Category Archives: Travel

Oh the places you’ll go

If you don’t love Dr Seuss, you’d probably best leave now. Not that this post has anything to do with Dr Seuss, but it’s just we’ve got fundamental differences in world-view and you’ll probably hate me.

I looked down my list of categories while trying to think of something to blog about this evening, and realised how long it has been since I’ve used my Morocco category. Which isn’t really surprising, as social media chose to remind me the other day that it’s 5 years since I’ve been there. And 6 since I lived there, and started this blog.

I don’t exactly crave to go back, because holidays aren’t the same as living in a place, and going back is something I’m not very good at. I don’t exactly know what it is in my psyche, but something really blocks me from places that are in my past. I rarely talk to anyone from school, haven’t been back to Fes, and haven’t been back to Granada – despite the fact I absolutely loved them both, and they’d both make amazing holiday destinations.

Maybe part of it is knowing that there are so many places left to explore. Why visit somewhere you’ve already seen? Even on this tiny island, there are so many places I haven’t been to, and the wider world? It’s endless.

My bucket list of places to visit, right now, would probably be

  • Japan – a colleague of mine went to Japan earlier this year, and it just sounds fascinating and awesome. I loved all of the colours in the souks of Morocco, and I feel like walking around the cities in Japan would be similar.
  • China – my best friend lived in China for a year, and I think my ultimate dream would be to visit China with her
  • Northern Ireland – I visited Ireland for the first time this year, and it blew me away (as all of the British Isles always do). We didn’t go near Northern Ireland though, and again, I have a close friend who would be an excellent tour guide.
  • Iceland – It looks gorgeous.
  • Chile – we  recently discovered a replica of some Chilean protest art at work, and it’s just so fascinating. Despite studying Latin American studies to degree level, I have to confess I’ve never really been interested in visiting until now, but if I could, I’d go for Chile.
  • India – my parents met in India, so there’s a certain romance about it for me. Aside from that, it’s a pinnacle of colonialism, which I find completely incomprehensible and so naturally want to explore (possibly explaining colonialism if we’re honest).
  • Egypt – a few years ago, while I was in Morocco, I would have chosen to visit Syria. Then, while I was in Morocco, the Arab Spring began, and the destruction which has followed, payrolled by a range of faceless entities without the most basic aspects of humanity, shakes me to my absolute core. I am enthralled by the entire Arabic-speaking world, from the cultural melting-pot of the Maghrib through to the Gulf and the Levant, and there is so much I wish I could see. Egypt feels like a good start, but definitely not an end.

I’m sure one day I’ll make it round these places.

For now, my next holiday is planned for Newcastle. Or maybe Hull.

Holibobs

I’ve been away for the Easter weekend. Let me take you there.

Imagine, the sunlight cascading lightly across your skin as you gaze out across the beach. It’s not busy, but there are plenty of people, and children shrieking as they play in the chilly sea. Glancing over your shoulder you can see back as far as the peaceful caravan park, and then beyond to the quaint village. As evening draws in, you wander to one of the array of beach-side restaurants for a quick supper and a glass of wine. On the walk home you admire the twinkling of the stars.

Now, drop that image entirely from your head, because I went on holiday to Skegness.

For anyone unfamiliar, Skegness is a coastal town next to the North Sea on the Lincolnshire coast in England. It could be everything mentioned in my description above and nothing more, but it has a claim to fame. Skegness was the site of the first Butlins Holiday resort.

Butlins are purveyors of the seaside holiday experience, which as Brits we are exceptionally proud of. Despite our seeming obsession with going to other countries, ruining them a bit, then coming back and complaining, we have an enduring attachment to the idea of the quaint seaside holiday which arose in the mid-1800s.

One might think the attraction of camping is to get away from it all, and experience nature without the hustle and bustle of other people. Not so at the British seaside holiday park. The name of the game is to get a fancy tin, put it as close as possible to as many other fancy tins as you can find, and then hide inside it for a week so you can complain about the nearby tins and their inhabitants while you struggle to stay warm.

None of this is to say that I didn’t have a nice time. Yes, I do think a youth (“youf”) may have threatened me as I arrived. Yes, I think a gang of girls shouted at me to “get back to Chelsea”. But none of that matters when you’re spending time with friends, even if it is in a rainy tin.

