About Molly

Self-confessed over-thinker

Ullswater: tea withdrawal and millennial problems

The Lake District is fast becoming my favourite place in the UK – screen-saver-worthy scenery, innumerable country walks and hikes and the chance to go on boat trips without worrying about sharks… (just me?). So I was thrilled when my boyfriend announced my birthday present was a weekend in Dockray, near Ullswater in the Lakes.

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We stayed at The Royal Hotel in Dockray, which was lovely, except for one thing. A thing I am going to call Tea Drinker Prejudice (TDP?). Who’s first thought in the morning is ‘time for a cuppa!’? I know that’s not just me. Far less of you would say your first thought is ‘time for a coffee.’ Tea is an English tradition and a fundamental part of my life, and no, I’m not being dramatic.

So imagine my dismay when we approached the breakfast buffet on our first morning to see a coffee urn without so much as a tea bag in sight. Deep breaths, I thought, they must serve it in pots. The waiter over to the table after I’d sat down with my somewhat less caffeinated orange juice to ask ‘white or brown toast?’ I must have looked perplexed but he didn’t notice and went off to get our toast before I had a chance to ask for tea. Meanwhile, I shot daggers at Dom happily sipping his black coffee (ew, I know). Rest assured, I got my tea before the caffeine withdrawal headaches set in (I have a problem, I know), but the same thing happened the next day. In future, I will take a flask with me.

Apart from the TDP, the hotel was perfect. We fell in love with Penrith, the small town nearby. An Aldi, a Booths, a Morrisons and a Spoons – what more could you want? It was also a lovely old market town with brick roads and a clock tower. I was quick to text my mum with my heart-wrenching dilemma that Dom and I want to move there in 10 years time – ‘but I don’t know how I would cope being 200 miles from home’ – expecting a very upset reply about her not knowing how she would cope either. Her reply was somewhat disappointing – ‘Nice x’. Thanks mum, miss you too x

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Fresh air could not have come at a better time after exam and deadline season, but sadly, rain came with it. It didn’t stop us getting on the Ullswater steamer. We’d planned to get the steamer from Aira Force to Glenridding, but were put off by the FIVE POUND minimum car park charge for a minimum of two hours (come on National Trust, think of the students!). So we found some cheaper parking in Glenridding and were going to do the trip the other way round.50623442_295821997952160_6529770730094067712_n

I nearly refused to get on the boat when we were told the captain had decided he couldn’t dock at Aira Force because the winds were too strong. Reminding myself that there were no sharks in Ullswater and that I am a good swimmer, I got on board. We did the round trip instead.

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Sorry babe! Yes, I was also quick to snap a photo – I am awful.

Gingerly, Dom and I made our way to the deck of the boat where we were met with rain and wind. At the front of the boat, disaster struck when a massive wave hit me from behind, soaking my phone. Without looking back, I ran back inside with thoughts of whether or not I had insurance for water damage running through my mind. It was only when I sat down to dry my darling iPhone that I looked up to see Dom, who had been stood next to me on the top deck, soaked from head to toe… millennials and technology ‘ey?!

On the second day we managed to see Aira Force waterfall. It was a little like going to see the Tegenungan waterfall in Bali, steep steps, panting. Similar, except I was weighed down by four layers and clutching a flask of tea instead of a bottle of water. It was incredible, though. We didn’t stop long before we had to hike back up to the road. After a massive breakfast of scrambled egg on toast, this was a challenge. I won’t lie, I had heart palpitations which were made worse when I saw children as young as four doing the same climb. Brilliant.

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Aira Force (we climbed to the top of that bridge, hence the palpitations)

Food-wise, we added to our vast list of Wetherspoons we have visited by going to the one in Penrith twice. In other achievements, I tried haggis and bacon for the first time. One, a daring try, one that people are shocked I had never eaten. I didn’t like either, but the haggis was my favourite. I am also proud to say that, for the first time on a visit to the Lake District, I did not burn my clutch out once! I’d like to thank Charlie, my Citreon C1, for being so determined in third gear.

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Ubud: very close calls and very few clothes

Though Ubud wasn’t the first place we visited, it has to be the first place I write about simply because it felt so much like home, and I can’t get it out of my head.

Day 1: Arrival in Ubud

We were driven to Ubud from Canggu, where we had been practically living in beach clubs, lazily passing each day promising to immerse ourselves in culture once we arrived in the jungle.

Our driver, Dolpin, promised to show us some Balinese dancing on the way up to Ubud. The dancing turned out to be some sort of traditional play, extremely oriental with lions and tigers made from the most intricate costumes. It was certainly not what we expected, especially due to the numerous phallic references and imagery which even the children in the audience would have understood. Each to their own, I suppose!

Our next stop was a coffee plantation where we were able to try 12 different coffees and teas for free. Unlike the touristy areas of Seminyak and Canggu, there was no feeling of being pushed to purchase, a feeling replaced by the knowledge that the locals were simply proud to show us their customs. The final coffee was Luwak coffee – the most expensive coffee in the world because each bean passes through a Luwak (civet cat) and comes out in their poo! The sexual references continued here, as numerous times our driver encouraged me to take an aphrodisiac tea home to my boyfriend! Sorry Dom, all you got was poo coffee…

Day 2: spa!

