The musings and misadventures of a girl unprepared

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Re-finding My Muchness

'You used to be much more... "muchier". You've lost your muchness' - Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Everyone has their own reasons and justifications for everything they do and want to achieve in the future. My brother, for example, hates travelling (I know, I don't understand either). He doesn't like to be away from home for more than 3/4 days at a time if he can help it, and is quite content to sit in his room for hours playing his guitar and working on graphicsy things on his computer. However, whilst this concept is completely alien to me, this for him, is his 'muchness'. I find it inspiring that at just 16 years old, he's already found something that he loves to do and willingly dedicates hours of his time towards, in order to better himself and his abilities. Now I'm not exactly sure what his plans for the future are, but the important thing is that he's achieving something everyday, just by working a his various skills and talents.

That's what travel is for me. It is so much more than escaping the normalities of average day to day living in the UK and getting to see some pretty sights along the way - though I'm not complaining about the added bonus. Travel is my way of fulfilling my desire to understand other people. I love people and if I am going to make any use of the time I have on this planet, I figure the best way is to be as understanding and loving towards anyone and everyone in anyway that I can.

The problem is, that I can't always be travelling as I have to be at university five days a week and I'm not a millionaire. So recently, unlike my brother, I've been feeling a bit low on 'muchness', my drive to really make use of myself and my time. Since last year when I dropped everything to travel the world and discovered all sorts of new magical and wonderful things, I seem to have forgotten what really makes me tick when I'm not jet setting across the Atlantic Ocean, looking over NY from the Top of the Rock or zip-lining 150m above the Amazon Jungle. So I've decided to delve deep this week and review how travel has not only inspired me, but how it can continue to do so in other ways, even if I have to be locked up in my room studying more often than I would really like at the moment. I'm hoping that whilst making myself feel 'much more "muchier"' once again, it might inspire anyone else who's reading to do the same :)

Since I can remember, I've always been interested in doing my bit for others; I did my first fundraiser when I was eight years old with a team of other ambitious kids, who were moved by the advert for the Blue Peter Water Appeal we'd seen on the CBBC. We raised about £40 and I can still remember the immense pride I'd felt, knowing that I'd done my bit. I've continued to bug friends and family ever since, shoving countless sponsor sheets under their noses and dragging them to various events (a special thanks to the parents should go in here, who not only bought the ingredients to make the cakes and helped us bake them, but then went on to buy them back. It's funny how you miss these small but incredible acts of kindness and encouragement until you look back.) All I knew in my childhood years was that other children and families didn't have enough water to drink and food to eat whilst I had plenty and that just wasn't fair.

Then in years 9/10, I took part in my first German exchange to Satrup, Schleswig-Holstein. I found myself incredibly frustrated at not being able to communicate fully with the exchange students in their language and as funny as misunderstandings and miscommunications can be, I couldn't stand the feeling of being isolated from a different culture, due to a simple language barrier. I'd never before considered how many people in the world I couldn't actually speak to and I suddenly felt the shame of my countries 'laziness in languages' label. This is where the determination to break down this stereotype began and the languages obsession was born. The realisation had hit me that I would never be able to converse with those who were in desperate need of aid and comfort; how was I to be there for someone if I couldn't even speak to them in a language they could understand? Or if they could understand, why should they bother to listen to what I had to say against corruption or injustice in the world if I couldn't even be bothered to learn about their language and culture?

This beautiful quote from my all time hero, Nelson Mandela, was on the wall in the languages department at college and used to inspire me everyday:

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."

I began to find out that I would never be content with passivity. Although a bit of a geek in my own right, I've never been great at sitting down and revising from books for hours on end. I'm more an active learner, so I started to save up all the money I would earn from my Saturday job to pay for weekend trips so I could indulge myself in my love of foreign cultures and thirst for more insight into different ways of living. At this time I was also volunteering at a children's club every Friday, which were easily some of the best times of my life. It taught me to always look at the world through the eyes of a child. Everything is not only simpler that way, but more beautiful and devoid of hate and prejudice. Nothing is important to children but friendship and love: gender, skin colour, accent, height, weight, nationality, clothing, hairstyle, religion... it's not that they are insignificant, it's just that those children hadn't yet learned the animosities ingrained in our society. Beauty is inside every person and I will always insist it exists, even if it's sometimes difficult to find. I try to implement this way of thinking wherever I go with whoever I meet and it has caused me to make so many amazing friends over the years.

