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Whenever I have a casual conversation about my travels through Poland, it amazes me just how little the average person knows about this underrated European country. “Oh, the war happened there and I’ve heard that the people are pretty unwelcoming and cold.”
This couldn’t be further from the truth, apart from the devastation from the war, of course.
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After spending a total of three weeks travelling solo through the land of pierogi, quaint and colourful towns, vodka and some of the most gorgeous scenery I’ve ever laid eyes on, even some of my Polish friends have said that I have been to places in their home country that they, themselves, have never even heard of, or been to.
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Poland is a country that stole my heart and very quickly, I might add. The people I met, the experiences I had and the beautiful landscapes and towns that I got to see will forever be etched into my mind.
If you are looking for a place to visit that may very well have not been on your tourist radar, why not book a ticket, grab your passport and head to Poland?
Here are some things you need to know before travelling to Poland that will help prepare you for the best trip ever.
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The Polish złoty (PLN) is the official currency and legal tender of Poland. It is subdivided into 100 grosz. At the time of this blog post being published, 1 Polish złoty is equivalent to $0.30 CAD, which makes Poland one of the most affordable European countries for Canadians to visit. You’ll find that a lot of small businesses (and transportation outlets) still only accept cash, so I always advise people to bring some physical złoty with them when travelling throughout Poland.
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Polish is the official language of Poland and comes from West Slavic origins. Like many other Slavic countries, Poland has a number of mutually intelligible dialects. The main ones include:
- Wielkopolski (Greater Polish), spoken in western Poland
- Malopolski (Lesser Polish), spoken in southern and southeastern Poland
- Mazovian (Mazur), spoken in northeastern Poland, including the capital of Warsaw
Polish is a hard language to learn and even harder to speak. As with any country I travel to, I try to learn the very basics to allow myself to mix in with the locals as best as I can.Here are a few that I taught myself in order to get by, especially in the smaller villages where English was non-existent:
- Hello, good day ————- Cześć, dzień dobry
- Goodbye ——————— Do widzenia
- Please ———————— Proszę
- Thank you ——————- Dziękuję
- Yes ————————— Tak
- No —————————- Nie
I also tried to learn some basics from the menu, so I would know what I am ordering. Polish is a hard language to grasp, but with a few quick little self taught lessons online, writing down the basics in a notebook, you’ll be able to get by with little to no problems at all.
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When you think of Polish food, what comes to mind? If you said pierogi, you aren’t wrong. Although pierogi and Poland go together like Italy and pasta, there are so many other traditional and not so well known traditional Polish foods that are equally as delicious and mouthwatering. Polish food is typically quite heavy, hearty and definitely filling. There is a slim chance that you’ll be walking around Poland hungry and maybe an even slimmer chance of staying, well…not so thin. 😉 That being said, Polish food is extremely delicious and I can’t recommend it enough. Traditional Polish food is also centered around the almighty vegetable God…also known as cabbage, which is a very typical ingredient in a lot of Slavic Central and Eastern European countries. If you aren’t a fan of cabbage (and I know quite a few people that aren’t), don’t fret; Polish food isn’t all cabbage-centric. Some of my favourite Polish dishes to try were; Pierogi, Buraczki, Kotlet Schabowy, Placki ziemniaczane, Barszcz Czerwony, Żurek, Oscypek and of course, Polish beers!
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During my trip to Poland, I mainly travelled to each city via Poland’s vast rail network, which surprisingly was pretty incredible, not because I didn’t think that Poland’s rail infrastructure was up to snuff, but because I read some stories online that required me to do a lot of pre-planning and pre-booking online before my trip overseas…and luckily I did. Although I had to rejig some of my transit plans some days, I found that despite that, travelling through Poland by train and bus was easy, efficient, cheap, fast and comfortable and I highly recommend travellers to do the same if you plan on visiting Poland. You don’t have to worry about the weather (although there are sometimes disruptions to to heavy snowfall in the mountain regions), traffic, or any of the hassles of road rage; just sit back and enjoy pure relaxation as the mountains, villages and greenery surround you on your epic rail or bus journey. The Polish State Railway, Polskie Koleje Państwowe S.A., or PKP, is the dominant railway operator in Poland and operates all the major lines within Poland, so getting around to all ends of the country isn’t a problem. There are many other regional and local train companies as well, plus a slew of buses that range from mini buses to large coaches to whisk you comfortably around the country.
