Friday, 29 August 2014

The Invasion of Poland: Gdansk

After getting up and having some breakfast and getting packed up I checked out, admittedly in a bit of a hurry. Apparently my breakfast wasn't inclusive in my extra night, so I had to fork out another 15 euro when time was of the essence. Needless to say I didn't feel bad then about piling up my little lunchbox earlier. Anyhow, I got that sorted quickly and also made it across to the train station with time to spare.

It was then a long train ride to Gdansk - which involved 3 changes and a little drama as the German rail office had reserved me seats for the trains in Poland, but not actually had me pay for them, which I had assumed had been done, but looking back can see that that step had been missed and I didn't ask the right questions. Anyhow, it was easily sorted and to their credit the Polish rail staff knew English and were polite enough about it.

At 8:30pm I finally made it to Gdansk and then had to proceed to find my hostel. I realised on the journey that technology had failed me and the email I had with the details had not been downloaded to my phone yet as I hadn't subsequently taken it to a wifi hotspot to do that. I did however remember that it was near a hotel that is part of a chain I was thinking it was the Mecure, so I decided to walk towards that (it was actually the Hilton that it is near to) but I came across the Scandic hotel and asked them for help. 

After some more walking, consulting of road signs, and consulting the Hilton, I found my hostel. Despite it being semi-hard to find, it actually is quite a good set up with free wifi and internet computers, lockers etc.

After getting myself sorted, I went out in search of some Polish money and some food. By this stage it was almost eleven - I got some cash from an ATM, possibly too much, found a supermarket about to close and got some bier sticks in case that was going to be the only thing I was going to be able to find and proceeded back to the train station where I had seen a McDonalds and KFC when I had arrived. They were both still open and rather popular - I opted for a burger drink and fries from KFC and surprised myself when I couldn't finish the fries due to a lack of appetite.

I walked back to the hostel, now I had some money I was going to be able to get a towel, however the staff weren't at reception so I opted for washing my feet instead before hitting the sack.

I woke, or at least got up at 6, although it felt later due to the sunshine. I did a few things, had a quick look outside, took some medication, sorted a towel and a shower etc and by then breakfast was ready. Breakfast consisted of cereals, toast/bread (which I didn't have) and a selection of processed cheese wedges and salami and ham. You could've even had tomato too.

After breakfast I talked to one of the staff on how I would get to Malbork Castle and Egiertowo - which is where my ancestors were from. I then lost some time checking my account balances after having to pay for the Polish trains and then getting cash the day before. Once I had done that I headed out - deciding either Malbork or Egiertowo were still options, but if I was going to go to Egiertowo I wanted to see if I could do some research first, so I went to the History museum, which was a pleasant walk along the canal away. I had a small talk with one of the staff, but did not learn a huge amount more than what I already knew of the history of Poland, and the museum didn't seem to have a variety or much English. Some of what I was trying to establish was whether it was possible my ancestors were/could've been Jewish.

Once I finished there I walked to the train station having decided that Malbork castle was the order for the day and headed there on the 12pm train, which took about 50minutes. Once I hopped off I proceeded to the castle, via a shop where I picked up a Polish hotdog, which was rather nice, a slightly thinner sausage, in a hollowed out cylindrical bun, but before they put the sausage in, they pump the bun full of whatever sauce you chose. The woman serving was in her 20's, attractive and spoke English. It seemed a little hit and miss in Gdansk whether people could speak English or not, but I was pleasantly surprised that someone in a shop in rural Poland, albeit a tourist site knew English.

Anyhow, Malbork castle was good, but for some reason left me lacking, I don't know why. I took a guided tour, it was a good work around the castle, but I wonder whether because I'd watched the documentary ("Battle Castles") I was too familiar with it, and perhaps it was because it was a red brick castle as opposed to your grey or sandstone type.

Getting back to Gdansk took a little bit more time, as the train didn't leave the platform for ages, then seemed to pause periodically along the way.

