Apart from finally having a valid excuse to snuggle under a blanket and hide away from the never-ending din of the city outside, one thing I love about rainy days in London is that they give me an inexhaustible ability to daydream, or think up some new project to pursue. I would be lying if I said that the two-thousand kilometre trip around Catalonia that my brother and I embarked on in August began at sunrise by the lighthouse of Cap de Creus – the eastern-most point of Spain – as in fact, it came from an idea conceived on one of those dreary afternoons where I had found myself at a loose end, attempting to think of something to do, or rather, somewhere to go.
As someone who studies French and Spanish, and prompted by my sister’s recent return from her own year abroad, the question of where to go on my time away had begun to linger on my mind, albeit a little ahead of schedule. Never did I envisage where my attempt to answer this question would take me, nor how much my efforts to would fail, carrying me off in a completely different direction.
While re-watching an episode of Top Gear, a solution suddenly presented itself: a road trip. I couldn’t decide where in Spain I wanted to go, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to answer my question. My brother, Xavier, immediately latched on to this idea and we frantically set about putting it into motion. My family is fortunate enough to spend a lot of time in Spain, as my grandmother has a house there. It is a small village called Cadaqués, just north of Barcelona and it was to be our starting point. Having decided scooters was our preferred method of travel, we set about looking to get our licences. It turns out that having lessons in Durham, famous for its warm, sunny weather, is a gruelling experience, but the prospect of what lay ahead was too exciting to care. After a few lessons (and a failed test) we were almost there. All we needed now was a route.
I like to think of myself as a fairly organised person. However, if this endeavour of ours brought to light one thing, it was the complete opposite. As it turned out, this plan gave rise to more changes of mind than you get in a Truss-led government. While examining our window of opportunity, unforeseen plans saw it cut from three weeks to nine days, and the original idea of looking at potential cities for my year abroad was unceremoniously dumped. We settled on sticking to Catalonia and the north, so having found two scooters which narrowly fitted into our budget, and with a vague route settled, we readied ourselves in earnest for our departure. At sunrise we were off.
Leaving all of our packing and preparation until the night before resulted in what should more accurately be described as a four hour nap the night before we left, not that it mattered to us. We were going. After all the months of waiting, and extensive (a couple of days) planning, the time had come. Watching the sunrise at our point of departure, Cap de Creus, it was as if we had been transported into a Dalí painting, as the sun gently rose from its slumber, its warmth bleeding out gently across the sky.
Naturally, there were a few teething problems to get around at the start as we adjusted to our situation. Tensions took hold early on as Xavier was caught unaware by the weight of his now heavily-laden scooter, and as he tried to prop it up on its stand, it toppled over onto its side by the side of the road. My initial reaction of laughing rather than helping left him highly unimpressed and radio-silence ensued for a while.
Our desire on this trip was to stick to the smaller roads and so in our search for breakfast, we were drawn to a detour up into the mountains, through the town of Cabanelles. Here was where our total lack of experience really came into play, as being a hamlet, there was of course nothing on offer. As we found out in Catalonia, bars in such places run on their own timetables, which are a complete waste of time trying to understand, and so we journeyed on along the mountain road.
One of our first stops was the medieval town of Besalú, the historic capital of the Garrotxa county. Famous for its Romanesque bridge, the town was declared a site of historical importance in 1966, and has been preserved as one of the prime examples of Medieval architecture in Catalonia. Even through the multitude of conflicts that this area of Spain has seen, many such villages have stood the test of time leaving a region blessed with numerous picturesque locations such as this one. The small fortified town, with veins of cobbled streets and endless sandstone walls running through it, is a visual display of the Catalans’ never-ending quest of self-preservation; This is a plight born from their constant suppression right through from the Nueva Planta Decrees of 1716, to the post-Civil-War period, and even up to today as they continue their struggle for independence.
One becomes so wrapped up in the temporal paradox of Besalú that it left me half expecting to encounter a knight on horseback charging through the streets on his way to defend his land and honour from a threatening invader. Alas not. Only the occasional local who, upon seeing their thousandth tourist of the day, was beginning to regret their decision to live in a place of such visual splendour, preferring to take refuge in the smoke of another disappointing cigarette.
Back on the road, we made our way past many towns of equal magnificence, such Castelfollit de la Roca, a breath-taking town of medieval origins in arguably even more impressive natural scenery. The town is carefully placed on a thin volcanic outcrop and the houses are crammed in on top it, with balconies that stick out precariously over the alarming drop into the abyss below. As we got deeper and deeper into the Catalan hinterland, with the sea-air long behind us, temperatures began to rise leaving my skin more sun-scorched than sun-kissed. Even after ample time adjusting to the Spanish heat, I had become complacent.
