|Area||total: 312,685 sq km |
water: 8,220 sq km
land: 304,465 sq km
|Population||38,625,478 (July 2002 est.)|
|Religion||Roman Catholic 95% (about 75% practicing), Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, and other 5%|
|Country Calling Code||+48|
|Time Zone||CET/CEST (UTC+1/+2)|
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.
Poland has 16 provinces called voivods or voivodships (wojew�dztwa, singular - wojew�dztwo).
- Czestochowa -- pilgrimage site best known for its Black Madonna
- Gdansk -- historic seaport and home of Solidarity
- Krakow -- urbane former capital with medieval university
- Oswiecim -- historic town near Auschwitz
- Torun -- former Pomeranian capital established by Teutonic Knights on the Vistula River
- Warsaw -- capital and largest city
- Wroclaw -- medieval old town
- Zakopane -- historic mountain resort in Warsaw Old Town
- Krakow Old Town, Wieliczka Salt Mine (actually in nearby Auschwitz Nazi Concentration Camp (near Krakow)
- Malbork Castle of the Teutonic Order
- Torun' Old Town
- Gdan'sk, Sopot, Tatra Mountains
- South, mountain resorts: Zakopane, Karpacz, Krynica, Szczyrk
- South Auschwitz in Os'wie;cim
Poland is an ancient nation that was conceived around the middle of the 10th century. Its golden age occurred in the 16th century. During the following century, the strengthening of the gentry and internal disorders weakened the nation, until an agreement in 1772 between Russia, Prussia, and Austria partitioned Poland. Poland regained its independence in 1918 and defended it in the war of 1920-1922 against Soviet attempt to overrun Poland and invade Europe.
After a period of relative peace and development, just as it was recovering from the great economic crisis of the 1920's, 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 Block countries.
Labour turmoil in 1970 and then 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union "Solidarity" that over time became a political force and by 1990 had swept 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, boosting hopes for acceptance to the EU. Poland joined the NATO alliance in 1999 and it joined European Union in 2004.
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) can enter Poland (http://www.msz.gov.pl/Advisory,for,citizens,of,the,EU,countries,traveling,to,Poland,2351.html) with a valid passport or identity card.
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, Switzerland, 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 (Eng.) (http://www.msz.gov.pl/index.php?document=2) website for updates (http://www.msz.gov.pl/VISA,REQUIREMENTS,2346.html) as this information can change quite quickly.
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. Downloadable Visa Application Form (http://www.msz.gov.pl/Polski,wniosek,wizowy,1805.html)
Most of Europes major airlines fly to and from Poland. Polands national carriers are LOT Polish Airlines (http://www.lot.com/), and a low cost airline (owned by LOT)Centralwings (http://www.centralwings.com/). There are several low cost airlines that fly to Poland including WizzAir (http://wizzair.com/), SkyEurope (http://www.skyeurope.com/), EasyJet (http://easyjet.com/), Germanwings (http://www.germanwings.com/) and Ryanair (http://www.ryanair.com/).
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 Warsaw Transport Authority (http://www.ztm.waw.pl/tariffs-gb.html)
If you're staying in any of the major city hotels you should check if your particular hotel operates a Berlin, EuroCity "Berlin-Warszawa-Express (BWE)" (http://www.intercity.com.pl/scripts/train/en/index.php?action=show_all&id=5&trasa_id=10&typ=all), everyday, 6 hours, InterCity "Wawel" (http://www.intercity.com.pl/scripts/train/en/index.php?action=show_all&id=63&trasa_id=124&typ=all), everyday, 10 hours
For more information on traveling in Poland by train, please see Get Around::Rail section below.
You can enter Poland by car via one of many roads linking Poland with neighbouring countries. Since Poland entry to EU, road queues to check points with other EU countries have greatly decreased, in most cases the time delay in check points has been reduced to just a few minutes. Queues on borders with non-EU countries are much larger and in areas congested with truck traffic can last several hours or more. You can view the current waiting times on Polish Border Guard page (http://www.sg.gov.pl/czasy/index.asp) (wjazd = enter, wyjazd = exit, osob. - car, autob. - bus, ciez.ar. - truck).
