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Travels in Europe

By Marcus

[This post was submitted in February.]

This is a pretty long one guys and highlights all of my work and travels in Europe over the past 3 months, so strap in.

Some welcome cards from the kids
Our football goal of choice (between the pipes)

Hi again everyone! I am writing this from Rome where I have been staying for the past 2 months. I am working as an au pair for a family looking after twin 11-year-olds (Julia and Luca) and a 13-year-old (Matteo). A typical day involves waking up at 8am to help get the kids ready for school. Then the parents will leave for work leaving me a few hours to do my own thing. In this time, I normally lift, go to the Jiu Jitsu gym to train, and continue to wander around discovering new parts of Rome while ensuring to eat as much gelato as possible. I aim to be home by 2pm when Matteo returns from school and to cook lunch. I then spend the afternoon and evening with the kids. I do anything from helping them with their homework to going to the park and playing football. I will then occasionally cook them dinner (if their parents are not home) and spend the rest of the evening watching a movie or crushing them in a game of FIFA before putting them to bed.

Streets in Naples
Markets in Rome

Along with spending time in Rome, I have also taken the opportunity of living here to explore other parts of Italy. My favourite by far was a weekend in Naples accompanied by some of my friends visiting from back home. It was filled with sight-seeing, eating some of the world’s best pizza, and dancing. We stayed at a hostel near the centre of Naples and quickly became friends with a large group of other random travellers. We spent our first day wandering the long and narrow streets of Naples followed by a visit to Castel dell’Ovo which overlooks the bay towards Mount Vesuvius and what used to be Pompeii.

Upon returning to the hostel, we spent some time at its bar and common room where, we, along with our new group of friends, were invited to an underground Slavic club. Having absolutely no idea what to expect and feeling adventurous we joyfully accepted the invite and began to make our way across Naples.

The old governing building of Naples behind us

Upon arrival, we were greeted at the door by a large (and very intimidating) Russian man asking us what we wanted. Fortunately, upon the bouncer seeing the man who invited us he gave us all a smile and let us in. We slowly stepped into a dimly, blue lit room and were led down some stairs. As we apprehensively walked through a set of double doors a wave of some classic eastern European party songs washed over us. We jumped onto the crowded floor and proceeded to dance the rest of the night (and morning) away, making sure to of course get some pizza on the walk back to the hostel.

BJJ Tournament in Milan

The next weekend I returned to London for my Jiu Jitsu grading day (and to see my dog!). Fortunately, it was worth the trip as I was promoted to blue belt! The weekend following my promotion, I had my first competition at this new level. It was hosted in Milan and is the biggest Jiu Jitsu competition in Italy. On Saturday there was the Gi competition and on the Sunday, there was No-Gi (my preferred division). However, before I could have any fights, I first had to make my way up to Milan. My friends and I decided that taking a 10-hour bus journey would be the perfect transportation method as it was the cheapest option. This sounded like a great idea until it came to the return journey which stretched from 10pm to 6am. Safe to say after two intense days of fighting an uncomfortable bus seat was not the bed I was hoping for. I ended up coming 4th in Gi and 2nd in No Gi – with each division having 16 other competitors – which I was incredibly proud to achieve especially at this new belt and weight class.

Sadly, the time for me to leave Rome and my new family slowly came closer. However, my travelling would not end with this goodbye as my next flight was up to Budapest! I had made the last-minute decision to divert my travels back to England and instead take a detour taking me through Budapest, Vienna, and Prague (a classic and famous interrail journey). Joining me on these travels would be one of my very close friends, Cosmo, who just happened to be returning from his own travels in Thailand at that time. We both met up in Budapest on Friday night and set about exploring all the incredible ruin bars which are located all over the city. These ruin bars are located inside old buildings which were destroyed in WW2, which became underground rave locations. However, as tourism in Budapest increased, these underground parties very quickly became large and highly popular bars. As you can see in the photos, the walls are filled with real bullet holes and there are the craziest decorations. 10/10 recommend visiting.

