How to get the most out of Freshers’ Week!

First of all, congratulations for getting into the University of Exeter! Getting this place must have meant you put a lot of work in and got the grades you were hoping for, so relax, celebrate and then start planning for this new journey.

2 years ago when I started thinking about my move to Exeter, I found it all a bit confusing. I joined so many groups on Facebook and had adverts for events, groups and clubs coming from all different directions. The first thing to remember is not to feel overwhelmed! I think a priority should be working out who your flatmates are. It might be a bit awkward at first to be posting on a Birks Grange group ‘Who is in Block F?’, but everyone is in the same boat, so I really wouldn’t worry about it. I wish I had worked out who was in my flat at an earlier stage because it would have helped me plan my freshers a little better.

I’m sure you have already seen or will be seeing adverts and groups for what they call the ‘Freshers Wristband’, which is basically a wristband which gives you access to a number of events being run throughout the week. My honest advice would be to avoid this. In your Freshers week you want to go along to society bar crawls/events to determine which societies you want to join, as well as nights out with your flat/block/corridor friends. Two girls in my flat of 8 in Birks had bought the wristbands and both thought they were a massive waste of money. With the wristband you have no flexibility to go with the flow because you end up feeling guilty if you do not go to an event which you have paid for. In my Freshers week, on my first night I went with my flat and another flat in Birks to The Imperial (the best weatherspoons I have been to) where we had a drink, played some games and then went onto a club.

Clubs in Exeter are extremely reasonable compared to the rest of the UK and elsewhere in Europe. The most I have paid for club entry in Exeter is £5 and the average is about £3.50 – so when you work out the price of the wristband, I have no idea where they are getting these figures from. I spoke to my flatmates on a facebook chat and we decided to purchase a ticket for a ‘Thai Full Moon Party’ at the Phenoix, which was probably the worst night out in Exeter I have ever had. It was only until later into the term that I realised the Phoenix is really not a place students go clubbing – it’s more of a centre for art and other exhibitions throughout the year. If your flat are interested in a particular event on the wristband you can always purchase that and not worry about the other events. One of the girls in my flat even ended up selling her Wristband by the Wednesday because all the events she had been to had been rubbish.

I was also confused about the 2nd and 3rd years talking about certain nights being good in certain clubs, which you will soon realise is an important consideration. So, these are my suggestions for each night, and I’m sure most students will agree:

  • SUNDAY (move in) – go to the Imperial pub or The Old Firehouse – you are probably a bit tired with travelling/unpacking and let’s be honest, a loud club is probably not the best way to get to know people. Go with your flat, introduce yourself, and brings some cards. You probably haven’t had time to do food shopping, so the Pizza at the Old Firehouse of something at the Weatherspoons’ Imperial is a good idea. The Impy is really close if you are in Duryard/Birks and halls on that side of campus.
  • MONDAY – Unit 1 – Dirty, Sexy People (DSP) – this is a really good night and you get a nice mixture of chart music. Entry is between £3.50-4 and drinks aren’t pricy, but you will want to do a pre-drinks in your halls before hand.
  • TUESDAY
    • Option 1 – Unit 1 (Cheesy Tuesdays) – I’m personally not a big fan of cheesy music, but a lot of people like this night out. Its fun, lighthearted, and you can get anything played from S Club 7 to something from The Lion King
    • Option 2 – Salsa night at Timepiece – for if you aren’t into cheesy music/want something a bit different/don’t want to go to Unit 1 two nights in a row. There are lots of places to get cocktails in Exeter so you could go to Las Iguanas or something similar beforehand to get you in the mood to salsa.
  • WEDNESDAY – Timepiece – if you are into sport or want to join a sports society, this is the night that is going to be for you. After the challenges, initiations etc, most clubs (especially Rugby, Tennis and Cheerleading) head to Timepiece. Timepiece is great because they have a wine area with benches so if you aren’t int he mood for dancing/want a change there is this option. Next door to Timepiece is xxxxx where a lot of people go and get drinks before going into the club.
  • THURSDAY – Unit 1 – Thursday Antics – a lot of RnB, Rihanna, light dance music – this is my favourite night out in Exeter.
  • FRIDAY – Timepiece
  • SATURDAY – Unit 1

** Unit 1 used to be called Arena 3 years ago and people STILL sometimes refer to it as this so don’t get confused by this.

