rock werchter 2017
Travel

Arguably Abroad: Amsterdam and Rock Werchter 2017

Well, here we are again. Another travel blog. Hush – don’t look at the ridiculous amount of shopping I did, and ignore the packets of waffles and other Dutch treats next to me. Definitely don’t pay any attention to the two bags I didn’t need that I bought from duty free on the way back. Okay you can look, but don’t judge. I can explain.

Towards the end of last month, I set off for a week-and-a-half long holiday to Amsterdam (my second visit) and Belgium for Rock Werchter – a music festival I’ve been dying to hit for the last two or three years. I like things to be a little organised, so let’s break this down by location, okay?

Amsterdam

This was my first time visiting Amsterdam in summer, and it was absolutely stunning. Vondelpark was transformed from a quiet park made up of greys and earthy tones into a lively hub filled with lush, green grass and countless people relaxing in the sun or cycling around. We spent a couple of hours wandering around and having lunch there and I would 100% recommend you do that too.

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On our first day, we hit a place called Body Worlds. How do I begin to explain the strange beauty that is Body Worlds? Well, it’s an exhibit about ‘the secrets of happiness and its effects on the body’ – but using real human bodies that have been peeled back a few layers and posed doing normal human things. I feel like I’m not doing a great job selling this one, but trust me – if you’re into the weird and wonderful, then this is a cool alternative to your typical sightseeing.

Oh yeah – and if you want to go to the next level of ‘weird’ (and if you’re not squeamish at all) hit the Museum Vrolik Academic Medical Centre, just a short train ride away from the city centre. Here’s the low-down: this museum is made up of the private collection of…interesting…specimens curated and brought together by a super important Dutch scientist called Gerardus Vrolik (1755 – 1859) and his son, Willem Vrolik. You’ll find roughly 5000 different, um, “specimens”, including (but not limited to) loads of different skeletons, sliced brains, male and female reproductive systems, and various creatures (human and not) preserved in big jars. Moving on…

vrolik museum amsterdam

I’d wanted to visit the Rijksmuseum for ages, and had already spent a good chunk of time exploring the Van Gogh Museum (go – seriously). While the rest of my friends hit the Heineken Experience, I spent around three hours wandering around this huge space filled with century upon century of incredible art, completely in awe of everything. Rembrandt was a definite highlight, and they even had one of Van Gogh‘s self-portraits.

Rock Werchter (Belgium)

After a few days exploring Amsterdam, we set off on the journey to Rock Werchter. Two trains, a bus ride, and a fair few hours (and not enough coffees) later, we made it to the camping grounds – that, I’ll have to say, was not fun. I’m not a good or happy camper, and I especially don’t like queuing to find a decent spot to pitch my tent. Then there’s the actual camping – ugh. I’m already too impatient to queue for long – add the fact that I’m queuing for showers and toilets is just a little too much.

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I will admit that it was nice to wake up to the sound of rain drops hitting the tent one morning – but that’s all the positive feedback you’ll get about camping from this house-cat right here. Forget about all that – the music is what we were there for anyway! The lineup was pretty strong, but my must-sees were Imagine Dragons, Kings of Leon, Blink-182, Linkin Park, and Alt-J – you obviously can’t hope to see every single act at a festival. I was quite happy to enjoy the rest of the acts sitting down on the grass and being quite possibly more relaxed than I’ve ever been in my entire life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What else can I say? Travelling to see some of your favourite, most inspiring bands and artists live is something else. You can’t compare the feeling you get when you’re right in front of your idols, watching them play songs both old and new. I’m going to try and hit a music festival once a year – where to next?

Which music festival do you recommend? Leave a comment to help me choose my 2018 spot! 

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things to do in barcelona
Travel

Arguably Abroad: Barcelona

Well, it took us a while to get to this one, but here we are! A few weeks ago I flew over to Barcelona with a couple of girlfriends to watch Ed Sheeran in concert, then, just one day after returning to Malta, I was off to Catania with my parents. I don’t think I even needed to unpack (never mind the fact that it takes me roughly a month to full empty a suitcase). Here are some of the highlights from Spain!

