Traveling to Poland?

Traveling to Poland

Below is a list to assist those who are traveling to Poland. These are things I have experienced during my travels. It’s not intended to be a complete travel guide. If you’re traveling to Poland and have questions, or need advice, feel free to contact me.

Travel Light
On my last trip to Poland I was there for nearly a month. I only packed enough clothing for five to seven days. If you’re taking a PolishOrigins customized tour like I did, you’ll be moving around and traveling by car or train frequently. Traveling light will make this a far better experience. Also, the less you bring with you, the more souvenirs you can bring back.

Shoes and Walking
Wear or bring some shoes that you can do an enormous amount of walking in, comfortably. You should expect to do a lot of it! Especially if you’re visiting a large city like Kraków or Warsaw. You’re going to be on foot a good majority of the time. While there are cabs and shuttles available, at most of the main tourist sites, you’ll be walking, walking, and walking.

If you ask for directions, most of the time everything is a “just a short walk”. This has become somewhat of a joke in our house as we discovered, a short walk in Poland is generally one to two miles.

Purchase laundry detergent specifically made for washing your clothes in the hotel sink. Some hotels have laundry service, some don’t. If you’re washing your own clothes, do it every few days as you’ll be hanging them in your hotel room to dry. If you’re staying with family, most Polish families are still hanging their clothes out on clothes line and do not have electric or gas dryers. I’ve yet to locate a laundry mat in Poland.

Genealogy / Meeting & Finding Family
If you’re going there specifically to meet or find family, if possible, take the time and do your research before you get there. This will make for a far better overall experience. I also think it makes for a better experience for your Polish cousins as well. It gives them time to gather pictures, documents and information they may have about your ancestral past. In my own trips, I have “surprised” family and shown up unannounced and never had a bad experience. If you grew up in a Polish household and remember what Polish hospitality is like, it has not died in Poland. Once you establish how you are connected, it’s like you’ve known each other your entire lives.

Genealogy in Poland
Expect the unexpected when you’re doing genealogy research in Poland. Things can go really good or they can go really bad. When dealing with archives, be sure to plan accordingly and know exactly what you want and what you’re looking for. You are limited in some instances to the number of books you can view per day. Many times in the archives, seating is limited so if there are a number of you, not all of you will be allowed to view the books and do research.

When dealing with church archives, I have witnessed both ends of the spectrum. I have one priest who has openly welcomed me to his church for me to research my family history. He has allowed me completely unrestricted access to the books, and has become a great friend. We have sat and talked, (with a translator) about our common interests, and have had great time, dining and drinking at a family get together.

On the other hand, I have run into priests who do not want to be bothered. They absolutely refuse to allow you to see the books regardless of how far you have come, or how much you offer them as a donation. If they do allow you “access”, many times they are reading you the information from the book, but you are unable to touch it. This is why I suggest that you do as much research as possible before you go to Poland.

If you’re going to visit or meet family, take something with you. It can be something simple like chocolates, or fresh made desserts or breads from a store. Those who feel a little more adventurous, take some vodka with you. If you decide to go to alcohol route, one of two things may happen.

The bottle will be opened and you will do a few shots honoring the moment. Your celebrating meeting your Polish cousins for the first time. It’s not mandatory and if you can’t drink, that’s okay. (most times, see note below)

The bottle will be opened and finished, and replaced with more alcohol they have on hand at home. I’ve encountered this a few times and I can tell you it makes for some wonderful stories. It truly is a bonding experience.

Note: In one of my own experiences, I went to a cousin’s house who had arranged somewhat of a small family reunion. One cousin in particular didn’t want to deal with me or speak to me until after I tried some of his homemade whiskey. After I did the shot, (I gargled it first! lol) he was so impressed he asked another cousin to take him to the store so he could purchase me some beer! I now have pictures of us sharing a beverage and a laughing together hanging in my office.

Who doesn’t love Polish food? My advice, try anything and everything you’re offered. (unless you’re allergic to it) In the states I won’t touch fresh polish sausage as any time I eat it I’m burping it for days. (I know, TMI) However, in Poland this is not the case. The food is prepared much differently and I don’t believe they have the enormous amount of chemicals in their food like we do. This makes for a different taste for many foods you may be used to. So even if you would never eat it back home, try it, you’ll probably be surprised!

Most American restaurants create the food prior to you walking in the door. It’s a numbers game and they try to get you in and out of there as fast as possible. Expect an “experience” in Poland! If your dining out, expect your order to take a little longer than what you use to. There were instances while we were out in the square in Kraków, where it took almost an hour to get our food. Grab an extra drink, enjoy your company and the scenery and be patient. It will be well worth the wait!

Preloaded travel cards are your friend! On all my trips to Poland, I’ve taken and used preloaded travel cards. This works out great not only for your time in Poland, but for the time you’ll be spending in airports getting there. ATMs are readily available in Poland, so once you get there you can withdraw money easily.

On our 2015 trip to Poland working with PolishOrigins, we worked with many guides. We had our main travel guides who took us from point to point, and then guides in specific locations who knew the areas well. Your guides are very knowledgeable of many things, but they’re not mind readers. In regards to your travel guides, you need to let them know what you’re interested in, what you’d like to see and experience so they can better help you as your traveling around the Polish countryside. Many of them are well-versed in the history of Poland, so ask them about things you have heard or possibly want to see. They are there for you.
When your guide takes you to a location, ex: an old church, many times you will end up getting a personalized history tour by the caretakers of these locations. And they are passionate about them! They will point out things that you would never have noticed. Take the time and enjoy them, it will make your travel experience unforgettable.

Going it alone without a guide or translator?
If you’re thinking you can go to Poland on your own and find your family, a little word of advice. You really need to be fluent in Polish for this to happen. If you’re like me and can fully understand it, but not speak it fluently, you won’t get very far. Most younger Polish citizens speak English very well. Adults, it’s on a case-by-case basis, some have learned some haven’t. When you’re dealing with older Polish citizens, most do not speak English at all.

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