Zofia: Travel

So now, to take a proper look at one of the major reasons I (and many people) wanted to come on exchange: travelling.

I had a lot of opportunity to travel around the UK and Europe both during and after my exchange. Because I did the January to May semester at Edinburgh, I ended the exchange at the beginning of the Northern Hemisphere summer, and then had until Auckland restarted in July to explore. That being said, we also had some short mid-term and “study” breaks that us exchange students used to our advantage.

Waitangi Day London

The first bit of travelling I did was down to London for Waitangi Day. I went with two other Kiwis, and there’s a huge pub crawl organised by Kiwis in London, so we got to meet a tonne of nice people with very familiar accents.

The second mini break I took was with some exchange students during a week we had off lectures in February. We went to Brussels and Amsterdam for two nights each. We loved just wandering (and biking) around the cities, enjoying classic food like the Belgian waffles.

Amsterdam

During the Easter break, five of us decided to go on a roadtrip around Scotland. We travelled all the way up north into the highlands, visiting some friends who lived in one of the tiny highland towns. We also saw the Isle of Skye, and about ninety-four castles. Scotland is truly beautiful.

And then, quicker than I actually would have liked, my semester was over. I started off my summer with a Topdeck tour. This is a bus tour aimed at young people, where they drive you around continental Europe and you spend one or two nights in each place. It was super full on, but an incredible time. Topdeck isn’t quite as infamous as Contiki for its partying, which to be honest probably worked in its favour. I joined a two-week tour, and went from Rome, to Venice, Pag Island (Croatia), Ljubljana (Slovenia), the Austrian Alps, Prague and ended in Berlin. I had the most fantastic time, and couldn’t recommend it enough – it’s like a tasting board of Europe, so you can decide where to come back to. Fair warning, you will be absolutely exhausted by the end of it, and possibly never want to see a hostel shower again.

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After Topdeck I met up with a friend from exchange and we did two weeks travelling around Spain and Portugal. I’d never been to Portugal before and it honestly blew me away. We had a few beach destinations (Palma de Mallorca, Malaga and Lagos) as well as some bigger cities (Seville, Lisbon and Porto). When we arrived in Porto we realised that we happened to be there for the weekend of the Festa de São João do Porto – a street festival for the patron saint of Porto. Everyone is out on the streets the whole day, cooking sardines and banging people on the head with plastic hammers (it’s meant to be a sign of affection). It was an amazing coincidence that we were there for it but if you get the chance, definitely go! It was one of the most fun days of my trip.

After Spain and Portugal, my parents and sister flew over from NZ and I met them in London. We did a two-week roadtrip around the UK, driving from Cambridge all the way up to Edinburgh and back down the other side.  It was atrocious weather, but England and Scotland are often overlooked when people choose to travel to Europe. I was glad to get the opportunity to have a look around because the UK actually has some awesome history and buildings that reflect that. That being said, I could have traded the 9-degree temperature and sheets of rain for the sun I’d been getting in Spain.

So at this point my time in Europe was nearly over, but I managed to squeeze in one more weekend in London (for the Wireless festival) and a couple of days in Paris, which was beautiful.

Wireless

Even though I’ve gone into great self-congratulatory detail on my travels, it’s also true that no matter where you go in Europe you’re going to find something amazing. Different people enjoy different things and different styles of traveling, so find someone who matches you and head off!

Ciao!

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Zofia: Last Post!

Since being back in New Zealand, I’ve been asked by everyone whether I enjoyed my exchange. The short answer is of course, yes, I loved it, I had such a great time, etc. In reality, this doesn’t even begin to cover it.

You’ve all heard the cliché, you know, “abroad changed me”. And at the beginning, my exchange student friends and I would mock others who’d said that on returning home, but it is genuinely true – you make these amazingly close friendships in a matter of months, you start considering a new country your home, and then suddenly you say goodbye to it all and are back to where you were six months ago. By far one of the weirdest and most difficult experiences of the whole exchange process is coming home.

Because to you, you feel like you’ve been away a lifetime. You’ve experienced all these new things and met new people that you’d now consider friends for life, and yet to everyone at home it doesn’t really feel like you’ve been gone that long. You have to try and get back into university (and proper studying, since these grades are actually reflected in your GPA), and living with new people (in my case, people I’ve never met before) and you feel stupid because you’re homesick for somewhere that was only your home for half a year. You’re juggling being ecstatic about seeing your old friends and family again, and desperately missing your ones from overseas.

