Saturday, 20 June 2015

The Journey is Life

My Dad drives a taxi and now and again I receive messages from friends who still live in my hometown to say that they were chatting to him as he drove them home after their night out. ‘What a legend’, they’ll say to me. I’ll agree. He is.

When I was young I disliked going to sleep because I was sure that all of life’s most exciting things happened after 9pm. Many nights my Dad would sit beside my bed and read aloud while lazily stroking my hair in an attempt to send me off to sleep. I learned two lessons from this. Firstly, I learned the importance of sleep from him. Now I’m one of those annoying people who will nod off at the drop of a hat, anywhere, anyplace. Just try to keep me awake on a bus. It’s an impossible feat. He is the same although, mercifully, unlike him I don’t snore (or fart) so loudly that I get a fright and wake myself up shouting ‘Ay?! Ay?! What was that? Who’s there?’
The second lesson I learned from our night-time ritual was the power and enjoyment to be found in reading. It has served me well. Whole worlds were opened up to me by a father who invited me to join him in adventures on those pages.
As I got older and transformed into a giggly teenager my Dad was full of sage, if a little innuendo-filled, advice such as;
‘Kylie, there’s a real knack to dunking biscuits in your tea. You’ve got to get it in and get it out quickly before it gets soft.’

‘Alcohol is a social lubricant. It makes everything slide more easily.’
These nuggets of wisdom were usually dispensed when he had an audience of my friends around him.

During that self-conscious teenage phase I fought against the fact that my Dad has imparted to me an undying love of country music and sadly, his complete lack of any musical ability. Thankfully, along with these traits, he’s also passed on to me his inability to care much about any musical shortcomings, so I sing loudly and often, to Ryan’s despair.

My Dad surrounded by his brood. P.S neither of the photos in this post were taken in 2005. I don't know why it says that and I don't have the time, inclination or ability to Photoshop it out.

He has never adhered to the stereotype of the overbearing father. I’m his fourth daughter so I guess that he’d seen all of the teenage girl drama before and knew that mostly things turn out all right in the end. Amid a sea of oestrogen my Dad was the anchor keeping the boat from being overturned. Not much phases him and as a result he has always made me feel that I was smart enough to make good choices about my life without his interference. Whether I was is debateable however.....
On the occasions that my boyfriends were nervously brought home they were never interrogated, rather just warmly welcomed. My clothing choices or social activities were never questioned by him so I don’t recall one incident during my teenage years where I felt the need to hide anything or rebel. He only ever encouraged me to be all that I could be, to do all that I could do and to have as much fun as was humanly possible in the process.
Just as I was about to begin University, my Dad advised me to get rid of my deadbeat boyfriend because I wouldn’t want to hamper the experience of my lifetime and limit the people that I could meet. I’m glad I heeded this piece of advice because three weeks after the deadbeat was ditched, I met my future husband. I have a small suspicion that my Dad is psychic as well as wise.
It’s nigh on impossible to embarrass my Dad. I’m grateful that this is another way I’m following in his footsteps. I don’t know the meaning of the word. When visiting my parents the other week, I made a joke about my Dad’s entirely green outfit. He replied, unfazed.
‘Thanks. It’s my leprechaun outfit. When I wear my red trousers I wear my red shoes. I’ve got shoes for almost every outfit.’
Well that was me told.

He has a particular style, does my Dad. He wears the best knitted jumpers in the winter. Many of them disappear from his closet into mine because there is little I love more than a cosy jumper. He tops all this off with a battered brown leather jacket and a checked bonnet. This makes him look a little bit like Del Boy, the king of unself-conscious 'Dad-cool'. The resemblance between the two (note the first photo) is one of the longest running jokes in our family. My Dad accepts the mickey taking gracefully.
On the same visit as the leprechaun outfit made an appearance, we discussed my panic about my thirties looming on the horizon. I'm worried that my achievements are not as significant as they should be, that my catalogue of bad decisions is getting decidedly larger and that I’ll never amount to anything. He listened carefully to these concerns and then replied.
‘I learned a long time ago that not much of that matters. If you have enough money to do the things you enjoy doing, that’s all there is to it. If you change your mind, you change your mind. The journey is life. Don’t get too hung up on the destination’.
Happy Father’s Day Daddy. Thanks for all the solid advice. I’ve listened to some of it but I’ve probably disregarded a bigger portion. I don’t reckon you’ll be too annoyed about that because the most important lesson you’ve taught me is that I shouldn’t pay too much attention to what other people think, no matter who they are.
Keep enjoying the journey (and keep rocking the leprechaun outfit).
Kisses, Kylie


