Solo Travel P. II

Upon arriving in Krakow, I checked my bags and headed into town to make one of two guided tours of the day. The first was of the Jewish Quarter and lasted for nearly three hours. We visited many historic sites, including many locations from the movie Schindler’s List. We ended the tour at the actual factory and were invited to walk through the museum, but because I only had one free day in Krakow, I chose to walk back to the Old Town and start another tour. The Old Town tour I took in the afternoon was interesting and intimate, being only three people and the guide. We walked throughout the Main Market Square and listened to the guide tell us different facts, some of which were about Pope John Paul II. We concluded the trip at Wawel Castle, which is one of the most captivating buildings I’ve seen, architecturally speaking because of the noticeable varied influences and designs throughout the castle. I spent the rest of the evening talking with a group of people staying at the hostel. We all managed to book different trips to Auschwitz the following day.



My trip to the concentration camp was the only thing I planned for that day, and I could probably write an entire post on that experience alone. This is the second Nazi camp I’ve been to, but Dachau was a work camp as opposed to a death camp. Auschwitz I was our first stop; many of the barracks have been turned into exhibits. After visiting a few, our mini bus took us to Birkenau. The sheer size of the camp was overwhelming and intimidating, with the infamous train tracks leading through the gate. Being in a Nazi camp is like nothing I have ever experienced before and I full-heartedly think everyone should once in their lifetime.


After an incredible, but exhausting two days in Poland, I left early to catch a flight to Copenhagen. Meandering around the city the first day, my full day was spent on more guided tours. By this point in the trip, my feet had blisters upon blisters and I was sort of tired of traveling alone. But there really isn’t a better place to cheer yourself up than Copenhagen. The people truly are as friendly as they are stereotyped to be. The city is beautiful, so picturesque and vibrant. One thing I suggest anyone who visits is to walk, or enter, Tivoli Gardens at night and experience the magic that prompted Walt Disney to create his empire.



My final stop was Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I only had one afternoon here before catching a flight back to London. I walked through the canals from the hostel to Museumplein, the art district of Amsterdam. I made my way through the beautiful Rijksmuseum and had lunch in the park before visiting the Van Gogh museum. Afterwards, I walked through a street market, as recommended by the receptionist at the hostel and through the city center, making a stop at Anne Frank’s house before heading in for the night.


When I started my study abroad experience, I never though I would have traveled on my own. Looking back now, this is the best thing I could have ever done, and is definitely one of the highlights of my whole experience. For anyone considering making a solo-travel trip, I could not suggest it highly enough. If you have any questions, feel free to ask!

Thank you so much for keeping up with me, and I really hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about my travels as much as I’ve enjoyed reliving them.

Xx Jessica

What I Saw in Normandy, France, Beyond the Surface

When you think of typical study abroad weekend trip, you might think swim beaches, nightlife, or shopping. I typically would, too. However, my friend and I countered this expectation by spending last weekend in Normandy, France: a charming, historical city, yet nevertheless a city mostly known for and immersed in violent, WWII history. I’m the one in my family and friend group to rapidly change the TV channel if I even see a gun appear in a show or movie, so I surprised even myself as I walked through the famous Caen Memorial Museum, pausing at artifacts like vintage rifles, bomb casing, and haunting, faded newspaper headings.

This surreal experience served as an excellent reminder and testament of the fact that studying abroad shouldn’t be just “fun”— though it is important, and every exchange student obviously needs enough smiling photos to become their most-liked profile pictures— but also challenging and shocking. When I’m swimming in French beaches, eating at French restaurants, and shopping in adorable French boutiques, I’m having the enjoyable but passive trip of a tourist. Yet when I shuffled among French people and was confronted with both some of the best and worst events in the country’s history, I quickly considered it one of my most authentic, intentional experiences so far this summer.

In addition to the Caen Memorial Museum, my friend and I visited a museum dedicated to the role that French beaches played in WWII, visited one of the stormed beaches and discovered the artificial ports, and stopped at the church where Charles De Gaulle, former President of the French Republic, officially declared that France would stand with the Allies for the remainder of WWII. The clear water and statuesque cliffs of the beaches, along with the ornate detailing of the church, revealed that even the most painful parts of history can be extraordinarily beautiful.

Overall, what I saw in Normandy taught me that a divided history can lead to a united future, if only everyone is committed to an education in and an awareness of their pasts. At many of the places I visited, I met people from many different countries— and both sides of the war— approach monuments of their countries’ pasts as lessons not to repeat actions that incited such violence.

I also learned not to shy away from an experience just because it’s not simple and “fun”— instead, search for the complexities and conflicts in a culture, because they will be much more interesting.

Spring Break Diaries: Days 10 &11, Lincoln to Cambridge and Home Again

This was my last day of my guided tour with Rabbie’s before heading back to Edinburgh. We spent the entire morning in Lincoln and left at noon for Cambridge. Today was less exciting than the previous days with fewer stops and longer road time, but the places were no less interesting.

The two main points of interest in Lincoln are the cathedral and castle. They sit opposite IMG_0669each other and are only a couple minutes walk apart. Like many castles which are made as defense points, the Lincoln castle is on top of a large hill (Castle Hill) and it is a steep walk from High Street to the gates.

Visitors can go in the castle promptly at 10, not a second earlier. You will know when its time by the ringing of the bells in the cathedral.

Lincoln has over 2000 years of history and has its origins as Roman town. Before the castle was a Roman fortress built in AD 43. When the army moved on in AD 78 the fortress officially got the status as a Roman town and was named Lindum Colonia.

Lincoln gets its name from the Romans and on top of the fortress a medieval castle was IMG_0673built by William the Conqueror. The castle was the residence of the constable who was responsible for the defense and maintenance of the castle. The sheriff stayed within the walls when collecting taxes and when presiding over shire court, and a small force of soldiers and servants were permanently in residence. The castle at Lincoln has some brutal history. It was a site of uprisings, battles, hangings, persecutions, and in Victorian times a prison.

Stories and sites at Lincoln Castle:

  • William Pickett and Henry Carey, 1859
    • These two were convicted murders and the last prisoners to be publicly hanged at the castle. The hangings occurred at Cobb Hall gallows, and a laughing and jeering crowd of 15000 came to watch. This is one of the largest crowds to gather for a public hanging in Lincoln.
  • The Lincolnshire Rising, 1536
    • The heavy taxation and closures of monasteries by Henry VIII led to a uprising in Lincolnshire. 10000 protesters stood outside the gates. In a letter Henry called the county, ‘the most brute and beastly of the whole realm’. Forces were sent to the city and the crowd dispersed, but over 100 rebels were later imprisoned and several were hung, drawn and quartered.
  • Visit from King Henry VIII, 1541
    • King Henry and his wife of the time, Catherine Howard walked the walls of the castle and viewed the populace below them. Henry by this time was extremely overweight and the walk was painful for his legs, while in contrast his wife was young and beautiful. The queen was rumored to have been having an illicit affair with Thomas Culpepper and seven months later she was executed for adultery and treason.
  • Housing of the Manga Carta
    • 800 years ago King John and the barons met and agreed to a charter that would change history and become the most important document in England and one of the most important documents in the world. The Manga Carta enshrined the principle that the king had to act within the rule of law. In 1217, the Manga Carta was re-issued with some original clauses incorporated into the second charter, Charter of the Forest. Lincoln Castle is the only place in the world where an original 1215 Manga Carta and 1217 Charter of the Forest can be seen in the same room.
  • A battle within and outside the castle walls, 1141
    • King Stephen was at war with his cousin Matilda over the English crown, and within the castle he fought to regain control of the castle after it had been stolen by Ranulf, Earl of Chester. This battle became known as the Joust of Lincoln. During this King Stephan was captured and imprisoned by Matilda but was later released seven months later and restored to the throne with the capture of Matilda’s half-brother.
  • Civil War, 1217
    • Lady Nicola de la Haye had just withstood a 40-day siege on the castle by Richards I’s chancellor, Longchamps, who was demanding the loyalty of supporters of Prince John. Then in 1215, King John’s refusal to honor the Manga Carta led to a civil war and brought another battle to Lincoln Castle. The rebel barons allied themselves with Prince Louis of France and seized control of parts of England, including Lincoln. But the castle, a royalist stronghold, held out against the French forces and rebel barons.

Outside the castle you can still see the outer gate and wall. The space between the outer

The Outer Wall

gates and the inner walls was known as the ‘killing space’. This area would force the invaders into a close and tight space making it harder for them to attack and ram their way through the doors. It also made it easier for the soldiers defending to take down their forces from the high walls above. Only a small section still stands and walking through one of the three arches leads you to the front entrance of the cathedral.

In 1072 William the Conqueror ordered the first cathedral to be built in Lincoln. William wanted the cathedral and his castle close to one another ‘so that in glorifying God he could make clear who was in charge on earth!’ The cathedral was mostly destroyed by a fire in 1141  and was rebuilt and expanded, only to be destroyed by an earthquake in 1185. King Henry II approved of St. Hugh of

View from Lincoln Castle

Avalon as Bishop of Lincoln in 1186, and St. Hugh began a major rebuilding project of the cathedral in a gothic style. The cathedral we see today was finished in 1280. The central tower rises to 271 feet and is the tallest cathedral tower in Europe without a spire. The tower originally had a wooden spire that rose 525 feet, but collapsed in 1549 in bad weather. The cathedral was the first building to ever reach a height greater than the Great Pyramid of Giza and was once the tallest structure in the world (before skyscrapers) and held the title for two centuries (then the spire collapsed). The inside is just as magnificent as the exterior and with your ticket you can join a free tour of the cathedral. Some areas though don’t open until later in the day at 1pm. This includes the library and chapter house. The workers at both the castle and cathedral are incredibly helpful and nice. They will answer any questions you have and make sure you have an enjoyable experience.

The last stop of the tour was at one of the oldest universities in the world, Cambridge. My two hours at Cambridge were spent walking the streets and pretty much fitting in with the other college students walking about (unlike many I wasn’t approached to pay for a tour).IMG_0752 At a local ice cream shop I got a scope of sweet lemon curd in a cone and sat in front of King’s College. I then walked through the market, around the main buildings, and along the Backs. Many people were out and enjoying gondola rides on the River Cam. The weather was warm and sunny and people were out in troves. I ended up on a bench outside St. Johns College and was able to enjoy a picturesque view.

That was it. The tour through the heart of England was over and I was back in London for the night. April 9, my 11th day of Spring Break would be spent on a train going back to Edinburgh where my adventures would carry on from there.


Oh, I also saw Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross.


Helpful Hint: Besides essentials like ID, money, and my phone probably the most important item I carry with me when traveling is my water bottle. You can easily get dehydrated when traveling so drinking water is important and you can save a lot by not buying bottled drinks everywhere you go.

Spring Break Diaries: Day 9, The Peaks of Derbyshire

National Park. It was a long drive so our tour guide made it abundantly clear, “If. You. Need. To. Stop. Speak Up.” Every word was a sentence, but we didn’t have to make any unplanned stops thankfully. Our first stop of the day was at Buxton. Buxton is known as

The Crescent in Buxton

the capital of the Peak District. The town had its beginnings with a spring. The natural spring attracted settlers and one group was the Romans. The Romans founded copper mines in the Peaks and out of those mines came a precious stone, Blue John. Today Blue John is extremely hard to get a hold of because there is only one strain left.  At Buxton, the Duke of Devonshire in the 18th century, decided to make the town into THE spa town, and modeled it after Bath. There are replicas of the Royal Crescent, Victoria Park, and the Roman Baths within the town. But what many tourists and locals like to do when visiting is to fill up water bottles at the St. Ann’s Well.

Ann was a sickly girl who had an incurable disease. On the day that she was sure to die she

St Ann’s Well

dragged herself out of her bed and to the spring. There she drank the water and had a vision of the Virgin Mary, and boom! She was cured. She became a saint and the spring became famous and people traveled from all over to taste its waters. The water is refreshing and has a clear, fresh taste with little minerals. It was also free, so much better than buying the same Buxton water in a prepacked bottle for a few quid.

We then headed further into the Peaks. The Peak District was once a hunting ground in the times of the Saxons, but when the Normans took over they made the Forest Laws. Hunting was now only for the aristocracy and not the common man. If caught poaching you would lose a hand, or if they were in a bad mood and found your hunting as an act of treason your head would roll. Of course this didn’t stop the people from hunting. They created the Greenman. The Greenman belongs to the realm of feary; he is constructed out of leaves and has a long beard. The people spread the story of the Greenman who would protect the land and would grow angry at any who trespassed. They then hung wood chimes on branches and when Norman soldiers heard them they would start to panic because that Greenman had come. This is the Forest of the Peaks. In 1227 the Forest Acts were revised, and they helped to inspire tales of Robin Hood. In fact Sherwood Forest is located in the Peak District.

Trail to Dale Cave

We then stopped in the small village of Castleton. Castleton maybe small but it is filled with history and natural beauty. There in the Forest of the Peaks lays the ruins of Peveril IMG_9988Castle, the Castle of the High Peaks, which rises high above the village on a steep ridge. The castle was first constructed in the 11th century and the thick curtain walls made an effective defense. However later generations mainly used the castle for ceremonies, residence, meetings for local government and later it used as a favorite hunting lodge for kings. The backside of the castle is a ravine. A small line of water trickles through it and leads to Dale Cave. It also is a grazing area for sheep so I was able to get up close and personal. To the right of the castle is Peak Cavern. Peak Cavern was once a reef millions of years ago, and the entrance to the cavern is truly impressive. When you think of a large cave the first image to come to mind is probably a large hole on the side of a rock wall, and that is exactly what the entrance is. A underground river runs through the cave and down to the village. Today the cave is used as a concert and party venue and filming location.

The next location we visited was the Plague Village, Eyam. The Bubonic Plague is one of the most devastating epidemics in history. It was spread from animals to humans, humans to humans, humans to animals and all by a tiny flea. The outbreak in London resulted in over a hundred thousand deaths. The people living in the countryside believed that they were safe. They kept to themselves and chased strangers out.  But at Eyam the plague still found a way in. It started off in what is now known as plague cottage. In the cottage lived Widow

The Plague Window in the Parish

Cooper, her two sons, and George Viccars a tailor who was lodging with them. Not knowing what the implications of his actions would bring, George ordered cloth from London where the plague was raging out of control.  The cloth was damp on arrival so he put in front of a warm fire to dry and the dormant germs came alive. A few days later George came down with a strange fever and soon passed on. No suspicions were aroused until fifteen days later when Widow Cooper’s son died followed by near neighbors. Opposite the Cooper cottage was the Sydall family who lost seven members. The village was terrified. Some families fled and took refuge outside the area of contamination. But a hero would arise from Eyam. William Mopesson, the local Rector, decided to quarantine the village so that the plague would not spread elsewhere. The boundaries were declared: to the north a natural spring now known as Mompesson’s Well and to the south a large boulder on a hilltop. William wrote to the Early of Derbyshire for help. The Earl himself arranged for food and medication to be left at boundary points. With goods that villagers had to pay for, they would disinfect their money with vinegar and leave it at the appointed spot. To help stop the spread of the deadly plague William and his wife helped to treat victims and closed the church and held services outdoors.

William begged for his family to leave and seek sanctuary in a nearby town, but his wife IMG_0062refused to go. They sent their children off to safety and his wife, Catherine, continued to work by his side. Tragically one day she contracted the symptoms and died two days later. William bravely continued on and worked tirelessly to save the village. Many tragic tales like this abounded in the village. The churchyard ran out of room to bury the dead so that villagers had to result to burying family members in their gardens or even within their homes. After many casualties the village was free of the plague and today it is one of the most visited parishes in England and every year on the last Sunday of August a service is held to remember all those who lost their lives to the plague.

The last and main stop of the day before we reached Lincoln was Chatsworth Estate. Chatsworth is owned by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and has seen 16 generations,IMG_0471 a history expanding over 500 years. The estate was acquired by the Cavendish family in 1549. Sir William Cavendish, was one of Henry VIII’s commissioners during the Reformation, along with his young wife Bess of Hardwick sold the estates given to him by the Crown and bought land in Derbyshire near Bess’s childhood home. Thus they began the project of building an ambitious new house. Around the Elizabethan house was a central courtyard with a great tower, great hall, and chapel. Later William and Bess added a hunting tower to their grounds and a fishing platform known as Queen Mary’s Bower for when Mary, Queen of Scots, was sent to Chatsworth. Bess was married four times and her last husband, George Talbot, was appointed Shrewsbury custodian of Mary, Queen of Scots, when she was held at Chatsworth.


The later generations at Chatsworth continued to expand and build on the home. Royal State Apartments were created for King William III and Queen Mary II and the young men

The Grand Entrance

of the family who came back from their Grand Tours brought home many furnishings, books, artwork, and artifacts that still fill the home. The gardens also had many expansions and changes throughout its life. Walking through today you can view the rockeries, a maze, through waterfall, a grotto, a fountain shooting water up 200 feet in the air and so much more. I had two hours to explore so I spent my first thirty minutes rushing through the network of rooms in the estate, taking pictures of everything, and spent the rest of my time in the gardens. To really see Chatsworth you need an entire day but this gorgeous site is a must see stop in the heart of England.

In recent history Chatsworth has been a popular filming location. You might recognize:

  • The Duchess (a drama about Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire)IMG_0500
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • The Wolfman
  • Jane Eyre
  • A Royal Night Out
  • Barry Lyndon
  • Death comes to Pemberley
  • And many TV series and a BBC documentary

We finished off the day by arriving in Lincoln and I was able to see a little of the city, but I would do most of my exploring the next day.

Best part of spring are these cuties

Helpful Hint: Many public restrooms in Europe have a fee to be able to use them, so when you have the chance use them when they are free and clean.

Spring Break Diaries: Day 8, North Wales and Chester

Today my tour group headed off to Wales, and I think I was able to handle all the weather it IMG_9460threw at me fairly well. It started off warm and beautiful, practically perfect in every way, then strong winds came rushing in giving the air a cold bite, then rain and pebbles of hail fell from the sky and it got colder and even windier. Finally the day ended with it being warmer than it started off as and a rainbow appeared (but as I am writing this in my room it is raining and hailing again). Welcome to Welsh weather, a full week of weather in just one morning.

The first stop we had was Conwy Castle. Conwy Castle is in North Wales and here Welsh is the native tongue (all signs have the Welsh and English spellings). In fact, the first written language with an alphabet in the United Kingdom was Welsh not English. To get to Conwy from Chester we drove through gorgeous countryside and past the coast of the choppy Irish Sea.

Castle Conwy is mostly ruins now, but visitors can walk through them and up the eight IMG_9364massive towers to the curtain wall and then all the way up to the tallest turrets. This is a place that every one of all ages can enjoy, but be warned the wind is strong that it might just blow you right off. At the top there are amazing views that overlook the town, countryside, and Conwy River. By walking through and seeing it you can understand why Conwy Castle is one of the great fortresses of medieval Europe.

Conwy Castle was built in the reign of Edward I, he had planned to surround Wales in an ‘iron ring of castles’ to subdue the rebelling Welsh. This also led to a defensible wall surrounding the town to protect the English colony at Conwy. The building of Castle Conwy began in 1283 and much of it still stands today. Approaching the city my first view was of the castle that leaves a forceful impression of strength as it overlooks the town and its surroundings. And this strong impression is what is left after hundreds of years have deteriorated it. Imagine what it must have been like in its hay day and how those looking upon this mighty English structure must have felt.


Our next stop on our journey through Wales was Trefriw Village. This small, nearly empty IMG_9463village was taken over and turned into a commune in the 60s. The people made crafts and sold them to larger towns, but their goods became so popular that Trefriw turned into a hot tourist spot. The commune and their crafts are long gone, but what still stands (and what we stopped to see) are the woolen mills. You can actually walk into the working mill and watch the entire production process all the way to their special weaving.

One of the greatest legends in the world that came out of Great Britain is that of Camelot and King Arthur. Many will claim various places as the legendary land, but our stop in IMG_9474Snowdonia lays claim to being the place of Avalon, the home to the Lady of the Lake. If it’s true or not I haven’t a clue, but it makes for an interesting tale and now I have bragging rights and can claim that I have been to the spot of legend. Snowdonia is overflowing with beautiful scenery. We saw waterfalls, valleys, and mountains. We even saw an area of large blue stones that has the potential of being the original hole to the rocks at Stonehenge. No trees grow in the area so its speculated that they were torn down and used to move the massive stones and were never given the opportunity to grown back.

Wales is also famous for its mines, and northern Wales for its slate mines. We stopped atIMG_9558 the largest one that halted production in 1969 and went through the museum. Admission is free and it is a worthwhile see. Personally I was not overly excited to learn about a slate mine, but with nothing better to do I went in and I am glad I did. You can walk through where the men worked long hours and see all the machines they used in the process for mining and working the slate.

Finally we went back to Chester and were dropped in the city center so that we could explore. I spent my first hour walking through the incredible cathedral (which also has free admission). The details in the stained glass windows and medieval woodwork are spectacularly intricate. The cathedral has seen many changes over its long history. It was founded in 1092 as a Benedictine abbey and built in the Norman style and then 1250 onward 275 years it was rebuilt to fit the Gothic style. The cathedral is a must see in Chester. My next hour was spent walking along the old Roman Walls surrounding the city. IMG_9691Chester was originally a Roman Fortress called Deva over 2000 years ago, and was a hub for trade. The walls are the most complete Roman city walls in Britain and make it easy to find the other attractions around the city like the castle, Roman garden, and the Roman Forum. I then followed a map (I went retro and didn’t use my phone’s GPS) out of the city center and back to the cute guest house I’m staying in. The walk took around twenty minutes but was simple to follow.

I don’t think I have seen a countryside as lovely nor as inspiring as that of Wales in April. It is a green silk tapestry that rolls over miles. Lying in the grass you might just think you are counting sheep and little lambs, the clouds are so white and fluffy. The sky is an incredibly bright, clear blue and daffodils paint the ground yellow. The picturesque scenery leads to ideas of finding a comfortable spot in the sun and enjoying a good book, but if so inclined to do so make sure to come prepared for all imaginable weather!


Helpful Hint: Always bring shower shoes when going to hostels. You do not want to get feet fungus.