There’s much to see and do in Gdansk and Donetsk, whether you are a football fan or not, writes David Bowden
ONLY one more week to go to the semifinals and Euro 2012 is rising high with nail-biting excitement. This week, the biennial event moves to Gdansk in Poland and Donetsk in the Ukraine.
Tomorrow night, the game will boot off in Gdansk, followed by another match on Saturday at Donetsk.
So what about these two cities — Gdansk and Donetsk?
This northern port city is part of an area known as Tri-City that also includes Gdynia and Sopot. Gdansk hit the headlines in 1980 when one of Poland’s famous sons, Lech Walesa, led his Solidarity Movement to gain concessions from the communists. After a series of prolonged strikes, the workers signed the Gdansk Agreement to enable the freedom of the trade unions which eventually overthrew the communists. Solidarity became the biggest movement in Polish history and freedom was assured.
The 43,600 capacity PGE Arena Gdansk is the focus for Euro 2012. This recently constructed arena is a spectacular structure that is also home to the local football heroes, Lechia Lechia Gdansk.
As Solidarity gained strength, the Poles protested against communism by taking walks rather than listening to official government propaganda on television. The Polish people still take to the streets especially in summer and the place to see and be seen is in Gdansk’s Old Town. Join them in what are now peaceful and leisurely strolls along Dluga Street and check out its shops, restaurants and cafes.
The Long Market or Dlugi Targ is another place to promenade and see the most famous statue in the city — Neptune’s Fountain. Being a port city, the sea is important to the lives of the people and the Roman god of the sea offers the city’s sailors protection. It is one of the city’s most recognisable symbols that dates back to 1549.
The famous 1,047km Vistula River drains into the Baltic Sea near Gdansk. It is also a feature of two other Polish cities — Warsaw and Kracow. Explore the Vistula riverbanks and those of other rivers such as the Motlawa. To get an insight into how valuable the rivers and the port of Gdansk is to Poland, visit the Polish Maritime Museum/Vistula River Museum in central Gdansk.
Enjoy a meal in Restauracja Pod Lososiem (52-54 Szeroka St) that dates back to 1598. Dine on fresh salmon and order the signature beverage of Goldwasser — a sweet liquor with flakes of gold.
The Green and Gold Gates are historic monuments in the city. Green Gate at the end of Ulica Dluga (Long Street) opens onto the Motlawa River. Here, the medieval harbour crane is worth exploring — climb to the top to see how the crane, which dates back to 1444, works.
Ukraine’s fifth largest city and one of the country’s largest coal-mining and steel production centre, Donetsk has an interesting history — it only developed in 1869 when Welshman John Hughes started mining coal here. Apart from getting rich, he was also honoured when the town was called Hughesovka but there were several changes before the name Donetsk was established.
A statue of Hughes was erected in 2001 in front of the Donetsk National Technical University. The purpose-built Donbass Arena was opened in 2009 in time for Euro 2012. Donbass Arena is the home ground for local football stars such as Shakhtar Donetsk.
Taking It To The Streets
The first stop for any tourist in Donetsk is First Line Avenue or Artema Street. This large avenue is home to some of the city’s historic landmarks as well as modern features such as small parks, shopping centres, smart hotels and stylish restaurants.
Some of the historic landmarks are the Opera House and Lenin Square. Another pleasant thoroughfare to walk along is Pushkin Boulevard lined with plants, open-air cafes in summer and fountains. One of the interesting historic pieces of art here is Mertsalov Palm created in 1896 from local steel. Forged Figures Park is along a similar theme with artistic masterpieces crafted from steel.
One of the world’s largest indoor waterparks just opened in Donetsk. It features slides and glides plus pools and whirls to keep children and the young at heart happy all day long. It is located in Scherbakova Park and has many unique features such as a retractable roof to allow the sun in during summer and keep out chilled air in winter.
Museums buffs won’t be disappointed in Donetsk as there are some 140 to explore. The two leading ones are the Donetsk Region History Museum and the Donetsk Regional Art Museum. The former has archaeological artifacts, industrial memorabilia and lots of information on John Hughes. FC Shaktar Museum, which only opened in 2010, is the one of most interest to visiting football fans as it documents the history of the local football team. You can buy some unique football gear at the souvenir shop here.
The Donetsk Opera and Ballet Theatre constructed in 1936 is a very elegant building that is home to many acclaimed performances. With some 250 performances a year, there’s a good chance that visitors will have a cultural encounter while in Donetsk.