This post is from a guest speaker – so you can read someone who isn’t me, for once. This guest speaker is Ffion, who I can only describe as a huge part of my life. She’s an incredible photographer but a more incredible person, inside and out. Ffion visited an interesting festival in Leeds and has some beautiful photos on it, so listen to what she has to say!
Leeds Light Night is an annual arts and light festival held across the city of Leeds. Held over two evenings, a variety of different sculptures, performances and projections are showcased among the city’s landmarks. Having visited before, I had an idea of what to expect, and was pleased when the displays this year were bigger and better than the previous.
This year’s carnival parade was undoubtedly the festival’s main attraction. Starting a little past 7:30pm, parade performers from Leeds West Indian Carnival set off from the Town Hall and began weaving their way through the crowded city streets. It included dancers wearing glowing costumes, walkers carrying handmade lanterns and performers waving their LED umbrellas. At the back of the parade was the biggest handmade lantern – a man operated BFG!
Making use of the city’s beautiful and historic buildings, Leeds Civic Hall was a background for a series of projections created by artists paying tribute to local history of Leeds. The University of Leeds’s iconic Parkinson Building was lit up with pink lights for the event, which was also a nod to the fact October is breast cancer awareness month. One of the most visually amazing displays was to be found in Briggate which was lined with giant desk lamps. Towering above high street shops and Trinity shopping centre, they were cause for some amazing photos.
Fun for all the Family
The event is well known among locals of all ages who are drawn onto the streets on these cold October nights or even participating in the parade themselves. Local school children carried home-made lanterns among professional performers adding to the communal feel of the event. The event also catered to children who weren’t participating as there were plenty of alternatives such as arts and crafts events in local shopping centres, if the children aren’t too keen on standing out on the cold streets all night.
Light Night is worth a visit if you’re near the Leeds area next year. The community feel and buzzing atmosphere on the streets paired with the thought-provoking displays made for a fun night. As the displays are on the streets themselves, it’s a free event meaning not even students have an excuse not to visit! Plus, you have the opportunity for some cool Instagrams. There is a lot to see, and the only downside to the evening was that I didn’t get to see everything, although you could solve this by visiting on both nights. An interactive map available on the event’s website was incredibly useful in providing details of the display locations and handy if you’re unfamiliar with the city. My advice would be to plan your visit in order to see everything you want and get the most out of the evenings.
A couple of weeks ago, I went on a quiet little holiday to West Wales. It’s a nice, quiet place for a holiday away from it all. Pembrokeshire was a great, dog-friendly holiday – It’s especially nice at the end of the summer as it’s far less busy, and dogs are allowed on most beaches out of season. Here are the places I visited, which I would recommend.
There’s not much in Cilgarren. There’s a castle we didn’t get the chance to visit. We had some nice food from a pub, and the village shop sold the best bacon I’ve ever tasted. Other than that, it was a nice base with plenty of room for a round walk with the dog. The cottage we stayed in was cosy, a lovely place to cuddle up on the sofa after walking all day, or to watch the morning go by with a cup of tea and toast.
If you’re walking a dog around towns all day, the most important thing to do is to give them a good run first. We learnt this the hard way. We took the dogs here every morning for a run, and they loved it. It was huge, so it was easy to avoid other dogs. They loved paddling in the sea, and ended up being very sandy dogs afterwards! Just a warning, it was freezing cold, wet and windy, so maybe wear a coat. Although, there is a cafe if you need to warm up, the food looked lovely, and the hot chocolate and a huge slice of fluffy victoria sponge. On a more serious note, avoid the sand dunes, as adders have been known to bite dogs there.
Sun Worshipper by John Cleal
Fisguard has the usual shops, so it’s a good place to pick up essentials. There are also nice little shops. It’s a quiet seaside place, with pretty coastal walks and a lovely harbour. It’s worth a visit just to see the multi-coloured pastel houses on the way there, and the boats in the harbour.
