Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Palermo 2017 Travel Diary

Two weeks ago now my friend Sarah and I flew to Palermo, Sicily for four nights and we had such a wonderful time. I've mentioned many times before that Italy is one of my absolute favourite places and it's always been a dream of mine to travel around the entire country, which I'm slowly doing by going to a new place every summer!

Since Sarah is so well-traveled already in Italy, when it came to booking this trip Palermo became a pretty obvious choice because it's one of the few places in Italy which Sarah hadn't been to. This turned out to be a great thing because Palermo has never been top of my immediate list of Italian cities but it was beautiful and we both loved our time there.

We had to wake up excruciatingly early for our 5:50am flight to Palermo but, despite this traumatic start to the holiday Palermo was so beautiful that it more than made up for it and it was nice to have essentially the whole day ahead of us once we landed in Sicily!

When we arrived at the airport we bought tickets for a bus into the city. The company running the buses is called Prestia e Comande and I'd highly recommend it as we bought return tickets for just ten euros, they were incredibly helpful in telling you what stop is closest to your accommodation and it runs a half-hourly service. There's a stand in the arrivals section of the airport you can't miss!

Once we'd checked into our hotel and recovered a little from the flight and the early morning (it took us a good while to get over the lack of sleep!) we sat down to decide what to do with our first afternoon/evening. Usually when I go on holiday I have a stack of travel blog posts on the place I'm staying in full of recommendations for what to do and where to eat as I usually find that people's personal suggestions are far more helpful than professional guides. However, despite having had a look for some before I left, I couldn't find very many useful ones on Palermo and so I had picked up the Lonely Planet guide for Sicily which has a great section on Palermo and which Sarah and I used religiously throughout our trip!

We stayed in the Mercure Palermo Centro Hotel which was great in that it was in an ideal location and had a very nice room but was quite average really in terms of everything else. I'd recommend it as somewhere to stay to see the city but I wasn't blown away by it.

Anyway, having had a flick through the Lonely Planet guide, we decided to head to Palermo's Cathedral, which was absolutely stunning both inside and out. What was great about Palermo was that everything was in walking distance, and since walking is definitely my preferred way to get to know a city, this was ideal! Stopping for a gelato on the way and going for a wander after looking around the cathedral, we then went back to the hotel, freshened up and decided to head for dinner.

For our first meal out we went to Bisso Bistrot, a recommendation from the Lonely Planet guide (which is a running theme of this trip!). Sicily, being an island, is known for serving excellent seafood and so I felt like I had to try the ravioli which came with the fresh catch of the day in Bisso Bistrot, on this evening being tuna and prawns. It was absolutely delicious and so cheap - a win-win for sure and I would highly recommend this restaurant if you're visiting Palermo.

The next morning we got up and out quite late - something that I loved about this holiday was how laid back we were and that we weren't rushing the whole time - and, on our way to the Mercato di Ballaro and Palazzo dei Normanni, we came across the Fontana Pretoria. The fountain was bought by Palermo in 1573 and it is absolutely beautiful.

Having had a look around the fountain we soon found our way to the Mercato di Ballaro and had a look around all the stalls before deciding to try and find somewhere for lunch. By chance on our way down a side street between the market and the Palazzo dei Normanni we found a little bakery/deli which seemed to have only locals in it buying lunch. I wish I'd found out the name of this place because we had the most amazing and reasonably priced lunch there and the gentleman who served us (unable to speak English and impressed by my very basic Italian) even gave us a free freshly baked olive roll which was very sweet.

We finally made it to the palace which originally dates back to the ninth century, contains Sicily's regional parliament, the royal apartments of King Roger II from the twelfth century, and the Capella Palatina or Palatine Chapel designed by Roger II in 1130. You have to pay to get inside but there is a reduced price for students which we were very pleased with and the interiors are just stunning. It's also a nice break inside if when you're visiting it's the peak of the Sicilian summer like it was when we were there!

Exhausted by the heat and all our walking, Sarah and I headed to the Gelateria Ciccio Adelfio which is very near Palermo's train station. It offers an incredible number of gelato flavours - I settled on one scoop of peach and one of fererro rocher in the end - and is very well priced; it was just what we needed to cool down!

