Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Tour Di Italia 4. The Last Leg


The Amalfi Coast & Capri

Kelly makes a boo boo with the suncream. We’re being good with the creams, wearing 30 most days since being closer to 30 than I’d like to admit, I have a new found obsession with getting wrinkled or leathery from years of summer holidays and cheeky sunbeds. But despite good intentions, Kelly is bright red - as in full-on beetroot, roasted tomato red.
“I don’t understand!” she exclaims, skin sizzling - “I’ve been putting cream on!” She fishes out the bottle to show me.
“Kel, that’s not suncream, that's aftersun.”
**
After a hot and gorgeous night wandering along the bay of Naples, we pick up our friend Arjun from the station and head to the Amalfi coast. Naples had taken me by surprise, rough round the edges and sweet on the inside, the city was a ball of energy. The people were so different here, the Neapolitans wild and loud and wearing the most incredibly terrible fashion as if in rebellion to the rest of their country. But they owned it; the brash colours and odd combinations of trainers and leather skirts, of long t-shirts and hard-earnt hair dos. It was so fun to watch the city come to life as the sun went down on Vesuvius, the bay a hub of life and great food.
We leave the city and head for the mountains, and having tackled five cities in seven days we sack-off the public transport and take a cab the whole way to Ravello. Despite its world famous coastlines, Amalfi is not easy to reach. There are no direct trains, and a lot of buses and changes. It’s worth it though, and this minor inaccessibility makes it feels authentic, with no well-tread tourist path in the green mountains.
Winding up and up and up impossibly high and narrow Cliffside roads, I find my stomach going; all three of us are car sick, our driver Maurizio laughing in amusement at our English stomachs. When we finally reach the heavens I have a slight worry that I’m not going to be able to look out any windows for the next few days but It doesn’t take long to adjust, and when I do, Ravello has me reeling. It’s the kind of beautiful that doesn’t look real, that can’t be caught on camera. We are on the top of a mountain looking down into the bay of Minori, over vineyards and lemon orchards. The sky blends into the sea, and colours I have never seen in an ocean or sky rise with the sun over the mountain each morning. It’s unforgettable.

The only problem about being on top of a mountain is getting back down. We miss the bus on more than one occasion down to Amalfi, and when you do catch it, be prepared for the ride of your life. Buses reverse on mountain edges, the fly round corners that have 200 metre drops, and they don’t have air con. From amafi the best adventures are by boat. There are so many towns that are within easy reach ad we speedboat the whole way to Postitano without so much as a provisional licence - my over-enthusiasm sending Kelly two-feet into the air when I hit a wave.

We get all dressed-up and ready to party in the evening, then accidentally get so drunk on gin, we miss the last bus down so are stuck on the top of the mountain for the night. We teach the local Italians lads the ‘Head up’ game on our iPhones instead, and secure with this new friendship a lift down and an invite to the coolest party on the coast - Atrani’s secret party where they have taped fireworks to the side of the houses in the caves and set them off in time to the best music I’ve heard all week.

Hungover and happy, there is a slight misunderstanding the next morning and we find ourselves chased out of Ravello by the crazy Italian hosts, wanting blood for having had Arjun in the house instead of just the two of us. If it was a supplement or money she wanted, an email to Airbnb would have sufficed, but instead we nearly end up with a black eye and run for our lives with our oversized luggage, hiding in the local bakery as we pray for a taxi to rescue us. Arm yourself with language; the more you can communicate when travelling, the more you are safe from misunderstandings.
An easy one-hour ferry sees us escape to Capri, where we are greeted by a much more agreeable host who helps us with our luggage rather than throwing it at us, and makes us fresh bruschetta on arrival from the tomatoes grown in his garden. Genny is a fashion designer who has rented out the annex of his super mansion on Air BnB, and I stare open-mouthed finding a Mac computer and a Nespresso machine in my room along with a Tempur mattress. Now that’s more like it!
With all great discoveries whilst travelling, it’s usually by accident - this was our best Air BnB find, and having picked this place because it has a hot tub, we spend the first evening in it drinking prosecco by the bottle, watching the sunset and the stars come out with startling brightness.
Genny and his wife think we’re funny because we don’t want to leave their land, in fact we don’t move out of their garden for 24 hours and when we do we simply walk the little path down the cliff and find ourselves at the famous blue grotto cave entrance - another reason this location is perfect. We jump in a boat with a beautiful smiling Italian called Raffaelle who sings Neapolitan songs to us from Dean Martin and the Rat Pack. I am in love immediately. The entrance of the cave is a bit tricky, with a tiny mouth that forces you to catch a wave to gain entry.
“Lie down please,” Raffaelle tells us, “heads inside the boat.”
We duck, sat in the little wooden boat, waves splashing, he pulls us through the rock and suddenly all is still. The water in the cave is completely and utterly luminous, as if there are stadium lights at the bottom of the sea bed. The echo in the cave means Raffeale is having great fun, singing soprano and splashing the oars to catch the light. It’s truly mesmerising, an experience that photos cannot do justice to, although myself and Kelly give it a good go with the selfie-stick.