The next day, we convinced ourselves that what we really needed before climbing Mount Batur the following night was a spa day. We’d been recommended Jaens Spa, and apart from getting to know each other a little better than we intended (read on…), it didn’t disappoint! For just under £40, we were able to get a full body massage and scrub, rose petal bath, foot scrub, Indian head massage, hair crème bath and a lunch!

On arrival, the masseuse asked us “Miss Molly and Miss Katherine, is it okay if you share a ——“, “Yes!” we exclaimed before she finished, assuming she said share a room. It was all too late when we realised that what she’d asked us to share was actually the rose petal bath. Fabulous. Stripping down into only disposable underwear, we couldn’t stop laughing at the situation. The full body massage was incredible, except lets just say their boundaries are a little more ‘flexible’ than England.

I’m still horrified to admit that next Katherine and I found ourselves stood side by side, naked except for the pants, having yoghurt, yes yoghurt, slathered all over our bodies. All over. All we could do was stare straight ahead and await what we knew must be next: the rose petal bath.

Night 2/Day 3: Mount Batur

1:30am the next morning I prayed for rain. You can’t climb Mount Batur in the rain. Of course, none came and by 1:45am we wished we were still being covered in yoghurt. We waited on a street corner to be picked up by a taxi driver Katherine found on the internet, who was supposedly taking us to climb the volcano. After collecting Issy, we drove and drove in the darkness for over an hour and a half. No GPS, no idea where we were going and, of course, no English speaking driver. Eventually, we turned down a dirt track that was so uneven I felt like we were dune bashing in Dubai again. From the dirt track we pulled into an empty car park – empty apart from about eight Balinese man who were stood waiting. Oh god, we all winced, what the hell were we doing?

Our driver got out of the car, instructing “you stay here” and went to speak to the men for what felt like an eternity. In this time, each of us accepted that this was most-likely the end, and were surprisingly cheery about the situation due to how ridiculous it was. No idea where we were or how we would get out of this. “If this is how it ends”, Issy said, “at least we don’t have to climb the volcano”. At long last, our driver opened the door and asked “toilet?” We all agreed: an excuse to get out of the car. We were led into a closed restaurant and sat on a bench, while the Balinese men spoke amongst themselves, apparently plotting our murder. It was then that we looked around the room and noticed that covering the walls, on the floor and stacked up against the walls, were abstract paintings of naked women.

At this point, we so didn’t want to climb the volcano that we decided that if being painted naked was our fate, we were fine with that.

Of course, we were proved once again that Balinese people are better than the British in every way when Seedy (incorrect spelling I’m sure, but an ironic name) approached us and introduced himself as our guide, handing us a torch each. In England I’m sure we’d have had a different fate! It turns out that Seedy climbs the 1717m volcano EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Can you imagine? An hour and a half later and 1717m up, he went straight to make us hot chocolate, without even a breather.

We felt doubly guilty for doubting the men when turned out that the reason we were there alone at the start was because our guide wanted us to have the best sunrise. We were the first to the top. Looking down at where we had come from, it was like looking at a string of fairy lights as torches made their way up the mountain. We had about an hour and a half to wait for sunrise and the higher the sun got, the more Dickheads With Drones (DWD) and girls requiring 4248359374 Instagram photos arrived. I can’t lie, we spent most of the time discreetly swearing at the DWD’s drones.

PSA: if you’re going to climb Mount Batur, despite and as a result of my previous anecdote, I would hugely recommend asking your driver and guide to be there to begin the hike at 2:30am. Any later and you’ll be surrounded by other tourists. The climb is extremely tough, but it was so much better doing it in a small group than constantly being over taken!

Day 4: Tegalalang Rice Fields, Tegenungan Waterfall and Pura Tirta Empul (Water Temple)

Our legs were in agony the next day, so we were thankful we’d booked a driver for the day to take us to various attractions. For just £5 each between 5 of us, our driver took us wherever we wanted to go, and waited as long as was needed.

Little did we know, climbing around Tegalalang rice fields at midday and on no breakfast would be twice as hard as Mount Batur. While Tegalalang is a hugely popular tourist attraction, it is also the place of farm work for many, so we tried to be as respectful as possible. The terraces are built into the hill to make the most out of the steep land, which meant a hell of a lot of steps. Sweat was pouring off us as we sang High School Musical as a means of getting us through. “I’d rather be climbing Mount Batur”.

Next was the Tegenungan waterfall and we were thrilled (note heavy sarcasm) on arrival to see a sign reading ‘Waterfall: 162 steps’. 162 STEEP STEPS. Trying to tell ourselves it was bum day yet again, we headed down. Though it was worth seeing, you couldn’t do more than stand in the water as it was so dangerous and a lot of people have died there.

