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1,2, have a breakdown…and breathe

L'immagine può contenere: persone sedute, pianta e spazio all'aperto

A coffee break in Stavanger, Norway

Cough, sneeze, sip, curl up and…breathe.

The past few months have been more than a little hectic.

Since January I’ve completed my journalism diploma, got a tattoo, spent weekends in Norway, Rome and Exeter and started a job as a newspaper reporter.

I’ve moved my life from Manchester to Cumbria, swapping the buzz of the city for the cackle of seagulls and am lucky enough to have the Lake District on my doorstep.

There’s so much in my life to be thankful for and I wouldn’t change a thing.

But amidst all of this glorious chaos and change I’ve forgotten to relax and my non-stop lifestyle has worn me down.

Some familiar demons have also tried to rear their ugly heads.

So here I am, tucked up in bed having been off sick all week with a virus.

There’s nothing like immobilising fatigue and mind numbing daytime TV to make you take stock of things.

So here goes.

It’s official. I’m a journalist. No longer a student, or just a blogger, and no need for the “aspiring” prefix.

I’m finally doing a job that I really love and now instead of just eliciting groans from my friends, I actually get paid to come up with puns. (case and point)

Every day is different, my colleagues are lovely and I get to chat to lots of interesting people.

So what could possibly be wrong?

Well I’m not always the confident person I try to portray.

On the inside I’m still plagued with crippling self-doubt and worry.

That’s when the anxiety bubbles over.

In previous jobs I’ve experienced stress, whether I was slogging it in retail or working in an icecream parlour.

But now instead of literally crying over spilt milk, my bathroom breakdowns are more likely to be the result of an interviewee cancelling or a constantly engaged phone line.

Being the perfectionist that I am, I can’t help putting unnecessary pressure on myself.

Mistakes happen and we learn from them.

But on a day when anxiety is tapping me on the shoulder my mind can take the following negative spiral:

“My shorthand isn’t quick enough.” “I should have practiced more.” “I’m useless.” “I bet they regret giving me the job.” “I’m hopeless.” “I’ll never get back up to speed.” “I’ve let my tutors down.” “I’ve let myself down.” “I’m a shit journalist.” “Maybe I should just quit.” “I’m not good enough.” “I can’t do this.” “I’m going to get the sack.”

Then there’s depression – my other nemesis.

I imagine it as monster which greedily feeds off the nervous energy of my anxiety.

Lots of change, even when it’s positive, can be hard to cope with.

In situations like this I would usually turn to drink but since I’ve ditched the booze for good that’s no longer an option.

So for the first time I’ve been totally sober through the difficult adjustment period of moving to a new place where I don’t know anyone.

The old me would have gone out to bars alone, drunk all night, chatted to anyone, had a one-night stand, gone into work hungover, drunk more to numb the anxiety, and repeat.

It’s not so bad now that I have housemates and a fixed abode.

But for the first few weeks I was staying in a B&B and lots of evenings spent alone in a small room with only a TV for company gave me too much time to dwell on things, feeding the monster.

I didn’t realise how bad my mental health was until  I was back in Manchester for a weekend and plans to meet some friends fell through.

Whilst on a bus into town, I got a message from one of my old course mates to say they couldn’t make it.

In the end it turned out no-one was free.

I burst into tears.

It was nothing personal, everyone had their own things going on but in that moment the monster munched a big black hole in my heart.

I spent the rest of the bus journey in a snotty mess with black rivulets of mascara running down my face.

I’d been unhealthily relying on that single event to cheer me up.

It wasn’t a big deal, and if I’d been in a better frame of mind it wouldn’t have mattered.

But right then I felt as though I’d fallen into a chasm of loneliness in which no one cared, everyone hated me, and life seemed pointless.

The allure of the bars seemed more tempting than ever.

But after quick walk around the city centre and a phone call to my dad, I felt marginally better and went home to watch a film.

Now I’m on the road back to better physical and mental health.

No matter where I am or what I’m doing I’ve realised that I can never take my mental health for granted.

It can be fragile but all it needs is a little water and sunlight every now and then.

Getting back into a routine of yoga and meditation, finding time to relax and eating right will all help.

And the little things which go wrong, be they mistakes or disappointments, don’t have to spell the end of the world.

