March 17th – 21st 2009
Bridget Tomlinson, Miss Walisiak, Elizabeth Kemp, Eleanor Snowdon,
Michael Keogh, Mrs Russell and Angus Villiers-Stuart outside Marlbork
As with our trip to Slovenia, we had an early start – not quite as early, but
4.15 a.m. is early enough. The journey was a little easier for us this time, as
we were able to fly direct from Birmingham to Gdansk, courtesy of Ryanair.
For me, this meant a much smaller, and lighter, suitcase because of the
baggage restrictions. Having struggled for what seemed like miles through
Gatwick Airport with a heavy case and lap top this made a pleasant change.
The flight left on time and arrived a few minutes early in Gdansk. In England
the weather was mild and sunny; in Gdansk it was wet and windy when we
arrived. We later learnt that this part of Poland is known for being windy,
even in the summer when temperatures are high. We had a wait at the airport
as our coach was going to collect the party from Slovenia as well. When they
arrived we set off for Gdynia, a short distance along the coast.
We stayed at the Hotel Antares, which was within walking distance of our host
school. It was wonderful to meet and catch up with our friends from all over
Europe. We had time for a walk around Gdynia city centre in the afternoon.
It was a short bus journey into town, the return trip cost 2 zloty, around 40p.
As it was still very cold, we headed for a shopping centre and found a café
where we could have a hot drink and sample some delicious Polish cakes.
Gdynia is a young city, which was founded around 80 years ago as a port
when the harbour was created.
After a long day it was good to relax with friends over a delicious evening meal
in the hotel. We had some snow showers overnight and had to wrap up
warmly for our walk to school in the morning.
ARRIVING AT GIMNAZJUM 4
This was a very busy day, with lessons and activities in school in the morning,
followed by a visit to Gdynia City Hall in the afternoon before going on to the
concert venue for rehearsals followed by the concert itself at 5.00 p.m.
When we arrived at school we were met by the Headmistress. The weather
may have been very cold, but the warmth of her welcome, and that of
everybody we met at school, certainly made up for it. We were all made to
feel at home. To me, this is the most important and wonderful thing about
our project. It is a great opportunity so visit different countries and see many
things, but it is the people that matter – the work we do together, the things
we learn from each other and the friendship we share is what makes this
project such a privilege and pleasure for everybody who takes part.
STAFF AND STUDENTS AT THE WELCOME MEETING
It was then on to classrooms for lessons. The students were divided into two
groups, with representatives from each country in both groups.
ANGUS WORKING WITH HIS GROUP IN A LANGUAGE LESSON
During the language lessons small groups of students worked together on a
variety of different topics. They then produced a script in one language, which
they then recorded. This activity worked really well as the students from
different countries all worked together. The work that they did was based on
our friendship dictionary.
MICHAEL AND OTHER MEMBERS OF HIS GROUP RECORDING THEIR
The students stayed in their groups for the music lessons where they were
taught by staff from all the different countries. While one group was learning
the songs the students in the other group were involved in an art workshop.
The biggest round of applause in the music lesson went to the three German
teachers who all joined in and led the singing, despite not being music
specialists! One of the Czech teachers kindly accompanied them on the
keyboard. Whilst some of the students and teachers had sung the songs before
many were hearing them for the first time and performed them very well.
Our hosts had kindly prepared a booklet with the words to each song, which
was very useful.
After lessons it was time for lunch, kindly provided by the school. This was
another opportunity for everybody to relax and get to know each other.
STAFF AND STUDENTS HAVING LUNCH
LEAVING SCHOOL TO VISIT CITY HALL
We then had a short coach journey into the city centre for our visit to City
Hall where we were welcomed by the Deputy Mayor.
STUDENTS IN CITY HALL
We watched a short film about Gdynia and then the Deputy Mayor told us
more about the city and answered questions.
We then left for the concert hall which was right next to Gdynia’s beautiful
THE VENUE FOR OUR CONCERT WITH THE BEACH AND SEA
ELIZABETH AT THE PIANO DURING THE REHEARSAL
Every group had the opportunity to run through their programme. It was a
great venue and our host school had provided refreshments for everybody.
After rehearsing the students all went upstairs to get changed, ready for the
STUDENTS FROM ENGLAND AND BULGARIA GETTING READY
We were surprised to see that there was also a film crew at the venue from the
local television station. They interviewed a number of students and staff from
ANGUS WITH OTHER STUDENTS AND STAFF BEING FILMED AND
INTERVIEWED FOR POLISH TELEVISION
The concert began at 5.00 p.m. Two students from Gimnazjum 4 introduced
all of the students from the participating countries. The hall was full and
everybody enjoyed all the varied performances.
