The Baltic Sea may be beautiful, but beauty can sometimes be dangerous. Hundreds of Poles and tourists drown in the Baltic Sea every year. This year, the numbers were around 400, around 20 of which were in the tri city area. There was one day, where 20 drownings occured on just one stretch of coast.
Most of these drownings involve alcohol, but not always. Some people visit for the first time and are completely unaware of the dangers the Baltic possesses. My mom knows more than anyone, the dangers of the Baltic Sea, as she was lucky enough to survive a drowning.
One of the days we were in Brzezno, a lifeguard told everyone to get out of the water. There were still a few people and lifeguards in the water, and a lady told us, they were searching for a child that drowned. We later heard on the news that the child was found by a lifeguard in Sopot. Turns out, he had just wondered off, but not every story like this has a happy ending, and bodies are pulled out of the Baltic every week, so parents PLEASE, WATCH YOUR KIDS!
The drownings that don't involve alcohol, involve the strong Baltic current. People are unaware of the dangers, and swim out too far, than get sucked under by the current. Don't show off in front of your friends and swim out. It's not worth it. Stay close to the shore where it's safe. Cold water is also a factor. Many tourists make the mistake of swimming too early, and get a shock from the cold water, and drown. Just because the locals are swimming, doesn’t mean you should. They are used to it. If you see a lot of people swimming, go for it, if you only see a few people in the water, get out. Avoid swimming during bad weather, though some locals like to.
Also, don't try to explore the sea, in a tiny rubber dingy, or any none motorized boat, or you may find yourself swept out to see.
Though there are lifeguards on duty, they can't save everyone. Most of these incidents can be avoided, if people just use common sense, and don't go in the water when they're drunk. Accidents are accidents. They happened. But please, don't make a lifeguard have to rescue you, because of your own stupidity.
Millions of locals and tourists enjoy the beach safely every summer. Join them. You don't want to become a statistic.
Same rules apply on lakes, or any other body of water. Don't go on the water if you're drunk.
- Water Sports
Gdansk Is A Summer Destination
Some people choose to visit in winter or spring, but trust me, Gdansk is a summer destination. I went in April once, and didn't like it. A lot of museums and attractions were closed, I had to wear an uncomfortable thick jacket, instead of shorts and a t-shirt, because it was only 3 degrees Celsius outside. The trees had no leaves on them and the grass was dry, so everything looked really ugly. You couldn't swim in the ocean, the beach was practically dead. There were no street vendors, and almost no street performers. There were no musicians. There were no festivals going on, and people have to eat their meals inside. The Main City was still packed, but it wasn't full of life, like it is in summer.
Also, it's a bad time for visiting Sopot, which is a summer destination.
The only advantage is that tickets are cheaper, and celebrations for All Saints Day, Christmas, and Easter are going one, but it is not a good time to come for culture or site seeing.
The time to visit is June-September, when museums are open, the weather is nice, you can swim, and culture and music festivals are taking place. There is no sense to visit before or after that. I won't say you will be bored, but you will definitely not have the same experience as summer travelers.
Summer time brings out the true beauty and culture of the city.
Restaurant Staff Will Rip You Off
It doesn't matter if you are a tourist, or a local, restaurant staff will rip you off, any chance they get. We got ripped off 3 times, in the same restaurant.
One time, we paid the waiter, and he never gave us our change, 12 zloty, but we didn't make a big deal about it, and just left. The second time, we had to ask for our change. I heard some other customers also asking for their change. The waiters will try to keep it if they can.
The third time, we were expecting to pay 20 zloty, but ended up paying 75. When we asked the waiter, "Why so much?", he said they charge per gram. Ridiculous. He said it's written on the menu, and we are not the first customers to complain about this. We later took a closer look at the menu, and saw that they do in fact charge per gram, but it's written so small, that you don't even see it.
Apparently, this is common in Europe, and if you are not assertive, you will get ripped off. Sometimes they will purposely pretend that they don't speak English, so they can rip you off, so be careful, and try to pay in exact change.
Cars and bicycles have the right of way.
Apparently in Poland, pedestrians have to yield to cars and bicycles. The locals drive and ride like crazy. In a lot of places the bike paths, and walking paths cross. We almost got whipped out by a few bicycles. I even saw cyclists on Dlugi Targ. They don’t care if there are people. They will just ride through them, and they will ride wherever they want, including pedestrian sidewalks.
Crossing the road is a whole other story. You have to have eyes on all sides of your head. The locals do not obey the speed limit, and most of the time, they will NOT STOP to let you cross. I saw a guy run an intersection, without even stopping, and there was a cop right there, and he didn’t do anything. Some of them drive in the middle of the road, and I almost got run over a few times, crossing the street. I even saw a group of cops almost get hit, while crossing the street. In America, they would take his license plate number, and radio him in. I’ve even seen cars cut off buses. Even the cab drivers don’t obey the traffic laws. A lot of them drink on the job, and drive all over the road at dangerous speeds. Oh, and did I mention the fact that they drive on sidewalks? Seriously, Polish drivers are crazy. I would not recommend renting a car here..
