I'm not going to write as much this time around – I tried to be comprehensive with the 2005 write-up so people doing a TEFL language camp with APASS would get a good idea of what it's like, and that's probably a slightly better place to start if you're wondering.
This year was different in several ways, not least that we had fewer people. Twenty is the functional maximum that camps aim for in terms of English staff, which gives two people to a group of ten students for a camp of about a hundred kids. None of those things quite happened, though it did turn out pretty well.
The original idea had been that I'd lead a camp in Łuków with Paul, a good friend of my sister's who was keen to take on more responsibility, before we went on to meet her at a second camp she'd heard about for older students – to get a range of experience with students working at different levels. Since Paul was studying in Austria I'd sort out things over here.
Apparently the Polish ministry was late in sorting out dates and sites, which gave us Puławy rather than Łuków. Paul wasn't thrilled, as he'd liked Łuków, but we knew the place and had Steph (another friend of my sister's) signed up for two camps as well. It wasn't until close to the date of departure (and Magda in Puławy got in touch) we found out that there'd been relatively few applications to APASS this year in proportion to number of camps that had been arranged – I'm still not sure how many were organised compared to the previous year, but assume it was equal to and probably greater than 2006 numbers. Poland's keen to promote English learning as it gets further into Europe, after a period a few years ago when the government changed and camps were put on hold whilst the administration switched over.
In real terms this left us with fewer than ten people. Sally managed to convince Mark, another of her uni crowd who came in 2005, to double-up on camps when he got back from Russia, and Mr Palka at APASS managed to find a couple of extras by switching around assignees so that in theory we'd have eleven – plus Puławy were forewarned so that they could advertise for local English teachers to boost numbers.
Anyway, all of those confirmed checked in a week or two before we due to leave and on June 27th we turned up in London, with few thanks to National Express or the way they were handling coaches during the floods. We'd built in a couple of hours' breathing space for getting down to London, but that nearly turned out to not be enough. I stood opposite a stand at Digbeth, patiently waiting for Paul's connecting coach from Derby, and neither myself nor the Polish lady who was also meant to be on the coach I had a ticket for saw that coach pull up to that stand. The driver who turned up some time after claimed not only that he wasn't our coach but that the previous coach had definitely left from it on-schedule... by which point at least Paul had arrived, and we were all let on as the coach wasn't anywhere near full. Which isn't the point. National Express (and their appointed reps) are lying bastards who would have abandoned passengers with pre-booked tickets at that point if there hadn't been space. It's when schedules go to pot due to weather and other unforeseen issues that you really see the measure of a company and its service.
We weren't too late by the time we made it in to London Victoria, just nudging the deadline. ATAS expect customers to check stuff in before departure, and are generally quite good about looking for a group of people who are booked with them. 'Our' Steph and Mark were waiting in Burger King, and some phone calls found Rodney, James, Tam, Steph, Lisa and Angela or established they'd be right with us at the fountain. James' friend Mark didn't show, which left us with a total of ten.
What ATAS are less good at is identifying their coaches. As the time for departure came and went and there was no sign of anything with ATAS written on it or in the windows, or even indicating the route we were supposed to be taking – and I had asked at some of the coaches there that looked like they might be on our route, with a friendly "jest autobus dla Puławy?" – we got a leaflet from the travel shop nearby, phoned the London office, and the lady there phoned the driver, who came across – the coach was parked opposite the stop it should have been at, with no markings at all. So about an hour behind, we got going.
The ferry and the drive through France and Germany on Thurday went pretty smoothly, though I guess if you haven't done it before it seems a lot more off-putting. Rodney turned out to know a reasonable amount of Polish, which made packing everyone onto a table and ordering at the castle restaurant just over the Polish border more straightforward. Though the service was slow as ever, and ATAS were trying to catch up some time – the coach couldn't get up to speed on the autobahn due to being decrepit – so things were rushed, also as usual. (The group who came out a month later with my sister found service pretty bad, with staff actively avoiding customers. When we stopped at the same place on the way back to England we gave up and went to the general store up the road. Really, ATAS should offer some basic help to passengers given that they choose the places to make stops. But hey, we did get served. And I should stress this isn't typical of anywhere else I've been in Poland.)
We lost our bilingual coach stewardess at the restaurant stop, which left me trying to get a rough estimate of arrival time from the driver so I could contact Magda and let her know when to expect us. This was fairly successful, and Paul remembered where camp was in relation to the coach stop once we got there, so we'd found the porter and been shown into the dining room for a late supper by the time Magda found out we'd arrived.
It was at this point she told us that three camps had been cancelled due to lack of available staff and the kids distributed amongst the remaining ones...