Tag Archives: travel

MoMo All-Hands. In Hawaii.

It’s been a little while since I posted.  Well, I’ve been busy.

In Hawaii.

That’s right.  Hawaii.  Mozilla Messaging just sent the entire team to Hawaii for an all-hands meeting.  And, believe it or not, we got a hell of a lot done.  It’s amazing how productive people can be in shorts, Hawaiian shirts, and sandals!  No joke!

It was also an opportunity for me to meet my new teammates.  It’s a fantastic group, and a very warm welcome.  They’re smart, committed, quirky, and hilarious.  I think I’m really going to enjoy working with this team.

Anyhow, I had a great time, and learned a lot.

And I took notes.

Here’s part 1…

Poland – Part 10: Journey To Krakow, Wawel Hill, and The Dragon

June 23, 5:10AM

At 5:10AM, a huge clap of thunder woke us all with a start.  Groaning,  moaning, and uttering expletives… we tried to go back to sleep, but the thunder storm and heavy rain raged all around us.

And then, eventually, the storm moved off…finally, we could sleep…

…but before it could happen, one by one, our alarm clocks started to go off.  It was time to leave.

Grumbling, lights flicked on, and we headed to the washrooms and showers…


A few people reported that there was some food missing from the hostel kitchen.  Tom and Tara reported half a carton of chocolate milk had been pilfered, and half of Linn’s salami was missing.

Apparently, some of the guests thought we wouldn’t mind sharing.  Or there was a mix up.

Either way, it didn’t improve anyone’s mood.

Not long after, we packed up our stuff, got on the bus, and left Wroclaw for Krakow.


We had been on the bus for a few hours, and I had been trying (unsuccessfully) to take a nap.  I eventually gave up, and I joined in with a bunch of the group who were quizzing each other on Canadian provinces and U.S. states.

It turns out that I know relatively little about Canadian provinces, and next to nothing about U.S. states.  Hmph.

Eventually, we pulled over at a rest stop.  I took the opportunity to try some of the local junk food, and purchased two chocolate bars – a “Corny Big” and a “3Bit”.  They tasted better than they sound.

Tamara also took the opportunity to tell us how the rest of the trip was going to work.  She also lightly condemned the last hostel, which was clearly not to her liking.

While talking about the rest of the trip, she mentioned that she had arranged for us to visit Auschwitz for the next morning.  The group got quiet.  Tamara also said that she had left open the possibility of visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mines after Auschwitz, but that it would really depend on our mood.  We would probably be upset after Auschwitz, and would want to go home and rest.


We arrived at the hostel around 11:30PM, and man, what a difference!  The place was absolutely spartan, the rooms were gorgeous, the views were incredible… we were quite happy, as you can see:


Yes, it was a welcome change.  In case you’re interested, the hostel was called “Cracow Hostel Apartment“.  You can see more photos of the place if you click these words – but having been there, it’s pretty clear that these photos try to make the rooms seem bigger with lens effects.

So we had nice rooms.  But guess what?

Peter got the pent house! The lucky guy got the hostel apartment!  The room was incredible!  It was too bad we were only staying a few nights.

The hostel was particularly awesome because it was in the Market Square.  Here are a few shots of the view from the common room window:


Wow!  (Looks a lot like Wroclaw, doesn’t it?  That’s what I thought, too.)

If it isn’t clear from the photos, it was still drizzling out.  But that didn’t mean we weren’t starving.  After unpacking and cleaning up, we hit the pavement to try to find some lunch.



This was lunch:


And this was where we ate it:


The place was called ChimeraInteresting concept for a restaurant.


After leaving the restaurant, Tamara took us on a walking tour of the surrounding area:


The rain had stopped, and the air was left dripping with humidity.

We stopped by a church called Bazylika Sw Franciszka Z Asyzku XIII W.  Hm.  Maybe I wasn’t hearing right, but apparently there was some stained-glass work by Adam Mickiewicz there…

Here are some shots from the church.  Not the greatest shots I’ve ever taken, but hey – it was dark in there:


I don’t know if Mickiewicz did the stained-glass – regardless, here’s a shot of one of the pieces:



We left the church, and meandered through the streets.