Thankfully, the Pura Tirta Empul (Hindu Water Temple) had no steps. Locals and tourists alike donned bright green water saris with red belts and queued up to get into the water.

Each bath was carved from stone in ornate designs with faces. The water was freezing, but this was a relief from the heat. Dodging huge fish, we filed to each tap and dosed our face and hair in the holy water, about 12 times in 12 taps. It was truly special to see locals treasuring each drop of water they submerged themselves in, and made me wonder what they thought of tourists like me being there.

Ubud was my favourite area of Bali. I fell in love with the market, which was the best market we went to in Bali. We stayed there for four nights but I could have stayed a lot longer. Not that we missed out on doing anything, but Ubud lifesuited me. Early morning hikes on the Campuhan Ridge Walk; late night walks home stuffed with Mie Goreng and Bintang. Our homestay, the local library, was the icing on the cake of a fully Balinese experience.*

*For advice on places to stay in Ubud, read my accommodation blog here!

** For any driver recommendations, feel free to contact me!

Our Balinese Accommodation

From hostels of varying budget, to villas, to hotels and even a public library, we certainly experienced a range of accommodation in our 18 days in Bali. 5 different accommodations costing varying amounts, a staircase of quality up to the luxury of our final stop at the Jimbaran Bay Beach Resort and Spa. I know a lot of people who have been to Bali in the last year, and many that want to go in the future, so I thought I’d start my Bali blogs with a run down of our accommodation!

Accommodation 1: M Boutique Hostel, Seminyak (3 nights)

  • Cost: c. £8 per person per night
  • Breakfast included: yes, toast
  • Location: 7/10
  • Value for money: 10/10
  • Overall rating: 9/10

Seminyak is a popular place for tourists to begin their Bali adventures due to it’s close distance to the airport. I’m so thankful we started here, as it’s where we met our friends who we travelled with for the rest of the time!

Okay, so our first night may have been disrupted by an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.1, but M Boutique was all we could have asked for. We stayed in a 6 bed female dorm, in wooden pods which were quite frankly adorable. Each pod had its own plug socket (incl. USB!) and a fold down table. Huge lockable boxes for our luggage made me feel extremely secure, as it’s only the second hostel I’ve ever stayed in.

The hostel was small but very social. Each evening we’d sit around the outdoor table by the pool with Bintangs sold cheap by the hostel, and share experiences of the day with fellow travellers, before heading out to La Favela – an incredible four-story club a 15 minute walk away.

We chose not to take up the hostels offering of toast for breakfast and went in search of eggs and (of course) avocado on toast each morning. We didn’t have to look far as just across the road was Kynd Community and Toolbox. Both offered a similar menu but with a difference – Kynd was pink-walled and full of hipsters getting photo after photo of their smoothie bowls, but Toolbox was far more relaxed, except for the extremely repetitive music.

Overall, M Boutique gave us the perfect start to Bali – meeting wonderful friends and beginning to feel at home in a more touristy area before moving to more traditional areas such as Ubud. The location was decent – a 15 minute downhill walk from the beach, but it would have been nice to be nearer to the markets and central Seminyak.

Accommodation 2: The Farm Hostel, Canggu (3 nights)

  • Cost: £13 per person per night
  • Breakfast included: yes
  • Location: 7/10 (fair walk from centre)
  • Value for money: 7/10
  • Overall rating: 7/10

Being named the best hostel in Indonesia, we had high hopes for The Farm. Welcomed with fresh towels (they had been dirty in M Boutique), we got off to a great start. A dorm of 8 girls, but this time the other guests were far less approachable. Katherine actually had a stand off with a girl at the air con who, in her jumper and shorts, was complaining of the cold.

The main thing I’d say about The Farm is that it is FULL of insta-models and surfers. I’m not surprised, the place is a perfect instagram aesthetic, but it was almost as bad for self-esteem as the beach bars!

I’m complaining too much – I did love The Farm. Our dorm’s ensuite was OUTDOORS – private of course. It was beautiful to shower under a full moon with the sound of crickets and an Aussie in the distance playing guitar.

We did try breakfast at The Farm, which was a huge bowl of ‘fresh’ fruit which, after perhaps being left out for god knows how long, gave me Bali belly. That was enough of that, back onto the avocado on toast. And there were plenty of places for that! We couldn’t get a seat at Crate so went for the less hipster version, the Loft. Far more chilled and absolutely perfect food.

Accommodation 3: Pondok Pekak Library and guest house (4 nights)

  • Cost: £9 per person per night
  • Breakfast included: no
  • Location: 10/10
  • Value for money: 9/10
  • Overall rating: 9/10

Yes, we stayed in Ubud’s public library. A hidden gem, the library offers a guest house which is a two minute walk from Ubud’s main market. Pondok Pekak allowed us to feel that we actually lived in Ubud, I felt so at home. Walking through the library each morning the staff greeted us warmly (not a rare thing in Bali!!) and we even got hugs when we left. The best part of the stay was having our own space after a week of hostels, and god we spread out!

