Sweden & Poland October 2018


In October of 2018 Linda and I were invited to attend our friends’ Paula and Bartek’s wedding in Gdansk, Poland. Due to work constraints and because she had spent over a week in Guatemala a couple of months prior, Linda was unable to go. So I was on my own. I decided to take 10 days off and after some internet digging found a flight into Stockholm and 9 days later a flight from Gdansk back to the US. How I was going to get from Stockholm to Gdansk had not solidified yet but I knew something would present itself. After mentioning my trip to my bestie, Kairi, in Estonia, a solution presented itself along with what would become some of my fondest memories since we met a year and a half earlier on a tiny bridge in a park on the Pepsi River outside Tartu, Estonia. But that’s a story for another time.

A plan was hatched for Kairi and her lovely partner Katri, along with their two kids, to take a ferry from Tallinn, Estonia to Stockholm. We would spend a few days hanging out until they returned to Estonia and I took an overnight ferry from Stockholm to Gdansk. I firmly believe that while traveling things happen for a reason and this all fell into place just perfectly.

Due to a number of unforeseen delays I did not end up getting to my hostel aboard the Red Boat – yes it’s really a red boat moored on the Söder Mälarstrand across the water from Stockholm’s old town – until early evening. By the time I made it to the place Kairi was staying it was already well into the evening hours and I’m sure they were thinking that I was going to be a no-show. The previous summer Kairi, Linda and I spent most of an evening, night and the following day together. We also texted a lot and talked when we could but I was still nervous. What if this was a disaster? I was worried for nothing because once she opened the door I literally wanted to cry. Seeing Kairi again, meeting Katri and the kids for the first time was absolutely fantastic. The next few days were a whirlwind of talking, eating and drinking coffee. And it all went by way too fast. Before we knew it we found ourselves hugging teary eyed at the ferry terminal for their overnighter back to Tallinn. I am not fond of goodbyes and this was one of the most difficult ones in my life. The memories of the past few days however, I will cherish forever.

I had one more night and day in Stockholm before my overnight sail to Poland. It was cold and rainy but I spent as much of it as I could outside shooting pictures knowing that it would be a while before I made it back again. Hopefully next time with Linda.

The next afternoon I took the train from Stockholm to Nynäshamn to board the ferry to Gdansk. I arrived early enough to stock up on provisions – bread, cheese, fruit and pastries. It’s a big switch from years ago when I would have solely stocked up on booze. Quitting alcohol is by far the best decision I’ve made in my life but there are certainly times when being sober makes time stand still – and not in a good way. Like when your wife is on the other side of the planet, you’ve had to say goodbye to one of your best friends, everything in this tiny town abruptly closes and once you enter the ferry terminal you’re imprisoned in the departure area with 100 other people for some unknown reason and no one will provide information.

My overnight accommodations across the Baltic Sea to Gdansk, Poland.
The church on the hill in Nynäshamn at sunset. I shot this from the ferry just as it was beginning to pull away from the dock. I couldn’t have asked for a better send off from Sweden.

The trip is uneventful save for the large number of Russians on the boat who are very inebriated by early evening. I decide against the food in the dining hall because it doesn’t look very appetizing and settle for some bread and cheese in my stateroom – which luckily I have to myself even though I only paid for one bed.

Early morning on the ferry. The orange blobs under the water are pockets of aerated water catching some of the orange from the sky.


By midmorning the first hint of land appears on the horizon and before long the ferry approaches Westerplatte – the site of the first battle of WWII – on the edge of Gdańskharbor. The year prior, Linda and I spent several hours exploring the area before taking the water taxi back into downtown Gdańsk.

Twenty minutes later I’m on dry land waiting for Paula to pick me up. How I met Paula and why Linda and I were here the year before is also a story for another time. But at this very moment it’s just really nice to be back in Gdańsk. I love this city. And I couldn’t be more excited to be invited to Paula and Bartek’s wedding. It will also be my first Polish wedding. A few minutes later, Paula arrives and after a quick hug and hello we’re off. First stop – the apartment I rented for the next 5 nights. Thankfully Paula was with me because the owner of the apartment spoke no English and all the instructions to obtain the keys were in Polish. The apartment is phenomenal – a brand new one bedroom with a great kitchen, good WIFI and a 5 minute walk to Gdańsk’s Old Town. I can hardly believe I’m only paying $30 per night. No time to explore now. After dropping my bags we’re off again. This time to Paula’s flat where Bartek and way too much Polish chocolate and pastries are waiting. The hospitality I, and Linda, have received from both of them is beyond describable. Much of the next two days are spent this way – make decorations in the flat, deliver decorations to the reception location, drive to Sopot for chocolate, deliver and unload booze (lots of booze) at the reception location. I’m thrilled to be able to help out and be a part of as much as I can.

In the evenings, after I get back to the apartment as well as each morning at first light, I grab my camera and tripod and roam old town looking for interesting things to photograph. Here are a few of the more interesting things I captured.


