POPRAD, SLOVAKIA.

In January, I went on a trip to Slovakia for a week. This was arranged by a society at my university. Honestly, I did not know what to expect, what would we be doing? Would it be organised? Etc. The days ended up not being planned and although I am happy going with the flow, I do feel like this trip would have been ten times better if more organisation/planning went into it. Below, is a round up of all the things we got up to whilst in Poprad, Slovakia, bearing in mind we went in winter and it snowed pretty much every day.
poprad slovakiapoprad slovakiaPoprad.
Poprad is found in north-east Slovakia, a picturesque town, famous for its historic centre with the buildings found in the central street and the square reflecting that of German and Polish influence. Poprad is a popular holiday resort due to it location it acts as a perfect gateway to the High Tatras mountains, perfect in winter for skiing and sledging or hiking in summer. Whilst we were visiting we spent little time in the city, it also got dark early in the afternoon, so we wanted to be in the hostel where it was warm. However, there was one day I had a walk around the town centre, it has a shopping centre (if you wish to go shopping), museums, plenty of places to eat (including places with vegan options), the town is easy to get around. We also visited the Tatra art gallery, which is housed in a former steam power station. The gallery is filled with work from artists from the Spiš area and the Eastern Slovak region, along with art form well known Slovaks. This gallery is perfect if you want to broaden your knowledge on Slovakian artists or if you love art in general, there were some very intriguing pieces when I went. If you’re a fan of sport another option is going to watch the local ice hockey team (HK Poprad) I’ve been wanting to go to an ice hockey match for as long as I can remember so I was excited about this! It did not disappoint, the atmosphere was incredible, from the chants, clapping and cheering to the music when the team scored, and unlike the stereotypical idea of hockey, there was no fighting in this match.

kosice slovakiakosice slovakiaGo hiking.
We spent most of out time In Slovakia hiking the Tatras mountains, these mountains form the border between Slovakia and Poland and are the tallest mountain range in Slovakia. The highest peak is found at Mount Gerlach and is more than 2655 metres above sea level. We hiked mainly from Starý Smokovec, which is a well-known resort town. Access here is easily done; the town is situated along the Tatra railway which connects several towns together. Another town we went to was Štrbské Pleso, which is located near a beautiful glacial lake (although it was frozen over when we were there). This area is a good starting point for hikers with some of the best trails leading to the highest peaks in Slovakia. I don’t mind hiking but hiking in the snow is something else. I put on so many layers to stay warm but then you warm up and feel like you’re wearing too many layers even though the air is freezing! Walking in snow is a lot more difficult (obviously) and it slows your usual pace down, and lastly the cold will eventually get to you, for me my feet and hands were freezing by the end of a day’s hiking. Despite all that, the views were incredible and with trees coated with snow and the hazy glow from the sun it felt like I was walking through Narnia. There was also a resort along one of the routes with children filled with glee sledging down slopes, their parents drinking hot chocolate and tea and even dogs running around investigating snow with their noses and rolling around covering their fur in an icing of snow. Here, we also got to see an incredible ice sculpture display. It was spectacular and so intricate from bears, wasps, sharks and even a castle carved out of ice. I can’t even begin to guess how long these sculptures take to make and the amount of work that goes into them. It truly was a winter wonderland.

kosice slovakiakosice slovakiakosice slovakiaTake a day trip.
Getting around in Slovakia using trains is simple, it was suggested doing a trip to another city and the chosen city was Košice. However, the day we went on was a Sunday everything was pretty much closed, it also took two hours to get here from Poprad and due to everyone deciding if they were going to go or not we didn’t leave till around 11am arriving in Košice around 2pm. I wasn’t too fussed at first because I thought we would get at least 5 hours looking around the city. I was wrong, we were here for two hours before someone turned around and said we were going back to the train station. Therefore I wish there was more organisation, we could’ve come here on another day when more things would’ve been open and left earlier… Despite that, I fell in love with Košice the city is filled with beautiful medieval buildings, from Gothic churches such as St. Elisabeth Cathedral to the neo-baroque style state theatre. The city truly is incredible and perfect for architecture and history lovers, I would love to go back one day and explore more of the city. Whilst here we visited the East Slovakia museum, the museum is split in two but found on the opposite sides of the road to each other. One half is filled with taxidermy, fossils and minerals. The other half is home to art and the golden treasure of Košice, the coin collection consists of more than 2900 coins ranging in types and origin, along with medals and a gold chain. The treasure was hidden during the second half of the 17th century before Imre Thököly´s rebellion which saw him occupy a large part of Slovakia. The coins are housed in a large vault and worth a visit!

