Taiwan, the underdog of Asia

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Passport control, Taipei International Airport, 4am. I was stood before a facemask-clad female immigration official who, while pawing through my passport, was sternly asking me exactly what I planned to do in Taiwan.

"Errrr..." came my instant, hesitant reply. "I don't really know to be honest. I decided to come here for a few days after reading about your wonderful country." There. I thought, as I stared deep into her serious eyes. That'll butter it up a bit.

She looked back at me and for a few seconds, the air was tense. Then, she laughed and I could suddenly see a smile peek beyond the boundaries of her mask. "Ohhh!" She marvelled. "You will love it here! I am so happy you came to my country! I am very proud! Please enjoy yourself and don't be afraid to ask anybody for help!"

My passport was returned to me with a stamp and with that, I was on my merry way.

When I first even thought about Taiwan as a travel destination, I remember exactly where it came from. I'd just discovered Lauren's wonderful blog Never Ending Footsteps and read her rave reviews of this wonderful island destination way out there in Eastern Asia. For her, it was her gateway into a brand-new continent near the beginning of her long term travels, and I soaked up every last morsel of her posts with wide-eyed wonder. I thought to myself, "Tai-wanna be startin' something?"

...I didn't really but I had to shoehorn that in somewhere!

I originally wanted to spend way more time in Taiwan, making my way across the whole island from the slicker cities of the north and east coasts to the tropical forests that lay more inland. When my first itinerary came out at 7 weeks, around 10 days of that were solely dedicated to Taiwan. In the end I cut down my trip to a square month and in a last minute booking frenzy, I chucked three full days in Taipei in there. I couldn't not, really. Flights in and out were costing no more than £30 in total and I was addicted to the mere notion of going to Taiwan, knowing no-one who had personally be there. I had the hunger to be a pioneer.

Firstly, I am totally glad I squished in some Taipei time. On the other hand I am completely gutted that it was so short. What was I thinking? I ended up with even less time as at this point I was still getting over jetlag (I'd been away a whole week, do I win any records here?) and one of my Taipei days was spent, again, in bed until 4pm. I was totally unprepared for how much I'd like it, more or less falling head-over-heels in love almost instantly.

I say "almost" because from the moment I landed, I just wasn't sure I'd made the right choice after all. After landing from Macau at 3:30am and with nowhere really to go at that point, I decided to wait in the airport until a more reasonable hour, fuelling myself with coffees from 7/11. 8am finally rolled around and I headed to the bus station to make my way into the centre of the city. This was all a bit frantic, as after buying a cheap ticket I was ferried onto a local bus that smelt of smoke and hosted a driver with an interesting approach to driving (although now I'm in Thailand, I'd go back to that bus in a heartbeat!) The journey into Taipei took about half an hour and you get dropped off at the main station, a central hub for all buses, trains and MRT services, that sprawls out as far as the eye can see. I stepped off the bus, looked around at the uninspiring landscape that surrounded me... and I just wasn't sold.

After struggling with Google Maps a bit in trying to find the best route to my hostel, I resigned my desire to walk everywhere to failure. It was 30 degree heat and I was wearing skinny jeans for crying out loud. I decided to take my first MRT journey of the trip so far, having avoided it in Hong Kong previously. I felt like I'd given up - I didn't want to be hidden away underground, missing all the sights. I wanted to be a proper savvy traveller, soaking it all in and wasting no time at all. But I told myself that I could literally sweat no more and just wanted to dump my 9kg backpack at my hostel and chill the eff out. MRT it was. I suppose this is the perfect time to say that cities like London have a lot to learn from the MRT systems of Asia. Taipei's, I feel, is a force to be reckoned with in the most positive way. Here we have a transport system that is on time, sparkling clean, everybody is polite and totally unpushy, and it costs circa 40p a journey pretty much anywhere on the network. Once I'd got through the initial attempt to buy a ticket without a hitch and had found a seat on the next service, I suddenly felt pretty serene.

The stop closest to my hostel was Ximen and as soon as I peaked at the escalator, I breathed in a sigh of awe: this was more like the Taipei that I had imagined. It felt like Hong Kong but without the crowds and way more vivid. It also smelt just as interesting, but totally different. As I walked down the street lugging my backpack with a map in hand, looking every bit the backpacker, I didn't feel vulnerable at all but instead totally welcome. Locals would smile earnestly at me, sometimes offering a wave, and a couple even stopped when I was probably looking around in a tad of confusion to ask if they could help at all. That's one of the greatest things going for Taiwan, is how friendly everybody is. They are really happy to see tourists in their country - and in return, I was finally incredibly happy to be there.

Has anybody else been to or ever considered going to Taiwan?

Beating the crowds at Victoria Peak

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

I suppose I better come clean now and say that I never made it to Wan Chai. I've also been a pesky poor blogger, but we'll chalk that up to actually being out there and enjoying myself. As a traveller, I'm certain that it's my prerogative. However somewhere in the chaos of Phuket, I've managed to find myself some time for chillin' - time that doesn't involve simply existing or perhaps reading a book on the beach, more like sitting on the sun terrace in the bar of my hostel, sipping a sweet iced coffee - and I feel like I can just pick up where I left off. Right? Right.

I also suppose that I should admit that the little devil otherwise known as 'jetlag' well and truly beat me for at least a week. It just couldn't seem to be shaken. I'd spend one night up until 6:30am or with no sleep at all and then the next sleeping like a baby by 10pm. Every evening that I thought I'd got rid of it, it came back with a vengeance. On the morning that I headed to Victoria Peak, Hong Kong's best known viewpoint, I'd actually been wide awake the entire night. As soon at daylight hit I jumped up and into the shower, pulled on some clothes and got out that door just in time for the Pacific Coffee outlet around the corner from me to open at 7am. Ahh, Pacific Coffee - the Starbucks of East Asia. They do mighty fine americanos, I'll give them that. After two of those and a huge croissant I felt like I was sufficiently fuelled to be on my way to find the Star Ferry from Kowloon Pier over to Hong Kong Island, where my quest for Victoria Peak would begin!

Now, public transport in the whole of Asia is AWESOME. Especially those that involve either underground systems or boats. Infact, I feel like Britain's shambolic collective of delayed trains and overpriced buses are third world compared to the 40p tube journeys you can get in Taiwan, for example (and on beautiful, clean and tardy trains too!) Star Ferries are no exception, literally ferrying you across Victoria Harbour in no time at all for the equivalent of 21p a pop, and with a lovely view of the Hong Kong skyline thrown in too! The gorgeous skyscrapers still glistened even with grey clouds rolling in from behind the looming mountains. Once docked at the other side, I began to follow signs for the Peak Tram.

The Peak Tram, I guess, is essential to get to the top of Victoria Peak - unless you've got legs of steel and a whole lot of willpower. If the tram journey is anything to go by, then it's definitely the steepest ascent I've ever bore witness to. But it makes for some tantalising previews, seeing the skyscrapers suddenly make an appearance through thick foresty trees that adorn the mountain. Upon this sight, the people sat on the "wrong" side of the tram stood up to get a better look... and immediately regretted it, almost falling short to the 30% incline before they perched back on their backsides and waited patiently for the top. I'd definitely picked the right side of the trundling vehicle - and the right time to go on the tram too! At 8:20am, my tram held a total of 12 people and the queue at the ticket booth where I merrily handed over HKD$40 for my return tram (that's just £3.30 - an absolute steal!) was non-existent.