Polish road network is average - a bit underdeveloped by European standards, but quite functional and dense. There are only few highways connecting major towns, the network is far from complete. Small 2-way roads span the entire country. As long as you keep by the main roads, you should get to where you want fairly easy. Estimate double time used and double tiredness comparing to driving in countries like Germany or France.
Poles drive aggressively and with little or no regard to speed limits. Scenes seen on the Polish roads are sometimes described as shocking by the foreigners not accustomed to the way locals handle their machines. Drunk driving is also a big problem, despite heavy penalties. Overall, Poland has a higher index of deaths on the roads than many European countries.
There are many international bus lines that connect major Polish cities, with most of major European ones.
- PEKAES (http://www.pekaesbus.pl/) part of Eurolines (http://www.eurolines.com/) (from: A, BY, B, HR, CZ, DK, GB, EST, F, D, GR, NL, I, LV, LT, N, RUS, E, S, CH, UA), +48 22 6269352, +48 22 6522321, online reservation
- Orbis (http://www.orbis-transport.pl/) (from: B, BG, F, GR, E, NL, D, CH, GB), +48 22 6227356, +48 22 5001500, +48 22 5001550
- Polka Service (http://www.polkaservice.pl/) (from: F), +48 22 8275050
- Gullivers (http://www.gullivers.de/english/index.htm) (from: D), D +49 30 31102110, Intl +80048554837
- Visitor (http://www.visitor.com.pl) from London (their buses feature numbered seats)
- PPKS Warszawa (http://www.pks.warszawa.pl/ramki.php?strona=m_glowna.php) +48 22 7208383 (from: BG, D, LT, S, UA)
- From Sweden: Ystad (7-9 hours, 215 z?) by Denmark: Copenhagen (9-11 hours, 220 z?), Bornholm/R�nne (5 hours, 125 z?) by ?eba
Poland has relatively poorly developed road infrastructure with only few motorways. Public transport is quite plentiful, both buses and trains. Some local trains are considered dangerous at nights.
- rules (that maybe be not obvious)
- speed limits for cars are: 90kph outside city, 110kph on car-only roads (white car on the blue sign), 10kph more if directions are separated, 130kph on freeways and 50kph in city (60kph at night).
- driving after drinking alcohol is a serious offence. BAC limits are: up to 0.02% - not prosecuted by law, up to 0.05% - an offense, above 0.05% - criminal offence (up to 2 years in jail). Despite the strict laws, DUI's are a serious problem in Poland. Be especially careful during national holidays, etc...
- It is not permitted to turn right against red light.
Exception is when there is green arrow signal next to or under the main signals. You are permited to turn, but you have no right of way. You have to yield to pedestrians and cross traffic. Additionally law states that you need to stop before red light with green arrow, check the road conditions, and then you are permitted to continue (although stop rule is seldom respected by polish drivers).
All above does not apply if right turning traffic has separate (red-yellow-green) signals.
- "T"-crossings. On T-crossing without traffic signs, always traffic at the right has right-of-way.
- STOP sign means stop before sign and yield to any cross traffic.
- After turning into a crossing street, driver can select any lane.
- Driving with lights on is obligatory between October 1st and February 28th. Also in bad weather, fog, etc. and recommended in general.
In Poland there is only national railway - the Gdan'sk - Warszawa - Krak�w
| Express trains|
usually compulsory reservation (paid)
Warsaw-Krak�w: 290 km, 3 hours, 73-81 z?
Warsaw-Zakopane: 430 km, 6 hours, 80 z?
|Pospieszny|| long distance, priority trains|
stops only in larger cities
| Warsaw-Krak�w: 320 km, 3.3-4.5 hours, 43 z?|
Warsaw-Zakopane: 460 km, 7.5 hours, 50 z?
Warsaw-?owicz: 80 km, 50 minutes, 20 z?
|Osobowy|| long distance, ordinary train |
usually slow, stops everywhere
|Warsaw-?owicz: 80 km, 80 minutes, 12 z?|
|Podmiejski||suburbian train||Warsaw-Pruszk�w: 16 minutes, 5.70 z?|
- Polish. English, German and Russian are also commonly spoken, especially in larger cities.
- There is a Polish language school in Lodz operated by the University of Lodz.
The unit of currency in Poland is the polish zloty (PLN), though Poland is expected to adopt the Euro as early as 2007 (more realistically, full Polish entry into the Eurozone will occur around 2010).
- 1 z? (z?oty, plural z?ote, or z?otych) = 100 gr (grosz, plural grosze, or groszy)
Common conversion rates (updated March 16th, 2005):
- EUR €1 = 4.09 zł, 1 zł = EUR €0.245
- GBP £1 = 5.88 zł, 1 zł = GBP £0.170
- USD $1 = 3.06 zł, 1 zł = USD $0.327
- CAD $1 = 2.54 zł, 1 zł = CAD $0.394
- AUD $1 = 2.42 zł, 1 zł = AUD $0.414
Link to exchange rates set by the National Bank of Poland: http://www.nbp.pl/kursy/kursyc.html, http://www.nbp.pl/kursy/kursyb.html. In the page, kupna rate relates to purchase, i.e. when you sell foreign currency.
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.
- Exportation of goods that has historical value is forbidden by law. Individual permission may be issued by the Department of Art. At least all objects made before 1945 needs such permission.
See Wikipedia entry on Polish cuisine.
It is no longer difficult to avoid meat, with many restaurants offering at least one vegetarian dish.
Poland is on a 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 (but beware of some cheap Polish local fruit wine, that has more in common with spirit drinks than with French wines). 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 certificate self with a valid ID or passport. .
- Z.ubr�wka - grass flavoured from eastern Poland.
- Z.ytnia - rye vodka.
- Bia?a Dama
- Deluxe (more expensive) brands include Chopin and Belvedere. Expect to pay about 70 z?oty a bottle (2004 prices).
Although not well known internationally, Poland traditionally sports some of the best pilsner-type lagers worldwide. The most common brands include:
Poland does not really make it's own quality wines. 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 Moldavia available.
Black tea is traditionally a popular non-alcoholic drink. It is usually served plain with sugar or with sugar and a slice of lemon.
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.
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 (just like all over the world).
Increasing number of those places can be found through Internet.
Some camping sites are also available, but in the South they are opened only during summer months. In September they are already closed.
Budget travellers can stay in a youth / backpackers' hostel
- Polish Youth Hostels Association PTSM  (http://www.ptsm.org.pl), tel.: (48-22) 8498128, 8498363; tel./fax: 8498354 email@example.com (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org)
There are many international schools and great universities in Poland, and of them Jagiellonian University (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jagiellonian_University) in particular is renowned as member of the Coimbra Group (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coimbra_Group) and is also a core member of the Europaeum (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Europaeum). National Film School in ?�dz' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Film_School_in_%C5%81%C3%B3d%C5%BA) is the most notable academy that has many famous alumni.
At the moment Poland is one of the best place around the world to find a job as 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 in Poland and teaching language is brilliant way to fund your travels and earn as you go.
Polish emergency numbers are different for stationary and cellular phones. For stationary phones these are:
- Ambulance: 999 (Pogotowie, dziewie;c'-dziewie;c'-dziewie;c')
- Firefighters: 998 (Straz. poz.arna, dziewie;c'-dziewie;c'-osiem)
- Police: 997 (Policja, dziewie;c'-dziewie;c'-siedem)
For cellular phones the number is standard 112 (Telefon alarmowy, sto dwanas'cie). The USA-like emergency number 911 can be also called from cellular phones (on the Plus GSM network for sure).
Pickpockets operate in larger cities, especially in public transport or rail station areas, fairly common for most European cities.
- Keep an eye on your belongings when travelling on a bus or train.
- Don't display any bags, valuables or your car radio if you leave your car parked in the streets. Use guarded parking lots whenever possible.
There are also certain neighbourhoods in most cities that should be completely avoided by foreigners/tourists. An example would be the whole Praga District of Warsaw; especially at night.
Walking around alone in residential Communist-era block neighborhoods is also not recommended, as they are frequented by bored teenagers and hooligans who are either in need of a fight or want something of yours (cell phone, wallet, bag, etc) to alleviate their boredom. These hooligans are usually dressed in track suits, Adidas or rip-offs, and more often than not, have shaved heads. ("Dresiarze" is a common slang name for them in Poland.)
Buses are also targeted by thieves who will even follow you out of the bus if they want something of yours.
Sometime on trains and trams, small groups of young children get on and ask you for or about something. If you tell them to leave or that you wont give them anything, they will leave, but sometimes they will call someone (an older brother who is part of a gang) and tell them what you look like. This person might be waiting for you at the next stop, and might want to fight you, beat you or steal whatever their younger brother wanted in the first place.
