Bloody Brilliant: Review of Period. by Emma Barnett

I hinted about it in my last post, so here it is! My review of Period. by Emma Barnett.

The extended title is ‘It’s about bloody time.’ and I couldn’t agree more. (This is also what my boyfriend will say when I’ve finally published this blog post.)

Period. – Emma Barnett
(London: HQ, 2019)

Synopsis from the dust jacket:

Emma loathes her period. Really, she does. But there’s something she loathes even more: not being able to talk about it. Freely, funnily and honestly. Without men and women wrinkling their noses as if she’s pulled her tampon out and offered it as an hors d’oeuvre.

But somehow, despite women having had periods since the dawn of time, we’ve totally clammed up on anything to do with menstruation. Why, oh why, would we rather say ‘Auntie Flo’ than ‘period’? Why, in the 21st century, are periods still seen as icky? Why are we still so ignorant about such a fundamental bodily process?

Now, in Period., Emma draws on female experiences that will make you laugh, weep (and, most probably, squirm), in a fierce and funny rallying cry to smash this ridiculous taboo once and for all.

Because it’s about bloody time.
PERIOD.

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In May 2016, Emma Barnett became the first person in the UK to announce on live TV that she was menstruating. Not out of the blue, obviously, but during ‘The Pledge’, an evening panel show where the topic up for debate was menstrual leave in the workplace. (If anyone has a clip of this, I’d love to see it – the internet has disappointed me in my search so far!) Barnett says her panel was ‘duly horrified’ (27) at her announcement, but her panel was not made up entirely of men. And that’s why Period. exists. Barnett makes it clear from the outset of her book that she’s not just here to reproach men for reinforcing period taboos; the problem, as a woman once confessed to her, is that ‘we women are complicit in the silence’ (57).

I didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. Barnett strikes the perfect balance by using humour alongside cold, hard facts which confirm a worldwide lack of period progression. The topics covered are all-encompassing: religion; education; family attitudes; workplace conversations; parliamentary debates and the infamous ‘tampon tax’; sex and poverty to name but a few.

Barnett also calls out brands such as Always who are meant to be paving the way for period-positivity but often have unrealistic adverts for their sanitary products. She notes that not one advert shown on TV has featured red liquid to signify menstrual blood; the fluid used to display products’ absorption qualities is always clear or blue despite there being no regulations in place against using red. Crazy, then, that brands who are trying to convey more realistic advertising encounter problems when trying to do so. Barnett reveals that Thinx, the re-usable period underwear brand I mentioned in my last post, had to overcome some absurd hurdles before they were able to even use the words ‘period’ and ‘fluid’ in their promotional material. Along with an unexpected section about the until-now missing period emoji, these facts make Barnett’s call-to-arms extremely compelling. We should be ridding ourselves of period shame and questioning those who have been reinforcing stigmas, especially through globally-accessible media.

Perhaps you could dream up your own, very real, period ad… Mine would mainly involve grease: greasy hair, greasy Chinese and a greasy face. Oh, and many profanities nestled within a sassy monologue about my period vibe. And low slung tights. (200)

What makes Period. extraordinary is the inclusion of stories from people Barnett has met during her life and career so far: some empowering, some hilarious — my favourite being ‘Would you go to prison for your period?’ (57), — and some tinged with sadness. Barnett brings to light the difficulties faced by women with no access to sanitary products, as well as sharing stories from a trans activist who desperately wishes to be rid of their period and a woman born without a womb who longs to know what menstruation feels like.

Barnett also shares her personal experience with endometriosis.  I found myself dumbfounded and angry reading about her extreme period pains and the confusion accompanying her struggle to conceive because she’d been told by medical professionals that her cycle was normal. The fact that it was almost twenty-one years before she was diagnosed with endometriosis screams out for more research to be conducted. Our healthcare systems are lacking funding for ‘female conditions’ and this in turn is affecting progression in our educational system. I had no idea endometriosis existed until last year and I didn’t really know what it was until I read this book.

This made me wonder how many people I knew felt that their academic education about periods was sufficient, so I created a simple yes or no Instagram poll. Forty-five out of fifty answered no. A couple of male friends I spoke to told me they’d only ever learned about menstruation in a biological sense, with no emphasis on how it could affect a woman’s mood, lifestyle or other parts of her body.

It can’t be right that when teaching about something so normal and frequent as a monthly bleed, boys are often sent out of class and the person conducting the lesson is generally someone different to the normal teacher… (146)

I distinctly remember a PSHE lesson on periods at my all-girls school being taught by our headmistress, and thanks to Barnett I now realise how problematic that was. Whilst it may have given more emphasis on the importance of the lesson, it felt more like an incredibly formal ‘here for one night only’ event. Surely the headmistress, who had already squeezed us into her busy schedule, would cover everything we needed to know about menstruation? Even if we did have burning questions afterwards, we wouldn’t have felt confident enough to approach her outside of that classroom.

It wasn’t until my higher education that I developed, as Barnett calls it, ‘period-pride’, but Barnett notes that stigmas can still haunt the most open of us, especially in the workplace:

it’s one thing learning to talk to your friends, family and, if necessary, the doctor openly about your flow. It’s something else to bring up your period with your boss and your work colleagues. Or that guy who sits near the loos at the office as you stagger past with your dainty special zip-up bag, waddling the final stretch to the toilet, otherwise known as ‘the red mile’ (too much?), having put off the soggy change for two hours too long. (116-117)

I almost spat my tea out after reading the words ‘dainty special zip-up bag’ because I do, in fact, own one of these and I have frequently waddled to the toilet with it, holding it as discreetly as possible. I’ve been carrying out this act of discretion on auto-pilot because stigmas I’ve been exposed to have insidiously created within me a shame I didn’t realise I had! That’s pretty mucked up. I wouldn’t hide the simple fact that I’m going to the toilet, so why would I try to hide the fact that I’m on my period? Marathon runner Kiran Gandhi didn’t try to hide her free-flowing blood when she ran through London in 2015, and it’s thanks to acts of confidence like this and defiance against ludicrous ‘norms’ that change is underway.

Don’t be revolted, lead the revolt — preferably with a grin on your face and a tampon tucked proudly behind your ear. (17)

Period. is structured in a way that begins with women’s first experiences of blood and then concludes reflectively. One of the last chapters covers the ‘no blood’ period (pun intended), of a woman’s life, and we read thoughts from various women about what menopause and losing their monthly bleed has meant to them. Reading this chapter, along with an earlier discussion of the fact that women don’t technically need periods (unless they want children), made me think reflectively of my period and what it means to me, which, I’ve realised, is not a great deal. I’m grateful to have a relatively stable cycle and low-scale pain each month, but that’s about it. I don’t think my period defines who I am. It’s just something that happens to me and half the world’s population, and this is the crux of Barnett’s message:

Whether you love, loathe or are indifferent to periods, whether you have them or not, menstruation is a fact of life and should be thought of and spoken about as something ‘truly unremarkable’ (270) instead of something dirty and shameful.

Period. is all about ‘finding your fanny voice’, so I’ll use mine to end the review here and urge you to pick up a copy of this book.

It will be bloody brilliant, trust me.

 

Small steps towards a greener life

Hi, how are you doing? It’s been a while. You’re looking GREAT.

I’ve been a bit MIA on the blogging front; I’d love to say I’ve been off speaking at global warming conferences but I’ve actually just been trying to sort a few things out — mainly my skin and career… I’m not where I want to be yet but it’s all about the small steps!

Speaking of small steps, they’re also important in the journey to better protecting our planet. In light of Greta Thunberg’s recent UN speech, and the Extinction Rebellion protests currently underway in London, I thought I’d share the steps I’ve been taking in order to do my bit for the environment. I’m not preaching that I’m the perfect eco-warrior; not all of us are able to drop everything and live completely waste and emission-free, but if we could all make slight adjustments to our day-to-day lives, we might be able to make good progress.

Special shout-out to my Mum for this post; she was nature-loving and eco-friendly long before I was!

Friendlier lifestyle:

Know your waste – What you can recycle depends on the local facilities in your area. I’ve been using this page of the recyclenow website to get clued up on which household items I can dispose of in my council bins and where to take the items I can’t (such as batteries, old computer parts, building materials etc).

