Time Flies

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My second semester in Cologne flew by. It feels like a picked my classes and took the exams a week later. A good friend that I met during one of my backpacking trips in Vietnam came to visit from his hometown in Germany, it was a strange thing to see him in colder weather.

The weather did however start to get a lot warmer soon after. My best friend came over from Mannheim, Germany (where he was doing his year abroad) and we went to see Jeremy Loops in concert (my all-time favourite artist). The craziest part is that we ran in to him as we were heading home from the venue and managed to snag a signed poster and picture with him. What a great night.

I also surprised a good friend in Rotterdam (again) and went to an insane music festival (I feel like this is a recurring theme). My friend from Mannheim was also there, I can easily say that doing a year abroad shrinks the time-space continuum significantly (whatever that means, sounded smart in my head). The whole purpose of this weekend was to celebrate the birthday of King Willem-Alexander, everyone was dressed in orange and having a great time.

Unfortunately, I must start cracking on with assignments and exam revisions, so my adventures need to take a brief hiatus. Not for long though, don’t worry. Everything feels a bit more urgent, or even just pressing, seeing as these are my last couple of months in the city that I have grown to love. I’m definitely not looking forward to saying goodbye.

Germany Has Other Cities

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This might come as a shock to you, but Germany actually has other cities. Crazy right? Exam revisions have been taking their toll on me, so I booked a spontaneous trip to Mannheim to see my best friend and hang out. Mannheim is a pretty small city, I can’t say there’s MUCH to do, but when you’re with good company anywhere works.

Fun facts about Mannheim: It is considered the capital of German pop music. The first automobile, tractor and bicycle were invented there. During WWII, most of the city was completely levelled (aka destroyed), so most of the old looking buildings are copies / a lot of the buildings are relatively new.

While I was there, we made our way to the beautiful town of Heidelberg. It’s only about 20 minutes away from Mannheim by train and definitely worth a visit. That day was blistering hot, I’m pretty sure I was on the brink of a heat stroke. Still worth the visit though.

Fun facts about Heidelberg: Heidelberg University is the oldest university in Germany. The guy who invented the bicycle in Mannheim was from Heidelberg. Unlike, Mannheim, Heidelberg escaped the destruction of WWII. One in five Heidelberg residents is a student. It’s home to the world’s biggest wine barrel (220,000 litres). Fascinating.

Other than that, the long weekend exploring a few other cities in Germany was the break I needed from the crippling grip of academic commitments. I love what I study, but sometimes enough is enough and this kid needs a little nap. My exams / deadlines are coming up soon, so I’m afraid this marks the end of my travels from Cologne. Once I’m home in France, the travels will resume.

And That’s That

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IMG_20180613_125807_590Well here we are. Almost a year after moving to Germany, the adventure is coming to an end. I’ve turned in my last assignments, sat through my last exams, signed off my last academic documents. Now, I have a few weeks to enjoy the sun and the oh so delicious German breweries. I won’t lie to you, my last few weeks have not been incredibly varied in terms of activities – it usually resembles something along the lines of barbecue, drinks, reading in the park, more barbecues, maybe more drinks.

There is one thing, however, that has truly marked my year abroad on many occasions. This year has pushed my social boundaries to an extreme that I did not think possible. It’s quite frankly incredible how a simple gesture towards a complete stranger can mark the beginning of a long-lasting friendship. One of these occasions was captured by my fellow friends: I had just passed my last exam, there was an open-air festival in a nearby park, so naturally we all moved in that direction with our trusty case of beers.

After a while, a group of people sat not too far from us with the whole live music hook-up: microphone, speakers, guitar and a positive attitude. None of my friends wanted to get closer to appreciate the flowing tunes, so I went alone and sat right in front of the guitarist (see picture below). They turned out to be a really cool group of people, and no later than 20 minutes after we were all sitting together singing along (my sceptical friends included). We ended up inviting them to a party that night, to which they actually showed up to, and we are still in contact since. All this, just because I put my pride away and decided to enjoy the moment.

I have plenty of videos from this year stashed on my phone, which I will eventually put together into a little recap video for all of you to watch (and for myself to keep as a souvenir).

Koln Karneval

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Carnival (or Karneval here in Cologne) is a relatively international concept / celebration from what I have understood. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the events that occurred between the 8th and the 14th of February 2018.

Brief History Lesson: After talking to a handful of (intoxicated) locals, the story I have come away with is as follows. The celebration of Karneval in Cologne represents the cleansing of the surroundings before spring time. They’re basically chasing the creatures of winter away by dressing up in crazy fancy dress and dancing the night away for one week straight (not an exaggeration, the whole city was put on hold for a week). It starts big and ends bigger, to say the least.