Again, beaches. It’s very much a seaside holiday town, the kind of place that has a hundred of the same shops with buckets, spades and fudge. Don’t let the cliché put you off. The beaches are really nice, and there are boat tours to see puffins and seals. We ate at Caffi Llew, which was a very cute and did lovely smoked salmon sandwiches. There are plenty of the usual shops to browse, where I picked up a shirt I can’t wait to wear, as well as a few independent ones. By far, the best shop in Tenby is Roly’s Fudge. The fudge is handmade in store and comes in loads of unique flavours, like Bailey’s, lemon meringue and sea salt. You get to watch this sticky mess before you get turned into fudge, what’s not to love?
Saint David’s Cathedral
Handmade chocolates from Chapel Chocolates
The Bishop’s Palace
While we’re on the topic of independent shops, St. David’s is probably the place to find them. Though, there aren’t many, after all, this is the smallest city in the UK. The ones that are there make up for the lack of stuff. My favourite shop was Chapel Chocolates, a tiny little place tucked away in a corner, which sold handmade chocolates – the range of flavours was incredible: I ordered rose creams, salted caramel chocolates, pralines and cherry blossom just to name a few. The design of the chocolates was so impressive, I loved the way they brought in Wales’ national flower. I visited a quirky little shop called The Peepal Tree. They had bohemian clothes and accessories, along with some really nice candles and bath things – I got some interesting bath tea bags. The Cathedral is a really lovely piece of Welsh architecture, I’d have loved to see the inside, but we had the dogs so we didn’t get the chance.
All in all, Pembrokeshire makes for a quiet, relaxing, homely holiday.
Leeds is a gorgeous city. If you’re headed there to uni, you’re very lucky. If you just fancy a day trip, this post should convince you to head up North and experience everything the city has to offer!
Leeds City Market
Leeds has all sorts of shopping options. Obviously, there’s Trinity shopping centre, which has all the usual brands and an amazing Everyman Cinema, complete with couples seat, blankets and pizza. There’s Kirkgate Market too, Europe’s largest indoor market – it’s filled with cute local stalls. Leeds’ arcades are the best part of the city. Victoria Quarter arcade is beautiful, if only just for a walk down to look at, especially at night near Christmas. Victoria Gate arcade is new, and has more high end shops like Anthropologie and the tea shop pictured – sure, you can’t afford any of it, but it’s fun to look around.
Food and Drink
Pork at Tattu
Dim Sum at Tattu
Trinity Kitchen Menu
The Dry Dock is bar that looks like a boat, it’s great for a quirky-casual night drinking with friends, it’s also on the way to some of the university accommodation, so it’s a tempting place to visit. Leeds (actual) Dock is quiet and relaxed in the day but has plenty of bars and restaurants to keep you entertained at night. If you’d prefer a more refined meal, I would recommend visiting Tattu. It’s an Asian Tapas restaurant with a great big pink tree inside. It’s pricy, but gorgeous. Trinity Kitchen (the shopping centre food court) is my favourite place in the city – it has all different kinds of cuisine from all over the world, and you can pick what you want and sit together. It’s perfect for friends with different tastes. Especially if, like me, you have an unyielding obsession with Pho.
Hyde Park is a huge, pretty park in Leeds that’s great for relaxing in if it’s sunny. However, Leeds has far more outside to explore. The University of Leeds campus is especially pretty, it has some beautiful old buildings, interesting statues, and that sculptures like that amazing bench. The campus also has a garden, which students can get involved with, and harvest from responsibly. If culture is really your thing, visit the museums in Leeds. They’re not quite the ones in London, but they’re a fun day out. The city and campus are industrial, combined with this old Northern architecture, which works strangely well.
I hadn’t been to a festival before last weekend. I didn’t get the chance last summer, and I wasn’t sure I could handle one. However, as I’ve been trying to do things outside of my comfort zone this summer, I attended Leeds Festival. I loved it! Read on for a non-festival-goer review with recommendations and tips.
Obviously, I need to talk about this first. I caught acts I had been desperate to see, and some I hadn’t heard of before, each were fantastic.