A near private pool, westerners were a rare sight at the library. Walking through each morning we would see traditional Balinese dance being practiced, or individual movement classes. The library was also across the road from a football field, where children of school age were constantly playing on teams, watched by many crowds.

I would return to Pondok Pekak again and again. Though no breakfast was provided, there wasn’t a day we managed to eat breakfast as, in Ubud, the majority of activities involve early mornings, such as the 2am hike up Mount Batur. *PSA: Belvita breakfast biscuits in Bali are SO much better than in the UK!*

For those looking for a hostel in Ubud, I 100% recommend the one my friend stayed in, Puri Garden Hostel. 10/10 location, includes it’s own restaurant/cafe and has movie nights and morning Yoga!

Accommodation 4: D’Puncak Villas, Nusa Lembongan (4 nights)

  • Cost: c. £20 per person per night
  • Breakfast included: yes
  • Location: 5/10
  • Value for money: 8/10
  • Overall rating: 8/10

Like all our friends, we were meant to be going to the Gilis for four days, and as it was Katherine’s birthday, we had splashed out on lovely villas. Heartbreakingly, the earthquakes destroyed our accommodation, and it was of course a no-go. It was bittersweet to see that Nusa Lembongan has done so well this summer as a result.

We booked D’Puncak last minute – a brand new complex. Here we finally found a decent included breakfast – you could choose from continental, American and Asian! Each villa was immaculate, square and identical, surrounding a pool.

The owner, couldn’t have done more for us if he’d tried. As soon as we arrived we were given his WhatsApp number (seemingly the only way people communicate in Nusa L) and given a tour around our rooms. Robes and slippers, this would be the perfect honeymoon destination!

I think the owner regretted giving me his WhatsApp number as I must have messaged him with questions 5 times a day. The complex offers transport to any part of the island for 100,000 rupees (£5), but it’s not like Bali where you can hire a driver for the whole day – mainly because there are no cars on the island! Eventually I relented and hired a scooter (sorry Dad), and I would only recommend going to Nusa L if you’re willing to ride a scooter.

Accommodation 5 and final: Jimbaran Bay Beach Resort and Spa, Jimbaran (2 nights)

Cost: Dream Room c. £29 per person per night

Breakfast included: yes (BUFFET!)

Location: 8/10

Value for money: 10/10 (a free upgrade helps!)

Overall rating: 9/10

Our last stop was a little luxury before the long-haul flight home. Hands down the nicest place I’ve ever stayed, but we could have been anywhere in the world. I would not recommend coming here expecting a true Bali experience. But for what we wanted – a rest and a little treat – it was perfect.

Originally we’d payed extra for the ‘Dream Room’ which featured a bath on the balcony (neither of us like baths, but if you can get one on the balcony, why wouldn’t you?), but on arrival we were upgraded to The Suite, with a sea view! The first sea view of our trip, the hotel is literally across the road from an idyllic beach.

Another perfect honeymoon destination, Katherine and I convinced ourselves that what we were doing was research for if we got married one day. Utterly pointlessly for us, the bathroom wall was a floor to ceiling glass window into the bedroom. Romantic, I’m sure, but for us, we were thankful to find a blind!

The buffet breakfast was a thing of dreams, though sadly lacking avocado. The hotels rooftop is a place to sunbath by day and drink cocktails by night. As the lift opened I audibly ‘WOW’d. 360° views across the bay, but also across building developments which have sadly run out of money and been left in pieces.

As I lie here now, on a double sun bed, on the rooftop of Jimbaran Bay Beach Hotel & Spa, I realise it’s the perfect place to end the holiday of a lifetime. A winding down to help us appreciate the more authentic, traditional places we have stayed. A wind down I need, being off to Poland just two days after landing in England tomorrow.

It’s obvious we haven’t done the whole travel on a budget very well, but the holiday has been everything we intended it to be. A treat after a year saving up in the working world. We experienced a range of accommodation and I can happily say I would return to all of them!

Stay tuned for the next Bali blog, coming as soon as I have a chance between flying, unpacking and repacking for Poland!

A sweaty exploration of Dubai

It was June 2017, another sunny afternoon uni of Leeds students were spending cooped up inside various libraries making desperate attempts to revise. My friend Katherine and I were among these students, looking wistfully out at the sun and wishing exams were over. A process of 10 minute revision, 30 minutes procrastination led us to desperately decide that summer 2018 would be more exciting. We’d have finished our placements and will go on a huge, blow out holiday somewhere as far away from Leeds as possible.

August 2018. The trip didn’t get off to the best start, with our 15:37 train to Stansted being changed last minute to the 15:37 train to Cambridge, leading to us hopping on and off trains to get to the airport. But we were off. 3 days in Dubai before 18 in Bali.