But for now I think I’ll just close my eyes, count to three…and breathe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MorocCATS – Chefchaouen

I’ve just come back from an amazing couple of weeks in Morocco! As a self confessed crazy cat lady, it wouldn’t have been a proper holiday if I hadn’t befriended and photographed all of the furry locals so look forward to more cat pics from my travels.

Chefchaouen is a beautiful town in northern Morocco and its characteristic blue and white buildings make the ideal backdrop for some perfectly poised putties…

ps. Stay at Hotel Souika if you want an extra dose of cat.

cafecat2

This cheeky cat was trying to steal my breakfast..it’s hard to say no to those eyes though.

catcafefamily

A little cat family I found on the terrace of a restaurant.

catreddoor

chefcat

chefcat2

chefkitten

felix

PicMonkey Photo

This is Mowgli and…

simba

…this is Simba.

simba2

The two very cute resident cats in our hostel.

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A Wet Weekend in Madrid

The last time I was in Madrid it was the middle of July, the temperature was around 40 degrees celsius and my biggest concern was how to stop my suncream from running into my eyes. What a difference a few months makes!

My friend Shannon is doing her year abroad in Spain so I decided to hop over for the weekend, say “hola” and see some more of Madrid.

On Saturday the weather was abysmal so we didn’t do much asides from riding on the metro, stopping to buy an umbrella and repeating the process, however in-between showers we did manage to take a quick stroll around the Parco del Retiro. These grounds were offered as a gift to the king by the Count-Duke Olivares in the 1600s and were intended for court activities.

me and shannon parco del retiro

On a nicer day it’s possible to hire a little paddle boat and take a spin the little lake here but when we visited it was reserved for ducks only.

Sunday was a much better day so we were able to explore a bit more and see the Egyptian Temple de Debod which is dedicated to the Egyptain God Amun (aptly God of the wind). The temple was donated to Spain by the Egyptian state in 1968 in order to express its gratitude for Spain’s participation in the UNESCO led effort to save the temples of Abu Simel which were put at risk following the construction of the Aswan High Dam.

I was really surprised by how well the temple and the hieroglyphs are preserved and enjoyed how surreal it was to have the opportunity to visit a genuine Egyptian temple in Spain. Before we left I couldn’t resist striking a pose to really get into the Egyptian spirit.

hieroglyphs

walk like an egyptian

Walk like an Egyptian…in Spain

Next we went to the Centro de Bellas Artes where you can pay 3 euros to go up to the rooftop terrace and see a fantastic view of Madrid. It was definitely worth it!

me and shannon in madrid

Of course no visit to Spain would have been complete without having a Smooey frozen yoghurt which I became a little addicted to whilst in Zaragoza and had almost daily. Rain or sun it still tastes great.

mmmmm

mmmmm

Despite the wash-out weather we still managed to see quite a lot of the city and I thoroughly enjoyed my little weekend break away from Paris.

Hasta luego 🙂

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Ravenna Good Time

nice cafe ravenna

Classic Ravenna

My life has been pretty hectic lately between working and living the Dolce Vita in Bologna so this post has been a work in process for a while now. At last here is the latest update on my travels- I hope you like it 🙂 

A few weeks ago I went on an organised trip to Ravenna with a group called ESN (Erasmus Student Network) which is one of the three Erasmus organisations in Bologna. All of these groups offer trips, parties and discounts on drinks if you buy their card and this means you can mingle with the Erasmus community and make some international friends in the process!

friends. rosa, ghuna, alessandro, alixAfter only an hour long bus journey from Bologna, we arrived in Ravenna around lunchtime and straight away I met some really interesting and friendly people. Ghuna (Indian), Rosita (Spanish), Alix (Scottish), Alessandro (Italian) and I formed the perfect group of multicultural misfits and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the city together whilst having a bit of craic (“fun” in Irish slang)

Our guided tour started off in front of a normal looking secondary school called the Liceo Classico Dante Alghieri but it was fascinating to discover that it was actually founded by Benito Mussolini. An aerial view of the building also shows that the building forms the letters B and M which meant that when planes passed by they knew Ravenna was a fascist city. (either that or it was somewhere to get a great bargain)

Just a normal school...

