Saturday, 31 August 2013

Summertime Happiness and a Quick Thank You.

Well, well, well, so we meet again Mr Blog. As September looms, Summer is officially coming to a close. After 4 months of adventures, travels, drinks and an unusual amount of non-festival camping, in just one month I will be embarking on my final and longest adventure yet: moving to York to begin my studies of English Literature at the university there.

Cue minor hyperventilating.

But in all seriousness, I am incredibly excited what with all my friends going into second year and me just beginning on the next big chapter of my life! I recently turned 19, and I am ready to start my new life not in America, India, Denmark or Germany, but just one hundred miles or so up north (187 to be exact). This Summer has been extraordinary (aren't they always?) so I thought I'd give a brief run down on the crazy things I've been getting up to.

To mark my going to university (and the fact that I haven't been on a family holiday in two years! Gosh!) I went with my parents off to Murren in Switzerland - absolutely my favourite place. We had just a few days of hiking, swimming, and me making a dent in my reading list and of course, sunbathing, and I came home ready to begin preparing for uni. Cue manic Ikea shop. Cutlery anyone?

This Summer has seen picnics galore, including mine and Laura's picnic and outdoor cinema experience at Hatfield Forest back in July! We saw Woman in Black and I managed not to scream too loudly...I've also been gracing London with my presence frequently, the most recently being a night out celebrating the Breakfast Club's 8th birthday in Spittalfields - a deathly combination of £1.80 glasses of wine and £2.50 cocktails made for a night of 80s discos, inflatable guitars and swapping t shirts with Some Guy. Sorry dude. June also saw my friends and I heading Norfolk-wards once more for our annual naturist camping in Weybourne. A perfect week.

Together Ben and I discovered some remarkable parts of London this summer including Rekordelig's Midsummer Birthday Party in Victoria Park with Company Magazine complete with lots of free goodies and cider cocktails, and a misinformed adventure into a strip club in London Fields hobknobbing with Made in Chelsea stars...we also discovered a Speak Easy near Liverpool Street (anyone fancy seeing the Major?) and with one of my best friends and with our boyfriends in tow, we had a remarkable night in the Fridge.

One of my highlights was a surprise that I planned for Ben's birthday including the Pompeii exhibition at the British Museum (heaven for my inner, and rather hidden, classicist), Chin Chin Labs in Camden where Nitro ice cream is on tap, and the RA Summer Exhibition feat. Tracey Emin of course. Furthermore, at the start of the Summer we took a trip to the Vauxhall Art Car Boot Fair and mingled with various artists, coming home with pieces of art (the start of my so far pathetic collecting career) and memories galore.

But the prize for the loveliest UK expedition goes to this one: a few night's camping in Fairbourne Wales and discovering the beauty of Blue Flag Beaches, as well as seeing family and discovering wild swimming in a copper slate quarry in Snowdonia. Yes, it was as magical as it sounds. If a little cold.

Okay, freezing.

I really took to camping this summer due to lack of money, as our 3 nights in Wales cost us just £18 each. Do the maths.

This Summer has been truly special and while I'm sad that it's over, I am ready for my northern adventures to begin. As the summer ends, so does my Gap Year, and I can't believe that it is over. But I shan't dwell on it, just learn from it, and how unbelievable it's all been. I hope to keep travelling over the next few years intermittently in the Very Long University Summer Holidays, and maybe I will turn this space into something other than a travel blog, but only time will tell. Thank you for sticking with me and reading about my adventures over the past year - I honestly cannot believe that it's been a year since I flew to America. It feels like a lifetime ago.

I have had a truly extraordinarily year, ranging from being asked to name a baby in Northern India, to bumping into Snoop Dogg in Times Square, to being harassed by guards in Berlin, to being asked on a date in Downtown Houston, to house-sitting in -5 in Denmark. It's been a fantastic year, and it's taught me the value of so much but mostly: my family, friends, and memories.

Here's to the future, eh? 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Bringing Back Britain: Glorious Brighton.

In a true revival of my love for all things British (excluding the EDL, marmite, extreme patriotism...I suppose), no Summer would be complete without an out of season trip to the good old British seaside and through drawing straws and many debates, Ben and I decided on the epitome of the south coast: Brighton.

With two of my best friends gracing the University of Sussex in September I felt it was only apt that we jump in the car and on the motorway for a dip in both the sea and culture and I was not disappointed. After a morning spent paddling in the sea (which, in case you were wondering, on a cold day in June really is not a good idea), we spent the afternoon wandering the Lanes, stumbling upon the vintage shops, cake shops galore, and of course, the wonder that is Snooper's Paradise. 

