Warsaw’s scars and rebirth

Warsaw’s scars and rebirth

Warsaw, a capital city and a stage for one of World War 2’s most heinous crimes caste with humiliation, destruction and defiance. Even its name embodies the scar of war which it is etched on the very fabric of the city’s landscape, which was changed forever. Although Warsaw was rebuilt, has come through the horror and every avenue has a dedication to those to fought, suffered and died amidst its grip of evil. Yet beyond Warsaw’s World War heroes the city is proud to be the home of Marie Curie, Copernicus and Chopin to name just a few – so it has some real passion, creativity and world stage influence.

We have chosen to tell our Warsaw story in a more visual way for a change and rather than a lot of text, this time, we offer you a pictorial guide and a video. Interestingly both capturing the same elements even though they were produced by us individually. So you have a choice about which you enter – or if you really fancy it, why not do both. Go on spoil yourself.

 

Part 1 – Our Story Page

The Motoroamers

 

Part 2 – Our Vlog Diary

For more information on our Poland Road Trip, why not check out this post. Click the image to read.

 

 

Poland Road Trip – Part 1

Poland Road Trip – Part 1

Poland, we had you in our sights the minute we crossed The Channel on 23 May 2018. You were our destination for a tour that would take us on a journey around your World War 2 memorials and a whole host of other surprises that we would unravel as we went along. On 16 June, we crossed your border at Bad Makau in Germany and immediately a crazy buzz throbbed across the street that welcomed us into your embrace. What joys would you offer us as we sought out your highlights, your cultural personality and unique characteristics?

Part 1 of our Poland tour saw us flirt with the Czech Republic border to the southern reaches of the Silesia region and then north-east towards our mid-trip goal of Warsaw. What a start it was and we found ourselves slowly, gracefully falling in love with you and your landscape.

Zagan and The Great Escape

I’ll be honest, our first Polish stopover happened to come from a pin on Search for Sites for no other reason than it was close by and we always like to find somewhere we can ground ourselves when we arrive in a new country and this spot seemed perfect. After the jubilation of finding an ATM and a Tescos we were thrilled to find our ‘home’ was Stalag Luft III – the Prisoner of War site that is famed for its Great Escape, immortalised by the 1963 film. What a find we had stumbled upon. A museum, a reconstruction of the 104 Hut from where the escape plan of 1944 unfolded and the ‘Harry’ tunnel deep in the woods for you to visit. What an incredible memorial to the men who lived, survived and died in this camp.  As always a very humbling experience. (51.596976 15.293282)

On the flip side, we had the additional joy of having a US Army training exercise in the field behind us giving us the chance to get up close and personal to Chinnooks and Apache helicopters – happy boy with big toys. For two days we settled our feet on Polish soil with a complete bang, satisfying the boy within.

Heading south-west to the Lakes

We love water and our tiny, eclectic campsite on Lake Czocha was amazing especially with the heat-wave we were experiencing. The Kayak got his first trip out and a short cycle away was one of Poland’s famed castles and with its lakeside view, which made for an awesome visit – even if our tour guide only spoke Polish. The pictures were lovely none the less. (51.032488 15.292713)

Not more than 45 minutes away we found ourselves a super ‘mini-farm’ campsite where we had to sit out a couple of days of storms. Still we made the best of it. (51.030694 15.381793)

Wang Church

Now who would have thought that a Norwegian wooden, stave church would have found itself in the deep south-west of Poland? Still it’s true, this magnificent church that originates in Valdres, Norway was brought over to Poland in 1842 and is one of the most popular tourist sites in southern Poland. There are a couple of nice campsites near-by and the road up to the church is narrow although very doable with a motorhome/RV. There’s a coach park which is the only suitable one for longer vehicles and costs 20PLN (£4.00) for 2hrs.  Driving down to the valley floor you will go through Karpacz, which is a buzzy ski resort, offering you the chance for summer and winter activities. We never really considered Poland as Ski destination. There’s a couple of campsites; one in town and another just five minutes on the outskirts, which is new and beautifully designed. Camp 66 has 39 hardstanding pitches with full facilities all for 45PLN per night (exc EHU) with an ACSI discount even in the high season, equating to £9 per night. (50.793705 15.769937)

