Keeping an eye out for the Little Things

A lot has happened in the past month. A helluva lot. There’s been an awful lot of DramaTM in my household to say the least, from hospital visits to discovering we had neglected to top up the dishwasher salt for over 3 months (how we were to know that was what the flashing red light meant? And okay, so that wasn’t so dramatic, but my mum was suitably horrified).

For me however, the biggest news has been having my Study Abroad location confirmed. No longer shall my bio for this blog read ‘studying BA History with a Year Abroad (at an as of yet undetermined location)’, because I’m going to Ottawa, (that’s the capital of Canada), ladies and gents. This time next year I’ll no doubt be bundled up from head to toe in layers against -20 degrees battling through the snow and ice to get to my classes, and ice-skating on the Rideau Canal on my weekends.

And I absolutely can’t wait.

I’ve been to British Columbia a couple of times to visit relatives, and so know I already love Canada, the landscape, the people, the Tim-bits (miniature donuts which are practically a national dish). But to know I’m going to be spending an entire year in a place none of my family or close friends has ever visited before is just the most exhilarating feeling. I am terrified and thrilled and nervous and impossibly excited all wrapped up in one- and it’s still 6 months away. There’s so much to plan (accommodation, visas, health insurance, flights- just listing them is making my head ache) and so much more to decide on what I’d like to do while I’m out there (make a weekend trip to New York? I think so.)

I will miss Exeter though, that much I already know. I’ll miss the practical compactness of the city and the fact it’s mild enough now that the daffodils and snowdrops are already all over campus. I’ll miss my friends too, but fortunately most are doing Industrial Placements for third year, so we’ll all be back together again for final year. A year away though I think will do me the world of good. This past term I have definitely felt myself slowing up a bit motivation-wise, and although I will be obviously working towards my degree, I hope I’ll be having a lot of fun too. Seeing as I didn’t take a gap year, this will be the first big chance to do the ‘independent travel thing’ as such.

With so much of my mind focused on the future however, I’m a little worried I’ll wish away second year. I have always been the type to look forward to things; ‘this next summer holiday will be the best ever’, ‘I can’t wait to see family at Christmas’, ‘when I get to Exeter I will have made it’- and while I know there’s nothing wrong with that, I do think sometimes I’m not appreciating the here and now enough. Because second year has been on the whole very kind to me, and I know that when I graduate this will be the part of university life I miss the most, the day to day stuff I mostly take for granted. The little things that keep me smiling through the deadlines and drama.

I couldn’t sleep the other night thinking this all over, so I ended up scribbling some of these little things down on my notepad. I know they might not mean much to anyone reading this, but this blog has become somewhat of a diary for me, and it might hopefully remind you too to remember the highlights of the mundane and ordinary.

The Little Things

  • The walk home from campus after my 5:30 lecture, rounding the corner to cross the bridge over St James’ Park platform and looking back up along the rail tracks to see the sunset.
  • Fernanda, my Brazilian basketball teammate on the university women’s team, who is always making loud jokes and constantly laughing, even at 7am training on a Tuesday morning.
  • The fact that every week when I get up for my 8:30 lecture it’s that little bit lighter outside, as the long dark days of Winter slowly ebb into Spring.
  • The days when I Skype my good friend Ellie in Colorado (who I met when she was on exchange at Exeter), and no matter how glum or down I might be feeling, her smile always cheers me by a country mile.
  • Piling into one bed with my housemates on a sunny Saturday morning, slightly hungover, to try and piece together what happened the night before.
  • The satisfaction of walking past all the prospective students looking around on Open Days and thinking ‘I remember being where you were, imagining myself here- and here I am.’
  • Laughing while collectively brushing our teeth in the corridor with my housemates before bed.
  • When I’m dreading doing the reading for a seminar, but it actually turns out to be so interesting I spend an extra hour doing background research on Wikipedia and Youtube, and I’m reminded that I chose the right degree.
  • Bumping into familiar faces on campus from my course or who I know through societies and getting a quick, unexpected hug in between lectures.
  • The fact that after a couple of tricky, tearful days I came home to find not one, but two huge bags of chocolate M&Ms bought for me by my housemates, who’d both unwittingly had the same idea to try and cheer me up.
  • Someone else giving in before me at the state of our kitchen and attacking the washing up.
  • When I’m just beginning to drift off to sleep and I can hear my housemates trying to laugh quietly in the room next door.
  • Getting really into writing an essay because, actually, I’m pretty passionate about the line of argument I’m going for.
  • When I happen to have an umbrella in my bag when a sunny day abruptly turns into a downpour.
  • Car trips back from National League basketball games, when we stop off for chips and our coach sings along to 70s disco tracks all the way down the M4.
  • Catching up with my parents on Skype on Saturday mornings, and when they take the iPad down to the dog so she can ignore me entirely.
  • Days when we all give in and order take-out, eating it sitting on my bed until my room stinks of pizza, and listening to whatever song of the week I’ve decided to play on repeat.
  • Going for a run just as the sun is starting to set and watching the clouds turn pink and gold as I’m coming back up the hill from Morrisons’.

