Hello Again!

I owe a massive apology to everyone who reads this. I’d love to say that I had “Blogger’s Block,” but really I just forgot to post. Anyway, I’m back now! And I certainly have a lot to write about.

I’ve just finished my first semester at the University of Glasgow, where I’m studying German, Italian and Comparative Literature (we compare books from different cultures on the same theme). I’m really trying to be positive about it, but it doesn’t stop me from doubting myself. It’s been a LOT tougher than I had expected, but my choice of subjects meant I only had one official exam – I can’t really complain, because it means I get a whole month off for my Christmas holiday!

I can’t write a post about starting university without mentioning the insanity that was Freshers Week! I’m a commuting student, which means I live with my parents, so I only went to a couple of evening events. I came second in the commuter students quiz (my specialist topic was Taylor Swift, and it was as embarrassing as it sounds)! Went to the ceilidh but everyone there was so wonderfully professional I was too scared to dance! I didn’t really stay long though, because my German introductory lecture was at 9am the following morning.

  
I didn’t really meet anyone I actually wanted to be friends with until my courses officially started. In my small German seminar alone, there are students from Spain, the Czech Republic, Finland and Greece. It’s absolutely wonderful! I can’t get my head around it sometimes.

It’s taken me a really, really long time to get properly settled in. I hated university at the start of the semester – which is part of the reason I left this post so late. I was just feeling really negative about the whole thing, finding it not just challenging, but impossible. I’ve discovered that meeting people really helped however: university coursework shouldn’t be struggled over alone! My Italian study group meet in Italian cafes around the West End, and we usually order in Italian (much to the delight of the staff)! I think I might finally be finding my feet here.

  

The campus is pretty amazing too. Although most of my lectures are in the boring, 1970’s blocks that they don’t show on open days, wandering around the old part is about as close as I’ll get to Hogwarts!

Overall, the past 11 weeks (the semesters are so short!) have been the most eye-opening, terrifying but completely awesome times of my entire life. I really owe an apology to everyone who put up with my complaints! 

 Tomorrow I set off for Switzerland, as a celebration that my exams are over (and a chance to practice my German)!

First Visit to Alto Adige (Sud Tirol)

It’s been far too long since my last blog post, but a lot has happened since then! I started university a couple of weeks ago, and already there’s a growing pile of books to be read and essays to write. Still, I think it’s a good time to remember what a fantastic summer I had!

The train journey from Munich to Brixen in Italy took about three hours. It was a beautiful and very interesting trip, but I’ll leave the details until I write about our more adventurous trip back to Munich at the end of the holiday!

Brixen itself is a lovely town. The Italian name is Bressanone, but it is mainly German speaking. On our first evening there, we watched groups of people wearing traditional German costume dancing to oompah music, against a background of Germanic architecture and clock towers- it’s actually very difficult to realise you’re in Italy! We ate pizza with a German beer near the Hofgarten – it was pretty bizarre.

We spent our second day in Bolzano/Bozen. In the morning, we went up in the cable car to see some earth pyramids, which are mounds of earth and mud with huge boulders embedded in the tops. I’ve truly never seen anything like it!

Back in the town, we went to see the Iceman, an exhibition of a Copper Age man who was found in the Otztal Alps, very close to the border between Austria and Italy. Although I disagree with having human remains on display at a museum, it was absolutely fascinating to see perfectly preserved examples of copper age clothing, weapons and tools.

On the 25 August, we visited Franzensfest, an Austrian fortress. When it was built in the 1880’s, it was the strongest of its kind in Europe, however it never experienced an actual battle, and became technically obsolete. It was used as a place for hiding Nazi gold in WWII, and is now just an empty shell, too far from anywhere to be of any real significance. It is built right over the river, and is a very dramatic spot – the odd modern artworks and the fact that we went on a rainy day made it feel particularly bleak and atmospheric!

We spent the afternoon in Italy’s most northerly town – although “Italy” and “Northern” should not be placed in the same sentence! It’s basically Austria. I heard very few people speaking Italian, all the shop signs were in German, there were restaurants selling wurst and kartoffelsalat and even the public transport ran on time. Actually, it was probably more Austrian than Austria.

Towards the middle of our holiday, we had a day in Bressanone, where we were staying. We went to the pharmacy museum, which is still a pharmacy, but the company just kept everything, right from when it first opened. It’s beautifully displayed, and there’s a lot of information about how mountain plants have always been used for medicine.

We also saw the rehearsals for the Miss Alto Adige contest. Quite entertaining to watch, as it was a searingly hot day and the contestants had to dance around in uncomfortable shoes until midnight. Actually, I just wanted to be able to say that I’d seen it!

