First Weeks of Camp – Staff Training

  20160610_163625I mentioned before that I didn’t have much of an idea how camp was going to work and what my role would be day-to-day but I figured I would find out once we arrived. Not a chance. We were thrown straight into specific skills training all day all day for the first week which was majorly intense, we had barely any time to think let alone settle in!

Day one was lifeguard training, but first we had to do a physical test which was 16 laps at 9am (whilst still getting used to the altitude)… let’s just say breathing was a difficulty for many of those laps. But I did it! Then treading water, and the ‘brick challenge’ which was way harder than it looked. Training included first aid and CPR alongside lots of jumping in and diving to rescue our peers using our lifeguard buoys or ‘booeys’ as the Americans pronounce them.

Before camp I have to say i thought of lifeguarding as boring and easy, but trust me my opinion has definitely changed! Getting a lifeguard certification was one of the most challenging things I’ve done, both fitness wise and general out of your comfort zone experiences… especially being claustrophobic with a fear of drowning!

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The next couple of days training was much more within my comfort zone, we were learning to belay! Which basically meant I got to do lots of climbing on the wall whilst we learnt to tie knots and belay each other. Not gonna lie I’m a bit of a pro 😉 except for when I’m belaying someone twice my weight.. I had to get two people anchoring me down so I didn’t go flying up in the air!

We also did training for the zip line which was so fun and more chilled than belay, strapping our colleagues into harnesses and sending them zipping down the hill! I got chosen as a demonstration to ‘get stuck’ halfway down the zip line so everyone could learn how to rescue me. Oh the chafing.

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American food is of course fabulous – chilli dogs, pizza, enchurritos, waffles with maple syrup.. and we eat outside with an amazing view, so lush. There are definitely some weird foods too like breakfast gravy which is white?! So not into that. Also ‘biscuits’ which look like scones but aren’t quite… and you eat them with the gravy! Most evenings we just chill in the staff area and have smores by the campfire.. so American! I’ve attempted to make English variations of smores before but nothing beats the proper ones here.

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Saturdays are our days off and by the first weekend we already needed a break! After getting our starbucks and wifi fix (dont judge) we walked down to big bear lake which was beautiful. It was so nice to chill by the water for the afternoon! Not so nice when we tried going in the water though… muddy feets is naaat fun.

Something everyone probably thinks about America is that their portion sizes are far larger than ours. This is for real the truth. I spent $8 on nachos and when I was full to bursting it still looked like I had barely touched it. Srsly, so full we had to get creme de menthe shots to unfull us. I hadn’t planned on drinking or partying much whilst at camp, but after one beer me and my fomo self just can’t say no so we ended up at the karaoke bar. Of course. Joy and Destiny became the karaoke team of all teams and got the crowd going with Tina Turner 👍 think we may become regulars…

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The second week of camp was more general staff training and bonding. We got tours around the camp and were trained in all the non-certified activities – archery, slingshots, rifles (no guns for me plz), panning for gold, astronomy, low ropes, fishing, canoes, crafts… the list goes on. One activity I’m majorly excited about is yoga! I love yoga any day but we got to learn how to teach kids yoga which is even more fun. There’s this thing called ‘yoga freeze dance’ where the kids go crazy dancing then freeze when the music stops and do a yoga pose. So me. That week we also had the big honchos from the YMCA come up to give us a talk which was actually really interesting!

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My favourite day was the ‘day in the life of a camper’. We got to experience all the activities like a group of kids and then had a campfire in the evening with ridiculous games like bunkbeds where you run around and jump on each others backs. We then had to do skits in groups and ours involved reenacting a scene in valley girl and hood styles. It was hilarious. ‘She’s fucking dead dude’. Some of the new people (thankfully I wasn’t included) were treated to an initiation of sorts through an ugga bugga campfire skit. And of course we ended with the obligatory smores and dance off round the fire. Soulja boy may have made an appearance…

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To top off the camper experience we stayed in a 12 bed three-walled cabin for the night. We did something called ‘devotions’ where everyone shared their thoughts on the theme of the day which was trust, and then talked about their ‘roses’ and ‘thorns’. It was a really nice experience and made me realise that Americans are way more open than us Brits with their deep conversations! In the morning we went to the chapel area of camp and shared some inspirations, plus some morning skits of course to wake us all up!
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For our second weekend off we got the opportunity to venture down to the coast with one of the guys working here who lives in long Beach. We spent Friday evening in some local watering holes – turns out food isn’t the only area Americans serve large portions, we found a place that serves half yards of beer. Watching me drinking this must have been hilarious…20160611_182950

Saturday wasn’t sunny unfortunately so we couldn’t have the day of sunbathing we had planned but we got shown the sights and had some yum ‘carne asade fries’. We then drove down the coast and spent the afternoon walking up the beach at Crystal Cove which was beautiful.

