Auschwitz

Have you ever felt totally and utterly hopeless? Like there was nothing you could do to make your life meaningful again? Like any small act of human mercy was out of your reach forever? For the countless number of people who lived and died in Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II, hopelessness was a living reality. And while it is truly impossible for any one of us to even begin to comprehend such hopelessness, I urge you all to visit Auschwitz I & II, and to try. 

There are no photographs in this post, because I do not believe that images of the camps have any power compared with actually being there, knowing that where you tread thousands of men, women and children suffered unbearably at the hands of the Nazi regime. Instead I will try to explain why it is so crucially important now, more than ever, to remember the victims of the Nazi party under Hitler. I refer to only one exhibit in this post, however if you would prefer to experience Auschwitz without any forward information about its exhibits, I recommend reading this post after your visit. 

I have stated that images of the place would be ineffective to convey any sense of the crushing weight of historical disgrace that pervades Auschwitz I & II, however one of the photographic exhibits there truly took my breath away. Lining the walls of one of the barracks where camp inmates where forced to live are photographs of just a few of the men and women who died in Auschwitz. There must be more than 200 photos on those walls, and they represent a handful. In each photo, man and woman alike have been shaved, clothed in the striped uniform of the camp, and stripped of their identities in any other physical way possible. What is striking about these images is that, even though these people have been selected and sentenced to suffer and ultimately die at the hands of their persecutors because of their differences to them, is that what remains is a fundamental unity – all are undeniably human. 

Each photo represents a human life, with its own family, memories, possessions, hopes, fears, and all the other quirks that belong to people. Imagine your own family, friends and acquaintances. Everyone you know could not equal the number of faces on those walls in Auschwitz. And that number represents so few of the people that remain unphotographed and undocumented. It is so easy to forget that the people who suffered so much under the Nazi regime were just that – people. They were not merely statistics to be learned for a GSCE exam. They were not a sub-human race. They did not exist a million years in the past. Their children and grandchildren walk this earth today. 

There is so much to be learned from visiting Auschwitz I & II, and historians are learning more and more every year about life and death in Nazi concentration and death camps. But the thing that captivated me most while at Auchwitz was how very possible it is for one group of people to completely and utterly alienate, humiliate, and exterminate another group of people because they see them as different. It needs to be remembered that the fault lies in the fear of that difference, and not the difference itself. In a time when terrorism is a very real threat to life as we know it, I encourage all of you to think before you speak, to evaluate evidence before you make judgement, and remember that we are all human. 

On the Fringe

On the Fringe

I’ll be honest. The thought of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival had never really interested me too much. I imagined pretentious improv, awkward silences following comic one liners, and a bunch of amateurs performing overpriced gigs. Since my arrival to Glasgow, however, almost everyone I met had asked me if I was going to the Fringe. “You must”, they said, “it’s unbelievable”, they said. Curiosity finally got the better of me, and I headed to Edinburgh on a surprisingly mild Saturday to see what all the fuss was about.

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The first thing to surprise me was the very atmosphere that pervades the Royal Mile during the Fringe. Everyone is excited, the air is thick with street food smells, and flyers are handed out by hopeful performers with warm, welcoming smiles. A different style of music can be heard every few hundred metres or so, with buskers taking full advantage of the crowds that are attracted by the Fringe from all over the world. The abundance of sights, sounds and smells means that you have to stop in your tracks just to take it all in.

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Walking up the Royal Mile towards Edinburgh castle is literally all you need to do to see some of the best musicians, circus performers, and variety shows that the Fringe offers. Everything on the street is free, though donations are, of course, appreciated, and the programme is impressive. I managed to enjoy; two musicians who both played their guitars in ways I have never seen before; a circus performer, all the way from Australia, hula-hoop whilst on fire; an American stuntman dive to the ground from about 100m with just a leg wrapped around a pole; a magician from Poland; and an impressionist who’s Donald Trump impersonation was uncanny. For all this, I didn’t even have to enter a venue.

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Of course, when you do enter a venue, the real fun begins. All of the shows I saw at venues were free of charge (again donations are more than welcome), and all of them exceeded my expectations. I saw 3, and I list them in order of excellence.

 

In at number 3 is the marvellous Griffin and Jones’ Slapdash Magic. While the tricks were all pretty standard, the delivery and timing was where the real magic was at. Comics as much as magicians, Griffin and Jones put on a show to entertain most tastes, and really are ‘the Ant and Dec of their price range’ as Jones so excellently put it.