Baby In Vain
BBC Introducing Stage
In the day, I spent a lot of time by the BBC Music Introducing Stage. Unknown bands had the chance to play to crowds with the hope of finding fans. I really enjoyed Queen Zee and The Sasstones, a quirky-looking rock group. Welsh band Chroma are also worth a mention. They’re an alternative rock band from Rhondda Cynon Taff, with a female lead singer. Though the vocals weren’t my thing, and it was very refreshing to hear them sing a song entirely in Welsh, because how else will we convince young people it’s worth speaking if it never engages with modern culture.
Fickle Friends were another fantastic band I caught. An alt-indie pop band whose female singer had wonderful vocals, I would definitely see Fickle Friends again. They’re a bit like Shura, but more dance-y. I hadn’t listened to them before the festival, but I’m actually listening to them as I write this. Check out their songs Cry Baby and Swim! The crowd had a great time with them, big shout-out to the guy in front of us whose moves were like nothing I’ve ever seen before – I don’t know if that’s good or bad.
Similarly, I hadn’t heard of Baby In Vain before I saw them in Leeds. They’re a Danish all-girl rock trio, it was grungy-indie-rock. They played on the stage where most of the heavy rock music was, which is how they could be described. They started off when they were all fourteen to sixteen years old, and whilst they’re older now there’s an air of awkwardness and youth which surrounds them – it’s captivating. They’re a group of women taking on the rock scene, what’s not to love?
The Big Names
Charli XCX on the Dance Stage
I chose the day specifically to see a few acts I really love. I had been desperate to see some of them, and hoped they would live up to the hype. Halsey definitely did. She was the penultimate act on the second biggest stage and she absolutely killed it. There was a great balance of songs from both albums Badlands and Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, and her stage was adorned with gorgeous golden roses. She was unapologetically her – she talked about her fears as a bisexual woman, of singing Stranger’s female pronouns on a stage in Russia, she danced and she changed the spoken part of Colours. Instead of the real lyrics, she said “I say the same poem every time, and if you don’t know that by now then I want to take whatever drug you’re on” – she knew her audience. Her vocals were fantastic, the transitions of her music seamless, and I was down in front staring her in the eye, what more could I want.
Haim followed Halsey as the last act of the night, playing to an ecstatic crowd at the same time as headliners Muse played the main stage. Their vocals were perfect, it was a pleasure to hear them live. My only criticism is that they didn’t play very much of the new album, only two songs, but that’s an excuse to see them again! As I hadn’t seen the previous album played live, it felt so special to hear Forever, Falling and The Wire. Not only were the vocals great, but Haim know how to work a crowd. Este’s bass face is a sight to behold. They danced with the crowd before Este and Alana crowdsurfed for the first time in their lives. Este stood after she had crowdsurfed, faced the crowd in her dress, and jokingly apologised if anyone saw anything they didn’t want to!
Haim didn’t forget where they were, either. In an unique turn, Este told the crowd that the first time she came to Leeds, she fell in love, and that as of four days before, she was once again single. She propositioned every single one of us, and said she’d be annoyed if no one asked her on a date – boys or girls, she didn’t care which. It’s so wonderful to see confident women taking on the industry and supporting other women. However, the lack of women and POC performers at Leeds was rather shocking. All girls need strong role models!
The alternative tent at Leeds boasts some of the biggest names in comedy, and is a fantastic place to relax away from the blaring music. Everyone sits on the ground and watches quietly, laughing along in unison to someone off Mock The Week. I was honestly a little starstruck to see some comedians in the same room as me, as I’m a big comedy fan. But, even if you’re not a massive comedy geek, it’s a great place to chill.
Ivo Graham did a great relatable set about getting older when you’re young, British and awkward. With jokes about Mario Kart, him swindling an extra year on his 16-25 railcard and his Nokia 3310, he was a massive crowd pleaser! Knowing your audience turned out to be quite important, as the racist, sexist, homophobic Fin Taylor proved. He attempted to poke fun at the LGBT+ community, white privilege and the liberal left wing. At a festival. In the North. I don’t think he read up on it before he got there. Honestly, in this political climate, none of that is funny. Turning hate speech into a joke is how we got ourselves into this mess. He was deservedly heckled and I booed when he left. He was shocking and I’ll probably make a larger post on how awful and unfunny his problematic comedy was.
