Saturday 28 December 2013

A year in review

Last year I never got around to making a year round up post, which was a massive shame as I'd had so many awesome experiences that year; travelling almost every month in fact! Recently I've been reflecting on this past year. As with each December, the past 12 months seem to have absolutely flown by. My initial thoughts are that I haven't been as adventurous, that returning to the UK  has to somehow mean that I'm not going to have explored as much. But really - I've made sure I've done exactly that. The only difference is that I'm doing that in a place that's completely familiar to me - and yet I've found so many places that I had previously never known about. Nicola and I have made sure to get out and about as much as possible, taking walking tours of Clerkenwell, Canary Wharf and a Jack the Ripper tour, enjoying fish and chips and 2p machines in Southend, geeking out at the Florence Nightingale museum - and we have a Christmas trip to Kew gardens coming up as I write this!

I've made two amazing friends in Daliah and Samantha, girls I hadn't even met this time last year. Since meeting them in January I've been to Italy with them both, had the best time visiting Samantha in Abu Dhabi and am looking forward to showing her a little bit of Essex this Christmas!

This year I completed the (Muddy) Race for Life. Vicky, Hannah and I got through the 5k through sheer determination and by encouraging each other not to give up. It was an achievement that I'm very proud of, and hope to repeat in the new year as well. We optimistically vowed to make it a 10k in 2014 but I think it's more realistic to stick with 5k, especially as I haven't really been out running since the race back in October!

I've been working for 12 months in a job that allows me to go on free trips around London and England, meet students all with very different and interesting stories, and live in the centre of London free (don't be too jealous - I have to share the laundry with said students too...)

Why then, since I've not really changed how much I like to explore or experience the place I live in, do I feel like in 2013 I've been more boring than 2012? Am I just projecting an assumption that home isn't as exciting as away? I do so many of the same things here - bog standard visits to the supermarket and gym - but doing even normal stuff abroad feels daring I suppose...

Looking over the last 12 months, and thinking about the decisions I've make for the future; studying for my MA in TESOL and returning to teaching, looking for more permanency in London, I'm fairly happy with where I am right now. Sometimes that feels like a hard thing to admit, should I be striving for something more? Shouldn't I be worrying more about my future? I don't know about that, all I do know is that, despite how it might initially feel, looking back at 2013, I think I made the most of the year.

So here is my year in photos:

Beginning, as we always do in January,

with snowy days in London, making two new friends; Samantha and Daliah.

and taking a Boris bike for a spin for the first time!

My favourite month, February was special because,

I had an amazing birthday surprise at the OXO tower, saw the ill-fated Viva Forever musical (it's been cancelled now),
and took my first ever trip to Scotland with my mum. Edinburgh Castle and Arthur's seat.

During March,

I enjoyed the benefits of being in the land of ovens again.

April was all about

In May,

gorgeous weather really helped on trips with the students to Arundel and Brighton.


In July,

I enjoyed the benefits of having a brother who lives in Barcelona!

One beautiful day in August,

Nicola and I spent the day in Southend.

and walked along the world's longest pier.

Whilst on another horrible day, 

Manchester made our BBQ a wash out whilst, I bid a fond farewell to Chelsea. Knowing it wouldn't be long before I saw her again (see November!)

In September

I welcomed a new class of students to London, and we headed off on walking tours along the Thames, 

 showed them a bunch of rocks in the middle of nowhere,

and a beautiful cathedral in Salisbury!

October brought

A discovery in London. Tucked down a side street, this forgotten cemetary to London's outcast dead - initially for 'single women' or the prostitutes of the 16th century.

and not looking nearly as muddy, post race, as the other two at the Race for Life!

November saw me,

 and with Samantha in the desert of the UAE.

And finally in December:

I tried to get all festive at Lincoln Christmas Market

Tuesday 10 December 2013

The other North-Western City

Wow, this post has been sitting in my drafts for a really long time! These photos are from my trip up to the other city in the north-west (Manchester) to see Chelsea before she moved to Den Haag (where she's been for the last 4 months now). My favourite city in the whole world is Liverpool - which is why Manchester is 'the other NW city'. I enjoyed my three university years in Liverpool, so much so I moved back there in my year between China and Korea. I never had much love for Manchester. I visited a few times - for concerts - as the Echo Arena hadn't been built then, and also to visit my brother who lived there. It was always too big, after the welcomingly small size of Liverpool. Everything was slightly different, even their pasty shops had a different name!

It was like Liverpool's bigger, uglier brother (sorry Manc!) So when I went up this time - visiting a good friend - I wasn't bothered at all about the city. Chelsea suggested we look around the new Media City, where the BBC recently relocated most of their studios. This area was lovely. Very new, and based on a dock area which having been newly regenerated was nice. We also walked along to Old Trafford and had a look at the outside of the stadium and the many many visitors milling around outside.

My heart will always belong to the Scouse city down the M62, but Manchester definitely looks better to me now. I've also already planned to take to tram to the end of the line at Eccles next time I visit to sample one of my favourite British cakes!

Sunday 8 December 2013

Den Haag

One of the best things about my trip to Den Haag, was spending time with one of my best friends. I relished the chance for Chelsea to introduce me to her new home. A city which seemed very chilled out, full of cafes and beautiful buildings. A lovely place to live and a worthwhile visit as a tourist/traveller. We spend a short afternoon in the Escher Museum, which was fascinating and a really really great collection of art. I'd never heard of Escher before, Chelsea had studied a few of his most famous pieces at school. But both of us were captivated by his intricate geometrical prints. We didn't have enough time on our visit to go into the gift shop, and therefore went back the next day purely to buy some things to take away! I cannot wait until my next trip over to the Netherlands; definitely exploring Amsterdam and living it up with a great friend on her second exciting adventure abroad!

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

 The grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is a truly stunning building. The bright white minarets and domes are both striking and imposing especially in contrast with the bright blue of the sky. This building begs to be photographed; I wanted to post more photos here but had to stop myself somewhere! and it seems every picture captures an impressive angle of the building. Is it possible to take a bad photo of it?

Inside, as a tourist, you shuffle along, take your photos and go. Perhaps, if you're like us, you turn up for the English language tour, only to find out this is not really a tour at all, and just means you arrive at the same time as tens of other people! 

As I wandered along, chatting with Samantha about Islam, Christianity and religion in general, I wondered what it's like to actually worship in this building. Of course the main, and most impressive room, is only for men. Presumably the women have a smaller, less impressively adorned room somewhere well hidden. But still this must be a fabulous place to pray, praise and surrender to god. Or maybe this place is almost too impressive? - it felt like a show home, not for regular people. It was difficult to visualise those worshipers arriving and concentrating on anything other than the architecture, plush carpets and remarkable chandeliers. But of course they do, particularly for Friday prayer and during Eid, and this is when the building is put to the use it was intended. When the gawping tourists are gone, and people are alone, in a house of worship with god.

One of the things I took away from Abu Dhabi, and more so Dubai, is the sense that a lot of things are built for the sake of being the biggest or most impressive in the world; the two line subway that's the longest in the world; far inferior to the Seoul subway, but in possiession of that all important 'world's longest' (actually Seoul is the world's most extensive, but they don't make a big thing about that!). The Grand Mosque didn't leave me feeling this way however. It's the biggest Mosque in the UAE, but visiting here, the size and the splendor felt less important than the beauty and the architecture. Emphasis on this as a place of worship rather than a structure to evoke the envy of the world. That's just my take, of course, but this was one of my favourite places in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Why when you ask other people to take your photo is it always rubbish?

This is definitely my favourite photo.

This is just after we were told off by the security guard.