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Poland

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Travel Guide Europe Poland

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Introduction

Krakow 359

Krakow 359

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The 20th century was a destructive one for Poland, as World War II saw it being overrun by Germans and the Soviets. It wasn't until 1989 that Poland gained independence from the Soviet Union and began the arduous task of picking up the pieces.

Modern Poland's attractions can, at times, be deeply disturbing. Oswiecim (better known for its German name, Auschwitz) was home to the Nazi's largest concentration camp; approximately four million people were killed there. Poland's capital, Warsaw, was subject to a terrible battering in the war; it has been rebuilt from ground level since, but the memory of the war's savage destruction lives on.

Thankfully, however, there is some joy to be had in Poland. The Tatras in the south are a tourist-magnet because of their excellent opportunities for skiing, hiking and spelunking, as well as the collection of quiet villages and towns where old traditions are kept alive.

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Brief History

For most of the prehistoric era, Poland was home to several different Slavic peoples. The earliest settled archeological site in Poland is the Biskupin settlement, which was inhabited around 700 BC. Poland emerged as a kingdom in 966 AD when Mieszko I was baptized a Catholic and made it the new nation's national religion. Over the next couple of centuries the majority of the population converted to Catholicism. The kingdom broke up and reunited several times before 1385, when the Jagiellon dynasty began. During this time, a large Jewish population moved into Poland. At the same time, Poland was lucky to avoid the horrors of the black death, which was raging elsewhere in Europe at the time.

During the Jagiellon dynasty, from 1385 to 1569, Poland formed an alliance with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. This led to many great leaps in science and the arts because of a liberal attitude towards religious tolerance. It also allowed people like Nicholas Copernicus flourish. In 1569 the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth was created, which would last till 1795. This alliance made Poland the largest country in Europe and very powerful. Sadly, towards its end it started to rot from the inside and eventually imploded. Different parts of the country were divided among its neighbors.

A reunified Poland would not appear again until after World War I. The Second Polish Republic was established and existed from 1918 to 1939. It was destroyed by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union by their Invasion of Poland at the beginning of World War II. Millions of Polish citizens perished in the course of the Nazi occupation. The Polish government in exile kept functioning and through the many Polish military formations on the western and eastern fronts the Poles contributed to the Allied victory. Poland suffered greatly during World War II, losing more then 6 million people, half of whom were Jews. After the war the Soviet Union quickly moved in and made Poland into a puppet state. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Poland very quickly started to rebuild itself. Poland joined NATO in 1999 and then the European Union in June of 2003. Poland is quickly becoming one of the major economic centers of Eastern Europe.

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Geography

Poland covers about 313,000 square kilometres and over 38 million people live in the country. Poland shares international borders with Germany, Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. It also has a long coastline: in the northwest is the Baltic seacoast, which extends from the Bay of Pomerania to the Gulf of Gdansk. This coast has many coastal lakes (former bays that have been cut off from the sea), and dunes. The largely straight coastline is the one covered by the Szczecin Lagoon, the Bay of Puck, and the Vistula Lagoon. Large parts of the northern half of the country are part of the North European Plain. Then there is a geographical region comprising four hilly districts with many lakes. These lake districts are the Pomeranian Lake District, the Greater Polish Lake District, the Kashubian Lake District, and the Masurian Lake District. The Masurian Lake District is the largest of the four and covers much of northeastern Poland. South of the Northern European Lowlands lie the regions of Silesia and Masovia, and even further south lies the Polish mountainous region, including the Sudetes, the Cracow-Czestochowa Upland, the Swietokrzyskie Mountains, and the Carpathian Mountains, including the Beskids. The highest part of the Carpathians are the Tatra Mountains, along Poland's southern border with Slovakia.

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Regions

  • Pomerania
  • Masuria and the Suwalki region
  • Greater Poland
  • Silesia
  • Lesser Poland
  • Sub-Carpathia
  • Masovia and Podlachia

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Cities

  • Bialystok - northeast of the country;
  • Bydgoszcz - convenient place to fly in, but nothing special;
  • Gdansk - Hanse city along the northern coast;
  • Lodz - central part of Poland;
  • Lublin - in the southeast;
  • Katowice - industrial city in the south;
  • Krakow - most popular city, in the south;
  • Malbork - small city with a great UNESCO listed castle;
  • Olsztyn - beautiful small city in the central north;
  • Plock - right in the centre of the country;
  • Poznan - one of the bigger cities, in the central west of the country;
  • Rzeszow - in the southeast of the country;
  • Szczawnica - spa town in the south near the border with Slovakia;
  • Szczecin - in the northwest, near the border with Germany;
  • Torun - beautiful medieval city;
  • Warsaw - capital, in the central east of the country;
  • Wroclaw - less visited, in the southwest, nice centre;
  • Zakopane - activity mecca in the Tatras.

