Friday, 28 February 2014

Life in London- the closing of a chapter

I'm currently on a long train ride to West Croydon and thought that I better spend my time on typing my last post then sitting there contemplating on life.

So what have I been up to with my remaining time here? Well, I travelled for two weeks at the beginning of February and decided to spend my last two weeks in London saying my goodbyes and spending time with someone who meant a lot to me. I've been doing a lot of job searching primarily for roles in Melbourne, Sydney and Hong Kong.

As some of you may know, I am in the process of changing careers. I have been looking at roles related to community services, human resources and training. So far, I managed to find one position which I have just sent in the application for. I have not gone through the process of job searching, let alone writing a job application, in a very long time! As you would expect, it has been very stressful and time consuming. I am going to give myself a one month deadline to find a job. After that, I will move away from Perth, irrespective of what happens.

I remember the reason for coming to London; things didn't go the way I have planned. I was going through a lot of things at the time and as my friend Em would say, "I just couldn't handle it!". Time has passed by so quickly and it has now been over two years in the UK. Well what have I gained with my time here? I guess the main thing is gaining self confidence and being comfortable with who I am. I have managed to travel to over 30 cities, hopefully made an influence to at least one out of the hundreds of children I have taught, and meeting some really special people along the way. 

I honestly am not ready to leave London, but there is always an expiry date to everything in life. I know that I made the most out of my time here. The things I have learnt and the experiences I have gained will never be forgotten. 

2014 will be very challenging for me, but I also have a lot I can look forward to. Whoever reads this, please do one thing this year that is out of your comfort zone. Go travelling to a place you never thought you will go to, do something adventurous, or even try eating something you haven't dared try before. Trust me, you will gain so much from it, just like I have!

This blog was created for my two year stint in London. I think this post will be a good way to close my chapter in London and to get ready for my next one...

I took this photo at a burger joint before I moved to London. Luckily I made the most out of my time here and never took anything for granted.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The end of my teaching career

I'm currently on the train ride from Amsterdam to Cologne and with nothing better to do, I thought I'll write a post. Last Friday was my last day of supply teaching in the UK after two years, but it also marked the end of my teaching career after five years. I originally thought I would feel a sense of relief, but unfortunately that was not the case. 

I still remember how I lost my passion for teaching back home,  and was dreading supply teaching in London. However, teaching in the UK was one of the most enjoyable periods during my teaching career. I loved the unknown challenges of potential classrooms I would teach in, I appreciated the diverse cultures and learning abilities of my students, and I love how I was given the opportunity to teach the full range of classes; nursery all the way up to year 6!

One thing I gained out of supply teaching, is self confidence, which I clearly lacked back home. I know I am a lot more capable than I thought I was. This was acknowledged throughout the numerous schools I worked at; they gave me positive comments and quite often requested me back. 

The students I have taught over the years have varied, some were way more challenging then others, but I guess that was what kept me on my feet. I especially loved teaching the younger children; their sense of curiosity and innocence always brings a smile to my face!

So what does the future hold after ending my teaching career? To be honest, I'm not really sure. Hopefully I can transfer my skills across to a new career path, but I am sure it will not be in the classroom. I would still like do something related to education but office based. Throw in a job linked to a charity with a reasonable salary, and you can let me know where to sign!

As they say; when one door closes, another one opens. This shall hopefully relate to my employment prospects...

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Life in London: Update 4

2 weeks until I finish teaching. 2 weeks until my lease expires. 2 weeks until I go travelling. You get my drift. Wow! 2 years is nearly up. Where did the time go? I honestly don't know... When you enjoy your time so much, it tends to fly at the speed of light.
I guess you're wondering how I am feeling at the moment? Not a lot to be honest. I think I have gone to the stage where all the thinking and emotions have overtaken my mind. I'm starting to prepare myself for that day when I have to say bye to the place that I have called home for the last two years.  

So what are my exact plans before I leave London? Well after I officially finish supply teaching on the 31st of Jan, it also means the end of my teaching career after 5 years. I then plan to leave the country on the 1st of Feb to go travelling (Amsterdam-Cologne-Basel-Venice and possibly Barcelona) before re-entering London as a 'tourist'. I will spend my last two weeks of February sorting out things and saying my goodbyes before I officially leave on the 2nd of March. 

