Busy busy busy

The weekend after Dusseldorf there was no time to rest either. A few days earlier, Jack arrived in Nijmegen. We cooked and hung out, we visited the city centre, and then we visited Amsterdam!

nachosjacknijmegen

It took us a good hour to find the hotel even though, in the end, it was right by the train station. Once we had settled in we decided to go straight out and do something – I mean, this is Amsterdam. You can’t just sit around! We visited the Van Gogh ‘My Dream Exhibition’ which was quite expensive for what it was – walking around and looking at copies of Van Gogh’s paintings and every now and then, the odd one that was in 3D. Thus, we decided to get as much out of it as we could and wandered round for a good while. All in all it was actually quite a lot of fun.

My favourite!

vangogh3d2jack3dBy the time we left the exhibition, it was already dark so we got to see Amsterdam by night, all lit up and sparkling. We headed to De Negen Straatjes in search of good food and ended up choosing a very sweet little café. The food in there, however, was by no means little. I have never left anywhere feeling so full. And I didn’t even finish my main course!

de bijenkorf, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, at nightDam Square at night, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsPalace, Dam Square at night, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsCanal at night, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsWhere we ate

Then we wandered around a bit more and headed back to the hotel because we’re boring and because we had to get up very early the next day so that Jack could get his flight home.

Amsterdam Centraal in the morning, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsAs soon as I arrived in Nijmegen, it started snowing very heavily. It was the first snow we’d had so I was pretty excited but Jack’s plane was delayed – woops. Oh well, you can’t be angry at snow.

P.S. Later in the week there was even more snow but that didn’t stop us trudging through it for a party (ok, the party was about 2 buildings away but still…it was hard!)

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Christmas in February

If you thought that after a weekend away in Belgium I was going to have a rest, you would be wrong. The following weekend I ventured to Dusseldorf with a group of other Erasmus students. I only really knew Terhi and Suvi, but everyone was so lovely and by the end of the day I had some new chums.

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The reason for our excursion was to visit the German Christmas markets, and yes I do realise it’s getting a bit ridiculous to write about this subject in February but hey, I’m just a maverick.

I had never been to a German Christmas market that was actually in Germany before. In fact, I’ve only been to one located in Manchester, so I was pretty excited to see how it compared. Upon arrival, everything was so captivating. The little wooden stalls decked out in Christmassy bits and bobs and the lingering smell of delicious foods enticed me in right away.  Unfortunately, we were soon to part ways again as everyones’ stomachs were on empty and we opted to get a proper meal at restaurant first. I was glad we did because I had the most delicious meal that I still dream about! I was quite lucky in choosing something so tasty since the whole menu was in German and no one amongst us had a strong grasp on the language. I still don’t know exactly what it was. All I know is that it had something to do with mushrooms, pork and pasta. Oh, and that it was amazing.

German food, delicious, Dusseldorf, GermanyWith our tummies satisfied, we hit the market again. It was a huge sprawling thing, covered in fairy lights and ‘liebekuchen’. I don’t want to bore you by describing everything that was there so I’ll just say that if Sinterklaas threw up on a city, this is what it would look like. Now here are some pictures:

funnypoffertjesgermanynuts xmasmarketbows cutecouple ornaments candlesmulledwinebandw insideanxmastreechoccasdusseldorfliebekuchen, Dusseldorf, GermanyThe day was nicely rounded off when we ran into a German guy’s stag do and Alex shaved the groom-to-be’s leg. Pretty standard stuff really!

stagdo weirdstagdo Then it was back to the train/bus to get home in time for a good night’s sleep.

Auf Wiedersehen!

In Bruges (…and Torhout and Ghent and Brussels) – Part Two

On Saturday 17th November the gang and I headed to Ghent. It didn’t know much about the city before we went, other than the fact that it’s where Caitlin goes to university and that she loves it. By the end of the day, I loved it there too.

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Had to include this pic I took at the station – of course they sell waffels in Belgian vending machines!

Not only is it one of the most picturesque cities I’ve been to, but it also had a great variety of quirky little shops, cafes and restaurants. It was more of a student city than Bruges had been and – even with most of the students at home for the weekend – somehow more lively. I could definitely see myself living there at some point!

