots. They didn't look like vacationers somehow; they took too business-like an attitude to the whole thing. We didn't spend the 11 euros each to visit the gaming room, where the roulette, black-jack, etc. are played. For 320 euros, you can get a season pass.

The place has recently come under new management, which is trying to generate new traffic, aside from the gambling. Their motto is "run by women, and that makes all the difference." They're doing fancy afternoon tea for mother's day. A free drink for anyone using the slots at 4 p.m. Afternoon tea and dancing every Sunday, and an evening dance every Thursday. Special events for St. Patrick's day, Valentine's day, grandmothers' day, April Fools' Day. When we were there, they were setting the ballroom up for a banquet (as we were leaving, we passed the wedding party coming the other way on foot through the park from the church).

Sunday morning, we finished last-minute preparations before Nancy arrived to take us to the airport, where we began our rather circuitous route (Nice-Paris-Berlin-Copenhagen-Gdansk, changing planes three times). Because our itinerary was "open jaw," it was outrageously priced, until we hit on the idea of buying a Nice-Berlin round trip (which we'll use both legs of) and a Berlin-Gdansk round trip (which we'll throw away half of and still come out cheaper than the open-jaw option). The whole thing very nearly collapsed like a house of cards when our Nice-Paris flight was late and we came within a hair of missing the flight to Berlin, but that was the only hitch. We ate lunch and dinner progressively across Europe: hot chocolate and a bun in Nice; a little sandwich on the flight to Paris; a "currywurst" with ketchup, onions, and fries in Berlin; ice cream in Copenhagen. Eventually, we reached Gdansk on time at 10:00 p.m., where we were met by colleague Aleksander ("Olek") Drgas, who drove us here to Gdynia (Gdansk, Gdynia, and Sopot form a complex known as "three cities in one") and dropped us off at the Orbis Hotel.

The hotel is extremely nice. It has wireless Internet access (for a fee, which I haven't paid); an indoor pool, sauna, massage parlor, and tanning salon; a bakery (mostly closed during the hours we're here); upscale (cut glass, tiffany lamps) and downscale (peasant dolls, shot glasses) souvenir shops; a children's playroom; a newstand; bike rentals; a nightclub; a convention center; and any number of things that reception will supply if you ask them (infant cots, hypoallergenic pillows, dog bedding and other pet-care supplies, flower vases, typewriters). The room is the biggest we've seen in Europe—two people can pass each other between the beds and the wall, there are drawers in which to store things, a minibar/fridge, and a large closet). The bathroom is so large that one evening when David wanted to sleep and and I had work to do, I moved the desk chair and my folding computer table in there and had plenty of room. If the bathtub were out of commission, you could almost climb into the vast sink and bathe there. And it has a good shower, fixed to the wall and tiled to the ceiling, and an ample shower curtain.

Breakfast this morning (included in the price of the room) was a perfectly amazing buffet: In the chafing dishes scrambled and fried eggs, sausage chunks fried with onions, whole frankfurters, whole whitewurst, whole knockwurst, boiled eggs, and bigos (a hash of sausage, onions, mushrooms, and cabbage; horseradish sauce on the side). Plus an omelet station with a cook on duty. Plates of cold ham and many other coldcuts, including chicken as well as salami, coppa, etc. Slices of meat pâté. Ham wrapped around poached eggs. Plates of buttery sliced cheeses, including one studded with red peppers. Quark with cream, four jams, butter, honey, hot and cold milk, hot cocoa mix, half a dozen cold cereals, dried fruits and nuts (peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chopped dried apricots, chopped prunes, raisins). Brie-like cheese, with and without whole peppercorns. Fresh cheese. Pickled herring. Smoked herring. Tartar sauce, garlic-yogurt sauce, chunky tomato "fisherman's sauce," oil and vinegar. Stuffed hard-cooked eggs. Minced chicken in aspic. Slices of many kinds of meat stuffed and rolled, cooked, sliced, glazed, and chilled, then laid out in a colorful array on platters (I had chicken stuffed with vegetables). Seven kinds of juice, water, coffee (and decaf). Danishes (strangely crisp, perhaps these are the famous Polish kolachy?), several kinds of sliced bread, several kinds of rolls, chunks of baguette. Small (odd-looking but delicious) croisants. Dill pickles, pickled onions, sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, marinated mushrooms. Fruit salad, whole fruits, sliced fruits, many marinated vegetable salads (e.g., cabbage marinated in pineapple and tangerine juice, "sunny salad" with ham and corn, "colorful salad" with red peppers, pasta salad, rice salad with shrimp), and on some days layer cake or jello. Surprisingly, no potatoes in any form. (So I ask my Polish friends, Kasia, Bernard, and Greg, is all of this food typical of breakfast in Poland? Are the eggs and sausages only there for American tourists? Is the ham mainly for Germans? Do the Polish usually eat marinated vegetable salads and stuffed meat rolls for breakfast?)

