January 2012 - Poland
Two ambitious chroniclers extensively documented the Club's trip to Poland. Click below to read their detailed and fascinating reports.
Friday, January 20th nine members of the Dallas Ski Club boarded Lufthansa flight 439 and winged our way to Frankfurt and Munich before landing in Krakow, Poland. Maria and Bill Elizondo from San Antonio joined us later having taken the Chicago route instead.
Anna and Andrew Laczkowski, our trip leader and our personal Polish translator who made a lot of potentially difficult things go away with their humor and by understanding the language and culture, had us happily in tow and on schedule. They were the go-to people for all the best places to dine and must-see places at each stop.
After we checked into the Hotel Wyspianski (photos below) near the main square and not far from the Jewish Section, we unpacked and met at the orientation meeting. Dinner the first evening was in the hotel dining room with a really interesting soups and great bread. We settled into getting to know each other and swapping tall tales of other Dallas Ski Club trips.
Saturday Janary 21, in Krakow, started with a full menu breakfast in the hotel and then we followed Katia on a frigid walking tour of the historic center. At 7 C with a breeze, we were colder than most bears in Bavaria. Because Krakow was the first capital and not destroyed by the German’s we saw many 16th and 17th century buildings, a time of opulance and great design.
Monday January 22
Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum tour was not something people signed up for lightly. One person came on this trip specifically for this tour, others realized they didn’t want to do it, knowing it would be a difficult day emotionally, but like so many, were compelled to do it. Others knew they would go to Auschwitz someday. In the years 1940-1945 Auschwitz was the biggest NAZI concentration and death camp in occupied Europe.
“The metaphor I have been thinking about, “ Larry Fellman said, “ is the perversion of language represented by the ‘Work Makes you Free’ legend over the Auschwitz gate brought to you by the same people who twisted the Sign of the Cross, under which German culture had flourished for more than a thousand years, into the Swastika. That's my original language. However, I remember years ago seeing a documentary called something like ‘the Twisted Cross.’”
No matter what you’ve read or heard about concentration or death camps, there is no reality like walking their steps, standing where they stood, or pausing where they slept. The campus-like Birkenau with the brick buildings and welcoming sign over the gate, ‘Work Makes One Free,” and the large barbed wire topped gate are the first visual trap. Entering one of the buildings tourists are met with lined walls of photographs of shave- head, uniformed wearing women on one side and men on the opposite wall. Visitors can almost hear the photographer soothing, ‘Now smile.” Many of the women, but not all, smiled sweetly for their last photograph, as women only lived three to four months in captivity. The photos of men, who lived an average of six to nine months, on the opposite wall, pose from deer-the-headlight stares to squint-eyed open distrust. There were young people up to middle aged people – no children, no elderly, none with glasses. Nearby stood a case of thousands of pairs of glasses, canes and prosthesis taken from prisoners, often redistributed to officers and soldiers.
One photograph explained the system. A NAZI officer at the head of the line indicated to the next person in line, an old, heavy set man with thick glasses and cane should go to the right showed why there are no photographs of old people or babies. The infirm, lame, blind, elderly and pregnant were dead within an hour of arriving...all properly documented, photographed with shaved heads...their luggage with their most precious possesions up for grabs to officers first then soldiers.
One thing to admire about the Polish, they are correcting misinformation daily. They were quite clear that these were not Polish Concentrations Camps, but NAZI concentration camps in Poland. The Polish people never did that to their own people. A fellow traveler also was clear that it wasn’t a German concentration camp, because not all German’s were NAZIs, just as all Americans are not Obamaites. Quick and clear lesson.
The inhumanity of the death camps was hard to absorb, that prisoners built the camps, maintained them and never revolted, left the NAZIs free to do as they wished.
Among the distrubing things was that everyone was shorn as they entered the camp. Yes, lice were a problem, but the efficient NAZIs had learned that human hair is easily woven into a close softer than cashmere, with more insulation factors, takes color better and last longer, what better to weave NAZI officer uniform cloth. Tons of hair were left.
Tuesday, January 24
By Tuesday, the Rutters from Midland, still had no cash and with public toilets costing one and two Z’s and a major ATM problem with her credit card frozen because his secretary ‘made up’ answers to the security questions (that neither of the Rutters knew) and picked a pin number ‘the secretary’ could remember so she could pay the bill online. This required the ongoing calm translations from Andrew Laczkowski to hotel staff to get a collect call placed to the credit card company in the USA. Many hand-waving explanations and anxious moments later, it was handled, a new pin number established and Bill Rutter was off to the ATM. But for the day, wife, Jheri, had a personal ATM in the form of Jon Kutner. Who says there are no guardian angels. But you should hear Jon tell the story, it is side-splitting tale.
