Monday, 12 January 2015

Cathedral Island

This post is a 'lil bit late. I thought I had finished with my Polish posts from our mini break, and then found a load of pictures that I had forgotten about!

So here, without further ado, I present to you the very last Polish post from Wroclaw.
Wroclaw is not exactly a very big city - as mentioned it is spread out over a number of small islands, but everything is pretty easy to get to by foot and it is one of the best ways to explore.

On our last full day we had a few places on our checklist that we wanted to go and see, the first being the Wroclaw City Museum, approximately a 2 min 43 second walk from our hotel. Located inside the Royal Palace, the former residence of the Prussian kings, the museum boasts an impressive exterior.  The exhibitions were moved here in 2008 from the old City Historical Museum, and still houses the oldest museum project in the postwar history of Wroclaw. There are four major exhibitions; 1000 years of Wroclaw History, The Royal Apartments and Beyersdorf Room, The Gallery of Art in Wroclaw from 1850-1945 and The Gallery of Art in Wroclaw from 1945-2000. There are also temporary exhibitions.
We arrived and went to pay our entrance fee. Which was a whopping nothing. Yep, you read that correctly - entrance to all of this was completely free.  Apparently all the City Museums are free entry, which includes The Museum of Bourgeois Art, The Museum of Cemetery Art, The Archaeological Museum, The Military Museum and The Museum of Medallic Art.

We went to put our jackets and bags in a locker so we were more comfortable moving around the exhibitions. That was also free.  This was turning out to be an expensive day.

You did have to pay for the audio tours (we didn't get them) which cost 15 zloty (about £3) and the Temporary Exhibitions when they are on (10 zloty or £2). You can also purchase a personal tour guide for the grand total of 400 zloty if you so wish (£80). This place is not going to break the bank.

The exhibitions are varied and interactive, with digital displays providing facts and figures in almost every room. All information is in Polish, German and English, so it was easy to understand throughout. Photography is allowed throughout (I checked), providing the flash is off.
We were incredibly lucky when we went and the place was almost deserted! There was a large group about 4 rooms behind us at all times, but we essentially had every room to ourselves. You learned about the history of Wroclaw through the ages through artifacts, maps, religious iconography and portraits, and then moved into the royal palace itself and the royal rooms
The Yellow Living Room of Frederick Wilhelm III (1770-1840) was used from the 25th January to the 22nd April 1813 during the war with Napoleon and saw some significant historic events taking place, including the proclamation of the Iron Cross on the 10th March 1813. 
The Beyersdorf Room was my favourite of all the exhibitions, and came from a house on the Salt Market (number 19) which was owned by Adrian Boegel (born 1674), a textile merchant from Hamburg.  It is a brilliant example of a European-wide fashion to go nuts with tiles.  If you were a tile maker in Europe in the mid 1600's, chances are you were laughing all the way to the bank. The tiles in this one room alone show 279 different Biblical, marine and country motifs, with the country motifs shown in big circles and/or on the entire surface of the tile.
You then moved into the Art galleries, with artwork from the late 19C to modern day. The earlier work, up until 1945 feature pieces which are connected with Wroclaw.  Names synonymous with German turn of the century art are showcased, including Max Wislicenus, Eugen Spiro, Ludwig Meidner and Adolf Dressler. Two themes dominate; the Lower Silesian mountain landscapes and city views. The style of work varies between the post-romantic and expressionist movements, and the nouveau-term (according to the Museum's website anyway.  You should know by now that my knowledge and attitude about art ranges from 'ooh pretty colours' to 'don't like that'. That's about it).
The above is an example of my 'ooh pretty colours' reaction.

