Poland is situated in the centre of Europe. With the area of 312,683 sq kilometers it is the 9th largest country of the continent. It neighbors with Germany on the West, Czech Republic and Slovakia on the South and Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Russia (The Kaliningrad Oblast) on the East.
The area of Poland differed throughout the ages: in the 17th century, the Golden Age of Poland, it covered almost 1 million kilometers, making Poland the largest European country of the time. In the 18th century, because of the three partitions of Poland, the country politically disappeared from the map of Europe to finally regain independence in 1918.
The geographical location contributes in moderate climate: with both maritime and continental elements. Although the weather is rather difficult to forecast, you can expect snowy white winters and hot, sunny summers, with a bit of rain from time to time.
The country has a population of almost 39 million people. This figure makes Poland the 8th most populated country in Europe. As far as the gender structure is concerned, for every hundred men, there were 106 women (figures from 2001). Taking ethnic structure into account, modern Poland is almost homogenous, most of its inhabitants are native Polish. The minorities account for about 3-4% of the population; the biggest minorities are Germans, then Belarusians and then Ukrainians. As far as the religion is concerned, Poland is predominantly Roman Catholic. Education is a very important factor in Poland; the number of people with higher education grows rapidly.
Polish is an Indo-European language, belonging to the West-Slavonic group. Most of the foreigners find it quite difficult to master, probably because of the inflectional character of the grammar and the fact that it is full of exceptions. Foreign guests also curse the specific spelling (vowels like “ś”, “ć”, “ż” or “ź”), which are part of almost every Polish proper noun and surname.
Polish has many borrowings from other languages, mainly from Latin as well as German, Russian and French. Recently Polish language is mostly influenced by English.
Polish artists throughout the centuries used to depict the specific of the country’s nature as a melancholic image of a blurred, deserted plain with a row of weeping willows. Indeed Poland is a rather low-lying country. On the north we have 440 km of Baltic coastline. Beautiful golden sandy beaches are highly recommended for holidays. The northern “half” of Poland enraptures with the abundance of forests and lakes.
On the other hand, there are picturesque mountains too, all over the southern border, with two main ranges of mountains in that part of Europe: the Carpathians and the Sudetes. The highest peak is Rysy (2499m) in a crest of Tatra Mountains.
There are still many places hardly touched by the civilization, e.g. the Bieszczady Mountains, the plains along the Biebrza River, or the ancient woodland of Białowieża forest with the diversity of plants, birds and animals. Poland can boast many species that have already died out in other parts of Europe, such as: brown bears, grey wolves, beavers, Eurasian Lynx and bisons.
Poland is full of cultural treasures. The magnificent architecture reflects one thousand years of Polish historical heritage, with plenty of Gothic, Baroque or Art Nouveau buildings-churches, cathedrals, castles, manors etc. There are thirteen sites inscribed in UNESCO World Heritage Sites list, e.g.: the historic centres of Cracow and Warsaw (the capital of Poland), the medieval town of Toruń, the Wieliczka Salt Mine or the Castle of Teutonic Order in Malbork.
It is impossible to get bored in Poland, especially during summer season, where plenty of festivals take place all over the country. Some of them have already built up an international reputation.
Polish people love to celebrate. Apart of birthday we also celebrate the name day, which some people consider even more important than birthday. Most calendars contain the names of the holidays celebrated each day. The most important national holidays are: the anniversary of the restoration of independence in 1918 (11 November) and the passing of the Poland’s first Constitution of 1971 (3 May), which connected with International Labour’s Day – 1 May can give even four free days (depending on which day of the week it falls on).
Although Halloween is getting more and more popular, the traditional All Saints’ Day
(1 November) is a rather sad day, when people visit the graves of their late relatives, burn candles and recall those who passed away.
Most shops are closed on public and church holidays. And beware of the Eastern Monday! The tradition of throwing water on somebody is still very strong even on the streets of the big cities.
The other most popular holidays include Women’s Day (8 March), Mother’s Day (26 May), Granny’s Day (21 January) and Children’s Day (1 June). St Valentine’s Day has been very popular recently especially among young people.