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Top 10 Tips for English Literature Undergraduates

A lot of UK students received their exam results this week which means there is a whole new group of freshers about to take on an undergrad course. I’ve been out of university for two years now but I still remember student life and there are a few things I wish I’d known before I started my English Literature degree. So, I’m going to impart some wisdom today. Here are my top ten pieces of advice for English undergrads:

  1. You’re never going to read all the books on the reading list so don’t give yourself a hard time when you still halfway through a novel from last week and haven’t even started on the play for this week yet. Pace yourself and prioritise the texts that you feel you will be able to make the most out of for your essays, presentations and exams. What you don’t want to be doing is writing an exam or essay on a book you haven’t yet finished. Trust me, attempting to write an exam on how A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man functions as a Bildungsroman when you haven’t even reached chapter four yet isn’t fun…
  2. Film versions and plot summaries can be lifesavers, equally they can be the work of the Devil, you’ve been warned. Before delving more deeply into this point, let us all raise a glass to our good friend, SparkNotes. SparkNotes, Wikipedia and Shmoop are the golden trio when it comes to finding a quick plot summary. But, sometimes they can be your downfall when you start rambling on about a part of the story in your seminar and your lecturer asks you about a bit in the plot that the summary seemed to have glossed over. Likewise, film adaptations can make the plot stick in your head much easier without you even having to open the book itself but filmmakers love putting their own spins on the source material so before you confidently start discussing the significance of Nick’s retrospective narration from the psychiatric ward in The Great Gatsby.
  3. English lecturers want originality in your arguments and there a few easy ways of getting an original argument pretty much every time. If your essay is a comparison between two texts then choose texts that wouldn’t usually be paired together. You can find similarities in any two texts if you look hard enough and don’t forget that finding interesting contrasts in the texts if just as important as finding similarities. And, if you’re choosing your own question, choose to examine an uncommon theme, idea or theory when it comes to the text(s). Significance of doubling in Frankenstein? It’s been done before so anything you try to say about it has likely been said already in many different ways but there are many other topics you can sink your teeth into for this book anyway.
  4. Plays are meant to be performed, if you can watch them then do. If there isn’t a stage adaptation of the play you’re studying on near you then take a look and see if there are any film adaptations you can watch or even if there are any scenes uploaded to YouTube. Reading plays are like reading novels without any description so seeing a play performed in front of you by actors who have their own way of interpreting the lines can really help you get an understanding of exactly what is happening.
  5. Your uni library may only have so many copies of your course texts and books on context and literary criticism so find simple work-arounds. Find the books you need at libraries outside your university, buy them second-hand and, if a book is now out of copyright, you may well be able to find it for free on the Kindle store. Plus, you can find quite cheap copies of the complete works of Shakepeare and it’s really worth investing in one rather than buying a copy of each play separately. When looking for articles from critics, Jstor was always my go-to but Google Books and Amazon look-inside are also great tools for helping you find great quotes from critics for free and without having to fight for the last book on the library shelf.
  6. Shakespeare, Dickens, Shelley and Austen will be on your reading list so get used to them. 
  7. Make sure you understand your literary theories because you will be expected to use them throughout your degree. Some of them are definitely harder than others and you’ll naturally warm to a few of them and get comfortable using them in essays again and again. Even so, as tempting as it might be, throwing Judith Butler and/or Sigmund Freud into every essay isn’t always the best way to go. Theories are hard, lecturers know that so if you don’t get it, just ask. Saying that, I don’t think I ever got my head around Cixous’s take on French Feminism…
  8. Make the most of your lecturers. Different unis give you different allowances on how much your lecturers can help you with your essays but even if they can only glance over a plan and give you some feedback in a five minute slot, make sure you take that opportunity. Just getting a nod from your lecturer to know you’re on the right track can help relieve a lot of that essay stress.
  9. Literature degrees have notoriously few contact hours which means you don’t spend that much time with the people on your course so make the most of the opportunities you do get to speak to your course mates. This is one I wish I had done more of when I was at uni but one thing I did do which I would advise was setting up a Facebook group for your course and year group (this goes for any uni course really). There’s always a general Facebook group for your uni or a Freshers page for your year so you can advise your group on there to find other people on your course. It really wasn’t long until the whole of my course were connected on this one group and we used it through our entire degree.
  10. First year usually either doesn’t count to your final mark or counts very little so use it as your practice year. It’s so important to get the balance right in your first year. If you spend too much time enjoying yourself and doing all your essays in a rush at the last minute then you won’t be giving yourself a good chance to see how well you can do from trying your best. However, the jump from first year to second can feel quite intense so enjoy your first year for what it is, a practice year that doesn’t count much to your final grade. So, make sure you try your best but not to the point where it’s keeping you up at night, it’s not worth that and you’ll probably experience quite a bit of that in your third year (sorry!) so give yourself a break.

