Saturday, 24 July 2010


After getting off the train into the very hot underground passages of the station the first task was to put our bags in a locker, so that we could go for a walk around the town. We swapped money but there weren’t any coins, so I had to go and buy some overpriced soya milk to try and get some. But I still didn’t have didn’t have the right ones. Jenny was getting cross in the heat so I gave her the drink and went to the exchange bureau and managed to get the ones I needed. It was definitely cooler but still very warm outside. Warsaw did not endear itself to us immediately and we wondered what we were doing here amongst all these modern skyscrapers and throngs of people.

Purchasing tickets for the Warsaw transport system is complicated if you read the wrong books and go to an unhelpful tourist info office. After trial and error and some unnecessary expenditure we did work it out in the end. You can get a single ticket which will be for just one tram/bus/metro journey and then you need another if you are swapping. You can also get a 20 minute ticket or a 40 minute ticket, so you can go on as many different modes of transport as you like within the time limit. However we discovered 20 minutes is not very long when you’re travelling in a tram that stops all the time or is stuck behind another one. I got pretty worried that we wouldn’t make it back in our 20 minutes that we were so busy looking at the time ticking away and not paying any attention to where we were. We got off after the 20 minutes and thought we’d have to walk the rest of the way, only to disccover we were exactly where we wanted to be. The best option if you’re making a few journeys is the travel card, so that’s what we went for in the end.

The old town was very pretty, clean and brightly coloured. I was pleased we’d come here after all. We later discovered that it was rebuilt after the war and that it’s really a new old town. Seems the Varsovians don’t actually go there and it’s just a tourist attraction.

We wandered past the grand buildings and new old churches and bought some delicious kiwi-pumpkin-apple-carrot drink, which sounded and looked a lot worse than it was. Our hostel was run by Warsaw’s green charity. It was extremely hot, had really short bedsheets (maybe they got them second hand, recycling and all that) and had only two bathrooms for about 24 people. The door handle fell off one of the bathrooms making only one usable till it was fixed. They didn’t do that good a job though because Jenny managed to lock herself in the bathroom because the door handle wouldn’t go back in. A less resourceful person such as myself would have panicked, but Jenny managed to undo some screws with the use of a screwdriver and work her way out. I’d read on the Internet before we’d left that people had turned up with a booking only to be told there was no space. We got there not too long after five and there weren't any problems. We’d been on the internet and I was just about to go to bed. It seemed that someone else was going to sleep in my bed but I got there first and she had to go and share a bed with someone else because there weren’t enough of them. A man was sleeping on the couch in the sitting room and two people with a booking turned up only to be sent away. Looked like the Green Mazovia hostel didn’t keep a good check on its bookings. At least the money we spent would be going to a green cause of bringing more bicyles to the streets of Warsaw. In the present traffic of Warsaw I can’t understand how anyone could face it on a bicycle. A lot of work to be done then.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Transportation tally

So here we go for another really boring post by me! Since I love counting I have been noting down all trips on modes of transport, unfortunately I got a bit confused in Berlin as we did so much travelling around I am sure the city trains value should be a little bit higher than I have noted. Here are the details up to leaving Germany by train (not included).

Bus - 8
Car - 4
Ferry - 1
Train - 5
Trains in cities (underground/schnellzug) - 22
Tram - 4

German animals

Since Fiona writes the main blog (she feels she might give up soon so I suppose I may be taking over) I decided to come up with a few things to post here. In the countries we go to I am creating a list of animals that we see that we find interesting, or can easily identify that are worth mentioning. So here is the tiny list of things from Germany.

White storks - 5
Unidentified Birds of Prey - 2
Mice - 2 (at least)
Hooded crows - loads

Obviously we saw other animals too but these are the things I wrote down. We did see a load of dogs in Berlin as well, we are finding that people's taste in dog breeds varies in different countries. Berlin was full of big scary looking dogs, including Pit Bull Terriers, Doberman and rottweilers.

