From Canterbury to Jerusalem

Alice spoke with author Guy Stagg about his first book.

I first met Guy Stagg quite a few years ago at a drinks party. I had begun with ‘So what are you up to at the moment?’, and to my surprise, the answer, for once, was both unexpected and fascinating.

Guy it turned out, had recently arrived home after walking all the way from Canterbury to Jerusalem, alone.

On hearing this, I cornered the poor man for the rest of the evening, gleaning every detail I could. Just what an amazing thing to have done! There we all were sitting at our desks day in day out in London, justifying our ‘careers’ to ourselves and everyone else, endlessly attending banal drinks parties, or just drinking too much cheap white wine in the pub, and Guy, aged 25 had, instead, decided to make this stupendous trip, and not only that, he had done it alone.

Over the last couple of years I had heard he was writing a book about his walk, and when I got wind it was soon to be published, I decided it was time to get in contact again.

So we met, on one of those abnormally freezing spring mornings, in a Dalston coffee shop, and Guy kindly told me all sorts about his own journey, why he took this pilgrimage and why he decided to write about it.

In June 2012 Guy set out on an impromptu walk from his flat in South West London, with the aim of reaching Canterbury the next day.  He walked in a pair of borrowed hiking boots and his Barbour, and he reached Canterbury Cathedral on the eve of midsummers day, and says, on arrival felt ‘pure exhaustion’.  He said, as he lay in the grass in the shadow of the cathedral bathed in evening sunlight, he felt for the first time in a long time, completely ‘in the present’, the walk had allowed his ‘mind to be cleared out’. 

 Outside Canterbury Cathedral, there is a stone which marks the start of the pilgrim route the ‘Via Francigena’ and on seeing this stone, it was in that moment, that the idea came to him, and he knew that what he would do next.  He knew that he needed to do it soon, to plan quickly and just go, without too much time to think about it.

The part of this that I find amazing is the complete courage, the courage to walk away from your day job, your ‘career’ and to undertake a venture into the unknown, and also to do it completely alone.

Guy studied English at Cambridge, and says at 16 he knew he wanted to be a writer.  After graduating the logical career seemed to be journalism, but the fast-paced journalistic style on the comments desk at a newspaper turned out not to be a path that would make him happy. He says at that time ‘he was not proud of his writing’, indeed writing was actually making him unhappy.  He was for a time on anti-depressants, and was saving money for law-school, with a change of career in mind.

In the spring of 2012 he came off the anti-depressants, and it was at this point that he decided to make the impromptu walk to Canterbury that changed everything.

 Six months later, on new years day 2013, he set out for Jerusalem with the intention of ‘leaving his life behind’. Although he was following a pilgrim route, this wasn’t a religious pilgrimage, at this point Guy ‘wasn’t a believer’ and didn’t believe ‘that ritual could heal’. His only initial deadline was to reach Rome in time for Easter.  He took everything he would need and could carry, planning for the alps in the winter, and far warmer climes further East. He navigated using maps, although of course he did have a phone with him just in case.

On the way he stayed in refuges and monasteries, and started to go to mass, sharing in the worship and practices, mainly out of politeness but also out of an intrigue for these medieval rituals, and the people who performed them, and the desire to know ‘what it felt like to be a believer. ‘

He passed through France, Switzerland, Italy, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, to Istanbul where he witnessed the Taxim Square Riots, and on through Turkey, Cypress and Lebanon, and did take one flight to Jordan and then onto Israel, walking around eight hours every day.  He says he rarely felt nervous mainly because he ‘had no prior experience or danger, and hadn’t thought about the risks’. But his ‘perspective on highs and lows shifted’.

He also hadn’t anticipated just how kind people would be, nor how much they would share about their lives and experiences. He says that perhaps they were prepared to share more with him, as he was just a stranger passing through. And that often the personal information and fundamental experiences being shared had a religious strand - marriage, children – the most important times in peoples lives, which he found ‘nourishing’.

The purpose of this trip was never to write a book, but as he went, he kept a diary every day taking notes, initially mostly functional jottings, but as he went on, he started to capture events more closely as they had a ‘deeper emotional effect’.

On reaching Jerusalem 10 months later, he says he was just ‘so glad to have done the walk and ‘is glad for every step, good and bad’.  He also says he has ‘opened up to being changed’, with a ‘broader shift on his own life’,  and he could identify with his experience in a more ‘holistic way’.

On returning to England, he felt almost obliged to write about his journey ‘I have to write about it’, the unusual historical events he had witnessed, along with his shifting understanding of religion, and this unique perspective he had gained.

And so this incredible experience brought him back to writing, it has been an open-ended process, and it has taken him four years ‘for it to be as good as he can make it’. And he is proud for having worked on something consistently for four years.

We spoke a little about travel writers, and Guy says one of his biggest influences has been W.G Sebald, particularly his ‘Rings of Saturn’ in which Sebald intertwines the precise details of a walk in Suffolk with history, crossing space and time.  Other writing influences have been Bruce Chatwin and his ‘In Patagonia’ and Olivia Laing.

I wanted to ask about his religious beliefs since completing the walk, and Guy said that he now attends church twice a month, and the walk has drawn him closer towards Christian traditions, fundamentally mysticism, although he still doesn’t agree with the creed. For him, religious ritual is a valid resource even for non-believers.

He also says ‘his need for walking’, for the moment ‘has been fulfilled’, although he has been for some walks around England since arriving back from Jersualem.

 His finished book, The Crossway, excitingly is now complete, and I can’t wait to read it.

Alice xxx

Guy Stagg

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Talking with Writer Katie De Klee

Alice caught up with freelance journalist and writer Katie de Klee.

Where are you at the moment?

As I write this, I am cruising at 40,000 ft somewhere above Maputo. I suppose by the time I finish all the questions I’ll be nearer Morocco air space, but I guess we’ll see as we go.

I am on my way home to Sussex for a short while. For the last year the longest I have been anywhere is 5 weeks. Between Sussex, Northern India, Bali and South Africa’s Eastern Cape, Western Cape (Jeffrey’s Bay, Muizenberg, Kommetjie, Sea Point, Hogsback, Clan William)… It’s been a quite a nomadic year. So the answer I suppose is – I am all over the place! Writing on a plane seems somehow quite meaningful. My life is a bit up in the air.

What are you up to?

All sorts of things. I am editing a book that tackles conservation in Tchad and shares recipes from a tented safari camps. “Cooking For Conservation” is currently on Kickstarter, and I’m in the process or refining and restructuring the text. I also do copywriting, social media and marketing strategy for South African superfood brand Wazoogles (which is going through a major growth spurt). Plus the odd freelance magazine article, bits of creative writing. And I just did a yoga teacher training, so that’s been taking up some time. And I just started learning to surf. So far the shark evasion is going very well… cutting lines down the waves is proving to be more of a challenge. But the sunrises from the water are amazing.

What are you writing about?

Superfoods and breakfasts, African photographers, London grime poetry, the feeling of cold water on bare skin, rebel mice and what it means to get an architectural education.

Tell us a little about your journey to becoming a freelance journalist and writer?

I started out as a freelance journalist in Cape Town in 2013 when I arrived there. I knew very little about the country, so being in a job that demands you ask questions gave me a chance to find out about SA in a way that tourists (and even locals) never do. I worked for a news agency for a year or so, learnt a lot. But writing news is fairy dark and fairly blunt. So after a while I moved to a youth culture magazine and from there to a design/creativity focused platform, Design Indaba. I was the editor of the Design Indaba web magazine for 2.5 years and then decided to go freelance again. In between all of those things I have written for pregnancy websites, advertising, small business, my brothers, myself, and probably a few things I can’t even remember.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

I like words. And story telling. I’m better at telling other people’s stories than I am my own, so for now being a journalist/copy writer feels like the perfect job. I enjoy the challenge of communicating in an interesting way. I like the mobility of my work. Even when I worked in-house for publications I have always been able to move between my two homes, north and south. And this last year I’ve worked all over the world.

Who / what is your greatest inspiration?

Difficult conversation. I have many, and they change every day. Some of the people I met through Design Indaba were really amazing. They don’t inspire me to join them on their mission, but they do inspire me by having such a sense of purpose. Christian Benimana, Tea Uglow, Naresh Ramchandani. There are more writers that inspire me than I can list… Roald Dahl, Jeanette Winterson, A A Milne, Philip Pullman, Milan Kundera, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Bukowski, Tom Robbins… I could go on…

What has been your best travel adventure?

