Wrocław

Beautiful colored buildings in Wroclaw, Poland

A surprising experience

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Why would any normal person go to Wrocław, you say? That’s what all of our friends and relatives asked us lately. So, let’s answer the question.

First of all, I thought it was clear by now we’re not exactly “normal” people.

Second, why not?

Third, because it was actually a great decision.

The decision

Since we came here we didn’t manage to go to a lot of places. Mostly due to financial reasons, because we have spent the first month in Switzerland relying on the money we had from Romania. It’s not like we’re complaining, we knew what we were getting into, so there’s no point in addressing it further.

But we felt a little depressed that the 1st of May was approaching, which is a bank holiday even in Switzerland (these guys don’t have many bank holidays here, and we’ll miss on lots of trips because of this) and we were not going anywhere. I kept on looking for options, scraping Momondo and Skyscanner and all other search engines I knew, and I couldn’t find any affordable prices anywhere.

Surprise, you won’t find flights to Milan for as low as 20 euro when you’re in Switzerland. You’re supposed to afford more if you’re in Switzerland. Also, the airlines have to pay higher airport taxes here, and the employees’ salaries are, of course, bigger; and yes, all of these things need to be paid by the passengers.

And also, because it was a bank holiday and more people traveled then, the supply and demand were not in a happy place for the customers. The only affordable options were for Germany, and we thought we would do that more often, we could also do that as weekend trips, being so close.

We could have also decided for a warmer place, like Palma de Mallorca or Fuerteventura, but it wasn’t warm enough for the beach and the places are not very touristy apart from that. So, from the number of places left, we choose Wrocław, a place we heard things about, but nothing specific enough that would create an idea in our heads.

The decision was taken at work, on Skype (I hope my boss doesn’t learn Romanian soon or he doesn’t have the chance of reading this). Also at work, we bought the tickets because we were afraid of not finding them anymore, considering all of this was happening a week before the departure.

When we got home, we started looking for accommodation because I keep on not wanting to sleep in the train station when going somewhere. And we didn’t have a lot of options by the time we started our search. We had a choice between expensive, nice and far away from the center or expensive, close to the center and we didn’t exactly know how nice will it be.

I have to mention that my standards for expensive could be a little weird since I usually don’t care how the place looks like because that’s not the reason I’m going somewhere, but I really care about having walls, a ceiling, hot running water, and a bed. In this order of priorities.

We didn’t quite know how the place would look like because on Booking the accommodation was a little bit strange: you have the feeling there are more apartments listed for renting purposes, but you don’t know exactly which of them will be the one you’ll be staying in. I mean, you know the address, but you don’t know which of the pictures match with which of the apartments.

We stayed here and, as we found out, the pictures are from all of the apartments from the building, which were around three I think. But the studio was very nicely decorated and the location was better than anywhere else we went.

So we choose to be closer to the important places to be able to easily move from one place to the other, and we left the luxury for the next trip (like we always do, without even a slight regret).

Kind of off-topic: Because we’re going to fly a lot from now on, including the trips to Romania, we decided to make some frequent traveler’s cards for both of us for all the airlines that we’re going to use. One of those cards is Miles&More, the Star Alliance frequent traveler card.

My God, how awful that was! We made accounts on both Miles&More and Lufthansa using their websites. The sites and mobile apps are, from my point of view, horrible.

They’re not at all intuitive, you cannot easily find information you’re looking for, you put the same information into the input field for five times and you get errors and when you put them the sixth time (the same information, it’s not like you have another one you could use) it says that information has already been used (No shit?).

I’m sure it can also be me and the fact that I work in IT and I have expectations, but still: if I barely made it, I wouldn’t even want to think about how can this be for a person that doesn’t have it easy with technology. Of course, the Lufthansa app doesn’t also keep data off-line, so if you have your boarding pass in the app it’s all for nothing if you don’t have Internet access at the airport.

Most airports offer Internet while you’re there, but some offer it with some limits and some other ask for too much data – for example, I once had to choose between two options: having Internet for 30 minutes as a guest or logging in with Facebook or Google for 90 minutes. Because yeah, why wouldn’t you provide your Facebook or Google data in an airport, where the network offers minimum security for people like you and me?

