Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Some Down Time

View from Monument
Regent's Park
This weekend I finally got to shed my tour guide duties and relax for the long weekend before spring break came to an end.  Friday Andi, Paul, Devon and I did a quick trip up the London Monument. A commemoration to the Great Fire of London in 1666, 311 steps take you up 202 feet to get a nice view of the city. After such exertion, we spent the rest of the day lounging in the sun in Regent's Park.

Devon's last day

St James' Park
Saturday morning Devon caught her flight home and Andi and I headed to St James' Park (gotta mix it up a bit). We enjoyed another hot sunny day. I actually had to move our blanket into the shade as the mid day heat was pretty intense.  Helicopters were flying by for most of the afternoon - ah, the beginnings of the Royal Wedding.

Sunday was yet another sunny day. Andi and I walked up to Wimbledon Common for a bit, then stopped by a friend of a friend's BBQ before we hit up a neighbourhood pub for roast dinner with all the fixings! Our own little tribute to the delicious Easter dinners we knew we were missing back home.

And finally Monday was here, a bittersweet day. Another sun-filled day, but the last official day of break.  I spent some time in Wimbledon Park, another mid 20s day. Now break is over, the sun seems to have gone into hiding and I am back to waiting for a call for work.  With the wedding it is only a three day work week, and I only have one day booked for sure... Hopefully something comes in.  This weekend I am planning to avoid the Wedding mayhem by travelling to Prague with a friend from work.

Also, some exciting news. This weekend I booked my flight to India! I will be going to the Northern Bihar region in July. This trip is organized through my agency to do charity work. Check it out! http://www.impactteachers.com/charity/charity.php

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Land of the bagpipes

Tuesday morning we were up early (pattern developing?) and on the train to Edinburgh.  The train ride is about five hours so we had time to eat some breaky, do some reading and even take a short (very uncomfortable) nap before arriving in Edinburgh around lunch time.  The countryside that we passed through was much of the same - farmland, baby sheep, baby cows, yellow fields of canola...
Once in Edinburgh we made out way to the hostel that I had found, which was conveniently across the street from the train station. Success! We shoved our bags into some lockers and set out.
We wandered over the North Bridge to grab a picnic lunch of sandwiches and cider from Sainsburys.  Then we were off to my one request of the trip - Arthur's seat.  This is a hiking trail that leads up a random "mountain" right beside the city and offers great views from the top.  
What a view!

It took us about 20 minutes to get to the other side of town where Arthur's Seat is situated.  Then about another 20 to climb.  Turned out we took the wrong path, so we weren't actually at the to of Arthur's Seat, but we were up high and had a good view which was good enough for us.  We enjoyed our lunch and spent some time doing our own photoshoot before trekking our way back down. 

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the city then grabbed some dinner at the Frankenstein Pub.  After dinner we took a short rest at the hostel before meeting up for a Ghost Tour.

Edinburgh is known as one of the most haunted cities, and as such offers many ghost tours.  Most are walking tours around the city that talk about its colorful past.  Ours was interesting (turned out we had the same guide that did my free walking tour in Dublin - small world??!!), but not quite as scary as we had expected.  Still some rather gruesome and interesting stories lurk in this city's history.

Keeping with the theme, we were up early the next morning to take our day trip into the Highlands.  We did this tour with Highland Explorer Tours and chose the Loch Ness Explorer. We travelled through the Highlands: Loch Luibnaig, Rob Roy Country, Rannoch Moor, Haunting Glencoe, Mighty Ben Nevis, The Great Glen, Fort Augustus, Loch Ness, The forests and rivers of Perthshire, The Forth Railway Bridge were all highlights of the trip.

