2

Ladies who Afternoon Tea

At the end of April I headed to London, in search of good company and distractions. London is full of both and this is how Maddie and I ended up at Sketch for afternoon tea.

Judging by my Facebook newsfeed, Sketch is one of the places to go for afternoon tea in London. It has 4 out of 5 stars on Trip Advisor and Time Out describes it as “a place with wow factor”. All in all, it was promising, even if those promises included the word expensive as well as fabulous.

Walking into Sketch felt like walking into Wonderland. Going through what felt like tent flaps pinned back, into a dark, spacious hallway with various pieces of odd and interesting art, we were greeted warmly and directed towards the The Parlour. To get to The Parlour, you go past the cloakroom and through The Glade, which we marvelled very briefly at before we reached The Parlour.

Now, I will admit that we were early. Any place that takes your credit card details when you book so that they can charge you if you don’t turn up is guaranteed to have me arrive half an hour early. So of course we were told our table wasn’t ready. Which is completely fine, though we weren’t sure where we would go for twenty minutes, especially as it was raining outside and window shopping is only good when one doesn’t have rain dripping down one’s neck.

But we started to head back out, but the lovely greeter, confused as to why we were leaving so soon, suggested we go back to The Glade and have a drink at the bar while we waited. This was an excellent suggestion.

The Glade was gorgeous.

The Glade was beautiful, decked out as if there was a lawn party in the middle of a forest. With dappled green walls, moving mirrors to catch the light and wicker chairs, it was lovely. The cocktails we went for were delicious, and I have no doubt that any of the selection would have been equally good. And the waitress was excellent, suggesting other drinks when they were out of the one I wanted.

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Edible flowers are the best.

Eventually our time came, and we went back into The Parlour to have afternoon tea. The Parlour is very 1920s and very pink, as well as lined with David Shrigley’s work. The overall effect was…interesting. David Shrigley is an artist whose work I’ve encountered several times, and sometimes I walk away feeling unsettled and sometimes I walk away with a smile. The full range of his work on display at Sketch meant I was unsettled and smiling which is a very odd feeling. And as for the décor of the room…I felt like I’d walked into a womb.

Some excellent crockery.

The Parlour is as different from The Glade as it could possibly be, and to leave a room I loved so much to go into one that made me a scooch uneasy was saddening. I’m sure that for many people The Parlour is gorgeous, but I wished we were still in The Glade.

With a choice of nearly 20 different teas, we were soon sipping away from china designed by David Shrigley. Although we were served our drinks fast, it then took another 20 minutes before we saw any sandwiches or cake. I may have missed a memo about current afternoon tea etiquette, but I always assumed one had the tea with the sandwiches and cake. Happily, the tea is refillable so we weren’t left as bereft of beverages as I was concerned we might be.

So much food. So much. 

The food was delightful. Tiny parcels of pesto and chicken, salmon sandwiches with caviar sprinkled on them, cucumber and asparagus sandwiches…The list goes on. I would recommend not biting into caviar though. I didn’t realise what it was until I had. Rookie mistake.

Cakes included the densest coffee and chocolate cake topped with gold leaf, adorable strawberry tarts and profiteroles filled with raspberry sauce. In addition to the cake stand, we had a scone each and the pudding of the day, which was pear something French.

For the most part, the food was delicious, and the bits that weren’t are a question of taste. Like the egg sandwiches that had olives in them. I’m not a proper adult yet and do not enjoy olives. At all.  So on grounds of food, I would very much recommend Sketch.

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The toilets were space pods. SPACE. PODS.

Some of the other bits of the experience were less good. For one thing, when we sat down, I sat in the booth rather than the chair and the man leading us to our table then trapped me there by pushing the table in. Then he moved the next table along closer to us, as if to make sure that I would never escape. This proved awkward when I had to ask the people next to us to move their table and then ask Maddie to move ours so I could discover the ridiculous toilets. I got some serious side-eye, but it was that or climbing over the back of the booth.

We also couldn’t pay the bill. Which is to say, after we were presented with the bill, no-one came to ask us to pay it. For half an hour. In which time the people next to us, who had been given their bill at the same time, paid and went. In the end, I had to flag a passing waitress down.

Overall, I really wasn’t impressed with the service at Sketch. I’m not sure if me and Maddie looked particularly young or out of place, but we were paying the same £45 as everyone else. So while the food was great, and the décor fascinating, the lack of good service and being wedged into a corner dampened the experience as much as the rain had dampened our window shopping plans.

2

Halloween at Hogwarts

I hope everyone has had an excellent Halloween, whether that means you dressed up and partied or if you curled up in front of some festival appropriate films or if you had a completely ordinary night. Mine was petty good. It started with some lovely ladies on the train giving me a flower and a grandmother tell me I looked good in skull make up. From there I went to a Halloween/Day of the Dead party thrown by a friend from work, who has the most adorable son. Between paella and eyeball cupcakes, it was pretty great. And then I headed to Beth’s to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show and then fell asleep halfway through The Addams Family.

