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Showing posts with label University. Show all posts
Showing posts with label University. Show all posts

Exploring a Cloudy Bilbao | Year Abroad

Tomorrow will mark the beginning of my third week in Bilbao. It's a beautiful city and one that's fairly close to my heart since it was here that I got my very first taste of mainland Spain when I worked as an au pair for a family in the Basque Country in the summer of 2013. My first ever post on this blog was actually about my experience of working as an au pair which you can read here.

The Basque Country is actually also the place where the idea for my blog was initially conceived. I spent the most part of my time as an au pair at the family's holiday home, which was at the top of a mountain in a little coastal town with no WiFi. As it turned out, three weeks of internet deprivation along with a lot of time to think and fantasise about all the things I'd do on my return to "civilisation" resulted in me deciding that I wanted to start a blog. In my mind it would be a totally cool, edgy fashion blog; I literally have no idea why I thought this was me or I could pull that off. I guess it was the influence of a few occasional trips into the city and that 18-year-old-fresh-outta-school "I can do anything" mentality (I also decided I'd start collecting old rock vinyls and wearing all leather). None of these things actually happened- probably for the best, I'd say- and as you can see, Alphabeth went in a completely different direction. Nevertheless, it was still very cool to stand in the centre of Bilbao, camera in hand, and reflect on how much has changed and progressed since the last time I was here.


I'd love to say that I've been having an unbelievable time here so far, but in truth, I'm still adjusting. Moving to Spain has been a lot more of a culture shock than I, for some reason, had expected. And, while living here in Bilbao has been a vast improvement on the time I spent in Andalucía- for one, there are an abundance of students and people my own age, and I'm living with two other Irish girls!- it's still hard trying to get into the hang of things like the weird shop opening hours and the fact that Bilbao completely shuts down on a Sunday (this is kind of a blessing in disguise since you can essentially do absolutely nothing beyond watching Netflix in your PJs and not feel the least bit guilty! However, that's provided you've made sure you're not in dire need of anything before the shops close on Saturday night).

Anyone who knows me well could tell you how much I love the British/Irish landscape, though I'm sure that's something you can also probably tell from my usual blog content, and it's definitely one of the things I miss the most about UK- that, and not having access to my daily staple of Heinz Cream of Chicken Soup! The north of Spain is beautiful and green, and it's certainly a lot more familiar than the dry southern coast, but it's not home. That being said, I'm confident that things will get better with time, as they always do. I remember feeling much the same when I first moved over to uni. Believe it or not, I even found England a bit foreign at first.

My three housemates are all off on various travels this weekend so I've had our flat and some time to myself. I had to go into Bilbao Centre to pick up a few things yesterday and decided to bring my camera with me to try and capture a bit of Bilbao and give you lot a bit of an introduction to the city since this is only the beginning of what will be a year of many Spain- and Bilbao-orientated posts.


It was very overcast yesterday which was a shame since it had been beautiful the day before! All these pictures were taken on my circuit around town and back home, the first few in and around Bilbao's main shopping area and financial capital, Gran Vía and then Plaza Federico Moyúa, a well-known square at the end of Gran Vía that contains a beautiful fountain and some gorgeous French-style flowerbeds. Bilbao has unbelievable shopping, something which I don't think is going to be very good for my bank balance this coming year! I've never lived in a proper city before (even Belfast isn't quite a "proper" big city in the grand scheme of things) so it's an amazing novelty to have all the shopping you could ever need literally less than a mile from my doorstep. Even within my own neighbourhood I don't have to go very far to pick up essentials. Within a 2 minute walk from my flat there's a fruit shop, a pharmacy, a butchers, a bakers, bars, cafes and two supermarkets. It makes a huge change from living in Lancaster or where I live in Northern Ireland and having to walk 15-20 minutes just to get to the nearest garage or Tesco Express.


