I went travelling in my first year of university: here’s what I learnt part 2

If you didn’t figure it out by the title this is the second in a two part series. Please make sure to read part 1 to this post beforehand if you want to read about the start of my adventures and my experiences in Paris and Amsterdam. Alternatively, if you’re only interested in hearing about Rome, Berlin and Zurich then you should be able to follow this post with not too many problems.

My most distinct memory of Rome was that it was hot. Also, the driving of everyone there made me fear for my life. At the airport I arrived at it was about an hours drive into the city from what I remember, which was actually quite nice as it meant I got to see a bit more of Italy than what I might have done. However, I just had to not pay too much attention to the other cars (in fairness to the coach driver from what I remember his driving wasn’t too bad). After arriving I spent about an hour in the heat (I am a very pale, freckled person so this didn’t go well) trying to find my hostel, despite it only being about 5 minutes from where I was dropped off. There definitely need to be a more distinct sign for the hostel to say the least – no one I asked seemed to know where it was either. At one point I fully just gave up and bought a giant bottle of water and sat with that thinking about what to do.

Part of me however kind of wish I hadn’t found it. It was a strange place to say the least. The different rooms (which, were gender split) were split only be a curtain. I don’t care about this in terms of gender but it meant that if one room was still talking the other was still disturbed. It was also boiling. I remember there being little to no air conditioning. Generally, the entire vibe of the hostel was just a little off and I was glad I was only staying there for one night until my mum arrived (as I was then moving into a hotel with her).

After picking up my mum from the airport (on my birthday) and settling into the simple, but much more safe feeling hotel; my mum and I decided to explore Rome a bit more. I had explored a little the night before but had left the majority of my sightseeing for when my mum arrived.

Despite, having gone on the tour bus the day before (I mentioned in my last post how I like to do this when possible to get the lay of a city); my mum made me go on it again as our way of getting around. The most memorable places we visited had to be the Colosseum and the Trevi fountain though I was disappointed that it was closed so we kind of had to throw a coin in from afar (therefore running my Lizzie McGuire movie moment). We also went to Vatican City because we wanted to see the Sistine Chapel but the tour guides there told us to visit there we had to visit the Museum and St Peters Basilica as well. I wouldn’t have minded this but that would cost 50 euros each, which we didn’t have budget for! We’d prioritised the Sistine Chapel because me and my mum had really wanted to see Michelangelo’s infamous artwork in person. In the end we didn’t end up seeing anything, which is probably one of my biggest regrets of the trip! I definitely plan to visit Rome in the future again to rectify this.

Food wise unfortunately the one time we had a proper sit down meal I wasn’t that impressed with the pizza (I think we made the mistake of going to a tourist trap!) but I loved all the fresh fruit that was available. I also had some amazing strawberry gelato near where we stayed and we also went to the magnum shop where you can make a customisable ice cream, which was super fun and delicious (and I think was one of my mum’s highlights).

Another thing to note as well in Rome is that when I was in a church there (I’m pretty sure it was the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore); I was wearing a strappy top because of the heat and was asked to cover up with a shawl, which they provided. I’ll be honest the feeling was strange but I respected the wishes of the church as I was a visitor and complied. I just wanted to flag to people who present as female that may be asked to do this.

After Rome I said goodbye to my mum and headed to Berlin. I was lucky there that on my first day I met a friend who visited some of the attractions with me. Not only did we explore the artwork on the Berlin Wall, which was one of my favourite things to visit in Berlin because of the inventive ways artists used the wall for social commentary but also because of how something they transformed something that tore a city apart. We also visited several of the museums that explained more about the history of the wall. As I’d studied the wall partly during my A levels the history fanatic of me loved this part of the trip. Food wise I didn’t have a ton of luck from what I remember this day as the restaurant we visited didn’t really have a vegetarian option! However, I did have a beer, which was a mistake because we then went up the Berlin TV tower Fernsehturm, which if I remember correctly has one of (if not) the fastest elevator in Europe. I probably should have listened when my server asked if I was sure if I wanted a beer without any food!

