A classics student’s guide to Ancient Rome

Despite being an undergraduate classics student fascinated with Ancient Rome, I had never been to Europe’s eternal city.

Despite being an undergraduate classics student fascinated with Ancient Rome, I had never been to Europe’s eternal city.

So when Ryan treated me to a New Years break in Rome as a 21st birthday present I was ecstatic and could not wait to visit the city littered with history.

Here’s a short summary of what we got up to and some of my favourite places to visit! I’ll apologise now for the historical lectures.

The Flavian Amphitheatre/ The Colosseum 

Cliched, I know, but The Flavian Amphitheatre, as it was referred to in antiquity, was incredible.

Completed in AD80 by Emperor Vespasian and his successor Titus (thus named after the family!), it is said to have seated 50-80,000 spectators who attended the various gladiatorial shows, animal fights and sea battles.

It is safe to say I could barely contain my excitement the morning we headed off to see it.

 A friend had previously advised us to purchase a €12 combination ticket at the Roman Forum first, meaning we got to skip the massive line once we arrived at the Colosseum. I would definitely recommend doing this!

Despite the place swarming with tourists, both inside and out, it was INCREDIBLE!

The sheer scale is enough to make your mouth drop open, especially when you register it was built in ancient times without the building technology we have at our disposal today.

No wonder it is classed as an UNESCO site, it is simply mind boggling.

Walking around, I wished time travel was possible just so I could attended the gladiatorial games which were usually held twice a year.

However, I would’ve been stationed at the top of the Colosseum due to the seating hierarchy laws, looking down at the action, a gut-wrenching thought!

We loved it so much so that we went twice, the second time with a professional tour guide with access to lower levels and the reconstructed arena floor.

Overall, this was my favourite tourist location, not because of its extraordinary scale but the rich, varied, and brutally bloody history of the place!

The Forum Romanum / Roman Forum 

Ancient Rome’s showpiece, the Forum Romanum was once the very centre and seat of the Roman Empire, fulfilling the day to day political, religious and commercial needs of its citizens.

It was a place where ancients citizens dreams were materialised and sometimes crushed, whilst symbolically visualising Rome’s wealth and power to both its Empire and beyond.

It was, to put it simply, the centre of the world as they knew it, and its constant rebuilding and renovation reflected the Empire’s changing political climate.

Whilst not much is left today, I marvelled over the fact that I was strolling where AUGUSTUS, Rome’s first emperor, once strolled, and delighted at the archeological remains I had learned about in my lectures, such as the Basilica of Iulia or the Temple of the Vestal Virgins.

Again, I loved this tour but probably because I was already familiar with some of the remains discussed in my lectures!

Palatine Hill 

Home to affluent Republican Romans then Imperial Emperors,  the Palatine Hill towers 40 M above the Forum whilst looking down on the Circus Maximus at the other side simultaneously.

Not only is there a fantastic view at the top to take awesome photographs of the Forum and Colosseum but is rumoured to be the location of the cave where the mythological founders of Rome, twin brothers Romulus and Remus, suckled the she-wolf and later founded Rome.

Since entry is included in the combined ticket, it is an archeological site not to be missed, even if just for the views!

Theatre of Marcellus 

A building less well known, the Theatre of Marcellus was dedicated by Augustus to his deceased nephew and pre-dates the Colosseum, opening in 13/11BC (speculated in ancient sources!).

It is the only surviving theatre from Augustan Rome so provides an insight into what the others would’ve been like.

You cannot gain entry unless there is an event open to the public, but it is one of the buildings I will be discussing in my dissertation, hence why I look so excited!

Definitely worth a flying visit when in Rome.

Pantheon 

Again, another building in impeccable condition! Commissioned by Marcus Agrippa, Augustus’ right (and left) hand man, the original Roman temple burned down but was rebuilt by Hadrian, dedicated approximately in AD126.

You can still see the original inscription from the Augustan period, walk on Hadrian’s marble floors which have never been repaired and pay respects to some important tombs of Rome’s past!

Thus, it is a place with a plethora of history and its free entry warrants a visit.

Ara Pacis 

Erected in the Campus Martius by the Roman Senate in 13BC to honour Augustus’s return to Rome after his time in Gaul and Hispania, it is an altar dedicated to Pax, Goddess of Peace and visually reflects Augustan attitudes towards civic religion.

The one I am standing in front of is the 1938 reconstructed version, since the original was submerged in mud and only part of its remains were found.

It is now preserved in a museum close to the Mausoleum of Augustus (his tomb!) a fitting touch, don’t you think?

Circus Maximus 

Due to visiting Rome during New Years, I failed to get a picture of the Circus Maximus due to preparations for the concert taking place at the weekend. It is basically a long thin ditch in-between two valleys.

It is  where Rome held its famous and popular chariot racing for centuries, with emperors constantly renovating and monitoring it to suit spectators’ needs and is another building I shall be discussing in my dissertation on Augustan spectacles!

