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Mmm massages!

Mmm massages!

Blue skies and sunshine, huzzah huzzah!!! Costumes packed, towels rolled we hit the road once again on our way through Heroes square to the City Park and on to Budapests largest baths. More stunning architecture and beautiful painted ceilings greeted us as we worked out ticket prices and booked massages with one of the helpful gurus who waited by the door.
‘Do you prefer a male or female masseuse?’ we were asked…I’m not sure which was faster, my response or Luci’s eyebrows when I said ‘male please!’. Booked in for 1pm we were free to explore the rest of the baths. Wow. Were we glad about the swimsuit rule! People of all shapes, sizes and nationalities surrounded us in a vast array of swimwear which ranged from the roomie to the ‘leaving little to the imagination’.Ah the prudish Brits, forever fascinated by the human form and the many types it comes in. Luci and I looked at eachother for reassurance, and receiving none, steeled ourselves to see a LOT more than we’d bargained for. But still, yay swimsuits!

There are multiple baths of different temperatures inside Szechenyi, each one tinged with green and emitting the aroma of stale feet. The people here sat awkwardly in pairs or small groups, with high ceilings and central pools not lending itself to the usual cosy feel of a spa. We pressed on, wandering from cavern to cavern until eventually a door to our left offered the promise of daylight…making a break for it we breathed in fresh air, freedom!!
The three pools outside ranged from ‘it’s cold…do lengths’ to ‘what am I, a lobster?!’ so of course we made ourselves right at home in the latter. Jets of hard water jutted out at regular intervals, strong enough to plant you in place as it massaged aching shoulders. At this point anyway. After my beating *ahem* I mean massage from Stephos I wasn’t able to stand underneath it again as my poor shoulders were too tender! Though this was most definitely my favourite part of the experience, heated floors, sedate hammocks, cups of herbal tea and fresh fruit platters all under a glass roof which made the place feel like an orangery. Luci fell asleep during her massage, no chance of that on my side of the curtain as I was manipulated, clicked, pushed, pulled and generally beaten into submission. It was magic, although now I do sort of feel like I’ve gone three rounds with Mike Tyson!
All the relaxing got too much for Tig, who’s obviously not used to such luxury and needed to lie down for a while on our return to the hostel. Just as I was attempting to sneak out to eat she woke up, and decided to try a little jaunt outside to see if it made her feel better. It did! And 20 minutes later we were munching Langos, a traditional Hungarian food, which is sort of like a deep fried pancake with toppings. Scrumptious! 

Today also saw the beginning of the Palinka festival, but having already learned that lesson we meandered down to enjoy the lights on the Danube by night, and visit the famous shoe memorial which sits on the waters edge in front of the Parliament building. It seems impossible to escape stories of the Holocaust here, and Hungary was no exception. These metal replica of traditional shoes stand as a poignant reminder of the Hungarian Jews shot by Nazis on this river bank. Of course, ever efficient, not all those condemned were shot; instead they were asked to remove their shoes (they were in short supply during the war), bound together in threes and only the tallest one shot. There were men’s boots, ladies court shoes and even a pair of children’s boots, all in clusters along the bank, with flowers and candles amongst them. 

Pausing to admire the huge parliament building, and the various museums, embassy’s and halls around it we were soon on our way back to Visegradi and bed! 
Tomorrow we’re off to country number 4…Slovakia and Bratislava! 

Sleeper trains, rain and a whole new country!

What is it about sleeping on a train which makes it so exciting?
Having spent the last of our zloty on sampling various local tipples Luci and I were more than ready to get our heads down for a night of undisturbed sleep. Having travelled on sleeper trains before in Asia I was really excited by the prospect of bunk beds and whizzing across an entire country as I slept. Lesson 1. Europe is not Asia! Our trains in Thailand were so spacious, with two bunks (a high and a low) per side, so that you were head to toe with other passengers facing the direction of travel. Here bunks were in cabins, 3 to a side with a tiny walkway in between. Very luckily Luci and I had an entire cabin to ourselves…can you imagine fitting 6 people in here? Squashed!
Pj’s on, beds made, we spent some time watching the lights outside flyby before settling down to books and sleep. I really thought I’d wake up every time the train stopped, or at least be up and about when the sun rose to take photos of the countryside we’d originally planned to drive though but in truth I was out cold until just before we arrived!

