Saturday, June 27, 2020

Poland Coronavirus Update

My friend from New Mexico, Evan, is supposed to be visiting in three weeks. Mom and Dad weren't able to visit in June so I have been very much anticipating hosting her as our first international visitor. Well, we're still holding out hope, but I think I'll be planning an alternative vacation again soon.

We won't officially know the EU's stand on allowing American travelers until July 1, but it's unlikely to happen. And why would they? From the weekly reports from Mom and the regular Facebook updates from Washington friends, it's obvious to me (and clearly the rest of the world) that the US is a mess. Assuming the US is on the travel ban list there could be a chance that decision would be revised in mid-July, but even that is unlikely. It would be stupid for the EU to even consider allowing American visitors in the near future. The most telling graph I've seen recently was sourced from John Hopkins University:

Poland, specifically, has kept a linear trajectory for the past three months, keeping at around 300 cases a day. Since early May, the daily recoveries have more-or-less matched the daily new-case confirmations. Everyday I check the graphs to verify that we haven't spiked, and even though the data doesn't show anything, I'm having a hard time maintaining confidence that we won't be seeing a new spike.

Ever since Corpus Cristi (June 11), everything seems to be going back to normal, too normal. I'm taking my cues from everyone else, so I've been seeing friends weekly, going out to bars and restaurants, and my mask only comes our for grocery shopping trips. I feel hypocritical because I scoff at all of the other people who are out and about, yet I keep voluntarily going out to join them. Each excursion out gives me a thrill, both from the joy of socializing with new people but also because I feel like I am doing something naughty. 

Dolne Młyny, the tobacco factory-turned-nightlife center, has always been the epicenter for young university-types to meet up for food, drinks, and dancing. (I really recommend clicking on that link to see better pictures because mine will not do it justice!) Somehow I've managed to find myself there twice in the last month and if I didn't know any better I wouldn't have realized we were in a pandemic. Groups of a dozen people cram around one small cocktail table or drink a beer from one of the pub trucks while waiting in line for a seat at one of the many restaurants. 

I hate myself for it, but both times I've been one of those people. Yet, I still ruffle my feathers at the thought of meeting live for a Toastmasters meeting or when I see a server wearing their mask below their nose. I know I am a hypocrite and am selfish, but I want everything to go my way, where I get to have my socialite fun but everyone else has to be safe about it. And I especially want the EU to open their boarders for my friends, but not for any of those non-mask wearing Americans. C'est la vie...or in Polish take jest życie!

Having beers at Hala Główna (some of the best beers I've had in Krakow)

Trying to avoid crowds outside of Międzymiastowa, where we had dinner. 

My cocktail at dinner was called UNICORNS! (yes, with the explanation mark). I was so embarrassed as the waitress brought it out to the table. 

Meeting a friend for lody at a cafe in Oldtown. 

Work is the one thing that has not changed back in any way. I'm still working from home 100% of the time. 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Weekend in Wrocław

Thanks to Dad's advice (Happy Fathers Day!) I've resigned to do things on my own more. I used to be out of town every other week, so I'm sure my omnipresence is exhausting to poor Cameron. But as an extravert, "on my own" is not to be taken literally. Which is why I invited myself along on my friend's trip to Wrocław. 

My friend Emily, even though she will deny it, is an exceptional solo traveller and a wonderful person to learn the ropes from. I felt bad only inviting myself along after she had already figured out the buses and hostel. I felt less bad once I learned that another of her friends (Christina) was also piggybacking on said plans but I still wanted to contribute to the trip and read as many "48 hours in Wrocław" blogs I could in the two hours I had before my bus left Friday afternoon. 

The most useful information I gathered were food recommendations, which I mapped out onto our free city map. When there are three people-pleasers trying to make a decision it's nice to have a pre-set list to refer to. And all of it was good! We had pizza, Indian, bagel sandwiches, and of course lody (ice cream). Actually the only semi-disappointing meal was a Polish restaurant recommended by our tour guide, but I'm assuming it was our fault for ordering vegetarian dishes. 

