Saturday, 18 February 2017

Catching the Parkrun bug

One of the best things for me about living in Southampton is the close proximity to the Common, which is where I participate in Parkrun every Saturday morning at 9am.

What is Parkrun?

If you don't already know what Parkrun is, it's a free 5km running event against the clock, that takes place right across the country. It's essentially open to anyone regardless of age or ability (dogs and people with prams are a common sight), you just have to be able to run 5km!

Their logo is pretty snazzy too.

Since starting 5 years ago, the Southampton event has gone from strength to strength with 700-800 people regularly turning up in the freezing cold, making it one of the most popular Parkruns in the country. There are now almost 80,000 events organised every weekend nationally.

It's also a very simple concept - all you have to do is register, turn up, and show a printed bar code to receive your time!

At the starting line.


There are many reasons why I participate in Parkrun. It may seem gruelling to pull yourself out of bed on a cold winter's morning when you've got no lectures, but there is nothing like the buzz of adrenaline that you feel immediately after completing an intense 5km run.

It's not just about physical wellbeing either - I run as much for the sense of enjoyment and achievement I get from beating my previous personal best. This for me is one of the fundamental benefits of Parkrun, as you get a clear barometer of just how much your fitness is improving. When I ran it for the first time, I started off running 5km in 30 minutes, but after just a couple of months I was posting increasingly quick times, getting it down to 22 and a half minutes.

Awareness of Parkrun has skyrocketed in recent years and, seeing as we're only just into 2017, it's never too late to start and keep your New Year's resolution!

Heading down the final straight!

Half Marathon preparation

In April, I'll be running the Southampton Half Marathon, and Parkrun is the ideal training to prepare for that. It may be less than a quarter of the 13 mile route (including through the University and over Itchen Bridge) that I'll be running then, but it is at least a good starting point and it's useful exercise. Even though you're running alongside lots of fellow participants, you can't escape the competitive edge when you're sprinting down the final straight and trying to overtake as many people as you can.

Of course, you could just simply go out and have a run on the Common at any time, but everyone who has become a part of the Parkrun family will tell you the same thing: the atmosphere and sense of camaraderie between runners is what makes it so special, and it helps you run faster at the same time!

Many thanks to the Southampton Parkrun Facebook team for allowing me to use their photos in my post today - click here if you'd like to sign up.

Stay posted more updates on my progress soon, including my fundraising efforts for charity!


Saturday, 11 February 2017

Where to take your parents in Southampton

Finally, we have reached February! I've got a tonne of things to look forward to, but the thing I'm looking forward to the most is having my mum over in England! I've been so excited for this ever since she told me she'd booked her plane tickets.

My mum has never been to Southampton and, although I was a bit cross she never came and visited me during my first or second years, I think this might be the perfect time. I've been here for two and a half years now, and know the city and its surroundings a lot better than I did back then.

This is the plan I have set out for the five days that I get to have my mum here:

The mandatory student tour

A walk around Highfield Campus and a little drive past Mayflower Halls where I lived during my first year. No, no tour of Sobar or Jesters... this time.

Hartley Library in all its glory.

Mayflower Halls as seen from Mayflower Park

City Centre

West Quay is to my knowledge the largest shopping centre in the South East, so it's a bit of a must at least to have a look around. Also, they've just opened the new Watermark extension, which I'm sure is worth a visit although I haven't been yet.
While we're in town, the walk from West Quay down to Oxford Street is not only lovely, but also takes you past some historical places like the Dolphin Hotel, which I know my mum will like to see.

Making a little detour to Bugle Street and the bottom of town will take us past all the cool old pubs like the Titanic. These pubs are the ultimate answer to what I've always imagined an English pub to be like.

Ocean Village

Oxford Street

As my mum is an architect, I'll need to show her the very diverse and beautiful architecture around town. Carlton Crescent has the old Victorian style, while the new Guildhall Square and Ocean Village have definitely contributed to modernising the city. While we're wandering the Guildhall square, I'm planning on visiting the new John Hansard Gallery which just moved to town from Highfield Campus; since I've never been, this is a good opportunity to go. Given that I have been to the Sea City (Titanic) museum over four times now, that might be something mum can do whilst I'm in lectures.

Carlton Crescent


We probably won't go out for dinner every night, but when we do I will take her to one of my new favourite places: Lemoni Grill House down town. Not the cheapest in the city, but you really get what you pay for in terms of the quality of the food and friendliness of the staff - even their takeaway is great. All in all it's a very decent Greek restaurant, although if town is too far for you to travel for a Mediterranean fix, Sula's in Portswood also does amazing Greek food.

The decor isn't bad either.

Further afield

That's roughly what I have planned for Southampton, and we also want to take a day out to see Winchester and the New Forest. I'd love to take my mum to Bournemouth and Oxford, two places I really enjoyed when I visited, but since we are back in July for my graduation we can save those for then.

