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Good and bag things about living in Poland and Krakow

Hello again everyone! It has now been almost four months since I have finished my Erasmus experience and the honest truth is that it seems as if I were there yesterday. In this blog entry about Poland, I am going to talk a little bit about the good things (positives or negatives) of living in this country, or more specifically in Krakow, which is where I spent these incredible 12 months that I will forever remember.

The truth is that my experience was generally very positive and the bad parts were a very tiny percentage of my time that I spent there. It is true, as a lot of people say, that when you go on Erasmus you live in a bubble of positivity and joy that makes you not realise a lot of things, such as the problems in the country. By talking with people that live and work there, I am sure that you will find out aspects that you will not like as much.

I am going to talk to you from my perspective, which could be very different to that of others, but it may help you form an idea of what Poland is like.

Good things about Poland and Krakow

1. There are lots of events during the year.

One of the things that really caught my attention was the amount of events (musical, sports, markets, fairs, festivals) that took place in Krakow throughout the year, practically every week. Not just this but the huge participation of the people there, the infrastructures and decorations which were put up for every event or activity.

From what I understand and from what I saw when I visited other cities in Poland, something similar occurs in them too, although of course in the bigger cities such as Krakow or Warsaw there are also a lot more things to see or do.

2. It is a very cheap country.

I came from Spain, a country which is cheap in comparison to countries like England or Germany; but Poland is even cheaper than Spain. Doing a food shop or eating in restaurants works out at practically half the price and this allows you to go to places of a higher quality, because they have lower prices than they do in Spain.

Travelling from Poland is super cheap and this is one of the things that you will enjoy the most if you live in this country. You can find return flights for 25 euros to places such as Prague, Budapest... as well as trains and buses which also have very low prices.

The gyms are also cheaper than they are in Spain; I went to one of the best ones and it cost 25 euros per month, even cheaper than one of the normal ones here.

The clothes usually cost more or less the same, especially if you shop in international shops or at shopping centres, but there are lots of vintage and second-hand shops which are very cheap.

3. It is surrounded by very interesting and cheap countries.

Before I said that it was very cheap to travel from Poland and I think it is something that you have to do during your stay there, since the countries surrounding it have beautiful places. Another point in its favour it that these nearby countries are also really cheap: Hungary, Czech Republic, Ukraine so it won't just be the journey that will work out at a good price, but the accommodation and food at your destination too.

4. Shops and bars open 24 hours

When you go out partying, this point will be your best friend. The shops Carrefour Express and especially Biedronka (the cheapest one, in the main square of Krakow) being open all night is one of the best things that could happen to you.

There are also places such as Pierogi 24h to eat this traditional dish at any time. These places are mainly located in the centre.

5. The snow

If you are from the centre, East or South of Spain, I am sure you will have seen snow very few times in your city or town, and when you see it there will only be a little and it won't last for long. Well in Poland it is completely different, in winter it snows quite a lot and it stays there for several weeks. It is true that for people who don't like the cold and everything that comes with it, this won't be a positive, but I loved looking out the window and seeing everything all snowy, or walking through the snow and seeing how pretty it looked.

However, you most definitely have to bring or buy some big snow boots, they will be your best friends.

6. The good weather, the lakes

Don't be fooled by our perception of Poland as an extremely cold place where it is never sunny. When I arrived in September it was really warm and in the last 2 months of my Erasmus (May and June) we had barbecues several times at the lake and we went for swims. Krakow has several lakes (some of them you have to pay to go to at weekends) and you will love bathing in a place where you had been so cold at during the winter.

One of the things that impressed me the most was seeing how the same place had changed from winter to summer, from seeing it all snowy and with the trees without leaves, to then seeing it full of flowers and very colourful.

7. People from lots of countries.

Poland in general and Krakow specifically, are the main Erasmus destinations for students and people doing internships, as well as people who go there to work or just to go on holiday. Thanks to this, every time that you go out partying, go to an activity or event, you will meet people from many nationalities and learn a lot about them and their cultures.

Make the most of this and get to know people who are not from your country, because this is really what will make your experience.

8. Hot chocolates, teas, ice-creams.

When I think about Krakow, lots of smells come to mind; of pastry shops, restaurants... One of the things that stands out and was one of my favourite things, especially on cold days, were the hot chocolates. You can find them at any coffee machine, even in supermarkets, in addition to Karmello, which is my favourite place to have one. I remember the satisfaction of exploring a random Polish city and stopping to have a hot chocolate with a slice of cake... that was happiness.

If you are a fan of tea, here you can also find lots of types in practically any place, even though the one that they have the most is black tea.

Something that surprised me was that the ice-cream shops are open all year long and people eat them in all kinds of weather (me included). They usually have lots of ice-cream flavours available and vegan options in almost all of them.

Cosas buenas y malas de vivir en Polonia y Cracovia

9. Food, pastry shops

I love smells and flavours of Polish food, that characteristic smell of soup, potatoes, mushrooms... it is forever in my brain. There are different flavours to the ones that we are used to, but most of them are usually nice.

The cakes and pastries in Poland will leave you speechless. They are a lot more elaborate and there is more variety than what we usually have in Spain. If you go past a pastry shop, you will notice the smell from a distance.

