“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

 

 

Overpr-iceland- something you should know before you go to Reykjavik…! £$€

I had a wonderful, unforgettable trip to Iceland with my family at the beginning of April. We saw a good deal of Reykjavik itself, but spent a large portion of our trip hunting down the northern lights at all hours (to no avail) and visiting some of the most famous natural wonders of Iceland (The Golden Circle, The Blue Lagoon, to name a couple!)

I think something none of us had quite bargained for before we embarked upon our holiday, was just how exceptionally pricey Iceland would be. This is something you should know if you don’t already, though you’ll probably have a rough idea from a little research.

It’s really, really expensive. I’m not exaggerating.

If you’re from anywhere with a currency that isn’t a roughly comparable Kroner (like NOK, SEK or DKK), prepare to feel financially pillaged. The exchange rates are unfavourable from pretty much any major western currency at present, especially the weak-ass Great British Pound £, but you’ll probably feel the sting of the ISK (Icelandic Krona) regardless… Everything is really expensive. Not just because of exchange rates, in fact, they aren’t even half of the story.

The average salary in Iceland is far higher than in most other developed countries… The average Icelander earns almost 3000 euros a month before tax… compared to the average UK earner, coming in at a little under 2000 a month (still talking in euros here, just for ease of comparison.)  According to some sources, Reykjavik is actually THE most expensive capital city in the world. So don’t go without being prepared for the squeeze on your wallet. I went on a family trip, and my parents by no means scrimped, but we still felt consistently conscious of the seemingly ludicrous prices…

On our first afternoon we went to nice little cafe in Reykjavik, Stofan, (which I had previously spotted on tripadvisor)… It was cosy, warm and made a forgiving escape from the relentless freezing rain and icy wind… all was well until my mother figured out that the toastie my sister wanted to order (a veggie one, with mozzarella, tomato and pesto), which you would never pay more than £7 for in even the swishest London cafe (of equivocal centrality and vibes)… was going to set us back around £25. Roughly 27 euros. $32 USD. For a vegetarian toastie… To say it was a shock to the system would be an understatement.

You really wouldn’t believe the cost of alcohol in Iceland, either. A lot of the priciness comes down to the fact it is a tiny island nation in the arctic circle… But perhaps the shock was so distinct as Reykjavik certainly didn’t feel rural at all to me, quite comparable to many other European coastal cities I’ve visited. They don’t import that much by way of finished products… so it’s expensive to buy Icelandic, but even more expensive to buy imports.

There are *some* things you can do and see in Reykjavik on a budget. We made the decision to buy a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket… as taxis are pretty extortionate and we wanted to see all the city highlights in a day.

The Hallgrímskirkja is a stunning feat of modern architechture, probably the most recognisable landmark in Reykjavik and is free to visit. For a small fee you can ascend the tower for panoramic views over the city (although by this point in our trip we had decided to conserve our Krona for food wherever possible to avoid accidental starvation.)

 

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Leifur Eiríksson stands majestically mounted in front of the Hallgrimskirkja

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Icelanders seem to have a good sense of humour, atleast!

We also ventured to the Harpa, a stunning glass building by the Old Harbour, complete with visitor centre, theatre, gift shops and great photo opportunities.

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The geometric facade of the Harpa is mesmerising, even on a grey day.

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The Harpa comes complete with obligatory funky modern sculptures, inside and out.

DSC_0500.JPG There’s a stunning view of the Esja Mountain from the coast of Reykjavik- a unique backdrop for a busy city.

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Though largely frowned upon by Icelandic authorities, colourful graffiti provides a free attraction in central Reykjavik for thrifty travellers, and brightens up a grey city on a grey day no end.

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The breathtaking views of the sea and mountains from the city centre are certainly a free bonus worth enjoying if you visit overpriceland!

You’ll pay a lot  for excursions too, but I would say they are definitely worth it once you’re there. The only thing i’d say was a waste of money for us was our ‘northern lights tour’ (we never saw any, and stood in the cold, deserted and perfectly dark lava fields of rural iceland two nights in a row at 2am). But naturally, that’s something i’m sure those who have gotten lucky would say is worth taking a chance on.

If you want to go on trips to places like the Golden Circle (which I would recommend entirely) or the Blue Lagoon (which was also pretty cool), book in advance to save money. The two main coach trip providers are Reykjavik Excursions and Grayline. We used the former for our trips and were not disappointed.

Finally, something that may give you a little giggle- I mentioned briefly in my post on The Golden Circle that i paid the world’s most expensive toilet a visit. On the topic of overprIceland…. here’s the view from the sink..!

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If you do decide to take a trip to Iceland, make sure you’re prepared for the prices… once you’ve got your head around that as an investment, you’ll most likely be pretty impressed with the place. I certainly was!

Tata for now,

Han xoxo

Top 10 things you should taste in Germany

I love food. And drinks.

I’m not picky at all and love sampling the local cuisine wherever I travel to. Here are just a few of my favourite German specialities I think you should try next time you’re in Deutschland! For the fully immersive German tourist experience, I’d suggest going all out on the food and drink. Try everything you can. If it’s your first time in Germany, ease yourself in…. ‘But, when in Rome, do as the Romans do!’

