Saturday, 31 March 2018

11 Things I've Learned Since Giving Up My Job

A year ago yesterday I gave up my job in order to write full time. I still can't quite believe that I plucked up the courage to do it. And that I am still here, still without a paying job but still going. It has been an enlightening year ways that I would never have imagined, so I thought I would share with you some of the lessons that I have learned.

If you really want something, you will do it no matter what
There is a difference between having a dream and having an ambition. A dream is a fluffy, up in the air source of day dreaming material. Ambitions you work towards and work hard. If you really really want to achieve that ambition, you will do whatever it takes to get there. There is no giving up, no half arsing it, nothing but determination is left.

You should never ever dismiss your achievements...
As you might have guessed, I am not quite the published author that I wanted to become this year. But that's fine. Well, not fine, it would be better if I was published. However, just because I have not yet achieved my ultimate goal does not mean that I should dismiss the fact that I have completed first drafts of three novels, am halfway through a fourth, had a tiny bit of interest from a literary agent (although that led to nothing in the end) and was on the media team for the Edinburgh Fringe this year. I think I have had a lot of opportunities to pat myself on the back and didn't bother.

...even the little ones
On top of which there were countless other things that completely pass me by but are just as important. I went on trips, met new people, was a good friend, grew my bookstagram, got up every day and am still here fighting. Nothing you do in the day should be shrugged off.

You are stronger than you know
I don't think I have ever put myself to the test more than I have this year. I have been rejected over and over again. I am exhausted mentally. But I haven't given up. And now I know for sure that I won't give up EVER.

Social Interaction is good...
Living and working at home means that it is very very easy to hide away, not seeing anyone. Sometimes that is all you want to do. But it isn't always healthy. Having a little bit of a social life and not completely isolating yourself will make you happier in the long run.

...but not always
That being said, it is ok to take time for yourself. To be alone and put yourself first. If you don't want to talk to people all the time, there is nothing wrong with that.

See the world
When you are stuck within the four walls of your job, it is easy to forget how much of the world is out there, carrying on without you every day. There are so many beautiful things to see and do. Give yourself a break and let yourself loose in it once in a while.

It is ok to go against advice and follow your gut
I have learnt to go with my instinct as far as I possibly can. It generally tells you what is right, what you are capable of and what you want.

If people truly love you, they will support you
When you are serious about something, you will speak more passionately about it. And the people who care about you will sense that. They will support you, even if they don't fully agree with whatever you are doing. Whoever doesn't is not worth having around. There's no room for negativity in your life.

There's no such thing as a step backwards
It is an inevitable fact that in the next few months I am going to have to go back to paid work. And that feels like a terrible step backwards for me. I haven't achieved publication and therefore I have to go back to where I was a year ago. But that isn't the way it is at all. I am not the same person I was a year ago. It isn't a step back. It is another step forward towards my goal. Every step is a step forward whatever you are doing. Because with each passing day, you are a step closer to what you want.

The cost of living is lower than you realise
Having no money coming in is great motivation to stop spending unnecessarily. And although life seems expensive, it actually isn't so bad. There are so many things which the media tricks you into believing you must have and must spend money on. But actually you can strip it right back. Keep life simple and just enjoy experiences rather than cluttering up your life with 'stuff.'

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Love is Everything



Welcome to Valentine's Day - one of the most depressing days of the year if you are single, one of the most pressure-filled days of the year if you are in a relationship (up there with the anniversary, it is usual for BIG EXCITING things to happen). I have written before about how I have a problem with this over-commercialised day and how much dissatisfaction it causes whatever your relationship status. So I am not going to rehash old ground. Instead, I want to talk about love itself.

Sure that might be a bit cliché for a Valentine's Day blogpost. But what I am about to say needs to be said. Love is such an important part of our world - the most important part of our world and represents all that is good in it. Which is why, of course, the shops have found a way to exploit it and make money from it. Of course they have. That's what humans do. On Valentine's Day, romantic love is the type that is focused on, completely eradicating the rest.  But it is not the only love out there.

