Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Very Long Night to Remember

December 6th is St. Nicholas Day (Dzien Świętego Mikołoja) in Poland. From what I can tell, it's mostly a children's holiday and as an adult your day is unchanged; you still go to work and there isn't a big dinner to fuss over. However, since it was Cameron's first St. Nicholas Day, I woke up early to uncover what St. Nicholas had left for him. After that, though, the rest of the morning was business as usual. I went to my Polish class, and one of the students brought in Pączkis, the famous rose-filled doughnuts, but it was just because he was hungry on his way to class, not in celebration of St. Nick.

Coincidentally, the Remitly holiday party was scheduled for that evening and was the true excitement for the 6th. I was excited to dress up, put on some makeup, and go out for an evening of socializing. I was feeling very festive with some sparkly gold eyeshadow until Cameron got home and said with shock "you look scary." I wasn't willing to change my makeup but I did modify my hair a little to appease him; I still don't really know how my festive look translated to "scary."

Despite my disappointment we left the house late and the six-bell chime at St. Mary's officially marked that we would be fashionably late. Out tardiness was lengthened since Cameron had forgotten about the white elephant exchange so we quickly stopped by one of the Christmas markets and mall to pick up two gifts along the way. It was around 18:30 when we walked into Bistro 11, which seemed to be the exact wrong time to arrive. Of the two long farmhouse tables one was completely full and one was completely empty so we were left with the decision to either sit by ourselves at a 20-person table or to awkwardly hover over the shoulders of those who had arrived before we did. Luckily there was an appetizers bar to mingle by and a few people stood up to join us.

I had expected to be on the high-end of the dress code based on my observations at some previous Remitly parties but Cameron's Polish coworkers were a much trendier group; I was done up to the perfect amount. The little restaurant that Remitly rented out was really cute with all of the Remitly Christmas decorations and was well suited to the vibe of the party. Once both tables were filled with Remitly's employees and their plus ones (apparently a little unusual for Krakow) we were treated to a seated three-course meal accompanied by seemingly unlimited beer and wine. Even though everyone stayed stationary during the meal, there was lots of mixed mingling afterwards. I had such a nice time talking to everyone there!

White elephant was also really successful, and despite no one else ever having played it before the quality of gifts was superb! There was a good number of gag-gifts (which of course are a staple to a well-rounded game) but we ended up with relatively good snatches. Cameron got a four-person espresso cup and saucer package and I got a bag of local chocolates accompanied by the game Dobble (it looks fun but it is hard to tell exactly how it's played since the instructions are in Polish). Surprisingly, the most stollen gift was a large fleece-covered piggy bank about the size of a classroom globe.

At some point after midnight Cameron and I head out. The whole way home we complimented the organization of the evening and how we each really enjoyed ourselves. I know I don't work for Remitly, but it really feels special being part of this small group of people who seem really excited about their work. It feels a bit like being part of a start up without the risks. We were also both really excited to get home and immediately snuggle into bed after our 25 minute walk in the cold. Unfortunately we were about to find out that we still had a long night ahead.

It took a minute for me to realize that Cameron wasn't able to open the door; his key was turning but the door remained latched. Each of us tried multiple times, with both of our keys, but it felt like the door was still dead bolted. Our door has two key holes but we were only give keys to the top one and it seemed like the bottom lock had been engaged. The illogical thought that popped into my mind was that we had forgotten to pay rent so someone came by while we were out and locked us out. Naturally, we went down to the security desk to try and explain the situation.

I already mentioned that I drank a lot, but it was over the course of many hours and our chilly walk home was sobering. However, I was very self-conscious of the fact that we were going to try to explain this very bazar situation while dressed up in our nice clothes while carrying two gift bags and a helium-inflated golden star balloon. Through the aid or Google Translate, an electronic copy of our lease, and a display of our keys we were able to explain to the security guard that we had lived in our apartment for 3 months (and weren't just temporary Air B&B guests) and did not have the second key that we needed to get in. To my dismay, he didn't have a spare key nor did he have any useful advice or contact information. He recommended we call our apartment owner and property manager, but of course neither of them were answering their phones at 1am.

