Poland really is a country of contrasts. Nature lovers will go mad for the highland and lowland regions, as well as three main mountain ranges and around 9,300 lakes. Culture vultures will love Krakow, Gdansk and the buzz in Warsaw. And it that’s not enough, the Poles are famously welcoming, so if you’re planning to study or live in Poland, you’ll find it pretty easy to settle in. Come and experience some of Poland’s amazing hospitality.
Sitting at the heart of Europe (although often viewed culturally as an eastern European country), Poland borders the Baltic Sea, the Russian Federation, Belarus, the Ukraine, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic, Lithuania and Germany. Its diverse and rich landscapes, plus a culture steeped in history, make Poland an attractive destination. The capital city of Poland is Warsaw. Other important cities include Gdańsk, Kraków, Lodz, Poznań and Wrocław. Outside the urban areas, a long tradition of protecting nature has helped to save much of the great European primeval forest – Puszcza Bialowieska (Bialowieza Forest). If you look closely enough you may spot a European bison, almost extinct by the 18th century, but now numbering around 660 across Poland.
Poles are friendly, industrious people and foreigners are usually made very welcome. In fact there is something of a tradition for Poles to be viewed as the ‘host with the most’. For example, you may be offered a pair of slippers by your host to keep your feet warm while you’re visiting. And if you are invited to dinner, make sure you go with an empty stomach to cope with the generous portions; all washed down with a bottle of home distilled flavoured liquor. So what will you be served? When it comes to food, expect hearty, homely dishes. Try the Polish dumplings called pierogi, or perhaps the bigos (hunter’s stew) that has cabbage as a main ingredient. Both are popular national dishes. Meat in any form, but most popularly pork, along with smoked and pickled fish, especially herring, are other popular choices. And let’s not forget borscht, a soup made out of beetroot and maybe a glug of vodka!
Ah yes, vodka. Poles can’t get enough of it. It has a long tradition in Poland, with some blends dating back centuries – Zubrówka has been produced for more than 600 years. You drink it neat and cold – very cold – and down it in one gulp. There are a number of different colours and flavours, but don’t attempt to taste them all at one sitting – nor is it wise to try and outdrink your Polish contemporaries! It’s also worth learning some essential phrases, particularly because the Poles are big on greetings. Learn good day: Dzień dobry (“jean“, “dough” and “brie“, like the cheese). It’s a phrase that can be used at any time of day; morning, noon or night. Poland also has a long-standing tradition of tolerance towards minorities. In fact the Polish constitution guarantees equal rights to all people and protects them against discrimination on whatever grounds, including sexual orientation. And finally, you cannot study in or visit Poland without taking note of its often turbulent past – dating back 1,000 or so years. In particular, students of modern history may be interested to know that it is still possible to see the ruins of Hitler’s sinister headquarters at Gierloz. Known as the Wolf’s Lair, it is a symbol of dark times in Europe. The sombre memorial to the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau is also a stark reminder of man’s inhumanity to man.
Poland has a parliamentary democracy. Its national assembly, called the “Sejm“, plays a vital role in the governmental system. The PM is chosen by the President who is voted in to power every 5 years.
At a glance facts
- Language: Polish is the official language, but German, English and Russian are spoken too
- Population: 38,104,832 (as at 2018)
- International dialling code: 48
- Time: GMT+1
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