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Posts tagged “Polska14

2014: The Year That Taught Me Exactly What I’m Made Of

I don’t know how to start this entry so I’ll just launch right into the heart of it:

I spent most of this year homeless, broke and starving on the streets of Europe.

And I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Most of you read this blog soley for all the amazing street art that I find (as you should, I have found some incredible and moving stuff!), and I don’t really talk about myself on this blog anymore. I’ve barely posted any photographs of me on here this year, so let’s change that right now before I launch into it all…

wind in my hair on Make A Gif

 

Ahhh, that’s better.

So here’s the skinny

I will try not to ramble on for brevity’s sake and because everyone has ADD, but perhaps you might take 5 mins to read this, as this post, like most of my posts, will be mostly photographs anyway.

I started off the year in London. It was rough from the beginning. I was freelancing a lot to pay my bills, but money was still tight tight tight! My friends kept insisting on paying for me just because they wanted me to come out and see them, but I felt pretty shitty about having my friends pay for me. I mean, they offered, but what kind of woman does that make me? Always relying on the generosity of friends? I refused the majority of the time.

Still I managed to have some wonderful early experiences in London, like being invited to speak THREE TIMES at Spark London, which is a live-storytelling event.

This below video is from my first and most popular story. It has almost 6,000 views on YouTube, I guess it resonated with people.

Also, as many of you remember, I was cast in Channel 4’s documentary series, First Dates. My episode, the premiere episode of the season, had millions of viewers and broke the internet. Here’s the trailer and some screencaps from my small screen glory:




But life in London was still giving me headaches. I won’t go into too much detail on this point, but I was being sexually harassed by someone who had stolen all of my contact details and had been to my house. I had to call the police just to get him to stop. I couldn’t even get him arrested, I could only get them to force him to stop. It was truly frightening to be the victim of something like this that was completely out of my hands. I didn’t know this person at all, and to have my details stolen like that and used for such nefarious purposes really shocked my system. I didn’t leave my flat for a week because I was petrified to walk outside and find him there. Bless the London Police, they were so kind and understanding and helpful and full of useful information.

But the money issue started to grate on me. London is too expensive for a freelancer like me, and when my uptight and awkward landlady (who would burst into my room when I was sleeping naked and demand I get her a paracetamol because she was sick… or would bore me to tears by yammering on about her ridiculous love life like it was any of my business) decided to raise the rent on me for no good reason, I decided enough was enough. London clearly doesn’t want me here, so fuck it, I’m leaving for something better.

Homeless

I consciously chose to be homeless. I stuffed everything I owned in the world into my backpack, and set off for mainland Europe. I didn’t have the money to pay rent, so I decided I just wouldn’t pay rent. I would get by with Couchsurfing and Housesitting. And those housesitting gigs would last for months, so I would get to stay in these cosmopolitan European capitals for free; places like Copenhagen, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels (and a smattering of smaller rural towns).

But it wasn’t easy. I was so broke that I was living off of €40 a week. A WEEK. That’s how much most people spend in one meal, and that is what I was LIVING off of for a week. There were some really lean moments where I was like, “Should I put the peanuts in the yoghurt, or have the peanuts as a side-dish?” For  example, the entire month that I lived in Paris, I only spent €150 in total, and that’s being generous. I couldn’t afford to take the trains anymore between cities, so I started hitchhiking… which any woman will tell you is, well, interesting. (The one time that I posted on Facebook about my hitchhiking, a friend that I haven’t seen in about 15 years since high school transferred money into my PayPal and wouldn’t take no for an answer. She was like, “TAKE IT AND GET ON A TRAIN DAMMIT” and I was moved to tears. People can be so kind). I’m ashamed to admit that I did a bit of dumpster-diving when I needed to. But the worst it ever got was when I was attacked in Brussels and in Paris. In Brussels, this guy smacked me right across the face in broad daylight. On the Paris Metro, I walked away with a huge welt on my thigh that lasted a month, and the tissue there is still sore, if I’m being honest.