Monday, 19 July 2010


From the station we headed off in the direction of a park where we thought our campsite was located. After wandering the streets of Berlin and resting in all the shadows we could find we did eventually get to the campsite in the right park. The 'tent station' is in the grounds of a former outdoor swimming pool, which will soon be bulldozed down and built upon. We rented a tent as we had decided that we wouldn't be dragging ours round the world.

On our first full day in Germany we had to go on a mission to the Mongolian embassy in a suburb of Berlin to get our visas. There was a Mongolian ger in the garden and we were getting quite excited before we noticed the sign on the gate announcing that they were closed because they were celebrating the festival of Nadaam. So we had to return the next day to drop our passports off and the following day to collect them. The first time we walked along the edge of a nearby lake seeing a few birds and then wondering why we hadn't decided to go to a different lake. We got to know the area of Pankow almost as well as the locals.

Not having grown-up doing a lot of city sightseeing we were at a bit of a loss as to what you do when you're in a city. But we're learning gradually. One day we rented bikes and cycled to the Berlin wall, to the 'Yellow Sunshine' restaurant to eat a vegetarian 'Currywurst mit Pommes', through a park where we got a much needed soak by the sprinklers and through the 'Tiergarten', another park. I spotted an offer too good to pass by, very cheap watermelon. Jenny said we didn't need such a big piece, but I ignored her. We sat outside the shop hacking into it with a penknife. Progress got slower and slower until finally even I was completely watermeloned out. I have told Jenny to persevere with her good guidance and make sure I listen to her in future.

We went to the Harrods of Berlin- KaDeWe but weren't too impressed and tried to find some cheap sandals in a shopping centre but to no avail, overheated, saw the Brandenburg gate and looked at quite a few pompous buildings. I decided that we really needed to discover a bit about the history of Berlin, so we went to a section of the wall where there was an exhibition and example of what the death strip was like.The street had been cut in half by the wall and families and friends who use to live next door could no longer visit one another. At the Nordbahnhof there were also information boards about the S-bahn during the division of Berlin and people's escape attempts. Very interesting and moving stuff.

We'd finally succeeded with city camping, maybe because we didn't have to remember to bring any tent pegs this time. Jenny was entertained for hours by two mice that were running around near our tent. It was doubtful however as to how much sleep we actually got what with the first people who were camped next to us not going to sleep till 4a.m. and the next lot hammering and banging about at 2a.m., only for us to discover in the morning that they'd only been trying to put up a washing line. We left Berlin early in the morning on a delayed but pleasantly cool train. Only bad thing was rolling past a Tesco depot and a 24hrs Tesco supermarket in Poland.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Auf der Deutschen Eisenbahnen gibt's zu wenig air conditioning

Mum waved us off as we departed on the the train from Schiphol (airport!) to Berlin, offering a few words about air conditioning never working in the carriage she's in. I muttered something back about this not going to be a problem for us. All was going smoothly apart from the 22 minute delay. But it dawned on me as I awoke from a snooze with sweat pouring down my face that perhaps it was getting a little hot. Jenny said she was hot too, but didn't look it. I took my hiking boots off, tucking the tongue in to minimise smell exposure for other passengers- must have worked because Jenny didn't notice.

Nobody else seemed perturbed by the heat and the Italians next to us were still wearing their jumpers. We just dismissed our lack of being able to cope with heat to being English. We'd picked the wrong side of the train too and the sun was beating down on us. Sitting up straight to escape the worst of the sun wasn't too effective so when some people got off the train we moved to seats on the other side.

This worked for the time being and we were chuffed with our plan. Our delight, however, was shortlived as we started to get hot again. I went to another carriage for a brief bit of respite, where there were other people from our carriage playing cards in the corridor and some walking up and down. When I got back Jenny was reaching a state close to delirium with laughter. The train had stopped and some people had just sat down on the seats besides us. The girl had done nothing but complain loudly about the heat since she'd got in. She was downing water and mopping the sweat off her face with a red handkerchief. Not soon after her and her friend had already found themselves two newly available seats in the next carriage.

