This is a guest post by Shara of SKJ Travel.
I’d never heard of Wroclaw until thumbing through a guidebook on Poland. Thank goodness a friend clued me in to how to pronounce it – in English like “Vro-tsuave” – before I went over there calling it “Row-claw.” Having spent several weeks in Prague, my aim was to travel to Krakow and then to Slovakia. As it happened, Wroclaw was a straight shot east of Prague, and a famous highway route called the Eagle’s Nest conveniently connected Wroclaw to Krakow. The guidebook description was compelling enough I booked three nights in Wroclaw.
Entering the city, finding our hostel, and finding a place to park were an unfortunate nightmare. After meeting with a labyrinth of one-way streets, dead ends, and divided highways, nearly running out of gas as we spent a good hour like rats in a maze, asking a police officer who, though friendly, could not help, about a hair’s width away from our wit’s end, we finally stumbled in the hostel door, exhausted and a little touchy. It was a relief to discover that it was all worth the effort for the pleasure of the subsequent days.
Wroclaw is a refreshing contrast to Krakow, which, while a beautiful city, is overrun with tourists. In Wroclaw, nobody accosted us with offers of horse-carriage rides and city tours and “come do this, come do that.” We wandered around peacefully with tons of elbow room. Far fewer people spoke English than in Krakow, an aspect of traveling that can be challenging when you don’t know the local language, but which I believe gives the better, more authentic traveling experience. And typically, leads to a few more culinary adventures … I wish, for example, I’d known what a radler was, listed misleadingly in the beer section of the menu; perogies, on the other hand, are pretty much always a safe bet in food.
The Old Market Square is particularly beautiful with its brightly-colored buildings. It’s lined with restaurants and bars, and we had two of our best meals – out of 5 weeks of traveling in Central Europe – in Wroclaw. A particularly great experience was the Pod Gryfami Restauracja. At the end of our excellent meal and a couple bottles of wine, our waiter asked if we wanted to see the Medieval cellars beneath the restaurant, recently excavated in 1999 and refinished. Looking around to ensure nobody was watching, he motioned us to follow him down the ancient stairway. I imagine it wasn’t a problem for us to be down there, but our waiter made it seem like a secret adventure.
Wroclaw has a whimsical side, too, choosing gnomes as a sort of city theme. We noticed small statues of them around the square and throughout the old town. There was even a human “statue” sitting still for tips who chose to be a gnome.
The town hall building is a beautiful piece of architecture with Gothic ceilings and colored-glass windows. It even has its own astronomical clock on the outside, similar to the town hall in Prague. We passed up the guided historical tour and wandered around on our own. From the upper level we could look out over the market square and hear wisps of music from the accordion street performers we’d stopped to watch earlier in the day. We called them the dueling accordionists. If you think your mind can’t be blown by an accordionist, these two guys will educate you.
Another very worthy item for the traveler’s itinerary is the University of Wroclaw. The lecture hall is magnificent, and I can’t imagine ever paying attention to a spoken lecture while sitting in its pews when there is so much to entertain the audience visually … the classic ceiling painting and copious molded statues, and each window is flanked by paintings of historical figures. I enjoyed the quirky museum exhibit, with its boxes of glass eyeballs and completely random items from the university’s 300-year history. It was well worth the climb to the Mathematician’s Tower to gain a lovely rooftop view of the city.
A unique feature of Wroclaw are the river islands, the most popular being Tumski. You can walk to the islands via short bridges. One of the attractions here is the Medieval cathedral. An interesting aspect of Wroclaw is that this city was heavily bombed during World War II. Fortunately, it was rebuilt, but the city chose not to conceal the casualties of the war. When they rebuilt, they used clearly different materials from the original, so you can plainly see the extent of the damage and marvel at the rebuilding efforts. It was a clever way to restore the ancient history while acknowledging the more recent history.
We rounded out a trip mostly given over to architectural and historical sights with a stroll through the botanical gardens. Colorful and thoughtful arrangements made for a truly pleasant afternoon. It helped calm our minds and spirits in preparation for exiting the city the following day. We needed to psyche ourselves up after the debacle of entering the city. A little vodka nightcap and we were golden.
About the Author: Shara Johnson plots her travels from her home base in Nederland, Colorado, where she scrapes up travel money hosting other travelers in her B&B studio. You can follow her adventures on SKJtravel.net and be her friend on Facebook via Skj Traveler.