Life as a waif isn’t all romantic and adventure. Sometimes it is pure depravity and despair.

But, for as bad as it was sometimes, I felt like going through all of this was good for me. Like I really needed it. The whole point is to go through a river of shit. The whole point is to crawl up a long ladder on your knees. That’s the whole point. Because it taught me exactly what I’m made of. I am resilient when the shit hits the fan. I am resourceful and crafty, sometimes hustler-charlatan, and sometimes the lucky beneficiary of the kindness of strangers. I never gave up. Going through the worst time of my life, oddly, was the best thing for me. I truly feel like the worst year of my life was also the best year of my life. I am so grateful this happened to me.

So how did I end up back in Toronto?

I was making some money freelancing, so I wasn’t completely in the shitter. I was even translated into Swiss-German when I sold a couple of articles to AufBau Magazine (and they paid me in SWISS FRANCS too! When you exchange that into Canadian dollars, it was more than double. I was like PIZZA FOR EVERYBODY!). But I couldn’t afford the planet ticket home. Then, the Polish Ministry of Economy who sent me on my #Polska14 adventure that you can read about here, paid for my transatlantic flight home. Without that, I would still be a wandering European nomad with no fixed address. So thanks, Poland!

Finding Meaning

Along this strange 12 month journey that was 2014, there were a lot of poignant and unique moments that will never come again. I was in Copenhagen during the Eurovision Song Contest, I was in Berlin when Germany won the World Cup, I was in Paris during the 70th anniversary celebrations of the liberation of Paris, I was in Amsterdam for their Remembrance Day, and I was in Brussels during Nuit Blanche.

I think one of my favourite moments of the entire year was in Amsterdam when my friend Laser 3.14 dedicated some street art to me.

But my favourite thing to do in all of these places (other than photograph street art, of course) was to visit the flea markets every weekend. Because I had no space in my backpack to actually buy anything of substance, the only thing I could buy on the flea markets were old love letters and monochrome photographs from 1900-1940s. The only spot I could keep them was in the space between my iPad and its case, because it was the only spot to keep them flat and safe. After a while, that little slot was bulging.

Here are some examples of what I managed to procure:

Most days I would spend all the money I had saved for eating on these photographs. I usually only ate 2 small meals a day anyway, and would load up on coffee during the day to suppress my appetite.







The small moments I never blogged…


Dancing with friends in London! Everybody in this photograph looks cool except for me. I need to increase my cool-game.

Celebrating World Cup in Berlin with friends! Aw Eric, tu me manques!

Enjoying the view of Berlin from the Klunkerkranich with my two favourite Germans!

Acrobatic performers at the Boxhagenerplatz flohmarkt in Berlin!

This photograph and street-art-hunt made it to the front page of WordPress!

In London, I was cast in a movie, and the costume/hair/makeup would take an hour every day. I was playing a 16th century Spanish lady in King Phillip’s court. My hair was teased, pinned, curled, and yanked within an inch of my life. That hat had to be SEWN INTO MY HEAD to keep it in place. And the corset & neck piece dug into my skin and took out huge chunks of flesh.

This is what my hair looked like after all the pieces were taken out of it.


Hanging out inside an 800-year-old tree in Copenhagen.


Overlooking Copenhagen!

At the Jewish Memorial in Berlin, which is a re-staging of a photograph I took of myself 8 years ago

Berlin olympic stadium … fuck yeah jesse owens.


Sachsenhausen….

Fireworks soar above the Brandenburg Gate the night that Germany won the World Cup

A massive drumming/capoeira parade in Paris that I just happened to stumble upon. They basically shut down Boulevard Saint-Denis!

Click on the volume button to hear! I made this and many other Vines, btw.

My last night in Paris, I cycled to L’Arc de Triomphe and just sat there, watching the city run circles around it.

