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Public Service Announcement

Anyone who may care about my whereabouts these next few days...

May 15th-19th (my nameday and birthday respectively, yay me!), or possibly 20th -- plans aren't certain yet -- I'll be very far away from a reliable internet connection, namely visiting my aunt in Łódź, so don't expect updates.


Lots of pictures when I return, most likely.

I want happy birthdays from you lot!! xP

My flat!

Since I'm sure some of you might care xP Here's where I'm living at present.

Cut for pics.Collapse )

Notes from a Flat-Dweller

There are many things a man doesn't want to be woken up to, or, perhaps even worse, woken up by. You most likely have your own personal list; my own, to my mild shame, includes 'finding a spider on the pillow'. Since I moved into a (mercifully spider-free!) private apartment Saturday gone, my list has increased exponentially. It now includes 'the people upstairs having loud and offensive sex' (I suspect them of being heavily into BDSM, which is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but not in a flat, people); 'next door to my right playing Radio Wawa at full blast' (think Galaxy FM on steroids, for those of you unfortunate enough to be acquainted with Galaxy FM); 'next door and up one on the left playing electric guitar, badly'; 'downstairs and left one's dog barking on the balcony' and, of course, 'directly left one's marriage-ending screaming rows'.

All that being said, this is not a bad apartment. It's spacious -- the bedroom is also the lounge, but it's a good-sized room; there's room to swing a cat in the bathroom (not that I have a cat to swing; I'm also lacking in nine-flailed whips); and the kitchen, though small, has all the necessaries. I thought it was a bad culture shock to go from an eleven-room detached house to my first three-room apartment above my host's dwelling, but at least that was still a detached private residence; if I thought that was bad, I hadn't a hope when it came to a flat: three rooms, three flights of stairs (no lift), the Marquis de Sade living upstairs, and next door's divorce pending. (These latter two are pure speculation, but I would not be at all surprised on either one).

I've had to... adapt, somewhat. I've never been one for loud music, thank gods, but nonetheless, out of a misplaced sense of courtesy, I've taken to playing any music (it was the Planets suite last night, which I admit I do tend to blast) through my laptop with earphones plugged in. Flute practise is out after 9pm, as I understand next-door-left have small children. (That and I don't want to scare the dog who lives in the flat below-left). I haven't self-imposed a lights-off curfew as yet, but the fact there aren't real curtains, only a heavy net, means I have to get changed in the dark (at night) or the bathroom (in the morning). Oh, and there may be room to swing a cat in there, but my hair when I've just washed it is another matter. I'm so glad the dye's taken now, or there'd be a permanent line of black speckles up the wall behind the bath from my flicking it over.

For all this, I'm quite enjoying life as a flat-dweller. Coming from my parents' house to this is a wonderful taste of freedom (even foreign freedom, which is a bit more salty, if anyone's interested, and goes well with most good merlot), and it's indescribably wonderful to lock my front door (my front door!) when I leave and unlock it again when I return knowing that I'm entering a private sanctum. I rather think going 'home' for any extended period would be difficult if not impossible now, and I've taken the decision to look for a place of my own ASAP after I return.

Speaking of returning, my decision is made as regards the potential interviews at the university. My flight is changed and I will be back in England at the end of May. Do I regret this? Yes and no.

Yes, because it's cutting the trip short by well over half of its intended length, and a small but insistent part of me is trying to shout 'hah, you failed!!' at me, usually late at night when I'm tired and occasionally slightly gone on aforementioned merlot. No, because if I don't at least give myself the opportunity to attend the interview, I'll kick myself forever; work out here isn't going to happen without a fully accredited TEFL, and the finances aren't going to last as long as planned without some work to back them up. There's also the matter of missing my dog, my mother and several very dear friends, which, while not necessarily the be-all-and-end-all deciding factor in my saying "Hang it, I'll come back", certainly held quite some weight in the deliberations.

Did I fail, though? I ask myself this frequently, again, usually late at night, or at around 20:30 local time when I have to shut off the laptop, if I've made it to Koffeina that day, and scurry for my bus for fear of being stranded in Rynek all blessed night (that's another negative on this flat -- it's twenty-five minutes out of the city centre by bus. That said, my parents' house is nearly an hour away from both of the major local cities, so I shouldn't complain too much). The conclusion I have come to, and from which nothing will dissuade me, is a resounding 'no'.