The group was on our own or go on a guided walking tour of the Jewish District of Kamimierz (The Ghetto) and then on to othe Wieliczka Salt Mine. Many of the women looked for bargains in amber, comparing notes,and prices on stores and found modern designs and interesting furs. The exchange rate was favorable, about 3 to 1 USD.
Several took the tour of the Jewish Ghetto. Seeing the wall that enclosed the people and the gate they were allowed to leave in the morning to go to work camps, and the lucky 1200 who worked for Shindler in his factory. Here Jews were confined until they were sent to death camps.
Before WWII the Jewish population made up twenty-five pecent of the population in Krakow; the tour showed a world preserved in the Jewish district. The walk took us where the renowned philosopher Mojzesz Isserles taught and where Helena Rubinstein was born in a house on the square.
Several of the group found Jewish restaurants serving Jewish-style dinners complete with traditional music to add flavor.
In Poland travelers become aware of the love and devotion for Pope John Paul II. His frequent returns to his homeland and masses offered in various venues are memorialized and gifts from the Vatican are on display.
Three elected to skip lunch and walk to Shindler’s Factory and be picked up on the way to the Salt Mines. At Shindler’s the music, sound of planes and gunfire straffing puts visitors right in the moment; one of the most difficult to forget photos shows a street scene in Nazi occupied Krakow where two soldiers are holding a Hassidic Jew as they smile at their camera weilding colleague while another soldier with a straight edge cuts the Hassidic curl to the skin. Before confronting the horrors of life under Nazi occupation, visitors have the opportunity to explore interwar Krakow and see unique photographs documenting the Holocaust. Getting up close as the recordings of Krakow’s resident recounted their personal life stories, as it happened then.
The bus swung by and picked up the Shindler group and motored to the Wieliczka Salt Mine where everyone descended 360 steps (300 meters) below the surface. One among us considered it a “spa” experience. Um-huh.
It is like no other salt mine we had ever seen, appearing more as an art museum in a salt medium with amazing sculptures, in a vast underground city with caverns, a lake, and carved rooms that speak of the devotion and superstition of the miners who carved figures, monuments and altar pieces into the walls of the 800 year old mine. The largest chapel is dedicated to the patron saint of salt miners and the subterranean church decorated with chandeliers, boasted carved figures and alters of salt, here the entire group paused for a group portrait.
Wednesday 25 January
Off to Zakopane, the winter capitol of Poland, a mountain retreat nestled at the foot of the Tatra Mountains with breathtaking views and the Hotel Belvedere just uphill from the center of town. After check-in we took a bus tour since it was deemed way too cold to walk and the new snow was far too deep (Hello!!! These are Texans who ski in Colorado). We visited a hand-carved chapel and learned which street was closed off to traffic and only for pedestrians. We learned there are 2000 people who lived in Zakopane and 1800 of them work in kiosks that all sell the exact same things. Everyone noticed the lack of original arts, including Christmas ornaments for sale. The food was good, easily accessible and reasonably priced.
Some chose to ski at Harenda and Butrowy Wierch, while others opted to go to the pedestrian street to shop or ride the funicular to the top of Mount Gubatówka. But with the heavy snow falling most postponed that sightseeing trip. Some adventurers chose to swim in the very unusual indoor pool with an aquarium to watch the fish, a paddling pool, the water slide and the infrared sauna, or bowl, play billiards or play a round of squash. I’m not telling who slipped off for massages or how many, what happens in the Hotel Belvedere stays there…for a price. Ahem.
By evening we were ready for the orientation meeting and a lovely dinner in the hotel dining room where everyone was eager to share their adventures of the day and tell where the bargains had been found.
Thursday, January 26
Some of the group left early to ski at Kasprovy while others left for the half-day tour to the Wooden Village Chocolow and were delighted with the wooden houses in the Zakopane style and the open market. While the market was freezing cold, some, like Andrew stayed long enough to find real bargains in furs and leather.
Others chose to explore Zakopane still further discovering the train and bus stations and the oldest part of town and the amazing architecture like the first house built in the Zakopane style in 1894 and now houses the Museum of the Zakopane style with beautiful interior designs. The Karol Szymanowski museum where the composer spent the last years of his life and where they still hold concerts. The Tytus Chatubinski Tara Mountains Museum is one of the oldest regional museums with knowledge of the region’s flora and fauna.
