After one month in Banja Luka, Bosnia, we started getting a little stir crazy. After the holidays ended, the rain came, and we hadn’t had the chance to do any of the outdoor activities that the city had to offer. On Tuesday, May 14th, we decided to get out of Banja Luka, for a week, and go somewhere, with a little more to do, for our 36th wedding anniversary. We found a cheap flight to Berlin on Skyscanner, but once we checked the prices for accommodations, we realized that the city was too expensive for us to actually stay the week there. After making our flight reservations on Ryan Air, we made reservations on the Flix bus that would take us from the Schonefeld Airport, in Berlin, to Wroclaw, Poland. We had enjoyed ourselves so much, in Krakow, a month ago, that we decided a trip to a different city, this time, might be a fun way to spend our anniversary. The last thing we had to do, to plan our trip, was to go on Booking, to find a place to stay. We reserved an apartment at Art Apart Old Town, which was about a mile from the city center, and which cost us about 981 pln. or $256.00, for 6 nights.
Unfortunately, the beginning of our trip on Sunday, May 19th, didn’t go all that smoothly. Our Airbnb host had called us a cab on Sunday evening, and we arrived at the airport at around 6:00 pm. Since we had assumed we were checked in online, we approached the Ryan Air counter when they opened at 6:50, 2 hours before the flight, to check our luggage, and receive our boarding passes. It was at that time that we were told that we were not checked in and we would have to go to the information desk. We waited for what seemed like a long time, behind someone else who was getting their issue straightened out. By the time they got to us, passengers on our flight were already going through security. We were told at information that because we were not checked in, we would have to pay another 110 Euros, over the 102 Euros we had already paid, for the 2 of us to fly round trip. We were very upset, but since we had already paid for the rest of the trip, we didn’t want to lose any more money, so we handed over our credit card. We realized later, when we went online in Poland, the mistake we had made when checking in for the flight. Three days after we made our flight reservation, we got an e-mail from Ryan Air saying that we could check in. We went to the online check-in, put in our passport information, and hit confirm. In that same e-mail from Ryan Air, we were told that we could pay an extra 4.00 Euro, a piece, and get assigned seats together. We chose not to do that since that would defeat the purpose of a good deal on the price of the flight. What we didn’t see when we went on the site, the first time, was the small print that said, if you didn’t pay the extra, for an assigned seat, you had to wait, between 48 and 2 hours, before the flight, to check in. So even though we thought we were checked in, we weren’t. When they checked us in at the airport, they assigned us seats, way apart from each other, even though I asked at the gate if they could put us together. I was given a seat in the very first row, and Tim was seated towards the back. When I realized that no one was going to be seated beside me, and there were rows and rows of empty seats behind me, I asked the flight attendant if we could sit together and she let Tim take the seat next to me.
After arriving in Berlin, at about 10:40, that evening, we stopped at a small grocery, in the terminal, and bought a couple of coffees and a couple of bottles of water, with the 50 Euro bill that we had left from when we stayed in Riga. Since we had several hours to kill, before our 4:30 am. bus, on Monday morning, and since we still had some change left from the 50 Euro bill, we decided to go to a restaurant and relax with a glass of wine. I got us a table in the back and waited with the suitcase, while Tim got the drinks. When Tim returned with the wine, he told me that he had to return to the store where he had bought the coffees, since they told him at the restaurant that the 20 Euro bill he had just received in change, from the store, was no good, and wouldn’t go through their machine that checks for counterfeit bills. When Tim got to the store and told them that the 20 Euro bill they had given him was counterfeit, they told him that they were closing and he would have to come back tomorrow. He explained that we were on our way to Poland and wouldn’t be back in the airport for another week. The clerk assured Tim that he could bring the bill back in a week and they could exchange it. When Tim came back from the store and told me what had happened I wanted to call the police, but Tim was afraid we’d miss the bus to Wroclaw if we had to stop and make a police report. I couldn’t let the incident go right away and I suggested that we get clarification from the restaurant as to what exactly was wrong with the 20 Euro bill and why they wouldn’t take it. I was surprised but relieved when the server at the restaurant told us they wouldn’t accept the bill because it was dirty, not counterfeit.
