|Trevi Fountain – Rome|
The following weekend, I went to Rome! I left early Saturday morning and took Monday off to come back that evening. Adriana (one of my friends who was also an au pair in France) was coming to Italy with her fiancé, so Helena (my other au pair friend) and I decided to make the trip to Rome to see her after 8 years. Helena and I both got to Rome at about noon so we were able to check into our airbnb and have a much-needed lunch. This trip, I decided to treat myself and buy good food instead of finding the cheapest deal and being disappointed, so this food experience in Italy was MUCH better than my last. We did a bit of walking around and then found a nice cafe in front of the Pantheon to have drinks until Adriana and Jake showed up. It was so great to all be reunited again! We didn’t end up having dinner until about 11 so it ended up being a late night. The next morning, it was the first Sunday of the month so all museums were free! We went for lunch and coffee, and then decided to try out the Colosseum. The line-up was so long and we kept second-guessing whether we should stay in line or not. Luckily, it moved very fast and we ended up getting tickets within half an hour. It was neat seeing the Colosseum on the inside, but it probably wasn’t anything I’d pay money to see (which thankfully, I didn’t have to that day!). With our tickets, we also got free entrance into the Roman Forum, so we took some time walking around that and then headed back into central Rome to meet up with Adriana and Jake for dinner. That was our last night together and then the next morning, we had all booked tickets to the Vatican (at different times). Helena and I went for lunch before heading to the Vatican Museum. The Sistine Chapel seemed to be at the very end of the museum and we were forced to walk through all of the other rooms with no air conditioning. Both of us were ready to be out within five minutes! Unfortunately, there weren’t any other exits so we just had to follow the crowd. They’d have wide halls to walk through with the art on either side and then they’d just have one small door at the end of each hall, where hundreds of people had to go into. After doing that over and over again for about twenty minutes, we finally got to the Sistine Chapel! It was super quiet and we weren’t allowed to take pictures, but it wasn’t as great as I thought it was going to be. Honestly, I thought some of the other ceilings in the museum were nicer. After seeing the Chapel, we saw that we’d have to continue with the crowd to finish the rest of the museum so we snuck through the “tour guides only” door to escape. We then went to St. Peter’s Basilica, which I’ve already seen before but it was still just as beautiful. We had some gelato before making our way back to central Rome to get our suitcases and catch our buses back to the airport.
The next weekend, I went to The Kooks concert, which was great! It was at Alexandra Palace, which is on a hilltop so it has a beautiful view of London. They played all of their classic songs, so everyone got into it. However, it was a standing concert so I was definitely exhausted by the time it finished. The following day, I went to The English School of Falconry with Becky so that we could meet some owls and eagles! We had to take a train ride to Bedford (which took about two hours) and then take a bus to Cotton End, which is where the farm was located. It was such a cool experience – not only being able to hold the owls and eagles, but actually being able to have them fly to and from your arm! The day showed me just how much of a personality birds have; it was a really entertaining day!
On Monday, I went to the Close Talker concert. I remember thinking I’d be lucky to watch them ONCE while I was in London but I was seeing them for the third time! I walked into the bar and saw someone who looked familiar, but often my mind plays tricks on me when I’m abroad and I think I see people I know. However, he half-smiled at me so I was like, “Hello? What are you doing here?” (Really hoping that this was the guy who I thought he was). Luckily, he replied and said that he and his wife were travelling and decided to come to the Close Talker concert. I hadn’t seen him since high school, which was almost ten years ago! Anyway, I joined them for drinks and for the concert. On Tuesday night, I went out for dinner with the Biology department and then on Wednesday night, I went to my last musical with Kim 😦 We decided to go to School of Rock, which was really well done! The guy who played the main character was so much like Jack Black. On Thursday, I went to get my last vaccine and to drop off (what I thought was) my last bag at Kim’s, and then Friday was my last night! I went out for drinks with my flatmate and her friends before packing up the last of my stuff and cleaning my room. I was moved out by 8:30 Saturday morning. I don’t know HOW I thought it would be a good idea to plan my trip the day after my last day of work AND move out at the same time, while making sure two year’s worth of stuff was packed away. Somehow, I did it and I’m quite impressed with myself!
On Saturday, I flew to Vilnius, Lithuania. Apparently that day, the IT system crashed in both Gatwick and Heathrow airports so most of the flights were delayed or cancelled. Lucky for me, I flew out of Luton so my flight wasn’t affected (although it was 20 minutes late). I got to Vilnius at about 7:30pm so I went out for dinner and had some amazing pea soup. I wish I got to explore more of the city because it was really cute, but I had an early morning the next day and had to get up at 4:30. I caught an uber to the airport (which only cost me 2 euro!) and then flew to Kyiv at 7am. I arrived at 8:30 but by the time I got to my hostel, it was about 10:30. I couldn’t figure out where my hostel was located or how to get in because there weren’t any signs and my phone was almost dead. I ran to McDonald’s to get wifi and found out I had found the right place but had to put in a code to get in. I finally got in, went up the four flights of stairs and pressed the doorbell about 15 times but no one came! I ended up sitting on the steps for about a half hour and then tried again, and was let in! The hostel had a brand new kitten, which was good and bad cause I couldn’t breathe most of the time I was there, but she was so cute and playful so I couldn’t resist.
