Klodzko (Lower Silesia), Poland (Tour 6)

Klodzko is a small town of 27,000+ inhabitants in Lower Silesia, just a few miles short of the Czech Republic. It straddles the Nysa Klodzka River.

We paused at the place on our way to the Czech Republic and decided to stay over following the recommendation of a friend of a friend who had herself visited the place. She thought the 1760 Fortress which dominates the town would interest us. It didn’t. It is in good condition and provides reasonable views over the surrounding countryside but I have seen too many fortresses this year to be impressed by this one – I believe this was the fourth so far this year and, anyway, I much prefer castles to fortresses.

In contrast to the castle, however, I did find the town itself interesting. It is a small town with a fine, historic old town square which is dominated by the Ratusz (Town Hall).

On the same side of the river as the town hall is the Assumption of Mary Parish Church which dates back to the 1344 (although there was an earlier wooden church on this site some two hundred years before) and was built by the Knights of the Order of St John. I was unable to gain access to this church but it is supposedly very beautiful inside.

My interest in the town increased further after I arrived at the St John Bridge which leads across the river to the Franciscan Church of Our Lady of the Rosary. This much smaller church dates back to 1631 and I was able to gain access.

Leaving aside the buildings I have already mentioned there is not much else in the town to interest a passing tourist (There’s a 1km underground city trail but while I found the exit I could not find the entrance) but it struck me as a friendly enough place. Indeed, everywhere we have been during our short time in Lower Silesia we have been impressed with the apparent friendliness of the local people and Klodzko was no different.

We went back into Klodzko for dinner that evening at a place which had been recommended to us, the Restaurant Nota Bene. Poland appears as welcoming towards dogs as the rest of Europe and Nala and Beanie were allowed inside. The restaurant had sturgeon* on the special’s board and the waitress (also the owner’s daughter) recommended it together with a German Riesling. Given that she is training to be a sommelier and is soon going to Paris to complete her certification it would have been inappropriate to ignore her advice and so, we ordered two bottles. The sturgeon and the wine were fabulous.

One of the particularly pleasant aspects of our visit to the town and in particular to the Nota Bene was listening to the waitress, a graduate from Wroclaw University, describe how the Poles in the area, especially Wroclaw where there are a significant number of students, have come to terms with the aftermath of WW2 and in particular the de-Germanisation of Lower Silesia. She understands and is sympathetic to how the Germans (and surprisingly the Italians) insist on referring to Wroclaw as Breslau. That impressed me.

* When I ordered the sturgeon (which I have never eaten before) I didn’t realise how rare and historically important sturgeon now is or I would perhaps have ordered differently but, in my defence, the waitress went into some detail as to how careful the local people are in terms of conservation. At the time, I didn’t understand why she was labouring this point so much but then I read up on the fish.

Sturgeon are considered living fossils which date back to the Late Cretaceous Period (i.e. hundreds of millions of years old). They can live up to 150 years and while the smallest species grow to an average of 3 feet, the largest (the Beluga) can grow up to 25 feet long and weigh 3,500lbs. Sadly, the Sturgeon species is now on the endangered list because of overfishing, the demand for caviar and habitat loss.

Wroclaw (Lower Silesia), Poland (Tour 6)

We parked the Van at a secure car park in Wroclaw and booked into a city centre hotel (the Puro Wroclaw Stare Miasto) for a couple of nights. In hindsight, we should have stayed longer. What a great hotel and what a great city! We loved everything about Wroclaw, pronounced Vrots-Waaf. The city was buzzing the whole time we were there.

Previously known as Breslau, Wroclaw is currently Poland’s 4th largest city with a population of 600,000 people. It’s history is as long and complex (and as tragic) as any town in Lower Silesia but, rather than repeat it all here, I would refer you to my blog on Jelenia Gora if you want to know more. It will suffice to say now that the de-Germanisation which occured in the city after World War II was perhaps as bad as it could have been anywhere in Europe with almost 300,000 Germans (many of them refugees from Poznan) being forcibly evicted from the city with only what they could carry. The Poles that replaced the German population were themselves forcibly displaced from their homes by the Soviets (many were refugees from Lvov) and the city they inherited was largely (70%) destroyed by war damage. If that wasn’t bad enough the authorities dismantled much of what was left standing in the city (now renamed Wroclaw) to help rebuild Warsaw.

