Friday, 25 July 2014

Berlin

I'm having a bad week. Sorry for being so blunt but it's true. What I like to do when I'm feeling a little bit low is look through all my holiday photographs although I'm not certain whether this makes me feel better or worse. Anyway, I thought that I'd do a little bit of reminiscing about my recent holiday today and also share some photographs on the blog that don't involve me looking like a drowned rat/covered in mud/sweating/huge forehead on show which is the type of photograph that you're more accustomed to seeing around these parts.


Our first full day in Berlin was spent on a bus tour, of which I'm a great advocate of. I always think that they're really good value for money as you get easy access to travel for the whole day, a little commentary about the history of the city and you often find things that you didn't even know you were looking for. All of the most famous tourist attractions in Berlin are accessed by the bus tour and here are some photographs of my favourites.

 Checkpoint Charlie

 Brandenburg Gate

 Berlin Wall Memorial

East Side Gallery

The weather was a little bit wild at times while we were in Berlin which is evidenced by our abundant use of waterproof jackets (which looked fabulous paired with my sensible sandals I must admit). I'm terrified of lightening so frequent storms weren't really my bag and you can see the terror in my eyes through the glasses. Ryan, evidently isn't so bothered by the thought of being fried alive by a bolt of electricity from the sky.


At 19 years old (way back in 2006) I spent the summer in Italy. During my stay they won the World Cup. In 2010 I visited Spain for my holidays. They won the World Cup that year. This year I went to Germany. Please tell me you can see where I'm going with this one? I'm genuinely considering the possibility that I have some kind of weird magic power.

On the Tuesday night of our holiday we made our way to the Brandenburg Gate at the back of which, was the Hyundai Fan Park Berlin. We watched the semi final of the World Cup here and the crowd went wild as Germany beat the Brazilians by seven goals to one. I could write a blog post on this experience alone but I won't because I'm probably milking it enough already but I'll just say that it was excellent and amazing and wonderful and epic. I think that's enough adjectives to describe it. Just.

I discovered wine with strawberries which is now my new favourite. We wore free T-shirts even though we had no idea what they said on them but we assumed it was something football related and hoped for the best- nb I've since found out that this means 'At Your Side' and was the strapline for the German campaign. We got photobombed and we sneakily photobombed in return. I managed to procure some kind of sticks which made funny noises when they were hit together so I was entertained by that for about ten minutes. Of course all of that paled in comparison to the actual game in which the goals came thick and fast and the crowd was going crazy.


On Wednesday we hired bikes and cycled around the Tiergarten and in fact through most of Berlin. I'd be surprised if there was a corner of the city we didn't discover. I've written before about how much I like cycling and Berlin is an excellent city for it because cyclists are allowed on the pavement which are wide enough to accommodate both them and pedestrians. It feels much safer than cycling here in Scotland. Also, there is a distinct lack of hills in Berlin which suits me quite nicely, thank you very much.

Then there was a trip to the Zoo and we recalled that Bears are Ryan's favourite, even though he likes Penguins too. We also managed to time our trip to the big cat part of the Zoo to concur with feeding time which was completely horrifying but impossible not to watch.

Have you been to Berlin? What was your favourite part?



Monday, 21 July 2014

Challenge Number 7: Ben Nevis




On Saturday the 19th of July 2014 I, along with four friends, climbed Ben Nevis. This was the seventh of twelve challenges that I have set myself for this year.

The Thursday prior to the climb my friend Andrea sent me a link to a weather forecast which predicted thunder and lightning around the West Highlands area on Saturday. It should be pointed out here that I have two great fears. The first, as you may know, is putting my head under water. This is a fear which I have well and truly conquered this year. GO ME!! The second of my great fears is lightning, so you can imagine my disappointment at the weather forecast. I reacted to this horrible news by doing three things;

1. Frantically googling 'what are the chances of being hit by lightning when up a mountain and have nowhere to hide?'
2. Stressing to my boyfriend that the odds of me being hit by lightning in this situation were actually quite high as evidenced by previous google results.
3. Trying to convince everyone to sack off the idea of climbing the mountain based on questionable statistics found on Wikipedia.

Saturday morning arrived and of course, I woke up to the sound of rain lashing against the window. Sigh. We had a three hour long journey to Ben Nevis which gave me plenty of time to highlight to Ryan again, the exact likelihood of my being hit by lightning on the mountain side. 

Thankfully as we drew close to the foot of the mountain, the weather cleared up and we were left with a fairly warm, humid day to begin our walk. The layers I had brought with me (quick question - how many raincoats are too many?) to guard from the cold were quickly discarded and the whole group found ourselves longing for a little rain to cool us down.