|St Andrews Church – Kyiv|
That day, I was determined to find perogies and borscht so I looked up one of the cheaper places to go to and walked there (which took about a half hour). The thing with Kyiv is they’ve really preserved their culture, in that they don’t have signs written in English and not many people speak English. Unlike many other major cities, where they’ve changed their ways to get more tourism. I admired this about Ukraine, but it also made me feel somewhat ashamed because I didn’t know the language, and I couldn’t even understand the alphabet. Lucky for me, the restaurant I went to ended up having an English menu so I got my borscht and perogies! After lunch, I decided to go on a walking tour which focused on the Soviet history. I ended up being the only person on the tour, and the tour guide said I looked more Ukrainian than a tourist (yay!). She also was really surprised when I knew about all of the foods, but I spoke English. That evening, I went for sushi cause it was so cheap! I was able to get two sets of sushi, a cider, and dessert for less than ten pounds (less than it would cost for ONE set of sushi in London!). The next morning, I went on another walking tour, which covered the ancient history of Ukraine. I then went for lunch with a bunch of people on the tour and we went to a buffet-like Ukrainian restaurant. There were four types of perogies and I asked for the ones that looked most similar to home and the lady gave me seven(!). However, when I cut into the first one, I was disappointed to see that there was meat inside. I tried it anyway and it wasn’t too bad! However, when I cut into my second one and an Australian girl sat beside me and asked if I knew what was inside, she informed me that it was liver! I was then thrown off of the perogies cause my mind took over my tastebuds. After lunch, I went to a cave monastery with a couple of the guys but the caves closed as soon as we got there. We decided to explore the monastery grounds for a few hours since we were there, and then we went for dinner. I went to bed early that night cause I had to catch my train to Lviv at 7 the next morning.
|Bell Tower to St Sofia Cathedral|
The trip to Lviv was five hours and I’m not kidding – it looked exactly like Saskatchewan the entire time! I was shocked as to how much it resembled home. I got to my hostel early that afternoon and then I went for lunch where I again had perogies. I then explored the little city, but it rained most of the time I was there. Lviv is a small and charming city and most people I met raved about it, but I ended up getting quite bored while I was there and I think I preferred Kyiv more. I spent the rest of the day wandering around, and made my way to the highest point of the city, where it started to pour! The next day, I looked for souvenirs and filled up on more Ukrainian food. I made my way back to Kyiv on Thursday morning. This time, I had booked first class and even ordered a tea (which I never got), but the seats were a hundred times worse than my third class seat on the other train. I was in another Harry Potter- like carriage but there were five of us in the six seats so our legs had to be moved to the side cause there was hardly any space between the two rows. Two people ended up pulling the beds out from the walls and lying on those so that the rest of us would have more space. It’s always difficult being in those compartments when you’re the only one who doesn’t speak the language though! I arrived in Kyiv that evening and finally found some cabbage rolls for my final meal in Ukraine. I then went to the hostel and went for drinks with a couple of people. On Friday morning, I went to a random cafe and after I ordered my meal, a man from the table beside me asked where I was from. He was from North Carolina and probably my dad’s age, but we had a good conversation during the duration of our breakfast. Towards the end, he got up and then came back to shake my hand and ask my name. He said his name was Bob and he paid for my meal(!), and he really enjoyed our conversation. That was a nice surprise! I did the last of my souvenir shopping. I got my own embroidered shirt (called a vyshyvanka) and I was once again told I had all of the Ukrainian features. The lady there was so friendly and told me how her son lived in America but she wants to move her daughter there too so her family can be together. She said how the last thirty years have been so difficult and that she’s hoping for victory and she burst into tears. I could feel her pain and it made me sad what all of the Ukrainian people were having to go through, and I started to cry as well. I then sat in Independence Square for one last time, where I had quite an emotional time. I was really sad to be leaving Ukraine, knowing that it likely wouldn’t be the same if I were to come again. I then took an Uber to the airport and went back to London. I had some time to kill so I went to my flat to get my last bag, went to Kim’s to drop it off, and then went to Becky’s cause I was staying at her place for the weekend. On Saturday, we went for breakfast and watched a movie, and then I headed to the Elton John concert! He had just finished going through his life-threatening illness and said how he was glad to still be alive. I think he was still getting better, as he seemed to really struggle the one time he walked across the stage, and he didn’t even do an encore. He may have, but I couldn’t tell if it was actually one cause he literally went off stage and was back on five seconds later. The best part was when he sung “Don’t let the sun go down on me” and it started pelting rain. We all had to get out our rain jackets and everyone else just danced in the rain. The rain stopped as soon as the song ended; it honestly felt like special effects. However, it was a good concert and the atmosphere was great! The next morning, Becky and I went for breakfast again before I made my way to the airport for my European trip.
I flew to Sofia, Bulgaria and arrived at my hostel at about 10:30 that night. It was a pretty cool hostel and had a treehouse feel to it. The next morning, I took the free walking tour and then wandered around for the rest of the day. On Tuesday, I took a free hiking tour, which took us to Sofia’s closest mountain (Vitosha). We walked about four or five hours, and it was a nice way to get out of the city!