*** There is also another club called Rosie’s (which used to be called Mosaic) which is fairly small. I haven’t been to it since it was rebranded as Rosie’s, but that might be another option to explore.

If you do all night out (WOW), well done you! But if you want to mix the clubbing up, or clubbing isn’t really your thing, there are some great bars and cocktail places, as well as plenty of restaurants.

Another idea could be to go on Tuesday (where it is 2for1 games and drinks) to TenPin Bowling at the Quay with your flat! Definitely book this one though – you can call up or do it online.

It is really worth going to your course society events like BioSoc or GeogSoc because you can get to know your classmates and have someone to walk to lectures with in the following weeks.

As for the daytime…

Shopping – you might need to get a few more pieces for your room or kitchen so fill the days by popping into town and picking these up! Wilko and Sainsbury’s in the Guildhall are great for cheap, usual bits and bobs. I also recall a few visits to Claires and Primary in my Freshers week for a white t-shirt (for white t-shirt socials where you sign each other’s tops and share names and numbers) and lots of glitter.

Devon Afternoon Tea – go to the Cathedral Green to Tea on The Green for a coffee and some scones. I went to Tea on the Green with my mum on the open day before I joined Exeter, took my grandparents there when they came to visit me, and bonded with my flatmates there during Freshers week so it’s been a pretty important place for me throughout my time at Exeter!

Sports – get involved with some sports and try something new. I started Badminton when I joined Exeter and I absolutely love it!! I also play tennis in town for Victoria Park Tennis Club where I get to play matches all across the county. Before I got to Exeter I went on the guild website where they list all the societies and all the events going on it and the week. It is worth highlighting sessions, picnics, course inductions and other events your really want to go to so you don’t miss out and double book!

The Quay – enjoy the good weather while it lasts and go to the Quay! It’s a fair way from some halls so you might want to tag it on with the bowling afterwards but with ice cream, canoeing and pedal boating it’s a really fun place!

The beach – take the train to Exmouth or Dawlish! In my opinion Exmouth is a better beach, but either are great! If you’re up for a challenge, you can also cycle there along the exe estuary which is a beautiful route.

No matter what you get up to, pack your week full and be prepared to feel tired by the end of the week!

Do I take a gap year?

Today I want to chat about gap years. This is coming from the perspective of someone who chose not to take a gap year. With results day looming, the topic of gap years will be coming up a lot – are you taking one? What are you doing in it? Have you got one planned in case you miss you grades?

Being completely honest, two summers ago, I did have a gap year planned (very loosely). My school advised that you think about the worst case scenario (missing the grades for your insurance and first choice) and what you would do. I had a very generous insurance offer of ABB which was lowered for me from AAB, so I was not too concerned about this, but nonetheless it was an interesting exercise. At the time I had been working part-time for Prezzo for 2 years and so my plan would have been to increase my hours there to go full time for a while and raise money to travel around Europe on an interrail, and then spend a couple of months doing work experience placements near home.

Luckily I didn’t have to embark on this, but with mant students on my course having taken gap years it’s often a talking point.

I don’t regret skipping a gap year for several reasons. Since joining the University of Exeter, I have done plenty of travelling abroad – the Seychelles (with my family), Rome, Copenhagen and Amsterdam (with my boyfriend), Milan (with my friends), Brazil (a field trip) and I am off to Croatia in a couple of weeks. I have also travelled to new places within the UK (Gloucestershire, Bath, Newquay, Oxford, Stratford Upon Avon). I have done this as well as having internships in both summers and working in the holidays part-time, so if you are taking a gap year ONLY because you don’t think you will get the chance to travel again, I don’t think this is the case at all. I have friends that have been on GeogSoc trips to Amsterdam and Prague, gone on expeditions to climb Kilimanjaro or to Peru, and friends on Bio field courses to the Bahamas. Others I know take a year abroad which has a lot more structure and purpose to it than the average gap year, or if you can speak a language, you can au pair or teach abroad in your holidays!