Dubai is golden. Mad, insane. But most of all, Dubai is hot. People had warned me about the heat, and raised their eyebrows when I said I was going in August, but I was not prepared for the inferno temperatures we found there. 40 degrees by 11am with a wind chill of 52 degrees. It was like being trapped in a sauna. At one point we had to stand outside to wait for a bus for 20 minutes and I was beginning to feel like this was the end. No matter how much water you drank, it was never enough to make up for the amount we sweated out.

As well as heat, Dubai brought many ‘in the world’ moments. We flew into the third biggest airport in the world. We went to the biggest shopping Mall in the world. We went up the tallest building in the world.

As a result of the heat, we spend a lot of time in shopping malls, particularly Dubai Mall, the biggest in the world. Who knew how much a 51 metre tall, 20 metre wide aquarium wall could enrich your shopping experience? Not only that, you can pop out of Zara and go for a quick ice skate, all without going outside! I’ve never been to America before, so I had the chance to see American shops and restaurants like Bath & Body Works and the Cheesecake Factory. Being the biggest mall in the world, the amount of shops, cafes and restaurants seem endless. What was most shocking was when we came across Morelli’s Ice Cream Parlour – somewhere Katherine has been going all her life and a Northern Irish institution. Until she saw it, she thought it only existed in Northern Ireland – Dubai really does have everything.

Driving through Dubai was actually one of my favourite activities, just because of the absurdity of our surroundings. Dusty eight lane motorways were surrounded by glass fronted mansions in uniform design. Colossal billboards advertising new housing developments read ‘THIS WILL BE WHERE YOU HOLD YOUR BABY SHOWER’, which we thought was rather specific. Other billboards advertised Western schools that were moving to Dubai. What was most surreal was seeing road signs for Abu Dhabi and Oman. Both are places I’d love to visit, and it was a tease to have them so close but not have time to visit!

Without a doubt, the desert safari was the best experience I had in Dubai. We were picked up from our hotel in a 4×4 and driven until the tarmac roads turned to desert tracks, which turned into sand dunes. I wasn’t sure how scary dune bashing would be, until I noticed the 4×4 featured steel frames to keep it in place should we flip, discreetly wrapped in beige cushioned leather. God knows how fast we went, but I felt like I was on an episode of Top Gear as the driver flew up and down the sand dunes, desert sand looking like water as it splashed against the window screen.

After an hour of dune bashing, we arrived at what felt like an oasis, a Bedouin style camp. Welcomed by dates and rose water, we sat on cushions on the desert floor eating BBQ food and drinking as much of the free soft drinks as we physically could. The belly dancer succeeded in hypnotising us with her blue jewelled bralet and skirt, however her spell was a little broken by the sign next to the stage saying ‘IT IS AGAINST UAE LAW TO DANCE WITH THE BELLY DANCER’. We all held our breath when a 10 year old boy, not knowing any better, got into the flat stage to dance with this princess. She stopped dancing immediately until he got off and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

Our final morning was spent in the Jumeirah mosque – the only mosque in Dubai that admits tourists. We were presented to by an English lady who had become a Muslim and moved to Dubai, and it was so interesting to hear about why she and others of her faith choose to cover themselves. A clear message of peace was given, and it was obvious how much today’s terrorism is affecting Muslims all over the world.

During the trip, we used the Go Dubai City Card – something I hugely recommend to anyone going there! For only around £120 we were able to pick three attractions/activities – the desert safari, a dinner cruise and a hop-on hop-off bus tour.

We used the bus tour to take us to Atlantis The Palm Jumeriah, the place I had been most excited to see. Driving up the palm was surreal – luxury housing gathered on each literal branch. Like all of Dubai, the Palm was spotless, but with a certain extra glow that desert dust prevented in the suburbs. Atlantis appeared as a distant silhouette, towering over the rest of the Palm with a powerful aura. As we got closer, I realised why people describe it as the eighth wonder of the world.

A pink palace. It was beautiful. From the outside, at least. To be honest I was a little disappointed on the inside, it was almost tacky! *disclaimer* we were obviously only in the area non-guests were allowed – who knows what hidden wonders were on the other side!! Making the most of the air-con, we walked towards Nobu, a luxury restaurant the likes of Kim Kardashian frequent, but were quickly told we needed a reservation. It wasn’t till afterwards I wondered how the doorman knew we didn’t have a reservation? What was it about our awe-struck faces and carrier bags full of water that gave us away?

All in all, I think we were both thankful to escape Dubai. The people were lovely and the city was inspiring, but the heat was just too much. Heat, and the fact that to truly experience the place, we’d have needed a hell of a lot more money. My last straw with the heat came when I walked out of the hotel in my glasses, and they steamed up, as they would when opening an oven. I’ll definitely never complain about English heat again!

Next stop – Bali!

5 things I love about Leeds

T minus 6 weeks until I return to Leeds after a year away on placement, and I couldn’t be more excited. Having lived at home for the majority of the last year, I can’t wait for the freedom of Leeds – is it weird that I’m excited for my weekly trips to Aldi? It was hard to narrow down my favourite things about Leeds into one post, but here it goes!