My final two sites are not related to Ancient History you may be happy to know. 

Trevi Fountain 

Every time we visited the fountain it was jam-packed with tourists taking selfies, people tossing coins for good look or girls posing for the camera in fashionable outfits.

This made it incredibly hard to get a good picture but perseverance paid off, albeit on Ryan’s part, and we managed to get one!

It is the largest baroque fountain in Rome, and arguably one of the most famous fountains in the world, dating from 1762 and featuring in several notable films.

So swing by with an icecream, (there are plenty of great ice-cream places nearby!) and check it out!

St. Peter’s Basilica 

Located in the Vatican City, it is the most renown work of Renaissance architecture and largest church in the world!

We queued for 2 1/2 hours to gain entry and paid €8 to get to the top of the dome. But the wait (AND ADDITIONAL 500 stairs!) was worth it for this view.

Simply breathtaking, even on a slightly foggy day.

So those are my top places to visit in Rome if you love ancient history or not! I hope you have enjoyed my post and as always, let me know.

Finally, thankyou once again Ryan for an amazing present – what an experience and I’m lucky to have shared it with you!

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Beijing Trip: Bizarre, Beautiful and Brilliant

In August I was selected to go to Beijing on a three-week Study China programme, funded by the UK government and delivered by The University of Manchester.

In August I was selected to go to Beijing on a three-week Study China programme, funded by the UK government and delivered by The University of Manchester.

Seeing as I had never travelled beyond Europe before, I was excited by the offer and jumped at the chance to experience something completely new and outside my comfort zone!

Despite not knowing anyone going, leaving behind family and friends for three whole weeks and the extremely hot weather forecasts (those that know me know that I am terrible with heat/sun) I booked my flights as soon as I could and didn’t look back.

And I am so glad I went because Beijing is simply completely out of this world!

The 3,000-year-old city is traditional yet vibrant, a place slow and fast simultaneously, and despite spending a whole three weeks there, I felt I had barely enough time to scratch the surface of this phenomenal city.

Here’s a summary (I tried to keep it short!) of what I got up to during my time in Beijing and some helpful tips if you are thinking of visiting this bizarre beautiful and brilliant city.

Beijing Normal University 

The study aspect of the programme was fantastic – we were put up in a 4* hotel on campus, made friends for life (shoutout to Beth, Izzy, Boney and Emily!) and had some amazing teachers who encouraged us to utilise our experience and go and explore the city!

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Home for the next three weeks!

We attended Mandarin lessons most mornings, with Tai Chi and Calligraphy lessons every now and then, and had weekly tests to check our understanding and progress.

Another culture experience was that we got to spend a day with a Chinese family! We visited their house, met their families and cooked dumplings together. It was cute and a great way of experiencing the culture for ourselves.

We also took part in a class performance at the closing ceremony to showcase our new language abilities – our group sang a classical Chinese song called ‘The Moon Represents My Heart’.

Here is an official youtube version of the song – much better than our version by miles!

Somehow, I managed to graduate the scheme with 97.5% –  yet I cannot speak a word of Mandarin now that I am back in England.

I am so glad I went to Beijing on a study abroad scheme – it allowed me to live in a culture completely different to my own and offered so many unique experiences that I simply would’ve missed out on if I was just travelling.  I urge everyone to go on a study abroad scheme if they ever get the chance!

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Graduating with my girlies

Beijing Zoo 

I must admit, I love a good zoo.

Founded in 1906, Beijing Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in China, and has a collection of rare animals’ endemic to the country – such as PANDAS.

After managing to negotiate a student ticket and admission to the panda house and sampling the most disgusting ice lolly in the world (Pea flavoured?!), I got to see them and they were awesome!

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This took a lot of negotiating :’)

Rolling around, eating bamboo, they looked so content with life.

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Happy Panda!

One drawback of the zoo was that I was constantly photographed!

Being tall and blonde, I was slightly creeped out by the constant staring and pointing, but found it bizarre people wanted to take photos of me and with me.

I left the zoo sunburnt, harassed and regretting my decision to go there in the first place.

Tip – Beijing Zoo may not be for everybody. I would however suggest a visit to the Panda Sanctuary in Chengdu instead if you have time, as the money goes towards the care of the Pandas rather than upkeep of the place. 

HouHai 

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One night we visited Houhai, a large artificial lake, located in Xicheng District of central Beijing, that is famous for its surrounding bar street, traditional courtyards and restaurants.

Whilst on the hunt for dinner, I came across the cutest fan shop and simply had to treat myself to one! Its pattern reminded me of the traditional Chinese rural setting and I thought it the perfect souvernier for myself.

We spent the rest of the night drifting in and out of the bars, watching bands perform and taking photographs of the beautiful scenery. The place was vibrant and filled with local youths and tourists, meaning that whilst we did attract some attention, we were more than comfortable walking around the lake, soaking in the atmosphere and listening to the local talent.

