I am an avid traveller—you already know that if you follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I am also a patriot and really love my country. Every book I write references Poland or is set here. For example, One God—my sci-fi thriller based on real-world developments in biology and genetics, where one corporation from Poland gains almost total control over the world.

One God is now in the hands of my English editor. Meanwhile, despite the fact I should be working on my next thriller (I Can Hear You), I’ve decided to spend some time on another novel, Seasick, while I take a rest from Miran, Satia, and the rest of the One God gang, who have been occupying my mind for the last month or so as I worked to complete the manuscript.

Gathering materials for a novel is always a great excuse to travel, and thus I decided to visit the Polish shore and spend a week by the Baltic Sea. Today I would like to bring you here with me.

Why have I decided to visit a place that I’ve referred to as a “nightmare” in the title of this post? Well, you will see. We have a special Polish word, upiorny, more or less meaning nightmarish, lurid, ghastly—but none of these translations is exact, in my opinion. You have to come to the Baltic Sea with me to see what I mean. Let’s go!

Fun Facts

The Baltic Sea is the youngest sea in Europe—only 14,000 years old—and was formed by the Scandinavian ice sheet receding from the continent as it started to get warmer here. The ice sheet stopped for a while and started to melt, forming a freshwater lake. (This is a very short version of the story.) As a consequence, the Baltic Sea is not very salty and not very deep (only 52 meters on average).

The Sea is famous for its seams of oil, gas, and of course amber—amber is very popular in Poland. When walking early in the morning after a storm (storms are frequent here), you can sometimes find pieces of amber in the sand.

When I was a child I learned how to distinguish amber from amber-like stones. You have to rub the stone against your sweater and check whether it attracts small pieces of lint. If so, it’s amber; if not, an ordinary stone. (I still don’t know if this is true.)

What is also interesting about the Sea is that, due to the western winds prevailing here, the beaches are slowly being blown away. The sand taken by the wind and the waves is deposited in calmer places, sometimes causing bays to close and form new lakes, like Wicko or Łebskie. Very likely the largest bay in Gdańsk will in time close and form another lake. To protect the sea bank from eroding, local governments undertake various actions, like building breakwaters or artificial reefs, and planting plants on the dunes.

The most important Polish harbors are Gdańsk, Gdynia, Szczecin, Świnoujście, Kołobrzeg and Ustka. They have allowed for the development of industry here. Industrial development means pollution, which is a huge problem (like everywhere, I suppose), but the Baltic Sea is claimed to be one of the most polluted seas in the world. Industrial activity and the number of people who live here—these are the main reasons. Still, local governments are doing what they can to bring back the ecological balance of the Baltic. I hope they (and we) succeed.

Nightmarish Features

After this short introduction it’s time to take a look at the nightmarish features of the Baltic Sea. I’ve divided them into sections, so that you can easily find something that interests you. Enjoy!

Beach Lovers

The Baltic Sea is called The Mediterranean of the North, but do not get fooled, oh no! You might love staying at the beach, but you have to be tough to stay at the beach here. This is a cold sea, and when I say cold, I mean truly cold. Its average temperature in summer reaches about 17 degrees Celsius. In winter for 90 days the Baltic Sea is covered with ice.

And how about the air? Well, it’s not warm either. In summer the average temperature reaches 16—18 degrees Celsius, but you have to bear in mind it’s windy here and sometimes 16 feels like 12.

So it’s cold. And as I said, pretty windy—calm days are rare. Also, the weather changes very, very quickly—if you’re not happy about the conditions, wait five minutes, and they’ll change.

Thus, when heading for the beach, you have to bring the proper equipment, which includes:

  • A windbreak, which you will need to stick in the sand and probably weigh down with stones
  • Blankets to lie on and to drape over your back
  • Lost of clothes, suitable for every type of weather
  • Umbrella you can use in case of rain–assuming the wind won’t tear it out of your hands
  • Gloves and hat, even in summer

Scientists claim that the weather around the Baltic Sea will improve. By 2100 the average air temperature will supposedly rise by 4‒8 degrees and the water temperature by 2‒4 degrees. Not bad!

So, the weather is disastrous, and on top of that you have our seagulls. There are different kinds of them, smaller and bigger ones, but they all share one particular feature—they are shameless. Don’t leave any food where they can spot it—they will steal it. Don’t even think of eating a sandwich on the beach—they’ll stare at you until you choke. And if you are planning to fish, prepare for the seagulls to eat your catch. They are wall-to-wall, walking down the street and the piers, sitting on car roofs, squawking all day long. As a child I was very afraid of seagulls, so I used them in a rather negative context in my novel Absolute Sunset. Now I laugh at them, and sometimes even feed them with stale bread—they love it.