I find it amazing how well the concerts work. Although everybody has
obviously spent a lot of time rehearsing and preparing their part before they
arrive when you watch the performance it seems almost impossible that this
could have been achieved with just one and half hours rehearsal time together.
This is largely due to the hard work put in by staff and students at the host
school, thank you all, you did a wonderful job.
The whole event was recorded and each school has a DVD so that we can all
watch and enjoy the concert back at home.
STUDENTS AND STAFF PERFORMING AT THE CONCERT
ALL THE STUDENTS ON STAGE AT THE END OF THE CONCERT
SINGING THE POLISH PROJECT SONG
STAFF AT THE CELEBRATION DINNER AT HOTEL ANTARES AFTER
A SNOWY MORNING IN GDYNIA
After breakfast we all departed by coach to Gdansk. It had snowed a little
before we left and the snow came down again during the journey. The coach
trip gave us the opportunity to see a little more of the ‘Tri-city’ area which
includes Gdynia, Gdansk and Sopot. Trolley buses and trams link the three
cities. Much of the housing was built during the communist era and is very
utilitarian. Large, identical blocks of flats that have now been repainted in
bright colours, making them look much brighter and more cheerful. Our
guide told us that people building private houses during this time were also
subject to restrictions, for example, only flat roofs were allowed as pitched
ones were considered to be an extravagance unless you lived in a mountainous
area with high snowfall.
It is hard for us to understand how different life was under the communist
regime. It was in this area that Solidarity made their stand against it which
eventually led to Poland becoming a free state. We saw monuments erected in
memory of those who died in this struggle. Our guide told us about the
history of Poland and the city of Gdansk in particular, which has been a free
state in the past. It grew up as a major trading and industrial centre. Its
strategic position was recognised by Hitler, and the Second World War began
here in 1939. Much of the city, along with many others in Poland, was
destroyed by bombing during this time.
A PHOTOGRAPH HANGING BY THE CITY GATE IN GDANSK
Much of the city has now been rebuilt and some buildings are still in the
process of being restored. The city centre is beautiful, with distinctive hall,
narrow, colourful houses.
STAFF AND STUDENTS IN THE MAIN STREET
Gdansk is famous for its shipbuilding and also for amber. Whilst there, we
had time to visit some amber shops to buy souvenirs for friends and family.
We all enjoyed a tour of the city, including its cathedral, which is one of the
largest in Europe. Like the city, it has an interesting history, being used by
both Catholics and Protestants at various times. The snow showers continued
and we were glad to find a cosy café where we enjoyed a hot chocolate and
OUR PARTY BY THE STATUE OF NEPTUNE IN THE CITY CENTRE
THE WATERFRONT IN GDANSK CITY CENTRE
In the afternoon we moved on to Sopot. This was where the rich merchants of
Gdansk had there summer houses and is now a popular seaside resort,
although it was definitely not beach weather when we were there!
THE CROOKED HOUSE ON THE MAIN STREET, SOPOT
OUR STUDENTS AND BASIA BY THE PIER
SOPOT PIER, WHICH IS 500 METRES LONG
(none of us were brave enough to walk to the end in the bracing wind!)
THE BEACH AT SOPOT FROM THE PIER
Our final stop of the day was back in Gdynia where we visited the aquarium
and city museum. The aquarium is situated at the mouth of the harbour
which will host the Tall Ships Race later this year.
A VIEW OF GYDNIA HARBOUR FROM THE AQUARIUM
STUDENTS STROKING FISH IN THE AQUARIUM
The large modern museum was really interesting and showed the development
of the city from a small fishing village to a modern commercial centre and
In the evening, after dinner at the hotel, we all went over to the school for a
drama performance. It was a mime, based on the park next to the school and
what happens there during the course of a year. It was something the students
had put together having observed life in the park and they gave an excellent
and memorable performance which we all thoroughly enjoyed. When it had
finished we discussed drama and arts and how they fit into the curriculum in
our different schools, with Miss Walisiak helping with translation. In many of
the schools drama is only available as an after school activity.
STUDENTS FROM GIMNAZJUM 4 ANSWERING QUESTIONS AFTER
THE DRAMA PERFORMANCE
At the end of the performance it was time to say goodbye to our friends from
the school in Southern Poland. They had a very long train journey home the
following day. It had been difficult for them to attend as they were unable to
use any of their funding for a visit to another school in Poland. We were so
glad that they were able to come, it wouldn’t have been the same without
As we made our way back to the hotel it was snowing again and the students
from England and Cyprus enjoyed a snowball fight!
