Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Paris Diaries | How to be a tourist for 4 hours


Day 5.




*He’s got that James Dean, daydream, look in his eye*

5am.

ARGGHHHH

It was pitch black, and Taylor Swift was telling me to get out of bed. I gave myself a mini pep talk about how it was only an hour earlier than the time I usually wake up. But I knew, 5am is night-time and no human should be up at that ungodly hour.

‘Think of the Eiffel Tower’ was the morning’s motto as I shoved myself under the shower.

It was cold, dark, and too early for me to grab breakfast at the hotel. I had four hours to explore, so a route was carefully planned to ensure the least amount of travel time. I jumped on the metro and headed for my first stop, Notre Dame de Paris, it was still pitch black when I got there but the lights were beautiful. I expected the cathedral to be somewhat bigger than it was, but it was beautiful nonetheless and mind blowing to think it’s been standing, in all its Gothic glory, for over 700 years.

I couldn’t take any photos, I knew my camera wouldn’t be any good at night, but I stayed for a while and sat on a bench, soaking up the scenery and wondering if they’d have macaroons by the Eiffel tower.

After another twenty minutes on the underground, I was there. I followed the signs for ‘Tour de Eiffel’ and got slightly concerned that I would miss the turning. No need, I caught a glimpse of iron next to me, looked up to my right and there it was, the big iron giant, looming over my head. I’ve been before, when I was a child, I remember looking at it from the car window in amazement. My face was probably similar today, staring up in awe. I just didn’t expect it to be so gigantic. Armed forces were surrounding the area, causing me to wonder if it was even open. I asked and was told they were happy for me to wander through. So there I was, standing under the Eiffel tower at 6am on December 4th, surrounded by a military unit carrying guns bigger than my body. It was certainly a first.

I stayed for over an hour, wandering around, taking photos and talking to the soldiers on site. They were lovely, and pointed me in the direction of breakfast. It was too early to catch a ride to the top, but it was still a highlight of my trip to see it from the bottom.

After a quick croissant, I jumped back on the train and headed for stop number three, the Arc de Triomphe.  It was an archway on a roundabout, with cars driving chaotically around it. Apparently your insurance is invalid the moment you enter the roundabout by car – which doesn’t surprise me. Parisian people drive like they have moments to live, a great attitude to have but I certainly wouldn’t like to be the passenger.

I was back at my hotel room for 9am; I got in a few hours of work before heading to the airport – taking a pit stop at Gare du Nord to grab a coffee with Ettore, my Italian ex-housemate who had just arrived in Paris for the weekend.  Being in the same city on the same day wasn’t planned, but I like to think of it as divine intervention (I missed him).

Then there was a train to Charles de Gaulle airport, a plane to London Luton, a train into Kings Cross and another train out to Yorkshire. I arrived at 11pm and slept most of the weekend. It was such an exhausting week, but it was one hell of an adventure... Paris, I’ll be back, hopefully next time I won’t have to work so much!





Monday, December 14, 2015

The Paris Diaries / Broken phones and Christmas markets


Day 4.




I woke up feeling refreshed and warm, like I’d slept so well I could almost get up and go for a run, not that I was going to do that, but I could have. I opened my eyes to the morning light and tapped my phone to check the time. My alarm still hadn’t gone off but it felt late, I tapped and tapped but my phone wasn’t responding and panic was beginning to creep in. I jumped out of the bed quicker than Muhammad Ali in the boxing ring and flew to my watch.
8am... two hours late... sh*t!
I threw on clothes, brushed my teeth and ran out of the hotel without breakfast. I rang the ladies in charge while simultaneously running to the station and wondered why my phone decided to let me down when I was hopelessly relying on it. I tried and failed to turn it on, before finally seeing the white apple sign appear (damn you Apple!).
I arrived at the event, threw on my showmaking shirt and heading to reception to deal with the crowds, luckily my slight lateness didn’t seem to have an effect on anything, so the panic was kind of unnecessary. I just hate being late, it’s that feeling of having no control over getting somewhere that fills my stomach with dread every time.
The last day of the show also means surveys! Everyone wants to know how well the show went, and the only way to know is to ask. Ultimately, nobody wants to stand and fill out a questionnaire, especially when they have other things to be doing. Needless to say, I sucked at surveys! I asked countless people and was met with disappointment every time. Most didn’t speak English, others were too busy, or running late. I tried asking nicely, I tried selling the free Ipad they could win; I even tried cornering people while they were waiting for partners outside the toilet. But in the end, after two hours of trying, I got three people to answer my questions. I don’t think a sales career would ever be one for me.
I spent the afternoon working with a lovely lady, who is based in the Amsterdam office but calls Holland home, and who kindly distracted me from realising how exhausted I was. Today was quiet, the last day of an event always is but as luck would have it, the event was run for the food ingredients industry, meaning there was yummy food everywhere. With the last day being so quiet, it gave us showmakers a chance to walk around and talk to all the exhibitors.  After lots of free samples, chocolate explanations and a rack of free macaroons, the end of the day finally arrived and I headed to the briefing room to put my feet up. I could have fallen asleep on the show floor I was so tired.
The showmakers who got the most surveys won Amazon vouchers; I sucked so bad I knew I had no chance. Turns out, I was still awarded a voucher, not for my terrible survey skills, but for being the only showmaker to have worked the full three days of the event. It was one hell of a lovely surprise!
I headed into central Paris and walked through the Christmas market – I had wanted to go all week but kept putting it off because I was so exhausted. The lights were so pretty, and the shops were all expensive – I expected nothing less.
I grabbed a pot of Haagen Daaz ice cream and sat and ate it outside the Louvre. It was such a beautiful night I didn’t want to head inside, but I was only too aware of the extremely exciting, potentially exhausting day that was occurring tomorrow.   