Friday January 27
While some relaxed, others skied at Tatranska Lominca. After the tour group dropped off the skiers, they moved on a scenic tour of Slovakia, a bus ride, lunch in town, sighting gypsies and their homes and back to pick up the skiers with a stop off at a lake, covered with ice and snow on top. Picture that.
Saturday January 28
Some skied in Bania and Kotelnika while others enjoyed the all-day tour to Niedzica Castle and the Market in Nowy Targ. A few slept in, rested and then hit the funicular for a trip to view the countryside once the fog lifted. Amazing view and startling numbers of kiosks on the mountain that each sold exactly the same thing, all bought wholesale.
Sunday January 29
Off to Warsaw, first stopping at Krakow airport and saying goodbye to those not staying for the Warsaw trip. Then on to Hotel Novotel on the Center roundabout and catty-corner the tallest building in Warsaw built and given by the Russians using Polish funds to the Poles as a gift. Hmmm.Orientation meeting gave us an overview, maps and information and then we were free to unpack, eat and wander.
Monday January 30
Some elected to take the guided bus and walking tour of Warsaw, while others opted out on their own. The park was freezing cold, but few complained because the walk was beautiful and interesting.
Tuesday January 31
While the program said, “All day at leisure in Warsaw,” not many did that. Since it was Tuesday and entry was free to the Chopin Museum when it opened at ten, many tried that. Some of us got way too frustrated with the technology that didn’t work well and chose to move on. Everyone had a great time acting like locals out for a walk as our paths crossed others on their own exploratory walk, waving, stopping to exchange a few words and moving on.
Along the way, we saw The Royal Castle and this time made time (several hours) to tour it, appreciating the fact that the Polish people raised the money to rebuild it, but without photos (destroyed when Warsaw was literally leveled by Hitler) the architects were forced to rely on watercolors, paintings and other art pieces to determine details. Three hundred twenty paintings were salvaged before the castle was decimated and many of those were used for research. When the palace was completed, there was no money for antiquities to replace those destroyed. To their credit, when the crowned heads of the world learned of the plight, they returned furnishings, paintings, vases, and other objects of art given them as gifts by Polish kings on birthdays, anniversaries and state visits. Today it is a museum, and the collection includes original paintings of Rembrandt and work of Bernardo Bellotto called Canaletto whose painting were invaluable in the rebuilding and restoration.
Leaving the Presidential Palace there were camera crews everywhere. Stopping a local reporter led us to understand it was the announcement of a “minor” agriculture post, but lots of to-do about him. We also saw three white Lexus SUVs with seriously serious looking trained security drivers parked on the sidewalk pulling away from Theater Square in tandem and greasing their way into traffic. Ah the scenarios we imagined. We crossed the street to the Basilica of the Holy Cross where we saw others in the group meandering around. One last stop at Blikle Delicatessen and Candy store http://www.blikle.pl/for a bit of madness and perfect end to a perfect day. On the way back to the hotel the Christmas lights came on and the Polish people spilled into the streets making everyone feel very much at home.
That evening the group met in the hotel bar for drinks our fearless leaders suggested “U Fukiera” in the Old City Square for dinner as famous for its celebrity guests as its food. Then it was home and packing for an early and cold departure winging our way back through Chicago and on to Dallas.
What a great trip with great people. Those who sneared at Poland, missed a great trip. Eat your hearts out.
HAVE SKIS, WILL TRAVEL
Now that Lynn is retired, she can join me in the ski club trips to Europe every winter. I have made two before to Bansko, Bulgaria, and Aosta Valley, Italy. This year’s adventure is to Poland as much sightseeing as skiing to be sure.
We flew from DFW through Frankfurt and Munich to Krakow on Lufthansa. Back of the plane travel is not fun but compared to recent experiences on U.S. carriers like AA and Delta, Lufthansa provides a better level of food and service.
Our group comprises twelve from the Dallas Ski Club including one couple each from Los Amigos in San Antonio and Flatlanders in Midland who joined up just for this trip plus twenty-six from Space City (Houston) Ski Club. These are large clubs each with several hundred members but the international trips tend to self-select to older folks with the time and means to enjoy such things: new definition of a compatible couple—they can share reading glasses! We are very fortunate that our “trip leader” from DSC is of Polish descent and her husband was born in Gdansk and still speaks the language. The professional running the tour is from Ski Europe agency and I have seen her work before and knew to expect a well run trip.