Admittedly, it's true, I'm cutting the losses and skiving back to my country of birth, wherein just about everything is entitled and easy, nearly three months before I'd originally planned to. However, this was always intended as an experience in Learning not in Stamina or Bloody-Mindedness, and to stay until September would be spectacular and quite idiotic Bloody-Mindedness. Also, my heading back early doesn't make it any less of a learning experience. My gods, have I learnt. 900 miles away from everything you once knew, you find out who your friends are, for a start. I've also now got a decent working grasp of Polish which I'm quite pleased with -- I was considerably discouraged by how much it seemed I didn't know when I arrived, but I didn't let it put me off getting in there and being a damn stupid Englishman if it got my point across, and I've had some incredible, touching and occasionally downright funny experiences along the way.

I've also produced, so far, sixty-eight pages (in standard Times New Roman, size 12) of the infamous Novel-That-Isn't that I hope to publish someday; the idea has been in the works now for half a decade (or, if you prefer, a little over a quarter of my life) and this is by far the furthest I've ever got with any form of cohesive continuant prose on it all. My evenings have been productive: reading, language study, and lots of writing. My days, generally speaking, have been productive for the local economy if nothing else; I was present-shopping again today. The time has most certainly not been wasted. (Nor has the money!)

I intend to return, then, refreshed, revitalised, a little older and a lot wiser, and of course (...this is me we're discussing) bearing gifts all round. For now, though, it's time to sign off and get back to my reading and writing... and hoping to hell I don't wake up to the sound of my toilet doing a good impression of a heaving bulimic at 6am. Apparently even the bathroom's sick of the company...

...unfortunately, the potential-job is in England. And interviews may be as early as June.

I've given this a lot of thought, and the conclusion is: if they invite me to interview, I'm coming back early. Work in Poland is, to put it bluntly, not going to happen. Private teaching is dangerous at best and damn stupid at worst (yes, I consider stupidity worse than doing something dangerous... though possibly the two are very closely intertwined), and without a TEFL, I can't get a job in a school of foreign language. This whole shebang was a learning experience from the start, and by god I have learnt.

My pride and I had a long argument on the matter last night (surprisingly, my pride sounds a lot like Daxx, for those of you that know him. Hrmmm), and the logical course of action is to come back to England, take the job if they offer it -- it's in the university library at Durham Uni, which is not bad at all -- take nightclasses, get a TEFL, hell, maybe even go to uni myself; and then give it another shot. With a lot more planning this time. ;)

So watch this space... I might be back on Blighty soil before you thought.

In the meantime, though, I'm moving into my new flat tomorrow! The owner is more than happy with short-term letting anyway, so I won't feel too bad if I do skive out after four or five weeks (and the rent's so low I'll likely give her an extra month's worth to ease my conscience for the skipping out anyway, so we're all winners). She's even helping me shift my stuff from A to B. I confess I haven't actually seen the place, which is stupid I know (or dangerous? Heheh), but right now, I've got till Saturday with the host family -- who charge per week what my new landlady Sylwia wants per month, so I'll settle anywhere. Even more so if it does turn out to be for just a month.

I actually went shopping yesterday. Shock horror, I know -- don't faint dead away, anyone, please; I do do it occasionally. Got pressies for draconiandemon, Nixxy, and two gorgeous pairs of amber earrings for irisbleu because I promised I would. ;) I found a few things for other folks too, a lot of them LJ friends, but I don't have addresses, and anyway -- seriously, genuine question, people -- wouldn't it be weird to get presents from Poland based purely on LJ-ness? Because I say no, but I'm a gregarious bastard at the best of times (...well, there's a funny sentence), and you might think otherwise.

I found something gorgeous for mother (I can't say what; mother is my keenest reader. Once I get back to England I'll post pics, or else stick 'em under a locked post on the personal journal for those of you who can see that... once I get the thing), and got myself a little something as well, plus my bastard father's birthday present -- not that he'll appreciate it, but anything's worth a shot once. (Or twice, three times... every year for as long as I can remember... whatever).

Question for Americans on my friendslist: How common is squared paper in notebooks over there? Because it's blessed rare in England but I love it, and it's the norm here in Poland. Needless to say I'm stocking up like my life depends on it. =D

In entirely unrelated news, I promised myself I'd find a few Polish bands or singers I liked while I was out here and I have. Varius Manx is a new obsession.

1. Music -- Cracow is the soundtrack to my life, I've decided; not only have I heard my favourite Goo Goo Dolls, Savage Garden and Dire Straits songs as piped music repeatedly since I've been here, but there's a busker on every corner that isn't occupied by a statue person and tons of the buggers around Rynek, all scarily good. One girl I'd sign myself if I was a label manager sings a perfect mezzosoprano while playing a guitar-harp, and there's been a fellow in full traditional garb playing... something outside the Cloth Hall the past few days (yes, I know, I must get a picture of him). It's a city of music, of dancing, of life -- and I love it.