When we got on the bus at 4:30 am, Monday morning, we had decided to put the harrowing night behind us and not let it ruin our trip. Both of us got a couple of hours of sleep, on the bus, so the 4-hour trip didn’t seem so long. When we arrived at the bus station, at around 8:30 am, we dropped our suitcase off at the storage facility in the mall, that was connected to the bus station, then went and had breakfast at the food court. When we finished breakfast, it was still too early to check in to our apartment, so we walked around the mall for a while. Though check-in at the apartment wasn’t before 2:00 pm, we had sent several messages to our hosts, days before, requesting an earlier check-in. They hadn’t responded to our messages, but since we were so tired by 11:00 am, we decided to retrieve our suitcase, and hale a cab, to take us there early. We were happy to be informed, when we got to Art Apart Oldtown, that they did have an apartment available for early check-in. After we had showered and gotten settled into the apartment, we walked to the city center for an early dinner. We ate at a casual restaurant, located a little outside the Main Market Square, called Kochnia Polska. their typical Polish food was so delicious that we returned two more nights during our stay. that night, I had tender slices of pork in a delectable mushroom sauce, and Tim had one of his favorite dishes, fried pork Knuckle. both dishes were accompanied by french fries, and a mixed salad of carrots, beets, and cabbage. We also each got a bottle of cranberry flavored, Polish cider. That night we were so tired, that after watching a little Amazon Prime tv, we fell asleep by 8:00 pm.
Our anniversary was on Tuesday, May 21st, and since the weather was so nice, we planned a day at the Wroclaw Zoo. We looked at Google maps for directions to the zoo, before we left the apartment, and knew that we were supposed to take Tram 2 and get off at the mall. Since we were unfamiliar with the city and didn’t know any landmarks yet, we, unfortunately, got off at the wrong mall. It was lucky that we ran into someone who spoke English, and who pointed us in the right direction to the zoo. It was a healthy walk, but eventually, we reached the zoo entrance and paid 50 pln, or about $15.00 each, to get in. We were a little disappointed in the quality of the zoo since many of the animal habitats were empty. We did enjoy watching bears take a leisurely swim down a river and some elephants at play. The Ostrich we saw up close, had a very interesting face and looked like it had two sets of eyes. The monkeys were not in their dwelling, but as we were making our way to the gate, at the end of the day, we got a pleasant surprise when we watched a mother monkey leading her baby across the rope ladder, that was above the path, directly in front of us.
That evening, we were making our way back to town on the tram, when Tim told me to keep an eye out for a good restaurant for dinner. As I was looking out the window, I saw a sign that said Greco Restaurant. I told Tim that we should try it since the only Greek food we ever had was a Greek salad. Once we were inside the restaurant, which was decorated in a Greek Isles theme, we ordered a meal for 2, that included a Greek salad, grilled Aubergine with Feta, grape leaves stuffed with a cabbage compote and an assortment of grilled meats, that included, chicken and ground pork, stuffed with feta cheese. Our meal that included a half-liter of homemade wine, was about $30.00. We enjoyed our scrumptious meal, at what we thought was a unique Greek restaurant in Wroclaw, until days later, we discovered that it was actually part of a chain of restaurants, located all over the city.
On Wednesday, after taking care of some business at the Post Office, in Market Square, we had a late lunch at Burger King, then headed over to the center of the square, to visit the Old Town Hall, a Gothic edifice, that was built in the 13th Century, and which is one of the main landmarks of the city. Inside the Old Town Hall, is the Museum of Bourgeois Art. After admiring the interesting metal bracket and the gold-gilded frame mirror that were on the walls of the foyer, we climbed the marble stairs that took us to the Great Hall (Sala Wielka), which contained arch-beamed ceilings, beautiful stain glass windows, and an array of carved wood furniture, including, trunks, benches, and chairs, from the 15th Century. The Princes’ Room (Sala Ksiazeca), which is adjacent to the Great Hall, was built as a chapel in the mid 14th Century, and it was there, that we saw a spectacular exhibit for the Wroclaw Treasury, that included gold and silverware pieces, from the 16th to the 19th Centuries. We enjoyed our visit to the Museum of Bourgeois Art, in the Old Town Hall, and felt it was well worth the admission price of 15pln, or $3.00, per person.
On Thursday, we took a tram back to Market Square and had brunch at CK Restaurant. Although we thought our $20.00 bill, for 2 omelets and 2 coffees, was a little steep, we did enjoy dining in the elegant atmosphere of the restaurant, in a building from the 14th Century, formerly known as the Old Gallows House. After brunch, we crossed the street and headed to the nearby Royal Palace. The Royal Palace which was originally built in a Viennese style, in 1717, as a residence for Prussian Kings, now houses the City Museum. As we passed through the front gate, and into the courtyard, we stopped to admire some modern stone sculptures, before entering the Palace door. Once inside, we paid 15 pln, or $5.00, for each ticket, then left our jackets and umbrellas, in the lockers provided.
