Sunday, 29 May 2011

Crazy flyers and Kielbasa

Last night Josephine and I caught the train to the airport and arrived around 10:30. our flight was at 6:10 in the morning and Stansted is a small airport, not so easy to get to early. We grabbed a snack and found some seats to settle down. We did some napping and around midnight were both awake. We looked around and the airport looked like a storm shelter. There were people lying all over the floor, on all of the seats, even in front of check in counters. I would say that this is a sign that this airport is much too difficult to get to via transit!
Around 2 am our fellow travellers, Christine and Eric, finally showed up. They had taken a late coach and had to share their ride with some rowdies, apparently not too fun.
We all tried to get some shut eye, though were not too successful. Especially when a large group of people began cheering for some sort of sporting event that was being played somewhere.. Not fun.
Around 4 am we finally realized we were not going to get any more sleep and checked in. Our flight left on time. We chose the emergency exit row for the extra leg room. An interesting looking man decided to join Jo and I in our row. Smelled like he was part of the cheering squad from the airport. He tried to make some conversation, which we tried to avoid as politely as possible. Then he passed out cold. I was awoken by his buddy, who was sitting 4 rows ahead, trying to lean over me and Jo to wake up his friend. He got him to react, laughed and went back to his seat. About a half hour I awoke to the same thing, but this time Mr. Drunky-drunk in our row was not waking up. His friend kept trying, tugging on his arm, flicking his ear, etc. Finally I motioned to the flight attendant to get him outta here! He told me to ring the call button if there was any trouble at all. About a half hour later (all this in a 2 hour flight!), Mr. Drunk pants wakes up and orders a beer. One for him, one for his friend (we declined his offer for a drink). But he ended up having to take both since his friend had now passed out cold and could not be roused to accept his drink. Jo and I took this opportunity to stretch our legs and found an empty row of seats at the back where we spent the rest of the flight!

Kielbasa = Delicious!

We arrived in Krakow, caught a cab to the train station and walked to our hostel. We checked in, walked into town, and went for lunch! Traditional Polish Kielbasa, delicious!!

Then we wandered around a bit before going on a walking tour of the Jewish quarter, including several synagogues and Schindler's factory.
Very long and busy day, tomorrow we are heading to Auschwitz - Birkenau.

Old City Square Krakow

Old Jewish Synagogue

Jewish Cemetary

Jewish Ghetto

Mojitos!! Worth the 20 minute wait!

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Airport sit in

I survived the week! The last week before a break always seems to find a way to be difficult. Wednesday and Thursday went fine. I was at a school I go to often and it is quite near my place, which makes it even more appealing when there isn`t a long commute involved.  Friday I was at my regular school, and since we have another week off for half term, they were doing quizzes to finish up the units we have covered in French. Basically this meant that I gave them a quiz and then a puzzle and wordsearch to do when they had finished and then the hour was up and I was off to me next class. Gotta love it.

Now we have a week off! Tonight Christine, Josephine and I are heading to Stansted airport to spend the night, we fly out to Krakow Poland at 6 am tomorrow. I am excited to explore this old city. Also, Christine and I plan on doing a tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau. This is not going to be the most uplifting of trips, but I am very much looking forward to seeing and hearing about the recent history. I must say, it is always strange doing tours over here of different cities and actually seeing buildings that were damaged during the wars. Makes you really start to realize and be grateful for how lucky we are to live in a country so untouched by bombings and war. It is hard to wrap your head around the idea that the war was right here and the people here lived through it. Having read so many books over the years, and just finishing Schindler`s List recently (recommend to everyone!), it will be very interesting to see where these events actually took place.
The house that I live in was here during the war, such a strange thought. And it has a little shed out back where they used to keep the ice chest before there were refrigerators, and the grey water runs right outside through a little drain, there is even an outside bathroom. Canada is so cute and young compared to over here!
Not to mention talking to the kids here and they have no idea what a backyard is. Some of them have family in the States and all they talk about is how big their houses are and how much space everyone takes up. Here it is hard to find a house that is not attached to the one next to it. And if your `garden` is big enough to deserve a little patch of grass, you are basically upper class! A very different world view than we are used to, we are very spoilt!
Off to pack. Happy weekend everyone!
Our garden. Not beautiful, but big by London standards

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


I am seeing amazing places, I am doing amazing things. I am seeing amazing places, I am doing amazing things. I am seeing amazing places, I am doing amazing things.
This is what I was repeating to myself all day as an answer to the question: WHAT AM I DOING HERE??!!

