Travelling in Twos: The Intricate Art of Travelling with an Incompetent Fool


Lesson 1:

Never leave your keys with someone who can’t even look after their own passport.

Lesson learnt. The hard way.

Yes, that’s right, I’m easing myself back into the ‘blogging game’ with what should have been a lovely little summary of my time in Berlin. Instead, my supposed ‘comeback’ has turned into a tirade against my own, useless self; because, yes, in case you hadn’t already guessed, the aforementioned ‘incompetent fool’ is none other than myself. Yours truly. Alice ‘The-Lost-Cause’ Parsons.

Surprised? Anyone?

Nope. Didn’t think so.

If you know me, in even the minutest degree, you’ll no doubt be wondering what major cock-up is about to unfold in front of your intrepid eyes. And I can’t say I blame you. Only this time, it wasn’t entirely my fault, I promise. And this time it wasn’t even a cock-up, as such. There was no passport involved or British Embassy of any sort (DON’T ASK). Nor was there talk of any embarrassing tannoy announcements being made or search parties being issued in my name (AGAIN, BEST NOT TO ASK). No, this time, it was an honest mistake that has since been HIGHLY exaggerated by my so-called friends; friends who seem to revel in the smallest of errors I make. Cheers, guys! Your support is always appreciated.

Now, I could have chosen not to divulge this minor error, like any sensible human-being who doesn’t wish to let their failings haunt them forever. But I’m no sensible human-being, let’s face it! So, instead, why don’t you sit back and revel in the most painfully mundane, and yet frustratingly idiotic, story you’ll ever read. Apologies, in advance.

It was all going so smoothly. Or, so we thought. The journey to London was easy. The Welsh win against England was glorious. The alcohol consumption was excessive and the hangover horrendous. But we were happy. Admittedly, we may have managed to ‘misplace’ my glasses before we’d even left London. And, admittedly, we may have consumed our entire body-weight in hangover food, to the point where I physically couldn’t move for fear of upsetting my stomach. But crippling bellyache aside, we were good to go.

Arriving at Stansted within plenty of time, we glided through security, effortlessly and with no hiccups. For once. We even had time for a cheeky, refillable coffee from the airport’s Spoons; a thrifty, little trick we’d learnt whilst severely hungover in London. Yes, this was the life! We arrogantly thought to ourselves. Travelling had never been so simple; so carefree. We were experts. Pros, even. There was just one slight issue:


They’d only gone and bloody changed it since we last flew, hadn’t they? The cheek of it! Now, just hours before flying, we were frantically trying to find some miraculous way of avoiding that extra charge! Two. Small. Bags. Not even the normal sized handluggage would pass anymore. Two SMALL bags. I mean, honestly; you’re a budget airline, for God’s sake! Stop trying to find ways of making us pay over the odds unexpectedly! It’s not like these new rules are plastered all over your website or anything; or that we were sternly warned by a good friend, the night before, to consider ‘downsizing’ our previously perfect-sized cabin bags. Yeah okay, alright, this one might be on us! But I digress. Rejigging its entire contents so that every valuable item and essential belonging was now on her person, Owens squished her supposedly-empty handbag into my rather enormous cabin bag and we proceeded to wait for the inevitably delayed flight; anxious that we may be caught out for our cunning ways. We weren’t. Thank God.

It all went so smoothly. It really did. We landed at Berlin Shchoenefeld in good time; a fact Ryan Air couldn’t help but boast about:

“Last year over 80% of Ryan Air flights arrived on time!”*

Gloated a lilting Irish voice, over the victorious fan-fair. Not sure that’s really something you need to boast about, mate. That’s like me saying:

“Last year over 80% of my morning-alarms went off on time,”

And failing to mention the long list of missed trains, cancelled meetings and postponed appointments that resulted from the remaining 20% of accidental lie-ins!* But whatever helps you sleep at night, I suppose. Laughing to myself at the Airline’s delusional positivity, I reached up into the overhead locker and grabbed my bag from above. Edging it out carefully, so as not to drop the hefty boulder it had become onto some poor, unsuspecting head, I noticed a set of keys loose by its side. More specifically, I noticed a random, little dude chilling at the end of the keyring; some little figurine of a nondescript guy in a nondescript red shirt.

Perhaps, it’s meant to be the owner.I thought to myself. Bit odd carrying around a figure of yourself but, hey, each to their own! I scanned the seats around me, briefly. Nope. No non-descript men in non-descript red shirts here today. Maybe I should hand them in! I pondered. But, then… I’m right at the front of the plane and there are still another thirty odd rows behind me to get off. What if someone’s still waiting to get to this locker? My brain whirred with dilemma after dilemma; the cogs turning very, very slowly (as usual), jilting at the anticipation of each and every outcome. I don’t want someone to think I’m just stealing their keys for the hell of it! Ugh, but I can’t just leave them either. What if they’ve already got off the plane? Without my Best Friend to consult, I really was at a loss for what to do. Oh, I know! I exclaimed (mentally, of course – I’m not that weird). I’ll mention it to the flight attendant. Yes, that’s the right thing to do, Parsons! Congrats.

Hopping off the plane, somewhat proud of my good deed, I patiently awaited Owens, who had been sat about ten rows behind me. With a twat-ishly large, obnoxiously arrogant grin, I greeted my friend and jumped onto the sweat-inducing, jam-packed shuttle bus. Yes, Alice! You genius! You really did do the right thing. Nice one.

Yes, you see, it truly was going so smoothly! After settling into our spacious hostel, we decided to make the most of the early flight and spend the rest of the day sight-seeing. Despite some initial map issues, we successfully managed to navigate our way to the Berlin Dome and the Reichstag, before finding ourselves incredibly moved by the harrowing tales at the Holocaust Memorial. A quick pitstop for lunch and a short walk later and we were, once again, touched by the awe-inspiring way in which the Berlin Wall had been transformed into a place of art and expression; bringing hope for a more tolerant and compassionate future.

See, I really did want this to be about Berlin.

Yes, come day two and it was all still going so smoothly; if smoothly can be defined as wandering around for hours, shouting at Google Maps and bursting into fits of laughter at one another’s sheer lack of common sense. Delirious with unwarranted rage at this ‘navigation tool,’ we gave up on trying to find an ‘authentic’ German restaurant for our final meal of the trip and headed to a Burger and Craft Beer joint. Not quite the true ‘Berliner’ experience we’d hoped for, admittedly, but the intention was to continue on to sample the City’s renowned night life! A great night was ahead of us, we were sure. Yet, before we could get another pint of German ale down our necks, it suddenly dawned on us…

Things hadn’t been going so smoothly, after all!

