Picturesque Poland!

April 26, 2011 at 2:09 pm (Travel)

Finally the Easter holidays rolled in and my trip to Poland with the amazing Agathe.  I must admit to not really having any idea about what I was getting into.  Armed with the information that Poland is the country that has been the most taken over due to its flatness (thank you mum’s pool of random information) and about a million German jokes about Poland and things being stolen we were on our way.

We started in the capital of Warsaw and stayed three nights with Agathe’s aunt Agnieszkna (yes you try pronouncing that).  Warsaw was 90% destroyed during the Second World War and the Old Town has been fully restored to the state that in 1980 the city was granted the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Culture.  To be honest, I found this restoration to be almost too perfect, and the city left me with a fake artificial, almost characterless feel.  Obviously, leaving a city in rubble was not a sensible solution, but I personally would have liked to have seen it incorporated somehow into the rebuilding.

The highlight of Warsaw for me was our visit to Wilanów Palace.  The complex was started by King Juan III Sobieski in 1677 and was added to over the years so that now it contains elements of a nobility house, Italian garden villa and a French Palace in the style of Louis XIV.  The building is one of the most beautiful examples of European Baroque architecture and now houses an impressive collection of artwork and Polish artifacts.

We also visited the Warsaw Rising Museum.  The museum focuses on the Polish uprising against German occupation in Warsaw which began in August 1944 and came to an end two months later.  In the context of the war, it seems a little bit over the top to have such an extensive museum on such a small subject, but it just goes to show how important the Rising was to the Polish people and how close it lies to their heart.  Unfortunately I found the museum hard to follow (even though all the information was in English).  For me, there was no connecting thread and I somehow managed to walk completely the wrong way round.  There was a fantastic 3D film that showed the absolute devastation that Warsaw received.  There was literally nothing left, and the survivors living in rubble.  Amazing when one thinks as to how the city has managed to rebuild itself from these ashes.

After Warsaw we headed to Karzimierz Dolny and stayed with Agathe’s grandfather and his partner.   It would have been very useful if I spoke Polish… The town is quite quaint and an excellent example from the Renaissance.  Beautiful original cobbled streets and situated on the banks of the Vistula.  The castle that overlooks the town is currently being restored, but we enjoyed a lazy day wandering and Agathe enjoyed spending time with her grandfather.  I tried, sometimes even successfully, to understand their conversations.

Last stop was the magnificent city of Krakow.  Wow!  What an amazingly beautiful city.  How lucky we are that it wasn’t damaged during the war, it truly is a lovely place.

We spent a lot of time just wandering and taken in the different buildings and warm atmosphere.  We also did two walking tours, one of the old city, and another of the Jewish areas.  The city has a rich history, which I can’t even begin to explain here.  We made a day trip to Auschwitz (which needs no explaining), visited the cathedral and I even went on an early morning run around the old city, which was simply amazing.

My highlight was our trip to Oskar Schindller’s former factory.  The building now houses an amazing exhibition about Krakow during the war.  It was interactive, informative and highly interesting.  I liked how they covered all aspects, not just focusing on the Jewish side or the Polish.  The city must have been an interesting place to live during the war, that’s for sure.

Jewish monument with the entrance to the Jewish Ghetto in the background

Of course, Kate and Agathe style we went out partying.  I somehow, not sure how, managed to get us back to the pub our tour guide had suggested.  Singer bar, aptly named as each table has a Singer sewing machine on it.  We roped a whole lot of other travellers along and ended up having a mad night dancing away to Michael Bubele and laughing at all the drunken Polish men chasing the various women.  The next night it was off to Alchemy, where instead of doors they had wardrobes totally Narnia style!  Krakow, definitely full of quirky bars.

So another country to tick of my list and a big thank you to Agathe for being my wonderful travelling partner.  Love you!  Also love and kisses to Danniel for walking miles and miles with me around Krakow. .. best wishes for all your future adventures.

Before finishing up I would like to point out that during my travels in Poland I did not witness any cars being stolen.  Mum, however, was quite correct.  The country is flat.  😀


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Moving through March and into April…

April 9, 2011 at 2:49 pm (Germany)

It’s been a long teaching stretch (14 weeks) but finally we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Only one week to go and then off to Poland for the Easter holidays.  🙂  It’s been stressful and hard work but with spring full into swing and lovely weather it doesn’t seem too bad at all.  I am constantly being reminded about how much I love living here.
At the start of March I visited Damaris in Cologne over a long weekend to experience the Kölner Karneval.  You might remember that I spent it in Mainz last year.  The celebration isn’t all that different between the two cities (but don’t tell them that).  In Cologne it’s definitely bigger.  Everyone walks around costumed and parties and there are parades everyday in different parts of the city.  I was a pirate and Pippi Longstockings.  🙂  Of course, party Kate came out to play and I had a great night out with Damaris and her friends Anna, Susi and Karen. 

A couple of weeks later I turned the big 27.  The day started with a birthday skype with Mum and ended in the early hours of Sunday morning.  I ended up meeting with friends for dinner and drinks at my favourite pub Crossroads.  I had put a strict rule out on not wanting any presents. 27 is not that special plus I have enough stuff here.  However, Agathe couldn’t help herself.  I was met at the door by sparklers and the ‘Happy Birthday’ song,  they had decorated our table with wrapping paper and birthday objects, I got possibly the coolest pair of birthday glasses ever and they all put in together for a travelling pig.  My travelling pig is ceramic red with white polka dots.  During the night the girls went through the whole pub and collected money for my travels.  Ultra cute.  We ended up at die Krone for ‘Trash Pop’ night.  Totally K8!  I wasn’t homesick at all.  Not one bit!

Of course I’ve been out on other weekends too.  Been partying it up with the hockey girls and also with other teachers.  I’m getting myself quite the partying name tag.  🙂

Hockey is back onto the field (thank God) and as per usual, taking up the majority of my free time.  We have a season that runs for five weeks, but involves eight matches.  It’s going to be tough and we’re desperate to hold our grade after being promoted last year.  I am really enjoying it though, which is good. 

April rolled in with an ultra cute April Fools Day joke from my year six’s.  They completely taped up the door to our classroom.  You try getting masking tape off the top of the extra high door!  They found it quite amusing that I literally had to jump in the hope of reaching it.  Very cute.

This week I was also lucky enough to be able to visit Marburg for a night.  It was brilliant seeing my host family and also catching up with my good friend Lotte.  However, the main reason for my trip was that the McKinnon exchange, which I supervised in Germany two years ago, is currently taking place and I really wanted to visit the kids.  I had taught each of the kids from McKinnon and it was really cool to see how much they had changed or not changed and to hear how much they were enjoying their experience.

In particular I loved seeing Emily and Adrian, who I am still in good contact with.  It was also good to see Dave and Andrea the two teachers from McKinnon.  Dave has had a huge influence on my teaching as Head of Lote and is also a good friend.  Just hearing their accents made me smile.

So, that’s me… happy and enjoying myself… looking forward to the next adventures Poland, Prague and seeing my mum at the end of June.  Life is good.


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