Tuesday, 16 June 2015

An Adventurer's Guide to: Rome

''Wear sunscreen.
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.
The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proven by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience...
I will dispense this advice now.''

1. I've only ever visited Rome during the summer so on each occasion that I've been there it has been upward of 30 degrees. My first piece of advice is to adhere to the words of Baz Luhrman, quoted above. My second, sensible piece of advice is to take a hat. Sometimes, when you're exploring little side streets in Rome, you'll be shaded but a lot of the main tourist attractions (the Roman Forum in particular) are really open or you'll have to queue outside in the blistering sun so you'll definitely get a little burn going on your scalp. That stuff is not tasty.

Outside most attractions there are people selling hats for about eight euros. They see you coming with your little red scalp. Those hats are overpriced and also really not that fashionable. If you don't bother taking a hat, you'll end up like me with a tasty straw one that will set you back the price of lunch.

A view of the river Tiber with Castel Sant Angelo in the background. And a photo of my tasty hat. Obviously

2. If you're fairly mobile then don't bother getting the tourist buses. I usually really rate these and the ones we used in Berlin and Barcelona were fantastic. However, a lot of the main sights in Rome are tucked away down tiny little, cobbled streets. The type of streets that are filled with Italian moped drivers cursing pedestrians who are blocking their path. Not a chance of the buses getting down here. Most of the sites are fairly close together, aside from maybe the Vatican which is a little further out but still easily walkable.

That said, if you're really not that keen on walking then I'd definitely recommend getting the tourist buses because there are some great sites, slightly out of the main tourist centre which are worth visiting while you're in the city. I'll come back to those later.

3. On the subject of tourist sites I have two points to make. Firstly, in my opinion, skip the line tickets are a waste of money. The normal entrance fees to the Coloseum (12 Euros including entrance to the Forum and Palatine Hill) and the Vatican (16 Euros) are fairly reasonable but the skip the line tickets are at least double that. We arrived at about 8am for each of these attractions and had to wait only about an hour which wasn't bad. The moral of this story is; lay off the wine one night and get up early. Save your pennies to spend on more wine the following night when you can smugly afford a lie in.

The second point is probably an obvious one, but judging by the number of people I saw in the same boat as me, maybe it isn't. If you're going to the Vatican, St Peter's Basilica or really any religious building, then you'll need to cover up. That means a top which covers your shoulders and trousers or a skirt which cover your knees.

Incidentally, that's the second time I've had a run in at St Peter's so it's safe to say that it isn't my favourite place in Rome. 

The Colosseum (clearly).

4. The first time I stayed in Rome, my hostel was miles outside of the centre. That meant that every day I had to cram myself onto a sweatbox of a bus for twenty-five minutes to reach the centre. There was also a strange man in the bushes who liked to wear red pants and waggle his bum at people waiting at the bus stop. It was a fairly traumatic experience all round.

This time, we stayed in Campo de Fuori which I found to be a great location for our adventures. We were within a twenty minute walk of all the sights, right across the river from Trastavere which was a great area for food and drink. The atmosphere in Campo de Fuori at night-time was great, with musicians playing in the square and lots of people milling about. Perhaps it's a tad touristy for some people but I was happy with it.

5. Try to do some research on restaurants before you go. There's a lot of tourist traps in Rome which will serve you frozen, reheated food and try to pass it off as Italian quisine. On occasions we ate in these places because, the food isn't all that bad really and sometimes you just want a table where you can watch the goings on in the square and soak up the atmosphere while drinking wine. No judgement here.

