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Entries about english teaching

Birthday, Museum Tinguely and a return to the Rhine

Basel


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My birthday went well yesterday considering I was in recovery from my illness. I was well enough to teach during the day and help with the running of the Show in the evening - one of my two groups had decided to do a big quiz with audience participation, so my role was to hand out sweets to those who got correct answers. Earlier in the day, I was serenaded with 'Happy Birthday' by the first class I had, and I got a card and some Lindt chocolate from my colleagues. After the Show, a video call home was just the thing to round the day off.

This morning I had a lie-in and a leisurely breakfast of coffee and yoghurt before packing all my stuff and heading downstairs to put it in the luggage room and check out.

I took a bus to Museum Tinguely, which looks out over the Rhine.

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I was able to use my Basel Card to get my ticket half-price; this card was an unexpected bonus we received in our hotel rooms on arrival last Sunday. This had our names and dates of stay written on them and allowed us free public transport within the wider city, half-price museum tickets, public wifi at certain points and one or two things I didn't use.

The museum was playful and interesting, as I expected after remembering the intriguing moving fountain I saw last September, which is one of his works. Jean Tinguely was famous for his kinetic, often noisy, mainly mechanical sculptures, reminiscent of Heath Robinson's inventions - amongst other things, I was impressed with a series of mechanical automatic drawing machines - though he also made some 'still' works.

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I managed to get a couple of videos, though not unfortunately of one of the crowning glories - an entire wall-sized musical contraption with wheels, piano, bell, horns and other things (the video I thought I was taking didn't come out).

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That big one set off automatically every hour, but lots of the others could be set into motion by pressing a button with your foot, though they would only work if a certain minimum number of minutes had passed since the last time (usually between 5-10).

Unfortunately, while walking round I started feeling really lightheaded and drained. I still liked the rest of what I saw there, but decided not to go on to the other museum I'd had my eye on, but rather stick to the rest of my walking route.

This took me along part of the route along the side of the river which I took last September. Only saw one person floating down it this time... The emptiness of the stony river banks/beaches from humans benefitted the seagulls, however, who took advantage by taking baths. Just as I got to the first bridge a boy punted his unsteady way along the edge in a very bare wooden boat. The seagulls ignored him, as did the ducks and swans who were feeding in the shallows.

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After buying a late lunch from a supermarket I crossed the historic bridge I remembered from September and wandered up an invitingly cobbled and twisted path which followed the other side of the river.

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I came out at Minster Square, which appeared very handsome, with the red sandstone Minster on one side and then round the edge of the square, white buildings with green shutters.

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Although I was keen to go in and have at least a quick look, my plans were foiled by the service just about to begin; no tourists allowed. I could have gone to the service, I suppose, but I didn't have time, as I needed to get back to the hotel before 5:30 to collect my stuff before the receptionist went home and I lost access to the luggage room.

I took a bus a couple of stops to the station to help speed the process along. At the station I bought some supplies for the long journey to Bratislava and found the Flixbus stop for later, then walked down the road to the hotel.

To help while away the time In my long wait in the hotel lobby I started a fascinating book called 'Travels with a Tangerine'.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:46 Archived in Switzerland Tagged art hotel museum cathedral buses switzerland basel english_teaching birthday_celebration river_rhine Comments (0)

A week in Swabia

Tuttlingen, Singen, Zurich Airport and London Luton Airport


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I've had a great week in Tuttlingen, which is in the far south-west of Germany, only around 20km from the Swiss border and from the Bodensee (Lake Constance).

I was there because I was teaching 17-19-year-olds a preparation course for the speaking part of the English Abitur exam. The situation for my colleague 'M' and I this week was a little peculiar, because since the actual term doesn't start until midway next week, most of the school was empty - apart from our two classes, we had only a couple of secretarial staff, the caretaker and the occasional teacher for company, plus the contact teacher at the beginning of the week. We weren't given access to a staff room, so our movements were restricted to the classrooms, the secretaries' office, a tiny secretaries' kitchen, the copying room and the toilets.

The students were all quite high level. They were all really nice - a pleasure to teach all round. Since it was an exam preparation course, the end-of-week presentations yesterday were based on two types of Abitur English speaking exam tasks (monologues describing and analysing political or social newspaper/magazine cartoons, and paired discussions based on different topics.)

Yesterday and Thursday were overcast, but during the first half of the week the weather was beautiful. I took advantage on Tuesday and Wednesday by going on lovely walks round town and up a nearby forested hill to look round 'Ruine Honberg', remains of a small medieval fortress. Rebuilding work was going on on one tower, but aside from that I was almost the only person there the whole time, so it was very peaceful. Great views through the trees, too.

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In town it was lovely just strolling around the centre, taking in the pleasant architecture, parks and atmosphere.

