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Polish Essentials 😉
A few (obvious and less obvious) facts and tips about Poland that may make your stay here easier and more enjoyable:
- Universal emergency phone number is 112 (free of charge).
- The Republic of Poland (Poland in short) is a member state of the European Union (EU), Schengen Area and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
- Time zone in August is the Central European Summer Time (CEST) – BTW, please remember, we are a Central (not an Eastern) Europe country 😉
- Official language: Polish (see also below).
- Street traffic is right-sided, so always look left first when crossing the street! At pedestrian/zebra crossings, pedestrians have priority over cars but not over trams. Nevertheless, please always look both ways before crossing the street. Crossing the street when the red light is on is illegal.
- The currency is Polski Złoty (zł. or PLN). There are many bureaux de change (“kantor wymiany walut” or simply “kantor” in Polish) in the Old Town, but we advise to avoid those in the most touristy places (e.g. Floriańska Street or the Airport), as they tend to have unfavourable exchange rates and spreads, and they also often charge commission fees. However, there are places with good exchange rates, narrow spreads and no commission fees very close to the City Centre and they are worth a few minute walk from the Main Square (e.g. Kantor Merkury or Kantor Va Banque, both at Wielopole Street). Paypass payments with credit/debit cards and smartphones are very popular (in fact, they’ve been superseding cash payments).
- Debit/credit cards in other currencies are accepted in most places. In those cases, you can select if you want to pay in Polish Złoty or in your own currency. It is always advisable to select Polish Złoty because in that case it is applied the standard exchange rate. If you select your own currency, your bank may apply an inflated rate or fees.
- We use the Metric System, i.e. grams/kilograms (g/kg) for mass, metres/kilometres (m/km) for distance, and centigrade (°C) for temperature.
- Electric current is 230 (220–240) Volts and 50 MHz; electric sockets/power plugs are of the Type E (but Types C and F also work).
- Tap water is drinkable.
- Supermarkets and most shops are closed on Sunday and public holidays.
- Drinking alcohol in the streets (i.e. outside beer gardens) is prohibited.
- There are several useful websites and mobile phone applications that may help you to get around the city using public transportation (MPK in Polish). You may want to try https://jakdojade.pl/krakow website or their mobile phone application, or mobileMPK mobile phone application. This website shows the current position of buses and trams in a cute playful way: https://www.mapakrakow.pl. Tickets can be bought from ticket machines at bus/tram stops and also on buses/trams themselves. Please be aware that some ticket machines only accept payments by card. You may also rent city bicycles and electric scooters to swiftly get around the city (we don’t recommend renting a car, as traffic can be bad and finding a parking spot may also be annoying).
Pronunciation survival guide
Due to exotic letter combinations, strange diacritic signs and too few vowels, Polish may seem unpronounceable at the first sight. However, if you master a few basic rules, most Polish words may suddenly become more friendly, and – believe it or not – pronounceable! 😉
Here’re some basic pronunciation rules that may help you to get around in Poland and/or even impress someone:
- a as “a” in the English “smart”
- ą is a nasal sound that is similar to the French “on” in “garçon”
- c is similar to the Italian “z” in “zucchero” or to the Greek “tz” in “tzatziki”
- ć (= ci) is similar to the Italian “ci” in “ciao”
- ch (= h) is similar to the English “h” in “house”
- cz as the English “ch” in “catch”
- dz sounds like a hard version of c
- dż as the English “g” in “gentle”
- e as in the English “e” in “met”
- ę is a nasal sound similar to the French “en”
- g as “g” in the English “garden”
- i as a short version of “ea” in the English “beach”
- j as “y” in the English “yes”
- ł as the English “w” in “would”
- ń as the English “new” or Spanish “ñ” in “España”
- o as in the English “o” in “port”
- ó (= u) it’s a short version of the English “oo” (as in “wood”)
- rz (= ż) as in the English “su” in “pleasure” or in the French “j” in “journal”
- si (= ś) as in English “su” in “sure”
- sz as in the English “sh” in “shop”
- ś (= si) – see si above
- u (= ó) – see ó above
- w as in the English “v” in “victory”
- y as in the English “y” in “syllable”
- ż (= rz) – see rz above
Thus, for example, Kraków is pronounced in Polish as “Krakoov”, not as “Krakau” as it might seem at first sight 😊