Grace Notes: Believe it or not, I have a degree!

Last week I left Gothenburg for the first time since arriving in August and flew back to London for my graduation. I was really excited to go back and see my family and friends, and it was made so much better without my violin as my hand luggage!

The day started off well (as in I managed to be up and awake at 4am so I could get to the airport on time), and everything was going smoothly until we boarded the plane. There was fog at Gatwick and so we were stuck on the runway at Gothenburg Airport for two hours!

I finally made it to London and spent the rest of the day darting round seeing friends before meeting my parents for an evening meal.

The day of graduation itself was lovely. We were very lucky that it wasn’t raining! Like children, we were very excited to wear all the robes and I definitely felt a little bit like Harry Potter in them! The ceremony was nice (aside from the panic just before you walk onstage to graduate that you’re going to trip over in your heels and regret not wearing sensible flat shoes…..) and it was great to see our whole year being back together again.

What felt like thousands of photos were taken and then my old flatmates and our families got to go for a quick pub meal.

Then suddenly it was time to go again and I was rushing back to Gatwick and back to Gothenburg!

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Grace Notes: Initial reactions to living in a new country

On 23rd August I was up at 2am and dropped off (very kindly by my dad) at the National Express stop in Cardiff. From here I was taken to Gatwick where I got on my plane to Gothenburg. I arrived just after midday and was already exhausted.

I was really lucky and my landlord offered to pick me up from the airport and give me a lift to where I would be living. It’s really strange choosing somewhere to live without never having seeing it, but I had nothing to worry about as the flat I’m now living in is lovely, as are the couple I live with.

From talking to to friends who have done similar things and moved far away they have all said that there will be a big ‘wobble’ moment.

Mine came when everything was unpacked and I sat down on my bed thinking ‘what now?’…. I knew no-one, I didn’t know the area, it was already too late to go exploring and I couldn’t just pick up the phone and talk to my family or friends. There was this overwhelming feeling of loneliness and my brain was screaming at me saying what a huge mistake this was coming out here. I might have shed a tear or two, but after I got that out of my system and Skyped to vent my uncertainty, I felt so much better and the rest of the settling in process was relatively easy.

I then started exploring. A few things that initially stumped me a bit was trying to work out the currency (roughly 10 SEK is £1), the tram network (sometimes the tram stop is not where you expect it to be….), driving on the right side of the road, finding porridge oats (they are called havre gryn if you too can’t find them….), and realising that most cheese comes in kg blocks….

My first week in Sweden was mostly made up of meetings and getting to know my way round. Finding your way through a city without google maps is something I haven’t had to do in a long while!

However after a few days of fending for myself my parents arrived for a visit and then I could enjoy Gothenburg like a tourist for a few days before term started.

Grace Notes: A Break in Budapest

Last week I went on holiday to Budapest. This was to celebrate my parent’s 30th wedding anniversary and my brother and I managed to tag along!

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I absolutely loved the city and would totally recommend it if you are thinking of having a city break. On the music side, there is also a fair number of composers from Hungary, so it was great to find out more about them. But if you’re not a musician, there are so many amazing things this city offers. Here are a few of my favourite activities.

  • The Castle and Citadel – We visited both of these on our first day. It was a HUGE walk, all the way up the side of the hill to the Citadel, then along the top to the castle, round and finally back to our apartment. By the end of that day we were knackered! But it was totally worth it. The views from the top by the citadel were amazing, and the town on that side of the river was so interesting! We also came across a great music museum, which I’ll write a full post on soon!

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  • The House of Terror – This is a museum housed in the old headquarters of the secret police. It was fascinating, and gave a very strong impression of all of the awful things the people of Hungary have been through. There was information throughout in a few different languages, so it didn’t matter that I’m not fluent in Hungarian. Although this wasn’t the most ‘fun’ experience, it was so interesting and completely worth visiting. The section at the end showing the prison cells was really harrowing.
  • The food – I ate a lot (probably too much, but I was on holiday…). We mainly had our meals (bar one day) at street markets, that are situated on the sites of buildings that have been bombed. So you walk down a street, turn a bend, and suddenly there’s this small market, selling amazing food. My personal favourite was the Langos, which is a deep fried wheel of dough with toppings of sour cream, sausage or paprika on it. YUM. We also ate rather a lot of cake, which was incredible. I think my favourite was one called the ‘Cardinal’ which is a mix of sponge and two types of meringue. Delicious. This one below is a royal torte which I had in the Alexandre bookcafe and I loved it (as you can probably tell by my face…)!