When I called in for work this morning and they said that they had a half day afternoon for me if nothing else came in, I was quite happy to start planing how I would spend my morning. But then came the ominous ring and the offer of a full day's work at the 'tough' school I have been to before. I would be in a year 4 class, an age group that can go either way. Well, I am sure you can guess which way this day went.
It took me about 10 minutes to do the register as I tried to shout their names over all of the talking and them yelling at each other to shush up. Then I lay into them about yelling at each other and how we are not going to spend the day doing that, so they all need to listen up, quieten down and line up for assembly. By the time we are halfway to the hall (which you can basically see from the classroom) they are shouting and wild again, and some girl at the back is in tears. Wonderful. The head teacher stops us, lays into them herself and sends them back to class so she can talk to them. She sends in a TA instead who shouts at them and calls them disgraceful and leads them into the hall in silence.
The assembly is all about how the previous day the school got a complaint from a neighbour who called in to say that two students from the school, in uniform, had thrown stones at her window. When she went out to confront them, the boys swore at her, shrugged their shoulders and walked away. So these boys were being encouraged to fess up, and any tipsters were being welcomed too. Sounds like a lovely bunch.
We get back to class and I tell them I don't want to shout at them today and probably they didn't enjoy getting yelled at this morning already. They all look at me confused and say that they didn't get shouted at. Great, they are so immune to being yelled at that they consider it normal speech. Needless to say I could not teach this lot a single thing as they never stopped talking or fighting long enough for me to get a word in. I had to send for the TA in the next class several times just so I would not lose my mind. The only thing that did get their attention was when I finally got close to my breaking point, and my throat was getting sore from trying to talk over them, and I said I was waiting for them to shut their mouths. Apparently this was shocking to them? Otherwise they ran around wild most of the day. On top of this there were very little plans or work left out for me, so since I could not actually explain anything or do any sort of discussion, I was left to invent work from files I searched out on the computer in an attempt to keep them busy enough that they wouldn't be running completely wild all day long.
I was almost to the point of tears from frustration on several occasions. A kid who decided he would run around 'cleaning' rather than sitting on the carpet with the majority of the class ran in front of me and basically punched me in the face on the way by. I beat the damn 'quiet tambourine' until I thought I would be better off to run away and join a band. Nothing. I could have been in another room watching them on a CCTV camera for all they paid attention to me. And after all of this, a girl who had not listened to a single thing I'd said all day comes up to me and asks: Are you going to be here tomorrow? I like you.
Whaaa?? I do not understand kids in this country.
Hightlight of the day: a girl comes up to me and asks if stupid is spelled S-T or S-P and I get to think in my head a lot of funny comebacks that I wish I could say.
The dim light at the end of this dark tunnel of a day was that I have work for the next two days at a school I like, which means another 5 day pay check.
Three more work days until a week off and a trip to Poland, if I can make it.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Out and About

Another 5 day work week, man this could get tiring. Oh wait. After this week we have another week off for half term break. I guess I can make it until then.

Trafalgar Square
This week was rather nice. Christine's steak dinner was delicious. Thursday was our first attempt at our new "Come Dine With Me" night, also a success. Christine, Josephine, Jen and I decided that the only way we would make some decent meals was if we had someone to cook for, so once a week we are going to get together for dinner. We split up the meal into appy, main, dessert, drinks so we are each in charge of just one thing, which is manageable after working all day and commuting home. This week was Italian. I was in charge of the main and made some great spaghetti (if I do say so myself). Jo made antipasti and bruschetta (*lip smacking*), Jen brought a tiramisu, and Christine contributed the wine. It was lovely to have an evening of good food and conversation and of course many laughs. This week - French!

This weekend Andi came to town from Plymouth and Jan from Kent. We met up in Leicester Square on Saturday morning and got ourselves tickets to see Wicked. It was a pretty good show. The other really enjoyed it, I had just read the book and was kind of disappointed how different the two were. We then headed back to Wimbledon and met up with a few others for Jan's belated birthday dinner at Giraffe.
mmm sushi

Sunday Josephine and I booked our hostel in Krakow, Christine finally made up her mind to join us and we fly out on Sunday morning! Then we went into town to a nice shopping mall to look at all the pretty things we wish we could afford. We stopped for lunch at Yo!Sushi, where you just grab what you want off of the conveyor belt, genius! And, of course, delicious.
Now another sunny weekend is coming to an end. Fingers crossed for another busy work week so I can afford all of my bills and my flight home which  booked this week. The countdown is on :)

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

They're driving me mad, they're making me craaaaazy!!