**
What to do with your last day when your flight isn’t until 10pm and you are on one of the most beautiful islands in Europe - cocktails. Unfortunately, we go a bit over-board and get so drunk we miss the boat, despite being in a bar on the harbour. We miss the next boat too having the wrong tickets and with the sun setting we start to panic, Raffaele rescuing us once more and getting us to the right place.
I cry on the boat back to Naples. I’m pretty drunk, but I mean my tears. Kelly and Arjun console me before passing out cold at the back of the boat on the floor with their luggage. I wonder how we’re going to get on the plane. Holiday romances are perfect for their imperfection; they exist only for a moment. There is a deadline before you begin and so you kiss with urgency, share stories with ease, you are another version of yourself in a place that isn’t home. I enjoy salty kisses and swimming and driving around the mountains, boating in the caves, being bought ice-cream and lunch and wine. I try and change my flight to stay one more day, and we hug and kiss as if I am boarding the Titanic when we say goodbye, chasing the gangplank as I leave the magical island. The sweetest, kindest Italian I have ever met.
This is the real secret with Capri - you need a resident to really see it. There are two completely different prices for everything - boat tickets, drinks, bar entrance. If you are a resident the boat is 6 euro to Naples. If you are a tourist it is 13. Now there’s nothing you can do about that (as we discovered having got Raffaele to buy us resident tickets and then being denied entry to the boat, missing it and nearly our flight). But with the night life you need a buddy - club entrance to the main hotspots was 20 euro including a drink on the arm of Raffe, without him it was 60 euro. Parking is impossible for tourists; but Raffaele is handing friendly policemen 20 euro notes and parking in taxi bays no problemo.
Capri at night is a sight to behold, feeling as if we had stumbled upon something between an extravagant wedding/Royal Ascot/Dubai/meets lottery-winners and oil merchants. I have never seen so much money or plastic surgery in one place. There are tight faces and oiled hair, incredible couture outfits fit for a ball, boob jobs that make your eyes pop and enough Valentino shoes to start a shop right there in the square. It’s a super show and a great one to watch.
But there is a Ying to the Yang; Anacapri is the older and more naturally beautiful part of the island, away from the money and the noise and we are heartbroken to leave. This adventure has reminded us of the utter necessity of travel, to see things outside of our comfortable circles, and on my return I am jarred at my lack of enthusiasm for nights out and pubs that had kept me happily entertained before. I’ve got the itch…
Next stop Norway!!

Monday, 25 July 2016

Tour Di Italia 3. Pisa & Rome




“This is how it started in Taken,” Kelly says.

“As in Liam Neeson?”

She nods and we stare at the glasses of champagne we’ve been given, looking for signs of drugs at the bottom of it.

We’re in a dingy back room of a nail parlour somewhere in Rome with no windows, champagne in hand and people coming in and out given us sparrow-like started looks. They’ve clearly mistaken us for someone else, fussing over us with drinks and appetisers, the beauticians asking to take pictures of us and insisting we add her on Instagram, while the other one disappears and returns wearing full make up and sticky lipgloss. I’m a bit worried about all the whispering and the never ending bubbly, but it’s free and more importantly there’s wifi, so I play along until I finish the bottle, leaving Kelly to her fate and her pedicure as I escape to wander the Roman roads in the evening warmth.

**

Whoever the mad Roman women thought we were, we survive to tell the tale without being kidnapped, having travelled from Florence through Pisa to the Capital, stopping to take the obligatory Pisa poses in the gorgeous sun and lounging the shade of the tower, befriending a guy travelling from Miami as we sunbathe and eat ice creams on the grass. He is the chosen one today for two important reasons; A. he has a GoPro and B. he can help us with our bags. Pisa is a wonderful illustration of the unaffected Italian attitude. With the first brick laid in the 12th century, they stopped and started construction for 200 years unable to correct the famous tilt until it was officially completed, the foundations in soft sand & soil meaning it only officially stopped moving in 2008.

