Bring Your Own Sandwiches, Pee in a Bottle, Try Not to Faint: How I Survived my First Music Festival

If you could go back in history and experience any event, what would it be? For me, the answer is easy. Woodstock, 1969. I love everything about Woodstock. The bands that played, the sense of community, the crazy hippies, the photos, peace and love, etc, etc. It’s just one of those things that makes me think “MAN, I wish I could have been there.”

So when the opportunity arose for me to go to a 3 day music festival this summer, I jumped at the chance. Surely this was a chance for me to grab some semblance of a Woodstock-esque experience???

Well, T in the Park turned out to be far, FAR from what I imagined, and even though it was severely lacking the whole peace and love aspect I was so desperately hoping for, it was absolutely amazing. Music festivals do require some serious survival skills, so in this blog post, I hope to impart a little wisdom to those going to a festival at some point in there lives.

So here it is: How I Survived my First Music Festival (And how you can too!)

Day 1:

  • Take a crowded, loud bus with other revelers to the location of the festival. Try not to scream/suffocate when the group of rowdy boys in the back start smoking cigarettes like this is the first time they’ve ever been anywhere without their parents and need everyone in the vicinity to know just how incredibly cool and rebellious they are
  • Arrive at the massive field where the festival is being held. Ignore the fact that you have to pee while you wait in line for the better part of 4 hours before you can actually get into the camp grounds
  • Drag your camping equipment and bags around 3 different camp sites before you find a tiny space you can pitch your tent, all the while wondering: “How the hell did these thousands of people get in before us to take up all this space, and where the hell are the thousands of people coming in after us going to camp?” (Don’t spend too much time mulling over this, it’s every man for himself)
  • Begin to pitch your tent. Wait for the fatigue and frustration to set in and bicker with your best friend Erica the entire time you pitch your tent, and wish you had had Amy, who is coming tomorrow, explain how to set up the tent before you left her house
  • Stand back and admire your lopsided handiwork. Apologize to Erica for being snippy, eat some terrible festival food, and crawl back into your tent, exhausted. Wonder vaguely if the people in the tents surrounding yours will judge you for falling asleep at 10pm, but you’re too tired to worry too much
IMG_0001

This is a “four person” tent

Day 2

  • Wake up feeling almost refreshed, and wait for Amy to arrive with sustenance (her mom’s homemade sandwiches and as much cider as she can carry)
  • After Amy arrives, the three of you begin to realize just how tiny the tent you brought was, and try not to imagine to discomfort of sleeping 3 to a tent that was clearly made for holding one (very short) person
  • The music doesn’t start until 3pm, so now it’s time to day drink and make friends with the people in the tents surrounding yours. Don’t worry, people at music festivals are mostly friendly, and the fact that when people find out you and Erica are Canadian, they will want to hear your life story, laugh about your accent, and ask what the hell two Canadians are doing at a Scottish music festival
  • Be eternally grateful to Amy’s mother for sending her with a cooler full of individually wrapped sandwiches, as well as the foresight to bring a family sized 24 pack of crisps. Festival food sucks and is overpriced. You’ll eat it anyways, but it sucks.
  • Go see Ed Sheeran play and have all your dreams come true as you’ve managed to push your way to the front of the barriers and can see perfectly. Life is so good
  • Until your body remembers you haven’t had any water all day and it’s 30 degrees. Faint, get yourself pulled over the barrier, and have a lovely chat with a very nice EMT as he brings you cup after cup of water. Feel slightly embarrassed, but think “Well they’ve probably seen worse. At least I’m not that 17 year old girl 3 feet away that looks like she’s OD’d on something, and ohh, yep, I think she’s having a seizure.” Creep out of the medical tent, because they clearly have more important things to deal with
  • As you, Erica, and Amy sleep like sardines, wish you’d brought warmer socks and a better pillow

