During breakfast, I found out that it was another free day – once more, Wroclaw was our playground to romp around in independently, followed by another version of Hamlet (HAMLET. SILENCE FROM THE BODY by Roberto Bacci) that night. It was also our last night in Wroclaw – we were going to leave for Krakow early the next morning.
The deal was even sweeter when Tamara handed us a 250z cash-infusion.
So what did I do? Did I hit the town, and eat at restaurants? Did I go sightseeing? Did I go shopping?
Actually, I did laundry. Yep, I had accumulated quite a collection of dirty laundry at this point, so I stayed back at the hostel, and slammed some dirty clothes into the washing machine. While waiting for my clothes to get washed, I hung out in the hostel kitchen with Chantelle.
While talking with Chantelle, I learned that a few of the ladies in our group had noticed that men in Poland were a lot more obvious when “checking out” the women around them. Chantelle told me that a few of them had even felt uncomfortable at times, and that it was almost as if some men wanted them to notice. I told her that I wondered if it was just a European thing, and she said that she didn’t know.
I also took a time out to play with the Hostel Dog:
It was chilly, rainy and grey out. I also wasn’t sure where everybody was – we seemed to be all scattered about.
I eventually bought some postcards and a calling card – I was going to call Em later on that day.
I ran into Tara, Tom, Alex (or was it Alexi? My writing is a bit sloppy), Sonia, Ryan and Jiv at the milk bar we had originally seen during our tour of Wroclaw. I had something to eat, and then we all left together.
Somehow or another, I had gotten back to the hostel, and started writing postcards. I also took the opportunity to call my girlfriend Em, and tell her how I was doing.
After the phone call, I felt a little Wroclaw-ed out, and felt I needed some downtime to recouperate. I went into the common room and watched some BBC News.
Finally, I got up, and went out again for something to eat with Tom, Tara, Ryan, Alex, Una, and Linn.
If it hasn’t become clear already, the bunch of us became expert restaurant-hoppers. Choosing restaurants, however, could be a bit of a chore. Often, there were times where we’d travel the entire square several times before deciding on something we could all agree upon.
And for that night, the restaurant was a Greek place called “Ready’s”. This is what my guidebook says about that restaurant:
Paper napkins and plenty of plasticky bits and bobs greet you in what rates as a very poor man’s Sphinx. Eating is just a means to an end here, with plates of kebab meat, fries and chicken being the core dishes. You may enjoy Ready’s, but only after a dozen beers.
Maybe it’s my attraction to no-frills stuff, but I enjoyed this place. I’d eat there again.
In fact, we were enjoying our meal so much that we lost track of time! We paid our bill, rushed out, and tried to figure out how to get to the theatre to see Bacci’s HAMLET.
After a failed attempt at walking to the theatre, we decided as a group to try to take a cab. Eventually, we were able to hail one down, but only four of us were able to take it. After a quick discussion, Ryan, Alex, Una and Linn hopped in, and the rest of us tried to hail another cab. Tom, Tara and I were doubtful that we’d make it.
Luckily, we were able to hail a cab. After flailing some arms, and gesturing wildly at our maps, we were able to communicate to the driver where exactly we wanted to go. I think he knew we were in a hurry, because he floored it.
He pulled up right to the theatre entrance. We paid, hopped out, and rushed into the theatre.
HAMLET. SILENCE FROM THE BODY Directed by Roberto Bacci
When we got inside the theatre, the show was just about to begin. There was no seating left, so I sat in the aisle.
The lights came down, and the show started.
This version of Hamlet was spoken in rapid-fire Italian. There were English and Polish subtitles projected on a surface above the stage. Half-way through the production though, the English subtitles stopped. They just stopped coming.
I think this was a good thing though, since it allowed me to focus on what I was seeing and hearing on stage, as opposed to flicking my eyes up to the screen every few seconds to get my place in the story.
So what did I see? This version of Hamlet had the cast (with the exception of Hamlet himself) dressed in fencing armor – masks and all. I thought the masks helped them pull off some nice sleight of hand, since it allowed them to “dissappear” characters into the anonymous chorus, and have them re-emerge elsewhere. Actual fencing was performed on stage as well, which was exciting to see.
The stage was panelled in wood, giving it a very red, and earthy tone. The major set piece was what appeared to be a large, rusty frame or scaffolding, somewhat like a jungle-gym. This apparatus was climbed upon, walked through, and even had “drawbridge” doors on either side of it. It was a neat contraption, though I was worried for the actors safety when they were climbing it at some points, since it seemed to have a very high centre of gravity. I also wish they had used it more – it seemed to have a lot of potential.
The acting was decent. I had a conversation with Tom about the show afterwards, and we seemed to agree that this was a pretty “meat and potatoes” Hamlet. It did the job of telling the story, and it told it pretty well, but nothing blew our socks off. Tom said that Bacci’s Hamlet was “like a Soul Pepper production, if they had hired a kind-of experimental director. Pretty strong, but nothing special.”