In second place is the wonderful Jovial Trauma by Yolav and Graham. The pair consist of an ambiguously Eastern European immigrant and his square British translator. The humour is dark enough to make you feel naughty for laughing, but you really can’t help it as the contrast between the earnest and wacky Yolav and his poor companion Graham serves to bring a ridiculousness to the act that lightens the mood (but only a little – it’s pretty heavy stuff).

My clear winner, however, is Danny McLoughlin’s show, Philip was Right. His comedy is honest and current, and his show was brilliantly structured. Danny is a comic who laughs at himself, and in doing so encourages the audience to laugh at themselves as everything he says is relatable. Fussy eater? So is he. Got man boobs? He’s got your back. There’s some clever poetry thrown in there too, and the overall effect is a show that will put a smile on your face whenever you think about it.

 

For all my disinterest, the day I spent at the Fringe was one of the best I have spent in Scotland. I am even planning to return next year (for longer) to see some of the things I missed this time, and to soak up some more of its infectious atmosphere. Perhaps the thing that most impressed me about the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the way that it brings people together. People travel from all over the world both to see and to perform at the Fringe. One performer said she had been training for it for her entire life, and I can see why. To even be there is a joy, and I can honestly say that I even enjoyed some of the improv.

 

My Mountain Climbing Survival Kit

I feel naked if I don’t have a handbag dangling off my arm. I take most of most worldly possessions with me everywhere I go, and I’ve been known to over pack bags until they burst. However, climbing Snowdon, the tallest mountain in Wales, carrying everything but the kitchen sink simply was not an option. It was a struggle, but I managed to take only the most necessary items to my survival with me to the summit. Here are my bare essentials.

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1. A waterproof backpack. If you are a notorious overpacker like me, you’ll need something that can take the strain. My polka dot beauty can squeeze in a 15″ laptop and still have room for snacks (please note: the laptop is not necessary for survival, and therefore did not come with me on this occasion). Snowdon’s weather proved fairly unpredictable, but this Cath Kidston bag kept my belongings perfectly dry.

fleece (2)2. A fleece. Yes, fleeces are usually the attire of sheep and trainspotters. However, even on a warm day, it is COLD up at that summit. Take a fleece that you can roll up and shove in your bag until its needed. Mine is part of a 2-in-1 raincoat ensemble – fancy, huh?

 
3. Snacks. You will need them. I took sweets, fruit and nut, and a sarnie for when I reached the top. The sweets gave good short bursts of energy for the tricky bits while the fruit and nut provided slower releasing energy. The sandwich will keep you going on the way back down!

 
4.WATER. Seems obvious. But seriously, don’t forget it. Its a surreal experience walking on the edge of a mountain, so make sure you are well hydrated to prevent dizziness!

 
5. Your camera. Goes without saying really, I’ll let this image speak for itself.

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6. People you love. This isn’t me being all mushy because I happened to go with my family – this was HARD. You will stumble. You will fall down. You might even cry (I heard several people cry at the summit). So, make sure those around you love you, because the embarrassment of being seen soaked, exhausted, tear-stained and (potentially) bloody will be WAY worse than any injuries sustained. I can promise you that.

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Five Things the Seasoned Traveller MUST do in London

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting London several times now, and I’ve done most of the expected touristy things that our wonderful capital has to offer. I’ve zoomed around the London Eye. I’ve been to a show at the West End. I’ve tried to make the Beefeaters laugh. And, of course, I’ve eaten ridiculously over-priced pastries. But, on my last trip to London, I did a few things that might not be at the top of the average tourist to-do list. Here are my Top-Five Things to do in London (only for the most seasoned of travellers)…

1) See London from the Thames

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Okay, so this one is pretty touristy, I admit. But until a river cruise down the Thames was bought for me as a gift, I had never considered embarking on a trip myself. Not only does a river cruise allow you to appreciate the sheer majesty of the city without having to attempt navigating around it yourself, it also allows you to do so while removed from the crowds and noise of the streets. There is a quiet on the Thames river cruise that is almost uncanny – you are in the middle of London, and yet all you can hear is the lapping of the Thames at the edge of the cruiser. The cruise I embarked on was also great value. I was able to hop on and off at any stop at any time within 24 hours, so I got to see all the best touristy bits too. Highlights include: Shakespeare’s Globe and Tower Bridge.