Friday, December 11, 2015

The Paris Diaries | Puppies, ponies and parisians


Day 3.




Day two of our three day event was a chaotic one, with tens of thousands of visitors heading pilling into the entrance in the first hour of the day. It was hot, packed and stressful – but luckily I was working with a team of angels, mixed up of employees of my company from the Amsterdam office and local students, who made the day so much more fun! Working alongside a group of upbeat, interesting group of people, who kept me laughing all day, made my day of work seem more like a holiday.
With so many people in the venue, security was tight and police presence was felt. The French police who patrolled the area were lovely, with every single one of them coming over to say hello and shake my hand. Nothing makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside the way good manners do!
One police officer was kind enough to bring a puppy along to the show, which made my mid-afternoon stint in the quiet lobby much more enjoyable. We were told ‘they’re not dogs you want to stoke’ but I strongly disagreed. He was wagging his tail so much I could tell he wanted to play, so I headed over and asked if he was friendly before bending down and being attacked by cuddles. His name was Abel and he was a cutie, rolling on his back so I could give him a belly rub. Sadly I couldn’t stoke him all day, I had work to do, and the police officer jokingly remarked that I was ‘ruining his image’, which was a fair point.
Not only were there puppies in the building, but horses next door – the next building along were hosting a horse show on the same week as our event. Sadly, despite my eager attempt, I couldn’t make it through the security on the front gate. I did however, get to hold a door open for a Shetland pony who was arriving late, I stroked him as he walked passed and sneezed all over the door. I named him Sheldon.
After my stint on the front lobby, I ended up in the lunch hall with the girls. I sat eating a bowl of vegetables (the vegetarian options were limited) with two French girls, two Chinese girls and a girl from India. They all asked me questions about London, I asked them questions about their events management course in Nice, I learnt how to say ‘I love you’ in Mandarin and thought about how strange it was that we all ended up at the same dinner table.
Sadly the girls weren’t working the third day of the show, meaning I had to say goodbye to my new French friends. We exchanged details and I’m already mentally planning a trip to Nice! The best part of working while you travel is the people you come into contact with – working means you’re constantly interacting with people you’d otherwise never get to meet, and I got to meet a very lovely bunch!  


Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Paris Diaries | All work and no play


Day 2.




Travelling for business is far from easy. The hours are long, the work is strenuous and trying (and failing) to speak French all day is exhausting. I arrived at 8am every morning and was on my feet until 6pm (minus 30 minutes sat down for lunch). The first full day of work hit me like a ton of bricks and by the end; I was already wondering how I would survive another two full days.

I left for work in the dark and arrived home in the dark; I’d been in Paris for two days and had yet to see the city in daylight. Not only was I working long hours at the event, but I’d get back to my hotel and have to log on to my laptop – the day job back in London was still there after all.

After my extortionate, and quite frankly unappetising, room service the night before, I was on the lookout for dinner on the walk back to the hotel. I found it in the form of take out Pasta, I could have cried of happiness when I saw cheese covered penne arrabbiata in a pot.

I even treated myself to a chocolate macaroon, my first in fact, and it was delicious. I always thought Macaroons were biscuits, but instead I got a chocolate flavoured cake with gooeyness in the middle. Yum!

Oh, the luxuries of business travel.



Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The Paris Diaries | Travel issues


Day 1




So there I was, bolting through the airport in my socks, a shoe in each coat pocket, hugging my suitcase like a baby and scanning for gate 1. To null any misconceptions, gate 1 was the furthest from the entrance, so by the time I arrived I was red faced and without a boarding pass. Luckily the staff were forgiving, but sadly I couldn’t say the same for the passengers on board, who each starred me down like I’d just run over their cat.