Coloured Lakes and Swidnica’s Church of Peace

Trip Advisor has its place for sure and with a bit of research I came across some reviews of Poland’s Coloured Lakes hidden in the forest.    Old quarry pits that mined for pyrite closed in 1925 and they were filled in with water and over time, Mother Nature has taken her role in creating chemical reactions from the rock beds below. Each one has a different colour; purple, yellow, azure and green and although not the largest lakes or breathtaking thing we’ve ever seen, they were a very charming diversion. There is the possibility of camping up in the Forest, just a five minute walk to the lakes. It’s a primitive spot, although for 30PLN (£6) it looked ok. If you just want to park up for the lake walk, then it’s just 10PLN (£2). The hiking up to the azure lake is a tough one and not disabled friendly, so do make sure you have good footwear and are fit enough to do this walk. (50.82966 15.973466).

Moving on to Swidnica, a city in the south-west region of Poland most famous for its Church of Peace, a UNESCO site. There are only two of these churches left and are the largest timber framed Religious buildings in Europe. This 17th century church was built under very strict regulations; it had to be constructed within 12 months, not have a bell tower and be made from only natural materials. So their three hundred year history is a remarkable testimony to the character of the craftsmen. Inside the building the opulence defies the external simplicity as the Baroque artwork and is breathtaking. A stunning building worth the small entrance fee (1PLN – 20p).

Owl Mountain and Hitler

Deep in the Sudetes Mountains you will find a dark secret that is over 70 years old. Owl Mountain may well be a beautiful rolling landscape that appeals to hikers and sports enthusiasts, although there is something more sinister about this region. Hitler has had his hand in these precious lands and so yet again we find ourselves adding another jigsaw piece to our World War 2 education.

Owl Mountain is renowned for the Riese Project, which was a huge Nazi undertaking back in 1943 to construct a network of tunnels. The tunnels, dug out by Prisoner of War inmates, many of whom perished in appalling underground conditions, were never actually finished and with the end of the war came the end of the construction – with it dying their true purpose.  There are rumours that the tunnels which have the guise of underground cities, were to store Hitler’s gold bullion and treasures – a somewhat controversial suggestion or that there were there to store arms and build a super bomb. We can continue to surmise their role in Hilter’s master-plan, although today these tunnels have been secured and opened up to the public by way of a memorial to the thousands who lost their lives. With kilometres of rock drilled away to create these tunnels, you walk through them trying to understand their mystery and conjure up your own interpretation of their place in Europe’s evil perpetrator.

Of the seven tunnels three of them are open to the public; We visited the Complex Rzeczka  (also known as Walimskie Drifts) near Walim, where there is a cemetery to honour those who died creating the tunnels. It is a very well thought out tour for 45 minutes although you will need an audio set for the translation. It gives you a great experience of the conditions the prisoners had to work in and leaves you to ponder on their purpose. For 16PLN per person you can join the tour and 12PLN for an audio set. (£5.60 all in per person).  Complex Ozówka is the other major tourist destination, which we believe offers a similar tour although is a larger tunnel.

A completely unique perspective of Hilter’s World War influence, which we were not expecting. We found a super free spot at the foot of the mountains just 10 minutes drive from the Rzeczka. (50.661201 16.478901)

Stołowe National Park – geological gorgeousness

After the sinister military experience and I must admit rubbish weather, we craved some fresh air, warmth and natural beauty. And so as we arrived at the Stołowe Mountains and the sun came out we knew we were in for a treat. This had been one of my ‘must see’ destinations as I researched this lovely Silesia region. We did consider by-passing it as the weather was really miserable, although I was determined to see this geological masterpiece, unique to this area. So we chanced our luck and were duly rewarded.

