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The Plan Update

March 17, 2010

We are both regretting buying the Balkans flexi-pass but there isn’t a thing we can do about it. So we’ve been trying to work out how to use it as much as we can while making our April 5th deadline in Lyon.

Right now we are still in Sofia and will stay a total of 4 nights. Then we are going to a tiny place called Melnik an then over the border to Greece to somewhere and then north west to Nis (for a night) and on to Belgrade. Then it gets all question markish.. Until we get to Venice.

Ever heard of easyjet? I have and I really haven’t heard much that is food- apart from them being cheap. Unfortunately not many airlines fly into Lyon and our train research (iRail app) shows trips in excess of 30 hours from Venice’s Santa Lucia train station. So we are going to brave easyjet in order to get to our car pick up point. Wish us luck!


March 13, 2010

Getting to Plovdiv really sucked for the first 3 hours.  There was a train so overcrowded that we had to stand in front of the toilets – just so that we fit on the trains.  Now my Bulgarian isn’t very good but when the locals start saying “Ruski!!”  I got the hint that they thought this was insanely overcrowded too!

The next train is really comfortable and feels like it was made last century (as opposed to the previous train which felt like it wished it was from last century!).  We get in to Plovdiv and find Hikers Hostel easily.  The room we have is super cute and extremely small!  You know it’s small if I’m banging my head on the slanted ceiling!  Poor Mike didn’t have a good time of it there!

All in all Plovdiv is a lovely city.. well the old part is.  The cobblestoned streets lead us around, up to a ruined Thracian fortress and around to an old amphitheater.  The weirdest thing I saw was the warning sticker on a cafe door: it indicated no dogs allowed and no guns either!  I wanted to get a photo but couldn’t work out how to get the photo without being captain obvious.

Before we leave, we head off to Bachkovo Monastery.  On the way we stop at the Assens Fortress – which is in serious need of some railings!  The view is stunning from the top of the fortress.  We are surprised when the manager from our hostel won’t even let us pay for taking us out on the day trip.  Bulgaria just keeps showing us lovely people and amazing sites.

Susie and Mike in the Amphitheater

Susie and Mike in Plovdiv

Veliko Tarnovo

March 12, 2010

We traveled by train across the border into Bulgaria.  All through the night we were woken to show our passports, the first time we had to get out and walk to the building; after that the checking people came to us.  It was a night where I ended up listening if someone was about to knock on our door, rather than be woken up & try to work a door lock which confounded me repeatedly.

I had read about Veliko Tarnovo; in books, on the web.. but it didn’t prepare me for the heart breaking beauty of this city.  We had been lucky in that it had snowed all the day before we arrived and all night too.  So given that we won’t get to see Veliko Tarnovo in the height of summer, all green and gorgeous, snow covered is the next best thing.

Veliko Tarnovo is a small city, as it hugs the sides of the mountains that seemingly grow upwards from the river that loops through the town.  We have walked around the Tsarvarets (old walled city), some churches with amazing murals inside (see my photos below for a glimpse), through winding streets (there isn’t a straight street here at all!) and the old market area.  There aren’t many photos because Mike’s are so good and I’m trying to make a short video – country by country.  So you will have to wait a little while to see the video of Veliko Tarnovo.

Dangerous Bulgarian Dancing

Click on the image to see my photos from Veliko Tarnovo


March 8, 2010

Istanbul is such a beautiful city and I really wanted to do the tourist thing. But we’ve already done the major sites and the weather was better (read blue skies).  As a result I took no photos and only a very short video.

But I’m ok with it. I wanted to chill out here and I did. I wanted to go shopping and I did. I wanted to hang out with our friend Rebecca and we did.

Unfortunately Istanbul chose to rain on us, so last night we went out to the hippodrome and mike took photos using the reflections in the puddles. I hope they work out. Our little friend, Bruce the (Tasmanian) Devil, was at risk of getting wet so I made him a raincoat. Hopefully a photo will be up on Mike’s flickr soon.

Bruce the Devil in his fancy orange raincoat-bag

Bruce and the Bear

The fun stuff we did was to go visit Ataturk’s Palace (aka Dolmabahçe Palace) and the Rumeli Fortress. The palace was interesting and had 3 chandeliers – each over 1 tonne, which the largest at 4.5 tonnes. I’m thinking it would itch a bit, if it fell on your head.. The fortress was cool in that the warmth of the day was gone and that I couldn’t help saying wow & “they built this in 4 months???!!”.

Whilst at the fortress I thought it important to answer a challenge which had been thrown down, in my face, as it was. The challenge is that Mike and I must frollick in each country that we visit, I must make a video and send it to our friend Theresa.  So here is the first installment:

The last day in Istanbul had plenty of rain and unfortunately the Archaeology museum was closed!  I was really looking forward to seeing some freshly dug up history.  But it wasn’t to be.  We did manage to walk around a lot, find the ever delightful Hafiz Mustafa and spend a little time nomming on baklava, sipping a good Turkish coffee while writing postcards.  I hope we didn’t spill anything on the postcards..

