Friday, 29 August 2014

Finishing my internship in Brussels and looking back on my year abroad as a whole.

I'm home. I don't mean my Brussels home, I mean home  home. Family home. And not just for the weekend or Easter before going back to my year abroad life, but for good.

My year abroad, is finished. Over. Ended. Done. I've lived in Germany and Belgium for the past 50 weeks... And now I don't any more.

It's a strange feeling actually - anticlimactic somehow - and I'm full of mixed emotions.

Of course, it's so lovely to be back in the house in which I grew up, in the British countryside, with my parents and the dogs, the Aga and my childhood bedroom.

Yummy Mama-made dinner left for me on top of the Aga. "7 vegetable pasta with mozzarella and pesto"
And I'm immensely looking forward to all the British foods I've missed so much: scones, baked beans, crumble and custard, curry, chip shop chips, tea, roast dinners, both Cadburys and Galaxy chocolate, Weetabix, Heinz tomato soup, Marmite...

Care packages were very welcome all year...
But of course I brought my own tea supplies. In bulk.
Sorry, I got a bit carried away there.

It's not just food though. Living away from the UK has made me really pick up on and appreciate what makes Britain Britain. I mean things like cricket and country pubs, pomp and pageantry, the ability to create a nationwide furore over a Baked Alaska being thrown in the bin on national television (#bingate.)
No-one else gets it.

I love Great Britain, truly, I do.

It was sad to finish my internship though. I've had a frightfully fantastic six months working for the BBC alongside amazing colleagues who were all incredibly kind, welcoming and friendly too.

Excitement on my first day...
And a selfie on my last day, of course
I'll be replaced with a new intern on Monday, but hopefully not forgotten quite so quickly.

I genuinely can't believe I've not only met but worked with so many talented, smart and respected journalists, all of whom I really admire. They all took the time to talk to and advise me too.

Not only that but I've had the opportunity to go out filming for news stories, do interviews (they don't call me the voxpop queen for nothing!) and even find, research and write my own feature for BBC News online, which is undoubtedly the hugest achievement of my internship.

It's been a lot of fun. Hard work, but fun. And not only have I learnt so much about journalism and the EU, but also (and forgive me because it's a cliché) a lot about myself and what I really want to do.

I suppose there's only one aspect of my time in Brussels which could have been better... My French improvement. Or lack thereof.

Yeah, considering the point of the year abroad is to improve your language fluency, I haven't done massively well in Brussels. This is largely because a) Brussels is so international and I swear you hear more English-with-an-accent than French, and b) I've been working predominantly with Brits all day every day.

But I don't regret it in the slightest. When I said yes to my internship offer I knew it wasn't going to be the best for my French, but I weighed up what was most important to me and I firmly believe I made the right choice. The work experience I've had is totally worth it.

I worked here for a bit too.
Living in Brussels has been slightly peculiar. It's been interesting, for sure, but I don't think I love the city. Not like I love Bavaria. But that's because I've had very different experiences in Germany and Belgium.

In Germany I was travelling round, dressing up in my Dirndl and occasionally teaching some English.

In Belgium, I've been working. Working a lot. Yes, I've travelled too (holla travel tab), but not in the same way.

I feel like I've left a part of my heart in Bayreuth (my home for the first six months of my year abroad), but I don't really feel that way about Brussels. Maybe because it's bigger. Or maybe because I've only just left.

Maybe when I look back in a few months I'll feel warm and fuzzy towards it like I do with Germany. We'll see.

Don't get me wrong, Brussels has been fine and different and nice and interesting, but I slightly feel like I've missed out on the French experience.

Brussels' Grand Place
Belgium isn't France, people. But then again obviously everyone who went to France missed out on waffles and chocolate and frites so who's the real winner here? (My waistline.)

But again, skipping French-ness was a sacrifice I knew I was making in coming to Brussels for my internship. And it was still worth it.

(Seriously, not a day went by when I didn't think "OMG am I really working for BBC News?!" The amazement did not wear off.)

Before my year abroad, I la la laaaaaved French. I was all about the French. How could you not love French?

When it came to German I was a bit more, well, meh. I didn't dislike it as a language, but I didn't love it. I'd started German from scratch at uni, and it was bloody hard. Trust.

Upon hearing French, I would smile and swoon a little. With German, well, just meh.

Oh, what a difference a year makes!

Since leaving Germany, I may have become an even bigger Germanophile than I was when I was there! Any time I hear someone speaking German I (internally) go "OMG GERMAN OMG I LOVE GERMAN!" I even get excited upon seeing a German number plate on a car. And if it's one from Bavaria, well, I can barely stop myself falling over with excitement.