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Sights and Activities

Auschwitz-Birkenau

Train line with a chilling end - Berkenau

Train line with a chilling end - Berkenau

© All Rights Reserved carosterns

Auschwitz is one of the country's major sights. Even today it is not hard to imagine what this place must have looked like in the 1940-1945 period. The fortified walls, barbed wire, barracks, gas chambers and cremation ovens show the conditions within which the Nazi genocide took place in the former concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was the largest concentration camp. It is believed that as many as 1.5 million people were systematically starved, tortured and murdered in this camp. These days, it stands as a symbol of humanity's cruelty to its fellow human beings in the 20th century. It is not far from Krakow and can be visited on a day trip.

Bialowieza Forest

The Bialowieza Forest, which is shared with Belarus is one of Poland's natural highlights. It is one of the last remaining true wilderness areas anywhere in Europe and consists of an immense forest range with evergreens and broad-leaved trees. On top of that, it is also home to some rare and endangered animal including mammals like the wolf, the lynx and the otter. But the creature that is really special is the European Bison, of which there are several hundreds reintroduced into the park. Therefore, the park is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Masuria

Masuria is one of the most famous lake districts in Central Europe and there are over 3,000 lakes to choose from. Masuria is located in the northeast of Poland and is a very popular tourist spot, both for foreigners as well as Polish tourists. Especially the biggest lakes in the Great Masurian Lakes area are popular and there are many activities you can choose from. Either relaxing and swimming, or kayaking and walking, and lots more. Many of the lakes are connected by channels and rivers, so it is possible to take your boat and cover tens of kilometers or even more between several of the main towns along the lakes.

Krakow

Krakow is a former capital city of Poland an it was a home for Polish kings for centuries. Krakow is the so called Polish Cultural capital city and it is said to be one of the most interesting cities for travellers to visit in Poland. Krakow was hardly destroyed during the wartime and now everyone can admire huge numbers of old buildings in various styles. Some of the most interesting buildings are:

  • Royal Castle with the cathedral on Wawel Hill;
  • Market Square (the biggest in Europe), with the Clothhall and the Mariacki Church;
  • Jewish Quater Kazimierz.

Wieliczka Salt Mine

The Wieliczka salt mine, which is the oldest Salt Mine in Europe is located south from Krakow. It was exploited for Hundreds of years but nowadays it is a place of cultural events as there are great halls deep under the ground. Rooms, sculptures, chapels made from salt attracts thousands of tourists every year. The Wieliczka Salt Mine is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Other sights and activities

Gdansk

Gdansk

© All Rights Reserved martenia

  • Old city of Zamosc
  • Malbork castle
  • Medieval Torun town
  • Biebrza National Park, home to some special birds.
  • Hanzeatic cities and towns, including the beautifully restored old town of Gdansk.

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Events and Festivals

  • Midsummer Night in Krakow - Wianki - is one of the greatest festivities in Poland. It is organized at the Vistula River banks and starts with a spectacle on the ground and water. The play usually tells the story of Poland's history or the legend. After the performance there are concerts (staged on one bank, while the audience takes place on the other). Finally, at about 10:00pm there is a fireworks display that seems bigger and more exciting every year!
  • Christmas Markt at the Market Square in Krakow - traditional handcrafts, ginger bread, hot wine, Christmas tree decorations and many other things can be bought in little wooden shops created for this occassion annually on the Market Square.

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Weather

Poland has a continental climate with generally warm summers and cold winters. Most of the country has about the same weather, but there are some differences. The coastline in the north is somewhat cooler during summer and milder during winter. Also, the east and south is colder in winter compared to most other parts, including the inland areas.

Average summer temperatures are around 23 °C or 24 °C from June to August, around 21 °C along the coast. Nights are mostly around 15 °C during this time. Winters last from December to early March, with generally temperatures around zero during the day, and around -5 °C or -6 °C at night, slightly warmer at sea. Alltime highs and lows are around 40 °C in summer and -40 °C in winter.
Precipitation is quite evenly distributed througout the year, although summers does have some wetter weather. Usually there is about 10 to 15 days of some rain or snow during most months. In winter, it is mainly snow that falls.

