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Wrocław – your next weekend destination?

Eastern Europe has many captivating cities.  One you really shouldn’t miss is Wrocław.  This Polish city has a beautiful old market square, every bit as enticing as Kraków’s famous Rynek Główny.  It’s perfect for watching the world go by while you try out delicious Polish cuisine.  The Ratusz, or Town Hall, dominates the space, while fountains bubble against a backdrop of stunning architecture.

Ratusz (Town Hall) in the Rynek (Market Square)

Ratusz (Town Hall) in the Rynek (Market Square)

But don’t just sit there!  Wrocław is perfect for strolling, and shopping too.  Neighbouring Plac Solny is filled to the brim with flower stalls so you never have an excuse to not buy flowers for a loved one.  Craft shops and galleries abound in Stare Jatki, while for serious shoppers Galeria Dominikanska is the place to be.  You can eat really well, and cheaply too, from a huge range of bars and restaurants.  The oldest in Wrocław, Piwnica Świdnicka, lies just below the Ratusz.

Colourful Plac Solny

Solny square, Wroclaw, Poland

Are you interested in history?   Wrocław started life as a fortified island in the middle of the River Odra.  Today the river winds through the city, more than 100 bridges crossing over it.  Most engaging of these has to be Most Tumski, with it’s padlocks denoting many of the lovers who’ve lingered here.  Ostrów Tumski lies at the heart of the city, and is the island where it all began.  The cathedral towers over this peaceful spot, with it’s cobbled streets, and the views to the city below are beautiful. (there are quite a few stairs, but also a lift to zoom you to the top)

The cathedral on Ostrow Tumski, from Wikipedia Commons

Pleasure cruisers depart from this point too, if you want to rest your legs awhile and  still take in the sights.  Numerous restaurants line the riverbanks, one even with its own little sundeck complete with sand and deckchairs!

Cruising past the Cathedral on River Odra

Back on dry land, head to the University Buildings.  You will be astounded at Aula Leopoldina and the beauty of the ceilings and stairwells.  Nearby St Elizabeth’s church has another viewing tower at the top of the belfry, but you will need strong legs for this one.

Aula Leopoldina

Aula Leopoldina

If natural beauty appeals to you, the Botanic Gardens are close to the centre, with the most perfect of lily ponds.  A little farther afield, the Japanese Gardens are serene and peaceful, while the adjacent Centennial Hall has a huge lake with dancing fountains.  These are particularly stunning at 10pm on Friday and Saturday evenings, when a superb lazer show takes place.

Peculiar to the city, and something I have seen the like of nowhere else, do ensure that you see Panorama Raclowice.  It’s quite hard to describe it effectively, but it’s a monumental artwork in a spectacular setting.  On the subject of peculiar, but also rather endearing are Wrocław’s gnomes.  These little bronze chaps are scattered throughout the city.  Some are more easily spotted than others, so if you’re keen to find them all you should purchase a map from the TI.

Gnomes on Swidnicka

So have I done enough to convince you that Wrocław has something to offer you in a weekend break?  How about a top class luxury hotel with panoramic rooftop views?  Hotel Monopol lies on Świdnicka, one of the main shopping thoroughfares.  You can at least afford a drink on the sun terrace, but there are many cheap hotels to choose from, too.

Cheap flights are also readily available into the smart new airport constructed for Euro 2012.  The whole of the city’s transport network was updated for the football tournament, and there is a constant supply of trams and buses.

So what are you waiting for?  It must be time to book your next  weekend break.

The cheapest countries in Europe for holidays

In the last years many Europeans need to save money and carry a calculator with them in order to enjoy their holidays even on their own continent. The trick to relax is going out of the “euro zone”, where the ratio quality/price is more reasonable. This article will demonstrate to us some countries where you can travel spending not much money; however, they offer a full range of different subjects, such as: art, entertainment, food, etc…

Bulgaria

Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria

In this country you can find some of the few deserted beaches remaining in Europe. If you are interested in the architecture, the history or just stroll around unusual places, you can find there from medieval towns as Veliko Tarnovo to nineteenth-century architectural gems as Koprivshtitsa or Muslim villages preserved from the Ottoman Empire. For example, the national forest park of Stranja is a gem that not many people know. Moreover, if you avoid the posh resorts and the boutique hotels you will discover that with the euro you can get amazing prices across the country.

Lithuania

Siauliai Lithuania

It is twice the size of Belgium, however, in Lithuania things cost half price. It has over eighty kilometers of white beaches, which makes it an ideal choice for summer. The novelist Thomas Mann chose a hidden corner of this coastline as his favorite place to rest. The travel agencies are increasingly offering bids to visit it. Also, going on your own is not a bad option. The hidden treasure is Siauliai, the fifth largest city, which has fourteen museums, an attractive selection of bars and it is plenty of architecture of the twenties and thirties.