Emily had planned two free walking trips, which I agree are an ideal way to see the city. Based on the timing we had already walked through just about all of town by the time of the first one, but we still got lots of good info. Saturday afternoon's tour revolved around WWII. It was our tour guides first day back at work since March and he clearly was a little out of his spiel, but he did an excellent job of searing "1945" into our brains. In short, that's the year Wrocław (then the German city of Breslau) was bombed by the Soviets and began to re-transition into becoming a Polish city once again.

Sunday's tour was the highlight for me. It was almost three hours and covered old town. In addition to giving us context for the buildings we had been walking between, we learned fun little facts about the mayor's cat and a recommendation for the best ice cream (this recommendation was much better than her lunch spot). We also learned about the dwarves!

My pre-weekend research had prepared me for the dwarves. I knew there were at least 300, but our tour guide said it probably was closer to 600 these days. Almost immediately after getting off the bus I started spotting them. Most stand about 30cm tall, are cast in bronze, and all emulate their own cheeky personalities and professions. The dwarf is Wrocław's symbolic mascot, but if I remember the history correctly the dwarf first showed up as anti-communism graffiti and became the city's voice of rebellion. 

There was so much more crammed into our weekend trip, and I'm sure that this city of 640,000 houses plenty more that we did not see. In addition to being the city of dwarves, the Venice of the North, and the European capital of culture, it also is the #1 city for expats. I love Krakow, but I think I could have been equally happy in Wrocław as well. 

I thought I looked like a cute traveller so I made Cameron take my picture before leaving. 

The Flixbus took about 3.5 hours and cost ~$25 each way. 

A concert of dwarves outside of the opera hall. 

Town Hall- one of the buildings that survived the bombings of 1945.

A Monet-esq pond in the Botanical gardens. 

Carnivorous plants section. 

There's a reason they call this area the Isle of Cathedrals. 

A communist-era neon sign collection. 

I changed out of my jammies at 10pm to trudge through the pouring rain to see the signs lit up at night. 

We met a French solo traveler on our Saturday WWII tour so our group of three became four at one of the local breweries. 

My favorite of the dwarves! He and I have similar interests. 

Old town has been rebuilt with colorful Polish architecture, but the gray skies didn't do much for the vibrancy. 

The library that holds some of the most valuable historic pieces of Polish literature. 

This creepy creature is a lion outside the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Krutynia River Trail

This Thursday was Corpus Christi, a day that no one can really describe other than most people in Poland get the day off of work. We did not know that before blocking off last week's time off, but were aware that our 7 day river trip might become more crowded as we floated through the weekend. Having the commotion of summer fun around us following a few days of near-solitude provided nice juxtaposition and interesting variety along our kayaking trip.

We started off our trip with a little bit of dread and uncertainty. We didn't know if we had packed the right gear or the right amount of food, our specific campsites were unplanned, and the forecast was predicting seven straight days of thunderstorms. The night in the Airbnb before I was uneasy as I listened to a storm brewing overhead that night, but by morning it was sunny again and Cameron didn't think we needed to make any last-minute scheduling changes.

The folks at the kayak rental were all very nice (mostly a mix of high schoolers working this as a summer job and middle-age lifers), but none of them spoke English. I would have liked to ask about specifics of our trip and learn about the area, but my Polish skills are nowhere near that point yet. After about a 20 minute shuttle drive, we were dropped off with out bags and a kayak and left to our own devices for the next week.

I won't go into the specifics of each day, but we were mostly on a mix of calm lakes surrounded by forest which were connected by narrow streams with lots of lily pads, reeds, and waterfowl. During the first two days we came across two other groups who were doing the full route that we were on. The first was a couple (probably in their 50s) leaving from the same spot in Sorkwity, and the other a family group of nearly 30 people who apparently do this trip twice a year. Other than that and a few stray kayakers, we were on our own for a few days.

The first night we stayed on a private island. It was clearly marked as a campsite, but we weren't sure what the protocol was since there was no-one else around to model after. As we were finishing up dinner an elderly man (maybe in his 80s even) came up to us and started explaining in German (from what I could tell he didn't speak any Polish) that he owned this land and that it would cost us 50 złoty for the night. We paid, and went to bed thinking that's how it's going to be the rest of the trip.

That night was also wild for a second reason. Somewhere in the early night we were startled awake by a huge thunder crack and flash of lightning. The noise and lights were relentless and I eventually fell asleep crafting up plans for how to survive for 7 days in a storm on an isolated island. But alas, hours later I woke up sweating because of how hot it was in the tent. The storm had turned to a hot sunny morning which extended into a warm sunny day.

