“Time flies” – Anon.
On this exact Sunday evening, 156 weeks ago (3 years ago), I arrived by flight into Gdańsk in Poland. It was just another city on my journey, surely. Nothing special, nothing was about to change. Sunday 3rd July 2016. I had never been to Gdańsk before but it was my fourth time in Poland, a country which had always been one of my favourites. My flight left Warszawa at 19.40 pm and within an hour, and before nightfall, I had landed in Gdańsk. Nothing remotely unusual about that, I had been backpacking for years.
“One more step along the world I go” – Daniel Shiells.
From Gdańsk Lech Wałęsa Airport, I took the 210 bus to the train station (Gdańsk Głowny) and made the short walk to my first hostel here – the Hostel 3 City. I was only in that hostel for the first night.
The plan was very simple. I had a night in the 3 City Hostel, then 3 nights in the Hostel Cycle On. I planned to do a Food Tour of Gdynia, do some cycling in Gdańsk and Sopot, meet two travel “friends” for food, drinks and tours, get my visa for nearby Kaliningrad, and probably…move on again. Let me state this clearly – I had NO intention of staying any longer than a week in Poland on that trip, never mind in Gdańsk. Of course I had only booked a single flight into Gdańsk though – I had no flights out booked, nor any plans. I was always booking travels like that – one way tickets. After Gdańsk, I expected to be moving to Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan to finish my book, live for a few months and see where life would take me. That was the basic plan, but as with most of my travels, things were always spontaneous and ever-changing. Something magnetic and magical was in the air tonight…in Gdańsk.
I’ll never forget my first walk through Gdańsk old town that night. Darkness set in and I sook a bar to watch France v. Iceland in. Northern Ireland and Poland had both been knocked out of the Euros by now, so I would watch in a bar. I found a quiet corner bar which had the match on and looked cool – the Bar With No Name as I called it (later I found out it was called “Zimne Nóżki”, “Cold Feet”). France won 5-2 and I was impressed that the bar had burgers for 10 zlotych (£2), a beer for 6 zlotych (£1.20) and a Northern Ireland flag on the wall. It was still early though and I wasn’t tired, so I went for a walk and visited two more bars that night, I had no idea that Gdańsk had so many cool traditional and themed bars and I had also somehow forgot that Poland was one of the best countries I had ever been to for bars, cafes and restaurants. In fact, it’s probably the best country in the world for that.
I was alone on my walk towards the main drag in Gdańsk (Ulica Długa) and on the right hand side, I found a cosy cafe / bar called Lookier, so in I went and ordered a golden lion Polish beer (Zlote Lwy). It tasted good. The girls in there were friendly and I remembered their names vividly – Dominika, Magdalena and Ola. They came and spoke to me and recommended I next visit Red Light Pub, just round the corner. Thanks to my Polish friends on my 2007 trip, I was able to order in Polish (“jedno piwo poproszę”) and speak quite a few words in Polish – it seemed to amuse the girls.
Although I was alone, the night out had been fun. 3 bars, 3 beers. The next morning I saw Gdańsk old town in daylight and was highly impressed. I had no flat, no car, nothing other than my backpack. I was free to move anywhere I wanted. Two local “friends” (Maggy Wabudka and Aleksandra Mueller) had agreed to meet me and show me the sights of Gdańsk and nearby towns and I was also keen to visit the football stadium of Lechia Gdańsk. So tourist wise, there was a lot to see and do here.
The first few days were pretty amazing. Each day I was out and about in the city, coming back to the hostel only to sleep (and coming back late as the bars were so cool!). It felt like my kind of city. More so than Sydney, Kowloon or Bishkek – the previous hat-trick I’d lived in. On the first full day, I did a fantastic food tour with Eat Polska in the seaside city of Gdynia.
On the second full day, I toured Sopot and Gdańsk on bicyle with the super sexy and cool Taiwanese travel blogger, Mika on the Road! You can see a video of that trip here:
On the third day, I went to apply for my Kaliningrad visa at the Russian Embassy. My two friends in the area, Maggy and Aleksandra had by now acted weirdly, with Aleksandra refusing to meet me as promised and she had stopped following my stories now that I was in the Pomorskie region, which she claimed was where she was from. I had to get on with my sightseeing without such fake friends though, and I was really loving the whole area. I found a great bar on Ulica Piwna (Beer Street) called Jozef K and I used this place as a place to finish my long awaited book, once and for all! Around the same time, my Warszawian friends were back in touch (Rafał and Piotr) and I knew I’d see them again soon.
