Week 2: Friday (Dearest Durham)

The last time I was in Durham was for my MA graduation in January 2012, and this trip was a long time coming. After bidding farewell to George, Val, and Steve, I caught the train from Grantham to Durham (£14.35) as it began to rain for the first time in about a week. When I stepped off the train and the cold embraced me, I felt a peculiar sense of homecoming.

SInce I’m spending a long weekend with my friend Sarah, whom I’d met during our MA year, we decided to start our adventure by meeting in Durham, and attending an alumni riverside walk. Our own walks around town were to revisit some of our favourite cafes and shops, and marvelling at some new establishments.

One of my favourite Durham cafes, though it's always difficult getting a seat.

One of my favourite Durham cafes (though it’s always difficult getting a seat).

A new cafe--love the pun! You can even see the cathedral in the distance.

A new cafe–love the pun! You can even see the cathedral in the distance.

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Week 2: Thursday (Grantham, Lincoln, and hygge)

In Denmark, I learnt about the concept of “hygge”, which is essentially creating and partaking in the warm and fuzzies, primarily through sharing good things with awesome people. For me, today was not only gloriously sunny and hot outside, but also full of hygge. As I write this in bed, my heart is still aglow with happiness and gratitude for George, Val, and Steve, who have been generous beyond words.

Today, I give you these photos (and captions), and hope they’ll also inspire some hygge in your life.

Granary bread and local Lincolnshire honey for breakfast.

Granary bread and local Lincolnshire honey for breakfast.

Cheese scones straight out of the oven for...second breakfast, I guess.

Cheese scones straight out of the oven for…second breakfast, I guess.

Climbing Steep Hill (yup, it's actually called that) in Lincoln.

Climbing Steep Hill (yup, it’s actually called that) in Lincoln.

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Week 1: Wednesday (Colchester, Peterborough, Ely, Grantham goodness)

Living with and having to put up with myself on a daily basis, necessity dictates I find a way to tolerate my bouts of spontaneity and/or insanity, thereby establishing a new baseline for “normal” behaviour. Today, however, I seriously questioned my levels of crazy.

It all began in Colchester with seemingly innocuous plans for brunch. Since my train wasn’t till 1:23pm, I had plenty of time to wander about the town and grab a bite or two. After yesterday’s ugh-ness with the hotel, I found this morning’s staff much more amiable, and they had been happy to keep my suitcase. It was yet another sunny and summery day (quite an anomaly here in the UK!), and by the time I left my hotel at 10:30, it was already quite hot at around 23 Celsius.

I’d decided on eating at the Three Wise Monkeys, which had some pretty good reviews and wasn’t too pricey. It was rather quiet when I arrived, which meant I had my choice of seating—I opted for the super comfy couches, which enveloped me in its full glory as I sank into it. When/if I ever end my loltastic and nomadic life, I’d like a pair of those for my library.

Just look at them!

Just look at them!

Given I wanted a filling brunch, I ordered a Monkey’s Breakfast (£8.50), which is essentially an English fry-up. I also had a glass of orange juice (£1.50–I think this was for half price), and though I don’t usually drink juices, I found my first sip extraordinarily refreshing.

I was especially fond of the eggs on muffins--I've not had that in a while!

I was especially fond of the eggs on muffins–I’ve not had that in a while!

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Week 1: Tuesday (Colchester)

I bade farewell to Dover this morning after a yummy continental breakfast at my b&b, and, in the lovely heat of the still-young sun, I wheeled my wee carry-on along the cobblestone streets towards the train station. Today was moderately heavy on the travelling end: Dover Priory to London Victoria (£6.65), a tube from Victoria to Liverpool Street (£1.60–I think this “transfer” might be included as part of my next trip, but the trainman at Dover Priory said otherwise, though I might try something similar in the future), London Liverpool Street to Colchester (£5.95). I started at 10:30am, and got to my Colchester hotel at 3:30pm.

