Difference between revisions of "Poland"
Revision as of 23:36, 2 January 2007
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.
There's a lot of big cities in Poland that are worth seeing. Most of them have a flourishing medieval history.
The Polish coast is nearly 500km long and has fine, sandy beaches as well as the highest European dunes.
Other famous seaside towns from west to east: Międzyzdroje, Dziwnów, Kamień Pomorski, Trzęsacz, Ustronie Morskie, Mielno, Darłowo, Ustka, Rowy, Łeba, Jastrzębia Góra, Rozewie, Władysławowo, Chałupy, Jastarnia, Jurata, Puck, Krynica Morska, Kadyny and Frombork.
Just after Finland, Poland has the biggest number of lakes relative to its area worldwide. The lakes of glacial origin are in the north of the country.
The Polish mountains are in the south of the country, with Rysy (2499m) being the highest point.
UNESCO World Heritage list
Poland was first united as a country and baptised in the middle of the X century. It experienced its golden age beginning in the 14th century, under the reign of the Jagiellonians, whose rule extended from the Baltic to the Black and Adriatic Seas. In the 16th century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was the biggest country in Europe. Thanks to the freedom of confession guaranteed by the state and the atmosphere of religious tolerance, exceptional in Europe at the times of the Holy Inquisition, the country attracted significant numbers of foreign migrants, such as Germans, Jews, Armenians and Dutch people. During the 17th and the 18th centuries, the strengthening of the nobility (which implied the erosion of the king's prerogatives) and several exhausting wars weakened the Commonwealth so much that parts of its territory were annexed by its neighbours in 1772 and 1793 and in 1795, after a failed uprising, it ceased to exist for 123 years, being partitioned between Russia, Prussia and Austria.
Poland was the 1st country in Europe and the 2nd in the world (after the US) to pass a constitution. The consitution of May 3rd, 1791 was the key reform among many progressive and far-sighted but belated attempts to strengthen the country during the second half of the 18th century.
Poland regained its independence on November 11th, 1918 with the end of the World War I. Soon, in 1920-21, the newly-reborn country was urged to fight for its borders again, this time defending itself from the invasion of Soviet communists marching westwards to conquer Europe. The communist attack on Warsaw was defeated on August 10th-15th, 1920 in what is remembered today as the Miracle at the Vistula (Polish: Cud nad Wisłą) effectively ending major warfare, even though the truce was signed next March only.
After a period of relative peace and development, just as it was recovering from the great economic crisis of the 1920s, 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 Bloc countries.
Labour turmoil in 1970 and then 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union "Solidarity" (Polish: Solidarność)  that over time became a political force and by 1989 had swept the first Warsaw Pact State 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.
Nowadays, Poland is a democratic country with a stable economy and a not-so-stable political scene Poland has been a member of NATO since 1999 and European Union since May 2004, when it joined with 9 other countries.
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), as well as Swiss nationals, can enter Poland with a valid passport or identity card.
Beside the countries outlined above, 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, Canada, 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, 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 website for updates as this can change.
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.
Most of Europes major airlines fly to and from Poland. Polands national carriers are LOT Polish Airlines, and a low cost airline Centralwings (owned by LOT). There are several low cost airlines that fly to Poland including WizzAir, SkyEurope, EasyJet, Germanwings, Norwegian 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. Other major airports in Poland are: Kraków-Balice (KRK), Katowice-Pyrzowice (KTW), Gdańsk Lech Wałęsa Airport (GDN), Wrocław Copernicus Airport (WRO), Poznań-Ławica (POZ), Szczecin-Goleniów (SZZ), Rzeszów-Jasionka (RZE), Bydgoszcz Ignacy Jan Paderewski Airport and Łódź-Lublinek (LCJ).
Domestic flights operated by LOT (under Eurolot brand) connect Warsaw with Bydgoszcz, 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 people with thick wallets.
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 Kraków and Poznań have been expanded to increase their standards and capacity.
Direct connections with:
For more information on traveling in Poland by train, please see the Get Around - By Train section below.
You can enter Poland by one of many roads linking Poland with the neighbouring countries. Since Poland's entry to the EU, queues on border crossings with other EU countries have been greatly reduced. In most cases, it doesn't take more than a few minutes to cross the border.
However, the queues on the borders with Poland's non-EU neighbours are still large and in areas congested with truck traffic it can take up to several hours to pass. You can check the current waiting times on Polish Border Guard page (wjazd - entry, wyjazd - exit, osob. - passenger cars, autob. - coaches, ciężar. - lorries).
There are many international bus lines that connect major Polish cities, with most of major European ones.
Polish road infrastructure is well-developed but poorly maintained and lacks badly-needed highways. Public transport is quite plentiful, both buses and trains. Some local trains are considered dangerous at nights.