The mountains in this region are not akin to their angular relatives across in the Alps; they are more curvaceous, undulating and soft, with forests and acres of golden wheat fields caressing the landscape. It just warms your heart and forces you to submit to its beauty, which we did with ease.

Camped at an eclectic site just on the edge of the National Park, we were in a good position to travel in with the van and we had two main destinations in our sights. (50.40903 16.381647). One was the Labyrinth at Blędne Skały and the other was the forest at Szczeliniec Mały just outside Karlów. The geology here is just incredible and I have never seen rock formations like it, well not this side of the Atlantic anyway. Boulders that look like they have been thrown together by some giants playing tiddlywinks, which is now a safe playground for us to hike through and have a great experience. Both centres are easy to reach with a motorhome and with road tolls, entry tickets and car parks, the whole day only cost us £16. A fabulous experience, which we have shared more detail about in our blog. Click here to find out more about this fabulous place.  For an instant visual, check out our video below.

 

Wrocław – Poland’s 4th largest city

I give you fair warning here! Worcław will make you run out of superlatives as you try to describe its beauty – now firmly on our Top 5 favourite cities. The Silesia capital that stole our hearts has just been awarded Best European Destination 2018 – so it’s easy to understand the attraction that this place must have to win such an accolade. Aside of the aesthetic brilliance of this place after the tragedy of the 1944 – 80 day Siege, this city has soul, grace and resilience at its core. It is the truest example of a Phoenix rising from the Ashes that we have ever seen. 70% of this city was demolished both on purpose and due to battle and yet it has returned to its former glory with an artistry that simply demands your admiration. The main square looks like something out of a Disney film and is the real heart of the city and yet all around its islands, waterways and parkland you will find untold treasures just waiting to delight you. With mulitmedia fountains that dance to Madonna or Chopin, artwork that expresses liberation and over 300 gnomes, Wrocław has everything and it deserves more than a day to really understand its rebirthing from World War terror. We stayed at Wrocław Camping about 5 miles from the centre, easily doable with bikes or trams.  Not cheap, by Polish standards at £20 pn, although very secure. (51.0757781 17.089353)

Read more about our visit here and check out our video below for our highlights.

Łodz – Capital of culture

After the high of Wrocław, sadly Łodz (pronounced Wooge) just didn’t do it for us. You know sometimes how you just don’t feel a place? Well this is Łodz for us. It is a city built on its historical textile industry that has since disappeared. In its place, regenerated factories are now museums, restaurants and shopping malls. Deeper into the veins of the city, you will find Europe’s second longest commercial street reaching nearly 3 miles in length, which is beautifully pedestrianised. Piotrkowska Street offers you elegant buildings with intricate facias and all the shops you can imagine. This main artery though just felt a bit depersonalised and the culture and creative art, just didn’t match our expectations. The street art that we did find, was amazing, although the artistry that we hoped for really didn’t materialise.

Camping here is also tricky – there are no campsites within or close by. So we found a couple of car parks to stop in over night; one in the south about 8 miles away at Rzgów (51.663888 19.489379) and the other only 3 miles north of the town, outside a parkland and cemetery, (51.80521 19.440807) which was super convenient for catching a tram straight into town for just 50p per person covering a 20 minute journey.

Poland has been a lovely surprise so far. I had so few expectations although the diversity of the landscape and the depth of the recent historical scars make for such a profound trip. Someone has just described our World War memorial visits as a pilgrimage and I hadn’t really thought about it in that way before, although it is feeling a bit like that. It seems so much more than just a road trip and a real journey if that doesn’t sound too twee. We have been able to blend some of our beloved ‘off-the-beaten-track’ routes, with nature, history and cities that cry out for your understanding and compassion and not just a fleeting visit.  We are looking forward to the second chapter  of our Polish adventures unfolding and our minds expanding in tune. 