Unfortunately, once I got to the hotel, I experienced my first bit of negativity on my trip so far. I’d booked the Globe Hotel because of its reasonable price (£45) and because of its name (yes, I’m a lame Shakespearean), but I didn’t expect the subpar accommodation, the dirty sheets, the creepy bug in the corner of the ceiling, or the rude response I got when I pointed out these things. The wifi doesn’t work in my room (and I’m writing this in the lobby now), there aren’t any facial tissues (not ideal given my awful hayfever right now, but I guess toilet paper will suffice), but by far the worst aspect was when one of the staff curtly told me that I had ordered a standard room, and not a premiere or delux room with better facilities. Given this is marketed as a hotel and bears the prices of lower-end hotels, I expected the basic features of a hotel, including general cleanliness. In fact, I’ve stayed in hostels that were cleaner, friendlier, and better priced than this hotel, and I was just so frustrated and sad that my initial experience of Colchester was to deal with such “petty” things as defending my not wanting someone else’s pubic hair on my bedsheet.

So at 4:15pm, after things had been “sorted” and Colchester Castle was on the verge of closing, I was sad, tired, and indignant, and decided to self-medicate with a hefty dose of Mother Nature. This more or less did the job (though the constant sneezing didn’t really help), and I went for a nice riverside walk, through the Castle Park, and along the Roman walls.

Squirrel! I spoke to this little guy for a good minute or two while I took a kazillion shots.

Squirrel! I spoke to this little guy for a good minute or two while I took a kazillion shots.

Sing all-a-green willow... <3

Sing all-a-green willow… <3

Flowers growing on the Roman walls.

Flowers growing on the Roman walls.

Why Colchester, you (and folks all across England) ask? Well, the town is renowned as the earliest recorded city in Great Britain, going as far back to 20-10 BC. There are indeed many signs of Roman presence here, exciting my little fangirl heart. After living in Belfast for the last three-and-a-bit years, it’s also very strange for me when people respond to my queries and such with English accents–it’s almost as if I’m in England!

The entrance to Colchester Castle (note the blue sky!).

The entrance to Colchester Castle (note the blue sky!).

After my meander, I went on a wild goose chase for dinner, primarily because my map had misinformed me… According to the Interwebz, one of the best eateries in Colchester is an “Asian” place called North Hill Noodle Bar, which turned out to be really delicious. I got the spicy prawn crackers (£2.50), which I couldn’t finish but doggy-bagged, and the mixed seafood crispy noodles (£11.25), which was an absolute delight, especially since I’ve not had crispy noodles since I was about 10. I really enjoyed my meal, and was especially happy with the service–I’d enquired about the wifi, was told it didn’t exist, and was then given the details when the staff returned after having learnt it does indeed exist. I’m now very tempted to return for lunch tomorrow before my 1pm-ish train…

Look at all those prawn crackers!

Look at all those prawn crackers!

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Week 1: Monday (Dover)

Almost five years ago, as I was on a plane from Sydney (via Shanghai) approaching the United Kingdom, I kept whispering to myself: “You are approaching Albion. Albion, Albion, Albion.” This was before I started my MA at Durham University, before I could even imagine doing a PhD in Shakespeare, but it was long after I had become an Anglophile, whose romantic and fangirly heart secretly called the island of Great Britain by its first known name, Albion. This is very likely a reference to the White Cliffs of Dover, which, since that day five years ago on a plane, I’ve always wanted to visit, but never got around to.

But since this is my English Dream Trip, my first stop was, naturally, Dover: the White Cliffs of Albion, the same cliffs of Edgar’s hopeful imagination in King Lear, the beach of Matthew Arnold’s Romantic rendition. Five years later, with a Shakespearean PhD almost in hand (touch wood), I entered this Kentish town for the first time. To most of the (English/British/Irish) people I’ve told about my trip, Dover is just a transit stop for ferries across the Channel, but to me, it symbolised the realisation of my dreams, some of which have gone far beyond what I thought possible.

My morning started in London, and given it was my last day, I had breakfast with my friend and host at the Prufrock Cafe. I got granola (£4.50), my friend got muesli and some coffee, and we chatted for a fair while.