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I think I over did the eyeliner.

So yes, pretty good Halloween all round. But I’d like to tell you about the stuff I did for Halloween last weekend. Because who doesn’t want to hear about Halloween at Hogwarts?

I was down in London, once again visiting Maddie. For graduation, my Dad bought me a ticket to go to the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Watford, and Maddie agreed to go with me. And we booked to go during their Halloween extravaganza.

Suitably dressed, we made our way to Watford Junction by train, before boarding the shuttle buses that run to the studio tour. The people who were most excited were the kids and the twenty year olds. Not the parents.

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Image is grainy becaUSE IT WAS TAKEN IN THE MIRROR OF ERISED.

Our tickets were booked for 6.30pm so thanks to Maddie being super clever, we got there for 5, giving us time to buy food and spend about an hour in the gift shop. The gift shop is a treasure trove of temptation. Expensive temptation. I now have many items of Harry Potter themed merchandise, including a Chudley Cannons pennant.

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I need there to be a Quidditch team in Dudley called the Dudley Cannons.

Finally we got to go in. I’ve been to the studio tour before and the beginning is very cool. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t been yet, so I’m gonna skim over that.

The Great Hall was decorated for Halloween, naturally, and it was very cool to see the sweets and goodies on display, getting us into the Halloween mood. But round the corner a bigger surprise was waiting. Death eaters.

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Literally the best photo I have ever taken.

This scary fellow snuck up to me while I was reading about the makeup and stared at me, until I noticed him. And, in what is my most British reaction ever, I said hello in the polite manner reserved for vicars and head teachers. He later got into a staring match with Maddie. He was disappointed that we didn’t scream and run away like the preteens did when he drew his wand and went into a duelling stance.

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Standard night out.

The Studio Tour, for those who don’t know, is a collection of props, sets and costumes from the Harry Potter films, laid out so fans can come and be part of the magic. It’s well worth a visit if you loved the films. They explain how things were made, how spells were filmed – all sorts. And they have hundreds of props that you will spend hours wondering where they were in the film. My favourite is a knitted Hippogriff.

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I want one so bad. 

There’s also opportunities to ride a broom, take part in a wizard duel and even go on the Hogwarts Express. You can also buy butterbeer and butterbeer ice cream, see the Knight Bus and loiter outside 4 Privet Drive. There’s a section about the models and puppetry behind the magical creatures, a slew of graphics, architecture models and concept art, as well as the fact that you can walk down Diagon Alley.

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All London buses should be purple and three storeys high.

Having been before, I had seen most of it, but it was great to see deatheaters wandering around. The woman was so scary as Bellatrix me and Maddie were too scared to go and get a photo with her. I also got to try butterbeer for the first time and generally mess around at Hogwarts with one of my best friends. All in all, it was pretty darn great.

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Such Halloween.

Indeed, I talked about it so much at work that someone I work with is going in January. How’s that for word of mouth advertising? Of course, going in January, she’ll get to see Hogwarts in the snow. Whereas I love a good Jack-o-lantern.

1

Ready for My Close Up

If you follow my Faceboook page, you may have seen me posting about the fact that I was modelling last weekend. But I figured you guys wouldn’t want to hear about that.

Kidding. Course I’m going to blog about it. It was excellent.

So frequent readers may remember my friend Maddie. On this blog, you’ll have heard about the travelling we’ve done together, like Bucharest, Berlin and Prague. But this time it’s a blog post based in England. In south London to be exact.

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Maddie and Kyle looking very professional.

Maddie’s doing an MA in fashion and as a fashion student she has to create a final collection. And how else to show off a final collection but with models. Now, as you may be thinking, I am not a model. But part of the inspiration behind Maddie’s collection was the idea that clothes should be able to be worn by anyone, rather than just models. Radical, I know. So she asked friends to model, and I am one of those friends.

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Who wouldn’t want me to model?

She also asked our friend Beth who you may or may not remember from my Grand European Adventure, parts 2, 3 and 4 and so after I finished work on Friday, me and Beth headed down to the Big Smoke to pretend like we know how to act in front of a camera.

On Saturday, it was all hands on deck as there were some last minute clothes fittings. There were five of us in total who were modelling. Me, Beth and Maddie, who you guys already know, as well as the very lovely Lucy, who has actual modelling experience, and the fantastic Rosie, who you can read more about here at her blog. Me, Beth and Rosie submitted ourselves to Maddie and Lucy, who were far more agile with a makeup brush, and eventually we were all primped and preened and ready to kick ass.

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Lucy had a steady hand and make up skills.

