Thursday, April 8, 2021

Covid-PCR Test

Last week on the phone, Dad recommended that Cameron and explore the Romanian Carpathian Mountains, or at least the Polish mountains. He suggested we just camp out in the wilderness or sleep in our car, to which I tried to explain through my frustration that we can't! Yes, I'm flying to Dubai tomorrow, but that took considerable coordination and new challenges keep coming up (to be discussed shortly). Non-necessary travel within Europe is virtually nonexistent right now, and all accommodations in Poland are closed. Poland does not have any wilderness camping, and I am not willing to bend the rules right now just to have an uncomfortable night of sleeping in my car.

Just about everyone I know in the US has gotten at least their first vaccine shot, and both of my parents have been fully vaccinated for a few weeks (months?) now. They visited my sister (also vaccinated) in Colorado last month, and have started regularly socializing with friends and eating out at restaurants. I'm sure it's easy for Dad to forget that, even though he has these newfound freedoms, Europe is currently smack-dab in the middle of its third wave. 

In Poland, we haven't been able to sit down at a restaurant since October, and shops, schools, hotels, and restaurants seem are constantly in flux on whether they are allowed to be open or not. There are quite a few people whom I see regularly but I don't know what the bottom half of their face looks like. I bought tickets to an (outdoor) chocolate festival and had mentally committed to making a hair appointment, only to be informed the next day that both of those things would not be permitted for the foreseeable future. 

It's fine. The peak so far this month was over 420,000 active cases in Poland, 35,000 of which were new that day. That seems like a lot, but it's pretty much par for the course these days. On the plus side,  I like my growing mask collection. I probably wouldn't have written on this particular topic (again), except that I had my first COVID-PCR test yesterday. 

It was an in-person test, but I had to order it online. I selected the place closest to my flat (rather than a drive up location) and paid nearly 400 PLN for a voucher, good for the next three months. I really hoped that I would be able to make an appointment for a specific time, but alas it was up to me to decide when I wanted to show up.

My flight to Dubai leaves at 12:35 tomorrow, and I needed to have by PCR test within 72 hours of the departure time. Since it takes 24-36 hours for the test results to come in, and since the testing spot was only open from 8:00-13:00, it only made sense to go on Wednesday morning. Even though I arrived at 7:35, the line was already 20-people deep. 

I expected this, and felt pretty confident that they would get through the line quickly enough that I would be back home before my 9:30 Polish class. It was a little cold, and periodically snowing, but people were (mostly) keeping a reasonable distance from each other, plus my friend was there, too. Right at 8:00, the line lurched forward as four people were let inside. Things seemed to be moving smoothly and rationally, until they weren't.

Rather than letting the next batch of four into the building based on who was first in line, the hazmat-suited medical worker came out onto the street and said asked if anyone was waiting for a particular type of appointment. A rush of people left their original spots in line to identify themselves as 'the special ones.' I didn't understand enough of what was said to know whether or not I was 'special,' but I didn't hear the letters "PCR" so I thought it was correct for my friend and I to stay put. 

That cycle of four people from the 'true' line and then four 'special' people continued the whole time we were waiting, but I didn't figure out the pattern until we were practically at the door. I wasn't the only one who wasn't getting it, and every time the employee came outside the line turned more and more into a blog, with people trying to finagle their way into entering the building sooner. My friend whispered to me, that it seemed like a bazar way of prioritizing the Polish speakers, since it was clear that the majority of people around us who were not volunteering themselves as 'special' patients were also foreigners. 

Finally, around 9:10, my friend and I rode the wave into the building. There were four seats in the lobby, which we sat down in after getting a pump of the door-side hand sanitizer. It was clear that there were multiple testing rooms, but only the one nearest the front door was being used.

They kept the door to the testing room open, so while waiting I could see another hazmatted medical worker disinfecting the patient seat and tinkering with vials, while the other woman (the one who regularly came outside seeking the 'specials') sat behind a computer screen and handled the paperwork. That door remained open, even after they called in the patients, so I got to watch the process of a young guy going in, handing over his ID, and then being directed to the patient chair.