We talked about Hamlet for a bit, and then walked back to the Hostel. I hung around in the common area for a bit, and then I went to sleep early – we had to wake up around 5:30AM to get ready for our bus trip to Krakow the next day.
After waking, cleaning up, and eating breakfast, the whole bunch of us left the hostel to meet a guide for a tour of Wroclaw that Tamara had arranged for us. As usual, our feet guided us to the market square, and that’s where we met Ella, our tour guide.
One of the first interesting things Ella taught us about Wroclaw was about the market square. Apparently, a lot of the “ancient” looking buildings around us were actually only a few decades old. They’d been designed and constructed to look old from the outside and to fit in with the historical look, but the insides were supposedly super-modern. Part of me found that fascinating, another part was a little disappointed. Tricked by architecture.
Ever heard of Max Berg? I hadn’t. Max Berg was a German architect who was appointed as the senior building official for Wroclaw in 1909. According to Ella, Berg got caught up in Post WWI “skyscraper fever”, and wanted to modernize the market square of Wroclaw with epic skyscrapers like the ones in New York.
Anyhow, it didn’t go over very well. He got one up, and I saw it, and it just didn’t work. The building itself was alright, but it just didn’t fit in with the surroundings. This is probably why the buildings around it have been constructed to fit into that ancient style – anything else just looks ridiculous.
Oh, and some irony – the address for that New York style skyscraper? #9/11. Go figure.
See this monument? I’ve been trying to find out more about it. According to what I heard from Ella (which was kind of garbled, since I was hanging out at the back of the group at this point), the monument marks a horrific event that happened sometime in the 17th Century. Apparently, an influential Italian priest told the residents of Wroclaw to put to the fire all of their earthly possessions. So, they built a big fire, and started tossing things in. And then things got out of control, and 41 Jews were apparently burned there as well.
You’d think I could find some information about this monument somewhere on the Web, but no luck so far. The closest I could get was St. John Capistrano, who may have been the alleged priest – though Capistrano lived during the 1400s, which doesn’t fit in at all with the 17th Century time frame. Anyhow, if anyone has some information on this monument, I’d be glad to hear it.
Moving on, we started walking towards the Old Town Hall of Wroclaw. Nearby were some discolored stones on the road which marked a square:
On our tour – found out that this black square was where the "crazies" cage was.20-Jun-2009 06:39, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 2.8, 5.8mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 64
According to Ella, that square marked where the “mad house cage” was originally located. People who didn’t behave according to the social standards of the time (drunkards, trouble-makers during mass, women who wore trousers, etc) were put into that cage for the whole market square to see. Yeesh.
Then we walked into the Old Town Hall. It has been converted into a type of museum, with roped off areas, info placards, etc. According to my journal, the insides smelled “like a fishing tackle box”. Here are a few shots from the inside:
Inside the old town hall20-Jun-2009 06:41, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 2.8, 5.8mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 386
The Old Town Hall is more or less in the centre of the market square. Attached to it is a restaurant. According to Ella, this restaurant is currently the oldest restaurant in Europe! Wow! And guess what – this was the restaurant we ate at while discussing CLEANSED the other night. And we had no idea that it was so ancient. Go figure.
Apparently, this is the oldest restaurant in Europe.20-Jun-2009 06:51, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 2.8, 5.8mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 64
After seeing this, we started to leave the market square. We stopped at a little booth and had some barbequed goat cheese (salty and smoky…not bad). We also saw another gnome – this one atop a giant finger:
Another gnome.20-Jun-2009 07:01, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 4.7, 17.4mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 64
Ella led us towards a tram stop, where we were soon picked up. It was a really old looking tram – unpadded wooden seats, a wooden floor, and a guy who went up and down the aisles collecting our 3z tickets.
On one of the Wroclaw trams20-Jun-2009 07:20, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 2.81, 5.8mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 64
I was lucky – landed one of the few seats! So did Tara, who sat next to me. Here she is, after telling me that the parents in front of us should be slaughtered for the haircuts they gave their children:
Tara thinks that the people in front of us gave their children terrible haircuts20-Jun-2009 07:20, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 2.8, 5.8mm, 0.032 sec, ISO 64
I think I’ve remarked about this several times already (if not on this blog, then to others in person), but Poland is interesting because parts of it look like they’re centuries old; ancient, majestic architecture that just screams history.
Centenary Hall serves the same function as the Air Canada Center in Toronto – it hosts sporting events, talks (like from the Dalai Lama), or anything that involves large numbers of people.
Apparently, this building, also designed by Max Berg, got the same welcome that the new ROM got when it was completed in Toronto. The public absolutely hated it, calling it ugly. Despite that judgement, here’s a beautiful shot of the Centenary Hall:
Before you go ga-ga over my camera technique, I didn't take this shot. I found it through Google Image Search, and I can't find a photo credit.
As we left the grounds, I could hear Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries start to play in the distance. Perhaps we had just left before some kind of water show. We’d never know.
We boarded the tram again, and started heading back down town.
During the ride back, I talked to Linn about web development (she’s a fellow web architect) and also established “Mike’s Nose-picking While Driving Law”, which states:
The likelihood of seeing a solo driver pick his or her nose while idling at an intersection increases with every second of observation.