I hope these tips help you make the most of your first year as an English undergrad. The most important piece of advice I can give is just to enjoy the uni experience as much as possible. It really is a very unique time in your life so make friends, learn about yourself and throw yourself into the subjects you love and you’ll be fine. Good luck!

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Posted in theatre, Travels

My Top 5 Edinburgh Festival Fringe Tips

It’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe time again and I’m sad to not be heading up to Scotland’s beautiful capital this August (I’m determined to go back next year!) but I have been a couple of times before and it is a brilliant experience. So, for anyone lucky enough to be heading there this year, here are my top five tips for making the most out of your trip to the Festival…

1. Don’t have a plan

There are so many shows to see at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe that it’s best to go in not being sure what you’re going to see and when. Likewise, if there’s a show you desperately want to see it probably is worth booking in advance to avoid disappointment but, for the most part, you can figure out what to see while you’re there. Trust me, take a walk along the High Street and you’ll be handed hundreds of flyers for all kinds of performances, many of them cheap and many of them great.

2. But also do have some of a plan

This is probably more advice for next year at this point but make sure your travel and accommodation is booked well in advance. So many people descend on the city of Edinburgh in August that all the cheap accommodation is snapped up quickly so book ahead to avoid paying a fortune unnecessarily.

3. Surprise yourself with what you see

There are so many shows to see at the Festival and so many of them are so cheap that it’s a great opportunity to push yourself to see something you wouldn’t usually see without the pressure of paying out a lot of money to see it. I’ve seen musicals, stand-up comedians, magic shows, spoken word, bizarre one-person comedy plays, a live sketch show, a beat boxer, burlesque shows, improvised performances and more at the Fringe and trust me, it’s always the shows you’re most unsure about that end up being the most memorable.

4. Make the most of free fringe but make sure you also have cash on you

Free Fringe shows are perfect for filling your free time between shows but you should be aware that ‘Free’ doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have to pay anything. At the end of Free Fringe shows the performers will usually stand by the doors with a bucket for you to add a tip so it’s important to carry around some cash with you so you’re always prepared.

5. See some variety shows

As I’ve said already, there are so many shows that you could see at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe that even if you’re planning to see five or six shows a day (which is actually perfectly doable), you’re still not going to get through them all. A great way to counteract this is to see some variety shows and cabarets. A lot of performers at the Fringe promote their full shows by doing short segments at variety shows. This means you not only get to see a lot of different short performances but it can also help you pick your next show to see if you particularly liked one of the performances. One particular variety show I’d recommend is The Midnight Show at Just the Tonic. It’s a bunch of comedians doing 5/10 minutes of stand-up to promote their shows in a cool underground venue at midnight. I went to The Midnight Show both times I went to the Fringe and saw some brilliant comedians both times.

So, there you have it. If you are heading to Edinburgh for the Fringe this year, lucky you, I’m very jealousI hope you have an amazing time and make sure you take photos and cram as many shows into your time there as possible, you won’t regret it!

Posted in theatre

Six Reasons to See Six the Musical

The six wives of Henry VIII + sassy pop music = one of the best theatre shows in recent years… who knew?