Although my trip to Slovakia wasn’t perfect and if I had planned it myself I would have done so many things differently, I did enjoy the country itself. I would love to visit again in summer, because I hate being cold… Have you ever been to Slovakia? 

UNIVERSITY TRIP TO ABERYSTWYTH

One of the main factors that came into my decision of studying animal behaviour and wildlife conservation was down to a course offering fieldwork/practical elements. Thankfully, the university I chose was perfect and lived up to my expectations. The first trip we took happened last year in November, a night stay in Aberystwyth in Wales. The main purpose of this trip was to have a go writing in our field notebooks and a way to get to know other members of our class who we may not have spoken to yet.  
elan visitors centre wales The journey to Aberystwyth is roughly three hours, however, we stopped off at a few places on the way. The first place we visited was the Elan visitor centre. The visitor centre is set against the backdrop of a Victorian stone dam. The Elan Valley estate is 72 square miles of Cambrian mountains, the broadleaf woodlands found here are some of the oldest in Great Britain and were originally planted for use in the timber industry but now provide shelter and food for a vast variety of animals. Here we spotted birds from red kites, goldfinches to long-tailed tits. The visitor centre is the perfect place to start whilst exploring the estate, there is a small exhibition inside which explains the history of the site whilst there is also a shop/café, toilets and a large picnic area. Here, our task was to note down information about the site, for example, the estate has 12 sites of special scientific interests (SSSI), 2 special areas of conservation (SAC’s), and specially protected areas (SPA). We also had a practice of sketching the area and labelling trees, plants etc. Sketching for me is something I need to improve on.
red kite feeding station, wales red kite feeding station, wales
At the start of the university year, we were given a task to write a mock assignment on the conservation of red kites in the UK. In Wales, roughly 20 years ago there were approximately 30 breeding pairs of red kites, today there are over 300 pairs. One method that has been credited for the rise in population are feeding stations, this is due to red kites being scavengers, the Llanddeusant red kite feeding station was opened in 2002. The kites are fed at 2pm (GMT) or 3pm (BST), we got there just before the feeding started and there were already red kites flying in circles in the sky. The main focus here was to write notes on the behaviour of the birds as they were being fed. Red kites slowly started to fill the sky in anticipation of the feed and once the food came out and was scattered, the red kites started diving straight down, picking up a piece of food and flying off. It was a spectacular sight to see, and with the reflection of the kites bouncing on the water, it felt like they were all around us. The feeding lasted around 20 minutes and as if like magic many of the kites had disappeared from the sky.
starling murmuration wales
We arrived at the hotel late in the afternoon, I can’t recall the name but it was a petty hotel with surprisingly big rooms and right on the seafront, so we got to wake up to a pretty seafront view! The main reason we had come to Aberystwyth was to watch the starling murmuration, so before having dinner we headed out to the pier and waited. Slowly, from over the buildings a group of starlings emerged, then from all directions, other groups of starlings emerged forming into one big group. They then started to engage in an incredible show of synchronised flying, every time you thought the show was over more starlings would show up and join the group. I was memorised and every time more starling showed up I got even more excited. Eventually, the starlings started to make their way under the pier to roost for the night, there can be up to 1000 starlings roosting under the pier. The starling murmuration occurs in the autumn and winter months and it is honestly something worth watching even if you aren’t a big lover of animals.
In the morning, after spending a night out my group decided to have a lie in, this was short lived due to being given incorrect times of meeting. We weren’t aware we had a task to do in the morning, in the shape of observing the beach/sea. This was a quick task observing the beach and sea, we did spot a seal in the distance and a jellyfish, me and two others, however, left the group to go find somewhere to get breakfast as we were so hungry. This caused a slight delay in everyone leaving, and they were all waiting for us in the mini busses… On the way back we had one last stop this was a visit to the Ynyslas sand dunes which are part of the Dyfi national nature reserve.
I don’t know much about sand dunes, one of the staff members told us a little bit about them from how sand dunes are established, what species you can find in sand dunes from types of grasses to reptiles. I actually think the sand dunes are quite beautiful and getting to know what life can thrive in these sandy conditions was interesting. Afterwards, we did a walk across the beach and had a go at identifying different seashells, a lot of people found this activity pointless, but I enjoyed it, mainly because I was to do survey work after university so being able to identify different species is an important element to that. We were able to identify horse mussel, pod razor shells, common cockle and common dogfish egg cases.

It was a nice little trip and it was a great way to sort of introduce the class to the course and what we can expect from the year overall. 

VEGAN EATS - REBELS PIZZERIA & PANCAKE HOUSE.

