Certain parts of the pier are pretty quiet on Sunday and one opportunistic little tabby and ginger cat, found herself a perfect place for a siesta. At first I didn't see the cat, it was the unusual arrangement of stones that caught my eye. You can see from the picture that this looks like a little miniature megalithic tomb, a very definite portal dolmen. In Ireland we have many tombs like this one, with a large cap stone supported by uprights, so I was intrigued. Bending down to examine it more closely, I discovered the cat curled up underneath. She seemed very much at home here but somehow I can't imagine that it was built as a cat shelter. It doesn't seem very likely that someone was trying to recreate a megalithic burial structure either, so I suppose I will never know who built this and for what reason. The cat was very happy with her shelter from the sun though.
A lot of things in Hel are new and in place to cater to the needs of tourists. This is inevitable in a pretty seaside town such as this one and so when you come across evidence of Hel as it used to be, when it was just a Baltic fishing port, it is quite exciting. Almost at the end of the pier, on the wall of one of the warehouses, I came across this mural. It really made me stop and think of the fishermen who earned their living from this sea and sailed in and out of this harbour at all hours and in all weather. Nearby, there is some modern graffiti which somehow heightens the appeal and dignity of this simple black and white decorative offering.
Hel's harbour is enormous which means that even on a summer Sunday, if you are prepared to walk a bit you can get away from the crowds. I'm not sure that I would have had the energy to walk right to the end of it if I had started out at the town side but because of my poor sense of direction we ended up getting a little lost and found ourselves practically at sea.
This did mean that we got to really enjoy the outer harbour before exhaustion or sun-stroke kicked in. It's not so sanitised out here and you can peep into rusty old fishing boats and trip over nets. The warehouses lining the pier are functional rather than decorative and there is a real fishing town feel. The breeze is wonderful here also and the combined smell of ocean and fish is totally refreshing.
The woodland around Hel has always been surrounded by wire fences and heavily fortified as a military area. But this has changed since Poland joined the NATO and the European Union. This year some of the wartime German, and older, Polish, military installations have been revealed to the public in the new Museum of the Defence of Hel. The museum consists of two parts: one is the 25 m high range-finder tower, so well hidden in the forest that we have never even suspected its existence and, on the other side of the main road, also in the forest, the site and remaining installations of the actual battery Schleswig Holstein. The cannons and other movable parts of the battery were transferred to Calais already in the autumn of 1941.
There, under the new name of 'Lindemann' it was used to fire at targets at sea as well as at some British batteries across the English Channel until September 1944, when it was taken over by Canadian forces. If you like military memorabilia, the museum is a must. If you don't, give the place a miss or search for mushrooms in the forest as I did while my husband went to take the photos. He is not a fan of military constructions either, but at least he knows more about them than I do.
The promenade leads from the passenger and fishing port some way towards the former military port. You can sit on the benches there basking in the sun or, walking along it, get to the small beach on this side of the coast. But the beaches on the other side of the peninsula past the wood are much more spacious and looking onto the open sea. Yet the promenade has its advantages. For wheelchair users or mothers with children in pushchairs for example, it offers easy access to seaviews. On a cool day the place gives you better shelter from the wind. And during a storm it enables you to watch the waves crashing on the coast - mind you don't get splashed!
The Museum of Fishing at Hel occupies the building of a fifteenth century Gothic church (see another tip) just opposite the port. It displays all kinds of traditional fishing equipment and models of various kinds of boats. There is also an exhibition of traditional fishing boats in the yard outside. Other exhibits show the history of the Baltic Sea and its flora and fauna. In addition, the museum houses a collection of memorabilia from the defence of Hel in September 1939.
Open daily 10.00 - 18.00
Admission to the museum: Adults - 5 zl; Concessions - 3 zl;
To climb up the steep steps to the tower you pay 2 zl extra.
