New Blog!

So I created this blog nearly a year ago…and then abandoned it for about ten months! However I’m now back to shamelessly advertise my new photography blog – https://thepathgoeson.wordpress.com/ – which I share with my boyfriend (and also sometimes my Mum).

So basically, if you like photography, or just like pretty pictures of landscapes, sunsets, random streets in London and anything else we feel like posting, please do take a look! I’m trying to do a daily photo (or set of photos) so don’t worry – you won’t be inundated with posts; there’ll just be something a bit pretty to scroll past on your reader every day.

Advertisements

Election 2015…Less than 24 Hours to Go!

The British General Election is taking place tomorrow; Thursday 7th May, allowing us to choose a new government to represent us for the next five years. So if anyone’s reading this, and if you’re wondering whether it’s actually worth voting, I simply urge you: use your democratic right, and give yourself a say in what happens to our country.

Students are currently the demographic group least likely to vote. If this continues, politicians will continue to have no reason to care for us; why should they make concessions for us if we’re not going to give them anything in return? Consequently, when someone in society needs to be exploited, it will be us. Again. Tuition fees, cuts to the education maintenance allowance, an economy based around the rich getting richer while the poor – often students and young people – are left to suffer. It will continue, if we don’t vote for change.

So I’d like to say one thing. I won’t start preaching about who you should vote for; it’s probably too late to change anyone’s mind anyway. But no vote is a wasted vote. The only wasted vote is the one that was never cast. My constituency – the Cities of London and Westminster constituency – is one of the safest Tory seats in the country. Even voting tactically won’t stop them getting in again in this area. But even in an extreme case like this, a vote for another party – any other party – is a protest against the status quo. That vote will be counted. It will be recorded. When it comes to minority parties – Green, SNP, Plaid Cymru and, unfortunately, Ukip, every vote counts. And if these parties can demonstrate that their supporters are increasing, the major parties will have to start taking them, and their policies, seriously. A vote for any minority party, regardless of whether it stands a chance or not, is a protest against the current exploitative system, and a declaration that we are not apathetic; we care about our country and our future. If you’re happy with the current system; if you believe it’s what’s best for Britain, then by all means, go out there and vote Conservative again. If you believe that we need change; if you think the Tories have made life harder for our society and made some bad decisions, then please, get out there and vote for someone else. Vote tactically, vote ideologically, but simply vote. Whether you’re a student, a worker, a pensioner, or anyone else, please get out there and show that you care about our society, and together we can make a difference.

Travels in Torun

IMG_1988   IMG_1887

IMG_1927   IMG_1864

Seeing as it’s exam season and I don’t have many adventures to write about – unless you would like to hear about the adventures of highlighting the Complete Works of Plato (yeah, I knew you’d want to hear about it) – I thought I’d write about a trip I went on a couple of months back, to a small city in central Poland called Torun.

You’ve probably never heard of Torun. Neither had I for a long time. Even after I started regularly visiting Poland it was not exactly well publicised. But at my boyfriend’s suggestion, we headed off for a spontaneous Valentine’s Day night away (or day-after-Valentine’s Day night away, to be exact) to this little medieval city in the heart of Poland; somewhere that neither of us had visited before.

Torun was once a member of the Hansa trading partnership, centred around the Baltic Sea. But whilst a number of Hanseatic cities; Hamburg, Stockholm and Gdansk, to name but a few, have become major international hubs in their respective countries, others have quietly faded into the distance, remaining small and a little bit out of the way, but keeping their charm in spite, or maybe even because, of this. Torun is no exception. Nestled along the Vistula (Wisla) river, red roofs and terracotta towers sprout out of the northern riverbank, squashed in behind the walls of the medieval Old Town, which, despite the significant growth of office blocks and housing estates on all sides, even beginning to sprawl out onto the densely forested south bank of the river, still undoubtedly remains the tourist and cultural heart of the city. Church spires, crooked castle walls, and the striking tower of the town hall (Ratusz) all jostle for a prominent position on the Old Town’s skyline and, upon ducking in through one of the ancient gates, you lose yourself in a small but lively maze of narrow cobbled streets, flanked on either side by brightly coloured and, at times, rather lavishly decorated buildings. Some are now shops, but the transformation is relatively tasteful and unobtrusive into the city’s historic character. Others are museums, cafes or simply still houses, and they all seem to have Italian restaurants in the basement.

