Difference between revisions of "Poland"
Revision as of 16:28, 23 February 2006
Poland  is a large country in Central Europe. It has a Baltic sea coastline and is bordered by Belarus, the Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, Russia (Kaliningrad Oblast), Slovakia, and the Ukraine. Historically, it has been an area of conflict because of flat terrain and the lack of natural barriers on the North European Plain.
Poland has 16 provinces called voivods or voivodships (województwa, singular - województwo).
UNESCO World Heritage list
Poland is an ancient nation that was conceived around the middle of the 10th century. Its golden age occurred in the 16th century. During the following century, the strengthening of the gentry and internal disorders weakened the nation, until an agreement in 1772 between Russia, Prussia, and Austria partitioned Poland. Poland regained its independence in 1918 and defended it in the war of 1920-1922 against Soviet attempt to overrun Poland and invade Europe.
After a period of relative peace and development, just as it was recovering from the great economic crisis of the 1920's, Poland was overrun by Germany and the Soviet Union in what became the World War II. After the war it became a Soviet satellite country following the Yalta and Potsdam agreements between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union which to this day are viewed by Poles as a betrayal. After the brief but sometimes bloody Stalinist era of 1945-1956 Poland was comparatively tolerant and progressive as compared to other Eastern Block countries.
Labour turmoil in 1970 and then 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union "Solidarity" that over time became a political force and by 1990 had swept parliamentary elections and the presidency. A "shock therapy" program during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust in Central Europe, boosting hopes for acceptance to the EU. Poland joined the NATO alliance in 1999 and it joined European Union in 2004.
The countryside throughout Poland is lovely and relatively unspoilt. Poland has variety of regions with beautiful landscapes and small-scale organic and traditional farms. Travellers can choose different types of activities such as bird watching, cycling or horseback riding.
Culturally you can sight-see at many churches, museums, ceramic and traditional basket-making workshops, castle ruins, rural centres and many more. A journey through the Polish countryside gives you a pefect opportunity to enjoy and absorb local knowledge on its landscape and people.
As Poland is a member of the European Union, citizens of the EU and of the countries belonging to the European Economic Area (Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein) can enter Poland with a valid passport or identity card.
Citizens from the following countries may travel to Poland for tourism and business purposes with a valid passport and without a visa if their planned stay does not exceed 90 days: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria,Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Macao, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, USA, Uruguay, Vatican and Venezuela. Citizens of all other countries must obtain a visa in order to enter and stay in Poland legally. Always check with the local Polish Embassy or on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Eng.) website for updates as this information can change quite quickly.
Regular Visas are issued for travelers going to Poland for tourism and business purposes. Regular visas allow for one or multiple entries into Polish territory and stay in Poland for maximum up to 90 days and are issued for the definite period of stay. When applying for a visa, please indicate the number of days you plan to spend in Poland and a date of intended arrival. Holders of regular visas are not authorized to work. Downloadable Visa Application Form
Most of Europes major airlines fly to and from Poland. Polands national carriers are LOT Polish Airlines, and a low cost airline (owned by LOT)Centralwings. There are several low cost airlines that fly to Poland including WizzAir, SkyEurope, EasyJet, Germanwings and Ryanair.
Apart from direct air connections from many European cities there are also direct flights from United States and Canada. LOT operates direct flights from Washington D.C., New York and Chicago, however tickets for those flights are far from cheap and most people with limited budgets fly with other airlines which stopover in major European airports.
International airlines fly mainly to Warsaw's Frederic Chopin Airport (WAW) in Okęcie, though some also land at Katowice (KTW), Kraków (KRK), Gdańsk (GDN), Łódź (LCJ) and Poznań (POZ). Domestic flights operated by LOT (under Eurolot brand) connect Warsaw with Katowice, Kraków, Gdańsk, Poznań, Łódź, Szczecin and Wrocław. (Other smaller cities don't have airports with facilities that would allow commercial airlines to operate internationally, however there are often charter flights available - of course, these are for travelling businessmen with thick wallets and busy agendas.)
As the number of flights and passengers has significantly increased since 1990, a new terminal is being built at the Okęcie airport which will significantly increase the airport's capacity. Also airports in Krakow and Poznan have been expanded to increase their standards and capacity.
Direct connections with:
For more information on traveling in Poland by train, please see Get Around::Rail section below.
You can enter Poland by car via one of many roads linking Poland with neighbouring countries. Since Poland entry to EU, road queues to check points with other EU countries have greatly decreased, in most cases the time delay in check points has been reduced to just a few minutes. Queues on borders with non-EU countries are much larger and in areas congested with truck traffic can last several hours or more. You can view the current waiting times on Polish Border Guard page (wjazd = enter, wyjazd = exit, osob. - car, autob. - bus, cieżar. - truck).
