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Final Thoughts on Poland

A great visit.....

sunny 25 °C

Final thoughts about Poland, we wanted to comment on a few of the consistencies we have noticed while on our trip.

Considering what Poland has been thru in the last 2 centuries, it remarkable what condition the country is in today. When you consider that Poland didn’t exists on a map for over 123 years, was then pounded by both Germany and Russia, under the thumb of communism until 1989, its astonishing how well the country is doing today. This speakes volumes about the strength and resilience of the Polish people.

We can’t say enough nice things about our guide, Witek Jablonski. He was not only very proud of his county but extremely knowledgeable pertaining to all the places we visited and the history related to our stops. At each stop, we also had guides who had specific local knowledge and took care of our walking tour while in the area. Our tour was pretty well all inclusive, unlike other small group tours we have taken, both breakfast and dinners were included along with all entry fees to exhibits, museums, etc. It was probably the best organized trip we’ve been on.

Poland is very clean country, there is virtually no litter or trash anywhere. Warsaw, especially for a large city, is incredibly tidy and neat (with the exception of some graffiti around the metro stations. We found out later that graffiti is tolerated as is was the way Solidarity could get its message out during their bid for freedom). This desire to look after the physical environment could possibly be a reaction to all the rebuilding that occurred after the war, people wanted maintain all that they had lost as a result of the war.

The freeways or long haul highways are modern and very well maintained. There are no cracks or potholes, which is unusual as this is a country with a real winter. They were building new limited access highways in a number of rural places we drove thru. In the cities, new construction sites with lots of building cranes are all over. This indicates that the economy is doing well and growing.

The speed limit for cars on the freeways is 140kph and people probably drive faster but it’s hard to tell from our van. Trucks do not try to keep up with the cars and stick to the right lane. Polish drivers are very courteous and polite; we didn’t any incidence of road rage or bad driving although some was very fast.

Almost all of the young people we have met so far speak fairly good English. We have been told that this is because English in taught in the schools starting at a young age and continues thru graduation. Education is also free up to and including state run universities. Scholarships are available for some top students for living expenses and those students from poor families can also get financial assistance. Students graduating with technical degrees especially in computer science and engineering fields are having no problem finding jobs.

There have been a number of private universities established lately but they are not free and seemed to be attended by those who did not pass public school exams. They are not held in the same high esteem as the regular schools. One of our guides shared with us that some of the graduates of the private universities, especially with degrees in general interest courses such as philosophy, art, liberal arts are not successful in getting jobs in their chosen fields. Foreign schools do not recognize many of these private university degrees for those who want to go on to graduate degrees.

Sadly through out the country we find all the fast food places such as KFC, MacDonalds, Burger King, etc that we see everywhere else we travel these days including 3rd world countries. A few days ago we stopped at a highway truck stop kind of place that was a Circle K (which I don’t believe have invaded Canada yet) and the coffee was drinkable and the poppy seed pastry was delicious. When was the last time you had good coffee and pastry in a Canadian truck stop?

We have noticed that dandelions are everywhere along the roads and parks, also that the grass doesn’t get cut in these places very often. One of our local guides told us the current right of center govt’ has instituted a series of fiscal restraints and cut backs including in education that is causing resentment and a growing unhappiness with their policies.

The country has a hidden value added 26% tax that doesn’t appear on the listed price of anything but is included already in the final price and does show up under the total amount on receipts. There is a sliding federal income tax that averages out to around 19% so combined with the VAT provides the govt with the resources necessary to carry out all the infrastructure work we see throughout the country.

We were really surprised on how attractive Gdansk was. We expected, as it is the major shipyard in the country, that it would have a run down industrial appearance. The old town along the river especially was eye-catching.

As we have been driving along the highway in the rural parts we have noticed a lot of wind turbines. I have read that the % of alternative energy production in Europe is much higher that in North America. The tree farms or plantations we see are planted in somewhat defined rows unlike the less structured way they are in Canada.

