Monday, 25 April 2016

Happy Mondays #14


Christ, what a long week. But, for one of the first mornings this week, I've woken up in a good mood and I'm feeling pretty pumped and ready to be productive. I'm currently existing in that horrible revision stage: your exams are near enough for you to be working pretty hard, but not quite close enough to induce full-on cram panic where productivity seems to appear out of total necessity. So here's my middle ground - terrified, overwhelmingly excited for exams to be over, but still not really feeling too much urgency. Today, however, is a break from my desk...to go to a new desk at uni. But it's a desk where there are other people, inevitably extended lunch dates with friends, and a change of scene. I've never been so excited to go to uni. Despite l o n g days of revision boredom, almost total isolation and feeling like I'm starting to go crazy...there have been some highlights this week, which I'm really grateful for.


1. Saturday night 
A Saturday night with your best mates eating Thai food and drinking Southern Comfort until like you're teeth are so sugary and going to fall out, in a pub with the most enormous beer garden AND crazy golf, and then eating Simon's chips on a pit stop home in Peckham McDonald's, even though you said you didn't want any. Does that sound like the dream, or does that sound like the dream? It was. Totally. And when you've pounded so much water the night before that you're not even that hungover and so ready for all the activities that Sunday could throw at you, it's a miracle. I could do with another Saturday night right now.


2. Kite flying
The highlight of Sunday's aforementioned activities. Revision boredom/procrastination caused me to find myself on Amazon last week, excited about my new Amazon Prime membership, and impulse buying a kite in the shape of a parrot. Sunday came, with the perfect amount of wind, and we headed off to Peckham Rye Common to see how our parrot flew. And oh my, it was wonderful. This was my first kite flying experience and I am ready for many more. There's talk of a kite gang (much like a biker gang, but with fewer bikes and more kites) and I'm already dreaming of sunny summer days full of picnics and kites and blasting music through dodgy portable speakers.


3. Tacos
Another new weekend experience. The most illogical way to serve minced beef ever, but my god was it tasty. If Sunday nights aren't for staining your hands with paprika, smothering your face with salsa, and staring longingly at the cheese missing from your heaped taco, then what are they for? I'm a big fan of the taco experience. I like the crunch. Definitely one to be repeated.


4. Ditchling Beacon 
Thursday evening was sent spiralling up Ditchling Beacon, trying to work out if I was seriously risking my life trying to overtake a cyclist, all in the name of the Queen's 90th Birthday. The lighting of the beacon, naturally, on top of Ditchling Beacon as many other fires/beacons were simultaneously lit across the country was a really nice experience. It felt very community-spirited, with lots of different people all coming together, all in the name of good old Queenie. People totally got in the spirit of the evening, making the trek up the beacon...with champagne and plastic champagne glasses in hand (it was the most middle class event I've ever been to) and it didn't even rain. One of the highlights of the evening was meeting a really nice Labrador called Mick - what an excellent name. 

Happy Monday! x
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Wednesday, 20 April 2016

10 things to celebrate the end of exams


The final lectures, the handing in of my dissertation, the almost completion of my final essays was starting to feel like the end. After sleep, celebrations, and a wonderful trip away, I am finding myself being dragged back into reality, reminded of the four exams I still have left to do before I can say goodbye to UCL, the library and days spent trying to cram my brain with facts and quotes I'm already forgetting as quickly as I'm learning. Exam time for everyone is really, really rubbish and always feels like it lasts a lifetime. It makes me stressed, spotty, tired, chubby, frustrated and so so bored. Right now, what's getting me through it all is the knowledge that I NEVER HAVE TO DO THIS AGAIN, and this very comprehensive list of treats I'm planning for my post-exam life. 

1. Eat, drink, celebrate
I'm going out for breakfast, I'm going out for dinner - hell, I may even get breakfast for dinner - and I'm drinking cocktails for breakfast, or juice, or cocktails made from juice. As much as I'm enjoying this revision routine (I'm not) I can't wait for a totally guilt-free days, nights and morning afters, to do whatever I want to do. The great thing about getting degree results just a few weeks after the end of exams is that as soon as you are all celebrated out of one thing, it's basically time for the next one! 

2. Get a massage
There was a time when my shoulders didn't ache from sitting at a desk, stressed and tense, leaning over a laptop. But that was a very long time ago, and I miss it. I currently spend my days trying to find the best way to attach a hot water bottle to my shoulders, and how best to position myself in the bath to get maximum shoulder ache relief. I feel like I'm about 50 years too young for this to be a legitimate pastime. So one of my top priorities is to sort this out: have my back slathered in oil, in a room full of scented candles, and live the dream of pain-free shoulders. 

3. Read the books that aren't good train reads
Some books deserve more attention than you could possibly give them on the train. They need concentration free from screaming children and passenger announcements, and these are the books that have remained on my bookshelf for far too long, until a time when I knew I had the time and space to read them. My most eagerly anticipated are Toni Morrison's God Help the Child, Margaret Atwood's Hag-Seed and, I suppose, I should finally get round to The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Any recommendations or reviews would be much appreciated!

4. Sort of this gap year of dreams
After all that time wishing it would be time for gap year of dreams, it's almost here and largely unplanned. But that is ok, because I've got a huge list of ideas that I just need to decide on and book and then it's going to be fine...and dreamy. I've already got a few trips planned: Greece with my top gal in June, the whole of July in South Africa, and a birthday trip to a surprise destination with Simon in September - so I'm not doing too badly, and I've got plenty of travelling to look forward to! If all goes to plan, there'll also be a trip to trip to the Battlefields in the Autumn, Germany in the Winter, and a USA tour in the Spring.  I'M SO EXCITED. 