Too many again! Moving to Cape Town has been a great adventure! Nearly 7 years of adventure. Mexico for 7 weeks while I was at university with a couple of friends. We travelled barefoot, eating mangoes and hitch hiking and feeling totally free and brave. India and Bali last year with my boyfriend Warren was an amazing, more adult adventure. Even the last month in Jeffrey’s Bay was a calm kind of normality shift, which opens up a door for more adventures that are similar. We have some adventures planned for the end of this year too.

What are you reading?

100 pages on the internet always. Quartz articles (actually sometimes just their email newsletter). Purple Hibiscus, Charles Bukowski poems, and some books from my course still - at the moment one called Anatomy of the Spirit. Which is interesting, but slow.

What are you watching?

Peaky Blinders, Chef’s Table, Surfing documentaries (not always my choice, but a hazard of hanging out with frothers. "Surfwise" reminded me a bit of my own mad family though, and the Laird Hamilton film was pretty wild. He’s a kook).

What are you drinking?

Tea. Lots of it, an old addiction from cold Edinburgh flats. Sometimes coffee, always tongue-scaldingly hot. Cold beer. Leonista tequila on ice, slowly.

What are you eating?

Mostly vegetarian food. A lot of smoothie bowls for breakfast (you’ll need to meet Warren to understand, we even started making hot smooth oat bowls in the SA winter). Falafels, homemade seaweed sushi rolls, eggs on toast for dinner.

What are you growing?

We grew sprouts and wheatgrass for a while. But then we ate them all… I “grow” my own kefir (“care for”? “farm”?). I got into mushroom and kelp/nori foraging this year too. So the world grows that for me. I try to grow herbs sometimes too… And otherwise some hardy little succulents.

What are you listening to?

My Discover Weekly. It’s pretty eclectic. Franc Moody, Lambchop, Quantic, Paul Simon, Felix LaBand, Bongeziwe Mabandla

What are you dancing to?

Some of the above. Native Young in Cape Town, Franc Moody in Sussex.

Who are you following on Instagram?

Mostly food and travel people, and my friends. And Baddie Winkle.

Online or Offline?

Both.

Favourite place in South Africa?

Scarborough beach, and the Karoo.

Favourite place in the UK?

Home at Avins. And the Isle of Mull.

Favourite place in the world?

I haven’t finished looking for that yet..

What is your Escape?

Reading, yoga, swimming in the sea. Listening to music. Cooking. Anything is an escape from something else. What’s your cage?

Katie de Klee

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Travelling in China

Palomi Kotecha shares her experiences travelling in China, along with her top tips if you are planning a visit. 

China doesn’t seem to be at the top of many people’s lists when it comes to booking a holiday. Despite having a fascinating imperial history, a cuisine that’s reached almost every corner of the world and a vast and varied landscape, it has a reputation for being quite difficult and inaccessible.I’ll be honest, China wasn’t the top of my list of travel destinations when I first went in 2015. In fact, it probably wasn’t even in my top 10. If I didn’t have a boyfriend who keeps inconveniently deciding to move out there (Beijing-2, Palomi-0) I probably wouldn’t have gone for a long time, and my initial reaction to having to travel out to visit him was more ‘needs must’ than gung ho.The image that I had, and that a lot of people seem to have of China, was ‘polluted, smelly, dirty, too many people’, and if you only spend time in Beijing or one of the other major cities, that’s probably fair. If you head out of the cities however, and you absolutely should, there are so many incredible places to visit; it’s an extraordinarily beautiful place, and really unlike anywhere I’ve been before. I won’t pretend to be an expert on a country that is immense to say the least, but here is a whistle-stop tour of the worst and best bits of my two trips.

Beijing

First things first – Beijing sucks. I know that’s a wildly generalising statement, but honestly I think the city is the pits and reconfirms the worst of people’s expectations of China. The best description for it is hostile. It is polluted, dirty and you’ll do a lot of hopping out of the way of flying cigarette butts and people spitting.

That being said, I found the best places to go in and around Beijing are the ones which have a lot of green open space, including the Temple of Heaven Park, The Lama Temple, the Summer Palace, Fragrant Hills Park and 798 Art District (no green, but out of the centre and quite cool, if you like modern art…which I don’t, but it’s an interesting contrast to the rest of the city).

The subway is the easiest, cheapest way to get around the city, and you’ll avoid the traffic, but it is a rabbit warren. If you use it then plot out your route before you leave the comfort of your hotel's wifi. I had to ask for directions once and the first two people I tried literally turned their backs on me, the third (well-meaning) gentleman sent me in completely the wrong direction. If you use cabs instead, then make sure you have your destination written down in Chinese characters.Although a lot of the travel guides will list hutongs as something to visit while in Beijing, you're better off buying a history of the hutongs and settling in one of the city's hipster coffee shops instead. Most of them have been either been bricked up by the government, or horribly commercialised, (several are now home to Starbucks and McDonalds), and walking around the ones that are still residential feels more like poverty tourism than anything else. The coffee shops make for excellent people watching, especially in the 798 Art District.If you’re pushed for time then give the Forbidden City a miss, it’s not that great (don’t @ me). Although it’s listed on just about every ‘top 10 of China’ list, take it from me you’ll be missing very little if you don’t go. It is enormous, the sheer scale of it is mind-boggling, but there are almost no exhibitions on Imperial history, and limited artwork; what little there is there you will be fighting 10-deep Chinese tourists to get to, and it is all housed behind dirty plexi-glass. The only one worth seeing is the Imperial collection of clocks which are exceptionally lovely. Think parts of Versailles transplanted into Beijing. The architecture is impressive, and if you absolutely can’t leave it off your list then whizz through it and walk up to Jingshan Park which sits behind it – up a few steps is a pretty lovely view of an unlovely city.One of the best things about China is, because it is just so enormous, the food from the different provinces varies as much as if they came from completely different countries. We mostly ate in and around the residential district where Garrett lives, but one of the highlights of my second trip was trying Yunnan food at In & Out Lijiang, where the staff are exceptionally surly but the food was to die for. Be more adventurous than me and try the rice and pineapple dish which is apparently a speciality of the province...There’s also Beijing’s famous ‘Ghost Street’, which is wall to wall of hot pot restaurants. Go for a walk after dinner, in almost any neighbourhood you’ll find exercises classes and ballroom dancing taking place under the massive underpasses, and you’ll be encouraged to join in! Mostly so that they can laugh at the silly foreigner, but it does look like fun. 

The Great Wall

I wanted to do one of the "wild wall” hikes, but Garrett vetoed it as I’m quite slow…instead we went to Mutianyu which is just far enough away from Beijing that you can escape the smog of the city. As with most places in China, go early to miss the crowds. Also as in most places in China, be prepared to become the tourist attraction, as being a foreigner (particularly if you’re white) is still a big deal over there. I went to the loo before we climbed the wall, and came back to a gaggle of schoolgirls asking Garrett for photos. They’d waited till I’d gone away to ask, clearly being Indian isn’t exotic enough! “Your boyfriend is so handsome, like Jason Statham!” one of them helpfully explained.We walked a bit further than the official end of the Mutianyu section of the wall, and explored some of the ‘wild wall’. Vast swathes of it have been dismantled by local villages for building materials, so much of it is crumbling away. As it is less explored it’s far more remarkable, but also a lot more precarious as there’s nothing either side of you except a sheer drop.If you go to Mutianyu you can take a toboggan ride back down to the bottom instead of climbing down or taking the cable car, which was pretty fun. Just don’t fall off!

Chengdu

Being totally honest – we barely saw the city. The only reason for going there was because - PANDAS.  There are several panda sanctuaries in Sichuan province; we went to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding and it was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. Pandas are basically ridiculous drunk toddlers and I could spend hours watching them. If you’re partial to a bit of celeb spotting, the Chengdu base is also home to the panda that was the model for Po from Kung Fu Panda.Again, you’ll have to do battle with reams of Chinese tourists and the fact that the pandas go to sleep after lunch for several hours (sensible animals), so skip breakfast at the hotel, go early and grab a good lunch afterwards. We went to what is supposedly the home of Mapo Dofu. I had a great lunch – Garrett ended up with chicken feet, so order wisely.