As fun as staff training has been, it’s also been pretty intense and full on in the lead up to camps arriving. By the end I was really looking forward to having our first camp here so we could put all the training into action! More on that to come…

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Leaving the UK – My 2016 Travel Plans

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So I’m currently on a flight to LA for the beginning of my lil 5-month break from the UK. I started off my trip in typical me fashion, planned the journey to Heathrow then checked the terminal and realised it was actually Gatwick. Good one, Joy. Ever since uni I wanted to do more travelling, and although I’ve had some great holidays and mini travel experiences (looking at you interrail) I haven’t found the time or money for a big trip yet. Then this year I thought, oh wait, I’m 25. I should probably do this thang before I get old and stuff. So here I am, slightly nervous but mostly excited for work and travel and new places and people.
My first stop will be 2 and a half months working at YMCA Camp Oakes, a summer camp for underprivileged kids from different YMCA organisations around California. Presently I don’t know a massive amount about my role at camp, I know that all staff will facilitate 3-6 different activities but I’m yet to hear what mine are. We get a week of training before the kids arrive where I’ll most likely be learning about rock climbing, high ropes, zip line and all those great camp activities. Basically i get to be a big kid for the summer! The camp is up in the mountains near ‘Big Bear City’ – hoping that doesn’t actually mean there will be lots of big bears? No matter I can just do that stick trick from parent trap. Oh wait…

After camp I go straight into an all American road trip. We initially had the grand idea of driving from LA to miami in 2 weeks but then realised that was far too much driving for our liking. So we’ve settled on a western USA road trip up the Californian coast, then to Vegas and the grand canyon. In a convertible Mustang no less. I mean what else?! The plan is to then do a few flights and a few Greyhound buses to see the other American cities of dreams. And then I get 12 days in New York with this one. 12 days!!

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It’s long enough that we won’t have to cram all the sights and experiences into a short time, we can spread them out and just chill and live the New York life. New York has been on my list ever since I watched my first episode of friends. Of course I do expect life to be exactly like friends whilst I’m there. And all the cocktails like sex and the city 🍸 I cannot wait to go to proper American diners and eat an unhealthy amount of pancakes and burgers and ice cream and pizza and hello permanent state of food coma. Serious I’m gna come back twice my size cos FOODS.

I’m then getting a cheeky flight to Costa Rica and working my way up to Mexico over a period of 5 weeks.  I haven’t planned this section of my travels in much detail because I want to just go with the flow and get recommendations from people and take it as it comes. I don’t expect to do all the countries in Central America in that time because they  would be very fleeting visits! I’m prioritising Nicaragua because I’ve been intrigued by the culture ever since working at Raleigh, and Belize because it just looks lush. Very excited to be ending in Mexico, again because food is very high on my list and YUM all of the burritos and quesadillas and wrap based foods. Also pinterest was showing me some amazing places in Mexico so that please thanks.

As exciting as all these plans are, I am sad to miss the UK summer. Which sounds ridiculous because I’m going to have summer everywhere, but summer and Christmas are the times where I feel the UK is at its best so it’s a shame to miss it! Obviously I also have a massive case of the fomo for Glastonbury. However I’m sure I will forget all that once I’m out there having the time of my life! See ya on the other side ✌

A Fortnight in Paradise

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People say that Bali is Paradise, and to be honest, it kind of is. Endless beautiful beaches and sunsets, amazing scenery and views, and all the palm trees you could ever hope for. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the holiday (aside from paradise, obvs); I kind of thought we would do some sunbathing and some partying but hadn’t thought beyond that. We actually did next to zero sunbathing (but still managed to get an acceptable tan!). In fact we didn’t do much of the ‘relaxing’ sort of activities you normally associate with holiday. We were too busy doing ALL of the mega fun activities, of which Bali has lots of offer. We were in a group of 20 people which sounds absolutely massive, but it made nights out extra fun and surprisingly we managed to organise ourselves to travel around together and do activities without it being too stressful!
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I’ll start off with the one place I wouldn’t recommend, Kuta. I had been warned that Kuta was the Australian version of Magaluf and I can definitely see why! Don’t get me wrong we had great fun, but after two nights there I was definitely ready to leave. Apparently in Kuta normal music doesn’t exist, instead the DJs have decided they must remix all songs with dutty beats and the keyboard pew pew pew noises that you use in Year 8 music lessons. It’s quite impossible to have a conversation in any bar because the music is so intense, you just end up blowing your free whistles along with the music because it can’t get much worse. We found one bar that played a few great 90s hip hop tunes, but after searching high and low for anywhere else we could dance not surrounded by skanks, we were defeated. That plus a near-miss mugging situation and we resigned to McDonald’s and takeaway Smirnoff Ice by the pool.

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Although the nights in Kuta reminded me of 16 year old party holidays, we had some lovely days out there (or in the surrounding areas). We took a private boat trip around the islands which was lush aside from the fact that I got seasick and ended up puking in the boat sink whilst an Indonesian man massaged my back and head. Slightly surreal experience. Does massage make sick come out? Who knows. We then got to jump out of the boat and do some snorkelling which cured the sickness somewhat. Our first Indonesian meal was the traditional Nasi Goreng, and whilst we waited we had a swim in the restaurant pool – beats card games!