Tip – The restaurants and bars are slightly expensive as it is a touristy place. I would recommend a visit to Wudaokou, a student area in Beijing, which is a lot cheaper and full of bars! 

Acrobatic Show 

I have always wanted to see a Chinese acrobatic show and luckily for me, the Study China programme had arranged for a trip to us all to see one at the Chaoyang Theatre Acrobatic Show.

Performing were the National Acrobats of The People’s Republic of China – one of the longest running and most distinguished circus tropes in China.

And boy did they impress – ranging from skilful to daring, the troupe performed nail biting and super human physical feats in creative choreographed routines that make you gasp in awe at and think, is that even possible?

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Tip – You must watch an acrobatic show when in China – they are some of the best performers in the world and will shock/excite you all in one go! 

Tiananmen Square 

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Tiananmen Square

Seeing as we were in Beijing we had to stop by Tiananmen Square (also known as ‘The Gate of Heavenly Peace’) and get a selfie with Mao.

The city square is the third largest city square in the world and is where Mao famously proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Subsequently, it has great cultural significance as it is the site of several important events in Chinese history.

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Statue outside Mausolean

The square was bustling with people ranging from tourists to locals, who are paying their respects to Mao. Interestingly, you can visit Mao’s embalmed body for free in the Mausolean between 8am-12:00pm – though there is some debate whether it is him or not.

We decided not to (on the account of it being a bit creepy) and just settled for trying to get the perfect picture with Mao in the background and wondering around the square.

THIS WAS A BAD IDEA.

Within seconds of posing for the camera, we were bombarded by Chinese people wanting to take our photographs/have photographs with us/pointing and staring.

It all got a bit too much (it was also a really hot day – 34 Degrees Celsius!) and we quickly headed for the subway to escape the paparazzi frenzy that was beginning to form.

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We all finally got a group photograph!

Tip – Go early in the morning or evening to avoid the swarm of locals wanting to take your photograph – it will also give you better photographs as less people in the background. 

Also go to the toilet before setting off/ try to hold it in – the toilets here were the worst toilets I experienced during the whole of the trip, in terms of smell and cleanliness. 

Yonghe Temple (Lama Temple) 

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If you love the smell of incense then this is the place for you!

Yonghe Temple is the most renowned Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet and is still an active place of worship, despite the masses of tourists that visit daily.

With magnificence decorative arches, Tibetan prayer wheels, red walled buildings and stone lions hidden by dense clouds of incense, it was easy to get lost in thought whilst wondering around and exploring the different themed prayer rooms. We certainly did!

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Lama Temple feat Incence

However, it was extremely hot and we found no place on site to purchase a bottle of water, despite the numerous gift shops selling overpriced gems and incense to burn.

Oh, and it threw an unexpected thunderstorm – there wasn’t many places to shelter, since it is an extremely busy place so we ended up getting slightly wet.

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Tip – Bring a brolly, bottle of water and asthma inhaler just incase.

Chinese Cooking Class

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Ready, Steady, Cook!

The Chinese are known for their culinary expertise and I was lucky enough to have a private Chinese cuisine cooking lesson with a 5* chef!

It was so much fun: from chatting to the host Carlye about the culture and his experiences in the capital to learning about how to cut shiitake mushrooms and the correct way to fold dumplings, I enjoyed every second of the class and got to eat some delicious dishes.

The host even provided us with the recipe to make each dish and photographed the whole evening so that we would have some pictures to remember the experience!

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Tip – I would recommend going to a cooking class. You will learn so much about Chinese culture as well as sample some of the best foods you will eat during your time in Beijing! 

BeiHai Park 

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Sun starting to set

One of the largest, oldest and best preserved ancient imperial gardens, BeiHai Park was a delight to walk through.

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Said to have been built due to a Chinese legend regarding three nearby ‘magic mountains’ whose gods had herbal medicine to help humans gain immorality, it was finally opened to the public in 1925 and attracts hundreds of visitors each year.

With its large lake, beautiful scenery and selection of adorned bridges/doors/walkways, it was a sanctuary of peace for us that offered us an escape from the bustling city for an afternoon – despite being situated in the heart of the capital city.

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Obsessed with the Lotus flowers!

Tip – Go during the day if you wish to climb up to the White Dagoba – nothing worse than climbing all the way to the top to find out it is shut!! 

Great Wall Of China 

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Organised by the Study China trip, we visited the Great Wall of China early one morning. A place I’m sure many of you have heard of!

It was boiling hot and we were at Juyongguan, a section with the reputation of being the steepest!

I took it easy, given the heat and steepness, and progressed up the wall at my own pace, stopping along the way to take photographs and soak in the history of the place.

The surrounding views were magnificent and the idea that this was all built without modern technology simply blows your mind, especially when you realise the scale for yourself in person.