Eventually, we found ourselves at an outcropping called Wawel – home of Wawel Castle, which was to be our next stop.


Here’s a window dog we saw on our way to the castle ramp.  It breaks the narrative, but I can’t resist:


And while I’m breaking narrative, here’s Alex posing in front of a Bauhaus poster:


…and eventually, we found ourselves climbing the ramp up to Wawel Castle:


Here’s a view from one of the castle turrets:


At the castle gate, we bought tickets to enter, and to see the “Dragon’s Den” underneath the castle grounds.  We were stoked.

2:45PM – Wawel Castle

High security.  Metal detectors.  Armed guards.  This place wasn’t taking any chances.  There was a very strict code of conduct in there – no sitting, no leaning on walls, keep quiet, and absolutely no pictures.  So I just took notes.

So I can’t show you what it was like inside, but I can try to describe it:

It was a museum.  Stone and hardwood floors.  Quiet like a tomb.  Marble staircases.  Wooden cabinets, uncomfortable looking wooden chairs, wooden tables…tapestries, beds.  Old paintings.

Tamara told us a story about how when the Germans invaded, relics and artifacts were smuggled out of Europe.  It turns out that some relics from Wawel Castle eventually found themselves holed up with a cloister of nuns in Canada.  Go figure.

Everything was ornate, and gold rimmed.  Even the ceilings were covered in gold.

Oh the hell with it – so I couldn’t take any photos: that doesn’t mean I can’t scrape some from off the Internet.  Here’s what I was seeing, care of this website:


There, that’s better.  I’ve always been a visual kind of guy.

Check out the ceiling on this room:


You probably can just barely see them, but those are human heads carved and painted into the ceiling.  Just staring down.  And one has his mouth gagged.  It was creepy.  Apparently, those heads were carved by Sebastian Tauerbach back in the 1500s.


The castle wasn’t the only thing on Wawel Hill.  Inevitably, there was a church – Wawel Cathedral.

So, interesting theatre connection with Wawel Cathedral:

There was a theatre artist who wanted to do a show in the cathedral.  His idea for the play:  that all of the tapestries and statues would come to life on the night before Easter to demonstrate the resurrection of Christ.  It was like Night at the Museum, but with 100% more Jesus.

Anyhow, that play was called Akropolis, and would eventually be staged by Jerzy Grotowski in the 1960’s. Grotowki’s spin on it was to stage it in Auschwitz instead of the Wawel Cathedral.

Anyhow, Grotowki’s Akropolis caused ripples in the theatre world, and was a shining example of the “poor theatre” that he was striving to achieve.

For the people who don’t study drama, Grotowski, Poor Theater, and Akropolis are a pretty big deal.  I’ve seen a taping of Akropolis a few times…it’s one of the few recordings of Grotowski’s work.

Anyhow, that’s the connection.  We were inside the cathedral where that whole thing began.


Walking through the cathedral.  Once again, I couldn’t take any photos.

Description:  high ceilings, gold, tapestries, stained glass.  Gothic architecture.  Gold alter.  Chandaliers.  Ornate, dark woodwork.  Coffins and tombs.  Sarcophagi.

There was a narrow, claustrophobic staircase that led up to the cathedral bell tower.  It was windy up there, and the bells were absolutely massive.  Huge cast-iron things.  Mother of all bells.  I couldn’t help myself – I whipped out my camera like a gunslinger, and snuck a shot:


Yeah, I know – doesn’t look that impressive.  It’s due to lack of size reference points.  You’ve just got to trust me.

There were tombs in the basement.  Thick marble slabs, stone… there were some disturbingly small sarcophagi too.

The tombs got more modern the farther through we went – towards the end, we saw tombs with the occupants’ firearms strapped to the wall.

Maybe I’ve seen too many Indiana Jones movies, but I couldn’t help feeling that there were probably secret passages all over the place.


Finally, we got out of the catacombs into the fresh air.  We hung around outside, and waited for stragglers.  I took the opportunity to take a photo of some kids who were clearly disobeying the “don’t step on the grass” rule:


Thunder rumbled in the distance.