We really did eat well that day. We filled our hungry tummies with delightfully warm sandwiches, tried some ‘Cuberdons’ or ‘Gentse neuzen’ (some gelatinous Belgian sweets), as well as a scrumptious array of sweet delicacies from a quaint little – but very busy – bakery. And to top it all off, we ate dinner at what appeared to be an extremely popular restaurant called De Kastart. Their pasta sauce is so notoriously tasty that people queue up just to take a pot of it home to pour over their own pasta!

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Gentse neuzen

cupacakes cupcakeshopWe did do things other than eating, of course. We wandered, took photos and visited various churches and other landmarks. There was also some lovely vintage and retro-style shops about but unfortunately the clothes were too expensive for me to make a purchase this time. My favourite shop was called ‘Zoot’, so check it out if you’re ever in Ghent.

ghentboatflowersghentbridgecatherdralharpmanghentchurchweinghenttouristscanalghentHaving previously said that Bruges was like a fairytale city, I would be so bold as to say that Ghent is even more so, especially at night. But don’t just take my word for it, have a look for yourself:

Ghent bridge, GentGent bridge, GhentSadly, we had to depart from this glorious city but our happiness was revived when we returned to Caitlin’s home, as an evening snack of ‘piknikken’, Dumon chocolates and warm drinks awaited us. It was like we were staying in a 5* hotel!

The next morning we had to say our final goodbyes to Caitlin’s family and to Torhout before hopping on the train to Brussels. Since we had to travel all the way back to Nijmegen that evening, we didn’t have all that long to spend there but we had just enough time to get a good feel for the place and, of course, sample another Belgian waffel.

waffelterhiwaffelDespite the limited time (and the abysmal weather), we managed to see quite a lot. We began with some wandering, which lead us to the Royal Palace. It was a fine thing to look at but I didn’t manage to get a picture – it was too huge to fit in my lens!

Brussels viewLaytonBrusselsleaves autumn Brussels BelgiumterhiredBrussels black and white skylinecutesherlock

This guy was working the Sherlock Holmes look!

Brussels, Belgium black and whiteWe shuffled along and had a look inside a beautiful church but left rather quickly as a service had just started. We, quite luckily, stumbled upon an antiques flea market just outside the church and couldn’t resist a browse. I finally got to speak some French, asking one of the sellers about a vintage handbag that was just divine, although it appears that anything more than that just comes out in Dutch or English. I do hope it all comes flooding back when I move to France!

Within the space of about 10 minutes, our little group managed to split up and lose the other half. To make matters worse, our Dutch phones weren’t working because we were in another country. We soon found each other once again and continued on our merry way.

Our next stop was at the statue of the little weeing man that you’re supposed to see when you go to Brussels – the ‘Manneken Pis’. I had been unaware of this little fellow until the previous evening so needless to say I wasn’t as excited as some of the other people there, nor did I know anything about it. I have since read that the statue is dressed in a costume several times a week and that his wardrobe consists of a few hundred different outfits. I am now very disappointed I didn’t get to see him all dressed up!

Manneken Pis, Brusells, Belgium statueMoving on from public urination, we soon encountered a much less vulgar statue at the entrace of the Grand Place. It depicts Everard ‘t Serclaes and it is supposed to bring you good luck if you rub it. You can never have enough good fortune so I took my time with that thing.statue, Grand Place, Brussels, BelgiumI was, however, unaware of what was to come. I had never seen the Grand Place before – not in pictures and not in real life – so it came as a great surprise to me just how magnificently resplendent it was. The guilded buildings were so ornate and radiant, they practically glistened in the sunlight. I couldn’t believe it had taken me this long to see this square. I did try to take a few photographs of it but they just came out as feeble attempts at capturing its beauty. Also, my lens could barely fit a whole building into one frame. I managed to get a snap of the corner of the square as we were walking away from it, but you really have to go and see it for yourself to get the real effect.

brusselssqaureA trip to Brussels is naturally not complete without seeing something to do with Tintin (or ‘Kuifje’, in Dutch). Thus, when we saw ‘La Boutique Tintin’, we just had to have a look round.

laboutiquetintintintinBut time was ticking on and we wanted to have a quick drink and look round the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral before we left. Despite the beauty of the place, I was somewhat preoccupied since I had managed to lose my hat between the Tintin shop and the cathedral. I didn’t end up finding it so I hope it’s having a lovely time in Brussels without me!

