Wednesday, 24 June 2015

8 Months Of Erasmus...And 1 To Go

That title is a bit misleading. I'm actually finishing my year abroad three weeks on Friday so that's definitely less than a month! It's also technically nine months since I moved to Bologna, I'm just not counting March since I spent nearly all of that month in the UK. All in all a very dodgy title. Apologies.

I've been thinking about how in three weeks on Friday I'll be back in the UK (and probably spending the day curled up with the dogs on the sofa, drinking a real cup of tea and considering a trip to Tesco just to marvel at all the British things I've missed this year (this week it's the humble British biscuit that I'm craving)) and how my Erasmus experience will officially be coming to an end. Which, although I'm really excited about coming home, is actually a bit of a weird thought.



I mean, I've spent nearly a year away from the UK (including my six weeks of au pairing last summer). While I would not say that I am so used to life on the continent that going back to Bangor for my final year is going to be the end of the world, I think it's going to be a little odd adjusting back into normal British student life.

Though to be truthful in most ways I don't think there will be any adjustments to make. I'm looking forward to my fourth year house, going back to PhotoSoc, having lectures with people I know and actually like (certainly in the German department, everyone seems to have gotten a lot closer to each other over this past year), and just getting on with all the things I've wanted to do in Bangor (or just in life in general) since I moved there nearly three years ago. In some ways (and I think a lot of other language students will feel this way too) it's like I'm waiting to start my real life again, like I'm just waiting here for a bit and then I get to go home and get on with things.

It's not because of where I am now - sometimes (as those who I've complained to will now) Jena can be so boring that I want to tear my hair out, but other times it's really good.
It could just be because in many ways it's been a very long year, with ups and downs and I think I'm just ready to come home now!

That's not to say I've not had good times because of Jena. The uni itself I really like. And I like the area I live in because it's surrounded by the countryside and that's quite nice. 

Fuchsturm, Jena

And while here I don't have as many friends here as I did in Bologna, I'm lucky enough to have three good friends from Bangor studying in nearby Leipzig who I've seen pretty regularly! Not to mention my other lovely Brit friend, who I went with to Prague last month - a trip which we booked after knowing each other for about two weeks (and that I forgot to write about, I know).

Cospudener See at Leipzig


 So, three and a half weeks left. What am I planning on doing?

Well on Thursday I'm SUPER excited to be meeting my boyfriend in Stuttgart for the weekend (mostly I'll just be excited to get off the bus I'm taking there after a SIX HOUR JOURNEY), then I'm briefly zipping off to Berlin (for the first time ever!!) to meet an old friend from Bangor and see the one and only Modest Mouse! Then it's back to Jena for the last two weeks, which will be two weeks of packing, exams, hopefully one last visit from the Leipzig lot, eating as much schnitzel as humanly possible and once more taking advantage of the €2 margarita offer that's on nightly in a Mexican restaurant in town.

Fingers crossed I'll be actually writing about said adventures...

Bis später x

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

One Month In {In Pictures}

Think I might be aiming for one blog post a month at the rate we're going, tsk tsk!

I haven't had much to write about in all honestly. I've been living in Jena for just over a month now and I can safely say that there is not that much going on here. Jena is so small that it makes Bangor feel huge - not an easy feat, if you know Bangor. It's bigger than Bangor, but there's a lot less here (though there is a cinema here, which Bangor does not have).

The city (no come on it's really a) town centre is relatively nice, quite open and there's numerous Bäckerei that smell just fantastic when you walk past them. I've also been introduced to Backwerk since being in Germany - Brits, think of a nicer version of Greggs, that nearly entirely serves sandwiches or bread products.

The uni itself seems pretty good - spacious and quite modern to look at, and for the most part pretty organised (this is in comparison to life in Italy, and not including sorting out your Erasmus documents which is just plain awful).

Once you've paid your semester fees to the uni, you get your student ID card and with this you can travel anywhere in your region for free - be it by tram (I love trams), bus or train. I think in a lot of places you can't go everywhere in your region with your student card, but since Thüringen is so tiny they let you off and you can go all over. I've been to Erfurt twice and once to Weimar with this so it's pretty nifty - the problem is that there's little else in this region to see. I've planned to go to Eisennach as they've got a castle there, and maybe eventually we'll find a way to get to the Thüringer Wald (supposed to be extensive and lovely) as well.

Erfurt Domplatz
Schnitzel in Erfurt
* Always excited about schnitzel...

