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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