What a whale of a time! – Tales of Travel Gone Wrong

I LOVE food! I am a real worldly foodie and am a true believer that tasting the food of country I am visiting is key to immersing myself in the adventure. The culture that comes from food, the history that food possesses. It may seem like I am reading into it but I am not, I know that food and eating habits change historically and it is one certain way to explore the culture.

Now, this was a particularly tricky one for me. Norway is one of the only countries in the world who is still legally allowed to hunt whales. Whaling has been largely banned because of the decreasing number of whales on our oceans, this beautiful creature that is becoming extinct has to stop being sought after for its meat and oil. So bearing these things in mind and the fact that I give to the WWF every month to help protect and rehabilitate a lot of animals, this goes against all my gut instincts to eat whale steak.

How can I, a self admitted lover of animals (except spiders and scorpions, who likes those?!) actually eat a whale? It was a moment of travel exception. I am a true believer that if you are abroad you should fully integrate into the life and culture of that country. We were in the middle of a fish market and whales everywhere, we could not miss out on this opportunity.

Looking back on it now, I feel slightly itchy inside every time I think that I chewed a whale steak and devoured it. I don’t think it will ever happen again. Regardless, it was a fascinating experience and if you ever get the opportunity… try it without any guilt.

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Walking in Krakow

For all you people who believe there is more to life than an underground/subway, you are right! There are so many places that can be discovered by foot and truly appreciated after you have lost yourself in a really quirky and romantic cobbled street to get there. The sights you miss when you simply rush from tourist spot to tourist spot in a subway is deeply saddening, so my mother and I decided to save the pennies and work our leg muscles, and walking Krakow was a treat!

With lots of people and companies harassing you to take their guided tourist train tour, to join their groups and do their thing, it is pleasant to step back from all of that and just do what you think is right. Discover the places you want, get to know a city in your terms and to find the hidden treasures only you will come across in your own path.

Walking the city centre

Krakow’s Main Square hosts a variety of interest. If you walk around the whole square, hidden behind the cafes and all those esplanades you will find some plaques identifying the houses, who they belonged to and their historical importance.

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At the very centre of the Main Square you will be able to see the Cloth Hall. It used to be a building where people would come to trade all sorts of goods, but now it is open every day and showcases the most stunning handicrafts from Poland for you to buy. Great for souvenir shopping.

You will also find in the city centre St Mary’s Basilica. This iconic building is the cover of most postcards of Krakow and though it may seem like a simple brick construction from the exterior, the inside tells a very different story.

You will get a chance to spot some horse and carriages which you can take a lovely tour of the city in. I personally did not take one, but found them all very charming and the horses very sweet. It is a miracle that they keep the city so clean and not smelling of manure with so many horses around.

Make sure you have one of your meals in the Main Square, with so many restaurants available you can enjoy some real treats.

Further afield

Still a short walk away, you can follow a road directly to the Wawel. Here you can enjoy the castle, the cathedral, the Dragon’s cave and so much more. No more than a 10 minute walk from the Main Square it is definitely worth a visit and has so much to offer.

On your way to Wawel, make sure you take a quick peak at the St Peter and Paul Church. Such a beautiful building and it is worth spending a few minutes being mesmerised by its interior. Simple, beautiful and yet haunting. I definitely recommend it.

The Ring Gardens! Surrounding the entire centre of town, a ring garden which is worth walking around to see the city from a different perspective, enjoy the greenery and fresh air as well.

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Krakow is a very easy city to see by foot, so unless you are venturing out to the concentration camps and the salt mine, save your money, save the environment and put your best walking trainers on! I think everyone should feel encouraged to enjoy their cities by walking and discovering some really lovely hidden gems.

 

I want it all! – Travel, Career & Love Life

I have to say in many ways I feel I have become the typical millennial. I seem to be in this weird generation where we all kill ourselves working more and more, we take part in extra activities and build freelance careers next to our full time jobs. My closest friends are all investing in houses, getting married and probably will start sprouting out the most adorable babies in the next few years. Where as I am here, sat in my office lunch time typing this and thinking to myself, selfishly perhaps, but I want it all!

I have always, as far as I can remember, been a busy bee. I can’t help myself and seem to be constantly working and thriving for better. I want to exercise, and write, learn languages, relax, do dance classes and drama society, I want it all! I have yet to crack the magic behind time management/sleeping enough to seem alive at work, without having to give up all of my interests. More so, I have yet to master the art of saving without spending, as at the moment everything I save is because it will be spent in my 3 month long trip. So what, I am only 24 and this will be the trip of a lifetime! And as much as I am keen on boarding a plane and abandoning Europe for 3 months of madness, adventures, Spanish speaking countries, gastronomical discoveries and sunshine, I am not willing to sacrifice my entire life for this.

I really do admire my adventurous friends, who decided to give up the security of a job for the nomad life that is paired with an array of mesmerising experiences that maybe I will never get to live. I also admire those who have been so hell bent in having a successful career that at my age can afford a mortgage and a diamond engagement ring for their partner. That is great! Both of these in my eyes are amazing achievements, but they are not the path I want to pave for myself, because having one without the other for me is downright depressing. So I am really here because I want it all and WILL have it all!