Day 3

  • Feel completely vindicated when it starts to rain, as Wellies are the only footwear you brought with you
  • This vindication will vanish shortly, when you realized just how little fun it is when it’s raining and the only shelter you have is a (kind of) waterproof tent
  • Today is the day you’ll realize the trick to the port-a-loos: only use them around 11am, which is right after they’ve been cleaned. Any other time, using a music festival port-a-loo will be perhaps one of the worst, most disgusting things you’ve ever seen. Luckily, Amy has a solution to this, and it is called a SheWee, which is a plastic device that allows girls to PEE ANYWHERE. Including into a bottle, without having to leave the comfort of your tent. And let me tell you, it might be the smartest invention ever. Pro-tip: Dodge the port-a-loos, pack a SheWee. Your life will be very much improved.
  • Luckily, if the music is good enough, it’ll make up for the fact that it’s pouring rain, and when you see George Ezra, The 1975, and Paulo Nutini play you’ll have this great moment, where you get the hype of music festivals, and when the three of you dance around in the rain to the music you get that realization that this is a moment you’ll want to remember forever
  • Then of course, you realize your tent leaks, but it’s okay, because there’s no one you’d rather be sleeping in a wet tent with

IMG_0002

Day 4

  • The last day! It’s kind of sad actually, because by day 3 you’ve fully accepted the dirty-hair, peeing in bottles, day-drinking warm cider lifestyle that a music festival offers
  • You’ve found the Healthy Food section of the park that they had really hidden away, so things end on a good note once you realize that you can have something else to eat today that isn’t overpriced chips or 2 day old cheese sandwiches (not knocking the sandwiches, Amy’s mother is a saint)
  • Experience the inadvertent festival highlight, the Red Hot Chili Pipers, a Pipe Band that does amazing bagpipe covers, who kick start your intense love for anything played on a bagpipe. Seriously, bagpipes are amazing. Why don’t more people play them outside the UK??
IMG_0003

Pipe bands – my new favourite thing

  • Squish your way to the front of the barriers while Jake Bugg plays
  • End up one row back from the front, directly behind a group of very aggressive 15 year old girls, who are bracing themselves against the barriers like they think the crowd is going to rush them. It’s okay, you can see over their heads
  • ARCTIC MONKEYS!!!!!!!!!!!! Amy cries, we scream, we headbang, we sing, it’s glorious

IMG_0005

IMG_0007

  • The sun sets, the band finishes, fireworks go off, and Flower of Scotland is played on the bagpipes. You find yourself swelling with Scottish pride, and falling in love with the land of tartan and bagpipes. Scotland is awesome. Just awesome.
  • You’re happy and loving life. You’ve survived your first music festival. Congratulations

IMG_0004

Solo Travel Tips

IMG_0935

Would you like to know the most intimidating decision I’ve ever made? Packing my life into a rucksack and deciding to travel alone around Europe and the UK for about 2 months without a very solid plan.

To be frank, I was terrified. I had done my researchand I knew that lots of people travel solo all the time. But to think about being completely alone in strange countries gave me lots of nervous butterflies.

Spoiler alert: I survived, and I had an incredible time. I made some mistakes, made some great decisions, and learned an awful lot. So I thought I would share some tips, based on my experience, for those looking at solo travel (especially around Europe).