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There’s a quote from Winnie the Pooh (or A. A. Milne, I suppose, if you’re being technical): ‘How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.’ This sums up exchange in a nutshell. You meet the most fantastic people and have the most fantastic time, but saying goodbye is probably the worst thing in the world. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go, because I wouldn’t trade my time in Edinburgh for anything, even though it means a few tears and sad phone calls to friends you’re missing, and looking back at holiday pictures and feeling hopelessly nostalgic (and also bitterly cold because it’s winter here and that doesn’t seem fair).

You meet such an abundance and array of people on exchange. We were lucky in that we met a huge number of other exchange students as well as people from the UK that studied there full time. I’ve come back from exchange with friends on every continent; I already have plans to visit Melbourne in September and see friends I met who did the exchange from Melbourne Uni, and we already have chats about where in the world to meet up next (I’m trying to push New Zealand but there’s some complaints about the 30 hour travelling time).

Not only that, but you develop this insanely strong connection to the country you lived in. I have so much pride for Scotland and I’d probably back them in a rugby match now (at least, against the English). I’d be the first to insist that Scottish pounds are, in fact, legal tender (the bloody English try not to accept them), and my love for tattie scones runs deep in my veins. It means every time I hear a Scottish accent I’ll probably get overexcited and tell the poor soul about that time I lived in Edinburgh, but I can’t help but feel like I’m just a little bit Scottish now. There’s a lot that’s similar between New Zealand and Scotland, like place names (Dunedin is actually taken from the Gaelic for Edinburgh) and senses of humour, so maybe that’s why I took to the country so well. We’ve also got that same little brother complex with Australia that the Scots have with England, so you can gleefully join in when they start ranting about the union.

Basically, my reflection of the exchange is this: you’ll meet people and find places that make saying goodbye the hardest thing in the world. But that’s something you should appreciate, because it means you had the best time while it lasted. If you have the opportunity, please go on an exchange with Auckland 360 – it scares me when I think about how close I came to not going because the admin stuff seemed like a lot of work! It’s been an amazing six months and I hope everyone who has the opportunity to go, takes it.

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Food, Glorious Food: Zofia

No one comes to Scotland for the cuisine, that’s a fact. It’s known for deep-frying everything (including pizza), haggis and whisky. That being said, there have been some exciting developments in my diet since I moved here.

Firstly, the meal deal. This institution needs to be brought back to New Zealand as soon as possible. It doesn’t sound that exciting; you get some form of carbed-up lunch option (wrap/sandwich etc), plus chips (sorry, ‘crisps’) and a drink for less than a fiver. But there is something truly magical about the meal deal that cannot be explained. It has been debated by students at length where to buy the best one; whether the fancy Marks and Spencers one is even worth it; who prefers Doritos over Monster Munch as their chip selection.

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Munchy Mart needs to adopt this idea immediately.

 

Another exciting difference to my diet here is that I’m now eating approximately 16 servings of potato a day. Basically, it’s not a meal in Scotland unless there is some form of potato in it. Potatoes come in many forms here, and I’ve detailed my two favourites below.

Potato scones. Po-ta-to scones. These are perhaps (definitely) what I’ll miss above all else. They are basically mashed potato and flour mixed together and then fried (I’ll be honest, I’ve never made them, I did a Google). They’re served up for catered brunch every Saturday and Sunday and I usually have 12 in one sitting. They’re crispy but fluffy, sort of like a potato based roti? Hard to explain, but delicious.

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It doesn’t look like much, but it is delightful

My second potato obsession is ‘cheeky chips’. Many a late night out has ended in a Scottish chippie (which also inexplicably serves kebabs and pizza). The chips here are not only consistently made to order, so they’re always hot and crispy, but they have the most glorious array of toppings. Curry sauce? Cheese? Gravy? Cheese and gravy? The world’s your oyster.

cheeky chips
Chips so good they apparently induce psychosis judging by these facial expressions.

I must also make mention of Moratti’s. Moratti’s is a pizza place that is open until 3am every night and serves up heaven. Club nights have been cut short to make sure we get to Moratti’s in time before it closes. I have formed a close bond with the owners, who are lovely and also pizza geniuses. For anyone coming to Edinburgh – it’s on the corner of Cowgate and Pleasance. You’re welcome.

Being a Scottish food blog, I feel like I’m obligated to mention haggis: tried it once. It was nice. Tasted like minced meat, unsurprisingly. Most exciting part was the neeps (mashed mixed root vegetables) and tatties (mashed potato, because it’s not a meal without it).