As the evening began to draw in, the impending darkness brought with it the question of where to sleep. For my brother and I, however, it was a subject not without its controversies. Xavier’s idea of this trip had very much been with typical Spanish August weather in mind, and his idea of adventure dictated that we sleep in hammocks. Having previously checked the weather forecast I saw that this would be anything but a good idea, with the mountain chills not something I was willing to brave for nine nights, and I decided that I had to put a stop to this madness, so on our first day we bought a tent. It was to be a decision he would thank me for later.
Finding ourselves on yet another stunning mountain road this question was at the forefront of our minds. Driving along, the forest of pine trees loomed menacingly above us, attempting to swallow us up at any opportunity. Every turn presented a clearing with a potential spot for our tent, but the ominous gloom within the Bavarian-like woodland reminded me of what I had been told before leaving: the Pyrenees are home to wolves. After many attempts to persuade the hammock-crazy Xavier, we finally agreed that due to our complete lack of travelling nous, and as it was the first night, we would find a campsite instead.
Darkness had fallen by the time we reached the town of Les Preses, and the lights of the campsite greeted us with a warm welcome. The patrón met us with glee on his face, an expression which soon turned to grave seriousness as he recited the campsite rules to the umpteenth person that day. The tone of boredom was clear throughout his little speech, as he was obviously at pains to show us just quite how monotonous this task was while we obediently nodded away in silence.
Having pitched our tent, he showed us into the dining room, where we were practically force-fed a bowl of Faves a la Catalana in return for a small fee. Catalan’s love their hearty stews which fuel them through the often harsh winters, and this was no exception. Our bowls were filled to the brim with beans in a thick, brown gruel topped with black pudding, various cuts of pork and an almost solid layer of oil resting unappetisingly on the top. However, with a ham sandwich the only thing having kept me going all day, it was not something I was going to turn down, and I went to bed feeling satisfied in stomach and mind, excited about what lay ahead.
To be continued…
By Hugo Millard.
For many Modern Languages and Cultures students, the compulsory study abroad is a huge attraction of the degree. Using your language skills every day and meeting new people from across the globe is such a rewarding experience. Unfortunately, not everything goes to plan on the year abroad, and while some of it may be out of our control it really is best to be well prepared for all eventualities so that we can make the most of our time abroad. Towards the end of February, I had to leave my study abroad placement in Russia at short notice due to the increasingly volatile situation in the country. My university was able to secure some places at a Russian language school in Riga which meant that we could keep our language skills alive whilst enjoying the true study abroad experience. Before arriving in Riga, I had no idea what to expect. I have to say that Latvia had never been somewhere I had considered as somewhere high on my travel bucket list but knowing what I know now I would recommend it to everyone. Here’s what I wish I’d known before I arrived in Latvia and what I would recommend to other young travellers who are embarking on trips in the future.
There isn’t an abundance of blog posts and social media accounts dedicated to documenting the wonders of this small country which left me with a profound sense of curiosity and eagerness to start exploring the largest of the Baltic states. My first day in Riga really did not disappoint. I walked right into the heart of Riga and was met not only with perfectly landscaped parks but also a fresh sea breeze which rolled in from the harbour. What more could you really ask for? I was so thrilled to dive in and start discovering more of Latvia’s rich history with the help of countless museums and stunning works of architecture. It really begs the question of why more people don’t visit Riga. With direct flights from most UK airports which will get you to Riga in around 2 hours, it would be a shame to miss out on this gem of Eastern Europe.
If nature is more your thing, then Riga certainly will not disappoint. Latvia is covered in forest which means that you don’t have to venture too far from home before you find yourself surrounded by nature and away from the hustle and bustle that comes with life in a capital city. In fact, 53% of Latvia is covered in trees which means it is so easy to take a break from work and enjoy all that nature has to offer. Despite being in the heart of nature, you can still stay connected thanks to the really fast Wi-Fi and abundance of hotspots. Living with such great access to the internet without sacrificing the proximity of green spaces makes for the perfect work life balance and I think plays a big part in why Latvia is an up-and-coming digital nomad destination.
Despite all of the wonderful things Latvia has to offer both in nature and infrastructure, moving to a new country can always be difficult. This is especially true if you don’t know the language! Before I set off for Latvia, I did have a read through the FCDO’s foreign travel advice page for Latvia, so I had some idea of what to expect when I arrived. It was particularly good to know about fines for travelling without a ticket on public transport and the importance of carrying a photocopy of your passport. These are sometimes really crucial points that can be overlooked when planning your travel abroad.