Pisa is an easy one hour and 8 Euro journey from Florence, spending the day in the pretty town before taking the evening train onto Rome. The sunset train is a must see; comfortable, cool and an unforgettable sight from the window, watching the sky turn the ocean into a fiery orange horizon, the light disappearing as we arrive in a city I have waited so long to see, Roma! Mi Roma!



**


How do you describe Rome? It’s like living two lives, the old and the new so intricately intertwined you’re on the flipside of a coin. This other life is so clearly visible it feels you are almost intruding on the Roman’s; every corner you turn there are jaw dropping ruins and remains, cars and vespers winding around the screaming roads that have popped up around the columns and marble, the Italians living in perfect synchronicity alongside their ancestors. What is so enticing about this city is how life has built itself around its past, new buildings using the groves and spaces between ancient columns, reclaiming it the way a jungle reclaims a once inhabited land. Life pushes forward no matter what the fall, and here the scars of time are beautiful and exposed.

I’ve been drinking the fountain water, which I thought was a perfectly good money saving idea as I’ve seen the locals do it, but the dogs drink from it too so maybe it wasn’t so smart, especially as I find I can’t eat anything from Florence all the way to Rome and it takes a few days for my appetite for buffalo mozzarella and beef tomatoes to return.

We haven’t got the coffee thing quite right either, and this is upsetting me. Italy is the coffee Mecca, but I’m used to London craft coffee, double shot super strong and smooth; here I ask for latte and get a large cup of hot milk.

We try a new tactic. “Un latte e un espresso,” I say, while Kelly orders one macchiato and one Americano. The barman looks at our table us but it’s just us two, and stares wide eyed as I pour the espresso into the latte, Kelly shotting the macchiato after the Americano. We’re buzzing off our faces as we leave, and everything looks bright and loud on the walk back to the apartment. Nope, we haven’t got the coffee thing quite right yet.



**

Travstevere. This is the area you want to stay in Rome. This is where the Italians are -the streets are warm and inviting, music playing, al fresco tables, Italian menus and little churches covered in green ivy. We buy 5 euro local pizzas which melts in your mouth and sit outside in the piazza where the locals have set up an outdoor cinema. The cab drivers are slightly mental, this fiery Roman temperament present in the blood of the locals sending us spinning as he gives us a guided tour with one hand on the wheel, stopping in the middle of duel carriage way to point out monuments and having a full on road-rage moment with the car behind as I try and retrieve my change on arrival. “Scuzi, I need 5 euro from that,” I say to the handful of cash in his hand, but he is busy debating with the gentleman in the car behind whether to have a full on fist-fight so my pleas fall on deaf ears.



**



We explore Roman Rome in the sun, finishing boldly by climbing the 521 steps to the very top of St Peters Basillica, but going round and round the endless steps I make a new discovery about myself- I am terrified of heights. Very inconvenient. Actually it’s not me that’s afraid of heights, it’s my knees, they are suddenly made of jelly and have the odd desire to crouch down low and hold on to my flip flops, trying to regain a centre of gravity. Kelly is patient but firm, and moves me away from the baffled security guard who I am trying to convince to let me go back down the opposite way.

4 cities in 6 days, walking on average 5 miles a day, we are a pair of nutters. By the time we reach the Vatican on day 7 I’ve hit a slight wall, and of all the places in all the cities, this is not the place to hit a wall.

Churches have always been a place of comfort to me having brought up a catholic; the smell of incense reminds me of childhood, Sunday’s and the promise of sweets for good behaviour. But I can’t get a sense of the Vatican, the power & austerity are lost in the herding and charging of tourists along crowded hot corridors. I want to be left in peace to explore, to sit in the Sistine chapel, but under of the roof of the world famous art a guard shouts over a microphone ‘SILENCE’ and the moment is lost.

Art and beauty are meant for sharing, but you can’t force the experience. Sometime we can’t put parameters around it, a price, a trampled path. I leave exhausted, and the waiter serving me my recovery diet coke thinks the solution is to hide one of our shoes in an attempt to make us laugh. It works.

We collapse a nap for an hour, watching episodes of Ab Fab, the Patsy and Eddie of the hopeless, hapless travelling world asleep with the air con to soothe our aching selves. After a shower and another coffee, we go out and dance with the Romans until the early hours of the morning, and in a haze of hangover and heat, make out way to Naples the next afternoon…


Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Tour Di Italia 2. Florence


Tour Di Italia

2. Florence.



“Dude! We’re on the wrong platform!”

