5 Tips For Travel In Poland

After my two weeks in the city of Łódź, I’m happy to say I came back a changed person – or at least a wiser one. For your benefit, I’ve compiled a list of top tips I wish someone had told me before I went.

 

  • Don’t expect everyone to speak English.

I’m not naïve. I’ve travelled abroad quite a few times, and I know that English is not the only language out there. But you’ll often find at tourist-rich destinations (mainly western Europe) that most locals have a basic understanding of English, which comes in handy when asking for directions or buying tickets at the train station. This is not the case in Poland.

While a lot of youth have studied English at school, virtually none of the adults (especially in industrial cities like Łódź) known anything more than Hello. If you don’t speak Polish, you may find yourself in a tricky situation, particularly when trying to figure out the public transport system.

Your best bet is to plan ahead, so you know how to buy and use tickets before you arrive, and bring along a dictionary/guide book with some basic Polish phrases to help you along – just make sure you know how to pronounce them!

 

  • Remember to validate your tickets.

Some of you may be familiar with this system, but for UK travelers using key cards for buses and ticket barriers for trains, the public transport in Poland may be a little confusing.

Tickets are little paper slips that can be bought from kiosks, card machines, or, occasionally, the driver. Then once you get onboard the tram or bus, the ticket must be validated in machines near most of the exits. This is entirely your responsibility and if you forget, the ticket inspector will fine you.

 

  • Be careful when crossing roads.

In Łódź especially, the pedestrian lights on side roads are not official. It may tell you to walk, but that doesn’t mean the cars are going to stop. Some will choose to keep driving. So make sure you look both ways as usual, but also keep an eye on cars coming from around the corner, because if they’re in a hurry they’ll just keep going.

 

  • Everything’s shut on Bank Holidays.

And I mean everything. Obviously there are no banks, but supermarkets from big chain ones like Tesco to the Zabka you see on every corner will close their doors. Bank Holidays are religious events in Poland and everyone participates. So if you’re staying over on a Bank Holiday, either stock up on food the day before or search around as there might be one odd store opening for a few hours.

 

  • Make sure you exchange enough money.

This goes without saying for most travelers but it’s especially important in Poland. While you may find a Kantor every few metres, they aren’t necessarily open over the weekend. Most are shut by 2pm on Saturdays and don’t open at all Sundays, making it extremely difficult to exchange money on the two days when you’ll probably want to spend the most. When Friday rolls around, count up your notes and check you’ll have enough, unless you’re lucky enough to have a 24hr Kantor in your neighbourhood (one with decent rates, that is).

5 Things To Not Take On A Hike

Arriving home after my practice expedition for Silver Duke of Edinburgh, I dumped my rucksack on the floor and climbed into bed. The next morning, I emptied out my bag. I then sorted each of the items into two piles: Used and Not Used. The latter pile was far too big for my liking and here’s my chance to make sure you guys don’t make the same mistake.

CLOTHES

This is something that everyone always overpacks. Remember you will be wearing clothes when you arrive, so that counts as one outfit. Our expedition was only three days long, in which case you’ll need one change of clothes at the most, just in case it rains. Take a waterproof jacket and plenty of hiking socks, but really limit yourself when it comes to tops and bottoms. Pyjamas are optional and as long as you have a decent sleeping bag, you should be cosy enough (this depends what the weather is like where you live).

FOOD

Obviously, you need to bring food with you. The issue is what you pack it in. Absolutely no tins or jars allowed – they take up too much room and can burst, leaving you with a very sticky situation. Pack food into plastic containers and ziplock bags (preferable) and plan your menu carefully. Make sure you have the right quantities of food, don’t bring luxuries like ketchup or salt, and eat the heaviest food the first day. Always have some emergency food on you – mint cakes or jelly work well.

TECHNOLOGY

You should have a phone on you at all times, and designate someone back at home to be your emergency contact. Keep the phone off or at least on airplane mode (if you want to take pictures) to conserve the battery. If you want to record anything, bring a separate cheap digital camera that has a long battery life. Don’t bother with tablets – it’s not worth the risk of water damage. If you’re looking for entertainment, cards are your best option. Hours of fun, minimal weight, and can be used in the rain.

EQUIPMENT

This takes up the most space in your bag and so you want to be conservative. A map and a compass are necessary for any hike, even if you think you know the route. For cooking purposes, get a compact trangia stove set. These come packed up with several pots, a frying pan, and you can also put some things inside like matches, washing up liquid, and a tea towel. The only thing that needs to be carried separately is the gas. Don’t bring plates or bowls. Use a mess tin instead which doubles as both and can be used to pack toiletries inside. Finally, buy a camelback or platypus. These are lifesavers and can carry 2 litres or more of water – plenty for a day’s hike. They also save you the trouble of getting a bottle out every time you need a drink.

PEOPLE

This is my final tip. For any hike, no matter what the length, you shouldn’t be doing it with strangers. You need to make sure the people you’re hiking with know what they are doing. If they make stupid decisions, like not bringing enough food or water, this puts your life at risk. You’ll need to designate a first aider, who brings a proper first aid kit, not just some plasters and paracetamol. And, for the sake of your sanity, make sure you all get along really really well. You’ll be surprise how much people change after walking for miles.

 

Enjoy your hike. Stay safe, guys.

Ins & Outs Of Being A Vet

Here I am again on my own, going down the road to a local vet clinic in New Malden. I spent a week there on a work experience placement in February half term, and I’m back for another taste of life as a vet.

Becoming a vet is an exciting adventure in the world of unknowns. World-leading research is at your fingertips and new discoveries are being made everyday. You can stick to being a small town clinic vet, helping the people with their poorly pets, or you can work for big time corporations in industry and in government, searching for cures for anthrax.