I didn't see the test itself, since the doctor placed herself between the patient and my line of sight, but I got a gist of the protocol. Next, I was called in, and I handed over my voucher number, ID, and shared by address and phone number. While my information was jotted down, I could see that the room wasn't particularly interesting, but was filled with organized stacks of plastic tubes, boxes of gloves, small vials, and other medical gear. 

I sat in the chair, and the doctor stood in the same spot as she did with the last patient. She directed me to sit with my head fully tilted up, and then she pulled down my mast to just below my nostrils. As she stuck the test stick (I don't know the proper word for that) down my right nostril, I realized I had been breathing through my nose and now had to figure out if I should just hold my breath or attempt to breathe through my mouth. The swab was out before I could decide, and I'm not sure if it would have made a difference breathing through my mouth, since it felt like the stick went down into my throat. 

As anyone who has been tested before can probably attest to, it didn't hurt, but it was uncomfortable. The strange tickling sensation stayed with me for at least ten minutes, as did a slight watering in my eyes. Before walking out of the room, I was given a card with a website that I could log into 24 hours from then to find my results. Easy-peasy. 

I didn't quite make it to my Polish class on time, but I was only late by about five minutes. When I checked the next morning (today) my test results were there, and I enjoyed a minute of feeling like things were going smoothly. Then I realized, the signed results form was only in Polish, and only English results were valid for traveling to Dubai. 

Oh boy. I suppose I just assumed that we would get dual lingual forms, since neither my friend nor I had seen anything otherwise. Well, what to do? I spent the morning seeing if I could use Google Translate to create a passable-looking English document, but of course it turned out really whack. Even if I managed to make a reasonable looking 'forged' certificate, there's no way I would be darning enough to actually present it to an Emiratis customs officer. 

Luckily, I found a place that could do a same-day sworn translation for 180 PLN each (ugh, another $50 to this already expensive trip!) and there was a place that could print out copies of the Polish certificate (and my janky English translation ones...just in case) for a few złoty, so things seem to be back on track. In my superstition mind, this means one of two things: either our flight will be canceled last-minute, or we will have already gotten through all of the hiccups and will now have a stress-free trip from here on out. Fingers crossed for the latter! 

The slightly unnerving image you see when you (finally) are let into the building). 

You can see that everyone outside starts to disregard the social distancing rules once they get close to the door. 

And since I don't have any other interesting Covid-related photos, I figured I'd also share a few pictures from our Easter:

Cameron woke up, thinking it would be a normal low-key Sunday morning, until he saw a lady sticking out of the couch cushions. Yes, once again, I made him go hunting for Easter candy. 

I think Cameron is looking forward to me being gone for a week, so he doesn't have to put up with this sort of shenanigans. 

I also attempted to make treat-filled chocolate 'eggs.' I didn't quite temper the chocolate correctly, and they didn't turn out very egg-shaped, but they were fun!

Cheese fondue is starting to become our Easter dinner tradition. 

Easter Monday is a national holiday, so Cameron and I enjoyed his day off with a walk through the Wolski Forest. 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

The Legend of Lajkonik

Happy Easter!

Normally holidays make a good blog topic, but I re-read last year's Easter contribution (Easter in Poland) and I'm pretty pleased with it still. If you didn't get a chance before, I recommend giving it a read to learn about the Polish Easter traditions. 

This week, I want to introduce you to a Krakow-specific tradition–the legend of Lajkonik! 

When I first arrived in Krakow, I saw the symbol of Lajkonik (the silhouette of a bearded man in a pointy hat riding a horse) everywhere: the bus seat upholstery, bakery logos, and bike racks. I didn't know what it was, and in my mind just assumed it must be some historical king. Though he may be kingly, he's actually remembered as a valiant trickers. The pointed hat, paired with colorful oriental attire, is characteristic of Krakow's 13th century enemies, the Tartars. The horse, is a wooden hobby horse, a humorous fill-in for the real thing, which has become more iconic than the true story. 

