Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Welcome to Hel

Yup, it’s not a spelling mistake. Hel (single “l”) is a small village in Northern Poland, situated at the sheer end of Hel Peninsula. I was nine when we moved from Hel to Gdynia. It’s a place that is practically dead in the winter time and busy-as-a-bee in summer.

We’ve been planning this trip for quite some time now. First, winter came. Yup, always surprised by snow and frost even though we know it’s winter time. But seriously, it was extremely cold in here. And cold + wind does NOT equal pleasure. So we passed on that back then. Then our lil’ boy got sick – first some kind of food poisoning or a virus, then some kind of flu. Now that he was healthy and we could feel spring in the air, we decided to go there last Saturday. Aaaaand… wind was blowing up to 100 km/h! So once again we passed on the trip. Luckily, Saturday night, our lil’ boy already asleep, so it was quiet in the house, and I could hear no wind at all! I looked out the window, saw it was raining so I knew that was it for the wind. The decision was made instantly – we’re going the next day. So happy we wake up Sunday morning and look out the window to spot… snow lying all around us! That freaky! I mean it wasn’t snowdrifts all around us, just 1 cm, but still. Where did that beloved and so impatiently awaited spring go??

Nevertheless, we packed Tusio’s lunch and off we went. We had one goal – to see the feeding of the seals. Yup, there are seals in Hel (single “l”, can’t say it about hell (double “l”), haven’t had a chance to verify that). The first one got there when I was still living there, so a long time ago. Well, something like 20 years ago ;)

Feeding takes place twice a day (11 AM and 2 PM) and is connected with some exercises that make the seals accustomed to medical procedures (well, that sounds horrible, as if any tests were conducted on them. By medical procedures I meant injections, USG, giving medicine and stuff). They get fish for completing every task they’re given. We decided to see the first feeding of the day.

As we got there early, first we took a walk on Wiejska street (the main street) and the promenade. It was a bit windy that day and cold as well, so we didn’t feel like walking too far, especially with Artur (Artur=Tusio, same person, name and nickname). Streets were empty, no people around (or only a few really).

With 11 am approaching, we headed towards the “seal house” or fokarium as it is called in Polish. In order to enter the place you have to pay 2 Polish zlotys (PLN, something like 0,50 EUR) per person. There’s a machine at the entrance that takes only 2 PLN coins, so you have to be prepared for that. Well, there is a machine in which you can change money next to it but it was broken the day when we arrived. When you put the coin in, the gate opens and you’re in. Now you can watch the seals. Be warned that they might bite you! ;) Or spill water on you. Which happens. We waited till 11 and the “show” started. It took almost an hour but was really pleasant to watch. Our kid was definitely satisfied with it. There’s some room for spectators, some standing at the same ground as the pools and some watching it from “above” (something like first floor). However, it might get really crowded in the summer season.

You are not allowed to throw coins into the pools. One seal died because of eating too many coins, I mean when she died they found hundreds of coins in her stomach. There is a special money box where you can donate coins for the seal house and it’s designed in a really great way. Loads of fun to throw coins in ;) I was really impressed with the idea.

You can also pay additional 2 PLN per person in order to enter the museum with the exhibition showing life of the Baltic Sea. However, again the machines operating the entrance, once again you need coins. We weren’t interested in going there (I’ve already been there) so I have no idea if the changing machine at that entrance worked ;)

What else can you do in Hel? There’s a maritime museum at the promenade, you can see the lighthouse (once it was open for tourists, so that you could climb to the top and look around to see the marvelous views of the Gdańsk Bay and the whole peninsula), you can bathe in the see, you can eat fabulous fresh fish in every diner or restaurant, you can sunbathe, you can simply enjoy yourself… You can take a water tram or a ferry and come to visit Tricity (Gdańsk, Sopot, Gdynia). I’m really aware of the fact that from a still and sleepy village in winter, Hel changes into a really loud, crowded and lively place in summer, but it’s still worth visiting. I really love that place. Although I don’t go there in high season ;)

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