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  • The Alexandra Bookcafe – This was possibly the most beautiful cafés I’ve ever been in, with a selection of some incredible cakes. Totally worth visiting just to see the incredible décor!

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  • The thermal baths – We decided to visit Gellert Baths at about 8.30am, and it was empty except for a few elderly couples. We spent most of our time in the two outdoor pools. One was a swimming pool with the most amazing wave machine I’ve ever experienced! It was hard to stand up as the waves were so strong! The other outdoor pool was a warmer bath. It was about 36 degrees and was so lovely to sit in, soaking up the morning sun. I would seriously recommend visiting one of the baths, but get there early so you have more space and the experience is more relaxing!
  • The music museum – This is a little museum near the castle and was a real find! I’ll be posting a full blog post about this soon.

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  • Shoes on the Danube – Just next to the bank of the Danube, near the parliament building is a memorial to the Jews who were murdered and shot into the Danube. It’s a lovely, moving sculpture, and worth a look.
  • Covered market – This was incredible and enormous! The ground floor is almost entirely food, and the smell of sausage and paprika is delicious. We also bought some amazing cakes from here, as well as paprika and Hungarian cheese. Upstairs has gift stalls, with loads of awesome Hungarian embroidery and leather stalls.

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  • View down the Danube at night – I think this was my favourite part of the whole trip. The bridge closest to us was the Elizabeth Bridge and almost every night we walked across it to see the view. Standing in the middle of the river, looking out at the city was stunning. It’s a view I don’t think I’d ever get tired of. Truly beautiful.

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Now I’m back in London, and waiting for term to start. Missing the holidays already!

Grace Notes: Traumas of travelling with an instrument

Due to the fact I live in London and I’m a musician, I tend to have to travel a lot with my violin. Be it across London, to another city, or occasionally abroad on a tour. Travelling with an instrument, wherever you go, is never completely straightforward. You don’t normally travel with JUST the instrument. You have concert clothes, a stand, music, and occasionally another instrument if you’re on a doubling part. Being a girl I also almost always have my handbag and that adds one more thing you have to strap to your back.

I’m lucky in the fact that I play the violin. It will sit nicely on my back and doesn’t get stuck in doors or on ceilings of low carriages (I feel very sorry for cello/double bass players). I have however had my fair share of awful times when traveling.

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Having an instrument when the tube is as packed as this is a nightmare! (I do not own this image)

One of the worst experiences I’ve ever had traveling with my violin was a coach journey home to London after a day in Bristol getting my bow fixed. I’d left my flat at 5.30am in order to get to Bristol by 10am and meet my parents. So when it came to travelling home at about 8pm I was rather tired. I got to the coach station and stood in the queue waiting to show the driver my ticket. He was about to let me on, when he stopped me and said (pointing at my violin case), “you can’t take that on with you”. I obviously protested and politely asked why. Apparently, it’s a fire hazard and could cause people harm. If the bus was full, then maybe he had a point, but over half the seats were free. I pointed this out and he didn’t relent. Then I burst into tears. Now, this is both fairly pathetic and very embarrassing, but I was super tired and couldn’t really cope any more. I was causing such a fuss he sent everyone else on the bus before dealing with me. He tried to explain that the violin would be perfectly safe, it wasn’t going to roll around, and didn’t believe me when I said (or hiccupped out, my crying is not in any way elegant or attractive) that the heat could potentially damage it and I’d rather it was on the bus with me. After about 5 minutes I think he was a little embarrassed that the bus was being held up by a hysterically sobbing twenty year old and let me on, grumbling all the way. I calmed down when on the bus and a fair few of the passengers came up to me to see if I was ok (I had been making quite a scene). After this, I’m always very wary of certain coach journeys….

When I got home I did actually look up the bus company’s rules about luggage on the bus, and to be fair to the driver, he was right. The terms and conditions say you’re allowed one small piece of soft hand luggage that will fit into the overhead rack or underneath the seat. Now, my violin isn’t soft, but it’s also not exactly massive, and will easily tuck alongside and underneath seats. In my opinion it counts as small (people were allowed on with holdalls with no problems), it’s not heavy in the slightest, and especially as the bus was half empty I think he was being very unfair.

In hindsight a well-reasoned argument probably would have got me on the bus faster than crying, but I was tired and emotional. Thankfully (for me, drivers and fellow passengers) this hasn’t happened to me since!