Six may be a hit in the West End (and now over in Chicago too!) but if you’ve yet to see this amazing show about girl power and rewriting history to turn it into “herstory” (see what they did there??!), I’ve got six reasons why you need to give Six a shot.

No.1 It has an all-female cast and band

Theatre is traditionally populated with more men in the significant positions than women. A couple of months back the National Theatre came under fire for not including any plays with a female writing credit in their upcoming season. Women are so often overlooked off the stage so to see a show where ten talented and diverse women are on the stage every night is so refreshing. Henry VIII doesn’t make an appearance in the show because, for once, the story that’s being told isn’t really about him, it’s about the six fascinating and fabulous women he royally screwed over.

No.2 It’s contemporary theatre at its finest

Each queen’s song style takes inspiration from some modern-day muses, from Ariana Grande to Adele. This means that though these ladies are from Tudor England, nothing about this show feels stuck-in-the-past, in fact it’s about as contemporary a show on the West End can get. There are catchy tunes with pop and RnB vibes and you can learn a lot about history in a way that is a lot more fun than opening a textbook.

No.3 It rewrites history from the women’s points of view

The separation of Henry VIII and Catherine and Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn is one of the most significant events in English history for bringing about the English Reformation but this is a story that is always taught from a very political and *yawn* male angle. If that’s not tiresome enough, all four other wives of Henry VIII are pretty much always glossed over when this topic comes up in school. To steal a quote from Cathy Parr in Six “there’s so much more” to them than meets the eye. I could tell you all about the amazing things these queens did and their truly awful experiences during their reigns but I don’t want to spoil anything so just go and see the show, it’s all based on real fact just told in the sassiest and catchiest way possible.

No.4 It’s a new British show

Ok, I’m not trying tot get into a debate about whether new British theatre is overshadowed by the Broadway shows that have been coming over to the West End of late. I’m certainly not hating on the Broadway-to-West-End hits either, I was one of the first in the virtual line to get tickets to the likes of Hamilton, Waitress and Come From Away (all fantastic shows, I might add) but it does feel like new British shows are sometimes lost in the sea of already-popular Broadway hits. Six has managed to gain a strong following online (with one of the sweetest fanbases I think I’ve seen for anything but more on that soon) and rightfully so because it’s so damn good. The writing team behind it, Marlowe and Moss, came out of university and got a show on the West End nearly straight away, those are some top musical-writing skills right there!
No.5 Every. Single. Song. Is. A. Jam.

Who doesn’t love a sassy feminist bop? In this show there are half a dozen sassy solo bops with three pretty unique ensemble numbers thrown in as well. Sure, the show might be short with only nine shows in the whole performance but those nine songs were chosen wisely and each one serves a clear purpose (even if Haus of Holbein is a bit weird). The cast album is short and sweet and the songs sound like something you’d hear on the radio yet still have that magical musical theatre quality to them so what’s not to like?

No.6 It appreciates its alternates

The cast is terrific and if you don’t come out of the show wishing you were a part of that girl squad, you’re lying to yourself. And when I say cast, I mean the whole cast. Including the three fabulous alternates. Back when this current cast first took the show to the Edinburgh Fringe, quickly followed by its first run in London, there was one alternate, Grace Mouat, who covered every single queen. How? Some serious talent and presumably a bloody good memory. Since then, as the show’s grown so have the number of alternates. Now Grace is joined by Vicki Manser and Courtney Stapleton and for the first show where all three alternates were going to be on together, the Six Instagram shared a video hyping the audience up to see them all perform! No other shows do that! And they should! It’s created the nicest fandom in the West End. I never see any nasty tweets from people who were sad not to see the main cast because the alternates are so celebrated that audiences treat seeing the alternates like catching Pokémon – you want to see them all! That’s amazing and how I really think theatre should be.

Have I convinced you yet? Go book some tickets and listen to the songs – they’re all on Spotify waiting for you!