The lighthouse at Hel is not a very old one, but there have been many lighthouses on that site before. The strategic position of the town and frequent sea accidents around it made the construction of a lighthouse necessary already in the 17th century. At the time, of course, real fire had to be kept going all night. The first electrically-powered lighthouse had to be blown up by the Polish defenders of Hel in 1939 to make bombardment of the town from the warships more difficult for the enemy. The present 40 m high hexagonal lighthouse, which was constructed in 1942, offers a great view to those who will make the effort of climbing it.
Many old timber cottages have been beautifully restored and new elements added to their design. This beautiful carving of a saint (St Mark the Evangelist?) with lions, which symbolise vigilance and courage, must have been placed over that door this year - I have never seen it before. Or is it perhaps that now I am a VT member I notice more things around me?
Like all the other villages on the Hel Peninsula, Hel boasts wonderful spacious sandy beaches. The one on the Pucka Bay side is not that large, but if you cross the peninsula, which can be done in a matter of minutes, you will find an expanse of fine sand - ideal for sunbathing. Near the official entrance to the beach there are slides and other attractions for the children. If you just want peace, sunshine and the sea, there is plenty of space further on in either direction.
In the woods nearby you can see some military memorabilia of Hel's turbulent past, such as cannons, and in the waters of the Baltic there are some shipwrecks from war times.
The eldest building in Hel, already mentioned in the early 15th century records, now houses the Museum of Fishing. Until World War II it was St. Peter and St.Paul's church - a place of worship of the protestant inhabitants of Hel. Considerably damaged during the war, it was used as storerooms for a few years afterwards and was only saved from total demolition in the late 50s by the preservation order from the local council in Gdansk. However, the present-day building is only part of the old structure. The old tower, blown up by the defenders of Hel in 1939 to make the bombardment from the warships more difficult, was higher than the present 21 m one. From the top of the tower you can admire the panorama of the Pucka Bay and, on a clear day, the view of the three cities: Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot. In the hall of the museum you can see the only original object from the former church - a bell cast in 1749.
Hel is an important fishing and passenger port at the tip of the Hel Peninsula. Take a walk around the harbour to see the fishing boats, yachts and join a passenger cruise to Gdynia, Sopot or Gdansk. In fact, you can visit Hel by going on a return cruise from one of those three cities, but then you'll miss all the lovely places on the way along the peninsula. Unfortunately, the passenger boats do not operate in low season.
Mostly the fishers' houses stay along Wiejska Street, the main street in the town taking its name from the fact that Hel lost its municipal character from 1872 for almost hundred years (Wiejska=country).
It was not so crowded, where I was there, just walking-place for parents with children. Some cafes, restaurants, TV-games and so on... But rather drowsily. Why it was that? Because of weather? I do not think so. I suppose weather has nothing to do with spirit of Wiejska Street: whether it is good or not. If it rains, there are not many visitors in Hel, but if sun shines people apparently go to beaches and do not go to the promenade.
Educational institution and an tourist attraction Hel pools for seal is almost full of people,especially parents with little kids. But remeber: it is not zoo or circus!
Entrance almost free (~0,2 euro).
An idea is to save seals on Baltic Sea, where they are in extremaly danger. But seals in Hel are very few - just five or seven (some are freed to sea from time to time - but do not believe that they can be praserved this way - first read this my TIP)
As I remember they feed seals at 9 AM and 3 PM.
At their website (in 2004 it was nly in Polish) you can find routes of released seals (they have electronic transmitters).
In Hel you have the choice: there are two beaches, moreover both of them are different style: from the Bay side, "small beach", is not long nor broad, almost with no-waves and often crowded. But it is close to center of Hel.
To reach the "great beach" one have to pass a little forest (10 minuts by foot). Beach is very wide and beautiful. More silent and more place, but a water a bit colder.
A few piers cut the Sea from the Gdansk Bay. There are harbors: tourist, trade, fish, navy... You can go on the piers, catch the ferry to Gdansk, Sopot or Gdynia (about 10 euro), rent a motor boat, admire yachts or just listen how waves hums.