What about the love for the friends who pick up the pieces when your little romances go wrong and are there for you no matter what? What about the love for your family who do so much for you and, again, are there for you no matter what? What about the love for your passions and hobbies and career and all the things which keep you sane in the day to day? Should none of these matter? Should none of these be celebrated?

All of these forms of love are as just as important (if not more important) than romantic love. But they don't get a look in at all on Valentine's Day. Which just shows what a superficial day it is. It is not a reflection of true love. It isn't a day which matters at all. What is important is that, regardless of your relationship status or whether you have any plans, you know you are loved. There are people out there who need your love and who love you in return. So, with that in mind, I hope you all had the greatest day.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Brussels/Bruges New Year 2017/18

As I had so much fun wandering Europe (specifically, Germany) to celebrate Christmas, I thought it was only right that I should return. And return quickly. So for New Year, I headed to the ever so slightly more petite Belgium for 4 days of relaxation and chocolate scoffing. And to bring in 2018 in style, of course.


We discussed a few different options and eventually decided on the quaint historic town of Bruges and right from the moment we arrived I knew it was a good shout. That place was beautiful. But before we even reached the town, we also had the opportunity to explore the capital of Belgium itself, Brussels. We had to fly into Brussels and because we landed just after 8.30am (getting up at 3.30am to go to the airport is NOT fun. Why do I never learn?) it made perfect sense, particularly as we weren't allowed to check into our hotel until after 3pm anyway.


As soon as we stepped out of Brussel's Central Station, we spied a chocolate shop. Could we resist? Of course we couldn't. We were in Belgium!!! It was the home of the best chocolate in the world. So we popped across the road and started the trip in the only way that a trip to Belgium should start - with a waffle. Complete with ice cream, cream AND chocolate sauce. The Belgians know how to serve a waffle properly. It was a total dream.


Once replenished, we could begin our explorations properly. Due to limited time, we stuck to a few miles in the very centre of town - this flying visit to Brussels was a literal taster - but it was enough to know that I want to return. It is gorgeous. There was so much to see, even just from walking the streets and observing what was going on around us. We found that we just came across interesting parts of the city by accident and that's the way I really like to explore. For instance, we wandered in the direction of the 'pissing boy' and were only attracted to this tiny delicate fountain due to the humungous crowd that was surrounding it. And it really was exactly what it sounds like - a tiny boy with the water spout ideally located to make it look as if he was peeing into the bowl below. We had to get to the front of the crowd, basically pushing up our faces against the railing to get a proper view of it. That's how tiny it was.  


My favourite part of Brussels has to be the beautiful main square. The architecture was simply awe-inspiring. Every single building, whether it be the impressively carved town hall, the museum, or the intricately detailed restaurants, were slightly different and I couldn't take my eyes off it. It was packed with festive charm, sporting a huge Christmas tree and a life sized replica of Jesus' birth, housed in a barn at the centre of the square.


Of course, once we had moved on from Brussels, we were lucky that the beautiful architecture did not stay behind in the city. We discovered over the next few days that Bruges had just as many beautiful buildings and pretty cobbled streets to discover, all intermingled around a maze of canals. In fact, that's pretty much all there was in Bruges, but that was completely fine by us. I never became bored of surrounding myself in some of the most picturesque medieval architecture I had ever experienced. And because it was small, I felt I got to know the entire area really well.


There were 43 bridges and I possibly walked over half of them over the New Year period I stayed. Including the youngest bridge in Bruges, made out of old tomb stones. There was such irony that time because as I was tottering down this rather steep, stone bridge, I slipped down it a short way and almost fell into the canal.


The reason it was so slippery, (and the only downside to the trip), was that it rained the entire time we were there. It was a shame because the inherent charm of Bruges is the town itself and the atmosphere within those streets. The rain was incessant which meant we had to spend some time flitting between (super expensive) restaurants and coffee shops and we also sheltered in the Chocolate Museum. This proved to be a really interesting afternoon, particularly the demonstration on how to make (and taste) the world famous pralines. And that wasn't our only taste of Belgian chocolate. I didn't actually buy a single box, because every chocolate shop we entered offered us free samples. It kept us going when our sugars were running low.


