Saturday, April 15, 2006

Eastern Europe - so near and yet so far

Our jobs were undemanding, he was home at around five pm every night and my jobs in a Chinese Art Gallery bookshop in London and teaching English to summer school kids were easy and finished early too. Our evenings were spent cooking, walking in the summer or talking. We talked a lot, now he could speak good English and English became our language of communication together.

Our jobs were merely stepping stones and when an expatriate job came up teaching English and Art in the British School in Warsaw I accepted it straightaway, knowing that Jacques had his eyes set on a job Eastern Europe too and we both loved a new challenge.

I moved to Warsaw in September of 1995 and Jacques found a job as a Consultant in a software company in Budapest in the beginning of 1996. I loved my job, teaching English in the morning to children who needed extra support and Art in the afternoons. The kids were easy, the classes were small and I was part of the British School community which was active and busy. We celebrated all the festivals and enjoyed doing shows and putting on shows and Open Days.

Warsaw was just opening up to the western world and it was an exciting time to be there. Tourists were pouring in to enjoy the cheap food and vodka and to see what Poland was like after so many years of communism. The Jewish ghetto was still there to see along with numerous graveyards and memorials to soldiers and wars. I was deeply touched by Auschwitz and the other camps. I particularly loved Krakow which was like a film set, untouched and wonderfully medieval with its huge open market square and café and shops surrounding it. We felt rich, even as teachers, and could enjoy buffet Sunday breakfasts in the top hotels and tickets to the opera and concerts. We drank Russian Champagne in the interval. This was something I couldn’t do in London and it was fun. The winters were long and proper and snowy. You wore hats, scarves and boots all the time and when you went to the theatre you took your delicate high heels in a shoe-bag and left your boots with your coat at the entrance.

I loved taking the trains to visit Jacques in Budapest in my holidays. Old fashioned clanking noisy trains that seemed like they were from another century, full of travelers crossing Eastern Europe on overnight trips. The Budapest train left at nine at night and arrived at dawn the next day. I usually booked a sleeper carriage and liked chatting with the other people. I only slept a few hours, because customs officials would bang on the door every three hours or so as we crossed the Poland-Czech and Czech-Hungary borders. Uniformed police woke you up banging on the doors and checking for valid passports. I would hang out of the window as we arrived at Keleti station, watching the world go by and we clanked into Budapest, savouring the start of a new day.

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