Nuit Blanche in Brussels was a rainy, glorious night I will never forget. I love Brussels so much!



Overlooking the small medieval-walled village of Regensburg in the south of Germany.

Leaving Berlin, and for the last time too…

Dancing with the gang in Dalston… as all the hipsters do.

This was my housesit in Paris; a two-bedroom flat all to myself. Yes, I am a huge asshole.


And this was my housesit in Amsterdam. Being homeless isn’t all that bad.


Somedays I would wake up in my housesit and just be so happy!


Although, when I was Couchsurfing, some days I would wake up looking like this. Ugh. Don’t fuck with a recently-awoken woman!

Snugglecat in Brussels loves his kisses!


I saw Nils Frahm live in concert four times this year (for a total of 5 if you include last year).  Luckily he performed free concerts, so my broke-ass could still get a little culture. I saw him twice in Copenhagen….


…once in Berlin

…and then in Toronto!

Favourite 2014 Street Art Hunts


I found some amazing works this year, so it’s hard to pick the BEST, as everyone is a winner, but here are some highlights!
#1 Space Invader does Star Wars in London!

#2 Accidentally finding a Banksy in Copenhagen!

#3  El Bocho in Berlin, baby!

#4 Icy and Sot on the streets of Amsterdam!

#5 Finding 183 Space Invaders in one month in Paris!

#6 Jimmy C’s Ziggy Stardust mural in Brixton!

#7 Pablo Delgado in Dulwich!

#8 JR’s “wrinkles of the city” in Berlin!

#9 Roa in Dulwich!

#10 Phlegm in Dulwich!


Here are my greatest street-art hits from Instagram! What a year it’s been!

Favourite 2014 Albums

#1 Spaces by my beloved Nils. Although it came out in late 2013, it really picked up steam in 2014 so that’s why it’s included here. I would walk around my neighbourhood in South London (Crystal Palace) and would listen to Spaces as I wandered up and down the hills, and it kept me sane. Lend an ear to song “Says,” it will be the best 8 minutes of your life, I promise.

#2 Are We There by Sharon Van Etten. I would wander around Kreuzberg and Neükoln in Berlin, along the canal, sit on Admiralbrücke, drink a cola from the Späti, and listen to “Our Love” or “I Know” off this album and feel like someone else understood me finally.

Favourite 2014 Singles

#1 Enemies by Hannah Georgas. The song is simply gorgeous, but it was the music video for it that left me breathless. There’s something about that man’s face. I think it was his eyes. He broke my heart.

#2 Habits by Tove Lo. I know this song was pretty overplayed by the end of the year, but when it first came out, I would walk around Berlin during those hot summer nights when it’s still light out at 9pm, photograph street art, listen to this, and sing when I was sure no one was listening.

Favourite 2014 Films

#1 Grand Budapest Hotel, obviously! I saw this in London with Robin and we couldn’t stop talking about how great it was for hours afterward.

#2 Boyhood. I saw this in Berlin with David and he fell asleep during it, so it could have used a tighter edit (3 hours is too long, guys!) but it was still a tour-de-force.

Speaking of men…




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I was never lonely this year, let’s put it  that way.
Also… OMG BEARDS. EVERY MAN I KNOW HAS A SWEET, SWEET BEARD.

When it comes to the end…

Like I have for the past three years, I will be spending New Years in a country other than my own (2012 in Germany, 2013 in London, and now 2014 in….)

New York City!!


I’ll be housesitting (obvi) for a month (until the end of January) in the Upper West Side. Another place to live rent-free, another amazing city. I haven’t been in NYC since 2012 so it will be great to rediscover all my favourite places (Bushwick here I come!!) and also discover places I never knew before (I’m coming for you, Adele Bloch-Bauer).

NYC, like all the other cities I have lived in this year, is one of those places where you’re never bored. And if you are, you are doing it wrong.