If you make it to the top this early, just be aware that while Victoria Peak is an out-and-out tourist destination with restaurants and shops and cafés coming out of your ears, nothing will be open before 10am apart from the chain coffee shops. This is why I suggest that the best way to make the most out of your journey and costs is to simply soak it all up. Walk around the top, find different views, bring a book or some headphones to listen to some good tunes, and just take in the awesome view. Which, by the way, if you've ever perused photos of Hong Kong as much as I have over the years, is exactly how it looks in said images. It honestly looks like a painting!

I was enjoying the peak for about two-and-a-half hours before I made my way back down. By this time the top had begun to get overpopulated with group excursions and Chinese tourists and the peace that it had previously offered and become quite the opposite and very noisy! One super-steep journey down later and I was at the bottom once again, fighting my way through the 300-strong crowd queuing to get the tram to the top. I discreetly made rock-horns at nobody but myself, applauding my jetlag for once and being glad that I'd beaten the rush this time. Does this make me a savvy traveller or what?

Hong Kong state of mind

Thursday, 5 November 2015

There's a little something that I am desperate to get off my chest.

I am inconceivably and irreparably in love with Hong Kong.

If I'm honest, I knew it would happen. For starters, this is a nook of the world that I've wanted needed to visit for the best part of the last decade, ever since I was dazzled with tales of this magical city by a hefty influence (alright, you got me: it was a boy). I was completely mesmerised by the mere thought of it and now it's physically tickled every single one of my senses I can confirm I was right to be so obsessed all along.

Secondly, there is nothing to not love. Even the semi-negatives have their charm, like the interesting smell that Hong Kong seems to expel - I can't describe it but if you've been to HK you'll know exactly what I mean. Well it certainly wouldn't be Hong Kong without it. And that's what this city is: a string of unique occurrences and appearances that lace together into a wonderful knit. No part of it is knotted or matted or broken; it all weaves together seamlessly.

And I am saying this having not escaped my neighbourhood of Tsim Sha Tsui as yet. Basically, I have a confession to make: I am jetlagged to fuckery. I have also used this descriptive so many times in a last hour on my mobile phone in various conversational outlets, that the non-word fuckery is now firmly planted into my device's dictionary. But jetlag for me is something entirely new. I almost snorted at it's existence up until this point, instead believing it was more of a fairytale excuse in place of admitting that you're actually one lazy mofo. I apologise profoundly and take it all back. After staying up ALL NIGHT last night because I was absolutely in no way tired, my brain frantically pulsing neurons back and forth, I finally crashed into the land of nod at around 9am. I then woke up at 5pm - which is 9am back in my homeland, the United Kingdom. If this ain't jetlag, then I'm reluctant to admit that I'm a fully-qualified lazybones. I'm jetlagged to fuckery, don't judge me.

All this fuckery though means that technically I've lost an entire day in Haytch-Kay. And to say that I am gutted is a complete understatement. Remember, I already have an undying love for this city, so this is almost heartbreaking stuff. My days here are numbered: I'm moving on to Macau on Saturday and that in itself is to enable me to move on to Taiwan (my my Macau, what a wonderful budget airport you have...) So tomorrow I need to get back on it: formulate a proper plan and stick to it. No sleeping in! I'm eager to take a trip on the cable car up to the peak to take in the awesome views and I also want to break out of Kowloon and explore Hong Kong Island, an area I've yet to set foot on yet. This is not to say that my time thus far in Hong Kong hasn't been jam-packed, oh you underestimate me. Aside from my all-day-snoozing today, yesterday was drastically different in comparison.

On Wednesday, after a rather frustrating sleep - because everybody in my hostel room was up and at 'em at 5:50am, for no apparent reason - I hauled myself out of bed and into fresh clothes and out of that door all before midday. I was a girl on a mission with no directive at all. My only plan was to wander aimlessly and see what I happened upon. After an hour or so looking for coffee (and failing miserably) I eventually came across Victoria Harbour, the body of water that sits between Kowloon on the mainland and Hong Kong Island, bordered beautifully by the double-decker promenade at Kowloon Public Pier and the sea of skyscrapers across the way. As soon as I caught glimpse of this astounding row of metal towers I was sold into just sitting there and soaking it all up. Which is exactly what I did for the next hour and I recommend everybody taking the time out to do exactly this in Hong Kong, as the scenery belittles anything you can imagine. Even London's offerings pale in comparison to this skyline. The art of just admiring and appreciating what was in my field of vision was very settling and all the nerves I'd previously had pre-boarding back in Manchester (which, believe me, were plenty) suddenly dissolved and floated away. I felt like I was home. A strange feeling for somebody that had never set foot in Asia before!

But for a London girl it's easy to spot the British influence over this small now practically autonomous region. There is never a lack of the English language in speech or in type, so there's no case of getting lost in translation or having to crack out ye olde internationale hand gestures. All of the street signs are anglicised too, with names such as Ashley Road, Bristol Avenure, Cameron Road, Granville Road, I could continue but what a waste of wordcount. You get the picture. Another thing that stands out is how diverse and multi-cultural this place is. You can stumble upon a myriad of world cuisines all lined up on the same street and be spoilt for choice. You definitely won't go hungry in Hong Kong, even if you're shy to try street food!

The rest of my day yesterday was spent non-stop walking, for about 7 hours. I think I've pretty much covered my little district in Kowloon and tomorrow I'll be ready to conquer places such as Wan Chai, HK's answer to Manchester's NQ, and all that lies around it. My alarm is set and I'm raring to go! Even if it means waking up hideously early; what can I say, with morning views like this, it's hardly horrendous.

Have you been to Hong Kong before? What did you love about it?
Also shout out any recommendations that you might have!

Counting down the days

Friday, 23 October 2015

Today, it has become officially legit to utter these four little words: ten days to go. What a beautifully round and almost final number, plus tomorrow it gets to fall into single digits - and I can't quite believe it. How is it that time has flown so fast since I infamously hit the Payment button on the Emirates website with my eyes squeezed shut, back in late March? The weather has gone from bitter to boiling to bitter again, the clocks have gone forward and will go back, and I've moved cities entirely. So much change that make a sizable seven months feel like just yesterday, and here I am on the cusp of what can only be described as The Trip Of A Lifetime.

I can't discount the other big trips I have taken in the last couple of years, especially if you believe in things like fate and destiny. I don't think I do but it can't be ignored that basically, Canada took me to America which in turn brought me a boy and a move to Manchester and without him I would not be going on this trip. Perhaps the circumstances at the time weren't the greatest but now they are fantastic once more he has done nothing but encourage me to go on this trip and live my solo travel mini-dream. Yes, he will worry and I will miss him to death, but it's only a month. And reunions are incredible, aren't they?

Everything is pretty much done. All flights are booked, most hostel beds have my claim on them with just a few more to finish up, my kind of 'plan' has come together enough for me to e-mail an itinerary of sorts to my parents for them to feel a bit easier about the whole thing. It seems that no matter how old you are (28), how far away you live from home (220 miles) and how long you've lived away from home (9 years), your parents will always worry. Maybe a few years ago this would have been met with teenager-style eye-rolling and a whine that would put Kevin The Teenager to shame (kudos if you get this reference, by the way) but now I've matured a bit I totally get it. I've spent this morning creating the perfect spreadsheet for them to attempt to keep track of me and it's made me realise: wow, I've curated this all by myself. The trip, I mean, not just the spreadsheet. Other adulting achievements include purchasing adequate travel insurance and pledging sobriety for the thirty days.