This might seem a little cheesy, but even if these parts of university life maybe aren’t the most exciting or noteworthy, they are the parts I know I will miss the most. They’re what remind me that for all the down days and days where I question myself, I know I should remember that I’m lucky that I am here, with the people I am with.

Bring on Second Year

The first week of term has flown by already in an exhausting mix of 7am alarms for painfully early 8:30am lectures and evenings spent at various second year house-warmings. Despite being shattered already, to say I’m glad to be back is a huge understatement. I’ve missed Exeter so much – I’ve missed the Forum and the pricey AMT milkshakes, I’ve missed the library and the satisfaction of finding 6 entire shelves full of relevant texts to your interests, I’ve missed being surrounded by young people and familiar faces; I’ve even missed the hills. The amount of reading and research that needs to be done this term is looming and my housemates are already attempting to secure placements for next year, but at the same time I can’t help but feel bizarrely content to be back in the buzz and minor stress of it all. Summer, despite the occasional interludes of lovely holidays and travelling, was for the most part quite a long and lonely experience, and it’s so good to be returned to my Devon home.

That being said, I can tell a lot of things are going to be different this year, and my course is no exception. This term I’m in the interesting position of taking only two 30 credit modules; an independent research module called ‘Doing History’ and an Intermediate French language module with the Foreign Language Centre (FLC). Combined, I have the terrifying total of 4 contact hours a week. Four.

Compared to the structured set up of last year, when I was up on campus every weekday going to this Medieval History seminar or that Modern lecture, the lack of any real timetable is definitely unnerving. I have plenty to keep me busy I’m sure, but I’m a hopeless procrastinator, and am a little worried that my days will blur into successive weeks of ‘not much getting done’.

So, in traditional September fashion – the month of New Beginnings for the past 14 years of my life in the British education system – I’ve decided to make a few resolutions. Not all are work related, but hopefully they’ll give me some structure to build my week around!

  1. Play a sport

When the recent league tables for 2015/6 came out, alongside retaining it’s top 10 position, the University of Exeter was awarded the prestigious title of the Sunday Times’ ‘Sports University of the Year’. Considering my sporting participation last year (or rather, sincere lack thereof) I think it’s fair to say that this title is in no way thanks to my contribution. This year however, I’m determined to join the two-thirds of the student population who are involved in sport, across some 50 different clubs and societies, and actually join a team. As someone who has avoided the intense fitness-based atmosphere of the Sports’ Park and has shockingly bad hand-eye coordination at the best of times, this might be an interesting one – but I’ve decided the women’s Development Basketball team can’t be all that scary. So I’ve handed over the £70, signed myself up for some stash, and will be going to first training on Sunday. Wish me luck!

  1. Learn a language

Is this a cop-out seeing as I’m already signed up to do a French module? Maybe. But it has been a good two and a half years since my AS French exams, and despite my best attempts at being put in the Beginners set (Me: “Seriously, I’m not AS standard anymore, I can barely remember the present tense let alone the subjunctive”, FLC Lady: “I’m sorry but I simply can’t put someone with above GCSE standard in the beginners group”) I’ve been signed up to an Intermediate course. So, we’ll see how that goes. It will be nice to use a different part of my brain memorising vocab and butchering the French accent instead of trawling through history books, and hopefully it’ll come back pretty quickly! A language is a great addition to any CV as I’ve been told, and the FLC really does make it very easy to sign up, so I’d recommend it to anyone out there considering it as well!

3.  Go veggie

This is nothing to do with university as such, but as a result of a combination of financial, environmental, ethical and sheer will-power-testing motives, I’ve decided to give the whole veggie thing a try. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of meat anyway, and in an attempt to spice up my culinary repertoire (which is pretty limited) I think actively trying to be vegetarian and having to seek out new ingredients and recipes could be a good challenge.

4. It’s second year already – embrace the fact that The Future is inevitable

It’s the classic question that all final years dread; “so, what are you going to do once you’ve finished your degree?” but I’m determined I won’t be left rambling on about internships that may or may not exist or vague plans to take a year out travelling. That means jumping on the bandwagon now, and starting to take a hard look at life beyond university, and what I can do about it now. The most important thing in the immediate future is deciding on my year abroad (which university is most suited to me? What are the courses like? What about the weather? And how cheap are plane tickets?) but I’m also keen to finish my Exeter Award, get involved in Career Zone ventures like the eXpert scheme, and sort out a useful Internship for next summer.

