2017 Goals

I was at the Bologna Book Fair last week, which means being collected at 4.30 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

Presumably as a result of sleep deprivation, I always seem to end up having profound conversations with the taxi driver, and this time it was about how ‘the one thing given to all of us equally is time’. While this isn’t true in terms of lifetimes, his point was that, no matter our circumstances, we don’t get any more than 24 hours in a day.

Dali clock

Dalí – Danza del Tempo II at Bologna Airport

It reminded me of an assembly in high school, which offered up one of the lessons I actually remember after fifteen years. The woman said, ‘If I gave each of you £1440 right now, how would you spend it?’ Everyone had an idea of course – Disneyland, loads of pizza, or optimistic 13-year-olds thinking they’d get a car. She then revealed that she had picked the number 1440 because that is how many minutes we have in a day – how were we going to spend them?

In the interest of trying to make the most of each 24 hours, I thought it might be a good idea to set some goals for 2017 after all. They might help me to recognise how I use my time and how I might spend it better (not to mention help me to focus on the blog). Here are some of the things I would like to achieve:

Do something good. With all the awful stories on the news every day, it would be nice to do a little bit of good. I’ve thought for years about contacting Age UK to volunteer – maybe now’s the time.

Read 25 books. I’ve read some great books so far, including The Sun is Also a Star.

Illustrated Philosopher's Stone

And reread this beauty.

Work on my languages. It is sad how quickly language skills can fade, even after spending years on them! I want to make more effort to surround myself with French, Spanish and Italian whether through reading, films, music or holidays to try to maintain or improve them. Next up, Cinema Paradiso!

Try eight new recipes. I have started cooking and I actually quite enjoy it. I even signed up for an online cookbook subscription (Cooked), and even if I did this largely for the free crate of wine, it is a good resource that I’d like to use. Plus I’d like to make breakfast muffins. Batch cooking! Batch cooking is the goal.

Brie and tomato pasta

Ah, double carbs.

Do more on days off. I definitely need time to do nothing each week, but I can still make better use of my days off. When I first moved here I did so much – and, OK, spent too much money – but there’s a balance to be found. I’d like to plan at least one interesting activity a month, even if it’s just visiting a restaurant I’ve been desperate to try.

Visit eight new restaurants/cafes/bars. There, I’ve made it its own goal.

Visit a new city/country. I’ve spent hours researching holidays to Santorini, and have to conclude that it’s sadly out of my budget for now. I will visit somewhere new though.

Visit two places I haven’t yet been in the UK. I went to Canterbury in February, so this is an extra incentive to write about it. I’m also keen on Winchester, Oxford and Cornwall.

Lovely day out in Canterbury. #CanterburyCathedral #canterburytales #tourist #lbloggers

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See three new shows. I’ve seen The Girls so far.

Make a scrapbook. This is on my list basically every year and I still haven’t done it. I go to see quite a lot of theatre, and I have a few concerts this year, so I need somewhere to keep all my tickets, as well as some of the many photos I take!

Build the blog. I neglected the blog a little last year, but I don’t want to give it up. Posts could be shorter – reviews, an observation or a photo. There is so much to write about. If anything, I would love to increase the time I spend writing, not just blogging but more creatively too. We’ll see!

Miss EU Already

Today was the day that Theresa May triggered Article 50 and gave notice we were leaving the EU. To be frank, I can’t be bothered going into all the reasons I thought, and still think, we should have stayed. It’s too late, I don’t have the energy to argue with anyone, and we’re going to have to make the best of it now.

As a little tribute today though, here’s a list of things I love(d) about the EU or the various countries in it. (Or, ‘A list of things that are going to be more expensive/difficult now and for what?!’ Ahem. Only outburst, I swear.)

  • Taking part in the Erasmus programme was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Salamanca

  • Salamanca, where I did my exchange, is one of the most beautiful cities in the whole word. I had some of my best nights out at the Irish Rover (of course there was an Irish pub) and you would meet people of different nationalities every time. On the academic side, there were some standout lecturers whose classes were among the most interesting I attended over five years of uni!
  • This programme has since been replaced by Erasmus+, but allowed me to teach in France. The confidence I gained during this experience was invaluable.