Loch Linhe
Glen Coe
Another highlight of the tour was our tour guide Leo. He was hilarious! He classified himself as a "functioning geek" and this pretty much summed him up.  He knew all of the dates and battle stories of every place that we drove through, though he told them with his own sarcastic and witty flare.  These stories were only interrupted when he saw a nice car that struck his fancy and he would time-out to tell us some fact about that car, then pick up his story in the exact same breath where he had left it. Or if he had to call another driver a dick for some kind of driving error that he did not approve of.
booo hot bus :(
The non-highlight of the tour was being stuck on a bus that had a broken heater stuck in the ON position! Leo tried to remedy this by cranking the A/C which didn't work all that well and ended up dripping water on several passengers.  The only thing that made this worse was when we were told that the company knew that this bus had this problem but still put us all on it anyway.  Which meant that we spent about a total of 8 hours on a bus that was on average 26 degrees... not fun. And I am lucky to be someone not prone to motion sickness - since we were travelling at insane speeds down winding, narrow roads - but even I felt nauseous with the heat.

The mission of the tour was to see Loch Ness where we opted to take the boat cruise and try to find Nessie - to no avail.  But we did learn some interesting facts about the Loch itself.  It is over a mile deep in some places, the water is black because it is stained from the peat that surrounds it, and it holds more water than all of the lakes and rivers of England and Wales combined!

At Bank Hotel
After the tour we cleaned ourselves up and headed out for a few drinks at a nearby pub.  We met some interesting characters who decided to show us to a new bar.  This bar had no music and barely enough room to sit.  Once one of our new 'friends' had dropped and smashed his second drink within 15 minutes, we decided it was time to head for home. Andi and I led Josephine home, while Devon decided to stay with her new friends, though her booze covered legs and shoes reflected this choice when she made it back to the hostel later.

At the top of Scott Monument
Thursday morning Andi and I were feeling a little more chipper than the other two, so we got up, had some breaky and went out walking.  Devon and Josephine finally got their lives together and met us at the bottom of the Scott monument where Andi and I were scaling the 287 steps to get a real view of the city.

Scott monument

After we were done our stairmaster adventure, we wandered around some more getting our last minute souvenirs, enjoying some haggis, tatties and neeps, and getting our last glimpse of Edinburgh before heading back to London on the evening train. 

Mmmm haggis
Cupcakes in the park :)

We had a great girls getaway to Edinburgh and it was fun to travel as a group.  Though I do have to say that I preferred Glasgow to Edinburgh.  This city definitely seemed to have more history and had the important buildings (castle, Holyrood Palace, etc) but felt very tourist oriented to me - exemplified by the bagpipe players on the street corners.  Most of the people that we met were not from Edinburgh, many not even from Scotland.  Whereas Glasgow had a more small town feel.  It was not trying so hard to be 'Scottish' and you could not understand a lick of what anyone was saying because they were true-boned Scottish and no one understands them folk!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Glamour Queens to Thrill Seekers

After returning from Amsterdam, we had a couple of days in London before our next trip to Edinburgh.  On Sunday, Devon and I went up to King's Cross for a make over and photo shoot that I had won.

Our session was to begin at 11am. We arrived about 10:30 and were greeted by an extremely flamboyant man in bright orange eye liner who quickly offered us a glass of rosé. Who were we to refuse? This was going to be a good day! We then got called over to have our hair and make up done.  We both said that we wanted 'bright' make up.  The girls doing the hair and makeup looked nervous and asked what kind of colours we wanted. I said that I wanted to look the like the adverts for spring make up that you see in magazines with super bright colours.  They still looked nervous but a little pleased to get to have some fun. Devon's make up turned out great with pink and purple colours on her eyes, and I loved mine with oranges and pinks on my eyes. It was very fun.
Waiting for photos: ''I'm gonna Vogue the s#%t out of this menu!''
Then we had some more wine as we waited for the photographer. Now we were feeling and looking good.

We got called down by the photographer who told us to put on our first 'outfit'. He was the typical eccentric photographer type, barking orders that we didn't really understand and looking disappointed. After the first shoot he told us to change outfits and go back to the make up artists. Now we knew he either really liked us or totally hated us.  The make up girls were told he wanted them to tone down the colours (Boring!). They told us he had never asked them to do that before, but now we got to have two different looks in out photos. We had no idea what to make of this.
We finished the shoot and had to kill time while we waited for the photos so we went to a nearby pub. Then listened to their spiel to buy photos. All in all, a very fun day!

