Sometimes a sharp reminder of recent history comes like a slap of salt spray in the Face. In Gdansk's Roads to Freedom centre are two exhibits which stop you in your tracks. One is an old, grey public phone kiosk where callers were told by a recorded voice that their conversations would be monitored. The other is a leather jacket worn by protester Ludwik Pietrnicki, with holes punctured by the bullets which killed him.
The exhibition is a short step from the gates of the great shipyard where the Solidarity movement, led by Lech Walensa, was born. In the process of making a film about, the name "Lenina" has been added in big letters at the entrance. Some locals arre bitter about that, and have hung up a banner, blazoned with the familar red Solidarinosc logo, in order to obscure it.
Back in the exhibition there is plenty to remind visitors of the pain suffered in the two decades starting in 1970, when intervention by the militia caused the death of dozens of protesters and ending in 1989, when Solidarity was legalised and free elections to the Polilsh parliament, the Sejm, were held. There's a mock up of a typical food shop in Communist times, with the curious device which allowed customers to see inside eggs, to make sure they were fresh – or at least edible.
Lunch, on the Motlawa waterfront, is extremely edible, though the menu's English translation is a little confusing. "Grease" turns out to be pork dripping with morsels of meat, eaten with lovely bread – and delicious. Goose and wild boar "pies" are two kinds of terrrine, eaten with plum compote and horseradish. And there's herrring with sour cream, onion and slices of apple. The eating here, as you may have gathered, is never less than interesting.
We take a boat trip along the Motlawa and into the Vistula, past the ranks of giant shipyard cranes where Nazi submarines were once built. We had no idea the yard was so vast. Once it built Nazi submarines, then a hge tonnage of Sovet ships. Now a big chunk of its output is yachts for the new rich. The boat, a kitsch, motorised replica of the kind of sailing ship that plied here when Gdansk – Danzig – in German – was at the height of of its mercantile prosperity, passes a warehouse used to store sugar from Russia and depot established in the 1920s, to stockpile Polish coal when striking miners in Britain interrupted imports, and turn around at Westerplatte, where the first shots of the Second World War were fired.
Later, in a shop below a small hotel in he old town, we see a fragment of an chest, bearing gthe date 1539, which the hotel ownerr found when he converted the property. The chest belonged to an assistant of the great astronomer Copernicus, who was born not far away in Torun. And we spend an hour or so in the Amber Museum, housed in the old jail, where once piece contains a pefect little lizard, captured in the transparent resin for some 40 million years. So it'snot just reminders of recennt history that make you catch your breath in this continually intriguing city.