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Getting There

By Plane

LOT Polish Airlines is the national airline of the country and is based at Warsaw Frédéric Chopin Airport (WAW), formally Okęcie International Airport, located in the Okęcie district of Warsaw and the main international and domestic airport in Poland. Several other airlines serve Warsaw and Norwegian Air Shuttle uses the city as a focus place throughout Europe. Other low cost airlines are SkyEurope (to Vienna) and Wizzair (about a dozen places in west of Europe).
The airport has connections to most European cities and few other cities outside of Europe with the most common international flights being London, Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam. Some other main cities served include Moscow, Rome, Dublin, Brussels, Tel Aviv, Reykjavik, Barcelona, Chicago, Istanbul, Madrid, Milan, New York, Toronto and Lisbon. A few summer charter flights exist as well, mainly to destinations in southern Europe.

To/from the airport
Buses 175 and 188 run all day from the city centre while bus N32 runs during the night for a reasonable price. There is also a train station under Terminal 2 in the airport that has connections to the Warszawa Śródmieście Station. There is also an additional line 148 that provides access to Ursynów (a southern part of Warsaw) and Praga (an eastern part of Warsaw). The fare is PLN 2.8 one-way for all the lines (day and night). Taxis and rental cars are available at the airport as well.

Warsaw Modlin Airport is an airport which was transformed from disused militairy airport into an airport for budget airlines, especially aiming for the expected crowds at the UEFA 2012 European Championships. It opened in July 2012 and Ryanair flies to/from Barcelona, Bologna, Bristol, Brussels South Charleroi Airport, Budapest, Cork, Dublin, East Midlands, Eindhoven, Frankfurt-Hahn Airport, Glasgow-Prestwick, Liverpool, London Stansted Airport, Manchester, Milan-Bergamo, Oslo Rygge Airport, Paris Beauvais-Tillé Airport, Rome Ciampino Airport, Stockholm-Skavsta Airport and Airport Weeze.
Wizzair, flies to/from Barcelona, Brussels South-Charleroi, Budapest, Cork, Doncaster/Sheffield, Eindhoven, Glasgow-Prestwick, Gothenburg-City, Liverpool, London Luton Airport, Malmö, Milan-Bergamo, Rome-Fiumicino, Oslo-Torp, Paris-Beauvais, Stockholm-Skavsta and seasonal to/from Burgas, Grenoble and Madrid.

To/from the airport
A new 5-kilometre-long rail spur branching off from the existing Warsaw-Gdansk line will be built with an underground station at the airport, providing a 30-minute trip to Warsaw's centre.

Poznan, Katowice, Krakow, Wroclaw and Gdansk all have major airports with a number of cities throughout Europe served and there are several smaller cities like Bydgoszcz, Lodz, Rzeszow and Szczecin which have a few international flights as well. Many low-cost airlines serve Krakow particularly, like Easyjet, Ryanair, Jet2, Centralwings and Wizzair.

By Train

Trains go daily (night trains) to Minsk and Kiev and you can only get sleeper berths. Direct trains don't go to Vilnius, you need to switch trains at the border. Trains to Saint Petersburg and Moscow travel through Belarus, which means you need to arrange a transit visa before arrival. It's about 20 hours to Moscow, 30 to Saint Petersburg. Berlin has trains to Warsaw (via Poznan) and Krakow, while there are also direct trains from Warsaw to Cologne, Leipzig and Dresden. To Paris requires a change in Cologne. London to Warsaw takes around 20 hours, but with a switch in Brussels and/or Cologne as well.

By Car

You can cross into Poland by car from 7 neighbouring countries: Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany and Ukraine. Most of these border crossings are quite fast and straightforward, though note that crossing into Belarus can be quite a hassle. Be sure to have the proper documentation, international driving permit and all the right insurance (green card) and generally you will be fine, though again in Belarus they will ask for additional insurance.

By Bus

Eurolines offers buses between several Polish cities and many other countries/cities throughout Europe. Warsaw for example has daily connections to and from Vilnius and Minsk. Warsaw and Wroclaw have daily connections with Prague as well. Buses go all the way to London from both Warsaw (via Poznan) and Krakow (via Katowice and Wroclaw)

By Boat

There are quite a few connections to countries within the region.

Sweden

  • Stena Line between Karlskrona and Gdynia.
  • Pol Ferries between Nymashamn (just south of Stockholm) and Gdansk, between Ystad and Swinoujscie and between Trelleborg and Swinoujscie.
  • Unity Line between both Ystad and Trelleborg and Swinoujscie.

Denmark

  • Pol Ferries between both Copenhagen and the island of Bornholm and Swinoujscie.

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Getting Around

By Plane

Bydgoszcz, Gdańsk, Katowice, Kraków, Poznań, Rzeszów, Szczecin, Wrocław and Zielona Góra are the most important domestic airports within Poland, all of them served by LOT or EuroLOT. Most flights leave from Warsaw. Central Wings and Wizzair operate on a number of routes as well.