2. Statue people -- there's one on every other corner, at least.

3. Alkoholes -- I kid you not: alkoholes. It's on the signage of all the off-license booze shops, but in my mind, alkie-hole has become the name for any pub, club, bar, offie, you name it... and there are tons of the things. I believe this city has more drinkholes per person than any other city in Europe. Damn well feels like it. Suits me fine!

4. Irish alkie-holes -- all right, so you can avoid these if you really want, I suppose (though who'd want to?), but honestly, there are three that I know of. In a Polish city. So they deserve a mention.

5. Bookshops!! -- mostly much bigger than they look from the outside, old, musty and awesome, which suits me just fine, of course.

6. Ciggie kiosks -- which get a mention because they're just cool. They're... pillars, essentially; they look like those pillars folks stick advert posters onto (there's plenty of those too), but somewhere, there'll be a tiny window at about waist height, and displays of the cigs they're selling (Tiger Originals all the way yo), and if you lean in and catch the attendant's attention (most spend their days reading magazines; I can well imagine it must be hella boring living in a pillar) they provide you with ciggies. (Well, no, really...? -- Yes, shut up. xP).

7. Rollerbladers -- honestly, you'd think the Planty was LA. (...I want some. Blades, that is, not rollerbladers. Though if there're any decent-looking ones offeri-- where was I?).

8. Amber -- there's a shop or gallery or stand selling it every third unit...

9. Outdoor restaurants -- head up to Rynek and you can barely move for outside tables. It's incredibly cool, and will be more so in the middle of summer when I dare sit outside. There's an ice-cream parlour place I'm just waiting to try out...

10. Kebab kiosks -- I know of five within a hundred yards of one another. The real surprise is, the veggie ones aren't that bad... even when sober. (But damn, they make 'em spicy! Either I develop a magical tolerance to super spicy food when pissed, or bloody hell, the one and only I've had when not half-way drunk was far hotter than the rest).

11. Flower shops -- I have never seen so many florists in one city, I swear.

12. Net cafés -- once again, tons of the beggars, most charging only 2-3zl per hour; Koffeina, my personal favourite (pretty longhair fella-behind-counter knows what I like, by now xD), also has free wireless. =D

13. Art -- be it a gallery, a show right there on the street, a fella drawing caricatures while-you-wait for 5zl a head, or even just graffitti, there's something vaguely artistic happening just about everywhere you look.

14. Decorative weaponry -- it seems just about every other shop sells it and, gods, how I wish I had a hope in hell of getting any of it through customs. =(

15. Private language schools -- there are five that I know of (I've applied to 'em all for teaching, of course); probably more hiding in the woodwork.

16. Secret passages -- well, not so secret once I've been down 'em and "Oh wow awesome!!"'d and taken pictures and noted the best secrets on my now-very-dogeared map. In all seriousness though, every archway you care to duck under leads, often after a short corridor-walk, into a courtyard or building or something truly awesome you'd never have expected from the outside. I'm here for weeks and weeks on end and I bet I'm barely going to scratch the surface.

17. Bugs -- this one might just be my flat. There are ants and a spider in the bathroom. Shudder. Ah well, with a little luck I'm moving on Saturday. (...I sort of need somewhere to move to. Acks).

18. Roadworks -- I'm being a touch unfair, here, but half of downtown is dug up to all hell, the top end of Plac Matejki is... no longer there, and there's a JCB at the end of my road which wakes me up at 6:30, so yes, roadworks, there seem to be enough of them for a mention to be deserved.

19. Hayfever -- if you get it, you're sunk. The Old Town is surrounded by the Planty, a wide strip of parkland presumably where the moat once was, or some such (note to self: find the hecksome out and sound intelligent about it), and they were mowing the lawns this morning. After the tram followed half the sodding Planty around the curvature of the city, I was just about streaming from every available facial orifice... must get some antihistamines. Bleh.

20. The Galereias -- damned be if the Metro Centre hasn't spawned and taken over the world. Shopping centres are international, depressingly so, and there are at least three big ones here -- Centrum, Kasimiersz, and Krakowia. And every one of them could be Eldon Square or the Metro Centre or any big indoor shopping centre you care to name. Sigh. Thank gods we've got the Cloth Hall to balance it out again!