A moving visit to Treblinka, Poland

A moving visit to Treblinka, Poland

Treblinka, a seemingly lost world, hidden in the forest, out of sight although never out of mind for Poland’s World War 2 memorials. A place that invokes the stirring of emotion from deep within the belly of any visitor intent on learning more about the atrocities of this war’s holocaust and on paying their respects to the hundreds of thousands of people who died mercilessly here.

We have been inspired during our travels to continue our World War education since stumbling upon a cemetery in Slovenia that piqued our interested in understanding the real nuances of the two wars and fill in the shameful gaps from our schooling education. It was time we put this right and through our learning enable us to honour those who died at the hands of power, greed and dominance. Our most recent exploration was at Colditz in Germany.

Yet we knew that Poland would give us a completely different perspective of the war-time experiences and that it would feature heavily in our trip given that Auschwitz was an intended destination. Yet little did we realise just how much Poland would reveal to us as we committed to our educational journey from the depths of Owl Mountain in Silesia in the south to the horrors of Treblinka in the north east.

My research found Treblinka Extermination Camp some time ago, and after visiting Warsaw and understanding more about the Ghetto and Uprising, it felt an absolute must. A must because for almost 1 million people, this was to be their final destination, wrapped up in the vial guise of resettlement.

An emotional ride – Treblinka 1

We set out early before any coaches arrived so we could treasure the peace that Treblinka demanded. The first thing that struck me was how abruptly the sound stopped. We had parked overnight in our camper in the museum car park and were entertained by the songs from the Golden Oriels.  Their wolf-whistle calls made me smile despite the sobriety of the occasion – it was a lovely alarm call. Yet as we walked through the mock gates of the Treblinka 1 Memorial Site, it was as though there was an invisible barbed wire fence that they could not or would not pass. And their sound ceased in the tiniest of moments that you could almost miss it. It was striking in its subtly.

The second thing that created an instant impact were the ribbons threaded through the pine forest as we approached the Memorial.  Each strand having half a dozen names of those who perished here. Weaving in and out of the thicket of trees, thousands of names hanging amongst the forest that was their deathly hallow, suddenly became people – real personalities who lived, breathed and died in this hidden camp. What an amazing testimony to their lives; forever immortalised, forever held in our loving thoughts. 

Treblinka was destroyed and burnt to the ground at the end of the war, so in truth there isn’t much to see visually of the camp, for which I feel thankful in some ways. Although the reconstruction of the platform and railway line gave me an instant feeling of reality. The enormity of Treblinka’s horror started to dawn on me; the huge stones, each one dedicated to a country who lost the lives of their loved ones; Bulgaria, Greece, Ukraine, France, Czech Republic, Poland to name just a few.  Although nothing would prepare me for the next vision as I turned the corner. A huge memorial stone that covers over the gas chamber, stands with strength and defiance against a epoc that saw no respect for humanity and cultural diversity. The Father stone carved with the suffering plight of the Jews held my gaze, although it is the stone forest that surrounds it that really took away my breath. Each stone representing a town, city or community that lost their families to the will of the Nazis. Thousands of them, large and small, scattered across the acres in front of me. It left me incredulous at the horror inflicted by man against man! And when they created this memorial in the late 1950’s, they created an inscription that simply states ‘Never Again!’

Two simple words begging us to serve up a dish of compassion not hatred – yet lessons have not been learnt. Ethnic cleansing continues to still the beating hearts of those persecuted by regimes believing in their own supremacy. Sadly humility towards our neighbour is an all too distant relation that has yet to come into the family fold. When will we learn from these painful memories that scar our history?  Surely it is time for us to stop our ego’s demand for dominance and to start to live with love, hope and unity?

 

The path to Treblinka 2

I thought that Treblinka 1 was the core of the experience, although as we walked towards the Black Road which was built by the prisoners, we realised that it lead to something more. More horror, more death and more sorrow.

