Travel

Northern Ireland

I leave England in a few weeks, after four incredible years. However despite living in the northwest all this time, I had never made it to Northern Ireland, so Qas and I made a short last minute trip over to Belfast and the coastline as a break from the stress of grad school. We were only there for two days (two nights and an early morning flight) and while we could have filled another day we managed to fit everything in just fine.

On the first day (having landed at Belfast International at 7am on about an hour of sleep) we did a day trip up the Antrim Coastline, and were blessed with wonderful weather. While I’m too motion sick to tell you how beautiful the drive was (it seemed lovely), every stop was breathtaking. Sadly last year the Irish countryside wasn’t as green as you’d imagine when people say ‘the Emerald Isle’ thanks to a killer heatwave, but this year the hills and cliff sides lived up to their name. Our tour stopped by Carrickfergus Castle, the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge (which we did not walk across, and were happy to have saved the £10 – it’s pretty but not actually all that long and the coastline is pretty enough to enjoy without it), the Giant’s Causeway (which we did a wonderful walking tour of), and the Dark Hedges.

The second day we used one of the hop-on-hop-off bus tours, only getting mildly damp as the irish weather caught up to us. While they are pretty touristy, these busses are also a great value for money when it comes to getting around a city that is too spread out to be easily walkable. One of the main places we wanted to go was the Parliamentary Building, Stormont (hello yes we are both politics nerds) which is pretty far to the East, and this bus tour made it an easy trip.

Sadly due to the pouring down rain we didn’t get to stop and really walk the Peace Wall and look at murals, but did get to drive along it. Our tour did go through the neighbourhoods on either side of the wall, where peace gates still close from 7pm-7am, where you can see lots of murals ranging from peace monuments, memorials to those who died, to plenty of paramilitary murals. We then did the tour at Crumlin Road Gaol, a famous prison that closed in 1996. It was a great tour, very serious without getting into the politics of the conflict but acknowledging the suffering that took place within the prison walls. Also, the bus tour gets you £2 off your ticket which combines with a student discount, which was really nice.

We went to see St. Anne’s the (Protestant) cathedral in the city center, and timed it right to attend the evening prayer service. During the day you do have to pay to tour the cathedral, but if you attend a service you obviously get to see the church as well.

We had two great dinners in Belfast, at The Bootlegger and Fish City. We spent a few hours on our last night in The Duke of York (which has a giant whiskey selection neither of us could tell you about). Our AirBnB was great, about a half hour walk from the city center or a quick £6 uber ride, super clean and an great deal.

Transport to and from the airport is incredibly easy, a 30-45 minute bus ride you can pick up in the city center and just outside the airport for £12 both ways.

There’s a million other wonderful things to do in Belfast, from museums to the Black Cab tours that delve into the politics of the city, that we would have loved to do, but for a short trip and terrible weather we saw enough to make it a really wonderful trip.

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Travel

21 in Glasgow

It has occasionally hit me in the 2+ months since my birthday that I’ve passed the final “adult” marker. I’m by definition “in my 20’s”. I guess the strangest thing about birthdays is there isn’t a moment when you feel any older. When we woke up on the 31st of March, Q asked me how I felt, and I answered, from under my pillow, tired.

There was no change. It makes me wonder why we mark the change in our age by a single day, as if there is a measurable difference in who you are or what you can do from the day before to the day after your birthday. But I guess despite feeling the same, I am officially 21, so we can all imagine me buying my first legal (US) drink for tradition’s sake.

I’m not particularly a fan of birthday parties, so despite the notable new age, I celebrated with as little fuss as possible. Technically I spent most of my 21st birthday on trains, because there were quite a few delays coming back from Glasgow. But I count the I count the trip to Glasgow as my birthday, regardless of the date.

Glasgow is about a 2.5 hour direct train ride away, and we booked the trains last minute. The nice thing about traveling within the UK rather than abroad is there’s a lot less pressure to see everything. I’m sure we missed plenty of Trip Advisor’s ‘Top 10 Things To Do’ but I’m pretty okay with that.

I sorted travel and accommodation, so I was not in charge of sorting out exact plans. We got in around 12, so after dropping our luggage off at our hotel we went to find lunch. Like many of my travels, more research went into food than anything else. Lunch was tapas at Cafe Andaluz, a suggestion from some family friends. It was lovely, but also confirmed my fear that red wine without question gives me a migraine.

We spent essentially the rest of the day on a street art walking tour that gave me actual blisters. However it made sure we saw the entire city.

We also stopped by the Gallery of Modern Art, the one with the statue of the Duke of Wellington with the traffic cone on his head.

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The next morning (after sorting out the public transport system) we went to Kelvingrove, the main art gallery and museum in the city. It’s just outside the city centre near the university, but its lovely. Give yourself more time than we did if you want to wander through all the small gallery rooms, but its free so its worth it even if you only pop in for a short time.