Polish road network is below par by Western European standards, but quite functional and dense. The biggest problem is that there is no intercity highway system and most of the country is linked only with single-carriageway roads, which are not suitable for the traffic volume they are experiencing. The roads are generally well-signed but various surface defects, most notably ruts, are commonplace.
As long as you keep by the main roads, you should get to where you want fairly easy. But estimate twice as much time and exhaustion compared with driving in countries like Germany or France. When travelling between cities or towns, you should always add about 30 minutes for every 100 km that you travel to leave time for getting stuck behind slow moving vehicles.
Poles drive aggressively, which means that they usually disrespect the speed limits and overtake recklessly. Drunk driving is a problem, despite heavy penalties. Poland has more deaths on the roads per capita than most Western European countries.
Some peculiarities of driving in Poland include:
Some drivers flash their headlights to warn those approaching from the opposite direction of a police control nearby (you are likely to encounter this custom in many other countries). So if you see somebody flashing their headlights, it doesn't necessarily mean there is something wrong with your car or sth.
Historically, some people also used to flash the warning lights (all indicators simultaneously) once or twice as a way of saying "thank you". This is now outdated, the proper/modern way of saying "thank you" being a right/left/right indicator sequence, or similar. The usage of warning lights is the same as in Western Europe nowadays.
In Poland, the national railway carrier PKP has recently been divided into several different companies, among them are: PKP InterCity (Intercity, Express, Night Express, TLK), PKP Przewozy Regionalne (pospieszny and osobowy) and PKP Cargo (which incidentally owns all the locomotives). There are also some local competitors emerging (KM Koleje Mazowieckie). Tickets are valid for trains operated by the issuing company only.
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 than slower connections.
Tickets for any route can be purchased at any station. Buying in advance may be necessary for peak seasons (eg. end of holiday period, New Year, etc.) for those trains where place reservation is obligatory.
If you change trains between InterCity and 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.
Use only those that are associated in a "corporation" (look for phone number and a logo on the side and on the top). The unaffiliated drivers 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".
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 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 train stations.
Never negotiate 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 fare (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.
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 Szczawnica) or Poprad (Krynica to Stary Sacz).
Hitchhiking 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 recognized sign that you need a lift in Poland. Use a cardboard sign and write the city name on it.
Do not try to catch a lift where it is forbidden to stop. Look on the verge of the road and there should be a dashed line painted there, not a solid one.
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.
Non-Polish speakers will find that most of the younger generation (35 and under), speak, or at least understand, English reasonably well. Since English is taught at a very young age (some start as early as 4 years old), only Poles who grow up in isolated towns or communities will not be given English lessons. Older Poles, however, especially those outside the main cities, will speak little or no English at all. Most probably, they will know German or Russian.
A few phrases go a long way in Poland. Contrary to some other tourist cities where natives will often scoff at how bad a foreigner's use of the native language is, Polish people generally love it when foreigners learn Polish, even if it's only a few phrases. Younger Poles, however, will jump at the chance to practise their English as well.
Do your homework and try to learn how to pronounce the names of places. Polish has a very regular pronunciation, so this shouldn't be a problem. Although there are a few sounds unknown to most English speakers, mastering every phoneme is not required to achieve intelligibility. It's rather about catching the spirit: practice asking for driving directions to Szczebrzeszyn.
Poland's history has made it a very homogenous society. Outside of the very, very touristy areas of the major cities, you'll find that there are few, if any, foreigners. Most of the immigrants in Poland (notably Ukranians and Vietnamese) stay in the major cities for work. Be advised that if you are heard speaking English in a public setting you will get looks; many people will listen in to practice their understanding of English. However, speaking English loudly in public also marks you immediately as a tourist, which can be dangerous in certain areas of the cities. Use common sense!
The legal tender in Poland is the Polish złoty (zł, PLN). Poland is expected to adopt the common European currency Euro (€) in ca. 2010 but it can be used to pay in many bigger shops ("hypermarkets") even now. Remember to always check the conversion rates though!
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.
Plastic money can be used to pay almost everywhere in the big cities. Popular cards include Visa, Visa Electron, MasterCard and Maestro. AmEx and Diners' Club can be used in a few places (notably the big, business-class hotels) but are not popular and you should not rely on them for any payments. There is an extensive network of cash machines (ATMs) - here's an unofficial list of them.
Cheques were never particularly popular in Poland and they are hardly used nowadays. You're likely to accumulate several hundred single grosz (1/100th of a złoty), while the grosz is legal tender many vendors and stores will refuse to accept them, but they have no problem giving you grosz as change. You'll want to be sure to always have a larger groszy coins to satisfy the vendors that refuse the single grosz coin.
It is illegal to export goods manufactured before 1945. If you intend to do so you need to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage
It is no longer difficult to avoid meat, with many restaurants offering at least one vegetarian dish. Also many major cities such as Warsaw, Kraków, Gdańsk, and Wrocław have vegetarian restaurants, especially near the city centre.
