Tag Archives: Lower Silesia

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

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.