Driving in Poland

Jul 21, 2006

My relatives warned me against driving in Poland alone and through obscure sites. From the early 90s when the borders opened up, we know many stories of people getting carjacked by guys in fake police uniforms and all that, plus the appalling road conditions.

Well, I’m writing this here a few days and few thousand kilometers later, both myself and all my belongings and car nicely with me in one piece. So nothing happened, apart from a few small navigation errors. The roads were not so bad at all and there were major reconstruction works throughout the whole country, obviously with “funded by EU” signs posted everywhere.

Road signage was pretty good in the countryside and smaller towns, so it wasn’t easy to get lost there. The road numbers, location names and distances were clearly indicated. I’m sorry I can’t say the same for Warszawa. That city seriously needs a transit traffic system overhaul – if not any better roads (the transit roads take many twists and turns and go through residential areas), then at least better signs to show where you should go. My plan was to simply go through the city on E67/8, one of the main transit arteries going through Poland from northeast to southwest. So it was supposed to be a single straight line with no turns anywhere.

AND I GOT GODDAMN LOST IN WARSZAWA. The signs simply stopped at one point, after I had already come through numerous twists and turns. They continued to show E75/7, but only direction “Gdansk”, which was to the north and opposite of where I wanted to go. So I thought what the hell, let’s get out of here and then try to find something like a “ring road” to take me back to E67. Which kicked off quite nicely, I went eastwards on E30/2 towards Terespol and Belarus (since this was the first road to out of the Warszawa navigation madness that I could find), then E372/17 southeast towards Lublin, and then road 50 around Warszawa towards the E75 and E67 southwest. Which would have been a finely working plan, except that there were major reconstruction works on 50, so I literally stood in one spot for an hour, waiting for a crossing opportunity of a bridge where only one half was open, together with many other cars and trucks (apparently I had come the right way in the sense that this was indeed a major traffic artery around Warszawa).

However, those who say that even Polish main roads are too narrow and have many twists and turns, only show that they have never driven south of Warszawa :-) E67 from Warszawa to Katowice was 2+2 lanes all the way, only to be interrupted by occasional crossroads and traffic lights in villages and even in the countryside. But other than the crossroads, it was pretty drivable. And from Katowice to Wrocław the A4 was a proper highway, only the last bit of road 4 before crossing over to Germany had a bit of one-lane twist-and-turn road again.

A4 was strange because the previous info I had said that it was a paid road, and I wondered how it works: should I have bought some sort of vignette from a gas station, or were there toll booths or what? But when actually there, it got even more weird because the traffic signs indicated that from Katowice to Kraków it was paid, but from Katowice to Wrocław (a much longer distance) it wasn’t. So I just went along it and didn’t get held up anywhere.

Of course, when driving in a foreign country, it always makes sense to obey some basic safety rules:

  • only drive in daylight and main roads. Well yeah, I did stay on the road when going from Treblinka to Warszawa using the Białystok-Warszawa main road, but the traffic there was so packed that jacking the car was pretty much out of the question.
  • drive defensively. If the local Schumachers want to overtake you, let them. Your objective is to get to your destination, not to put up a show.
  • obey the rules, signs and regulations. Linked from Estonian Foreign Ministry consular info site, there was a publication by Poland Road Safety Council that I found quite useful.