Jiuzhaigou

This is probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. Jiuzhaigou is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a series of valleys and mountains and populated by nine Tibetan villages – they are pretty touristy as that’s the locals’ main source of income now, but still interesting to look around. The colour of the water is like nothing I’ve ever seen, and the pictures are not photoshopped, which is definitely what I’d thought before we went.It’s so beautiful that it’s a popular pastime for couples to travel there before their wedding, to have their wedding photos taken, and we saw couples in Yangshuo and in the 798 Art District doing the same thing. Pre-wedding photography is such a huge trend over there and so competitive that couples travel abroad to do it as well.Unfortunately the region was badly hit by an earthquake in summer 2017, but the government has committed a huge amount of money to restoring it and it should hopefully reopen again soon. As with all my recommendations – start early! Before the earthquake, as many as 40,000 Chinese tourists visited the park a day (although it’s so huge you’d hardly realise), so the earlier you start the more you’ll have the place to yourself. It seems to be one of China’s best kept secrets, as we only saw two other foreign tourists in the two days we were there.It’s either a 10 hour rickety bus journey, or an hour’s flight from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou; you’ll land at a tiny airport in the mountains, which is so rural that when we turned up two hours before our 8am flight back to Beijing it was still closed.

Guilin & Yangshuo

This was my winter 2017 trip over, and November actually turned out to be the perfect time to visit. The weather is usually c. 20-25 degrees, but it’s still considered off-season so the prices are quite low. We stayed in Guilin for one night, then took a 4 hour boat trip down the Li River to Yangshuo. The landscape is all karst mountains and rivers, and it feels a bit like you’ve wandered into a Tolkein novel, or Pandora. It is probably my favourite place in China so far. The scenery is so beautiful the government put it on the 20 yuan note, which is why almost everyone who goes there has a picture like this.We got pretty unlucky with the weather for most of the time we were there, so instead of all the hiking and cycling we planned to do, we took a leisurely bamboo raft down one of the tributaries of the Li River, which was a nice contrast to the large boat cruise from Guilin.We stayed at the Li River Resort which has a fab location overlooking the river and a brilliant restaurant. This is one of the few times I’d say definitely eat at the hotel, as the food was fabulous, and then go into the buzzy town for drinks on one of the many rooftop bars. A word of warning, there is karaoke everywhere and it is universally terrible.I also dragged a grumbling Garrett out of bed at 4am to climb Xianggong Hill to see the sunrise, but he agreed it was worth it (I think!)

Top tips:

Get your visa early – Chinese visa rules are weird and pedantic and change all the time. You’ll need several documents including a confirmation letter from your hotel and a return ticket, so make sure you leave enough time before your trip in case anything goes wrong.Be prepared to unplug. Chinese censorship is real and a pain in the arse, so unless you download a VPN you won’t be able to use a lot of things like Facebook/Instagram (!)/Twitter or Google. Also don’t make the mistake I did of trying to use Google Maps through a VPN because it is all wrong. Something I discovered trying to find the 798 Art District in Beijing and spent 45 minutes walking in the wrong direction towards the edge of the city…Express VPN is cheap and one of the best. I was out there at the same time as Trump and was hoping he’d manage to get himself arrested by illegally tweeting something outrageous. Alas.If you don’t speak any Mandarin– some kind of translation app is a must. Despite the emphasis on education, the standard of English spoken is far lower than you might expect, especially if you’re not in the major cities. Even if you do speak Mandarin, the likelihood is they'll be so surprised that you’re speaking in their language that they'll still get confused. (Happened to me with my pidgin Mandarin, but also to Garrett who is pretty fluent).Always order the aubergine. Even if you hate aubergine. Seriously.“I never imagined China would look like that” is what a lot of people said to me when I came back. Neither did I. It’s an incredibly beautiful, bonkers country, and although I wouldn’t choose to live there (and would quite like my boyfriend back), I can’t wait to go back, I’m already planning a third trip over (to Yunnan, because I can’t stop thinking about the food.)

Reading recommendations:

The Emperor Far Away, David Eimer

The Silk Roads, Peter Frankopan

 Words and photos by Palomi Kotecha @pkthakkarphotos 

Living in Yangon, Myanmar

Jemima Neal shares her experiences living in Yangon, Myanmar.

Visitors to Myanmar will often just consider Yangon as a gateway into the country - it certainly isn’t known as a destination in it's own right. What some would regard as a frenetic, polluted, Asian metropolis, I feel incredibly lucky to have called home for the past 14 months.

Yangon is the largest city in Myanmar (Burma) and was the capital up until 2006, when the military government relocated the capital to the purpose-built city of Naypyitaw. Yangon’s skyline, the dazzling Shwedagon Pagoda, dilapidated colonial buildings and brand new high-rises, help to paint a picture of its dramatic history. Although, on first impressions it’s difficult to ignore the heavy traffic, packs of street dogs and often deeply inadequate infrastructure.

Two years after leaving university I was caught in the same conundrum as many of my friends. Bored in my job, guilty that I wasn’t enjoying my job, anxious about what I should do and desperate to do something more exciting. I’d always wanted to live abroad and having visited Myanmar with a friend two years before, the idea of living there seemed fascinating but highly implausible. I was working as an assistant at a fund management company and my job was starting to make me feel downhearted and claustrophobic. I wanted to work, live and experience a new city, rather than backpack. But finding a job in Yangon seemed like a difficult task. A friend had recently done a month’s TESOL course in order to move to Barcelona and she encouraged me to look into it. Inspired and in a moment of braveness, I left my job where I’d been for two years and signed up to a TESOL course.  Whilst on the course I secured a job teaching English at an international school in Yangon and was set to start the following month. Flights booked, visa approved, apartment sorted I was suddenly about to move to Myanmar! When I told friends and family, reactions varied from: ‘What an adventure!’ to ‘Why on Earth would you go there?!’

Although I thought I knew what to expect, navigating daily life in Yangon was considerably more challenging than I had imagined. It hadn’t occurred to me how complacent I’d become about the convenience and plethora of amenities we have in London. Just little things like buying dinner from the supermarket could turn into an hours drive through flooded streets in the heavy monsoon rains, arriving at the international supermarket and leaving with just a packet of crisps! Rent for foreigners is astronomical, so I lived in a fairly basic, old building in downtown Yangon, where power cuts and water shortages were pretty regular occurrences and cockroaches and rats were familiar sights. The intense heat and humidity combined with filthy streets could often be a sensory overload, leaving you feeling frustrated and defeated. Tales among expats and foreigners of extreme food poisoning, dengue fever and street dog attacks were in constant circulation...

However, despite the small frustrations I had the most special and exciting time in Yangon. I was so lucky to be working in the most amazing school where I felt so supported by the kindness of both the international and Myanmar staff. Teaching English to both the Myanmar staff and children at the Primary School was daunting at first but made me realize the appeal of teaching and how dynamic and sociable it is. I was totally enraptured by the colour, pace and chaos of the city. Life is very much on the streets and Buddhist festivals would take over swathes of the city with lights and music throughout the night. Myanmar certainly has a ‘golden triangle’ of tourist destinations but so much of the country remains barely touched by tourists. A lack of decent roads meant a weekend trip to the beach involved 14 hours of bus journeys, but it was always totally worth it. Yangon has a growing and buzzing ex-pat community with new bars and restaurants regularly opening. The pace of life and incredible kindness of the Myanmar people always made me feel incredibly relaxed and a stark contrast to the pressures and expectations everyone feels caught in living in London. I so relish my experience in Yangon and would encourage everyone to visit this most wonderful country!

One of my staff classesDowntown Yangon skylineUmbrella display in YangonCows on the streets of YangonTaunggyi Balloon FestivalThe empty 10 lane highways of the Nay Pyi TawTrekking to Inle LakeTemples in BaganFarming in Shan StateSunset in Shan StateNgapali BeachWeekend away in Dawei

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Après Ski? Teaching Skiing in Japan

Rebecca Speare-Cole shares her experience teaching skiing in Niseko, Japan. She has since taught in Thredbo, Australia - next stop Whistler, Canada.