  1. Take half the clothes you think you need, and twice the money
    • This is more of a rule for all travel, and something to think about before you even get on the plane. I can’t tell you how many times I repacked my backpack CURSING myself for packing all these clothes that I thought I would wear but clearly would not get worn. If you hesitate and think “Will I wear this?” LEAVE IT BEHIND! You don’t need it
    • I think the money goes without saying. Things will always be more expensive than you think, no matter how well you budget, and it’s not fun to get into a situation where you’re strapped for cash and stressing
  2. Always talk to people in your hostel
    • This may seem like a no brainer, but I thought I’d mention it. It can be intimidating to strike up a conversation with people you don’t know, but give it a try. Look for people who also seem to be travelling solo, because they, like you, will welcome a conversation. Some no-fail ice breakers include “Where are you from?” “Where are you headed next?” and “How long have you been travelling?” People who travel have stories to tell, and if you’re open, they’ll share them
  3. Be flexible – Allow your plans to change
    • You can plan your trip all you want, but you’ll find yourself less stressed if you allow yourself to go with the flow and change your plans if need be. Did you have plans to go see a cathedral but a group of people in your hostel are going to a really amazing sounding exhibition? GO WITH THEM! If you find yourself wanting to deviate from your plans, just let it happen. That being said….
  4. Don’t let your new hostel friends dictate your plans
    • It’s great to meet new people and find some friends to explore a city with. I met amazing people in every city I visited. At the same time, it’s super easy to say “Yeah let’s do something tomorrow” and then find yourself within a group that aren’t doing the things you were hoping to do while you were in that city. Don’t let your desire to meet and hang out with new people stop you from seeing the things that you truly want to see.
  5. McDonald’s and Starbucks can be your best friends
    • Lost? Confused? Tired? Sometimes when you’re traipsing around a city, you just want to sit somewhere air-conditioned and rest or figure out directions. Find a McDonald’s. Seriously, they almost always have free wifi you can connect to, and if you get yourself an ice cream cone or soda you have permission to sit, rest your feet, and mooch their wifi all you want. Comes with a bonus – the bathrooms will be moderately clean! (Although in Europe, you’ll have to pay to pee)
  6. Train schedules can be very tricky
    • Trains are the best way to move between cities, and you can get pretty much anywhere if you know what you’re doing. However, each country’s website for train information is different, and often extremely confusing. Enter, my saving grace: The Man in Seat 61. Seriously, I will offer no other advice than to check this website when trying to travel by train. It’s easy to use, he explains everything simply and in great detail. He is a genius and a savior to all who travel. Some research and preparation can make train travel much less stressful, while ensuring your seat is reserved and you won’t end up sitting in a train corridor for hours
  7. Don’t be afraid of the loneliness
    • Solo travel can be lonely. Sure you meet people and you’re having a great time, but there will almost certainly be a moment where the loneliness hits. The most important thing I will stress is don’t run away from the lonely. Embrace it. Realize you’re feeling lonely and accept it. People deal with it in different ways. If it will help to FaceTime your parents, DO IT. If it will help to sit in a park and listen to your favourite album and cry, DO IT. If it will help to join a pub crawl and drink cheap beer, DO IT. Don’t force yourself to power through and traipse through another cathedral if you don’t feel like it. Take the time you need, remember that this is only temporary and you’re doing a great thing. Then take a breath, shake it off, and continue on your way. (I dealt with the solo travel blues in Budapest, but it ended up being one of my favourite cities!)

IMG_0931

Bon Voyage!

Budapest (noun) /ˈbuːdəpɛst/: 1. Bliss; perfect happiness; great joy

Budapest was the final stop on my whirlwind tour of Eastern Europe before I had to fly back to the UK. I was excited, because I had heard so much about Budapest and how magical it was.

I think it’s worth mentioning that by now, I was feeling pretty tired, and a little lonely. I think what got me most was the amount of superficial conversations I seemed to be forced to have on a daily basis. “Where are you from? How long have you been travelling? Where are you coming from/going to? Oh, yeah I was just there. Did you see this? What’s your favourite city been?” It does get exhausting having to reintroduce yourself every couple of days to brand new people. That’s not to say I didn’t like meeting new people, I loved it. I met so many cool, interesting travelers that had great stories and even better personalities. I think what was getting me down was not being able to just shoot the breeze casually with someone I knew well and could just chat to without it meaning anything. I had been very lucky so far, having picked really social hostels that made it easy to meet people.

Unfortunately, I hit a bit of a snag in Budapest. My hostel was very nice, in a good location, and very clean. Unfortunately, when it came to meeting people, it was terrible. There was a common area, but no one was ever in it. Same with the kitchen. There were a few nice women in my room (I went with a female only room in the hopes of dealing with less snoring), but they were not very friendly past a quick hello, where are you from. In retrospect, maybe I should have gone with a mixed-gender room, as I’ve found mixed gender rooms with 10+ beds are usually way more social, and perhaps worth putting up with some snoring in the night.

I kind of resigned myself to seeing Budapest minus a temporary city buddy, which so far, I’d had in all the cities I’d visited. I decided not to let it get me down though, because I felt like this was the true test of solo travel. I’d already discovered I could make friends in all of the cities I’d been in so far, so what happens when I do a city actually alone?

Turns out, it can be pretty great once you stop worrying about meeting people, and just let yourself be open to all the city has to offer.