The centrepiece of the Old Town is, undoubtedly, the town square. Originally an ancient market square, the imposing red brick town hall dominates the centre and a selection of the city’s finest architecture surrounds the edges; a pretty white church, a narrow town house richly decorated with carvings which, due to the distinctive gold star on its roof, is one of Torun’s most iconic buildings, and easily the grandest post office that I’ve ever seen in my entire life. We were in Torun in February; sunny though it was, it was also very cold, but I can imagine the square coming alive during the summer months with market stalls and families.

One of the highlights of the city is the Planetarium. The astronomer Nicholas Copernicus (Mikolaj Kopernik) was born in the city, and the red brick planetarium, built in a disused water tower with daily shows (which can be translated into multiple languages), has very much kept his legacy alive. Copernicus’s house is also now a museum, which boasts I-can’t-even-remember-how-many floors of artefacts relating to his life and discoveries (those European townhouses are deceptively tall).

Another of the most interesting things about Torun (at least, if you have a sweet tooth like me) is that it’s the home of Polish gingerbread. Gingerbread makers have been, well, making gingerbread for hundreds of years in the city, and I challenge you to think of any shape that cannot be bought in gingerbread form (we ended up with the 17th Century King of Sweden in gingerbread form. Why was he there? I have no idea, but I have since become very fond of Gustav the gingerbread man, our little mascot of the trip). The city boasts two gingerbread museums and, whilst I wouldn’t necessarily suggest visiting both, I would definitely recommend the one which, curiously enough, is situated in the basement of Copernicus’s house. Following the tour guide down into the underground, my boyfriend and I ended up, somewhat unexpectedly, in a gingerbread making class, in which my very limited knowledge of Polish was seriously put to the test. Whilst the gingerbread shapes – hearts, horses, kings of Sweden – the whole lot – are being cooked, visitors are then taken on a short, interactive tour of the museum and, if there’s anything you’ve been dying to know about gingerbread your whole life, you can probably find it out here.

Whilst we never actually left the Old Town, other than to get to and from the train station (which seems to be situated in the middle of a forest), there’s plenty to do in the historic centre, and it’s where most tourist attractions are located. A visit to the town hall, which is now a museum, is an enjoyable way to learn about the city’s past, and on a warmer day you can definitely make the most out of a walk down the river side and through the ruins of the ancient castle. All in all, our last minute trip to Torun was a thoroughly enjoyable experience – we only stayed for one night, but if we hadn’t been there on a Monday (which is the one day in the week when lots of museums and indoor attractions tend to close across Poland) or if it had been warm enough to spend more time outside, I would have gladly stayed for longer.

Putting the ‘Freedom’ Back into the EU’s ‘Freedom of Movement’

What does the EU do for us? Why should we allow foreigners to work in our country? With less than three weeks until the UK General Election, these and similar questions are ones that I’ve been hearing far too frequently. Euro-scepticism is rife in Britain at the moment. But the more I hear about the debate, the more I hear people treating EU membership like a one-way street. We give to the EU; what does the EU give back to us?

Now, there are countless articles out there that can tell you why it’s economically beneficial to remain in the EU. I’ve read some of them; they tend to sound pretty convincing. At the very least, I’m not going to try and compete with them. What I’m going to give you, instead, are the other reasons we should be in the EU; namely the EU’s Freedom of Movement principle, which we absolutely should not take for granted.

The EU’s principle of Freedom of Movement has been inherent to the Union since its very beginning, but has expanded as the size of the EU has also expanded. No one objects to the free movement of goods or capital, but it’s the movement of people that seems to cause more contention. But now that we, in the UK, are at real risk of having this freedom taken away from us, I want to point out why it’s essential to keep it in place, not just for immigrants coming to work in Britain, but also for those Brits who want to, whether for work, study or leisure, move around Europe.

