The 3 L's

Relocating to London

While I had for a few months been contemplating the possibility that perhaps the constant nomadic wandering was not quite as healthy as I’d originally believed, something I spoke about briefly here, the actual decision to move to London was a spontaneous one; a few hours of packing a single suitcase, and off I went!

_MG_0537-edit  In fact, even once I was here, it took a further two days before I finally, 100% decided that yes, this was not just a whim, and I was not to continue along the railway tracks as far as Paris or beyond. I wanted to stay in London. It was obvious to me from the instant I stepped off the train, but it took a few days before I accepted that I’m not quite the nomad that I thought. London is my home, it’s where I feel I have to be right now, and while the passport is still going to be used regularly, to silence that niggling feeling of wanderlust that has a tendency to well up inside me, for a few months, at least, I’ll leave it to one side to gather dust, and savor every inch of London.

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It’s as if I have been looking for somewhere where I fit in, and I’ve been searching all over Europe. (Update* I’ve spoken about my feelings on the matter here.) I felt inspired, but lost, happy, but as if it was just a quick remedy. Here in London, everything has clicked into place, and I feel as if it’s been calling me across the continent. So many friends have spent the past years while I was travelling Europe telling me that I would end up in London. Some even predicted that I would move here ‘in the summer of 2014’… perhaps they subconsciously planted the decision in my mind one year ago when they first made their predictions last year, during my university exhibition, but either way, it’s nice to know just how well they all know me.

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I’m a North London girl through-and-through, and I have been making the most of my first week here with long walks across Hampstead Heath, people watching in cafes and networking with as many fresh-faced models, stylists with amazing wardrobes and talented hair/makeup stylists as I can track down. I have so many shoots planned for the upcoming weeks, and I am so excited to get a chance to share those with you, as well as tales of my London adventures.

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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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I’ve never been a fan of Spain, but Seville, oh!

Ok, nothing against Spain, but I’ve just never liked it. I starve every time I go there because I hate the food, I almost keeled over with shock when I found out that Zara – one of my favourite fashion stores – is Spanish, and the men are just… urgh. It’s not for me. Give me France or Italy any day!

However… when I arrived in Seville. Or rather, not specifically Seville, that was just another Spanish city; beautiful architecture, but then you eat the food and talk to the people and.. it all falls apart. But more specifically, Plaza de Espana. Yes, I know I just said, the architecture is beautiful and then you eat the food and get hit on my slimy men who think they’re god’s gift to woman and it all falls apart, and here I am talking about more architecture.. but hear me out.

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I love travelling, but after a while, it becomes a bit repetitive. And I know that I’ve only been travelling this time for a few weeks, and I shouldn’t have hit this point yet, but it’s like, I’ve never refreshed from my last travels, travelling as become such a big part of my life for so long that it’s just become like ‘ok, here we go, life is great’ rather than ‘holy shit everything is so wonderful and magical and wow’ to the point that you’re pretty much high from purchasing a flight ticket or realising that your coach has crossed a border. This time, I’ve been walking around, and yes, it’s all beautiful and exciting, but.. and then I walked into Plaza de Espana, and I suddenly had that wow feeling for the first time in a while.

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I could have either ran around photographing every single little detail to give you an idea as to how intricate and beautiful this place is. But that would be insane, so just trust me when I say, visit Seville. I spent about 3 hours there on 3 different days, just sitting, doodling or scribbling down one of my shoot ideas or some other creative fibble-fabble. And, what I loved most about Seville is that yes, it’s touristy, but not too touristy. Plaza de Espana was never crowded with people; not even close. And that’s a nice change from places like, the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum. It’s very peaceful.

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And the best part? I met some lovely, lovely people in my hostel, and one of them is going to come and visit me next week.

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Lagos Water Sports

This is the main reason that I came to Lagos; the water sports.

Surfing and jet skiing especially. I also tried my hand at water-skiing, but I’m not going to pretend I was any good. In fact, imagine Bambi water-skiing (to my uni friends, that’s Bambi the deer, not Bambi the person… though I imagine Bambi the person would have looked at clumsy just as ridiculous while water-skiing too!) That was me. Bambi on water. Surfing on the other hand, I can do. And jet-skiing.

In fact, the first thing I did on arriving, was head out surfing. Actually no, that’s a lie, I arrived at 1am and so the first thing I did was sleep (this was the night after I’d climbed the mountain-hill to Pena Palace in Sintra), but the first thing I did when I woke up was head out surfing. I almost took my camera, thinking I could ask someone to grab some shots for me. And I regretted leaving it in my locker safe in the hostel… until I heard the cries of a girl who had arrived to hire a board at the exact same time as me. She had bought her camera, her entire handbag in fact, and asked the staff to keep it behind their desk for her, exactly as I would have done. And it was gone within an hour. Some sneaky bugger took it, and so for that reason, while I’m sorry that I don’t have a single photo of me surfing, or (because it spooked me), jet-skiing or bambi-skiing, I’m rather glad, because there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t have any photos anyway – because I wouldn’t have my camera any more.

However, I do have photos of me while I was grotto-exploring and snorkelling.