That first day we did a standard photoshoot, with a white backdrop and some excellent pouting. The photographer was Kyle Jones who you may remember designed the Facebook banner for my Facebook page. An excellent photographer, film maker and graphic designer who’s just moved to London and also happens to be the brother of one of my university housemates. But I’m totally unbiased. Seriously, he’s good at what he does. Check him out here.

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Kyle really liked this picture. I impressed a photographer with my photo off a phone, guys. 

While I felt like an idiot in front of the camera, I felt like less of an idiot than I had at graduation in a motorboard, so that’s good. Maddie’s clothes were a) amazing and b) super comfortable. Putting my own clothes back on was really sad, though I was far less concerned that I was going to spill something on them or rip them or something.

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Photo credit: Kyle Jones

When in doubt, pout.

On the Sunday, we were filming. That’s right. We made a video too. Maddie’s collection is called Where is May Morris? and focuses on the erasure of women in the design industry. Therefore, she decided that in the video we were going to be a guerrilla girl gang, in a feminist den.

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Pink spray paint is a lot of fun.

Making the den was ridiculously fun. There were heels and nail polish every, as well as books and weaponry and generally everything you need to smash the patriarchy. Good times. And when we’d sufficiently made our den look kick ass, then we had to film. We did various things. Planned our next moves on a map with a knife through it, painted nails, read A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft. All kinds of stuff.

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I have so many photos of the den. It was so cool.

Oh, and Rosie gave us a crash course in how to fight LARP style. LARP, for those unaware, stands for Live Action Role Play and you get to attack people with foam swords. (Obviously this is a very brief summary. For more, you should check out Rosie’s blog). And so, in wonderful clothes, and with Kyle greatly amused by our concern about hitting each other, we learnt how to kill. Well, I suppose hit would be a more appropriate verb.

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Rosie hacked a plant to pieces at our encouragement.

Eventually though, the fun was over and we had to give back the clothes and head home. Not before we’d taken apart our feminist den. It was a truly great weekend. Maddie’s made some incredible clothes and I’m really glad that I got to help her out.

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Maddie was very happy with us.

If you want to know more about Maddie’s collection there are posts on the UCA MA Showcase 2015 Facebook page, or come to the exhibition of all of the students’ work between 18-23rd September at The Rag Factory, 16-18 Heneage Street, London, E1 5LJ. If for nothing else, to laugh at me pretending to be a model.

I leave you with the nerve wracking video of Maddie spray painting a professional camera.

#WhereisMayMorris?

2

London Town Funk

So before you read this blog post, you should go and listen to Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson. Actually, you know what? I’ll embed it below this paragraph. I spent the entirety of my time in London with it in my head, so you guys should get to live the experience too.

So much dancing. 

Thanks to the German department deciding what we needed after two weeks of exams was a week off – sorry, a reading/project week – I headed down to London to see Maddie. You remember Maddie right? She’s been in this post and this post and this post. She’s based in the capital and it is always excellent to go down and see her.

Wednesday I travelled down, and navigated the tube all by myself. To anyone who was irritated that I had a suitcase on a busy tube, please know I was just as irritated at myself. Taking anything other than oneself on the tube is the worst, especially when it’s busy. So please know that as much as you hated me, I hated myself more.

The rest of Wednesday was just chilling. So I’ll go straight to Thursday. The day on which we headed into central London so I could experience the majesty of the Liberty department store for the first time ever. Famous for its prints and haberdashery, it’s a very impressive place. Looking at the prints I can well understand why. They’re gorgeous and I was very sad I don’t have a spare £200 to spend on a wallet.

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Look at the pretties

After marvelling at the colours and prints, we found the monster section. In London, there is Hoxton Street Monster Supplies, where you can stock up on Milk Tooth Chocolate, jars of Mortal Terror, and even Fang Floss if you’re running low. And currently there’s a small selection of their products in Liberty’s. While potentially monsters of the nightmare variety, the brains behind the monster supply shop are anything but monsters in their souls. They work for a registered charity, who in the guise of the Ministry of Stories run creative writing and mentoring centre for children in East London. The monster supply shop helps fund it. So I took the opportunity to pick up a jar of The Collywobbles. Never know when it’ll come in handy.

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A small sample of their wares.

After perusing the monster line, we headed upstairs to their café where we had afternoon tea like the classy ladies we are. With finger sandwiches and mini cakes and scones it was delicious but seeing as I managed to get crumbs all down myself I’m not sure I’ll be allowed back.

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Maddie looking super sophisticated.

On our travels to various less impressive shops it began to hail, and I swear someone squealed excitedly because they thought it was snow. Hail is much less fun but no less cold. Thankfully we took shelter under the canopies of a couple of rather expensive looking shops and the hail stopped very quickly, allowing us to go on our merry way.