We run, two girls and all forty-seven kilos of luggage in hand, to platform three, not platform five. Our numbers are as good as our Italian apparently. We make it with 3 minutes to spare, sitting in the wrong seats in the wrong carriage and not noticing until an Italian family turf us out and we find our place EIGHT carriages up.

Europeans need to give the brits a lesson on how to do trains. It’s luxury compared to the cattle train commuter lines - I have a leather seat with plug sockets, table, leg room and a TV in the isle showing the journey on a moving map as we go from Venice through Bologna into Florence. We make friends with four middle age Aussies on some kind of mid-life crisis European tour and they ask us immediately about Brexit. I feel like I’m apologising a lot for Brexit out here; everyone we come across; Italians, Americans, Australians, ask us the same question with curiosity – “is that what everyone really feels like in the UK?” Travelling around these beautiful cities it seems more absurd than ever to have cut ourselves afloat on our island, where the is so much here we need to be a part of.

Florence is hot and orange; a citrus city of sunshine that is 32 degrees when we arrive. The Duomo is every bit as breath-taking as I had hoped, but getting in however, was a challenge we weren’t quite prepped for. A strict dress code of no bare shoulders and no short skirts meant mine and Kelly’s attire would need a little altering, and in our quest for sunkissed skin, we didn’t exactly have much material to work with.

She artfully tucks the shoulder of my dress together and under my arm, adjusting the folds of the dress so there’s less cleavage, and instructs me not to move. I look like an overheated penguin, arms glued to my side walking stiffly in the que. We’re getting closer and closer, heat blazing, Japanese tourists poking me with selfie sticks and over-sized cameras, but finally we get to the front of the line, Kel adjusting my hair over any offending flesh on show. I’m as prim and proper as I’m ever going to be standing in front of the security guard, he casts his eye over me… and I’m through! Yes! I resist the urge to fist pump the air as I’m still holding my clothes together with my underarms, but wait, an arm has cut across Kelly.

 “No shorts” he tells her pointing to her knees.


“I’m not wearing shorts?” She protests, which is probably the problem. Kelly’s off-the shoulder canary yellow dress has been artfully pulled up to become an on-the-shoulder number, but as a consequence has become slightly shorter that originally intended.

“No,” he says, wagging his finger and casting her aside. Meanwhile I’m being swept with the crowd up the steps…

“Dude, go on without me!” She calls, “Go see the Duomo!!”

“No, I’m not going without you!”

“I’ll wait for you dude!” She shouts, “go see the Duomo dude, go go go!”

I wave as best I can with my arms still glued to my side and continue up the marble stairs. I’m nearly there, the grand oak door is in front of me, I’m about to go through - when a large arm blocks me.

The second security guard points to my knees- indicating for me to pull my dress down to make it longer. Slight issue here since if I attempt that, I’m going to have to unpin my arms, and then all sorts of skin will be back on show to the Italian public. I attempt to shimmy a bit, make an effort to make the skirt longer - but alas! I don’t make the cut! He moves me aside, casting me out with the other rejects. I try and peer through the door, but only darkness peers back.

We drink a pint of beer outside the Duomo and stare at it instead.

**

Bikes are always the dream way to get around on an adventure - it is my greatest recommendation when travelling as it is always cheap and European cities are very cycle friendly.  Taking our time, we wind through the long roads and cobbled paths, stopping for our picnic and a cold beer on a secret beach we find down by the canal towards the outskirts of the city.

Two grown women, exploring Italy, confident travellers… until the bike chain falls off. We stare at it like a rubix cube, my pink glittery nails turning black with sticky thick bike oil as I try to fit it back on. Its boiling hot, we have no idea what we’re doing and it’s a long way back to bike shop.

“We need a man!” Kelly calls, and I look round for a decent one.

Thankfully we’re in the right country if it’s a man you’re looking for – within 20 seconds a full-on Georgie Clooney hottie bowls over confidentially, complete with polo shirt, loafers and silver fox hair.

 “Ciao”, he says, flipping the bike upside down with one hand and flicking the chain on, spinning the peddles around before we can say tutti fruity.

“Thanks,” we swoon and off he strolls, giving us a wink.