|The brick (and glass) from breaking the bus window|
On Wednesday morning, I got up nice and early to catch a cab to the bus station with an Australian girl. We were both planning to go to Skopje (scope-ee-ah), Macedonia but they informed us that the 7am bus was full. Luckily, there was a 9:30 bus, so we killed time at a coffee shop before catching the five hour bus ride. I met a Canadian guy (from Ottawa) as soon as I got to the hostel so we went out for a late lunch/early dinner and walked around Skopje. Skopje is a city that reminds me of no other place I’ve seen before. It has such random statues (over 200) and buildings, which makes it very unique. It “copies and pastes” from a lot of other cities, so it has an Arc de Triomphe, random roman columns, red London buses, a couple of pirate ships in the river (which are restaurants), and now they’re in the middle of building a London eye. Also, Mother Theresa was born in Skopje! So as you can imagine, most Balkan main cities have a Mother Theresa Square, and at least one statue as well. We went back to the hostel, where I met two more Canadians (also from Ottawa, and who had been living in London for the past two years) so we exchanged our horror stories of working in London. On Thursday, I went on a walking tour, which was probably one of the best ones I’ve been on. It went for about 3 hours and 20 minutes but you hardly noticed cause the guide really knew his information. The coolest thing about many of the Balkan major cities is that any of the stray dogs who have tags on their ears (like cows) have been sterilised and vaccinated, meaning they’re safe to pet. And a lot of them are so loveable! We had tons join us on our walking tours. After the tour, a few of us (people from the Netherlands, Croatia, and England) went to Matka Canyon. In order to get there, we had to take a bus that only came once every 1.5-2 hours. We went to where the guide told us to wait and we waited for about 30-40 minutes. While we were waiting, some taxi drivers came over and offered to drive us there for ten euro but we declined. When the bus finally came, it just drove right past us! So we went back to the taxi drivers, who then decided they’d drive us for 15 Euro! We declined and decided we’d just wait for the next one and started walking to the bus station. Once we got over a block away, one of the taxi drivers had come running after us saying he’d take us for 10. So we took the taxi to the canyon, which was gorgeous! We did the hike through the canyon, which took an hour each way, and then we took the bus back to Skopje. However, about five minutes into our bus ride, the rear door window completely shattered into a million pieces. Glass flew everywhere, and there was a huge brick in the aisle! The guys behind me informed me that if it was half a second later, the brick would have hit me! So that was reassuring.. I went for dinner with some of the same people, and then the next day I went to Pristina, Kosovo (Prish-TEEN-ah, KOS-uh-voh).
|Pristina Newborn Sign|
Kosovo is the second newest country and is less than ten years old (in terms of independence) but it’s still having a lot of difficulty being accepted by the EU. Serbia also makes it very difficult on them since they gained independence, so they don’t actually allow direct public transportation from Kosovo to Serbia. They all love Americans since they played a big part in stopping the war, so they have a statue of Bill Clinton in the city. Anyway, I caught the bus with one of the Canadian people and the person in front of us asked where we were from. He was from Pristina, so when we arrived he took us for coffee and then we met his girlfriend and we all went for dinner. That night, I went out with some people from the hostel (from Mexico, Germany, France, and the Netherlands) so we got back to the hostel at about 2:30 and then ordered pizza (which ended up being 1.80 euro per pizza!!). The next day, I just did a lot of walking around. They didn’t have a walking tour since they’re still not used to having many tourists. I covered everything easily in a day though!
|Skanderbeg Square – Tirana|
|Through the bunker|
On Sunday, I took the bus to Tirana, Albania (teer-AN-ah), which took about five hours. I got there just in time to do the walking tour during the evening. I learned all about its history in being a communist country under a dictatorship. The guide compared his country to North Korea and said they were convinced that they were the best country, but had no contact with the outside world. They could only watch Albanian television, which was all propaganda and most people weren’t allowed to leave. He said they’ve only had vehicles for 23 years and they didn’t even have bananas until after 1991! The next day, I went to the cable car, which went up Tirana’s tallest mountain (Dajti). Because it was so hot, I didn’t wear my runners so I didn’t get a chance to hike, but it probably would have been too hot anyway. After heading back down, I went to BunkArt, which is a museum made in one of the bunkers. The museum basically went through the entire history of Albania, from fascism to communism to liberation. It was very interesting, and it definitely makes me want to read more about the history. Tirana is now a very colourful city because they painted all of the buildings from the dull grey communist period.
On Tuesday, I went to Podgorica, Montenegro. I got there mid-afternoon and took a walk around the city. I was told not to go to Podgorica because there’s nothing to do in the city and it’s much better going to the coast, but I wasn’t able to cancel my hostel reservation cause it was too late. While yes, Podgorica is quite a sleepy city with nothing to do in terms of tourism, it seems like most locals spend a lot of their time sitting in cafes or restaurants, so I joined in! The next day, I decided to go to their Niagara Falls, which is only 10km outside of the city. It’s called Niagara Falls because the restaurant that it’s beside is called Niagara. I took a taxi to the Falls and the hostel owner had said it should be maximum 5 euro but it ended up being 9! Scammed by another taxi driver, which is why I normally avoid taxis at all costs. Anyway, I spent the morning and most of the afternoon at the Falls. There’s a swimming pool area, which just looks like a river that doesn’t really flow. But then as you walk along the river, it literally just falls into the start of a canyon. It was really gorgeous, and a nice way to spend the afternoon in 33 degree weather! However, I was sitting in a rock in the water at one point and I happened to feel something brush against my side, which I thought was just a stick. When I looked down, there was a huge frog on my lap (like the size of my hand!). I’ve never jumped in the water so fast! Anyway, I caught a taxi back to Podgorica (which only cost 3.70 this time), and then I had dinner and hung out with some people at the hostel.