Shoddy time keeping is not a usual occurrence for me, but in my preparations I failed to take into account delayed trains and heavy security. Every mode of transport let me down and airport security searched me so thoroughly, I became genuinely concerned that somebody had planted something in my case. They tested so much of my liquid it seemed pointless me bringing any in the first place, in fact the only stone they left unturned was picking up my phone and reading my text messages.

It wasn’t exactly the best start to my first solo trip, but at least I didn’t miss the flight and end up in tears at the airport – that would have been much more embarrassing than boarding the plane in my Iron Man socks. 

The security didn’t stop when I left London, after the attacks, Paris was on high alert – and walking around the city with a suitcase resulted in it being opened and searched every time I passed through a door.

Police presence was the highest I’ve ever witnessed, which was understandable, especially considering the Climate Change talks that were occurring around the corner from my hotel. Any concerns I may have had about visiting Paris, which were minimal, were diminished as soon as I arrived – it really did feel like the safest place to be.

This was a business trip, which meant straight to the venue for a meeting with the team I’d be working alongside all week, thankfully some were students who volunteered to work at the event and all lived in France. A lovely chap showed me to my hotel, meaning I wasn’t wandering around Paris all night by myself, and I checked in without a hiccup.

I stayed in Hotel Normandy, strategically placed in the centre of Paris and also extremely posh.  So posh in fact, that as I experienced room service for the first time, I was charged 4euro for a bag of crisps that I stupidly mistook for a portion of chips, a rooky error on my part.

Make no mistake, despite the posh appearance; the hotel was probably the oldest building in Paris. This led to severe concerns that the place was haunted, and those who know me will be well aware, I don’t do ghosts. I used my 21 years of wisdom however and had words with the room to leave me in peace for the week, they played by the rules and I left the chair in the corner alone (it looked as if it was positioned for somebody other than myself). BBC World was on the TV and I fell asleep in a bed big enough for ten in a room big enough for a party.

Overall, an interesting first day.




Saturday, November 28, 2015

Venice | Returning to the floating city



For a long time, I’ve been so against going back to the same place twice. I have family friends who every year visit the same country, stay in the same city and sleep in the same hotel. There was something about it that alarmed me terribly. There is so much of the world I haven’t seen, so many things I hadn’t done and Panda’s I hadn’t cuddled, that the thought of being trapped in a never ending cycle of holidaying in the same place every year became my biggest fear.

But then there was Venice. The magical city that became my real life Narnia, the place that captured my heart in its entirety. The second I left I carried on dreaming of the giant maze I pretended was my second home – and that’s exactly what going back felt like, home. We knew our way round (very tiny parts) and recognised so much, it felt familiar, in a warm comfortable way. Despite the familiarity, it didn’t lose an ounce of its magic, and proved to be the perfect place for a romantic weekend.

The streets were still there old charming selves, the water bus was still the best mode of transport I’ve ever taken, and the food tasted like unicorn spread on panda bread (not that I condone eating panda). This time we stayed in the centre of Venice, it was off season which meant accommodation was much cheaper, and we were round the corner from Piazza San Marco. It was still busy, full of tourists in all the main areas, but it’s something I can ignore when the city looks as beautiful as Venice.

I keep asking myself what it is about Venice that makes it so magical, maybe it’s because there are no cars, maybe it’s because for a city attracting so many tourists everything is so old, or maybe it’s because the entire city is sinking. There is something pretty alluring (although devastating) about the fact that it won’t be there forever, no matter how much is being done to preserve it.

If you haven’t been, you should do. Eat pancakes for breakfast, jump on a water bus, visit Murano during sunset when there’s nobody but the locals around, put on a stone in pizza and pasta, get lost in the maze and then attempt to find your way out, spend all your pennies on postcards and glass ornaments and have lunch by the grand canal (though beware of the seagulls that are bigger than a small child).

I worried about going back to the place I held so dear, in case it didn’t live up to my expectations. But somehow, the floating city, was even more magical than before.






If you're planning a trip, here's our favourite spot in the city ♥




Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Zurich



I’d love to say Zurich was everything I imagined and more, but clearly my dreams of visiting Switzerland for the first time held some high expectations. That’s not to say it wasn’t beautiful, because it was, but the Austrian charm that had just blessed my soul set the bar pretty high.

We stayed in Ibis budget, which was most likely mistake number one. After a panic that we had no plug sockets and the surprise of having a shower right next to the bed, it became apparent that the 45 minute walk into the city centre was just that little bit too long.