That night we made our way to Sirkeki train station and it was time to go!  We had a couple of simit (bread rolly goodness), some bananas and a juice each; so we were good to go.  It was very exciting to start our train traveling – Finally!!

Golden simits

Yummy Golden Simits

Germany is ok

March 5, 2010

I’m glad we chose to stay a few days in Frankfurt, it isn’t the easiest to get uses to an 8 hour time difference. I am really hoping that mike & I will be better adjusted by the time we get to Istanbul. No matter what I’m looking forward to Turkey!

I spent this morning at brekkie reading up on Bulgaria. I think I could happily travel around there for a couple of weeks. As it is, I’ve cut down Bulgaria to Veliko Tarnovo, Sofia and The Rila Monastery. It looks like we will go through Bulgaria twice so that we can visit Romania and then head south to see more of the Balkans.

The Plan

March 4, 2010

So we have a general plan being to travel through Europe where we feel like, when we feel like. The specifics are to be worked out closer to the time.

Given that we are in Turkey it is time to refine the plan somewhat. So, we are going to leave Istanbul on Monday ( 8th March) at 11pm by train. It will be a 13 hour train trip and I’m really hoping that we made the right choice in reserving the private 2 person sleeper. Fingers crossed that there is a restaurant carriage!

Next stop is Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria. I have read that it is a beautiful place and I’m looking forward to seeing it myself.

After V.T. The plan is to head to Bucharest in Romania and then to head to Sofya, back in, Bulgaria. After who knows? We need to be in Lyon, France on April 5 but have no other committments.

Goodbye Korea and Hello Germany

March 3, 2010

This last week has been insanity.  Packing up, saying goodbye, cleaning and more farewells.   It has been draining physically and emotionally.  Every night we met up with a different family or group of friends or teachers from our schools to say goodbye.  At my own school dinner, I could barely say “I will miss you”  before dissolving into tears.  Not that I expected any different..

Fortunately for Mike and I, there was an angel to help us through this week.  She’s been a close friend to us for the two years she was in Taebaek and her name is Theresa.  So despite all the dongchim attacks, butt slaps and arm/leg-chims that she’s gotten me with – I can’t help but feel truly grateful to have known her.  If it wasn’t for Theresa, there’s no way Mike & I could have caught our train on Saturday to Seoul – without having to return to Taebaek to finish the cleaning & de-cluttering our apartment.  So, I’d like to say thank you MTT.  You are a rock and a beautiful, wonderful human being.

Yesterday, Mike’s birthday, was somewhat (totally) forgotten by both of us.  Largely due to our pre-occupation with being on a 12 hour flight.  The flight was almost uneventful.  At about the 6 hour mark, Mike wanted my attention because a lady with her chubby baby was going for a walk and she stopped to pass her kid to Mike!  The baby, Leonard, was a very happy little guy and was fascinated by Mike.  Before the flight ended, there was a little surprise for Mike.  One of the flight attendants had noticed that it was Mike’s birthday – so he made Mike a birthday card and a mini cocktail for both of us!  It was a really sweet gesture but funny as we hadn’t had anything to do with the attendant who went to all that trouble.

Getting into Germany was very easy.  I did have a moment of concern when at immigration I requested a multi-entry visa (as I’m going to need one) and was told that I didn’t need one and should, perhaps, have found out the situation before arriving in Germany.  I checked with my local German embassy and was told I could ask on arrival.  I don’t think that impressed the Immigration officer but anyone who has tried to understand the Schengen Visa rules can understand my mistake.  The fact of it is, as an Australian citizen, a multi entry Schengen visa is the same as a single entry.  Immigration stamped me with the port of entry and the date.  That’s it.

So, we’re in Frankfurt now, staying at the Colour Hotel and trying to get used to an 8 hour time difference .

T minus 29 days and counting

February 3, 2010

I can’t quite believe that we’ve both quit our jobs in Korea but I’m glad it’s done.  It’s time for something new and exciting!

Sangjang Spooky English Camp Report

December 3, 2009
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I wrote it – so I figure I may as well post it..

The Spooky Sangjang English Camp was held on the 28th and 29th of November 2009.  This camp was comprehensively put together and ran quite smoothly.  A camp booklet was prepared and was well received by the students.

