The 3 L's

2014

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It is definitely a good time for a re-brand, I would say. Time for a new website, new photography blog, new logo… a completely fresh, new look.

Recently, I’ve learnt the importance of not allowing my portfolio, my business and generally, my creativity to become stale. It’s all too easy to get stuck in a loop, like a broken record, repeating the same ideas over and over, producing the same photographs, working with the same people. I was guilty of this in 2013; for example, I worked with one particular model no less than half a dozen times in two months. We worked great together, and, as people often do when they work together as often as we did between 2012 and 2013, we became good friends, which for a while only fed our creativity further; she was, I suppose you could say, my muse. However, after a while, our model-photographer friendship became less of a muse, and more of a habit. Our shoots became less ‘spontaneous’ and more ‘half-heartedly planned’. Actually, no, half-hearted is not accurate… just… rushed.

It was therapeutic, really. In many ways, 2013 was a bad year for me, personally. A lot happened, and these somewhat repetitive photo shoots were a release, with the familiar team, making me laugh, inspiring me. I don’t regret falling into a replay loop for those two months, but it’s definitely not something that I wish to continue either.

I plan to break that mould this year, and to experiment with new creative teams, new locations, new creative mediums. I have been working hard to learn web design, experimenting with graphic design, throwing myself into the creative writing that I have always privately enjoyed so much. I have for some time been considering whether I am purely a photographer, or whether or not I will some time in the near future also call myself a graphic designer, or a writer, or even a web designer? The four creative professions overlap easily, they can each focus on the same fashion-led specialty, while opening my eyes to ways of creating art that this time last year, I would never have considered.

I have so many plans for 2014, and I am so excited to begin! I will be stepping out of my comfort zone with some new projects. I will be experiment and discover new areas of photography, further my new-found graphic and web design skills (hopefully, talents), exploring new styles and techniques and meeting new people. I have a moleskine of ideas that are still little more than a scribbled note or a hastily drawn sketch, and this needs rectifying. What’s more, I will be deciding on my future ‘base’. It’s no secret that I tend to be a bit of a nomad. I blog about it here. I love border-hopping across Europe; the vast array of cultures, languages and opinions are such a wonderful source of inspiration for me. However, recently I have been wondering whether it is time to lay down some roots, and to find a base for myself, and to become a girl who occasionally travels, rather than a girl who occasionally flies back home.

It’s a tough decision for me, and right now I have no idea which I will choose… not just in terms of nomad or… sedentary? And after that decision, then there is the matter of which country do I choose? Which city? London? Paris? Milan? Or do I throw myself out into the unknown entirely and fly to the States, to NYC – a complete unknown to me. It would have to be a fashion capital, I can say that much at present. That much is clear, no? No doubt, I shall blog about my decision, once it is made, and so keep a close eye.

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The 3 L's

My Secret Weapon.. Mind Palace

Firstly, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

This is a bit of a random post, I suppose. It’s a topic that came up recently and it surprised me as to how many people think that the idea of a mind palace is something that was invented by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for the Sherlock Holmes stories, or worse, some thought that the mind palace was created specifically by BBC Sherlock’s writers… FYI, several Sherlock novels are available at the Kindle store for free! ♥

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Sherlock gifs from here

So no, the mind palace technique is not an invention of Conan Doyle or the BBC Sherlock team. Otherwise known as the Method of Loci, it’s a method that has been used since ancient times. I started building mine when I was about 13, and I can honestly say that it has helped me sail through every exam I’ve ever taken since then. Never mind the fact that my last exam was five and a half years ago (Photography courses.. practical assignments.. lucky me!). That just meant that I could dedicate my palace to topics that generally interest me rather than things that I had to study, such as algebra, the very mention of which still makes me shudder to this day.

And it’s not just me and a fictional character that has a mind palace. Derren Brown has one, in fact he’s written a book about it, Simonides had one. In fact I think he developed the idea, or is credited with having done so, at least, back in the 5th/6th century. They’re commonly used by memory champions, and apparently they’re also common among revising students. Yet, despite that, on mentioning that I have a mind palace, rather than hearing the expected ‘sure, me too’ around the room, I was instead met with blank looks. Hence this blog post.

