on the topic of making overly specific playlists;

I’ll get right out and say it: I have an addiction to making playlists on Spotify. What was that, you say? Say it louder for the rest of the class? I have an addiction to making playlists on Spotify.

I’m not exaggerating. I’ve made at least 40 unique ones. I’m not sure if I can successfully put the reasons into words, but there’s something inherently exciting about curating the perfect playlist that sums up exactly the right feeling. Some of them are created with extremely specific moods in mind, but you don’t have to be in that situation to enjoy them.

One of my recent favourites, ‘hyde park’, is created to capture the feeling of a summertime picnic that I’ve had with friends at the park of the same name. But of course, I don’t have to be at that park, or having a picnic to enjoy it. It’s an all-seasons playlist.

A wander along Hyde Park’s Serpentine river

After making that, I realised that I might as well continue with the extremely geographically specific playlists. And so there’s ‘piccadilly circus’, which is based off the blinding lights and general touristy chaos of the billboards in central London. London is one of the most visited cities in the world, and I like to think that this playlist exemplifies the heart of the tourist world with a diverse selection of music from all genres and eras. But much like the tourist hotspot that it’s based off, it doesn’t stray too far from the more popular sounds. There’s still some classic London associated acts included, like the Pet Shop Boys and Yazoo. But London has a lot of less obvious things to offer, and so does this playlist.

Sometimes they aren’t as deep as that. Sometimes I’m just in the mood to listen to some chilled out music by awesome female musicians, so I’ll put on the playlist that serves that very purpose. It’s got everything from Françoise Hardy to Solange, who are both awesome performers in their respective eras and genres.

I’ve got a playlist that showcases my favourite indie and alternative music that’s come from New Zealand over the years. There’s some really amazing local indie acts out there, but they were always forgotten by most other playlist. As good as they are, Crowded House grace literally every single playlist of New Zealander performers, and it’s a nice change to include some lesser known artists in the show!

Wellington’s Cuba Street, arguably the creative heart of the country.

And who can forget the throwback playlists, which are arguably one of the most fun type to make. Hey, I’m only human. I’m not ashamed to admit that I definitely have a few of these. I’ve got a playlist full of turn of the century party hits, most of which were probably played at my primary school discos. And who can forget my emo phase? Fall Out Boy and You Me At Six definitely deserve their own playlist. I don’t always add a playlist image, but if I come across a behind the scenes photo from the iconic ‘I Write Sins Not Tragedies’ music video, then its just asking to be made the cover image for that particular playlist.

I think I’ve always been obsessed with listening to music, and I can still fondly remember excitedly burning CDs off Windows Media Player, and insisting that my dad play them in the car when he dropped me off at primary school. Since I starting using Spotify a year ago, a whole new world of music has been opened up, and I’m loving it.

Music taste is such a fantastic, subjective thing, because even two people who both solely listen to the Top 40 radio will still have a slightly different taste in music. Or in my case, I listen to a lot of what my parents listen to, but not everyone does that. A lot of my friends listen to metal music too, but I’m not that bothered about these genres. But I could just as easily be. I’ve always been fascinated by finding out what other people listen to, and you can see why, when it provides such an insight into one’s unique personality.

Record stores in Camden, North London

One of the great things about the internet is that I can be inspired by the music collections of others, and then go on to create my own curated selections of music. Is that an adequate excuse to spend literally hours picking the perfect songs for a playlist? I like to think so.

I also have a joke playlist dedicated to only music about public transportation.

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welsh cakes & ianto jones // a spontaneous day trip to cardiff

Last autumn, my friend and I decided that we would take a spontaneous day trip to Wales. True to our word, we were off the next morning. To this day, we still can’t quite believe that we had the nerve to do it. Spur-of-the-moment trips like this are a relatively common trope in young adult novels, but to be the instigator of one in real life was something else.

The tale begins at approximately 7pm on a Thursday evening, when my friend and I were innocuously chatting over Whatsapp. But when we noticed that we both had the next day off from work, we began to see an opportunity. We began searching the internet for offbeat ways to occupy our day in London; whether it be a pop-up art installation, or a cafe with a quirky interior.

But we weren’t sure if these places were enough. The places we were looking at were the kind of things that took a few hours at most to see, but this time we had the entire day. We had plenty of time to be a bit more adventurous, and we began to cast our sights outside of central London. Quick as a flash, the original plans to go to a cute cafe morphed into something far more intrepid.

The golden hour hits Cardiff Castle

I can’t remember who suggested it first, but eventually one of us brought up, shock horror, leaving the boundaries of the M25, the ring road that encircles London. Passing this milestone felt significant; our Friday plans were now officially a Day Out™. This new development didn’t slow us down down one jot, and we embraced the new opportunities by devouring every Top Ten London Day Trips list that we could lay our hands on.

One of the perks of being in London is how easy it is to escape London, with a wealth of easily accessible day trips that don’t require a car. Cambridge and Oxford came up many times, but we had both been to these cities already. Saint Albans, Canterbury and Rochester were other potential options. But it wasn’t until my friend suggested Wales as a joke that we had an option that truly sang to us.

The idea instantly caught. Although, even though it would be hilarious if we actually went to another country for a day trip, I knew it was totally unrealistic. It would be far too expensive… or would it? Because I am not the kind of person to leave things like that hanging, I decided to actually look at prices. And you know what? It wasn’t actually that much. It would only cost us about £27 or so for a round coach trip, which wasn’t even much more than the tickets to more nearby cities. And hey, go big or go home, right?

