Poland (Wroclaw), Travel Advice and Ryanair Improvements

Wroclaw Postcard

January always seems to be a good time to go away if you ask me and this year I found some cheap Ryanair flights at only £50 return to Wroclaw, the fourth largest city in Poland and as we had previously been to Krakow and enjoyed it there the decision was quickly made to visit the historic capital of Lower Silesia.

Before leaving my friend Dai Woosnam provided me with some lessons on pronunciation because although Wroclaw looks easy enough on paper it can prove quite tricky to get absolutely right and is correctly pronounced as ‘Wrotswaf’ with the added complication of a rolling ‘r’.  In attempting to say this difficult word it is necessary to sound like a bronchitis sufferer with a throat full of phlegm. 

I suggest that the easiest way to achieve it would be to fill your mouth with pebbles to suppress any possible movement of the tongue and force the sound into the back of the mouth; either that or go into the garden shed and find a live moth, swallow it and then try and cough it up and you will achieve roughly the same combination of sounds that is required to get the correct pronunciation!  

It is all very well for Dai of course, he is from Wales and the Welsh are used to dealing with unpronounceable place names, places like Llanystumdwy or the most absurd place name of all –  Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch* because even the Germans don’t have place names as long as that and the longest that I can find is Villingen-Schwenningen but that cheats and includes a hyphen and is really two places next door to each other.

This had been the first time that we had flown with Ryanair since it announced its package of customer service improvements and although I was not expecting a lot of difference I was soon to be surprised and top marks to Michael O’Leary for being true to his word. 

The website is much improved and easier to navigate and once at the airport there is now common sense in respect of women’s handbags, which no longer have to be crammed inside the one piece of hand luggage and passengers can also take on a bag of duty free purchases. The staff were helpful and smiled instead of snarled as we got on and off the plane and the relentless address system assault with a succession of hard sell announcements had been significantly reduced.  On the down side there is still that annoying fanfare upon landing to announce ‘another on time flight from Ryanair’.

As we dropped through the light cloud I could see Poland rapidly coming into view.  This part of the country is flat and prairie like with a chequer board pattern of agricultural farms and fields occupying the valley of the River Oder and a long way from the mountains of the south or the forests of the east and in its state of winter hibernation it looked rather unremarkable and it made me wonder why so many lives had been lost over the years fighting over it. 

Dai had visited Wroclaw a couple of years previously and had some sightseeing, culinary and accommodation tips for me including a strong recommendation to stay at the £12 a night Stranger (or was it Strangeways) Hostel close to the railway station but although I was grateful for the what to see and where to go tips and even for the dining suggestions I had to tell him that the chances of Kim agreeing to stay in a hostel in a dormitory with a bathroom shared with strangers was some considerable way below zero on the probability scale of acceptable accommodation.

As it happened we got a very good £50 a night discounted deal at the five star Sofitel just off the main square so after landing and passing through customs at Wroclaw Copernicus Airport we considered our options for getting there.

Outside the terminal building there was a bus stop and the 406 pulled up and this looked like perfect timing but there turned out to be a complicated automatic ticket purchasing system and by the time I had worked it out the bus driver had become impatient and closed the doors and revved the engine to indicate his imminent departure.  I thought briefly about standing in the road to prevent him pulling away but he had the look of a psychopath so I thought better of it and he drove away with a sneering grin leaving the two of us and quite a line of irritable people in the queue behind us to wait for the next one due in twenty minutes or so. 

I felt rather guilty about all of the others that had missed the transport so we walked away towards the taxi rank and although, as I have explained before, I have an aversion to using cabs there was an advertised price of fifty zloty (about £10) and this just seemed too reasonable a price to stand by my principles at this particular time so we loaded our bags and climbed in the back seat and while Kim looked out of the window I kept my attention firmly fixed on the meter!