Suddenly everyone was feeling really hot, shifting seats to find the best ones and getting generally annoyed. People would walk through our carriage and grunt or sigh as they came in. One man came through a few times muttering something along the lines of 'Oh Gott is hot' and another with a child kept saying 'Ist's nicht zu heiss fuer dich? Ist's nicht zu heiss fuer dich?' hoping that the child would want to go elsewhere. Other comments included 'pppppprrrr' and 'like a sauna'. The Dutch ladies behind us were hot too, but were more interested in the attire of the passers by saying to each other 'this really isn't a fashion parade, there are some really funny combinations'.

I went for more respite on the empty seat in the other carriage, where it had got pretty crowded and starting to get hot. After a while I went back to Jenny and entered the carriage with a 'wow', it was like a fridge now and very pleasing. Sitting down and putting my hand over the air vent I said 'well it wont stay on for long'. Jenny claims to have said this too, maybe she did and I didn't hear her and said it myself, as is often the case. 'Why did you say that?' said the person sitting in front of us.

Sure enough it went off again and we'd been through a variety of climatic zones in the space of a few minutes. Everyone was fanning themselves and the man behind us was trying with desperation to force open the window. Wasn't happening, but then the ticket man carrying a tray of drinks down the train was forced to open it for him and we all smiled with relief. Even better he decided we were more worthy causes that the people the drinks were intended for and started handing out the 4 lemonades on his tray. We were fortunate to receive one of them. Very refreshing, but if he was going to dish them out to everyone he could really have done with a bigger tray.

Much later a different Deutsche Bahn man came with another small tray and starting at our end wanted to give us some more lemonade, but being fair we only took one. After what seemed like a long time on our 'Sparpreis Europa' ticket we got to Berlin, hot but o.k.


Our first exposure to the high temperatures that have now become the daily norm was in Holland, at a sultry 36'c. I revised my packing before we left to leave behind two jumpers and the thermals, it just doesn't seem like we'll need them. Back home they're entering the monsoon season and the temperatures are nice and cool. In Holland we stayed in a lean-to shack and got feasted on by the super mosquitoes of Rockanje. 'The Mix' purchased on the internet for buy-one-get-one-free does not appear to be an effective insect repellent. Good to know these things before you expose yourself to less innocuous mosquitoes. In Wageningen we visited our great aunt and took her into the town. Lots of small children were playing in the orange water of the fountain in the square. Holland was preparing for the big and 'beautiful' game the following day. During a walk in a wood we found a balloon with a Belgian address on it.

On our last day in Holland we fought our way through the beach bound traffic to Scheveningen and Den Haag, where we perused the 'Wild Wonders of Europe' outdoor exhibition. Really beautiful pictures in nice surroundings. Jenny seemed to know where every photograph was taken and who the photographer was. Impressive skills. Reassuringly the Dutch seemed very interested in the photos.

In the evening Jenny got her way and we got some cheap seats for 'Mary Poppins'. Presumably due to the football match there were many empty seats, so we managed to find a better view. Despite thinking that I can understand a bit of Dutch I was rather clueless as to what was being said, but you can't really get that lost with Mary and I suppose I'll have to admit that I quite enjoyed it. As the audience left the theatre we were all handed a bunch of orange flowers. The Dutch had really embraced this world cup business.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Farewell to England

This trip has officially started. We have finally left the shores of England on the Norfolkline ferry from Dover to Dunkirk. The sea is calm and if the Pacific is anything like this we'll be in for a treat. We were meant to be leaving yesterday, but this really wouldn't be a Wood family holiday if all had gone to plan. Yesterday we had waited for the post to arrive, which would have brought the last few travel essentials, but nothing worthwhile came. I suspect this might have something to do with all the nettles and bramles that have grown up around our letterbox. Had the right post arrived we would have set out after it came. So instead we went out and bought them in a shop, walked the dog along a canal, relaxed and finally tidied up the house in a bit of a frenzy. My mum's friend (Pam the Jam) who came to visit us on what was meant to be our last day in England pointed out that most people plan to go away and then they go away. Things don't tend to work like that in our household though.

