Sunday, March 12, 2017

Poland Diaries - Day 4 & Day 5 (Weekend fun) - Part 3

After a heavy breakfast, the husband and I checked out of the Monopol. With some help of google maps, we figured that the number 17 tram from Opera can go to Racławice Panorama. After getting down from the tram stop pl Nowy Targ, we walked a bit inside the road and we could see the Rotunda from a distance - a purpose built exhibition room devoted to present the painting showing the battle of Racławice.

The idea came from the painter Jan Styka in Lwów in order to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the victorious Battle of Racławice, a famous episode of the Kościuszko Insurrection, a heroic but in the end fallen attempt to defend Polish independence. The battle was fought on 4 April 1794 between the insurrectionist force of peasant volunteers under Kościuszko and the Russian army commanded by General Tormasov. After World War II, the painting was brought to Wrocław. Under the Communist regime, the subject was considered politically sensitive and the efforts to have the canvas restored and exhibited were successful only after August 1980. 

The concept is very unique, the painting is 360 degrees and you start at one point moving left as the commentary elucidates the course of the battle, one scene after another and enlivened by the lighting of the diodes in appropriate sections of the battlefield. The presentation helps the viewer confront the artistic vision of Kossak and Styka with historical reality.

It was extremely cold and it had started to rain however I insisted that we walk back to the market square assuming it is not that far. We walked along the Odra river and I saw a frozen river for the first time in my life - the swans had settled on the layer of ice and the ferry's had been put to a halt. On the river banks, we met the dwarf ParczekM who is sitting on the excavator.

Maybe it was the cold or maybe I had a lot of energy from the heavy morning breakfast, but very soon we were at the the University square again. The magnificent Baroque architecture of the main building was damaged in WWII and was not only a makeshift headquarter for Nazis but also suffered heavy bombing. At the end of the war, the German faculty were exiled and replacement professors were brought from Lwów. The past professors of the university include Alois Alzheimer (the man who gave his name to the disease) and Robert Bunsen (who didn’t invent the Bunsen burner but improved it to such a degree that it was named in his honour). Since the start of the 20th century, the university has produced a remarkable 9 Nobel Prize winners and today over 40,000 students are enrolled with 9,000 graduating each year.

The tickets are available for 2,3 or 4 rooms along with the mathematical tower and audio guides are available in each room in many languages. The first room we visited was the Music Hall. As with the case of the overall building, the music hall suffered serious damage. In 1997, with only minor modifications, the hall's architecture and the decoration has been reconstructed and the original pipe organ has been renovated and installed.

Next stop was the room - Aula Leopoldina. In true Baroque style, the ceremonial hall is a must visit in the building. In the center of the podium sculpture is Leopold I on the throne. Beside him are personifications: Prudence (old man with a mirror) and thrift (woman with a behive). Under the emperor are Dispute (a woman with her hair in disarray) and Stupidity. The painting on the ceiling depicts the apotheosis of God's wisdom - the source of all knowledge and the personification of contemporary sciences and arts. The portraits ringing the walls depict the founding fathers of the University. 

Winding upstairs, the visit to the museum ends on the terrace of the university's 'Mathematical Tower' which affords great photo opportunities and panoramic views of the Old Town and Odra River. 

As we were walking back, we stopped on the way to have a doughnut from Stara Pączkarnia which apparently seemed very popular looking at the length of the queue. Further down the Kuźnicza street, near the ATM, we saw three dwarfs at work - Bankomatnik, Pinek and Chipuś who are busy repairing the ATM.

The entire street has several dwarfs like the Janinek - Dwarf looking at himself in the mirror after coming out from the salon and Pierożnik - who sits in front of the restaurant eating Pierogi. Enjoying the line of dwarfs, we are at the market square where I notice another dwarf - Piwosz z Psem who is having a merry time drinking beer outside a club.