You see them all over Lagos, people standing around at little advertising tables. Do you want to go dolphin watching? Boat tours, anyone? And – the offer that I accepted: Cave and grotto tours – with snorkelling, miss?

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I admit, after two hours in rather rough waters, I did feel somewhat seasick for ten, maybe fifteen minutes. As my bucket list includes things like ‘Sail around the world’, I need to work on that…

So after an hour of looking at the various caves and grottos and being shown ‘the elephant’, ‘the second elephant’, ‘Michael Jackson’s face’ and ‘Titanic and the Iceberg’, we were given the chance to snorkel – definitely the best part of the entire trip!

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I couldn’t see a bloody thing (hence I’d given up on wearing the mask by the time someone grabbed my camera for me). But still, having a dip in the sea was lovely in itself. I’m kind of funny about swimming in the sea; if I’m on a beach, I’ll maybe dip my feet, but unless I have a surfboard, I won’t go for a swim. I don’t like seaweed and little fish that swim around your ankles and wading into the water. But when I’m standing on the edge of a boat, and everyone else is tentatively lowering themselves into the water. Fuck it, I jump.
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Two hours, including snorkelling and a quick 20 minute trip in a separate speedboat to be given a tour of the harder to reach caves, came to €15 – and I saw another company offering the same for €12, so definitely worth every penny.

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Don’t make the same mistake as me though; they promised we would be back for 8.30, and didn’t dock until nearer 9, and silly me had arranged a date with the Brazilian Ice Cream seller from the marine for 9.30… boats are not punctual! And sea-water will leave your hair looking disgusting; and you’ll smell bad. I’ll have to remember that next time.

P.S. yes, I managed to just rush back, fix my hair, and meet Monsieur Ice Cream for our date. Thankfully there was a breeze to dry my hair as I ran/skidded over those damn cobbles!

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Beach Days and Princess Castles

Firstly, sorry for the biggg delay. I’ve had all of my posts ready and waiting, but they just wouldn’t post while I was in Spain! So here they are now in one big fat chunk. Sorry about that.

As I was saying…

12th July:

It’s been a lazy week. There have been a lot of lazy beach days this week. I’m in Lagos, and I think everyone who knows me is surprised to find that I’ve been here for almost a week now. Originally I thought ‘ok, one night, that’s all I’ll be able to handle in Lagos, one night and I’m out’. I’m not a party scene girl, I hate being drunk and worse still, I hate clubbing while sober, which makes it a bit of a lose-lose situation for me. I came to Lagos purely for the scenery and the water-sports. (Ha! If only my old P.E teachers could hear me say that! Emma? Sports? Hell no.)

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I can’t say anything here that most people don’t already know, Lagos is full of enough English tourists, everyone knows that it’s incredibly beautiful, to the point that in this week alone I swear I’ve developed arthritis in my shutter finger. I did put the camera away though eventually after I’d fallen over for the thousandth time. What is it with the whole of Portugal choosing the slippiest, shiniest white cobbles for their pavements?! An arthritic finger and bruised bum has definitely been worth it though.

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Before arriving here in lovely Lagos, I made a quick day stop in Sintra, having heard so much about it’s stunning princess castles; yet another of the 1000 apparent light bulb moments of inspiration for dear Walt when Disneyland sprung to his mind.

Take my advice. Do not do what I foolishly did and decide to walk to Pena National Palace; the most beautiful of them all (yes, there is more than one Palace in this tiny town!) I was walking for over an hour up long, winding roads. And the palace is atop a very, very high, steep hill. Take the bus, it’s worth every cent of it’s €5 return ticket.

Luckily, I wasn’t the only one who had been silly enough to walk, and I met three girls from New Zealand on my hike. Crazy uphill hikes in 38C heat are always so much easier with company! But again. Worth it.

ImageMy first thought when I caught sight of Pena Palace was honestly ‘I shall bring my sisters here one day’, as soon as they have a passport (small hiccup). It’s the ultimate princess castle.

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Once I reached the entrance, I happily paid another €2 for the craziest bus ride of my life. Being English, sometimes I forget that other countries don’t have the same OTT health and safety regulations that smother my country. At Sintra, once every seat of the rickety, vintage-chic bus is full, they just start perching people wherever they can. The passenger seat next to the driver’s had been ripped up, and so I was sitting on the metal bar that was left. A kid sat awkwardly at my feet, and another little boy and his sister, who couldn’t have been older than 14 were seated on the steps at the door – or rather, doorway. There was no door.

Still, the driver was very careful, and was constantly looking back to check on the two kids in the doorway. I don’t know if that should have made me nervous as he therefore only spent about 20% of the time looking at the road, but there you go. Crazy Portuguese bus rides. I found it much too enjoyable, thanks to years being wrapped in cotton wool by England’s health and safety.

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ImageI need to go back one day and see the other two castles; The Moors Castle (which is exactly what little English me pictures when you say castle), and Sintra National Palace, which is the easiest to reach, being central in Sintra town, and not atop a hill, but when I arrived it was covered in scaffolding. I could still have gone inside but I’d rather come back one day and be able to see it properly, in all it’s beauty!

One day.

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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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