We are enroute to Holland with our mum where we will probably be sleeping in a greenhouse if it's not too hot, taking our great aunt to the 'openluchtmuseum'- an outdoor museum with lots of old Dutch houses, seeing the 'Wild Wonders of Europe' exhibition in Den Haag- so I can stand next to the picture of the muskox and Jenny can see some of the photos up close that she has been cataloguing during the past year, and possibly going to see Mary Poppins in Dutch if Jenny gets her way. The real trip starts on Monday, if the trains are still running after the world cup madness. Ironically we'll be catching the first train from Schiphol airport.

Friday, 2 July 2010

American bureaucracy

To travel for one day up to Canada through the US after arrival by freighter we had no choice but to embark on the process of getting a B2 tourist visa. This is no easy feat. It’s a test to see if you are worthy of entering that fine nation.

The first task is phoning the embassy to book an appointment for an interview in London. Phonecalls are charged at £1.20 a minute. They are not embarrassed about this, they tell you on the website, during the call and just to rub it in you can read it while queuing outside the embassy. After an automated message lasting over a minute you think you are getting somewhere. You are then told the lines are busy and to call back later. The line goes dead. We tried this quite a few times and I got rather angry.

Twelve phone calls and £35.48 later (visa fees not included) we’d managed to book our appointment. We’d had a lucky escape, people in the queue behind us at the embassy had spent £70 and £107. Having read that it can take up to five hours of waiting around we picked an early appointment time (9:30am).

Filling in the application form online wasn’t too bad, if anything slightly entertaining. Questions included:
  • Are you a member or a representative of a terrorist organisation?
  • Do you seek to engage in espionage, sabotage, export control violations or any other illegal activity while in the United States?
  • Have you ever committed, ordered, incited, assisted or otherwise participated in genocide?
The trickiest part was the photo, with pages of instructions on how to take the perfect picture with the right proportions. Dad kindly stepped in as photographer and we uploaded them to the application. The photos were passed by the online checking system.

Since we’d already spent enough on this visa malarkey we decided to save the pennies and go camping in London. We found a nice campsite and after phoning we were told we could turn up before 8pm, pay and leave at 7am the next morning. Camping in London is as hard as it sounds. It turned out that we couldn’t pay when we arrived and if we wanted to leave at 7am we’d have to return to pay after our visit to the embassy. Complicated though this was we set about putting the tent up only to discover we had no tent pegs. Thankfully my driving licence wasn’t locked in the safe till 8am the next day, as was feared, so we went and stayed in a youth hostel (which most people just do in the first place).

As we sat on a bench in Grosvenor Square we admired the city slickers walking their pooches. Outside the embassy we queued, then queued again, had to drink our water to prove we weren't going to blow anyone up, had our bags scanned, got a number and waited in a large room before being called to a window.

We were served by a man who couldn’t hear us (he insisted we were going on a cargo plane) just as we couldn’t hear him. He decided to reject our photos. Perhaps he couldn’t see well either. The photo machine only took £1 coins, we had one but needed eight of the things. A mad dash around the embassy ensued, a cashier and courier service were of no help. This time it felt like we wouldn’t pass the test. After a suggestion from a fellow applicant we persuaded the man selling snacks to swap some change, although we did have to buy crisps and a chocolate bar for the pleasure.

The photo sorted we sat down again and began to wait again. I'd come prepared with a book to read, but it was impossible to concentrate with numbers being continuously called out over the speaker system. There were looks of alarm from those who did get too absorbed in their books when a siren went off and we were told to duck or run for cover. Still quite scary for those of us that had heard the announcement beforehand. As we waited we looked at the unappealing and offputting pictures of America on the screens. I guess all the people in the hall were keen to get to the US anyway and didn't need any persuasion. At some point we saw a vicar and a celebrity, not that I knew who he was. They seemed to get special treatment. Eventually we got called to a counter and had to explain why we weren't going the 'normal' way to Canada. That was pretty much it. Then we had to pay the £16 return delivery charge for our passports, luckily we could get them sent in the same envelope. So, after 2.5hrs we were out of the embassy and much earlier than we had expected.

We ambled through the parks of London and had quite an unexpected treat at Waterloo Station when we came across a train load of people making their way home from Ascot. Camera at the ready I waited expectantly for the next lot. Most fun I've ever had at a station.