Sunday, March 12, 2017

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..



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