Looking back, I crammed so much stuff into those two days in Budapest, probably because I was by myself and calling the shots entirely. Here we go:

Day 1

Ruin Bar Market – Everyone’s heard of the ruin bars of Budapest, but there was one right around the corner from my hostel that turned into an incredible market on Sundays. I wandered around, trying various samples before grabbing some amazing roasted pepper dip, fresh baked bread rolls, and some plums. I took my lunch to a park and sat in the sunshine. It was probably one of the best meals I’d had the entire trip

IMG_1323

IMG_1329

The park I was in had a grandstand on the edge that was also transformed on the weekends into a MASSIVE flea market. I was overwhelmed, and wandered around for ages looking at all the various trinkets, clothes, books, music, decorations and knick-knacks. I think I showed a great deal of self control by ONLY looking, which was mostly made necessary by the fact that my backpack was pretty much packed to maximum capacity

Budapest has the MOST beautiful waterfront of any place I’d been to. That night I I grabbed a book, and I wandered down to the river. I sat reading until the sun went down, and when it was too dark to read I sat and watched the boats going by. The first night I was there, there was some sort of night-marathon going on, so I crossed the bridge and spent some time watching the runners going by. My favourite discovery was a steel drum band playing underneath the bridge on the waterfront path the runners were using. They were so upbeat, cheering the runners on, and I sat listening and watching the runners go by for about a half hour before heading home

IMG_1305

Day 2

I headed down to Heroes Square, to see the very impressive monument, but what was even more exciting was that the Szépművészeti Múzeum (Museum of Fine Art) just happened to have a Henri Tolouse-Latrec special exhibit on. I was BEYOND THRILLED. Even if you don’t know the name, I guarantee that you have seen some of his work before. Moulin Rouge, anyone? He is one of my favourite artists, and I actually couldn’t believe my luck. Moments like that always stand out to me, much like catching the Warhol exhibit in Prague, when you stumble across something you had no idea was happening but you’re eternally grateful you found it. Needless to say,the exhibit was amazing

IMG_1339

IMG_1338

I looped around to go past St Stephen’s Basilica on my way back to the river, and had a quick gelato break. I was just sitting on a bench to rest my feet (my poor, poor, blistered feet) and watched a gelato shop across the way churn out tons of these amazing looking flower shaped treats, so obviously I had to get one. Passionfruit, mango, and melon gelato. Yes it was as good as it looks

IMG_1346

The big one! Budapest Castle. Amazing views (I had to climb up about a million steps, but it was worth it) of the Pest from across the river, and also a UNESCO Heritage Site. Unfortunately, a lot of the exhibits and museum sections weren’t open, because it turns out all of that stuff is closed on Monday. So that was a bit disappointing, but it was still a fantastic view, and very cool to wander around the external grounds of the castle.

IMG_1368

My second night in Budapest (and last night in Europe) might have been one of my favourite moments from the entire trip. As I mentioned, I hadn’t really met anyone yet, and I was debating joining a pub crawl or going to one of the ruin bars. It was one of those weird debates in my head where I was thinking, I don’t really want to, I’m not in the mood, and then another voice going, “But it’s your last night, and you’re in Budapest, don’t you think you SHOULD?”

That’s when I realized, this trip is about me, and what I want to do and see. Who cares if I didn’t go on a pub crawl? Forcing myself to go when I wasn’t in the mood probably wasn’t going to ensure that I had a good time, and the only reason I would go was out of some sort of weird obligation to be a ‘good’ traveler. It was this weird moment of clarity. I stepped back and thought, what do I want to do tonight?

The only thing I wanted to do was go back to the river. So I bought a few beers (including a very amazing grapefruit ale), and retraced my steps back to the waterfront. I sat on the edge, shoes off, my bare feet dangling off of the stone river wall, listening to the water splash against the sides. I watched the people, I watched the boats, I watched the sun go down and the entire city light up bit by bit. I remember sitting there and thinking to myself that in that moment, everything was perfect. I was so happy, I felt like my heart could burst. I was happy with my decision to travel solo, I was happy that I was lucky enough to see a little bit more of what this amazing world has to offer.

IMG_1293

I made myself take a mental picture, so that hopefully, in 50 years, I’m still able to recall that moment of perfect ecstasy: barefoot in Budapest on the side of the Danube, slightly buzzed off cheap Hungarian beer, watching the world go by.

