Author: Michaella//University of Auckland//New Zealand
Hello lovely readers! Long time no see! I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas and an even better New Years. It’s crazy knowing that I’ve started 2018 in a country that isn’t New Zealand – it’s even crazier knowing that I’ve got three weeks until I have to fly home! Back to that little corner of the world to a country that some people don’t believe actually exists. However, before that happens I made sure that I got to have a good taste of the countries surrounding England, those countries being France, the Netherlands, and the Republic of Ireland.
Like all of my blog posts, this one comes with an accompanying song that I think captures the mood I was in while doing whatever it was I’m writing about. However, as I visited three uniquely different countries I think it’s fitting for me to give each one their own song. So, without further ado, let’s begin with Paris.
Because I’m a fan of the film “Me Before You’, and because I can totally imagine myself as a bit of a Louisa Clark, I found myself listening to the film’s soundtrack a lot while in Paris. The song that stuck out the most to me was Jack Garratt’s “Surprise Yourself”, which I did indeed!
I spent five days during reading week in Paris, exploring the city by myself and taking in what the city of love had to offer. First things first, traveling a foreign country is scary. It’s even scarier when one is solo traveling and doesn’t know a lick of French, other than asking if someone could speak English. For the first two days my anxiety was quite high: I was scared about getting lost, I was scared about having to order food somewhere or ask for directions, and I was scared that my attempts at French would be so terrible that all of France would get together to deport me or just call me a disgrace. I had heard rumors that French people could be mean to English speakers, which, as it turns out, was really just a rumor. By my third day I was more confident in saying hello to strangers and speaking the one sentence of French I had memorized the day before I arrived, and I found that a majority of people in Paris did speak a bit of English and were very happy to help me if I needed it. The anxiety subsided, the language barrier was suddenly not as daunting as what I first thought, and with those initial fears passed I was able to really enjoy my time there.
I did all the tourist-y things that Paris had to offer, from bus tours to boat tours (and I even took a day to visit Disneyland which – sorry to report – wasn’t as magical as what I thought it would be. I couldn’t find Moana anywhere, but I still got myself a pair of mickey mouse ears because why not. I heard Florida has a great one though, so who knows? Take two in the magic kingdom?)
I had a look around the Eiffle Tower and ate a crepe at the base of it before exploring the Arc De Triumph and viewing Paris from a different angle. The Arc De Triumph actually become one of my three favourite places in Paris, despite the fact I spent a good ten minutes wondering how I was supposed to cross the busy road before realizing there was an underground tunnel to take people to the famous attraction. One day I spent the entire time in both the Musee D’Orsay and the Louvre admiring the pieces of art the two museums had on display (with the Louvre being another one of my favourite places in Paris – I could spend hours and hours in there!). I also spent time in the Notre Dame which allowed me to reflect on my life and take a moment to savour the taste of traveling independently and being away from home. They say these kind of trips can change a person, and I’m hoping that whatever change I’ve gone through is for the better.
My last favourite place in Paris that I visited the day before I left is probably one that will leave people feeling pretty squeamish (hence no photos, because even I’ll admit it’s a bit macabre). That day I completed a dream of mine that I’ve had since I was eleven and first read the book series “The 39 Clues”. That dream? Visiting the Catacombs of Paris. It was so eerie and spooky but at the same time really amazing to witness. According to the internet there are apparently over six million bones stacked along the tunnel walls, and the whole thing is like a maze that you definitely would not want to get lost in. However, I appreciated how it was like nothing I had ever seen before and would probably ever see again unless I returned.
Overall, Paris was a city flourishing with culture and the arts. Not a bad start to the international travels.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Around two days before I left for Amsterdam I discovered a song that instantly became one of those that you have on replay for a good few weeks before your brain can’t handle it any longer and you stop listening to it for months. So, during my weekend in Amsterdam all I was listening to was Angus and Julia Stone’s song “Chateau”, which fit quite well while I explored what has become one of my favourite cities in the world. In fact, me and some friends are thinking of going there together the weekend just before I leave so I’m pretty excited about returning!
As soon as I had found my hostel and unpacked I was out of the building and heading off to the Van Gogh museum, making the most of the museum’s late night opening. Here I found many paintings that I really loved, either visually or just because of what it made me think or feel, such as his painting “Still Life with Bible”. The painting included a copy of his late father’s bible and his own copy of Émile Zola’s La joie de vivre, and it was basically a comment on how they were both different and they led different lives despite being father and son. It was about carving a path for yourself no matter your background, and I found that quite lovely to see in person.