At the market square, a young girl is using large hoops held between two sticks, dipping them in a bucket of soapy water and creating huge soap bubbles, so huge that you could see the entire reflection of the town hall in it. Small children on the square were running behind the bubble and she was kindly obliging them by creating more bubbles to run after. We spent a good time just enjoying the scenery and burst a few ourselves - little things in life that give happiness.

We wanted to take a walking tour in the afternoon for the Jewish quarter so we decided to head back to Bar Vega, only this time we sat upstairs which is more like a restaurant and ordered using a menu in english. The potato pancakes were delicious and we rushed to the meeting point for the walking tour. We missed the introduction but were a bit confused as we were expecting to see the tour guide from yesterday for the 'Communism tour'. Whilst the tour guide seemed very enthusiastic about this tour, it wasn't of much interest to us so after a good twenty minutes in the tour, we mustered the courage to tell the tour guide that we were leaving this tour and excused ourselves back to the market square.

Nevertheless, we spotted some more dwarves on the way before we left the tour. At the St Elizabeths church we see Strażak (Firefighters), Pożarek  - The day St Elizabeths church was engulfed in fire, the dwarves showed a lot of courage. The Pożarki firebrigade duo was the first to arrive at the scene and joined the rescue operation.

śpioch (sleepy) - He cares for nothing more than lounging and he snores so loud that the enemies are scared of him. For his military merits, he has been given the position of guarding the entrance to the Underground city of Dwarfs

Ogorzałek and Opiłek are both fond of the restaurant outside which they stand.

The Weteran (The veteran) He appeared during the celebrations for the Veteran's day.

At the end of the road is Ziołek - The Herbalist - he goes around the town to enhance its collection of herbs. Working with Herbapol Wrocław, he prepares medicine and infusions for special orders

After leaving the tour, within no time we were back at the square and were now confronted with a difficult question on what to do for the rest of the day as we hadn't planned for this downtime. We sought the help of the tourist information centre and after much discussion on whether to do a half day trip outside Wroclaw, we decided to do the Hala Stulecia or the Centennial Hall. Several trams can take you from Swidnica to the Centennial Hall. The tram route went through Plac Grunwaldzki so I could also show my office building to the husband.

The Centennial Hall is a historic building in Wroclaw and constructed according to the plans of Max Berg. The cupola was made of reinforced concrete, and with an inner diameter of 69 m and is 42 m high. It was the largest building of its kind at the time of construction. The symmetrical quatrefoil shape with a large circular central space seats 7,000 persons. 

It was in the on 10 March 1813 where King Frederick William III of Prussia called upon the Prussian and German people in his proclamation to rise up against Napoleon's occupation. In this proclamation he created the award of the Iron Cross, which features in the architecture of this structure. In October of that year, Napoleon was defeated. The opening of the hall was part of the celebration commemorating the 100th anniversary of the battle, hence the name and was largely spared from the devastation during the Siege of Wroclaw

It was time to shift to Double Tree again, so we picked up the luggage and took the 17 number tram from Opera to Galeria Domińikanska. The booking was obviously under my name and the girl on the reception desk immediately recognized me from two days ago. We created a bit of strategy, the husband would stand outside while I checked in, and would casually walk in as if he had come to meet me, similar to what we did at Monopol. Now I dont think it was really necessary but we were in no mood to give any explanations on additional people on the booking so we did exactly what we had planned.

The room was even better than the last time and after settling down and charging our cellphones, we left for the market square again. We went straight to Kawiarnia Literatka to try our luck again and this time it seemed a bit empty being a sunday evening. We sat down at the bar and the bartender gave us abundant knowledge of the different flavours of vodka. After that, we walked to Piec Na Szewskiej and stuffed ourselves with amazing pizza.

Poland Diaries - Day 4 & Day 5 (Weekend fun) - Part 2

I settle down in the reception of the hotel passing my time on the only available mode of entertainment these day - the cell phone. Barely ten minutes have passed and the door opens wide and there the husband is standing with his backpack. He is amazed that the hotel has automatic doors - not because he hasnt seen them before but because I painted a rather shady picture of the hotel room yesterday. I quietly sneak him to my room, and while he gets ready I am all set with the lunch options and the walking tour meeting point due to my morning venture.