Day one was rainy and miserable and my heart longed for Austria once more, with it being Sunday everything was closed and we resorted to paying the equivalent of £4 for a small bottle of water. Feeling depleted and robbed, we called it a day and headed in from the cold.

But oh what a difference a day makes, the sun came out and the rain gave up and went home. The supermarkets were open, meaning a bottle of water was no longer a luxury and I could taste my first mouthful of Swiss chocolate – no words can describe the bliss. We headed into town, or rather hiked into town, and explored everything Zurich had to offer. The city is full of cute, quaint shops and I treated myself to various items, mostly chocolate that was demolished before the day was through.

We enjoyed dinner in the Spaghetti House, paying 50 Swiss francs for two bowls of pasta made it the most affordable place in the city. Damn the locals must earn a lot, because Zurich sure is expensive. We spent a large amount of our time by the river, watching the boats pass and enjoying the tiny moments of sunshine that broke through the clouds. Sadly we didn’t have enough time to travel up to the √úetliberg (the iconic mountain offering a panoramic view of the city, which has been high on my bucket list for a while now) as my travel buddy came down poorly on our final day.

Despite the lack of time, poor choice of hotels and miserable weather – Zurich is darn pretty. The brief moments of sunshine gleaming on the tram lines made me think of San Francisco, and nothing beat the chocolate! I left thinking three days was nowhere near enough time to really see the city and knowing there to be much more of Switzerland I need to explore. A road trip would be ideal as I bet driving through the mountains is dreamy – until then a long weekend in Geneva next month will have to satisfy my appetite for more.








Thursday, November 05, 2015

Innsbruck



I never thought I would be so excited to board a train, I’m on one every day for 40 minutes to get to work and it’s really not very interesting. A train through the mountains to a new city however, that’s definitely something to be excited about.

I have to begin by stating that the Austrian transport system is as efficient as me on a Monday morning after two coffees and a cookie... so extremely efficient. We booked our tickets online a week before we left, here, and managed to find our train and platform number, with no problems. Maybe it’s because we’re Londoners, but every time I go abroad, transport systems are always so much easier! Trains are on time, despite atrocious weather and there never seems to be an issue.

We stayed in the Austria Classic Innsbruck Hotel Binders Garni, despite the terrible marketing decision to award it such a long name, the hotel was beautiful. The staff were incredibly friendly; the location was perfect if you don’t mind a walk to the city centre, and the sunshine blazing through the window in the morning was a welcome change to the previous hotel (though they did give us free food!).

We spent day one wandering through the old town, seeing the Gothic Hofkirche and the Hofburg, a former Habsburg palace, before walking up the river and crossing over all the quaint little bridges you meet along the way. The fog meant little could be seen of the landscape and as much as it was clearly pretty, I have to admit I longed for Salzburg again.

Day two however, gave me a real taste of Innsbruck. As the fog cleared, and the snowy mountains came out to play, we jumped on a cable cart halfway up the mountain to a little ski resort. The view was breathtaking, though sadly one that my camera couldn’t do justice of. Due to it being off-season, the ski resort was lovely and quiet, meaning you had the opportunity to take in the view without a huge crowd. A small tip: buy your ticket from Congress, as it works out cheaper to buy one from the start and go straight to the top – unfortunately this was something we only found out when we were halfway up. 

When we came down to ground level, we walked across the entire city, an expedition undertaken with two missions in sight – Ambras Castle, and the Olympic Ski Jump. The ski jump we found with relative ease, only to be slightly disappointed by how small it looked when we got up close. We didn’t venture up, coming to the decision that it wouldn’t be worth the climb – I did however find a postcard of the jump at Innsbruck train station and immediately regretted the decision, it looked incredible and I feel we missed out on something special.

Ambras castle was extremely difficult to locate, but worth every ounce of the effort. The castle stands on the edge of the city and overlooks everything from behind the trees. A viewing shelter, which we had to ourselves for the most part, meant we could sit and enjoy the view for a while – and of course, take tons of photos.

Overall Innsbruck turned out to be a decent destination, I think if I was to visit again I’d come during peak season and bring my skis. Next stop... Zurich.
 








Saturday, October 24, 2015

Salzburg



Oh Salzburg, you filled my heart with all things warm and fuzzy.

I had high hopes for the city that birthed the notorious Mozart and it didn't disappoint. The sound of music glistened my ear drums, without the need to buy a ticket for the tour, as talented locals filled the streets with musical performances. My senses were clearly spoilt with my first taste of Austria. 

Although a bustling tourist destination, Salzburg powerfully retains its Austrian charm - and that in itself is an impressive accomplishment. Every corner of the city appears as if it were built a century before, in that regard it brought back memories of my love affair with Venice. Unlike Venice however, you don't get the sense that Salzburg is falling apart. Every inch of the city has been perfectly and beautifully restored to its original perfection. Stepping in creates almost a portal through time, which filled me with satisfaction as I felt like I was seeing the 'real' Austria and not a commercially driven tourist destination.