Last year after being a vegetarian for around fifteen years, I FINALLY made the decision to go vegan and honestly, I regret not making the switch sooner. Over the last several years veganism has been on the rise, with more companies and restaurants recognising the demand for vegan foods which is amazing! Since moving to Wolverhampton last year which is a small town itself, I noticed in general that there is a lack of places to eat within the city, however, despite that there are a few independent places that offer a variety of vegan foods.

Rebels pizzeria and pancake house is a new addition to Wolverhampton, and as the name suggests they serve vegan and non-vegan pizzas and pancakes. They promise good quality food by using locally sourced ingredients and to have an understanding of how the ingredients are produced and the impact it can have on the environment. I found out about Rebels via a vegan facebook group I am a part of and I ended up visiting there twice in the space of a few days, once for pizza and the second time for pancakes.

rebels pizzeria and pancake house wolverhampton
The pizzeria and pancake house itself resembles a small takeaway with tables to sit in and eat food, on the menu are 10 pizzas of those 10 four of them can be made vegan. I decided to opt for the cheesy green pizza (12” for £9.50) which was topped with spinach, cherry tomatoes, vegan cheese and tomato sauce. The service and staff were incredible and the staff being friendly, answering any questions about the menu etc. (they mixed up Rui’s order and gave him an 18” pizza instead of a 12”, which I found hilarious because it was huge).
rebels pizzeria and pancake house wolverhampton vegan
My relationship with pizza has always leaned more towards the dislike side of things, occasionally I would have phases of eating pizza but for me, the ingredient that puts me off pizza is the tomato sauce. There are several reasons for this, sometimes the sauce is too thick or there is too much of it, not enjoying the taste of the sauce etc. But this pizza was delicious (Rui even said it was one of the best pizzas he has ever had in his life, and he eats A LOT of pizza) for me, the base was thin and just the right amount of crispy, the sauce was evenly spread across the base and didn’t distract from the toppings which there was a good amount off (although I feel like spring onions would have made this pizza that extra bit tastier). Pizza is classed as a junk food and when I have had pizza in the past I usually have that slightly guilty feeling that comes when you eat junk food rather than healthy eating… But with this pizza, I did not feel like that. The pizza wasn’t dripping in fat, it tasted clean and fresh.
rebels pizzeria and pancake house wolverhampton  vegan
I really wanted to try the pancakes, but the pizza filled me (I couldn’t finish it all, so I took the rest home with me) so the next time I went I knew I had to order pancakes. There are 6 pancakes on the menu all of which can be made with alternative ingredients to accommodate a vegan diet. I was torn on which option to get but settled for the dark orange and chocolate pancakes (£7.50) which are served with chocolate sauce, oranges, blueberries and dark chocolate. The portion size was huge, with five fluffy American style pancakes topped with two shards of dark chocolate. It looks as good as it tastes, I could’ve drunk the chocolate sauce it was that tasty! Again, usually, when I have pancakes I can only have 2/3 before they start to get too sweet for me and I start to feel sick, this wasn’t the case here. The combination of dark chocolate, oranges and nuts gave a perfect balance of sweet and bitter, I managed to eat the whole lot!
rebels pizzeria and pancake house wolverhampton vegan
I honestly can’t wait to go back to Wolverhampton in September and get another pizza and pancakes from here! Have you tried any amazing vegan options whilst you've been out for food?

ICELAND - Solheimajökull GLACIER HIKE

On our last full day in Iceland we decided to do a full day activity, after looking around at several options I suggested a glacier hike which we booked on prior to Iceland (all this holiday was booked through Iceland air, including the activities we did).
ICELAND VOLCANO
ICELAND VOLCANO
The activity also included a few stops on the way, our first stop was a volcano visitor centre, one in which you could see volcanos in the distance. Not all of them quite looked like your stereotypical cinder cone-shaped volcano, instead just looking like normal mountains. This was a quick stop, for refreshments etc. However, I had a quick walk around the centre, it was filled with information about the history of volcanos, how they monitor them etc.
ICELAND VOLCANO
We also got to visit the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano, the volcano lies under an ice cap cover and has a summit elevation of around 1,651 metres. It last erupted in 2010 and due to volcanic ash dispersing into the atmosphere it caused airport transport across Europe to be grounded for a week. The site was very picturesque with the volcano lying behind a pristine field of grass, as of today the volcano is considered dormant.

