Stop overs in London

After my 10 day stint in Croatia I headed over to London, England, to spend a few, more relaxing, days with my aunt and uncle (who I had never met and were kind enough to put me up and show me around!). Navigating Gatwick Airport and the train station were easier than expected, especially considering everyone spoke English (first English speaking country in 5.5 months!)! I successfully ended up on my uncle’s doorstep, only getting lost once along the way. Safe to say I was pretty stoked about this. My first impression of London was that it was basically everything I thought it would be. There were houses with cute little gardens and coloured doors, and just a lovely atmosphere (keep in mind I was out in a residential area). My uncle’s house was in a little estate and was small and homey. One of the most fascinating things about living and travelling abroad is seeing how people’s lifestyles differ from mine back home.

 

Just casually sitting on the glass floor of the Tower Bridge!
He was also afraid of heights so the fact that he took this
photo was really kind of him!
My first day in London was essentially an admin day where I got all my stuff sorted after the previous 10 days. The next day, however, I got shown around London! We caught the river ferry from Greenwich to the Tower of London and took some pictures from outside the wall (the line to get in was massive). We then opted to climb the Tower Bridge which gave us some awesome views of London, and allowed my uncle to point out some of the places we would be visiting throughout the day. We walked past the Horseguards and I got one of those awesome I’m-actually-terrified-of-horses-but-I’m-still-going-to-get-a-photograph-with-one type touristy photographs. It was pretty successful, no horses got hurt and neither did I, and I scored a half-terrified looking photograph of me in London!
We strolled to Buckingham Palace, which looked pretty much exactly as it does on every TV program that shows it, but it was strange to be there in person. Of course I saw Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, walked round Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. London was much calmer than I expected and seemed very normal in an abnormal way. Coming from Canberra, which only celebrated it 100 year anniversary in 2013, I still amazed me how people can live and work in a city with so much history. Plus there are so many palaces around the place, how cool is that. There are palaces too, like royalty just build palaces because they could, I don’t think we even have palaces in Australia.

 

 

The next day we took a bike ride along the riverside path up to the Thames Barrier and back. The Thames Barrier looked like some space ship from Return of the Jedi or something. It was awesome and kind of creepy at the same time. It was actually a really nice ride and my uncle told me a whole lot about the area. Later that afternoon we took a stroll through Greenwich Park and up to the Observatory. The park was the classic European park, green grass, and SQUIRRELS!!! I got to see grey squirrels, and got to make a complete fool of myself running down the path screaming ‘Squirrels’ and looking like a complete tourist. They were so cute though, even if they are ‘tree rats’.

 

So that’s a brief recollection of my trip to London (the squirrels so weren’t the highlight… really)!

 

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Contiki in Croatia

So I was so busy for the last few weeks of my time overseas that I was unable to actually write up any blog posts on the places I had visited! I’ll be posting about London, Ireland, Warsaw/Krakow (with mum), and Paris soon. I’ll also probably do some posts on things I’ve learned, a list of hostels I stayed in with reviews etc. at some point too.
*pictures to come as soon as my hard drive stops playing hard to get*
 