Like I previously mentioned, EU membership is not a one-way street. And by this, what I mean is that flows of immigrants are not on a one way road into Britain. By and large, the migrants who do come to the UK enrich our culture and broaden our understanding of our continent and our world. They introduce new food; new music; new languages that we can learn, often with the assistance of native speakers. Millions of EU migrants are currently living, studying and working in the UK, but what we more frequently forget is that millions of British migrants are simultaneously living, studying and working in the rest of the EU. And if we left the EU, we would have these privileges slashed. In a year’s time I’ll be undertaking an Erasmus-sponsored year abroad in Germany. I actually get given money from the EU to go to live in another country, study at their university, learn a new language, and enjoy all the excitements of experiencing a foreign culture – food, festivals, national sights and attractions. If I feel like travelling – to Spain, to Italy, to Sweden – I can book a ticket, grab my passport and go. I don’t need to apply for a visa months in advance or fill out a time-consuming landing card upon arrival. The whole of Europe is at my fingertips, and it’s at everyone else’s fingertips too; the Polish, the French, the Lithuanians – and, the British. It’s an opportunity unique in the whole world; an opportunity we’ve been given to travel to exotic countries with better weather and nicer beaches; an opportunity to work in places we never imagined working; an opportunity to learn about numerous cultures and languages, bringing home the bits that we like the most and incorporating them into our own communities.

Imagine growing up in Manchester. You like Manchester. You don’t have anything against it. But reaching the age of eighteen, you realise that you want to study a subject not taught at Manchester university or you realise you want to embark on a certain career path that’s not readily available in Manchester. Perhaps you want to become a doctor, but there are already too many doctors for the number of job places in Manchester, so you can’t. Or perhaps you want to do a job that simply doesn’t exist in Manchester: become a ski instructor, or a strawberry farmer, or a BBC journalist. Supposing that perfect job is waiting for you in London, or Edinburgh, or Somerset. But you can’t have it. Why? Because London doesn’t want you. You might be the best, most hard-working, most dedicated instructor/farmer/journalist in the country, but if London doesn’t want you, it doesn’t have to admit you. That’s what would happen if we weren’t part of the EU, only on a larger scale. It’s a basic example, but it’s true: we would feel pretty bad if we had to stay in the same city or county for our whole lives. In the same way that moving from Manchester to London, or London to Manchester, can give many people more freedom, more opportunities, and ultimately more happiness in life, so can moving from Britain to Germany, or Finland, or Romania.

At the end of the day, Freedom of Movement is a freedom. It’s also a freedom that’s denied to most of the world. And we should treat it as the freedom that it is, and not as the burden or hindrance that more and more people are considering it to be, and we should get out there and make the most of it.

Edinburgh: Day 4

IMG_2328

The picture might convince you into thinking that, on our final day in Edinburgh, my boyfriend and I took a trip far into the misty Scottish wilderness, miles from any civilisation. In fact, the picture was taken in Edinburgh. The formation in the photo is Salisbury crags, and behind us stood the imposing shadow of Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano that we were going to reach the summit of.

At least, that was our plan for the day. Leaving the guesthouse in the morning, saying a sad farewell to our cosy little bedroom and all the free tea that came with it (I mean, there was free coffee too, but tea > coffee in basically every situation ever), we headed over the bridge and back to the Royal Mile. Starting from close to the top, we walked downhill all the way to the bottom of the Mile; as we did so the street became narrower and the shops even quainter than they were at the top; more cosy now than simply touristy, though still seemingly full of enough cashmere to cover the entire of Scotland in a giant blanket.

At the bottom of the gently sloping street we came across a rather curious building. I’m struggling to find the words to accurately describe it, to be perfectly honest. It was white; I can tell you that much. At least, most of it was white. There were some random sections clad in steel, wood, and even little bits of stone. It was big; that was for certain. But whatever it was, it was the Scottish Parliament building, and whilst I wouldn’t call it grand in the conventional sense, it was certainly impressive. If you told a Victorian era architect to design something with the name ‘futuristic and goddamn weird,’ I suppose he might have come up with something like that.

