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. 

The Museums

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. 

The Streets

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. 

The Food

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. 

The Shows

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. 

The Shopping

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. 

Combating My Fear of Flying

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.

Krakow, Poland

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.

IMG_9256My 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 IMG_1774.JPGSquare, 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 IMG_9319riveting 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.

IMG_9379Auschwitz 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. IMG_9358This 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 IMG_1798nowhere 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.