A little of THIS and a little of THAT

Initially I started this blog as a way of sharing my experiences overseas with those that were interested...however so much has happened over the last two years, including more travelling to foreign destinations, revelations of some kind or other, and experiences I thought others could learn from that I decided to mix it all up.

I hope that somewhere you'll find something that interests you and that you'll be able to learn from.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Poland and Prague - Our Vacation

We thought in coming to Poland it would be much like Russia. We brought our regular four suitcases on my coaxing, wanting to keep everything and everyone’s things organized, Ron wanting to bring two big ones. We after all won’t find many souvenirs I’m sure, after all, the two cultures (Russian and Polish, along with others) are quite similar. In some respects that was true, both have the Matryoshka dolls (as did Prague), and both have the wooden decorated eggs, but Poland had so much more to offer as our wallets were soon to find out.

After two short plane rides, Ron decided that it was too early in the day and too nice out to spend the remainder in our tiny once again European hotel room, God help me with two wild boys and a room that’s barely the size of my bathroom. We called for a cab and headed to a couple of the downtown markets. And that’s where it all began.

I cannot say enough good things about Poland, maybe I was just missing home (Canada) so much and maybe it is that Russia is just very unique, take that as you please. However instead of running on for 10 pages on everything we did, seen, and experienced etc, which I probably could very easily do, I’ll give you a quick rundown of the highlights and say that I felt all our tours were well worth doing and I was very impressed with each of them. I wish we could have spent just one more day there under different circumstances to take the boys to the water park, indoor of course. I’m sure even two days would have found us something to do.

The weather in Poland was gorgeous, absolutely perfect, and nothing to complain about. Not a drop of rain, unlike our trip to Rome in October when all it did was rain. It was sunny and 22-24 degrees each and every day we were there. A nice change from the cold and late start to spring our home in Moscow was providing. Crocuses were in bloom and the buds on the trees were opening. Just looking around you knew that Krakow would be very pretty in the summer. Even on top of the mountain where snow still covered the ski hills in Zakopane did the sun shine warming up at 20 degrees. The locals who swore by the fresh mountain air for good health sunbathed topless in sun chairs perched ontop the white grass while skiers glided down the hills in t-shirts. Never before have I seen such a sight.

In total we spent a full three days in Krakow, taking tour bus from site to site, and one half day which presented to be successful. Our time there was everything but boring. We did our trip to the Carpathian Mountains, stopping along the way to enjoy the sights of an old village of wooden houses, typical to Poland, and managed to obtain our first decent, ok more than decent family picture ever. Our third day in Krakow we went on a heart wrenching tour of a former concentration camp; I can’t even begin to describe the horrors you felt while walking through and looking at some of the possessions that were found. It is beyond me how anyone can deny the horrors and atrocities that took place during that time.

It was unfortunate at the end of this day; we had an even bigger adventure on our hands, trying to find a doctor, half way through our tour of Auschwitz I mentioned to Ron that I thought Anthony had the beginning of pink eye, his one eye was looking a little red, a tiny bit swollen, but the big give away for me was the puss that was beginning to ooze from it. Him being him, and forgetting that I was a mom who dealt with this many times pushed it aside and didn’t take my word for it. I guess there was nothing we could do while there anyway, we were an hour or so from our hotel, so no matter what it would have to wait till we were back in town and at our hotel. Finally back, even Ron could tell that he had the familiar conjunctivitis.

Our taxi driver was our Polish God Sent. He spoke perfect English and was our driver / interpreter going from Pharmacy to Hospital, Hospital to Pediatric Hospital and back to Pharmacy. He stayed with us for three hours, and when we tried to leave him a substantial tip for his time (he was late and missed part of the football game with his fiancĂ©e) and patience, he wouldn’t take it. He was not of abnormality there. The people of Poland were friendly and polite our entire stay. Not only were they polite, they stopped for pedestrians crossing the street, and let cars into their lane when driving.

By end of next day, after a morning walking around Krakow visiting the sites, and the Krakow castle, than an afternoon at the famous Salt Mines, Anthony’s eye was beginning to look a tad better.

You may have noticed by now, that I have not once mentioned the food. Usually a highlight in my travels, this was the one area where we were very disappointed in. I’m unsure of whether it was because we were in a tourist area and didn’t get out, but no matter where we went, even the Mexican Restaurant (ya apparently we have a thing with Mexican food no matter where we go) the food was not to our liking. It certainly was not what I had become accustomed to growing up with grandma, and nowhere could I find Potato and Cheese filled perigees (it now comes to my attention from my Polish co-worker, that they may go under a different name, don’t ask me what it is now). Great!!!!!

Poland finished, and what did we bring home from that market, too much. Onto Prague.


Prague! What can you say about Prague? Prague seems to be the golden city for those who visit, everyone we talk to can’t say enough good things about it, how much they loved it, and how it was their favourite place to visit.