Broaching a new topic of conversation over a bite of burger and a sip of perfectly ‘paired’ beer, Owens remarked:

“Al, I don’t think I’ve seen my car keys since we left London,” calmly and without too much initial concern. “I’ve got a feeling they may have fallen out in the over-head locker. I’m sure I put them in my coat pocket when we left Vip’s house. Remember, I asked if I should leave them with Vip’s family before we left?”

I did remember. Of course I did. I also remembered saying that there was “no need”. Another genius move, on my part!

“They’re probably in your backpack at the hostel. I’m sure they will be.” Spoken with all the deluded confidence of that one England football fan still chanting “It’s Coming Home” post-Croatia World Cup Semi-Final last year (sorry, English friends, I couldn’t resist). “We’ll finish this drink and head straight back there. Besides,” I smiled, my head tilted slightly to one side in that way people often seem to do when they’re trying to comfort someone, “If they really did fall out in the overhead, someone will have handed them in. I guarantee it. Someone will have done what I did!”

Someone will have done what I did. Those words still ring in my ears to this day.

“I saw someone’s keys when I took my bag out of the overhead.”

When I took my bag, out of the overhead. My bag.

“I’d heard them jangle about earlier in the flight and… well, there they were, just lying there… next to my bag, as I pulled it out.”

Next to my bag, as I pulled it out. A set of keys, next to my bag, people.

“Hmmm, yeah.” Heather interjected, unconvinced.
“Honestly, Heath! Either a flight-attendant will have found them or another passenger will have handed them in, just like I did.”

Just. Like. I. Did.

“I mean, I didn’t physically hand them in but I did tell the flight-attendant where they were and she said she’d hand them into customs. Look, I guarantee you, someone will have done the same with yours.”

Someone will have done the same with yours.
Just. Just think about that for a second.

“Yeah, I suppose.” Murmured Owens, only marginally reassured but not entirely swayed.
“Look, we’ll go back and check the hostel. They’re bound to be there and, if they’re not, I’ll ring the airport and we can pick them up on our way back tomorrow.” I declared optimistically.

So, off we went, discussing all possible eventualities en route: would we have to call breakdown cover? Or a locksmith? Wouldn’t that be expensive? Would it be covered on Heath’s insurance? Should we get her spare key sent up to London, ‘First-Class, Signed For’? Or will we have to ‘train it’ all the way back to Swansea and grab the spare key, just to ‘train it’ all the way back to London, get in the car and drive it all the way back to Swansea… again? So many options.

“But it’s okay,” I kept reiterating, “because either way, we will get home! We’re not stranded. We know London. We can get back easily. We’ll sort it. Besides, these things happen all the time!” And don’t I know it, I thought to myself. “Imagine if your bag had have been stolen. That wouldn’t be your fault at all, would it? And yet, we’d still be in the same position! Insurance people and locksmiths must deal with this kind of thing all the time!” I smiled; the words of somebody who was well versed in the art of consoling themselves.

Neither of us panicked. We kept calm. And cool. And very, very collected. We searched the hostel high and low but, sadly, no luck.

“Okay, that’s no problem. Look, I’ll just ring the airport now. There’s no use ringing STUPID F***ING RYAN AIR because STUPID F***ING RYAN AIR refuse to take responsibility for property found on any of their STUPID F***ING AIRPLANES, despite EVERY BLOODY AIRPORT saying it’s actually the AIRLINE’S F***ING RESPONSIBILITY!” I ranted, trying to make light of the situation. “But I will need our flight details and a description of the keyring. Chuck me a pen and some paper and I’ll write it down now and ring them straight away.”

“No problem!” Heath replied, handing me the back of an old receipt to write on and reciting the flight details, as I jotted them down. “Then, on the key ring,” she continued, “there were only three items: the key to a [insert reasonably priced car here], a house key and a Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Lord figurine.”
“A Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Lord figurine?”
“A Guardians of the Gal…” I paused. “What did he look like, this figurine? Was he wearing a red shirt, by any chance?”
“Umm, yeah, I suppose. It was the Star Lord character, so…”
“Yeah, but I’ve never seen Guardians of the Galaxy.” I interrupted, my tone getting just about as close to ‘abrupt’ as it ever does for me. “Was it a red shirt?”
“Yeah, look,” Heather whispered, gently cutting through the silence of an eerily quiet hostel room, where the only noise to be heard was the sound of us and our dilemmas. She whipped out a Googled image of the character, “That’s him.”
My head sunk into my bitterly cold hands.
“Heath…” I said, shaking my head in utter disbelief. “Heather, I handed in those keys. Those are the keys I handed in. The ones I was talking about. That figure. I saw him. I saw that figure.”

Well, we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, did we? Baffled. Embarrassed. Really rather stupid. I felt it all. The relief that we felt upon realising we could get home safely was only marginally greater than the sheer disbelief that anyone could be as DAFT as to, effectively, hand in their Best Friend’s car keys to Lost and Found. And better still, to not even realise until it was pretty much spelled out to her. IDIOT! I thought to myself. Absolute idiot!

Because tell me this, dear reader, and be honest: at what point should one of us questioned the likely-hood that TWO SETS OF KEYS could have been lost on ONE BLOODY FLIGHT? Or that that ONE OF US would have spotted ONE OF THESE sets of keys; a supposedly ‘RANDOM,’ ‘UNRELATED’ set of keys that somehow made it into the locker above HER OWN BLOODY HEAD where HER OWN BLOODY BAG WAS PLACED; a bag which, by some freak coincidence, JUST-SO-HAPPENED to contain THE HANDBAG of her Best Friend who JUST-SO-HAPPENED to have lost her own set of keys! Tell me, at what point, dear reader, upon discovering that said best friend had lost her keys, should one of us not have thought:

“Hmm, how peculiar! Surely this can’t be a coincidence?”

And by “one of us” I, of course, mean the foolish tw*t who had the naivety to tell the tale of the “random, unrelated” keys aloud in the first place, without even hearing the sheer stupidity of it as she spoke.

