Tag Archives: project riese

Poland – Part 4: To Wroclaw

Here’s your Polish lesson for today – how to say “thank you”:

dziękuję – pronounced, “djienh-COO-yay”

It’s probably the word I ended up using the most over there.

Anyhow, where was I?

June 17 – 9:08AM Local

Nobody really had trouble getting up (especially poor jet-lagged Yev, who had gotten up around 4AM, and started exploring Warsaw on her own).  After breakfast, we tossed all of our stuff into the green bus, and got on our way.


The original plan was to pick up Sonia, another UCDP student who was coming a day late from Toronto due to prior commitments.  However, it turned out that her seat had been double-booked in Toronto, and that she’d have to come later.  It was a bummer, but it also meant we could start our journey to Wroclaw right away.

Wroclaw.  Look at that word.  Looks like it should be pronounced “RO-claw”, right?  Totally wrong.  It’s actually pronounced “VROT-suave”.  I never would have guessed.

It was a long bus ride – about 7 hours journey from Warsaw to Wroclaw.  We were able to stretch out on the seats, and relax.


There were about 15 of us in the huge coach bus, so we weren’t afraid to spread out a bit.  I shared some of my journal notes with Chantelle, who is also keeping a record of our journey.  I think Alex is too.  I’m really glad I took this notebook along – I think I’ll do this on all of my big trips.


11:50AM Local

Our first rest stop.  A lot of us are feeling restless and cramped – we’ve been doing a lot of sitting for the last few days.  We all pour out of the bus, and run around.


The weather was great!  Nice and sunny, but with a cool breeze.

Rural Poland looks a lot like rural Ontario.  I guess farmland is farmland.


After some supplies (I grabbed some orange Fanta, and some kind of Lindt chili pepper chocolate), we got back onto the bus, and kept going.

We get about half an hour at the rest stop, and then we get back on the bus and keep going.

1:10PM Local

We stopped again to walk around and get some lunch.

But not at a gas station.  We stopped at a very interesting, and historically important monastery that once withstood assault from the entire Swedish army.


According to Tamara, we were in Czestochowa, and the monastery was the Jasna Góra Monastery. According to Tamara, there’s a very special picture of the Virgin Mary at that monastery. She also told us that during WWII, the painting had been hidden inside a secret compartment in a large table in the monastery, to keep it from falling into the hands of the Nazi’s. It sounded very Indiana Jones.

I was intrigued.

Unfortunately, we had less than an hour to tour the grounds. I snapped as many photos as I could.


While I snapped my photos, I thought to myself: “It really can’t be easy to worship here while surrounded by the inane buzz of tourists.”

And with that thought, we left.


By this time, we had reached our second hostel.  We would be staying at this one for about 5 days, so we made ourselves comfortable.

It was a pretty nice place – it was called Cinnamon Hostel.  Not as good as the previous hostel, but I was totally happy with it.


We had an hour or so to settle in and freshen up.  During that time, I also read some interesting things about Wroclaw in one of the free guidebooks that was lying around.

Ever heard of Project Riese?  I’ll quote my guidebook:

It was here in 1943…Hitler ordered the undertaking of a massive, top-secret underground complex known as Project ‘Reise’ (Giant).  One of the Fuhrer’s most ambitious and maniacal schemes, the exact nature of which remains unclear, Riese remains one of World War II’s greatest mysteries, about which suspiciously little is known over sixty years since.

It sounds like Hitler started a mystery mole hill near Wroclaw, and never got it finished.  We didn’t visit it, but it was interesting to hear about.  Another Indiana Jones moment.

You can read more about Project Riese here.


Eventually, we left our hostel, and started to explore Wroclaw.  We were going to be in the city for a few days, so we wanted to get our bearings straight.


Squinting into the sun, we headed towards the market square.


It turns out that the market square seemed very similar to the one in Warsaw:  large open space for walking around.  Outdoor patios.  Buskers.  Pigeons.  Churches.


Oh, and gnomes.  Did I mention the gnomes?

Let me back up.

Warsaw had it’s particular symbol – the mermaid.  Well, for Wroclaw, it was all about the gnomes.


Anj took it upon herself to start a gnome count.  I think I stopped at one.


Festival Guests!  And then food.

While we were in Wroclaw, we would be seeing shows as part of the “The World as a Place of Truth Theatre Festival“, which was being put together (I believe) by the Grotowski Institute.

Somehow, word had gotten through to the people running the festival that we were coming, and that we were rabid students who were eager to devour good theatre.

So wouldn’t you know it, they gave us free tickets for pretty much everything.  We were given “festival guest” status.


Here we are, getting our free swag.  God, we were spoiled rotten.


BIG thank you to the people running the festival.  Dziękuję!

After getting our tickets, we headed to a nearby vegetarian restaurant to fuel up.  I had some kind of samosa perogi.  Not bad.

Waiting for UR-HAMLET

Our first show for the festival was happening that night – UR-HAMLET, directed by Eugenio Barba.  We killed time until the show by hanging out in the market square.  Some of us smoked.  Some of us shopped.  Some drank coffee.  I had strawberry gelato, and watched the sun set.



And then we saw UR-HAMLET.

I’m not going to go into a big, deep analysis of the play.  I’m no theatre critic, but I know what I like.

Suffice it to say, I enjoyed it:  where else could I watch an African Hamlet in tiger-stripe pants wipe out his Balinese family with the help of a Samurai sidekick?  And do it with the seriousness of an ancient ritual?  Despite the chilly weather (it was an outdoor show), I dug it.  I had never seen Balinese theatre before, nor heard the music, and this was my first taste of it.  A very interesting, intricate style.


There was also a Balinese commedia-dell’arte-like dumb show for the first 20 minutes, that had the audience roaring.  Hamlet Sr.’s ghost had more stage time than Hamlet himself, and ended up hooking up with Ophelia in heaven.  It was awesome.

There was also a moment where bodies were being loaded onto wooden skids.  Then a forklift came on stage, hoisted a skid with 5 bodies on it about 6 or 7 feet up in the air, and peeled out on to the bumpy stone walkway to take them out of the playing space.  I was sure somebody was going to fall and break a wrist.  Luckily, it didn’t happen.

Funny story:  so it’s (what I believe to be) the climax of the show, with Hamlet wiping out his family with his Samurai sidekick.  Balinese men are being stabbed.  They’re going down.  The music crescendos.  The last man falls.  The music stops.  All silent.  My stomach chose that moment to release the loudest growl in my life.  Like…monstrous growl.  I got a few dirty looks from the international audience sitting around me.  It really killed the moment.  It was awkward.

Anyhow, we hurried back to the hostel to get our jackets (it was freezing out!).  And wouldn’t you know it, but Sonia was there waiting for us!  She’d taken a later flight over, and trekked all the way to our hostel to meet us!  Our travel group was finally complete.  After a round of hugs, we headed to the “U.S. Artist Initiative mixer party” that we had been invited to earlier in the day.

It was also Alex’s birthday, so we had no excuse but to have a good time.

Much dancing was done.  It was fantastic.

And then I went back to the hostel.  I had a shower.  And then I went to bed.

Click here to go to Part 5:  Exploring Wroclaw

Click here to go back to Part 3:  Our Day in Warsaw