Wroclaw – Sometimes You Can’t Trust First Impressions

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I’d planned to write an article about some of the wonderful restaurants we visited in Gorlitz, but somehow this was the article that landed up writing itself instead…

My first impressions of our next destination weren’t great. We were exhausted by the time we climbed off the train in Wroclaw, Poland. , Somehow, despite numerous hiccups we eventually found the place we were going to stay– hiccups which included a total absence of taxis, and following what seemed to be a pirate’s highly convoluted treasure map where X marked the location of our apartment.

And it just got worse from there…

Have you ever wished you could take back time and change your actions? I know it wouldn’t have made any difference to the outcome – in fact, it would only have made the situation worse. But still, if I could go back in time I wouldn’t have accessed the wi-fi when we got to the apartment. Because that was when we got the news that my beautiful retired guide dog, Eccles, was seriously ill and that we needed to contact the vet to discuss our options. Sadly, there weren’t really any options at all and we tearfully said goodbye to Eccles via a long-distance voice call and let her ease gently into an eternal sleep.

All things considered, perhaps I can be forgiven my less than favourable first impressions of Wroclaw.

Having said that, neither of those were the fault of Wroclaw itself, and there is much to recommend this charming city- the weather was beautiful and we took full advantage of the warm days to walk around and see what the city had to offer.

We spent time browsing through the large permanent daytime market and sampled a few of the restaurants on the main pedestrian square where we enjoyed several local delicacies. We also went on a tour of the city via river boat with a very knowledgeable guide who shared a little of the city’s history with us.

And, of course, there were the Wroclaw dwarves, which I personally felt were the single most endearing aspect of the city.

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I’ll probably still have a chance to tell you about our culinary experiences, but perhaps not just yet…
In my next few articles I’ll share a little more about our experiences in Wroclaw and how the city managed to redeem itself from that admittedly rocky start.

Farewell, Faithful Friend

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It’s always heartbreaking to lose a beloved fur-child. It’s even harder when it’s a retired guide dog who has given so much of her life and energy helping you live the independent life you want. And harder still if you happen to be on another continent at the time.

Sitting in our Airbnb apartment in Wroclaw, Poland on the evening my retired guide dog, Eccles, passed away, I found myself reflecting on the 12 ½ years she and I had spent together.

I smiled when I remembered our very first meeting when Eccles refused to acknowledge my existence, waiting patiently for her beloved trainer to rescue her from the total stranger she’d been lumped with. And at how quickly the bond of trust and love developed between us despite that inauspicious beginning. I thought of how many hundreds of times she and I must have traipsed from home, to the train station, down to the office in Simon’s Town, and back again at the end of the day. And how she would grab her squeaky toy and bounce round the office with it, squeaking joyfully to let us know it was time to stop working and head home. I laughed, remembering how she had hidden under the bed for the first three months we had Emily – desperately trying to avoid the savage paws and jaws of the young pup – until she rediscovered her ability to play.

I recalled how Eccles in essence retired herself when she was 11 years old, preferring to stay snoozing on her blanket rather than accompanying me to events. And I remembered her last final months when she seemed to find her inner naughty puppy –testing boundaries that had been out of bounds to her as a guide dog – and most often getting away with her naughtiness because her love of life was simply to infectious for me to chastise her.
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Eccles was by far the gentlest of my 3 guide dogs. Where Leila tended to barge through people like an armoured tank (a trait shared by Fiji), Eccles would politely manoeuvre her way round people with a diffident but determined manner. She could also be a little scatter-brained – on one occasion she was so busy thinking about something else that she started walking in the opposite direction until I laughingly stopped her and turned her round.

Where Leila and Fiji would be quite likely to wander off and amuse themselves when they were off-duty, Eccles would prefer to sit at my feet until she was needed. Mind you, it was Eccles who pulled her leash out of my dad’s hand and wandered from one side of an auditorium to the other to find me when I was giving a presentation at a Toastmasters conference (you’ll need to get a copy of my book “A Different Way of Seeing” to read the whole story).

Though I have absolutely no doubt we took the right decision in letting Eccles go, I have to live with the feeling that I let her down because I wasn’t there with her at the end. I can’t express how grateful I am for the technology that made it possible for us to have a half hour WhatsApp conversation with our vet to really understand the options we faced. And I’m even more grateful for the strength and courage of our friend, Claire van Zyl, who was looking after our home and dogs while we were away – at least I know Eccles was with someone she knew and adored as she slipped into her final sleep. But it was inexpressibly hard not to be there and be able to say goodbye, and that pain will remain with me for a very long time.