The latter gallery showcases the post-war artists of Wroclaw including Eugeniusz Geppert, Eugeniusz Get-Stankiewicz, Maria Dawska and Józef Hała who were colourists, landscape painters and expressionists.  There were also naked bottoms.  Lots and lots of naked bottoms.
The final floor finished the Wroclaw Through The Ages exhibition with posters from the 1960's, as well as some very unusual costumes!  
Unsurprisingly, there were also pieces commemorating the Nazi occupation of Poland. It felt very strange to be taking photo's of some of the Nazi memorabilia, but that time period was especially devastating for Poland, and I feel that it is important to remember and honour that.
We spent a good few hours exploring the museum, incredible value for the entrance fee!

Our next stop was Wroclaw's Cathedral Island, Ostrow Tumski, the original settlement site for the Slavic Slezan tribes' first stronghold, surrounded by the river Odra. At the turn of the first millennium, King Boleslaw the Brave earned the favour of the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III and established a bishopric in Wroclaw. The first Cathedral was built on Ostrow Tumski and has continued to be the centre of religious life in Wroclaw.
In his research, Steve had come across a number of places that said that Cathedral Island had a unique atmosphere - calm, peaceful and tranquil, so we started to walk in its direction, with the idea of finding a small coffee shop once there and relaxing for a while.
To get there, we had to cross the Tumski Bridge, a vibrant blue steel bridge built between 1888 and 1992, and one of the oldest river crossings, connecting Cathedral Island to Sand Island. It is a popular destination for lovers, who attach padlocks to the bridge wherever they can find space and then throw their key into the river. There are thousands of padlocks here, attached to the bridge and each other, some with the lovers names written on them or messages of love, others with strips of fabric from wedding veils tied to the lock or other novelty items (including a rubber duck). There is also a padlock seller who will be only too happy to sell you one for a few zloty if you haven't bought your own.  The romantic in me likes to think that every couple who has ever attached a padlock to the Tumski Bridge is still living their happily ever after.
Once on Cathedral Island itself, there was a distinct shift in atmosphere. There were a few parked cars but no traffic at all; it was so peaceful and quiet. Wroclaw is a clean city in terms of litter and rubbish, but here there was no graffiti that marred so many other buildings, no litter, no fallen leaves, no bollards and very few streetlights.  It was spotless.  People were moving along the streets, conversing with priests that moved amongst them or heading to the Cathedral for religious observance.  It genuinely felt like a whole other world compared to the bustling market centre.
The Cathedral of St John the Baptist itself soars at the far end, twin spires reaching to the heavens.  The original Cathedral was built in 1272 and like so many European Cathedrals, has seen a lot of renovation due to fire and bombs over the years, and was almost completely destroyed during the 2nd World War and reconstructed in 1951.   No pictures from inside the Cathedral I'm afraid - just take my word that it was beautiful!
There are a large number of residencies on Cathedral Island next to the Cathedral for various religious dignitaries, including the residence of the Archbishop of Wroclaw.  I have to say, as far as a work commute goes, he really doesn't have a bad deal! 
We strolled around the Island for a while, and stopped at the Botanical Gardens (which were closed for the winter but are apparently beautiful in the summer) before heading back over the river.
Walking back, we continued to play 'hunt the dwarves' before queuing for dinner at one of the best pizza's I have ever eaten in my life at a little pizzeria on the market square.  It was enormous, delicious and about £8 for the two of us. 

The next morning, before we flew home, we made a final stop at a traditional Polish restaurant for breakfast.  Pod Gryfami is located on the market square, and like most properties, is deceptively large. It goes back for what feels like miles, and there is even a secret tunnel entrance in the basement to the underground tunnels, blocked off by a large grill gate (the restaurant uses it as a wine cellar).  Inside, it is the very definition of grandma kitsch, with low velvet seats, floral tablecloths and stained glass windows.  The food is good though, and this was one of the only places we found where we could get a proper breakfast (pancakes with fruit, yoghurt and honey)!
Steve discovered the perfect plaque for his desk in the office as well.  We relaxed here for a while, whiling away the time until we had to go and find a tram and then a bus to take us to the airport (surprisingly easy and significantly cheaper than a taxi).
So, if you are thinking of a Christmas mini break next year, why not give Poland thought?

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