So I’d like to end 2014 on a similar note:

“I’m bored’ is a useless thing to say.
I mean, you live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none percent of. Even the inside of your own mind is endless; it goes on forever, inwardly, do you understand? The fact that you’re alive is amazing.
So you don’t get to say ‘I’m bored.”

-Louis C.K.

2014 was never boring. May that continue in 2015.
See ya in NEW YORK CITY!!!

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#Polska14 Day 4: the last dance

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As you read this, I am on my way back to Warsaw to catch a flight out of here, so that means my delightful #Polska14 adventure has come to an end! But what an amazing journey! Three delightful cities in one week, and an immersion in Polish urbanism, history, culture, gastronomy, innovation, exchange, economy, but most of all, wonderment! On our final day in Poznan, we basically had a free day to explore at will. So after a leisure morning in my posh hotel, I went out to discover some more street art gems! The above is just a section of BLU’s mural which I found by accident. I photographed him in Berlin this summer, but finding his work isn’t always easy, so I was delighted to find it. Soon I will post much better pics, these are just snaps made from my iPad. BLU is to talented, and this mural is overwhelming.
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Water cubes, anyone?

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I posted pics of this little Poznan character yesterday, and he seems to be everywhere!

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This mural kind of looks like the city itself. It is the city scape. It is the skyline 🙂

So goodbye for the second time Poland!


#Polska14 Day 3: The city of Poznan & The POLEKO conference

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Day 3 of this Polish extravaganza was jammed packed! Refreshed from my glorious sleep in the fancy hotel, some of the delegates took a walk through Poznan’s old town. And wow, what a glorious city. Unlike Warsaw, which was totally destroyed during the war and rebuilt, Poznan has original architecture dating back centuries, and while some buildings are in a state of disrepair, I actually really like the “urban decay” look. It gives the city character. And just because something is old, doesn’t mean it has outlived its usefulness.
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I love how it looks like the fountain is vomiting.
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After a leisure morning, we were ushered to the convention centre to attend the POLEKO conference. When it comes to being Green, this trade fair espoused the future of innovation. I was specifically interested in the recycling sector which presented products made entirely from recycled materials…

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…like bifocals…

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…canvasses…

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…lathering brushes and razors…

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…and artisanal chaises.

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Naturally, there were some tongue in cheek pieces, like an entire dining room set made of recycled materials made to look like Sigourney Weaver’s Alien and friends…
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We were treated as honoured delegates from Canada and attended a business mixer to exchange ideas and thoughts with other countries and businesses. The conference, although young, is very international, with a big German and Scandinavian presence. There were school groups and very engaging booths with a highly stylized design. And free chocolates. Good GAWD, the chocolates!
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Optimus Prime?
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Course, you can’t wander around a new city without appreciating its local art scene.
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Don’t stop it now, I’m still dancing in here!
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More photographs from my #Polska14 adventure can be found on my Instagram or twitter. Stay tuned for more!


#Polska14 Day 2: Łódź and the special economic zone

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Day 2 of #Polska14 saw us travel to Łódź and the special economic zone. This area is super cool because, unlike the rest of Poland that has centuries worth of history, Łódź was founded in the 19th century by business owners. It was all factories, mostly industrialized textile factories for Ludwik Grohman. They were in use all the way until the 1980s when the textile industry collapsed, and the gorgeous 19th century factories fell into disrepair and were abandoned. Finally in 1997 the municipality of Łódź and private investors began to revitalize them. Over 10,000 bricks were cleaned by hand! Now the revitalized and gorgeous SEX is used for seven different sectors, including IT, conference space, food, cosmetics… but also, people live in these factories! Some have been converted into lofts and ateliers!

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There’s a British International School for the children of foreign workers, but recently Polish children were allowed to enroll as well. The curriculum is English and some are even in Japanese.