Riga is also so well connected. If not by air routes, then definitely by bus and ferry routes. As the most central Baltic capital city, Riga is a great base for exploring more of Latvia’s neighbouring countries and with both Estonia and Lithuania only a couple of hours away they really make for the perfect weekend getaways. I hopped on a bus and in no time at all I had made it into Lithuania, which means I get to scratch off a new country from my scratch map, but of course more importantly discover a new city and culture. One thing to check before heading off to explore more of the surrounding countries is that you have sufficient travel insurance in place. As a student on a compulsory year abroad I am fortunate enough to be covered under the university travel insurance whilst I am in Latvia but remember to check the specifics of the policy. My insurance doesn’t cover any trips outside of Latvia, so I needed to find my own policy for the couple of days I spent in Lithuania. You can find some really useful advice on the Travel Aware website which will help you assess exactly what you need.
Looking back, I really do feel like this was something of a happy accident. If it wasn’t for this replacement course, I don’t think I would have prioritised visiting this beautiful country which would truly have been a tragedy.
This article was written in collaboration with the FCDO and the Travel Aware Campaign. For more information, please visit the Foreign Travel Advice website or contact Durham University’s Travel Aware ambassador email@example.com
By Ellie Tomlinson
Budget-Friendly Capital Warsaw, image source: unsplash.com
Typically, ‘travel’ and ‘student budget’ don’t go hand in hand. I sometimes put off opening my banking app because a quick glance at my balance could be enough to ruin my day. It’s weird, isn’t it, the whole ‘travel while you’re young!’ mentality. How? How is that possible when you have weekly supermarket trips, books and the odd self-care coffee to pay for? But with the whole different set of responsibilities that the future will bring, I’ve decided I can't really wait until I’m older to make a start on ticking things off my bucket list.
I’ve learned that reassessing your definition of ‘holidayish’ is essential if you’re an adventurous student. Sure, swanky hotels and sipping endless Aperol Spritzes by a glittery sea are the stuff of dreams, but in my opinion travelling young is about the experiences; the weird and wonderful places and people that provide a backlog of stories to tell when you get home. Believe it or not, a couple of small changes can make travel so much more affordable:
Try a hostel…
Switching up your accommodation is one of the most economical things you can do when travelling. I’d recommend anyone to give hostels a go, which are far from the run-down, insect infiltrated shacks from your relatives’ school trip horror stories. They provide lots for travellers from sociable communal spaces to bar crawls and discounted day trips, which are great meeting people. Patio Hostel in Bratislava is one of my favourites, which offers a delicious nightly barbecue for only 2.50€!
…or an Airbnb
More privacy than a hostel but with similar money-saving amenities like your own kitchen, Airbnbs are often the way to go. I love the way an Airbnb right in the heart of a big city can feel like your home away from home, giving you a taste of what living there would be like! Big main character energy.
Save on transport
Base yourself centrally so you have the option to get around on foot. Large cities are a little trickier, so I’d advise investing in a pass for public transport that’ll allow you to travel as often as you want on local buses and trains during your trip. They’re often inexpensive and will pay for themselves if you’re going to make good use of them!
Choose somewhere different
Some of the most amazing places mightn’t be on your radar, but are so worth the visit and won’t come close to breaking the bank. One of my favourite cities ever is Warsaw, Poland. Not only is it such an interesting place with beautiful architecture and a fascinating history, but it was very affordable for a capital city, and you can do loads there on a shoestring.
Do your research
Building on from the last point, get into reading travel blogs! These are great both for escapism and for finding out recommendations and insider’s tips that you wouldn’t know unless you’d done your homework. This helped me to find out which days some museums in Warsaw had free entry, most affordable (and tastiest!) ice cream in Venice and the best coffee in Berlin.
Following months, if not years, of travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, within the last week a shift towards borders being opened more freely appears to have taken place. Whilst previously Antigen and PCR tests facilitated travel, this was a clear financial and time limitation for travellers, as well as being a source of stress. I remember myself in the not-so-distant past anxiously anticipating the result from an Antigen test in St. Pancras, waiting to see if my trip would or would not go ahead, dependent on whether I would even receive that crucial ‘NEGATIVE’ certification in time. Below I have compiled a list of travel destination ideas within Europe that now only require a certificate of vaccination (which can be found on the NHS app) to be explored in the upcoming Easter vacation.
Image source: unsplash.com
Universally recognised for its impeccable cuisine, great wine and beautiful natural landscape, Italy has announced on the 1st March that they will be opening the borders for all fully vaccinated visitors, without need for a PCR or LFT test, thus beginning to welcome all to enjoy the peninsula once again. Within the country, a Green Pass system currently remains in place, in which a vaccination certificate must be shown in order to dine out and enjoy bars and other food vendors. FFP2 masks remain mandatory indoors and on public transport for tourists and locals alike, although arguably a small price to pay to soak in the Mediterranean sunshine and La dolce vita. It should be noted that you must complete an EU Digital Passenger Locator Form before arrival.
Image source: unsplash.com
For travellers fully vaccinated within the last 270 days, consider Croatia as a location to spend the holidays, with its fascinating Roman ruins, which acted as a filming location for Game of Thrones, some of the world’s finest amphitheatres, as well as kilometres upon kilometres of stunning beaches. Whilst an increase in tourism has led to heightened hotel prices in recent years, Croatia remains a cheaper destination within Europe, offering a unique accommodation option of traditional stone houses which, comparable in price to an AirBnB, allow travellers to experience life like a local within old-town neighbourhoods.
Image source: unsplash.com
With Iceland announcing that all COVID travel restrictions from the UK have been abandoned as of 25th February, there has never been a better time to complete the bucket-list experience of seeing the Northern Lights which, if you travel early in the holidays, you should manage to catch, with the peak viewing season running from September to March. Masks are no longer mandatory within Iceland, and no restrictions remain, meaning you will be free to roam the island, from its thermal pools to whale-watching or experiencing Reykjavik’s nightlife.
Image source: unsplash.com
For those fully vaccinated, a trip to Portugal could be an option, without need for COVID testing. The country is deemed one of the most reasonably priced of western Europe, though not without compromise of tradition, vibrancy and history, found within both the dynamic city of Lisbon and the dramatic coastlines. In terms of cuisine, Portuguese food and wine is enjoyed both in Portugal as well as around the world, with its Pastéis de Nata (or egg custard tart), seafood and olive oil.
Image source: unsplash.com
For those with an inclination towards nature and hiking, Slovenia is an ideal destination, with over half of the country being covered with trees, of which several tourism agencies offer tours. Slovenia, which can be entered without need to show a vaccination certificate or a negative test result, can be described as somewhat of a hidden gem, though offers its own unique local cuisine, rich history, and stunning landscapes. Key places to visit include the country’s capital, Ljubljana, the iconic Lake Bled, as well as the picturesque coastal town of Purin on the Adriatic Sea.
Image source: unsplash.com
Last summer, Malta was a popular choice amongst many travellers from the UK, with it being one of the first holiday destinations to open its borders for tourism and maintains only requiring a vaccination certificate for entry today. As well as ease of entry, Malta boasts a cuisine shaped by the history of varying civilisations, a sunny and agreeable climate, and three islands to explore– Malta, Gozo and Comino - each with their own quirks and appeal. As of 14th March, masks will no longer be required in public spaces, though remain mandatory inside and in mass events.
The Definite Article Travel Co-Editor
It’s the week running up to Christmas. I’m sitting, as I usually do, at my desk, staring out of the window as I continue to procrastinate writing my essay. Yet I find myself pondering something a little different. I’m confronted with the contrast of where I am today, and where I was exactly a year ago.
This Christmas, I’ll spend the holidays with my loved ones, in my parent’s home. Last year, I had just moved to Paris, and spent Christmas day with my wonderful American flatmate. And it has made me reflect, not just on my own experiences, but on how the two European capitals embrace the Christmas spirit in their own ways. Paris, with its style and beauty, and London with its many traditions and events. Both are wonderful and have a special appeal this time of year. It’s time we reflect.
Whilst I call London home, and perhaps because of that fact precisely, I am partial to a Parisian festive season. Albeit beautiful, the London Christmas decorations don’t even begin to rival those seen across Paris. I distinctly remember walking down the Champs Elysees, Avenue Matignon and Place de Vendome and being blown away by the size, grandeur and beauty of the lights. Ranging from elegant, repeated patterns to larger centrepieces, they overtake what can be seen on Oxford Street and around London’s West End.
That being said, I do think the London Christmas markets surpass the Parisian ones. I am told that one needs to travel to Strasbourg, or the regions bordering Germany, for the best Christmas markets in France, yet one need travel no further than Hyde Park or the London South Bank for a taste of the festive spirit in the UK capital. From Winter Wonderland to the Underbelly, London has much to offer in terms of festive events and markets.
And then there’s food. Usually, there is not even a debate for me when comparing French and British gastronomy. Surprisingly, though, at Christmas, I have to say that the UK is a strong rival for its counterpart across the Channel. In London in December, one is never far from international and multicultural Christmas food. Relying on German essentials, combined with Mince Pies, mulled wine and a traditional Christmas roast, it really is the best time to be in London. In Paris, one is never far from a delicious Yule Log, perfectly mastered by many boulangeries. Apart from this, though, Christmas classics don’t move far from their standard daily food choices – you’ll never see Parisians passing up their usually baguettes and croissants. Both cities, as such, provide a wonderful range of options at this time, catering to any palette.
Indeed, there are many pros and cons to both cities – you really can’t go wrong with either. But I’ll say, Paris holds a special place in my heart. At Christmas, it’s really magic.
Filled with the festive spirit of coming together and giving, Bea and I (Emily) have collaborated on our latest article, each giving our four top places to visit this Christmas, ranging from the ski slopes of the French Alps, to the Christmas markets of Germany and even the Amazon rainforest.
Deemed the ‘Capitale de Noël’, or Capital of Christmas, this French city is home to one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe, and the oldest in France. Lying in the Grand Est region of France, bordered from Germany by the Rhine, the architecture of the city is an amalgamation of both German and French styles, with its half-timbered houses and majestic cathedral. At the yearly Christmas market, one can find more than 300 chalets, housing toys, local Alsatian food, and crafts.
If you’re looking to travel somewhere closer to home, a trip to Edinburgh and its Christmas market is a must. One can find fairground attractions, an ice skating rink, a Christmas tree maze, as well as the usual comforts of a Christmas market, such as stalls selling local produce. In 2021, it was crowned the best festive market in Europe, and encompasses a large part of the city, against the backdrop of the beautiful Edinburgh Castle.
The Christmas festivities in the city of Bruges in Belgium run well into the New Year, ending on 9th January 2022, with the larger market hosting an ice-skating ring and stalls. Bruges itself is known as the Venice of the North, and the whole city is designated as a World Heritage Site by UNSESCO. (Perfect also to co-ordinate with buying Belgian chocolates as Christmas presents!)
4. Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Situated in Middle Franconia, Germany, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a town that almost feels like stepping into a collection of doll houses, with its half-timber buildings, as seen also in Strasbourg. Rothenburg is home to a Christmas market, which has run since the 15th century, occurring in 2021 from the 26th November to the 23rd December. Enjoy white mulled wine, roasted almonds, Lebkuchen and the music of local brass bands, as well as the regional specialty, Schneeballen, literally translating to mean Snowballs, which are balls of baked, shredded pastry, covered in icing sugar and sometimes filled with praline or coated in chocolate.
My self-professed favourite US city. I’ve only been to four, so I’ll let you be the judge of that but I don’t think that’s a controversial statement. Beautifully set beside the Pacific and a stone’s throw from the snowy North Cascades, Seattle has something for everyone. Known for being the home of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, Seattle still is at the heart of North American’s edgier music scene. Round every corner is cramped bar advertising live music, thankfully spanning all genres now grunge has had its moment. Pike Place Market is the perfect spot to find stocking fillers and Christmas food, or to visit the world’s original Starbucks (you didn’t hear it from me, but it’s the exact same as all the other ones). Seattle is also home to the Museum of Pop Culture, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s passion project, impressive as much for its external architecture as what’s inside. If you’re planning on visiting the Space Needle, be sure to take the short detour to Chihuly’s Garden and Glass exhibition which is as eclectic and eccentric as the city itself. The beauty of Seattle is that it feels like a thoroughly modern American city, whilst still maintaining its alternative underground feel. And if I’ve not convinced you yet, the North Cascades are just an hour and a half drive away and offer some of North America’s best and most underrated skiing.
6. St. Petersburg
No city screams winter like St. Petersburg. Known for the Winter Palace and the frozen Neva River, it’s a city fully equipped for the cold. Although often considered Russia’s only European city, St. Petersburg certainly holds a completely unique charm. From the grandeur of the Hermitage Museum to the colourful Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, the city is visually intense and overwhelming in all the right ways. Famous for its history and art, it’s also the only place I’ve ever visited where vodka is served in a carafe as if it’s meant to replenish your thirst. Having grown up with a family fascinated by Russia, I was always surprised when jokes were made about the lack of interesting food, and felt it was an anachronism tinged with vaguely cringeworthy stereotyping. Any Pelmennaya will leave you ready to roll home from the historically Siberian dumplings and sour cream combo. An exciting and beautiful city, St. Petersburg is like nowhere I’ve ever been.
