Visiting Poland With a Guide Dog

On the evening of my birthday, after eating a lovely dinner at home with my family, they gave me my present, which I wasn’t expecting. They gave me a three-day trip to Poland with my mother and sister. They put a lot of thought into it, booking a pet friendly hotel in Krakow encase I wanted to bring Sibyl. They even researched music events that I might like. Glen Hansard is playing there this week, but a Wednesday was too mid-week for us to travel. They are so thoughtful though!

We flew out on Thursday 25th, a week after my birthday. I didn’t have much time to plan since we were busy in between, but I did a bit of research about guide dogs in Poland on the Sunday and Monday before we went. I discovered that although they like dogs, their guide dog school is quite new, and when I contacted them, nobody replied to my email. People told me that access shouldn’t be much of a problem, and through Torie’s help, I found a couple of people on a guide dog Facebook group who had traveled there with dogs. Sibyl’s passport was already sorted from our holiday in Spain last year. As we were only spending three nights in Poland, we didn’t need to bring her to a vet there, so this made the decision to bring her much easier.

When we arrived in Belfast international airport, the staff couldn’t have been more helpful. They checked the pet passport thoroughly, and one of the ladies took Sibyl out to the grass before we boarded the plain. They told us that she was the sixth guide dog they’d had through the airport that week. The flight was great, and staff in Krakow airport didn’t seem bothered by the dog when we landed. The hotel staff liked her as well, and made us feel very welcome. The general public were a bit more surprised to see a guide dog, and stared at us a lot. People often walked close to us, or didn’t make an effort to move out of our way. I wouldn’t say they were ignorant, just curious and uneducated about guide dogs.

During the next two days we did lots of walking and sightseeing. We took a bus to visit Auschwitz, which was very interesting. The photographs and objects behind glass made it very visual, but hearing people reading information and the accounts from survivors was fascinating.
We walked around the streets, had lovely food, coffee and hot chocolate, and went into some shops. We had dinner in three very nice restaurants. The food was so cheap, and they all offered Sibyl water when we came in. On Saturday we took a tour of the old town where we were staying. Our tour guide had great English, and he drove us around in a buggy type thing. Sibyl enjoyed looking out, and especially liked watching the horses and carriages. The place was full of them! We stopped at a church which took sixty years to build. The tour guide told us to go in and have a look because it was beautiful, but that he would watch Sibyl because dogs aren’t allowed in any churches in Poland. Pity we didn’t know this before, because it would explain why a security man in St. Mary’s bascilica nearly lost his life when we went in on Thursday evening. He said we could stay for one minute only, but he would only let us walk so far. I’d love to know more about the reasoning behind this. I wouldn’t have thought Catholics would turn animals away, especially dogs that help people. I doubt God would agree!

Sibyl was brilliant with all the traveling, all the walking around, and being out of her usual routine. She is very nosey, and had more than enough distractions in the city. I took sighted guide a lot because it was difficult to follow at times. It was probably more difficult for my mum and sister having her there. Apart from giving me more independence, and initiating conversations with people that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have had, it confirmed something that I already thought, how adaptable Sibyl is, and that I can bring her to new places very easily. I wouldn’t visit Poland without a sighted person. There are lots of flat kerbs, and not many obvious crossings. I didn’t hear any audible ones. The people are a bit reserved until they get to know you. I know that’s a big generalisation, but it would make getting around as a blind person more difficult. I’m glad I took Sibyl, and the trip made me want to travel more with her. I’d like to learn more about guide dog organisations in other countries, and find out what access is like. Apart from the church, and the constant staring, (which obviously I didn’t notice), Poland was quite good. I’m sure the more people who visit cities like Krakow with guide dogs, the better it will become.

I completed two of my 30 challenges while I was in Poland. I visited a city that I’ve never been to before, and I tasted dumplings, a traditional food which I hadn’t eaten. Only 28 more things to do!

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30 Challenges List (well almost!)

Finally, here they are, well most of them anyway. There’s still space for a few more suggestions.
Some of them are things that I’ve always been curious about. They aren’t all huge challenges, and some might seem totally ridiculous!
So, in no particular order:

1. Complete a 30 mile walk with Sibyl.
2. Work in the cottage bar
This was Teresa (the owner)’s idea!
3. Find Bruce Springsteen tickets for either of the Dublin Croke Park concerts.
I’m determined to be there!
4. Walk the Croke Park Dublin skyline
Jennifer’s idea, and I didn’t even know that this was something people could do.
5. Take part in ‘darkness into light’ on 7th May.
6. Learn to bake scone bread.
7. Touch an animal that I’ve never felt before.
I’ve already touched lots!
8. Do a short course to learn something new.
9. Make a memory box from wood.
Darragh’s idea, and he said he’d help!
10. Shave someone’s head.
Any volunteers? Don’t know why, but I’ve always wanted to do this. How strange am I!
11. Attend a musical or theatrical performance of a genre that’s not usually my type of thing!
12. Learn a useful life skill, such as first aid or self-defence.
13. Spend time in a recording studio watching how it works.
I’ve always been curious about this.
14. Read one book every month, and review it afterwords.
15. Get my ears pierced, and don’t let them close up this time!
16. Do something for a charity that I’ve never been involved with before
Not Fundraising!
17. Learn more about a career that I’m interested in.
Spend a day shadowing somebody in their job.
18. Spend a day on a farm.
I’ve done various things when I was younger, but not in a long while.
19. Learn to make homemade pizza.
20. Climb Sliabh Sneacht
Apparently I’ve been up here before, but it was before I was born, so thought I’d do it 30 years later, when I can actually walk myself!
21. Visit a city that I’ve never been to before.
22. Learn to do a few simple hair styles (I can only straighten and curl it)
23. Eat traditional food associated with a particular country
24. Bake a cake
25. Do a water activity
I’ve been on a jet ski, and different types of small boats, but I’m terrified of waves!
26 – 29: There’s still time to suggest a few more ideas!
30. Keep a diary. Write or record as much as possible.
Use this to make an audio documentary of my year of challenges, when I’m finished in February 2017.