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The message really is: you will have endless opportunities to travel at university, so don’t think a gap year is the only way.

When I graduate next summer (hopefully) I plan on doing a fair bit of travel in that summer before I start a job/masters, so that’s another time to add to my list!

Another option, is something that I am seriously considering – doing a masters abroad!

Don’t panic if you are scared University will put a 3 or 4 year block on any travels – just use the long holidays wisely and look for the many opportunities the university has for working/studying/interning abroad!

And if you’re set on your gap year… Enjoy!

CLES Blogging

Hi everyone! I am taking my blog in a slightly different direction for the next year as an opportunity has come up to blog about my university experience as well as travel and my other interests.

My name is Natalie and I am going into my third and final year as a BSc Geography student. I am one of a few CLES students, blogging for the University on any topic, related to my experiences within the college or in Exeter in general. My motivation for getting involved in this project is mainly that I think I have a lot of insight to share and I hope my readers will also give me advice and share their experiences and tips for the final (and supposedly hardest) year.

So a bit about me…

  • Degree programme: BSc Geography
  • A Levels: History, Geography and Biology
  • Born: Epsom, Surrey
  • Freshers hall: Birks Grange
  • Favourite Exeter module (so far): BIO1336 Ecology
  • Most interesting lecturer: Dr Lina Mercado
  • Post-graduate plans: Masters degree in either Sweden or the Netherlands
  • Societies: Geogsoc, Enactus, Tennis, Badminton
  • Highlight of my degree: Field trip to Rio
  • Dissertation: The greener revolution? Using Seaweed Extract to mitigate against future predicted drought in England

I have a few posts in mind, on my field trip, campus and city recommendations, careers advice, advice for Freshers as well as second years! I will also be giving some insight into the internships I have completed in both years. I will also be blogging about about travel, as my degree choice was in part a result of my curiosity and love of the planet, which was directly derived from my travels. I have had the privilege of visiting 22 countries (so far) and many of these recent trips have been on a student budget so I can share some hints and recommendations so you can do that same! I am willing to take any suggestions or post recommendations and if you do not feel comfortable leaving a comment, feel free to send me an email at ng311@exeter.ac.uk.

Milan (Day 3)

My friends were all really hungover and I felt fine so I got up at 9am and went for a solo adventure. I went for a coffee at 12 oz, opposite our apartment on Via Torino and then had a wander down some nice, picturesque side streets until the shops opened at 10am. Then I did a bit of shopping before going to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping mall.

My friends are not into photography so it was a great opportunity for me to take some time on my shots and get creative.

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They finally woke up and I met them at the apartment at 1.45 and we headed out for lunch at Panini Durini.

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The plan was to go and see the Last Supper, but it was booked for two weeks in advance so that was a no. I would really suggest investigating this as soon as you book your trip to Milan if you are interested in going.

We then went into Pinacoteca di Brera to get our art fix.

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We then strolled around the Botanical Gardens (Orto Botanico di Brera), which were really peaceful and relaxing. The gardens are right below the Osservatorio Astronomico (a gallery with a collection of telescopes and measuring equipment). The gardens were not as good as some of the other city gardens that I have been too, but nonetheless its good to tick it off the list.

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It was 30 degrees so we decided to walk to the Giardini Pubblici (Public Gardens) to have a break and do some people/dog watching.

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We then headed out to dinner – to a place I had found online and intended on buying wine from before I realised that we were taking only hand luggage so liquids were not allowed. Signorvino is right opposite the Duomo, and the fantastic views meant that we had to wait about 20-25 minutes for a table but it was SO SO worth it.

