Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday five: gnome hunting (and other fun!) in Wroclaw.

Wroclaw ("Vro-tz-wav"), known as Poland's Venice, was not in our original list of "must-see" places. But we ran across a quirky Wroclaw city map at our hostel in Warsaw highlighting funky street art, bridges galore, and a gnome scavenger hunt. And then we spontaneously decided to go to Prague and Wroclaw was right on the way... To our surprise it ended up being a highlight of Poland.

We got a really good vibe riding the tram from the bus station to our hostel. Warsaw was bustling with activity, but Wroclaw felt alive. In our short stay we would feel some kind of pulse flowing from the river and canals we crossed, the parks we passed through, the weekend events...
Senior Day celebration in the square 
(same day as Gnome Day, natch)

rainy day marathon 
(causing a 2 hour delay for our bus to Prague)

... and the countless youth we saw roaming the streets. All of this is probably why it's a big destination for Europeans looking for cheap beer and a good time on their way to Krakow. But it's so much more than a party town.

Like Warsaw, this city has also been taken over and reclaimed numerous times over the centuries. Given its history of being invaded and conquered by various countries and cultures, now it seems to be a bit of an ethnic and cultural melting pot. For example, our free walking tour guide (love these guys!) pointed out a corner where four religious institutions live harmoniously.

well, at least that's how he described it -
residents will have to confirm

Wroclaw also seemed to be a bit more modern than Warsaw. Vegetarian restaurants and foods were easy to find; the multimedia fountain used that irritatingly catchy Daft Punk song (as well as other equally terrible pop songs) alongside classical music during the water show; even the street art was more art than a political statement.

Honestly, it reminded us a lot of Portland.

Other than the elevator to the top of St John the Baptist's church for a wonderful panoramic view of the city, and the tip for the free walking tour guide, we opted to skip tourist attractions that cost money. We did visit the impressive ethnographic museum (free on Sundays). The exhibits featured centuries-old decorative, cooking and farming artifacts; some details on the area's history over the last 500 years; and an entire floor of life sized dioramas showing typical life back in the day. Really, who doesn't love a good life-sized diorama?!

Otherwise, we just meandered and enjoyed the city. Five Wroclaw experiences that made this our favorite town in Poland, in no particular order:

a Hare Krishna parade down the main square
where no one really seemed to blink an eye at first 
and then lots of the crowd joined in pulling the carriage down the square

walking everywhere - they have a good transit system too 
but the main city is totally walkable top to bottom in a day
(or bike-able if you have short legs) 

speaking of walking, the canal path was really charming 
(and featured the first signs of autumn)

speaking of canals, there are over 100 bridges throughout the city 
even tiny bridges where tiny gnomes light tiny oil lamps

and speaking of gnomes, not gonna lie - 
the gnomes are pretty awesome 
(moreso the original gnomes than ones commissioned by merchants to draw business)

Food notes:

  • great chicken salad lunch at Bela Cafe (no link available, check the CitySpy map though)
  • excellent falafel at Vega
  • instant packages of borscht are actually quite good if you add the right amount of water (and reconstituted soy nuggets and canned peas)

our most random meal yet

Lodging notes:
- Corner Hostel was in a great location but sort of dark and sort of dirty and and very, very noisy

but our room had a balcony with a great view

Definitely a cool town we'd like to visit again. Next stop: a few days in Prague before hitting our vineyard/orchard Help Exchange gig. Charles Bridge and Czech beer, here we come!

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