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We had a very odd lunch/pie thing in the basement of a building while watching an incredibly odd play about the ‘worst poet ever’, a nearly surreal experience. Still hungry after the included ‘lunch’, we ate far more fried food than anyone ever should at Bread Meets Bread, but holiday calories don’t count, do they?

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We popped into the botanical gardens before heading all the way across the city to see the cathedral. I have to admit I’ve seen a lot of churches, cathedrals, priories, etc, and I would say Glasgow’s is beautiful. The stained glass is very bright and clear, the organ is massive, and on the hill behind it is an incredibly old cemetery.

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So despite spending the majority of my birthday on trains, I think I celebrated well.

 

 

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Travel

Italy Part 1 {Rome and Pompeii}

Many, many months late, here re a few thoughts and many pictures of this spring’s trip through Italy.

The biggest advantage of my trimester university schedule is month off in the spring, which has been spent trailing across Europe in the past years. This year, my sister Morgan and my Mom flew over to visit and check Italy off everyone’s bucket list.

Rome

I flew into Rome from Gatwick (s/o to Anna for getting up at 5am to drive me to the airport) and managed to bump into my travel weary family in passport control. We started the trip like we planned to continue it, seeing old things, eating gelato, and getting a little bit lost.

We learned how to use the public transport (thank you London for the practice) and went to see the Vatican. We fell in love with the Sistine Chapel, melted in line waiting for St. Paul’s Cathedral, and never really knew where we were.

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The colosseum, or labeled in my computer as ‘death pit’

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It’s pretty, it’s busy, I’m standing on a railing

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You can’t tell, but we were post-Vatican lost

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Inside the Vatican, not the photo you were expecting

Gelato in Rome was incredibly important, and good gelato is harder to find than you’d like. While we never got bad gelato, we did get better at finding the right shops, and getting opinions from locals. While I enjoyed it all, there is really only one place to go (and keep going back to) – Gelateria La Romana. I think my mouth is watering at the thought. With an incredible selection of flavours, shockingly low prices, local ingredients, and an insta- worthy shop, you wouldn’t think it could get better. But it does. When you order, you get to choose if you want melted chocolate in the bottom of your cone. You do, obviously, and choose from milk or white – I’d suggest white for the fruit flavours. Then, you choose 2 different scoops of gelato, and feel free to ask for suggestions on what goes together. The pistachio is a classic, but amazing. AND THEN, (yes, there is more) you get whipped cream on top. Included in the already amazing price, you can choose from plain, chocolate, or coffee. Do you see why I’m still dreaming of this gelato? Eat some for me, please.

Pompeii

With an early morning trip across the city to catch our day trip, we hoped on a bus out to the current city and ruins of Pompeii. While Morgan’s motion sickness caught up with us (pack some ginger, the hills and winding road will get to you), we had traditional pizza for lunch before heading up the looming side of the ‘mountain’ that caused it all. Off the bus we hiked up the rocky trail to the top of the smoking (but safe!) volcano. Sadly it was a bit too cloudy for what we were told is an incredible view of the area and sea. It was however, still amazing.

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Turns out volcanos aren’t great for your hair style

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smoky and mysterious

The ruins of the ancient city are too unique to ever describe. Its difficult to imagine how much of the city really remains, but you truly are walking through a thriving city frozen in time. From restaurants to brothels to homes, the city is truly a snapshot of a lively and busy time. I also met a really nice dog roaming the streets.

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Part 1

While incredible, Rome was not our favourite part of the trip. Stand outs were, of course the aforementioned gelato and seeing my favourite painting. Morgan and Mom ran off to see some skulls (unsurprising) and I headed off to Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica at Palazzo Barberini. Housed in a palace tucked between bustling streets, this gallery was one of my favourites of the trip. Much quieter than the big ones, it was full of hidden jewels. I was there to see Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes. Gritty and a bit brutal, it’s one of my favourite pieces of art and by far my favourite baroque or renaissance piece.

Italy Part 2 will be coming soon, filled with Tuscany and canals!

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Travel

A Weekend in St. Andrews

When I moved to England, I knew one person in the hemisphere. Harris has been down to visit Lancaster, we went to Copenhagen last fall, but I hadn’t managed to make it up to St. Andrews until November. Wrapping up an incredibly busy week, I took a quick 3.5 hour trip up and across the UK to enjoy a weekend off.

Priorities are food, no matter where I am. Highlights included some tacos (not the best, not the worst, but you take what you can get over here) and some incredible ice cream.

   

  

Because we’re the kind of students who don’t really have time off, Harris had to run off for most of Saturday so I took advantage of a new city to explore. Beaches are a little different when you’re wearing 4 layers and a wool coat, but still pretty. I don’t know anything about golf, but I can say I’ve stomped on the Old Course, a must do in the Home of Golf.

   

And because my life is a bit non-stop, I took a few hours out to work through my to do list in an incredible coffee shop I would really like to transport to Lancaster. My life is really just this view, changing ever so slightly.