View from the fortress in Dubrovnik
At the beginning of this trip I said that I was not interest in doing any type of tour as I didn’t think I would a) enjoy it b) get the most out of which ever country I happened to do it in. Well that changed relatively quickly when I discovered that I had 10 extra days that I needed to travel for before getting to meet up with my beautiful mother in Dublin on the 16thJuly. I was also under the impression at the time that I would need to leave the Schengen zone as my national visa expired on the 10th July. Turns out this wasn’t entirely necessary as I only needed to leave Poland and get a stamp saying I left Poland. Though considering the difficulty I’d previously had getting stamps within the Schengen zone it was probably a good thing that I decided to leave it!
I had been interested in spending some time in Croatia for a while and looked into ways that I could travel there not on a tour. However, I soon realised that I would prefer be with people and I was sick of organising my own itinerary so decided to do an 8 day Contiki! And boy was it worth it! My Contiki started off in Split on the 4th July, however I chose to arrive 2 days earlier so that I could spend some time exploring by myself. Plus I finished placement on the 25th June and had nothing much left to do in Poland. I stayed in a cute little hostel called ‘Hostel Split Mediterranean House’ which was about a 5-10 minute walk from all the central attractions. It was more like a house than a hostel but I can’t fault it aside from being a little bit hard to find (with this said it’s in pretty much the perfect location: central and quiet). Kate and Elda, the two ladies running the place, where both very helpful and friendly.
The contrast between mountains and beaches was spectacular.
Quite a few of us remarked that it looked like the view had
been Photoshopped together.
Tourism wise I spent some time wandering around the Split port and admiring the view as well as exploring the Diocletian’s Palace and swimming at the beach. The Palace is absolutely breathtaking, basically I just wandered around on my own taking which ever street I wanted to at the time. Some streets could fit a car whereas others barely fit me! It was also super interesting watching how the locals actually lived within this palace, it was a functioning part of their city- I even found myself in a fish market by accident!
Some of the sail crew and I eating some really tasty Gelato
in Makaska in front of the surreal mountains.
The beach was about a 15 minute walk from the centre of town and was the perfect way to finish off the day. I was a bit shocked to begin with as the beach was pebbles and concrete, not sure how Europeans do it as my feet certainly did not like it! The water was, however, beautiful! It was clear and warm, with very little movement making it the perfect place to float and relax- you did have to walk out a fair way before it was deep enough but this meant you were out of the way of all the ball players and children splashing in the shallows! I was also introduced to my first ever ‘pizza sandwich’ which was essentially a rolled up pizza (well at this place anyway) and was absolutely delicious!
The giant floating jumping castle which turned us all into
children again. It was so much fun and we definitely got
longer then the 30 minutes we had paid for!
My Contiki ran from 4 July to 11 July, and included 7 nights’ accommodation on the boat as well as some meals and extra activities. We docked in Pucascia, Makaska, Bol, Wild Bay, Hvar, Korcula, and Dubrovnik. Each city/town was different to the others. Pucascia was a quaint little place, seemingly untouched by tourism, and famous for its stone mansionary (the White House was build using stone from here). It was a beautiful place to spend our first night. There was a particularly cute little beach where we spent some time swimming. Makaska was a much larger, much more tourism orientated place and this was evident by the large amount of water sports and activities available. We spent some time climbing around on one of those floating jumping castle things which was a great group bonding experience, as well as a whole body work out!
The beautiful clear, still, blue waters of Wild Bay,. The little
slice of paradise we got to experience during out overnight
moored at sea.
A few of us then went and tried our hand at jet skiing! Ahhh this was so much fun! I cannot believe I have never tried it before. Speeding through the water and jumping over waves was so much fun. I only almost capsized twice, but hey got to keep the adrenaline flowing somehow, right! They have a really fun club here called ‘Cave Bar’ which is essentially a bar in a cave. Good music, lots of people! Next was Bol, another town similar to Makaska. Nice bays, lots of opportunities for water sports. We then had our ‘special’ overnight stay at wild bay; a picturesque bay with clear, blue water. We spent a large proportion of the day just chilling on the boat and swimming around the bay. It was absolutely beautiful! I can vividly remember watching the sunset and wishing it to never end!
After a long, hot wall up the mountain we finally got to see this
view of the famous town of Hvar.
Day 5 took us on to Hvar, the heart of the tourist world! It is very easy to imagine that the rich and famous would really feel at home here. Essentially it was a giant resort. Even though it was something like 38 degree we persevered and climbed up to a fortress which gave awesome views of the entire bay. Alex and I opted to go into the fortress museum thing and got to see the inside of the fortress, even the old dungeon! I think this was made especially worthwhile considering the dungeons were a) super awesome and creepy and b) the temperature was much cooler underground! Hvar had a great night life too, can’t remember that bars we went to but they were certainly good fun!
Lets put it this way, stairs were not hard to come by but
certainly made you wish you had done some form of
exercise before visiting Croatia!
The following day our boat of hangovers arrived in Korcula, the town famous for being the birthplace of Marco Polo.It was a cute little town, and had so many lovely little streets that you could get lost in. We wandered around the bay eating gelato and looking at the many stores that bordered each street. I also climbed the bell tower with a few of the girls. The steps were so worn down and I quickly regretted my decision to wear thongs! But the views were spectacular, you could see the whole city, up the river/inlet thing, and out to sea all at once.
View of the beautiful, walled city of Dubrovnik. Very hard to
forget this spectacular sight!
Then came our last stop of the sail: Dubrovnik. Here we did a walking tour around this beautiful walled city, and got to see and understand so much more about it compared to the other places we had been. The walls surrounding the city have really created this type of separation from the word and given a very unique feel to the city. The walking tour told us all sorts of information including why certain things were as they were. For instance in one place there was this staircase where, in the past, the creepy men would go to perve on women as when the women went up the stairs they lifted their dresses and the men could see their ankles. When this was discovered the council, or whoever, redid the handrails so to block the view of ankles! Finding out little things like this really brings life to a city.
Kayaking around Dubrovnik was both rewarding and terrifying!
Our Contiki also offered an optional kayaking tour which gave us the opportunity to see Dubrovnik from outside the walls. It started out as a beautiful day, a bit windy but nothing too rough, and it was quite a pleasant paddle out to the cave/swim spot. We were able to chill for a bit, have a swim, and if you were crazy enough you could jump off the rocks. The paddle back was slightly harder, and by slightly I mean very much. The wind had picked up significantly and the water was very rough. I was in a kayak by myself as our group had odd number, and I was proudly informed by our guide that the kayak I was in was nicknamed ‘the bathtub’ which made tackling the waves, which essentially required you to paddle up hill, quite challenging. I remember at one stage towards the end I looked too my left to see a wall of water coming for me and thinking ‘Oh sh*t’. It was all good fun!
After the Contiki finished I stayed in Dubrovnik for one more night. I stayed at Hostel Marker Dubrovnik which was good enough for one night. A few of the girls on my contiki had booked a private room in the same place which worked out well as we hung out together. We chose to visit the fortress on top of the hill. You take a cable care up there and get a fantastic view of the city, well worth the 100kuna or so that it cost. Croatia was an incredible place to visit, and the Contiki was perfect for giving me a taste of what the country has to offer. Definitely will be going back!

