10 Tips for Staying Safe and Legal in Poland

Poland is a safe, civilised, wonderful country. You can have an awful lot of fun here in world-class cities without bags of cash or the worry that something is going to go wrong. But, like anywhere, Poland has it rules and regulations – and they may not be ones you’re used to. Follow this quick guide to stay on the right side of the law, and to avoid some common pitfalls.

1. Stamp your bus/tram ticket
In Poland, you can’t just buy a ticket and get on a bus or tram, you need to validate that sucker too. This means finding a validating machine on the bus or tram you are travelling on. The machine will stamp it with the date, time and your route. If you don’t do this, you’re travelling without a valid ticket and could be fined. Plainclothes ticket inspectors can pop up at any time and they don’t care that this isn’t the way it’s done on the No.7 to Ealing.

You can buy tickets from machines on the street (usually next to major bus/tram stops), from machines on some buses and trams, or from kiosks. But wherever you buy your ticket, you must validate it, even if you just bought it on the bus or tram you are on.

Stamp your ticket or face a fine. Not all ticket-validating machines look exactly like this, but you get the general idea

2. Jaywalking and road safety
Only cross roads at marked pedestrian crossings, or face a 500zł fine. Wandering across the street anywhere you like, even when there is no traffic in sight, is illegal. The police are bored of foreigners trying to get out of these fines by claiming ignorance, so don’t even try it. And by the way, offering a bribe could get you a ticket straight to jail.

Some pedestrian crossings have lights (and a recorded voice) to tell you when you can cross. Don’t think you can ignore these at 2am when there’s nothing but tumbleweeds bowling down the street.

Crossings without lights must be treated with caution. Polish law says cars only have to stop if there is somebody already on a crossing, not if they are waiting to cross. But don’t expect traffic to screech to a halt the moment you step onto a crossing. Far better to wait for a big gap in the traffic than blowing your beer money on an intensive care unit bed.

Poland has one of the worst road safety records in Europe – don’t take the risk.

Obey the little red man – he can save your life

3. Public drinking
It is illegal to drink alcohol in a public place. It doesn’t matter if you’re sucking back cans on the corner of the street or sipping cocktails with your pinky extended at a riverside picnic – either can earn you a hefty fine and a possible trip to the drunk tank (see no. 4).

Obviously, this doesn’t apply to outside seating provided by licensed premises (though don’t be surprised if you can’t buy spirits sitting outside). It does apply to nipping outside for a ciggie and taking your beer with you. If the bar doesn’t have a license for on-the-street tables, you’re just on the street drinking a beer, and open to prosecution.

4. Public drunkenness
Polish cops have long, long experience of public drunkenness and they know exactly how to deal with it – by locking your sorry carcass up in a bare cell until long after you have a very sore head.

So you’ve obeyed all the rules. You’re stayed on licensed premises and abandoned any thought of taking that last bottle out onto the street with you. You’re just wandering home, maybe singing a little loudly, maybe making a few harmless remarks to the ladies, maybe sitting down for five minutes just to ‘rest your eyes.’ You’ve fine, right? Wrong – if a passing cop sees you as a public nuisance, they’re not going to sooth your troubled brow and call you a cab, they’re going to slap on the cuffs and drag you away.

The Hangover Hilton – Get picked up drunk on the street and you could find yourself locked up for the night, and paying several hundred zloty for the privilege

5. Drinking and driving
The legal blood-alcohol level for driving in Poland is ZERO. Poland has an horrendous problem with drink driving, and the authorities are keen to do something about it. Random checks are as real possibility.

Note that Polish drinking and driving laws also apply to bicycles. It might sound like a fun idea to hire some bikes and tool around town after a few afternoon beers, but it could prove a lot more expensive than anticipated.

6. Taxis
Ninety-five percent of taxi drivers in Krakow are honest, hard-working guys just trying to make a living. Then there are the lads who’ll drive you fourteen times around the block and demand a gold-plated arm and a leg in return.