How can I see it?

Six is on at the Arts Theatre in London and will be going on a UK tour later this year.

There is also a production in Chicago at the Shakespeare Theatre.

Posted in theatre

Emilia at the Vaudeville Theatre Review

Last night I saw the last performance of Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s Emilia at the Vaudeville Theatre. It was a play I’d been meaning to see for some time and ultimately I ended up leaving seeing it to literally me last opportunity but I’m so glad I didn’t miss out.

            Emilia tells the life story of Emilia Bassano Lanier, an Elizabethan poet and proto-feminist. She was one of the first published female poets in the English language and is thought to be the “Dark Lady” from Shakespeare’s sonnets. All this was pretty intriguing for me. If she was such an important figure in English literature, why had I never heard of her and why did she never even get a mention on my English Lit degree? Because her story has been silenced and her work forgotten for years.

            The play stars an all-female diverse cast of very talented women. The three actresses who played Emilia, who each took on the role for a different portion of her life, were fantastic. Saffron Coomber who played Emilia 1 took the character from a bright-eyed child, scared to go to court but still mostly untouched by tragedy to a grown woman who had experienced the unfairness of the world she was living in repeatedly and had faced great losses, both personal and professional. The part of the play when Saffron walks from the stage for Adelle Leonce to take her place as Emilia 2 was genuinely incredibly moving and I think it was this section that created the most humour. Seeing the stage transformed into the Globe (the show was performed at the Globe before transferring to the Vaudeville Theatre so this scene must have been amazing to watch at the Globe itself) and the actors going into the boxes to watch a scene from Othello was brilliant. This scene created comedy and gave a lot of fuel to Emilia’s fire when Emilia 2 realises not only has Shakespeare stolen her words, he’d also put them into the mouth of one of his characters was is, unsubtly, called Emilia.

            It was Emilia 3, played by Clare Perkins, who had the most powerful speeches however. At the end of the show, her final monologue is more like a rally cry for women to not forget their history and to keep fighting for equality in their present and future. It’s a powerful moment which is followed by an amazing dance sequence which sees the whole cast punching the air and shouting.

            Overall I really loved the humour, history, quirkiness and raw emotion of the play. To see what Emilia went through, even creating a school to educate women, is so inspiring and I can’t praise the cast and creatives enough for bringing this incredible story to light and for making me feel so genuinely proud to be a woman.

            I do think the men were played more as caricatures than human beings most of the time but women have been for years so maybe it’s just evening the playing field. Shakespeare is still shown to be literary genius, I particularly liked the last exchange between Emilia and Will when he’s trying to make sense of her and Henry Carey is at least understanding of Emilia’s plight even if he’s still just interested in getting his leg over.

            I love the current focus on retelling the stories of women forgotten in history in London theatre right now in shows like Emilia, Six and Sylvia. And it’s not just these shows like are forming a feminist revolution on the stage, walking around the West End district you see female faces on so many theatres with the likes of Waitress, 9 to 5, Wicked and Tina on right now. It just feels like a good time to be a female theatre fan. Emilia was funny and inspiring and I hope it goes on to have a life beyond this short run at the Vaudeville so even more women can see it and hear Emilia’s incredible story.

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May 2019: Current Musical Theatre Jams

It’s time for May’s top tunes. These are the MT songs have I been enjoying this month…

Livin’ It Up on Top – Hadestown

Well it’s like he said, I’m an outdoor girl.
Livin’ it, livin’ it up.
Married to the king of the Underworld.
Livin’ it up on top.
Trying to enjoy myself.
Livin’ it, livin’ it up.
Six months out of every twelve.
Livin’ it up on top.

I’m keeping this to one song per musical so this is the only Hadestown track to appear in May’s top five. But, seriously I’ve listened to so much Hadestown this month, I’m one step away from booking flights to New York. Livin’ It Up on Top is probably the song I’ve listened to the most from the original live cast recording. It’s fun, jazzy, funny and it’s got Amber Gray in it. What’s not to love? I just can’t wait for the new cast album to come out next week, I need it now (even though I think this song is really different in the Broadway version!). Check out my blog post on the Hadestown Live Cast Recording to read more about my love for this show.