I was unfortunately a bit ill when it began, missing the official start (was sipping some tea in bed) but catching up soon after over the weekend. A couple of friends from a bit all over the place (ranging from Berlin to Paris) came up (or down) to Cologne for some quality party time. We mingled and danced and enjoyed and slept as a consequence.

Conveniently enough, the Karneval took place smack when I was done with any and all academic commitments for the semester. It truly did mark the transition that the Kolsch people celebrate every year – and I would without a doubt say that this is something everyone should experience at least once in their life!

The end of the celebration was probably my favourite part simply because it embodied the traditional aspect of the Karneval. We were given massive candles and walked through the city streets, singing traditional Kolsch songs and ending up in one of the many squares of Cologne. A local then recited the texts, and a band played live music (to which everybody was singing along with – cue goosebumps). We then lit a big barrel on fire, where two ‘snowmen’ (made of hay) met the end of their days (pretty weird, but strangely satisfying).

With that wrapped up and sealed away with all the other strangely amazing memories of Cologne, I packed my bags and flew to Malta – marking the beginning of a string of adventures till the start of my next semester in Cologne. I will be in Malta for a little while, then traveling around Germany meeting some friends, and then back to good ol’ France (home) to see the family and do a quick road-trip to the coast. I’m looking forward to it.

I hope all is well with anybody reading this, and please do let me know if there is anything specific you would like to read about! More pictures are on my Instagram, including daily clips of what I get up to (@alex_laval). Until next time!


Can’t Stop Me Now!

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I apologize for the late Christmas post upload – not sure why that didn’t go up as scheduled.

This past month has been non-stop traveling. And I mean really non-stop. Let’s flash back to December 20th, 2017 (seems like ages away already).

I pack my bag, hop on the trusty trams of Cologne and head to the main train station. From there, I step onto the 3h ride separating Cologne from Paris. A movie is watched, a book is read, views of the countryside are appreciated. Once arrived in Paris, I make my way to CDG Airport where I dilly dally a few hours before boarding my flight to Abu Dhabi (just for a layover, of course). In Abu Dhabi, I barely have time to text my worried mother before boarding the next flight to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It’s safe to say I’m already exhausted, even just by typing this.

I meet a friend who’s doing his placement year there, we spend a wonderful Christmas together, and on Christmas Day we rush to the Philippines for some much needed adventure (I say rush because we were late, as per usual). New Year in the Philippines was completely and utterly amazing – I highly recommend for those keen on traveling.

Unfortunately, the Philippines adventure comes to a halt and poor Alex (me) has to head back to Cologne to hand in an essay (committed!). The trip back was basically the trip there but in reverse.

It’s now a week later, January the 18th, and I’m packing my bag again to see my parents in Paris (I was on such a tight time schedule I didn’t get to see them when I passed through before Christmas). I spent a few days at home which is always nice (students, you know what I mean) and then started to make my way back to Cologne to leave to Poland that very same day. I know. I’m an optimistic person.

Optimistic or not, my train was cancelled. While I was on it. While we were crossing through Belgium. While my friends were getting ready to go to the airport for Poland. I was still optimistic. I tried to hitch a plan with some other distressed passengers to rent a car and “yolo” our way to Cologne. DING DING, change of plans, my friend kindly offered to pick me up by car from Liège and drive me to the airport straight away. I was right to be optimistic. But that also meant I would be going to Poland without the right gloves. Meh, I still did it.

So, in short, I made it to Poland and we had a splendid time. We went back to Cologne after a long weekend of polish beer and dumplings, and I guess now I’m just chillin’. My next trip is to Malta in February, and then I plan on exploring Germany (the weather should be nicer in a few months). I guess you could say I like traveling.

If you have any questions on how I manage to make this all work, or if you have any general requests, please do let me know through any form of Social Media! And for more pictures, be sure to check out my Instagram @alex_laval

Until next time,


All I Want For Christmas Is…

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If there’s anything to take away from Koln during the cold and dreary seasons of pre and current winter time, it’s definitely the obsession with the Christmas Markets (aka Weihnachtsmarkte). There is a grand total of 11 different “main” markets spread across the city – ranging from the the tourist zone in front of the renowned Dom to our very own LGBT+ Christmas Avenue near Rudolfplatz.