How on Earth is it only Tuesday?? After a nice relaxing weekend, which of course breezed by, this week is off to a slow start.
Friday was charity drinks night at our agency. Free booze, you guessed it, I'm in! I also met up with some of the people I will be travelling to India with in July, which was exciting. I even met up with one girl again the next day and we went for a run through Wimbledon Common. It is beautiful in there, who knew?! Was nice to get on some trails again, but man what a different workout! I was dying towards the end of the run and all my stabilizer muscles were giving me grief the next day after letting them go slack from road running for so long.

Monday I headed out to a school and a year 4 class I have been in several times, even know most of their names. None of it helped. They were off the wall! So noisy all day. The day ended with me at the carpet with them and just as I was laying into two kids who were being so rude and wouldn't stop talking their teacher walks in. Great. This could go two ways, 1. She thinks: good this chick is on top of them. And I get called in to that class again. Or 2. She gets protective, all ``only I can yell at my students``and I never get called back. With less than 3 months left, I am indifferent at this point. After work I forced myself back out the door to go a for a run to burn off some of the tension of the day. Also, Spain in 7 weeks means it is time to get serious. Unless of course I spend the entire trip in a moomoo in 40 degree weather.

Today I was at another school I have been to before, but in a new class. Year 3. Also horrid. The teacher was in the school but didn't have everything planned so she was explaining things to me right up until the kids were walking in the door. She warned me about one kid who has a behaviour card, but mentioned nothing about any others.  Well the kid with the behaviour card was fine - just annoying. It would have been nice, however, to have a little mention of 2 other crazies who were instantly chasing each other in circles around the class. Other students cowered out of the way since one of the crazies is apparently known to just lash out and whack anyone in his way.. Off to a good start. I barely get through the register with the ability to hear my own thoughts still intact and crazy 1 is up again chasing after another kid with a ruler. Just as I grab his wrist mid-swing their teacher comes in and starts shouting at him, takes him to the corridor and tears a strip off him and that is all I see of him the rest of the morning.
At the end of lunch I realize that she still hasn`t given me any plans for the afternoon. So I look around the class for inspiration and start making up some slides. I am thinking to myself at this point, if I just put in earplugs for the afternoon, will anyone really notice? She comes in about 3 minutes before the bell rattling off what she wants me to do in the afternoon: a discussion based activity for an hour. Wonderful, because I have gotten about 3 words out sans interruption all day. I just keep thinking: 2 more hours!
We all somehow survive the day, but not without further degrading of my teaching philosophy. Mainly a big old drop kick to philosophy number 1: a teacher should never have to raise their voice to a child.  I hate doing it so much and it makes me feel so much like crap, but it is actually part of the school culture here.  Kids here actually don`t know the teacher who doesn`t shout. All teachers shout, kids shout at each other. It is depressing.
At least I have something to raise my spirits, Christine is cooking me steak for dinner! The first steak I`ve had since leaving Canada, she better not mess it up.  :)

Another funny note on British culture: they use praise we would use for dogs on children and praise we would use on children on adults.
ex: Tommy brings his work to teacher: "Good boy Tommy! Good boy!"
I help lady lift furniture into her car: "Thank you so much, you're a star"
(Yay, I'm a star!)

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Coupon Cutter

It's official, I have become a cheap bastard.  I know I have been told not to stress about money, I will be "taken care of".  But I don't take this as an invitation to live the high life without a care, I take this as "I don't have to actually starve myself".  Toward the end of last week I had 28 bucks in my wallet and by darn I was going to make it last until pay day - Tuesday.  I began by spending Friday night with Josephine and Christine. I headed to their place after I had already eaten my lovely dinner of steamed veg, and crackers with cheese and apple slices, yum yum.  We stayed in and watched a movie, actually the most depressing movie ever, House of Sand and Fog.

