Wroclaw, City of 100 Bridges

Wroclaw, City of 100 Bridges
Wroclaw, City of 100 Bridges here is one of them.

Exploring Poland’s fourth largest city

By Inka Piegsa-Quischotte

Inka Piegsa-Quischotte enjoys the street views of Wroclaw, photo by Inka Piegsa-Quischotte.
Inka Piegsa-Quischotte enjoys the street views of Wroclaw, photo by Inka Piegsa-Quischotte

The city of 100 bridges–that’s just one of several monikers Poland’s fourth largest city, located on the river Odra in Lower Silesia, can boast.

Wroclaw is also referred to as the Venice of Poland, the Holy Blossom of Europe and the Pearl of Lower Silesia. In addition, the city has been selected as European Capital of Culture 2016, World Book Capital 2016 and host of the Theatre Olympics and World Bridge Games of the same year!

Having learned all this, it will hardly come as a surprise that I grabbed with both hands the chance of a five day trip to Wroclaw and Lower Silesia, organized by the Polish Office of Tourism.

In addition, there was a very personal reason: my Dad was born there when it was called Breslau and neither my family nor I have ever been back. It was also my first visit to an ex-communist country (with the exception of a very brief one to Bulgaria), so you will understand that my expectations were running high.

Taking to the Water

If you are lucky enough to visit a city which is located along river, then, in my opinion the, best way to get an overview it to go on a boat trip and contemplate the sights from the water. Fortunately, there are plenty of these to be had in Wroclaw.

The river Odra branches out and flows around 12 islands upon which great parts of Wroclaw are built. Funnily enough you don’t much notice this much from the landside, in fact, if you didn’t know you wouldn’t be aware of the island status just walking the streets of Old Town Wroclaw which is the most picturesque and famous part of the city.

Excusion boat on river Odra, Wroclaw Poland.
Excusion boat on river Odra, Wroclaw Poland.

Once you come to the river though, you see what it’s all about. My starting point to catch a 45-minute boat trip in a nice little catamaran was from Przystan Universytecka. It costs all of €6 as in fact, the good news is that Poland is still inexpensive.

The trip took us along the pleasantly green shore, under Most Tumski and Most Grunwaldzki, Poland’s longest suspension bridge at 112 meters. Not to mention countless smaller bridges and the sight of the soaring towers of St.John the Baptist Cathedral on cathedral island. Another starting point is from the Zoo. These boats carry about 30 passengers each and are also available for private hire. The tours run from April to the end of November, daily and on the hour.

Wroclaw’s Old Town

Enjoying the city of Wroclaw.
Enjoying the city of Wroclaw.

Once back on dry land, it was sightseeing on foot, starting with the Market Square, one of the biggest in Europe and dating back to the 13th century with its magnificent Town Hall as the center piece, a masterpiece of medieval architecture. The market square and much of the surrounding area are pedestrian zones which make walking around easy, but wear comfortable shoes, it’s all cobble stone. Built on the crossroads of important transport routes like Via Regia and the Amber Road, Wroclaw’s wealth in times gone by stemmed from trade and the taxes which flowed into the city’s coffers.

Much Destruction during WWII

Much of the square was destroyed or severely damaged during WWII and the siege of Breslau which ended two days before the end of the war in 1945 and remarkable reconstruction work has been carried out recreating the original different styles in which the buildings surrounding the square were constructed.

The southern façade of the Town Hall is the entrance to Piwnica Swidnicka, Wroclaw’s most famous beer cellar dating from the 14th century. As you might expect, beer is the Polish national drink, and you will find about 200 bars, pubs and restaurants around the Market Square, nobody will go hungry or thirsty and given the low prices, you can indulge without breaking the bank.

Try the homemade wheat beer and a slice of whole meal bread with smalec, a spread made from lard and spices.

 Inka Piegsa-Quischotte enjoys the local culture.
Inka Piegsa-Quischotte enjoys the local culture.

Next to the Market Square proper are the Solny (salt) square and the New Market. The last salt stalls were abandoned in 1815, today flower stalls have taken over, open until late at night.

The Dwarf festival

Where ever you look in Market Square or Swidnicka Street, you will find bronze statues of dwarfs of every size. They are the symbol of the Orange Alternative, a movement against martial law in the 1980s.

