Sunday, 3 February 2013

Trouble in Transit

I woke up at 5am ready to catch a high speed train to Paris. It was a lot cheaper to fly from Paris than Amsterdam, and I had a spare day on my Eurail pass, so I thought I was being savvy.

I rushed around, checking out and printing boarding passes while the receptionist half laughed half sighed at me. Then I got to the tram stop at 5.45 to see the first tram roll past. My train was 6.30. I had no idea what to do, when I turned around to see a taxi. He was saying 25 euros to the airport, it was only 15 to the station. He was really nice and even told me how to get to the Thalys platform. A lucky save.

That train was really awesome, it felt like an aeroplane taking off everytime they put the train up to full speed!

I arrived in Gard du Nord station. After waiting in the wrong info que for half an hour, I was redirected to another queue. I finally got to the front when the man told me the train to Beauvais Airport you needed just left ten minutes ago. I asked him if that meant I missed my plane, he shrugged and said sorry.

I was absolutely devastated. I didnt know what to do, but my rail pass worked for the whole day so I went out to Beauvais to see if I could negotiate or rebook. It was a grimy country town, an hour out of Paris. The airport was absolutely tiny, and of course nobody was manning the Ryan Air counter, because its an online booking company. Luckily my ticket was really cheap so it was a financial loss, I was just angry at myself for being so unorganised. I definitely wont do it again.

On the train back to Paris I devised a plan. I had no wifi access, and my cellphone had no battery, so options were limited. It was either spend a night in Paris and get a flight the next day, or catch an overnight train to Barcelona and just kill time all day. I went for the latter. By the time I had booked everything, it was 5pm, the train was at 10pm. I had dinner and sat around the rail station. I saw a boy try to steal a bag from the person next to me when three under cover cops sitting around leapt out of nowhere and bodyrolled him, before arresting. Riveting entertainment!

I went over the the correct train station, concerned my bag would give out, like it did the last time I visited Paris train station. I had realised another problem, because my friend Millie had booked our hostel for the supposed second night in Barcelona, I didn´t know the name or directions. With no internet I had no idea what to do.
I sat down in my seat, and a boy came over and accused me of taking his seat in French. After a struggle he sat next to me, when an Canadian guy said behind me, Í had no idea if I was in the right seat either´. This was Adam, who was also travelling to Barcelona, and who had Polish heritage.

I got to talk to him properly in Port Bou, the station we had a two hour wait for the next train. He was my age and had just finished acting school. There was no internet in Port Bou, but he agreed to help me in Barcelona. There was a blood red sunrise, and it was so warm. I was really glad to be in Spain.

In Barcelona station it looked more like an airport than station. Adam and I stole MacDonalds free wifi, I used his iphone to check directions and my emails. Then we said goodbye, I caught the metro and easily found my hostel.

I rang the buzzer and no one answered. Eventually a boy walked past the door and I knocked. He opened it and carried my bag down the stairs for me. I walked into the lobby and the first thing Dean the receptionist asked me was Do you want juice, coffee or tea? Those were the exact words I needed to hear after the disaster travelling which took over 24 hours.
We struck real gold with the hostel, it is amazing.

Amsterdam Continued...

On the second day in Amsterdam I woke up kinda late, around 10.30. Tiemi was packing her broken bag and the Russians were on their ipads. Me and Tiemi made a rendezvous for 4pm next to the big statue in dam square.

I left at midday, attempting to have a stylish day, because it wasn´t that cold, although it wasnt gloriously sunny like the first day. I got a solo Asian tourist to take a photo of me next to the I Amsterdam sign, which was just outside the hostel. Then I bought a ticket for the Van Gogh museum. I went to find it but of course got mildly lost. Eventually i went to a cafe for breakfast because I was starving. The cafe was super nice and had pictures of celebrities from the classic hollywood era drinking coffee on the walls. There was mostly older people inside, breakfast was served on a little silver tray, and there were English newspapers on the commonal dining table. I read the New York Times Global Edition, I have so much news to catch up on! Apparently there was a fire in a club in Santa Maria, Brazil that killed over 230 students, almost as bad as the Christchurch earthquake. Santa Maria was where Livia or Greg was from I think- if not them, someone else I have met. I finally made it to Van Gogh, I had to cross a bridge that lifts up to let boats through to get there.
The exhibiton was really great. I had to immediately buy a notebook to write down things it made me think about, just like in the Tate Modern.
When I finished it was 3pm, raining and dark outside. Losing all glamour I put on my red beanie and bought a tourist umbrella which was bright yellow and said ´Dutch Cheese´all over it. Along with my ochre pashmina and beige coat I looked very Van Gogh inspired.