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The entire town was burnt to the ground by a devastating fire in 1803 and some buildings from the original reconstruction survive, including the Tuttlinger Haus, now an interesting house museum with displays on local history as well as of one of the main families who lived here - all in German, but I managed to decipher some of it!

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It turns out that although the population of Tuttlingen is only about 35,000, the town currently produces nearly half of the world's supply of surgical instruments. Tuttlingen was formerly a shoe manufacturing centre, because there were several tanneries along the banks of the Danube.

Yesterday afternoon I didn't do much except follow the cricket and go out for a bit of shopping and a walk to the train station to buy my ticket to Zurich Airport for the next day. I also went to an 'Eiscafé' for a coffee with 'M' to celebrate the end of the working week - I asked for an iced coffee and it came with a scoop of ice cream and a mountain of real whipped cream on top! Delicious!

The first leg of my journey today - a rail replacement bus to Singen - didn't leave until 11:15, so after five days of very early starts I very much enjoyed a bit of a lie in and a nice leisurely breakfast! I also managed a last quick walk around town, in order to take a few pictures of sculptures I had noticed on previous days.

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In one of the parks I came across a group of people playing a type of bowls;

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The train journey from Singen to Zurich Airport was very smooth. There was some wonderful scenery, including a view of what I think were the spectacular Rhine Falls. I didn't manage to get any pictures of them though.

My experience at Zurich Airport was seamless and the flight to Luton Airport was uneventful.

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Posted by 3Traveller 16:58 Archived in Germany Tagged waterfalls art buildings airport germany museum switzerland explorations english_teaching fortifications natural_wonder house_museum river_danube tuttlingen Comments (0)

A very special day in Užice

Užice


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There were one or two more normal classes first thing and then the next couple of hours were taken up with final rehearsals and getting ready for the Show. The Show went really well - both classes put on a great performance. My class did a tweaked version of Modern Cinderella and the other class did a reverse-gender version of Romeo and Juliet.

The school day finished early so that people (including us) could go to view a special event in one of the town squares - the school leavers' dance performance! I hadn't heard of it before, but it turns out that this traditional event is synchronised in several countries across the Balkans; the school leavers from every secondary school in every town come together to dance the same dance at the same time in one massive group in a public square. There was a commentator and introducer speaking over the loudspeaker and I think it was being televised too. We went along with some students and teachers from 'our' school to watch. It started in decorous and well co-ordinated fashion, with white umbrellas and basic ballroom steps; as time went on it became gradually less and less decorous and co-ordinated... The umbrellas were dispensed with, the music changed, the group broke up into smaller ones and the celebrations became more raucous, though not in a negative manner. It was a very joyful event and I felt very lucky and privileged to have been at the school on just the right day to have had the chance to see it.

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Eventually M and I moved on in order to get started on the rest of our programme for the afternoon... We bought some lunch from a mini-market first, and then split up, each of us with a group of eager now-ex-students keen to show us around. M wanted to get his hair cut, so his group took him to a barber; mine took me to a tiny but interesting house museum first. It was built by a rich merchant in the second half of the 19th century and reminded me quite a lot of the National Revival house museums in Bulgaria. The Ottoman influence was clear.

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Next up for me was the Church of St George, a small and pretty Orthodox church with an incredibly beautiful interior. My guides said that they had never been inside before, which I found interesting.

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My last stop before both groups met up again was at a cultural centre, where we had Turkish coffee and one of my guides told my fortune from the coffee grounds, reminding herself of the meanings from her phone.

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Once we had met up again, some of each group had to go home but others remained. They took us to the Old Town, which is the name of the archaeological remains of a 14th century fortress dramatically set on a steep, rocky hill a little outside of the city centre. We walked alongside the River Đetinja to get there. It was interesting to wander round the ruins, and from the top there were absolutely fantastic views of the winding valley and river, the town and the hills beyond. The sun had properly come out now so it was a very hot day.

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More people had to go after that, so only a couple remained. We were taken further along the river and through at least one tunnel to a bridge where we could see a waterfall. We had passed through outskirts of the city and it felt properly in the countryside; very green and lovely. The river ran clear and I was tempted to paddle and/or swim.

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That was our last stop of the day, so after walking back into town and saying our goodbyes we took a taxi to our hotel. I was knackered and in need of a rest - my fitbit said that I had taken 26,000 steps so far today, so I'm not surprised!

Tomorrow we both take the bus to Belgrade. M will go straight to the airport, but I've arranged a night in Belgrade so I can have a good look round some of the city before I fly back on Sunday.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:06 Archived in Serbia Tagged landscapes waterfalls mountains bridges serbia traditions explorations english_teaching fortifications orthodox_church house_museum užice serbian_cuisine Comments (4)

Užice, Serbia

Užice


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I've had an absolutely wonderful week so far, teaching higher-level General English to older students.