My friend Izzy nearly fainted off the wall at one point, which wasn’t very funny at the time, due to the heat and smog. We must have looked a sight to the Chinese people who were casually strolling up the steps without so much as a sweat!

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Of course I would climb it in Dr. Martens and a dress!

Nethertheless, I loved my time at the wall, despite its challenging nature, and would happily go back and climb it (although maybe a less steeper section) again.

Tip – Take plenty of water and perhaps a towel to soak up the sweat! It is a physical exercise, rather than a gentle stroll – also don’t wear makeup as it’ll just sweat off!!! 

798 Art District 

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What a place!

China’s answer to Camden, 798 Art District is where all the cool artsy people go and hang out.

Every street corner has something drawn on it and shops and galleries are everywhere, exhibiting a range of weird and wacky artwork that really makes you think!

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Unfortunately, as we went later in the day, things were starting to shut, which was a shame as I could’ve easily spent an entire day wondering around the different sections (A, B, C, D, E).

Tip – Go early and explore as much as possible! There are lots of galleries so have a google and see which you think are worth paying entry for! 

Forbidden City 

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Wandering around like I own the place

I was amazed by how impressive the Forbidden City looked.

A Chinese imperial palace dating from the Ming Dynasty, it is the largest ancient palatial structure in the world and the culmination of traditional Chinese architectural accomplishment.

It is in the center of Beijing and is a sight to behold, with a maze of bright red buildings with gold elaborate rooftops as far as the eye can see.

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However, I found the Forbidden City experience overall a bit disappointing!

It was incredibly busy, as was to be expected, but it ruined the atmosphere of such a huge spectacular site.

Tourists were in every nook and cranny, making it hard to move around and the Chinese people were very ignorant – when they swarmed us for photographs, which we declined (it was way too hot to stand around!), they reacted in disgust and annoyance, rather than understanding why we didn’t want to stand out in the sun and burn.

It just felt overpriced and touristy rather than authentic. Nethertheless, I am glad I went but I wouldn’t hurry back for a while.

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Tip – Try and go during off-peak times to avoid the crowds and explore as much as possible! 

Summer Palace 

A vast ensemble of lakes, palaces and gardens, we visited the Summer Palace, the Imperial family’s summer retreat, to relax one Sunday afternoon.

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The place was full of pretty promenades, ever changing scenery and lakes filled with Lotus flowers, making it very idyllic to stroll around. We even hopped on a boat ride around Kunming lake to soak in the views!

Personally, I enjoyed the Garden of Virtuous Harmony best. Inside it houses a large theatre building where the Emperor Guangxu and Empress Dowager Cixi watched performances from the Peking Opera. The place was built in honour of her 60th birthday – how romantic!

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However, the Summer Palace was also slightly disappointing for a similar reason to the Forbidden City – it was swarming with people.

For instance, trying to walk down the Long Corridor was like queuing to pay in Primark – simply chaotic!

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The food was also expensive and overpriced and we fell into the trap of purchasing some simply because we didn’t fetch any snacks with us!

Tip – Buy the ticket that allows you to access all the different gardens as once you are inside you cannot upgrade your ticket anywhere! It is worth doing as every garden contains something slightly different and the ticket covers all the main gardens. 

Temple of Heaven 

Perhaps my favourite temple in Beijing, the Temple of Heaven is an imperial complex of religious buildings situated in the southeastern part of central Beijing.

The grounds are HUGE and there is plenty to see, from the Circular Mound Altar of Heaven – where emperors mediated before proceeding to pray to the gods for good harvest, to the Imperial Vault of Heaven where ceremonial tablets were stored.

Interestingly, the Vault is nicknamed “The Echo Wall” as its shape allows sound to travel much further than normal. How funky!

Moreover, the complex has a dual purpose – it is not only a place for tourists to come and wonder at the religious significance but functions as a playground for residents.

I lost count of the amount of people playing cards or practising Tai Chi as I wonder around the vast gardens and soaked in the smell of freshly cut grass.

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It just felt very calm and relaxed here – compared to the hectic Lama Temple – which is why I probably preferred it.

That and I didn’t get asked once for a photograph (hurray!)

Tip – I visited mid-afternoon on a Monday and it was dead. Also take a bottle of water with you as I didn’t come across any places to grab snacks or drinks! 

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So that is just a snippet of what I got up to during my time in Beijing.

 I had the most incredible time and cannot wait until I can afford to go back again – it is simply the most bizarre, beautiful and brilliant place I have visited and I urge everyone to add it to their bucket list!!

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Hope you enjoyed reading it (sorry for the length!) – as always, let me know below!

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Enchanting Iceland

The most mesmerising place I have ever visited, Iceland is utterly breathtaking and indescribable.

This blog post documents mine (and Ryan’s) trip to Iceland – a unique gift for his 21st birthday from his very generous parents!

Day 1 – Sunday 

After an early start, we arrived at Manchester Airport excited and raring to go.