  1. Don’t get too stressed.

Last year I started well, far better than I anticipated actually, but ended up really struggling for the latter half of first term. More than anything, my aim this year is to not let that happen again. I’m surrounded by a supportive, lovely group of people and I know my way around the numerous support facilities the university offers, so I’m in a far better place to face a new academic year already. I’ve just got to keep my head and not let it all get to me when the workload and expectation inevitably ramps up as term progresses.

This year as part of student blogger duties, I’m also going to have a go at taking a snapshot of my daily life here at Exeter on the app ‘One Second Everyday’. It’s pretty self-explanatory, and now I’ve worked out how to use it (just about) hopefully by the end of this year I’ll have a neat, little video summing second year up. Bring it.

University of Exeter First Year Bucket List

As you may have picked up on by this point if you are regular peruser of this blog (or, actually, if you have seen pretty much any of my other posts) I am a huge fan of lists.  In keeping with this trend, and in light of the fact I’m entering my final week at uni for this academic year, I decided to create the Ultimate Bucket List for a first year student here at Exeter.

Disclaimer: Some of these aren’t specific to Exeter and are more general first year university achievements. There is also a distinct lack of clubbing related challenges due to my own personal preferences on that front, but a quick Google has revealed the internet is full of them if you’re interested in that side of things.

So, from the bizarre to the admirable, to the must-do to the plain silly, in no particular order, here are 19 things I think it’s worth doing as a student in your first year at Exeter:

  1. Complete the Old Firehouse Challenge – devour an entire pizza and of course, the ultimate challenge of managing to find a table in the first place. If you’re feeling extra brave, follow it up with the calorific masterpiece that is Harry’s Heart Attack for dessert, it’s slogan being ‘Two will struggle, one will need the heart and stomach of lion!’ Challenge accepted.
  2. CountrysideGet lost wandering around the green forestry of Exeter’s campus. Things to spot: Reed Hall, that pond with the fountain, random art installations and thousands of bunnies. I imagine I’ll still be getting lost come final year, but the abundance of woodland paths in and around campus is genuinely one of favourite things about Exeter.
  3. Order curly fries at the RAM to fuel you through a late afternoon lecture or seminar, and meet up with a course mate to bemoan how much work you’ve got to do in the coming week.
  4. Join a hundred and one societies at Freshers Fair, and end up becoming a regular member of only one of them. We are all guilty of this and it seems none of us will EVER LEARN.
  5. Walk along the Quayside on a sunny weekend or pedalo if the weather permits and you’re feeling adventurous! If you want a real challenge, trek along the river to the Double Locks pub for a classic pub lunch.
  6. Order horribly overpriced Dominos (even with the discount codes I swear Dominos is the biggest rip-off in the history of pizza) because you are just that bored of cooking.
  7. Take the train to Exmouth Beach, have an ice cream/fish and chips on the front in true tourist fashion, and wander up and down the sand feeling very self-satisfied in the fact you go to a university on the coast.
  8. Take a selfie in Parliament Street. At an impressively tight 64 centimetres wide at its narrowest, Parliament Street has (falsely) been claimed to be the world’s narrowest street, but it’s still pretty cool.
  9. Complete Rock Solid. I didn’t actually manage to get round to this, but I’d say to anticipate a lot of mud and a lot of laughs if the Facebook photos were anything to go by. Definitely something to do for second year.
  10. Do a week’s worth of shopping in the Pennsylvania Road Co-op because you just can’t be bothered to walk into town or trek to Morrisons. Instantly regret the decision when you get your next bank statement.
  11. Do something for bonfire night, whether its getting a ticket to Ottery St Mary to experience the famously bizarre local tradition of flaming tar barrels, or popping down to Exmouth for their impressive firework display.
  12. Actually go inside Exeter Cathedral and look round, as opposed to just taking selfies outside it. So I’m a self-confessed history geek, but the Cathedral has been around for 600-odd years and is genuinely a beautiful building. It’s vaulted ceiling is the longest in the whole of England, and it has an awesome astronomical clock too.
  13. Visit the Exeter Christmas market. Arguably a student staple must-do; brownie points for buying homemade chutney.
  14. Have brunch in Tea on the Green (or Boston Tea Party, whichever takes your fancy.)
  15. Swim in the outdoor swimming pool by Cornwall House. It’s been closed practically the entire time you’ve been on campus, but come May and exam season, the pool suddenly throws open its gates. Make the most of being in on-campus accommodation and plod down in your flip flops and towel for a de-stress swim in wonderfully heated waters.
  16. Spend a lazy day in pyjamas. Eat cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner and revel in the bliss of no adult authority being around to tell you to do otherwise. You’re a fresher, that essay/reading/seminar prep can wait; Netflix can’t.
  17. Drink milk/orange juice from the bottle or carton to save on washing up. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
  18. Stood on UoE stoneTake a photo with the University of Exeter stone. Okay, so perhaps not necessarily a ‘must-do’ for first year, unless you are super keen, but definitely something to get round to eventually.
  19. THE ULTIMATE EXETER CHALLENGE: Find someone from Yorkshire. Take a selfie with them, get their autograph, treasure their dulcet Northern tones – they are a rare and precious breed in Exeter and you might not get the chance to meet one again.