I Don’t Need Your Love – Six

So I sent that letter to my love,
Got married to the king,
Became the one who survived.
I’ve told you about my life, the final wife.
But, why should that story be the one I have to sing about,
Just to win? I’m out.
That’s not my story.
There’s s much more, remember that I was a writer.
I wrote book and psalms and meditations.
Fought for female education,
So all my women could independently study scripture.
I even got a woman to paint my picture.
Why can’t I tell that story?
‘Cause in history, I’m fixed as one of six.
And without him I disappear.
We all disappear.

Just like Hadestown, I could probably put any Six song on this list since I’ve been loving them all lately but I said one song per show so I’m going with I Don’t Need Your Love. Not only is this a sad and powerful break-up song for Catherine Parr and her one true love (not Henry, obvs), it’s also a ode to the idea that women are way more than what the men in their lives have made them. Cathy P was basically a proto-feminist and this song has probably one of my favourite verses of any song ever. It’s strong, sassy and shows just how amazing and inspiring Parr was and how much of a shame it is that she’s been reduced to just the “one who survived” in history. Thank God Six is changing that. Thank you to our current English history Lord and saviours, Marlowe and Moss.

Somewhere That’s Green – Little Shop of Horrors

I’m his December bride.
His father, he knows best.
Our kids watch Howdy Doody
As the sun sets in the west.
A picture out of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.
Far from Skid Row,
I dream we’ll go
Somewhere that’s green.

I feel like I’ve been rediscovering Little Shop of Horrors lately. I completely forgot how funny this show is. I really need to rewatch the film. I’ve been listening to Somewhere That’s Green a lot because it’s one of those songs that combines comedy with sincerity in a genuinely quite moving way. Poor Audrey, she just dreams of the simple things in life and a sweet little guy… like Seymour.

We See the Light – Something Rotten

We see the light.
You’ve changed how we’re thinking,
‘Cause we were blind but you showed us the way.
We’re wrong, you’re right.
Salvation is yours if you do what is true to you
And you do it with Luh-uh-uh-uh-ove.

Goddam is this a jam. Portia loves Nigel, Nigel loves Portia but her preacher dad is stopping them from running off into the sunset together so they imagine what it would be like if their families (and her dad’s whole congregation!) approved of their love and damn is it a tune. There are several real jams in Something Rotten but this has to be my absolute fave.

The Wizard and I – Wicked

Unlimited. My future is unlimited.
And I’ve just had a vision almost like a prophecy.
I know, it sounds truly crazy
And true the vision’s hazy.
But, I swear someday there’ll be
A celebration throughout Oz
That’s all to do with me!

I saw Wicked for the first time in years back in April and of all the songs in the show, this is the one that I left the theatre thinking “I need to listen to that one again”. It’s such a big song for Elphaba but it comes so early in the show that it almost gets forgotten about once the show gets to Defying Gravity but it really is quite a show-stopping moment when this song gets belted out. I won’t be skipping this song when I listen to Wicked ever again!

So there you have it, my favourite musical theatre jams from May. Check out my top April jams as well and thanks for reading! 

Posted in theatre

Stunt/ Celebrity Casting in Theatre

Today I want to discuss the topic of stunt/ celeb casting in theatre so please pass me a ladder so I can get myself up onto a fence because I don’t really have a clear side on this. Sometimes it’s necessary, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the celeb is fantastic for the role, sometimes they’re not.