The weather wasn't disgusting enough to completely ruin our plans but it did destroy those we had carefully hatched for our New Year's Eve. The main fireworks put on by the town were cancelled and we decided to give the singing/bonfire a miss as we thought we would just be miserable and soggy. Dinner was not only completely booked up, but completely unaffordable if we had wanted to go out (seriously you are looking to pay at least £60 for a set menu). So, instead we ladled ourselves with snacks and drink and stayed in the hotel room. At midnight a few hardy neighbours managed to set off some small firework displays which we watched out of the window. One of which was in a courtyard directly below our hotel and made us all jump out of our skins. So it was definitely not all bad. And experiencing this beautiful place was a wonderful way to start 2018.


Sunday, 24 December 2017

Tour of Western Germany - Christmas 2017

It is safe to say that Germany knows how to do Christmas and knows how to do it well. It's the best place to be at Christmas really with a bundle of markets in every town (seriously, you can't walk two steps without tripping into one) and the lights glittering all around you (they are literally everywhere - above, alongside, below, in front of your face, behind you...covering every inch they possibly can!). There are trees in every square and you basically get drunk off the mulled wine fumes that infect every particle of air that you breathe. If you are feeling a little bit bah-humbugish (and want to change that! Don't go there if you are happy being a Grinch) this is the perfect country to visit. Since I was able to find a bargain flight down to Frankfurt at the beginning of December and there was a friend who I was long overdue a visit, I really had no excuse to stay at home. It was time to grin with seasonal merriment.

Additionally, I decided that as it has been almost 10 years since I have been to Germany and I have never experienced it at Christmas, I didn't want to stick in one place. No, no. I wanted to embrace as much of it I possibly could during the 6 days I was there. Which prompted me to chuck myself full pelt into the wind, snow and rain of Western Germany. Here is what happened on my mini road trip.

Frankfurt
As I was staying in a little village a few miles outside Frankfurt, it was a good place to start. Although it did destroy my view of what a stereotypically traditional Germany should look like. The timbered buildings that I imagined, were replaced with NYC style skyscrapers. I now see why it is called the Manhattan of Germany. But it was beautiful in its own way. Especially at night when all the windows were lit up in these huge buildings.


And I did manage to track down the timbered buildings I was searching for. In Romer Square, accompanied by a dazzling, rammed Christmas market, I got my fill of German tradition. I began and ended my Christmas trip here which seemed appropriate.

Wurzburg

This town was far more traditional, although it still wasn't the Germany I expected to see. In fact, it seemed very Eastern European to me. As I was crossing the main bridge lined with statues of Saints, I had major flashbacks of Prague which I visited a few years ago. Even the huge castle on the hill and the coloured buildings that lined the river were there. Every time I turned a corner it seemed to become more and more similar. It used to look entirely different though, as was shown to me in the town hall. Just inside the entrance there, housed in a room all by itself, was a heart-breaking model of how completely the town was flattened during World War 2. Sometimes you forget that it wasn't just your country which suffered during that terrible time.


Sommerhausen
On the same day we visited Wurzburg, we went off in search of a famous Christmas market in the nearby Sommerhausen. But unfortunately by the time we turned up, it was finished. There was, in fact, nothing open at all. All that was left to do was to have dinner. Which we fell to at once, we were starving. We ended up sitting next to an old couple and when hearing us talk English, they asked me where I was from. When I said the South Coast of England, they named a town they had visited and it happened to be my home town. What are the chances of that? I asked them if they liked it and they replied with a bluntly firm, 'No.' I couldn't help but laugh. Sommerhausen was indeed a lot cuter, they were spoiled really.


Cologne

This is one of the most romantic cities in Germany and for very good reason, I discovered. We fought with the snow to reach it, but the effect was totally magical. It added something really gorgeous to this already gorgeous city, full of beautiful architecture and history. I love how the Christmas markets here were themed and I wandered through such an interesting one which housed lots of artistic and creative items. They even had sculptures, it was wonderful. And the Neumarkt had lights strung up in all the trees so it was like walking underneath a canopy of stars. Totally gorgeous and totally worth the three hour drive.

