Thatcher, Love her or hate her?

Brilliant Thatcher ad for Guardian. It is so simple and accurate!

Spain beyond Barcelona

I’ve been to Spain a couple of times now but I can never go anywhere else but Barcelona. I want to see Madrid and visit to the Basque country but I always end up booking a flight to Barcelona. Recently, my friend suggested: how about we go on a road trip? I think this is the answer; we can find some cheap car hire in Spain and go everywhere!

We’ll start in Barcelona anyway, because I love it. I wish Spain wasn’t in the economic crisis and I could find work and move there. The highlights for me are always harbour and the beach, Park Guell and food in La Boqueria. I still have one unfulfilled resolution from Barcelona – I love The Shadow of the Wind but I’ve read it a couple of years before going to Barcelona. I want to read it again and walk the routes that Daniele Sempere met Fermin Romero de Torres, escaped from Lain Coubert. Last but not least, I want to be guided to the Cemetry of Forgotten Books.


From Barcelona, we would drive 600 kms to Bilbao and the Basque Country. I have two friends from there and they always praise Northern Spain. What looks particularly amazing is San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. It’s an islet, half an hour from Bilbao that is only accessible by climbing hundreds of stone steps. These stairs on photos look like a miniature Great Wall of China. The views are just breath-taking.

Photo credit goes to Christina

Next stop: Madrid. I’m keen to see Madrid because I feel the rivalry between Barcelona is Madrid is similar to Warsaw and Krakow that I mentioned in the previous post. Beautiful city vs the capital. In real world, I come from the capital so I should be a Madrid’s advocate. From what I hear my Spanish friends recommend, Prado Museum is a must, as well as Retiro Park and Palacio de Cristal.

Final stop: Andalusia! Flamenco! First, we will have to visit Alhambra. It looks just like out of One Thousand and One Nights. I want to get lost there and dream that I’m an Arabian princess. In evenings, we will visit all flamenco places to listen to the music and watch beautiful dancing.

Here we are at the end of our trip. Can I say that I saw Spain after visiting these four locations? Will I get this tingling sensation on one of the streets and decide to leave London behind and move to Spain? I’m really looking forward to!

Starting the tour of Krakow

The immediate question I get asked after saying that I’m from Poland is: “Whereabouts?” From Warsaw. “Oh, I’ve been to Krakow” everybody replies. It may seem as a great conversation starter, but just to warn you, foreigners. Warsaw and Krakow don’t like each other. Krakow still thinks they are the capital of Poland! Jokes aside, rivalry aside, I loooove Krakow. Every time I visit, I feel I can just stay there, study history and become a poet. I’d like to invite all of you looking for cheap holidays to experience the Old City magic.
Krakow used to be the capital of Poland for over 5 centuries so you should know you are entering a royal city. Although, Poland now is a tiny country somewhere in Eastern Europe famous for its cleaners, plumbers and builders, we used to be big monarchy. In the 16th century Poland was the biggest country in Europe, famous for its tolerance thus receiving tons of foreigners who couldn’t admit to their faith in their own countries. The kings and nobility were so wealthy, they could afford the best architects from Italy to build towns, palaces and churches. You can still see the remnants of those time when you have a walk around the Old City. (You  sadly can’t experience this in Warsaw, since the capital was completely crashed during WW2)
Ok so you landed in Krakow, checked in to your hostel, what now? I recommend taking a free walking tour around the city. The most famous one is the Royal Krakow, but they have a whole bunch of interesting routes like the  Jewish Krakow or a trip to Nowa Huta which was a model communist town built in the 50s. (Whoa wait what? Where did the communist come to the picture, we were talking 16th century. Exactly, you need a tour to understand it all.)
If you missed the departure time, don’t worry. I can still walk you through the most iconic sights in Krakow. If you are standing at the meeting point in front of St Mary’s Church but the tour is gone, keep calm and open my blog. In the upcoming series on Krakow, I will guide you through my favourite places.
Here start my words of Krakow wisdom: have a look at the church, this is the second most important church in Krakow after the cathedral.
Have you noticed that the two towers you can see are not equal height. The legend has it, they were built by two brother architects and the one who built the taller tower was obviously more talented. His brother, crazy from jealousy, killed the poor brother. (And consequentially committed a suicide out of guilt)
Can you hear that trumpet? It’s St. Mary’s Trumpet Call, the anthem of Krakow. Do you want to hear the legend or true story about this melody? Lets go with the legend. A long time ago, during the  Mongolian invasion on Poland,  a sentry on a tower saw Mongolians approaching and sounded alarm by playing the trumpet. The city gates were closed before they could take the city by surprise. The trumpeter, however, was shot in the throat and did not complete the anthem. You can still hear that the melody the forth time finishes abruptly. (Ok remember I said it was a legend, this is not a true story, but the tourists like it)
Now, go inside of the church. The inside is a spectacular mix of gothic, baroc and art nouveau. It’s so beautiful, you have to admire it no matter what religion you are. Look up.
The ceiling looks like a starry night. Look around. Can you see the beautiful stained glass windows? The polychromy on the walls was designed by one of great Polish artists Jan Matejko.
Make your way to the front to see the most famous masterpiece. It’s the altar carved in wood by the Nuremberg artist Veit Stoss. The centre scene shows St Mary falling asleep, it’s surrounded by 6 other stories from St Mary’s life. The altar is massive, the characters from the main piece are bigger than human people. Actually, everybody you can see on the alter used to walk around Krakow at some point. It was no secret (and this time it’s not a legend) that Veit Stoss used real Krakow people as inspiration. To the extent that Polish medicine students joke that they can learn diseases from their faces.
The last thing before you leave, don’t miss the Veit Stoss crucifix. It’s very naturalistic, the 21st century people are not too religious, but think what impact it had for people in Krakow in 15th century!
After you leave St Mary’s Church, let me take you around the main square. A lot of interesting stories here coming up in a post next week! Afterwards, expect the academic Krakow, the Pope route and the Royal Castle and Cathedral.