**

The trick with travelling I think, is to be versatile - we can go from putting the complimentary restaurant rolls in our handbags for lunch the next day - to drinking prosecco in Florence’s Continental hotel roof bar. It’s a champagne life on a lemonade budget, so if you want the 5-star hotel, you’re gonna have to eat packets of ham and free bread rolls for the day. It’s a trade I’m willing to make as I watch an Italian sunset from a soft cushioned sun lounger, an Italian waiter in a bow tie serving my drink in a crystal glass. The Firenze horizon is on fire, a burnt orange lighting up the water, the yellow and orange buildings along the canal warm and stunning in the evening light.

Walking home we’re feeling very pleased with ourselves and crossing the Ponte Vecchio for the last time, I suddenly stop.

“Kel, did you pay the bill?”

“No, I thought you paid the bill?”

“Are you joking?!”

We stare at each other wide-eyed. The catholic in me squirms. It was an honest accident.

But it’s a long way back and we’re both wearing heels.

Sorry Florence - I’ll get the next round x


Monday, 18 July 2016

Grand Tour Di Italia - 1. Venice


Grad Tour Di Italia-
1. Venice


Its 4am and my phone is ringing.

“Mel, wasn’t your flight at 4am? Kelly’s not moving.”

And so it begins.

“What you mean she’s not moving, is she alive?”

 There is a pause as Dave gives her a poke.

 “Yeah, I mean she’s humming and singing, she’s just not moving.”

Great, a drunk/hungover Kelly is an element I am not ready for at these hours of the morning. The flight isn’t at 4am thank god, but that’s the time we were supposed to be waking up, and my best friend has got a little too jolly the night before and is now in a pickle. Telling Kelly to stay in for an evening is like trying to get a cat in a cage when you’re going to the vet. She is not staying in.

At 4.23am, she’s not out of bed, or finished packing and the cab is booked for 4.45am.

“Dave,” I say to her housemate, having called him back. “Put me on speaker phone and put the phone next to her ear.”

Dave follows the instructions.

“DUDE? What are you doing? Get up, we’re going in 15mins. Get up NOW.”

I hear her jump out of her skin.

“I’m awake I’m awake!!”

**



Kelly sits on the suitcase as we desperately try to zip the thing up. We’re sitting in the middle of City Airport at 5am and the guy on the BA desk is staring at us, unamused.

Now this isn’t Ryanair stingy 15k weight, BA give you a generous 23K, but Kelly’s face is aghast as the scales flash -29k.

“Dude, what have you got in there?”

She looks at me blankly.

“It’s a £65 charge for luggage over the weight limit,” says the unamused BA guy.

“Really? It's just that £65 is really expensive and I don’t have a lot of money...”

He is unmoved by this plea. “Did you know what the weight allowance was?”

“Yes.”

“But you chose to pack 6 extra kilograms?”

Kelly pauses – “yes.”

There is an awkward silence.

“Well I didn’t mean to,” she adds.

“Kel, just pay the man,” I whisper in a slightly desperate tone. Her credit card comes out reluctantly and I wonder if 5am is too early for me to start drinking.

**

The next adventure comes after landing- after a quick and comfortable flight we’re queuing for our luggage, round and round and round bags go, trolleys come and are wheeled away and guess who’s bag does not appear…

Kelly’s.

She starts to sweat, “The Chanel” she says to me, a look of fear in her eyes. “The Chanel is in there, and I don’t have travel insurance.”

I tell her to breathe, and curse that damn handbag. When she moved to London with nothing but a hope for a fresh start, she clung to that bag in this crazy city like it held the secrets of the universe.

“Dude,” I would tell her, “that’s a deposit and 4 months’ rent! Sell the thing!”

Never,” she would hiss at me.

‘Delivery Ended.’ the screen above the conveyer belt flashed. One solitary black bag was still going round, that and a broken push chair. I came back from the lost and found desk and asked one last question; "are you sure that’s not you bag?"

She pauses, and I roll the case over as it comes past us for the eleventh time.

“Ah! That is my case my case after all!”

I resist the urge to punch her in the face.
 **

We take a water bus to the island, following a water motorway as boats fly back and forth on glorious turquoise water. From the minute we step off and start dragging our bags through cobbled streets, I am in love.

Over the next two days I find no signs of the haunted or the sinking and stinking that I have often heard described. This city is bursting full of colour and light, a never ending maze of beautiful canals, every bit as authentic as you could hope.
I have an obsession with maps, a trait that comes in handy as I quickly notice the streets make no sense at all, tiny winding paths of crumbling brick and grand rusting doors, finding ourselves at dead ends and secret courtyards with every turn. Of course it doesn’t help that Kelly drops my map to the canal within 24 hours and I don’t know where we live without out it, since it had our apartment circled clearly by our airbnb host.