5. Get my nails done
I could count the number of times I've had my nails done on one unmanicured hand. Every time I contemplate it I realise that I've left it too late, there's something more worthwhile to spend my money on, and that I already own a lot of nail varnish. But after months of handwriting revision notes and filing my nails so short that they don't dig into my hand when I'm writing exam essays, I'm ready for them to look fab and colourful and summery. 

6. Not-a-summer-bod-but-not-an-exams-bod
I am a self-confessed bored eater, and this is never more problematic than during revision time. Despite endless attempts to fill the fridge with healthy snacks so I don't enter the exam period sad and fat, there's always chocolate and there's always biscuits, and you always want them more than carrot sticks. Whilst I think the notion of a 'summer body' is quite frankly ridiculous, non-descriptive and seemingly relies upon starvation or laxatives, I do think it's time to rediscover a healthier, more toned and, soon to be, more tanned body. If there's one thing I've learned from my brother it's that the key to life is losing more chub than you actually want to, and then you can eat yourself back up again. 

7. Go outside 
The revision period is marginally less tragic when you can revise outside. I have semi-fond memories of revising for my A Levels in beautiful sunshine, sitting in the garden for 12 hours a day. By the time they finished, I had got loads of fresh air, learned all my notes without becoming too tragically bored, and also had a killer tan. Unfortunately, since Easter is so early this year, and exams are early too - the sunny revision dream has not been realised. Instead I've opened all the windows and put on all my jumpers. I can't wait to properly go outside and be outside all day and not have to worry that I won't be able to see my laptop screen, because I don't have to look at it all day any more. I'm going to walk everywhere (unless we have a hopeless summer and it rains all the time, then I'll drive with the windows open). 

8. Go to roller disco, damn it

When I was a kid, my brother, mum and I, along with some family friends, used to go to the roller disco at the leisure centre on a Saturday evening. It was so fun. I can't have been since I was about 11, and I am dying to go again. I wasn't very good at roller blading aged 10, and I don't anticipate to be very good at it now...but I am convinced it's going to be SO FUN. A night of drinks, debauchery and rollerblading in Vauxhall? Yes please. Who's with me? 

9. Get busy in the kitchen
Ok, so this one might not be wholly conducive to no. 5 but it was one of my new year's resolutions, and since returning from Copenhagen I've been inspired to learn to cook Vietnamese food and vegan pastries. I can't wait to have all the time to experiment with different recipes, make up my own, and make a really nice recipe book full of all my favourites. Last year I'd planned to organise a Macmillan coffee morning, but then spending 12 weeks with my fingers in bandages somewhat compromised my baking ability and I never quite got round to it. So that's what I'm hoping to do this year - combine my love of cooking with doing something worthwhile for charity. Keep your eyes peeled, because I'm relying on all you lot to come and eat some cake and help me raise some money. 

10. Scrapbook & crafting 
I started a scrapbook during the summer after my first year of uni, entitled 'Summers of fun', in an attempt to document all the things I did during my uni summer holidays. With 3-4 months to yourself every single summer at uni, I wanted to be able to look back on them and felt like I'd spent them wisely, remembering the things I did and the places I went during them. I half-heartedly carried it on last number, before running out of money I could justify spending on ordering photo prints, stencils, ribbons, and pretty stickers - all of which are absolutely necessary for a good scrapbook. However, I did keep all the bits and pieces I collected from different trips, so I've got them ready for when I start up again this year. Another thing I'm desperate to make is a mobile - you know those ones you can hang above your bed. In the Airbnb we stayed at in Copenhagen, the host had a really cool Moomin mobile, and it's inspired me to make my own. All I need to do is decide on a theme! 


I CANNOT WAIT. 
What are your celebratory post-uni, pre-adult plans? 
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Monday, 18 April 2016

Happy Mondays #13


There's something about a sunny Monday morning that instantly puts me in a good mood. When it's followed by a train that ran on time, a sunny walk home, and a smoothie you're set for a pretty good week, even if it's clouding over and you have to put on socks and a jumper. This last week feels like it went on for ages and then, of course, the weekend went by in a flash. As with every April for the last 7 years, it's one full of revision and essays and bored eating. But what can ya do? 

This week I'm happy because...

1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time 
I've been ready to see this play since before it was dramatised, since reading the novel aged 13. I've been even more ready to see it since it actually became a play, hitting the West End in 2012. So when Emma bagged some free tickets, I let out a *tiny scream* (because I was in the middle of an art gallery when I found out), psyched that my theatre dream was becoming a reality. In the hours before the show I began to doubt that it could ever do the book justice, but boy did it. It was an interesting, clever and compelling piece of theatre. A combination of an entrancing, modern set and powerful physical theatre, Christopher's life and struggle with autism was brought to life. Kaffe Keating's representation of what it is like to live with autism, seen, heard and felt by the audience, was the most remarkable thing about the play. I felt scared - not just for, but with Christopher - as he battled the train station, lost, confused and overwhelmed by the bustle. Nicolas Tennant played a convincing and emotional father, burdened with love, concern and stress for, and over, his challenging son and broken family. The show 100% did justice for the book, and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone. Plus, SPOILER, there's an adorable puppy who features at the end - and since seeing the show I've been acutely aware of how much better my life would be with a Labrador puppy in it. 

