Saturday, 10 September 2016

A long day in wonderful Wrocław

Yesterday I was in Wrocław for the third time in as many weeks, and what a wonderful city it is.

I arrive on the night train from Warsaw at 05:50. Dawn is breaking. The Scottish restaurant at the station beckons with a McMuffin Deluxe, cherry tomatoes, orange juice and lashings of black coffee. The neons at either end of the station canopy are awesome; for some reason my camera's sensor does not give a true colour reading of the neon light. It's not orange - it's red, like the reflections caught on the reflections on the train side and platform floor.

I have a 3.1km walk to my first meeting, no rush, so I take the route along the foss, Podwale (below). Plenty of cyclists using this form of transport to get to work, and the perfect day for it. In the background some elegant Art Nouveau facades.

Below: I pass the National Forum of Music , opened a year ago to be an all-purpose music centre for the city and home to its philharmonic orchestra.

What is a 2-10-0 steam engine doing sticking out of the earth on Plac Strzegomski? This installation, erected in 2010, consists of a Ty2 Kriegslok. It is called Pociąg do nieba, which translates as 'train to heaven' - missing the point. The noun pociąg also means 'predilection for' or 'fondness for something', literally a 'pulling towards' something; to be attracted by something; niebo is both 'heaven' and the 'sky'. So Pociąg do nieba is both 'train to heaven' and 'attracted to the sky'. In the background, a former Nazi air-raid bunker that now serves as a museum of modern art.

After my meeting, I walked back to the city centre, ahead of my next meeting, which was to be held just off the Market square. Time to deal with some work emails at the hotel, then I set off for a walk around the Old Town (below). It's September, the crowds are thinner, which makes it more pleasant on a perfect day like today to stroll around here. A large choice of restaurants - I go for a savory strudel filled with pork and vegetables.

Below: Sukiennice, as in Kraków's Old Market, served as a cloth fair in Renaissance times.

Below: looking towards the 14th Century Town Hall (tower in the background). Perfectly European, perfectly civilised Wrocław.

After the meeting, next up would be the 12th International Oktoberfest, held in Wrocłąw each year since 2004 in September. Not quite a beer festival (plenty of different beers to try, but nowhere near as many as, say, in one of Warsaw's better multitap bars) but complete with a Bavarian brass band and held in the splendid setting of the courtyard of the City Arsenal.

Time, after numerous ales (and indeed white wines of Polish production), to set off on foot to catch the night train back to Warsaw.

Below: the Renoma department store, a modernist structure built in 1930 and renovated in 2009. Before that, it was the Powszechny Dom Towarowy - PeDeT. Which I remember from 1989 as being devoid of any kind of goods for sale.

Below: Plac Kościuski. Strolling around Wrocław at this hour, the city feels friendly, unthreatening, a city at ease with itself.

Below: a fragment of Pomnik Anonimowego Przechodnia ['Monument to the Anonymous Passer-by'] on the corner of Świdnicka and Piłsudskiego. Unveiled on 13 December 2005, the 24th anniversary of the imposition of Martial Law, the monument consisting of 14 figures submerging into the pavement then re-emerging from the pavement on the other side of the street symbolises how in those dark days Poles went underground, to emerge victorious after the fall of communism.

Below: nighttime on ul. Piłsudskiego. Note the window hanging over the pavement.

Below: Wrocław Główny station looks imposing at night, magnificently illuminated. Hard to imagine what at malodorous dump it was before the refurbishment of 2011-12.

Below: it's gone 23:20 and the station is still very much buzzing. The night train arrives early, from Jelenia Góra, and splits in two in Wrocław, with part going to Szczecin, the other part to Warsaw. Get your sleeper compartment early and own it - get changed, wash teeth etc before any other passengers do.

Below: I leave Wrocław as I entered it 18 hours earlier - by the glow of neons. After the jiggery-pokery with the carriages and platforms, my train sets off for Warsaw at 23:50. Ah - quick night train update. No longer do you get a bottle of water, a croissant, a face-flannel and piece of soap. And it seems fewer passengers. We must use or lose our night trains - they are a gem. For less than the price of a night at three-star hotel you get a bed plus you wake up at your destination.

A long day, successful meetings and a great beery booze-up at the Oktoberfest. And over 20,000 paces (16km) walked.

This time two years ago:
Putin will not heal Russia's tortured soul

This time three years ago:
Opole, little-known town

This time four years ago:
Raise a glass to Powiśle  (Mrs G-W gets a thumbs down)

This time six years ago:
Mud, rain and local elections (Mrs G-W gets another thumbs down)

This time eight years ago:
There must be a better way (commuting woes, again)


Anonymous said...

"Ah - quick night train update. No longer do you get a bottle of water, a croissant, a face-flannel and piece of soap." --Not quite correct:

The Wroclaw-Warsaw night train carries only a couchette carriage. However, due to a shortage of couchettes (re: deferred maintenance), PKP IC is running sleepers as couchettes on some trains. You get charged the price for a 4-person couchette compartment, but ride in a sleeping car. Since you only paid for a couchette, you don't get the sleeper "extras" (water, coffee, etc.)

Michael Dembinski said...


Just checked my tickets (bought for me online at work); both are 'DO LEŻENIA' (ie couchette) rather than a full sleeper. Checking the PKP Rozkład Jazdy website (rozkład = both timetable and decomposition) I can see that there's no choice as to sleeping carriages; so passengers are offered something above couchette, but lower standard than sleeper (no extras). As I said, we must use it or lose it.

Anonymous said...

People want to use it, but PKP IC makes it very difficult as they would be happy to "lose it".

Their PR dept. likes to show newly refurbished sleeping cars and couchettes, but each year more of these carriages are taken out of service than refurbished ones being introduced. Thus many night trains this summer were running with just one carriage (often a sleeper serving as a couchette). There is no reserve pool for busy times at all!

It's almost impossible to book a sleeper or couchette in the summer, as they are often sold out in the first hours that space goes on sale (30 days before travel).

The market is there; the desire to service it is not....

Michael Dembinski said...


A social media campaign is needed! Poland's night train network is a tourist gem and really helps people based in Warsaw to get out to the furthest-flung parts of Poland in a cost effective - but more importantly time-effective way. The idea of sleeping soundly en route to your next destination is critical in tourism. Why waste a night of your holiday when you could use it productively to travel?

Anonymous said...

I don't think a social media campaign would have any effect at all. With the exception of OEBB and RZD, European carriers seem determined to rid themselves of night trains, and PKP IC seems to be following the trend...

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Anonymous

From the linked article...

"But if the big rail powers and Brussels don’t get it some of their customers do and a fight back is underway. On June 21 at Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof activists from the ‘Back on Track’ campaign, which is fighting to save the international sleeper train network, set out folding beds with cards stamped with the names of places now denied a sleeper link. Parallel actions took place in Basel, Bern, Copenhagen, Dortmund, Geneva, Hamburg, Madrid, Odense, Paris and Vienna over that same weekend. The biggest protest yet by those infuriated by the loss of the most civilised way to travel between some of Europe’s largest cities."

I'm sure the Mikole people on Facebook would be keen to get something happening around this.

Sarah Kasperek said...

Just moved here from another area of Poland - I have a lot of exploring to do :)

Adam said...

Love the station and ticket office neons!