“Detachment is not that you should own nothing, it is that nothing should own you.”
Part 4 of the “Here We Go” Saga
It was a hassle traveling with eleven pieces of luggage, a hassle that far exceeded our expectations. We were wrapping up a 48-hour international passage from Bangor, Maine, to Boston, Massachusetts, to Frankfurt, Germany and finally, to Kraków, Poland. Dominik, our driver, had picked us up at the Balice airport in Kraków and we were speeding into the old city in his lovely black Mercedes van. We don’t know it yet but there is still one more hurdle before we can put our feet up and close the book on our inbound journey.
Two years ago when we were here with our son, Thomas, we met Dominik after we contracted him for a day trip to Ojców, a beautiful national park, a little over an hour from Kraków. He was a consummate professional with a warm, generous demeanor with whom we had a splendid day. We knew we would see him again. He is the owner of Krakow Airport Express. His cars and vans are beautiful and sparkling and his customer service is of the highest caliber. We were happy to hear that his business has grown. We were privileged that he chose, as the owner of the company, to meet and greet us that morning.
As we leave the airport suburbs, we encounter a cluster of traffic jams. In Polish they are called ‘korki’ (core-key) which actually means “corks” a great visual word for gridlock, I think. We enter the old city called Stare Miasto (‘star-eh me-ass-toe’). The building that houses our flat is just outside the old walled city on a street called Wielopole (‘Vyello-pole-le’). Wielopole is designed as a “Y” with two roads running only one-way into the stem of the “Y”. The parallel roads are diverted around an island (in the crotch of the “Y”), on which stands a very grand, massive, grey building with Corinthian columns incorporated into both its flanks. It is triangular in form like the island it stands on. The overwhelming intricate columns encircle the structure in a repetitive pattern of at least 12 columns on either side of the ‘island’. This large edifice casts such a shadow that it keeps the street on either side of it in almost constant shade. The tops of the elaborate columns are the view from the window of our flat on the second floor of a building across the road. The streets run parallel around the island then merge to one in front of the building and then further on, empty out into a roadway that runs around the perimeter of the old walled city. The area is generally very busy with moving cars and trams, narrow sidewalks, pedestrians, and parking wherever a driver can find it or parking right up on the sidewalk.
Our building is on the right side of the “Y” but you have to come in from another very busy street behind the large grey building to enter the one way. So we’ve come full circle through the streets to position ourselves to make the right turn into the right side of the “Y” of Wielopole. And: full stop, it is barricaded and closed. The street is being paved up to and beyond the front door of our lobby. Home is halfway down the construction zone on the left – about 600 feet away from us. With no outlet for the van, there is only one option: unload the eleven pieces of luggage at the barricade and walk it down the street, past the on-going construction and into the apartment building, up the six stairs, through the double glass doors into the secure lobby, onto the elevator and up to the 2nd floor. We have been book-ended by luggage aggravation on both departure from Bangor, Maine and arrival in Kraków. The luggage is indeed an albatross. I realize that I am still a pilgrim in the art of Zen and living with less. At this moment, I am wondering why I even needed three sweaters, two pairs of jeans and two jackets and the seven pairs of shoes that were eating up so much space in those bags. And the absolutely must-have shampoo, moisturizers, and conditioner now appear to have a lot less appeal than when I first decided to pack them up for expat life.
I am given guard duty at the van while Greg and Dominik walk the first of our four bags down the street. Those ‘spinner’ wheels on the luggage are a real blessing here as the men easily manage the bags down the uneven sidewalks of a very old city. When they disappear into the building, they are gone a long time so I worry a bit. But they come back for the 2nd trip, and again, I am left at the van. When they return for the 3rd time, we lock up the van and the three of us walk to the building together.
Inside, the bags are standing in the foyer in front of the elevator past the locked double doors and up a short flight of stairs. We start loading them inside the lift, ride to the 2nd floor and walk them down the hall and then repeat one more time. It’s a very small elevator able to hold only about 4 persons. Any ordinary car or taxi service would have abandoned us at this point to fend for ourselves. But Dominik stays with us and helps us along. in the upstairs hallway, Greg opens the front door with our key. We then load the eleven bags into the 377-square foot apartment. I walk Dominik to the elevator to give him the payment for the transportation. He looks at the żłoty bills I handed him and says that it is too much. But, I explain our gratitude for his remarkable service over and beyond the call of duty. No, he says, with a refined grace and lovely accent, it’s all part of the work he does and he will not accept the tip; he puts the bills back into my hand and repeats what I actually owe him. I have no words. This is an extraordinary man with a meaningful aura. I hope he stays in our lives so that I can live his example.
The door of the flat is open. The somewhat familiar surroundings are all there (we were here last two years ago). From the tall windows of the living room area, the elaborate columns and windows of the old grey bank building wink over at us. The flat was recently cleaned and painted. This will be our home, just 377 square feet, for the next two years if we make it through the 2-year plan. It will need a little work and a little sprucing to make it home. Nothing we can’t handle. There is an IKEA somewhere in the outskirts of Kraków. It will be exciting to shop for compact city-dweller supplies at IKEA, imagining we are still young and starting out in new living quarters like we did in our first apartment in Manhattan, 34 years ago. But right now, with the jet lag hanging over us ready to take hostages, we move quickly to arrange the luggage, to optimize space and make the flat livable for just the next 24 hours. We are officially ex-pats and the concept is pretty exciting.