I run into Tiemi in an archway opposite the momument we planned to wait. She had spent the day trying to find a new suitcase because hers was broken. We went to an Italian restaurant which seemed really nice and cheap... we stayed for hours because we didnt want to go into the rain outside. During my cup of tea I saw something bolt across the floor out of the corner of my eye. My extreme dislike of feral rodants at once put me on high alert. Soon enough, a little mouse appeared under a distant table. I put my hand up for the waiter and told him quietly. However, as he walked away the mouse darted towards our table, I leapt out of my chair and screamed while Tiemi laughed. The few occupied tables looked up. We paid quickly and left.

I said goodbye to Tiemi in the lobby in the hostel. I lay in bed for a while trying to muster the energy to go out and make the most of my favourite lighting conditions for photography, city lights and rainy streets.
I got absolutely soaked, right through my jacket, but I produced some nice photos of restaurants and canals.
When I arrived back there were two crazy Australian girls in the room, annoying the Russians.
They were loud and interesting, travelling together all over Europe and on the home stretch like me. We planned to spend time the next day.

Day 3. I got up late again, the Australians were still asleep. Eventually they woke and we planned to have a drink together in the evening. I wandered the streets of Amsterdam, marvelling at the history visible in the canal houses, leaning out and on each other like crooked teeth. My imagination kept running away from me of times of pirates and ladies dressed up in huge dresses in the 1800s.

I had a really great coffee in a cafe on the corner of a canal street. There were big glass windows so you could watch the bikes zipping by and the occasional van squeezing through. The coffee was just as good as Berlin, and I got a yum BLT which was served open on a plate. I went to see Anne Franks house. My year 10 English teacher Mrs Pound lied to us, Anne Franks room was small, but it wasn´t obscenely so. It was about the size of my room in Aro Valley last year. The whole exhibition was really good, but really sad. I spent a lot of time trying not too cry, although other people were. Anne´s house was in the art district, I would have liked to look around the shops better but it began to rain again. I raced back to home base. Sorry to say, Dutch Cheese succumbed to the weather.

Me and the Aussies went out to some pubs in the evening, a nice way to spend my last night in Amsterdam. They had lots of funny stories to tell about their travels, and highly reccommended Barcelona, my next destination. I was itching to go South.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Arriving in Amsterdam!

I really wasn't expecting this, but the city of Amsterdam is truly beautiful. But coming from Hamburg anything would be better. When I arrived the sun was shining!

The train stopped at 3am in Hannover because the heater was broken. I had noticed... it was absolutely freezing in my compartment, I only had my pashmina as a blanket. It must have been less than 5 degrees. I met a Kiwi with long blonde hair and small glasses who came into the compartment to talk with a German girl. he was visiting a son in Denmark but lived in the Netherlands. Despite claiming he had lived in Europe his whole life, the more he spoke, the more his accent turned into Jermaine Clement's and the more mine grew stronger. I could hear my own accent, it was really strange. His manner was like Jermaine's too, 'Err, so, how long have you been in Europe?'
We moved to a better heated compartment and Jermaine sat in front of me, stretched over the couch to talk with me. I was exhausted and was glad when he finally got off. I found the hostel easily, it seemed nice. Then I took to the streets before check-in, roaming the canals and little cafes. Everyone rides bikes there, not just young people. I saw many older ladies zipping along the streets. They even have bikeways on the road side, to cross the road you first cross the bike lane, then the car lane, then the tram, just for one side! Considering I still haven't adjusted to the right-hand lane driving, I nearly died everytime I crossed the road. I spent the morning hunting the perfect coffee, but was concerned with confusing a 'coffee shop' with a cafe, they are quite different in Amsterdam. Everyone seemed to smoke weed there, instead of drunkards wandering the streets like Eastern Europe or anywhere else, people are high.