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Before boarding

It was our first time flying with Icelandair – the staff were incredibly friendly offering free soft drinks on the flight, there was free wifi and entertainment and plenty of leg room for us tall folks. It was impressive to say the least!

It was a short flight being only 2h 10m. Interestingly, all of the Icelandair aircrafts are named after Icelandic sights of nature, making it a personal touch. For instance, our outbound aircraft was called Dyngjufoll after the volcanic highland in Northern Iceland.

After landing we did the typical tourist thing and headed straight to the Blue Lagoon to soak in the geothermal waters.

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Blue Lagoon entrance

Listed as one of the 25 wonders of the world it certainly lived up to its high reputation!

After being confronted with stark naked ladies in the showers (an Icelandic tradition apparently) and the freezing atmosphere, we were more than eager to get into the water.

It was an oasis of relaxation with its free Silica Mud Masks, warm comforting waters and bar serving draft cider. Moreover, there was no time limit which allowed us to soak in the water for as long as our hearts desired.

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Standard Selfie!

After soaking for about an hour or so, we decided to make a move to our hotel. We caught the shuttle bus to Reykjavik and finally reached our hotel around 9pm.

We quickly checked in and headed downtown to find somewhere to eat.

We chose Hard Rock Cafe, which wasn’t exactly adventurous, but we were incredibly tired and craved BBQ ribs!

Unfortunately the waitress forgot to take our order (food & drink!) but the free wifi and the free apologetic sundae made up for it.

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Once we had demolished our meal, we headed back to the hotel and slept like lions.

Day 2 – Monday 

After trying out the hotel shower and sampling the continental breakfast (which was actually decent!) we waited outside our hotel, CenterKlopp, for the shuttle bus to collect us for the Golden Circle tour.

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Outside CenterKlopp Hotel

We got onto a larger coach and drove for roughly an hour outside of Reykjavik to our first destination – Geysir hot springs.

Situated at the northern edge of the southern lowlands, it is one of Iceland’s greatest natural attractions and believed to have been around since the end of the 13th century as a result of  a series of strong earthquakes and devastating eruption of Mt. Heckla.

Though the Great Geysir is inactive nowadays its surrounding area is geothermically very active with many smaller hot springs.

The main attraction here was Strokkur (The Churn), another geyser which erupts at regular intervals every 10 minutes or so.

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Another selfie

The boiling water can reach as high as 30 meters and I was incredibly lucky enough to catch the eruption on camera.

Strokker Explosion

Next we clambered back onto the coach and drove for 10 minutes to the next stop – Gullfoss waterfall.

With cascades of 36 to 76 feet it is a spectacular view of the forces and beauty of untouched nature. But it is more than just a pretty waterfall: it has a story to tell.

In the early 20th century foreign investors wanted to harness the power of Gullfoss to produce electricity. Yet the farmer’s daughter, Sigriður Tómasdóttir, sought to have the rental contract voided. She even threatened to throw herself into the waterfall if the construction began.

Luckily for her, the contract fell through due to lack of rent payments – her struggles to preserve the waterfall illuminated the importance of preserving nature and she is often referred to as Iceland’s first environmentalist.

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Beautiful Gullfoss

It is thanks to Sigriður that we can visit this breathtaking waterfall!

Our final stop was Þingvellir, the site of the first Viking parliament (assembled there in 930AD) as well as a designated UNESCO world heritage site for its unique geographical features.

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Þingvellir

Today Þingvellir is a protected national shrine, and the area shall always be the property of the Icelandic nation, under the preservation of the Alþing.

On our way back to Reykjavik, we stopped off to look at some Icelandic Horses.

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In my element

Once we got back to the hotel we decided to go and explore the city centre and look for somewhere to eat.

We ended up eating at Lebowski Bar, situated on the Laugavegur shopping street. Designed by American architects in the spirit of The Big Lebowski (1998 comedy film) this bowling themed burger joint was incredibly fun and only 2 minutes from our hotel!

After scoffing our burgers, we headed back to the hotel for a well earned rest.

Day 3 – Tuesday 

Despite another early start, we were incredibly excited for the Game of Thrones filming location tour!

Firstly, we stopped off at a horse riding centre, where we got to meet the famous Icelandic horses (note HORSES, not ponies!). As a horse riding fanatic and having grown up owning a horse, I was in my element, stroking every horse I could.

My favourite was Rick, but I also got to meet Thor, who featured on Game of Thrones.

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Rick posing

We then moved on to the first filming location, Porufoss.

Despite looking nothing like the Mediterranean, they filmed the famous Myriad scene here – the one where Daenerys’ dragon sets fire to the goats and carries one off (S4 E6).

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Next we went to Þingvellir (a different part!) where they filmed the opening shots to the Eyrie.

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This is where they filmed Ayra Stark and The Hound walking towards the Eyrie to discover Lady Arryn was dead (S4E8)/ Sansa Stark and Little Finger walking there (S4E5).