I already know that this is all going to do more for me than just ticking off the boxes of seeing X, Y and Z country. I've spent so long at my current job living by the rules that define them with a desperately scavenged week off here and there, that I barely get time to refresh and think for myself before I'm back at 6:30am making mochas once more. I'm holding out for the complete full-body-full-mind reset and I can't wait for Thailand where I get to stop jumping ship (literally) every other day and just chill the fuck out. I also need to change my career - I know this, everybody knows this, my bosses know this - and I'm hoping that with the refresh and reset, will come a whole heap of inspiration and gung-ho attitude too. I'm also really looking forward to getting back to creativity. Reading and listening to new music on the passive side of things, and photographing and blogging on the aggressive front. Time to get back to the real me.

I get caught up in trying to plan what I can possible blog about, or what I can bring to the floor that hasn't already been done before. I've had to give myself a bit of a pep talk and remember to just go with the flow. Things happen, plans change, I might be having too good a day to want to bother writing about it, or I might have so miserable a day that all I want to do is moan for moaning's sake. The last thing I want to do is force what's not there and extinguish the blogging spark once again. If I fancy publishing a post full of pictures with not a single words, that will have to be fine. After all it all tells a story, somehow.

Excitement as a descriptive doesn't quite cut it and I'm at the point where because I can't believe it's mere millimetres away, I've put a wall up in front of it, determined to make it through the next week of work until Friday at 9pm when I can tear off my uniform with glee and do the happiest dance. I want to be fairly organised before this point so that I can dedicate my entire last weekend before the trip to my boyfriend Phil, with hiking planned and just general chilling out together time. I want to be packed mid-week, but I'm awaiting a new backpack and as I'm writing this I'm side-eyeing a Royal Mail 'you've missed your delivery...' card and I'm mustering up the energy to climb out of the blanket I'm wrapped up in (it's colder indoors than outside, alright?) to go and do something about it. Err, maybe later.

But first, coffee.

Oh, the places she will go

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Organisation is a key element in my world; it's something I pride myself on. I love filing, adore putting pins into maps and have a lust for lists. It's fair to say that highlighters are, well you know, a highlight of my life.

Pretty much every spare moment I've encountered over the past few months has involved me hunched over my laptop, notepad in one hand and pen in the other (with an americano within arm's reach of course) while I desperately scribble bits and bobs. What train do I need to take from A to B, what bag can I travel hand luggage only with, what plug adaptors do I need, where will all the best parties be? And it's not just my beloved notebook that takes the flack; I witter on about my upcoming trip to anybody who will dare open their ears. I have good reason - it's just about the most exciting thing I have done for myself (and by myself) to date. So, where am I going?

Hong Kong
I kick things off in fast-paced Hong Kong. To say that I'm giddy with excitement of my impending first footsteps in Asia is an understatement - and I am so overjoyed that Hong Kong gets to have me first. It's a country that I have been determined to go to for the best part of 10 years and as soon as I am there soaking up the atmosphere, breathing in the smog and the lights and the hurry (and all the dim sum), I will be a goner.

I'll then head over to Macau by ferry, but only for a tiny while. My time in Macau is literally a 18-hour transit stop-gap that I intend to fill with glorious waffley street food and staring in wide-eyed wonder at the tallest bungee jump in the world.

I then clamber onto a blearly middle-of-the-night flight to Taipei and I couldn't be anymore excited! Taiwan was never a mere thought in my mind until I happened upon Lauren's blog Never Ending Footsteps and pawed at it from start to finish. Her recollections of her first weeks in Asia all involve Taiwan and the love that she conveyed for this nation had me re-routing all my Skyscanner searches in a heartbeat. I only have four days to devote to Taiwan but I plan on filling them to the max, soaking up the business of Taipei and hopefully viewing the pretty temples of Kaohsiung.

Then a jetset stop in Singapore - I think I'll only be here for a couple of nights, in which I'd love to sample an authentic Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel.

I'm then headed northbound on the bus to Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur. I had no idea how I would get from A to B in such a short space of time, and since I'm only away for a month in total I wanted to hit up as many places as humanly possible. But then I read Chris of Backpacker Banter's awesome post on how to overland from Singapore to Bangkok which involved a fairly straightforward, comfortable AND cheap bus from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, therefore I was influenced. It's the home city of one of my friends and she has been exploding with information and hidden KL secrets for me, plus I can't wait to see the Petronas Towers up close.

The (most likely) final stop of my trip will be Thailand. I am bursting with eagerness to get to this country, mostly because this is where I'll be spending most of my trip - about two weeks in total, which yes I realise is not enough, not even in the slighest - which means I get to slow down a tad and properly enjoy myself. I need to figure things out more extensively, all I'm sure of is that I'm flying into Phuket and have to make it to Bangkok within 14 days. I'd love to visit an island such as Koh Phi Phi, or head up north to chill-out central Chiang Mai, or even both if possible. Only time will tell.

So there we have it: my kind of rough, kind of ready itinerary for Asia in November. Will you be travelling to any of these places? Or have you before, and have any advice to offer or recommendations for places to go and things to do?

The first rule

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

My personal struggle with blogging has been a long and drawn out process. You see, I've been blogging for about 6 years - even longer if we count all the years spent lamenting over LiveJournal, I mean it's all for an audience right? But for all intents and purposes we'll say 6 years since I quit making private posts about 'me me me' (and all of my Primark purchases at the time) and channeled it into a wannabe online magazine type blog. You know the types that were all the rage back in 2009/2010: pretty girls with all their new clothes on, posing in forests and on urban streets, writing whimsical words about their everyday life - and I decided I wanted to be one of them.

The problem was, I just wasn't very good or at least I deemed myself that way. I took most of my photos inside because I was too self-conscious to set up a tripod outside to try to get the perfect shot, and therefore relied on my words and networking. This was the bit that I revelled in as I love communicating (I've worked in customer-facing roles since 2003, go figure) and at a time when personal bloggers were benefiting from somewhat of a boom, it was easy to climb the ranks. But I lost my heart in it after about a year and began to feel like a bit of a self-obsessed prat taking selfies every single day, and began to focus more on bettering my photography. So I guess I took the natural progression of sliding into lifestyle blogging.

The problem was, once I'd transformed from a tighter niche into a much larger spectrum, it was easier to become unknown and therefore unstuck. I adored using my photography as a point of interest, tailoring intricate blog posts around them. And it didn't stop there; I published recipes that I'd put my heart and soul into, talked about trips that I had been on, and still had the occasional dabble in displaying some kind of personal style. But in a competitive world it can be easy to be left by the wayside and while I watched other bloggers overtake me, some of them coming out of nowhere, I did nothing about it. I let my posting become more and more sparse, and when I went through a break-up and subsequent massive upheaval in my life I couldn't turn it into blog-fodder. I'm way too private for something like that. So I had a bit of a break and turned up somewhere new a few months later, my typing fingers rough 'n' ready for action.

The problem was, by that point I had just lost sense of everything that I desired from blogging. What was once supposed to be an enjoyable hobby on keeping a documentation of my life - a personal journal, shall we say - had turned into something that I felt like I had to do. I felt like I couldn't let go of blogging, for my tiny little scratch on the world wide web would suddenly become redundant. But I couldn't muster up the mental energy to actually sit down in front of a computer and just let the words flow. It became a chore rather than a pleasure and no matter how much 'editorial planning' I did, it just wouldn't come to fruition. Added to the fact that I'm a shift worker with the worst shift patterns in the world, any free time to just ~myself~ I have is like gold dust and is usually spent with a cup of coffee and a couple of hours of Netflix, I'm almost sad to say.