By Train

The Polskie Koleje Państwowe (Polish State Railways) has an extensive network of comfortable trains to all parts of the country and most lines originate and terminate in the capital Warsaw. There are Inter-City, Express or local trains and there are two types of travel classes. Overnight trains have sleeper cars and some have restaurant cars as well.

By Car

Compared to most European countries, the Polish network of highways (motorways) is extremely limited and although there have been plans for expanding the network and works have already begun, it takes a relatively long time to complete even the more basic connections. Also, many roads are still not in a well maintained condition and can be potholed on most secondary roads. Just be careful, also with the local driving skills. You can access every part of Poland by car but some local roads can be in weak condition. It is neccessary to watch your wheels and tires to protect them from damage. Some highways require toll. For example the 70 kilometres stretch from Katowice to Krakow costs 16 zlotys (€4). That said, it is still enjoyable to travel around by rental car (international and local companies offer these on airports and major cities) or your own car. A national driver's license (or international permit if not from EU country) and sufficient third party insurance (green card) is required, as well as documentation regarding ownership of the car.

By Bus

Polish Motor Communications has good regional and long distance bus services throughout the country.

By Boat

Although Poland offers an extensive network of lakes, rivers and canals, there are few noteworthy regular passenger ferries. Most boats include leisurely trips on for example the Mazurian Lakes and only operate from May to September.

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Red Tape

If you are a European Union (EU) citizen, you may enter without any restriction as per your EU citizenship rights. If you are not an EU citizen, you will need to obtain a Schengen Visa. This visa is valid for any country in the Schengen zone.

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Money

See also: Money Matters

The zloty (PLN) is the official currency of Poland. The zloty is subdivided into 100 groszy. Banknotes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 zloty. Coins come in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 groszy, and 1, 2, 5 zloty. Although Poland is not in the euro (€) zone, you can sometimes pay with euros especially in hotels and souvenir shops in big cities like Krakow. If this would not be possible, credit card payment is popular countrywide. You can withdraw the local currency from ATM's as well as exchange money in exchange officies (kantor) that can be found in the city centres.

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Work

At the moment Poland is one of the best places around the world to find a job as an English teacher. TEFL courses (that's Teaching English as a Foreign Language) are run in many cities across Poland. The demand for TEFL teachers is enormous and teaching language is a brilliant way to fund your travel and earn as you go.

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Study

Studying in Poland can be an incredible experience for foreigners. Foreign students can finance a B.A. education for as low as 24,000 zł and a M.A. education for as low as 20,000 zł. There are many international schools and great universities in Poland and of them the Jagiellonian University in particular is renowned as member of the Coimbra Group and is also a core member of the Europaeum. The University of Warsaw is the top ranked public university in Poland. National Film School in Łódź is the most notable academy. Private universities are a recent invention, but have been successful enough where several private schools are competing with the major public universities in terms of quality. Private schools may actually be cheaper for foreign students, who are not entitled to a free education at one of Poland's public universities.

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Language

Polish is spoken nationwide but in some regions there are specific dialects (Silesia, Tatra Mountains, Kaszuby) Most Polish people have difficulty with understanding the dialects in its clear form but all the people in the region can usually speak the official Polish. If you do not speak Polish you might have a problem with communication in small cities but in the bigger ones (Warsaw, Krakow, Poznan, Wroclaw) many people, especially young people and people working in the tourism industry, speak English and sometimes other languages like German or French.

People usually are very helpful, so if you try to communicate with your dictionary they would help and be patient to understand. In the officies, shops, at the police stations - it might be hard, though. Polish language is difficult to learn. People from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia, Croatia can understand quite a lot as these all are Slavic languages.

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Eat

In the popular cities you can choose from a huge selection of restaurants serving international cuisine. Polish traditional food is, however, tasty and it is really worth trying. Polish food is tasty and quite inexpensive. There are many soups to try as well, and traditionally Polish dinner is eaten at lunchtime and consists of soup and the main course. Some of the Polish dishes are:

  • Dumplings (pierogi) with meat, mushrooms, quark, and many other;
  • Potato cakes with sauce (called Placki po wegiersku);
  • Pork chop with potatos and baked cabbage;
  • Bigos (cabbage with meat, saussage, mushrooms, etc ).

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Sleep

There are plenty of hotels, hostels and private apartments to stay in, when in Poland. When you go to Poland you can go even without reservations as there are tourist information officies usually at the airports and railway stations. There are campsites available as well but usually out of the city centre so if you have no car it would be more difficult to visit the city.