 

2) Buy Some Fudge at Borough Market

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I stumbled across Borough Market by accident. And oh, what a happy accident it turned out to be. Borough Market not only has an impressive array of street food, but its stalls also consist of butchers, bakers, spice merchants, tea-makers, juicers, delis, and so much more. Even better, most of the stalls offer free samples! I was lucky enough to try a delicious chocolate brownie, warming lemongrass and ginger tea, and exotic Turkish delight (and I promise you – it’s nothing like the stuff that’s always left last in the Milk Tray). By far, my favourite stall belonged to ‘Whirled’, a fun pick ‘n’ mix fudge shop. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for fudge, and I couldn’t walk past this stall without making a purchase. ‘Whirled’ fudge is crumbly, smooth and creamy all at the same time, and I can honestly say the flavours are second to none. Among my favourites is the devilish Peanut Butter Rocky Road.

 

3) Contribute to Some Awesome Street Art

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It is well known that London is full of interesting pieces of street art. But even better than admiring street art is contributing to it yourself. I found this chalkboard near Borough Market. It spans across an entire wall, and its only fixed feature is the repeated phrase ‘Before I die I want to…’. Chalk is provided in a little tray attached discreetly to the right hand side of the wall, and no further encouragement is needed to entice hundreds of contributions daily. My favourite contributions included ‘kiss James Franco’ and ‘laugh so hard I crack a rib’. What would yours be? Comment! Or, better yet, go to London and make your contribution…

 

4) See a Real Pirate Ship and have a Pint at a Really (Really) Old Pub

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In 1577, Sir Francis Drake set out to circumnavigate the high seas of the globe until 1580 on his famous vessel The Golden Hind. While The Golden Hind which Sir Drake captained was sadly disintegrated and distributed in the 1600s, this real-life replica has made the very same voyage that Sir Drake embarked upon himself twice in its lifetime. And from where to admire the craftsmanship of such a vessel? Where else but from a seat in the beer-garden of one of the oldest pubs in London, The Anchor, which sits alongside the Thames neatly next to The Golden Hind. Tradition has it that there has been a pub in that same location for the last four hundred years. Impressive, huh?

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5) Take a Super Sophisticated Photo of a Very Important Landmark

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Well, no trip to London would be complete without a selfie in the Underground now would it?

A Day in Dublin, Ireland

A Day in Dublin, Ireland

While I was on the coach travelling into Dublin’s city centre from the airport, I couldn’t help recalling that most wonderful song ‘Dirty ol’ Town’. Many a night had found my family swaying side to side, arm in arm, chanting the lyrics from the top of their lungs over pints of Guinness. Remembering the song gave me an enchanted feeling, it made me feel connected to a city which I had never even been to. Ireland is special to me for several reasons, however, and I was eager to experience its most prestigious city first hand. I should first say that Dublin is no longer the dirty ol town of The Dubliners’ remembrance. It has an energy that reminded me of London in some ways, enhanced by the early Christmas displays that shed a warm glow onto the streets as we walked passed them.

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The James Joyce Centre

The day began in the most appropriate way: with a full ‘Irish’ breakfast. I use quotation marks because, being English, I like to feel that it is England that owns the legendary fry up. And also because I did not have black pudding on my breakfast, the very element that makes the Irish breakfast Irish, rather than English. So, my non-Irish (but very tasty) breakfast down, it was off for an education in the life of James Joyce. The James Joyce Centre is a must for anyone with an interest in his life and works, and while there is a heavy focus on Ulysses, there is enough to interest those who are too lazy (let’s face it) to read that intimidating, if brilliant, text. The centre has been crafted to resemble a house, and it is a pleasure to walk through while learning about Joyce’s life.

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An education in whisky tasting

From one education to another, our next destination was the Old Jameson Distillery. For a very reasonable price, you can expect a guided tour around the distillery itself, a free drink, as well as a mini lesson in the art of tasting whiskey. I have to admit, I am not much of a whiskey drinker. My most fond memories of whiskey are the few shots I would sneak before a party in my teens. And suffice to say, they were not all that fond at all. Imagine my embarrassment when our super-lovely tour guide explained how whiskey should never be shotted, oh no, but swirled around, over and under the tongue, just long enough to hit all of the different taste buds. While I felt slightly ridiculous, the tasting experience was highly enjoyable, as was the complimentary Jameson’s with Ginger Ale and lime afterwards. Eager for more, I rushed to the (very fancy) bar to order a Cloudy Apple Punch, made from apples, cinnamon, served warm and with a hearty measure of Jameson’s (of course).

