My Journey Through PolandRecently I was on vacation in Poland, first time in 3 years. Here is a report on my trip, including pictures. I live in the USA so I write from a point of view of a Polish-American or a Polish immigrant (with a very strong relations to Poland; almost all of my family lives there).
To save some money, I bought a cheap (at least cheaper than LOT) airline ticket which flew from Chicago to Frankfurt. In comparison to a direct flight to Poland, the cost was about 35% less (through Air India). The problem was how to get from Frankfurt to Poland. The solution was to take a train ticket from Frankfurt to Dresden and from there it's only about 150 km from the Polish border. I booked the train in advance, about 1.5 months ahead.
The flight with Air India was better than I could've expected. The quality of the service and the flight was no worse than LOT; the only "problem" was that they don't have any movies during the flight so it was wise to take some magazines or books (or DVD player) not to get bored too much.
After an 8-hour flight, I arrived at Frankfurt. The Frankfurt airport looks pretty good; the advantage is that the train station is a walking distance from the airport (it's actually connected to the airport). I didn't know that in advance so I had enough time to look around. Currency exchange rates on the airport are very low (as always); with American dollars in my pockets it felt like having Polish zlotys ;). But I went wild and bought coffee and some sandwich; at least the bread was much better than average bread in the US.
At about 2 PM the train to Dresden arrived. I was positively surprised to see a modern train, clean inside, no smell of tobacco either. Unfortunately, it was the only positive thing about the German train (they call it "bahn") on that day. The disappointing story started when a conductor asked me to show him my train ticket. As I mentioned, I had ordered it online through bahn.de website. When ordering, I had some problems with their ordering system as it was sometimes illogical and the English version of the site was in some important places confusing. All in all, after a successful order I was instructed to print out my online ticket which had a bar code on it; the system said I must have this ticket with me on the train. I was under impression it was actually the ticket (especially that it had an unique code on it). But I was wrong; the conductor said the ticket was invalid because I didn't bring the credit card I used when ordering the ticket. I left that card at home because it was due to expire in June anyway and I didn't plan to use it (I had to use it on the bahn.de website because their system has refused two other cards I normally use in the US). The conductor's English was not that great but I was able to communicate to him my reasoning. Unfortunately, he wouldn't listen and was rude; he demanded that I pay the full amount + his "train service" fee which was 3 times as much as I originally paid for the ticket online! I was pretty mad about it having my ticket with my name, address, and unique bar code in my hand. He wouldn't even look at my passport and it felt like it wasn't for the first time he duped a passenger this way (when I gave him $100 bills he asked if I had smaller bills; he would probably take "his part" to himself anyway). The funny thing is that now it appears bahn.de has charged my card at the time of ordering (they even have in their TOS that the ticket fee is non-refundable even if I don't use it, which doesn't make any sense considering the conductor wouldn't accept my online ticket) so I'll have to dispute the amount through my bank since now it seems I was charged 4 times the original ticket fee. Thanks, Bahn.de for your "wunderful" service.
As you can see, the trip started rough and I wasn't even in Poland yet ;). But I knew it's a part of a travel to have such stories so that incident didn't spoil my nerves too much. In the end, I arrived in Dresden. Dresden is a nicer city than Frankfurt, even though it's smaller. From Dresden my relative picked me up and we drove to Poland. The trip from the US to Poland lasted about 20 hours in total.
Upon arriving to Poland, I was pretty tired (considering time difference and the length of the trip). However, it felt like at home again. Nice, green nature, fresh air, people on bikes or on walk; it hasn't changed too much since I left Poland several years ago. Below is a typical view on a street in a Polish village:
After a good-night sleep it was time for a good Polish breakfast and other traditional Polish meals (Polish sausage, ham, and other meats prepared without any artificial stuff were great; not possible to buy it abroad). What I could notice, though, was that some products are smaller and of worse quality than in the US, for example tea bags or any other packaged foods are small. But I only noticed that after a while because the most important was for me to enjoy my family.
It would take too many pages to describe everything in detail, so I include some random thoughts and opinions on some things I experienced in Poland. They all are subjective, of course, but should give a general idea for the readers.
I was often asked if and how much Poland has changed from my last visit. I must say at first I didn't know exactly what I was supposed to focus on when answering such questions. I think a few years in general is too little to notice some additional, significant changes. What was the most important has already been fixed or improved several years ago (for example now the most "representative" streets of most Polish cities look nicer than 20 years ago, the walls are painted, the buildings - especially the new ones - are more colorful and creative). To compare, below are pictures of Polish housing estate ("osiedle") that was built in the 1980-ties, ie. still during the time of socialism in Poland. You may notice the building blocks were grey, and ugly (it could be noticed especially in winter when there were no green areas there).
The renovated buildings look much nicer, especially in the centers of the towns (on the market square - rynek):
What I didn't like at all was that on every possible building in a good location you could see billboards or other forms of advertising. It seems Poland's cities still don't have any rules regarding outdoor advertising since you could see the ads both on museums and regular houses or even electric poles. It needs to change because it makes the city look cheap, especially on ugly or old buildings. Below is a sample view on such billboards:
Graffiti is another bad thing in Poland. It's more like a disaster for city buildings; many freshly-painted buildings have painted graffiti and it does look ugly. Poland's officials should think hard how to prevent that.