Charity/shelter shops – I’ve been buying from and donating to charity shops for years. I’ve always loved the sense of discovery involved, and who doesn’t like a bargain hunt for a good cause? Recycling isn’t just for paper and plastics; if you’re doing a Marie Kondo-style clear-out, consider the items that are still in good condition because charity shops and shelters will gladly take donations of clothes, toys, furniture and books etc. One person’s trash is another’s treasure and all that.

Charity shop clothes
Some of the charity shop items hanging up in my wardrobe.

Drink tap water (when it’s safe to do so) – In the first episode of BBC programme War on Plastic, (which aired in June this year), it was discovered that there were virtually no health benefits for drinking bottled water over tap water. Additionally, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall carried out a marketing experiment in London where he disguised tap water as a new bottled brand, and most people who said they avoided tap water because of its taste declared they liked the taste of this one! So there you go. No need for buying endless plastic water bottles, even if they can be recycled. You can always ask for tap water refills when you’re out and about. I’ve recently discovered the Refill app, which tells you where your nearest tap water refill stations are! Read more about Refill here.

Consume less meat, fish & dairy – Aside from any ethical arguments; it’s been common knowledge for a while now that the livestock industry is one of the biggest contributors to global climate change, and fishing techniques used in the seafood industry such as trawling can have equally damaging effects on marine life. I’m not saying let’s all become immediate vegans — I haven’t stopped eating meat, but when I went veggie for a month for chaity last November I realised I didn’t need or want meat as much as I did previously. I rarely eat meat for breakfast and lunch any more and I also try to have vegetarian dinners at least three days out of seven. There are so many different meat and dairy alternatives available now anyway,  so we could all be capable of cutting down on our consumption of meat, fish and dairy and considering more responsibly-sourced ingredients. Don’t think of it as a diet. You can take it from me that eating Quorn nuggets feels just as much a treat as eating normal nuggets!

Some of my easy-to-make veggie meals.

Let loose – I try to buy loose fruit and veg wherever I can. Annoyingly this can work out more expensive in supermarkets but if you can afford it, do it. It’s also worth going to markets or farm shops and supporting local businesses. My nearest farm shop is striving towards plastic-free packaging, and they even have their own re-fill dispensers now for laundry liquids, rice and seeds etc!

Stanhill pumpkins
My local pick-your-own field. This was the pumpkin patch last year, basking in the weird October heat.

Snacks & meal prep – How many times have you gone out to buy lunch in the past week? How many of those lunches came in non-recyclable containers? Appreciated, sometimes you just won’t have time to plan your meals or make things in bulk but when you can, not only will you be saving on plastic waste and money, you’ll probably be healthier for it! I find it far easier to make veggie lunches in bulk because there’s no meat prep to be done and less washing-up.

No receipt, please – Unless you really need a paper receipt, why get one at all? Most high street retailers are turning to e-receipts, so opt for these instead of hard copies. They’ll probably be easier to find if you do need to return something! Also, some receipts are made from thermal paper and coated in BPA, which in large amounts is toxic to us and the environment. It’s not possible to tell which receipts are BPA-coated, (unless you own a science lab), so in this case it’s best to avoid possible toxins being recycled by not recycling at all.

Paperless statements – You can’t recycle shredded paper, so contact your bank and ask them to send you online statements instead, (if this option is available to you). The process might be a faff but it will be worth it! How many statements have I pointlessly filed away this month? None!

Grow up (and outwards) – If you have a garden, plant seeds to encourage growth and wildlife. You don’t need to have the skills of Capability Brown to make it look pretty — the plants and flowers will do that for you! You could also grow your own fruit and veg and transport it to your kitchen plastic-free.

Garden
Unfortunately I take no credit for my parents’ beautiful garden!

Compost – This page on the Eden Project website has some useful tips in building up a good compost heap or bin. You can also use compost to fertilise your plants and flowers, so win-win really.

Beachwatch – My mum and I participated in a beach clean in Hastings last month, organised by volunteers for the Marine Conservation Society. They provided us with biodegradable bags, gloves, litter pickers and a clipboard with a tick-list of waste types so we could record specific items we found in order to contribute to the MCS’s research. You can find out where and when your nearest beach clean is here.

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This was Hastings beach before we’d cleaned! We didn’t have a full bag at the end of it but we did find loads of BBQ skewers and a burnt pile of metal nails… lovely.

Give intangible gifts – Sometimes an experience, trip or day out is better than a physical present. Spend time with your nearest and dearest. If they’re not your nearest and dearest — it may seem impersonal to give someone a voucher but they might make more use of it than, say, a generic bath set, (or they may not, maybe that’s just me.) Alternatively you could encourage your family and friends to be more eco-friendly by gifting them some of the products below…

Friendlier products:

Re-usable bottles/flasks – Take your tap water with you! I’ve got this 500ml metal bottle from Typo which is good at keeping my water cold in summer. It’s quite heavy but worth it. I’ve dropped it a couple of times but it’s still fine to use…

My former colleagues didn’t appreciate my dented bottle so they bought me a sparkly new one, quite literally, which now resides at my boyfriend’s house:

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Canvas/jute & cloth shopper bags – I always re-use the plastic bags I have but they’re a faff to clean if you spill something (if you’re clumsy like me, anyway). My Ravenclaw bag comes pretty much everywhere with me if I’ve got extra stuff to carry, (headphones, water bottle and books), and I’ve recently bought another bag from H&M.  It’s well worth paying £5 or so for a bag you can wash and that will last you years.

For large food shops I always make sure I have a few jute bags in my car. However, the one thing I hate in supermarkets is being caught out by those annoying little clear plastic bags for loose fruit and veg. I don’t want to use them but equally I don’t want my yellow pepper touching the bottom of my shopping basket because germs. Luckily, my Mum introduced me to &Keep, an online shop selling only eco-friendly products. From there I bought three organic cotton produce bags. (&Keep are also selling delightful “I’m with Greta” recycled tote bags at the moment, for all your eco-warrior/bag lady needs.)

Bars of soap – Save on plastic dispensers by buying bars of natural soap instead. I took one on holiday to use as a handwash and for cleaning our swimwear in the shower when needed. I also brought a bar back with me as a cute little gift.

Olive oil soap

Natural sponges & scrubbers – Loofahs, sea sponges and coir fibre brushes to name a few are natural, bio-degradable alternatives to plastic sponges, brushes and scourers for your kitchen and bathroom. Again, &Keep have a wide array of these products on their website.

Lunch boxes & beeswax wrap – You probably have a lunch box but if you don’t, it’s time to make a purchase! Additionally if, like me, you prefer wrapping your lunch components separately, you can use beeswax wrap as an alternative to cling film or aluminium foil. It’s malleable when warm, holds its shape when cool, and it’s washable and bio-degradable.

Natural makeup remover – Coconut oil. My friend recommended this to me as a skincare tip rather than an eco-friendly thing, however I’ve been using this huge jar from Amazon to remove eye makeup since April and it’s still going! Just make sure you refrigerate it in summer because the whole thing can melt in hot temperatures.

Lush products – Not only do Lush use fresh and natural ingredients, their black pots are made from recycled plastic and can be returned to your local store to be recycled again — here’s how it works. Also if you return five empty pots to Lush you receive a free fresh face mask in return. Fabulous incentive!

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My current to-be-recycled pile ft. my favourite Lush products!

Indoor plants – House plants don’t just look pretty, they can help with air purification and contribute to your general physical and mental well-being. I took the plunge in May last year and bought my first big indoor plant, an Areca Palm, and I’m pleased to say it’s still alive nearly a year and a half later. When the leaves started growing outward I was worried because I thought they were drooping. I kept thinking I’d neglected the plant too much or I’d been incorrectly watering it but turns out it was just adjusting to the air humidity and temperature of my room. I trim dead leaves off occasionally but new ones always grow in their place. I quite like how it looks now because you can see definition of the leaves better than when I first bought it, (excuse the bad lighting):

You can also see my aloe vera’s growth, and my cute little cactus addition, (the smaller aloe plant in the first picture was fake and has been moved to my book shelf! Only natural stuff allowed in this corner now).