Now, the friend with whom I travelled to Dublin had been told of a pub called the Bernard Shaw, one of these super cool hip alternative places that served shisha and pizzas from a double decker bus that looks to have grown from the very hedge of its garden. The Thursday before my escapade to Dublin found me at work (popular supermarket sales assistant) serving an Irish man. When he told me he was from Dublin, I excitedly ask for recommendations, and he described a pub to me that, believe it or not, served pizza and shisha from a double decker bus in its garden. We decided that the Bernard Shaw would be our final Dublin destination, and it was more than worth it. The pub itself has a great atmosphere, but the goods are definitely outside. The bright blue bus looms over the garden and serves not only pizza, but gourmet pizza, real pizza, pizza that took me straight back to Italy. It is a place where one could easily lose track of the time (and, with enough drinks, everything else), and I personally cannot wait to go back there.

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The Bernard Shaw

My only regret about my time in Dublin was that I did not see as much of the promisingly beautiful Trinity College as I had hoped I would. This was partly due to the darkness that was falling all around by the time I got there and partly because of my complete lack of sense of direction. But this is not of much concern, for I know that I will be back in Dublin again soon; by some funny feeling that comes from the memories of Jameson’s hot apple punch, gourmet pizza, and a desire to just see more.

Copenhagen, Denmark, on a Student Budget

Copenhagen, Denmark, on a Student Budget

When a friend asked me if I wanted to go to Copenhagen on a day-trip for £16 return, how could I refuse? While the city is quickly becoming more and more popular among travellers, it is still cheap to get to, easy to navigate around, and close enough to home (the UK) to complete all in one day. It is a city full of Byzantine architecture, and while many of its most famous attractions cost a pretty penny to enjoy, there is much to do for those on a budget, and a tight schedule…

1) See Copenhagen from the Sky

Copenhagen’s Round Tower is the perfect place to get a stunning panoramic view of the city from its very centre. Situated five minutes from Norreport Station and

Copenhagen from the first floor of the Round Tower (the view gets even better than this!)
Copenhagen from the first floor of the Round Tower (the view gets even better than this!)

Rosenborg Castle (which I also highly recommend), the tower is not only accessible in terms of its location, but also in its very structure. For while almost all famous towers require their visitors to trek up a few hundred ridiculously steep steps, the Round Tower consists of one long, winding slope, which carries visitors to a beautiful roof-top view of the surrounding city. To make the tower even more novel, at its height is an observatory containing a ginormous telescope and several constellation maps. The towers history is tucked away in exhibitions that lead up to the observatory, and these afford sneak-peaks of the inside of the connecting cathedral. Admission to the Round Tower converts to just a few pounds, making it a great attraction for those who wish to see great sights, walk a little, and learn a lot.

2) Get a Danish Pastry from Holm’s Bagar

The best looking darn Danish pastries I ever did see...
The best looking darn Danish pastries I ever did see…

When I think Denmark, I think pastries. Cinnamon. Apple. Custard. Chocolate. So as the date of my day-trip loomed ever nearer, I found that more and more I was fantasising about finally having the opportunity to experience the real deal. And oh, was I in for a treat. Holm’s Bagar not only offers a wide selection of sweet treats, but of savoury ones too. The staff are friendly and welcoming and the bakeries location on the busy high street makes it the perfect place to relax and people watch for a while. So, first up, a puff pastry Danish swirl held together by a sticky chocolate substance and smothered with chocolate ganache. Followed closely by a cinnamon swirl topped with delicious royal icing. Holm's BagerEach was the size of a small plate, and cost the equivalent of about £2. Money well spent. So well, in fact, that will power could not stop me from sampling a third treat; an oaty, nutty, chocolate chip cookie approximately the size of my face. If you have a sweet tooth, Holm’s Bagar is your Copenhagen-haven…

3) Visit the Little Mermaid

At dusk, there are less tourists and you can get a gorgeous view of the nearby harbour...
At dusk, there are less tourists and you can get a gorgeous view of the nearby harbour…

While preparing for my visit to Copenhagen, I had read numerous articles for recommendations as to how to spend my time there. I notice that more than a few writers suggested that the Little Mermaid was not a priority. After visiting the Little Mermaid, however, I can honestly and gladly say that this is a load of old tosh (no offence to those writers). I had, of course, seen photos online of the statue, poised on her rocky perch at point where the water meets the land. It seems to me that these photographs overcompensate for the Little Mermaid; she appears grand and intimidating. They fail to capture her humble size, life-like proportion, and ultimate tranquillity. My own photographs cannot do justice to the skill that went into crafting such a piece, and I highly recommend that, when in Copenhagen with a few minute to spare, you go down to see the mermaid and see for yourself the beauty of her (for absolutely no charge whatsoever).