In the morning, again remembering Asia, we folded our sheets and tucked the upper bunks away to create a 6 seat cabin…bad move. When the conductor came along he was most unimpressed that we had had a cabin to ourselves, and not at all happy that the beds were not as we had found them. At least, that’s what we think he said…either way there was a lot of Hungarian and gesticulating…and the last 10 minutes of the journey were spent sheepishly and speedily trying to return everything to the way we found it. Before long we ground to a final halt and disembarked onto a very soggy platform. Welcome to Hungary! 

wet wet wet feet!

Oh man the rain. So much rain. Not having our full senses having just woken up, we started the 30 minute plod to Aventura Hostel, which was located on the other side of the city. About 10 minutes into the journey my brand new ‘cabin friendly’ roller suitcase decided it was no longer for this world and started to fall apart in my hands. Yay. Luckily Luci ‘map reader extraordinaire’ Lay got is to the hostel in double quick time and we were soon drying off in our home for the next two nights.

If you’re ever coming to Budapest, I really recommend the Aventura Hostel. Each room is dedicated to a different country, with some really cool results. For example the Africa room, which offers hammocks, rope ladders and beautiful Saharan colours…or the India room where we were, which was a stunning array of metallic paints, dark woods and embroidered fabrics. We had a mezzanine level to ourselves, with two cosy beds and two big travelling trunks surrounding a central coffee table. Very cosy! 

Phones charged, selves dried and stomachs filled we headed out on our first adventure, to find Lotz Hall, and it’s stunning top floor book cafe, Parizsi Nagyaruhaz. Built to be a casino, but never used for this purpose it ended up as a book storage unit during the communist period before eventually opening to the public in the 90’s as a book shop and cafe…Have you ever supped an orange hot chocolate you could stand a spoon up in in such a grand setting as this? Wow! 

From there (via an umbrella shop) we hurried to meet the Budapest walking tour at its meeting point near Elizabet Square, where we were greeted by Norbet, a super friendly Hungarian guy who spends most of his week teaching English and French, and the rest running tours. One thing I’ll say for Norbet, he knows all the dry places to stand! I feel like I was on a tour of Budapest’s overhangs. He maintained a really chirpy and warm attitude throughout though, and managed a really interesting mix of history, architecture, art, places to eat, and things to do. All along the river there are various statues installed at the end of the communist regime purely to celebrate everyday life and art, things which had no previously been celebrated. One of the favourites was this, A Little Princess…a statue of the artists daughter who would often like to dress up in various outfits just for fun. Well, who doesn’t?! With Norbet we heard the history of St Stephens Basilica (he converted the pagans to Christianity), had a food quiz (there were photos – excellent to know what to look out for!!) visited both the Pest (pronounced Pesht) and Buda sides of the city, crossing the chain bridge to one of the Buda sides ‘mountains’ (not a mountain) to visit the castle (not a castle!) on the top. All in all it was a really interesting way to spend a soggy 3 hours, and for extra bonus points the tour ended right next to Ruszwurm which was another place we’d been recommended to try! Stopping in for coffees and cake (and getting the last seats, phew!!) we rested tired feet and warmed cold limbs. When we came out the rain had stopped (yippee!! Proof that coffee is always a good idea), so we jumped on the opportunity to expel some of our new found energy by running around the Royal Palace and taking photos. Fun! 

