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GoPoland!: Practical Stuff: Transportation

 by Air, Land or Sea?
You can travel to and within Poland by air, land, or sea. Most travellers arrive by air, and then take advantage of the numerous possibilities to see the country by land. If you fly into Poland, you will land either at airport Okecie Airport in Warsaw, or Bielice Airport in Krakow. Warsaw's Okecie International Airport stands testament to Poland's renewed economy: it claims to be the most modern and safe airport in Central Europe and offers all sorts of useful services now standard in other civilized countries (that is, car rental, travel agencies, a post office, a bank, restaurants, and shops). The other airports in Poland - Krakow, Gdansk, Poznan, Wroclaw, Szczecin, and Katowice - pale in comparison but serve their purpose. LOT Airlines runs connecting flights between Warsaw and other major cities, but relatively few between those cities. As always, call ahead to confirm your flight schedule.

Click here for airport schedules.

Now that I'm here.....how do I get to my hotel?
Once you've arrived, Poland offers numerous options to get about, and the one to watch out most for is the taxi. shuttle For instance, don't take one from Okecie Airport; you'll pay far more than you should and will regret being so taken advantage of. You're better off taking a bus or a shuttle. The local buses 175, 188, or the night line 611 will convey you to the central train station (Dworzec Centralny) for the low cost of a ticket for yourself and one for your luggage (see the public transport section below for more info). If you have more comfort in mind, take the 'Airport City' shuttle which will cost you around PLN 6 and runs from 6 to 23 between the airport, the train station, and most major hotels. Pay the driver and watch your bags; theft is common everywhere, and Poland is no longer an exception (see more to the right).

Some hotels also operate shuttles; check at the Ground Transportation Desk which appears after you've cleared customs and obtained your luggage.

Getting into Poland: by Land
If you decide to enter Poland by land, trains or buses will get you here. While domestic train fares are cheap, international ones are not but you can reduce your train fare by traveling to a point just across the border, and then buying a second ticket to your final destination. If you want to cut your costs further, check out the number of rail passes now on offer. As always, watch out for thieves. They haunt the international routes, and will lighten your luggage if given the smallest opportunity.

If you'd rather take a bus into Poland, check with your favorite travel agent. Some bigger companies operate between Poland and the rest of Europe as do smaller, Polish-run ones. You can get a cheaper fare and more destinations through the smaller firms, but be aware of varying standards. If you have to arrive on time, and in relative comfort, go with a larger line.

Getting into Poland: by Sea
You can sail in on a ferry from Sweden, Denmark or Finland. Check with the Polferries booking and information office (48 22/830 09 30; fax: 830 00 71).

 Call a cab!
Again, watch out for taxis in Poland. In addition to driving like bats out of hell, they can also take you for a ride. Fortunately, they've only got a few tricks which are easily prevented. First, avoid the tourist trappers: don't take a cab from the airport, from the train station, or from your hotel. A ride between the hotels Sheraton and Marriott cost one visiting Pole and 3 friends PLN 70 (compared to the PLN 15 it should have cost).

Second, call for a cab instead of hailing one on the street. You can get a number from our practical sections for each city, it won't cost you extra, and you can find an operator that speaks English if your Polish is not up to snuff. Most cabs will arrive within a few minutes, and the short wait will be well worth your while.

Third, once you get into the cab, make sure that the meter is running and the correct fare is displayed. In Warsaw, you should see PLN 3.60 at the start of your trip, and a '1' if it is between 600 and 2200; otherwise, a '2' will designate that your fare is 50% higher for the peak time between 2200 and 600 (peak rates also apply to trips outside the city limits, on Sundays, and holidays). Rates vary from PLN 1.40 to 1.60/km and should be posted on the taxi window looking something like this.taxi fare sticker

Fourth, another way to protect your cash reserves is to ask a disinterested party how much the fare should be (your hotel receptionist or a fellow, native guest) and settle that with your cabbie before departing. Or, you can bring change with you. If your driver insists upon an exploitive fare, you'll be able to counter him more easily if you've got exact change.

Finally, if you still feel cheated, demand a 'rachunek' (receipt: 'rah-who-neck') with the distance traveled, the taxi number, the amount paid, and then take it to the police (make sure the number they write on the rachunek matches that displayed on the taxi itself). While the police may not do much, your bluff might work on the cabbie so that he lowers an exorbitant fare.

As in restaurants, tipping is not common in Poland. Do so for excellent service, and then only in small amounts.

