Monthly Archives: April 2016
Poland has changed more than almost any other European country in the last ten years and Wrocław (pronounced “vrots-waff”) is one of its most transformed cities, a go-ahead place with a huge student population and a burgeoning arts scene.
As a place to visit, Wrocław brings together pretty much everything that’s good about contemporary Poland: a thoroughly modernized cross-section of attractions, an increasingly varied dining and nightlife scene, and a sack full of historical influences.
All of this is on an easily digestible level: the city is nowhere near as big and overwhelming as Warsaw, and lacks the twee and over-touristed confections of Kraków.
And the fact that Wrocław represents Europe at its most unpronounceable is no longer an excuse not to visit. It’s time to brush linguistic embarrassment aside and hop aboard that plane.
1. THE TOWN SQUARE IS ONE OF POLAND’S PRETTIEST
Magnificent main squares (Rynek or ‘market’ in Polish) are something of a tradition in Poland, and Wrocław is no exception. A spacious quadrangle of handsome merchants’ houses surrounds a town hall bristling with turrets and pinnacles. Skirted by shops, cafés and restaurants, it’s the perfect socializing space – a huge outdoor lounge which is all the better for the fact that tourists are (for the time being at least) still outnumbered by locals.
2. YOU CAN TAKE PLEASANT RIVERSIDE WALKS
Once you’ve seen the Rynek, the best way to admire the city’s architecture is from the banks of the Odra. The paths on the south side of the river provide excellent views of the gothic spires on the opposite bank. The river’s progress through the city is broken by a series of small islands, linked to each other by a scattering of picturesque bridges – many of them quaint, cast-iron affairs that have become something of a collective Wrocław trademark.
The grassy lawns of Wyspa Slodowa (Malting-House Island) are used for impromptu picnics by the city’s sizeable youth and student population, while indie rock and dub reggae are pumped out by the converted-barge café-bars moored nearby.
3. THERE’S IMPRESSIVE MODERNIST ARCHITECTURE
The UNESCO World Heritage List is usually associated with old towns and temples rather than gargantuan doughnuts of reinforced concrete. However the latter is what you get in Wrocław, thanks to its one contribution to the list, the Centennial Hall. A vast rotunda built by modernist architect Max Berg from 1911–1913, its enormous, bigger-than-the-biggest-cathedral dome still presides over concerts, conferences and trade exhibitions. Before admiring the main hall take a peek at the Road to Modernism exhibition in the foyer, where photographs of suburban houses reveal something of the city’s architectural ambitions.
4. YOU CAN INDULGE IN MODERN POLISH CUISINE
Polish chefs are increasingly turning to traditional Polish cooking in their search for a contemporary but locally-rooted cuisine, and Wrocław is one of the best places to sample the kind of treats they’re coming up with. Head for the OK Wine Bar for relaxing riverside views and Polish classics with a global twist; or Ovo for a local take on tapas as well as country-house fare like roast wild boar.
Folksy-but-refined jaDka is the place to push the boat out with Polish feast-day dishes like roast duck with apples. Just be sure to drop any preconceptions you might have about beetroot. The vitamin-rich super-vegetable is ubiquitous in Wrocław, whether you’re eating in the fancy places or the street-corner canteens.
With hold luggage becoming ever more expensive, it’s increasingly advantageous to be ruthless about what to take away with you. In any case, travelling with a small, light bag is much easier and more liberating than lugging around a big, over-stuffed heavy suitcase.
And it’s always nice to be able to close your bag without having to ask strangers to come and sit on it with you. Reduce your packing stress by chopping this lot straight off the list.
1. TRAVELLER’S CHEQUES
Good luck trying to exchange traveller’s cheques in *insert name of anywhere on earth*. Come and join us in the twenty-first century – leave those obsolete bits of paper where they belong: in the past.
2. CHEAP CLOTHES
Take a few high-quality items rather than lots of cheaper ones – this especially applies for longer trips. That budget yellow poncho might seem like a wonderful idea as you prance around in it at home the night before you go. But when you’re in the middle of the jungle, sweating like hell and with rain seeping through, you’ll wish you’d forked out for a proper rain jacket.
3. TOO MANY GADGETS
Let’s be clear: there are some extremely useful travel gadgets on the market; you just don’t need to take them all on every trip. Prioritise, and think carefully about the value each one will contribute, compared to the hassle of taking it with.
Do you really need a phone, laptop and a tablet? How about those over-ear and inner-ear headphones? If you’re travelling to several countries, take a world adaptor with dual USB chargers – one item, multiple functions.
4. EXTRA TOILETRIES
Despite what you might be used to in our consumer-hungry world, most of the items stuffed into your bathroom cupboard probably don’t count as essential toiletries. Leave the face serum, eye cream, day cream, night cream, exfoliating scrub, Dead Sea bath salts and green tea face mask at home.
You can buy shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant and other basics in most towns the world over. Unless you’re planning on being in remote rural areas for most of your trip, consider taking the bare essentials to get you started and buying more once you’re there – or just use hotel mini bottles.