Things I’ve Achieved in First Year

The library is packed to the rafters with harassed looking students in various states of dress, the Market Place is selling post-its, pens and vodka at discount prices, and everywhere you go people are talking wistfully about the holidays.

Yep. It’s that time of year.tumblr_no3aattKfk1s7fm11o1_1280

Currently most of the student population is slap-bang in the middle of revising for exams, so of course I find myself spending my afternoon writing a blog post instead of memorising essay plans. Obviously.

Coming to the end of first year with increasingly terrifying rapidity, it’s reached the point now where I feel able to look back on the whole experience and see just how far I’ve come. September feels like a lifetime ago – so much has happened since then, the awesome and the atrocious, I’ve learnt so much (although judging by the state of my revision you wouldn’t know it) and I feel like I’ve grown up a lot too.

In the vein of this somewhat cheesy nostalgia, I’ve decided to compile a list of 10 things I think I’ve achieved this year. Especially during exam season it’s easy to get hung up on final year averages as a gauge of ‘how well you’ve done’, but I think especially in first year there are a lot of other challenges to get over beside the academic; and no matter how small these ‘achievements’ might be, I think they deserve a little recognition:

1. Survived Freshers’ Week

It was just as intimidating arriving to a campus of complete strangers as I feared it would be, but through all awkward introductions, over-priced Freshers’ events and hideous flu, I made it through without a single homesick breakdown.

2. Lived Off Something Other Than Beans On Toast

Self-catered and I have had a love/hate relationship of sorts, but over the last term especially it’s gotten much easier to throw edible meals together. No longer do we avidly stick to student recipe books, bemoaning not having that clearly vital piece of student kitchen equipment; a lemon squeezer, or spend ridiculous amounts on Dominoes ‘discounts’. Instead, I’m actually now reasonably capable of constructing a variety of meals for the week and not suffering from vitamin deficiency.

3. Lived Away From Home For 3 Months Straight

I was always a little worried about being away from home for such extended periods of time, but no matter how tough it might seem at first – time really is a healer. It’s amazing how much easier it’s gotten to be away from my family, and no one was more surprised than me when after a month-holiday over Easter, I was actually desperate to get back to Exeter. ‘Home’ home will always be where my family is, but I feel like I’ve officially adopted Devon as my ‘uni home’ too.

4. Written An Essay On A Topic I Previously Knew Absolutely Nothing About With A Bibliography Of 18 Bookstumblr_naaw572FBO1ry1izso1_500

I now know so much more about the Great Irish Famine than I thought humanely possible. I guess this is a standard part of university life for humanities students, but my goodness it’s a long way from the standard expected at A level. The independent research was intimidating at first, but it’s also hugely satisfying to become a mini-expert on an obscure topic of your choosing, and after scouring the library for all and any books that could possibly help you out, submit an essay you’ve spent 2 weeks constructing.

5. Managed To Get A 3 And A Half Hour Train From Leicester To Exeter With 2 Ridiculously Over-Packed Suitcases, A Rucksack Full Of History Textbooks And A Guitar

I think this one speaks for itself as an admirable achievement.

6. Kept On Going

This one has been particularly important for me, even though it’s taken me a while to recognise it as an ‘achievement’ as such. To cut a long story short, when things got tough and I thought that maybe university wasn’t for me, I sought out all the support I could and managed to stick it out. I’m really grateful for that now looking back, and am proud of myself for keeping my head above water when it was all getting a little overwhelming.

7. Was An Adult-y Adulttumblr_nn83pohkGL1rmegquo1_1280

Aside from feeding myself, independent living has also brought a number of other jobs I’d never even really thought twice about that I’ve had to get to grips with as an ‘adult’. A non-exhaustive list of these includes: booking my own doctors’ appointment, making weekly shopping lists, going to the Bank for Serious Conversations, making restaurant reservations over the phone, picking up prescriptions, sending relatives Birthday cards (as opposed to signing the family card) and buying my own loo bleach.

8. Didn’t Miss A Seminar

I am pretty proud of this one. Arguably 9am lectures are very tempting to miss when you can catch up online at a more reasonable hour, but if I’m honest I’m quite happy to turn up to be spoken at for an hour. It doesn’t exactly require much effort, aside from making notes. Seminars however, are a different ordeal entirely; intensive 2 hour sessions which require reading and preparation and, horror of horrors, interaction. Far more daunting, and unfortunately far more essential to attend.