I think I might start writing up a list of final things I want to do here before jetting off. 

A final and thorough update shall complement this post in a months time...

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Volunteering in Spain - Rascafría

The first thing you will ask is probably why I chose to volunteer in Spain. It all started when I was researching on I wanted to search for volunteering opportunities in London but one of the results that came up was volunteering in Spain with a company called 'Vaughan'. As I had never visited Spain before and combined with volunteering opportunities, I immediately jumped on board. 

I applied 6 months ahead of time through the Vaughan website and was able to select which program I wanted to attend. Not knowing which one I should choose, I looked at all the types of accommodation in each town (which was paid for by the company and included meals as well) and immediately saw the Sheraton hotel in Rascafría! 

A few months later, I received an email saying I have been accepted into the program! I immediately booked my flights and thought I'll spend a few days after my program to explore Madrid! 

On the first night of my arrival, the company organised a Tapas reception to introduce the participants for the two programs that was being held on the following day. We had unlimited drinks and Tapas, which was a good sign for things to come... It was interesting to meet the different  participants, with most of them of mature aged (I was the second youngest in the program). This is in no way a bad thing though as it is a refreshing change to meet others with more life experience (and interesting ones) to mine.
After the reception, I hung out with some people from the second program and it was nice listening to the reasons why each person chose to volunteer. One of the participants have already done the program 16 times!

The next day, we meet at a hotel, where a bus picked up all the Anglos and Spaniards to our venue; Hotel Sheraton- Santa Maria, De El Paular (A bit over an hour, North of Madrid). Upon arriving, we had a quick debriefing, followed by a 3-course lunch (the food provided was amazing!) and allocation of our own hotel rooms. I was a little disappointed with my room as it was not as modern as I expected, but it was still nice with its rustic features and contained all the amenities I needed. What stood out in this location was the setting itself; a backdrop of snowy mountains, tree lined walking trails depicting an autumn scenery with its yellow leaves and streams running nearby. It was so relaxing! The hotel even had cheap bike hire so that I could explore the area (the manager let me hire one free of charge). 

Now I won't go into detail of what I did each day in the program but I do admit that it involved a lot of one-to-one conversations with a Spaniard, watching Spaniards and other Anglos perform in plays and skits at night (I was playing the drums using a bin, while other participants played an instrument using kitchen tools) and conducting a real telephone conference call with three Spaniards from our own hotel rooms! 
One interesting feature of the program was the allocation of a siesta every afternoon from 3pm to 5pm. This meant that we had free time for ourselves and typically Spanish people will use this time to have a nap. Although I did have quick power naps (as the sessions are very demanding), I tired to use the time to go exploring around the area. As you can see from the pictures on Facebook and from the ones below, Rascafría is a really beautiful area. It is only accessible by private transport but I was fortunate enough to visit by volunteering in this program.

For anyone who wants to gain an insight into the lives of Spaniards and volunteer at the same time in a rural Spanish town, I do recommend Vaughan Town. I was very lucky to meet and learn from the Spaniards, having fun with other volunteers. Volunteering, whatever the area is very rewarding and I can see myself doing more in the near future...

Where our program was based
The entry to our hotel! The hotel used to be a Monastery

The church next to our hotel is still utilised by the monks who reside there

And... let there be snow! Look what an impact snow makes!

One of the activities involved a photo challenge in the city centre, based on selected themes. We asked a local to pose for us in this photo. Guess what this picture might relate to?

Friday, 6 December 2013

A sole backpacker through Switzerland, Austria and Czech Republic- Part2

I realised this blog post have been sitting in my drafts section for a very long time and how lazy I have been with updating my blog. So here it is, a summary of my remaining trip in August!

Day 8: Train ride to Bolzano
I started my train ride at 10:57 in the morning and had a quick stopover at Innsbruck before arriving at Bolzano in the afternoon.
Shortly after arriving, I went to explore the town. It was really interesting that people in Bolzano can speak both German and Italian (as it borders Austria). Even the town have both German and Italian influences. Straight away I had a good vibe of Bolzano. There were more local tourists then international tourists which meant Bolzano hasn't quite been trashed by tourists yet... 