We began our tour on the lower floors of the museum where films and artifacts, help trace Wroclaw’s 1000 year history, from when it was the Silesian capital, in the middle ages, up to the modern day. On the upper floors of the Palace, we toured the recreated Royal Apartments, where we saw elegant, period furnishings, China, musical instruments and art, including, pottery plates, hand-painted, by Pablo Picasso.
After viewing the inside of the Palace, we concluded our tour in the garden, outside, where we saw stunning, metal sculptures, with the water from the fountain, cascading through them, to indicate specific features, such as the tutu, on the ballerina, or the wings of the angel.
That night, after visiting the Palace, we went to Kuchnia Polska, where I had a delicious pork stew with Silesian dumplings, and Tim had the fried pork knuckle.
On Friday afternoon, we visited Movie Gate, a museum, located underground, in the Main Square, in an old bomb shelter. There are about 60 rooms in the museum, featuring original props and costumes, from films, such as James Bond’s, “Die Another Day”, “The Martian”, “Alien”, “Captain America”, and “Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets”. Some of the rooms contained machinery, guns, and mannequin soldiers, in uniform, replicating scenarios from WWII when the underground dwelling had been a bomb shelter. Other rooms contained games and illusions, where you could participate in a hands-on experience. We enjoyed our visit to this unusual museum and felt that it was well worth the $5.00 admission fee.
Market Hall, one of the biggest traditional markets in the city, was built in 1906, for the purpose of organizing street trading in the city center. When we visited the Hall, on Friday afternoon, we first explored the upper floor that show-cased souvenirs and bric-a-brac, before going back down to the first floor to purchase the ingredients to make our dinner that night. when we went back downstairs, we had a hard time choosing from the colorful array of fruits and vegetables, sold by the different vendors. Finally, we decided on two bundles of tender baby asparagus, a quart of plump ripe blueberries, and a kilo of bright red, juicy strawberries. At the butcher’s counter, we bought a kilo of Kielbasa sausage, before moving on to the bakery, where we bought a fresh loaf of sesame seed bread and a kilo of raspberry cake. From another vendor, we bought a bottle of olive oil and a jar of mustard. Our total bill, from the Market Hall, including the bottle of Portuguese wine, that we bought from the wine shop, was about $30.00. After we had made all of our purchases, we took the tram back to our apartment, where we cooked our simple, but delicious meal. The kitchen at the apartment was a little lacking in utensils and we didn’t have any spices, but since we’ve been perpetual travelers for so long, Tim has learned to be very creative in the kitchen, with a limited amount of supplies. He used the one frying pan that we had to sautee our asparagus, in olive oil, with a dash of mustard, and we had that as our first course. Then he fried up the Kielbasa sausage, which we ate with the bread and mustard. Later, we had the cake, topped with the fresh berries, for dessert. It was a tasty, filling meal, and we had plenty left over for brunch on Saturday.
On the last weekend of every month, an antique market takes place next to the Hala Stulecia, in Wroclaw. We took the tram out there, early in the afternoon, on Saturday. Tim and I both love antiques and we enjoyed browsing among the booths and getting ideas for the apartment we’re going to rent, in the Republic of Georgia. More about that in an upcoming post.
Later, that same afternoon, we went to the Botanical Garden. Though smaller than the one we visited in Krakow, it was still lovely. In contrast to the garden in Krakow, which we visited a little early in the season, the garden in Wroclaw was in full bloom, with a brilliant, colorful display of azaleas, rhododendrons, roses, and irises. In addition to the glorious flowers, there were willow trees with long, graceful branches, as well as a large pond with fountains and a wooden, fairytale-like bridge. After exploring the garden, we crossed the bridge and found a bench in a secluded spot, where we could sit and take in the peaceful atmosphere. It was a fun-filled day and when we got back to our apartment, after stopping at Kochnia Polska for dinner, we went to bed early, in order to be well rested for our trip back to Bosnia, the next day.
On Sunday, we flew out of Schonefeld Airport, in Berlin, back to Banja Luka, Bosnia. We had arrived at the airport on the Flix bus, early enough to exchange our dirty 20 Euro bill, without incident, and grab 2 cups of coffee, before our Ryan Air flight at 6:40 pm. We made sure that we checked in exactly 48 before our flight time, as required by the airline. We didn’t get to sit together on the return flight, but since it was only 1/1/2 hours long, we didn’t worry about it. We had a wonderful week away in Wroclaw and I highly recommend a visit to this charming city in Poland. Back here in Banja Luka, Bosnia, the forecast is calling for another week of rain. Hopefully, in the 3 weeks, we have left here, the weather will clear enough, that we’ll be able to visit the outdoor, Ethnographic Museum. More about that and a surprise to share, from these perpetual travelers, in my next post.