Poland

Warsaw Poland

Many people identify the country with Krakow but actually there is much more to discover. For example, Warsaw, the capital, is a very interesting city thanks to the contrast of civilizations where the impressive Soviet buildings are mixed with the most modern restaurants. The prices are not the bargain of the past but likewise you can eat in one of the best restaurants of the town for eight euros a dish and in the small provinces the prices remain lower. The most recommended beach is Sopot, also known as “the Monaco of the North” since there was the gathering point of the economic elite of the interwar Europe.

Croatia

Mediterranean Croatia

Known as “The land of a thousand islands” is a favorite destination of the Europeans for years. Since the beginning of the century the prices have increased but also their services and the infrastructure. Paying in “kunas” you take advantage of your money better than in any other similar destination. Its commercial slogan is quite true: “The Mediterranean as it used to be.” In its Adriatic coast can be found the authentic paradise for the enthusiasts of the water sports. Additionally, the nightlife is growing thanks to its variety of clubs and it can be an alternative to the overcrowding of Ibiza.
Dubrovnik is a typical fairy-tale city but there are simpler alternatives such as Trogir, which is also called as “the City Museum” for its high concentration of churches, palaces and towers. In fact, it has the distinction of the World Heritage of UNESCO. Another great attraction is the food such as: fish, risotto and truffles of the highest level.

Krakow – turbulent past but glorious present

If you have just a few days to spend in a charismatic European city, Krakow has a lot to offer. Castles and kings, churches and synagogues, fine buildings, great shopping, and the endless River Vistula running through it.

Rynek Glowny

Rynek Glowny

Be prepared to stand and stare in Europe’s largest medieval market square, Rynek Glowny. Elegant buildings line the square but your eyes are drawn immediately to the dramatic centre piece- Sukiennice, the Cloth Hall. Originally built in the 14th century, this has always been a place of riches. Once home to wealthy cloth merchants, today it boasts stalls laden with amber, jewellery, and craftwork. The merchants coats of arms are still displayed high on the walls and the place bustles with life. Pavement cafes nestle beneath the arcades and upstairs an art gallery houses fine Polish art and sculpture.

Ratusz and Sukiennice

Ratusz and Sukiennice

The square is always enlivened by flower sellers and art exhibitions, and is often the venue for concerts and special events. The remains of the Ratusz, the town hall, now just a slim tower, is home to the Tourist Information Office, where maps of the centre can be obtained. The more energetic can climb the tower for a great view. Crowds gather in the square on the hour to gaze up at the Koscziol Mariacki, St Mary’s Church. A trumpeter plays a few bars, ending abruptly, in imitation of the lone watchman, silenced by an arrow in 1241,while trying to warn of the advance of the Tatar Army. Inside the church, the azure ceiling is studded with gold stars and the beautifully gilded and crafted Veit Stoss altar prepares to open at 12pm daily (you need to purchase a ticket first).

The square is at the centre of the Stare Miasto (old town) and all of life passes through. Horsedrawn carriages clop past, their drivers in colourful costume. Restaurants and cafes line the square and if you don’t mind paying slightly over the odds it’s a wonderful place to just sit and absorb the atmosphere. Restauracja Szara is elegant and well positioned to await the bugle call.

I love Polish food. The soups are nutricious and tasty, often with rice or pasta added. Pierogi are small dumplings, stuffed with sweet or savoury fillings. Pork is cooked wonderfully, and don’t miss out on nalesniki (pancakes with delicious toppings- wisnia, sour cherry, my favourite). Chimera, just round the corner at 3 Sw. Anny , has an excellent self service bar at student prices.

Florianska Gate

Florianska Gate

Krakow is a wonderful place for strolling. The green, leafy Planty circles the old town and Florianska and Grodzka are full of shopping and eating pleasures, the architecture beautiful throughout. Known as the Royal Way, the reason for this becomes clear as you head towards the towering walls of Wawel Castle and Cathedral. The traditional route used by Polish monarchs entering the city was through striking Florianska Gate and south towards Wawel Hill. For over 500 years Poland was ruled from Krakow and even after the capital was moved to Warsaw, a more central location, Polish monarchs continued to be buried in Wawel Cathedral. It is the spiritual and patriotic heart of Poland in a fairytale setting. A cathedral has stood on this spot since 1020.

