As someone who grew up by the seaside, there is one thing I can assure you: no place will offer you as much quirky charm and intriguing excitement as a resort in the off season. Once the tourists are gone, well, almost all of them, and the rush is over, you can finally take a deep breath and appreciate the sheer beauty all these people came to see. And what better place is there to illustrate this than with Gdańsk, that I know so well?
I mean… Abandoned tourist attractions can be creepy. Deprived of the attention they usually get they show their tired, mundane side that we are often not prepared to see. When the lights go off and the clapping of hundreds and hundreds of hands slowly fades away, we are faced with the realization that what we just praised is just a piece of brick, or wood, or stone. A restaurant I used to work in knew this trick very well, dimming all their lights all evening long, hoping that the right atmosphere would turn their plastic tables into mahogany masterpieces.
But there is often a reason we are drawn to these places, and from time to time it is more than just the sunshine. In the off season, we realize that the king is naked, but if we just push ourselves through the shock of this sudden reveal, if we give places like Gdańsk a chance, we can quickly discover there is something… more to this imperfection, to this bareness. And as the human body can sometimes scare us unclothed, as we believe it should be protected not only from the elements but most importantly from other’s eyes, past the initial scare there is a whole land to be discovered, a whole new world of understanding.
Walking around an off-season resort is an intimate adventure; and although Gdańsk is never that off season, although I know places more abandoned (cough, Gdynia, cough) and more forgotten as soon as the first cloud covers the sky, it does carry a charm of the beast undressed. Every little nook, every corner and every pigeon, every window, drop of water, cobblestone, all of them are stories waiting to be unfolded now, just now, when we can finally get to our little tête-à-tête.
And there are stories in Gdańsk, trust me. Both for the eye, and the soul; there is pain and history and misery in it, alongside beauty and richness and prosperity. It is the place where the wealthy Amber Route meets the ruins of Westerplatte. Where the proud Free People watched a man jump over a fence and free a nation. Where a young woman waves her handkerchief out of a window to a sailor who will never return, watched by the careful eye of the God of the Tides himself. And more, and more, because if there is something Gdańsk will never run out of, it is history and inspiration – to create, to explore, to breathe.
Do you have your favourite off season place?