The next day we met up with Josephine, Christine and Andi and brought our 2 for 1 coupons out to Thorpe Park, an amusement park near London.  We had a great day going on rides and scaring the begeezus out of ourselves! They have some crazy rides, including one based on the Saw movies which has a 100 degree drop - yes, that is steeper than vertical! Another well spent day in London before getting up early Tuesday morning to catch the train to Scotland!
On the 'Canadian Train'

Saw Ride!!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Zaanse Schans

Zaanse Schans = too cute!

Our third day in Amsterdam we enjoyed another great breakfast before making our way to Centraal Station to catch the bus out of town.  Once again I cannot say enough about the people in this area and how friendly and helpful they were. We were told that our stop was the last stop on the bus so we could sit back and relax.  We did just that and enjoyed the scenery along the ride.  We were starting to wonder when we would get to our destination when another passenger came up to us and said, "This is it girls, last stop. You're here."  We looked out the window and seemed to be in the middle of nowhere - what had we gotten ourselves into?

The man on the bus pointed us in the right direction and began walking with us.  Turned out once we crossed the road and went up a small drive we were right in the parking lot, which was full of about 30 tour buses! The same ones we would have been on had we dished out the big bucks.  The man explained to us that he was working on one of the boats in the harbour and told us what we should go see.  Then we warned us that it was a big tourist stop, so we should look carefully before buying anything since most things were very over priced! 

We thanked him for his help and took our time wandering around this little village.  We crossed over the main bridge to the more local area too and just explored on our own.  Of course we had to see the cheese factory (with samples. Pesto cheese = delicious!) and also the clog museum.  Most of Holland is very marshy ground rich in peat moss and this is why clogs were originally made.  They allowed workers, and even horses, to tread on the peat without sinking in or damaging it.  Most of Amsterdam is actually built on wood pilings that were driven into the earth so that the buildings wouldn't sink into the marshy ground!


After we had our fill of this quaint village, we caught the bus back in to Amsterdam. We made sure to catch a glimpse of any last sights since we had to head to the airport shortly after breakfast the next morning.  Amsterdam is definitely a place that I would recommend people see.  It does have a reputation because of some of its liberal legislation - which might actually be changing soon as very conservative governments have been voted in the recently and have put many motions forward to restrict many of these liberal allowances that Amsterdam is known for.  That being said, once in the city you realize that these things are not actually in your face, they have to be sought out if that is your interest.  Otherwise it is a stunning city full of canals, beautiful architecture and lovely people.

Goodbye Amsterdam

Sunday, 17 April 2011


Made it!

Wednesday morning we got up early.. very early to head to the airport. Our flight to Amsterdam was at 8am. It takes less than an hour to get there, so with the one hour time change we arrived at our hostel a little after 11 in the morning.  I opted for the private room after having read many horror reviews about hostels in the city. We were too early to check in so we tossed our bags in a locker and set out to find our way around.

We wandered over to the main street and found a nice Italian restaurant serving a cheap full English breakfast - yes this was our first meal in Holland! Go figure! But we were starved and it was fast and of course the price was right. We finished just in time to head to the meeting point for the free walking tour so we could really get our bearings of the city.  I love it when these tours are offered, great way to get adjusted and map out all the main attractions to check out later.  Our tour guide was great and knew a lot about the history of the city, which was very interesting.

After the tour we checked in to our room and were pleased to see that I had chosen well.  Our private room was 'cozy' but nice and clean.  We unpacked some of our things, shared a burger at the hostel bar and went for a night stroll before heading to bed early. The early morning and 4 hour walking tour had taken its toll on us.