The departure

To take the most advantage of the available time, we decided to leave Saturday morning and come back on Tuesday evening. But when be bought tickets for 6:45 AM I didn’t take into account the fact that I’m not in Bucharest anymore, where I can find an Uber or a taxi at any possible time. We tried installing taxi apps here because we find it difficult to order by phone since we don’t speak the language, but all people we know here told us they never used the taxi due to the prices.

And yes, it only takes a Google search to find out that Switzerland has the highest prices for taxis in the world. We did make a good choice when deciding where to move, right? But we discovered we also had Uber here and we hoped it will work.

Also, we thought of using Uber to reach the train station and use the bus from there, since it takes it 15 minutes to reach the airport. If we couldn’t find any Uber drivers available, we could take the tram at 5 AM and reach the airport kind of last minute, but still OK I think.

So, that morning we woke up at 3:30 AM, put in the Uber order and waited for Husseyin, our driver. But because I was so sleepy, I put in the destination as the airport instead of the train station. Because in my head it made sense, the airport was the place where I eventually wanted to arrive.

When we realized, we asked him to take us to the train station and I tried to also change the destination from the app. Of course, my app decided to freeze. Whenever I was trying to change the destination, my screen would go blank and stayed like that. I was so ashamed and felt so bad because the man was so nice and he kept on telling us that everything is OK, he’ll take us where we want.

He took us to the train station and accepted my stuttered apologies about how I’m not usually a bad client, and I was just sleepy like he cared about my inability to set up a correct destination. Of course, my app froze when I wanted to give him a nice review and a tip for being so kind. I felt so bad that I kept on trying, and I finally succeeded, after half an hour, to at least give him a positive review.

Still, the payment was already made so I couldn’t also include a tip, or maybe this is not implemented in the Swiss app. The only thing clear is that we managed to get to the train station and also to the airport to spend the decent two hours near the gate so I can feel better about getting there in time and without being in a hurry.

We had one more small surprise when getting into the plane when we saw it was a CRJ900. We had never before used such a small plane, we were actually joking and saying that it’s clear we’re in a tough spot financially, we couldn’t afford to go with a whole plane, that it looks like it’s lost from its mother, the usual stuff people say to not admit they’re a little afraid on their plane that’s looking too fragile. Because yes, we felt turbulence more intensively than other times and the landings were not very delicate, but not so bad since I didn’t panic at all.

The first impression on Wrocław

Right after we had landed, we were happy to notice the sunny weather, even though Meteoblue and Accuweather were saying that some rain will make an appearance on Monday, but each of them provided a different time frame. We got out of the airport and because we had done our homework, we knew we had to look for a bus station for the number 106 bus that was supposed to take us right to the city center.

We found the bus stop and the ticket machine which looked like it was frozen, or at least it didn’t want to linguistically cooperate with us so we moved a little bit and waited to see what other (hopefully) knowledgeable people will do. Meanwhile, the bus was waiting at the bus stop, and we wouldn’t go in because we’re responsible citizens and don’t use the bus without a valid ticket.

Eventually, a couple appeared, they discovered the ticket machine was not working and before they had the chance to explain that we can also pay on the bus using our credit card, the bus left the area. So my special karma follows us. We waited for the next one, got in and paid.

At least we hope we paid since the card reader didn’t give us any feedback about what happened, like a light change or a sound. It may have written something, but our Polish is not that good. But, again, we looked at other people and we think we did the same as them.

When we arrived at the city center we had another surprise: all the sidewalks are paved or covered in stone. Sometimes even the streets were like that. That wouldn’t have been a big problem if we wouldn’t have brought our trolley with us, the one we usually use in city breaks. We decided we should buy backpacks with the same measures as the allowed luggage but we’re sorry we had to take that decision due to being mad in central Wrocław.

So our first advice for anyone visiting Wrocław is to use a backpack. We managed to find the accommodation after a few delays because all street names look the same when you don’t speak the language, and right in front of the place we read the fine print: the key should have been taken from the reception, which was in a different place. A place we passed by.