Tags:

Just A Perfect Day

Tuesday April 17th 2007

I have an essay to write and a hundred other things to do, and I really ought to nip downstairs and ask to borrow some loo roll 'cos things are getting chronic up here in the flat, and you know what? Right this second, I don't give a damn; I need to tell you about today. Today, I think, was the best day I've had here so far. Dlaczego? ('Why', for the uninitiated). Because it just was. So there.

I had yesterday off from my lovely little intensive course-y whatsit (everyone did; I wasn't skiving, shush boss (JL+RFF that's not you, again, if you're still reading. And if you are, hi, by the way. =D)) and when I went back today, all the classes have been reshuffled, I've moved up one, and there are a whole set of new faces. I find myself in a group of Germans who, to a man, pretend to speak not a word of English at first. By the end of the day -- and classes are shorter these next two weeks, only until 13:30 -- I'd discovered a new friend; Marian's English is perfect, though she does have the weirdest mix of accents I've ever heard (she went from Cockney to Australian to Welsh inside of a sentence. It was fascinatingly brilliant), she's a linguist -- a translator, to be exact -- and speaks six languages fluently, she smokes hand-rolled without a filter, is tall and lanky with long greying dusty-blonde hair and amounts, in a word, to freakin' awesome. Even if that's two.

Anyhow, class was briliant -- way harder, but that suits me fine; I've been skimming it the last two weeks and I like the new challenge -- and in the cafe we few (we happy few) have adopted for our break, they had a new kind of szarlotka (my favourite cake!) with cherries and almonds as well as the usual apple and it was absolutely freaking gorgeous. Afterwards, Marian and I took a tram up to Rynek (which is what the locals and those of us trying to go native call the central square of the Old Town), bitching and gossiping the whole way and generally hitting it off really well; we bonded over linguistics, a sense of adventure, our shared lack of photogenic-ness and an appreciation of males with ponytails. When we went our separate ways at around quarter past two, I went and spent a thoroughly enjoyable few hours stealing Koffeina's wireless internet access, planning out various things to do if and when friends get around to visiting, and drinking far too much Earl Grey and green tea. (At least Koffeina -- best coffee-shop-come-internet-cafe in the world, bar none, as far as I'm concerned -- has loo paper). They were even playing a mix that included lots of Goo Goo Dolls songs, just to make life even better. I worked out the finances while I was there, too, and they are in far better shape than I thought they were.

This discovered, I decided to treat myself; there's a pair of boots I've wanted for over a week now, but I held off because I'd persuaded myself the finances were a bit dire and I should wait until I had a job. They're heavy-soled, Doc Marten type jobs, ankle high; the sort of thing you'd pay easily £65 for in Scorpio in Durham (much as I absolutely love Scorpio in Durham; they have a gorgeous pair of knee-high, three-buckle New Rocks I'm getting as soon as I can afford the sods. I thought they might be my Christmas present to moi. Anyway, rambling yet again. Someone oughtta start shooting me when I do that). 230zl -- that amounts to around forty quid and I thought very reasonable by British economy standards, but when a fella's trying to go native it's a fair few zlotych. So I held off. Encouraged by the actual state of play though, as opposed to my bit panic about things, off I went in search of gorgeous boots.

Along the way I passed what looked like a very interesting bookshop and decided to take a look in. It was, as the outside had suggested, warm and welcoming and insanely brilliant. I had a bit look around, and after a few minutes a sales guy approached me and asked if he could help.

I've got through three books since I got here; I read Ben Elton's Past Mortem in a night. Books are dead cheap, and you can get 'em in English, so they're worth having. (I've got my eye on one or two to send back to folks, things I haven't seen in England). I'm not quite up to the standard of reading the classics in Polish as yet (though possibly I should try!), so I said to this fellow, "Prosze, gdzie jest książkę po angielsku?" which means approximately, "Where are the books in English, please?", as if you couldn't have guessed that one. He looked absolutely thrilled I'd asked in Polish (I swear I get a rush from the moments when folks know I'm from England, but twig I'm making an effort out here) and dived off to show me the shelves.

There wasn't a whole lot of choice, but something caught my eye: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence, by Robert M. Pirsig. It just seemed... appropriate, somehow. 30zl. What the hell, I thought, and took it to the counter. The front cover is salmony-pink and rather nondescript; the back has a picture of a father and son standing by a motorbike, viewed from behind, looking out over a breathtaking mountain view. Apparently it's "an inquiry into values", but thus far it just makes good reading.

And then off I went to continue the quest for boots. Somewhere along the way I realised I was squinting, and reached back to the side pocket of my rucksack to find my sunglasses. Not there.