Reef-friendly sun cream – At the moment fully eco-friendly sun creams come with rather hefty price tags, so for my recent holiday I opted to use Nivea’s protect & moisture sun cream. This sun cream is compliant with the Hawaii Reef Bill which, by January 2021, proposes to ban chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate from the production of sunscreens in Hawaii due to their toxic effects on coral reefs.

Less harmful cleaning products – Sometimes you can’t avoid buying plastic-bottled products like kitchen and bathroom cleaners. The good news is there are brands out there striving to make cleaning more eco-friendly, both in the ingredients they use and their packaging. Method products are cruelty-free, use plant-based ingredients and recycled plastic bottles. I found Method in my local Dunelm store and was pleasantly surprised to find that their products were just as tough on dirt, grime and limescale as the leading brands using harsher chemicals.

Responsible sparkle – Bio-degradable glitter. Useful in the run-up to Halloween and Christmas, or if you’ve just bought tickets for Glasto next year and want to bling yourself up for it! I love Gypsy Shrine, and they have a good selection of environmentally-friendly sparkle on their website.

That concludes my recommendation list! I have three things from my &Keep haul I’m yet to use, which are all made from bamboo:

  • ‘truthbrush’ – I’m letting my plastic one run its course at the moment!
  • Re-usable nail varnish remover pads
  • Re-usable makeup remover pads – these are a tricky one at the moment because I’m trying to get my acne under control so I think I will need more than a 16-pack as I’ll need to wash them after every use to avoid bacteria build-up!

My to-buy list currently looks like this:

  • Re-usable tongue brush/scraper – my new toothbrush doesn’t come with a tongue brush like some plastic ones do, so I’m looking to buy a brush or scraper separately.
  • Thinx – Proper period pants! I use pads near the beginning and end of my period, (side note: I’m not sorry if discussing my period makes you uncomfortable — more of this in my next post), but would love a comfier and more eco-friendly alternative. Thinx aren’t cheap but they offer a 60-day money-back guarantee and have loads of FAQs on their website which makes me feel more confident in making a possible purchase.
    (I recently tried the Mooncup in place of non-applicator tampons but couldn’t get on with it. However, if you’re willing to give them a go, silicone menstrual cups are able to collect three times as much blood as a regular tampon and, provided they are properly cleaned between uses, can be re-used for up to ten years!)
  • Litter grabber – I’m going to become the local weirdo out at strange hours picking up rubbish and I’m going to be PROUD. Should probably also add biodegradable bin bags to my list too.
  • Shampoo & conditioner bars – My Mum is currently trialing these! She prefers the conditioner to the shampoo because she says it’s hard to get the shampoo into a proper lather and it doesn’t feel like it washes out as well as bottled shampoo. However, I’ve read on the Primal Suds website that your hair feeling waxy or thick is completely normal; it will take time to transition from being washed with chemicals to all-natural ingredients. When I have the patience I’ll let you know what that transition is like!
  • Re-usable food bags – I don’t have an urgent need for these but I’ve seen some silicone brands online as an alternative to plastic freezer bags so they could be useful for storing meals made in bulk.

In addition to all this I’m going to start making some ‘eco-vows’, the first one being to use less water. As you may have noticed from my not-so-subtle hints in some of the points above, I’m a bit of a clean freak. I used to shower and wash my hair every day but not only is that awful for the environment, it’s not as healthy for me as I once believed. I’ve managed to cut down on the showering now but I still need to rein in the obsessive hand-washing habit! It’s really not helping my eczema.

I’ll stop rambling on now.

Keep me updated on your journeys to becoming more eco-friendly! Have you made any eco-vows of your own? I’d love to know if you found any of the tips and products above useful. Let me know in the comments.

As always, thanks for reading!

[I’m not sponsored to promote any of the brands or products I’ve mentioned in this post.]

SIX: The Musical – A Right Royal Time

Last month, my friend Lydia, (she wanted me to name drop), took me to see SIX: The Musical, on the basis that I love all things Tudor-related, because the stars of the show are – you guessed it – Henry VIII’s six wives!

SIX is shown at the Arts Theatre which is modest in size compared to the more widely known theatres in Covent Garden. There’s no fancy foyer, it’s just straight in to the bar and ticket stand, then up or down the stairs to the seating. We were in the stalls.

Until recently, I’d developed a very narrow-minded view of musicals as being too cheesy for my liking. However, after hearing so many people rave about The Book of Mormon I bit the bullet in January and was far from disappointed! My problem with SIX was that nobody I knew had seen it to reassure me.

When the show started I still had my dubious hat on, but by the end of it I was part of the standing ovation, whooping as loud as my lungs would allow.

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The stories of the six women may be over 400 years old, but their experiences are still well-remembered today, and SIX conveys a modern relevance that is funny, heartbreaking and empowering.

The show is staged as a kind of sing-off and so each of the queens has her own song about her relationship with Henry.

Catherine of Aragon’s song was compelling and resilient.
Anne Boleyn’s was light-hearted and nonchalant – not the stance I would have liked but I’ve always been defensive of Anne!
Jane Seymour’s song made me eye-roll at first but within about a minute the tears were flowing.
Anne of Cleves delivered the much-needed comic relief, making us cry with laughter instead.
Catherine Howard’s song annoyed me at first but then she completely brought it back and surprised everyone.
Finally, Catherine Parr’s solo was unexpectedly heart-wrenching and bittersweet, which led on perfectly to the group performance at the end.

The costumes deserve a special mention here – gorgeous, glitzy and badass in equal measure, and each of them well-suited to the queens. We couldn’t decide whose we liked best!

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What I loved most about SIX was that it exploited popular stereotypes of the queens, and then completely broke them down in order to convey much more humanity to their characters than generic history books will allow. The cast portrayed individual transitions from vulnerability to strength that culminated in a stunning sense of unity and power by the end of the show.

So, if you love history, strong women and a good sing-along, SIX is a must-see! You’ll be coming out of the theatre humming ‘we’re six’ and asking ‘Henry who?’

Good news – SIX is now running until January 2020! Get your tickets here.
(This post is not sponsored in any way, I just want to spread the word.)

Thanks for reading!

My Trips in 2018: Edinburgh

Long overdue, but it’s time to share my second trip of last year with you all – Edinburgh!

It’s taken me longer than I expected to collate this all; I was originally going to make it a short post but I loved this city so much I couldn’t help myself, so strap in…

My best friend and I began a list towards the end of Uni of all the towns in the UK we hadn’t yet been to, and Edinburgh was one of them, so we booked a long weekend away for April 2018.

The Hotel:

We found the Residence Inn by Marriott on Expedia and chose it mainly because of its central location, (only a few minutes’ walk from town), and the fact that we could get a twin room with double beds and breakfast included for a very reasonable price.

The room itself seemed huge – we had a sofa and foot rest/coffee table, a large desk and chair and a television on the wall. As all of the rooms at the Residence Inn are also self-catering, we had a kitchen/utility area which was equipped with cutlery and crockery, a fridge, kettle, microwave and dishwasher. Very handy if you want to save some money – conveniently there was also a small Sainsbury’s about ten steps away!

Residence Inn

In terms of wardrobe space in the room, there was enough for the two of us but we’d mainly brought jumpers and jeans with us anyway so ended up folding most of our stuff. I didn’t take a picture of the view but we were opposite one of the offices, (the hotel is in Edinburgh’s Quatermile, a mixed redevelopment of the former Royal Infirmary), so be careful if you’re staying mid-week and want to open the curtains in nothing but your underwear!

Residence Inn Kitchen

Residence Inn Desk

One of the things we did find strange was that to the left of the living/bedroom area, there was a basin and mirror and after that was there a separate door, which led to the toilet and shower. I think it’s odd to separate the toilet from the sink, especially if one of you gets up during the night and wakes the other up with the running tap! Also, the breakfast area was part of the lobby so there was no privacy between those of us stuffing our faces with food and people checking in and out, which felt weird. Nevertheless, it didn’t ruin our trip, and surprisingly neither did my horrific flu that decided to make an appearance the morning of our flight!