After a wander round some of the biggest shops I have been in, we headed back to the Tube, but when we realised that there was a queue up out into the street, we decided trying to get the Tube at rush hour was not our best idea ever and instead we went to Urban Tea, for drinks in an attempt to wait out the tube queue. One not very tea flavoured cocktail down and we decided to try our luck with the public transport and the gods smiled on us, letting us get home without having to queue for a ridiculous amount of time in the cold London night.

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Welcome to Spitalfields.

On Friday we hit up Spitalfields market, where we ummed and ahhed over various t-shirts and dresses, whilst making friends with the occasional market stall holder. Spitalfields is a covered market but that doesn’t stop it being bitterly cold thanks to the fact that while it has a roof it doesn’t have walls. So we went and got brunch instead of sacrificing a couple of toes in the pursuit of fashion. And as you may remember from the Berlin post, we do love our brunch,

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Life motto, perhaps? Certainly the bacon rolls bit.

The Breakfast Club consists of 80s music, word and formica tables and some pretty impressive signography. It also had the best American breakfast I’ve ever had. I mean, I’ve not had many, but this was so good. As Maddie put it, the sausages were as good as our parents cooked, which never happens when you order breakfast out. We stayed a long while and to be honest, I think the only thing that could have made it better were bigger mugs of tea. But I do drink a lot of tea, so maybe it was just me.

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Look how delicious.

After we finally left The Breakfast Club (without visiting the secret bar – if you go, you should tell them you’re there to see the mayor. Rumour has it there’s a bar hidden behind a Smeg fridge.), we ambled down to Shoreditch, dropping into pretty much every vintage shop we passed on the way, before we stumbled across an All Saints sample sale. I was super proud of myself for spotting the sign before Maddie, till I realised this meant I’d have to go to a sample sale. I am very much not sample size. Unless I get menswear. Which isn’t really a hardship. After experiencing a sample sale for the first time ever, I suggested we carry on further into Shoreditch, in search of Blitz.

Blitz is yet another vintage shop, but they also rework vintage clothes into new designs. I know this because as a fashion student Maddie gets to work with these kind of people. Man, she’s cool. All you get with a German degree is people texting you for answers on Hitler in a pub quiz. After availing ourselves of the free mulled wine, we wandered round the shop. It’s the world’s largest vintage store and well worth a visit. Of course I ended up buying some stuff – I’m a sucker for vintage and they were selling Ralph Lauren for less than twenty quid. I own a pair of Ralph Lauren trousers. Me. It’s such a weird concept I can’t quite my head round it.

Saturday we went to Shoreditch again, because there was a vintage sale. We may have over-vintaged this week. If there were any such thing as over-vintaging. Paper Dress Vintage were having an anything you fit in a big for fifteen pounds offer. It was fully our intention to take advantage of this, but between oversleeping and getting lost in Shoreditch that didn’t quite happen. When we got there, most of the clothes in the offer had gone. But everything else was twenty percent off, so we got stuck in. Finds included a 1920s opera coat, a Victorian blouse complete with inbuilt structuring, and WW2 women’s military jackets. The latter posed an issue in that they were glorious and when one of them fit, I had to buy it. Beans on toast for the foreseeable future it is. But in all seriousness, Paper Dress had an amazing range of vintage, and it’s a really good job most of what I liked didn’t fit me or I really would be living off beans on toast for the rest of the semester.

Post vintaging, we headed to our favourite place in Shoreditch – The Hawkhurst Vault. It’s a tearoom that is rapidly joining Harrod’s food court as one of my favourite places ever, not just in Shoreditch. The range of teas is amazing, the brownies are incredible and the guys who run it are the loveliest. If you’re ever in the area, you should definitely check it out. Because any place that has a seemingly never ending supply of interesting teaspoons is a place worth visiting.

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Such pretty china.

When we’d stopped taking up space at Hawkhurst, we headed into central London once more to meet up with friends, and live it up at a Wetherspoons. Gotta love Spoons. They have such good chips. It was really great ending to my time in London, seeing as Sunday saw me headed back to Nottingham, just in time for lectures to start again. Joy of joys.

3

Great European Adventure: Part Eins – Berlin

Fair warning: this blog post has many pictures and few words. Though a picture is worth a thousand words, so…

 If you can cast your minds back to four months ago, I was leaving Ilmenau. And can you remember why? Don’t stress if you can’t. Seems harsh to spring a quiz on you when I went AWOL. And some of you are new. So to recap, I was leaving Ilmenau because my contract with the school (I was doing a teaching assistantship on my year abroad – check out these posts for details) was up and I was doing some travelling before headed back to Blighty.

So Berlin. I left Ilmenau super excited because in Berlin Maddie awaited me. You remember Maddie, right? She came over to see me way back in the autumn and we hit up Prague  and I haven’t shut up about Prague since. Also, you know. Berlin’s one of my favourite places.

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Maddie’s the fabulous blonde. 