Poles Drive Wherever They Want!
Apparently in Poland, it’s okay to drive and park on a sidewalks and grass. I was walking through Brzezno, and almost got slammed from behind by a moped, that was traveling on the bike path. I jumped out of the way at the last minute. He really surprised me. I wasn’t expecting a moped on a bike path. Then I saw another one driving on a hiking trail. If that isn’t bad enough, there was a car driving on the sidewalk towards the beach, like it was a driveway. The driver didn’t even stop for the people. A few almost got run over. They were freaking out, and just watched in shock. Apparently it’s also okay to park on sidewalks, grass, and no parking zones. Actually, it is illegal, but it doesn’t look like the road police is doing its job. There were a few times, I had to walk behind the cars, because I could not get through on the sidewalk. It is crazy! The parking issue is mainly due to a lack of parking space in the city. I don’t know about driving on sidewalks.
The Gyro Pitas are actually Gyro Kebabs
I was walking through Brzezno, looking for a new restaurant to try, and I saw one that had "Gyro Pita" on the menu. Being a huge fan of Gyro Pitas, I couldn't resist. I went in and ordered one, and was really excited about having a Greek gyro. When I got it, it was actually a Gyro kebab. Figures. I should've expected this. I was disappointed, but I ate it anyways.
Lesson here, ask about the item, before ordering.
Beware of the Salesmen
Though there were a few salesmen that were really friendly, like Amber Lady, sweater lady, CD guy, the Kashubians, and a few others, most of the salesmen I encountered in Gdansk were really rude.
There were some that if you asked for a price, they would just tell you to look yourself. We got yelled at in a fruit and vegetable market for tasting the merchandise, before buying. If we hadn't already paid, we wouldn't have bought their stuff. And the salesmen have ears like rabbits. You can't say anything about the merchandise, or they will hear you, and make remarks back. Most of these are just to sell you the merchandise, but some of them are really rude, so try not to say anything bad about the merchandise, or the prices, or they will overhear you, and ruin your day. I didn't see the sign on one of the stores, and I simply stated to my mom, "This store only has religious items". And the owner said, "Well yeah, it's a religious store, so what else should it have?"
I had a food vendor get mad at me for taking pictures of her food stall, even though she saw me filming her earlier, and smiled.
People in the supermarkets are rude as well, even if you ask where something is, and they don't care that they are rude. A cashier started yelling at some old guy, and my mom got yelled at when she asked one to show her where something was. They make rude comments, and don't give you time to pack your things. The major chain stores here like Biedronka and Lidl, still operate like they did in Communist times. They actually have a "watchman" walking around, watching the customers, to make sure they don't steal anything. My mom was changing her glasses, and the watchman made her empty her bag, because he thought she was shoplifting. A New Zealand tourist said she had her reciept thrown at her, when she asked for it. If they are rude to you ahead of time, just tell them you're not buying, and walk away. You don't have to take their rudeness.
Also, you have to pay for shopping carts and bags, so unless you're doing some large groceries, just bring your own bag.
You may also have to ask for your change. And most salesmen do not give refunds, you can only trade the item for another one of equal value.
And watch out for cheap knock offs. My uncle bought a plaque that was painted to look like wood, but it was made from cheap cast, and it fell on the ground and shattered, and the guy wouldn't give him a refund, so he replaced it with another item.
Fast food staff is rude as well, and will laugh at you, if you ask about a menu item.
Be Careful Where You Buy Your Food
Apparently, food safety and sanitation laws in Poland, aren't as strict as they are in the U.S. I was at a Biedronka, and they put the doughnuts, in the middle of the fruit and vegetable stand. I never bought any again.
Be especially careful of the eggs. The ones in the stores are fine, but don't buy them off the streets. I ate some that came off the street, and was sick for 2 days. The ones off the streets are dirty, and they are sitting out in the hot Polish sun all day. That is salmonella waiting to happened. So be careful when buying from outdoor food stalls. The large food markets, like the one next to Hala Targowa, or Zielony Rynek in Przymorze, are clean and safe, and the food is fresh, but the small stalls, that people just set up on the street, are not. As I said, even the supermarkets aren't very sanitary. The best option is to shop at the two places I mentioned above.
Danger in Gdansk?