 Take the Bus
If you want to avoid the hectic and sometimes heavy traffic, you can get around the city using the buses, the trams, or the single metro line (in Warsaw only). Lines operate from 500 to around 2300 but if you want a specific schedule, they are posted at each stop along the route. bus stop While the drivers don't meet the schedule with pinpoint accuracy, they're close enough; get to your stop at least a few minutes before to avoid missing the guy who's ahead of schedule. If you want to know where you're going, routes for each line are also listed next to the timetable, or can be found in a spiral-bound city plan.

It's cheaper!
In Warsaw, one ride will cost you PLN 1.40 but half that if you are a student, retired, or a veteran; a pet or ticket large baggage also cost PLN 1.40. If you get off one and onto another, you've got to use another ticket. Tickets can be purchased at the numerous 'Ruch' kiosks dotting the city, but only during normal operating hours so buy in advance or purchase a ticket valid for 24 hours for PLN 4. Because even those who know this still forget, Warsaw has installed a few automatic ticket machines.
Those planning on a longer stay in Warsaw can get tickets good for a week, month, and so on at the ZTM Transport Authority (ul. Senatorska 37 or pl. Unii Lubelskiej; open from 730-1500). Before you go, make sure you've got a flattering passport-size photo for the requisite ID card that must accompany your 1-6 month passes. The ID card number and your name must be written on your pass.

Avoid paying the penalty
To avoid a hefty fine when a man standing next to you suddenly whips out a 'controller' badge previously hidden under his coat and asks to see your ticket, validate it by inserting it into any rectangular metal box ticket validation box hanging midway up the wall of a tram or bus, or before you descend the steps to the metro platform. Controllers commonly operate in the center of Warsaw and take a cut of the fine and as a foreigner, you may come in for special attention, so spend a little on a ticket to avoid spending much more on the penalty. If you don't and are found out, pay up immediately (but remember: do not surrender your passport even if the controller gets grumpy about it).

Avoid the crush hour
Public transportation is convenient, and therefore widely-used. Since the workday ends around 1600 in Poland, you might want to delay your own ride for an hour or two. Cramming yourself into a Pole-packed tram or bus is a skill best left to the natives.

For use in this city only
Unfortunately, Polish cities recognize their tickets only. Do not try to use a left-over ticket from Warsaw while in Krakow. Other differences also exist across the urban systems: some cities require that you punch your ticket twice (look for an arrow at each end of the ticket), or that you punch two tickets for lines that run at night or over longer distances. If uncertain, gesticulate with fellow passengers until you get an answer. Most Poles are remarkably helpful people more than ready to come to a foreigner's aid.

 From city to city: train or bus?
Most people use trains in Poland, but the bus can come in handy if travelling in the mountain region or for making local connections. Two main lines exist: the national PKS or the competing private (and generally superior) line Polski Express. You can get a ticket at the station (usually also the train station) or from the driver.

Where's the station?
Look on your map for a building marked 'glowny' or 'dworzec centralny'. That'll be the main train station. In major cities, you can find the expected facilities (luggage lockers, phones, restaurants, money exchange, etc.) but in a small town don't expect anything more than a shack with a ticket window open minutes before the train is due.

What type of train should I take?
To see Poland, take a train. They're cheap, they're convenient, and they're usually on time. You've got a choice of four types of train: express, inter-city, fast, and local. Local trains - osobowy - can be a great way to see the country, but you won't get anywhere fast since they make every stop possible, and even then some. For a traveller inter-city train with limited time and funds are the fast trains - pospieszny - which cost a bit more, but don't subject you to quite so many stops. You do not have to reserve a seat for fast trains, but beware of crowds during the holidays (August in particular) or on the major routes (Krakow-Warsaw on the weekends). To travel in greatest comfort, reserve a seat on the inter-city or express trains. These trains cost a few bits more, make very few stops, and require a reservation.

Rider Beware
Whatever type of train you take, make sure you're in the car headed for your stop. To do so, either check train the car itself - its destination will be posted along the bottom edge of the car - or ask the conductor. Not doing so could mean you end up in the wrong town, an experience which is common enough to elicit knowing nods and smiles all around when you relate your adventure.

Can I use a Rail Pass?
Yes. Two passes are currently honored in Poland: Inter-Rail and PolRail. Note, students authenticated by ISIC cards no longer get discounts.

When should I buy my ticket?
Early. That is, if you're leaving from a major city, allow plenty of time to enjoy people-watching as you stand in a long line that can move more slowly than imagined. If you cut it close, you can purchase a ticket on board from the conductor but only on the fast or local trains and at a higher price. Once you board, it is a good idea to seek the conductor out; otherwise, they have only your word about where you boarded and might charge you from the start of the line.