"Bollocks," I said (sorry mom), because no matter how Polish I might be inside or feel or all that happy clappy, I was still brought up in Britain and thus far at least, I still swear like a blighter, thank you. (It's only just occurred to me that 'Blighty' and 'blighter' are probably related. Well duh). If they weren't there, they were probably in Koffeina. I'll go by tomorrow, I thought, and ask if anyone's handed them in, and if they haven't there are a dozen stands around Rynek selling sunglasses cheap even by Polish standards... but...

... Damn it, I like those sunglasses. They're wraparounds, Ray-Ban style but just cheap Boots knockoffs really, but they look damn good on me, they work great to keep my hair out of my eyes if it's not sunny enough to have 'em down, they're perfect for driving and they fit under a bike helmet to boot. I didn't want to go and get a new pair, I liked those ones. I one-eightied on the spot and headed back to Koffeina. It's a quiet place, central enough to be convenient but hidden away from the bustle of Rynek up a little side-alley and a rickety set of stairs, and there was a good chance they'd still be sitting on the table if I had left 'em.

No sunglasses. I asked at the bar but nobody had handed them in, either. Oh well; looked like a new pair. I guess I was due; I'd had those old favourites for years on end.

Mood dampened just a bit, I headed off to get these boots I've had my eye on for a while. The salesgirl was very helpful; I paused for a second over "czzzzzzzterrrdziesci... jeden?" (I hate numbers, even in Polish!) and she laughed and said "Forty-one?", and I laughed too and said, "Damn, I need to turn off the flurescent "ENGLISH" sign above my head, don't I?" We got talking a little while I tried 'em on; she knew some English, and my Polish is decent enough that we managed a great little conversation. She works part-time, fitting it around her studies in philosophy and history; the fact that I'm a language student impressed her no end. I keep getting people telling me my accent is perfect. Which is great, really, but when I'm not quite fluent and people hear this perfect local accent and start rabbiting on at me in fast, complicated Polish and I have to say "Whoa, prosze mówić wolniej, jestem angielką!" it gets me some damn funny looks. (Three guesses on what that means, then).

Anyway, yes, they fit perfectly, look great (...for a given value, ie. mine, of 'great'), and were bagged up and good to go within ten minutes of me walking into the shop. (Hey, what can I say, I know what I like and I don't shilly-shally. If that's the phrase I want). And then, having not eaten all day, I went to treat myself to pizza at one of the many restaurants littering Rynek. It's a bloody gorgeous night and I decided to sit outside, and while I was there a fellow showed up under the monument opposite and got a freaking electric guitar out and stood there busking -- amp and all, gods know how he powered it; can you get battery-powered amps? -- with some really impressive licks and all the rest. Waitresses came and went and I placed my order (small with extra mushrooms, oh yes), and next thing, a man sits down on the next table along.

Older fellow, alone, I'd guess mid to late fifties. Well-set, grey hair, decently dressed but not suited and booted. I didn't pay him much mind until I noticed what he had in hand.

"Pzrepraszam, pan," I said, leaning across towards his table, and he looked at me oddly and said, "Beg your pardon?"

"I was about to ask you whether or not you spoke English, in Polish," I said with a grin, and he laughed.

"I'd not have understood a word, but obviously yes. I'm from Cornwall."

"Durham, myself," I offered. "And I'm sorry to bother you, but I wouldn't half like to know where you got that New Scientist."

He glanced at the magazine in hand and grinned. "Bristol, I'm afraid," he said, "before I flew out here." And from there we got to talking. He's a builder; he employs a couple of Polaks, and is out here until tomorrow on business, buying materials and making contact with a few fellows one of his employees has put him in touch with. We agreed New Scientist is really the only choice if you're after something sensibly intellectual, but drew a mutual blank on where -- other than Empik, which has only the National Geographic in English-language versions -- might have international press. I told him I'm a language student, staying out here for a few months for the sake of learning and a bit of adventure, and he seemed very impressed and interested. The conversation was cut off when our dinners arrived; being on separate tables, we drifted back to our own territories (and choices of reading matter; I got Zen and Motorcycles out and made a start.

I finished before he did, and got up to leave, settled the bill and all that jazz, and stopped by his table to say goodbye before I headed off. "Best of luck with your endeavours, then," he said with a cheerful grin. "Very brave of you, I wish you all the best."

"Thanks very much," I replied. "And the same to you, best of luck, and safe journey tomorrow." And I was gone. I don't even know his name, and I'll never see him again in my life, most likely, but he made my day a bit brighter.