Malta Memories

Do you remember when I said there is a horror story behind my trip to Santorini? I’m not going to reveal it just yet. I have another story for this time I went to Malta when I was 16.

My parents sent me on holiday to Malta to learn English. What is the first destination that comes to your mind when you are thinking of learning English? Engh-Malta. :D However, it all worked out well judging by the fact I’ve been happily living in London for the last 5 years.

We had 2-3 hours of English classes a day which felt like a necessary obstacle we had to overcome before heading to the beach. To be honest, I don’t remember much of this trip because that’s when I got introduced to cheap wine. Do you remember your first sips and glasses of this delight? Exactly, you don’t. The highlight of the trip, I’m embarrassed to admit but it is a funny story, was the watermelon explosion.

 

Every day we ate a lot of watermelon since it was super-hot and watermelons were super-delicious. One evening we had a party with a special appearance of the infamous cheap wine. Long story short, I had to throw up. Smart kid that I was, I crawled on the balcony – not to mess up the room. Lucky kid that I was, I puked outside of the balcony. On to a car. (It gets better) On a sporty convertible. (Wait for it) That belonged to the hotel owner. (Imagine it covered with wine+watermelon mix) A quick note, I was 16. These days, I don’t practice throwing up from balconies or throwing up at all.

Perhaps, it doesn’t show Malta in the best light but believe me it is a beautiful place. If I could go on Malta holidays again, I would immediately pack my things and go. I’d get into a hot tub time machine and went to the 16th century Malta to become a Knight and fight pirates and Ottomans!

Guardian Data

We had Simon Rogers from Guardian data talking to us about their journalistic approach to data. See the presentation below for some great infographics around London riots, 2012 Olympics and more.

Vietnam calling!

I bet you that when my parents hear the word Vietnam, they think of Apocalypse Now. Until a couple of years ago, I would also say: Vietnam? Marlon Brando, Ride of the Valkyries and The End. But the American War is just a part of Vietnam’s culture. I’m a huge history geek but I also enjoy sports and active travelling. Today, let’s forget about the former and focus on all things adventurous in Vietnam.

When you go on holidays to Vietnam from the UK, you can choose various routes depending on what you want to see, how many days you plan to spend there or which people you’re going to meet on the road and join.

Kayaking, climbing, hiking, trekking, surfing, diving – bring it on, adventure!

The Lonely Planet inspired me to take this route, once me and Dani make our way to Vietnam.

First stop – Halong Bay, where we will kayak the beautiful turquoise water between hundreds of tiny limestone islets. It is almost 2,000 of them! Why so many? If you want to believe the myth, the islands were created by a dragon who lived in the nearby mountains. As the dragon went down to the sea, its tail carved out valleys and crevasses that got filled with water when the dragon reached the sea, leaving only the pinnacles visible. Pro climbers can challenge themselves to climbing them.