IMG_1353

Read about the rest of my trip through Europe here:

Bratislava: Pub Crawls and a Blue Church

Bratislava was an interesting experience, to say the least. It’s one of those cities where, when you’re telling people about your travels and you’re saying “Prague, Berlin, Budapest, Bratislava,” most people jump in and go “Wait, where the hell is that?”

To be fair, I would have been one of those people before I actually decided to go there. When I was trying to plan my trip, I noticed that Slovakia was conveniently located between Austria and Hungary, and the capital was quick enough to be done in one or two days. So I figured why not, might as well stop in and see what Bratislava has to offer, right?

Bratislava was a bit weird from the moment I got there. Probably because my hostel wasn’t in a very nice looking area. It was perfectly safe, but it didn’t quite have the charm that I had come to expect from European cities. Almost immediately after arriving I met a girl who was also staying in the hostel that was not only Canadian, but went to Western University, which is in my hometown of London, Ontario. Needless to say, that was pretty cool and we had lots to chat about. She suggested a pub crawl, and, having not yet been on one of the legendary European hostel pub crawls, I figured I couldn’t pass it up.

I went with a couple people from my hostel, and it was pretty fun from the get go. If you haven’t heard the mythos surrounding these pub crawls, basically you traipse all up and down the city going to the best bars, getting free drinks, and meeting really cool like-minded travelers. To be fair, all those things were checked off on my pub crawl experience. Our guide left a little to be desired, considering she had no idea where half the bars were (and didn’t seem to be able to read Google Maps very well), and managed to get stupendously drunk, probably more so than the entire group combined. It was one of those weird situations where it’s so terrible, the longer it goes on, the funnier and funnier it gets. I had a blast, and met a great group of Irish people with some great stories.

Bottom line when it comes to European hostel pub crawls – it’s going to be crazy, it’ll be at least a little messy, but there’s a good chance you’ll come out of it having met some really cool people (and an even better chance you’ll be more than slightly hungover thanks to the ‘mystery shots’ presented to your crew at each bar).

I did manage to drag myself out of bed the next day and wandered around the city centre a bit. To be honest, there wasn’t that much to see, especially compared to some of the larger cities I had already been to where I had felt overwhelmed at all of the sights. I walked along the Danube, saw a couple churches, crossed the river and wandered around a really beautiful park for a while, and then made my way back to the hostel. It was nice, but not extraordinary.

IMG_1249

The famous Blue Church

IMG_1275

Sunset over the Danube

A redeeming feature of Bratislava was the restaurant a group of went to that night that served “traditional Slovakian food,” the main dish being Bryndzové halušky a sort of mini gnocchi pasta in a sheep’s cheese sauce with cheese and bacon on top. I ended up getting some really nice cheese on bread, but Caetlyn couldn’t finish all of her food, so I got to try the potato pasta as well. It was delicious, kind of like a decadent macaroni and cheese.

IMG_1276

All in all, Bratislava was just kind of there. It ranks as my least favourite city on my trip, but it wasn’t terrible. Would I go back? Not on purpose.

Read about the rest of my travels through Europe:

Vienna: cultural delights

Vienna was one of those cities where I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I felt tht cities like Prague, Amsterdam, Budapest etc all have these hyped up mythologies to the point where I felt like I had something to live up to when I went there.
Vienna on the other hand was a really pleasant surprise, despite the fact that my hostel was NOT good. There was nothing wrong with the actual hostel, but it was absolutely awful in terms of meeting other travellers. There were massive school groups that took over the entire common areas, making it impossible to chat to anyone. Luckily I met a great girl in my room, Lisa, who had come from Germany for a theatre school audition. We were both fairly unimpressed with the hostel but we managed to have a great time out and about in the city.

IMG_1187.JPG

Schönbrunn Palace

My favourite night in Vienna was when we trekked down to watch an outdoor opera screening that was projected onto the side of the Parliament building. Of course, it was all in German, but luckily Lisa was there to keep me in the loop about the most important points, and after a couple beers, it didn’t really seem to matter anyways. I think I loved it so much because it was such an event. There were tons of seating and food and drink stalls, and the place was packed! I’m not sure an outdoor screening of an opera could have garnered such an attendance back where I’m from.
And to be honest, after the party atmosphere of Berlin and Prague I was perfectly happy to have a quieter cultural night out.