We stayed in the Urban Stay Villa Cicubo, I gave them four stars purely because they surprised us with a free breakfast bag each morning. Free food will always earn you extra stars - for anyone who owns travel accommodation, you may want to make a note. They lost a star for stirring me from my dreamy sleep on the first morning, the rooms aren't sound proof and reception was outside our door. It was however, lovely, and clean, and a 15- minute walk from the river so I would still recommend (more so if you're a morning person). 

Fortress Hohensalzburg however, was perfect at every time of day. Walking around the castle made me feel like a princess returning home to her chambers, overlooking the entire city and offering all Instagram users the chance to get a perfect panoramic shot. The cable cart up, filled with tourists and their cameras, was also very reasonable, satisfying my frugal mind as I'd already heard many stories regarding extortionate prices in this part of Europe. 

If you fancy working hard for the panoramic shot instead of jumping on a cable cart, there's some beautiful waking trails just outside the old town through Kapuzinerberg, offering incredible views of the city but also a pretty nice workout - it doesn't look far, but damn it's steep. At various points I was genuinely concerned I was going to give my mother a heart attack! 

As we reached the end of our trail, we found a little house in the middle of nowhere which we believed to be a restaurant. I'm still unsure as to whether our beliefs were dumbfounded, as despite the menu outside and the sign saying 'come on in', It felt like we had stumbled straight into somebody's home. We heard voices but couldn't find any people, and every room appeared to be lacking any sort of food or service. Looking back it seems like a horror film in the making, so it was probably a great idea for us to head back down and hit the shops instead. 

Despite the lack of great food (we mostly stuck to Italian restaurants, with it being reasonable and in large supply) the shops in Salzburg were perfectly suited to my shopping desires. Small and quaint, with copious beautiful items that would have perfectly suited my dream home, it was hard not to spend every penny I had in the 48 hours I spent there. Instead we stuck to the basics, buying a birthday gift for my aunt, cute fridge magnets, chocolate and soap that smelt of fresh flowers. Let's just say in Austria... They know how to make soap. 

Despite only having two days, I left feeling like I had conquered Salzburg and experienced so much of the city in such a small amount of time. This sense of satisfaction would have been duly helped by the train I was about to jump on to Innsbruck.

Other places worth checking out:
Salzburg Cathedral, St Peter's Monastery and Residenzplatz

A little overrated: 
Mozarts Geburtshaus; it may be because I'm a philistine but I wandered past this and didn't even realise until I got home
Apple strudel; the more I ate the more I disliked it (my Mum thought it was tasty though so don't let me put you off)

If I had more time in Salzburg: 
A day trip outside the city; possibly to Eagle's Nest or Hallstatt
A visit to Mirabellgardens 


  





Thursday, October 08, 2015

Country bumpkin



It’s official; I moved to the middle of nowhere and am no longer a city girl.

I’m being dramatic, I don’t really live in the middle of nowhere, but considering I spent the last fifteen years next to a London underground central line station and now I have a castle down the road – it can definitely be considered a transformation. 

Now there are most certainly lessons to be learnt when a self proclaimed ‘city girl’ moves out to the country, the first relating to transportation. In the country, there are two cab services, and they rarely have cabs available – I wouldn’t be surprised if each cab company consisted of one driver. A bus is like the Loch Ness monster, you’ve heard about it, you may even have seen it, but when you go looking for it then it decides not to show its face. Trains come about every hour, if you miss one you won’t just be a few minutes late; you’ll miss the whole appointment. Thus the main lesson to be learnt is every time you leave the house, consider your travel options. 

The second lesson to be learnt is that after work drinks will require a marathon to get home, making it no longer fun and resulting in you only being sociable on weekends. It’s ok though, just plan your weekends in advance to make sure nobody is neglected and embrace feeling like an old lady when you run straight home after work – it does result in more productive evenings and a constant state of being well-rested. 

After a while, being in ‘the middle of nowhere’ becomes second nature and all the glorious reasons for being outside the city become apparent. Sunset is visible, not clogged with congestion fumes, but gleaming orange, yellow and red. The seaside is 10 minutes down the road, with doughnuts, ice cream and a pier full of arcade games. There are ruins of a castle around the corner, on top of a hill overlooking the town, not to mention a horse sanctuary (but we’ll talk about that later). 

