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Krakow Castle

Ah, the motherland. At least this is where a lot of my family come from. I think origin/ancestry trips are important and although the Polish side of my family is long out of contact, there is something very comforting and surreal to experiencing where you come from. That’s why I went to went to Poland, but I found a hell of a lot more.

Poland has a very complicated history, especially in the modern sense. Many people just look at Poland as the punching bag of the 20th century, however the past is much more rich and glorious that you probably know. The Jagiellonian Dynasty (1385–1572) and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth preceded the constant border changing that was to come for the Polish people. In fact, today many towns both within and outside its borders consider themselves only “a part” of the country they technically governed by (Szczecin, Poland and Lviv, Ukraine are prime examples). What I’m getting at is that there’s a lot to understand here, both historically and culturally. By visiting you’re only going to get the “foam of the beer” to speak, and barely break the ice with what is Poland without actually living there, but the Polish people will welcome you with open arms. They’re a fun bunch!

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An alien-esque saucer in Katowice

If you’re a World War Two buff or just someone looking to understand the complexities of the holocaust, Poland is an essential destination. Unfortunately, many of the concentration camps as well as the towns most destroyed during the war reside within the country and are places that everyone needs to visit and understand in order to not repeat. But Poland isn’t just dark history and sale tales, It’s a country with a very lively culture and people that are kind and true. Holidays especially are a great time to visit as Easter may even supersede Christmas in this predominately Catholic country. The food is also incredible and if you’re a meat-etarian you’re going to love what Poland has to offer.


ESSENTIAL INFORMATION

  • The Polish currency is the Zoty and it’s pretty easy to use and at the time of writing is valued at 1/2 – 1/3 of what the Pound, Euro, or USD is worth. ATM’s are very easy to find in most cities and the fees aren’t too high. Just be aware of your bank’s reciprocal fee, that’s where they get you. Cash is by far the most dominant method of payment and very few if any budget restaurants or street vendors will take your card. Be ready for that.
  • Poland is safe. Like most Eastern Block countries, violent crime is very very low. Probably your biggest risks are pick-pocketing and bar scams. A common play in Poland is to have very beautiful locals sucker you in to a bar where they will order drinks. Before you can say “twoje zdrowie” (Polish — cheers) you’ve got a bill for an exorbitant amount. Apparently strip clubs/nightclubs can run something similar so it’s best to avoid places like that are unfamiliar and haven’t been recommended by someone you trust.
  • Predominately, people speak Polish here. “No duh” you might say, but given this countries history, you’ll find all kinds of languages, especially as you come closer to borders, German to the west and Ukrainian and Lithuanian to the east. The older population often speaks some Russian, and the younger people usually have learned basic English in school. Poland actually has a thriving technical and computer industry and contracts by major US companies are often sold over here. Because of this, you’ll find people with very proficient English.
  • Poles are very knowledgeable about their country’s history and you should listen in. A local’s perspective is key to understanding any place, especially one as complex as Poland. For some reason, outsiders have a stereotype where Poland is some backwards country with dull people. It’s the exact opposite. Poland is a very modern country with incredibly intelligent and forward thinking people. Be ready to be surprised.
  • Drinking in public is not legal and although sometimes overlooked, public intoxication is definitely not. You will get sent to the drunk tank if you’re being rowdy. Beware. Also driving with any alcohol in you system at all is not allowed and severely punished. The drinking laws are definitely more strict in Poland than much of Europe.
  • Only cross the street at designated cross walks. Cars are not going to watch out for you unless you are at the markers and even the, watch your step. If you’re caught jaywalking you’re going to get a fine. Best avoid it.

COSTS / SAVING MONEY

  • Poland in general is pretty cheap, although not as cheap as in previous years it’s still a great deal compared to Western Europe. Food and drink are reasonably priced and attractions are cheap! Accommodation can be slightly more than expected as there might not be as many options as other more traveled countries, but you will probably still think where you stay is a good deal.
  • Street food /fast food is the cheapest option. From wraps and middle eastern food to the highly recommended Polish sausages these are going to be your best bet. I even bought a sausage from a guy with a grill attached to the back of his van. Sketchy? Eh, kind of. Tasty? Undeniable.
  • Local beers are cheap if bought at the grocery store or corner market. I tried Zywiec and Lech and both were satisfying, but I think there are much better available — I unfortunately wasn’t feeling well at the time to try more (not grill-van food poisoning if that’s what you’re thinking).
  • Even the bigger cities in Poland are very walk-able and you can save on public transit this way. Also look into if you accommodation offers rides to and from airport/train station. Even my hostel picked me up for free from the central station in Krakow.