Almost directly opposite the Scottish Parliament is the far more traditional and, to me, far more aesthetically appealing Palace of Holyroodhouse. One of the Queen’s many holiday homes for when Buckingham Palace becomes a little boring, Holyrood is a magnificent, turreted building of brown stone. Sadly, the day we showed up at Holyrood was one of approximately three days in the whole year when it was closed to the public, but, undeterred, we headed into the sprawling, rocky wilderness of Holyrood Park that lay beyond.

Arthur’s Seat loomed above us, dark against the grey sky, its summit steep and windswept. Somehow I couldn’t quite believe that website I found on Google that told me we’d reach the top in fifteen minutes. But, seeing the people walking up the sides of the dark Salisbury Crags, we figured we may as well give it a try.

We walked in the shadow of Salisbury Crags for half an hour or so, but by the time we got to the foot of Arthur’s Seat, we were essentially back at ground level and, whilst the rocky walk had been enjoyable, it was not what we had set out to do. I checked the map, and checked it again, but I couldn’t actually work out where the path up the mountain was located. Some diminutive dots could be seen two thirds of the way up, hiking up a rocky outcrop that from our position far below looked far too steep for my jeans and Converse shoes attire.

It was at approximately that moment that a thin but persistent blanket of rain began to fall. Remembering back to the first day, I assumed it would have disappeared in five minutes. Looking at the thick clouds rolling in off the distant hills, however, I had to concede that this might not be true today. Scottish weather had finally caught up with us. Abandoning the hike up the hill, we turned inwards, to the centre of the park, taking the scenic but flat route back to the north and the rest of the city centre. Despite the persistent rain, which only grew heavier, it was actually a very pleasant walk. We were surrounded by more greenery than I’d seen in months of living in London, and hardly a person passed us by. Those who did looked like hardened walkers, dressed in raincoats and wellies, and I felt almost comically out of place. But we made it back to the odd Parliament building without either of us slipping over in the mud and therefore, despite not making it to the summit, I firmly consider the walk a success.

The first task of the afternoon was to find somewhere to warm up. I had in mind a small tearoom with carpets and cushioned seats, where the tea arrived in flowery teapots and a generous slice of cake came with it. Alas, we could find no such thing, so we settled for a small Spanish-themed cafe which was brightly coloured but otherwise largely charmless. We got the tea at least, but not in flowery teapots. In fact, the water tasted funny too.

After changing my shoes (my Converses were soaked through and my boyfriend had been kind enough to carry around my boots in his rucksack all day), we departed for an afternoon walk and a trip to the National Museum of Scotland, plus some well-deserved souvenir shopping. The museum was enjoyable but for the fact that it closed at five pm, and consequently we were given less than an hour to see it all. The dinosaurs, therefore, simply had to be the first port of call.

After the Museum and another late afternoon walk, in which time we managed to stuff more sweet souvenirs into our already overfilled rucksack, we headed for a restaurant that I had found by luck online. It was good that I had found it in advance; I struggled to locate it even once we were on the right street. It was in the basement of a small hotel, almost entirely unnoticeable, which is a shame as I consider it to be the best meal we had all holiday. We were the only customers for the first half of our meal; as a result we got a friendly greeting from the one waiter/barman as well as the chef. My Indian curry was big enough to fill me up for two meals, and my boyfriend’s fish and chips portion was bigger still.

Considering the coach home didn’t leave until eleven, we sat in the restaurant for longer than was perhaps necessary before going to pick up our bags and making our way to our final destination of Edinburgh Coach Station. It was sad to be leaving; I can say that much for certain. Despite being cold and soaking wet, I would have gladly stayed.