I will forever be in love with London, but I’m beginning to fall for weekends by the beach, countless beautiful cycling routes on my doorstep and fresh air. Oh how I love to breath fresh clean air, the type that makes your head feel all light and fluffy. I think if anything has transformed my way of thinking and convinced me that life outside the city exists, it’s definitely the fresh air.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Summer reads | Fiction fanatic



After spending my entire university career reading history books every second of every day, I left excited to rediscover my love of reading, with a fiction-only summer ahead of me. Here’s how it went:

The Fifteen Lives of Harry August

What a way to begin my summer of fiction! This book was incredible, and within the first few chapters it quickly made its way into my top ten. Eloquently written by Claire North, the story line was captivating and one can only applaud the historical research that was clearly undertaken. Without giving too much away, Harry August doesn’t die, or at least when he does die, he is born again in exactly the same place on exactly the same day. His life is different each time, as different choices are made and people are met. There does however, become one consistency as Harry realises the world is ending much quicker than expected and he may just figure out why. It sounds like an episode of Smallville, but I can assure you it’s much better. With characters you love to hate, and a theory of time and space that is infatuating, you’ll read the entire book in a weekend compelled to know the ending.

Go Set a Watchman

With To Kill a Mockingbird being my favourite novel of all time, this story had a lot to live up to. The pressure was on for Harper Lee, and I am upset to report that I was left disappointed. To Kill a Mockingbird follows a young girl named Scout, aged ten, observing the events unfolding in her hometown in 1936, as a black boy is arrested for the rape of a white woman. Scout’s father becomes the boy’s lawyer, and there was something so endearing about hearing the story from the perspective of a small child. This however, was not lost in Go Set a Watchman, as a grown up Scout again observes the events occurring in her hometown. Lee’s poignant and articulate writing style meant I began the book with high hopes, falling back in love with my favourite characters, though one I held dear was lost, and growing an awareness of the context that was developing in Southern America at the time. Slowly however, the eloquence was mute, as you begin to realise where the story is heading. It appears that all in the first book was not as it seems, and I couldn’t help but feel that a character, who I’d invested so much time into loving and admiring, was butchered right in front of me. His moral disposition was severed and I was left with a sense of anguish, as though I’d somehow been cheated. I withdraw from saying anymore for those still wishing to read the book but my advice would be to take it lightly, and think of it as a separate story – to avoid running the risk of ruining the much loved classic that is To Kill a Mockingbird.

Looking For Alaska

*Extreme Spoiler Alert*

I just cannot accurately depict my views of this book without saying exactly what happens. So if you want to read it without knowing how it ends, do not read on.

This book was my scapegoat. I was having a tough time and feeling down, so I would pick up this book on the train to and from work, and it cheered me up. John Green is a decent writer, and the way he introduced the characters made them all instantly likeable to me. Miles was a lone wolf, bored with his very average life and looking for adventure, so he heads off to boarding school and meets a crazy, free spirited girl who he falls hopelessly in love with – very predictable I know, but sometimes predictable is exactly what one is after when they are reading a love struck coming of age story. This was what I needed at the time, characters that I would in the real world call friends and a love story I could become invested in. Then, suddenly, everything changed. The crazy free spirited girl, who took central focus of the story... died. Alaska died. Suddenly my scapegoat that cheered me up at the end of a miserable day, left me hopelessly wiping tears away before other passengers began to notice my silent sobs.

Maybe it was something everyone knew was going to happen, when I began researching the story, it appeared to be the worst kept secret since President Kennedy had an affair with Marilyn Monroe, but I didn’t know. In fact I had no idea, until she left the night she died, and I had a twang in my stomach that told me she wasn’t coming back. It’s strange how much of an effect words on a page can have on me, maybe John Green achieved his aim of evoking a reaction – he certainly got one out of me – but I guess it was bad timing. I wasn’t ready for her to die, I wasn’t ready for my fun, exciting novel to be turned upside down into grief and desperation so quickly.

Possibly this should be a book I pick up when I’m mentally prepared to have hopes slashed and my mood dropped. Or possibly, a book that could bring comfort for those who have lost a friend, with the ultimate message clearly being... that there’s a way out of the labyrinth.

Landline

Now this is what you call a love story, in fact I should have read this instead of Looking for Alaska.

Meet Georgie McCool, a comedy writer who struggles to find a balance between work and family – a narrative I’m sure many could relate to. Rainbow Rowell however, made this fairly predictable and already written a thousand times narrative, sparkle all the way up my street - introducing a magic landline that rings into the past, pugs having pug babies and a little girl that says ‘meow’ instead of hello. What more could you want in a love story? Oh, and did I mention that it was real. Yes, real. No Prince Charming and Cinderella fairytale, just a marriage that’s falling apart due to a lack of effort, and of course the story of how it began in the first place – the messy, unromantic and not at all soppy story. That was my favourite part of this book, it wasn’t about butterflies and head over heels romance - it was honest and down-to-earth. There’s nothing like creating realistic expectations, and Rainbow Rowell’s didn’t disappoint.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

That thing called full time employment



Last Easter, before I’d even began revision for my final exams, I managed to secure a job as an editorial assistant for a publication in London. My plans to become a millionaire and sail my yacht around the world were put on a hold for a job I could not refuse. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I’d land in the middle of such an incredible team of people, who are so open to teaching me anything I wish to learn.