First or Second Class?
If funds are tight, take second class. You'll sit 8 to a compartment, but only when traveling at peak times. If money is no object and you are traveling at a popular time on a popular route, take first class. You pay only 50% more, and will appreciate the difference.

Can I check my baggage?
Yes. Look for a sign that reads 'przechowalnia bagazu' which will be open 24 hours excepting a few hourly breaks ('przerwa'). Although service can be excruciatingly slow, you can safely leave your luggage for up to 10 days at very little cost: a fee plus 1% of the declared value as insurance is paid upon pick-up. Since theft is uncommon in this case, you can quote a low number with impunity.

When does my train leave?
If departing, look at the yellow timetable ('odjazdy'). If meeting someone, look at the white one ('przyjazdy). On either, local trains are posted in black; everything else is in red. Red times plus an 'Ex' designates an express, plus an 'IC' designates an inter-city train, and a boxed-in R designates' reservations only'.

For advance information on train schedules, click here.

 How's the driving?
Not so bad if you come prepared for impulsive drivers, aggressive maneuvers, poorly marked streets, and occasional traffic jams. Poles love their cars, and their almost frantic buying since 1989 has yet to be traffic sign fully accommodated with new or improved roads. The resulting problems would do any experienced, traffic-clogged city proud, so if you intend to drive while in Poland keep the following advice in mind.

First, avoid driving in the bigger cities if you can. City driving in Poland is marked by a me-first and me-only attitude that can prove quite difficult to manage while on unfamiliar territory.

Second, you can rent a car in Poland if you have a year of driving experience and 21 years of age (although some agencies might like you to be a bit older). It'll be easier and cheaper to reserve your car before you come, and you'll be certain to have one waiting for you when you do. Given the high rate of theft, most companies will not allow you to rent a car in another country and then drive into Poland. They are so cautious about the car being stolen that you should read your contract carefully: you might be liable for more than you bargained for if the car is taken.

Third, drinking and driving may be more common in Poland than not but ironically, the legal blood alcohol limit is extremely low: basically, one glass of wine will put you over the limit. Unfortunately, foreigners are an easy and common target for the police. It's best to leave them no excuse for extracting money and time from you. Take a cab. Or walk: the streets are actually safer.

Fourth, speed traps exist. Again, Poles love to drive fast and the police love to give tickets. Look for a sharp change in the speed limit just outside villages, towns, or any built-up area and obey it. Another signal to watch out for is the flashing headlights of oncoming cars - a common way to warn drivers about to pass into a trap.

Fifth, be aware that most rural roads are often two lane only; Poland has few multi-lane highways which can be trying when entering a bigger city after a weekend in the country. The smaller, through-the-village roads twist and turn and take you every which way, even onto cobblestones or dirt. This scenic, slower route can be quite engaging for you, but not necessarily for your car. Also, be on the look-out for horses, tractors, and pedestrians, especially the staggering kind.

Finally, you need not worry about gas unless you plan a long trip into the depths of Poland. Gas stations are quite common now, and offer most types of fuel.

  • Take a Cab
  • Take a Bus
  • Take a Train
  • Take a Car
  • Stop, Thief!
    An unfortunate experience you'll want to avoid is theft, on the train, the bus, or on the road.

    On the train, this particular evil is common on the international routes, on the express and inter-city trains, and while getting on or off the train. If you take an
    overnighter, lock everything up and sleep on your most important belongings (like your passport and money).

    On the bus, it's more a passive pickpocket thing than the aggressive muggings infamous in the States. Take all the usual precautions travellers are advised about the world over, and you'll be okay.

    Last but by no means least, car theft is quite popular in Poland. To avoid it, park your car in a guarded lot 'parking strzezony' (they don't cost much) and use other means of getting about in the larger cities. If you do leave your car in a lot, remove anything of value from view or from the car itself. If they don't take the car, they'll be more than happy to take what's in it. It will also help if your car is not screaming 'steal me'. Thieves look for the obvious: new, expensive and foreign. If that's what you've got, leave it at home.
    Do you speak English?
    Although more Poles speak English every year, don't count on finding one. If you need to get somewhere, write all the information down. If travelling by train, your destination should be fairly obvious to you, but the rest might require a bit of vocabulary. If you want to reserve a ticket on a train that does not automatically require them (fast or local), write down 'miejscowka'. First class is 'pierwsza klasa'; second class is 'druga klasa'. If you're taking an overnighter and want to get some sleep, you can reserve a sleeper ('sypialny') or a couchette ('kaszet'), but this has to be done at a special counter in the station.

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