Poland is a country where Western Europe borders with Ukraine and Belarus creating a cultural crucible. You will be welcomed with great hospitality so characteristic for Eastern Europe in a country that is changing everyday in front of your eyes. Coming to Poland gives you the opportunity to get a taste of everything: good food, crazy parties, distinct architecture and diverse landscape. What you will choose from this mixture is up to you.
Below you have short description of some basic aspects related to Poland. This small guide has been divided into 4 categories: the people, the cities and the parties, the nature and the food. I hope you will enjoy the read and that it will give you some insight.
Most people believe that there is some truth in the stereotypes we repeat about each nation. After going to Erasmus exchange it is quite difficult to disagree. Even though each of us is different, there are some common characteristics of each nation that stand out. It may be my personal opinion, but I would place Poles somewhere between Spaniards and Scandinavians – if it comes to our temperament. We may seem a bit careful with strangers but very hospitable once we get to know someone better. We love to party, but maybe a bit shorter than it’s common in Italy or Spain.
In Poland there are almost 2 mln students. Among them you will certainly find enthusiasts of cinema, theater, travels, various sports and all other typical student activities. Joining them is the best way to get to know the country and the city you are staying in. Most of young people have some knowledge of English, so you can enjoy your stay even if speak absolutely no polish.
The cities and the parties
The most popular tourist destinations in Poland are Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw and of course Gdansk. These are the biggest cities and all of them have beautiful Old Towns. Each of them is a strong university center, so they are interesting both for sightseeing and partying in the evenings.
In Poland parties in clubs start around 22 o’clock and usually finish around 4 in the morning. Of course everything depends on the place where you go. It is quite popular to stay in bars and cafes. Most of them have very interesting décor.
Important party info:
In Poland it’s forbidden to drink alcohol in the street or in the parks.
Smoking is allowed in pubs and bars, however there are some specific places where it’s forbidden.
If you plan to stay in Poland you shouldn’t concentrate your sightseeing on the urbanized areas only. What is really characteristic for polish landscape is the variety of possibilities of spending time close to the nature. In the north of the country you can enjoy the sea and sandy beaches. In the north-west, in Mazury region, there are around 4000 lakes surrounded by forests. The south border of Poland is marked by mountains. Finally, there are many beautiful rivers where you can go canoeing.
So remember to take a guide and plan your stay wisely!
Traditional polish food has something in common both with food from Germany and Belarus and Ukraine. On one hand we are fond of our meat – especially sausages (famous polish kelbasa), on the other, we have a large variety of dishes based on potatoes, flour and white cheese. Apart from typical polish dishes, in every city you can find regional specialties. Here you have a short list of the most popular and interesting polish dishes:
Pierogi – probably the most popular polish dish, dumplings served with filling made of various things, from meat to fruit. The most popular are with: mushrooms and cabbage, meat, potatoes with white cheese, strawberries.
Bigos - (Hunter's Stew) Sour and fresh cabbage cooked for several hours with some meat, mushrooms and spices.
Gołąbki (Stuffed Cabbage) – minded meat and rise covered in a big cabbage leaf
Smalec - partially double fried lard. It is often spread over bread and served as an appetizer before dishes or while drinking beer.
Placki ziemniaczane – potato pan cakes, served with sour cream and sugar or sometimes with onion and some meat.
Since the climate in winter and autumn is not very favorable, having a hot soup for lunch will heat you up and give back your strength.
Barszcz biały - sour thick wheat and potato starch soup with marjoram, sometimes with cream
Barszcz czerwony - hot beetroot soup, sometimes with dumplings, a hardboiled egg or beans
Flaki wołowe – (pork tripe) it sounds a bit disturbing for some people (even in Poland) but flaki is said to be one of the best soups that you can taste. So maybe it is worth taking the risk and trying a dish made of … well… cows belly.
It’s basically impossible to list all types of dumplings served in Poland. There are some commonly known types and lots and lots of variations in every single region of Poland. The most popular, apart from ‘pierogi’ are:
Kopytka - hoof-shaped dumplings
Kluski śląskie - Silesian dumplings
Knedle – dumplings with a plum inside, served with sour cream, sugar and cinnamon
Kołduny – big dumplings with meat inside served with onion
Try tasting all of them!
What is different?
Your perception of polish cuisine will depend on your country of origin. Nevertheless, after spending some time in Western Europe some Poles realize that polish cuisine is quite sour. We have sour cabbage which is used to prepare salads and ‘bigos’. We use sour cream more than we use the sweet one. White cheese is not salty as it is in Spain or Italy – it’s also sour. And finally we prepare sour cucumbers, which can be easily made at home in a big jar, according to grandmothers’ recipe.
To see the difference try:
Bigos – (mentioned before )
Żurek - sour rye soup with potato, sausage or an egg, sometimes served in a bread loaf
Zupa ogórkowa - hot cucumber soup