In the morning we said goodbye to our friends from Bulgaria who were flying
back home later in the morning. The rest of the party set off by coach to
Malbork Castle, once the main fortress of the Teutonic knights who ruled the
area for hundreds of years. After fighting in the Crusades they built a series
of castles across Poland and Lithuania, Malbork being the largest and the
centre for the order.
Our journey gave us the opportunity to see more of the Polish countryside,
particularly the very floodplain of Poland’s main river, the Wisla. Large areas
of land were reclaimed hundreds of years ago by Dutch settlers who had been
driven from their own country; it is still rich farming land. Large areas of
Poland are still covered by natural forest and hunting continues to be a
Malbork Castle is huge! It is the largest brick castle in Europe. Much of it
was destroyed towards the end of the Second World War by Russian soldiers
who launched an offensive on the German troops stationed there.
THE ENTRANCE TO MALBORK CASTLE
(The long slits in the wall show where the drawbridge used to be.)
The castle is divided into three areas. Outside the moat was the Lower Castle
which housed the stables, storehouses etc. The middle castle is situated around
a large courtyard.
VIEWS OF THE INNER COURTYARD
The Higher Castle was the home of the Grand Masters of the Teutonic Order.
Renowned for their fighting, this was also a monastic order. Much of the
castle is still being restored but much work has been done. Its walls were
covered with murals and patterns. In the rooms used by the knights under
floor heating was installed. Stones were heated in cellars under the rooms and
the heat travelled up through round vents in the floors of the rooms above.
The attention to detail in the castle was amazing, tiny, but beautiful carvings
on the pillars along the long corridors and murals on the fan vaulting above.
A CORRIDOR LEADING TO THE CHURCH IN THE CASTLE
Saint Mary’s Church was perhaps the most moving place in the castle. Before
seeing it in its current state we had seen a photograph taken in the 19th
century, showing it in all its splendour, with opulent decorations, lighting and
furniture. What we saw was very different; the restoration has begun, but
there is still a great deal to do. Much of it was destroyed by Russian shelling
and although the walls have been rebuilt and a temporary roof has been put
on to protect it, the inside is still very much a ruin, with shrapnel marks in the
walls that were left standing. The people who showed us around were
obviously, and justifiably, proud of the castle and all the work that has been
completed so far. Our guide told us that it would take two days to see the
castle properly, I can see why!
SAINT MARY’S CHURCH, MALBORK CASTLE
We left Malbork and travelled on to Torun. This is one of very few cities in
Poland that was not damaged during the 2nd World War, so much of its
medieval centre remains. Torun is famous for two things, firstly, it was the
birthplace of Nicholas Copernicus, who discovered that the Earth moves
around the Sun, rather than the other way round, and secondly gingerbread!
Copernicus was the son of a rich merchant and we visited the museum
dedicated to him, which is situated next door to the house where he was born.
We learnt that he was not just a great scientist and astronomer but also a
doctor and very well educated man who spoke many languages.
The merchant’s house itself was interesting, with special metal windows on the
first floor, which was the grain store. The grain would be hauled up and in
through the windows which opened from the bottom.
THE COPERNICUS MUSEUM IN TORUN
Situated on the Wisla river, Torun was an important trading centre in
THE CENTRAL SQUARE AND TOWN HALL IN TORUN
We headed for the gingerbread shop and stocked up for friends and colleagues
at home and then had time for a hot chocolate and cake before going back to
the coach. As you can see from the picture below, this was real chocolate!!
THE DONKEY IN TORUN
Merchants and others who misbehaved were made to sit on the donkey and the
people of Torun would throw rotten fruit and vegetables at them!
OUR GROUP UNDER THE STATUE OF COPERNICUS IN THE
MAIN SQUARE, TORUN
It was then time to head back to Gdynia after an action packed day during
which we all saw and learnt so much. It also gave staff and students from
other countries time to talk and get to know each other better. It’s become
almost a tradition now to have a sing song on the coach as we travel back to
base. This time we able to use the microphone at the front of the coach.
Everybody sang the project songs and other songs from all the different
Back at the hotel we enjoyed our last evening together and had the opportunity
to thank our hosts for a wonderful and memorable trip. I’m sure it is
something that we will always remember. All of our students got on really
well and gained in confidence. They would all love to go on another trip, as
would the staff!
It was an early start, off to the airport and more sad goodbyes. The great
thing is that we all keep in touch and will be together again at future meetings.
The flight back was on time and we all arrived home tired, but with our heads
full of the wonderful experiences we had shared.