Muesli (top) and granola (bottom).

Muesli (top) and granola (bottom).

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The Humble Tour — Week 1: Saturday (London)

One of the reasons I was determined to be in London this weekend is so I could hang out with the one and only Costy, a super epic friend and fellow fangirl. Since we were meeting in the afternoon, I lounged around again this morning, helped myself to more of my friend’s food, helped with a bit of cleaning (gotta earn my keep!), did some admin, called my parents in Ausland, and ate some of the food I got last night for today’s lunch (£3).

Since Costy and I both enjoy shiny things, we had arranged to go to the Jamie Lloyd Company’s rendition of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (£28), with Kit Harrington (of Game of Throne‘s Jon Snow fame) in the title role. I found the production very, very bizarre, especially since it was somewhat billed as Marlowe–while it does contain chunks from “Marlowe’s” play (keeping in mind the Renaissance Doctor Faustus exists in two separate versions), it also uses new scenes written by Colin Teevan. While I’m all for adaptations and “updated” productions, this one was so far from the “original Marlowe” that I would’ve much preferred it being a Faustus spin-off entirely rather than attempting to squeeze in Marlowe’s (blank) verse. Nonetheless, Kit Harrington does spend a lot of time shirtless, which is not an unpleasant sight.

Yes, I was wearing a rather geeky shirt. :D

Yes, I was wearing a rather geeky shirt. :D

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Samantha’s Humble Tour and the English Dream Trip — Week One: Thursday

I’ve always found it difficult to achieve a good balance between experiencing and documenting all the crazy and wonderful things in my life, and I’m well-aware of the massive backlog I’ve acquired over the last few months of work and life explosions. But right now, the PhD thesis has been submitted, the university semester is over, the final essays have been marked and returned, the Shakespeare conferences and talks and film introductions have been given, the contents of my Belfast life have been donated or stored safely at a good friend’s, the house has been successfully vacated, the 30 or so insect bites along my legs and ankles (my souvenir from Paris two weeks ago) have healed reasonably well, and I am here in London with my trusty carry-on, ready to embark on five (!!) weeks of work-free, deadline-free, and laptop-free adventures. (Okay, maybe not entirely work-free, since I’ll probably do a bit of novelling and other writing, but these are super funfunfun things!)

So I thought I might take this opportunity to document the next five weeks of Samantha’s Humble Tour (as opposed to the traditional Grand Tour). A good chunk of it will be what I’ve called my “English Dream Trip”, and, since I’ve decided not to rent a car, I’ll be spending a lot of time on trains. The “English Dream Trip” attempts to cover as many of the places I’ve always wanted to go but never managed. When I first accepted the PhD scholarship at Queen’s University Belfast, I had every intention of going on trips to other parts of the UK and beyond every fortnight or month–and it never happened, because I developed an unprecedented case of workaholism for both the PhD and Tea For Three Studios, and I was also committed to sing in a cathedral choir every Sunday.

But no more! The English Dream Trip is indeed happening (even if I’m planning it as I go), and I will indeed document it and share the uber shinies with my iPhone-only photos! I also thought I’d share the cost of everything, since it might be helpful for anyone else preparing their own English (or perhaps Scottish or Welsh or Northern Irish) Dream Trips, and because I want to show that a lot of these trips are rather affordable (accommodation notwithstanding–I had some horrible hostel experiences a few years back, and am thus disinclined to share my sleeping quarters with strangers). Also, to put some prices into context, I have several perks as a “student” and have acquired a Railcard, which gives me 1/3 off a range of trains–I’ll try to put the normal prices were applicable.