Just a normal school…

After this we went to the church of San Giovanni Evangelista which is one of the oldest churches in Europe, having been commissioned by the Empress Galla Placida in 424 AD. Much of the basilica was destroyed by the Americans in 1944 during WW2 when it was struck by a bomb originally intended for the train station. However, many original elements still remain such as the lovely mosaics with simple olive tree and bird designs.

old church in ravenna

tree mosaic ravenna

The next church we visited was the basilica of Sant Apollinare Nuovo. Like most of the churches and basilicas in Ravenna it wasn’t much to look at from the outside but the interior was beautiful with lots more colourful mosaics and roman style columns. It was outside this church that I randomly bumped into two friends from Exeter uni who are studying at Forli and had decided to do a bit of sightseeing. We briefly discussed meeting up but I forget to give them my mobile number or anything so it was indeed a freak encounter and a lovely surprise.

After having been reminded of the chance and fleeting nature of life, I was brought face to face with death, or more specifically Dante’s tomb. The master himself was exiled from Florence in 1302 and later died of Malaria in Ravenna in 1321.  Florence later came to regret exiling Dante and subsequently built a  grander tomb than the one in Ravenna (santa croce) for Dante in 1829 but it remains empty as the citizens of Ravenna took great pains to keep Dante’s bones and once even hid them inside the walls of the monastery. Nevertheless the little oil lamp in the tomb burns with oil from Tuscany which is provided by the Municipality of Florence each year on the 2nd Sunday of September in order to celebrate the anniversary of the poet’s death.

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A mighty flame followeth a tiny spark

By this time an inferno of hunger was gripping us and we had some free time to get lunch so I opted for a piadina which is a delicacy of the Emilia-Romagna region (however the piadine differ in both the Emilia and Romagna parts respectively). The best way to describe it would be to say that it is a doughier pitta bread which is then toasted and stuffed with a filling of your choice. I was reccommended a spinach and gorgonzola one as the best vegetarian option and it was absolutely delicious. At this point our little group also had the opportunity to chat a bit more and revel in contagious laughter whilst we ate our lunch on the steps of Piazza San Francesco.

piadini!!!

After lunch we headed straight to the church in front of us (Basilica di San Francesco) but we had to look round it quickly because a wedding was about to start and the well suited members of the congregation were eyeing us suspiciously. We had just enough time however to see the crypt which dates back to the 10th century and looks like a little swimming pool since it is below sea level thus a bit of water always seeps in (accompanied also by a few fish).

indoor river ravenna

Returning to Piazza San Francesco we were shown the house were Lord Byron lived and were told an interesting story about a romance he had with Countess Teresa of Ravenna. My favourite part of this tale was that in order to express their love for each other they exchanged letters and locks of hair (including pubic hair) and these momentos are all archived in the Classense library opposite Byron’s former residence. Love never dies…even if things do get a bit hairy.

lord byron's house ravenna

Moving on we visited the Basilica of San Vitale which was absolutely breathtaking. From the outside it looks so plain but as soon as we stepped inside there was an intake of breath en masse. For me the feeling of being in the cathedral was reminiscent of how I felt when I visited The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The frescoes, the ethereal atmosphere, the architecture, the artwork, everything contributed to a complete sensory overload. The only downside of being on an organised trip was that we had to move on quite quickly but if I had been there by myself I definitely would have stayed at least an hour.

church fresco ravenna amazing ceiling ravenna

The last element of our guided tour was the Mausoleum of Galla Placida (just opposite the cathedral) and here we saw the most beautiful mosaics yet. They were all so vibrant and colourful with really unusual designs (ducks with dog faces for example). Galla Placida (sister of the Roman emperor Honorius) built this mausoleum to serve as her final resting place and it was originally attached to the church of Santa Croce. In end however she was buried in Rome in 450 AD so the tomb always just served as a pretty monument and a source of  inspiration – For example the jazz artist Cole Porter wrote the song Night and day after his visit to here, having been captivated by the starry sky of the tomb.

mausoleum galla placida

Now…after having had our fill of culture and history it was time to party; Erasmus style. So we got back on the bus and made our way to the beach where it still wasn’t too cold, the sea was clam and the beach bar was at our disposal. We had a really fun night with beers, dancing, and I even had a midnight swim in the sea with some of the others. I was reminded how hard Spanish people like to party and the same Enrique Iglesias songs which I have heard a million times since my arrival in Bologna, fuelled the fiesta. As the evening progressed our little group of multicultural misfits also grew closer and sort of created an unspoken pact that we would stay in touch and meet up again to have more craic in Bologna. (which we have done)

alix taking a photo ravenna ravenna beach times alix at ravenna party at ravenna nightime at ravennaSo there you have it; an extremely comprehensive account of my trip to Ravenna (I’ve never been good at summarising and I salute you if you are still reading this!). I am sure I will do a lot more traveling while I’m here in Bologna so you can look forward to more posts and more accounts of my weird and wonderful experiences.