2. I'M GOING TO AFRICA
Well, I am when I book it today when I've moved some monies about so I have more than £82 to my name. The plan is to spend 4 weeks in South Africa on a conservation project, working with lions, rhinos and ELEPHANTS. I have wanted to go on safari for longer than I can remember, so the opportunity to go away and spend a whole month on a reserve - helping out and hanging out with animals is the absolute dream. Given that it'll be the first trip I've been on by myself, and actually the first time I've been out of Europe, I'm slightly apprehensive - but all the massive excitement I have for animals and fun is dulling it right now. I'm excited to do a bit of exploring in South Africa as well, and hopefully biting the bullet and doing a skydive. It's hard to be super sad about revision when there are such exciting things to look forward to at the end of it. 

3. Blending 
I've discovered the magic of the blender - and what magic that is. Yesterday evening Simon and I made some pesto, and it was SO FRESH. So fresh. A blend, if you will, of rocket, sunflower seeds, lemon juice, garlic, lemon, basic and a little seasoning makes for a perfect pesto pasta, served with asparagus, cherry tomatoes and chicken. What a summery dinner. This morning I had a huge smoothie craving, and concocted an apple, mixed berry and banana smoothie and it went down a treat. I now officially feel like the healthiest person in the world, and convinced that all that fruit will offset the grilled cheese crumpets I'm just about to demolish. Here's to more healthy blending. 

4. Productivity 
I find that productivity comes in waves. Sometimes I'm really good at being productive: I develop a weird addiction to productivity and I power through all the boredom and revise the hell out of everything. Sometimes I take all my stuff out into the garden, realise I can't see my laptop screen, and proceed to sit outside for hours anyway in favour of warmth, tan and vitamin D goodness. This last week has been a pretty healthy combination of the two. Whilst I feel like I spent a lot of last week sitting in the sun, eating lunch with Nans, I have many pages of revision notes and one completed essay which suggests I managed to get some useful stuff done as well. Just as well, I suppose, since my finals start 2 weeks tomorrow, lol. I hope this week brings more waves of productivity...I need them. 


Happy Monday!
Hope everyone has cheery, sunny weeks. X
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Thursday, 14 April 2016

Travelling: Dairy Free


We are going to the land of pastries and I can't eat pastry. 

This was a distressing thought, and the beginning of an underlying nervousness about my first real dairy free holiday. Gradually, over the last 9 months, living a dairy free lifestyle has become easier and easier - from finding more lacto-free substitutes to learning to anticipate what things probably do have dairy in them. However, eating out still remains the hardest bit . Do you know how challenging it is to buy a dairy free sandwich that isn't tuna? It's unnecessarily hard. So when you're on holiday, and you're 3 meals a day out of your house, without your lacto-free substitutes, and you're trying to navigate a foreign language/culture/understanding of whether this sandwich does actually have any butter in it, it can feel slightly daunting. Turns out that it was much less difficult than I had expected, and I was able to have a lovely, stress-free holiday and eat plenty of tasty food. 

These are my top tips: 

Plan before you go
I love a good pre-holiday research, but I never want to be one of those people that feels compelled to plan out all their holiday meals/restaurants in advance, with little scope for flexibility. There's something about excessively planning food that takes all the enjoyment out of it. Before we jetted off I read lots of blogs, and asked friends for recommendations of restaurants/cafes they'd visited whilst in Copenhagen and received lots of great suggestions. There were a couple I checked out online beforehand, just to check what their dairy free selection looked like, which meant we could head straight to ones that looked varied and not worry about those where I'd struggle to eat stuff. My planning extended to hunting down a vegan bakery in Copenhagen, determined to have at least one pastry whilst I was there. It was a tiny little place on the other side of the city which we never would have stumbled upon had I not known about it previously. 

Don't be afraid to ask 
Ok, so it helped that we were in Denmark and everyone speaks English and you can just ask "sorry, does this have butter in it?" - but I felt like everyone was more than happy to help you out. With more and more people suffering from dairy or gluten intolerances, or opting for vegan diets, lots of restaurants are having to get used to cater for different diets - particularly in cities, particularly in the western world. In instances where I wasn't able to eat something, every single restaurant we went to was more than happy to offer an alternative or a substitution - whether that was to swap the sauce on my steak for a big pot of ketchup, or substitute the mozzarella in a sandwich with handfuls of spinach. In other situations I was pleasantly surprised that things were dairy free - such as the pesto on my hotdog - and I was relieved that I'd asked rather than assuming I couldn't eat it, and doing myself out of a tasty meal. Basically, the motto is: you don't ask, you don't get. 

Find ways around it 
There will always be things you can eat, and sometimes it's just about working out which is the best compromise. I didn't know of anywhere in Copenhagen that offered a proper dairy free pizza - by which I mean one with lacto-free or vegan cheese...but I wanted a pizza, so I just ordered one without cheese. It was still great, and I was so glad I hadn't just opted for a salad instead. One brunch-time we went to a porridge cafe where, in order to get something dairy free, I had to opt for some crazy concoction of gluten free oats and quinoa and rice milk and other magical things that I don't really understand what they are. All I wanted was a bowl of porridge with some tasty toppings, but sometimes you've gotta go fancy/plant-based/anti-every allergy ever to find a way around yours. Most other mornings were spent with a bowl of shop-bought cereal in our apartment - both because it was an easy lacto-free breakfast option, and because no one can afford 3 meals out a day in Scandinavia. Sure, it's less luxurious, but we all love a home comfort and it made hungry mornings a billion times easier. 

