Hassle-free holidays in Poland? Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth
2014-07-01 20:49:46 -
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Since the capitulation of communism in the early 1990s, our eastern brethren in Poland have used their newfound freedom to establish new lives abroad. Some 122,000 Polish now live in Ireland – comprising this country’s second largest immigrant group. And conversely, this year has seen the first big push in an effort to attract Irish people to Poland, a land that mirrors our own both geographically and culturally.

The Visit Poland campaign will be all too familiar to Dublin Bus commuters. Throughout the year, the company’s vehicles have been plastered with ads displaying an almost fairytale-like image of a lady basking in the splendour of one of Poland’s many lakes.

We as a nation are no strangers to travel. But if the Polish tourism board is to reasonably expect the same level of interest that countries like America and Australia have conjured among the Irish, one question remains: are they capable of change? The aforementioned lakeside imagery is a fair reflection of what one can expect to revel in. The Mazury lake district, located in the old north-east Prussian region of Pomerania, includes the vast 113 sq km Lake Sniardwy, which formed during the Ice Age.

The surrounding town Mikojalki offers everything by way of tourism: fine lakeside restaurants, four-star hotels at unfathomably low prices and – don’t panic – an abundance of bars.
For the reclusive getaway enthusiast, it has all the makings of a hassle-free sojourn. Yet nothing could be further from the truth, for Poland still falls gravely short in a number of key areas.

So many sights, so hard to see

Public transport on the PKS service has no middle ground. Most who travel to Mazury can expect to get there on one of the company’s buses from either Warsaw or Olsztyn, a journey of three hours or one hour respectively. While lady luck may grant you a rare voyage on a PKS coach, chances are you will experience an exhaustive trip on a 16-seater minibus with no air conditioning and a fine rear view of seven passengers left standing in the aisle. It’s reminiscent of the sights of Indian trains with which we’re all familiar, though Polish buses stop just short of allowing passengers to ride on the roof.

No less than 14 Unesco world heritage sites dot the country – but they’re so hard to see. Close to the town of Mikojalki lies the historic Wolf’s Lair, the biggest of Hitler’s eastern military bases where it’s said the Fuhrer spent 800 days during the war. Another air-sapping bus journey will leave you a mere 10 miles from the site in the town of Kentzyn, from where it is anyone’s guess as to which direction the base lies. It may seem miniscule, but the lack of signposts, particularly in touristy areas, is enough to drive the most placid of people to tears. The result will be a slew of taxi journeys that, despite the preconception, are as costly as those back home. This is in no small part due to the price of fuel, coming in at almost seven zloty (nearly €1.50) per litre.

The language barrier


It is a little brazen of an Irishman to grobble over the language barrier, but do not expect to be greeted, spoken to or have an order taken in English should you travel anywhere outside of the major cities – which, contrary to belief, is the only way to truly experience Poland. Most employees in hotels and restaurants obtain summer occupations in establishments that remain closed off-season. While the Polish remain a lot more dignified than other nations (which shall not be mentioned) when spoken to in a foreign tongue, it does not make social contact with those in the hospitality sector any easier.

One quickly submerges under the feeling of alienation that the language barrier poses and draws upon the flaws in the tourist board’s endeavours. It’s almost as if on one hand they enthral you with all Poland has to offer, yet with the other they swiftly remind you that once you are there, you are on your own.

Financial instability in Poland is surpassed only by our own, so it could be a long time before the level of money required to kick-start the country’s tourism sector is allocated. It comes as a bitter irony, then, that by the same token tourism could be the answer to dragging Poland out of the economic mire.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his Civic Platform party model themselves on their liberal, western counterparts. Perhaps the time has come for this to be applied throughout society, as many of the conservative Polish right wing still pride themselves on draconian ideas best left in the past. Until then, the efforts of the Visit Poland campaign are sorely in vain, and a country with so much to offer will continue to slip under holidaymakers’ radar.
 

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