Observations about traveling through Poland

Trip Start Jun 17, 2009
Trip End Jul 18, 2009

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Flag of Poland  , Western Poland,
Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday, July 12, 2009 (Useful information for travelers in Poland)

After a good breakfast at the Art Hotel, we were scheduled to board a bus for a tour of Lower Silesia, the region in which Wroclaw is located. First, however, let me tell you a little about life as a traveler in Poland.

Hotels are typically right in the heart of the cities in which we have stayed throughout Poland. Unlike American hotels or motels, Polish hotels typically are not car-friendly. Few have parking garages or parking on site. Most hotel lobbies are quite small, so check-in time can be frustrating with long waits for the lifts (elevators). Each hotel in which we stayed in Poland is a green hotel, meaning that it is wired with the internet or Wi-Fi, it has lights that turn on and off automatically by use of motion detectors or light sensors, and there is usually only one set of towels in the bathroom per room. When you open the door to your hotel room, you must insert your door card key into a slot inside the room on the wall. That process turns on the electrical power to light switches, fans, air-conditioning, and electrical outlets. If the card is removed from the slot, lights and power do not work. Additionally, if you have appliances you need to use such as your IPod or laptop, a phone recharger, hairdryer or iron, you must remember to bring with you electrical converters because Europe's electrical system is not 110 volts as it is here in the U.S. For example, I brought a converter kit (purchased at Radio Shack) that allowed me to plug in my cell phone recharger to the wall. I also purchased a European adaptor for the Macbook power charger, and it worked well. If you have a digital camera with a lithium or NiCad battery, you will need to bring an adaptor for the camera battery charger which can be used in Europe.

Breakfast is normally included in the price of lodging at most hotels in Poland as it is elsewhere in Europe. Hotel restaurants usually start serving breakfast buffet in the hotel dining room around 6:30 a.m. A typical Polish breakfast includes: scrambled eggs, bacon, several types of sausage, smoked fish, hard boiled eggs, many types of cheese, jams, cream cheese and other spreadable cheeses, and many types of freshly baked bread, rolls and pastries. Cereal is always available, but it typically granola or mueslix types of cereal. There is always coffee, tea and hot milk available, along with brie cheese, salads, and an assortment of vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, sliced peppers, olives and pickles. Every breakfast buffet included several cakes, pies and pastries.

Lunch and dinner at the hotels are usually sit-down affairs with several courses, normally lasting about two hours. Each dinner begins with soup and salad. Salad means that the waiter or waitress bring out serving plates (family style) of cabbage or carrot salad or a relish tray as well. Freshly baked bread is served at every meal. For lunch or dinner, beer and wine is normally consumed, and it is considered customary to have a glass or wine with lunch or dinner. All restaurants in Poland have ash trays on the tables and you can expect to have smokers lighting up all around your in restaurants. Dessert is normally served last at lunch or dinner, following the serving of coffee or tea. Boiled potatoes were a common sight at our dining tables, followed by salads, which usually means beet salad or cabbage salad (what we call cole slaw). Desserts are wonderful, and usually mean cakes, pastries or parfaits or custards. While in Poland this summer, we often had fresh fruit topped with ice cream or whipped cream.

Many of the Fulbrighters I am traveling with brought their laptops or notebook computers with them, myself included. Poland is a fairly well-wired nation and internet access is usually available. In several of our hotels, we have had to go to the front desk and get a wireless pass code which is printed on a receipt. In other hotels, we have had to go to the front desk and get an Ethernet cable. Much to our surprise, internet service was provided free of charge for our Fulbright group in each location we visited. All members of the Fulbright group communicated with their family and schools in the U.S. through emails, Facebook, or Skype. I was able to connect with my technology department via video chat, though it was not always available or had transmission problems. Skype conferencing is also a good way we kept in touch with our schools and families. I used my Macbook and Ichat function to talk with my wife and family throughout my time in Poland. How I wish this technology had existed during my overseas deployments with the Marine Corps, but it did not exist then.

Some additional thoughts on traveling throughout Poland and hotel life for travelers in Poland:

  • Television stations are from Poland, France, Germany, Spain and a few other European nations. English language broadcasts are few, but you can watch the news such as Euro News, CNN, BBC or the French station which broadcasts in English. One does not see much news about the U.S., which is interesting as our news in the U.S. often features little news from Europe. The exception was the incessant coverage of the death of Michael Jackson which occurred while we were in Poland. It was 24/7 on all stations. Nudity on television is the norm in Europe, including Poland.

  • Internet service is spotty in some hotels. Much depends on where your room is located in the building and strength of the wireless signal.

  • Everyone smokes. It is difficult to get a truly non-smoking room.

  • WC sign indicates the lavatory or bathroom. The Polish term is "toalety", or toilet. Public restrooms are located with a sign reading WC, or Water Closet. You need to be ready to pay a few zloty (usually a 1 or 2 zloty coin) to use the restroom. There is often a basket or coin drop or at times, an attendant sitting outside the WC to collect your coin. Men’s room signs are usually a male stick figure, while the women’s room is usually a female stick figure with a skirt. Some WC’s have a large circle symbol (for women) while the men’s room is represented by a large triangle sign, or even a little cherub figure urinating. Americans in Poland are often surprised to see unisex bathrooms where there are separate toilet stalls in a large, common bathroom. Additionally, washroom attendants, both male and female, will frequently enter the bathroom common areas for cleanup while patrons are using the facilities within that bathroom common area.

  • Laundry facilities are scarce in Poland. Unlike the U.S., Laundromats as we think of them don’t really exist in Poland. Most Poles will have a washing machine in their apartment or flat, but not a dryer. Some Polish homes have a combination washer/dryer, most likely due to space considerations in their homes. Our Polish hosts told me that most Polish families hang clothes to dry on the line rather than use a dryer. For our purposes, we did laundry in the hotel room sink in Warsaw. By the beginning of our third week, I happened to luck out and found a small Laundromat while bike riding in Krakow. For 20 zloty (about $7) they did my laundry, including folding it, while I sat in their small internet café, drinking espresso and getting caught up on my journal and correspondence.

  • Hotels are noisy places at night in Poland. You will hear all of the drunks on the streets, traffic noise, sirens and so forth. Earplugs or a sound machine are recommended if you have trouble sleeping without total silence. Also, hotel rooms do not have alarm clocks in the rooms due to the door key card powering your lights and electrical switches as previously discussed. Some hotel rooms have safes in the closets in which to leave valuables. Best advice is to leave your valuables at home.
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