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Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Krakow, Poland

Very quickly Berlin city is left behind and we enter open fields, pine forests, allotment gardens (some with most substantial houses on them). In the shadows that the sun has not yet licked away, frost lingers; making paths slippery and long grasses crispy, and accentuating dirt track ruts and the dark curve of rounded haybales lying in the fields.  We pass an expanse of freshly tilled earth where hundreds upon hundreds of black birds stand waiting. We wonder how they know when it is time to fly south, but apart from thinking there might be something such as birdy instinct, we don’t know.
Neither do we know when we cross the border into Poland, but suddenly there are Polish words on buildings. And the buildings are different. The roofs are steeper, there are big overhanging eaves, occasionally a carved wooden gable-end. Each building has its white-lettering-on-blue-background sign attached proclaiming street name and number.
But the differences between Poland now and then (when we used to live here) are greater than the differences between Germany and Poland.
Now on the edge of the first town we stop at there’s a Kaufland, a large German supermarket. There are big billboards. What’s more, one is advertising credit; both concepts (credit and billboards) were unheard of here two decades ago.

The smooth train rolls on mostly through agricultural land. We might be comfortable in our airline-style seats, but we notice it was easier for the kids on noisy Asian trains. For eleven hours they need to try to stay *really* quiet – on Asian trains they could talk normally without anyone giving them a stare – oh yes, people looked at them, but not with *that* disapproving stare. We wonder why ER couldn’t have chosen one of those trains to have her two hour crying stint on! Four different ladies tell me in Polish and German that she is too hot, too cold, hungry, thirsty, tired, bored, has a headache, has a stomachache, should get some fresh air, should go back in the compartment out of the cold…. Actually she was just stubbornly, loudly, dramatically, heartrendingly insisting, “I don’t want to sit with you Mama; Dadda will let me do what I want.” My resolve was stronger than hers, especially as Dadda was feeling most grotty, having picked up the Berlin Bug from the people we’d been staying with. By tomorrow half of the kids will have as well.

8:30pm we roll into Krakow Glowny (those words don’t look half as good without the squiggles and dashes they are supposed to have on them!)
What is touted by the hostel as an eight minute walk from station to room, we expect to take quarter of an hour. In darkness, with lights reflecting in puddles we try to avoid, we stumble up the street. Whenever we’ve had packs on our backs up until now we have not been carrying a massive solid-based preserving pot, a heavy cast iron wok, a mega-set of Carcassone and two flea market dollies with complete wardrobes that have been created out of worn-out clothes over the past five months.
As we walk, the Lao phrase “same same but different” springs to mind. We had never had much cause to spend much time at the train station when we lived here, but it is immediately obvious that there is huge difference – big neon signs and a mall right beside the train station are the first signs of progress change. It looks very unKrakowlike. We do not recognise anything, although my internal destination finder still knows where the centre is. Then round the corner trams, the same blue and cream trams, are running. Same same. The streets are still cobbled rather than asphalted over like in many other European cities. The distinctive Krakow smell, which I had not known was in my memory, wafts by. As expected, the horse monument has its back to us and at the end of its street is the old barbican – it’s hardly going to go anywhere in twenty years when it’s been there for a few hundred now, is it? The Stary Klepparz (old market) is still there. I had heard a few years ago that no markets exist in Poland any more, but I am quietly pleased to discover this to be untrue. We’ll go back during the day and have a look round – it used to be just a series of wooden tables covered with roofs, but now it seems to be little individual metal stalls. We’ll see another day, and check if the bakery is still across the street too.
Many of the lower floor shops have, as we predicted, turned boutiquey – but some are still the old style of everything behind the counter. I have a feeling Krakow has not changed as much as we might have thought, and it’s nice to think the kids might see things As It Was.


