Thursday, 14 August 2014

I Want to Ride My Bicycle

New bike!

Living in one of the flattest parts of England at the moment, and being without a car, made me decide to invest in a bike to get me around my new city.

On Saturday I spent lots of time talking to local bike shops about what I wanted and what to look out for, so when the rain started pouring down on Sunday, I decided to take the time to browse the net and have a little look what was on offer.

My dream bike would have been the Pashley Princess, but it was way out of my budget, especially when I haven't really gauged how often I will use my bike yet. So the other two options I decided to look at were the Dawes Duchess and the Probike Vintage.

I had a couple of near misses on Sunday. A Pashley Princess came up on Freecycle, but unsurprisingly was snapped up within minutes of being offered, and a Dawes and Probike that I enquired about on Gumtree were both already being viewed.

It was a complete surprise, when the seller of the Probike gave me a call and said that the first buyer had dropped out, and that he would meet me after work on the Monday with it, meaning I didn't have to do the 25 mile journey by bus to go and see it. Perfect! It wasn't the model I wanted, it was the City Discovery rather than the vintage, but as soon as I saw it on Monday night, I loved it and snapped it up for a bargain.

I've only had the chance to cycle it twice since then, and that's been to the gym in the pouring rain, but looking forward to exploring Norwich a bit more on two wheels.

On another bicycle themed note, my friend Joe from Sheffield is currently pedalling hard on a bike, cycling from Sheffield to Singapore to raise money for a charity for refugees in our area. I can't even imagine the strength and stamina that must call for! He definitely wouldn't make it on my bike. So if you haven't done your good deed of the day yet, then I definitely think that you should sponsor him whatever you can spare!

To sponsor him, or find out more about his journey, visit his page here!

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Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Travel Tuesday: Ecuador!

Before I start, does anyone remember this song? As soon as we got to Ecuador I couldn't stop singing it and Nick had no idea what I was going on about!

I was so ready for a new country when we arrived in Ecuador I was so excited about it, even though we'd been travelling all night and hardly had any sleep.

We arrived at the little bridge over the river which denotes the end of Peru and the beginning of Ecuador. The first thing I noticed was how hot it was. We were surrounded by huge, lush green banana plants and flowers. There were a few street vendors who sat on either side of the bridge, who seemed more content to sit and assess the tourists crossing, rather than sell anything to us.

Unfortunately we hadn't been given the right information, so had to make two trips over the bridge in the sweltering heat! Phew!

Once we had collected our stamps and were legally inside the country, it was onwards to Loja, a small town North of the border.
Loja
Loja
We arrived late at night and when we followed the Lonely Planet's Top Choice to a Hotel Londres. When we pulled up it looked like Norman Bates was going to come to the door. It was totally run down and in darkness. It was that bad that the taxi driver asked us if we wanted him to wait while we checked in. We told him to head off, but no-one came to the door. It looked like no one had been coming to the door for a few years! So if you find yourself in the Loja area, don't try this hotel!

We finally found a welcoming hotel further down the road, and ordered in pizza and had a bath!

The next day we took a look around the town, but on a rainy Monday afternoon there wasn't much to offer us, apart from an entrance gate that wouldn't look out of place in Disney Land. We grabbed some lunch and then decided to head to our next stop, Cuenca.
Loja

We arrived at Cuenca and checked into the Alternative Hostel. It was a bright and airy, open plan hostel with private rooms that were only a dollar more expensive than the dorm rooms. The only down side to this hostel was that because it was open plan it got pretty noisy.

In the morning we took a walk around the little town of Cuenca which was very charming, and looked around the huge museum that was opposite our hostel. The museum was called Museo Del Banco Central De Ecuador, inside the national bank of Ecuador, meaning there are some pretty scary guards standing outside 24 hours a day. Inside is a floor dedicated to Ecuadorian ethnography, and the main pull to it is the shrunken heads on display. They are pretty fascinating to look at! There are also some traditional style huts set up which you can walk through, all really interesting stuff!
Cuenca
Cuenca
The museum was really interesting and they have an outdoor archaeological site which, links onto a nice little park with ponds, nice flowers, llamas wandering around and a tropical bird aviary too (although the birds all seemed pretty distressed to me). A really good, free way to spend an afternoon.
Cuenca
Cuenca
In the evening, we decided to give ourselves a little taste of home by making a Full Enlish for dinner. Yum!
Ecuador, fried breakfast in Cuenca

Another recommendation for eating is El Maiz restaurant, although it's a little pricey(er) the food is amazing! It was nice to have a break from all the chicken and rice that we had lived on in Peru!

We only spent 2 nights in Cuenca as we had decided to move quickly through Ecuador to get a full month in Colombia. So the next morning it was off the coast to Montanita!
Ecuador, caja national park


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Monday, 11 August 2014

Weekend: It's oh so Quiet! Shh!

Weekend in Norwich
Something to do with the Napoleonic Society in Norwich, I didn't join this time!
This weekend was very quiet and peaceful, apart from the storm that went on nearly ALL day yesterday. It was my first weekend in Norwich, and unfortunately everyone I already know here was out of town. I spent Saturday out in the sun exploring, and mentally making a list of all the places I want to go, so it was nice to batten down the hatches on Sunday and get on with things I needed to do around the house.

I spent my time doing a couple of classes at the gym, baking crumble, walking for miles, shopping for bikes, reading, cross stitching, resting and watching lots of Disney films and Gossip Girl.

Starting my week feeling very rested! Which is good as I have induction training for the rest of the week. Lots of early mornings and bussing around.

I hope that you all had a great weekend!


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Friday, 8 August 2014

Scarthin Book Shop, Derbyshire

I have a little recommendation today for anyone who might find themselves in Derbyshire and wondering what to do.

There's been a couple of posts in the past regarding my love of books. As an English Literature graduate, I'm a bit of a sucker for any kind of book shop. I love the new smell of Waterstones, and even when I see a sad cardboard box on the pavement filled with brown, battered books, I can't help but stop and take a look.

I've been to some amazing places around the world that would make some book lovers drool, like the El Ateneo book shop in Buenos Aires that is inside an old and glamorous theatre, and the Bosu-Dong book alley in Busan, South Korea where you could get lost for days if one of the precarious stacks of books toppled over.

I'm happy that Scarthin's equals these two places in quirky places to find your next read. Based in Cromford, just outside of Matlock, it is well worth a browse.

It is fit to bursting with old and new books, set out in tiny rooms that create a labyrinth of literary abandon. We went on a lovely sunny, Sunday afternoon, where they had the windows open and the breeze blew through the shop and fluttered the pages of all the books, as if they were trying to tempt you to pick them up. There were lots of comfy seats dotted around, encouraging you to have a rest and a read before you made any purchases.

I loved the fact that when I asked for a particular book, the guy working behind the till checked the new book database, but then told me he had absolutely no idea which second hand books had wormed their way onto the shelves!

The best thing about getting lost in the book shop is finding the vegan cafe that is hidden behind a book shelf and sells amazing blondies and Red Velvet cake.

I found a couple of things I plan to buy next time I go and it's payday, I loved the Chapters artwork, a chapter from a book formed into an image from the story, and this Wizard of Oz Craft Book.
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Thursday, 7 August 2014

Ch-Ch-Changes

Home Room
NEW ROOM

Feeling very David Bowie at the moment as I write this with all the changes that have happened over the last week.

I finished working at Aviva on Thursday afternoon, and by Tuesday morning was fully installed in my new house in Norwich and about to start work at my new job!

My first day was filled with the usual, not really knowing what you're supposed to be doing, where you're supposed to be, who you're supposed to be answering to and how to log onto the IT systems. The staff are all really friendly though and it's so interesting talking to people who have had such interesting careers within the NHS. Very proud to be working for the NHS, I don't want to come across nationalistic, but it really is one of my favourite things about my own country. At the moment I am just working a temporary administrative role while I wait to get fully trained for my clinical job.

My dad and Margaret drove me the three hour drive down on Monday morning, after wrestling to get everything into the car. I've just about unpacked, but just for you nosy parkers out there I thought I would put a photo or two up here to give you a sneak peak into my new home, and a couple of my old room at home. I love the pink ensuite bathroom!

So far Norwich seems really nice, and VERY small! Just as I had started to get things ticked off on my goal list, I have a whole new set of goals! Eeeek!


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Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Travel Tuesday: Peru, the Highs and the Lows.

Peru Collage
Four months down, two more to go!

From the surf town of Huanchaco we took a night bus to Piura in the North. We arrived at the little town really early in the morning and had to wait outside the bus station until it opened. It was weird watching the sleepy town come to life, which took an incredible amount of time as it was a Sunday morning.

People started to sweep the pavements as the sky started to change from black to grey, then the street vendors would cycle their rickety carts down the road and start setting up, and eventually people came out of their houses to buy breakfast from the bakery down the road.

Eventually the cleaner unlocked the gates of the station and let us sit in the waiting room while he swept around our feet. Nick, and a girl from Belgium who we had met on the bus tried to catch up on some sleep, while I read through all the things we’d done in Peru, trying to ignore the stench of stale pee coming from the waiting room.

On reflection, Peru was a weird country for me, there were lots of amazing things to see and do here, more than the other countries we had been to. But, for some reason, it was probably my least favourite of the countries that we had explored, from Argentina, to Chile, and Bolivia. So here are a list of the highs, and also the things I think made it a little less favourable for me.

Machu Picchu was definitely one of the things I had looked forward to on the trip, and it lived up to every single bit of expectation I had of it, although I had secretly tried not to get too excited as I thought I’d seen so many pictures of it that it might not be so great in real life. The walk there was one of the easiest you can do and I still found that a challenge! But once we were at the top it was amazing!

On the down side of Machu Picchu was Cusco. This was something I really did get excited for, every traveler told us how beautiful a city it was. And they were right. The buildings were grand and old, the streets were cobbled and narrow, and at night it was really beautiful. BUT, there were so many tourists there ready for their trip of a lifetime to see Machu Picchu that prices were just too high, locals kept you at arms length and everything was fabricated to make money. I know that the locals need the business, but it felt more like a show rather than seeing the genuine side of the city.

Lima was fantastic, and it was definitely our hostel in Barranco that made it so memorable, the people were great and it was so close to the beach. Barranco was a really nice area to just wander around, whatever time of day. I liked the fact there were two clear sides to the city, the new modern side which was good for shopping and restaurants, and the old side which was great for sightseeing.

My absolute favourite place in Peru had to be Nasca. We only spent a night there, but it was great to really learn about the lines, about the scientist who dedicated her whole life to trying to understand more about the lines. I think the heat in Nasca helped too, after a very chilly month in Bolivia.

Last, but not least, I have to mention Colca Canyon. It was so beautiful there and I think gave me the biggest sense of achievement and I really felt I deserved a dip in the pool at the bottom of the canyon! A must do for anyone who goes to Peru!

Peru was a good place to keep up the Spanish, as in Bolivia, not too many people spoke English and would much rather talk in their native language. This was good for us, as in other countries like Chile and Argentina we really struggled to find people to talk to us in Spanish, everyone wanted to practise their English.

It is also the country we will always remember for being sick in! I came into it really sick, spent time in hospital in Puno, and time in bed in Lima and Huaraz. Huanchaco was where we tried to give ourselves the time to try and beat it.

So despite the illness, and the feeling that people did keep a wide berth from the tourists, we still made some amazing memories. This was the low point of the trip for me though, it was 4 months in, with 2 months left. It was almost a whole month of being ill and thoughts started to cross my mind of cutting the trip short and heading home to try and get better, rather than doing a tour of the inside of hostel rooms. However, we stuck together and helped each other through it.

And even though it did smell of wee, I was excited to be in the bus terminal, waiting for the next, and penultimate, chapter of our journey to start.


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Monday, 4 August 2014

Weekend: Royal Ascot

Nick’s been working silly hours at the moment at a Summer school down at Ascot teaching foreign students, so I decided to go down and see him this weekend. When I arrived on Friday night I got to see all the amazing things that his students had said about him, and all the gifts that they had given him with, so he’s obviously making the hours count!

After finishing my first week at work in Norwich, I got on the train and made my way to London, then from London to Ascot. I eventually got there at 11 and we walked back to his school in the pitch black.
Ascot weekend
The school is in a very posh end of town, with lots of huge houses and leafy streets. I’d heard so many things about Ascot because of the races, but I’d never been before.
Ascot weekend
Ascot weekend
Ascot weekend
We had some catch up time before it was time for Nick to go to bed, as he has to work Saturday mornings too. His room really reminded me of being a student at Nottingham Trent with the tiny bed and desk.

He was up bright and early on Saturday, so I got up and did some bits and bobs that I had fallen behind with due to all the craziness of the last few weeks. Not before Nick brought me a very mismatched breakfast that he managed to sneak out from the canteen. Not quite sure if the ratio of jam to other products goes so well here!
Ascot weekend
Ascot weekend
When he had finished work at lunch time, we went for a walk around the small town and sat in the park and enjoyed the summer sun with a cider and some sweets. It seems like when the races aren't on at Ascot, there's really not much else happening!
Ascot weekend
Ascot weekend
Ascot weekend
Ascot weekend
Nick looked absolutely shattered, so we went for some Chinese food before going home and him falling to sleep by 9!

Sunday, wanting to escape Ascot all together, we took the train to Virginia Waters, bought some food for a picnic and took a walk around the lake. On the way to the lake we got a little lost amongst the private Wentworth Estate. Some of the houses we came across were amazing, very big and very grand. The people who live there must earn unimaginable amounts of money! It was a really nice afternoon, but made the time go so fast that before I knew it, it was time to rush home for me to get the train back to Norwich.
Ascot weekend
Ascot weekend
Ascot weekend
Ascot weekend
Ascot weekend
Ascot weekend
Ascot weekend
Only 3 more weeks before he joins me in the new house with his big sister, Kelly! Looking forward to it!

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