With Berlin and one of my best friends awaiting, is it any wonder I was excited? So excited in fact that when I got to Berlin and had to use the S-bahn, it took me two stops before I realised I’d managed to use the ticket machine in German without any issues. Result. Year abroad really works, guys.

In Alexander Platz I met Maddie and she guided me to the hostel we were staying in, whose name totally escapes me at the moment. (Maddie has informed it was called One80). It was a decent hostel, the guys on reception were super lovely and it wasn’t a *ridiculous* distance from an s-bahn stop. What more could you want?

20140602_165104The global clock in Alexanderplatz. You can play guess where the tourist is from by which section they take a photo of.

The first afternoon I made Maddie do a huge walking tour of the places I’ve been in Berlin, for which I’m not sure she’s forgiven me. We went down Unter den Linden, to the Reichstag, past the Holocaust memorial, through Potsdamer Platz, past part of the Berlin wall, via a Fotomat to Checkpoint Charlie. Seriously, I made her walk so far. I am a terrible person. I mean, we were both shattered anyway from travelling and then I made us exercise. A truly terrible person.

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And we walked past Trabi World.

The second day we headed over to Kreuzberg for brunch. Now Kreuzberg was described to me at various points and by various sources as ‘the place to be’, ‘the root of all hipsters’ and ‘up and coming but not quite there yet’. It was only about 10am when we got there but it was dead. Last time I was in a place so empty I was in the business district of London on Palm Sunday.

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All found in Kreuzberg.

After walking down several heavily graffitied streets, we ended up at Nest, a place that The Guardian recommended for brunch in Kreuzberg. Yes, we’re super cool.

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Brunch of champions.

Brunch at Nest was delicious. Seriously, it was so good. You should go. Afterwards, in somewhat of a food coma, we wandered through Kreuzberg, taking photos of the graffiti and wondering how anyone can afford to buy things in the hipster shops.  We then crossed the river and walked up the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is a 1.3km long section of the Berlin Wall that acts an art gallery. Many of the paintings are reproductions of graffiti that was on the Berlin Wall while it still divided the city. It’s really interesting, though I need to say, it is long. It was way longer than we expected.


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Yay Graffitii

After finding a S-bahn stop because we were exhausted from walking the length of the East Side Gallery, we ended up at a huge arts and crafts shop, whose name I have completely forgotten. We spent a good couple of hours walking round it, looking at all the expensive paper and fabric that we wanted but could neither afford nor fit in our suitcases.  And then at some point we must have headed out for dinner, and I can say with 90% certainty that we had beer, because we had beer with almost every meal.

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My favourite piece of graffitti we saw. Represents reunification of Berlin.

The next day we went to Kreuzberg for brunch again, because we are the coolest people you’ll ever read about in a blog. This time it was at a place called Salon Schmück and although good, it wasn’t as good as Nest.

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I like eggy bread. I like bacon. I kinda like maple syrup. All three together is a bit much though.

Afterwards we headed up to the Natural History Museum because I’d been wanting to see dinosaur bones since January. Like I said, I’m a cool kid. The Berlin Natural History Museum is currently undergoing massive renovations. However, they still have dinosaurs, they still have moon rock and the biggest wet collection of specimens in the world. That mean stuff kept in jars of ammonia, not in, like, a swimming pool or anything. Just so you know.

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DINOSAURS!

In the dinosaur exhibit they had binoculars that, when you focused on the dinosaur skeletons, filled in the organs, the skin and then what their habitat would have looked like. And then the dinosaurs moved. And it was one of the best things ever.  Then we wandered into an audio visual description of how the universe came into being and how it’ll probably end. And that sounds lame, but you got to lie back on a round sofa and watch it above you and that was awesome.

When you carried on round, there was a massive exhibition on birds, including what a T-rex would look like with feathers. Which is still one of my favourite things. And then in the shop I bought a stuffed toy bison. Because as I have previously mentioned bison are my new favourite animals. And Heinrich is the cuddliest stuffed toy bison to ever exist.

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It looks like a colourful chicken. Jurassic Park would be very different. 

We headed out for tea at some point, again with the beer, and then I, tipsily, decided we needed a selfie with the Brandenburg Gate. This lead to me getting very confused about the Berlin public transport system and selfies of this calibre:

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That’s the symbol of victory sticking out the op of my head. 

Which was a pretty great end to part one of my Great European Adventure. Because the day after I got up at an early time to brave the S-bahn alone, heading to the main station to get on a train to Warsaw alone.

I do love Berlin.  And getting to go with Maddie was awesome, even if she wasn’t so keen on the city. But I have to say the best part was Heinrich. Because cuddly bison are the best.

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Heinrich giving his best duck face.

3

Prague – you should Czech it out.

Important information that you need to know for this blog post. Firstly, it’s going to be a long read. Secondly, this is Maddie:

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Photo is not to scale.

