Category Archives: Travel

Wat We Did at Wat Rong Khun.

Although, as I am fast discovering, there is an endless list of things to discover here in Chiang Rai, when researching the city before moving, there wasn’t a lot that came up on Google searches.  However, the one thing that did appear repeatedly, and I feel is the main pull for tourism to the area, is Wat Rong Khun, more commonly referred to as the White Temple.

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Wat Rong Khun differs hugely from the endless amount of temples you see in this country.  Apart from the main fact that it is white, with the majority of Thai temples being bright colours, mainly gold and red, Wat Rong Khun also has contemporary aspects to it, which makes it a more unconventional Buddhist Temple.

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The temple is the brain child of Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, and was built in 1997.  What makes the temple stand out as a symbol of the modern world is that it takes the beauty of traditional Thai art, however brings it a modern twist.  Upon first glance, the gardens surrounding the temple appear rather traditional and nothing out of the ordinary.  However, upon closer inspection, you see that the delicate architecture is made up from a pit of twisted hands, reaching up.

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Inside the main room, the art looks beautifully ornate, with images of Buddha everywhere.  However, peer a little closer, and you will find some Sneaky Prawns from the film District 9, or perhaps a minion from Despicable Me; and I think I’m right in remembering I saw Chewbacca from the Star Wars trilogy in there somewhere.  Unfortunately there were strictly no cameras within the main hall of the temple, so you will just have to take my word for it.

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We wandered around the grounds some more, dazed at how the sunlight reflects in the surrounding moat, and dances on the white walls of this incredibly individual building.  I fear that on a cloudy day, the impact would not be as wonderful.

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Some of the building is being reworked, due to damage caused by an earthquake, that struck the district on 5th May 2014.  At first, the damage was thought to be so severe that the temple would have to be demolished; however, upon closer inspection, only some parts need to be restored.

It is a simply breathtaking building, and I cannot stress enough, that if you ever find yourself in this beautiful city, certainly pay Wat Rong Khun a visit.  I don’t know why I waited so long until I did so myself.

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Elephants, Near Death Experiences and some VERY Small Swimming Trunks

Last weekend, I had to briefly pop into the school on the Sunday, to introduce myself to the Kindergarten children’s parents. This mainly involved smiling, having my photo taken on what seemed like a hundred mother’s smart phones, and listening to a massive presentation all in Thai. Needless to say, when I was finally released to enjoy my Sunday, I was more than a little over the moon.

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Meeting The Parents

I met up with my friends Johan and Conor, and a guy we’d met the previous night at the bar, called Jack. We decided to do something constructive with our day, so split between two mopeds; we all went on a mini adventure.

We drove out of the city, towards the direction of the prison, where slowly the buildings depleted until you could see no more, and instead it was just the luscious green hills of the forest and the dazzling blue sky.

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At one part in the road, we saw massive poops, and realised we were near an elephant camp. Unfortunately, I’d hoped that they would have been looked after and free, however they were chained and tourists were paying to ride on them. I found myself having a moral debate with each side of my brain, as I fundamentally do not agree with animals being treated in this way, however their trunks kept reaching out for the table full of food, so I decided to compromise with my two opposing opinions, and bought them some bamboo to chew on. This was until one elephant got a little too excited, and we couldn’t tell which end of the elephant was the trunk; we decided to swiftly leave the camp.

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Back on the mopeds we jumped, and across the River Kok again. We started to drive deeper into the forest and further up the hills, as the mountain roads started to bend more frequently and suddenly. We ascended a rather steep mountain in particular, where poor old John had to jump off the back of Johan’s moped and walk, as it was simply too steep for the weight of two grown men.

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When we finally reached the summit of this hill we descended straight down the other side; which still confuses me a little as to why we didn’t approach it from another way.

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Anyway, we drove through a very desolate and quiet village, and through a tea plantation, over some rather rocky terrain until we eventually heard the gush of Hauy Keaw Waterfall. From here we demounted the bikes, and started climbing the hill from which the waterfall was coming. We were looking for a kind of rock pool that would be situated half way between the top and the bottom of the waterfall, where we could have a swim.

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Tea Plantations

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After climbing quite steep and slippery surfaces, we eventually reached a rock pool. “Great” we thought. However upon closer inspection, we realised that we needed to cross a homemade bamboo bridge, over falling water and jagged rocks, in order to reach the access point to the rock pool. Adding to this, the bamboo was rotten.

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THE Bridge

Johan, who used to be in the military, jumped over this with seemingly no problems. I was right behind him, so naturally it was my turn to go next. I was hugely uncomfortable about this, however, in the presence of three men, and being the only girl, there was no way I would be a stereotype and chicken out. Oh no. Of course I was going to cross the rotten bamboo bridge that was definitely not safe at all. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, as I was crossing, the rotten bamboo decided to give way under my weight, and snap. My leg went straight through, and fortunately I feel like my life was saved due to my bottom being big enough to not follow it through.

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The Aftermath 

Too much cheese and wine in my diet proved to me a very good thing after all.

I stayed here, in shock for a little bit, waiting for the rest of the bamboo to slowly give way, and for me to drop to the rocks beneath me; however it didn’t, and I shakily decided to make my way back to the safety of Conor and Jack.

After we all laughed about how I could have died and how much of a downer that would have been to everyone else’s trip; we decided to descend again, where we found the safety of a rock pool that was flat, and easy to enter, and offered no threat of amputation or death.

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The Swede with his VERY short swimmers

Here we met a family of locals who had come for a late afternoon swim; and although there was the ever-impending language barrier afoot, we had the best time just being big kids and all splashing each other with water.

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New Friends

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With that, we dragged our damp bodies back onto the bikes, and started the journey home, back to the city, before starting work the next day.

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This city may be small, but it’s surrounded by surprises.

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The New Chapter Begins

I finally feel now that I have begun to settle into my new home in Chiang Rai. As well as Emma living in the same apartment block, we now have Alice who’s joined us, and also teaches at the same school.

On top of this, my best friend from the UK, Abbey, is currently staying with me, as a first stop before she embarks upon finding the world, and possibly herself, over the next year.

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Best Buds

With the girls, and a lovely bunch of people who we’ve met from visiting our favourite bar repeatedly, we have a nice little group in Chiang Rai; so that’s certainly helping to make me feel more confident and at ease in the city.

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My first day teaching in Kindergarten was a blend of amazing feelings, and beautiful kids who melted my heart, mixed with equal parts stress, confusion and the loss of my voice. However I loved it.

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Morning Dancing

I teach one of the Kindergarten classes, which contains 27 children, all either 5 or 6 years old. Speaking to the teacher beforehand, she advised me to just come in and observe the class for my first week, before getting more involved and planning in the second.

Perhaps I was naïve, however, this didn’t actually happen. I arrived, and was immediately told to stand up in front of all the Kindergarten children at the flag raising ceremony (which happens daily). A microphone was thrust into my hand, and straight away I had to talk to 300+ children and teachers, the majority of whom speak little to no English, whilst their blank faces looked at me in sheer bewilderment.

After this, I went to my classroom where I met the children. They’re all brilliant. They have this cute little uniform, which looks like a little sailor’s outfit. They have the most charismatic little personalities, even without being able to really speak English, they’re so loving and smiling and playful, that you can get along with them anyway.

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Little Sailors Off For Lunch

They all have such huge hearts, and will run and hug me as I walk past, or cuddle my leg for no apparent reason.

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My Class With Their Lanterns

Being told not to lesson plan, however, was a massive lie. There’s only one theme per week, as the children are so young, so last week was Loy Krathong; a festival celebrated around Thailand. Lesson planning for this, without any prior knowledge was a little challenging however we got there in the end, and the class and I ended up making our very own Kathrongs for the festival.