Rome.. You are my favourite!

GELATO!!! Basically what Ella and I lived off!
Paris, you have quite possibly been replaced as my favourite city in Europe! For my last weekend on placement my friend and I visited the beautiful city of Rome. We were lucky enough to both score an extra day off leaving us with two full days and two half days to explore this beautiful city! This Rome trip was everything I have been craving for quite some time, a beautiful city, a central hostel, amazing food, lovely locals, and it was all relatively affordable (for the euro). We flew WizzAir in to Rome Ciampino airport, which was my first experience with WizzAir. I found that while the flights were okay and were on time, the seats were very uncomfortable and I did not have enough room (this was less of a problem for my friend who is average height!). It was, however, a cheap flight and got me to Rome! We stayed at Four Seasons Hostel which was about 10 minutes from Termini and an easy walk from all the sights we wanted to see! It was a nice hostel, and had comfy beds. There wasn’t really a common room which made it hard to meet other people but the hostel did participate in a pub crawl which seemed like fun (although we didn’t go on it). The only complaint I have is that the showers were always too hot! It seemed that you ran out of cold water in the evenings and the only time I could have a decent shower without getting burnt was in the morning. Overall it was a good place to sleep (so long as you didn’t have certain disrespectful people in your dorm like I did but that’s another story).
One of the adorable streets we came across. Come on with a
Vesper in that prime position did you expect me not to take
the photograph?
On the Saturday we did a free walking tour which started at the Spanish Steps, and took us to many of the major sights, finished up at the Vatican City. The good thing about this tour was that we hadn’t really considered how many sights there were to see and had we explored on our own we probably would have missed a few. Furthermore, our guide was also full of interesting knowledge about all the places we visited. We saw the Pantheon, which is absolutely spectacular especially on the inside, we also saw many different obelisk’s, all of which had different stories to tell and were so intricately detailed. We saw Trajan’s Column, and saw a very real depiction of the ‘living city’ of Rome. Basically, the square with Trajan’s Column is full of buildings built from all different eras, it was so interesting to look at the changes architecturally. We saw heaps more than these few things but I can’t quite remember all the sights so all I’m going to say is do a walking tour!
When we eventually reached the Vatican State. Being the smart little cookies that we are, we had pre-booked tickets for the Vatican museum and had brought clothes to cover our shoulders and knees which meant that we skipped the long line and went straight in with no problems whatsoever. However, just a warning that there are heaps of ‘tour/information guides’ around who will try talk you into taking a tour around the museum rather than doing it yourself. For us, we didn’t need a guided tour and found it incredibly frustrating that we were continually stopped by these people. I would suggest taking the tour if you want in-depth information about the pieces and rooms, but if you aren’t as interested in this just do a self-guided tour!
Yummm Pizza
After the Vatican museum we had heaps of time to explore the small, quaint streets of Rome. We had lunch at a classic tourist-trap restaurant, then strolled around to find a lovely little gelato shop. The gelato in Italy is incredible! It is the real deal, each flavour is actually genuine! I had some of the richest, mouthwatering chocolate gelato that I have ever tried and some of the best lemon gelato that just made everything seem so fresh and alive. I even found a lemon seed in one of them! It is safe to say that we spent the majority of our money on Italian food, especially gelato! We even found ourselves at a beautiful, little, traditional Italian Pizzeria, where no one spoke English and we ordered through hand gestures. By gosh the pizza was incredible, and absolutely nothing like any pizza I had ever eaten before! I can’t even properly explain it so all I’m going to say is if you are in Rome take a stroll out of the tourist area and find restaurants that aren’t designed for tourists! You won’t regret it! On our strolls we also found our way to a number of market squares and  sights, such as the Trevi Fountain (which unfortunately is closed up).
The classic ‘I was at the Colosseum’ photo
#touristobligations
We also visited the Colosseum, Palantine Hill, and the Roman Forum in one epic day trip. Once again we pre-booked tickets but were dismayed to find that we didn’t get to skip the line as much this time. The system at the Colosseum is that first you line up to buy your ticket and then you join a different, longer line to enter the building. In the end we did save some time but if you are there off season or early morning I can’t imaging you’d really need to worry about pre-booking. I would recommend getting there early though as the entrance line may seem long but they probably haven’t reached their maximum capacity yet which means the line moves fairly quickly. We waited 30 minutes tops and it was well worth it! Once again we did a self-guided tour and enjoyed it immensely, however if I were to go again I would definitely do a guided tour just to get that little bit more information about what I was actually looking at. Regarding all three sights, it felt very surreal to be standing in a place where people had been hundreds of years ago, and thinking about all the different events that had occurred there over the years was mind blowing. We spent all day exploring and I had the sunburn                                                                      to prove it!
So this has turned out to be very long and I apologise for that! However, Rome was an incredible experience and is such a beautiful city that no words can really capture. If your dream is to wander through quaint little streets and get a real dose of history, Rome is the place to go! I certainly can’t wait to one day further explore Italy!
Couldn’t think of a better person to travel Rome with!
Thanks for make our last trip so much fun Ella!