The free walking tour of the old town starts at 130 pm from the Fredro's statue on Rynek in front of the townhall. Before that, we decide to grab a bite in 'Bar Vega'. Bar Vega is a vegan restaurant that sits right on the market square and offers a variety of vegan options even for Polish food. The menu is in Polish and we order a warp that turns out to be a dessert with raspberry cream. Luckily the second dish comes out fine and we make a dash to the meeting point.

After the usual introductions in the walking tour, our guide starts by talking about the statue of Fredro. Aleksander Fredro was a poet, playwright and author and is one of Poland’s most distinguished literary figures who wrote social comedies about the lifestyle of the Polish nobility. However, Fredro isnt really relevant to Wrocław. The statue originally stood in Lviv, the city which Fredro dedicated so much of his time to. After the war Lviv was given to Ukraine, and many of its Polish inhabitants migrated westwards to Wrocław. Like so many of their cultural treasures the Fredro statue accompanied them and now he sits at the main square, which is a perfect ode to the people of Wroclaw, most of whom also migrated here after the war. 

Speaking about war, Wroclaw, then called as Breslau became part of the German Empire in 1871, which was established at Versailles in defeated France. The early years were characterized by rapid economic growth and Breslau's traditional industries flourished and the service and manufacturing sectors were established, which benefited from the nearby heavy industry of Upper Silesia. The city became one of the largest support bases of Nazi movement, and in 1932 elections the Nazi party achieved the third biggest victory in Weimar Germany. Soon the Gestapo commenced the cruelty against Polish and Jewish students in the city. People were arrested and beaten for using Polish in public, they changed the Coat of Arms. 

Throughout most of World War II, Breslau was not close to the fighting and therefore became haven for refugees, swelling in population. In August 1944 however Hitler declared the city of Breslau to be a fortress to be defended at all costs. Concentration camp prisoners were forced to help build new fortifications. A large area of the city centre was demolished and turned into an airfield. The Siege of Breslau consisted of destructive house-to-house street fighting. The city was bombarded and by the end of the Siege of Breslau, 50% of the old town was destroyed

After the short history lesson, the walking tour moves around the square. The first stop is Piwnica Świdnicka which is supposedly the old restaurant in the entire Europe. Currently an Italian restaurant, the outer walls of the restaurant are ornately decorated. Above the door are two figurines, possibly a drunk husband and an angry wife has removed her shoe to give him a sound thrashing for coming home drunk.

Next stop was a pillar in front of Wroclaw Town Hall (Ratausz) . This is a replica of the original pillar and has a three step pedestal - a column supporting a pentagonal openwork lantern with a cone at the top. At the very top is the figurine of the executioner with a sword and a bunch of lashes. This is the place where public executions used to take place.

Thus continued the intermittent history lessons and some photo sessions. The tour turned left besides Bar Vega and 0n the way, we were greeted by two dwarfs Bartonek, who apparently went to the North Pole in search of the perfect icecream and has been serving the most amazing icecream in Cloth Hall in Wroclaw since then and Lionek, who is a daredevil dwarf riding a lion. This is where the history of the Orange Alternative was revealed. Further down the same lane was Słuchacz RMF, the RMF listener who was enjoying some music sitting on the radio and then Tyncuś, the plasterer.

Passing through the lane, we emerge back on to the square and move towards Plac Solny or the Salt square. From here you get one of the best views of the townhall. Earlier used for trading precious items like salt (which was expensive item during medieval times), this is now a flower market. The your guide told us that you can get flowers at almost anytime of the day or night here. Under the Salt Square there is located a 1000 square meter shelter which can house up to 300 people. In the war time the shelter had its own toilets, a sewage system and two exits.

Town hall view from Plac Solny

There we met the dwarf who apparently represents the men in Poland - sitting in an armchair with a remote in the hand watching tv. Apparently the only thing missing was a vodka in the hand. 

