I LEFT MY HEART IN YORK

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I’ve left my heart in more places than one.

It’s an inevitable side-effect of incessant wanderlust. I no longer feel like I have a “home” in Australia – simply a base to come back to and recharge. The idea of staying put in one place is incomprehensible to me. I can’t imagine a life without exploration and freedom.

I fall in love with some places more than others. There are some places I never want to leave; some places I feel innately drawn to. York has become one of these places.

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It’s simply magical. There’s something in the air, a feeling that I can’t describe in words. It’s something that you have to experience first-hand. There’s an energy of complete peace.

York is the quintessential English country town. It’s not small – it was the largest city in northern England for centuries – but it’s certainly not on the mass scale of London. I like this – rather than feeling lost in a sea of busyness and commotion, you are able to soak up the atmosphere. Rather than feeling like an observer, you feel like an active participant in the city’s life and history.

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And what a history! Walking around the streets feels like you’ve stepped back in time. It’s another world. The city actively restores and promotes it’s historical roots – museums take you back to the Roman and Viking settlements, and the current town still retains its medieval charm. It was so refreshing to see a city preserving its history rather than building upon it.

Perhaps my favourite thing about York (or at least on par with its historical charm) were the people! I’m not exaggerating when I say that York is home to the friendliest, kindest people that I’ve ever met in my life. Everyone from the bed & breakfast lady who made me vegetarian breakfasts and did my laundry, to the waitress and chef who spent a great deal of their work time chatting to me instead of serving and cooking… I met some of the loveliest people in the world in York. Like, over-and-above kindness. Bless them.

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I said earlier that I couldn’t see myself staying put in one place. While this is true, if one day I were to retire my tired old bones, I would retire in York. I would get a small farm just outside town, so I could keep my horses and dogs and 214 cats. I would go into town everyday and eat lunch at the vegan cafe I found. I would exchange small-talk with my fellow Yorkers on the street. I would meet my grandma friends for tea and scones at the tea houses. After a life of exploration and adventure, I would live out my days enjoying the peace and friendliness that is inherent in York.

Who knows? It’s a nice idea, but I have no clue what the future holds. For now, I know that I left a piece of myself in York. I know that I will return one day. Because when you leave a part of yourself somewhere, you will inevitably go back to it.

MY TOP 5: LONDON EDITION

Oh, I love London Society! It has immensely improved. It is entirely composed now of beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics. Just what Society should be.

– Oscar Wilde

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South Bank

Nothing says quintessential London like the view you get from South Bank. Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, the Thames… This is London. South Bank itself is vibrant and lively, and quite a change of pace from the northern bank of the river. We went for a walk along the bank at dusk and watched the city come alive before I very happily took my “London” shot. If there’s one photo you need to share from your visit to London, this is it.

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Shakespeare’s Globe

Ok, so this isn’t the actual Globe Theatre used by Shakespeare; that got closed down and demolished by the Puritans in 1642 because the theatre is, of course, evil. However, the theatre that has been built to replace it was made in the exact style and with the same materials that would have been used on the original, all the way up to the thatched roof. It’s incredible. I was fortunate enough to see The Changeling in the indoor playhouse (plays don’t run in the outdoor theatre in winter). The playhouse is, again, as authentic as the original indoor theatre, and lit only by candlelight. As a drama student, this was absolutely amazing. Life can only go downhill from here.

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Westminster Abbey

Although the Abbey is impressive and vast and grand and beautiful, Westminster actually made it on my list because of the southern transept, dubbed the Poet’s Corner. This is exactly what it sounds like. Here rest some of the greatest literary figures to have walked the earth: everyone from Geoffrey Chaucer to Charles Dickens. Even Lawrence Olivier somehow slipped in!

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Museums

In truth, I only went to two of London’s museums, but I loved them both so much that I couldn’t leave them off the list! London’s Natural History Museum is hands-down the best natural history museum I’ve ever been to. It will take you through the earth’s 4.5 billion year history, explaining how things happen, why things happen, and what things will happen in the future. It’s got animals, it’s got ecosystems, it’s got astronomy. It’s got everything. If cultural history is more your thing, the Museum of London takes you through the city’s history, from prehistory, through Roman occupation, to the Medieval and Renaissance periods, and all the way up to modern 21st-century history. And the best thing about the museums in London: they’re free!

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Harry Potter Studio Tour

I had one of the best days of my life at the Harry Potter Studio Tour. This is where the magic happens. The sets, costumes, props, production artwork, everything that went into making the Harry Potter films – it’s all here. It’s all real. It’s right in front of you. Everything from the Great Hall, to Diagon Alley, to Dumbledore’s office, to the classrooms, to the wands, even Dobby! The tour finishes off with the Hogwarts model that was used for all the outdoor shots of the school, and it’s simply breathtaking. You can fly a broomstick on the green-screen. You can drink butter beer. You can buy wands, the Nimbus 2000 and 2001, robes, and scarves in every colour from Gryffindor to Slytherin. You go behind the scenes in a way that no DVD bonus features can take you. It’s literally the most magical place on earth.

MY TOP 5: ROME EDITION

Ah, Rome. The Eternal City. Romanticised in art, literature, music and film. And I know why. In Rome you are able to appreciate just how small you are, as you stand amongst centuries of history. It really is eternal; the time and space we occupy is but a fraction in the life of this city.

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Roman Ruins

No where else in the world can you experience and appreciate Roman history as in its birthplace. The city is scattered with remnants from its glorious past, but the most well-known (and deservedly so) are the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Seeing these ruins for the first time is awe-inspiring. You are face-to-face with the great Roman Empire. You don’t need to have studied Roman history to appreciate that this era was one of incredible innovation. But apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

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Piazza Navona

One word: carnival. Piazza Navona is one of the liveliest, most colourful places in the entire city. From the occasional ferris wheel, to street artists, to those carnival games that are impossible to win – you will wander around in awe and amazement. Or maybe I’m just a child at heart.

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Vatican City

Rome has been the centre of Christendom since 323 when Emperor Constantine made it not-illegal to practice Christianity in his empire. Sure, there have been a few ups and downs, but historically the head of the Catholic Church has had his seat in St Peters, the heart of Vatican City. This is the epitomisation of Renaissance Rome. The highlight of the Vatican for me was the museums. Every historical and contemporary piece of artwork that the Papacy has ever stolen is contained here, now so graciously put on display for us laymen to admire. Everything from Greek to Roman to Medieval to Renaissance, even with some modern art thrown in. It’s art history Mecca. Except that it’s Christian.

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Castel Sant’Angelo

Originally the mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian (yes, he built things other than the wall), Castel Sant’Angelo became a papal fortress and prison during the early Renaissance. It captured my attention long ago after hearing the stories of torture and death that occurred within its walls, but it’s bloody history is a stark contrast to the lavish papal apartments contained in the upper storeys. It’s a comfortable hiding place when the plebs decide to riot.

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Piazza del Popolo

This spot made the list for two reasons. First of all, the piazza itself is always bustling with activity. At night it turns into an amazing spectacle of insanely-talented street musicians and people wandering around with gelati. Secondly, if you hike up the hill right beside it, you will get one of the best views over the city. And you know how I love climbing.