9. Found A House For Second Year

Some might not class this as an achievement seeing as all first years have to find themselves accommodation, but seeing as this was without a doubt the MOST stressful aspect of first year for me, I can’t not include it. Dozens of house-viewings and depressing phone conversations with various landlords (“Oh, so sorry, that one went 10 minutes ago”) later, I am in fact not living in a cardboard box in September, and frankly that’s all I really care about.

10. Made Friends

thumb_IMG_3714_1024 2Spending 7 years with the same group of people at secondary school, it was more intimidating than I thought having to suddenly branch out and make new connections all over again at university. It was like being 11 years old again and having that whole ‘first day at school’ feeling, except we’re all supposedly infinitely wiser and cooler now that we’re over 18. Fortunately, I’ve found a pretty great bunch of people who I’ve met in all kinds of situations throughout first year and I’m grateful to all of them for putting up with me and making me laugh on a daily basis.

The One Where First Year Is Nearly Over

It’s the weekend before we break up for Easter, and the fact that technically that means we only have one week left of teaching for first year is finally sinking in.

It feels like I’ve been here an age, like I’ve always complained about trekking up Forum hill, like I’ve always had lunches that consist of bizarre combinations of items at the back of my fridge shelf, like I’ve always been friends with the awesome group of people I hang around with in the evenings – but the reality of it is is that we’ve only been here 7 months. 7 months of living pretty much independently and having to build new relationships; 7 months of adapting to a new timetable of working hours, a new level of academic expectation; 7 months of finding my feet 200 miles away from home.

Students soaking up the sun on campus

Students soaking up the sun on campus

We might still have summer term to come with weeks of no-doubt glorious weather and torturous indoor revision, but in many ways first year is nearly over and that’s just a little terrifying. Terrifying, but also pretty awesome – because we’ve nearly made it through and out the other side of the baptism of fire that is your first year at university. I’m feeling pretty reflective about the whole experience thus far at the minute, but I think there will be time for a proper review post at the official end of the year. At the moment, there’s still plenty going on in the here and now to keep me occupied.

Things have definitely been getting hectic in the past few weeks. The deadlines for the end of term are amping up and I know I’m not the only one in saying I’ve got two huge essays in for next week that I’m not quite as far along with as I’d like. As a result, there’s been a lot of mutual daydreaming about the imminent holidays going around, but I know that after a month away I’ll be glad to be back in Devon and at Exeter – exams or not.

Watching the solar eclipse

Watching the solar eclipse

Despite the extra pressure recently though, there’s also been plenty of good stuff going on too. First year historians submitted our choices for second year modules this week (whether I’ll get my first choices or not is another question entirely), and in choosing a French language module I’ve been reminded that in just over 12 months I’ll be heading off on my study abroad year. We’ve also been blessed with some pretty gorgeous weather; Friday was the technically the first day of spring (with the added excitement of the first solar eclipse since 1999) but you wouldn’t have guessed it. For the past two weeks students have been lounging about in the sun on picnic blankets all over campus, or else playing football outside accommodation blocks. There is a slightly ‘prospectus photo shoot’ feel to it all, except that it’s genuine – and I can’t help but feel this is Exeter at it’s best.

Exmouth beach

Exmouth beach

The other weekend saw a Saturday so sunny that it warranted another spontaneous trip to Exmouth, along with at least a quarter of the student population. The beach was packed with kite surfers, families and students, and sitting on the sand with a Tesco meal deal, my Feel Good playlist playing through mini-speakers, and some great company – I felt about as happy as I think I’ve been in a long while. Even the 12 hour essay writing stint I had to pull the next day for slacking off couldn’t put a damper on my mood.

It’s tempting sometimes to get caught up in the workload and grade aspirations, but I think it’s also so important to take aside those days to appreciate just where you are, and how great it is to be there.

Five of the Best Exeter Eateries

So last week I finally got my act together enough to do something I’ve been wanting to get around to since the beginning of term; writing for Exeter’s prestigious student paper Exeposé.

ExeposeI decided not to challenge myself too much, so settled on opting for a nice humdrum article for the Lifestyle section on five of my favourite places to eat in Exeter. I changed the topic slightly to look at places to take visiting friends and family, and drafted it more than a few times to check I met the terrifying vague criteria of ‘quite light and fun’. That being said, it was good fun to write something a little different to the student blog posts I’ve been working on, and I was pleased with what I came up with.

Fast forward to today and cue me waltzing casually (I wish) into the Forum for my 9am Medieval lecture, sweeping up the latest edition of Exeposé on my way. Flicking through the headline articles, I genuinely did a double-take to see my name bolded on the front of the Lifestyle section. I had honestly completely forgotten my article would be in this week’s paper, and never expected that my first attempt would be given almost a full page (pictures included) on the front of the section! I don’t think I fully processed what I was doing when I submitted my article, but I’m pretty chuffed to say the least 🙂 I love writing in any form, but the satisfaction of seeing something I’d reworked over several days in print was something I hadn’t anticipated. I’ll definitely be writing for Exeposé again if I get the chance!