The day before the wedding everything was under control and I decided to take the day to myself. Destination – Malbork. Situated about 65km southeast of Gdańsk, it’s home to Malbork Castle – parts of which date to the 1300th century. It’s roughly a 1.5 hour train ride followed by a short walk to reach the bank of the Nogat River. The castle sits on the opposite bank of the river

Malbork Castle on the Nogat River

I spent hours wandering the castle grounds and the parts of the castle that are open to visitors. I learned that upon it’s expansion in the 14th and 15th centuries Malbork became the largest castle complex in the world, it is a UNESCO Heritage Monument and is part of the Polish Gothic Castle Association. Who knew?

The following day marked the main reason I was in Gdańsk – Paula and Bartek’s wedding. Even though the wedding and reception were indoors they couldn’t have asked for better weather. It’s October 13th and normally at this time of year in northern Europe the weather is much like it is in Portland – cool and rainy. But in the four days I’ve been here, the weather has been in the low to mid 70’s with bright blue sunshine every single day. Unbelievable.

One of the many things that people who get to know me have a hard time comprehending is that to me a vacation is not really about relaxing. Vacations, trips or basically anytime I’m not in or near my house are a time to explore. Having to go to a wedding in 5 hours means I still have a few hours to do something besides sit in the apartment. Heck, before my first wedding I kayaked Section IV of the Chattooga, showered outdoors at a friends cabin and still made it to the forest location on time – more or less. On this beautiful morning I decided to take the train out to the beach town of Sopot. Honestly I think this is where I would try to live if Linda and I ever moved to Poland – something not out of the realm of possibility. Even early morning on a Saturday in October the boardwalk and pier are jam packed with people.

The view towards Sopot from the end of the pier.

Paula set me up with her friend Marta for the evening. This is great because not only is she really nice, she also speaks fluent English – this will be much appreciated later in the evening. And conveniently she lives in the apartment building next to the one I’m staying in. She’s in the wedding which necessitates us getting to the church a bit earlier than everyone else. Even though the wedding is completely in Polish I can more or less follow along. After the wedding there are a number of Polish traditions taking place as we’re leaving the church parking lot which Marta attempts to explain to me but I still don’t know exactly what exactly happened. All I know for certain is that bottles of vodka exchanged hands.

The meat and vegetable buffet table. Check out all the smoked boar sausages hanging on the far table. There was another table to the right containing many wonderful desert options.

The reception started around 6:00pm and lasted all night. The food was amazing and I started almost immediately with 1 or 2 of everything on the buffet table. Coming back to the table I felt a bit sheepish when Marta told me there would be many courses of food served as well. Oh well – it’s not like I get invited to many Polish weddings so I’m going to eat like my life depends on it. And eat I did. One of the many courses was a wild boar that someone had shot. That was served around midnight in between different soups and entrées. There was also a desert table which I had to work really hard to stay away from lest I get too full to sample at least one of everything else. I should also mention there was LOTS of alcohol – mainly vodka. Each table had a chilled bottle in the center that once empty was promptly replaced with a full one. Every time something happened – get from the table, sit back down at the table, another course of food was served – a round was poured for everyone. Everyone except me – although not for lack of trying. The conversation I had many times over the course of the evening went something like this:

  • Me: “No thank you, I don’t drink.”
  • Other Person (OP): “What do you mean you don’t drink? Are you driving tonight?”
  • Me: “No, I just don’t drink alcohol.”
    OP: “Just tonight you’re not drinking?”
  • Me: “No, I used to drink but I don’t drink anymore.”
  • OP: “EVER?!”
  • Me: “Correct. I had a problem so I quit.”
  • OP: “Ahhhh…I get it now. But I’m still going to offer you drinks tonight.”

I drank copious amounts coffee and water. There were also a lot of different games played and dances danced which I never would have understood without Marta’s impeccable translation skills. I’m really grateful for her generosity in taking so much care to really explain the various traditions the took place during the reception. Throughout the night I had many wonderful conversations with Paula and Bartek’s family and friends and felt very welcomed by everyone. At 3:30 Marta and I left the reception and headed back to our respective apartments. It was a night that I will never forget and I’m honored that Paula and Bartek asked me to be a part of it.

I had just over 24 hours left in Poland before my flight and I spent much of the next day laying around the apartment trying to digest the mountain of food I ate just hours earlier. In the afternoon I felt better and spent one more evening wandering old town Gdańsk. I already miss it but I know that I’ll be back.

Around 4:00 am the next morning I took a taxi to the airport. This would not be an easy trip home – I had multiple layovers, first in Copenhagen followed by Toronto. It’s one of the few times in my life where I couldn’t wait to get get home to be in my own bed. I did have a nice six hour layover in Copenhagen which gave me a good 5 hours to roam around the city. Copenhagen is another fantastic European city that I would like to spend some more time in. I made it back to the departure gate just as boarding was starting – couldn’t have timed that better!

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