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Monday, April 14, 2014

The Insider's Guide To Hostels (and Hostel Etiquette)

When Couchsurfing fails you, and your student bank account curses at the thought of paying for a hotel during your trip to London, rest assured that you will find a happy backup plan. Hostels are becoming more and more popular amongst people from all ages as a cheap alternative to hotels, where you basically don't really care about what beautiful chandelier there is in the reception, but rather just need a place to crash for a couple of nights.

Doing my research, I managed to find a hostel in Clapham. London (20mins by bus away from Central London/ Victoria coach station) for only 8 euro a night (plus 2e booking fee). This is the place: http://www.hostelbookers.com/hostels/england/london/79321/. The place is basically a cute little pub with stairs at the back leading to dorms. Upon check-in, you get two door code which you punch in the gain entry to the rooms.

Overall, the staff were really helpful and friendly, and we got there before the check-in time but were still allowed to dump our backpacks in the luggage room to pick up later, so that we could simply go off and enjoy London without lugging around unnecessary weight. A free breakfast of toast, peanut butter and jam, coffee, and cereal was served during 7-9am, and the surrounding area was really nice - in fact we took our last day there to explore it - it's clean, safe, less expensive than central London, and there are lots of quirky little shops where you can get vintage scarves from.

General warning though, the cheapest beds are those in a 12 or 18 bed mixed (both men and women) dorm, which basically accounts into very little privacy and having to brush your teeth next to a strange man in a towel; which can feel oddly intimate, but not unpleasant. I was grateful, however, that I had brought my ear-plugs to cut out the noise of cars coming in from the window, people moving around, the door opening. I would probably also recommend an eye mask too.

During your stay at a hostel, you soon begin to realise the incredibly diverse nature of the human spirit, as well its sheer knack for creativity. For example, I awoke one morning and went to the bathroom to find a pad stuck to one of the tiled walls of the cubicle. Creative, indeed. This inspired the following list of To-Do's and To-Don'ts when it comes to hostel etiquette:

1. Don't stick pads to the walls of bathrooms - please.
If you can't find a bin, wrap it in toilet paper and throw it away elsewhere.

2. Don't use your cellphone on full-brightness and full sound after 10pm in the dorm. Some travellers are very tired and it isn't fair to keep them awake simply because you're using Instagram to post a photo of a pad stuck to a wall.

3. Don't go round shining a torchlight into people's faces to see who's sleeping there (this actually happened, and although it wasn't done to me, the two French pricks did get a severe telling-off)

4. DO clean up after yourself. Pick up any hair left in the shower, chocolate wrappers in the dorm, and don't leave your clothes on the floor. This should be done out of courtesy to fellow travellers.

5. DO be nice. Smile and say 'good morning' to the staff and fellow travellers. This may seem unnecessary, but it does serve to create a generally positive environment around you - plus you'd be surprised at how much more willing people are to help you out, like if you've run out of toothpaste or just want some general advice on travelling round the city, sightseeing, etc. My sister and I got to see two versions of Van Gogh's Sunflowers (free of charge at the National Gallery) as well as get musical tickets for Billy Elliot at half price from a tip-off we got on where to buy the tickets.

Hope this blog came in helpful :) Any questions, please leave a comment - and happy travels!



My sister holding up her juicy burger from The Crown Hostel, Clapham.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

TRAVEL OPPORTUNITIES FTW!

Hello once again my dear readers! Its been indeed a long time since I've last posted, and my sincerest apologies for that. Now, however, there will be a regular monthly post now that I have finally settles back into life on the rock - dear old Malta, with her noise, her long sunny summer days, her beautiful cream-coloured limestone buildings - my beautiful home.

Anyways, as a present to all those who read my blog and commented, to all those who ask to hear my travel stories, who ask me for travel tips - below I am posting some great opportunities I found to travel for little money or next to nothing. Many opportunities have an age limit or an application deadline; so be sure to email the person in charge to check! These are opportunities to travel with EVS or Erasmus+, where by the European Union funds people who want to travel and do project work, voluntary work, or personal development. Below are just a few of the opportunities that I have found!

