Brussels 

Brussels is a very pretty city. Well, what I saw of the city in the 24 hours I spent there. I can very much attest to the inside of the Charleroi airport being decent, though not the best. 

 

Though it was an incredibly fast trip, it was a great trip. I went to Brussels to attend the TRACE Conference held at the Ministry of Justice.  In the past year as TR:ust Project Leader, I’ve been so lucky to travel as well as attend a number of talks. TRACE was an amazing way to end the year, and my time as Project Leader. 

   
 
The city was beautiful, and definitely one to go back to, if only for some waffles. For now, I’ll just eat the excessive amount of chocolate I brought home. 
Alex 

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NUS Conference in Brighton

  I thought I left student government back in high school, but it seems not completely so. This past week I attended the National Union of Students (NUS) conference in Brighton. As someone who is not particularly involved in our students union (LUSU) it was a headfirst dive into UK student government.

I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I have attended enough conferences to feel prepared for the most part. And one of the first things I realized was that Girls State and Girls Nation have made any sort of event that discusses policy and uses parliamentary procedure so much easier. Amendments, parts, motions, its all easy to follow if you spend enough time practicing government. The second thing that I realized is that when they say “Union” they mean it in the workers union way that in the US we wouldn’t. Sometimes I forget that the ‘liberal’ side of the UK is farther left than anything in the US. It was interesting to watch how politics (not just student politics) impacted the discourse of the event and the actions that the NUS takes.

One of the, in my opinion odd, things that UK Student Unions do is instead of students holding the officer positions, the position is a full time job held by students taking a year off of their degree, or after they graduate. While some offices are held by ‘part-time officers’ the major ones, i.e. President, and the VP’s of various areas, are ‘Full Time Officers’ or FTOs. This of course applies to the NUS national officers, many of whom are years out of university. This led to one of the main arguments that rose up over the course of the conference and will be fought over in what is turning into a major division of universities and unions across the country. Students feel that the NUS is not representing them well, as its political, its leaders are detached from the reality of students, and students have little influence on the issues the NUS takes up over the year. With a number of Student Unions (SU’s) and student groups calling to split from the NUS, it will be interesting in the coming weeks and months to see if the division between local unions and the national body grows, or dies off as students get caught in the rush of exams and end of term. That itself may be a key argument behind staying in the NUS, and a major point behind FTOs.

What was probably the major point of division in the conference was the election of a new president, which seemingly tore the organization apart. Malia Bouattia, the president-elect and first Black Muslim president of the organization became a divisive figure in a storm of accusations of anti-Semitism, the usual racism and islamaphobia, and her more extreme approach than current president and main opponent, Megan Dunn. Going into the conference with no background knowledge of either candidate, the media and discussion around the candidates was overwhelming, and difficult to sort. And as much as SU’s threat to leave may tear the NUS apart, it seems just as likely that internal division between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ factions may be the bigger threat to the organization.

The highlight of the conference was the success of a motion for a full time Trans office and an autonomous Trans campaign to better support students across the country who have been under represented in not just major campaigns, but with the LGBTQ+ liberation campaign. The motion passed in a nearly unanimous vote, an amazing moment of unity in a conference that had felt divided and tense from the beginning.

Though I plan to stay fairly un-involved in Student Politics, the conference was definitely  an incredible learning experience. It highlighted a couple of major things for me. 1) Our student body is so disconnected from bigger issues and campaigns. Despite the response from so many other university’s students about being connected to the NUS, I think we got maybe one tweet about it? 2) We spend time bemoaning “LUSU” with no understanding of the structure, or what we mean. 3) UK politics will forever confuse me, and I have no desire to get involved. And 4) Brighton is really pretty.

Alex

 

 

Edinburgh // What We Ate

Okay when I said I would post about the food etc from my Edinburgh trip, I really did mean to post sooner. But the end of the month and the start of April slipped away from me. But look at this! Commitment! Execution! Actually blogging! Okay kind of. Here we go!

Civerinos 

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– the first thing we ate in Edinburgh was at 10:30 at night, when it was the only place we could find still serving. Surprisingly, I would 100% suggest it, and would return without question. While the only thing I had was a slice of margarita pizza (essentially simple cheese pizza) it was an incredible piece of pizza. Ridiculously large, with a crispy thin crust, it was just what I look for in a slice of pizza. The rest of their menu looks incredibly, and it’s in a really good location just off the Royal Mile. 