Polish road network is average - a bit underdeveloped by European standards, but quite functional and dense. There are only few highways connecting major towns, the network is far from complete. Small 2-way roads span the entire country. As long as you keep by the main roads, you should get to where you want fairly easy. Estimate twice as much time and exhaustion compared with driving in countries like Germany or France.
Poles drive aggressively and with little or no regard to speed limits. Scenes seen on the Polish roads are sometimes described as shocking by the foreigners not accustomed to the way locals handle their machines. Drunk driving is also a big problem, despite heavy penalties. Overall, Poland has a higher index of deaths on the roads than many European countries.
There are many international bus lines that connect major Polish cities, with most of major European ones.
Poland has relatively poorly developed road infrastructure with only few motorways. Public transport is quite plentiful, both buses and trains. Some local trains are considered dangerous at nights.
Some laws particular to Poland include
In Poland there is only the national railway - the PKP (Polskie Koleje Państwowe) which is divided into several companies - Intercity (Intercity, Express, Night Express,TLK) and Regional (pospieszny and osobowy)).
Tickets are quite cheap, but travel conditions reflect the fact that majority of railworks and wagons are from few decades ago. Unfortunately, sometimes it's not very safe to travel by train, especially on some non-express suburban routes - it is recommended to travel close to the front of the train (where train staff is more likely to provide assistance), and to avoid traveling by night. Express and Intercity routes are much safer then slower connections.
Tickets for any route can be purchased in any station. Buying in advance may be necessary for peek seasons (eg. end of vacation, New Year, etc.) for those trains that has obligatory reservations.
If you change trains Intercity/Regional you have to buy two tickets. It connects all major cities, but it is also good choice to get to many small towns on internal routes.
Note on taxis: try to use only those with phone number on the side/top. The unaffiliated ones are likely to cheat and charge you much more. Be especially wary of these taxis near international airports and train stations (but then, shouldn't one be wary of them everywhere?). They are called the taxi mafia.
Rule number two: never negociate the fare with the driver as you will probably end up paying more than you should. Just make sure that the driver turns the meter on and sets it to the appropriate tariff (taryfa):
When crossing city limits (for example, when traveling to an airport located outside the city), the driver should change the tariff at the city limit.
Because of travellers advice like this (and word of mouth), taxis with fake phone numbers can be seen on the streets, although recently this seems to have decreased, possibly the police have taken notice. Fake phone numbers are easily detected by locals and cater for the unsuspecting traveller. The best advice is to ask your Polish friends or your hotel concierge for the number of the taxi company they use (corporation as they are called) and call them 10-15 minutes in advance (there's no additional cost). That's why locals will only hail taxis on the street in an emergency.
You can also find phone numbers for taxis in any city on the Internet, on municipal and newspaper websites. There are also stands, where you can call for their particular taxi for free, often found at railroad stations.
Every taxi driver is obliged to issue a receipt when asked. You can ask the driver for a receipt (rachunek) before you get into cab, and resign if his reaction seems suspicious or if he refuses.
Bicycling is a good method to get a good impression of the scenery in Poland. The roads can sometimes be in quite a bad state, but mostly they are ok. The cars drivers are not as careless as they are said to be. Especially in the south you can find some nice places for bicycling; e.g. along the rivers Dunajec (from Zakopane to Sczczawnica) or Poprad (Krynica to Stary Sacz).
Hitch-hiking in Poland is (on average) OK. Yes, it's slower than its Western (Germany) and Eastern (Lithuania) neighbours, but your waiting times will be quite acceptable! Not necessarily a thumb but waving an extended hand is a much better recognised sign that you need a lift in Poland.
If you are using a cardboard sign, you should write city codes on it. The country has 15 regions, and the first letter in car number indicates its region, the second one - city. But beware, sometimes drivers will only know the code of their home region, not the place where they are going to. For example WA - Warszawa, BI - Bialystok, EL - Lodz, KR - Krakow.
As in any country, you should be careful, there are several reports of Polish hitchhiking trips gone awry, so take basic precautions and you should be as right as rain.
The official language of Poland is Polish. English, German and Russian are also commonly spoken, especially in larger cities.
The unit of currency in Poland is the polish zloty (PLN), though Poland is expected to adopt the Euro as early as 2007 (more realistically, full Polish entry into the Eurozone will occur around 2010).
Private exchange offices in Poland usually offer better rates than commercial banks. They are called Kantor and are very common, especially in places like railway stations. Be cautious about those in tourist hot-spots, such as the Warsaw Old Town, since they may overcharge.
Exportation of historical goods is forbidden by law. Individual permission may be issued by the Department of Art. At least all objects made before 1945 needs such permission.
