Last glimpse of Tokyo and ultimate Fuji experience

Sunrise from top of Mt. Fuji

When I am going back to the memories of Tokyo it is rather blurred, but maybe it’s better since I will write about what I remember the most. Tokyo impressed Dan more than me, I was overwhelmed by its metropolitanism. Blinking neons in super modern districts and noisy Pachinko&Slot saloons for sure give the city its nature, but it is not exactly the one that wins my heart.

“Tokyo was my first experience about Japan, country about which I thought I knew something. Let’s say travelling verifies expectations.”


Don’t get me wrong, it was an exceptional experience to be there and see it, especially after years of my fascination of manga, anime and modern Japanese culture in my teenage years. But I noticed this dependency, that if a city fascinates me and gets to me at all it is usually not a capital. Tokyo was my first experience about Japan, country about which I thought I knew something. Let’s say travelling verifies expectations (is it even good to have any expectations while travelling? That’s another issue). My visit there has thrown some light on the aspects of culture and life I have not been thinking about before. In the end those details, that are rather subjective, because everyone notice different things, create our image of the place and add a bit of relish to our experiences. Well, probably the very first of my observations was the lack of smokers on the streets. Nevertheless we light our cigarettes with Dan, while walking down the Asakusa. I’m thinking, maybe it is just unpopular, maybe cigarettes are expensive and nobody can be bothered to buy them, maybe Japanese are very aware of the bad consequences of smoking. Streets are clean, no trace of cigarette butts, when suddenly just around the corner a smoking area appears! Small rectangular space on the pavement with trash can and people gathering inside to stop on their way, wherever they were rushing to, to enjoy this deadly pleasure. Yes, I thought, that’s right Japanese are rather exemplary nation to me. The greater was my surprise when I found out that in all restaurants we visited it was permitted to smoke inside! Not in any separated smoking areas or rooms, it was OK to smoke anywhere on the premises and no one seemed to be disturbed.

    Regarding my opinion about Japanese as an exemplary nation I was not disappointed! Everything appeared to me as well organised, means of transport work exceptionally punctual even in the peak hours. Even though English language is not that popular among natives, in every tourist information and other public places tourist would use, there is no problem in communication in this language or acquiring the information you need. Despite that Japanese are the nicest and helpful people. Repeatedly, when me and Dan seemed a bit lost people would come to us gratuitously and offer help, even if it meant guiding us from point A to point B. Every time we asked for help or information we always got it (smile included) if only person was capable of helping. I won’t forget our last afternoon in Tokyo, in Kiyosumi garden, where despite our hopeless language abilities we had an amazing time with lovely old lady and a group of her grandchildren feeding tortoises together, laughing and having enjoyable little conversations in two different languages.
     We enjoyed our time in Tokyo and decided to stay there one day longer than planned and even then we did not manage to see and do most of the things we wanted. Our plans were thwarted mostly by the weather. In my humble opinion summertime is the worst possible time to visit Japan. Temperature reaching over forty degrees and insane humidity are the factors that caused us instant exhaustion, dizziness and drowsiness – not exactly desirable set for intensive touring. Despite that, one of Japan’s biggest charms are amazing gardens, deliberated and designed according to philosophical instructions, looking all beautiful during spring while everything blooms, over autumn when Japanese maple turns red and in the winter when all those whimsically shaped trees are covered in snow. During summer you can admire water lilies if there are any on the pond and lotus flowers (stunning!) if you are lucky to go to the right garden. Except those two there is a green bush of everything waiting for you rumbling with the sounds of cicadas.
    The rest of our stay in Tokyo passed on regaling delicacies of Japanese cuisine in little street bars in which orders have been taken by an enigmatic machine, or fabulous onigiri freshly from 7-Eleven. We saw imperial gardens, visited the cat café ‘Café Calaugh’. We have been extremely thrilled the moment we heard about the concept of cat cafés where you can enjoy a delicious green tea vanilla ice latte and rent a cat to accompany you! And finally we visited two really adorable gardens, which I strongly recommend to every person planning on coming to Tokyo – Koishikawa (with lovely rock pathways through ponds and Japanese maple area with red little bridges designed especially to make a great impression in autumn) and Kiyosumi (that has to offer little bit of everything, lotuses, cherries, plums, wisterias, rock pathways, and little lake with tortoises jumping there from the rocks).

     The day before we left Tokyo time has come for us to figure out how to get to Fuji mountain. We went to the bus station in Shinjuku, loosing our way several times on this occasion what got us very nervous and even aggressive. After finding the station we purchased tickets for the next afternoon to the 5th station of Fuji – highest point on the volcano to which you can access by motorized transport. Cost of the tickets was 2700 yen per person (approx. 15£). We planned our trip there so that we could start climbing around 8pm. From the information I gathered before it turned out that the way to the top should take approximately 6 hours. In the end it took us exactly this much to climb however, my forethought made me assume that we are going to need at least two more hours due to our physical condition and lack of preparation. We paid for this pointless precaution by curling under a rock to hide from the wind and freezing until merciful stalls with hot drinks and food and benches to sit on have been opened. Our plan was to climb overnight to admire the sunrise from the top of the volcano, what turned out to be quite a popular practice. We knew that even though the temperature in the night oscillated around 30 degrees in Tokyo, it is not going to be so cheerful on 3700 masl. Therefore we left our backpacks in the shed on the 5th station and changed our clothes to warm. Well, I did. Dan relied on a jumper and a jeans jacket and he strongly regretted it after.

“In my humble opinion summertime is the worst possible time to visit Japan. Temperature reaching over forty degrees and insane humidity are the factors that caused us instant exhaustion, dizziness and drowsiness – not exactly desirable set for intensive touring.”

Climbing kept us warm although, our mistake was that we took too little food with ourselves and needed to pay horrendous amount of money for some chocolate bars in the stalls on the way up. What I really liked was the idea of collecting stamps from every station on the walking stick with a flag, that you could purchase in the shop on the 5th station. Unfortunately it was too expensive for us, since the stick cost about 100 yen and every stamp 200-300 yen depending on the altitude. However, next time I am not going to hesitate to do this. Climbing wasn’t that hard, especially on the beginning. First kilometre was actually a nice walk, initially descending, later on somewhat ascending. Second stage was slightly steeper zigzag path that would get steeper with altitude and finally last several hundreds meters challenged with massive rocks and chains, but still doable even for elderly people. Unfortunately Dan suffered from altitude sickness which is apparently quite likely to happen there, but even then he managed to finish the climb and admire the rewarding view. We both managed, but after reaching the top at about 2:30 am another challenge was awaiting. Sunrise was predicted for about 4:30 am and we needed to cope with unbearable cold. We tried to nap under a rock but the temperature didn’t let us to do this for more than 15 minutes. Fortunately as I mentioned some stalls were open from around 3:30 and we managed to squeeze into one of them slurping hot chocolate bought for the rest of our money. Around 4:00 am it started to get bright, we left the stall and searched for some appropriate place to nest for sunrise. Between us and the ground was a layer of clouds, so we couldn’t see the sun from the ground and needed to wait until it reaches the clouds. The atmosphere on the top was amazing. Dozens if not hundreds of people awaiting for the same moment of first rays of the sun to appear from beneath the clouds, full of excitement and exhausted in the same time. When it finally happened crowd started clapping, whistling and cheering. That was for sure the most spectacular sunrise of my life.