Go Asian
I mean Asian food. When I say Asian, I also mean Oriental Asian, because curry always has butter/cream in it. We had 2 really tasty Vietnamese meals, and it was so liberating to be able to eat pretty much everything on the menu. Whether it's Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean - your bets are pretty good. Rice is fine, noodles are fine, meat is fine, veg is fine, all the tasty sauces are fine and if you want something creamy, it's often made with rice or coconut milk and that's fine too. Having these 2 really tasty and really easy meals has made me want to learn to cook more Vietnamese or Thai food - things where I don't actually have to worry about substitutes and feel like I can eat like everyone else, like a normal person! 

Sometimes you just gotta suck it up
Sometimes there is no substitute. Sometimes you just can't eat it. Sometimes you just have to get over it. Sometimes that's really sad. My 'suck it up' mentality is saved almost solely for puddings (and pastries). I didn't go anywhere in Copenhagen where I could eat dessert, and I rarely go anywhere in the UK where I can either - unless it's sorbet, or fruit, but those don't really count. My vegan pastry was, in a word, disappointing and the disappointment only grew as I watched Simon munch on chocolatey, cinammony pastries and we walked past bakeries full to the brim with every pastry. But oh well. It's a sad reality, but not being able to enjoy so many sweet treats made me experiment with more drink options. Instead of opting for a lemonade or a beer, I tried lots of different teas, juices and discovered the best juice of my life: Naturfrisk Ginger Juice. Life changing. 

It's not as difficult, stressful or limiting as you think - promise. Whether you're gluten free, dairy free, vegan, or suffer with any other sort of allergy, don't let it limit you when you travel. There are always ways around it, you've just got to find them. 

Happy travels!

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Monday, 11 April 2016

Happy Mondays #12


I began the week as a super buzzy, cheery holidayer feeling more relaxed than I have done in months, soaking up the wonder that is Copenhagen. I ended the week feeling frustrated: post-holiday blues and the knowledge that I have a virtual gigantic pile of uni work to do with absolutely no motivation to do any of it. The relief of handing in my dissertation, followed by an Easter weekend away and then an amazing holiday has made me forget how to read/write/concentrate...BUT today is Monday, and the beginning of a new week. I am certain it will be less fun than last week, but hopefully it'll be a teensy bit more productive. 

The things that have made me happy this week are...

1. Holidays 
This was a really long anticipated holiday, but it was absolutely worth the wait. I'd been so excited to go to Copenhagen for such a long time, and it was such a perfectly timed getaway. A belated birthday treat, positioned straight after an intense last term at uni, full of deadlines and dissertation. Though we were only away for 5 days, it felt like a proper break - when we got home it felt like we'd been away for ages. I'm hoping that the lovely break away, plus a few days procrastinating/readjusting time, will put me back in the mood to get on with some actual uni work this week...with the knowledge that next time I go on holiday I'll have finished my degree forever! To hear more about my trip to Copenhagen, check out my photo diary (http://bit.ly/1qux19b& read about what we got up to (). 

2. Speedy reading 
I get this weird satisfaction out of reading books really quickly: not skim reading them, but just having loads of time to sit down and smash out a book. It takes a certain kind of environment, and it takes a certain kind of book - and it turns out that Acts of Contrition by Jennifer Handford and a 2 hour flight and 2 hour train ride home was the perfect combination. By no means was it the best book I've ever read, but it was exciting, fast-paced and a real page turner. The story follows Mary, her family, and a big secret she's been keeping from her husband. As the story unraveled, I felt like I could both sympathise with and be disappointed in Mary - but always eager to know exactly what would happen, to her, to her husband, and to her seemingly perfect family unit. It was a good read, and such satisfaction to open a book and have finished it a few hours later. 

3. Modern Family 
There was this incredible time when Modern Family was on Netflix, but alas that time is no more. After a long day of sightseeing and a nice meal out in Copenhagen, we headed back to our apartment with the permission to use our Airbnb host's Netflix. Turns out Danish Netflix is like British Netflix but a billion times better (and with Danish subtitles), and Modern Family was right there staring at us. A couple of episodes when we got back in the evenings, or over breakfast or getting ready in the morning, and by the time we left we'd almost finished a whole series...I've dedicated a lot of time to working how out how I can watch the rest of the seasons now we're back in the UK, and can't find any way to do so without paying loads of money or streaming it illegally. WHY? I'd say that if you haven't seen Modern Family then you need to go and do so right now...and if you can find a way to do that, please tell me how, so I can too. 

4. Quality time 
It's really easy, too easy, to get wrapped up in our own little lives and thoughts and worries and habits, and not take enough time to step back, chillax and spend quality time with the people we love. Whether its your friends, your partner, or your mum, I think it's really important to set aside some time where conversation extends beyond "what's new?" or "what's for dinner?" and actually find out how people are, what they've been doing, what they're thinking, and do fun stuff together. Zooming down to Wiltshire for Easter weekend and then having our break in Copenhagen was a really nice opportunity to spend some quality time with Simon - to travel, to sightsee, to sit in coffee shops and not say much but just be there with each other. I've come home ready for a couple of months of moaning about revision, of spending weekends bulk making meals to put in the freezer and sit in bed and watch films...you know, with some quality time squeezed in somewhere. 

Happy Monday! X
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Saturday, 9 April 2016

5 Days in Copenhagen


When your boyfriend surprises you on your birthday with a city break to your current no. 1 destination, it's pretty much the best thing ever. When it's booked, paid for, but you're not going for another 4 months (because your birthday is at a rubbish time of year) and you have all that time to anticipate, get excited and, of course, do some thorough research, it's even better. After reading every single blog which so much as mentioned Copenhagen, and seeking out recommendations on social media, I was ready. Nearly every single blog or article I'd read referenced"48 hours in Copenhagen" or "how to spend 3 days in Copenhagen" but we were lucky enough to have 5 days, well, 4 and a half, and this is what we did on our lovely, long trip...