For dinner on Saturday night we headed to Pizzo & Pizzo. It's first and foremost a wine bar but does amazing food as well. This restaurant was definitely our priciest and doesn't serve what I'd call a budget dinner, but the service and food were impeccable. The waiters were so accommodating, asking for our specific wine tastes before bringing us a glass that best suited them, bringing out aperitivos without you asking (although, be warned, you do have to pay for these!) and just being incredibly welcoming. The ravioli we had was absolutely incredible - I can't remember exactly what the flavours were but it was different to anything else I've ever had but worked amazingly.

So all in all if on your stay you're looking for a really nice dinner, this is definitely the place to go and I loved it!

One thing to be aware of if you're visiting Palermo over a weekend is that on Sundays most museums, galleries and churches close at around midday give or take a few hours. Sarah and I didn't realise this until we'd got ready that day which wasn't before midday! This might be a good day to head to Mondello to visit the beach which we ended up doing on Monday but we did manage to make it work anyway.

We went for lunch at Francu U Vastiddaru, which sells yummy sandwiches with really interesting fillings for only 2 or 3 euros. Palermo is famous for its street food and this did not disappoint. I got the triplo panino which has chickpea fritters, potato croquettes and aubergine - apparently a classic - and it was delicious.

Francu U Vastiddaru was also right next to the Garibaldi Gardens which were a perfect place to eat our lunch and admire Palermo's oldest tree, at 150 years old! We then made our way to the Galleria d'Arte Moderna which was open on Sundays and is in a fifteenth century palace containing some absolutely stunning Sicilian pieces of art.

I'm not always one to enjoy art galleries but Sarah and I both hugely enjoyed the couple of hours we spent wandering around here followed by a cold drink outside its cafe.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped to have a look at Palermo's harbour which was stunning and later went for dinner at Pizzeria Frida. Our pizzas were nice and it was lovely to sit outside but the service here wasn't amazing and I've definitely had better pizzas so I don't want to sing its praises too much.

On our last full day in Sicily we got the bus to Mondello, which takes about half an hour from Palermo, and went to the beach. It's been years since I've spent a full day at the beach properly, spending the entire day sunbathing, reading and renting a sun-lounger. It was pure bliss and the beach was absolutely stunning - I don't think I've ever seen sea water so clear.

If you have enough time when visiting Palermo I would definitely make a trip to the beach. We weren't sure we were going to because there were some more things in Palermo we could have gone to see instead but I'm *so* glad that we did because it was incredible and just what I needed.

On our final night we ate at Enoteca Buttice - a lovely wine bar that served simple but great food. We sat outside and talked about everything going on in our lives as well as reflecting on our trip and it was just perfect.

All in all I absolutely adored Palermo and would love to explore more of Sicily sometime in the future. It was so fun to go on holiday with Sarah and see everything with her as well! If you're thinking about going to Palermo at all if it's not already clear it has so much to offer and I would highly, highly recommend it. Apologies for this mammoth post but I wanted to get everything down from the trip - I hope you're having a wonderful week!

Some of the photos in this post were taken by lovely Sarah (thank you for letting me use them!), the rest all by yours truly!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Let's Catch Up // Where I've Been For The Past Month

Beautiful Romania

I haven't written a 'let's catch up' post since April, or anything at all on here for over a month, and so I thought this would definitely be a good time to fill you in on where I've been! As always when I stop writing regularly on here, I didn't intend to have such a long pause but my life has been very busy over the last few weeks and I haven't had the time to write about it. I'm here now and ready to write a bit so let's go!

Working at Wimbledon was, once again, amazing. More tiring than any job I've ever had in my life (I do not know how I will ever cope with sleep deprivation if I have kids) but the best. The atmosphere every single day is incredible and, while I was exhausted the last few days, Roger Federer hi-fiving me after he won the men's singles' final more than made up for it. So that was Wimbledon.

A few days after Wimbledon I went to Romania for a week with my Mum. It wasn't the easiest of trips. Only being half-Romanian and having been born in the UK, I still don't know Romania all that well and so I'm very dependent on my Mum when we visit. Which is ok and I'm glad that I go with her to learn and see more of the country she grew up in but what with me essentially spending the week away following her around and her going through some difficulties with a few of her childhood friends there, I felt quite caught up in it all and it was a little stressful. Absolutely fine now but not the most relaxing of holidays shall we say! Anyway, it was still great to go and I did enjoy seeing a new part of the country I hadn't been to before and catching up with a very close friend and my cousin.