Thankfully, my friend is also of a similar disposition to me, and it didn’t take long for us to actually decide to go. We weren’t going to let this rare shared day off go to waste! Besides, I think we almost as excited about the idea of doing a day trip to another country than we were about the day trip itself.

And so, less than 12 hours after we first began planning, we found ourselves at London Victoria coach station, blearily clutching hot drinks from Pret aManger and ready to board a bus to Wales.

There are many accessible day-trips around London, many of which only being an hour or so away on the train. (Un)fortunately for us, Cardiff is not one of these cities. The coach from Victoria Coach Station departed at 7am and arrived no less than four and a half hours later, just in time for lunchtime. But in the end, the timing worked out quite well. By the time we were due for our bus home at 6pm, we were sufficiently exhausted enough to not care about ignoring any places of interest that we might have missed.

Cardiff has always been one of these cities I had been meaning to go to one day. Accessible enough to be vaguely realistic, but far enough out of the way that it was always dismissed to the back of the line. On many accounts, it was reported to be a lovely little city. For me personally, there was also an attraction in that the city played a big part in Doctor Who and Torchwood, both beloved shows of my high school self. Plus, I’m a sucker for a new experience, and what better place to experience that than the Welsh capital?

Welsh Cakes – my friend insisted a trip to Wales was not complete without these. 10 for £2.90? Don’t mind if we do!

My friend, being Welsh, had of course been several times before. She was my tour guide! Not that we had a proper plan, really. We just wandered around, stumbling across food markets and strange Harry Potter knick knacks in stores. There’s some gorgeous shopping arcades dotted across the city, and we took great delight in admiring every inch of them!

We found the Ianto Jones shrine, which was a huge throwback to my Torchwood days. It was a little strange seeing a full blown memorial for a fictional character, but hey, what’s a fandom if it doesn’t make you feel things?

Despite Ianto Jones not actually being a real person, I still couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness when I saw how neglected some of the posters were, with years of being left to the elements stripping the colours and curling the corners. Torchwood has been off the air for years now, and there aren’t a lot of new memorials going up these days. At one point, all of these people thought Torchwood important enough to make a pilgrimage to Cardiff, but now Torchwood is no longer a part of their lives, and these people have moved on. I feel old.

We spent quite a lot of time around the harbour front, which alternated between gale-force winds and cool and clear sunshine. At one point we were forced to retreat inside the nearest pub to escape the rain and wind, which was threatening to blind us with its wrath. The pub in question was an ever-dependable Wetherspoons, but it did offer us a lovely view over the harbour! Half an hour later, the sky was blue and the sun was shining. Ah, the joys of British weather.

On a whim, we decided to pop into the interactive science centre, which was actually a lot of fun. We spent a good few hours channelling our inner children and messing around with the exhibits pretending to be airbenders.

After living in London for nearly two years, I had almost forgotten that people are capable of talking to strangers unprompted. Despite having the technical definition of a city, Cardiff really did give off some small town vibes. Everyone was smiling, and I even found my usually shy self chatting to a few people. A young mother with her toddler at the station even offered a ride back to the station if we didn’t want to walk it.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you necessarily want every conversation that comes your way. One memorable moment was in a souvenir shop, where we were treated to a conversation with the shopkeeper that rapidly the devolved into a woe-is-me rant about how his wife left him for his boss. But really, even an awkward encounter like that was just something to giggle over later.

One thing I was most excited to see was the bilingual signs, with many places displaying both English and Welsh languages. I myself am a firm advocate of New Zealand doing the same with Māori and English, so I was delighted to see a country, similar to NZ in so many ways, still representing its indigenous language today.

Usually the excitement of booking a trip becomes dulled down after the weeks or months of anticipation, but in the case of this particular trip to Wales, I found that there was no time for this to happen. Because we had so little time to mentally prepare ourselves to go, I actually found myself more excited to go here than I had been for a trip in a long time.

It’s become a fond memory now, and I can still barely believe that I’ve managed to find friends who is equally enthusiastic about spontaneous explorations. Here’s to many more such adventures!

christchurch, march 15th

I feel sick. I can’t stop thinking about the horrific event that has struck my country. This kind of thing never happens in New Zealand, and I can’t stop thinking about it. Yesterday I kept on bursting into random bouts of tears, probably because of the sheer shock of how horrible it is. Even when we had the London Bridge or Finsbury Park terrorist attacks just down the road from me I wasn’t affected this much.

Sure, we’ve had natural disasters. Christchurch itself was heavily affected by brutal earthquakes less than a decade ago, and I still remember watching the news for hours, staring in disbelief at the rubble. But somehow this small act is far scarier. Because an earthquake is just the earth at work, and growing up in New Zealand, earthquake drills are just part of the package. New Zealand has not had a mass shooting for nearly 30 years, and after that one, they strengthened gun control laws to the point that no one thought it could happen again. The last time we had a massacre on this scale was during a prison camp riot in WW2.

And the worst part is now that the initial shock has passed, we can now see that it wasn’t as out of the blue as everyone initially thought.

“But at least we aren’t as bad as the rest of the world.”

For probably several years now, I’ve been complaining about our media, and how our papers tend to take sensationalist quotes out of context (NZ Herald and Stuff.co.nz are notable examples), fuelling the flame of ignorance. But what did I do about that? I just switched to reading smaller Radio NZ and the Spinoff instead, telling myself that “at least not all of our papers are like that”. Many people I know did the same as me and boycotted the bigger papers, but we never did anything more than complain to each other.