The new city leaders made a decision to ‘faithfully’ rebuild the Old Town just as it was before WW2. Reconstruction around the Market Square (known as Rynek) and the adjacent Solny Square progressed very quickly but, with some not so subtle changes. Indeed, nothing that was built by the Germans during the 19th and 20th centuries was replaced and the Old Town is now almost entirely baroque which predates German occupation. Even the statue of a Prussian King on the Market Square was replaced by one of a Polish poet, Aleksander Fredro. Also, many of the buildings on the two squares had to be rebuilt using utiliterian concrete blocks and were then given elaborately decorated facades. No matter, the city was quickly rebuilt and it once again ranks amongst the most beautiful in Europe.

Throughout our visit, day and night, there was always something going on in the city’s two main squares and their surrounding streets.

Solny Square is famous for selling flowers any time of the day or night but, whilst you could still buy flowers from a number of market stalls while we were there, most of the square was given over to an amateur international five a side football tournament. I don’t know who won the competitions (there was one for men and one for women) but I watched a closely contested men’s game which saw Germany beat Belgium by 4 goals to 3 goals. The standard was quite high.

One event which has taken place on the Rynek every year since 2003 (except during 2021 because of Covid), and which I would love to witness, is the city’s annual attempt to claim the Guiness World Record in the ‘Guitar Ensemble’. Wroclaw claimed the record in 2009 with all 6,346 participating guitarists led by Steve Morse of Deep Purple playing the Jimi Hendrix version of ‘Hey Joe’ at the same time. Now that would have been something to behold!

One feature of Wroclaw that I absolutely love are the Krasnale (i.e. dwarves or goblins in Polish). There are literally hundreds of them scattered around the city. They started life in the 1980’s as cartoon characters created by an anti- communist protest group known as The Orange Alternative and started taking the form of small bronze statues in 2001. No one really knows how many there are throughout the city because as new ones arrive, others are stolen. I could spend a whole day looking for them and they are a great way to explore the city.

Still much to talk about and so, I’ll be brief. In addition to the Krasnale, the city is full of street artists of all kinds. During the day, it was mostly buskers, bands and mime artists that played the squares. In the evenings it was acrobats and fire eaters and yet more buskers. If you wanted to, you could sit outside a single bar or restaurant and see most of them because many artists rotate around the two squares but; I’ll get as much joy exploring the side streets as I will sitting and people watching and I was off.

If you’re hungry it pays to wander the side streets. You’ll not find the quieter and cheaper restaurants on the squares and Vanya and I were both keen to try the local Pierogi Dumplings. Pierogi dumplings are filled with all sorts of ingredients; too many to go into here but, Vanya favoured the plainer potato and cheese variety while I went for a spicier meat variety (containing beef, leek, Chinese cabbage, mushroom, coriander, chives and chilli). OMG. They were great, especially when washed down with Polish beer and, if I haven’t mentioned it already, Wroclaw is regarded as the city of Polish Beer.

There comes a time when you have to tear yourself away from the centre and where better to go for something completely different than Ostrow Tumski; a small island in the Oder which is filled with numerous religious edifices including the impressive 13th century Roman Catholic Cathedral of St John The Baptist. The island is within easy walking distance of the Rynek. A wedding was in progress as I arrived but by posing as a wedding guest I was able to see some of the interior of the church (I’m unsure as to what the official photographer thought of my following him around looking for photo opportunities) and it didn’t stop me getting a lift up to the bell tower albeit for somewhat limited views of the city.

Better views of the city can be obtained from the Church of St Mary Magdalene. There is a platform, known as the Penitent Bridge, connecting the twin towers of this latter church. Be warned however, there is no lift in the St Mary Magdalene and you have to ascend some 200 plus stairs (about 45 metres) to the Penitent Bridge. One other church tower with arguably the best view down onto the Rynek is that of the St Elisabeth Church but I didn’t do that one.

