After my two weeks in the city of Łódź, I’m happy to say I came back a changed person – or at least a wiser one. For your benefit, I’ve compiled a list of top tips I wish someone had told me before I went.
- Don’t expect everyone to speak English.
I’m not naïve. I’ve travelled abroad quite a few times, and I know that English is not the only language out there. But you’ll often find at tourist-rich destinations (mainly western Europe) that most locals have a basic understanding of English, which comes in handy when asking for directions or buying tickets at the train station. This is not the case in Poland.
While a lot of youth have studied English at school, virtually none of the adults (especially in industrial cities like Łódź) known anything more than Hello. If you don’t speak Polish, you may find yourself in a tricky situation, particularly when trying to figure out the public transport system.
Your best bet is to plan ahead, so you know how to buy and use tickets before you arrive, and bring along a dictionary/guide book with some basic Polish phrases to help you along – just make sure you know how to pronounce them!
- Remember to validate your tickets.
Some of you may be familiar with this system, but for UK travelers using key cards for buses and ticket barriers for trains, the public transport in Poland may be a little confusing.
Tickets are little paper slips that can be bought from kiosks, card machines, or, occasionally, the driver. Then once you get onboard the tram or bus, the ticket must be validated in machines near most of the exits. This is entirely your responsibility and if you forget, the ticket inspector will fine you.
- Be careful when crossing roads.
In Łódź especially, the pedestrian lights on side roads are not official. It may tell you to walk, but that doesn’t mean the cars are going to stop. Some will choose to keep driving. So make sure you look both ways as usual, but also keep an eye on cars coming from around the corner, because if they’re in a hurry they’ll just keep going.
- Everything’s shut on Bank Holidays.
And I mean everything. Obviously there are no banks, but supermarkets from big chain ones like Tesco to the Zabka you see on every corner will close their doors. Bank Holidays are religious events in Poland and everyone participates. So if you’re staying over on a Bank Holiday, either stock up on food the day before or search around as there might be one odd store opening for a few hours.
- Make sure you exchange enough money.
This goes without saying for most travelers but it’s especially important in Poland. While you may find a Kantor every few metres, they aren’t necessarily open over the weekend. Most are shut by 2pm on Saturdays and don’t open at all Sundays, making it extremely difficult to exchange money on the two days when you’ll probably want to spend the most. When Friday rolls around, count up your notes and check you’ll have enough, unless you’re lucky enough to have a 24hr Kantor in your neighbourhood (one with decent rates, that is).