Byron’s 

– I’d like to blame the fact that I ate a salad at a burger place on being veggie, but there was a few veggie burger options. I honestly just really like salad. It was amazing, and the courgette (zucchini) fries are an absolute must. Bianca also vouches for their milkshakes, and I seriously regret not having one. 

Edinburgh Larder

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– I snagged this recommendation from a number of ‘must eat’ places, and a friend who lived in the city for a while. It’s one of those small, all local produce restaurants that I live for. I had the spinach soup with lemon crime fraiche, and it’s a recipe I will be working to recreate at home. I did it with half of the mushroom and kale sandwich, which was less impressive. The friend I was with had their ham sandwich and proclaimed it the best sandwich she had ever had, so I would suggest that to any non veggie visitors. I also splurged and got some fresh squeezed orange juice, which is always amazing. 

Mimi’s Bakehouse

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– we grabbed some cupcakes to go, and while cupcakes are not my favourite dessert, I can say this was a good one. I got the raspberry Nutella, because red velvet is so overrated. I did eat it the next day (happy Easter to me!) so that may have contributed to its lack of wow factor. 

Mary’s Milk Bar 

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– I love ice cream. It’s not a secret, and I probably eat to much of it. Just kidding that’s not possible. But this is easily on the list of best 5 ice cream places I have ever eaten at. While their ‘hot chocolate’ float was tempting, it as sunny enough to go for a simple scoop of Pineapple and Rum sorbet on a cone. Though the flavours change daily, I don’t think you could ever go wrong with anything you order. I would suggest carrying it to the hill across the street, just down from the castle, if the weather permits. 

The Milkman

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– no question the highlight of my coffee drinking in Edinburgh, The Milkman in just up the street from Waverley station and is worth any trip you can squeeze in. My go to order is a flat white (call me pretentious, I know I’m annoying) and this one was outstanding. It was smooth, and the foam perfect. I used the amount of walking I had been doing to justify getting a raspberry cheesecake brownie to go with it, and it was the pastry highlight of the trip. In addition the stunning food/drink, the interior of the shop is the stuff of dreams. The next time I’m stuck at that darn train station I know what I’m doing.

So there you go, my foodie feelings and suggestions for Edinburgh! 

Alex 

Edinburgh // Places and Things To Do

Thanks to the trimester schedule of English uni, Easter break is a 4 week break in late March -early April. This means 4 weeks for travel, sleep, and exam prep. And after the chaos that was spring term,  its a much needed break before exams and revision take over our lives.

I started break with a trip a few hours north to Edinburgh, Scotland. A family friend studying abroad in Spain was headed to the UK, and it was a good excuse to visit a city I have heard amazing things about. This trip is split in two posts, Places and Things To Do, and Food, because Food is a priority.

A “To-Do” List for Edinburgh is not hard to come across, and I think we hit the highlights of most. Not in any particular order, here are the highlights! 

Scotland National Gallery of Contemporary Art

The gallery is in the middle of a neighborhood, about a 30 minute walk from the Royal Mile. If you like contemporary art, its a go to for sure. There were a number of beautiful pieces by Picasso and Matisse in Modern One, and some eye catching Dali in Modern Two.

   
  

Scottish National Library

The library isn’t going to be on that many must do lists, and I can’t say it would really make mine. It depends on the exhibits they have going, how long you have in the city, and if you have the time to get a library card and check out the reading rooms. I know if I go back, that would be very worth it, but mostly because I love libraries. However, if you have a Library of Congress card, this could add nicely to your collection

The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile is on the top of every website’s list, and it sounds like a lot more than it is. Its essentially a long road with the castle on the top of the hill and a number of old buildings, churches (St. Giles Cathedral is here) and an incredible number of tourist shops. Its a good starting point for the city, but its nothing incredibly unique. You can grab some wonderfully classic Scotland photos along the way though.

  

Edinburgh Castle

On the top of the tallest hill you can find Edinburgh Castle (this is how you find all castles). Its actually incredibly pretty, though from the outside it looks like the fortress it was built to be. It is “the most besieged place in Great Britain and one of the most attacked in the world” being a sight of interest in a number of Scottish revolutionary movements. Its also £16 to tour, with no student discount, so we skipped the details and just looked at it. Also, Castle Rock gives you a great view of the city!