And with French? Well, I wouldn't say meh, but I'm less infatuated, put it that way. Maybe it's because I have actually been hearing it around me for the past six months, and maybe that inner swooning sensation will come back in a few weeks.

It's strange how the year abroad had changed me. It definitely has, but I'm not sure I realise quite how much yet.

Just like everyone said I would, I've definitely grown up.

When I think back to this time last year and the nervous girl I was, about to be plunged into the complete unknown... I realise that I'm now much stronger. I hope so, at least.

This was the first night of my year abroad. Keep calm and drink tea.
And that's why I think a year abroad is such a great thing to do. You're forced out of your comfort zone which is always hard but always good for you.

It's all cliché but it's all undeniably true: I've broadened my horizons, learnt about myself and grown up.

I feel weird. I don't feel overly happy or overly sad. What I do feel is tired. I think it's going to take some time for everything to sink in and for me to realise what I feel.

Similarly, I imagine going back to Bristol for final year is going to be a bit weird. The city will have changed, and so have all we returning year abroaders.

From a year of travel and working life, I'm going back to studying. It's going to be lectures and libraries, essays and exams, seminars and study groups. A far cry from how I've spent the past 50 weeks. (Well, year abroad essays aside.)

All that said, I really am looking forward to going back to Bristol and one final year of student life. I love that city, and even though I'll be one of the older students on campus, I think I'll appreciate the perks of uni life.

In classic me fashion I'm already stressed about how much I have on my plate and how I'm going to balance the jobs I've got with my degree AND attempting to have a social life, but let's not think about all that just yet, yeah? And I've also realised recently that I thrive on being busy.

Another outcome of this year is that I have totally and completely caught the travel bug. I never imagined I'd travel as much as I have done, and I am so thrilled that I did. In fact, how much I've travelled has really made my year abroad.

I have so many fantastic memories to enjoy, tales to tell and snaps to savour, and all I want to do is go and see more of the world. I want to explore new places, experience different cultures and visit the wonders of the world.

As well as travelling round Europe, I've made some fantastic friends - I really think a lot of them will be friends for life too. I hope so anyway. It's been a year of people and places, both absolutely awesome.

Charlotte and me in Wuerzburg
Emily, me and Emma in Bayreuth
Me and Sofia at the end of our European Elections all-nighter in the European Parliament in Brussels
I've realised that what I absolutely love doing is travelling to different places and meeting interesting people, and the fact that some people (journos, whaddup) get PAID to do that as their JOB makes me feel even more certain on my chosen career path.

It would be a real challenge to pick my favourite place of everywhere I've been over my year abroad, and it'd take a lot of thinking.

One thing I can say with absolute certainty, however, is that this has been, undoubtedly, the BEST YEAR OF MY LIFE thus far. Just like everyone said it would be.

I've particularly loved writing my blog over this year abroad, I hope you've enjoyed following my adventures and I hope you stick with me as I enter a new phase of my life

Rachel, out. xoxo

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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

30 reasons to absolutely love autumn

I am so happy! :)  The smell in the air today, the leaves blowing across the street, the cool night air. :) bliss.
[pic from]
Geez I almost said 'fall' there. I’ve been spending too much time reading American blogs. No, not fall, autumn.

Autumn is without a doubt my favourite season of them all. I love it. So much so that I’ve made this glorious list of my fave things about the season.

[pic from Elite Daily]
Don’t get me wrong, I like summer too, and I reeeaaaally love heat. I hate being cold actually, but autumn shouldn’t really be freezing now, should it?

[See my joy?]
My autumn love may have something to do with the fact that September is my birthday month, and I’m a big birthday lover. Actually I’m just a celebration lover, hence: I love autumn.

September = my birthday. October = Halloween. November = Bonfire Night. And December? Well, let’s not get me started on Christmas. All in good time, my dears.

The combination of my birthday and back-to-school means September will always feel like a fresh start for me. It’s like a new year being born out of the sticky summer heat. OK maybe not in the UK or Belgium, but I am reliably told summer does get hot in some parts of the world.

Pic from Buzzfeed
Bright green leaves are nice, for sure, but the multi-coloured vibrancy of the trees in autumn is clearly superior in my opinion.