It was half-past eight by now and I got to the tram stop in perfect time for the 20:40 No2 back home. On the tram, I found something rather brilliant: my escapee sunglasses has just wriggled their way right down to the bottom of the side pocket of my rucksack and weren't lost at all. Magick, I thought, with the 'k'; today really has been good.

My street is well-connected, but pretty dark, and I was padding along from one puddle of streetlamp light to the next, Docs silent on the pavement, carrier bag with pretty new boots in hand and rucksack on my back, when I saw a movement just along the road from my house. Something small, and hunched, and dark, pottering along the kerb, poking its pointed little nose down towards the gutter occasionally. I stopped dead to watch, fascinated, and not sure what it was as yet.

My first thought was 'Rat', and I wrinkled my nose a bit; I like rats, I've got to admit, rats are awesome animals, but let's face it, rats in captivity might be great (I'd love one) but rats in the street are never a good thing. And this one was big, maybe seven or eight inches nose to tail, and really high when it hunched its back up, as well.

It didn't seem at all perturbed by me standing there still and silent watching it; in fact, I'm not even entirely sure it noticed me; it just kept snuffling around, nose to the ground, with serene, almost polite movements -- not jerky and fleeting as I'd expect a rat to be. And then I realised something else very odd about this rat. It had extraordinarily long and apparently well-gelled fur (I know spikes when I see 'em). And, when I looked again, I twigged it was lacking in a tail.

It's not a blessed rat at all, I realised with a grin. That's a freaking hedgehog.

The hedgehog snuffled around the pavement for a moment longer before vanishing under next door's fence, absolutely unperturbed by my presence, and I headed off up my own path with a grin that made me look a bigger blessed idiot than usual but funnily enough I didn't -- and still don't -- give a damn. A dozen little silly things came together to make today great, and tonight, perched cross-legged on this little low single bed in my tiny flat above my hosts' place downstairs, I'm happy. Today's a good day.

Wieliczka Salt Mine

It's a gorgeous sunny Sunday and here I am indoors writing this for you. xP You lucky sods. And on the way up through the park I saw a guy on a freaking unicycle, which was quite awesome -- not doing it for show, just pedalling sedately along, as you do -- and I'm thinking of getting some rollerblades and maybe trying to pick up a cheap guitar and life is good.

Anyway, the point of this update. Welcome to Wieliczka!

==

Wednesday 11th April: Wieliczka Salt Mine

"Are you sure this is our stop?" I enquired of my impromptu guide-come-kidnapper when he prodded me to get off the No13 tram (...yes, a No13) at what looked, to me, like a great expanse of absolutely nothing in the middle of a downtown built-up area. Welcome to sector three, I thought obscurely. He nodded emphatically. "...How sure?"

"Very sure!" he told me with a grin. "I've been here before."

Nice for him. Not in the least reassured, I got off the tram and looked across the square. It was maybe thirty feet across, and spaced out along the way, tidily arranged in precise rows, were chairs. Single, hardback chairs, larger than life-size; I commented vaguely on their weirdness. "Spielberg!" my guide informed me (as you might have realised, this was another one with limited English). "You know Schindler's List?"

"Yes," I said, casting around for some sign of sanity (shush, I realise this is a lot for me to ask, but a lot of things are better than a crazy German kidnapping me. I'd have settled for a crazy Pole, at this point). I've never seen it, but I thought that might not have been a wise thing to admit to, so I kept quiet after the affirmative.

"This is a, a--" He hesitated, searching for the word.

"Monument?" I suggested, and realised that I was tensed to kick and run.

"Moment!" he agreed cheerfully.

"Nice," I commented, vaguely; and then at last I saw them -- three folks from my much-loved intensive class. Apparently I hadn't been kidnapped after all, then.

We were off to Wieliczka Salt Mine.Collapse )

A day or two later, in town, I got some traditional costume moneyshots for mother, along with a few other odds and sods that might interest and a single Xof-portrait (run and hide!).Collapse )

The Long Walk

Saturday April 7th 2007: A Long Walk

I got the miniBrute and Li'l Red talking to each other to bring you the photos in this report; this is a major achievement as some of you might know. xP For clarification: miniBrute is the laptop and Li'l Red my cellphone, both bluetooth enabled, both awkward little sods. But yes, I got them chatting, so you get this one illustrated, you lucky buggers. Don't you feel special? They're not the greatest quality pictures, but what can you expect from a cellphone; my camera had the audacity to go and die within half an hour. Grr.

No, seriously, I got the Brute and the li'l Red talking. You have no idea how momentous this occasion is.

Anyway! On to the serious bulk of this update. You're getting it a day or two late, but here's my Saturday.

