While Poland is fast becoming a typical European country there are still certain traditions and laws which the foreign visitor should be aware of.
ClimatePoland has a temperate climate with hot summers and cold winters. Seasons tend to be more pronounced than in the west and temperatures can get down as low as -20 C in winter and as high as +30 C in summer. The coldest weather tends to hit around February.
CustomsIf you are travelling within the EU those over 18 can now take 10 litres of spirits, 90 litres of wine and 110 litres of beer. Most countries will not allow more than 800 cigarettes from Poland. If purchasing art or books, you need to consider their age and value. In order to leave the country, art must be less than 50 years old and under a certain value (varies depending by type; photos under 6,000zł, other art under 16,000zł, for example); if one of these conditions is met, the gallery curator can then provide you with a 'zaświadczenie' (permission document) describing the artwork's price and when and where it was created. If the work exceeds the permitted age and value, you must get permission from the 'Wojewódzki Konserwator Zabytków' (Regional Curator's Office) to take it out of Poland; bear in mind that this process will likely take 2-3 months. Books must be less than 100 years old and under 6,000zł in value in order to leave the country; if neither applies, permission must be obtained from the National Library. Obviously, problems arise when purchases are made at bazaars or flea markets where vendors cannot provide the necessary documents; if there is any doubt about the value or age of your purchase, we suggest you visit an 'Antykwariat' (antiques dealer – see shopping) for advice.
ElectricityElectricity in Poland is 230V, 50Hz AC. Plug sockets are round with two round-pin sockets. Therefore if you are coming from the US, UK or Ireland you are definitely going to need a plug convertor. The best place to pick these up is at home, though if you arrive without one try your hotel concierge or reception; they should be able to point you to the nearest electrical store if they fail to provide a convertor themselves.
Facts & Figures
Poland covers an area of 312,685 square kilometers and is the ninth biggest country in Europe. It borders the Baltic Sea (528km) and seven countries, namely Belarus (416km), Czech Republic (790km), Germany (467km), the mysterious Russian exclave of Kaliningrad (210km), Lithuania (103km), Slovakia (539km) and Ukraine (529km).
The river Vistula (Wisła) is Poland's longest river at 1,047km and flows through Krakow and Warsaw before reaching the Bay of Gdańsk (Zatoka Gdańska).
The highest peak is Rysy (2,499m) in the Tatra Mountains along the southern border with Slovakia. In comparison, Katowice’s landscape rolls a bit more gently with the city's elevation between 266-352m above sea level.
Poland - 38,478,602
Warsaw - 1,735,442
Kraków - 761,873
Łódź - 706,004
Wrocław - 634,487
Poznań - 545,680
Gdańsk - 461,489
Katowice - 301,834.
Poland is in the Central European (CET) time zone (GMT+1hr). When it’s 12:00 in Katowice it’s 05:00 in Chicago, 06:00 in New York City, 11:00 in London, 12:00 in Paris and Berlin and 19:00 in Tokyo. Polish summer time (GMT+2hrs) starts and ends on the last Sundays of March and October.
Health & EmergencyIn case of an emergency those dialling from a land line or public payphone should use the following numbers: 999 for an ambulance, 998 for the fire brigade and 997 for the police. Mobile phone users should call 112 to be forwarded to the relevant department. English speaking assistance is not necessarily guaranteed, and rests on the linguistic capabilities of the call operator.
English, German and Russian speakers have the option of using separate lines specifically designed for foreigners in distress: dial +48 608 599 999 or + 48 22 278 77 77. Both numbers can be reached from a mobile phone or a land line and are hotlines in case you run into any troubles during your stay. The lines are active year round with later hours during the high-tourist season.
Further help can be provided by embassies and consulates, of which a comprehensive list can be found in the directory section. If you’ve run out of money, however, then silly you. No embassy will bail you out, and and your hopes will rest on a Western Union money transfer. Most banks and many exchange bureaus (kantors) can now carry out such transactions, just keep an eye out for anywhere displaying the Western Union logo.