At this point I'd essentially been busy non-stop since the 25th June (it being the 26th July at this point) but two days after getting back from Romania I flew to Palermo, Sicily with my friend Sarah. Sicily was incredible - I'm going to be writing a travel diary about our trip in a couple of days but it was such a great holiday. It's no secret that I adore Italy and Palermo only re-affirmed that once again for me. It was also great to go with Sarah because we tend to chat about anything and everything and she's wonderful. 

I got back from Sicily on the 1st August and I've just taken the past few days to fully relax for the first time in a month. Working at Wimbledon and having two holidays is obviously amazing and I feel incredibly lucky to have had these experiences over the past few weeks. But that's not to say doing so much without stopping in between is not incredibly tiring and these last few days of chilling out have been much needed. 

I've also been in a bit of a weird headspace for the past month or so and it's meant that I haven't been all that keen on sitting down and writing even if I had had the time. There's nothing major going on - I think I'm just in a very reflective period and I've got a few things I want to think through on my own for now, but I just wanted to check in and say, hey, I'm here, I've been super busy doing some really cool stuff and I'll be here writing when I can and when it feels right! I hope that's cool and if you're reading this, that you're well and having a wonderful weekend. Like I said, I really want to write up about my stay in Sicily so hopefully that will be coming at you in a few days! Until then...

Sunday, 25 June 2017

The 52 Lists Project // Week 25

Happy Sunday! I'm up bright and early because I'm now working at the Wimbledon Championships for the second year in a row which means that I'll be working almost every day until 16th July so I'm going to be a very busy bee indeed for a while.

I can't believe it's been a whole year since I last worked there and, I feel like I'm saying this about everything lately, but time is going way too fast and I'm on the brink of an existential crisis every time I think about it! Existential crises aside, it's lovely to be back and I love the routine of going into work almost every day and working with so many amazing people.

Anyway, today's list is: "List the things that make you feel powerful." which at first I thought was a bit of a strange one because I'm not sure I ever really feel fully powerful or that that's something I want to feel. But, when I changed my association with the word powerful to things like independence, it was much easier to come up with a list and so these are the things that make me feel powerful...

  • Writing - Writing definitely makes me feel empowered. Sitting down and taking the time to get out my thoughts, especially if I'm writing about something I feel very strongly about, makes me feel very powerful afterwards. I don't know if that's a weird thing to say because I'm not sure writing would be the first thing that would spring to mind for most people but it did for me and so it's on the list!
  • Pushing myself when exercising - It's rare but when I'm in the exercising zone I feel amazing. They're really not lying when they say that exercise releases endorphins and it's something that makes me feel on top of the world when I feel like I've pushed myself.
  • Educating myself - I fully believe that knowledge is power. And being able to talk about a range of things having been privileged enough to receive (and to still be receiving) a wonderful education definitely makes me feel powerful. In my opinion education is the most important tool with which people can feel empowered.
  • Engaging politically - Along a similar line, in recent months if I've felt passionately about a political issue I've written to my MP about it. I always vote when given the opportunity and sign petitions on causes I believe in. I know how lucky I am to live in a country with a democracy where I have the right to vote and voice my opinion and, although I think the past couple of years have been incredibly depressing politically, being able to participate even in these small ways in politics makes me feel powerful. 
  • Earning money and choosing how to spend it - While I perhaps optimistically think that education is the most powerful tool through which people can feel empowered, I have no doubt that many would say this is in fact money. It's sad but our world really does revolve around money and those who have it typically have far more power than those who do not. And I have definitely felt powerful when I've earned my own money and chosen how to spend it. Obviously, being a student, I'm not exactly rolling in it but having had a part-time job all year has really empowered me in having a bit of money that I've worked for myself.
  • Starting conversations with strangers - Not that I do this very often, but it can be very daunting to start a conversation with someone you don't know well if at all but I get a genuine buzz from it when I do. I love people and so being able to strike up a conversation with someone new makes me feel great and, knowing that it's a bit of a daunting thing to do, does make me feel kinda powerful when I do it!
So there you have it, the things that make me feel powerful. Let me know what would be on your list - I'd be very curious to know how it varies from person to person!

