I have always suspected that it must be a nightmare travelling in Poland as a foreigner (who doesn’t speak Polish). And some research I have recently done only confirms my worst suspicions.
First of all the website of Polish national railways is available only in… Polish! Then you come to the station in the hope to get some information there and… Polish, Polish everywhere. With the exception of Warsaw and Cracow, all the stations in Poland only have signs in Polish, not to mention the lovely people at the ticket counters who usually hardly articulate even in their native language. I come from a relatively big city, the capital of a voivodship (administrative region) and I am amazed again and again by the pure chaos at the railway station whenever I have to take a train (and it’s been too often in the last few months). There is no sign of a sign in English there and all the announcements are in a mumbled Polish barely comprehensible for the Polish travellers! Dealing with the Polish railways is difficult even for the most experienced natives, though. I already experienced a situation when: I had one time of the train departure written on the ticket, Internet gave slightly different information, then I came to the station and saw at the timetable that the train’s departure time actually was half an hour earlier, almost had a heart attack, ran to the platform, there was nothing written there, asked a railway official there who answered in a calm voice: ‘Ah, yes, due to construction works all the trains from Warsaw arrive late now, you needn’t worry’. So I didn’t anymore. In the end yet different time was displayed at the platform and the train was almost an hour late (according to the time I had on the ticket) anyway.
I think the motto of Polish railways is that no news is better than bad news. Whenever the train gets stuck somewhere they keep enigmatically silent as to how long it’s going to last or whether we will go on travelling today at all. On the other hand, they sometimes like to give you information that is not true at all, e.g. just out of habit. I boarded a train bound for Berlin and the first thing I heard was that ‘we are travelling to Hamburg today’, although due to yet other construction works the train terminated in Berlin. All the announcements on the train are in Polish only, even on the international trains.
So, if you want to come to Poland by train or use trains as means of transport during your stay in Poland, it is highly advisable you learn Polish or take a Polish friend with you and are prepared for any number of unpredictable changes of plan. One good thing one may say about train travels in Poland is that it’s not particularly expensive, so if you are patient and relaxed it might even be worth the hassle. Well, there are no really better alternatives anyway, so you might just want to become patient and relaxed straight away! 🙂 And remember there’s one thing that makes everything in the world much more bearable – the honey vodka (called Krupnik)! This is one of the things you might want to bring home as a souvenir from Poland. I brought it and gave my non-Polish friends to taste and since then I regularly travel with a backpack full of honey vodka bottle on my way back from Poland :). Enjoy your journeys!