So I suppose today’s take-home message is get some friends, and if you don’t have them then I really wouldn’t recommend Skegness.

Ireland

A couple of days ago a friend of mine asked me “how do you have time to write a blog when you’re doing so many other things?” – I think the proof is in the proverbial pudding, which is that I haven’t posted anything in a month. Sometimes life just takes over.

Let me tell you about recent things. Last week I went on holiday to Ireland. I have always been fundamentally jealous of the Irish because they have gorgeous accents and beautiful language, and a heritage which is fundamentally *not English* (more on my dislike of being English later).

But I hadn’t really ever been aware of quite how stunning Ireland is as a country, and now I’m more jealous than ever.

We started (boyfriend and I) in Navan, north of Dublin, where we had a lovely breakfast and people-watched. From there we visited the Hill of Tara, which according to actual history is very historical, but according to Artemis Fowl it’s a place where fairies go/are, so naturally we had to visit. We then drove across the country to Galway where we stayed in a charming little house.

We had two full days around Galway, so we used one for Connemara National Park, and one for the Burren. Unfortunately our Connemara day was a bit grey and grumpy, but our day in the Burren was fantastic. We saw the world’s 3rd largest stalactite at Doolin Cave, which was fascinating and awesome (note: potholing is insane), stood at the top of the Cliffs of Moher, and went exploring at Poulnabrone dolmen. Basically, rocks are great.

Next step was travelling via Limerick (stopping in at King John’s Castle) to near Cork, where we stayed in a fantastic place with the loveliest couple and their dog Bracken. We explored Killarney National Park, Kenmare (which has a fairy circle as well), and Gougane Barra (which our hosts recommended for a wedding venue, which was obviously hilarious).

Finally it was on to Dublin to meet up with friends for St Patrick’s Day. Our journey took us via mini golf (a must for any holiday), and culminated in the weirdest stay so far (in a funny little cottage with the host living outside in a campervan) plus visits to the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin Castle, the Brazen Head, Dublin Zoo, and the statue of Molly Malone.

Not to mention the actual business of St Patrick’s Day which included the parade, rain, LOTS of Americans, a pub called Church, Fibber’s Hard Rock bar (inc crazy outdoor pizza), and the Old Storehouse to finish the night with excellent renditions of Mumford and Sons, The Lion King, and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (to name but a few).

Overall, success!

Scepticism

This weekend I went to Norfolk for my friend’s hen party (affectionately renamed the shark party because sharks are just better than hens). Many things occurred, but that’s not the point of this post.

The weekend involved two long drives (3+ hours each) which are no fun if you don’t have something good to do with yourself. That being the case, I looked on my podcast app for something interesting, and decided that the Skeptics Guide to the Universe sounded right up my street. I was right. It’s fabulous. Anyone with a broad interest in science and critical thinking should head straight over there because I was totally hooked (for about 8 hours total).

In particular, I enjoyed an episode I listened to which addressed natural remedies. As a person who is *constantly* ill, I’m always having people tell me to try this that or the other, herbalism, acupuncture, you name it.

I’ll give anything a go, to be honest, but I draw the line at practitioners who imply that their trade is somehow equivalent, or even superior, to medicine. There are undoubted benefits to a lot of interesting practices and remedies, but the ones which are the most effective are the ones which have stopped being home remedies – and become proven medical solutions.

That is just one of the many exciting things which they discuss, and it is going to be my go-to podcast going forward.

And I had a nice weekend too.

Thoughts on the EU

Growing up as an international kid, it’s easy to see why I think we should remain part of the EU. But for me it really goes far beyond  the economic and socio-political reasons why staying is the sensible choice. I, like many of my generation, see myself as a global citizen, not in the sense of being able to go on a gap year to Thailand, but in the sense of feeling a quite minor connection to any nationalist ideals.

I don’t really “do” sport, but if I did, I wouldn’t support England or the UK. Unless they were good. Or inspirational. Or the underdog. In fact, I’d be quite likely to support a British athlete, but I absolutely wouldn’t support them because they were British. What does that even mean after all? Since time began we’ve all been wandering into each others’ fields and onto each others’ islands. I know for a fact that I’m a good quarter French, if not a touch more. The only thing which unites me to a British athlete is the fact that the same government agreed to give us both a specific national identity, and when you think about it, that’s really not much.