Edinburgh: Day 3

IMG_2203

On the morning of the third day we got up and headed straight to the train station, booking our tickets to a little town called Stirling, about 40 miles north-west of Edinburgh. Pulling out of the station (which is, according to a very proudly displayed poster in the entrance, apparently the only train station in the world to be named after a novel), we rumbled down the gorge dividing the city neatly in two, right past the foot of the steep, iron coloured castle hill. I had to crane my neck almost vertically to see the point at which the rough grey stone became the sculptured grey stone of the castle walls, which blended so perfectly into the rock as though they had simply grown out of it organically over hundreds of years.

The train sped us further away from Edinburgh and into the surrounding countryside. To my excitement, it was also speeding us towards hills. My high expectations of Stirling castle only grew higher as the train steadily manoeuvred to the right, and the hills began to get closer and closer, and I even glimpsed a light dusting of snow on the very tops, almost disappearing into the hazy sunshine.

Pulling into Stirling, a quaint but largely dead town, with pretty cobbled streets and stone houses juxtaposed against an ugly shopping mall and countless closed up Chinese takeaways, we headed away from the main area and up a few more even deader feeling streets towards the top of the hill, upon which the castle was situated. The closer to the castle we got, the prettier the surroundings became; not only could we see further and further across the expansive valley, but nail salons and estate agents made way for old churches and the prettiest youth hostel I’ve ever seen.

Even from the next road down, the castle was still not to be seen, but walking up just a few stone steps into the car park was when I really felt like a Medieval princess. It wasn’t so much the castle that did it for me, pretty though it was; it was the view. Located at the top of a hill in the middle of an enormous expanse of floodplain, with a ridge of hills to the east and higher, snow-capped mountains to the west, Stirling was most definitely THE place to be king. The person who controlled Stirling bridge controlled Scotland, or so our tour guide said, and I could most definitely see why. It really was the ultimate lookout post; you could see for miles.

Entering the castle itself, which is a similar style to Edinburgh castle and built out of the same weathered grey stone, with the exception of the great hall which is painted in an oddly bright gold colour, my boyfriend and I headed straight up to the highest lookout platform and got caught up gazing at the mountains in the distance. It sounds cliche, but it really felt like you were on top of the world. Heading inside with the guided tour almost seemed strange on such a sunny and almost-warm day (how had it been snowing two days ago?) but the tour was nevertheless interesting – apparently, all royal castles in Scotland were once painted in that bright gold colour, as ridiculous as it looked. Testing out a replica of the queen’s throne (could be a bit comfier if you ask me) only to find out that it was allegedly haunted was, however, a little disconcerting.

After the tour came to a close, we sat down for a civilised but slightly pricey lunch of scones and tea, and then headed off to finish exploring the castle grounds ourselves, exploring the old kitchens and making our way along the top of the back wall. By mid-afternoon we were on our way back to Edinburgh, however, with plenty more things lined up for the day. Despite both of us falling asleep multiple times on the fifty minute journey, we perked up again once we were back out in the fresh air and climbing up another hill. This time it was Calton Hill in Edinburgh city centre. Calton Hill was, without a doubt, one of my favourite places to sit in Edinburgh, particularly on a temperate late afternoon in the hazy sun. Dubbed ‘the Athens of the north’ for an unfinished, acropolis-style building on its peak, Calton Hill also boasts a number of monuments, two observatories (both sadly closed to the public), an old cannon and the favoured footpath of philosopher David Hume. Another remnant of an extinct volcano, it boasts the best viewing platform in Edinburgh, where one can look out on the rocky wilderness of Arthur’s Seat – yet another of Edinburgh’s numerous old volcanoes – to the south-east, the city centre and Prince’s Street to the West, and Leith port and the Firth of Forth to the north. Actually we spent most of the time sitting on the acropolis. If you’re actually able to climb up onto it (I needed a bit of assistance from my boyfriend, who’s a little less challenged by his height than I am) it’s a favoured spot for couples, and inevitably also a favoured spot for photos, so try not to get in too many people’s way.

Heading down from the open, dreamy bubble of Calton Hill, separated by its height from the noise and closeness of the city, was like heading back into the real world. Nevertheless, a walk around the southern side of the city, eventually leading us to a nice Italian restaurant, was still very pleasant, and a great end to the day.