Reflections – Tate

This post comes to you from a bedroom in Kingsand, Cornwall, which is my new set-up for the next little while. I am here, and not tucked up back home in between semesters, post-Mediterranean holiday, because of the university I’ve been writing about for the past few months: Trinity—and the fact I’m in the process of extending my time abroad so that I can spend more time studying there.

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My feelings towards my time in Dublin are overwhelmingly positive. It’s probably easiest explained in the spiel I’ve found myself giving any time someone asks me about being there: “Everything I’m learning about feels so immediate, because so many of the writers I’m studying have come through Trinity, or lived in Dublin, or been so close geographically that it’s far more accessible and real than it’s possible for them to be in New Zealand. The history—buildings hundreds of years older than even the first glint of any Treaty on New Zealand soil—is right there. Oscar Wilde’s houses, and Yeats’s; sites of risings and revolution now right on my doorstep. The city never feels intimidating, as some can, and once you’ve got your bearings you’ll find yourself devising shortcuts and favourite routes and you’ll be engaging in a light College Green jaywalk ahead of the LUAS with the best of them.”

Okay, so maybe I don’t wax quite that poetic when I’m describing my experience, but I’d say I get pretty close to it. And they’re truths.

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Don’t get me wrong, there are absolute, complete stressors: administration and enrolment at Trinity is entirely different from Auckland; immigration appointments can provide long wait times and make every single person involved anxious; if you walk two streets off your normal route you can be lost in the depths of suburbia—but these are difficulties you’d find anywhere, in some form or another. They pass, and you can get down to the business of enjoying your experience. (That said: homesickness hits the best of us, though it can be helped through social media. The time difference for me ranged from 11 hours to 13, but I managed. Wrecked my best mate’s sleep schedule, and mine, but it can be dealt with!)

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I’ve found that what I got out of the experience massively outweighed the anxiety I felt at times (story of my life, really). Dublin is a great place to move if you want an international experience that is truly independent, but also not vastly different from home. The sense of humour is the same, and the same rugby games get broadcast in the pub. (I was the sober friend on a Literary Pub Crawl and almost gave up on the rest of the night because I spotted the ’Saders—y’know, the usual.)

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I built a nice little routine for myself in Dublin: trips to Lidl and the ways to walk; cinemas I’d go to on occasion and which shops to avoid at which times because they’d be manic. I made friends from around the world (though unfortunately none from Ireland—a downside of international accommodation). I had an absolutely brilliant time, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Ta ta,

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My Favourite Spots in Dublin – Tate

We were given a choice of what we wanted to talk about for this blog post, so I thought I’d share a few of my favourite spots around Dublin city, all of which are within walking distance of Trinity College or Binary Hub!

Indoors

There’s a lot to be seen around Dublin — museums, galleries, libraries, and cathedrals. They’re all located relatively centrally, and you can almost stumble from one to the other, especially once you’re in the depths of Georgian Dublin. (The different areas can be categorised by their architectural era and as somebody with a not-so-secret love for architecture—I’m the gal who stops and goes “oh, finally a fluted column!”—Georgian is definitely my fave). Fortunately, almost everything has free admission, so you can get in and get your fill of art/history/culture without breaking the bank.

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One of my faves from a previous visit to the National Gallery!

Two of my top spots are just down the road from Trinity. If you leave campus down by the Science buildings, onto Nassau Street, you’ll go past the site of Finn’s Hotel (where James Joyce met his future wife, Nora) and soon enough find yourself at the National Gallery of Ireland. It spans multiple floors, numerous exhibitions, and—to bring up architecture again—even the building itself is gorgeous. On my first visit there, I happened upon a massive, absolutely magnificent portrait of Graham Norton—just a room over from several stained-glass depictions of Bible scenes. There’s really something for everybody. Also in this area you can find the Museum of Archaeology and the Natural History Museum, if you wanted to make a day of it.