There is a little shop right next to the entrance to the Town Hall which not only sells dwarfs in every imaginable form or shape but also books, pamphlets and photographs which document the history and origin of the movement.

If you happen to be in Wroclaw on 18th and 19th of September, you will be able to experience the unique Dwarf Festival. People of all ages dress up as dwarfs, marching in a big parade on the 18th and there are stalls and workshops where you can learn to build a dwarf city or to make prints on bags and clothing. Sadly, I missed this great entertainment by just two days.
Culture and Entertainment

Let’s not forget that Wroclaw is to be European Capital of Culture 2016 and the reasons are not only the many historical buildings, churches and museums which grace the city but also a plethora of events involving theatre, concerts, opera, art, films, and much more. In fact, the curators who prepared the artistic program for the year spent a 1½ hour presentation giving just an overview of what’s on offer.

Ladies in Medieval Costume in Wroclaw.
Ladies in Medieval Costume in Wroclaw.

For more detailed information visit wroclaw. Being a fan of classical music, I was torn for the evening between going to the Opera or attending a performance of Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand in the National Music Forum. In the end, I opted for the concert, simply because I wanted to experience Wroclaw’s pride and joy, the brand new Music Forum. The ultra modern concert hall, opposite the Opera House, has three different sized auditoriums and the symphony was performed in the largest. Acoustics are outstanding and the performance was wonderful.

When visiting a concert or an opera, bear in mind, that the locals dress up. Jeans, T-shirt or sneakers are a no-no. Several ladies wore long gowns and jewels and finery come out for the occasion.Food and drink in Wroclaw

Poland is not a happy country for teetotalers and strict vegetarians. Beer in a great variety of taste and strength is the order of the day, with the lightest being wheat beer.

Apricot and plum brandy will help you digest the nourishing Polish cuisine. Ever present vegetables are red cabbage, white cabbage and potatoes, either boiled or in the form of dumplings, all of it richly splashed with gravy. And then it’s soup, meat and more meat. Pork, deer, venison, rabbit and, of course, some of the biggest wiener schnitzel I have ever eaten are on the menu.

You can have fish, but not very much and also there are some vegetarian restaurants around, but mostly it’s very filling Polish cuisine followed by very good and strong coffee and rich cakes.Be prepared to reserve an hour or more for a two-course sit down meal, service everywhere is rather slow but very attentive. In the three hotels I stayed in in Poland, I did have an ample hot and cold breakfast buffet which was enough for me to last until dinner time.

What are the Poles like?

I live in Spain, where everybody greets everybody else with hugs and kisses even if they have just met,so, Poland came as a bit of a culture shock. It’s not that people are unfriendly; they are just much more reserved. Nobody will come up to you in the street, ask you where you are from, how long you will stay and if you enjoy Poland and that’s not only because of language difficulties.

Restaurant Boat on river Odra, Wroclaw, Poland photo credit Inka Piegsa Quischotte
Restaurant Boat on river Odra, Wroclaw, Poland photo credit Inka Piegsa Quischotte

In places where tourists abound, the staff are very helpful and speak rather good English, but in supermarkets and other ordinary shops, they tend to be rather grumpy. A smile is rarely forthcoming, your purchases are dumped in front of you, your card is swiped and you are waved on your way. I observed that Poles and foreigners are treated in the same way, it seems to be a national character trait. On the other hand, nobody tries to cheat you or take advantage of you just because you are a tourist who doesn’t know any better.Getting Around and things to

Remember LOT is the national airline and Wroclaw has a brand new international airport but no airport hotel anywhere nearby. Taxis are cheap and even cheaper are trams and buses in the city. Wroclaw is one of the warmest places in Poland which means temperatures in the 20s in summer and not too much below 0 in the depth of winter. An ideal travel destination year around.

Although Poland is a EU country, they do not have the euro and it is not freely accepted. You need to change some Polish Zloty because you need coins, among other things for public restrooms. Currently 1ZT equals €0,23, but check prior to travel. Exchange in the airport, hotels don’t change money.What to buy? Beautiful white and blue hand painted ceramics and crystal glass.

Otherwise, just trinkets. I for instance bought a dwarf key chain. Poland is still a somewhat touristically underdeveloped destination apart from European visitors, especially Germans, which I guess explains why prices are so economical. Take advantage of the current situation and visit a country with lots of history and natural beauty and, of course, tons of cabbage.

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