Unless you’ve been living under a rock these last few months, you have of course heard about the coronavirus that’s been making its way across the globe.
While the virus may have started back in December 2019, news of the outbreak didn’t reach the world straight away. In fact, I was in Bali when I first heard about the situation and like a lot of people at that time I wasn’t taking it too seriously.
Over the course of a few months I went from not taking it seriously, to having to take it very seriously. It went from a virus that only stopped me going to certain countries, to a virus that forced me to flee from Poland and stay put in England for an unknown amount of time.
My story of how I had to flee Poland is definitely one of my craziest travel stories so I thought I would finally share it on the blog. The whole story. From when I first heard about the virus, to why I changed my travel plans to Poland which ultimately led me to being in the situation where I had one day to cross the border before it was closed for at least 14 days.
If you want to skip ahead to the Poland escape part of the story, click on the contents menu
- 1 Hearing About Covid-19 For The First Time
- 2 Deciding Not To Travel To Italy
- 3 How I Ended Up Going To Poland
- 4 Why Was I Taking A Trip During This Time?
- 5 My First Few Days in Poland
- 6 Poland Was Reacting But Did That Mean I Needed to Leave?
- 7 Arriving in Lodz
- 8 When Anxiety Finally Hit Me
- 9 Heading to Torun
- 10 Poland Reacting to The Situation
- 11 Calling British Airways
- 12 Calling British Airways Take 2
- 13 Checking Out and Leaving Torun
- 14 Making My Way Back to Warsaw
- 15 Troubles in Warsaw
- 16 Kindness From A Stranger
- 17 A Communication Issue
- 18 Driving Across The Border
- 19 Making It Across The Border
- 20 Arriving in Berlin
- 21 Making My Way To Stuttgart
- 22 Arriving in Stuttgart
- 23 Finally Relaxing For The First Time in 2 Days
- 24 Do I Regret Anything?
Hearing About Covid-19 For The First Time
I was in Bali throughout January and February with some travel blogging friends and it was here that I first found out about covid-19. While we were saddened to hear about a virus going around infecting China, like a lot of people we didn’t take it seriously. Even when we heard it had spread to a few other countries, it still wasn’t seen as ‘that big of a deal’. It sounds so weird to say that now but back then we were happily in our Bali bubble. The fact that none of my family or friends back home were checking up on me was proof that it was ‘no big deal’.
During February we all started to leave Bali. With most of the gang heading to different parts of Asia we couldn’t help but talk about coronavirus. We were hearing stories of some Asian countries taking your temperature before letting you board a plane and how some airports were giving out masks to everyone. It made us talk about the virus but still it wasn’t something that was concerning any of us.
Deciding Not To Travel To Italy
Months in advance I had decided to take a trip to Catania in Italy for a travel bloggers conference since I love attending travel blogging conferences. It’s a great chance to learn from my peers, be inspired to try something new and best of all, it’s a chance for me to catch up with my travel blogging friends. As travellers it’s not often we end up in the same location so these conferences are great for catching up with old friends and finally meeting new friends face to face.
After Italy started to have it’s troubles with the virus I started to debate whether it was a good idea to go or not. Weeks before the conference was due to take place Italy had placed the north of the country in lockdown. Even though my conference was down south and I was getting regular emails from the event organisers that the conference would still take place, there was a part of me that didn’t want to go. At this point I hadn’t actually booked my flights or my hotel, only the conference ticket.
When I saw where in Italy the conference was being held I decided I was going to add a trip to Malta afterwards as I had never been. So after I got back from Bali I started looking at flight options for Catania and Malta. Suddenly I realised just how expensive this trip was going to be. And with flights from certain countries no longer happening I started to wonder if all the speakers were even going to be able to make the conference. I had to question whether it was worth spending the money when Italy didn’t look like it was staying open for business much longer.
How I Ended Up Going To Poland
Once I had decided not to go to Italy I then had to think about where to go instead. As a freelancer I had already told the companies I work for that I was unavailable for 2 weeks so it was either stay at home for that period or head somewhere else. For me it seemed like the only obvious choice was to go somewhere else. Rather than spending lots of money in Italy, I decided I wanted to go to Eastern Europe for a cheaper trip.
I looked on Skyscanner and saw that there were cheap flights to Riga. I love Riga but I have never been by myself as it was always a place I visited with the ex so I loved the idea of finally visiting one of my favourite cities by myself. And since the previous plan was to visit a new country (Malta), I could make this a trip to Riga and then Vilnius so I could still get to visit a new country (Lithuania).