There was a great deal of enthusiasm from all the teachers involved both Native and Korean.  This had the effect of encouraging the students to get involved and elevated the mood of the camp.  Student participation in all activities was noted as being very good to excellent with very few exceptions.  The main team activities with a Native Teacher covered the following English skills: creative writing, following instructions, expression & intonation, vocabulary building and reading aloud.  Additional activities were generated to balance a fun and stimulation environment with the desire to further the students’ English.  To round out the camp a golden bell activity was executed, as it is a familiar style of game for the students but allowed for a time of revision, without being too obvious about the point of the game.

The theme of the camp was embraced by the students and each activity completed with admirably.  This camp was themed in order to pique student interest as it has become apparent that scary or horror movies are very popular amongst the student body.  To capitalise on the students appreciation of  horror movies, a (somewhat) scary movie called “Coraline” was used as a relaxation with English activity.  The movie was such a success that the students have been asking to watch the movie a second time at school.

During the camp I observed the students using their booklets and specifically their timetables.  This contributed greatly to the students being in the correct place at the correct time on the whole.  The students also responded very well to the sticker reward system and were keen to speak to the Native Teachers at every opportunity to earn additional stickers.  The camp booklet was a triumphant collaborative effort by  the Native Teachers.  Whilst I was involved in the final amalgamation of each teacher’s work, it was an excellent resource that speaks to the impressive effort of each teacher.

One issue at the camp was, that a few of students at the camp did not have a reasonable level of English.  I believe that an English Camp is about motivating and helping students to improve their ability to produce English.  Therefore students who cannot or will not read a simple sentence out loud, for example “The cat jumped up.”, should not be invited to an English Camp.  It is incredibly counter productive to have students who need a remedial English class at the camp.  I bring this up as it became an issue specifically when giving instructions to the student teams or individually.  I would recommend that in future any students applying for English camp must meet with the Native English Teacher and pass a simple spoken test.  If the student can read a simple written sentence out loud and understand  simple instructions, for example “sit down”, then they should be accepted for English camp.  However any student failing this basic test, should not be allowed to go to camp.

Due to the camp being held at the Taebaek Youth Centre, budgetary constraints were an issue for this camp.  In the previous year’s camp, matching hoodies were given to each student.  Doing so created a team bond and gave each student a highly valued memento.  In addition each student was easily identified as being from a particular team.  Naturally this was of great benefit to the teachers.  The decision to not purchase t-shirts or hoodies was made due to the imperative nature of providing materials for the activities during the camp.  The compromise reached was that coloured paper inside the name tags from the 2008 camp would perform the same function of the hoodies.  Regrettably the paper was too pale and difficult to see from more than 2 meters away.  For future camps options could be: a team colour on the name tag straps, laminating the students name tags — thereby incorporating a simple pre-printed design on the paper, in colour, that would be easy to see or a t-shirt that would go over the students clothing (plain cotton t-shirts are substantially cheaper than the hoodies previously purchased).

Lastly, the students were somewhat unaware of the English Camp to be put on and the likely content.  This created an issue as students who may have been interested were guided by incorrect assumptions as to whether they were interested  in the camp or not.  Students referred to previous camps they had attended as the reason why they were not interested.  This is a sad state of affairs as they were referring to specific teachers being involved, teachers that had no knowledge or involvement in this camp whatsoever.  I would propose it is up to the teachers to work together to advertise the camp to the students in order to assure a reasonable turn out.   A suggestion for the future could be that a poster be created by the Native Teacher and displayed in the Winglish rooms, for the purpose of advertising the impending camp and creating the opportunity for students to find out what the camp will be about.

In conclusion, the Spooky Sangjang English Camp surpassed expectations.  The Native Teachers worked tirelessly with their Korean counterparts to ensure a valuable and cherished experience for the students of Sangjang Middle School.

Spooky Camp is OVER!

November 30, 2009
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Last weekend, we had Spooky Sangjang English Camp at the Youth Centre in Taebaek.
Even with gloomy weather, we had a great (scary) time! There were lots of exciting activities for the students; from learning the Thriller dance to making a colourful wigs. And yes, we did do some fun study to help prepare for the final exams coming up too!

Congratulations go to the following teams:
the Zombies for winning the Hunt or Horror (aka. Scavenger Hunt),
the Banana Vampires for the best effort at speaking English,
and Mike’s Mummies for second place in effort at speaking English.

Gruesome Golden Bell Champions were in 3rd place Gwen, 2nd place Nate and 1st place Owen.

For participation and excellent effort: Kevin, Moe, Gwen and Hannah Montana Savannah Cabana Banana Lou-Anna Roxanna!

Lastly but not leastly.. Bart is to be commended for consuming faster than anyone else a disgusting sandwich of raw garlic, spam, strawberry jam and dijon mustard.

The Teachers involved were Mike from Hamtae Middle School, Rachel from Taebaek Middle School, Theresa from Hwangji Middle School and Susie from Sangjang Middle School.

Thanks for an awesome camp to every student who went!

Vampire Susie (aka. Susie)