7. Le Grand Bornand
It feels sacrilegious to include this on a list of holiday recommendations, as it’s long been my family’s best kept secret, but it’s Christmas and Christmas is all about giving. Tucked away high in the French Alps, Le Grand Bornand is home to some of the best off-piste skiing, and my most spectacular snowboarding accident (five years on I still haven’t found my dignity). A remarkably big resort for how small the town is, you can easily fill a week’s skiing with completely different routes. A personal favourite is the Col des Annes off-piste route, which brings you along a knife-edge ridge and down into powdery meadows and finally down steep ups and downs. Only for the fit or foolhardy. Having skied and snowboarded here my whole life, I can safely say I don’t think I’ll ever complete the run without a tumble. Le Grand Bornand is a largely undiscovered resort. In fact, the only reason I’ve ever been is because my dad worked as a washer up there in his heyday (since passed). The lack of tourists makes it a perfect place to practice your French and gives it a charmingly down to earth feel.
8. Manu National Park
If the winter cold isn’t your thing, let me offer you the complete opposite. Deep in the Peruvian Amazon, the Manu National Park is the world’s most biodiverse place. It’s a perfect escape from the monotony of work life. Home to Scarlett Macaws, Bolivian Squirrel Monkeys, and the Jaguar, the Manu National Park is a once in a lifetime experience. Merely the journey into the jungle will leave you aghast. It lies a cool eight-hour drive from Cusco, through the cloud forest and down to the Madre de Dios River. The pandemic has sadly led to further destruction of the environment, but organisations like the Crees Foundation work tirelessly to protect it. Staying in reserves such as these allows you to see first-hand the incredible work of volunteers and interns who live in jungle huts without Wi-Fi day to day. It’s definitely not a place for those who like relaxation, but the wildlife is breath-taking, and a photographer’s paradise. Recently featured in David Attenborough’s Our Planet, it’s no underestimation to say that the Manu National Park is awe-inspiring. Watch out for the insects and snakes though, you’ve been warned!
Emily Ball and Bea Twentyman
Travel Editors of The Definite Article
Within the weekend spent in Edinburgh, we stayed in the charmingly colourful New Town Guest House, which was affordable but pleasant, and provided a comfortable overnight base. Upon our arrival via the trusty LNER, we checked in, then got to exploring, first seeing the castle, built originally in the 12th century, which stands upon Castle Rock, overlooking the whole of Edinburgh with beautiful cities of the iconic Edinburgh sunset.
Next on the agenda was food, after working up an appetite through seeing the sights of the city. We headed to Frizzante Proseccheria on Lothian Road, ordering a pollo e funghi pizza, garlic mushrooms and buffalo mozzarella margherita pizza (I am an Italian student after all). It felt wonderfully traditional, but not stuffy, through the pictures from the 1970s of the moustached owners on the wall, thick Italian accents, and delicious food.
The following day, whilst walking to find breakfast, we came across the Stockbridge Farmers market completely by chance, which we later found out runs year-round, every Sunday from 10am to 4pm. We were immediately enticed by the fresh French pastries, with pain au chocolat and croissants, as well as local produce, handmade soaps and toiletries, cakes, paella, and so much more. Fuelled for the rest of the day, we set out to look around the city some more, including seeing the cathedral, walking the Royal Mile and checking out its vintage shops and cafés and simply enjoying the bustling nature of the city. When it reached the afternoon, we ate at the Albanach Pub, with the vegetarian haggis definitely being worth a try. When in Rome, as they say.
As our train departure began to approach, we spent the last of our time being brought back down to earth by finishing up any university work for our return and did so in the Edinburgh Press Club café. With its range of cakes and teas, the café has a relaxed, inviting feel, which we enjoyed whilst we awaited our journey back to Durham.
Our time in Edinburgh very much felt like a whistle-stop tour, yet also a lovely escape from the Durham bubble and an insight into what we’d like to explore more of upon our next, hopefully longer, visit.
Second year student of Italian and German
If there was one thing that I expected from summer 2021, it definitely wasn’t a spontaneous £20 trip to southern Spain to see my best friend Raúl. Although I felt like a main character in a coming-of-age film, solo-travelling with one backpack during times of a pandemic whilst lacking common sense felt like an Olympic Sport. Nevertheless, the two-year turbulence of Coronavirus was well worth the flight turbulence to be hit with the gust of hot air as I stepped off the plane onto Spanish land before making my way to the beautiful city of Granada.
Travelling to a country where you have close friends gives you the golden opportunity to, without sounding pretentious, live like a local. The four days I spent there made me forget all about my British citizenship as I ran rampant around the streets of Granada and practiced my Spanish, which consisted mainly of slang and insults that I picked up from Élite.
