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Mar 24 2015

My Boss Told Me to Go to Hel, So I Did!

Sunset over HelIf your boss tells you to go to hell, that’s not normally particularly positive, is it?  In my case, however, it was.  That’s because he was referring to the Hel Peninsula in Poland, not the place where the devil supposedly lives.  It sounded great for two reasons: Firstly, my house in the UK is near a peninsula, so I was keen to explore one in Poland.  Secondly, I could have fun with the title of the eventual blog post.

So, while I was in Gdansk, I took the opportunity to go to Hel.  The train journey wasn’t particularly interesting until we got to the Hel Peninsula.  Along the way, I’m sure I saw frozen water in parts.  The post was getting better because that would mean that Hel had frozen over.  To my disappointment, Hel hadn’t frozen over by the time I got there, which made me question whether I had actually seen frozen water on the way there.  Was it a figment of my imagination?  Who knows!

The History of Hel

The village of Hel has a long history.  It dates back to the 12th century.  It actually became an important centre of trade, and at one point even competed with the likes of Gdansk.  That didn’t last because, in the 16th century, it became part of Gdansk.  It began to flourish again in the 19th century as tourists started to flock to the peninsula for weekends and holidays.  Because of that, a train line along the Hel peninsula was built in the early 20th century.  Around that time, the Polish Navy established a naval base there.  This peninsula was one of the last places in Poland to be taken over by the Germans during World War II, and was the last to be returned at the end of the war.

When I got off the train, I didn’t know where to go.  I started walking straight on from the train station, and turned right when I saw the sea.  I took a walk by the harbour, and then walked into the town, and turned left towards the lighthouse.

The Lighthouse

Hel Lighthouse

Before any lighthouses were built, locals used to light a fire in a church to guide ships.  After this burned down, a wooden building was erected in its place.  Surprise, surprise, that also burned down.  As this was a hazardous stretch of water for ships, they tried again and again.  After several attempts, a brick building was constructed, but this wasn’t without its problems.  The lighthouse wasn’t effective as a lighthouse because it wasn’t high enough, which meant ships continued to sink off the coast.  To remedy this, a cannon was installed, which was fired four times a day to warn seafarers.  This practice continued until the gunner died at the start of the 20th century.  There is a memorial to him.  I was a little confused because the date on the memorial is 1905, but he died in 1910, apparently.  If it’s wrong, I’m surprised no one has thought to change it.

Memorial to the lighthouse keeper

During World War II, the Germans removed the lighthouse because they thought it would be an easy target for air raids.  However, in 1942, they had a new, more modern one built, which is the one you see today.

The Beach

Hel Beach

I’ve been living inland since I arrived in Poland, so I was looking forward to seeing the Polish seaside.  Once I saw a sign for the beach (plaża), I followed it.  It was great to be by the sea once again, regardless of the weather.  I love listening to the calming sound of the sea as it laps onto the shore.

Animal Farm

Animal farm on Hel

The day I was in Hel happened to be Chinese New Year, and this year, 2015, just so happens to be the Year of the Goat.  I took that as a sign, and had to include it in this post.

The Sunset

Sunset over Hel
As I was getting ready to leave Hel, the sun began to set, and the sky looked incredible.  It was a wonderful way to end a fantastic day in Hel.

Other Information

I can honestly say that I have been to Hel and back, and loved it.  If you are going to Gdansk, Gydnia, or Sopot, it would be worth stopping by, at least for the day, in Hel.  In the summer, you can get a boat across the bay to it.

As I was walking towards the lighthouse, I came across this wooden carving.  I haven’t been able to find out any information on it, but I assume they are fishermen.

Wooden carving in Hel

I think the authorities have a good sense of humour because I have only seen the following sign in Hel, and nowhere else in Poland.  It made me giggle because of where I was.  Childish, I know!Sign in Hel

Location

I took an SKM (local) train to Gdynia first, and asked about going to Hel.  The woman pointed to my left, so I walked and ended up in a PKP train station next door.  I went up to the information, and asked the woman about going to Hel.  I was surprised when she started giving me train times.  I could actually go all the way from Gdynia to Hel on one train.  As I could get there and back in a day, I decided to go for it, and bought a return ticket.  I then walked outside to see if I could get some food.  I spotted a vegan cafe opposite, so I got ordered a burger and smoothie to keep me going.

Have your say

Have you been to the Hel Peninsula, or are you thinking of going?

If you have any information on the wooden sculpture, please get in touch.  Also, have you see a skull and crossbones warning sign anywhere else in Poland?

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

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