Difference between revisions of "Poland"
Revision as of 11:58, 18 March 2008
Poland  is a large country in Central Europe. It has a long Baltic Sea coastline and is bordered by Belarus, the Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, Russia (Kaliningrad Oblast), Slovakia, and Ukraine.
Poland was first united as a country and baptized in the middle of the 10th 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 neighbors 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. However, this long period of foreign domination was not met without fierce resistance; In the Napoleonic Wars, a semi-autonomous Duchy of Warsaw was created before being erased from the map again in 1813. The 29 November uprising of 1830-1831 (mainly in Russian Poland), the 1848 Revolution (combat mostly took place in Austrian and Prussian Poland) and the 22 January 1863 were clear indicators that Poland showed very little tolerance of subjugation to any of these three equally autocratic powers. Figures such as Józef Chłopicki, Michał Gedeon Radziwiłł, Jan Zygmunt Skrzynecki and Józef Bem and Wincenty Konstanty Kalinowski led Poland during these troublesome times.
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 a Soviet invasion. 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 only signed the next March.
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 ally country following the Yalta and Potsdam agreements between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union which to this day are viewed by many Poles as a betrayal. The Soviet Union and the rest of Eastern Europe were the first to immediately recognise Poland's new 1945 forntiers, which are virtually the same as to which the country was born in c. 966 AD; Most western countries, especially, West Germany, did not follow suit until 1970. After the brief but sometimes bloody Stalinist era of 1945-1953 Poland was comparatively tolerant and progressive as compared to other Eastern Bloc countries.
Strong econmic growth in the post-war period alternated with serious recessions in 1956, 1970, 1976, resulting in labour turmoil over dramatic price rises of several goods. Another protest in the summer of 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 centers 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.
There's a lot of big cities in Poland that are worth seeing. Most of them have a flourishing medieval history.
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.
UNESCO World Heritage list
Poland is a member of the European Union and has joined the Schengen agreement, which means that you can enter on a European Union Schengen visa and there are no longer any ID/passport controls on the EU borders.
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, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Georgia, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Macao, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, 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 travellers 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.
Ukrainian citizens do not require a seperate visa for transit through Poland if they hold a Shenghen or UK visa.
Most of Europe's major airlines fly to and from Poland. Poland's 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 Toronto, 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), Poznań-Ławica (POZ), Wrocław Copernicus Airport (WRO), Szczecin-Goleniów (SZZ), Rzeszów-Jasionka (RZE), Bydgoszcz Ignacy Jan Paderewski Airport (BZG) and Łódź-Lublinek (LCJ).
Domestic flights operated by LOT (under Eurolot brand) connect Warsaw with Bydgoszcz, Katowice, Kraków, Gdańsk, Poznan, Łódź, Szczecin Wrocław and Zielona Góra. 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 has been opened at the Okęcie airport which will significantly increase the airport's capacity. Also airports in Kraków, Poznan and Wrocław have been expanded to increase their standards and capacity.
Direct connections  with:
You can enter Poland by one of many roads linking Poland with the neighboring countries. Since Poland's entry to the Schengen Zone, checkpoints on border crossings with other EU countries have been removed.
However, the queues on the borders with Poland's non-EU neighbors 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.
Although there are many ports along Polish coast, at least at every river mouth, don't expect high standards there. Bigger marinas are located in Szczecin, Łeba, Hel, Gdynia and Gdańsk but some of them are still lacking basic facilities. Although there are many sailors in Poland, overbloated bureaucracy still inhibits growth of sea sailing tourism.
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 night.
Polish road network is below par by Western European standards, but quite functional and dense. The biggest problem is that there is sparse 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.
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.
In Poland you can encourage three ways of saying "thank you". More common, and what may be misleading for foreigners is using hazard lights (all indicators simultaneously) once or twice. It is beeing slowly phased out by flashing right/left/right indicator sequence or similar. Third way of saying "thank you" mainly used when letting someone do a left turn is by showing right hand.
Be aware about hazard lights - Drivers also use them as a way of showing, that vehicle is rapidly slowing down, or alredy stopped in a traffic jam on a highway.
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 (although this can be equally true in some other European countries as well), especially on some non-express suburban routes - it is recommended to travel close to the front of the train (where train staff are more likely to provide assistance), and to avoid traveling by night. Express and InterCity routes are much safer than slower connections.
However, Poland is generally a non-violent country. With sensible precautions (for example, making sure the door of your compartment on a night train is locked securely while you are sleeping), Poland does not present a greater danger to travellers than travelling at night elsewhere.
Tickets for any route can be purchased at any station. For a foreigner buying tickets can prove to be a frustrating experience as many employees at the railway ticket offices do not understand anything but Polish. It is recommended that you buy your train tickets at a travel agency. Also, trying to pronounce your destination will often not be understood. Polish railways' ticket salespersons are not known for any service minded attitude. The long queues in front of the ticket sales offices is another good reason for foreign travellers to choose a travel agency. Be also aware that it may be easier Buying in advance and it 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.