1. NETHERLANDS: Work in a live-in art gallery (www.richtereu.com). This gallery is more than a place for exhibitions alone, it is an atelier where artists not only exhibit but also can live and work. It’s also a place where young people come together to plan international projects. You will be working in the daily routine of the gallery BUT you will be also working on your own exhibition. During the period you stay in the town you also get the chance to show your art, whatever that may be. Besides this you get the chance to help out organizing an international theatre festival and youth exchange. send an e-mail to evsrichter@hotmail.com before 05 March 2014.

(also check this out - its in AMSTERDAM http://blogunmundoatuspies.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/evs-volunteer-mission-house-in-amsterdam-netherlands/)

2. TURKEY: 1-7th April, a free of charge (i think also flights are reinbursed) Grundtvig Workshop on the Personal Development method EQUILITRI™. This call is for professionals working with adults with literacy problems. The workshop introduces the learners to Professional Development for adults with literacy problems, providing the participants with the opportunity to both learn about and experience tools and skills to develop a career plan, to set career objectives and in tune with their personal and social objectives, to do a wide analysis of their current situation, or to identify their competitive advantage, in order to directly influence their short and especially long-term career objectives, to self-motivate and plan their own professional development.
Applicant Requirements:
- Age: 20+
- Education level: with or within higher education (university level or equivalent)
- Work Experience: not required. Priority will be given to participants that can multiply the results (for example, Career Services personnel or people planning to work in career/social/personal development)
- Language: very good conversational English required

HOW TO APPLY: Please send an email today to umuty21@hotmail.com / genclikvedegisim@gmail.com

3. INDIA: Voluntary work, anything from helping to build stuff, to working with children, teaching, etc. Deadline for application is 30th March, more info can be found here: http://www.youthnetworks.eu/ShowVacancy.aspx?Vacancy=erasmus-shortlong-term-volunteers-to-india the contact person is Ravi Sebastian, his email is: newbeginningsvja@gmail.com

4. SPAIN: Courses financed by the Erasmus+ Programme Summer 2014 Madrid. Different opportunities:
1.European Project Planning under Erasmus + Sessions: 21st- 25th July 2014.
2.English Language and Methodology for English Teachers.Sessions: 14th – 18th July 2014.
3.Coaching in Educational Contexts to reduce early school leaving.Sessions: 7th-18th July 2014.
4. Energy Psychology in the classroom to reduce early school leaving.Sessions: 7th-11th July 2014.
All our training can be funded by Key Action 1 of Erasmus +
The deadline for funding applications is the 17th March 2014.
Please Contact us info@cervantestraining.eu http://www.cervantestraining.eu/

5. ROMANIA: The Ciprian Marica Foundation, located in Bucharest, Romania, would like to invite you to partners for the Youth Exchange part of the KA1 Mobility Erasmus+. The main topic is promote a healthy lifestyle through sports.The exchange will be focused on creating a learning programme focused on practical actions to take at home for a impact in your lifestyle and be a Youth Exchange part of the KA1 Mobility Erasmus+..
We shall implement the project in 12-20 September 2014. For those interested about the topic, please send us an email to ciprianmaricafoundation@gmail.com with the subject: Change Life, until the 9th of March.

6. IRELAND: Volunteers and undergraduate students are invited to work with an animal shelter located on the edge of Dublin. Established in 1840 to prevent cruelty to animals, it is now Ireland's largest animal welfare organization. The new state of the art shelter was opened in 2003, caring for a wide variety of animals including (but not limited to) dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, goats, cows, pigs, rabbits, ferrets, gerbils, budgies, snakes, terripins and many kinds of farmyard fowl.Participants must be at least 18 years old or older at the time of their program. Visit the site at: www.internationalvolunteers.org or email them directly at info@internationalvolunteers.org.

If anyone applies for one of the above, I would appreciate a comment, or even if you have any questions - please let me know, I will be happy to help. Myself - I applied for India :)Anyways, enjoy dear readers! In the future will be posting MORE TRAVEL OPPORTUNITIES, some GREAT tips for travelling cheaply, the insider's guide to Couchsurfing, and of course - more of the adventure tales of my travels!!

Take care <3




Thursday, February 28, 2013

On Giant Mushrooms in Malmö!

