The first few months of my PhD have been a whirlwind of new ideas, late nights and piles of reading. It had been three years since I’d written anything so formal, and the gap in between was noticeable. Like an unused muscle, my writing felt crampy and good for only one lap or two around the court. Though working old muscles can be exhausting, diving into the subject that you love is enjoyable and invigorating. After several years of wanting to spend my daylight hours working on something interesting and challenging, the last two months have sped by. With the completion of my first review submission, there was no shortage of things to work on and develop.Deciding to listen to the good advice I was given at the onset of embarking on my PhD, I opted to follow the rule: once you’ve submitted something substantial, take a week and decompress. That can mean many things of course. Understandably, long train rides and walking many miles might not be someone’s idea of decompression, but hey ho.1. Go Find Your Chill
Normally, I am the last person to take advice relating to self-care and relaxing (shudder), but I thought, ‘why not’? Four hours after submitting my work, I jumped on a train to Manchester to visit a couple of wonderful friends who I met during my MSc at Edinburgh. My wonderful hosts, both a current and future PhDs, welcomed and showed me their adopted city. Manchester was a beauty. With plenty of time to explore the downtown and no particular agenda, other than seeing what they love about it, I could relax and take it all in.
2. Take in a Bit of Culture
There is something restorative in going to art galleries, museums or creative performances. Even if you don’t necessarily like the art on display, just seeing what creative minds have been/are up to can take you outside of yourself for enough time to relax a bit. At least until the next “BREAKING NEWS” alert on your phone goes off. When needing to feel some inspiration, or just wanting a quiet space to draw, museums and galleries tend to be my preferred space to do so. Popping into the Manchester Art Gallery allowed me the rare privilege to see one of my favourite paintings in the flesh – Charles Auguste Mengin’s ‘Sappho’ – which was breath-taking and significantly larger than I’d imagined.The depth of the darkness in Sappho’s gown cannot be done justice with a digitized image, and the highlights looked iridescent in some spaces. Sappho, so often presented longingly and wistfully, is shown powerful, dark and mourning. Her angst and colour palette was a natural favourite for me in my high school goth years.3. Nightime Walks and Christmas Markets
Walking around at night when travelling alone isn’t always the safest choice, so when I have the opportunity for company, it is an excellent way to see another side of a city. As this was my first time in Manchester and it coincided with Christmas festivities, strolling around the streets at night was especially lovely. While making me homesick, one of the perks of living in the United Kingdom is the on-point Christmas markets. The smells of meat, waffles and mulled wine were amazing. It required all the will-power I possessed not to buy adorable kitsch ceramics, and eat all the treats.Onward through town we went, eventually settling into a pub near the university. Ample political debates, methodological discussions and general nerdiness ensued.
4. Treat Yo SelfThis might seem fairly obvious, but taking 30 minutes out of the day to have a leisurely coffee or popping into a print shop and finding Liam Gallagher greeting cards (nailed it, Manchester) is sometimes the treat you need to clear your head. It doesn’t have to be a big production, but leaving the to-go cup behind and just sitting in nice spaces with friends (or alone) is one of my favourite parts of a solo journey. Seldom do I plan a trip without packing as much as possible into the schedule, but trying it out this month was really rewarding and relaxing.
5. Reflecting Taking stock and heading home, I was thoroughly impressed by the juxtaposition between new and old buildings in the city. There is a lot of effort to create dynamic visual landscapes, which living in the historic neighbourhoods of Edinburgh, I occasionally forget that skyscrapers, tower block flats and vivid colour are normal to see. Shaking off the last few weeks of 14+ hour work days, and stress that ate normal stress for breakfast, I definitely came back feeling more refreshed, and through that, optimistic. Though only a few days, it was a wonderful stop.Next stop: BRUSSELS! 48 hours later, my partner and I jumped on a plane and were en route to Eindhoven for a week