    For hiking enthusiasts who are willing to conquer Fuji I recommend visiting http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6901.html website where you can find plenty of useful information, like bus timetables, ticket prices and climbing trail tips. Descent took us about 2,5 hours, 5th station we reached around 8 am and the entire climb we did in about 12 hours. On the bottom we had a surprising wave of energy and excitement, high-fiving each other for completing our challenge and taking smiley photos. Although, it didn’t last long, immediately after boarding the bus to Kawaguchiko we lost consciousness and felt asleep. After reaching bus station in Kawaguchiko we checked our possible options for getting to Kyoto. We planned on hitch hiking but the exhaustion weakened our enthusiasm and we had two options left. Shinkansen for 11,000 yen which would get us to Kyoto in 2 hours or overnight bus for 8,000 yen. We chose the bus since our budget was running low and in this case we had the issue of an accommodation sorted for that night. While I was purchasing tickets, Dan accidentally met the nicest American couple working in Kyoto. They had been spending their holidays in the 5 lakes area (Kawaguchiko and surrounding cities nearby Fuji). It turned out that they needed to come back to Kyoto earlier than planned and had two spare tour bus tickets for the whole day and offered to give those to us for free. Thanks to them we could have spent our day on exploring 5 lakes area and save money we didn’t have already. We went to the other side of the lake that looked quite nicely, lied down on the shore and fell asleep in the accompaniment of intensive sounds of working excavator. The weather caused me a lot of disappointment since I was hoping for some good shots of Fuji from the ground. Thick plain layer of milky white clouds covered the sky thoroughly and the volcano, unfortunately was not visible at all. After recovering a bit from our intensive night we hopped on our tour bus again to explore volcanic cave by Saiko lake. After nice stroll through the forest and crawling in moist Bat Cave we returned to the bus station and ‘showered’ with dry shampoo and wet wipes before the journey. It was as well the moment of realisation that we had already spent most of our money therefore we needed to resign from most of our plans apart from Kyoto, we did not expect Japan to be such an expensive country and that was our mistake. We wanted to stay in Ryokan and experience traditional Japanese accommodation on Koya mountain among temples, shrines and monks; hike the trails of Kumano Kodo or trek antique pathway from Tsumago to Magome from Edo times. We regretted it a lot, but at least we’ll have plenty of adventures for the next time in Japan. The bus has come, we took our seats in amazingly comfortable seats (or shall I say nearly beds!) with blankets and curtains to separate from the rest of the bus and departed to Kyoto.

Tokyo under the sign of cicada

Gardens of Kyoto

So my dad was right, Tokyo looks better after I had enough of sleep. On the very entrance to Japan we have been stopped by a Japanese reporter with cameraman and translator asking where are we from and why Japan following with question to Dan ‘you are so handsome, are you a model?’, that’s a good one.

 My first impression about Tokyo and probably the rest of Japan are giant merciless cicades sitting almost on every tree. In park and gardens noise is that bad that I cannot hear my own thoughts and all this tick-tacking and screeching it’s driving me mad. Our second day in Tokyo we begin with too late visit in Tsukiji fish market. Traders were already closing and there were no fish left although, breakfast in one of the nearby bars was irreplaceable! Supertasty sashimi Anago dan after which my love to the Japanese rice has become eternal. I could live here only for rice and fish. Next metro ride to Shinjuku which looks amazing almost empty at 9 am on Saturday. Walk around the Central Park which probably brings to one’s mind images from New York ^ green space surrounded by skyscrapers. In that park we have eaten the best, most tasty, sweet and furry peach in the world.

       After 9:30 (at that time Tokyo Metropolistan Government Building is being opened) we reachedthe observatory on the 45th floor, from which there is an amazing view on skyscrapers in Shinjuku, Meiji Jingu park and center of Tokyo. Architecture is impressive, both height as well as appearance. In the observatory there is an exhibition dedicated to victims of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and event ‘Thousand paper cranes for Sadako Sasaki’ girl, who was 2 years old when the bomb was dropped nearby her house, delectable old man gratuitously offered me help with origami and after two trials I was able to make a crane by myself.

        From TMGB we went to Meiji Jingu garden admiring on our way sights of Shinjuku – boards, neons and first in my life view (and nosie!) of Pachinko – arcade gabmling machine. First shopping in Japanese market, bento – lunch box and onigiri – triangle made of rice and stuffed with meat or fish followed by liters of bottled green tea. Another delectable Japanese disinterestedly guided us to the garden as we probably looked a bit lost looking on the map in the middle of the street. Japanese people are so nice! Garden or rather park, beautiful and full of trees, was dedicated to Emperor Meiji. Nearby the entrance to the Inner Garden there were rows of wine and sake barrels sent by brewers from Japan and France, as gifts in the memory of the Emperor, who managed to reconcile tradition of the East with culture of the West and endeavored to the development of Japan. In the Inner Garden there is a temple devoted to the honor of the Emperor as well. To give the proper respect there you need to throw a couple of coins to the wooden box, bow, clap twice in your hands and bow again. Respect given, we move on.
    We head toward Harajuku, crowd is merciless and temperature doesn’t allow to breathe and function. We get around the main shopping street Takeshita-dori but unfortunately I see only two pink lolitas and one gothic lolita – apparently 35 degree heat doesn’t favour dressing up. We escape to the chilly metro which takes us to Ueno where we are going to visit Tokyo Zoo in which first time in my life I see Giant Panda and Polar Bear. On our way to the Zoo we pass by a funny amateur comedian who was entertaining the audience with mime a’la Mission Impossible and after the show even shook my hand ;).

     Unfortunately legs hurt and jet lag still takes its toll so we get back to the hostel for a short nap and at 8 pm when it’s already dark we head towards Akihabara – Electric City, district of technology and manga, for a walk. We admire lights and neons there as well as walls of the buildings covered in manga and anime pictures. Shops are surprisingly still open. We enter a huge 5-floor game room in which I take my memorial turn on Dance Dance Revolution,\ however, my skills are not the same anymore. We return to the hostel hopping into a nearby bar in which by my mistake I get tempura again and I decide I don’t like it! Although, rice is still awesome. Time to sleep before next day overnight escapade to Fuji. I have no idea how we are going to hack it, we just have managed to set our bio clocks, well almost cause I can’t sleep  since 5 am anyway. Never mind we need to do this – life challenge!

Sleepless in Tokyo (Day 1)

Pachinko & Slot

Alone on the Heathrow Airport. Procedures the same apart from that terminal is bigger and reserved only for British Airways. On the plane – surprise, especially for someone who has been travelling only with cheap airlines. Three rows of three seats, like in American films. For each seat TV with selection of films, music, games and TV programs to choose. On every seat blanket, pillow, headphones and toothbrush packed in a plastic bag. 2 meals included in the price adn stewardess regularly topping up your watering place (food not recommended for people with weak stomachs).

During the flight amazing views while flying over the cloudless sky. Wild, raw and full of rivers and lakes landscapes of eastern and northern Norway, totally different from flat and chopped with fields sights of the UK. Slightly wrinkled but peaceful and impassive surface of the Barents Sea reflecting in a blue-turquoise water rays of the afternoon or maybe evening Sun. Further frozen surface of the Kara Sea, and further nothing. Nothingness on the Taymyr peninsula – only brown ground, grey rocks, furrows of snow and river. We skip the night flying so close to the North Pole that we manage to slide on the border of day and night and catch the polar day. When we are flying over the northern Russia there is completely nothing there, even with the cloudless sky all you can see is black void. Only its eastern edge shows more oriental and moist landscapes. Japan green with green fields and trees – different from those in Europe. Tall trees with long, naked trunks and short, pointed and coniferous upper branches, and apart from that a lot of bamboos much to my delight.