  

 Saturday also happened to be Bonfire night, so I was dragged out to West Sands (the aforementioned beach that happens to be right on the Old Course) for some fireworks. I will own up and say I gave up early, after losing the feeling in my hands, face, and feet. I’m just not meant for freezing weather and ocean wind.

Scotland is gorgeous, and the weekend was a great break from the chaos of uni life.

 

Alex

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Travel

A Weekend in London

I’ve had “write London blog post” on my to-do list since I was on the train home, about two weeks ago. Like many things on the to-do list, it fell to the bottom and has been ignored for about two weeks. I figure it’s all about priorities .

During the first week of term (the second week I was here) I had the chance to go down to London for an Amnesty International + Channel 4 conference for student media. It was really cool opportunity to talk to some incredible journalists who work on Channel 4’s ‘Unreported World’ series, and some of the researchers for Amnesty.

While the event was just a Friday afternoon, I got to spend the rest of the weekend (because if I’m going that far, why not) enjoying London with one of my absolute favourites, Bethan. Since Bethan has decided graduating and moving away from Lancaster was an acceptable thing to do, I hadn’t seen her since I left for the summer, and now just anxiously await her visits to Lancaster.
Bethan’s lovely family allowed me to crash her mum’s birthday dinner on Friday night, which was generally delicious and a great time.

Saturday we headed into London for food (very important) and some planned art viewing before going to a show that evening.

  
(Very good Greek food at ‘The Real Greek’)

While food happened (priorities) we managed to distract ourselves with wonderful food and conversation for so long that we didn’t have time for art. Sad, but not the end of the world.

Wondering around the city doesn’t really lose it’s magic for me, so I followed Bethan like a lost puppy and stared at lots of pretty buildings for a while. We then managed to make our way to the theatre where the show was, with only a bit of time walking in the pouring rain.

  
A glass of wine and a bit of very needed drying off later, we headed upstairs to the theatre and saw “Buzz: the musical”, an incredible show put on by 9 recent graduates about a woman’s journey after a nasty breakup. It was historical, relatable, and generally hilarious. We left with cute merchandise and a need for that soundtrack.

  
We wrapped up our Saturday with more food, of course. As Bethan knows how much I love Mexican food (and how much I miss it) we had dinner at Wahaca, a delicious and adorable temporary restaurant in Southbank. Food is always best shared, so we did it all tapas style and honestly, I’m still craving those tacos.

  
Sunday started off slow, but with a 3+ hour train ride ahead of me, I sadly said goodbye to Bethan after some really good mac & cheese for lunch.

  

Did being gone all weekend mean I was tired for the busy week ahead? Did I miss my very first Buddhism lecture on Friday? Was it really, really great? Yes, yes, and yes. Thank you Bethan for a wonderful weekend, I’ll at least take to you Whaletail when you come up to Lancaster next.

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Travel

Arkansas {Hot Springs & Little Rock}

When you want to take a weekend trip, don’t want to pay ridiculous American flight costs, and want to go somewhere new, you take a trip to Arkansas. Seriously, we’re running out of states within decent driving distance from Austin.

Since sadly nursing students don’t get a real  summer, Morgan and I chose to take advantage of her less-than-2-weeks-off break and take a sister weekend. And when she vetoed New Orleans because of humidity, Arkansas was our best bet.

Everyone suggested we stop in Hot Springs, so we settled on a night there before heading up to Little Rock. However, no

However, no road trip is complete without a Nation meet up, and JP was nice enough to take a detour from his trip back to school for dinner and some great suggestions about what to do on our trip.


Unfortunately, the weather decided to fight us and our Night/Day in Hot Springs was rainy. And while we did hide from the rain with some amazing pancakes at a shop from the 1940s and good coffee, nothing stops Morgan when she wants to hike.



Coffee at Kollective, taking on the rain.    

After drying off a little, we drove out to Little Rock for the rest of our time. Still dealing with bad weather, we opted for some more indoor activities, specifically food and the Clinton Presidental Library, then more food. You can never go wrong with more food.

Lunch at The Root 
  
Luckily, our second day in LR had much better weather. It was a Sunday, so we hit up a wonderful Farmer’s Market before grabbing some incredible brunch. Then it was back to more hiking, though luckily much drier hiking this time around.


  
We wrapped up with another nice dinner and a walk across the aptly named “Big Dam Bridge” with one incredible sunset.


 Our drive home kicked off a little earlier than usual, as to make it back across state lines and into Dallas for lunch with our Uncle.


 It’s not often you get to travel with just your sister, so this was a pretty special trip, despite bad weather and more. Being two busy students with very different schedules (and locations) really limits the time we can spend together, and with Mo’s graduation coming up, that time will be even more difficult to come by. So here’s to sisters and adventures.

 

Alex

 

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Madrid

There should a better string of words here to describe what Madrid was, what I did, and all the things I loved. And hopefully in the coming months I’ll get it together and do that. But until then, here are just some photos of the city that I fell head over heels for in April.

** warning, I spent a lot of time in art muesems

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