It was almost 8pm by the time we made it down from the mountains of Buda and back into the heart of the Jewish quarter to Norbets favourite restaurant, Blue Rose. A full plate of traditional goulash and a drink for £4! Yum! Honestly at this point we were both so tried, it was super tempting to be rock and roll losers and head back to bed. But, that is NOT what backpacking is about…so we compromised, we would head back in the general direction of bed, but stop at any interesting points along the way. As it was we ended up meandering via Budapests three most famous ruin bars, the best of which by far was Szimpla! The first time I’ve ever been given a map to a pub! A maze of graffiti’d walls, mismatched seats, snug hide aways and hipster decor which switched between outdoors and indoors with regular ease. They hold markets on Sunday’s, regular music nights, meetings and of course your normal night out. Signs everywhere offered the traditional Hungarian Palinka, a shot of something we’d been told was like vodka. Ha! Vodka is milkshake compared to this stuff!! Talk about hairs on your chest, woah. 

So ended day 1 of Budapest…a wet, windy day of walking, eating and drinking! Not bad! Tomorrow is meant to be beautifully sunny so we’re making the most of it with a trip to Szchenyi baths. Rest, relaxation and massages! Yes please :) 

‘Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’

‘Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’

5am greeted us with a glorious sunrise, the promise of blue skies and a lovely day of fine weather ahead. We made the trip to the bus station, stopping to buy delicious poppyseed pastries and water along the way before settling in to our seats for the 90 minute journey. Neither Luci nor I had slept much the night before, so most of the ride was spent slumbering or watching the countryside whizz by in silence. I love early mornings, especially on days like this when the morning mists lie low over fields and rivers. Beautiful. 
When we arrived, turning left off the main road under a red and white striped rail barrier into the car park, my first thought was how normal this all seemed. Having spent a lot of time in army barracks I could see a lot of similarities with places I’d spent as a kid, it didn’t seem fitting with the horror stories I’d heard and facts I had studied. Auschwitz is free to enter, but you must book in advance. Individuals can enter from 8am, or guided tours (which carry a fee) begin at 10. Entering Auschwitz is done without ceremony, bags are checked (Top tip: they must be smaller than a piece of A4 paper), you walk through a turnstile and then you’re in. There’s no map, no handout with information, you’re just there. 

Pausing to take in the famous ‘ARBEIT MACHT FREI’ (work will set you free) the first sign informed us that is is where the camp band stood, instructed to play to help prisoners keep time during the marches in and out of the camp. The marches back would see work parties carrying the bodies of those who hadn’t made it. All to a nice backdrop of music. How lovely. We were savouring the opportunity to meander at our own pace before the hoards of groups and tourists arrived in 2 hours. However, I think this was an error. For me it is the stories and facts which bring these places to life. It was not enough to read plaque after plaque of black and white facts which depicted what happened here, and it wasn’t until later when we tagged along on a tour or two when it really began to hit home. 

The camp is made from individual two story brick blocks, each one used for a separate purpose. Some were accommodation for men, some women, some kept for those prisoners who had special duties, others for the hospital where women were sterilised and twins tested upon. These windows were blocked out even during the time the camp was active, to try and keep the horrors there secret. Being the first to arrive most of the doors were closed and it wasn’t until we saw cleaners going in and out that we realised that nowadays each one holds a different exhibition…one for each affected nationality, one displaying how the prisoners lived, how they existed; each one with rows and rows of photos lining the hallways. In the early years each inmate was photographed and categorised, that is, those who made it though the initial selection. It is estimated more than 80% of those who arrived here were sent instantly to the gas chambers. We saw one photograph of a woman and her 7 children, all tripping along to be gassed. What went though the minds of the people who stopped to take these photos? What on earth were they thinking?

The rooms which hit me particularly hard were those which showed videos of survivors telling stories about life before, during and after the holocaust. One lady spoke of an inspection in the ghetto, and the lengths she went to to make up her mother so she looked young and healthy and would not be viewed as someone unfit for work. There was an exhibition of children’s drawings found in the barracks, each one true to size and sketched onto a white wall…tucked into a windowsill, or hidden round a corner. This room was one of the worst for me, every child I know takes pleasure in drawing, it’s such a real thing, so normal, and yet these were children who must have been terrified. What had their parents told them? Was the drawing a way to distract from what was going on around them? It’s too awful to contemplate.