I also spent the weekend exploring the markets, gardens, and red light district as well as having a look inside the Rijks Museum and around the Jewish quarter via a walking tour. Compared to Paris I found Amsterdam easier to navigate and not as stressful an environment. Maybe it’s because of the lack of cars or because it doesn’t have a bustling city feel to it, or maybe it’s because of an entirely different reason that we all know but I won’t say ;). Either way, I was pleasantly surprised with how much the city had to offer and how welcoming it is to tourists and I can’t wait to return again one day!
Republic of Ireland (As well as Northern Ireland).
Unlike the other two trips which I did solo, this week long trip was one I did with a tour group courtesy of Contiki (It’s not that well known on this side of the world, but it’s a very popular tour group with Kiwis and Aussies, hence why me and a mate did it). Because this trip was done with a large tour group I found that A- I wasn’t at all stressed out or anxious because I didn’t have to do anything other than make sure I was at the coach on time whenever we were about to leave our hotels or destination points, and B- I was able to really socialize with people from all over the world (but mostly Australia, because as I said before, Contiki’s popular).
As it turns out, I’m not the only one who believes in adventures having some kind of theme song. This trip’s theme song wasn’t picked out by me, but by our group’s trip manager. So now, whenever I listen to Rudimental’s “Sun Comes Up” I always think of this epic Irish trip (which I dubbed “The Hunt For Hozier”. Sadly no Hoziers were found, but lots of new friends were!)
Our trip started in Dublin before heading down to Cork via Kilkenny, which is where our group had a bike tour around town. Our tour guide was even nice enough to teach us the words to “The Wild Rover”, another song that I probably won’t hear much on the radio, but will definitely make me think of this trip. From Cork we started our long trip towards Galway, but not before stopping off at two awesome places: The Blarney Castle/Stone and the Cliffs of Moher. Compared to other castles I’ve seen here, the Blarney Castle isn’t the most spectacular, however none of the other castles had a stone which – when kissed – would bless you with the gift of the gab (being a savvy talker, basically. I think I’ve got it, but I’m yet to test it out properly. Gimme some time to try it out and I’ll get back to you.)
After this we made our way to the Cliffs of Moher which was insane! The height of the cliffs paired with the raging ocean below, as well as the creeping fog along the coast made it feel so Gothic. It’s such an amazing place and definitely made it into my top three list for Ireland (Fun fact but the cliffs have been seen in films such as Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince, and played a part as the Cliffs of Insanity in the wickedly awesome film, The Princess Bride).
From here we made our way to Galway which also became a favourite of mine. It didn’t really feel like a city, in truth. It felt far too friendly, like a quaint town where everyone knows one another and is really helpful and kind. The vibe Galway had to offer was one of my favourite things, and I was glad we were able to spend two nights at the place. The Irish music they had to offer was fun and the stories I learnt here were ones that will stay with me forever.
After two nights in my favourite city in Ireland we crossed the border into Northern Ireland towards Derry, also known as Londonderry. Here we took a tour around the town and learnt all about The Troubles, something I didn’t realize ever happened. What I learnt was quite shocking and sad, especially as in parts of Northern Ireland people are still divided on the state of their area. I’m glad I learnt about it, though, because it’s something that shouldn’t be forgotten.
The next day we left the town and made our way to Belfast, stopping first at the Giant’s Causeway, another one of my favourites as again we were by the sea, therefore I was in my element. The rocks are like long, pentagon-shaped pillars that you can walk all over (just make sure you don’t slip!). Science says it was created via volcanic eruptions, but legend says it was a giant’s doing. Honestly, the stories I heard while in Ireland were fantastic and I can’t wait to get home and tell my friends about them.
In Belfast I spent a majority of my time exploring the Titanic experience as well as desperately trying to catch glimpses of the Titanic studio in the hopes that I might find a Game of Thrones star walking about (all I saw was the back of two large stage sets and a HUGE green screen, but I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t exciting, because it definitely was). Also, I know some people might be like, “Wait, you went to Belfast and instead of exploring the pubs at night, you went and watched the new Star Wars film?! Why?!” So let me just say that A- I went to all the pubs from all the other places, so I was pretty pub-tuckered out, and B- Social media and the internet kept nearly spoiling the film so I had to go see it ASAP. At least now I can say I’ve seen a film in Ireland (and a great film at that, don’t @ me).
Finally, we made our way back to Dublin where we spent our last night together at a local pub which served the best lamb shank I have ever had! We were entertained with live music, the muscians playing “The Wild Rover” so we were all able to sing along, and we watched a group of fantastic performers put on an Irish jig (never realized the jig is like a mix of tap dancing and ballet, it was crazy cool). After that we all said our farewells as the next day everyone would be going their separate ways.
Overall, these three international trips have been an amazing experience for me. I’m incredibly happy to have the chance to do this and I know that these moments will stay with me for a lifetime. Now, I’ve only got three weeks left before I go back home, so I think I’ll use them by making the most of the place I have called home for almost five months now: Manchester.