Sunday, 21 August 2016

Paris 2016 Travel Diary

I have known my friend Rosie since we were four years old. We lived on the same road until I was eight and went to the same primary school. In the past fifteen years that we've known each other we had been in Paris together twice before this trip a couple of weeks ago. Once, when we were both eight and our families randomly bumped into each other in Disneyland (talk about a small world right?!), and another time when we were fifteen for our school's French exchange. One way or another, Paris has kind of become our place and, since my Dad retired to a small town forty minutes outside of Paris last year, we decided to take a visit this summer so that I could see him and so that we could go to Paris again.

A couple of Fridays ago we hopped on the Eurostar at an ungodly hour, slept most of the journey, and met my Dad at the Gare du Nord. The Eurostar is incredibly convenient and, if you book in advance, it can be very reasonably priced so, if you live in or near London, I'd say it's the best way to get into Paris. 

We spent the first night at my Dad and his girlfriend's, who live in a really beautiful house with an incredible garden. It felt like the kind of place you could go to and really relax, what with the sound of the little pond's fountain in the garden and a hammock to read books in. We had a delicious lunch there and then headed to Versailles since neither Rosie nor myself had been before. 

The Château de Versailles, as you can see, is absolutely breathtaking. Home to King Louis XIV and built originally in the seventeenth century, the palace and gardens are HUGE and to say that they are extravagant would be a massive understatement. It's almost grotesque how lavish the palace is, but it is an amazing sight to behold and worth seeing in my opinion.

We didn't go inside the palace itself as the queue to enter was so long, so if you wanted to see the interior I'd suggest booking in advance if you can. But the gardens are much quicker to get into and my student ticket was only seven euros which I'd say is pretty reasonable considering how big the grounds are. You could easily spend hours there walking around but, after an hour or so, we decided to head back as it was so hot.

My Dad has been telling me about a little Italian restaurant in the village he lives in ever since he moved there so we all went there for dinner in the evening and it did serve amazing pizza so he was definitely right to rave about it! We had a fairly early night as Rosie and I were so tired from the 4:30am wake up call and wanted to make the most of our weekend in Paris, which started the next morning.

 After an early lunch on Saturday, my Dad and his girlfriend Nicole drove us to our Airbnb in Paris and left us to do our own exploring. On a side note, the Airbnb we stayed in was perfect for us. It was a tiny studio but the wifi and shower were great, the bed was super comfy and the apartment was just a five minute walk from the metro stop 'Bonne Nouvelle', which meant that we could get into the centre of Paris really quickly. We were amazed at how cheap the Parisian metro was, especially compared with London underground's prices, and so would highly advise using the metro if you want to get around Paris quickly!

Since Rosie and I had both been to Paris multiple times before, we decided to see our favourite parts again but not to feel rushed to pack loads in. This meant that the weekend was actually very relaxing and not a mad race against time to fit in as much as possible each day. We headed to the Champs-Élysées first, which is one of Paris' most well known shopping streets, stopped in at Ladurée for one four macaroons each (which were *heavenly*) and walked to the top of the street to see the Arc de Triomphe, as pictured above. As I'm sure you'll have heard if you haven't seen it yourself, Parisian architecture is absolutely beautiful and, although this street is always full of people, it's a really nice place to visit if you have the time.

The Eiffel Tower is just a fifteen to twenty minute walk from the Champs-Élysées and so we walked along the Seine until we spotted it. Although we'd both seen it so many times before, you can't really go to Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower - it's like some kind of law!

After sitting on the grass in the sun near the tower for a while and chatting, we went for a quick and early dinner before having a nutella and banana crepe and then catching the metro back to our apartment where we spent the evening watching YouTube videos on the tv. What with the horrible terrorist attacks in France over the past eighteen months, we didn't feel like staying out late and that was the reasoning behind heading back so early, although I know such things could happen at any time of course.

