Our next stop was the city of Wrocław (pronounced “Frot-slav”), Poland. It is the biggest city in Western Poland and located conveniently between Krakow and Berlin. However, Wrocław greatly exceeded my expectations and ended up being one of my favorite stops of the trip.
After saying goodbye to the other travelers at our hostel, Ben and I caught our train. Fortunately, the train ride was only three hours so it did not eat up the entire day. Although we got into town in the late afternoon, it was already dark (it got dark around 4:30 pm).
We made our way to our hostel, before setting out into town. Wrocław is situated beautifully on the River Oder, and has many different islands. One of the islands holds only a large park which is used for festivals and concerts during the summer.
Wrocław also immediately felt much different than Krakow. Krakow seemed to get many more tourists, and was centralized around its old town. Wrocław, on the other hand, didn’t get many tourists, had a younger, more vibrant population (because of several local universities), and while still easily walkable, had more interesting sights around the city. Overall, I found the city much more interesting and full of character than Krakow.
One interesting aspect of Wrocław was the numerous (exceeding 300) small dwarf sculptures strewn through the city. The dwarfs pay homage to a Polish anti-communist movement started in Wrocław called the “Orange Alternative”. During this time, the police painted over many anti-communist slogans throughout the city. After these areas were painted over by police, different anti-communist figures painted dwarfs on the covered spots, continuing the protest in a whimsical fashion and indirectly continuing the anti-communist sentiment.
During my time in Wrocław, it was fun to find the dwarves scattered everywhere, many times cleverly arranged to mimic and poke fun at the city around them. They also undeniably added to the city’s character, which was quite charming overall.
On our first night, we crossed the river and walked through the university to the Market Square and old town. The Market Square was surprisingly huge, and covered with lingering Christmas decorations and a giant stage constructed for their coming New Year’s celebration.
Throughout the city, there are many cheap restaurants called ‘milk bars’ that are basically cafeterias serving cheap, hearty food. Although I was initially hoping for something out of Clockwork Orange, the milk bar we tried the first night was very good, and was a great way to get cheap Polish food.
We really only had one full day in the city, so the next day we just decided to take it easy and meander around. Since there weren’t a ton of sights to see, we just figured we would explore the city and make a leisurely loop past some of the more prominent landmarks. We basically made our way across the city to a few different cathedrals, one of which we ascended for a nice view of the city.
One of the more interesting sights in the city was definitely the Racławice Panorama. The panorama is basically a giant 360-degree circular painting depicting the Battle of Racławice, in which Polish soldiers defeated the larger Russian army. We were given audio guides describing the various people and events depicted in the painting, so we walked slowly around the circle while the audio guide explained what was happening.
After seeing the panorama, we walked around more of the city before stopping in a brewery right in the Market Square. While not quite as good as C.K. Browar in Krakow, we still had a few tasty beers before calling it a night.
The next day we packed up, and headed to the bus station to go to Berlin. Despite the incredibly frigid weather, there was nowhere we could wait for the bus inside, so we just stood shivering in the wind. The time of our buses’ departure came and passed, and we became nervous without any sight of our DB Bahn bus (many buses from other companies came and went).
I also became somewhat panicked, as I figured that there wouldn’t likely be anyone nearby who could speak English to help us out. I flagged down a security guard and showed him my ticket, which caused him to vigorously shake his head and point at his watch before striding away. While I met a few nice Polish people, they generally seemed to get immediately frustrated and impatient with any interaction, and rarely wanted to help.
As more and more time passed, it became clear that we had somehow missed our bus, and I was going insane in the freezing weather. Finally, we found a woman and two other men who were in the same situation as us. Luckily, the woman spoke Polish (although she was Finnish), and talked to the security guard again to figure out what had happened.
In the end, it turned out that our bus company (DB Bahn), collaborated with a Polish bus company to use a different company’s bus for this journey. While it said nothing of this on our ticket or reservation (and we used the same bus company to get into Poland without this occurring), they apparently made an announcement in Polish and German at the station. Out of thirty-two booked passengers, seven missed the bus but apparently it was still our fault.
I was pretty pissed off; after taking buses all throughout southeast Asia I figured it would be much easier to travel around Europe, but apparently that isn’t always the case.
Fortunately, we were lucky to have run into the Finnish woman, as she also needed to get back to Berlin the next day. After we confirmed that there were no other buses to Berlin that day, we headed to the train station. With her help, we were eventually able to procure train tickets to make it to Berlin just before New Year’s Eve.
Thankful to have made it out of the city, I was still pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Wrocław and Poland overall. Although the people were generally unfriendly and it was always freezing, the sights and history of Poland are interesting enough that I could visit again.