The cobbled path was hard to walk on, although I felt it was important to honour all those who knelt on bleeding knees, in the heat of the day, laying each stone to create the path. The path to their deaths. I didn’t want to take the easy route – I wanted my feet to feel the discomfort of the uneven surface. They gave their lives for this path and the least I could do was walk on it in their memory.

The deeper into the forest we went – 2.5km to be specific, something strange began to happen. I became acutely aware of the soil, which was strangely blackened, a greyness that was not natural. Nature did not make this path, this was something more. Did this blackness symbolise death or something more sinister? It really didn’t bare thinking about. At the same time though, I noticed an acrid taste at the back of my mouth, almost as if the fumes, the smoke was still lingering in the air. I know in reality that this couldn’t be true, could it? Could the embers still linger? Could the smoke be forever carved deep into the bark and woven amongst the pines? Is this a legacy that the ghosts will never allow to cleanse? I felt their pain in every step and every breath I took.  

In an eerily still forest with little to bring it to life, the only colour came from the yellow butterflies that darted in front of us symbolising transformation and freedom. Beneath our feet nothing grew except the hardiest of grasses and heather. Nothing really flourished here. Even the old quarry that the Nazi’s used to hoodwink the community into thinking this camp was a commercial enterprise, looked lifeless and cold. And it feels right that it was this way.

As we approached Triblinka 2 – the Labour Camp, all that remains are the footings of buildings that stored the Quarry tools or the Zoo for the Guard’s amusement. Although constructed buildings were not needed to imagine the horror here. The cries and tears of those trapped in this place were carried on the breeze.  And yet, I noticed the thousands of pink scabious flowers that danced on the sparse covered carpet that now shields the evidence of Triblinka’s Labour Camp site, (which takes on more of a complexion of an archeological site than a historical horror film). It somehow belies the truth of what lies beneath the surface and the hatred and fear that hung in the air, yet each flower sprung from the earth in salute to each person’s death, a tribute to their heart-beats and a memory not to be forgotten. 

It may be over 70 years ago, although this extermination camp is as real as if it were yesterday. And that is less about the memorials that have been lovingly created and more about what still hangs in the air. A reminder of what has gone before and how it shapes who we are today. The forgiveness of a nation, the healing of a wound so deep and unity in the creation – at least this is what we pray for.

 

In memory of those who have perished, your souls float in the wind as it whistles through the Treblinka forest and we remember each and every one of you.

 

For more information about the horrors of this camp, reputed to have killed the largest number of people, second only to Auschwitz, click here.

Combining Touring and Greek Mythology on Crete

Combining Touring and Greek Mythology on Crete

The largest of all the Greek islands, Crete is known as the mythical birthplace of Zeus, king of the Olympian gods. This motorhome-friendly island features stunning natural landscapes to explore, as well as a collection of ancient Greek ruins, each revealing a different aspect of rich Greek mythology.

With its gorgeous sunsets, extant ruins, verdant landscape, and fine Mediterranean beaches, it’s hard not to fall in love with Crete. We previously spent a week touring around this real-life Treasure Island, and now, we’re going to explore it from the fascinating lens of Greek mythology.

 

For starters, the Cretan capital city of Heraklion contains the ruins of the ancient city of Knossos, the former seat of power of the Minoan civilisation. Historians estimate that Knossos was abandoned sometime during 1300 to 1100 BC for unknown reasons. But A Luxury Travel Blog suggests in its recounting of mythical Cretan sites, it might just have something to do with King Minos and the mythical Minotaur rumoured to roam the city’s labyrinth. You can investigate this for yourself as you walk through the labyrinth and admire the many frescoes scattered around the palace-city. Pace yourself and breathe it all in – it’s going to take some time to explore one of the largest archaeological sites from the Bronze Age.