|Memorial for the Children|
On Thursday, I went to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. I got there in the later afternoon (it was about a 6 hour bus ride), and then I had dinner and an early night in. The next day, I went on a walking tour, where I found out about the city. I then went for lunch, went back to the hostel, and then a bunch of us went on another walking tour, which was focused on the 44-month war, which was from 1992-1995. When Yugoslavia was composed of six countries, some of the countries started becoming more nationalistic. When Bosnia decided to break away from Yugoslavia, Serbia wasn’t very happy about it because a high percentage of Serbs still lived in Bosnia. The Bosnian Serbs were supplied with weapons from Serbia and because Sarajevo is in a valley, the Serbs only had to go on the surrounding hills and mountains and continuously launch missiles. The tour guide was 7 when the war started and she said that everyone had to move to the basement, and her building had 70 people. And she said that some of the people who went to go shoot could have been your neighbour or friend your entire life! Oddly enough, life still continued – people still went to school and work, they just had to run through the streets instead of walk. They got used to hearing and recognising the sound of a missile being launched, as well as it flying through the air so she said it gave them enough time to find shelter before it hit. However, many people weren’t so lucky. 1600 kids were killed in Sarajevo. In total, over 100,000 people were killed during the war. The UN supplied them with food each week but it was mostly canned meat, stale bread, and rice that was covered in dead worms. She said the medicines that they were supplied with had expired in the 70’s! People were kidnapped and put into concentration camps, where thousands were killed. Many of the people who were responsible are still on trial today. Bosnia now has three presidents – a Serbian president, a Croatian president, and a Bosnian president. They all have to agree unanimously before anything can go through. The unemployment rate for people between the ages of 25-35 is 62%! It just blows my mind how this was all happening during the early years of my life, and I was completely oblivious of it until now. The Balkan history is so recent and the effects of it are still evident. That evening, I went back to the hostel and hung out with some of the people there. The next day, I spent most of the day with a guy from America. We tried pretty much all of the Bosnian food possible: the ćevapi (sausages in pita), the Bosnian coffee (which is similar to Turkish coffee), and two desserts called kadaif (a thin ball of noodles, stuffed with walnuts and syrup) and tufahije (a baked apple filled with walnuts, sugar and cream, and topped with whipped cream). We also went up to the Yellow Fortress, which gave a great view of Sarajevo, and then we went to a war museum, which literally laid everything out in the table. Even the concentration camp museum I went to in Germany wasn’t this morbid. It was quite devastating to see how people were treated. Human beings are cruel. We are all brainwashed in one way or another to believe certain things, and we are convinced that other people aren’t living the “right” way. As I’ve said in another post, I really respected when I went to Germany and saw how open they were about their history, admitting the wrong that they did because they didn’t want it to happen again. Little did I know, it happened again 50 years later in Bosnia. People were delivered to concentration camps and tortured to death while I was innocently playing in the safe streets with my neighbours. Along the same lines, the last residential school in Canada closed in 1996! If you ask me, residential school is just a fancy name for concentration camp. Some Canadians still don’t even understand what happened at these schools, or that they even existed. And all three of these situations stemmed from religion. The Holocaust against the Jews, in Bosnia against Muslims, and residential schools were run by the church to convert Aboriginal peoples to Christianity. Ethnic cleansing. Whatever you want to call it. And believe it or not, that is STILL occurring. Trump. Brexit. “Cleaning” different nations and getting rid of what doesn’t “belong.” Who are we? History continues to repeat itself over and over, and it’s sickening. I have never questioned my beliefs and religion more than at this very moment.
I’ve placed it in my phone case and I carry it with me everywhere I go. The next day, I finally had my meeting. I was really nervous, because I didn’t know how it would go and I felt bad about letting the school down. Before I went, I had conversations with people about how I would make sure to get HIM to steer the conversation, and I’d wait for him to make an offer before I agreed to anything. Neither of those things really happened.. I left the meeting feeling more offended than anything. The meeting started off with him making the statement, “So this must be the longest you’ve been at a school over here now…” Me: “Yes, I guess it would be. The longest I’ve stayed at a school was 7 weeks, so this is just past that point.” Him: “So, the Head of Biology wanted us to set up a meeting about whether you’re staying with us after Easter or not. Tell me how you’re feeling about that.” Me: “Well, I know that I won’t be staying with you until the end of the year.” Him (looking somewhat shocked): “Oh. Well when would be the definite date that you could stay with us until?” Me: “I could stay for another half-term, for six weeks longer – until the end of May, if you need my help.” Him: “Can I just ask where you’re hoping to get to in terms of your career?” Me (this time I was somewhat shocked. And offended): “Well, in Canada, we don’t have opportunities to move up on the career ladder. You start as a teacher and you end as a teacher. We don’t have head of biology or head of science, or deputy head, or headmaster. Whether you’re a teacher for 25 years or for 2 years, you’re considered an equal. The only opportunities to move up is to be a vice-principal or principal and you need to go back to school and get a Masters for that. So for you to ask me that question, and I know I’ll end up back in Canada, my answer is to be a teacher.” Him: “Well, don’t you think it would look better on your CV if you were at a school for a longer period of time?” Me: “Most likely, but