For a list of clinics and hospitals check the directory section at the back of this guide.
InternetInternet access is typically free and widely available in Poland, with practically every café and restaurant offering wi-fi to customers with laptops and smartphones. Getting on the network often requires nothing more than a password, which you can request of your favorite bartender or barista with a simple, “Poproszę o hasło do internetu.” If you don't have your own gadgets we offer a few Internet cafe options below.
Law & OrderIn general Katowice is safer than most Western cities, and visitors are unlikely to face any problems. Petty crime does exist however, and travellers should be aware of where their wallet is, guarding against pickpockets and opportunists. Those travelling by car are advised to use a guarded car park. Robberies on overnight trains are not unheard of, especially on the routes connecting Warsaw and Kraków with Prague and Berlin; book a couchette or a sleeper cabin if possible. Also avoid being ripped off by opportunistic taxi jockeys by using clearly marked cabs, something to bear in mind around the train station and airport.
Staying on the right side of the law is significantly easier for tourists who accept that Polish beer and vodka are rocket fuel and drink accordingly. If you’re determined to make an idiot of yourself then make sure it’s not in front of the law. In recent years visitors - ranging from geniuses in Chewbacca costumes to complete fools who’ve thought it’s perfectly acceptable to drop their trousers and urinate in a city centre fountain - have tested the patience of the local law enforcement, which is decidedly low so don’t push your luck. Those who do may well be treated to a trip to Katowice’s premier drunk tank (ul. Macieja 10), a chastening experience which will set you back 250zł for a 6-24 hour stay. In return for your cash expect a strip search, a set of blue pyjamas and the company of a dozen mumbling vagrants. Not to mention a hefty fine (credit cards not accepted, of course).
The other well-known ways tourists can cross cops is by jaywalking. If you are from a country which has no (or doesn’t respect) jaywalking laws, you'll be surprised to see a crowd of people standing obediently at a crossing waiting for the lights to change. This peculiarity has extra effect if you are aware of how little Poles respect the rules of the road in a vehicle, where it often feels like a survival of the fittest. The reason for the obedience of this particular rule is the fact that the local city police (Straż Miejska) will quite freely give you a 100zł fine for crossing a road at a place where no crossing is marked or a 100zł fine when the ‘walk’ light is red. And don’t think you are exempt by being a foreign visitor. You are subject to the law too and your non-residency means you will need to pay the fine on the spot.
Prices in Poland are still fairly competitive despite increases over the last couple of years particularly in the prices of cigarettes. Here are some typical everyday products and prices.
Market values as of February 23, 2016 based on €1 = 4.33zł
|Product||Price (zł)||Price (€)|
|McDonald's Big Mac||9.20zł||€2.12|
|0.5ltr vodka (shop)||23.99zł||€5.54|
|0.5ltr beer (shop)||2.99zł||€0.69|
|0.5ltr beer (bar)||7.00zł||€1.62|
|Loaf of white bread||2.99zł||€0.69|
|Pack of Marlboros||15.20zł||€3.51|
|1ltr of unleaded petrol (98)||4.19zł||€0.97|
|Local transport ticket (1 journey)||3.20zł||€0.74 |
MoneyThinking of paying for your tram ticket with one of the 100zł notes in your pocket? Think again. Small shops, newsagents, public toilets, even the occasional fast food franchise and bar will refuse to break a large note for you. As annoying as coins can be, do carry small change for such moments. Notes come in denominations of 200, 100, 50, 20 and 10 złotys, and there are 1, 2 and 5 złoty coins. One złoty equals 100 groszy which come in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 groszy coins.
Currency can be exchanged at airports, hotels, banks and anywhere with a sign proclaiming it to be a Kantor and you will also be able to withdraw currency at a bankomat using your ATM card. A Kantor will often provide better value than the banks in your home country or the ATM although for obvious reasons be very wary of Kantors in the airports, bus stations and close to tourist sights - by in large, these guys will charge the earth. Shopping around will reward you with the best rate. The Polish currency has been up and down in recent years but the trend is that you will be receiving less for your euros, dollars and sterling than in years past. Having said that prices for food, drink, cultural venues and transport still remain comparatively cheap in contrast to Western Europe. A ticket to the cinema will rarely cost more than 20zł while admission to most museums costs around 5-10zł.