St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral Brussels, BelgiumcatherdralstepsBut soon it was time to go back home to Nijmegen. I couldn’t believe our trip to Belgium was over, but we definitely packed a lot in. We even had to change trains in Antwerp and so managed to see the inside of the exquisite station and ventured outside a little whilst in search of a post box. I also got to try my first brie and honey sandwich, thanks to Caitlin, and I have not looked back since. All in all, I had a fabulous time and I think everyone else did too. I even enjoyed the train journey because the views that followed us all the way home were so brilliant. A wonderful end to a wonderful trip.

Antwerp Station Belgium

In Antwerp Station

sunset Belgiumsunset3sunset2trainwindowviewweirdmist

Spooky mist…

sunset train belgium

In Bruges (…and Torhout and Ghent and Brussels) – Part One

I thought I’d split this post into two parts seeing as I’ll be telling you about a 4 day trip, and my posts are long enough when I write about something that happened in less than 24 hours!

As you may be able to guess from the title, the trip we took was to Belgium. We managed to visit so many places and see so many things with ease since we always had our free tour guide with us: Caitlin. Yes, lucky for us, Caitlin is both our friend and she’s Belgian. What a great combination.

On Thursday evening (15th November), we began our long journey to Bruges. The travelling wasn’t that bad because we all had things to keep us occupied. Layton and I, for instance – having been inspired by one of the more old-fashioned trains we had to take – decided to sort everyone into their various Hogwarts houses: a very worthwhile way to pass the time.

Nijmegen trainOnce in Bruges, Caitlin’s mother met us at the station and drove us to Torhout, a nearby town where Caitlin’s family live. Upon arrival, we were met by the whole family, and a delicious meal of homemade Vlaamse Frites – perfect! Caitlin’s family were so kind to us and generous too. I’m amazed they managed to put up with us for so many days! But they did and I definitely felt very lucky that we got to meet and stay with them.

Friday morning was spent vying for the bathroom and eating a delicious breakfast, before heading out to Bruges. I’d heard so much about it already and I was not disappointed. It was as though I had stepped into a fairytale, except that in this fairytale there was scaffolding around the square in preperation for the Christmas market, and you have to pay 50c to go to the toilet. Despite those two things though, it was pretty magical, and made even more so due to the fact that many a window was adorned with Christmas decorations and the like.

christmas christmas toysxmaswindow2xmassandwishes

Even the sandwiches were magical!

We whiled away the day looking around the city, taking in the historical sights and the ornate architecture, as well as trying some of the local Belgian delicacies. In other words, chocolate and waffels! When in Rome (or Belgium), eh?

friendandtourguidelookingatpostcardslacemapblackandwhitedifcrazydumon morechocbootsnongreenchoc laytonchoccarealbelgianwaffel

Of course, as is necessary when one visits any new town or city, some shopping did take place. We then rounded off our time in Bruges with a delicious meal in a hipster-chic sort of restaurant and then alas, before we knew it, it was time to leave.

xmaslightsbruges

The night, however, was still young (unlike Bruges). Back in Torhout we went for a few drinks in a local cafe and met up with some of Caitlin’s lovely friends. ‘Twas a jolly eventide before we all returned home and retired to bed due to an unfortunate yet necessary early start on the morrow.

…I don’t know why I decided to write the last part like that…just something about Bruges giving me that old-timey feel, I suppose.

Until next time, good sir/madam!

Finnish Food and Dutch Drinking

Phew! I’m slowly but surely catching up on my blogging! I know how long my posts normally are but you can all breath a sigh of relief as I tell you that this one is going to be short(er).

