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Around the world with Claudia
2010.11.09 / Mikołaj Hęciak
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Today I am meeting Claudia Gregorczyk, Sales Co-ordinator at Novotel London Paddington hotel. I worked with her at the Novotel London Greenwich. We are sitting in a little cosy coffee shop hidden behind the Hilton Hotel. Claudia took 10 months off to travel. around the world, but let’s listen to her own story…

Where did you get the idea of travel for a whole year?
– It was after my yearly appraisal with my general manager. I told him that I would like to work overseas, in a different environment. He asked if I have ever thought of going travelling as at the moment I have no family or a mortgage to stop me. So, two weeks later I went to his office and handed him my notice.

Was he surprised?
– You can imagine, so I did some explanation and thanked him for his idea

How did you organize your trip?
– Most of the preparation I did myself. A travel agency based in Angel, Global Village helped me to book my round-the-world tickets with British Airways. I booked an organized tour in Peru in South America to start with. It was nice to start with a tour to get you into to the backpacker’s life but afterwards it was good to do your own thing.

Where did you find charity work?
– There is a website which gives you all information needed, www.worldwidehelpers.org.

What is required for a successful applicant for charity work?
– To be honest, you don’t need much experience or education to help, still you have to apply through the website and attach a short CV with information about you and your background skills. Some of the charities ask for a minimum amount of time, 1 to 3 months. They will assess your skills and preferences, so you can use your own skills to share with local people and teach them to improve their life and environment. For example, there is very interesting restaurant Friends, in Phnom Pen, the capital of Cambodia. The restaurant is run by a charity and teaches street children how to cook, serve and sell food. So if you are a chef you could help there. I was able to help in the CCD, a non-governmental organization in Kratie (Cambodia), which looks after local small businesses and their development.

You are from Germany, but with a Polish surname?
– My grandfather came from Opole and some of my family still live there. My grandparents met each other in Berlin and they lived in a little village close by. It was before WW2. I’ve seen Opole when I was a child, but I would like to see my family again.

What is your favourite place? Where would you like to settle down?
– It’s not easy to say as each place is fantastic in itself. I would like to live in New Zealand. It is a beautiful country, with a great lifestyle; they offer a lot of outdoor activities. People are so helpful there and proud of their country. Cities are smaller and not as busy as London. Another of my favourite places is Vietnam. There are beautiful beaches, mountains, great people and lovely food. Part of my journey in Vietnam was on a back of a motorbike with an Easy Rider, a local driver, it was great fun.

You travelled with Mr Ocean.
– Mr Ocean, exactly. Iit was beautiful to travel with him. I listened to other travelers and bought a trip on motorbike for 3 days and 2 nights. Mr Ocean showed me Vietnam from a totally different perspective. I met his family. His mother could not read or write. They live in a little fishing village and they are fishermen. I ate fresh seafood. It was amazing and everybody was so hospitable.

You mention food a lot in your blog. Was it the dishes themselves or the combination of food, the people and the place?
– Everywhere I went, people were proud of their food and they wanted to show it, even in poor countries. People in poorer countries know what hunger means. If you want to give a present to a friend in these countries you give them a good meal.

At one point you had the opportunity to cook German food for your host family. How on earth did you manage to find sausages and paté in Cambodia?
– In the major cities of Cambodia there are international stores selling food from USA or Europe, but is it too expensive for local people.
I cooked a meal for my host family. They loved Leberwurst (pate in English), Camembert cheese and French baguette They really enjoyed it.

Was your journey a search for the meaning of life? Did it change you?
– It was not a search for meaning of life for sure. I do not think it changed me a lot either. But I think if you see more, if you see different places and people you start to see wider. But yes, I think I am closer to what I want to do in my life now.

Have you experienced the world as a small village?
– Yes, when you live with people from other cultures who feel the same way about the outcomes of life, family, work, and friends. Travelling is a bug. As soon as you have seen one part of a country you find another one which you should visit and another traveler tells you about place worth seeing… It’s never ending… I wish I could go back to China, as I found it very interesting and you can never see enough of China.

Have you got any tips how to prepare before you go travelling? You cannot know in advance what can go wrong?
– That’s true. Preparation takes long time. In my case I spent half a year to prepare. It was a lot of work, to be honest. Getting the right vaccinations is important, the travel insurance is a must, buying the proper items to travel with, like clothes for warm and cold weather. Everything has to be very light as you have to carry it. My backpack was 18 kilos and it can be hard to carry. You can find a lot of information on-line. Always listen to other travelers and take advice. And always listen to your gut feeling.

You have learnt so many new skills.
– Yes, I did. I did jump off a plane but there was nothing to learn as you are strapped onto a person with a paraglide. I did a Meditation course in Thailand which was a very interesting experience. I took my Pady Diving licence in Vietnam. It took three full days of theory and diving with an instructor. By the end you have to complete a test. It was very well organized and now I can use the licence anywhere in the world.

When I was reading about your adventures like sky diving in NZ or diving in Vietnam I was so jealous. Most of your trips sound like big fun, except one day in New Zealand…when you got message that your Mum died. Can we talk about it?
– My mum was ill for many years and this didn’t come unexpected. Before I started my journey we had our farewell. On that day my good friend was with me and gave me good support and she persuade me to keep going. And I think my mum did want me to carry on as well. It was not an easy time specially being so far away.

I am sorry Claudia, it is never easy…
Last question. Can you tell me about food in Cambodia, because you chose one of recipes you learnt there to share with our readers?

– Yes, I spent one month with a Cambodian family. They were proud of their food. They wanted me to try everything and I had food we never heard of in Europe. In the front yard they had mango tree, have you ever tried mango straight from garden?

I wish…
– The grandmother cooked at home and sold to the local market later. She always brought fresh fish, fruit and meat and cooked it for the family, it was delicious. Roasted ants are a delicacy in Cambodia, they are very expensive and my host family bought them especially for me. It took me a while to eat them. Hygiene on market wasn’t of European standards; it was always 40 C, and flies were everywhere, but they have some ways to keep the food fresh. When you buy fish they will kill it for you, so you can take home really fresh fish. The crabs I saw always tried to escape. The food market was very interesting and colourful.
Claudia, thank you very much for sharing your experiences with readers of Nowy Czas. You had an amazing journey and I wish I could hear more stories in the future.

Mikołaj Hęciak

Here is a recipe which Claudia tried in Cambodia. It is a unique recipe and sorry for not giving you exact quantities.

Dessert Phlei Ay

You need: Sticky rice flour, Palm tree sugar, grated coconut. Mix the sticky rice flour with cold water to make dough. Cut the palm tree sugar into little cubes, half a centimetre size. Take some of the dough and knead around the palm tree sugar cube. Make sure the sugar is totally covered with the dough.
Afterwards put these little balls in boiling water for 10 minutes and then in cold water for a moment. Then sprinkle the grated coconut on top and enjoy!!!

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