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Gdansk, Poland


Enter Gdansk from its gateway port of Gdynia and discover one of the oldest, most important, and most beautiful cities in the Baltic. Gdansk was once the nation's chief trading hub as well as its cultural center. 90% of this charming city was destroyed during WWII, but due to the unstoppable spirit of its residents, Gdansk is once again glittering and robust -- its architectural gems restored in great detail and its place in history honored at every turn.

Note the myriad architectural styles that co-exist in the heart of Old Town, including Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. Standouts are the Golden House, with its gold-plated ornaments on its detailed Renaissance facade, Artus Palace, known for its breathtaking interior, Town Hall, with its slender towers and gilt statues, the Neptune Fountain, which dates to 1633, and the elaborate brick and sandstone Great Arsenal.

The medieval masterpiece, St. Mary's Church, is the largest brick church in the world, capable of seating close to 25,000 worshippers and home to the touching Madonna of Gdansk statue from the 15th century. Legend has it that its young artist was on trial for murder but was spared because of the beauty of the statue he created. The church took over 159 years to build and its deceivingly plain exterior belies a bright, spacious interior with large windows and more than 30 beautifully decorated chapels.

A visit to Gdansk isn't complete without experiencing Malbork, the largest feudal castle in Europe. The High Castle, the original hilltop fort, offered sweeping views of attackers on the city, while the Middle and Lower Castles and the lavish Grand Master's Palace were built to withstand the mightiest sieges. Built by Teutonic Knights and turned into the King's Palace in the 13th century, Malbork survived all onslaughts until the end of WWII, when nearly half the structure was destroyed. Painstaking reconstruction brought back the awesome citadel we see today.
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