December 15, 2015
The biggest obstacle to overcome with traveling to Wrocław, Poland was not getting there, it was learning how to properly pronounce the name of the city. With all trips to countries that speak another language I try to learn the 5 basics in their language:
Hi – Cześć
Goodbye – Do widzenia
Please – Proszę
Thank You – Dziękuję
Cheers! – Na zdrowie!
Luckily I knew some of these in Polish already since my grandpa is Polish but it’s a tough language to learn and properly speak/annunciate. So far I’ve visited 4 different cities in Poland over the last 2 years and each one has been completely different from the other. It is quite an expansive country covering a lot of ground. However the reason we picked Wrocław at this time of year was to visit the Xmas Market there.
First a little history on the city that is called the “Venice of Poland.” It is a university town in the southern half of the country about 3 hours NNW of Krakow. It is also one of the biggest cities that is closest to the borders of both Czech Republic and Germany. In fact Wrocław, at one point or another, has been part of the Germany, Prussia, Austrian Empire, Hungary, Bohemia before becoming part of Poland with the redistribution of land after the end of WWII in 1945. The saddest part about the city in regards to the war is when it was destroyed. The city, at the time of the war called Breslau and part of Germany, was a strategic spot on the river and thought of as a fortress city to be city to be held at all costs. In February of 1945 the Soviet Red Army sieged the city and held the Germans inside for almost 3 months destroying much of the city. The Germans finally surrendered 2 days before the end of the war but the damage had been done to the city.
This was pretty evident walking around as you had a gorgeous Market Square and many incredible buildings and architecture throughout many parts of the city but also had the depressing post-war housing on random blocks throughout it as well. You could go from bright-colored, intricately designed buildings and facades to dreary, grey, cement apartment buildings then back to historic churches and buildings in a block or two. Looking back I’m actually sad I didn’t get any pictures of these to compare and contrast the styles. Also, while I’ve got some pictures below my Facebook album has plenty more.
Since the war however Wrocław has been totally revitalized and today is a cultural center in Poland. Not only is it the 4th largest city in Poland (population-wise) but it’s the only Polish city in the top ten places to visit from London according to the Guardian. It’s know as having a high and growing standard of living and was also named one of the 230 “Best Cities to Live” in the 2015 according to Mercer coming in at #100 (in case you’re interested Vienna tops the list).
It will also host events such as the Theatre Olympics, World Bridge Games and the European Film Awards in 2016, IFLA Annual Conference and World Games in 2017 and has been named as European Capital of Culture and World Book Capital for 2016. Exciting times for a city which has been, literally and physically, all over the map. It really seems to be coming into their own. However we were in town for really 1 main reason, the Xmas Market which runs for about a month from November 20th to December 22nd this year.
The Market Square, which is quite large, has wooden stands and stalls lining the streets selling everything from souvenirs, clothes to blankets to hats to plenty of food. Desserts, smoked meats, cheese, chocolate gingerbread, candy floss and mulled wine make up just some of the offerings you can find amongst the vendors. Sadly however there seemed to be quite a few repeats with the same items being sold on each side so there were probably only 1 street worth of unique stores and the rest were just their other stalls. Either way it was a blast.
There were rides for kids, a huge tree, open air and real wood-burning fire pits near the mulled wine section (which is where we spent plenty of time) and of course some dwarves, horses and Santa walking around. While we knew we would be occupied with the markets we certainly spent some time during the day exploring the rest of the sights in the city.
We spent some time in the Old Town (Ostrów Tumski) area when we crossed Tumski Bridge and went to the top of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
Found some cool street art and art exhibitions on the streets around town.
We had some of the best ice cream at the Polish Lody.
We found some delicious food and beer at Targowa … as well as some cleverly named craft brews.
We had drinks at the oldest pub in town, Piwnica Świdnicka, which lived up to both of the things I read about it. An amazing basement beer bar and restaurant in the bottom of Town Hall dating back to 1275 … which is also sort of a tourist trap due to the prices there. (Now in full disclosure Poland is ridiculously affordable and cheap from $ or £ so the remark of high prices is in relation to any other bar we visited in town for a beer).
Ate way too many pierogies at Pierogarnia Stary Młyn … and I mean way too many! (I’ve also got to say that our homemade ones are better … gonna miss those this year at Wigilia)!
We found Jatki street which has a colorful history. Back in the day it was the alley where all the butcher shops were located. Now it has been refurbished and turned into art galleries. To pay homage to their predecessors though, at the beginning of the alley you can find some large statues of the animals which were slaughtered and sold in the butcher shops of old.
We also tried to go to the Panorama of the Battle of Racławice but with our luck it was closed for 10 days for cleaning and construction while we were there. So we walked across the street to check out the Bastion Ceglarski.
Saw one of the most beautiful sunsets and magic hours ever in the Market Square.
Finally, and most importantly, we got to go on a dwarf hunt! That’s right, the city has created a fun “game” of sorts placing little dwarves all around town for visitors and locals to try to find. It all started in 2001 and today there are over 255 as they continue to pop-up throughout town. Each dwarf has a name, reason for being put up (and usually for being put in a specific spot in town) and a person or company who pays to place and maintain it. We found almost 40 of them but had to buy the book so we could learn more about this fun feature of the city … here are some examples:
So while I highly recommend going to Poland (well definitely Krakow or Wrocław) for a super affordable trip I think we have also found an annual event … Xmas Market hunting. I am a fan of checking out ones that aren’t going to be extremely packed and on everyone’s list. Those “off the beaten path” places are great and I love when I tell someone I’m going somewhere and they have absolutely no idea where that is.
Happy holidays and happy exploring out there!