Unfortunately, the flights weren’t as cheap as advertised and it was going to cost quite a bit more to fly to Riga and from Vilnius. I was determined that this was going to be a cheap trip so I checked British Airways website to see what I could get with my Avios points.
As soon as I saw I could get cheap flights to Poland I knew that’s where I wanted to go. I first visited Poland back in 2015 and the country instantly captured my heart. With the air miles I had I could get return flights to Warsaw for £35. Even though I had been to Warsaw before I could just fly into Warsaw, spend a couple of days there and then head somewhere else. I didn’t need to pre plan it, I could just decide once I was in Poland. It’s the kind of trip I love to take.
Then two days after booking my trip, the travel bloggers conference in Italy was officially cancelled. When I heard that I was very happy with my decision to go to Poland instead.
Why Was I Taking A Trip During This Time?
You may be wondering why I was even thinking about taking a trip during this time. But what you need to remember is very few of us were taking coronavirus seriously. It seemed that precautions were only necessary in certain countries and neither the UK or Poland was one of these countries.
The facebook group chat I had with the Bali gang was still active and we were still treating it as a ‘not a big deal’ thing. In fact, the two of us that were now back in Europe were complaining about how much it was being talked about. We were missing the Bali bubble.
And it wasn’t just our group not feeling the need to cancel travel plans. The day I spent deciding where to go and what flights to book I was at work. My colleagues knew I was planning a last minute trip and none of them tried to stop me. No-one knew this virus was going to become a global pandemic so it was just part of my ordinary life to be booking flights and planning a last minute trip.
My First Few Days in Poland
I flew to Poland on Monday 9th March 2020. At this time Poland only had 17 confirmed cases of coronavirus. At this time the UK had 321 confirmed cases and already had 5 deaths. In regards to where I was less likely to catch the virus, Poland felt like the safer place to be.
On Tuesday 10th March, my first full day in Warsaw, I had wanted to go out and revisit Warsaw’s beautiful Old Town. However, when I woke up it was quite foggy outside so I decided to take advantage of my hotel’s spa.
In the afternoon when the weather had cleared up I headed outside. I finally got myself some pierogi and got some up to date photos of the Old Town. I was having the perfect first day in Poland.
As I was walking around I saw a sign for a Vodka Museum. Since I love vodka I really wanted to go inside. A quick google check told me they were open and that I would be able to understand the museum as an English speaker so I happily made my way to the entrance, only to discover the doors were closed. I was disappointed but I made a mental note to return to the museum at the end of the trip since I would be returning to Warsaw for my flight home.
I carried on with my day as if nothing was happening because as far as I knew, nothing had changed! I got back to the hotel, enjoyed a new Polish beer in the hotel bar, went out for dinner before returning back to the hotel to enjoy the hot tub and sauna.
Poland Was Reacting But Did That Mean I Needed to Leave?
The next morning I was checking out of the hotel and had nowhere planned for next. I had been thinking of going to Poznan by train originally but after chatting with a girl on Twitter I had decided to finally give Flixbus a try. I did a poll on Twitter asking any fellow Poland lovers where to go and the majority said Torun and Lodz so that was my trip decided.
The morning I was due to leave Warsaw I found out that the reason the Vodka Museum had been closed was because the Polish government had made the decision to close all schools, cinemas, museums and cultural sites.
This would obviously change my trip as museums and cultural sites are a big part of what tourists do when they travel. While I was disappointed by this I was still determined to make the most out of my trip. I love visiting Poland and I wasn’t about to let this stop me from enjoying my visit. Besides, even with a few things closed, I would still be able to enjoy the delicious Polish food and incredible Polish beers. And if i’m honest, that was enough of a reason for me to stay in Poland.
I had made sure to book an afternoon bus to Lodz so I could spend a few hours in the hotel spa before checking out. After a soak in the jacuzzi I was feeling much better about my decision to stay in Poland.
Arriving in Lodz
I left Warsaw and headed to Lodz on Wednesday 11th March 2020. At this time Poland had 31 confirmed cases of coronavirus. At this time the UK had risen to 460 confirmed cases and the death total had crept up to 8.
During my 2 hour bus journey to Lodz I had time to think about the current situation. I thought about whether I should stay or head home but I kept thinking about the numbers. Poland had fewer cases than the UK so it seemed crazy to rush home to a country that was arguably less safe.