Travellers under 26 years are entitled to 33% discount on travel fare in Intercity, excluding the price of seat reservation. There is also an option of buying a cheap ticket for 27/59/69 PLN (regarding type of train) that allows you to travel on a selected route regarding the distance. Ticket must be bought at least one week ahead and is vaild for one train.
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) neighbors, 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 people, however, will know German or Russian and can speak them more fluently, the latter more so being a Slavic language.
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 practice 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 today, in stark contrast to its long history of ethnoreligious diversity; almost 99% of the population today is ethnic Polish; before World War II it was only 69% with large minorities, mainly Ukrainians, Russians, and Germans and less than two-thirds Roman Catholic with large Orthodox and Protestant minorities as well as having the largest Jewish community in Europe that composed 10% of Poland's population of the time. Outside of the 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.
Foreign visitors should be aware that almost all written and spoken information will usually be in Polish only. Tickets for buses and trains, public signs and information posters generally have no English on them. Even information displayed at museums, churches, etc. will usually only be in Polish, while important messages broadcast through loudspeakers at a railway station will not be followed by a translation.
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).
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 some 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 larger groszy coins to satisfy the vendors that refuse the single grosz coin. Other vendors will seem to become irate if you cannot pay exact change.
It is illegal to export goods older than 55 years that are of ANY historic value. If you intend to do so you need to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage
Super and hypermarkets
Hypermarkets are dominated by western chains: Carrefour, Tesco, Auchan, Real. Usually located in shopping malls or suburbs.
However Poles shop very often at local small stores for bread, meat ,fresh dairy, vegetables and fruits - goods for which freshness and quality is essential.
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. Nowadays it has become more and more seldom to spot one. 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 (especially 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.
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. Polish liqueurs and nalewka (alcoholic tincture) are a must mention.
Officially, in order to buy alcohol one should be over 18 years old and be able to prove it with a valid ID (which is loosely enforced).
Poland's brewery tradition comes from far middle ages. Today Poland is one of TOP beer countries in Europe.
Although not well known internationally, Poland traditionally sports some of the best pilsner-type lagers worldwide. The most common brands include:
Deluxe (more expensive) brands include Chopin and Belvedere. Expect to pay about 100 złoty a bottle (2007 prices). Most Poles consider these brands to be "export brands", and usually don't drink them.
Poland does make a few quality wines around Zielona Góra, the Southeast, in the Beskids and Central Poland. You usually can buy them only at the places where they are produced or at wine festivals, like in Zielona Góra. There are also popular Polish fruit wines. They are sold in much of shops, also actively exported. 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. It the winter time, many Poles drink "grzaniec"(loosely translated as something that warms), a beverage consisting of hot red wine, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. It can also be made using beer, although wine is the most popular method.
Mead - Miód Pitny is a traditional and historical alcohol drink in Poland. Mead is brewed from honey and has excellent unusual taste similar to wine. Original Polish mead contain 13-20% alcohol.
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.
Tea and coffee
Throw stereotypes out the door. For Poles, one of the most important staples to quench their thirst is not wódka or beer, but rather tea and coffee. As such, you'll likely come across dozens and dozens of cafés. There aren't any Starbucks in Polamd, yet, but Poland does have its own version – Coffee Heaven , but, unfortunately, its coffee products can be a let down compared to the heavenly delights of Frappucinos. No worries, though, AmRest  is slated to start opening Starbucks in Eastern and Central Europe.
For those that believe pouring boiling water on to a tea bag is the way to make a good cup of tea, beware! When ordered in a cafe or restaurant, it is common practice in Poland (and some other mainland European countries) to receive a cup of hot (not boiling) water, with a tea bag on the side. Perhaps also accompanied by a small carton of lemon juice. It is then the customer's job to make the tea. Add to this that the majority of tea bags are weaker than the UK equivalents, and this can be one area of Polish 'tradition' that the average UK tea drinker may be not be taken aback by. Still, fortunately, Poland has a great deal more to offer than this.
For the most part, a good coffee can be had for 5 - 10 zł a cup, while a cup of tea can be purchase for the same, unless you happen to order a small kettle, in which case you'll probably pay something between 20 - 30 zł.
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. In some places (Warsaw) you can find "studnia oligoceńska" - a public deep-drilled well that serves water from Oligocene period - water from those should be safe to drink(boil it if unsure).
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. Poland is known for its mineral waters. You can buy it in every shop, or try real mineral water with salts in "pavilions of water" (Pijalnia wód) in mountain resorts, where this water is produced. For example, Szczawnica or Krynica.
With Poland's recent accession into the European Union the accommodation landscape is changing. Many hotels are now catering to business people and EU citizens taking advantage of the favorable Euro-Zloty and Sterling-Zloty exchange rates. This means that hotels are charging more than they would a few years ago. For non-EU citizens, the situation may be a tad more painful as many hotels, especially larger ones, post their rates in Euro, rather than in Zloty.