Afterwards, we will go to central Vietnam to Bach Ma National Park to hike to the top of the Bach Ma mountain, admire the nature and animals, butterflies and waterfalls.

After relaxing in the national park, we head to China Beach, where we will surf like there is no tomorrow!

Then why not going under water, since Nha Trang the “beach capital” of Vietnam is known to be the most beautiful place to dive.

Our last stop will be Dalat, “the city of eternal spring”. The temperature is quite cool unlike the rest of Vietnam and the city is surrounded by mountains so we can do all sort of sports like trekking, kayaking, abseiling and rock climbing.

However, let’s not kid ourselves. After all previous adventures, we will be pretty damn knackered. In that case, we can do some more traditional sight-seeing and admire Dalat’s unusual French-loving architecture like the Eiffel Tower radio tower, the Valley of Love and finally Hang Nga Crazy House which looks straight like from one of Gaudi’s dreams. Actually, if we plan far ahead enough, we might stay there. But planning is not fun!

Are you jealous of our agenda? No wonder, I’m not surprised. We’re off to hit the gym and will be ready for Autumn/Winter. Feel free to join us, the more the merrier!

Overcoming my island trauma

I have a Greek trauma. Every time I land in a warm country, I think of Greece and every time I take a ferry to an island, I get a Santorini deja vu.

I came to Greece after the first year of uni without much thought or a plan. I hoped to find a job and spend summer there. I remember, it was a warm, sultry night when I arrived. No matter where and how many times I feel the muggy air in an airport shuttle bus, my stomach cramps a little bit as a reminder of how nervous I was that day. Back then, I got into central Athens after midnight and a random stranger gave me a Vespa ride to my CS host. Scary as hell, because I had to hold my suitcase on the side during the whole ride and after all, it was a stranger, God knew his intentions.

In a similar fashion, each time I step on an island, I think of Santorini. Two weeks after arriving in Athens, since there were no jobs for non-Greek speakers there, I picked an island from a postcard and took a ferry there. All islands have these curly roads, almost no public transport and little life in between villages. Even on Koh Phangan, I still had flashbacks from this horrible stay in Santorini.

By now I know that if I make my way to one of those beautiful islands again, I need a good company to forget about my Greek trauma. FTC is running a competition where one lucky blogger and their crush win a holiday on one of the Canary Islands. Hey, I’m in!

If I had to choose one blogger to fly to Gran Canaria together, it would be the one and only Paula from ThePHoDiaries.com #NoHomo

Probably because I miss her a lot since she is not my colleague anymore, we don’t take tea breaks with Tunnocks tea cakes or paint our nails in fancy arty ways. Long are gone the lunch breaks in Crabtree Fields when we gossip about our handsome colleagues or “the chair guys”.

Although, as you can see on her blog Paula is a luxury loving fashionista and I’m more of a tramp or a “pretty hobo” (quote by Jude Law, 6th January 2013), I’m sure we could meet half way. (Especially, since the trip is sponsored by the lovely Fly Thomas Cook).

One thing sure, we would draw Justin Bieber’s face on the beach sand and dance the Harlem shake on the top of the volcano.

So please, FTC, send us on a supersonic electronic trip on Gran Canaria.

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery is the graffiti on 1.3km of the Berlin Wall along Muhlenstrasse. It is a beautiful response from the artists, the wall instead of becoming a sad ruin is covered with paintings that symbolise hope, freedom and future, as well as the reminder of the past.

PS Photo credit to Aga and Iwona!

My Berlin: Part 1 History

A month ago we went to Berlin. We planned this trip in July because Florence and The Machine announced they were playing there in winter. It seemed like a a great opportunity to visit Berlin and experience the famous German Christmas markets.

I’ve been to Berlin once before but it doesn’t count because I just danced day and night. I told my mother that I was going to a friend for the weekend to learn German, instead took a train to Berlin to join my salsa friends on the Berlin Salsa Congress. (Mum if you are reading this, you should know it was totally worth it!) Anyway back to December 2012.

We stayed in the Sunflower Hostel near Waschauer Strasse in East Berlin just a short walk from the wall. The area looked like Stratford before the Olympics. This side of the wall is known as East Side Gallery and it is covered with grafitti. Walking on the east side felt sort of at home because Poland was behind the Iron Curtain as well.

