If I remember right, it was 1983 when I went to Poland for the first time. But at that time I was still very young. But ever since, I visited the country at least once a year and sometimes for two weeks and even longer. In the 1980ies, the situation in Poland was rather bad - it was hard to get even some of the essential things. On the other hand, things that were not available (at least officially) in Eastern Germany could be purchased in Poland - like Western music or magazines from West Germany. But it also happened then that children in my age or younger ran behind me, throwing stones and shouting "Nazi, Nazi!". Again - this was in the 1980ies, 40 years after the war and in a country that ought to be East Germany's "brother country". Many things have changed. It's not dangerous anymore to speak even German. The overall situation and especially the relation to Germany has widely improved - this is especially thanks to several politicians such as Willy Brandt who did a lot to make things better. But Polish tourist groups are now also a common sight in the Western Ukraine, which was simply unthinkable before 1990.
EU citizens do not require a visa - and many other nationalities can cross with a valid passport only as well. Since Poland has joined the EU, entering and leaving the country became less complicated and in general it's simple and painless. EU custom regulations apply to Poland.
The Polish currency is called Złoty (pronounced Zwuoti, literally translated
'gold'), and is usually abbreviated Zł. One Złoty consists of 100
Grosz (plural: groszy).
Inflation is a problem of the past - the Polish currency is very stable now and the rate
is moving around 1 Euro = 4 Zł - depending on how strong the Euro is.
Since the inflation has gone, black market currency exchange has vanished as well.
Coins come in 1, 5, 10, 20 und 50 gr and 1, 2 und 5 Zł. Bills include 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 Zł denominations.
Poland offers international standard when it comes to its financial systems. There are ATM's everywhere and they usually accept the most common credit and debit cards, including Cirrus- and Maestro cash cards. The minimum fee per transaction is mostly around € 4. Of course many banks can change money, too.
|10 Polish Zloty bill|
Poland is still comparatively cheap when it comes to traveller related prices - but prices have increased a good deal since the 1990ies. Prices are quite similar to those in the →Czech Republic, but it needs to be said that there are sometimes more choices in the Czech Republic. It's still possible to sleep somewhere in the centre of town for as less as € 10, but you shouldn't expect too much then. There's also a large variety when it comes to food - so called bar mleczny (lit.: milk bar) for example can cater for around € 1. Polish milk bars look a little bit like a canteen and offer much more then dairy products. However, some of them are good, some of them can be really lousy. During the last years, more or less high-class restauracja mushroomed in almost every city. There it's often no problem to spend € 10 and more for a decent meal.
Transportation costs are generally cheap, but visitors should bear in mind that Poland is - at least for a European country - quite big. To give an example - the train ticket for the 400 km ride from →Warsaw to →Wrocław costs around € 10.
It's possible to get by in Poland with at less as € 20 per day, but that covers the very essential things only. It's safer to calculate with at least € 30 per day and person.
Since Poland lies in the heart of Europe, many options are available for getting to Poland and away. The fastest of course is the plane - there are many connections to →Warsaw, Kraków and other larger cities to all major cities in Europe. Some routes are also served by cheap discount airlines.
There are a few international ferry connections as well - for example to Ystad and Nynäshamn in Sweden and to Copenhagen in Denmark. Some smaller ferries run along the Baltic Sea coast from the German island of Usedom to and from Świnoujście.
There are numerous international train connections and many of them are very interesting for travelers. As there is the very convenient Berlin-Warszawa-Express - this train is running three times a day in either direction and costs around € 30 for the whole trip (only € 20 from the border at Frankfurt/Oder) and needs some 6 hours. However, the cheapest way to get to Poland from the West is to take local trains to the border and buy onward tickets in Poland since train tickets there are cheaper. There are also countless regional trains crossing the German-Polish border.
The main hub of course is →Warsaw with its both large stations Centralna and Wschodnia. Almost all trains coming from the west also stop in →Poznań. The so-called East-West-Express starts in Brussels (15½ hrs) and stops in Cologne (12 hrs) before it continues to Warsaw and even further to the east. To →Brest in the →Belarus it takes 4 hrs (€ 13) and to →Minsk, capital of the Belarus, it takes 10 hrs. Note that virtually everyone needs a visa before entering the Belarus (cannot be obtained at the border). Some trains run all the way to Moscow (18 hrs) and even as far as Saratov.