Although my time there was short, I’ve collected a list of fun and cheap things to do whilst there. In terms of general tourist activities, if you’re looking for somewhere to shop, you can take a quick metro ride to Nevada Shopping, which has everything you might need. If you want to experience Spanish culture, a must-do is walk the Paseo de los Tristes, an incredibly picturesque street with a stunning view of the Alhambra, which is also worth a visit if you get the chance! Five minutes off the street and up a horrendously steep hill, you will find El Mirador de San Nicolás from which you can also see a full view of the Alhambra amongst the greenery that surrounds it, with occasional groups of people singing flamenco alongside the constant clamour of tourists taking photos which really adds to the atmosphere of the viewpoint. Another spot I recommend visiting is the Mercado de Artesanía which is a small pocket of the city brimming with warm colours and life amongst the bustling shops. If you go at the right time, you will catch the mercado at its brightest- when the vendors have hung their selection of rugs and materials above the pathway, creating a tunnel of reds and yellows, leading to the cathedral with a lively plaza at its feet.
Of course, I went clubbing. After a year of being subject to evenings in Klute and Jimmy’s, a night out in one of my favourite cities was well deserved. I disgraced the doorsteps of two places whilst I was there- Wall Street and Khimera. Wall Street has a very cool concept in which the prices of the drinks change at random times, meaning that my trusty vodka and cokes could go from being 2 euros to 5 euros, so I had to keep an eye on the menu, whereas Khimera was everything my little reggaeton-loving heart has desired in a club.
If you want to explore Granada, I recommend staying for longer than a weekend, because it’s packed full of fun things to do and see! It’s also a bus or train ride away from other lovely cities such as Cordoba and Malaga which are also worth a visit when in Andalusia. For a bustling city full of busy nightlife and never-ending culture, Granada is certainly a breath of fresh air in comparison to what we are used to in England.
By Victoria Ruck
(Read from bottom to top)
leaving reality behind.
An airtight tin bird take-off,
Its imagination encasing the mind.
Down narrow aisles, stubbing shoe tips.
To catch sentences that stumble and trip
Pinching commas and penning full stops,
These words are pressure that bubbles ears to a pop,
Landing, skidding, taking off and heading back.
Contact is the turn of tyres pushing track,
The prolonged rumble of engine drums.
This skin is lined with white noise, the hums,
Spat out views of oceanic blurs of blue.
These glasses are aeroplane window pips,
'In the South, they do things differently,’ a Tuscan friend had explained. ‘Most of us, we don’t understand it — the life, that is … they disappear in the afternoons for an endless lunch break, and then resurface, at six, only to shut their shops and start drinking by seven.’ I took this to be an exaggeration of a much lighter characteristic, the sort which is all too common when a person from one region talks about another, inimical one.
I arrived in Brindisi in the mid-afternoon, hungry and eager to check into my hotel. On arrival the receptionist wasn’t there. After several attempts to phone him, I got through. ‘Fifteen minutes,’ he said, ‘wait. Relax.’ It felt as if my importunity had caused offence. I sat on a small bench and smoked a few cigarettes, looking at the city around me. It was bleak, and I pitied the people of Brindisi: the sun-kissed Pugliese, whose only representatives seemed to be a few old men, making lethargic passeggiate, stopping for beers, cigarettes and games of cards in empty bars, or else sitting on steps, resting one hand on their olive faces, thinking those Mediterranean thoughts. There is a kind of knowledge to the Mediterranean which only those ancient waters can transmit and understand.
Alberto, the receptionist, arrived and led me up the thin, steep staircase. My suitcase knocked against each stair, and as I reached the top, my face was covered in sweat. Alberto then told me I was not allowed to smoke in the room, something I had assumed. But he drilled this knowledge into me, until I repeated ‘I will not smoke’ several times over, like a naughty boy reciting his Hail Marys.
Brindisi was a stopping point: a place where I would end and begin. Ever since reading Lawrence Durrell’s The Greek Islands and Prospero’s Cell I had wanted to take the ferry from Brindisi to Corfu, to see how the two countries differed, to see how, as Durrell described, ‘somewhere between Calabria and Corfu the blue really begins.’ It did.
I visited the Crusader’s Church, modelled on the Temple at Jerusalem, which had been built to give passing pilgrims a vicarious reminder of what lay ahead. It served, then, the same role which the city itself did for me. It was a reminder that to journey is often a noble thing, that it’s worth the strains and discomforts. The nearby Cathedral was closed. I peeked my head in through a half-jarred side door and discovered that there were two squawky middle-aged women having a singing lesson. I returned to my hotel and took a nap.
I went back out at seven. The city was alive. It confused me at first, and then I remembered the words of my Tuscan friend. There were people everywhere; it was a Friday evening, after all, and
I struggled to find space at a bar. I drank an Aperol and watched, as the city played out its nocturnal rituals, unaware of my presence.