They try and incorporate their wine into the dishes, and I was so surprised at the reasonable prices. I had a wonderful glass of their Rosé for only €3.50, and a wonderful Sicilia pasta – ‘Matt Felicetti’ shells ‘alla Norma’ in a tomato based sauce, aubergines and mozzarella cheese for €9. Mehak and I also shared an amazing deconstructed Tiramisu because we had to have a dessert in Italy. Best meal of the trip, a welcome break from Pizza, and on my top 10 restaurants I’ve ever been to.

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Day 3 on the map

Milan (Day 2)

We got up and headed for the Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral). I would suggest getting there for 10am, we were a bit later than this and so we had to queue for 20 or so minutes, but if you can get there earlier you wouldn’t have to wait. Cathedral is the Italian word for Cathedral. The Duomo is certainly the most iconic feature of the city, and you can certainly find the most tourists and buzz in the square around the Duomo.

TOP TOP – You have to buy a €2 poncho to cover shoulders and legs above the knee, so if you can pop a cardigan in you bag or briefly change into jeans or a longer skirt. It is not warm inside the Duomo so you won’t boil.

There are different options for the cathedral – either the €2 option for inside or €15 for the top terrace. I would have loved to have gone up the top but my friends were not keen so we only went inside. Although I was disappointed, its a great excuse to return to Milan!! The €2 ticket also included entrance to the Milano Museum, but it was actually closed the day we went so I cannot report on that.

It is not as white inside as the building is outside, but that blends in better with the benches and stain-glass windows.

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Entrance to the museum …. as far as we got

One of my first year flatmates from Exeter was born and still lived in Milan so was able to give me a list of lots of cafes, restaurants, clubs and bars that he would recommend. On that list was De Santis (9 Corso Magenta 20123 Milano). It was a little walk from where we were but it was well worth it and we certainly felt like locals finding this little panini place where everyone was Italian.

I had the Garibaldi panini and freshly squeezed orange juice (see below).

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Having a wander around the streets of Milan …

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We then went to the Arco della Pace, a 19th Century arch north-west of Sforza Castle and Sempione Park, Milan’s answer to Hyde Park.The park is wonderfully kept and provides panoramic views of both the castle and arch.

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Not a cloud in the sky

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We headed back to the apartment to dump off some stuff and to change before heading out to Navigli to meet Mehak’s friend who is studying in Milan. Out of all the places I researched before coming to Milan I was most excited to come here because I love canals! It reminded me of Nyhavn in Copenhagen that I visited in June, a few months before (read Nyhavn blog post here).

We met Mehak’s friend at the metro station and walked on to Pizzeria i Capatosta. It is a pretty unassuming place from the outside, but similar to my experience of Rome, the less extravagant looking places usually have great tasting food. I had a glass of wine and a Marinara Pizza with courgettes and olives.

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Navigli was just as beautiful as I had imagined with restaurants all along the canal. We then went back to the flat for a little pre-drinks before heading out to Old Fashion nightclub.

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Day 2 on the map

Milan (Day 1)

So we stayed the night at one of my 3 friends houses that were going on the trip. We got up at 3-something AM, ready to get to Stanstead Airport in time for our 8.45am flight. When we were booking the trip flights were a lot cheaper from Stanstead, so whilst it was a bit of a faff and added to the journey time, we saved about £100 each this way.

We had checked in online so we went straight through to security and then went to H+H for breakfast – I had a lovely pot of porridge.

At Milan Malpensa Airport we took an €8 shuttle bus to Milano Centrale. From there we took a Metro to the Duomo and walked towards our apartment.

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Our apartment on Via Torino found on AirBnB. This is the first time I had used Airbnb, and it was not without faults, but I was impressed overall, especially for the price.