If anybody can help with any of these in any way, let me know. I haven’t thought most of them through at all!
It’s going to be a fun year!

A Very Special 30th Birthday!

I was 30 last Thursday. I had decided a long time ago that I wanted to do something different for my 30th birthday. I didn’t want a party or presents, but my family love celebrating birthdays, so I knew it wouldn’t be that easy! I also wanted to spend time with them, so it seemed like an obvious thing to celebrate for guide dogs.
I came up with the idea of having a coffee morning in my uncle’s bar. People could come and spend time together, relax, have some food, and donate a small amount of money to Irish guide dogs. I literally came up with the idea, created a Facebook event, told a few people, and put ten posters around the town. Everybody else did everything, and it was such a special day.

I woke up early and was entertained by my best friends sending me messages on our what’sapp group. They sent youtube videos of happy birthday songs; one sung in harmony, one barked by dogs, and one called ‘happy birthday Jenny!’
Some of us had spent the previous afternoon having lunch together with Sibyl and a couple of their small children. One friend drove to the cafe (a 20 minute drive) without even telling me where I was going! Only because she knew she would get away with it because I can’t see. Another friend baked me a cake! They are so generous and always want to have fun. I’m very lucky!

Unfortunately Nicky had to go back home that morning, and was unable to be there for the day. My brother-in-law also couldn’t be there. I really missed them both, and thought about them a lot during the day. They would have enjoyed it. Unfortunate things happen, and there was nothing anybody could do. It was too late to cancel anything, and the day just had to go on.

My sister came to do my make-up and brought me to the bar, where people had been busy organising and decorating all morning. They even had napkins with labradors on them! People had made granola, scones, buns, bread and another birthday cake! They decided that a breakfast/coffee morning would be a little bit different rather than the usual sandwiches and lots of sweet buns. People seemed to like the idea too, because during the next 4 hours, probably 200 people came through the pub doors, right from the minute they opened at 10:30. People made such an effort to be there. People that I hardly know. People that I wasn’t expecting. People who went out of their way. Two other guide dog owners came. Everybody donated so generously, and I spent the day feeling so overwhelmed and happy at how supportive people in our town are. My family did so much. My nephews all helped to make it very special. One worked hard behind the bar, while the younger boys made sure that all the children who came were fed, as well as keeping me up to date with anything they felt that I needed to know. O.J was there too of course. Himself and Sibyl had sniffing competitions where they lay, but they behaved really well, and everybody enjoyed petting them.

I received some lovely presents, even though I wasn’t expecting any. Some people even gave me hand-made cards. Everything was so thoughtful. My phone never stopped all day. I was exhausted from talking when we left the bar after 3 PM. We visited my Godmother, who gave me a present, and another homemade cake! That’s three cakes in 24 hours! All very different, but equally Yummy! My brother and his girlfriend made a lovely curry, which we all enjoyed before sitting down to read cards and count the money. There’s still donations coming in, but my birthday raised over 1,600 euros so far. That’s an incredible amount of money!

Challenge Update

I’ve had lots of fun since I posted my previous blog. There’s been great suggestions of challenges that I can complete within the next year. I’ve definitely decided on over half of them, but there’s still time for you to suggest more!

Lots of the things people suggested are things that I’ve already done before. Joining a gym, tandem cycling, abseiling, jetskiing, canoeing, driving a car, petting some interesting animals… I’ve been very lucky to have had opportunities to do different things, but there’s still more I want to do.
I’ve divided them loosely into three different types of
challenges: new things to learn, things that could help other people as well as myself, and things that I’m curious about! This is probably the most interesting one!

Anybody who knows me well enough will already know this, but It’s important to mention anyway. I’m doing this for fun, and for no other reason. I’m not doing it because I’m blind and want to prove something. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I hate people who do challenges and extreme sports for this reason, and then talk about it and make money talking about it for years afterwords. I’ll mention no names! I’m not doing this to inspire people, or for people to think, oh isn’t she great! I’m doing it for me, just to make the next year a little bit different and a bit more fun.

The exciting thing about this is that I’m not the only one doing it. Darragh, from
DigitalDarragh.com
who is a good friend, and always up for a bit of craic is doing it too. Hopefully he’ll blog about it, because I know he’ll do some interesting things. He’s done some crazy stuff already, I could hardly think of things for him to do.

If anyone has anymore ideas for either of us, let us know.