Just outside the Seal Sanctuary you can find information on Hel and animal and plant life in the Baltic, which we found very interesting. But probably the most striking and educational was the information about the durability of various objects that people tend to throw into the sea.
Believe it or not, a bus ticket lasts in the sea for 2-4 weeks, a piece of cotton cloth - 1-5 months, a piece of string - 3-14 months, a woollen sock - 1 year, a painted board - 13 years, a can - 100-500 years, a plastic bottle - 450 years and a glass bottle - interminably long. Unbelievable, isn't it?
After reading this, you will probably think twice before discarding anything into the sea. Except perhaps when you are stranded on a desert island and have to send a message in a bottle asking for help...
We saw this old boat tucked into the corner near the entrance at the port of Hel. It had all the marks of having been used for a long time but, though a little rusty, it was still in working order and must have been at sea recently. I could imagine it going out in a storm, a tiny dot tossed by the waves but always back on the surface when the wave had gone.
It had 'Bóg z nami' - 'God be with us'- written on its cabin and I could imagine its owner - an old fisherman with a weather-beaten face whose trust in God's mercy was stronger than his fear of the elements. A family man, whose wife would always wait for his return from the sea, praying to God that nothing bad should befall him. And when I read in the paper only last week that a much larger fishing boat with five Polish fishermen from Wladyslawowo had gone missing near Bornholm, I realised what a lucky man the owner of this tiny boat was.
Visitors to the seal sanctuary at Hel used to drop a lot of coins into the pools, perhaps trying to make sure that they return to Hel some day. When, however, some coins were found in the stomach of a dead seal, this had to be stopped.
Now the people at the sanctuary have thought of an interesting way of making money for the upkeep of their charges. A money-box in the shape of a funnel was placed on one of the viewing platforms. The box represents the solar system where the hole in the middle is the sun and the coins dropped through chutes imitate the motion of the planets, accelerating when they come closer to the sun and slowing down when they move away from the middle of the funnel. It can be fascinating to watch their elliptical movement before they fall into the hole so visitors drop plenty of coins just to watch them. These are mainly small coins and I expect counting them afterwards can be a painstaking task but you can't have everything.
Favorite thing: Trees on the Hel Peninsula are mostly far from strong. The pines on the dunes look feeble and often succumb to the strong winds. Apart from them, only beeches and birches can tolerate the sandy soil and the hard conditions. The trees lining the main streets of the villages are mainly stout acacias with branches pruned every year, you can see some of them in the picture. But this tree, of whatever kind it is, I have not seen it in leaf so can't say, rises high above the rest and its branches look strong and thick. Perhaps because it has grown in the shelter of the old Protestant church (now a museum) and the relatively small building of the Franciscan monastery, which have kept the stormy winds away. It must have witnessed the defence of Hel in 1939 and who knows what else. If only it could talk!
Favorite thing: Right above the entrance to the Izdebka restaurant is this beautiful lantern cast in iron. I have not seen it alight as I have never been at Hel after dark, but even by day it serves as a lovely decoration, adding a lot of charm to this old fisherman's cottage. Let's hope they keep it during the restoration work to be started soon.
Favorite thing: Hel has the atmosphere of a small town, where everybody knows and greets everybody. The people seem to be friendly and often engage the tourist in conversation, offering advice on where to eat or just sharing the local news with the newcomer. Be polite and say "Good morning" (Dzien dobry) to an elderly person. You will see that younger people will say the same to you if they think you might speak Polish. And don't hesitate to ask any questions you may have - they will be delighted to answer.
In ancient times there was a wealthy town north-east of today's Hel. Its merchants traded with foreign countries, had their own fleet of ships and brought goods and valuables from all over the world. Yet their prosperity spoilt them and soon led to their moral decline. Feasts and merrymaking went on and on, idleness, arrogance and debauchery reigned. Then one night at Whitsuntide the sea invaded the place and flooded the sinful old town of Hel.
Since then it has only been possible to see it in its former glory at the bottom of the sea at Whitsuntide. But whoever sees it, is in great danger. Many a fisherman has jumped into the sea tempted by the unchaste glamour of the girls of ancient Hel and has never been seen again. Only the wailing sound of the flooded Hel bells can then be heard through the storm.
And indeed a few hundred years B.C. there was a settlement to the north east of today's Hel which was later flooded by the sea, though perhaps not at one go. The mediaeval church - now a museum - which is situated at the sea front, had once been in the town centre. This shows how far the land has retreated under the pressure of the sea.
There are a number of beaches on Hel peninsular, some of them looking almost Caribbean-like with their forest-fringed backdrop.
The beach pictured here is the one close to the centre of Hel village and the port. Small fishing boats dot the beach.
The local restaurants specialise in freshly caught fish from the Baltic Sea.
Favorite thing: This place is great if you're going with a group of your friends or with your family. There's no nightlife of any sort, and everyone else is traveling either with their family or their group of friends, so you won't really meet too many people "just hanging out." It is so relaxing here though! There are two sides of the peninsula (obviously). The side facing Poland (the bay) has a really tiny, weak beach. But if you walk accross the woods to the other side, facing out into the Baltic Sea, you will be astounded. The beach is heavenly! It's huge, and the sand feels like silk. Hel is a really wonderful place!