Culture and Languages · History · Travel

Ohhh Vienna: Arrival and Day One

Our immediate impression of Vienna was that it reminded us of Bahrain. Then again, that’s somehow our first impression of nearly every place my sisters’ and I visit, so that’s probably not much to go on! Despite being late evening, we were greeted by hot night air and, of course, large screens displaying photos of Schnitzel above the luggage conveyer belt. I’ve opted to gloss over the fact that people actually clapped when the plane landed because, to be honest, I’m still suspended in shock and disbelief 24 hours on.

We landed in Vienna International Airport, or Flughafen Wien-Schwechat in German, just as the sun was setting, which we watched from the aeroplane window as we descended. As our flight was delayed, and then our luggage was even more delayed, we arrived at our hotel well after dark – and well after dinner time! So, after depositing our bags, we set off to find some food. After walking for about five minutes we came across a busy and buzzing square, where we settled on an Italian restaurant. By the time that we finished eating it was coming up to midnight, and thus we went straight to bed. Sounds seamless doesn’t it? Unfortunately, about half an hour in, my bed literally collapsed! Lifting up the mattress, we found that about three quarters of the slats were missing and I had to relocate to a different bed. Thankfully, the second bed was 100% bed, as opposed to 25% bed, and so I finally was able to sleep.

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The next morning we quickly got ready, then set out for the Schönbrunn Palace, which is situated just outside of Vienna. Schönbrunn Palace was a summer residence that belonged to successive Hapsburg monarchs. As it is slightly further away than most sights, we had to take a taxi, which, surprise surprise, only held four people. However, after we received our second taxi of the morning, we set straight off and ended up arriving at the palace half an hour earlier than our tickets were booked for. Because we could not go in yet – and because we had not eaten anything and were all hungry – we stopped at one of the palace cafés, where we had apple strudel, naturally. By the time we had finished it had approached eleven; it was time to enter the palace. As we walked up the main path towards the entrance we admired the beautiful exterior, stopping for several photo opportunities. Once we were in, however, it soon became apparent that the interior was the real beauty.

Upon entry we were faced with a grand staircase, enclosed by bright white walls that were dotted with portraits. The ceiling was the main sight though: a maginificent painting, comprising of many rich colours. From the stairs, we walked into the first of many rooms that we were able to explore. This room, as well as many of the others, was decorated with sparkling gold embellishments and each ceiling showcased a massive crystal chandelier. We explored many different types of room, including dressing rooms, dining rooms, the princesses’ day room and many, many sitting rooms, each decorated in different ways. Many walls held portraits of Maria Theresa and her children, whilst others displayed extravagant artworks. When we progressed through into the Grand Tour rooms, we also encountered rooms inspired by Chinese artwork and a room decorated entirely in black. To me, the most beautiful room was a large airy hallway, with multiple windows along both walls, glittering gold embellishments, lights and chandeliers and a massive painting on the ceiling. It was in this room that I was, unsurprisingly, told off for taking photos, after trying my luck too many times!

Whilst we had finished admiring the many rooms of the Schönbrunn Palace, we still had the gardens to explore. First stop though: lunch. Honestly though, our holiday is not revolving around food, which I appreciate is how this is starting to read. Or maybe it is… which is equally okay with me. For lunch I had a goat’s cheese salad (far from ideal for the lactose intolerant, but hey, turns out it’s easier to digest then cow’s cheese – read an article about it here). After lunch, we began to walk through the extensive gardens. There were many trees and fields, as expected of any vast garden, but the main showcase was at the back of the palace. Here, we discovered beautiful landscape gardens, shaped into neat square shapes adorned with multicoloured flowers and fountains. We sat in these gardens for a while, before travelling back to the hotel for a short touchdown to get out of the thirty degree heat.

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When it was cooler, at around 5pm, we wandered to Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), which is a pretty, gothic cathedral that was built in the 12th century. We took some photos of its exterior, before heading inside to look around. The interior looked much like all cathedrals do, with some beautiful stained glass and lots of candles. However, as it is a working church, unfortunately most of the cathedral was cordoned off, and thus our visit was short and sweet. Once we left Stephansdom, we headed off in pursuit of some dinner. After walking for ages we finally settled on a restaurant, where I had a meal of salmon and potatoes (aka the only thing on the menu that I could eat). After dinner we returned to our hotel as the sun was starting to set over Vienna once more.

Arts · Travel

Old Friends are NOT Best Left in the Past: Three Days in Liverpool 

I am writing this post whilst on the train back home from Liverpool, where I have spent the last three days visiting my friend Evie. Having been friends since we were nine years old, Evie is my longest friend and yet still someone who I continue to consider to be one of my very best friends. As she lives in New Zealand, this is only the second time in the last six years that I have seen her, hence the amazing three days were all the more meaningful, as I do not know when I will next get to see Evie, except through the pixelated screen of a poorly connecting Skype call.