By the time I arrived in Lodz and checked into my hotel it was early evening. Since I wouldn’t have daylight for much longer I ignored my doubts and headed out to explore Lodz and find somewhere for dinner.
As I was walking around I was happy with my decision to stay. I was admiring the street art of Lodz and then I spotted something that made me very happy I had stayed. I found Bierhalle. Stylised as German pubs, Bierhalle brew beers in the restaurant so you can enjoy fresh beers with local cuisine. Suddenly I was in my happy place!
The next day I was ready to explore more of Lodz. With everything closed I knew I couldn’t do much but I was excited to take a self guided walking tour of the area. There was so much street art around Lodz that I was happy just walking around.
That was until the rain started. I quickly headed back to the hotel, stopping at the corner shop to grab a couple of local beers, and waited for the rain to stop. Thankfully it didn’t last too long and I was able to head out for food.
I had spotted an Italian restaurant near my hotel that I wanted to try out. I made my way there but then saw it was completely empty. Usually a bad sign! No big deal, I would just walk around and see what the other options were. I had plenty of restaurant choices nearby.
When Anxiety Finally Hit Me
I walked around Lodz and noticed that all the restaurants were either quiet or completely empty. The streets also seemed quite empty too. Something didn’t feel right but I kept telling myself I was in a new place so I had no idea if this was normal or not.
After walking a full circle I headed back to the Italian restaurant I had first planned to go to. I sat there eating in an empty restaurant wondering what was going on. I had seen people around so clearly the locals hadn’t been told to stay at home. Maybe it was just because of the rain earlier.
But then I received a text that made me doubt my decision to stay. My mum had only just heard about Poland’s decision to close down schools and museums which was causing her to panic. Usually when my mum panics I am confident in my response. “Don’t worry that earthquake happened in a different country than I’m in” or “Yes there were riots here but they happened 20 years ago”.
Now suddenly she was worrying about my safety and I didn’t have the ability to reassure her. I told her I was keeping an eye on the situation here, which was true, but I couldn’t confidently tell her I was doing the right thing in staying because I wasn’t sure if that was true.
I tried to have an early night but I just wasn’t able to get to sleep. I turned my phone back on and went to Twitter for the first time in days. On my screen I saw tweet after tweet about covid-19. It was not helping.
I realised the reason I couldn’t sleep was my anxiety levels were getting the better of me. I don’t usually get anxiety during my travels but these were unique times. The stress and guilt was getting to me and there was no denying it. But I eventually calmed myself down enough for me to drift off to sleep.
Heading to Torun
The next morning I was feeling a lot better about everything. My anxiety levels had calmed down and I was ready to continue with my trip. I would keep an eye on the situation but I had no reason to head home just yet.
I had an early bus to Torun but sadly this was delayed by an hour. However, I wasn’t prepared to let this spoil my good mood. The bus to Torun was almost 3 hours long and I spent that time happily reading and enjoying the views.
I checked into my cute hotel and was feeling so pleased to be in Torun. I couldn’t wait to go explore this medieval town. Unfortunately, as I was getting settled in my hotel the heavens opened up. Since the rain was quite heavy, I decided to stick on Netflix and wait for the rain to stop. I had three days here to enjoy the town so I could relax for an afternoon.
I thought the rain had stopped so I left my room. Unfortunately it hadn’t quite stopped so I popped into the shop for some beer and snacks. As I left the rain was getting heavier so I quickly headed back to my hotel room.
By evening it was still raining so I just went to the hotel restaurant for dinner. Once again I found myself eating in an empty restaurant. And with that the anxiety returned. I couldn’t even finish my dinner as the anxiety had taken away my appetite and that’s saying a lot as I love Polish food!
I left the restaurant and walked around to clear my head. Thankfully it had finally stopped raining! As I walked around I thought about my choices. I couldn’t decide if I was overreacting thinking I needed to leave early or if I was being stubborn by staying in Poland.
Walking around Torun in the dark I couldn’t help but want to see it in daylight. The place looked so charming. I could see why Twitter had recommended coming here.
Poland Reacting to The Situation
On Thursday 12th March 2020 Poland had suffered a death from covid-19. This was enough to make the Polish government want to protect the public.