On the way home I passed the Guggenheim Museum. This kind of epitomises everything I love about Bilbao in the sense that the city is such an eclectic mix of old and new, even near-futuristic-style, architecture. On one side of the city you've got the Casco Viejo, the 'Old Town' with its narrow streets and tall balconied townhouses and then just across the river you find places like the Guggenheim, which is like nothing I've ever really seen before. Bilbao's Guggenheim is one of several museums owned all over the world by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, all of which house various pieces of modern and contemporary art. I haven't been inside properly yet, I've just wandered briefly through the foyer but I'm really keen to go as soon as possible.

At the front of the building there sits a 43ft tall sculpture of a West Highland Terrier known as 'Puppy'. It was designed by Jeff Koons in 1992 and is made of a metal structure which supports tens of thousands of fresh flowers (I've read 36,000 flowers from one source and 70,000 from another so I'm not sure how many it actually is!) which form the sculpture's façade. I think it's absolutely beautiful and is all the more awe-inspiring in real life! Inside the sculpture there's an internal irrigation system and the flowers are replaced seasonally in May and October so the sculpture can be seen to change colour throughout the year.


As much as I love the Puppy, in my opinion the back of the Guggenheim is even more impressive than its front, if that's possible! The rear of the building backs onto the River Nervion and I feel like it's from this angle that the curved exterior of the building, which is coated in glass and titanium, is the most striking. This is the side I pass from across the river on my walk to university every morning and it never fails to turn my head!

There are a few sculptures aside from the puppy that are dotted around the outside of the museum. The sculpture comprising a series of stacked metal spheres pictured above is called 'Tall Tree and the Eye' and is by Indian artist, Anish Kapoor. There's also another Jeff Koons piece called 'Tulips' that you can just about make out on the platform protruding over the water in the photo above. It's a giant bouquet of multicoloured flowers made out of stainless steel that was part of Koons's 'Celebration' collection where he painted and sculpted items that are generally mass-produced in association with birthdays and holidays.


Finally, probably among the most iconic images of Bilbao in my mind is the huge and somewhat curious 30ft high spider sculpture, Maman by Louise Bourgeois that also sits at the rear of the Guggenheim. It's constructed from bronze, stainless steel, and marble and while it's undoubtedly very interesting, I can imagine it being an arachnophobic's worse nightmare. I'm not hugely afraid of spiders but this sculpture still makes me feel a bit uneasy. I think its a combination of the spindly legs and the sac of marble eggs contained in the spider's abdomen. However, I'm actually still very fond of it, especially what it represents.

The sculpture is an ode to the artist's mother who died when Bourgeois was 21 years old. Despite what it may seem this is a flattering comparison, with the spider symbolising aspects of her mother's character such as care, and protection. It's also meant to encompass the idea of spinning and weaving, alluding to her mother's role in repairing tapestries in her father's textile restoration workshop.

What did you get up to this weekend?
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24 Hours in Edinburgh

Hmm... Long time, no speak! I'm really sorry for my long absence. It's actually been the longest break I've taken so far; the reason being the fact I'm currently halfway through my second year exams so, naturally, my blog had to be put on the back burner for a little while- though I know all you lovely folks don't mind! However, by this time on Friday I will be officially freeee and I'm so ready to put all my energy back into blogging again, I've missed it so much.

If I'm honest, I'm very glad to report that my life recently hasn't really been all toil. Since I'm heading off to Spain scarily soon, I've been trying to take advantage of my final few weeks in the UK and visit a few of my friends in various parts of the country since it might be the last chance I get for a while. In fact, this past week I had quite a long break between exams so I decided to visit my lovely blogger friend, Hayley of Water Painted Dreams


I've been a big fan of Hayley's blog for a really long time. She was (and still is) my go-to girl any time I needed a sweet book recommendation and I've learnt so much about blogging and gained so much from reading her blog that the fact I can now call her my friend brings a small tear to my eye! She's also the first of my blogging pals I've had the chance to meet properly in real life, and the result was magical. Apart from chats with my friend, Britt, I've never really had the chance to talk "blog" in such immense detail with someone who really gets it, but it really is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, especially because blogging is such a huge part of both of our lives. Not only that, but this was actually my first time in Edinburgh, so really it was a double win, maybe even a triple win.