            Usually celebrity casting is done in theatre to keep the show running. Most of the time, investing in theatre is a really risky affair. A lot of shows lose more money than they make and it’s not uncommon for shows to close early or sometimes not even happen at all when the ticket sales aren’t looking great. Oftentimes, the show itself, even if it is a well-known show, isn’t enough to guarantee strong enough sales figures so casting a celebrity in one of the roles (or multiple celebs in multiple roles) is a handy way to get a few more seats filled. This means some amazing shows that don’t have the advantage of being well-known already or have missed out on awards, don’t lose their audiences to other shows that are sustaining their popularity. Which, also means that if the celebrity casting can keep the show open, the people working on that show get to keep their job. This also means that there are plenty of cast and crew members who could be getting their big break in theatre world and are getting to keep a job for a significant period of time (which can be unusual for some people working in theatre. For some, moving from one project to the next with periods of unemployment is common) because the celebrity casting is keeping the show running and therefore benefitting the rest of the team working on it.

            Except, when you think about how that role is now unavailable for aspiring actors and actresses who have trained for to work in theatre and are potentially missing their chance to get a leading role that could see their career take off. Plus, sometimes the stunt casting is done purely to bring in a ‘name’ regardless of whether they’re the ideal fit for the role or not. Working in theatre is hard work, I don’t think you need to be a professional actor to see that (I’m certainly not!). So, it can be really noticeable when someone on the stage doesn’t really have the skills or training required to be there. This then can make the show suffer in its storytelling and can be especially annoying for anyone who is more of a fan of the show itself than the cast in it.

            The other issue with celebrity casting is when the celeb has a day off and the understudy fills in for them. Now, I am a big advocate for celebrating understudies. They work incredibly hard and nearly every time I’ve seen an understudy perform, they have been amazing. So, when the understudy goes on for the celeb role you’d hope the audience would appreciate they’re seeing the show and support whoever is playing the role. But, unfortunately, not everyone thinks that way. I’ve heard really nasty things said by disappointed audience members who are there to see the celeb but see the understudy instead. Ergh. I swear, people that hate on understudies are worst people in theatre and celeb casting can make these people even worse for moaning and causing a negative atmosphere. This really is another topic for another time though.

            Overall, celebrity casting is not always a bad thing. Sure, sometimes the celeb clearly wasn’t the best choice for the role and it’s kind of annoying to see the part being taken away from someone who could have done it better but equally sometimes the celebs are brilliant and manage to keep the show open by increasing ticket sales. As I said at the start, I’m really on the fence about this but would love to hear your thoughts.

            Also, this post was totally inspired by all the drama that’s been going down at Waitress in London and I just want to say another issue with stunt casting is when there’s fantastic actor or actress in a role but then suddenly they’re dropped from the production for a few months to bring in a celeb*. Not cool. #JusticeforLauraBaldwin!

 *No hate to Ashley Roberts though, this situation is definitely not her fault and I wish her all the best for her run as Dawn.

Posted in Travels

Three Baltic Cities in a Week: Helsinki, Tallinn and Riga | Travels

My sister and I booked to go on this tour she found online for Helsinki, Tallinn and Riga a few months back and next thing you know the end of April rolled around and it was time to go (I mean seriously, I don’t know where the time went!). Before my sister told me about the tour I had no idea where Tallinn and Riga were but I think sometimes that’s the best way of doing a trip. Picking a random place, going to somewhere you wouldn’t have thought to go before and seeing what you find. So that’s what we did and let me tell you, I had a really great time.

First time coach-tripping

Ok, so the tour we booked was definitely aimed at an older crowd and we did spend quite a bit of time on a coach but this was my first time on a tour holiday and I can definitely see the appeal. Having everything organised and booked for you did make everything pretty much hassle-free and in each city we had a coach/walking tour with a local guide which was a great opportunity to learn the culture, history and what the key sites were before deciding how to spend the rest of our time in each place. However, being in a tour group does slightly limit choice and I couldn’t help feeling if we’d planned it ourselves we could have saved a fair bit of money. Swings and roundabouts though and I liked trying something new.