Things were going well in Poland. On the fourth day, I decided to book another 3 nights in the hostel as I just didn’t know where else to go. My Kaliningrad visa was declined first time round, so I had time to play with now. I was loving the bars in Gdańsk and as a travel writer, I had now been blogging a lot about the region. After those 3 nights, I booked another 7 nights. A week. I also enrolled on a Polish course at Learn Polish in Gdańsk. The more I thought about life, the more I thought I needed to stay here. That was it. I didn’t want to fly back to Bishkek to finish my book, continue to work online and maybe teach English there. I shelved that idea and my life in Poland began. Within 2 months, I had lived in two new flats – first in Aniolki and secondly in Stare Miasto. My time in Poland started off with so many adventures! Not only had I toured Gdańsk extensively, but I had now swallowed these places into my backpack:
- Starogard Gdański
- Słowinski National Park
I was loving every moment. I announced on my Facebook page and blog that I was finally hanging up my backpack and that was it. And it all began in the city of freedom – Gdańsk. Since then, I lived in three different places in Gdańsk and now four different places in Warszawa. I have worked as a Business English teacher, a social English teacher (including volunteering), a travel writer (with a Poland focus) and a blogger; and life is more stable for me. Of course, I’m still alone and I’m still not where I want to be. Here are some of my travel articles about Poland, of which I am proud:
- Best buildings in Gdańsk
- Zaspa murals in Gdańsk
- Best sights in Gdynia
- Best bars in Starogard Gdański
- Best sights in Tczew
- Best murals in Warszawa
I have now written over 600 articles on Poland, appeared in four Polish newspapers, and on radio and blogs. I still struggle with the language of course as I am useless at languages, but other than that, I know I am in the right place now.
I’m a very reflective and emotional person and I often sit and think about my journey and how and why I ended up in Gdańsk. It doesn’t matter any more why I booked that flight, why I extended my hostel stay, why I snubbed Bishkek, or why I loved Gdańsk. It just doesn’t matter anymore. It helped me earn money and get back to a settled life. Who knows where I will go next or what I will do. It was three years ago this week and I feel I have aged a lot in the last three years. If you didn’t know, I have a new blog about my life in Poland, as an immigrant, foreigner and tourist. It’s the best creation I ever made in my life.
“Nobody knows the way it’s gonna be” – Noel Gallagher.
Overall, though, the entire blog story has been an ongoing one and I shared everything with the world as honestly as I could. This blog was a real life way for me to share my entire travels with anyone in the world, and for no real reason. I’ve always been a writer and I’ve always enjoyed exploring and sharing things with others. It was natural that I would be an online blogger. This website, Don’t Stop Living took me on paths I could never predict, and would never be able to guess. Day to day, life changed. The website started in 2007 when I was backpacking in Toronto. It took me on a tour around the world in 2007, and then in December 2007, I broke my leg just after starting a job at Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre. The blog saw my real life story unfold, in 2008 I worked on the Isle of Wight ferries and wrote about some of my travels in Europe. In 2009, I fell in love with Hungarian dancer Noemi Linzenbold and fell into depression and abstention from alcohol. I ended 2009 by living in Australia working in an Irish Pub. 2010 I worked hard on farms in Tasmania to save up for a trip to Antarctica and South America. On that trip, I met ex-girlfriend Panny and ended up moving to Hong Kong by fluke – I managed to get a job in the Irish Pub in Tsim Sha Tsui on my third day of a HOLIDAY there. I was writing about all of this. Barwork and farm work soon became teaching work. Then by the end of 2012, full time blogging was taking off and I could travel much more freely. When I split with Panny in 2015, I had already been to the Brazil World Cup (2014) and backpacked to 100 countries.
I guess my story since 2016 has been a fresh one on my journey. I always need a new start and I know I am not done with the magic of Gdańsk just yet. The chapter began that magical night in Gdańsk, and it rolls on from my flatshare in Warszawa.
Some videos from those first few weeks in Gdańsk in July, 2016: