Poland is home to arguably the world’s most intriguing history. Three times the country landed in the hands of another European power, and this was only from the 18th century onwards. Despite all this, there is still a prevalent national identity and unique culture.
Poland sits in Cental Europe, bordered to the North by the Baltic Sea. It is one of the most diverse countries in Europe when it comes to places to see and activities to enjoy. Warsaw is the political, commercial and financial capital and home to a marvelous Old Town that was remakably rebuilt out of the rubble following World War II. Krakow is the cultural center of Poland and the former capital. Its central district is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and worth checking out for a few days. For more medieval attractions, take a trip to the bridges of Wroclaw and the Renaissance-inspired architecture of Lublin. With the new high speed rail linking numerous cities across Poland, seeing all these all in one trip is certainly realistic.
Poland’s role in World War II was more horrific and tumultuous than any other country on Earth, and touring the infamous Auschwitz camps will leave a lasting memory. For a more upbeat experience, Bialowieza National Park, Bory Tucholskie National Park, and the cascade-filled Karkanoski National Park, are among the leading natural attractions in the country.
The southern area of Poland is a great spot for winter activities, so ski and snowboard enthusiasts should visit between the months of December and February. The ski resorts are generally more expensive during this time, but cities like Krakow and Warsaw are more affordable. However, avoid the Christmas period, as travelers from all over Europe flock to the major cities for festivals, shopping and family time.
Currency: The Polish zloty
Official language: Polish
Poland really came of age during the 14th and 16th century. At the time, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was the largest and most prosperous country on the European continent. The capital, which was located in Krakow for more than 500 years, moved to Warsaw at the end of the 16th century. However, many wars with foreign powers seriously devastated the economy, creating significant political problems.
In the late 1800's, Poland was partitioned by its more powerful neighbors: Austria, Prussia and Russia. The occupation led to an increase in industrialization and productivity for the economy, but as a result, Poland ceased to exist as a country for more than 120 years beginning in 1795. Suppressing the Polish national identity and culture resulted in violent uprisings and eventually they regained independence following Germany’s surrender in 1918. The subsequent land-divisions led to a continued fracture between Germany, Austria, and even Czechoslovakia (Slovakia/Czech Republic).
Poland was invaded by Germany and Russia again in September 1939, initially sparking WWII. Even though the Polish Republic was re-ignited only two decades before, it again ceased to exist during and after the war. Horrendous war crimes were experienced in Poland between 1939 and 1945, with the country losing 20 percent of its population. Tourists can still visit the most infamous concentration camps including the notorious Auschwitz (Więźniów Oświęcimia 20, Oświęcim, Poland).
Poland has experienced quite a few dark chapters throughout its history. For more than a century, they were controlled by surrounding neighbors including Germany and Russia. However, much of the local culture still flourished under the reign of Prussian and Russian leaders. A long and tolerant history saw Poland become a bastion of multiculturalism during the 17th and 18th centuries. Prior to WWII, Poland was a mix of Catholicism and several other religious sects. Nevertheless, this changed quite dramatically following the war, with most locals following the Roman Catholic faith. This religion became even more prevalent after the election of Pope John Paul II as the head of the Church.
Poland experiences a temperate climate, although there are variations between the regions. Due to its position between the Baltic Sea and the European Alps, the country has continental weather in the south, and oceanic influences in the north. Rainfall generally occurs year round, but there is much more precipitation in the winter (December through February) than summertime (June through August). Winter is cold, with temperatures averaging 21°F. Summer is mild to warm, with averages between 70°F and 80°F.
Poland is part of the Schengen Agreement, which means there are no border controls for nationals of EU countries. EU citizens only require a valid national identity card or passport to enter Poland. Non-EU citizen require a valid passport and possibly a visa if you intend on a longer visit.
Taxis are a great way to get around the cities of Poland. However, there is still an issue of illegitimate services in the major urban areas. Only get in a cab with a clear taxi sign on the roof, a number on the back and insist they give you a recipt. If staying at a hotel, ask the concierge to call you one 10 to 15 minutes in advance. Two trustworthy companies are MPT (+48-22-572-8210) and Krakow Executive (+48-88-0802-702).
Getting into Poland via water taxis and ferry services are possible across the Baltic Sea. Polferries operates routes to both Denmark and Sweden. United Line, Stena Line and Finnlines are the other major companies that connect Poland to Germany and Finland. Routes generally take between nine and 15 hours, depending on the point of origin and number of stops.
The larger cities and towns boast an extensive bus network. Warsaw and Krakow have the largest, but other cities like Lublin, Gdansk, and Poznan also contain a much-needed bus system for transportation around the city. Prices are generally cheap, but can take forever during rush hour and you may end up sitting for hours.
The Polish inter-city bus network is the preferred method of traveling around the country instead of rail. Buses are comfortable, and much cheaper. This is especially true for trips of less than 80 miles. Just last year, a new national bus provider, Polski Bus, was added to the already large number of companies offering services between Warsaw and the outer cities.
The inter-city train network is becoming more modern, especially between Warsaw – Krakow and Warsaw – Katowic. There are numerous seating classes at different price levels.
Before you leave on your holiday, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:
Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)
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