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Thoughts On Finishing My Second Year of University

I wasn't really feeling writing a list this week (I know, I don't know who I am either!) but I was in the mood to write and so instead I thought I'd give you a mini essay of my thoughts on finishing my second year of uni since I'm driving home this afternoon (at the time of writing) and I'm an incredibly nostalgic person.

A year ago I wasn't all that fussed about uni. Sure, I'd mostly enjoyed my first year and had met some of my closest friends now but I found a lot of it unsettling and difficult and a lot to get used to. I think underlying it all was a pressure that I had put on myself to be having the best time ever at all times. Because that's what everyone says uni's like, right? A three year long party where you have no worries and no responsibilities.

I hate to burst that bubble but it's just not true. Yes, uni is great and fun and you don't have many responsibilities in the grand scheme of things. But it's also really, really tough at times. You're living away from home (probably for the first time) with a bunch of strangers and it comes with a lot of expectations. I have no doubt that I put those expectations on myself but I think that if there wasn't such a stereotype of uni as being the best thing ever then I wouldn't have put them on myself so harshly.

Anyway, all of this is to say that at the end of last year I really thought that uni would pass me by and that I'd think of it as a pretty good experience but be very much looking forward to starting the next chapter of my life and hopefully having a great career. And then second year happened.

I have absolutely loved this year. Living in a house has, for me, been so much more fun than living in halls as I did in first year (although I think I'll now always remember halls fondly); I've enjoyed my course so much more and I've met and spent time with people who make me laugh and smile every single day. It definitely hasn't all been sunshine and rainbows but, overall, I've had the best time this year and it's made me emotional to think that in a year's time uni will be over for me.

This year I've been able to actually get to know Exeter when last year I didn't really make the most of the chance to get to know a completely new-to-me city. And I've really fallen in love with the place. It's very small compared to London (where I'm from) but I think that's its charm and it's full of cute and cool cafes, great shops and beautiful architecture.

I've put myself out there a lot more over the past few months for sure. In first year I was probably the lowest in self-esteem I've been in a long time. Which was unexpected because I wasn't shy or afraid to talk to the new people I was meeting but perhaps it was a by-product of feeling like I had to be confident all the time. Whatever the cause, this year I've regained my confidence and haven't been so afraid of trying new things and talking to new people. And I've learnt a lot from that. I'm still far from the most outgoing person you'll ever meet but I've felt a lot more 'me' this year and it's felt really nice.

I've got into a good routine with uni work, friends and everything else in second year. Last year I was unsurprisingly a bit lost and lacking a proper routine because I spent a long time getting used to everything that's involved with moving to a new place, studying in a completely new way and spending time with new people. And, as someone who thrives on routine for the most part, that wasn't the best thing for me at all. This last year I feel like I've got it down a lot more. I know that I like to do uni work like a job i.e. working on campus rather than at home and having set working hours so that when I get home I can just relax and try to not think about my impending deadlines. I know that I do like to go out (which by the end of first year I felt like I'd never be keen to do) but that it's not more than two times a week generally so that when I do I genuinely enjoy it. I know that I need to look after my body and eat what I want (within reason) because generally my body will tell me what it needs and that's the most important thing and far more important than being skinny. (Maybe more on that another time but my body image in first year was appalling and as someone who's never struggled with that it was a huge shock to me.)

Basically, this year I had the best time and I think the main reason for that is that I finally let go of the idea that uni is supposed to be one big party at all times and realised that, like anything in life, there'll be ups and downs and that's really ok. No one is having as much fun as they seem to be and the idea that they are is unhealthy and ultimately irrelevant to your own happiness. The ironic thing, of course, is that only once I'd let go of that did I start to fully enjoy and appreciate uni but that's always the way isn't it!

So I can't believe I'm already writing this but, second year, you've been a dream and I'm so grateful for all the experiences I've had and people I've spent time with. I've been so lucky to have met and spent time with the people I have this year and they're the ones who have really made it for me. Third year, here we come!