The time has come to revise all of my opinions, views and expectations I have had over time to this country after years of fascination. I feel its modern, technological side of huge metropolis might not meet them. I expected different airport, different trains and underground, different architecture and interiors. All of that brings to my mind the image of Poland in the 90`s. We reached Asakusa, where our capsule hostel is located. Poor and dingy as every cheap hostel I guess, in which everything seems to crumble, the shower is one for the whole hostel and the sight of Japanese toilets discourages although, every capsule is equipped with a plasma TV from Toshiba. That day despite big plans we didn’t do much because of the jet lag. Walk around the Asakusa in which we were suppose to reach, by passing very nice market on Kaminari-mon, the Senso-ji temple, but somehow we mistook it with a different one. First lunch ordered with difficulty by a machine with buttons and on the base of the picture. Noodles – soba or udon dipped in a sauce reminding the soy one with ground radish, chopped spring onion and shrimp tempura an the top. All of that cold (but good). Next trip to Imperial Palace and Garden which unfortunately on Friday were closed. Resignation and return to the hostel. Tiredness won, sightseeing tomorrow – getting up at 5 am and starting from Tsukiji fish market. Now I am sitting and experiencing the authentic Insomnia in Tokyo – 3 am and instead of sleeping I am writing a blog. Jet lag pushed me to go to bed at 5 pm and made me wake up at 2 am. Well I hope my bio clock is gonna set properly today. My dad claims that Tokyo is gonna be more beautiful and exciting when I will be rested.

Hey, welcome to the UK

Chester

Actually, after a year of living in UK I don’t really know how to start writing this text. British culture is apparently rather well known among Europeans. Most of us learn ‘British English’ with a bit of culture along with that. I was always fascinated by British conservatism and some kind of difference and isolation from the rest of the Europe. I managed to visit London a couple of times, very popular destination, but in my opinion the capital is not really a representative picture of the whole country. The level of multiculturalism, amount of foreigners, megalomania and worldliness London is for me rather a separate cosmopolitan city with its specific culture and only reflecting some characteristic British symbols like London Eye, Tower Bridge, Big Ben or Buckingham Palace. My adventure with UK in the wider aspect has began since the Erasmus exchange. Unfortunately my home institution offered the exchange only to University of Hull – average but very nice University in terrible and awful city Kingston upon Hull. After eight months of studying there I managed to hate that place completely, mainly because of the architectural, geographical, and cultural reasons. Hull is totally flat, port, located far away from every potential interesting destination (apart from York), ugly and boring, cause there is nothing going on apart from a couple of clubs and events organised by University. Another Hull’s disadvantage is a massive Polonia. The problem with that is, that very big part of that Polonia are Polish coming to UK without any qualifications, any language skills or personal culture, working in second-rate factories and roaming drunk on the streets after working hours being mean to ethnic minorities. I personally had a doubtful pleasure of living for a couple of weeks with a bald criminal who bullied his girlfriend.

HULL
     That’s it about Hull however, it has got one bright side – University on which I met a couple of really nice people. They helped me familiarise myself with British culture and understand it better, my boyfriend, our house mates and a couple of friends from drama society. Apart from youth slang and recognizing different accents, about which I had no idea before, that’s why I struggled with understanding anything for the first two months, I have learnt some British habits, which only confirmed my opinion about British distance to everything. For example the fact, that being direct is very often perceived as being rude,so many people hide their thoughts under the mask of courtesy to not offend anyone. Well, some people might think it’s right, I guess. Apart from that something that I would perceive as natural thing. You are invited for the party or whatever, ask if you can go with your partner and you get permission – very natural for me. But no, English man will not go without personal invitation. Another observation of my friend, who spent with me half of a year, is that English can’t drink. Well, I am not entirely sure cause sometimes I have been surprised by the amount of alcohol consumed by some of my friends, but it almost always ended with vomiting all around and terrible hangover.

 

CUISINE
        Another important, if not the most important 🙂 case in every foreign country if of course the cuisine. After a couple of previous visits to London and opinions of different people I was assured that English cannot cook and that their cuisine is terrible and bland. After a year spent on British food and stomach problems that stereotype is only getting more true for me. Well, maybe it’s not that bad, as I thought before, although I still think that there I no chance for food to be tasty, food is greasy and fat, and obesity dominates among people on the streets. The leading dishes are burgers, cheesy chips with vinegar, takeaway, curry so adored by British, as well as somewhere after all of that maybe fish and chips, apparently so popular but I didn’t notice that. Some dishes are really shocking for me, like for example cheesy chips with vinegar served in burgers, tortillas, solo or any other possible way. I noticed that pesto is quite cheap and popular here, but pasta pesto is not the most rich food. When I think about leading British dish Full English Breakfast comes to my mind. In theory consisted of toasts, fried egg, fried mushrooms, baked beans, fried or baked bacon, tomatoes, sautéed potatoes, potato cakes and famous black pudding. The amount of the food on the plate is overwhelming, that’s why it is often called full-day breakfast. My culinary discovery of the year is that already mentioned before black pudding. I have heard different terrible things about it, that it is made of blood and fat and nobody likes it. I was really doubtful about trying that thing but in English breakfast I didn’t have choice. Well, that famous black pudding is just an ordinary ‘kaszanka’ (polish dish as well)… traditional English kaszanka. From other popular dishes I can think of it’s Sunday roast dinner – roast chicken, roast potatoes, peas, carrot, cheesy cauliflower, gravy and so on. I would say that it’s tasty if it would have any taste, but yeah it’s good :). Pork pies! Sold in the shops with the size of a tin of luncheon and inside reminding luncheon as well. Crumpets – actually I don’t really know what it is, tiny fluffy pancakes, which you can eat with anything when you roast them a bit. I ate them the very first day I came to the UK with peanut butter and I had no idea I was eating very traditional British thing. Actually in contrast to what I thought before, British cuisine is rather diverse and there is plenty of things I didn’t mention, but I stop here. I love the fact that cider is so popular in the UK and with all the flavours I can think of. After all this, definitely very tasty think I have eaten here is the best beef burger ever – with salad, tomato, bacon, cheese, onion rings, tomato sauce and best in the world sauce made of Tennessee Honey Jack Daniels – Viva la Wetherspoon!