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Homemade Kathrong

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Kindy Kathrongs

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Class With Their Kathrongs

This week the topic is “Thailand” so using the Internet as my resource, I’m planning lessons surrounding Thailand’s Geography within South East Asia, and also cultural traditions native to Thailand, such as The Wai, which is how you greet someone, by placing the hands together like a prayer, and bowing slightly.

I realise it’s only been one week at the school, but I’ve never felt so happy within a job. I could wake up in the worst mood, but walking through the door every day at 07.30 and seeing 27 smiling and happy faces grinning back at me…well it’s certainly the best cure for bad moods and irrelevant worries that may have come with me from my previous life back in England.

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Lunch Time

I can only strive to keep these good feelings up.

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Bye Chiang Mai, Oh Hi Chiang Rai

I arrived in Chiang Rai after a quick three-hour bus ride, direct from Chiang Mai.

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Leaving Chiang Mai Bus Station

Leaving the other friends I’d made in Chiang Mai, I felt really sad, as we’d all got on so well; however, now it was time to go to our own placements, in areas all over the North of Thailand, and therefore everyone had their own adventures to now embark upon.

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The Journey from Chiang Mai to Chiang rai

However, another girl from the programme, Emma, was on the same bus, and had already moved to Chiang Rai, where she took me back to where she was living, so I could see if that’d suit my needs for accommodation too.

The property was basically a block of about 12 “apartments”, split between two levels. Each apartment is basically a double bed, wardrobe, fan, and an attached toilet / shower room. This seems quite the norm for Thai living, with no need for a kitchen, seeing as the option of eating out is so wonderfully cheap.

After seeing Emma’s room, I called the landlord, who quickly zipped over on his moped, from across town, where I’ve heard he also has another business owning a little noodle shop. He showed me the room next to hers, and I agreed to take it right there and then. At only 2600 Thai Baht per month, from what I can tell, this was a pretty good deal.

So that was the first hurdle jumped, the next was to make it look a little less clinical, and a little more like home.

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After showering, and unpacking we both took a walk to the city’s night bazaar; much smaller than that of Chiang Mai, however still charming in its own right, with musical performances taking place each night, and a large food court where you can eat anything from worms to sushi, to Pad Thai. Passing perhaps on the worms, it’s a great place to come and eat for cheap, however I wouldn’t want to every night, due to the canteen style seating and the sometimes oppressive local music.

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Tasty Selection of Treats (!)

Over the next few days, I tried to get myself as settled as possible, and also discovering the local things on offer, including lots of nice cafes where I’d like to wile away the hours, drinking iced coffees.

One place we visited was near to the Kok River, called Chivet Thamma Da. It was simply beautiful. I’d first heard about it from another blog I follow, called 8 Miles From Home. I saw the pictures on this blog when still back in England, and knew I needed to visit.

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Chivet Thamma Da is a beautiful old house situated on the riverbank. Part of it is also a day spa, however we just visited the coffee house part. We walked in, and were greeted warmly, and taken to the back of the house, which opened up to a beautiful garden. Lanterns, birdcages, and flowers decorated the split-level garden. We sat, and were instantly in love with this place. There was a piano against a wall and framed pictures hanging. The menu was extensive and looked fabulous, however a little on the pricey side, but this is to be expected with somewhere so lovely, and certainly different from the norm. The house reminded me of the one from The Notebook, when Noah buys it and does it all up for Ally. It was just so romantic, with old wartime music playing in the corner, and swings hanging from the trees by the river.

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We both shared a piece of amazing banoffee pie, and possibly a white chocolate cake too, which were both so incredibly good.

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I’d certainly recommend this place to anyone who visits Chiang Rai, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks so, seeing as it’s ranked at number two, on Trip Advisor’s list of best restaurants in Chiang Rai.

The next few days consisted of more settling, and nesting, in which I bought a little bicycle too, for me to get around the City more efficiently. This can be done on foot, as it a relatively small place, however having a bike does make it that little bit easier.

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I’ve joined a gym at the Pinmann Inn, where I also use their outdoor saltwater pool. The bike ride is really easy from my apartment to the pool, and makes the half hour walk seem a lot more inviting when it turns into a ten minute cycle ride.

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My Local Pool 

On Saturday the 25th October, I woke up with a slightly sore head from the night before (we visited Coconuts Bar in town; a new favourite bar of mine now).

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Journey Home 

Before coming to Thailand, I’d heard online about the Lanna Yi Peng Festival. It’s a festival celebrated in Thailand, and certain parts of Burma and Laos. Translated, Yi means “two” and Peng means “full moon day”. The festival is in celebration of the full moon day, in the second month, according to the Lanna Lunar calendar. (Remembering Lanna refers to the Northern area of Thailand, which was once a Kingdom until the 18th centaury). AND BREATHE.

As I was saying, I woke up, thinking I really couldn’t be bothered to travel down to Chiang Mai, and bed was far more appealing; however I dragged myself up and got on a bus, after telling myself not to be such a lazy hung over fool. I can honestly say that going, and visiting the festival, was in the top ten best decisions of my life.

To celebrate this festival, swarms of people descend upon the University grounds in Chiang Mai. In the evening, prayers are said by the Buddhist Monks, whilst spectators from the other side of the riverbank release a few lanterns. The prayers last a couple of hours, paying homage to Buddha, and are all said in Thai. This bit was difficult to enjoy, as the crowds were so thick and intense, and you couldn’t see the ceremony, for all the people. However, what came next made it all worth the wait.

In excess of 10,000 paper lanterns, (Kohm Loi) were released at once into the sky. Words just cannot describe how wonderful it was. It just was one of those moments that was so humbling, and I just stood there in awe of being such a small and insignificant part of this incredible world.

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Luckily, I heard about this event online, as it being the original and Buddhist celebration. There is also a more tourists-friendly version, where the prayers are spoken in English, and a meal is included, however I hear that this is as much as $100USD, whereas the one I saw was free.   The ticketed one takes place on Thursday 6th November.

The festival certainly made me miss Julien, as it was such a romantic and beautiful sight, and I wished so much that he could have been there to see it with me. However, I then realised how intensely hot and sweaty I was, and as a result, maybe a little stinky too, so perhaps it was for the best that he was in London.

Now I am back in Chiang Rai, and have been into the school where I start working as a Kindergarten teacher on Monday. I am so incredibly happy right now, and so excited to get into the school and start working. I feel so lucky to have been able to make this dream of moving abroad and getting this job, working alongside GVI, come true, and can only hope it continues to be so wonderful.

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Miss Tim, Myself and Miss Chay; Kindergarten Teachers

The Move to Thailand. First Stop…Chiang Mai

The day had finally arrived. After talking about it continuously since February, it was at last the day that I was off to Thailand.

Julien took me to Heathrow bright and early on the Tuesday morning, where I checked in my bags, before we had a final Café Rouge Breakfast together.

So that was it; living In Julien’s pocket had come to a momentary end, and I was out, conquering the world alone.

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My flight was to Mumbai, where I had a couple of hours in the airport, before flying to Bangkok, and then getting a connecting flight to Chiang Mai.

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I reached Chiang Mai, and grabbed a TukTuk to the Eco Resort, and instantly took a sleep for around 5 hours.

When I woke up, I had two new roommates in the form of Pooja, from Dubai, and Alex, from the UK. We went to dinner in a local restaurant, and then went with Molly, another girl from the same organisation; GVI to the night Bazaar.