I did have some pictures of this day and the tower but they sadly as far as I can see have been lost! I remember distinctively though wearing my Nishe navy dress, which I’d worn my first time at a nightclub at University (and was probably my fanciest dress at the time).

There was though some really nice food options in Berlin. Walking around the main tourist bits without looking up where to eat I did struggle a little to find meat free options that weren’t sweet. However, near where my hostel was a small Turkish takeaway that served me the best falafel wrap I’ve ever eaten. I’ve actually had Turkish food in Germany since then and seriously its so nice there! I also enjoyed devouring all the bread I could find, specifically the Bretzels. I did also keep eyeing this cheesecake in the local supermarket to me but never bought it because I’d have to ask at the counter and was scared about my pronunciation – this is something I really regret. You can only improve by trying and if you don’t try you might miss out on some great experiences. I also didn’t realise when I went how many vegan places there are in Berlin (though not sure if this was as much the case then though I did spot one vegan place that served ice cream).

Also, I had my hostel room to myself for pretty much the whole trip because no one else stayed there while I was there. Before, I forget I wanted to mention for those new to hostels, please make sure you read all their terms and conditions as some hotels charge a little more for the bedding/ towels (I took a towel with me on the trip but only took a small suitcase so couldn’t take anymore) so this may increase the price of your trip. Some places also charge a tourist tax (usually a few euros a day) – this only happened in Italy for me however. Some hostels as well like to hold onto a piece of ID for insurance or a security deposit so keep this in mind too!

Other highlights for me included visiting Charlottenburg palace, which was a little surreal compared to parts of Berlin I walked through. It was beautiful though and I loved walking around the grounds – I regretted not bringing my running gear as it would have been a lovely run. Also, this trip reminded me that a lot of public toilets in Europe charge (at least in the big cities) or have a toilet attendant where it is good practice to leave a small tip. So try to make sure you keep a bit of change with you as it can be a difficult otherwise when you’re out all day. In Amsterdam I was able to go to a toilet in a cafe for free when I was really desperate but please be aware!

After Berlin was onto Switzerland and Zurich (which, is on the side closer to Germany of Switzerland, however, the German spoken there is a strange mixture of German and French so if you understand a little of both you can piece it together). Zurich was one of my favourites to visit simply because I loved hiking up Uetilburg. This was despite not having the right shoes or clothes. I saw some people run up and it was steep enough that I thought they were insane.

Zurich

The air was just so fresh and the water from the water pumps, which I used to refill my water bottle, was amazing. I hiked to the top and also visited the restaurant at the top there and had so very expensive chips but I had to eat because I was starving from the walk and had only brought some snacks so it was worth it in the end. At the top you can climb up a tower where you can look at the view (there were love locks there too- see my previous blog post, ha, ha). It was bit windy so it was a little terrifying but breath taking.

I decided to walk past this point and down to the fields past the top. Despite, getting throughly lost and it starting to get late in the day I loved the experience. Probably because I managed to find my way back in the end by looking for the tower and literally walking towards it.

Zurich itself also has some beautiful sites and I’d definitely recommend walking around the city (it’s very small so very achievable). However, a lot of what I noticed was very expensive shops so this is definitely a place for if you have some money spare! I didn’t try fondue because fondue for one felt a little lonely (don’t be me if you go though eat your fondue for one!) but I did consume a lot of Lindt because it was relatively cheap and there was so much of it (Lindt is probably my favourite chocolate)!

Another thing I found strange was how giving change for large notes was expected there. I actually had asked the people at the hostel if they could change a note and they said not to worry about it as the people in the local shops would have no issue changing it.

I also visited Rhein Falls, which is a short train journey away on my last day and I wish I’d had the time to visit the other side of the waterfall. I had some great photographs from this, which are sadly lost and it was so beautiful. I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to stand on the plinth in the middle of the waterfall and had it past me (as I can’t swim) but I would have loved to have spent the day there).

