A dream is a wish your heart makes… My first trip to Disneyland!

It isn’t often that you come across a 20 year old girl who has never even been near to Disneyland… Well, hello! My name is Katie, lovely to meet you! Yes, that’s right: with a handful of days left before turning 21, my dream of visiting Disneyland became a reality. A dream come true it was. However, the day did not quite start off to plan…

A bumpy start

Waking up at the crack of dawn was not a problem this past Sunday. Nor was catching a bus in a random area of Reims, with the tranquil company of around 10 strangers. I was on my way to Disneyland Paris, to meet my good friend Alain for a day of adventure, nostalgia and excitement. Filled with anticipation, I could not wait to be let loose in the park, ready to take in all of its scenery and meet an array of my favourite Disney characters (excuse me for sounding like a child; it was my first time, okay?)

Dozing on and off during the journey, I was quickly and abruptly awoken on reaching the park. For some unknown reason, the jolly bus driver had decided to drop passengers off at an Esso petrol station  (???), touching the very peripheries of the resort. Confused and faced with the Cars-themed Santa Fe hotel (which looked great, but felt like more than a million miles away from Disneyland, itself), I made my way down the most reassuring road I could find. After several wrong turns, 3 calls with Alain and all of this compounded by the fact that I had no mobile data left to access Google Maps (story of my life), I finally reached the park gates, to be met with exactly what I expected: a dreamlike, jovial resort that I already wished I had visited a lot sooner.

Now, it is not hard to guess that Disneyland isn’t cheap: 99 euros for on the door entry to both parks (Disneyland and Walt Disney Studios) served as a bit of a blow to my bank account, but the day ahead was certainly worth it.

Walt Disney Studios: a celebration of success

Starting off at Walt Disney Studios provided a real adventure, an exploration of the conglomerate’s biggest hits through a series of rides and attractions. This was, indeed, less of the generic ‘fantasyland’, one tends to expect from Disney, instead more of a corporate sweep through the company’s successes.

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Exciting times at Walt Disney Studios

As a disclaimer, I simply refused to go on the renowned Tower of Terror. Yes, I know, what a spoil sport! It has great reviews, I am aware of this. However, the most horrifying elevator ride to ever be encountered proved to be too much of a fright for me, somebody who was brave enough only last year to start going on ‘adult’ roller coasters. To compensate for this, I promised to face all of the other adrenaline-inducing, edge of your seat attractions the park would offer.

Thrill seeker Spoilers

Now, first on the agenda was to collect a fast pass for the Rock n Roller Coaster. Little did I know that if you plan ahead and collect free fast passes at a given Disney ride to return later during a designated half hour, you can effectively skip the queue of said attraction, saving precious time to enjoy the rest of the resort. Sensational!

So, after some savvy logistical planning, we decided to embark upon our first ride: Crush’s Coaster! Fun fact: I love the rapids and log flumes, for that matter. Knowing this, my good friend Alain convinced me that, since this Coaster was Finding Nemo-inspired, we would be queuing for approximately 2 hours (yes, the queues are insane) to enjoy some rapid-ripping fun. Finally arriving at the front of the line, this turned out to be far from the case. Instead, we were presented with a crazy indoor roller coaster, consisting of sudden drops and dizzying effects. Although my eyes were closed for most of the ride, as a result of pure shock and disarray, I do recall opening them at one point to find myself inside a dark cave filled with glowing, psychedelic jellyfish… Confused does not even begin to cover how I felt. So, be aware: this ride is definitely for thrill seekers and not, as originally thought, a casual raft being bandied about over bumpy waves.

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Crush’s Coaster was a real thrill… Although not quite what I expected!

A brief recovery from Crush’s Coaster meant that it was time to put our fast passes to use on the Rock n Roller Coaster, a high-speed, Aerosmith-themed adventure with 360-degree loops, sudden drops and tense stops. This was perhaps the biggest thrill of the day. Walking through a mock-recording studio, complete with a pre-recorded video of the band, my stomach had never played host to more butterflies. My fears, however, disappeared as the ride commenced. An adrenaline-inducing journey, my screams gradually turned to giggles as I realised that Walk this Way was blaring out for riders to enjoy, amongst the chaos. Yes, I still have absolutely no idea as to why there is an Aerosmith-themed ride in the park, but I’m not complaining: it was pretty fantastic in the end.

