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Kool Krakow

Last Christmas, I decided to do something I had always wanted to do but been too scared to do so – I went travelling. Alone.

I have always wanted to visit Poland, and my brother’s girlfriend spent last year in Łódź. Furthermore, being a history student, Poland’s vast, and sometimes harrowing, history makes it the ultimate destination.

Firstly, I had to brave the airport alone and more importantly, entertain myself for 3 hours whilst waiting for my flight. Boarding the plane was a stressful and rushed process – why can people not queue without pushing? (or is that just my British side showing?). I must admit I slightly cheated on the whole independence thing upon arrival having booked a taxi to take me to my hostel but hey, it was 8pm and I was tired.

I stayed in a lovely hostel just outside the city centre called Mosquito. If anyone is thinking of visiting Krakow then I really recommend this hostel; the staff were absolutely lovely and the small size made it feel very welcoming.

I did a little exploring my first night, doing what all travellers do in a foreign country and have a McDonald’s for my tea, before settling into my bunk for the night.

Getting up early, I went on the free walking tour around the Jewish quarter which was around 2 hours. The tour guide was so knowledgable and explained both the past and the present of the area. As a history student, I was really engaged by the information given but I think I would struggle to find anyone who wouldn’t be. k.jpg

Walking through the historic Jewish quarter, there were memorials and reminders everywhere of the horrific atrocities that were committed only 70 years previous. Being able to walk to where the walls of the Krakow ghetto stood tall and the guard posts of the SS soldiers was almost surreal, to stand where people had fought for their lives and lived under such terror and repression. It was also inspiring, that a city which had been so thoroughly devastated has been able to repair, but still remember. For any Spielberg fans, the tour takes you to the location of one infamous moment in Schindler’s List, where a young boy saves the life of his classmate, a Jewish girl.

(The railing to the right in my own picture is the stairs on the left picture)

The tour finished in the Heroes of the Ghetto square, where a memorial of several chair statues have been erected. I decided to continue on to the Oskar Schindler museum, which was about a 10 minute walk away. I recommend visiting the museum as it chronicles Krakow’s journey under Nazi occupation, and doesn’t spare on the graphic and heartbreaking details. For anyone without much knowledge of this period, the museum was extremely thorough and like most things I found in Krakow, very reasonably priced.k2

I must say, this quote is one of my all time favourites.

Although being the middle of December, I decided to walk the hour or so back into the city centre in order to see more of Krakow besides the marketed tourism spots. I’m glad I did, otherwise I wouldn’t have seen this beautiful scene on a bridge, overlooking the Vistula river. k3.jpg

My night was spent socialising in the hostel, getting to bed early in preparation to visit the Salt Mines. I went on an organised tour, which included transport to the mines, which I must admit was a relief to not have to navigate a train system I had yet to get to grips with. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures from inside the Salt Mines as there was a charge in order to take your own pictures, and I feel like I wouldn’t have done it any justice. Another thing to add to my already long list of sites to see in Krakow and its surrounding areas.

Another night of drinking with my fellow hostellers and yet another early night as the next day I was going to the site for which my whole reason for coming to Krakow centred around; Auschwitz-Birkenau. This infamous place needs no introduction and I won’t dwell on its purpose, as I’m sure any reading this already knows. I was surprisingly nervous to visit, as I wasn’t sure that I would be able to cope with such an intensely emotional experience but I knew that we have to acknowledge and remember such events, in order to prevent anything like it happening again. I think the poster in the entrance of one of the blocks which has been converted into a memorial display sums it best – those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.k4.jpg

This is one of the reasons why I am so passionate about history and all that we have to learn from it; time and again we see the same patterns repeating and it is up to my generation to ensure that we do remember, we do learn and we do not forget. I do have pictures from my visit but out of respect, I do not wish to post them online. I have them as reminders of my duty as a global citizen, the stand up for those who cannot themselves, and to not forget just how incredibly lucky I am. I will however post a picture of the rail tracks leading to Birkenau, to demonstrate just how somber and humbling the experience of visiting a concentration camp makes you feel. I remember being wrapped up in thermals, with snow falling around me in -5 degree weather and I couldn’t understand how people were able to survive in these conditions but they did. They did, and they have shared their stories.k5.jpg

My final night in Krakow was spent having a few drinks in a cosy bar with some hostel staff and other guests, chatting about our home lives. It sounds like a set up for a cheesy joke – An Italian, a Polish, a Brit and an Australian walked into a bar.

