We depart Wroclaw, Poland, today having spent three days with our friends John and Magda and his parents. The past three days we have enjoyed visiting the city of Wroclaw, first flying from St. Petersburg to Warsaw. St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo-2 airport is very small, with the unusual configuration of having security, check in, passport control set up almost backwards. However small and unusual, you could really tell the people working there were trying their hardest to make airport visitors have a good trip. We departed Pulkovo with no issues and landed into Warsaw, where unfortunately a long passport control and security line kept us from getting to our gate on time. After running fourty gates and appearing five minutes after departure time, the gate agent actually called out and got us a separate van to drive us out to the plane waiting on the tarmac.
We were treated to a detailed tour of Wroclaw by Magda and John, first by visiting the Hala Stulecia, or Centennial Hall. Built a hundred years ago, it features a reinforced concrete structure that arcs over a completely open trade floor for displays, concerts and oratory. The visitor’s center video showed the immense history the building has seen–from Nazi party speeches, visits from the Pope, to the flag of Polish Solidarity flying out front.
We then drove into town, visiting the Hala Targowa, a market of food vendors similar to our own St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. John treated us to smoked Polish white cheese as we walked through the stalls of produce and baked goods on sale.
Nearby is the Rac≈Çawice Panorama, a depiction of a battle of Polish independence on a cyclorama painting, that wraps around the viewer from floor to ceiling. At different points around the painting, you can see key elements from the battle. It is difficult, speaking as an amateur painter, to paint with such controlled perspective across such a wide canvas. The integration of foreground elements into the overall view was really well done.
The Rynek, or town square, is delightfully charming and many of the buildings have been refurbished, with colourful fronts facing into the centre. Wroclaw’s old town center is amazingly almost completely lacking tourist trappings like souvenir shops with trinkets, horse drawn carriages and rickshaws, or harassing canvassers. Instead, the town square seems to remain for it’s citizens, instead of propositioning itself for visitors.
Also situated in the centre of town are one of many universities in Wroclaw. We toured the inside of the Baroque styled university church first, then went upstairs in a nearby building to see the Aula Leopoldina, a beautiful hall where commencements, speakers and musical performances are held. It struck me that Canada is often so young as a country that our academic institutions lack such history. Both spaces dated back hundreds of years.
We had a wonderful time walking through the city with Magda and John, popping into churches and having a bite to eat. Wroclaw, it seems, is delightfully historic yet modern and growing where it needs to be.
Our next day in Wroclaw found us headed again to the Rynek on our own. Taking a much slower pace in Poland than on tour in Russia, we took the time to visit places like the Feniks department store, which is really a collection of independent sellers. Over time, it seems those sellers are more and more unusual: One floor was dedicated to street art materials, Doc Marten shoes, and American rock shirts.
Siobhan and I eventually made it to Ostrow Tumski, the oldest part of the city in town at the suggestion of John’s parents. The Cathedral Island is accessed through a few bridges, some festooned now with love locks that visitors and residents alike attach. While we were there, a bride and groom were being photographed attaching a padlock in celebration. As the sounds from a saxphone player drew us into the island towards the cathedral, we enjoyed the combination of narrow streets, river and trees. The island also features a beautiful garden space with water features which we walked through.
The cathedral is a beautiful gothic design, very different than the Russian churches we’ve seen the previous week.
Our day ended with a river cruise. It turns out Wroclaw is intersected by a number of rivers and canals. As we headed out of the city centre, we saw the lush green foiliage of old neighbourhoods, flanked with trees and parks. It was wonderful to get such an introduction to this wonderful town, but also to see good friends again.