 

Next to Kronnos, the second largest Minoan palace-city in Crete was Phaistos, which today is an explorable archaeological site. In Greek mythology, the wise King Rhadamanthus of Phaistos eventually became one of the judges of the dead. Apart from the chance to see the ancient city’s artefacts and complex architecture, the hilltop site also offers a breathtaking view of the Messara plain in southern Crete.     Image credit: By Marc Ryckaert (MJJR) – Own work

 

The Messara plain itself is home to ancient landmarks that are testament to the beauty of Greek mythology. For instance, the plain is home to the 6,000-year-old city of Gortys. Legend has it that the city was named after its founder, Gortys, who was the son of Phaistos city’s King Rhadamantus. Gortys is also where you’ll find the Plane Tree of Zeus and Europa. This rare, evergreen plane tree is said to have been the site where Europa and Zeus made love after the Greek god first appeared to the Phoenician princess as a bull. This mythical love affair produced the three kings of Minoan Crete: Minos, Sarpedon, and Radamanthus.

 

Although Crete is known as the birthplace of the god-king Zeus, there’s currently no official information on the exact location of his birth. However, in the Cretan mountains, two caves vie for the honour of being the birthplace of the Greek pantheon’s king: the Ideon Cave (also known as the Cave of Zeus) in Mount Ida and the Dikteon Cave in South-Central Crete. And what an honour it would be – the ancient Greek god is in many ways still worshiped today through various modern cultural tributes. In the movie Clash of the Titans, Zeus was played by iconic action star Liam Neeson.

Meanwhile, on Foxy ’s digital slot game, Zeus – God of Thunder, the Greek god’s mastery of the sky, thunder, and lightning is used to provide a dazzling background to an otherwise regular browser game. In the game, Zeus is depicted as a stern-faced King of Gods, complete with a fork of lightning clutched in his bare hand. Similar depictions can be found in the likes of God of War’s most recent installment, where the hero Kratos meets Zeus in hell after a series of harrowing challenges. While these modern tributes to Zeus are interesting to say the least, actually visiting and Motoroaming the mythical island birthplace of the Olympian god-king is another experience altogether.

Crete is filled with ancient sites that can be found in the annals of Greek mythology. There’s no doubt that the best way to explore these places, while also appreciating the wild beauty of Crete, is by bringing your home with you.

 

And if this has piqued your curiosity about Crete and what it can offer you as a visitor with your motorhome, why not check out The Motoroamer’s free to download Captivating Guide to Crete.

Zoe Morris Biography

Zoe is a history graduate and avid traveller. Her speciality at university was Ancient History, and she hopes to use her knowledge to encourage more people to get interested in the past by visiting historic sites. In her free time she likes reading and writing about her favourite subjects.

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Wrocław City Tour Poland

Wrocław City Tour Poland

Wrocław, may well be Poland’s fourth largest city and capital of the south west region of Silesia, although this seems not to be on people’s travel itinerary. Perhaps the lure of Krakow to the east has more appeal. After all the cities we have seen in the last two years of our full time travels, Wroclaw has shot up to poll position, sitting proudly in our Top 5 favourites.

Wroclaw is one of those places that defies adjectives, because something far more profound than simple words are needed. The best way I can describe it… is like a novel that you pick up from the library that looks pretty enough from the outside and yet once you begin reading its compelling story, you realise how little the cover does it justice.

This is how I feel about Wrocław. When I visit a place I am often in a quandary about how much research to do before we go. Do too much and it spoils the surprise; do too little and it’s easy to miss the real essence. So for our visit to Wroclaw, I had done a little reading up from a Lonely Planet’s Guide and plotted the main ‘tourist highlights’ from a Wroclaw website. Yet I have never felt quite so unprepared for the real truth behind the elegant facade of this city. In many ways I feel a little ashamed at the lack of knowledge that I had gleaned beforehand. Having remedied that on our return, I now feel like I know a bit more of the real Wrocław and, in truth would love to return to speak to its soul and not the glossy, yet delightful image that it portrays on the outside.

Wrocław – Did you know?

Did you know that this city used to be called Breslau and only became Wrocław after the German’s were defeated in WW2?

