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POLAND: Wroclaw, Boleslawiec, Krakow - Aug 2017

This review is in 2 parts. The second part is attached as a reply to this first part.
PART 1 of 2:

My wife and I visited Poland for the first time in Aug 2017, staying in three cities: Wroclaw, Boleslawiec, and Krakow. The experience exceeded our expectations, especially Wroclaw. General impressions:

  • The food was (contrary to our expectations) very good, though meat-heavy. When we needed a veggie fix, we were able to find a good vegetarian restaurant in Krakow.
  • There was quite a contrast between younger people and those middle-aged or older. Most of the young people we encountered appeared optimistic, ambitious, and spoke English. The older folks – who had grown up under a different political system – often wore guarded, rather mirthless expressions, and were less likely to speak English.

  • The highway system connecting cities was efficient, providing a smooth drive in our rental car.

  • We deliberately visited Auschwitz on our LAST day in Poland, before flying to sunny Croatia. This proved to be good planning due to the impact on our moods.

The motivation for visiting Poland was to attend the annual Polish Pottery Festival in Boleslawiec. We stayed two nights in Wroclaw, two nights in Boleslawiec, and five nights in Krakow. Krakow is well-covered in the Rick Steves guidebook for Poland, but we were on our own for Wroclaw and Boleslawiec. (Both of these latter two cities were part of Germany before WW2, and many older folks understand German.)

We flew into Wroclaw on Tue Aug 15. The airport was new, large, and uncrowded; we collected our luggage and were in a taxi very soon after landing. We stayed in an ok apartment (including washer/dryer) managed by LeoApart that was located within walking distance of everything; cost was about $60 per night.

Wroclaw was wonderful. The people were very kind and helpful. It is a university town with many coffee shops, restaurants, and Roman Catholic sites.

Though the city is small enough to walk, we did take the convenient tramway a couple of times. All one needs is a credit/debit card (not cash). Both before we boarded, and while on board, local customers kindly helped us understand how to pay, etc. – usually before we even asked.

Sights we especially enjoyed:

  • The Market (or Town) Square, Rynek. Huge with a helpful TI center, many restaurants, and a free (and decent) city museum; many people were enjoying the square during the long, warm August days.
  • Hala Targowa – The Public Market. Fresh foods, lots of fresh meats, an excellent coffee shop, an excellent pastry/bread shop, and shops with magnificent fresh floral arrangements. The second level was ringed with small shoe repair, clothing, etc. shops.
  • The “Galeria” alley, a small short street lined with artist shops.
  • Cathedral Island (Ostrow Tumski), loaded with Catholic churches and Catholic administrative offices. We entered the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and climbed to the top of one of the towers, which afforded a good view of the city.
  • (Wine shop) Wina i Specjały. (Not a scenic attraction, but we liked this shop). After hearing our tastes, the older gentlemen who ran the shop kindly recommended three wines to us (in English), and highly recommended the least expensive. He was correct – we enjoyed that inexpensive Bulgarian red.

While walking around Wroclaw, one often stumbles across cute small metal statues of dwarves chained behind window bars, riding bicycles, or engaged in other activities.

Thu morning Aug 17, we picked up a rental car from Avis and drove 1.5 hours to Boleslawiec. (Though never connecting to the cellular network, I used a mobile phone navigation app to walk and drive around Poland. I had downloaded the map of the country before departing Seattle).

Posted by
131 posts

This review is in 2 parts.
PART 2 of 2:

If one likes Polish pottery, Boleslawiec is a worthwhile two-night visit. It is a small city that had been a gritty industrial town under Communism. Following the fall of the Communist government, much of the heavy industry closed down and Boleslawiec began to emphasize its traditional pottery – including holding an annual pottery festival.

The festival draws people from around the world. During the festival many of the pottery factories set up booths in the town square, and they also welcome visitors to their factory stores. The once-grimy grey buildings lining the square are painted in various pastel colors. A fun 45-minute parade is held during the festival in which each factory has a float/performance; in the parade one can see Communist-era Polish Fiats, classic motorcycles, and more.

The town has a couple of museums; we found the small Museum of Ceramics interesting.

There was a very large outdoor flea market during our stay, selling an array of old items, including guns, helmets, military insignia, etc. Though interesting to peruse, we didn’t make a purchase.

We lodged a couple of miles outside town at the excellent Blue Beetroot, a converted farmhouse/barn. We had both of our breakfasts and both of our dinners there.