Of course it is much for a lot of people, because having certain identities makes life much easier. I am incredibly lucky that I am not one of the “immigrants” trying to find a home in the UK right now, because just not being “British” is making their lives pretty intolerable. They may have key skills, share cultural and societal values with their neighbours, and may have an extensive amount to contribute to the country, but none of that matters in the limiting eyes of state-centric law.

At this point let me state that I’m not an idiot. I know we can’t truly have a free global society. We wouldn’t be able to break the perception that “west is best” and herds of people would move to far sadder and more complex lives as they tried to climb up the ladder towards the “developed world”. It would be chaos.

But, dream with me for a second. Imagine a world unified, recognising that we are bound by more as humans than geography and family ties. A culture rich with experiences and unlimited by what colour a certain someone’s passport is. There’s more, once you get into the concept of a world where no corporation can dodge tax, and no criminal can claim diplomatic immunity. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The point is, what exactly is so special about being born on this rock anyway? Or marrying someone born on this rock, or having a parent born on this rock, or having the money to buy a bit of  space on this rock? We spent centuries taking over everyone else’s land because we were so fed up of being stuck on this silly little rock.

And now some self-obsessed red-faced buffoons want to cut us off from it all – and what? We’re going to let them?

My holiday according to Instagram

I went on a grown-up holiday, in which I stayed in a fancy hotel, ate 3 course dinners, visited heritage sites, and only played one round of dinosaur adventure golf.

I also took several photos, which display my love of castles and sky. Apparently the two things I really value in a photo.

durham

I had a pretty charming time all round.

Jolly Holiday

I’m going on holiday today, and I could not be more excited.

The curse of having been a student for a solid 20 years of my life is that I’ve never really been on a “grown-up” holiday before. By which I mean I’m excited by the idea of going away for 3 days to a hotel where I don’t have to do the cooking, washing up, or cleaning.

Also I’m excited to not worry about how much it all costs, because that’s what it’s like now that I don’t live in my overdraft (oh! studenthood!).

I’m also excited to go and visit castles, and cathedrals, and museums. I somehow think I’ve left Boyfriend behind on that one.

What I’m saying is, I’m going on holiday.

For Jeannine

A little while back I wrote this post all about my grandfather and how influential and wonderful he is. Today is another very special day, for a very special person, and sadly I’m once again at the other end of the country in inconvenient ways, but I wanted to take a second to share everything I remember and love about Jeannine (my wonderful grandmother).

Jeannine is French. She likes to pretend she isn’t, by living in the UK (and other places that aren’t France) for a significant portion of her life, and by speaking perfect English, and by having various quirky English habits, but she can’t escape it. Two things I quickly learnt as a young child were that the French accent is pervasive and emphatic, and that if you’re an angry French lady there’s really no reason not to let the entire world know it – because they’ll probably end up doing what you want them to.

These are the experiences which helped me understand what it means to be a strong woman. Jeannine is the matriarch of our little family, but also of a much wider dynasty of crazy French folk who followed her lead and took up residence in various parts of the UK. She’s a trailblazer, and an icon. She came to live with my grandfather after the second world war, before moving to Borneo, Afghanistan, and numerous places in between. She learnt fluent English as well as  mastering bits of other languages – before I began my undergraduate degree I discovered she had learnt Farsi (which unfortunately didn’t help me at all in my dreams of Arabic language perfection).

She is an artist, and holidays when I was little were filled with sitting up in her studio or in the summerhouse at the back of the garden, throwing paint at pieces of paper and wishing I could create such delicate masterpieces as her paintings. She knitted, and I had a blue cardigan/dressing gown which I wore for years and years after I grew out of it. Alongside the paining and knitting there was tapestry and crochet, and all kinds of other creative pursuits which I keenly tried to imitate.

Later, when I was old enough to hold sensible conversations, we moved into chats across the breakfast table on every subject imaginable. I’ve taken lots of inspiration from her book choices, which are infinite but all somehow educational, meaning she now seems to have a knowledge of just about everything, from Indian colonial history to the Wimbledon Ladies’ finalists of the last 20 years.