The tour then moved through small lanes around the market square including the St Elizabeth's church. This church dates back to 14th century and the tower is around 91 metres high. The guide seemed to have a pretty cool attitude towards life - if you can do something then why not ! For e.g. he said, "You can go up this church tower to get some amazing views, so why not !". He was a parttime bartender himself so he showed us some cool pubs around and said "You can have a variety of flavoured vodka here, so why not !" It's nice if all of us could have such a easy way of living, if we can do something today, then what are we waiting for..

Moving on we come to a butcher's lane. It was a very picturesque lane and has one of Wrocław's most photographed monuments. This row has now become a row of art galleries however this small medieval lane was the essentially the town's abattoir. The animals on display - a goose, goat, rabbit, two pigs and a rooster - all fell under the butcher's blade here during medieval time. The tourist attraction here is the memorial to the slaughtered animals as a reminder of the street's history. Spot the egg and also the poo in the picture :). Nearby, you'll also find ''Rzeźnik, the butcher dwarf" with an axe in hand.

Memorial to the slaughtered animals

Taking off from the butchers lane, the tour went around small lanes around the main square and occasionally we were greeted by few dwarfs like the one raising a toast and offering a slice of pizza (Lo Gnomo Italiano) sitting on the iconic Vespa or the Więziennik - The prisoner sitting on the windows of the former municipal prison chained to the prison walls bearing a heavy ball. The story goes that the paperwork for his sentence has been lost and no one know how long he still will be behind the bars. So until then, the tourists are requested to take a pause and understand the torment he has to go through everyday :)

Lo Gnomo Italiano


The tour continued through the bylanes and came to the halt at the University Square. The university of Wroclaw presents superb photo opportunities but the most popular has to be the naked swordsman proudly exhibiting himself at the entrance of the main building. In front of the main edifice of the university, on the top of a fountain, stands a nice sculpture of a naked young man with a sword, called the Fencer. The work of Hugo Lederer, the author introduced himself on the fountain and he did it as a warning for the students! The nude guy with the sword links to a not very pleasant adventure, which Lederer had while being a student in Wroclaw. After getting drunk with beer by local students, he had lost not only the whole property he owned in a game of cards, but also his clothes. The guide told us that it is a custom to dress it in various clothes on the first day of April. Dont miss the naked gnome there, Szermierz (The swordsman), who has mastered fencing, but holding a umbrella instead of a sword.

The guide also told us that we could visit the magnificent Baroque building of the university and also climb up the terrace of the university's 'Mathematical Tower' which affords great photo opportunities and panoramic views of the Old Town and Odra River, so why not !! :)


Near the university, you can also see the Meredian Line and are greeted by the professor dwarf (Profesorek).

It was beginning to freeze now as the temperature was sub zero and we had been walking around for almost an hour now. The tour moved from plac Uniwersytecki to plac Nankiera passing by another Gothic church and a Baroque church which the tour guide insisted we visit. the street opens up in front of Hala Targowa, which is a local indoor market. We welcomed the small break and warmed ourselves with a hot chocolate from a shop at the end of the market. Apparently the owner there had won a local barista competition, which explained the diligence he had displayed in making my hot chocolate.

The tour then crossed the river Oder first via Most Piaskowy and then from Most Tumski to go towards the Cathedral Island (Ostrów Tumski). Cathedral island is one of the most historically significant parts of town, in addition to its most archaically picturesque. Note are the padlocks placed on the bridge by newlyweds to symbolise the unbreakable bond they share going forward in life together. There is also a dwarf signifying how the lamps are till date manually lit up by the lamplighters by climbing up the poles.

Latarnik - The lamplighter. Climbing up on the pole, he lights up the lamps

Tumski Bridge

This ground of the cathedral island is not only sacred, it is also very scenic and tranquil compared to the bustle of the main square. The top of the list of Cathedral Island's attractions is - needless to say - the cathedral itself. Named after John the Baptist, Patron Saint of Wroclaw, the current incarnation of the cathedral started life in 1241 although it's had a lot of restoration and augmentation done as it had suffered bombing. The twin spires are the dominant feature of any Wroclaw postcard. You can even take a lift up one of them for amazing views over the city!