There are loads of gorgeous cathedrals and churches dotted around town, too—in particular, St. Patrick’s is great to visit, and there’s loads of history there. It’s also not far from Marsh’s Library, if you don’t mind parting with €2 in exchange for seeing a bunch of stunning old books. (I might be showing my true colours as an old lady and a major nerd here, but, like, it’s my blog post, whaddaya gonna do).

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Marsh’s Library!

Another particular favourite of mine—though this one certainly isn’t free to access—is the Lighthouse Cinema. It’s a five-minute walk from Binary Hub, just across the Liffey, and in addition to showing a spectacular selection of films—I took my Californian friend to a very emotional showing of Lady Bird there—they’ve also been known to throw costume parties and cocktail evenings in the lead-up to big film releases. (They went ham over Isle for Dogs.)

Outdoors

In terms of the outdoors, there are parks abound in Dublin. Many areas have greens or squares of grass/trees/shrubs etc. too, so you never feel too enclosed by the city. The aforementioned St. Patrick’s Cathedral has gorgeous grounds, and I’ve also heard people rave about the Iveagh Gardens (not to be confused with Beyonce’s Ivy Park clothing line). My two personal favourite outdoor spots, though—Trinity grounds not included—are Merrion Square and Phoenix Park.

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Oscar Wilde dominates the whole Merrion Square area. I mean, the whole thing.

Merrion Square is right by the National Gallery, just down the round from Trinity. When you see everything awash with Oscar Wilde references, you’re in the right place. Wilde lived on Merrion Square, as did W.B. Yeats, although further down the road. There’s a monument to Wilde which faces his house, and I’ve taken it upon myself to ensure all my friends have visited the spot (yeah, this blog post has devolved into Tate’s Nerd Preferences, but they’re part of why Dublin is such a fantastic city). I always find Merrion Square really relaxing, and it’s a two-minute walk from Trinity, so definitely worth a look-in at least.

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Lovely day in Phoenix Park!

Phoenix Park, though, is iconic. It’s huge—7.07km²—and offers up everything from fields of daisies to Dublin Zoo to a herd of deer that have been known to take food but also potentially to give a bite if you’re not careful. On a sunny day, people flock to Phoenix Park; Ed Sheeran performed there a couple of weeks ago, which I’d forgotten until I tried to make a trip and found it far more populated than usual, even for summer. Oh, well. There was another park just down the road. Classic Dublin.

I’m heading to Barcelona in a few days for a cruise around the Mediterranean (with my mum, no less), but I’ll be back one last time to give you a reflection on my experience at Trinity this sem. Until then!

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Campus Life – Tate

The theme of this blog post is “Campus Life”, which I thought I’d tackle by separating things into two categories: study and extracurricular. We’re talking study expectations, social opportunities; all the goods. Let’s do it!

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A gorgeous walk into uni, complete with crane.

Study:

Trinity as a university is predominantly research-based, and this is absolutely shown in its timetabling—even at the undergraduate level. The stages of undergraduate study are classified with Freshman and Sophister categories, and, within each, a Junior year and a Senior year (i.e. first year students take Junior Fresh modules, second year students take Senior Fresh ones, then third-years move into Junior Soph, etc.) The university is split into three main faculties or schools: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; Engineering, Mathematics and Science; and Health Sciences.

Freshman modules (read: papers, or courses, or whatever you want to call them) under the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences umbrella typically meet once a week, with another one-hour tutorial for compulsory modules. This is markedly different to UoA, and you’ll find your in-class time decreased by at least half—even if you’re entered for the maximum five transferable-credit classes. You’ll therefore have way more time on your hands (I had three-day weeks), but with the lack of in-class time comes much higher expectations of student-led learning. I was expected to read a book—novel, poetry collection, play etc.—a week for each of my modules, plus secondary readings which could range from one five-page section to four twenty-page stints. I’ve actually found it easier to get through course content this way, despite there being more of it, and it’s also given me the opportunity to get out and explore more of the city when it wasn’t so busy.

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Now that the weather’s started to improve, all grassy expanses on campus are occupied by opportunistic students and members of the public. College Green has been rechristened “The Beach” on days like these!