The down side of expensive hotels is that they have a way of making me feel uncomfortable at check-in as though the staff know that I would probably be more at home in the hostel and the Sofitel had that thing that I hate most – the uniformed commissionaire waiting to give unnecessary assistance with the luggage. 

He insisted on taking our bags and then hovered around through the check-in formalities and then escorted us to our room when we were perfectly capable of finding it for ourselves.  After he had introduced us to the facilities with the speed of a retreating glacier as though this might make it seem more important he stood around waiting for a tip and this you see is my problem – I have no idea how much to give them.  A few bits of loose change looks mean but I am not going to give a large note for just a few minutes work.  Luckily the Polish notes come in small denominations so I handed over the smallest that I had worth about £2.

Polish Zloty

Although Dai would not have agreed, on account of its corporate and ubiquitous style, it was a nice room with a bathroom full of complimentary soaps and shampoos so as we carried out an inventory we congratulated ourselves on a good choice and then found our scarves and gloves and went outside to the streets of the city.

* Although often claimed to be the longest place name in the World, there is in fact a Maori place name in New Zealand that is even longer – Taumatawhakatangihanga­koauau­o­tamatea­turi­pukakapiki­maunga­horo­nuku­pokai­whenua­kitanatahu but personally I discount that because it isn’t the name of a town or a village but rather a hill.



34 responses to “Poland (Wroclaw), Travel Advice and Ryanair Improvements

  1. Those Maori place names are a killer to remember, mostly because there aren’t enough letters to go round so they have to keep recycling the few they have. Is it Waikaremoana or Wairakenoama or Waimakeroana or…?


  2. Andrew the description of the moth swallowing and hacking it back up in pronunciation practice had me in stitches.
    Then to be followed that Ryan Air is allowing handbags? The world definitely is upside down.:) Great post. Still laughing.


  3. Can you imagine being driven around South Wales by someone who was brought up there and mispronouncing every place name? i can’t remember all the ones I got wrong, but Pontnewynnyd (or some such spelling) is one that comes to mind.

    Pont New Inn Id, I said confidently breaking it down into logical bits. Pnnnwwnnth or something he snarled welshishly. Still, his Yorkshire accent is crap so I get my revenge from time to time when he attempts it and fails miserably.

    I like Dai’s suggestion of accommodation 🙂


  4. I’ve not been with Ryanair for a couple of years now and didn’t know they’d tried to clean up their act – is there still a mad dash to get a seat at boarding?


  5. It won’t last long O’Leary will get bored with peopel being nice about him!


  6. I enjoyed your description of word pronouncing. I haven’t used my native tongue and am finding I need one of those moths to pronounce Wrocław myself. 😀


  7. What fun Andrew! So glad to hear that Ryanair is cleaning up their “I hate customers” act. And great explanation of how to pronounce Wroclaw. I do love your description of how you felt checking into the hotel – we’re the same as you and refer to it as “gypsies in the palace.” 🙂

    On a separate note, I wanted to thank you and tell you that your wonderful posts in January about your love of TV Westerns (https://apetcher.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/more-leif-ericson-the-answers/) inspired the post we’re publishing on Wednesday. It highlights your blog, and is titled “A Journey Inspired by a Singing Cowboy.” Thanks for starting the thought process that is launching us on our next journey. All the best, Terri


    • I think I could do a complete blog on TV westerns. My dad loved them and watched them avidly. Sometimes I was allowed to stop and watch those he considered suitable but anything a bit ”gritty’ I was sent to bed. He always thought ‘Have gun will Travel’ was only for adults but I have no explanation why?

      “Gypsies in the Palace” – I like that!