Political satirist Jonathan Pie was so popular I couldn’t even enter the tent, I had to sit outside to listen. He succeeded in addressing the political climate without being horribly depressing. It was almost educational – telling us why we should be outraged and why we must continue to fight against the injustice no matter what. But it wasn’t boring, as it’s all presented through a caricature of an angry man having crisis on stage! We can laugh about it together as long as we do something about it. So while you’re here, get on 38degrees.org.uk and sign some petitions to make a difference.
Big name Katherine Ryan followed the pathetic Fin Taylor, and she was fantastic. She talked about how diets were created and marketed to women to make us small, so we take up less space, so that we are less. But it wasn’t all serious stuff. She did a great routine about Jane on the school run, about being a mother but still being a kid at heart. Her audience interactions were great, she was quick and witty and honestly her stand-up is worlds better than her performances on panel shows. She’s wasted on them, give her a show of her own!
Spicy Veggie Wrap for Blossoms
Sad looking churros
I expected more from the festival food. It was all fairly expensive for what you get, most things being seven to eight pounds. The various noodle bars were okay, it was nothing special but it was quite a lot, I shared my noodles. I didn’t drink alcohol at the festival because I wasn’t that bothered, as I only had a day ticket. After you buy one bottle of water, there are plenty of places to fill it up for free. Though it’s expensive, it’s so important to stay hydrated and fed all day, so do it. The food was pretty good, I had a vegetarian wrap that was lovely, and I got to chill and watch Blossoms from afar whilst I ate, which made the food better. I had churros for dessert, but I’ve had better, I wouldn’t have bought them if I’d tasted them. The festival catered well to vegetarians, but I’m not sure how much food there was for vegans or those with allergies/intolerances. In conclusion, food wasn’t the best part.
The Packed Alternative Tent for Jonathan Pie
The Lock Up Stage
NME / BBC Radio 1 Stage
Bramham Park was far smaller than I thought it would be, which had its advantages as well as its drawbacks. The stages were all close to each other, so it was easy to rush from one to another if there was a clash with the bands you wanted to see. However, it meant that there was a lot of noise almost everywhere.
The stages were great. Main Stage gave you the option of fighting your way down to the front and hopping on someone’s shoulder in the hopes of getting on the big TV, or sitting up on the hill and watching on the screen whilst you relax. The NME / BBC Radio 1 Stage was great and wasn’t too violent. Last time I saw Halsey (at The Academy, Manchester) I couldn’t actually see her performing because I’m short. This time, the stage was way better placed, and the acts who had set decorations looked great! The Alternative Stage was a breeze, relaxing place to chill and watch comedy, whilst actually sitting down, which added a great balance, especially for people like me who have some anxiety issues. However, it got so busy for Jonathan Pie that we couldn’t even get in!
On the topic of anxiety issues, if you suffer from this or anything similar, by all means, avoid the dance stage. It’s the place that gives Leeds its ‘ketty’ reputation. During Charli XCX, everyone was off their faces and I got punched in the head – accidentally, I presume. It wasn’t great, but it’s something to remember and laugh about. If you’re not into the drug-heavy-festival-scene, as I’m not, I would still completely recommend Leeds, just not the dance tent.
Luckily, everyone I was interested in seeing was playing on the same day, so I ended up only paying for a day ticket. It was some £72 so I wasn’t angry about the price – after all, I saw Haim, Halsey and Katherine Ryan. I’d have spent around the same price to see them all on tour and that’s without the day out. It was really good value for such a great day, and we left just before midnight so we definitely got out money’s worth. The shuttle bus was £10 return, which was a little pricey but it was reliable transport and it took almost an hour to get to the festival from central Leeds, so I wasn’t angry about that either. The only really overpriced things were the food and drink, with a bottle of water costing literally £2.50 I was a little mad. The food wasn’t that good or that much for £8, but none of this outweighed the positives.
Bonus: My Look
I went with a white off the shoulder top (thank god it wasnt muddy!), embroidered shorts, joules wellies, a delicate white choker and a sparkly bumbag. The bumbag was literally the most convenient thing I’ve ever owned, even though I hated the idea of having one, they’re so useful you have to get one if you’re going to a festival.
All in all, it was a weekend and some £100 well spent!
I’ve never been in love with London. I haven’t fallen for her patriotic façade. It’s overpriced, it’s busy, it’s unnecessarily stressful. However, my most recent trip may have changed my mind. In terms of London, my friend and I had a fairly cheap day, so didn’t feel like I’d wasted my tight student funds. Still, it’s busy, it’s intimidating: it isn’t something I could handle regularly. Yet, it still makes for a really fun day out.
Save Money by Taking Advantage of Train Deals
By booking well in advance, with a railcard and a deal on train tickets, I reached London and back in the same day for only £35. Considering it’s a journey across the country for me, this was cheap. I wouldn’t normally recommend London on a student budget, but honestly this was such a great idea. The train only had one change, Virgin trains are so comfortable and they have plugs, and it was super quiet because we got the trains at such unpopular times. The downsides were leaving the house at 5:30am and returning at 11:30pm. I was exhausted.
Actually Walk Around London
So it’s tempting to get on the Tube and see as many landmarks as possible, but if you propel yourself around the Underground, there’s so much to miss. After taking a wrong turn on our hour-long walk from London Euston, we ended up near the American embassy, where in a corner of Regents Park, we found a really beautiful dedication to those lost in the September 11th attacks. The message on the shelter reads “Grief is the price we pay for love”. I’m so glad I saw this. This past week I lost someone I love very much and, though these words are unconnected to my personal loss, I feel better for grieving – it’s not a sign of weakness. This realisation would have taken a lot longer had I not decided to explore London on foot, and see things I may not have otherwise.
Learn Things for Free at UK Museums
If you visit a museum, you should probably donate a few quid, but that’s a very small price for how much there is to do in them. The Natural History Museum could literally entertain anyone. There’s a room of beautiful gemstones, meteorites and geological wonders, that remind us how incredible our Earth is. To commemorate this (and to furnish my university room), I bought a lovely slice of agate from the museum gift shop, which is actually one of the best gift shops I’ve ever seen. It’s got this skulls and gemstones and pressed flowers aesthetic that makes it feel more like part of the museum
and less like a cash grab. The whale who hangs above the entrance hall is so huge that I couldn’t fit it in a photograph. There’s some dreadfully old taxidermy from when the museum was founded – it’s like an exhibition within an exhibition, it’s what museums used to be. If you like to take pictures, there are all manner of different things to capture, from the huge sea monster fossils to the beautiful building its self. It’s great for kids – and big kids – because there are dinosaurs, and I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t love to look at the dinosaurs in the museum.
Visit Camden Market for Lunch
Camden Market is only a short couple of tube rides from the museums – after all that walking, I desperately needed to sit down. Until that Tube journey, I could have parted with no money yet, see what I mean by cheap day? We headed down to Camden, which is full of cute stalls and street food. I had hands down the best gyoza I’ve ever eaten from Rainbo, a Japanese street food stall. It was a box of eight gyoza (half chicken, half vegetarian), Asian salad and sticky rice covered with soy sauce and sriracha sauce for only £7. It was plenty of food! There are all sorts of different types of food and drink of all different cultures to try out. There are places to sit under cover, so it’s not too bad if it rains, but I wouldn’t recommend you go unless it’s sunny. The stalls are really lovely – they have all sorts of unique gifts, like jewellery made from the skeletons of leaves, prints, vintage cameras. My favourite shop in the market was a little Japanese shop with lovely prints and lucky cats. The print in the picture below only cost £5 – all in all, a productive visit.
A Level results are released in England and Wales next week, which means that this time last year I was trying not to cry at work whilst I considered how my impending grades would affect my future. My backup choice for university was Liverpool, which is one of my favourite cities in the UK. It would’ve been a dream to live there, but the course wasn’t exactly what I wanted. Nevertheless, I want to write about the city, because if you’re headed there for the next 3 years, or you’re thinking about it, here are some really great things about it.