 

STUDIES IN ENGLAND
       In terms of different experiences – Education. For all those who wish to study in England. It’s horrendously expensive! I had an amazing opportunity to join particularly that academic year when the price of tuition fees has raised three times – only £9000 per year. EU students are eligible to get tuition fee loan which needs to be pay back after graduation but only when income of the graduate will reach £21,000 per year. However, unfortunately EU students cannot get maintenance loan which is available for UK students to pay for the cost of living on studies. In Hull, rather cheap city, average cost of living is, I would say, £100 a week. Renting a room differs between 50 and 90 pounds per week including bills. About 20-30 pounds for food fr a week (I do my shopping in Lidl, cause it’s cheap and nice), apart form that any additional costs like cosmetics, alcohol, entrance to clubs, medicines and so on. Everything depends on one’s style of life, I guess. There is no problem with finding a job, especially when you hand the CV in the right period of time. There is no problem with working along studying as well. Study course includes 60 credits per semester and 120 per year. One module is normally worth 20 credits (10 ECTS), so normally it in one semester you have 3 modules (1 hour of lectures and 1 hour of tutorials a week), and additional work at home and one or two hours of free elective – language/ course/ or any module connected with your course. So you would spend on average 6-8 hours a week on University unless you join any society. In such case you can afford working part time (15-20 hours a week) earning the minimum wage about £6 per hour. You pass modules normally by writing an essay and passing the exam. Essays are, depending on which year of your studies you are, between 2000-3000 words (undergraduate studies). Exams are very rigorous, you have 2 hours to answer the questions from your module, you sit in separate tables in a big room, there are plenty of people checking if you are not cheating and your phone needs to be turned off and placed under your table in a plastic bag. Maybe that is why education in UK is more effective. If you want to apply for studies you need to do this via system UCAS already before 15th of January or sometimes even earlier when you are applying for the course starting in September. Over the next months you fill the next stages of application process via UCAS system as well (high school or college results and stuff). Unfortunately EU students cannot get a loan for Master studies. Another interesting place in UK for studies for EU students is Scotland, cause there undergraduate studies are for EU students for free. Unfortunately I don’t know yet how it looks like with Master studies there cause it seems to be quite complicated. Everything depends on the University you are applying for, some courses are refundable, for some you can get a loan or scholarship. I will work it out and post about it later.
TRAVELLING
    Moving towards more travelling aspects of Great Britain, even without travelling much so far I know that UK has got incredible potential in that topic, it is an amazing country with interesting culture and history. There are plenty of places I have read or heard about and I am going to visit them with Scotland and its west coast on the top. The other places are definitely Lake Districts on the North West of England, Malham Cove – my favourite place showed in the Harry Potter VI film, Snowdonia National Park in Wales where you can climb the highest peak of Wales – Snowdon, Cornwall, its fantastic coast and Eden Project(http://www.edenproject.com/ ), White Cliffs in Sussex – Seven Sisters, which I have already seen from the ferry (and that’s probably the best view), but it’s always good to see another perspective. Giant’s Causeway in North Ireland, which according to the legend was supposed to be built by a giant as a bridge to Scotland. Apart from that many many National Parks in which you can fully use the potential of the UK: New Forest, beautiful sights on the beach of Dorset, Peak District National Park, Torquay, Hadrian’s Wall – northern border of the Roman Empire, Massive bridge in Bristol, or finally Stonehenge to which you can’t come close anyway.

        Travelling in Great Britain is rather expensive. Trains cost between 40 to 100 pounds and higher, depends on the route. You can buy tickets cheaper booking them early enough or having a special Student Rail Card. A bit cheaper way of travelling are National Express couches which can get you almost everywhere thanks to cooperation with local transporting companies. The cheapest, I guess, is Mega bus company, they offer very cheap deals on fares but they do not link many locations, for example ticket from Hull to London return booked about 2 weeks earlier was £20. One litre of petrol costs about £1,34, so you can try to travel by car, its beneficial when you travel in a small group.

WIRRAL AREA
     If we talk about my travelling experiences with England so far, thanks to my awesome boyfriend I had an amazing opportunity to visit his home area – Wirral. Little peninsula located between Liverpool and Wales and separated from them by two rivers – Mersey and Dee. Both of those rivers accumulate massive amounts of mud which makes beach to grow and get longer. Some of the further parts of the beach are planted by rare grass and plants in which there live endangered frogs and other stuff. From the beach in the Southern Wirral there is an amazing view on the Northern Wales and dozens of wind mills on the Irish Sea. There is a Marine Lake (apparently the biggest marine lake filled by the sea water in Europe) in West Kirby. There are also some windsurfing events happening there and the races of Kite Buggies. Around the lake a nice walking path has been built. A bit more to the North is Hilbre Island, on which you can get during the lower tide and come back before higher tide cause then the Sea surround the island from all sides. On the Hilbre Island there is bird sanctuary and on the west side you can see seals lying on the beach. Going on the dunes from West Kirby to Hoylake I found fantastic rocks of red sandstone, beside that the whole area lies on the red sandstone and it’s the local treasure. The rock were very colourful – red, green, brown and grey, they were fantastic place to sit for a while and admire Razor Clams which I have seen for the first time in my life. Between the rocks and the sea there is at least 500 meters of beach and on that beach you can find many weird things from huge jellyfishes to crab’s shells. In the area there is plenty of amazing places, in West Kirby you can climb Calday Hill from which there is stunning view on the whole area, Wales and the Irish Sea, going down from the hill you can get to the cliffs with beautiful rocky beach full of colourful shells. Going further in the direction of Calday there is Thurstaston Park full of little lakes, dunes, flowers and grass and in its centre there is legendary Thor’s Rock. It’s legendary only cause my boyfriend used to play there with his mates in the childhood, apart from that there is nothing legendary and the rock has got nothing in common with Marvell’s Thor. Although, it’s very nice, full of grooves made by water and writings made by teenagers sitting there. Further that direction there are beautiful Botanic Gardens in Ness. Nevertheless, the place most magical for me with which I fell in love from the first sight was the beach in Formby – Anthony Gromley’s Another Place. Again amazing long beach with the view on the wind mills on the Sea, and on the beach Gromley built plenty of statues of men turned to the sea. And apart from all of that sunset and birds like the icing on the cake.

Getting ready

Papers

It’s one week left to the departure let’s then sum up what we have done so far. It started from the idea, quite long ago I have heard about the Round the World ticket – multi-stop route planned by travel agencies or by oneself. Later on somebody in my life decided to go for such kind of a trip. I was thinking then that my poor Eurotrip plans are nothing compare to that, but though as well that £1000 are not impossible to collect (average price of an average RTW ticket). As I thought it wasn’t so hard to do this while working part time as a waitress and saving money from two scholarships. Finally magically I have collected money I needed and the time came to choose and buy the ticket. Tickets unfortunately constantly change so the route we were tempting to choose was no longer available, however we found a different one interesting as well. Travel Nation agency offered a route London – Tokyo (self transfer to Osaka) Osaka – Auckland – Hong Kong – London for £975. China, UAE, some Asian countries, New Zealand and Australia are rather popular destinations on such trips, but Japan? Wow! That convinced me, if only we would have Australia included in our route that would be just perfect. In that case we called Travel Nation and asked politely – £140 and additional plane from Auckland to Sydney and back is ours, not bad! Hmm, how about travelling around China a bit more, maybe return from any other city like Beijing or Shanghai? That’s right, from Shanghai, £50 more. Thus it turned to be London – Tokyo … Osaka – Auckland – Sydney – Auckland – Hong Kong … Shanghai – London for £1350 including insurance for flights and luggage, not bad considering the route.