After this stop, we were dropped off at the site to do the hike whilst the bus carried on (our tour bus had two groups, the glacier hikers and one doing a sightseeing tour). The glacier we hiked was the Solheimajökull, this an outlet glacier that flows from an ice cap called Myrdalsjökull underneath this ice cap there is a volcano called Katla. Here, we met out certified expert, we were fitted with crampons, given a harness and a walking sticks and a health and safety introduction. Once we had gone through all of this we made our way to the glacier, fitted our crampons onto our shoes then given a quick history and talk about glaciers. A glacier is what happens to a large amount of snow after several years, it transforms into ice. Glaciers also move, although very slowly this is due to pressure from the weight of overlying ice, whilst meltwater help it glide. Glaciers have helped shape and form the landscape we see in many places today. However, due to climate change this glacier is melting and moving at a quicker rate than usual, this was explained to us, every year they measure and mark how many kilometres the glacier has moved, as the temperature has risen the more kilometres the glacier has moved.
 Solheimajökull GLACIER ICELAND
 Solheimajökull GLACIER ICELAND
The first part of the glacier was coated in a thick layer of ashy rock, leftover residue from the volcano eruption. This part of the hike was mainly uphill, we made our way over cracks and crevasses, around pools of water that looked shallow but were incredibly deep, peered down into gaps that dissolved into darkness. I was terrified of walking on the ice because I thought I was going to fall over, it took a little while to get used to and to walk as our guide told us ‘like a penguin’. Having the sticks was a great help to put weight onto in difficult areas but overall it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, although my mum did struggle quite a lot, so I guess it depends on how comfortable you feel, my mum did not enjoy the hike at all whilst everyone else in our group loved it.
 Solheimajökull GLACIER ICELAND
 Solheimajökull GLACIER ICELAND
One thing I also noticed is that it was not as cold as I had anticipated, Iceland in general to me compared to the UK was a dry, crisp cold whilst in the UK cold feels different… (If that makes sense at all!) Whilst hiking over the glacier, I felt like I did not need as many layers as I had put on and did not even feel the need to wear gloves and usually my hands are first to feel the cold. Once we had climbed up the first part of the glacier, the ash slowly started to disappear, revealing the white of the ice and a flat layer of ice. Here, we got to drink fresh water from the melting ice caps and have a go at using our pick axes to hack away at the ice (and if you wanted to you could put some in your mouth). The hike itself lasted around an hour and it is up there with one the best things I have ever done, it is not something I ever expected to see myself doing and it was different to most things you get to do on a holiday.
 Solheimajökull GLACIER ICELAND
WATERFALLS ICELAND
WATERFALLS ICELAND
Once the hike was over we sat on a bench, ate lunch and admired the views all around us. We didn’t have to wait long until the bus was back to pick us up. We still had two more stops on the way back, Skogarfoss waterfall and Seljalandsfoss waterfall. We visited both in the golden hour, and it was beautiful. Skogarfoss is a 60-metre-high waterfall, the water flows into the Atlantic ocean, here we were greeted with a rainbow. Seljalandsfoss is one of Iceland’s most famous attractions, mainly due to being able to walk behind the waterfall! This is something that has been on my list of things to do for a while, it was incredible even if you do get completely covered in water residue, we then got to watch the sunset. It was the perfect way to end our short time in Iceland, and after a long day we were all ready for bed. 

ICELAND - THE PHALLOGICAL MUSEUM AND WHALES OF ICELAND.

Our itinerary in Iceland was pretty jam-packed for the few days we were there, in our spare time we got to visit two museums (which I had chosen as I had a look what was in the area prior to going).
the phallogical museum iceland
the phallogical museum iceland
the phallogical museum iceland
The first museum we went to was the phallogical museum, as guessed by the name this is the only museum in the world that have a collection of phallic (penis) specimens from a variety of mammalian animals from across the globe (including Homo sapiens) and those that are found in Iceland. The museum has a collection of up to two hundred penises and penile parts. I partly have an excuse for visiting since I am studying an animal related degree, but I suggested the museum more as a funny thing to do. The museum is full of teeny tiny specimens to very large ones to coiled, lumpy, thin and pointy specimens. It was interesting and amusing and something that can easily be fitted in within half an hour.
whales of iceland museum
whales of iceland museum
The next museum we went to was the whales of Iceland museum, which is the largest whale exhibition of its kind in Europe. The exhibit consists of life-size models of whales which are found in the waters around Iceland. We arrived about half hour to closing and were given a discounted price and a headset which provided information on all 23 man-made models from the blue whale to the sperm whale. The headset we were given was a shorter version due to the time we arrive. I loved the exhibit it was like stepping into the ocean everything shrouded in blue, the sound of the ocean, whale and dolphins call. It was dreamy and magical. The sculptures were amazingly lifelike and filled with so much detail. The headset provides detailed information about every single whale, I wish I had more time here, so I could’ve listened to the whole/longer one. Unfortunately, due to the lighting, my camera wasn’t the best as evidently shown in the pictures!

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