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Ciao Bologna!

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My new street – Via Don Minzoni

my new room

I have been in Bologna now for three days and I am already in love with this city. I’m sharing a flat with three other Italian girls and an American Mexican boy and so far I feel very at home and am really looking forward to spending the next six months here whilst I undertake a work placement in nearby Sasso Marconi.

piazza maggiore Bologna

Piazza Maggiore

On Friday I met some other Erasmus students from the UK and elsewhere and went on a free walking tour of the city which was a good way to get my bearings whilst learning some funny facts. The Piazza Maggiore is the main square in the city and here sits the impressive Basilica of San Petronio which is the 15th largest church in the world. Another major landmark of the city are the due torre, one of which leans slightly (Torre Asinelli) so is supported by scaffolding at the bottom.

The Due Torre

The Due Torre

In the 12th and 13th century there were actually around 180 towers like these in the city which were supposedly constructed by rich families to demonstrate their wealth. During the 12th century many of the towers were demolished so today only around 20 remain. I decided to climb up the many steps to see the view at the top of the Torre Asinelli which was definitely worth all of the sweat and breathlessness. At the top there are beautiful vistas of the city and the surrounding countryside so I took my time up here to admire the view.

due torre view 2

due torre view 1

Another interesting fact about Bologna is that it once had almost as many canals as Venice which were used for trade and commerce. Today only a few remain and make for good photos.

little venice bologna

I have also experienced a little bit of the nightlife here which is vibrant and buzzing with lots of organised Erasmus parties. so hopefully I have many more notte di feste ahead of me.

I start my work placement tomorrow so stay posted for more accounts of living the dolce vita here in Bologna.

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Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey)

There's no place like Downton Abbey

There’s no place like Downton Abbey

On the 21st of August 2014 Lady Katherine and her Mother, the Countess of Londonderry paid a visit to Downton abbey in Berkshire….

Walking down the long gravel driveway to Highclere castle was just like stepping into a dream, or more specifically, an episode of the hit BBC period drama Downton Abbey. I must admit that when I agreed to visit this wonderful house with my mum I felt like a bit of a fraud as I wasn’t as much of a die hard fan as she was, having only seen the odd Christmas special. Since visiting Highclere however I have been watching the boxsets on repeat and am already on series three!

Highclere castle is situated just an hour outside of London so we caught the train to Newbury and then a taxi took us the extra few miles to the house itself. The taxi driver was very well informed and told us that he had on occasion given a lift to Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham) himself a few times.

Dowton Girl

Downton Girl

There was plenty of time for pictures as we had to wait until the afternoon session began to enter the house. Once we got inside there was a very relaxed atmosphere and we were able to walk freely from room to room with very little being cordoned off and friendly guides were scattered about in case we had any questions. Naturally many people were asking about the filming of Downton and it was interesting to know that camera angles and the repositioning of furniture plays a huge part in altering the version of Highclere which we see on screen. Most of the series is filmed at Highclere but all of the downstairs scenes are set in Ealing studios. What I also found interesting is that Highclere castle is still a family home and is lived in by the current Lord and Lady Carnavon and their children, of whom photgraphs can be seen around the house.

me and mum downtown

Every room in Highclere is charming and has its own character but the most impressive part of the house is definitely the central hall which is overlooked by the stone balustrade on the first floor. I also loved walking down the main staircase and allowed myself to imagine for a moment that I really was Lady Katherine, and the year was 1920.

After we visited the house we took a look at the Egyptian exhibition. It is now the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb which was realised by the 5th Earl of Carnavon and his colleague Howard Carter and many of the genuine Egyptain artefacts which Lord Carnavon both discovered and purchased are on display. I found this part of our visit extremely fascinating and would recommend it to anyone who is thinking of visiting Highclere.

highclere grounds highclere back viewThe weather wasn’t on our side so we didn’t see much of the grounds but I did manage to get a nice shot of the lawn, wildflower meadow and sprawling woods which can be seen behind the castle.

To conclude, Highclere is one of the most elegant, charming and grand stately homes I have ever visited, both inside and out and as the Dowager Grantham (Maggie Smith) said “The truth is neither here nor there. It’s the look of the thing that matters”