 

TRANSPORT

 

      We purchased our tickets on the phone with card payment, any other services that Travel Nation offered (like getting the visa) are available to do online. They offered a whole range of expensive tour sets from relax to adventure, although as a poor students we didn’t agree for them, besides it’s not about getting everything ready by them. We decided however for one thing – campervan in Australia. In New Zealand we have been blessed with my companion’s uncle living there, so he offered us accommodation and transport. About the campervan, we might have not done to well with that believing in cheap prices of the rental – £21 a day. But what else we could think of beside camping and hitch-hiking (without a tent and I would be rather scared living in a tent in Australia) – accommodation with transport in one, when we want to go from Sydney to Melbourne and back, visit as many national parks as we can, hug koalas, box with kangaroos and kill wild spiders and snakes with machete – rather good option with that campervan. In the end the rental of the campervan was the cost of £660 for 12 days (to divide between us both, so £320 each) plus petrol of course. Initially it was meant to be £300 for rental for 12 days, however I found out that in our rental agreement we need to pay additionally plenty of fees and taxes and horrendously high deposit of £1600 – more then our ticket for the whole trip, deposit refundable of course, but we would not have those money anyway. We have been told about the inclusive rate, so the cost of the rental raises to £500 but all the fees and taxes are included and deposit is decreased to refundable £60. Although, we need to pay additional £160 fr renting a campervan for less than 21 days and it is unfortunately non-refundable. Well, twice as much as we thought but we still can do this, I hope.
       The time has come to figure out what do we do with the transport in Japan and China. In China we assumed to visit Beijing and Shanghai from which we fly back to the UK. Thanks to an awesome website of a nice train-traveller(http://www.seat61.com/) I got to know everything I need about train connections in both those countries. Train from Hong Kong to Beijing which goes every second day (only 24 hours ride) with a hard-sleeper option is the cheapest option and cost about 85$ however, depends where the booking is made. Train from Beijing to Shanghai which goes everyday with a hard-sleeper option costs about 75$ and with just a normal seat 45$. Considering that China is a big country and those cities are located on the very edges of it the price seems to be not that bad. Although, Japan does not look as good. I have been told that the best option for travelling in Japan is buying a Japan Rail Pass that allows you for unlimited travelling in a particular period of time by particular trains. That ticket costs £186 for 7 days, £297 for 2 weeks and £380 for 21 days – what the hell are those prices? When I summed up all our potential train rides over 10 days separately it would cost us about £200 including transfers from and to the airports. Well in that case there is hitch-hiking and walking left. That will be funny especially cause Japanese are rather not familiar with hitch-hiking. As well as with couchsurfing (website / project that allows you to find a person in any place in the world that could host you or the opposite) – after a couple of weeks of seaching for a host I was left with mostly no response, majority of refused and one maybe. Well in Tokyo we wanted to try capsule hotels anyway, and hopefully there will appear a nice couchsurfer in Kyoto who could host us.

 

ACCOMMODATION

 

        Apart from all the basic things like tickets and transport. Hostels – in China rather cheap, like bed in 4-6 persons dorm in the city centre for about £6. In case of Japan it’s similar to the UK – cheapest accommodation in Tokyo I have found is £15 for a night and rather far away form the centre. Food we will hopefully find, buy, eat, if not there is always the option of grilled insects a’la Bear Grylls and piss as a drink. Insurance is I guess definitely advised, apart from our insurance included in the ticket for flights and luggage I purchased Euro26 card with SPORT insurance for a year time covering the whole world apart from USA and Canada and covering sports like snowboarding, snorkelling, diving and stuff, as if I would come up with the idea of bungee jumping somewhere on the way. Apart from that additional insurance for that particular period of time on the trip with a bit higher financial limits offered by my bank for about £45. Clinics in the pre-summer period encourage vaccinations. After checking the requirements about the vaccinations in each of the countries I decided to vaccine myself too. In New Zealand and Australia there is almost no risk of any serious disease (only yellow fever occurring in the north of Australia). In Japan it is advised to be vaccinated for Japanese encephalitis however, in Poland (where I was vaccinating myself) that vaccine is not popular and you would need to order it especially and it takes too long to apply the vaccination (a couple of dozes in period of a couple of months to take). Chine is though a completely different case. There is plenty of diseases from hepatitis A, B through tuberculosis, polio, typhoid to bird’s flu. I decided to vaccine myself only for the typhoid – cause I guess with their water and food that might be rather easy to get ill for, and hepatitis A as I hope that I am still immune for the B type. Apparently in the cities there is not much risk of getting a serious disease. From the other hand I started doing any vaccinations about 2 months before departure so after taking two vaccinations in the same time I have been told not to take any more for the next two weeks. The problem is that most of the vaccines are not disposable, most of them you need to take 2-4 times in the period of a couple of months, the two that I have taken have been in only one doze (hepatitis A in two but the second one to be done after 9 months). So if you are going for trekking to the Chinese rural areas start vaccinating one year before the trip :). Both of the vaccinations costed me about £30 each (in Poland).

 

VISAS

 

       Another pre-departure duty is to get visas. Considering countries that we are going to visit we needed only two – Australian and Chinese. Japan and New Zealand are in the international convention agreed between quite a few countries, according to which you do not require a visa for the tourist visits up to 3 months if you are the citizen of one of the countries included in the convention (Poland and UK are included). Australian visa was included in the cost of our ticket as an electronic visa and its cost is £15. It was a bit more ridiculous with the Chinese visa. The Travel Nation agency offered the possibility of getting the visa through them but for £105. I have checked then what are the prices in Chinese embassies and consulates in Poland – in the normal procedure (about 4 working days) £45. And here goes the funny bit. While being at home in Poland in Gdansk (there is a Chinese consulate) I wanted to drop a form and get a visa done however, they require more documents then embassies and agencies normally do, like hotel bookings, phone numbers, invitations and stuff apart from just passport and flight ticket. The first problem was a wrong day to come. So Chinese working days mean Monday, Wednesday and Friday… While I wanted to apply on Tuesday a day before my flight back to the UK (unfortunately the next Wednesday was Chinese bank holiday anyway). Nevertheless I tried again being in Poland another time, this time on a proper day however, my for has been rejected anyway. It was because my flight ticket is to Kong Kong, not the actual China. I was a bit afraid of that although it shouldn’t matter as normally in such cases people do get visas to China. I had a train chosen but I could not have bought the ticket yet because it was too early but it did not help unfortunately. It turned out that it’s not only me having problems with getting a visa because of such a ridiculous reasons. When I left the consulate I have been offered help with getting a visa by a girl who has given me a card and told me where to find that address in the city. I was pretty sure I am going to consult with a travel agency or something although, somehow I got to a Chinese restaurant. Very nice Mr Consul came up with the idea of having an agreement with the owner of the restaurant (Chinese of course) who is getting previously rejected clients a visa without any problem but with paying extra money for that (and of course without giving any confirmation of the payment) and somehow following normal working days not the Chinese ones. For example for the normal visa you would need to pay extra £30, for express one £50 and for the superexpress for the next day of the application £70. In the end cost of my visa was about £75.
        I am sitting now a couple of days before departure and trying to think of what is else to buy or do. Aid kit complete – basic things like bandages, plasters, antiseptic spray, painkillers, anti diarrhoea pills, vitamin B1 (apparently works like mosquito repellent). Head torches bought, additional batteries to the camera as well. Only some snacks and light food left to buy and some emergency phone numbers to write down and collect all the important documents and that should be fine.

Uno, Dos, Tres… España!