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It’s really not difficult to build a mind palace, even if you feel that you’re not a particularly creative person or you don’t have a strong imagination, or a bad memory, because building a mind palace in itself is a super-workout for the mind that will quickly start improving your memory, expand your knowledge, increase your creativity, awareness and observation of the world. Or so I’ve found.

No, elaborate gesticulations such as those shown in the gifs above are not necessary. I’d be lying if I said that when alone I didn’t point or mime the opening of a door or something small like that when alone, but I am perfectly capable of walking around in public while simultaneously storing new information or refreshing old information without closing my eyes, flailing my arms and muttering to myself. Sometimes it does help to close your eyes and block out the world around you, though.

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I’m not about to say ‘so this is how you build a mind palace’, because what works for me might not work for others. I just wanted to share how I’ve gone about it. I started small, and I think that’s the most recommended tip of all in the various books and previous blog posts across the internet. Start with your bedroom, your apartment, your house. A place that is familiar to you. The main building of my ‘mind palace’.. which is all accuracy is more a ‘mind city’ now days from years of expansion, is a combination of three houses that I have lived in, merged into one. They were all a similar size and with a similar layout, (hence the merging of three), but I’ve stripped down all decor to make it a blank canvas, a unique space in my mind. White walls, bare wooden floorboards, with just a few items of furniture to distinguish each room: a sofa in the lounge, a fridge and oven in the kitchen, etc.

After making my layout, each room was assigned with a subject. Baring in mind that I was still in school when this started, my front lounge is for English, the dining room is Math, the kitchen is Science, and my bedroom, being my favourite room in the house (obviously), held my memory triggers for my favourite school subject – history. Etc, etc. I’ve never lived in a mansion, so needless to say I eventually had to start adding extensions. Another room for when I started learning Italian, for example.

Another important point is to always follow the same route through your house. I started by drawing a map of my mind-house, and drawing the route that I would follow. That again is just a personal quirk of mine; I write down my memory triggers too. I think it stems from years of filling notebooks with stories as a kid, I can be typing away on my laptop, and then I’ll suddenly get this compulsive urge to copy whatever I’ve just typed onto paper. Just the last few sentences. Or vice versa; I’ll write something down on paper just to immediately type it up and throw away the scrap of paper anyway. I just don’t feel like I’ve recorded something properly until my hand has literally formed each letter itself.

I don’t get the urge to do that for every single little thought that enters my mind though, luckily, so most of my memory triggers are recorded in a digital format. I have an Evernote Notebook dedicated to my mind palace, with a specific note for each room, and then I just list and describe each memory trigger. And every evening before I fall asleep, I’ll walk through my mind-house, following the same route, and I’ll just go over everything, keeping it all fresh in my mind until it becomes so deeply engraved that when I’m old and living in an old people’s home, they’ll all presume I’m mad because I’ll barely be able to remember my name or where I live, but I’ll know that Big Bird in a tux shouting ‘wazzappp’ reminds me of the correct pronunciation of ‘oiseau’. I won’t bother to break that memory trigger down. You can figure it out for yourselves. Mostly I don’t need Evernote, but it’s there just in case – especially if for whatever reason, I’ve had to add 100 memory triggers to my mind palace at once. Then it’s definitely needed to help it all sink in.

That’s the thing about memory triggers: the crazier the better. I tend to follow the same rules for creating memory triggers. If I have to remember something that I find tedious and boring (again, algebra springs to mind), I’ll try and think of a crazy, funny trigger, whereas if I want to remember something that I’m genuinely interested in, I lean more towards creating logical leaps, because I don’t need to find something to entertain me regarding that topic in the first place.

Again, this is where creativity really comes in handy. An example of one of the triggers lurking in the corners of my mind palace… I was struggling to remember the word for ‘cat’ in Italian: gatto. On hearing the word out loud, my mind immediately springs to my favourite dessert: black forest gateau, and so I placed a gateau on a table in my ‘Italian room’ – a spare bedroom. From there I began thinking about the colours of the berries: purples and, once they begin to mix with the cream, pinks, from which my mind leaped to the Cheshire Cat in the Disney animated version of Alice in Wonderland. Purple/pink berries, purple/pink striped cat. Suddenly this gateau was shaped as the Cheshire cat’s face, grinning up at me, the berries and cream forming its colourful stripes.