The comment sections on these media sites are vile, and racism and sexism runs rife, even directed towards our own native Māori culture, despite the fact that at least 15% of our population identify as Māori. Usually I try to avoid reading the comments, but sometimes I find myself idly scrolling. When I find the token single comment that isn’t horrible, I mentally pat myself on the back, and think to myself “at least everyone isn’t like that”. Māori were relatively well off compared to other parts of the British empire, and although casual racism still runs rampant, it’s getting better. My grandparent’s generation were beaten at school for speaking Te Reo, but now there are waiting lists for every language learning class across the country. Although our battles are still important and need to be fought, “at least we aren’t racist like America”.

Less than a day before the terrorist attack, there was news that a government MP of the Green Party was assaulted unprovoked on the streets, for no discernible reason. The man in question was thankfully alright, save for some bruising, but it was still horrible to hear that even New Zealand politics had become so decisive as to inspire violent action. “But at least the local politics aren’t as bad as the situation overseas”.

I’m undeniably affected and concerned by UK and US politics at the moment, but I could always rely on New Zealand politics to be relatively balanced and egalitarian. Even when we had the National party in power for nearly a decade, although I disliked many of their somewhat right-wing policies, on a global scale they were still quite centrist. I grew up in the wake of the financial crisis, so even the negatives of that government like high GP fees and expensive groceries seemed normal to me. But that was small fish, compared to what was going on with the UK and US.

Whenever I’ve heard about a mass shooting in the past, while my initial thought has always been sympathy for the victims, my second is “thank god that wouldn’t happen in New Zealand, our gun laws are too strict”. It was something I, and I think most of the country, took for granted.

Yesterday I found out that our gun laws weren’t as thorough as I thought they were. Yes, you need to go through strict mental and criminal checks before gaining a gun license. But you don’t need to register each individual weapon that you own, which is a concerning loophole. You can’t own a semi-automatic or automatic without extra checks, but although the man who committed these attacks wasn’t technically allowed to have a semi-automatic, he simply bought a regular gun legally, and modified it afterwards.

Growing up in a small town, I knew countless people who came from families who hunted, or were farmers, and who had a gun or two in their house. I heard occasional mentions of the licensing process they had to go through, which I understood to be rigorous. It seemed safe enough, and it’s not like anyone ever had to worry about mass shootings before. I’d say that level of knowledge was pretty common. I mean, no one ever had a reason to think about them until now.

I’m proud that less than 24 hours after, our prime minister pledged to change our laws, and ban semi-automatic guns entirely. That kind of decisive action is what makes me proud to have Jacinda as our prime minister. But this time, I know that I can’t just focus on the positives of this ruling. This terrorist had not been on any terror watchlists prior to committing this crime, which is extremely concerning. Will that change with the new laws?

And even so soon after the attack, people in the comments of these articles are complaining that the government is taking more rights from them, and what about needing firearms for protection? Protection from who? It’s disgusting, and I thought this kind of discourse was just limited to redneck Americans. I can’t pretend that it doesn’t exist in Aotearoa anymore.

This morning I read an article that was an interview with a man who was praying in the mosque where it happened. He lost childhood friends in the crossfire, and my heart breaks for normal people like him. Some of the victims in the crossfire weren’t even old enough to read. One victim tried to wrestle a gun from the attacker, but he and his son were killed anyway. One woman could have escaped, but she was shot as she tried to look for her husband inside. People who had moved to New Zealand hoping for a better future.

Friday, the 15th of March 2019 has become one of the darkest days in the history of New Zealand. I’m too young to remember 9/11, but I think I know how people felt now. Maybe we can learn from this. I’m certainly starting to see New Zealand for what it is, which is a country that may be friendly, quirky and small, but also tarnished with racism, one of the highest suicide rates in the developed world, and a dangerous ‘she’ll be right’ culture that leads us to turn a blind eye to any threats, just because it hasn’t happened in our country before.

Friday also proved to be a pivotal day in the fight to save our climate, with tens of thousands of young people striking in cities all over the world. And it yielded results too, even if they were overshadowed by tragedy. The leader of the UN has announced that they’re calling a UN Summit on the climate, inspired by the passionate actions of the strikers on that day.

This is a strange time to be coming of age in. There’s so much happening in the world right now, and I sometimes feel like it’s all hopeless. But we have to believe that we can make a change, because what’s the point otherwise? Kia kaha, Aotearoa.

the woman who fell to earth ; some spoiler-free thoughts

On Sunday, the 7th of November, the eleventh season of Doctor Who broadcasted its premiere episode. Entitled ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’, it quickly became a firm favourite of mine. But before we delve into my thoughts on this episode, we need to channel some of our favourite Time Lord, and do some time travelling.

My first memory of Doctor Who is hazy. I don’t even know if I was old enough to read. My dad and I were sitting in our lounge, channel surfing on our boxy, behemoth of a TV. We stumbled across an old rerun of the classic series. My dad remarked that he used to love the show as a child, and we spent a moment reminiscing on the nostalgia of his youth, before switching the channel. I’ll be honest, I was more inclined to rewatch Toy Story at the time.

I had a few more vague memories of the show over the years, such as when I was visiting some family and they settled in to watch the series finale of the second season (all I remember were some robots). It wasn’t until 2010, however that I really got into the show. One of the more obscure TV channels was rerunning the third season, with Martha Jones. My brother was the first to get into it, and although I at first refused to watch something my little brother thought was cool, it only took an episode or two of me pretending not to watch the show before I had to admit that I was a fan. It was like nothing I had watched on TV before. Before then, my only experience of television was basically from Disney Channel.