I thought I’d mention the time Terhi’s sister, Tiia, came to visit, since she and Terhi whipped up some traditional Finnish food for us to try. We had Macaroni Casserole (ohmygoshsogood), Karelian Pies (wow. Just…wow), rye bread (mmm), Salmiakki, which is a sort of salty liquorice (I do not like this stuff), and some Finnish Chocolate, courtesy of Suvi. If this is what the food is like, then I am very tempted to move to Finland!

karelianpies finnishchocAround that same time, Rosie came to visit! Wahoooo! I actually met up with her in Amsterdam first, where we stayed the night on a friggin’ boat. Yes, you read that correctly. We stayed in a hostel on a boat. And we had our own bathroom. Say whut?!

For anyone who:

a) is looking for a nice and clean hostel in Amsterdam

b) wants to sleep on a BOAT

c) wants their own room in the hostel

d) wants their own bathroom in the hostel

then stay where we stayed: on the MPS Noorderzon. I booked through Hostel World, but I think you may be able to book directly as well. It was a really great find (thanks Terhi) and I would highly recommend. It’s definitely not a ‘party boat’, but it offered some peace and quiet after a day of pounding the pavements. And again, no, I don’t work for them!

noorderzoonIt took us quite a while to do most things when we arrived, such as: finding each other, finding the tourist office, working out how to get a map at the tourist office, working out how to get a ticket for the queue in the tourist office, finding the hostel’s location on the map, finding the hostel. By the time that had all happened, I felt we could only be described as socially inept. However, we did manage to do all of the above in the end, and I even got to practice some Dutch with the owners of the boat. Triumph!

Rosie and I did some sightseeing, and spent a while shopping in De Negen Straatjes (The Nine Streets). I made a purchase that I’ve been eyeing up on the internet for years. I can’t wait to wear it in the summer!

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Towards the end of the afternoon, we figured it was time to go and get a drink. Whilst looking for a cafe, we passed through some market stalls, most of which were closing. Luckily, the one that was displaying some quirky jewellery was still open and I couldn’t resist purchasing a ring that looks like the bow you stick on a present. It just got me all excited for Christmas!

newringOnce that was over, Rosie and I found the sweetest little pub, right by one of the canals. I wish I knew the name of it!

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The view out the cafe window

RosieAmsterdam kriekgezelligcafeAnd we stayed there until it got dark!

viewfromcafeThen we continued the fun with our own little bar-crawl, but it was time for the camera to go away.

The next day we did some more wandering round the beautiful city, and then headed to Nijmegen, where we spent the rest of the weekend. Thanks for visiting me, Rosie!

canalbandw Rosiecanal

A Terrible Halloween Party and Other Stories

After Cologne, some more things happened.

Layton and I threw a Halloween party a few days before Halloween. Although our decorations were pretty phenomenal (not to blow our own trumpets), we both agreed that it was the worst party in the history of parties and concluded that we should never work together on party-planning ever again. Ever.

tvcobweb pumpkinsThe attendees did really make an effort with their costumes though and looked scarier than Marilyn Manson in the morning. Others just looked pretty darn good!

eyezombie

Layton’s invention: Pin the Eye on the Zombie

vampiressterhi katyshannon heherachmatt redridinghoodromanZombie Little Red Riding Hood (who ate her own Grandmother) and a sexy Roman!

On actual Halloween, we went on a big bar crawl in the centre of Nijmegen. I got to dress up and pretend I was Hermione Granger (or ‘Hermelien Griffel’ in Dutch) for the evening, which was pretty fun. I felt studious and yet brave: a true Gryffindor! My costume was pretty easy as it was mostly items I already possessed (apart from the tie), but finding a stick to use as a wand proved to be much more difficult than I had expected. I had to pull over to the side of the cycle path on my way home earlier in the day as I finally saw the perfect one, poking out from some leaves. DEQ (Daily Excitement Quota): REACHED.

Some more lovely things happened as well. For example, Caitlin and I went on a walk in the autumn leaves.

autumnwonderlandautumnleavesLayton, Shannon and I went for lunch at Cafe de Opera (I think that’s the one) and the food was so scrumptious! I’ll have to double check on the name, but if you are ever in Nijmegen then I highly recommend this place. Their food is delcious, it has a ‘gezellig’ atmosphere, and it’s even got a great range of drinks if you’re just going for an evening swig. And I promise you, I do not work for them!

