“Sometimes we are allowed to travel outside of Poland and then we try and save some American dollars from the expenses. The American dollar has a very high value here and you can buy some things very cheaply as long as you use American dollars.”
“It’s unbelievable what can be done in this country despite it being illegal.”
“The more rules, the more ways to get around rules. That’s the Communist way.”
“Very profound. By the way, why isn’t Professor Wawrowicz in the Academy? Surely research conditions would be better there.”
“Yes of course. The Academy is at the top. But again there’s a string attached. You have to be humble. You have to agree with the Communist system to get in. You cannot be better than your boss. This does not look good. Your boss will block your progress. That’s what happened in his case.”
“You should go to Gdansk and Krakow. These cities are really spectacular and have also a lot of history.”
“Can you come?”
“No I have to stay and teach, but you can fly over on your own.”
“Just go to the Travel Office and ask them to change your schedule. They will of course say ‘No, this is impossible’, but if you persist they will do as you say. It is required that they say it’s impossible, but everything is possible if you don’t give up. That’s the way it is with this system.”
The next day true to Micky’s word I find myself at the Travel Office asking for a flight to Krakow. As expected the clerk says No, my schedule cannot be changed because I am a foreigner with an approved official agenda. But I insist, dreaming up some reason why I must visit Krakow. I say I have to meet a chemistry graduate student at Jagiellonian University which is true.
Eventually she weakens and calls her supervisor. I give my reasons all over again and finally they begin to look for a flight opening. And indeed, one is found. The next day I’m on an almost empty flight to Krakow.
Krakow was the old capital of Poland and still has many beautiful artifacts saved in dingy unrestored museums. It seemed that everything was at house arrest. There were no visible attempts at improving the condition of the buildings, but at least I got the feeling that the collections weren’t being degraded.
The Wawel Castle and Cathedral in Krakow, Poland
The student takes me to the Wawel Museum which was once the seat of Polish kings a 1000 years ago. Here hang ceiling to floor tapestries along the walls. Apparently these precious antiques had just returned from Canada where they were being kept to safeguard them from the invaders of WWII.
The student also guides me to the oldest University in the country, perhaps one of the oldest in what is now Europe. Originally it was named the Krakow Academy but now has been renamed the Jagiellonian University. Here again artifacts from early scientific discoveries are saved in a museum.