‘This is most apparent on the Pont des Arts, which has been terribly degraded, both visually and structurally. In a few short years, the heart of Paris has been made ugly, robbing Parisians of quality of life and the ability to safely enjoy their own public spaces along the Seine, which has itself been polluted by thousands of discarded keys…. The time has come to enact a ban on ‘love locks’ in order to return our bridges to their original beauty and purpose.’ Petition Against Love Locks, Paris.
After an above average (put rather pricey) breakfast at the Sofitel Hotel it was immediately time for more walking and sightseeing and there was perfect weather this morning with a crisp blue sky, bright sunshine and not a threatening cloud in the sky.
It was quite chilly however but the hotel desk clerk told us that this was unusual and unseasonably mild because normally at this time of the year the people of Wroclaw would expect to be shovelling snow several centimetres of snow and dealing with average temperatures some way below zero.
We stayed a while in the Market Square where some stage scaffolding was being erected in preparation for a musical event and then we left through a lop-sided archway and made our way north through the handsome University district and towards the River Oder and the handful of islands that sit in a wide stretch of the river and which are connected by several bridges which immediately entitles it to the tag of the ‘Venice of the North’. This isn’t a title that it holds uniquely of course because this has also been applied to Amsterdam, Bruges, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Manchester, Edinburgh and even Birmingham amongst others.
Actually, I have to say that here in Wroclaw this description is stretching it to its absolute limit but it was pleasant enough criss-crossing the river on the bridges and strolling across the islands one by one towards our objective of Ostrow Tumski, the Cathedral Island, which actually isn’t an island any more since part of the river was filled in two hundred years ago.
To get there we had to cross the Tumski Bridge which has now become known as Lovers Bridge on account of that awful modern obsession with attaching padlock graffiti to any available railing which seems to have become an irritating epidemic all across Europe. This is a lover’s plague whereby signing and locking the padlock and throwing the key into the river they become eternally bonded. Now, this is an action where I would recommend extreme caution because it sounds dangerously impulsive to me; I think I would further recommend taking the precaution of keeping a spare somewhere in case I needed to release myself later from the implications of a hasty and ill thought through obligation.
Urban Wall Art near the Tumski Bridge
This tradition might sound all rather romantic and lovely but apparently all of these love tokens do lots of damage to the bridges because as they age and rust this spreads to the ironwork and thousands of padlocks need to be removed every year from bridges across Europe. In Venice there is a €3,000 penalty and up to a year in prison for those caught doing it and that is a much, much higher price than I would be prepared to pay for eternal bondage!
To anyone who thinks this is mean spirited please bear in mind that in June 2014 the ‘Pond des Arts’ in Paris across the River Seine collapsed under the weight of these padlock monstrosities and had to be temporarily closed. They are not just unsightly – they are dangerous!
Cathedral Island is the original site of the first permanent settlement in Wroclaw, sometime in the ninth century and shortly after it became established and became a bishopric work began to build a Cathedral. Named after John the Baptist, Patron Saint of Wroclaw, the current incarnation of the cathedral started life in 1241 although it has had a great deal of restoration work since then because just like every European church it has suffered a mandatory burning down or two and the odd bomb over the years including the destruction of the twin towers in 1945.
There is nothing especially remarkable about the interior of the church but there is a lift to a viewing platform up to the top of one of the towers and so we took the ride and enjoyed the views over the city and the surrounding countryside but we didn’t stop long because it was cold and windy and rather uncomfortable at the top so after a couple of circuits of the spire we took the first available lift back to the ground where the temperature was more agreeable.
And so we left the islands and returned to the old town where we walked for a while along the south bank of the river before turning our backs on it and walked south. Here we passed by two museums, the especially impressive National Museum built in the style of a German sixteenth century palace and over the road the Panorama of the Battle of Raclawice which is a concrete rotunda with just one exhibit, a hundred and fourteen metre long by fifteen metre high painting of the battle of 1794 when a Polish army defeated a superior Russian force in a struggle for independence. (Just for comparison, the Bayeux Tapestry is seventy metres long by only half a metre wide). The painting has great patriotic and nationalist importance for Poland but we decided to walk on and leave this until tomorrow.
Instead of the museums we went to the indoor market but it wasn’t as vibrant as some that we have been to and compared badly for example against Riga and Budapest and it seemed tired, run down and unexciting. The guide book pointed out the importance of the roof as one of the best examples of early halls made of concrete in Europe and if you like concrete then I am prepared to concede that it was rather impressive. Personally, I am not a huge fan of the grey stuff!
We had been walking now for over two hours and I was beginning to detect that the needle on Kim’s whinge meter was beginning to twitch so the priority now was to find somewhere for a coffee break so we walked the short distance back to the Market Square and found a modern café where we stopped for a while to rest and warm up and to plan the rest of the afternoon.