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Layton tried an Uitsmijter

coolplaceOh, and Caitlin had some friends visiting from Belgium and cooked for the 5,000. Seriously, I don’t know how she managed!

And now finally we get onto the part about our trip to Rotterdam. Summary of the day: we went, we saw, we went back home. Seriously, if I wanted to be concise, now would be the easiest time for me to do so…

No, no, no. I’m being way too harsh on Rotterdam! It is a really interesting city but I was rather tired that day, the weather was dismal which, in turn, made the city seem rather gloomy. It definitely has its good points.

We began our time in Rotterdam trying to find our way from the train station to the centre of the city. As Terhi navigated our way through the streets, I got a chance to take in my surroundings. I had been told by many people that Rotterdam is “de lelijkste stad van Nederland” (the ugliest city in the Netherlands) and I could definitely see why. It’s so different to all the other Dutch cities and towns you visit. The quaint little houses and idyllic scenes are gone and replaced by looming skyscrapers and giant slabs of concrete that enevlope you and cause you to lose all sense of where you are at any given time.

Not that I ever know where I am. That’s what Terhi’s for!

terhiumbrellaDespite the architecture being such a huge change from everything else I’ve seen in the Netherlands, and despite that fact that it involved a lot of the colour grey, I actually grew to like it by the end of the day – especially in the dark (and no, that is not a joke about how I like it better when I can’t see it. It’s just nice when it’s all lit up!)

Anywho, once Terhi, Caroline, Elisa and I found our way into the city, we jumped right into being tourists. We stumbled across a little market so we wandered round there for a while. We later saw a statue of Erasmus (because he was from Rotterdam, don’tcha know?!) and then went to take a look round the famous Cube Houses. They looked pretty spectacular from the outside so we chose to continue our investigation into their cubic nature by paying a small entrance fee and observing the inside. The investigation lasted a fair amount of time as we found a comfy sofa on the top story, where we managed to hide from the rain.

rotters records cubehousesOur next port of call was the port (GET IT?). It’s the largest one in Europe so we thought we’d be missing out if we didn’t. We battled the wind and rain to get there, but we made it. It was pretty impressive and we got to see the Erasmusbrug (Erasmus Bridge).

doublebrolly infrontofharbour rotterdamharbour_edited-1 After walking along the port, the sound of the wind began to resemble the sound of our rumbling tummies so we decided lunch was in order. Unfortunately, it took us a long time to find somewhere we wanted to eat and which wasn’t too expensive. We finally found a bagels and burgers place where both the food and the decor were divine. I would definitely go back there.

Once we had filled our stomachs and regained our adventurous spirits, we hit the pavement once again. We soon discovered that Rotterdam has a lot of shops. A lot of really good shops. And that pretty much sorted out our plans for the rest of the afternoon.

A few hours later we hit up La Place for a quick caffeine kick, and then it was off to the station.

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The view out the window of La Place 

All in all, Rotterdam seemed – on the surface – like a very different, but very nice Dutch city. However, we didn’t really get to see all the much of it, and I felt like we just managed to scratch the surface. If anyone reading this has been to, or even lives in Rotterdam, then please let me know some of the places we should have visited and perhaps I can try to be a little more cultured on my next visit!

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so you must be pretty fond of my blog

I am well aware that apart from my important volleyball announcement from earlier today, I have not written a full post in nearly 2 whole months. For someone who enjoys writing these things, ‘ashamed’ is not a good enough word to describe my feelings about this.

I am also aware that every time I haven’t written anything for a while, I mention that I will probably be unable to extract all the succulent little details of my experiences here in the Netherlands out of my brain due to a terrible memory (I promise that’s the reason), and then go on to write a monologue of epic proportions. However, I have since learned the error of my ways and, seeing as we have 2 months’ worth of ground to cover, I’m going to cut my life down into little bite size morcels for you. Today’s post will be about the mystical lands of Utrecht and Cologne.