Of course my experiences over the last year have had a huge impact on discovering new things about what I want to do with my life and also reaffirming certain aspects that I was already sure of. I worked at my former high school as a German teaching assistant for around seven months and met some incredible staff and pupils. The young people I had the opportunity to work closely with taught me everyday the value of care, persistence and patience (some more than others :P) and how important it is to be flexible and accept that not everyone works in the same way. After two years of hard study at college, they helped me to rediscover my imagination and in turn my determination to really achieve something out of the ordinary. On the one day I worked in a Peruvian school in the Sacred Valley, it was also them that persuaded me not to lose hope that situations in developing countries can be overturned. Whist marking English work at the Peruvian school, I had to ask the teacher whether she wanted me to correct just their inaccuracies in English, or their work as a whole, as the 15 year olds didn't know the difference between capital and lower case letters, or how to use punctuation. I discovered there and then that equal opportunities in education on a global scale was something I felt deeply passionate about, though to this day I'm still not sure how to go about solving it. However from my experiences at All Hallows, I'd learned that crazier things have happened than able bodied, healthy kids overcoming the inability to write properly. From the bright ones who just need a little nudge in the right direction, to the ones who really struggled because of illness or otherwise, it is easy to see that with the right encouragement and enthusiasm, no child can fall behind.

Due to all these experiences, that have taught me the importance of travel in my life and different ways in which to view the world, I have decided that when I grow up - in body, not spirit of course - my broad aim/goal/dream/aspiration is to work with people and make a difference in the world. Really I have always known that, but both through travel and interactions with many, many unbelievable people I have come to discover what I personally feel most strongly about acting upon. I'd love to work for the United Nations or an international NGO in ground based operations, in the areas with those in desperate need of empowerment and support, whether it be war zone or school yard. I'd go mad sitting behind a desk all day. It's a rather ambitious dream, but I figure if I aim high, anything that comes close is still going to be pretty damn good.

I hope this has in some way been an interesting read, made you consider something about yourself or explained a bit about why I'm a little crazy. I also hope that I may have encouraged at least one person to get out there a travel a little more. I realise this is rather an intense post too, but that's just the way I'm feeling this week. Any suggestions for a slightly lighter topic choice for next week are welcome :)

Oh and there's this guy... I can't exactly remember how I came across this video but every time I watch it a longing swells up inside me. Travelling the world and uniting people through something as simple as dance? Beautiful.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Foodie Nightmares

Last week a put a tweet out asking for ideas of what to base this post on. My favourite was the suggestion to compare all the different types of cakes I've tried throughout my travels (for anyone who doesn't know, that is A LOT of cake). I originally started out by making a post with all my 'Foody Favourites', a list of all the amazing food and drink I've tried whilst travelling, as I wanted to be indiscriminate to all those crazy cake-haters out there. However, I've been ill recently and had a particularly bad night last night, so in an attempt to make myself and you lot giggle (and probably cringe a little too) here's a low down of my foody horror stories from my travels thus far.

Bus ride from Lima to Cusco, Peru - Chicken, Rice and Jam?

Imagine this. You arrive in a new country, a new continent in fact and you're just about to embark on a 24 hour bus journey. You're tired and frustrated because the bus company have messed you around so you had to pay for your ticket twice. You're throwing up from altitude sickness because you're around 3000km higher up than you're used to and you've not eaten a proper meal in a few days because you've been struggling with changing your dollars to soles. All you want is something bearable to eat that will fill you up. And this arrives. Because I'm an idiot and chicken is like my kryptonite, I decided that the pinkish bit in the middle was nothing to worry about, 'they must just make it like that' in Peru. I wasn't even brave enough to touch the jam thingy. As you can imagine, it all came back up rather swiftly.

Nashville, Tennessee, USA - Cheesy Fries

You'd expect Americans to be the experts in Cheesy Fries, but this cheese was possibly the worst I'd ever tasted. It was the glue-your-mouth-together-and-burn-your-tongue-but-not-in-a-good-way kind, that was more sickly than yummy. I can still taste it to this day... *shudders*

NYC, New York, USA - Large Chicken Nuggets Meal

This one is more of a rant at the RIDICULOUS portion sizes served in the USA. Here I'm sat with a large McDonald's consisting of 20 chicken nuggests, a portion of chips double that you'd get in a large meal in the UK and a drink so large that four of us struggled to finish it. It's insane. As someone who hates waste I had to soldier through and finish everything, feeling rather frumpy afterwards. Darn my, 'when in Rome' attitude.

Nice, France - Mussels in Curry Sauce

I'm sure this one doesn't need to much explanation as the description of the meal itself sounds unappealing to almost anyone who has tried mussels before. Unfortunately, Tom hadn't. In his defense, he did manage to work his way through a pretty impressive amount of them.

Bus ride from Copacabana, Bolivia to Juliaca, Peru - Bag of Cheese and Potatoes

You'd think that from our initial experience with Peruvian bus food we'd have learned our lesson. However just two months later, here we are again. This was a moment of desperation, we hadn't eaten for almost 16 hours and weren't going to get to eat for another four. So when these STREET VENDERS - I know, I know - got on the bus we decided to spend our last two soles (about 50p) on this bag of mystery food. Our logic? Well there was no meat in it, so we figured that there was no harm in trying. And the cheese was actually alright. But if you've never tried cold, hard and uncooked, potatoes before... then don't. Even starving hungry we could hardly stomach these.

Braunschweig, Germany - Apfelglühwein

Whilst on an exchange in college, we visited the Christmas markets with our partners. They were lovely enough to buy us all some of their locally brewed apple mulled wine as they wanted us to sample something typically German. As we're all terribly British and therefore far too polite, we pretended we found it delicious, whilst secretly pouring it on to the floor or feeding it to another friend whilst backs were turned. It turns out however that we were perhaps a little too convincing, as they then preceded to buy us more. Selina, if you're reading this, I'm sorry :P

Arica, Chile - Pizza, apparently.

Whenever I see these pictures I can't help but chuckle. I showed them in a presentation I was giving to some of the classes I used to teach and the gasps of horror and the looks of disgust on the children's faces at the fact that this was allowed to be called a pizza, will forever accompany these images in my mind. It was also possibly the most expensive meal I ate in South America, around 4000 pesos, equivalent to about £5.30. Doesn't seem like a lot but for a backpacker on a tight budget, it's a bloody fortune.

Nashville, Tennessee, USA - Some kind of Burrito at Taco Bell

Now you might be tempted to suggest that from the examples I've given you already, that it's clearly safer to stick with what you know or chains with seemingly good reputations. No. Taco Bell is easily one of the worst places I ate in the USA. The taste was bland and uninteresting and it's one of those places that makes you feel so bad about yourself that you find yourself seriously considering giving up food and living solely off weight watchers smoothies for the rest of your life. It also has errr... other negative consequences. I'll let you use your imaginations on that one.

Atlanta, Georgia, USA - Coca Cola World

An all together different experience which I wrote extensively about in April, was our trip to Coca Cola world. Besides the trip being a rather terrifying one, it turns out that their brainwashing techniques actually work. As more of a Sprite girl myself, Coke has never really appealed to me, however I found myself ordering it impulsively for the next few weeks without really knowing why. Once again I am warning you, steer clear of that place.

Milan, Italy - Limoncello

Let's just say that the night we drank this three of us ended up vomiting, a lot. It is not worth buying Limoncello at 2.99 euros a bottle, even if you are on a tight budget. Especially if you intend to play drinking games with it. Never again.

And that's about all I can think of for now. It'd be cool to hear of anyone else's stories so comment and let me know. I'll need more ideas for blog posts too, so keep them coming. Also, I'm a big fan of comments and I don't get too many at the moment ;) *hinthint*

If you were disappointed and wanted some actual advice on where to eat on your travels as opposed to where to avoid, the 'Foody Favourites' post has been completed and archived, so if it's requested I'll just put it up. Otherwise I'll bring it out one day when inspiration is failing me.

Monday, 14 January 2013

...and what's to come

The past few months have been an absolute BLAST for me. I'm currently at University in London studying German and Hispanic Studies (with a little French on the side too). It's incredible. I've also been mega fortunate with my flat, as somehow I've been placed in with all international students. Seriously it's like a dream come true, it's like I'm constantly in travel mode.

Just to emphasise just how multinational my uni friends are, here's a low down of my flatmates. (This probably isn't interesting to most people, but this is my blog, so you're just going to have to deal with it. Just skip a bit further down if you want to jump to the exciting up-and-coming travel plan bit... :) )

So this is my first term flat...

There's me and my fellow first year Josie (Switzerland), then exchange students Ellen (Aus), Adriana (Mexico) and Gustavo (Brazil). I MISS YOU GUYS ALREADY :'(

However, we're lucky that the Newbies are awesome too...

This is the gang boogying to Thift Shop in Winter Wonderland... (left to right) There's Brett (exchange from the USA), Caitlin (Spain), another first year who moved in just before Christmas, Josie (who's stayed, WHOOP) and Steve (exchange from Aus). The others are friends from Uni, Mexican and American if you must know. There's also Shaynah (USA) but I don't have a pic with her yet :(

Also if you don't know what Thift Shop is (and you should) here's the youtube link:

The plus side of having a completely international flat is that the exchange students want to constantly be travelling the UK and Europe and I get to tag along/invite myself because I just can't be in one place for too long. Plus despite being in travel mode, I still have a base camp in London where I can relax and feel at home.

Unfortunately it does mean that I'm still making amazing friends and then having to watch them leave again and again. Which, by the by, doesn't get easier, no matter what people tell you, especially for a particularly emotional girl like myself. However I have come to terms with the fact that no matter where I am in the world, I'm always going to be missing someone. Sounds kinda sad but if you flip it, I also know that no matter where I am in the world, I'm always going to be with someone I care about :) Which is pretty awesome.

And now for the exciting part, this years travel plans (so far!):

February reading week in Madrid and Salamanca with the Hispanic Society. This is, as well as an opportunity to get a little silly on alcohol with the course mates, mainly an opportunity to improve my rather terrible spoken Spanish. As it's my degree, it's probably important for me to learn to do it well :P

St. Patrick's Day weekend in Dublin with all the flatmates. I'm FINALLY getting to Ireland and I'm super excited.

Then finally a week or two in Croatia with friends from home travelling and attending Hideout Festival. Which is a festival. On a beach. With real sunshine and waves and sand and EVERYTHING. Here's the promo video if you're wanting to know more...

Best get working on that Bikini Bod if I don't want to do my usual in knee length board shorts and a men's XL t-shirt...

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Catch up...

Between my first year of university starting and an all together hectic four months I really haven't had chance to blog about well... anything it seems.

Since my last post I've also visited Budapest (at the end of the trip I didn't finish documenting) and spent a weekend in Amsterdam at the beginning of November. If I tried to write full posts on those and tried to get you properly up to speed I know I'd just end up falling behind again, plus my travel journal is at home and I'm at uni. Combine that with the absolute worst memory in the world (hence why I write everything down) and you'd get a rather shoddy recount of events. So in pictures and captions, here's the highlights of those last two adventures:


The Roman Baths. So chilled out it's unreal, we spent a whole day there and with more time would have spent more.

This is a MUSICAL fountain. It played classical music and then the water 'danced' in time. Amazing.

This is from the day we went adventuring up a big hill (which perhaps has a proper name...) and had this incredible view of the whole city from the top.

We went out every night (if I remember rightly) to various different ruin bars, all with a pretty cool vibe. We also spent one night in a club, then got lost trying to walk back at 5am. Good times :P


The red light district was actually really pretty and very different to how I expected. So clean and well kept. However a tip to female travellers; if you don't want to spend every evening oggling at prostitutes, don't visit Amsterdam with 4 boys.

In a coffee shop. We spent a fair amount of time in these. And I discovered I just don't really like weed. Ironic eh?

We did the Van Gogh mile and saw lots of art because we're just cultured like that.

Recognise these chicies?? The lovely dutch girlies I met whilst doing the trek to Machu Picchu in June. So good to see them again :)

On the last day we visited the gorgeous Botanical Gardens. I also went to Anne Frank's House, which was incredible.

And to finish it off here's the boys in front of the Central Station.

...and with that, my country count is now up to 25.