So in a month's time I'm headed to Wroclaw, Poland for wroc_love.rb. This is the first time I've traveled overseas in almost two decades, so anything I ever knew about international travel I've forgotten. (Canada doesn't really count as international travel. Sorry, Canadians.)

As an American nerd flying to Poland, what do I need to know? Any tips welcome, from must-know information about the red-tape and paperwork, to how to make my cell phone work, to foods to try and/or avoid.

And just what the heck is a “duty-free shop”, anyway?

Published by Avdi Grimm

12 Comments

  1. Check out this wiki about prepaid SIMs and data plans, could be helpful http://prepaidwithdata.wikia.com/wiki/Poland. Duty-free is a scam :-p

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  2. A duty-free shop has special zoning so that you don’t have to pay taxes on stuff that you buy there.

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  3. A duty-free shop has special zoning so that you don’t have to pay taxes on stuff that you buy there.

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  4. Talk to José Valim, he is brazilian but is living in Poland for a while, he probably can give you some tips!

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  5. I Poland it is customary to flip off all people you see on the street, especially the big, muscular guys. Also, only drink water from the toilet bowls!

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  6. First of all, it’s great that you’re going to the conference! I’m from Wroclaw and my friends are organizing this event. I’ll be glad to help you. Me or someone from us will surely await you at the airport, so don’t worry about getting to the city.

    There are many dishes you might want to try, for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierogi, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bigos, sausages, very good Polish bread, many kinds of beer (not only Polish, also Czech and Ukrainian), and of course vodka if you like strong liquors 🙂

    Wroclaw is quite safe city, so you should not worry about safety much. However, not everyone on the street speaks English, so it’s usually better to ask young people if you need anything. The weather in March varies widely, it can be cold (like less than °C), so be prepared. Hopefully it will be warmer this year.

    I’m not really sure about your cellphone :/ I don’t know much about cell standards in USA.

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  7. You are likely aware of this having travelled – but just as a heads up – don’t forget your 220 adapter. http://www.adaptelec.com/index.php?main_page=document_general_info&products_id=183

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  8. It seems you don’t need a visa: http://www.washington.polemb.net/index.php?document=104 so I’m not sure if there’s any other paperwork needed. Of course make sure you have valid passport (issued less than 10 years ago, and valid at least until May 2012). (It would be nice if someone can confirm this, as I’ve obviously never been US citizen travelling to Poland :)).

    I’d advise to have a few $ in cash, as credit cards are not accepted everywhere. It will be very easy to exchange them to PLN (Polish złoty, pronounced “zuotee”). The name of the city, Wrocław, is pronounced “vrotslove”.

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  9. Some general travel tips that have helped me in the past during travels to Asia, Middle east, Europe:

    • The CDC recommends a Hep A and Hep B vaccination (generally good to have regardless of travel IMHO).  http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/poland.htm .

    • Consider sticking to bottled water for everything including tooth brushing, I imagine the odds are low you would have issues in Poland, but always good to be cautious.

    • Cipro and/or other antibiotics can also be useful if you get adventurous with street-food and it gets adventurous with you, a travel doctor or nurse in the US can write you a prescription. 

    • Look into transit options from the airport if you don’t already have it arranged, any major city has its share of taxi drivers who want to take you on a grand tour.  Chat up passengers on the plane from Poland for advice and tips

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  10. As a born and bred Wroclawianka I can provide some advice indeed (some
    of it might be out of date, as I’ve been mostly a visitor in the past years)