Liverpool has a selection of museums, many free of charge. A favourite of mine is Tate Liverpool. They ask for donations as you enter, and there’s usually one paid exhibit but the rest is free. It has a huge variety of artwork on identity, gender, race, sexuality. You name it, there’s a piece there about it. It’s a must visit! A favourite of mine from my visit this August was Glenn Ligon’s work from the picture above. It says so much: its about America’s self-obsessed neon lights culture, the everpresent advertising and branding in our lives, or the dark current state of the once magical Land of the Free.
If you’re not so into art galleries, maybe you’d prefer to see work as you wander the streets. This picture comes from the charmingly quirky Bold Street, which has a great big pink wall that’s perfect for pictures. Liverpool is covered with interesting art, not to mention its fantastic architecture. The buildings of Liverpool are beautiful, somehow I prefer looking at them than London’s structures. It’s so much less busy, it always feels like there’s more time to appreciate the beautiful and the creative in Liverpool.
There’s so much to chose from in Liverpool! Any chain you can think of is in the heart of the city. Whether you’re getting a Gourmet Burget at Liverpool One or you’ve ventured a little off course and you’re sat in an independent place on Bold Street, it’s all fantastic. My current obsession is pho, the Vietnamese soup pictured above. It’s so tasty and light, but absolutely filling. It’s so much better than ramen! Sometimes I wish I lived in Liverpool, so I could visit their pho restaurants every day. At the aptly named Pho, the food isn’t as overpriced as Wagamama. So when it’s cold and you have 3 essays due and none written and you just need some comfort, get down to Pho.
Now this was a long time ago, but it’s the only show I’ve seen in Liverpool so I’ll talk about it. Blood Brothers is one of my favourite plays, and it’s a wonderful example of Liverpool’s culture. It’s a heartwarming-heartbreaking play about class, fate and family. Written by Willy Russell, it’s one of his only plays that isn’t yet a film, perhaps because you have to see it on stage. It’s a musical with wonderful songs and a Liverpudlian cast. The perfect place to see this is The Liverpool Empire. It’s a gorgeous old theatre with a great view of the stage and comfy seats. If musicals aren’t for you, then there’s always plenty of comedy or gigs to catch in Liverpool. If anyone is playing at the O2 Ritz, don’t pass up the opportunity: it’s a cosy little venue with a great view and a balcony up above if you’re not one for dancing right next to the stage.
Liverpool one has a million big brand shops, plenty of places to rush to on a Saturday to get an outfit for the evening. When the sales are on, there’s usually a lot of good stuff compared to my small-town-one-rack-in-New-Look to browse. There are also a lot of smaller independent shops, and plenty of vintage shops to browse. Of course, it’s not just clothes, music is Liverpool’s thing, so if you need some vinyls it won’t be hard to find them.
Along with the Liverpool Eye, The Albert Dock and the bus tours, there’s plenty to do in Liverpool. So if you’re headed to any of their universities in September, you certainly won’t be bored.
The first time I flew, I was seven. We took an eighteen-hour flight with two layovers, to Australia. Never before had I set foot on a plane, and I was excited. Emirates were an incredible airline. They gave my seven-year-old self cuddly toys, blankets, heated towels and a packed lunch. I stayed up overnight, engrossed in a game of Tetris I played on the back-of-the-seat TVs. Twelve years on, I can’t remember most of the holiday, but I remember almost every second of the flight, which I loved so much.
Now, I’m not sure what went wrong.
At age 14, I took a flight to Florida with my family, and I was not afraid. The flight was more basic. I was with Monarch, so there was a lack of heated towels and back-of-the-seat Tetris – not that I cared, I was going to Disneyland! At age 15, I went to New York with my school, without my parents, and I did not enjoy the flight. Taking off made my ears hurt, and landing on the runway filled me with that sense of relief, like you’re holding a breath but you don’t realise until you exhale. I assumed this was because I didn’t have my family with me.