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First of all, having built a career in media, events and marketing for the last three years, I decided that before I move out from my parents’ house, where rent is cheap as chips and I have the love and support of my family, I would take the plunge and take a sabbatical for three months. I realise that this means that for three months of a year, a quarter of the year, I will receive no paycheques, and this is where I have had to quickly perfect the art of saving. However, this does mean that for 3 months I get to gallivant across South and Central America knowing that upon my return to the UK my job is securely waiting for me.

A lot of people have also asked me, ‘what if you don’t want to go back to that career?’ to which I answered, I will always want to go back to something because I am actually a self-assumed workaholic. However, here was the sudden change of plans. Having decided on my three month trip, booking most of it and being almost done with the payments, I also decided to change careers! I no longer will return to a job in media, events and marketing. No. I will return to a job in education, a job which I start in September and will be waiting for me upon my return. I was very lucky that my new role accepted the terms of my previous job regarding the trip, and feel that actually this is a really nice combination. Not only am I going to go off and discover the world, I will return to a job in the field in which I want to pursue a lifelong and stable career.

See, I want it all! Most people feel they cannot pair the two together, but with a bit of determination and downright gumption, anything can be achieved. I feel I had quite big cojones to decide to change career when I am about to leave the country, however I wouldn’t do it any other way. I am excited at the prospect of being able to indulge my adventurous side and then return to a life of incredible work, to such a worthy field as education and feel the daily rewards of seeing young adults reach and surpass their potentials.

I have not yet finished my rant about desires and balancing a lifetime of needs into one thing. I have clearly shown that I can make my working life workout alongside my life long dream of a trip. I have yet to truly testify whether my love life can survive too, but I am willing to give it a valiant shot. When my boyfriend went travelling for 2 and a half months, we did not break up. He went and I stayed and we continued faithful and very much in love. There were times when missing him felt like agony, however, I feel in the long run it has strengthened our relationship and if anything has made me believe that I can take the 3 month trip and we will be fine. Which we will, absolutely! If things are meant to be they will and I just have to believe. I have friends that have separated from their long term partners precisely to go travelling, but I won’t give him up for my 3 month journey of self-discovery. He continues to be very much a part of the person I am discovering and the life I am building for myself. So I truly want it all.

Like I have told you before, and continue to say, I truly believe you can make it all work for you. I postponed my travels for nearly 4 years in order to get to a point in my life where I felt confident enough to do it, and secure enough in my career too. I am proud of the choices I have made so far, and yes they may or may not work in the future, but at the moment they have been difficult choices that have brought me great success. In a roundabout way, people get to the places they want to and this is my long journey to get it to where I want to. I hope it all works out, but this post is only really to ease the minds of those who feel that to travel you have to sacrifice the other life you have built up. You don’t. You just have to re-arrange it a little bit to make it all fit, like a neat puzzle piece.

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Schindler’s Factory and Gestapo Cells

Krakow is such a fascinating place, it is filled with iconic buildings that are sadly coated in so much misery and painful history, but make for an incredible city to visit. The culture that oozes out of every building, as if words were not enough to tell stories, you relive everything as soon as you enter a building. Schindler’s Factory and the Gestapo Houses did just that, invite you in to overwhelm you with the reality of the happenings in these places.

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The names of all the people that Oskar Schindler saved.

First of all, let me commend Schindler’s Factory for its mesmerising use of installations to create a path through the factory and make the museum as immersive as possible. Second of all, it is THE Schindler Factory, the enamel factory that without intending to saved so many lives. I find Oskar Schindler’s story really interesting, because he was just a German business man who bought a factory to make some money, and due to his moral compass and disagreeing with everything that was happening, saved countless lives. He did not agree with the politics and simply did what he could to help, from offering better quality meals, opening his own ‘camp’ behind the factory for his workers to live in and dismissing his workers before the Gestapo found themselves in the factory to call those names for extermination. He was in every way a hero and the museum not only gives you a huge insight to his life, the work at the factory and everything that was done there for the Jews and the Polish, but also pays reference and contextualises the entire setting by rebuilding the Jewish ghetto inside amongst so many other things.

You will find video accounts, diary entries, quotes from survivors and quotes from people who have since passed, it is so incredibly immersive and it consumes you to be inside. It is chilling and in my opinion made me relive the entire history of Krakow and WWII almost more than the tour around Auschwitz. With Auschwitz you are almost alienated from the situation because you have a tour guide who is speaking to you at all times, you have to be in and out of a barrack within a certain amount of time, and yes, even though seeing it is awful and realising the conditions that people lived in is  truly horrific, at the factory you walk alone. You take it all in on your own, you watch the video and audio accounts and feel as if you are being spoken to, you walk the entire space feeling like you’ve basically been in a time lapse and relived Krakow during WWII. It is so well built and almost intimidating in how upfront it is about the horrors that took place in the beautiful city and its surroundings during the time. Schindler’s factory is one of my top picks for you to visit in terms of museums, truly one of my favourites and I have been to quite a few!