However, we found a few places which were head and shoulders above the rest and usually, for a better price too. For those interested, some of our favourite places to eat were;

Forno - Campo de Fuori. This little place sells pizza slices during the day. There's a variety of Pizza Bianco (basically Foccacia I think) and Pizza Rossa (which has the red sauce on). This was by a mile the best pizza we ate all week and we like to think of ourselves as pizza connoisseurs. It cost us about six Euros for two decent slices of pizza and two bottles of water. This was cheaper than making our own lunch in the apartment so we ended up visiting here almost every day.

Taverna Trilussa - This was a great restaurant with some really authentic Roman dishes, although it was a little more expensive than anywhere else we visited. We bought two pasta dishes and a bottle of water for the table and the total bill was about 40 Euros. The pasta came to us in huge, metal pots so it was a little different from anything I'd seen before and also the portion size was perfect (read: HUGE).

Bacco in Trastavere - We ate at this restaurant the night that Ryan proposed so maybe my judgement was a little clouded by that but certainly, both of us were convinced that this was the best meal we ate all week. It was really reasonably priced too. We paid 55 Euros for a three course meal for two people, with a beer, a glass of wine and a bottle of water for the table included in that price.

6. Aside from visiting the usual sights and eating all the food, there are plenty of other, more quirky things to do in Rome which I'd highly recommend.

One of my favourite things to do is to look down on cities. There are plenty of places to do this in Rome. The best view of the centre is from the top of the Altare della Patria, close to the Coloseum. It costs 7 Euros to go up here and it is worth every penny. You'll see all of the famous landmarks from this vantage point.

Other great views of the city include from Gianicolo Hill and the Aventine Hill. If you take a wander up the Aventine Hill look out for people peering through a keyhole. If you look through too, you'll see the majestic shape of St Peter's Basilica perfectly aligned with the hedges of a garden framing it. It really is quite a special thing to see. Moving along from the keyhole, there are wonderful orange gardens where you can gaze down at the city with the smell of sweet citrus clinging to the air.

Looking out from Gianicolo Hill

Finally, if you're tired of all the beauty and romance of Rome and you're looking for something a little more edgy then I really recommend taking a little wander up to the Capuchin Crypt which is situated not far from Piazza Barberini. This is a small space containing the remains of approximately 3700 bodies (thought to be Capuchin Monks). The bones are arranged in intricate patterns across a number of chapels. The effect is pretty eerie and it's one of the strangest things that I've ever gazed upon. Again, this is a religious site so cover up, or pay an extra Euro for a Kimono from the ticket desk.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Some news.

I thought quite hard about how to write this post, as the numerous unfinished ones in my iPhone notes will attest to. In the end, I decided to scrap all those wordy, overdramatic ones and keep it simple.

I'm getting married.

This September will mark ten years since I met the boy who asked me to marry him so I wasn't entirely unprepared for this moment although it also wasn't something that I was totally aware of. I therefore made his life difficult for the entire holiday by unintentionally foiling his plans.

For example, Ryan's constant efforts to get me to go up some of Rome's hills at night time were constantly rejected. 'But that will interrupt dinner time!?'  I'd complain. 'Let's just do it now,'...while we're all sweaty and a little bit sunburnt from our day in the sun. Unable to really put up a fight lest I get a bit suspicious, Ryan capitulated to my demands and amended his plans.

I must have had a little subconscious awareness of what was going to happen as I granted him permission to plan the last day of activities on our holiday. This is not something that normally happens. Yes, I am the type of person who plans activities for holiday and yes, I have found someone who wishes to marry me. I'm as confused about this as everyone else.

I also wore a red dress. Red is my colour. I must have known.

It feels quite strange to be changing the nature of our relationship after so long as boyfriend and girlfriend but ten years does seem like the perfect point to begin this new, exciting chapter.

For the next little while I'll be diving into the wedding blogs. If you have any good suggestions please do fire them my way. I desperately need ideas because I have no idea where to begin.