Sunday was an incredibly hot day and we ended up taking a lot of pitstops to cool down because of that! We headed out of the apartment relatively early, got on the metro, and walked to the Sacré-Coeur. The Sacré-Coeur is Rosie's favourite thing to see in Paris, and the cathedral is absolutely beautiful. I've never seen it in front of such a blue sky before and it really is a sight to behold. If you go you must walk up to it and walk around - there's an artists' market with lots of artists selling their amazing paintings at the top. I have my own little canvas painting of the Eiffel Tower my Mum bought me there years ago and I adore it; there are some real treasures in that market. The view from the top is breathtaking as well, and shows you just how special Paris truly is.

After a walk around we stopped in at a supermarket and boulangerie to buy a fresh baguette and some picnic essentials. We made our way to the Jardin du Luxembourg and had an incredible picnic with fresh baguette bread, salami, brie and grapes. It was so nice to relax in the shade of the lovely gardens for a while after all those steps in the heat up to the Sacré-Coeur.

If you haven't been to Paris before you simply must visit some museums, I'm not the biggest fan of art exhibitions although I've started to appreciate them more in recent years, but some pieces of art I believe simply beg to be seen. The Musée d'Orsay and Louvre are particularly famous and special galleries to visit. But, since Rosie and I had both been there before, we hoped to visit a new museum and, having heard a lot about the Musée de l'Orangerie, we headed there on Sunday afternoon. However, the queue to get in was over an hour and, in the heat, we decided we couldn't wait that long in a queue and so gave it a miss this time. It was a real shame but we should have thought it through really - it's definitely one to see next time!

Instead, we made our way to Shakespeare & Co, an incredibly sweet English bookshop near the Notre-Dame Cathedral, picked up a book each after having a looking around the shop, and sat in its lovely cafe outside and read for about an hour and a half. Being in the heat and the sun all day travelling around can be incredibly tiring and I think we both needed that down time. It was actually so nice to just read for a while; I feel like I haven't had the chance to do that in forever, never mind in such an amazing location.

That evening we went to a restaurant that I can't recommend enough. I found an article from The Guardian featuring the best affordable restaurants Paris has to offer and, as so many were closed due to it being a Sunday/many restaurants closing for August while their owners are on holiday, we ended up at the Bistrot Victoires which remained open! It's a wonderful restaurant. We sat outside, had a really friendly and polite waiter, and proceeded to eat the most delicious steak and chips (me) and duck confit (Rosie) with a glass of wine. We followed this with profiteroles with hazelnut ice cream in the middle (both of us) for around twenty euros each. It was *amazing* and we loved it. Definitely go there if you're looking for a nice, authentic and affordable meal!

The next day we went back to my Dad's to spend time with him and Nicole a bit before getting the Eurostar home. All in all it was such a great trip and so nice to get to catch up with Rosie and explore some more of Paris. It's not my favourite place in the world as much as I do like it but I can see why people fall in love with it and I think it's somewhere you have to see at least once in your lifetime.

Sorry for how long this post has become but I wanted to include everything and not leave parts out -  I really hope you've enjoyed reading it anyway!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

On My Happy List #07

The past couple of months have been a bit manic, in that I've spent them going from one place to another, catching up with different people and not spending all that much time relaxing at home. I've really loved them though and been so happy over the past few weeks so thought I'd take a moment to share a bit of positivity and let you all know what's been making me happy as of late. Please do let me know what's been making you happy recently too!

Taken by the lovely Rosie in the Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris

1 // Travelling - As you've probably seen from my recent write ups of trips I've taken, in the past few months I've been lucky enough to go to Venice and Verona, Romania, Cornwall, Paris and am in Budapest right now! Seeing new places and rediscovering ones I've already been to is just the best thing I think you can do when you have a few months off. There's really nothing like seeing new parts of the world and immersing yourself in different cultures to give you a new and uplifting perspective on the planet we inhabit - something that is harder and harder to achieve now that things seem to have become incredibly dark in recent times and so I'm hugely grateful for having had the chance to travel so much this summer.

2 // Clearing out my wardrobe - This may sound like a strange thing to have made me happy enough to be on this list but I can't begin to tell you how much better clearing out my wardrobe has made me feel. Coming home from university for the summer and trying to fit all of my clothes into a wardrobe overspilling with ones that were already there was no mean feat and it drove me mad every time I opened it to feel like I couldn't find anything I wanted to wear. So, finally, I sat down and sorted through everything and got rid of things that I literally haven't worn in years. I've made a bit of money from ebaying some of it and when I open my wardrobe I now feel like I can actually see everything. All in all it was definitely worth doing. And it's given me an excuse to buy some new clothes that I actually want to wear, as well as some new pairs of matching underwear. Because when do you ever feel more ready to tackle the world than when you're wearing matching underwear?! It was a necessity ;)

3 // Having this space to document everything and buying my first 'proper' camera - Having managed to vaguely keep up with writing here this year has made me so so happy. It's just wonderful to come here and write up whatever I may be wanting to share on any given day. I may not have thousands of readers and it may just be a hobby, but it's such a good one and I *love* it. Since I've been enjoying it so much I decided to finally take the plunge and buy a proper camera in July so that I don't rely on my iPhone for photos anymore. I went for the Olympus Pen E-PL7 on Rhianna's and many other's recommendations and I have truly fallen in love with it. It's so easy to use, although I'd love to learn more about its different settings, it takes amazing photos and isn't so big that it weighs me down in my handbag. I'd really recommend it if you're searching for your first camera!

4 // Catching up with people I love - The time I've been given with these months off has allowed me to finally catch up with and spend proper time with so many people I love. And is there anything better than that really? As everyone always says, time goes so quickly and it means that I often don't catch up with people as often as I'd like to. So getting to see my best friends on a fairly regular basis this summer has made such a huge difference to my mood - it feels like such a treat considering we've been dotted all around the country this year. 

5 // Summer - Pretty much all of the above things that have been making me happy have been possible because I've had time off. Summer really is my favourite season - the weather (when the sun comes out in England), the relaxed atmosphere (is it just me or is everyone less stressed in the Summer?) and the excuse to drink Pimms on tap (not that I do that... of course!) really lifts my spirit like nothing else. Pathetic fallacy is something that I find genuinely affects me and so I truly am my happiest in the summer months. When the days are longer I feel freer and more alive and that unsurprisingly makes me incredibly happy!

I hope you're all having a lovely week and enjoying August as much as I am. I'll be back soon with my Paris travel diary!

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Cornwall 2016 Travel Diary

Cornwall has to be the epitome of the English holiday. It boasts some stunning beaches, fun activities and, of course, an abundance of fish and chip shops. It is, however, as much of England is, prone to rain, grey skies and low temperatures, even in August. Nonetheless, it's the perfect place to go for a holiday with your best friends - especially if you're lucky enough to have a friend who will let you all stay in her family house there, as I was at the start of last week!

Up until last week I hadn't been to Cornwall since I was a little girl despite spending this year at university in Devon, so I was really looking forward to seeing some parts of it again. Myself and seven of my friends drove down to Rock in North Cornwall last Monday. Although it was a long five hour drive, we were prepared with snacks, a great roadtrip playlist and each other's company which resulted in it going much quicker than expected.

When we arrived at the house it was, in typical British fashion, pouring down with rain so we ran in and had a sit down before attempting to face the outside. In fact, on the first day we ended up only going out to go to the small village supermarket, bakery and butcher's as it didn't stop raining for even one minute! There's something so quaint about going to a little village where you have to go to three different places to buy all the things you want which did nothing but add to the novelty of Rock.

It was still a lovely first day though as it had been such a long time since we'd last been together and being cooped up inside gave us a chance to catch up, to eat some amazing chilli made by my friend Lydia, and to drink copious amounts of homemade sangria - taking us back to our trip to Barcelona last year!

The next morning (some of us with sorer heads than others!) we had bacon sandwiches and watched a lot of Friends until the weather brightened up in the afternoon. Once it had, we jumped into the cars and drove the short drive to Polzeath Beach, which I would highly recommend going to if you're in the area. I've never been one to particularly enjoy going in the sea and have in the past actively avoided trying out any kind of water activity beyond splashing around a bit. But, as everyone else was, I decided to give body boarding a try, wetsuits and all!

And, do you know what? I absolutely LOVED it! I'm still in shock typing this now considering I spent the entirety of a surfing lesson I had a few years ago falling off and into the sea, vowing to never try anything like it again, but body boarding was so much easier and so fun! It really had to be the highlight of the trip for me as it was such a nice surprise to enjoy spending such a long time in the sea. That evening we had fish and chips, played Cluedo and watched Wild Child. It was honestly the perfect day with my favourites.