Well, fortunately for me and for you, dear reader, the rest really did all go smoothly; the return of the keys, that is. Unable to get hold of the airport’s Lost and Found, we emailed them with a rather thorough and hilarious account of our troubles and headed to the airport as early as possible the following morning. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the most helpful and friendliest of ladies who thoroughly revelled in our tale, thrilled to reunite us with the minute Star Lord. One of her colleagues, she told us, was an expert in these characters (thanks to her young son) and was, therefore, able to identify the keys from our “clear” description. We were lucky, she explained, “this little guy has been from Berlin to Budapest and back again!”

Quite the traveller, Mr. Starlord, quite the traveller! Welcome home.

Brunch in the City: Breaking the Bank for that Perfect Yolk!


Brunch: a term coined in the late 19th Century and yet so quintessentially ‘millennial’ and possibly even a tad ‘pretentious’ in its overpriced, instagrammable nature. The concept of ‘brunch’ has been around for yonks but the idea of a ‘bottomless brunch’, ‘all-you-can-eat brunch’ and ‘an all-day brunch’ (an idea, arguably, more nonsensical than that of an all-day-breakfast) are a fairly recent phenomenon.

“Nobody eats lunch anymore,” one fellow brunch-goer jested, safe in the knowledge that his slightly sarcastic remark wasn’t too far from the truth. After all, who needs to chose between lunch or breakfast menus when you can get the best of both worlds!

And when brunch is this good, who can blame you! Chosen by the only self-proclaimed “egg-hater” of the group, Egg Break, Notting Hill, offers a surprisingly vast range of intriguing brunches; from traditional but beautifully presented Eggs Benny to Caramelised Cornflake French Toast or even a cheeky Chicken Burger. See what I mean about breaking those breakfast and lunch boundaries? Good luck trying to make a decision from this EGG-squisite (yes, I really did go there) array of dishes.

Served with a healthy dose of fresh banter from a smiling manager, whose mild hangover didn’t stop him from remembering all ten of our dishes without need of pen nor paper, the food was just as delicious as it looked. Often, it seems, brunch venues focus more on the presentation of that unctuous-looking Eggs Benedict, with its perfectly drizzled hollandaise, than the real ooze of the yolk or the balance of flavours in the sauce with the beautifully cooked Ham. Not only are these brunch venues frequently over-hyped but often over-priced; charging far too much for an average-to-decent dish that looks divine but tastes no better than your cheaper, local Caf’ down the road.


Egg Break, however, fell into neither of these categories. Where other brunch locations have failed, Egg Break has succeeded in creating a menu that delivers on both presentation and flavour, as well as variety of choice. So much choice, in fact, we decided to order a different dish each purely so we could sample one another’s. And, I’m pleased to report, none of our choices failed to impress. I, myself, opted for the sweet potato rosti, goat’s cheese and poached egg, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and sat atop a bed of kale (pictured above).

In all honesty, I probably would have chosen spinach instead of kale but that’s largely personal preference, as it was my first time experiencing kale and I found it to be slightly chewy. Leaf-preferences aside, though, the entire dish was a taste-sensation with the sweetness of the honey and (sweet) potato perfectly contrasting against the tangy Goat’s Cheese. And that yolk. Oh my god, that yolk! I still dream of that yolk, to this day!


All in all, I couldn’t recommend Egg Break enough! It’s pretty pricey for brunch, yes. Prices range from around £5 for granola to £14 for a burger, with the average dish coming out in at around £7-10. But its not much pricier than its Big-Chain competitors and, in my experience, delivers far more on flavour. Considering the outstanding quality and the friendly service, it’s definitely worth a visit! Be warned, though: you may have a little wait. We were a group of 10 and it’s only a small venue but, even then, we only had to wait around 20-30 minutes on a busy Sunday morning. And. It. Was. Worth. Every. Minute.

About Bloody Time

I have to be honest, I have no idea where to start.

It’s been a long time since I last posted and not for lack of inspiration, I may say. Even as I wrote, almost two months ago, I struggled to know where to begin. There’s so much I want to write about, so much I want to say, so many people to thank, memories to recount, lessons learned…

I couldn’t leave France – and yet, somehow, I did – without telling everyone just how grateful I am for the last 10 months! My time on that beautiful coast was made all the more special by those incredible people I met and the unforgettable experiences we shared. Yet, at the moment, I can’t seem to find words strong enough to describe the love I feel for you all and for that beautiful Riviera that soon came to feel like home.

A friend recently said of Nice and its surroundings:

“There’s just something about this place, something you can’t quite put your finger on. No matter how often you try to leave, something always pulls you back.”

And, it’s true.

Of course, you don’t have to look far to see the initial appeal of the Côte d’Azur: sun, sea and some stunning sights continue to leave visitors in utter awe, year after year! Not to mention the lure of cities renowned for their own famous frequenters. But, there’s much more to the South of France than glitz and glamour. There’s a secret beauty; a more profound, ever lasting attraction that reels you in and has you hooked for life.

Perhaps, it’s that surreal contrast between the snow-covered mountains – their slopes a favourite with avid and novice skiers alike – and the blazing sun, as it glares down upon those pebbly bays and sandy shores. Or perhaps, it’s the people, who, despite France’s reputation as a not-so-friendly nation, were nothing but helpful throughout my stay and, if anything, welcomed myself, and many others, with open arms and grand bisous. Perhaps, then, it’s exactly that multiculturalism and tolerance that makes the region such a diverse and vibrant place to live. Whatever it is, it’s working. And, I have to say I fell head over heels in love with the entire Alpes-Maratimes!

And so, it is rather difficult to know where on earth to begin my homage to the country that looked after me so well for ten months. It is especially difficult when there are so many elements that I’ve left out in my little – or rather, annoyingly large – account of my time here. So, whilst I figure out where to go from here, let me leave you with a diary-like extract from back in November/December that I recently uncovered whilst unpacking.

It’s quite amusing looking back at how things have changed since then – namely my overly optimistic view of my potential friendship with one very lively cleaner! I’ll elaborate in a later post, but, for now, enjoy the  little snippets below.

La France, elle me manque déjà!

Awkward Shower Shenanigans of a Different Sort.

Spoke more French today than I have done in the entire time I’ve been here.