Another celebrated attraction on Ostrow Tumski is the Church of the Holy Cross. Actually there are two churches in one building, the other being St. Bartholomew's each having a separate main hall. After a stroll down the island, the tour came to an end and after exchanging some pleasantries, we made our way back to the main square. On the way we met Ciastuś, Amorinek who have a sweet tooth and cant keep away from the delicious desserts of the Amorinio cafe. Since we were hungry as well, we sat down at Burger King on the main sqaure before heading back to Monopol for a quick shower to warm us up.

Ciastuś, Amorinek

The rest of the evening was spent in and around the main square - we went to Spiż first and tasted Krupnik and cherry vodka. We had a Gołąbki, Polish cuisine which is a cabbage roll stuffed with pork/beef, rice, onions served with tomato sauce, only difference being I had a vegetarian version of it. After being satisfied with the variety of flavoured vodka, we went to a Indian restaurant called Masala Grill and ate to our hearts content. Needless to say, I saw many a Indian faces in the restaurant including the manager who offered us special green chilly pickle and made the food extra spicy to activate our taste buds. The restaurant was also playing bollywood songs on a big screen. As if I hadn't already had enough of Indian touch that evening, we heard the song 'kala chasma' being played full blast in one of the clubs on the market square. Indians are everywhere and so is our music !! I retire peacefully for the day..

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Poland Diaries - Day 4 & Day 5 (Weekend fun)

After the last night's tussle with the Hotel Monopol over the room and the breakfast, I am finally told that I have to get at email from my company email to prove that I work there and qualify for the free breakfast. I promptly do so without any hesitation in exchange of a free lavish breakfast. I settle down on a corner seat in the breakfast room and hope that the drizzle outside slowly fades away. I fill my table with a plate of scrambled eggs, freshly made croissant, some fruits and a coffee. The hotel is a five-star hotel built in 1892 in what was then Breslau in Germany and apparently the balcony above the main entrance was purposely built in 1937 to coincide with Hitler's visit to Breslau, who gave a speech from the said balcony the following year. Whilst it was a perfect location to stay as a tourist, there was no way I could have survived in the dark and dingy rooms for another two weeks, but for now, the breakfast place was awesome and I settled in and hogged on some heavy breakfast.

As I am making plans for my day waiting for the husband, two Indian looking men walk in the breakfast room and begin scouring for some vegetarian food, or so I thought, but I think I was right as they finally sat down with some huge stack of bread slices, fruits and juices. Am trying hard to listen to their conversation while acting to be busy on my phone. I notice they are staring at me from the corner of my eye. Finally when I am walking back I decided to stop and make a conversation to end this 'I spy' game. I learn that they are from Chennai who have landed here just the day before working for a certain IT company. I ask them about any sight seeing plans but they don't seem to know or interested so I keep my research to myself.

Anyways I head up and I have a nice shower. The jacuzzi in the hotel room doesn't seem to be working but does flash colourful lights from all sides of the bathtub making it a very weird place to take a relaxing bath. Anyways, I am too tired to get into another haggle over the bathtub so I just let it be. The husbands flight is about to land so I decide to go around the main market square until he arrives. After yesterday's successful 'baby's day out', I have renewed confidence to go around the market square and successfully make it back in time for the husband's arrival. I go around and find some lunch options and stopping in between taking pictures of amazing dwarfs on the way.

One of Wrocław’s most popular, memorable and iconic attractions and which became my favourite pastime over the next two weeks is a legion of little people: Gnomes, or ‘krasnale’ in local language. These merry munchkins are simply ubiquitous - dotting doorways, alleyways, shopping malls, restaurants and street corners; constantly underfoot but only seen by the observant. It is often possible that you may just overlook the first few that cross your path, but inevitably and often literally, you will stumble upon these popular local residents. Once you have your eye on one, you will always want more and as I discovered, all of them have a small story behind them. Whilst this may seem like a touristy gimmick, I learnt from the walking tour later that it has a historical significance to it.