  
Calton Hill

Speaking of great views of the city, on the other side of the ‘Old Town’ all the way down Princes Street (don’t get that confused with the Royal Mile) is Calton Hill. Look for a small Athenian acropolis peaking above the skyline, and walk towards that. Built as the beginning of a memorial for those who died in the Napoleonic wars, and started the year after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the acropolis was never completed. However, the steps are quite fun to climb on, and the views from the hill top are gorgeous. There are two observatories on the hill as well, and I imagine at night it must be a beautiful place to stargaze.

  
Arthur’s Seat

If you’re looking for more great sights of the city, Arthur’s Seat is for you. Unless you have the joints of an 80 year old woman like me, who’s knees don’t like to hike after a few days of traipsing through the hilly city. Its not an incredibly long hike, but its not an easy one. Suggestions are Sunrise or Sunset, as its supposed to be stunning over the city.

National Gallery

If you’re in the mood for some more classic art, the National Gallery is a good start. Its at the bottom of the hill, not far from Waverly Station and Scott’s Monument. Its pretty, and the plaid worn by the staff are entertaining even if the paintings aren’t.

Free Ghost Tour

While there are a number of expensive ghost tours, including some that explore the underground tunnels, the free tour we took was actually incredible. More informative than scary, I would suggest doing it one of your first nights. Also, if you’re visiting in the spring, or honestly anytime, dress warm, the city is cold after dark!

Parliament

The Scottish parliament was dissolved in the early 18th century when Scotland ‘joined’ England and became Great Britain. (Whales is in there somewhere as well). However, in 1997 the UK parliament voted for devolution and the creation of a Scottish parliament (Whales and Northern Ireland also have their own governments) its essentially the UK version of states. Part of what makes visiting the parliament interesting to those who aren’t just huge government nerds is the building. While one would guess it would be housed in an incredibly old, important building,  the Scottish Parliament Building was only completed in 2004. Designed by Spanish architect Enric Miralles, it is a stunning piece of modern art filled with meaning. To tour the building, you do have to go on an official tour that should be booked ahead of time. We got incredibly lucky on a Saturday and were able to take the places of some people who didn’t show up. The tour lasts about and hour, and is free. I would absolutely say it is worth it. One really unique thing about the tour is that you actually get to walk on the floor of the debating chamber, not something you can do at even the state legislature in the US.

A food post will be going up, because there were some stand out places on this trip! 

Alex 

 

Romania

When we set off on this trip, there was so much we didn’t know.I can’t say we know it all now, not even close, but this trip has closed some of the gap between the research, fact based knowledge we had before, and the practical knowledge one gets from being on the ground. No matter how many times you read the academic journal articles about trafficking, and study the facts about poverty rates, seeing the issues in front of you makes it all the more real

When we got on the plane, there was a fair amount of stress, at least for me. We didn’t know the country we were going to, we don’t speak the language, we’ve never met the people we were going to before. One Skype call and dozens of emails only makes one so comfortable when your flying 1,500 miles and they’re your only contact in the country. But we were greeted at the airport by a very excited Puiu, and whisked away to a comfortable hotel and a wonderful dinner with our main project partner. From the moment we landed the project began moving too fast for us to sit and worry about the issues that had made me so stressed in the days leading up to our departure.

We did so many things, and had so many conversations. The trip was an emotional rollercoaster on both the project planning side, and the emotional aspect of working with such a traumatic issue. The night after our first full day, there was a panicked phone call back home because, as with all international projects, there were changes and unknowns that we just didn’t know how to handle. Luckily, we happen to have an amazing Project Director and some incredibly helpful alumni to give us advice, calm us down, and sort out problems. However, after that night, things settled down. We were more focused on our vision, we had a clearer plan because we were able to incorporate the things we were learning on the ground with the ideas and plans we had made back in Lancaster.

Everyone asked if I was excited to leave. I guess Romania, and what we were doing, may not sounds like everyone’s favourite thing to be doing. But I wasn’t ready to leave. Its hard to leave a place where there is so much need. And while I know the majority of the work I can do is here, its hard to get on a plane and fly back to my pretty campus in the north of England when leaving behind so much hurt.

 

I will try to post more specific updates of the project as it grows, but well, the project keeps me a little busy.

