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Cruise Diary: Gdansk

Award-winning author and writer Jeanette Hurt is cruising the Baltic on Prinsendam with her entire family to watch her parents renew their vows. Enjoy her words and her husband (and professional photographer) Kyle Edwards’ photos. You can also follow her on Twitter @JHurtAuthor or www.jeanettehurt.com.

Several generations back, my great (many times) grandfather Paul Rudnik left Kashubia, sailed out of Gdansk and became the very first settler in Pine Creek, Wisconsin.

Family legend has it that Great Grandpa Paul and his wife left after a land owner threw a potato at her head. During our tour of the Kashubia Lake District, we learned a potato blight ravaged crops and caused a famine around the same time that our ancestors left Poland. This was just one of many insights we gained into my mother’s ancestry.

The Kashubian Lake District — known as either the Polish Switzerland or Kashubian Switzerland — is stunning. Lush, verdant hills give way to glistening blue lakes and pristine woodlands. Experiencing such peaceful beauty close-up made me realize that my ancestors must have been absolutely desperate to leave such a gorgeous homeland behind.

Kashubian Museum.

Kashubian Museum.

At the Kashubian Museum in Kartuzy, we learned that the Kashubes were poor peasants, but very hard-working and stubborn. Such determination has been passed down to our 3-year-old son, who while he enjoyed running on the museum grounds, he did not enjoy “all the talky talk” of the museum tour.

We also learned that Kashubes, who now number about 500,000, kept their heritage alive despite discouragement of Pommeranian landowners. Fathers would teach their children the Kashubian alphabet through songs and pictures every Sunday, and if news needed to be dispatched to all the residents, a messenger would carry a wooden carving throughout the town. A snake, for example, meant that taxes were coming, where as a duck meant there was a mandatory meeting.

View of Kartuzy Church.

View of Kartuzy Church.

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We wrapped up our excursion by sitting on a patio overlooking Lake Gdina, sipping strong Kashubian coffee and nibbling on Kashubian apple cake with ripe, red Kashubian strawberries. I purchased a liter of these same strawberries, and my son and I devoured them on our way back to the ship.

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