I arrived at Liverpool Lime Street Station at around half past two on Thursday afternoon, where Evie met me on the platform. As Evie’s grandma (whose house we were staying at) lives slightly outside of Liverpool, we decided to remain in the city for the rest of the afternoon. Because it was lunch time, and a nice day, we walked to this small outdoor fair place – Evie was unsure if it was permanent or not – where we sat for a bit and ate some delicious halloumi fries. After lunch, we wandered across the water by the docks and arrived at the Tate Liverpool, where we stayed for an hour or so to look at several displays. One piece of modern art that stood out in particular was a sign (similar to that of a board in a train station) in which random thoughts, perhaps belonging to the artist, were circling; Evie and I were fixated and must have watched it for about ten minutes. The first thought we saw however, read “Old friends are best left in the past” – something which Evie and I certainly did not agree with!

After exploring the Tate Liverpool, Evie and I went to Liverpool One shopping centre, where we looked round the shops and in Evie’s case bought a number of things. Finally, when we were done looking at all the shops that New Zealand seems to be massively lacking in, we got on the train to The Wirral where Evie’s grandma lives. Evie’s sister Isabelle (who I haven’t seen since she was eleven) and her cousin Ellie (who I’ve only met once, years ago, when she visited Bahrain) drove us home from the station and I saw Evie’s family for the first time in over half a decade, as only Evie had visited me last year. We had dinner and dessert and lots of sweets and then the four of us – Evie, Issy, Ellie and I – watched Love Island. After that, Isabelle and Ellie went to Ellie’s house, while Evie and I made the regretful decision to watch a super traumatic psychological thriller called Pet until we were almost too disturbed to go to sleep.

The next day we woke up at about 8:30 am, got ready and had breakfast. Then, at around eleven o’clock, Evie’s mum drove us to the station, where we got on the train to Chester, which is a town also quite close to Liverpool. Chester was a really pretty and historic town, with lots of old buildings along the high street. True to what we do best together, we spent another day shopping both in Chester and then later in Liverpool again. Less was bought on Friday than Thursday though, as a long period of time in Chester was spent in a shoe shop where Evie could only find one boot of a pair of boots that she liked! As well as shopping, we also had lunch in Chester: I had a lovely mushroom and cheese toastie.

After our rather late lunch, we got the train from Chester back into central Liverpool. In Liverpool we met up with Ellie and Issy and went to a café on Bold Street called ‘Love Thy Neighbour’. This has got to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing cafés that I have ever been in; I seem to remember having seen it before on a blog or Instagrammers’ feed! Following this, we looked in a number of independent vintage shops on Bold Street, with Ellie showing us where to go, as she actually lives in Liverpool. After a while, Ellie and Isabelle went back home, whilst Evie and I looked in a few more shops before following suit. Back at Evie’s grandma’s house, Evie and I had our dinner of surprisingly very tasty vegetarian sausage rolls, and then Ellie and Isabelle arrived right in time for Love Island again. After Love Island, the four of us squeezed into one double bed, where we started watching a film called Mothers’ Day. We did not finish it however, as Evie’s laptop ran out of charge, and as we were all tired we decided to go straight to sleep.

Despite plans to wake up very early this morning, Evie and I finally made it downstairs at close to eleven a.m.. As my train was at quarter to three, we decided to head straight into Liverpool and explore the tourist attractions near the station. Thankfully, this area actually seemed to hold the majority of museums and galleries. We chose to go to the an art gallery – called The Walker Gallery – that had many paintings and sculptures, as well as a craft exhibition. We were also pleasantly surprised to find a number of pieces by famous and well known artists, such as Lowry’s paintings of Liverpool itself. Once we had finished at this gallery, we attempted to go to a second gallery, but it turned out to be quite expensive so, instead, we decided to go to Radio City in St John’s Beacon, from which we got an amazing view of the whole of Liverpool.

From the top of the viewing platform, we identified a square that we thought would have nice places to eat, and this is where we set off to to find some lunch. Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case, however we found another nice cafe on Bold Street called ‘Koop’, which had a similar kind of vibe to an American diner. Evie was not hungry so only had a coffee but, as this was my only opportunity to have lunch before my journey home, I ordered a peanut butter, chocolate sauce and banana waffle. When it came, both Evie and I were shocked at the size – the waffle was enormous and served with a mountain of cream and a second mountain of ice cream! Evie and I ended up sharing the waffle in the end, as there was no way that one person could have eaten it on their own. We finished lunch in perfect timing, at around quarter past two, and then walked the short walk back to the train station, arriving in good time before my train departed.

Overall, I had an amazing three days, experiencing a new city, visiting a number of interesting galleries and tourist hotspots and, of course, spending time with one of my best friends. So, that art instillation was indeed incorrect after all: old friends are certainly not best left in the past.

Travel · University

From South to North: York, Durham and Best Friends

Exams done and First Year more or less over, I embarked on a three day trip up north, to visit some of my closest friends from school.

Having missed my train home from university on Friday, resulting in the waste of over £30 in the form of a second ticket, I was absolutely determined to ensure that I did not miss another train this week. Perhaps I was too determined however, as I arrived at Kings Cross Station over an hour earlier than my train was due to depart. Once on the train, I had a comfortable two hour journey to Nottingham, from which I moved onto a coach for the last leg of my journey to York. My coach dropped me off at York University campus, where I was met by my friend Anna. First, Anna showed me around her flat and her room. We then took a bus into the city centre where we walked through the Shambles, I took some touristy photos of York Minster and then we sat in a park and gossiped until it was time for my train to the second city on my list: Durham.