For budget travellers, the news isn't much better. Hostels affiliated with the national hostelling association are often horrid options for backpackers because of imposed curfews. Additionally, Hostelling International (HI) affiliated hostels are frequently used by large school groups, which means young children may very well be screaming their heads off and running around the halls. Probably the best option for backpackers or budget travellers are private hostels, which are often cleaner, often do not have a curfew, and usually have staff that are more helpful. The trade off is, you're likely to pay more than at a HI affiliated hostel, but if you're also looking to mingle with a more international group, private hostels are the way to go.
Studying in Poland can be an incredible experience for foreigners. Foreign students can finance a B.A. education for as low as 24,000 zł and a M.A. education for as low as 20,000 zł.
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. The University of Warsaw is the top ranked public university in Poland. National Film School in Łódź is the most notable academy.
Private universities are a recent invention, but have been successful enough where several private schools are competing with the major public universities in terms of quality. Private schools may actually be cheaper for foreign students, who are not entitled to a free education at one of Poland's public universities.
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 are still in use. These are:
Pickpockets operate in larger cities, including in public tranportation, rail station areas, and clubs/bars. The Warsaw bus route 175 running between the airport and the city center is notorious for pickpockets operating there. Immediately check you pockets if someone bumps into you in a large crowd. Even if it may seem harmless at the time, your cell phone might be missing minutes later.
Walking around is usually safe, particularly in city centers. It may be unsafe to walk in the suburbs, depending on the time of day, your dress and behavior (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 thugs, 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, whose sole purpose is to fight, especially foreigners. If you get into some sort of discussion or altercation with these thugs, run away as fast as possible and call the police. Do not expect help from roaming security guards or passersby if you're attacked. Fighting should absolutely be avoided so you are not arrested or seriously injured.
Organised crime has reduced sharply in recent years, but it is still a large problem in Poland. Many mafia-run hostels have been opened since Poland's entry to the EU in major tourist destinations, such as Wroclaw, Krakow and Zakopane. These hostels are located far from the centres of these towns, and make money by charging for internet, breakfast, city tax, cleaning, damage and many other small things on top of the money you pay for the nights stay. These extra charges can add up to a hefty bill. Do not dispute or argue with the people who charge these rates, or you could end up in a lot of trouble. The former manager and two members of staff of the Goodbye Lenin Hostel in Zakopane were recently convicted of the rape and murder of a female guest who refused to pay the hidden charges. The "Good Bye Lenin" hostel chain should be avoided, as should any unmarked hostels on the edge of cities. Major youth hostels in city centres are generally safe and have no mafia presence.
Gay and Lesbian travellers should be extremely careful as there has been an increased amount of attack on homosexuals in the country. It is best that you don't show any affection to your partner or tip off anything that may make locals think you are a homosexual.
Avoid drinking tap water in older areas of major cities and in the countryside.
Almost all Poles dislike Poland being thought of as a "Holocaust Tourism Country". There's much more to Poland than just the Nazi concentration camps and World War II monuments. Likewise, avoid bringing up Nazi war crimes and the Soviet intervention in Poland during the early part of the war; millions of Polish people were killed during this bleak period and they are painful topics to the often-patriotic and proud Poles. They are less constrained when talking about the Communist period, which many show a love-hate relationship through its many different phases and often get nostalgic over it.
Public toilets run by cities were popular during the communist era, but most of them were closed down after transformation as expensive. From another point of view, most of them were in such poor condition that using them was a challenge. Some of them (often built underground) were rented out and now serve as restaurants or pubs.
Some toilets available to the public are decrepit, but those that require you to pay are often clean since they are normally tended to by attendants who regularly clean the toilets, sinks, and fill soap and toilet paper. Expect to pay 1 - 2 zł to use restrooms that charge for use. If there isn't any toilet paper in a stall ask the attendant.
Toilets for women are marked with a circle on the door, and toilets for men are marked with a triangle.
All restaurants and bars are forced by law to have toilets inside (but not all comply). It's not a common practice to use their toilet without ordering (at least coffee), but if you ask a waiter, he wouldn't mind in most cases. Sometimes you have to get a key to the toilet at the counter. If there seems to be a lack of public toilets you may want to try to visit McDonald's (or another place) just to use the toilet, however, some places have implemented policies, such as requiring people to show the receipt before you can use the restroom, because of scale of that phenomenon.
In case of larger events, organizers provide so called toi-toi toilets (from one of companies that service them). They are narrow plastic booths, usually blue, not very comfortable, often not very clean, and hardly ever with water or paper.
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 four mobile phone operators in Poland: Plus GSM (code 260 01), Era (260 02), Orange (260 03) and Play. The last one is mainly using Plus GSM coverage network. 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, some operators now have two names for their 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, dial the Polish country code,48, 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: