Mr. Dennis Newman took part in our Polish Delight Tour in 2017 together with his wife, Kathy. He's written down all his tips, hints and practical information for travelers to Poland (which can be applied to any kind of overseas travel) and agreed to share them with you on our blog. We hope that you find them useful when preparing to your Polish Delight or Ultimate Poland tour.
(Have you participated in the tour of Poland organized by RealPoland? We would be more than happy to have your review of our Trip Advsior profile)
Before we left for Poland, a good friend who in the past had traveled to Poland for business, warned us strongly against drinking tap water. “Don’t even use ice cubes!” she admonished. When we arrived in Poland, I asked that question of several people, including some of our tour guides: Is tap water here safe to drink? The answers I received varied. One woman said, Yes; one said, No, she normally uses bottled water for drinking. Another woman, a young mom who just moved back to Poland from the U.S., said that it depends. In big cities, surprisingly to us, the water, she said, is often not of as good a quality as it is in smaller mountain towns, where clear rushing streams may be a town’s water source. For myself, I noticed in one medium-sized city, a young woman refilling her drinking bottle from a fountain in the town square.
So our conclusion: when drinking water, favor bottled water. And re ice cubes: I did ask one waitress about the source of the restaurant’s ice; she said it came in a bag, supplied by a vendor. As for personal hygiene: I would rinse out my tooth brush in tap water. After brushing, I’d rinse my mouth out with Listerine. Showering: eyes closed!
(A note from RealPoland: tap water in big cities in Poland is safe to drink. To find out more about this topic and learn why you might encounter contradictory opinions , read our post : Tap Water in Poland )
It’s helpful, but not a necessity. A few examples. I speak a wee bit of Polish, & understand a lot less. While in Warsaw’s Old Town, I asked a woman to point me in the direction of the (Vistula) River. When I realized she spoke no English, I asked her in Polish. And on our last day in Poland, a Monday, we had to find a post office: I’d inadvertently forgotten to return the room-key to the front desk of the Amber Design Hotel in Krakow (the only hotel that used actual keys, instead of key-cards). There was, helpfully, a post-office branch just a block SW of our hotel, the Polonia Palace in Warsaw. But no one inside spoke English. So my broken Polish helped us get the key mailed back. But most of the time, we were with our fellow tour-mates, so we needed no foreign-language skills. All the hotel clerks spoke English. And especially in bigger cities, younger passersby often spoke English. (In Warsaw, older folks: not so much.) One helpful thing about the location of Polonia Palace in Warsaw: there’s a tourist-office on the SW side of the Palace of Culture & Science (the tall skyscraper dominating the skyline), just 2 blocks N & W. At the tourist-office, all the staff spoke excellent English.
Just a reminder again. When you land, turn “Airplane Mode” back OFF (it should have been ON during your flight). And turn “Cellular Data” OFF. For sending emails & photos back home to friends & loved ones, wait until you get to your hotel, and use its WI-FI. (Note: our mini-bus did have WI-FI, which functioned moderately well.)
Ask for a city map when you check-in at your hotel. But to pinpoint your location precisely while walking, it might be helpful to also use GPS (we didn’t need to, since the maps worked out fine; but some folks might prefer GPS). However, to avoid high cellphone charges, you’d already have turned your phone’s “Cellular Data” OFF. So instead, as suggested earlier, before you leave home (or else, while in your hotel’s WIFI), download an OFFLINE map using the GOOGLE MAPS app. (This helped us immensely when we were driving our own rental car in England & Ireland last year.)
As suggested earlier, a month or two before leaving home, it’s helpful to find two kinds of credit-cards:
a. One that charges you only $1.00 for making ATM withdrawals (when you need extra foreign currency); and
b. One that does NOT charge you a “foreign transaction fee” (typically 3%) for each & every purchase overseas.
For (a), we found our Private Bank card (which just became CIBC Bank) was the solution. And for (b), we found our USAA card did not charge us any foreign transaction fee. For either scenario: ask for the transaction to be done using foreign currency (PLN: złoty) rather than being transformed into U.S. dollars. It’s cheaper to have your credit card bank do the foreign-conversion, rather than having the merchant (e.g., restaurant) do it—because the merchant will typically give you a poorer conversion-rate.
One other credit-card fact: If one decides to rent a car, & one pays for the entire rental using one’s USAA credit-card, USAA will usually provide auto insurance at no additional cost. Check with a USAA agent to learn more.
On our RealPoland „Polish Delight” Tour, it took discipline! Every other night, I’d usually email our friends and our kids 6 or 7 photos, along with a few paragraphs of explanation as to what we saw, what we did. I also copied myself. When we got home two weeks later, I found that those emails were also a help to me in recalling our experiences. On our tour, every day was something new: new streets to walk, new churches to visit, new restaurants to dine at. The days began to run together. Reviewing our photos & text-commentary: a huge help! You may also find that writing the day’s events down in a diary each night is a help—if you’re consistent enough to do so! But I highly recommend taking photos—even if they’re only taken with your smartphone. Smartphones usually will automatically keep your photos filed by date. It’s worked for us!
Here was our experience. For our 16-day tour of Poland (Note: the company also offers shorter tours), for two people, what we spent while in Poland were:
a. Credit-card purchases (meals, etc.): 700 (NOTE: Our most expensive meal: $90 at GoldWasser.)
b. Cash purchases (tips, gifts, miscel.): 1,000
Our 16-day “Polish Delights” Tour, operated by RealPoland.eu., took us to Warsaw (2 nights), the lake town of Giżycko (2 nights), the fabulous northern seaport of Gdańsk (3 nights), Toruń (1 night), cosmopolitan Wrocław (2 nights), the southern ski-town of Zakopane (2 nights), the beautiful ancient capital of Kraków (3 nights), and back to Warsaw.
Along the way, we stopped at places like Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair in the north, Auschwitz in the south, the 14th-century monastery of Jasna Góra in Częstochowa. A small tour (ours had 11, + our guide), we saw medieval castles and great cathedrals, ate in outdoor restaurants, listened to an intimate Chopin concert, felt the rumble of a mighty organ playing the “Hallelujah Chorus,” & strolled thru the broad streets of Poland’s great cities.
A wonderful tour!
© 2017, by Dennis J. Newman, Minooka, Illinois 60447- U.S.A.
Used with permission.