In Krakow we were met at the airport by our local guide Katia with the luxury tour bus and taken to our Hotel Wyspiansk not far from the main square. After a group dinner in the dining room, we were abed to conquer jet lag and prepare for the first full day of sight seeing.
Day One featured a professionally led “walking tour” of the historic city center. Lynn and I opted to explore on our own. Krakow escaped damage during WWII and was only minimally scarred by the long soviet occupation and hegemony. Though smaller, it has many similar charms to Prague. You will understand, of course, that we are doing our
walk about in damp thirty degree weather. We stay close to the main market square and the Wavell Castle complex finally venturing over to the Kasmierez or “Jewish Quarter”/
Lynn is looking for amber jewelry which is native to this country though not the Krakow region. I am looking for a fur hat; I’m thinking Yuri in Dr. Zhivago but all I’m seeing is Sgt. Preston of the Mounties. We come close in a couple of shops but don’t buy. The Poles are learning but the long years of communist regime show through and the marketing and customer service is lacking. In one hat shop where they didn’t take credit cards and we didn’t have enough Zlotys, the price would have been $77 USD and they wouldn’t take $75 so they didn’t make the sale. Our tour takes us a full six hours including a lunch break at a restaurant that we just happened upon but was recommended later by the professional guide.
That night our trip leaders have made dinner reservations for all who wanted at Wierznek a restaurant that dates back to 1364 right on market square. This is a multi-leveled structure with a bakery/deli on the first floor, a pub in the basement and, above that, on the second and higher floors gourmet dining in the highest Continental tradition. Indeed, during the war, this housed a casino for German officers. One can just imagine SS officers each looking like Kurt Jurgens, slapping a riding crop on his Hugo Boss tailored thigh, lording it over waiters. The meal was fantastic by anyone’s standard starting with a chef’s amuse bouclé and servings so large that when Lynn and I split a pate starter it came out on two plates so large that we had to ask if they had brought two orders.
Even though it was cold, the Market Square at night was a spectacular sight especially because it was still decorated with Christmas lights. We were told that the season for decorations throughout Poland starts on Christmas Eve and continues through January to a saint’s day in early February.
Day Two is a bus tour to Auschwitz. One might ask why do such a thing on vacation and my only answer is because I’ll never have another opportunity. This tour is well attended by our group which is somewhat surprising to me. After about a two hour bus ride which takes us to higher elevation though still flat land which is noticeably colder and more fully covered with snow, we get to the city of Oswiecim which the Germans translated to Auschwitz. The town has now grown to the very edge of the camp. On the ride we’ve watched a Polish national video about Auschwitz which is well done and sets the tone.
The initial impression of the setting—neat rows of brick barracks each several stories high—is more college campus than death camp. We learn from our twenty-something Polish site guide Lucas that this is because the original camp was converted from a Polish Army post. Nonetheless you can’t miss the tall electrified fences covered with razor wire and, soon enough, we come to the infamous gate with the “ARBEIT MACHT FREI (Work Makes One Free” legend above. For the Nazis to use this slogan is as perverted as twisting the sign of the cross into a Swastika. For most inmates the only freedom from their oppression would be the release of death.
Even within these brick buildings we see horrific sights of “starvation” and “standing cells”; the execution wall and gallows; two tons (!) of human hair shorn from prisoners for the use of the Reich. Yet, even greater horrors are envisioned as we move on a few miles to the second phase of Auschwitz known as Birkenau which was conceived, designed, and constructed not for imprisonment or even forced labor but for extermination. These buildings based on the German Army design for horse stables are wooden sheds re-purposed as cell blocks for the few who are not immediately gassed upon arrival.
Lucas, our guide, was asked why he chose to do this work and he explained that his great-grandfather had been one of the few surviving inmates.
Zakopane is the center of the alpine sports area in southern Poland. Just a four hour drive from Warsaw it attracts young singles, international tourists, and whole families.
Zakopane is known for its distinctive residential architecture of wood construction with high pitched roofs. Its central commercial court has been “pedestrianized,” as our guide put it, linking the traditional market place and funicular up the ski mountain with the hotel areas. The main “high street” is lined with “restauranjas” as the traditional Polish grills are called, the local McDonald’s and other fast fooders as well as boutiques and sport shops featuring all the international brands. You see infants and toddlers pulled along the icy streets in little sleighs with their families.
Our home in Zakopane was the Belvedere Spa Resort, a very modern hotel built in the traditional architectural style with a full beauty spa, aqua center with indoor pool, steam, and sauna, multiple restaurants, and an attached ski rental shop. Location wise, it was a good 15 minute walk from high street. We had reached it by bus from Krakow which took about two hours.