Butzbach
Finally I arrived in a town that look exactly how a German town should. And it housed the only square that I have came across without my view being hampered by a Christmas Market. It was kind of refreshing to be able to just stroll across the square without having to dodge people or avoid the little wooden huts. It gave me a feeling of peace and space that I didn't have in the other towns despite the fact they were bigger. Plus I could take in the little details. For instance, standing next to the fountain in the centre of the square, I realised that every single lamppost had a different fairytale depicted in stained glass artwork. The entire town was adorable.


Bad Homburg
Doesn't this town sound a bit too like bah humbug to be a Christmassy paradise? And I don't think it was a coincidence that the Christmas market was shut. As we walked through the town hall courtyard with all the huts shuttered around us, it gave us the creeps so we escaped into the old town situated below it at the bottom of the hill. As we crossed the bridge to access it, you looked out over the roof tops and from above it appeared to be little more than a toy village. But this is actually one of the richest towns in Germany.


Mainz
This was the only town that I visited without the aid of my German friend doing all the talking for me and I do think you need some time by yourself to really see a place. That's where the fun happens. Or, in my case, where you get lost and end up in a dodgy part of town. Luckily I managed to find my way back to the reassuringly touristy area by climbing the citadel and wandering in the direction of the steeples. I soon was back in amongst of the cobbled streets, the coloured timbered buildings, the impressive cathedral itself and the Christmas markets. I was safe at last.


Tuesday, 28 November 2017

The Genius Completes His Story


The Genius sits down at his desk and picks up his pen. It hovers for a few moments above the page, as the cogs of his brain whir into action. He is staring out over the blue vista in front of him, clear and bright, unblemished by any fluffy white threats. The conditions are perfect and boringly calm. There are no distractions and no reason, apart from his own limitations, why he shouldn’t produce anything less than his usual genius. The genius which has given him his title. It is well deserved. Yet...still he hesitates. Perhaps his brain has found a blip within its delicate machinery. The pressure is building. A second goes by, then another, then another, they multiply, bleeding into minutes and the strain continues to mount.

Set Adrift (?????? First draft)

The cloud descends 
to block out the light,
turning the blue sky grey
and darkening what once was bright.

The Genius’ name obviously isn’t The Genius. He was only christened that fairly recently. Originally he was known as Bob. But that’s not a name which is used anymore. Nobody knows him as anything other than The Genius. And because they know his name and read the ‘him’ that he chooses to sell to the world, they think they know the real ‘him’. The Genius inside. The Genius’ three dimensions have been reduced to just the two. The two dimensions of the shapes he breathes on to paper.

I am lost in the fog
which engulfs me whole,
leaving nothing but despair
within the heart it stole.

Does The Genius seriously think that he can continue hiding behind his work? Those pen strokes are the tip of the iceberg, concealing the swirling chaos that haunts his brain. But sooner or later the waves will cease to obscure the bottomless depth of his depravity. Slowly but surely the lines between his creation and his life are being blurred. Once upon a time they could have been separated with a glance. Now though, he is not so sure. And if a piece isn’t received with glowing acceptance...well...he might as well not live anymore. His creations are everything to him. And nothing.

I try to smile
but my face won’t work
and my eyes accidentally fill with
the tears which lurk

What is life when there’s art? Surely the creation of the beautiful is more important than anything else? That is what The Genius believes and what his avid readers are supporting him in. They expect it now. But what if he can only produce something faintly pretty rather than beautiful? Or worse still, what if he sweats and strains and can only produce something ugly? Would they all still champion him then? Or would they simply move on to support someone more deserving than he. A frown clouds his brain and stays his hand. A tear blinds him. He can’t do this. He can’t.

around their tired gaze,
completely blocking my view. 
Hopefully soon the storm will pass.
Till then there’s little I can do.

He can do this. He can. He is The Genius. He has worked hard and vanquished Bob completely. The Genius has won and he is complete. The words are down, fresh and glistening gently.  They stare up at him. They wait for him to lead them into the soft evening sunlight. He has planted the bulbs, now he needs to wait for them to blossom.

