Whoever said there’s no such thing as health and safety in eastern Europe clearly hasn’t been to Poland. Here, between the bustling streets of Warsaw and the old cobbled roads of Krakow, the green man is taken very, very seriously. Yep, first time visitors often notice how the locals will wait patiently at a crossing for the figure to go from czerwone (red) to zielone (green). Then and only then will they scuttle across the tarmac. Woe betide those who do risk it and catch the eye of the local authorities. You can expect some darn hefty fines!
Okay, so this one might be a pretty universal rule. No religion or politics, right? Still, it’s worth re-highlighting for anyone heading to Poland, because this huge piece of central-eastern Europe remains one of the most devout Catholic countries on the continent. Of course, it won’t apply to all the people you meet, especially not the younger generation (who are increasingly becoming less zealous), but you really never can tell. Oh, and one addendum: John Paul II is untouchable. No matter your opinions on the pope of old, he remains a national hero in these parts – particularly in Kraków and the south, where he was born back in 1920!
Move over Russia because Poland is the real capital of vodka (and boy do they let you know it!). From sweet cherry brews to light rye vodkas, clear tipples with a lemon slice on the side to fruity pigowka (quince vodka), the bars here have a veritable kaleidoscope of different flavours on the menu. You’re bound to be roped into a shot or two if you venture out, the locals are like that. Just beware: the stuff might go down like tea, but it’s certainly not to be taken lightly!
While cities like Kraków and Wrocław reign supreme as some of the top nightlife capitals of central-eastern Europe, it’s certainly not no-holes-barred hedonism here. Just as in any civilised place, there are certain rules to abide by. The most important of these when it comes to having a tipple out and about in Poland is certainly the one that says no drinking in public. First of all, it’s not worth it – there are just too many awesome bars and clubs to enjoy (where the drinks won’t cost much more than in shops!). And secondly, the fines can get pretty high for those who do transgress.
One of the real treats of a trip to old cities like Kraków and Gdańsk is the line-up of smoky little cellar bars. These hide beneath the old town cobbles and serve up medleys of local craft beers and vodka shots. They are great places to party the night away, with cool settings below vaulted ceilings. Before you relax though, be sure to pay attention as you make your way in. The staircases leading to the subterranean depths in Poland can often look as though they haven’t been replaced since the basements were first dug in the 13th century, and they are sometimes even steeper than the darn Tatra Mountains themselves!
So, you want to go on a beach holiday in Poland? Great. No, seriously, you’re in for some of the most undiscovered coastal wonders in Europe. There’s the gorgeous Hel Peninsula (just ignore the name), with its yellow sands and soft dunes. There’s lively Sopot, it’s salt-washed piers jutting into the swells. There’s sunny Gdynia with its shipping sails and ports. It’s definitely worth the journey. Just keep in mind that the Baltic Sea really doesn’t warm up too much. Ever. You’re going to be shivering pretty much every time you pop in for a dip!