On Friday evening, the day I had arrived in Torun, the government announced that Poland would soon be shutting its borders to help prevent the spread of covid-19. By the time I had got back to my hotel after walking around I had a couple of messages on Instagram from people who had seen the announcement. At this time I don’t think the announcement had reached English speaking news so I was grateful to have people who cared about me on Instagram.
I had got the message at 20:17 that Poland would be closing the borders on Sunday. As my flight home was Tuesday it was time to get my flight rearranged. I went online and looked up the number for British Airways and saw that they had closed at 20:00. I had just missed them!
I checked the website and there was a British Airways flight from Warsaw to London on Sunday that still had spaces on it so I decided not to panic. I would call in the morning and get my flight changed so I would leave on the Sunday flight. It’s funny, I had been struggling with not knowing if I should stay or go that I was actually relieved that the decision had been made for me. I relaxed for the first time in days.
Calling British Airways
After about an hour I started to wonder if I should try and call British Airways in America as they would be open. I wasn’t sure if they would be able to help but it was worth a try. After half an hour on hold I finally got through to someone and explained that I needed to leave.
Unfortunately BA’s system hadn’t received the news that Poland was about to go under lockdown so they couldn’t change my flight for free. He told me I could pay to change to a flight on Monday but I would also need to pay for an upgrade to business class. Or I could wait and call back in an hour or two when the system would be updated with Poland’s current situation.
By this time it was almost 11 at night and I didn’t really like the idea of staying up for another hour to possibly be told the system still hadn’t been updated. The guy I was speaking to was really kind and could see I was struggling with a decision. He started to say that in his personal opinion he would… and then suddenly his voice was replaced with a Polish voice. The message was then repeated in English and said “the call you’re trying to reach can’t be connected” and the call was disconnected. Like honestly, that couldn’t have come at a worse time!
Annoyed that my call had been disconnected I decided to go to bed and set an alarm for 7am when British Airways London would be open. At that time I didn’t see a need to panic. I heard they would be stopping flights going into Poland on Sunday so surely that meant flights going out would still happen… right?
Calling British Airways Take 2
The next morning I woke up, made myself a cup of tea (because it’s the British thing to do when there’s a problem to fix) and called British Airways. After being on hold for 50 minutes I finally got through to someone. By the way, I was so anxious to get this sorted that I called the number as soon as I woke up. That meant for those 50 minutes on hold I had been bursting for the loo, wondering if I could go to the toilet before someone answered. I just knew that if I tried, the moment my cheeks touched porcelain, someone would answer. I now know that if you have an urgent call to make, take the time to pee first!
Once I got through to someone I explained the situation and he had to put me back on hold while he read up on the latest news about Poland. I guess with so many countries changing quickly it was hard for people at the call centres to stay up to date.
Once he saw that Poland was indeed going into lockdown he was back with the troublesome news that Poland would actually be going into lockdown on Saturday night, not Sunday night. That meant I had until midnight THAT DAY to get the hell out of Poland. Anxiety was back!
I was ready to see what flight options I had but unfortunately there was more bad news. Since I had used my Avois points to book the flight, I needed to talk to the Avois team which meant I went back on hold. While on hold though I started gathering all my stuff as I knew I was going to need to check out soon.
When I got through the guy from Avois tried to get me a new flight. Unfortunately, there weren’t any for that day he could put me on. I had been packing while he was talking but this news made me stop in my tracks while I processed the information… no flights. No escape. What the hell was I going to do?!
He told me there might still be flights available at the airport. They always have more options but there was nothing he could do for me on the phone. He advised me to get to the airport as soon as I could, ask at the help desk and “hope for the best”. There was just one slight issue with this plan… I was 3 hours outside of Warsaw!
Checking Out and Leaving Torun
Once I had ended the call I grabbed my backpack and headed straight for reception to check out. I was supposed to be staying for 2 more nights but when I got to reception they didn’t question my wanting to leave early so I guess they were aware that the borders were about to be closed.
While I had been checking out, I was also looking on the Flixbus app for a bus back to Warsaw. The earliest one I could get was a 10:20 bus. I made my way to the bus as quickly as I could. My hotel did include a free breakfast but I was too anxious to stop for food. I just wanted to get to the bus stop as quickly as I could.
It didn’t take long to get to the bus stop and then I had about a 40 minute wait in the freezing cold. Although I couldn’t help thinking that really was the least of my concerns. I started to wonder if I should have taken the time to eat breakfast but again, this was the least of my concerns!
