Wet Monday and Sobieszewska Island

Here in Poland, the day after Easter Sunday is a national holiday, Lany Poniedziałek or Wet Monday. No school, most businesses are closed, and watch out for water fights! The day is also called Śmigus-Dyngus, and you can read about its long tradition in Poland here.

We were warned that people would be out and about water fighting, and even strangers could fall victim to a water balloon or bucket drenching. All morning, we heard the laughter and shrieking of children in our apartment’s courtyard, chasing each other with water guns:

Fortunately, nobody seemed to be interested in getting us wet. We didn’t leave the apartment until the early afternoon. The day was gorgeous, warm with a bright sun and a cloudless blue sky. We headed to a bird sanctuary island we’d heard about, Wyspa Sobieszewska, just east of Gdansk:

The bus let us off at a dead-end road that then became a sandy path into the forest. The walk soon became a terrific climb. The forest had grown on top of sand dunes, and they made a high crest just inland from the Baltic Sea coast. Andy discovered that a geocache was hidden nearby, so we walked along the ridge looking for it, eventually climbing to the top of the tallest sand dune, Gora Orla. (Mountain Orla, named in good humor?) Andy found the cache, which was hidden in a deep, square cavity in the hill, possibly made by mortar fire? a bomb? I didn’t take a picture of the hole, but here is what the forested ridge looks like:

Then we trekked through the forest, up and down hills, until we finally came to the beach. We were tired, so we put out a blanket and got cozy on the sand. As I’ve said before, I love the Baltic Sea. After a short rest, I took off my shoes and socks and headed to the water. It was cold, but refreshing. Standing and watching the waves come in is mesmerizing.

I’d thought there might be people getting each other wet at the beach, but the people we saw were sitting and enjoying the sun or walking slowly along the edge of the sea. It was windy and in the 50s Fahrenheit, about 12 Celsius, and we were a long way from anyplace anyone could get warm again. Most people probably realized it wasn’t a good place for water fighting.

We didn’t see many birds. I’d have to do more research than I’ve done so far to learn why the island is a bird sanctuary and when and what kinds of birds migrate through. (Note: I spent about five minutes researching this and gave up.) If you can add something about the bird sanctuary on this island (or maybe we went to the wrong place??), please share your knowledge in the comments. Birds or no birds, we had a wonderful time exploring the forested sand dunes and the beach.


I’m sorry to say that I don’t have Easter pictures; however, I have learned a bit about Polish traditions. On the Saturday before Easter, families put together a basket of food (eggs, cheese, sausage, bread, etc.) and take it to the church to be blessed. That food becomes their Easter morning breakfast.

Andy and I had a wonderful Easter-day feast, thanks to our friend Sarah, who bought most of the food (bigos, hard-boiled eggs, roasted chicken, red cabbage, egg salad with veggies, cheesecake and mazurka, and so much more!). Thanks also to our friend Wojczech who delivered to us a delicious babka cytrynowa that his mother made. And we are thankful for the friends who gathered with us to eat, drink, converse, and have a really wonderful time. I’m disappointed that I didn’t take pictures.

I hope you are well and enjoying good food and friends.

Until next time, do widzenia!

Fat Thursday

You didn’t mis-read that title, and I didn’t mis-type it. While people all over the world are celebrating Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras), we here in Poland have already celebrated Fat Thursday (Tłusty Czwartek), which is the Thursday before Ash Wednesday.

Poland is a very Catholic country and has many saints days and other religious holidays about which I’m not very familiar. As I am not Catholic, I haven’t joined a Catholic church here and haven’t learned all that much about the Polish-Catholic culture. What I have learned is that you eat pączki on Fat Thursday.

Pączki are filled, glazed doughnuts. I knew this before moving to Poland because, living in the Polish-American hub of central Wisconsin, pączki are available this time of year there. And they are called pączki, not doughnuts, which are available all the time. In central Wisconsin, the pączki I’ve eaten were pretty dense with a prune or raspberry filling that wasn’t all that great. (It’s possible good pączki are available in Wisconsin and I just haven’t had them.)

The pączki here in Poland are better. The dough is lighter and each of the fillings I tried (vanilla custard, raspberry, coconut) were delicious. Some were topped with chopped nuts, candied fruit pieces, a chocolate glaze. Yum.

We were told that we HAD to go out and get pączki on Thursday morning, so Andy left early (while I was still in bed) to visit our favorite neighborhood bakery. He had to wait in a line as many people were already there to buy their Fat Thursday pączki.

I neglected to take a picture before we’d eaten our pączki:

Later that day, we took a tram to a downtown workshop, and I noticed long lines at all the bakeries we passed. The Poles getting their pączki! At the hotel where our workshop was being held, there was a “break table” for participants, featuring water, tea, coffee…and pączki!

So, go ahead and enjoy Fat Tuesday.

But next year, think about starting early. Get some pączki (or regular doughnuts, if that’s all that’s available in your area), and celebrate Fat Thursday.

Searching for Amber

Gdansk is famous for its amber, which washes up on its beaches from the Baltic Sea. The history of amber is fascinating, as I’ll let that website explain.

One of my goals in living in Gdansk is to find some amber myself. My first trip to the seaside, in September, let me know I had no idea what I was doing. I saw others picking through debris, and I looked through debris too, not finding anything that fit my idea of amber, translucent and orange. I did find a few rocks/shells/whatever that could be amber? maybe? The pictures of that first amber-hunting expedition are below.

Since that adventure, I’ve visited Gdansk’s very cool Amber Museum, and learned much more about amber. In fact, amber isn’t always translucent orange. I also learned (from the museum and locals) that the best time to find amber successfully is after a storm. Last weekend, a storm was predicted but didn’t materialize. The prediction was moved to Monday. That day, there was a bit of snow and a lot of wind; as a resident of Wisconsin, I wouldn’t call it a storm, but it was the first close-to-a-storm that we’d had, and I wasn’t busy on Tuesday morning, so Andy and I headed to the beach.

(Yes, I used a broken plastic cheese grater to poke through debris and frozen sand.)

Again, I didn’t find anything that jumped out at me as “Amber!” but I picked up some rocks that made me look twice. We also gathered what we thought at the time might be coal, because… coal? There is an energy problem in Europe and maybe somebody would want a few extra pieces? Once everything had warmed up and dried out, what seemed like coal now seems like it might not be coal. I need a geologist friend to look at all this. Kevin and Sherri, want to visit?

One thing I’ve learned in my long walks along the Baltic Sea is that I’m a winter sea kind of gal. The feel of the cold sea air on my face, the frozen sand, and the frigid temperatures are invigorating. Cold air tastes so clean!

Until next time, stay cool, friends!

Gdansk Christmas Market

The Gdansk Christmas Market opened last week and so Andy and I spent Sunday afternoon at the Old Town event. We ate an early lunch first which was a mistake, as the market featured many wonderful smelling foods. We shared a warm raspberry mead which is now my favorite hot drink.

I encouraged Andy to get a kielbasa (we don’t cook a lot of meat at home) which was served with the best mustard I’ve ever tasted!

I bought some cheerful green Christmas lights to put on our little apartment balcony. Cheerful lights are good because the sun now sets at 3:30pm. The green lights are hard to see in the photos. Our balcony is the one below the Ukrainian flag balcony.

We plan to enjoy more food, drinks, and fun at this and other Christmas markets!