2015

Disneyland

I am currently working just one train-stop away from Disneyland. As a result of this, each day on my morning train I see excited families with backpacks full, push-chairs laden and mickey ears ready. In the evening I then see exhausted parents, sleepy and/or screaming children and, 4 out of 5 days a week a minnie balloon will get caught in the sliding doors.

I have been to Disneyland when I was younger, however it did seem a shame not to re-experience the magic when I’m living and working so close to it all. The main problem was that I didn’t want to go to Disneyland alone, Disney is definitely an experience to be shared. However not only do my work colleagues work weekends, but they’ve all been millions of times due to living so close and are about as indifferent towards Disneyland as we are towards our local leisure centre. The novelty has definitely worn off for all nearby residents, and I was starting to think I’d have to settle for living vicariously though other train passengers.

Then a miracle happened!!

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My bestest friend Emily spontaneously flew over last weekend and we were able to experience a WHOLE DAY (we were literally there for 14 hours) of DISNEY MAGIC! It was amazing, unforgettable and every single other good adjective. The sun came out and the castle looked beautiful. We donned our Minnie Ears (£2.44 from Amazon because ain’t nobody got time for £15.99 authentic ones) and enjoyed every minute.

Emily and I love a good theme park and we have spent plenty of birthdays together at Legoland or Chessington. It was very surreal to be at Disneyland together though; instead of rain ponchos we were applying suncream because it was 33 degrees and sweltering. Conveniently we like all the same kinds of rides (nothing too spinny or with a queue longer than 60 minutes), also being a two is great as you often get to jump ahead of large (in every sense of the word) families to grab available seats on lots of the rides. We also planned our day to fit in the maximum amount of attractions, ensuring enough time to nab a perfect parade-watching spot whilst being sure to keep hydrated and stay out of the sun at the hottest parts of the day (regular intervals in souvenir shops to enjoy the air-con are recommended). This all paid off and we went on the big roller coasters like Indiana Jones and Thunder Mountain (my absolute favourite), as well as lots of little fun ones like the carousel, the teacups, the Snow White ride, the Autopia car driving, the Buzz Lightyear ride, the Haunted House… basically everything – it was great.

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There was however one little mis-hap that affected our perfect plan. Our ideal day did not include getting stuck on the pirates of the Caribbean ride for an hour.

We were gliding along quite nicely in our 12 person boat, enjoying the enchanting music when suddenly, for some unexplained reason, the ride came to a complete halt. We were then floating around aimlessly in the darkly-atmospheric jungly waters for a few minutes before blinding florescent were switched on and the magic was all broken. The music stopped and an announcement apologising for technical difficulties, thanking us in advance for our patience and understanding (in four different languages), was played repeatedly for the next 50 minutes. I suppose everyone involved will now be able to say ‘technical difficulties’ in english, french, spanish and german, so we could say there was an educational perk, but in reality everyone was quite bored and ready to get out of the plastic boat they’d queued for 30 minutes to get into. Eventually, our knight in shining armour, in the form of a pirate dressed in waders (literally), came along and helped us out of the boat. We made it onto dry land and were directed towards an emergency exit, though a back door and emerged in a sort of car park with large metal bins. We then had to walk for about 10 minutes around a backstage area of concrete studio buildings, down a very normal looking tarmac road, and finally though a passage that released us back into ‘Frontierland’ where the Disney experience resumed. It was very unglamorous and the magic was slightly ruined, fortunately we received a fast pass to come back later, so we got to do the whole ride again in the evening and it was entirely worth the wait.

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The parade in the evening was even better than I remembered. All the characters come along in their incredible costumes sitting on their amazingly decorated floats, they wave at you and the excitement is contagious. In fact, I’m pretty sure being waved at by a Disney princess is magical if you’re any human between the ages of 2 and 102.

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Finally, the highlight of the whole day has got to be the Disney Magic show and firework display at closing time. All the best disney songs are played, the castle is beautifully illuminated and images are projected onto it, there are fireworks and special effects and it’s 20 minutes of amazingness that I cannot begin to describe. I cried happy tears and everything was good in the world.

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Until next time Disneyland!

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August in pictures

It’s been a while since I last posted on here but I’ve been a bit caught up in the routine of working and writing my university essays. Whilst on my year abroad I was given two projects which I’ve had the past 14 months to write, however I have typically left them to the last minute and most of my free time in August was spent at my laptop hastily hashing together coherent sentences whilst regretting not working on them sooner. Anyway both are finished now which means guilt-free free time!

