Wroclaw is an architectural gem with the 2nd largest Rynek in Poland but the drive from the airport betrayed any sense of that.
The ride to near the train station could hardly be considered beautiful and one could be left wondering is this the city described as attractive. Fortunately once you reach the city centre things drastically improve.
Krakow may be have the largest, most beautiful Rynek in Poland but Wroclaw is not far behind and while Krakow can become touristic (but not tacky) Wroclaw retains a deeper a sense of reality and has a unique ambience that give the impression that it would be a very nice place to live as my friend living there Olga would attest to. It is probably overall my favourite Polish city so far.
The city centre is full of attractive buildings, the Rynek itself is very attractive, both in architecture and its vibrant orange hue and like Krakow there are plenty of attractive cafes to relax, talk and watch life go by.
There are also several attractive city views. one of them from St. Mary Magdalene Church. Access to the church itself is free but there is a small charge to go up the tower to a bridge / walkway.
There are several churches offering competing views, views from the river as well. Wroclaw is not short of them.
The city also has a colourful history passing through the hands of Austria, Bohemia, Prussia and Germany at various times of its history.
I walked a few times to cathedral island (the ecclesiastical centre of the island. With several Catholic churches (the dominant faith of Poland by far) within short distance in pretty surroundings overlooking the river.
There is also an Orthodox church (hosted in non traditional baroque architecture) and bright yellow just across the bridge – St. Cyril and Methodius Orthodox Church. Once in Roman Catholic hands and then Protestant’s, it was passed to the Polish Orthodox church and houses the relics of the Vilnius Martyrs. However on the two occasions (the only two days I was in Wroclaw) I tried to visit it was locked. Further up the street is the Roman Catholic cathedral of St John the Baptist. It is rather opulent and grand inside with huge murals.
The island itself is also a favoured spot for wedding couples looking for the romantic snapshot.
Wroclaw’s biggest attraction is definitely the Raclawice Panorama. A hugely impressive painting in both scale and detail detailing a defining moment in Polish history – the battle of Raclawice.
A kind of Polish bunker hill – a defining battle in the US history courageously against a greater power (The US lost the battle of Bunker hill but gave them great courage and heart).
Unlike the case of the US though, Poland won the actual battle but lost the war. Russia under Catherine the Great participated in the third partition of Poland and the country disappeared off the map.
The mandatory tour by audio receivers was very informative and interesting and highlighted the painting in great detail. Another impressive part of the painting is how it combines real objects to create a 3d kind of effect.
It definitely works and the tour was probably the most interesting individual place I visited in the city. The painting was once stored in Lvov and hidden from public view due to the embarrassment it would have caused the Soviets for portraying a Polish victor over Russian occupiers. However towards the end of the the communist regime when political freedom began to emerge it was restored and opened to the public.
I enjoyed walking along with river and ark nearby with Olga, a friend I met from couchsurfing.
The park contains some modern art and traditional sculptures and another monument to a defining apart of Polish history.
A monument to the Katyn massacre. A sore point in Polish-Russian relations, it was a massacre carried out the communist Soviets under Stalin and blamed on the Nazis but finally admitted to by Russia much later in what some believe a deliberate attempt to crush any Polish hopes for restoring statehood during the Second World War. The monument itself is set in peaceful surroundings very close to the Raclawice Panorama (I don’t know if it is deliberate) and with a angel overlooking a grieving woman holding the body of a loved one.
Despite acknowledgement of the massacre, the issue is still one of several where there is sharp disagreement between Poland and Russia with Poland determining it is called a genocide while the Russians a war crime.
The two countries have not enjoyed the best relations due to the weight of history and some Russian friends have had the impression that they may not feel comfortable on account of their nationality.
Although I know some Poles that either can or have attempted learning Russian etc. In more recent times Putin’s heartfelt response to the death of the Polish President Kaczybskiin a plane crash is believed to some to have created an opportunity for improvement*.
*as interpreted and reported by some media such as the Wall Street Journal and BBC among others