We also spotted a woman walking a galloping wiener dog, but I couldn’t get my camera out fast enough to capture the moment.
Eventually, Ella led us back to the Wroclaw University that we had briefly visited a few days before. A few of our group decided to take a break from the tour, but a couple of us decided to walk around the University to see the sights.
First of all, the University of Wroclaw sports some pretty impressive alumni:
Traveling upstairs required a ticket (I think they were only 6z though). The first thing we saw when we went up the stairs was the University of Wroclaw’s equivalent to UofT’s Convocation Hall. It was quite a bit smaller, but what it lacked in size, in more than made up for in ornate-ness:
According to Ella, the sign said that the University of Wroclaw houses an extensive set of climate data, going back about 300 years. If any Polish readers out there want to send me an actual translation, I’ll gladly post it.
(Updated: May 15th, 2010)
Piotr Waszkielewicz from Wrocław wrote in with the following translation:
“At this place
behind northern windows
of astronomical observatory
in February 1791
has been started systematic
AIR TEMPERATURE MEASURMENT
Collected data makes
one of the longest
climatological series in Europe
and is a precious informacion source
for climate change research
Continuing up the stairs eventually led us onto the roof. Once again, a spectacular view from the rooftop of a tower in Wroclaw. This one had statues on each of its corners – with each one representing a particular discipline:
I could only take photos of their backs though, since they were facing outwards towards the city.
After breathing in the fresh air, we went back down and met up with the rest of our group. We finished the tour by going to a “milk bar”, which is basically a no-frills cafeteria that serves standard meat & potatoes meals. I instantly fell in love with it. I had a plate of pierogies, and some mineral water, and topped it off with some amazing Wroclaw ice cream.
Once we were done eating, Tamara told us that we were free to explore the city until the shows that night. We split up into several groups. I chose to travel with Sonia and Ryan.
We walked back through the market square, and paused to see a busker send some massive bubbles into the sky:
Massive bubble from a busker!20-Jun-2009 10:19, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 4.28, 13.4mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 64
And what a climb. Something like 300 steps in a dark, spiraling, claustrophobic space. It didn’t help that there were people coming down as we were going up. There was barely enough room for one person to go up, let alone two passing one another.
The walk down the steps was better on our legs, but they were still wobbly once we reached bottom. We stopped at a restaurant, got something to drink, and then headed back to the hostel.
We hung around the hostel for a bit. Ryan introduced me to a YouTube phenomenon called David’s Farm. Basically, it’s this guy named David, who does some pretty crazy stuff up at his farm.
Crazy stuff like this:
Want to see a really bad idea? Fast-forward to about 2:52 into this video. Yikes.
Anyhow, it was almost time to see that evening’s shows. That evening was different, because we had some choice in what we were seeing – there were several different “streams” that we got to choose from. Most of us saw the same stream (as most of the other streams had been sold out), which had us seeing two shows that night.
The first show I saw was called MARLENE DIETRICH. ABOUT BROKEN NAILS, starring Anna Skubik. It turned out to be a one-woman puppet show, and I absolutely fell in love with it. Skubik had beautiful puppetry technique, and I totally bought that there were two characters on stage. It was playful. I really enjoyed it. It made me happy.
The second show was called SMYCZ. How do I descibe that show? It was, to me, variations on a theme, where the theme was “leash” (which is “smycz” in Polish). It was absolutely mesmerizing. Total rollercoaster. The performer, Bartosz Porcyzk, was absolutely incredible – I’d never seen anything like him. Everything he did absolutely held my full attention, even though I didn’t understand a word, and had to read the subtitles (which didn’t help when he’d go off script and improvise). He could sing, he could dance, his acting was phenomenal. His movement was flawless. His voice, suberp. The music behind the show was incredible. The show completely won me over, and most of the rest of us too. I’d definitely see the show again if I could.
Besides the show website, the best I can do to convey what we saw is show you this “trailer” that I found. It’s just some of the songs with some still photos, but it’s better than nothing:
Here are a few shot of us after having our minds blown by SMYCZ:
Nothing revs up drama kids like seeing an amazing show.
After the show, a few of us went to Wizard Hat to talk about it. When we got there though, we ended up spending our time talking about how our presence (as loud, North American drama students) was being perceived in Wroclaw. Ryan (I think?) noticed that another table had been staring at us, and that one guy looked like he wanted to punch all of us. That table eventually left. Maybe we were being too loud and obnoxious. Poland has certainly been smacked around a lot – maybe they don’t look kindly upon loud North Americans coming in and being obnoxious?
Then we got into a big discussion about European and North American stereotypes.
Jiv said that his darker skin colour had drawn a lot of looks his way. Tara said something similar. I said I hadn’t noticed anything for me, and Jiv said that it’s probably because I’m “ethnically ambiguous”, which helps me blend in. Nice.
I was getting tired. After an incredibly satisfying day, I left Wizard Hat, walked back to the hostel, and fell asleep.