There are two trains a day connecting Warsaw with →Kiev. This one needs around 17 hrs. One of the two trains starts in Berlin (for more about the Berlin-Kiev train see →Ukraine - Getting there). Furthermore there are direct trains to →Prague (9 hrs) via →Olomouc (5 hrs), to →Budapest (10 hrs) via Bratislava and a direct train to Vienna (7½ hrs).
Another useful connection is the train from Warsaw to →Vilnius in →Lithuania. It's a so called hotel trains and consists of three carriages only - at least in winter. From capital to capital it takes 10 hrs ± 1 hr time difference. The train leaves Warsaw on odd-numbered days at 21:42 and arrives in the morning of the next day at 08:50 local time in Vilnius. Attention: This trains does not cross Belarusian territory, so there's no reason to worry about a visa.The fare is € 19.30 plus a € 16 surcharge for the place in the sleeper (there is no other option). The carriages are clean but rather old - in winter, each carriage is heated separately with a coal-burning stove. Halfway, the train stops in Białystok and Kaunas.
Of course there are also numerous bus connections. The large company Eurolines for example sends out buses from Poland to Denmark, some larger cities in Germany and also to →Vilnius, →Riga and →Tallinn in the Baltic states. For more information and timetables see their website: www.eurolinijos.lt. Euroline's coach fleet is quite modern and can make it a convenient trip (however, buses are naturally rather inconvenient for longer distances).
To the north, Poland adjoins to the Baltic Sea - besides that Poland shares borders with seven countries, as their are (clockwise): the Russian Exclave of Kaliningrad (Königsberg), →Lithuania, →Belarus, →Ukraine, →Slovakia, →Czech Republic and Germany. Especially in the west and south there are countless border crossings for trains, cars and sometimes even exclusively for hikers and bikers. Main border crossings between Germany and Poland are at Görlitz ↔ Zgorelec, Forst (near Cottbus), Frankfurt/Oder ↔ Słubice, Szczecin (Stettin) ↔ Berlin and the crossing Ahlbeck ↔ Świnoujście near the Baltic Sea coast.
Since Poland is a member of the EU, the usual EU customs and immigration rules apply - at least at the borders with the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia and Lithuania. This means that crossing the border usually takes 5 minutes or less. Crossing the eastern borders can be challenging, since those are also the borders of the EU. Note that almost every nationality requires a visa for the →Belarus, the →Ukraine (though some nationalities can already cross without a visa) and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Visas for these countries must be obtained beforehand. Crossing the eastern borders by car can be time consuming: long queues at the border are common and customs and immigration can be fierce. It still seems to be a habit that it's possible to get a better position in the queue in exchange for money. Cash only, of course.
Food and drinks
Back in the 1980ies, the idea of having Polish food only for the next two or so weeks was frightening. Particularly scary - at least for me - where things like Kiełbasa (Polish sausage - of a texture that you cannot tell at all what's in it), pink garlic soups, minced fish with I-don't-know-what-else, salads with mayonnaise dominating all other ingredients and so on. I had the impression that every ingredient in Poland must be chopped or minced or else it's disqualified. To put it in short - I thought that, regarding the cuisine, Poland would be the England of Eastern Europe.
But that's just my impression and I've changed my mind. Polish food can be very delicious. Many great restaurants make it easy to enjoy Polish cuisine. However, I can only recommend to stay away from fast food like food stalls that can be found everywhere - food there can be really nasty (not only in Poland of course).
Typical part of the staple diet is a dish called Bigos - a thick broth with sausages and sauerkraut. Simple, filling and quite tasty - provided that you like sauerkraut. Another typical dish is called Gołąbki - cabbage rolls with minced meat. Very common as well are pierogi - resembling Russian pelmeni (filled dumplins) and sometimes deep fried. The latter should be avoided - at least in most of the food stalls. Placki Ziemniaczane - Polish potatoe pancakes. Recently, there are also many Mexican, Italian, Jewish and many other international restaurants mushrooming everywhere.
Poland belongs to the Vodka belt - Wódka comes in many varieties and is very popular. Źubrówka is probably the most famous one - including the blade of grass. The taste is somewhat sweetish and not everyone's cup of tea, but it has many friends all over the world. There are also many local Piwo (beer) brands, among them Okocim and EB, which are quite okay. Soft drinks are the same as everywhere - and recently it's no problem any longer to get a decent espresso or coffee.