WHERE TO STAY
I had zero input in choosing where to stay as Simon had booked it all for us, but he got it totally right. Airbnb is great, and the more I use them, the more I love them. Of course they don't offer you the same sort of luxury as a hotel, but they're usually so much cheaper, more cosy and give you the option to do a bit of self-catering to save some money. We stayed in a lovely little apartment in the Amager East district, just under 2 miles walk outside of the city centre. Rented out only when the owner goes on holiday herself (so I can't find a link at the moment!), it was like being welcomed as house guests in someone else's Moomin-filled home. It was equipped with everything we needed - a little kitchen, bathroom and a lounge/bedroom hybrid looking over a balcony. It was comfortable, cosy and the perfect space to tap into some Danish Netflix after a big dinner and a long day of sightseeing, or to scoff some cereal in the morning to save on splashing out on Danish breakfast. There are loads of Airbnb options in Copenhagen - and I would recommend the Amager district. We felt like we were staying amongst the Danes, rather than surrounded by tourists - and there were more options for cheaper eating/drinking than in the centre of the city. The majority of hotels seemed to be in the Vesterbro district, only a short wander from the centre. Vesterbro felt a lot like East London, packed with trendy restaurants, cocktail bars and hybrid record/coffee shops. There are plenty of options for different types of accommodation - different bases from which to explore the city to suit all budgets. 

HOW TO GET ABOUT
Copenhagen is so flat, I don't think we walked up or down a single hill. We walked pretty much everywhere - from our apartment to the city centre, and around and between all the sights. The large majority of the city centre is pedestrianised, and there are few cars (but lots of bikes) in the areas which aren't. Wide pavements and open parks and squares make it the perfect place to explore on foot. Alternatively, you can joint the Danes and hop on a bike. We were excited to try out the City Bikes (basically the same as Boris Bikes but each has a tablet on the handlebars so you have SatNav - incredible) but unfortunately the Danes are a tall people, and I am a tiny people and my legs weren't long enough - a very upsetting realisation. However, if you do have legs long enough, I'd definitely recommend renting a bike and exploring the city since there are cycle lanes everywhere and it's such an easy, cheap and safe way of getting about. The Metro was the easiest way to get to the centre from the airport (and vice versa), and was a lot like the DLR so you can sit at the front and set where you're going which is fun. Bus travel was also really good. We only travelled on the bus twice, once to save our (my) sore feet and once to avoid the rain. At about £3 per person per journey, it's not the cheapest way to get about, but the buses are pretty luxurious, more like the coaches we have in the UK, where everyone sits down and there's WiFi. 

WHAT TO SEE
Copenhagen is home to a perfect combination of history, culture, art...and fun. There was so much to do, and having 5 days in the city was really nice, meaning that we didn't have to rush too much to see almost everything we wanted to. 

We stumbled upon Freetown Christiania by accident, a kind of hippy neighbourhood come commune, located right next to the city centre, the strong smell of weed and shwarma was one of our first greetings into Copenhagen. Freetown Christiania is a society in itself, made up of approx. 850 who live and/or work there, separate from the Danish government. It's hard to explain what it was like, and photos were prohibited since they were almost certain to reveal the illegal buying and selling of weed - which was in no way subtle, displayed on stalls much like those at a school fair. At first it looked a bit like a derelict playground, paths separating areas of land decorated with graffiti, with outdoor toys and seating. But as you found the centre of the micro-city, it felt more communal: there were shops, workshops, cafes, a stage, and it was buzzing with all different kinds of people. From what I understand, the future of Freetown Christiania is somewhat shaky, so definitely go now whilst you still can. It was a weird, but wonderfully freeing experience. 

We walked past Borsen and Christiansborg Palace on our first evening in Copenhagen, and went back the next morning to see it in daylight. Borsen is the old Stock Exchange, and the first thing we noticed was the enormous copper spire made of four intertwined dragon's tails - topped with 3 crowns to symbolise the Scandinavian powers of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. We had a little sneak peak into Christiansborg Palace, but many parts weren't accessible to the public since they're still used by the Royal Family and the government. It was pretty grand - high ceilings, gold edgings and lots of enormous mirrors - but it felt much more modern to me than palaces we see in other parts of Europe. We had a wander round the courtyard, before heading off on the next part of our sightseeing adventure. 

Unsure as to where everything was, and having not quite got our bearings, we decided we'd explore the city by boat. We jumped on a Canal Boat Tour, which was really reasonable at approx. £10 each for about an hour. The tour began outside Christiansborg Palace, and took us through the canals past the National Bank, to Nyhavn, alongside the National Theatre, up to the Little Mermaid, and back down in a big loop past the house boats, the city library and through the ultra-posh part of the city. The tour was really worthwhile, and we learnt a lot: the Danish flag is the oldest flag in the world, some of the canals in Copenhagen were redesigned to look like those in Amsterdam in an attempt to attract the middle classes, and the Little Mermaid statue has been decapitated twice. Finishing the tour windswept but wise, we were much more informed about where everything was (roughly) and it gave us some inspiration for more things we wanted to see. 

Can you go to Denmark and not go to the Lego shop? I don't think so. It was actually pretty much the same as every other Lego shop I've been to, but we made the most of it and created ourselves as Minifigures. You choose your own face, hair/hat, top, bottoms and accessory and then you're ready to go (well, once you've paid for it). We were slightly disappointed with the accessories available, and spent a long time looking for a sword for Simon but were met only with many, many pitchforks. In the end he, grumpily, settled for a cat whilst I took away a tiny chimp. Worth a novelty trip if you're there, but it's essentially just a normal Lego shop. 