It all started with an early morning visit from the cleaner. After having spent ten very awkward minutes in the neighbouring shower cubicle, waiting for her rather loud, although somewhat tuneful, singing to end,  I finally stuck the shower on, washed my hair, slowly, – in the hope she’d finish cleaning the next door before I left –  before giving up, wrapping my towel around me, opening the door and legging it out of the bathroom as fast as I could. Despite darting out of the cubicle, I somehow still managed to bump into the jovial woman as I passed her in the corridor. Mumbling an apologetic “bonjour” and unable to think of anything else to say, I power walked straight to my room. Next thing you know, she’s knocking at my door and waltzing in before I even have a chance to say “attendez!” Fortunately, I am dressed by this point.

“Etudiante?” she asks, as I stand at the door smiling, trying not to seem too shocked by her abrupt entrance. I explain my position at the school and go on to have a good twenty minute chat about learning French, visiting Paris and student life. “Joli!” she cries, several times, at the news I’m getting paid. Now she understands how  I can afford to go to Paris for the weekend, she laughs – much to Dina’s frustration. It’s 9.30am and boisterous laughter is not the ideal wake-up call. I’m perfectly happy, though. For once, someone hasn’t suggested we talk English. And, for once, the conversation hasn’t consisted solely of directions.

I walk out with a smile on my face and my head held high. What a nice lady. I shall have many a French conversation with her, I think. She has promised to look after me – at least, I think that’s what she said.

My classes go well for the rest of the day. It’s 6.45pm and I’m about to go meet one of the teachers to go to the French conversation class for the first time.

Wish me luck! x


Must have been my second or third week in Sophia. October, 2014.

And They Say Anyone Can Cuddle…

I go back to the UK tomorrow.


To date, I have yet to find a more adequate means of expressing my excitement. Where words fail, random combinations of letters will always triumph.


…Or words to that effect, currently seem to dominate every conversation with my friends from home. We no longer speak in any recognisable language. Instead, we speak only in a series of arbitrary letters.  Or, failing that, where the remains of a sporadic attack on an innocent keyboard seem inappropriate, a “WOOOOOOOOOP”, “YAAAAAAAAAAAY” or “OMGGGGGGGGG. NOT LONG ‘TILL I SEE YOU. AGHHHHHH,” generally seem to suffice.

Of course, I anticipate several rather large hugs upon arrival. And by hugs, I mean the most comforting, most heart-warming hug known to mankind; the cwtch.

For those of you unfamiliar with the word “cwtch,” don’t you even dare try to translate it as a “hug.” To associate it with a hug is to disgrace its name! No, a cwtch is far superior to a hug. Likewise, it is SO much more than just your simple cuddle. A cwtch is something which, having been deprived of even the simplest of hugs since arriving in France, is becoming increasingly difficult to describe. Here, the bise reigns over the world of greetings. I thought I’d gotten used to it, until I very recently clashed heads with a friend after having mistakenly gone in for a “goodbye hug.”

The cwtch is, therefore, something which appears a mere abstract memory to me now; so distant and yet so desperately desired. Here, it’s no more tangible than the idea of a bad baguette.

I miss a good cwtch. A snuggle is probably as close an English translation can ever reach, though it still doesn’t quite do the word justice. Just as you can “snuggle up” on the settee – be it to someone or simply under the blanket – and get all cosy with a nice cup of hot chocolate, you can equally “cwtch up” and/or “cwtch in.”

A cwtch is the most magical thing in the world! With one tender cwtch, you can make everything okay. You just cannot beat a proper cwtch from your mam or dad. I swear to you, you can’t. A loving cwtch can melt away all your worries and pains, dissolving them into the warmth of one soft embrace – at least, for that brief but ever-so-reassuring moment.

Literally translated, the word means a “safe place” in which to store things, usually under the stairs. How beautiful is that? The next time you say to someone in that gentle, soothing voice: “aww come ‘ere, gimme a cwtch!” you are literally offering them a safe place in which you can protect them from the outside world. No wonder we Welsh are so proud of our cwtches!

The Welsh, and only the Welsh, truly know how to cwtch; though I must admit, my friends at University don’t half do a bad job! And so, it is with eager arms that I flee back to my country for a week of insults, drinking and very little sleep. Anyone would swear we never liked each other in the first place!

Far from it. In fact, I return to my second family, knowing full-well things will go back to the way they once were! Oh don’t get me wrong, the most part will indeed be filled with the typical “uni bantz” and alcohol consumption, I don’t doubt that. There will, however, be our fair share of story-telling – and subsequent “shut up Alice, you’ve mumbled on too long,” hand-raising –  card-game playing, tea-drinking and just general good times all round!

I’m going stop before I get all soppy and cheesy. Until next week!

With love from a very excited, Alice!

Anyone can cuddle, only the Welsh can cwtch – No clue who first uttered these words but they will forever ring true!

Bamboleo, Bambolea: A Barcelonean Serenade


…Porque mi vida yo la prefiero vivir asi !

And live my life forever this way, I wish I could. How better to round off a weekend away, in the bustling city of Barcelona, than with a bit of tapas tasting, two perfect paellas and some delectable deserts; all accompanied by sweet sangria and the even sweeter serenades of one incredibly passionate, Spanish singer.

Oh, I tell you, this man was utterly mesmerising. His facial expressions, alone, were enough to enchant – or amuse, depending on your position. Every word seeped out from his bleeding heart and into his gesturing hands, his scrunched up eyes and husky voice. At times, he almost looked in pain – much to the amusement of some diners. Even his rather talented guitarist couldn’t resist this señor’s charm. Gazing longingly into his amigo’s wrinkled eyes and beaming from ear to ear, the lion-maimed musician strummed away the irresistibly catchy, Gipsy Kings anthem we all know and love, while the rest of the restaurant bamboleo-ed to the beat. Julio Iglesias, himself, would have been proud!


It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend in Barcelona. A wander around the Gothic Quarter, followed by some good food, good music and good company, beautifully epitomised our entire stay in the thriving city. Sociable, was the word.

Having made friends with a French-speaking, Swiss lady in the bathrooms of our hostel – yet another sentence I never imagined I’d write – and a half Italian, half Argentinian travelling workman in our dorm, Barcelona was a far more sociable experience for us than any of our other holidays. We chatted, we sang, we ate LOTS of tasty food and, my god, did we laugh! We were still fairly organised and saw everything we wanted to, but, the central location of our hostel meant that this time we could stay out a lot later. There was no panic, no rush for the last bus. We just chatted the nights away in restaurants or leisurely strolled the streets, at our own pace. It, therefore, seemed only fitting that our journey be completed by such a pleasant evening of entertainment and smiles all-round.


