Well, actually, it was a journey into what we thought was very well known, after all we’ve lived in Poland for a long time ;). But in our post-COVID19 times nothing is as it used to be and the perils are very real ;).
But first things first.
Our flights (various legs of it) had been cancelled several times, and in a couple of situations we were informed blithely that no alternative flights are available till late September. The last cancellation happened 5 days before departure, and I’m quite surprised I don’t have any white hair from this experience. The worst thing is that there wasn’t really a choice of airlines offering tickets! The ones that we used last time didn’t operate the route anymore (they returning to it in September, so at least there’s hope for the future). Lufthansa seemed a safe bet, all things considered, so I wonder how other people travelling from this part of the world went through with other airlines. That said, the hours spent on the phone with Lufthansa were many, and I really don’t want to count them because I might still develop a rash just from thinking about it. But, in the end, we did manage to get to Poland. The journey took only 72 hours, with a 16-hour layover in Hong Kong and two days (yes, 2 days!) in Frankfurt.
The Hong Kong layover would have been fine if someone informed us beforehand (or just posted a notice on the airport website, or anywhere, really) that the airport is closed due to COVID restrictions. So, we landed there, couldn’t get out (you need special forms for that and even then it takes approx. 3hrs to get in line to get tested and wait for your results in a rather confined and closely watched space, and the return is similarly difficult) and couldn’t even buy a cup of tea or anything to eat. There was a water fountain. And half of the toilets available (the other half was only for the personnel, with people guarding the not-for-travellers toilets).
Next was Frankfurt, which was actually very nice. We turned the inconvenience into an opportunity and went for a sightseeing tour, complete with a lovely river cruise. Frankfurt has a great art museum, the Städel, with a wonderful collection of paintings of old masters. Absolutely fabulous Mediaeval art collection, plus gorgeous paintings by Boticelli, Vermeer, van Eyck, Rembrandt, Brouwer, Bronzino… There’s an online collection you can check out here: https://www.staedelmuseum.de/en/collection-highlights.
Poland welcomed us warmly, with over 30 degrees Celsius, and with COVID. I guess the experience wouldn’t have been complete if we hadn’t caught it at some point. For 1,5 weeks of our stay we had to quarantine, but because we had already spread the virus to my parents, we were able to quarantine with them ;). Maybe it sounds bad, but it actually proved beneficial because we were able to spend some time together with them, which was great. Aand we were also able to go mushroom picking, which I absolutely love and wanted to do for the last four years :D. That said, despite three doses of vaccine the virus hit us with considerable force. In the worst period of it walking up a flight of stairs was an effort! Fortunately we’re fully recovered and don’t seem to have any lingering symptoms. Yay!
Kraków is as beautiful as always, very clean even though it is still in the throes of various roadworks and renovations. Of course, I was too busy meeting with friends to take photos ;). So the only one you’ll get is the gargoyle from Collegium Maius, the oldest university building in Poland (14th century and holding up very well!). I was pleasantly surprised by the city’s decision not to mow grass in public spaces – it must be a nightmare for people with allergies, but it looked very nice, with little meadows popping up in unexpected places. It saves water, too :). Summer is a great time to visit Kraków, even though there are plenty of tourists everywhere, because in the summer months the city looks so vibrant and lively, and has a more laid-back vibe. Autumn is also great, but because it’s the time of students coming back and flocking to the various academias located around the city, it all becomes a bit more rushed and there are plenty of people who know exactly where they’re going and will get there even over your body ;). The greenery looks amazing, though, resplendent in gold and crimson.
We also visited Toruń, another great old town famous for being the hometown (more or less) of Nicolaus Copernicus. It’s also famous for the delicious gingerbread they make there, and let me tell you, it’s as good as they say :D. Everywhere you look in Poland you see signs of support for Ukraine. There’s also a lot of Ukrainians on the streets, and everybody seems well-disposed, if generally tired – unfortunately, from the stories of my friends and the news outlets it seems that the effort of helping the Ukrainian refugees was ceded by the government entirely to the regular people and a grassroots movement of volunteers. The government doesn’t help, and it seems a small miracle that at least it doesn’t hinder the effort.
Our return journey took us through Frankfurt and Singapore, and fortunately we had only 6h in Singapore and all the shops were open ;). Bliss! 😀 There are some cool installations in the airport, sculptures and tiny gardens, and it’s a very friendly place (for an airport). We were happy to get back home, even returning to the middle of an extremely wet and windy winter 😉 As always, I wish I had more time to spend in Poland with friends and family, but you know how it is 😉 Maybe next time, in another two years, the journey will be a tad easier!