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.

vondelpark amsterdam

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.

travel blog

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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Travel

Arguably Abroad: Sziget Festival

One of the top 3 things on my to-do list for 2016 was ‘go to my first music festival’ – and I’m beyond happy to say that my friends and I hit Budapest, Hungary, for the 7-day music bonanza known as Sziget (10 – 17 August 2016).

The festival actually takes up an entire island (Obudai Island to be precise), where the brave (i.e. not me) can pitch their tents, roll out a bed, and camp for however long they wish to be there for. I’m absolutely terrible at camping in any way, shape, or form – add my insane allergies to that and you’ll have one very cranky, sneezy, puffy-eyed excuse for a festival-goer. Trust me when I say no one deserves to deal with that. I stayed at a boat hotel just a short taxi ride away.

camping-angry

Me after 1 day of camping.

Getting to the festival was a bit of a mess thanks to a ridiculous train delay that left us stuck in Vienna for a few hours. When we finally stepped out of Keleti Station in Budapest, we were just desperate for a quick shower before getting a taxi to the festival and meeting the rest of the (massive) group.

Taxi Top Tip: Download the City Taxi app to make booking your taxi super straightforward. It’s perfect for the tourist who can’t pronounce anything Hungarian, because you can send them your location via GPS.

When we picked up our  Sziget Passport and walked into the festival for the first time, it was like stepping into some sort of Alice in Wonderland-type setup, with more fairy lights than an 18 year old girl’s dorm room.

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I would have been so lost without this.

 

On the first night, our priority was to rendezvous with the rest of the group and hit Tale of Us for some serious partying. The rest of the festival was essentially a non-stop party from dawn until dusk and beyond, with anything from techno or foam parties to daily yoga sessions, massages, guided sleep sessions, capoeira classes, TED talks, and impromptu dance parties in this little square we christened ‘Il-Pjazza’ (‘The Square’) near the main stage. There was something to do at literally any hour of the day or night to fill the gaps between acts.

The first major act I saw was Rihanna – but I have to say I wasn’t very impressed. She seemed a little bored, and turned up ridiculously late only to give a half-hearted performance. Not to worry – Muse, Bastille, The Neighborhood, Tinie Tempah, Sia, and The Lumineers more than made up for it.

If, like me, you see food as a top priority, you’ll be glad to know that Sziget caters to practically any taste or dietary requirement under the sun. Staying on the healthy side of things was a bit of a challenge, but if you look hard enough you’ll be alright. The streets are filled with food stalls offering fruit, corn on the cob, pasta, pizza, vegan dishes, burgers, wraps, piadinas, smoothies, gourmet (and not-so-gourmet) burgers, and even some pastries or ice cream for dessert.

Tasty Top Tip: Leave your food conscience at home. Seriously. 

I could write about Sziget all day, but the most important thing I could do is urge you to get a ticket to the next Sziget Festival. Next year is actually the festival’s 25th birthday, so I expect the organizers will have something pretty damn special in store for us all.

 

Want to know anything else about this incredible experience? Just leave a comment below! 

Kelly

 

 

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thoughts

My Top 5 YouTubers Right Now

If memory serves, the first Youtuber I ever properly followed was Ray William Johnson from =3, a channel devoted to taking a look at recent viral videos with hilarious commentary and an excellent Watchmen comic background. This was around 7 or 8 years ago, and although I’ve ditched poor Ray I’ve discovered a bunch of new content creators that have me absolutely hooked on their channels. Here are 5 of my favourites in no particular order!

iisuperwomanii – Lilly Singh

I first followed Lilly Singh because I thought her videos were just plain funny (especially the ones where she’d parody her own parents), but quickly discovered that ‘Superwoman’ was an all-round inspirational powerhouse encouraging women to build each other up in a world where we’re taught to see each other as competition. Bravo, Lilly.

Sharla In Japan / Sharmander

This Canadian ray of sunshine is one of my all time favourites when I’m looking for anything and everything related to Japan. I’m planning to visit the country in the near future, so her videos give some great insight into what Japan is like, where you might like to visit, and what kind of (sometimes rather strange) food you should sample. And there is a very, very cute cat named ‘Maru’ involved.

NB: It’s almost impossible to mention Sharla without giving a quick shoutout to awesome Youtubers like Kim Dao, Taylor R, Rachel and Jun, Micaela, Mimei, and Texan in Tokyo. In truth, I watch all of these brilliant J-vloggers in equal measure! 

Abroadin Japan – Chris Broad

Are you sensing a theme here? I confess – I’m a little obsessed with Japan. Chris Broad is the sarcastic and dry-humoured host of Abroad in Japan, an excellent channel covering a pretty awesome range of topics, including personal favourites like ’12 Tips for Learning Japanese’, ‘Teaching Swear Words to Japanese People’, and ‘Reading your Ridiculous Hate-filled comments’. Here’s the video that got me hooked on the channel:

4 Refinery 29

This channel is just top quality when it comes to lifestyle videos, but my absolute favourite series is called Try Living with Lucy. Lucy Fink is a charismatic 20-something stop motion artist and YouTuber with a penchant for taking up 5-day challenge like this one below – it almost got a heavy sleeper like me into waking up early, and that’s saying something!

5 Just Kiss My Frog – Leena

I stumbled upon this quirky channel when looking for videos about studying English as an undergraduate many moons ago. I’ve been totally hooked ever since thanks to an intoxicating combination of brains, wit, (beautiful) books, body positivity, and a generally magical personality that has any subscriber feeling as though they’re sitting down for a cup of tea and a chat with their good friend Leena.

Do you have a favourite YouTuber I should know about? Just link me in a comment below! 

Kelly

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