The bus stop was actually outside of Turan Miasto train station. I went inside but there was no ticket office or staff member to talk to. So I looked online and saw there was a train that would get me to Warsaw an hour quicker than the bus. I went inside but couldn’t see any information. Luckily, there was a young couple at the platform who spoke a little English but they said the train coming wasn’t going to Warsaw. I looked again and realised the Warsaw train was from Torun Main station. The train approaching was stopping at Torun Main but without knowing the schedule I was wondering if it was worth the risk. In the end I decided to go back outside and wait for the bus. I knew the bus would get me to Warsaw by 2pm but I had no idea how often the trains to Warsaw ran. Plus I had already bought my bus ticket.
Making My Way Back to Warsaw
Once I was on the bus I started to feel a lot more relaxed. There was nothing to do now but sit back and wait to get to Warsaw. With my anxiety levels going down I suddenly felt very hungry. Then I realised that this bus wouldn’t get to Warsaw until 2pm and it didn’t stop for food. Thankfully, I had gone to the shops for snacks the night before and still had a chocolate bar, half a brownie and the complimentary gingerbread biscuit from the hotel. It was better than nothing!
As I was on the bus I updated the Bali group chat about my situation. We had previously had so many conversations about coronavirus I just had to update them about my current drama. When I told them I was on a 3 hour bus and ‘hoping for the best’ at the airport they were surprised I wasn’t making alternative plans while on the bus. Then it hit me, I had been so concerned with this being a cheap trip that I was relying on my free flight change with British Airways. But this was not the time to worry about money!
I looked up any flights leaving Warsaw to London but had no luck. I tried other parts of the UK but still no luck. I tried to find flights leaving Warsaw to any country that still had its borders open but these flights were ridiculously priced. Thanks airlines for using this pandemic to cash in!
It was time for plan b. I tried to see if I could find any options to leave Poland by land and Germany seemed like the best choice. I looked on Flixbus but the only option I saw was an overnight bus that wasn’t actually planning to cross the border before midnight. Not knowing how strict the road closures would be at midnight I wasn’t sure this was a good option.
I then looked at train options and found a train leaving Warsaw and arriving into Berlin just before 11pm. Was this my way out of Poland? I checked the times and realised that if I was going to take this train there wouldn’t be time to go to the airport. I would have to go straight to the train station.
I struggled with this decision. If I went to the airport I might have a chance to get a straight flight home to London. But if there were no flights I wouldn’t have time to get that train. I wasn’t sure which option was the biggest risk.
While the train wouldn’t get me home, it would at least get me out of Poland. I was only hesitant about this train because I had found it on The Train Line. Now, this is a website I use all the time to book my trains in England but I didn’t realise they sold tickets outside of England. That was making me nervous about trusting it. Sounds silly now but you have to remember how anxious I was about making it out of Poland. One mistake could be the difference between making it out and being stuck in Poland for 14 days. Since the ticket was only £33 I decided to buy it just in case and then I could make my decision once my bus got to Warsaw.
Troubles in Warsaw
Once my bus arrived in Warsaw I struggled with what I should do. I knew I’d rather fly straight home but I was running out of time and realistically what were the chances that any available flights would be left. I doubted there were any free flights left with British Airways and flights to other countries were ranging from £300-500!
I decided to risk it and hope that the train to Berlin was real and running with no issues. I could have easily got to Warsaw Central Station by public transport but I didn’t want to risk it. Uber seemed like my safest bet to make sure I arrived there. Plus, it would give me time to eat seeing as I’d barely eaten anything at this point.
I got to the train station and made my way to the ticket counter to ask which platform the train would be leaving from. When I asked her she looked at the ticket on my phone and said “no”. I stood there thinking “well what the hell does that mean?!” Was the train cancelled, did it not exist? But she didn’t really speak much English and just kept saying “no”.
I spoke to someone else and she told me that all direct trains to Berlin had been cancelled. My stomach dropped at this news. I started thinking I shouldn’t have come to the train station. I should have gone straight to the airport. I asked her if there was anything leaving Poland and she said I could take the train to Kostrzyn and change there for a train to Berlin. But that train was leaving in 4 minutes! She wrote down the station and platform and told me to run so I did just that!
I made it to the platform and asked the conductor if this train would get me to Kostrzyn to change for Berlin. He looked at me and said yes but this train gets to Kostrzyn 40 minutes after the last train to Berlin departs. I couldn’t believe what he was telling me. Was this game over? I just looked at him with sad eyes and said “but how do I get out of the country before they close the border?”