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A photo a day, of all lovely things

Roughly a year ago, after completing the 100 happy days challenge, I decided to take it a little further by embarking on a lifelong photo-a-day project. I don’t claim to be any sort of photography expert—and am an apprentice amateur at best—but I loved the challenge of finding something special everyday, something about which to be grateful. We all live in such a cluttered, fast-paced, and “busy” world—and I know I certainly take on way more than I should—that it was such a comfort for me to pause for a few minutes everyday, and see the beautiful things in my life. It’s now become quite the habit, and many of my friends know exactly what I mean when I pull out my phone and say, “Excuse me, I have to take this for my photo-a-day project.” And on some days, there are so many wonderful things going on that I have to decide on just the one photo (which is when I sometimes “cheat” and use multiple frames to feature them all).

lovelies8profile

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Carlingford, Ireland

Two weeks ago, I had the honour of attending my first Irish wedding reception, which was a flamboyant affair with lots of good craic. The reception was held in Carlingford in County Louth, Ireland, which is about a two-hour drive from Belfast. I carpooled with two friends, and we decided to make a weekend out of it—it turned out we had excellent timing, because the weather was magnificent, the sun was out, and everything was green and beautiful and picturesque. And I thought, well, why not make a blog post out of some of the photos I’d taken.

A few facts about Carlingford:

  • Carlingford is an Irish coastal town with an urban population of about 1,000 people;
  • The town is about 11km south of the border with Northern Ireland, and 90km north of Dublin;
  • Carlingford has a castle! King John’s Castle is named after King John, who reigned from 1199–1216, was younger brother of Richard the Lionheart, and has his own Shakespearean history play (surely the highest honour attainable by a British monarch or Roman figure). Unfortunately, work on restoring parts of the castle (it’s pretty darn old!) has been “under construction” for many, many years, and the inner castle remains inaccessible;
  • There are remains of a Dominican Friary, which was established in the 14th Century; and
  • You can grab a pint of Guinness at Taaffe’s Castle, which is basically a pub in a castle. It’s really all about the Guinness and the castles.
carlingford01

One of the wee Medieval streets in Carlingford. We had a lovely time meandering through these and going into the homely little shops.

carlingford02

The view of Carlingford’s town centre from a road along the coast.

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The Belfast Post

Back in December, a friend asked me about where I am in Irelandisland, and for some recommendations of things to do in my area. Since first moving to Belfast in September 2012, I’ve not snapped many photos of the city in a super touristy capacity, so when my friend made her request, I spent a day or two carrying around a camera and playing tourist.

But first, a few little facts about this wee city:

  • Belfast is the capital and the largest city of Northern Ireland, and has a population of 580,000 in the metropolitan area (thank you, Wikipedia);
  • The name “Belfast” comes from the Irish “Béal Feirste”, which means “sandy ford at river mouth”, and the city is a major port;
  • Although Northern Ireland is physically located on the island of Ireland, it is politically (though I use that term warily) part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and uses the UK international dialling code as well as the Pound Sterling;
  • That being said, the rest of the UK sometimes forgets about Northern Ireland, and many services/shops/etc in Great Britain (consisting of England, Scotland, and Wales) don’t have branches or even deliver to Northern Ireland;
  • Northern Ireland became such in 1921, when the island of Ireland was partitioned between Northern and Southern Ireland;
  • The “South”/Republic of Ireland is a different country, with a different currency (the Euro), and different official languages (Irish and English). And although locals sometimes refer to Ireland as “the South”, there are parts of Ireland that extend to the north of the Ireland, such as County Donegal (it can all get a little confusing);
  • When things get confusing, drink Guinness;
  • The Titanic was built in Belfast, and shipped off to Southampton (in England) where it set sail;
  • Game of Thrones is filmed in Belfast and around Northern Ireland (which may have influenced my decision to move here); and
  • You can become an extra on Game of Thrones through an extras company, but in order to sign up for the company, you have to have a Northern Irish National Insurance Number (basically an Australian Tax File Number or an American Social Security Number), and in order to do that, you can’t be elsewhere in the UK, but must be living and working in Northern Ireland (see above parenthetical note).

And now, here are a few photos of this wee city:

belfast-01

Just a little street, with lovely terraced houses.

belfast-02

A lovely little river underneath a lovely little bridge. Unfortunately, the grey sky is all too common a sight.

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