Hopefully our last day will be spent in London for a bit of shopping and sightseeing, and since it's only an hour away on the train it doesn't require too much planning. Suffice it to say... I CAN'T WAIT!

So, if you're having someone over from abroad or similar, where would you take them? I'd love to know!


Friday, 10 February 2017

Space to think - Celebrating National Libraries Day

Hi everyone!

For this week's blog post I decided to celebrate National Libraries Day which, in their own words, is an annual showcase of all the creative, innovative and diverse activities that UK libraries have to offer.

I've made a video showing my favourite study space on campus: The Turner Sims Reading Room at Hartley Library.

You can check it out below - I hope you enjoy it.

Let me know what you think!


Sunday, 29 January 2017

Looking ahead to 2017

With the Christmas holidays now behind us, this is the time when many of us look to make our resolutions for the New Year. The only difference is I intend to keep mine this year!

2016 was a big year for me personally, with several key highlights, from completing my Year Abroad in France, to gaining work experience in Spain, and finally getting back to Southampton.

Back home in sunny Eastbourne over Christmas.

Let's see what 2017 has in store for me:

1. Achieving at least a 2:1 in my degree

Now being in my fourth year, the finish line of my degree is in sight, and with that comes plenty of work. Languages in particular is a very difficult course in which to get a First, as we are assessed in every language-learning competency: writing, translating, speaking, and listening.

Ultimately I'm striving to get a First, but a 2:1 is nothing to be sniffed at, especially here at such a prestigious languages department. I've worked hard to get where I am today and I will continue to work hard to get where I want to be in the future.

2. Improve on my first Southampton Half Marathon time

2 years ago, I ran my first ever Half Marathon in Southampton, and this year I'm looking to not only repeat it but to improve on my original time of 2 hours and 1 minute.

It was great timing for me as the city hadn't hosted the event for several decades before 2015, but all of the hours preparing and training are worth it when you see the excited crowds cheering as you pass some of the city's landmarks like the Itchen Bridge, Bargate and the Guildhall.

I'm also going to be running for charity - details of which will feature in future blogs!

My Half Marathon gear from 2 years ago.

3. Get a job!

One of the extra pressures of being a finalist is looking ahead to graduate schemes and job opportunities, even with all the normal uni work. The process can be quite demoralising at times, as many of us have to accept rejections from our potential dream jobs but, just like our lives in general, we have to learn to cope with the difficulties and bounce back!

I have already had a rejection from one graduate scheme in journalism, but I've also been putting in the hours enhancing my CV and cover letter at the University's Careers and Employability Service. I'd thoroughly recommend attending a drop-in session, as the advice you get can be invaluable.

Phew! I might just need a lie down after all that. I'm also going to be busy in my Erasmus Society role once again, as well as going on a Spanish Society trip to Seville, and hopefully doing a bit of travelling some time before or after my graduation in the summer.

To a New Year and New Beginnings!


Friday, 27 January 2017

Nature in Winter

Hi all! I hope exams have been going well for you and, if you have finished already, congratulations! You're free! It'll be a quick blog post today but I thought I'd share one of my favourite ways to chill during the January exam period with you.

I am a massive fan of wrapping up in a million layers and going out feeling like I'm in a bubble, although at present, I've lost my gloves and haven't found a way to cover my face effectively... maybe I should try an actual bubble.

I really like to go out for walks or take some time out of studying on campus to stroll through Valley Gardens or the Common.

Look out for migratory swans and geese, especially Canadian geese - you can normally see them flying overhead. Moorhens and ducks are common in the ornamental lake, but if you are going to feed them, I've found that they aren't very fond of raisins but really like cat kibble.
Keep an eye out for woodpeckers too, I used to hear one or two when I lived in Glen Eyre in my first year, they were virtually outside my window!

Valley Gardens up at Highfield Campus

You might also like to look out for obvious winter fauna, such as robins and blackbirds; I've got a bird feeder which I like to fill with mealworms for them, just to supplement what food they might be getting over winter.

Southampton Common is a great place to clear your head.

I definitely recommend going out for walks during winter, it has also been proven to help with memories and improve your mood. And who knows, you might snap some pictures that are particularly Instagram-worthy too.

Until next time!


Thursday, 26 January 2017

Winter Wonderland!

So I've headed back to university, about to begin my final semester here at the University of Southampton. I cannot believe how quickly time has flown! Although it was difficult to leave my family and home comforts, it has been lovely reuniting with my uni friends and catching up with one another about what we got up to during the Christmas holidays.

Unfortunately, since A-level, I found that my Christmas holidays are never really a time to relax anymore, and were instead devoted to cramming in revision, assignments and this year's dissertation!

However, I am a huge advocate of the work hard play hard ethos and always take time out to relax, take part in activities, or go to social events I enjoy. For this post, I'm going to share one of my highlights from my Christmas period and something that makes my 'holidays' just a little bit more bearable... going to Winter Wonderland!