Once my fear of being struck by lightning had been quelled, due to the apparent lack of thundery storms, my full attention was then focused on the arduous nature of the task at hand. I had done a little bit of hill climbing before, persuaded by Andrea who was joining me on the Ben Nevis climb. However I was somewhat fooled by how easy my previous attempt was. This time around the climb was much steeper, more unrelenting and punishing on the legs and the whole journey lasted for a much longer time.

I didn't consume nearly enough food for the climb. My fuel consisted of a few haribo sweets which is apparently not enough to power a climb up the tallest mountain in the UK. Who knew? Due to this spectacular lack of common sense, I found myself about half an hour from the summit, wobbling all over the place and considering lying down to nap on what looked to me like a comfy pile of rocks. Luckily Andrea and Ryan noticed me struggling up the hill and asked if I was ok.

'Just so wobbly'  I responded feebly.

At which point Ryan gave me a shoulder to lean on and Andrea force fed me a protein bar which brought me back to life. After being rescued by others in the group the last little jaunt to the top wasn't too bad. The temperature drop, on the other hand, was extreme and the wind at the top was incredibly strong. 

There was also no view from the summit due to the cloud cover. Of course, this was a little bit disappointing but on the other hand we did get to look at an interesting pile of rocks at the top so you know, it was a case of win some and lose some. Given that we could see the square root of nothing and the temperature was cold enough to result in hypothermia, we quickly decided to begin our descent.














It was a relief to drop a few feet and head back into the relative warmth and humidity although the rain that had started while we were at the top continued for most of the way down. This made for an interesting lunch with the five of us huddled behind a rock, desperately seeking some shelter to eat our rain soaked sandwiches.

During the walk to the bottom I lost my footing, slid a little bit down the hill, thought I had recovered and then promptly fell right on my backside. This wasn't entirely unexpected given that I have a propensity for falling over my own feet at the best of times, never mind when my legs are numb from scaling a mountain.

We arrived back at the bottom of the Ben in under 6 hours and 45 minutes which seems like a fairly reasonable time (estimated times for climbing Ben Nevis are 7 - 9 hours). What's more, all members of the group arrived in one piece despite a few sore limbs and one sore bum from a very undignified fall.  To round the day off we ate dinner at the Ben Nevis Inn and Bunkhouse where we celebrated our achievement by eating ALL the calories.

It's a tough call but I think that this has been one of my favourite challenges so far because I shared the experience with so many of my favourite people.

We stayed at the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel for this adventure.

As per usual I'm begging for money so if you think that my facing the threat of death via electrocution is worth a few pennies then you can donate to Sick Kids Friends' Foundation or Stroke Association via the links.




Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Nice words

Recently I've been doing a lot of browsing through blogs and managed to stumble across the wonderful Awash with Wonder. I've spent probably more time than is healthy reading this blog but in particular I was inspired by this post  which talks about the nice things that people have said to Shannon. Reading this post made me want to tell a little story about the nicest compliment that has ever been given to me. This post is a little different from most that have come before so feedback is always welcome and of course I'd be delighted to hear your stories in return.

*****

The nicest words that have ever been given to me weren't spoken but written.

When I was eighteen years old I had a part time job in an Italian restaurant. At that age most of my time was spent daydreaming about living in Italy, speaking the wonderful language and eating ALL the pasta. It is therefore clear that this job fitted my interests well.

My waitressing skills left much to be desired. I spilled food on people often, smashed more plates than I care to admit and once even accidentally stabbed a customer with a steak knife. My ineptitude at the job didn't deter me from adoring my time spent in that restaurant though. 

Adrenaline would surge through me as I ran from table to kitchen and back again to the tables, with hardly enough time to breathe let alone think clearly. I would revel in the smell of the pasta, pizza and calamari that was served up to the customers. Listening to the frenetic, loud Italian chatter of my colleagues it was easy to imagine that at the end of the night the doors of the restaurant would lead out onto colourful and lively Italian streets instead of onto the grey, familiar streets of my hometown which I so desperately sought escape from at that age.

*****

Outside of my work at the restaurant I was struggling with the transition from school to university. Despite (even to this day) being convinced that what I desire in life is more freedom, I actually operate best under a system of routine and purpose, neither of which was core to my initial university experience.

To compound the feelings of uncertainty with the direction my life was moving in, the parties and constant drinking that tends to go hand in hand with university life left me feeling underwhelmed. None of the activities that others seemed to take such pleasure in held that much interest for me. I was left feeling like a shadow, lurking on the outside of the group. Shadows are noticed from time to time but they don't really contribute anything and they disappear unnoticed as soon as the light changes. 

