51° 6′ 0″ N, 17° 1′ 48″ E
I’m so glad that I get to write about transportation this week!Traveling in Poland and from Poland to other countries can be very time-consuming. It can also be an interesting way to get acquainted with Polish people and Polish culture. I’m going to tell you something about the different modes of transportation I use. On Tuesday, Andrew and I are taking the train to Wrocław (VRO-stwav), which is in southern Poland, almost on the border with the Czech Republic. From there, we will fly to Barcelona, where we will sit by the ocean and soak up some sun. There are many ways to get around Poland and to get from Poland to other countries.
Nowadays, most families in Poland have at least one car. But if you don’t have a lot of money, driving can be expensive. Gas costs a lot more in Poland than it does in the United States. Also, it’s very difficult to find a place to park in town, even in a small city like Lublin. For this reason, nearly every town has a local bus system that is easy and cheap to use. If it’s cold or if I’m going very far, I always take the bus in Lublin.
To get from city to city, people who don’t want to drive can take buses or ride trains. I think buses are the best way to go long distance in Poland. This is very different than other European countries I have been to, like Switzerland or Germany. In these countries, trains are cheap, fast and comfortable. Polish people tend to be pretty ashamed of their trains.
I have traveled a lot by train since coming to Poland. I like traveling by train, because I can get up, walk around, and maybe even have a meal in the dining car, but traveling by train in Poland can be frustrating. Let me tell you a story about my last train trip to help you understand why!
Over Winter Break, my husband and I went to Budapest, Hungary. We first went to Warsaw and stayed with friends. We planned on catching the direct train that leaves in the morning. The train takes about twelve hours and covers about 340 miles. It’s quite a long trip because the train stops in Vienna, Austria and Bratislava, Slovakia.
When we went to buy tickets, we were told they cost more than 150 dollars each! This price is crazy, if you consider that you can buy a ticket from Geneva, Switzerland to Paris, France (the same distance as Warsaw to Budapest) for fifty dollars less and that the trip only takes three and a half hours. It’s also crazy because the average salary in Poland is only two thousand dollars a month. Most people can’t afford this train. If you want to take the night train to Budapest and sleep in a car with a bed, the price can be two to three times as much!
Traveling between cities in Poland is a lot cheaper, but it can take a long time. We ended up taking the train to Krakow (about 100 miles from Warsaw) and then taking a bus from Krakow to Budapest. It only cost sixty dollars but it took about twelve hours. Our train from Warsaw to Krakow stopped in the middle of nowhere for forty-five minutes, and ended up taking five hours.
Of course, while a bus ticket to a city costs about half the price of a train ticket, bus rides in Poland do take a long time. Poland does not have a highway system like the United States or Germany. Buses in Poland can be nice, comfortable and new, or they can be old and cramped. Sometimes the buses are big, nice buses like Greyhound in the United States (some even have wireless internet), and sometimes, they are very old minibuses.
By the time I got to Budapest, I was totally exhausted! I did enjoy taking the bus through the Tatra Mountains in Poland and Slovakia, though. The road we took winds through the mountains, and though it was too dark to take pictures, I really enjoyed the dramatic views!
I do like minibuses, though. It’s the only good way to get to many small towns in Poland without a car. I often take a mini bus from Lublin to a nearby city, where I have been working with a middle school class. Even though the mini bus is not always comfortable, it’s a great way to see the Polish countryside. I also love the bus station in Lublin.
Because Lublin is near the border with Ukraine and Belarus, it has a very big market where people come from the Polish countryside and neighboring countries. I took some pictures of the bus station and of the market for you.
At the market, I bought some things related to the Polish celebration of Easter. People in Poland give each other painted eggs (the ones in the picture are wooden) and take colorful bouquets made of straw (called ‘palms’) to their churches the Sunday before Easter. I also bought some homemade sauerkraut (pickled cabbage) from a local farmer. She scooped it out of a big plastic barrel! Even though bus rides can take a long time, I love bus stations because they give me a chance to meet people from many places and walks of life.
Poland is currently building a brand new highway system. One of the reason bus rides take so long is that Poland does not have an open road on which you can drive quickly from place to place. In a few years, though, it will be complete and people will be able to get around this small country quickly.
While building, the government has to be very careful about not taking land away from small farmers. There are a lot of small farmers in the Polish countryside. From what I can tell, instead of putting the highway on the ground, like it is in the United States, much of the highway in Poland will be elevated.
As a final note, one recent change in Poland is that it is now much cheaper and easier to fly. In December, Lublin opened its brand new airport. This is a big deal, because the only airport available to people in Eastern Poland was the airport in Warsaw. Many people had to travel four, six, even nine or ten hours to get to an airport.
From Lublin you can fly to London, England and Oslo, Norway for less than forty dollars one way if you buy early. Other, larger airports have many more cheap destinations. Our ticket from Wroclaw to Barcelona only cost eighty dollars round-trip!
Last time I lived in Europe, there were only two low-cost airlines, and they mostly went from England or Ireland to other places. I keep asking myself, “What will happen to Europe’s trains?” Trains are such a big part of European culture! Maybe in the future, people in Europe will fly from city to city instead of taking trains. Of course, if gas prices go up too much more, these low-cost airlines might not last. I guess we better enjoy our journey next week. In the future, we might travel very differently!