The final stop was Thjorsárdalur valley where they filmed a whole village getting massacred by the Wildlings (S4 E3). The scene took 10 whole days to film only 2 minutes of screen time and the location was stunning!

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Overall the tour was AMAZING. We had the coolest tour guide ever – he had been an extra on Game of Thrones and played a night-watchmen, wildling and white walker.

He knew all the inside gossip and made the tour incredible – for instance, he told us how Kit Harington broke his foot the night before filming his saucy cave scene with Ygritte, and how the actress was the loveliest girl ever, giving hugs to all the extras on the last day of filming!

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Ryan and myself with the coolest tour guide ever!

After the tour, we went to Barber Bistro for a quick tea before heading off out on our Northern Lights tour.

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Steak .. mm..

Unfortunately, we did not get to see the Northern Lights as it was too cloudy! We got back to our hotel around 1:30am and boy were we exhausted.

Day 4 – Wednesday 

As it was our final day, we decided to explore the city.

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Viking Longboat model

Reykjavik is not a huge capital city,  but it is incredibly clean and friendly, with lots of quirks and charm.

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We came across a remarkably friendly Icelandic cat who had no objections to cuddles from strangers and even followed us to the main shopping street.

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Tomato, chill and meat soup

As food was appallingly expensive, we chose to grab something cheap and quick for lunch. We stopped at Svarta Kaffid and was served the best soup I have ever sampled! Our only regret was that we had not discovered this gem of a bar earlier.

Fuelled and reheated, we then walked around the city some more before heading back to the hotel to pack ready for our departure tomorrow.

Around 6pm, we headed off out to find some tea.

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Ryan and Myself ready to explore

Along the way, we stumbled across a vintage arcade shop and spent 30 minutes there trying out the retro games. My favourite was The Addams Family pinball machine!

We also found a dessert cafe, where we stopped to get ice-cream and crepes!

I sampled the ice-cream and had Apple Sorbet and Blueberry! It was super scrumptious and I could have easily eaten a lot more!

Next we searched for somewhere to eat some proper food.

We chose Caruso, a smart Italian restaurant downtown! Ryan had Spaghetti Bolognese whilst I had a King Prawn Risotto. 

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“Dinner is served”

It was delicious!

Afterwards, we visited a local bar called Tivoli and sampled a few of Iceland’s most popular drinks, such as Mango Tango and Brennivin. The manager was super friendly and hospitable, making us feel right at home.

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Inside Tivoli

We had booked onto another Northern Lights tour, but this was unfortunately cancelled due to weather, meaning that we did not get to see the lights whilst we were there!

Day 5 – Thursday 

HOMETIME! The day was spent travelling home to the UK and reminiscing about the amazing holiday we had just been on.

Overall 

Iceland is simply incredible! It has a huge diversity of landscape which changes with every turn in the road as well as a huge diversity of people and cultures.  If you get the chance to go, TAKE IT! It is a unique vacation and I cannot wait until I can afford to go back and do some more exploring.

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Dublin Raid for Amnesty International 2017

For those that know me you will be aware that I am on the committee for Leeds RAG (raising and giving) society. And if not, you’ve just learned something new!

For those that know me you will be aware that I am on the committee for Leeds RAG (raising and giving) society. And if not, you’ve just learned something new!

This weekend (17th-19th February) was our Dublin Raid which involved sending participants to Dublin to bucket shake for Amnesty International – a charity supporting human rights. 10 of us went in total.

Day 1

After getting the train to Manchester airport and dealing with stressful security checks, we boarded the Aer Linger plane and set off at 5:45pm.

It was an incredibly short flight, lasting only 40 minutes!

Me, Liz and Frankie onboard

Following an incident involving a lost passport, we eventually left Dublin Airport around 8pm and headed to our hostel via taxi.

We arrived at The Generator Hostel, located on Smithfield Square. According to the taxi driver, it is one of Dublin’s more expensive hostels and it certainly impressed at first, with its clean modern layout of rooms and access to free wifi.

After a quick refresh and a bite to eat, we decided to explore the city’s nightlife.

Our first stop was Dice Bar, on the corner of Benburb and Queen Street. A busy local with great music and selection of beverages, it was definitely my favourite bar of the night!

Dice Bar in the daytime

After spending a while here, we moved on to another local Irish pub.

Unfortunately I did not get its name, but we stayed here for a while and then decided to return to the hostel to get a good nights sleep for a busy day of charity work tomorrow.

Day 2

After getting ready and trying out the surprisingly good communal showers, we all headed down for our free continental breakfast in the basement.

Filled up slightly on bread, Darcy from Amnesty International arrived at our hostel around 10am to guide us to their city office. She was incredibly helpful, pointing out good places to go in Dublin and informing us about the city itself.