The experience I have gained in the last two months is immeasurable and I can’t begin to explain how blessed I feel to have been given such a great opportunity. That said – working full time is hard! The hours aren’t really the issue, I know how to put a full day of work in; it’s more the timing that’s the problem. I’ve been so used to working on my own schedule, taking a nap when needed or going for a walk to clear my head when I need a moment to myself; I find it hard to work within specific hours.

Routine also happens to be lethal; time flies so quickly that if I blink I could possibly miss an entire month. My boss keeps telling me that it’ll be Christmas before I know it, and if the last two months are anything to go by, then she’s certainly on to something. The hour commute each way is something I’ve gotten used to and actually proves to be valuable reading time – plus there’s a gym in my building which makes exercising extremely convenient (I could very well have a six pack by the end of the year), but I can’t help but feel concerned that I’ll be a year older in no time.

Despite the lack of cat naps and the apparent loss of time, my role here is so diverse it allows me to get stuck into so many different projects, which keeps things interesting and helps me learn more each day. With savings in my bank account, and the amount of experience I’m going to get here – I’ll be a millionaire sailing around the world on my yacht in no time.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Graduation


It's official, I have graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London, with a degree in History. I would love to say that Graduation was one of the happiest days of my life, but honestly, I think the day was intended more for the benefit of my family than myself. My mum got to watch me put on a silly hat and collect my scroll, after three years of constant house moves, late night phone calls and a severely stressed out daughter. I guess the day is their reward for all the love and support throughout the very turbulent journey of earning a degree.

For me, university finished weeks before, when I put on a princess dress and attended the Summer Ball with my friends, just after our final exams. I could feel myself finally relax, knowing I had done my best and was finally free. That new found freedom, although only temporary as I managed to secure a job before I graduated, was embraced fully. To know that nothing hangs over your head, no looming dissertation or exam timetable waiting for you in the future is a wonderful thing. For the first time, since I was five years old, I had left the grasp of formal education.

Finding out that I was graduating with a 2:1 was more of a relief than anything else, thus graduation day seemed like more of a formality to me. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, I got to spend time with my friends, some of whom I hadn't seen in a while, and take lots of photos with my family. The day however, seemed to involve a lot of waiting around, and sadly a hefty amount of rain - and me being the super organised human being that I am, left my umbrella back home in London.

The last three years have been incredible (though during the weeks of revision and essay deadlines I may not have agreed) and I'm sure in the future Roho will be sorely missed... though at the moment I'm pretty excited to move on and enjoy the next phase of this crazy adventure called life.










Monday, July 20, 2015

Run to the beat



Givey sadly let me down with their hideous new layout – so I figured I would use this post to tell everyone about my 10k run in September, and the reason I’ve chosen to torture myself in this way.

Firstly it should be stated with clarity that I, Hollie Tye, am not a runner. I go through phases of wanting to increase my fitness, where I throw on my running shoes and hit the streets, or a treadmill, but it never lasts. I would much rather jump on a bike, a cross trainer, or partake in pretty much any other form of exercise. Running is mind-numbing, not to mention my weak joints never thank me for it.

So why run? Honestly, it seemed so achievable when I signed up. After a run with my brother however, I am now fully aware of the challenge I have ahead. The distance isn’t the problem; my speed however, is somewhat similar to my Nana’s walking pace. I’m so slow, it’s painful to watch, and often results in people staring at me in disbelief.

I want to run 10k in an hour – so this is where the challenge lies!

The run is in aid of an incredible charity, called Myeloma UK, who is currently the only UK based charity working towards treating and eventually curing the disease - which is a form of bone marrow cancer. Sadly we lost my Nana in January, after five years of living with the illness and this run is a great opportunity to raise some money in her name.

So if you’d like to support me on my journey of pain, torture and misery - please click the link below and donate. Any amount, no matter how small, would mean a lot.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Sardinia


Arriving in Sardinia brought back vivid memories of a horror film called The Hills Have Eyes. The village was as a ‘ghost town’ and while wandering through to find our apartment, I was extremely grateful that Jake was alongside me. The ghost town went by the name of Teulada, not far from the coastline, in south-west Sardinia. 

