East of Wroclaw’s medieval centre, the Dabie district teems with spreading hectares of overgrown woodland and smaller areas of parkland and recreational spaces. While these are obviously the prime sights of attraction here, one should not overlook the scores of mansions and manors lining the tree-shaded boulevards that lead to the area, Ul Curie-Sklodowskiej and Ul Janiszewskiego in particular. A look at the external features of these residential properties, set away from the uproarious city centre is enough to confirm the grandeur and affluence of what lies inside. This is definitely an area to savour, an elite quarter reserved for Wroclawski who have the money and the taste for style and finesse.
This collage of colourful patches of stone and greenery is wasted if one dares follow the advice of tourist brochures and guide books and take a tram from Plac Dominikanski to Most Zwierzyniecki. While transport is acceptable for those who are unable to cover long distances on foot or do not have enough time at their disposal, it is absolutely not recommended to whoever can wander around at leisure independently. Such visitors will get the chance to discover for themselves while on the way interesting corners and favourable niches which would otherwise go unnoticed.
There are at least two walking routes one can follow to reach the green district of Dabie from the city centre, each route taking about one hour. One route takes Plac Dominikanski as its starting point. This busy square dominated by the Galeria Dominikanska shopping mall is only a short eastbound stroll away from the city’s market square. Starting right behind the east edge of Plac Dominikanski, Park Slowackiego spreads out towards the river terminating at a point where a number of main thoroughfares meet.
The best route to follow is to walk along the entire length of Al Slowackiego, a beautiful avenue that runs along the southern edge of the park and ends at Plac Powstancow Warszawy. From here, one cannot miss the mighty greyish iron structure of Most Grunwaldzki, the oldest suspension bridge in Wroclaw and perhaps the most structurally imposing and architecturally beautiful metal composition in the city. Crossing over this fairly long structure gives one quite a few strong vibrational jerks that often result in a lot of tummy turning, particularly if one’s passing along the side walkway happens to coincide with loaded carriers traversing in both directions. Avoid making any show-offs of fear or annoyance because locals will laugh at you instantly. After all, this bridge has been there playing safe for more than a century. The other edge of Most Grunwaldzki further away from the city centre puts one on a dual carriageway, a wide traffic-infested thoroughfare that leads out of the city. Fortunately, it’s only a short walk here before one arrives at an intersection that marks out the most pleasant section of Ul Curie-Sklodowskiej, a tree-lined avenue that heads straight to Wroclaw’s eastern district.
Another walking route that is perhaps more pleasant and rewarding than the former and definitely less time-consuming takes the Cathedral on Ostrow Tumski as its starting point. A pleasant spot to linger is the small green zone right behind the Cathedral, an area crammed with old chestnut trees that offer shade over the scores of wooden benches lining its perimeter. From here, a short eastbound walk leads to Ul. Kard. Wyszynskiego, a hectic thoroughfare that heads north to the suburb of Olbin. On the opposite side of Ul Wyszynskiego close to the traffic lights, a secondary street named Ul Szczytnicka offers a pleasant walking ground to those who want to take a shortcut to Wroclaw’s eastern district. Lined with beautiful houses and almost entirely roofed with an abundance of foliage, Ul Szczytnicka and its continuation Ul Curie-Sklodowskiej are undoubtedly paradisiacal promenades, ethereal walkways that stand to confirm the rewarding advantages of walking over embarking on a bus or tram.
Alternatively, sluggish visitors or pressed-for-time sightseers can make the trip to Wroclaw’s eastern parkland either on a tram or on a bus, both means of transport being frequently accessible from Plac Dominikanski. Choose to hop on either Tram 2, 4 or 10 or else Bus 145 or 146, all of which ply along the eastern district of Dabie.
Most Zwierzyniecki is another old picturesque metal construction that spans over the Stara Odra at a point where this portrait-pretty slow-running tributary branches out of the mainstream in the vicinity of the Zoological Gardens. Once one crosses the overpass with lovely views of weeping willows rising out of the embankment on both sides, one finds oneself on Ul Wroblewskiego, immediately alongside the cagey entranceway to the zoo. This is Poland’s largest animal house, an enclosure of grassland and woodland that spreads out over several hectares. It must be said that it is not easy to navigate through its maze of intriguing passageways, some of these leading to nowhere, others cutting across stretches of uncultivated landscape. But obviously, anybody who visits a zoo does so to see the animals, not to wander around aimlessly. Although signposting is scarce, with some intuition one will soon find oneself near the cages where six hundred species of animals have found a home. Lions, leopards and crocodiles are well represented and considering their robust body appearance, all seem to be well fed and well cared for as well. Colourful exotic birds (alas, also in cages) that seem to be on a catwalk (more appropriately, a birdwalk) in a beauty parade are as common as the pigeons in your country while couples of speaking macaws are thrown in here and there for good measure. All this is unquestionably enjoyable and amusing but … isn’t keeping so many creatures under lock and key shameful?
Before making your way out of the zoo, it is advisable to walk towards the southernmost zone of the gardens to see a collection of elegant post-war historic reconstructions, the originals formerly scattered across the gardens having suffered extensive wartime damage beyond repair during World War II.
On the other side of Ul Wroblewskiego is Wroclaw’s largest concentration of parkland and woodland. Known as Park Szczytnicki, this sublime zone of charming greenery covers more than one hundred hectares of well-groomed parkland and forested landscape. Following the crowds on Ul Wystawowa for a few minutes brings one right in front of the Iglica, a towering ninety-six-metre high bolted metal spire that is definitely high on physical loftiness but short on aesthetic beauty, function and architectural composition. The gargantuan monolith right behind the Iglica is the Hala Ludowa, an ingeniously designed reinforced concrete structure that unquestionably stands to witness the engineering skills of its German designer. Although the structure will celebrate its hundredth anniversary next year, it is still regarded as a great architectural achievement, particularly when one considers the perfect design of the dome, its weight supported on a skeleton of radial concrete ribs that converge towards its topmost centre. The external architectural features have not always been to everybody’s taste and as a consequence, its design was heavily criticised over the years and the structure was given quite a few degrading nicknames such as the hatbox, the wedding cake or the monster.
However, when I got inside, I could only have words of praise for the beauty, spaciousness and functional arrangement of its huge auditorium. Equipped with a central arena of impressive dimensions for large scale performances, the interior space has been surrounded with an extravaganza of terraced seating rows designed to offer optimum views over the stage from all positions.
Back outside, I found myself close to Wroclaw’s most stunning attraction, the multimedia fountain. Appropriately embedded across the central zone of a huge pond, this is a wonderful spectacle of water, light, music and laser displays giving hourly ten-minute performances so enticing and stupefying that viewers keep asking for more. Consider coming here late on Friday or Saturday for the most stunning displays of the week when the full potential of the fountain is in operation. It’s an unforgettable experience you’ll talk about back home.
The semi-circular trellised walkway that enclosed the exhibition grounds and the fountain was a perfect diorama of green foliage and red bougainvillea blooms, so beautiful that I walked through several times before I made my way to the Japanese Garden. A miniature Japan in an otherwise extensive park, this is definitely the best tranquil hideaway in the city. While walking along its narrow pathways and bridges, one comes across thousands of oriental shrubs, exotic trees, water-sprinkling cascades and a handful of colourful pagodas thrown here and there to add to the Japanese atmosphere.
If you still have time and verve, venture to the Szczytnicki woodland where the atmosphere is calmer and quieter with few visitors around. While making your way amidst the thicket of trees, keep your eyes open for the signposted pathway that heads to the Church of St John Nepomuk. It is a small but marvellous fourteenth-century construction you’ll never see anything like it elsewhere.