Welcome to Bolzano

Day 9: Bolzano
One of my highlights on this trip was mountain exploring. I conquered my fear of heights by going up Cima Lago Nero which was at a height of 2070 metres! To achieve that I had to go through two sets of cable cars; one from the base of Bolzano reaching Soprabolzano at a height of 1221 metres and one from Pemmern to reach Cima Lago Nero. My palms were sweating on both occasions and I tried to look towards the horizon... Luckily the tram and bus rides between the two places weren't too bad! One of the highlights was doing a walking trail at Klobenstein and another was seeing the 'Runder Tisch', which was a table with a set of chairs that faced each of the main mountains. It was a pity I couldn't see much of the mountains today as it was just too cloudy... 

Trekking through the hillside!

Contemplating at the Runder TIsch

An amazing view on the way down to Bolzano

Day 10: Train Ride to Vienna
Again, another train ride through the picturesque valleys and mountains of Austria. It was an extremely long journey and I didn't arrive in Vienna until 18:00. I was very lucky to meet up with Verana and Stephan who were extremely busy with moving into a new apartment and work. They took me to Stephanplatz to start exploring the city centre. This included the Gothic church 'Stephansdom', National library, Wien University etc...  We had a nice dinner at an underground restaurant that Verena and Stefan both recommended.

A festival in the city centre

A different view at night

Day 11: Vienna
I started off the day with Stephan taking me to a traditional fancy coffee house called Central. 
Then I set off afterwards by myself to explore the city. I went to visit the cluster of museums and went to a building called Museum Quarter which in itself had a collection of museums. Some other places I visited include the Naschmarkt (A famous foodie market), The Hundertwasser building (A famous yet strange looking public housing complex) and a thoroughfare called 'The Staircase to Heaven (This was far away and not worth visiting). I was also lucky enough to visit Stephan and Verana's apartment. They had their whole family there to help they assembly their furniture. It was a really nice apartment and hopefully I can afford one in the near future.

The Museum Quarter


Staircase to Heaven. Ok, I guess it isn't as bad as it seemed...

Day 12: Vienna
Today Stephan was my tour guide and took me to the palace and its gardens. If I'm not wrong, it was called 'Belvedere'. Next, we went to Naschmarkt again for coffee and I managed to eat my first Vienna würst! It was  really funny how the locals started talking to us out of randomness...
In the afternoon, Verana joined us for a car trip to the hills for a nice view of the city. In the evening, we went to the row of bars along the canal which was themed like a beach. It reminded me of a similar concept in Brussels which I enjoyed this a lot. I was also able to drink a 'Radler' which was a premixed drink of lemon squash and beer- refreshing!

The Palace!

The river running through the centre of Vienna

Time to relax and have a drink in the summer afternoon!

Day 13: Cesky Crumlov
After arriving in Cesky Crumlov at lunch, I settled down in my own apartment room with views of the river. You don't know how good it feels to have my own room and bathroom! It only costs 40 Euros which is a bargain, especially how nice and massive the room is.
I had lunch at a restaurant which had an outdoor area facing the river and set off exploring Old Town with a walking tour. The tour mainly covered the different styles of buildings such as Baroque and Renaissance. Fun fact; Cesky Crumlov is a UNESCO protected town based in Czech Republic. It felt like I was transported back to the medieval times...

My own room! What a bargain!

The view from outside my accommodation...

Day 14:Cesky Krumlov to Prague
I started off the day with breakfast which was included with the accommodation- score!
After breakfast, I went to explore the castle as my bus didn't arrive till 2pm. 
In the castle, I went to view an underground art gallery by the artist Keramické Tvorby. His sculptures and art work were actually really interesting. Most of his works were inspired by the communism era.
So what are my thoughts of Cesky Krumlov? It is a small, relaxing and laid back town with its hidden cobbled lane ways and numerous riverside eateries. It is a town you should not miss if you are visiting the Czech Republic.
In the late afternoon, I arrived in Prague! The hostel I chose was very sociable; they prepared a free dinner every night, made by the workers so that travellers can interact with each other. The food was amazing and it was something I would be willing to pay at a restaurant.