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Drink

When you are in Poland you need to try polish beer that is exceptionaly tasty. In the winter time the Polish people like warm ginger beer with juice and hot wine with spices! Hot wine is a must but if you do not like it for the first time try in another pub as sometimes they prepare it improperly. Talking about pubs - there are plenty in Krakow, Wroclaw and Warsaw and clubbing is popular. Be careful not to drink on the streets as it is forbidden.

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Health

See also: Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Poland. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Poland. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended.

If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against hepatitis B is also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. It is also recommended to have a vaccination against tick borne encephalitis when you go hiking and/or camping for 4 weeks or more in the period of March to November.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also: Travel Safety

Even though Poland is quite safe to travel you need to be extra carefull in these situations:

  • when travelling with an expensive car you should leave it on guarded parking places only. The number of stolen cars decreases year by year and in 2010 there it was only 10% compared to the year 2000 but it is wise to protect your mode of transportation in order to not end your vacation earlier than you wanted to.
  • when yo take a taxi - do not take the ones that are available at the railway station or airport - these are the most expensive. Ask the local tourist information to advise!
  • pocket thiefs - like in many other crowded cities worldwide!
  • when you are accommodated in the districts out of the city centres you should ask the receptionist or some locals how to behave and where not to walk after sunset. There are some districts in Polish cities that might be more risky than others to walk at night.

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Keep Connected

Internet

In the cities there are more and more Wifi Hot Spots, so if you have your own mobile device, you can connect. Best chances of finding one are at airports, railway stations, in cafés, shopping malls and universities. Places like McDonald's and Starbucks usually have unlimited free wifi. In some hotels you can find free wifi, though you might have to pay as well or maybe just use it for a limited amount of time. Internet cafes become less popular recently as people prefer to use internet at homes.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

To call to Poland from abroad, dial the Polish country code,48, then the number without the leading 0, as if calling from a domestic mobile phone.
The general emergency number is 112. Police (997), Ambulance (999) and Fire (998) have phone numbers as well, and municipal police has 986 as a number.

Mobile phones work almost across the whole country. There are four mobile phone operators in Poland: Plus, T-Mobile, Orange and Play. About 98% of the country is covered by the standard European GSM 900/1800 MHz network, the remaining 2% are wildlife reserves or high mountains. 3G is available in almost every town.
Domestic call rates are roughly the same across all services. Prepaid starter kits with SIM card (called starter in Polish) are widely available in reasonable prices (PLN5-20, most of which is available for calls), in most of the shops, supermarkets and news agents.

Just about every shopping centre has at least one independent cellphone shop, the guys who run them are usually knowledgeable and have a range of cheap handsets which you can use as a local / travel phone. This may be a good option since juggling SIM cards is always a pain.

Post

Poczta Polska is the Polish public post service. Post offices are generally open from 8:00am to 6:00pm Monday to Friday. Some offices are open on Saturday until 2:00pm and the main post offices in major cities are open daily, 24 hours. Services are generally ok, but don't expact it to be fast and it is not always reliable, though most letters, postcards and parcels will arrive at its destinations after a week or two. You can find the red post boxes dotted throughout the country. You can check this postal website to see how much sending a letter, postcard or parcels costs, both domestically as well as internationally. For sending packages internationally, you can also check FedEx, TNT, DHL or UPS, as they have fast and reliable services and generally competitive prices as well.

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Quick Facts

Poland flag

Map of Poland

[edit]

Capital
Warsaw
Population
38,623,000
Government
Republic
Religions
Christianity (Catholic, Orthodox)
Languages
Polish
Calling Code
+48
Nationality
Polish
Local name
Polska

Contributors

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Poland Travel Helpers

  • Alicja

    I live in Poland whole my life and I think that I know my country quite well,so write me your questions about Poland and I will try to answer you:).You can read a lot informations on my thread:forums-Europe-"What do you want know about Poland".

    Ask Alicja a question about Poland
  • klimkowka

    o beskidzie niskim

    Ask klimkowka a question about Poland
  • Tjahzi

    I am Polish.If you need any info regarding accomodation, travelling, etc.
    I live in Kraków, so can help especially people travelling to this city, and the region of Malopolska(Lesser Poland). Yet I have been to many places in the whole country - so just ask the questions, I will do my best to help.

    Ask Tjahzi a question about Poland
  • bulkatom

    Hi there. I live in Poland and i used to work as a tour leader. I have worked in a travel agency for a year. I live in Krakow and this is why I know this city best. I can help, however, with other cities as well.

    Ask bulkatom a question about Poland
  • valpomike

    I will be in Poland for a month on April 15th. and want to make sure not to miss anything, what must I see and do?

    Ask valpomike a question about Poland

Accommodation in Poland

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