Thursday, August 30, 2007

Scandinavian Traveller (part 2 of 5)

After my marathon 4 hour interview I caught the bus home with just enough time to pick up my bag, forget my travel insurance information and my Euros, and head to the airport. Within two hours I found myself sitting in Terminal 3 of Heathrow airport about to board a plane to Copenhagen to embark on my second Contiki trip. I wish I could say that I was eager and excited to be going, but in truth I was so scared. Spending 3 weeks travelling around in a bus with 40 unknown people is a daunting experience. I was really lucky last time I went on a Contiki trip because I made 7 wonderful friends (huge hello to Mel, Craig, Sarah, Dave, Lulu, Jess and Jezza) that I still keep in contact with. What if this time I wasn't so lucky? I needn't have worried. The Scandi crew were great and I loved every minute of it.

My first impression of Copenhagen was....dark. That might have something to do with the fact that my plane was late and I didn't get the the Contiki compound until midnight. My poor tour manager Andy had to wait up for me. Got to my room and met Bree, Jess and Nicole. Nicole (21) was from Melbourne and travelling for the first time. Bree and Jess were from Dee Why (15 mins up the road from Mum's place in Sydney). Mad how you travel to Copenhagen to meet people who shop at Warringah Mall too! :) Bree and Jess were 19 and I felt so old compared to them. Maybe not old exactly, more like world weary. They hadn't seen anything yet and were so eager. Also so over each other's company too. They whinged a lot that first night!

I had missed the first day of the tour due to my interviews so at breakie the next morning I made sure to sit next to random people so I could get to know some other people on the tour. I ended up sitting next to Vikki (32, nanny) who lives in Chiswick too. Again with the small world! Also met Sarah (pronounced Sara, 23, Brisbane), Annie (21, English, PhD student), Barbara (18, Italian, High school kid) and Michael (31, lawyer, Brisbane). This was fabulous because I found some friends to spend the day touring Copenhagen with.

After our quick coach tour of the city sights I opted out of visiting the Carlsberg brewery (seen one seen them all really) and instead decided to go to the Rosenberg Castle and gardens on Vic the man's recommendation. This is where they keep the royal jewels. Vic had said that she had seen them when she visited Copenhagen with her parents and that I would like them too. Always a sucker for sparkling things I was keen to see the ruby and diamond necklace and tiara set that Mary wears all the time. Unfortunately they were not in the vault (she must have been out there wearing them somewhere) but I did get to see Queen Margarethe's spectacular emerald version and some absolutely beautiful pearl and diamond necklace and earring sets. The ceremonial crowns were also on display. The king's crown was strange to look at because the gems were so big they looked fake. I reckon I could have swapped them with something I had brought in from a costume jewellery shop and they'd be none the wiser.

After viewing of the dark and depressing rooms of Rosenberg Castle we walked through the castle gardens and sat for half an hour people watching. Everyone was blonde! And riding a bike. But mostly I noticed how blonde everyone was. It was strange to see.

Then we wandered up to Amalienborg Palace which is the Royal Family's official residence although I am told that Mary, Fred and the kids live outside of town. I had hoped to go inside and see the State rooms but unfortunately they were only open on the weekends (and it was Wednesday) so instead I went in and saw an exhibition on Queen Ingrid (Fredrik's grandmother). There was a whole section on her style and they had on display a selection of her evening gowns from when she became Queen right up until her death. Some of the earlier ones were amazing and I loved the black tulle ball gown with slightly gathered capped sleeves. So subtle and elegant. It was really fascinating to she how much she had shrunk over her lifetime. The mannequins kept getting smaller and smaller.

At the top of the main staircase was picture of Mary and Fredrik's wedding day with all the European royals in the background. We had a competition to see who could name the most royals and I am happy/sad to report that I won!