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There are 22 universities in Łódź. TWENTY-TWO! Toronto only has 3! It’s citizens are highly educated, and 92% of them speak English, 39% speak German, and 12% speak Russian (that latter stat would have been higher before the fall of communism, so it’s kind of interesting to see its decline).

 

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There are so many cool cultural festivals in Łódź. They have a design fest, a Fashion Week, an International Festival of Comics and Games, the Four Cultures fest, and the Light Move fest.

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And there are 27 palaces in Łódź. TWENTY-SEVEN!

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This merry-go-round was at the Manufaktura complex, a shopping and gastronomic area in a revitalized factory. The horses were freaking me out, I had to photograph them. The horses waited to be tamed….

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After Łódź we drove a few hours to Poznan where I am now. Stay tuned to #Polska14 for more from this awesome adventure!


#Polska14 Day 1: Warsaw Recycling and Uprising

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Day 1 in Warsaw is complete! And what a packed day! When I arrived the night before from my short flight from Brussels, my lovely hotel room in the centre of the city with a big warm comfy bed and dinner awaited!
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I love waking up in an Eastern European hotel room overlooking the bustling city. I feel like Jason Bourne.

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Like I posted about last time, I had been to Warsaw before and it’s strange how the human brain works because I actually remembered where everything was! I had a sense of direction, I knew where the landmarks were, and I felt perfectly at ease.

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This is the gorgeous Palace of Culture and Science just around the corner from my hotel. It was built by Stalin, modelled on the Empire State building, much smaller but just as grand. The people of Warsaw tend to hate it because they were taxed heavily to pay for it… ah Stalin.

So to begin the day, all us POLEKO delegates and I were ushered to the Polblume recycling plant to see what one of the leaders of European recycling can teach Canada about going Green and truly espousing the idea of waste-not-want-not. Funded by the EU, they collect, treat, process, recover, and recycle electrical and electronic equipment, like batteries, circuit boards, glass, metals and polymers. That may not sound so high tech, but when they actually take old batteries and recycle them into new batteries, something that Canada doesn’t really do. Also, walking around their plant was actually pretty cool. There was this giant cub of compacted electronics, and it seems a pair of surgical scissors survived the event.

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To me, that’s super cool.

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Those are two giant crates of discarded televisions. You could make a giant monster out of televisions with these. If any of my readers like reusing old/found materials to create art installations, this plant is like your Mecca.

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Next stop on the tour was to the Warsaw Uprising Museum. I’m hoping that most people know by now about the 1944 civilian uprising in Warsaw that saw an underground movement attempt to drive the Nazi occupiers out of the devastated city. I mean, you can’t go through life without knowing about the absolute devastation Poland faced during WWII. The invasion of Poland is literally what kicked off the war in September 1939, the largest death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau is located in Poland, and they fought so bravely from behind the Ghetto walls and from behind occupied lines to save their people.

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The museum was massive, and we didn’t have much time there unfortunately, so I tried to see as much as I could. They have excellent exhibits, most of it audio-visual. I actually sat and watched reel after reel of excellent documentary footage taken from the streets, close-up and in the face of the revolt and of the captured Nazi soldiers. They also had a great 3D film that reconstructs Warsaw at the end of the war, as it lay in absolute ruins. The city was levelled to the ground, so when you walk around Warsaw now, the entire old town had to be rebuilt from city photographs. Some old buildings were able to salvage the foundations or perhaps loading walls, but Warsaw was basically razed to the ground.

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I didn’t take too many photographs inside the museum because I was watching so much archival footage, but here are a few. If you’re in Warsaw, you must visit the museum!

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IMG_5474.JPGLook at this gorgeous Meteor typewriter! You all know typewriters are my kind of pornography, but this one was used by the Uprising in order to galvanize and organize the revolt. This typewriter changed history!

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IMG_5479.JPGYou know what I love about Warsaw and her streets?  Sometimes you can turn a corner, and realize you cannot find any traces of the 21st century anywhere. Bless this town.