I was up bright and early on Tuesday morning to catch the Megabus from campus at 9am- as per usual, I travel in style- which got me into Edinburgh for around 2pm. I actually really enjoy travelling and the time it allows you to just sit and do absolutely nothing (one of my favourite things to do), so the four and a half hour journey really didn't bother me, especially because the the scenery enroute was bloody amazing! Sometimes I feel so lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world. 
By the time I got to Edinburgh Hayley was just about to sit her last exam so I checked into my hotel and went for a quick snooze before heading out to meet her.

I think the fact I'd never been to Edinburgh before gave us both an excuse to play the tourist. Our first stop, for instance, was Arthur's Seat which Hayley had never been up before either. I'm not big into hiking or hill-walking for the combined reasons of being extremely unfit as well as the fact I'm terrified of slopes. Before you be judgin', it's actually a legitimate phobia called bathmophobia and is also completely irrational. In any case, it prevented me from making it up to the very very top since the thought of even attempting to get down again was giving me palpitations. Hayley, however, being the badass that she is, climbed the whole way up and took the two glorious photos at the very beginning of this post ^^. I don't think either of us actually anticipated how steep of a trek it was when we started, though it was definitely worth it in the end for the incredible views from the top. I think the most demoralising thing about the whole affair, though, was that while the pair of us huffed and puffed our whole way up on the verge of an asthma attack, so many people just sauntered by us as if they were just taking a leisurely stroll. There are two types of people in the world...


Once we made it back down Arthur's seat, we headed back to Hayley's flat where she surprised me with my very own crocheted elephant from her Etsy shop! I've honestly wanted one for so long. I feel like there's something so special about receiving a handmade gift.
After we'd freshened up we set off for dinner at a little Italian near where Hayley lives and then then on to a mini bar crawl around some of bars nearby, starting with The Brass Monkey, which I'd actually heard of before. According to Hayley it's one of the more popular student haunts in the city and I can understand why, it's got a really cool interior and drinks are also relatively cheap. Once we'd finished up there we moved on to Frankenstein's and then to Revs where we polished off a cocktail pitcher between us before making a slightly wobbly journey home.

The next morning we set off once again, this time to visit the National Museum of Scotland where we spent a couple of hours wandering around and musing over minerals and the fact that there were once giant sloths, which is a pretty terrifying thought. I was really impressed by how comprehensive the museum actually was; It was massive and made up of tonnes of different sections across a number of different floors, covering periods of history in all parts of the world. Most of the museums I've been to before tended to focus solely on the history of a particular area so it was nice to visit somewhere with such a huge variety of exhibits. 


After we'd finished off at the museum we headed into the Grassmarket area of the city for some lunch. The original plan had been to go to The Elephant House, famed as being the Edinburgh cafe where J.K. Rowling penned the first Harry Potter books. However, when we got there it was kind of busy and the two of us basically decided that I'd technically seen it now so we should probably just go somewhere else. Which we did. We actually ended up stopping at this little cafe called Peppers for paninis before setting off for our last stop in Edinburgh: Edinburgh Castle.

We didn't end up going into the castle because it was quite expensive and Hayley, as an Edinburgh university student, didn't want to risk the bad luck associated with students going inside before graduation- a superstition attached to the castle- but we did take some photos outside it before heading back to Hayley's flat to chill before I had to get my bus.