Maddie is one of my best friends from university and currently my favourite person because she is the first from England to visit me during my year abroad. Although I use visit in the broadest sense of the term, seeing as we actually met up in Prague. However, she is now in Ilmenau with me for a week, chipping in at the side lines with sarcastic comments about my blog writing skills. So the setting for this blog post is Prague in the Czech Republic, and the two main characters are the fabulous and ever modest Kat (aka me) and Maddie.

And so to begin. Ilmenau to Prague by train, which was my chosen method of travel, is about 7 hours, and because that sounded horrendous, I asked the lovely Manda (who you may remember from this blog post) if I could spend a night at hers in Dresden on the way to Prague. She said yes, and we spent a most excellent night watching Game of Thrones and eating pizza. Then on Tuesday 22nd October, I got on a train to Prague. The weather was beautiful as evidenced below by my terrible photography, but as soon as we crossed the Czech border, mist descended. Which was awesome, because that was kinda what I expected from the Czech Republic.

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Germany

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The Czech republic.

The first port of call when I arrived in Prague was an ATM as my bank in Ilmenau told me they didn’t exchange euros for Czech Koruna (or Corona as me and Maddie spent most of the time calling them) and that I should just get money out when I got there. Which was all well and good, until I had to buy a metro ticket and the machine did not take notes. So I ended up paying for a 30 corona drink with a 1000 corona note, which actually went better than I expected, before being able to brave the Prague metro and tram systems. Meanwhile, Maddie was merrily making her way to Prague by way of a plane and a taxi, having no problems whatsoever.

Our hostel was called Sir Toby’s, and despite the crumbly looking exterior, it was really decent inside. I’d never stayed in a hostel before, so didn’t really know what to expect, though the fact that hostels have to advertise the fact that they have hot showers is a little off putting. However, Sir Toby’s was great. We were in a 12 bed female only dorm, with shared bathroom facilities. There was also a pub and a kitchen downstairs, where, in the latter, we made cups of tea and fulfilled our national stereotype. Once we’d claimed beds and abandoned our luggage, we headed out into Prague.

I’d decided that having been on the tram for all of 5 minutes by myself that I knew all about the tram system. 15 minutes later and in the wrong part of town I was proved very wrong. We’d been aiming for the centre of town and instead ended up on a hill outside of the city centre, somewhere vaguely ish near Prague castle. We managed to wander back the direction the tram had come from and found ourselves on a hill, looking over the city.

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From this high up Prague reminded me of Florence.

The view was breathtaking all the way down into the city, though we got highly distracted by the shops once we neared the centre. These shops included a shop selling absinthe ice cream, a shop selling gingerbread houses and a shop with a troll outside it. Turns out we’re very easily distracted. We ended up in a very touristy place for lunch, and while we did not have Czech food, we did have Czech beer, having being persuaded by the waiter’s excellent sales patter of ‘what do you want to drink? Beer? You should have beer.’

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The beer was almost as big as Maddie.

Wandering through the town took us a long time because I kept stopping to take pictures of pretty buildings and Maddie kept stopping to take pictures of Starbucks. We found the Charles Bridge almost by accident and took a really long time to cross it because a) it’s really long b) there were lots of statues to take pictures of, and c) the birds that were perched on the heads of the statues greatly amused us. We ended up crossing the Charles Bridge many more times, but this first time definitely took the longest. Continuing on from the bridge we made our way in what we thought was the direction of the Old Town Square. Then, fearing we were lost, asked for directions, only to find it was round the next corner. The Old Town Square was huge and is home to one of Prague’s most famous attractions – the Astronomical Clock. It was beautiful and I have many pictures of it, as well as a video of the procession of the apostles that occurs every hour. We took the opportunity to sample some Czech food, which literally translates as spiralled potatoes. They were crisps on a stick. Delicious, but strange.

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I’m on a bridge, Charlie!

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The astronomical clock in all its beauty.

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A fabulous photo of me and Maddie with the spiraly potatoes.

After crisps we then sampled hot chocolate which again was delicious, though it did not taste like hot chocolate. Wandering further through the town, we stumbled across the Powder Gate. The Powder Gate (or Powder Tower, according to Wikipedia) is one of the original city gates and was used to store gunpowder, hence the name. Maddie wins on this round, because I thought it meant face powder.

We headed to the ghost and legends of Prague Museum where we bought a joint ticket which meant we could go to the alchemy museum the next day. This will prove relevant (and hilarious) later, so remember this fact. The museum wasn’t massively scary although it turns out that Prague ghosts have really specific ways of being released from their ghost state. Also, I was kinda scared because I am a wuss but it was fine because Maddie (who is half my size) protected me. After our excursion to the realm of the supernatural, we headed to a restaurant for food. We had boar goulash and potato pancakes, which was super delicious, and made better by the shots of Becherovka that the waitress persuaded us to have. We also ended up with musical accompaniment, though we were both surprised when the lead violinist asked us if ‘the two beautiful ladies would like a song? Sorry, two beautiful girls.’ The two beautiful girls declined, but that pretty much made my evening.

