Some 757 years ago, one generous Pope called Alexander was far-sighted enough to grant the Dominican monks in Gdansk the freedom to give birth to a yearly market. The Jarmark, or “St. Dominic’s Fair” has been rolling on ever since, attracting all kinds of characters from far and near. You can only see it for a few weeks each year; in 2017, catch it between July 29 and August 20.
Artisans, artists, bric-a-brac brigades, local farmers and food stalls peddle all sorts of sublime and ridiculous wares. A jar of local honey, probably the best in Europe, is among my favored takeaways, lime flower honey for your colds, buckwheat for the heart, and for the kidneys it has to be from heather; it make a great practical present too for only about ten dollars. If you’re on a budget, you’ll surely find second-hand shirts sold by weight to go with your new Stradivarius dug out from under a pile of pre-world war two schoolbooks.
Haggling is part of the game as well. On the last day of the fair, I eyed a pearly conch with a 60 zloty price tag. More provokingly than jokingly I quipped, “I’ll give you 6”. It’s been gracing my bathroom shelf ever since…for six.
This sprawling mass or maybe even mess is one of the biggest and oldest street markets in Europe and not surprisingly visited by millions every year.
The sound of music and smells of food linger in the hot summer air, lashings of quality local beers go down a treat at prices that don’t offend, two dollars please for half a liter!
Sporting competitions, street theatre, music concerts and fireworks at night take place on the main market routes and narrow side streets. The fun and games also spill over into the nearby Motlawa river that hosts an array of boating and watersport activities: beware pirates are never far away, but fortunately their pistols only spray water today.
One year an alligator took flight from a circus camped on the riverbank. It leaped into the river and couldn’t be recaptured for three days, adding a bit of exotic to the ongoing frolics.
When you feel a little bit peckish, you should sample some of the local food offered by the busy street vendors: dumplings with all kinds of different fillings such as wild mushrooms, cottage cheese, minced game meat and pickled cabbage are legendary. If you don’t fancy the dumplings, go for some freshly fried Baltic cod, a little darker meat and smaller in size than its Atlantic cousin. After that a shot of cherry or quinine liquor -‘Nalewka’ they call it will surely put pep in your step. If you can source the home-made stuff, you’re onto an even better thing.
The Dominican Jarmark experience is both tiring and inspiring but it’s always worth the effort.
Come and see for yourself a thousand years of culture, heritage, creativity and openness consolidated for three weeks in a city that has seen a lot since the times the Teutonic knights came crusading through, right up to recently when the city broke the teeth of the Russian bear and toppled the Soviet Bloc.
Gdansk: they don’t call it freedom city for nothing, you know!
Curious to learn more about how to have a great time in Gdansk, Poland? Get in touch with Michael to arrange a private day of exploring the city with a local friend, at your own pace.