Hayley had warned me in advance to wear sensible footwear since Edinburgh is really hilly, which I thought I had done, but apparently I wasn't used to walking around in these shoes as much as I thought I was because by the end of the day my feet were killing me. I actually thought I'd crippled myself. Moral of the story: if you're ever planning on visiting Edinburgh, especially if you have to see the majority of tourist sites in the space of a day, wear the most comfortable shoes you own. 
Despite the sore feet though, I had a really lovely time with Hayley and a great first experience of Edinburgh!
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A Snowy Sunday | Heysham, Lancashire

Recently I've been feeling as if I've been spending a lot of time indoors, just lazing around, especially at the weekends. I know at the minute I'm very lucky to be a student and have so much time at my disposal, but I'm starting to feel more and more like having too much time on your hands definitely isn't all it's cracked up to be. This term I've really struggled with trying to be at all productive, especially because I have so few hours at uni right now, and being quite an "outdoorsy" girl, for me it doesn't take long before too many duvet days and not enough sunlight begin to take their toll.


So, last Sunday my housemate and I decided to break the cycle of lazy weekends and take  a little trip out to the village of Heysham, about 6 miles outside Lancaster. It's actually only a 40 minute bus journey from Lancaster city centre- a little bit longer than it would take by car but in any case is still a relatively short trip- and the route is conveniently included on those I'm able to travel using my student bus pass so it's really a shame that I don't go there more often.

The weather forecast that day had prepared us for rain, yet as we stepped off the bus it began to snow quite heavily. However, despite the fact it turned out to be absolutely freezing, the snow still made for some unbelievably beautiful scenery.


On my past excursions out to Heysham I really fell in love with it's strange charm and diverse landscape. It kind of looks and feels like a mismatch of other places and different times that come together to give it a kind of other-worldly feel, as if you've just stepped into a parallel universe.  For instance, a stone's throw from the centre of the village is St Peter's Church which sits high up overlooking the bay below. It's being refurbished at the moment so I didn't take a photo because it was basically just surrounded by scaffolding but usually it's a lovely quaint little church built from sandstone. It actually vaguely reminds of Shell Cottage from the Deathly Hallows films. In its grounds is a graveyard that stretches down a hill towards the sea, containing a mixture of new and old graves, with some dating back hundreds of years. It may be a little strange but I actually really like graveyards, especially if they're really old. I find it really interesting to read old headstones and imagine what life was like for people at the time. For me, they feel like a tangible connection to the past that encourages me to reflect.


There are actually a lot of things about Heysham that would inspire reflection. A walkway up from St Peter's leads to the Barrows, a woodland that opens up onto grassy hills over the rugged coastline where the ruins of St Patrick's chapel (in the first picture) stands, as well as a group of six graves cut into stone, which apparently date back to around the 10th Century.


From the Barrows it's only a short walk through the grasslands down to the beach, or Half Moon Bay, which is basically a craggy mass of pebbles and rock pools as well as a long stretch of smooth sand. On the one hand it's really beautiful, despite the interesting backdrop, featuring Heysham's random nuclear power plant over to the left hand side, though what it may lack in it terms of untouched natural beauty it makes up for in hidden treasures. I've found Heysham's pebbly beach to be an absolute haven for seaside finds like sea glass and pottery which is probably very much due to the fact it is such an industrialised area. Though I feel like it just goes to show that there's beauty in a lot of unexpected places.



After taking a stroll down to the shore and combing through the pebbles, we headed back the way we came, just as the sun was beginning to set on the horizon. I have to say, we were both very cold and very wet but I'd definitely say it was worth it. I think I'll have to really start taking advantage of this beautiful place being so close to me from now on.
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Scenes: South Lakes Safari Zoo

One of the highlights of this year at uni for me has definitely been being a part of the university Equestrian Club. Riding is something I've done for a long time and it's always been a big part of my life, however, over the last few years with the demands of my final years at school it became less and less of a priority to the point where I had to give it up; so it feels great to finally pick it back up again now that I'm at university. As much as I love riding and the horses though, I think my favourite part of equestrian club is getting to spend some time with the girls there. They're a really lovely bunch and I feel so lucky to have gotten to know them this year. 