To update you all, just two weeks remain of my work placement and I’m beyond happy about this. I feel like I have now mastered the fine art of selling expensive cotton shirts and I rarely make mistakes at the cash desk, so things are definitely less tense, some days I even enjoy myself. Having said this, I’m more than ready to stop folding cashmere v-necks and measuring body parts. Also, it’s been eerily quiet in the store recently as most of the French population are off on their summer holidays. This usually means I am left alone to supervise la boutique whilst my boss gets some work done in the office. If there are no deliveries to deal with or customers to (attempt to) help then I mostly just polish the displays obsessively and rearrange the ties in colour order. I find myself messing things up just to give myself something to tidy and I don’t know if these habits are healthy if repeated for 35 hours a week.

Luckily I have enjoyed some time in central Paris over the past month or so and the weather has generally been perfect (I’m tempted to say ‘insufferably hot’ but I’m about to experience a winter in Durham so I will not complain about warmth). Below are some of the sites of Paris that I have enjoyed recently…

The beautiful funfair at Les Tuileries and views from the terrace of Galleries Lafayette

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Montmatre, including Le mur des je t’aime – a wall of ‘I love you’ in multiple languages ❤

Exploring the Île de St Louis, one of my favourite parts of Paris

I haven’t been able to watch the Great British Bakeoff but a visit to Ladurée is sort of the same thing…

And finally, the Eiffel Tower. Just dreamy.

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Happy September!

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Paris

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For my first two days off I headed into central Paris for some sightseeing. I’ve been to Paris a few times before, on family holidays and French exchanges with school, however it’s such a huge city that I don’t think you could ever really see everything. Luckily I’ve got all the weekends from now until September to explore as much as possible. Yesterday I got the train from my suburban home straight to the Arc de Triomphe, where I was greeted by the most terrifying roundabout in history, I then walked down L’avenue des Champs-Élysées to the Eiffel Tower to meet a friend for a picnic. From here we walked along the river all the way to Place de la Concorde, through the beautiful Tuileries gardens to the Louvre. To finish the day I then hopped on the metro to Place Monge where I met another friend for some Moroccan tea (I can’t get enough) at La Grande Mosquée.

I should also mention that it was 37 degrees this weekend in Paris. It’s been boiling all week and let me tell you, the metro is the last place you want to be on a hot day. It’s basically a furnace packed full of sweaty tourists, sweaty Parisians and probably all the sweaty people in the world, and their children. I don’t think anyone quite knows if its better to walk for miles in the midday sun just to avoid the cattle-transportation experience. I was weighing up sunburn and blistered feet against extreme armit-to-face proximity and limited oxygen. A tough call. In the end I settled for the metro because at least the pain is short-term. Anyway it’s beautiful in Paris so I should stop complaining.

Here are some pictures of my day… As I only photographed the pretty things it’s like the metro never even even happened!

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Back to France!

Remember that impromptu telephone interview I had whilst half way up a mountain in Spain? Well, I got the job and, after a lovely few weeks in England, I hopped on the Eurostar and I started work in my new temporary home – Paris!

I’ll be working as a sales intern for just over two months. The internship is at a men’s clothing retailer which specialises in workwear, bringing the ‘English Gentleman’ style to France. It’s a British company with a Parisien store and I’m the sole British ambassador so my colleagues seem excited to have me here.

My first day went about as smoothly as I could have hoped. I had to learn many new skills, such as how to take mens’ measurements in order to advise them on the correct size shirt. This is an intimate and difficult experience which I am frankly TERRIBLE at. I have told many customers a particular shirt size based on my measurements and more often than not the shirt they then tried on was either comically big or embarrassingly small. I have the excuse that i’m learning on the job though and the fact that my previous retail experience involved potted plants and garden furniture.

The store is located in a luxury shopping village in which the footfall is primarily very, very wealthy people, fortunately almost everybody so far has been patient and friendly to me despite my incompetence. I also get to wander around during my break and lust after designer clothes that I’ll never be able to afford based on my intern’s salary!

Whilst I’m here i’m paying ridiculous amounts to lodge in a very pleasant family home. I have a beautiful bedroom however the etiquette of the lodging situation is taking some getting used to; I don’t quite know how sociable to be, whether to eat with the family or not, whether I need to label my food – there are many unanswered questions. Also I keep speaking Spanish…

Anyway this is the third and final part of my year abroad! You’d think I’d have it all figured out by now but you’d be wrong.. So i’ll continue to record my mishaps here – à bientôt! 

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Granada

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I have now visited all the sights on my spring travel list! Last weekend I concluded my travels by celebrating my 21st birthday in Granada.

