Stepping off the plane in Warsaw and entering the airport terminal was just like any other airport. People were collecting their bags from the luggage carousels and standing in groups chatting and laughing. Heading towards the exit I realised that the group of people by the door was so big because it was locked. Having extremely limited knowledge of the Polish language I couldn't understand the voice on the speaker system who was clearly explaining the reasons for the delay. Luckily, my friend had already landed in Warsaw on another flight and text me to let me know what was going on. It turned out there was a suspicious package left in one of the other terminals and as a result, everyone currently in the building was being kept in isolation until the bomb squad had arrived.
Start as they mean to go on they say - but after a short wait of about 15 minutes we were all allowed to leave the baggage collection area and I began my Warsaw city centre. Coming from Scotland the cold climate of Poland should have been a familiar setting, but I was surprised to find that I found it quite an unfamiliar and strange country. The old towns of Warsaw and Krakow are beautiful and ornate with towering churches and castles. Stepping out of the tourist traps however, is a whole different story with long straight stretches of road lined with grey looking buildings. The following tips should help anyone to prepare for their own trip to Poland.
1. Life is so much easier if you prepare - If you don't speak Polish keep in mind that getting around is going to be difficult. It's all well and good in the busy city restaurants and cafés but if you're fending for yourself out in the street you won't know the train station from the dentist. Don't rely on any locals helping you either, the expression 'giving you the cold shoulder' is all too real in the middle of Polish winter. Before you go, brush up on some basic Polish, it might well come in handy. Also, make sure you know where the nearest British Embassy or Consulate is - if you're having problems, they will be more than able to help you out.
2. Don't be fooled by the currency- with burgers costing around 40 Zloty (working out at about 8 pounds) you feel like you're handing over a small fortune for a quarter pounder. The good thing is that hostels are super cheap and also relatively cheerful, trust comparison websites on this one as they do tend to give you the best quality and price. Do remember to take out Travel Insurance before you go, although the hostels are well furnished and reasonably cheap there are mostly shared dormitories. Try to keep your valuables locked away but just to be safe Travel Insurance is vital.
3. Be respectful of local history - Poland is a country which was very dramatically affected by the second world war. Look into the history of Poland before you go, it could be helpful in understanding important cultural traits. Be respectful of your surroundings. Our trip to Auschwitz revealed way too many people taking selfies and pictures in a place where being respectful is absolutely paramount. Make sure to listen to tour guides in these cases as they'll tell you when you can and can't take pictures.
4. It's not all castles and cathedrals - the Polish for old town is 'Stare Miasto' so if you're looking for grand old castles, bridges and cathedrals follow these signs. But don't be put off by the greyness of industrial and residential parts of the cities. In amongst some of the most industrial looking buildings you'll find a tiny part of old Poland left undamaged by the years. Researching the most interesting areas of a City before you go is handy but make sure where you're heading is safe for tourists beforehand.
5. Try as much of the local food as possible - it's the cheapest you'll find and also the best. Polish potato pancakes (placki) are a must as well as dumplings (pierogis), very tasty. Before going, make sure to look up some of the main delicacies so the Polish menus aren't too daunting and if you have allergies, ensure you're able to tell a waiter in Polish so you can avoid any unfortunate trips to the hospital and reasons to use your EHIC card.
Our trip to Poland started off eventfully but thanks to the fact we researched our destination thoroughly before travelling, we were able to avoid any major holiday disasters. If you are thinking of travelling to Poland or another foreign country, be sure to plan ahead. For more handy tips like this visit www.gov.uk/travelaware.