I got busted by a guard yelling at me in Danish for sitting down on the palace steps and tying my shoelace. Apparently this is a national disaster so if you go to the palace and have a shoelace blowout, wait until you have left the compound before tying it back up again. I call it a compound because there are four palace buildings built in a circle fashion around a statue of a previous king in the middle. There are four roads in and four roads out. All of the palace buildings face into the centre and it gives you the impression of being enclosed, or wrapped around. I kept thinking I was being held in the middle of cupped hands. You can tell which is the current monarch's residence because there is a glittering necklace type ornament on top of one of the palace buildings, just underneath the flagpole. Apparently when Fredrik becomes king they will move the ornament over to his and Mary's residence.

When you read articles in Woman's Day and New Idea about Denmark they always show a picture of the Inner Harbour with it's colourful buildings and boats moored alongside them. I thought that all of Copenhagen was like this but no, it is just the Inner Harbour which would only be about 500m long if that. It was a little disappointing because those coloured buildings are so charming and the rest of the port areas are rather dull in comparison. We took a boat cruise around the harbour areas and saw Christiannia, a hippie commune that is located in old Army barracks. We were told that the hippies denounced the Queen and her laws and live there free of laws, taxes and apparently health care.

My evening in Copenhagen was spent in Tivoli Gardens which is a large amusement park. What separates in from normal amusement parks is that it has been built into the original garden area so you walk through canopies of trees and around ponds and water features. It is a very beautiful place and Vikki could be heard screaming from atop of the ride she chose. It was a mega version of the swinging chairs. It went up so high and then as you were swinging around it dropped you fast and then rose you back up again.

By this stage I had met a lot more people on the tour and was pleased to see that there was a large group of older people (by older I mean 25-35). Plus it felt easier this time around introducing myself and making friends. I had a good feeling about the tour and was eager to get on the road the following morning to Sweden.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Filling in the blanks... (part 1 of 5)

You'll have to bear with me as I try and recollect all my thoughts, experiences and memories from my Scandi trip. Man, there is so much I want to type. So many places I visited and people I met that I want to tell you about I am struggling to find a place to start. So I will start at the beginning and to understand the beginning you need to understand my state of mind. And to understand that, you need to know the bigger picture ... This photo is of Kay (my teaching assistant) and me at Book Week. The teacher's theme was Dalmatians. I had an advantage of living with the world's most Dalmatian obsessed person, so it was easy for me. There is a jacket that goes with my outfit too.

I ended my English 2006/07 school year on a bittersweet note. The sweet part - I had a fabulous time teaching the Year 1 class and learnt heaps about the curriculum and planning process which was the main professional reason for me moving to England. The staff at the school were lovely and I am really pleased to say that I will keep in contact with quite a few of them, especially Shannon, Karen, Mary and Kay. My kids were beautiful souls who, whilst they will never match my awesome St Martin's kiddies, brought me many laughs and smiles (and a strange trip to Birdworld). The bitter part - When I went for my initial interview with the headteacher he said that I should treat the term's supply work as a trial for a full time temp job in the 2007/08 academic year as they would have two vacancies. He said that if I could meet the goals he set then there would be no reason why I wouldn't be asked back next year. So I started work, redid all the things that he said were a problem with my planning and programming and tried to make sure that I was on top of all of the special classroom requirements he set for me. A good example of what it was like is that I was reprimanded for having too many bibles on the prayer table at one point. At this time I begun to suspect that something wasn't right. However, with the support of Shannon and Kay we kept going. I got in my weekly program review saying thanks for trying really hard and he appreciated me going the extra mile so to speak. Then at about 3 weeks before school ended, just after I had written all of the reports, I noticed some young women sitting in the foyer of the school looking spiffy in their best duds. Didn't think much of it until I was called into the H/T's office and told that there was no longer a position available for me for 2007/08 even though I had fulfilled all of the requirements he had set for me because he wanted to "restructure" his teaching team to include an early years teacher. My reply was that I understood but that I would like the opportunity to apply because I have and Early Years major. This was met with the response "No you don't". He maintained that he didn't know even though we had discussed it in my initial interview. But I bet you've guessed who those well dressed women were by now huh? Long story short, he had already filled the position before telling me. From that point on he made teaching there an even more difficult task. My favourite point was on the last day when, in front of the whole school at mass, he stood up on the altar in church and made me be the representative of the teaching staff in the ceremony right before announcing to everyone that I had fulfilled all his set requirements and it was a shame I couldn't stay. It was an excrutiatingly embarassing moment.

