Driving 2200 + miles in 5 countries with 8 border crossings in 10 days is normal business in a normal world but as we live it and experience it every day today, you have to plan more carefully and must rely on experience and expertise.
In my newest post I would like to provide you a first-hand account on travelling inside of the EU at the height of the Covid 19 world in the summer of 2020. Once you are inside of the Union you will notice a lot of strange phenomena you have never or very rarely noticed before. On our first day we drove through Slovakia starting our journey from Hungary. We crossed two borders to get to Auschwitz Concentration Camp system and then to Krakow to check into our hotel. The two crossings were as smooth as they normally are although there were fewer cars. Nobody stopped us and we saw nobody being stopped or checked by the authorities. The traffic on the highway was light. At our first break we did not know what to expect restriction wise in the first foreign country. At the gas station no one had a face mask and when we had our morning chow the young and pleasant lady did not wear gloves when touching and serving our sandwiches while boastfully displaying her fresh snow colored teeth. On the streets we saw very few people wearing a mask. The first leg of our trip that day was quick. Our second crossing between Slovakia and Poland was busy only because of the construction at the border but it was okay. Getting to Auschwitz was adventurous as it usually is but taking a car and not a tour bus helped a lot. Traffic was normal so before arriving at our first destination we did not notice much of a difference – initial concerns about covering the trip in 6 hours faded away quickly and almost unnoticed. Our first and huge (but not totally unexpected) surprise hit us in Auschwitz.
Before describing the scene I must tell you that the only way to get into the camp system to have an online ticket that you have to show along with your ID to prove that the ticket belongs to you. You can enter the site at the given time your ticket is booked for. And now the camp. I have never ever in my life before (my first trip there in 1986) seen it so empty. The barracks had cordons and signs instructing us about the right direction and the two meters distance but most of the time there was literally no one else to keep 2 or 20 or even 200 meters distance with: only a few visitors both inside and outside of the buildings. Unfortunately, not all rooms (like the standing cells) could be visited because of the pandemic. If you were there before you understand why, if you were not, it is impossible to keep an inch distance in one of the most vicious torture chambers in the world. Anyways, on the one hand it was sad to see the emptiness but on the other you could talk and wander around without being pushed, monitored, stressed and jammed and could explore in a way that you could never do it before. Put it short: this is how a visit of this kind should be done so overall we all felt lucky. After visiting the concentration camp, we went to Birkenau to see the extermination camp: entrance with reservation and face mask only. In both camps you were supposed to wear it but once you entered nobody seemed to care much. There were hand sanitizers at some points and the soda machines were emptied. In the extermination camp we spent comfortable amount of time in empty barracks most of the time. The area of the gas chambers not to mention the “Canada” or the administration building at the back of the camp were even more deserted although you could see a few people and groups of 10 – 15 people led by a guide here and there in the distance. It was obvious that the visitors were mainly from Poland and from the Union – no groups from overseas. In the car parks I did not see a single tour bus.
After the undeniable and unforgivable horror of the Holocaust we headed towards Krakow to take our rooms there. The ride was easy with moderate traffic and it took the usual time: an hour including grabbing something to eat on the way to save time. In the hotel there were signs everywhere reminding you to sanitize your hands and wear the mask and keep distance, but only half of the guests cared. Second surprise on the trip took place in the hotel: you could use the swimming pool and the spa if you signed up for it that I did of course beforehand. When we took the elevator to the top floor where you have the pool with panoramic view of the city we realized that the pool was overbooked (no more than 9 folks were supposed to be there) but again the 20 + guests did not care that much. Only in the sauna people obeyed the rules: 2 persons at the same time (or the others were simply not interested in relaxing with a naked couple already inside). Third big difference on the tour we faced in the morning: this hotel I have been using for over a decade because of the location, excellent service, the spa, and most of all the best breakfast in Krakow. Unfortunately, or fortunately the buffet did not work as it worked before the Covid 19 world. There were waitresses serving you from the buffet and you had to point out what you wanted – in this way our calorie intake was sure reduced since we did not make as many trips to the fantastic food islands as we used to before the pandemic. In the morning we had a sightseeing tour of beautiful Krakow and I got to tell you it was more pleasant than ever before: again, there were tourists all right but far less than usual so no elbowing and cutting the line and stuff like that. What we had noticed by that time since we departed: NO large GROUPS anywhere. We took a walking tour and saw some other (mainly) individual visitors from mostly Central Europe walking or taking the electric minibus tour of the city and a very few small or medium sized groups led by a guide.
In the afternoon and after a light lunch (to save time) we headed to Warsaw with the normal traffic on the highways. Once in the capital city of Poland, we had an evening walk in the old town after occupying our rooms. The walk was genuinely nice, there were a lot of people but not disturbingly too many and most of them were Poles and again: NO GROUPS. We had our dinner in a restaurant I use most of the time and nobody including the servers wore the mask (for us it would have been challenging to eat wearing the mask though 😊) The hotel: mask everywhere and this time more people were wearing them than in Krakow. Breakfast was the same deal: you were served after choosing from the buffet island that were cordoned off. The most annoying thing about the hotel was the elevators, only three could get in and since we lived on the 30th floor you can imagine the line for them. The swimming pool and the spa were closed because of the pandemic but the gym was open.
On the third day it was time to move on to Lithuania, one of the Baltic states and study its rich culture, explore the country and try not to worry about the border crossing. What happened to us at the Lithuanian border and during the rest of the tour I will reveal it to you in the next chapter.
Stay tuned and healthy and feel free to comment 😊 to be continued with some appetizing pictures and stories.