Set Adrift (in the storm????? First Edit)
The clouds descend
to block out the light.
They turn the blue sky to ash
and darken what should be bright.

The rain helps them grow. Without it The Genius wouldn’t have any words at all. It is the core of his being. He is grateful for it but he also understands the frightening power it wields. He knows that it could destroy him if it wanted to.

Lost in the fog,
it engulfs my heart whole,
replacing love with despair
in every beat it stole.

But if it is the rain which leads to the final flourish, surely he can’t take credit for these creations? He is merely sending them out into the world under his name. The Genius is a fraud, stealing others’ work. What if everyone knew? Not that it mattered. He knew. And it was eating him alive. He can’t go on like this. It is wrong. It is stealing. He can write without its help, surely. Maybe he should attempt it. But he couldn’t. So he would have to do something else instead.

I try to smile
but tears fill my eyes 
The lips don’t even twitch
as I begin to cy.

The Genius can’t do anything else. He was never destined to be great. He was never going to go down in the history books for doing extraordinary things. In his heart he knows there is little point to him excepting, supposedly, his talent in his chosen field. As with the rest of his life, even finding this had been a struggle. It hadn’t chosen him like it would have if he was a True Genus. He wasn’t born with ability. He had hunted for it. Sought it out. Honed it. Sweated over it. Cried over it. And poured out his soul. All for what?

Faster and faster, 
they come to block my view. 
Blinding me forever
and there’s nothing that I can do.

The Genius sets down his pen and runs his eye over the little piece of his soul he has left behind. It is the best he can do. His editor won’t like it, he never does. He leaves it square in the middle of the desk. He opens up the drawer beside him and removes the only object locked securely within. Smoothly, with a well practiced arm, he places the metal against his temple and pulls the trigger. The Genius slumps forwards, dripping the final few things he has to say on to his work. Which is now complete.

Lost 
The clouds descend
to block out the light,
turning the blue sky to ash,
darkening what should be bright. 

Lost in the fog,
it engulfs my heart whole.
Love is replaced by despair
in all the beats it stole.

I try to smile
but tears fill my eyes.
 I give up pretending
and release my cries.

Faster and faster, 
tears come to block my view,
blinding me forever.
There’s nothing I can do.

Monday, 30 October 2017

When Edinburgh was on drugs - why you shouldn't miss the Edinburgh Fringe


There is no doubt that Edinburgh is a beautiful city. One of the most beautiful cities in the world in fact, boasting striking architecture, glorious parks and a dormant volcano right in its very centre. It is one of those stunningly peaceful urban places where it doesn’t boast about its dream like authority over the rest of the world. It is just happy to put everywhere else to shame simply by being itself. Relaxed and pretty, up there in the North, waiting for you to come and discover that you don’t need to trek all the way into mainland Europe to be amongst awe inspiring architectural grandeur. 
But in August everything changes. Almost as if the city has taken a psychedelic drug. Sweet innocent Edinburgh is engulfed by a crazy Hyde-like version of itself.  An all-singing, all-dancing, colourful glittery city replaces the easy-going one that I have come to know and love. Posters add a fluorescent sheen to the soft sandstone, gaudy signs cover the usually distinguished entrances and visitors flood in from all corners of the globe. 
During this time it is impossible to walk the streets without being accosted by leaflet brandishing theatrical enthusiasts. The whole place is alive, buzzing with people rushing between shows. They become a swelling, moving mass of people who all smile and laugh and chat to each other. The whole place takes on a quality that is quite un-British, going directly against the dour stereotype that Scotland has found itself saddled with.
And sedate in this rough sea of activity are the buskers. They line the edges of the Royal Mile (the central highway of the Festival), drawing the crowds towards them like magnets. Attracting these culture addicts does not take much. It really is like pulling in moths to a flame as they can’t resist the pure talent that is flaunted so plainly in front of them.  You just can’t stop yourself from being sucked in as they spill out their soul for you. It is hypnotic. 
Perhaps this is the real draw of Edinburgh during the Festival Season. It is the overwhelming contentment of feeling that you are a part of something. And an amazing something at that. Even if you are just watching the shows and buskers, you are still very much a part of the action. You get to know the actors and see them out and about in the city. You start chatting to other audience members in the queues, and then somehow you never fail to bump into them later when you are out and about, looking for the next gem.  You talk to strangers about what they have seen and what they would recommend. The festival basically brings everyone together in the best possible way. And in this digital age, where people are feeling increasingly lonely, that can only be a good thing. 

