If travel is your passion, I would highly recommend a visit to Poland
I’d never considered a trip to Eastern Europe before, but Poland exceeded my expectations.
As many Poles have immigrated to the UK, I wondered what was wrong with their country and never thought I’d venture there. That all changed with an invitation to a traditional Polish wedding.
Any misgivings I may have had (like driving on the other side of the road) were overturned as I fell in love with what is a beautiful country. Here are some things I liked and I have thrown in a couple I didn’t for the sake of objectivity!
- The Polish people are wonderful! They are friendly and helpful, with an attractive humility. Even though I knew no Polish the people I met made every effort to communicate with me and make me feel welcome. Others went out of their way to assist me.
- Poland is full of great traditions. The wedding was a wonderful two-day celebration with nostalgic live music and dancing and the food kept coming. Before he left for the ceremony, the groom was serenaded by a band that drew a crowd, and he wasn’t allowed to leave until he’d supplied them with vodka! At the reception, the bride didn’t throw her bouquet but her veil and the groom, his bowtie instead of a garter. The fortunate boy and girl who received the items had to put them on and dance together. Talk about instant matchmaking!
- The countryside is magnificent. From rolling hills to forested outcrops to wide-open spaces, the landscape of Poland does not disappoint. I asked some Polish people if they were bothered that so many tourists come, not to enjoy the scenic views, but to witness first-hand the notorious extermination camps of World War 11. I was surprised by the reply. They said they were always pleased when visitors wanted to see the Holocaust sites as this showed respect for the millions of people who lost their lives including their own countrymen.
- Poland has a deep respect for the past. I was impressed that many historic sites have been preserved, particularly Auschwitz-Birkenau, which stands as a dire warning against genocide. I was deeply moved as I was confronted by the scale of what happened there, walking around the vast camp. I couldn’t have gone to Poland and not seen this World Heritage Site, which has become a global symbol of a horror that must never be repeated. It was encouraging to see so many people there, who will never forget the experience, lest it happen again.
- There is much innovation in Poland. You may have been told that Poland is poor or backward, but that’s not the case. I was surprised to see so many modern buildings like the airport in Krakow. The network of roads is well established and has all the usual roadside services one would expect including McDonald’s. What impressed me most, was the miles of sound barriers on each side of the highway with green or brown panels to echo the countryside and blue panels for the sky. Another thing that really got my attention was the solar and wind-powered street lamps, which I saw for the first time in my life. What a clever idea!
- The food in Poland is delicious. From the spicy kebab I was served in a charming village restaurant to the extravagant buffet at the wedding, it was a culinary adventure. It was great to try so many different types of bread, meats, cheeses, cakes and biscuits and combinations I hadn’t tried before like coleslaw with horseradish. And, while British hot dogs drip with ketchup, making a mess, the Polish equivalent does not. The crisp rolls come with a hole for the sausage, which is inserted at the top, not the side. I remember seeing this in France, how very European!
- Classical music is still part of the culture. Poland has many great composers and it was refreshing to stumble upon an orchestra playing in a town square. The music at the wedding was lively, with a band spurting forth many a catchy tune, complete with piano accordion, which I haven’t seen in years. It was almost impossible to resist dancing. Polish music sure puts a smile on your face!
- A visit is fairly inexpensive. One of the best things about visiting Poland is the value for money. Upon conversion, the Zloty seems to go far. Food and drink are much cheaper than in the UK and one can stay in a luxury hotel for the price you would spend on a budget one at home. Internal travel and car hire is also reasonably priced, although beware of the hidden costs of the later.
All in all, I had a brilliant trip to Poland but there were a couple of things that could have been better
- There could be more English TV. At the hotels I stayed at, I could only access Polish TV except in Krakow where I could get CNN, so I was able to get some international news. It would have been good to have access to the BBC and GOD TV, but I was able to do this online and I had no problems with the wifi in the places I stayed.
- Car hire companies must be more authentic. Regrettably, I was let down by the car hire company I used at Krakow Airport. Though I returned the car early and in what I thought was the tip-top condition I was charged an extortionate amount for a small scratch that I wasn’t sure was even my fault. Upon my return, I discovered this is a scam that is widespread throughout Europe where budget car hire companies pay their staff incentives to get the most out of each rental. Of course, I wouldn’t use this company again but from what I’ve read it seems they make more money out of making claims against drivers than out of the rentals so they’re not at all concerned about repeat business.
This unexpected drama at the end of my trip was most off-putting, but I decided not to let it spoilt my trip and put it down to experience. The good thing is that I learned a lot from visiting Poland. I learned that it is an amazing country and I would love to go back and see more. I discovered that driving on the other side of the road is not that difficult and I now have the confidence to drive in other European destinations. Probably not in a hire car though… I think I will take my own, via ferry! But, I will definitely visit Poland again.