Nostalgia, nostalgia, nostalgia

Following two heart-racing encounters, we needed to catch our breath, making the decision to explore the more tranquil Disneyland Park. On entering the second half of the resort, I was met with exactly what I had expected of Disneyland: a surreal fairytale kingdom, ripe with imagination and nostalgia. Walking down Main Street, I could not believe my eyes: each and every store or restaurant was intricately and creatively themed, the vision behind it executed to a tee. In the distance, the park’s landmark, pastel pink castle was the centre of focus, towering above for all to see.

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Disneyland’s most remarkable icon did not disappoint

When I was only a small child, my Great-Grandparents, avid fans of Disney and frequent visitors to the Florida resort, would show me videos of the fantasyland that I one day hoped to visit. Without any kind of exaggeration, it was simply as though I was now starring in one of those treasured VHS tapes. They always used to tell me about the jovial boat ride It’s A Small World and so visiting that attraction was a priority.

After waiting in another long queue (there seems to be a pattern emerging here, no?), accompanied by the rhythm of a deafening clock’s ticking, we climbed into a small boat to see if it really was a small world, after all. The ride was adorable. With little dolls representing a spectrum of nationalities in very stereotypical settings (of course, we, the Brits, were represented by soldiers and London’s Tower  Bridge) our microcosmic tour of the world was very pleasant and, for me, reminiscent of childhood memories.

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It’s a small world after all! Seeing Disney’s Tower Bridge made me feel a little closer to home

An obligatory carousel ride (if not for the experience, just for the selfies) was followed by some much needed nourishment. Spending over an hour deciding where to eat, we settled on Colonel Hathi’s Pizza Outpost, a cute, little Italian restaurant hidden away in Adventureland. My star-shaped, 10 euro pizza was surprisingly filling and tasty, meaning that I passed up on the opportunity to indulge in one of the many desserts the restaurant offered. A special mention also goes out to the neighbouring Hakuna Matata restaurant. Whilst its spicy meatballs, kebabs, burgers and Lion King-esque atmosphere all seemed appealing, they could not quell my appetite for Italian cuisine, or, frankly, just any form of pizza.

A spectacular disappointment

Our energies revived, we then proceeded to waste a grand total of nearly two hours queuing for the park’s Indiana Jones roller coaster. After watching the coaster pass by approximately 1,567 times, we were greeted with the message that, due to technical difficulties, the ride would be taking a little operation break. Observing stranded passengers getting evacuated by staff, we decided to move on to bigger, better and what we hoped would be well-functioning attractions.

Ending the day in style

The frustration of waiting for a defunct ride’s revival to no avail could only be tempered by one solution: retail therapy. Purchasing a pair of obligatory Minnie Mouse ears with an enormous Minnie shaped lollipop, the inner child in me was restored. Exploring Aladdin’s hidden cave and Sleeping Beauty’s iconic castle itself, the disappointment of Indiana Jones soon felt like a distant memory.

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Enjoying the nice weather at Alice in Wonderland’s Labyrinth

We were even lucky enough to watch the park’s epic parade! Initially surprised by the resort’s apparent lack of our favourite costumed-characters, I soon realised that this vibrant carnival was what they had all been preparing for. Everybody from Peter Pan to Donald Duck took to the streets, putting on an unforgettable spectacle which attracted vast crowds of all ages.

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Our favourite characters finally came to greet us in the afternoon parade!

Before heading home, there was one thing left to do: be brave and face the infamous Hyperspace Mountain. Fast passes in hand, we quickly made it on to the Star-Wars themed shuttle. A high-speed, bumpy adventure left me a little underwhelmed and with a slight blow to the head. Nonetheless, travelling through another galaxy was an exciting way to end the day. 