All of a sudden, I was introduced to the entire universe. The first episode I saw was Human Nature, where the Doctor becomes a human to hide from hostile aliens. The characters weren’t one dimensional. They had motives, they had personalities. The aliens weren’t just cookie cutter monsters of the week, and they were clever! It was as exciting as a book, except on the screen! Suffice to say, I became a firm fan, and I still am today.

My relationship with the show has grown and waned over the years, but it has always been there. I remember anxiously awaiting the frame-by-frame reviews of the series 6 trailer in 2011, and in 2015 when it took me a few weeks to watch new episodes because I wasn’t that interested in the writing style at the time. Toward’s the end of Capaldi’s tenure, I got back into the show. Some of his last episodes (particularly the ones involving Cybermen) were some of my favorites. The show has kind of moved into Harry Potter status with me, in that it’s always going to be a favourite, but never THE favourite of the moment. But if I need something to rewatch, Doctor Who is always there.

So, after that bit of personal history, back to the present. Context is always important, after all!

This episode was always going to be special. It introduced a new writer, a new aesthetic, and new companions. And most importantly, a new Doctor. And this time, for the first time, it was a female Doctor. When Jodie Whittaker was announced, I didn’t know how to react. Of course, I had dreamt of the day we’d have a female Doctor, but to see it actually happen? I was dumbfounded. I had an inkling of a feeling that the show would be ready to try something new, but at the time I just put it down to wishful thinking. I guess when the show has a had a male lead for the last 55 years, that familiar ‘nothing will change’ feeling isn’t entirely crazy. Finally, a Doctor that was like me!

The anticipation continued to grow as more and more details came out. I smiled as the first photo of her costume was released, and watched the first trailer with baited breath. I hadn’t been this excited since 2011.

And you know what? It didn’t disappoint. All of annoyances with previous seasons were resolved. Gone were rushed plots that never had time to fully focus on anything. No longer were the companions the focus of the story. I liked Clara at the start, but she tended to dominate the story-lines more often than not. Bill was great, and although the plot quality vastly improved that season, I still feel like there was something missing.

“I’m the Doctor. Sorting out fair play throughout the universe.”

Last Sunday, for the first time in years, I felt actual suspense from Doctor Who. I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I was rooting for the characters! In less than an hour, I already felt attached to people. Heck, I even got attached to the characters were weren’t the main companions. The villain of the story was indulgently and refreshingly dark, but not dark enough to remove the family friendly rating. Although, even as an adult, the alien in this episode gave me chills! The overall tone was much more somber, and there were very real consequences to actions. Although in previous years viewers may have been accustomed to happy endings in the show, this episode introduces a mood a little closer to reality.

I couldn’t help but compare this episode to the last time there was such a significant shake up in the show. That was 2005, when Doctor Who had been off the air for a decade. The first shot that viewers in the new millennium saw was a satellite view of the earth, only for the camera to zoom in and focus on the London, in it’s most hectic and cosmopolitan state. Don’t get me wrong, I live in London and love it, but considering there’s the potential of the entire universe, there’s only so many times you can see aliens swarming out of an iconic landmark.

On the contrary, this episodes starts off entirely differently, with our first glimpse of the physical world being rolling Yorkshire hills, bathing in the late afternoon golden hour. Instead of being encouraged to buckle up and pay attention by the bustling time-lapse of a Piccadilly Circus teeming with people, you get to instead bath in the serenity and calm of only three people, alone, framed against a expansive, beautiful view over the surrounding hills. The world seems more open, somehow. From that moment, you know this is going to be a different kind of show to its predecessor.

“There are no aliens in Sheffield”.

For a show as belovedly British as Doctor Who, they don’t really explore the UK. And yet, this episode is set in Sheffield, a city of a respectable size in South Yorkshire, but not particularly as glamorous as the more famous British cities. Maybe I’m biased because I have family from Yorkshire, but isn’t it cool to hear a different kind of accent in Doctor Who? The fact that there’s aliens in Sheffield is a recurring source of amusement and/or bewilderment to characters throughout the show.

One local chap comes across our villain on the way back from a drunken night out. When he spots the alien, he assumes that it’s just someone in fancy dress at the wrong time of year, and proceeds to start throwing bits of lettuce picked out of his kabab at this deadly alien.

“Eat my salad, ‘alloween!”

At the end of Capaldi’s regeneration scene, we see the Doctor fall out of the TARDIS and towards Earth, a common regeneration trope in the show. However, this time she doesn’t immediately get the TARDIS back. Stripped of the iconic phone box and screwdriver, and not yet with familiar companions, this Doctor effectively starts from nothing. But the show reminds us that this is the Doctor, one of the most brilliant minds in the universe. Without a doubt, Jodie Whittaker is the Doctor.

“There’s echoes of who I was, and a sort of… call towards who I am, and I have to hold my nerve and trust all these new instincts, shape myself towards them.”

The 13th Doctor’s personality is like a cross between the 10th and 11th Doctor’s, with a cheeky northern accent to top it off. The new companions have no doubt that the Doctor is both outrageously quirky and wickedly clever; within a great montage scene, you spot a rather brilliant shot of the Doctor staring at a tablespoon in wonder while she creates a new sonic screwdriver from scratch. Or as the Doctor remarks, more like a “swiss army sonic”, rather than a screwdriver.

“Swiss army sonic. Now with added Sheffield steel.”