IMG_1171.JPG

If you ever find yourself in Vienna (which I highly recommend) I would suggest a trip to the Danube. Take the underground to the island in the middle of the river on a sunny day and wander around. I found a quiet dock and sat for ages reading and listening to the water lap against the shore. The sky was clear and the water was blue and I had one of those perfect moments of happiness when nothing particularly exciting was happening but I was completely blissed out, and so happy I had taken the risk to do some travelling on my own.

IMG_1139.JPG

Read about the rest of my solo Europe trip:

Europe continued: Prague the Magic City

What can I even say about Prague? It was absolutely my favourite city from this trip. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes Prague so magical but there’s a vibe I got there that I don’t think I’ve felt anywhere else.
First of all, I have to plug Hostel Elf, which was by far the best hostel I’ve stayed in. My room was amazing, it was in a great location, and I met some really awesome travellers. I met a handful of people there who I still follow on Facebook/Instagram to see all their travels and life updates, including some with Canadian ties!

A visit to Prague just isn’t complete without a viewing of the famous astrological clock in the centre of the town square. Let me tell you, it lives up to the hype. What a fascinating piece of machinery.

IMG_0940.JPG

There was a fantastic exhibit on, that I was so glad I caught, of Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali works, which was absolutely one of the highlights of my time in Prague. One of the great things about major European cities is that there is always something interesting to see that you may not have even known about before you left. I only found out about the exhibit through someone I met at the hostel who had seen a poster for it, so we went to check it out.

IMG_0986.JPG

IMG_0993.JPG

One of the best parts of solo travel is having the freedom to change your plans at a moments notice and spend time discovering all the neat things going on that aren’t always obvious.

One of my fondest memories from my time in Prague was my second last night, a group of us wandered back to our hostel from the bar up the street and ended up climbing up a massive hill in a park behind the hostel. We made it up there at about 2am, I think, and we ended up staying there until around 5, when a couple of the girls had to leave to catch their train out. The sun had only just begun to peek out from the horizon when we were headed back to get some sleep, but watching the light gradually creep up on the amazing view we had of the city with such a great group of people is a memory I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

Three days in Prague was absolutely not enough and it is the city at the top of my list to go back to once I’m in Europe again.

IMG_1026.JPG

I loved these panels that decorated the hostel patio. Can you spot my favourite one??

IMG_1011.JPG

The John Lennon memorial wall

Read about the rest of my solo trek through Europe

Europe and the Unparalleled Joy of Solo Travel

What a wild wonderful summer I had this year. So much so that I completely dropped the ball in terms of keeping my blog up to date. Turns out, blogging on an iPhone while trekking across Europe is harder than i had anticipated. Whenever I found any free time I could have used to blog I was so exhausted I just wanted to sleep. But I’ve decided better late than never, because I don’t want to leave a huge chunk of my life unaccounted for.
Late June, I said goodbye to beautiful, wonderful, magical Exeter and flew to Berlin to begin a short but nevertheless daunting adventure: Solo Travel.
I’m not going to lie, I was nervous. Actually, scratch that, I was verging on terrified. Getting of the plane in Berlin felt like I was entering some sort of twilight zone. I was alone, in a strange city, and I could do whatever I wanted. Nobody knew me, nobody was expecting me, I had no obligations, and an entire city to explore on my own terms. What an incredible feeling.
I’m not completely sure how to tackle talking about the 5 cities I hit in 2.5 weeks, so I guess I’ll start at the beginning and pick out some highlights for each.

First up: Berlin

I don’t think any amount of preparation or planning can truly prepare you for what you feel the first night on your own in a strange city. Especially when you arrive sleep-deprived at 8pm and have to sleep in a 16 bed dorm room. I remember dropping my 65 litre backpack onto my bed and thinking “oh my god, what was I thinking? I can’t travel alone, why did I think this was a good idea?”
Luckily for me, that feeling didn’t last long, and as soon as I began chatting to people staying in the hostel and exploring the city I began to feel like I had made the right decision. I’m glad I started with Berlin, I had an amazing time which set the tone for the rest of my trip. I stayed at Comebackpackers, located in trendy Kreuzberg, and would recommend it to anyone travelling through Berlin. It was small enough that it was very easy to meet people, and I absolutely loved the view of the city from the outdoor patio.