The Long Walk According To ZofCollapse )

Quickie update!

No photos today I fear!

However, here's the last few days in a nutshell:

Roomie's not too bad but sometimes she annoys the hell out of me. She's very high and mighty, up herself, thinks only she and I speak decent English ("No one here speaks English good!" "...Well," says I, and left her to stew) and she will insist on using my hairbrush. In fairness she does ask, but how am I supposed to say no? Gah.

Anyways, yes. I'm communicating well with my host, better as the days go on and my Polish improves, which it is doing rapidly, with -- presently -- five hours a day of solid class time. This will be the norm until the start of May, whereupon I will take up my own post teaching English to students aged mostly 16-20ish, though there may be a few older. I'm incredibly buzzed about that bit and can't wait to start.

I'm also increasingly thrilled with how decent my Polish actually is; my brush-up class is pretty basic, so I understand ... well, all of it, which is not only very nice, but also a hell of a confidence boost. It's great to be going through something and realise "Hey, I know this!" I'm not afraid to go to some random Pole in the street and ask for directions, for instance, and I trust that I'll understand the reply. It's great, and gets better every day. (I can even distinguish between nine and ten now, horribly similar -- and horribly disgusting to pronounce if you're still working with a faintly English tongue -- words to say the least). And my written Polish is getting good, which is saying something as before all this it was just about zilch! Can't wait for next week when things get harder and I'll be pushing myself more.

I got myself a monthly travelcard yesterday: 94zl for all the lines, but considering I spend at least 10zl a day on tram tickets, it'll have paid for itself in nine days. Eight now, actually. It's very cool, a little laminated photocard thing, plus a sort of credit-card-sized permanent ticket that I just have to show to a conductor if ever one should ask me, and I'm good to go. It lasts until May 2nd, then another 94zl will get me up till June and so on. Pretty reasonable, I think.

I've found just about every decent wifi location in Cracow by now; I'm updating here from the Coffee Republik, a great little cafe which does an excellent mocha. On sunny days I can sit out in the central square, but since it was pouring this morning I thought I'd come and hide out here. Since classes finish at 14:30 local time (which is an hour ahead of UK time, presently BST), I get all afternoon to sightsee, buy folks pressies (honestly, I spend a good hour yesterday browsing the markets and I found myself thinking "Ooh, [LJ friend X] would like tha-- ... I don't have their address ¬¬" as much as "Oh must get that for mom/ Nik/ my aunt Nina/ etc!"), and bugger around on the net. New Laptop seems to have great battery life and really strong wireless, which is good to say the least.

Anyways, must be off for now, things to do and all that. Until next time!

My first days... in brief(ish)

Poland 2007 - Ongoing Diary

Uploaded from the middle of Cracow central square. How much awesome?

April 1st 2007
It's the first of April, it's a new month in an almost-new year, this is a new me -- one smelling slightly of mosquito repellant and a lot of antiperspirant deodorant; it's hot out here -- and I'm standing in the square in the middle of Cracow with no idea where I am or what I'm doing there. And I'm loving it.

I arrived last night -- despite worries about hand luggage sizes and my hold baggage being exactly on the amount you're supposed to take (how did I even do that? It was four kilos under the night before!), the plane journey was fine -- and decided for the sake of a few zloty it would be worth the lack of stress to just take a taxi. The taxi driver, an older fella with a wild salt-and-pepper beard and a cheerful grin, didn't speak a word of English, which threw me for a few minutes until I got into the swing a bit, but even though my Polish is far from fluent yet, I did achieve telling him the address I needed to be at and asking him the approximate cost. Sixty zloty? Definitely worth the lack of stress from trains and buses. Taxi it was.

A little under £60 got me 300zl yesterday. That's about five zloty to the pound. Hm, I remember a couple of years ago it was six, but hey -- still not bad. I'm trying to tell myself not to think in terms of "That equals x-number of pounds" though; I'm actively trying to go native, here.

So -- back to the middle of Cracow. I'm exploring, and there are a few things I need to do. One is make certain there's an ATM somewhere that will accept my card, because if not I'm in deep and serious shite. My bank back in England assures me there are machines that will, but -- trustworthy as HSBC usually is, and they do market as 'the world's local bank', I suppose -- I want to be sure. This is the sort of thing that kept me awake worrying last night.

At least there weren't spiders to worry about. I've been here before, folks, and I can assure you there is some massive spider potential. Sometime in the next few months I dare guarantee I'm going to come across a freaking tarantula and it's not going to be fun. There'll likely be a lot of bugs too, but bugs I can deal with, bugs are okay. I'm just dreading the spiders. The first will be the worst. Ah well; deal when we get to it, I suppose.