Previously in the revived series, the creation of the sonic screwdriver was never done personally. It was always just there, and the only time you’d really see it being made is when it appears, magically and conveniently in the TARDIS. It’s a great sequence, and in a way it subtly tells us that this Doctor is every bit as clever as the previous ones.

This new Doctor is less brash and unapproachable than her predecessor of 12, but also a bit more grounded than the manic energy of 11. There are echoes of 10 in the more open emotional state, but this one seems to have much more of a ‘let’s get on with it then’ sort of resilience, akin to 12.

“We’re all capable of the most incredible change. We can evolve, whilst still staying true to who we are. We can honour who we’ve been, and choose who we want to be next – now’s your chance. How about it?”

The Doctor is an alien, first and foremost. An alien known for completely changing it’s appearance and personality, which is a fact forgotten by many of these who objected to a female lead. And you know what? The only time the Doctor’s change of gender was mentioned, or even relevant, was during a brief humorous exchange near the start of the episode.

The Doctor: Why are you calling me madam?
Yasmin: Because you’re a woman?
The Doctor: Am I? Does it suit me?
Yasmin: What?
The Doctor: Oh yeah, I remember – sorry, half an hour ago I was a white-haired Scotsman!

With the conclusion of the episode, we were left with a cliffhanger, which sets us up with a healthy dose of anticipation for next week. In my case in particular, much of that anticipation is reserved for our first glance of the new TARDIS interior! We are also teased by the audio of the new theme tune in the end credits, which for the first time in the revival series, has been composed by a someone other than Murray Gold. I love it; it echos the 70s theme tunes, and definitely fits the more somber and atmospheric mood of the new style.

And with that, I must leave this blog post alone. I don’t think I’ve been this excited for a TV show in a long time, and I’m excited to see what Chris Chibnall’s new season has in store for us.

walking samaria // europe’s longest gorge

The Samariá Gorge, or as it is known in Greek, Φαράγγι Σαμαριάς, is a national park in the Greek island of Crete. Depending on the source, Samaria is often said to be the longest gorge in Europe. I am proud to say that I conquered it this June.

When I was planning my trip to Crete back in the depths of winter last year, I confess that I didn’t know much about the island I was going to visit. When I came across the Samaria Gorge hike, it ticked all of my boxes. Doable on a day trip by public transport? Check! Cheap? Check! Gorgeous view? Check! I immediately resolved myself to do this hike.

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I grew up doing Scouts back in New Zealand, so I was well used to tramping, as we call it. However, since moving to a largely flat city where I have to rely on public transport, I will confess that I haven’t really done any hiking. Don’t get me wrong, London has some great parks and forests, but it’s not the same as a fully fledged wilderness!

From my research though, Samaria seemed to be essentially downhill the whole way, and doable for someone who definitely hadn’t done anything strenuous in a while. There were a few scary reviews online about difficulty, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t find it that difficult. The heat was the worst part! But we arrived early, so we missed the hottest part of the day.

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I don’t usually do tours when I travel, but I’m glad I treated myself to this one. It was only €5 more than if I had made my own way up with public transport, plus our guide was pretty good, so it was well worth it. After arriving at the entrance, we split up to do the walk at our own pace, and only rejoined the main group when we left for the ferry at the end of the day.

I’m lucky in that my life doesn’t involve early starts very often, but that backfired against me in this case, because I spent the entire night terrified that I would sleep in. I set five alarms, and went to bed as early as possible. Of course, most of that fear turned out to be irrational, because I woke up before my first alarm even went off, and spent half an hour sitting in the lobby contemplating my existence while waiting for the bus.

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Even the drive there was gorgeous. We left the busy streets of Chania behind very quickly, and the suburbs changed to vineyards and fields. We passed through narrow, winding roads, and through villages that didn’t look like they had changed in centuries. The villages got smaller and smaller, until we were only seeing the occasional farmhouse. Having spent the majority of my trip close to the sea, it was fascinating seeing another side of Crete. The sun was up by the time I had left, but as we gained altitude it disappeared as the mountains obscured our view of the sky. I got to enjoy my second sunrise of the day, as the sun made it’s way over the White Mountains.

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We were one of the first tour groups to arrive, which was nice because it meant that it started off very peacefully. The first two kilometres of the walk was strictly downhill, on some rocky staircases, if you could call them that. The only thing protecting you from the edge was a wooden fence precariously clinging to the dusty rocks, which wasn’t particularly reassuring. Five minutes in, I seemed to be getting the hang of the steep, crumbling stairs. It was a good call bringing my hiking boots; they made me feel much more stable on the slippery rocks. Shortly after I thought this, I slipped over and got a killer scrape on my knee. I bounced back up, with renewed caution. Thankfully, I had learnt my lesson, and didn’t slip over again.

There was this American family from Washington who were walking at the same pace as me, and we eventually got talking. There were two cousins there who were the same age as me, but their lives couldn’t be more different to mine. We spent the whole trip swapping stories about our home lives. I don’t really know that many Americans in real life, so most of what I know is from TV. It was really fascinating hearing about it first hand! Halfway down we also met some more Americans – a retired couple, with the strongest Texan accent. I had never heard one in real life before, so that was weirdly one of the highlights of the trek.

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Hikers of all shapes and sizes joined us!

And as for the scenery? It was almost ridiculously beautiful. And saying that, I come from New Zealand, so I’m no stranger to natural beauty. But many walks in New Zealand are covered by bush, so you don’t necessarily see the view for most of the walk. However, the Samaria Gorge was fully exposed to the beauty of nature, which turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. It was extremely hot. Even as we were heading down the initial steps at 8am, it was already starting to heat up. Greece was providing us with another 33º day. Or as my weather app said, ‘feels like 36º’. Thankfully, the perk of walking down a gorge is that we always had access to fresh river water to refill our bottles.