So not much, not that I'm adverse to another trip back to Erfurt (loads more shops and at least one good source of schnitzel already located) or Weimar (tiny but pretty, especially the gorgeous Park an der Ilm).


Park an der Ilm, Weimar

Something that you can do round here, as I've discovered, is to go walking in the hills that surround Jena. I've been three times now on two different routes and it's always been well worth the effort put in!

The route I've done twice goes out of Jena West and up to the Napoleonstein (a memorial stone dedicated to I think when Napoleon was in Germany, the field it's in hosted a big battle too), round the Landgrafen (it's a communications tower from way back when, my housemate reckoned possibly even from WWII but don't quote me on that, we're not sure) and back down again.

Looking to Jena from the Napoleonstein

The second route involved walking 20km and was definitely more of a hike. Had I eaten more and slept better I'm sure it would have been a lot better, but after the first three of five hours I began to lament going on it in the first place...but don't get me wrong, the scenery was stunning.


I've been on a few evening walks to, just to get out of the apartment (I spend quite a lot of time there it seems). The area of Jena that I live in is basically a maze of apartment blocks and they're not the prettiest site, despite all the trees. Luckily, if you walk five or ten minutes out of said maze, you end up in the green, which is nice!

And when I get bored of Jena, I'm lucky enough to three friends from Bangor studying in Leipzig for their own year abroad - I went to stay with them again last weekend (thanks again guys!). We spent the few days I was there by one of the lakes on the edge of the city; rented bikes and cycled through the city and round the same lake; eating in and eating out.


It's really nice how much closer I've become to a lot of the Bangor languages people over the course of this year!

So that is basically all I've been up to, bar lectures and being addicted to watching The Tudors via Netflix (I know I'm a few years behind, but WOW it's good!). Next weekend I'm going to Prague which is really bloody exciting!!! Maybe I'll even write a blog post about the trip...

Ciao for now!


Thursday, 9 April 2015

Goodbye UK; hello Deutschland!


So, I realise it's been a *little* while since I wrote okay not since 12th February, that's a little horrifying! If it makes you feel any better, I have numerous draft posts saved that I never got round to posting...

The main reason not for posting was that I didn't want this blog to become a chore, I didn't want to feel guilty if I didn't write but at the same time I didn't didn't want to write...nothing, which is what I've done these last two months. A few times I would set myself time to write something and then feel a little blue or homesick and not write anything - I've tried it before and, whenever I write when I am homesick, it doesn't make for a fun read.

After that I was having too much fun in my last few weeks in Bologna: I had two good friends from home to stay on separate occasions so that kept me busy (I know, should have written about that!), and then all of a sudden my room was packed up and I had to leave to go back home. I was sad to leave, but I'd planned so much even in the first few days of my being back in the UK that I was also excited to be going! I stayed with my bestie in Brighton, visited my sister, then visited family, and then went finally made it home all within the first like five days!

Lovely seeing my pooches again!

Brighton with the bestie

I was lucky to be in the country for the whole of last month and I don't think I can quite express the...relief, I suppose, of being at home, with my friends and family. There was just this huge weight taken off my shoulders and spending a good amount of time at home has really helped. Don't get me wrong here - I loved being in Bologna, and I love my year abroad, but the whole thing does drive me to distraction sometimes!! (I'm actually starting to go grey, how sad is that?)

That's it - I just wanted to walk you quickly through my last two months, and now we shall move swiftly on!

Because something new has happened: I have begun my second year abroad placement and, if you haven't guessed already, I'm in Germany now! Specifically the weeny little city of Jena (is it a city? I don't know. Check your facts Claud) in the Bundesland of Thüringen (south of Leipzig and way in the East). I've been living here for one week and now I'm going to tell you what I've been up to!

So I left the UK via a coach on the evening of Wednesday 1st April. I'd traveled down to London to take said accursed (good word, accursed, no?) coach all the way across to Leipzig, to then get a train to Jena. Why accursed, you may well ask? It was a stuffy, noisy, crowded coach - though I don't know whether the woman next to me who was practically sat on me, the constant shouting from the people on the back row, the man in front of me who played his youtube videos on his iPad loudly with no headphones (who does that?!), or perhaps the two hour delay at the ferry terminal that was the worst part. Never. Again.

I eventually arrived to my new apartment, which I share with two lovely Germans, on Thursday evening, and I absolutely love it. You have to go on the tram to get into the city center or to the uni but that's perfectly okay, and on top of that I love my room!