  8. Love the header! 🙂


  9. I’ve just thought! (bong!) How did you get it to do that? A different header attached to the relevant page, I mean. That’s what I was after but my only option is “random” which is exactly that. I know you’re not using the same theme, but give us a clue 🙂


  10. Great post, Andrew. Also, I now know where to come for help with pronunciation 🙂


  11. Oh my God! I had better lie down with a cold compress on my head, before I have a stroke!
    Dear writers of the responses above: I love Andrew to bits, but he is emphatically NOT the Pronunciation Messiah! He is a very naughty boy, and a less-than-diligent student!
    He was here in my house at Woosnam Towers just 5 days ago. We ate our haddock and chips purchased just a stone’s throw away for just £1.80 (surely the lowest price in Britain), and I gave him his final “Rain in Spain” moment. Say it AGAIN, Andrew. And AGAIN. AGAIN.
    By Jove I think he’s got it.
    But he evidently had not.
    Because he has just written this:
    and is correctly pronounced as ‘Wrotswaf’ with the added complication of a rolling ‘r’.
    OMG. All my work in vain.
    Now, that said, some things he remembers. He remembers that the letter L in the name is always written as “Ł” – or lower case – “ł” in Polish. Hope your blog software will not turn these symbols into conventional letter Ls, when I click “post comment” in 5 minutes! If it does, I will look like I am a paid up member of the Lunatics’ Club.
    Just for the record folks, the L has a diagonal line through it.
    And that is never pronounced as an L but as a …

    (wait for it!)

    a …W (!!!)

    So if we move from the fourth largest city to the third, the city of Łódź is not pronounced LODZ, as most Brits pronounce it, but because of the letter Ł again, and the accent on the letter o, and the dź at the end, something like (forgive the fact that I know sweet FA about phonetic symbols!) …

    But back to “Wrocłav” …you got your initial letter wrong after all that rehearsing Andrew here at Woosnam Towers !!
    Remember there have been three great Polish film directors in our lifetime. The one everyone knows, Roman Polanski. Then there is the great Krzysztof Kieślowski, who died far too young.
    And then there is the greatest of the lot who is still alive I think …though I cannot be bothered to duckduckgo* it…. Andrzej Wajda.
    And his name like all Polish words/names beginning with a W, is pronounced with a German W.
    So Andrew – and I know you are KICKING yourself, having positively SHONE in rehearsals – the correct pronunciation is of course …
    “Vro-tz-wav” !!
    Now get me Peter Alliss and I will tell him how to pronounce my surname! And point out that I am not Chinese. My name does not rhyme with Fu Manchu. The first syllable rhymes with the vowel sound of could/wood, I will call him Peter ELL-is… if ever I meet him!
    Now I will go have a lie down and come back hopefully revived to comment on Pontnewynydd.!!
    * Google has lost out to http://www.duckduckgo.com as my default search engine, for ethical reasons.
    Dai Woosnam
    Grimsby, UK


  12. Andrew, if you don’t want to feel uncomfortable in an expensive hotel’s reception, you can show them your invitation from Queen of Great Britain, first. 🙂


  13. I wish we could travel more in January but my partner is always slammed with work. such a shame since most places are packed when we go in the summer.


