The second day of our explorations around the Baltic Sea brought us to the historic Polish city of Gdańsk. National Geographic Explorer tied up at a wharf right beside Westerplatte, the site where the opening shots of the Second World War were fired on September 1st, 1939. During the day, we focused on the long history of Gdańsk and toured the medieval Old City. We admired the beautiful buildings that were completely rebuilt after being bombed into rubble during the war, visited museums focused on the war and on the period of the Solidarity union protests in the enormous Gdańsk shipyards, and enjoyed a delicious lunch at a gourmet restaurant in a medieval granary.
National Geographic Explorer
Bornholm and Christiansø, Denmark
The first full day on our Baltic Sea voyage began with a calm, sunny Zodiac entrance into the Danish island of Bornholm. We disembarked in the colorful little town of Gudhjem, home to 700 people, a lovely ice cream shop, and the landing for the ferry to Christiansø, our afternoon destination (although we get to travel on a nicer ship). We didn’t stay in Gudhjem long, but instead took a coach ride across the island to the glorious hilltop ruins of Hammershus Castle, the largest castle ruins in Northern Europe. After wandering through the remaining pieces of Hammershus’s mixed brick and stone walls and the impressive Mantle Tower, we carried on exploring two more monuments of medieval architecture: Bornholm’s round churches. These buildings, unique to the island, were built as both churches and fortresses. There are many theories as to why these whitewashed granite and limestone churches were built in a round shape, including inspiration from Jerusalem, ease of defense, and simple stylistic preference. Whatever the case, they are truly impressive structures, made with two concentric exterior walls filled with gravel and soil, an interior circular core, and two fortified upper floors accessible only via a narrow stone staircase. After our morning adventures, we reunited for lunch with the other guests, who had traveled to a nearby sea buckthorn plantation to sample the citrusy orange berries local to this area. Our afternoon began with a fascinating and timely presentation by special guest Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Prime Minister of Denmark and Secretary General of NATO. He spoke on the history of the Scandinavian and Baltic region and its current political situation. Guests asked incredible questions about the war in Ukraine and kept the conversation going until we had to depart for our second destination of the day, the tiny Danish islands of Christiansø and Fredericksø. Staff led photography, nature, history, and fast-paced walks exploring the islands, which are home to about 120 permanent residents but many daily tourists, who we just missed as the final ferry departed. We dressed up for the Captain’s welcome cocktails to meet Captain Peik Aalto, who gave a hilarious presentation to introduce himself, and then enjoyed our evening sailing to Poland for another busy day planned in Gdansk tomorrow.