The place looks like a movie set, so true it is to any picture you have in your head and there is so much detail to drink in, wherever your home is will never look the same again in comparison. I don’t think much of the water buses, crammed and irregular- on the way to the station on the last day I’m convinced it will sink- people and suitcases jammed together like sardines and I cling onto the side for dear life. But the key to Venice, to feel you have seen this crazy magical place is to walk and walk and walk.

We make picnics and use the drinking fountains to drink all day as we wander through each quarter, stopping to sunbathe on canal corners and eat gelato in sunny open squares. We listen to the orchestra in San Marco’s square and eat pizza in tiny pizzerias that are so fresh and sweet it could almost be dessert.

As a place it feels surreal- how does it work? It’s so beautiful but makes no sense- in the middle of nowhere, on water, decadent architecture and basilica’s everywhere you turn. The city, I discover, was founded in 400bc, a place for refuges that came to the lagoon in the Adriatic Sea, safe from enemies who couldn’t sail, and eventually attempted to build a city on the water so they could stay. Unbelievably the original foundations of Venice are made of wood- pikes going down in to the deeper sand and clay, the lack of oxygen meaning the wood doesn’t rot but in fact turns into a solid structure. I look around at the buildings, built almost on top of each other they are so close together, a boat pulling up to a restaurant, delivering the fish from the boat through the window. It seems impossible that it works but it does.

An added bonus is we have accidentally arrived in Venice on their biggest holiday weekend of the year, a celebration of the church built after God spared the city from the plague. We join in with hundreds and hundreds of boats filling the water with mini floating parties, an astonishing sight in the evening water, music playing all along the grand canal. Prosecco in hand we watch a fireworks display that is simply breath taking, exploding light illuminating the Venetian skyline of basilicas and domes. The whole city lights up with a show that lasts 45minutes and the whole city cheers as midnight strikes.

It is magic.

*Next stop Florence!*






Sunday, 4 October 2015

I'm going Sober for October...



Want some reasons?

1. Firstly for Macmillan and great cause worth donating to. *SHAMELESS PLUG* donate here.

2. I’m sick to death of hangovers- I’m too old for them, they last too long, and I can’t afford the expensive makeup you need to cover them up because I’ve spent all my money on expensive wine and disgusting kebabs (a pointless combination may I add.)

3. I want to get fit and whichever way I look at it, I can’t build wine into that equation- ‘it’s liquid, its grapes, it’s basically fruit?’ Spin class is no fun on a hangover, and carb fest 2015 has taken place this summer, with a new job in the city that has seen me spend the price of a small car in various bars and restaurants around town.

4. I threw up on the train on Sunday morning into a small, blue sandwich bag after an extortionate night out. I’m 27 years old. This CANNOT happen again.

5. I want to know the difference between an alcoholic and socialite. The line, I imagine, is finer that we like to think. Alcohol is socially acceptable, available, legal; so what makes some people abuse it and others not? Does it come down to luck, circumstance, genetics, social attitudes? Will power? Do we define where that line is, or does alcohol? 

6. I grew up with an alcoholic, it wasn’t much fun. I’ve had 4am phone calls from A&E, I have visited him in hospitals, been to court with him, fixed his finances, let him live with me. I have looked after him, loved him, abandoned him and everything in between. Living with someone with a drink problem feels like living with acid in your stomach- it rots away at you, slowly, but on the outside no one sees the injury.

Not to kill the mood or anything. My instinct is to joke, but my instincts also tell me that nearly everyone reading this will relate to this in one way or another. It's why 'Sober for October' is a popular fundraiser- so many of us have complicated relationships with alcohol.  
Clich├ęs cut; no over-used Frank Gallagher prototype can articulate the mark left on a family such a figure leaves, because the worst part, the part that creates the suffering, is the fact you love them. To love an addict is to grieve for them simultaneously, because you loose them, over and over again.

It took a very long time to negotiate a social life for myself as a result. (One that judging from my overactive Instagram account, has swung in the other direction, making up for lost time...) As an early twenty-something I struggled with anxiety and depression, had never been to a gig, hated nightclubs, crowds and went through bouts of being completely tee- total. I couldn’t even bring myself to go into a pub. I cringed when someone slurred their words at me, hated drunk and loud people, and never felt a part of the scene that everybody else seemed so enjoy with ease. I’d see guys with the blue plastic bags coming out the off-licence and would wonder if we were all just living the same evenings, a world we made so big and fast we need something to slow it all down again.