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Before modern times, the canyon was extremely difficult to access. Even nowadays, you can only reach the village at the foot of the canyon by boat, or by hiking down the gorge. You can still see the reminders of how the trail was once used for more practical purposes, by looking at the several small churches dotted along the path. Up until the mid 20th century, there was actually another village halfway down the trail as well. It was only abandoned when the area was official made a national park. Some of it was re-purposed for hiking facilities.

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At the end of the gorge you’ll find the tiny village of Agia Roumeli. There wasn’t much to it, aside from a couple of restaurants, souvenir shops and a few hotels. Because of its isolation, most of the population is someone who probably just completed the Samaria hike. There’s two ferries a day to the neighbouring towns, and I imagine the majority of the town disappears after these ferries leave!

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Despite the cavernous cliffs looming behind it, the relative normality of village felt like a totally different world to that wild world of the canyon. I’m glad I brought my togs, because I managed to squeeze in a quick swim before heading back.

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Although I initally had my doubts about doing the walk, I’m glad I did it in the end. It certainly lived up to it’s reputation as one of the most impressive walks in Europe. If not for that, it was a good excuse to dust off my walking boots.

canary wharf // inside a concrete jungle

Canary Wharf is quite a funny area of London. In the eighties it was essentially an abandoned dockyard, yet today it is home to one of the most important financial centres of Europe, if not the world! It’s the textbook example of ‘regeneration’.

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View of Canary Wharf from Greenwich.

I work quite close to it, but I don’t go in very often. Although I’ve never been to New York, Canary Wharf is what I imagine Manhattan looks like. Everything in Canary Wharf is very Fancy and New™. The Canary Wharf underground station looks like a spaceship, with all of its glass panels and long strip lighting. So much like one in fact, that it is featured as such for a small moment in the Rouge One film.

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In this station at rush hour you can view a spectacular case of British queuing at its finest. 

I’ll be honest, I prefer the main City of London, with its mish-mash of old and new architecture and ancient streets. Still, they certainly knew how to impress with their massive towers here. I see them every day, but I’m still in awe. It’s crazy to believe none of it existed a mere 40 years ago!

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Obviously if you aren’t a Londoner this will not be relevant to you at all, but we’re getting a brand new underground railway running straight through the heart of the city, named ‘Crossrail’. I won’t bore anyone with the details, but it’s pretty exciting, and more transport links are definitely needed! It’s not due to open for another year or so, but we already are reaping the benefits in many ways, namely the new Canary Wharf station, otherwise known as ‘Crossrail Place’. It’s not a functioning station yet, but there is a choice roof garden!

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The Garden is located directly on top of the prime meridian stemming from the nearby Greenwich, which in layman’s terms, is the line that divides the world into the eastern and western hemispheres. This directly influences the garden’s design, which intends to play into this division, and is split into two sides; east and west, both showcasing the best of the exotic plants from their respective hemispheres.

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The juxtaposition of the towering glass and steel monoliths and the messy greenery of the garden pack quite a punch. I couldn’t help but feel a little excited at spotting some fauna from my very own New Zealand featuring in the Western side! A slice of nature and bit of nostalgia in surrounded by the tallest towers in the country, what more could you ask for?

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some of my favourite london cáfes

As a young millennial, I am almost contractually obliged to spend half of my income in coffee shops, and I am not ashamed to say so! I rarely eat out a proper restaurants, but I quite enjoy the experience of just chilling for a while in a cosy environment with a hot drink in hand. Bonus points if it’s an independent one! One of my favourite things about London is that there is a coffee shop for everyone, and there is no shortage of unique places to visit!

This list is by no means comprehensive, but it’s just a few of my favourite places that I’ve found around the city, in no particular order.

  • Yumchaa // Shoreditch
    This shop smells delicious. Yumchaa sells a wide selection of unique teas, and the blends give this cafe an amazing, subtle scent as soon as you walk through the door. Home to one of the best hot chocolates I’ve had in the city! The drink is modest, and there are no fancy marshmallows or whipped cream, but by god, is it good. I absolutely love the decor in here as well; as us millennials like to say, the mismatched combination of antique and retro items is very much my ‘aesthetic’.
    137 Brick Lane // E1 6SB
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  • Waterstones Cafe // Greenwich
    For all of these book lovers out there! I love to come here and try and snag one of the window seats, where you can just stare straight out onto the brightly painted houses opposite and bustle of the street below. Plus, it’s located in a bookstore, and what’s not to love about that?
    51 Greenwich Church Street // SE10 9BL
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  • Harvest E8 // Dalston
    This place is home to a small organic grocery store as well, and opens late. What’s not to love? There’s always a wide variety of interesting people in here, with some working on their laptops, and some just friends chatting. There are wide windows, so it’s pretty fun to people watch on the busy high street outdoors too. The food selection is amazing too, with most of it being vegetarian or vegan friendly!
    130 Kingsland High Street // E8 2NS
  • Euphorium Bakery // Hampstead Heath
    I discovered this place by accident, after being caught by a sudden downpour in Hampstead Heath park. Soaked wet, but still not quite ready to head home, I decided to retire to the first place I could find. Right outside Hampstead Heath overground station, this place seems unassuming from the outside, but when you go inside, it opens up into a surprisingly large rustic interior. And, as the name suggests, it has an excellent bakery selection. Seriously, the strawberry tart I had was to die for!
    45 South End Road // NW3 2QB
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  • H. J. Aris // Dalston
    Yet another place located in the borough of Hackney (what can I say, Hackney is full of hipsters), this one is special in that it is also home to an antique store.
    11 Dalston Lane // E8 2LX
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So there you have it. A selection of some of my favourite places around the city. I won’t even attempt to claim to be a café connoisseur – that would be a gross exaggeration – but I found a lot of enjoyment of these cosy places, and I hope you will too, if you ever make it to the areas!