Suddenly, at age 16, on a family holiday to Cyprus, I was scared. The flight was terrifying. I couldn’t look out of the window. What did any of the noises on the flight mean? Why did my ears hurt so much? At take-off, I could have cried. This wasn’t even a long-haul flight. This was where everything changed for me. I ruined the holiday myself by worrying about being on the plane home. Karl Pilkington once said that the best part of a holiday is arriving home. Suddenly, his comically pessimistic outlook was my own attitude. I wanted to be at home.
Though I have been on three more holidays which involved plane rides since then, I have turned down many opportunities. I didn’t want a memorable holiday with my friends when we finished school, because I didn’t want to spend the entire thing worrying. I don’t want to cry about being in a metal box at 39,000 feet. I don’t know why things changed, but I’m sick of my every anxiety preventing me from doing things that I should feel privileged to be able to do.
So now, I’m in the process of getting over this.
It’s a difficult fear to escape, because the only way to face it is to be on a plane. People get over their arachnophobia by holding spiders, but they can so easily get rid of them once it’s happening. To combat this fear, you have no choice but to commit to staying on a plane. I first managed to feel better about flying on my first trip to Krakow. I bought a book in the airport (it wasn’t very good), I got on the plane, and I didn’t look out of the window. I didn’t cry, I didn’t let it ruin the holiday. I spoke about this in my recent post about Krakow, but I believe that this was due to the lack of plane-specific luxuries on the RyanAir flight: no back-of-the-seat-TVs, no blankets, no in-flight meal. There was nothing but the window to remind me that I was on a plane.
My second trip to Krakow was the first time I’d felt comfortable on a plane since Florida. This is where I cracked it. I downloaded two films to my iPad, which happened to be the same duration as the flight. My eyes were occupied by the visuals, so they weren’t drawn to the window. My ears weren’t focused on the noises around me, as I wore headphones. My mind, most importantly, was occupied by the mystery unfolding on the screen. I forgot I was flying. I didn’t feel the discomfort of claustrophobia, or the impending doom of flying. When we were told to lift the tray table for landing, I was surprised that time had moved so quickly. When every flight felt so long and uncomfortable before this point, I was so shocked that this one felt like a twenty-minute train ride.
I know that some people have particular experiences on planes that prompted their phobia, such as turbulence. Distraction might not be suited to those who suffer in this way. Some are comforted by learning how planes fly, because their fear comes from not understanding how they stay in the air. For some, it’s unclear. Because I couldn’t find a specific cause to my phobia, there was no obvious solution. So, I’m not going to tackle it. If distracting myself works, why should I worry about a fear? I don’t fly often, and I’m still not overly fond, but this distraction technique is the key to the way my mind operates.
I have visited this city twice, but talked about it a thousand times. Krakow is so deserving of praise and it’s my favourite travel experience so far. If you asked me to be there tomorrow, I’d go back. Considering I’m not a huge fan of travel, this is a statement.
My first trip to Krakow was a gift for my eighteenth birthday from my parents. Not exactly a huge wine glass with a glittery “18” plastered on the side, their gift was perhaps a little bit different. Regardless, we left on March 29th on a Ryanair flight in the late afternoon. I’ll admit now, I’m afraid of flying. The whole experience terrifies me. I don’t like the way the pressure makes my ears pop, I hate all the noises on the plane because I have no idea what they mean, and airports are intimidating. Not to mention, you’re suspended thousands of feet in the air, with no escape. It’s claustrophobic.
However, my experience with Ryanair was ultimately a good one. The flight is about two hours and a half, so you don’t need an in-flight meal or those back-of-the-seat TVs that play the same two episodes of The Simpsons on loop until it drives you mad enough to fall asleep. In fact, the lack of luxuries only available in the air put me at ease. Combined with the short journey, it felt like a train ride. It was casual. So, if you’re not a fan of flying, this trip isn’t too bad. Although, the second time I went, I downloaded both the Da Vinci Code films to my iPad, and discovered that they’re almost exactly the duration of the fight – I totally forgot I was on a plane.