As American tourists we felt very welcome wherever we went but we all noticed some characteristics which became a little more obvious in Zakopane than in Krakow. For instance, the people you deal with in stores and restaurants are polite but have limited sales or service skills. In stores the clerks will wait for you to pick up merchandise but they don’t suggest anything or compliment how it looks. A banquet waiter at the Belvedere was all thumbs when it came to using his corkscrew. The only exceptions were found in the traditional craft market on Saturday morning in Zakopane, perhaps because these were tradesmen merchants not salaried employees.
Warsaw, Poland’s capital and largest city, was an “add on” to the original ski club itinerary but almost all of the participants continued on there. Our home in Warsaw was the Novotel in Central City just across the street from the landmark National Ministry of Culture building, a not too much appreciated symbol of Stalinist architecture constructed by the city’s Russian “liberators” and until the recent boom the skyline’s tallest.
On our first full day in Warsaw most people had signed up in advance for a professionally guided tour but four of us opted out and hired our own guide through the concierge which proved to be a good move. Our tour was just eight people, two Greek tourists and two Kurdish “investors” looking for opportunities in Poland. In three hours we covered a lot of ground despite the cold temperatures seeing the Chopin statue in the park; the embassy row and former Communist Party Headquarters (irony of ironies, the ground floor is Poland’s only Ferrari dealership);
the Ghetto memorial build on the site of the train station from which the city’s Jews were deported; the Warsaw Uprising memorial; the new football stadium soon to host the European championships; their Calatrava bridge over the Vistula; the presidential palace and the Old Town area fully restored after the destruction of the Wernacht’s scorched earth retreat.
After parting with the guide in Old Town we lunched in a restauranja then walked back all the way to our hotel stopping in several shops along the way. While Warsaw has multiple public transports including buses, street cars, cabs, and a subway, we continue to walk everywhere despite the temperatures which were in the low teens Fahrenheit.
That evening, our DSC trip leaders Anna and Andrew Lacczkowski recommended that we splurge at a famed restaurant on the Old City square which two cabs full of our group did. Note to self: if a restaurant features photos of George and Barbara Bush and Jacques Chirac expect high prices and indifferent service unless your status is such that they want to add your picture to the wall. Still, it was an excellent meal with all the trimmings. Wine list a little limited and, true to form all over Poland, more wines from South America than the U.S. or even Down Under. One thing I learned the hard way is that taxi rates double after ten p.m.; the ride that was 30 Zloty’s going over was 60 going back.
On our final day in Warsaw, for which no advance plans were made, Lynn and I walked all over first going to the area around the embassies to the fancier shops looking for my fur hat. No help at Hugo Boss (did you know he had designed the Nazi uniforms?), Burberry, Zegna or any of the other fancy shops in a trendy mall that was deserted of all but security types on a Monday morning. On the way back we stopped in a fur shop recommended by the concierge. There we found some great hats but limited size selection and outrageously high prices. Next we walked over to the larger mall by the rail station which was busy and resembled a “Galleria” in any American metropolis.
Poland by contrast to Western Europe is a much younger society and you do not notice any great number of non-native residents as you do in France, Italy, and Spain. Warsaw is quite cosmopolitan. For example, its restaurant guide lists six Tex-Mex establishments.
From the Galleria we traipsed back to the Old City square and the amber shop Lynn had found the previous day but along the way we stopped at the city’s old landmark Bristol Hotel for hot chocolate and a chance to warm up.
At the amber shop we found a couple of items including a gift for our daughter who had monitored my office phone calls during the trip.
Our final evening, Lynn and I walked over to a small, off the beaten path, Italian neighborhood trattoria, suggested by the concierge and then returned to the hotel to pack in advance of our very early morning departure to the airport.
Despite a very tight connection in Frankfurt before boarding our flight to Chicago, the return trip was anticlimactic. One thing tough I must share. Boarding the plane in Frankfurt I saw two thirty-something guys carrying ski helmets strapped to their carry-ons. I ran into them again in Chicago and asked “Where did you guys ski? Nein, they hadn’t skied in Europe; they were on their way to ski Park City, Utah!
Skiing: We were signed up to ski two days—first in Zakopane the premier Polish ski area and the next day in Slovakia. I slept through the first day. The night before at our welcoming banquet in the Belvedere Hotel and Spa I ordered “kawa” after the meal; this is the sign that has been on the coffee urn at each breakfast. What I was brought—and foolishly drank—was a double espresso. Afterwards I tossed and turned throughout the night finally falling asleep around 4:30. When the alarm went off at 6:45, I told Lynn I was unfit to ski. Mercifully she tucked me back in and that was it until almost noon.