Remember the Dragon’s Den?  That was our last stop on Wawel. We took a narrow, twisty flight of stairs down…down…deep…down…wayyyyy down into the cave beneath the castle.

It was…a cave.  Kinda underwhelming, but I don’t know what we were expecting.  A real dragon?

The lighting conditions weren’t ideal, so here are my crappy photos of the cave:


And here’s Tom filling up the cave with some dragon presence:


We eventually left the cave.  We took the time to sit, rest our legs, and stare up at this dragon monument that was outside the exit:


The Dragon

Now, I don’t know how the rumour got started, but apparently, every hour, that dragon was supposed to breathe fire.  So the bunch of us stuck around for about 15 minutes, waiting for the fireball.

Evidently, the group of us make enough of a crowd to cause other people to wonder what’s going on, because more people from off the street started joining our group, staring up at the dragon, waiting.

And then the hour came…and went…and nothing happened.

Jiv went to talk to a local street vendor.  It went something like this:

Jiv:  Isn’t this thing supposed to breathe fire every hour?

Vendor:  [Look of confusion]

Jiv:  [Mimes breathing fire, and points at dragon]

Vendor:  [Shakes head vigorously]

Disappointed, the crowd dispersed.



Tamara had led us into the Jewish Quarter of Krakow.


The storm was really threatening now – dark clouds, and rumbling that was closer than before.


Rain started to fall.  It was time to get indoors.  As a torrent of rain started to come down, we found a restaurant, and took shelter.

And then it started to hail for a bit.  Strange.


The restaurant we had chosen was pretty fancy.  I ordered what eventually turned out to be chicken shish kabab.  For the price…not that great.  But whatever, we were inside and dry.  And I was full.

The group was pretty tired at this point.  The lack of sleep from the night before, and the long tour of the day had worn us out.  After we had finished eating, Tamara told us that we had the rest of the day to ourselves.

A pack of us left the restaurant to explore the Jewish Quarter.  Eventually, we found ourselves back in the Market Square, where I promptly ordered myself a lemon sorbet.  I missed the ice cream from Wroclaw, but the lemon sorbet was amazing.  Sonia took the opportunity to buy some zapiekanka.

Have I told you about zapiekanka?  I don’t think I have.  Polish equivalent to a hot dog.  Long half of a baguette, topped with melted cheese and mushrooms, and a long strip of ketchup.  I liked ’em.

Some of us went back to the hostel.  I hung around the Market Square for a little bit and snapped a few photos:


Here’s Adam Mickiewicz again!  What a guy!


And a giant head:


The very center of the Market Square was a…market.  Lots of little booths selling trinkets.  Religious figurines…amber… a high number of chess boards, which I found strange.


And wouldn’t you know it, I also found some miniature copies of those creepy head sculptures that I’d seen in Wawel Castle!


At this point, I was pretty tuckered out.  I walked back to the hostel, and eventually went to sleep.

We would be getting up early the next day to go to Auschwitz.

Click here to go to Part 11:  Journey into Auschwitz, and Adventuring Alone in Krakow

Click here to go back to Part 9:  The Halfway Point

Poland – Part 1: Departures and Arrivals

Note:  As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a hostel in Warsaw.  It’s 5AM, and the cable to connect my camera to a computer is buried at the bottom of my backpack.  So, while there are photos to go along with this story, they’re going to have to be added later.

June 15 – 2:45PM EST

I’ve been to Pearson Airport in Toronto a few times before, but only ever to pick up some passenger after they’ve come back from a trip.

I’ve never been one of those “departure” people.

Well, today was my day.  And man, it was confusing.

It started off smoothly enough.  My Dad, girlfriend Emily, and her sister Cassie, had brought me to Pearson to see me off.  I was able to get my boarding pass from a machine (which was nice and easy), after finding fellow passengers Reid, Anj, and Olya.  What a relief to see those three, because I honestly had no idea where I was in the airport, and had no idea what was going on.  Pearson is huge, and I was only in Terminal 1.

After our goodbyes, I stood in a line to get my carry-on bags scanned.