When communism was still present in Poland, the police were very strict about any sort of secret meeting and manifestation against the ruling regime. Waldemar Fydrych hit upon the brilliant idea of making the authorities look like complete idiots without actually doing anything that would get him arrested. On one occasion he organized a march through the streets of the city demanding the release of Father Christmas. The authorities had banned Father Christmas as a corrupt capitalist institution and replaced him with the rigidly socialist figure of Father Frost. He did this dressed as a gnome. The police felt unable to arrest a man for taking part in an illegal procession of gnomes. Thus began the movement called the Orange Alternative. Their tactics involved drawing dwarf graffiti on top of the anti-communist signs that were constantly painted white by the authorities. What brought the Orange Alternative the biggest fame were its street happenings which it organized throughout the second half of the 1980s. The happenings usually terminated with the arrest of hundreds of participants, who did not manage to escape in time from the hands of the militia. The movement's history was the action organized on 1 June 1988, known as the "Revolution of Dwarves", during which more than ten thousand people marched through the center of Wroclaw wearing orange dwarf hats.

In 2001, to commemorate the Orange Alternative, a monument of a dwarf (the movement’s symbol) was officially placed on Świdnicka Street, where the group’s happenings used to take place. Then in 2005, the mayor of the city of Wroclaw decided to continue the tradition of having dwarf statues and hired Tomasz Moczek, a renowned Polish sculptor, to make five small dwarf statues to adorn the main touristy sights of Wroclaw’s old town. They were an instant hit and soon the city demanded more and more dwarfs, each one representing a different profession or an aspect of everyday life. Today there are more than 300 dwarfs spread in the city and some of them are even in places that a average tourist cannot see. My count was about 160 in two weeks. 

As I walked from Hotel Monopol to the market square, I stumbled upon 'Recyklinik' - the dwarf who is here to help humans in preventing the forests from disappearing by giving them a helping hand in recycling. Then there was Florianek - the master chimney sweeper. As I crossed Swidnicka, I saw the 'Papa Krasnal'. Then followed the 'Capgeminiusz Programista' who apparently is a profressional programmer working on his laptop with a seat reserved outside the 'Starbucks'. Right opposite to that was Syzyfki (The Sisyphus Twins) - who are trying to push a two feet ball. The story goes that keeping in mind the beauty of the city, the dwarfs went to a nearby quarry to get a perfect stone and pushed it all the way to the market square.

As soon as you take a few steps forward, you are welcomed by one of the most beautiful market sqaures I have ever seen. It sort of unique in a way that there is a square within a square and you can go around the townhall in the market square. The townhall is beautiful and the square itself is filled with plentiful of food options and is lined by amazing restaurants, pubs and coffee shops including a completely vegan restaurant called 'Bar Vega' which is giving the Polish food a new avatar by making it all vegan.

On the other side of the town hall, I was greeted by three musketeer dwarfs - W-skers, Slepak, Gluchak -  group of activist dwarfs who are campaigning for 'Wroclaw without barriers'. They are ensuring that the city is safe for people with disabilities. Then there was a tourist dwarf who apparently has recently arrived in Wroclaw with a backpack just like me and is armoured with a camera and a map. Very cleverly, he has been placed outside a tourist information shop.

I move from the main market square to the Plac Solny (or the Salt square). There I am greeted by Ottus, the Broker and finally the Troszka (who is a dwarf taking photo of a dwarf) as I make my way back to Hotel Monopol as the husband is soon to arrive.

Hotel Monopol



Capgeminiusz Programista

 Syzyfki (The Sisyphus Twins)

W-skers, Slepak, Gluchak -  Group of activist dwarfs who are campaigning for 'Wroclaw without barriers'. They are ensuring that the city is safe for people with disabilities.

 The tourist





 Townhall view from Plac Solny


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