And because our trolley didn’t seem happy with the idea of going back, we decided it was better that I go and take the key and my husband would wait for me somewhere nearby. I went to the reception’s address, and I found what appeared to be an apartment building or a very modern office building, I saw a sign at the entrance that I am in the right spot, followed by a few words and a number, 113.

I also saw the interphone next to the entrance, so I figured I had to call and then to come up. So I called. And then I called again. And I continued to call for 20 minutes.

There was no answer. I was already having flash-backs from Athens when we managed to end up without a place to spend the night like the rebel girls that we were. I read the Booking information again, and I found out that the reception was open starting at 3 PM. It was only 12:00 PM because I wanted to fly in the morning to enjoy most of the day at the destination.

So I came back to my husband with no key but with helpful information and we decided to go and have something to eat until 3 PM. We went into the first restaurant we found and ate some merely acceptable food, but which felt amazing after a month of eating only the food we cooked. We then decided that my husband should go and take the key, and I should be the one waiting.

He came back happy with the key and said I probably didn’t have to use the interphone. He just went into a big building with automated doors and no one observed him, so probably I rang at the whole different door than where I should have have been. I would like to say I’m surprised, but that would be a huge lie.

Note to self: I should not go alone to fix things if we really want those things fixed.

The author, each time she fails at something.

We were finally able to get inside and relax a little bit after the three hours of sleep we had and also the restless beginning of our journey.

How did we like Wrocław?

But when we started enjoying the place, everything was absolutely amazing. The accommodation was strategically placed between a pancakes place (with thin pancakes, which in Europe are called crepes and can be either sweet or salty) that had all sorts of options, each weighing around 400 grams, a mini-market we could use for some breakfast and drinking water shopping and an ice cream place that had such a long queue all the time that we only saw its dwarf in the last day we spent there.

As you will find on any site, Wrocław had something specific: more than 500 bronze dwarfs are spread all over the city and area. These guys, apart from being a nice treat for the kids, are also an interesting challenge for adults. The idea started from a local guy’s thought he had around 2005 about reinterpreting a peaceful protest that used to take place in the communist era.

The dwarfs are present all over the city and are placed strategically; near the bank there a dwarf withdrawing money from the ATM and the ATM itself is being supplied with bills by other dwarfs, near the pastry shop there’s a dwarf with a tray full of cookies, in front of the Opera house there’s a whole orchestra made out of dwarfs and there’s also the cutest of them all: a tourist dwarf taking a picture of a dwarf. The last one was my favorite because I could extend it by taking a photo, and that’s how I became the third dwarf in this chain.

The most important place, when you’re here as a tourist, is the central square, where all the nicely painted buildings are, and also the very nice City Hall and a full gang of street artists that make the place feel really cozy. When it comes to the street artists, you’ll find them all: ballerinas, singers, dancers, small bands (some guys even had a lady dancer that was entertaining people, and after the song was over she just went, took her husband/boyfriend and left, so apparently she wasn’t part of the band), human statues of Jesus and angels, people that make soap bubbles or tricks with the soccer ball.

Also, everyone looks so relaxed; you can see people staying on stairs, floors, statues’ pedestals. Basically, the general feeling is that you’re on the college campus as we know them from the Hollywood movies.

Right from the first evening, we went to look for the Pomnik Anonimowego Przechodnia, or The Anonymous Pedestrians work of art which was, for us, a pretty sad, but accurate representation of how we probably look like in any given day. You can find a way to find yourself in the statues than enter and exit the asphalt, no matter if you’re the woman taking out her baby in a stroller or the old man that’s coming back from the grocery store.

The Wrocławska Fontanna Multimedialna

Also, we wanted to see the Wrocławska Fontanna Multimedialna, which is supposed to be something special.

The first time, we have waited for the tram while I was looking, maybe a little persistent, at two elderly women that were very beautiful, wearing very delicate make-up and pearls around their necks and probably heading to a classical music concert or a theater. I was so upset I wasn’t Mihaela Noroc because I would have loved to take a photo of them instead of just staring weirdly.