As the summer winds up and September approaches, I can’t help but feel tingly with excitement at the prospect of what’s about to come. So here are the things I love most about autumn, and why I think it’s the best season of them all:

Pumpkin Spice Latte
[pic from Starbucks]
1. Pumpkin-spiced lattes

2. Cinnamon-spiced anything

3. Tweed blazers

4. Honey-roast parsnips and carrots

Honey Roasted Carrots and Parsnips
[pic from]
5. Roast dinners in general, swimming in gravy

6. Board games when it’s raining

7. Apple and blackberry picking

8. Apple and blackberry crumble, with lashings of custard

Apple crumble is a winter classic, but by adding berries to the fruit mix and ginger to the custard you serve with it, you give it some zing that makes it lighter.
[pic from]
9. Golden, brown, orange and auburn leaves

10. Playing “catch the leaves” as they fall

11. Stepping on a satisfyingly crunchy leaf

12. Swooshing through leaves as they cover the ground

13. Finding shiny conkers

14. The crispness of the air

15. Steaming mugs of hot chocolate and bowls of creamy porridge

16. Oversized, chunky cable-knit jumpers

Ruffled socks and boots. Perfect for #Fall #Autumn #Fashion
[pic from New Look]

17. Ankle boots

18. Knee-high boots

19. Hedgehogs

20. Wrapping up in a scarf

Quite looking forward to winter nights with hot choccy, oversized jumpers and cosy socks!
[pic from Hannah Harkness' Pinterest]
21. Not having to exfoliate, shave and moisturise all.the.time.

22. Smooth, warming vegetable soups

23. Hearty stews

24. Hot apple cider

25. Countryside walks

26. Hot water bottles

27. Blankets

28. Toffee apples

Toffee apples  #autumncovered
[pic from Alexis Merritt-Harding's Pinterest]
29. Fireworks

30. The fact that Christmas is next!

Do you share my autumn love? What are your fave things about the season?

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Sunday, 24 August 2014

A trip to Antwerp during Bollekesfeest: shopping, sightseeing, exploring and eating.

Belgium’s second city, Antwerp, is – if you get a fast train – only 42 minutes away from Brussels. So I’m not sure how it took me till my final weekend of six months in Belgium to visit the City of Diamonds, as it is known.

Too much travelling round the Continent and neglecting what’s on my doorstep I guess. And when I say my doorstep, I mean Belgium as a whole, because hey, it’s a teeny little place really.

But I digress.

By Jove! I liked Antwerp a lot. A lot a lot (as Halle pretending to be Annie from Parent Trap would say). My Belgian colleagues had told me that after visiting other Belgian cities, you realise there are far nicer places than Brussels. And, no offence to Brussels and all, I now have to agree.

Antwerp struck me as simultaneously charming, trendy, interesting and fun. Little did I know before I arrived, but I was actually visiting during the city's annual four-day Bollekesfeest, which is basically a big town festival celebrating the local beer. I seem to be doing a pretty good job of ticking off Belgian summer city festivals - remember Ghent? - but I'll come back to the fest later. 

I arrived a little after noon (don't judge, weekend lie-ins are sacred), excited for the final day-trip of my year abroad. Yup, my last travels of oh so many wonderful trips!

I'd heard that Antwerp main station was something of an architectural feat, and it did not disappoint.

It's a really impressive and beautiful old stone building, and what's more, its location is fantastic too - beating Brussels main station on two counts then. I love it when you can just walk straight out of the station into the town centre.

Diamonds and station aside, everyone had told me Antwerp is fabulous for shopping, and yup, superior to Brussels. My housemate had recommended I see the sights before hitting the shops, and this was certainly my plan, buuuuut... Well it turns out the station is located at one end of the main high street, Meir, so I simply had to walk down it to get to the historic city centre.

Seriously, that's the high street. I don't know where you live, but growing up in Leicestershire meant my nearest big city was Leicester. Leicester does not have high streets that look like that.

Practically every building was ornate, classic and grand, and the tree-lined street was lovely to walk down. And sure, I may have popped into the occasional shop. Or six. But I was only going to go into ones we don't have back home.

One shop which immediately caught my eye was Sissy Boy. Yeah, in my opinion the name totally doesn't match with the brand, for the Dutch shop is home to lovely fashion, homewares and toiletries.

It's a little more expensive than the likes of H&M, but full of pretty things nonetheless. And a little bit different.

On the same street, I was unsurprisingly drawn into Forever 21 - what can I say? I love that store, and there actually isn't one anywhere near me at home. So if you ask me a little spree was totally justified, don'tcha think? It was a massive branch of Forever 21 - as big if not bigger than Oxford Street, I swear! 

