For most people I have ever known… Poland has never featured on the top of, or even in, any vacation destination list. So when I decided to visit (I wasn’t too keen on the idea either, I just happened to be nearby and couldn’t find an immediate ride to any of the places I wanted to go to), I was bombarded with suggestions about what I can do instead.
Nevertheless, I scrounged through some carpooling websites and found a ride from Berlin to Wroclaw. It was just me and the driver in the car. He didn’t speak much English. I was okay with not talking much because I was in a foul mood anyway about having to go to Poland, instead of Prague like I had originally planned.
It was difficult to sulk over the 4 hour journey, though, and eventually the very friendly driver, Maciej (who was going home to Katowice on a 2 week vacation), and I started communicating (there was a good bit of sign language involved). Maciej was the first sign of the Polish warmth and hospitality that I was going to experience.
Since I’m a humongous (literally and figuratively) foodie, I asked him for some tips on local Polish cuisine, which he enthusiastically responded to, and I assumed (obviously) that that was that. But, to my pleasant surprise, before dropping me off at the city centre, Maciej took it upon himself to find out about a popular restaurant and took me there for some Pierogi (steamed, filled dumplings) and Barszcz (beetroot soup). As if I wasn’t grateful enough, he didn’t just not let me pay for the meal, he even refused to take the 10 Euros I owed him for the journey, and just waved me goodbye after making me promise to send him postcards and coins from India!
Still smiling from the experience, I started walking around the centre looking for a hostel for the night. Pleasant surprise number 2… The city centre has free unlimited wi-fi!!
After dropping my bags off at a charming (and really inexpensive) little hostel (Hostel Wratislavia), I came back to explore the market square.
In my opinion, the biggest disadvantage of traveling alone is the fact that taking photos is a problem. I finally approached one family to take a picture, and to my utter surprise, the little girl with them came running into the frame, hugged me and gave me a kiss before running back to hide behind her parents.
The city was beautiful, the people, incredible… Of course, the food couldn’t be far behind. Every meal was delicious, filling and really , REALLY pocket-friendly (I had a 5 Euro dinner at Kurna Chata (reviews) just outside of the main Market Square, and I was so full, I could barely walk).
Wroclaw is the largest city in western Poland (but is still tiny and gorgeous), and sits on the River Oder. Now all I can do is rave about the city, and think about going back with my family, so they can smile the same smiles that I did.
The next day, when I was making a mad dash to the post office to send a postcard home before I had to run to catch the bus, and I obviously thought that I had experienced the best of their hospitality, the guy manning the souvenir shop handed me a bunch of maps and little souvenirs for free for no reason at all (I have a feeling that the fact I belong to India helped, I saw NO other brown people there, except me).
I had less than 24 hours in Wroclaw. 24 lovely hours filled with people wanting to talk to me, wanting ‘the foreigner’ to see the best of their city, and country. And I did. Poland is now the country I recommend the most to anyone who asks. I’ve seen several beautiful countries, and I wonder what it is that makes Poland stand out. Maybe it’s the air… The ‘warmth’ in the air.