After we had all just arrived, everyone felt pretty sleepy, so we decided to head home for a relatively early one.

The next day, we woke up, ate some food, and lay by the pool again and slowly started to get out the hotel and see things. At first, we took a trip to the large shopping mall, in an attempt to sort out various phones and SIM cards, with the hope that we’d all be set up with a Thai number soon.

It was interesting to see the mall, of which I hadn’t quite known what to expect of. However it was scarily like home, with shops ranging from H&M, to Topshop, and even a Marks and Spencer. These shops aren’t really prevalent outside of the mall, so it was a surprise to see them in there; so different to the hustle and bustle of the chaotic streets outside.

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Leaving here, we got a TukTuk to the old town of Chiang Mai, a square in the heart of the city.  We walked around the perimeter until we got to Thapae Gate, which is historically, the main entrance to the old city.

Whilst walking towards this, it was startling to see how many tours there were, offering trips to take you to the Tiger Temple. These are those God-Awful places that offer the tigers “a sanctuary”; however from what, I am not exactly sure. The tigers are chained around the neck, and more likely than not, are heavily sedated in order to keep them docile, so that tourists can pose with the animals, for their new Facebook profile pictures. A recent report observed that these beautiful animals were put on public display, each day between 1pm and 4pm, with no shade and under direct sunlight with temperatures often reaching 40 degrees Celsius. However, even with this knowledge, every tour guide claims that their visit to the Tiger Temple is not like that, and that theirs are different, which unfortunately still lures many travellers into these trips.

Anyway, we walked into the Old City, stopping to look at the odd market stall here and there. We eventually reached one of Chiang Mai’s many Buddhist Temples, this one being The Relic of the Lord Buddha and Arahants, at Wat Phan Tao. We entered, being respectful of the culture and religion trying to remember the rules ranging from no shoes, to lowering your head so you are always lower than an image of Buddha.

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Outside we met some monks, who invited me to hit the big gong, otherwise known as the singing bowl. We visited a couple more of the temples, however it was soon time to head home, before our night in Chiang Mai.

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We ate dinner, another variation of noodle and rice dishes, in the Bazaar area, quickly scoffing this down so that we could get good seats for the start of the Cabaret Show; or the Lady Boy show if you prefer.

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We sat through a good 1.5 hours of the show, each act astounding us all even more at how these beautiful women were actually men. However, the put on a wonderful performance, even if they are a bit cheeky at asking for 200 Baht per head (rather a lot by Thai standards).

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The next day, Pooja, Alex and myself woke up to take a taxi to the temple on the hill that overlooks Chiang Mai, by the name of Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. When arriving back at the hostel room the night before, we’d discovered a new roommate, Amy, from America, so we brought her along with us for the days outings.

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The taxi took us up many a winding turn, to the top of the large mountain. From here, we climbed the 309 steps to the temple.

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Thankfully, if you are slightly older or have trouble tackling that many stairs, especially in the heat, there is an option of a cable car.   However, always in the pursuit of a better bottom, we opted for the stairs, and with little breath, reached the top. We paid our 30Baht, and entered through the grand gates.

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Taking our shoes off, just at the temple doorway, we climbed just a couple more steps and entered the courtyard. It was simply breath taking. Words, or even pictures cannot justify the intricate design and architecture that is involved. The gold reaches from symbols of Buddha, to rooftops, to parasols. It is everywhere. The image of Buddha is on nearly every surface you look at, and the smell of incense rushes up your nose. You hear the chimes of the bells as Monks pray. The only downside is the hoards of tourists everywhere you turn. However, I am included in that category, so I guess I can’t really talk.

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We then walked round the outskirts of the temple, overlooking the city of Chiang Mai, however due to being so high up it was hard to see the city in any detail.

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10698627_10154766063125541_7744298025192200311_nIMG_6261 We descended the steps, where we met our taxi driver once more, who drove us back down the mountain, and into the town. Along with two Buddhist Monks and a very small child.

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After some orientation that evening, and the following day, regarding the teaching projects we would all be embarking on shortly, the whole group of Global Vision International teachers and staff, went for a collective meal at a restaurant named Khum Khantoke. We here experienced authentic Lanna style dining, and dances, which are typical of the Northern parts of Thailand.

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We had so much amazing food, from traditionally cooked chicken and rice, to curry pastes and banana fritters. This was followed by a series of performances and traditional dances, offset with lanterns being released into the sky. It was a really beautiful experience, even though it was for the sake of the diners and tourists, the colours, costumes and music were just wonderful.

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And with that, it was to bed, and to finish up with a couple more days of training and Thai language classes, before making my way North, to the city of Chiang Rai, which is to be my home for the foreseeable future.

Tying up loose ends, and getting ready to move to Thailand

Unfortunately it’s been a while since I’ve last written. I could find my excuses about how I’ve been getting ready to go abroad and make the big move to Thailand, however in all honesty it’s mainly down to laziness and possibly a lack in inspiration over the past few weeks.

I’ve had a lovely month or so living back with my parents in Dorset, in the South of England. I’ve mainly been spending quality time with them, trying to adapt my lifestyle away from the bright lights of living freely in the city, to once again having family meals, quiet nights in and weekly viewings of University Challenge.

Thankfully, I’ve not been experiencing the stress and worry too badly that I guess I may have “supposed” to be feeling before a huge move like this. However, I think this is down to me having this as a pipeline dream for so long now, and with the talk of this particular experience being going around since February I guess I am as ready as ever to just get on that plane and go.

In my final week of living in England, Julien came down to Dorset to visit and to stay with my family for a few days. I met him at the local train station after his long journey travelling through every single small town imaginable between Clapham Junction and Dorchester.

From here, I took him back to my village where he was plied with my mum’s finest cooking, her “posh” quiche and home made blackberry and apple crumble. Luckily, we managed to finish this just in time, as about ten minutes after we cleared our plates the whole village experienced an entire power cut. I know I wanted to show him the rural life, however I didn’t mean for it to be quite so extreme. So with that, I took him up to the village pub, where we enjoyed a candle lit pint, before heading home to bed.

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In the morning, I’m pleased to say the electricity was back on, so after a specially made brioche breakfast, we clambered into my tiny Renault Clio and headed off to show Julien the sights of the Jurassic Coast.

We followed the coastal road from my house, to the small town of Bridport. Here, my intention was to look around all the quaint market stalls with Julien, however thanks to the sudden thunder storm and seemingly torrential rain that morning, there was only one hardy stall owner out that day, who unfortunately was only selling garish black t-shirts with holographic wolves on them.

When the heavens opened once again, we took cover in a placed named the Soul Shine Café, in South Street. The Soul Shine Café is a lovely juice bar / café with a truly lovey feel to it. You can choose from a wide range of juices and smoothie blends to reboot yourself, whether it be to give your immune system a boost, or more often than not, to replenish your body after the much dreaded hangover.

After this, and with the lack of any actual market on market day, I drove us both further along to coast, to the very edge of West Dorset, to the lovely little harboured town of Lyme Regis. We parked up one of the very steep roads, and walked down next to the river that leads down to an old mill. From there, we followed the winding little streets down towards the main high street, stopping off at galleries and gift shops on the way. We also visited what has to be one of my favourite bookshops I’ve ever visited; The Sanctuary Second-Hand Bookshop. I don’t know why, and I never really buy anything from there, however the feeling I get when in there is just that of pure calm, ironically so as it is a crowded, dusty and cluttered bookshop, which can only remind me of the Weasley’s home from the Harry Potter books.