 

Where did five months go…

So today was my last day and I realise that over the past 5 months’ worth of teaching I have learnt so much and shared so little on this blog! In fact this blog became much more of a travel blog than intended (but I guess this is a good thing as it means I did travel a fair bit!) so I have decided to do a post on what my working/volunteering life has been like. I started out with few responsibilities other than turn up to school and go to the classes I was scheduled to attend. After about a month I was asked to start preparing my own lessons. Here are some things that I really enjoyed, hated, worried about, remember etc about being a teacher (yes I’m putting them in dot points): 

  • Being told to teach a bunch of kids would have been scary enough for me when I was in Australia, especially considering my teaching experience is limited to a one week intensive TEFL course, so being in a country where I don’t speak the language or really understand their curriculum or know how to teach the language I’ve been speaking all my life, was actually terrifying.
  • The good news is that I got more confident as time went by, yesterday I even taught a bunch of energetic eight year olds about Kookuburras WITHOUT having a polish speaking teacher in the room!
  • I found that teaching by myself, without a supervising teacher, to be much easier than with a teacher in the room. When I was by myself I felt more confident in my abilities and authority over the class, and I think the kids also viewed me more like a teacher at these times too. All the teachers I worked with were amazing at engaging students and it was easy to feel intimidated by them!
  • Consequently, I tended to feel happier about the lessons I did on my own than while supervised.
  • Sometimes lessons would crash and burn, and essentially leave me wondering why I came to Poland in the first place. I remember have some classes where the students just wouldn’t listen to me, or I just wasn’t prepared enough to cope.
  • IMPROVISATION is your best friend as a teacher. The amount of times I turned up only to be told I was subbing, or to find out that the kids already knew about the topic I was teaching, has taught me how to come up with at least some form of game to pass the remaining ten minutes of class, or  with an entirely new lesson plan.
  • Teachers do have favourite students and classes. I often found myself dreading some classes while getting excited about others. I also had a 4-5 favourite students who always made sure the rest of the class behaved and would greet me in the halls.
  • Sometimes all it takes to make your day is when a 7 year old little Polish girl who barely understands English runs up to you and says ‘Hello Samantha, how are you?” and patiently waits for a response even though she doesn’t understand a word you say.
  • One of the scariest things I encounter was being headbutted by a 6 year old in 0 class as she launched at me screaming ‘I love you!’
  • I now am confident enough to manage a group of 6 year old girls who are dubbed the most troublesome class in the school.
  • 16 year old girls do not change from country to country, and still manage to be intimidating. The best course of action is to our sarcasm them, which in this case was harder than one might think.
  • I can officially navigate Microsoft word in Polish (mainly because I know all the shortcuts and they are the same in Polish as English).
  • Sometimes it’s best not to ask what you are eating until AFTER you finish it or not at all, especially when it comes to a school cafeteria.
  • Pasta and strawberry yoghurt, potato cakes covered in sugar, and crepes with sweet cheese are seen as acceptable lunch meals for children.
  • I refuse to ever eat cabbage or beetroot ever again (okay this may be more of a Poland lesson in general).
  • Most of all though, the thing about being a teacher was learning to both always and never be prepared for anything and everything.
  • And lastly, if in doubt, play hot seat (or have a music lesson where the kids show you all different versions of ‘Let it Go’ on youtube, I mean what I never did that…)

So there are some of my notes on what my life was like at school. I decided to end it there (though I could go on forever) because I think those are the most important things. I absolutely loved my time at this school, the students and staff where incredible. And I did learn that it is a good thing that I never intended on being a teacher, because while I love kids teaching really isn’t for me! 
I will miss these crazy people so much! Thank you so much to
students, to Jon my awesome placement partner, and to
Michelle, Melanie, Mirabelle, Zosia, and Lucja my
amazing host sisters. And of course to Izabel, Joanna and
Alek my host parents and the teachers at my school. 