As a bit of a cheat post therefore, here’s my Five Best Exeter Eateries to take Guests article, as published in this fortnight’s Exeposé, reproduced for my blog.

We’ve all been there; you’ve got guests trekking their way across the country to visit for the weekend whether you like it or not. You can’t be expected to sacrifice that lone can of Heinz beans left in the back of your cupboard (or that tin of tuna that might, one day, finally get eaten) so eating out it is. While Exeter is blessed with a plethora of eatery-options don’t worry about trawling Trip Advisor attempting to come to a decision – here’s a fool proof guide to impressing friends and family with some of the best, most iconic places to eat out in Exeter.

Tea on the GreenFor Breakfast

Imagine every possible egg-related breakfast you can. Double it. Now throw in a front-row view of the Exeter’s best-known landmark, and you have yourself a winning combination. Tea on The Green is about as quaint, cosy and quintessentially English as it sounds, and while it’s perfect for afternoon scones, I’d argue it’s the breakfast takes the biscuit, guaranteed to keep everyone happy with options ranging from the lowly ‘Monk’s Choice’ of marmalade on toast, to the full-out Full English.

Boston Tea PartyFor Brunch/lunch

Boston Tea Party

Boston Tea Party

Ideally located for a quick, tasty, mid-shop lunch – Boston is the home of honest, nutritious food, and particularly fancy latte art. Second only to Tea on the Green on the brunch front, Boston Tea Party also offers a whole host of mains, from burgers and toasties to butternut squash mac and cheese and roasted sweet potato cous cous. The unexpectedly huge upstairs seating space will impress guests too, especially if you manage to nab a couple of the vintage chesterfields in the corner.

Exploding Bakery For Coffee and Cake

Space is definitely limited in this wee little cafe tucked in a corner by Central Station, but the Exploding Bakery is about as wholesome as it gets. While it offers a relatively limited lunch-time range of homemade soups (rustic hunk of soda bread included), savory croissants and tortillas, it’s the coffee and cake that it’s really famed for. Costa, Starbucks and Café Nero too mainstream for your hipster, organic friends? The Exploding Bakery’s cappuccino and carrot cake is where it’s at.

Thai Restaurant For the Fancy Dinner

Bae is visiting for the weekend; the Firehouse has been done one too many times, and even with Valentines over and done with you’re thinking about pulling all the stops out. Allow me to recommend the humble Thai Jasmine. A little on the pricey end for student-eateries, but oh-so-worth it for the delicate lemongrass curry, the oozing deep fried vegetables, and the soup so fragrant it’s genuinely like drinking perfume (and I mean that in the good way).

The Old FirehouseFor the Pub (and pizza) Experience

The Old Firehouse

The Old Firehouse

This is an article about student-recommended eateries in Exeter, did you really think The Old Firehouse wouldn’t make the list? Home of many a society social, and the famous Firehouse Challenge of an entire pizza (and a bottle of red wine, depending on who you talk to), the Firehouse is an Exeter student staple and rightly so. Treat friends and family alike to a pint of west country cider and make them jealous of the fact your local pub is such a Harry-Potter-esque haven of twinkling-fairy lights, live music and constant buzz.

Staying Fit at University

So I’ve been planning on a post like this for a while, because although you would never have found me advocating sweaty exhaustion while at secondary school, I’ve come to appreciate the benefits of regular exercise while at Exeter. There’s usually a lot going on at university, socialising, deadlines, house-hunting etc, but in my mind there are three things outside of all that that we could all do with prioritising a little more:

• Eating right
• Sleeping right
• Regular exercise

Now, eating is easier if you’re in catered accommodation, but for self-catered I’ve been in the quite entertaining position of having to remember the food groups for the first time since year 7 science lessons and realising that I’d managed to pretty much miss out on protein for a week and a half. Meal-planning and consideration of things like ‘vitamins’ will hopefully keep that in check. Sleeping well is another one that can be tricky, but getting into a semi-regular cycle that ensures you get at least 7-9 hours is essential for keeping up your energy for the whole term and making sure you don’t crash in that final week of deadlines.

With those tackled, it’s just that little exercise one on the end.

To the uninitiated, Exeter might seem like a slightly exercise-obsessed environment. In many ways, it’s hard to get away from – everywhere you look there are guys in rowing/badminton/korfball stash and girls in fluorescent leggings and trainers. Half the student population here seem to live in sport kit, and while that can be intimidating, I’ve been reliably informed that a lot of people exploit the trend for comfort purposes and have yet to actually set foot in the Sports Hall.