Classes, like UoA, run for fifty minutes, beginning on the hour, and—unlike UoA—the Arts modules tend to all be taught in the same building, so you’re not dashing from the Engineering building to the Law school, or from OGGB to Commerce A. Just up and down a few flights of stairs! Another difference from UoA is assessment: where most UoA papers are run on continuous assessment—e.g. 50% exam, 25% essay, 15% test, and, like, 10% participation—modules at Trinity are often one-and-done. I had three essays this semester, all worth 100%, and two exams, also worth 100%. This is both good and frightful, but there’s no point in stressing—all you can do is your best, anyway, and at least once those assessments are over, you’re done for that module and you can breathe easy. (I did have three essays due on the same day, though, which I didn’t enjoy. But, on the bright side, I learned really good time management!)

Extracurricular:

Trinity, like UoA, has heaps of clubs on offer—virtually all the same ones you’d find at our Clubs Expo, a couple of our more niche sports and the legendary Meat Club notwithstanding. Personally, I joined the Literary Society (poetry readings, tea and coffee afternoons, Harry Potter-themed events galore) and the International Students Society. I’d really recommend the latter, as they do discounted trips to a bunch of must-see places; I went to Galway, the Aran Islands, and the Cliffs of Moher earlier in the semester. It was manic in terms of time—constantly go-go-go in between locations—but the peace and stillness on Inis Mór (Inish)more than made up for it. (I’ll see myself out.) I’d recommend joining a club or two, as it can be a great way to meet people if your living situation doesn’t supply you with a bunch of groovy new mates, and lectures themselves aren’t the most social places.

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The Cliffs of Moher! When my family came five years ago, it was too foggy to even get to the Visitor Centre—but on this day it was lovely and clear!

Because of its aforementioned focus on research, Trinity is also a hub for exciting workshops and lectures. If you’re a bit of a nerd like me, you’ll take advantage of the free—free!—talks that are on, literally every day. The subjects are so varied that you’ll easily find something suited to your tastes; a couple of highlights for me were a visit from an Italian sculptor who had had several run-ins with the mafia, and a celebration of Harry Potter’s enduring legacy. (You may be sensing a bit of a Potter theme here. And before you ask, yes, I caved and started playing the mobile game.)

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The Aran Islands! This picture really doesn’t do it justice; the place was gorgeous beyond belief. More on my Insta if you’re interested (@tatefountain #shamelessselfpromo)

Trinity’s really in the centre of town, too, so it’s only a short walk to the National Gallery, Merrion Square, and basically any other destination you could be after. A few different classes use Marsh’s Library—which is stunning, by the way—as a field trip, but you can go yourself for about €2. Definitely worth it for the history! (Speaking of: definitely use your Student ID to jump the queue, and the fees, for the Book of Kells and the Long Room at Trinity. I may have cried walking up the stairs to the Long Room. Sis luvs books, and all that.)

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Food, Glorious Food – Tate

To be clear right from the outset: there isn’t a huge degree of difference between food in Ireland and food in New Zealand. (Please try to hold all potato-based japes for the duration of this blog post.)

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The Stag’s Head’s take on fish and chips.

Many well-known Irish staples – such as shepherd’s pie and fish and chips – wouldn’t look out of place on a New Zealand dinner-table. We share a lot of basic meal components, and while a move to Ireland definitely means bidding adieu to L&P, Whittaker’s, and other uniquely-Kiwi products, there isn’t that adjustment to, say, rice at every meal, or recipes you don’t recognise. Plus, Ireland has its own set of stand-out players: most principally, Guinness and Bailey’s – though as someone who doesn’t particularly like either of them, I can’t offer a comprehensive review: only that you can get them in a variety of forms and people always say they’re better in Ireland! (Fun fact: Guinness is brewed in 51 countries around the world, so no matter what your local Irish pub might be saying, it’s unlikely you’ve got a pint directly from my next door neighbour.)

The food scene in Dublin feels similar to that of Auckland, as there’s a lot of variety in the central city, provided you know where to look. Honestly, I’d suggest becoming That Person and scrolling through Yelp and/or TripAdvisor, or even just giving things a cheeky Google – I’ve found so many great spots just from doing a bit of research. Word of mouth is great, too, so once you’ve made a few friends, maybe ask them if they’ve ventured out into any exciting eateries thus far. (If not, make it an activity!)

