The yellow and blue SKM suburban train service shuttles the populace efficiently through much of Pomerania and the Tricity area. On our last afternoon in Gdynia we hopped on a train for the 10 minute journey to Sopot, dubbed “Schizophrenia-on-Sea” by Lonely Planet, “the playground of wealthy entrepreneurs and A-Z-list celebrities…unrivalled among the Baltic’s resorts for glitz and pretentiousness”.
A 13th century fishing village, Sopot was popularised by a doctor in Napoleon’s occupying army, who constructed a huge hotel and casino complex in the emerging spa town. The main drag, named after the heroes of Monte Cassino, runs from the station to the pier and was pedestrianised in 1963. Lined with restaurants and tourist shops, today it could be AnyResort, with a number of developments underway including a real horror at the station, replacing a functionalist ticket office from the 1970s. (The original station is long gone, but Sopot’s station signs are in historic font.)
Above is Krzywy Domek (Crooked House; IYP), a truly unnecessary 2004 construction and tourist magnet supposedly inspired by fairy tales, which houses a shopping centre. No doubt there are little gems to be found in the town if you know where to look, but in August it’s the resort which dominates, not least the 511m long wooden pier or molo, built in 1827 and the longest of its ilk on mainland Europe, exceeded only by that of twin town Southend.
It’s all very nice if you like that sort of thing, but the tone is set by the fact that until the end of August you have to pay to walk on the pier. So we went vertical instead, handing over our groszy to climb the cutesy 30m high lighthouse, built in 1903, for some grand views and a certificate.
The Grand Hotel (1927; left of picture) housed a casino which part funded the Free City of Danzig, and has played host to guests including Adolf Hitler and Fidel Castro. From the vantage point of the lighthouse it’s easy to imagine the likes of Elizabeth von Arnim taking an evening stroll and watching the early 20th century equivalent of the 21st century fire eater (right of picture).
From my 1988 visit I remember traipsing down the wooden pier in a Baltic breeze, but this visit coincided with some rather more Mediterranean temperatures and we joined the crowds for a beer on the beach. We also took a walk through the woods to Opera Leśna (Forest Opera), home of the Sopot International Song Festival (aka the Soviet Eurovision) from 1964. A theatre has stood in this spot since 1909, with an annual Richard Wagner Festival held from 1922 to 1942 earning Sopot the title of the Bayreuth of the Baltic.
Next stop: East Prussia!