Fortunately, spotting the difference is easy. Genuine, regulated taxis will have the rate-per-kilometre displayed in an obvious place (2.80zł–3.40zł is normal) and an equally obvious meter ticking away as you roll (usually with a minimum fee already displayed when you start). Genuine taxis also look like taxis, with large taxi-company logos and phone numbers emblazoned on them. If you’re not sure that the guy toting for fares is a genuine taxi driver, he probably isn’t.

7. The honey trap
Two gorgeous ladies stop you on the street and invite you for a drink. It’s only natural – you’re a good looking bloke, and the local girls are bound to be attracted to your sheen of Western sophistication… BZZZZZT, wrong answer. It’s a scam. Follow them to ‘a little bar’ they know, buy them a couple of cocktails, and you’ll find yourself facing a bill for several hundred złoty, backed up by large gentlemen with shaved heads offering to escort you to a cash machine.

The biggest problem is that nothing technically illegal is going on. Somewhere in that bar, down the back of a sofa in a cellar guarded by an enraged bulldog, is a price list that says: “Pink cocktail – 450zł.” That’s what your new ‘friends’ will order, and that’s what you’re legally obliged to pay for.

8. Respect
You’ve probably already noticed that Poland has more gorgeous women per square mile than Antarctica has snow balls. Add to that the fact that they all dress like graduates of the Chanel School of Looking Sexy on a Catwalk, and you’re going to be tempted to engage. There are a few things you should know. Bantering and acting cheeky may get you somewhere at home, but it will leave Polish ladies cold. Poland remains a very traditional, Catholic country in which women are highly respected and treated like ladies. They are not being cold or uptight, it’s just a different culture. Respect it, or learn to enjoy your time in that odorous hostel room with your mates.

9. Public disorder
If things start kicking off, don’t be tempted to stick around and watch the fun. The Polish police are going to come down on troublemakers like a bag full of anvils, and you don’t want to be there when it happens.

Krakow has a long history of hooligan violence – the local police have seen it all before and they will ruin your day if you try it on. These lads’ mums and dads rioted under Soviet machine guns – a few chairs thrown by beered-up fans is not going to intimidate them.
Do not expect softly-softly police tactics. Poland’s anti-hooligan squads are armed with:

Shotguns firing baton rounds that probably won’t kill you as long as you’re 30m away,

A truck-mounted water cannon affectionately known as the ‘Typhoon,’

A high-tech sonic canon that can make you wet yourself on its lowest setting,

Dogs trained to bite you directly in the testicles,

9mm handguns loaded with live ammo.

The thin black line – do not cross

10. Strip clubs and brothels
You’ve probably read somewhere that prostitution is legal in Poland and have mentally constructed all kinds of interesting scenarios. While it is true that there is no law against an individual selling sex, brothels are completely illegal. This doesn’t mean they don’t exist, they do, but if you step through the door be aware that you’re walking into a criminal world, and all that entails.

There are several strip clubs in Krakow, and these are legal. But keep your wits about you. The Krakow Post has received many reports of customers’ credit and debit cards being scammed for thousands of pounds. One visitor from the UK claims to have had 13,000 pounds skimmed from his account in less than four hours at a Krakow strip joint.

Photos: David McGirr

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44 thoughts on “10 Tips for Staying Safe and Legal in Poland

  • June 7, 2012 at 11:07 am
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    You really should take a look at what the Daily Mails Matt Lawton has done with this article. I actually recognise some of the facts.

    PS My understanding is that Polish law dictates that cars must stop when you are at not simply on a crossing. They dont stop I know but the law states rthey should. The biggest thing to be concerned with is when a pedestrain has an apparent green light but a car turning on to that crossing also has a flashing green light. Very dangerous.

    Reply
    • June 7, 2012 at 9:05 pm
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      Here is my rule of thumb: You’re self-aware. You’re responsible for your own safety. Don’t demand that a car will be able to stop. Don’t expect all rules will guarantee your safety. Stay double cautious, watch for all unexpected danger. And you may survive… :)

      Reply
      • June 12, 2012 at 3:50 pm
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        It’s true. The law had changed from common stable green arrows for several light green arrows. When it’s swiched on drivers think that they have priority and don’t respect pedestrians.