Gif from here.

One last detail for this memory trigger; the word for cat in Italian is pronounced more as g-Ah-tto. Having at this point recently watched Singing in the Rain, I remembered those Vowel prints in the Moses Supposes scene. Bam, my Italian room suddenly has the ‘A’ print hanging on the wall behind the Cheshire cat gateau, and there you go, I suddenly remember to think about the pronunciation of the a when saying cat in Italian. Yes, I know that technically, the print in that movie is representing A rather than Ah, but it works for me.

Over the years, adding to the mind palace has become a habit. I have this personal rule, because I’m one of those people who has a tendency to obsess over intelligence; I just never feel like I’m never smart enough, so every day, I add three things to my palace, as a minimum. Just to keep my mind steadily expanding, keep things sharp, and so on. That’s just me though. I like to think that I’m always growing smarter, even if it’s at the glacial pace of three facts a day. You can see why it’s no longer just a house with several extensions, but a full-blown city. Well, not an entire city, but rather, the well-trodden route that I have covered about a hundred times in Rome, walking from Vatican City to Trevi Fountain, via Castel Saint Angelo, the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. It’s quite a recent addition, having happened only in December, while I was in Rome. It just seemed like an obvious step to me; I was walking that same route most days, often acting as an amateur tour guide for my new friends who had never been to Rome before, so adding the route to my mind-map engraves the city in my mind for future visits, while also giving me plenty of space for future memory triggers. I also have the Eiffel Tower thrown in there as a memory trigger of its own. Because of course, a personal mind house/palace/city doesn’t have to make sense.

It’s proven to be such an essential and useful part of my life, it’s helped me remember shopping lists, learn languages, remember film/book recommendations, and generally just learn useful/useless facts. I’m not saying it’s given me memory super powers.. I can sense certain friends reading this and saying ‘oh but what about that time I asked you to buy milk/pick up my order/etc and you forgot?’ That comes down more to my bad listening skills, so I’m sorry, lovelies, but using a mind palace will not get my head out of the clouds when you’re talking to me. Apologies.

I hope this hasn’t come across as arrogant, and ‘oooo, I have a mind city so I’m therefore better and smarter than youuuu’, I just thought it’s something I’d share. I’m definitely not some sort of genius. I’m not even that bright. I’m just a little bit of a narcissistic perfectionist about my intelligence. Maybe.

Basically, just because Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character doesn’t mean that mind palaces are only found in fiction!

Finally, there is a brilliant list of memory books here.
I especially recommend this one.

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Christmas has found Italy!

I’m feeling all Christmassy!

So I spent a couple of days in Naples after meeting the lovely Davide in Rome, who was kind enough to offer me and my friend a place to stay. I’ve visited Naples once before, very briefly in order to meet Pompeii, and frankly, I didn’t like it. It’s noisy, smelly, dirty, the people are often pretty rough around the edges (Davide being the exception there!)

In fact, one thing that I noticed pretty much about Neapolitan guys on this visit, is that they are often questionable in one of two ways: either they seem like pretty dodgy, probably belong in the Mafia kind of guys. The kind of guys who you cross the street to avoid because they can’t help but same some ridiculous comment towards every girl they see. Or, they’re questionable as in.. you just can’t tell if they’re straight or gay. Guys are very comfortable around other guys; cuddling (yes, as in, in bed in the evening while discussing their day with everyone else in the room), holding hands, taking a bite from each other’s rum baba’s (not a euphemism – a rum baba is a cake. Google it, it’s delicious!), and so I think, ok, gay, nothing wrong with that, it’s just a shame because they’re both cute… and then one of their girlfriends arrive, and the guy will give her a kiss while still holding hands with his friend. And this is perfectly normal. Ok, different cultures and blah blah blah, but… I for one found it confusing. And more than once I’d meet a guy and say ‘oh, so this is your boyfriend’ and be met with ‘no, he’s just my friend/cousin/neighbour who I hardly know’.

My bad.

Moving on from the Mafia and confusing sexuality of Neapolitan men… Italy is getting ready for Christmas!