  14. Thank you Andrew for your noble response.
    I have had a rest and am now back with my promised follow-up.
    My comments above were on Poland: my comments below will be on Wales…and the British Isles.
    You rightly denounce the preposterous name of Llanfair PG as a tourist inspired ruse. It is as essentially fraudulent as the events of the modern Olympic Games (all the fertile imagination of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, having read references to the Ancient Olympics in the Greek Classics). And indeed as fraudulent as the modern National Eisteddfod of Wales, That actually dates only from 1789, but weirdly, it took the same decade (1860s) as that clever little earner of “Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch” was thought up, for it to take off nationally.
    And although it contains marvellous words and song, it also contains the most terrible old tomfoolery.
    All this nonsense with DRUIDS for instance! They invented a uniform for these characters from Ancient Britain and a code of behaviour. But it was all supposition! All the workings of what passed for the Wales Tourist Board of 1861 (!!)
    And it ain’t just WALES. Look at our twin country across the sea: Ireland. (I say “twin” because we have a Welshman who is their patron saint. St Patrick, born and raised in South Wales. In March we Welsh celebrate two saints’ days: St David on March 1st, and St Patrick on the 17th.)
    But back to the Ireland of NOW. Whenever I see anyone type the word craic, I feel a tremendous desire to CRACK their knuckles with my ruler!
    This is an invention of the Irish Tourist Board circa 1968 (!!) YCNMIU*
    They stole a good Lallans word (crack) that had been in use for CENTURIES, and gave it a phony Gaelic spelling.
    You might say that like the 58 characters/51 letters monstrosity of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, it is harmless enough.
    No it ain’t!
    The way that everyone with a sheep’s personality now writes craic for crack, sends me up the wall!
    Why? Because it is pernicious nonsense, that is why.
    The clear subtext is this: there is no atmosphere/banter to match that in the Emerald Isle.
    Yes there is! In many countries. That said, I am not anti-Irish: so I will happily concede that there is no atmosphere to BEAT it.
    Just do not write about the “craic” when you go to Galway in June, Andrew, I beg you. Not if you want to see me retain my slight grip on my sanity!
    Back to your piece and our dear friend in Gib and her witty mention of Pontnewynydd. I can imagine it is a bit of a tongue twister to non Welsh people. Mind you it is even more of a head scratcher to those English van delivery men, as just 4 miles away is another village called Pontnewydd !! (Just 2 letters/one syllable different!).
    So often, the van ended up in the wrong village, though I guess with the arrival of GPS, that is a thing of the past now.
    And it ain’t just Wales …
    For 15 years I used to attend a folk festival in Stainsby (a tiny village between Chesterfield and Mansfield). You’d be surprised to learn that some artistes arrived puffing and blowing, having been directed by pedestrians they consulted, to the bigger village of Staveley some 12 miles away!
    And here in Lincolnshire where we both live, do you know that there are no fewer than THREE villages in this county called Thurlby (one of them admittedly no bigger than a hamlet)? YCNMIU.
    You cleverly mention the place name Llanystumdwy. BTW, I commend this place to all your readers. Not that it has anything special in the village itself. The boyhood home of David Lloyd George and his school, are fine enough, as such things go.
    But you have to take the short walk to the river bank to see the most remarkable grave you will ever see. Inspired thinking from DLG.
    But back to Llanystumdwy. I say you “cleverly” mention it, because it really is the hardest place name in Wales for me to pronounce. Much harder than that Anglesey absurdity. And much harder than one I sometimes trip over, Penrhyndeudraeth.
    I shall gloss over your response to our lovely witty Tyke/Gibraltarian friend: “but now the Welsh insist on going back to proper Welsh names”!
    PROPER !!?? Do not wind me up, Andrew! Light the blue touch paper and stand 10 feet back!
    What is proper about Caerffili for CAERPHILLY? Especially when no less an authority than the Rev Sabine Baring Gould, clearly knocked on the head that the name derived from the fort of St Ffili.
    And do not get me started on taxi ranks throughout Wales having their signs removed and replaced with new signs saying TACSI …all because the Welsh language has no letter X.
    Yet the word TAXI and its spelling is respected in ALL other countries in the WORLD using the Latin alphabet.
    I do not know whether to laugh or cry.
    * YCNMIU = You Could Not Make It Up (even if you tried!)
    Dai Woosnam
    Grimsby UK


  15. Forgot to add two things Andrew.
    First congrats on another MAP postcard (albeit, a fairly limites map!).
    And second, where do you think that the JAM & JERUSALEM institution known as The Women’s Institute, had its beginnings?
    This institution is famous throughout the English speaking world …and has branches throughout the British Commonwealth.
    I always think of it as a social club for fairly well-heeled and slightly condescending women! YES …TOTALLY WRONG OF ME I KNOW.
    But where do you think the WI had its first branch meeting? Would you say, leafy Surrey? Or elegant Tunbridge Wells?
    I have to say that I might.
    But the amazing answer is …
    …(wait for it …)
    …the above-mentioned 58 character Anglesey village!
    Dai Woosnam


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