We had planned to have a car vacation through parts of Europe and staying in Gdansk for some days and head back home. I read all these tips and naturally got a little worried. I am Iranian and because political turmoil in my country many nations have a negative image about us. My wife is Russian and I thought Poles have not the best relation with Russians. These two facts added to my worries. I call myself an Eurasia traveler because I have traveled and lived in more than 30 countries in Europe and Asia. What my experience has given me is 1. Respect the people and their way of life! In Poland many people do not speak English but many young people do speak English. In some occasions like getting a tram ticket or finding an address we needed help. Several times I asked people and when they understood me the reaction was just 100% help. In two occasions ladies I asked did the whole job and bought tickets for us. Me and my wife just experienced very polite and helpful people both in Gdansk and other wise in the country. Neither me nor my wife got any negative reaction because of our nationalities. We lived in a good and expensive hotel but we never felt any situation dangerous. We had a very pleasant time in Poland and I found Poles very nice people. Be aware! If you think you are better than the people you visit, you will surely show it somehow, even if you do not want it. People, generally realize your arrogance and treat you as such.
Rude and greedy people
Traveling to Poland on 4 seperate occassions, I have noticed that people in the cities are a lot ruder than people in small towns and villages. You may encounter some anti-American sentiment in the city. I recieved a rude remark from a lady in Gdansk for speaking English, even though I am Polish. It mostly has to do with jealousy, them wanting to be better than everyone else, and always wanting more. You may get rude remarks or laughs for the way you speak, or the way you dress, or even how you act. Just ignore these comments, and go about your business.
I also won't hide the fact that Poles are extremely greedy, they don't like to do favors for free, even for their own friends and family. If you're a tourist, they assume you have money, and will immidiately try to take advantage of you, so don't be surprised if you ask someone for directions, or a favor, and they ask you for money, or a case of beer in return. They will charge for even the smallest things. I didn't encounter this problem so much in the small towns and villages, except on one occassion, but in the city, it's a serious issue. On my last trip, the bathroom didn't have any toilet paper, and when I asked the lady outside for some, she charged me money. I didn't have a choice, so I paied her. Then when I was finished she asked for the roll back, so she could charge the next person who needed some. Ridiculous!
They get angry over the smallest things. If you do something they don't like, they will let you know.
I'm not trying to bash on Poles here, since I am one myself, I am just saying what I have experienced traveling in Gdansk, and other parts of Poland.
Closures during off season
If you come during the off season, basically from late September to late May, you will be dissapointed when you discover a lot of the best tourist attractions are closed. I went in April once and it was a dissapointment. The Ratusz was closed, the fort was closed, the lighthouses were closed, the biosphere in Oliwski Park was closed, the ferry to Westerplatte wasn't running (well it was, but you couldn't actually go up to the monument, or you would have a really long walk back to town.) Everything, except a few cathedrals and museums was closed. I was extremely dissapointed, and the trees didn't have leaves, so everything was so ugly. Only plus was plane tickets were really cheap, and the beaches were empty, but it didn't matter since it was too cold to swim.
I'm never going off season again. Unless you don't care about site seeing, go during summer, or you won't be seeing too much.
- Museum Visits
- Historical Travel
FOR CRUISE SHIP PASSENGERS
If you are coming to Poland via a Cruise ship, then you may be docking in Gdansk or Gdynia.
If it is Gdynia, then you need to be aware, that it's 22kms to Gdansk by road. This means you may want to book a Ship's tour, a Shuttle, or you can go by Train.
We were taken with a VT friend in their Car, and we found the traffic to be very heavy, so not a fast trip, so you need to take this into account if doing your own thing, you don't want to miss the Ship!
- Budget Travel
Make sure that you always have a validated ticket when using public transportation (buses, trams, suburban trains) in Gdansk. Ticket inspections are carried out quite often and especially when you don't expect them.
I once faced a ticket inspection in a tram. The three ticket inspectors were dressed very casual. Of course I had a validated ticket available. If you don't have a ticket you will be fined 98 Zloty (25 Euro, 2005).
- Budget Travel
Beware the taxi drivers of Gdansk.
Not all of them, of course. However, take care of the taxi touts at the airport. They cluster around the arrivals gate, where it's quite easy to shrug them off but more especially at the main exit. Here one has to literally run the gauntlet before reaching the official licenced taxi rank. I know we all like to consider ourselves seasoned travellers imune to such nuisances but believe me these people are persistent to the point of being loud & aggressive - sleeve-tugging, luggage-grabbing and insisting "same firm, same firm" as the official cabs. Quite intimidating, if one's just off a flight, yearning for a cup of tea/coffee, cigarette, shower and a chance to relax. With customary Anglo-Saxon reticence and unwillingness to give offence. There's even a character who tries to pose as the kind of taxi-marshall one finds at larger airports. Dear reader, RESIST. Take an official cab. To mention the firm's name would be advertising but there are notices inside the terminal and at the tourist information desk. The regular fare into town is fifty zloty.
- Business Travel
- Budget Travel
If you are being approached in the street to change money - decline! Most likely you are going to be given false or old Polish banknotes as it happened to a few of my colleagues in Poland recently. The Polish Zloty was changed recently from old notes to new notes - and you may purchase notes that were only valid in the 80's. If in doubt of the money you receive one simple comparison works: On the old notes the Polish Eagle does not have a crown - on the new and valid ones it has!
- Business Travel
- Study Abroad
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