All too soon, my first ever solo adventure was over and I was on the train to the airport. For anyone considering travelling alone, do it. I hate to be a cliche but I really do think it helps you become more confident, as everything you do is by your own rules and own responsibility. I met some lovely people who I probably wouldn’t have spoken to if I was with my friends, and I could do what I wanted, when I wanted, even if that was just having a nap at 4pm!

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Absolutely Amsterdam

For a few years now, I’ve always really liked The Netherlands. It has always seemed like a very welcoming place and as I grow further disillusioned with my home country of the UK, the more liberal land of windmills, tulips and bicycles sounds more and more appealing. As a post-exams treat and to celebrate surviving the first year of university (just) I travelled to Amsterdam with two of my friends.

The flight was short and sweet and travelling from the airport to where we were staying was relatively easy. One thing the UK could definitely learn from its European friend is how to make a good train system. We stayed, for my first time, in an AirBnB. It was a lovely flat just outside the centre of Amsterdam, decorated very kitsch with a lovely balcony.13413565_1302706159743758_3157218458661687525_n

We were only there for a few days and so we crammed in as much of the tourist sites as we could. One particular sight, which I’m sure most tourists visit, is the Anne Frank house. The first time I read Anne Frank’s diary, I was 12. I knew little about the Holocaust, only that it happened and the atrocities that were committed. Now I was a little bit older, and studying History at university, I was extremely grateful for the chance to visit. It was very emotional, especially as we stepped up into the attic where the Frank family were in hiding. It is something I recommend that people do. Its a cliche saying, but I do believe that those who forgot about the past are doomed to repeat it. In such times as today, this message is even more vital for my generation and others to remember.

A boat trip along the canals gave us a whistle stop tour of all the sites of interest, without too much walking. The canals were extremely pretty. My hometown has one canal but it is murky and very unappealing, the direct opposite of Amsterdam’s canals13315735_1302707446410296_4498045465076369829_n

(featuring Amsterdam’s infamous bicycles)

Another tourist attraction, albeit perhaps the strangest I have ever visited, was the Sex Museum. Although I can appreciate the artistic momentum behind it, it was a interesting experience. Like most tourists, I had to get a picture sat on the giant statue of a penis.13423728_1302706373077070_2668501374959550390_n

Of course, Amsterdam (and The Netherlands) is infamous for its relaxed laws on smoking marijuana. Whilst I have smoked it before, I don’t class myself as someone who does it regularly. However, as they say, when in Rome do as the Romans do. It was strange that coming from a country where all drugs are strictly illegal and possession, never mind usage, comes with a hefty prison sentence and fine to be able to walk into a designated shop and smoke it wasn’t something I was entirely comfortable with but perhaps thats just me. Maybe I will become more accustomed to it when I live in Rotterdam from September.

A trip made by university students wouldn’t be complete without trips to pubs and bars. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to sit outside, by a canal, drinking a pint without having to worry about the stresses of university or everyday life. It was a welcome break.13406715_1302706189743755_2002711675454553436_n

trying to avoid getting this woman in the shot was clearly unsuccessful!

We were only there for a few days and before we knew it, it was time to come home but at least on our return, the weather in the UK was very lovely and I still had a chance to catch some rays.

I can’t wait to be able to return back to The Netherlands later on this year and immerse myself in an extremely welcoming culture and begin to experience the Dutch way of life although I hope their weather still remains significantly better than the UK’s!

 

University exams and second year so far…

January rolled around and that meant exams. Like 99.9% of people, I really don’t like exams, the panic that sets in when you’re told to you may begin and you scan the paper praying for good questions.