Just around the corner from here we entered the room holding the book of names, a massive list containing the name, date of birth, place of birth and place of death of each of the victims of the holocaust. The type was so small, and the exhibit so large, it really struck home exactly how many lives, families and communities were wiped out. A regime of terror doesn’t even seem to do it justice. 

Auschwitz began as a concentration camp, meant for enemies to the Reich and prisoners of war, but it soon became a death camp. As Luci put it ‘this is basically what would happen if we started to farm humans’. The Nazis wasted nothing. Hair was shaved and woven into cloth, ashes used for fertiliser, gold teeth melted and each possession categorised and most sold. There are rooms containing just pots and ceramics, the prized possessions people could not leave behind, another dedicated to the shaving brushes, toothbrushes and hair brushes, one just to shoes. So many hundreds of shoes…mainly brown, but the odd red sandal, blue heel, or black boot. The display was beyond comprehension, a long corridor with great mounds of shoes behind glass on either side…yet this was just 5% of the collection. Five percent.

The majority of the gas chambers were destroyed in the days before liberation, so there’s not much left in the way of evidence, but what is there is enough to chill your blood. We entered a concrete room, with scratched walls, adjacent to one which housed a number of giant furnaces. This was the first gas chamber, where they experimented with the chemicals and formulas to get the most efficient dose. It was nothing compared to the one we saw in model form, which could hold up to 2000 people at any one time. The completely crazy thing is that these people (at the start at least) believed they were safe. They believed they were being relocated, rehoused, and that this was part of the process. A shower and medical inspection to check they were healthy. Although even by the firing wall there were bathrooms where prisoners were forced to strip before being taken outside. Everything was so efficient, so calculated. So cold.

A free shuttle bus takes you from Auschwitz 1 to Auschwitz 2, where over 200,000 people would have lived at any one time. Each and every building was constructed by the prisoners themselves, and in fact construction in the camp ceased only one month before the liberation. 

Imagining how cold, dirty and rat infested these places must have been it is impossible to imagine how people survived. The fact that there are drawings on the walls…these people must have had an incredible spirit and willpower to go on. Each extra day of life was a mini revolution against those who wanted them dead. 

Halfway up the tracks an abandoned carriage offers some context to the conditions most people arrived here in, with each carriage apparently holding up to 70 people. The first stage of selection was to segregate the men from the women and children, before they were then split into those who could work, and those who could not. The latter…anyone elderly or infirm, anyone young or mothers with young children, were sent away instantly, the others were sent to be registered…their belongings taken and a number tattooed on their bodies. 

On liberation day it is said the guards disappeared by 11am, but none of the prisoners moved. Would you? When you had seen so many shot and killed? Perhaps this was another trick. It wasn’t until 3pm, when the first Americans and Red Army soldiers arrived that they allowed themselves to believe it was over. We saw photos of survivors who weighed around 25kilos when liberated. Those too weak to make the march to freedom. 

I’m glad I came, that I can now at least comprehend the size and brutality of this place. It was so cold, even on a sunny day in spring, with heaters on…what must it have been like in midwinter? How bleak. I would like to come back again and visit with a guide who could offer more context to the exhibits and stories behind the photos and faces we saw. 

Even after the bus journey home we were in need of quiet contemplation time that evening, before our night train to Budapest. We decided to visit the Jewish quarter, and soon found ourselves in a funky bar enjoying a vodka (or two…ok, maybe four). 

The incredible stories of survival, revolution and strength I have seen and read today will stay with me for a long long time to come. So to each and every one who died, lived, lost or remembers…I say nastrovia. Bottoms up.