      • Cell/mobile phone – your phone must be able to operate on European GSM
        bands, and if you want to use your american SIM card, you need to enable
        roaming before you leave US. If your phone is unlocked and you are
        likely to use plenty of voice and data I would recommend getting top up
        SIM card from one of the polish mobile operators. I usually use PlusGSM,
        you can buy a top up “starter” SIM card for 30 or 50PLN and get
        unlimited data for 7PLN valid for 30 days (you need to activate by
        sending a txt message). You can buy these in any PlusGSM shops (always
        in big shopping malls)
      • Accommodation – since your conference is by Grunwaldzki Bridge I would
        recommend staying in Dominikanski place area (plac Dominikanski), where
        you will be walking distance from both conference venue and Old Town
        with all the nightlife. If you prefer a hotel maybe Radisson Blu or
        Hotel Mercure-Panorama, they should be of a good standard. Or
        alternatively you can stay in managed apartment ie
        http://www.silverapartments.pl/noclegi-we-wroclawiu.php
      • Taxis – I learned recently you cannot hail a taxi, especially not in
        the late hours of a night. You need to call and book it or find a “taxi
        stop”. Taxis all have their phone numbers written in big letters on a
        car, so you’ll be able to spot one. If in a bar/restaurant you can ask the bar staff to order you one.
      • Public transport – trams are very good , often much quicker way to
        travel than taxis during the day. Buses are quite reliable as well. I
        wouldnt recommend public transport at night, it’s a bit complicated and
        rare, though reliable. Remember to validate your ticket (bilet) once you
        enter the vehicle in a special machines. You can buy your ticket at
        kiosk (little newsagents) or in some newer trams in the vending machine
        (they take cards). One trip is around 2.40PLN, or you can buy daily or
        multiple day ticket
      • Airport transport – there is one bus every 30 minutes , which does not
        even take you to the centre. Don’t bother. Get a taxi. Make sure you
        agree the price before (I think it should be around 60PLN to the city
        centre)
      • Tipping – you don’t generally tip bar staff, you do tip in restaurants
        and can tip a taxi driver. 10% is good. Anything is good, as tipping is
        still not a must
      • English – most young people can communicate in basic English, you
        shouldnt have massive problem in bars/restaurants/hotels
      • Jaywalking is illegal. You can only cross a road on a pedestrian
        crossing, and if with traffic lights, wait for a green man. Jaywalking
        is also very dangerous, polish drivers are often reckless and will not
        stop for you. Poland has got extremely high rate of fatal road
        accidents, so beware of drivers please
      • ATMs (bankomat) – there is not a massive amount of them, but are in
        every bigger shopping mall, tourist place. You can pay by card in most
        places these days, but it will work out cheaper to withdraw larger sum
        of cash from an ATM once in few days
      • Bars – if you prefer noisier places definitely visit touristic and
        crowded Rynek (main city square with a beautiful town hall) – some are
        open 24/7 (Error). Manana is usually place where you can find
        international crowd, it’s more of a dance club as far as I am aware. If
        you are a beer connoisseur try Spiz – basement brewery with nice local
        beers (and you may try bread with smalec (lard) there which I stay away
        from as a vegetarian). I tend to go to less touristic pubs rather, like
        Sarah, Mleczarnia or Szajba in close proximity to Synagogue (Wlodkowica
        street), walking distance from Rynek. There are some nice places just
        outside Rynek as well, in Kielbasnicza street area) – like Na Jatkach or
        Academus with more local beers. There is one place where you can drink
        Guinness- its Guinness Pub on Solny Place (plac Solny), right in the
        area as well. Oh, and bear in mind polish beers might be quite strong
      • Restaurants – I don’t tend to go to many when I’m back there, but can
        definitely recommend Sarah with polish-jewish specialities and
        Chaczapuri with Georgian cuisine. I don’t think I would want to risk
        Mexican dining in Wroclaw – if there are any places, there are very new
        and may not quite resemble proper Mexican food
    • For views you can climb Garnizonowy Church Tower – 300 or so steps up to the top from where you can see entire Wroclaw, on the south-west side there is the tallest residential building in Poland. You can also see Panorama Raclawicka – rotunda building accommodating massive painting of Battle of Raclawice. Worth seeing is also the main University building at night from the other side of the Odra River.

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  11. If your phone uses GSM, then call your provider for a free unlock code from them. That way you can buy and use a cheap pay as you go SIM card when you reach your destination. But check that your phone talks the European GSM freq. 

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  12. Avdi, I’m an American who’s live abroad for nearly twenty years. If you have any questions or want the straight dope you can Skype me as “allolex”. I’ve learned a lot about Ruby from you, so it’s the least I can do (apart from buying your book[s]).

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