Upon arriving at the office, the staff were extremely friendly and welcoming. We entered a meeting room and were provided with information about the charity, for instance, what it is currently working on and its aims.

We were also given bibs, wristbands and buttons to be worn when promoting the charity.

Promotion Material

We also received relevant paperworks such as permits proving that we were lawfully collecting money for the charity incase anyone asked for official documents.

Arranged into pairs, we were allocated different locations within Temple Bar and Grafton Street and arrived at our stations around 12pm.

Initially it was a slow process despite our best efforts to get donations. Yet we kept our spirits high, smiling at passing glances and glares of the public.

Towards mid afternoon it picked up with people being incredibly generous, donating coins and notes as well as giving encouraging words, making standing outside in the cold Irish wind worth it.

Unfortunately we did encounter a few negative responses such as being called murders for Amnesty’s stance on Womens rights to have an abortion. We avoided further conflict through our positivity and remained smiling even when a bird pooed on my head!

A personal highlight was a donation from a young man who had collected €25 of loose change from pubs and the ground for over two years. Deciding that it was a worthwhile cause, he gave us the entire lot which was incredibly heartwarming and restored our enthusiasm following the negative encounters of the previous hour.

Bucket Shaking for Amnesty International

We finished bucket shaking around 5pm and returned to Amnesty International where we dropped off our buckets and were thanked for our help.

Following this, we headed back to the hostel for some food and a rest.

Unfortunately, the hostel were not very accommodating for people with dietary requirements. Despite promising us all free pizza that suited everyones needs (1 x Vegan, 2 x Lactose Intolerant, 1x Gluten Free, 1 x Gluten Free and Vegetarian), they failed to deliver.

This is what was served.

The promised ‘Gluten Free Pizza’

This was incredibly frustrating and we gave up trying to communicate with them as they clearly did not understand or care. They served the same food to everyone with an allergy, offending those who were lactose intolerant and vegan by putting yoghurt on their plate and did not know what the green sauce was – claiming it was originally pesto then herb based.

I was so hungry that I decided to order in Gluten Free pizzas (for me and another girl) from a local branch of Pizza Express so at least we had a decent meal before heading out.

My favourite pub of the night in Temple Bar was the Porterhouse. Opened in 1996 as Dublin’s first pub brewery, it is an fantastic place to go for a pint, with its vibrant scene, exciting layout, live band and varied selection of draft beers and cider.

I definitely will be going back again!

Day 3

With our flight home being at 7:20pm, we had a free day to explore the city.

We decided to split into two groups – those who wanted to go on a coastal walk and those who wanted to wander around and see the sights of Dublin.

I went for the latter option.

The first sight we set off to find was the House of Parliament.

Along the way we stumbled across Dublin Castle and stopped for a quick photograph before carrying on.

Dublin Castle

We then walked to St Stephens Green, Irelands best known Victorian Park which was incredibly pretty!

Potato Famine Statue

Finally we reached Parliament but it was an anticlimax to say the least! Fenced off from the public, there was no photo opportunity and not much to see.

Hopping into an Irish Uber, we set off to the Guinness Storehouse, the most popular public attraction in Dublin.

Along the way, we passed St. Patrick’s Cathedral and were given an informative talk about the history of Guinness in the city from the taxi driver.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

The Guinness storehouse did not disappoint!

It was amazing.

Filled with tons of factual information about brewing, advertising, heritage and tasting, it took us a good 2 hours to go around!

After exploring each of the 5 levels, we went to Gravity Bar to collect our free pint of Guinness.

After the storehouse, we headed for Kilmainham Gaol, a former prison for the County of Dublin.

Upon arrival we were told that all the tours for the day were sold out, but we were given free access to the museum. After looking around, we headed back to the hostel for a rest before the journey home.

Eventually we arrived in England around 8:20pm following a 15 minute flight delay. We got into Leeds for around 10:30pm and headed separate ways home.

Overall, Dublin has been a blast despite the lack of sleep! If you have not been, I would recommend a visit – it certainly does not disappoint.

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Charity Skydiving Adventure

Going to University is all about trying new things; many people try out new sports or find their voice within ACapella. But nothing could have prepared my parents for what I was getting up to.

Going to University is all about trying new things; many people try out  new sports or find their voice within ACapella. But nothing could have prepared my parents for what I was getting up to.

 I had signed up spontaneously to do a 15,000FT skydive as part of Leeds RAG (Raising and Giving Society).

Whilst I am not the most outgoing of people, I have always wanted to do a skydive at some point in my life, just to tick it off my bucket list.

And doing it for charity was surely a good enough reason, wasn’t it?

As I have been brought up on a working farm, I have witnessed first hand the testing times farmers face, such as the Foot and Mouth epidemic back in 2001 or the recent floodings in 2015.

Moreover, as a member of Pendle YFC I am aware of the challenges upcoming farmers are facing, and wanted to do something to raise awareness for the farming industry itself.