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Downstairs at Mama’s Revenge!

While I’ve got you here, I thought I’d shout out a few of my favourite places for a specific recommendation, should you find yourself in Dublin:

  • Pub food: You can go into any pub you like and you’ll find good, reliable food. But I’d recommend Arthur’s and The Stag’s Head for reliability and convenience. Arthur’s is a short walk from Binary Hub and it has a lot of options on the menu that won’t break the bank, and The Stag’s Head is a five-minute walk from Trinity if a class finishes up late or if you’ve got something at College in the evening and you don’t want to walk to and fro. If you’re looking less for pub food and more for pubs, my favourites are Bad Bob’s and Frank Ryan’s. Bad Bob’s also serves food, and is packed almost every time I go, but it’s just down the road from Temple Bar and they have live music and it’s always fun. Frank Ryan’s is a five-minute walk from Binary Hub and very small but completely worth checking out – their décor, like Bad Bob’s, is brilliant, and they also have a very friendly dog who practically owns the place!
  • Mama’s Revenge: Placed on Nassau Street, just beside Trinity, Mama’s Revenge is a great spot for Mexican food! It’s fresh, fast, and filling, and you’ll get things cheaper if you show Student ID. (If you’re sitting in, go downstairs! It’s super cute.) (Side note: Dublin is on a bit of a Mexican kick at the moment, apparently – there’s a Boojum on every other street if you’re after a good taco bowl!)
  • The Market Bar: I discovered The Market Bar by accident, looking for somewhere to take visiting friends, and it is possibly my new favourite place. The menu is diverse and not overly expensive, and the restaurant is gorgeous (if you’re interested in getting the ’gram). It’s also near Trinity, so if you wanted to celebrate the end of a hard day/week/month with some friends, this could be a nice way to do it! The food is organised in such a way that it could be shared like tapas, or you could order things individually. Either way, I’d wholeheartedly recommend it!
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Luuuuuvs a burrito with friends after a late class finish!

Those are some quick recs from me re: food in Dublin. There are so many places and all kinds of cuisines on offer (within walking distance, too!), so I’d definitely encourage researching things yourself. For such a compact city, the options are endless.

Catch ya next time!

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Accommodation Awards – Tate

If you’re studying abroad at Trinity College, more likely than not you’ll end up in a shared flat at Binary Hub. This purpose-built complex is run by Aparto, and is situated in Dublin 2, just off Thomas Street and in the depths of the Liberties. (Wikipedia – funnily enough – says more than I ever could on the location, and you can brush up on the history and the contemporary cultural and entertainment scene of the Liberties by skimming through that page.)

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Part of the view from the kitchen of my flat #BeastFromTheEast

Pre-Arrival Lowdown:

I’ve got a few important things to say before we get into the nitty gritty of the actual living situation. I won’t sugar-coat it, because I feel like you ought to be informed if you’re going to be going through a similar process.

  • Once you indicate to Trinity that you’re interested in student accommodation (this is done by filling out a Google Form), you’ll wait a few days and then get your offer from Binary Hub. The deadline for acceptance and your first deposit is wicked fast – you have 48 hours, from memory – and the Aparto portal is… not the best. It’s an apparently one-stop shop to make the process easier, but you can’t go back and forth within the confirmation and payment screens, which makes life a little hard. (And you can’t repeat, apparently.) The portal was having issues when I was manically trying to navigate payment and a thirteen hour time difference. Just keep that in mind. (And if you’re having any issues – any at all – email someone. Email the staff, explain your issue, and even if they don’t respond immediately, you’ll have written proof that you’ve made the effort.)
  • That said, you’ll feel a sense of relief once the deposit is all sorted. It’ll seem like you have ages to pay the rest – you’re asked to pay upfront, as opposed to the fortnightly payments in halls at home – but get on that. Immediately. I gave myself a week before the payment deadline (as the preceding month was full of Christmas celebrations and seeing family and filling out other exchange forms), and this was the most stressful time of my life. There are a few payment methods, but let me say that if you choose PayToStudy – don’t do it through your own internet banking. Go into a bank and have them do it. In order to reach Ireland, the money will have to be transferred through several different international banks, and the exchange rate may change as this happens, and what arrives at the PayToStudy end has to be right in order for them to pass it along to Aparto. I was emailing people morning, noon, and night, making several trips to the bank (cheers to my Dad, who works in international finance and knew what kind of questions needed to be asked) – and shout out to Mandy at BNZ; we had so many phone conversations. My stress levels, which function a little higher than the normal human just on average, were through the roof. While it got sorted out in the end – literally as I was flying through the air – it was the last thing I wanted before a big move by myself across the planet.
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Having an en-suite (especially with a decently tall shower) is a major plus!