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On our second day we walked down the beach to Seminyak which was a really nice area. We spent a glorious afternoon drinking cocktails in an infinity pool at a beach bar called Potato Head, watching the sunset. It was probably one of the most beaut days of the holiday! I hadn’t fully prepared for the day and so was forced to go to dinner knickerless with dungarees which wasn’t the most comfortable situation of life, but we ended up having a great meal with buckets of bintang and fabulous music.

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We then moved onto Gili Trawangan, which I think was my favourite place in Bali. After my terrible seasickness I was wary of the boat trip to the island, but it was actually a lovely journey with some beautiful surroundings (which I slept through most of – oops). Some of our friends actually saw dolphins! Not jealous at all… Gili T is tiny and yet never fails to entertain. It’s uber chilled and fabulously fun at the same time, full of beautiful beach views and yummy restaurants. We stayed in a hotel called Tir na Nog which had a great bar and is located just at the end of the main strip of bars and shops before the road gets more beachy.

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Gili is so small that there are no cars, so on a few occasions we hired bikes and cycled up to a couple of different beach bars to watch the sunset. One day we actually cycled the whole way round the island which was a great experience, even if a few sections of the coastline were rather precarious! The whole thing didn’t take long at all, plus we stopped along the way for many a photo opportunity, stall shopping and a cheeky dip in the sea. Our final destination before we made the full circle was the famous ‘sea swing’ where we waited for sunset and only got the best photo of the holiday. Not bragging, but seriously. There’s a sunset, there’s us in bikinis sitting on swings, there’s the beach, and there’s horses.  Yep, just some casual horses strolling through the sea behind us. I know, we win at life.

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Every night on Gili T a different bar hosts “the party” to make it fair, which is great because you get to try different bars and they are always packed! We started most nights at our hotel beach bar, where they often had games out like beer pong, table tennis and battle shots – lethal! Many a drinking game was played and many a drink was downed. Lots of bars do deals on “local” cocktails which always seemed like a great idea at the time, but often ended in questionable drunk choices and disastrous hangovers. Especially when combined with “local” wines. Let’s just say “local” alcohol turns me into a crazy person…

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We did many other activities on Gili T including snorkelling (where I got so close to a turtle!), banana boating (where my friend fell on my head and we almost lost my sister), yoga (which was hotter than bikram yoga, so much sweats), and lots of the group went diving (I took a break instead and went strolling along the beach). The sea was the kind of sea where it doesn’t actually get deep for about 800 years which is great because you can just chill in the shallow waters. I obviously spent a lot of the holiday being sunburnt (who would have thought you need to suncream your back when you go snorkeling…) so tried to find shade wherever possible, including a random tree in the middle of the sea. Needs must!

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The last place on our trip was Ubud, which I was really looking forward to because everyone had told me it was basically a hippy place and was very ‘me’. Our hotel was in the middle of nowhere but was the epitome of what I imagined from Ubud, lots of green, wooden huts, and a beaut swimming pool. There was so much to do in Ubud that we struggled to fit everything into our time there. We organised rafting which ended up being one of my favourite days – we paid about £12 each and got a taxi ride to the river, 3 hours of rafting and lunch afterwards! Our guides were hilarious, constantly making jokes and teasing us whilst having competitions with the other rafting companies we went past on our way down. The best part of rafting was the absolutely phenomenal scenery surrounding the river – on all sides there was just endless greenery going up to the sky. We even went past some rock murals that told a ‘romeo and juliet’ type story. Luckily I didn’t end up falling out of the raft but there were some close calls!

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The other main activity we did was the trek up Mount Batur. We left our hotel at 2am (wait whaaaat) and drove to the starting point where we were given fried bananas, bread and hard boiled eggs.. great combination. We then started the climb up, with the aim of reaching the top in time for sunrise. Stupidly I only had converse with me which made the climb considerably less enjoyable than it might have been otherwise, but I still managed with the help of some motivational motown. The last stretch was the hardest but so worth it once we got there! The views of the mountains were incredible and it was so surreal to see the bed of clouds below us. Unfortunately the weather was against us so by the time the sun was actually rising it was mostly hidden behind a cloud, but we still managed to get some amazing pics (ignoring the fact that we all looked sweaty and knackered!).