Why I have come to believe in an always sunny Australia

*Wrote this a few days ago when I was feeling a bit apprehensive about going home. I find that people tend to believe that we should be excited to get home, but it can also be quite a scary idea at times.*

I’m from Canberra. That should be enough to let anyone in Australia realise that I’m from the (relatively unknown) land of public servants, museums, and crappy weather. Yet since being abroad for the past 4.5 months I have found myself becoming more and more convinced that Australia is really the land of sunshine. See I do remember the cold winter days, the rain, the hail, and the snow on the last day of winter two years back. I remember how bitter the wind was when it comes of the mountains and how we always seemed to underdress for school. But more than this I fondly recall the memories of summer. Running to the dam on the too hot days, or more accurately taking the dogs to the dam and getting pushed in by a not so helpful brother, and being too afraid to touch the bottom because of the yabbies that were, in theory, still crawling around the bottom. I remember spending evenings eating dinner outside and overspraying myself with bug spray which never seemed to entirely do the job. I remember running around on the lawn after the sun had set and the temperature was finally cool enough to be outside. I remember the hot nights which had me questioning the logic behind pyjamas. I actually miss it more than I thought I would but I’m not ready to go back. I think the distance makes it all seem so ideal but then I remember different things about my life back home. I realise that I don’t want to go back to how I used to live, so many of the things I used to think and do seem so unimportant now. I have become accustomed to a life that I have created.

 

Right now I live in Warsaw, a city that has so much history and has been through so much to become what it is today. The people here are friendly once you get to know them, but can come off as a bit rude or angry from a distance. I have learnt to love that fast pace of it all and to appreciate public transport. Contrary to popular belief Poland does actually get warm, it is meant to be 30 degrees Celsius this weekend, but the difference between here and Australia is that on the cold days of winter it is always cloudy. At home it’s very deceptive, freezing days with clear blue skies, but here winter seems to drone on forever and even though it actually wasn’t too much colder than a Canberra winter the clouded skies made it so much more depressing. In more recent days the coming of spring has brought out a whole new side of Warsaw. I remember quite a few weeks ago on the first warm day we had this year, a few of us ventured to the old town to find it bustling with people, a sight we were not accustomed to. We didn’t even realise there were this many people living in Warsaw but now that summer is coming (21stJune) there is so much more to this city than I thought. I have gotten lost in places that I go to everyday simply because the warming weather has changed them so much. While I’m most certainly ready to move on from teaching (it’s not for me) and ready to explore Europe some more, I don’t want to leave this city that has become home for the past 4 (almost 5) months. Maybe I’m afraid of going out into the big wide world, but mainly I think it’s because I’m afraid to move far away from all the people I have met and those who I have come to care about immensely, and maybe it’s because I’m afraid I won’t ever come back.

Birthdays in Berlin!

Berlin Cathedral, a very spectacular sight!
Berlin is not a city I really thought I would visit whilst in Poland but I am certainly glad that I did. The real motivation behind this trip was to celebrate the 18th birthday of one of the girls who is on this trip. It was made even more convenient in that we could catch an overnight Polskibus there and back (though we opted for the day bus back) which only took 9ish hours. I never thought I’d say that a 9 hour bus trip wasn’t that bad but I guess you get used to these things while travelling! Five of us headed up on the Wednesday night, we were lucky enough to get the Thursday off work, meaning we had a good three days to explore the city. We stayed in the Heart of Gold Hostel in the mega dorm (42 beds split over two rooms). It was a pretty good hostel, only downsides were you had to pay for breakfast (4 euro, which wasn’t so bad considering I also made sandwiches for lunch and dinner) and the WiFi was very sketchy. It was very well located about 5 minutes from the museum island and very close to the U-bahn and S-bahn lines.

Enjoying the bus tour!
We spent our first day exploring Museum Island as it was so close (and it was highly likely we would start to crash come about 3pm). We visited a two museums about ancient history. I found that the buildings themselves were simply worth the visit, they had some amazing architecture and the flaking wall paper inside (even though I’m sure some of this was deliberate) reminded me of how much I do love old buildings. I believe I have more pictures of wallpaper than I do of the exhibits! This same day we also checked out a market where we bought lunch. The market had all sorts of goods and gave us an affordable food option (4 euro, can’t go wrong there!).
With the ‘Gueards’ at Checkpoint Charlie
The next day we did a bus tour of the city. We opted for the bus tour as Berlin is so spread out and such a tour allowed us to get on and off as we pleased. We got off to see the Berlin Wall monument and found out a bit of information regarding Nazi and Communist Berlin. This was quite eye-opening as I didn’t (and still don’t) know much about this. We then walked up to ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ which was the best known crossing point between East and West Berlin. We stood in line like proper tourists and got our pictures taken with the ‘guards’. We then headed to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum which was one of my favourite things we did in Berlin. The museum cost 9.50 Euro (for a student) and was well worth every penny. It detailed the events that occurred over the time that the wall was present and described the lives of important people and different ways people attempted to escape. This type of information was never covered in my year 9 humanities lessons (probably because it didn’t affect Australian’s) so I spend a long time reading different peoples stories. The extremes that people went to in order to cross the border (hiding under car engines, building hot air balloons etc.) really highlighted how hard life was in East Berlin.
East Side Gallery!
Of course, we also visited the East Side Gallery, a 1.3km section of the Berlin Wall which has been covered in murals by a number of different artists. We spent the day strolling along the wall admiring each section and taking way too many photographs and selfies. It was a beautiful day and we were able to view some of the most famous pieces including the painting of the two leaders kissing (not sure what its name is). Some of the pieces had strong messages (often of freedom and peace) whereas others were harder to decipher. This was my second favourite part of the trip!
We also hit up the ‘Matrix’ club which was described to us as a tourist trap but we went anyway. It was a pretty fun place but was well worked by the pickpockets. So just a warning to be careful with your valuables as we had two phones taken from peoples bags. You know the drill wear your bag in front of you and avoid bags with a top zip! If your stuff does get taken report it to the police so that you can claim it back on insurance. We did have an awesome night though, the music was awesome! The good thing about it being a tourist trap is that there is an abundance of other English speaking people!