‘The cure for anything is salt water…sweat, tears or the sea’

After days of early starts and Czocha madness we decided to spend a leisurely morning in Kraków, meandering our way across the city comparing prices on salt mine tours and generally taking in the daytime atmosphere. We visited the historic cloth hall by day, enjoyed a stroll in the ‘planty garden’ and met a random American guy who was working for a bike rental place down a tiny backalley. I would seriously love to know how many people he actually speaks to each day!
Eventually we found ourselves at the station where a train to the mining town of Wieliczka was leaving in 10 minutes. One thing striking us about Poland so far, almost everyone we speak to seems deeply sad. There are no easy smiles or friendly customer service. When we’re seen to be making an effort with poor pigeon Polish the smiles come more readily, and usually by the time we’re saying goodbye we’ve managed to extract at least one or two, but it does make me wonder why they’re so sad. Full of adventure to be doing this solo rather than through an organised bus tour, the 20 minute journey sped by and we had tickets for the 12.30 entry to the mine. The mines have been open since the 13th century and on the tourist route you visit depths of around 440ft, beginning with a 378 step wooden stairway which left me feeling quite dizzy! 
Well, the things I now know about salt! For starters, everything in the mine which was not wood was salt, seriously! Even the walls, ceilings and walkways, of course we had to taste it to make sure. There are huge structures of criss crossed trees used to support the mine, as the salt penetrates and petrifies the wood lending it strength and making it virtually indestructible. When the nazis took over the mine in the 1930’s they laid metal tracks for the underground carts and trains, only for these tracks to last mere months before cracking and disintegrating from the sodium levels in the air. Amazing.

Along the route there were also several statues and scenes also carved from salt, which takes on a granite grey colour in its raw form. When chipped away and ground it is almost 100% pure white table salt, with very little more needing to be done to it to make it fit for sale. One of these scenes showed Princess Kinga, a Hungarian noble woman who married the prince of Kraków. As part of her dowry she was given salt, which was worth a lot in those days, and legend has it she through her engagement ring into a salt mine at home before leaving for Poland. On her arrival here she instructed miners to dig for salt, and when the first lump was found and cracked open they found her engagement ring inside. That’s how Kinga became the patron saint of salt miners. Clever trick!

The complexity and detail of the spaces we saw underground were incredible. Salt mining, as with all types of mining, is dangerous work, so miners were deeply religious. We saw several small chapels were miners would pray before and after their shifts, but nothing prepared me for the cathedral. A huge cavern with intricate and ornate carvings along each side, and stunning chandeliers made from (you guessed it!) salt crystals. What was truly mind boggling though is that this place was the work of just three men…one after the other. Imagine being down here in the dark, alone, spending each day carving this incredible room. It’s just astounding.

The next stop on our tour was a series of underground lakes and rivers, where the water is so buoyant it is impossible to dive in it. The water was such an eerie shade of green, I really wonder what it was like to swim in! Historically they would offer boat rides through the caverns, until 7 German soldiers capsized their boat trapping them underneath. Being unable to lift the boat and unable to dive underneath they eventually suffocated. This was the last time boat rides were offered at Wieliczka. 

Our tour ended soon after, something we were both glad of as the cornflakes at the hostel was beginning to feel like years ago. Luckily right there 125m underground there was an option to try some traditional polish food, which of course we did.

Heading back to Kraków, with night train tickets to Budapest and bus tickets to Auschwitz purchased, we had time for a spot of shopping and a chilli coffee (highly recommended) before our dinner reservations in the Russian restaurant just off the square. To our disappointment our waitress (dressed like Heidi) led us away from the fur lined benches overlooking the bustling streets and down a wooden staircase to a cavernous room reminiscent of an alpine chalet. Our table was in the corridor between the secluded spots for two to our right which were backed by a water feature consisting of a pool and huge water wheel, and the main eaterie to our left where the walls were adorned with old style skis and musical instruments. However, before long it became apparent we had the best seats in the house, as a musical trio sat themselves right opposite us and began playing a lyrical concophony of Russian and Polish folk tunes. Apparently they were from the mountains, and this music is traditional amongst those that lived up there. We were in heaven, sipping honey and ginger vodkas with a delicious stew of beef (I know), vegetables and potato pancakes. 