I am standing in front of several tall, imposing figures. Dressed in long, black garments, with thin white limbs and sewed canvas faces, they say much with their silence. They are not alive, they cannot hurt me, yet still I feel somewhat intimidated. It reminded me of a bunch of German 12-year olds I once observed whilst on a tram - they are so young, still a little smaller than me, yet there is something about their defiant attitude which makes me feel somewhat smaller than they. I walk behind the group of ghostly figures, only to watch a clip of two female puppets jumping on a man and squirting blood out of him. The clip plays over and over again, this nonsensical fun-fair music going round and round, as if itself is on a merry-go-round or carousel, and you feel yourself spinning around too, not knowing if it is because of the music or because of the loss of blood.

Definitely one of the best museums I've ever been to (http://www.modernamuseet.se/Malmo/). When I visited, they had a fascinating exhibition of surrealist work, including original pieces by Magritte, Giorgio deChirico, and my personal favourite, Dali. On that cold, rainy day, it was a great pleasure to spend a few hours going round the exhibits at leisure, absorbing in the sheer range of human creativity.... including a room with several 4 metre high red spotted mushrooms, which had the effect of making me feel like a Smurf as I walked beneath them. Don't know what Mina felt like. Maybe a baby Smurf?


Malmö had many other interesting things to see:

the Turning Torso, Sweden's tallest skyscraper at almost 200m high.


The old water tower in Pildammsparken, Malmö's largest park - we biked there as the sun set.. it was so beautiful!


Malmö Stadsbibliothek, the city library (http://www.malmo.stadsbibliotek.org/), which is basically half a castle and half a giant glass building. Originally built in 1890, the library has more than HALF A MILLION items of different media - not just books, but audiobooks, magazines, music and DVDS - and it was also the first library in Sweden to start lending videogames!! Plus point: they have a great selection of media in ENGLISH, too!




For those who don't know me that well - if you want to know my reaction to a library full of books, imagine Sarah Jessica Parker in a room full of Jimmy Choos. Or a German at a Wurst factory.


Until next time.



Monday, January 28, 2013

On Arriving in Sweden and a Pair of Fluffy Handcuffs

My face is completely scarlet as I stand at the security line at Standstedt Airport, just outside London. The contents of my bag sit on a counter in front of me, and the security card rips open a box that he finds, like a child eager to discover what his Christmas present is. He shakes his head, smiling, and calls out to his colleague;
"Ah, it's jus' a sex toy mate!"
He dumps the pair of fluffy handcuffs on top of the pile of my stuff, and leaves me to deal with the damage, as well as my red face. Ryanair, you could treat your regular clients with a little bit more dignity, please. I'm not a criminal, I just bought a present for a friend of mine which I thought was funny!

At least he didn't find the Sex Pasta ;-)

Arriving in Malmö, the first thing I had to do was buy a ticket for 'the rainbow bus'. No, it has nothing to do with gay pride. It is simply a bus which takes you to the Central Station. As I waited for this luxurious vehicle, I noticed that there stood nearby a tall, slim young woman wearing a mustard coat. I decided to ask her if she knew how long the bus would take. So I did, and we struck up conversation.

We sat together during the trip, and I got to know that she was British, from a town near Cambridge, and that she had come to visit a friend in Copenhagen. I sensed that there was something else behind this, but I decided not to ask. Sometimes it's just not the right time, no matter how curious you are or how many questions you might have.... Not all questions are meant to be answered.

Within minutes of arriving, saying goodbye to my new friend, and walking outside, I was literally attacked by a midget attempting to jump into a photo I was about to take. I gleefully squashed the midget with a giant hug - my dear friend Mina Tolu, as pictured above, and my host over the coming 6 days. I rejoiced to see a familiar face, and excitedly chattering, together we walked around the main streets of Malmö. I was surprised to find that it was snowing, and hoped that I wouldn't freeze.


An hour later, I was convinced that I had made the wrong choice for Erasmus. Malmö is so beautiful with its graceful, elegant architecture, its carefully planned bicycle infrastructure, quaint little cafés selling organic Fairtrade coffee everywhere - I was literally gobsmacked at how different this city looked compared to the one I was living in!