Being in the UK makes travel to Europe very easy, so I’ve managed to get around a bit while here. The standout cuisine from my travels is easily the Belgian waffles in Brussels; lovely, chewy, sweet.

belgian waffle
Bought approximately ten of these in the two days I was in Belgium

There are a few things that the Scots haven’t caught onto yet; avocado, for one. I was offered this odd guacamole sauce in a squeezy bottle once and I still haven’t forgiven them for it. And since I’m writing this on the 25th of April, I’d really kill for an ANZAC biscuit about now. But it’s nice to have things to look forward to at home! For now, I’ll eat my chips with cheese and gravy and be happy.

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Accommodation Awards: Zofia

Bi-annual Auckland Abroad Accommodation Awards
A disclaimer: I have only been around a short while and visited a limited number of the accommodation that University of Edinburgh has to offer. I’m sure opinions and experiences vary widely from my own.

 Catered:
Best Carb Selection
Of course, this goes to all the houses in Pollock Halls. The JMCC Restaurant puts on a stunning display, with at least one pasta option and sixteen different types of potatoes per meal. In all seriousness though, the catered food is quite lovely (particularly the potato scones that get served up at weekend brunch). We get a full cooked Scottish breakfast every morning (vegetarian sausages come highly recommended), and a broad selection for dinner. There are always two vegetarian options for those interested, but vegans can be left to the wayside occasionally so that’s something to consider.

Most Basic House(s)
Grant House in Pollock Halls, fondly nicknamed Grantanamo Bay many years ago, is one of the “Tower Blocks”. Accompanying it: Lee, Baird, Ewing and Turner. The Tower Blocks of Pollock are your ‘basics’ accommodation, with small-ish rooms that come equipped with a single bed, sink, wardrobe and desk, and communal bathrooms, pantries and common rooms. Since this is where I’m located I’ve got a few photos of the real thing; the others you’ll have to the University of Edinburgh’s accommodation site for pictures, but they’re all pretty true to life.

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 Most Posh House
Introducing Chancellors Court, Pollock Halls of Residence. Chancellors is well-known for being the nesting ground of posh Londoners, so if Made in Chelsea is your thing then this is for you. There are also double rooms available for cheaper than singles. As long as you’re happy being woken up when your roommate stumbles in at 4am from Why Not Wednesdays (or, alternately, don’t mind a passive aggressive roommate who is mad at you for stumbling in at 4am), this is a viable option.

 Most Conveniently Placed Bathroom
Enter Holland House, which has ensuites. Other than that it’s nothing special, and is also the furthest away from the dining hall (so depends whether you prioritise eating food or getting rid of it).

Self-catered:
Most Rodent Infested
Previously Kincaid’s Court, but the resident rat recently died. A raucous wake was held for the late Billie. RIP; she or he (even biology students wouldn’t get close enough to gender identify) will be missed.

 Most Fun
Kincaid’s Court, especially now the rat is dead. I tried incredibly hard to think up a better superlative than ‘most fun’, but honestly I couldn’t find a better way to describe it (photographic evidence of said fun provided). Flats in Kincaid’s can have up to 12 people living in them, which means its super social, and they host by far the best parties. For the first 2 weeks of living in Edinburgh I was at Kincaid’s literally every night because there were always people keen to go out and about. They’re also situated in Cowgate which means it’s approximately a 30 second walk to student favourite pubs, like Three Sisters and Stramash. If you’re planning a studious time in Edinburgh, maybe stay away from here; the amount of times we’ve had someone claiming they’re staying in at 7pm, but to have a bottle of Buckfast in hand by 9pm is legendary.

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Basically, no matter where you end up staying you’re going to have an amazing time. If you like cooking, then go for self-catered – this is definitely something I miss about flatting back home. However, being able to roll out of bed at 1.30pm on a Sunday and have hash browns and sausages at your disposal is nothing short of heavenly!

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My O-Week Experience: Zofia

Well team, I made it!

I’m writing this sitting in the Mary Brück Building at the King’s campus of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. It still feels surreal that I’m actually here, despite being several weeks into university starting.

So, what have I been up to? Well, there has been a lot of beer and late nights, as well as lectures and practical labs (I swear, Mum, I’ve been going to every one).

Since I’ve come into Edinburgh’s second semester of the academic year, O Week wasn’t a huge “official” thing (although I hear if you come in September, Freshers Week is insane). That being said, the unofficial party hasn’t stopped since I got here.

I arrived at my accommodation in January. I’m staying at Pollock Halls, which is a complex of seven or eight “houses”, which are your typical university hostels – small rooms, single beds, questionably patterned carpet. We all share one big dining hall, which is all-you-can-eat and arguably wonderful.