I’ve not really covered the more cultural aspects of Wroclaw but it isn’t easy gaining access to theatres, museums and art galleries etc when you have two dogs with you but there is a great deal of interesting street art about the city and; none more so than two sets of bronze pedestrian sculptures, one each side of a busy intersection. One group appears to be descending into the ground (a subway?) and the other is ascending from the ground (I think).

Of course, in just two days I was never going to get around the whole city but that’s reason enough to return. Some places which deserve a visit are the Wrocław Multimedia Fountain (Wrocławska Fontanna Multimedialna), the Wroclaw Zoo and the Kolejkowo Model Railway.

The Fountain, which is to be found in the Szczytnicki Park, is the biggest in Poland and one of the largest in Europe. It was initiated on 4th June 2009 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the first free elections in postwar Poland and it comprises 300 water jets and 800 lights which create geysers, spurts and mists, etc and is synchronised to create spectacular light and music shows every day of the week.

Wroclaw Zoo is the biggest and oldest in Poland and certainly worth a visit (but the dogs will have to be left behind for that one).

Jelenia Gora (Lower Silesia), Poland July 2022 (Tour 6)

I’ve been to Poland before (on business) but only to the cities of Warsaw and Gdansk (& Gdynia). I’ve not visited this part of Poland and this is Vanya’s first time in the country. We were both looking forward to crossing the border from Germany and seeing a little bit of Lower Silesia.

Lower Silesia is a south west region of Poland near the Czech border and the Karkonosze Mountains. Jelenia Gora was established around the 11th century and is now a sizeable city of 80,000 people. By the year 1000, Silesia was part of the kingdom of Poland but, following the first invasion of Poland by the Mongols, Poland and especially those lands in the control of the Silesian Dukes became wholly fragmented and, after the Mongols withdrew, the country fell under Bohemian (later Czech) rule. In 1526 it became Austrian under the Hapsburgs. It then changed hands a number of times. Prussia (later Germany) seized it during the mid 18th century but at the end of WW1, when the Poles and the Czechs regained their independence, Lower Silesia was divided between them. In the late 1930’s Germany again seized the Polish and Czech controlled parts of Silesia. Most recently, at the end of WW2, Jelenia Gora (along with other large parts of Silesia) became Polish once again with all resident Germans being forcibly expelled and replaced by Poles whose own lands had been annexed by the USSR. Turbulent times indeed and believe me, the above is a most simplistic version of events. Enough of the history.

Despite all the turbulence surrounding the place, the town of Jelenia Gora came out of WW2 remarkably intact. As usual I made first for the old town; the centre of which in Jelenia Gora is the Market Square with it’s surrounding arcades, the town hall, restaurants, cafes, colourful old merchant’s houses and a Neptune fountain. I never did discover the story behind the fountain.

Moving away from the square I passed the minor basilica of St Erasmus and St Pancras which was built between the 14th and 15th centuries. Pausing at the church I couldn’t help but notice that all of the epitaphs carved into the church walls are written in German; a reminder that this part of Silesia was for many years wholly German.

Further on I came across the Wojanowska Tower and Gate. This entrance into the town dates back to the 14th century when it became necessary to upgrade the town’s fortifications, not least because of the development of firearms. The gate has three coats of arms on it being the Silesian, Polish and Prussian. I am surprised that this latter coat of arms is still on display given the diligence the city fathers appear to have shown in removing all things German during the years immediately after WW2.

Just outside the Wojanowska gate, a little further along the street known as 1 Maja, is the city’s most impressive building, the Holy Cross Church. This was originally a Lutheran church built in 1718. It was taken over by the catholic church in 1945. The outside is not that impressive but the inside is so incredibly ornate, it matches anything I have previously seen in the Orthodox Churches in the Balkans. It blew me away. And big! I read that it can accommodate up to 10,000 people incliuding 4,000 seated. If there is one building worth seeing in Jelenia Gora it is the Holy Cross Church.

We were unsure as to what to expect from either Jelenia Gora or the campsite we were staying at but were pleasantly surprised on both counts. That evening we headed back into the city for food and drink and…