Another thing that got to me was how much blogging actually became part of everyday life. Now, I don't begrudge spending lots of time indoors at your laptop working up a typing frenzy before hitting that elusive Publish button, I understand that is needed in order to, you know, have a blog. What I hated was the time I had begun to spend hidden behind something else, either tending to my social media on my phone (which I despise by the way, I'm no Tweet queen anymore) or trying to get the perfect shot for a photograph. I'd end up spending so much time behind my camera that I was no longer enjoying the moment as it actually happened, and surely that's what life is all about? I would hate to, you know, maybe show such photographs to my future kids and have all my talk about them be something I'd extracted from Wikipedia and not my own experience, because I'd spent too much time trying to craft the perfect post.

But, the problem is... I do want to document these things. I want to keep a record. I want to show my family who live far away from me what I've been up to and when I travel, show all my friends where I've been. And I'd love to provide a helpful resource for other travellers or hike-happy people. I just don't want to lose a sense of what I set out to achieve along the way. So, I'm just going to have to BE MYSELF.

I mean, isn't that what blogging is supposed to be about anyway? The trouble is I read so many blogs these days - most of them travel-orientated - and I can just tell that, for lack of better phrasing, it's all a load of bollocks. All of these amazing destinations, but do they actually get to enjoy themselves? How much time was spent behind that laptop, cooped up indoors, when really they ought to be out there enjoying it like the rest and best of them. And I'm the first to admit that yes, absolutely I would love to work for myself and travel at the same time, but not when the heart and soul has been stripped out of it. I was inspired, but uninspired all at the same time. Then I read this post by Ashlea of A Globe Well Travelled, which is possibly my most favourite blog - and I agreed with E V E R Y T H I N G. That, I found inspiring; inspiring enough to decide to jump back onto the bandwagon and try to make a go of it once more.

Because within all the corporate mess and affliction of affiliate links that make me think "Are you even for real?", there are some blogs out there that I radically enjoy. I've loved Adventurous Kate ever since I stumbled upon her, and not just because we share the greatest name that ever was. And Sabina, from Girl vs Globe who is more dedicated to creating a community of world wide women than anybody I've come across so far. And, of course, my homies Bee and Nick of Twenty Something Burnouts whose memoirs are so raw that you can't help but laugh and cry along with them. And let's not forget the non-travel bloggers and the ones that write for love not money, like my #sortasoulmate Gracie who has a way of dictating the dictionary like never I've known, or my longtime buddy Mel who posts pretty much every single day with a heart-bursting with pride for what she does. These people along with others serve to remind me that yes, you can do this blog-thing and not let it drag you down.

So here I am with perhaps an ironic first post, baring my soul to the world, asking you to come along for the ride and stick with me. It may be rocky in places, it may come ALLATONCE or have crippling gaps in the journey, but it'll be as enjoyable and real as it possibly can be. You can invite all your friends or depart at any time, I won't mind. Because I'm doing this for me. For you, too, but I promise not to forget myself this time

At the end of the day, my mum and dad will be always be reading it, and that's what I care about the most.

P.S. You can follow my blog on the wonderthing that is Bloglovin' by clicking here!

Adventure activities in Canada

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Some people have me down as a traveller, a nomad, a vagabond. This, I don't believe is so true. There is still a hell of a lot of this planet left for me to see. But even as a bit of a newbie, I've already got a pocketful of advice to dish out. I can tell you of the best secret sunset beaches in Ibiza and how to get there on a moped. I could show you the best places to walk in Budapest. And do you know what else I know for sure? If you want a haven of wildlife, wild nights and adventure a-plenty then Canada should be your bullseye. Look no further.

I originally booked my trip to Canada on a bit of a whim. It happened to be one of those decisions brimming with clich és but after I booked it, I didn't really put much more thought to it. By the time it came around I was grossly underprepared but full of beans and with my brand new 35L backpack stuffed with a less-than-adequate sleeping bag and my trusty Converse on my feet, off to British Columbia I flew.

It's no exaggeration to say that the sheer beauty of Canada hits you the instant you arrive. It's absolutely everywhere, in every single sense. The smells, the sights, the tastes and the sounds. You will find yourself enveloped in a sea of frequent greenery. Roads that twist and turn against the backdrop of a beautiful mountainous landscape. If it's not a dazzling blue sky that fills you with awe, then it's a clear glimmering blue lake. Even though all of these things are endless in Canada, trust me - you will not get sick of it.

But if there's one thing that will thrill you even more than what Canada has to give in visual beauty and yes, even the food (one can never eat too much poutine), then it's the tons of adventure activities on offer. Some of which I had the pleasure to undertake while on my travels. You fancy it too?

White Water Rafting
...and where better to white water raft than on the Kicking Horse River itself?! Even the name should be enough to draw you in. My tour group and I rafted with the Glacier Raft Company who are situated in Golden, BC. These dudes and dudettes came with huge recommendations by my tour guide, who has rafted with this company for years, and is expertly run by people with a hoard of experience. The cost was around 175$CAN (£95) for 6hrs and you even got a delicious barbecue lunch in with that! The day starts with kitting out and a safety brief and then you get taken down to section one of the river, for a little introduction to white water. Then it starts getting more lary before lunch and after you've gobbled down your steak, you're back on the river for the third and most thrilling section. Think lots of whitewater and foam, dips and swells, lots of crashing about... and getting very, very wet! If you've missed out on falling in, you can even float down the river yourself towards the end where the water calms once more, which is it's own level of fun entirely. This was probably my most favourite activity of the whole trip and I thoroughly recommend it to everybody - especially with Glacier Raft Co.!

Glacier Walking
You might hear the term 'glacier walking' and think, what the what now? That's exactly what I did. But it turns out that it's not skating across a mountain like a penguin like you might imagine - or I did anyway. It's basically hiking up an icy mountain with crampons on, which makes the work twice as hard but oh-so fulfilling. There is so much natural beauty to be seen, especially on the Athabasca Glacier in Alberta. This glacier has receded almost an entire mile in over 100 years and it's bittersweet knowing that probably this glacier won't seen another century. Make sure you get a tour that is walking-only and doesn't use evil snow coaches that only accelerate the decline of the precious glacier - and make sure you do not step foot on it without a guide, however experienced you are. The guides are on this glacier day in day out, know about all the hidden crevasses that could pose as a danger to you and can pack you with a whole lot of history to boot. The price I paid at the time was 55$CAN (£30), which ain't half bad really. Plus to reach it you have to drive down the stunning Icefields Parkway, which is a visual adventure all in itself.

With endless lakes and even Canadian canoes as namesakes, it's easy to see how canoeing can be so popular in Canada. Especially on Clearwater Lake in Wells Gray Provincial Park. The special thing about Clearwater Lake is all in it's name: the water dissolved from glacers and therefore so pure and clean that you can literally drink it straight from the basin. And boy, we did! As it was an activity already included in our tour, I have no idea of the costs or logistics but I can at least tell you what went down. We rowed 8km out to a campsite in the middle of nowhere; where we couldn't even get phone reception and no artificial light meant that we saw the most wonderful shooting stars. If you wanted to ever feel at peace, then that was the place. The next day with achey arms (and soggy luggage, but that's another story entirely) we rowed back knowing that we'd enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime experience, never to be traded in.