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Know before you go - Vienna


August was a busy month. An insanely crazy month actually. Most of which was taken up with all the Edinburgh excitement - which you can view in the diary I kept below - but that was the end of the month. The beginning saw me travelling too, spreading my wings across the sea, over the continent and into Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava. I fell instantly in love with the beautiful Vienna which was my base and I thought I would share some of my adventures with you. Whilst at the same time, letting you know some of the things I learnt about Vienna so you can make the most out of your own trip. Because I am assuming that you will want to take a trip to Vienna as well if you haven't been. I don't really understand why you wouldn't. Buy plane tickets now. Well, after this --

Vienna houses the most beautiful library in the world.

I had to put this first because it is worth visiting Vienna for the library alone. Especially if you are a booklover like me. Or if you have just watched Beauty and the Beast and you have become consumed by library envy and a wish that it was real. This will help cure that for a little while at least.


The Austrian National Library is situated behind the Imperial Palace and the Spanish Riding School, and is actually really easy to miss, even if you are looking for it. We walked around in circles for about 10 minutes, following the different signs until we realised that we were actually walking up and down in front of it. But it was worth the continued search. It was breathtakingly beautiful. 200,000 books were crammed in here. Yet they weren't crammed at all. Nestled is probably the better word. Nestled into a beautifully decorated, aesthetically pleasing long gallery. It was a total dream. I could have stayed there all afternoon, just gazing around. It left me with a feeling of such peace. Books have that effect on me. 

The buildings are just breathtaking.

It wasn't surprising really that the library was so beautiful. Everything about Vienna was beautiful. I couldn't take my eyes off every building that I passed. It was all so grand. But there was a friendly feel to them. As if they were inviting you inside, tempting you to explore similarly wonderful delights within their interiors. There is a lot to entertain you within Vienna (for instance there are about a hundred museums, you can barely walk down the street without bumping into one) but it is enough to simply walk through the city. That was entertaining enough for me anyway. Being surrounded by that style and grandeur had a similarly soothing effect to the library. It's a wonderful place.


Jaywalking is a finable offence.
However, when you are walking around, be careful not to cross the road until you are told to. Bossily, it is actually against the law to cross on your own volition. Examine the traffic lights as you wait because there is a surprise for you...


Everything is within walking distance...
There's no need to pay for those expensive tourist buses. Great!

...except for Schonbrunn palace...


Even though it's 5 miles out of the centre, Schonbrunn Palace is easily reached by the metro and SO worth a visit. The day we spent there was possibly my favourite day of the trip. It had the most beautiful gardens you could imagine. Which was just as well because when we arrived we were told that we had to wait four hours to go in. That's right. Four. We had already queued for an hour to get tickets by this point so there was no way we were going to say no and proceeded to explore every inch of the gardens.


We paid to have the privilege of access to all of it (I might have pretended that I was a princess strolling in my grounds) but actually I would advise that you don't need to do that. Just buy a ticket for all the rooms of the palace because a decent amount of the gardens is open for free. And do leave a good amount of time for them because they are extensive and utterly wonderful. Four hours was actually perfect timing in the end. We ambled around, had lunch, visited the maze, and the fountain and the Gloriette. The Gloriette was potentially my favourite part of them because not only did it give us beautiful views over the parkland and the palace, but also, as it was on a hill, it offered us a wonderful view over Vienna itself. It was a great day. And the palace was so interesting too. I definitely need to read up more on the royal family of Austria. The little taster it gave me and the importance of the palace within history was absolutely fascinating.


...and the Danube.
The other long walk we had was when we tried to find the Danube. Which runs straight through the centre of Vienna so isn't hard to get to at all. Except we didn't go the easy way. Instead we decided to go this super long way around, via the Stadtpark, first of all, (to visit Strauss. Who I thought was Mozart. But is definitely Strauss) and then all the way down to Augarten and then through some dodgy ghetto area to finally find the Danube.


