Vrot-swaf

Like a drunken sailor trying to land a joke, none of the words coming out of my mouth made any sense – to anyone. Not to me. Not to anyone in line. And certainly not to the woman from whom I was trying to purchase a train ticket. She stared at me from behind her 2 inch thick plexiglass window (which further muffled what was already getting lost in translation) as I tried to pronounce the city to which I needed to get to. I knew how it was spelled – WROCLAW – and reading it from an English and phonetic vantage point, the natural pronunciation (at least in my mind) was ROW-CLAW. Looking at me like I was an ass who had just brayed my way through my own made-up poem, the ticket teller replied with a series of what sounded like very irritated Polish. Having no idea what she was saying, and she obviously not able and/or willing to speak English to the gringa from the West, I fell into what I call my ‘password panic.’

Invariably, on a bi-weekly occasion I forget one of my 10 thousand passwords. I originally had a formula for password creation/retention, but ran out of them years back as everything now requires updated passwords every three freakin’ months. So, when this happens, and it always does – usually when I’m pressed for time or when someone is waiting on me, I go into a mild frenzy whipping through potential letter/number/symbol combinations like a mad woman.

password1

INCORRECT PASSWORD

shoot.

Password.1

INCORRECT PASSWORD

damn.

Pa$$word.1

INCORRECT PASSWORD

son of a…

PA$$WORD1

INCORRECT PASSWORD

DAMN IT ALL TO HELL!!!!

At this point I’ve reached a fever-pitch and am ready to chuck my computer/phone out the window and go live on a remote island where I’ll never have to connect to the internet or remember another password for the rest of my life. So it was with me and the woman in the Warsaw Train Station.

Wro-claw

IRRITATED POLISH.

shoot. 

WRO-CLAWA

IRRITATED POLISH.

damn.

WRO-CLAWAH!!

IRRITATED POLISH.

son of a…

VRO-CLAWAH!!!

IRRITATED POLISH.

DAMN IT ALL TO HELL!!!!

At this point there was a considerable line of irritated people behind me and a very irritated ticket teller in front of me, and no one had any idea what I was saying. Truth be told, they couldn’t understand anything because with the way that I was pronouncing the city name I wasn’t saying anything – in any language. I was just making a series of unintelligible letter sounds – the equivalent of a cat walking across a keyboard. ALSDKFJIOWEFJVB. Here’s a pro-tip: Polish is not phonetic. Also, it’s filled with letters wearing fancy hats and ties that make no sense to me, and like most obnoxious American travelers, I just ignored them and pronounced them like the closest letter they resembled. Spoiler alert, this did not work.

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Finally I whipped out my phone and typed out WROCLAW into a note and held it up against the glass wall – which I then realized was most likely there to protect the tellers from disgruntled tourists and drunk nationals – not a happy bunch of people. She recognized the writing, went on to (probably) admonish me on how terrible of a traveler I am coming woefully unprepared to what is obviously my motherland, and printed off my tickets. We then followed the sea of people to the platforms, found our seats (thankfully we use the same number system) and were on our slightly exasperated and merry way to VROT-SWAF. It took me nearly five days to learn how to pronounce the name of, what is now, one my top five favorite cities.

Vrot-swaf. Vrot-swaf. Vrot-swaf. 

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Nestled in the West of modern day Poland, Wroclaw is one of Eastern Europe’s best kept secrets. So, you’rewelcomeverymuch for letting the cat out of the bag. A quintessential European city, complete with a robust and architecturally stunning town square, Wroclaw (read as Vrot-swaf – not easy is it!) is dripping in character and charm. Hundreds of summer travelers, mainly other Europeans who are in on the Wroclaw secret, packed the square and surrounding cobbled streets day and night.

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Many moons ago, however, this city was not the laid-back holiday destination that it now is. Circa the late 1930s – round about the time the world was being ripped apart by extreme nationalism and hate – a certain someone with a certain irritatingly small mustache set-up camp here in this very town. Only, he made sure it was in the Reich giving it the German name of Breslau. Prior to that dark time, the city was conquered and claimed as parts of the Kingdom of Bohemia, Kingdom of Hungary, Habsburg Monarchy, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire, Weimar Republic, and finally coming to rest in Poland again in 1945 after the border changes following WWII.

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After the war the city was razed and the bricks shipped across the country to rebuild Warsaw. So, despite the aged look of the buildings, the majority of Wroclaw is a relatively new city – built to historical accuracy. Boasting Europe’s oldest working restaurant and the start of the post-war, anti-communist movement of Solidarity, this city is packed with traditions and stories – which is probably why I love it so much.

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