When we found our apartment at the top of the hill, the lovely family that owned it informed us that shops were open between 5 and 8pm and restaurants from 8pm onwards. Two larger supermarkets (better resembling small corner shops) opened in the morning for an hour or so, but the general consensus was that from 11am until 5pm, there were no humans in the village. It was so quiet, Jake and I would almost whisper on our way to the beach in the middle of the day. Siesta was taken extremely seriously. 

At first this seemed so strange and surreal to me, but after a day or two, we got into a routine with the locals – plus nothing beats having an entire beach to yourself until the neighbourhood turns up at 5pm for an evening sunbathe. 

The village was quaint and traditional, with a large church just behind the centre, a couple of supermarkets and a few restaurants and pizzerias. Days were spent on the beach, exploring Teulada and Chia (the latter being a bus ride away), feeding Joey (the Sardinian horse we made friends with), bike riding up the extremely tough mountains that made Egham Hill look like a kiddies training hill, eating way too much Pizza and admiring the long windy roads that led to just about everywhere. 

My only complaint is that Sardinian food had nothing on Italy – more than likely because Teulada, as well as surrounding towns, was a fishing village and if there’s one thing I can’t stand, its fish! I had set my sights on the magic of Italian fresh fruit and pasta filling my tummy with joy for the entire week, which meant I had sadly set myself up for disappointment. I guess the only cure would be another trip to Italy for some good Italian cuisines (There’s always a silver lining). 

Unlike Italy, Sardinia - or at least Teulada - was light on tourists. Nobody spoke English, which always makes things a little more interesting as you feel miles away from home. The lack of familiarity was so much so, that when we bumped into an English couple on the last evening, we stared at them in shock. If I’m honest, it’s a lot lovelier to holiday in an environment that immerses you in another culture – forcing you to attempt to communicate and learn the ways of the locals. 

Overall it was a beautiful Island, one that would be much better visited with a car no doubt, as I am sure there is much more to see.

Next stop on the Italian checklist might have to be Naples or Sicily.











Wednesday, July 08, 2015

British Summer Time | Hyde Park



As my new best friend said goodnight, my two days of dancing came to an end and I was left in awe among a crowd of screaming teenage girls – I couldn’t blame them, Taylor certainly put on a show. She spent the night telling us a story and although the narrative was bordering the cheddar cheese variety, I can forgive her seeing as though she turned up EARLY (never in five concerts and four festivals have I witnessed such punctuality from live artists) and sang every song from her new album, including some old favourites. Her awkward dancing has made her billions, which tells the world that being cool is overrated - it’s so much better to be nice, and handy to be talented (that’s where the big bucks are). I’ve seen her before and I’ll certainly be seeing her again, as nothing beats a feel good concert when you dance in public the same way you do in your bedroom. Plus I had Churro’s in my hand, a t-swizzle t-shirt in my bag and my guy standing next to me, what more could a girl want?

On stage beforehand were John Newman and Ellie Goulding. Newman’s dancing was questionable, I mean I’m all for ‘shaking it off’ and jumping until my feet are sore, but those dance moves looked like they were from a universe I’ve never been to before. I guess I can’t fault the guy’s effort at entertaining the crowd, plus his sound is so quirky and unique, it definitely captivated the tiny minions in my ears that shiver to beautiful sounds. Ellie Goulding was the same cutie pie as always, her songs are so catchy they get stuck in my head for days and I can’t help but admire her consistence. I’ve seen her multiple times, and she never disappoints. 

The previous night was spent watching The Who rock Hyde Park, showing us all that having stamina at seventy isn’t just a myth. If I could age like them that would be great, thank you. Not once did they leave the stage for a breather, or a costume change, instead they stayed with us the whole evening – producing song after song, each one as beautiful and perfectly timed as all the one’s before. I’ve never previously been a fan, now did I know any of the words, but I found myself dancing along in blissful happiness nonetheless. 

Warming the audience up for them were the Kaiser Chiefs and Paul Weller, The Chiefs were on fire. Ricky Wilson is officially my spirit animal, his electric enthusiasm and perfectly structured dance moves that whizz across the stage like a tiger, made me wish I was up there dancing alongside him – though my dance moves are killer and there would have been a risk of upstaging him, so I can understand why he didn’t ask. Paul Weller, who I’m ashamed to admit I have previously never heard of before, was entertaining to watch and pleasant on the ears but I couldn’t help wishing that the Kaiser Chief would suddenly run back on stage and join him – now that would have been magical! 

Despite overpriced beer and insanely huge queues, the festival was an incredible way to spend the weekend – particularly considering I found out that I’ll be graduating with a 2:1 on Friday morning. The timing could not have been more perfect.