So, that was my trip to Europe. It was short and sweet but made me feel like a world traveller and ignited my passion for travelling to new places. I would say overall what I learnt from the trip was simply just do it! Don’t be afraid to pronounce things. Don’t let silly reasons get in the way of you trying things. You may never visit somewhere again so make sure you have that experience. I managed to go see lots of things on my bucket list but there were still lots of places or things I regretted not doing. The only things I honestly regretted not buying wasn’t things but experiences!

April (April is the Cruellest Month)

-Blog posts Thursday and Sundays- 

 

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I went travelling in my first year of university: here’s what I learnt part 1

This Thursday we’re going for a bit of a Throwback Thursday (is that still even a thing?), as I’m going to reflect back on my travels that I’ve been on. The majority of which happened at the end of my first year of university (over the summer period). Also, a pre-warning to any world travellers out there, my travels are restricted entirely to Europe because I’ve yet to venture outside of there (though I really hope to do so in the future!).

So at the end of my first year of university after being a bit shy for the year and not really engaging in university life despite many opportunities to; I decided that I wanted to go travelling. I loved visiting new places and I felt confident enough to go on my own. I decided on Europe because back then I had only been to a handful of places in Europe and really wanted to visit the capital cities I heard so much about! In the end I decided on Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, Berlin and Zurich.

I think when I booked everything I just stayed up late one night and did it all in one night, ensuring I printed everything off for both me and for my mother (as she requested an itinerary, which is fair enough). It didn’t take long and then the trip suddenly came around. On the actual journey there I was excited and ready to go. It wasn’t till I hit Paris and my hostel room when I realised that the excitement had suddenly transformed into nerves.

First of all, I quickly realised that I had made a mistake in booking my first hostel room for my trip and it was a mixed dormitory instead of only females. The reason I’ll be honest I had decided to go with all female rooms was simply because I was more familiar with that atmosphere. The mix up didn’t really bother beyond making me feel slightly nervous about how to navigate the unexpected situation.

However, I was determined to have a good time and decided to continue with my plan to go drink wine and watch the sun set at the top of the Sacre Coeur. But first supplies. I made the trip to the nearest small supermarket picked up some snack bars and lots of water (and importantly some cheap $2 euro white wine because I’m blasphemous). After convincing my roommate that this was a good idea (it was their last night on their European adventure so I think they thought ‘why not?’) we headed up to Sacre Coeur. While, I remember making some attempt to seem less boring than I actually was; I remember at the same time just being myself (not as much as I feel comfortable enough doing now but more than usual).

The lights going down as I drank more and more wine (opened thanks to my companion luckily having a handy bottle opener – which, they later nicely donated to me – a story on that later). Some lovely British students studying in Paris approached us and the next thing I knew I was learning about how sauce Algérienne is great with chips and seeing the inside of their cool, chic apartment (cool because it was Paris – student digs are infinitely more appealing there). Despite, their friendliness and my mild tipsiness I still felt very uncool but I have a great memory of staggering back at 4 in the morning through Montmartre (which also happens to be where all the sex shops are so was slightly concerned but it was thankfully abandoned). Luckily, our roommate who had not been there when we left didn’t mind us quickly getting ready for bed.

My other roommate who remained for the rest of my trip from what I can remember was a character. They were from South America (my apologises to them but I can’t remember specifically were). They had been studying in France and wanted to visit Paris before they left. While there they had met a girl who he was very upset about leaving (he tried to illicit my help in crafting a love letter for her because I told him I studied English Literature, however, I’d also never written or had received a love letter). He was nice and he told me how he just walked all around Paris to explore everything and ended up walking probably about ten miles. He also, asked if he could borrow the room for his last day with the girlfriend, which I obliged (later, realising this was probably a mistake, especially as I had to awkwardly drop off something as it was too heavy to carry).