And then there were (and are, because they are still there, being played with by her hoards of great-grandchildren) the games. Woofits “Happy Families”, pick-up-stix, snakes and ladders, and a funny little ludo set which retained its pieces like no board game I’ve ever seen. And a box of tiddlywinks, which I never quite mastered. We’d play for hours, graduating on to proper playing cards when we were a bit older. Bridge hasn’t grabbed my attention, but the range of other games I learnt did.

When I lived in Spain, only 3 short years ago, she even came to visit me. We walked around the Alhambra, saw all of the decorated displays, and by the end I was probably more tired than my grandmother. But then, like Geoff, she never liked being called grandmother because it made her feel old, and it is as if she has spent my whole life proving that point to me. She reads this blog, skypes her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and emailed me from her iPad to congratulate me on passing my Masters. I live in the hope that I’ll be so young when I’ve got great-grandchildren of my own.

Jeannine

Happy Birthday Jeannine!

Remote Access

There’s this video. It’s been around for a couple of years, and the words are taken from a great TED talk by Sherry Turkle called “Connected, but alone?”

It’s a great video, and you can find the whole talk here, but I don’t totally entirely agree with it for one single reason, which is one of my best friends. She’s not nearby right now which is annoying because I can’t have gym whinging sessions or spontaneous cake or watch her bizarre life first-hand, but it’s fine because she’s an amazing long-distance friend.

We met because she needed a SIM card. Prodigious fate already intending to signpost that we’d likely spend the majority of our friendship on either ends of a smartphone. We didn’t exactly instantly click, which I think is probably good because by the time I realised we were best friends, it was because I actually felt I knew her enough to know that we are ridiculously alike, while being fantastically different. I think on the  surface no-one would match us up as friends, but who cares about those people anyway?

She’s at a distance now, as I say (a vastly varying difference. Somewhere between 200 and 4,500 miles at any given moment), but it doesn’t feel that way because even though I sometimes forget to go to her, she’s always on the other end of a phone. I think Sherry Turkle is right – we tailor our personality via text and social media to suit our audience, and we don’t share our real selves, and then we feel lonely because the person getting attention isn’t us – but that’s not the case with my friend. With her, I’m happy to be completely honest (even if that means calling her up in tears after storming out of the house during a fight over nothing) and I’m happy to do that because I completely believe that she doesn’t mind. I think if the world were falling down around her ears she still wouldn’t think I was a burden, and that’s a pretty huge thing.

We wouldn’t have the privilege of this friendship without technology. I couldn’t send her snapchats of my double chins, and she couldn’t share videos about nothing, and we couldn’t participate so fully in each others’ lives, be it from 4 miles or 4,000. So being part of the network probably does make me feel lonely – I definitely think about every single message, every tweet, and definitely every blog post, and I tailor them so that they may not really reflect a true image of me – but without the network I wouldn’t have the support of a wonderful best friend, and that’s just a compromise I’m willing to make every day.

Where now?

There’s a great book by Diana Wynne Jones called Fire and Hemlock. I need to read it again because I still don’t really get it, but it’s definitely complex and fantastic and everything teen fiction should be. It has basically nothing in common with Twilight.

Anyway, in this book there is a house, with a garden, and in the garden there are two huge urns which depending on how you view them either say “Where Now”, “Nowhere”, Now Where” or “Now Here”. There’s a plot point involving them which may be a reference to the afterlife, but I never really got it, hence needing to re-read the book.

The concept of them is very reminiscent of how a lot of people seem to feel right now. It’s the end of term, end of some people’s degrees, start of summer, and it feels like time to begin new things. Except most people don’t really seem to know where they are going with it all. Some people feel like they are going nowhere. But the nice thing about nowhere is, it’s also Now, Here. Or from a different angle might be Where Now?

So I’m pushing on and thinking about where to go next. I’ve had some interesting conversations at work recently about the new directions that might take, and some exciting things are happening this year including a few more weddings of lovely people, other lovely people coming back into my life, and of course a whole host of new and exciting opportunities lined up on the horizon. I don’t really fully know where now, but I’m convinced it’s not nowhere, and as I’m here now I’m planning very much to enjoy it.

The proper answer to the question in the title, by the way, is Italy. I’m going to Italy. There will be photos. They will be terrible. TTFN.