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berlin // grunge, graffiti and architecture

Much like London, Berlin is one of these iconic cities with a history and culture leagues above other cities. It’s been on my bucket list for years, and this December I was lucky enough to finally visit! And actually, it reminded me of London in more ways than one.

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Changing trains at the central transport hub of Alexanderplatz was almost surreal, because it felt just as busy and chaotic as an interchange station in London, but it was actually in a whole other country altogether. I’ve been lucky enough to visit many different cities in my time, but Berlin was the first time that I felt like I was in a place as big and exciting as London. Of course, they call their trains the U-Bahn’s, not the tube, and they just use ordinary titles for the various branches (the U1, U2, etc), as opposed to odd proper nouns like the Piccadilly Line and the Victoria Line. The station architecture is quite different too, and the platforms were much more spacious than London’s ageing Victorian infrastructure. Despite these differences. I might as well have been standing at Oxford Circus or Liverpool Street station, because the atmosphere felt exactly the same.

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Berlin was also ridiculously photogenic. It was a credit to the city that it actually took me a while to reach the proper tourist sights. Of course, I was always planning to head to the main attractions, but I definitely got distracted by the areas that weren’t even in the guidebooks. I fell particularly in love with the neighbourhood’s of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, the latter of which my hostel was located in. Much like London, the best part about Berlin is how much there is to see. Stumbling around a random corner could be just as exciting as the major attractions.

That being said, the main sites weren’t half bad either. There really was some stunning architecture there!

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Here’s a little list of highlights of my trip:

1. Getting to see the remnants of Cold War Berlin.

Well, of course I had to mention the wall first. That’s one of the first things that springs into mind when you think of the East/West Germany divide, isn’t it? The East Side Gallery was my first look at the wall, running parallel to the river. The murals and graffiti are really cool, but you can’t help but just notice the impossible scale of the Wall.

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It’s just that; a wall. A massive, inelegant concrete wall, and it split up an entire city, an entire culture. It’s mad to believe that it’s only been gone for barely 30 years. Most of it was ripped down soon after the fall in 1989, for understandable reasons, but there are still segments remaining around the city. The East Side gallery is the longest remaining stretch, and is now covered in a diverse array of murals, some abstract, some clever, and some just pretty to look at.

 

You could still feel the divide between East and West Germany in many sides, with the eastern side of the city being noticeably more run down than the west side. That being said, I definitely found the eastern side to be more interesting! Maybe that’s because I prefer East London as well.

2. Wandering around Kreuzberg.

The easiest way to describe the neighbourhood of Kreuzberg is Cool, with a capital ‘C’. I felt trendier just walking around it. There were posters, everywhere, and the events they were advertising all sounded so cool! Graffiti and street art turned the beautiful old buildings into canvases, and it really felt like it was a neighbourhood occupied by people, not by corporations.

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I found so many cute shops and cafes here, and the entire area just exuded creativity. You can easily see how this area became one of the musical hubs in the 1970s, with venues frequented by the amazingly talented David Bowie and Iggy Pop.

3. Shopping in the biggest charity store in Europe.

Usually I’m not one to travel just for the shops, but in this case I made an exception. I’ve been op shopping all of my life (that’s the New Zealand word for thrifting), and basically all of my clothes are second hand, so when I learnt that the biggest charity shop in Europe was in Berlin, of course I had to go. It didn’t disappoint!

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Five floors of glorious second-hand goods, and the icing on the cake was that it was actually reasonably priced as well. My eyes practically bugged out of my head when I saw the €1 sale racks! In the end though, I only came out with a 70s knitted waistcoat for a steal at €2.50. Having an already full suitcase was a very good deterrent!

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4. Exploring the Christmas Markets

People don’t exaggerate; Germany really does come alive in December. Even though I don’t really like wine, I do love the smell of it, and you could smell Glühwein (mulled wine) around almost every corner! There was one huge one right in the centre of the city at Alexanderplatz which wasn’t my favourite, mostly because it felt quite similar to Winter Wonderland in London (yes, I’m spoilt for choice).

However, the beauty of Germany in December is that they take Christmas markets rather seriously, and there was a market around the city to suit just about anyone’s needs. I found so many good ones, hidden away in side streets, or put right in centre display!

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My favourite market had to me a medieval themed one that I came across in Friedrichshain on my very last day. I needed to burn some time before leaving for the airport that evening, so I decided to just explore the area around my hostel, and I came across this beauty in the middle of an abandoned industrial site.

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True to its medieval theme, it was more traditional than the other markets I had come across, and they even had activities like archery, or even donkey rides! It was a great way to finish off my holiday.

5. Just enjoying the history and culture of Berlin.

I already touched over this a bit before, but Berlin is such a fascinating city. Over the centuries, Berlin has gone through world wars, being split in two, and has emerged into the 21st century as a global hub of politics and the arts. You truly get the feel of a city that has grown and evolved organically.