Back to reality

En route back to the Santa Fe, in a bid to successfully reunite with my bus, I did not want to leave. There was still so much more to do, to see… Of course, in the future I intend to return and stay in one of the resort’s abundant ‘themed’ hotels. Until that day, I guess I’ll have to just re-watch all of my favourite Disney movies; I mean, they never get old…

 

Making Schools Safe Worldwide: The UN Response

Anybody who knows me well will tell you where my passions lie. I love to write, of course. I really enjoy learning new languages. I simply love to learn. At the base of these interests, I have a clear underlying passion: education.

I don’t just mean educating and improving myself, either. I believe that quality education for all, regardless of whatever situation one is born into, is fundamental. In my opinion, to give each and every child in the world a solid educational foundation (and opportunities to pursue learning further) is key if we want humanity to develop to its full potential. More crucially, if we, as a global society, want to stand any kind of chance in defeating the socio-political, ecological, mammoth-sized challenges we face today (and will face tomorrow), we need change. We need a world where every child truly has access to a quality education. We need a world where everybody has access to tools which allow voices to be heard and true agency to be exerted.

This is why I was initially so sad to read an article by Diya Nijhowne in UN Special, recently. She spoke about how armed conflicts across the globe frequently lead to attacks on students, teachers and schools, whilst both state armed forces and non-state armed groups have been known to take over school buildings, transforming them into military bases and check points. Ultimately, the author brought what I already knew to the forefront of my mind: armed conflicts can destroy the education of millions, at the drop of a hat.

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Nijhowne’s article for UN Special was both moving and inspiring

The fact that this is a reality to so many children across the world (with UNESCO recently reporting that around 263 million children and youth are out of school) is tragic. Education has gotten many of us to where we are today and will take us to where we want to be in the future. The idea that more individuals than 4x the size of the entire British population are far from the very first step on the staircase to meeting their aspirations saddens but also motivates me. I want to make a difference.

The good news is, work is already being done to target the specific issue Nijhowne shares. Championed by Argentina and Norway, the Safe Schools Declaration (aimed at enhancing the protection of education during times of conflict) has been endorsed by 72 countries.

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The UN are working towards safer schools, in the face of armed conflict

What can we take from this? Primarily, a whole host of nations have committed to protecting learning during conflicts, whilst also pledging to limit the usage of educational infrastructure (schools, universities)  for military ends. Nijhowne says that progress is already being made, with nations such as Denmark and New Zealand demonstrating a clear enthusiasm for the Declaration. She also notes that the likes of Afghanistan, Sudan and Niger are already using the Declaration as a ‘framework’ for improving the safeguarding of education in times of armed conflict.

These observations are all, of course, very promising. Hopefully with the weight of such a range of nations behind the Declaration, children living in the midst of armed conflicts will gradually find their educational prospects restored. One can only hope.

 

A day well spent in Europe’s hidden gem

On arriving in France for my year abroad, it took some time to settle in, as it does when one moves to a new country. Once I had grown used to the intense French schooling methods and pretty much everything being closed on a Sunday, my friends and I took a road trip to nearby Luxembourg, which proved to be a real adventure. I decided to write an article on what Europe’s hidden gem has to offer…

Luxembourg is a small country with nothing to do. This is one of the most common myths too often repeated in discussions concerning the fascinating microstate, nestled between France, Belgium and Germany. A day spent in Luxembourg City, the state’s capital, is typically a day full of culture, history, delicious cuisine and shopping (if you wish). Whilst one can probably cover the full extent of what the city has to offer during a day or so, this small but sweet grand duchy certainly merits a visit.

Despite being accessible via train, plane, bus or car, landlocked Luxembourg has retained its traditional approach to living. Staying true to its heritage, symbols of the micro state’s royal family are abundant in the capital city’s centre, whether they appear in the form of novelty souvenirs or in the shape of the nation’s grand palace. However, what the state has managed to achieve is something rarely found: a perfect blend of respecting its unique roots whilst modernising in line with our increasingly globalised society. Yes, development projects are apparent but this is a sign of progress and certainly does not take away from the grand duchy’s evident beauty.

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The magnificent gates of the famous Grand Ducal Palace

Amongst the culturally enriching venues Luxembourg City provides are several captivating museums. Most notably, Luxembourg’s modern art museum (MUDAM) offers year round exhibitions which are thought provoking to say the least. Currently on display is the Ad Reinhardt exhibition, which is ripe with the American abstract painter/ illustrator’s diverse work. With free entry for students and reasonable rates for adults, this museum is a must see on any visit to the city.

