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Tuesday, 24 May 2016

How To Survive A Trip To Poland

Dearest traveller out there,

If you plan on coming to Poland, no matter the city you choose to visit, it is good to do a background check to make sure you know everything that there is to know about the country and the cities that you will visit. That's how a conscious traveller would do things... and then there are the adventurers and the head string people that believe that facing a challenge is more fun when you are not prepared. You pick your poison ;) I am only here to help in case you sober up from the huge amounts of vodka/beer that you will have, and you will wish to learn some more about how you can get to the end of the trip in one piece ;) it's not rocket science but this article may help you understand a bit more these lovely and warm people you will meet in Poland.
1. Once you touchdown the blessed ground of Poland make sure you know how to get to your hotel/hostel/motel/accommodation. The best way to get to the city center is usually by train - it is the fastest and cheapest option available. There have been a lot of investments in the last years to the railway and the public transport so it would be sad if you wouldn't use it. For example, the train that connects Kraków Balice Airport to the Main Station (right next to the mall: Galeria Krakowska and 5 min walk from the main square) costs around 8 zloty and takes you to the destination in 18 minutes (faster than if you would go by bus or car!). I highly not recommend using taxi's as you are a foreigner and you do nit speak the language. You could alternatively try to get there by Uber cars - it's gaining more and more popularity in Poland recently.
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2. Make sure you have some kind of accomodation... it's better to have it booked in time than start searching for it once you are here. It's true, there are numerous hotels/motels to choose from but you may end up here in the "hot" season and everything would be booked. For sure if you wish to come to Krakow this July it is already impossible.... in the last week of July we have the "World Youth Days" and the Pope will be staying in Kraków. We are expecting over 2 million tourists and since the beginning of the year people have already booked everything that was available... don't come to Krakow July 2016! It's going to be madness!!! Even the locals are planning to have holidays during that time, to get out of the city! Here you can find some accomodation spots in Krakow that I recommend ;)
3. Expect the unexpected when it comes to food ;) "Waiter, there's an egg in my soup!!!" -  that would be the traditional zurek (white rye) soup that comes with a boiled egg, potatoes, white sausage (called kielbasa) and sometimes mushrooms. Don't be afraid and embrace the unknown - you may even find out that you love some of these dishes. You may even find yourself liking them so much that you will try to do them at home as well ;) and if you live in Scotland or UK you may even manage that, as there are Polish shops with traditional Polish products there. And if you are lucky enough to live nearby Chicago in the USA, well you are in for a treat! Chicago is considered the 2nd biggest Polish city, right after Warsaw! It has entire neighbourhoods of Polish streets where people don't speak English but Polish. They have Polish shops and Polish restaurants so... make sure you drop by! ;) 
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4. There will be drinking! - and most of the times quite a lot of it! As it's regular to greet guests with hot tea and/or vodka. Beer is popular here but mainly when the weather is fine; there are also lovely traditional polish local breweries that you should try out! And the beer comes in different flavours - like honey, plums, raspberry... or you can add some juice to it and drink it through a straw. Also, in Poland, was the only place I saw one could have not only mulled wine but also mulled beer! It's quite unexpected and worth to try at least once. But vodka is the main alcohol drank in Poland - be it flavoured (for the ladies) or regular. Usually for a wedding you count around 1 litre of vodka per each guest. And trust me, they really know how to drink and hardly ever get wasted. An addition to the party will always be some pickled cucumbers or some herring - as a help for keeping everything in ;) 
Cafe Szal Menu
5. Polish language - you might wanna try to learn some basics or have some kind of conversational guide with you... Polish language is one of the top 3 hardest languages in the world! + the grammar is full of exceptions to the rules... if you know a bit of Russian/Czech/Slowakian/Ukrainian you may understand some words and it may be easier a bit for you. Polish language is a slavic language so if you are more into Latin languages... you're pretty much in for a bumpy ride! The younger Polish people do speak English even though they are shy admitting it, but if they see you trying to speak the language they may be more willing to assist you. Make sure you have a GPS on you so you don't get lost :p
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6. There will always be a touristic center in the area, an information point, where someone will be able to guide you - just make sure you reach it by 5 pm, after that time every such place is closed. But even if the info point is closed, worry not - especially if you are in a bigger city. You can always find someone willing to help you, even if they will not speak perfect English or English at all... have patience and you will get to the point you are looking for. Try to have a physical copy of a map of the city with you, it will be easier to explain where you wish to get and people can show you where you are. Also spread around the city you can usually find big poster maps with the "You are here" red point - they can be your life saviour ;)
7. Make sure you pack up the correct type of clothing/shoes necessary for your trip to Poland! This is one of the first things I tell my friends that come and visit us... and it's quite hard to understand, especially if you come from a warmer (let's say Mediterranean like) country.  Take for example even my home country: Romania. In the beginning of March I could see my friends changing their profile pictures, saying that spring is coming, and newly bought and currently in use dresses... while in Poland I was feeling still cozy with our spring, due to the fact that I had my winter jacket on + mittens + boots. Let's put it like this: I took off my winter jacket and send it to the cleaners only at the very end of April. I am currently sporting out the autumn jacket... and sometimes if there is truly a day with good sun, I manage to go in a tshirt and light jacket... so make sure you come prepared for the temperature in Poland and not the one in Spain or Italy ;) make sure you also pack an umbrella as it may come in handy, especially if you come during the rainy season. I would say July and August are the sunniest months... but then again don't come in July this year (2016)... due to the "World Youth Days", Krakow will be a mess! Also make sure you wear very comfortable shoes, if possible no high heels. Poland boasts of its old architecture and history and that also means cities built with pathways in cobblestone. Be safe and blister free with some balerins or some good tennis shoes.
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8. Make sure to mingle with the crowd and sometimes get off the typical beaten tourist track. Let's face it, tourist in the city you live can be much of a bother; especially if they take pictures 99% of their time, talk and laugh loud and make jokes on the country they visit, if they are disrespectful and especially if they try to cut queues/lines in a shop/restaurant/other public places... We are all human being with the same amount of rights and benefits. No country should be viewed as "better" than another. Not to mention that once you are in a country you should try to understand it's culture and history and try to blend in without offending others. That's why when you go to Greece, to the Meteora's, you must put a skirt over your pants and not have cleavage - respect others and do what you wish others would do for you. This goes without saying to any country you visit! Now Polish people are a proud nation; if you cut a Polish person it will bleed history and patriotism, so making fun of their homeland is a no-no!!! Try to understand them more by going off the beaten track, the tourists way of seeing cities, and take some time maybe following the footsteps of a local. Take the map with you and get lost in the smaller streets, put the camera away and relax and take your time to enjoy the true vibes a Polish city can give. Have a look of there is a traditional holiday or manifestation happening and join in! Go to a "Milk Bar" (Bar Mleczny) and push the tray among other Polish locals - you will eat traditional food at a low price, probably listen to some local radio station and see Polish people "in their natural environment" :p kidding aside, a "Milk Bar" should be a must! But come with ready cash, as there might not be an ATM.
9. If you are more darker skinned you may sometimes feel that you are being looked upon harshly but you should not be afraid as long as you respect the local rules: women should be treated with respect! You may have read/heard that Poland is against receiving refugees but it's as simple as this: Poland has received refugees that simply tool everything they were given (money, car,  other goods) and went away to Germany to get even more benefits. I will try not to bring a point about the fact that a refugee is actually a refugee only in the first country that they enter, once they flee from their homeland; coming to Poland would make most immigrants not refugee ;) Taken that aside, I believe that every man/woman that is capable of working should do so in order to make a living. Now why should refugees be given for an unlimited amount of time the money if they can after a while earn it? And last, but not least, nobody takes under consideration the cultural differences between countries where the men is the most important vs. countries that underline the equality needs. I have seen and heard no problems with darker skinned people in Poland until Polish people were provoked in one way or another.  Usually it happens when women are not treated with the respect that they deserve, and Polish men feel the need to defend them (be they Polish women or foreign!).
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10. Pickpocketers and thiefery - when I read blogs and articles about Poland I can see a huge step forward in time. The pieces that I read of a couple years back talk about pickpocketers and casual petty thiefery acts on goods that are placed "out there" for a good pickup. Nowdays is less and less of that and I am really proud of how Poland is developing out to be a safer place for tourists. I am a Romanian expat living in Krakow, Poland, for over 5 years now! I can honestly say my Polish is not that bright but I am giving it more and more of my best and I started this year to speak it more and more than the ocasional line or two at the restaurant. With all this, me being a foreigner, going to both public and private places, I must admit I was never pickpocketed/robbed and no malicious actions have been taken towards me. I have never heard a bad word being addressed to me - except the old ladies that always want my place in the public transport... just give it to them! They can be mean! Be respectful, hold to the lines, see what others around you are doing and take them as example. That's how you'll do just fine ;) be mindful of the things you own and just don't go for a picnic in the park and leave all you goods at display: that is a certain invitation for others to admire your goods and maybe even crave for them... put your thinking caps on! ;)

