Teacher Profile: Casey - Part 5: More Travel!
After a month of intensive teaching I thought I deserved another holiday, so we planned additional travel to five untouched countries. A little tip here, plan and book flights early and you pay less – with Ryanair our flights were zero dollars. Our first stop was in Amsterdam, which ended up being my third favourite. A very nice city with funky architecture and leaning buildings, a city built around canals, an overarching theme of sex all around the place, a place where people on bikes rule the roads, and a funny smell in the air that at times can make you dizzy. Now despite the rumours and reputations, Amsterdam is pleasant – but for me the whole “Red Light District” was surreal, to actually be there and see it was crazy. For the first time in my life I tried this strange stuff called marijuana (not enjoyable), and attended a sex show (a little disappointing). Important that if you do visit Amsterdam that you get a look through Anne Frank House. We only spent two days here before we ventured off to Poland.
Landing in Poland reminded me of when Rocky Balboa gets off the plane in Russia (Rocky IV) so that he can train in the natural environment to fight Ivan Drago. I could not see the ground from the plane until we were about three seconds from landing, the airfield was lined with small army planes, and nobody in Poland smiled. After almost dying in a car on the way to our accommodation, we settled in Krakow city. The main purpose for us visiting Poland was to view and experience the concentration camps and sites from the Hitler-led German era Holocaust. We travelled on a guided tour through Austswich and additional camps, and believe me this was an emotional experience. If you go to Poland you have to do this. Later on we also spent some time walking around a number of war sites and ghetto-like affected areas from this life-changing era. This included Oscar Schindler’s Factory and some aesthetic war memorials. Makes you realise how lucky you are. Another very worthwhile attraction is the underground salt mine, this was awesome. I did not see one overweight person in Poland, but I do not remember seeing anyone smile, maybe that is the key to weight loss.
From here we took a train to Wroclaw which is a smaller and more modern city. Quite a nice place with pleasant sites, good also for finding a wedding dress.
Sometimes you visit a place and it feels alive, well Spain is definitely one of these places. We hired ourselves a car and with great difficulty I tried to drive around the country (this was very challenging). A great night in a massive castle in Cardona, and then the road took us to Barcelona. This is a great sea-side city that has a good feel to it, and promotes a popular festive element. Generally people were relatively laid back here. Highlights here were seeing the 1992 Barcelona Olympic venues, Olympic Museum, and looking up to Christopher Columbus as he points you in the right direction. This was the best weather that we had experienced in our time away. The drive leading to Barcelona incorporated several small sea-side communities, and it was interesting coming into and leaving these small colonies that there was a barely dressed prostitute sitting on a chair waiting for your business. We gathered our things and hit the 700 kilometre road to Madrid. The quality of the roads in Spain was very good (complete opposite to Sardinia, Italy), maybe this is why they produce so many talented cyclists. Every 100 kilometres or so there is a massive bull figure on the hill tops towards Madrid, reminds you of where you are.
Madrid was my second favourite destination from our trip. The architecture was like nothing I had seen before, it was tidy and precise, had fantastic parks filled with lots of activities and entertainment, and lots of entertainers around the streets. Again the party-like ambience was present. I was most interested in the strange collection of statues that looked like body parts (genitals included), and the bread rolls that were filled with calamari (good), and the many museums. There is nothing like home, but I would consider living in Edinburgh, Madrid, and Amsterdam. Went on a bike tour and also a double decker bus tour which were both educational.
Arrived in Paris to more mad traffic and rabbits running around. The Eiffel Tower is highly visible as you come into the city and is a prime attraction. There are many large buildings and structures (Napoleon’s Tomb, the Thinker Statue, Notre Dame, Tour De France finishing stage) of significance which were impressive. Additionally there were massive museums but we did not get into those. We stayed about twenty minutes from the city, mainly due to the fact that Paris was the most expensive city we had experienced. We enjoyed a Paris-style bike tour which was educational but expensive, the main point of interest here was learning that some of the statues were made form pure gold. The highlight in Paris was spending a day at Disneyland. We had a great time running around like two big children, and there were still things left to do after one day. If you do get the chance to do this maybe put aside two days. Paris was the only place where the supermarkets used their staff to put your groceries into the bags (you have to do it yourself everywhere else), and the supermarkets had two aisles for chocolate and two aisles for yoghurt. I found it interesting that in all of the other countries supermarket attendants sit on chairs and only appear interested in your money.
The final piece to our travel puzzle was a ten day trip around Ireland. This would culminate in Dublin, luckily enough around St. Patrick’s Day. We landed in Shannon and straight into a hire car to Galway (now finding it difficult to drive on the correct side of the road after doing the opposite). My first impressions were how similar Ireland was to Tasmania; relatively small towns spread throughout, lots of countryside and green pastures, friendly people. The other very prominent feature was that there were more pubs than takeaway stores, Guinness signs and advertising like it was the mother’s milk. From Galway we travelled through Limerick at onto the Dingle Peninsula, which was very scenic and windy. The Dingle area provided some spectacular sights of formations in the ocean, historic rock fences through paddocks, and an upturned caravan with all of its’ contents blown onto the beach. We drove part of the Ring of Kerry where we had to drive around the sheep who decided to sleep on the road. We then travelled through Cork and some smaller townships before embarking on Dublin. Dublin reminded me of a smaller version of Sydney or Melbourne, and around St. Patrick’s Day was a great time to be there. Like most of the cities we visited, Dublin had an “old town” area and a “new town” area. We spent some time at the jail (tour only), and at the Guinness factory, which is the number one tourist attraction in Ireland. Fortunately for Emily I do not drink, so she got twice as much.
The overriding factor in Dublin was the jolly nature of people, their relaxed approach and lifestyle, and the like for alcohol; leading to a chorus of group singing in pubs every night of the week. A really good social environment that has somehow convinced everybody that Guinness is healthy, makes you stronger, gives you energy, power, stamina, and makes you shag better.
Final thoughts: be sensible with what you carry around, make sure you know where everything and do not keep anything exposed. Places are safe but I recommend having someone with you. There is no reason to be scared or feel unsafe, but if you do then the wrong people will pick up on this.
Food is good in Europe but it does not quite compare to food in Australia. Be prepared for this, but places to have Australian stores.
You also realise that we can be hard asses here in Australia. Many places I visited you do not have to wear a helmet on a bike, you can park either direction on the street or even on the sidewalk if you want, and you can smoke wherever you want. Imagine if these things happened in Australia.
Travelling and working were life changing experiences for me. People are right, until you actually do it you do not fully understand what it is like or the impact that it can have. I will definitely be doing more, and hopefully I will be back in London in 2012 to run the London Marathon and work at the Olympic Games.