DSCN0968-2

On the 4th of December, somewhere between autumn depression and Christmas with New Year, I’m back to refreshing my blog. Thus, while writing my assignments and trying to prepare presentation, I have reminded that during last sunny and hot August I have visited Spain. Although it was only 10 days that time was very valuable as spent on learning Spanish language on a course. That course has taken place in Alicante and I had an opportunity to fly directly there, but I decided to visit Barcelona as well and kill two birds with one stone – two places in totally different regions and with different features and cultural aspects. Those differences were the most surprising for me. I wouldn’t have suspected that in whole country there are so many accents (I have been even more surprised when I have come to UK). Catalan language sounds more like French than Spanish but I managed to deal with that despite my very low language competences and complete lack of using English by Spanish people. One day my Spanish friend told me that the original Spanish language that is said to be the official one does not come from Madrid (as I thought) but from Castile (Valladolid and Palencia). When talking about cultural differences I guess that the most visible was for me two contrast attitudes to the Corrida. In Alicante one citizen and our language tutor in the same time has brought us to the Museum of Corrida and has spoken about it event with pride, about the cultural meaning, celebration and respecting bulls. However, in Barcelona there is a common conviction that Corrida and any events including fights with bulls are cruelty to animals and are not practiced there. Another difference is the splendor of modernistic-“gaudistic” Barcelona full of street art (and art in general), huge modern buildings, palaces, fountains, shopping centers contrasting with poverty and dirt of Alicante, where architecture is rather austere but sometimes in positive ways. Of course I don’t mean that Alicante is ugly. It has a beautiful castle, coast and old town are absolutely different than the rest of the city, and that rawness is interesting and charming in its way.

  Unfortunately my first days in Barcelona have not been too lucky. The desire of adventure, meeting new people, saving money and positive previous experiences I decided to use Couchsurfing again. However, this time I had rather negative experiences and adventures ccause of two insane people, this is why I have wasted two days dealing with them and completely unnecessary things despite exploring the beauty of Barcelona. Fortunately I was meant to visit Barcelona again after my course and then I decided to stay in a cheap hostel.

          If not the financial surprise from my aunt just before my trip I would have quite a disturbing problem. I didn’t check the prices of tickets for the transfer from Barcelona to Alicante and back and that cost about 100 euro. It’s a lot especially that on my way back in Valencia I have met two girls that have told me about Inter Rail ticket that allows travelling all around the Europe in comparable prices during a long period of time.

         The week in Alicante was the time to fall In love with Spanish food, parades and fiestas, people and their style of living and beautiful white beaches that were perfect to spend time by the evenings or even to sleep there. However, I have heard from one tutor that once a man slept on the beach and the wind covered him with sand, so the tractor (or whatever is the name of that machine that smooths the sand) didn’t notice him and an accident happened. Though I still think that sleeping on the beach is awesome. That was as well the time to hate the heat, filthy salty water of the Mediterranean Sea, night traffic on the streets and leakiness of windows there. It was also the time to meet fantastic people from all around the Europe. I’m not a specialised in cuisine but Spanish food is stunning for me. First of all tapas, so different snacks like small sandwiches, baked potatoes with sauce (patatas bravas), salami chorizo, olives, cheese, tortilla, fried squids and so on serving cold or warm are very popular during the day when it’s too hot to have a full hot meal. Paella, so fried rice mixed with sea fruits, chicken or vegetables, or all together – delicious! Fantastic smoked Spanish hams like jamon Serrano or jamon Iberico. Typical Spanish candies – turrones – kind of a nougat, and finally chocolate con churros – typical Spanish breakfast, fried pieces of cake served with hot chocolate. It should be compulsory to try all of those dishes! 🙂 Despite exploring Spanish cuisine our international girlish team had also an opportunity to explore the night life. There is nothing such pleasurous as walking around the city by the night, when it’s warm but not too much and there are a lot of people on the streets and in the pubs. One night we managed to visit a very special, little pub in which every centimeter of the walls was covered with handwriting and pictures made by pen. Charming, middle-age Spanish woman was serving unusual mojito drink called ‘coscorron’, which means that the drink hits your head. It’s delicious, prepared in a pot with special chopped mint and squised juices, however the recipe is secret of course. My most amazing experience in Alicante was definitely watching the sunset from the Castle of Santa Barbara, placed on a high hill. The landscape was stunning – marina, the city, mountains and the sea. And finally one of the most characteristic signs that I will always connect with Spain is shopping center – El Corte Ingles (English court?), it’s literally everywhere!

     After unfortunate events In Barcelona I had no motivation to go there again, but I haven’t seen that city at all and it was my big desire. I decided to make a stop in Valencia for one day and spend whole day on sightseeing and taking pictures. The most impressive was ‘Ciudad de las artes y las ciencias’ – City of the arts and sciences – a series of fantastic, futuristic buildings, like aquarium, planetarium, museum of science and museum of art. I just regret that I was too late to enter them and anyway I was out of money – reason to go back there. My second visit in Barcelona was very nice and I regret that I had so little time to spend there and again so little money – again it’s a reason to go there again as I haven’t managed to see all places that I wanted to. I was staying in a small, cheap hostel just next to Sagrada Familia called Ole Barcelona. They also have been giving leaflets about free walking and cycling tours, flamenco and tapas nights and so on and vouchers for dinner, all those events are taking place in Travel Bar. There I have met four Polish girls with whom I spent an evening on fountains show. I managed to see Park Guell and take a cycle tour around the Gaudi’s buildings. Barcelona is probably still the only one city (in Europe?) where free cycle tours take place. But still there are a lot of places in Barcelona for me to see like Old Town or Montjuic. And then was the end of my Spanish adventure and it was the time to go back to Poland.

The Pearl of the Balkans

Ohrid

As small as a british county, full of sunshine and natural beauty Macedonia is a place that should be on the ‘got to go’ list of every traveler.

Mats mats’ – this is how people call cats in Macedonia and other Balkan countries. What’s surprising cats are not reacting differently from any other in the world. Before I have visited Macedonia, Balkans had been for me the synonym of poverty, danger and many other not positive features. For sure it’s a little bit of truth in that, but the reality looks more gladly in general. Initially my trip there was a huge and frustrating challenge for me, mainly cause of the language barrier. Everywhere I have been so far I could have easily communicate in English (more or less). I was terrified when I had to transfer from point A to point B without any ability to communicate in that language, and what is worse, without knowing the alphabet. That was the time when I have come to the conclusion that people’s attitude changes inversely to the decrease in latitude and in direct proportion to the amount of receiving sunshine. I didn’t have to wait long for help. Literally everybody there asked for help is willing to help. This is probably not only my observation. I have been to Macedonia for a seminar and all of the participants of that seminar that I have been talking to said exactly the same, and described Macedonians as relaxed, chilled out, with positive attitude to life and problems.

Macedonia is in fact a poor country. 100 denarii is about £1,5; and in comparison you can buy the pack of cigarettes for 60 denarii (!). People there are complaining of course, but as my friend Sasha claimed – Macedonian will be able to have fun and party even if he doesn’t have a penny to his name… or he will simply resign of other spending :). The centre of Skopje, the capital, is full of new and new, beautiful buildings in a neo-antic style. The central square looks far more better than a few of years ago, what you can admit by looking at the old photographs. If the development will go like this, in my opinion Skopje may become a popular touristic place. However, one of my Macedonian friends, Bube has a different point of view. She claims that the right-wing government should invest in education and new jobs instead of spending money on monuments and huge buildings that are ought to satisfy the rampant ego of politicians. Exactly those buildings and monuments of Alexander the Great and Philip II are the reason of conflicts between Macedonia and Greece. Macedonian government claim its rights to build a national tradition on the basis of the tradition and culture of the ancient Macedonia. Greeks are not accepting that and hold that they have greater rights to that, both territorially and culturally. I’m talking to my other friend, Vojislav, and he is explaining me that after all ages that this territory got through like Roman Empire, influx of Slavs and 500 years of Turkish domination, it is hard to consider any cultural heritage of ancient Macedonia or the blood line with Alexander the Great. Because of that conflict Greece is blocking Macedonia’s ability to join the European Union or NATO. What is more Greece does not agree to confer Macedonia’s name of the ancient land, so the official name of that country is Macedonia-FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). Apparently it’s better not to mention that suffix to any Macedonian cause it may be taken as offending. However, for them money is far greater problem anyway. Those Macedonian that I’ve met openly admit that their country is poor, and they don’t see any life perspectives there. ‘State should firstly take care of its citizens, and after that of tourists’ concludes Bube. ‘That is why Macedonians don’t like those monuments and buildings, no matter how beautiful they are’ adds Vojislav.