It is a family tradition of mine to visit Winter Wonderland in London each year and, living in London, it is especially easy for us to get to Hyde Park via the Underground. In fact, I know of quite a few of my friends who take the train into London from all over the UK (especially from Southampton, which is a relatively short train or coach ride away!) purely for a day out at this spectacular festive event.

About the event

Winter Wonderland is filled to the brim with a marvellous array of festive activities and entertainment. Taking place in Hyde Park for six weeks each year, there are over 100 thrilling rides and attractions - including my favourite, the Helter Skelter! One of the major advantages of the event is that it is completely FREE to enter, so even if your budget is a bit tight due to present buying, it is still worth going to have a look around the beautiful displays and witness some sparkly winter magic! Given the extreme popularity of the event, the majority of the major attractions such as ice-skating and the Giant Observation Wheel need to be booked in advance.

This year also marks the 10th anniversary of this leading London attraction. As a result, there were a few additional attractions such as The Nutcracker on Ice show and the Sooty Christmas Show for the little ones.

The day itself

My dad very kindly bought tickets to see The Nutcracker on Ice show, so on Wednesday 28th December my parents, my sister and I set off to Hyde Park to watch it.

Splendid backdrop and lighting for Act 1: The Stahlbaum Home.

The show was incredible. I was fascinated at how fast the performers could skate, and how they managed to do such fantastic stunts on ice! Fire breathers and aerial acrobatics also made an appearance. After the show, we spent the rest of the afternoon strolling around the markets and just enjoying the festive atmosphere.

A typical street in Winter Wonderland.

As you can see we all wrapped up warm in as many layers as we could because it was freezing. I am usually always cold anyway as it is, so I found walking around outside a real struggle and I could not feel my toes for the entire afternoon.

The Arora family prepared for a trip to the Arctic in all of our layers!

Winter Wonderland is London's largest German-style Christmas market, hosting a wealth of tasty food and drinks, which made it very difficult to choose what I wanted to eat for lunch. I decided on a large box of freshly-made piping hot vegetarian noodles from one of the street stands. It certainly did the trick of warming me up from the inside.

Yummy noodles.

Part of Winter Wonderland is a miniature theme park, however the rides were quite pricey (£9 per ride!) and the queues seemed never-ending. Instead we decided to end the day with a trip to the Bavarian Village, where we bought delicious chocolate churros and mulled wine to share.

Bavarian Village beer garden.

A wonderful day out for families, couples or friends, Winter Wonderland really is a spectacular experience for all ages, and year upon year never fails to impress me.

I can't imagine the festive season without it!


Monday, 23 January 2017

Exams and revision - tips and tricks

The exam period is always a daunting time throughout University. We are about to reach the end of the first week of exams at the University of Southampton, so some lucky people might already have finished theirs - I have still got another week until it's my turn.

One would think that, as I enter my fifth exam period as a student here, I would be a pro at this whole 'revision techniques, de-stress before exams' thing... but I'm not. Mostly because I generally do worse in exams than coursework, and I always end up with exams in my most challenging modules.

Putting that aside, I was revising earlier and thinking about the things that help me the most during exam periods. Here are my 4 strategies that may help you too:

1. Organisation and planning

How annoying is this point and how many people have told you about it before? I'm sure you've heard this loads of times and, as students, we sometimes just can't be bothered to do it. That's fine most of the year (not really), but during exams I have found it INCREDIBLY (underline that again) helpful to plan ahead. It does not take up more than 5-10 minutes and really pays off in the long-run.

I've basically written down in my diary what subjects to read on every day, and such a small effort has helped me stay on track with my revision. Further, I've got my building, room, time etc. for my exam written down to avoid any last minute confusions, and I always spend the first 10 minutes of an exam reading all the questions carefully and planning how to answer them.

2. Don't go straight to past papers

This is very tempting when you first start revising, and of all the possible revision methods, past exam papers are the best. However, they are quite useless if you don't have enough information to answer the questions. 

Make all your notes, go through the lecture slides, notes, important reading etc., before you start doing the past papers. This brings me back to point number 1: plan ahead so you have got a good structure of what you need to read and by when, in order to have sufficient time to do past papers.

3. Take breaks, think about summer, travelling, cats - whatever helps you relax

Self-explanatory really, but breaks are the alpha-omega of good work. Sometimes we forget about them and sometimes we take them for too long. I know I am, because I'm cat-sitting this beauty for the next two weeks!

4. Get enough sleep

This is the first exam period where I have actually made an effort to get enough sleep, and it has been life-changing. I'm a lot more productive, but also less stressed and anxious, which I usually am in times like these.

I appreciate people who stay up until 5am revising if it works for you (thank you 24 hour Hartley Library), but do remember to get into some sort of sleeping pattern a couple of days before your exam.

Hopefully this is of some help to people, or just a friendly reminder of things you already knew.

Regardless of how your exam goes, at least we are approaching warmer and longer days.

Best of luck to everyone in their exams!