Yes. Please. Diet? What diet?
My highlight of the morning however, has to be the glory that is Choccywoccydoodah - the renowned chocolate cum cake cum coffee shop. And we were in heaven. While Brighton does not come up cheap in comparison to other British seaside towns (see: Southend or Great Yarmouth - though they really are not my favourites) the money spent lounging on their red vinyl chairs and gouging ourselves on the weekly special of Chocolate, Raspberry and Chilli cake, it was money well spent. Located just off the high street and the Lanes, it is perfect for a morning snack and was as much a tourist hot spot as the pier for us.

B feat. the sea and old pier.

Despite the rain that graced us just as we left the sea, we headed onto the pier for a drink and a few rounds of Dance Mat before stumbling upon the Royal Pavillion (where the art exhibition, Jeff Koons, had free admission! Such a steal!) and onto the Lanes. 

Thugs in Brighton.

Royal Pavillion.
I loved Brighton and can't wait to go back in the sunshine though it will be heaving on the beach! I love the British seaside but with a stick of rock in hand, my copy of Brighton Rock in the other, and balancing our Snooper's Paradise buys on our heads, this beat all other seaside towns for me. The culture, locals, and attitude of the general city really was one of a kind - and I cannot recommend it anymore.

Snooper's Paradise photobooth stands at just £3!
See you Brighton!

Monday, 24 June 2013

Barcelona, How Can I Forget?

Hola senors and senoritas - on a much more sunny, exciting and, well, sangria-fuelled note than my Bringing Back Britain posts, Helena and I recently returned from the bonny Barcelona after a quick 5 day break departing from Southend airport early on Monday morning with trusty (sl)easyjet. Honestly I needed just a little bit of time to travel a bit more, but I feel like Barcelona really was the end of this year's travelling! Gosh that's a Big Thing for me but I still have my home-based adventures as my previous posts showed.

Hello Barcelona, I have arrived.
We stayed near the University, just 4 metro stops from the main station and very near Las Ramblas, many beautiful parks and many tasty restuarants. I can't count the amount of times I have said this about a place, but I fell for Barcelona hard and fast. No other city has had such a chilled and welcoming atmosphere. Maybe it was the parakeets that chirped outside our window in the mornings, or the charming noise that is Spanish (or was it Catalonian?) being gabbled on the streets. Nothing had prepared me for the sunshine and smiling, tanned faces of Barcelona harbour, or the beaches just half an hour from the city, or the good, good food!

I didn't know what to expect but Barcelona's charm and street escalators was definitely not it. 

Sagrada Familia!
...and  the interior.

For me, the highlights were Sagrada Familia (despite the hour long queue) as the stained glass windows and Gaudi architecture really did take my breath away. I also held my breath and survived the cable car up to Mont Juec which, when armed with a picnic and minimal sense of direction, made for an interesting last afternoon. Gaudi's park too was fantastic (I may have had a power nap on the world's longest beach) and the Magic Musical Fountain at the bottom of the MNAC made for a twee, colourful, and Top Tourist Trap for our final evening. 

Thoroughly enjoying the bench.
Conquering the Mont Juec castle.
Showing her skills at the open (and free!) Olympic stadium.

As with all of my trips, I'd like to give my most succinct and concise, 'dos and don'ts' of Barcelona:

avoid dinner by the seafront if you're on a budget - we struggled to find a cheap place to eat on the beach.

take a day out of town to one of the more beautiful, quiet beaches just 30 minutes away from the city. Our day outside of town was well worth the €7.30 and extreme sunburn.

Do queue from the tourist spots. I would recommend this in very few cities but I fell in love with the cathedrals, parks and museums here. 

Don't be afraid to try out your Spanish. Or English. Don't be afraid to be friendly. 

Do invest in an appropriate number-of-days public transport card! I cannot stress this enough - Helena and I constantly thanked our lucky stars that, for near €30, we had unlimited transport on the metro which was a lifesaver. 

I am already aching to go back and would recommend this city (despite its pick-pocketing record which, we were not party to..) to anyone. Just chill out. Relax. Have some paella. And was the world go past on even the quietest streets.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Bringing Back Britain: London Bridge Walk.