Well that’s Berlin in a very small nutshell and to all my beautiful friends who are planning on travelling, add this to your list! 

A weekend in Prague

Lennon Wall
Even though I have been in Poland for 4 months, it still amazes me that I can say that I am ‘popping over to insert country here for the weekend’. But here I am, doing just that. Last weekend I was lucky enough to visit Prague, Czech Republic. I travelled up on the overnight Polskibus (70zloty each way) on the Thursday night and came back on the Sunday morning. I must say that upon arriving in Prague at 5:30 in the morning I was a little apprehensive about my ability to find the hostel on my own but I somehow managed to find my way very quickly and arrived at Hostel One Home Prague at about 6am. The hostel was amazing, and the staff were fantastic. They let me check in straight away and the minute a bed was free I was able to put my stuff in my room (which turned out to be at about 8am). One of the best things about this hostel (facility wise) was that each bunk had a shelf and powerpoints meaning that even those on the top bunks (AKA me…) could charge their electronics and keep the essentials (such as water, a book, wallet etc) with them at night.
Astronomical Clock
The first day we went out for a wander and checked out the sights. We wandered through the streets of the market square and saw the Astronomical Clock. The clock was actually very beautiful, especially in the evening. On our first night there we sat around the clock along with a whole lot of other tourists and just had a nice catch up. Grace almost scored a puppy, but that’s another story. The evenings were so warm and relaxed. I know I talk about the ‘atmosphere’ or ‘feel’ of a city a lot but it is something I really notice when I go somewhere new. Warsaw has a very busy lifestyle so going to places like Prague where people seem more capable of taking time to relax is always lovely. It was also a great place to catch up with the girls! We also strolled across the Charles Bridge and admired the sculptures (not sure if that’s the best way to describe it) and checked out some of the street stalls! We then wandered to the Lennon Wall and admired the street art. I’m really excited to check out the Berlin street art after seeing this wall, quite spectacular! We wandered over another bridge to get a different view of the Charles Bridge with the Prague Castle in the background, definitely worth doing as it offers another perspective of the bridge! We also checked out the Dancing House, which is a building modelled of two people swing dancing. Was actually quite fascinating to look at and kind of made me question whether I was actually seeing it correctly or getting a migraine! We otherwise wondered around the streets and wandered in and out of the stores.

Prague Castle Cathedral
The next day we spent the whole day exploring the Prague Castle (along with every other tourist in the bloody city!). The castle is pretty spectacular and the cathedral seemed to me like something out of a storybook (small town Australian talking here). We got there just in time to see the changing of the guards or something like that. While everyone was busy watching it we climbed to the top of the South tower of the cathedral. It was less steps than the Eiffel Tower but it felt a lot harder and seemed to take much longer! With this said the view from the top was well worth the climb! It also meant that we could actually watch the guards from above and by the time we climbed down the queue to buy tickets was out the door! 
Yellow Fields!
The city is truly a beautiful place (though my favourite place is still Paris!) and I am definitely adding it to my list of places to revisit some day! The entire weekend cost me less than $180AUD, accommodation, food, and transport included! The bus was roughly 11 hours each way but we travelled through some beautiful areas. My favourite were the yellow fields which reminded me so much of home, except everything was green rather than brown… But it was still all so beautiful! Next week’s big adventure is Krakow and then off to Berlin the following weekend! Time is flying by! It’s scary, yet reassuring, to know that i will be home in 2 months time! But before then I still have many places to see so stay posted! Missing you all (if I know you that is…) 
View of the city from the South Tower

Relaxing in the Polish Mountains

The cabin we stayed in.
So this past weekend (last weekend not this current one) I was lucky enough to be invited to visit the mountains with my host family! We stayed in their friend’s cabin in apparently one of the wildest areas of Poland. The house it’s self was lovely with basic amenities (no electricity, wood fire to heat water etc.) but this added to the charm. While at first I was a tad apprehensive about no electricity, it was actually a very relaxing way to live, plus gave me a well needed detox from technology! The house was the furthest out in our area and was an hour’s walk away from the Slovakian boarder. I hear this walk is very beautiful but the day we chose was very foggy so I saw very little scenery but I still made it to the border!
The first Graveyard we visited
The mountains themselves were so different to the mountains I’m used to seeing in Australia. There were some many different shades of green that I was almost convinced I was looking at a painting. I is quite frankly one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen, and I hear that in the autumn it becomes even more so. Most of my days I spent relaxing in the house or on the veranda reading a book or sketching whatever came to mind. My host family took me on two walks up the mountains to visit some WWI graveyards. The first one was on the top of a really steep mountain that made me wish I had kept up my fitness regime. It was well worth it though! The graveyard had these huge memorial towers surrounded by a circle of graves. The second graveyard was just up the mountain next to our cabin and reminded me a bit of the graveyards I had visited in Japan. Both were very peaceful and had an air of respect to them.
SLOVAKIA

