Welcome to the Around the World Interview series on Ordinary Traveler! Every so often we have a new guest who has either lived or spent an extended amount of time in a particular country. Each guest will give valuable insights and tips to a different destination around the world.
This week, Pola from Jetting Around shares her Poland travel tips!
How long did you live in Poland?
I was born and raised there, and moved to the US after graduating college.
Budget tips for Poland?
You can save money on food by trying sandwich shops, easily found in many big and small cities (my favorite is zapiekanka — toasted French bread with mushrooms, cheese and ketchup). Another option would be casual restaurants serving traditional Polish fare on the cheap. The hearty dishes will fill you up quickly and won’t break the bank.
As far as transportation, many places are operated by mini-buses that serve as an alternative to PKS, the country’s major coach transportation company.
Favorite places or experiences in Poland?
Southern Poland is mountainous and there are excellent hiking opportunities, including the Sudetes in the south-west, Bieszczady in the south-east, and Alpine-like Tatra Mountains bordering Slovakia.
If you choose the latter, I would recommend making Zakopane your base. It’s a beautiful town at the foot of the range, with mountain-style accommodations and a busy main shopping street, KrupÃ³wki. Zakopane is often referred to as “the winder capital of Poland,” and you might catch international ski jumping competitions while there.
What is the food like in Poland?
Polish food is largely meat-and-potatoes style, often served with an assortment of salads. There are also all kinds of dumplings and pancakes, which works for vegetarians like me. I wouldn’t leave Poland without trying ruskie pierogi — ravioli-like dumplings with a potato and cheese filling. They can be boiled or fried, and sometimes served with sautéed onions.
Any dos and don’ts regarding customs in Poland?
When you greet someone, it is customary to do so with two or three air-kisses on alternate cheeks. Refer to people you don’t know well as “pan” (Mr.) or “pani” (M’am).
If you are invited for a meal to someone’s home, prepare to eat a lot! You may be asked several times if you are still hungry. And in some homes, it is expected to take off your shoes when you enter, but it’s not a rule. The best thing is to ask.
In terms of topics of conversation, World War II, communism, religion, and relations with Germany and Russia might be touchy subjects to some. Approach with caution.
Also, knowing basic phrases in Polish might come in handy. Lots of people speak English, but don’t expect that to be the case everywhere.
Favorite place to stay in Poland?
I like staying at either small historic hotels in city centers or family-owned pensjonaty (bed & breakfasts) that can be found in many regions of Poland. Whenever I go back to my hometown Krakow, I book a few nights at Antique Apartments in the Old Town. The location couldn’t be better, and they combine modern amenities and décor with stylish wood furniture. Very charming.
Must-do activities or must-see sites?
There are many beautiful cities in Poland that are worth a visit, including KrakÃ³w, WrocÅ‚aw, PoznaÅ„, and GdaÅ„sk. All of them have lovely historic centers, and the large main squares in KrakÃ³w and WrocÅ‚aw are quite spectacular and great places to hang out.
Warsaw, the capital and the biggest city in Poland, is also a popular destination. It was largely destroyed during World War II, but the reconstructed old town is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In addition, I’d recommend a visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mine near KrakÃ³w. Dating back to the the 13th century, the former industrial site is now a subterranean museum with miles of passage ways, featuring salt sculptures, altars, and chandeliers.
Safety tips for Poland?
Beware of pickpockets, especially when using public transportation. Also, crowds might be wild during major soccer matches…
Best and cheapest times to visit?
In my experience, airfare to Poland is priciest in the summer and around Christmas. I would try spring or fall when the weather is nice, but crowds are smaller.
Packing tips for Poland?
Poland has a four-season climate: summers are hot and winters can be harsh. Dressing in layers is a good idea.
Bio: Pola Henderson grew up in Krakow, Poland, lived in North Africa, and has called Chicago home since 2002. Her writing and photography on Jetting Around: City Travel Blog showcases urban destinations and their culture. She loves city lights, views from above, coffee shops, and good reads. Pola can be found on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
Photo Credits: FotoCavallo via Creative Commons