IMG_5486.JPGSome Warsaw street art for good measure! More from my adventures in Poland and #Polska14 coming up! Check the Twitter hashtag to keep up with my adventures in real time!


My #Polska14 Adventure Begins Today!

As I type this, I am running to catch my flight from Brussels Charleroi Airport to Warsaw Chopin! As I previously blogged about, starting today, I will be in Warsaw, then to Lodz and finally to Poznan to blog and tweet about Poland’s history, economy and environmental protection as a guest of the Polish Ministry of Economy!

I haven’t been to Poland since 2006 so I’m extra eager to see that wonderful country and people again. Here are some snaps from that epic 2006 European Extravaganza:

The old town of Warsaw at dusk. From what I remember, the entire old town was understandably destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising and the duration of World War II so they actually rebuilt the old town using pre-war photographs as a guide!

I loved the colours of the city.

And the breakdancing! The city was so alive with fervour and energy.

For years, this was the best photograph I felt I had ever taken. Those people at the end of the alley walked by just as I plunged down on the shutter, and it created a very haunting moment. I look at this photograph and I see a lot of flaws now, but I always am reminded of how I was discovering my photographic style and Warsaw helped facilitate that.

After a lot of sleuthing and getting lost a bunch of times, I also found all by myself the last remnants of the Warsaw Ghetto Wall. Built by the occupying Nazis, this wall cordoned off an area of just 3.4 square kilometres that held over 400,000 Jews. Just think about that for a second. Imagine in Toronto, the space between Harbord Street to the CN Tower inhabited by 400,000 people. That’s insane. Of course, most of the Ghetto and the wall were destroyed by the war and of subsequent redevelopment, but there is still a small section standing, and on this particular day in the summer of 2006, I had it all to myself.

Touching the wall was something else.

I hope to have more adventures and eye-opening experiences over the course of this trip, and I’m very humbled and grateful to have been chosen to participate!

And even better – I’m bringing along one of my favourite people ever: Anny Chih! Many of you might remember way back in 2009 when both Anny and I were Top 50 finalists in the global Best Job in the World campaign. We were strangers from opposite sides of the country united through that experience, and we became great friends! We’ve explored Vancouver, New York, and Toronto together, and there’s no one else I’d rather explore Poland with 🙂

Keep an eye on this blog and on the Twitter hashtag #Polska14 to keep up with all of our Polish activities!

See you guys soon in Warsaw!

Dziękuję!


#Polska14: I’m being sent on a Polish adventure!

Some of you might remember in 2012 when I was invited by Eurail.com to blog & tweet my way across Europe using the rail network (read up on that month-long journey in my Eurail 2012 category!), or in 2011 when I was invited by VIA Rail to vlog and blog my way across Canada on the cross-Canada sleeper train The Canadian. There was even that weekend trip to Montreal for Labour Day 2011, courtesy of Ford Canada, who lent me a brand new Ford Fusion 2.5 for the roadtrip!

Now I’m very pleased to announce that the Ministry of Economy of the Republic of Poland and Ajencja M Promotion have invited me on a press/media trip (known in the travel industry as a FAM trip) to Warsaw, Lodz, and Poznan! The week-long trip will have a special focus on Polish history, environment and economy, which will culminate in my participation in the POLEKO 2014 conference in Poznan, which is the International Trade Fair of Environmental Protection. This trip was open solely to Canadian writers as the trip is part of the Polish Economy Promotion Program in Canada, and they want me to blog and tweet all about it!

I’m extra excited about this because I haven’t been to Poland since 2006 when I backpacked across Warsaw and Krakow (with a special trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau) and I really fell for the Polish landscape and people, so another visit has been long overdue!

The trip begins October 12th, so make sure to check this space, and also follow along with my adventures using the #Polska14 hashtag on Twitter.

So if you spot me mad-dashing through a few airport terminals over the next little while, you know why.