I checked into the hostel at 2pm out of pure exhaustion. Some Russian kids were in my room, I got the impression they didn't like me. I was actually sleeping in one girls bed when they came in, a stuff up at reception. I was feeling lonely until Tiemi came in, I feel like I have known her my whole life. She goes to the same classes as Jessica from Brazil, she had just done two months with AIESEC in Ukraine until her project fell apart, just like mine. She had been in Amsterdam for two days already so she gave me a full tour of it. we went to dinner together to a Brazilian restaurant where she spoke to the waiters in Portugese and went crazy over the food... just like Favela and feijoada at the Brazilian party in Poland. She had actually been telling me about the cultural vacuum which is Ukraine in the hostel when the Russians overheard and got upset. But seriously it sounds awful compared to Poland. The best thing she did there was a tour of a political prison where the tour guide had been detained for 3 months during Soviet reign. He told her about the torture methods they used on him in each room with a smile on his face, maybe because he is free now? Incredible.
One week she was also expected to share a single bunk with another girl, without a mattress and with blood stained sheets! We have nothing to complain about in Poland!

Together we walked through the red light district at night, taking advantage of company for sight seeing you don't want to do alone. It wasn't seedy like Hamburg, there were tonnes of tourists there taking photos.
I was knackered by midnight, I could barely talk to her by the time we made it home.

Hamburg

I'm playing catch up on all my blog posts. I've written everything in my diary, I just haven't had time (or internet access) to share them yet, so sorry for the bombardment!

I went to Hamburg because Louise had heard it was a really beautiful place and it was on the way to Amsterdam. My friends had left for Italy earlier so I had no hope of catching them up. Well, Hamburg was a near disaster. I had no internet access, apart from on my Polish sim in my phone. I arrived after using my Eurail pass for the first time, no worries! I had directions to the Meininger Hotel, where I had booked to stay, but they went from Altona Hbf (main station). The train stopped at Hamburg Hbf, and a man came on the overspeaker, barking in German. Everyone got off the train, I had no idea what was going on. Eventually I asked a man with long white hair who was leisurely reading a paper what was going on. He said there were railworks happening, we had to take the subway. He was going to Altona too, so he escorted me the entire way, I am truely grateful to him. He also asked if I was danish at one point, slightly odd!
I arrived in the hostel and the room was really nice. There was a bathmat outside the shower. I cannot express to you how luxurious this was to me, a bathmat to dry your feet on! I hadn't seen one since NZ, in November. After my shower I decided to go look at the waterfront which seemed close on the map. Well, I walked North West, thinking I was going South East. I ended up in a redlight district and freaked out. Fun fact - Hamburg has the biggest redlight district in Europe. I took a train out of there, because it was dark and seedy to the main station again. Once again I walked down a brightly lit street, only to find it was also a redlight district. Totally freaked out I bought a slice of pizza to go and went back to the hostel a bit depressed. I had no one to talk too, everyone in my room was really quiet and unfriendly. I went to bed early.

The next day I got up a walked the correct way to town. I first thing I saw was the ice covered river and the industrial shipping port. This made me absolutely hysterical. What am I doing here??? I walked around with a huge grin for several hours.
I walked into the fischmarket, then up to Reeperbahn, the famous red light district to see what all the fuss was about, but I made sure it was the midday of the day. It was seedy with lots of neon lights and posters. I went back to the water just as it started sleeting like crazy. Looking for shelter I paid to do a tour bus of the city. It was awesome, the town houses north of Hamburg were truly beautiful. There were also canals with huge stone buildings lining them... Leo and Tatiana might be in Venice, but I'm in Hamburg! The rivers and waterfront were interesting... also interesting was the fact that everyone else on this tour was a middle aged couple.