The underground art gallery in the castle

Such a unique and beautiful town

Crepes have become my new obsession since travelling around Europe!

Day 15: Prague
I started off with a walking tour which took us to places mainly in the town centre. The tour was led by an Australian which made the tour surprisingly entertaining and funny! We looked at things such as the Astronomical Clock (which was very precise). It can tell you things such as the position of the sun, time and even the current star sign. We also visited the Old New Synagogue, Tyne Church and other significant buildings. The tour was very informative and I was able to learn a lot about Prague's history. 
I had a quick lunch as I booked a bike tour for the afternoon. I was able to finally try a Goulash which was like a beef stew in a bowl made from bread. It was nice but I didn't find it that special.
The bike tour covered mainly the same things from my walking tour, but we went further out. The tour also visited the 'Dancing House', which was one of the buildings I really wanted to see, due to its unique architecture.
To save money, I decided to have dinner at the hostel again as it was free (me being a tight arse!) and I got to meet more people. I definitely made the right decision as it was really fun!

Town square

A good idea to have a coffee to kick start my day in Prague!

An 'interesting' piece of art, where the sculpture's private part rotates with the pelvis...

All in all, the two weeks of hectic travelling was well worth the time and money. Surprisingly I was under budget but I did overspend a little in Switzerland. If only I had more time and money in Europe, I would have spent more time in some of these places...

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Music- Uncertainty by The Fray

This is a bonus song in the the self titled album by The Fray (2009). I recently came across this and was surprised that I never heard it before. This is unfortunately a really depressing song, yet the lyrics really stick to me.

As my time in London is coming close to its expiry date, I am forced to think about my near future. Uncertainty certainly describes what I am feeling at the moment. It is scary to think that what I now call home, won't be in 4 months time. My plans for the future has been thrown into uncertainty and all I can do now is pray for some clarity and guidance on what path I should take.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

A solo backpacker through Switzerland, Austria and Czech Republic- Part 1

This was my longest trip travelling alone, so you can imagine how nervous or excited I would have been. I had always wanted to do Switzerland in Summer, so that was the main destination of my trip. I decided to also include Austria and Czech Republic, due to their proximity and hence made it my two week solo trip.

Day 1 : Geneva
Not a good start to the day. I missed my train which meant I was late to the airport, the drop off counter for my luggage was closed and the boarding gate was about to close. Furthermore, my gate was 111, which was on the other side of the airport and I literally had 5 minutes left before the gate closed. I ran with my pants falling down (as I had to take my belt off though customs), my heavy backpack on and my side bag dangling. Luckily I was able to make it to the gate as the last passenger.  A near fail experience :(

Anyway back to Geneva; not what I expected and in actual fact, better than I expected! It reminds of of a smaller version of Paris with similar styled buildings, much friendlier people and a beautiful clean lake. So far I have rated Geneva highly. I was able to get a free train ride from the airport to the city centre, found an inexpensive and delicious lunch, spent a lot of time walking along the promenade and explored the old town.
I think one day in Geneva is enough, unless you plan to visit museums which I have the lack of patience and concentration for...

The main bridge in Geneva decorated with flags of different nations

The famous water fountain in Lake Geneva

Day 2: Lausanne
This is a truly amazing place! After a good nights sleep, I walked to the Old Town (There seems to be an 'Old Town' in every European city), with its cobbled roads and French styled buildings. Although most of the roads were uphill, it was nice to walk slowly and admire the surroundings. I then arrived at St-Francois Church where I climbed up the tower to a vantage viewing platform to look at Lausanne. After being exhausted with all the walking, I decided to take the train to Ouchy to view Lake Geneva. It was beautiful but not as good as I expected as the Swiss Alps looked a bit smoggy. It was perfect weather though and I was able to enjoy a take away Panini at a bench facing the lake. Afterwards, I went for a stroll along the lake and came across the Olympic museum on a boat! (The actual building was under renovation, hence there's a temporary exhibition). Across from the museum I went to see the Thai Pavilion which was donated by the Thailand. 
As I had a free transport card (given during your stay in Lausanne) I went to visit the famous wooden tower that gave you a 360 degree view of Lausanne.