On the way back to the hostel I decided to get dinner at a place I'd read about in a wikitravel guide of Gdansk. It was called Bar Neptune, and was in the old town, which I'd been through in the morning, so I knew how to get there. Apparently it was a legacy of the Communist times, and therefore should've been cheap. I didn't think it was that cheap, admittedly it was a decent size, but basically they have the meals on plates, on display and you choose one. They didn't speak English so I had to take a chance, and on top of that I think they then reheated it in the microwave. Anyhow, it was ok, it was potatoes, ham and some other stuff.

The next day was dedicated to visiting Egiertowo - where my ancestors were from. I got going reasonably early, but somehow made a wrong turn. After enquiring at a Police station I passed, I got on the right track and caught the 9:30 bus, which was the first for the day. It was an experience catching a bus to a rural place in Poland, but I made it. I went about exploring when I got there, admittedly it was a small stretch of road with a couple of roads coming off it. One good thing I discovered was that there was a map on a billboard which helped. I discovered an old cemetery in a bush off one of the side roads. At the gate was 1868, but it was pretty grown over with shrubs and growth, and I couldn't find any names on headstones. There wasn't much else there, but I decided to chat to a local and see what they could tell me, so I went into a restaurant that was there, armed with a crudely drawn family tree and pictures of a church and headstones. It worked well- they told me there was no church in Egiertowo but the next village back did - which I'd seen on the way there. Since the first bus back wasn't until 2:24pm, I had time to kill anyway, so I set out on the 3-5km walk to the next town. I got there, went to the church, which I assume was a Lutheran church based on the shape of it. Unfortunately there was no one there to ask questions of, but there was another conveniently located billboard map which showed me that there was a cemetery nearby. I proceeded there, but it was a fairly modern cemetery and all the names were Polish vs. Germanic. Anyhow, I walked back to the main road and saw a sign for a Skelp - which I've worked out means shop, so I found that and bought some lunch - a snickers bar, some chips and vanilla dessert thing, and then went to the bus stop (in that town, not back in Egiertowo) and sat down and ate lunch and read my book for probably about an hour.

On returning to Gdansk, I went and sorted my train to Krakow for the next day, and then also the train later to Prague.

I went back to the hostel, packed my bags ready for the early start the next day, then booked my accommodation for Krakow and Prague. After that I was ready for dinner so I asked where a good place for traditional Polish food was, they recommended I walk along the river which went past our hostel and there were some places near the old town - so  I did that and found a nice place - complete with a hot waitress that spoke English, and later on discovered there was a huge snake in a window in the floor. I went for a beef stroganoff soup and a dumplings with mushroom sauce. Both were rather nice and didn't break the bank.

After that I went back and hit the sack, waking up rather early, like 5:30am but I got up because I didn't want to go back to sleep and risk not getting up. I got myself sorted after a shower etc and made my way to the train station, grabbing a small McMuffin for breakfast once I got there. Hopped on the train for Krakow...

Thoughts so far - I thought I'd done a good job at minimising my packing, but it still feels as though I'm lugging the kitchen sink. Some of the problem being I brung some little pocket-sized books as I figured they'd be nice and portable, of course until I read them and then store them accordingly, they get in the road.

I'm a little worried about my lack of passion... Malbork castle left me luke-warm, similarly going to Egiertowo left me questioning whether I'm just trying to be some sort of hero, my appetite comes and goes, and then there is the fact that Poland is full of hot women, but my interest comes and goes there too.

Anyhow, tune in for the next instalment - Krakow.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Freaking out in Frankfurt

The adventure began at Auckland airport. After driving up from Hamilton, our family friends the Lauders took me from their place - which is basically just up the road from the airport, they'd also been babysitting mum & dad's vehicle for the week and would be picking them up shortly after dropping me off.

I checked in with no drama, which was a relief after last years debacle, had some breakfast and then went through security. 

This entry will probably have you, like I have done, questioning the state of my mental health. I then gave my sister a call in the interim. I'm not sure if it was the stress I'd been under the past week or so, the medication I'm on to get rid of my cough, the relief, the realisation that it was finally happening after buying the ticket in February, and having a desire to come back since 2011, or actually the soon to arrive next generation of the family - but every time I went to say something about the baby I'd well up and not be able to talk.

After I got off the phone with Suzanne I saw mum had tried calling - they had got in from Vanuatu, so I had a quick talk with her also, before hopping on the plane.

The flight to Singapore was good - up until the last minute before the plane was about to start taxiing , it was looking like I'd lucked 3 seats to myself, but it was not to be - an attractive German woman took one of the seats. On average it looked liked there was generally 2 people to 3 seats. I made conversation with the German woman and found out she was from Berlin, was old enough to have lived pre-wall, and lived in the former East Berlin. It was at this point that I realised my fascination with how shit it was then probably wasn't the most sensitive conversation, and therefore drew it to a close with a slightly awkward putting on the headphones and seeing what movies were available.

The flight was basically in Sunlight the whole way, so I made no attempt to sleep, although I may've dropped off for a bit because one of the movies I don't remember the lead up to the end. I watched the secret life of Walter Mitty, and Anchorman 2.

They fed us dinner about an hour before we got to Singapore.

Singapore was alright - the butterfly gardens I walked the best part of a terminal to see weren't worth it - I assume because it was dark they were all hiding. I then went and had a shower and subsequently had a small bite to eat again so I could take my medication. By this stage I was quite ready to sleep, so looked forward to hopping back on the plane. Unfortunately this plane was packed full. 

Now I don't usually say this, but about an hour in they fed us dinner (again) and I was already at capacity. I slept for a decent while, and once I woke up I watched American Hustle and X-Men: First Class. They then gave us breakfast, and I was still at capacity so to speak, so I wolfed it down and made sure I was the first in line for the toilet before the post-food rush.

On arrival at Frankfurt customs was simple, getting to the train station was not, it just seemed to take forever. Anyhow, I found it and the counter which was open and got myself a ticket into the central station, where my hotel was across the road from.

Because at this stage it was still only 8:30am I had to kill some time, so I went about having a look and trying to get a SIM card. Unfortunately that wasn't successful as any plan would only work in Germany, and I wasn't intending to stay in Germany. I made it back to my hotel about 1pm and went upstairs and crashed out, I think I woke about midnight but forced myself to sleep through until about 6am for breakfast.

Breakfast was a delight to the eyes - sausage galore, cheese, eggs mushrooms etc as well as healthy options. My eyes admittedly were bigger than my appetite, which I put down to not being well and jetlagged.

Basically I spent the day trying to formulate a plan of attack, but it got a bit much for me, so I went and booked another night (a third night) to relieve some of the pressure. Once I had done that I virtually went back upstairs and fell asleep. I awoke at about midnight, and decided that I needed to see a bit of Frankfurt so forced myself up and out and walked around the nightlife. To be honest it was a bit lame - basically I figured I couldn't have alcohol because I'm on antibiotics.

I went back to bed and got up for breakfast again. This time I went prepared with a little lunchbox in my pocket to try and nab the odd morsel for later, but I wasn't overly brave and only came away with one Swiss roll thing which is like a deep fried cheese stick.

I went across to the train station with the intention of sorting it out once and for all. Between us I got basically the information I needed, but it felt like information overload, so I took it away back to my hotel room.

When I got back to my hotel room I felt like I was freaking out, so I had a pray and also gave myself a pep-talk and then went about framing and going over what the train lady had given me to make it make sense. In the end I was happy with it, and went and bought a ticket and made reservations for the next day. Unfortunately by this stage it was also quite late in the day, so I didn't really have time to go sightseeing, especially after I had organised my accommodation for the next few nights.