Paris was a dream. I loved the architecture; the museums (especially D’Orsay) and still want to go back there now I’ve done all the essential tourist parts (like climb all the Arc De Triomphe steps, as well as all the ones possible for the Eiffel Tower and see the Mona Lisa) and explore some of the ‘off the beaten track’ experiences – especially the vintage clothing shops and the Dali museum! I also regret not eating in the Amélie café and not eating enough patisserie.

Another Paris favourite of mine is the love lock bridge where lovers leave a lock on the bridge inscribed with their initials and chuck the key into the water (therefore symbolising that their love is forever). I’m not sure if this is allowed anymore because the bridge became too heavy and was starting to be crushed by the weight of the locks. I also heard they were auctioning off some of the older locks to help the problem. Do compile your own research however. I personally hope that there is a way that the bridge can be kept alive.

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Also, if I remember correctly my period hit for most of my trip to Paris! I don’t have much more to add about that but it felt relevant somehow. The bottle opener I received I had to leave behind in Paris unfortunately for someone else to find and take with them (the person who gave it to me wanted it to travel as far as possible) because I realised on my trip to the airport that I probably couldn’t take it with me as I was only travelling with hand luggage.

Next, came Amsterdam one of my other favourite destinations but also a great revealer of my naivety. One of the girls in my hostel asked if there was any coffee shops nearby, which caused me to foolishly reply that I thought I’d see a Costa at the train station not realising she meant a special kind of coffee shop! The hostel I liked to mention was called Hostelle and was an all female hostel so I didn’t have the opportunity to mess up my room booking there. It was a little outside the main centre of Amsterdam, which was nice for me because I wouldn’t stay out to the latest train back anyway on my own) and it meant the surrounding area was a lot quieter.

Amsterdam is simply beautiful. The flower market, with every kind of bloom you can find, surrounded by cheese shops, which gave out sublime samples of cheese and truffle, was a particular highlight. The Anne Frank museum was as emotional as you can expect – I remember reading her diary when I was younger and thinking about how we shared the same birthday and finding it weird that I shared a connection (however fragile) with someone so brave. The Van Gogh museum was one of my personal favourites because I’ve always wanted to visit and Van Gogh is one of my favourite painters (which, is most definitely the influence of my mother). I was sad that Starry, Starry Night wasn’t there but I loved seeing all the paintings of his I hadn’t seen before. When I think of Van Gogh now I get stupidly emotional though because of the Dr Who episode, as I just think about how his life might have been different if he’d realise the way his paintings are valued now. I would love to actually read more about Van Gogh so you might see a blog post in the future on this biography of Van Gogh when I can afford to buy it (I also think it might better accompany a blog post about the museum/ a trip to Amsterdam).

My first full day in Amsterdam was spent in the company of two lovely women from Australia. It was great to have the company (I was grateful for all the new people I met on my travels). We went on a bus tour of the city together (something, I’d always recommend as it gives you a good idea where all the landmarks are so you can walk to them later) and visited a famous diamond museum (not much fun unless you can afford diamonds). I also had the opportunity to see some windmills but wish I had taken the opportunity to go visit one. We also went to the Hard Rock Café in Amsterdam, which I’d never had the opportunity to visit before. This was a little out of my price range of spending as little as possible each day (ha, ha) but I’d never been before and I had a great time with two lovely people.

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(I’ve cropped the lovely lady next to me out of the picture out of respect because they might not want their face shared here!) 

Also, for anyone wondering my budget for each day was set at about £20-£25 a day (for food, souvenirs, travel, etc.) and for the most part I stuck to that by prioritising adventures over eating out in restaurants.

I did visit the Red Light District in Amsterdam with some people from the hostel who wanted to go and all I can say is that it is very surreal. I didn’t do the whole stretch because it was too overwhelming after about five minutes but the windows didn’t feel freeing. I understand the benefits of regulating a business by helping workers to have more rights but whether that is being achieved there I can’t say.

After Amsterdam I travelled to Rome and had the worst hostel experience of the trip, but that is a story for my next blog post, as I’ve decided to split this post into two parts! I decided this because I think covering everything would have been way too big of a blog post that no one would want to read. I’m also to be honest struggling to find the motivation to write this week (or do anything) so thought it might be better to split this post up to give me the opportunity to hopefully feel more uplifted next week (the next post will be next Thursday).