Not just any ol' swimming either - swimming in some of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Hell yeah, they may be freezing cold but with that inviting blue hue, how can you say no?

Hiking is one of those things that I had never even considered in my life before. After all, the UK isn't exactly riveting with hiking hotspots. But it's a whole different kettle of fish in Canada. In Canada, you hike because there's something amazing to see at the end of it: a waterfall, a lake, a secluded beauty spot. And the thrill of seeing a bear in it's natural habitat lures you in too! Unfortunately we didn't see a single bear but it didn't stop our hiking quests. Of course, the cost is absolutely nothing. Just don't forget sunscreen, plenty of water and perhaps a good pair of shoes. Hiking is brilliant, because the best things in life are free - and my Converse survived too! Bonus!

What activities have you enjoyed in Canada?
Has this inspired you to give something a try?

P.S. Thanks to my fellow travellers for some of their brilliant photographs: Ken Lam, Paul Schwarz, Mela Fernandez, Paul Curran & Drea Morin.

That part of me

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The seventh week. It's insane to think that I've now been living in Manchester, 200-and-something miles from home, for seven weeks already. On two separate ends of the scale, it's gone scarily fast and yet it feels like I've been here forever all at the same time. I can't quite put my finger on what makes me feel so comfortable to live here. I keep telling people that it feels 'just like home' and I guess in a way it really does. Manchester is a city just like London, only more condensed. Like somebody has put a gigantic clamp around the M25 and squeezed it into a perfect M60 shape (motorway analogies because I can, okay). It has all the amenities that London has: a frequent bus network, suburbs and little secrets, restaurants and bars galore, an awesome green ring. It's a non-stop 24-hour locale that beckons all types of the human lifeform.

But there's something more than just how similar it is to the place I grew up in. Something that's less of a physical attraction and more of a mental connection. For the first time in a long time, I feel absolutely at ease here. Calm, tranquil, like I've lived here all my life. It could be a combination of the excitement of being in new surroundings both at home and a work, slightly more enjoyable working hours than I had down south (no more waking up at 4:45am anyway), living just down the road to my boyfriend as oppose to a 4-hour drive. I don't know what it is, all I know is that I'm riding the wave right now and enjoying this new positive feeling about ~life~ and I am not complaining!

Not one to blow my own trumpet or anything, but I'm probably the most positive, enthusiastic person I know. Seriously, almost painfully so. Everything is amazing to me. A walk to the shops or a daytrip to a beauty spot, it doesn't matter, they're basically the same thing in terms of level of excitement. I am a total yes person, perhaps even suffering from a side dose of FOMO - Fear Of Missing Out - that is sometimes detrimental to my wellbeing. I'm only just learning to tone it down a bit and lend myself a bit of 'me time', something that has me itching as soon as I say the N-word (which is no, in case you thought otherwise). It's tough but I'm beginning to get used to it. I'm finding that it helps me focus more on things I really want to achieve day-to-day, week-by-week, in the extended future. And I've been trying to fill my 'me time' with less wasteful activities such as spending 3 hours watching YouTube clips and vlogs (don't judge me, we've all been there). More getting engrossed in Netflix series' and turning page after page in a new book. Orange Is The New Black, It's Not Me It's You and Eleanor & Park which I just started today have kept my little brain buzzing. Even though I am a self-confessed painfully positive person, of course I have worries just like any other 27-year-old in this day and age. I worry about money - don't we all? - not on a daily survival basis or even looking after the important things in life like annual car insurance, but I'm definitely concerned about saving enough for South East Asia in the winter. I'm worried about my place in my job and whether I should start fine-tuning skills to help my CV look more appealing. I'm worried about my horrible headaches. Sometimes I worry just a little bit about my age and that I'm going to run out of time to do all the things that I want to do before I 'settle down'. Most of my worries concern travel and if you know me well enough I guess that won't be surprising in the slightest.

But there are things that I am unshaken by too. Aside from the brief 'omg-I'm-running-out-of-time' quandaries I have about age, I often remind myself that I'm only 27. I'm hardly old and it's just a bloody number. Sometimes when I'm asked, I have to take a moment to think because if I was to reply so quickly I'm sure I'd say 23 - that's the age I honestly feel. I'm unshaken by my body these days; it used to be a big deal to me more recent that I'd like to admit, but now it's a case of love me or leave me. I'm comfortable in my own skin. Yeah I have a belly and wobbly thighs and a uneven skin tone and wide shoulders - I like all of that. I like every single part of me and I'm really trying to look after myself in the best way possible, to help my headaches more than anything. I gave myself a period of grace after moving where I could gorge on chocolate and takeaways whenever I like, just like nesting into a new relationship. Now, I've manned up: giving up the free paninis at work is a tough deal but after filling my lunchtimes with stuff like a homemade blackened cajun chicken salad and baby carrots with lashings of sweet chilli houmous, the blow has certainly been softened. I drink water like it's going out of fashion. I walk everywhere and take a new route wherever I go. Even my mini money worries eventually get the YOLO treatment in my head; you can't take it with you when you die, after all.

Another thing I've been rediscovering my enjoyment in is simply listening to music again. I don't really know why, but I just haven't had the ear for listening to a lot of music for the past couple of years. I've given so many albums a spin in the last few weeks that my rusty last.fm account is wondering what all the drama is. I'm really enjoying the new Everything Everything and Mumford & Sons albums, Florence & The Machine and Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds as previously mentioned, old favourites like Belle & Sebastian and The Bronx and Jake Bugg always, always, always. It's re-revved up my interest in volunteering at Leeds Festival this year and all the bands that I could have an opportunity at catching.

What is the relevance of all of this? Nothing really; this is just a collective of words that my brain sent to my fingertips to type up for next-to-nobody to witness. But all of this and some recent thoughts have made me realise something quite drastic and of the utmost importance: I'm actually beginning to pinpoint that in the last couple of years I've been more down that I ever realised. The D-word is something that I would never throw around lightly (depressed, by the way) but I would perhaps say that isn't too far from the truth. The thing is, when you're there in the moment and wallowing in it, you can never quite see it for yourself. And as I mentioned before, I am the number one person at putting on that sunny disposition like a well-worn hat. Now I can look back and clearly appreciate, for lack of a better term, that I haven't been myself for a long long time. But that's okay, because everything is going to be so much better. In fact, it's mostly better already.

I'm so excited for the rest of the year. Even the rest of this week and overlapping into next is enough to send me giddy with glee - attending the hen party of my best friend is any little lady's dream, especially when it's with a glorious gaggle of girls in a countryside cottage in deepest Derbyshire! Then, armed with an extra couple of days off and totally seizing the moment I'm extending my drive down south to visit the parents and pop in on a couple of friends. In less than a month I will be holidaying of the Isle Of Mull with my boyfriend and his family and I cannot wait to just be away from everything and immersed in nature and outstanding beauty. August brings the aforementioned Leeds Fest, September hopefully brings a trip to Budapest with some new-found friends and November brings backpacking around South East Asia into the forefront. I'm also full of beans about all the guests I can host, all the walks and hikes that I can do, all the photos that I can snap and all the writing I can do.

To say that I'm turning a page is an insult to understatements. It's more like I'm beginning a brand new chapter, one that has been on the cusp of starting for so long but never quite gaining enough momentum to become true. But it's here and now and ready and I'm holding on tight. Don't give away the end; the one thing that stays mine.