Granada is famous for the stunning Alhambra which sits in the centre of the city on top of a huge hill. It’s recommended that you buy tickets well in advance (we bought ours in March) because they sell out about as quickly as a One Direction concert.

The Alhambra experience was very special, and worth the planning. There are palaces, towers and gardens to visit – all with spectacular panoramic views of the city below. Like a One Direction concert there were plenty of people, however the site is so vast that other tourists are dispersed amongst the various buildings and foliage so it doesn’t feel too intense.

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You can easily enjoy many hours exploring the Alhambra, I was there all morning and I’m pretty sure I still didn’t see everything. The highlight is undeniably the Nasrid palace which is probably worth the entrance fee alone. it’s just as pretty as the alcazars in Sevilla or Córdoba but on a much bigger scale, I loved it.

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The rest of the weekend was spent eating and drinking in Moroccan style restaurants and tea rooms (another great thing about granada) and it was all kinds of wonderful. I enjoyed frozen yogurt, my favourite treat, and even had a wild night out (complete with mojitos, crazy dance moves and 5am hostel return).

I now have just two weeks left before it’s time to say goodbye to Spain..

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The Spanish summer has begun

photoExtremadura is known for it’s extreme temperatures (as the name suggests) and I am finally appreciating why. We are currently experiencing spell of extreme heat and its almost unbearable. It was 40 degrees today, it is also May. The locals are wearing shorts and all conversations begin with ¡Qué calor!, so you know it’s pretty serious. I checked the weather and it’s currently hotter than Morocco, Greece and Uganda. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the school classrooms were hotter than the Earth’s core.

The main problem is that it’s very dry and desert-like here; there’s no nearby beach, no lake and very few trees around the town. Unfortunately I walk to my students’ houses for private classes at around 3.30pm each day and I’m fairly sure I’m the only human braving the sunlight at this scorching hour. Everyone else is sensibly en casa with the shutters down. I actually have to apply sun cream for my ten-minute walk down the road, I also have to arrive an extra two minutes early to allow for cooling-off period during which I lurk outside the students’ house for necessary brow-mopping and water-guzzling.

I’ll try to find some silver linings to avoid sounding too whiny and spoiled: I’m lucky to be getting a healthy glow, I am grateful that this town is not at all hilly and I am pleased to have quite a decent deodorant.

But madre mía, any increase in temperature and I’ll have to be forcibly removed from the town fountain. Seriously.

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Feria de Sevilla

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Yesterday I visited my favourite Spanish city, Sevilla, for the famous April Feria! Every year the Feria opens it’s doors and the Sevillianos enjoy a week of dancing, drinking and tapas-eating whilst dressed in traditional flamenco style dresses or suits.

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On area of 450,000 square metres you can find endless streets of casetas (marquee style tents) which belong to various families or companies in the city. Each caseta is beautifully decorated in unique but typically-Spanish styles. Along the outside walkways between casetas, thousands of lanterns brighten the sky by day and glow at night.

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A British equivalent of the caseta is probably a beach hut – each owned by a different family, each with different character and style. They obviously serve VERY different purposes but it’s the only familiar concept I can think of.

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The caseta concept is quite unique to Spanish festivals, the casetas vary in size but they are essentially rooms with bars, seating areas and dance floors so that each family can have their own private party with friends. There are also large public casetas (for the riffraf like me) but the feria is first and foremost a celebration for the people of Seville.

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Seeing Sevillano dancing was a highlight. All men and women know how to dance Sevillano, they do it in pairs, they clap and stamp along, moving their arms in perfect synchronisation and looking at each other intensely as they do so. I wish we had a similar dance culture here, it puts the awkward shuffling that occurs in British clubs to shame. There’s also there’s nothing more attractive than a man who can dance, especially if he is well-dressed in a blue blazer like so many of the Sevillanos.

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The best thing about the Feria for me was seeing the beautifully colourful trajes de flamenca, the dresses worn by the majority of the women. Each dress was unique and they are so beautifully intricate, flamboyant and amazing. I also noticed an ingenious design on one woman’s dress which I imagine is a common feature. Under some of the bottom ruffles was a zipped pocket to store a phone, money and other essentials – these beauties are practical and stylish.

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The Feria is known for being quite exclusive and I suppose it probably was, but tourists like me can enjoy it too and I am so glad that I witnessed it whilst I’m here. For me the Feria epitomised Spanish culture and it was a brilliant spectacle to observe. I did do my fair share of participation too though; my friends and I didn’t return home until 4am (this was actually due to a cheap deal on buses rather than a desire to stay so long) so we saw the partying continue way into the night, we attempted to dance along AND we sampled the typical drink rebujito. A successful day all round!

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