Once we arrived at the student residence, we planned out how we would spend my trip. A student party on Friday, as well as a visit to Copenhagen, were both on the to-do list, as well as seeing some of the main Malmö sights like the 'Turning Torso' and the Pildammsparken old water tower. In the meantime, after a long day (I had slept for only 2 hours on a warm spot near a heater on the floor of Stanstedt airport)I was grateful to have a hot shower and something to eat.

During that time, I got to meet some of Mina's friends; a bunch of Spanish, several Germans, a Polish and a Lithuanian thrown in just for good measure. We all got along from the start...and ended up having some fun together.

This photo illustrates the kind of people Mina likes to hang around with:


Until next time, dear readers :P

Coming up: What to do when you're in Sweden, and daytripping in Copenhagen!

STAY TUNED.

Love,
Tasha

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Series of Unfortunate Events... First Stop: On Transit to Malmö

I stare with my mouth open, aghast. The sheer magnificence of it all overtook me, and I forgot that it was freezing cold and that I was in want of a hot drink to warm my belly. Standing in front of this palatial building built in a neoclassical style, I imagined the Queen snoring beneth her lavish quilts, a little string of drool daintily connecting her face to her pillow.

Welcome to Buckingham Palace.

On transit to Malmö at Stansted airport, my connecting flight was the following morning. Faced with the prospect of staring blankly at an airport for ten hours, I decided to hop on a coach and explore London - by night.

The fact that it was 10pm and that the city was surrounded by folds of mist did not hinder me. So, I found one of those free maps and boldly (or maybe foolishly) found my way around London. It was relatively easy to navigate, and I walked all around the city with my backpack, taking in the nourishing sights of also Big Ben, Westminister Abbey, the London Eye beside the River Thames, Westminister Abbey, and walked past the Imperial War Rooms. I even made friends with a Russian street artist making caricatures, who wanted to sketch me for free as he said I had the most beautiful of eyes, and besought me to remove my spectacles for a moment.

After 3 hours of walking around, I waited for the coach back to the airport. Lolling against the bus stop, I was suddenly approached by a stick-thin, pale female figure, who began to babble on about being stranded and made homeless and missing a flight. I heard only half her words as I was taken aback by the stare in her eyes; they spoke to me of death. Doubting not her honesty, I offered to her what I could, asking only of her her name and and destination. Jidka, she replied thankfully, a Slovakian heading to her capital, Bratislava.

Still with two hours left to wait at the airport, I found myself a cosy corner of floor to sleep on, not far from some other floor-surfers, who I assumed to be French by their accent. As I dozed off, I thought of Jidka and her wide, staring eyes, and prayed that she would make her flight and safely return home.

Little did I know how soon my small kindness was to be repaid to me...

*story to be continued*


AUTHOR'S NOTE: Once again do I apologize for the much delayed post. Thing is, Life doesn't follow our watch... she speaks in the language of signs, feelings, and coincidences....and the story will unfold to you, one blog post at a time, as though it was written from before... and the reason for my delay will be clear.

See you soon, dear Readers.

Friday, January 18, 2013

All About Aachen...and a German Boot

It's raining as I sit in a train. The weather is trying to show me how German it is, as I haven't seen the sun for two weeks My mother is here. She sits opposite me. I can see her mouth moving, but I tune her out. Thinking that it was a bad idea to take my mother Couchsurfing, I sigh heavily, hoping that the weekend won't end in regrets.

Getting off at the wrong stop, we were lucky enough to have a really sweet host, who picked us up with his car. Looking around his cosy flat, ten minutes from the center of Aachen, I see a guitar in a corner, chocolate in a bowl, an open camera bag with several types of lenses, and I can smell incense. Hmm, I think. This might not be so bad.

Proceeding on what was more or less a night hike around Aachen, my soul was soothed by the sights: the large, well-lit theater with its tall, graceful Ionian columns, the Roman temple style beautifully matched by the Elisenbrunnen, a neoclassical hall which houses one of the city's fountains (see photo). I learned that Aachen had been a famous spa center, known for its natural thermal springs.

The fountain water smelt of rotten eggs, but tasted pretty ok (unlike when I'd done the same thing in Koblenz where the water actually tasted like warm blood!).

We also saw the Puppenbrunnen,or Puppet Fountain, a really cool fountain made with moveable bronze statuettes; we enjoyed a good laugh whilst being immature and moving the hands of the figures into rude postures. On our way to a Mexican restaurant, some locals overheard us speaking in English. One of the men approached us, looked at us seriously. He then proceeded to stretch out his leg, and motioned with his hands towards his foot.