that’s not my main concern right now. I have the rest of my life to build that up.” Him: “Well to be honest, that’s what made it so difficult for us to hire you – because you were just jumping from school to school.” (!!! But they DID hire me! And it wouldn’t have made any difference to me anyway..) Him: “So how do I know you’re not going to change your mind and suddenly decide to leave earlier?” (Because I gave them my word?) He continues: “I think we’d benefit from putting a contract forward to make everything official.” (But would I benefit from it, really?). Him again: “So, have the Head of Biology and Head of Science observed you yet?” Me: “The Head of Biology has (because the Deputy Head told him he had to), but not the Head of Science.” Him: “Well, she’ll be coming to observe you sometime soon. I’m going to give you some incentive – if you decide to stay with us until the end of the year, I’ll offer to pay for all of your holidays. So think about it for the week, and let me know by Friday.” Me: “Okay, thanks.” I get up to leave and as I open his door, he adds in, “Oh, I should also add in that all of this will ONLY be put through on the assumption that I get positive feedback about you from the Heads of Biology and Science.” I grimace as I shut the door. I couldn’t believe the meeting I just had. Nothing about, “We really appreciate everything you’ve done for the school,” and nothing about, “The girls and the biology department really like having you here.” Just a whole meeting basically telling me about how I might not be good enough, and making it sound like THEY’RE doing ME a favour, and not the other way around. It was then that I realized that I will never see eye-to-eye with the people who put their careers over everything else, and vice versa. I feel like I’m living my life to the fullest and I actually look at people who only live to work and I feel sorry for them, and I’m sure they feel the same way about me. But there’s no way we’ll ever see things the same way or even be able to compromise, because I will never live my life trying to improve my CV. I never have, as I’m sure many of you have realized. I’ve never kept a job for longer than a year and during my whole job history, I’ve never done a job that would help me with education or with biology (other than au pairing and tutoring). My way of working has always been to get me money so I can travel, not to move up the career ladder. And I’ve never had a job that I didn’t like. And I’ve had some pretty darn AWESOME jobs: working at the Enchanted Forest, being a Blades Ambassador for the hockey games, working the Froster Truck, countless serving jobs – I may as well be in public relations or business because that’s all I’ve done for work. While going to university, I watched many of my friends try to find jobs working in a lab so they could get experience, and I didn’t understand why. Maybe my mind just works differently, but I know it won’t be swayed. Maybe it’s a downfall, or maybe it’s a gift. Anyway, I went upstairs (feeling pretty pissed off) to tell the Biology Department about my meeting. I think the Head of Biology realized that I wasn’t there because I HAD to be there: “So, do you have a contract here right now?” “No.” “So, if you decided not to come to work tomorrow, you could technically just not show up?” “Well yeah, but I obviously wouldn’t do that…” “And if you decide not to come back, would you get work pretty much everyday somewhere else?” “Yeah, and even if I didn’t get work, I’d still get paid for the day.” “So… you really have no reason to actually be here, do you?” “Well no, not really.” “You’re not in it for the money or anything?” “No, I’m here cause you guys need me.” He started to pick up the pieces that the Deputy Head had thrown away, “Well, I just want you to know that WE’RE really thankful that you’re here, and the girls really like you and you’ve been a huge help, and we’d like you to stay but if you want to travel as well, then we completely understand. If you can at least stay until half-term of next term, that would help us out so much and we’d really appreciate it.” So I emailed the Deputy Head back right before my holiday and I declined his offer to stay until the end of the year, but I said I could stay until the end of May to help out the school (once again, putting it back on him that I’M helping THEM out and not the other way around). I still haven’t heard back from him, but I also still have to get observed by the Head of Science next week and then I guess he’ll make his decision. So that’s pretty much everything in my school life!
|Tea with cats!|
streets of London were SO quiet because 1) It was Dry January for many people (not us), and 2) Most people were still broke from Christmas (probably us, but it didn’t change anything). It was crazy being able to walk down the sidewalk and not have to bump into anyone! Or being able to go into a bar and find an empty table! Since I’ve moved into my new flat, I’m now directly connected to the night tube (it’s open 24/7), which has opened a range of possibilities for me! I no longer have to make sure I catch the last train before midnight in order to get home. However, that’s also come at a cost – me getting home at 3 or 4 in the morning, and more than once being woken up at the last stop (which is my stop anyway) by a random stranger, telling me to get off. At the beginning of the month, I went to The Nutcracker (the ballet) with Kim, which was great! We also went to a Cat Tea Emporium, where we got to sit in a tearoom with 12 cats for two hours. It was nice, but the cats weren’t very interested in hanging out with anyone, which is understandable considering people are in their faces for 8 hours each day. I also went to a couple of cinema shows – Pretty Woman and Frozen. The cinema happens in a bar, and then they turn it into a dance floor after the show, so both were a lot of fun. Ron also came to London, so I got to see him after almost
|Me and Ron with the London Eye|
two years! While our visit was short, it was really nice to see him, especially since him and Yang have been living in Shanghai. I went to a Travel Show, where there are a lot of different travel companies trying to give you good deals, which inspired me to do all of my upcoming trips (and NOT work until the end of the year). And I got to meet up with a couple of people who I met in Cologne during Christmas, which is always one of my favourite parts of travelling – meeting up with people again!