Walking around is usually safe, particularly in city centres. Every modern city has pickpockets etc. So simply, USE COMMON SENSE!
Avoid drinking tap water, especially in the older parts of Warsaw.
Remember that the Polish are very religious, so respect the Catholic Church and Pope John Paul II. Be careful not to talk disrespectfully about anything relating to World War II because Poland and its people were hurt badly, more than any other country in Europe. 6 million Poles died as a result of the German occupation, as well as the Soviet annexations of some of its territory. Be aware, however, that the locals will gripe continuously about this subject, even if you don't want them to, and if you dare to voice a contradicting opinion, they'll just wave their hands in the air and tell you that you don't understand.
It's illegal to drink alcoholic beverages in public, though it's often done by the locals, especially in parks, on some buses, and some of the more congested city streets.
- Be aware that in Poland comma is used as decimal point, and space to group numbers. eg. 10 500,46 z? is ten thousand five hundred zlotych and 46 groszy. Occasionally dot is also used as grouping character.
- There is national operator for fixed lines - TPSA (Polish Telecommunications, Telekomunikacja Polska), and number of smaller operators. TPSA has a de facto monopolist status. http://www.tpsa.pl/
- Cell phones operates in GSM 900/1800 standard (UMTS is currently accessible only in major cities). There are three cellular operators: Plus GSM (http://plusgsm.pl/) (code 260 01), Era (http://www.era.pl/) (260 02), Orange (http://www.orange.pl/) (260 03), and each of them covers more than 95% of Poland area. Most countries has roaming with all three of them.
- When planning to stay longer, or make many phone calls, you can also consider buying prepaid activation of any of theses operators. It will probably save you a lot of money on roaming charges. Starter kits are on sale usually for less than 20 z? (in a Post office for example), and later you will need to buy credit for calls. Note that some cell phones are locked not to allow use of foreign SIM cards.
- Data communication is available using standard data transfer (CSD), high speed HSCSD , GPRS (if in roaming - subject to additional roaming agreement with your operator), EDGE, UMTS (only major cities).
- All numbers in Poland are 10 digits long and start from 0. Still many numbers are written in old way eg. often only last 7 digits are listed. In that case you need to add 0 and area code for the area that number is in. Cell phones are sometimes referred by 9 digits. Prefix them with 0.
- When calling from abroad, dial your country international access code (eg. +, 00 or 011), Polish country code 48 and the number _without_ the leading 0. (eg. 00 48 121234567)
- Numbers starting 0 800 are free (but may be inaccessible or paid from cell phone)
- Numbers starting 0 801 are reduced fare (but may be inaccessible or paid from cell phone)
- Numbers starting 0 70x and 0 300 are additionaly paid (0.60 - 11 z?/minute, may be inaccessible from cell phone)
- SMS numbers 7xxx or 7xxxx are additionaly paid (0.61 - 25 z?/message). Exact rate should be published each time along with the number.
- SMS numbers 80xx are free,
- When calling to cell phone, it's often cheaper when you call within network of one operator:
- PlusGSM prefixes: +48 601, 603, 605, 607, 609, 691, 693, 695, 697
- Sami Swoi (PlusGSM subnetwork) prefixes: +48 661, 663, 887
- Era prefixes: +48 600, 602, 604, 608, 690, 692, 694, 696, 698
- Heyah (Era subnetwork) prefixes: +48 880, 888, 889
- Orange prefixes: +48 500, 501, 502, 503, 504, 505, 506, 507, 508, 509, 510, 511, 512
- with cell phone - see above
- WLAN (hot spots) available in limited areas. Most chances to find one in airport, some business centers, some shopping malls, sometimes in old town market squares. All three GSM operators and many independent providers have their WLAN services. Sometimes free, otherwise not very cheap. Comprehensive list of hot spots: http://www.pdaclub.pl/hs/ (P?atny? Tak/Nie/Brak danych is Paid? Yes/No/Unknown)
- Internet cafe - available in cities
- Poland - official site (http://www.polska.gov.pl/)
- Polish National Tourist Office (http://www.polandtour.org/)
- Tourism in Poland article on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tourism_in_Poland)