Day 2 we had our delicious hostel breakfast - cereal, granola, yogurt, bread, jam, cheese, meats... - and went straight to the Anne Frank house.  We knew that no matter when we decided to go we would have to wait in line so we decided to do it first thing. The line was quite long, but took just under an hour which wasn't too bad.  This museum is a must see for everyone.  It is very moving seeing this small place where eight people had to hide for over two years.  After they were given up and removed from their hiding place, the Nazis came in and emptied the entire house.  For this reason Otto Frank requested that it not be refurnished.  Even without furniture it is obvious how small the place is, and it is hard to imagine so many people sharing such small quarters.  They have saved parts of the original walls with growth charts belonging to the girls and posters that Anne had pasted up as decoration.  Throughout the house there were excerpts from Anne's diary too.  As you exit the house you come into a museum with information about each member of the house, the camps and video interviews with Anne's friend and her father. It is very moving and very hard to really understand and take in the terrible things that went on in the time.
mmm fries

After the museum we had some of the famous french fries that are sold all over town and they were delicious! We had planned to do a bike tour that day, but there were some ominous looking clouds and we didn't want to test our luck! So we jumped on a canal tour for an hour and cruised around learning more about the city.  The rest of the day was rather relaxed just wandering the town and enjoying the beautiful scenery. We even found a flea market where we each bought some old tins as our Holland souvenirs.  We had been looking at tours to do the following day to get out of the city and see some of the countryside.  We were having trouble deciding which one to do because they all sounded fairly similar and were fairly high priced.  Then as I flipped through I noticed some ads for the places that we wanted to see (cheese and clog museum) and noticed that the ads said Free Admission. I though - what the...?  The tours all boasted 'Admission Included' like they were giving you some sort of deal. This did not sit with me.  I figured, I'm a pretty competent person, how hard can it be to find this place? We asked the hostel guy, who was very excited to have something to Google to pass his time, and we discovered that this place was about a 40 minute bus ride away and the bus left every half hour. Sounds good to me!

Nothing beats wine on a terrace beside a canal!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Cool Kids

Officially in London!
A quick update before bed.  Devon arrived Sunday and they even let her in the country! Despite not having my address and having no idea if the numbers she had made up a phone number, they let her through the gates.  There was no time for jet lag, we dropped her stuff off at my place in Wimbledon then met up with Josephine and headed into the city. I warned her that it would be the most overwhelming day of her life!
First stop was Big Ben, then a walk to Westminster Bridge to get a look at the London Eye.  From there past St James' Park and over to Trafalgar Square. Up to Picadilly Circus and back over to Buckingham Palace. Just hammering out the 'must-see' list of London. Then we made our way up to Hyde Park to meet Christine, where I let Devon sit and relax for a bit.  As the sun started to go down, we headed for a friend's house who had invited us for a BBQ! My first since being in London = Yummy!! We all had a great time and it was a very in-depth introduction to the city for Devon.  Monday morning we got up and headed to the old city. We went in to the Tower of London first. After we got some sandwiches and found a patch of grass to enjoy them in the sun with a view of the river Thames and Tower Bridge. Then we did a little shopping on our way to Leicester Square to see if we could get theatre tickets. We got tickets to Priscilla Queen of the Desert, one of the shows on my wish list.  I had heard good reviews of this show about a drag queen who treks across the Australian desert, but I had no idea how amazing it would be! I am confident in saying that this is my new favorite!! It was a blast, we were cheering and clapping and singing along the entire time. Amazing show!
Today we went to Camden Market with Josephine, where Devon found some souvenirs to bring home. After the market we wandered around the Science Museum for a bit. Josephine and I have been meaning to check it out, and it is free so why not? Then it was home for to finish packing for tomorrow and relax with dinner and a movie.
Up early in the morning to head out for Amsterdam!

Inside Tower of London
Picadilly Cricus

Saturday, 9 April 2011

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood!

