This week, David Bowden suggests places to visit and things to do when in cities of Wroclaw and Kharkiv
FOOTBALL fans are eagerly anticipating the best of the best when European nations battle it out to determine the winner of Euro 2012.
This biennial event is one of the highlights of sport and this year it will be staged in the Central European nations of Poland and Ukraine from June 8 to the final on July 1.
This week’s focus is on Wroclaw in Poland and Kharkiv (also known as Kharkov) in Ukraine.
Euro 2012 boots off tomorrow night with games in Wroclaw and Kharkiv on Saturday.
Wroclaw has been chosen as a European Capital of Culture for 2016 in recognition of its rich heritage that dates back to the 10th Century.
Poland’s largest city in the western part of the country has been at the crossroads of trade for decades. As such, it has developed into a commercial centre with a population that now exceeds 600,000 residents.
Strategically located on the banks of the Ora River in Lower Silesia, it had been, over time, part of Poland, Bohemia, Austria and Germany but reverted to Poland in 1945 after World War II.
There are many attractions in this historic city including Ostrow Tumski (Cathedral Island), Rynek (Market Square including the 14th Town Hall), Piast Brewery, the Opera House and the architecturally significant, 1930s Renoma Department Store.
To the river: There are 12 islands and 120 bridges in or across the Odre River with the city of Wroclaw being dubbed the Venice Of Poland. The Odre is Poland’s second longest river after the Vistula that flows through Warsaw and various cruising and sightseeing options along the river are possible.
Market square: Like many other European cities, the old market square is the centre of Wroclaw. The medieval square is one of the largest in Europe and is now a pedestrian zone that springs to life in the summer months. The Town Hall is the dominant landmark here among many other historic buildings.
In summer, the local residents flock to the square to dine and drink in the open-air setting around the fountains and statues. Zorba’s Bar is one of the most popular and atmospheric in the square.
Ivory tower: Wroclaw University, located on the banks of the Odra River was founded in 1702 with funds provided by Emperor Leopold 1. Despite 70 per cent of the university being destroyed during WWII, it is still one of Poland’s leading tertiary education institutes. So impressive is the academic staff that it has produced 10 Nobel prize winners throughout its history.
West Tower: At 63m high, the West Tower once supplied water to the south of the city. Built in 1904, its designers incorporated a lift to the observation deck so that visitors could get uninterrupted views over Mount Sleza.
The tower is modelled after a medieval castle and now operates as a stylish restaurant.
Euro 2012 is important to the people of Ukraine who are making up for lost time due to its challenging 100 years of history.
Ukraine is a fantastic value-for-money destination with beverages especially vodka as a local favourite (try the chilli vodka with a large chilli sitting in the bottom of the bottle).
Kharkov dates back to 1654 and the former Ukraine capital (up until 1934 when Kiev took over that honour) is now a beautiful city to visit. The city of about two million people is located at the confluence of three rivers — Kharkiv, Lopan and Udy.
Kharkiv is an educational and cultural centre with lots of universities, museums, theatres and libraries.
Travelling around the city is also easy as it has one of the oldest rail Metros in the region with 29 stations. Many of these stations are fine architectural structures dating back to the Soviet era.
Freedom Square: Central Kharkiv is dominated by Freedom Square, which like Wroclaw in Poland, is one of the largest in Europe. Stalin’s statue is situated in the expansive square and to give an indication of its size, it hosted the rock band, Queen, with lead singer Paul Rodgers, when they performed here in 2008 to 350,000 fans.
Heavy metal: The three matches for Euro 2012 will be played in Kharkiv’s Metalist Stadium in front of crowds up to its maximum capacity of 39,000.
Originally constructed in 1926, the stadium was renovated in 2009. There is a three-storey shopping centre in its South Stand for pre- and post-souvenir shopping.
During Euro 2012, Kharkiv is the home ground for the Netherlands who will play matches here on Saturday against Denmark, June 13 (Germany) and June 17 (Portugal).
Religious shrines: Two religious places to visit in the city include the Annunciation Cathedral and Europe’s largest Buddhist temple. The former is the main Orthodox church in Kharkiv and features a 80m-high bell tower while the Buddhist temple was built by the large Vietnamese community living in the city.
Head for the hills: Many residents of Kharkiv head off to Gomilshanski National Forest for some weekend recreation and a walk or cycle in the park’s natural surroundings.
It is located on the banks of the Silversky Donets River and there are several old villages to visit here. Many traditional wooden houses with thatched roofs still exist to provide a rustic setting.
The local Ukraine delicacy of borshch or borscht of beetroot soup is served in restaurants in these villages. The soup of beetroot, potato, carrot, spinach and meat is generally eaten with thick dark bread and is Ukraine’s best known contribution to the culinary world.
Cable ride: In addition to an efficient Metro, visitors to the city can also ride the cable car that passes over Horky Park (not Gorky Park) and the city’s botanical gardens. It is 1.4km long, the entire journey takes 18 minutes and it operates from 10am to 8pm.
There are no direct flights from Malaysia to Poland or the Ukraine. Royal Dutch Airline (KLM) offers the best connections to both countries. Late evening departures from Kuala Lumpur arrive at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport in the early morning and from here, there are several flights daily to both Wroclaw (LOT Polish) and Kharkiv (Ukraine International).