If I had to pick one highlight from Berlin it would definitely be the World Cup. Germany goes crazy over football, and I got to experience watching the U.S. v Germany game outside on massive screens with thousands of other people. It was pouring rain but we drank our beer and cheered Germany to victory anyways. I’ve never been a huge football fan, but something about being surrounded by people who care SO MUCH made me insanely invested in the outcome.
People power is a pretty incredible thing, no matter what the occasion is, and that feeling of being one of a crowd, all united in a singular emotional desire is something that still gives me chills when I think about it.

IMG_0903.JPG

The crowd watching the game

IMG_0853.JPG

Brandenburg Gate

IMG_0875.JPG

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – Definitely one of the most interesting war memorials I have ever seen

Read about the rest of my solo trek around Europe

The Luck of the Irish

Ireland, Ireland, how can I even begin to describe the magic that is Ireland?
I had never been before, but my parents asked me to come along with them after they had visited with me in England for a while. Who am I to turn down a paid trip to Ireland, right? (Seriously, thanks mom and dad).

IMG_0346

First of all, I have to mention that Dublin is a literature student’s dream. Home to Joyce, Swift, Beckett, Wilde, and many more. For good reason, Dublin has been named the UNESCO city of literature.

Some personal literary highlights:
Visiting the Writers Museum and seeing a copy of Ulysses signed by James Joyce

IMG_0244
Seeing An Ideal Husband (one of Oscar Wilde’s best and funniest plays) at the Gate Theatre

IMG_0428
Wandering around Dublin on the writers tour seeing famous places that were both written about and associated with writers (for example, the Brazenhead Pub, an 800 year old pub once frequented by James Joyce!)

IMG_0324

IMG_0261

IMG_0264

Incredible Ulysses mural depicting scenes from the novel

IMG_0636

Oscar Wilde statue in Merrion Square



the Book of Kells on display at Trinity College

IMG_0357

Trinity College Library. I just love books

I was so inspired by the city that had inspired so many writers that I have read and admired to leave their legacy. It’s something incredibly special to be somewhere that you know for a fact James Joyce has been, perhaps sitting in corner of the pub, mulling over the fate of Leo and Molly Bloom.

10409426_10152484832304656_2601608236235090707_n

We did a bit more than just intellectual stuff, even managed to have a bit of boozy fun! We completed tours of both the Jameson and Guinness factories, which was great fun. If I had to recommend one over the other, I would go with Guinness. They’ve converted the old storehouse into a massive, 7 floor, self-guided tour space. The visuals alone are kind of overwhelming, but it was really interesting and good fun! Dad and I loved the free samples, culminating in a free pint on very top floor, with amazing 360 degree views of Dublin!

IMG_0385

Tiny sampler to teach us how to drink Guinness properly!

IMG_0402

Fancy pint in the Gravity Bar

IMG_0371

Something I cannot recommend enough is a show by the Irish House Party. We opted for the dinner beforehand, which was a great decision. We ended up at a table with a couple from Australia, two men from New York, and 3 folks from Norway. It’s kind of amazing how people from all over the world can end up in one place, experiencing the same thing. After a great dinner, we went to this tiny theatre in the basement of a bar to see the band perform some traditional Irish tunes. They were charismatic, funny, and beyond talented. What a great show! We got an explanation of the traditional Irish instruments they were playing, some fantastic jokes, a great display of Irish dancing, and a truly wonderful show. My favourite part was when they played “Belle of Belfast City,” which was the only song I knew. I have some really great memories associated with that song from my days working at Original Kids Theatre Camp, and it put a huge smile on my face.

Nothing like a traditional Irish tune to put you in the spirit #Dublin #travel #music #irishhouseparty

A post shared by Shannon Tigert (@shannon.tigert) on

Our last day in Dublin was spent going up North to see a bit more of the country. We booked spots on a Paddywagon Tour taking a day trip to Carrick a Rede, Giant’s Causeway, and Belfast. Some group tours can make you feel a bit like sheep being herded from site to site, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one! It was a great way to see some fantastic sights!