Wawel Cathedral

Wawel Cathedral

To see the castle and cathedral properly, you need a full day, and tickets should be booked ahead if possible. I managed the cathedral on my own, including the scramble up to Zygmunts Bell Tower (the bell requires 11 men to ring it), but it was worthwhile paying for a tour of the Castle. The internal courtyard is huge, with 3 storey high Italianate arcades. The Royal Chambers are home to 136 well-travelled Flemish tapestries from 16th century. During Nazi occupation most of the castle’s furnishings were removed for safe-keeping. Wawel and Krakow survived intact because they were made Nazi headquarters. Access to the Royal Chambers is free on Sundays and can be booked on www.wawel.krakow.pl

One of my best memories of Krakow is the Balon Widokowy- a tethered hot air balloon which rises over the spires, giving fabulous views out across the city, especially beautiful at sunset. The less adventurous might prefer a river cruise, to relax and simply let the city drift by.

Wawel Castle and Cathedral from Balon Widokowy

There is so much to see- if you like churches you’ll be spoilt for choice. (60 in the Old Town alone!) I also found the Jagellonian University fascinating. The astronomer Copernicus studied here in the 16th century. One area that has a character all its own is the Jewish Quarter, Kazimierz. Persecuted throughout Europe, the Jews were offered refuge in Krakow. World War 2 put paid to that, but today the cafe scene thrives here. You can still visit some of the synagogues, but it is impossible not to be moved by the remains of the Jewish Cemetery at the Remu’h Synagogue on Ul Szeroka. Destroyed by the Nazis, fragments of the gravestones have been patched together to create a “Wailing Wall”.

“Wailing wall”, Kazimierz

I visited Kazimierz on a guided tour, and if your time is limited these are a great idea. City tours are widely available and cheap. Further afield you may be drawn to visit Auschwitz, and the Salt Mines at Wieliczka are quite extraordinary in their beauty.

Where to stay

Hotel Polski, Ul Pijarska 17, by the Florianska Gate is very fine, central and reasonably priced.

Hotel Polseki, Sandomierska 6 is across the river with views of Wawel from its sun terrace.

If you’re wanting a special place to dine Wierzrynek on Rynek Glowny has fed everybody from Yehudi Menuhin to George Bush, and is staggeringly beautiful. For just a taste of the experience you could call in for tea and cake- Polish ciastko (cake) is fabulous.

Warsaw – Poland as a phoenix has risen

The story of Warsaw is truly a remarkable one, as it is a city that greatly suffered during the Second World War with over 80% of its buildings being bombarded. This could have been the end of a beautiful city, but a way was found to overcome the destruction and the city was reborn into a marvelous place that exists today. There is an incredible amount of reconstruction that has taken place over the years, and present-day Warsaw travel guarantees many fantastic memories to cherish.

Warsaw’s Old Town was totally reconstructed after the war, and is today a vestige of the old city, possessing an undeniable charm. The restaurants, cafés and souvenir shops located in this part of the city make it a wonderful remembrance of how Warsaw was during the medieval period.  The Royal Castle  can  be seen in the Old Town, accompanied by the renowned Sigismund’s Column which was created in 1644,  one of the oldest monuments in Europe. For a more baroque tour, visit the Wilanów Palace, which is one of the only surviving buildings of both World Wars.  This tour includes a delightful visit to the palace and to the remarkable gardens surrounding it. Warsaw holidays offer two distinct faces — Chilly winters which transform the city into picturesque snowy scenes and comfortable summers that allow for relaxing promenades during agreeable temperatures.

If you hold admiration for Frederic Chopin, you will find in Warsaw many brothers- in-arms, as numerous places are connected to this famous composer’s life and work. This connection is also found in the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw, as it contains the heart of the composer in an urn immured inside a pillar of this magnificent church.

Don’t be surprised when visiting Warsaw to see different mermaid statues, as it is the symbol of Warsaw’s coat of arms. A legend tells of a love story between a mermaid and Griffin, an ancient defender of the city, who died during a struggle against the Swedish in the 17th century. The mermaid, overtaken by revenge and wishing to continue the fight of her loved one, decided to take the place of Griffin as the defender of the city and because of this became the symbol of Warsaw.

If you have always wished to visit this city, it is now more than possible because Warsaw Poland flights can be obtained at interesting rates from around the globe. For summer vacations you can find tickets from New York for $690 or even lower rates at certain times.

Warsaw, Poland hotels are generally quite competitive in prices and even luxurious hotels are affordable. A great budget accommodation in Warsaw is the Atos Hotel located near the Royal Tract, which has easy access to the center of town and also has attractive rates starting at $34. The Sobieski Hotel is a four star hotel situated in the heart of Warsaw, comprising 427 rooms with exquisite layout, and rates starting from $97.

From Mermaids to Chopin, the nicknamed Phoenix City is full of amazements that will enthrall any traveler. Warsaw is the perfect example of how even the utmost destruction can be overcome and one day again harbor the perfect elements for a superb vacation.  “The greater the obstacle the more glory in overcoming it. “ Moliere

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