We almost didn't make it. We were so close, we could practically sniff it. But between us and the river, completely blocking our view, was a huge main road and a train line that we could not work out how to cross. Google maps was telling us to walk over this huge flyover that was definitely cars only. And then we saw people. Supposedly hovering in mid air. It was a footbridge, it was a footbridge, it was a footbridge. I can't tell you how excited it made us. We walked along the main road until we saw steps and then we were there. And this was our view.


The Danube is big. Really big.
What was really cool about the Danube was it was absolutely massive! I mean HUGE. In Vienna alone it could be called big, so much bigger than the Thames, but then it is long as well. We visited three countries on this trip - Hungary, Austria and Slovakia - and we encountered the Danube in all of them which was pretty awesome.

Bratislava

Our first day trip out of Austria was to Bratislava in Slovakia. After the neat grandeur of Vienna, Bratislava was like it's messy little cousin. It was definitely charming with its narrow alleyways and colourful cute buildings but it was very understated.


To get a proper view of the city, (and of this new part of the Danube) we climbed up the hill to the castle. Which wasn't a hard walk but in the 39 degree heat wasn't particularly comfortable. It was definitely worth it though to get that beautiful birds eye view over the rooftops.


The other exciting thing about Bratislava was I found an English bookshop/coffee shop. Which is an amazing idea - to have the tables in amongst the shelves. We settled there after we had made it back down from the Castle to cool off with a mint lemonade. And could I resist a book or two? Definitely not.


Budapest
The second of our day trips was to Budapest in Hungary. We arrived in good time but we were on a tight timeframe. We only had 8 hours to blitz the place. Two of which we then wasted by walking in the wrong direction out of the train station. Don't even ask how we managed to walk for that long without realising. All I will say about that is we made it to the very end of the metro line. The end. Thank goodness we didn't go any further or we would have had no idea how to get back into the centre.


Once we had metro'd it back, we conveniently enough managed to get off by the Parliament Building. Not because we are clever or anything (you can tell that we are a little geographically challenged from the previous paragraph) but just accidentally. And now it finally felt as if we were experiencing the real Budapest.


Again this was architecturally a very beautiful city. It was a little less well looked after than Vienna but had the same kind of grandeur. St Stephen's Basilica was probably my favourite but we weren't allowed to venture far in there as there was a wedding going on. Imagine getting married somewhere as huge as this. It was beautiful and the bride was beautiful. I did stay and watch for a while despite not understanding the language.


The main thing I did notice about Budapest though was I heard a lot more English voices when I visited. It is quite an up-and-coming place for English tourists who are attracted by the cheap beer and copious amount of clubs/bars. I personally was glad that I wasn't staying over in the city because the whole 'going out' aspect did not interest me at all. And I was more than happy to return to the slightly more chilled out, Vienna for tea and cake and lounging around in the sweet little pubs.

Get to know the locals
While I was in Vienna I did actually make a few buddies throughout the week, much to the amusement of my friend who I was with. Which actually, if you can manage it yourself, was a great way to receive advice and recommendations on what we shouldn't miss. Either in terms of how to entertain ourselves or, perhaps more importantly, for what/where to eat. I always feel when it comes to eating, insider knowledge is always essential. I am forever at a loss what with all the choice. Plus I never know if a restaurant is genuinely good or just touristy. So a few recommendations are always helpful.

The food is gooood
Really good. It was like my kind of a dream. There were beautiful cafes EVERYWHERE. Because going out for tea/coffee and cake is kind of their thing. We visited this absolutely beautiful café called Café Gerstner where we sat in a booth and had a latte and a chocolate torte. Oh it was wonderful. The old fashioned atmosphere, the beautiful interior, the paintings, the little booth. It couldn't have been more perfect.


The only other day that we had time to treat ourselves to afternoon tea was when we were at the Glorriette in the Shonbrunn grounds. On the top of the hill, you could see nothing out of the window except sky and it was just delightful. Until we got plagued by a bluebottle who was determined to try some of my cake.