Awoke Saturday morning to sunshine once again. The difference this time? I'm on holidays! What a great feeling.
The end of my last work week went pretty smoothly. Thursday I taught French at my regular school and then I had a half day on Friday at a school I had been to before, most schools let out early on the last day.  I was booked in to teach year 5, which is an age here that can go either way for the kind of day it will bring.  So I went in and the other year 5 teacher was explaining the day to me (including an hour long assembly) when another lady walks in who sometimes works for the school. She says she was called at 9:30 the night before to supply in year 1, but since she knows the year 5 kids she asked to be in this class. So they both look at me wondering if I mind doing yr 1 instead. "Sure!" Year 1 will be way easier, this is looking good.  We get to the yr 1 class and there is already another supply in there. This is getting confusing. In the end I am in a reception class, we play games outside in the sun for 45 minutes, read a story, then watch an hour of Happy Feet. What a stellar last day of work!
Picnic :)
Then it is off to a patio with Christine and Josephine to enjoy pina coladas and another 2 4 1 happy hour beverages.

Saturday I went for a morning run then it was off to Hyde Park for a picnic. Packed up our things, grabbed some goodies at Marks & Spencer, slapped on our sunscreen and we were good to go. What an amazing day! Hyde Park is in full bloom with gorgeous flowers everywhere. We got there around noon and there was lots of space to set up all of our picnic blankets. Friends slowly joined our little camp out and we spent the entire day chatting, playing taboo, a little Frisbee, and enjoying our food and drink.

Today my cousin arrives, and it is supposed to be in the 20s again. Cannot wait.


Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Glutton for punishment?

After my day Monday, I fully did not expect to be called back to that school, or recommended for any more secondary positions for that matter.  But Tuesday came along and as I was leaving from my nice and peaceful day at my regular school my phone buzzed with a new text.  The secondary school had actually requested me to come back for Wednesday. That isn't even the most shocking part.  They actually only needed me to cover 3 blocks (out of 6) but since they were spread from morning to afternoon, they would still pay me for a full day of work.  Well, call me crazy, or wonder at my short term memory processing, but I was not about to turn that down.  I thought to myself, "Maybe they agreed with me that the kid I called ignorant actually is.. or, just as likely, maybe he was unable to recall the word that I had called him..."  Either way, Wednesday morning I was off to survive another day in Lambeth.

My morning started nicely, I met another supply teacher who is originally from Spain and thus actually speaks Spanish. She was very nice and we had some good chats throughout the day.  We both had first block free so we were asked to go help supervise the year 8's who were all in the hall to go through the "Knife Arch". This means that they are in the hall with over half a dozen police officers who are searching their bags as the kids walk through a metal detector.  Not sure if this made me feel safer or not? Apparently they do random checks like this "just to keep the kids on their toes". Lovely.
Then I had Spanish 8 - well at least I could be reassured that none of them were packing. They were alright. Didn't listen, didn't do their work. Huge paper ball throwing game. The usual. The class ended when one girl I had written up for not listening asked me to fill out her Behaviour Report. She had 3 goals for the class, which she had obviously not met since I had to write her up. I filled this out accordingly which she obviously did not appreciate as she yelled for me to F#*% OFF as she left the room. (Yes, this is someone's 12 year old daughter).
Break time I regrouped my thoughts before year 7 French. At least it is a language I speak! They came in and instantly I knew I was in for an interesting 50 minutes.  Half of them decided they would sit on the back counter instead of at their tables.  I asked them to sit down, which eventually turned into me shouting at them to take their seats.  One kid ran around the class on the counters, then on the table tops. Many others refused to listen, one treat of a child dug the paper balls from the previous class from the bin which he then began to throw around the class.  As I told him to stop he then threw them at me. (This is where I start to mentally detach myself from the situation). Hallway support was sought once again and the kid was finally removed from the class.  By the end of the second block eight kids were now formally written up. Now I had a block free followed by lunch and another free block. All much needed!.
Final block of the day I had Spanish 7, so I frantically looked over the list to ensure that none of my special French friends would be in this class and the coast looked clear. I entered the room to find another man in there to support for the whole block plus hallway support checked in every 10-15 minutes.  With the 3 of us on top of this gang we managed to keep them almost under control for most of the class. I most likely would have crawled out of the class after 20 minutes if they had not been there for this group.

