A sculpture in Belfast with the innovative name “The Big Fish”
When I moved to England last October I had a plan to visit as many places and countries as I could in the UK. I wanted to go to Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Dublin. This, however, turned out to be a bit more easily said than done as the workload at Cambridge University is pretty intense. On top of this, I felt it would be more fun to go with someone rather than alone, which in turn meant I would have to take someone else’s schedule into consideration. The issue of finding someone to travel with was solved when an old classmate from my school back in Sweden moved to Cambridge to work as an au pair for six months. I had now found a perfect travel companion, but she was only available on weekends. Looking at the prices of buses and trains, we soon learned that traveling to any of the major cities would be very expensive unless you went during the weekdays. Our grand plans of walking around Edinburgh, having ice cream on the pier of Brighton or looking for Nessie in Loch Ness soon crumbled when a quick look into our wallets reminded us of our limited funds. We did however still want to go somewhere, and when we desperately looked through different sites we found cheap flight tickets to Belfast. Not only had Belfast not been on my list of places I wanted to visit – we would have to fly from London in the morning, spend a few hours in Belfast and then fly back to London in the evening. It would by far be the shortest trip I had ever been on by flight.
Outside the Titanic museum in Belfast
Neither one of us knew anything about Belfast, but filled as we were with wanderlust we decided to book the tickets. And I am really glad that we did. Some quick research about the capital of Northern Ireland taught us that Belfast had the world’s biggest Titanic museum, as the this was the place where the ship was built. We decided this would be our first stop in Belfast, and though we arrived there quite late and only had about an hour before they would close, it was a really cool experience. We got to see how the ship was built, as well as see pictures of the people who took part in the design of it (they look surprisingly similar to the actors in the 1997 movie) and hear really heart breaking stories of survivors, recorded and played aloud. As we had not planned this trip for a long time, arriving at the museum and finding out that we would have a very short time to spend was not at all disappointing – just a couple of days before we did not even know this museum existed and being able to visit it at all was really amazing.
Having lunch in a pub where we tried to order soft drinks, but were told we were in a pub and had to drink alcohol
I sometimes feel that visiting big, famous cities can be quite stressful. When going to cities such as London, Paris or Amsterdam I often have a list of places I want to see, restaurants I want to eat at, museums I want to visit. This turns me into a whirlwind running around cities with bucketlists, trying to cover everything I feel I “should” do. Just sitting in a park or spending an hour reading at a café makes me feel stressed, as I could spend this time exploring. Going back home without having seen all the major sites feels like a failed trip to me. So while I do love visiting famous cities with many important landmarks (these cities are usually famous for a reason, and few would argue that Vienna, Rome or Berlin are not worth visiting) I also really enjoy visiting smaller cities that I don’t really know anything about. In places like this I have no list of places I need to visit, and having that cup of tea in a small café feels relaxing rather than stressful. During these trips I feel like I enjoy the feeling of simply being somewhere else a lot more than I do in big cities. I go to those cities simply because I want to breathe foreign air, hear another language, take a break from my life; not to come back with lots of pictures to post on Facebook.
In Ely, a small town outside of Cambridge
Some of my favorite travels have been to really small places. Where you can simply enjoy what is often referred to as “the little things”; a nice restaurant, a pretty view, friendly people. All without feeling any stress to accomplish anything in particular. Ely is an example of a place like that – a small town which me and two friends went to last fall, simply to walk around and try some street food. I have also had similar nice experiences in small towns in other countries, like Novara in Italy where I had the best food of my life, or Białystok in Poland where I felt more calm than I have in most other places I have ever been to. So while I am often tempted to go to major cities, the smaller towns often have a lot to offer, but without the tourists. That is why I try to give the smaller places the benefit of a doubt before I turn them down for the capitals; if I had not done that in the past I would have missed out on a lot of experiences I would not want to be without.
Having dessert in the main sqaure of Białystok
Do you prefer going to big cities or small towns?