Alex

Copenhagen

One of the reasons I fell in love with the idea of going to school abroad is the ability to travel. Not having to cross the ocean makes everything much easier (and cheaper). Its something people here seem to take for granted. They think a three hour train ride is long, when that train ride gets you all the way across the country. The fact that a three hour train ride can get me to the southern coast, or a train ride and a short airplane ride can get me to a whole new amazing European country is mind-blowing.

I spent 3 amazing days in Copenhagen, and no matter how much I saw or how long I stayed, there would always be more to see. Its soaked in history and culture, with castles and canals, filled to the brim with amazing food and interesting people. Copenhagen is something special. IMG_3909IMG_3908IMG_3913IMG_3912We started by visiting the Christiansborg Palace, that now houses parliament. This of course included a trip up to the tower.

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After the Palace, we stumbled across what was one of the most beautiful buildings I saw. The old Royal Library has been turned into the Danish Jewish Museum. With ivy creeping up the walls and a beautiful courtyard with fountains and statues, its the kind of place you want to stand in front of for hours.

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I didn’t know Copenhagen had canals, or at least as many as there are. The funny part is some of the canals are so small you don’t always notice you’re on a bridge unless you look over the edge. Some, like the one below, are much bigger.

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The National Museum is a beautiful example of the modern design of Copenhagen meeting with the rich history of the country. The high ceilings and glass walls of the museum hold ancient artifacts, from Egypt and beyond, to Denmark’s own Reformation history. Its a beautiful museum, and I know if I stayed longer I would have had to come back.IMG_3946IMG_3945The Christmas Markets that were beginning to fill the streets in the evenings were a highlight of the trip. While I’m not normally a Christmas person, even my ‘scrooge heart’ was melted by the magic of these markets. Maybe thats just the crepes talking.

Oh look! The food photos begin. Just wait, it gets worse. This was one amazing pain au chocolate and chai latte. There was a cookie on top of my latte. Oh Copenhagen, how I love you.

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The Design Museum was one of my favorite things of the weekend. Sadly, the outside of the museum doesn’t do it justice. This poem was the intro to my favourite exhibits of the museum, MindCraft. It sums up the exhibit, and the museum, quite well.

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Oh wait, more food photos. Trovehallerene is an outdoor/indoor market that houses over 60 stands of food, drink, and more. Outside there are stands selling fresh produce and more, like a giant farmer’s market. It was, of course, on my list of absolute must do’s while in Copenhagen. Whats the point of travel if you don’t eat a ridiculous amount of food? IMG_4042That salad was so good I wanted to cry. IMG_4062My way to order food is to just ask the person at the counter for what their favourite item is. That was an amazing berry crumble, so it hasn’t failed me yet.

Copenhagen is filled with amazing Churches. These were in the Church of Our Lady, the cathedral of Copenhagen and the National Cathedral of Denmark. If it hadn’t burned down so many times, it would be one of the oldest.

More Christmas Markets!! That’s a dark chocolate covered apple that was heavenly.

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On Sunday, the last full day in Copenhagen, I skipped all formality and had cake for breakfast. In another incident of just asking for whatever they liked best, I had this amazing pastry. It was chocolate shortbread, with salted caramel filling and a passionfruit meringue.

Another amazing church, Fredrick’s Church is a 18th-century Lutheran church with the largest dome in Scandinavia. Its silent inside, and so incredibly peaceful.

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Oh, we’re back to some food photos. The lovely guy at this cafe specially made me a veggie club sandwich, which was amazing. Copenhagen has a couple of very well known coffee roasters and shops, which clearly meant I was going to drink a ridiculous amount of coffee. I did, with absolutely no regrets. My favourite may have been at Original Coffee, that latte rocked my socks. Which I was actually wearing because it was very cold outside.

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I was laying in bed about to go to sleep when I read about the Paris attacks. Being abroad, you are physically so much closer to many issues, and you can really sense that in people’s reactions. This is across the street from the French embassy. I never saw the embassy without people in front of it, at night holding candles. It was a beautiful outpouring of love.

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One last night at the Christmas Market. IMG_4155

We got to the airport nice and early, just incase security was tight. The extra time was spent eating, as it should be.

Leaving Copenhagen was sad, as leaving any place that wonderful would be. But goodness, it was an amazing weekend. Till next time, Denmark. IMG_4216

Alex