Our trip to the Round Tower was one of our favourite things we did in Copenhagen. A 17th century tower located right in the centre of the city, you can climb up it (it's all sloped rather than steps so makes for a very easy climb) and see beautiful views over the entire city. Even though we went on a bit of a cloudy day, Copenhagen (and the surrounding area) is so flat that you can see for miles. Looking out to sea, and seeing all the wind turbines in one direction, and spotting other sights we wanted to visit in others - it was really nice to go up there and get a feel for the city, with all its tall spires and copper roofs, as a whole. If you have the chance to venture up on a sunny day, I bet it's even better. 

We both love a castle, and the realisation that Kronborg Castle (the one that Hamlet's based on) was going to warrant 90mins travelling each way was a little soul destroying. However, we then discovered Rosenborg Castle right on our doorstep, home to the crown jewels. As with lots of sights in Copenhagen, it shuts at 2pm (WHY?!) which we didn't realise...and arrived at 1.45pm with no time to look round. We had a bit of an explore from the outside, wandering round the castle grounds before heading over to the National Art Museum - the Statens Museum for Kunst. We first headed towards the Danish and Nordic art, anticipating forests, vikings and battles...of which there was actually very little. Then we made our way over to modern European art, which was pretty cool. My knowledge of art is non-existent, but we're talking cool light installations, hand-sewn flags with statements about freedom on them, and a stuffed man with really, really long legs. We only stayed about an hour, by which time I was in need of some sugar and a sit down, but the museum is huge (and free) and there's plenty to explore. If you know about art or are especially interested in it, I imagine it's really awesome. 

One slightly drizzly morning, with tummy's full of porridge (more to come on that...) we headed up to the Botanical Gardens. Again, awkward opening hours meant that we had missed the hour long daily opening slot to go in the greenhouses, but we could still wander around the gardens. Since it was early April and still pretty chilly, it was a bit bare - but reminded me a of a National Trust-esque garden, which I'm sure is beautiful in the summer. For us, it was a nice park, a big lake and some good rockeries which we could climb up and down. As it brightened up, we made our way towards the Little Mermaid statue which we'd seen on the boat tour. However, en route, we unexpectedly stumbled upon Kastellet - a star fortress with a church, and a windmill at the top of it. It was pretty deserted, aside from the odd jogger or dog walker, so I can't really tell you much about it aside from it being a really well preserved fortress which is now part of modern military barracks. It's definitely worth a visit - especially if you're going to see the Little Mermaid anyway! Hans Christian Andersen was from Copenhagen, and a statue of The Little Mermaid was erected in honour of his tale. It was really busy when we visited, with tourists clambering on the rocks to get their picture taken with the statue, but so iconic that you can't not go and see it. 

The rest of our time in Copenhagen was mostly spent just wandering. We wanted to make sure we saw the iconic Nyhavn (the place in all the pictures with the brightly coloured buildings); plenty of time was spent wandering up and down Stroget (the main shopping street/square); and in between all the different areas of the city - from our apartment in Amager, to restaurants in Vesterbro, to attractions in Christianshavn. There were still a couple of things we didn't have a chance to see that we really would have like to. Firstly, Tivoli Gardens - the theme park in the centre of Copenhagen! It looks magical, and we were constantly teased walking past it, knowing that it opened for the Spring on the day we left. I don't imagine it's cheap, but it looks like a small-scale Disneyland - and would, therefore, be almost certainly worth every penny. We went to the city library, named the Black Diamond, in the hope of seeing a highly praised photography exhibition; unfortunately, when we got there it was closed...open only from 1pm-2pm on a Friday (naturally...?). We had hoped to get bikes to cycle up to the Assistens Cemetery - a cemetery come park, described as "Copenhagen's answer to Central Park" - since it was a little way out of the city. However short leg crisis, followed an attempt to do the walk which only resulted in hanger (anger caused by hunger) and big rain clouds, meant we gave up and went in search of vegan pastries instead. Lastly, we quite fancied the look of the Experimentarium, which we think was a more hands on version of a science museum. It looked like really good fun, but it was never near enough the top of our list or bad enough weather for us to actually end up there - probably a really good rainy day activity though. 

WHERE TO EAT
Every single thing we ate in Copenhagen was really good...apart from one rogue, vegan pastry. The first thing we noticed was that you could buy a kebab anywhere. Literally anywhere. Every other shop sold shwarma. The next thing we noticed was that the Danish love sweets, with lots of shops entirely filled with pick 'n mix style buckets. Kebabs and sweets aside, food in Copenhagen was definitely all about the quality...but this did come at an expense. We're talking £50 for 2 bunless burgers and 2 drinks. We actively sought out the cheaper restaurants, avoiding eating right in the city centre, but generally I think you've just got to suck up the cost of the food and enjoy it while you're there (...and then spend weeks eating pasta when you're home). 

Breakfast/Brunch
After a glowing review from Katy, I knew we had to try Mad & Kaffe's Danish breakfast offering. It's a tapas style breakfast basically, where you choose 3, 5 or 7 small dishes which all come served on a giant board. It was pretty standard breakfast food: eggs, bacon, smoked salmon, fruit, pastries - you know - but it was all really tasty, and didn't leave you feeling bleugh and stodgy. We went on a Tuesday morning at about 10.30am, and it was packed out and we sat outside. To get a table at a weekend, I'd suggest you've probably got to hit it up quite early since they don't take bookings. Another recommendation from friends who visited a couple of months ago was Grod, Copenhagen's porridge cafe. So this place just serves porridge - but not only does it offer sweet, breakfast-style porridges, there's the option for savoury ones too. Simon tried a Dahl-style one, and a kind of soy/chicken/coriander rice-y oriental one. He loved both, and was always keen to go back for more. There weren't too many dairy free options, so I went for a gluten free oats and quinoa porridge with rice milk (literally felt like the most 'Whole Foods' gal ever), topped with apple, blueberries and almonds. Sure, it was tasty but, to me, it just tasted like a normal bowl of porridge. 

Lunch
We weren't really sure what to expect from Danish food, but turns out it was hotdogs. But incredible hotdogs - really good meat, lots of toppings, bread that's crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Magical. Our best lunch, without a doubt, was definitely a hotdog from Polse Kompagniet at the Copenhagen Street Food Market - an enormous indoor market full of some of the best looking food you've ever seen in your whole life. We had really hoped to go back to the Street Food Market, and had our eye on some tasty looking Korean stuff and some Argentinian barbeque, but unfortunately it was only open Friday, Saturday & Sunday and we missed our chance. 100% go if you get the chance. A couple of times we ended up in a Joe & the Juice for a coffee (or a juice), and this was another great spot for lunch. These cafes were everywhere - I'm pretty sure every street has a Joe & the Juice on it, and were designed as an answer to healthy takeaway/on-the-go food. I had a really good turkey sandwich, and there were lots of dairy free/gluten free/vegan options. Is it really lunch unless you finish it off with a pastry? Not for Simon. I was surprised by actually how few pastry shops there were, but the best one we visited was in another food market - Torvehallerne. It was called Laura's Bakery, and Simon opted for a cinnamon pastry topped with chocolate. At the same time, I visited a little vegan bakery down the road (which I'd read loads of good reviews of) and had the most average, actually well under average, pastry of my life. I don't think its vegan-ness had anything to do with it, it was just a really dense, slightly burnt apple and cinnamon pastry. I was sad.  

Dinner
Lots of options for dinner, but lots of really expensive options. There were Italian and burger restaurants everywhere, but we didn't fancy that every night. A recommendation from a friend to visit Neighbourhood Pizzas was an excellent one - and one of the best pizzas I've ever had (despite the fact I had to have it without cheese...). It's a pizza/cocktail restaurant, where everyone sits on long benches and it's all black interior and very cool. We took our pizzas to go, and they were ready super quickly and just SO GOOD. If you're in Copenhagen, you have to go here. My favourite restaurant however, was a Vietnamese place called LĂȘLĂȘ Street Kitchen which we went to on our second night, and chose to go back to on our final night. There was a choice of large main meals, or the option to get several smaller dishes - and all of it was really fresh, healthy and tasty. The highlight for me was this incredible ginger juice they served (which I've since looked to see if I can get outside of Denmark...you can't) which pretty much changed my life. It was also really good value, and our only real answer to Copenhagen cheap eats. One evening we decided to stay a bit closer to the apartment, and visited a little restaurant which had been busy every time we walked past called Cafe Pelikan. Run by a lovely Danish lady, the food was super tasty and the atmosphere very chilled. The whole menu was in Danish, so I can't tell you what they served other than the bunless burgers we had, but it was nice to feel like you were at a proper 'local' restaurant. 

TIPS & TRICKS 

  • Food in Copenhagen is expensive. You can try and save money by not eating in the very centre of the city and not buying too many cups of coffee, but ultimately you've got to eat and everything we had tasted so good. Beer, generally, wasn't as costly as we expected. 
  • Sightseeing in Copenhagen is pretty good value - the boat tour wasn't too expensive at all, some of the museums are free, and other sights aren't going to break the bank. 
  • Some restaurants add on a non-optional 25% service charge. Don't go there. 
  • Danish people are so happy & friendly. Ask them stuff - everyone we met was more than happy to help us. 
  • April is a nice time of year to go. We were quite lucky with the weather, with it only properly raining once, and it was a good temperature (with a warm coat) for walking round all day. I guess it's also pre-tourist season, so we didn't feel like we were surrounded by tourists all the time.
  • Download the app to buy bus/metro tickets - it saves so much time because bus drivers will only take the exact change. 
  • Shop around for postcards, and don't pay £6 for 4 postcards and a stamp as I did...
  • 4 and a half days was a really nice amount of time to spend there. We got to see plenty of things without rushing about, and had a chance to explore the places we didn't already know about. A week might be a bit too much - unless you're planning to go on day trips to other parts of the country or to Sweden. 
It was a really lovely city, and a really lovely trip
 - and I came home feeling like a really lucky girl. 

Have you been to Copenhagen? What were your favourite bits?
For more photos see my last Photo Diary post: http://bit.ly/1qux19b
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Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Monday, 4 April 2016

Happy Mondays #11


MONDAY AGAIN? This is not just a happy Monday, this is an excellent Monday, because I am in Copenhagen with my favourite person. I've learned that if your day isn't full of happy Danish people, unlimited pastries, and a beautiful city then you're doing it wrong. I wish every Monday was like this.

This week I am happy because...

1. Copenhagen
It feels like forever since I've been on holiday, and this trip kind of feels a teensy bit like the beginning of travelling gap year of dreams - whilst I block out the reminder of remaining exams. Copenhagen is a beautiful city, and we're having a wonderful time here. It's calm, it's peaceful, there's so much to do and see, and there are bikes EVERYWHERE. Our highlights so far have been: the best hot dog of my life, an awesome boat tour, seeing the views over the city from the Round Tower, and visiting Alternative Christiana. Look out for a full post on my return! 

2. Matt's hoooome 
It's uni holidays and Matt's home! Admittedly I haven't seen that much of him, following an Easter weekend away, and jetting off to Copenhagen a few days later, but it's so nice having him around and I'm looking forward to more hang times when I'm back. Days spent at home are made infinitely better by having someone to binge watch The Bachelorette with, procrastinate remaining degree life with, and to put the kettle on for you. Stay here and don't leave me please. 

3. Easter eggs 
Last weekend was relatively egg-less. I had an egg, but I didn't really fancy it, and I left it at home whilst we zoomed off on countryside adventures. But now I'm back, and I'm all over the dairy free, dark chocolate egg goodness. I was treated to a Sainsbury's dark chocolate egg (which is surprisingly tasty) and a Montezuma dark chocolate egg with BUTTONS! If there's one thing I miss it's chocolate buttons, and these dark chocolate ones more than make up for it. There's something about Easter eggs, especially if they're kept in the fridge and they make that amazing crack sound when you break them, which is so great - and tastes way better than normal chocolate. 

4. New coat 
Hello, meet sensible Laura who's just invested in her first waterproof coat with a hood. Does this make me a grown up? I think so. In recent weeks/months/years I have regularly found myself hideously inappropriately dressed for the weather, often damp, often cold. But no more. In a post-dissertation effort to spend my way to bankruptcy, I purchased a Jack Wolfskin coat - not the most flattering coat you've ever seen, but it has a built in fleece and I feel like I'm being hugged forever. I'm still waiting for some proper, torrential rain so I can go and stand outside in it and see how wonderfully dry I stay. It's a great time to be alive.  
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Friday, 1 April 2016

This month: April


It's the first day of April and I'm going on holiday. I'd call that a pretty good start to the month. But, post-holiday, April is going to be a busy and, almost certainly, l o n g month of essays and revision - made better only by remembering that they are the last essays and exams! But, since there's only so many hours a day a girl can read academic journals and memorise quotes, I decided it was important to plan in some other stuff: some days out, some books to read, some films to watch, some friends to see. And here is my plan. 

to read
Acts of Contrition - Jennifer Handford 
Another freebie Kindle read, and I'm intrigued. A story of a woman, wracked with panic, guilt, when an ex re-enters her life. What will happen when she tells her husband? Is it a tale of love or lust, forgiveness or relationship breakdown?

Three Daughters: A Novel - Consuelo Saah Baehr 
I have wanted to read this for ages. A novel about three generations of Palestinian women, and how they negotiate their contexts of war and conflict. It's the same world, but different times and different women - how will each live within it, or be able to escape it?

The Heart Goes Last - Margaret Atwood
This has been on my bookshelf for 7 months now, and it's time. In true Atwood style, a dystopian novel, introducing us to a society in the midst of a social experiment where individuals are guaranteed a stable life, and their own home on the premise they spend every second month in a prison cell. What happens when our upstanding citizens are locked up, and our criminals are allowed to roam free? 

to watch
Daredevil season 2 
Season 1 had us hooked, and I'm itching for the next one. The notion of a blind superhero is crazy cool, and I loved how dark and glossy the show looks. My knowledge of Marvel is non-existent, but everyone keeps telling me to prepare myself for The Punisher which is a terrifying and awesome name for a comic book villain. 

House of Cards season 4
This is a bit of a cheat because I've already started it...and I was ready to finish it, but then Simon went AWOL and watched the entire rest of the series without me and without any warning. So now, we're going to watch them all over again, as punishment. I find House of Cards difficult to binge watch - not because I don't think it's great, but because I feel like sometimes I need to let it sink in before I can crack on with the next. I reckon I can make this one last the whole of April. 

The Night Manager 
I am really bad at watching stuff when it's on tv because I just can't deal with the prescribed time at which I have to watch it. I've seen snippets of The Night Manager, and recorded it all, so I'm ready to watch it at my leisure. I'm excited after hearing such good things, and reading lots of glowing reviews. 

to go
Copenhagen belated birthday break
It's Friday and I'm going to Copenhagen baby! A very generous and thoughtful birthday trip, courtesy of Simon, and I can't wait to hang out with mermaids, go to castles, zoom about on bikes, eat vegan pastries, and make myself in Lego. HOLIDAAAY. 

Weekend road trips
Simon and I have decided that one weekend, or one day in one weekend, a month we'll hop in the car and go on a proper day out. We've started making a (rather ambitious) list, with aspirations of the Norfolk Broads, Hever Castle, Stratford-Upon-Avon, the Lake District...and that's just the beginning. With petrol in your car, and a National Trust membership in your hand, the world is your oyster. 

Brighton beach
It's getting sunny, it's sort of not raining as much. It's time to go to the beach. 

to see
Overdue dinner dates with Fergus & Sang
When one of your oldest friends lives closer to you than he has in years and years, you'd think you'd be all over it and see each other all the time. You'd think. So now is the time, planned months in advance, a well overdue dinner date with lovely people

Mahoosive catch-ups and holiday booking with Soph
Manic dissertation writing and zooming off on holiday on my part, and horrid yucky illness and crazy working hours on Soph's part means that it's been a bajillion years since we've seen each other. A catch up is desperately needed, and let's finaaally book our summer holiday!

Belated Easter with the Adventure Team
Unable to fulfil our exciting Easter plans, I'm now left with two Easter Eggs with Ed and Emma's names on them. A countryside adventure and an evening of chocolate consumption awaits. 
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