Both classes are incredibly lovely - some of the nicest I've ever taught - as are also the contact teacher, the rest of the teachers in the English department, the head teacher and also the cleaning/ tea lady, who we've been getting our classroom keys from every morning. She doesn't speak English but smiles and responds when I say 'dobro utro' (good morning), 'dobar dan' (good day) and 'hvala' (thank you). After finding out what our hot drink of choice was at the start of the week, she started bringing us in cups of it as soon as we arrive in the morning and then during the longer of the breaks we get during the school day. For me she brings in Turkish coffee with a chunk of Turkish Delight, both common in Serbia due to the historical Ottoman link. I find it interesting to note that she makes it using a traditional jug on the hob, not a kettle - even the hot water she uses for people's tea comes from another jug on the hob.

Outside of school I've enjoyed taking in the Balkan flavour of the town. This included the market with shelled walnuts, honey, long pointed red peppers, big bulging tomatoes and other seasonal fruit and veg (I bought a kg of strawberries for only 280 dinars - just over £2); the combination of Cyrillic and Latin scripts; the occasional words and phrases I recognise from their Slavic similarity to Bulgarian; red-tiled houses contrasting with ex-Soviet-looking tower blocks; Orthodox churches; a cuisine based on grilled meats and vegetables, cucumber and tomato-based salads, cheesy pastries, yoghurt, stuffed cabbage leaves and peppers, savoury and sweet pancakes, fruit and/or jam pastries.

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Speaking of Serbian cuisine, yesterday I tried a speciality of the region Užice is in - a 'Komplet lepinja'. One of my classes brought one in to class for me as they wanted me to try it there and then for breakfast - they had mentioned the day before that they were going to bring in a speciality for me but kept what it was as a surprise. A komplet lepinja is a large savoury bun/ bread roll with a lid cut off, the main part hollowed out a little and covered in thick sour cream similar to clotted cream, then topped with whisked egg, baked and some warm pork dripping added on top. It sounds filling, and was - so much so, I had to save half of it for lunch - but it was certainly tasty and I enjoyed it.

Tomorrow my co-teacher and I have the production of the Shows we've been working on with one each of our respective classes and then after school we're going to be shown some sights by some of our soon-to-be ex-students. Something else very special is going to be happening immediately after school, too - but I'll describe this event in the next blog entry, along with the other happenings of the day!

Posted by 3Traveller 16:01 Archived in Serbia Tagged market serbia english_teaching užice serbian_cuisine Comments (0)

Working in Vienna

Vienna


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Update from June 2021: The pay-as-you-wish Pakistani restaurant is the famous Der Wiener Deewan. The Sigmund Freud Museum finished its refurbishment and renovation and is fully open again.

I had a busy but interesting and enjoyable week teaching in the historic centre of Vienna.

This is the first of the short contracts this year where I've had to take public transport to school rather than being able to walk. Taking public transport during rush hour every day in work clothes gave me a real sense of being more like a resident rather than a tourist, although clearly this was just a very small taste of that. It's interesting how even something as 'everyday' as the Underground/ metro experience can vary in different countries.

I was thinking of going to the State Opera on Thursday (you can get cheap tickets if you get there early), but in the end I had too much admin to do and homework to mark to be able to go. There are several museums I'd love to have gone to but I would never have had time to fully do them justice, plus I was always so tired, so I left them for a time in the future when I'm in Vienna but not working. It's a shame I had to fly home late Friday afternoon as it meant I had to go straight to the airport after work, with only a quick stop at the hotel to pick up my bags. Otherwise I would have explored the city more and gone to a museum then and on Saturday morning.

One place I did go to was the Sigmund Freud Museum, but the main part of it was closed for refurbishment, so I just saw the temporary two-room exhibition, which focused on the basic details of his life and his psycho-analytical theories. It was still worth seeing, of course, and the ticket price was reduced in light of the situation.

I did go out for lunch with two of the other teachers a couple of times, to the same place; an Pakistani restaurant where you only pay what you can afford and what you think the food was worth. You serve yourself and the whole atmosphere is very casual. On both occasions I had a delicious chicken paprika dish with rice; for dessert there was a type of lovely thick semolina pudding with 'mandeln und mango' - I wondered what 'mandeln' meant, then soon found out it means 'almonds'. They called it 'Halwa' which was interesting - turns out that this is from the same wider halva family of sweets popular in the Middle East, Greece, Turkey and North Africa, though in a form very similar to rice pudding, and semolina-based rather than sesame.

The teaching was enjoyable throughout the week and the final project presentations and Show went very well. I was very impressed with what they managed to achieve with only a week of preparation - very proud.

Posted by 3Traveller 10:33 Archived in Austria Tagged trains vienna austria museum english_teaching unesco_world_heritage_site Comments (0)

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