Night two was another private island (this one free), and after that we stayed mostly in PTTK sites.  Those campsites costed between 30-40 złoty a night and had showers available (sometimes warm, sometimes not). The sites all along the way were mostly mowed down grassy fields that were separated from the rental cabins available at the PTTK campgrounds. Starting on day 3 there were also restaurants available and we began to eat one of our meals out each day, typically supplemented by an ice cream.

The weather held up our whole trip, other than a few gloomy days and light sprinkles here and there. Day four was a gloomy day, but it took us through the beautiful Krutynia Nature Reserve. The sun was back out for the fifth day, Thursday, and that stretch from Krutyń to Ukta, was...unique. Within five minutes of being on the river, we intersected the day tourists enjoying their Corpus Christi holiday. All day long we were bumper to bumper with discombobulated families and drunk college kids. The only solitude we had was a quick detour to Lake Duś where we could see an old monastery.

From thereon out we were going through more of the same; some agricultural land, small towns, forests, and occasional reserve lands. That is until we approached our last campsite near Iznota. Iznota was the last town along the river before spitting out into one of the larger lakes, where we would spend most of our last day. We had a few choices in campsites and decided to check out one that showed a lot of monument markers on the map. Little did we know we were in for a wild ride!

We had happened upon Galindia. We beached ourselves next to a swarm of kids playing in the lake, families ordering beer and kielbasa, and tons and tons of wooden totem-like statues. We walked around the grounds and kept coming across more and more of these druids. After checking in, watching the resort's informational video, and doing some research of our own, we learned that we were in the ancestral land of the Galindian Baltic Tribe, although the resort's interpretation of the Galindian people is definitely exaggerated. It was an enjoyable last night, and included a swim in the lake, a local beer, some ice cream, and a tour of the "caves."

Overall it was a great trip, and we even left with a little bit of a tan. It would be hard to do this without speaking any Polish, and even though our combined vocabulary is probably only a few hundred words, speaking some Polish was especially helpful in the more rural first few days. Also, knowing Germany was helpful for our first night's camp.

 If I were to do it again I would probably do it in less days (we had a lot of down time every evening) or add a side trip to add some additional kilometers. We had enough cash, but I probably would bring more next time to reduce some moments of concern. I probably didn't need as many socks as I brought, but I'm glad I bought seven big dry bags. We had a good mix of our own food and restaurant, but I could have done with even more ice cream. Overall, it was a great trip and had enough nature-filled adventure for these adventure seekers, and definitely was a lot less labor-intensive than our typical week-long backpacking trip. Would recommend!

Here's our full route. Click on it for more details of the trip.

Right at the start of our trip!

Lunch on day one, right as a lake funneled into stream.

Campsite #1, on our private island. You would never guess that it had been torrential downpour less than 12 hours before. 

A beaver dam- one of the few signs of mammal life that we had seen. 

One of the PTTK sites. We didn't stay here but we ate some pirogies. 

Night #2 on the Island of Love. This was our only free stay of the trip. 

There were a couple of dams we had walk our kayak around.

The cabins you could rent at one of the PTTK sites. 

Night #3 at a PTTK site. We were the only tenters and the warm showers were a special treat. 

Entering into the Krutynia Nature Reserve. Definitely the most abundant birdlife was in here. 

We had some extra time after reaching camp #4, so Cameron went on a run and I went on a hike and found a few trees that are marked as National Monuments. 

View from camp #4 (another PTTK site).

We had a frog friend in our boat on the morning of day 5. 

There were lots of baby birds out. Here's some signets. 

Cruising along with all of the day boaters. 

Thursday was very busy on the river. 

More baby swans!

A midday stop for some traditional Polish food and a beer. 

Some of the channels were hard to find and we had to do some reed whacking. 

Detour to Lake Duś to check out the monastery. 

Cows along the river. 

Trying to entice some baby ducks to be our friends. 


Lunch stop on day 6. 

Some of the totems at Galindia.

Exploring the Galindia caves. 

On the last day we had to go through a slough. We were crammed in with tons of big sailboats.