Saturday, Josephine and I had gotten crazy reduced tickets to the Real Food Festival, about 5 bucks. We figured it would be good for some free samples (like the fair we went to around Christmas time) and boy were we right! As we walked in we got a free canvas shopping bag, good start. Into this bag we placed 2 single servings of cereal that were handed to us - hello school lunch! Next we wandered up and down each and every row sampling cheese, chocolate, brownies, carrot cake, cheese cake, bread, honey, wine, wine, wine! Answer a few questions about organic food and get a free bottle of juice? Count me in. After we had seen all of the stalls I told Jo we should get some more cereal/granola - I was quite excited to have this for my lunch. She says "Won't they recognize us". Well, it's been a couple hours and probably a few hundred people have passed by them, I'm going to take my chances!
Bestest Buds <3 (in Edinburgh)

Sunday, we set out to a coffee and tea festival - you guessed it, free admission! It was actually not quite what we were expecting, but we still got a few free samples of chocolate coffee beans, iced teas and hot teas and some chocolate.  We walked around along Southbank for awhile then relaxed in Jubilee Gardens waiting for a cooking/comedy show that I had gotten us tickets to... for FREE! The cook/comedian was Hardeep Singh Kohli and basically he interviews some local chefs, restauranteurs, musicians, all whilst cooking up a spicy curry. At the end of the show they pass some out in true tv style. And Jo and I didn't get any! Not acceptable, so I take my time getting my sweater on and see a bunch of rowdies run up to the front and start dishing out their own. Again: I'm in!  Up we go as the set director is starting to stress over the people helping themselves so she starts to dish some out and I grab my chance, boy is it delicious! Too spicy for Josephine, but I am not passing up a free meal after a free show!
Next we head to meet up with some friends at a pub since one of our kind is heading back to the homeland. We buy a drink and it costs almost 5 bucks?! Too rich for my blood so I make it last over and hour. I grab my groceries for the week, which come to just under 10 bucks and am still doing good with my self imposed budget.
Payday came, though it was rather small, but it was enough to book my flight for our next term break which is only 2.5 weeks away. I will be heading to Poland for a few days to explore the city of Krakow. Can't wait.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

More Praha

Making the treats

Sunday morning we we served another lovely breakfast. European breakfast commonly consists of different breads, cheese, slices of meat, some fresh veg.  Jarmila also got some more traditional things which Jen was a little more daring to try some than I was. These were liver pate, smoked canned mackerel and caviar. After breaky we went into the city again, hoping that the clouds that were around this morning would burn off later in the day.

We explored the stalls of the Easter markets some more.  Many had little flying witches in celebration of witches night. This seems innocent enough, except that every ten seconds or so a stall owner, or annoying tourist, claps their hands and all of the witches start cackling in unison. We also stopped in the markets for a snack which we have been seeing around the entire trip: Trdlo. It is a sort of sweet bread baked wrapped around a stick so you end up with almost a hollow cinnamon bun. The bread is then rolled in sugar and almond bits. It was quite tasty.
Heading to metronome at the top of the hill

To work this off, we decided to climb up to the giant metronome on the hill and take in another view of the city. This metronome was built in the location where a giant statue of Stalin once stood. It is functioning as represents a remembrance for things past.

As we made our way up the sun came out and we had a beautiful day. The views from the top were fantastic looking out toward to river.  We walked from there over to the castle once again, since they day before it clouded over in the afternoon, so we wanted to see the views from that side in the sunshine as well. Along the way we found some beautiful gardens full of blooming tulips and other flowers.


Prague castle in the background

We eventually made our way back to the old city across the packed Charles Bridge where we found ourselves some gelato, then went back to the patio bar for a cool drink by the river.  Once again there was some live music for entertainment. Prague sure does love the oldies! Everywhere we went they were playing oldies, which we found quite amusing. At one point the guy on the patio even started sing Mellow Yellow!
Think he'd trade me jobs?

Finally it was getting towards dinner time and we had told Jarmila we wanted to take her out for a thank you dinner. She had said she would call her brother who has his own restaurant and see if we could come.  When we met her she told us that she had talked to him and gotten it all set up, but then he had called back a short time later and turns out he had forgotten one small detail - his restaurant was closed that day! So she took us to a little restaurant right near her place instead. It was a lovely dinner. Jen got the fish and said it was delicious despite coming with the head and tail still on! I got chicken breast baked with pears and goat cheese and it was scrumptious. Jarmila's brother met up with us at the restaurant for a glass of wine and we very much enjoyed listening to their stories of growing up and their cottage on a lake in Sweden where they trained squirrels. They also liked sharing their memories of long ago visits to Canada.
We were in bed early that night and left in the morning for the airport to make our way back to London. We had a long lay over in Cologne which made it a rather drawn out day, but what an amazing trip.
Glad I get to put Prague on my visited list.
Easter eggs at the market

Market stalls and horse carriage rides

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Prague, the Golden City

After two weeks off we were "back to work" Tuesday after Easter... Most primary schools had an inset day (Pro-D) and teachers had 2 weeks to recuperate, so we weren't too hopeful for work.  To top this off one of the the two bank holidays per year in this country is the first Monday in May AND add to that the Royals decided to get married on a Friday, and heck let's make that a holiday too, all means that there were very few working days in April and Michelle is VERY poor :(  But it also means lots of time to travel and spend this money that I do not have.