On the following day we got the ferry over to Padstow. Padstow is the *cutest* little English town you've ever seen. It's very small but incredibly sweet, filled with pasty shops (which is a compulsory stop for lunch!), stalls selling frendship bracelets and anklets, and little shops selling classic seaside prints and shells. There are also a few ice cream shops that sell delicious ice cream, which I can confirm is definitely worth getting!

Wednesday was our last day sadly as I was going to Paris early Friday morning and so we didn't spend very long in Padstow before coming back to Rock and setting off back home. I know travelling five hours for just two nights seems crazy but this summer we've all been so busy that it was the only time we could all do when Emma's family weren't staying in their holiday house themselves. It was so worth it though to be able to spend even that amount of time together, away from everything, considering how much we've been apart this year at different universities. Cornwall is such a beautiful place and well worth visiting if you're looking for a break from city life in England. Polzeath Beach especially stole my heart so I'd highly recommend going there if you have a chance.

At some point over the next few weeks I'll be writing up my travel diary for Paris which I got back from on Monday and then I'm off to Budapest this Tuesday so you can expect another travel diary sometime after that. I really hope you enjoy reading travel posts as there's lots coming your way at the moment! Have a lovely weekend, whatever you're up to!

Friday, 5 August 2016

A Year in Letters

I love the written word. Always have, always will. But reading or typing online will never compare for me to writing by hand or receiving physical letters. Hearing my phone vibrate to let me know I've received an email will never live up to the same feeling of joy I feel when I hear a letter drop through the postbox that's a personal, hand-written letter and not just another piece of junk mail. 

Letters take so much more time and effort than picking up your phone and sending a text. When reading them you can see where the person has made mistakes or gotten excited because their handwriting gets a little messier. Some of them are things which I think should be treasured forever. This and their rarity nowadays is what makes them so very special in my eyes. 

So when one of my closest friends, Josie, decided to spend this year on a gap year teaching at a school in Senegal, West Africa, and asked people to write to her, I knew immediately that I'd love to. Yes, she did often have wifi when she was out there so could be reached by text, but I thought that her receiving letters with my messy and recognisable-to-her handwriting would be a way of making her smile on the tougher days and a way of giving her a little piece of home. I also knew how happy it would make me to receive letters from her when she was so far away.

Today she's coming home after a whole year away. And, although she's being whisked off straight to Cornwall for a week, meaning I won't see her right away, I'm counting down the days until my friends and I get to have a reunion with her. 

It's been such a pivotal year for the both of us - hers being away for so long in a completely different culture, and mine starting university and moving away from home for the first time. And because we kept up our letter-writing (not without gaps due to the at times sporadic Senegalese postal service), I now have a small collection of letters from Josie that are spaced throughout this year. It's funny but lovely reading them back, seeing how both our experiences changed through Josie's wonderful words. It feels as though this year has gone so fast, but reading Josie's thoughts on everything through the letters has reminded me just how much has happened in both of our lives in the past twelve months. 

Hearing about her wildly different life in this way has been such a pleasure for me. There are experiences Josie described when she was reflecting on what had happened since she last wrote to me that I just don't think she would have bothered to write over text, and vice versa. Reading back the letters, I'm so incredibly proud of my friend for giving up this year for such a worthy cause - she's truly amazing. And now I have a way to remind her of that in all the years to come when she will no doubt be incredibly modest about the whole thing. 

Writing to her was so cathartic for me as it would allow me to stop and really reflect on everything that was going on in my life. As I'm sure you can imagine, a year of such change has brought with it a lot of ups and downs for me and so being able to write about them helped me to get them out and let them go. And, in turn, reading one of my best friend's handwriting giving me some of the best advice I've ever been given was honestly such a comfort whenever I was anxious or uncertain about things. 

These letters contain nearly everything I have felt and the ways in which I have changed over this year as well as so many of Josie's ups and downs, (I can't say on her behalf how much of her life they contain). I don't think many people are lucky enough to say that they have a collection like this with one of their closest friends in a world where so much of our lives are online. I will really treasure them forever.