St-Francois Church

Creative street art along the promenade in Lausanne

The temporary Olympic Museum on a boat!

Day 3: Lavaux and Montreux
I started in the morning with a two-and-a-half hour tour of Montreux. I was the only tourist on the tour and paid a mere 10 Francs for a really good overview of the town. I still remember the tour guide asking me if I felt lonely travelling alone. And although I said no, it would have been great to share the experiences with another person...
I had lunch in a small cafe in Old Town, which had a 'French feel' to it, with little tables spread along the cobbled stone street. Afterwards, I took a walk to the famous castle via the promenade along Lake Geneva.
In the afternoon, I took a train to Rivax to start my supposedly 1 hour walk through the hillside vineyards and finished off in Cully. It ended up taking me over 2 hours and was sun burnt by the end of it! However, it was totally worth it, especially with the scenery that came along with it!

Typical architecture in Montreux

Most parts of the Old Town have a view of the Swiss Alps and Lake

Cafes like this are dotted around Old Town

Day 4: Lausanne
After a couple of days of travelling, I already needed a 'chill out' day and started the day by visiting Musee La Brut. It showcased artworks from people who had a mental illness or was imprisoned. Afterwards, I went to Ouchy again to have lunch by Lake Geneva. I could have stayed here for hours!
In the afternoon, I went to a well known Cafe called Cafe de Grancy- to again chill and have a nibble.
Towards late afternoon, I went to Flon (the city centre) for a browse. This area was redeveloped several years ago and had a mixture of shops, bars and restaurants.
I finished off the day with a cheese fondue which I never had before. You break up the bread into smaller pieces and dip it and coat it with the melted cheese sauce. It was very delicious but very filling. I also had a meringue for dessert which is apparently one of the staple dishes in Switzerland...


Cheese Fondue!

Day 5: Train ride to Salzburg
My train ride to Salzburg started at 8:20 and arrived around 4 in the afternoon travelling in first class. Don't worry, I only paid an extra 10 euro for the privilege and it was worth it! The views along the route were amazing but unfortunately I didn't take any photos, so you just need to take my word for it! Just imagine valleys, mountains, a green countryside and perfect weather...
After arriving and settling in the hostel, I went to a local tavern for dinner (I had a Gordon Bleu which was delicious!) and rested at the hostel.

Arriving in Salzburg by train!

Day 6: Salzburg
I started the morning by attempting a free walking tour. After failing to locate the hostel,I gave up and did a self guided walking tour using the hostel map and actually enjoyed it. I walked around  the Old Town, Mirabell Palace, went up to Mönchsberg to view the city from above.
In the afternoon, I went on the Sound of Music bike tour. Even though I'm not the biggest fan of the movie I really wanted to go bike riding and the result? It was a really good tour! Not only did we see the city, we went to the outskirts and enjoyed the scenery. I learnt a lot about the movie and also how film editing can really change the look and feel of a place. Fun fact: Did you know the scenes of the front and back of the house were actually based at different locations? They made it look like they were from the same house, but it wasn't...
As a result of the tour, I also met a bunch of people and we decided to have dinner together. It was so nice to have company! 
A delicious tavern near my hostel which has a beer garden

One of many stops on my tour, which apparently was featured in the movie


Day 7: Salzburg
Today was a boring day as it was crappy weather. As the weather cleared up a little, I walked around town. Most shops were shut, as it was a Sunday. I decided to visit the Museum of Modern Art in Salzburg. I was surprised how interesting the exhibits were! One of the rooms had the flooring covered with real grass to fit in with the artwork theme of plants and flowers- How cool is that? However, they also featured some artwork which was quite disturbing,such as sex acts between puppets and body parts being collaged with flowers? Weird...
For the remaining of the afternoon, I spent it at a cafe, followed by dinner at an Italian cafe... It didn't sound like I made the most out of the day, but with the disappointing weather, there really wasn't much I could do...

I now realise how difficult it is to write a blog, so the remaining part of my trip will follow in my next post. Stay tuned!