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If only we could have teleported down at that point, but alas no. The ‘walk’ down the first part was more of a slip-slide action. Seriously, I felt like I was skiing in my converse. Our sweet 16 year old guide must have sensed I was failing at life because she ended up holding my hand down most of the troublesome bits. Converse = no. Numb toes forever. Halfway down we came across a group of baby monkeys that were playfighting with each other which was the absolute cutest! Finally at the bottom we thought our adventure was over, but no. Our taxi driver decided that instead of sleep we needed coffee. He took us to a coffee plantation and we ended up on a tour. It was actually great, we learnt about the luwak coffee that’s made from cats pooping put coffee beans and tasted many many yummy coffee flavours. However this meant that we got back in the taxi high on coffee and delirious from lack of sleep which resulted in a rather drunk type feeling. All the funs.
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Ubud centre itself was great once you knew your way around, the majority of streets were all markets so we spent a lot of time and moneys buying souvenirs and bartering (which I was poor at, obviously. Too awks). I was in my element as there were so many options to feed my elephant obsession, I ended up purchasing an elephant dress, top, trousers and keyrings. Other patterns exist? Wait what? We also had some lovely meals in Ubud, some of which were vegan and yum. Sadly I didn’t have time to do yoga but we still went to the famous yoga barn which was beaut and served up a great vegan lasagne Face savouring delicious food We also found a yum restaurant where I had seafood and avocado curry – so didn’t know this was a thing, but I will now definitely be making it at home.
Our last day was spent not in Ubud but actually back near to Kuta at a water park, supposedly the third best in the world! Water parks are always great fun and this one didn’t disappoint, we spent the day flitting between the float rides and the lazy river and then finally plucking up the courage to go on the drop chute – it doesn’t help when all of the boys stand outside your glass box jeering you on whilst you wait for the floor to fall away. Not fun. But also so much fun. Take me back please. That night we had our one and only ‘night out’ in Ubud – there’s not much in the way of bars but we found a saloon themed place with pool tables and table tennis that kept us entertained for the evening. They even let us climb up ladders and sign our country flags Thumbs up sign I would like to say that our night ended there and we went home to bed, but instead we decided to go back to a friends hotel for pizza.. great idea at the time, not so great when you realise Ubud has ZERO taxis at 5am. We wandered the streets for a while hoping one would miraculously turn up but to no avail, so we finally admitted defeat and walked uphill to our hotel. Not ideal when the legs are still aching from doing a trek in converse. Bed was the best thing ever that night…

 

All in all Bali was the most beautiful holiday spent with some amazing people and I would go back in a heartbeat.
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The Sun Has Got its Spring On 

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I probably sound like a broken record because all I ever talk about is the weather and seasons and how they make me feel but HELLO SUN WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE. This winter has affected me more than ever, sad face, which means that the anticipation of sun has been stronger than ever. Now it finally seems that spring has graced us with its presence and with it has come a sprinkle of happiness. I’m happy, people on the streets of London are happy, the UK in general is happy because who can’t be happy when after months of being sun-deprived we get some light and a taste of the happy months to come. I’m wearing my spring coat for the first time this year and it feels damn great.
The appearance of sun isn’t the only reason for my happiness, but it’s linked. This weekend is Easter and so marks the end of boring dark cold winter, and the beginning of happy fun plans. It’s also the first lengthy period of time off work since Christmas, which was hello how long ago? Too long. Those mince pies and mulled wines are a distant memory and all that fills the gap between then and now is werk werk werk. I need break now pls. It also helps that I’ve got a city break and a two week holiday planned in the month after Easter. April is the month of dreams and it’s finally around the corner, hey hey tans and swims and happiness.

 

Life seems to be slotting into place for me, plans are afoot and with spring and summer comes change. Good change. I’m going to be leaving London for a while, and so on Monday I took the opportunity to give London a little bit of love. I have a lot of qualms with London and the way of life that it enforces in us, so I don’t often appreciate the great things about it. But this week I did. I walked and observed it’s pretty buildings and bridges and looked across views and drank the best hot chocolate of life at Gail’s Artisan Bakery. See, everything’s better when the sun comes out, I even love London (a lil bit).
It might seem silly to think that sun equals happiness, but for me I think that’s just the way it is. Yeah I still love life in its own way when the seasons aren’t in our favour but I don’t have the same continual happy outlook that spring brings. Spring basically means new life, and that’s what it is, for humans as well as for trees and flowers and the rest. So thank you March because everything is a little brighter and lighter and alive. And that means happy. Happy happy happy happy.

Who Makes the Rules? 

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I don’t generally worry about how other people perceive my life, or me as a person. It doesn’t bother me if people don’t think I’m making the right life choices because it’s not their life, it’s mine. However recently I was telling someone about all my plans for the future and they made a comment that really got under my skin. ‘When are you ever going to commit to a job? You’re too old to just leave your job and go away!’

I could have just laughed it off because lol I’m 25 and I’m not too old for anything (except maybe Oceana), but I didn’t. I was offended. It made me feel uncomfortable, like my outlook on life deemed me not good enough. Society expects us to leave university, get a career and stick with it. To progress in our chosen path, to never be jobless, to be safe and secure and predictable. I don’t know about you but to me  that whole idea seems rather old fashioned. Who makes the rules? Why should society or any person in it say what I can and can’t do with my life?

I don’t have any responsibilities at the moment. I don’t have a house or kids or even my own pet, I’m not relied upon by anyone to provide anything. I don’t have a life ambition to reach a specific job by the time I’m 30, I don’t need to get started on a career path that requires 8 bazillion years of studying. I have lots of life ambitions, but going off and doing different things is going to help them, not take away from them. I don’t want to run away from life, I want to create it.