Therefore, I chose to raise money for the welfare charity R.A.B.I (Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution) who provide financial aid, relief workers, essential household items, disability equipment and even care homes for U.K (England and Wales) farmers struggling to make ends meet.

Following my decision, I got in touch with the charity over email to let them know about my crazy fundraising effort and they were incredibly supportive, sending me a t-shirt and card wishing me luck with my jump.

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Postal goodies from R.A.B.i

Originally I aimed to raise £200 for the charity. I did this by constantly promoting my fundraising link on social media. My persistence certainly paid over, as I managed to raise £551 – before even jumping out of the plane!

The original jump date was set for 20th February 2016 and we all set off from the Parkinson Building in Leeds to arrive at Hibaldstow Skydive Centre for 10am; the stated time of our briefing.

Yet the weather was set against us, with gale force winds making it unsafe for the jump to go ahead.

Whilst I was a little bit disappointed, I was rather relieved, thinking that maybe I would not have to jump out of the plane after all.

 But part of me was determined to carry out the skydive, and despite another cancellation (this time due to cloud!) which was incredibly frustrating, I finally got the go ahead on the 25th March.

Before I was allowed anywhere near the plane, I had to sit through a 20-minute briefing from one of the experienced skydivers at the center.

He talked all of us through the harness, highlighting where the main parachute was for instance.  He also demonstrated the jumping and landing pose for us, then got us to practice them in front of him to make sure we were able to adopt the correct positions with ease.

After what felt like signing my life away on a sheet which stated my responsibility should the dive go wrong, I was then shown an adrenaline skydive promotional video. I left the briefing super excited, ready to throw myself out of the plane.

But I had to wait. For another 3 hours!

Finally, around 4:20pm I was summoned to the rigging up room. Everything occurred so quickly in the room, pulling on overalls (as a farmer I have mastered this art), attaching the headwear, and then greeting my instructor, who squeezed the life out of me whilst tightening my harness.

Once ready, I was told to wait in the drop zone area for the minibus that was going to take me to the plane.

But typical me, I almost missed the bus!

I quickly jumped on as my instructor began to worry he had left me behind. The bus ride felt like forever and it was at this point the experience felt real; this wasn’t a drill, I was actually going to jump out of a plane today!

The plane itself was tiny, and I was the first in, meaning I was going to be the last out. There was 8 of us crammed into a tiny propeller plane as well as the driver. Space was certainly tight.

As the plane climbs, I stare out of the window, thinking surely this is high enough. But it keeps on going.

With my instructor already having done 4,200 jumps in his lifetime, I felt rather safe, and his smile gave me confidence that I was going to be fine, destroying any nerves that had been brewing.

I look at the altometre, we are at 15,000FT and the door opens.

Blimey, it is cold!

I watch the others vanish into thin air without a care in the world, wondering how they can be so calm.

Then it’s my turn. I edge towards the door, and adopt the position. It’s all very intense and the force of the wind pushing up at you is so strong.

You can’t hear anything, as it’s so loud, yet at the same time utterly peaceful and serene. It sounds so cliché but time simply froze, then without warning, we jumped.

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It’s hard to describe what free falling feels like but personally I found it pretty horrendous.

I’m completely aware that I am falling towards the ground at a hundred and something miles per hour and the wind is so strong I can barely hold myself in the correct position. I occasionally look down but the cold air hits my goggles causing them to mist up.

I’m free falling and blind.

Moreover, I feel unattached and something slowly registers that I don’t seem to be breathing. It was at this point I realized what I had let myself in for; and I just wanted it to be over as soon as possible!

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Then the parachute opens jolting me back up into the sky. I breathe a sigh of relief. I am going to be fine.

But my stomach is in knots and I feel so sick. Especially when the parachute begins swaying and turning sharply.

Despite this, the view is amazing: a patchwork of fields underneath my feet. It seems to be taking forever to reach the ground, and I can feel my blood drain from my face.

I seem to be missing this adrenaline feeling that everyone apparently gets.

Finally, we approach the landing zone and I get my legs as high as I can for the sitting landing.

The cameraman and a spare instructor run towards us in order to make the landing as smooth as possible.

Then we hit the floor. I collapse backwards onto my instructor and I can’t quite believe what I have just done.

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I am in a state of disbelief and shock. After a minute or two of appreciating the ground, I am unclipped and help the instructor gather the parachute, before walking back to the rigging room ready to give the equipment back.

My hands are still shaking as I am congratulated for my dive and given a certificate and a high five.

I am then reunited with my family in the café, who grab me a brew as quick as they can in order to bring me back to life as I just sit there and ponder what I have just done.

I do not regret the skydive however, as I did it for a worthwhile cause and raised an amazing amount of money (£832!) for the charity which will hopefully improve farming families lives for the better.

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However, I think the next time I am feeling charitable, I may just hold a bake sale, where my feet can be kept firmly on the ground.

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