10. Transport

Krakow is very well communicated and it is very easy to get around the city. Remember to always buy your tram or bus tickets before you get on or as soon as you do, because the fine is 120 Polish Zloty, or 30 euros, and they will not hesitate to give you a fine.

Transport links between other cities and towns are also really good and cheaper than in Spain. Once I got on a train to go to Poznan which was the spitting image of Harry Potter, which was the only reason it was worth going there.

Another important factor is that all of the signs are also in English and it is very easy to know where you are and find the places that you are looking for.

11. Cultural heritage and nature

Poland is a country with a very rich heritage, as much culturally as nature wise. It has lots of churches, cathedrals, main squares, monuments, museums... And on the other hand, natural parks, national parks, reserves, mountains...

Cosas buenas y malas de vivir en Polonia y Cracovia

Its architecture is different to that in Spain, you will especially notice it in towns such as Zakopane, where they have their own construction style. The buildings have lots of colours (far from the grey and dark country that people usually imagine) and there are charming spaces.

Cosas buenas y malas de vivir en Polonia y Cracovia

12. They profit more from their days.

This point depends a lot on who you are as a person. In Poland, and even more so in winter, the days are a lot shorter than in Spain; in December it usually gets dark at 3pm. This can affect you in two ways: you can opt to be sad and stay in or you can wake up earlier, be more active and productive and make the most of all the hours of light. This doesn't mean that you can't do things once it is nighttime and in fact, it is something that I loved, because in the evening everything was calmer and you could do things in a more relaxed way.

13. Special cafes and bars

We are used to seeing the same kinds of cafes, bars and restaurants, with little variation in terms of decor and in general, places which are quite boring. The cafes in Spain are for people who are in a rush in the morning and more or less have the same things in all of them.

In Poland, it is very different. Each cafe has its charm and there are lots of bars or restaurants with unique and special themes or things. This makes you want to discover each and every one of them; also, they serve different things or things in new ways in all of them.

14. Vegan places and festivals

This made me very happy during my stay there and it also made me go back home a few kilos heavier. There are lots of vegan bars and restaurants and in addition to this, they usually have vegan options in practically all of the restaurants, even in the university canteen.

Cosas buenas y malas de vivir en Polonia y Cracovia

Not just this, but also the fact that there are lots of vegan related events. I remember that there were two festivals of vegan food and products in two consecutive weeks; I was the happiest girl in the world. There were also protests, vegan gardens with several food stalls.

15. Customs, culture

Whenever we travel, we should try to pay attention to the customs and cultures of other cities and countries to learn and judge them for ourselves, not from the idea that the media or people that have been to the place before have given us.

As I said in the previous point, in Krakow there were always many events such as musicals, typical food, dances... In the day to day life, we can see how people in the country speak, how they interact and ask them about their customs.

Negatives of Poland and Krakow

It is honestly hard to me to say the bad things because my time there was so great that this was more important than all of the other things, but being objective, I will tell you a few.

1. Conservative mentality

Of course this depends on the people that you meet and where you are, but in Poland, there are lots of people with conservative ideas and you will see that on several occasions there are protests or demonstrations against abortion, gay marriage or adoption by gay couples... There it isn't as common to see a couple made up of two boys or two girls kissing on the street or holding hands. This isn't to say that they are going to say or do something to you if you do it, don't fear, since there are also a lot of people who do not share these beliefs.

This is one of the things that was hidden further outside of our "Erasmus bubble" where people usually have a more open-minded mentality, but it could be that you may come across a person like that.

2. The cold

The truth is that it wasn't a negative point for me, but it could be if you really don't like the cold. If you wrap up well and you wear some good quality leggings and a thermal top, along with some big socks and some gloves, you will basically not notice it.

In fact, I had it worse when it was hot since we were used to it being cold and we noticed it a lot more.

3. The language

Polish is difficult, but you can learn the basics. On another entry about Erasmus advice, I recommended learning a bit of the language to be able to understand basic things and try and speak in Polish when you do your food shop, since it is something that people usually like there.

The main inconvenience is that the interesting events that they have throughout the year and the fact that they are only in Polish. However, there are lots of other ones in English that you can go to easily, but unless you have a good level of Polish, it will be difficult to completely enjoy those which are just held in Polish.

4. The rent is more expensive.

I already said in another blog that Poland is a very cheap country, but the rent is not. They are not as expensive as they are in Madrid, but almost all of them round to about 200 euros per person, more expensive than in cities such as Cordoba or Alicante.

However, the halls are cheaper, you can even find a room for 90 euros.

5. The salaries are lower.

This point is linked to the previous one and it is that being in a cheaper country, the salaries are also lower but the rent prices are still a bit more expensive.

6. The restaurants close early.

The light hours in Poland are different and so are the opening hours of the restaurants. For this reason, most of them close at 10pm and some at 11pm. You have to get used to eating earlier if you want to eat out, or just eat at home.

7. There are few light hours.

I also mentioned this point in the good points section, since it depends a lot on how you react to it. If you are a positive person, you will make the most of every moment of the day, you will get up earlier and you will manage to tolerate it more easily.

It is a negative point if you want to go back walking from somewhere far away (even though it is quite safe), if you want to spend a day out or you like working in the sunlight.

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