Resolve and forgiveness are things earnt with time, and as a more self-assured adult, it's left me curious;

I’m going to stay sober for 31 days because I want to know what it really feels like to want a drink, badly, and say no. I want to know what that feels like.

Please donate to Macmillan
Sponsor me here- it's quick and easy xx





Friday, 6 March 2015

Tales of a Neurotic Traveller...







“I’ve done Asia.” The girl says to me.
“You’ve done it?”
“Yes” She said confidently
.“The whole continent?” I ask. Why do people talk like this when it comes to travelling?
 “Last year I done Australia, and this year I done Asia.”
“What do you mean you’ve done Asia- you screwed it?”

* *

To Go Travelling. A rite of passage, a destination rather than a verb; ‘Travelling’ -a place where you drink your drinks from buckets rather than glasses, where you take super hot yet spiritual instagram pictures.

What are we looking for out there? Are we changed on our return, or do the lessons fade with the tan?

Either way, hearing some else’s ‘travelling’ tales is never as interesting as they think it is when they’re recalling long, arduous stories about nights out you weren't on, of beaches you didn't see. The returned traveller sighs in a way that informs you of your inadequacy as an audience as they try and get you to picture the mountain/beach/rave/monkey sanctuary, and as they tell you about the elephants/native children/rainbows that are intrinsic to their new (and temporary) vegan ways, you feel one of the two; boredom or, your own internal compass beginning to twitch.

I’m not going to tell you ‘I done’ Paris, in fact there were no buckets of booze in sight in Madrid. I didn't ‘do’ Barcelona, I danced it.

* * *

After the glory of Paris, Barcelona, looked slightly battered in comparison, but I loved the Gothic walls and happily watched people salsa dance on the streets while roller-blades glided past them, that ecliptic mix of old and new, of Catalan, the Moorish, Gothic and modern, the mash of architecture leaving me dizzy.

Kabul Hostel.  22 euros a night for a bed, breakfast and dinner. I can afford better but I don’t want better. I want people.

I immediately make friends with Emily, or to be more accurate Emily makes friends with me. Emily is Canadian and the kind of beautiful that has you staring half a second too long when she enters a room, with never ending legs and never ending enthusiasm for whatever is thrown her way.  She so pretty and loud and wild, you want to poke her to check she real and not off the TV, but Emily is all real apart from her eyelashes, so long she could catch you a fish dinner with them if she went swimming in the ocean.

“Are you all by yourself?” she asks me.
In London the answer is always this question is always no. No I’m not by myself, no no, I  have a gazzilion people on their way so don’t try and mug me/ kill me/ speak to me.
“Yes,” I say.
“Me too! she squeaks and hugs me. I’m hugged by this crazy Canadian and a friendship is forged.

This is perhaps the most surprising thing I have discovered about travelling alone; you’re never really alone. These cities and hostels and trains are full of people looking for the same thing as you- life, and I spoke to more strangers in these few weeks than the sum total of people I have ever spoken to on the tube. Quiet moments here aren't solitude, rather they are reflection. I am a person who hates the silence of my own company, but somewhere on those streets I gave up the ghost. There on the sand, beer and book in hand I watched the sun soften and then disappear on the water, me and my cold can of San Miguel feeling a happiness so deep it rumbled in my stomach like a hunger. I wanted more.

More arrived in the form of Kelly Jo Charge, my oldest and most vital part of my university days. We hadn’t seen each other for over a year, but have the type of friendship that immediately resumes its intensity and giddiness on our reunion.

We drank cocktails on sun loungers and hit the streets as the sun went down, ending up in an Irish Bar which though was not quite the cultured direction we had intended to fall down, was perfectly suitable for a gin and tonic, making friends with a rather sun-burnt trio of graduates. These were the type of graduates that make you feel slightly inadequate as with their high-tech business venture they were about to hit the big time. They graduated 4 months ago. I graduated 4 years ago. I’m still waiting for the big time.

We awoke the next morning with fuzzy heads in a room with our eight other roommates, Kelly rolling over to staring at the boy in the bunk bed next to ours.
“Stephen?”
“Kelly?”
In all the countries, in all the hostels, in all the rooms, here were two people that knew each other, friends on Facebook no less. The world isn't small, it’s just working in rhythms to have the right people come across each other. This city of souls has its own workings, its own plan that sweeps you up.

Stephen is the supermodel kind of Irish with piercing blue eyes, milky smooth skin and jet black thick hair, helpfully paired with a delicious sense of style- and that’s before you get to the accent. We love Stephen.