That was my first mistake.  Wasted 20 minutes getting to the front of that line, only to find out that I had to go to another line somewhere else in the airport to check my stowed luggage.  So there was some momentary panic while I raced around the airport, trying to find the right place.

So, lesson one:  it’s always OK to ask when you’re way out of your element, and it usually makes things go faster.  I knew this already, but this was a clear-cut example.

3:20PM EST

After some more running around, and a trip along a few moving sidewalks, I made it to our departure gate, where Olya, Reid, and Anj were already waiting.


Eventually, the rest of our comrads showed up.  And now, for your edification, here’s a list of the UCDP people who were flying with me that day:

  • Anj Mulligan
  • Reid Linforth
  • Olya Ryabets
  • Jiv Parasram
  • Ryan Cooley
  • Chantelle Hedden
  • Alexi Marchel
  • Yev Falkovich
  • Peter Freund
  • Alex Rubin

After a lot of sitting around and waiting, we board our flight.  After even more waiting, the plane begins to move.

Take-off:  6:00PM EST

Our plane took off at exactly 6PM EST.  We were half an hour behind schedule.  Already, my companions were taking bets on whether or not we’d miss our connecting flight from Frankfurt (not Brussels, sorry!) to Warsaw.  We only had 50 minutes once we had landed in Frankfurt, so it was going to be tight.

Anyhow, we’re in the air.  And I’m excited, of course.  I haven’t been in a plane since a flight to Toronto from Miami in 2004, and I sure as hell haven’t flown outside North America.  This was going to be a new experience for me.


It didn’t take long for three minor disasters to happen:

  1. I had packed a bag of mixed nuts/cashews in my carry-on.  To my dismay, when I opened my backpack, I found that the bag had exploded and that my carry-on was filled with loose nuts.  A bunch spilled on the floor, and immediately I began worrying about other passengers who might have nut allergies…all it takes is a whiff, and bam – out like a light.
    Anyhow, Ryan Cooley helped me clean/conceal the mess as much as possible, and I did my best to clean up the mess inside my bag.  Reminded me a bit of this story I had written earlier in the year…
  2. The pen I’ve been keeping my notes with started leaking.  Ink all over my hand, and some on my shirt.  Yech.  Luckily, I brought spares…
  3. The instructional safety video, which was supposed to be broadcast to the screens in front of each of us, did not work in my row.  It looked like scrambled cable.  Had to crane my neck to see it on someone else’s screen.  Not too bad, but it’s a bit discouraging when the mandatory safety video doesn’t work.

The flight was mostly eventless.  Besides some minor turbulence (which freaked out one of our more sensitive flyers), there wasn’t much to do.  My Dad had let me borrow his noise-cancelling headphones, which were awesome.  I listened to classical music on XM radio while I wrote my notes.

6:37PM EST

Food started making its way down the aisles, and it smelled pretty good…

But then we hit a patch of turbulence.  One of my companions is really not into flying, and so we consoled them while the plane shook around us.  The calming thing was that the flight attendants looked calm as ever, and kept handing out food.

I chose the pasta.  And a Canada Dry ginger ale.


I hear a few of my comrads are already taking advantage of the free beer/wine/spirits on board.  Hilarity ensues.

6:52PM EST

Great meal.  Pasta in tomato sauce, a bun, some veggies in dressing, and chocolate mousse for dessert!  Felt very pampered and content.  Was reminded again of this Louis CK video.

And it’s even better knowing I haven’t paid a cent for it!  Free always tastes better…

7:00PM EST

Around this time, I figured out that the in-flight mapping system wasn’t working, and I had no idea where we were.

I trusted our pilot knew where he was going.

Also around this time, Yev started saying that the shadows were getting longer…the sun was going down…the shortest night of my life was coming.

I’m reminded of a scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey – the scene near the beginning (after the ape fights), where a character is flying to a space station.  Our flight feels futuristic.  Maybe it’s the lighting.  Maybe it’s all of the video screens winking at me.  Maybe I’m just over dramatizing it.