It is no longer difficult to avoid meat, with many restaurants offering at least one vegetarian dish.
If you want to eat cheaply, you should visit [bar mleczny] (milk bar). Bar mleczny is a typically Polish kind of a fast food restaurant. It was invented by the communist authorities of Poland in mid-1960s as a means to offer cheap meals to people working in companies that had no official canteen. Its name originates from the fact that until late 1980s the meals served there were mostly dairy-made and vegetarian (especialy during the martial law period of the beginning of the 1980s, when meat was rationed).
There is a list of Polish milk bars in many different cities available in the Internet: [].
Poland is on a border of European "vodka" and "beer culture". Poles enjoy alcoholic drinks at least as much as other Europeans. You can buy beer, vodka and wine. Although Poland is known as the birth place of vodka, local beer seems to have much more appeal to many Poles. Another traditional alcoholic beverage is mead. Officially, in order to buy alcohol one should be over 18 years old and certificate self with a valid ID or passport. .
Although not well known internationally, Poland traditionally sports some of the best pilsner-type lagers worldwide. The most common brands include:
Poland does not really make its own quality wines. As for imported wine, apart from the usual old and new world standards, there is usually a choice of decent table wines from Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania or Moldavia available.
Black tea is traditionally a popular non-alcoholic drink. It is usually served plain with sugar or with sugar and a slice of lemon.
Interestingly, a very wide variety of fruit juices is available, with choice rivaling - and often surpassing - those of many other countries. The same applies to mineral water. Bottled ice tea is getting increasingly popular, although the choice is limited.
Many hotels, hostels, motels and apartments of various quality (from no star to 5 stars) are available.
Obviously the majority of those are to be found in big cities and near popular tourist destinations, and that eastern part of Poland is less developed (and so has lower average density of hotels and such), and star rating and prices are a reasonable guide to their quality (just like all over the world).
Increasing number of those places can be found through Internet.
Some camping sites are also available, but in the South they are opened only during summer months. In September they are already closed.
Budget travellers can stay in a youth / backpackers' hostel
There are many international schools and great universities in Poland, and of them Jagiellonian University in particular is renowned as member of the Coimbra Group and is also a core member of the Europaeum. National Film School in Łódź is the most notable academy that has many famous alumni.
At the moment Poland is one of the best place around the world to find a job as English teacher. TEFL courses (that's Teaching English as a Foreign Language) are run in many cities across Poland. The demand for TEFL teachers is enormous in Poland and teaching language is brilliant way to fund your travels and earn as you go.
Polish emergency numbers are different for stationary and cellular phones. For stationary phones these are:
For cellular phones the number is standard 112 (Telefon alarmowy, sto dwanaście). The USA-like emergency number 911 can be also called from cellular phones (on the Plus GSM network for sure).
Pickpockets operate in larger cities, especially in public transport or rail station areas, fairly common for most European cities.
There are also certain neighbourhoods in most cities that should be completely avoided by foreigners/tourists. An example would be the whole Praga District of Warsaw; especially at night.
Walking around alone in residential Communist-era block neighborhoods is also not recommended, as they are frequented by bored teenagers and hooligans who are either in need of a fight or want something of yours (cell phone, wallet, bag, etc) to alleviate their boredom. These hooligans are usually dressed in track suits, Adidas or rip-offs, and more often than not, have shaved heads. ("Dresiarze" is a common slang name for them in Poland.)
Buses are also targeted by thieves who will even follow you out of the bus if they want something of yours.
Sometime on trains and trams, small groups of young children get on and ask you for or about something. If you tell them to leave or that you wont give them anything, they will leave, but sometimes they will call someone (an older brother who is part of a gang) and tell them what you look like. This person might be waiting for you at the next stop, and might want to fight you, beat you or steal whatever their younger brother wanted in the first place.
Walking around is usually safe, particularly in city centres. Every modern city has pickpockets etc. So simply, USE COMMON SENSE!
Avoid drinking tap water, especially in the older parts of Warsaw.
Remember that the Polish are very religious, so respect the Catholic Church and Pope Benedict XVI. Be advised Poles are ardent anticommunists. Be careful not to talk disrespectfully about anything relating to World War II because Poland and its people were hurt badly, more than any other country in Europe. 6 million Poles died as a result of the German occupation, as well as the Soviet annexations of some of its territory. Be aware, however, that the locals will gripe continuously about this subject, even if you don't want them to, and if you dare to voice a contradicting opinion, they'll just wave their hands in the air and tell you that you don't understand.
It's illegal to drink alcoholic beverages in public, though it's often done by the locals, especially in parks, on some buses, and some of the more congested city streets.