joined their table, where there were people from England, Australia, and Spain. It was a good night! I’ve been meeting many awesome people lately! I used to find it so difficult to find people who I just vibe with and recently, I’ve been finding them everywhere I travel. Maybe I’m sending good vibes out into the universe and it’s rewarding me with equal vibes from awesome people. I totally believe there’s something about energy in the world, cause there are certain people who you just “get,” and who you feel that energy from. Either way, I’m glad I’m finding all of these people! The next day (Sunday), I went on a free walking tour and met up with the guy from Spain there. After the walking tour, we went to see The Little Mermaid statue, had coffee, and then went to Christiania. Christiania is a freetown, which is a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood. They refuse to be a part of the EU and therefore have their own rules, laws, and schools. It’s well-known for cannibis trade, but they don’t allow cameras inside, in order to keep the traders safe. It was an interesting place, and really cool to see! After that, we went to the Meat-Packing District, to a restaurant called War Pigs, which is a craft brewery. The drinks in Copenhagen were so expensive! The beer that we got were 65-70 krone each, which is about 8-9 pounds (12 or 13 dollars!!). However, they were higher in alcohol content – about 7.4%, so we only had a couple. When I went to get my second beer, two guys beside me asked to pay their tab, which was 775 krone (89 pounds, or 145 dollars)!!! They were British and were shocked about how they had just spent 70 pounds on drinks, and I sadly burst their bubbles even more, saying that 775 krone was closer to 100 pounds
than 70. “What?! No, you divide by 10 to find pounds…” “No, you divide by 8. You guys have been very considerate to yourselves though, dividing by 10.” One looks it up on his phone, “Yeah, she’s right…” I think they may have skipped dinner that night. On Monday, I went to the Round Tower, which is exactly what it sounds like – a round tower. There aren’t any steps; it just goes round and round like a ramp. It was cool! After that, I met up with the Spanish guy again to have lunch at Paper Island, which reminds me of Granville Island in Vancouver, if anyone’s been there. It had food of every country! We had to eat really fast, because I had booked another walking tour (but the “alternative walking tour”), which I had already paid for. He was leaving that evening so we said bye, and I went on the walking tour. They showed us all of the alternative things – the Red Light District, the Green Light District, etc. Afterwards, I was absolutely freezing so I went to Paper Island to warm up and then I had dinner. On Tuesday, I decided to go to the Carlsberg Brewery. It
was a good tour, and I got two free beer at the end. I became addicted to their cider (which is called Somersby Cider) because it’s cheap, but also because it’s probably one of the best ciders I’ve had. That evening, I did some souvenir shopping and sat in coffee shops. On Wednesday, I went back to London so I spent the morning doing one last walk around the main city and then headed to the airport. I arrived back home at about 6pm and since then, I’ve just been catching up on my TV shows and planning the next six weeks of school (so I can focus on marking). I hope everyone’s been doing well! Love always
and we actually won (They win quite often, but I had yet to go to a game where they didn’t lose). Then the next day, I went to a Canadian Remembrance Day ceremony in Green Park. I was only expecting about 30 people to be there but when we arrived, there was a huge crowd of people – hundreds had shown up. It was an incredibly moving experience – being at a Canadian ceremony while living in a completely different country. After the ceremony was over, Kim and I went for afternoon tea, which consisted of an abundance of snacks and sweets – I couldn’t even finish it all!
|Red Hot Chili Peppers|
out for dinner a few times, went to many Christmas markets, and did a weekend trip to Birmingham with Kim. The Birmingham market was absolutely insane and was jam-packed, but it’s supposed to be the biggest German market next to the ones in Germany and Austria. I got to go to the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert, which was really good! I went to three 15-minute musicals, which were ACTUALLY 15 minutes and were awesome. I went to both Elf and Love Actually at the cinema, and I met up with a friend who I had met in Bruges last April. My neighbourhood even had a few reindeer in it at one point! The last day of my school was quite a different experience.. it started off with about an hour of just singing Christmas carols as a school, then the girls went to their homerooms to do secret santa, and then the entire school walked about ten minutes away to a church, where they actually had a service-like program, complete with a Boar’s Head Feast performance by the Year 13’s, a bunch of actual scripture being read from the Bible, and an excerpt read from The Christmas Carol (This all being done by a school that doesn’t belong to any religion). It was crazy for me to witness, as I don’t think anything like that would ever happen in Canada. My school finished a week earlier than all of the other schools – on December 15, so I decided to pick up some substitute jobs at some other schools for a week. It actually made me miss supply teaching! Throughout the week, I watched Life of Pi, two episodes of the new Planet Earth series, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I got PLENTY of free periods in order to get all of my marking done! There was one school that felt like it came straight from the 70s. It had long, dark hallways, which still had old-school posters, showing pictures of bad quality and kids with bad haircuts. The school had a smell that reminded me of my grandparents’ house. I honestly felt like I should be in a Degrassi show.
sped right by. After I arrived, I spent the evening checking out a few Christmas markets. The next day, I did a bit of shopping and then continued with the Christmas markets since the 23rd was the last day that they’d all be open (and there were about seven to go to). It wasn’t unbearably cold in Germany, but the wind would make things pretty bad. That afternoon, I decided to keep warm by going to a Chocolate Museum (of course), which actually ended up being a Lindt Chocolate Museum (even better!). It wasn’t too bad, although it wasn’t my favourite. The thing that struck me most was that experts estimate about 75% of cocoa farmers and their families have never tried a piece of chocolate. It really puts things into perspective, and makes me realize how much I take for granted. Anyway, that evening I went out with a couple of guys from my hostel – one from China who’s living in America (Tony), and one from Australia (Dylan). We ended up spending much of our time in Cologne together, and we all ended up meeting in Munich again a few days later.
|One of the many Christmas markets in Cologne|
|Me, Dylan, and Tony in Munich|
afternoon. That evening, five of us (me, Dylan, and three Kiwis – Meg, Emma, and Jess) went to an Italian restaurant for dinner and finished the evening with a walk across the bridge to view the gorgeous cathedral. I FaceTimed my family when we got back to the hostel and then went to bed. Not once during that day did I feel sad or homesick, and I know it’ll be a Christmas that I’ll always remember and cherish.
colourful, and there was still a Christmas feeling in the air. I made the long journey back to Munich, this time making sure to rush onto the train in order to get a seat. I thought it was going to be a good trip until a couple came on with their six children (all under the age of ten). All of the kids sat on the floor in front of me and made noise, tickled each other, rolled around on the floor, and continuously asked their parents for more chips and food. About halfway through the trip, two American kids beside me were given their iPads, and then the entire train was silent. It was as if those six kids had never seen anything like it before, and they all crowded around to watch. I made it back to Munich and then met up with Dylan (who had just arrived that day) and Tony for dinner. I ended up trying a pancake soup, which was basically just chicken-noodle soup except instead of noodles, it used strips of pancakes. Weirdest concept, but it wasn’t too bad.
|Dachau concentration memorial|
just to end their own life. I also read (and saw pictures) about how the Nazis would play “games” by taking a prisoner’s cap and throwing it over the perimeter fence, only to make him retrieve it, and kill him in the process. It left quite a heavy weight on me, and many times I just couldn’t wrap my head around how such cruel events could have occurred. To lighten my mood afterwards, I decided to take a walk around the town of Dachau, which was actually a really nice town. I then went back to Munich to spend my last evening with Tony and Dylan before we all parted ways.