Life is about having a multitude of experiences, creating a portfolio career. So when you finally find your ideal job you have loads of relevant experience to draw on from different fields. Not ‘committing’ to a job might sound like a negative, but is it really negative when you’re actually committing to yourself? Committing to making your life the best it can be and going outside of your comfort zone, giving yourself the opportunities to achieve more.

I want to see the world. I want to immerse myself in as many cultures as possible, try on a different way of life for size and see how it fits. Meet people from backgrounds completely different to mine, work with them and exchange stories with them and befriend them. I want to wake up to a hundred different skylines, eat every cuisine, put my toes in every sea and all the cringe cliches under the sun.

All of that takes money, I know. So I’ll do what I can when I can and make the most out of what I have. I’ll find experiences that are more than just traveling and offer me a new way of life for a little while. Yeah maybe it might be a good idea to save for ‘the future and stuff’. But why? I don’t know what my future holds, so why do I need to save for it? What exactly am I saving for? We can always earn more money but we only live once. I live in the moment and always have done. At some point certain things will happen in my life and I’ll need to plan for the future and settle down and save. But not yet.

 

A Windy Weekend in Amsterdam

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January may not seem like the ideal month for a city break in Europe, because COLD COLD COLD. However I had a work trip that coincided with the opportunity to see a little bit of Amsterdam, and I wasn’t going to turn that down in a hurry. So a few weeks ago I set off to lovely Holland to see the delights it had to offer.

I spent the first couple of days in The Hague and Wassenaar, a little town that I can only describe as perfection and maybe a toy village, and then stayed in central Amsterdam for the rest of my time. My first impressions of Holland and the Dutch peoples were threefold:

  1. They never shut their curtains. Apparently if curtains are closed it means that dodgy dealings are going on inside…
  2. They are mostly all beautiful, blonde and tanned.
  3. They are the most polite, most friendly people ever.

Seriously, I ran a training session whilst I was out there for some volunteers and they were so keen and polite it was almost unnerving. They all lined up at the end of the event to shake our hands and personally thank us. I don’t think teenagers in the UK are quite on that level… We managed to make time to explore Wassenaar and the highly expensive selection of shops, had some lovely Pinot Grigio and a fabulous spread of Turkish food.

The Hague also came through with a good night out in the form of ‘Rootz’ club. After some €2.50 wines and great ska music we headed to this establishment where the first thing we did was ask for a typical Dutch shot. Error. The barman was obviously playing a trick on us and gave us the most disgusting beverage called ‘hot and sweet’. What even is that. Nonono. A few free beers later we ended up deciding the dance floor was too busy so found a space near the smoking area to interpretive dance. Because that’s how we roll.

Next stop, Amsterdam. I had been given lots of activity recommendations but sadly it was far too cold and windy for some of them (i.e. I’m not going to ride a bike around a park on a freezing wet afternoon when I could be eating waffles. Soz not soz). Our first afternoon was just spent wandering, finding our way around the tram system (before I had an epic fail moment), and eating hot waffles with ice cream. We then went out for an all-you-can-eat sushi and asian foods, followed by Guinness at an Irish pub. Because that’s oh so Dutch. No regrets.

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Saturday afternoon was spent walking through the market, which was a bit of a disappointment, but had some amazingly good smelling stroopwafels. I almost bought the greatest pink glittery shoes known to man but sadly they were a size too big. One of the best decisions we made was going to the Heineken experience. They take you on the journey of brewing beer, put you in a simulation machine and then get you to pour your own beer. I did a perfect pour, just saying. There’s also lots of activities like a dance mat type thing and a cycle game. At the end of the tour you get a free beer that you can take up to the roof terrace bar which has a great view of the city!

For some reason I imagined the coffeeshops in Amsterdam to be like cosy little cafes with lovely decorations and chilled vibes. Silly naive me. The ones we saw were like skanky dens or warehouses. We wanted to leave pretty sharpish especially as it was virtually impossible to breathe. Ah well, ticked it off the list… We did a little bar crawl across the city and visited a wide variety of bars. Having got a tram to the other side of Amsterdam for a bar we’d heard about, we discovered it was the size of my living room and full of old man. However it had a juke box and mojitos, so all was not lost. We then found a weird cowboy type pub, and a pub called Regular Jack with the best music but no dance floor. Serious why? All a girl wants to do is dance once she’s three cocktails down.

After a brief stop at Chipsy King (great name but far too much mayonnaise, vom) we finally found the central bar area, which was rather like how I imagine Magaluf but without the beaches. Everywhere was neon and packed with 18 year olds (apart from the odd group of cougars). Club Nasty gave us glowsticks and lured us in with Sean Paul and Justin Bieber but then proceeded to play reggae and afrobeats whilst the DJ said ‘naaasty’ into the microphone every two minutes. After that we found a Walkabout-styley bar called Outback which was perfect vibes and lethal cocktails, and full of Irish people, obvs.