Anyway, Krakow was beautiful. We stayed in Antique Apartments just off the Main Square, on Artist’s Square. They have a scenic view of the square, and are walking distance from everything great in Krakow – bars and restaurants are so easy to get to. There’s a great Italian next door called Pino, which I would highly recommend. The apartments are also attached to a bar/restaurant next door called Scandale Royale. They do very nice cocktails, and serve breakfast, which is included with your stay. Antique Apartments were also very helpful in organising trips to Wieliczka Salt Mine and Auschwitz. All you have to do is enquire at reception and a mini bus picks you up when you schedule it. Transport to and from the airport is also provided by the apartments for a very small fee.
We spent our first day wandering around the city. You sort of have to do the markets, because they have some very cute things. Their Christmas decorations are beautiful. When I returned the following December, the Christmas markets were filled with gorgeous decorations. We took a walk up to the castle, a good portion of which you can wander around free of charge. It is quite pretty, a nice walk too. Upon wandering back, we were starving – so we visited the restaurants around the square to see what was appealing. Turns out, it’s all good and very cheap. If you can only try one food whilst you’re there, it has to be meat pierogi. They’re these amazing golden parcels of dough with meat inside. They’re like a dumpling, or a pie without the messy crumbly pastry.
We first visited Wieliczka Salt Mine and I get it, a salt mine doesn’t exactly sound like a riveting day out. But it is incredible. The salt mine is filled with intricate sculptures made entirely of – you guessed it – salt. Many of these are religious symbols, and every one is quite beautiful. As well as sculptures, there is a Cathedral down there. Made of salt. An actual cathedral, where you can get married. It’s amazing. I’m quite claustrophobic, but the areas underground are so spacious, they didn’t phase me. However, there are a ridiculous number of steps, which is not very accessible. On the way back up, there is a lift, honestly, the most terrifying lift I have ever been in. They shoved about 10 of us in this tiny thing and it was a scary ride up, but quite a funny memory.
Auschwitz was the second place we visited, and was as sombre as you would expect. At first, I was against visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau, as I thought they immortalised the atrocities of the time. But Auschwitz is not about Hitler, it is an important monument standing to commemorate every victim of the Holocaust. It serves to remind us that such vile acts should never happen in our world. You are guided through the atrocities that happen there, educated in a way that cannot be done without seeing. It is horrific, but it’s a must if you are able to visit. A quote sits on the wall of Auschwitz, surveying each visitor, reminding you of exactly why you have come to such a place: “The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again” – George Santayana.
Krakow’s City Tours end at the Jewish Quarter, allowing you to tour Schindler’s Factory. This is an ideal experience after the concentration camps, as it is more sombre after you’ve seen that. Schindler’s List is also a must watch before the trip, despite being an amazing film, it is both heart-warming and heart-wrenching. The Jewish Quarter tour also takes you to beautiful synagogues and cathedrals with golden altars. Other areas on the tour include the area surrounding the castle, the main square, and other points of interest in Krakow. The tour takes place in a golf cart, with blankets in case you get cold, and plastic sheets around the sides in case it rains. Audio recites the history of Krakow, and the knowledgeable guides will often tell bonus interesting facts about certain areas. The tours are done privately, with only your group. They are a set price no matter how many people are on it, so they’re perfect for splitting between six on a rainy day.
Krakow’s bars are incredible and inexpensive. You can spend all day there and spend nowhere near what you would spend in the UK. Many of them are underground, quiet with exposed brick walls and very good drinks. Polish vodka is obviously the way to go in this country. A bar we visited, which we affectionately named “Pub Pub”, as it had two signs outside saying “Pub”, served flavoured Polish vodka Soplica, an older brand of Polish vodka. It came to about £1 per shot, and it’s nothing like the terrible alcohol you’d pay £1 for in Britain. There were all sorts of flavours, to name a few: strawberry, mint, raspberry and best of all, quince. We drank the bar dry of that vodka by the end of the holiday. But please, it’s nice vodka, don’t shot it, sip it while you have a chat.
All in all, Krakow is a beautiful, fun, affordable city break, which isn’t too overwhelming if you’re not a huge travel fan. It’s a place you can take at your own pace, and you’ll almost definitely want to return.