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  1. Give It A Go activities

Throwing yourself into new experiences is more than encouraged at Leeds. The union offers Give It A Go activities which are usually free and always great fun, whether you find a new hobby for life or not! My friends and I have tried yoga, spin, and trampolining. One of my friends actually went on to compete for the University Trampolining team across the country after never having done it before! This year I’ll definitely be trying the meditation classes the union are offering.

  1. Cake

Through exam procrastination, my friends and I have become experts at where the best and worst cake is located in Leeds. You’re in for a treat if you’re a new first year – the cake at Balcony Café in the Union is yet to be beaten. Other top bakers include the Leeds Corn Exchange and Opposite Café (literally opposite the uni!).

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  1. Up north

I’m from Leicester, which some of you might say is north, but to me, moving to Leeds was moving up north – the furthest north I’d ever been! The location of Leeds gives you fantastic opportunities to explore northern England, which is made even easier by the opportunities the LUU provide to visit places such as Scarborough, Durham and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It’s definitely worth checking out the up coming events to see where Leeds can take you.

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Leeds is only a 20 minute train journey from York, where you can find Christmas markets, beautiful architecture and of course, more cake!

  1. The ridiculous amount of bars and restaurants 

The city centre of Leeds is relatively small compared to other cities like Manchester and Birmingham, but the amount of bars and restaurants crammed in is endless. Whether you want cheap and cheerful, cheap and classy, or fancy blowing out your whole student loan, there’s something for you. Crammed in alleyways and even on rooftops, you never need to go to the same place twice.

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Leeds: where classy cocktails in The Alchemist turn into double vodka cokes in Players followed by a Big Mac.

  1. Transport

Though you can walk from the train station at the bottom of Leeds to Hyde Park at the top in about 40 minutes, it’s up a HUGE hill, with the uni in the middle, and let’s face it, it’s Leeds and rains a lot. Thankfully, you can get from Hyde Park to the city centre for just £1 on the bus (with a student card). Even an uber from the train station to the Hyde Park area is only about £5, which is a god-send when you’re lugging a suitcase.

Oh Leeds I’ve missed you, bring on September!img_7337.jpg

42 for a year: why doing a placement was the best decision I’ve ever made

6:30am on Saturday morning. Head in agony, I have no idea why I feel so sick. Then I remember, a feeling I haven’t felt so intensely in an embarrassingly (for my age) long time. Hung over. I’m 21 and go to the University of Leeds, so how on earth was this feeling so alien to me? Why was my first thought when I remembered the night before: ‘I’m too old for this’?

Anyone that knows me knows that I’m a middle aged woman inside, but this year I feel I truly embodied a 42-year-old. Doing a placement year was the best thing I’ve ever done, but it’s probably aged me by about 20 years.

I’ve treated this year as a sort of taster of adult life – I mean real, married with kids, adult life. I’m lucky my hours are flexible but most days I leave the house at 6:15am and get home at 6pm. My boyfriend and I live quite far apart, which means my little Citroen C1, Charlie, has been a bit of a home-from-home for me throughout the year. I’ve driven almost 30,000 miles in the year, and have the M1 – M69 – M6 route down to muscle memory. It’s been hard living out of a suitcase pretty much all of the time, and I can’t wait to have a proper base back at uni.

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30,000 miles, a new exhaust, new break pipes, new hubcaps and a new washer later. Charlie, you’ve been expensive, but thanks for all the miles x

The biggest difference between uni and full time work, which I now take completely for granted, is coming home from work and not having to do essays, course reading etc. The minute you leave the building that’s it for another day and your time is yours to do what you want with. It’s going to be bloody hard to go back to a degree which requires reading about 302048 million books a month.

Placement tutor: “List some things you’ve got out of your placement.”

Me: “Confidence, responsibility, a boyfriend…”

I have made a conscious effort to do things with my new-found free time to make the most of it before going back to uni, so it’s been a very busy year. First it was my half marathon, then I tried a jewellery class, which quickly ended when I got myself a boyfriend!* I’ve been so lucky to meet someone on my placement, and we’ve experienced so much together this year that university would previously have prevented us from.

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Legend

But what is a blessing is also a curse. Working full days means you have to find time to do other adult things, like go to the bank, the hairdressers, even reply to texts! Anyone that knows me also knows that if I don’t reply to your text in three minutes, I won’t reply for three hours, three days, three months. I’ve got even worse at this this year because I physically don’t have the time or the will to stare at my phone after a day staring at the computer. My first message to people is often “crap sorry forgot to reply”, and there’s a lot of “you’re back from your year abroad already? I thought you still had another six months left…”. I now totally understand how adults can go months or even years without catching up with close friends. I don’t think you can judge people on that, everyone has their own commitments and if yours don’t match up with someone else’s, you might miss each other for a while. Life is a balancing act.