Positives:

  • Great location – on Via Torino, a couple of minutes walk from the Duomo, Duomo Metro, Galleria etc
  • Shopping – Va Torino seemed to be the main highstreet full of fashion shops, chains, cafes, a pharmacy. This was handy a couple of time because we had to get something from the pharmacy and it meant we could quickly grab a coffee in the morning or lunch when we just arrived in the city
  • Cheap (£88 per night, which worked out at only £22 each per night or £66 for the entire trip as we stayed 3 nights)
  • Clean
  • Well equipped – Came with towels, sheets, glasses, cutlery, all kitchen utensils

Issues:

  • Capacity – It was originally listed for 4 people but we noticed a few days before our trip that this had been changed to say ‘3-4 people’. There was a large double bed and a leather sofa that certainly could not fit 2 people and was really uncomfortable. There are ridges in it and it’s very hard. However, that being said when we contacted them on Wednesday morning, they responded quickly and had a camp bed with a mattress delivered that evening, so that was impressive.
  • Noisy – the great location means there are cars and trams going past the front door at all hours. Also there is a church nearby that chimes for a long while at 7am and a couple of other points throughout the day which is a bit disruptive.
  • Light – there were not proper curtains, only mesh ones so in the living room/where the sofa and camp bed was, light was always streaming in
  • Check in/out – Unlike with a hotel when they say check out at 12pm it really means it and there is no opportunity for storing luggage so like us if you have a later flight it means you have to carry the luggage around the city which kind of limits what you can do on the last day

We went to this place opposite our apartment called ‘Eat Me & Go‘ which serves ice creams, wraps, sandwiches, open sandwiches, salad etc. I had an open caprese sandwich (passata, tomato, olives, spinach, mozzarella) which was €6, very filling and a good initial taste of Italian food. Another time I tried their Cappuccino ice-cream which was lovely!

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Sforza Castle, Milan

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On reflection I think the Sforza Castle was one of the best bits of the trip. It is really beautiful from the outside on approach with the water fountain, but you just don’t expect it to be so big when you go through. The shadows are beautiful as well as the warm colour scheme and patterns of suns on the ceilings.

It was built in the 15th century by the Duke of Milan, and has since been enlarged, making it on of the largest citadels in Europe. The castle has a quadrangular plan, site across the city’s walls. The wall which once faced the countryside north to Milan has square towers and has an ogival gate. This was once accessed through a drawbridge.

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Pasticceria Marchesi, one of Milan’s most iconic cafes, was founded almost 200 years ago, starting out as a small bakery in 1824. It is now more of a modern patisserie; I would describe it as an Italian version of Laudree, that I visited in Paris (read Paris post for more details).

I had a Marocchino because I had never seen it on a menu anywhere else, and as I love coffee I couldn’t resist. By the way it is pronounced ma-ro-key-no, just to prevent you all from making the same mistake as me – pronouncing it similarly to cappuccino and getting corrected by the immaculate  staff. It is quite pricy in there, so we just went for a coffee each, just to feel fancy and step out of the student zone.

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Walking past the Duomo on the way to dinner

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Dinner was at a place called Dry that I found had really good reviews online. It is really dark and trendy in there with everyone sitting on high stalls at benches. They gave us some crispy bread, olives and water as we looked at the menu. I had a glass of white wine and a pizza with mozzarella, tomato, zucchini and eggplant (or courgette and aubergine in English).

I throughly enjoyed the atmosphere and the sourdough pizza was lovely. Two of my friends ordered the blackberry cocktail which they really wouldn’t recommend because it was extremely minty, tasting similar to toothpaste.

We then stopped off at a supermarket on the walk home to get some fruit and a few bits for the apartment and to take home.

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Day 1 on the map

Dawlish Beach

Seeing how much I enjoyed the ride to Exmouth, Alex decided to take me on another ride. Alex is on the University Triathlon team and he’s a cracking cyclist so I was in good hands. The ride was the same as Exmouth to begin with, going down the Exe estuary but then it branched off and we cycled through a couple of really cute villages, spotting some good pubs to check out along the way.

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I wasn’t as keen on Dawlish as Exmouth because its all stony and a bit run down, but there are some small cafes and shops so it is worth a visit

Alex and I went to A Piece of Cake for a well earned coffee and sticky. It was getting pretty late so we thought we would cut the journey back a bit short by going on the train for half of it. However, the train was so slow and kept stopping even before stops so we got off after a stop and stuck to the original plan of cycling back to uni.