That summer I also worked as an Au Pair in Germany and would love to write a blog post on that experience if anyone’s interested – if you are because it’s something you are thinking about doing, let me know in the comments below (or if you’re just generally interested).

I want to also apologise for the lack of photographs of my trip – they got lost with the death of one of my laptops and it’s something I’m still sad about. I looked awful in them and they were not amazing photography but I can see those moments in my mind and I’m sad the physical representation of that is mostly gone.

April (April is the Cruellest Month)

-Blog posts Thursday and Sundays- 

 

P.S. I’m pretty sure my first blog post for this blog was about my travelling experiences but I panicked, deleted it and didn’t touch this blog for a while – look how far I’ve come (ha, ha).

This One Summer: Graphic Novel review

Main image: © Jillian Tamaki, used with permission.

This also happens to be my favourite piece of artwork from This One Summer (Jillian and Mariko Tamaki). 

This One Summer is a collaboration between cousins Mario Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, it follows the story of Rose, someone who is starting to nosedive into the world of puberty. The story takes place across the summer of her annual trip with her family to Awago Beach, where her friend Windy is always there to meet her. While previous summers have always been amazing; this summer Rose has to confront family problems, as well as the pains of growing up. 

If you want something that captures the feelings of summer holidays; this is it. For someone like me who has now decided that they are ancient and is missing the carefree  leisure of summer holidays; this book is equally a delight and a weird kind of torture.

The whole read perfectly captures the dreamy wistfulness that captured my summer holidays – the same could be said for the content of the graphic novel. Not a lot happens but a lot happens at the same time. Growing up isn’t always something that is a dramatic adventure and this is the real genius of the graphic novel – it captures exactly that.

The artwork as well is beautiful- if I could frame the front cover I would. I just love when soft colours, especially lilacs and a watercolour feel is applied to artwork- and I love, love, love how that theme contains on through the graphic novel.

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Image: © Jillian Tamaki, used with permission.

However, it wasn’t the stunning artwork that initially drew me to this graphic novel; it was that I was talking to the lovely shop assistant in my local comic book and they recommended the graphic novel based on my other choices. When talking about the graphic novel they also discussed how it was difficult to order in because it had been banned in the US. The reason it was banned I discovered was due to that it was deemed to contain ‘vulgar language’. And to be honest if a book is banned I automatically want to read it more. All I say about the ‘vulgar’ language is this: this is a book aimed at teens who are going to use and hear this language – that is just the reality of life.

And capturing the reality of life is what the graphic novel does best, especially the brutal reality of being introduced to the world of growing up and adulthood. However, along that pain is the joy of friendships. I have to say Rose and Windy’s friendship was probably my favourite thing throughout This One Summer because it has been a long time since I have read a friendship that didn’t feel stylised but just captured the messy reality of friendship. Sometimes, like Rose does to Windy, you mess up when talking with you friends. But most of the time being with a friend feels freeing –  something which Windy does beautifully.

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Image: © Jillian Tamaki, used with permission.

I’m not going to lie, I see a lot of myself in Windy but I also see a lot more power in Windy than I felt I had at that age. She says what she thinks is right, even when it can be hard, especially when you friend is older (as is the case for Windy).

I hope by keeping this review short and sweet I capture the spirit of the graphic novel a bit – in that the graphic novel didn’t need to say a lot to be impactful. The artwork and storytelling fills in the gaps for you. The graphic novel’s strength is also its only weakness – not a lot happens but the characterisation is some of the best I’ve seen. We have a central character who the author is not afraid to show mess up in her journey to grow up as well as highlight how her infatuation with the teenage lothario of Awago Beach, Dunc sways and influences her judgment.

The adults too are not one-dimensional – we get to see Rose’s mum, Alice’s pain and understand her actions, as well as understand why Rose would react the way she does to her mum’s behaviour. Essentially This One Summer is a snapshot of the reality of growing up, but it’s genius is the way it paints that snapshot – bright, vivid and deeply immersive.