I’m personally not a huge fan of all things Christmas, notably the overplayed Mariah Carey tunes and whatnot (call me a Grinch, I’ll take it). However, these markets are pretty impressive. They are built overnight on the 27th of November (saw it wit’ me own eyes!) and keep running till early January. They’re not so much ‘santa this’ or ‘elf that,’ but more so the more traditional delicacies of Christmas time. It’s safe to say I’ve had my fair share of Gluhwein (boiled red or white wine, to put it simply) and assorted roasted chestnuts as of now.

Unfortunately, due to exams, I was unable to see the winter wonderlands under the few days of snow we had beginning of December – I hear it was splendid – though these markets have become quite the practical rendez-vous point now that we (I) have more time to spare, “Yes, lets meet under the weird looking Christmas gnome next to the ice-skating rink.”

Weirdly enough, this is the only real taste I’ll have of the full-on Western Christmas spirit because I am off to Vietnam / the Philippines for the actual Christmas Day and New Year. It was a spontaneous decision, and I can’t say I regret trading in the -6°C for some beach time and 30°C sunshine. That said, I wish you all a very merry holiday and look forward to catching up in the new year!

Till then, yours truly,


Only Cool Kids Live in Ehrenfeld

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Fair warning, this is in no way whatsoever a criticism of Ehrenfeld or anything associated to Ehrenfeld. In fact, I’m very much fond of Ehrenfeld and everything Ehrenfeld has to offer. How many times can I fit Ehrenfeld into the first paragraph? Five times. That’s less impressive than I anticipated.

Most of you, if not all of you, have no idea what the so-called ‘Ehrenfeld’ is; allow me to enlighten you. Ehrenfeld is a neighbourhood in Cologne that is considered to be the ‘hipster’ zone. Now, I’m not very fond of the term ‘hipster’ for many reasons, so I will simply admit that this neighbourhood is pretty cool. I’ve been here for about two months now and many photography missions have been accomplished in that area. Please enjoy the fruits of my labour scattered throughout this blog post.

What makes Ehrenfeld so cool, you ask? Well, if the extensive range of graffiti and mural art isn’t enough of a justification, I’d be glad to elaborate.

This neighbourhood has something for every single person that comes to mind. Do you like reading books in quiet but awesome parks? Ehrenfeld. Do you like niche little cafés with exclusively homemade cheesecake? Ehrenfeld. Do you like outdoor movie theaters? Ehrenfeld. Do you like partying in some of the most unique clubs of Germany? Ehrenfeld. Do you like shopping for clothes by the kilo? Ehrenfeld. Do you like anything? Ehrenfeld.

I realise I must be coming off as a total fan right now, but I guess I need to justify the significant weight of euros that I have spent there. Worth it.

For those of you considering Cologne as a future destination, here are my brief but succinct recommendations;

  • Favourite Café | Madame Tartine: This café gives off a very chill rustic French vibe (I’m French, so it fits). The coffee is top notch, and the food menu changes literally every day. It’s all homemade. All of it.
  • Favourite Club | Odonien: Picture a junkyard that has been repurposed to be a nightclub for us super responsible young adults. The toilets are in an old container. One of the music rooms is in an old bus. Another music room is in an old bunker. It’s very very unique to say the least.
  • Favourite Restaurant | Karl Hermann’s: Best burgers in town, hands down. Even a range of vegetarian options that had my mouth watering. I can’t say many restaurants have that effect on me.
  • Favourite Detail | Everything: Literally everything. There is nothing that does not happen in Ehrenfeld. A few weeks ago I was throwing my money away at a food festival. This weekend I’m throwing my money at a vintage clothing kilo sale. Call me a hipster, I’ll take it.

Everything put aside, the whole city of Cologne is such a cool place to explore. I could (and have) gotten lost for hours just strolling around.

If you guys enjoyed the photos I posted on here, be sure to give me a cheeky follow on Instagram @alex_laval for more. Otherwise, I shall see you next time with another story. Bis Bald!

Boring but Necessary

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Here it is. Today marks the two week point since my arrival in Köln, Germany. It’s been busy, to say the least, but I can’t say I would change a thing. If you ever decide to apply for a year abroad (which I highly recommend regardless), you’ll notice that little bits and pieces of the application will seem incredibly confusing and sometimes frustrating. I’ve split this post into three parts to make it as clear and concise as possible: the initial application, pre-arrival and post-arrival.

The Initial Application

Applying through Durham University was relatively simple. The coordinators were unbelievably helpful in explaining exactly what we needed to fill out / how the process would unfold, etc. Having applied for an Erasmus exchange, I wasn’t too worried about not getting my first choice of location (at the time, all Erasmus applicants got their first choice). If I remember correctly, we were required to fill out the generic application paperwork as well as write a motivational letter (#UCASalloveragain).