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On our final morning we decided we had to try Bakers and Roasters after it had been recommended highly, so we waited an hour for a table (must mean it’s good) and had the best brunch of life. Sweet potato, chorizo, sour cream and poached eggs. All the yes. This was when my epic tram fail occurred and I managed to get stuck on the tram for not one but two stops after I was meant to get off with people shouting Dutch at me. Oh dear. The only thing left to do before catching our flight was to visit the I Amsterdam sign. I don’t think you’ve really been to Amsterdam if you don’t have a picture with the sign… Oh and buy some cheese. Green cheese to be precise, because pesto, and why not.

Thanks Amsterdam for a fantabulous time, and I’ll hopefully see you again in some sunnier weather.

What is Life: A Wintry Reflection

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What is life? This is something I say to myself multiple times a day. Life is many things, it’s amazing, random, ridiculous and surprising. But the times I find myself saying ‘what is life’ are more often than not the times when I’m not happy with the situation I’m in. When I’m stressed at work, when I’m confused about the direction life is leading me, when I just don’t know what the hell is going on. We have a tendency to complain about anything and everything, especially when it’s cold and dark and there’s no sun shooting out happiness for us to cling on to. Winter drags us into a dark hole where everything seems like an effort, because all we really want to do is hibernate until the world gets a little bit brighter.

I’m a big life thinker at the best of times which means that winter instils in me even more of a contemplative mind. I overthink and overthink, I have emotional Sundays for no reason other than its Sunday. I make plans for the future then scrap them and make new plans then decide I want to run away chasing the sun then decide I want to stay at home forever. I come full circle every time I try and make some kind of decision about what I want to do with this thing called my LIFE. Life is hard, right?

But why does it only seem hard when the weather is getting us down? Maybe it’s just me but if it was sunny right now I would be seeing life through rose-tinted glasses, frolicking in that happy go lucky summer way and not worrying so much about life. What is it about winter that makes us question our purpose and direction? Life is more boring for one, there’s no festivals, no beer gardens after work, no holidays. Which obviously leads us to the search for something to add a bit of excitement. It’s also that new year thing, we feel the need to turn over a new leaf or do something crazy and radical because we have to make this year a year to remember. But mostly I think it’s the frustration that comes from the routine of working life. Nothing makes a day seem longer than when you wake up and it’s dark, you leave work and it’s dark. Unless you brave the cold and take a brisk lunchtime walk you might not see natural light all day. And that is just not okay. Something needs to be done about that.

Basically summer you need to hurry up. I don’t like wishing away time but if the sun doesn’t come back to me soon I’ll probably end up either refusing to leave my bed or taking a spontaneous flight to a land with more life. See ya London office, you just ain’t doing it for me right now. Obviously I’m not going to run away (yet) because I’m not completely mental (or rich), so what can we do to make this post-jolly season bearable? How do we stay optimistic in the depths of winter?

I know I put myself down earlier for making too many life plans, but actually organizing a trip can help because it gives you something concrete to look forward to. Exercise is apparently an obvious one but I can’t really recommend that because I am yet to get my fatarse off the sofa. HOW can you run when your nose freezes off, HOW? I went to the sauna does that count? What I will say is that yoga massively helps me. I know it sounds cliche and hipster-wannabe but whatevs, it’s the truth – half an hour of yoga at lunch and I’m ready to tackle the world, my stress is gone, I breathe more deeply and my body relaxes. Much needed for anyone who works at a desk cos that is NAAAT natural. Warm soups and hot pots and goodness at lunch is a definite yes, none of this salad nonsense. How are leaves and avocados going to keep you warm in your tummy? And just not dwelling on things I guess. Weather happens, life goes on and we can’t let horrible winter infiltrate our minds and emotions. THERE IS LIGHT ON THE OTHER SIDE. I think it’s time for an inspirational quote, from Dumbledore no less:

“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

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He so wise.

January: Dry Detox or Fun Time?

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Okay, so January is without a doubt the most depressing month ever. You’ve just had a jam packed month of fun, indulgence, drinking, food, family, friends, traditions and all things festive and exciting. Then all of a sudden – nothing. The festivities come to an end and you head back to work and it seems like there is nothing good to look forward to in life ever. It’s cold and miserable, it takes pretty much the whole month to adjust to 9-5 work every day instead of lay ins and all day sofa film binges, and it’s basically just dull.

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Now, I understand why people would choose this month of hell to detox and be healthy and abstain from alcohol, I do. The amount we consume over the holidays and in the lead up to Christmas is ridiculous and obviously our bodies need a break from all that. But the other part of me is saying, why oh why are we choosing to make January worse than it already is? It’s bad enough that we’re having withdrawal symptoms from the activities Christmas and New Year bring, without sucking the fun out of the rest of the month too. Are we trying to force ourselves into a huddle of hibernation and sadness and boredom?