I looked for an open locksmith, but no one was answering their phone. Clearly, we weren't going to get back into our house that night. My suggestion was to go to a nearby hotel but Cameron suggested calling Mike (the other American) first. Mike didn't answer his phone, presumably because he already had gone to sleep after the party, so we set off in search for a room. Cameron's phone was on very low battery and my maps seemed to be loading very slowly which added to the intensity of the situation, but at that moment I still wasn't particularly worried. I could think of at least three hotels within a few blocks of our apartment and figured we wouldn't have an issue getting a cheap room.

Just because of the proximity, our first stop was the Pegasus Hostel directly across the street; I figured it wouldn't be great, and there was a chance we would be in communal rooms, but it was just for one night. The doors were open, but I thought that might only be because of the young woman smoking outside. A taped up piece of paper pointed us up to the first floor. Upstairs was a series of corridors and communal bathrooms but nothing that was indicative of a receptionist desk. I used the toilet while Cameron did a little more scoping, but we ended up heading back out.

There was another hostel down the street, but Cameron vetoed that right away because of it's sketchiness (i.e. graffiti). The next stop was Radisson Blu; I figured it would be our last stop, even if it meant spending a few hundred dollars. At 1:30am we showed up with our gift bags and gold balloon and asked for a room. Nothing. I was more shocked than upset, and the receptionist began to call other hotels in the nearby area on our behalf. He called at least four hotels within a 20 minute walk. Nothing. I didn't know what the next step was going to be until a second receptionist said she was seeing rooms available on for the nearby Sheraton. We used the lobby computer and saw that their room was going to cost us $500! I was hesitant but Cameron was ready for this nightmare to be over so he tried to book it. Of course, since it was past midnight, wouldn't let us book the room.

We grabbed our balloon (which was starting to feel like the red coat in Schindler's List) and walked another two blocks. At least we knew there was going to be a room. The Sheraton receptionist greeted us with surprise and when we asked for a room he said he didn't have any. I corrected him and informed him of the rooms shown on, but he said even if there are empty rooms the Sheraton software won't let him rent them out after midnight. He recommend we try again, but as expected, it didn't work. With growing desperation we asked for any recommendations and he pointed us to a group of three more nearby hotels.

I still wasn't panicking since we still had multiple options. That started to crack after the next hotel turned us down, and then when the one after that also had no availability I began to resign myself to sleeping in the hallway floor outside of our apartment. The final hotel we tried looked very luxurious (read: expensive) and had a pretentious sounding name. When we walked in we were greeted by a doorman dressed in a gold suit and invited to sit on the plush victorian furniture while a large group finished checking out. The doorman sensed that we were pretty beat (I'm sure it wasn't hard given some obvious context clues we were exuding) but was very kind. He asked if there was anything he could help with and when we explained we were looking for a room he gave me immense hope by saying he didn't think that would be a problem.

Moments after I sat down Cameron noticed a miss call from Mike. Mike had apparently not heard his phone ring because he was still at the party when Cameron first called but he invited us to stay in his spare room. Part of me hesitated at the prospect of walking another 25 minutes when we were potentially could get a hotel room, but it was probably best to leave before we were coerced by comfort into spending upwards of $1000.

It was cold out, but we were hustling. There were only a few other people on the street: a couple who were happily looking up at the stars while staggering on the cobblestones, a group of loudly singing men, and two women running across a large but empty street. Overall, a pretty tame crowd. It might have been the tradition of not drinking leading up to Christmas but more likely it was the freezing temperatures that kept people indoors. We made it to Mike's apartment building just after 2am.

Mike and Natalia greeted us with sympathy and a cup of hot tea. I was very happy to sit and drink tea, but I was more excited for finally laying down. Mike apologized for the accommodations (a pull-out sofa and a thin blanket) but they were much appreciated! I just piled my jacket and scarf on top of me and stayed comfortably warm.