If we’re being honest though, there are plenty of ways you can keep up the exercise. Hiking up Cardiac/Forum hill on a daily basis is a pretty good starting point, but if you’re like me and have no desire to commit your precious free-time to competitive team sports and the thought of a gym environment breaks you out in a cold sweat; consider something else.

The simple jog.

The idea of ‘going running’ on a regular basis was terrifying when I first considered it, particularly as I had no idea where to start. At this point, I’m going to massively plug the NHS Couch to 5km podcast, which takes you from absolute couch potato to running for 30 minutes solidly over a 9 week plan. It’s an easy-build programme which anyone can do, so with the ‘I don’t run’ excuse out of the way, here are 6 reasons why running is the way to go:

1. Get fit

This is pretty self-explanatory, but not to be underrated. With the whole overhaul of starting a new life at university, why not add in a couple of New Year-esque resolutions too?

2. Avoid gaining weight

It might seem obvious, but they don’t talk about the Freshers’ 15 for nothing. It’s pretty easy to gain weight at university what with the microwave meals, greater alcohol intake and the temptation of Dominos on a tri-weekly basis. It might go against the grain of stereotypical ‘student living’, but building regular exercise into the university routine around lectures and socials is a good way to if not combat, at least minimise the effects of an erratic diet.

3. Avoid the scary gym fees

I can’t actually speak with much authority on this point, as I’ve never voluntarily been to a gym in my life, but I do know that memberships can cost a hell of a lot. Unfortunately, the university gym is no exception, and if you’re covering accommodation and food bills with your loan, shelling out on a membership you may/may not use seems a little excessive. In praise of the lowly run, the only investment you really need to make is in a decent pair of trainers.

4. See more of where you’re living

Finding a route to run can be a challenge, but an interesting one. The first time I tried to follow my 5km route I ended up getting hideously lost, running about 8km round in circles, and having to ask, red-faced and sweaty, a bemused passer-by which direction the Cathedral was. Some months later though, and I’m now aware of a whole host of back routes and side-alley short-cuts around the city centre which minimise my exposure to the public but can take me on some decent-length routes. Running around town has also meant I know a lot more about Exeter than I would’ve otherwise – international food shop? Just along Old Tiverton Road. Need to get to the Quay? Here, take this scenic short cut.

5. De-stress

There are plenty of ways to de-stress that don’t involve panting up hills, and while I advocate all and any ways people can find a little peace, exercise is a pretty good one. While when you first start running it might seem the exact opposite of calming and therapeutic, once you’ve built up your fitness I promise it is a genuinely enjoyable process. The endorphins from that bizarre ‘post-run peace’ can last a whole evening, and the sense of accomplishment in making a new personal best can be hugely satisfying.

6. Positive procrastination

Literally run away from your responsibilities/deadlines, with the perfectly valid reasoning that you’re doing it for your health.

A final note on embarrassment:

Being a beginner is enough to put a lot of people off ever contemplating running, and I was personally no exception to this. I’m not exactly the epitome of the slim/toned runner of the Nike adverts, and in my ill-fitting leggings and bright exercise-induced tomato face I felt very self-conscious at first. ‘Running-down-an-empty-residential-street-at-10pm-just-to-avoid-other-people’ self-conscious. However, in hindsight I’ve realised that the only thing people should be thinking when they see someone out running is ‘wow, look at that motivated person doing exercise’ and anything else is, quite frankly, their problem, not yours.

Links

From complete beginner to running 5km – the NHS’s free Couch to 5km Podcasts are the way to go.

To avoid embarrassing encounters with members of the public and to keep track of where you run, how far, and for how long, I recommended Map My Run.

A Trip to the Beach

IMG_1922There are plenty of perks to living on the south coast, the most obvious one being the fact that Exeter is a short 20 minute train ride from the ocean. As I’ve mentioned before, being a midlands-er whose ‘local’ beach experience was a blustery day on a shingle beach in Norfolk, the idea of living near the coast has always appealed. Aside from a few trips with the Windriders Society to try my hand at windsurfing however, I haven’t made as many trips to the sea as I’d have liked, and I wanted to make sure I did something about that this term. The summer, guaranteed to be just as lovely as the insanely warm September we were blessed with, holds all sorts of promises of beach BBQs and ocean swims, but summer is still a fair way off.

view_from_the_cliff_pathSo come last weekend, thanks to the ever-dependable BBC weather app assuring us it would be a day of uninterrupted January sunshine (and the fact that the full term’s workload has yet to kick in) myself and some blockmates abandoned campus for the day and went on a spontaneous trip to Exmouth. As much as we love Exeter, we have lived here pretty much constantly since September, and in the absence of a car for easy transportation it can feel a little claustrophobic at times. As a result, I think it’s important to get out and about occasionally, not only for your sanity’s sake, but also to see a little more of where exactly you’re living.

chipsAnd we were not disappointed. It was a glorious day and the beach was busy with people revelling in a brief respite from the cold drudgery of winter. Deciding to go all out on the tradition front, we bought fish and chips wrapped in greaseproof paper and ate our lunch on the sea front.