With the addition of my brother Dom a few days later, our gang was complete. Dom is one of my favourite people in the world and though he’s seven years younger, entering our twenties I like to think the age gap has closed, although it leaves me on the wrong side of 25 and him on the right side.

As the days wandered past us, bonds were forged, our crew of travellers inseparable, recognising certain traits in each other that kindle a friendship that feels easy and long lasting. We rode bikes, talked life, politics and made up an imaginary friend called Rhonda that spoke in a drawling New York accent and travelled the world with her dog on her dead husbands money. (Seriously what the hell was that one about? We talked about Rhonda so much that her voice still rings in my head sometimes. I blame the mango daiquiris...)

A new destination can reveal something of yourself to you, cultivate qualities suppressed in your everyday routine. Perhaps this is what the young traveller searches for amongst the tourist traps and tours, the drunken nights and sandy days-you’re searching for a better version of yourself, one you hope you can bring home.

We all like ourselves better here- the falsities and tightly wound stresses of work seem flippant, far away. The Barcelona version of myself is loud, friendly and open-minded- I talk to strangers in the beds next to me, make friends easily, learn new words-

‘loosey’ [Loo-zee]
Noun:- a person who looses items / is careless
Example:  ‘you’re such a loosey’

I dance until 6am in clubs that open out onto the beach, our gang spilling out onto the sand in between songs, eating spam and cheese baguettes from street sellers (they haven’t quite understood the concept of a burger van it seems) the bass line pumping us with adrenaline as we sing (yell) Calvin Harris, Rhianna and other familiar friends into the flashing dark.


One by one as the departure lounge calls, they leave all saying the same thing to the city:

“Thanks for reminding me who I am.”

Returned to the self, this strange city has given something of ourselves back to us but the real trick, is to hold onto that revelation- live that discovery back in the tube stations, back at your office.

How many of us vow that something has changed, that we won’t fall back into the same hamster wheels as before. Yet after a while, it becomes just pretty pictures in frames, profile pictures change as the next event takes center stage.

Is holiday the illusion or the revelation?

I jump on the next train before I find out.. Heading to Madrid I’m about to fall in love and be broken hearted in the space of 5 days…


To Be Continued...
@melodys_pen

Friday, 13 February 2015

The best selection of valentines stuff for people pretending not to be interested in valentines...



1.Seriously intense baking.





















Is it me or are these cakes so shiny you can almost smell the sugar and butter, capital letters calling out to you? 
I don't know whether to stick my face in them or eat them really quickly and throw it all up again. Know what I mean?



2. Because if you’re not into Friends references, I have nothing to say to you.

I like to think I'm a Rachel, (we all like to think we’re a Rachel,) but I think it's more likely I'm a Phoebe, little bit crazy, with a  chequered past that comes out in stories that make no chronological sense…




3. I swear to god there is a card for everything.

You know, if they made this card when I was 17 my life would have been a whole lot easier. Actually my entire life would have been a whole easier with cards like these. 

It’s when valentines comes at the really inconvenient time when you've been dating about a week and haven't figured out the goal posts yet, you’re not even saying you’re seeing each other or dating each other, your just you know, hanging out, being cool, and you hope that neither of you notice valentine’s day, that it floats on past, yet secretly expect they do something to acknowledge it.




4. If Jezza Kyle made cuddle toys.



5. Delete, love, hate, repeat.


The addictive circle which you convince yourself is totally normal at the time, when in fact you can't really recall their face very clearly- because your either snogging it or trying to punch it. 




6. Moon Pig needs to get organised.

I would so send these out if it was socially acceptable. This is a card that to me says, I certainly don't want to be your girlfriend anymore- but if I could go back that first week when you were showing off and treating me very nicely indeed, I would certainly be tempted.  (if I could give you back again afterwards.)



7. History makes Tinder look tame.


Or, love me or I'll divorce you and blame you for my lack of functioning sperm and gangrene leg and syphilis.


8. The 'uh oh' moments.

Yep we've all had one of those. I was a waitress, new restaurant, first shift, and the boss came down the stairs, shook my hand introducing himself, and as he smiled I distinctly remember thinking, 'oh shit.' 

It lasted about 4 weeks, (as did the job.)
.


9. The funny card that's not so funny when you open the super sentimental one she got you.

If you receive one of these my first thought is probably don't marry this one. And give him back to his mother. 




10. Things I say in my head but wouldn't put on the front of a card.



Happy Valentines Day! @melodys_pen