I woke up a little after 8:00. Cameron's phone had died over night so we had to get back into our house before my phone suffered the same fate. We wrote a quick thank you note and then snuck out of the house. The plan was to call a locksmith, but we decided to make a few detours on the way home. We were trying to walk with intention, but the freezing rain paired with our party shoes made that a little difficult. There was a locksmith's address listed close by, but there was no business identifiers from the outside so we kept going. The next stop was to walk by our property manager's office to see if they had an emergency number posted. Of course there wasn't anything new and we had already left emails and voice messages with them.

I started calling locksmiths on our walk home but the first three didn't speak English and one week of Polish class is quite insufficient to communicate our situation. I was able to pick up a suggestion to email one guy, but when I went to his website the email form was broken. Finally I got ahold of an English speaking locksmith who promised he could be at the house in about an hour. Finally we felt reassured that this would be over with soon. The next thing to do was to let the doorman know we were expecting someone and to get breakfast.

It was a different security guard than the night before, and when we told him we were getting a locksmith he disallowed it. Once again we went through the charade of using Google Translate to explain our situation. Finally, after following us upstairs to try his hand at our lock, he acquiesced that calling a locksmith was the only option.

Luckily there are dozens of breakfast places nearby so we stopped in one for paninis and hot chocolate. Thankfully the staff was quick because I wanted to be back at the apartment in case the locksmith was early (not likely, but it would have been awful if he left because we weren't there when he arrived). Cameron left in the opposite direction in search of a phone charger and I got the max amount of cash I could from a nearby ATM in order to pay the locksmith; I wasn't sure how much it would cost and I was expecting the worst. Not long after Cameron returned (without a charger) the locksmith called and explained he was having car troubles and wouldn't be there for another 40 minutes.

Cameron went back out to continue searching for a charger and I entertained myself by trying to interpret the Dobble instructions. My phone was at less than 50% battery so I didn't want to weaken it by listening to a podcast or unnecessarily using Google Translate. The time alone also gave me a reason to practice my upcoming Toastmasters speech (in my head of course! I wasn't going to speak allowed in English in our semi-public hallway!)

Cameron returned with a charger only to find out the accessible outlet was turned off. We waited mostly in silence.  Not long after the revised timeframe the locksmith showed up. He agreed with our hypothesis that the second deadbolt was loose and jiggled into the locked position when we last closed the door. Ultimately he had to break the lock. It took him about 10 minutes and cost 300PLN (about $75), which I thought was very reasonable. It was almost noon, which meant that it had been almost 12 hours since we learned that we were locked out.

Cameron's relief was palpable. He had held it together, but just barely. Once it was over he shared that this had been a true nightmare he had; being locked out of his home and unable to communicate his situation was a worst-case scenario for him. I think I handled the stress pretty admirably, but my reactions probably annoyed Cameron further. As we walked around searching for a hotel I couldn't help but laugh and shake my head. The whole situation was so ridiculously unbelievable! One of the reasons I was able to stay optimistic was that I always had a next-step in the back of my mind. The one time I almost broke down though was at the last hotel; if that one didn't have a room I didn't have another backup plan to fall back on. I think another thing that helped was knowing that this would make a really good blog story. I wouldn't go so far as to say "blogging saves lives" but it did help me through this unbearable situation.

Since getting home, we've forwarded all of the follow-up information to our property manager but we won't know until Monday what they think and if they'll reimburse us. My email to them was very terse and I informed them they needed an emergency number, we need to be provided all keys to the apartment, and the security desk needs to have back up keys. In our minds, this was a lot of stress caused by a structural malfunction so the owner should be charged with the cost of the locksmith and lock replacement, but I'm worried they will argue that we made a unilateral decision to break the lock. For now, at least, we are home and have duct tapped the malfunctioning deadbolts so it (hopefully) won't happen again.

Santa in the mall, outside of where we bought the gift bags for our white elephant gifts. 

The one photo we have from the party (holding the pined-after piggy bank).

Sitting outside our door, very tired. This is me trying to smile. 

Locksmith breaking our lock. You can see our gifts we were tracking around in the bottom left corner of the picture. We ended up ditching the gold balloon at Mike's house.  

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