        Reply
    • June 8, 2012 at 10:48 am
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      “Polish law says cars only have to stop if there is somebody already on a crossing, not if they are waiting to cross.”

      Nope. It says they must stop if there is someone prepared to cross. The driver’s education manual and test makes it explicit that private vehicles (including taxis) must stop for pedestrians. The exception is public transport and emergency vehicles, which have the ROW in most cases (meaning let buses/trams pass first).

      Only in Krakow and a few other country towns do the cars not stop for pedestrians. Drivers are 100 times better in Warsaw, even. My advice is to step out confidently but safely (meaning a few feet rather than a few yards) but make your intention to cross clear so the car must stop. Be aware that too many numbskulls, especially in Krakow, won’t stop even then, usually while holding a mobile phone in one hand and “talking” with the other.

      Enjoy.

      Reply
      • June 9, 2012 at 3:53 pm
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        Funny. Everything you wrote is perfectly true, except you switched Cities names… I’m sure it was unintentional thou.

        Reply
      • June 13, 2012 at 11:19 am
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        My experience is that car drivers in Krakow are far more patient and conscientious than Lodz.

        One way of knowing in Swinoujcie (without needing to look at a car registration plate) as to which country the car is from is if it stops. If it stops its German. If its Polish do not cross.

        The problem is such that any cars stopping where they should (that is at a crossing) invariably leads to a potentially dangerous stand off between pedestrian and motorist not sure as to what the intention of the other is.

        Reply
      • June 13, 2012 at 11:21 am
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        Please reassure us. The person you are referring to has at least three hands right?

        Reply
  • June 7, 2012 at 6:53 pm
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    The ten commandments of thou shalt remember in Krakow. Wowza!

    Reply
  • June 7, 2012 at 11:20 pm
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    Call me crazy, but I’m guessing that #9 – “Public Disorder”, was posted with a particular group of football fans in mind. (*cough* England *cough*).

    Reply
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  • June 9, 2012 at 12:37 am
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    Jaywalking and road safety ” … nly cross roads at marked pedestrian crossings, or face a 500zł fine …”
    bull… article 13.2 Polish Traffic Regulation states that u can cross a road if you’re futher then 100 meters from a pedestrian crossing

    Drinking and driving ” … The legal blood-alcohol level for driving in Poland is ZERO …”
    bull … it’s 0.2 which amounts to a small beer

    Reply
    • June 9, 2012 at 1:17 pm
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      The 0.2 limit is simply an allowance for error as our bodies register a slight bit of alcohol under normal circumstances. It is effectively zero for drink driving. That amount won’t allow for normal people to drink a “small beer” then immediately go driving. Perhaps a small Polish beer (5-6%, 8-10 oz) on a large, overweight man and an hour between drinking and checking. Even then, I wouldn’t push it with the police, especially as a foreigner. Besides, why do you want to drink drive. Dumb on any level.

      Reply
      • June 10, 2012 at 1:14 am
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        Where in my post did you find that I do/recommend drink driving ?

        All I said that the legal limit is 0,2 not 0,0 and that it usually amounts to a small beer (0,2/0,3 l) …

        Reply
        • June 10, 2012 at 9:16 am
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          True on the amount but I have yet to drink 0.2l and NOT go over the limit. In practice it means don’t drink at all. Because you are wrong if you think you can actually drink a small bear and be OK.

          Reply
          • June 13, 2012 at 11:25 am
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            All Polish drivers I know will not hit the wodka one day and drive the next. There are enough lunatics on the road for you to have a pretty high chance of being involved in at least some kind of accident.

            It simply is not worth taking the risk apart from its your own personal safety too.

  • June 12, 2012 at 1:40 pm
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    Brilliant! I watched ‘Have I Got News For You’ last night and ‘A high-tech sonic canon that can make you wet yourself on its lowest setting’ has made it to the programme…
    Well done, Jamie! :)

    Reply
    • June 13, 2012 at 11:28 am
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      Alicija I find an over indulgence of beer can have exactly the same effect without the need for percussive instruments.