If you’re interested in This One Summer you can buy it on Amazon, I’d also recommend this review in The Comics Journal, which inspired some of the points in my review, particularly the line: ‘Immersion is This One Summer‘s strength’. However, it’s important to note that the review is not spoiler free.

April (April is the Cruellest Month)

Anti Bullying Week: My experiences and what I’ve learnt

It’s anti bullying this week so I thought it’d be an apt time to jump on the bandwagon as it were and discuss my experiences with bullying. I’ve been bullied on several different occasions and at times although I didn’t fully realise at the time I have engaged in bullying behaviour. I think a lot of the times this is something we are scared to admit about ourselves so instead will only talk about the real, horrible cases of bullying, rather than the day to day routine behaviour we saw (or even participated in) that we didn’t realise could have lasting effects as well.

Dodie’s bravery in talking about bullying in her latest book (my review for which can be found here), and how she had engaged in it too because she was afraid, and it was easier, helped to inspire me to speak up about this. The reason she gave of being afraid the conversation would turn to herself instead is really my reason as well. From what I can remember from my hazy memories, my bullying behaviour was joining in with nicknames and not thinking about the consequences. Behaviours I thought was teasing but added to the persona of a person, and didn’t let them define themselves on their own terms. If the people I did this to (I don’t think the list is long but it’s probably longer than I’d like to think) are reading this I’m sorry I went along with the crowd. Sure, I might have not been the loud voice egging people on, but that doesn’t mean I am not guilty. At the time I didn’t even realise but looking back now I know this behaviour matters.

I know how bullying makes you feel. Even the little comments can feel like a heart attack to your nerves. Usually when I’ve been bullied they picked up the easy part to latch on to, which is that I was chubbier than the other children in the age group. Or when I was a teenager and not the weight I was made to feel but because I never had the part where I could eat and nothing be there (not that there is anything wrong with that). I was made to feel like my body could never fit in. It was easy for them to latch on to my body because society told them everywhere it was not desirable. It was easy to latch on to because I knew this, and was insecure about it. I also wouldn’t fight back.

Now I’d like to think I wouldn’t let it not touch me but I’m not impenetrable. It still would. Then, they probably didn’t realise that their tiny comment was all I thought about every minute of the day. What it would be like when I was smaller. When was food, what I should eat (or not eat) to achieve this.

This is still not something I think will ever escape me, but it has dropped down my priority levels now so that my day is more than that. I’ve never made negative comments about people’s weight or appearance or tried to belittle them in that way, but the little bits of behaviour I was complicit in could have effected someone in the same way.

My message from this then is that you may think because you’re not a bully (or the stereotypical definition of one) that you’re behaviour is in fact not bullying type behaviour. Before, you dismiss something as teasing let yourself really think about whether they are in on the joke or not.

I forgave my bullies/ antagonists a long time ago. They just weren’t worth the effort. I think in the end they realised they had been as wrong about me as I’d been about them. Everyone just never bothered to get to know anyone, and just stuck to their labels.

Maybe it’s about time we throw those labels and preconceptions away. It’s hard and you have to be strong to resist the crowd (and when you’re going through your own insecurities that is damn near impossible). I used to get so wound up about the people who didn’t like me for seemingly no particular reason and wondered what was fundamentally wrong with me to make that so. Now, I know sometimes people just don’t click (though they didn’t need to ignore me though or make it obvious though- just saying) and you’ll never please everyone.

I don’t know what I would have done growing up if social media defined my life and my experiences as much as it does this generation growing up now (perfect Instagram photographs at every corner would have definitely sent me into a talespin) so anyone growing up with that as my upmost respect. Especially as words online cut as deep as any that come out of people’s mouths.

This anti-bullying week join me in reflecting over your past behaviour, and seeing how you can be better moving forward. Be the second thought that comes into your head, not the judgemental first one that you didn’t even consciously decide.