Perhaps about six months into the painful transition into university student I decided to leave the restaurant for a new job which wouldn't require me to work until late at night every weekend. This was no doubt fuelled by a desire to attend all of the parties that didn't hold much enjoyment for me in order to avoid feeling further left out. 

*****

At the end of a final, busy shift in that restaurant I rested at the bar, untying my black apron and shifting my weight from side to side to ease the pain in my weary feet. My boss walked towards me and, as usual, he handed me a small envelope which contained my tips for that week. I took it gratefully from him and then looked down at it. On the front was written.

'You brought the joy here'.

*****

To be told that you have made a positive contribution to the experience of others simply by your presence is an incredible compliment to be given. It didn't refer towards my outward appearance or to a specific talent or quality that I possessed. Instead it told me that I had made others feel happy and was the exact compliment that I needed at that time. 

It's often easier to hold on to the negative words that people give you but I think that trying hard to recall the nice ones is hugely important. I like to think about this specific compliment from time to time because it reminds me that, no matter how insignificant I may feel at times in this big world, there are people who are hugely impacted by my existence whether I'm aware of it or not. It is my responsibility to make those impacts as positive as possible.

What's the nicest compliment you've received?

Monday, 14 July 2014

Words about Dolly

Before it was cool to love Dolly (hello Glasto 2014) I really loved her. I mean really loved her. It's actually a little embarrassing how infatuated I am. It's a running joke amongst my friends that on countless occasions they found me, earphones in, belting out Jolene in my best country voice and dancing like a middle aged woman.

Therefore, it was with much excitement that I headed off to London at the end of June to watch Dolly perform at the 02 arena.

This is the face of someone who is a bit too excited.

My Gran bought me my first ever Dolly Parton CD. I remember walking around the shopping centre in Dundee holding on to her hand and feeling excited that she was sharing the music she loved with me. The case was green with white writing at the top, spelling out the name of the red headed temptress 'Jolene' and below the writing there was a picture of a young, beautiful Dolly.

Image from here.  This is likely the only time that I'll EVER link to the Daily Mail

When I got home to my own house that night I put the disc into my CD player (how very quaint!) and pressed play. The unmistakeable guitar intro kicked in instantaneously and then Dolly's voice began pleading to Jolene and I fell in love instantly.

Every time I hear Jolene I'm that young girl again, with my Gran at my side, sharing a mutual love of a song.

As I grew into a teenager, my love affair with Dolly and country music in general, faded as I started to enjoy rock and roll. I may have thought myself cool but I was never above cutting some serious shapes to 9 to 5 in the nightclub when it came on at the end of the night.

Then I grew into an adult and my music tastes shifted a little again. Gone was the infatuation with new 'cool' bands and in its place remained a desire for the past to be reignited. I am now filled with a longing to listen to the music of my childhood, the music that my Gran introduced me to and that my parents also played.

I fell in love all over again with Dolly and in particular with the lyrics to her songs which often go unnoticed, lost amongst the focus on the mass of blonde hair and her most famous assets *ahem*. Here are a few of my favourite.

Tennessee Homesick Blues

'Life ain't as simple as it used to be, since the big Apple took a bite out of me. 
And Lord, I'm so Tennessee homesick that I could die'

Despite living only an hour away from my home town I suffer from homesickness quite frequently. Knowing that a legend like Dolly feels like that sometimes too makes those days a little easier to bear.

9 to 5 

'You're in the same boat with a lot of your friends, waiting for the day your ship'll come in.
And the tide's gonna turn and it's all gonna roll your way.'

This was particularly appropriate for me in 2013 when I was applying for job after job, with little joy. Dolly's lyrics helped to convince me that bigger and better things were on the horizon for me.

I Will Always Love You 

'Bittersweet memories, that's all I am taking with me.
So goodbye, please don't cry.
We both know that I'm not what you need'.

I'm always at pains to point out to people that I Will Always Love you is NOT a Whitney Houston song, it's a Dolly one. She wrote it about her decision to split with long term music partner Porter Wagoner and this song was her goodbye. I love the selflessness of the song. Having the bravery to walk away for the other person's benefit rather than your own is a difficult but sometimes necessary thing to do.

I not only love Dolly's music but I genuinely like her as a person also as she has a lust for life that comes across in every interview and is infectious. What's more, I love that she is very aware of the stereotypes that surround her and manages to make fun of them. At the concert at the 02 arena she delivered quip after quip and it was almost a stand-up comedy show in between songs. With that in mind I'll leave you with my favourite Dolly statement.

'I'm not offended by the dumb blonde jokes because I know that I'm not dumb. And I'm not blonde either'.

Clever, talented and funny. Oh and she likes kittens too.

Images from here , here and here

She's my kinda gal is Dolly.