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Poland is a country that is defined by its tumultuous past. Most people associate Poland’s history with the atrocities that took place during WWII and the reign of Communism shortly after the war ended by the Soviets. Every city, town and village you visit in Poland will have some form of historical references made to WWII. From the large museums in cities such as Warsaw and Kraków, to the mountainous regions of Zakopane where unfortunately, like the rest of Poland, was subject to Nazi Germany and Soviet takeover and was invaded in 1939. Since the war and the fall of Communism, Poland has risen from the ashes and a ruling thumb into the great country that it is today where the people pride themselves on their culture and stand tall when it comes to their freedoms.
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Before heading to Poland, I read a few blogs online to see how prices compared and I came across one blog that mentioned that for 6 days in Poland, the blogger spent approximately $645 USD. This was JUST on hotels!
I thought that was absolutely absurd because the amount that I spent on hotels, chalets, apartments and guesthouses for 3 full weeks in Poland just coasted around the $1,000 CAD mark. I don’t know where that blogger was staying, but I can assure you that you definitely do NOT need to spend that kind of money to have comfortable, clean and affordable accommodations in Poland. I stayed in the heart of Warsaw three separate times and the most I paid was $80 CAD a night for a full sized apartment. I also stayed in an incredibly stunning wooden chalet in Zakopane for two nights, which included homemade breakfasts and only paid $108 CAD total. The cheapest place I stayed was in a large loft-like room right in the heart of Bielsko-Biała‘s Old Town square with a view of the Beskidy mountains in the distance and I only paid $28 CAD! Just because it’s cheap, doesn’t mean it will be shit.
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Where In Europe
One thing Poles cannot stand? When foreigners refer to Poland as “Eastern Europe.” If you open up a map of Europe, you can clearly see that Poland is considered Central Europe. The modern landscape of Poland is considerably more Central European than it used to be because the borders of Poland were shifted west after World War II. Of course, Poland is not completely without Eastern European influences either, such as cuisine, bringing gifts when visiting other people’s homes and solid family values, which lean towards a more traditional upbringing.
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Not Grey And Sad
Many people tend to think of Poland as a cold, grey and sad country, especially because most tourists can’t help but always associate Poland with its past. After spending three full weeks travelling around, I can tell you that Poland is far from being a dull, grey and depressing country. Mostly every place that I visited had incredible unique architecture, a beautiful and bustling Old Town square filled with buildings in every colour that you could imagine, which definitely did not seem depressing, or sad at all to me. Poland is also filled with areas that speak to nature lovers with an abundance of greenery, pristine lakes, hiking trails galore and cute little cafés situated in the most peaceful settings imaginable. Enjoying a coffee while sitting on a gorgeous terrace while surrounded by vibrant architecture? Yes, please!
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Not Everyone Is Drunk On Vodka 24/7
Despite what stereotypes you hear and read about Poles, everyone isn’t walking around blazing drunk on vodka. While in Poland, I even met people that don’t drink at all, actually. That being said, Poles invented vodka and can definitely hold their own when it comes to partaking in some shots on a night out.
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More To Poland Than Warsaw & Kraków
Yes, you’ll want to visit the usual cities, such as Warsaw and Kraków, but you should try to visit the lesser known cities, such as Bielsko-Biała and Opole. Not only will you find less tourist crowds, you’ll be surprised with the amount of history, quaint streets and fantastic architecture you’ll come across. Some of my favourite cities that I visited in Poland were the cities that nobody (that I know at least) have ever heard of. Of course, you will find the typical cute Old Town squares that are overflowing with pastel coloured buildings, but you’ll also find that some of the lesser known cities have much cheaper prices when it comes to food, accommodations and museums. Win win!
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After reading this post, I hope that I was able to open your eyes to the beauty, uniqueness and diversity that Poland has to offer. If you’ve been to Poland before, where did you visit? Are there places in Poland you want to visit? Let me know in the comments below. xo
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