So I guess there’s only one burning question left. Do we agree? Well I can’t answer for Ron or the kids, but I will give my opinion. I will say that we had an amazing evening our second night in the Czech Republic during a medieval dinner and show. With appetizers, a three course meat dish consisting of Pork, Chicken and Beef, plus dessert, we just wanted to yell STOP!!!!!!! NO MORE PLEASE!!!!!!! We each stopped at the first course, thinking that there was pork and chicken on the same plate and not realizing that it was only the pork. Our courses came with baked potato and corn on the cob, although very little sides considering we were at a medieval dinner where meat was the main portion. The show put on was complete with belly dancers yielding their bright smiles and perfectly slender bellies and adorned with snakes and fire. Sword fights par took right in front of our eyes, as folk music played live for all performances. There was even a little dwarf who barely made the same height as our five year old. Starting just after 7:00pm, we didn’t get out of the restaurant until after 11:00; Anthony fell fast asleep on my legs soon after 10:00. It was a long day for everyone.

No matter where we ate in Prague we were pleased with the portions and quality of food. We found that dumplings are different depending where you go in the world. My grandma and I guess apparently England makes soft dumplings, where as Czech dumplings are like bread, meant for dipping in gravy or the sauce that covers your meat, usually pork in the Czech Republic. Either of course is good. As you can see, the food was good, and therefore this is where I started off with, much unlike Poland, now onto Prague.

For the city itself, I didn’t find Prague had a lot to offer. Maybe it had to do with our tours being more political and less historical (if that makes any sense), it could also be that our tours didn’t allow enough time for pictures, passing by one monument or building one after another., or maybe it could be there just wasn’t a lot to offer. Everything that was worth seeing was very close to each other, mostly in the town square, and could easily been seen within walking distance in a relatively short time. Our tours turned up pointless in the end as we didn’t stop to listen to guides and what they were saying, we were there for the pictures, and anything we wanted to learn about could easily be read in any tourist book.

Day 1 in Prague consisted of a very long six hour walking, boat, Trolley tour of the city, the river and the Prague Castle; which isn’t a castle at all, but a church. Too bad it started raining cats and dogs as we headed over Charles Bridge, one of the main attractions I was looking forward to, no pictures there. Later on in the evening consisted of another tour, thankfully only an hour long which was attached with the now famous medieval dinner.

We are fortunate to have such wonderful kids. Robbie, at 13 soaks up all the information, and Anthony, who is only 5 really was the best a child his age could be while on such a non child friendly vacation until we hit the airport, must have been something to do with all the roaring engines of the airplanes.

We had booked a tour for our second day, but after such a crazy and busy first day, we decided that we were going to sleep in late and do our won thing. We had brunch at TGIF’s, and took the boys to the top of the hill on the TRAM to a mirror maze thinking how great it would be. Not so much, we were out of the maze within 10 minutes. We took advantage of the nice weather and sat in the park for awhile eating ice cream and drinking some cold drinks.

After spending some time in the hotel room, the boys playing with some puppets / marionettes we had bought them, and me taking a nap J we caught some dinner at the square where we learned the only difference between a hot dog and a sausage is the bun. Now that I’ve snuck food in again, I can enlighten you with the variety of treats we enjoyed, from rolled baked dough with sugar, churos (which is a Spanish dessert), and a very similar version of a beaver tail. I should say we did not eat these all at once, but over the course of the two days we were there.
Our final outing in Prague was the ghost tour, I don’t know what we were thinking when we booked it, or what we were expecting, but it was an hour and a half and more money well wasted. Robbie enjoyed it; I guess that’s all that counts really.

Day 3: HOME, not too early, but thankfully this “vacation” is over. We’re all tired, cranky, and done with travelling for a bit, well at least I am. Ron has a business trip a little over a week after Prague, to Poland, Warsaw this time, and another business trip back home, to Canada a couple weeks after he returns from the first.

All we can think of right now though is getting to sleep in the next day. If only it were that easy. At 6:30 am our neighbours dogs were outside barking up a storm, quick hand me a gun.

Now after being back for a week my loving husband (I hope jokingly) asked me where our next vacation is going to be? I don’t know where he’s going, but I know I’m staying put, at least for now. Summers in Moscow are supposed to be quiet and nice. I think it’ll be a good time to explore what are new home for the next couple years has to offer.