Our second day began with pastries from the corner shop which were fantastic, and then we got on the right tram to Prague castle. After wandering through some very autumnal gardens with an amazing view over the city, we found the castle. The part that stands out is St Vitus’ Cathedral, which is very gothic and impressive, but the whole castle complex was cool.

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St Vitus’ Cathedral within the castle complex.

Our tickets let us into St Vitus’ cathedral, St George’s basilica and Golden Lane. The cathedral was hugely impressive, especially the stained glass window designed by Alfons Mucha. There was also a huge, over the top, silver tomb of someone important, and I’ve come to the conclusion that when I die, that’s what I want. Nothing else will suffice. St George’s basilica was a little bit of a let down after the majesty of St Vitus’. Golden Lane, however, was really cool. It’s a lane of medieval houses, which are now shops. But we got to try firing a crossbow (I was a better shot than Maddie but neither of us managed to hit the target), and we found the house that Kafka lived in for 2 years, and got very excited about the display of armour.

After trying Grog, which I hadn’t realised existed outside of pirate books, we headed to a restaurant in the castle. We ordered soup in bread and potato with bacon, which were way better than they sounded. We sat outside despite the temperature dropping and got very excited about the fact that there were blankets that we could use. At one point we could hear ethereal music and it turned out to be a procession of singing nuns and believers, passing through the courtyard.  I was pretty much ready to sleep by this point, but we continued onwards, making our way to the Alchemy Museum.

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The potato and bacon thing.

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Soup in bread – way more delicious than it sounds.

If you remember earlier, I said we’d bought a joint ticket to the Ghost Museum and the Alchemy Museum. Well, when we rocked up to the Alchemy Museum, the guy who’d been working at the Ghost Museum was now at the Alchemy Museum. He was a little standoffish, but I figured he didn’t like his job, or it had been a long day, or something. He explained that we could look round the two rooms next to entrance by ourselves, but he’d have to take us up to Kelly’s Tower in a bit. Which he did, along with a Czech family. He told us to read the boards about John Dee and Edward Kelly while he explained the history to the Czech family, as they had a little boy, who would never have read all that information. When he’d done and turned to us, he half-heartedly started to tell us about the alchemist John Dee, and how there’s a theory that Shakespere’s lost years were spent in Prague with Dee and Kelly. He then told us that if we ever went to London, that we could see a Shakespeare play in the Globe. We went ‘yes, we know,’ Maddie even going as far as to say she was from London. At which point his whole demeanour changed.

He’d thought we were American. Us. With Maddie who at her poshest sounds like the Queen, and me, who couldn’t get more Midlands if I tried. Soon as he found out we were English he was all smiles and jokes. And also commented that he thought we might not be American as we’d read all the information – apparently something American visitors never do.

The alchemy museum was really interesting. Apparently Rudolf II was very interested in alchemy, and as he resided in Prague, alchemists flocked to the city. Kelly’s Tower was set out as an alchemist’s workshop, which meant an awful lot of flasks and furnaces. We learnt that England has no trees because we used them all to build ships and that the royals name their children based on their astrological charts. Gotta say, I took this all with a pinch of a salt, mainly because I’m pretty sure England has trees. I mean, there were trees when I left… We ended our visit in the pub attached to the Museum, where we tried an Elixir. Which was pretty much a strong shot, served in a three pronged glass, alongside a glass of blackcurrant syrup.

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Maddie was super impressed.

Following on from this we headed to the Reduta Jazz Club to book tickets for the next night, because high on our list of priorities was going to a jazz club. Tickets successfully booked, we made our way to a bar recommended by my guidebook, called Hemmingway. It was all dark leather and tea lights. It even had bar rules, which included not talking too loudly, not disturbing people you didn’t know, and if you wanted to buy someone a drink, you had to ask the bartender to find out if they were interested first. All in all, I felt massively underdressed but it was fantastic. We ordered absinthe, which came with a crystal canteen of water, and a sugar cube to be dissolved by the water into the absinthe. We also had a cocktail each, and as mine was tea flavoured it came in a tea cup with a cookie. Maddie was very jealous of my cookie, but her drink did come with a floppy disk coaster.

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The awkward photo to end all awkward photos.

Much later and a little bit giggly, we headed back to the Old Town Square in search of food, and managed to find a restaurant we could afford that looked out at the astronomical clock, which did its hourly routine about ten minutes after we’d sat down.