Barcelona

We arrived early on Saturday afternoon and really hit the ground running. After checking into our gorgeous, Pinterest-worthy hotel, we were off again, looking for some much-needed tapas and wine. Every meal I had the pleasure of eating was just delicious, and service was always friendly – even when we struggled a bit with the language barrier.

Art in Barcelona

Barcelona is often affectionately referred to as the ‘artisan city’ – and I’d say that’s a spot-on description. The city is an open art gallery, and Gaudi seems to be everywhere. I could sit and type about all the incredible art and architecture Barcelona has to offer, but I’ll save you (and myself) the time and suggest a few things that you definitely shouldn’t miss, even if you’re only there for three full days, like we were.

The Sagrada Familia

Unfortunately, we left it a little too late to buy  tickets to get inside – but we still made time to visit and appreciate this stunning piece of magical architecture from the outside. My top tip? Book. Tickets. Now.

The Picasso Museum

You just can’t go to Barcelona without spending a couple of hours appreciating Picasso. Even if you’re not particularly into art, I promise you’ll find the main exhibition really interesting. It’s incredible to see Picasso ‘grow’ from a young artist, just learning the ropes, into the fully-fledged, confident master who gave us artworks like Guernica.

what to do in barcelonaPark Guell

I first found out about this beautiful, mosaic-filled park thanks to Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 on my PlayStation. No, not joking. It was kind of surreal seeing Gaudi’s flamboyant park in ‘real life’, and it was not as close to the centre as I thought it would be (for some reason). Anyway, plan your route there in advance and try to get there before sunset to get maximum photo-op time. To see the best bits at the best times, you can pay a small fee to get in before 8ish – after that, it’s free, but you’ll have loads of other tourists contending for the perfect photo spot.

things to do in barcelona

The Gothic Quarter

The Gothic Quarter is Barcelona’s old city centre, stretching all the way from La Rambla to Via Laietana and filled with some serious sight-seeing spots. If (like me) you’re a bit of a history dork, you definitely need to spend a couple of hours wandering around the area. My top tip? Plan your visit to The Gothic Quarter, The Picasso Museum, and La Boqueria market on the same day, because they’re all within walking distance.

Something Extra Special: Montserrat Mountain

This one was a definite highlight and I’m pretty sure you’ll feel the same. Just a train ride and cable-car trip away from Barcelona city centre, you’ll find Montserrat, an incredible mountain range with its highest peak hitting 1,236 m (Sant Jeroni). This idyllic place is home to Santa Maria De Montserrat, a Benedictine abbey where you can visit the Virgin of Montserrat sanctuary, the rumoured location of the Holy Grail of Athurian legend. Oh, wear comfortable shoes  because you’ll be walking quite a bit if you really want to enjoy this piece of paradise properly, and if it’s sunny you’ll need a hat and sunnies to protect you during your little trek. Stay hydrated, kids.

things to do in barcelona

How to get there (well, this is how we did it anyway)

  • Go to Plaza Espanya train station – it’s in the same building.
  • Look for the signs leading you to the R5 Train.
  • Stop at Monistrol De Montserrat – a cable car (funicular) will arrive/leave to coincide with train times.
  • You can get tickets there, but the cable car might be included in your train ticket depending on which option you went for.

Remember to check train and cable car times to make sure you don’t end up stranded there! Not that you’d complain…

Something Extra Tasty: La Boqueria Market

If you love food then this is an absolute must-see. This huge, public market is located in the Ciutat Vella area and is probably one of the most colourful markets I’ve ever seen. You’ll find anything from freshly-squeezed juices, fruit cups, amazing fruit, vegetables, fish, and meat, to dried goods and artisan chocolates you can take  back home. It’s all ridiculously well-priced, well-presented, and so fresh the fish might just jump up and make a run for it. I got to see real ostrich eggs! (I’m very easily amused).

things to do in barcelona

Unfortunate timing, butt you get the idea. Pun fully intended.

