A Return Visit to Wroclaw, Poland

Spring  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 thoroughly enjoyed a January weekend there two years previously the decision was quickly made to make a return visit the historic capital of Lower Silesia.

So why go to Wroclaw in the first place you might ask (and some people did) and having been once why go for a second time?  Well, quite simply because it is a fine European city and has a great deal to offer…

… It is classified as a global city with a ranking of high sufficiency and living standards and in 2015 was among two hundred and thirty cities ranked as “Best Cities to Live“. In 2016, the city was a European Capital of Culture and the World Book Capital. Also in a busy year Wrocław hosted the Theatre Olympics, the World Bridge Games and the European Film Awards. In 2017, the city is the host of the The International Federation of Library Associations’ Annual Conference and The World Games which is an international multi-sport event, meant for sports that are not contested in the Olympic Games

And where Iceland has Huldufólk and  Zurich has GnomesWroclaw has Dwarfs…

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 ‘Vrotswaf’ 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 to 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, like possibly the most absurd 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.  On that same basis I am also passing over the claim of L’Annonciation-de-la-Bienheureuse-Vierge-Marie-de-Nazareth which is somewhere in Quebec in Canada.

No one seems to know for sure but the city is traditionally believed to be named after Wrocisław or Vratislav, Duke Vratislaus I of Bohemia sometime towards the end of the tenth century.

But it hasn’t always been so difficult because it only reverted to the name of Wroclaw in 1946 when the city and the whole region of Silesia was taken from Germany and handed over to Poland as the borders of central Europe were redrawn to satisfy the demands of Stalin at the post-war Potsdam Conference.

Up until that point in history Wroclaw had not been a part of what you might call Poland for over six-hundred years and it went by the German name of Breslau, which is a lot easier to pronounce and was an almost exclusively German in a city that had once been part of Prussia, The German Empire after unification in 1871, The inter-war Weimer Republic and the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler.  I’ll tell you some more about that in a future post.

I am always interested to discover how far a place name has travelled but not surprisingly I am unable to find another Wroclaw anywhere.  There is however a Breslau in Ontario, Canada and another in Pierce County Nebraska, USA. There used to be one more, in Suffolk County, New York but just like its Polish counterpart it was renamed – as Lindenhurst in 1891

We left a cloudy and rather dismal East Midlands Airport near Nottingham and a little under two hours later approached Wroclaw-Copernicus airport which was bathed in dappled sunshine.  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 still 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. 

After a short thirty-minute taxi ride to the city we checked into the Best Western Hotel on the edge of the Old Town and after approving our accommodation stepped out into the street and made our way to the nearby market square which like so many others in Europe has been expertly and sensitively restored and betrays an eclectic mix of the principles of original medieval town planning and a combination of Germanic and Polish architectural styles that perfectly complement one another.

We set off on a sightseeing walk and possibly to find a bar!

The Official Travel Guide in Wrocław – visitWroclaw.eu

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26 responses to “A Return Visit to Wroclaw, Poland

  1. This land is definitely on my bucket list 🙂 Great information and writing, enjoyed. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One city I’d like to get to one day. That old town looks a stunner – when you say it has been restored, was it completely ruined in the war? Looking fwd to reading some more…

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  3. Yet another city I’m dying to get to – I love the shot of the colorful houses at the top!

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  4. Just discovered your blog Andrew and enjoying browsing around. Similar to yourself we have visited loads of places in a Europe but keep returning to France and Spain where we have made many wine making/drinking and photography friends. But we have also been further afield too, USA, China, Thailand, South Africa and Nepal. Heading off to USA in 3 weeks for 21 days Trans America Rail Journey. But …. I learned something and am inspired to try something out having read your blog! As we are retired we can travel whenever we like, but have never thought of just looking say a week ahead, spotting cheap as chips flights with EasyJet or Ryan Air and popping off to …. Wroclaw, Riga, etc. basically anywhere that’s cheap and on our cultural radar. Is that what you do or have I just made that up? PS, just started following you so looking for place ideas!

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    • Nice to meet you! That rail journey sounds like fun. We stick to Europe because there is so much to see there, such diversity. Spain is our favourite. We do sometimes book flights on impulse. In April we are flying to Alicante to go and see the Moors & Christians festival in Alcoy and the return flights cost only £50 or so each. The Easyjet January sale is always good to look out for, this year we have booked flights to Spain (again), Ireland, France and Portugal always at around £55 return.

      I can confirm that anywhere in Poland is very good value!

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  5. I want to visit Poland, so beautiful!

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  6. Love the dwarves, especially the two rolling the big ball. Still haven’t quite figured out if the one in front is helping or hindering. I’m doing some tedious painting of shelves in the garage, so your header was both inspiration and a bit disheartening. I do love cities that have the multicolored houses like that. Poland would be high on my list to visit if there wasn’t so very much to see and do right here in the states.

    The architecture is somewhat reminiscent of Riga’s old town. Delightful to see such restoration happening.

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  7. Fond memories for me, Andrew. 🙂 My family who hail from Wroclaw are now relocated in Norwich.

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  8. If this is the second visit, then something there must be bringing you back, Andrew. When I first saw the name, I did think it was Welsh (not that I can speak the native tongue). The dwarfs look as if they could get up to lots of mischieve. I’m hoping you found out some stories about them?

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  9. Fascinating Andrew – I have read about Breslau and its fall at the end of the Second World War. Also seen documentaries on it. Always found it mind boggling how a place can suddenly be transferred from one country to another overnight. I have often wondered how its Polish name is pronounced and what it’s like now so will enjoy reading more about your travels there! 🙂

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  10. I was amazed when I visited Lodz to hear it was pronounced Woodge! Wroclaw looks great and dwarf hunting looks fun. Did you see them all?

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