I have ALWAYS wanted one of these beds!

Already decorated with my photos..

Friday was spent sleeping, unpacking, and discovering the city center (although being a bank holiday of course everything was shut - I could still tell that it's a nice place though!). But the real fun began at the weekend.

At lunchtime on Saturday I went and met four of my lovely friends who I study German with back at Bangor at one of the train stations. Beth and Chan are studying in Leipzig, Alex in Heidelberg and Megan is working in Mönchengladbach. I hadn't seen them in aaaages so this was just perfect, what better way to spend my first weekend in Germany!?

First on the agenda was food. A fast food stand I'd noticed on the Friday turned out to be Jena's best-seller for the ever delightful Currywurst - you can also get it here with chips and a heaping of mayo, in whichever flavour you fancy (I opted for pesto & lemon and also guacamole). Needless to say, it was awesome. You do have to queue a bit though, as it's so popular, so perhaps I'll just go when people visit...or when I really really fancy one.


We spent the rest of the day wandering through Jena and enjoying the sunshine, even going so far as to crack out the sunglasses. But the main event of the afternoon (or second main, if you count the Currywurst which I definitely do) was the visit we paid to the JenTurm (Jena tower).

You pay just €3 to go whizzing up to the top floor of a tower (built during the GDR reign dontcha know), and are rewarded with stunning views across the city.

Looking this way I was *pretty* confident I could make out my building...

Wow, right?!

There's also a reasonably swanky looking restaurant on the top floor too (indoors of course), so we nipped in for a coffee and to warm up a bit. Afterwards there was time for another walk through the main streets and then we were off to the station to make our way over to Leipzig.

The trains vary, so you can either get to Leipzig direct on the ICE (means very fast) one in roughly an hour, or instead take two hours on the regional trains and probably have to change somewhere - we did the latter, but after all our walking it was quite nice just to sit down for a bit!

Our evening in Leipzig was spent cooking spag bol (well, we ate it, Chan and Beth cooked it...) and drinking lots of wine, followed up by some cocktails and drinks in a bar called Cafe Pushkin, which was ace.

Sunday morning consisted of nursing slightly sore heads (well, mine was at least), meeting another of our friends, Flo, who has just begun her semester in Leipzig, and hunting down some breakfast - we chose 100 Wasser, a place that does a great brunch buffet and, should you go, a really nice caramel cappuccino.

Good eggs - 4th year in Bangor with these girls will be awesome!

We saw some of the main sights of Leipzig the remainder of the day, in both cloud and sunshine which made a nice change! My favourite part was seeing the Völkerschlachtdenkmal, which is a Monument to the Battle of the Nations. We managed to take all our photos whilst there was some blue sky hanging about - not long after it turned grey again...

Dat reflection.
And then it was time to part ways - two of them had flights back to other parts of the country, three were remaining in Leipzig and I was heading back to Jena via a nice little train journey. I'm really, really glad that I got to see these girls on my first weekend of living in Germany - not only was it great to see familiar faces having just arrived, but I'd not seen three of them since we'd left Bangor back in, what, June?! This year abroad thingy is going fast, for sure..

Having successfully caught Beth's cold (thanks again bud! Jokes) I spent Monday largely watching Netflix and eating the last of my Easter chocolate (which I had bought myself. Sob sob)...

..but as I've since been feeling a bit better (still snuffling though, boo hoo), I've spent the remainder of the week exploring the city and getting to know my way around; taking a placement test for my 'German as a foreign language' courses; discovering local supermarket Kaufland and it's miles and miles of cheese, beer and meat (cannot tell you how excited I was walking around that place for the first time, I'm such a loser) and, most importantly, working on my German language skills.

That last one hasn't been so easy - after several months spent neglecting my German in favour of bringing my Italian up to speed (natural, having been living in Italy), I've found that when I open my mouth nothing short of rubbish comes out of it. Bless my poor housemate (only one is here right now, until tomorrow anyway) for constantly having to listen to me trying to make sentences! And if you think 'oh I'm sure she's just being modest' - no, no no no, I am not.
(On the plus side my writing, listening and reading skills seem to be just fine - can I just text everyone, instead of speaking to them face to face? Sigh...)

So in short, I'm getting used to being in Jena, and I'm pretty confident that I like what I'm seeing. My lectures will start next week so things will get busier and I'm sure that then the last of the feelings of homesickness will creep away - it's also meant to be nearly 20 degrees and sunny here over the weekend, so that is bound to help....