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After looking around, we attempted to walk along the sea front, with the plan to end up at the cob. However, once we walked around the corner and on to the promenade, the wind from the day’s storm was so strong, it blast us far too hard, that my glasses were moved from my face. We both agreed that Julien didn’t really need to see the cob that badly, and with that we went in search of some lunch.

Unfortunately, the rain continued to pour and we decided that a trip to the cinema was in order for the remainder of the afternoon.

The next day it was time to leave Dorset, and to head to Julien’s family in Bodmin, Cornwall.

We spent a lovely three days down there, visiting an incredibly beautiful old harboured town called Fowey, and escaping from the stressful city.

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Whilst we were down there, Julien’s niece Scarlett was turning six, so had a birthday party, with some of her little friends. Julien and I had bee pre warned that our role was to be party entertainers, and there’s no denying tat I went there dreading what the day would hold. Luckily however, all the kids were so lovely and excitable, ad we managed to keep them fully entertained for the whole three hours.

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My favourite part of this had to be when the only little boy attending the birthday party as a guest, was a little five year old named Matthew, who arrived with flowers for Scarlett, wearing a tie and shirt, hair gelled, and I’m pretty sure he was also doused in aftershave. It was just too nice.

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Exhausted we headed back to Dorset to say goodbye to my parents, before returning to London to say goodbye to my friends, where I consumed a couple too many “goodbye” cocktails with my nearest and dearest friends.

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The next day was my last day in London, in the UK, and indeed with Julien. He didn’t tell me what his plans were and just said to not wear my scruffy rain mac and to dress a bit nicer than usual.

So at lunchtime he took me to Liverpool Street, and walked me to the Heron Tower. Instantly, I squealed with excitement, and the realisation that he had decided to take me to Sushi Samba for dinner. We do eat out a lot, however Sushi Samba is one of those places where, if you’re anything like me, it is a special occasion to go somewhere so nice.

IMG_6043 We got in one of the glass lifts, and whizzed up to the 38th floor in a matter of seconds. We walked in, and had our bags and coats taken, and were shown to our table, right by the window looking over all of east London. Unfortunately the weather was awful, and we couldn’t see a great deal, however it was still exciting none the less.

We had lots of sushi to start with, followed by incredible gyoza, and not being able to hold back we then ordered the most wonderful blackened cod, with some lamb also.

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I can honestly say it was one of the most magnificent meals I’ve ever had, so if you’re ever feeling particularly like a millionaire, I’d highly recommend it.

After this, Julien took me to his friends work, telling me the second part of the surprise was coming up, however wouldn’t tell me anything else. We got to Universal Records, and met his friend, Steph, who handed me an envelope. Inside were two tickets to see Ed Sheeran that night at The O2.

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Feeling incredibly excited, we went to grab the train over to North Greenwich, and walked from the station to the venue. We grabbed some drinks and took our seats, which were great, and close to the stage. At 8.30 on the dot, on came Ed, and played an insanely good set.

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I was in awe of the way this guy, all by himself, could occupy such a huge stage, all alone, and build up pieces of songs slowly, using a foot pedal, until he was creating the entire song, backing vocals and all.

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On a huge high, we took the boat back along them Thames, to Waterloo, where we got the train to Julien’s.

And then to bed…tomorrow I’d be flying to start my new life abroad in Thailand.

Go Pro’s in Go Ape

I’ve always said that I’d wanted to go to Go Ape. I’d always seen other people’s photos on Facebook, and thought to myself “Yeah, no problems, I’d rock at that”.

I literally didn’t even think of the height factor. What an idiot.

So with one of mine and Julien’s milestone anniversaries fast approaching (I shan’t say which one, due to our long and twisted road, surrounding what constitutes as a relationship over the past 3 years), I decided as ever that we should do something a little more interesting than the norm, and therefore thought a day at Go Ape would be the perfect day for us both.

With Go Pro’s strapped to our heads like the geeks that we are, we got off at Cockfosters tube, at the far end of both the Piccadilly Line, and God’s waiting room, and made our way to Trent Park.

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A team of smiley, helpful staff greeted us, in a small, no expense spared little timber hut, on the edge of the forest. They took our valuables and got us immediately harnessed up, and practising our placement of safety clips, onto the safety lines.

We’d booked on to the midday slot, where we were starting at the same time as a group of around 10 others, mainly parents and children, and one other couple. Our safety guide, Rhys, helpfully gave us a quick run-through of ascending the trees, and the house rules in general, and then we were off.

So, if you are not familiar with Go Ape, it is a series of, I’d say, obstacle courses in the sky. You ascend to the tree top canopies via a rope ladder, which leads to a wooden platform around the tree. You go from one tree to the next, via a variety of means, whether it be a simple rope bridge, or a set of silver hoops hanging from chains, which you need to precariously place your feet in, going from one to the next. After you’ve completed each crossing, you eventually reach a zip wire, which brings you back down to the ground. From here, you go to the next circuit, of which, in Trent Park’s Go Ape, there are five (including a practice one, each increasing in height and difficulty, as you progress.

So after the practise one, we started the second course, and as soon as I was up at the top of the rope ladder, I was instantly wracked with nerves. If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you will see I’m scared of just about everything and anything, but one of the more outstanding fears is that of falling from a height.

I made my way very timidly along the first few crossings, until I reached the Tarzan Swing. The Tarzan Swing is exactly like what you may imagine, in that you clip your safety hooks to a main piece of rope and literally just hold it and swing into a large hanging net about five metres in front of you. When you reach this, you grab a hold of it, and scale across to the safety of the adjacent tree. This was TERRIFYING. However, also super fun. As soon as I’d got to the net, I felt like I just wanted to do it all over again.

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We chased through a couple more obstacles, until we got to the end of course two. Like with each course, the only way down was via the zip line. Julien went first and sped his way down to the bark chippings at the other end.

I was psyching myself up for my turn, and literally about to jump, when a small child behind me reminded me that I’d forgotten to attach one of the very important clips to the line. Thanking the 12 year old, I rearranged myself, and pushed myself off. Speeding through the air, high on the exhilaration of it all, I approached the landing area and forgot what I was told about stopping. So the landing, instead of being an elegant and smooth one like I’d wished, was in fact more about me screaming at Julien to get out the way, as I delved into a pile of bark chipping, which later I would discover, had found their way into my underwear with the sheer impact of my landing.

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Dusting ourselves off, we got up and entered the third course. As we ascended, the 12-year-old child, his sister and his mother were hot on our heels. They were the most beautiful, middle class and perfectly behaved children, so naturally I had to keep apologising for my shouting of profanities as I consistently nearly fell from every obstacle possible, whilst two little angelic faces stared at me in shock and horror.

By this point I was getting braver, and felt nearly invisible. You may think it odd that I’d decided to visit Go Ape for something fun to do, with a relative fear of heights, however I am of the opinion that if I’m scared of something, I need to do it, or else I’ll lead one hell of a boring life. Bar spiders. I can stay being afraid of those.

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After completing the course of obstacles, the way down was another zip wire; however this one had a skateboard running parallel beneath. The idea was to jump on to the skateboard and ride it half way down, rather like Marty McFly from the Back to the Future movies. I managed to instead straddle it in some weirdly unachievable way, and spin round a few times, before again, ending up in the bark chippings laughing to myself. Julien on the other hand, nailed it.

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Onto the fourth course we went. At this point we were level pegging with a different family of three. We’d gone from one lovely mother, and her two polite children, to a bit of a gravelly voiced, chain-smoking mother, with her little girl, and incredibly annoying and boisterous son, called Jack. Jack; who proceeded to tell me I was a massive chicken, and that girls suck. Resisting the urge to push him from the trees, I politely let them go ahead, as they clearly wanted to take the course faster than I did.