I don’t really know why I asked him. I knew there was nothing he could do but at that moment I felt so helpless. I had made a decision to skip the airport and try to get a train. Maybe I had picked wrong….
Kindness From A Stranger
At that moment I didn’t know what to do but then Anna appeared from the train door. She had heard me talking and she too was trying to get out of Poland before the borders shut and told me she had used a car sharing app called ‘BlaBlaCar’ to get a car share across the border.
At this moment I had a very quick decision to make. I could jump on this train going to the middle of nowhere and hope to find a way across the border or head back to the airport and hope there was still a seat available. Neither option seemed better so I quickly jumped on the train as the conductor blew his whistle for us to leave. Decision made, I just had to hope I had done the right thing.
I spoke to Anna and asked if I would be able to get a spot on her car share. She very kindly rang the guy and asked if there was room for me. Some by miracle there was. Talk about being at the right place at the right time!
Anna and I exchanged numbers and she went to her assigned seat while I waited for the conductor so I could buy a ticket for this train. Once I got my ticket I had time to sit and think about all that had happened since I woke up that morning. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t met Anna.
Since I had time to kill I had a look at flights to London from Berlin. I couldn’t believe how expensive these flights were! The flight prices were ridiculous for the next few days. I would have to wait until Tuesday to get a regularly priced flight. It was tempting to stay in Berlin for a few days but I really couldn’t risk having to flee another country if Germany decided to shut their borders too!
I looked at cheaper options and found a £92 flight to London from Stuttgart. It was a hell of a lot cheaper so I decided it was a better option. I checked to make sure I could get a bus or train to Stuttgart and found that Flixbus also does trains and they had one at 7am train that would get me to Stuttgart in time for my flight for only £27. Things seemed to be going my way finally!
A Communication Issue
Finally feeling good about everything, I sat back and enjoyed the sunset from the train window. Could things finally be going my way? I was on a train that was taking me to a car share that would take me over the border. What could possibly go wrong? The train even had a food and drinks trolley so I was finally able to get something to eat. Ok, it wasn’t much, but a couple of croissants and some crisps was better than nothing!
I was feeling relaxed on the train for the first time that day and then our train arrived in Poznan. I thought nothing of it but after 10 minutes we were still sitting at the station. There were people still on the train so clearly this wasn’t the last stop. Feeling my anxiety starting to bubble again I decided to text Anna and ask if she knew what time the train arrived at our stop. Then I got the worst text possible. She had already gotten off the train. There had been a miscommunication about the stop we would be getting off at. She felt bad for not messaging me sooner but honestly it wasn’t her job to get me across the border. She could have just assumed I had found a different way out of Poland.
I started packing all my stuff in a panic and called her. Maybe if I was lucky the driver wouldn’t mind taking a little detour to Poznan station. There was no harm in asking! I asked how long ago she had got off and could they come get me and by some miracle she was at Poznan station. Luck was really on my side that day so I got off as quick as I could, hoping the doors wouldn’t lock just as I was trying to leave. Maybe I’ve watched too much tv, but that always happens in tv land!
By some miracle I managed to get off the train and found Anna. We found the exit where our driver would arrive so then it was simply a case of waiting. To kill the time we chatted about our experiences and why we were in Poland. As it turned out Anna was from Germany but at university in Poland, studying in English. When I told her I was just visiting because I love Poland she asked if I could speak any Polish. So I made a complete fool out of myself as I badly pronounced the few Polish words I know which she found highly entertaining.
While we were waiting I thought I should probably call my mum and let her know I was ok and I was almost out of Poland. She sounded happy until she heard me mention the car share with strangers. Suddenly she wasn’t happy with how I was leaving Poland. I explained it was necessary and pretty much my only choice at that moment. She asked me to take a picture of everyone in the car and send it to her… Like that wouldn’t make me some sort of weirdo! By the way, have you ever tried to have a conversation like this near the person you’re talking about hoping they can’t hear what you’re saying? It’s very awkward!
Driving Across The Border
Thankfully our car did show up and it felt like I was going to be able to make it out of Poland. After the day I had I wasn’t trusting things to go right. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something would go wrong at some point.