We went to the DDR Museum and this was a mild surprise. Almost everything felt very much like from the Polish history classes. I said almost because some rooms felt even more familiar. There is a space in the museum where they created a typical DDR flat: a living room and kitchen. Both me and my friend looked at each other and said: that’s how our parents’ flats used to look like when we were little. The same shelves, drawers and the rest of the furniture. How old are we, for God’s sake? (23, it’s not THAT old, right?)

Before moving away from the history, let me give you a tip. If you are curious about the culture and history, you should take one of Berlin free tours. We did it on the second day and it was as useful as interesting and enlightening. The first out of three places I remember the most is the place were Hitler’s bunker was and where his body was supposed to be burned. It’s in between council blocks, not signed in any way. You have to know where it is to find it.

The other interesting place was the Opernplatz where Nazis burned books in 1933. There is a plaque saying: “Das war ein Vorspiel: nur wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.” (“Where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people”). It comes from Heinrich Heine, how sadly prophetical it was. Underneath there is a white basement with empty shelves, like a library for all these burned books.

Third place that made a big impression on me was the Holocaust memorial. It’s located very centrally, just south from the Brandenburg gate. At the first sight, it looked like a cemetery filled with with simple tombs. The mood changes when you come closer and start meandering between the blocks. The concrete blocks start at 1 metre height but the further down you go, the ground slopes down and some blocks grow to even 5 metres long. The taller they are, the quieter city noise, the less sun, the smaller you are. I felt lost between them. Our guide mentioned to us that murdered Jews weren’t buried separately, but in mass graves on top of each other. Now if you have a bit of imagination you can picture these blocks as different body piles. I’m not a fan of contemporary art but this got into me.

After all day long sight-seeing, Gluhwein and curry wurst from the markets gave us energy to party at night but this is another story…

This was part 1 of my Berlin impressions. I’m a history geek. Part 2 will be the Street art. Part 3 – surprise.

I often judge cities and countries by “would I like to live there?” criteria and No, I wouldn’t like to live in Berlin. It was too grey and too many Polish-looking council flats. However, it was December, in summer the world turns happy so it may be a different city if I come back there another time.

PS Photo credit goes to Iwona!

101 New Year’s Resolutions

Scientists and psychologists warn us that Monday and New Year is not a good time to start saving, losing weight or any other big change. I say Monday is better than No-day. If even one of my New Year’s resolutions works out, I will be a happy puppy in a better place than I’m now.

Without further ado, here is my wish list for things I want to happen in 2013.

1. Become healthy wealthy and wise
Less M&S for lunch, more Cristal champagne. Wait, what? Rappers don’t drink it anymore? Well then, I will cook some food once a week to begin with and try not forget to bring it to work the next day.
Regarding the wealth, I won’t reveal too much of my dodgy drug work* I do on the side, I plan to be more regular, hard-working and avoid drug sniffing dogs no matter how adorable they are.
* It is a joke, I don’t have any dodgy part time gigs like this, I just dance in a go-go place on Wednesdays and Sundays.*
* Ok, to be perfectly honest, I don’t do that either. I counterfeit stamps and sell them at Christie’s.

2. Get totes British
This will be hard, I will have to find a British SNL, British Late night with Jimmy Fallon and British sitcoms to equalise the dose of American culture I enjoy every week.
Plus, there is of course the language. I want to speak more like a person who’s lived in London for past 4.5 years and less like an Eastern European cleaner (who-I hear-are still the best in the business!) To accomplish this goal, I will start with repeating what my colleagues say like a pirate’s parrot to copy their accent and intonation.

3. Get funny
I’m starting improv classes in 2 weeks, we’ll take it from there. Second step is to nail Christopher Walken impression, this will be so funny!

4. Get friendly
It is time to make some new friends, I’m not sure where the old ones are gone.

5. Travel like Gandalf or Barack Obama
Go skiing (we booked the flights yesterday!), go to the Fringe, go to the Balkans, go back to SE Asia, go to NY to see SNL.

6. Carry on dancing

7. Write and film this a’la Seinfeld show where Jonny is Jerry, I’m Elaine and there is still no sign of George and Kramer.

The order is accidental, I wish all of these things happen sooner or later.