Helsinki

Helsinki was on some level what I was expecting, a nautical city slightly on the pricey side. Having visited Stockholm just six months before I was curious to see how it would compare. I think, overall, if you’re looking for a city that has a busy slightly more London-y feel to it then Stockholm is maybe more your thing whereas Helsinki feels more calm and a bit less cosmopolitan. But, honestly it’s hard to say for sure since we visited Helsinki over May Day which is a really bit deal in Finland and there people were mostly off-work and celebrating the holiday.

            For May Day, they wore their white graduation caps (which are like sailor hats) and lead a celebration in the city, placing caps on statues and having a good time. It was really lovely to be in Helsinki to see this tradition and definitely made me wish our graduation caps in the UK were a bit cooler. Also, whilst in Finland we did an excursion to Porvoo which was a cute town with colourful buildings and nice souvenir shops just out of the city.

Tallinn

Although I went into Helsinki with some expectations in mind, I had no idea what to expect in Tallinn and honestly I fell a little bit in love with the Estonian capital. Tallinn has a beautiful old town with cobbled streets, lively squares, old buildings, various churches and a great variety of viewpoints to show you the city from above.

            Through the rain, wind and even snow(!), we had a great time exploring this city. I bought a Baltic amber ring from a market stall and we had dinner in a Medieval-themed restaurant (lol). Tallinn and Riga both feel as though they have quite a bit more historical places of interest than Helsinki but both also have a life outside of their old towns as well. In Tallinn we ventured to a pub outside the Old Town called The Scotland Yard, which is, just as it sounds, themed around the British police force. As a British tourist, this was a pretty strange experience but was great none-the-less. My favourite part of exploring this city though was definitely the viewpoints and seeing the sights from Mary’s Cathedral tower – even if I did nearly have a panic attack on the spiral staircase. I have a fear of spiral staircases, it’s a thing, I know it sounds really daft!

Riga

Similarly to Tallinn, Riga has a stunning old town. There’s a gorgeous street filled with amazingly intricate art nouveau houses that is worth seeing and plenty of buildings much older still including the Three Brothers. These are three houses next to each other with one built in the 15th century, the next in the first part of the 17th century and the last the second half of the 17th century, supposedly all by members of the same family. Then there is the beautiful House of the Blackheads, a museum that used to serve as the meeting place for the Brotherhood of Blackheads guild of unmarried merchants. So, if you are like impressive architecture, Riga is definitely the city for you. Plus, you can get a great view over the city from the Skyline Bar, 26 floors above the ground.

            Riga’s history also goes way back so we went to our second Medieval-themed restaurant of the trip where I had a Hot Balsam cocktail which was a mix of spices, blackcurrant juice and the national drink of Latvia, Black Balsam. Apparently Black Balsam can be used for medicinal purposes like curing colds so I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it but actually it’s worth trying a Black Balsam cocktail if you’re ever in Latvia, it’s way nicer than you’re expecting it to be! We also went to a very aesthetic café/bar called Black Magic (twice!) which sold amazing truffles and, of course, lots of drinks, chocolates and cakes featuring Black Balsam. I say you should try it if you go to Latvia but it might be more the case that you will try it whether you like it or not!

            Both Latvia and Estonia have also had periods of occupation in their histories with both of them only achieving independence from the Soviet Union less than thirty years ago. Seeing the Freedom Monument in Riga, which was created to after their fight for independence between 1918-1920 served as a reminder of both Latvia’s difficult past and bright future for me.

            We had an extra day in Latvia and our guides took us to the Gauja National Park to see some Latvian castles and the beautiful Sigulda landscape. I really enjoyed my time in Riga and would definitely recommend this fascinating city to everyone!

I had a great time on this trip and learnt a lot about the Baltics. From not really knowing anything about Finland, Estonia and Latvia, I feel like I could tell you quite a bit about their beautiful capital cities, which I definitely recommend you visit. They probably all have some great Christmas markets, I know Riga definitely does, so if you’re looking for a place to visit in December so are just curious about visiting this part of the world, do it! You won’t regret it. Anyway, thanks for reading and I’ll be in Athens in August so expect a blog post on that coming up as well. Bye for now!