It appears Polish people have already got used to the "modern life" that has come from the West. I especially mean numerous shopping centers that sprung up in both bigger and smaller cities. If there are no shopping centers, there are some chain stores (mostly owned by foreign companies though) where you could buy anything you want, if you have enough money. It's more and more common for the young and old to spend their time in such shopping centers, not only to buy stuff, but also to relax and entertain. However, such shopping centers have still high prices - many times higher than smaller local stores, which often offer better quality, especially fresh food. As an example, a tooth-brush costs in Tesco (an equivalent of Walmart in the US)... 6.50 USD (in the US the same brush could cost 2-3 USD).
Other than the "modern life," Polish people are busy with their jobs. Most of them work hard, long hours. However, it's a little different than in the US where people work usually until 5 or 6 PM; in Poland people start working early (7-8AM) and finish work early (3-4PM). In result, the traffic hours in Poland are 3-4 PM.
What I have noticed, Poles now don't complain about the lack of jobs; they now complain about low paying jobs. It's no wonder since some big companies try to exploit the Polish workers by paying them little wages. Some of them hire new workers every three months just to avoid paying them full salary (during the first 3 months the salary fee may be divided between the unemployment office or other local governmental institution and the employer and some companies take advantage of that). There are a lot of job agencies in Poland, it seems even more than the workers ;).
Another thing, Poles (especially the young ones) focus on making more and more money. Their attitude has changed and they now don't value their free time as much as they used to. In most cases it's because they want to be perfect workers and be in good relations with their bosses, but in some situations they just want to buy more and more stuff. Either way, it's normal, the same is in the US.
What may not be as "normal" as in the US is that so many Poles are "well-dressed up" and smell of nice perfumes. When walking on some popular city streets it felt people have their very best clothes on, most of them are designer clothes and shoes. With my easy way of fashion I was an outsider out there ;). But I wouldn't pay $200 for a pair of shoes or $300 for a pair of brand jeans as some Poles do. In addition, when walking on some Polish streets or around people you could smell they (both males and females) use brand perfumes; it was actually a nice experience for an observer like me :)
It's a common view to see young girls with older guys. I hear young Polish girls like guys who have nice cars; by young I mean girls below 18 years old. Such lifestyles are more and more accepted by parents too, which is a little strange to me.
As everywhere, there are poor people in Poland too. Some of them live on the streets (others work on the streets, it's sometimes difficult to determine that). Below is a good example:
DRIVING IN POLAND
There have been many discussions about driving in Poland here. I must say it's not easy to drive in Poland, especially if you don't have too much experience using a manual shift like me:. If I was to rent a car, I would definitely take one with an automatic transmission because that would save me a lot of stress (many Polish intersections are hilly and it requires to use the manual break a lot). From what I've noticed, more and more Poles buy automatic transmission cars (most of such cars are used cars imported from the US). Still few buy such new cars because automatic transmission is only as an expensive upgrade.
Regarding car packages/upgrades, I was a little shocked to realize such trivial things like glove compartment or radio antenna were considered as car upgrades in many car dealers in Poland. Similarly, it was strange for me to find out every car in Poland must have a regular, paid car inspection (to make sure the car is in good condition, has working elements etc.) - this law is subject to brand new cars too.
As far as driving itself is concerned, Poles like to drive fast. That would be fine if the roads were wide enough, but in Poland roads are pretty narrow. If you add the fact that most roads are two-ways and most country roads have mature trees right next to the road-sides, it's getting pretty dangerous to drive. Quite often you have to go off the road to make sure you don't collide with a bigger car, a truck, or a cyclist. In villages people like to walk on the streets so you must be careful not to run somebody down. You need to watch for animals, including dogs and cats, too.
Another strange thing that was easy to spot in Poland were the road signs. It felt like every 10 meters there was a road sign, which was very confusing for the driver. Someone in Poland tried to be very logical and put all possible signs to include all possible situations, but it just doesn't work. Below is a typical view from the driver's perspective - how many road signs can you see? :)
Here is a typical rondo on Polish streets:
There are many beautiful places in Poland. I like the nature so I mostly frequented those. Below are some pictures from the Tatry Mountains as well as Szklarska Poręba and Wroclaw area.Tatry Mountains:Szklarska Poręba:Wroclaw River:Entry to a typical Polish cemetery:Old Russian army cemetery:Poland Euro 2008 flag:
On my way back to Poland, I had to go through Germany too. Here, again, I had a shocking situation. It was about 2 AM (my train from Dresden was at 4 AM) when German police stopped our car. They said it was a routine road control, which took "merely" 4 police cars (3 regular compact ones and one van), it felt like WW2 again or a scene from a cheap criminal movie. Six or seven German policemen surrounded the car and flash lights and car head lights pointed into our car from every angle. I was too shocked to see if they had us at a gun point in the flood of light coming in from outside straight in my face. I am more than sure they stopped us because of the Polish license plate, so in Germany the assumption may be that every Polish is a criminal by nature.
After the police reviewed our documents (for all people, including the passengers) and mind that we showed them our American IDs, train and air plane tickets, they let us go. I am sure that if we showed them our Polish IDs, they would search our suitcases too. What a dreadful experience! Apparently one should beware of traveling in Germany after the "curfew", whatever it may be.
My stay in Poland was overall pleasant. I feel like coming back in a year or two (who likes to work anyway ;). If it was not for some incidents in Germany, it would have been perfect. But trouble-free vacation hardly ever happens ::.
TlumPS. Thanks to Admin for including the pictures on the server.