You should also be prepared to confront our jellyfish. They are purplish and quite large, but harmless. However, if you are used to the stinging ones from Spain you’ll probably get pretty scared.

Also, you might be very surprised to see people tossing coins into the sea. This is a local custom that assures you will come back to the Sea in the future. Bearing in mind the weather, seagulls, and large jellyfish, wanting to come back here seems crazy.

But

Why do we, Poles, come to the seaside? And why do more and more people from abroad choose to vacation by the Baltic Sea? Well, the reason is the beautiful sandy beaches. You will not find their equal anywhere, I assure you, and I have checked. The sand is almost white, and very, very soft. Sometimes the beaches are flat, sometimes surrounded by cliffs. If you take some time and go for a long walk, you will discover natural areas you had no idea were there. Just ignore the wind and keep walking.

If you happen to be an athlete, you can find the answer to a very important question: am I tough enough to work out anywhere, and under any conditions? Running, swimming, bicycling—these are the primary disciplines you can enjoy by the Baltic Sea. The land here is flat, so running is a real pleasure, as long as you are heading in the same direction as the wind—east. Swimming—well, you’d better wear a wetsuit…

Sailors

The Baltic Sea is a real nightmare for sailors, and one of the most challenging places to sail. Due to the damn wind and very short waves, you have to struggle just to keep your boat in an upright position. And what’s more, it’s nearly impossible to foresee the weather.

If the weather doesn’t kill you here, the variations in the water level will probably drive you insane. The shape of the shoreline causes rapid fluctuations of the water level, and foreseeing them is really, really hard—if you’re sailing close to the shore, you’re actually sailing with no information about the depth of the water.

And the currents… Very unstable, and changing constantly due to the wind. It’s impossible to give you a general rule for predicting the currents. If you are close to shore, in a narrow sound or by a peninsula, you have to be very careful. On top of that, you have currents caused by waves that run diagonally toward the shore—you are going to suffer because of these whenever you enter a marina. Unpredictable and evil, that’s what they are. And the marinas? Most of them are narrow and very shallow. Buy yourself a good map showing the entrance route, or you will end up on a sandbar in the middle of the port.

Most of the people sailing the Baltic Sea suffer from seasickness. Even if you’re sailing in summer, the waves are pretty annoying. But you can always use our local method for preventing seasickness: apply some adhesive tape to your belly button. If this doesn’t work, put a coin under the tape. If this doesn’t work, suffer with dignity.

But

Smooth seas never made a skillful sailor. If you want to learn a lot about sailing and dare to hit the Baltic Sea, I’m with you. Don’t worry that you might die here—our SAR system is very good and our SAR ships are able to do a somersault on the waves, right themselves, and sail on further to save you. No worries.

Kids at the Baltic Sea start their sailing lessons at the age of 4, so you’ll survive.

If you are seeking a real thrill, take a lake boat out on the sea—I did that once. Never regretted it.

Divers

Yes, it is possible to dive in the Baltic Sea. But you have to be very well-prepared. The green color of the water and the weather conditions demand excellent diving skills. It’s also very cold here—you’re going to need a very warm suit.

You never know what the visibility will be—it changes very rapidly. Very often it’s under a few meters. There are also numerous fishnets and fly lines left behind by ships. I don’t have to tell you that it’s not nice to get stuck in them. You also have to bear the currents in mind. Sometimes they affect only the surface, sometimes the bottom as well. Usually they are not strong enough to carry a diver with them.

And the weather, a persistent problem at the Baltic Sea… You can’t predict it. You can’t plan anything. So don’t plan—just come here and you’ll see what is possible and what isn’t on that particular day.

But

The Baltic Sea is a great place for divers since we have about 20,000 underwater objects here. Over 1,000 of them are mapped and identified as shipwrecks and are carefully maintained . Since the water is not very salty, there are even wooden ships you can visit. If you need assistance, we have numerous diving centers that can help you find a decent place to dive and guide you under the water.

To Sum Up

Everything about the Baltic Sea is wrong. It’s a nightmare, or as we say here “a beautiful disaster”. But I love this place. Rain? Fine, got used to it. Wind? No problem at all. Cold water? Who cares!

As long as I can walk the beaches and smell the salty air, I am fine. Perfectly fine.

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