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Naples is famous for it’s Christmas streets or presepe: San Gregorio Armeno, which sells nothing but Christmas decorations and Nativity sets all year round. Lord knows how they can afford to sell Christmas decor all year round, but they manage, somehow. Tourism? Do people flock to Naples in June to decorate their tree just because they can? Who knows.

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They really know how to make a nativity set! Really elaborate miniature houses – towns, even – made from wood, twigs, moss, beautifully crafted. And then there is such a range of figurines and items to fill them with! I saw figurines of bakers, butchers, seamstresses – every profession you can think of (well, every “old-fashioned” profession, so no photographers or tech-wizards, unfortunately) with little motors so that they move their little plastic pies back and forth in and out of the LED oven, or constantly ironing the same dress, or hacking at the same lump of plastic meat.. or whatever.

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Not being one to think much about the religious side of Christmas, needless to say that no, I haven’t bought myself a twigs-and-moss nativity, and there are not little motor run, palm-sized bakers working through the night on the same pie in my suitcase. They’re cute to look at, but definitely not for me. I have, however, started a cute little Christmas tradition; collecting Christmas decorations from around the world. Obviously it’s a collection limited to my winter travels – unless I can find more cities with year-round Christmas markets like Naples – but I think it’s pretty cute to have a tree decorated with memories. Nothing cheesy though, no ‘Rome 2013’ baubles, so I’ll have to make a note in my travel journals as to which were bought where for when I’m old and forgetful.

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Oh, and I ran into someone who was clearly a celebrity (screaming girls, lines of people having their photo taken with him), but I had no idea who he is… clearly his fame hasn’t reached the UK!

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So Naples wasn’t all about Christmas markets, of course. FYI, if you want to try the best pizza in Naples, go to Sorbillo on Via Tribunali. Best. Pizza. Ever. I recommend both the margherita and diavolo (me and a friend of mine shared so that we had half of each – delish!) I’ve already mentioned baba cake, which is basically rum-soaked cake, also delicious but can be a bit sickly after a while… or I found so at least, but everyone else cleared their plates and asked for seconds! There’s also sfogliatella, which I have to refer to as ‘that one, please *point*’ because I just can’t pronounce it to save my life. Sfogliatella comes in two forms; frolla (smooth) and ricca (curly), and basically it’s a sweet pastry. Layers and layers of pastry – to me, it looks like a sea shell! – with a ricotta filling, or most commonly at least. A must try!

And… despite the noise, insane traffic, dodgy reputation, piles of rubbish and general Naples-ish ways of the city.. it can still be so beautiful.

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And then what did I find on returning to Rome? Christmas!!
As ever when I arrive in Rome, even if I was there just a few days ago, I head straight to Piazza Navona, my absolute favourite spot in the city. So imagine my excitement when I round the corner and see this scene!

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The words ‘giddy’ and ‘schoolgirl’ spring to mind.

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They were in the middle of setting up while I was walking around, but I did spy some familiar-looking twigs-and-moss nativity sets lurking in the back of a lorry. No mechanical villagers yet though!

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I’ve been told that Christmas celebrations don’t officially begin until 8th December, on which the Feast of the Immaculate Conception takes place. That’s Mary’s conception, not Jesus’.. apparently the ‘immaculate’ part of of the tradition is because she never sinned.. or something like that. But anyway, so me and my friend will be heading back to Piazza Navona to see the finished market, decorations and celebrations next week. I’m. So. Excited.

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Derbyshire Ramblings

It seems even my passport and post-uni freedom can’t rein in my ‘workaholic’ tendencies… apologies, I’ve been working really, really hard on something that hopefully I can share online in another week or so! Secrets, secrets, secrets 😉

So, my friend Fabby came to Derbyshire a few weeks ago, and, being the lovely friend that I am, I was host and tour guide. Of course everyone who knows that I gave her a tour of Derbyshire (which is basically anyone on my Facebook who actually pays attention to my Facebook page), is wondering… why would my lovely Mexican friend fly from Spain (where she has spent the past six months) to Derbyshire??

This is why…

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The Peak District.

