On the evening of my birthday, after eating a lovely dinner at home with my family, they gave me my present, which I wasn’t expecting. They gave me a three-day trip to Poland with my mother and sister. They put a lot of thought into it, booking a pet friendly hotel in Krakow encase I wanted to bring Sibyl. They even researched music events that I might like. Glen Hansard is playing there this week, but a Wednesday was too mid-week for us to travel. They are so thoughtful though!
We flew out on Thursday 25th, a week after my birthday. I didn’t have much time to plan since we were busy in between, but I did a bit of research about guide dogs in Poland on the Sunday and Monday before we went. I discovered that although they like dogs, their guide dog school is quite new, and when I contacted them, nobody replied to my email. People told me that access shouldn’t be much of a problem, and through Torie’s help, I found a couple of people on a guide dog Facebook group who had traveled there with dogs. Sibyl’s passport was already sorted from our holiday in Spain last year. As we were only spending three nights in Poland, we didn’t need to bring her to a vet there, so this made the decision to bring her much easier.
When we arrived in Belfast international airport, the staff couldn’t have been more helpful. They checked the pet passport thoroughly, and one of the ladies took Sibyl out to the grass before we boarded the plain. They told us that she was the sixth guide dog they’d had through the airport that week. The flight was great, and staff in Krakow airport didn’t seem bothered by the dog when we landed. The hotel staff liked her as well, and made us feel very welcome. The general public were a bit more surprised to see a guide dog, and stared at us a lot. People often walked close to us, or didn’t make an effort to move out of our way. I wouldn’t say they were ignorant, just curious and uneducated about guide dogs.
During the next two days we did lots of walking and sightseeing. We took a bus to visit Auschwitz, which was very interesting. The photographs and objects behind glass made it very visual, but hearing people reading information and the accounts from survivors was fascinating.
We walked around the streets, had lovely food, coffee and hot chocolate, and went into some shops. We had dinner in three very nice restaurants. The food was so cheap, and they all offered Sibyl water when we came in. On Saturday we took a tour of the old town where we were staying. Our tour guide had great English, and he drove us around in a buggy type thing. Sibyl enjoyed looking out, and especially liked watching the horses and carriages. The place was full of them! We stopped at a church which took sixty years to build. The tour guide told us to go in and have a look because it was beautiful, but that he would watch Sibyl because dogs aren’t allowed in any churches in Poland. Pity we didn’t know this before, because it would explain why a security man in St. Mary’s bascilica nearly lost his life when we went in on Thursday evening. He said we could stay for one minute only, but he would only let us walk so far. I’d love to know more about the reasoning behind this. I wouldn’t have thought Catholics would turn animals away, especially dogs that help people. I doubt God would agree!
Sibyl was brilliant with all the traveling, all the walking around, and being out of her usual routine. She is very nosey, and had more than enough distractions in the city. I took sighted guide a lot because it was difficult to follow at times. It was probably more difficult for my mum and sister having her there. Apart from giving me more independence, and initiating conversations with people that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have had, it confirmed something that I already thought, how adaptable Sibyl is, and that I can bring her to new places very easily. I wouldn’t visit Poland without a sighted person. There are lots of flat kerbs, and not many obvious crossings. I didn’t hear any audible ones. The people are a bit reserved until they get to know you. I know that’s a big generalisation, but it would make getting around as a blind person more difficult. I’m glad I took Sibyl, and the trip made me want to travel more with her. I’d like to learn more about guide dog organisations in other countries, and find out what access is like. Apart from the church, and the constant staring, (which obviously I didn’t notice), Poland was quite good. I’m sure the more people who visit cities like Krakow with guide dogs, the better it will become.
I completed two of my 30 challenges while I was in Poland. I visited a city that I’ve never been to before, and I tasted dumplings, a traditional food which I hadn’t eaten. Only 28 more things to do!