When you’re in Dublin:

  • Google Maps says Binary Hub is a twenty-five- to thirty-minute walk to Trinity. The real length of the journey will depend on your stride. Take a bus, if you want, but the exercise is manageable – no hills (read: Wakefield Street, you mare). I can do it in twenty. I also end up sweating up a storm once I sit down in class, but that’s more due to the intensity of the Arts Building heaters than anything else.
  • Everything you could ever need – theatres, museums, libraries, cinemas; restaurants, pubs, nightclubs – is extremely accessible from this location. Arthur’s Pub is a few steps down Thomas, and it’s an easy stop for the comfort of a hot, filling meal. The Guinness Storehouse is right next to Binary Hub, and one time it smelled like cat food, but most of the time it smells like what you get if you’ve ever put WeetBix in the microwave. Maybe an odd thing to say, but it always feels like a friendly nudge from home on a crisp morning walk to class. (Dublin in general smells like oranges and cigarette smoke and the air after fireworks, depending on where you are. It’s also just got that distinct smell of cold.)
  • Because it’s accommodation primarily targeted to international students, you’re not likely to meet anyone who’s actually from Dublin. We’re all as disappointed as each other, but that’s what capitalising on societies and those little connections you can make in class is for. It can be nice to have somebody to talk to when they’re in the exact same boat, too. (Plus, loads of international friends means there’s always somewhere to stay if you find yourself in their neck of the woods.)
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Between blocks at Binary Hub!

Where to shop

  • Groceries: Lidl on Thomas Street. I cannot sing its praises enough. A few people I know go instead to Tesco Express or to Marks & Spencer, but these are the people to whom the exchange rate isn’t quite so harsh. Lidl has all the essentials, and if you’re looking for something specific or a bit more high end, sure, make that trip to Tesco or M&S (or to an Asian grocer, of which there are a few tucked around the place), but on the whole, stick to Lidl.
  • Crockery, cutlery, cookware: Two doors up from Lidl is Dealz. As the name suggests, the stuff you’ll get there is pretty cheap, but for the length of time you’ll be here, that’s all you need. The three-pack of proper black-handled knives my flat bought from there is possibly the sharpest selection of knives I’ve ever experienced (the little bit of fingernail I had to sacrifice while cutting lettuce one time can confirm). Also great is EuroGiant, bang in the middle between Dealz and Lidl. My friends swear by its frying pan. (I’ve been cooking everything out of a pot or on an oven tray, but, like, still.) Like I kind of touched on, buy these things as a flat. That can distribute cost and make things a lot easier. (Still annoying when people don’t clean up after themselves though.)
  • Bedding: As I lamented in my last blog post, you’re not given anything except a mattress cover. Go to Penney’s on the other side of the river. (Penney’s is great, just in general.) In my desperation, I went to Dunnes, paid a bit more, and have the cosiest, loveliest duvet and throw and pillows, but I really could’ve just gone to Penney’s.

A couple of shots of my bedroom to help you get an idea!

Apologies for the information dump. At least it’s a somewhat comprehensive guide to Dublin! If you’d like to know what I’m up to in a less information-dump style, feel free to check out my Instagram, @tatefountain.