Our_'grand_canyon'_selfieAfter lunch we set off on a walk along the beach, taking far too many selfies, picking up shells and at one point attempting to climb over some rocks (only to be put to shame by some far more daring 5 year olds). It was ridiculously nice just to wander along with no agenda or timeline, that ultimately we ended up deciding to extend our afternoon by walking all the way to the Exmouth cliffs at the far end of the beach. Apparently part of the Jurassic Coastline according to all the tourist signs, the reddish cliffs seem a little out of place on a shingle beach in Devon, but make a great spot for – you guessed it – more selfies.

Having climbed the cliffs we looped round and headed back to Exmouth, and 7.5km and a whole lot of fresh sea air later we caught the next train back to our local St. James’ Park station. I’m a huge fan of the train trip to Exmouth, namely because it takes you across the rooftops of Exeter and right along the riverbank.

view_from_the_cliffAll in all, it was a really great day out – maybe even one of the best of my time at Exeter so far. I couldn’t really ask for a lot more than beautiful weather, a beach walk, great food and awesome, awesome company. I feel at this point I should probably say that I’ve been lucky enough to have met some truly lovely people at university, and am even more blessed to be living with some them next year. We’ve barely known each other 5 months but such is the overwhelming, overriding, completely unique experience of university life, we’ve been through a fair bit together already, and I personally can’t thank them enough for all their support and never-ending supply of hugs. You can’t possibly predict who you’re going to meet at university, when, or in what context, but from my experience you can be pretty safe in the knowledge that you’ll make friends for life.

(My next post will be significantly less smushy I promise).

The Old Firehouse

I could write odes to The Old Firehouse pub. People probably already have. And I wouldn’t blame them in the slightest.

I first trekked down to the Firehouse in Freshers’ Week (with the Harry Potter society for their Welcome Banquet) and one step into the courtyard with it’s twinkling fairy lights, beer barrel stools, glowing candles and overwhelming smell of freshly cooked pizza, I was sold. When the society President told us – with an air of slight smugness – that the Firehouse was the unofficial inspiration for ex-Exeter student J.K Rowling’s Leaky Cauldron I could instantly see why. ‘This is my new favourite place’, I decided and a term later I’ve yet to be swayed on that.

Firehouse 2The Old Firehouse is an Exeter student staple and is the sort of place where if you go after 7pm, even in midweek, you’ll have a hard time finding a table. Every time I’ve been it’s been teeming with students and locals alike, and the constant buzz is probably part of its charm. It is what I’d consider a Proper English Pub, or, to be more accurate, a Proper Devon Pub. Plenty of beer, ale and West Country cider, with some lovely homemade fruit ciders (think pomegranate and raspberry as opposed to the standard stuff). The food menu is nothing to sniff at either, with your staple fish and chips, burgers and rustic sandwiches, alongside the more creative vegan and vegetarian options – butternut squash and three bean chilli. I’ve yet to go for the full Sunday roast, but it’s on the top of my to-do list for this term.

PizzaWhen it comes to food though, The Firehouse’s real claim to fame is its pizza. Presented in huge 14-inch square trays, at pretty darn good prices considering we’re in the South, Firehouse pizza is a true gem of Exeter. With plenty of toppings to choose from (I recommend the pulled pork), the pizza is also huge enough that one will comfortably fill 3 hungry students. I’ve been told numerous times of the ‘Firehouse Challenge’- to eat a whole pizza to yourself (and down it with a bottle of red wine, but that depends on who you’re getting your information from) and I’ve yet to meet someone who has managed it.

As well as being a constant location for Society socials and it’s own weekly Monday  night pub quiz, the Firehouse is also a showcase of Exeter University’s very own musical scene. From Jazz bands to Acapella performances, the Firehouse is the perfect atmospheric venue for a whole host of student music groups at it’s Sunday Night Extunes evenings. Alternatively, on Friday and Saturday evenings, expect to be audience to a variety of local and visiting bands, playing everything from indie acoustic to world music.

A great place to meet with friends, a great place to take visitors, and just generally an awesome place to be, the Firehouse was my favourite thing about the Exeter pub/eatery scene from the start and has yet to be shifted off the top spot. That being said, honourable mentions must go to:

1. The Imperial – the poshest Wetherspoons I have ever seen.
2. The Boston Tea Party – the only place for an amazing brunch.
3. The RAM Student Union Bar – for the legendary curly fries. And the convenience.

To see for yourself, check out: www.oldfirehouseexeter.co.uk