My flat is lovely, actually. For the first month I'm staying with an older couple, Pan i Pani Gronus-Dutko (who should have an acute over their 's', but sadly I can't find one in Microsoft Works. Crappy lack of Word. Ah well), but I still get a flat to myself -- or rather, as of tonight, to myself and another girl, a German who's doing pretty much the same course I am (though I guess she's a brush-up German teacher-to-be, not an English one). It's very small and simple, a kitchenette-come-entranceway and a bedroom-come-lounge-and-dinette, but it's pleasant enough: wood panelled walls, antique wardrobe (I get half, my roommate presumably can have the other side), a cabinet with three drawers (I've only taken one. Roomie can have two), a simple slat bed, small table, and a sofabed (that's one concession I'm not making -- roomie gets the sofabed, thank you). There's a big picture window that looks out onto the house opposite, which has a gorgeous big fir tree standing in its garden, and a tiny private toilet-showerroom. The kitchen is very basic, not even a sink -- I used the bathroom one to wash up my tea mug last night -- but decent enough, with lots of mugs, a kettle (I think I may be living on tea and coffee for a time, here), a fridge, and a sandwich toaster. Somehow I'm sure I'll survive. There's also another girl in the second bedroom of the flat, a resident apparently -- she told me her parents are friends with my hosts and she rents the space.

My host doesn't speak a word of English, so last night was quite fun, between my limited (and apparently northern-accented) Polish and his very pidgin English, but we managed. He seems to be a great guy, actually, though he has a habit of saying 'no' when he means 'now', as in 'now, the next issue is...', and I kept thinking he was telling me 'no' as in 'no, I don't think you understand me'. Which I did. It was quite unnerving until I twigged he meant 'now'. The moving on to a new topic was a good clue. Apparently his wife speaks very good English -- from what I could gather, her father was a war immigrant to England -- so between the three of us we ought to manage, especially once my Polish picks up some.

Anyhow: Cracow. I made it out here by tram, a No2 if anyone ever needs to get from the outskirts where I am into the city centre, and set off on foot exploring. I find an ATM soon enough, one bearing the gods-sent Cirrus symbol, so there should be no problem (except astronomical commisson charges, I suppose) as far as that's concerned. Next adventure, find the urzad miejski -- that's the Municipality Office -- and register my presence. The girl in Tourist Information takes one look at me and says, in perfect English, "Hello, can I help?" How not to look like a local lesson one: have your camera in hand. Whoops.

On that note though, I did get dozens and dozens of photos. Here's a few of the best. (20 pictures and a link to a panorama behind the cut, so maybe not too dial-up friendly...!)Collapse )

So, all picture'd out, I headed off back towards the tram stops, got utterly confused, almost got the wrong No2 -- as in, headed the wrong way -- but had the sense to ask the driver and was told where I ought to be instead. So off I go, get off a stop early by mistake -- at least I know for next time, I suppose -- and head for home. Whereupon, when I finally wrestle the key into working (it's a bugger of a thing, to say the least), I come up to the flat and there's my roommate sitting on the now-folded-out sofabed, surrounded by textbooks and mostly-unpacked luggage. She's been here since around 1pm, she says, and she was utterly stressed out by the journey but she's okay now. She has one or two advantages over me; she's German, so her plugs fit for a start (I only have two adapter plugs!! If I lose one I am sunk. Lose two and I might well die), and she hasn't the time difference to get used to. It gets dark around 20:00 here and it's weird; I don't like it and I'm hoping as we head into summer the nights will get lighter. And that, in a nutshell -- it being 19:30 now -- is my first full day here. Exciting times.

Tomorrow -- off to the language school for the first day of this tandem arrangement. I believe I have a few hours of Polish first, then in the afternoon should start to get sorted out with my own pupils, as it were. Hopefully, anyway. I do believe in jumping into things without knowing all the details, don't I? Ah well; I shall keep you informed, anyways. The first month I know Anna -- she's the woman I've been emailing to arrange all this -- will be concentrating more on my learning Polish than teaching English, since I told her I'm not overly fluent but have enough grounding to pick it up PDQ. After that, I may well end up with classes, or at least a small group. Can but wait and see!

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cityofshadow
City of Flowers and Shadows

Shadow's City

Welcome to the travel log of the adventures of one ShadowSaine, variously known as Zof, Shadow and Oi You, on a big city and bright burning lights adventure in Krakow, Poland, 2007.

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