Step away from the stress

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

This will be short and sweet. To cut a long story short, I got so stressed while trying to carve the perfect introduction to this post that I literally had to walk away from my laptop whilst counting to ten - which is basically the most ironic thing in the world, pending post considering. But maybe that in itself serves as the so-called perfect introduction to how something free, simple and available to near-enough everybody can help to eliminate everyday stress. This little thing, lads and lasses, is walking.

Saturday was one of them classic non-starter days for me. To add to already feeling just a teensy bit hormonal - not that that's any justifiable excuse, guys - I was feeling peeved with work and the man in my life, completely worried about saving money for my end of year trip to South East Asia, super tired and a bit bogged down by muggy weather. It culminated in a roaring crescendo involving a rusty bike, a bit of a strop and a lot of tears. I'm talking like so many tears that your face swells dramatically. Yeah, I'm not painting a pretty picture here but honestly, I'm beginning to realise how much stress is affecting my life. So after we'd all calmed down a bit on Saturday evening, I was scooped up and put into my car. Belted up and radio on, we drove about 45 minutes to Dovestone Reservoir which sits on the cusp of several borders: Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and the Peak District National Park. I hadn't heard of this place before let alone ever having been, but I silently followed directions as I let my nerves calm down. We pulled up to the beauty spot's car park at 9:20pm and firstly I was amazed by how light it was outside still. Then, I was completely blown away as we walked up a couple of steps and were met with the most fantastic view that I have come across since moving to the north. Honestly, I'd put this view up there on par with wonders that I wandered to in North America.

It wasn't just the view that we'd come for though. It was a bit of a walk to shake everything off. The thing is, about walking, is that the most simple thing it gives to you is time. Time to let those crazy thoughts dissolve away into nothing, and time to collate an action plan on how you're going to make everything better. Not only that but you're so easily distracted by gorgeous views or little avenues that are just begging to be explored. Once you get going and get that endorphin-loaded boost running through your body, you'll find that you can just keep going and going and going.

Three miles and a whole hour later, we returned to the car park completely refreshed and ready for anything. It was that easy - and it goes without saying that I thoroughly recommend, if you feel down or blue or stressed or wound up, just take yourself out for a walk. It doesn't have to involve getting into a car to find somewhere far away from anything, or somewhere epic, or even that long. It could be around your neighbourhood or to just keep walking until you can't be bothered anymore, then get the bus home. You will not find the answer sat at home wallowing or indebting yourself to trawling on the internet (we've all been there). You still probably won't find any answers while out walking but trust me, you'll feel a whole lot better than if you didn't put on your shoes and just get out there.

Try it soon. Arrange some tunes, drag a friend along or go it alone. Turning miles into smiles; that's my guarantee. Ain't nothing like a little bit of self-therapy.

Little trip to Llandudno

Friday, 12 June 2015

As previously mentioned, this week I took myself off on a little daytrip to the biggest town in North Wales, Llandudno. Or as I came to describe it to my friends and on various forms of social media, my little random loner trip. It's fair to say that I have no problem with doing things alone: I grew up as an only child with a vivid imagination and a strong sense of self-motivation. And I definitely have no shame in public selfies and partaking in activities solo either. Somebody said to me yesterday, "Aw are you all on your own love?" To which I replied, "It's certainly cheaper that way!" Am I right or am I right?

My self-motivation was a bit lacking yesterday as I didn't manage to get out of the house until gone 11am! But luckily, the drive from Manchester was straightforward and completely traffic free! To get to anywhere in North Wales you basically just need to follow the M56 all the way to the end, which almost-but-not-quite connects with the A55 - just follow signs for Conwy or Bangor and all will be just fine. The drive itself only takes about an hour and fifteen minutes and is punctuated with a plethora of gorgeous sights: think glorious hillside castles and churches, flora and fauna galore and sweeping hills. When offset by a big bulging blue sky, then it simply is the roadtrip of dreams. I've driven this route before on the way to climb Mount Snowdown last year (something I still desperately need to post about) but I really enjoyed driving it again. I had a playlist of Slaves, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds and Florence & The Machine and the whole thing just *clicked*.

Upon arrival in Llandudno, I thought I was going to have to shell out a small fortune for parking. However, if you tear yourself away from the promenade and the tiny-but-bustling high street (which is not high-streety in the slightest, give for a WH Smith and a Caffe Nero) and follow the signs for long stay parking, you find yourself on Gloddaeth Ave. If you drive past a big gorgeous Wetherspoons called The Palladium then you're on the right track. You'll come across rows and rows of cars parked in the middle of the road (trust me, it'll make sense on sight) and there you have it, free parking. Once you've parked up it's literally a matter of a few minute's walk back to the hustle and the bustle of the bay. But before you give yourself to all things seasidey, why don't you check out the Great Orme?

This is perhaps the reason why I feel so connected with Llandudno on the first date: the Great Orme is spectacularly stunning, gloriously gorgeous and tantalisingly terrific. Awful adjectives and alliterations aside (or maybe not), this is perhaps one of the most beautiful nature reserves on earth that I've had the pleasure of setting foot upon. There's a myriad of ways that you can reach the summit of the Great Orme, and at just over 200m walking up it is certainly not out of the question. But there are some great forms of transport you can take up it, namely the cable car or the tramway. I chose to go up by the tram this time, which takes you very slowly up a selection of high incline streets. You feel like you're on a furnicular for the most part. A quick change of carriages at the halfway point and then you're set for the summit. I was so lucky to have taken myself on this trip on such a gorgeous day: we've been lacking on the weather front so far this year in the UK, but this was definitely legs-out weather. Once at the top you can grab a coffee if you wish, or check out the amazing visitor's information centre which is a mere footstep off of the tram at the top and fills you with wonderful facts and all the history of the site. The area upon the Great Orme is pretty small, just 2 miles by 1 mile, which means ample exploration time with definitely enough left over to amble around, find a little sitting spot and enjoy the gorgeous views.

I chose to give up my return tram ticket to a complete stranger (good deed for the day done and dusted) and follow the signposts that pointed i'r dref - or to town. Remember, when in Wales...! The walk was very delightful, only exacerbated by the sunny day, and the signs and paths were fairly easy to follow. Well, until I went a bit off piste and ended up in a little bit of a scrambling situation which is highly unrecommended if you come wearing Converse. But I finished the walk in high spirits and smiling, and in desperate need of ice cream. Luckily, I'd passed just the place on the walk into town earlier on: The Looking Glass, a cute little Alice In Wonderland-themed ice cream parlour, boasting 24 homemade flavours to boot. These included unique specimens such as Flutternutter, Bubblegum, White Chocolate Cheesecake, Apple Pie and pretty much anything your imagination desired. I went for a nice big tub of tasty Mint Chocolate Chip, which was a clear winner in my eyes. I'll definitely have to go back and put the others to the test though... it's only fair.

Wandering along the promenade, I was dazzled by the sights of the coastline. The architecture and atmosphere of the town make you feel as if you are somewhere on the French Riviera; you know, that very Victorian building style and colour scheme. There wasn't a single eyesore in sight. Boat trips that took you out to the edge of the bay on the regular, a pier that extends out into the sea holding delights such as freshly-fried doughnuts and penny arcades, and a tiny beach full of real sand. It seems that Llandudno has it all. I can see it being a perfect little destination for a quick weekend break away from the monotonies of day to day life, with a plentiful of guesthouses and hotels such as Travelodge all within a stone's throw from the action. And if you don't have a car for the oh-so scenic drive, then it's attended to by Arriva Trains Wales with good connections from Chester and Manchester. It'll still be an eyepleaser of a journey.