MIR Sea Fisheries Institute Olek picked us up at the agreed time for the short ride to the Sea Fisheries Institute (abbreviated "MIR"), where we were assigned an office (the occupant is away) in which David can work when I'm lecturing and vice versa. And at 9:30, I launched into a whirlwind review of grammar basics, followed by everything you need to know about commas, to an audience of about 15, ranging from senior investigators to new grad students, all more or less fluent in English. The seminar is organized like a real scientific meeting—everyone has theme name tags, and at breaks, morning and afternoon, coffee, tea, and pastries appear.

We had lunch in the small restaurant in the SFI building—a bigger one than we needed, but all the new food possibilities were tempting. We both started with an excellent clear red borscht with meat dumplings. Then David had a fried pork cutlet, and I had a pork-loin kabob (we were puzzled to find "lion" on the menu at one point, but the later occurrence of "loin" cleared it up). Both came with large chunks of deep-fried potatoes and three marinated salads (cabbage with pineapple and tangerine, cooked beets and onions, peppers and corn with something).

After lunch, it was back to the grammar session; I spent three hours editing abstracts and other short texts volunteered by the participants (starting with the most senior so as to encourage the younger ones), projected on the big screen, with commentary on all the changes. People at the SFI tend to work 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., without a lunch break, so as to maximize family time in the afternoon and evening, so at that point, we called it a day, and Olek brought us back to the hotel.

Gdynia view Our 8th-floor room has a great view out over the beach, harbor, and sea; it takes in the two tall ships moored near the city aquarium (which occupies the building that used to house the SFI), the park between our hotel and the beach, a couple of modern museum buildings, a live theatre, and two cinemas. We spent a couple of hours walking around exploring the area, watching people feed swans in the harbor, and reading restaurant menus. In the end, the restaurant in the hotel seemed the most tempting, so we had dinner in. David had pierogi (filled dumplings, a local specialty) of pork and "forest mushrooms" with stewed red cabbage and excellent, pillowy fried gnocchi. I had "stewed wels" (I hoped it was a typo for "eels," but it turns out to be some sort of marine catfish; excellent, in any case, and grilled rather than stewed) with a wonderful sauce of cream and fresh thyme, fried potatoes, little almost-spherical carrots (very sweet and clearly grown in that shape rather than trimmed), broccoli tops, and grilled mushrooms, all perfectly cooked and seasoned. On the side, we each got a dish of three marinated salads: the ubiquitous cabbage-pineapple-citrus, carrots with lemon and cream, and savoy cabbage with peppers and corn. For dessert, we split a "meringue layer cake filled with coffee cream served with vanilla sauce"; it turned out to be a molded timbale of chilled coffee buttercream in which were embedded many small meringue puffs, for a polka-dot effect when it was split open. It was on a bed of the promised vanilla sauce, which was dotted and streaked with blueberry (?) jam. Excellent.

So how's the food in Poland? Darned good! And a lot cheaper than in France.

Tomorrow, it's on to the semicolon, care and feeding of dashes, and avoiding the dreaded dangling modifier!

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