Trip to Slovakia:

Due to the close proximity to Slovakia my host family were kind enough to take me there on a day trip! We visited two towns (which I should probably ask about their names but I’m too busy eating Milka chocolate to move) which were quite different to places I have seen in Poland. In the first town we checked out the Old Town square which was reminiscent of Polish Old Towns but still had a charm of its own. The weather that day was beautiful and the Old Town was almost empty giving it a very relaxing feel. We even got ice-cream and didn’t freeze to death with it! I got to visit an old church (which cost money to get into…) which had alters dating back to the 1400, possibly even older as I didn’t look at all of them. We then took a stroll around the area, visited a couple more churches, and enjoyed the sunshine before moving onto town #2.
A building in the second town we visited
Town #2 was much more of a tourist place as it was home to some mineral springs with water that was meant to be really healthy for you. People were wondering around everywhere with bottles which they intended on filling up from the two different springs. Each spring had different water, one smelt like rotten egg and the other was salty in taste. Not exactly what I would carry around in my water bottle but it was very popular! This was quite a beautiful town, the whole area we walked through was basically a mixture of a park and town. It had obvious hints of communism with some huge buildings which had been purpose build for communist government officials. There were also buildings from before the communist era (a type of palace I think) which were quite stunning. The drive through the mountains, and over the border, was also amazing.

At the end of the 6 days I didn’t want to return to Warsaw. There is something about the isolation and ruggedness of these mountains that just made me want to stay there forever. I have found myself on multiple occasions wishing that I was back there! This trip was by far one of the best things I have done in Poland. 
Left: I found this area quite beautiful! 

Norway!

The New Architecture of Oslo. They look a bit like Lego
 houses from a distance. This view is from the Opera
House, but there is also a great view arriving
from the airport!
So I can’t think of a catchy title of this so let’s just get straight to the point and say I went to Oslo, Norway! Wow, I never thought I would actually go to Norway because, well, who goes to Norway? It was actually a rather spontaneous decision when a friend (another gapper) messaged me asking if I was interested, and I, being the slightly travel obsessed person that I have become, said ‘hell yes!’ While not the most popular tourist destination, we chose to visit Oslo (the capital) because well that’s where the cheap flights would take us, and quite frankly we knew nothing about it. We stayed at an awesome little hostel ‘Anker Hostel’ which was pretty central, clean, modern, good Wi-Fi (somewhat sketchy in the rooms but hey you are in a hostel it’s not going to kill you to head to the common room!), super friendly staff, and a good atmosphere. We played quite possibly the weirdest game of UNO with the staff on our first night!
Being cool at the Royal Palace!