It’s a job of passion. Unless you’re 100% certain, you’re better off going into Biochemistry or Medicine. You can always become a vet later. Don’t waste your time if you’re not sure. A five year long degree is a big commitment to make at 18. Feel free to wait a few years and reapply when you know your heart is in it.

If you’re looking to hit the jackpot, go into banking. A vet may be well paid but they work hard for their money. When the clock strikes five, you’ll find them performing an operation or monitoring a dog on fluids or eating their lunch (too busy at noon) and preparing for a long night. They don’t pack up and go home. They don’t get days off or weekend breaks. They’re always on call because when you’re working with live patients who can’t tell you what’s wrong, anything can happen at any time.

So be prepared to give up your life and dedicate yourself to your job. It’s an emotional roller coaster. Each creature that comes through the door puts their life in your hands. And whatever you may see on TV, any complications in surgery won’t end well. Some people may believe the hardest part is an owner signing the euthanasia form. It’s not. The most difficult task is walking out of the theatre and telling the little girl in the waiting room that her best friend won’t be coming home ever.

There’ll be good days. Days when you get to watch an excitable litter of kittens explore your consulting room, when the dog recovering from surgery finally gives you a feeble lick, when the pets that you see are all happy and healthy. Just don’t expect that to be every day.

You’ll see many weird and wonderful things working as a vet. From ferret castrations to stray bunnies to injured racing pigeons. And maybe the world would keep turning without you, but you’re still making a difference to people’s lives.

I’ve met some amazing people, both vets and clients, and that’s just from a couple of weeks of work experience. I can’t wait to study hard and get qualified. Being a vet is all I’ve ever wanted to do, and now’s my chance. Vet school here I come.

Chaos & Confusion – Cambridge Open Day

Ever wondered what could possibly go wrong on a University Open Day? Look no further – this blog entry is tailored to answer that exact question.

I set the alarm for 6 am, got dressed, ate, and sat on the sofa ready to go. Half an hour ticks by, and the rest of my family join me in the living room. Without our tickets. Cambridge Open Days get super packed and so they force you to book in advance (which I did, luckily), but no one had thought to print off our tickets.

Finally, tickets in hand and fifteen minutes behind schedule, we pile into the car. A short stop at the local garage to stock up on snacks (don’t do this – always bring food from home as it’s healthier and cheaper). Then we hit the road for the 2 and a half hour journey from Brighton to Cambridge. About halfway in, we come to a standstill.

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I’ve dozed off at this point, catching up on some much needed sleep after exam season. While we wait for cars to start moving again, I compile the itinerary for the day. I’d booked a Vet School talk & tour for 12.30, so the plan was to spend the rest of the afternoon looking at colleges. That did not happen.

Just over an hour later, we arrive at the town. We paid for Park & Ride (£1 parking and £2.70 return bus fare) where you drop off the car and then take a bus into the centre. Not only was the car park packed to the brim, but the postcode provided by the website took us 20 minutes out from our destination, so we also wasted time searching up the right address and circling back round again to find the place.

The bus dropped us off on a random street. Using maps provided by the university, we discovered that part of the map had been cut off while printing. In a bad stroke of luck, it was the part we needed. All the information stalls and the shuttle bus to the Vet School campus were located at the Sidgwick Site, but alas – such a place did not exist on our partial map.

I took the lead, naturally, with my superior map-reading skills (small confession – this is not my first time visiting Cambridge), and took us to the main market square. The aim was to find someone who could point us towards Sidgwick Site. But the closer we drew to civilisation (the restaurants and the shops), the fewer people there seemed to be. Everyone with some common sense stayed home that day. We ended up backtracking to where we hopped off the bus. Finally, we spotted some Student Ambassadors.

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The first one we made the mistake of asking was representing a specific college. The conversation went something like this: “Where can I get the shuttle bus to Girton College?” “Why don’t you come to Caius instead? You don’t need a bus to get here.” I must admire their persistence, but that didn’t stop me from tossing their brochure in the nearest recycling bin.

One Ambassador pointed us towards Emmanuel Street (handily the exact opposite direction to where we needed to go). Once we’d reached the bottom of the road, we found another Ambassador who went to Girton College. They lead us the right way, and we were soon caught up in a crowd of people heading to the Sidgwick Site.

The shuttle bus ran every twenty minutes and was a tiny cramped rackety thing that swayed when people stood up. By the time we actually reached Girton College, I needed to be leaving for the Vet School or I’d miss my talk. So, naturally, we asked the Reception desk for directions. Big mistake.

The footpath you sent us to search for was not ‘next to the primary school.’ The vet school was not ‘twenty minutes away’. In fact, the only thing that you were right about was that the refreshments you were supposedly providing hadn’t finished being prepared yet.

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Tired, sweaty, and fifteen minutes late for the Admissions talk, we trudged onto the Vet School campus. With the help of some nice Receptionists, I managed to sneak into the Lecture theatre and I did make it to the tour on time.

Anyway, maybe it was the circumstances, but I have to say I didn’t find the organisational skills or the facilities at all impressive for a World Class University. I guess I was expecting a bit more class?

Not trusting ourselves, or anyone else for that matter, we decided to cut our adventures short for the day. It wasn’t worth the risk of being directed onto a plane to Paris rather than the bus back to the car park. We stopped off at Robinson College and the University Library, the highlight of the day, and then called it quits.

The drive home was a sober affair. We did spot a rainbow in the sky, but that did little to lighten our moods. Returning close to midnight, we tumbled into bed and vowed never to go on an Open Day again (until my sister starts applying to Uni, that is).

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