5. YOUR ENTIRE BOOKSHELF
Books can be heavy and take up lots of space. If you think you’ll read more than one novel while you’re away, take an e-reader. This applies to multiple guidebooks, too – we sell digital version of all our guides, so you can get all the advice you need, without weighing yourself down.
6. HAIR STRAIGHTENERS
Remember a time before hair straighteners? If not, you’ll have to take our word for it – humanity managed to survive. There’s no denying that straighteners have transformed many a frizzy mop into a sleek mane; but while you’re on holiday, you can ditch the extra baggage weight, embrace the freedom of being away from home and go for a more natural, beachy look. You might even end up preferring wavy and wild to straight and manicured.
7. HOME COMFORTS
Everyone misses the odd food while away. Whether it’s English breakfast tea, Marmite on toast, Cadbury’s chocolate, Oreo cookies or Reese’s Pieces, you’ll still be able to have them when you get back, and you’ll enjoy them all the more if you’ve had a break. Embrace the culture and cuisine of your destination, and leave the tea bags (and teapot) at home.
The UK gets pretty grim during the winter, with its dark, early nights and splutteringly cold weather. But if you can’t wait until spring to start having fun again, there’s still hope. Rough Guides editor Greg Dickinson has compiled eight ideas for alternative UK breaks during the winter months, from a singing retreat in Northumberland to husky-sledding in Gloucestershire.
1. VISIT THE UK’S ONLY FREE-RANGING REINDEER HERD, THE CAIRNGORMS
Do you need living proof that reindeer are not just for Christmas? Around 150 reindeer roam the Cairngorms in Scotland; throughout both summer and winter an experienced reindeer herder from the Glenmore centre leads visitors on a walk up the mountains to find them.
They’re a tame bunch, so you’ll be able to give them a stroke and take selfies as you please, providing your fingers don’t drop off in the cold. On that note, wrap up warmer than you think is possibly appropriate; Scotland doesn’t do winter in half measures.
2. SING AWAY THE WINTER BLUES, NORTHUMBERLAND
Now, this isn’t the sort of winter break you’d want to invite your tone-deaf mate on. The Unthanks Singing Weekends are run by Mercury Prize-nominated musician sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank, who host visitors in the Northumberland countryside for a weekend of walking, singalongs and pub grub.
Their mantra is simple: “a down to earth, inclusive experience, designed to bring people together for the joy of group singing and good company”. Better start practising in the shower, people.
3. PRETEND YOU’RE IN GAME OF THRONES AT THE DARK HEDGES, NORTHERN IRELAND
This otherworldly avenue of inward-leaning, gnarled trees is one of the most stunning and photogenic spots in the whole of Northern Ireland. So photogenic, in fact, that it is used in Game of Thrones as the filming location for the Kingsroad.
You can visit the Dark Hedges all year, but there’s something quite magical about coming here during the winter, when the leafless branches are covered in a layer of snow.
4. TAKE A MEDITERRANEAN ESCAPE… IN WALES
The technicoloured village of Portmeirion, in northwest Wales, is unlike anywhere else in the UK. In the 1920s, eccentric architect Clough Williams-Ellis dreamt of building an ideal village, and this fantastical Italianate settlement is the result.
On top of its peculiar hotch-potch of Mediterranean architecture and subtropical gardens, Portmeirion has been known to get unusually balmy weather during the winter – possibly due to the warm winds that blow down from nearby Snowdonia. The place is chocker with visitors in the summer but pleasantly quieter in the winter, when you’ll have its piazzas and pastel-painted buildings near enough all to yourself.
5. LEARN HOW TO SURVIVE IN THE WOODS, EAST MIDLANDS
If your idea of a perfect winter break involves sitting by a fireplace, mug of mulled wine in right hand, mince pie in left, you should probably scroll past this one.
This winter break is all about getting back to nature. Dave Watson at Woodland Survival Crafts runs “bushcraft” weekend trips throughout the year, where you get to make fires using natural materials, forage for food and – in the Winter Bushcraft Course – learn how to survive overnight without a sleeping bag.
6. GO HUSKY SLEDDING, GLOUCESTERSHIRE
Think husky sledding is all about gliding across thick Alaskan snow, through dense pine forests to some hidden wooden cabin? Think again. The guys at adventure company Arctic Quest have set up a dog sledding track at Croft Farm, in Gloucestershire. The “sled” is really a kind of stand-up, three-wheeled bike-like mechanism, pulled along by a couple of huskies.
Day trips are available, but in the overnight experience you can stay in the Sami Tipi or the Herder’s Hut. If you go for this option, you can spend some of the money you saved on not booking flights to Lapland on extra bags of firewood.
7. WITNESS THE NORTHERN LIGHTS, SHETLAND
The northern lights are visible all over the UK, occasionally as far south as Kent during particularly violent solar storms, but the best chance of catching the aurora borealis is by travelling to the northernmost reaches of the British Isles.
Closer to the North Pole than anywhere else in the country, Shetland is statistically the best place to catch the flickering lights known locally as the “merrie dancers”. The elusive natural phenomenon is hard to predict, and cloud cover is always a possibility up here, so consider a week-long trip – maybe hopping between Orkney and Shetland – to maximise your chances of catching the show.