Farewell, my beautiful Eccles, and thank you for the very many wonderful memories of our time together – I’ll treasure them always…
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Falling Back into the Habit


I know, I know, it’s been ages since I published an article. It’s certainly not for lack of anything to write about. After all, I recently got back from an amazing trip to Germany and Poland about which I have lots to share. I also need to gather my courage and write a final post honouring my retired guide dog, Eccles, who passed away after a short illness. Then I want to tell you about some of the exciting blind travel work I’m starting on, and a media interview I did recently.

So yes, I have plenty to share with you.

But somehow I’ve just fallen out of the habit of settling down to write…

Today I took the decision that it was time to fall back into that habit. so here’s just a short note to let you know that I’m back – back home, back writing, and back willing and eager to share more of my experiences living my ordinary life without sight.

I was startled to see that Fiji also neglected to write an article while I was away – clearly she was just having too much fun on her holiday from guide dogging. Maybe I’ll wake her up just now and ask her if she actually plans on writing a post this month. But you know what they say about letting sleeping dogs lie?

All I’m saying is watch this space…

A Lady of Leisure

Cds IMG 1394 2Yesterday was an extra special day in the Strachan household – my beautiful retired guide dog, Eccles, turned 14 years old… and that’s not 14 doggy years, it’s 14 human years.

Back when I decided to embark on a career as a writer and speaker working in the disability field Eccles took the opportunity of retiring herself. I think she secretly enjoyed the engineering talk that she was exposed to when we worked at the marine engineering firm. Maybe she just didn’t feel that an artistic career was the right one for her.

I’ve been highly amused to observe that Eccles has started being naughty over the past few months – it’s almost like she’s rediscovered her inner naughty puppy. it’s not unusual to find her sniffing around in the kitchen for any possible overlooked scraps of food (you know, the ones her eagle-eyed doggy sister Emily might somehow have missed). Eccles also seems to get a real kick out of pushing Fiji away from her water bowl and having a long, leisurely drink while poor Fiji has to stand around and wait. I’ve even found Eccles trying to scratch at the packet of dog crumbles that we keep under the shelf in the kitchen. I know I shouldn’t find it funny, but I do!

I also suspect Eccles had a temporary return to her engineering side – when Craig was installing our grey water system at home, Eccles could usually be found supervising his work.

I know Eccles is getting older and is almost entirely deaf. But she’s healthy, happy and remains a joy to us all in her own, newly-mischievous way.

Happy birthday, my Ecce-wekkie-waggy-woo – may we celebrate many more years with you.

The Green-Eyed Monster Rears Its Head

Cds IMG 1377 Edit 2I’ve noticed a change at home over the past few months. It was fairly subtle at first, but it’s suddenly become a whole lot more obvious to me – I think Eccles is jealous of Fiji!

Eccles is my retired guide dog. She’s now almost 13 years old and, while still in very good health, is definitely feeling her age a little. So, I don’t think it’s that she wants to come and walk with me in Fiji’s place, I think she’s just jealous of the attention that Fiji gets.

I didn’t even really notice the first signs. When Fiji and I got ready for a walk Eccles would come and hang around us. Honestly, I thought she was just being a Labrador and wanting to get her share of the treats that Fiji receives for good behaviour.

Then it became obvious that Eccles was feeling a bit left out. She would push her way between Fiji and me when we were playing, forcing Fiji away from me. Yes, I know that sounds crazy – a gentle 13 year old dog pushing an energetic 2.5 year old out of the way… but that’s what happened.

Then yesterday the green-eyed monster rose to new heights? depths?

As Fiji leaned down to drink from her water bowl, Eccles shoved her out the way and began to drink Fiji’s water.

This probably begs a word of explanation to understand why it’s such an issue. For some inexplicable reason Fiji WILL NOT drink if another dog has already had water from the bowl. I know it’s weird, but it’s just the way she is. So I tipped the remaining water into the other dog bowl, refilled it and… Eccles went for it again! Only this time I grabbed her and held her back until Fiji had finished.

I know I’m probably humanising the way Eccles is feeling more than is warranted… but Well… if it looks like the green-eyed monster and it acts like the green-eyed monster, then… But I wonder if it’s the Black Labrador half that’s turning green, or the Golden Retriever. Hmm… A Green Labrador? A Green Retriever?

Maybe I should just make sure I give Eccles lots of love, a few dog treats every now and then – and an occasional bowl of water all of her own.

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