The evening was worse weather wise. I had checked out of the hostel and my train wasn't until midnight. I went to Currypapa to buy dinner, a currywurst, like a frankfurter with tomato sauce and curry powder covering it.  It was a Sunday so literally everything else was shut. Including the mall. This was perhaps one of the low points of travelling alone, feeling like a homeless person with no place to be and no one to talk too. Then I eventually found a cinema. All the films were in German, but Life of Pi was about to play and as I had already seen it I thought dialogue was less important. So I watched a film, understanding very little. After I went back to the hostel, grabbed my bags and went to the train station to wait. I was glad to get out that place. A random decision to go somewhere strange didn't really pay off.

Berlin

Wow. This city is seriously amazing. Me and Louise decided from day one that we didn't want to be tourists in Berlin, but rather go to cafes and go op-shopping. I arrived on Monday, and Louise and I were ecstatic. A big city with cars, asian food, English signs, and young people at every turn! It felt like coming home after Wroclaw.

The first evening we tried Currywurst, a Berlin meal. Its pretty much a huge sausage covered in tomato sauce and curry powder. Surprisingly delicious. Then still buzzing from the new setting, we walked around the local streets. The first shop we hit was turkish, selling Baklava, our favourite sweet from Turkey. Then the second shop was also Turkish, but selling German frites, which were cut like crisps but were wedges. We also bought flavoured Ayran from the shop. We walked past graffiti murals, op shops which we made a mental note of, and trendy bars. We are staying in Mitte, which is apparently a hip suburb. There was a Brazilian glow in the dark, vegan shoe-shop; shops which sold hipster bicycles; clothing stores; an old school cinema; Vietnamese, Thai and Japanese restaurants; clubs; and finally an open cafe. We went inside to find they sold flat whites (I thought this coffee was exclusive to Australia and New Zealand), and Chai Lattes... I can't tell you how happy we were in this metro multicultural city after two months in Poland drinking Starbucks.


The next day the South American contingent of Favela went on a free walking tour. Perhaps Louise and I should have done this because we spent about 6 hours lost on the city streets. But we were happily lost. We started our day accidently heading north until we found a coffee shop which would have looked at home on Wellington's Cuba Street. We went into every expensive designer store, trying on their coats in a nice suburb. We discovered this little alley covered in amazing graffiti murals, filled with museums, art stores, galleries and a cinema. We ate cheap and cheerful Chinese food and after 4 hours of searching, found the river! It was night when we got to Alexander Platz, which turns out is only a few minutes from our hostel. We are both terrible at directions! Louise ate Dunkin Doughnuts for the first time.

That night we did a pub crawl. We missed the ordinary crawl, so we had to do the alternative one. We met a  flower power bar, decorated like it was from the seventies. We waited a while until other people began to arrive. Lots of Australians, and one Kiwi who was from Lower Hutt. We also visited a vampire bar, an absinthe bar, and then finally a club playing 80s music in an old garage somewhere miles out of town. The guides left us there and gave us directions to get home which I promptly forgot. As we were leaving because the music was so bad we ran into three guys wandering around outside. They asked us if there were any good bars around... no there wasn´t. So they walked back to town with us. On a tram a crazy religious guy tried to find a reason to rant at us, at first he thought I was Irish, but on discovering I was a NZer he couldn´t find much to say except for that we were associated with the Queen. The Brazilians left us as we got back into town, Louise and I decided to follow the British boys we had met to a club called Cookies. The club was absolutely amazing... it had a main bar and dancefloor upstairs, but lots of little themed rooms beneath it, and other dancefloors to be discovered. We decided to leave around 6am despite the British boys calling us weak. They were really funny, Louise had a massive snowball fight with one on the walk, and we spent a good hour trying to tell them they pronounced Europe wrong... its not Yorrup.

The next day was a bit of a fail. Due to booking issues we were meant to check out, I made it but Louise didn't. Then I followed the Brazilians to the other side of town to go shopping while Louise slept. Urban Outfitters is a really great shop, I wish it would come to NZ. Plus they had a sale so I bought some new leather boots. Then I went back to the hostel and slept.

The next day me and Louise decided to stop being absolutely pathetic tourists and go look at the wall. We got distracted of course by The Barn, a trendy coffee shop run by Australians. Really good coffee. we went to an open shop where Louise bought second hand denim Docs. We tried to find an ATM for me to get cash out, but for some reason there are nearly none in the whole of Berlin, its really strange. Then we went to urban outfitters again. We had lunch at a japanese shop, then finally made it to the wall around 4pm, in the dark. The guy in the trainstation thought I was mad because I asked him, excuse me, is the wall close? His reply, its right outside, how can it ever be closed... its a wall. Oh dear.
We walked a length of it before giving up because we got too cold.