Towards the end of our holiday, we did the classic Dolomites walk, to see the Tre Cime. I’ve never walked alongside so many other people in my life (we even saw some hiking nuns), but I can understand why it is so popular!
I had a really amazing time in Süd Tirol, and in my next post I’ll be writing about the rest of my holiday there!

72 Hours in Munich

My first time in Munich was a really memorable one. My parents wanted me to basically do all the German speaking, so I felt like I worked for it!   On the first day, we got free entry (holiday planning is so worth it) into the Pinakothek der Moderne, a design museum. We didn’t want to exhaust ourselves early on, so we went into the basement, which is a condensed version of the design collection. The highlights were the Audi design wall and the history of computers!
Afterwards we went to the Englischer Garten, for beer and currywurst. This was accompanied by an oompah band, all wearing Bavarian hats and lederhosen, playing from the top of the Chineseische Turm.

Our second day started at the university, at a subtle memorial embedded in the pavement.

It commemorates Hans and Sophie Scholl and the White Rose anti-Nazi non-violent student resistance movement. They left flyers around the university, but were tragically caught by the custodian. I think it’s a very emotional, but fitting reminder.

We then wandered around Odeonsplatz, which has three pretty hideous statues, but gives you an amazing view through the main city. Marienplatz was our next stop, the most touristy area. It has a famous clock, with dancing figures and a knight gets knocked off his horse by a figure representing Bavaria.

If you’re following the pattern of the holiday, you’ll have guessed we finished the day with a beer. Hofbräuhaus has become one of my favourite places in Munich – it’s a Bier Halle on three floors, with yet another oompah band! We sat on the balcony above the courtyard, and watched dirndl-wearing waitresses carrying alarming amounts of beer and wurst.

Our last day was just as good! We had to do the touristy thing and visit Dallmyr, the oldest delicatessen in Munich. It is definitely worth it, but I guarantee it will make you hungry!

The Frauenkirche was also very beautiful. I was epecting another over the top baroque church, but it’s actually quite plain inside.

I had my first experience of being inside a statue that day! The Maiden of Bavaria is what my dad would call a “stonker.” It’s basically so big you can walk up inside it and get a view over Theresianwiesen, the area in  which Oktoberfest is held. You don’t get a particularly good view, and being inside the statue’s head is pretty weird. They were just setting up for Oktoberfest when we were there, so it was still worth a visit.

An afternoon in the Bavaria park Augustina Biergarten was a perfect way to end our short time in Munich.

Glamping in Switzerland (part 2)

I have a few funny stories about that holiday that I forgot to include in the previous post – my favourite one includes a really terrifying insect.It was late at night, and I had just managed to fall asleep (despite the people staying in the tent next to us, who talked loudly until 3am). My youngest cousin woke me up to tell me that there was a large insect beside him, so he couldn’t get to sleep.

When I finally woke myself up enough to look at it, I got the absolute fright of my life! No wonder he couldn’t get to sleep, if this thing was staring him in the face!

We eventually got it out of the tent, but I think we all spent the night worrying about what insects were lurking in our tents.  For lack of a better name, we called it “The Beast”.

One of the main highlights of the holiday was our trip to the  top of the Schilthorn. Although I’m not a huge fan of cable cars, the views from the top (2970 metres high) were amazing, and we even got to go in the revolving restaurant!

The view was more wild and exposed than I’d expected – and I was able to see the North face of the Eiger, something I’ve been really interested for ages. People have been climbing it to break records since the 1930’s, and the current record was set by Swiss climber Dani Arnold – 2 hours and 28 minutes.

The James Bond museum was good fun as well (although I was feeling a bit lightheaded from the altitude). I can now say I’ve sat in a Bond helicopter and the bobsled!

 

It was a great holiday, and I really enjoyed seeing some of my Swiss relatives too! Sorry the post is so short, but I might be bombarding the blog with posts in the next few weeks. I’m off for a 3 week holiday starting in Germany, travelling to Italy and ending up in Austria!

Glamping in Switzerland

A bit of a contrast to staying in a tent I can’t stand up in, waiting for the freezing rain to stop, last week I stayed in a luxury safari tent in Interlaken, in Switzerland. It was the first time I had been on holiday with my cousins and my aunt, so I had no idea what to expect!

The tent had deck chairs, a big camping stove, cupboards, a fridge and a freezer. Also, proper beds, and bedrooms complete with rugs! Although my aunt was “surprised at how basic it was,” for me, it was the height of luxury.

On the first day, we went to Lauterbrunnen to walk to the Trummelbach Falls. It was a longer walk than we expected, but the views were amazing. It was a perfect welcome to the area, and the waterfalls themselves were so beautiful, they are almost impossible to describe. My photographs simply don’t do it justice! You go up inside a network of caves and tunnels in the rock, and the water sprays and thuds around you. we were all pretty glad of the drenching we received, because the warm weather was a shock after the Scottish summer we are used to!