In total there were 4 of us getting a ride across the border. We quickly introduced ourselves before getting in the car. At this point I did take a picture of the car’s reg to send to my mum. It made her feel better and I didn’t want her to panic anymore than she already had been. Although the driver kind of gave me a look of “what, do you not trust me?”
We got in the car and since I was the last person to join the car share I took the incredibly uncomfortable middle seat. With my bad knees this seat is the worst for me but it only seemed fair that I take it. It would be tough to sit in a position where I can’t stretch out my legs for over 3 hours but it was worth it to get out of the country. A very weird thought to have considering Poland is one of my favourite countries to visit!
Once we were on the road we started chatting about how the border was closing and what had brought us to Poland. The others in the car were students studying in Poland. I was the oldest and the only one there on a holiday.
Listening to their stories I suddenly realised how big an impact this was going to have on them. Until that moment I had only been thinking about myself. Their universities were shutting down for 2 weeks as that was how long at the time Poland was going to shut its borders for. If the universities opened up straight away then these guys were going to miss 2 weeks of classes because there would be a ‘quarantine’ period for people reentering the country. While it sucked for me that I had to end my trip early and spent extra money, compared to these guys, Poland closing its borders had a very small impact on my life.
After almost an hour and a half of driving we were close to the border but in desperate need of a rest stop. I for one was grateful for the chance to stretch my legs! Plus I was desperate for some water at this point. I probably should have gotten some food here too considering how little I had eaten throughout the day but I just couldn’t think about food at this point.
Making It Across The Border
There had been so many moments throughout the day when I didn’t think this would be happening but by some miracle I had made it across the border. I was out of Poland and in Germany with just an hour to spare before the border closed.
It was funny, when we went across the border you could see we all had the same look on our faces. We all expected something to happen at the border. Something to acknowledge we were across. Now, I’ve driven across borders so many times in Europe so I know that there’s an open border policy so you can just drive through. But even knowing this I had expected something.
Maybe I had expected something just because I wanted to acknowledge that I had achieved what seemed like the impossible. Or maybe it was because I had felt like a bit of a spy. By this point everything felt like a movie plot and not real life. Normally when I travel I don’t have a countdown of when I have to leave. This only happens in the movies when the rebels or the spies are trying to sneak out of danger. Again, maybe I’ve just watched too much TV!
Either way it didn’t matter, we were safely in Germany but we still had another hour until we reached Berlin. At this point I had no idea where we would be stopping. Was the kind stranger taking us to our individual destinations or just dumping us somewhere central. Because I had joined late and not through the app, I had no idea if this had been arranged beforehand or not.
I had been asked earlier in the car where in Berlin I would be staying as unlike the others, I didn’t have a home there I was returning to. They laughed at me when I said I hadn’t thought that far ahead but my concentration all day had just been to get across the border. I would worry about the rest afterwards.
So once we got across the border I opened up the booking.com app on my phone to search for hotels. Berlin is a big city with an insane amount of hotels that I never had any doubt that I wouldn’t find something. Since I had a 6:53am train to catch from Berlin Hauptbahnhof I wanted a hotel close to the station. Thankfully there was a cheap room available at Meininger Hotel which is right next to the station. Perfect!
Arriving in Berlin
About an hour after crossing the border we were finally safe in Berlin. Clearly a stop had been arranged beforehand as we pulled up and everyone, except for me, was ready to pay and leave. This was a slightly awkward moment for me as obviously I wanted to pay the kind man who had got me out of Poland but I had no idea what the others were paying.
Anna paid €25 and I went to pay the same, as thankfully I had come to Poland with a few Euros. I always hide money while traveling just in case something goes wrong. Usually in two currencies; the local currency and one that can easily be exchanged. For Asia this would be American dollars but for Poland it was Euros.
Unfortunately though, I only had 20 Euro notes so Anna kindly paid my share and I gave her a £20 note I had as that’s roughly what €25 is. We thanked our driver and got out of the car. The guy who had sat in the front left straight away but us 3 girls from the back all walked to the closest station together.
The other girl went a different direction but me and Anna we’re heading the same way, although changing at different stations. She was very kind and pointed out the route I had to take and where to change. It was almost midnight and I didn’t have the heart to tell her I had been to Berlin several times before and could easily navigate my way around the city.
But eventually we parted ways and it was time to say goodbye to my savior. I still can’t even think about how this would have all gone down if it wasn’t for her. She just proves that strangers can make a huge difference to our travels.