After waving my friends goodbye at a brunch in Fulham, I arrive many hours later at an old green hostel building. It’s buried in metres of snow and looks worrisomely feeble, a bit like a toy house built out of flimsy cardboard. I know no one, it’s late at night, and I am in the middle of western Hokkaido, Japan.Inside my new home, I find 40 people crammed into dorms, sharing four toilets and three showers. There’s a bunch of noisy Aussie boys sitting round and chatting. I can’t understand a word of what they are saying:Them: “Yeah nah, she like fucking shreds man.”Me (thinking): “Shred? Shreds what? Paper?”So enter tiny-little-posh-English-lit-grad me into the international ski season scene. I wasn’t supposed to be such an alien. I had done a season in Switzerland four years ago. But a bunch of gap year kids getting drunk at après was nothing to these hard core snow people, completely invested in the life.Rewind a few months. I was fresh out of finals at UCL and facing the inevitable, ‘what the fuck do I do with myself now’ moment. I thought I’d had it all mapped out. In twenty years, I would be killing it. Perhaps running a corporate law firm, editing a global magazine or maybe producing the crème-de-la-crème of tv/cinema. Just had to pick one, right?Wrong. The reality hit that I knew nothing about anything (except maybe for Shakespeare sonnets). Life path options were too overwhelming. So was the greasy ladder which so many millennials are cowering under. Mine was your average crisis of ‘tying oneself to a desk, staring down the barrel of the gun, this being it’ and all that. My rather ropey reaction to this dilemma was a ski instructing job in Niseko.To fill in the gaps, Niseko is a rapidly expanding resort in Hokkaido. The terrain is a powder playground for at least three months. Pistes are lined with bamboo forests that offer untrodden lines and drops. Whilst days spent in the Japanese backcountry, with no infrastructure for miles, is nothing short of pure adventure. As a European it’s odd to think of eating sushi for lunch instead of raclette or fondu. On the other hand most Europeans don’t even know you can ski in Australia. For the Southern Hemisphere, Thredbo is special in its communal energy. It’s totally devoid of the sterile, chichi atmospheres found in so many European resorts. The list gets longer with my next stop- Whistler.It sounds idyllic and carefree, doesn’t it? Following the winter around the world. Skiing Fuji-esque volcanoes to night-time flare runs and lakeside festivals in Australia. This is what I can wake up to, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re feeling jealous right now.However (and it’s a big however), most of our days are actually filled with screaming Asian toddlers. They refuse to make pizza slice shapes, and poo their pants on purpose so their parents will pick them up. On the other end of the spectrum, you’re battling to convince a middle-aged man that you do know what you’re talking about- with all due respect- more than he does. Somehow your irritatingly expensive layers do nothing against mean wind and needle pricking snow. Then, at some point, you inevitably lose your gloves to unprepared, underdressed clients. The words to describe this particular experience with a brutal hangover on board are beyond profane. So I won’t even go there.You jealous now?It’s not a holiday. It is hard work. And everything you earn or save just about covers the few months, then goes back into getting yourself to the next place. Sometimes it really does beg the question of why we all keep going back for more.Yet, trading in life staring at a laptop for that view of Mt. Yotei is the smartest choice I’ve made so far. When it’s a good day, it is quite simply unbeatable. I’m not just talking about the occasional euphoric moment but the education of the whole experience. Every season- every day in fact- offers an abundance of new situations and challenges to cope with.So the long haul life plan is out for now. It’s not for everyone and not everyone gets it. On returning from Japan, one of the first questions a friend asked me was, “are you just going to be a ski bum then?” I don’t blame her. It’s a mere lack of understanding and I was definitely guilty of the same mentality pre-Japan.What I do know is how we work outdoors for hours on end. We build incredible levels of fitness. We teach. We also learn. We understand how the body moves and what it really means to have stamina. But most importantly, we work with all manners of people, adapting our teaching methods to the different individuals we encounter on a daily basis. Age, nationality, gender, they are all irrelevant constructs in ski land. Within our microcosmic world, all our friends are worlds apart. Aussie teenage surf boys become best buds with ex-banking Argentinian women- or recent English literature graduates like me.So far, working in the snow has been the really indelible education (and not just one that teaches you what ‘shred’ or ‘send it’ really means).Rebecca is a BASI Alpine Level 2, going onto CSIA Level 3 Ski Instructor. She has just finished a season teaching skiing in Thredbo, Australia and is next heading to Whistler, Canada.

Navigating Life (and Uber) In Egypt’s Capital

In our next ‘Brits Abroad’ post, roaming world citizen Flo Wollstonecraft, shares her reflections after a year of life in the Egyptian capital.When I announced to friends, family and colleagues, that I, late twenty-something year-old, lost at sea, single female was quitting gainful employment, leaving my comfortable life in a European capital city, packing my bags and heading off to Oum El Donia - reactions were mixed. They ranged from concerns of, “Is Egypt safe? Be careful!”; to bewilderment and incomprehension, “But… why?!” ; to mild envy at my grand plans to learn some Arabic, explore the region and seek out new adventures. Admittedly, Egypt’s capital city wouldn’t be everyone’s first choice to set up home…dirty, noisy, polluted and frenetic - not very inviting! Upon arrival you are greeted by a belching, bellowing, farting behemoth of a city. But dig beneath the layers of dust, cut through the fog of pollution, mute some of the noise and throw yourself head on into the chaos and you’re in for a treat.Egypt has suffered more than its fair share of upheaval and trauma over the centuries, no less in recent years. I’ll leave aside the political analysis and predictions for those far more qualified to speak on such matters; but in the hangover of the Arab Spring, as the population grapples with the realities of a failed revolution, amidst increasing state repression, it is clear that the road ahead for Egypt is by no means smooth. Yet amidst this turmoil and confusion, El Qahirah, literally “the victorious”, remains undefeatable - a city with a tenacious soul, an inextinguishable energy and a remarkable ability to excite, enthral, enchant and infuriate in equal measures.Cairo is a city of stark and disorienting contrasts, with very little offering for those seeking a safe, moderate, middle ground. Ancient vs. ultra modern, opulent wealth vs. extreme poverty, unbearable heat vs. punishing cold (don’t make the same mistake I did and be fooled into thinking it is hot and sunny all year round).Cairo has a pulse, albeit an erratic one that would baffle most cardiologists. It is capable of flitting from languid sluggishness - example: Friday early morning where the empty, dead streets resemble a scene from the zombie apocalypse; to supraventricular tachycardia – example: Friday mid-rush-hour traffic jam, when an altercation between drivers competing for road space can, at the drop of a hat, break out into an aggressive shouting match. Though if I've learned one thing living in Cairo, it is to accept the predictability of unpredictability and embrace it as part of the city's allure. Living here one is never dulled into stagnation and a seemingly banal everyday activity or encounter, can jolt you out of the hum drum "eat-sleep-work" loop modern-life has so many of us trapped in.Take the daily commute to work, which is rather like flipping a coin and waiting to see which way it will fall. Every morning I walk out of my apartment (located in a pleasant but nonetheless fairly chaotic neighbourhood of central Cairo) onto the nearest main street to hail a cab:

Heads - it is a calm, hassle-free, simple, transactional affair: the taxi is mechanically robust and traffic is bearable. The driver agrees to take me to my work location and with the meter running, I pay the appropriate fare upon arrival and hop out of the cab. Job done.Tails - the situation is rather different. We hit one of Cairo’s infamously bad traffic jams with a journey that ordinarily takes 10 minutes lasting 50. Or, I forget I have no change for the fare and spend several minutes arguing with the taxi driver in my rudimentary Arabic, as I insist on us finding change.

In both cases I arrive at work angry and exasperated. Alternatively, I land upon a taxi driver with Formula 1 aspirations, who takes me on a daredevil journey, crossing the bridges of the Nile at breakneck speed, dodging cars, other taxis, microbuses, bicycles, and the occasional horse and cart…an adrenaline-fuelled start to the day, rivalling any theme park rollercoaster…I could of course order an Uber - a service which has taken off rapidly in Egypt and become a lifeline for many in a city, where public transport is scant. However, this can be an equally unpredictable and frustrating ride. The concept of service provision and the customer/provider relationship is rather fluid. On numerous occasions I’ve waited patiently for my Uber, only for the driver to call and tell me to come find him at his location - this generally leads to heated conversations in my pidgin Arabic, “ana fee el GPS BEZOBT!” (“I am at the GPS, EXACTLY!”). On other occasions, as a result of a system failure with the drivers’ navigation system, I, geographically inept at the best of times, end up navigating my own way to my destination with the help of Google maps and creative guesswork. Don’t be fooled either into thinking modern cars result in better driving. Motoring styles of Uber drivers can be equally erratic, albeit with an illusory feeling of safety, in a more mechanically sound vehicle.That said, for every exasperating Uber driver, there have been some redeeming ones. My faith in Uber (and humanity) was restored late one evening, when absent-minded me returning home late one night from Cairo airport, hopped out of my Uber, only to realise an hour later that I had left an entire suitcase, of paternal ownership whilst he was visiting me and the city, in the boot of the car…after a couple of hours of various calls, this time testing the absolute limits of my rudimentary Arabic and resulting in a slight raise in my blood pressure at the thought of losing all of my father's worldly goods, the wonderful Uber driver, having crossed all of Cairo to return my case, arrived at my door. I showered him with “Alf shukran”, ("a thousand thanks"), thrust a hefty tip in his hand and we parted ways, both uttering “Alhamdulillah”, (“thanks be to God”) - that standard but oh so useful phrase, which covers any situation of good fortune, regardless of how modest.For a keen ambulator of European cities, this unavoidable reliance on taxis and Ubers took some getting used to. Prior to moving to Cairo, I recall naively spending some time on Google maps to gauge distances and carve out my new territory, thinking to myself that I would be able to navigate the city on foot. Upon arrival my grand plans were quickly scrapped. Walking the streets of Cairo is not for the fainthearted – unpredictable, often non-existent pavements, constant traffic and honking of car horns, and for a Western woman the added challenges of at best constant stares, at worst heckling remarks. Sexual harassment is an unfortunate and often not acknowledged or understood reality of life in Cairo. My own way of dealing with it was to thicken my already relatively thick skin and bat off remarks with either humour or by adopting a resting surly face (friends tell me this is my natural expression…). But this technique has its limitations and the insidious effect means it can reach breaking point, resulting in occasional outbursts of anger - on a bad day I even shocked myself hurling some abuses at a passing persistent harasser. Attitudes are shifting, but change is incremental and this remains an unfortunate and unpleasant reality for women living in the city.Cairo is therefore no city for aimless flânerie and on occasion I nostalgically dream of my previous, rather self-indulgent life spent lazily strolling down wide, leafy European boulevards, stopping at terraces for glasses of wine, browsing in chichi boutiques and watching the world go by…But despite the city’s drawbacks and for all I lament no longer being able to enjoy a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc on a terrace, Cairo life is full of joys and pleasures: lazy, languid weekends spent by palm tree lined pools, exhilarating horse rides out at the pyramids and spontaneous boat parties on the Nile dancing until dawn; Incredible sunsets of an intensity I have never seen, that even one year on, still make me stop in my tracks to gaze at in wonder; Wistful, fleeting and priceless moments of solitude within the city, such as the sunset prayer time or wandering around the usually chaotic streets just before iftar, during Ramadan; Early morning, when the sun rises over the towering buildings, casting beautiful shadows on the otherwise monotony of dusty grey-brown; Boozy evenings in time warped hotels of Cairo’s downtown - an enigmatic, grubby yet glorious district, containing relics of a bygone era of Egypt’s belle époque; Evenings spent in rooftop bars overlooking the Nile, drinking Stella beers (the local version, not the Belgian variety), but in Cairo’s blazing summer heat, provided my beer is chilled, I’m not complaining). All of these pleasures make up for some of the city’s frustrations.As for my efforts to learn Arabic in Cairo, these have been as erratic and inconsistent as life in the city itself. After an initial burst of scholarly enthusiasm (I was lucky enough to spend three months in a full-time language study when I first moved here) my gusto for language study gradually petered out when I took on full-time employment. Learning any new language is tough but I also very early on realised that, with its distinction between the notoriously complex classical Arabic (fuhsa) and the vastly differing dialects across the Arab region, study of the Arabic language is a lifelong pursuit, requiring real commitment and perseverance. Not ideal then for an impatient, capricious individual like myself. Inherent stubbornness leads me to persevere nonetheless and my long-suffering tutor listens patiently to me each week as I bulldozer my way through ameya, the rich and playful Egyptian dialect. Unlike my experiences, once learning French, I’ve discovered that a little goes a long way with the warm, friendly, and supportive Egyptian people.Egyptian culture and society are rich and nuanced, with a notoriously complex and layered class system, which, even after a year, still continues to baffle and confuse me. One group I do know well though (namely because I form part of it) is the expat world of Cairo - a weird melting pot, infused with clandestinely imported foreign alcohol and pork products. Amongst them you will find: curious and/or adrenaline junkie journalists, humanitarian do-gooders wanting to save the country, earnest and enthusiastic diplomats at the beginning of their posting, jaded diplomats nearing (or wishing they were nearing) the end of theirs, the occasional Egyptologist (something of a unicorn), international teachers, cynical academics and some other lost souls and misfits (yours truly included), who find themselves washed up on the banks of the Nile. Yet despite being in a city of 25 million people, the probability of running into a fellow expat in an average day, whether physically or virtually (yes dating apps have made it to Cairo…) is near certainty, and remaining incognito is near impossible. Cairo, I quickly discovered, for better or for worse, is the smallest big city in the world.Cairo is a place of chaos and contradictions at every turn. But it is also a place of palpable energy, soul, and beauty, which can make appearances often at the strangest and most unexpected moments. All I can say is, fasten your seatbelt (if you can find one), brace yourself for the chaos, and you’re in for one hell of a ride!

Flo W xxx

  

Genoa More Than This

In our first ‘Brits Abroad’ post, Basil Wedgwick, contemporary Grand Tourist with a penchant for a good Campari and a splendid Italian palazzo (preferably both at the same time), shares his musings on a recent jaunt to Genoa.‘Genoa - More Than This’ is the current tagline used by the Genoese tourist board.  I mean more than what? On asking several of my friends what they thought of when asked about Genoa the most they could come up with was ‘It’s in Italy’. ‘How about Christopher Columbus, Focaccia Italy’s largest port and being one of the great historical maritime powers in Europe?’  ‘I thought Focaccia and Columbus were from Spain or Portugal’ was the response that summed up the collective shrug of indifference, though that follows most things I say when I talk about travelling.I have therefore come up with a new tagline for the Genoese tourist board ‘Genoa - Pesto, Prozzies[1] and Palazzos’.Quite the trifecta, I know.  But before you book your one way flights with nothing but a ‘Beginner’s Guide to Van Dyck’ and a fifty pack of johnnies I want to go some way in to explaining why it actually is even more than this trio of delights.It’s very rare to go somewhere that is genuinely bizarre.  Everywhere is unusual in its way.[2]  But I can count on one hand the amount of places I’ve been to and thought ‘yeah, this reality doesn’t quite match up with my frame of reference’.  It could be something like it being built on stilts in a swamp (Venice) or ethnically segregated (Sittwe in Myanmar) or just a je ne sais qua perhaps born from the weight of history (Berlin).  Of course this is completely subjective but those are the three places my mind goes to (As a fun game, try it! There are no wrong answers, other than Birmingham)  Genoa is most definitely on that list of bizarre places.To start with the geography of it.  On one side you have the Mediterranean, on the other side you have the mountains.  This mountainous landscape looms inescapably behind the city and is more than imposing, it’s wild.  Wild in a way that you don’t seem to get in cultivated and populous Europe.  I’m not talking about anything dramatic like bears and tigers.  It just seems like humans couldn’t and  shouldn’t be stupid enough to try and perch themselves on it.  Looking at it you can’t imagine what grows easily there.  A few things do though, and grow very well, and they are Basil, Garlic, Olives and Pine nuts.These four ingredients are of course the key components of Pesto[3] and the first of the trio of Genoese delights.  Pesto is one of those things that is almost unanimously loved (apart from if you’re allergic to nuts, or a vampire).  Having it in Genoa though is special, it feels like the landscape of Liguria condensed and made edible.  My travelling companion and I couldn’t work out at first whether the Genoese had got lucky that their main ingredients were this good or that they were genius for combining them in such a versatile and delicious way.We realised they were genius when it became apparent that all of their food combined this extraordinary flavour with simplicity for results that are so evocative of the place itself.  Take Focaccia, in Genoa it tastes like the Mediterranean, salty and a little sour with some aromatic dried herbs across it, the crispy flat variety reminding me slightly of crispy seaweed you get in Asian restaurants.  Their chickpea flour chips (kind of like a better Polenta chip) are the moreish snack you can imagine sailors picking at ten at a time whilst they down carafes of wine when they are on shore leave.  Rabbit (a rare mammal that can survive on the hills) with olives tastes fresh and simple like a terraced farmer’s treat, the list can go on.Another mammal that has managed to eke out existence are humans, and against the odds they have managed to build a city of 600,000 people against this wall of wild hills. The necessity of the small area they have to work with has bred the unique cityscape of its old town.  It is, apparently, the largest medieval city centre left in Europe[4], whether it is or not, it’s a bloody maze.   It is also nearly unchanged.  I don’t mean that in the romantic candlelit strolls and quaint restaurants way, I mean that in a ‘Oh shit I’m going to get knifed’ Game of Thrones way.[5] In an effort to complete this magical time travel effect they have decided even to replicate the smell of a medieval city by having their bins all grouped together in open air shop fronts, lit in a blue light that puts the ‘scent’ in ‘aggressive fluorescent light’.  There are no boulevards, few pretty avenues, it is an utter warren of criss-crossing, narrow and almost unnaturally confusing streets.It also is full of the second of the trio of delights, that is sex workers.  It’s a hard subject to broach really without sounding like a voyeuristic gawper, so I will dispense with any pretence that I will be addressing the serious socio-economic or moral concerns and frivolously discuss in the immediate context of the culture of Genoa.My mother at times refers to sex workers in the euphemistic (and slightly vampiric) ‘Ladies of the night’ but it would be a very inaccurate term, ‘Ladies of the day’ would be much more accurate.[6].  When first wandering the streets at 3pm on a Sunday my travelling companion and I found it disconcerting and thought we’d ended up in to the wrong part of town (our colossal hangovers didn’t help). I mean in gentrified London it is something that you no longer really see.  When we realised it was every part of town we stopped being as worried, but were confused.  We also took our lead from the local Genoese, who seemed utterly unconcerned and unjudgmental .  From the locals there wasn’t a second glance, a tightening of a handbag to the chest, a hand put protectively in a pocket over a wallet.  Indeed in one case I saw a young family with a pram have their photo taken by one of the ladies of the day.This commendable ‘let people get on with what they want to get on with’ seemed to stretch to every aspect of Genoese life.  In one of the most bizarre moments of my life I was sat at a bar at the end of the jetty that was hosting a tango night for young professionals, 50 yards behind us a big band concert was going on, 50 yards behind that about a hundred African migrants were playing drums and dancing.  With no warning a 10 minute firework display went off out at sea, all three groups didn’t look up from the entertainment they were engaged in, and though all three were audible to each other nobody seemed to care.  I have since read and was unsurprised that it was one of the only places that the police and locals tolerate the enterprise of migrants (for example selling handbags on the street). Without engaging in shakedowns and arbitrary cruelty.  It also has one of the lowest crime rates of any major city in Italy.This oddity may make it sound unappealing, but it isn’t.  The atmosphere and peculiar streets, or Vicolo, brings out a sense of genuine discovery and vibrancy to the city.  The Vicolo, too narrow for cars, are intimate and quiet, and you never know when they will open out in to a small buzzing piazza, which almost unanimously have chairs and tables laid out for a busy local bar.The Tardis like churches and Palazzi are seemingly plonked at random through the city, jostling for space with medieval high rise buildings.  Most had the majority of their façade covered by other buildings, maybe a lady of the day or two leaning against it.  There is a famous street that has at least 6 Palazzi on it called Via Garibaldi, if you were to look it up on google though one wouldn’t see what the fuss was about, so uncaring of photogenic boulevards or the needs of voracious Instagrammers.This may contribute to the lack of tourists, which for a large Italian city in the middle of July is amazing.  In a personal pilgrimage to the church of the Doria family and the burial site of Andrea Doria (hero of Lepanto, scourge of Tunisia and Eponym of SampDoria F.C) we were the only people inside.  The custodian of the church showed us the art and decided (after a garbled question by me about football) that he would unlock Andrea Doria’s crypt for us and show us his tomb, designed by Montosorli.The interiors of the Palazzi themselves are as finely decorated and maintained as any in Italy.  Unable to boast any famous ‘home-grown’ artists like Venice or Florence it became a meeting ground of artists from around Europe.[7] I lost count of the Van Dyck’s and Reubens, and saw one of the most peculiar and impressive Brueghels I’ve seen.Even if one were to take the paintings off the walls of the Palazzei they would be worth visiting.  The murals and frescoes were so extraordinary.  In one room in a Palazzo I visited I was so dumbstruck by the majesty I managed to achieve peak middle class and dropped my Campari Spritz on the floor, narrowly avoiding a beautiful Turkish carpet.I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the amazing and bizarre things I saw- like one of Europe’s largest cemeteries, which also contains the best and largest collection of 19th century sculpture in the world.  Or the seafront prison where Marco Polo composed his memoir, which in a normal city would be the focal point, in Genoa it’s façade obscured (like the rest of the sea front) by a raised motorway, a museum to Genoa F.C tucked behind it, day trips to beautiful Ligurian beach towns, where you can have takeaway pesto whilst watching the sea attack 800 year old forts.If all of this doesn’t drag you in though I can only say one thing, there was ‘more than this’.[1] I apologise for using this insensitive terms - sex workers, sea views and cemeteries didn’t quite have the same ring to it.  For a serious discussion on the term this is a good, sensitive article that I slightly disagree with:  http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/12/why-we-shouldnt-rebrand-prostitution-sex-work[2] Bucharest for example falls squarely in to that category, it is a city of unfinished buildings built in to the side of other unfinished buildings.[3] Missing, of course, is Parmesan which is from the inland region of Emilia-Romagna.[4] I struggle to believe this though, for a start Venice is bigger and is nearly unchanged from 1700.  Prague I suspect too is considerably larger, as is Krakow, Naples, Valencia and Seville.  It is likely though it has the largest pedestrian pavement area, but that isn’t as catchy.[5] People have asked me when I said this whether it was like the Assassin’s Creed games, to which I had to say no, because being an assassin there would be boringly easy).[6] There are a couple of large tourist destinations where prostitution is so common it has become part of the ‘attraction’ (Bangkok and Amsterdam) but in Bangkok it is very much a ‘when the sun goes down’ situation, and Amsterdam there is a clearly delineated area. [7] That is not to say it didn’t produce any artists, their was some objectively decent renaissance art produced by the Genoese school, subjectively though it wasn’t to my taste as it seemed slightly too posed. 

St Andrews Revisited

I had a great time in St Andrews.  I would really recommending spending a weekend as a student, I am certain it is good for the soul.A trip to Tesco was the first port of call.  The thing about St Andrews is it that it is very small.  If you have never been, I don't think you are envisioning the correct smallness of small.  There are THREE main streets.  Nothing is further than a 15 minute walk away.  Except Morrisons, and god forbid you live in the Badlands, the area across the Kinessburn, I mean, that is SO far away.So we went to Tesco.  And we bumped into everyone.  At the turn of every aisle there was another acquaintance and the St Andrews anxiousness began to creep upon me.  And I don't even know any of these people.  But realistically you cannot go anywhere without bumping into at least 5 people to whom you say 'we MUST go for coffee soon' both knowing full well that over the course of your 4 years you will only repeat this line to each other in Tesco, in the Library, and then accidentally drunkenly snog each other at an event and pretend like it never ever happened.My other favourite Tesco observation was the number of highly youthful looking men wearing black tie at 6pm on a Friday.  Because, you know, it's Friday, there are places to be.Having acquired our wine, we then attended a family dinner.  In third year, you find yourself academic 'children' from first year, and tonight the children were cooking supper.  It was excellent - I forgot how normal attending a dinner party can feel (we've all got far too grown up and proper in our old late 20s) - you turn up with a bottle of wine, you'll be fed and then games will be played and it may or may not descend into drunken fun.  There are no clubs in St Andrews - it's all about the dancing in someones living room.On Saturday we went to yoga in the Aquarium, a walk to the pier via the Cathedral, and I also went for a run on West Sands - it was so nice being by the sea and not in grotty dirty London.We also picked up our Don't Walk fashion show tickets.  I am going to follow with a full DONT WALK post, no fear, I took so many photos and had the BEST time. But something you should know, to put Don't Walk into context a little, fashion shows, mysteriously, are a BIG THING in St Andrews.If you aren't on a fashion show committee in St Andrews, you are basically no one, and therefore can be spoken to in an off hand, frankly quite rude and very condescending manner.  We were there to pick up tickets we had paid money for.  My general feeling is, any organisation (ok except maybe Easy Jet) from whom you have purchased a ticket (and an expensive one too) for an exclusive event they are holding, would go out of their way to help you with any ticket issue you might have for their event.  Not Don't Walk.  No matter that you've spent £160 on a SUPER SUPER VIP ticket 'Did you say you can't get the ticket app to work?' 'Sorry, I can't really help with that right now'. I mean WHAT? The attitude of the girls doling out the wristbands can be compared to the mean cheerleaders in a high school movie, fake smiles all round, with a touch of, 'don't ever think of talking to me EVER again'. (Oh and by the way, there are no standard tickets for this event, you are a VIP in some degree - because obviously the fact that you know someone who has helped you acquire this ticket, makes you slightly less lowly than your average student).So having been made to feel thoroughly unwanted by the all american / scandanavian DONT WALK committee, we left clutching our precious wristbands and goodie bags (this contained a coca cola, a coconut water, and a hair scrunchie - money well spent..), to enjoy the rest of our day before the main event.A few other things I did whilst in St Andrews:A visit to Topping's Book shop, it's a proper bookshop, with every book imaginable from floor to ceiling.Have a hot chocolate in Taste.  And a coffee.  And a chocolate brownie...Go for another walk on West Sands.Visit the Balgove Larder for brunch.Go to Aikmans for a beer.Go to Empire and buy garlic pizza bread and chips with cheese and eat it all really quite rapidly.I also got ID'd buying a bottle of wine in Luvians, and someone asked me if I was my sister's younger sister - apparently I can pass off as being very youthful.And I was also asked multiple times if St Andrews has changed - NO, nothing has changed - I mean, ok, there is now a Pret A Manger and an M&S, but everything else is pretty much the same - the same types of people, the same events, the same 'chat'.I had such a nice time, perhaps going back to visit is the best way to experience it - no essays to worry about, but you still know the place so well, everything feels so familiar, even the people.  And students just have endless time which is amazing (although everyone is SO busy, I mean - you're not, you have 3 lectures a week and are just one of the members on the 50 strong fashion show committee...).And one more note, one of my flatmates occasionally mentions that we need to currently stop living so much like students .  The thing is Tom, you just have no idea...Another post to follow full of DONT WALK delights.Alice xxximg_5255img_4946img_4948img_4969img_4963img_4965img_4973img_4980img_4983img_4987img_4992img_4997img_5059img_5002img_4970img_5007img_5008img_5010img_5020img_5044img_5026img_5028img_5030img_5031img_5057img_5034img_5038img_5040img_5041img_5043img_5048img_5051img_5052img_5053 img_5230img_5240img_5239img_5241img_5056img_5058img_5061img_5071img_5066img_5067img_5069img_5257img_5233 img_5072

A Weekend in St Andrews

So I am currently heading North to a small town on the Fife coast 🏙I CAN'T WAIT 😊.I spent 4 years in St Andrews, learning things about art 👩🏻‍🎨 and am going to be slightly reliving my student days this weekend 🥂.I am staying with my smallest sister 👩‍💻who is currently studying there, and we are going to do all sorts of St Andrews things including attending an academic family dinner 👨‍👨‍👧‍👦, taking a dip in the North Sea on East Sands 🌊 (ok maybe just a paddle), for sure drinking a hot chocolate in Taste ☕️ and maybe a wander across the Old Course ⛳️for a drink in the Jigger Inn 🍷.And I will be attending the infamous DONT WALK fashion show after party💃🏻. Yes, I'm going to Don't Walk 🙈😂.So keep tuned in for updates, particularly on Instagram @alicefrancesbAlice xxx 💕

Hong Kong

We have arrived back in London (the first flight into Heathrow ✈️ on Sunday morning, VERY early), and my new flying coping strategy is audio books - far more effective than films - I got through some Kipling, Graham Greene and Chekov 📚 (ok I did doze off a number of times) it's so much easier to forget you are very high up in the air when someone is reading you a story.  And we flew out on a Dreamliner ✈️ and back on an Airbus A380 ✈️(the double decker one) so Max was very happy 😉.The trip was super exciting 😃, I loved seeing both cities - they were just so different, calm and collected Seoul 🏯 versus bustling, hectic and high rise Hong Kong 🌆, and of course the temperature change was so bizarre, -2 degrees in Seoul ⛄️❄️, to 23 degrees in Hong Kong ☀️!  I am missing the warm weather just a tiny bit, but it is very nice to be home.  And I am appreciating London all the more - apartments in Hong Kong are super tiny and the buildings are tightly packed in 🏢 making it all rather claustrophobic, it feels quite strange to be back in Wandsworth with the common 🌳 just round the corner and not a skyscraper in sight.Hong Kong 🌆 grew on me whilst I was there, it is a fairly overwhelming place to start with 🙉, but once you get into the swing of it, it really is very exciting, there is so much going on, and such a buzz.  The city is a mass of skyscrapers built almost on top of each other, stretching as far as the eye can see, and many of them are a tad shabby.  I did love the way the roads are built inbetween the skyscrapers, they weave in and around, up and down, almost like roller coasters 🎢criss-crossing each other constantly.  I had also not expected it to be so tropical and really enjoyed the many palms trees 🌴 and other foliage everywhere.  We took a fun hike up to the peak 🗻, a hike in the New Territories which I loved 🌺 and a quick swim in the South China Sea 🌊.  We ate very very well 😃🍴, thanks to a list of places to eat from a friend - lots and lots of fish, including some amazing sushi 🐟.And of course I took a few photos too. 😊Alice xxximg_3419img_3440img_3423img_3394img_3403img_3500img_3457img_3458img_3461img_3467img_3475img_3481img_3488img_3501img_3612img_3618img_3502img_3553img_3552img_3510img_3559img_3564img_3572

Seoul Searching

We have now left Seoul and arrived in Hong Kong and the contrast between the two cities has made me want to show a little more Seoul to you 👧.Arriving in Seoul from London is a little like stepping into the future.  Everything is so clean and efficient, and everyone is so polite.  There aren't all that many people, at least compared to London, and we saw very few other tourists.  I was surprised by how many of the signs are in English as well as Korean, the metro announcements were given in both Korean and by a Suri type disembodied American lady.  The city is full of glass fronted high rise buildings (although not nearly as high as Hong Kong) and the air is clean.  For two of the days we had bright sunshine ☀️, and although it was icily cold ❄️, the chill was similar to being in the snowy alps, it was very pleasant in the sun.We ate amazingly - the best food 🍜 was slightly off the beaten track and we ate at a number of places without a menu, we arrived, sat down, the food turned up and we got stuck in - some of the best place were in the Bukchon area.  A side of kimchi 🌿 comes with almost every meal, and I have to say I'm a fan, apart from when it gets too spicy.  I really enjoyed the Korean BBQ, cold noodle soups, the buckwheat pancakes too and most of all the spicy fish stew we ate at the Gwangjang Street food market.  It is really quite refreshing to have not eaten or seen a single Pret sandwich for five whole days.  And I have become a master with Korean chopsticks - they are flatter and thinner than Chinese ones.  There are modern coffee shops ☕️ and bakeries everywhere, the coffee is excellent, and they always ask if you would like your coffee hot or cold.  It was nice to see that the 'Flat White' has not yet taken over Seoul - we happily ordered cappuccinos, and the matcha lattes were great.  And of course the dessert cafes 🍧 which are open until 10pm each night, I did not sample enough of these - there is even one dedicated to just green tea products.Everyone is Seoul is incredibly polite 👦👧, and very accepting of ignorant tourists, I suspect we made many faux pas.  They are very quiet people too and no one seems to be in too much of a rush, and they are expert queuers, very little pushing and shoving.People are very well put together 👗👠, and I like the style a lot, for the girls it's quite girly in a way, lots of swing coats in fun colours, tidy loafers and of course much fur.  They have also got the beauty 💄 thing down to a T, all the girls are subtly made up, a hint of lip stick, neat eye make up and pale skin.  There are beauty shops everywhere, if you want an anti-aging face cream that might actually work, Seoul is the place to find one.  And it is definitely not a city in which you hungoverly pop to the super market in a pair of leggings, greasy hair and no make up,  and pretend you are on your way to the gym when you bump into someone you know.  They have perhaps gone too far though - there are adverts for plastic surgery everywhere aimed at young girls.The internet 💻 is also crazily fast, everybody on the metro is deeply absorbed in their phones.   It is so fast I actually wrote my last post at Incheon airport using the free wifi, and the photos uploaded faster than they do at home in Sussex.It was a really wonderful trip, and I loved getting to know the city 😍.  Maybe the most amazing part was meeting up with friends in a city half way across the world.I have added quite a lot of Seoul photos below, and if you would like to know the names of places we ate do let me know.Alice xxximg_2925img_2956img_2979img_2976img_3338img_3330img_3332img_3329img_2985img_3350img_3021img_3020img_3041img_3096img_3095img_3216img_3231img_3233img_3234img_3238img_3314img_3323img_3340img_3347img_2991img_2993img_2997img_3119img_3165 

A Little Seoul Shopping

When I first arrived in Seoul I got a little over excited about the clothes, everyone is so well put together 💄👠👗👘👙.  I decided it was important to check out the shopping situation, so we had a wander around Lotte Department store and the Hongdae area.I discovered SO many exciting clothes, from many brands I didn't recognise - at the moment they are really into their fur, there is fur everywhere - and a powder pink coat with a fur collar seems to be the item you need right now.  I didn't buy one... but I was just so tempted 💕💕💕💗💓.Outside in the streets it got all kitsch 🎀 and fun - multi coloured candy floss was a highlight 🍡.  And we recovered at a dessert cafe 🍧, they have cafes just for pudding, I have no idea why don't they have these in London 🍦🍧🎂🍰.Alice xxximg_3249img_3247img_3253img_3251img_3284img_3261 img_3319img_3318img_3262img_3269img_3292img_3298 img_3240img_3241 img_3242img_3384 img_3370 

Another Palace, some Lunch and a Protest

Yesterday was really very exciting, it snowed 😍, we went to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace, Hee Yon got married and look absolutely beautiful, and there was a huge protest against the President.I have decided to give you a photo update, as I thought perhaps really you ought to see Seoul 😊, the one photo thing is proving much too hard!!Alice xxximg_3036img_3064img_3071img_3094img_3084-2img_3047img_3237img_3057img_3226 

A Visit to a Secret Garden

img_2929Today we woke up very early ⏰and went to explore the city.  It was a beautiful day in the sun ☀️although it is VERY chilly ❄️❄️here, I've never been anywhere this cold, and we thoroughly wrapped up in thermals, hats and gloves .We headed for Changgyeonggung Palace 🏯 and had a excellent tour by a very sassy tour guide, and then a tour of the Secret Garden 🌳at the palace.  The photo above shows the palace wall, with the secret garden ablaze with the red leaves of acer trees on the other side. 🍁The direct translation is not quite correct - really it should be 'private garden' as this was the private garden 🌳of the Royal family when they were in residence.  It is quite a large area, set into a hill, and the garden path weaves through the hilly landscape.  There are many temples in the garden and a library or two, the King was very keen on his reading 📘, although no books anymore 📚.  There are also lots of ponds, and even one in the shape of Korea, and they are all currently iced over ❄️, with lots of red and yellow autumnal leaves 🍂 🍁 frozen in, creating colourful.  It was a beautiful walk in the sunshine, and I love the combination of the dark green pines 🌲and bright red acers 🍁.Next we went to Bukchon which is a charming place, the hilly streets are lined with 'hanok' the traditional Korean houses 🏠 and there are many tiny boutiques, places to eat and coffee shops.  We had some lunch 🍜(only one thing on the menu, ideal) and then had some radish tea 🍵 sitting on a cushion on the floor of a hanok house.  It is such a peaceful area, with the sun out, and very few cars (and not a plane in the sky!) it was wonderful just to wander about through the maze of little streets.   We are going to go back tomorrow.We then wandered down to Cheongyecheon 'stream' 🌊 - which is more like a very shallow clear river running through the city, below ground level.  It is rather nice to walk along, as although some of the main roads of the city cross over it, you can barely hear the traffic.  And there were stepping stones 🚣!It has been a super day, and most excitingly more people are arriving for the wedding 👩👦👧, it is really quite amazing meeting up with many friends in a city half way across the world from home.Alice xxximg_3029 img_3018

Arrived in Seoul!

So we have made it to Seoul!My body is a little confused by the time right now, day night, night day, day night - and I am definitely tired.This afternoon we had our nails painted, girls mainly although some boys did join in, I chose blue glittery and silver, obviously, so fun!And then had a lovely very yummy dinner, including a little soju and plum wine drunk in shot glasses, and met the other wedding goers 😃.Alice xxximg_2921

Time for an Adventure

It is about time for another adventure, particularly as the weather is getting colder and drearier by the day ⛄️ in London.Tomorrow I am flying to South Korea for a wedding 👰 and I am just SO excited!!I have never been to Asia 🎎, so this really is a big adventure, and I can't wait.The one thing I am not looking forward to are the flights ✈️.  I am one of those people that just doesn't enjoy flying.  It's not the discomfort, I'm small and the lack of space doesn't bother me too much (but if you do want to upgrade me to Business Class, I'm totally happy with that 😃).  It's the irrational fear of being cooped up in a aluminium box, suspended 30,000 feet in the sky for 11 whole hours.  There is part of my brain that knows this is just wrong, the ground is a very very long way away 😳.And it really is an irrational fear, however many times you tell me I am far more likely to come to a sticky ending crossing the road in London, than fall out of the sky in an aeroplane, I still can't quite rid of the feeling that the whole process is terrifyingly unnatural 🙈.It starts to build a couple of days before, gets worse at the airport going through security, I hate all that unnecessary waiting around.  The worse bit is take off ✈️, as you watch the ground getting further and further away, in the absolute knowledge that there is nothing you can do for the next 11 hours except sit tight.  I'm actually totally fine in-flight, but if there is turbulence please do not expect me to be making polite conversation with you 🙉.  And I like the landing part, as it means firm ground is getting closer all the time.  Although don't get me started on flights that circle above the destination runway 'waiting' to land.To be honest, it's rather frustrating, as although I am excited to be going away and I know it is going to be fun when I arrive in the country, the very beginning of a holiday is always overshadowed by this flying malarkey 😳✈️✈️.  And of course, as the holiday ends, there is only one way home, back on that plane again.   If only we could disapparate and apparate like Harry Potter 🔮 (sadly I'm still waiting for my Hogwarts letter).I have once refused to get on a flight, but that was a while ago.  And the thing is, if you don't fly, you don't get to see so many exciting things 🏰⛺️🗻🌇.  So the best thing I find is to not look out of the window, pretend you are on a long train journey and get stuck into a good book, and I'm sure I'll watch a couple of films.Packing is done and it has been super fun deciding what to take.  After completely ignoring mutterings about taking a 'capsule wardrobe' I have basically packed for two holidays, a winter wedding in a very chilly Korea, and then onto humid Hong Kong for a short stop after.  A fur scarf and a bikini have both made it into my suitcase, along with a number of other sparkly items and only six pairs of shoes... 😘I have decided to do the same as Tresco, I'm going to post one photo a day on the blog for the time I am in Korea, although I suspect it is going to be a hard choice!!So, I will catch up with you again on Thursday once we have arrived in Seoul, and definitely keep an eye on my instagram.Alice xxximg_2897img_2901 

The Scilly Isles in a Kate Spade Dress

Whilst on the Scilly Isles, we decided to do a mini photo shoot in one of my favourite places - Pentle Bay on Tresco, and I wore a Kate Spade dress.  I can't get enough of Kate Spade - their dresses, handbags, shoes and jewellery are always the most marvellous colours.  I love the jewel tones, and with a few geometric patterns thrown in and a touch of sparkle to add - I always feel like a small child in a sweet shop when I enter a Kate Spade shop, there are just so many exciting things.  I often go in and try things on - they really do know how to cut a dress properly, and once on, each dress feels as though it was made just for you.We cycled down to the beach and I did a hasty change in the sand dunes and we took some photos.  I really like the bright pink of the dress against the calm tones of the sea, sky and sand.Dress, Kate Spade - similar here; Ring, Oliver Bonas; Nail Polish, Barry M.Photographs taken by Sarah Bray and Emily Bray.Alice xxxIMG_6241 IMG_6243 IMG_6247 IMG_6260IMG_6270IMG_6263 IMG_0061 IMG_0063 IMG_0064 IMG_0065 IMG_0071IMG_6237