With a 5am start and day Auschwitz ahead of us our evening here had to come to an end all to soon, but needless to say it’s definitely been one of the most memorable and fun days of the trip so far. Hopefully it’s warmed the cockles of our hearts enough to get us through tomorrow.

A day of travelling 

Our last morning at Czocha was a bit of a whirlwind. Having checked the train time the previous night and booked a taxi all we had to do was pack…until we realised the train was half an hour before we thought, oops!! Luckily we had the type of driver who understood the actions for ‘step on it!’ and made it in good time. Whizzing through the Polish countryside we were really struck how beautiful, but poor, it seems to be. At least one in three buildings are either ruined or unfinished, roads unkept and cars left abandoned by the roadside.

The station looked like many other buildings we have seen in Poland so far, run down and slightly tumbling; reminiscent of something which was once beautiful, but is now just kind of a working ruin. After 5 minutes or so a little two carriage train trundled onto the middle track; luckily there were others waiting or else I’m not sure Luci and I would have gone against many years of ‘DON’T WALK ON TRAIN TRACKS!’ and crossed over to board. Another first time experience for us!

Travelling by train in Poland feels eerie. You cannot help looking at rusted tracks running alongside the well used modern ones and wondering if they were the tracks used to transport hundreds of thousands of families to the concentration camps and gas chambers which litter the countryside. Perhaps I’m being morbid, but it was a thought which struck us both. 

Our next train was far more fitting two girls who had just completed a term at a College of Wizardry, with individual compartments which offered all mod cons like your own temperature gauge, announcement volume control and showed facts about how fast we were travelling and other interesting snippets. Yup, this was the way to travel! Until the conductor came along and informed us this was first class and could we kindly pay up or leave…oops!!

Seemingly not long after (but actually 6 hours) we pulled into Kraków. Usually at this point I’d be trying to find tourist maps and working out my orientation, but travelling with Luci is a breath of fresh air – the girl is so organised! She whipped out a printed nap and we were off, strolling through a lovely ‘planty garden’ (aka park) in the direction of our hostel. Most people travel by tram or bus but, as we know, the best way to see a city is to walk it!

It took around 15 minutes to reach the street meant to house the B Movie hostel. Staying in hostels can be a bit hit and miss, usually with the standards of cleanliness, bed comfort and amenities varying greatly from place to place, but the people always being awesome. In Kraków we lucked out. The B Movie hostel greeted us with a long wait in the rain outside a dilapidated gate, with a worn sign which even had a hardened traveller wondering if perhaps I’d finally been duped and this place had closed 10 years before. In the end it took visiting asking another nearby hostel to call on our behalf and convincing someone who’d popped out for a cigarette to gain entry. We climbed the dusty spiralling tilled stairs to the first floor and went in, where the receptionist showed little to no concern that the buzzer appeared not to be working. Great start. We were in the Godfather room (not a B Movie, but that’s a separate point entirely).  I was all too aware this was only Luci’s second ever hostel and really wanted something positive to hit…unfortunately this place could only be labelled basic, but shoddy Internet, little to no breakfast and roomies from Indonesia who were freezing cold so the rest of us had to roast alive whilst breathing in the damp air from two loads of drying laundry. Hmm. 

That evening we explored central Kraków, inside the castle walls, losing ourselves in the labyrinth of alcoholes and a seemingly endless array of gelato shops. At the very heart of the city is the market square, apparently one of the largest medieval squares in Europe. It has a really Russian feel (not that I have been there yet!) and is surrounded by elegant townhouses, all with their own unique names, histories and curiosities. Horses and carriages stand in a row offering historic tours of the centre. Unbeknownst to us we wandered the Royal Route, the historical coronation path of the Polish kings when Kraków served as the royal capital from the 14th century to the very end of the 16th century. 