The next day we attempted another tourist activity. Unfortunately this was stumped by the Federer vs. Murray tennis match in the Australian Open. We sat in the hostel bar yelling at the TV until 1pm things like ´Change your shorts Andy, theyre too tight´ and 'if Roger doesnt win this I will die'. The receptionist, Barney Stinson lookalike was even kind enough to put the sound on for us, but Germans never smile when they do something nice for you, they´re so funny. We made it to Bramberg Gate (is that what its even called) also at nighttime. We had to say goodbye to Sara, Joao and Jessica that day. They woke us in the morning so it felt like a dream, suddenly they were gone. I said goodbye to Louise the next day as she rushed late for her train. It was really difficult. I later headed to the train station on Barney's instructions, to catch a train to Hamburg on a whim.

Berlin was truely great, the metropolitan paradise we had been craving in Poland. I never heard anyone speak German the entire time there, we had a wake up call when trying to book a movie... 'sorry all the films are in German'.





Thursday, 24 January 2013

Learning to Say Goodbye

We have left Poland! It came somewhat unexpectedly, as we sat on the train. I was well aware we were going to Germany but it did strike me I was leaving Poland until I saw a train station with a German name. Sure enough I receive a text a few seconds later from my phone company saying I had switched country. Suddenly I was back to square one, in a foreign place I had never been before!

The first person I had to really say goodbye to was Emsi. We had been to the Brazilian party in Wroclaw and had arranged to meet her at 8pm. But thanks to the party and a few drinks (and hiding from Fat Jesus), it slipped everyone's minds. When we received a hurt message from Emsi, we didn't know what to do. It was late at night and her house was miles away. But someone (I'm going to guess Douglas) worked out what tram to catch, so we left, we really had no other option. Seeing her seemed awkward, sitting in her kitchen without enough chairs, late at night. We had half an hour before the last bus, so we talked about inconsequential things to pass the time. Eventually we excused ourselves and hugged her, promising to come back to Poland in a few years. I think Louise found it the hardest, as they were closest, and she didn't even want to go in the first place. I can understand that, it was how I felt when my friend Millie left for England.
Next was Rachel, who has been in my school group the whole time. It was in Hostel Babel and everyone was in the hall. After seeming calm Rachel suddenly burst into tears and hugged me, saying she would miss me so much. I hadn't expected to feel so sad, and soon I was crying along with Louise, Tatiana and Sara.
Since then everyone has been slipping away. We didn't met people from AIESEC that we promised to, once again thanks to the party. Some of the interns like Bruce left early in the morning and we didn't wake up in time. I still feel bad about that because some of them were a bit hurt.

Tomorrow I say goodbye to Joao, Sara, and Jessica, then Louise the next day. I will meet Leo, Tatiana and Douglas in Barcelona later. I don't want to say goodbye to my favela, and I don't think any of us realised the day had come so soon. We shared such a unique experience with each other, and now we won't see each other for at least a number of years, probably never all in one place. I think ending a project like this really makes you realise you need to appreciate time with people while you have it, because no experience ever repeats. Poland was awesome, and I will definitely go back to visit my friends in Wroclaw, Piotrkow and Olkusz. Even though Berlin is slick, multicultural and efficient, the people here don't have the same heart as the Polish.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Two Weeks in Wroclaw

Hello, I haven't written anything for quite a while, mainly due to the fact my life has become a bit mundane.
I have just been working in schools everyday. The schools were both big haunted buildings, with squeaky lino floors. There has been a mix of students; the younger ones around 14 years old were hyperactive and eager to learn. Then I had a class of 20 year old boys who were the opposite, and then a school of nerds and I'm not even joking. The 'teaching' is both easy and tiring.