No one can visit England, and not take a moment to see the Peak District… and the Lake District… and various parts of the South Coast… and Oxford… and Cambridge… I could go on… what I’m trying to say is, I can’t remember the last time I met someone who has ventured beyond London and maybe Manchester/Liverpool on their visit to England. That’s not including people who are studying in England or visiting family. Venture out, people!

This fairly-spontaneous visit was definitely proof that I literally have no idea where life will take me any more. We planned her stay within a fortnight, after deciding that she was coming to visit while in Seville after about ten minutes.  It started with a conversation about our mutual love for this:

which turned into a conversation about the locations featured in this:

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a bit of a P&P expert. After all…

*wink* apparently….

But anyway, my fashionable (?) geekiness means that I therefore know that Joe Wright’s version of P&P was filmed at Chatsworth and Stanage Edge (to name a few), both of which are in Derbyshire. And having read P&P, I also know that Matlock and Bakewell are mentioned and therefore had to be added to our must-see list too… basically, P&P is Fabby’s favourite film, we therefore instantly decided that she had to see Derbyshire. And so it all just arranged itself.

Bakewell

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My camera pretty much stayed in my bag while we explored Bakewell, except for one lovely (and not at all touristy) photo of me. Besides that, Fabby was very much the photographer that day, while I was very much the tour guide, introducing her to the wonders of Bakewell tarts (oh dear, that sounds horrendously suggestive – sorry Fabby! Haha!) and quaint English villages. Matlock was another stop that my camera did not see that day.

Chatsworth House

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And Here’s Fabby!

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This isn’t feigned child-like excitement for the sake of the camera, we really were both running around the grounds like little kids. I’ve been to Chatsworth 1000 times and I still always act this way when I go there, and so to combine my usual Chatsworth excitement with Fabby’s ‘oh my god I’m at Pemberley, a location from my all-time favourite film in a beautiful part of the world that I have never seen before’ excitement.. at that moment, I loved it there so much that had I won the lottery, despite my plans for Italy, I’d have snapped up one of the many little cottages in the 1000 acre grounds of Chatsworth in a heartbeat. Then again, hopefully if I were lucky enough to win the lottery, I could afford a house in rural Derbyshire and Italy… and Paris… and London… 😉

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So Fabby has now seen the setting of this:

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and this:

and we saw this…

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(we especially loved the ‘Please do not Kiss’ sticker, though I think Fabby was somewhat disappointed)

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Stanage Edge

The next day we walked from Hathersage village to Stanage edge, the setting for this scene:

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It was insanely windy. Even though the wind was luckily blowing North-East, I still felt like it was suddenly about to turn South-West and therefore send me straight off the edge of the rocks as I posed for snaps, just for the fun of it. It really was sweep-you-off-your-feet-windy. The sort of wind that would thoroughly enjoy blowing unsuspecting visitors off Stanage Edge and onto the jagged rocks below.

Also, to everyone *cough* Dad *cough* who claims that you need hiking boots and those scary hiking trousers with zip-off legs (shudder) to go rambling around the peaks, I found, yet again, that skinny jeans and £3 Primark lace up tennis pumps do just nicely, thank you very much. I shall never give in!

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It’s been quite some time since I last explored Hathersage Moor, and I loved it so much, I returned a week or so later for a fashion shoot, the results of which are being published in Prototype magazine, and so I’ll be keeping to myself for now. However, I do have a lovely BTS picture of me on Hathersage moor.

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Beautiful.

P.S please do not put me down as one of those crazy ‘Janeite’ fans who read attempts to finish her uncompleted novels and Austen sequels and prequels like this:

and own a collection of gowns ready to attend balls and events like this:

*I mentioned balls ironically, but on searching for a mocking image, I found that such a thing actually exists!!!*

And will go to see films like this 1000 times and have long discussions at the end of their Jane Austen book club about how much they hope such a place will one day exist.

Worst of all, on googling for the above poster, I found this

What the…

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Sandeman tours and Midnight walks

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I think it important that everyone who visits Porto should go on at least one Port cellar tour and tasting. For a start, they are extremely cheap, generally around €5 for a tour and tasting (I believe Taylor’s tour is only €3). I personally went for Sandeman, which seemed to be one of the most popular, but the whole of Gaia’s river front is lined with well known brands; starting with Burmester and Calen as you cross the Ponte de D. Luis I, and ending with Ferreira and Graham’s (and those are just those shown on my map), and if you were to turn off the river front, you would find Taylor, Offley.. I could go on and on.