So, are you up for a trip to Llandudno now?
Or have you been before & also sharing the love with me right now?

Throw those curtains wide

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Image from weheartit.com

Let's talk about routine. Now, I'm not a creature of habit. In fact, I'm probably somewhat of a nightmare to all who exist around me. I insist that it's not my fault; call it a comeback of over a decade of shift work. This is something that needs to desperately change in my life but that's another story for another day... what I need to talk about is how awful I am at sticking to a routine in my life because of it. You know, the simple adult stuff like waking up at the same time, eating breakfast, keeping moving and generally being proactive about the day ahead.

I don't know what's been wrong with me of recent (I say recent, I mean more like a year) but pretty much every week, on my first day off (or sometimes both, if they're split) I get the most soul-destroying migraine. Definitely not just a headache, as I'm sure no headache makes you cry deliriously and slap yourself over the head to try and alleviate the pain and become best buddies with the bathroom. TMI? IDC. Another bad thing about me is that I'm a massive procrastinator. Tell me to 'check it out and go to the doctor' and I'll put it off for longer than necessary. It's next on my list, alright? Whether it's a bit of caffeine addiction (and subsequent withdrawal) or definitely the discovery of leisure sickness, who knows. Again: another story for another day. This is a big factor in why keeping to routines in my life is pretty much non-existent. I live day to day waking up at different times, going to work for anything between 4 to 12 hours, and my days off are usually spent lying in my pit while I pine for the great outdoors. This is not the life I envisioned for myself!

However this morning was different: I woke up without any head pain. I'm so amazed that I keep pinching myself to be sure I'm not dreaming. It's the first day off in a while where I've woken up with a clear brain and I'm so excited for the day ahead - I'm going to write this post, have quesadillas for breakfast and drive myself to Llandudno for a little daytrip. I've managed to stick to a fairly normal-person-kind-of-routine this morning and it's made me realise that I need to introduce it into my everyday life and not just my days off. This consistency in your life is not boring, instead it promotes a proactive lifestyle whatever the weather.

Here are some tips that I think help to introduce routine into fractured lives...
:: Wake up at the same time every day, or make your best attempt to.
:: (So perhaps reduce those 1pm lay-ins to the days you're crippled after houseparties. We've all been there.)
:: Immediately do something that you associate with 'being up and att'em'. For me, it's brushing my teeth.
:: Exercise. Just get it out the way. A 10 minute pilates video, a 20 minute run. It's no time at all.
:: (And it makes you SO happy, you don't even realise.)
:: Shower and wash your face. I don't wash my hair everyday but that fresh shower feeling is the win.
:: Eat a half-decent breakfast. It doesn't have to be big, even if it's just a cup of tea and a bit of toast.
:: Lay out an outfit for the day. So girlie, I know. But it stops me from living in hareem pants all day.
:: Like the above, make a small effort. Brush your hair and put on some mascara or lippie. Little things!
:: Write down a plan for the day. Sometimes, just having it there in black and white makes me stick to it.
:: Have another cup of tea. Because, tea. Also drink plenty of water! Nothing like kickstarting your day.
:: Throw those curtains wide, make your bed, put on some bangin' tunes and jive jive jive.

What do you do to kickstart your morning routine?
Have you ever heard of or suffered from 'leisure sickess'?

What happens in Vegas

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

So it turns out what happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas after all. Or, in my case, what doesn't happen in Vegas happens in the United Kingdom instead. Less glamourous, more appropriate. Let's spin back to the beginning.

It starts with a boy. Of course it does, it always does. Unless it starts with a girl, which it very well could do, we live in a free and happy world after all. But in this case, it was one of the male species that stood at the beginning with me. Contrary to popular belief, it never started in Vegas at all. We only say this because it simply sounds cooler – and also because there are no such novelty items such as duvet covers and gimmicky sayings that go hand-in-hand with the equally awesome but less flashy San Francisco. This Californian coastal gem is where the seed was really sown.

It was nothing major. A smile, a greeting, a swapping of names, a quick chat. A confession of my age and a slack-jawed wide-eyed look in reply – I love it when that happens. After all, I'm a sucker for getting IDed and even more of a sucker for getting deliriously overjoyed about it. A four hour eastbound drive calls for a lot of conversation between two people but between six English speaking participants, time flies like there's a thousand tomorrows. Sparks bounce back and forth, undetected. We stop at an American supermarket, or whatever they call them. We all spend elongated moments perusing the chilled liquor aisle, marvelling at all the exotic types of alcohol. Mostly the beers, but the cheap and almost nasty alcopops sang out at us too. The boxed and canned Mangorita, with it's cleverly playful name, kind of like a neon sign. This guy was stood at my side, giving the Mangorita the same side eye that I was, when I turned to him and said, “Do you want to go halves on a box of these?” And he nodded and replied, “Hell yeah.” We topped up our tropical stash with Mooseheads and Newcastle Brown Ale and added them to the swelling cocktail; of everybody else's drinks in the shared coolerbox. This, folks, was roadtripping at it's finest.

Our beverages depleted slowly over a couple of days, but it was after the epic 9 hour drive from Yosemite to Las Vegas and our arrival into sweltering 38 degree heat that really quenched everybody's thirst. That and the promise of a wild night on the strip, limousine partybus transport guaranteed. Two hours later, all showered, suited and booted, we found ourselves all raving in a moving vehicle, downing champagne and shots of Fireball – it's warm cinnamon tones sliding down throats and begging for liquid company. We drank until the Fireball was gone, until the champagne was gone and until the partybus dropped us in the midst of Planet Vegas. That's the only way I can describe this casino city in the middle of the desert – it is wholly existent entirely on it's own. Just like a suckerpunch below the ribcage and just like the heat when stepping out of an air-conditioned building, Vegas is unignorable. The lights and the sounds are a drug all on their own; you could easily spend all evening walking around without spending a dime just soaking it all in and still feel drunk from it all.

Then it suddenly went from multiple manically happy roadtrippers to just us two in the blink of an eye. The guy and the girl, alcoholically-induced hand-holding guaranteed. We meandered across to a crowd on the pavement, gathering before the Bellagio Fountain, awaiting it's next grand performance. Little sparks flew between two bodies stood side-by-side, arm-in-arm as the music started up. The water and the lights, mesmerising every pair of eyes in the audience. Hundreds of people lost in the beauty and the wonder of it all and we two, lost in the very first kiss of the night. Of our life. The magic and the moment. A story unfolding before our very eyes. The start of everything that has happened up until now.

Whatever happens, we'll always have our happy beginning.

Six hours in Edinburgh

Thursday, 21 May 2015

At the weekend - at the end of my first week working in the busiest store in my area in the local shopping centre, no less - Phil and I took ourselves off on a little daytrip to Edinburgh. That's right, we managed to turn visiting a city no less than 200 miles away into a single day. How did we do it?

The answer to your question was: we didn't actually do much. Firstly, the main motivator for the voyage was to see his Mum for her birthday, who herself was visiting Edinburgh with his Dad on a much deserved longer trip. Once we'd subtracted the travel time that ate heavily into our day (6 hours in total was spent on trains that fine Saturday, I'll have you know) we were left with around the same time to meander around the beauty that is Edinburgh. So we headed straight for the Castle, without arguments.