One of the most successful things about this year has been the improvement in my mental health. Anxiety has made uni tough for me, but this year I simply have not had time to crash. Obviously, there have been a few (to say the least) lows, but I can say I’ve never felt so strong. Another adult step I took was buying a proper pill case (how thrilling does life get??) and wow it’s the best investment I’ve ever made. At uni I can miss a lecture if I don’t feel like going, but you can’t be like that in full time work. I’ve learnt to take responsibility for taking my medication, and stop pretending it’s ok to forget it.

I’m definitely ready to get back to being a student but I’m nervous because full time work has become normality for me. Also how on earth did I ever life without a proper salary each month?! I chose not to strictly save this year, and though I’m glad because it’s given me so many experiences, along with way too many new clothes, I’m now dreading the prospect of a student budget.

With two weeks left of my placement, I’m feeling so many emotions. Sad, excited, nervous. I’ve learnt so much in the last year and have gone from having no idea what I want to do, to knowing I want to go into PR and communications. I can not wait to get back to student life, and weirdly, some more of these hangovers!

Can’t wait to see you, Leeds.

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Top tips to securing a placement (from someone who applied for 50…):

  1. Don’t restrict yourself to one industry. If you’re looking for something in PR and are interested in fashion, don’t only apply for fashion brands. It’s likely you’ll get extremely similar experience in another industry that can be applied to fashion!
  2. Always get interview feedback. If you’ve had an unsuccessful interview, ask them where they felt it went wrong and how you can improve. This will help you do better next time!
  3. Don’t restrict yourself to one location. When I started applying, I was only looking at jobs in London. This restricted my choices so much, and it’s often the London brands that don’t pay – extremely logical for the most expensive city. You’ll probably find something just as good looking else where, and London will always be there.

 

 

Happy campers

Spare annual leave led my boyfriend and I to plan a spontaneous camping trip to the Lake District this weekend – three nights in the National Trust’s Wasdale campsite next to Scafell Pike.

My boyfriend is an experienced camper and usually goes to *shudders* fields without toilets or showers. Madness, I know. He was horrified when we got to my car after work and he saw the amount I’d packed, including a literal kitchen sink (what else were we going to wash up in?) and an air bed.

If the trip taught me one thing it’s that my little Citroen C1, Charlie, is not made for the Lake District roads. The poor thing wheezed up the steepest of slopes leading the clutch to burn (totally not the driver’s fault…!)

Without a doubt, Wasdale is the most beautiful part of England I’ve ever been to, if the most difficult to drive around. The Lake our campsite was next to was at least three miles long, surrounded by mountains that looked three miles high! Each morning we would unzip the tent to blue sky and the towering Scafell Pike looking down on us.

Of course we had to climb it. Weighed down with backpacks full of cheese cobs, chewits and as much water as we could carry, we set off on the 978m assent. I’d describe myself as fit, I run and go to the gym a few times a week, so I, naively, thought Scafell would be manageable. Oh how wrong I was. I honestly think it was harder than the half marathon I ran last year. I found myself gasping for breath in a way I would after a long run, and I was only walking. Never have I been in so much pain after a leg day as I was when I woke up the morning after.

Agonisingly, I mistook a point of the mountain for the top, not once but three times. Three times I thought I’d summited. Three times my heart was broken. Towards the top the cloud had thickened to the extent that anything over the edge of the mountain was a thick white fog. It felt almost dream-like. The rocks beneath our feet had also paled in colour, making other walkers stand out more in their fluorescent windbreakers.

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Smiling through Scafell suffering.

Getting to the top was great, but to be honest I was more interested in when I was going to eat my cheese cob, so we headed straight for some shelter.

We took a different route on the way down, and though I have since been told I hugely exaggerate the difficulty of the climb the way I remember it, I’m going to write it anyway.

We took a somewhat off piste route down, and ended up climbing down rock faces that led me to begin composing my interview for when we were featured on Mountain Rescue. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel like Bear Grills as I watched myself heroically scaling the falling rocks. We scrambled down about 80 metres of crumbling rock, but our dare was overshadowed by two men who followed us, practically skating down the rocky slope using their walking sticks like ski poles. Meanwhile, my hands were covered in red dust from clutching so tightly onto the rocks as I descended – dust I wanted to smear on my cheeks in lines to feel like a proper explorer. Maybe it wasn’t as hard as I thought…3dac9f8b-e69d-4c02-a937-e2e8eba9fd21

What made this trip particularly different was the fact that on our campsite there was absolutely no signal, no WiFi, nothing. At first, I did keep checking my phone and sighing at the words ‘No Service’, but within just a few hours I didn’t miss the mind-numbing Instagram scrolling and the memes I’ve seen a million times. It was annoying not being able to even text my mum to say we’d arrived safely, but it felt special to be so far from home, in the middle of no-where with no contact with the outside world, with Dom. All that said, I did spend an embarrassing amount of time on my phone catching up with posts I’d so tragically missed during the trip…

All in all, a perfect weekend. Horrifyingly, I must admit I am now considering going camping with Dom in a… field without a toilet or a shower. It was so liberating living without the handcuffs of social media, though I did seem to post photos of every single sunset and sheep…d8ae13cd-04ab-41d7-ba78-ae6945415c9c

A Shadow

If depression is a black dog, anxiety is a shadow. A shadow of who you are that follows you everywhere you go. You can jump, run, and even swim, but the shadow sticks on you like… well, like what it is, a shadow. Unlike Peter Pan, you can’t just snip the shadow off.

Don’t be ashamed of your shadow. Where would we be without them? Without shadows, we’d swelter, burn, boil on scorching hot days, no shelter. We’d wish rain would come to make us appreciate the sun again. Without the shadow of anxiety, how would we know when we are truly happy, truly content?

How bright is a smile if it never ever fades? Let your darkness help you appreciate the light.

My tips:

  1. Each day, write down 5 things you’re thankful for. It can be anything, from a good grade, your family, or even a particularly good cup of tea!
  2. Treat yourself. Eat that leftover Easter egg (as I did while writing this), have a bubble bath, watch your favourite show. Do you.
  3. Talk.

p.s. we should be aware of mental health every day, not just during this week. Like shadows, you might not always see people’s anxieties without taking a closer look.

White Chrysanthemum – please read this book.

I have recently read ‘White Chrysanthemum’ by Mary Lynn Bracht, and this is why it should be the next book you read. 

I’m bad for sticking to the same set of authors when reading outside of my English Lit degree. Elif Shafak and Khaled Hosseini have my heart when it comes to choosing a new book. But what the likes of ‘Three Daughters of Eve’ by Shafak and ‘A Thousand Spendid Suns’ by Hosseini taught me was that I cannot fall for a book set solely in the twenty-first century UK. I just can’t get sucked into a book that is set in the surroundings I already live in and know about.

‘White Chrysanthemum’ by Mary Lynn Bracht appealed to me because not only was it not set in England, it wasn’t set in the Middle East, which is where my reading generally centres. ‘White Chrysanthemum’ is set begins on the Jeju island off the southernmost tip of Korea, in the year 1943. The Second World War is well underway and Korea is under control of by the Japanese.

The book got another tip from me by being set in two completely different times – 1943, as I said, and 2013. I felt Bracht used this technique which is very common nowadays to successfully show the cause and effect of the Japanese occupation of Korea. As a history student, I’ve studied various aspects of the Second World War, but never from the perspective of the other side of the world. Previously, the Japanese role in the war seemed distant and uninteresting to me, but god, how Bracht’s novel has changed that.

This novel is beautiful.

We are introduced to the Jeju island and haenyeo women – free divers. These women are the bread-winners of their families, diving for long periods of time without any breathing apparatuses – a culture that has been alive for hundreds of years. A strong female community, the novel starts with a feeling of female empowerment. This makes the path the novel goes down all the more shocking. The novel is ugly, too.

The two main characters are sisters, Hana and Emi. Devastatingly, we see precious little of them together. It is only after Hana’s abduction that we see how close they were and how special their relationship was. Though we only witness Hana as a sixteen-year-old, we watch Emi grow from the age of 9, never knowing what happened to her sister. Hana’s abduction and the devastation of Emi’s life of turmoil – the cause and effect. Emi suffers a fate worse than death; watching everyone she loves disappear as a result of war.

‘White Chrysanthemum’ is horrifying, repulsive and addictive.

Bracht uses sixteen-year-old Hana as a tool for educating and sickening the reader as we are taken on her journey through abduction and rape. Hana, like two hundred thousand women during the war, was forced into sex slavery. She was a ‘comfort woman’ – a woman to rape as ‘good luck’ before Japanese soldiers went off to fight. Morning till night, men queue up at Hana’s door, as well as the other girls in the brothel-like captivity. She is raped constantly, all day, every day, for the duration of her captivity.

Bracht doesn’t let us miss a single second of the agony or a detail of the shame inflicted on Hana. We witness her being broken in a way she will never be fixed. We can’t look away when the doctor comes every other week, to check her for disease and effectively disinfect her vagina from the remnants of hundreds of rapists. We are forced to watch Hana and the other girls wash used condoms in a barrel of water, unable to cry out about how wrong that is. Even reading it hurts. I couldn’t put this book down.

The difference between Hana’s life and that of the majority of ‘comfort women’ is that she survived. Bracht almost blushes at this in her author’s note, where it is clear she felt a human connection to Hana. After the horror of Hana’s life, I wanted to thank Bracht for indulging in a happy ending with her survival. I promise I haven’t ruined the novel for telling you that Hana survives.

It is only at the end of the novel that you truly realise that Hana was just a symbol.

A symbol for two hundred thousand women and girls that suffered the same fate. I have no idea why we do not study this at university. It should be on syllabuses everywhere. We should pay our respect for those destroyed lives, both the dead and the survivors. We have learnt so much from the Second World War about conflict, and the point of learning about wars is to prevent them happening again. Learning from our mistakes. How are we supposed to learn from those mistakes if no one knows it happened?

Thank you, Mary Lynn Bracht, for this novel. Please read this book.Screen Shot 2018-05-07 at 15.05.08