Of course, I recommend that you only choose a few, or perhaps one or two a day if you seriously like your port… but take it easy, it’s strong stuff at about 20%! And with two or three half glasses per tasting… that wouldn’t end well.

As I said, I chose Sandeman, with it’s €5 tour with two wine tastings. I overheard that for €9 you can taste three types of wine; red, tawny or white, or for €10 you can have three cellar tours (with 2 tastings each); Sandeman, Offley and Ferraria. I think I was mostly drawn to Sandeman because of it’s striking logo; no, it’s not Zorro, he’s called the Don.

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Image from here.

The tour took perhaps half an hour, including a ten minute video about the Douro region, where the vineyards are located. The tourguide even dresses as the Don, hence the rather ‘noir’ (according to Matt) photo below:Image

Of course the best part is always the tasting. I’ve never tried Port wine before, and while the  tawny was nice (very rich and fruity), I wouldn’t choose it again and I really couldn’t finish the white, which tasted quite coarse, nutty and spicy. Everyone else enjoyed it though, and I by no means pretend to be some sort of connoisseur.Image

Still, I’m glad that I can now tick it off my travel bucket list, and I learnt something new in the process; firstly, I don’t like port, and secondly, I learnt allll about the port making process, and the difference between the different ageing processes. Useless information no doubt, but I like to learn. Definitely worth €5! And the three cellar tour is definitely worth €10 too!Image

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In the evening, I went to see Porto at night with a friend. I admit I haven’t seen much of the city at night before; I’m always too exhausted from walking up and down hill after hill after hill (seriously, I’m a strong walker, despite having broken my foot in April, but those damn hills under the heat of the sun kill me!) I had to see a night time view of the city before I left though, and so me and Phelgo went for one last walk before I left for Lisbon.

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This is one of my favourite parts of travelling; the music. All across Europe, everywhere you turn there are people busking (and I am yet to come across a terrible musician *touch wood*), concerts, festivals, musicians entertaining people as they dine. In fact I love buying a meal at the supermarket and then seating myself on a step or bench near a fancy restaurant, the sort with a band or an accordion player. We’re listening to the same beautiful music, but while they are paying at least €20 for a meal, I’ve paid perhaps €5. Sneaky sneaky.

So last night’s walk was no exception; music everywhere. Everyone was laughing, dancing, I mean, it was a friday night, but it was very different to friday nights in England. People go out but there’s no crazy drunks slumped in doorways or lying face first in the street. Everyone just seems so much happier and less ‘I’ll just drown my sorrows and pretend I’m happy’.

Tonight I arrived in Lisbon, and while it hasn’t started amazingly well; taxi drivers running off with my change and hostels losing my reservation, for example, I’m excited to explore a new city in the morning. Let’s just hope the 40C heat doesn’t kill me…

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And so it begins…

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Porto. Second city of Portugal after Lisbon, with a population of 238,000, and famous of course for port wine. I’ve been here before; last September, for just a short 4 day trip to end last summer’s adventures. It was a lazy holiday to end the chaos, and I was too poor to do anything much at all, having spent all of my money in Italy and France and the various other countries that I had wandered into last summer. But this time, Porto is the first stop…

I do still love Porto, but that fuzzy haze of last summer has faded; last summer I could compare the row after row of derelict shabby chic buildings to beautiful, crumbling Venice, but now they seem very much apart to me. Maybe the fuzz will be back by morning, and it will turn out that it was just the less than perfect Ryanair flight that has clouded my opinion for now… we’ll see.

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Of course, I feel like I shouldn’t bother to complain about Ryanair; you get what you pay for and for a £50 flight (and 100000000 Ryanair flights under my belt already), I really couldn’t have expected much. It was all very same-same; they don’t even consider opening the gate for boarding until the plane was due for take off, then we are all prodded and poked like bad tempered cattle up the narrow staircase with our as-heavy-as-we-dare case, and into any available seat, while we are then stripped of our luggage and watch cautiously as it is launched from one end of the cabin to the other and following a brief game of catch between crew members during which I swear they earn points as to how many heads they can clobber with each case, it is finally placed in a luggage rack miles away. None of that bothered me in the slightest, I’m more than used to Ryanair’s typical passenger treatment by now, I’ve learnt how to just breeze by, which I think is quite impressive when I’m wearing as many layers as I can get away with without looking like the Michelin Man’s self-combusting wife.