I think these rules/guidelines can fit for any country that you will visit. Poland should not scare or stress you; a lot of people that visited and lived in it as expats can honestly admit that they felt like home and it is a safe country to be in. Poland is economically stable and in the last 5 years I have seen it grow immensely in terms of railway and public transport system, there are more and more job openings in corporations and lately there is a positive wave of encouraging the local producers into selling their stock (no matter what they are producing). Poland is a lovely country to visit,  with much to offer in terms of history, architecture and also sightseeing opportunities. You just need to keep your mind open and behave in a proper manner, gentleman and ladylike ;) and maybe learn a bit from your trip to Poland.

Embrace the subject and read one of the articles below - How To... In Poland
  1. Do Shopping In Poland - Currency
  2. Pick The Best Time To Visit Poland
  3. Get To Poland - Transit
  4. Eat Like The Locals 
  5. Spend One Day In Krakow 
  6. Be Prepared For Coming To Poland
  7. Recognize Tourists In Poland
  8. Maintain Work-Life Balance In Poland
  9. Books/Films/Music In Poland
  10. Survive The Polish Weddings
  11. Survive The Polish Winter 
  12. Know You Are (Most Probably) Talking To Someone Who's Polish
Yours sincerely,
The Twisted Red LadyBug that loves to help travelers out there :)