Or maybe it was that Phillip Glass music I was listening to…

At this point, I’ve decided that I’m bored, and that I’m going to watch an in-flight movie.  After some deliberation, I choose The Watchmen, which I had already seen, but didn’t mind watching again.

8:10PM EST

It was pretty dark outside our windows at this point.  Yev seemed to think that we were over Greenland, but how she could tell that through all the cloud cover, I have no idea.

I kept watching the movie.

9:15PM EST

At this point, I decided to get up and walk around a bit.  I stretched.  Our trip to Frankfurt is about half over.  So is The Watchmen, for that matter, but I decided to try to sleep instead of finishing it.

11:00PM EST

I had no luck sleeping at all, despite amazing noise-cancelling headphone technology.  I rolled about.  I chatted with my travel mates.  I listened to music.

It was starting to get light out outside.  The sun was coming up.

I don’t think anyone slept that much during the flight.  I saw a few people dosing, but that was it.


I knew that I’d have to stay awake for as much of the following day as possible, so it was a bit discouraging to be unable to sleep.  I pretty much figured I’d spend most of the next day in a daze.

11:20PM EST

Breakfast arrived, and according to Yev, we were flying over land again!


Breakfast is a muffin, yogurt, and orange juice.  Nice.


Muffin was good, but non-descript.  No idea what flavour it was, but I liked it.

When they brought the food, I asked the flight attendant what land we were flying over.  He said he had no idea, but that we would be landing in about an hour.

Maybe if I knew how fast we were going, I could figure out where we might be.

I found it strange that the captain never really addressed the passengers.  Never told us the route, altitude, speed, etc.  Things are changing, I guess.

11:45PM EST

It was almost midnight back home, and the sun was rising where we were.


I had no idea what time it was.  My body felt very confused and disoriented.  I felt like I’d been up all night, and I guess I had been…all 3 hours of it.

June 16 – 12:25AM EST

We began our descent around here.  Phase 1 of our journey was about to end.

Why do all pilots sound the same?  Always with that croaky voice… or maybe it’s the microphones that they use.

Lots of turbulence going down, but it was a smooth landing.

June 16 – 3:15AM EST, 9:15AM Local

I still hadn’t adjusted my watch yet, and that was starting to freak me out.

So, the main event was that we missed our connecting flight from Frankfurt to Warsaw.  We were about 20 minutes too late.  50 minutes is not even close to enough time to get processed at the Frankfurt airport.

Alex explains:


So Frankfurt airport was my first taste of Europe.  My impressions?  Honestly?  Not that different.  I didn’t feel like I was in a foreign place, really – except I couldn’t read any of the advertisements.  Everything else had English attached, so that was nice.

After some chit-chatting with Air Canada, we were booked on a later flight.  There was a lot of running around, lots of in-between-destinations stress, and we almost missed that flight too.  But we made it.


A couple of casualties though:

  1. Ryan Cooley left his windbreaker on the plane that brought us from Toronto
  2. Reid Linforth lost his watch during the security check in Frankfurt.  That really sucked for him.

At this point, I could really feel how tired I am.  My body was buzzing.  I had been awake since 9:30AM EST, and it was 3:22AM EST at that point.

The plane we took from Frankfurt was much, much smaller than the one from Toronto.  It was only going to be flying for an hour, and it looked like a lot of the passengers took this trip every day.  I tried to nap on the plane, but no luck.

4:08AM EST, 10:08AM Local

We were on route to Warsaw.

We were served some kind of cheese sandwich for our in-flight meal, which was good.  Really wasn’t sure what was in it, and sure didn’t take a picture.  Why?  I was starving.  Scarfed the thing right down.  Hadn’t slept, hungry, grumpy.

There was lots of turbulence in the smaller airplane.  Pretty shaky.  Kinda scary.

I wiped my face with a lemon scented wet-nap to wake myself up, and had a cup of tea.

Eventually, I got into a conversation with the lady sitting next to me about theatre.  She was a Bulgarian business-woman going to some sort of seminar.  We talked about Poland, sight-seeing, and Bulgarian theatre.

And then we landed.

And we were in Poland.

Click here to go to Part 2: Dazed in Warsaw

Click here to go back to the Prologue