      Reply
  • June 25, 2012 at 12:11 pm
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    Did not know about the bicycles and the drink laws being zero. We often stop for a beer when out on our bicycles. suspect I am not the only one who is totally unaware of this issue.

    Reply
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  • June 19, 2013 at 1:00 pm
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    Having lived in Poland for the past 8 years, this article really is mostly a lot of nonsense written by someone who appears to be an idealist naive boy scout in his early 20s who doesn’t know Poland very well.

    “Ninety-five percent of taxi drivers in Krakow are honest…” -interesting statistic but total nonsense and not useful at all. Taxis from main stations are dishonest when it comes to foreigners more than half the time I use them, and likewise the taxis waiting near the market square. Taxis you call to collect you are much more honest but if you don’t speak some Polish or know the number to call, then you can’t take advantage of them. And despite that, just a couple of weeks ago I took one of the call taxis to the airport, picking up from my place and he ripped me off by about 40 zl, thinking I was a dumb foreigner who doesn’t know much. Unfortunately for him my Polish wife sent a letter to the taxi company and the authorities, and he’s going to be in court soon, and I expect I’ll get back my 40 zl. But it was for the principle not the money that we reported him. He did the old hand-on-the-gear-stick covering the tariff reading on the meter.

    As for jay-walking, I’ve done it every day for 8 years, and so do many of the Poles I see, and never been fined. It’s a ridiculous law that probably makes the appalling road safety stats even worse than they already are. Obviously, if you see a couple of appallingly mannered and almost universally detested Polish constabulary hanging around, then don’t do it at that time.

    The whole article by Jamie Stokes continues in pretty much the same way, and it’s such a shame he’s not working for the children’s version of the Daily Mail, rather than ranting and writing such drivel for the Krakow Post.

    Reply
    • February 11, 2016 at 1:43 am
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      Oooh mate, reading your comment u remind me my daily life here… As a foreigner, sometimes Poland can be really annoying, in this article I did not see anything about hospitals, definetly worst part.

      Reply
  • October 6, 2013 at 12:46 pm
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    Poland sounds just like a fascist dictatorship to me. No real freedom for the people, very harsh penalties, no free speech. Screw that for a joke, why go to such a horrible place?

    Reply
  • September 1, 2014 at 2:45 pm
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    Ya know I’d like to think the vast majority of people are cool no matter where you go but so far Poland does seem to be a more conservative version of West Texas.

    Even the young people seem perfectly okay with being outwardly racist. They stare and treat you different.

    Just the other day, I was on the tram and had to pay 74 PLN because I didn’t have my ticket stamped (machine was broken). It was perfectly obvious that I’m just a tourist doing what I can to obey the local laws. The guy was the bald angry sort with big boots who immediately went into “this is Poland” routine. Decided it was best just to eat the cost than leave bad feelings (I’m not white). It was very tacky and rude. Poland is known for making a series of bad decisions but seriously isn’t it abundantly clear that a country’s tourism industry is advertising for the entire nation. I’ve met police in 3rd world countries like Nicaragua who understood this.

    I also worked in Singapore for 8 months and find Poland a bit over bearing. People jay walk with no fear in Singapore. You don’t need to know and make sure your ticket is stamped in Singapore (or any other metro city I’ve been in so far, even Manila).

    Wish Poland the best but I’ve got a bad taste so far. Perhaps in the smaller towns.. I hear that’s what Poland is really about.

    Reply
  • September 21, 2014 at 8:40 am
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    Hi! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but
    after going through a few of the posts I realized it’s new to
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    Reply
  • March 17, 2015 at 12:40 am
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    I went to Poland 11day’s ago I went there 10 hours and I got shot twice in eye and chest if there r any going I recommend them not to as I had to fight for my life just stay away all run by polish mafia they will try to kill u trust me

    Reply
  • September 8, 2015 at 1:52 am
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    Regarding the stripclub i had the same problem in st petersburg…almost 2000€ stolen in a night…and fortunately the card reached its limit…they would have taken even more.
    I was drunken and they covered the numbers with the fingers…

    My suggestion is…dont go in sexy clubs in the ex cccp country…its not amsterdam or munich.