Monday, October 19th, 2009

Berlin, Germany

The mayor, the chief of police and the head judge are all females in a particular town in Brazil. You’d have thought one of them might have objected to a twelve year old starving girl being imprisoned for 28 days in a cell with thirty men, because she stole some food. Especially considering they *knew* what would happen to her. But they didn’t, and it was only when the case was brought to international attention that the child was released. That, however, did not signal the end of her misery. With her parents, she had to be whisked away from her former life to a new protected, but completely unknown, life.
Uprooted. Unjustly. Scarred.

That was just the beginning of a conversation that made lunch quite indigestible.
The main speaker was Brazilian, hailing from the region where the above atrocity was performed. She educated us about the status of women – or, rather, the lack of it. She described dire poverty and starvation, she hinted at corruption, speaking through sadness mingled with anger, pain and desperation.
And she explained that she left four years ago to escape that culture. She neither liked nor approved of it, and was not willing to hang around and (in her own words) “be a martyr”.
Another in our midst failed to understand her decision. Coming from a very different position, he exclaimed, “I’d like to be a Gandhi.”

Having been born in New Zealand, we are fortunate, privileged, free, rich.
We can choose whether to ignore the plight of the millions – nearly a billion today are starving, not to mention the three billion, who struggle to live on US$2 a day. Others are persecuted for their beliefs. Still more are shunned by their communities. Bad things don’t just happen in Brazil.
We could ignore them all or we could strive to be a Gandhi.

We hear our kids saying things like, “When we get back I’m going to buy a tent, a pocketknife, some Lego.” They are children – we certainly do not want them to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, but we do encourage them to remember what they have seen. To remember WHO they have seen. To consider how some of their resources might be the catalyst for change for someone. And as adults, we evaluate our own longings too. It would be all too easy to forget, to slip into a consuming lifestyle, to prefer our own wants above others’ needs, to live comfortably.

more questions

Saturday, October 17th, 2009
Berlin, Germany For once our family makes up fewer than half the residents of the house we’re staying in. People are constantly coming and going. Copious quantities of food are constantly being prepared and consumed. It’s a hive of activity. ... [Continue reading this entry]

Loony in Leipzig

Friday, October 16th, 2009
Berlin, Germany by Rob - because only he was there It was time for one final skirmish with the German Bureaucracy machine. Having successfully abmeldung-ed (de-registered) one van the previous day without any real problems, I was anticipating my trip to ... [Continue reading this entry]

Wednesday: we arrive

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009
Meissen to Berlin 226km In the vans from 1pm until 6pm with a half hour race round Lutherstadt Wittenberg in between


So it’s over. The RoadRace is finished and another chapter is ending. It’s the last night ... [Continue reading this entry]

Tuesday: taken by surprise (winter arrives)

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009
almost at Prague to Meissen, just past Dresden, Germany 296km In the vans from 9am til 1pm, then another hour or so later Yesterday we watched the temperature drop from 16 degrees to 6 degrees. Today it went down another six. Yes, ... [Continue reading this entry]

things that go bump in the night

Thursday, August 6th, 2009


“It’s going to be a great spot to catch the sunrise,” Jgirl14 correctly informed us before going to bed last night, and in preparation she set the alarm and kept the camera at the ... [Continue reading this entry]


Saturday, August 1st, 2009
by Rachael Uzerche, France We’ve been away from home for 300 days today! Jboy13 is keeping count <wink> In Asia we had a standard conversation with everyone we came across. Are you one family? Yes. How many children are there? Eight. Ah you are so lucky. Thank you. Where ... [Continue reading this entry]

sleeping gypsies

Friday, July 17th, 2009
by Rach, who thought she might be concerned about sleeping in remote places, but who has felt totally safe so far at the end of the causeway opposite Holy Island, England

We met a few Poms in Holland. They all ... [Continue reading this entry]


Thursday, July 16th, 2009
by a ranting member of the lunatic fringe Lindisfarne, England According to newly-released statistics, New Zealand is almost leading the world in obesity statistics (apparently currently coming in third). I wonder if we would have noticed England’s obesity if we had ... [Continue reading this entry]