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Course four was a little more challenging, and higher up. This one involved crawling through a series of barrels, which were not connected to one another, and various obstacle course components that required more dexterity and balance. Again, the course ended with another big zip line, which with more swearing and profanities was a lot of fun.

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And with that, it was time to take on the fifth and final course. Standing at the bottom of the rope ladder and looking upwards to the first platform, it was more than apparent that this course was considerably higher than the previous four. As I climbed up, I could see my hands physically shaking. We slowly used the first few crossings, and I just couldn’t shake the feeling of terrible uneasiness and fear that had somehow taken residence in my chest.

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We came to another Tarzan Swing. This one was at least double the distance of the original Tarzan Swing we had used on the second course. I opted to go first, and connected all my carabiners to the Tarzan rope. I stood there for a couple of minutes, hyping myself up some more to jump. I could hear more kids scrambling up trees behind me, and suddenly felt such an immense pressure to jump and stop holding them all up. At this point, the fear just completely over took me, and infested itself within me, deep. I couldn’t move and was frozen, and started crying like a big old wimp. Julien had to un-attach and then reattach me to the safety lines. I look back at that now, and kick myself, however I’d just told myself I was terrified so badly of jumping; looking down and seeing tree tops, beneath the tree that I was already in, and listening to little shit kid, Jack, rampaging behind me like Taz the Tasmanian Devil, no doubt on his second go round course five.

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Thank The Lord, there was an alternative route, which in all honesty was probably not a lot easier than the Tarzan Swing option, however we took that one none the less.

At this point I was shaking a great deal, and had lost all nerve and bravery that I was able to summon before. They say not to look down when you’re scared of heights, however it doesn’t help that you HAVE to look down in order to know where you’re placing your footing.

Regardless, I “wussed” my way round, as Julien kindly told me afterwards, and made it to the end, where we climbed an even taller tree, and got on the final zip line. This was the biggest and the longest, and certainly the most fun. I didn’t want it to end, screaming with joy the whole way down.

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And with that, Go Ape was finished. We had a great time, and for around £30 a head I feel like it’s reasonably priced for what you get. You’re not limited to doing each course once, and you are allowed to revisit them as many times as you wish within your day. Our time went so quickly; we’d started at midday and weren’t finished until around 16.00, however it felt like a lot less time.

It’s very energetic when you’re there, even without realising. For example, when you scale the large hanging net, it takes a lot of upper body strength to keep yourself pulled taught and close to the net, without dropping. When you reach the end of the entire course, you may not feel tired, but when you take a moment to sit, you realise actually, you have been very active and it is tiresome.

Feeling suitably sleepy and happy with a fun filled day, we walked back to Cockfosters Underground, to get the train back to civilisation, not before posing for a childish photo.

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We returned to Battersea, where we had a lay down, and scrubbed up, before on to the more traditional part of celebrating our anniversary…dinner.

I’d chosen a restaurant on Drury Lane, London, called Sarastro. I’d been before with family, and it’s this beautiful little restaurant situated in the heart of the West End. The restaurant therefore has a strong theatre theme, with puppets and masks planted all around. They also have these beautiful isolated balconies looking over the rest of the linear restaurant, which are apparently very difficult to get in to, as they are extremely popular.

When making the reservation, I’d mentioned it was a very special occasion, which it was, and requested we sit in one of these balconies. Sure enough, when we arrived at the restaurant, we were greeted very warmly, with open arms and big smiles, and taken to our private balcony.

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We were seated in the quaintest little private box; obviously mean to recreate that of a box at a theatre. The waiters climbed stairs to show us menus and to take our orders whilst we looked down to the main thoroughfare of the restaurant, where an extraordinarily charismatic four string quartet played for us, and had all the patrons in a mix of fits of laughter and sheer admiration for talent.

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After half an hour, the quartet band was finished, and on came two opera singers. These ladies were remarkably talented, and we were all in awe of this, however we couldn’t help but honestly think it was a bit strong for background entertainment whilst dining. This lasted another half an hour, and as I say, they were much appreciated and admired for their talents.

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Both the quartet band and the opera singers, during their respective times performing, made an effort to circulate through the restaurant, and up the stairs to sing / play personally to each of the tables, which was a really lovely touch, and got everyone involved.

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Sarastro have this theme every Monday, also including a set menu. It was around £30 per person for a starter and a main.

The starter was simply amazing; a selection of small Mediterranean dishes, from freshly made hummus to cured meats, olives and beautifully calorific fried cheese shapes.

We reluctantly reminded each other that we’d also ordered a main course each, so must try and restrain from eating everything o the table. I’d ordered a duck comfit, whilst Julien had ordered a lamb shank. I hate to say it, but Julien won this time round with his ordering. His meal was absolutely amazing; the meat just fell from the bone so easily, and was served with these beautiful Dauphinoise potatoes. Mine was nice; none the less, and by the time we’d scooped our plate loads into our mouths, we were certainly not wanting desert – something which is almost unheard of with myself and Julien.

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All around our little balcony area, lovers had carved their names, and quotes into the walls, as almost a tradition. After a couple of glasses of wine, we thought we’d jump on the bandwagon also. Unfortunately, the couple of glasses of wine that enabled me to make the decision to carve our names, also enabled me to spell Julien’s name wrong, which wasn’t the most romantic thing in the world. However; I guess it sticks with our theme of unconventional romance.

We were all set to leave, and had asked for the bill, when a waiter approached us with a slice of cake, with a candle sticking out, singing “Happy Birthday”. We went along with it, laughing at their assumption of “special occasion’ translating to birthday, and not anniversary. So I guess we did have desert after all.

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And with that, we left, took a stroll along Waterloo Bridge, and back to the station.

We were shattered. We’d had the perfect anniversary. Flinging from trees, getting wood chippings in our underwear and getting all grubby, coming home and dressing up all fancy for a lovely meal out, and now home to bed.

That night we slept for around 11 hours. It doesn’t get better than that.

“Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.” It’s time to go Back to the Future.

All the way back in June, there was a big announcement for all sci-fi nerds and geeks. Hill Valley, California, the place where the Back to the Future franchise took place, was coming to England. Courtesy of Secret Cinema, a team of creative types would be working hard to recreate the fictional town, for films buffs to step into, fully immersing themselves in the 1950’s flair, eventually ending the evening with watching Back to the Future.

At this point Julien was on a work trip to Ireland, where he was writing a piece for the Daily Mail about the filming locations for Game of Thrones; so I thought to myself, as a treat to him I’d grab us a couple of tickets as a surprise.

If you’re reading this and tried to book tickets at the original sale, you will remember the sheer frustration and tediousness as Secret Cinema decided upon using a server that could not handle the volume of customers, who clearly would be trying to book tickets for an event with such a cult classic status and following. After sitting for the majority of my working day, at my desk, staring at the same screen telling me my booking was processing and to sit tight and not refresh, there was finally a message saying that no one managed to buy tickets, and to try again the next day; when they’d be using See Tickets instead.

So 24 hours later, I found myself with great ease, booking two tickets for Secret Cinema Presents Back to the Future. Success. Finally.

I told Julien about the surprise just a few hours later, seeing as A) I was super excited to hear his reaction, and B) I was worried he’d go and book himself tickets, not knowing I had.

Being a MASSIVE Back to the Future nerd, of course he geeked out straight away and started planning his outfit out. Even though we’d been told the theme for the night would be 50s, as that is the era that the movie mainly revolves around, Julien opted to plan his outfit around Back to the Future Part II, specifically Marty McFly’s pretty rad hat, jacket, hover board and of course, those sick Nike Mags.