IMG_0467

We were all a bit nervous to cross the Rope Bridge at Carrick a Rede. It started out as merely rope, a way for fisherman to cross over and check their lines. It has since been reinforced with steel cables (something my dad was really happy to see!), but it didn’t make it any less nerve wracking walking 60 feet above the ocean.

IMG_0623

The highlight of my time in Ireland was without a doubt the Giant’s Causeway. This is a must-see for anyone spending time in Ireland. Legend says it was created by an Irish giant in order to cross to Scotland to fight another giant. There’s something so strange and wonderful about the thousands of geometric stones rising from the ground. I could have stayed there all day, watching the water come in and out across the stones. Tread carefully across the stones if you do go, because they can get very slippery!

IMG_0628

I made my way very carefully to the edges to get a better view, and it just took my breath away thinking about how long those stones have been there, how many people have seen them, and the incredible geographical wonders that this world has to offer.

IMG_0598

 

When the sun comes to Devon, get outside

We all know the stereotypical view of English weather: cold, grey, and rainy. To be fair, that’s not actually too far off. There were some moments in the winter when I had to think very hard about the last time I’d actually seen the sun, and it rains, A LOT. Many people have told me that the amount of rain we get in Exeter is actually more than they are used to. 

That being said, when the sun does finally decided to show up in the South West, it’s incredible. We were lucky enough to have 4 days in a row last week of pure sunshine, with barely a cloud in the sky. So, what do in England when the sun comes out? Get outside, OF COURSE!

There’s a great little shop on the Quay, Saddles & Paddles, that rents out canoes, kayaks, and bikes so you can explore the Quay and beyond. For a pretty reasonable price (£35/canoe for 3 hours) we rented two canoes and set out to paddle down the water to the Double Locks pub for a relaxed lunch. For as long as I can remember, my Dad has had a canoe, and summer cottage trips always involved a lot of canoeing on the lake. Turns out, remembering how to steer a canoe isn’t quite like riding a bike, as Becky and I found out after running into the bushes on the bank multiple times. 

Image

All smiles, despite some steering issues

Attempting to get going again after lunch was somewhat delayed, mainly due to the fact that they had shut the locks and our canoes were trapped. We were told it would be a while before they filled it up and opened the locks again, so our only option to get back within our 3 hour time limit was to hoist the canoes out of the water, onto the dock, and carry them up and around out of the lock gates. Easier said than done. Eventually we got them pulled out, but canoes are heavy and (shockingly) four hysterically laughing 20-something girls weren’t the greatest at carrying canoes up hills. 

Image

It was really heavy, I swear!

After some struggles, we got them back in the water and set off. The trip back was a bit easier, giving us more of a chance to take in just how beautiful of a trip it really was! The water was quiet, and the views were amazing. We created our own ambiance by serenading each other with “Just Around the Riverbend” from Pocahontas and “Row, row, row your boat” (sung in 4 part canon, of course) – because what else would you expect from us musical theatre types?

After finishing our degrees, a day in the sun was exactly what we needed!

Image

 

Endings and goodbyes

It’s been a big week. I finished my exams, which means I have all but finished my degree. It’s pretty weird to think that it’s been the biggest part of my life for the part 5 years. Now, it’s all over. It feels a little surreal, slightly anticlimactic, and also really exciting.

I can’t really think I could have made a better decision on how to spend my last year of university. Being in England has been absolutely incredible.

The highlight of being here was without a doubt joining the Gilbert & Sullivan society. Besides the fact that being on stage again made me so happy, the people I’ve met in G&S have made my year better than anything I could have imagined. We had our President’s Dinner this weekend, which was basically a night to get dressed up, have dinner at the fanciest hotel in town, and celebrate the best year ever.

10154895_10152463879448688_2249762830644769219_n

classic Exeter Cathedral photo

It was bittersweet, because as fun as it was, it also really hit me that the year was coming to and end and I’d be leaving England pretty soon. I’m accustomed to moving to different places, and since I started university I’ve lived in 5 cities for varying amounts of time. That being said, I’m not sure it ever actually gets easier having to leave to a place you’ve fallen in love with. President’s Dinner was an amazing way to say goodbye to G&S. I’ll miss it more than I can put into words.

 

10314732_10153307143175190_7564461240088855536_n

1506799_623801984377930_60360691735584159_n

The best group of people you’ll meet