We went to Bern, which (this surprised me) is my aunt’s favourite European capital city. She loves it because it is quiet, and not particularly urban – ironically, for those reasons, it is not my ideal destination!

After a stressful yet delicious lunch in the Migros food hall, we went to see the city’s famous bears. Unfortunately, they were re-doing the new enclosure so the bears were being kept in a zoo elsewhere. However, the old “bear pit” was open for us to go inside instead.

I remember the pit only vaguely, but even as a child I was confused and unsettled by the cramped space the bears lived in, while people threw food down at them. Going into the pit itself was a very strange experience for me. Obviously the bears are treated a lot more humanely now, but I think keeping them in captivity at all doesn’t feel quite right.

It was a great week, and I got to see parts of Switzerland I wasn’t familiar with, and also revisited a few places I went to as a child. We went to Ballenberg open air museum, went swimming in Lake Thun and had some amazing food. However, the highlight was going up the Schilthorn – I’ll be writing about that in my next post.

Camping in the sunshine!

I can understand why some people think camping is their worst nightmare. It can be a hit – or – miss situation, but this time it was easy, and everything went very smoothly (once we waited nearly an hour for our pasta to boil, and my dad tipped the whole thing in the grass. The fact that he said “Pasta salad anyone?” did not make it any better)! We stayed in Rhandirmyn, in Wales. It’s a lovely campsite, with river walks very close by. We didn’t actually use the car at all after arriving, we just walked everywhere. We have two very small backpacking tents, so it doesn’t take long to pitch up (I think my record is about 10 minutes, not that I’m really competitive about this or anything).

One of the main highlights of the holiday was the village festival. We had a local day, looking at the flower displays in the church, and later we went to the open day at Coleg Elidyr, quite a well-known specialist college. Having been to Rhandirmyn a few times, we’ve always driven past these places but never really known anything about them!

Dinas nature reserve is one of our favourites. We’ve made it a kind of tradition to go there every time, because it’s especially beautiful in the evenings. The joke is , however, that we’ve never really seen any wildlife there! My dad and I also went up to the cave of Twn Sion Cati (or Thomas Jones) which you can walk to as part of the reserve. As far as I know, he was the Welsh version of Robin Hood. The cave isn’t spectacular or anything, it’s more of a giant cleft in the rock.

On our last day, we went to Caerphilly castle. It’s the second largest castle in Britain, after Windsor, and the first to be built in the “concentric circle” formation. It’s very spectacular, especially the tower leaning due to subsidence, which apparently beats Pisa’s Leaning Tower! The castle has been the backdrop for loads of films and TV shows, and you can definitely see why. It’s particularly atmospheric, and was actually too big for us to see everything in a day!

I don’t know if it really counts as a holiday, but we went to visit my grandmother afterwards. She lives in Somerset, so it wasn’t too far to travel, and basically on our way back home. Not much to write about, apart from my first ever experience of a circus! I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but ended up really enjoying it. I’m going to admit that I still find clowns a bit weird, and was pretty freaked out by the contortionist, but the aerial acts and acrobatics were very impressive. I have to go and pack for my next holiday now! Heading off to Switzerland on Monday!

A fresh take on heritage

I’m currently on my second frappuchino, desperately using cafe wifi to within an inch of it’s life (we’re staying with my gran and she doesn’t believe in the Internet)!

I mentioned in my previous post that I’ve been camping. We managed 6 nights under canvas before admitting defeat when the forecast suggested heavy storms!

We started off in Worcester, and went to a couple of National Trust sites. Biddulph Grange is a massive restored Victorian garden which features separate gardens with plants from all over the world, but you never know what’s coming next. One minute you’re surrounded by beautiful Acer trees and Chinese zodiac symbols, and the next, you’re face to face with an Egyptian Sphinx! It was just a great place to wander round, somewhere really fun to explore.
We also visited “Capability” Brown’s first landscaped garden. Not that the garden isn’t interesting (its lovely to walk around and we enjoyed the strategically placed deckchairs) but I’d rather talk about the house. It’s in a state of complete disrepair, probably couldn’t look much worse, and they’re slowly recovering layers of history. The Trust is trying to decide what to do with the house, which parts of it’s vibrant history to uncover. It had been a country home, followed by a boarding school, a wartime hospital, was taken over by the Hari Krishna in the 1970’s, and fell into disrepair 10 years later. I just found it particularly interesting, because a lot of these places are very similar restored stately homes, and you don’t really see the parts of history which they don’t want you to see!

The outside of the building was covered in scaffolding, but hey had specially built a platform to give visitors an unusual view.
Seems a shame to end it here, but I think I’ve outstayed my welcome in this cafe! More on the way when I get home to normal internet!