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Julien’s friend, Fern Blevins, had done an amazing job turning an old, unwanted bag; into a fully-fledged, legit looking hover board, as if straight from the film itself. It looked incredible, and she had been up until the early hours the night before, desperately trying to get it ready for him on time. With this to truly finish off the look, we knew we were going to look so (Marty Mc) Fly.

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We had tickets for the opening night; the 24th July, and we were both excited beyond words. The plan was for Julien to meet me from work, at Highbury and Islington, and for us to catch the London Overground to Hackney Wick. Everything was set, it was a baking hot day, and I’d asked to finish work an hour early. As I went to collect my things from my desk at exactly 15.52, my phone lit up.

“Tonight’s Secret Cinema: back to the Future is cancelled. We apologise for the inconvenience & will send further details via email. SEE Tickets & Secret Cinema.”

Bearing in mind we were meant to be at Hackney Wick at 17.00, I instantly thought this was some kind of hoax. However I then received an email with the same message. And of course, social media was purely erupting with anger.

So with the knowledge that this was for real, and a deflated heart, I called Julien to deliver the bad news. Bless him, he was in West London, where no one would have any idea about Secret Cinema happening on the other side of London, and a sad little Marty McFly had to begrudgingly get off the train, and head back home to change.

I immediately requested that we attend on a date at the end of August, and therefore be guaranteed that they sort this out in time and we could go.

That night Julien and myself decided to drink a lot of cocktails in the sun to try and make it all better.

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So fast-forward nearly one month to the 21st August. We are the proud owners of two tickets for that night. We wake up, excitedly, and go downstairs to cook ourselves a fancy breakfast. Lets have omelette, we say. It’s Back to the Future day.

I go to my hairdresser in Mayfair, Jimo, who runs the magnificent Salako salon on George Street. Being someone who literally gets told off by their boyfriend for not brushing their hair when they get out of bed in the morning, I just knew I’d need a helping hand in achieving that 1950’ s look.

Jimo is a literal dream. I’d discovered him through a Time Out London offer that turned up in my inbox one day. I went along for a haircut and was blown away by not only his talent, however also his experiences, who he’d worked with, his kind nature and hospitality. It’s not a general experience like many other hairdressers you visit. He makes you feel like no one or nothing else is more important than your hair, and he works his magic.

So anyway, after Google Image searching for the perfect hairstyle, and agreeing I probably wasn’t going to be looking like Scarlett Johansen (he’s a hairdresser, not a magician / surgeon) we agreed on an extravagant French Pleat.

In just over an hour I was done, and felt a million dollars.   I’d changed into my outfit, a yellow dress, and a red handkerchief round my neck, teamed with a vintage American baseball jacket draped over my shoulders, and very dramatic red lipstick, with almost Winehouse style eyeliner flicks. Walking through Marble Arch during a Thursday rush hour, I certainly got funny looks, however, I kept telling myself I looked fabulous and just shook it off.

I got home to find my boy all dressed up as Marty McFly, and looking great in his whole get up.

We grabbed some tinnies for the road, and off headed to Hackney Wick. The vibe on the train, as we got closer was mixed. The many of us that were donned in our 50’s outfits were all excitedly looking around, giving one another almost a secret nod, as if to say “Hill Valley? Me too”, whilst everyone else was thinking “what the hell train am I on?” or even “Oh just a normal day of eccentric East London idiots, dressing in order to show off”. The latter being the most likely, to be fair.

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Anyway, we got off at Hackney Wick, and were directed across the bridge, and down the road to the Olympic Park. Already, the actors were out in force to recreate the feeling that we’d suddenly time travelled back to the 1950’s.   Instead of having your usual security asking you to stick to the side of the path and allow other pedestrians to pass, they had actors in true 50’s American Cops uniforms shouting and yelling for us to get into file, and for us to put away our “calculators”, meaning our iPhones.

After a swift queue we were finally at the front, and declaring we had no phones or cameras on us. Which of course, was massive lie. We’d done our research via the different hashtags on social media, and worked out people were certainly sneaking in different devices to take photos, therefore making us even more determined to get footage. Even more of a reason to not want to listen to the rules, was how much we’d been messed around with the whole cancellation saga. So screw it. We had cameras and we were going to use them.

In we went, like excited little children and ran up the ramp and round the corner, to a big sign greeting us to “Hill Valley, a Nice Place to Live”. Just like in the movies. We passed all the little bungalow huts that depicted scenes from the 50’s, to which we would later return.

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We walked past these and into the main area of Hill Valley. It was a square, with the infamous clock tower being the central focus, which would later display the movie, projected onto the front. Directly opposite this was Ed’s Diner, which served amazingly strong and fabulous adult milkshakes containing liquor. Along the two parallel sides connecting the clock tower to Ed’s Diner, there were a series of shops, including a florists, a Post Office and such like, broken up by Hill Valley High School. We opted for this as we heard the music blaring out.   We had to queue for a very short while, and quickly went into the school hall, where the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance was taking place.

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Again, there were incredible actors / dancers who were talking to Julien about his outfit and how they’d never seen anything like it before in the 50’s. They’d then suddenly break out into synchronised dancing; not having previously given any indication that they were processionals.

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We had a bit of a dance, had our pictures taken, explored some more, and then decided to ride the big Ferris wheel. We only had to queue a short while, and we were at the front. We got on, and as we started gradually escalating higher in the sky, I remembered how I have a fear of even Ferris wheels and how safe they are, which of course is embarrassingly silly. However, this did make for some great sneaky GoPro footage, as I was squealing with joy and excitement on the wheel.

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After some more eating and copious amounts of drinking and dancing, it was time to settle down to the film. We squeezed in any space we could find on the floor, facing the clock tower and town hall; which was harder than you’d imagine. The serious film goers had been saving their seating area on the grass right from the beginning; which I guess is fair enough in a way, however also, they’d completely missed out on the essence of visiting Hill Valley and checking out all the amazing parts of the re-enactment of the town from the 50’s, and to be quite honest should have just gone to an open air cinema to watch it. Anyway, these die-hard fans were very arsey about letting the people that were dancing sit down; as that was ruining their “area” they’d been camping out in. The film started, and after a few huffs and puffs and groans from certain people around us, we decided to go and sit in Ed’s Diner at the back, and watch from the seats there. Which of course suited us just fine, as we sipped away on our alcoholic milk shakes, and laughed, joked and watched the movie without disturbing anyone.

Whilst the movie played, actors were employed to act scenes out in sequence, on the stage underneath the projected film. They did this so well, and even ran between audience members. They also had cars going around the audience, including the DeLorean – which of course excited Julien beyond belief.

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At the end, during the infamous scene where Marty McFly needs to get back to his real time life, in the future, and The Doc is trying to link the clock tower cable up to meet the lightning bolt, actors were indeed playing this out at the same time. Credit to Secret Cinema for this part, massively. The Doc manages to zip wire down and over the heads of the crowd, whilst Marty drives the DeLorean back to the future, leaving fire skid parks on the pavement.

The movie finished, and instantly came on a 50’s jive bands, and everyone got up and danced. Inside Hill Valley High, another band was playing and people were dancing in there too. It was literally like being taken back in time, and nearly everyone was getting really into the spirit of things and having a wonderful time.

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We went into the little huts around the back of Ed’s Diner, where each one depicted a little taster of a home from the era. With old décor, and pictures of James Dean on walls, it was a very sweet little extra touch to the set.

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With the night soon coming to an end, we took ourselves away, and started making the walk back to the station to go home.