Until next time!

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First Impressions – Tate

We’ll start with the absolute first thought that came into my head upon arriving in Dublin: thank heavens. After almost two days’ worth of flying, stuck between two people with no concept of personal space for seventeen hours and then someone else who seemed to have taken a leaf out of my previous neighbours’ books for the following eight, I had finally arrived. Countless Disney films and pop albums later, I had made it to Ireland.

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I spent my first couple of days feeling rather cold, rather overwhelmed, and rather restless. It was little things – I had arrived in the dark so it took me ages to find my accommodation, wandering around the city centre with a general idea from a screenshot of a vague Google Map; there was no linen provided (despite what the internet had said), so I spent my first night on a mattress with a sad little mattress protector, huddled under my thin, home-brought sheet and two jackets, with a towel for a pillow. There were no appliances in the kitchen. The days were short – I didn’t see the sun at all on my first one. And I got myself lost in what felt like a rabbit warren of a city, despite my usually solid sense of direction. (I trekked through town in search of a Dunnes to buy my duvet and pillows and, if that didn’t take enough out of me, I carried them in their massive packaging all the way home as rain began to pour. On several occasions, I found myself in residential Dublin with the simple turn of a corner. It was lovely to explore, but I don’t live in residential Dublin, and was trying to get back to where I do live.)

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But! This first forty-eight hours of exhaustion was exactly that – exhaustion. I’d just made one of the biggest trips possible across this lovely lil planet we call Earth, and I’d used up all my adrenaline ensuring that I got here in one piece.

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Things took an immediate turn for the better once Orientation and Module Registration rolled around. Unlike UoA, Trinity does registration for classes in person, which means you don’t know what you’re taking (for certain) until you’ve gone to your department and had them signed off. Everyone studying abroad who I spoke to was having the same anxieties as me regarding this, but I found everything very straightforward – there was a specific meeting to attend and I got it all sorted there, at once. (Big sigh of relief!)

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A few weeks in, I can say unreservedly that I am loving Trinity. I am loving Dublin. I am already getting so much out of this experience.

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I spend a lot less time in class here than I did at UoA, but I feel like I’m learning the same amount if not more. Everything is very student-led – you’re expected to show up to class having done the readings. For me, studying English, this means about five full texts – novels or books of poems – a week, plus supplementary reading that gives background context or deeper understanding of the works in question. The diverse classes on offer mean that I’m learning a variety of different things under the umbrella of English, and – since so many of the writers I’m studying attended Trinity themselves – I could not be having a better time. Academically and intellectually, I could not speak highly enough of these classes and the course material. (It helps to be walking home past Christ Church Cathedral at night when it’s bathed in fog – you know how writers like Bram Stoker would have churned out their great works when their surroundings looked the way Dublin does.)

Now that the dust has settled, I can safely say I am so incredibly pleased to be where I am. Dublin is a city so rich with history and culture, which you can find as easily as walking down the street. Once you’ve got the hang of your surroundings, what I thought was a rabbit warren is really a tiny town – barely a central city in the way I would recognise central Auckland at all. But it’s gorgeous, and there’s so much on offer, and Trinity’s right at the centre of it all, epitomising everything I’ve already said.

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I’m very glad to be here, and I’ve experienced so much outside of university that all of my future blog posts feel almost as though they’ll write themselves – if they haven’t already. I’ll keep you updated.

Catch ya later,

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Off the Beaten Track: Tim

One of the best things about travelling is getting away from the main touristy sights, and finding hidden gems wherever you go. I couldn’t have picked a better place, because Dublin, Ireland and Europe are certainly full of them, so here are my top places that you should go if you’re trying to see something that probably doesn’t have its own Instagram hashtag.

Dublin

Unlike the big cities of London, Paris or Rome, Dublin feels a lot like everywhere is off the beaten track. The entire city feels cosy with its Georgian Architecture, rich history, pubs and interesting laneways to get lost in. One of my favourite things to do was finding a quiet corner in St Stephen’s Green to sit for lunch, or hiring a bike a riding around Phoenix Park on the edge of the city centre which is the home of the President of Ireland, American Ambassador and a herd of wild deer.