It’s important to note that Norway is the world’s most expensive place, even more so if you are a volunteer/student traveller who has been living in Poland for three months, but luckily there was heaps of free things to see/do, as well as the handy Oslo Pass, to keep us occupied for two days. I would definitely suggest getting an ISIC card (if you are eligible) before going as it enabled me to get discounts on pretty much everything (especially relevant if you are flying budget on Ryanair and get to Rygge airport as you will need to catch public transport to Oslo and the ISIC card gets you a good discount on the Rygge Ekspressen bus!). It also got me a notable 20% discount for the Oslo Pass (this discount is only available from the Information Centre).
OPERA HOUSE! While I don’t look particularly
impressed, I absolutely loved this place. When this
picture was taken I was soaking wet from the rain!
We decided to do one day walking around Oslo and another touring some of the museums that we got free entrance to with the Oslo Pass. We hit up the Oslo Cathedral on our first day, and being so centrally located it would be a mistake to miss it! While not nearly as impressive as places I visited in Paris, it certainly had a unique charm and some beautiful paintings that covered the roof. The great thing about Oslo is that everything is well and truly within walking distance, so day one involved a bit of walking. We accidently found ourselves at the Opera House, a result of my horrible map reading skills, which was quite possibly my favourite sight. Very reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House, the building was white and very architecturally interesting, it was also much more ‘user-friendly’ meaning that you could pretty much walk all over it! The first time we were there it was raining but I thought that the grey clouds added a dramatic flair but it was also very impressive against blue skies.
Because we had too…
We did a free tour of the Norwegian Parliament building, which was absolutely incredible. The guide was very engaging and knowledgeable, I not only learnt a lot about the Parliament but also about Norwegian history and people! It was here that we were also finally given the answers about these awesome pants, dubbed ‘the Norway pants’ by us, worn by all these young Norwegians. Apparently they are part of the Norwegian schoolies traditions, where they wear these pants and part for a month before their final exams. Not a bad system! We also checked out the Royal Palace where we watched the changing of the guard and had some fun with the Royal guards who I swear were younger then we were. Made one smile when we waved goodbye to him! We then hit up the Arkershus Fortress and Castle, and visited the Resistance Museum located within the fortress. I, for one, really enjoyed strolling around this area as it was very different to anything I had seen in Australia! That night we were lucky enough to meet some Norwegians who were staying at the hostel and showed us a karaoke bar/club that turned out to be very popular.
Vigeland/ Frogner Park
The next day, after certain people who had stayed up to watch the sun rise (not me) dragged them out of bed (which I was quite impressed by), we headed over to the museum area of Oslo which was on a peninsula type thing. We had activated our passes the previous day and caught but 30 from our hostel which took us straight to the front of the Kontiki Museum, a museum documenting the life of an explorer. We also checked out the Fram museum (basically the museum is a ship), the Maritime museum, Viking ship museum, and lastly the Norwegian Folk museum (a huge open air museum that documented changes in houses over the centuries). All of which were included in our Oslo Pass! We then went to Frogner, also called Vigeland, Park which is famous for being the world’s largest sculpture park made by one person. There certainly were heaps of sculptures, many of which were quite disturbing but very interesting all the same. Definitely check it out, preferably when you aren’t hungover and lacking in sleep, as it is huge!
Our flight home was eventful, first being delayed 20 minutes and then having to circle for another 20 minutes before landing due to heavy fog. We did eventually make it back to Warsaw where we stayed at the Warsaw Central Hostel, as it was 1:30am and trains back home stopped at 0020. The hostel was nice enough for the night, and it was close to my school which was a bonus! It’s safe to say teaching the next day was a bit difficult, and a few students inquired to why I looked a bit rough! All in all it was a pretty good weekend. Oh I forgot to mention, they gave out free Oreos on the street in Oslo!
Missing you all back home 🙂

I’m in love with Paris

 

French Salad- yummmm
Yep, I know its cliché but I am honestly in love with Paris. A week ago I was lucky enough to be able to visit Paris, not only this but also visit my dad in Paris which also meant I didn’t have to stay in a room with 12 other people but rather got my own room and sofa bed in his apartment! I had heard mixed opinions of Paris, some people such as my mum and dad, love Paris, where as others thought it over priced and dirty. I am definitely one of those who love it. I was lucky enough to spend 3 days in central Paris, and together with my dad I saw many of the sights of Paris both tourist and makeshift-Parisian (my dad has been to Paris every year for about 25 years and hence knows his way around pretty well!). I arrived on Thursday afternoon not sure what to expect and feeling a bit unlucky after having some problems with check in and flights, but after about 5 minutes of walking through the streets I felt relaxed and at home! I was also lucky enough to have lovely weather (~20 degrees) all weekend, which undoubtedly made both the city more beautiful and myself able to appreciate it more.

 

Stainglass windows at Sainte- Chapelle
It’s safe to say that I made to most of the opportunity we left the house by 9am and returned after 10pm every day. We walked so much that my feet hurt for the week afterwards, and we saw so many different sights that neither of us can remember everything we did. We visited the Sainte-Chapelle and Conciergerie (which my ISIC card got me into for free). The stainglass windows in the Sainte-Chapelle were incredible, I did not expect them to be of such as scale and beauty nor have I ever seen anything quite like it before. The Conciergerie, an old prison where Marie Antoinette was held for two months before her execution, was also very interesting from a historical point of view.
Dad and I at the top of the Eiffel Tower!
We visited the Notre Dame and I found it was quite amazing how quiet it was, even with about 200 tourists wondering around. The Arch De Triumphe was incredible, and I was able to observe one of the scariest roundabouts in Paris (there are no lines and you give way to people coming onto it….). The Catacombs, not entirely sure how to describe them aside from completely unexpected and completely worth it.  Musee d’Orsay and L’Orangerie, the former was worth it just to see inside the building, a converted train station, and the latter houses Monet’s Waterlillies which are just stunning! I could have spent all day staring at them if it weren’t for all the annoying tourists! Of course we also did the Eiffel Tower, one of the highlights of the trip was climbing all 669 steps to the second floor before taking the lift to the top! The view was incredible, and my dad was able to point out places all over the city. We saw the Madeline, Opera, and walked down Champs Elysees (and shopped…), ate at cute French cafés and simply wandered through the streets and parks of Paris.

 

Notre Dame from a bridge
The highlight of the entire trip has got to be my last night in Paris when dad took me to some restaurant that overlooked the Eiffel tower. We ate dinner and drank French wine while watching how the Eiffel tower changed at sunset before heading over to join the tourists at 10pm for the hourly light show! I had such a wonderful time, and it was definitely the best weekend I have had so far!  It is safe to say that I will be back, and hopefully before the end of this trip.