Gdansk is a sensory blast. If you were expecting a dingy Baltic seaport, perhaps reinforced by that foggy, black-and-white TV footage of Lech Waesa and the embattled Solidarity dockworkers, you are in for a pleasant surprise. Modern-day Gdansk is a beautiful seaside town, with a lovingly restored Old City. The city was severely damaged in World War II, with the Russians and Allied bombers effectively finishing up where the Germans left off. But Gdansk is luckier than many Polish cities in that the reconstruction after the war was commendably sensitive. And, unlike the reconstruction of Warsaw's Old Town (which mostly benefits tourists), Gdansk's newly built Old City feels thoroughly authentic and lived-in by the locals. In this vibrant atmosphere, it's easy to forget that the first shots of World War II were fired here -- and that this is also where history took another sharp turn when the shipyard's dockworkers, led by Lech Waesa, brought down the Communist government. You can still see the shipyards, about a 15-minute walk north of the Old City, and visit an inspirational museum, the Roads to Freedom, that details the tense moments of the 1980s. From May to October, the calendar is jam-packed with festivals, including the 3-week long St. Dominic's Fair held in August.
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