     The seminar that I was going to, took place in Ohrid. I was trying to find any printed guide to Macedonia or that city but I failed. I found a couple of short descriptions in the Internet, saying that Ohrid is the most beautiful place in a whole country and now I am able to agree with that. It’s located by the huge, transparent and warm lake, around which I haven’t find even one sandy beach, just the rocky ones. The Ohrid Lake has a calming influence on a scorching Macedonian climate. It’s surrounded by the mountains, that are really worth to climb on to see that stunning landscape of two lakes on two different sides of the mountain in two different countries (border with Albania on Galicica mountain). Macedonia in general enchants with the beauty of nature, and in some cases even architecture blend with the nature, like in the old part of Ohrid where red and orange roofs of white houses harmonise with the green hill, trees and turquoise lake. On the streets there are plenty of old Yugoslavian cars and on the top of that hill there is a fortress. On the way down the hill there is beautiful forest and stairs leading to a couple of monasteries. One of them is the apparently the oldest University in Europe – it’s the church of Saint Clement, student of the Saints Cyril and Methodius. Another one is probably the most popular, it’s Kaneo of the Saint John Theologian placed on the edge of the cliff and it’s, I think, the most beautiful view on the Ohrid and the lake. Despite all that Macedonian also use the nature in the art. The most popular souvenir from Ohrid are Ohrid’s pearls and that jewelery is made of fish scales, of course the process of producing is secret.

Another enchanting element of Macedonian nature are its gifts. Fruits and vegetables differs totally by its colours, size and taste from those ones from the north. Macedonians use it perfectly in their dishes, like Shopska salad or Macedonian salad. There is a lot of Turkish influence in Macedonian cuisine and culture in general (cuisine, music, dance, clothes and so on). The basis of every meal is bread, what I can understand for breakfast, but for dinner or supper it’s not such common for me. Some of the traditional dishes are Tavce Gravce – baked sausage with baked beans in sauce, Kebapchinja – baked minced lamb, veal and beef shaped like sticks, or Pleskavica – a cutlet or burger with various etceteras, like eggs, cheese or onion. Typical desert is Tulumba – yeast-cake in sugar syrup or Baclava – puff pastry with nuts and pistachios also in a sugar syrup.

       The seminar in Ohrid was an amazing opportunity to get to know Macedonian culture, local traditions and language. The initiators of that international events were philologists from the University of Cyril and Methodius in Skopje. The seminar has been created to broaden the interest in Macedonian culture and problems among Europeans. The first seminar has taken place in 1967 and since that time there have been 45 editions. From year to year there have been more and more participants and Universities that established a cooperation with University in Skopje. The seminar takes place every year and covers two events – the conference and summer school. The conference gathers philologists from different countries to discuss various Macedonian problems and present their essays. Students on courses connected with Macedonia or Balkans take part in summer school. During the seminar there are lectureships on the Macedonian language, both for beginners and advanced, and different lectures on Macedonian history, culture, literature and geography  spoken in Macedonian. Apart from that summer school offers as well the cultural course of national dances and singing tutorials and trips to different villages and cities like Struga, national park in Vevcany, Bitola, Krusevo or Sveti Naum – that last one you visit to listen the heart of Saint Naum lying in the tomb in Monastery. This is what the legend says that his heart is still beating.

        There are not many places on such seminar, those are two places per each partner university, that is why the possibility of taking part in such seminar is the dream of every student of Slavonic philology. For some students it’s a unique opportunity, some of them manage to come back once again to improve their assignments. One is sure, that everybody goes back happy after that seminar and the time they have spent there is unique, valuable experience, however not only students of philology can experience that – everybody who visits Macedonia shares similar experience. Life in that country is cheap, trip relatively inexpensive, people delectable, views and landscapes stunning – Macedonia and Ohrid are definitely places ‘got to go’ and it’s worth considering it as a destination for the next trip.

Praguedise

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Spring holiday break was coming and I had no plans for it. I was thinking about visiting Prague, with some friends to accompany and by the cheap cost. But eventually the group of friends split, some of them resigned cause we were waiting too long and prices increased. The Prague has fallen. However, some personal issues, daily cases and other etceteras decided that the Prague has been reactivated, but by hitchhike and in a two people team. It was completely spontaneous and unprepared. We didn’t actually have any experience in hitchhiking so we went without any itinerary, map, any weapon like pepper spray, only the backpack, aim and no experience! In the morning we got the tram to get to the borders of the city, pulled out a board saying ‘Prague’ and were just walking down the road. We were extremely lucky, the longest we have been waiting for someone to stop was half of hour in Krakow where we were departure from. Right in the beginning of our journey we had the first results of our lack of preparation. One nice man told us to go to Chyzne instead of Cieszyn, cause it’s more people going there and that was the truth. Although in the next car we realized that Chyzne is on the border with Slovakia, not Czech Republic. Let’s say it’s just cause it was our first time. On the next stop we bought the map and re-planned our route.

We had a lot of luck and on our way we met plenty of really nice drivers. We reached Slovakia in four cars, I mean – with four transfers. Young couple gave us a lift to Liptovsky Mikulas, and then we realized that we have to get from the centre of the city that we completely don’t know to any motorway on the outskirts. So we were following the road signs to Zylina but we couldn’t find any motorway. We stopped to catch any car but nobody wanted to take us. Finally one nice man told us that the road is quite close. And apparently it was but going on a relatively big bridge. My friend climbed on that bank among the bushes and branches and checked which way should we pick, and then it was my turn to join her. It was another stroke of luck when just after 3 minutes one man stopped and gave us a lift right to the border with Czech Republic in Trencin and helped us to plan the rest of the route. We were meant to catch a car to Brno and after some time we managed to, but what is almost unbelievable, after a short talk the driver found out that we are going to Prague and he declared that he is going there as well and may take us directly there. He was incredibly nice, talkative, offered us to show the hill in Slavkov (Austerlitz) where the famous Battle of the Three Emperors happened, and when we finally reached Prague, bought us tickets to underground and explained how to get where we wanted to get. It was long but very nice and a little bit adventurous way.