The rest of the time we have just been experiencing Wroclaw. Coming from New Zealand, I think people believe if you are anywhere else in the world, you will be in awe of your surroundings all the time. But its not really true, life goes on here just the way it does in New Zealand, the only difference is that in 4 hours you can reach some of the most famous cities in the world, which is impossible from New Zealand's isolated position. Most of the our time in Wroclaw is spent in Babel Hostel, with its gritty floor boards, panelled wooden doors, the smell of two minute noodles and humidity, and the sound of Henryk's unstable laughter. The evenings (midnight - 5am) were spent in the dark commonroom, watching the Australian Open live, eating noodles, snugged on the couches. After school we walked around one of the various malls in the city, eating frozen yoghurt, using up McDonalds vouchers, trying on new clothes and looking for cheap shoes that have good grip and are waterproof. The weekends were spent trudging up to Market Square through the lumpy hard-packed and gritty snow. We havent seen sunshine since before Christmas, and this week we have barely seen more than an hour of daylight thanks to our nocturnal tendencies. My camera has remained locked away because I don't feel touristy enough to get it out and take photos. Other things which are part of the Wroclaw experience are the blue trams trundling along their tracks, watching out for rogue ticket officers everytime the tram doors open, jaywalking then sprinting to avoid a speeding driver and praying that your shoes don't slip on the ice, eating at Slodnecko, an awful soviet style lunch place and not wanting to put your bag on the floor or wanting to eat the oily chicken, queuing at fresh market to buy water, beer, chips, two minute noodles and bread, counting groszy (equivalent to cents) on bar counters to purchase beer to the waitress's disdainful looks, slipping over in snow (especially if you are Louise), having snowball fights all the time, being freezing cold no matter what you wear.

Some of the highlights of the last two weeks include ice skating at a rink with people from another AIESEC project, being mashed in the face with a snowball from Louise inside the McDonalds queue then swearing loudly in Polish accidently, Emsi and Leo having burping matches (this isn't really a highlight, it just happened frequently), finding a coffee shop with really attractive waiters (one that Louise accidently swore at which led us to start up a conversation), eating Pierogi in Emsi's flat, watching Life of Pi at the cinema around 10pm at night, trying to go to a new bar for once but always ending up at the communist pub, being called a 'f***ing idiot' by a Polish boy in a club then spending the rest of the night bagging on Polish boys and eating pizza angrily, playing a Brazilian card game in a pub, the fact that Babel Hostel got a coffee machine, Favela parties (the impossible drinking game Louise found that nobody won, and Bruce's teacup shots of Vodka which destroyed him and Andrew). We went to a Brazilian party in a really nice polish apartment, where they had a mini BBQ inside which meant the door had to be kept open letting in icy air. There was so so much meat (real meat!), everyone was Brazilian apart from some random Poles, and the music was really good.

But there were also some bad moments this week, roughly half our the interns were meant to be going to other cities but everyone swapped groups due to who wanted to go, causing a huge commotion. Everyone got really stressed and Tatiana and Magda both cried. A Brazilian couple (Livia and Greg) moved into Favela and the remaining people (Leo, Joao, Louise and I) decided to focus all our efforts on making them want to leave. It wasn't hard considering we went to bed everyday at 4am and they had to get up at 6am, but Greg pretty much attacked Louise on the third day. He chased her out of the room with his arms outstretched after she had been jokingly swearing in Portugese, and I thought he was going to hit her but she started screaming in time. The hostel owner's daughter who was on duty at the time also joined the shouting match to vent some issues she seems to have with Louise specifically. ('Are you a giiirrrl or a wooomaan?') The couple moved out just in time for Douglas to get his bed back in Favela, and for us to have a leaving party. We also had an AIESEC intervention to talk about problems in the project. This went pretty well although we were worried because we were going to announce that we were leaving the project. The intervention ended in shotting some really nice vodka, apparently this is normal in Poland? Favela is also disgusting, it has reached a new low with chairs and suitcases and washing line literally barricading the second half of the room. There are socks and rubbish all over the floor and even the hostel staff have given up on cleaning it.

And now its time to say goodbye. With only 6 interns staying in the project this week, everyone else is going separate ways. When we watched the Life of Pi I couldn't help think about the fact we had to say goodbye to each other soon, but I won't be like the tiger and not look back!