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I personally do need to give my body a bit of time out from all the funs simply because my pre-Christmas period was SO mental. I don’t think there was one day where I wasn’t drunk. I went on spontaneous work nights out that went on til dawn so stayed at my friends house and continued being ridiculous for the whole of the next day at work. I ate unhealthy amounts of cheese, drank unhealthy amounts of wine and even reverted to a student mindset leading to spoons pitchers and the roxy. I probably spent 57% of my time at work laughing at videos of singing and lightsabers or destinys child photoshops or cringe voice messages. All in all it was an absolutely fantastic and hilarious couple of weeks but my goodness did my body hate me for it.

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By the time Christmas arrived I was ready to sleep for eternity but then came the festive period and all the indulgence that brings with it. And of course it was fabulous. You simply cannot beat good old family time and Harry Potter games and walks and dinner parties. I managed some relaxation in between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, but then came the craziness of fancy dress, old school drinking games and 7am beer pong. And with that, the hangover to beat all hangovers.

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So I get it. My body is begging me for sleep and green tea and kale and exercise and all the rest of it. January is an obvious time to tell yourself that you will be healthy and exercise, because what else are New Years resolutions for? But I think we actually do ourselves more harm than good by aiming for a COMPLETE life change. I am never going to go to the gym more than once a week, and I am never going to stop wanting to eat cakes. That’s just life. I can’t expect January to be any different just because it comes after a month of saying “yolo it’s Christmas”.

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I do want to exercise more than I was (I’m sure I can improve on nothing), eat some healthy foods, and have a little break from our old friend alcohol. But I’m not going to make any bold claims like I’m giving up drinking FOREVER or I’m only eating smoothies or I’m running to work every day. No, nada, not going to happen. And I have plans for January that involve going out. Yes, yes I do. That might not be fitting with the ethos of dry January but I CANNOT bear the idea of a month of nothingness. Leaving the world of cosy homely goodness and reentering the commuting working world is bad enough in the midst of winter, without the thought of being sensible all month. Not being sensible is OKAY as long as it’s not a constant wildness. It’s called finding the balance, and it’s called life. Go with it. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

My 2016 Travel Bucket List

I can’t believe we’re coming up to the end of 2015. WHERE has this year gone?! I feel like the last few months in particular have flown by, like there’s next week and the week after and then it’s CHRISTMAS. And I’m 25 on Sunday eeeeee when did I get so old. What better time to make a travel bucket list than the quarter of a century mark, right? I ticked a few countries off my list this year with the old interrail, which was great, but I still have my sights set on SO many different countries. I say this is my 2016 list, no way will I be able to find the time and money to go to all these places in one year (I wish), so it’s kind of like a 2016 onwards list. Tick of as many as I can and go from there…

Bali

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This is the most exciting one because I’ve BOOKED my flights for Bali next April/May. Seriously can’t control my excitement, stop me. Bali has been on the top of my list for a while because the word I hear associated with it most is ‘paradise’. And who wouldn’t want to go to paradise? We’re actually going to see a friend for his birthday so there is sure to be lots of drinking and partying, all the funs funs funs. Aside from that, I’m hoping I find some time to stay in a hut on a secluded beach and do yoga and eat the fruits of the earth. Because that’s the hippy dream.

Berlin

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Believe it or not, I’ve never been to Germany (except for a stopover in cologne this summer where we made the most of pretzels and girthy sausages). Being one sixteenth German (hardihar) I really should have visited the country, but it’s never appealed that much. Until this summer where EVERYONE we met was ranting on about how great Berlin is. I’ve been told numerous times that it’s one of the most fun and interesting cities, so I guess we’ll just have to go and find out.

Amsterdam

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This is another one that’s already booked and in the diary, for January which is ridiculously soon! I went in June with work but only stayed in The Hague and didn’t have time to explore any of amsterdams delights. This time I’m doing it right and staying on for the weekend. Let’s hope I can persuade some friends to join me… Anyone? I’ve heard many different stories about Amsterdam but I haven’t made too many plans about what I want to do there. From my last visit I got the impression that the Dutch know how to party, and love life. Also don’t ever draw their curtains?! What is that about?

New York

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Oh New York. New York, New York. I fully expect that it won’t live up to any of the ideas in my head that have been put there by Friends, Sex and the City and countless other films and series, but that doesn’t stop me from being desperate to go. I just need to experience the New York way at some point in my life (hopefully sooner rather than later). I want to eat all the pizza and pretzels, be in a flashmob at Times Square (that happens, right?) and go out on the town New York styley. The question is, summer or winter? Do I want the heat and parks and outdoor funs or do I want New Year’s Eve and Christmas trees and ice skating like buddy the elf?

Nepal

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We’ve recently started work in Nepal so there’s been a lot of excitement around the country and I’ve been talking about it nonstop. Which, obviously, has given me lots of motivation for wanting to go and see it myself. The culture sounds fascinating, the food looks great, and the people seem to be so friendly and hospitable. Take me there now please!

Greece

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One of the beauties of Europe, and somewhere I can’t believe I’ve never been. I think the culture is fascinating so would love to take a trip to Athens, but I’m also massively drawn to places like Santorini and Mykonos. Sea, beach, cocktails and stunning landscapes. Yes please next year please and thank you.