I made a half-arsed effort at finding some dinner - some bier sticks from a supermarket, an ice cream and a cheese bun. Admittedly still not huge on the appetite scale. After a walk around again I went back to my room and slept.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Inbetweener

This won't be a huge entry - it's a Blog of the inbetween time - between the two adventures - the South Island and Europe, rather than the tag on or lead into the main stories. The title is a reference to the British sitcom/now movies "The Inbetweeners".

In May -we started our rehearsals for Open All Hours. It was an interesting exercise as being a minor part meant I didn't always have to be there, and when I did I would only be required for about ten minutes and then the rest of the time was watching and keeping myself busy with going through my junk mail etc

I'd been keen for a while to check out an Armageddon expo, and in May there was one in Hamilton at the Claudelands events centre. I had a stroke of luck while I was lining up for a ticket, and was given a free one by a stranger - I think they'd bought a group pass or something as it was cheaper, but had more tickets than people.

When I got in, I had a quick look at who was speaking, as at other expos, such as travel expos that I go to, they always seem to be good value. I saw fairly shortly that Mark Hadlow was speaking soon (as he has recently been in The Hobbit series). I'm not a huge LOTR fan, but since I knew who he was and remember him from his days with Billy T James I thought he'd be a good one to listen to. At one point a guy instead of asking him a question, thanked him for the good times and being part of our childhoods, with Billy T etc. it felt a bit naff, but I shared his sentiment, along with probably most of the room.

I subsequently then went about looking around the rest of the expo. Admittedly it wasn't really my thing, as it was a lot of comic book/graphic novel type stuff and characters etc that I wasn't familiar with - not a whole lot of computer games etc, and what was there was held in a monopoly of 13yo boys. There was the odd cool thing, such as a dalek, and the odd cool costume. In October a friend Bevan and I are planning to go to the one in Auckland as Richard Dean Anderson (who played Macgyver, as well as a character in SG1) is coming. Around this time Bevan and I had been helping each other learn lines, as he is in a production of Grease.

 That night there was a talk on at church entitled "God in a brothel". I went along, it was good. Sometimes it was a little awkward listening to it - basically this guy is a NZ Police Officer who ended up helping an international task force to infiltrate sex trafficking rings. He would have to pose as someone interested in bringing over more friends. In some ways it was cool and sounded very James Bond-like, but I would imagine you'd also have a constant sick feeling, and possibly a worry that you might get a feel for it. 

As per usual if late, June found me going to the Fieldays at Mystery Creek. I decided that I would catch the free bus that the council was putting on out there as things like that should be encouraged, even though it was debatable whether it was more convenient. It also gave me some exercise getting out to the main road, along with the walking around once I was there. From memory there wasn't any great highlight this year, I just cruised for some free bits of food etc.

June also began my serious campaign on Flatmate finding. Admittedly it was a lot harder than I thought it would be, I guess partially because I thought my house would compare favourably to others in the area. There probably wasn't a huge demand either.

House of Travel had an expo, which is always good to go to- I couldn't spend heaps of time there, such as listening to all the speakers - as I had a rehearsal to get to, but I did pick up some information which was good.

Like I was saying, I had a rehearsal to go to, which also involved helping construct the set for Open All Hours. This was actually kind of enjoyable, it took me back to my treehut building days as a youth. It was also satisfying as all of a sudden our set had taken shape, and there was no more pretending where doors and stuff were.

The bulk of July was performing Open All Hours, and surviving otherwise. It was a fun play to be in, albeit a little lonely as due to the nature of the cast, and that most were only in one of the two acts and therefore would arrive later or leave early - bonding hadn't occurred as much as it usually would have.

Later in the month I went to a China evening put on by Air New Zealand Holidays. It was interesting but long, and too be honest, I don't have a huge desire to visit China again, I guess I was motivated as I am interested in visiting Hong Kong and Macau, especially after talking with someone at the House of Travel expo.

The first few weeks of August were basically me running around like a headless chicken. Mum and Dad went to Vanuatu on holiday, I finally found a flatmate, I had to get sorted for my trip, and on top of that I ended up with a really bad cough - I believe it is bronchitis. So I was a little stressed.