was still always able to get a seat on the underground and there were never huge crowds of people everywhere you went; it’s never even like that on a Sunday evening in London! That evening, I felt like I was coming down with something so I decided to take it easy and slept for a solid ten hours. The next day, I went on another walking tour. It ended up being three hours long and by the end of it, I was freezing so I decided to go to a mall and do some shopping in the warmth. I then went back to my hostel, went for dinner with a girl from Belgium to a baked potato restaurant (which was delicious!), and then had drinks back at the hostel. On Saturday, I checked out some of the still-open Christmas markets before trying to get to the New Year’s Eve street festival. However, I found out that we weren’t allowed to bring in any bags, so I decided to go back to the hostel to drop my bag off. I stayed there for awhile and then decided to give the street festival another go. When walking to the metro station, you had to be very careful of your surroundings, as people were lighting fireworks everywhere you went. I figured the safest way was for me to stay directly under the balconies of buildings, as many people were even throwing fireworks off of their balconies onto the streets. It was insane! Anyway, I stopped for dinner and then went to stand in the extremely long line to get to the street festival. Security was obviously at its peak (due to the Berlin events the week before), so there were multiple check points to go through. I stood in line for about 20 minutes and then I was literally about two feet away from the gate when they closed it and said they weren’t accepting anymore people through that entrance. Therefore, I had to walk all the way around the 2-km street festival to the other side and get through there. They had to pat everyone down and check their pockets and then 200 metres later, they’d have another checkpoint and they’d do it all again, and then 200 metres later, they’d have ANOTHER, and so on and so forth. I stopped between the third and fourth checkpoints because it was less crowded and I still had a great view. By the time I finally got there, about an hour
and a half had gone by since I first stood in line. The Berlin New Year’s show is what any typical New Year’s show would look like in a big city – you have your hosts and then a bunch of performances (including Jermaine Jackson!) until the final countdown. I didn’t know any of the other performers, since they were all German. The countdown and the fireworks were great, and then the party apparently started at 12:30am and didn’t have an end time. I decided not to stay for the party since my flight back to London was the next day, but when I left the park and headed towards a bridge, there were fireworks going off everywhere. Commercial fireworks legally go on sale during the last three days of the year and people go ballistic buying them. I saw some fireworks go off under a police car and then looked over to find a group of about ten police officers holding a bunch of fireworks. Most people just set the firework in a bottle and light it, but you needed to watch where you were going, as there could be a firework going off four metres away from you. It was like a warzone! The non-stop sound of fireworks went on until about 3:30 in the morning. I honestly have no idea how people would even have that many fireworks to last them for so long!
you’d still hear a firework go off every few minutes or so. I went to the Brandenburg Gate for awhile, where they were starting a marathon, and then I spent the morning at the Holocaust Memorial Site. It was a really well-done museum with a lot of information that hadn’t been included at the Dachau Memorial. It also included information about different families, their histories, and their fates during the war. The thing I really respect about Germany is how open they are about their history. The entire world knows their history, and wherever you are in Germany, you’ll always find information about it. Everyone says that the reason for this is so that it doesn’t happen again, but then I sit there wondering why Canada’s not open about their own history. Why the textbooks sugarcoat everything to make the relationship with Indigenous peoples sound like it was only a minor conflict. Why I always have to explain the history of Canada to people I meet while travelling, and they’re completely shocked about the things that happened. And why many Canadian children don’t even learn the real Canadian history, depending on who their teacher is (I was lucky to have an awesome history teacher in grade 12, but I really didn’t learn about Indigenous history in depth until university), while German kids are taken to concentration camps and taught the whole story. It makes me quite upset actually, and I do think it’s somewhat pathetic because I feel like all Canada has done is just swept that dirty past under the doormat to forget that it’s there, when it should be openly acknowledged. I love Canada and everyone talks about how perfect Canada is, but I do have to remind them that we have our flaws as well, and that is definitely one of them. Anyway, after the museum, I headed to one last German Christmas market and ate one last bratwurst before heading back to London. And I returned to a wet ground (of course), once again surrounded by too many miserable people and it was there that I felt at home again. I got home at about 11pm, and went out with my flatmate the following day. Today, I had my first day back at the school (minus the kids) and tomorrow, school starts again. Next vacation is in six weeks! I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays. Happy New Year! Love always
|Inside one of the Bukovina houses|
cool, with the exception of one house that almost gave me a heart attack when I turned a corner and saw dummies taking part in a funeral, with recordings of crying at a real funeral in the background. The museum was an outdoor museum that was laid out like a Bukovina village, with about 30 different houses and buildings that you could explore. I learned that the groom/bride gown was saved during a person’s life because that’s what they’d be buried in (I guess it would be good incentive to not gain weight after the honeymoon phase of a relationship). I also learned that funerals often took place in the spare room of a house and would take about three days, where people could come pay their respects when they please. I learned that a baby would not be recognized by the community until it was baptized, which my parents recently explained was why I got baptized at such a young age. I saw everything I wanted to see after that first day. Unfortunately for me, I booked three nights there. My original plan was to rent a car and drive into Ukraine to where my uncle thought the town that we originated from may have been. However, it turns out you need an international drivers license to drive in Ukraine, which I didn’t have. Then, I thought I may as well rent a car anyway and then I could explore the famous painted monasteries throughout the area. I booked my car that evening and spent the entire evening mapping out where I should go, only to get an email a few hours later stating they didn’t have automatic cars in Suceava. Lovely.