But hey, another day another dollar.. right?! Plus 2 more days until spring break :)

Monday, 4 April 2011


Had a nice and quiet weekend in London. Went to yoga in the mornings and did a little shopping with Josephine in the afternoons. It was a nice weekend as it is getting quite mild here, mid teens in the afternoons. Spring is finally here!
Monday morning came too quickly, as usual.  I am already booked for Tuesday, Thursday and Friday this week, so had to do the on-call this morning.  They let me know around 7 that they thought they had a day of secondary for me. A school that I had been to once before, way back in September they thought.  Well instantly my mind flashed back to my secondary day where the one girl tossed the other over a table and the cringing began.  I normally don't worry too much heading out for my on-call days, but as soon as they say secondary I can't help but feel some nerves.  Not particularly about the actual work, more because you never know what kind of kids you will get... and I was right to cringe!
It turned out that it was not the girl throwing school, but I was not out of the woods. The day actually started quite nicely as I was informed that I had the first period free to read my book in the staffroom.  Then my day went like this: Spanish 8, break, English 9, Spanish 9 (opposite sides of the school), lunch, double block of Spanish 10.  Not sure why they think I can speak Spanish, but luckily it is close enough to French that I can figure out the worksheets they leave for me to give the students.
Looking at the register lists I know that the first 2 blocks will be the worst, big classes. The following 3 blocks have only 12 students in each class. So already I know that once I make it to lunch I should be alright. However, making it to lunch was the task.
Spanish 8 went pretty good. Kids were very loud and very few got work done, but I kept them in their seats and they were civil to me for the most part.  Then I trekked to the other side of the school for English 9. Words cannot express my dislike for these "children". I put it in quotations because they barely qualify for the pleasure of being labelled with this word and its implications of kindness and innocence.  These kids will not even be quiet enough for me to take the register.  I try to yell over them to tell them their assignment but soon give this up as a futile effort.  So now my main task is to try and keep them seated and relatively under control.  Also near impossible when two boys decide that they are going to take friendly poking up a notch to chasing each other around the room slapping each other. And now it is escalating further.  I am following them demanding they sit down but my voice seems to be of a register that they cannot hear.  Finally, just as I am almost smacked in the face by a hand intending to slap his friend, I tell another student to go get the hallway support.  They come back and inform me that this teacher is away for the next 5 minutes or so. Fabulous.
I find out their names from a jaded kid who clearly cannot stand any of his classmates, and write them up, knowing that this is really all the power that I have.
The boys finally settle things themselves and head back to their seats.  Now one of them decides to turn on me.  He starts lipping me off telling me that I am a terrible teacher and that I can't even teach and I'm doing nothing. Blah, blah. Not proud, but something in me snapped. I couldn't believe he was saying this. Both boys were a good 4 inches taller than me and huge, what was I supposed to do, jump on their backs until they sat down them force feed them the textbook? So I turned to him and said, "Well, it's not easy teaching ignorant people."  And there it was, not even lunchtime and I was standing in the middle of this chaotic classroom, almost in tears and having just called a student ignorant. Wow, inspiring teacher!
I almost cheered out loud when the bell finally sounded and the kids stampeded out of the room.  I tidied the classroom and made my way to the other side of the school only to find some familiar faces in Spanish 9. Luckily my two new friends not included!
As expected, the classes of 12 were much more manageable, though still not productive. I have survived another Monday and am more than glad that I get the next four Mondays off thanks to spring break and Easter and a bank holiday!
Four more possible teaching days. Six more days until my cousin comes. Nine more days until Amsterdam. Fifteen more days until Edinburgh. Twenty nine more days until Prague.
Luckily, many things to look forward to.