I moved on to a restaurant. It seemed like a refuge for the lonely, as all my fellow diners were, like me, sitting alone, reading books, or playing on their telephones. In broken Italian, I asked them to bring me a typical Pugliese meal. I had to repeat myself twice before he understood. I ate orechiette, that bizarre and alien ear-like pasta, which wouldn’t have been out of place on Hannibal Lector’s plate. They served it with a thick tomato sauce and a salty local cheese; it was the cheapest thing on the menu, but it was utterly delicious. It went down nicely with the cold red wine they’d given me in a carafe. I headed to bed, then, a little tipsy from the wine and the salubrious Adriatic air.
The next morning I took a taxi to the port. The driver was so carefree he watched football on his telephone as he navigated the thin Brindisian streets. I had asked, specifically, to go to the Grimaldi Lines check-in desk at the port. For some bizarre reason, he took me to the airport, far on the other side of the town. I reminded him of my intended destination, and he then offered to take me to the port for no extra cost, as if it were a particularly kind offer to take me to the place where I had asked to go to.
The port was huge. It struck me that much of Europe’s traffic must take this route. I checked in, without showing my ticket, passport, Covid test, or Passenger Locator Form. I then walked about a mile to reach the ferry, dragging my suitcase through the dizzying heat. I was one of the only foot-passengers. I walked up the ramp into the stomach of the shop, amongst large trucks and campervans with exotic driving plates. I was determined to stay on deck until I had seen Italy dissolve into the horizon, nor would I miss the sudden emergence of Albania and the islands which I hoped would rise like phantoms from the brightening blue.
Notes written on the Ferry:
Italy kicks its heel out at us one last time, and then draws away, fading into the horizon. It leaves us landless, with eyes for sea and sea only. The sky’s blue is unrecognisable from that which had hung over Brindisi. I am sitting on the deck, watching the ferry’s interminable wake scar the water.
The ferry itself is quite bizarre. It’s the daily Grimaldi Lines service which stops at Corfu on its way to Igoumenitsas. There are several truck drivers on the ferry, one of whom is quite threatening. He stood in front of me in the queue for food and shouted at the server for being too slow. There are some older tourists: a few, semi-obese couples, who seem to be here for a cheap cruise alternative. They’ve spent most of the journey bent over slot machines, feeding small ten cent coins to the moloch of fate.
For lunch, I eat a gruelly Carbonara, with soft, smoked, undercooked bacon, and, strangely, some zucchini too. I look into the serving tray and a few chips have fallen into it. The server picks these up with his fingers and places them in the correct tray. My beer was flat, too, and it tasted as if it had been left open, in the sun, to spoil for a few days before being served.
Albania now appears. Its mountains seem to collapse into the sea, with the force of a landslide. The clouds hovering above create the impression of snow-capped peaks. It seems as if there’s no green there; only the pale, Illyrian dust, and the dying shrubs.
Three islands appear. These are Merlera, Mathraki, and Othonoi: Corfu’s dramatic prelude. Each rises, phantomlike, from the water, as if they were a spectral vision dreamed up by an old and forgotten Prospero. The sunset begins quickly. A yellow sun sets in a blood orange haze. It presses itself down into the sea, halving itself, before extinguishing into the dusk.
Arrival in Corfu:
A crackled announcement came through the speakers. The noise broke and so I heard only the first syllable: ‘Corf’. There was some commotion and so I headed to the reception area so that I wouldn’t miss the stop. I queued for a lift and then emerged on the bottom floor: the great, dark underbelly of the ferry. A few foot passengers had congregated at the back-left, near the ferry’s stern. I waited for several minutes until the ramp, like a whale shark’s mouth, opened as if to consume the harbour. I noticed we were still moving. The ramp screeched as it descended and thankfully it landed on hard ground. As it moved downwards, a steward stood on top of it, smoking a cigarette.
I was the first off the ship; and so I hit customs first, where neither my passport nor my Covid Test nor my Passenger Locator Form were checked. The taxi which I’d booked wasn’t there and so I sat, on the Terminal Steps, for an hour, smoking persistently dull cigarettes and watching a crowd of Italian students, who played football and flirted, waiting for the return ferry.
I sat there, anticipating a feeling of differentness, that feeling of having crossed a boundary, a natural border, which Durrell so vividly described. With each vapid and pernicious drag of a cigarette, it became ever clearer that there wouldn’t be such a revelation. Globalisation has, to a large extent, done away with borders of personality and characteristics. It was a geographical change, not such a cultural one.
By Cosmo Adair