hours instead of have to try to explain where I’m trying to go, figure out how much it’ll cost, when I need to get off, etc. I got to Vama okay, had a quick breakfast, and went to the Egg Museum, which must have the biggest collection of eggs in the world. The collection comes from countries all over the world, and has different kinds of paintings, carvings, and themes. It was really cool! It was so weird walking through the small town, where pretty much everyone had some type of animal in their backyard. Many had chickens, some had a cow, some had a pig, and most had dogs to watch over everything. Since I didn’t have any wifi or a bus schedule, I went and sat at the bus stop to wait for the next bus, which took about an hour and a half. While I was sitting there, an old man came and kept trying to have a conversation with me in Romanian. He would talk and talk and talk, and then in English he would say, “You understand?” I’d shake my head no, and he’d try again and again. I got off at another small town, where I decided
I’d walk from to get to one of the painted monasteries, so I could at least see one. The Voronet monastery was an hour walk there and back, so it kept me busy for the afternoon. Everything in Romania has a photo tax, so if you want to take pictures at any of the museums, you need to pay the tax. I decided to pay the tax for the monastery and then felt cheated as I stepped inside and saw huge pictures that said “No photography inside the monastery.” It was really gorgeous inside though! I walked the hour back, got to the bus station and found out I had to wait another hour to catch the last bus back to Suceava. I had an early night because I decided I’d take the 6:50 bus the next morning to Brasov (pronounced Bra-shov).
object, which will exit through their neck or head. A GOOD impaling will cause a person to survive like that for two or three days. How pleasant.. Anyway, apparently during this time, people didn’t have to worry about other people stealing their stuff and the crime level was very low, because everyone was scared of the punishment (obviously). Apparently during his lifetime, Vlad the Impaler impaled over 20,000 people! Rumours started that Vlad would drink his victims blood and blablabla, and that’s how the storyline for Dracula was created. However, in real life, Vlad the Impaler had only actually been in “Dracula’s Castle” once, and it was when he was imprisoned there for two days. So it’s more of a tourist trap, but I felt like I had to go, given the Halloween season. After the castle, I went on a walking tour back in Brasov, and then a few of us (two Americans and one German) went out for dinner to a restaurant called La ceaun, where I got to have Romanian
|Yummy cabbage rolls with polenta!!|
cabbage rolls, which were absolutely delicious!
That afternoon, I went on a walking tour, where I got to find out a lot about the history of Romania. It absolutely blew my mind! They’ve really only had independence since 1990, so they’re as old as I am. Before that, they were part of a Communist period. I learned that the people would only get two hours of hot water each week, only four hours of heat each day – 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon, and the food was rationed because the president (Ceausescu) decided to use most of it for exports, so there wasn’t enough to go around for the actual country. Obviously, many people had also been killed during this period. In December 1989, Bucharest had a Revolution, which also brought more than 1000 deaths. The president and his wife ended up in custody after trying to escape by helicopter and on Christmas day, the two were put on trial and were convicted for many crimes, and both were executed that day. The trial and the executions were shown live on television throughout Christmas Day, with the message “Merry Christmas Romania, you now have independence!” So insane!
Old Town (from Germany). We decided to go for lunch to a place where we were sat right in front of the grill, so we could watch everything take place. That afternoon, I went to a homemade and antique market and made a few purchases, and then did some last exploring. On Sunday, I made the long trip back to London. On my flight, I was trying to find somewhere to put my luggage and I noticed a spot with just a jacket sitting there. I struggled as I tried moving the jacket to the side so I’d have room for my bag, and the man sitting there let out the biggest sigh ever, as if I was the biggest inconvenience in his life and he stood up. I thought he was going to move the jacket aside so I could put my suitcase up, he instead grabbed it from where I moved it, moved it back in the empty space, and sat back down. I was somewhat stunned, and the man beside me smiled sympathetically as he and the flight attendant once again moved the jacket so I could put my bag there. I had forgotten I was on a plane back to LONDON.. Of course I shouldn’t be expecting kindness. I
ended up getting home quite late, after taking the bus back into London from the airport.
the head of science found out that I had an interview at THAT school, she had nothing bad to say about the school, “But I WILL say this… I’m not trying to convince you not to take the job there and instead take the one here, BUT being at that great of a school might cause you to UNLEARN your behaviour management skills…” Yeah… that’s a big concern… Anyway, my weeknights were also quite busy. On Tuesday, I went to the Close Talker concert for the second time this year! Once again, it was awesome seeing them perform and being able to have conversations with some familiar faces. On Wednesday, Becky, Charlotte and I went to the Bastille concert, which was absolutely amazing! It was probably the best energy I’ve ever felt at a concert, and it was so uplifting. My mood was great for the rest of the week! Thursday, I went to bed quite early since I was exhausted from going out two nights in a row and getting minimal sleep. On Friday, I went out for drinks with another one of the supply teachers from the school and then I went to a BBC radio concert. I expected it to be a classical music concert, but it ended up being some type of weird abstract genre, with random sounds and notes that (to my ear) sounded horrible. I ended up leaving during the intermission, partly because I didn’t want to stay for the rest and partly
because I had an early morning the next day. On Saturday, I went on a bus tour with my former flatmate who was visiting from Italy. We went to Stonehenge, as well as a couple of small towns called Henley-upon-Thames and Avebury. It was SO cold, and I was wearing two sweaters and a winter jacket over my clothes. It was really neat to see Stonehenge though! The trip was from 8am to 7pm so by the time we got back, I was completely worn out. Today, I just did some shopping and cleaning, and I’ve started preparing for the possibility of moving if I end up getting the job at the school this week. I hope everyone’s been doing well, miss you all! Love always