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  • Paris is also one of the best cities in the world – so much so that I couldn’t resist going back to work there again. Notre-Dame, Rive Gauche, éclairs with chocolate cream inside, climbing the Eiffel Tower, practically living on the Métro, Carrefour, chocolate with smarties from Leader Price, fresh baguettes, cheap wine, dinner parties with friends, trying to find a job and flat and sort out taxes… it was the most wonderful and difficult time of my life.
  • The ability to up and move to 27 countries on a whim.
  • The fact that our thirteen-strong team at work includes nine women from abroad, six from countries in the EU, because we need mad skillz that not all Brits are interested in.
  • All the languages.
  • French brie. No offence, Somerset; it’s just not the same.
  • Chorizo. (Well, at least I might no longer be able to afford a heart attack.)
  • Belgian chocolate. (This list has become very centred around food. Like me.)
  • Basically all of Italy’s food. (With a soft spot for Bologna.)

cheeseandbacon

  • The Dragon Khan in PortAventura, the best rollercoaster I’ve ever been on.
  • San Miguel market in Madrid.
  • Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseille, and the view from the top of the hill.
  • Drinking in Dublin.

Forum 4

  • The ruins of Rome.

And now this has made me realise I’ve only visited eight of the countries! At least there’s still time to check off a few more before we possibly have to think about visas. Good thing too, because on my list of places I’d love to visit are:

  • Budapest. This city looks absolutely stunning, and I’ve wanted to visit for years now. The Danube is lined by some of the most beautiful buildings in the world, and I’d love to see them in real life.
  • Salzburg. I want to do the Sound of Music tour.
  • Venice, Florence, Verona (all of Italy, really).
  • Copenhagen, then the train to Stockholm.
  • Prague, Vienna, Kraków, Berlin, Santorini, Athens…

Photo Challenge: Atop

This week’s Photo Challenge is ‘Atop’.

I had trouble deciding which photo to post, as my favourites are generally all from the highest building or hill of wherever I’ve been – you can’t beat a nice view! I discovered this in Paris, when I realised how many stairs I was making my visitors climb. I remembered it climbing the many hills in Rome. Weirdly, after two-and-a-half years in London I still haven’t been to the Shard yet (well, the bar, but not the very top!), but can check off the Walkie-Talkie building, Tower Bridge, Monument, Primrose Hill and the view from the top of Greenwich Park.

For this post, here is a panorama from the Griffith Observatory in LA. (I still have the songs from La La Land going round in my head.) This was the day before I met my Trek group. Around 5000 miles from home, I had never travelled so far on my own before. (Although I still managed to meet a Scottish couple on the bus!) After months of feeling like I hadn’t been getting anywhere, literally going this far made it a surreal day.

If you click on the photo, you should be able to see a bigger version. I like all the contrasts in it: sand and greenery versus the city; hills and valleys; a grey cloud and blue skies.

LA panorama

Wonder

I really love this week’s Photo Challenge:

For this week’s challenge, show us something that surprised you on “the road taken.” It could be a heritage building in your city or town as seen from a new-to-you angle, a yummy meal on a road trip detour, or the penny you found on a casual stroll. […] This challenge is wide open — show us the excitement, surprise, wonder, or amazement of your “road taken.”

Trying to think of the situations where life has surprised me brings back a lot of good memories. It was difficult to decide whether to go with small, funny things – a somewhat amateur engraving of a face in ancient rock in Marseille, for example – or whether to go with a beautiful view. (I might have to turn more of my ideas into a longer post later.)

In the end, I decided to go with an awe-inspiring moment, and it’s hard to top one of the natural wonders of the world – the Grand Canyon. I was never really sure that seeing it was on the cards for me, as incredible as I thought it would be. My trip across the States was almost a rash decision, and I couldn’t believe I was going to experience so many of these places I’d only seen in films or read about in books.

When we arrived at the Grand Canyon National Park, our Trek America leader, Gin (she was simply the best), made us all put on blindfolds. She then made us hold hands so she could lead us (down steps and everything) towards a good viewing point. I can only imagine how ridiculous the eleven of us looked – in fact, I have some idea, as there were little bursts of laughter from people we couldn’t yet see.

When Gin was happy we were in the right place, she told us we could take off the blindfolds. She made sure we had the best possible first impression of one of the most incredible, unusual sights in the world. (She got a little round of applause for that from the others around us.)

This photo was the left-hand side of my initial view, and it’s one of my favourite photos I’ve taken. I think it’s because the lone person looks so tiny in the vastness, away out on this ledge. (They really shouldn’t have been out there, but I love this shot.)

Grand Canyon man

What I didn’t fully realise until going through my album just now was how much I had zoomed in. This was my actual perspective:

Grand Canyon

Now that is being tiny in the grand scheme of things.

Things I’ve learned since moving in

I can’t believe how quickly it’s gone, but on Monday it was six months since Adam and I moved in together. I meant to do an update after a month or so, so this is a lot late, but it’s a decent milestone to reflect. (‘Reflect’ meaning ‘list the mundanities of my new day-to-day’.)