One thing I noticed this year is just how much harder my exams were, despite being told constantly that going into  second year is much like the jump between GCSE and A-Levels and by a jump, I mean a blind leap into an academic abyss that seems to be never ending. I sat 3 exams this January – medieval France, African American freedom struggles and 1919-1945 (extremely varied!)

Even after 2 exam periods at university, I’m still adjusting to just how differently exams are taken. Firstly, its extremely impersonal. You are reduced to just your student number and seat number as exams are marked anonymously. Secondly, your mobile phone is on your desk (turned off obviously) and placed in a plastic bag for the duration of the exam. I am notoriously bad, during revision, at picking my phone up to procrastinate so I could genuinely feel my hands twitch towards my phone instinctively when I lost my train of thought in the middle of the essay.

Thankfully, my exams went fairly well. Of course, I’m not entirely happy with them but I know that I put enough work into my revision to have passed, I just now have to wait to see how well I passed!

I’m going to Rotterdam…?!

Definitely the most exciting news I’ve ever received came just last week when I found out that I will be studying in Rotterdam for a whole entire year from September!

I know, it’s crazy, I don’t speak any Dutch and even at university I only live an hour away from my hometown, let alone to be living in an entirely different country!

Sure, I’m excited but I am also incredibly nervous but I know that this is something that I really want to do, and almost feel like I have to. There is so much pressure during, and just as you finish university, to settle down into a steady job and move forward with your relationship with your significant other (or in my case, actually find one lol). However, I know that I don’t want to settle down just yet. How can I knowing that there is so much of the world I haven’t seen yet? When else can I just spontaneously book a £50 return flight to a country that I have only seen in the pages of books and on my laptop screen.

If anyone has any recommendations for cool things to do in Rotterdam and the ‘it’ places to go (especially bars, I love pints and cocktails equally) please let me know and to you the Netherlands, I’ll see you in a couple of months xo

Budapest, you da best

Having survived my first term at university, with all its highs and lows, I travelled to Budapest with several of my course mates for a weekend and sight seeing and drinking (as university students know best).

After a very early start, we landed in the capital of Hungary and reached our hostel where we quickly unpacked and started to explore the city. I knew a little about Hungary, and Budapest, from my history books and general knowledge. One of the states that emerged out of the Soviet Union, I knew the history of this country would be vastly different to the history of my own home country, the UK.

Eager to try the local food, we headed to the Great Market Hall managing to grab some delicious food just before it closed. Whilst I enjoyed most of the hearty ingredients, I just couldn’t quite get along with the sauerkraut.10264541_1207371972610511_3171197216414988663_n.jpg

We did go out drinking that night but I don’t remember much of what happened, partly due to having a terrible memory and this was a year ago!

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However, here is a very blurry photo of what I’m sure was a good night!

The next day, slightly hungover and very tired, me and my friends further explored the different parts that Budapest had to offer. I don’t have many photos from this trip because my phone recently decided to break and I lost most of the photos I hadn’t deemed instagram worthy. Amongst the sights I visited were St Stephen’s Basilica, Buda Castle and the Hungarian Parliament.

My favourite of these sights, as I’m a sucker for relaxing in water, was the Széchenyi thermal baths. It was an interesting experience going in mid January as the warmth from the water was quickly removed as you rushed to get into the next bath in the snow that was falling lightly. It was over all too quickly and we trudged our way back to our hostel, experiencing the underground train system with only a few mishaps and nearly missing our stop.12552661_1207371795943862_8185242742127872262_n

As you can see, the water was very warm like a large bath but sharing it with a lot of people!

My trip to Budapest was only 3 days long and it wasn’t long before I was sat back in my university lectures daydreaming about travelling again. I think this was where my love for travelling really began to be cemented in myself as only a few weeks later I booked a trip to Amsterdam in the summer! I am planning on visiting Budapest again, potentially this time in the summer to experience a change of weather (I seem to do a lot of my travelling in winter, probably because its cheaper!) The following term at university I learnt about different events that happened in Hungary during the Soviet occupation and I began to imagine how it must have been to walk down the same streets I did, only 50/60 years earlier. This is part of the reason why I absolutely love studying history as you can really imagine what it was like to live during the times which most people only fleetingly glance at in an article in the newspaper or on a Wikipedia page.