One Sea Food Paella and one Chicken and Chorizo between the two of us, plus a jug of Sangria to myself. Why not?

I have to admit, it look me a little longer than usual to fall in love with Barcelona. I’m a fickle sort – at least, when it comes to travelling. Everywhere I visit holds something special for me and, usually, I fall instantly and insanely in love. Barcelona, however, was a little different. Perhaps, having visited the city in October for a brief spell of getting lost and partying, my impression was slightly tarred. Or, rather, I didn’t have any lasting impression.

Halloween 2014, Barcelona

Halloween 2014, Barcelona

October’s visit hadn’t been bad at all – far from it! It was just rather fleeting, that’s all. Apart from a trip to the beach and a subsequent misguided wander to the Sagrada Familia, we kept mainly within the realms of la Rambla. As a result, I was expecting neither too much nor too little. I wasn’t expecting anything, to be honest.

So, it was with an open mind and open heart that I got off the bus at Pllaça Catalunya. As we reached Parc Guell, however, and caught a glimpse of the Gingerbread-House-like guardians, standing proud at its entrance, I quickly began to realise there was so much more to this crazy City than simply la Rambla.


In fact, by the time we’d made it back to this infamous street, later in the evening, I was already swayed – or bamboleo-ed, as I’m now going to completely incorrectly start saying. The Park, Casa Batllo and Casa Mila had already done it for me; not to mention some of the tastiest toasties I’ve ever had. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Chorizo is, quite frankly, one of the best sausages out there. Bravo Spain!


Do you even lift?

Come day two, I was all prepared to be amazed again. And, I certainly wasn’t let down. Despite our overwhelming tiredness, Montjuïc proved to be well worth the eleven euro, Funicular ride up to the top. The view from the castle alone is enough to make you forget you ever paid a single cent. The entire city of Barcelona stretches out before your astonished eyes, guarded – or threatened, as I learnt from our little tour – by the humungous cannons of Castell Montjuïc. Having bombarded the City on several occasions, it’s not hard to see why this Castell and its mighty cannons stand as a symbol of oppression. At just three Euros per person, it’s a must see. A rather artistic video will take you through the history of the fort in Catalan, Spanish and English with some fairly impressive visuals. What’s more, the panorama from the turrets is simply breathtaking. Take some fresh fruit and a picnic from the market up with you and that’s your afternoon sorted!

L’Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, on the other hand, wasn’t quite so impressive. The athletics arena appeared to be like any other and, if anything, a little run-down. This may very well have been my untrained, uneducated eye deceiving me, though. So, please don’t take my word for it. After all, what do I know about sports grounds! In fact, the stadium has recently been rated a five-star venue by UEFA, so it just goes to show how unqualified I am to comment. Its surrounding park, with its water features and the Palau Sant Jordi, certainly does make for a beautiful place to stop and consider the enormity of the dreams made true here.

Here’s a fun fact, just for you: Apparently, in 1992 – just two years before the world was graced with my wonderful presence – the Barcelona Olympics became a year of “firsts” for many a team. The games saw the first African team compete since 1960, the first “single, unified” German team since 1964 and the debut of many former Yugoslavian Republics; all of which I learnt from Wikipedia and not on the day, I’m sad to say.

Nonetheless, this little nugget of information might make the significance of the place all the more poignant for you. Or, perhaps not. I don’t know. All I do know is, we were so exhausted after extensive map-reading and seemingly hopeless hunting, that, by the time we reached it, we weren’t able to appreciate the Stadium in all its glory. A trip to the Sports Museum was, therefore, out of the question.


Excluding the surprisingly quiet Olympic Stadium – which was perhaps recovering from some event the night before, given all the empty water bottles sprawling across the floor – this city is alive. Alive 24/7 it seems.

Take Sunday night, for example. At 11.30pm, as we made our way back to our hostel, the night was still young. People were just finishing their dinner and heading out for the night. The streets were still pretty busy and the locals were as lively as ever. Five hours later, and Dina and I were leaving to catch our bus for the airport. Still, people could be seen walking back to their apartments, merrily – or perhaps, drunkenly – chatting away. Still, the workers of the 24/7 mini supermarkets were bargaining with their customers:

“Usually 2.50 Euros, but for you 2 Euros” they tell you.

There are no prices on their products. Come to think of it, there are no prices in even the big name stores here, such as: Urban Outfitters, Apple, Zara and Mango. A cunning plan to trick the unsuspecting commoner into buying something they can’t necessarily afford? Perhaps. But, at least it beats the grimacing bouncers of the Cannes and Monaco exclusive boutiques!

Casa Mila

Casa Mila

And the architecture of this place! My god, it’s incredible. There’s no other way of putting it. It is completely captivating. Gaudi was, quite frankly, a sheer genius. The curves of his designs make everything so easy on the eye, and yet the skull-like balconies of the Casa Botilla and the gothic exterior of the Sagrada Familia make for a haunting experience. You just don’t expect to see such houses amidst the streets of such a dynamic capital city. You simply don’t. Even if you are prepared for it, even if you’ve studied Gaudi’s work, the little treasures you come across whilst roaming the streets, the little intricacies of the buildings – some glaringly obvious, some more discreet – are guaranteed to take you aback.


But, what struck me the most was the interior of this remarkable Cathedral. Ten years ago, I first entered the Sagrada Familia on a school trip. Ten years ago, if my memory serves me correctly, it was a very different place.

Scaffoldings dominated the inside of what, from the outside, appeared so magnificent, so grand. As excited eleven year olds, this inner architecture didn’t do much for us. It couldn’t do much for us. It was still a work in process. I think I appreciated that, at the time. I hope I did. But, still, I couldn’t say it was worth the queue. Ten years, however, can make the world of difference and this time, I can say with the utmost certainty, the wait was well worth it.

We so very nearly didn’t bother. We almost thought the fifteen euro ticket price a tad too expensive, for something I remember as being a couple of pretty windows amongst a bunch of poles, planks and hard-hat clad workmen. Fortunately, I had Dina with me. I could see the look of regret brewing in her eyes. We decided, together, it would be far worse to live with the regret than to spend a little extra and risk being underwhelmed.


Well, rarely am I underwhelmed, it’s true. I’ve said it before, and yes, I know it’s getting repetitive, but I really do like to try and find the best in all situations. Here, however, there was no need for self-convincing. One look at those stunning, stain-glass windows and you’re rendered utterly speechless, I tell you. And that glow, oh my goodness, that glow! It was as though the heavens, themselves, were shining down through those multi-coloured panes.

Now, I’m not religious. I never have been. But, I can appreciate just how much strength a religion or a belief can give to people. And, if it was devout Catholicism which inspired such a humble man as Gaudi to create such an elaborate piece of work for the community, then I commend its power. The history of the Cathedral, as you’ll learn if watch the museum’s short video, is both heart-warming and inspiring. Used in the right way, faith can never be a bad thing. Problem is, who decides what’s the ‘right way.’ There-in-lies the problem. A problem for another day.

By elaborate, I mean enormous, epic even. I mean intricate, well thought-out, magnificently designed. I mean absolutely, heart wrenchingly moving. I don’t mean decadent or over-the-top. I sat there, on the pews, in the light of those windows, just thinking. I may not be religious but I find the sense of community, of strength and support, that even the simplest of places of worship can give to a person, extremely touching. Personally, I find my strength elsewhere. Yet, I can’t help but be moved by such places. And this place – oh, this place – it truly is one in a million. If there is one cathedral you visit on your travels, make it this one. It is well worth the money, I promise you. I’ve visited several over the years; all of which, I believe, have their own special place in the hearts of their parish. But never have I felt so in awe. Never.

For the architecture, alone, it’s worth a visit. You don’t have to be spiritual or even artistic to appreciate such incredible feats of engineering, planning, building and scuplting. Gaudi was, after all, an architect. His work deserves to be appreciated by all. If, however, you feel it hypocritical to visit such places, if you feel it an invasion of a place sacred to many, know that it is possible to appreciate a culture or a religion without necessarily belonging to, believing in, or conforming to it.

All in all, Barcelona was a magical experience and one I won’t forget in a hurry! Though, I must hurry now if I am to get any sleep tonight!

Adiós mis amigos!

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Spellbound and in Love, Again: Ventimiglia, in a Day!

IMG_4391Hopped on a train to Italy for the day, as you do. Only went and fell in love again, didn’t I!

Oh, how I adore this country! How I long to explore it in its entirety. There’s just something about it. Something so enchanting. Something you can’t quite put your finger on. Yet, somehow, everyone who has ever been seems to return home in the self-same state; spellbound!

You don’t know why, you don’t know how, but, one way or another, this captivating country manages to charm you again and again, every single time you step foot onto its rich, green lands. From the gentle, rolling Tuscan fields – of which I admittedly saw very little, having slept for most of last month’s train journey – to the heaving streets of a capital whose name, alone, brings to mind a history so rich, so complex it continues to fascinate even today; wherever you go in Italy, you cannot help but fall head over heels.

In reality, I have no right to say that. Just as I still have many-a-place in France to discover, there are parts of Italy that remain a mystery to me.  Nonetheless, from what I have seen, I’m sold! Ventimiglia, a little town just an hour away from Nice, is absolutely beautiful. Quaint, small, with little more to see and do than the highly popular Friday Market, a beach not too dissimilar to that of the Cote d’Azur, and a sloping, typically Italian old town; this little village was, for us at least, utterly mesmerising.


Just look at that turquoise river, so clear you can see each and every fish the little fisherman is trying to catch. And fairly successfully too. He reels them in, slowly, patiently, not giving a care in the world as to what’s going on around him. He pays no attention to the occasional tourist who stops on the bridge to watch and admire. It’s not market day today. At least, not the main market – the one that so many French neighbours flock across the border to catch before its midday closure. Today, at least, it’s a bit more tranquil. He can fish in peace.

I’ve no idea how crazy it gets on a Friday. I hear the roads are mayhem and the trains, packed! But, as long as the old town remains as beautiful and quintessentially Italian – or at least how we imagine a quintessential Italian town to be – then I’d be more than happy to go again. The narrow streets, the houses with their green balconies and red vespers parked outside, the lively conversations shouted from one house to another, and the dog – yes, a dog – soaking up more than just the Southern sunshine; everything here satisfies our somewhat stereotypical expectations of a traditional Italian village.


Okay, the dog, I don’t necessarily associate with Italy, I confess. But the relaxed attitude he seemed to posses, more so. See how he peers out from his balcony, basking in the attention from passing pedestrians. An Italian lady laughs with us as we stop to stare. We don’t speak the same language but we don’t need to. A look says it all. What a funny dog, she says. Look at him, he’s loving it!

We speak more French here, in Italy, than we do in France. A man in the park tells us, in French, that the Peaches we are eating aren’t, in fact, peaches at all, but a mix of apricot and something else – I forget what exactly. Napoleon loved them, or so he says. We don’t fully understand all that he’s telling us but it’s interesting, all the same. At the daily food market, too, people greet us in French. We’re assumed to be French tourists, popping over the border to grab us some real Italian produce. It’s nice to have people assume you speak French, for once.


That’s not to say, I don’t love France. My god, I bloody worship the place! I just think I’ve caught that notorious travelling bug again, and I don’t want to stop any time soon.

And, on the topic of travelling, I finally have the photos from Barcelona after a long ordeal with Dina’s iPad! Will finally get round to posting about that as well as my second trip to Italy – the one before this one – very soon. These are in COMPLETELY the wrong order, I apologise in advance. Time has no relevance here, it seems.

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Selfie, Selfie: the Ballad of Rome.

Roman Forum and Piazza VeneziaIt’s bizzare, the sensation you get when arriving in this place. Surreal, almost. It’s as though two worlds that should never meet, two fixed points in time, have collided to make one simultaneously mesmerising and yet utterly mind-boggling tourist trap. And, I love it.

At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. My fickle heart falls easily in love and can find the beauty in just about anything, much to the dismay of critics and connoisseurs. So here, in the capital of a country drenched in history, it wasn’t hard to find such magic. The instant I clasped sight on the Piazza Venezia, I was sold. Surrounded by ancient ruins in the form of the Roman Forum, this stunning Piazza was the first in an endless stream of Roman monuments – both ancient and comparatively modern – to seduce my mind. I say “my mind” because, unlike other cities, I once had a strong knowledge of ancient Roman history and, having long since forgotten everything Horrible Histories ever taught me, this week’s brief but enchanting tour rekindled my love for such history and awakened in me a desire to learn more.

But, I’ll return to that later. After my heart had swollen with sheer awe and admiration, and my mind had begun to transport me to a Rome of times past, my bedazzled eyes and attentive ears soon brought me crashing back to the 21st Century. As trams and busses cut brutally through the idyllic settings, and echoes of “selfie, selfie” invaded my ears, the contrast between the Rome of my mind and the Rome in front of me couldn’t be more apparent. And yet, it was all the more magnificent.

They see me posin'

Even the birds are at it. The camera loves you, darling.

Now, believe me, I’ve contemplated this greatly…

…and, rest assured, a part of me sees the vast amount of tourists, posing for photos with monuments they barely know the name of, and is forced to wonder: what has become of this world? Do foreign places act only as a backdrop to our jealousy-inducing Facebook and Instagram galleries? Do they exist only to let the world know, through photographic evidence, how seemingly cultured we are; how much fun we’re having and how badly our friends and family are missing out? Is it more important to look like you’re having a great time than to actually have a great time? Of course, I would never partake in such superficial acts. And, I certainly wouldn’t dare transform my Facebook page into the host of over 300 photos of la Bella Roma. That would just be ridiculous….

No. In fact, I’m just as guilty as the next person. But, I think the part of me that questions my motives comes from the cynical take on modern day life with which we’re constantly bombarded. We’re supposed to assume, if we have any ounce of ‘intelligence,’ that there is more to travelling than just documenting your experiences through photos. If we appreciate culture and history, if we have any respect for a country’s traditions, we’re supposed to understand that the experience is more important than the evidence. Even if we’re there just for the fun of it, whether it be a relaxing vacation or a party ‘oliday, we’re supposed to be entirely immersed in the enjoyment of our time there rather than in the capturing of said fun times. Makes sense, really. And I agree. But I, myself, prefer to look at this new ‘selfie culture’ another way. Bare with me, as I digress a little.

In Rome, it seems “selfie, selfie” has become the new “looky, looky.”

Paris has its Eiffel tower keyrings; Rome has the selfie stick. Everywhere you turn there’s a mechanical stick awaiting your arrival, begging to be bought. Less forceful than the sellers of Monmatre – or at least, less intimidating – these selfie sellers are, in fact, more persistent and in absolute abundance. So frequent are their propositions, that one man was prompted to rather loudly exclaim:


whilst approaching the Roman Forum with a lady whom I assumed to be his highly embarrassed girlfriend.

These selfie sellers serve as a constant reminder of one of the main appeals of big cities: the photo opp’. It’s certainly a far cry from the Rome of ancient times, where people flocked to the capital to see the Empire’s greatest leaders and to witness some of the finest gladiatorial fights in a colosseum that now stands as the background for many-a-profile picture, my own included. Admittedly, as I stood in the colosseum, marvelling at the sheer size of the monument and the work that went into it, I felt somewhat ashamed as I awkwardly wapped out my camera for a quick selfie, desperately trying to look discreet despite the fact that others, too, were doing exactly the same.


I could have quite happily wondered around that place for hours, reading every bit of information, imagining exactly what it would have looked like in its prime, packed with eager spectators betting on – as I recently learnt – their favourite gladiators. Unfortunately, Dina’s leg was aching and I could see my dawdling around, pondering over the various snippets of information, wasn’t helping, so we left fairly swiftly. Not so swiftly, however, that I didn’t have time to appreciate the significance of the building within which I stood.  That selfie – that very selfie above, in fact – was, for me, a way of capturing that overpowering sensation of facination and enchantment.  And that’s all seflies are to me. Memories. Memories of a moment or a sensation; of a place or an event; even just a simple feeling, personal to you.

And yes, they lie. Yes, when you and your mate pull that funny face with your imitation designer shades and puckered lips, you know deep down you’ve probably never pulled that face before, nor will you ever pull it again unless there’s a camera in front of you. And of course, there’s an element of vanity to it. There must be. People seem far less willing to pose for a selfie when they’re having a ‘bad hair day’ or ‘no make-up day.’ Some of us, however, have decided to embrace such days in the spirit of capturing all that is fun and funny about life, as well as the happy and beautiful memories. Some of us embrace it a little too much, as anyone who’s seen the infamous ‘Five Chin’ Lit-Lang Ball photo from last year will know!

Funny Face

Okay, so, selfie rant over. All in all, it has to be said, I would return to Rome in a heartbeat.

Incredibly spacious and utterly captivating, the capital holds a permanent place in my ever-expanding heart. Perhaps it was the longer stay that helped engrain such a strange sensation into my soul. Three full days exploring the depths of the City is enough to make a fairly permanent impression. But, in all honesty, I think from the second we started making our way through the streets – discovering grand buildings of epic stature around every corner, amidst the hustle and bustle of a thriving, touristic Italian city – I was gone. It was that stark contrast between the two eras that set my heart racing. I’m not even sure if “racing” is the right word. It was more perplexed, more mesmerised, more intrigued; eager, with every beat, to learn more. True, even in early March the crowds of tourists can be somewhat overwhelming and, though the city be spacious, the hordes of travellers here can make for a claustrophobic experience for some. Personally, I found it only added to the charm.

I am, however, aware that this isn’t the general consensus, so please don’t blame me if the ‘Selfie, Selfie’ people and engulfing crowds of visitors annoy the hell out of you!

A few things to watch out for, both good and bad:

A rose by any other name Street Performers

“Free advice” – Nothing is free in this place. At least, not in the centre. If some random person, standing outside St. Peter’s Basilica, tells you they’re going to advise you on the best place to buy tickets, they’re selling you something. If some stranger comes up to you and offers you a rose with which to pose for your photos, they’re selling you something. If some street performer grabs you by the hand and convinces you to have a photo with them, they’re selling you something. Don’t make the same mistakes we did!


Fast Food Pasta – A first for me. Everyone knows pasta is quick to cook but, as Italy’s staple dish, it’s easy to find cafés selling quick, cheap pasta meals that most-likely come from a pack you could buy in Carrefour. After a long day of sight-seeing, we eventually became so hungry on our third night that we had to stop at the first café we came across. The pasta was decent, but, considering we’d managed to find a three course meal (Wine and Coffee included) for just 17 Euros the night before, it wasn’t quite worth it. We’d probably have been better off buying an equally as tasty pack from the supermarket for half the price. However, if you’re looking for something cheap and haven’t got an oven or microwave in your hostel/hotel, it is handy to know such places exist.


The Italian people – the Italian people are lovely. Dina and I have had the pleasure of meeting many Italians over the last few months and, despite living in France, we seem to be falling slightly in love with the culture, the people and even the language – of which we know very little! So it was no surprise to us that the Italians we met in Rome were so friendly. Fortunately, living in the South of France, the locals don’t seem to adhere to that stereotypical image of the French as being arrogant, with their supposedly typical habit of not wanting to speak English and yet finding flaws in your French.  Most people I’ve encountered have been only to happy to help. But, it has to be said, the Italians we met in Rome were arguably even happier to practice their English and help us with our somewhat questionable Italian pronunciation. Which brings me nicely onto my next point.

La Glace 1 La Glace 2

Pizza and Gelato – Being on the outskirts of the City meant that, not only was accommodation a lot cheaper, but HUGE, authentic, Italian pizzas were made fresh in front of our very eyes for a fraction of the price you’d pay back home. Within walking distance from our apartment, lay a fantastic local Pizzeria, ‘L’Appetitoso’. Starting at 4.50 Euros and ranging up to 8 Euros maximum for what here, in France, would be considered a large Pizza, the pizzas here were incredibly tasty and outstanding value for money. Not to mention, the staff were so cheerful and friendly!

“Is that to ‘Take Away’? ‘Take Away’ Yes? You say ‘Take Away’ not ‘Take Out’ yes? See, I’m right! I speak English better than you.”

One lady boasted, affectionately mocking her less eloquent colleague as we stood, amazed at the variety of toppings on offer.  Another, infectiously smiley man could clearly tell we had no idea where to start. Wanting to try a bit of everything, we’d um-ed and ah-ed for ages before finally making our decision. Amused by our indecisiveness and look of bafflement, he threw in an extra four Arancinis for free and cut the price of our two Pizzas down to just 10 Euros for the lot.

And, well, you can imagine my delight when we later managed to find a highly-acclaimed Gelateria selling all sorts of incredible flavours at just 4.50 Euros per FIVE scoops. I kid you not; five whole scoops for less than 5 Euros. I was in absolute heaven.

Sight Seeing (a mini gallery):

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A Fleeting Visit

Just a quick post to say:
More coming soon.

Finally getting round to typing up all of the adventures of the last four months, including Barcelona and Rome. It’s a bloody miracle! However, I must now sleep. I have a long day of job hunting on the French Riviera ahead of me. It’s a hard life, ‘ey? Wish me luck!

Night from a very tired but relatively organised, Alice x

P.s. First post on one of the many wonders of the Cote D’azur, Monaco, should be lurking somewhere below!

Oh, Danny Boy, Monaco is Calling

This place just oozes affluence. Style and sophistication seep from every nook and cranny; from every perfectly painted doorway of every perfectly painted house; every tailored suit and pricey pair of designer shades ; every yacht, every boat, every sun soaked terrace; every glistening drop of turquoise sea and its jagged rock surroundings. Even the post office and its ATM sign scream class and culture. Public toilets can be easily mistaken for mini museums or daintily decorated houses, here. Pristine and glimmering in the light of the Southern sun, Monaco is a Principality very different to our own. Imagine the Mumbles but with towering cliffs, tropical plants and – most importantly – sunshine. Money, money, money everywhere. This certainly is a rich man’s world.

And yet, even Monaco has its graffiti.

Posh Post Office and DAB (ATM en Anglais)

Yes, that’s right. Even Monaco can’t escape the ‘damaging’ clutch of a tourist trap. Posing as the principality’s answer to the Pont des Arts of Paris, the railings behind Monte Carlo’s Casino bare the names of thousands of visitors and, perhaps, locals-alike. Art, vandalism, or an attempt to have a piece of us engraved forever onto a part of the world to which we know we’ll never belong? I’ll leave that to you to decide. But regardless your opinions on graffiti, the marks of these passers-by serve as a humbling reminder of that typically human desire: to preserve memories and to have those memories live on not only in our minds but in some sort of concrete form.

Poshest Toilets I've Ever Seen

One bloke – Danny, I believe his name was – clearly felt this urge more strongly than the rest, sprawling his name in giant letters across the doodles of others. Good on ya’, Danny boy! The people of Monaco will never forget your name, even if they have long forgotten your face.

How the Other Half Live!

How the Other Half Live!

It’s the little things like this that never fail to make me smile, and in a different way to the awe-inspiring sites on offer here. The views from the hills of Monaco are enough to steal away even the most stubborn of hearts, as are most of the views along this beautiful coastline. But it’s things like this – the little, seemingly insignificant things – that warm my stolen heart. It’s so easy to get lost in an entirely different world here, but those little hearts with “Ti amo,” “Jack and Jill was ‘ere” and “Brad and Ang 4ever”  scribbled on a railing overlooking the Mercedes Benz and Rolls Royces of Monaco’s car parks, bring you gently back to reality. Admittedly, I made up the last two. But, you get the gist.

Monaco is stunning. The views are truly breath-taking and, it has to be said, the people aren’t half bad either. Not that having a lot of money ever makes you a bad person. But, from my encounters, they’re not as “snobby” as people all-too-often assume the rich and wealthy to be. In fact, despite the overwhelming amount of wealth in this part of the world, never have I felt overwhelmed by its presence. Its presence is evident, there’s no doubt about that. But people have time for you here. People stop you in the street to ask if you need help. People are only too happy to guide and advise. People smile at you. A lot. And believe it or not, there are even some souvenir shops, ice-cream parlours and cafes around that won’t send your bank balance plummeting to sub zero figures.

Monaco Food

That said, I can’t say I’ll be stepping foot inside one of those Gucci igloos any time soon. Those are some scary looking bouncers, I’m telling you. I swear they have a sixth sense for those who simply “can’t touch this.”

Designer shops in Designer buildings

Designer shops in Designer buildings

Wind 1

Get the Monaco Look: Windswept.