So I have always hated exercise. I survived in top set PE for just a few weeks before being demoted to 'Girl Who Stands In Goal During Hockey But Actually Does Nothing'. And yet, here I am, going to the gym four times a week, I'm into the first week of the 30 Day Shred, and last week I undertook, with my endearingly motivated and over-enthusiastic boyfriend, a 21 mile walk of all the bridges in London between Tower Bridge and Kew Bridge (that's 19 bridges).

Much like my muddy converse at Wimpole, my trusty pumps in Rome and my flip flops in Delhi (latterly known as The Worst Mistake I Made In Asia) - I whacked on my trainers and running trousers, filled my rucksack with cider, sandwiches and deodorant and we headed across and up the Thames.

Below is a rough route of our journey:

We started at Tower Bridge and finished at Kew Bridge - following the shape of the Thames though, it is possible to walk to the final bridge at Twickenham if you wish.
Now, the post is featuring on my Bringing Back Britain page in a desperate plea that you, dear reader, may decide to undertake this walk too. Walking along Chelsea embankment in the rain, jogging through Battersea Park, and fighting tourists on Westminster Bridge made this day such an experience. I saw parts of London so beautiful and new, and places that I'd never seen before.

Kew, as I now know, is a gorgeous makeshift village (with a cricket green!) just 40 minutes on the underground from Central London. Hammersmith, right by Riverside Studios, is full of quaint pubs and cafes. And Albert Bridge is the cutest ever.

Despite my complaining (Ben can vouch for me in that I kept it to a minimum..), the little bits of rain, and the overpriced drinks in the pubs of London, I have never seen London as wonderful as I did on this walk and, honestly, it doesn't feel like a near-marathon. Not with good enough shoes, company, and a supply of food. 

L - R: 1) Rain on Lambeth Bridge, 2) looking far too cheerful on Millennium Bridge and 3) starting on Tower Bridge.
I frequent London a lot due to the direct trainline from Stansted, but this was different to anything I've done before and I'm so glad I did it. Just make sure you have the essentials of water, a map for both distance and direction (I used the Strava Run app on my iPhone) and a good sense of humour. It's a wonderful day out.

And hey, like Louise and Spencer from MIC, this walk enables you to do both Deep Thinking and having Deep Chats on the Chelsea Embankment like a true posh-o.
(PS, I returned back from Barcelona less than a week ago, so keep an eye out for my Barcelona posts coming very soon!)

Friday, 7 June 2013

Bringing Back Britain: Cambridgeshire.

Frankly, my absence from this blog is nearly embarrassing. I have had so much to write about, and have been on so many adventures (both home based and some slightly farther abroad) that I want to share. I've been applying for jobs (unsuccessfully), making the most of a combination of my National Trust membership, my car, and my wonderful friends and boyfriend leading to me having had a wonderful past two months since I returned from Germany.

I love England. My coming-back-post (as recently featured in this article) states this clearly; I love where I live. And although I've been fighting it since my return, my denial of the fact that I am home (I hope that makes sense) has meant that I have kept both busy and local and so my new feature, 'Bringing Back Britain' was born. Today's focus is the gorgeous Cambridgeshire.

Although drinks in Cambridge, when not from student hangouts, aren't the cheapest - an afternoon by the river really is a must.
I've always been a fan of Cambridge: the classical architecture, the colleges, the people, just to mention a few - and as far as a town goes, it really is perfect for Summer. Whether it's a G&T at the Anchor (located in between Newham and King's) or a picnic on Jesus Green, the sunshine makes it the perfect spot to while away an afternoon. Punting for a newbie in Cambridge is a must, and I always prefer to hire my own with a group of friends, a few drinks, and punt in the Grantchester direction.

Downton Abbey? No, not quite. But still pretty impressive.
About 20 miles out of town, situated in the real Cambridgeshire countryside, is the classical Wimpole Hall. With entry to the grounds and gardens being just £6 (and free for National Trust members) and a farm for exploration, even on a rainy day Flo, Luce and I made the most of the grounds.

Don your muddy converse, stock up on lunch from either the farm shop or - like us - take a Sainsbury's middle class picnic extraordinaire and cower in the boot of your car in between rain storms. The gardens are currently in full bloom and the orchard, much like Audley End (slightly more local to me), is stunning. My only piece of advice would be go on a weekday and before school's out - I can only imagine how busy the pig pen is when the children start their summer holidays in three weeks.

Car picnic anyone? My boot still features crisp crumbs as a result.

Fun for the family, or the more middle class/middle aged young adults among us - it is a lovely day out!