My Great Grandfather was born in Krakow and married my Ukrainian Great Grandmother. I maybe biased as a part of me feels at “home” with pirogues and borscht soup and exploring my historic roots.
Each time I visited I became excited for the shopping opportunities. Poland boasts colorful and vibrant handicrafts and clothing that bring light to their situation. Many people have this perception that Europeans are rich. In reality, most Europeans are not rich and are poor or earn an average income (especially true in parts of Italy where we assume they are rich and lavish because of the perceptions we have about Rome, Milan and coastal towns).
To easily state, many Polish people are poor as dirt. And it makes me sad because of their historic roots and struggles. It seems that Poland has not caught a break in various realms of life. My husband visited Poznan, Poland and ate an extravagant meal (not knowing three plates of food would come) for four to five Euro. He befriended the wait staff and as conversation flowed he asked, “How much does a wait staff make?” The girl responded, “approximately eight zloty per hour,” which exchanges to approximately two Euro. Two Euro? Yes, that is true and tipping is not required in Poland.
The point of my story is that I highly encourage people to shop in Poland. Not only is the shopping wonderful, but you are getting handcrafted work that is not mass produced in China. Most people in Poland live a life harder than you so to support a small business not only helps their economy, but its what keeps small businesses thriving, which is an integral part of Poland (and European) economy.
Krakow is one of my favorite European destinations because of the people are smiling and happy and the shops and cafes flourish with flowerpots and vibrant painted exteriors. It’s an eastern European paradise for shopaholics.
Now onto the fun part – shopping! Here is what I recommend picking up in Poland.
A couple decades ago you could come home with a nice piece of authentic Amber jewelry for several Euro. Today, the jewelry is more expensive due to political issues, but is an authentic memory from Poland. Travelers can take home a chunk of amber or unique-designed necklace or bracelet. From rings to earrings, Polish amber gift shops offer a variety of products and price tags.
If you are looking for a nice way to stay warm during winter months, look no further than Polish cherry vodka. I’m not a big drinker, but when in Poland, I choose vodka. Shots are cheap and as smooth as water. Polish vodka makes me question why I used to chug the cheap rubbing-alcohol vodka back in college. At restaurants, you can order a warm (or cold) glass of cherry vodka for as low as 50-cents Euro. A 500-milliliter bottle costs as low as four Euro.
Polish Folk Scarf / Shawl
The Polish Folk scarf comes in various colors of white, blue, green, red, yellow and pink. The design includes traditional Polish design including roses and flowers. The common folk scarf is a wider scarf that can wrap around the upper body and includes a tasseled border. Finer scarves are silk-based and work best around the neck (or as a babushka) to make a fashion statement or to block the wind. I purchased a blue scarf and it fits perfectly with my eclectic-colored wardrobe. You can find the scarves at folk-art stores or at street side stands.
Folk-inspired pottery is the perfect item for Susie-homemakers. A recent cookware trend offers modern and homely designs with repeating and natural patterns. Polish pottery has designed these modern designs for decades. The pottery is locally made and handcrafted from artists. These are the type of plates that you want to showoff at a dinner party and to your friends. It is a must buy for yourself or anyone who loves cooking.
Polish Designer Clothing
For anyone who loves fashion, head to a local Polish designer shop. The designs vary, but for those who like one-of-a-kind designs, Polish fashion is for you. In Krakow, I purchased a handmade Polish-designed dress for 40-Euro. Now just a note about Polish women. Polish women are beautiful and are naturally thin with a bigger chest. My American small chest and wider hips did not have a problem fitting into their clothes; I just did not know what size to select. It can be a guessing game, but don’t worry – you’ll find the size that fits. But an XS in Poland will most likely fit a slender 16-year old American girl comfortably.
Baked Good may not travel well, but they make for a great snack at the train station and airport. You can purchase items for less than a Euro. Each region offers different snack stands. Try a pretzel, Polish croissant and any well, pretty much anything that makes your mouth water. When I see an old Polish lady wearing a babushka selling cookies for 20-cents Euro, I say, “fuck it” to any concerns about egg, dairy and sugar. I have more concern about their well being and income than my vegan diet. Without preservatives, their baked goods are only edible for 24 to 48-hours, so supporting a local makes me happy, including the dessert. PS - try the kolachki cookies.
Other Folk Art
I love the Polish folk art. The colors, the designs, I could wear an entire wardrobe printed with flowers and Polish art. You can find folk art on anything including purses, t-shirts, sandals, wall hangings and winter jackets. The rooster has historical roots in Poland so it is common to see folk art including the rooster. It’s hard to recommend what folk art to purchase because it ranges from mainstream shot glasses to one-of-a-kind coin purses.
Paintings, sketches, jewelry, caricatures - what else could be more amazing than a handmade gift? Never in your life will you be able to purchase hand-painted images for the price you'll find in Poland.