After that, we went into the tram and stood right between three girls that were together but were staying all over the place and shouting information about their lives from one part of the tram to the other in a language I understand a little bit, but I didn’t feel the need to find out more about them.

Well, exactly when we entered the park, we could see in the distant horizon the first lightning. Do you remember the rainfall that was supposed to happen on Monday? Accuweather was the one correct about the time. But we decided to head back and managed to get inside right on time.

On the way back I kept on looking at a lady that had lots of amazingly scented lilac in her arms and she gave one to me as a gift. She dropped one when she went inside the tram and when my husband gave it to her, she gestured something as “Keep it”. Like she heard me. Like she understood me.

The second try to see the fountain was even more interesting because we managed to be in the exact tram that had to stop so everyone could come down after an announcement made by the driver. We eventually found a nice young teenager that explained that something was broken on the line and that the tram will use a different line.

But we were in luck, the new line went right next to the park and it took us even closer than we were initially supposed to go, so we managed to find the fountain. And it was dark. And looked deserted. We asked the few people we could find in the area, but they didn’t know if/when are there any shows.

So, with our 10% battery phones, we proceeded to try to find a way home. We found the first tram station which was also empty, except for a blonde young lady on a bench, listening to music in her headphone. We wanted to ask her how we can reach the center, but she just ignored us and didn’t even want to make eye contact.

I started to ask myself if maybe we looked threatening because she seemed to be aware we were there. We finally found a guy with a phone app that could help us safely reach home. I was a little scared, I have to admit.

If you go away from the center area and it’s dark outside, the city looks a little scary, like you can also feel in Bucharest when it’s dark outside. So, in a few words, we did see the fountain, and we didn’t see any shows, but at least we tried.

The tour

As usual, we also went on a free walking tour. The guide, Matt (this was the name he used, but I assume he just used that for our ease of use), took us to lots of places and told us the saddest history of the area. The city was under so many and so different dominations over time that German people still use Breslau as the city’s name.

What stood up was the fact that always, after every destruction, these people had the strength of standing up and starting to rebuild everything. Almost every building in the city was rebuilt at least once, during one of the wars. One time people actually destroyed buildings just to take the brick and use it for other buildings in other cities.

The guy took us and told us about Solny Place, and we also saw a former prison, an alley full of stores with souvenirs that were NOT made in China, the University building (that is amazing), everything building up to Ostrow Tumsky, a place where we could admire some cathedrals built in Romanesque, Gothic or Baroque styles. Of course, we came back the next day, so we could see everything at our own pace and to try to take some pictures without the other 30 people around.

The food

I can honestly say I loved the food here. Not only the local cuisine, from which I can remember only the stewed cabbage served in bread from Gastropub Wrocławska, a place Matt recommended, but we also ate great food in other restaurants:

Of course, we had a disappointment too, it’s not like everything can be perfect: we do NOT recommend Pod Fredrą – it looks old but stylish, but the food was awful, in the way that the chicken was medium rare (it was mostly uncooked basically) and the mushrooms from the sauce were mushy and disgusting. For it to be even worse, of course, it was also more expensive than the other ones; it couldn’t just be unsavory, it also had to be expensive.

Coming back from Wrocław

It was a difficult task to come back, that’s how good we felt here. We ended up in the middle of a cool event: a Guinness world record attempt that was right up our alley. Everything was like a beautiful dream, we were surrounded by big and little people, with their guitars, and the energy was incredible even without speaking Polish. Music is, for sure, an international language.

Hey, wanna read more about the awesome places Poland has to offer? Check out this post from a fellow blogger that knows everything you need to know about Poland. And if you need help in setting up your budget, check out this post and find out how much does it cost to visit Poland.

The last surprise was still the flight back. I wouldn’t have thought that I would ever get on a bus to get to a plane when the distance between the two is 50 meters. Especially when comparing to the Frankfurt Airport, where we had to go a long way until we reached the building and we even had roundabouts. Because yes, there are roundabouts in airports too.

And yes, I am still amazed about things related to airplanes and airports. Deep down, I am still the girl that’s afraid to fly.

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