Driving 4 hours from Boleslawiec on Sat Aug 19, we arrived in Krakow about 3:30pm, where we dropped our car off. We stayed 5 nights in an apt in the old Jewish quarter. We liked staying in that area as it was close enough to walk to most everything, but less touristy and less polished than the Old Town.

During our Krakow stay we visited many sights. Those we most enjoyed:

  • St. Mary’s Basilica. Dazzling interior.
  • Auschwitz. Being in this place transforms an abstract albeit horrible historical fact into a visceral realization that a "civilized" nation (like mine) made up of ordinary people (like me) really did follow a leader in implementing the mass extermination of human beings. Took buses there and back from Krakow as described in the Rick Steves book. TIP: when at the station to buy your ticket in advance, walk to the platform to verify where you will board the bus.
  • Wawel Hill. We enjoyed viewing the exterior of the buildings and did not enter the museums.
  • Wieliczka Salt Mine. Didn’t think I’d like it but did. Lots of walking. The cars in the train from Krakow were very nice and new.
  • Oscar Schindler Museum. Definitely buy tickets in advance online. Would have saved us an hour in line if we had.

We were unable to visit the Rynek Underground Museum due to crowds.

Among the gamut of restaurants where we dined, those we most enjoyed:

  • Kuchnia Staropolska U Babci Maliny. Located in the old town in a basement. Stand in line to order and pay. We lunched here twice.
  • Glonojad. Vegetarian.
  • Cytat Café. Great breakfast in a comfortable ambiance.

We flew out of Poland Thu Aug 24.

Posted by
609 posts

Thank you; we plan to visit both Krakow and Wroclaw this June. It is good to know of a good vegetarian restaurant in Krakow, and I had not heard before of the pottery festival. As for Auschwitz, my view of humanity is shaky enough at this time that it would be hard to visit there, at the possible expense however of a "less authentic" trip.

Posted by
5182 posts

Thanks for a good report. Lots of good observations.

Posted by
5606 posts

Thanks for your trip report. I love Krakow and enjoyed my trip to Wroclaw, but have never been to Boleslawiec, as much as I like the pottery. What an opportunity to be there for the pottery festival!

I wonder how many people will notice that you didn't get cellular coverage but were able to navigate due to GPS thanks to your having downloaded the proper map(s) ahead of time. I do that all the time with Here map, maybe you did it with Google maps? This is smart traveling!

Posted by
131 posts

Kim: I used HERE... seems to be the easiest-to-use mobile offline navigation map. Thanks for the feedback.

Posted by
6240 posts

Great trip report! Indeed it is easy to get all kinds of food - including non-traditional and vegetarian - in both Wroclaw and Krakow. The student vibe contributes a lot to the atmosphere of both cities as well. I hope folks reading this will understand why some of the middle-aged or older folks are the way they are. They went through a very painful "shock therapy" transition into privatization (following Communism) and many lost a lot (in the size of their pensions, in their dignity and self-worth, housing that was re-privatized, subsidy support they depended on for decades, and some lives as well). I know this from my own family who lives there. The older folks had to learn Russian during their schooling. Learning English through Westernized tv shows was also not an option (no availability, and not much choice of what to watch at all). The younger people all learn English in school now - all my cousins and their children speak it. Many are planning on studying/working abroad for much higher wages, although Brexit has definitely introduced uncertainty.

By the way, did you buy any of the Bolaslawiec pottery to take home?

Posted by
131 posts

Agnes: Yep, I get it. Just noting my observations - no intention to be judgmental at all. We had a great time in Poland. Thanks for the note!

Posted by
6240 posts

Jeff,
I didn't take it that way at all (sorry, I reworded a few words in my reply because it was a bit "off"). My note was mostly for the benefit of readers who may not know. Thanks for your great report! I think many people will be interested to read about Wroclaw and Boleslawiec, since they're less touristed than Krakow by US tourists.

Posted by
131 posts

Agnes: I forgot to answer your question on the pottery. YES, my wife did buy some as it certainly was a better price than buying in the States, and she knew exactly which manufacturers to visit. Difficult to ship, so we carried a suitcase of it with us through the rest of our trip to Croatia, Alsace, and even a couple of days in Germany. And no breakage! My wife (and even I who did the carrying) found it worthwhile.

Posted by
6240 posts

By the way, how was the weather when you went in August? Crazy hot? Afternoon storms? Neither? The summer is tricky in Poland, although the weather has been totally wacky in recent years.

Posted by
131 posts

Weather was good. Mostly sunny and in the 80's (F). A little bit of rain, including a couple heavy showers in Krakow.