Along the street, and all round the city for that matter, there were really helpful signposts signalling how to get to all the key points and how long it'd take to walk there. Extremely useful when one does not speak the language. 

Of course, there were other tourists around, but it seemed like the majority of people out and about were Antwerpers. (I don't think that's what Antwerp residents are called but just go with me, mmm kay?)

I eventually made my way to the historic centre, and found myself in a big square called Groenplaats. It was here that I realised something was going on.

There was a big stage with a band performing, pop-up bars and lots of people milling around drinking. I'd seen the banners for Bollekesfeest and not had a clue what it meant, but one helpful info lady explained everything and advised me on what I should go and see. What a babe.

Right next to the cathedral, the square is beautiful, and was buzzing with life in the sunshine. Groenplaats isn't even the main square of the city though, oh no.

The Cathedral
In walking round to see the gimormous cathedral, I found myself in a mini but equally pretty square. There were food trucks serving cocktails and snacks, and even a chef doing a live cookery demonstration. Random, but why not eh?

Given you had to pay to go into the cathedral (mean), I strolled round it and marvelled at the outside instead.

There were a few vintage and fleamarket-esque stalls round the side, which I obviously loved, and the cobbled streets were full of people sitting out at cafés in the late summer sunshine.

I then finally made my way to the big dog, the main attraction, the centre: the Grote Markt.

The buildings round the square are that classic Belgian architecture I've grown to love (oh, and I've learnt the roofs are called crow-stepped gables), and the main town hall is covered in colourful flags. Set to a backdrop of blue sky and sunshine, it was all extremely vibrant, especially thanks to all the stalls and pop-up bars that were part of the fest.

The atmosphere was simply wonderful, and I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the crowds making our way from stall to stall, sampling the local delicacies.

There were biscuits, sweets, breads, meats, jams and more, all showcasing Antwerp's specialities.

I loved that there was so much going on, but didn't let it distract from the beeaaauutiful charming buildings all around me.

I wandered on further to the river, where there was still more happening as part of the fest. We had beach-style bars, children's craft areas and even an outdoor dance class!

And just to the side was the fortress. I do love me a good fortress, so up I went to check it out.

Isn't the ye olde-ness just fab?

And up on one side of the fortress is a lovely wide walkway along the river. This was the perfect spot for a little sit-down in the sun. The clouds were looking pretty funky too.

Feeling the teensiest bit weary, I eventually wandered back the way I'd come with one thing in mind.

And that thing, my dears, was froyo.

I'd walked past Moochie froyo earlier, and it was just what I needed as a refreshing, delicious pick-me-up.

"Fabulous frozen yogurt" they call themselves, and the little place was full when I arrived. I'd been to their Brussels shop before, but that's just a counter in a shopping centre. The Antwerp shop was simply delightful in all its pinkness, and I loved the pretty tables and chairs outside.

It's not self-serve, but a "mini" with one topping for 3.50 Euros really isn't bad, especially considering a "mini" isn't very mini at all, and they're really generous with the toppings. I went for natural froyo with mango and honey, and it was divine.

I heart froyo 
The froyo is somehow colder than most, but it's super creamy. Mmmmm...

Moving on (before I drool over my keyboard).

I wanted to make my way back to the station via some of the other shopping streets I'd read about (in my pre-trip research, natch.) So I weaved my way down Kammenstraat, Lombardenvest, Huidervettersstraat and Schuttershofstraat, where I found both the big-name designers and interesting, stylish boutiques.

I do love to peer in through the windows of the top designers. Oh and the snazzies bakeries too, of course. I resisted the macarons but did quench my thirst with a Diet Coke. Given Dries Van Noten is from Antwerp, I thought this was an appropriate bottle to choose:

A boutique called Sienna caught my eye, but judging from the look of it, I presumed it would be way out of my price range. As I looked closer at the window display, I was pleasantly surprised, and so in I went.

It was a charming boutique with an expensive feel, yet stocking beautiful clothes by affordable and perhaps lesser-known brands and designers. I like.

But my feet were starting to realise how far they'd walked that afternoon, the evening was drawing in, and it was soon time for me to head back to the station.

It had been an utterly delightful day in Antwerp, and a fabulous mix of sightseeing, shopping, exploring and eating. I know there's lots more of the city that I didn't have time to discover, so I'd definitely go back to Antwerp. 

I'm a new fan of Antwerp, and I think it's totally worth a visit if you come to Belgium.

Have you ever been? I'd love to know if you agree with me on Antwerp compared to Brussels?

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