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I fell in love with Berlin in my short visit, and I can’t wait to return one day, perhaps in the summer where the sun doesn’t go down at 3:30pm! Berlin was the kind of place where I could even see myself living there, one day. Maybe when my German is a little better.

notting hill // antique markets & pastel hues

One of my friend’s was returning home to her home country, and this was basically our final chance to spend some time together before she left. Notting Hill was an easy choice in deciding how to spend our final day together! Notting Hill is a small neighbourhood in West London, adjacent to the rich and impressive streets around Hyde Park and Kensington. Although still rather posh in its own right, it’s got a much cosier vibe, and there’s a bustle and sense of excitement in the area that its more expensive neighbours lack. Even if I can’t afford anything on the shelves, no one minds if a girl in scuffed shoes and an oversized jacket wants to window shop!

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Ask just about anyone, and they’ll tell you Notting Hill is an incredibly pretty area. Looking around at the late Victorian houses in bright colours, and you’ll instantly see why. Window boxes and potted plants are on almost every doorstep, and I can’t help but wish that the rest of London would follow suit! They certainly know how to make their surroundings photogenic.

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IMG_3908 Portobello Road is home to the market of the same name, the biggest antique market in the UK. The weekend is the real time to go, when the entire market is open and the street is clogged up with patrons. However, despite that fact that we visited on a gloomy Tuesday in the middle of winter, we found ourselves plenty occupied by the ordinary shops still open on the street! We had a lot of fun exploring the shops here.

I absolutely love basically anything vintage, and I couldn’t help but wish I could decorate my flat (and wardrobe) with the entire contents of some of the antique shops! They’re the kind of place where you could imagine finding just about anything for sale. Goods of all ages and uses were stacked haphazardly on tables and shelves. My friend and I were a bit terrified of accidentally knocking something over, so we ended up taking off our backpacks and just carrying them!

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Funnily enough, I had just happened to see the film called ‘Notting Hill’ just a few days earlier. For the uninformed, it’s a classic 90s rom-com starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, and makes a strong point of being set in the neighbourhood of Notting Hill. Although cheesy, I enjoyed it very much, and was a little bit excited to look at the area with a new light.

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Spotted the flat with a blue door, but unfortunately there was no Hugh Grant?

The great thing about Notting Hill is that you feel almost like you’re taking a holiday from the city when you’re there! Of course, just around the corner is Shepherd’s Bush and Hyde Park which definitely feel like you’re back in London again. If you want something a bit different from the usual tourist hustle and bustle of the central city, Notting Hill is there waiting for you.

whitby: a day on the yorkshire coast

While staying with some Yorkshire relatives this week, we decided to take a day trip out to Whitby, a seaside town famous for Dracula and Captain Cook. I have a real soft spot for this town. I’ve only been here a few times, but whenever I come back I’m filled with nostalgia. I came here as a child with the aforementioned relatives, and I have memories of eating fish and chips and playing with 2p coins in the amusement arcades.

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Bram Stoker took most of his inspiration for Dracula from this striking seaside settlement, and you can easily see why. With its sleepy harbour, moody grey clouds and dramatic cliffs, it’s basically a recipe for a great story. Also, Captain Cook reportedly learnt most of his sea craft here as a youngster before his later voyage to settle New Zealand, so that’s pretty cool.

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I came here once in summer, and Whitby was right in the middle of a Goth Weekend, which meant that the town was absolutely packed! It was quite a cool time to visit, seeing people wearing goth fashion wandered the streets, weaving in between the ordinary tourists dressed like a generic H&M advert. It was a glorious juxtaposition. Today though, the streets were empty.

Let’s set the scene: the sun was beginning to set, and the Christmas lights were starting to switch on. There was a grey and stormy sky, and and the remnants of the wet morning provided a muted reflection of the sunset on the pavements. The streets were just how I like them; all higgledy piggledy, with messy, alternating shopfronts and colours.

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There were so many cute looking shops around here! If I had the time and money, I would have spent all day inside them. Alas, I could only enjoy from the outside. The people in this town certainly know how to coordinate a shop display.

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After wandering through the cobblestones of the town centre, we had lunch inside a lovely cafe called the Monks Haven, because of course it was. I had fish pie, because a trip to the seaside is not complete without some form of fish in a meal! I didn’t take photos inside because our food was distractingly good, but the interior was very nice.

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We climbed the 199 steps to the Abbey, which is situated on a dramatic clifftop perch, overlooking the entire coast. With it’s weathered gravestones and ruined silhouette, you can easily see why Bram Stoker was inspired by this image. The views from the climb were stunning.

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From the bottom of the steps.

Following the climb, we headed off to the beach for a quick wander. I spent my entire childhood living next to the ocean (although ironically, I never went), but I’ve only seen the sea a handful of times since moving to London. I really miss it. To stand there, on that English coast, just for a moment, was amazing.

The sand was getting all over my boots, and the dying pastel hues of the sun were reflected in the waves. Seagulls flew overhead, and the water stretched as far as I could see. I just stood there for a bit, feeling the cool winter wind on my face and gazing out into the Yorkshire sea.

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It was a long drive back to my relative’s place. We were all exhausted from our long day out, and my headphones provided a soundtrack to the drive as I leaned on the window, staring up at the stars over the bleak moors. It was a good day.

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Whitby is of my favourite places in this country, and I don’t think that its just the nostalgia talking. It’s a lovely town, with friendly people who also happen to have excellent taste in decorating. If I had more time I would have delved more into the historical background of this town, but I know I’ll be back at some point! If you ever get a chance to visit Yorkshire, I highly recommend coming over to the east coast and spending some time in Whitby.

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