Around 8pm rumbling tummys got the best of us and we set out in search of food. Turned away from our first choice (though with reservations for tomorrow!) we ended up nestled between flame heaters right on the square overlooking the historic Cloth Hall where we enjoyed Bigos – a hunters stew served in a bread bowl. Warming and delicious for only 18zloty (about £3).

Tomorrow, the salt mines. 

Berlin, larping and Czocha college of wizardry.

Berlin, larping and Czocha college of wizardry.

Berlin at last. The girls and I landed from our morning flight out of Heathrow, checked in to a hostel on Alexandraplatz and set out on foot to explore the city. We meandered streets decorated with bullet holes, had passports stamped at check point Charlie and finally stood one foot astride the east and west points of the city.  
We touched the wall, played hide and seek at the holocaust memorial, tried to envision it’s artistic meanings and cried at the stories hidden below it. This was a flying visit, less than 20 hours, but still I feel like I gained more than in the entire 4 days I was here last time.  
Then, the morning. Packed and filled with anxious excitement we made our way back to the airport and soon located a group of witchards seemingly trying to blend in in mundane clothing. Faces were put to names, characters introduced, wands compared. We were on our way to our first larp (a ‘live action role play’ based around a wizard img university called College of Wizardry). The four hour journey consisted of confirming relationships (I’d done a lot of work online), embellishing stories and conducting new plans. Songs were learnt, friendships forged and backstories shared. Seemingly before too long the atmosphere on board shifted; those who had been before were suddenly craning at the neck to gain a first glance of ‘home’. Along a long, dusty road, around a corner and we were greeted by red brick turrets and castle spires. This was it. We were here. 

  Having collected robes (gold for seniors), ties (red for phoenixes), books (both the general student handbook and beastrology 101) and name tags we had 10 minutes to locate our fourth floor room and attempt to get our bearings before the initial briefing.  

 Claus, the organiser, explained how the next few hours and days would work before we went to meet our house, course-mates and fellow students for the next few days. We were instructed in duelling, casting generally spells, the rules of the school and how it was completely ok to be ‘off game’ if required. It was all very overwhelming, and I was more than pleased when it was time to return to the room to change and ‘get into character’. One thing I was struck by time and time again was the kindness and generosity of our fellow players. There were always ready to jump in and assist, everyone was happy to have an ‘off game’ moment if needed, and I received several amazingly thoughtful gifts from people I had previously spoken to before travelling to Poland. Including an amazing leather wand holder complete with Peregrine sigil from my in game Cousin, and hand-knitted scarf in sendivogius colours from a rival house Junior. People are really amazing.
  Honestly the next two and a half days are a blur. A blur of minotaurs, school politics, hatching dragons and doom-spiders. There were exams, potions roulette, hexed flowers and ‘essays’ to write. Some professors required impressing, others were happy with a song and a smile. It was a completely surreal experience. Some of my stand out moments include;

  – Lucy being infected by doomspider eggs and having to have them removed by a vampire professor

– Pips mentee, a Junior named Oliver, inviting her to the ball with a public display including a banner and flowers despite there being the threat of a curse if he did so. His character was too saddened at the thought of a senior he respected never having taken a date to a ball…Then Pips grandmother turning up to the ball to hex him so that he could only speak to one girl…Pip. Singing Beyoncé with the words zoning in and out depending on the direction he faced will make me smile for a while. EXCELLENTLY played Erik!

  – Singing in the tavern with fellow Sendivogians – ‘what shall we do with a drunken teacher?’

– everything about  Hannah O’Hara

– a castle full of hexed flowers

– waltzing with a rooster, and feeling like a real lady being twirled around a ballroom

– exploring this magical 13th century Polish castle complete with torture chamber dungeons and spiring towers

  – interacting with the castle goblins, who were brilliant and hilarious

– dancing with the runes professor at the mid terms party, and playing potions roulette with her!


we were red – got so close!

