Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Succour for the Body, Mind and Soul

So, it turns out Wroclaw doesn't just have Christmas markets to amaze and entertain the senses, although thinking about it, this does make sense. A city cannot live on mulled wine and spiced pork alone. It could try, but it would soon be very drunk and most likely seriously considering a lifetime of vegetarianism.

Friday morning we got up bright and early and left our lovely hotel to go exploring.
The first thing we both wanted to do was ease tired and aching muscles with a steam and a sauna at the aqua park. We were both really looking forward to this and a couple of hours were dirt cheap (about 16 zloty or £3.50 for 2 hours each, which included all the different treatment rooms). We jumped on a tram and headed to the outskirts of the city, hoping that we would not get too lost en route. At the aqua centre reception desk we were warned that in Polish spa's, we may encouter some nudity as swimming costumes were optional, and in the occasional room, not allowed. We assumed that this would be the minority of people and that most people would be in their cossies. Turns out we were wrong! Every person in the spa was wandering around very, very naked and being the only clothed ones in the place made us both rather uncomfortable. We didn't spend nearly as much time relaxing there as we were planning.

In the end we decided to head back into the old centre of Wroclaw and set about finding the 300 year old University.  Both Steve and I work at Universities (his campus is much older and grander than mine, so much so that the University of Greenwich is a popular site for films - Les Mis, Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and Thor 2 are all recent productions that have disrupted his day to day work) so we are often interested in local educational facilities when abroad.

I have to admit, the University of Wroclaw's front door is a bit grander than I was expecting
That is a 15 foot door. Imagine going to University every day here. The University was founded by Leopold I Habsburg in 1670 as a school run by Jesuits and has expanded and grown over the last 300 years, specialising these days in scientific research. In its time it has produced 6 Nobel Prize winners.
Inside you can look around 6 separate galleries, all for the grand price of 5 zolty a person (£1). The first two galleries are natural and scientific museum exhibitions, exhibiting historical University items. Some, but not all of the information is in English and there are also interactive displays. The museum was also very quiet when we were there; apart from 1 other tour we had the run of the place to ourselves. 
The grand double staircase is one of the major attractions of the museum and feature ornate frescos painted by F.A. Scheffler, depicting an apotheosis of the Silesian duchies and barons’ provinces. Be warned; the galleries open to tourists are spread over 4 floors and there are no lifts. Between the top of the mathematics tower and the main entrance there are 204 steps. We counted them.
The main attraction at the University is the Aula Leopoldina or Leopold Assembly Hall.  The hall is entered through double oak doors decorated with the eagles from the coat of arms of the Habsburg family.
This room is a breathtaking Baroque assault on the senses, a virtual explosion of cherubs, gold, gilt and swag. Upon entering, all you can do is take a seat and attempt to take in all that you see before you.
In the centre there is a statue of the seated emperor Leopold I, the founder of the university; besides the emperor there are Joseph I and Charles IV (Charles I of Austria), his successors and benefactors of the institution.
On the vaulting there are murals depicting Divine Wisdom expressed in the act of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The whole ceiling is covered with frescoes depicting the allegory of Divine Wisdom, poetry, painting, sculpture, pharmacy and images of the Seven Liberal Arts.
Opposite the podium there is a wonderful matroneum above which a fresco depicting the apotheosis of Worldly Wisdom in the form of the goddess Athena. There are professors’ stalls along the walls.
The painting on the ceiling depicts the apotheosis of God's wisdom - reflecting the religious and academic mission of the Assembly Hall and the Jesuits. The portraits ringing the walls depict the founding fathers of the University.  In 1997 eight of the portraits were stolen and only two have been recovered.  Currently no one has been apprehended for their theft.
The other main attraction at the University is the Mathematics Tower. Flanked by 4 statues at each corner of the tower made by Franz Mangoldt representing the four great scientific disciplines, you get full panoramic views of Wroclaw.
The 4 statues are Theology (with a cross and a book), Philosophy (a globe and a compass) Themis (scales and a papal tiara) and Medicine (snake staff of Asclepius).
The final room is the Music Hall. The Oratorio Marianum was partly destroyed during the 2nd World War and was only full restored in the early 2000's.
The next stop was some refreshments.  We were both in need of a hot drink and stopped off at this little chocolate shop just down the road from the University (and opposite our hotel, the old centre is really very small) for one of the thickest, richest hot chocolates I have ever tasted. I dusted mine with chilli and cinnamon from the selection of Starbuck's esq pots that also included vanilla, cardamon, ginger and other Christmassy spices. Steve had his plain, and we both ended up eating them with a spoon.
The final stop before heading back to the hotel was Butcher's Lane, or Jatki street, which still has a decidedly medieval aura about it. This rather macarbe street was once the place to come for your meat in Wroclaw, and these days bronze statues; sculpted by Piotr Wieczorek in the 1990's, stand as a tribute to the slaughtered animals. These days the lane is filled with artisans shops and souvenir shops, including the most wonderful music box collection.
By now I was really quite tired, so went back to the hotel for a nap. This left Steve to his own devices, and he headed straight for his own personal Shangri-La that he had spotted about 10 minutes after our arrival.  2 doors up from our hotel was this place
A cigar shop and whiskey lounge that had a smoking room out the back, walk in humidor and extensive whiskey menu. With me snoring in the room, Steve collected his book, some cash and headed out. An hour later I joined my husband, who looked as though he had just enjoyed a three hour massage, he was that relaxed.
He started to play with the idea of opening somewhere similar in Canterbury. I managed to talk him out of the idea as if he did, I would never see him again and he would just end up smoking and drinking all the stock.
I had a feeling that the next evening would also involve some cigars and whiskey.  At least there was port to keep me happy.
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