Credit Card ChargesIf you’re visiting Poland and plan to pay for any purchases with a credit card whose base currency isn’t Polish zloty (and unless you’re Polish, this probably means you) odds are you may find merchants asking whether you want to be charged in your home currency or zlotys. At times (though this is more rare) it’s not even a question – the merchant will simply take it upon himself to charge your credit card in your home currency, no questions asked. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your credit card company won’t charge a foreign transaction fee if you opt to be charged in your native currency; crossing the border is what they care about, not the currency. And that’s just one of the reasons why, when given the choice, it’s in the best interest of your wallet to choose zlotys.
Why? Because the companies that process credit card transactions typically tack on fees for converting the money, and then do so at a lousy exchange rate. Depending on the size and number of your purchases while in Poland, the cost can really add up. Visitors will have to be vigilant and monitor receipts when paying with a credit card, and should you be charged in a different currency put your foot down. Merchants don’t benefit from those additional fees, only the company that processes the transaction does. So be firm about asking to have your purchase refunded and done over again in zlotys.
With a full calendar of religious holidays, seasonal traditions and name days, it seems there's always something being celebrated here in Poland. Not to be confused with unofficial holidays like Women's Day (March 8th), national holidays that are still regular work days like the Day of Pope John Paul II (October 16th), or the rash of spontaneously decreed days of national mourning that occur each year, below we list Poland's annual non-working public holidays:
April 5 Easter Sunday
April 6 Easter Monday
May 1 Labour Day
May 3 Constitution Day (May 3, 1791)
May 24 Pentecost Sunday
June 4 Corpus Christi
August 15 Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also Polish Army Day
November 1 All Saints' Day
November 11 Independence Day (Nov 11, 1918)
December 25 First Day of Christmas
December 26 Second Day of Christmas
January 1, 2016 New Year's Day
January 6, 2016 Three Kings
PostA bureaucratic nightmare buried under incomprehensible paperwork, there is no indication that Poland's postal service - Poczta Polska - will be automated or computerised during our lifetimes. There can be no doubt that the post office is one of the most frustrating places to be a foreigner in Poland, as you're guaranteed to not understand a damn thing happening there. Your best ally is the person in line next to you; if there's one person in the room who speaks not a word of English, it's the qualified clerk at the service window. Also, don't expect any signs to feature English translations, though all paperwork has been mystifyingly translated into French (and only French). When you get to the head of that insufferably long queue, don't be surprised to be sent to another or back to the end, paperwork in hand.
If sending something of any monetary or sentimental value, please, make sure you do so by using priority mail or better; magic word: 'Priorytet.' Choosing the cheapest overseas option available will ensure that your package is used as a football, opened and resealed with or without all of its contents before it arrives after a minimum 90-day journey. We're not exaggerating, and, yes, we are still very angry.
There are several post offices around Katowice, with the main building at ul. Pocztowa 9 (D-3) being the largest and most incomprehensible. All post offices close early on Saturday, if open at all, and all will be closed Sunday. Good luck, gringo.
ReligionFor over one thousand years Poland has been a bulwark of Catholicism, fighting against the horrors of pagan invasion and looking to Catholicism for a sense of social and national unity. When Poland was partitioned in the 19th century, many turned to the church for solace and during the communist era, underground resistance meetings were surreptitiously held in churches.
The deceased Polish-born Pope John Paul II remains a genuine source of pride for all Poles, and is beloved in a way more profound than cynics in the West can understand. Many Poles genuinely believe that John Paul II single-handedly started the overthrow of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe. Small wonder then that your average Pole takes Catholicism very seriously. Those used to the more easy-going habits of the West may find the Polish enthusiasm a bit unnerving at first, particularly the solemn and opulent processions that occur from time to time and the droves that flock to mass.