Still, I honestly think I was the cheeriest person on that flight; everyone let the 15 minute delay get to them far too much, or maybe they were just naturally a bad-tempered bunch. Even my meagre lunch of overpriced sweaty cardboard chips and soggy salt which fell in clumps onto my food couldn’t put a damper on my mood. They tasted as if they had been re-heated at least twice. In fact, I’d swear that they had been, as they tasted exactly like a bowl of chips that I ate last year shortly before we caught the freezer out on it’s infamous game of sneak-a-defrost. Sneak-a-defrost was an irritatingly secret game played by the household freezer during which it would switch off just long enough for everything to thaw, and then magically repair itself, leaving us oblivious. They tasted exactly like sneak-a-defrost chips. Still, I’m off on my big adventure, so I can forgive a short delay and a dozen re-heated chips.

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As soon as I stepped from the metro at Sao Bento, I just so happened to bump into an old acquaintance (of sorts), Scary Mary, a local homeless woman who despite a pretty serious limp and her feeble remains of a pair of sandals can chase after you at about 100mph, jingling coins at you and shouting in Portuguese about lord knows what… my bets are she’s either shouting at me about her unfortunate living conditions as one of Porto’s homeless or a detailed fantasy about the various ways she’d like to kill me; batter me to death with the sandal remains. I bet it’s one or the other. If she wasn’t so terrifying, I’d buy her a McDonalds and a coffee, but I just don’t dare to linger when I see her charging towards me, filthy, wild-hair flailing all over the place, even wilder-eyes burning through me, limping away in her shit-stained trousers and those damn sandals scraping across the cobbles. She’s truly terrifying.

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Don’t get me wrong, Porto isn’t all homeless people and crumbling buildings (though sadly 70% of the buildings here are derelict, so I’m told). It’s a beautiful city which is a strange mix of being loud and lively and full of dancing and music and people congregating in squares and at the river to laugh and talk, and equally you can walk down eerily quiet, deserted streets moments later, which is perfect for someone like me; I like my me-time, and I like my space, which of course can be impossible to find when travelling. I find it pretty admirable how happy people are here, despite buildings around them quite literally falling down around them. It’s just one of those infectiously cheery places.

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Tomorrow I will probably head to the beach, and make the most of this lovely 30-35C heat! Are you jealous my lovely friends back home in England? I hope so.

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After a week in Paris, we headed south to visit an old friend of mine who I met in Derby – of all places – via Couchsurfing. We skipped along from Bordeaux to Montepellier, with a day in Avignon.

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For me, I can’t visit Paris without heading south for a few days. Yes, there is less to do in Bordeaux and Montpellier compared to the long list of Parisian sites, but while in Paris is rained – at times – the sun seems to be perpetually shining on the south. Paris is great for using all of your energy on trundling around museums, exploring streets full of antique shops, and strutting around in your best Parisian wardrobe, and then once you can’t possibly bring yourself to look at another painting or teeter down another piss-puddle and dog-poo riddled Parisian pavement (yes, it’s a gross reality rather than just a stereotype… why do I still love Paris?), grab your bikini, hop on a train and within a few hours, you’re sunbathing on a beach or a park.

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I love the Mediterranean influences in the south of France, from the style of architecture to the colour of stone used to pave their streets and build their walls.. Everything is more colourful in Bordeaux and Montpellier, the people are friendlier… sometimes a little too friendly. A homeless guy tried to kiss me… which was quite unpleasant. On the lips – not a typical french cheek-to-cheek greeting. Though from the smell of him I wouldn’t really have appreciated that ether, in all honestly. Is that mean to say? But generally, people know boundaries.

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And of course, we had to take advantage of my friend’s balcony for a few spontaneous, au naturel photo shoots.

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Can I go back yet, please?

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Wanderer

French Adventures: South

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