It didn’t take long for me to arrive at my hotel and there were a rowdy bunch of Brits in the downstairs bar. I feel like they had experienced a similar day to me and were now celebrating in a classical British way. Part of me wanted to stay downstairs with them but I had an early morning train and I was already feeling anxious enough that I would sleep through and miss it. So instead I went straight to my room, thought about the crazy day I had experienced, set 5 different alarms on my phone and went to sleep. I may have made it out of Poland but I was far from safe yet.
Making My Way To Stuttgart
I was genuinely convinced I was going to sleep through my alarm so when I woke up during the first one I was so relieved. I had only got about 4 hours sleep but I needed to get ready for another nail biting day. Just hopefully not as eventful as the previous day!
Even though I had booked a hotel next to the station I still checked out ridiculously early to give myself enough time to find the platform and get some food. I really couldn’t go another day of just eating snacks! Once I was sure I had found the right platform I got myself a croissant and a much needed coffee at one of the station cafes.
The train to Stuttgart was a long one, over 6 hours, so before I made my way to the platform I made sure to get some supplies. My train was scheduled to arrive at 1:30pm so I could have lunch at the airport but I knew I would need some snacks and water for the journey.
As I sat at the platform waiting for the train I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was going to go wrong. I don’t know why but I wasn’t convinced I was going to be making it back to London that day. But the train pulled up a few minutes early and departed on time so I was off to a good start!
I tried to get some sleep to help pass the time but annoying because the train was during the hours where the sun is low in the sky, I had the sun shining in my eyes and my mask was tucked away in my backpack out of reach. Ugh!
During those 6 hours we only had 8 stops along the way. The Flixbus app shows the time the train is scheduled to arrive at each station so every time the train stopped, I was checking the time to make sure we were still on schedule. I couldn’t help myself. One wrong move and I was not going to be getting that flight. Even though I was on the train and all seemed to be going well, I kept thinking that if the train broke down it would be game over. Unlikely sure, but not impossible!
Arriving in Stuttgart
Clearly I had been worrying for nothing though as our train arrived in Stuttgart on time. I had almost 4 hours to get to the airport and check in for my flight. With that much time I could have easily gotten public transport to the airport but I was beyond wanting to take any chances. My nerves couldn’t take any more! I was stupidly picturing myself trapped on a tram missing my flight.
It was more expensive but I took a taxi straight to the airport. It was only 20 minutes away by taxi and I felt a lot more relaxed taking the expensive route.
At this point in the journey I had refused to check to see if the flight was still operating. My anxiety could only handle taking this journey one step at a time. So once I was in the taxi I said a silent prayer that the flight hadn’t been cancelled.
Finally Relaxing For The First Time in 2 Days
Once I got to the airport I went straight to the board to see if my flight was still scheduled and I was ready to cry with joy when I saw it was. After everything I had been through I was finally confident I was going to make it to London.
Now that I could finally relax a little I let myself enjoy the fact that I was in Germany. More importantly, back in the land of German beer. As a beer lover it would have been a shame to have to divert to Germany and not have one German beer while I was here. So I ordered myself a local beer and some lunch and enjoyed being able to sit down without worrying.
My flight actually ended up being delayed but I sat there reading my book, enjoying my beer and not giving a damn anymore. The flight could be delayed as much as it wanted. As long as it wasn’t cancelled I didn’t care. By some miracle I was on my way home…
Do I Regret Anything?
If you’ve read all this you may be wondering if I regret going to Poland during this pandemic. What you have to remember is that when I booked my flight, this wasn’t even classed at a global pandemic. That actually happened during my trip, just before the border was closed. Although at the time, I wasn’t aware of the status change. Not surprisingly, when I was dealing with the drama of having 24 hours to flee a country, the official status of covid-19 wasn’t something I particularly cared about.
And yes I can spend ages going over the what ifs. What if I had bought a flight ticket home earlier, what if I didn’t go at all, what if I had gone to the airport instead of the train station? I could definitely drive myself crazy with these questions but at the end of the day there’s nothing I can do about that now since I don’t have a time machine. Plus, while these were stressful days at the time, I now have an epic travel story!
I love Poland and this situation has not changed that opinion. While it did suck having to leave early, I had a great time. Yes it was filled with more anxiety than I ever want to experience again but Poland is and always will be a country I love visiting. I can’t wait to return when the travel restrictions have been lifted.
Do you have a crazy story from the Coronavirus pandemic? Let me know in the comments
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