More updates soon, promise!


Thursday, 12 February 2015

A Weekend in Barcelona

So this weekend just gone something really exciting happened - not only did I get to go to Spain for the first time, and more importantly Barcelona for the first time, I also got the chance to see an old family friend who I had probably last seen about four years ago! Our parents went to uni together so we've known each other forever, though her family actually moved to the U.S. years ago so we don't see each other all that often. It was so good to catch up properly again!

Palm trees AND sunshine?! Heaven!

Unfortunately during the week I'd been pretty sick - I guess it was the flu or something, I had aches all over including a headache, constantly runny nose and then I developed a horrible cough that left me speaking in an extremely husky voice, and not in a good way. And of course I was no better in time for the weekend, and possibly I was even worse since the weather is Bologna had become pretty bleuuurgh with a day of constant rain (really I think it only stopped for like two hours) followed by a huuge amount of snow overnight. That meant a load of morning flights on Friday got cancelled, and it was also raining so in the city it was hell to get anywhere! Luckily since I was flying in the evening things had resumed order again by that time, although the flight was still delayed by about an hour because the plane had to be de-iced a second time...

...and so I eventually arrived in the city center of Barcelona at about 9.45pm, via the aerobus from the airport. Georgina met me at the bus stop at Plaça de Catalunya (a big ol' plaza) along with her friend Jenna, and the first thing to do was to grab some dinner. We opted for tapas at a place not far away and I got to try real patatas bravas (reeally hope that's spelt right - I never learnt Spanish!) for the first time: the verdict is that they're delicious, of course!

Next job was to find my hostel. Since they're not allowed visitors in their accomodation I'd booked myself into Generator Hostel for two nights. I think it was about a 20 minute walk from the Plaça and pretty easy to find - and totally worth it because it was really cool! Very modern and interesting, and the staff spoke English too which was great because, as I mentioned, no hablo español (I Google Translate-d that, so sorry if it's wrong!). I was staying in a female 6-bed dorm room but for the first night there was noone else in, so perfect really!

After that we headed out for some drinks. The girls took me to a cool place called L'ovella Negra (The Black Sheep), where we had some beers and chatted for the next few hours. Some other Americans joined us and with them we drank something that the bar sold called 'Panther's milk' - milk with vodka and brandy in it....yep doesn't it sound awful?! Well, it wasn't! It was quite sweet and we enjoyed it - although it makes for a serious headache in the morning of course! We left the bar as it closed and I was back in my hostel at about 4am (good thing that I was alone in my room that night!).

* Me and Georgina

I want one of these babies to keep!

I was up just before 10am the next later that morning, and was pleased to find the shower was really decent (how often does that happen in a hostel?!). I met Georgina and Jenna at a tiny place called Brunch & Cake, where we seated quite quickly (which was good because it was pretty busy) and left to ponder the menu. There were so many interesting things and I think we gladly would have chosen multiple things - as a table of four or five girls did across from us, they must have had seven or so different things between them and we were seriously jealous!


I opted for avocado, chilli and feta on toast (amazing) with a little pot of fruit salad (also perfect), along with a glass of fresh OJ. Georgina had a turkey and scrambled egg bag and Jenna a stack of French toast covered in berries - seriously, how good does all of that look?!...

Totally satisfied, we began the city tour. The girls have already been in Barcelona for a month so they knew where the good bits were. They took me first to see the Sagrada Familia - that big cathedral that is still being built despite having been started late 19th century! I was looking forward to seeing it, and it was a credit to all their work as it's a stunning building - although I don't think it'll be finished any time soon...

It was veery difficult to take a decent photo with all the sun glare..
View of the back
Next we headed for Las Ramblas, one of the main streets of the city. It's got this big walkway down the middle lined with trees, which I bet looks great in the summer. (Oh, did I mention the weather there yet? It was gorgeously sunny all weekend and several degrees warmer than Bologna - yay!!) We wandered down some of the side streets and into a couple of shops for a bit, and also saw the Cathedral of Barcelona, which was pretty impressive!

We decided to go out and see the port, which wasn't too long a walk away, after which we carried on round to the beach where we sat for a bit. It was warm sitting in the sun and the sea was a gorgeous colour that did look quite tempting - if only I'd not been sick! There were so many people selling stuff on the beach though - shawls/blankets, coconut pieces, and some 'sexy mojitos', all of which we politely declined...