Quick Tips

Here are a few ‘top tips’, collected from friends, the internet, and my own experience:

  • The city has a bit of a reputation for pick-pocketing (like any big, European city), so be extremely careful and aware of your surroundings. Forget those cute, just-a-flap-no-zip-to-protect-you bags, and make sure your phone, wallet, and ID are safe at all times.
  • If you do end up getting pick-pocketed, make a report at the nearest police station for insurance purposes. There’s one down the steps in Plaza Catalunya, the same place as the station.
  • Getting around  on foot is easy, but you might want to use the (really efficient) Metro system too. Buy a T-10 ticket from any station for just €10 – it cover 10 trips and will serve you well.
  • The Gothic Quarter seems to be a pretty popular nightlife spot – check it out!
  • Shops open at around 10 am, and close pretty late.
  • Do not leave without trying tapas and sangria!

That’s all for now – if you have any questions or tips for future trips to Barcelona, leave them in a comment! 

-Kelly

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T.S. Eliot the love song of j alfred prufrock
thoughts

Thursday Thoughts & T. S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot the love song of j alfred prufrock thursday thoughts

So I’ve never written anything like this (i.e. thinking out loud) before, but hey – why not? I was going through some photos I took yesterday, and stopped at this one. It’s nothing special, just a photo of the sea – something which we have in abundance here in Malta, a tiny island in the middle of the Mediterranean, sandwiched between Europe, Africa, and everyone else. Something about it (don’t ask me what or why, because for the life of me I don’t know) reminded me of T.S. Eliot, one of my favourite poets, and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock – a beautiful poem I studied when I was reading for my master’s. It’s a pretty long poem, and I’d recommend listening to it here, but here’s the ‘full’ quote in all its poignant glory:

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

Something about this part of the poem resonated with me. Maybe it’s the sense of apprehension Prufrock feels, the ping-ponging of ideas and lukewarm decisions that plague and terrorise those so unsure about what to do next or how to do it, scaring themselves out of taking action in the process. Maybe it’s the potentially-maddening routine he captures in his ‘evenings, mornings, afternoons’ and coffee spoons. Maybe, being a coffee fiend, I just remembered the coffee. I don’t know, but I just wanted to share this particular poem on my little piece of internet in general, and with you in particular. Read it. Enjoy it. I won’t go into any more detail about the poem or my thoughts on it because I don’t want to colour your own interpretation, but I would love to hear what you think about it and how it makes you feel. Hit the comments if you’d care to share, fellow literature-lovers.

Have a great Thursday!

-Kelly 

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Travel

Arguably Abroad: Vienna

A part of me feels like I should feel at least a little bit naughty about going on yet another adventure less than a month after getting back from Italy. The other part, however, is way too busy relishing the fact that I spent a week hanging out with Gustav Klimt and his buddies in stunning (and cold) Vienna.

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‘Vienna’ is synonymous with the flourishing turn-of-the-century art scene dominated by the likes of Klimt, Shiele, and Kokoshka; in order words, if you’re going to visit this city, you need to hit the galleries. My personal favourites have to be The Belvedere Museum and The Leopold, where you can find Klimt’s The Kiss and Death & Life respectively. Don’t let my 6-AM-flight-face fool you – I was fangirling hard on the inside.

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I love Christmas almost as much as I did when I was cute and little, so experiencing my first real Christmas market was a must. We had a pretty packed week planned out, which meant that we only had time for two – Stephansplatz and Schönbrunn. The market in Stephansplatz was smaller and had a bit of a cozier vibe which I preferred – but the Schönbrunn market was obviously beautiful in its own right (it’s held in a huge square which acts as the entrance to Schönbrunn palace).

One thing I can’t get over is just how efficient the transport system is in Vienna. Armed with a simplified map of the underground and solid advice from my Austrian workmate, getting around this gem of a city was easier than ordering schnitzel. The people are friendly and generally speak English pretty well, so if you find yourself confused just ask one of the locals for a bit of help.

If it’s a spot of shopping you’re looking for, then head on down to Mariahilfer Straße for the high-street experience, or take a train and a tram to Shopping City Sud – a huge expanse of shops to suit quite possibly any retail need you might have. Personally, I prefer the former; massive shopping centres have become a source of stress to me. I don’t know why, but that doesn’t mean my bank account suffers any less. Whoops.

Have you ever been to Vienna? What did you think of it? Share your thoughts in a comment below. 

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