Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wrocław (aka "Ro-claw. No wait, I think I have it, really. Vro...VROT-slaw... er...VROTS-waf!!")

We rented a car in Berlin to make the trip to Wroclaw, which promised to shave about 3 hours off the travel time as compared to the train, plus afford us the ability to make stops on the way whenever we felt like it. It turned out that they only let certain cars make the trip across the border and the car they'd originally reserved for us was substituted with a different one when they found out we planned to go to Poland. I'm not sure what the difference was.

Jason was the only one who could drive a stick, so he was our driver and had to obtain an International Driving License in order to drive in Poland. (That is not required to drive in Germany.) He enjoyed the lack of speed limit on the Autobahn while I cowered in the back. I am just not used to being in cars anymore, especially fast ones! At least there wasn't very much traffic.

Shortly before the Polish border, we passed a cop car and he tried to slow down. Then the cop pulled in front of us an flashed a little sign on the top of his car saying, "Bitte folgen" - please follow! At first we debated whether he was getting pulled over for speeding or if it was just a general border patrol that had selected us (at random?). It ended up being the second. The cops were really friendly and switched to English so everyone could understand them. They checked all our passports, the car registration, the rental contract, and Jason's driving license, asked us where we were headed, and were a little incredulous that we were just going to Wroclaw for two days and then coming back. Americans and their funny travel habits, I guess. Then they let us go. When we hit the real border, we weren't checked at all.

The border area was forested and the roads were terrible after we crossed into Poland. We started to wonder if parts might just get vibrated right off the car! There were guys selling mushrooms right at the side of the road! The off-ramps were cobblestone! And best of all, we couldn't read a damn thing all of a sudden. All within minutes! Border crossing is fun!

The roads improved as we neared Wroclaw, but the traffic got much worse. After leaving the motorway it took us an hour and a half to reach our rented apartment, partly because we got lost, but partly because the traffic was really terrible! We were just on the off-ramp for at least 10 minutes, and it didn't improve from there until we were well into town.

The entrance to our apartment was in a back alley and looked sketchy as all get out. The owner confided in Mike that Germans found it totally scary when they came here, but the English seemed to have no problem with it. As Americans I guess we felt sort of mixed about it. It was indeed rather sketchy, like something in a movie. At the same time, that made it feel all the more authentic - that quality which Americans are completely obsessed with! The stairwell smelled like gasoline and cigarettes and there were exposed wires, graffiti, and a large variety of different types of doors. But, our apartment was huge and completely gorgeous. It was 90 EUR a night, right on the pedestrian zone, and could hold up to 6 people all for that one price!

We wandered around and had dinner right in the center in a restaurant with white tablecloths and interesting decor. The final bill was about 71 złoty - or 20 EUR for all three of us!!

Over the next day we visited a few sights, which are better seen than described here, so I took lots of pictures!

Wroclaw Oct 08

The main squares in the old town, the Rynek and Salt Square, are completely surrounded by colorful facades. In Salt Square there's a 24-hour flower market, in case you ever need some fresh flowers in the dead of night. (Is this a major issue in Poland?) There are Catholic churches, nuns, and priests everywhere you turn, and the religiousness of the country is obvious, as we saw people kneeling and praying in nearly every one. You don't see very much of that in Germany. We had lunch at a milk bar, a cheap cafeteria-style restaurant which is apparently a leftover from Communist times. It was indeed ridiculously cheap. And, we managed to fit in some kebap as well, of course! And it was even cheaper than Berlin!

Surprisingly, given its beauty, Wroclaw did not seem to have a very big tourist industry at all (which is mostly a plus!). We only saw 3 places where we could buy postcards the whole time, and 2 of them were tourist information offices. One of these offices offered free internet (20 minutes) for tourists, which was a really incredible perk! They also sold a Wroclaw guide which was much more helpful than my Lonely Planet Eastern Europe. At our request, the guy there tried to teach us to say "thank you" in Polish and we basically failed to imitate him to his satisfaction. There are some things in German and English, but not to the extent I've seen in other countries.

I found it to be approximately as friendly as Germany, in the limited experience that we had. We actually got much better customer service across the board when we were in Berlin (a place I've always found to be friendlier than its reputation). A girl working at a confiserie where we stopped for cake was downright nasty to us, and overall no one was especially welcoming, with the exception of a girl who sold us ice cream minutes before her shop closed! Maybe it was our lack of Polish. Perhaps my expectations were too high because I've heard many people bubbling over with enthusiasm about the friendliness and hospitality of the Poles, so I was expecting something more like Ireland. However I was extremely pleasantly surprised to have the door held open for me several times by Polish teenagers!! I can't say that has ever happened in Germany, and maybe not in the States either!

Overall - sure, I'd go back to Poland. Maybe I'd want to learn a few more things to say first, provided I could manage to wrap my mouth around any of them. Or, maybe in larger cities, Polish is not as necessary. Anyway, it was cheap, beautiful, and interesting!


  1. It turned out that they only let certain cars make the trip across the border and the car they'd originally reserved for us was substituted with a different one when they found out we planned to go to Poland. I'm not sure what the difference was.

    My guess is that it's an insurance thing. When I rent cars from Sixt the fine print lists out which classes of cars they will let you drive into Eastern Europe due to their insurance regulations. You might reserve something in a Beamer, Benz, Audi class, but if you're headed to certain Eastern European countries with their rental, you get downgraded.

  2. Holy moly, that is cheap. I need to go to Poland!!

  3. Cliff: Interesting! I have no idea what was originally reserved (Mike did it). The car we got was still pretty nice. Not that I really know too much about cars. I guess it could have been crappy for all I know. ;)

    Jennie: I was impressed by the cheapness too! The only thing that didn't seem to be as cheap as everything else was accommodations.

  4. Poles have a reputation for stealing cars in Germany and taking them back to Poland, so that's probably why you were stopped.

    Glad you had a positive experience and want to return. Your experience is definitely different than mine since I used to live there and visit friends while there.

  5. ...Well, Can you tell - which company you were able to rent a car with to cross the border to Poland ? I guess I might try to follow your steps this summer Lol!

    Thanks Greg

  6. Greg: Mike thinks it was Hertz! Good luck!


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