Dublin

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I’ve been attempting to organise an Ireland trip for soso long, I even tried to organize a birthday trip last year which fell through (my fault, silly silly). I would love to visit Southern Ireland and stay in a cottage and go to local pubs like in PS I Love You (I need to stop basing my travel aspirations on films), but first I feel like I need to see Dublin. I’ve heard it’s expensive, but surely nothing compared to London?! I want all the Guinness at the Guinness factory, and to meet lovely Irish people, and to listen to live music and love life.

Morocco

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I feel like morocco just describes my life choices of foods, style, and everything. In fact I’ve chosen a Moroccan restaurant for my birthday meal because YAY falafels and tagines and baklava. I can imagine that Marrakech may be a bit manic in the market sense but something I definitely want to experience. Plus I can buy lotsa materials and decor to make my room even MORE overly bohemian and fun.

Mexico

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Again, food is one of my main motivations behind wanting to go to Mexico. I think it’s probably my fave cuisine, falafels aside. Also watching Spectre last week and the ‘Day of the Dead’ celebrations was massively cool, if a little scary. I want to go and drink tequila and dance and wear sombreros because I am oh-so-typical and I love it.

My weekend of Italian goodness

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A couple of weeks ago I took a rare weekend out of London and flew to Italy. Sounds very indulgent and la-di-da, trust, this is not a regular occurrence for me. I’m not like Jamie from made in Chelsea, deciding to take all my friends to Ibiza for a week cos we have ALL the money. I just have a lovely friend with a lovely house and a father who likes to book spontaneous family holidays. So that’s how this weekend of relaxation and family fun came about, and I am molto glad it did because wow I needed the break and detox time it brought.

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I say detox, I don’t mean it in the traditional healthy sense. We OBVIOUSLY ate many many carbs and Italian goodness and 7 course meals, because, Italy. It was more of a detox from life and cities and getting drunk and technology. And it was great. The house is situated up in the mountains of pescara where not many tourists dare to venture, and has glorious glorious 360 degree views. Being November we weren’t expecting much in the way of sunbathing, and true to form our first day brought mainly fog. So we decided to ascend into an extremely mountainous village where it was more foggy and chilly, good choices. However YES fabulous choices because we discovered ‘Nicks Bar’, a chalet type establishment with old school Guinness posters on the wall and the best hot chocolate of my life. PLUS he added some mysterious orange rum liquor, which is just what you need after a cold walk filled with random animals accosting you. Jks they were cute. This was so much the best hot chocolate that we bought 5 packets to take home and make our own deliciously Christmassy beverages.

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The next two days pleasantly surprised us through the appearance of some mid-20s sun which we thoroughly enjoyed on our roof terrace whilst sleeping and reading Bridget jones in equal measures. Usually on holiday I would be busy planning how to make the most of our time, visit all the sights, and squeeze in every vaguely-holiday-related activity we can. This time we literally just relaxed. And it was so ideal. Two hour nap at 5pm? Of course, we’re on holiday. We spent an entire morning doing a ‘photoshoot’ causing many Italian farmers to worry for our sanity. It may have involved us draping ourselves across our rented car, pretending an old crate was a jail that we had to break out of, creating a panorama clone that had hilarious consequences, and much skipping leaping ladida-ness. But hey, gotta make the most of those views, right?

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The food. Wow. Italian food is just the best isn’t it? I mean I’m not sure I could live there permanently because I would DEFINITELY get fatty boom boom but for a weekend, give me all the carbs and cheese you got. We had delicious pizzas and pastas, a meal consisting of every kind of fish and shell-type edible thing you can imagine, and a 7 course vegetarian extravaganza. Serious we had to cancel the last two courses which I’m very ashamed of but OMG SO MUCH FOOD. And beautifully presented as well.

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Food aside, my favourite thing about this holiday was spending time with my wonderful extended family. It’s been a while since we’ve had a proper holiday away together and this was just as hilarious as they always are. We ended up teaching the mothers about the terms ‘hotline bling’ and ‘booty call’ which caused them to come up with a scheme of sending us snapchats saying ‘Drake hotline blanged me’. Yep, that’s what all the kids are saying these days. We also had a standard embarrassing adult moment whereby there was a painting of a man holding a long thin vegetable and Valerie took it upon herself to ask the Italian waiters if this was meant to represent anything… Suffice it to say we all ran out of the restaurant sharpish.

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The whole weekend was just lush, I didn’t worry about the fact that I basically had no wifi, I didn’t have to think about horrible London trains and work stress and being proactive and productive all the time. I literally just chilled. In the most beautiful surroundings, which obviously made it one thousand times better. We are too guilty of trying to squeeze as much as we can into time off work, when actually the best thing for us is to relax. Life is often too much in its routine form, we don’t want to add more to the time we have out of that routine. So don’t feel guilty taking some time off to do nothing, to chill, or to go away and make the most of a friends house in a sunny country for no reason. It’s worth it.

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