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Start gently, with a hard-not-to-love Laugenbrezel-  a traditionally german savoury bread pretzel. Tasty with butter or on their own, my favourites are the fairly plain sated ones, although you can also get them super cheesy, or covered in pumpkin seeds (Kurbis). The great thing about these is, they are cheap, tasty, filling and available pretty much everywhere. They are cheapest to eat if bought from the bakery section of a supermarket, like REWE, where you can get a fresh one for around 30 cents (definitely under 50), in comparison to the 2,50 or 3,50 you can easily end up paying if bought from a street vendor. That being said, they are wonderful warm, so sometimes its worth paying the extra bit for that.

Apfelwein

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(Photo Credit: http://www.wanted.de)

Why not drink some Apfelwein… or Ebbelwoi as it is affectionately known in the local Hessisch dialect. It’s a delicious, often quite tart but also fairly fruity apple based alcoholic drink- (I would just call it a cider but i’m not sure my boyfriend would ever look me in the eye again if I did..!) It’s crisp and refreshing on a hot day, especially lovely drunk from a traditional glass. Fun Fact… there’s a building in Frankfurt called the Westhafen tower, which is built to resemble an Apple wine glass! If you’re in a hurry or on a budget, you can buy around a litre of decent tasting applewine for about… 1,39 euros… here is a photo of me lovingly clutching some on my very first night in Frankfurt last summer, at the gay pride parade…

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Auflauf

Auflauf is one of those things that is just so very German it’s quite hard to explain… it’s essentially a word to describe any combination of carbs (pasta/potatoes/rice/ pastry – though not all at once) with eggy, cheesy, goodness, baked in the oven. My favourite so far has been a Spinach, Salmon, King Prawn and Pastry Auflauf (home baked in cooperation with boyfriend’s mum!) But i’ve also tried a pasta one and a potato one with different ingredient variations. It’s heavy but delicious and there’s a filling for everyones tastes…! 7IMG_20170418_185706980

Käsespätzle

Literally translates to something like ‘cheesy egg noodles’, this fresh egg pasta dish made with ample cheese and the special pasta variety spätzle is a must-try for carb lovers. It’s most often cooked with bacon cubes, onion, garlic, and often also spinach or other veg for variation. But it’s the definition of cheesy goodness. Just eat it. Please. do it. Unfortunately don’t have my own pic of this, as I always eat it too fast to take one.

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(GuteKueche.at)

I feel as though i’m doing German cuisine the greatest injustice by reducing it to this rundown- it is pretty varied (not so carb heavy as i’m making out) and tasty… Although I love all of these things- so my recommendations are made in good faith!

Weißbier

If I had a pound (£) for every-time i’ve heard the words ‘gerne eine Halbliter Hefeweizen, bitte’ fly out of my mouth, i’d be half way to clearing my student debts. But seriously. I love this stuff. It’s so good and refreshing. It’s naturally cloudy, but you can also have it filtered, when it becomes ‘kristallweizen.’ A must-try for your time in Germany.

Flammkuchen

Pretty much carbonara topped thin crust pizza… yet an other gross oversimplification of the delights of german cuisine… but it’s great.

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My (veggie) sis had a 4 cheese flammkuchen, and I opted for the classic in this pic. Ignore my derpy face I was like ‘mum please don’t take a picture i’m busy eating my foooood’.

Wurst

Now I couldn’t write a post with some tips on German Cuisine without including what the nation is undoubtedly most famous for; Wurst. Sausages… they come in all shapes and sizes, and are pretty much everywhere in Germany. It’s really not uncommon to see people eating snacking sausages just walking about the city… there are lots of different types… so, why not try something different?

  • Frankfurter Würstchen (classic, boiled, porky, great with mustard/ketchup in little a bread roll)
  • Weißwurst (literally- ‘white sausage’- Veal and Pork)
  • Rindswurst (Beef sausage- really nice with mustard
  • Currywurst- In my opinion… the king of sausages… usually pork/beef sausage (frankfurter/rindswurst) covered in delightful curry ketchup goodness. I cant get enough of it
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Currywurst mit Pommes (curry sausage and chips!) at Conrad’s. Hauptwache

 

Eis

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Eis near the Romer, July 2016

Whether you want to opt for the delightfully retro spaghettieis or a more traditional scoop or two of gelato… german ice cream is generally pretty awesome- and the reason for that is, its mostly italian. There is a pretty large 3rd generation Italian expatriate community in germany, with many Italians moving to Germany to rebuild after the end of the war to offer temporary (mostly manual) labour… and a few sticking around! Totally a bonus when it comes to food.

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Spaghetti Eis (with Nutella topping!)

Apfelkuchen

Apple Cake, more like Apple pie… with lashings of whipped cream and plenty of cinnamon and nutmeg inside! You have to grab a slice.

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I ate this slice last Sunday at Cafe Metropol am Dom. Bliss.

Hamburgers

Although modern thought implies that the ‘Hamburger’ as it is consumed in its base, patty form my millions every day is an American invention, that is certainly not the kind of Burger the Germans would like to take credit for. I have eaten some seriously EPIC burgers in Germany- Fletcher’s Better Burger, Jamy’s Burger, Die Kuh die Lacht (The laughing cow) are a few common and popular chains (especially in and around Frankfurt) BUT my personal favourite Burger joint is without a doubt Der Fette Buelle. I celebrated my birthday there, took my family there during their visit to Frankfurt in August… it is simply amazing food, and not too expensive either which is a huge win.

I hope you enjoy sampling a few of my top German delights during your next trip. Let me know if you think there’s anything I haven’t mentioned that I need to try!! (Naturally these are just my personal highlights, If I wrote everything German I’d eaten or drunk lately this post would be 30,000 words long.)

Tschüssi!

Han xoxo

Frankfurt; an unexpected love affair ❤

 

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Mainhattan
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Atop the Main Tower with Layne, my blog muse…!

It all began when I first set foot in Frankfurt am Main last summer, on the 15th of July.

Technically speaking, I probably tell small a lie- I’d visited Hanau and Erlensee, Aschaffenburg and Seligenstadt, outlying sort-of suburbs back in 2014 on a Sixth form Orchestra exchange trip (nerd alert). But my first proper, deliberate foray was on this day in July 2016.

I recall vividly that it was a hot day, both on arrival at Frankfurt International Airport (FRA) and at London Heathrow (LHR) , from where I was lovingly waved-off by my teary mother.

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Obligatory *lo0k at me i’m going travelling alone* picture from the airport

This emotional parting was for (what I had anticipated would be) a 7 week adventure of SummerCamp TEFL teaching and uninhibited solo exploration of a German city i’d always wanted to visit. Almost a year down the line… It is safe to say that my relationship with the city (and more than one of its inhabitants) has surpassed all expectations.

I’m headed back to Frankfurt in the morning tomorrow for the (…September, December, March, April…) fourth or fifth time since I moved back home in the last week of August 2016.

Probably the same flight-path. Same airline even, I think… though I can’t be sure as I flit between British Airways and Lufthansa like a fly in a Jam Jar. (What can I say; i’m a sucker for a good deal!) I shan’t bother recounting the utter TRAUMA of the time I was entirely broke and decided a 16 hour coach journey would be worth it to visit my boyfriend… (i’m still entirely broke but know better than to endure that again on purpose in the near future.)

Now, back on topic. Frankfurt…

Not only was I seduced its the metropolitan charm, cultural heritage and breathtaking Skyline … but the miracle of pfandflasche... the exceptionally cheap (virtually taxless) alcoholic beverages and expansive variety of delicious delicious food. I had a truly fantastic and very memorable summer. And there was also the, small, minor, tiny detail that during August I also accidentally fell crushingly hard for a local… whoops. *cue sigh/awh track* (delete as appropriate.)

In about 6 weeks time I’m moving back to Germany… but tomorrow i’m lugging the first load of my stuff (rammed super neatly, I mean folded… (hi mum, definitely folded, incase you’re reading)) back over my s/o’s apartment… I can’t wait for a week of Easter holiday chilling, catching up with local friends, essay writing and making-up-for-lost-time/date nights.

This might sound a bit odd to many Brits, but I’ve really liked all kinds of German stuff  (Em Prisk, that hyperlink is just for you) since I was about 12. I started learning German at secondary school when I was 11 and initially I was largely just entertained by the humorously tongue-twisting contents of my little a5 bottle green Vokabelheft. But then I got kind of decent at it… and I took it for AS level. I came super close to giving it up (after the ludicrously frustrating grammar almost got the better of me)… I even made my class a huge chocolate cake that had DANKE  lovingly piped in white icing-  and then… along came results day and it turned out I less grammatically challenged than I had anticipated (and far more musically challenged!)

I’ve had a German penpal since I was 11 (Kitsch, I know!), A German exchange partner since I was 14 (who came to stay with me in London last week, too!)… and now a German boyfriend for about 8 months… I think I may have a bit of a problem…?!

I’m moving back primarily to start a new job, teaching English again, but this time as a freelancer with Berlitz language school. I’m quite excited and it’ll be a welcome break from studying (which I adore, but will need a little breather from after the trauma of dissertation). Ultimately I want to do an MA in Germany… It’s almost free and full of beautiful old Universities. But for now, I’m pretty excited for another adventure.

I should really get some quality shut eye… my first (of three) alarms will be yelling at me to get up and go to the airport in less than 6 hours time… but I’ll give you a little update on things soon; perhaps after the weekend as I’m off to party with some friends near Marburg on Friday (which is a wonderful city!!)

Bye for now,

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Alte Oper, Frankfurt
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Gude… am Main
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Beer is a very important part of German culture… which I have endeavoured to fully soak up during my visits.
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Currywurst and Erdinger Weissbier at the go-to post-work haunt of my colleagues and I last summer, Conrad’s at Hauptwache.
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nr. Hauptbahnhof

Han xoxo