The weekend of 19th October was a busy one. It had been Noelle’s birthday the previous day and she had invited the Sheffielders living across the Netherlands to have a little meet up at her place in Utrecht. Noelle was a taalassistent (language assistant) at Sheffield last academic year and she gave me some tutoring outside of lessons too. I really don’t think I would have had to confidence to come here and to actually speak some Dutch if it wasn’t for her!

But I digress. Glenn, Rachel and I travelled together from Nijmegen (Sav came a bit later), and we met Louise and Lili in Utrecht. The L-team had sniffed out a superb pub located in a converted church nearby and so, of course, we headed there shortly after our arrival. This was an important moment for me because it was the day I discovered the sweet elixir of the gods, known as Lindemans Framboise. I urge you to try it, should the opportunity ever arise.

Mmmm Java Chip Starbucks for the train ride

rachstarbucks trainwindowblackandwhite louiseitgirlconvertedchurch

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Glenn and his chalis

LiliBardotLili enjoying her Lindemans

While we were chilling in our new favourite place, Mark came to meet us. Since he’d been living in Utrecht for a good few months, and we still had to wait for Savannah to arrive from Nijmegen, he took us to one of his haunts. It was very…pink.

pinkOnce Sav arrived, and everyone was ready and accounted for, we attempted to find a bus stop and then the correct bus. This proved to be a huge problem despite the fact that we can all speak Dutch and one of us is even a resident of Utrecht! Nevertheless, we tried our best and finally found our way to Noelle’s. Alas, we were very, very late. Sorry Noelle!

In the end though, it was all very much worth it to see the birthday girl again. Since then, I have learned that the person who’s birthday it is, is called the ‘feest varken’ (party pig) – surely one’s birthday is the sole day of the year when people should go out of their way not to insult you?! The Dutch have their own way of doing things.

birthdaygirl Gabs glennbandw noelleballoons noellestoryIt was pretty cool speaking Dutch all evening and getting to see what everyone had been up to. Plus, Noelle had made a delicious taartje, for what is a birthday without cake? In the Netherlands, it’s customary for the ‘feest varken’ to bring their own cake, which I do find a little odd. I suppose, however, that this is happening more and more often in England.

taartjeAlas, after a couple of slices of cake, some interesting conversations and a quick sing of ‘Lang Zal Ze Leven’, Rachel and I had to return home so that we could get up before the sun the next day in order to get the train to Cologne.

October 20th will forever be an important day to me. Just as I will remember 19th October 2012 as being the first time I tasted Lindemans Framboise, October 20th will be remembered as the first time I went to Germany (although it was obviously not as monumental an event as the Lindemans).

Following a lengthy few bus and train journeys, we (me, Layton, Rachel, Tom, Shannon, Caitlin and Terhi) arrived in Cologne and, of course, headed straight to the Kölner Dom. It was such a magnificent cathedral that it was basically impossible for little old me with my feeble camera to capture the true essence of its beauty. I had a fair crack at it though, so see below. domagain dom grandadcandleA candle for Grandad Beardwood

ShannoncandlesI hope Shannon doesn’t mind me posting what she wrote about the above picture. I thought it was a lovely story:

“In 2010, I stood in one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world and lit a candle and prayed that God would heal my uncle. God did him one better and took him to heaven to live with Him. Now, two years later, I got to return to the same cathedral, light the same candle, this time in thanks and memory of the time we had with Uncle Greg. Victoria didn’t know what a special moment she was capturing when she took this photo!”

After that touching moment, we went out to explore the city. Tom apparently visits Cologne every year so we let him take the lead on what we should do. It was an interesting trip which involved pretzels, messing about in German shops, and a chocolate museum with not enough chocolate.

pretzels giantpretzelprincessrachelchocmuseum terhichoc chocfountainhahaharobotangryfunnyI just love this picture…
Layton looks like he is mid-robot,Terhi looks angry at not getting enough chocolate and Rach is just…laughing to herself

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We took these pictures as a surprise on Caitlin’s camera while she was out the room – I think they turned out pretty well!

Whilst I enjoyed my first trip to Germany,  the train ride home was probably my favourite part of the day. There was a delay mid-journey, but Layton and I were sat next to each other and definitely made the best of things!

fingersI can’t remember what I did on the Sunday but, like Craig David, I assume I chilled.