We’d had SUCH lovely evening, and left extremely happy customers. Secret Cinema, without a doubt, seriously messed up with the pre organisation of the event, and I feel the general consensus is the people who flew over from other countries for the original events, have not been compensated for air fares or for hired hotel rooms, which I do think is massively cheeky, however I just feel lucky enough to have been able to make a different date alternatively.

Aside from that, it was done incredibly well, coming from someone who liked the movie but wasn’t a fanatic, and also from Julien’s perspective as someone who is a phenomenal fan of the franchise.

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I can honestly say I hope to experience another Secret Cinema at some point in the future.  Bar the initial mess ups, it was an incredible evening.

Disneyland Paris “The Most Exhausting Place On Earth”

Unlike the previous day, where we had ventured into the city to enjoy our petit dejeuner, we decided to eat in our hotel. This was for two reasons, one of which was that we had a lot to fit into our day before we travel home later that evening, and the second reason being that time was more of the essence than ever, as we were going to Disneyland.

We wolfed down as many pain au chocolat and boiled eggs as we could without wanting to have a heart attack, packed up our belongings, left them with the hotel staff, and excitedly pranced down the street to the metro station once more to board the train from Montparnasse, changing at Nation and finally reaching our destination of Marne-la-Vallée.

We got there with perfect timing, just as the park opened at 10am. After exchanging the coupons (which Julien had purchased onboard the Eurostar) for tickets, we were through the gates and into the magical world of Disney.

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I haven’t been since I was a kid, and at the back of my mind thought to myself “am I too old for this?” however, the answer was definitely no. Yes, its obviously got strong pulls and links to the whole fantasy of childhood dreams and magic, however it’s great for adults alike. It hasn’t lost the magic, and it’s great fun to just shed all your adult woes and cares for a day, and just relive the magic of Disney I remembered from being a kid.

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As we entered the grounds, we walked through the old style town, named Main Street USA, and took in all the quaint little shops that managed to cross the tackiness of Disney with turn of the century décor, surprisingly well.

I’m not a big fan of rollercoasters that are too big, as I’m a massive coward, and literally squeal whist riding something as tame as the Big Wheel at a fun fair. With this knowledge Julien suggested we walk up to Adventureland and start off with the Indiana Jones ride. After queuing for around 35 minutes, we were at the front of the line, and Julien was insisting we take a seat right at the front of the train.

It was petrifying. I screamed so hard I nearly lost my voice, and managed to hit my head on the safety bars that were strapped over my shoulders. I also managed to completely miss the fact we went upside down because I couldn’t open my eyes.

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Its worth noting that if you are someone who goes to Thorpe Park or Alton Towers often, the Indiana Jones ride is in fact, not at all scary, however it is a lot of fun. I’m genuinely just an awful coward.

After this, we walked away, and I was buzzing with adrenaline. Ready to get on to all the rides, we excitedly got out the park map and started planning. However, what we didn’t take into account was the fact that the queues can be ridiculous. Some of the rides offered a Fast Track service, where you go and take a ticket, and return within half an hour, and can then use the fast queue. However, this is not available on all rides unfortunately, and we did end up spending a lot of time in lines, waiting around.

On top of this, some of the rides that we were hoping to go on were closed for maintenance, one of these being Space Mountain, which was very upsetting as that was the one ride that I really wanted try. This information may have been available somewhere on their website, however it wasn’t very clear and we were very disappointed not to get to experience it.

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After posing for some pictures with the Star Wars X-Wing Fighter, we left Discoveryland to head back up to Adventureland. Here, we agreed to go on Pirates of the Caribbean, unfortunately nothing to do with the film franchise, however.

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This was very fun and jovial, however although I’m a coward, I did feel like I could handle something a little more thrilling. Saying this, there was one tiny drop, and as you can see in the photo below, it still managed to make me scream like a little girl.

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We then spent some time running around the Theme Park in general, climbing on the rope bridges, exploring caves and going in Davey Jone’s Locker.

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Feeling braver, we made our way across to Frontierland, where we went on my favorite ride of all time; Big Thunder Mountain. We had our Fast Track tickets already, so only had to queue for around 15 minutes. We got on the ride, again sitting at the front, and literally had THE best time. It was enough to make me scream and a little nervous, but not that horrible feeling where I think I might spew all over the other theme park goers.

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After this, we ran across and queued for 5 minutes at the Haunted House, which I remembered to be a lot scarier than it actually was at the age of 25. It was fun, nonetheless though, and quite clever with all the animatronics as you travel around in individual cars.

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We then made our way across from the Disney Park, to the Walt Disney Studios Park, just across the street. Here we walked around, and saw some of the sights such as the Toy Story attraction, however agreed that we were short on time and couldn’t really go on any of the larger rides. Plus I may have been scared to go on the Aerosmith ride (yeah I don’t get the Disney connection either) as it sent you doing the loop the loop about a million times.

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With that we returned to the Disney Park, where we grabbed some lunch, which unfortunately Disney do not do so well. The only options without queuing for a long time to go into a restaurant, were 3 variations of burgers and fries. I’m not entirely adverse to a burger; a good burger; however these were soggy and relatively nasty burgers.

After wolfing these down out of desperate need for energy, I decided I wanted a Coke, so randomly selected one from the vending machine.  I was overjoyed with the discovery of names you can get once you just hop across the Channel.

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We agreed that we had time left for just one more ride, and then some gift shops, before we’d have to head back towards Montparnasse.

I let Julien decide which ride he’d like to go on, and for some reason I’m still not entirely sure of, he chose Autopoia. This is a ride which consists of ‘50’s style cars and you drive them repeatedly around a track. This ride is designed for very young children too, so obviously these aren’t real cars, and go around the track on a Scalextric kind of runner. Julien doesn’t drive, so I thought maybe he wanted a toned down version of the real thing, so agreed to do this with him.

IMG_8472 It was good fun, and we definitely had a laugh whilst whizzing around 6 year olds with their dads, and probably just being annoying big kids, however it was very enjoyable.

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We finished off with gift shopping, where Julien bought himself Star Wars related hats, and then bought me the biggest Thumper toy in the entire shop which obviously went down very well.

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We made the long journey back to the hotel, feeling absolutely exhausted, and having to both take a nap on the metro. We certainly had so much fun but we were positive we needed longer there, as we only got to experience a handful of rides and certainly would have been able to have more fun, not having to pick and choose our rides nor having to time them the way we did.

IMG_8492 After picking up our bags from the hotel, we got back on the train to Gare Du Nord to catch the Eurostar. In just a couple of hours, we were back in London, exhausted but content, dragging our suitcases and all our new souvenirs back along the platform, to the tube, and so to bed.

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Paris…No Swimming in the River Though; That’d Be In Seine

Every so often Julien gets hired to DJ abroad; recently playing a big corporate event in Munich, the same markets operator, ICAP, asked him to play an event in Paris.  Fortunately they were kind enough to let me come along as a freebee with him for a weekend away together this time round.

So early one Saturday morning in June, I packed my wheelie suitcase, and headed on the tube to King’s Cross St Pancras.  It has to be said, being up and out at 7.30am on a Saturday with no hangover, they’re really missing a trick with making some kind of real life documentary about the characters you see trying so hard to get back to bed at this time.  It was almost like a game, figuring out which late night / early morning reveller was going to cave and be sick on you first.

After successfully dodging being spewed on in any capacity, I got off the tube, excitedly springing along to go and meet Julien, with images in my head of riding bikes by the River Seine, and laughing heartily whilst munching on baguettes.

We met, went through the very basic security checks ran by the Eurostar and before we knew it were speeding our way over to La Ville-Lumiére.  Two hours and 15 minutes later we were in Paris Gare Du Nord, and pulling our bags along on to the Metro.