Every place has its own quirks, and you can get used to most of them. For example, a half-giant must have put up the mirrors in our flat. I’m 5’7, and I can see my head and shoulders in one, my eyes and forehead in another, and genuinely can’t see in the third.

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This might be the weirdest picture I’ve ever taken, but see how high this mirror is?!

I finally understand the appeal of homeware.

I love plants. I kept a basil plant alive for four months. That is a new record for me, as it was previously around four days. I loved him, but it wasn’t enough. Now I have a succulent, which is supposed to be nearly impossible to kill. We also had daffodils grow unexpectedly in the window box, which was a nice surprise. (And it is sentences like that that make me feel old.)

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I can’t decide if it needs watered or not.

I have been reminded of just how many neighbours you have in a flat. The people next door don’t like each other very much. On the other hand, the people upstairs need a new bed. And someone in the block needs to smoke less weed.

I don’t wear 70% of my wardrobe. This is something I had always suspected, but after hanging up half of my clothes and hating them every time I opened the wardrobe, then keeping half in a suitcase that I didn’t unpack for five months, I realised I only wear about seven outfits on rotation.

I have a lot of stuff. After a month in the flat I announced, ‘We really need to get the rest of our stuff put away.’ Adam replied, ‘You mean you?’ And I was insulted. Then I thought about it, and realised it was indeed all my stuff.

heart-fairy-lights

There is a mysterious, imaginary ‘we’ that develops when you’re part of a co-habiting couple (as seen in the previous example), and I am not the only one who uses it. One morning, the day after I’d got home from a work trip, I was informed that, ‘We need to pour that milk away.’ I looked at the expiry date, which had been a few days prior, and asked why he hadn’t done it then. He said he was out that day. I said, ‘What about the day after?’ He sheepishly replied, ‘It was my birthday?’ Fortunately ‘we’ have not had to throw the milk out since.

Someone once told me that a good thing about living with boys is that they’ll take the bins out. I have had eleven male housemates over the course of house-sharing, and only one actually did his share of emptying the bins. It isn’t this one. (I feel bad leaving this bit in as this week he did take the bin out. For the fourth time.)

Cooking can be fun. Yes, I cook now. I still can’t believe it myself. If we only have a couple of hours when I get home and before Adam goes to work, then cooking together is actually a nice way to catch up on each other’s day.

paella

Finally, sleep envy is a very real thing.

Photo Challenge: A Good Match

I thought I would take part in this week’s Photo Challenge with a picture from my day trip to Canterbury the weekend before last. The theme is ‘A Good Match’, looking for pleasing pairings.

Instagram is full of interesting doors (my friend Charly has a lovely account called Travelling Doors) but I have so many photos of archways or gates. Perhaps I’m just nosy. My good match is the foreground of the image and the glimpse of what’s beyond the gate – I liked the similar shapes of the gate and the windows, and the tree in the middle.

This was taken at St Augustine’s Abbey. (I hope to write more about the trip soon!)

canterbury-gate

 

Itchy Feet

I had the day to myself today, so was looking forward to getting some blog posts written. Instead, I have spent six hours looking at weekend breaks near London, because I am starting to lose my mind.

This is the first place I have spent more than a year consecutively since I was twenty years old. For so many years, everything kept changing – flats, jobs, courses, countries – so this is the first time I’ve settled. However, the expectation of doing something different soon hasn’t gone away, a sort of hangover from school/uni days that everything changes come September. Since I have no plans to change the big things, I need to get some variety by doing new things and visiting new places. Even with the thousands of things London has to offer, it’s not the same as going somewhere else.

It is almost a year since I went to Dublin and the hen do in Marbella, and I am absolutely desperate to get away. (Going to Bologna and Frankfurt with work absolutely do not count as getting away. If you need to ask why, you have never been to a book fair; it is quite simply working long hours in a place that is not the office.)

Work is full-on until mid-April, so I don’t want to go on a ‘proper’ holiday as I won’t enjoy it fully, or I would be swanning around abroad right this second. Instead, I thought that simply going anywhere new would calm the travel craving. My boyfriend has a weekend off next week, so I’ve been looking at places near enough to get to after work on Friday. If I have no objections by tomorrow evening, I’m booking wherever I like. Or I’ll go myself!

As for the rest of the year, I thought I could turn a trip home into a little tour around the Highlands. I could take advantage of the Eurostar and practise my French again. Or it would be incredible to go to Iceland. Although I might also be coming around to sunny, relaxing holidays, so perhaps the unbelievably beautiful Santorini? Then again, I have wanted to visit Budapest for years now, and it is also gorgeous. Or…