Recently we went on a social to the South Lakes Safari Zoo which is in Dalton, about an hour and a bit's drive from Lancaster. I'd been there before a few years ago with friends and remember loving it so I was super excited about being able to go again. I didn't take many photos on the day, mostly because of the weird lighting in the winter sun but I'd thought I'd share some of the photos I did take:


I haven't actually been to many zoos in my lifetime, just Belfast and Dublin Zoo and a few different places on holiday, but out of those (apart from a couple of Australian wild life parks) this is certainly the most interactive. As well as the several different species of lemur that roam free around the park, visitors can walk alongside and feed a variety of exotic birds, emus, wallabies and prairie marmots.


I think the emus were some of our group's personal favourites. I don't think I'd ever seen one in real life before, especially so up-close, but they're really fascinating animals. We actually managed to take a selfie with one, which has quickly become one of my favourite pictures ever taken.


The park also has scheduled times where you can go along and hand-feed both the giraffes and penguins! We went to the giraffe feeding twice but didn't make it to the penguin feeding on time to get a good enough spot so we just watched for a little while. Feeding the giraffes was an amazing experience though, I'm not sure there are many zoos that let you get so close.


We ended up spending basically the whole day at the park in the end- as you can imagine, the equestrian club love their animals!- and it was definitely among some of the best experiences I've had at uni so far and it was great to spend some quality time with the girls from the club.

I just wanted to say also, thank you so much to everyone for all the thoughtful comments on my last post. You can't understand how much it means to me that there are so many of you who would take time out of their day to write me such amazing words of support. The blogging community has honestly become one of my most faithful support networks and I'm always so thankful it's something I get to be a part of! I'm hoping to get some time this week to be able to reply to them all properly!

Thanks again for all the love! I hope you've all had a great week.
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Life | Back to Uni Instagram Diary


Hey folks! So at the minute I'm meant to be doing coursework but of course I've decided to write a new post instead! Since I've been so crap with posting recently I thought I might as well have a catch up on what I've been up to since I've been back at uni. This term has been crazy hectic so far, which hasn't really afforded me much of a social life and as a result I haven't really been anywhere particularly exciting to share with you here. Though, any time I really go anywhere or do anything it usually ends up on my instagram, so I thought sharing some of my most recent pics would do the job of explaining quite nicely; a picture is worth a thousand words, after all!

>> You were wild once, don't let them tame you. I found this card by designer, Sarah Majury in St. George's Market on my trip back home and I thought it was really cute. I think the message speaks volumes as well.

>> Obligatory Christmas cardigan selfiebecause I can only wear it one season of the year and I've been waiting so very long to do so. 


>> Socks the pony. This is one of the ponies at the stables where my uni equestrian club ride and I just love his little cheeky face so much. You can just tell he's absolutely loving the attention here!

>> Bonfire Night. I was quite keen to partake in the bonfire night festivities this year because, being from Northern Ireland, it's not a holiday we have back home. On the night there were fireworks all over Lancaster so two of my friends and I headed up to Williamson Park to try and catch a glimpse before heading to the pub.

>> Cowboys and Indians Social. This is just me and my friend Alysia dressed up for a Cowboys and Indians themed social with equestrian club a few weeks ago; a night where many a tipsy deep conversation was had!

>> Pretty Sky. A little picture I took of the sun setting on my walk home (despite the fact it was only 4pm at the time! The short days/long nights situation is one thing about wintertime that makes me really sad)

>> Wednesday night out. This is a cheeky pic of me and my friend Ian out one night which is actually an absolutely horrendous photo in real life- thank goodness for filters, eh?

>> Lancaster by night. A photo taken whilst my housemate Carlo and I were roaming the streets of Lancaster one October eve.

>> Cup of tea with Ian after I attempted to make him some spag bol, which actually turned out rather well in the end. We then watched this dating show called "Sexy Beasts" where people go on dates in really gross make-up and it was literally the most ridiculous and most amazing thing I've ever seen. 


So yeah, I guess that's me all up to date! Hope you've all had a lovely day!
Much Love

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