The harbour

Ahhh beautiful!

Eventually we decided we were getting peckish and so made our way back to Las Ramblas to go to La Boqueria, which is a big food market that the girls hadn't yet visited. Since it was now getting late in the afternoon several stalls were closed and more closing, but there was still plenty to see. Meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, sweets, chocolate....there was everything!

Outside view of the market

It's like being back in Italy!...

 At the back end of the market there are a couple of places where you can sit and have some food, so that's what we did. We ordered patatas bravas (again, yes, but man I could eat that stuff all day! And at this place the sauce was different to the night before, so no judging) and some meatballs, quite relieved to be sitting again - during the day we walked a lot, and covered about 8 miles! Or was it km, hmm I don't remember. But it was a lot, either way!

Once we'd eaten (and picked up some cups of fruit as we left the market) we headed for their accomodation, so that we could chill out for a bit and I could have a nosey (it's really nice!). Whilst we were there we looked up a couple of places to visit that night including a tapas place and a bar their friends had recommended earlier called El Bombón which is in an area called the Gothic Quarter (which I've decided is my favourite bit). At about 8pm the three of us went out along with three of their housemates (also American), though unfortunately the tapas place we'd chosen turned out not to have any tapas when we arrived, so we had a wander to find somewhere else. We picked a Greek place not far away in the Quarter (I never saw the name, though, oops!) which turned out to be a good one! We all either opted for a chicken gyros plate or lamb souvlaki (including me) and it was all delicious.

El Bombón was also a success. We unknowingly arrived before the crowds did and after about five minutes of hanging got a table and ordered some cocktails. It's a caribbean bar that blasts music and has disco lights - it was seriously cool, although did get very busy later on and after one drink we went out to find somewhere new. We ended up in a quieter bar for another round of cocktails, where we stayed for a little while. Having left this bar we somehow managed to leave the Gothic Quarter and, unsure of where else to go, ended up going to L'ovella Negra again! Where we had beers and of course the headache-inducing Panther's milk...

El Bombón


The lovely 'Panther's milk'..

...though this time we left the bar a little earlier, and I got back to the hostel at about 3am. Except this time I wasn't alone! There were three girls asleep in the room when I arrived, though I woke up at least two because I was rustling around. I don't think they were too bothered though and they woke me up at about 8.30am which all their rustling anyway, so!

Sunday morning I felt a bit worse than I had the morning before, and I was also still coughing like a mad thing, so I was happy to get ready and check out of the hostel before 10am so that I could grab some fresh air. I met Georgina at a cafe called Pudding, where the food was delicious but the decor was definitely the best part. It had a sort of circus/wonderland theme and just looked awesome! Though my photos are awful, so I'll only subject you to two of them so you can get the general gist.

Realising we didn't have very much time that day (my flight was at 3.25pm so I only really had until half past 1 to 2pm to do stuff), we decided to walk down one of the main streets taking in the (once again) glorious sunshine. Having nipped back to the hostel so that I could grab the backpack I'd left in the storage room there, we then headed towards the cathedral area where there were going to be some performers doing this climbing thing - I don't really understand it, but it's a big thing apparently where they climb up each other and it was pretty cool!

The streets were absolutely packed with people, and soon I had to be getting the bus back to the airport so we didn't stay and watch for long. With promises of seeing each other again sooner than in four years time, I said goodbye to my lovely friend who'd shown me Barcelona and was off on my way. I expected the flight to be delayed because of the snow in Bologna but we actually left and arrived perfectly on time, and the flight was brilliant as we followed the coast of Spain in the sunshine with barely any clouds and into Italy, where everything was covered in snow.

So, I've clearly had a fantastic weekend! I just wish I hadn't been sick because I would have enjoyed myself a bit more I think, it was a shame that I just felt like death as we walked around! Nonetheless I absolutely loved Barcelona and I will definitely be going back one day. And on the plus side I'm feeling much better now than I was, although still coughing a little bit...

And guess what? I'm now into my final two weeks here in Italy. My final two weeks in Bologna. Which is...really bizarre! I cannot believe how quickly it's all gone! But more on that later. I've got plenty planned for now, including a trip to Venice on Friday, Verona on Saturday, and two good friends will be visiting me from Monday. I have a feeling I'll really enjoy these last days here and I will keep you updated.

Ciao for now!