Notre Dame Cathedral and the National Museum of Natural History are also highly recommended establishments to explore, to truly appreciate the history and culture Luxembourg has to offer. Built between 1613-1621 by Jesuits as a church for their college, the Cathedral’s beautiful architecture has stayed intact and, within its walls, offers a piece of history, largely hidden and underappreciated. The Natural History Museum hosts exhibitions covering regional life in Luxembourg, the evolution of natural species and even the origins of the universe. It would be an incredible challenge not to learn of multiple captivating stories, after coming away from this venue.

Whilst rich in what it has to offer culturally, simply taking a walk in Luxembourg and exploring its capital first hand is rewarding enough in itself. Notably clean for a city centre, a browse around the capital’s shops is a pleasant experience. Typical chain stores such as H&M can be found amongst more independent stores, selling both clothes and locally produced food, meaning that shopping in the centre caters for a range of tastes (quite literally).

Want to escape from globalised civilisation and truly explore what this hidden gem has to offer? Take a walk by the River Grund. Located in the lowest part of the city, should you take the elevator down to the walkway, you will have a prime chance to take in some of the beautiful scenery the city has to offer. A keen photographer’s dream, particularly in autumn, a walk by the Grund or simply over the Pont Adolphe offers some stunning sights that can never be forgotten.

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Perhaps not the sunniest sky, but Luxembourg still offers beautiful views

Exploring even a microstate’s capital can work up an appetite, so of course it is useful to know the best places to eat in the area. A must-visit is the Chocolate House. With an endless choice of flavours, from ‘rose’ to salted caramel, relax behind a luxurious hot chocolate in this cosy hideaway before continuing to explore. Worked up more of an appetite than a hot chocolate can satisfy? Bistrot de la Presse, just across from the magnificent Grand Duchal palace, offers hearty portions of a range of dishes in a traditional Luxembourgish atmosphere. Surrounded by souvenirs celebrating the state’s royalty, a taste of history is as readily available as a delicious meal.

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At the Chocolate House, relaxing over some Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate

Keen to revisit some of the gems you have discovered? Why not stay overnight? Most hotels in the capital range from 80-150 euros per room per night. On the more luxurious end of the spectrum, Sofitel Luxembourg Le Grand Duchal is perfect for those wanting to continue their Luxembourgish fairytale. Alternatively, the Grand Hotel Cravat is conveniently located near to the train station and only 8KM away from the airport.

It may be small for a country. It may be often underappreciated in terms of its culture, history and cuisine. However, a trip to Luxembourg is a trip never to be forgotten, as it is guaranteed to be ripe with wonderful memories and enrichment.

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A road trip is definitely the best way to travel to and from Lux; bring friends for added fun!

The Journey Begins…

Hey everybody!

Today is the day that I begin the blog. Why the italics? This blog has been in my mind for a while, just waiting to be brought into the world… Unfortunately, a combination of studies, studies and life has so far prevented this from being realised. However, with my 21st birthday on the horizon (5 days to gooooo, cannot wait), I thought it time to start recording my adventures.

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So, what will this blog be exactly? Effectively, this blog will be what it says on the tin: a 21 year old, British girl talking about her travel adventures, discussing what is going on in the world and hopefully sharing some useful lifestyle tips along the way.

For one thing, I love to write and always have done. From short stories to Formula One race reports, give me a pen (or a keyboard) and you won’t be able to stop me. This blog will not only give me the platform to write (and write and write…) but also a way of recording what I get up to. I should probably mention, at this point, that I am currently on my year abroad, a stone’s throw away from Paris, in sunny Reims. I have already been on several AMAZING adventures, that I will be reflecting upon here. With many more to come, hopefully this will inspire you to see more of our incredible world and perhaps even check out some of the destinations I’ve been to.

I am also very keen on politics and current affairs, always wanting to know what’s going on in the world. So by combining my own personal experiences with reflections on all things current, I hope to take you on a ‘worldwide journey’ with this worldwide blog.

Enjoy,

Katie x