I arrived in Durham shortly after six pm, where I was greeted at the train station by my friend Emily. We walked to her college and had dinner, before going on a long walk through Durham. Despite being very small, it is undeniable that Durham is a beautiful city, predominantly full of rivers and churches. We sat on a bench by the river for a while, before returning to Emily’s room, in which we watched an episode of Gilmore Girls (which Emily has yet to finish) and then we went to bed. The next morning, we went to breakfast in college and then headed to Emily’s friend Hannah’s room, as Emily has roommates who have not yet finished exams. Here, we watched a couple more episodes of Gilmore Girls, and then headed into town, where we went window shopping for a few hours. We then returned to lunch in college, which was a tasty mozerella wrap and chips.

After lunch, Emily and I went for a walk around the other Durham colleges – I think that there are thirteen in total. For Emily’s birthday this coming Sunday, she intends to go on a bar crawl around the other college bars, and so the aim of our walk was to time how long this would take. Whilst at one college, we spotted my friend Ashwini outside on the phone – a weird coincidence, as I had not intended to see her until Tuesday. We stopped briefly for a chat, before continuing on our walk. When we got back to Emily’s college, we concluded that we did not fancy going to college dinner, and instead decided to go to Pizza Express; Emily’s friend Hannah came with us. I had a Pollo Forza pizza which was delicious, albeit very spicy. After dinner, we returned to Emily’s room, where we had a very early night, as Emily’s roommate had an exam the next morning.

On Tuesday, the final day of my trip, we woke up early and went to breakfast in college, just as we had done the previous day. We then spent the morning walking up to the river again, where we sat for a while, as it was a beautiful sunny day. As it begun to get more windy, we relocated to a café called Flat White Kitchen, which is supposedly famous in Durham, for delicious hot chocolates. After returning to college and eating lunch – which was mushroom pasta – we went back to Emily’s room to watch another couple of episodes of Gilmore Girls. At around three o’clock, Emily and I walked up to the hill colleges, where we met Ashwini. The three of us sat on the grass talking for about an hour, after which we had to part ways, as Ashwini had an exam in the following day to revise for and I had to ensure not to miss my 4:40 pm train. As we had cut it a bit close, we had to speed walk through town and up the hill, as I attempted (probably quite poorly) to seem as fit as Emily and not like I was going to stop breathing at any second! Thankfully, we arrived at the station with ten minutes to spare, and I soon departed on my journey back to London.

Over all, it was an amazing three days exploring new cities and catching up with three of my closest friends. Funnily, I have realised that Durham is the furthest north this southerner has ever been – not just within the UK, but also in the world!

Travel · University

A Weekend in Swansea

Two days ago, three of my friends and I travelled to Swansea, to spend the weekend at my friend Bee’s house.

We arrived quite late on Friday evening, at around six pm. Although this in itself was not late, it was certainly much later than the estimated arrival time! We went straight from the coach station to Bee’s house, merely catching a glimpse of the coast from the taxi window. When we arrived at Bee’s house we enjoyed a lovely dinner with her family. We were then shown to where we were staying – in a whole separate house at the end of the garden! After dinner we went to the bar that Bee’s boyfriend’s family owns for a short while, before trekking back up the (absolutely exhausting) hill. Lenya and I were sharing a room and, after talking for a short while, we went to bed quite early, as we were tired after the long journey  (the journey up the hill from the pub that is, not the breeze that was Bristol to Swansea).

On Saturday, the four of us, as well as with Bee’s younger sister, went to explore Swansea. This meant a long walk on the beach and the cliffs that overlooked the beach, concluding at Mumbles Pier, where we had delicious ice creams from a place called Joe’s Ice Cream. The beach was absolutely beautiful and the weather was surprisingly warm.

When we returned from the beach – and ate quite a bit of cake (!) – it was time to start getting ready for Bee’s birthday party, which was the reason that we had come. The party was pirate themed, but as Lenya and I had not done too impressively on the costume front, we attempted to redeem ourselves by painting massive eyepatches on our face with eyeshadow! The party started at around 7:30 pm, with many of Bee’s family and family friends in attendance, as well as a couple of Bee’s friends from school. At the party, Bee’s dad’s band (who would’ve thought) performed a number of songs, there was a hog roast (which I obviously avoided), delicious bean burgers, and a fire pit which we sat round when it became colder. The night did not conclude until about 3:00 am, at which point we – the university students – finally had to call it a night, whilst the adults remained strong for a couple of hours more!

Over all, the party was a lot of fun, as was the weekend in general! It was lovely to spend a weekend away – especially at the beach in the amazing weather. It is also weird to think that, despite having gone much further away by myself or with friends in England, for example to Leeds, and even to Bristol from home, this was the first time I had actually left the country without my parents – baby steps!*

*Thinking about it properly, that assertion is not actually true…