Day 1:

The transfer from Edinburgh Airport to our hotel took around 40-50 minutes. We’d pre-booked our transfers and it was relatively easy to find the Airlink bus shelters with the help of friendly staff.

Our first stop was to Greyfriars Kirkyard, where burials have taken place since the 16th century. The kirkyard’s most famous graves belong to John Gray and his skye terrier Greyfriars Bobby, who, when his owner passed away, was rumoured to have guarded John’s grave for fourteen years until his own death. In other words, Bobby was a very good boy, and has earned posthumous fame because of it. His statue stands just outside the kirkyard and the pub named after him.

Greyfriars Bobby

The kirkyard is also famous due to some of the names that stuck with J.K. Rowling when she visited, and later featured in Harry Potter! We saw the grave of a William McGonagall and a Mrs Elizabeth Moodie, and it took us some squelching through mud but finally we found He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named himself:

Thomas Riddle

The graveyard itself is beautiful yet eerie. I wouldn’t like to experience it on a dark and foggy night. It came as no surprise to find out that evening ghost walks are regularly held there.

Kirkyard graves

Kirkyard church

Kirkyard gravesAfter this, we passed The Elephant House, a cafe J.K. Rowling visited during the time she was writing Harry Potter. We didn’t go in as we’d already had a snack and it looked like a bit of a tourist trap. We were on our way to Victoria Street, the street that is meant to have inspired Diagon Alley. As you can probably tell already, Edinburgh is an ideal city for Harry Potter fans to visit.

Victoria Street is a small curve of colourful shops and some eateries, leading down to Grassmarket, (originally a medieval marketplace, and a spot for frequent public execution). The bright colours of the shop faces on Victoria Street contrast brilliantly with the traditional stone buildings associated with Edinburgh architecture.

Victoria Street 1

Victoria Street

The street wasn’t as narrow as I’d expected, but I could envisage its transformation in J.K. Rowling’s mind to the hustle and bustle of Diagon Alley. There is a jokes and novelties shop called Aha Ha Ha just before Grassmarket which can easily be recognised as the Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes of Victoria Street, and there are now also two Harry-Potter themed shops on the street, The Boy Wizard and Museum Context (pictured above: the purple shop with the number 40). The former is a more modern space with Harry Potter gifts you can probably buy at any merchandise shop. However, the latter holds the same and much more, from unique gift ideas such as hanging hot air balloon and boat mobiles to other film collectibles and memorabilia. Museum Context also uses its exposed brickwork and staircase to its advantage, making it seem more like an old curiosity shop than a typical tourist attraction. I also liked their Chamber of Secrets-inspired stairway decoration!

Museum Context Balloon

Museum Context Enemies of the Heir

Our next stop was Dean Village. We got an Uber from town, wanting to save our feet. The drive took less than 10 minutes, and I couldn’t believe the difference in atmosphere and location within that short time. We were transported from the busy town to this tranquil place, sheltered from any sound save the stream that runs through it. My photos don’t do it justice!

Dean Village stream

Dean Village bridge

Dean Village structure

After this, we walked back through town to the hotel to unpack, then went out again for dinner and some cocktails (so I could try to forget how ill I was).

Day 2:

We got up early enough to avoid the huge queues for Edinburgh Castle! This was one of our favourite visits because there was so much to see. Even more enjoyable for me, too, because the castle is high enough as it is, so no scary winding steps to climb!

Edinburgh castle exterior

Before we roamed around ourselves, we decided to wait for a free guided tour. I think this ran every half hour or so. It was very informative – we learned about the castle’s origins and its involvement during Edinburgh’s turbulent history, including the Jacobite rising. The castle has consequently been named one of the most besieged in Great Britain.

After the tour, we visited one of the castle shops as our guide had told us they were serving whisky tasters. We tried out some Bruadar malt whisky liqueur, which was lush! It tasted quite like honey too, so must have been really good for my throat… I bought a little bottle to take home. After warming up, we had a look in the castle’s impressive Great Hall, then ventured to the Royal Palace and the Crown room to see the collection of jewels stored there. I’m like a magpie so I enjoyed looking at all the sparkles.

Edinburgh castle great hall

The castle is also the site of the Scottish National War Memorial, a magnificent and somber building to commemorate the men and women who saved lives and sacrificed theirs during the World Wars and other conflicts. There was no photography allowed inside but here it is from the outside:

Edinburgh castle war memorial

Also on the castle grounds is St Margaret’s Chapel, built in the 12th century which makes it the oldest building in Edinburgh. David I, St Margaret’s son, was thought to have built the chapel in her memory.  It’s a tiny structure, but worth a look inside. People are allowed to marry there, but I can’t imagine they’d be allowed to invite more than ten people to the ceremony! My pictures of inside the chapel are poorly lit and blurry so you’ll have to see it for yourself.

Turns out Greyfriars Bobby wasn’t the only pet grave we’d see on this trip; the castle houses a small cemetery for soldiers’ dogs, which we could see if we poked our head over the top castle wall:

Edinburgh castle pet semetary

The castle’s prisons of war and military prison cells were poignant and also a bit spooky; my friend accused me of trying to scare her by the stairs in the military cells, saying she’d felt a hand on her shoulder…!

Before our reluctant departure from the castle, we had a look at Mons Meg (the huge cannon gifted to James II), viewed the panorama of the city and finally gathered in the crowd to hear the famous one o’clock gun.

Edinburgh castle panorama

Edinburgh castle exterior 2.png

It started raining in the afternoon so we decided to pay a short visit to the National Museum of Scotland. We were dragging our feet a bit by this point, so didn’t see a great deal but had a walk around the Fashion and Natural World sections, and saw Dolly the sheep along the way!

Clearly we just hadn’t had enough of walking, though, because in between looking for a restaurant to return to for dinner that night, we found ourselves on the way up to Calton Hill. This is another viewpoint with incredible views of the city and Arthur’s seat, along with its own monuments and observatory. Unfortunately, the observatory was closed for construction and it was still tipping it down, so we didn’t stay as long as we’d liked, nor did we get spectacular pictures. I can imagine it being an ideal place for a picnic in the sunshine, though.

Calton Hill

Calton Hill panorama

The main event for our Saturday evening was The World Famous Frankenstein & Bier KellerMy friend had heard about this beforehand, and initially I thought it would be another tourist trap. How wrong I was! We arrived quite late, I think it was about 11pm, only wanting to have a nose around and a couple of drinks. I immediately regretted my choice of a warm, high-necked dress because there was a party going on in there that I wasn’t prepared for! There were a number of hen and stag parties, and the music was thumping. We were blown away by the decor.

Frankenstein sign

Frankenstein

It was clear to see the owners’ effort into making this a unique experience; not just a trip to the bar. We went upstairs at first, and I read a poster on our way up about a ‘monster show’, so I asked the barman when the next one was. He replied it was at 12am, and advised us to stay in the upper bar for it, and so we did.

Spooky, gothic VIBES. It only lasted a few minutes but it was such fun. Don’t look the monster show up online before you visit – just enjoy the thrill!

Anyway, long story short we got a little bit merrier than previously planned, joined the downstairs party and stayed dancing and talking to the DJ until the bar’s 2am close. Whoops.

I would LOVE to return to the Bier Keller at Halloween. I imagine it would be insane. And even if you’re not a party person, you can go during the day or early evening to avoid the noise. It will be great for children, too. Either way, it’s not to be missed!

Day 3:

I at least had the advantage on this beautiful, sunny (!) day of not knowing whether it was my flu or a hangover that was making my head pound. Still, a couple of ibuprofens down and we were on our way to the Palace of Holyroodhouse!

Palace of Holyroodhouse

Palace of Holyroodhouse lanterns

Again, the cab ride only took around 10 minutes. There was hardly any queuing to do so we were soon equipped with our free audio guides. Inside was not quite as gold and glamorous as I was expecting, but then it is still a working royal palace so I guess rooms are maintained to be more functional compared to palaces with displays in every room. I remember there being an enormous amount of tapestries, which is decorative and practical, keeping the rooms warmer in what is usually a cold Northern climate!

The highlight for me was seeing Mary, Queen of Scots’ chambers. Looking into the ‘supper room’ it was chilling to know that Mary’s private secretary, David Rizzio, was violently murdered there. In another chamber there was a box containing a lock of Mary’s hair on display, and I couldn’t believe I was so close to such a crude piece of history.

When we exited the palace we came out by the remains of Holyrood Abbey, which were breathtaking in the crisp, clear sunshine. More beautiful views of Arthur’s Seat and its surrounding hills awaited us as we made our way round the back of the palace.

Holyrood Abbey

Holyrood Abbey outer

Holyroodhouse grounds

After lunch, we headed to the The Writer’s Museum. This rather narrow, quirky looking building houses information, records and objects related to three famous Scottish writers: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. To be honest, I knew next to nothing about Scott and had only read To a mouse by Burns at school so it was interesting to learn about some of the events which shaped their lives and writing. It was also fascinating to read about Stevenson’s experiences at sea, knowledge which would have helped him greatly in the creation of Treasure Island.

Writer's Museum

We saw an advertisement for a Book Lover’s tour outside the museum which takes place on Sundays at 11:30am. I’d definitely be keen to do that on my next visit!

This was shaping up to be a literary afternoon because we stopped in the National Library. Unfortunately it was near closing time, and you had to own a library card to access the reading rooms, so we were limited in what we could see. However, there was a free Muriel Spark exhibition on, so all was not lost! I studied The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie during one of my university semesters, so it was great to see letters of praise for it from Spark’s friends, critics, and even Vanessa Redgrave, who played Miss Brodie on stage in the 1960s. I found it inspiring to see snippets from Spark’s notebooks; nothing fancy, just lined paper, a blue biro and determination. It’s always comforting to see crossing-out in drafts of famous novels. It’s good to know their authors were only human too: making mistakes and self-criticising.

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Our next visit was exciting, magical and alcohol-fuelled… Harry Potter style! We couldn’t resist another themed visit. I can’t remember if it was mine or my friend’s spot on social media before our trip, but we’d discovered that the Pop Up Geeks were offering cocktail making in the form of Perilous Potions. The location was a small bar in the Edinburgh Arches, near Waverley Station. We’d booked because we’d heard how busy it could get, and I’m not surprised seeing as there was only capacity for about five small groups. This only added to the ambiance, though, because we felt like we were in a small potions classroom! Filch’s framed proclamations were hanging on the walls, the sorting hat rested on top of the bar, and there were cauldrons and candles a-plenty.

Perilous Potions - Bar

Perilous Potions decorationsWe were greeted by our witch-turned-barmaid, and given the book to begin our potions journey, property of the ‘half-cut prince’ (ingenious):

Each cocktail was rated by potion-making difficulty level, so you could choose how experimental (and patient) you wanted to be. We went for the easiest first and then made our way up the scale. Nothing blew up or brought us out in warts, so I’m guessing we did pretty well! We were given pieces of parchment with the ingredients and methods on after our orders were taken for each cocktail.

Perilous Potions - drinks

My friend picked a prosecco-based cocktail which took about ten minutes of pipette work to get right! That was entertaining to watch. My favourite cocktail was whisky-based (can you tell I decided to like whisky this weekend?!) and the final effect was a sparkly blue concoction not dissimilar to the glowing surface of Dumbledore’s pensieve.

After our two-hour slot we were feeling pretty tipsy so it was time to get dinner and sober up as our last visit was later that night.

We had tried to book a tour of The Real Mary King’s Close the afternoon before but they were fully booked, so to my dismay we were going to go below ground-level in the dark! I’m a wuss.

The Close is a series of historic streets underneath the city’s Royal Mile, and was named after one of its merchant residents who lived there during the 17th century. Our guide was dressed up and in character as a maid in a merchant’s household during the 16th century. She told us about the types of families that would have lived in the Close and the hardships they would have faced during times of plague and poverty. We also learned what the traditional calling of ‘gardyloo’ meant (hint: see the last three letters of the word!)

The Close had an eerie atmosphere, and the darkness was no good for photos – hence the absence of them here. There was a moment where we all had to sit down in front of a fireplace and listen to a ghost story – I was of course terrified even though I knew a gimmicky jump-scare was coming! There was also a room filled with a pile of children’s toys. We were told that a young girl called Annie haunts this room, and is only appeased when she’s gifted things to play with, so people sometimes bring things to give to her on their visits! Amongst the cuddly toys we did see a Westlife CD, though. Poor Annie.

Ghosts aside, it was fascinating to be able to walk through a different world from the streets above. Most of the original foundations are still in place, which does make some parts of the Close inaccessible, but the parts we walked through felt safe enough, and my claustrophobia was under control!

At the end of the tour was a very steep hill which we were told would have been rife with people selling their market wares, farm animals roaming and children playing. The road was cobbled and possibly the narrowest we’d ever seen! It must have been chaos, but it was admirable to know that even in difficult circumstances, the residents of the Close were able to make it work and that life endured all the same.

Sadly, there ended our trip!

Edinburgh

Now that I’ve written about it, I realise we crammed so much into our last day, let alone our trip, but it didn’t even feel rushed! I think part of that was due to the fact that everything was so close by; we didn’t use any transport apart from a couple of cabs! This is what I loved most about Edinburgh. Large cities can sometimes feel too busy and claustrophobic, but in Edinburgh you can escape the liveliness of town in no time at all. The hills dotted about offer a real sense of comfort and tranquility, reminding you that you’re never far from nature.

If it wasn’t so far away from family and friends, and colder and wetter than down here in the South, I would move to Edinburgh in a heartbeat! I will definitely be visiting again. Writing about this trip has made me miss it so much.

Now, I haven’t forgotten the important bits to end on:

Food & Drink – Lunch: On our first day, we ate lunch at Makar’s Gourmet Mash Bar on the Mound (up the big hill, opposite the Museum on the Mound). Like the name suggests, their specialty is potato! It was quite a hearty lunch and warmed us up, (helped by the local beer and ciders). I can’t remember what my friend ordered but I had the smoked sausage, cheese and egg rosti fritter stack. Despite violently blowing my nose every ten minutes, my tastebuds hadn’t gone by this point so I can say that my food was tasty!

On our second day we tried Civerinos Slicea pizza place near our hotel offering ‘pie-sized’ pizzas or huge slices for lunch! I went with the vegan and veggie option and wasn’t disappointed:

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On our last day, we went to Hemma, a stroll away from Holyroodhouse. The exterior is all glass and there is seating outside with some AstroTurf to make it look even more inviting in the sunshine. Inside was bright and modern, with chilled-out vibes – I think they had a table football in there, and also an area at the front with book shelves (which is always a winner with me). The food is advertised online as European/Swedish. They have an area available to hire for parties. There there were a couple of large groups when we went so it did take us a while to be served. However, the food was amazing! I had a salad which I’m not sure is still on their menu, sadly… (that’s what I get for posting so late), but here it is:

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Mixed leaves, couscous, avocado, halloumi, some spicy-ish green sauce and oranges – I’ve never had oranges in a salad before but it seemed classy so I went for it. I probably needed the vitamin C for my flu, anyway.

Tea, coffee and cakes: Before heading to the Writer’s Museum, we stopped off at Zebra Coffee Company, just round the corner from the mash bar. It’s small inside but we managed to nab two seats on the end of a bench out the back. My friend had a coffee and a brownie and I had a chai tea and a rocky road slice! They were LUSH. The chocolate was so rich but without being sickly, although I don’t know I’d be saying the same if we’d just eaten lunch!

Dinner: On our first night we visited Cafe Andaluz for tapas in the new town, (there’s also one in the old town). I can’t remember what we had but I think it was some sort of chorizo dishes, and fish. We enjoyed it, anyway!

Our second dinner was spent in the Cellar Door, conveniently opposite the Frankenstein Bier Keller. This is a traditional Scottish restaurant. It was slightly more up-market and therefore more expensive, but we enjoyed our food all the same! I had the Scotch venison, which came with butternut squash, potatoes and a red wine jus.

As I said, we needed to sober up after our cocktail making on the last night, so I went for a hearty pie at the restaurant in The Inn on the Mile. My friend went for a haggis topping on her burger, which I tried (because when in Rome, right?) but I’d lost all sense of taste so it really wasn’t worth it. I’ve tried haggis since, though, and it’s a no from me.

I’d love to say my flu ironically disappeared after this trip, but I actually ended up keeping my rattly cough for nearly three and a half months afterwards – which included the next trip I will write about, Zakynthos! That’s Zante to all you lads out there. But it wasn’t that kind of holiday at all…

Thanks for reading!

Review of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

I watched this on Friday and MY GOODNESS. I need to talk about it. This is new, bold, exciting, and may change the way we view film and TV from now on.

The premise of Bandersnatch, (set in an ironically significant 1984), is that the main character, Stefan, is developing a game based on a fantasy book in which you can choose different options in order to form your own storyline. The author of this book Bandersnatch, Jerome F. Davies, famously ended up insane and decapitated his own wife. Stefan has the chance to develop his game for a big company.

And that’s as much as I can tell you because what happens is up to you. During scenes, two options pop up and you must decide the focus of the plot by guiding Stefan’s behaviour and actions. We start with the basics: choose what Stefan has for breakfast, Sugar Puffs or Frosties. Then, as you would expect from having watched any previous Black Mirror episode, the decisions get tougher, the plot more serious, the options darker. You’ll find yourself considering whether Frosties really was the best way to start Stefan’s day.

Bandersnatch

A glaring metaphor echoes throughout Bandersnatch, (if you choose similar options as I did), due to one particular scene with Colin Ritman, the well-known games developer, (brilliantly played by Will Poulter). Colin makes an LSD-fuelled speech about messages embedded within every game, stating that the PAC in Pac-Man stands for Program and Control:

He’s the Program and Control man. The whole thing’s a metaphor, he thinks he’s got free will but really he’s trapped in a maze, in a system – all he can do is consume, he’s pursued by demons that are probably just in his own head, and even if he does manage to escape by slipping out one side of the maze, what happens? He comes right back in the other side. People think it’s a happy game, it’s not a happy game, it’s a f*cking nightmare world, and the worst thing is it’s real and we live in it.

Bandersnatch is undoubtedly a maze, as Colin describes. I think it’s safe to say that, in an Inception-like way, not only is Stefan the ‘Pac-Man’ of this situation, being controlled as he believes by some external force, (that force being us), but so are we. If we can play Bandersnatch, then it can also play us, and very early on it does seem to do this. I watched the film with four friends and after choosing what we judged to be the better option of the two for Stefan, we were proven wrong. We were eventually taken back to the same scene, to make a different decision. We thought we were being clever and purposefully chose the same option again. Obviously that’s not how Bandersnatch is to be played. We thought we were ‘slipping out of the maze’ but we were once again transported back to the scene, manipulated into choosing the other option in order to ‘unlock’, as it were, the rest of the film’s content and pathways.

Being ‘played’ isn’t all bad once you’re past that initial hurdle. If you’re curious enough to view most, (or all), of the different pathways in Bandersnatch, then the insidious confusion and at times ridiculousness of Stefan’s various storylines is a welcome treat. The running time of the film, when you come to the end of your first chosen pathway, is around an hour and a half. I think my friends and I racked it up to double that time; we kept clicking on the options presented at the end of each version of Stefan’s story until the final credits rolled. We wanted to find out what happened if we hadn’t chosen to ‘follow Colin’ or ‘shout at Dad’. Without wanting to spoil too much, we stumbled upon a fourth-wall-breaking moment that was quite special, and brought an Orwellian feeling to the forefront.

BlackMirror

After viewing Bandersnatch I was reminded of fanfiction and all its possibilities. Normally, viewing of characters in film and TV is limited within directorial and written constraints. Fanfiction allows a new space to be created for these characters; whether you are a writer or reader of fanfiction, you are driven by a want to see beyond what the characters have already done on-screen. You wish to explore these characters exhibiting different behaviours and reacting to new stimulants and situations.

Bandersnatch does not have any of the conventional constraints of film and TV. It is its own type of fanfiction, really. I admire Charlie Brooker’s boldness in creating such diversity and even contradiction within his writing, because I’ve always believed a peculiar kind of selfishness is attached to writers, (of course I’m including myself here). There’s the ever-present mentality of ‘these are my characters and I’ll direct where they’re headed‘, even when you do have help with writing along the way. Brooker has let go of this mentality with Bandersnatch, and I think we may thank him for his selflessness.

For the record, I’m not saying all film and TV should be like this from now on. We’d never have the time to live our own lives. But it does herald an exciting future for script writers and film makers who wish to explore the same kind of path as Bandersnatch, if you’ll pardon the awful pun. Being granted some free will and the choice to guide the action of what we’re seeing may also teach us more about our own viewing preferences, and what it is we wish to gain from them.

Rarely has anything on Netflix deserved more than two viewings in a row, but with Bandersnatch, I tell you to view it as many times as humanly possible. Choose your options well. Then choose again. Then change your mind. Get weird. Get deep. Enjoy. Then scour the internet for theories, hidden meanings, ways of watching, and fascinating facts about the filming process, like I’m about to do…

Thanks for reading and I hope you all have a Happy New Year!
See you in 2019.

Remember me..?

Five months and it’s finally time I came out of hiding.

This isn’t an exciting post to end the tumbleweed gracing this blog, I’m saving that for the next one. This is just to say, I’m back, and I’m not about to give up on writing like I almost also gave up on helping myself this year.

I’m not going to go into every detail; I’m not trying to be one of those awful ‘influencers’ that shares everything about their life and wants people to see what they’re doing every minute of the day. As I’m getting older I’m realising the value of privacy during certain moments of life. I only want people to be invested in my writing; interested in reading and discussing hobbies and whatever else I post about. Nevertheless, it won’t do any harm in explaining (not justifying) my absence on this here blog.

Since I graduated last year, I’m slightly ashamed to say I’ve struggled adjusting back to ‘non-student’ life. I’ve felt lazier (I stopped taking my car to Uni after first year so walked everywhere); more isolated (due to the distance separating myself and the friends I gained over three years) and less confident in writing.

As you may have guessed, I really don’t like putting my words out there until I know for sure that I’m happy with them, (the joys of being a perfectionist). Socially, I don’t tend to overthink conversations I’ve had, or hesitate to speak my mind, but when it comes to writing… Well. Every time I’ve sat down to write something this year I’ve experienced a sinking feeling and thoughts along the lines of ‘nobody wants to read this’ or ‘this is never going to be as good as you want it to be therefore there’s no point in wasting your time’. Awful, I know. But I’ve been stuck in this rut for a long while.

On top of this, my family suffered two huge losses this year and to be honest what with grief to deal with among other things it’s been hard for me to even want to get out of bed some days, let alone attempt to write. Which the two people I’ve lost would have berated me horribly for, I know it. But these things take time. You can’t plan grief.

HOWEVER, you can plan recovery. Which is what I’m aiming for currently…

To start with, I’ve created a coping mechanism to snap me out of melancholy, which involves writing down every little thing I’m grateful for. I really shouldn’t be all ‘boo-hoo-I’m-so hard-done-by‘, because I’m really not. I’m sure many of you have experienced loss and the kind of self-doubt I’ve had.

I have to remind myself I’m lucky enough to have quite a few privileges in life and one of these includes an amazing support group of friends and family. I’ve also had some amazing trips away this year which I’m now eager to share, along with some well-overdue book reviews. I haven’t read many new releases in the past few months; I’ve been re-reading the Harry Potter books for comfort, (and to further fuel the obsession, obviously), but I did read some fabulous things earlier on in the year. There are about 5 titles of reviews in my drafts waiting to be written! Also, any recommendations would be very welcome, I’d love to know what you’ve all been reading and enjoying.

So, to end this rather strange ramble, from now on I’m all about focusing on the good stuff and making more good stuff from it. As much as it might be difficult to keep to my resolution of exercising more next year, I am going to make more time to visit friends further afield, and to share my writing with some old English Lit. pals like we did in Creative Writing workshops – the more feedback, the better. I’m still new to this blogging lark and, after all, only human. There’s only so much I can edit of my own work without my brain being fried.

Anyway, I hope you all had an amazing Christmas,  and I’ll return very shortly. There’s a new Black Mirror film to discuss!

If you’ve made it to the end, congrats, and thanks for reading and sticking with me!

My Trips in 2018: Paris

I swear these posts are always going to start with an apology note because I take months to actually publish something on here, and for that I’m sorry… Life actually did get in the way this time, but I’m hoping things are on the up now, including this blog!

Anyway, although I will definitely keep posting book reviews I thought I’d break it up a bit and start writing about my trips away this year, starting with Paris. You’ll be glad to know this means a few more pictures in between the long paragraphs!

My boyfriend and I have always booked a weekend away at the end of January/beginning of February to celebrate each year we’ve been together – this year was our sixth, and we decided we’d go to Paris. My boyfriend had visited the city before but was very young at the time and couldn’t remember much, and I’d been to Disneyland but not to the capital, so this felt like a good time to go.

The Hotel:
I’d already heard that Paris was expensive to visit, and I had to trowel through hundreds of hotels over our budget before spotting the perfect one on Lastminute.com – Hotel Pastel Paris. The hotel had recently been renovated and though I was only able to read a few reviews because of this, all were positive so I was really excited about staying there.

Hotel-Pastel-Paris-Door-NumberLike the hotel’s name, all the rooms are decorated in pastel and overall the feel is vintage Parisian. One of my favourite touches were the Chanel-esque perfume bottles indicating the room numbers on each door.

The building itself is quite compact – the entrance to the lobby/reception area has no porch and the breakfast room could only hold just over half a dozen two-seater tables, however this did give the place an intimate and homely feel which I liked. (See below right for picture of the lobby). The rooms are equally as small but really cute. Our double bed was annoyingly comfy – we could have stayed there much longer every morning but we had so much to see!

We didn’t struggle with wardrobe space as we were only staying for a few days and folded most of our winter clothes anyway. If you like privacy, though, you might want to keep your underwear in your suitcase..! As you can see from the photo on the left below, there were no doors on the wardrobe and storage spaces, but again this didn’t bother us. My only criticism with our room was the shower – I’m tiny as it is and I struggled for elbow space in the shower!

Hotel-Pastel-Paris-WardrobeHotel-Pastel-Paris-Lobby-Area

Hotel-Pastel-Paris-Insta-Room
The location of the hotel was perfect – only a short walk to the Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Élysées but nicely tucked down a side street to ensure a peaceful night’s sleep! The staff were also lovely and helpful with directions and advice on transport links. I didn’t find out who runs their Instagram but after I’d posted a picture of our room, (the one on the right), and tagged the location, they kindly asked if they could feature it on their account. Of course I was happy to oblige, and they even tagged me in it which was thoughtful – you can see their post here.

Now on to what we crammed into our 4 days of being tourists…

Day 1:
We arrived at the hotel around 10am after navigating our way via the metro from near Gare du Nord, quickly unpacked then went exploring.

Paris-Arc-de-Triomphe

Surrounding the Arc de Triomphe is the craziest roundabout I’ve ever seen, the Étoile. I don’t understand how we didn’t see anyone crash because you have to give way to everyone entering the roundabout, and I think around 12 different roads lead to that roundabout? Baffling. Luckily, you access the Arc de Triomphe via stairs underneath the chaos.

 

 

Once there, we saw the tomb of the unknown soldier and its eternal flame, but didn’t manage to go to the top of the structure as it was quite packed. We decided to return later or in the next couple of days. All the same, the symmetry of the architecture was beautiful to admire.

We then strolled along the Champs-Élysées – take some serious money if you want to treat yourself in the shops on this avenue! We looked in Louis Vuitton for a laugh and felt very out of place… I was afraid to touch anything! Although the bags in their ‘Masters’ collaboration with Jeff Koons looked stunning (not sure on the promo film of it though…! Have a watch if you want). We also saw what we thought was the entrance to some grand mansion, and followed the stony pathway round to find the entrance to an Abercrombie & Fitch! Check out their doorway below… (did slightly remind me of the Jack Wills in Chichester).

Paris-Abercrombie-and-Fitch

After lunch, our next stop was the Eiffel Tower! This Friday was a particularly windy one, so unfortunately the top floor to the tower was closed and we could only venture to the 2nd floor. I say unfortunately… I’m not sure I would have loved being at the top so much as the 2nd floor felt high enough to me! I’m glad there were lifts to take us up.

Paris-Eiffel-UpshotParis-Eiffel-Panoramic

Although it wasn’t the clearest day it was still amazing to see panoramic views of the city (which also helped us get our bearings). It was good to learn some information about the Eiffel and its construction as I didn’t really know much before. There were also videos showing how the structure is maintained – every 7 years loads of VERY brave people abseil down and across and hang at all sorts of terrifying angles in order give the iron tower a fresh coat of paint.

After watching what we could see of the sunset from the café on the 1st floor, we headed back down to watch the tower light up and glitter. Magical.

Paris-Eiffel-Lit-Up

Day 2:
After breakfast at the hotel, we got an Uber to the Louvre. This was a rainy day so we were glad to have planned an indoor visit. Thankfully we didn’t queue too long for entry. First we learned a bit about the Louvre itself. I never knew it was originally a fortress, and it was great to see some remains of the old building, to sense how important this place was to French history even before it became a museum.

Paris-Louvre

We then moved through to the Egyptian Antiquities, royal collection and Greek Antiquities sections before stopping for lunch and resting our feet in one of the cafés. I wasn’t expecting much in terms of food quality but I enjoyed the huge slice of veggie pizza I ordered – plenty of cheese, pesto, and even potatoes! Carbs upon carbs, mmm.

After realising that we wouldn’t have time to see everything we wanted in the Louvre, (it really is HUGE), we decided to head straight to the main attraction – the Mona Lisa, of course. On the way, we passed the Winged Victory of Samothrace, which is spectacularly displayed at the top of the first floor staircase. We could tell without looking at our museum map which room the Mona Lisa was in. We had to wait for some of the crowd to disperse before we could move nearer. A glimpse is all you can really get of the Mona Lisa, as the distance between the front of the viewing barrier and the painting’s glass protection is quite far, considering how small Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece actually is (if it is the real deal)! Here’s me looking a little unimpressed after battling my way through the mass of selfie sticks:

Paris-Mona-Lisa

Still, at least I can say I’ve seen her in real life now! After this, we looked at some American and English paintings and when we left we strolled around the Louvre‘s grounds and the Roue de Paris which is a big mobile Ferris wheel. We didn’t go on it but it was very photogenic in the evening light:

Paris-Roue-de-Paris

After dinner, we had a much needed nap then got ready for our late night entertainment at the Moulin Rouge! This was a belated anniversary gift from my boyfriend. We wanted to see the show and had been recommended it, but when I looked at ticket prices initially we decided against it because most showings including dinner and drinks cost more than our hotel and travel combined! However a couple of weeks prior to our trip I found out Jamie had booked it! It was meant to be surprise but he’s not great at being secretive…

Paris-Boulevard-de-Clichy

We got our second Uber of the day to Montmarte because the walk would have been too long and it was still raining. Plus, our showing was at 11pm so we didn’t want to tire ourselves out before we’d even arrived! We went straight into the theatre but if you wanted to get there earlier there are plenty of restaurants and bars amongst the bright neon lights of sex shops and strip clubs illuminating the Boulevard de Clichy.

 

 

Paris-Moulin-Rouge-Windmill

Once inside the theatre we did have to queue for a while but this was expected. The staff were helpful and when we finally got to our seats we weren’t disappointed. We were just a few tables away from the front of the stage, and I don’t think it was a coincidence that we were accompanied at our table by other couples from the UK so that just shows how well-planned and thoughtful the staff were. Before the show started we spoke to a couple from Leeds in between sips (glugs) of our champagne, (the bottle was included in the price of the tickets). The ambiance was perfect – low lighting and vintage Parisian decor around us and then dazzling bright lights on stage.

The Féerie show was absolutely amazing. The set pieces and costumes were incredible. Yes, the costumes are ‘revealing’ but if you’re worried about the show being overtly sexual then think again – the show caters for everyone and allows children from the age of 6 into the venue if accompanied by an adult. I knew to expect singing and dancing but there were also some wonderful surprises included in the performance. The cast clearly love what they do and that radiated through to us.

I can’t share any pictures of the show as no photography was allowed and rightly so – iPhone pictures wouldn’t do it justice and it was great just to immerse ourselves in the show. If you can save up, definitely book tickets! It makes a change from the normal touristy activities of looking at buildings and monuments (much as I love that). It was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. Now for another one of my highlights…

Day 3:
We had a bit of a lay-in due to our late finish the previous night, so we grabbed some pastries from a nearby boulangerie and hopped on the metro, then the train to The Palace of Versailles! When we booked our trip I discovered that the journey to Versailles from our hotel was around an hour, so we decided to make a day of our visit and I’m so glad we did.

The walk from the train station to the palace took around 15-20 minutes and it was pretty much a straight line so there was no way for us to get lost (my sense of direction is usually awful). We greeted Louis XIV’s statue and arrived at the golden gates around 11am. We received audio guides for free, and entry was also free to everyone as it was the first Sunday of the month (see their website for free entry eligibilities).

Paris-Versailles-Chapel

Prior to going, my only knowledge of the palace’s history came from the BBC One drama Versailles and the factual after-show Inside Versailles (which sadly they’ve stopped doing for the third series). The audio guides really helped expand on what I already knew as well as teaching me more. My boyfriend didn’t know anything about it so he found it really handy. There are numbered audioguide options for each room you pass through. I won’t go into too much detail about the interior but the obvious ‘wow’ rooms were the chapel (above) and the Hall of Mirrors. You could imagine how much pride the Sun King took in showing his exclusive guests the ethereal creations within his palace. Top tip for when you go – remember to look up in every room to see the beautiful paintings!

Paris-Versailles-Ceiling

My other favourite aspects of the palace were the gardens and fountains. When we went outside the sun started to shine which felt miraculous after a misty, drizzly morning. The wind was still bitterly cold, but when we sat on the edge of the lake eating our baguettes, the sun warmed my face and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so serene, (may have to do with the fact I was stuffing my face with bread too – but you decide). I can imagine how gorgeous the gardens are in warmer weather and I’m thinking of taking a weekend off to have a picnic there this summer or next.

Paris-Versailles-Fountain

We stayed exploring the gardens until closing time at 5:30pm. We reluctantly made our way back to the station, stopping off at an antique store on the way.

Paris-Versailles-Landscape

Day 4:
On our last day we woke up to snow! We had experienced all types of weather over our long weekend. Once again we got breakfast at the local boulangerie then headed to the Notre Dame. As we queued up to go inside the bells started chiming and so accompanied by the blizzard it all felt aptly gothic.

The inside of the cathedral is a wondrous sight. I’m not religious but it’s hard not to sense some sort of magnificence when you enter. We bought audio guides for €5 each and had a slow walk around, learning about the cathedral’s many pieces of iconography, as well as about the building’s long history of construction. There was no photography allowed inside however my boyfriend not so subtly took this beautiful picture below before he read sign properly…

Paris-Notre-Dam

After an hour or so we headed out to the snow flurry again to queue for the tower. Unlike inside, you have to book a time slot as understandably only small groups of people are allowed up at any one time. We had to hop about a bit in the 10 minutes’ wait to keep warm!

Paris-Notre-Dame-Gargoyle

There were a fair few stairs to climb. We had to wait in the shop, which was halfway up, before progressing to the tower, so I panicked knowing we’d have to ascend more narrow winding steps again. Ironic that a history lover has such a fear of old stone staircases! Anyway, one we were up and I’d caught my breath, the view wasn’t as spectacular as it would have been on a day with clear sky, but it was still great to see a small section of snow-covered Paris. I love the picture on the right that I took of one of the tower’s gargoyles.

Once we’d taken enough snowy pictures, we had the option of scaling more stairs to get to the very top of the tower but I passed on that as the steps looked slippery and even more narrow! I didn’t want to chance it…

When we were on safer ground again, we headed across the short bridge from the cathedral to what is now one of my favourite book shops in the world: Shakespeare and Company! My boyfriend found out about this place online. It’s an American company, opened in 1951 and later re-named in honour of the original Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris, owned and opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919.

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Paris-Shakespeare-and-co-reading

I could have stayed there all day! As you can see from the picture on the left, I was pretty comfortable. It was so warm and cosy inside, the perfect reading environment. They have a dedicated quiet reading room in memory of Sylvia Beach, and stools dotted about the rest of the two floors so you can sit down to read blurbs or beginnings of the books you may fancy taking home. There is a resident cat to keep you company, and a few quirky things such as a (working) typewriter and desk, and a pin board next to the cat’s bed where visitors can stick their thank-you notes – we added ours to the collection. And, of course, their Shakespeare section is wonderful. I picked up a little pocket book of sonnets to take home.

Before we went back to our hotel to pick up our bags, we went up the Arc de Triomphe to see the Champs-Élysées and of course the Eiffel Tower from above, all lit up. The perfect end to a wonderful trip!

Paris-Arc-de-Triomphe-view

 

To end, I thought I’d impart the slightest bit of knowledge, if you are travelling into Paris for the first time like I was!

Travel Tips:

Transport to Paris – We travelled via Eurostar from Ebbsfleet International, which took around 2 hours so super quick. Try to find companies online (like Lastminute) where your train is included in the price of your trip, as we found it worked out cheaper than booking the Eurostar separate to the hotel. Make sure you download the Eurostar app for easier check-in before your travel date.

Transport in Paris – As I mentioned, we used Uber for when it was raining or in the evenings for simplicity, but the Metros are as easy to navigate as London tubes, and if you don’t know there are always staff at the kiosks who may be able to help. We thought there would be closures at many underground stations, because at the time we went the Seine was flooding and no boats were in operation, but thankfully we didn’t encounter closures on the lines we used! A few of the stations were dotted with large puddles but unlike in England, the people of Paris didn’t seem to worry and just got on with it!

We only travelled by overground train once (excluding Eurostar), to Versailles, but that was easy enough to catch. Live train times are available online, if you have roaming on your devices. The train we went on had two floors, so like excited kids we naturally sat on the top floor!

Food & Drink – Breakfast: The breakfast at our hotel was a small buffet of pastries, yoghurt, fruit bowls, eggs and bacon along with fruit juices, tea and coffee. This cost €15 per person per day, hence why we only had breakfast here one morning out of four. Local bakeries were much cheaper – a drink and croissant or baguette cost around €7. I had a croissant without fail every day!

Lunch: Bakeries were also good for quick lunches but if you want to have a more relaxed lunch be prepared to pay extra. On our first day we made a mistake by going into Vapiano, an Italian chain we know from London which is usually quick service (you pay at the counter and the chefs cook your food in front of you), but every tourist in Paris clearly had the same idea as us and we queued for way too long! On our last day we went to a restaurant near the cathedral and had lighter versions of the menu’s main meals which cost us €18 each with two drinks but it was worth it.

Dinner: Apart from the Saturday when we went to a Hard Rock Cafe – a weird tradition of ours – we went to two reasonably priced local restaurants, a French and a Lebanese, both were delicious. We booked our tables online as we weren’t sure how busy the restaurants were going to be, and lucky we did because we found in both restaurants that this entitled us to a 30% discount off the price of our total bill! I’m really not sure if this is a general thing across Paris but if the restaurant you want to go to has a website, it’s worth a try booking in advance. The wines we tried were really good –  a decent bottle was around €25 and obviously the prices went up depending on the type and quality!

Planning ahead: This is mainly concerning entry fees – out of all the places we went to, the only entries we paid for were the Eiffel Tower, (though they offer discounted entry for under 25s), and obviously the Moulin Rouge. We got in free everywhere else due to being 1) under 26 and/or 2) EU citizens (for now!) The only last thing I’ll say is make sure you check opening times of the places you want to go to, in case you get caught out like I did! I wanted to spend our last few hours in Paris in the Musée d’Orsay, but when I went on their website on our last day, which was a Monday, I discovered that the museum is closed on Mondays! Oh well. That’s just another excuse for me to re-visit the beautiful city of lights/love/whatever you want to call it – I think it’s both and more.

Thanks for reading!