Did you know that the city was devastated and had to be rebuilt after a Mongol attack in 13th Century?

Did you know that the city was to fall to yet another attack which would devastate both the Medieval buildings and its population?  In fact 70% of the city was demolished by the Germans in 1944 so that they could build a fortress to encompass the city, trapping residents inside its walls as part of their defence agains the advancing Soviet Army.

Did you know that The Siege of Breslau in 1945 was one of the worst human tragedies of the War loosing a recorded 170,000 people during an 80 day siege?

Did you know that in the aftermath of the battle, more devastation was to rain on Wrocław as poverty, raping, pillaging and disease took their toll on the remaining civilians?

Did you know that the Anti-Soviet movement – the Orange Alternative was founded in Wrocław in the early 1980s and they used creativity and humour to stand up against the Communist rule and they played a significant role in Poland’s fight for independence. Their symbol was the dwarf – more on that later.

And did you know that it was awarded European Capital of Culture in 2016 and was voted Best European Destination of 2018. Now that is some come back!

Of all the great cities we have visited, Wrocław is the one that stands head and shoulders above others for its sheer tenacity and strength against opposition. Whilst they may have been brutalised, overwhelmed and beaten, it feels like today’s Wrocław is saying ‘We are not defeated’.

The example of the Phoenix rising from the Ashes, has never been more apt.

Every building, that looks so immaculate in the Market Square has a tale to tell and, whilst its frontage may delight your eyes, it is what lies behind the facade that is more important. Perfectly reformed, a scar or three may be, although tough, strong and irrepressible. Wrocław will have your admiration and undying affection when you blend its historical battles with today’s modern and award winning city.

With this historical context in place, I feel it is now appropriate to show off the visual display that this city offers the eager visitor. Click on the image below to see a short video of our highlights.

 

The Motoroamer’s Wrocław City Tour Video

 

Wrocław strangely doesn’t have a feel of a city, as even on the outskirts there is very little evidence of the built up, residential and industrial zones that are so often found in large cities around the world. The one thing that struck us most was how well catered for cyclists are around the city. Everywhere you look there are dedicated bridges, cycle routes and even traffic lights – reminiscent of our trip to The Netherlands last month. And then there are the trams, buzzing all around the city offering car-less travel if you wish. And I’m sure this contributed to the feel of the place. No traffic jams, no honking horns and no congestion. It was a joy to cycle around without the threat of being clipped by a passing lorry.  That isn’t to say that it was deserted. There was still plenty of atmosphere, just not the sludge that you often feel in an inner city.

Whetting your Wrocław appetite

Situated on the banks of the River Oder, Wrocław is often described as Poland’s Venice. Having been to Venice I’m not really a fan of this comparison as it’s a huge set of shoes to fill and I feel that Wrocław deserves an identity of all its own. That said, there sure is a lot of water here and its 130 bridges and 12 islands form the basis of Worcław’s charismatic allure.

Wrocław’s Art

Wrocław is colourful. It embodies its creative history and it really does demand that you to look up from your phone and see the roof lines that stand out against the afternoon’s brilliant blue skies. Or perhaps you just want to listen to the music that seems to float around the streets in some sort of melodic happiness.

As I mentioned earlier, gnomes played an integral part in Wroclaw’s history. When the Soviet rebellion group, The Orange Alternative was born, they adopted a creative strategy to their resistance. They would deface the propaganda posters around the city with street art, most noticeably mischievous gnomes, as a way of laughing at the establishment. Every since then, the gnome has been an important symbol to Wrocław and in 2001 the city decided to commemorate the rebellion’s artistry by placing a bronze statue called Papa Dwarf at the Group’s meeting place. Five years later a local artist had the idea to create smaller statues, which have since been placed all around the city – between 300 – 400 of them to be precise, each one telling a modern-day tale of city life.  They are so easy to miss and yet once you catch one, you find yourself on a mission to find others.

