Traveling to Poland
To assist those who are traveling to Poland. These are things I have experienced in my travels. It’s not intended to be a complete travel guide. If you are going to Poland and have questions or need advice feel free to contact me.
On my last trip to Poland I was there for nearly a month. I only packed enough clothing for 5 to 7 days. If you’re taking a PolishOrigins customized tour like I did you’ll be moving around and traveling by car or train quite 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 are 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 will be walking, walking and walking.
If you ask for directions most of the time everything is just a “short walk.” Over time we have discovered a short walk in Poland is generally 1 to 2 miles, so be prepared.
Purchase laundry detergent specifically made for washing you’re close in the hotel sink. Some hotels have laundry services some don’t. If you’re washing your clothes, do it every few days as you be hanging them in your hotel room to dry. If you’re staying with family, most Polish families are still hanging their close out on a clothesline and do not have electric or gas dryers. Over the last seven years, I still have yet to locate a laundry mat in Poland.
Genealogy, Meeting and Finding Family
If you’re going to Poland to meet her find family if possible take the time and do your research before you go. It 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 other information they may have about your ancestral past. During my trips, I have surprised a few family members and showing up unannounced and never had a bad experience. If you grew up in a Polish household and recall what Polish hospitality is like it has not died in Poland. Once you establish how you’re connected it’s like you’ve known each other here entire lives.
Genealogy Research in Poland
Expect the unexpected when you’re doing genealogy research in Poland. Things can go good, or they can go bad. When dealing with archives be sure to plan accordingly and know precisely what you want and what you’re looking for in regards to records. Most of the time you are limited to the number of books you can view per day. Also seating in the archives is limited so if there are a number of you, not all of you may be allowed to see 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 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 a 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 refuse to allow you to see the books regardless of how far you come or how much you offer them as a donation to the church. If they do allow you access many times, they are reading you the information from the book, but you are unable to touch it. It 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 bring something with you. It can be something simple like chocolates or fresh made desserts or bread from a store. Those who feel a little more adventurous take some vodka with you. If you decide to go the alcohol route one of two things may happen.
They will open the gift bottle or bring one out from their stock. You will do a few shots honoring the moment. You’re celebrating meeting your Polish cousins for the first time. Doing shots is not mandatory and if you can’t drink that’s okay. (Most of the time, 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 indeed is a bonding experience.
Note: in one of my own experiences I went to a cousin’s house who had arranged a small family reunion. One cousin, in particular, was adamant about me trying some of his homemade whiskey. He did not want to get to know me until after I tried it. After I did a shot,( I gargle that first lol) he was so impressed he asked another cousin to take them to the store so he could purchase me some of Poland’s finest beer! I now have pictures of us sharing a beverage and laughing together hanging in my office.
Who doesn’t love Polish food? My advice is to try anything and everything you’re offered unless you’re allergic to it. In the states I won’t touch fresh Polish sausage is anytime I eat it I’m burping it up for days, and it’s incredibly greasy. However, in Poland this is not the case. The food is prepared much differently, and I don’t believe there are an enormous amount of chemicals. This makes for a different taste for most foods. So even if you would never eat something back home try it, you’ll probably be surprised.
Most American restaurants create foods before you walk in the door. It’s a numbers game, and they try to get you in and out as fast as possible. Expect an experience in Poland! If your dining out you should expect your order to take a little longer than you are accustomed to in the United States. There were instances while we were out in the square in Kraków where it took almost an hour to get our food. Relax! Grab an extra drink and enjoy your company and the scenery and be patient. Trust me 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 travelcards. They work great not only for your time in Poland but for the time you’ll be spending in airports. ATMs are readily available across Europe and in Poland, so once you get there, you can withdraw money very easily.
On our 2015 trip to Poland working with PolishOrigins, we worked with many guides. We had our main travel guide who took us from point-to-point and then guides in specific locations who knew the area as well, example city guides. Your guides are very knowledgeable of many things, but they are 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 you’re traveling across 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 specifically for you and your trip.
When your guide takes you to a location like an old church, many times, you will end up getting a personalized history tour by the caretaker of these locations. They are passionate about the history of their facility, and they will point out things that you would have never noticed. Take the time and enjoy this personalized tour. It will make your travel experience unforgettable.
Are you going it alone without a guide or translator?
If you think you can go to Poland on your own and find your family a little word of advice. You need to be fluent in Polish for this to happen. If you’re like me and you can fully understand Polish but not speak it fluently you won’t get very far. Most younger Polish citizens speak English very well. With adults, it’s on a case-by-case basis. Some have learned English, and others have not. When you’re dealing with older Polish citizens, most do not speak English at all.