On the first night we got taken to an event for international students called ‘A Taste of Scotland’. We got the whole haggis experience, with a piper and a proper Scottish address. If you don’t think about what’s in it too much, haggis isn’t half bad, and the Scots’ obsession with mashed root vegetables (“neeps and tatties”) is well founded.

During the week we also went to a ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee – that’s Gaelic for you). It’s a traditional Scottish folk dancing gathering, where you get taught the steps and dance in big circles. Really fun, but also a lot more of a workout than I’d anticipated when I dressed for the 0 degrees it was outside.

Those were the two properly organised events that I went to, but I’ve managed to meet a tonne of absolutely lovely people who go to Edinburgh Uni. Despite only being here for such a short time, the city itself and the people already feel like home.

Coming from New Zealand, you tend to forget how young we are as a country. Some of the buildings here outstrip our entire history by hundreds of years, which is insane to think about. The first day I arrived I just walked down all the streets taking photographs of everything and you could tell the locals wondered what I found so fascinating about literally just an old building.

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The other major difference here is the cold. I’ve never lived anywhere that is this cold. When it started properly snowing I absolutely lost it (embarrassing in front of exchange students from Canada, who didn’t find it so thrilling). But after purchasing some additional woollen socks I’ve managed to make it through.

The university work is really interesting, too (had to mention it at some point, I guess). Very similar set up to how science courses are run in Auckland, although I am slightly bitter about the difference in workload between science courses and everything else! My friends taking arts and commerce subjects literally have three lectures a week, whilst I’m suffering through about four times that.

So there we go – the first update from Edinburgh.

Love from Scotland!

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What I’m Packing: Zofia

I’m going to study at the University of Edinburgh for the second semester of their academic year, from January to May. This means I’m leaving the warmth of New Zealand’s summer and heading to the depths of Scotland’s winter; the average temperature in Edinburgh in January is 3 Celsius. Top of my packing list: several pairs of woollen socks, my puffer jacket and every scarf and beanie I own. Let’s get started.

9.45am

After a strong black coffee I’m ready to go. I’ve recruited my mother to help, since she had nothing better to do. Her talent for packing surpasses my own, even though I’ve done a lot of shifting myself over the past two years. Full disclosure: I also need her vital opinion on which clothes to take.

10.02am

We’ve managed to haul everything in my closet out into the lounge and are looking at it in dismay.

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10.05am

Mum is ignoring me while I ask her opinion on every single item of clothing I own. I’m considering buying an entire new wardrobe over there. Edinburgh is meant to have great shopping?

11.06am

Progress! We’ve sorted all my clothes into seasons. The ‘winter’ pile is lacking, but that’s okay. Mum has nice jumpers, and I’m sure she won’t notice if they go missing for 6 months.

12.24pm

We’ve stopped for lunch. Also to watch Gossip Girl on Netflix.

3.37pm

I have three separate piles of clothes adorning my lounge: 1) Winter clothing (beanies, scarves, jeans, boots, woollen jumpers) to be taken; 2) Summer stuff (shorts, dresses, t-shirts, sandals) I want to take for when I go visiting actually warm places in Europe because Scotland reaches about 18 degrees max; 3) Clothes being tossed/gifted to younger cousins, and make me seriously question why anyone has ever given me a debit card.

4.23pm

Getting somewhere. Mum’s yelling at me to “ROLL not FOLD” while I have a mental breakdown and Christmas carols play gently in the background. Bag is half full (not a metaphor, positivity levels are at an all time low).

5.09pm

Stopped for a drink.

6.34pm

Okay, so I can’t claim that the job is done. There’s a lot more of shuffling around and hopefully adding Christmas presents to do, but the lounge is looking less like a bombsite and I’m feeling more prepared.

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Here are a few tips for packing from yours truly:

You aren’t going to fit in everything

You’re going to a new place, you’re going to meet new people and totally reinvent yourself and your fashion choices. But be realistic; if you haven’t worn it in the last three years that you’ve owned it, chances are you’re not going to start. Save the space. You also don’t need to pack for every eventuality. If you get an invite to Buckingham Palace then you can always buy a new outfit; don’t bring the pearls just in case.

Roll, not fold.

Mother knows best. You save an incredible amount of space, and it’s also a fun pastime while sitting cross-legged in front of TV.

Get excited.

You’re preparing for one of the most exciting adventures you’ll likely ever go on, so just think about that instead of the amount of stuff you have to get done before you go. Pro tip: a cheeky G&T at 5pm helps with the stress levels.

But don’t forget the boring stuff.

Toothbrush, chargers, travel insurance; all less exciting than coordinating outfits, but possibly more important.

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