In Warsaw many of the bike lanes are located next too or part of the sidewalk system and not on the roadways. Fred learned this the hard way as he was almost run over by a bike because he was standing in the wrong spot. Pedestrians, for the most part, obey neon crosswalk signs at the intersections. It seemed, at first, strange to see people standing at an intersection, with no traffic, waiting for the sign to change. We have been told there are high-speed trains that take travelers at ½ the time it takes to drive between Krakow and Warsaw.

Some of the large roadside highway sign are actually 4-8 shipping containers stacked on top of one another then either covered with or have painted on advertising.

There are not a lot of free public toilets. Toilets are around and clean but you have to pay a few Zloty to use them. Our guide says that all the pay toilets are privately owned businesses.

We asked one of our local guides if there was any lingering resentment towards either the Germans or Russians as a result of all the loss of life and damage they inflicted on Poland. We were told that that the vast majority of the people alive today were born after the war so anger towards Germany for the atrocities that they perpetuated in Poland has diminished. However, resentment still remains strong toward the Russian Govt’ as an enduring result of communist oppression symbolized by the Stalinist architecture still very obvious thru out the country. However, when major Communist era buildings are considered for demolition, there is support for saving them for their historical and architectural value.

There do not seem to many overweight or obese people in Poland. There is lots of heavy food like pierogies, gumpky, pastries, etc but why folks don’t weigh more is unknown. According the internet there are not many minorities, people or colour or refugees in Poland either. 98% of the people use Polish as their original language.
People of Poland also seem to be respectful and tolerant of each other with respect to physical space. Overcrowding in the country’s larger cities does not seem to occur. Other than in the tourist sections, the sidewalks do not seem to be crowded.

Even though Poland became part of the European Union, in 2004, they do not use the Euro and stayed with their own Zloty for currency. This decision was reinforced during the recession that started in 2008, when Euro countries using their own currencies were better able to manipulate their own interest rates and currency value to blunt the effects of the Euros falling output and demand. The recession did not negatively impact Poland’s economy as much as it did many other countries.

The Polish living standard has more than doubled since the fall in communism, including increasing rapidly after joining EU. It has outpaced other eastern block countries economically which is a surprise considering that the Czech Republic was considered the block’s leading economy during the cold war.

Poland’s tourism sector continues to grow and in now the 10th most visited country in Europe with around 16m annual visitors. This is expected to increase as terrorism increases in other EU countries. Poland is viewed as a safe and less expensive alternative.

As the economy grows, income inequality is increasing. This is true on both the personal as well as regional level. Both the former century long tsarist occupation and the later communist domination may have had a psychological impact on specific geographic regions that continues today. There is a contentious theory that these people do not have either the personal motivation or historical work ethic necessary to improve their living standard.

Polish commercial beer is not bad plus we have been told that there is a growing micro brew industry but none of the restaurants that we have been in showed listed micro brews on their menus. All of the major breweries have their own beer glasses with their name and logo on them, which made it easier to remember which beer we liked the best.

We had Polish wine a couple of times and it was pretty good. The whites are supposed to be better then the reds however, not all the restaurants we had dinner in had them on the menu.

We were told that it gets really crowded in Zakopane in both the summer and winter, especially jammed in ski season. This is a bit of a surprise as it is around 6 hrs by car from Warsaw. Zakopane don’t get a lot of North American visitors so unlike other areas, there was not a lot of English language signage.

Most toilets that we find in our hotel have their internal working behind the bathroom wall. I don’t know how they would replace various parts when necessary but I’m sure there must be a way.

We hate to end out final comments speaking about toilets but we are getting ready to board our plane for Amsterdam so will say good bye to Poland and one of the most interesting tours we have taken.

Posted by Fredricgail2017 02:56 Archived in Poland

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Sounds like a wonderful trip to a lovely country! :)

by Heather Jones

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