Once all that was complete, all we had to do was wait for the verdict. Weirdly enough, I was stranded in Amsterdam due to a cancelled flight when I received the email confirming my place at the University of Cologne (I believe this was at the beginning of the second term). Let’s say I went a little crazy in the waiting lounge.

All in all: pretty straight forward and great amount of help from Durham.


The build-up to moving abroad was a bit unconventional in my case. As mentioned in my last post, I was backpacking Vietnam days before leaving for Germany so I had to get everything ready beforehand. This included registration at the University of Cologne, finding accommodation, figuring out if I needed any specific documentation and basically all the other boring stuff that needs to happen before moving.

To make matters worse, Köln is infamous for its’ nightmarish housing market. With over 100 000 students living in the city itself, you can imagine that it quickly comes down to a ‘first come first served’ scenario. I must have sent out hundreds of emails begging for a bed and a roof above my head, and I started the search early. I have friends here who are staying in hostels 2 weeks into the term because they still haven’t found a place! I ended up finding a room in a private residence perfectly placed in between the University and the budding nightlife: I was a happy bunny.

All in all: don’t let the housing market scare you off, it’s doable and worth it in the end – just don’t be picky and start looking EARLY.


The road doesn’t end there! My dad was kind enough to drive the 5 hours separating Paris and my new home, so I could take more with me than the common Erasmus student. I share a flat with a dude from Finland – very quiet but very nice – and my room is more than enough to fulfil my needs (maybe I’ll post some pictures in a next post?)

During the first week, we had to register for our courses (strange system – so strange that I can’t even explain it, I had to have the International Office help me) and then for our exams (even more strange – was a bit disappointed with this German (un)efficiency ironically enough).

I also had to wait for hours to get my campus card (which is your public transport card for the whole region of NordRhein-Westfalen, your library card, your cafeteria card, basically your life on one card). Again, a few hours were waited to register with the townhall (biiiigggg fine if you don’t shout ‘hey ho I’m living here now’ within 2 weeks of arrival). And then a lot of hours were spent discovering the city and wasting money unnecessarily. More on that in another post.

I hope I have cleared up at least a few ambiguities, I hope I haven’t scared any of you off, and I genuinely hope you decide to take part in the Erasmus Program. It’s been 2 weeks and I already know I’ll hate the day that I need to leave.

And then there was Alex!

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You would think that after 20 years of constant travelling, I’d be ready to move to a new country. That would be an incorrect thought.

I just recently returned from a backpacking trip in Vietnam; it was the most stunning, fulfilling yet terrifying thing I have ever done in my life (see pictures below). Yet here I am now, sitting in my room, trying to figure out if I have everything sorted to move to the country next door.

Between the paperwork, the packing, the procrastinating and the subsequent stressing I think it’s safe to say my plate has been full this summer. (more on the application process in my next post)

This might all seem completely out of context to you, so I think it’s time I gave a bit of information regarding the brain behind these words:

My name is Alex(andre) Laval and I am a 20-year-old Business & Management student. I was born in Watford, UK but did not stay long enough to consider myself British by any means. In fact, I spent most of my life travelling through France, Australia and the United States before coming back to the UK for university. Officially (as in according to my passports), I am French and Dutch. Weird, I know. And in about 6 days, I will be flipping the page again and moving to Cologne, Germany.

That aside, I am very much into anything that has to do with distraction and entertainment. I love photography, I love watching / making movies and I strongly believe music and books give you something that nothing else in this world can. I guess we could also say I love travelling seeing how often I find myself on a plane or on a train, in a car or more recently on a motorbike; maybe I’m just addicted to the adrenaline of adventure?

Regardless, I am officially moving to Deutschland as they say, and I have no doubt that it will be exactly that: an adventure.

You can count on me to express down to the most minute details the best and worst moments, touching on a whole range of themes from the application process / arrival to actually being in the country as well as whatever I find myself getting into once there. If you have any special requests or specific questions you would like me to answer, feel free to email me at ‘alexandre.laval@durham.ac.uk’ or contact me through my Instagram which is @alex_laval (expect many many pictures there as well!)

My next post will most likely cover the application process / packing and arrival in Germany – tune in for that, it’ll totally be worth it.

On that note, I bid you all farewell and look forward to writing you all for the coming year! Bis Bald! (that’s ‘see you later’ in German)