Visiting a 759-year-old market

David Gonnerman, marketing coordinator for the Nashville Farmers’ Market, recently returned from a week-long family visit to Poland that just happened to coincide with one of Europe’s largest open-air trade fairs.

Poland’s Baltic seaport of Gdansk has seen a few things over the years. Historical highlights range from joining the Hanseatic League in 1361 to being on the receiving end of the opening shots of World War II in Europe. More recently, the city’s shipyard was the birthplace of the Solidarity movement that ultimately unseated Communist rule.

Reconstructed after the war and greatly transformed since my first visit back in 1989, Gdansk is one of Poland’s most beautiful cities. Happily, our recent vacation to my wife’s home country overlapped with the 759-year-old St. Dominic’s Fair — “the largest open-air trade and cultural event in Poland and one of the largest such events in Europe.”

My current profession made me more than curious about the thousand-plus merchants from across Europe who were spread throughout the city’s Old Town. Offerings ranged from artisan foods and crafts to clothing, leather goods, jewelry (Gdansk is famous for its Baltic amber) and antiques. In addition, Polish and international food stands were supplemented by food trucks (which have probably been around for a while, but they’re the first I’ve seen in Poland).

But it wasn’t a completely rosy picture. Although parking can be tight on a busy weekend here at the Nashville Farmers’ Market, we’ve got it pretty good by comparison. The St. Dominic’s Fair only worsened Gdansk Old Town’s exclusive reliance on street parking (few if any lots and no ramps), and closing down the main avenues lined with stalls added a new level of frustration to driving the web of medieval streets.

St. Dominic’s Fair was a definite bonus for the two days we spent in Gdansk. In addition to sampling an array of foods from around Europe, our family returned home with jewelry, honey, militaria and an antique book that we might not otherwise have obtained.

And the best part? The fair runs through August 18 — so there’s still time for you to hop on a plane and see it all for yourself.

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David Gonnerman