Poland

Introduction

Being a nation in the centre of Europe, Poland has a history of war, invasion and foreign occupation which may explain the Poles’ strong sense of cultural identity and nationhood. The country’s landscape is beautifully diverse – you’ll find sandy beaches in the North and magnificient mountains in the south. Everywhere in Poland, the mix of old and new is prevalent – there are so many charming traditions you might discover, but there is also a cosmopolitan vibe when you go to cities like Poznan or Warsaw. The way of life in bigger cities increasingly resembles that of Western cities while in the countryside, people are still rather conservative, with strong religious convictions and family ties.


Poles are open and friendly, and not overly formal. Note that for Polish men, shaking hands is an important custom. Polish women also shake hands with men, but the man should always wait for the woman to extend her hand first.

Places to go in Poland

History

Poland has historically always been vulnerable to invasion and aggression as a result of its central location in Europe. During WW1 it was stuck between the central powers (Germany and Austria) on the one hand and Russia and the Western allies on the other. Following Poland's invasion during the war, Poles were conscripted into different armies and so resulted in them fighting each other. Eventually all the occupying forces retreated from the country and Poland regained its independence to then go on to form the 'Second Republic'.


In September 1939 it was Poland's invasion by Germany that precipitated the outbreak of the Second World War. During WW2 a Government-in-Exile was formed (in London) whilst 600,000 Poles fought on the Allied side under British or Soviet Command.


About 6 million Poles (including a huge number of Jewish Poles) lost their lives during WW2 and Warsaw was almost totally destroyed. The Red Army liberated the country, only to install Soviet-style totalitarianism. Poland became a communist state as well as a member of the Warsaw Pact. There were a few important revolts in 1956, 1968, 1976 and 1980, but it wasn’t before 1989, after a lot of talking between the Communist authorities on one side and the Solidarity opposition movement on the other, that (partially) free elections took place. Since 1990 Poland has been democracy and has developed a free-market economy.

Politics

The main political parties in Poland are the centre-right, conservative PiS (Law and Justice - 'Prawo i Sprawiedliwo??'); the centre-right, Christian-democratic, liberal conservative PO (Civic Platform - 'Platforma Obywatelska'); the centre-left LiD (Left and Democrats - 'Polish: Lewica i Demokraci') and the PSL (Polish Peasant Party). These four parties form a coalition in Poland’s parliament. Outside parliament, there are parties such as the LPR (League of Polish Families) and the RLN National People's Movement (Polish: Ruch Ludowo-Narodowy)


A significant movement in Polish politics are the attempts being made to integrate the country increasingly with western Europe. It is trying to further integrate with NATO and other west European defense organisations, as well as with other western european economic and political institutions. This is the reason, for example, for it's current modernization and reorganization of the country’s military as well as the development of a free market in the country over recent years.

Geography

Poland is situated at the very heart of Europe. It reaches from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Carpathian Mountains in the south.

Except for the Gda?sk-Gdynia region and Szczecin in the far northwest there are no real natural harbours. The northeastern region (Lake District) is hardly populated and there are few agricultural and industrial resources to speak of. Poland extends 664 kilometers from north to south and 689 kilometers from east to west; it covers a total area of 312,683 square kilometers. It is surrounded by Germany to the west, the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south, Ukraine and Belarus to the east, and Lithuania and Kaliningrad (a Russian province) to the northeast.

Economy

Of all the eastern European nations, Poland’s economy is considered to be the strongest. The main reason for Poland's economic growth was the speedy privatization of small and medium state-owned companies and new, more liberal laws in relation to the development of the private business sector.


The agricultural sector still has to deal with structural problems and a historical lack of investment. Recent developments have been the reform of health care provision, of the education system and of pensions.


The privatization of the country’s remaining state sectors continues to be an important factor in the future of Poland’s public finances. Other important factors influencing the Polish economy are the reduction of state employment, the fact that incorporated farmers currently pay significantly lower taxes than other people with a similar income.

Country Information

CurrencyZloty (zl)
LanguagesPolish
GovernmentParliamentary democratic republic
TimezoneGMT + 1
Population38 million
ATM availabilityAvailable
CapitalWarsaw
Dialing code(00) 48
Emergency servicesAmbulance 999, police 997 (112 from mobile phones), fire: 998
WeatherPoland’s climate is rather temperate; it is characterized by cold winters and warm summers. In the inland from the Baltic coast, winters can get really cold. Average winter temperatures are around -5°C whilst in the summer, temperatures are usually around 19°C. Rain should be expected throughout the year, particularly in the southern mountains.
Tourist boardhttp://www.polandtour.org
Famous forChopin, Marie Curie, vodka
Useful phrasesDzien dobry (good morning); dziekuje (thank you); ile to kosztuje? (how much is it?)
Accommodation forYou will find the majority of major international hotel chains in Poland rated in stars, one to five, five stars being the best rating. Boarding houses and motels are also rated, although the rating system's criteria may differ slightly so if you wish to stay in these, then you may wish to buy a guide to make sure you get what you are looking for. Bed and Breakfast is generally available in most towns. Regional tourist boards run them, the local offices will organise reservations for you. Especially during the summer (the main camping season is from June to August), camping/caravanning is a nice alternative to hotels, hostels etc. Poland has got over 200 campsites, the majority of them being fitted with 220-volt powerpoints as well as with 24-volt points for caravans. Facilities generally include washrooms, canteens and often also restaurants and food kiosks. Many of the campsites offer 24-hour reception and lighting. If you are looking for something a little cheaper, try International Student Hotels. They often offer better facilities than most youth hostels and high quality accommodation. Hostels in Poland are usually open all year round; you can find their contact details in the Youth Hostel Handbook that the Polish Youth Hostels Association publish.
Business hoursBanks are open Monday to Friday 08:00 - 16:00, Saturdays 09:00 - 13:00. Small grocery shops and bakeries are generally open 06.00-19.00 Monday - Friday, whilst most are closed Saturday afternoon and Sunday. Super/Hypermarkets are normally open Monday to Saturday 08.00/09.00-21.00, and Sundays from 10.00- 18.00.
VisasCitizens of the following countries can travel to Poland without a visa (Poland has been a member of the Schengen agreement since 2007): Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong (special administrative region), Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macao (special administrative region), Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Uruguay, the Vatican, Venezuela. Citizens of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine will need a visa.
TippingYou would generally tip taxi drivers 10% of the metered far. In restaurants a 10% service charge is normally included in the bill however, if you feel like you received an excellent service, you can still leave an additional tip of 5-10%, it is always appreciated!

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