I have been to Edinburgh before back in 2012 on a long weekendy kind of trip, which is still not enough time to dedicate to this spectacular and historical Scottish city, a fact that was highlighted by not even being able to cram in enough time to see the wonderful castle. So I was mega excited to be standing in line, waiting to pay the entrance fees. They don't come cheap at £16.50 for an adult (and add on an extra £3 for an audio set to guide you around the castle grounds) but if you happen to know somebody with an English Heritage membership or other such programs, the discounts add up and make it worth it. They recommend that you give at least two hours of your time to wandering around the grounds, but I could have easily spent a whole day there. We arrived just in time for the One O'Clock Gun - and boy, is that blast loud! Legend has it that the Scots went for one blast instead of the traditional twelve at 12pm, simply to save money.

The castle stands at the very top of the Royal Mile, a pedestrianised street that leads down from the castle to the Scottish Parliament buildings. This also makes for some impressive views across the city! After our time spent at the castle, we took a stroll down the mile, taking in all the sights and stalls selling Scottish marble and plenty of free samples of tablet to boot. Before we knew it, it was time to go home. We'll be back this summer, Edinburgh! We promise!

So far, so good

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Ten days since I landed in Manchester like a startled baby Bambi. Ten days since I hit the city wide-eyed and wondering what was in store for me. I've searched high and low for the perfect place to live, checked out eateries and drinking holes, pounded the pavements and parks for little secrets, and basically had the opportunity to balance my busy working life with enough downtime and chilling to make my soul very happy. I've also made several observations since moving to Manchester that I thought important to document forever.
3 Things I Have Learnt In Moving To Manchester

One. You can forget your coat; it's just not done to be soft about the cold. With temperatures slightly cooler than 'dahn sahf' (a whole 2 degrees in latitude to be almost exact) rain and grey skies are the norm and generally considered to be cardigan weather. Nobody bothers with coats on a night out – that £1 would be better spent investing in your beer jacket anyway! As for the sunny end of the spectrum, anything over 15 degrees celsius is something to be celebrated and will definitely invite a ritual performed where everybody gets their arms and legs out and pollutes the air with the sweet smells of charcoal and barbecued meat. Standard summer, really.

Two. Everything is cheaper. Like, I'm not even kidding folks – this is not just one of those throwaway statement of a reason that' s there for the hell of it. Please observes these comparisons I have happened upon so far:
                                                 London                                           Manchester
A bus ride                              £1.40 on Oystercard                   £1 on the Magicbus
Rent                                       £575 (& that's in zone 6!)           £325 (25 minute bus ride from centre)
Randomly, a tea at CN     £1.85 in, £1.75 out                      £1.75 in, £1.65 out (don't ask me why!)
Lunch & drink at a cafe   Like, £1,000 & one kidney         £5, standard

Literally, my life has become a perpetual price comparison but for once in my life, I'm coming up better off and I rather like it!

Three. This is by far the biggest discovery that I have made in moving my entire life 200 miles northwest, and perhaps my biggest entire life discovery so far in my little life. I can fit my complete existence into the confines of a teeny tiny tincan car. If you know me well enough you will agree that this is somewhat of a mean feat. All my worldly shite in a Peugeot 107 and not only did it all fit, but that beaut of a little red rocket car managed to cart it on a 4 hour drive up several motorways at no less than 70 miles per hour without even a hitch. I did manage to shift a lot of crap from my life in the weeks leading up to moving and I'll admit, most of it was work-related or clothes that I hadn't worn for three years. I could still do with getting shot of a good 10-15% more of what I now own. But it's all cool because I managed to cram what I own into my car so elegantly that I had perfect rear and side mirror views and both blind spots absolutely clear. Dadworth, be proud! Not only has the whole packing process highlighted how much stuff I don't actually need to lead a normal existence, the unpacking process has too – or more like, the lack of unpacking. Basically, I have proved that I can survive on a thousand different combinations of the same couple of clothing items day in day out and that, my friends, is goals. Or whatever the kids say.

For the last 10 days I have stayed in Phil's student digs with two awesome female flatmates but I'm super excited to have finally just found a room of my own. I couldn't have had it better really in terms of price, location, fab housemates, clean premises and just about everything! It was the first place (out of many, I have to add) that I walked into, took a deep breath and thought, “This is the one...” and I've fidgeted excitedly with crossed fingers and toes ever since to hear from the live-in landlady, “We think you will make a great addition to the house.”

So far Manchester, so good.

The first four days

Sunday, 10 May 2015

I'm here. I've done it. I've packed up all of my belongings into their designated boxes and bags, I've shipped them in my tiny Peugeot 107 and made the four hour motorway madness drive to Manchester. I've even made it Facebook Official - I now live in the north. Or 'oop north' as all my friends and family prefer me to quip.

I'm currently looking for somewhere to call home for the next few little whiles. The south of Manchester is where I'm at and what I know best; ye olde faithful university corridor will hardly let me down. The thought of being on Europe's busiest £1 bus network and just a few minute's walk from the tastiness that is Curry Mile fills me with such joy, not to mention being close to the lovely city centre and being closer still to the people I already know up here. I had a few days of just chilling out after my mental working weeks that led up to my move but now I'm on it like Sonic, zipping e-mails left, right and centre on Spare Room Dot Com, looking for that little space that I can call my own.

Every now and then, that little sock-in-the-guts feeling of 'I'm never going home' hits me. And where even is home at the moment? I'm in a limbo of nothingness: my belongings stacked neatly against the bedroom wall of somebody else's house, my fixed address anything but. I'm a postal nightmare. But home will always be East London - an area of the country that I haven't resided in for the best part of 10 years. That little district that I was so eager to flee from as a young'un, but now I look at with fondness. Many things have changed in East London what with all the recent Olympic development and the momentum that has continued with that, and I guess in a way there's a lot that reminds me of home in Manchester. Maybe that's why I feel so damn comfortable here?

Yesterday, in a bid to clear my mind and my soul and stretch my legs more than my Surrey life ever could (which, if you know the amount of stairs it hosted at work and home, is quite a lot) I joined Phil and the University Of Manchester Hiking Club for a trip out to the Peak District. On this grey and drizzly day, we headed out in our copious amounts of waterproof layers in search of the summit of Win Hill. Our little hike took us from Hope railway station in the midst of the Derbyshire countryside on an undulating path out to the Ladybower Reservoir, via a packed lunch stop surrounded by future Christmas trees. We then dug deep and rediscovered our hardcore to tackle the extreme elevation up to the peak of Win Hill. It was tough but ever so worth it. That moment when you summit and you take a deep breath and suddenly feel so clear and 'with it' with everything, is incomparable to anything else. I will definitely be making regular hikes a part of my summer repertoire. Maybe you should too? Who says it has to be grim oop North anyway? Bring on the summer.

It's hard to know exactly what to say about how I feel on the matter, when it's a fact that hasn't entirely sunken in yet. At the moment, I feel like I'm up for a usual kind of stay. A little holiday, maybe, apart from I've packed all of my belongings (bar the kitchen sink). I thank my lucky stars that it's at least an area of the country I've become quite familiar with since autumn last year; I'm completely without that alien-esque feeling you get when discovering a city for the very first time. Yes, there are many areas of this glorious city that I haven't even begun to come across yet, but I'm certain that I'm going to have a good time finding out. I feel positive and confident, I feel nervously excited for what may come, I feel wonderful and weird and wired. And best of all, I feel like I've already shaken off that shattered feeling that Surrey left me with towards the end. It's like turning to a crisp white blank page in a well-loved and worn-out notebook. I'm ready for a fresh start, my new beginning.