Apparently we didn’t really know how we want to spend time In Prague. After 12 hours of travelling there through Slovakia we manager to get to our host whom we fund on Couchsurfing – site that enables meeting people from all around the Word when travelling and staying In their places (or opposite – host other people). We went with Jan to very nice old pub in artistic area, where I have accidentally invented a new way of drinking beer. That time I was a big fan of Radler (or Shandy however you call it) – beer with Sprite. Unfortunately they had neither Radler nor just Sprite. In Poland it is popular to drink beer with syrups like raspberry or ginger, what is similar to British blackcurrant beer but the syrup is a little bit more thick. Although I forgot how to say ‘syrup’ in English and asked for the beer with juice. Then the barman asked me if I prefer apple or orange which was quite surprising, but I didn’t give up and choose orange. Then barman asked me in what proportion do I want that ‘one to one?’. My eyes grew bigger and then I realized what I ordered, so I just nodded to confirm. But what was the most surprising is that this beer was pretty good! 🙂

We spent our first Day In Prague on exploring Vysehrad with our host Jan. After that we were straying around Andel district to find the work place of our next host – Italian Francesco. As we found out later he was working in Ferrero, so all the time he was sharing with us those amazing chocolates. During the rest of the day we had some time so see Hradcany and in the evening we hit to conquer night clubs, including famous Sasazu which is apparently one of the biggest clubs in Europe or something like that. We had such an awesome company with our host and his friends that we didn’t really see the city – only the old town.

After three days spent in Prague we wanted to go back although, we set off a bit too late. It was rainy Sunday, and we were standing in that rain wet waiting for any car to stop by the entrance to the highway. After quite a long time we decided that it won’t work and came back to our Italian. We wanted to go by train to Ostrava next day and catch any car there to Poland, as it’s pretty close to the border. We were exhausted by this stay in Prague and no I know that returns by hitchhike are very hard and depressing. Thanks to the nice old lady we got a lift to the motorway already on a Polish side. From there, again luckily, took us an English man working in Poland and going to Rybnik. And there was the most depressing moment of our journey. We were waiting for hours until one lovely student gave us a lift closer to the motorway and told us that in any case we can spend a night in student houses nearby. Again we were standing for hours freezing and finally we were so desperate that we decided to climb to that motorway. And then in the middle of our way I spontaneously decided to keep showing our board AND A CAR STOPPED THEN! It was so unbelievable! We were so excited and enthusiastic that the driver loved us from the very beginning. And this is how we finished our journey in Krakow thanks to lovely Sir Artur 🙂

Potatokraine

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The trip to the Ukraine was the beginning of the short period of travelling with my friend Ada. Everything started with the Erasmus recruitment. We asked in International Office how we can earn some additional points for the Erasmus exchange and one of the ways was to take part in short term student exchange. I didn’t really know that our University offer such kind of stuff. We got qualified for the trip to the Ternopil in April 2012. The agreement of that exchange is very good idea – student needs to pay 100 PLN (about £20) on the account of University and pay for the transport to the place of exchange, the rest is paid by University.

 

Before the trip the biggest problem was how to get to Ternopil (Ukraine) the cheapest way. Most of the people in our group who has already been on such exchanges wanted to go there by car, but there wuldn’t be enough space for us all. Our supervisor informed us that apart from us there is another group of students from another University in our city that is going for that exchange as well. Supervisor of that other group offered renting a bus which was supposed to take us to Ternopil and back for 200 PLN (about £40). Actually everybody agreed for that option and it wouldn’t probably change if not the fact that when I asked that supervisor for the invoice for those money, he started to explain that not all of those costs are able to be invoiced (like bribes in Ukraine an stuff…) and he would not be able to give the invoice for all the money we would pay. That was very suspicious so we decided to resign of his offer and get to Ukraine by ourselves by train to Przemysl, and from there take the ‘couch’ to Ternopil. But the supervisor of the other group held his own and kept calling me every time giving the lower price from the previous one…

 

All in all after a small before trip party we got onto the train station almost losing half of the group which wouldn’t be on time in the train at 4 am. During the transfer in Przemysl, lovely dirty post-communist city, we treated ourselves with underdone scrambled eggs in dingy bar neraby the station. Right after that we found our ‘couch’. So that ‘couch’ turned out to be a dilapidated per city bus ‘Ikarus’ (old, but I mean really old Hungarian model of a bus), filled up to the roof with different food, meant, vegetables, fruits packed even into the holes of air condition regulators, very well camouflaged to confuse the scary boarder agents. Despite the Spartan conditions in the bu our trip was not that bad, after all everybody survived. It was my first time when I travelled to the east of Europe and I must admit that just after getting a stamp in the passport I was shocked by the culture differences. This time the border was actually a border. Right behind the borderline I got punched in the face by a total different world. On our route we were passing only fields and little towns with the domination of fields. Like if there were no villages, suburbs or anything – void and then couple of blocks and again and again. Situation that I will probably never forget – our trip was in April right before the Euro 2012 (in Poland and Ukraine) – we are driving peacefully on the riddled road and then on the horizon there appeared something big and grey. That construction or whatever it was started to grow as we were getting closer. After some time it seemed to be even something nice and… pretty? Next to it there were two massive hills of sand and a couple of blocks of flats, but apart from that all around fields and nothing. I got really confused so I asked one old lady in the bus what is this thing and what response I got… ‘stadion, Kiev’. Didn’t ask for anything else 🙂

 

How about the Ternopil by itself. There is a big lake inside of the city dividing it into two parts. It’s really useful thing especially in the summer, I guess. Unfortunately we in the April had no choice but wearing jackets and coats. The University we came to visit offered us some kind of educational-cultural programme. About all those more formal meetings like conference and stuff our group was not really positive, we did not really attend these. We have been on a couple of trips around the area, in Zbaraz, Krzemieniec and … BEER FACTORY!. Ukrainian students turned out to be really nice company and took care of our entertainment. Well, the stereotypes about drinking are really true. I had to be really assertive in that situation cause I am not the biggest fan of alcohol, and their propensity to drink is insane. I guess Polish have the same abilities, guys from our group were delighted by the drinking company. I am not the fun of clubbing as well however, Ukrainian clubs are probably the best I have visited so far (even better then Sasazu in Prague!). Long kilometres of dance floors, plenty of people, good music, charismatic DJs and other good stuff and good fun.

 

Of course very important part of every trip is the cuisine. Well, in our case it wasn’t great. We had dinners in the University’s canteen but every after we had to eat up some more because of the tiny portions, but even there it was possible to notice the characteristics of Ukrainian cuisine. Considering the portions of food on the plate it was more or less like this: meat was about 1/8 of the plate, some kind of poor salad ¼ and finally ¾ if not more was potatoes! Yey for potatoes, they are EVERYWHERE! Every single thing in Ukrainian cuisine might be connected with potatoes, it’s simply the base for that cuisine. We went on one city trip to the bakery to have a snack, my friend took a filled bun, you know like those normally served with cheese and ham or something sweet like jam. He got bun stuffed with… yes, potatoes :).We went to Italian pizzeria, the speciality was the Ukrainian pizza – with potatoes and onion, mmm yummy! Voda, of course made of potatoes as well :). So gourmets without excitement :(.

 

We had with Ada very ambitious plan of making a reportage about mass murders of dogs in Ukraine before Euro 2012 however, we didn’t have enough time to collect the material, but when we finally had some, our translator was busy. We were meant to prepare this after the trip but the enthusiasm went down and it didn’t happen. And that was pretty much out week in Ternopil. For some in our group every day ended with a party, other were a bit more exhausted so they were falling asleep before 9pm. Last day we even managed to get lost getting into the wrong bus, unfortunately that was the only one rainy day, but really rainy. Farewell was sweet and lovely. We met fantastic people but then the time came to get into the same old Ikarus bus, hide some illegal extra packages of cigarettes into underwear to be able to take them through the border and get back. We are so lucky people so to have some more adventures we got a flat tire and missed the last train to Krakow. We spent a lovely night on the train station in Rzeszow then and in the morning finally got back home. Very nice trip :).