Aside of the cheeky chappies that are found at ground level, slightly higher up on your eye-line you will find some other pretty stunning monuments to people, events and ideals. In fact almost around every corner, there will be some statue or another that will intrigue you. There are chairs, footballs, fountains to name just a few that really give Wrocław its character and charm.

Worcław’s Market Square

Having said that the comparison with Venice was a mute one, I am about to contradict myself when I come to describe Worcław’s Market Square. Whichever direction you approach it, whether from The Shambles or The Penitent Bridge, the Market Square will impress. From streets bordered with the tallest of buildings that sometimes feel claustrophobic suddenly you open up into this atmospheric square with cafe-lined edges, where a piano tinkles filling the air and an acoustic rhythm that bounces off the walls. And that’s all before you caste your eyes around the skyline of buildings. Gothic, Medieval, Baroque, they all have a presence here and you could imagine the history that holds them up. And I think armed with the know of the bygone era it makes these facades even more impressive. You will not want to leave this enigmatic space and you could easily while away a couple of hours drinking their cheap beer and people watching.

The centrepiece is the St Elizabeth Church and the Town Hall which elegantly and assertively stand with pride relishing the placement of every piece of rebuilt brickwork. These are just testimony to Wroclaw’s culture.

Worcław’s Cathedral Island

Don’t miss the 14th century Cathedral – St John Baptist, which like so many other dwellings was destroyed in the Siege of 1945, yet has been beautifully rebuilt back to its former glory. There is some evidence that one of the towers is 10th Century, hence why they look so different, so the attention to detail in the reconstruction is outstanding. Can you just imagine what the view looks like from the top of this 97m viewpoint?

As you amble down the tree-lined avenue you get sucked into the effervescent buildings, despite the tourist trains disrupting your peace. The Tumski Bridge has got to be one of those Instagram moments, as lovers capture their sentiments in a padlock and a statue of Pope John XXIII stands with grace and presence overlooking the river that surrounds this stunning piece of heaven, leaving you mesmerised.

Modern Wrocław

And to complete our Wrocław city tour who could not put a park and a fountain on the agenda? Although this is no ordinary park, nor any normal fountain.

This is a park that includes acres of landscaped zones including a Japanese Garden. If like us, half a day on your feet exploring has been enough, then do make time for an evening display at the multimedia fountains. Chill out on the grass as you watch the synchronised water play in time with classical, jazz or modern music and what how the lights and visual effects dance around the arena. The shows are free and go on throughout the day, on the hour from 1000 and the evening shows start at 1800 through to 2140 and it is lovely to be part of this event and I guess at night with the full effect of the lights and the setting sun make it even more atmospheric.

 

Practicalities

  • Wrocław is a great all-year round city in part because of the lack of crowds. We visited at the beginning of July and were not overrun with tourists – which is our worst nightmare (even though we are one of them!)
  • Cycling is a great way to get around, as to see all the sights by foot will make for a tiring experience. There are plenty of cycle tracks into and around the city and bicycle parks to chain up your wheels allowing you to go on foot for a while.
  • There are plenty of trams moving around the city, so if you don’t have bikes, then there are alternative transport options.
  • We thought a beer in the Market Square would be expensive, although unlike other cities we have visited, we didn’t feel ripped off. A beer and juice cost us 17 PLN, about £3.40.
  • There is a Tourist Information centre in the Market Square. (51.109416 17.030572).
  • If you want camping, then we stayed at Camping Wroclaw, about 20 mins south east of the city (51.075781 17.089353). It’s 100PLN per night, which on Poland standards is expensive although it is convenient and a very good quality site that is secure.
  • Wroclaw is accessible from Poznan in the north west and Krakow from the east.  Even Warsaw is only a 3.5hr drive away.

 

And so, what say we about this city of Poland? An example of a place besieged and ravaged by war and oppression, yet has risen up against its opponent to reclaim its rightful place in Europe’s ‘Best Destinations’. You will not be disappointed by Wrocław in any way.