Through the 13th century, there were multiple Mongol invasions of Krakow. The main one was in 1241, and led to a lot of destruction, but is said to have only lasted 10 days. Lajkonik's story comes later, in 1287, during the third Mongol invasion of Poland. The Mongol army joined forces with Turkic troops and the two planned a raid on Krakow, after having already looted and seized Sandomierz (approximately 160km north east of Krakow). 

Quick interjection–you'll notice that I'm using multiple names to refer to the invading army. Although I think the most historically accurate term is the combined Mongol/Turkic army, I will refer to them as the Tartars, as that is the term used in most of my references.  According to the lovely Encyclopedia Britannica, "Tartar" is the umbrella term applied to any Turkic-speaking group. Ok, now back to the good stuff!

Legend has it that the Tartar armies wanted to surprise the city, so they decided to hunker down in the village of Zwierzyniec (fun fact: the street I used to live on was Zwierzyniecka). A group of local raftsmen happened upon the group while they were doing their regular regular river-based wood transportation. These local heroes attacked the would-be raiders in their sleep, killing many of the Mongol generals. The Polish attackers wore the slain's outfits and rode into the city. 

The Krakowians feared the city gates were breached! It was a great relief that the city dwellers were simply on the butt end of a prank, and were in fact not being attacked. Once the story had been all cleared up, the Mayor of Krakow declared the raftsmen as local hears, to be commemorated every year with a return of Lajkonik, dressed as Tartar Kahn, parading through the city streets. 

Yes, I agree, the part about the Mayor declaring an annual celebration day-of seems a little far fetched (especially since other sources say that the annual tradition only goes back to the 17th or 18th century). Also, I can't find any documentation concerning the fact that the city nearly was breached and that there was still (presumably) some unhappy Tartars waiting outside of the city. Regardless of the actual historical facts, it is true that every year there is a Lajkonik festival. 

On the first Thursday after Corpus Christi (10 June, 2021), a procession follows the plucky Lajkonik from Kosciuszko Mound, through Zwierzyniec, up the Old Town market square. Along the way, he and his follower reenact the battle, do a dance with the city flag, collect ransoms from shopkeepers (money, food, booze), and strike onlookers with a golden mace (which is considered to bring good luck). As put by In Your Pocket, "Lajkonik is so beloved he basically has carte blanche to do whatever he wants along the procession route." It takes five hours to travel to the city center (and there is no expectation that he will arrive sober), but on the square "he collects a tribute from the Mayor of Krakow" and the city citizens join him in raising a toast (Karnet). The whole ordeal ends with a salute to the city. 

Now you think to yourself, "well that sounds fun, but why is Aisha writing about this now rather than in June when the Lajkonik parade actually happens?" Well, my friend, it's because I am pessimistic that there will actually be a parade this year, as there wasn't one last year due to Covid precautions. Also, author David Abulifia, wrote that the first Tartar/Mongol invasion happened on Ash Wednesday- 10 March, 1241, which is enough of an Eater connection for me! So enjoy the read, and Wesołych Swiąt!

There he is in all of his glory- Lajkonik in his pointed hat and ridding his hobby horse. 

And here he is again, memorialized especially during Christmas time. 
What's interesting to me is the name "Lajkonik." I haven't found the origin anywhere, but the word konik is very similar to kón, which means "horse." If I look up "laj konik" (two words) on Google Translate, I get "hit the horse."

More Christmas decorations! He really is a local hero, celebrated more regularly than just on his celebratory day. If you zoom in, you can see Lajkonik making an appearance in one of the traditional Krakowian nativity scenes.

He's a common character to find all around. Here's a different nativity scene where you can see his outline in the center vestibule. 

As I said, he even appears on the local transit seats. 

I think I shared this photo already during my Grocery Stores post, but to prove my point you can see that the pretzel sticks are branded "Lajkonik." 

And last but not least–this is the real reason I decided to write about Lajkonik today. I was on a walk yesterday and spotted the bike racks shaped like our like our rootin' tootin' hero and figured it was finally time for me to do some research on this guy. 

I read a lot of online articles and blog posts beyond just the ones that are linked to in the main body of my post. The other websites I consulted can be found here, and most have great photos of the annual Lajkonik procession: