Everyone go put Alberta, Canada on your bucket list right now eh!

In my humble opinion – Alberta, Canada is the most beautiful place in the world. Granted, I haven’t won the lottery (yet!) and gotten the chance to visit all 194 countries our wee Earth has to offer; but from my other travels, extensive Instagram stalking and google images ‘research’, that is the conclusion I have came to.

I mean, in 20 years time you could ask me – “where is the most beautiful place you’ve visited?” – and my answer may well be completely different; but right now in my 22nd year of life my answer is Alberta, Canada and that’s that.

You know in all those super awkward ice breakers you have to do in school or at the start of a new job, well my “interesting fact” was always “omg I’m like so totally half – Canadian eh!”, I just wanted to sound cool and cultured even though I’ve never actually lived there I just piggyback on my Mom’s nationality. So because my Mom was born there she made it a tradition in our house to visit her family in Canada as much as possible and I’ve carried this tradition into my adult life as well.

GD2When I visited at a young age it was all about maple syrup, big malls and ice hockey games; but as I got older my cousins who grew up there started to take me on hikes and mountain trails with them. I mean I know Ireland is basically a big green hill but walking up the Rockies is completely different territory.

To the right is a photo of me at stunning Lake Louise which is about a 3 hour drive from Calgary, the most populous city in Alberta. This is me at the start of a 4 hour hike – I had just gotten a spray tan the day before (#justholidaythings) and it’s safe to say after walking up mountains in the blazing sun for 4 hours my lovely white top was NOT white anymore.

As hard as the hikes are, everything is worth it once you get to your destination. I’m sure everyone has seen that Instagram caption – “The best view comes after the hardest climb” – I’m certain whoever came up with it must have been making their way up the Rockies.

 

 

GD6This is a photo from the top of Sulphur Mountain in Banff which is a town situated in the middle of the Rockies in Alberta. I took this picture in July of 2019. The only real way to describe the view if you haven’t seen it in person, is that it literally looks like your staring at the worlds biggest postcard.

 

When I visited in summer 2018, I stayed with my family in Calgary, it was then that my cousin introduced me to the concept of “sunrise hikes’’. In my head this sounded magical and exciting when in reality it was a very grumpy and sleep deprived me being dragged out of bed at 3am to go look at the stupid sun rise. My mood quickly changed however when we arrived at Moraine Lake to watch that “stupid” sun rise.

I took these photos moments apart when we reached the top of Moraine Lake’s viewpoint at about 5am. Again there are no words to describe the view, watching the sky change from pink to blue and yellow in a matter of seconds is something I will never forget. I know you can watch the sunrise from anywhere in the world but watching it in a place like Moraine Lake with the Rockies as a backdrop; it really makes you appreciate the natural beauty the world has to offer.

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This is another picture from an attempted sunrise hike at Peyto Lake, which is an hour from Moraine Lake. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the sunrise because it was a super cloudy morning but we didn’t mind because we got to spend our time wandering about with our heads literally in the clouds.

I could share plenty more photos of mountains, lakes and skylines but the views aren’t the only things that make Alberta beautiful. It is definitely a stereotype that Canadian people are “the nicest people in the world”, but in my experience they actually are. When you walk into a shop it’s not hard to imagine the clerk or even another customer getting down on one knee and pulling out a Tiffany’s box they are that happy to see you and there’s no difference between stepping into a Walmart, a 5 star hotel or just walking down the street, Canadians genuinely are happy to see you.

It’s funny I was talking to someone recently about Canadians and they asked me “but aren’t they too nice?” and it just stuck with me; because in the world that we live in today I don’t know how anyone could be too nice, kindness is something we can actually control and why wouldn’t you want to be as kind as possible and put a smile on someone’s face in the midst of all this uncertainty.

So I urge anyone reading this that is planning a holiday soon, put Alberta on your bucket list! It’s an amazing place filled with spectacular scenery, kind and generous people that LOVE anyone Irish and a welcoming nature that feels like you’ve never left home.

I’ve included a video below of Moraine Lake during the sunrise, just in case the photos haven’t twisted your arms!

Gareth Donnelly is a Final Year BSc Communications Management and Public Relations student at University of Ulster. He can be found on LinkedIn at http://linkedin.com/in/gareth-donnelly-1a6161196 , Twitter – @GarethDonnelly4 and Instagram – @garethd__

Day in the Life of a Camp Counsellor

Right, imagine getting the opportunity to work in America for three months (paid might I add) as a sports counsellor and then get the opportunity to travel America after. This was a done deal for me, I would’ve been sold after reading that alone. In this blog, I’m going to talk you through what a typical day in the life of a Camp Counsellor is like. If you get the opportunity to do this in your lifetime, jump at it and grab it with both hands.

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Let me give you a little rundown of what it was all about. So, I was a camp counsellor at Long Lake Camp for the Arts in upstate New York. Long lake is a specialist camp with all the traditional camp activities. I looked up different photos online of what the camp would look like and lists of the activities offered but you really have to see it to believe it. There were theatres, circus areas, a huge lake and the list goes on. Long Lake is a sleep-away camp, which means that campers spend the nights sleeping in cabins. There can be up to about thirteen children in each cabin along with 3 counsellors with only three toilets… so as you can imagine in the mornings, 3 very annoyed counsellors waiting for 13 fifteen year olds to get ready, I’ll say no more. For me every day was different, one day I was paintballing, the next I was doing high ropes, every day in camp is a new experience. Some days are harder than others as you have to remember you are in a foreign country working crazy hours and are probably a little homesick, but it’s so important to remind yourself why you are here, don’t let these little setbacks ruin your experience, fight through them and trust me once your past the week 1 mark, you’ll not want to leave.

Mornings at Camp!

RM6Rise and shine. The first task of the day as a Camp Counsellor is to get the kids up and excited for the day ahead! This can be a difficult task as a 7.30am start didn’t seem to excite many of the kids (including myself). The best method of getting everyone up and ready for the day ahead was lights on and music blaring, each day someone different got to choose the music. The fact that the camp I worked at was a performing arts camp there was sooo much talent, like these kids were insane so meal times especially would be full of singing and dancing which brought a real buzz to the place. The breakfast itself was well let’s just say it was very American, the sugar high was real, but I wasn’t complaining.

Activities

After breakfast is a cabin inspection which is a real pain in the a** (if you don’t pass). Then time for the activities to start. At Long Lake, the kids choose their own schedule every day, they literally can do anything they want, it’s our job as counsellors to promote our activities so each morning and afternoon we would hold a camp meeting where the head of each department tried to promote their activity to let each of the campers know what’s going on in that particular day.RM7

The options are bottomless really, if they want to do something, we found a way to do it, which was challenging at times but kept me on my toes.Activity time is time for specialist counsellors such as myself to head in their separate directions to teach the different activities. I was the head of the sports department so a typical day for myself was first of all creating a schedule for the different members within the sports department then from there I would take kids down crazy ATV trails or take them out on the jet skis, really whatever they wanted to do, I was doing it.

Every day I got a period off, which I usually took later in the day to give me a chance to ring home, other times I would get involved in an activity at camp which I was not familiar with the different activities on offer meant that you could learn a new skill or try something different every day! I tried everything camp had to offer, even daring to go on the flying trapeze in the circus, all I can say is fair play to the circus staff, once was enough for me.

Evening Activities

After dinner was a chance to chill out with campers and friends and get ready for our evening activities. Personally, this was my favourite time of the day because it was recognition of another day well done and also most of the time we got s’mores. EveRM8ry evening at long lake a new activity was on offer, our evenings would be spent watching performances, bonfire nights, ice cream socials or camping trips away to our local campsite. They really thought of everything.

Nights at Camp

When evening activities finish, ill not lie I am completely shattered at this point, you’re on the go from 7am-10pm. At long lake counsellors work on a rota in the evenings. One counsellor and a CIT (Counsellor in Training) take care of the kids and settle them for the evening. The other two counsellors can take the evening off. I oversaw the oldest girls, trying to get 35 16-year-old girls to go to bed before 11pm was a complete task in itself, thankfully it was only once a week! What do I miss most about my nights at camp? Simple… the lake. On one of my last nights at camp, the capers asked me if we could go to the lake and stargaze. I’d never seen so many stars in my life, the Adirondack sky truly lit up it was by far one of my highlights of my camp experience.RM9

Yes, the days are long, you may miss home but my experience at camp honestly made me mature in so many different ways, it opened me up to a different career opportunity, it allowed me to experience a different culture and overall it allowed me to have a summer of a lifetime with some of the best people I’ve ever met, I know may sound cliché but it’s the truth.

RM10So, what are you doing this summer?

Rachel Magee is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at: Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rachelmagee98 and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rachel-magee-52328016b/

Not the Wurst…

You’ve heard it all before … 21 year old embarks upon the ultimate life-changing, globetrotting extravaganza (A.K.A interrailing). Work, stress and money problems are swiftly buried in the safety of Ireland, while she jets off without a care in the world – what could possibly go wrong? Alas, quite a number of things. There is no need to grab your Handy Andies just yet however, as despite the series of unfortunate events, we managed to weave through our own positivity and have a bloody blast! (Pardon my French).

A worrying lack of cash monies on my behalf resulted in my two fellow globe-trotters ‘trotting’ to Barcelona ahead of me – all being well, we would all be reunited in Berlin. Fate appeared to have other plans, however, as the first stumbling block was situated right in the midst of our meeting point.

On the penultimate day of my holiday lead-up, the bank informed me of a sporadic freezing of my account. After several trips to visit them, it seemed this would all be rectified by Sunday morning, the day I arrive in Berlin – happy days! After a relaxing plane journey of reading, and practicing mindfulness, I arrived in the big city ready to begin. It was at this point I received a phone call from my travelling counterparts as they dropped the bombshell – they had missed their flight to Berlin and would not arrive until 12 hours later, around midnight that night. A little alone time and a day to explore wouldn’t have been so daunting had my banks metaphorical pants not been on fire (they were liars you see…funny joke y’all – just laugh). Much like the countless chickens my mother has asked me to remove from the freezer for dinner, my account had not begun to defrost on time and so – there I was penniless, starving, yet somehow… rather calm. I sized up each and every stranger that walked past, wondering if they would believe my sob-story and allow me to transfer them some money while they got it from the ATM for me. Realistically, I wouldn’t even believe me, so after scratching my head for quite some time I remembered the measly fiver I had placed in my bag for eh…emergencies. This allowed me enough to get the train to the city centre, and arrive at the hostel in one piece.

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My compadre made the genius suggestion that I hook her card up to my apple pay, and use that to purchase myself some grub…despite all the criticism technology gets these days, it certainly saved the day on this occasion.

As mentioned earlier, mindfullness is a current interest of mine and so I took the opportunity of dining alone to put in a little more practice. I’d always been admirable of those folk who can happily nip to the cinema alone, or go for coffee alone without scrolling mindlessly through their sparse Instagram feed for the duration. Turns out – it’s not that difficult, and in fact, rather refreshing for the mind.

After I was fed and watered, I retired to the boudoir to catch 40 winks before the ladies arrived. I was awoken to our fourth hostel room mate who was a French Canadian in his 30’s. My first taste of the hostel experience was me trashing him at several games of snap in the hostel bar, whilst he sat absolutely livid – good craic all the same. Just when my undefeated victory had proven permanent, the ladies arrived and we made tracks to hit the Berlin nightlife.

After the first few hiccups, everything was pretty much plain sailing. We explored the streets of Berlin the following day getting ‘vibey’ pictures as seen below:

After Berlin came Prague, after Prague came Budapest and then the beautiful Croatia. Some of the scenes in Croatia, especially Dubrovnik, caused a few of those weird moments were everyone there just goes silent and takes it all in, with no-one taking pictures. A wonderful feeling really.

Prior to our trip, several people had warned us of how boring the train journeys were and well, let’s just say this couldn’t be further wrong. Albeit probably delirious with sleep deprivation, we chatted to more new people and genuinely cried laughing with every train journey we embarked upon – the opposite of boring I reckon.

A few random points about these places would be that Prague is seriously cheap, Budapest smells a little but looks good, and we naturally float in the salty water of Croatia. I’m a fountain of knowledge, obviously.

Each of these places were of course stunning with amazing scenery, but the most memorable parts of each stop were meeting so many new people. I know it’s something everyone says when they have been away, that you absolutely HAVE to experience what they have – but in this case, it is positively true. Now all I have left are pictures, videos, and my basic-girl anklet to remember it all.

Anyway, I must dash, I’m suffering from a terrible sickness – I think they call it the travelling bug?

Sinead Armour is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at: Instagram – Sinead Armour, LinkedIn – Sinead Armour 

Why you should travel to India

Being an adventurous traveller my whole life, a trip to India was definitely on my list. However, it wasn’t near the top. In January last year, two friends of mine who I had not travelled with before suggested a trip to India on a group tour in the summer. Usually, I’m one to have my travels planned out a year in advance, although this year was different. My parents were going on their yearly Florida trip with my aunt and uncle, I was also newly single, therefore I wasn’t going to be travelling with my then-boyfriend and a lot of my friends were either saving for a house or had other plans to travel with family or their other halves. It was the first time in a long time that I had no set plans or any of my regular travel buddies to go with.

After doing my usual research into a new trip I suddenly felt overwhelmed with so much information on India, mostly mixed reviews. My two main concerns, Delhi belly and travel sickness. However, after two long months of researching and asking everyone, I knew on advice, all I got was “go for it” so in the end I eventually decided to go for it.

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Fast forward to June, it was the big day. My friends and I travelled to Dublin to catch our flight to Heathrow then from Heathrow onto New Delhi. When we touched down in Delhi, it was hot, 45 degrees hot. As we walked through the airport to the exit to find the transfer to our hotel we received constant stares, from men and women. It was slightly uncomfortable although nothing we were not warned about. When we arrived at our hotel there was nothing we wanted more than a good sleep.

 

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The next morning, we got up, dressed and took ourselves to a room on the 3rd floor to meet our tour guide and tour group. The tour group consisted of many women from all over the world, two English, three Australian’s, one American and two from Northern Ireland, which made a total of five Northern Irish girls including myself and my two friends (typical Irish I suppose) and last but not least, there was one boy. Daniel from Canada, and what two weeks he had as the only boy. But thankfully, our tour guide Joy was there to help give him a much-needed man to man chat when he needed it.

Giving his introduction and an overview of what we will be visiting on the tour, our tour guide Joy said one thing that stuck with us all. “If you have no patience you will not enjoy your time in India, but with patience, you will have the greatest time” This was something we all could not quite understand until towards the end of our trip.

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Starting in the madness of Delhi, our first day consisted of a walking tour to visit India gate. The following day we then headed to Pushkar, a beautiful desert city where we opted for a camel ride into the desert that afternoon and enjoyed entertainment, dinner and my new favourite hot drink Chai Tea. The next city we arrived too was Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan and also known as the “Pink City” where we enjoyed sightseeing around Amber Fort and the Palace of the Winds. From Jaipur, we then headed to the Muslim city of Agra home to the Taj Mahal. Our tour guide insisted we go at 3 am, to catch a glimpse before the thousands of people descended in. This was by far one of the highlights, seeing this magnificent landmark of architecture in the sunrise and feeling like we were the only people there. That night, 13 hours later on an overnight train we arrived at the last and final stop of our trip of India, Varanasi. Home to the sacred Ganges River. Our time was spent touring along the Ghats and the old city, exploring temples and an afternoon boat tour where we got the opportunity to witness the candle flower ceremony.

 

When people ask me now why I was so scared about booking India, I cannot seem to answer them as it turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It honestly changed my perspective on life, what I was grateful for and what truly mattered. Throughout the tour we saw people with absolutely nothing, living in the slums yet they were the happiest, kindest people you will ever meet. The food, which I was so worried about became some of the best food I’ve ever tasted. To our amazing tour guide and group, the crazy commutes, the lack of personal space and the chaos, oh the chaos. It was everywhere, on the roads to the streets there was so many people, animals and rickshaws. Yet everything was so surprisingly functional and worked well in the Indian way of culture. The sights alone are enough to travel to India, from the Taj Mahal to the Ganges River. It truly is a land of beautiful animals, history and desert landscapes. Last but not least, getting to know life in Indian time meant having patience and learning to relax and go with the flow, something that everyone should learn to do when life gets a little overwhelming.

Kirby Axon is a part-time final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at – Instagram: Kirby-Axon and LinkedIn: kirbyaxon

Your Guide to Amsterdam

This may or may not, be the most useless blog to be written simply due to the fact that literally every Tom, Dick and Harry has been Amsterdam at this point but I feel as though I can offer some useful advice to those who haven’t been to the city or even plan on going back. Continue on reading for some ideas on places to stay, eat and visit as I am a very sad individual who has visited the city 7 times…and counting.

This may sound cheesy but Amsterdam is my happy place. I am very fortunate to have visited many different countries and cities around the world in my 22 years of being alive, however, Amsterdam is somewhere I will always go back to.

I am going to keep this as appropriate as possible so in other words, find the ‘coffee shops’ yourself, I’m not helping you with that one.

Anyway, lets get into it…

 

Places to Stay

ID Aparthotel Sloterdijk

I have stayed here 7/7 times I have visited Amsterdam so I can’t actually recommend anywhere else. And to be honest, I can’t recommend this place enough! ID Aparthotel is located in Sloterdijk, just outside of Amsterdam Central. The hotel is a 2-minute walk to the train station and then 5 minutes on the train into the centre. Staying outside of Amsterdam Central allows you to save some money as the hotels in the centre tend to be a little more expensive. However, the rooms in this hotel is something you won’t experience elsewhere. These hotel rooms are designed as actual apartments equipped kitchen and living spaces and they are huge and very affordable. I find that it is easiest to book through booking.com

 

Places to Eat

Vegan Junk Food Bar

This place is a MUST!  Whether you are a vegan or not, you need to try here!

Vegan Junk Food Bar is a plant based restaurant and you wouldn’t even know it! My boyfriend and I both eat meat and we still couldn’t believe how realistic it tasted. In the photo below you can see; a ‘beef’ burger, a ‘chicken’ burger, loaded ‘chicken’ fries and fried ‘shrimp’. (We were hungry, don’t judge).

There are 5 different Vegan Junk Food Bars located throughout Amsterdam, meaning that you are more than likely never far from at least one. There is usually a queue for a table but trust me, it’s worth it.

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Greenwoods

If you are after a good breakfast or lunch in Amsterdam, Greenwoods will definitely sort you out. Offering homemade Irish soda bread, this place is hard to beat. For a European menu, the menu is quite recognisable with dishes such as Eggs Benedict, Classic Fish and Chips and The Full English Breakfast. There are two Greenwood restaurants in Amsterdam and they are seriously worth visiting. mmm…

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Food Hallen

A foodies dream!

Food Hallen is an unbelievable indoor food market serving a range high-end street food and beverages in the urban Oud-West neighbourhood of Amsterdam. This food hall has everything you could think of from wood-fired pizzas, to Japanese Sushi, to Greek Mezze to Artisanal Burgers. Amsterdam’s best-loved kitchens are located right here.

Think St. George’s Market on steroids…

The hall also has a large seating area and bars to allow you to enjoy your food and take it all in. A great way to spend an evening in Amsterdam.

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Things to do

Red Light Secrets Museum

It is inevitable that you will visit the Red Light District whether its for a nosey or to pay for the services provided (no judgement here). However, somewhere really worth visiting is the Red Light Secrets Museum. Located in the heart of the Red Light District, this museum will give you an insight into the history of Amsterdam’s Red Light District and answer all your questions. Who chooses to work here? And why? How much money do they make? What happens when the curtains close? You can only really find out once you go inside…

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Anne Frank House

Honestly, in my opinion, this is not worth the hype. I was extremely excited to visit the Anne Frank House after years of learning about her story at school, however, I really didn’t think it was worth it. It felt that it lacked authenticity and information which meant that I wasn’t actually sure what I was actually looking at half of the time spent here. If you do decide to visit the attraction, be prepared to queue, we waited in one for 3 hours, not ideal.

Sex Museum

…no words to be honest. Visit the sex museum if you are up for a laugh and don’t cringe too easily. Entry fee is only €5. No pictures for this one either, use your imagination and multiply it by 10.

Vondelpark 

Vondelpark is the largest and most famous park in Amsterdam which usually welcomes around 10 million visitors a year. If you visit Amsterdam in the summer, I would recommend renting a bike and cycling around the park. It’s beautiful and nearby to the Van Gough Museum and Rijksmuseum if you fancy visiting them as well. It’s also free.

 

            Some Friendly Tips

  • DO NOT walk in the bicycle lane or jay walk – Amsterdam cyclists are crazy and you will certainly be hit if you don’t be careful.
  • REMEMBER to lock your bike up – bike thieves are ruthless in Amsterdam so if you rent a bike, be sure to lock it up.
  • DO NOT take pictures of the women in the windows at the Red Light District- have some respect.
  • ENJOY YOURSELF!

 

Laura Magennis is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on LinkedIn @LauraMagennis

Top 10 Tips For Surviving Disney World

If you’ve never been or never waned to go to Disney World please put it right at the top of your bucket list as a must. Honestly, it’s one of the best experiences ever. However, if you’re one for lounging about chillin’ by a pool then Disney World probably isn’t for you.

I’ve decided to be the good samaritan and jot down my top 10 tips for surviving the famous Walt Disney World.

1.Plan it out – This is tip number one because hand on heart this will make your Disney experience 1000000x better. No joke. Disney World is a big place (fun fact: it’s the same size as San Francisco. Crazy right?). Plan when you’re going to go and what park you are going to do on what day. To do it right, take a park each day. Trust me, it’ll help you in the long run.

2. Take Rain Attire – If you are planning to go during the Summer months be prepared for rain. A lot of it. Hate to be bearer of bad news but it normally rains or a tropical storm happens every day in Florida so bring your wet gear. Don’t let this put you off though because you don’t even think about that when you’re there. Plus it’ll only rain for an hour or two. So either buy a poncho before you go or get one at the park. They cost like 15 bucks but they have a cute Disney logo on the back of it so its acceptable. I bought it and still don’t regret it. Side note: take it home with you and use it for festivals or outdoorsy things, it’s a lifesaver. Bring flip flops in your bag too. Nobody wants wet, squidgy feet.

3. FastPasses – Best thing about buying package tickets online is the fact that you normally get FastPasses included in your price. With Disney you get 3 FastPasses per day to use. So if your staying at a Disney Resort you get 60 days in advance to make your FastPasses and if you’re staying anywhere else it’s 30 days. Use this to your advantage. It saves you so much time when standing in lines because if you don’t be prepared to stand in a 40 minute queue. It’s your own fault though. You set these up through the MyDisney Experience app.

4. To Do Rides: Okay these are my top attractions in Disney World. 10/10 would recommend.

  • Flight of Passage
  • Tower of Terror
  • Test Track
  • Soarin’
  • Expedition Everest
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Frozen
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Mission: Space
  • Peter Pans Flight
  • Rock N’ Roller Coaster
  • Space Mountain

5. Mobile Quick Service Food – You can find this on the MyDisney Experience App. Go onto the app and order your food from a quick service near you. You’ll pay through the app so all you have to do is go pick it up.  It’ll save you from standing in even more queues.

6. Shows– If you are going to choose a closing show at night to go see make Happily Ever After in Magic Kingdom your number one. So good. So magical. You won’t be disappointed. To be honest, you won’t be disappointed in anything Disney but this is just insane. Side note no.2: instead of getting the monorail to the transport center after the fireworks because its queue galore get it to the Grand Floridian and get an Uber there – you’ll save a load of time.

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7. Get a Magic Band  – A Magic Band is a band around your wrist that links to your Disney Ticket. You have to buy them but they’re a cute accessory. If you get irritated easily with having to go in and out of your bag for your ticket because you need to scan it to get onto your FastPass rides buy one of these.

8. Single Riders Line – If you don’t mind being separated from who your with whilst on an attraction at Disney then make use of this. The length of time that you would have spent in a normal queue is nonexistent in a single rider queue.

9. Toy Story Land in the evening or cloudy day – Please don’t make the mistake of going to Toy Story Land during the day or you’ll prolly end up looking like a squashie if you know what I mean. There is no shelter whatsoever so go on a cloudy day or during the evening when it’s all lit up nice and that.

10. Be a child for the day. – Don’t be a party pooper. Enjoy yourself because everyone else is. Disney brings out the inner child in everyone (or so I think). So if you wanna go on a flying elephant Dumbo ride and wear Mickey Mouse ears, you do you boo. After all you’re at the happiest place on earth.

So now you can go home and live Happily Ever After that you did Disney right.

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Courtney O’Neill is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter: @Courtneyon21 and Linkedin: @courtneyoneill

A Beginner’s Guide to Travel in Canada

After finishing my first year in Uni and thankfully living at home with my parents, I had saved up some student finance to join my friend travelling across Canada. Here are some well needed travel tips to surviving across the waters for the first time.

#1 Hostels 101

Always try to stay in Hostels or somewhere social especially if you are travelling in limited numbers. This is where you will find the best tips from the locals or others who know the area well. Hostels are also a great place to make new friends and discovering the best things to do either in the area or other places in the country. Most hostels we stayed in provided multiple tours of the cities and parks for a very small price, following these will give you a more in depth experience and let you in on the free or cheaper things to do while you’re there.

Tips

  • Bring a padlock to lock your storage space that should be provided.
  • Pack flip flops for the showers.
  • Take a free map of the city from reception.

LINKS TO THE HOSTELS I STAYED IN AND WOULD RECOMMEND…

 
 
 
 
#2 Money

Like travelling to any country you must familiarise yourself with the local currency. Canada uses Canadian Dollars and unlike the USA their money has the Queen’s head on it like ours due to being members of the Commonwealth. But shopping and paying in Canada is surprisingly slightly different to home. Make sure you have a travel card that has the local currency on it this will save you being charged extra for using your bank card from home. Also it seems obvious but carry the appropriate currency. Tax is not pre added and it differs from province to province. So the price you see on that Anastasia Beverly Hills palette will not be the price at the checkout so be aware.

Tips

  • Paying by card is for some reason an absolute nightmare. You will get hit with what feels like a million questions about your card before inserting it in the machine so be prepared.
  • Tipping is compulsory so always leave a tip of 15-20%.
  • They call their £1 and £2, Loonies and Toonies respectively, I hope I am not the only one to giggle at that.

#3 Street problems

Surprisingly walking about Canada especially in the Cities is a lot more difficult than you would think, and it’s not just because they drive on the other side of the road! If it wasn’t for my friend already living in Vancouver for a month before me I reckon we would have been walking around in circles or nearly ran over because North America rules of the roads are very different to home.

Tips

  • The street sign facing you directly is the name of the street you are on…not the street on the left or right as we would think.
  • Crossing the road can be scary because drivers still can turn right on a red light. And while the white man (their green man is glowing white instead) is there to seemingly give you right of way, still be careful crossing at any lights.
  • Download an offline map of the area you are in. This one is probably my number one tip, it is difficult not having access to that lifesaving 4G.

#4 General advice for packing

This is all-round basic advice for packing for any long haul travelling. Some tips I figured out the hard way like lugging around full bottles of Shampoo and Conditioner for a month when I only wash my hair every week to 10 days. You really do not need as much toiletries as you think! Especially when they end up taking up room for shopping. Also pack as light as possible because you will end up messing up directions and pulling a 30Kg suitcase across a City that is at least 3 times the size of Belfast is never fun for anyone.

Tips

  • Portable chargers will be your new best friend. Make sure you have one and it is always nearly fully charged.
  • Having a pack of cards on you will always keep you entertained no matter how old you are.
  • All the shops are more or less the same in every City. So save yourself the room in your luggage and buy all your shopping near the end of your trip. It will save you the stress of everything not fitting in your suitcase when it came to repacking every time.

#5 Random tips for surviving Canada

  • They have two national languages so brush up on your French. You will be surprised at how little English some Canadians speak especially in the province of Quebec. I found this out the hard way, by attempting to place a McDonald’s order in a language I’ve never studied whilst hungover – an experience I don’t want to relive again! Also finding out that the saver menu is a UK thing was added heartbreak.
  • You need two pieces of ID to buy alcohol or get into anywhere selling alcohol. I still am unsure whether this is because my ID was foreign and they needed to see backup or it is a general rule especially in Vancouver, BC. So be prepared because they can turn you away on one piece of valid ID. And yes the legal drinking age is 18/19 depending on the province you are in – this may or may not have been the first thing I googled before deciding to go.
  • Another fun fact is that weed has recently been made legal, according to my friend Canada’s Cities smell worse that Amsterdam.

I hope these tips help if you ever decide to travel through Canada. I would highly recommend a visit to this beautiful country. It is also incredibly safe, you should find everyone kind and helpful, Canadians are almost as friendly as the Irish!

Niamh McMordie is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at: Twitter – @niamh_mcm99 and Instagram – @niamhmcm_

First time in Bali and learning how to ride a Motorbike.

Growing up I have always wanted to know what it felt like to sit on a motorcycle, let alone actually ride it myself, and I eventually got the opportunity to learn how to ride one in Bali, in 2017 when I went on holidays with my family. Bali is an island located in Indonesia, South East Asia. It is famous for its tropical weather, great beaches and waves (famous amongst surfers), volcanic mountains and natural scenery. We stayed for 3 weeks at a hotel called The Haven in Seminyak, a beach resort area, packed with tourists from around the world. We were joined by 2 of my cousins from Australia who were not new to Bali since they visit every year due to it being so close to Australia, but this was later on at the hotel.

Since you get your holiday visa on arrival, we had to line up in a long queue which took us a whole 30 minutes before making it to the baggage claim area. After getting our bags we made our way outside which was packed with taxi drivers and private drivers that surrounded us like paparazzies offering to take us to our hotel, each offering a cheaper price than the previous one. It almost felt as if we were harassed.

Tip – Make sure to contact your hotel to book a driver in advance, saves a lot of time and hassle! If you’re feeling spontaneous then travel in a blue bird taxi (They’re an actual taxi company and you can always negotiate prices with them since they don’t always stick to the meter.)

Despite Bali being relatively safe, we made sure we had our guards up since it was our first time visiting. Luckily our driver sent by the hotel was there waiting for us. We asked if he could wait while we exchanged currency, but he told us not to bother since the exchanging fees at airports were very high.

Tip – You can always find a currency exchange shop with low rates and no commission fees in the streets of central Kuta (Close to the airport).

Despite the traffic being insane compared to what I’m used to here in Europe, the traffic laws didn’t seem to make up for it. After exchanging our pounds to the local currency Rupiah in Kuta, we made our way to the hotel which was supposed to take us around 10 minutes, although it took us longer due to the traffic. Completely different from anywhere I’ve been to in the western world, Bali felt like paradise with the scorching heat hitting my face and the first thing I noticed was the amount of motorbikes on the road. It seemed like the roads were covered in the them, with all sorts of shapes and sizes but one thing that caught my eye the most was the amount of people not wearing a helmet in central Kuta and Seminyak and the police just didn’t seem to care.

Tip – Despite seeing people not wearing helmets, it is advised that you wear it due to the crazy traffic and some corrupt police officers look for an easy target to bribe (YES CORRUPT POLICE OFFICERS). This brings me to the time where they stopped me and asked for 200,00IDR but I’ll get to that later.

After settling in at our hotel, one of my cousins from Australia, Jacinta planted the idea in my head that we should rent motorbikes to get around quicker. She told me about how you were able to rent a motorbike for less than 10,000IDR a day which is equivalent to less than 10$. This didn’t happen because the rest of my cousins and I were too scared to ride a motorbike on my first day there (I certainly didn’t want to die abroad) and since we arrived around midday, we had plenty of time to explore and get around on our first day. After getting ready to go out, we decided to look for a nice restaurant to have lunch since we were starving, and we came across a Cantonese restaurant in Kuta called seafood house. It had live fish, crabs, lobsters and other marine animals swimming in tanks and the chefs would fish it out before cooking it according to how we’d like it (Definitely not your ideal restaurant if you find that cruel). This was a new experience for me and although I was first sceptical about it all, the waiters were very nice and friendly, they explained how everything was done and how we were able to choose how we’d like our ‘fresh, live fish’ cooked.

After lunch we walked towards Kuta beach which wasn’t far and since it was right across Beachwalk shopping centre, we got a little shopping done. Despite the beach not being very clean with people offering to sell (harassing us to buy) souvenirs and fake sticker tattoos and forcing to show their clothing stores at the back of dodgy alley ways, it was very refreshing with a long coast line. Since the waves were quite high, it was a popular spot for surfers and not so much for regular bathers. Padang beach and Nusa Penida were much suitable for bathers with breath-taking natural scenery.

After spending most of our day exploring, we decided to head back to our hotel to get ready for our first night. We decided to head to a live music/salsa restaurant in Seminyak, down the road from our hotel where I ordered the best Nasi goreng I have ever tried (Nasi goreng’s literal translation to English is fried rice). I was served with fried eggs, shrimp and chicken and I hope I come across it again someday. After having dinner and a few drinks, we met a Brazilian tourist who stayed at the same hotel as us and so we all got blue bird taxis to a beach party in Canggu called sandbar where we partied till 4am. The vibes were insane and if you think your dance moves are great, try dancing on sand!

Despite not sleeping till 5 am, I woke up in the morning determined to learn how to ride a motorbike. I decided to ask my cousin to teach me and so we were off. Now if you’re an adventurer and somewhat of an adrenaline junkie, there is no chance that you would let this opportunity slip through your fingers. We found the nearest motorbike rental (despite looking nothing like a rental place), and we decided to start off with an easy one. At the time I only had my provisional licence, but they didn’t even seem to care if I had one, all I had to do was leave an I.D as insurance so I just gave them my student card (Never leave your passport). We rented 2 motorbikes for 1 week with the option of extending.

So off we went, my very first time on a motorbike and despite only being a passenger, I was over the moon, taking pictures and making videos of everything as embarrassing as that may sound. We stopped at a quiet ally way that was wide and long enough to ride in the first thing my cousin told me to do was hop on. She didn’t even bother sitting behind me knowing what the consequences might be. All I had to do was gas it a bit and off I went, very slowly. My other cousins and I practiced a few times before finding a quiet road to try ride on. Although it wasn’t a big motorbike, it was a big deal for me as I learned it in a completely different country with different rules or almost without any rules. I kept practicing for the next 2 days before being confident to ride on busier roads during off-peak hours. It might sound insane, but I stuck to the side of the road, doing 25mph and annoying drivers behind me. It wasn’t till near the end of my trip where I finally found the courage to speed up a little and swerve in between cars and motorbikes.

Probably one of my proudest moments. I got faced my fears, gained new experiences and came back home with stories that I’ll be proud to tell. My main highlights of the whole trip were holding a python around my neck (It was heavy), learning how to ride a motorbike which I also took turns riding from Semimyak to Uluwatu, going to the WaterBom, going to open air bars like single fin bar (amazing views), and last but not least, going to a monkey forest full of monkeys in Ubud.

Joel Silva is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found on Twitter – @joelsilva2112 and Instagram – @_joelsilva21.

 

Back Like A Boomerang: 88 Days A Slave!

Here goes nothing, my first blog post as a final year /CMPR student. Should I discuss current affairs or celebrity gossip, perhaps many has words to say on the latest Coleen Rooney or Rebekah Vardy scandal. But what I want to share with you is my year away in Australia and how I survived 88 days on the farm to secure my Second Year Visa. MK4

Migrating to Australia at the opposite side of the world is becoming increasing popular so I can imagine there are a few of you who are reading this that have thought about trying it at some stage in your life and I hope you decide to do it.  

I spent the last 12 months of my life exploring what life is like down under. We hear so many stories about the Aussie way of life and I must admit it did not disappoint. However, 4 of these amazing months were spent working harder than I thought I could ever work to ensure that whenever I graduate, I will be able to spend another 12 months having more adventures in this country I was lucky enough to call home for a short while. 

To say these were the longest 88 days of my life is an understatement. Australian Immigration really make you work for your Second Year Visa that’s for sure and if I hadn’t of fallen so in love with this country, I would not have put myself through it. The common trend on Instagram #88daysaslave doesn’t paint the best picture of how this working holiday visa requirement can be undertaken. But in a way this is how it feels. Don’t let any of this put you off because the feeling when completing your last day cannot be described and to know that it gets you another 12 months makes it even better. This blog post is not meant to scare but to motivate. If you happen to find yourself in a similar position sitting in a corner somewhere in the outback wondering how in the world did you get yourself into this mess, trust me there is light at the end of the tunnel, or in my case light at the end of the fruit bin! 

I remember when we first walked up to this tiny house full of 30 girls in a strange little town called Shepparton, I was feeling overwhelmed, anxious and tired from our travels down from Sydney. We were giving a tour that took all of 30 seconds as that’s how long it took to get from one side of this little hut to the other.  The first few weeks were definitely the hardest, watching girls coming and going. I can remember being so jealous of the girls who were nearly at the end of their days and even more shocked to find that they were sad about finishing. A lot of the girls even stayed on a few more weeks than they had to. Not me I thought I’m straight out of here on day 88 and I am never looking back!!  

First day you are thrown straight into the deep end with the sharks. The deep end being the pear line and the sharks being the unemotional supervisors with zero people skills and very little English. Being screamed at all day to pack faster, faster all the while trying to pack only the first-class pears from a bin that ranged from your perfect pear to a month-old compass pile. They couldn’t seem to understand that you could have quantity or quality but both simultaneously at their standard was not humanly attainable. 

New workers in the shed are all put in yellow vests and once your fruit packing is off a certain standard you get promoted to an orange vest. Yellow vests had it tough. You were literally a walking high vis that said look at me I’m new and have no idea what I’m doing. Yellow vests were always the first to be sent home and last to get picked to work. But unless you worked you couldn’t improve your fruit packing skill to reach the level of an orange vest, and if you didn’t get your 35 hours of work in one week it doesn’t count towards your 88 days and it’s a week wasted. A viscous cycle and you can imagine how hard done by and mistreated we felt. There were days in the first few weeks where I had to really think is this worth it? Can I do this? Do I want another year in this country this badly? I’m glad that I am good at quieting the negative Nancy voice in my head listening more to positive Polly. I struggled through and pushed myself to the limit, every morning praying can today be the day? Can I become an orange vest? Day 32 I got pulled to the side expecting to get in trouble for having too many bad pears in my crate. Then I saw on the table an orange vest, could this be it?

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Mary you’ve earned your orange vest, now do me a favour and go faster.” (The nicest thing anyone in the shed had ever said to me believe it or not.) In a moment of joy all I could do was hug my supervisor forgetting that these people act more like robots than humans and show no loving emotions to anyone or anything. At that however I’m sure I caught a glimpse of a smile and quiet giggle followed by a stern “back to work.”  

I strutted back into the house showing off my new clean bright orange vest and you’d think I had just won a Grammy award with the cheers and support from the girls, and honestly that’s what it felt like.

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As the weeks went on, I felt myself settling into farm life more than I could have ever imagined. The friendships that I was forming in such short periods of time I never thought possible. The time away from civilisation, away from the busyness of Sydney and really time away from my normal human life, I had learned more about myself, and of the determination and strength I never knew I had until this experience. As my 88 days were coming to an end, I felt both happy and sad. Through the laughter and despite the tears I had the most amazing and challenging experience of my life to date.  

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Day 88 came by and I never thought I would have been sadder than I was happy to leave. With the new girls jealous of us leaving and the girls who had been there through it all with us sad to see us go it occurred to me: When you first start you cannot wait to leave and when it’s time to leave you wish you could stay. I have learned from this to make the most of every day and be grateful for the good and the bad, because they all get us to where we need to be. I have now finished my farming adventure and as sad as I was to leave Australia behind, I am now back to finish final year which I have no doubt will be just as challenging as my last adventure.  

For now I can happily say after 4 months, 14 weeks, 88 days, hundreds of mental breakdowns, thousands of fruits packed, and a million amazing memories that I am hanging up my farming shoes for the foreseeable future and the only apple I want to see anytime soon is one dipped in chocolate! Can we make orange vests a thing in University to motivate me to start my dissertation?? 

Mary Keenan is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter: @mary_keenan_ or Instagram: @mary_keenan20

A Quickie in Barcelona

Two days in Barcelona is short but sweet. In June 2019 my girlfriend and I took a short, tightly budgeted, 2-day trip to Barcelona. By planning our stay well and sticking to our budget we really made the most of the Catalonian capital. Barcelona is one of Europe’s most popular cities and for me it’s easy to see why. Whether you’re there for a chilled out, laidback week or a quick city break it’s the ideal place to escape reality. With only 2 days in Barcelona, we made sure to fit in some of the main sites including Parc Guell, Sagrada Familia and, of course some beach time, whilst sticking to a budget and having time for a little relaxation.

This is how we spent our 48 hours in Barcelona.

CASA BATLLO AND CASA MILAN & CIUTADELLA PARK

We decided to kick off our Barcelona adventJD10ure with a tour of a couple of famous architect Gaudi’s most famous structures. By tour, I mean we followed a walking tour for free, allowing us to find the buildings easier. Casa Batllo was just a 10 minute walk from our Air B&B, while another of Gaudi’s buildings, Casa Mila was a further 10 minutes along. Both of these buildings are clear Gaudi designs, with the classic curved edges style that the architect is famed for. Tourists can pay to enter both buildings, if you have the time and budget it’s worth it. However, if you’re on a tight budget it’s best to save your pennies for a wander around Parc Guell or Sagrada Familia instead.

Arc du Triomph & Ciutadella  PARK

The Arc du Triomph in Paris may get more attention, but Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf is surrounded by palm trees, sunny blue skies and 30 degree heat, making it arguably even more beautiful. The arc was built as a gateway to the Universal Exhibition held in Barcelona’s Ciutadella Park in 1888, and since then it’s become one of the city’s iconic landmarks. Following our visit ot the Arc de Triomf, we decided we should have lunch outside in the sun

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Ciutadella Park is just at the end of the palm-lined street leading to the Arc de Triomf, and home to one of the city’s most iconic photo spots. The Cascada Monumental is a huge fountain surrounded by shrubbery and topped with a golden sculpture. While we ate, there were a few buskers in the park one playing guitar, the other playing a violin creating a fantastic atmosphere, giving me fantastic holiday vibes.

PARC GUELL

Parc Guell is an unusual yet an enchanting masterpiece, one of Barcelona’s most jaw-dropping destinations. We walked around the outer area for no admission fee before deciding it would be worth the money to enter. To get the real Parc Guell experience we were advised by a tour guide to book a slot for access to the Monumental Zone. We booked well in advance to avoid missing out on one of the most classic Instagram opportunities in Barcelona. Once inside, we took photos from a curved, tiled bench which allowed us to take in the breath-taking views of Parc Guell.JD12

While I’m abroad I love to get a feel for how the locals live. To do this we wandered aimlessly for 2 hours through the narrow, cobbled streets, looking up at the charming buildings, often colourful and decorated with colourful plants and shrubbery. The Gothic Quarter is overrun with countless quaint little shops, restaurants and cafes that allowed us to take a break from the constant walking a grab a cold drink. It seems impossible if you’ve ever been to Barcelona, but we actually accidentally stumbled across the Barcelona 14th century Gothic Cathedral while walking through this area. This part of Barcelona is full of hidden secrets and low prices making it and one of my favourite areas of the city.

For anyone that wants to get a feel for local living or just loves food, a stop at Mercat de la Boqueria is essential. Serving all things Catalan from colourful fruits and juices to baked goods, meats and fresh seafood, the market is huge and you certainly won’t leave here hungry. We grabbed fresh juice from one of the many stalls for just a euro and picked up a few items for breakfast the next morning. We found a nice, green grassy area to sit at, allowing us to watch and absorb the culture and happenings of the market.

SAGRADA FAMILIA

No trip to Barcelona is complete without seeing Gaudi’s main masterpiece and the city’s most famous attraction up close. Work began to build the structure in 1882 and is still uncompleted. The Sagrada Familia is one of the most imprJD13essive pieces of architecture that I have ever seen. From the moment you leave the metro station at the Sagrada Familia stop, you see the immense structure emerge from the escalator. We made our way into the little park in front of the church for the best view from between the trees and across a small green lake. To get inside the church we had to book tickets, we booked the tickets before we went on the trip to ensure we got inside.

BARCELONETA BEACH

In the dying hours of the second day we decided that a relaxing few hours on Barceloneta beach was needed. We hopped on the metro which stops about a 10-minute walk down the road to the seafront. Barceloneta is the city’s main beach, and in the height of summer it gets seriously packed but in the evening numbers decrease. Spending our final few hours in the sunlight with a few beers from a local shop was the ideal end to the trip before heading back to dreary, cold home.JD14

Barcelona is an amazing city with a lot more to offer than what I’ve just talked about! Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to do all the activities that we wanted, so we have decided to return soon for a longer stay!

 

 

Jamie Doran is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram – @jamiedoran96