What we heard from our friends was that it was very foggy day and otherwise not too good. Moreover, this mountain Kasprovy Wierch has a unique layout. To get up to the ski area from the base, you must either have a time reserved slot on the large tram (which was included in our tour option) or wait in the long public queue for more than an hour. From the top of the tram you had a choice of two different wide open bowls in which to ski down to a chair lift that could bring you back up. Rides up the chair lifts required additional tickets bought on the spot. From only one of the bowls could you, at day’s end, ski down to the base.
Friday dawned clear and cold about-15C but beautifully sunny and we were off in the tour bus to Slovakia. As they say, “it’s a whole different country,” back in the Euro Zone. Our destination for the twenty or so who were skiing (the rest went on a sight seeing tour) was Tartanska Lomnica a relatively new resort in the Tatra Mountains. There is something to be said for newly developing countries: they leap frog over the technologies prevalent in the developed world. This resort used only “smart card” lift tickets, a credit card that you put in your pocket which is automatically read by a turnstile in front of the lift.
The mid-mountain lodge WC’s were ultra modern featuring Dyson Air Blade Hand Dryers and the cafeteria there featured made to order pizza—real dough rolled out on the counter topped with multiple ingredients and fired in an oven which read 325C on its digital thermometer.
The tour bus was a little late in picking the skiers up as some of the sight seeing group had managed to get lost, but we survived waiting in a cold parking lot enjoying deluxe hot chocolate from a sidewalk vendor for some and Metaxas brandy for others.
For those of you who despair that the U.S. doesn’t export anything any more be pleased to know that throughout the resort the loudspeakers play American pop music classics.
Hotels: We stayed in three hotels, in Krakow and Zakopane these are clearly aimed at tourists/vacationers and in Warsaw, business travelers/conventioneers. All offer complimentary hearty breakfast buffets. All provide two beds, twin size in Krakow and Zakopane; full size in Warsaw. The TV’s in all our hotels were very small and boxy-looking although the electronic features were very modern—just a few English language stations. Safes in the room were modern digital models except in Krakow where you got a cloth tie bag with a seal that the hotel kept in a large safe behind the desk. Bathrooms all had heated towel racks.
In general the plumbing was modern and adequate; heating likewise and all had opening windows. Maid service was friendly and efficient. Remarkably, the two resort hotels had good free Wi-Fi throughout while the Warsaw business hotel had it only in the lobby.
Food/Restaurants: Servings are immense. Bread usually comes complimentary. In restaurants you usually do not get butter but you do get lard (!) to spread on bread.
Except in the most expensive restaurants you get small paper napkins in a holder on the table. Silverware is delivered in a tray to the table to be distributed by and among the diners. You can ask for ice water but you usually are only given a choice of bottled water either still or bubbly.
Most sit-down restaurants take credit cards, and their practice is to bring a hand held reader to the table so your card is never out of sight. One aggravation is that the practice is to expect the tip to be paid in cash, not on the card. A related aggravation is that when you get Zloty’s, whether from an ATM or an exchange store or bank, you almost always get big bills, 100 and 50 PLN notes so change for tips and other necessities is almost always lacking.
Fortunately, the historic practice of pay-for-use toilets is now not too prevalent. The only places where we saw this was at the Auschwitz visitor center and at the public market in Zakopane.
General Travel: Change is a constant in travel in part because the airlines keep changing policies and hotels adopt new technologies. Lessons learned this trip:
More hotels have the system where a key must be inserted in a master switch to maintain power in the room. Good idea for energy conservation (not that I see any savings passed on in room rates) but difficult if you need to keep your laptop and other devices charging. So, always keep a spare key from the last hotel to use when you leave the room.
How to pack a bulky winter coat is always an issue especially when you are originating in a warm weather site. Our solution is to wear it on the plane but carry a sturdy collapsible bag such as one of the reusable grocery bags promoted by Whole Foods. Then you can fold the coat into the bag and safely stow it in the overhead or even on the floor under the seat.
Packing for extreme cold weather conditions is another challenge. Forget the bulky sweaters and heavy woolens. Go instead with layers starting with synthetic, easy-to-wash-over-night long underwear and relying on fleece, zip-front sweaters, and wind/water repellent outer garments. Hats, gloves, and scarves are comfort essentials not fashion accessories.