    Reply
  • March 20, 2016 at 6:56 pm
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    My husband is just back from poland. Was sick at the side of the road. Maybe he shouldn’t have been sick but when you need to be sick you need to. He got lifted by the police and put in a cell. They took all his things off him. His friends had to go to the police station and pay 300 zlotys to get him out only to realise the thieving dirty scummy bastard stole £350 out his wallet and left him with 200 zlotys. Dirty bastards said they never so must have been the fucking ghost. Angry is not the word and this won’t be the last of it.

    Reply
    • February 14, 2017 at 10:36 am
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      Maybe your husband was so drunk he can’t remember losing the £350 or spending it on strippers/prostitutes.

      If the boy can’t handle his booze maybe he shouldn’t be out drinking with men.

      Reply
  • April 13, 2016 at 3:02 pm
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    I travel a lot and have been to Poland many times in the past 9 years. Am living in Krakow for the past year and it is just like most cities/countries – you need to keep your head about you and be aware of where you are and what you are doing. If you want to jay walk, be a public nuisance, get all liquored up or visit strip joints then you are in the wrong city/country. How many of you would behave similarly in your own home towns?!? Perhaps you should live in the Middle East for a bit…

    Reply
  • July 24, 2016 at 11:14 pm
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    So, you’re saying that this country is the most restrictive of any kind of real fun, with the limited exception of the Middle East. What the Hell kind of standard of comparison is some >>shithole<< desert region? (They're still learning what the concept of LAUGHING is over there…)

    Your comment does NOT speak well of Poland. At ALL… :-(

    Reply
  • August 3, 2016 at 9:22 pm
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    Loved it! Especially sarcasm about chanel school and georgeous women, as well as drunk hilton.

    Reply
  • August 8, 2016 at 7:40 pm
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    I’m 20 and planning to visit Krakow alone this year, I like the sound of the Lost Souls attraction in particular.

    Reply
  • September 7, 2016 at 11:19 am
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    I have been to Poland where I had to break Laws #1, 2, 3,4, 8 and 9. Seriously the women are so goddamned pretty why wouldn’t you wanna break some of the laws. I also got “honey trapped” at one point in a strip club but despite my serious drunkenness, had enough brain cells to figure out that I shouldn’t be buying those flirtatious ladies any drinks. They kept touching and kissing me. I had to politely decline each time. Very narrow escape, I believe. Maybe next time I should be more careful, can’t count on luck every time.

    It’s becoming very difficult to meet regular Polish ladies as a male foreigner. They just don’t seem that much not into you, unless you’re loaded with cash or plan to stay there much longer (I had been to Poland for just 15 days). But then again, it’s not a Poland problem alone. The growing use of Facebook and smartphones has given way to a new generation of bitches who simply don’t cave in. No pick-up artiste trick works on them.

    But yes, Poland is definitely a place where cash works. In my experience, you can just walk up to a girl you liked and tempt her with a 50 Euro banknote. Maybe keep slowly piling up that cash until she caves in. I had to part with nearly 150 Euros before this girl from Czestochowa agreed to make out with in the alley of a popular pub. She wasn’t a prostitute but very sweet. She returned the money after we were done and asked that I help her out with some shopping instead. So we went to the high street together and she bought herself a brown leather handback and some lipsticks, make-up kit etc. followed by an hour at the spa, all paid for by me of course. She kissed me on my lips as a good-bye.

    Reply
  • November 28, 2016 at 7:30 am
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    I am a pretty seasoned traveler and I also use the internet a lot so I really can’t blame anyone but myself for my little misadventure. I stopped into the Diamond Gentlemen’s Club a while back while in Krakow. It was of course, at the urging of a couple of “kind” gentlemen who suggested that there were some very cute women downstairs willing to lapdance. After 10 minutes and 360 zloty, I knew it was time to go. I had paid for an hour and so I suggested that perhaps a refund of, say, 200 zloty would be fair….. Nope. I was a bit pissed by this time by the bait and switch that had just occurred and demanded some refund a bit more forcefully…. and the next I know, I was on the street with a face full of mace… It hurt like hell but I laughed in their faces anyway. My advice, as of November 2016, this club is a complete rip off. There are other review sites (search the name and reviews), many men have had similar experiences. My advice is to stay away from the Diamond Gentlemen’s Club.