I also really recommend visiting the Gestapo Cells. It is in the total opposite side of the city, North West of the central gardens, and although it is small, very much like the factory it makes use of its space to share the histories with visitors in as much detail as possible. Ulica Pomorska, where the cells are situated, is very easy to find, although the cells are extremely inconspicuous. Hidden behind a building, you walk through a path which features a wall with photos of almost everyone who was imprisoned here. You start by visiting a small museum which includes a lot of first person accounts of what happened there, from quotes, videos, audio recordings and items that belonged to individuals. Once you are finished reading all the histories you are guided to a secluded part of the building, a cellar almost. The cells.

I only have the photo below of the cells, of a quote carved onto the walls by one of the prisoners translated into English. Very much like Auschwitz it was all too real, too palpable. The space was so small, the markings on the walls that shouted desperation, the blood stains and the awful things that happened here. Days without food, or water or electricity, people were left alone to drive themselves insane, then above are a set of pipes that sometimes released gases such as tear gas, choking gas, smoke… anything that would make the prisoners suffer even more than they already were was present. Prisoners of war, Jewish people and Polish were all subject to this ill treatment, sometimes even if they did nothing to provoke it.

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These are two sites I definitely recommend if you are at all interested in history or simply want to pay respect to those who lived and suffered through WWII in this area. It is touching, horrible, makes your skin crawl and feel sick with desperation for those who had to endure this, but these places are an ode to the incredible survivors that these people are. I have a lot of love for Poland and the pain it had to go through but it is a truly majestic place and beautiful country, and I cannot wait to explore more of it in the future. I hope you will take the time to explore it too.

Happy reading, writing and travelling.

Click here for more information or to book your tickets to the Oskar Schindler Factory.

Click here for a tripadvisor page on Ulica Pomorska – Gestapo Cells.

Some personal accounts at Schindler’s factory of what happened at that time:

 

The Wieliczka Salt Mine

So when I planned my trip to Krakow I had a few things that I knew I wanted to see and visit, such as Auschwitz, Schindler’s factory, Wawel Castle amongst others. Everywhere I researched for things to see and discover in the illustrious city, the Wieliczka Salt Mine was listed. No one explained why, no real details were included in this, it was always just stated as a must. I was convinced this was going to be a tour about how miners extract salt from rock, which is of course very interesting, all the ancient techniques and past labours are always fascinating, but it didn’t seem to be enough for everyone to make such a huge fuss about it.

I have to confess, I didn’t even look at the website, which is a real shame, as my last weeks leading up to the trip were so busy with work that my usual preparation was not the same. Merely two months before I had been in Budapest, so I didn’t even have enough time to fully recover from the high of the previous trip! At first I was a bit apprehensive to visit, as I was travelling with my mother who is not very physically fit after an unfortunate heart attack. However, a few emails back and forth and I finally booked us two tickets for a disabled tour, which actually was the best thing ever.

Firstly, our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and most of all patient, as we paced ourselves slowly but surely through the less demanding paths of the mine. We were drawn in and mesmerised by stories of a Hungarian Princess who brought salt to Poland by dropping her engagement ring in a salt mine in Hungary, tales of the site’s many miners, the scent of salt lingering in the air its flavour touching our lips.

We were invited to lick the walls – I know that sounds weird! – and experience the white salt melting in our tongues and the pure flavour and kick of the darker salt rock. We were taken through a winding mine up and down and already the experience was better than I had expected, as we learnt so much more than just the process of mining salt rock. Finally we discovered the rooms, these caves where water deposits eroded the rock salt and formed a pool. We were awestruck by a particular room called the Chopin Room, where the entrance was so dramatic, the music stormed through the space and hit each of us with such overwhelming force. We were so moved. I can’t really explain it, it was just beautiful.

We knew we were here to see something special.

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The salt on the wall!

We then walked towards the biggest cave of all, which we discovered is the largest underground church in the world, a Unesco world Heritage site, one of the first to join the list. It was entirely carved out by three sibling miners, who did it in their spare time and were then commissioned to finish it when their boss found the church. The wall carvings, altar and stone chairs are all carved from the original cave, the detail is incredible and it is absolutely a sight to behold. The Pope has even visited and had a statue made for him. He returns to Krakow this year.

I feel that in my writings I haven’t done this place proper justice, it was just so unexpected and so overwhelmingly stunning that I feel all the words in the world won’t do. The photos itself are difficult to be amazed at, as it is quite dark (underground!) and what you see in naked eye isn’t quite captured through the lens as well. I truly feel this place made my entire trip that much more special and I would encourage everyone to visit it. Tickets are inexpensive and can be found online, I would advise to book it early as it does get very busy and like I said we were lucky because we had to take a special tour anyway so it was a lot quieter, but there were tonnes of groups in several different languages going around.