Spontaneous Alsatian mini-break!

Just like most spontaneous trips, this one started out (about 10 days ago) with the simple desire for a little escapism…

We had already decided on the Thursday evening before last weekend that we wanted to drive somewhere nice for the weekend… On the Friday after work we picked a gorgeous house on Airbnb, the whole thing for a better price than most hotels in the region… and hatched a plan to wake up early and drive to Alsace.

To a little town called Hattmatt, actually- to be precise.

Population: 641.

Location: North East France.

Arrondissement: Saverne

The journey was smooth and rather enjoyable… sunshine present, radio blaring and of course, plenty of excitement in tow!

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We very quickly settled into our gorgeous ‘home’ for the weekend- a detached, idyllic traditional Alsatian beamed house… complete with everything one could possibly need; 2 pet kitties, Barbecue, huge garden, terrace… We really felt as though we’d hit the jackpot with this last minute Airbnb pick!

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Our lovely Airbnb ‘Das Rosehuss’ in Hattmatt

We went to a nice big supermarket in nearby Saverne to pick up supplies for a barbecued feast for the evening. Then, we set off on a 3.5 hour hike in the hot afternoon sun… we headed from Hattmatt over to St. Jean Saverne into the Réserve Nationale de Chasse de la Petite-Pierre,  and the beautiful, almost untouched northern French forest.

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Lots of lovely wine and cheese and meat was enjoyed as a much-needed reward after our lovely long hike.

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The kitties seemed to enjoy the feast too! (Especially Wolli, pictured above, who we renamed fatty! She flicked a steak off the table whilst we were up the garden exploring!)

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Hattmatt was the perfect base for our Saturday night stay & springboard for another little Alsatian adventure. We drove back to Frankfurt Via Haguenau, where we enjoyed a nice iced coffee!

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Catching some rays in Haguenau

More importantly though… we went lake swimming in the Bassin des Mouettes in Lauterbourg (near the German border) and soaked up some sun!

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On the whole, it was a really fantastic weekend. I would do it again in a heartbeat. If you get the chance… jump in the car with a map and a plan… (you don’t even need much of a plan!)

Ciao for now

Han

 

Sunshine am Main 🌞

The weather the past few of days here has been glorious; blue skies, sunshine and daylight until gone half 9pm.  Yesterday there was a wild, mildly tropical thunderstorm (but yesterday was a duvet day for me- so I’m not going to count that!)

On Thursday, I enjoyed a really wonderful evening in Frankfurt- spent strolling over the Eisener Steg towards Sachsenhausen, stopping for a relax on the Riverside grass along the Schaumainkai with a couple of beers.  Afterwards we headed towards Sachsenhausen in search of grub.

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I just wanted to take a picture of the bridge and Felix said I should be in it too!
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Worse light this side, but the other side of the same stretch of skyline. The contrast is so cool.
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I told Felix to smile into the skyline… But his grin wasn’t cutting the mustard so I coersed with a little tickle…
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The view as you walk over Eisener Steg… Look at that sky! 
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Totally epic dinner eaten at Struwwelpeter in Sachsenhausen. I went for the Grüne Soße (as I thought it was about time) and F had mushroom sauce
The Grüne Soße was not bad at all but also not what I had been expecting! Give it a go.

 

Settling in…

For a long time, I thought this time would never actually arrive.

For months it has remained a distant ink blot on my calendar and a red underlined date in my diary. But it did arrive.

And now i’m here- officially back in Germany… not far away from starting my new job. And living with my boyfriend. This is, in fact, my first proper grown-up venture into cohabitation- in the couples sense atleast.

It’s only day 3, but i’m very much enjoying things so far.

Of course, it’s wonderful to be reunited (after our longest ever long-distance stint of just over 6 weeks last time) but it’s also so exciting to be living somewhere new. Sure, I lived in Frankfurt last summer, but that felt like, at times, one big long wild working holiday. This time… I even brought some crockery with me. Shit’s got serious.

I was thrown a wonderful going away party by my family on Saturday, before my departure on Sunday- it was part surprise/ part poorly kept secret (i am impossibly nosy and really hard to keep surprises from!) and it was lush.Family and family friends came round for a big barbecue with plenty of meat, delicious salads, drinks and desserts and the luckiest ever helping of English sunshine. I was showered with thoughtful, quirky and useful gifts- and I had not been expecting the send off I received.

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On Sunday night, my parents travelled up to Victoria with me- for several reasons really. First and foremost, it was a real challenge for me to walk anywhere with the amount of luggage I had… let alone ascend the currently stairs-only Victoria tube station up towards the coaches. Secondly, for emotional reasons… my mum wanted to ‘wave me off’- which was lovely of course. And also because I was a little frenzied myself at the stress of the long journey ahead and the gravity of moving away, not just out. 

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The coach ride was long and boring, but actually not too uncomfortable or sleepless, luckily.

I awoke with excitement, periodically, as we stopped in Ghent, Brussels, Liege and neared the German border in the small hours. We reached Aachen early in the morning and drove onto Cologne, before finally beginning the last leg of the trip down to Frankfurt.

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I was so happy to be back when I finally arrived… When I saw the skyline emerge over the Autobahn bridges as the city drew near, I welled up with relief that i’d almost made it (and was within stretching distance of a cuddle and a proper toilet once again!

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Erster Frankfurter Schwimmklub von 1891

After the initial drive home and unloading of my luggage, we enjoyed a nice long evening of food and drinks together. We ate at the terrace restaurant of the ‘Erster Frankfurter Schwimmklub’ (The first Frankfurt Swimming club, a private swimming lake). 

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Prost!

We also went to the Irish Pub in Bornheim and enjoyed a nice evening walk.

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Since then, I’ve had a few funny ventures into the beginnings of everyday German life. Today I had to undertake the immense responsibility of letting an electrician in… showing him to the meter… deflecting/ignoring his sexist jokes… etc. in German.

I’ve been shopping, running… unpacking!

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Last night I enjoyed my first Fletcher’s burger (the chips were actually really tasty, well seasoned!) and the burger wasn’t bad at all. It was a cheeseburger with bacon on…!

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This morning I got up pretty early and went for a run… along the Main!

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I’ll say ciao for now, and write another post soon…

I don’t want this blog to become a boring diary but I thought a little update was necessary just this time!

Bye-

Han xoxo

 

 

 

“Where have you been?”

Hello there world.

Sincerest apologies for my brief blog hiatus. It’s been a busy couple of weeks… Last week I got my dissertation results, finished final year lectures & did quite a lot of socialising!

At the weekend I went somewhere I hadn’t been before… To… Dunstable, Bedfordshire…! (It’s near Luton, but far greener and nicer than I had anticipated from what I’d been​ told!  (An atypical minibreak destination, I know!) but I was with friends and we had some great fun together!

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Some words have a whole new meaning to me now… ‘busway’ for example… A magical bus only road/rail for super whizzy fast buses between towns! Who knew? The photo above was the view out of the window whilst we took a ride from Dunstable back to Luton station on Sunday afternoon. The weather was glorious.

IMG_20170520_224632994.jpg We enjoyed some retro entertainment at the bowling alley on Saturday night! Followed by a quick game of pool at the (very sticky) local sports bar!

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I’m stupidly overcompetitive (an early school report said “Hannah needs to learn to lose at games”) and thus, got very into the whole affair! IMG_20170520_230935531

Also notable weekend in Dunstable occurances were…

Epic pork katsu food time…

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A little walk through the park… (And some very interesting local knowledge about an angry Henry VIII and the establishment of the Church of England)

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And the cuddling of two lovely bunnies, Frank and fizz. Very good indeed.

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Our weekend trip to Dunstable (2 great uni pals and I) goes to show… Random English towns can be pretty fun too.

Also notable in my life at the moment… It’s all change…! It’s now only two weeks until I’m hitting the road and travelling back to Frankfurt to move in with my boyfriend and start my new grown-up job! I’m super excited. And also terrified. I’m currently at my parents house again for a couple of days, catching up with the family whilst I can.

I took all of my teenage bedroom ‘wall of stuff’ down today. (14 year old me decided sticking 47 postcards, 6 records, over 30 posters and more than 250 tickets of various varieties along with other odd bits and bobs- chopsticks, badges, medals- all over my walls would be the coolest idea ever.) I wouldve left it longer but my parents want to repaint in June before they sell the house… So it was a necessary evil. My room feels very bare now and it’s all started sinking in.

I’m excited to write again soon with more exciting news, updates and adventures.

See you later, alligator.

Han xoxo

Why i’ll always be a Londoner at ❤… (and never be gone for too long!)

I often think how sad it is that I’ll never get to experience London as a tourist.

It’s the most eclectic, multicultural, amazing city I’ve ever been to. It’s just so varied, full of culture, heritage, sightseeing opportunities and iconic landmarks. That being said, I love being a Londoner. This is something that has come to my attention more recently, showing international friends around the city I know and love so much…

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Here’s a lovely candid, happy pic I took of my American/Spanish friend Layne enjoying the full tourist experience on Westminster bridge last weekend.

I was born in the London Borough of Bexley- with the rate that London is growing and sprawling more and more, i’m sure one day Bexley will be considered more central than peripheral- But I grew up with it very much on the edges of the city. Close enough to the feel the buzz and experience the benefits of being a Londoner (better public transport, refuse collections and regionally inflated wages for my parents) and far enough out to feel comfortable and suburban.

The local train station, just a few minutes walk from my parents house, where I lived from the ages of 7 to 18 (and still frequent as a cheeky visitor) is in Zone 6. That probably won’t mean much to you unless you’ve spent some time in London. The transport network in London has its very own authority (Transport for London, or TfL) with the London underground and overground, privately owned regional train providers and vitally over 700 red bus routes serving the capital. It’s really so easy to get from one place to another, though not as cheap as other international transport links, it is quite efficient when you think about how much of a gargantuan operation it is to move London’s 8.64 million inhabitants everyday, (plus the 31.5 million visitors we see every year (that number was from 2015 alone)!!)

When I moved to provincial Guildford and the lush Surrey countryside for University three years ago… the lack of buses every 4-9 minutes hit me hard. What’s more, the need to carry around small change or risk the wrath of bus drivers when you sheepishly wave them a £10 note… and pray they let you ride!

When I moved to Frankfurt last summer, I was struck by the lack of ticket barriers… HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT EVERYONE HAS BOUGHT A TICKET?! The truth is you don’t… and Schwarzfahren or freeloading/riding is pretty damn common. That is something difficult to reconcile with my will to be a good person… do the right thing… and pay for a ticket… and the overwhelming temptation to see if I can get away with it. The only deterrent is a 60 euro fine if caught, which isn’t really enough to dissuade many people, though it’s definitely worth buying a week or month pass if you travel often because they are far cheaper than the fine. What i’m getting at with that point though, is that London is my yardstick for everything. 

I frequently find myself saying “Oh this would be atleast twice as much money in London” (in the case of most food/drink I buy in central Europe) or “Goodness, you could get two of these for this price in London” (In the case of beer in Iceland– which is really saying something, as beer in London is not at all cheap by international standards!)

I see a ferris wheel and think… “that’s cool, but it’s no London Eye.”

I see a river and think- “that’s lovely, and much cleaner than the Thames!”

I see a clocktower and think of the Queen Elizabeth bell tower/ St. Steven’s tower (Big Ben is the name of the bell inside, actually!)

I find myself thinking- “The air is so clean here I can run without choking… must be far from home!”

As with most things in life, the place I grew up in is my imprinted scale for comparison when I travel.

It’s a blessing and a curse, having London, a great, influential sprawling city for a hometown.

Whenever I’ve been away for a while, even just in Guildford, I get a wave of relief from Heimweh I didn’t even notice I was suffering from, wash right over me as I see the skyline pulling into Waterloo.

 

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Flying into Heathrow on a sunny afternoon in April.

I took a really cool photo from the window of an aeroplane back from Frankfurt a few weeks ago and the guy next to me asked me (in German) if I was going on holiday to London too. I just smiled and told him something like, ‘No, i’m just going home. But it never gets old.’

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Han xoxo

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Staycations; International friends and the beauty of holidays at home.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet a heap of wonderful people in my relatively short life so far. Many of whom, hail from places half a world the way from me.

I’ve found its amazing to make international friends, and it’s always so exciting meeting up after a long while apart…

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This weekend, my friend Layne (check out his travel blog, right here), who was my colleague last summer in Frankfurt (we taught the same classes together, every day for 7 weeks) is staying with me in Guildford! Layne is from Missouri in the USA, but has been living and working in Granada, Spain, for the past few years since finishing Uni (or College, as he calls it!) Having not seen one another since parting ways at the end of last August, I was super thrilled to be reunited yesterday at Gatwick airport, and give him his first taste of green and merry England this weekend.

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Postbox by the Old Electric works in Guildford, a really SUNNY Friday in May!

This isn’t my first Staycation rodeo, though… Around a month ago, during the Easter break, my school music exchange partner, Lara, came to stay with me for a few days along with her boyfriend Elias. Lara and Elias are from Smallish towns in Hessen, fairly near to Hanau, a short train ride out of Frankfurt, Germany.  I’ve known Lara since I was 14 and seen her every year (bar one) since we first met. It’s been especially nice being close during my time in Germany and we’ve seen way more of each other than either of us could’ve anticipated a couple of years ago.

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This was the three of us enjoying some happy hour cocktails at Fifty-Five Bar in Camden.

Moreover, I’ve spent some time with my German boyfriend Felix staying and I’ve also sort of played host then too- doing some touristy things and enjoying the sights together. Cooking obligatory full English breakfasts and tracking down the tastiest fish and chips in London.

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Touristing it up with Felix, last October
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Lara’s red telephone box picture… artistically back-dropped by St.Paul’s cathedral!

Showing your friends around your home town or city has plenty of benefits you won’t even realise until you do it.

Both of my recent staycations (one currently in-progress) have made me more appreciative and aware of the beautiful things in the place where i’m from (and the place where I live now!) It’s so easy to ignore things nearby that you enjoyed doing once or have entirely ignored, despite the fact they’re right on your doorstep.

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Guildford Castle Grounds

One major plus side of a Staycation is, by throwing yourself into a busy schedule, going out and doing stuff, you feel like you’re on holiday, but you have the benefit of being close enough to home to go back and crash out at any point. It’s really flexible. What’s more, you cut travel costs… no flights means just trains and buses to factor in.  It can actually get kind of expensive, especially in London, where almost everything is pricier than it needs to be- but there’s plenty of stuff to see and do for free, if you know where to look.

It has been really good fun for me reeling off loads of random cultural and historical trivia I have to my friends as they look on in (what I hope genuinely has been) fascination! Local knowledge is always something I really appreciate on trips abroad.

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Layne and I at Guildford Castle

Food wise- you can cook whatever you want and eat whenever you want. You aren’t bound by restaurant meal times (and prices) and it’s totally acceptable to grab a drink… a pint, a glass of wine, a tray of tequila shots… (just kidding) at any time of day. YOU’RE BASICALLY ON HOLIDAY, FOR GOODNESS SAKE! But you know where all the best places to eat are, how to navigate a supermarket perfectly, and have all your own utensils and crockery… perfect!

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Why not make a picnic full of traditional favourites? That’s what I did for Lara and Elias, and it went down a treat!

This isn’t always an issue, but it’s really useful to have a local around for navigation and communication can be super handy. Knowing the quickest and prettiest way from A to B, as well as… the cheapest train ticket option, the fastest bus route etc. is a real bonus. Especially if you’re on a short trip somewhere- you don’t want to waste time bumbling around in circles (although there’s no concrete guarantee that won’t happen a little to a native in some unfamiliar areas of London- it happen’s to the best of us!)

Getting an outsider’s perspective on somewhere you take for granted can be really refreshing. 

Living in the UK, one thing you can’t count on is the weather- So far this year, all of the sunniest days have landed when I’ve had guests to stay… which has been damned excellent luck- that or they’ve just been bringing the sun with them, which is a definite possibility.

 

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Westminster after dark, from Southbank

Those were just a few of my thoughts on holidays from home/ Staycations! Definitely a great thing to do, especially when you have friends from elsewhere to stay.

Cheerio-

Han xoxox

 

 

Guildford: My Surrey Student Experience

For the past three years, or thereabouts, I’ve been spending most of my time studying in Guildford. I’ve decided to write this post, reflecting on my time in the place where I’ve been a student, as last night, I ordered my graduation robe hire… and it dawned on me that over the next 4 weeks I probably won’t get much time to stop and reflect on the place that has played such an instrumental part in my University experience.

(Incase you’re wondering, I started my BA Hons English Literature back in 2014, and hope to graduate from the University of Surrey in mid-July!)

For those of you who aren’t aware, Guildford is a relatively large town (some call it a city- it has a cathedral but not official status) in Surrey, West of London. Official population 137,000- the population of the surrounding areas are included in this number- the central town area is home to more like half of the Borough’s population. This means that it feels big enough to always have something going on, but small enough to easily find your way around and get from A to B in a reasonable amount of time.

It is the second most expensive city to live in, outside of London, after Oxford, so at first glance, not the ideal place to be a student. I’ve spent the past 2 years (in private rented accommodation) constantly whining about my rent, especially this year, where it equals many East or West London peripheral rents for an equivalent room… but I am grateful to have a lovely house, with great friends, in a good location (close to Uni) and a nice scenic walk from Town.

Guildford’s location is fabulous. Just 34 minutes into London Waterloo on the train, but on the doorstep of the rolling Surrey Hills, I think Guildford offers a really lovely mix of city and country.

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Guildford is where you can see the dropped red pin on this map!

Coming from South London Originally (the little Blue dot on the map is where my parents live and where I am right now on my last day of Easter break), It has been really nice to live in a smaller, contained town. The University of Surrey itself has a main campus situated very close to, but distinct from, the town.

The town of Guildford is historic, beautiful and extremely well set-up with plenty of shops, restaurants, services and sights to enjoy as a guest or resident.

Something that’s made me appreciate how lovely Guildford is more recently was hosting 2 friends (from Germany) for a ‘staycation’! Their interest in and fascination with it all reminded me how beautiful it can be.

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Narrowboats on the River Wey (which runs through Guildford) for a celebration
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View under the old railway bridge and wooden footbridge, near Dapdune Wharf, Guildford
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The Angel Hotel, Old Posting House and throughway from The High Street to North Street in the town centre. (There’s a great little independent coffee shop through that arch!)
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Frosty morning view up to Guildford Cathedral on University of Surrey’s Stag Hill Campus
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Damp Dusk on the High Street
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Terry’s Pond, on Stag Hill Campus, University of Surrey
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Railway line through Stoughton
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Along the Wey, by Guildford- view from Walnut Bridge
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Autumn on the Wey
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Frost on Southway
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Sunset on my walk home from Campus
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Guildford Castle Gardens, early April
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Dapdune Wharf
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Positivity post-it notes at the bus stop
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Chapel at Stoke New Cemetery
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View from Pewley Down

I have grown awfully fond of this place and the memories it now holds. I will miss it dearly, but I am certain i’ll be back to visit before long.

In addition to its natural beauty and cultural heritage, (Guildford is old, it was in the Doomsday book) Guildford also has some lovely Pubs, bars, restaurants and venues.

The Boileroom is a great independent music venue I recommend you check out if you have time (you can find my Tripadvisor review here).

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Trashboat gig at the Boileroom

I’ve come to know many wonderful things which hide in the corners of the town, learned the shortcuts and the nooks and crannies, but I still learn new things all time.

A few of places I would check out whilst in Guildford if I were visiting would be…

  • The Cathedral(but be aware it’s undergoing restoration works in part at present!) It’s pretty cool and ominous looking- rather appropriate as they filmed the omen there. It’s become one of the most distinctive symbols of Guildford for me, you can see it from almost any vantage point nearby, as it sits high atop Stag Hill on Campus.
  • Kokoro (Sushi and Bento)- this is a strange one… but go there, get the katsu curry (or anything else for that matter)… you shall not regret it.
  • Creams – though not exceptional to Guildford, who can say no to a huge, indulgence topped waffle when it’s on offer?
  • The Castle- Worth the trek up the High Street to see, the castle is very very old and quite spectacular. You can ascend the tower for a very small fee and it’s worth it for the views.
  • Pewley Down- This is a beautiful big down looking away from Guildford from the very top of the town. I was lucky enough to live right next to it last year, which was just wonderful. It’s a great place for a picnic or to find other peoples dogs to pet.
  • Pubs… This one is a bit vague… there are many. My favourites are probably- The King’s Head, The Star Inn, The Three Pigeons and The Wooden Bridge (would recommend the Sunday pub quiz for the brave and savvy.

Guildford is a really great place to live and study. Bit pricey. Bit full of rich middle-aged people… but it also has plenty of perfectly normal, working people. And it’s really rather lovely.

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Abbott hospital (now private residences), Guildford High Street

Right, I’d better pack my things and head back for my final 3 weeks of lectures! (And final month living in Guildford!)

If you’re thinking about a trip to Guildford, or moving here to study (especially at The University of Surrey)- do it, you won’t regret it!

Ciao for now,

Han

xoxox