    Reply
  • December 9, 2016 at 4:46 pm
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    Having lived in Krakow for the past 20 years let me post some comments:
    Jaywalking. It is illegal if there is a crossing less then 100m. It is not usually enforced by the Police very much. Unfortunately when they need to improve their statistics quickly and easily, then they will find a nice spot and go hunting for easy prey. In that case you are screwed. So what we do is we look around for Police before crossing.
    Taxis.
    There is a taxi company that has an app – its called ICAR. You need internet connection for it to work. Most unethical taxi drivers are at the main rail station. Be careful there.
    Drinking and driving.
    Its heavily enforced even beyond common sense. Be careful especially in the morning after a binge. The limit in breath is 0.2.
    Drinking in public.
    It is enforced. Paper bag won’t help. Mixing soda or juice with alcohol in a non alcohol bottle usually is ok as long as you don’t appear obviously drunk.
    Being very drunk in public.
    The “sobering cells” are not there any more. If you are in condition dangerous for your health, you will be taken to a hospital.

    Basically Krakow is a very tourist friendly place. If you behave more or less like a human being you will be ok. Have fun.

    Reply
  • February 2, 2017 at 5:25 am
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    So let’s see, the moron goes to a tit bar and gets ripped off , and he is surprised?
    It’s a business , you retard. Half the world is eating out of dumpsters and you are surprised that the skanks in a tit bar are gonna rob you . You deserve it.

    WTF !!!

    Reply
    • August 30, 2017 at 2:44 am
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      Big Bopper, yes you are logical. And I do agree with you to an extent but you cannot legitimately apply logic to this concept as the sample. It is too randomised. If a stripper has a university degree I think that is deserving of higher pay and therefore a point of difference. Do you see? But then how do we know if the degree is legitimate? The ideal is less government involvement, not more. Otherwise, with your statement racism would be a fact not just a left wing magic pill.

      Reply
  • April 4, 2017 at 5:07 pm
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    Well regarding the 9th point it is ridiculous but true as I had almost a similar case in St.Petersburg which might states to the fact those two countries Russia and Poland have a lot in common.
    Me and my fellas fell out of the local bar Zavist. Yes, we had a good time and were a bit tipsy but not like stone-hammered. This bar is not far from the main railway station so I guess the district is notorious. We stood outside waiting for our cab and had noticed a brawl broke out right across the street. Like in 5 min a police car pulled up and started to break up the fight.
    We were like innocent standing apart from all of it but occasionally having looks in that direction. One of the cops got interested in us too and guess what we eventually ended up in a police station, good Lord at least we didnt have to pay any fine.
    Conclusion: So stay away from anything u are unfamiliar with in a unknown country!

    Reply
  • April 17, 2017 at 10:14 am
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    I promised my Grandmother before she passed that I would visit Poland eventually for her. I love my Babcia very much and my goal is to keep my promise. I want to save the money to visit Krakow with my fiance. Reading this article and these comments I am confused on what actually happens but either way I am excited and cannot wait to visit all the tourist attractions and popular sights, and to try eating at Moo Moo

    Reply
    • September 14, 2017 at 4:00 pm
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      Jess, I have been in Krakow for 15 months in 2015 & 16. It’s a lovely lively city. People are very friendly, efficient transportation, I loved every day in Krakow. You find many students, lots of places to hang out..don’t worry, you will love it..English can be a little hurdle, but all the youngsters are good at it and will surely help you out incase you feel lost anytime..use jakdojade transport app, and keep Google maps handy…you will be fine.. cheers

      Reply
  • August 23, 2017 at 10:54 pm
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    what if someone scams you for money or doesnt deliver as promised ,as i will send him money from my home country to poland in lubarto

    Reply

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