15 October 2007

10-14 October 2007 - Poland


Krakow is a fantastic town...right from the first moment when we (me and Sheree who is another of the bride's friends) got off the train from the airport. It was such character and the historical buildings are wonderful. We visited the 'old town' which were were actually staying in (thanks to my sis for the Green Hostel recommendation) and the square (the oldest one of this size in Europe) which is really busy with tourists and locals.

We ended up having a dinner of dumplings which is very traditional in Poland. Can't say we stayed up very late but did go and have a traditional Polish beer called Tyskie - a very light beer and one I may actually try to find in the many Polish shops we have in London now.

We had arrived in the late afternoon and by sunset were were shivering away as the night temps for our stay in Poland was around zero at night and about 9 degrees during the day. I can still feel the cold! Thankfully I had my fleece with me but could have still done with another layer.


On the second day we got up (very) early and got a bus to Aushwitz and Birkenau concentration camps (costing all of 14zl return...which is a couple of pounds). It was a 90 minute journey time but between looking at the passing scenery and nodding off, the time went quite quickly. We got there just in time to join the English tour and over the next four hours we got to see, to some extent, the misery and horror that prisoners went through. There were some bits worse than others, especially when we saw the initial movie of the camp being liberated and the actual shoes, hair, glasses and clothes that the Nazis horded in warehouses.

What took me by surprise was the that the buildings at Aushwitz were made of brick and it looks more like a modern day prison than a concentration camp...I was expecting huts made of wood or something similar. Birkenau was more primitive with wooden huts (or what I would call barns) which was really barbarically basic. I have no idea how they could have survived a winter with no heating, barely any food, hard labour and one layer of clothes.

The guide ended the tour at Birkenau which housed most of the prisoners and I found that his grandfather had been held in the camp. It makes you realise that this can't simply be written down in history books and left as is, but it should continually highlighted as an example of what humans can do to each other and ensure it doesn't happen again (which of course it has in places like Croatia/Bosnia).

After the tour we headed back to Krakow and by the time we had found somewhere to have dinner and a coffee to warm up, we headed to bed for another early wakeup to see Wawel Hill - there is a castle and cathedral worth seeing there - and to get our train to Warsaw.


The train to Warsaw was on time and took us just over 2.5hrs. We got tickets the day before and it was actually cheaper to buy them at the train station than over the internet (which you can do). Warsaw was wet and cold when we got there but what warmed up us instantly was the beautiful hotel we were booked into (Le Royal Meridian Bristol). It is placed right by the 'old town' so we didn't have to go far to see some of the sites in Warsaw. The old part was actually rebuilt after WWII (as it was completely bombed out) and the Polish demolished a town in Germany to get the necessary material!

We didn't do much as it was wet and very cold so went down to the hotel bar for a couple of (very expensive) drinks and meet up with Ewa (bride), John (groom) and some of the groom's family. It wasn't a late night as we had the wedding the next day and the beers were just too expensive!!!

The wedding (Warsaw)

We woke on Saturday to see the sun shining but the temperature wasn't going to be hitting double figures as there was a bitterly cold wind blowing. We did go for a wonder into the old town again and visit a palace, but more to find a decent coffee than anything else. We needed to be ready for 1.30pm so after getting back and dressing, we were heralded into waiting taxis for the ride to St Anne's church. It is a stunning church, and is one of Poland's most notable ones.

The service (and Catholic mass) was done in Polish and though John is English he knew what was basically being said and what he was signing his name to!!! It was about 1hr and there were some photographs taken afterwards but it was so cold outside that we went back to the hotel. Some of us then headed to the 'local' bar for some more decently priced alcohol and the soccer for the blokes. We got back to the hotel for 7pm where the reception was being held.

Two thirds of the guests were Polish and the rest of us English but that didn't stop us socialising with each other as there were a few who understood English and translated. Ewa and John had 2 or 3 'English' people sitting at each table so we could get to meet some of the Polish wedding guests, and frankly, after the music began, everyone was up and moving around anyway.