Our evening meals were mostly spent at the Naschmarkt, which was just round the corner from our hotel conveniently. This really was the perfect place. It is the oldest/biggest market in Vienna and the little wooden huts housed pretty much anything you wanted from bars to restaurants of every nationality. We tried a different one every night, just picking whichever one had space and looked decent.

The churches are super gothic


Almost everything in Vienna had the air of tradition and old school romanticism about it. And this was especially the case of their churches and cathedrals. I adore gothic architecture with it's sharp lines and impressive spikey fronts so I was in my element. I think the pictures do it enough justice here.


The gardens are pretty


I have talked about the architecture a lot within this blogpost but Vienna wasn't all buildings. There were some really wonderful gardens as well. We did find that they were mostly quite structured in their layouts with long straight paths being lined by trees. But a little more flowing was the Volksgarten and this was definitely my favourite with its stunning roses. The Burgarten was also wonderful and it was where we met Mozart, finally, after I mistook him for Strauss in the Stadtpark. Which was vaguely stupid.


You might not want to come home
Have I sold Vienna to you yet? I think if you aren't intrigued by it now, you probably never will be. I did learn that you should be careful what you wish for on this trip though. After lamenting, the whole journey back to the airport how I didn't want to go home, I almost didn't make it. That airport is a proper maze. The signs are little help, leading you on long looping circles. And it has the odd addition of security being situated at each individual gate. So you only go through security when you are about to get on the plane. For someone who is a bit anxious about security and likes to get it out of the way as soon as possible, this is so not good. Especially when you have to go through it twice because they decide to move your gate after you have already made it through to the airport lounge. So irritating. Maybe I should have simply stayed. Would have saved me a lot of aggravation. And I couldn't imagine a better place to get stuck in.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Edinburgh Takeover: Day 7


The final day has arrived and I think us folk who have been covering/working/performing the Edinburgh Fringe (delete as appropriate) have all made it in one piece. In the morning I bid my wonderful fellow NI Critics a very melancholy farewell and then went on The Potter Trail to cheer myself up. Which worked perfectly.

It was quite simply, brilliant fun. Led by the enigmatic Richard, we were taken on a mini romp through Old Town, talking about all things Harry Potter related. Starting at the Greyfriars Bobby statue, he led us into Greyfriars Graveyard, back out and along Potterrow, down to Spoon and then back to the Royal Mile before we ended on Victoria Street.


There aren't actually that many sites, but this isn't really the point of the tour. What Richard does is immerse you into the magical world, not only through facts about JK Rowling and her life in Edinburgh but also through his extensive knowledge of the books. Clad in a robe and brandishing a green umbrella, he scattered the tour with such interesting information, some of which even I didn't know. Which surprised me a lot as I was 90% sure my Harry Potter nerdiness was at a high enough level for me to not learn anything new. Apparently not.

The tour was pretty huge, which isn't overly surprising considering it's free, and it had all ages covered from young children to adults to the elderly. It was particularly great for children and they hung off Richard's every word as if he was Harry Potter himself, the adoration clear in their faces. The robe was probably helping. And the glasses. But he was brilliant with them, teaching them a very successful spell for changing the colour of the traffic lights (it worked every time no matter who tried it), offering them a house competition and even sorting one of the children into a house.

Considering that Gryffindor took every single point for the house cup, I feel there might have been a tiny bit of cheating going on. Which wouldn't surprise me from Gryffindors. You would never find that kind of thing going on in Hufflepuff but still the mick are taken out of us constantly. And that's the only complaint I have -- there is far too much Hufflepuff racism. Everyone knows that it's actually the best house, the one that everybody wants to be in if only they were so lucky. Yes really.


It was the perfect way to end my Fringe coverage. After the tour, feeling vaguely inspired by JK Rowling's success (as I often am when I am here in Edinburgh) I wandered down to the beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens. Here I settled myself with a book and my writing and with a wonderful view of the Old Town on the hill, I said goodbye to this city that I adore. Every time I come here, I feel more and more at home. It really has been the best week and I am sure I will return soon.


The Potter Trail runs throughout the year. Check website for details.