Poland

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Introduction to Poland

For centuries, Poland has been a bridge between the East and West. Set in the heart of Europe, Poland is a multifaceted country where the capital and medieval towns are trawled by contemporary city slickers, and where horse-drawn carts negotiate country lanes, untouched by progress.

Poland remains reasonably cheap and safe, with hospitable people who welcome visitors. Over the past decade, it has developed into a modern, vibrant and progressive state, yet at the same time it maintains its traditional culture. It's a fascinating destination and now is a good time to go.

Situated in the heartland of Europe, Poland has been both a bridge and a front line between eastern and western Europe. Today, free from outside interference, Poland is the place to go if you're interested in seeing how a nation picks itself up off the floor and tries to reinvent itself. It's a multifaceted country where the capital and medieval old towns are coddled by contemporary city slickers and where horse-drawn carts negotiate country lanes in areas where the 20th century appears to have got lost somewhere down the road.

Full country name: Republic of Poland

Area: 312,685 sq km

Population: 38.62 million

Capital City: Warsaw (pop 1.75 million)

People: 98% Polish, plus Ukrainian and Belarussian minorities

Language: Polish, German, English

Religion: 95% Roman Catholic

Government: republic

Head of State: President Aleksander Kwasniewski

Head of Government: Prime Minister Marek Belka

GDP: US$373.2 billion

GDP per capita: US$12,000

Inflation: 5.6%

Major Industries: machinery, iron & steel, chemicals & agriculture

Major Trading Partners: EU (esp. France, German, Italy, UK), Russia

Member of EU: Yes

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Citizens of most EU countries and the USA can enter Poland without a visa and stay for 90 days. As of 1 May, 2004 holders of Australian, New Zealand and Brunei Darussalam passports travelling to Poland for a period of up to 90 days do not require a Polish visa. Border laws are being liberalised so check with a Polish embassy before you leave.

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +1 (Central European Time)

Dialling Code: 48

Electricity: 230V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

With a strongly Roman Catholic population, Christian celebrations in Poland are of huge importance. This is particularly evident at Christmas and Easter, but any Sunday is good for getting a taste of Polish devotion and religious fervour. All the churches (and they are truly in good supply) fill up beyond their capacity during the Sunday masses.

The musical highlights are myriad: Kraków hosts the Music in Old Kraków International Festival every August, and Wroclaw follows in September with the Wratislavia Cantans, replete with oratorios and cantatas. Warsaw is a thriving cultural centre, with contemporary music showcases in autumn, including jazz in late October. The Warsaw Theatre Meetings in January review the achievements of the best Polish theatres over the past year. The Polish Film Festival in Gdynia in November is the foremost presentation of Poland on celluloid.

Small local feasts, fairs and contests, often dependent upon local folklore, occur throughout Poland, with a pleasing glut in early summer and early autumn.

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Best time to Visit

The tourist season runs roughly from May to September, peaking in July and August. At this time the Baltic beaches are taken over by swarms of humanity, resorts and spas are invaded by tourists, Masurian lakes are crowded with thousands of sailboats, and mountains can hardly be seen for walkers. Perhaps the best time to come is either late spring (mid-May to June) or the turn of summer and autumn (September to mid-October). These are pleasantly warm periods and there are plenty of cultural activities going on. During winter it's cold and dark (as you'd expect) and many camp sites and hostels are closed, but its still a good time for visiting Poland's cities.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Zloty

Meals

Budget: zl10-20

Mid-range: zl20-35

High: zl35-55

Deluxe: zl55+

Lodging

Budget: zl30-90

Mid-range: zl90-180

High: zl180-360

Deluxe: zl360+

Though not the bargain it used to be, Poland is still a cheap country for travellers. If you are accustomed to rental cars and plush hotels, you can spend almost as much as you would in Western Europe. However, if you can get by with cheap hotels, medium-priced restaurants, bus or train travel, a few beers, the odd museum and occasional taxis, you should be able to get by on around USD30.00a day.

However you carry it, your money will generally be safe while you're travelling in Poland. Cheques are reasonably easy to exchange wherever you go, but you'll get a slightly better rate with cash. Credit cards are becoming more useful - you can use them to pay for up-market hotels and restaurants, car rentals and long-distance transport. You can also get cash advances with the major cards.

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Attractions

Warsaw

Emerging like a phoenix from the ashes of WWII, Warsaw is essentially a postwar city. Its handful of historic precincts have been meticulously reconstructed, but most of its urban landscape is modern, from the dull products of the Stalin era to more creative efforts of recent years.

Warsaw's main north-south boulevard is the Royal Way, running from the Royal Castle to Lazienki Palace, the royal summer residence. This is one of Europe's grandest stretches of road, with churches, palaces, galleries and museums lining the route.

Great Masurian Lakes

The central part of Masuria has the biggest concentration of lakes in Poland, with over 15% of the area under water. The main lakes, the Sniardwy and the Mamry, are linked by rivers and canals to form an extensive system of waterways. It's a prime destination for yachting enthusiasts and canoeists.

Towns are dotted around the lakes' perimeters, with Gizycko and Mikolajki the largest. Mikolajki is the best option for accommodation and gastronomical offerings, but most places close out of season. Cycle touring is a feasible way of seeing the lakes area as public transport is a bit patchy.

Krakow

Kraków came through WWII unscathed; the 20th century's impact having been confined to acid rain. It has retained a wealth of old architecture from different periods; the tallest structures dominating Kraków's skyline are the spires of old churches. It's a city alive with character and soul.

As the royal capital for half a millennium, Kraków absorbed more of Poland's history than any other city in the country. It then had the good fortune to emerge from WWII unscathed. As a result, it's not just Poland's most popular tourist destination, it's an architectural and cultural gem.

Oswiecim

Hardly an attraction in the normal sparkly sense, Oswiecim is a medium-sized industrial town 60km (37mi) west of Kraków. The Polish name may be unfamiliar but its German rendering, Auschwitz, is tragically resonant. What's left of the death factories still evokes the magnitude of the holocaust.

Between 1.1 and 1.5 million people, 90% of them Jews, were killed in Auschwitz and the linked complex at nearby Birkenau. Both remain basically as they were when abandoned by the Nazis. The stories which live in the gas chambers, crematoria, barracks and barbed wire make this a haunted and shocking place.

The Tatras

The Tatras are the highest of all the Carpathians and the country's only alpine range. It's a region of towering peaks and steep rocky cliffs plunging hundreds of metres into glacial lakes. Winters are long and summers are short and not steamy enough to melt all the snow.

Zakopane is the tourist hub of the Polish Tatras. It's a pleasant town, especially out of the summer and winter holiday periods, and is a good base for skiing or hiking in the mountains. Come when late spring and early autumn straddle the happy valley, there is good weather and fewer visitors.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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