The third day we ventured into the Jewish Quarter. We visited the Pinkas Synagogue, which is inscribed with the names of the Czech Jews who died during the Holocaust, the Old Jewish Cemetery, which undulates because they had to bury bodies on top of each other as they were only allowed to bury Jews in that one graveyard, and the Old-New Synagogue, which supposedly has a golem stored in the attic. We also visited the Ceremonial Hall, which explained the process of burial and mourning in the Jewish community. Amidst the solemnity of the visits, there was also a highly amusing moment where the lady on ticket duty tried to give us skull caps before realising we weren’t male.

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The Jewish cemetery was beautiful, especially with the falling leaves.

After our cultural segment of the day, we headed to the Ice Pub Prague, which is, unsurprisingly, a bar made of ice. We got given ponchos and a free drink in an ice glass, and spent our half hour in there laughing at how ridiculous it was, given that they were blaring dance music but there were only four of us in there. Following our venture into the cold, we decided that food was very much the order of the day. We went to a restaurant called Lokal, which is modelled on an old beer hall and doesn’t have English on the menu. Thankfully, the waitress took pity on us and found English copies of the menu. With the food we ordered beer, but it turns out what we ordered was basically a pint that was mainly head – the idea being that you drink the whole thing very fast. Luckily, the bartender came over to explain and we swapped our order to a “normal” beer, and drank it far more leisurely. We also ordered raspberry soda which was the best drink I think I’ve ever had.

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Me and Maddie all bundled up in our duvet like ponchos.

Meandering along the Charles Bridge for the millionth time was very pleasant, and then we went to the biggest English bookshop in Prague, because if there’s one shop you can’t keep me and Maddie out of, it’s an English bookshop. I ended up buying the second Game of Thrones book and Fantastic Mr Fox; the former for me, and the latter for the kids that I tutor. There was a surprisingly good collection of books there, and I think we both decided that we could definitely live in Prague, especially when we could still get English books easily.

For the first time, we went back to the hostel with every intention of going out again. We found Wenceslas Square by accident, and ended up in the worst restaurant of the holiday. The food was cold, and it took them forever to serve us. And then they were a little menacing about a tip.  Needless to say, we were less than impressed, but when we got to the jazz club, our moods were greatly improved.

We’d dressed up as much as we could, because we felt it was appropriate. When we walked in, we did get some weird looks, but I think that was more to do with the fact that we’d booked seats and were under the age of fifty. Ah well. The band we saw was not the band that was meant to be there, but the one we saw were still really good. They were a John Coltrane tribute band, and compromised of two saxophones, a bass, a piano and a drum set. For the second half of the set, there was also a trumpet. It was just a lot of fun to sit in a jazz club, drinking cocktails, dressed in our finery.

Our journey back to the hostel was a little interesting, as we ended up having to get the night tram, which took a different route to the normal tram we’d got back every other night. It wasn’t until we ended up at the Prague’s second railway station that we realised we weren’t where we thought we were. Happily, as I’d looked at the directions to the hostel a million and one times on the way to Prague, I knew that you could walk to the hostel from the second railway station. Of course, we had to study the map quite hard to figure out where we were, but we made it. And quite easily as well. Go us and our Duke of Edinburgh training.

Our final day we used the metro for the first time and navigated it expertly, thanks to Maddie. Dropping off our suitcases at the railway station was an excellent idea, as dragging them round for the whole day would have been horrendous what with the crowds. We went to see the Lennon Wall, which, during the communist regime was a wall of graffiti against communism, and is now a mass of formless graffiti.

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The John Lennon wall was hugely colourful.

We visited a pub for the last time, where I had dark beer, which was way better than light beer, and Maddie had hot honey brandy, which smelt like Christmas in a cup. The best thing about the pub was that the outside seats had fake fur pelts on them as well as blankets. We were definitely fans of the idea of sitting outside with blankets. Then as part of a tradition that I’m sure Dad will not be happy about, we added padlocks to the many adorning a bridge under the Charles Bridge.

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So many padlocks.

Lunch was at an art nouveau esque café that we’d kept passing and remarked on more than once, where we had goulash for the last time, as well as cucumber lemonade for me. We then visited shops and spent the last of our money, before going into a church which we’d nicknamed the fairy tale towers, on account of how the spires looked at night.

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One of my favourite things about Prague.

With an only an hour to go before we needed to head to the railway station, we sat in the Old Town Square with a cup of hot honey wine each, taking in the atmosphere. Not even the 7 hour long train journey that was facing us could stop us loving Prague.

I had a fabulous time in Prague. Obviously the company helped, but the city really is magical. It’s so beautiful, and as Maddie said, the person who came up with the idea of the dreaming spires of Oxford had never been to Prague. We’re also pretty sure that there’s something in the water, because there were so many musically talented buskers, in particular Jazz and Dixieland bands. I would go back in a heartbeat. I’d have no qualms about living there, in fact, by the end of the holiday we were prague-tically ready to move in. It was just amazing. There really aren’t enough adjectives to describe it. And I’m not sure my photographs do it justice.