Fairy tales are not just about handsome princes and beautiful princess. They are filled with men with crooked noses and women with crooked hats, witches and wizards casting many a spell, castles that are enchanted and grow on beanstalks or are made of candy.
In a small seaside town in Poland on the Baltic Coast is a fairytale house that has no giants or witches or princesses living in them. Krzywy Domek in Sopot is a page out of a children’s book come true. The first time you look at it, you wonder if your eyes are playing tricks on you. This peculiarly designed building is called The Crooked House. It stands out as an old sagged building that is bent out of exhaustion and is part of a shopping complex today. This 43,000 sq ft home with three storeys was inspired by the works of Polish illustrator Jan Marcin Szancer and Per Dahlberg, a Swedish artist from Sopot, and is considered one of the strangest buildings of the world.
But the charms don’t end here. Healing potions have found their way to this ancient spa town known for the fountain of bromide spring water with its magical healing powers. Legend holds that as early as the 16th century kings and barons had their manors in this seaside resort town so that they could relax in the spas. Today Sopot promotes itself as a health and wellness destination with spas mushrooming in every corner.
I reach Sopot late in the afternoon from Gdansk, the principal port town of Poland on the Baltic coast. On the seashore, I see one of the longest wooden piers in Europe stretching over to the Bay of Gdansk at a length of 515 m. As we admire the view from atop a building, we are served a cup of bromide water, also referred to as inhalation mushroom. I take a sip wondering if I am healed.
Sopot in the 7th century was an important trading post but it became a fishing village and the ravages of wars had taken its toll on it. But being well known for its spas, it soon reinvented itself as a luxurious wellness destination by the seaside.
We journey back to Gdansk and are welcomed by the statue of Neptune, the Lord of the Seas who guards over the town. Another fairytale legend awaits us. The symbol of Gdansk is said to have turned the famous liqueur Goldswasser golden. According to the legend, Neptune, tired of people throwing gold coins in the fountain, hit it so hard with his trident that the gold broke into pieces and formed flakes that filled the liqueur.
Gdansk prides itself on its 1,000-year-old history. A walk in the old town, along the Royal Route across several ancient monuments, homes, churches and city halls, takes us visiting the town’s historic past. Most of it, I am told, is rebuilt as it was levelled during World War II. One of prettiest streets is St Mary’s Street, which leads us through the medieval St Mary’s Gate to the Long Embankment and onto St Mary’s Basilica.
The colour and energy are infectious. Stalls sell every form of souvenir here. Balloons go up in the air against the facade of multicoloured ancient monuments. Restaurants, live music counters and quaint cottage-like stalls are selling a variety of breads. This thoroughfare is an artist’s hangout. Easels and canvases are spread all over, taking us on a tour of ancient Gdansk. Toddlers and grandparents sit for their portraits. But it is not just the vibrant art that takes our breath away. It is the architecture of those times. The old buildings with terraced entrances and colourful facades were once home to merchants and nobility and they still retain the charm. There is amber everywhere. Golden necklaces and chains, bracelets and earrings are sold at every shop corner. We visit a museum as well.
We stop by at St Mary’s Basilica, the largest brick church in the town. Built in medieval times, in the 14th century, the church has probably seen many developments, but one is lost looking at the huge astronomical clock that decorates the walls. The church is about 100 m long and the vaults soar 30 m above floor level. I spend a few quiet minutes here, listening to the bells chime.
A little later we walk past decorative homes with dolls and puppets hanging on the outer walls and enter a colourful vegetable market with huge dried sunflowers – a local favourite. On the streets is an antique market where curios are sold.
As we walk back to the hotel, we stop by to watch cruises on the Motlawa River with the old town in the background. The music is loud and cheerful and the atmosphere is so vibrant that I continue to walk, soaking in the mood.