" See", he said, "Zis iss a German boot."

We burst out laughing.

The day after, my mother and I set off, laden with a heavily marked map, and explored the city-center. There were Printen-Bäckerei everywhere, so we obviously realised that they are the typical cookies of the region. We even saw an entire cake made just from the cookies, which was like a metre-high tower!! One of the most memorable things we did was visit the Aachen Cathedral. Officially Northern Europe's oldest cathedral and the first to be registered on the UNESCO list of world heritage in 1978, the Aachen Dom was the church of coronation for 30 German kings and 12 queens. Entering inside, I could see why- all the walls and the entire ceiling were covered in a sparkling mosaic; Jesus and his apostles came alive as the beautiful array of shimmering colours danced in the dimmed light.

It was a joy to stroll at a leisurely pace along the cobbled roads, peeking into the numerous little shops, all with a distinct character of their own. The quaint antique stores with their old-fashioned hat boxes and pocket watches, and heavily perfumed Indie stores selling little wooden Buddhas and crystals, amongst the usual retailer's outlets.

I also took my mother to try the typical food of the region: Currywurst! Though I think she preferred the coffee...We ended the day having dinner at our host's place; some Maltese cheese and galletti. Good wine, some jamming on the guitar, and talking till 2am!

All in all, another great Couchsurfing experience!

Picture below with many thanks, by our lovely host David Wichert


ANNDDD, tune in next time, when I will take you on a trip to..
...sexy SWEDEN!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Home is Where The Heart Is... Christmas in Gelsenkirchen

Hello again, sexy readers. Been awhile since we've seen each other. But not to worry, I have some fantastic tales coming up for you!

A good friend of mine kindly invited me to stay with her and her family for Christmas, and so I was fortunate enough to have the full German Christmas experience. A few things I found out: Germans take Christmas very seriously. Like they do everything else (I kid, I kid). From kilometers of Christmas markets spread around the cities, to mass deforestation of fir trees, to the overconsumption of Spekulatius and mulled wine, Christmas is a big deal here.

Christmas with the Spickermanns

As I waited near a glühwein stand in Buer, I looked out for my friend. I was to meet her family today, to get acquainted with them before I stayed over for Christmas. Suddenly I hear some loud German chattering behind me. It was Lioba and her sister. Shortly we were joined by her parents, her brother, and a tall bearded man with piercing eye and several rings in his ear (her sister's boyfriend). The knots in my stomach slowly undid themselves and they remembered to speak some English every now and then, and as we drank the steaming beverages in the cold, they invited me for dinner, to which I accepted.

On the 23rd I went to watch Lioba sing with her choir. The atmosphere was great, with gospel music and the smell of pine and smoking wood in the air. The day after was of course Christmas eve, so around 2pm I packed my stuff, presents for her and her parents, and a large Maltese dessert called coffee gateux (which we always make for Christmas with my family back in Malta). Later that evening we went to mass, and even though it was in German and I'm not particularly religous, I still enjoyed the ritual. That evening we all had dinner together, with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian fondue and some delicious homemade bread, and I was quite touched by how welcome I felt... I even got some presents!!! :-))) We played some games, and Lioba played the piano and we also sang a German Christmas song together (she taught it to me that afternoon, you can check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrhIzHLIr1Q) - it reminded me a little of a Christmas scene in a black and white movie!!

That night we didn't sleept much, as we took some wine up to the bedroom and spent 4 hours talking! Seriously, I kid you not. We got like 3 hours of sleep, then spent the day with her extended family - uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers, sisters, grandparents - there were so many people related to each other it reminded me of Malta.

I never ate so much cheese in all my life.

And home-made white chocolate liquor... they gave me a bottle to take home and I'm enjoying the last of it as I am writing now :)

We also enjoyed some more live music:


and some gift-giving... ( BESCHERUNG!!)



...and some MORE food...


and that concludes my best Christmas ever!! <3

NEXT BLOG will be about my second couchsurfing trip, this time to Aachen! And stay tuned, because next week I will be in Sweden ;-)

Happy New Year y'all!!

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