The next morning, we decided to find a café for breakfast. We stumbled across a small grilled cheese café and after speaking to the very kind owners, we were recommended to head over to the ‘Hospital in the Rock’ located on the outskirts of the city. This was a WW2 bunker hospital turned cold war nuclear bunker which had now been opened to the public as a museum. It was filled with wax figures (doctors, nurses, and soldiers) replicating the everyday tasks that were undertaken in the height of the 1944 blitzing’s. Along with the figures, there was also loads of original equipment used in the surgeries and there was even the original X-ray machine, which was the only one in Hungary at that time.

Next, we took the train to Vienna, Austria. We arrived with no plans other than to eat as much schnitzel and strudel as possible, which I’m glad to say we certainly managed. We spent time hunting for local restaurants and ended up stumbling across an incredible underground food hall designed like a 19th century Austrian palace. Not only was the food amazing, but we were also entertained by a violinist and an accordionist!

The next day we went to the Museum of Military History. The best part of this exhibit was the display of the original car Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in which started the Great War. Along with this, we also headed to the Austrian Design Museum which was show casing the work of 2 of Walter Gropius students. Gropius was the founder of the Bauhaus design movement which I extensively studied while at school, so being able to see the original sketches of products which I had so deeply researched was an incredible opportunity.

All my packing from the 3 months in the green and black backpack

Finally, we hopped on the 6-hour train journey from Vienna to Prague. Visiting Prague during Christmas time was a truly magical experience. The city was transformed into a winter wonderland, with festive decorations adorning every street and market. The main square was a festive hub, with a giant Christmas tree and a traditional nativity scene on display. The city is decorated exactly how you imagine Christmas when you are a child, and the fact it was snowing the whole time was the cherry on top.

My First Internship!

By Marcus

After coming back from a summer of travel and adventure, it was time for me to settle into my first internship. Over the course of August and September I spent my time working as a process manufacturing engineering intern for a UK start-up company named Oceanium. Oceanium is a company who are ‘utilising innovative refinery technology, based on decades of marine science experience… to produce high-demand products, including high purity bioactives for nutrition and cosmeceuticals, plant-based food ingredients, and innovative materials.’

Along with my colleagues, it was our job to design a production system which could process enough seaweed to create product at a profitable rate for commercial sale. Due to previous lab testing, we knew the process was theoretically possible, however we had no idea if it would be feasible on the large scale. We were set the final goal to be able to process over 3000 litres of seaweed per day which was an enormous jump from the previous 1200 litres we were processing, but we had faith in ourselves and our equipment (maybe a little too much faith as we found out later) and started redesigning the factory system.

We found out very quickly that we had slightly overestimated our capabilities though as within two days of increased production, the decanter – think of it as a large tube with a corkscrew type of piece in the middle which is used to squeeze all the water out of the seaweed – broke. Now, typically a machine breaking isn’t that big of a problem, and that’s what we expected this time. So, we called up the company who made the machine (expecting an easy fix) and asked what we should do. Unfortunately, there was one small problem: they only spoke German. Eventually, we resorted to using a hammer to hit the parts back in place, which miraculously fixed it! Until, 45 minutes later, it broke again. However, luck was in our favour this time as it was coming to the end of our pre-planned production window and therefore the broken machine was no longer our problem as it was to be sent back to the manufacturer to be fixed.

Image of the centre of the decanter along with the long tube which it slides into.

Along with the work, it was also my first time living independently in a new city, and I very quickly found out why take away food is so popular. My co-workers also helped immerse me in northern England’s culture of going to the pub literally all the time.

Despite some of these challenges, I absolutely loved my time there. It was a fantastic first dive into the world of engineering work, I met a lot of really interesting people and made some great friends. Each time something went wrong, it just gave me another opportunity to work on my problem solving!

I have also kept intensively training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in preparation of my biggest competition yet this December. While I am very excited, I am also super nervous and will make sure to keep my blogs updated with my progress!