I'm not always the most positive person, my new friend Sarah will attest to that (another story for another time). I believe in fairness over kindness. So I spent many days frustrated, angry, hurt and generally p***ed off. I couldn't believe that he had lied to me. I much prefer someone to be up front and honest. Tell me to my face is my motto. Looking back I was angry at myself for letting myself be fooled. The English school system and it's subsequent parts (teaching agencies, head teachers, local authorities, national curriculum council etc) has never been kind to anyone I know so why I thought this time would be different I don't know.

Anyways, when school ended I was emotional jelly. I needed a change. Which brings me to part two...

I applied for a change of pace. I applied for two jobs with the London Fire Brigade. I was over teaching and over being treated like dirt. With massive help from the magnificent Andrew Veitch and my brother, I wrote my applications for the jobs. I was really surprised to get an interview for not one, but both. To be accepted to the London Fire Brigade you need to go through a 4 step interview process. The first one is the application. That is a task and a half and involves providing a lot of evidence on what skills you have. The second is a written formal exam. The third is a presentation that you have to give to a panel on a subject of their choice (complete with PowerPoint slides) and the fourth is the actual interview itself. I like interviews. I am good at the face to face stuff but even this was daunting to me. One of my written exams was 2 hours long. In one interview I was asked 37 questions. It was a tough process. Had to laugh when I realised half way through one of the interviews that the buttons on my pants were undone! I reckon it was God telling me this wasn't for me.

During the exam of my last interview I realised that I didn't want these jobs. I wanted the jobs, but not here. I wanted it at home in Australia where I knew the government legislation and other governing bodies. Looking back I probably could have just stood up, thanked them and withdrawn my application. Ah well. When I found out I didn't get the jobs (one I was under qualified for and the other had a problem with my VISA for 2009) a huge wave of relief washed over me. I was actually happy. Would you believe it? Ha! How's that! I might not have got the jobs but I got something else - my passion and drive back.

Which brings me to Scandinavia. I picked the trip because it left the day of my interview so I could be in London for my interview and still fly out that night to Copenhagen. Strange how things make you choose a certain path. Being on that trip has changed my life. Now is that dramatic or what? :)

Since this entry is a million miles too long already I'll stop here. Tomorrow I will write about Copenhagen, complete with pictures.

The pictures in this blog (after the one of Kay and me) are of what my classroom looked like. The first three are from my first day there. Please keep in mind that this was at the beginning of the last term. For those of you who aren't in teaching, haven't seen my classroom or haven't seen other classrooms then these photos show an unusually bare classroom. The last three are of the classroom at the exhibition evening in the last week of school. Slight difference huh? I hope that this gives you a picture of what I started with and what the school ended with.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Scandinavia... update soon

So much Scandinavian travelling adventures to write about, so little time at a computer in a Finnish hotel with 12 German backpackers stragetically coughing behind you to hurry you up.
Having a fantastic time. Met and made lots of new friends.
Will write about it all when I finally reach English speaking soil again.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Watering Cans

I found out something today...

A watering can holds 10 and a half pints of Snake Bites!

P.S: A Snake Bite is half beer, half Strongbow with a liberal dose of blackcurrant cordial.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

How much can one person fit in her handbag?

Karen has a new handbag. Beautiful NineWest black leather one with silver accents.

And this is what is inside the handbag...

Now I am pretty up with Karen's handbags, even affectionately naming one "The Handbag of Death" (you should read that with the appropriate sound effects in your head), but truly, this had to be seen to be believed. Especially when she was searching for something at the bottom.

I should also add that Karen must have been wearing her cardigan. Usually that would have been in the pile as well.