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Trip Report Trip Report: Wroclaw, May 2012

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From Krakow we took the train to Wroclaw. We purchased first class tickets, and the compartment was fine--we were the only ones in it. The wagon was from another era, and that was evident from the toilet, which was barely useable standing up, and the one at the other end of the wagon was out of order. The train moved very slowly from Krakow to near Katowice, taking bout an hour to get to a station that I estimated to be about 40 km. from Krakow. At that pace it would not arrive in Wroclaw until late at night and way beyond its scheduled arrival. But it sped up and arrived in Wroclaw on time.

The Wroclaw train station is being renovated and passengers are directed to the back exit, away from the center of town. It was a mess and we took the first taxi available to get to the rental agency which we suspected would close early on a Saturday. We probably were overcharged by the taxi (30 zlotys) for a ten minute ride. We found the rental agency which was closed. Rather than running around with our luggage, my wife went back downstairs to ask someone for any information that might help us. It turns out that travelers often arrive when the office is closed and there is an arrangement to pick up the key. My wife came back with the key.

We walked across the center of town, though the Rynek to our apartment in a building that faces the flower market. We were within spitting distance of the Rynek (500 zlotys or $180 for 3 nights rented through www.apartmentwroclaw.pl ). The agency owns several apartments in that building, ours was up on the fourth floor--no problem until the last day when I suddenly felt a spasm in my back and it gave out before we left the apartment (I am the mule who carries the two suitcases up and down stairs). It really is not an apartment. It has its own entrance with a metal door that has multiple bolts going into the door jamb when one locks it, but the bathroom is tiny and while the kitchen along one wall of the room has a stove, refrigerator and dishwasher--I am not positive about the latter--it had fewer cooking implements than a camping set so that it was essentially unusable for meals. The dishes were also a bare minimum of two plates and two glasses, and I am not even sure that there were any bowls. The only table was a small table about the size of a small Parisian café table. It functions best as a hotel room, disregarding the fact that it has a “kitchen”. The agency did hit us with the DCC which cost us an extra 6.654% on the total cost of the rental.

What we saw in Wroclaw:

The Rynek is the center of tourist Wroclaw with cafés and restaurants with their sidewalk extensions lining all of its sides. There was some rowdiness with, in this instance, Brits anticipated the European cup and filling themselves up with cheap beer. When we were there, the authorities were setting up for the European soccer championships and were anticipating some serious crowds. The tourist office is on the Rynek, as are several banks with ATMs that accept American ATM cards. But the things we saw were not on the Rynek, and it is worth poking one’s nose beyond that core area.

The Panorama of the Battle of Raclawice. This definitely a must for several reasons. The panorama is a circular painting situated in a room specifically designed for it. There is a side room which has toy-sized models of the troops involved in the battle and a topographical map of the battle site. The painting is an amazing tour-de-force of 19th century historico-realist art. The foreground in front of the panorama is in three dimensions and the blend between the three dimensions and the painting is absolutely seamless (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/7645997012/in/set-72157630751237938 ). Visitors are to be reverently silent while viewing the painting, but photographs are allowed. It is a monument to Polish nationalism, and was removed from Lviv when the Polish border was moved westward, and eventually found its way to Wroclaw. I believe that for a while it was in Warsaw, so one can speculate that it eventually found a permanent home in Wroclaw as part of affirming Wroclaw’s Polish status. We did not have the recommended reservations for the tour (the viewing is by guided tour only), but arrived 15 minutes before the opening time and were inside the building by mistake--just following arriving staff--so that we were the first on line to purchase tickets.

The Fine Arts museum has some interesting late Medieval/early Renaissance objects, and an interesting gallery of contemporary art in the attic. This is close to the Panorama, as is the architecture museum which had a single large exhibit on the architect Ernst May, whose career started in Breslau (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernst_May ).

We went to see the Centennial Hall, aka The People’s Hall, which is an enormous circular building constructed out of reinforced concrete in 1913 to celebrate the hundred year anniversary of the battle of Leipzig. It is situated in a park with large water basin, a semi circular pergola, and mid-century buildings containing a café on a large terrace. The original building was undamaged during W.W.II and there are extensive exhibits to show how it was constructed in record time. http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/sets/72157630751237938/show/with/7646268266/

We went over to the island with the cathedral, saw a bridge with all the locks on it--just another form of mindless graffiti, in my opinion--briefly visited the cathedral (I think that we were churched out after Krakow and SE Poland) and then visited the botanical garden where the irises and peonies were in full bloom (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/7646140294/in/set-72157630751237938 ). We had a snack/lunch of pirogie from a stand in the garden. Just by the bridge with the streetcar lines, on the main side of the city is a large brick building that looks as if it has seen better days; my wife thought that it was an abandoned shell. Shell it is, but designed as such. It is an impressive reinforced concrete building that preceded The People’s Hall, built as the central market for the city (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/7646118672/in/set-72157630751237938 ).

The university is worth a visit. It was completely destroyed during W.W.II--Breslau surrendered after Berlin--and rose from its ashes in full Baroque/Rococo splendor, at least for the public rooms that can be visited. I think that it is during that tour that I saw a comment that Wroclaw became Polish after W.W.II following 450 years of occupation, which means that it was not Polish when Poland was in ascendancy, and that the reconstructed historical city is of Germanic origins. That is of course the case for the rynek and town hall rebuilt in their pre-19th century style. We tried to see the town hall, but while the door was open (closed the previous day since the offices wee closed), we were not allowed in--it was closed for a minor holiday.

Where we ate:

Our first meal was on the Rynek. The weather was pleasant, people watching was enjoyable, but I do not remember the meal one way or the other. There are many choices available on that square, so one should take the time to browse the different menus barring a specific recommendation.

We tried to have lunch at the Radisson Blu near the Fine Arts Museum and the Panorama building. There is a nice courtyard where we were seated, the restaurant was almost empty, and after 15 minutes of non-service--not even a menu--we walked out.

By the University, near the square with the statue of the naked warrior with a sword, there is a cafeteria that has decent food at very low prices--all sold by weight. This is where we had our last lunch before taking an afternoon flight to Paris.

Our last evening meal was in Gospoda Wroclawska in one of the alleys next to the town hall; it is accurately described by the Green Guide--we made reservations, although it is not clear that they were needed. The pig’s knuckle I ordered was so big that I could not finish it. Cost for the meal: $49.

Local Poles do not seem to eat out on the Rynek. But they were in evidence two blocks away on Kuznicza street where the is a block of an elevated sidewalk consisting exclusively of Italian restaurants, most of them serving pizza; for the budget minded, that might be the area to go to for a meal.

Practical information:

There is an internet locale on Igielna street with very helpful personnel. I had to print out my boarding pass for Ryan air, available only 24 hours in advance, and could not do it for one reason or another. Eventually, with the help of the desk clerk, I did get the printout, thus avoiding a hefty fee for not having my boarding pass when arriving at the checkout desk.

We used a city bus to go to the airport. We were going Ryan air, and at one point thought we had missed out exit because the bus passed a building with a big Ryan air sign on it before arriving at the main terminal which is at least 1 km. farther. But the Ryan air building is empty, the airline has moved its operation to the main terminal.

This is the last of my trip reports on Poland.

For pictures from this part of our Polish trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/sets/72157630751237938/show/

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