All this said, Friday morning I kept with the recent pattern and was up just after 4 am, way to early for my liking. I jumped a few buses, scoffed at the Wedding enthusiasts who were also up at this unnatural hour, and met Jen at the train station to head for our 8 am flight from Stansted airport to Prague via Cologne.

We arrived in Prague around lunch time and caught a taxi to Jarmila's house. How do I know someone in Prague? Well, about 20 years ago I was camping in the Okanagan with my parents and a lady from Czechoslovakia (yes, even before it became the Czech Republic) and her friend were camping next to us. On the weekend they locked their keys inside their car.  Apparently BCAA was non existent at this time because they were unable to get their car unlocked until Monday. So we invited them to our campsite for some food, and in good Canadian style eventually told them to come on over to the island to stay with us and see the sights. Which they did. And twenty years later, Jarmila, who was studying to be a journalist at the time (a ruse my Dad actually used to take them into the bush to work with him!), tracked down Dad on good ol' facebook! When I told my Dad I was heading to the Czech republic, he told me to send her an email. I did, and she graciously asked if I would like to stay with her, along with Jen who I was travelling with. We were very excited at this news for many reasons: we had not yet booked anywhere to stay, we were both feeling very poor, it is awesome to have insider tips when visiting a new place, and who wants to spend a night reading hostel reviews to get one that is affordable without being a risk to health and safety.

Some Easter Markets
Back to Friday. We grab a taxi from the airport and arrive at Jarmila's. She is there to greet us and she has made us lunch! We are happy travellers.  After lunch we head in to the city and Jarmila points us in a few directions, but by this time the 4 am wake up is making our brains foggy so we end up wandering aimlessly around the city in awe of our surroundings.

We walk through the Easter stalls where a man calls out "Hi Angel" then squirts at us with a water gun - not my idea of a great way to entice customers.  Another man looks at me and says something in a language I definitely do not speak and seems to offer me a bite of his falafel? I will pass, but thank you. The sun is still shining so we find a little terrace with live music down by the Vltava River for a nice drink.  Czech Republic has the highest beer consumption per capita than any country in the world, when in Rome...

We continue our sightseeing and make our way across Charles Bridge, a beautiful and extremely busy bridge over towards the castle side of town. Getting hungry we stop for dinner on a patio after reading about some delicious pizzas on the menu.  But we are told that the pizza is only sold downstairs in the restaurant. So we make our way downstairs into a psychedelic cave painted in many different neon colors with paintings of dragons and unicorns and topless faeries on the walls. Interesting ambiance, but the pizza was devine.

Saturday when we woke up Jen turns to me and says, "Sorry, did you hear my phone ring last night?"  "Nope, did you hear my alarm go off just after 4?"  "Nope." - Guess we make good room mates. We were served an amazing breakfast by Jarmila before we went into town for the free walking tour. The tour started at the gastronomic clock right in front of city hall. We were told that every hour on the hour the clock comes to life and someone gets married at city hall.  We laughed at first, but then started to believe this story as we saw no fewer than five brides that day.

Our tour guide was a girl from Texas, making for a lively and entertaining tour of the city - called the golden city because they used to store the city's gold on the roof of the castle, the castle largest in area in the world (though they all seem the same to me: big).

The last day of April is also Witches Night in Prague, a combination of Halloween and bonfire night. We had to check this out. Legend has it they used to burn the witches brooms, or light big bonfires to show the witches flying in the air, but what fun is that? Let's BURN THE WITCH!
Burn the Witch!!
Families crowded the park that we went to, kids and adults were dressed up. Some ladies dressed as witches sang for awhile. The songs seemes to be traditional as many locals were singing along. Then came the fun as a witch effigy was toted around the crowd and others dressed as witches and henchmen danced around. Finally she was paraded over to a big stack of wood where she was set alight. It was a very exciting, and slightly confusing ritual. While the witches seemes to enjoy random cackels, I took to randomly shouting: Burn the witch! Which brought strange looks from some, and chuckles by fellow tourists who spoke English. On the way home we stopped for some dessert then made our way home just as the thunder and lightening started. Of course the skies opened to the rain right before we got off the bus. Luckily it is a very short walk, but we were still soaked by the time we walked through the door.

Welcome to Prague, we are really starting to like this place!