Part 5 -Finally in KAF

Stepping off the bus that transported us from the plane to New Canada house was an experience I don’t wish on anyone, no one that I had gotten to know in Kingston was there to greet me. The greeting I received was less then thrilling. Thank goodness I soon met friendly faces who gave me greetings only a friend could offer. There are soon new people coming in, and although I’m not best friends with them, they deserve a reception that says welcome. This is their first impression for the next six months, and one that will be carried with them forever.
I don’t wish a first week in KAF on anyone. Talk about confusing, the camp is thirteen kilometres and trying to get to know everywhere you have to be is confusing in itself. You have the tent lines, the boardwalk which houses three of the shops that we work at, the American PX, a great place to go for things you may need or just some snacks that we don’t carry, Role 3, where you go when you’re sick; and you will be by your second week here, the gym, and MWR; everyone’s favourite hangout spot, as you will soon read below. Really, everything is close by; everything is within a 15 or 20 minute walk from point A to point B. The longest walk is from our tent lines to New Canada House. The only time you’ll walk longer here for something you really need is when you walk the flight line. The flight line is an 11 km walk, it takes anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours to complete. Unfortunately nothing happened like was said on training. I got here and had a tour my first day, got drove around or walked around my first day and after that, I was on my own. I learned my way around camp by trial and error. Taking wrong turns, exploring side streets, and asking everyone around me which way this was or which way that was.

My first night in camp was spent in the ever so wonderful BATS (Big Ass Tents). Basically this is a full size military tent, the ones we stayed in were partitioned off by cement walls. Not so lucky is the fact that three women had to stay in one room that was approximately 7 feet by 10 feet. Our room housed two bunk beds. I being either the most flexible, and the most unlucky got the top bunk. Now this wasn’t just an ordinary bunk bed, the top bunk was a good 6 feet in the air, inches from the ceiling and had no ladder. We did end up finding a small wooden contraption though; which resembled a ladder, but could only reach so high. I ended up somehow pulling myself over, but at the same time banging the inside of my legs every time I climbed up or down the bed. In the one night that I was there, my inner thighs were so bruised I was happy I wasn’t home for my husband to see the damage, because he surely would have wondered what was going on.

My first week in KAF I wanted to cry my feet hurt so badly, and I begged that the whole tour wouldn’t be so bad and I would get accustomed to it. The second week wasn’t as bad, but it still hurt like hell. By the third week, I was starting to settle in easily. My feet weren’t hurting as much, and I knew my way around the place just fine.

Seven weeks into my adventure I am happy, happier then I have ever been in my life. I can say with all honesty that THIS is what I am supposed to be doing at this time in my life. I have met so many amazing people. Many of my new friends have been Americans. They find it funny that we say "eh" all the time and say that we pronounce our “O” differently. I find it funny that they say "y'all" all the time. All kidding aside, before saying goodbye to our newest friends, we spend long hours in the local posh coffee shop drinking lattes and mochas, smoothies and good old bottled water, you drink a lot of that here. We took KAF tour bus rides till the wee hours of the morning, talking, laughing joking and eating pizza. By the end of my tour I have come out of KAF sounding Camerican, half American, half Canadian. I say, eh after all my sentences, aboot instead of about, yet oddly enough I have an accent unlike that of a Canadian, but rather like someone from the south, and I wear sweaters in temperatures Canadians should normally find warm, something that even now most people find odd.

Nearly two months into my tour, I don’t understand why those that are almost leaving are so irritable, and nasty. Nothing here should come as a surprise to anyone. We were told what our work hours were going to be like well before we got here, and really in all honesty, it’s not that bad. We work normal hours that one would work while in Canada, most of the time anyways. I should count myself lucky that I met a great friend that will be leaving a week after me. We have decided that we will keep each other in check and that if one of starts to get grumpy that we’ll let each other know. More to come on this since not both of us managed to keep our promise.

It’s the beginning of my ninth week and I think it’s finally hitting me, the tiredness, the long hours, the lack of sleep, and the nonstop work days. I swear some days it feels as if I’ve been hit been hit by a mack truck. Today was the last day of days at TH and I’m glad it’s over. The early mornings can only be done in short stints for me, I’m not a morning person, although somehow I’ve managed a smile to everyone even before I’ve had my time to wake up. I loved getting off early and being to have the rest of the day to sit in the sun, have a nap, attend the events around base, or just hang out with friends, but the early morning shifts seem to go by so slow even though you’re crazy busy for all but an hour and a half of the last part of your shift. The clock seems to move so slowly. I’m tired, and exhausted, but I’m still keeping my sanity, my cheerfulness about me, and I still have a smile on my face.

I think I like the ice cream shop. Wait, did I just say that? I’ve only been there how many weeks already. Seriously, the time goes by so quick, and even though you don’t get off till closing you don’t start until two; you can sleep in, go to the gym, run errands such as I did many times, and it was a good time to get my eyebrows waxed, go to the market, and catch up on emails. You get all the benefits of a late start, but you can still make most of the late night events that go on. Two days into my new shift I’m feeling rested again. I’ve slept in till 11:00 and 10:00 am the past two days. I have every intention of getting up 8:00am to hit the gym early, but I can’t make any promises. That is always my plan, but as everyone knows, things don’t always go according to plan. I missed it this morning, and many mornings after, but made up for it by going for a run in the evening after work. Sometimes that’s just the way it is.