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). The milk-bars are usually subsidized by the state. Eating there is a unique experience - it is not uncommon that you will encounter people from various social classes - students, businessmen, university professors, elderly people, sometimes even homeless, all eating side-by-side in a 1970s-like environment. Presumably, it is the quality of food at absolutely unbeatable price (veggie main courses starting from €0.50!)that attracts people.
There is a list of Polish milk bars available on the Internet.
Restaurants and other types of food service are generally inexpensive for those accustomed to price in Western Europe or the United States. Finer restaurants are on par with the best in those regions but cost two or three times less.
Poland is on the 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 be able to prove it with a valid ID.
Deluxe (more expensive) brands include Chopin and Belvedere. Expect to pay about 70 złoty a bottle (2004 prices). Most Poles consider these brands to be "export brands", and usually don't drink them.
Although not well known internationally, Poland traditionally sports some of the best pilsner-type lagers worldwide. The most common brands include:
Poland does make a few quality wines around Zielona Góra, the Southeast and in the Beskids. You usually can buy them only at the places where they are produced or at wine festivals, like in Zielona Góra. 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 Moldova available.
Poles are very keen on beer and vodka, and you'll find that cocktails are often expensive but can be found in most bars in most major cities.
Black tea is traditionally a popular non-alcoholic drink. It is usually served plain with sugar or with sugar and a slice of lemon.
Most Polish people will tell you not to drink the tap water in Poland, regardless of where you are. Almost all Poles drink bottled spring water or boil water to filter it. Foreigners should note that drinking water with a meal is not a Polish tradition; you will almost always have to ask for water with your meal. Some Westerners will be surprised to discover that most Poles drink carbonated water, although non-carbonated bottled water is generally widely available. The phrase "woda niegazowana" ("non-carbonated water") works well.
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. Coffee bars, although thankfully not Starbucks, are becoming prevalent and are popular as well.
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. An increasing number of those places can be found on the Internet.
Some camping sites are also available, but in the South they are opened only during summer months. In September they are already closed.
Another option for budget stays are private homes whose owners rent rooms to travellers. It is similar to Bed and Breakfast but without the meals. Prices are usually lower than at youth hostels. In major tourist destinations like Kraków and Zakopane you will see people on the streets with signs with the words "pokoje" (rooms).
Budget travellers can also stay in a youth / backpackers' hostel
There are many international schools and great universities in Poland and of them the Jagiellonian University in particular is renowned as member of the Coimbra Group and is also a core member of the Europaeum.
At the moment Poland is one of the best places around the world to find a job as an 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 and teaching language is a brilliant way to fund your travel and earn as you go.
The European unified emergency number 112 is being deployed in Poland. By now, it certainly works for all mobile-phone calls and most landline calls. There are also three "old" emergency numbers that were in use previously and are now operating paralelly. These are:
Pickpockets operate in larger cities, especially in public transport or rail station areas. The Warsaw bus route 175 running between the airport and the city centre is notorious for pickpockets operating there.
Walking around is usually safe, particularly in city centres. It may be unsafe to walk in the suburbs, depending on the time of day, your dress and behaviour (that is, how obvious it is that you are a foreigner) and other factors. Again, use common sense.
Watch out for the Polish equivalent of chavs, called dresiarze -- young people with shaved heads, usually dressed in counterfeit Adidas tracksuits (and sometimes with a leather jacket on top of that). These are the young generation of the Polish underclass, best avoided.
Avoid drinking tap water in older areas of major cities and in the countryside.
Visiting Catholic Churches
The rules are the same as everywhere in the world:
The dress appropriately rule is often relaxed but the others are rather non-negotiable.
There is the de facto monopoly operator for landline phones - TP (Polish: Telekomunikacja Polska), a subsidiary of France Telecom, renowned for its leaving-much-to-be-desired services.
There is also a number of smaller operators (Dialog, Netia, NOM, Energis). They are mainly serving the business market.
There are three mobile phone operators in Poland: Plus GSM (code 260 01), Era (260 02) and Orange (260 03). Nearly all of the country's surface is covered by the standard European GSM 900/1800 MHz network. UMTS is available in some bigger cities.
Due to the introduction of virtual brands, each operator now has two names for its pre-paid services: Plus has Sami Swoi and Simplus, Era - Heyah and Tak Tak, Orange - Pop and Orange Go.
Domestic call rates are roughly the same across all services.
Polish Telephone Numbers
All telephone numbers in Poland are 10 digits long and start with 0, though many numbers are written the old way, that is often only the last 7 digits are listed, in which case you need to prefix the number with 0 and the area code. Now:
There are some special numbers, notably:
Also, texting (= sending SMSes) to:
To call abroad from Poland:
To call to Poland from abroad, just use your international call prefix (00, +, or something else - you know it), then the Polish country code, which is 48, and then the number without the leading 0, as if calling from a domestic mobile phone.
International and roaming calls are expensive. To reduce your bill you can: