London life

Ooops, i’ve left it a bit long between posts again sorry! But in my defense I haven’t really had much time to sit down and blog since the last time I wrote what with the move down to the capital and starting the new job among other reasons. I’m currently sat with my feet up though and its the end of the week so now seems as good a time as any to finally put words on the screen.

I officially moved down to London just over 2 weeks ago and as you probably gathered from my last post the business of finding somewhere decent to live was proving tricky and exasperating so I actually took up the kind offer of one of my very good friends to move in to her flat temporarily and reside on her sofa until I could find a place. After experiencing the disasters of trying to flat hunt from a distance this seemed like the best solution, once you’re actually here it is much easier to arrange viewings, get to places quickly and see dozens of flats in a shorter time period.

It feels like i’ve been here for ages already, i’ve certainly spent enough money to make it feel like i’ve been here for at least a month (it slips through your fingers like sand and before you know it your bank balance is screaming at you)

Anyway back to the point, although it feels like i’ve been down here for a really long time already, its actually only been just over 2 weeks and I am moving into a lovely new flat tomorrow so it has all worked out for the best. I’m really relieved as a couple of viewings were cancelled when I first got here and one girl changed her mind and pulled out of a deal just as i was about to send her a deposit so for a while I was feeling quite upset and worried that I would be annoying my friend and taking up too much space in her living room for way too long (not that she would kick up a fuss because she’s been really great about the whole situation) but then I went to view a flat which I found on spareroom advertised at £475 a month about a 20-25 minute walk away from work, inbetween Wandsworth and Putney. It seemed too good to be true, and i was skeptical to say the least as there weren’t many pictures on the advert (I was expecting it to be a cupboard or something) but when I went to see the place it was super, two lovely flatmates, a decent sized living room with extra space for a table to eat at, a balcony with a barbecue, a large kitchen, separate bathroom and toilet and a double bedroom with wardrobe, desk, chest of drawers etc. Ding ding ding, I’ve hit the jackpot!

I can’t wait to get there tomorrow morning and unpack my things so I no longer have to live out of a suitcase, it’s also going to be a huge relief not having to wake up at 6am every day as currently I’m commuting an hour each way in the morning and then back again in the evening at rush hour.

I have to say I’m really enjoying life down in London and feel like i’ve really started to settle in now, things were a little shaky to start with what with the flat situation I’ve already mentioned plus I was a complete numpty and managed to leave my purse on a train and everything in it on only my second day here which meant I had to be living on some limited emergency cash while I waited for new cards to be sent out, all quite upsetting and not the best of starts. The purse situation was resolved though by a kind guy called John who I had been chatting to on the train journey, he must have spotted it and went out of his way to track me down using the information on my drivers licence, he got in touch and I was able to go and pick up the purse from him, he had kept it without taking anything at all, every single penny was still in its exact place and my driving licence, rail card and all important nectar card were all still there. It warms your heart to know there are people out there who do things like that, he really saved my bacon – Thanks John!! :)

In other news, pretty important news I suppose since its the whole reason I’m here in the first place, I’ve just finished the second full week of work at my new school in Fullham. I won’t name it on here as this is a pretty public domain and reaches a fair amount of people, you never know who is reading! I’m still learning the ropes at the moment because every school is different and even with a years experience at BSG there are still things that are done very differently but I can already tell that its a lovely place with one of the nicest bunch of staff I’ve probably ever come across, everyone is so nice and supportive and also really social which has been great for making friends/settling in. I’m a Teaching Assistant for Y4 in the mornings doing maths and literacy with them, most afternoons i’m with Y5/6 (the school is quite small so Y5 and Y6 are combined), I also help out with French lessons on occasion and on Friday mornings I do something called the “Big Write” with Y5 which is basically an English/creative writing session.

Outside of school I’ve been meeting with other friends who have already been down in London for a while, I’ve experienced a night out in Brixton which was pretty fun, next on the list is Camden for the infamous “Infernos” – apparently it’s awful but you’ve got to do it once. I’ve got a list of other places I want to visit and things I want to do over the coming months including a few hidden bars!! I’ve got two gigs to look forward to before Christmas, both at the 02 Academy in Brixton which I’ve heard is awesome in terms of atmosphere and being able to see the stage because the room is sloped so really looking forward to those, hopefully I’ll be able to afford to go to quite a lot of gigs as I always really enjoy them.

I’ve gotten massively back into reading thanks to my long commutes and have powered my way through books 1 and 2 of the Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness in just two weeks, I need to go and get a copy of book 3 tomorrow so I can carry on reading, the story really pulls you in, definitely recommend the series if anyone is thinking of finding a new book to read. Even though I’ll mostly be walking to work from now on I hope I still find time to keep up the habit of reading a bit of a book each day because when you get your nose stuck into a good book there’s nothing better. Some people have mentioned to me that I should invest in a Kindle but I’m one of those people who prefers to hold a book in my hands and turn the pages so I can see how far along I am as I go, then admire it on my shelf once its finished. Anyone else like that or is it just me? I feel like most people have abandoned the idea of having a paper copy of a book now and it makes me sad!

That’s about it for now really, I’m planning on keeping this updated with general posts about life down in London so if I manage to visit anywhere interesting or find a new area of the city to explore I’ll definitely be writing about it.

Thanks for reading, I’ll leave you with just a few pictures and I’ll be back again soon :)

Ciao, Pippa xxx

IMG_0452 IMG_0453 IMG_0443 IMG_1761 IMG_1766 IMG_0488 IMG_0438 IMG_0425 IMG_0484

PS: I have been a bit obsessed with taking pictures of Tower Bridge as it’s on the way home to my friend’s house and every time I walk past I have to stop and just admire it ahahaa

The joys of flat-hunting in London

A little over 6 weeks ago when I last posted on this blog I was about to get on a plane to fly back home from China as my Chinese year long adventure came to an end. I think it’s safe to say that after a little adjustment period and some reverse culture shock (you expect me to pay HOW MUCH for a drink?!) I’m now fully settled back into UK life. I’ve been enjoying spending lots of time with my family and friends and time has flown by so quickly that i’m now about to start off on my next adventure, moving to London, where i’ll be working a prep school in Fulham as of the end of August.

Of course this means I’m now desperately trying to overcome my first hurdle to becoming a fully fledged London gal…

…finding a place to live.

What’s the problem with that? I hear you cry… Surely just ring up some flats, view them and pick one?

 

Ohhhh ho ho.. no.

Ask anyone who has ever had to flat hunt in London and you will probably hear the same reaction. “It’s soul destroying”, “They could use this as a method of torture”, “so much money, so little space!!”

Flat hunting in London is indeed a very special experience.
In fact, if you’ve never felt your hope deflate, melt, and accumulate slowly into a pool of disillusion at your feet in the space of 30 seconds, then I highly recommend you try it…

I’m just beginning to find this out for myself, lucky me! So far my search has been completely unsuccessful. My first attempt saw myself and my dad making it down to the capital (more than an hour later than planned after a cancelled train, subsequently missing our first viewing and putting us both, as you can imagine, in a brilliant mood) where we headed eagerly to a flat in West Brompton that looked LOVELY from the pictures, boasting of a “huge kitchen diner” with “spacious living area” and “newly refurbished rooms”

We were greeted by Michael, the tenant trying to get OUT of the place and get the next willing victim in… as we walked into the “huge kitchen diner” which was infact a tiny, dark and dingy cave like room with only one dim light bulb I looked around for the “spacious living area”, peering over the work surfaces wondering if perhaps it was hidden behind the mountain high piles of dirty dishes and cups that seemed to have been left on the side for an eternity, not one single piece of work surface was visible, I’m pretty sure at one point I could see flies circling around the dishes in the sink… “Michael?” I asked, hopefully “Where is the living room?”

He then pointed at a small two seater sofa in the corner of the room, underneath the alcove of the stairs. The sofa was directly in front of a TV. I mean, if you like sitting snuggled up to only one other person and watching films/TV in such close proximity that you probably couldn’t see the whole screen at once.. then sure…this was a great set up, I certainly wouldn’t have gone for “spacious” as my descriptive word of choice though.

We were then frog marched past the 6 or 7 locked doors of the mystical “other flatmates” and shown the (definitely NOT newly refurbished) room on offer, which was a small single and yes, i’m going to use ‘that’ cliche now…you couldn’t swing a cat in it.. The funny thing was, even though I knew this place was a dump I found myself saying things like “Without that TV, you could probably fit another sofa in there”, and “Oh, well it’s not like I’d need to get to the kitchen much anyway” before shaking hands, thanking Michael and leaving, stepping over the puddle of despair on my way out. But that’s the thing with London flat hunting, you seem to try and find the positives in living in a cupboard… or having to share your space with rats… or whatever else is thrown your way because well, you need somewhere to live and if you don’t think positively you might just cry.

The rest of our day didn’t go brilliantly, we saw another place where the bedroom was literally the size of the bed, so you kind of had to just open the door and fall onto your bed and voila… the wardrobe was outside and well, you get the picture.. we went home feeling pretty deflated and I decided to leave the flat hunting for a while. I have spent an unreasonable amount of time on SpareRoom and Gumtree but I’m quickly learning to never trust anything or anyone: “shabby chic” means your bed is in the living room, “open plan” means your creepy new flatmates probably have a peephole into your bedroom and “£500 a month for a lovely double room in a nice location” is just a bare-faced lie.

Despite this, my naive side reared its head again the other day when I spotted what I thought was a GREAT find on SpareRoom – Modern, nice looking double rooms available in Shepherd’s Bush – only a 30 minute commute from work and 10 minutes into central. Too good to be true? yep! Did it stop me from getting my hopes up? nope! Forever an optimist!

Anyway here is the advert in question, from an agent called “Skyline Estates” who have a very swanky website and all of the pictures of their rooms seem to be fairly similar, I thought i’d hit the jackpot (notice the ridiculous amount of SpareRoom tabs I have open on my browser??)

flat

 

I spoke to “Fabio” the Italian agent who was selling the property, who by the way was so flipping hard to get hold of and then not exactly helpful in replying promptly with address details (I got them on the morning of the viewing after pestering him with phone calls) but whatever… I’m kinda used to the Italian “it’ll get done eventually” attitude thanks to my year abroad so I just kinda let it slide… He essentially said that viewings were going to be on Monday (I spoke to him on the Friday) and that there was a lot of interest in the place so unless I could go and view it in person I probably would miss out. Despite living up north and having to fork out a silly amount of money for last minute train tickets, I figured this place would be worth it. Well. Never have I ever seen such blatant false advertising in my life.

  • There was no shared living room, there was not a living room at all.
  • There were not 5 people sharing the flat, there were 6.
  • Despite advertising 3 bedrooms, and having 3 pictures of bedrooms which you would assume corresponded to those 3 bedrooms, the place looked NOTHING like that.
  • The kitchen was so small you could stand in the middle of the room and touch all 4 walls without having to stretch.
  • The “bathroom” was a tiny, disgusting little room and I was a little scared to go in there and touch things in case I caught something, bearing in mind this is to be shared with 6 people…not sure how that would work in the mornings when everyone wants a shower.
  • The flat itself was basically one small claustrophobic corridor with doors leading into the bedrooms and since the kitchen was so small there wasn’t even room for a table, you basically would have to cook your dinner and either stand in the middle of the kitchen blocking the way for anyone else to get in there or go and sit in your room on your own, sitting among your “BRAND NEW IKEA FURNITURE OMGGGGGZ” but wait… it wasn’t brand new Ikea furniture was it? nope!
  • And the bed was a wooden slab with two damp, really squishy crappy mattresses piled on top of each other
  • BUT you did get your own fridge?? Bonus, I suppose? See there I am, i’m doing it again… “but you DO get a fridge which I suppose make the lies sting a little less…”

Here are some pictures I took of the actual room on my iPhone:

 

Clearly, I won’t  be signing for the flat. I am now going to stick to my original plan of waiting until I move down at the end of August when I’ll be crashing on my good friend’s sofa. That way I can actually go and view places without wasting money on train fares and hopefully weed out the places like this a little easier.

Don’t get me wrong the room itself wasn’t AWFUL and you at least DID have room to swing a cat. With a bit of a clean and a few personal touches i’m sure it’d look alright in there and would do just fine for someone who just needed a base, but I went to see this flat on the pretense of it being something it wasn’t and ended up being completely disappointed.

I’m sure once I’ve found somewhere everything else will slot into place. I’m really excited to be starting this new adventure in London and I’ll probably be blogging about life down there and how it’s going as and when I get the time!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my flat-hunting woes, if anyone knows of anywhere that IS a nice place to live for a decent price then please do get in touch, or if you have any horror stories of your own to share then drop me a message! I shall leave you with this parting thought:

Samuel Johnson once said when you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life…
…I say when you’re tired of searching for a flat in the city, you’re probably only just getting started.
Ciao,
Pippa xxx

 

Blast from the past

I just got home and had an e-mail come through from the past, written almost 6 months ago, on January 05, 2014. delivered through FutureMe.org. I had completely forgotten I did this until it just came through. Past me must have thought this was a good idea, present-day me is pleased to have received such a nice message..

 

“Howdy, future Pippa…

You made it!! Tomorrow is your last working day in China and you’ll soon be at home among your best friends and family. I bet you’re so excited, I know how much you’ll be craving a cuddle from your beloved nieces by now, a “squish” from your mum and dad, a trip to the local chippy! It’s right around the corner so I hope you’ve started packing already!!! (If not, seriously dude you need to get a move on, that suitcase won’t pack itself and you have got a LOT of stuff you need to move back to the UK)

ANYWAY. What an incredible year you’ve had so far, at the time of writing you’re already halfway done(only just!) with your adventure and you can’t believe how quickly time is flying. You want to be a teacher, is that still true now? I hope you will still follow that dream because teaching feels like the first thing that really ‘fits’ you. I’ve never seen you so happy or fulfilled. Even though there’ll be a heavy workload as an NQT and the PGCE year will be challenging, GO FOR IT! You can do it.

A few days ago it was Chinese New Year and you made a wish which you then threw into a wishing tree. Do you remember? You wished for happiness for your family. I hope this wish came true. You’re worried about your Aunty right now, you hope she will pull through her battle with cancer. I’m sure while you’re reading this she is absolutely fine because she’s a fighter and she has a positive and warm attitude which radiates from every part of her being and this is how you know she’s going to be okay. When you read this, call her and tell her how much you love her. I hope you’ve been making a good effort to stay in touch! If not, shame on you Smith!!!

You also wished to find love this year. True love, or at least be closer to finding it. I don’t know what will be happening in approximately 6 months from now when this letter reaches your inbox. I’m not saying you’ll have magically met “the one” (if indeed such a person exists!) but this wish you made to find love is much deeper than it first appears. Although it would be wonderful if you’re by now madly in love with a gorgeous man who values you for exactly who you are and makes every day seem like Christmas… ALTHOUGH that’d be grand… just remember that as long as you’ve found love in the following ways you’re doing alright:

Do you love what you do?

Do you love what you HAVE done this year at BSG? Do you love waking up every morning knowing that you have direction? If you don’t feel this way then DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

Do you love yourself? Are you at that point yet, where you have realised your self worth? Because if you haven’t by now then you really should. YOU are in control of your own happiness and how can you ever expect to find someone to love you if you can’t love yourself??

Do you love the life you are living? Have you fallen deeper in love with travel? With places and people and cultures? Have you lived. I mean really LIVED, y’know?

Did you travel to the places you wanted to?

Did you grasp every opportunity with both hands?

Did you say YES?

Can you leave China feeling like you’ve gained a fabulous experience and are a different person to the girl who got on that plane on the 6th August 2013??

I hope that the answer is YES to all of the aforementioned questions. I also kinda hope you DO have a gorgeous hunk of a man on your arm, but if not then hey never mind – GIRL POWER!

 

That’s all really.

Lots of love from past you! xxx”

 

Past me was right, I definitely need to get my arse into gear with the packing, I AM super excited to see my family now, my Aunty is doing well, I DO still want to teach and the answer is a resounding YES but unfortunately there is no hunky man in my life!… If you want to send a message to your future self I highly recommend it :)

Final months

Hi all,

First of all i’m just gonna address the fact that before I went to write this I noticed that over 10,000 individual hits have now been registered on this site… that’s over 10,000 people who’ve read my ramblings…. not sure how or why that has happened but cheers, that’s AMAZING!

Another month has passed since the last blog and I can’t believe i’m saying this but i’ll be flying back to the UK next weekend!  Since I last posted the time has seemed to pass us by at lightning speed and we have all been so busy. I’ve been counting down the days till I return for weeks now as I’m so excited to see everyone back at home but now that the end-date is actually upon us it feels so strange to be leaving and I think I may be slightly in denial, because even though I know i’m ready to come back I kinda don’t want this part of my life to end.

I’ll probably write some sort of look-back on the year post in due course but for now i’ll just update y’all on what’s been happening recently…

…At School?
The final term has been manic because as soon as we came back from the Dragonboat Festival holiday it was time to prepare our kids for their KS1 SATs which involved a lot of extra maths sessions and not a second to spare for free time or extra play. They all did really well in the end and a lot of them over achieved so we were super proud! I remember when I was a year 2 doing my own SAT tests, it brought back memories!

We also had a class assembly to prepare for. Each class does one assembly over the course of the year and as it happened ours was the final one. We tied it in to some work we had been doing in class on fab and famous people from around the world including Einstein, Christopher Columbus, Steve Jobs and Neil Armstrong. It was a lot of fun working on the assembly – it was essentially our own little version of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure where a group of the kids traveled back through time to collect famous people for their school history project (Doug’s Idea, I never actually saw that movie!) It involved a lot of practicing to learn the lines, a whole class dance, one of the boys break dancing, a whole class violin performance (all those  painful hours of screeching violins on a Wednesday morning payed off in the end!) and making the props – considering these kids are 6-7 years old i’d say they pulled off something pretty impressive so yet again i’ll say it, we were very proud of our class ! (are you spotting a running theme here? they just seem to have achieved so much this term and they have really noticeabley grown up so much since the beginning of the year!)

 

Some of the bracelets I have acquired!

All of the kids seem to be obsessed with this stuff called “rainbow loom” out here which they use to make bracelets, do they have this in the UK can anyone enlighten me? I have about 6 of these things now, I feel like when I’m presented with one that someone has lovingly made over their playtime It would be rude to refuse it and hurt their feelings…

“Scoobies”

They remind me of “Scoobies” which were essentially the same thing but were around when I was at school, anyone else remember them?

For the past few weeks we’ve been concentrating our Year 2 end of year production which was of MULAN. The kids performed in front of family and friends on Tuesday and it went really well – I’ve had Mulan songs in my head for weeks now and often catch myself humming along to them in the corridors or even around the house, I don’t think i’ll be watching the movie again for a long while, it’s all I’ve seen and heard for the past few weeks!

School reception

The kids in action

Mulan defeating her enemy

I’ll Make a Man out of YOOOOU!

That’s pretty much it for school updates.,Things are starting to wind down now that the end of term is drawing near. Classrooms are gradually being tidied away, work is being finished up and we are enjoying some quality time with the kids who to be honest, probably deserve a break after all of the hard work and extra drama they’ve been doing up until now. We have a few end of term treats planned including pizza delivery and cake for lunch tomorrow (oohhhh yeah) and a ‘Splash Day’ next Thursday (aka massive water fight and slip and slide!) Next Wednesday and Friday we have award/graduation ceremonies (known here as ‘Speech Day’) and then it’s time to say goodbye!

…Elsewhere?
Jess and Olivia returned home after our Beijing trip, Ruth went back to Xi’an after living with me for a couple of weeks while she did work experience at the school and I had a few days of taking it easy while I recovered from that nasty fall onto my back which had left me all bruised and achey. All back to normal now so we’re all good, no more nasty injuries! (Although I’m still as clumsy as ever)

The weather was pretty insane for a while, Guangzhou has a tropical climate so from late April – June it was wet, horribly humid and extremely erratic with frequent downpours of monsoon style rain. It got to the point where umbrella’s were futile and you had to go everywhere in flipflops to avoid having soaking wet feet all day. We did have some impressive thunder and lightning storms though! Thankfully the rain has stopped now, it’s still ridiculously hot and humid but at least the sun is shining!

Carnage in the centre of town back in May

Look at that sky!

Lightning from the window of the appartements

I experienced KTV for the first time. KTV is one of those things that is pretty unavoidable if you’re living out here. It seems to be an extremely important part of Chinese culture.  The Chinese love to sing! You basically get some friends together, get a KTV room, add beer and sing karaoke all night. The beer is very necessary. I went spontaneously with a few friends one night, we were actually trying to kill some time before it got to 2.45am so that we could watch the Champions League Final.. it ended up being really good fun. I surprised myself and  got up to sing a few times. Something to tick off the bucket list! :)

Everyone seems to have been having birthdays this month also so my social calendar has pretty much revolved around various different birthday meals and more recently things have been revolving around the World Cup (which I’m thoroughly enjoying, just hope England beat Uruguay tonight!) Other than that not much has been going on outside of school, I suppose that isn’t really that interesting as far as updates go, but I’ve been out here for a year now so what I do in the evenings has become rather routine!

Here are a few snaps of recent shenanigans:

Oi, hands out of the gummy bears!

Buffet brunch at the Shangri’La

Speech!

Derby v QPR

Queenie’s birthday meal at Tairyo

Abby’s birthday meal at Oggi’s

World Cup party, an intense match of beer pong

Pick your shirt!

I’ve been applying for TA jobs back home with the aim to be in London by Christmas if possible, it is proving quite frustrating as a lot of places haven’t been prepared to interview me over Skype. I got to the final stages with one school and then was pipped to the post by the other candidate which was disheartening but I’m just going to persevere and hopefully something will come through eventually! Bit sick of the sight of my own CV now though and I swear if I have to use the words “motivated”, “enthusiastic”. “responsible” or “team-player” one more time i’m going to flip a lid, need to remember that it will all be worth it in the end!

I’m also trying to eat a little healthier (apart from the sweets and the nachos pictured above.. *ahem*) and get exercising as in a couple of weeks i’ll be running 10k with my sister. We are running the Race for Life to raise money for Cancer Research which is something close to our hearts after events of the past year. Not doing too great on the online donations front yet, in fact – only one person has donated so far which is pretty dismal! Mum has been circulating the form around her workplace at home though so hopefully we’re doing okay there

Here’s the page: https://www.justgiving.com/pippasmith91/ – please do make a donation if you can even if it is a small amount, this is the first and probably last time I’m ever going to run so far or do this amount of exercise in my life! ha.

Right, going to finish this post off here now as it’s pretty long

 

See you next week England!

 

Ciao, Pippa xxx

Best Mates, Birthdays, Beijing and Back Problems

Sup! Time is FLYING at the moment. Weeks are zooming past at an alarming pace, it’s been 5 weeks now since my Cambodia trip, 2 weeks since I turned 23 and only 7 weeks to go until I move back to the UK for good. I feel a little strange when I break it down into such small chunks of time like that and realise how close I am to the end of this year… I’m so ready to go home,  I’m really craving fish and chips and i’m impatient to start my life back in England as soon as possible but equally I don’t want this experience to end because I know when it does I’ll be sad to leave it behind.

April has been an eventful month with plenty going on. After Cambodia I had the pleasure of Phil’s company for an extra week in Guangzhou and then Hong Kong although both of us were quite ill which was a shame so we didn’t do too much!

Soon after his departure it was my birthday! Pretty gutted that Taylor Swift’s catchy “22” doesn’t apply to me anymore, I guess it’s time for a new shower song! I celebrated turning one year older with a meal and night out with work friends on the Friday night which was super fun!

The next day I popped across to Hong Kong as Jess and Olivia had come to visit! And the award for best birthday present ever/bestest friends ever goes to…..

We did the Avenue of Stars, Lan Kwai Fon (a completely different experience in the day time!), Sik Sik Wong Temple (where I got my fortune told and liked what I heard!) and Nan Lin Gardens before watching the Symphony of Lights by the harbour and having dinner…

Unfortunately had to get back to Guangzhou for work on the Monday but it was okay as a few days later I’d be squeezing in my final holiday during my time out in Asia, a cheeky little trip to Beijing. We had a long weekend away from work so a couple of lovely girls I work with from school and I went to join Jess and Olivia in Beijing for 4/5 days. I figured it would be criminal to live out in China for a year and not see the Great Wall so I knew I had to go!

 

Here’s some of our Beijing highlights:

On our way, excited to get on the plane

I took my polaroid camera with me, this is Jess, Olivia and I in Tiananmen Square..

Jess and Olivia were proving popular with the locals!

We had a blast riding through the Hutongs (old streets) in tuk tuks speaking Chinese with the friendly drivers

The Hutongs had a really special feel about them

Larking around at the Temple of Heaven…

I love that this moment was captured on camera, having a good giggle outside the Forbidden City

Jess and Rainbow inside the forbidden city

The incredible view from Jinshan Park

An early morning visit to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. Stunning!

No trip to the Great Wall would be complete without….

… A toboggan ride back down to the bottom of course!

Erm, hey?

Herro!

The Lama Temple

Enjoying a stroll in the Summer Palace

An extremely windy night time visit to the Beijing Olympic Park!

We had such a great time, definitely a trip to remember and I’m glad I can now tick the capital of China off my bucket list :D My only regret is not trying Peking Duck but we just didn’t really get a chance/have the time. If you ever get a chance to visit Beijing, I definitely recommend that you do it :)

That’s all my updates for now, apart from the last one added in at the end of the title. There were a lot of “B’s” so it seemed fitting to add another one solely for literary reasons and dramatic effect, but i’m fine!! Basically, I’ve done my back in a bit after a nasty fall this weekend – I got pushed off a podium in a night club (I was throwing some cool moves right before the incident might I add!). So anyway, I  can also now tick off getting an Xray and going to hospital in China from my list of experiences! I’ve been signed off work until Wednesday and then we will see how it goes from there. Nothing is broken according to the radiographer, they’re going to double check the scans just in case but it would seem that I have bleeding and bruised muscles which are pressing down on a nerve on the left side of my back which is affecting my left leg and I have super bruised coccyx also cause I landed on my bum onto a concrete floor with a right THUD and it flippin’ hurt! ouuuuch. Hopefully it will all sort itself out with some painkillers and a couple of days rest because I have a 10k run to start training for in the summer!!!

Hope you enjoyed this little insight into my latest shenanigans!

Until next time….

CIAO! Pippa xxx

Cambodia 2014: Part 2

Right, I’ve put this off for long enough!

Let’s finish what we started shall we….

I wrote about my time in Siem Reap in Cambodia before, but there was a whole other part of our holiday where we basically became massive beach bums, to be honest there isn’t much to report because we spent most of our days eating, swimming, sleeping and then repeating that cycle but I thought I’d add the pictures on here for those who are interested :)

Day 4 continued + Day 5…
So we travelled from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville on the SMALLEST plane I think i’ve ever seen. It had propellers!

The journey didn’t take too long, I think it was about an hour. We were driven to Otres beach where we were staying at Mushroom Point. They had these cute little huts on the beach in the shape of mushrooms, really quirky and a nice little place to stay but I must admit it was very basic so maybe not to everyone’s tastes. Sihanoukville has three main areas to choose from and it’s wise to do your research before you go because you’ll get a very different experience depending on where you stay, the main “downtown” area near Serendipity and Occhetual beaches are apparently the places to go if you’re after the backpacker/party scene. Otres ,which is a little further, had a much more chilled vibe. Otres 2 was even more chilled and very isolated.

By the time we arrived and dumped our bags it was sunset so we sat on the beach and had some food and drinks before catching some well deserved zzz’s! The next day we swam, slept, larked around with a frisbee and took a few walks.

 

 

The view from our accommodation at breakfast time:

Look at that sunset!

Day 6 – Koh Rong

Once we had seen everything there was to see in Sihanoukville it was time for a bit of Island hopping. We went via boat to Koh Rong. Koh Rong is a 2 hour choppy boat ride away from Sihanoukville, which is probably why not many tourists make it out there, although it seems to be becoming more and more popular (as is Cambodia in general really, as an alternative to the Thai offerings of Koh Phi Phi, Koh Phangan etc)
There are rumours flying around about plans for a 5 Star luxury resort, golf course and airport to be built by next year, so I doubt that Koh Rong will stay as unspoiled and sleepy as it is at the moment, go while you can!

When we rocked up I was basically in awe, the water was crystal clear and this stunning turquoise colour. The sand was bright white and really soft. We were greeted by a guy called James who worked at one of the bungalow resorts. There are a few resorts dotted along the beach. After a warm welcome by James and organising a snorkelling/BBQ trip for later on we headed to Monkey Island, our home for the night. If i had to be completely honest I’d say Monkey Island was kinda over-priced for what we got but then if you’re coming to a paradise island with limited electricity and resources then you can’t expect too much! It was great however if you wanted to kick back with good food, good cocktails and good vibes, a nice central place to base yourself!


I really enjoyed our snorkelling trip, we went around some of the even smaller and truly deserted islands, I jumped off the boat from the top deck, saw fishes and coral and then we swam to Long beach on Koh Rong Samolem. This was 7km of unspoilt was white sand with barely anyone around. After an eventful swim back to the boat (!)  we enjoyed chicken skewers and decent music with good company. I was having such a great time and it already felt like it would be my favorite activity of the beachy part of our holiday. Then it got even better when we got offered the chance to go night swimming!!
We dived in, it was pitch black but if you looked in the water around you there were thousands of glowing plankton and it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,. I really can’t do it justice in writing so i’m not going to try, just trust me on this one – being in the water surrounded by that, then looking up at the sky full of stars (which I am deprived from seeing in China thanks to the pollution!) was the best thing EVER.

So there you have it, basically – the beach was well good.
And that concludes my Cambodian adventure :D

xxx

 

 

Cambodia 2014: Part 1

Cambodia 2014: Part 1

Helloooo there!

It’s been a whole week since I got back from my travels. I’ve been entertaining in China, saying farewell in Hong Kong and now London has claimed Phil back (damn you London!)

Aaaand that brings me up to the here and now; this is the first real opportunity I’ve had all week to sit down and post about my holiday in Cambodia! I’m really excited to share this with you guys, Cambodia has been one of my all time favorite travel destinations so far. It may be a poor, barren country but it is filled with some of the most amazing, friendliest people I’ve ever encountered not to mention the delicious food, rich history and the prettiest coastline I’ve ever seen!

I started writing this and realised it was gonna be much longer than I originally thought. I don’t know if that’s because there’s so much to share or just because I tend to waffle… either way I’ve decided to split the blog in half and cover Siem Reap in this part and then Sihanoukville/Koh Rong in part 2. I’ve included some of my favourite pictures from the trip and a day by day run through of what we got up to, I hope you enjoy reading and potentially become inspired to pay a visit to South East Asia yourselves :)

Day 1 – Arriving in Siem Reap
Unfortunately, the holiday didn’t start off in the best way as flight delays and broken phones meant that despite our planes landing next to each other we completely missed each other because we hadn’t planned for things not going to plan!

What ensued was your typical ScoobyDoo-esque comedy chase sequence, you know when they’re chasing the monster and keep criss-crossing through different doors, narrowly missing each other? I ended up driving back and forth round the town between the hotel and the airport in a tuk tuk keeping an eye out for a lost-looking Phil because I didn’t think he knew which hotel we were staying at and he was nowhere to be seen at the airport (which by the way is tiny!) Meanwhile Phil eventually did make his way to the hotel in a taxi as luckily he had the name of it written in an old message on his phone, and he was found waiting patiently in the lobby probably feeling rather confused as to where on earth I had been.

After all of the shenanigans we checked in, caught up and went for an explore/food.

Not far from our hotel we stumbled upon Pub Street, the party hub of Siem Reap. I tried Khmer Traditional Curry which was lovely but Phil didn’t have quite so much luck with his food choice and ended up suffering thanks to an unidentifiable spicy pepper thingy – potentially a Cambodian Kampot pepper? We ended up getting swept up in the atmosphere after dinner and moved on to the cleverly named Angkor What? bar (Angkor Wat being the main tourist attraction of the town) where we took full advantage of the dirt-cheap drink prices. I think we both felt we deserved it, although we also both agreed that we couldn’t do the same every night…Pub Street was great fun but I felt over all that it was just a little bit too westernized and rowdy for me!

All in all, day one of the holiday was a funny one. We definitely have a story to tell :)

Day 2 – Temples and Tuk Tuks

After a morning dip in the hotel pool and a yummy omelette for breakfast we headed out with Lane, the Tuk Tuk driver from the previous night. He drove us to a temple and would then wait until we were done before taking us to the next one. he just seemed to know when we were done and be there ready. The agenda for the day was to see Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm and Bayon. The temple ruins are massive so it took hours! We unleashed our inner Tomb Raider inside Ta Prohm which is where Angelina Jolie filmed the movie. Well I say “we”… actually I just kept darting round corners and jumping on rocks while Phil tried to pretend he wasn’t with me…

In the evening we dined at a Beatles themed restaurant called the Yellow Sub (nice burgers!) and then payed a visit to the night market where Phil bought the brightest pair of fake Ray-Bans he could find for 4USD (he then wore these sunglasses at every opportunity he could for the rest of the holiday!)

Day 3 – An eye-opening experience

This day was by far my most favourite day of the holiday. I had booked us on to a day tour with Triple Adventure  to get away from the temples an tourist traps and out into the rural countryside to see what life in Cambodia was like in reality. Click the link if you want more information – I highly recommend them for anyone else considering a trip to Siem Reap. We met with Pak in the morning who turned into a firm friend over the course of the day. He took us to pick up some bicycles via an old fishing market. Once we had adjusted our seats we set off and cycled round the dusty roads of a local village called Bakong.

Pak stopped in a lot of interesting places along the way to talk to us about local life, we got to see how villagers went about their daily routine. He showed us how families farm and make Palm sugar from the palm trees, explaining the process from start to finish. We saw local wells and disturbingly low standards of water hygiene which really makes you grateful for what we have in the UK. We cycled past a traditional Buddhist ceremony, went to a local primary school to say hello to the children and then stopped off at an alligator farm. We were even able to cycle to an abandoned temple ruin (inaccessible by car) in the forest.



By this point our stomachs were rumbling so Pak took us to another village where we had dinner at a local stilt house. It was simple, filling food cooked by an old Khmer lady who is paid by the tour company to provide lunch for the guests. I lay down in a hammock on the balcony to let my dinner go down while Phil and Pak bonded and spoke about Pak’s dreams of one day owning his own tour company in Thailand – which we are both sure he will be successful with and we would definitely pay good money for!!


After dinner we changed our mode of transport to a boat and sailed down the river, witnessing first hand how closely 
Cambodian life is tied to this major waterway. Many of the people we saw catching fish in the river would be selling their gains to the market we passed through earlier in the day. In fact the majority of locals here sustained their lives purely through the fishing industry. The boat eventually reached the floating village of Kompong Khleang on the largest fresh water lake in SE Asia (the Tonle Sap)

 


There was a floating school, church and even a market boat that floats by each house every day for villagers to make purchases. I had never seen anything like it and was astounded by what I saw, it’s such a completely different way of life to anything I’ve ever known. Pak explained that the people living in Kompong Khleang were actually Vietnamese Cambodians, a minority group who are quite vulnerable to discrimination because of the difficult history and relationship between Cambodia and Vietnam.




There was quite a lot to take in on this day, after we were done at the floating village Pak took us back home. He stopped at the side of the road to treat us to some bamboo sticky rice which was really yummy and rounded off the trip nicely. We were absolutely knackered by the time we got to the hotel! Pak if you’re reading this, thank you for an incredibly day :)

Dinner was at a training restaurant called Haven and was easily the best food of the holiday, it’s a Swiss owned place which gives employment to vulnerable young adults from orphanages and shelters as well as the underprivileged from rural areas. The concept is that by giving these young adults life skills, housing and a stable income they are giving them a chance in life and the opportunity to create a safe future. You can easily see why this place gets such good ratings, it was more than just the food that made it special it was the whole experience. We tried to go again the next night but it was fully booked!

It was certainly better than the street food option of fried spiders!:

Day 4 – The final day in Siem Reap!!

So by this point we felt like we had pretty much seen everything Siem Reap had to offer, later today we would be heading towards the beaches in the south but not before one last adventure. On day 4 we got up at 4.30am to go and watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. This is something we were told not to miss and the view didn’t disappoint. we had to use the torches on our phone to get into the temple complex and find somewhere good to stand as it was pitch black when we went in. Then it was just a case of waiting, watching and appreciating. There were A LOT of tourists, i’m not exactly a morning person so it surprised me just how many people (including myself) were willingly out of bed at such a stupid hour of the morning. It was a shame that it was so crowded but I suppose that’s just what comes with it being the number one thing on most people’s itineraries. I’m glad we went to see the sunrise even though we were both really tired because like many things about this trip it was something I’m not likely to forget for a very long time.

By this point we were wide awake and Phil had arranged with his “brother” (the friendly Cambodian hotel man) to go QUAD BIKING at around 10am, so off we went. I was slightly terrified of the idea of me on a quad bike, I’m way too clumsy when I’m walking let alone in charge of a vehicle but once I’d got the hang of it I loved it! And I suppose it was an achievement that I didn’t fall off or seriously injure myself, I actually did more harm to myself walking along the beach in Sihanoukville… Anyway, this was Phil’s favourite activity of the whole holiday and I can understand why because there was nothing quite like it that we did all week. He said it reminded him of a video game driving round terrain you wouldn’t normally see. Here we are in our gear and there’s a picture of the pagoda we visited thrown in for good measure:

 

And that’s everything for the first half of the trip! WOW that’s long. If you’ve read this far you deserve a medal. I don’t have any medals to give you, but if I did then you’d definitely get one.

Beachy blog coming soon :)

 

PS: If you didn’t pick up the vibes from everything I’ve written – I LOVED CAMBODIAAAAAAAA