 – a hundred million opportunities to use and stretch my imagination 

– discovering my competitive side in fighting for house points. We came third, which considering we were the smallest house by around 7 people was quite amazing!


view from the tower

 There were downsides to it all too. I didn’t like the transportative feeling of being back at school, with all the pressures, politics and confusion that went with it. There were moments when peoples games overlapped with mine and caused me to feel way out of my depth, and equally moments where I watched someone playing an evil, manipulative or bitchy characters and wondered what on earth would motivate someone to spend three days of their life making themselves and others miserable. Watching other houses rise above us in the cup and the disappointment (mixed with pride) when we came in third…being in trouble for ridiculous reasons (losing house points for being late to a class because we were saving the life of a teacher…really?!). I can’t pretend to understand larping, or say I found it easy, but I will say I am glad I went to Czocha and experienced this magical place, even though it’s not something I’d care to repeat.

  One thing I will say, I wish my life contained more balls! It was just magical to dress up in a beautiful gown and twirl around like a princess. Definitely need more of this please!

Tips for future players:

– try to get your bearings the first night. There’s nothing worse than being late for class with the cup riding on not losing points and having no idea where you’re going

– eBay wands + stone floors = broken wands

– take time to explore and enjoy this beautiful place 

– be prepared that not everyone will share your ideas or goals. You may find yourself under arrest for crimes committed by your cousin…it’s all part of the play

– spend time with the goblins, they’re fab

– don’t be afraid of the NPC room, they’re up for anything and REALLY creative

– if you’re asked if you’re doing anything for the next half hour by someone holding a brown poncho…you may be being summoned by demons. Just saying.

– everything is ok. Feeling weird, feeling lost, feeling sad or out of your depth. Equally getting caught up, laughing your head off, running from your own imagination. This is larp. It’s not for everyone, I’ve certainly decided it’s not for me, but I’m glad I went, glad I have these memories. Most of my fellow players are probably the most creative people and actors I’ll ever have the fortune to meet.  People put so much time, effort and money into what is essentially a weekend away. I was constantly astounded, consistently amazed (in both positive and negative ways) and mostly left in awe. 

CoW you were one hell of an experience. Next up we cross Poland on our way to Kraków. Bring on the next adventure:)

Looking back

Over my shoulder…dum de de, de de dum dum dum…just me?Do you ever look back sometimes and think ‘wow, I really did all that?!’ I’m not sure we do it enough. Life is such a winding and varied road that sometimes you really do need to pause for a minute and take stock of everything that’s happened, the things you’ve achieved, places you’ve seen, people you’ve met…I remember reading a post once about how much can change in a year, and it’s so true. Look back to February 2015, are there people there who aren’t here now? Are there people here you didn’t know then? The world around us is forever shifting and changing, sometimes for the better, sometimes not so much, but it’s hard to get too bogged down in the present when the future is within touching distance and anything can happen. 

Attempting some Instagram challenges recently has encouraged lots of revisiting old photo albums and computer folders in search of suitable snaps. Last year I visited 9 counties; 5 of which I had never set foot on before. I met many amazing and unique people, went on new adventures, tried some crazy (and often delicious) foods, saw incredible sights ranging from a hundred thousand bats leaving a Cambodian cave, to the old cars of Havana. I spent time with wonderful people, met some crazy new friends and said goodbye to some old ones. I left a job, gained a job, left that one and gained another. There were some exhilarating highs and some severely crashing lows, but I think for the most part everything has worked out for the best. So far 2016 has been the year of smiles, of new challenges, looking forward and a life without too much stress. I know I was not the only one who found 2015 a tough pill to swallow, but I hope that everyone who struggled through it has also found 2016 to be a kinder time. Try to take a moment this weekend to think about some of the good times, something you’re proud of, people you like to be with…I bet there’ll be more good memories hiding away there than you expect!


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