It was such a fun evening, and with shots of Polish vodka to keep everyone going all of us made it till midnight when the wedding cake was cut. As to after that, some of it is clear and some of it is not so clear. I know I got to bed about 4am and think I was one of the last. The Poles certainly know how to party, and they certainly know how to drink vodka! I think the last of the guests left about 5am...and I don't think one English person had lasted the distance!!

The next morning, with many people feeling sorry for themselves, we checked out of the hotel, saw off the Polish contingent who were driving back to their homes, and headed to the airport for the flight home.

I will certainly go back to Poland (I think I invited myself to someone else's wedding during last night), and found the Polish to be very friendly and welcoming. There is certainly more to be seen in Poland!

02 October 2007

28-30 September 2007 - Devon, England (surfing)

Myself, and friends Sera and Tina decided to do a learn-to-surf weekend down in Croyde, North Devon (which came with all the 'oh my god, you're crazy, you'll freeze' ringing in our ears). Come 5pm Friday afternoon I was rearing to get out of London and head towards the coast, but getting there was another matter entirely.

After 7 hours we did eventually got to Croyde, but that was after idling for about 1.5hrs after an accident on the motorway. Half an hour later we passed another accident but this time we got through pretty quickly. It did mean we couldn't enjoy the scenery as it was about 12.30am when we got to our rented cottage 'Chapel Farm Guest House'.

I had looked up the weather forecast and it 'promised' sunshine and a very 'warm' 18 degrees. Unfortunately it didn't quite turn out that way and it was a bit grey and overcast when we got up the next morning.

After breakfast we turned up at the surfing school and got kitted out in wetsuits and booties. We then got a lesson in the sandpit which showed us the necessary basics to standing up on a surfboard. Pretty easy on land....not so easy on the water! We had booked lessons for the whole weekend, which meant 2hrs in the morning and afternoon on both the Saturday and Sunday.

Amazingly the water was warm and with a 7mm full wetsuit on, we were all pretty toasty while (trying to) surfing the waves. It really wasn't as easy as it appears, and I have a new found respect for surfers as it is a hard workout and by the end of the first lesson on Sat morning we were all feeling pretty tired. You literally have to heave yourself onto the surfboard, start paddling like crazy to catch the wave, push yourself up to a standing position and then try to stay on! Then you have to drag yourself back out into the surf, avoid other surfers and crashing waves, and do it all over again...and again...and again.

For us beginners, we also had to deal with swallowing water, having water rushing up our noses when doing a nose dive because your weight is in the wrong position, and also the constant face plants and belly flops when you fall off the board. All the instructors were patient and I can still hear their 'paddle faster' screams as we were trying to catch the waves! They are all surfers themselves and know what they are talking about. The school we went through has a 1:6 ratio, so we all got individual attention which helps a lot.

As part of the surfing package we got lunch includes which was delicious. In fact, I would go back to Croyde for just the food as all the meals we got over the weekend were really tasty and reasonably priced.

After the Saturday afternoon lesson, we were so tired that we headed back to our cottage, had showers, a wine or beer, and dragged ourselves out for dinner. It didn't help that Croyde was packed and the restaurants/bars were packed (all 3 of them), but we eventually sat down for a meal and then dragged ourselves back to the cottage and ended up going to bed...very early....(far too embarrassed to say what time!)

The next day we woke up with very achy muscles and wondered how on earth we were going to surf that morning. It was slightly colder as well and still grey and overcast. We warmed up pretty quickly after literally dragging on wet wetsuits inch by inch...very ungraceful getting into them and out of them, and very unforgiving on the figure! But we got there in the end and headed towards the beach for a lesson...this time the three of us had an instructor to ourselves. We were all able to catch the waves and get up on the board so we were improving...gradually! That afternoon we had another lesson but the water was much more flat and we were getting cold towards the end.

We had such a great time in Croyde (which is a lovely little village), and I would recommend surfing to anyone...it's such a buzz when you catch the wave and manage to stand up and stay up. If you do go to Croyde, the Surfing Croyde Bay surfing school is a great school to go through. We may well have been bitten by the 'surfing bug' as myself and Sera are already trying to organise a surfing week in Portugal over Xmas and New Year!