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We thankfully just had to take one line straight down to where we were staying, a hotel in the Montparnasse area of the city.  Admittedly, it is not the most beautiful, or typically French district, however the hotel was pleasant and in a well-connected area.

We got in, ditched our bags, and headed downstairs for some food and drink, shortly after which Julien went to setup for later, and to complete his sound check, whilst I went shopping due to realising I’d forgotten trousers and underpants and everything else I might need.                                                              

After a quick power nap, we set off to have some dinner before Julien had to start playing.  We walked up the road to find a quaint little restaurant, where we enjoyed some lovely French food and a couple of big glasses of wine. 

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As we walked back to the hotel, it was about 20.58, and Julien stopped me where I was walking in the street.  He told me to look to my left, where there was a clearing in the buildings that led all the way down to the Eiffel Tower.  As the clock struck 21.00 the entire tower lit up with sparkling lights, twinkling all over in the distance.  You can see why they say it’s such a romantic city.

We got back to the hotel, where Julien began his work at the party, whilst I took advantage of the champagne.  After a fun night we crawled into bed at around 2am, to rest before we began the tourist part of our trip.

We had a cheeky bit of a lie in, mainly due to my bubbles induced headache, and hauled ourselves out of bed.

Instead of heading to the restaurant downstairs for our breakfast, we agreed it’d be nicer for us to have it out and about in the city somewhere, so we hopped on the metro, and headed up to Saint-Michel station, next to Notre Dame.

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After wandering around the old town and the beautiful Gothic buildings, we finally decided on a quintessential little French restaurant. It was like how you’d imagine; tables and chairs outside, with couples enjoying cigarettes with their coffees, whilst enjoying the morning sun.

By the time we’d got there it was more lunchtime than breakfast, so we had a look at the full menu. Wanting to be typically French, I chose the French onion soup with a side of garlic snails, or escargot if you like.

I’d had the escargot before, however a very long time ago, as a child on one of our many family holidays to Barneville Carteret, Normandy. In all honesty, I should have left it there really, and not ordered it again all these years later. It’s the texture. You know that you are eating a snail, and the texture is EXACTLY how you would imagine it to be; however much garlic butter they want to serve it with to disguise it, you are still more than aware that you are eating a mollusque.

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So after encouraging Julien to be “more French” by trying desperately to get him to help me eat the snails, we finished up, and set off to explore the city some more.

We walked back to Notre Dame, where we admired the beautiful architecture of the Cathedral. We had hoped to go in, however on a Sunday with this many people, the queues were just too big.

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We decided to rent a couple of the bikes that they have around the city. After trying to decipher how to rent one, thus causing a massive queue of angry cyclists behind us, waiting to use the machine, we finally managed to disembark our bikes from the docks and off we cycled along the Seine.

These bikes are a great idea, and are in fact the original version of what we call “Boris Bikes” in London. However, I wasn’t expecting them to be so heavy. It certainly took a good few attempts of not falling off sideways until I could steady myself enough to actually get away and cycle in a (semi) straight line.

Off we went, with the wind flapping in my hair, and great big grins on our faces, laughing and joking about baguettes and strings of garlic. However, after this lovely image took place for all of ten minutes, we then decided to embark on the roads of Paris.

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Now bearing in mind that I have balance issues even when standing up, combined with a very heavy metal bike, and then throw in the CRAZY French driving and also doing it all on the wrong side of the road, it wasn’t long before I swerved into a van, and scared myself a little. Needless to say, I got beeped at and honked at repeatedly, and quickly decided to drag the bike up onto the pavement, before I end up in a bad way on the roads.

I looked up to see the back of Julien’s head in his little panda hat disappear like a small dot in the distance. I tried shouting after him, although he couldn’t hear me, and kept on cycling.

After walking my bike along the pavement in a right old huff and grump for a few minutes, I saw his hat in the crowd, where he’d pulled up and waited for me. Obviously, because I am a woman I gave him a needlessly hard time, and exaggerated the story ten fold, about how in fact a LORRY, not a van nearly ran me over and I was very close to death etc etc. After telling me (rightly so) to stop being such a drama queen, and reminding me that I am in fact alive still and no collision actually happened, we embarked again upon our cycle ride, however this time opting for quiet back roads.

Just as we got to the bottom of the hilly streets that lead up to Montmartre the heavens opened, and we found a dock for the bikes, and ran to take cover under some shop awnings. When this had eased up a little we continued our climb up the hill and finally got to the bottom of the steps that lead to the Cathedral. Just then and there it REALLY started to tip it down, and we had to take shelter in a shop, where we bought some rather fancy rain macs. Unfortunately the packaging didn’t quit make it clear that on the backs of these rain macs there was a massive print of the Eiffel Tower. There was a reason why they were only €2 though.

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We started the climb up to the top of the stairs, which is incredibly steep, and exhausting. However because you’re overlooking such a beautiful view, you can time your need for breathers perfectly, with just wanting to take a selfie, so no one can really see just how horribly unfit you really are.

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We reached the top, and turned around the see the simply breathtaking panoramic view of the city. It really is a lovely place, and just oozes with the sense of romance and love. And then that all quickly disappears as you get asked if you’d like to buy ten key rings with the Eiffel Tower on by the masses of street traders in the area.

We walked inside of the cathedral, and as it was a Sunday, there was a service on. We were welcome to sit and watch, so we did this for a bit, as the choir was singing. The architecture inside the building was phenomenal. It is a truly majestic work of art, and words cannot do it justice. We sat in silence for a while, taking in our surrounding, and then walked the perimeter of the building, admiring the windows and the arches all the way around.

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After this we stopped for a hot chocolate and some gateaux, before heading back down the hill. We walked through all the dainty, curving and winding streets, imagining how lovely it’d be to live in some of these places. It just seems like such a quaint little idyllic lifestyle to have, if you were lucky enough to live in the Montmartre district.

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We hopped back on the Metro, where we got off at Porte Maillot, and walked down to the Arc de Triomphe. Rather stupidly, we didn’t see the entrance to the underground passageway to get to the actual structure, which is essentially in the middle of a roundabout on one of Europe’s busiest roads. So we decided to take our lives into our own hands, and ran in between speeding motorcycles and cars, whilst getting beeped and sworn at ferociously. Luckily we made it to the middle, admired the stunning building, and then sensibly took the under passage back to the Champs Elysees.

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We walked down the Champs Elysees, taking in all the shops, including the flashy car showrooms, until we reached the Southern end, where we jumped on another Metro to the Eiffel Tower.

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We walked down from Trocadero station, past the Musee national de la Marine, through the Jardins du Trocadero, across the Pont D’lena Bridge and to the foot of the tower. We looked up, taking in the beauty of one of the most iconic structures of our time, and decided after not having the patience to go inside any other landmarks today, bar Montmartre; we would certainly go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. However, as we approached, we soon realised that there were maintenance works being carried out that day, and you could in fact, not visit the top of the tower.

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This was a real shame, as it was genuinely one of the things that we really wanted to do, however, such is life, and now I know in future to find these things out beforehand.

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At this point, the sun was beginning to set, so we decided to take a stroll back towards the Champs Elysees, arm in arm along the River Seine. We sat for a while on the bank, reflecting on what a lovely, yet tiring day we had had, exploring the city.

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It really is beautiful, and has a sense of calm about it, however at the same time, much like London, it can be extremely tiring, and we were both completely exhausted.

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We finished the day by having a ginormous steak and plate of frites, and then dragged ourselves back to Montparnasse and into bed, knowing that the next day we needed all our energy to tackle Disneyland…

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