Budapest is a really beautiful city, filled with wonderful people and I felt humbled by the resilience of a country who spent nearly a century in turmoil12592565_1207371825943859_5125275556708305337_n

(what can I say, I love a snapchat filter)

Iceland part 2

Continuing down the south coast of Iceland, we stopped off at the black beach at Vik. Several selfies and photoshoots took place as our teacher delved into a folklore story about the rock formations10653438_910315932346328_4342567209794888679_n

My favourite part of the trip, but also the most wet and dangerous to my clumsy self, happened when we stopped at the Skogafoss waterfall and ventured up a glacier. I knew Skogafoss was tall but even for someone of average height I underestimated just how much it would tower over me. I want to take this part to thank my friend Libby Pattison for taking so many incredible photos of Iceland as my iPhone 4s just was not capable of doing the scenery any justice11081458_910314879013100_892226193870283513_n

(As you can see, I was very excited!)

The trip now began to round off but not before we had a chance to visit the famous Geyser Hot Springs. After several health and safety warnings, we stood around a large geyser known as Strokkur and waited for it to erupt. It certainly did not disappoint.

The morning before our flight home we went on a whale watching boat trip with an enthusiastic crew who were eager to tell us the sea creatures and to quickly dispel any myths about whale hunting that Iceland had become infamous for. Unfortunately we did not see any whales, and the boat trip left several of my classmates feeling sea sick, but we were greeted by Reykjavik’s scenery as we returned to shore, showing how even urban life can be very pretty indeed.11083635_910418592336062_2289379634621676281_n

I sat in the airport, every tired and several pounds lighter from all the healthy food and exercising I had been doing, having completed my Icelandic adventure. 2 years later, I’m still planning on when I can return but unfortunately my student budget does not allow for another trip to this beautiful, albeit expensive, country. I’ll leave this entry here with the words of wisdom that my geography teacher reminded my class of several times -if you don’t like the weather in Iceland, just wait 15 minutes and it will change.

Where it all began

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

When I was younger, I never saw myself as much of an explorer, or even a traveller. Sure, I had gone on holiday with my parents to Spain, France, Greece to name a few but I rarely left the confines of the hotel, my only glimpse of the country were when I was staring outside the window of the coach transfer.

This changed during my second year of sixth form, when I was 18, and had the chance to spend a few days in Iceland with my geography class. It was all I could talk about – I set up a countdown clock on my phone and waited impatiently for March 2015 to roll around.

Landing in Iceland gave me my first view of why it was named so, it was freezing! Luckily, we were immediately heading to the Blue Lagoon to experience the geothermal wonder in all its glory. My first culture shock happened when we were informed we had to shower naked before entering the warm water, my English introverted side extremely apparent to the bemused staff. Once I got over my initial embarrassment, it was a rush into the heavy snow and blistering wind, eager to submerge my pale body into the curiously pale blue water.blue-lagoon-price

(http://www.bluelagoon.com/images/new-node/blue-lagoon-price.jpg)

It is easy to see why Iceland uses this as one of its main tourist attractions for I have never experienced anything like this. My later trip to Budapest and the thermal spa was just as relaxing but the awe-inspiring scenery of the Blue Lagoon is second to none.

All too quickly my teachers bundled us all back onto our coach to head back to Reykjavik and our hotel for the night. Thoroughly exhausted, I don’t remember much of the night apart from sleeping for a very, very, very long time.

The next morning, we travelled down to the south coast of Iceland, visiting Thingvellir National Park. We slipped and skidded down the paths and stood over the trench created by two tectonic plates, being able to say I was on two continents at the same time. Every step I took was met with incredible views of the scenery and for the first time in my life, I felt extremely humble. I was surrounded by such extreme natural beauty and couldn’t believe it existed.10995922_910417822336139_4782401024074358925_n

(Credit to my friend Libby Pattison for this photo)

I will continue my story on the next blog post…