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Just one of the many cute brick laneways
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The site where the Pope delivered mass to over 1 million people in Phoenix Park in 1979

Ireland

The four corners of Ireland are full of magical sights from the Giant’s Causeway in the North to the Cliffs of Moher and Connemara in the West and mountains of Dublin in the east. But there is one special place that I feel in love with, and that was The South. I was lucky to have a good friend Rachel who drove us on a long weekend road trip down to Counties Cork and Kerry. It was such an incredible time, the jazz festival was on in Cork so every street and pub was alive with swinging music and a visit to Blarney castle was necessary with its beautiful gardens, and of course to kiss the Blarney Stone. But the real magic was in Killarney National Park with its lakes and waterfalls and the ring of Kerry where we climbed a 1200 year old stone fort, passed ruined castles and saw the most spectacular sunset over the Atlantic. The Ring of Kerry is rated as one of the most scenic drives in the world and it was truly an unforgettable place, with barely another soul in sight. It’s so remote that it is even designated as part of An Gaeltachta, the areas in rural Ireland where Irish is still spoken by some as their primary language.

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Torc Waterfall in Killarney National Park
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The 1200 year old stone ring fort
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I can now claim the “gift of the gab” from kissing the Blarney Stone!

Europe

Rumour has it on a good day you can look east across the Irish Sea from Dublin and see Wales. If you keep gazing east you have all of Europe at your beck and call and with the beauty that is Ryanair a weekend to Europe can be cheaper than a cup of coffee (flights to Paris, Brussels or Cologne were sometimes literally 5 euro). But that’s so cliché, so when we were looking at where to travel instead of studying during study leave my good friend Ben sought out the little Baltic nation of Estonia. This is a magical place where 70% of the population believes that trees have spirits, and is home to one of the best preserved medieval town centres in the capital Tallinn. We went in winter so there was pristine snow everywhere and the most beautiful Christmas Market in the world set up in the town square.  Other favourite places to explore were the Maritime Museum where you could climb inside a submarine and man an anti-aircraft gun, the KGB prison cells from the era of Soviet occupation, and a 14th century restaurant with delicacies such as boar, elk and bear. But if you want to get even more off the beaten track than that then I highly recommend a day trip to the Lahemaa National Park where we walked on boardwalks across untouched frozen bogs and through snow covered forests, and explored an abandoned Soviet submarine base and stately manors. And if you’re looking for a good night out, sign up for Kongo’s Epic bar crawl for an unforgettable night of fun, we even ended up getting free entry to a concert of the famous Estonia hip-hop group PTLN.

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The Most Beautiful Christmas Market ever in Tallinn
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The spooky Abandoned Soviet Submarine Base
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The bogs of Lahemaa National Park
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The medieval towers of Tallinn Old Town

And Beyond!

So again I have to shout out to Ben for coming up with the craziest ideas of places to go for a weekend away, because while most people look east to the Continent, there are few who dare turn their backs to head off the edge of Europe to the west. And so I found myself in Reykjavik, Iceland. And what a whirlwind adventure it was. Reykjavik was filled with colourful houses, quirky shops, museums and the iconic Hallsgrimkirkja church. The whole country has less people than Wellington, and 80% of them live in Reykjavik so the rest of the country was entirely deserted with breath-taking and spectacular scenery. We hired a car and went far beyond the tour bus routes to huge waterfalls, glaciers and black sand beaches, and camped in the car under the stars gazing at the Northern Lights. It was the road trip of a lifetime, and if you ever find yourself in Iceland the top spots are the Reynisfjara Beach (aim for sunset it was spectacular), the Svartifoss and Gullfoss waterfalls and Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. It was an unforgettable experience and probably the highlight of my entire exchange! So there you go, a few places that I thought were pretty cool and you should check out if you ever find yourself in that part of the world!

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Hallsgrimkirka church
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The Sólheimajökull Glacier
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Sunset over the Reynisfjara black sand beach
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Svartifoss Waterfall

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