Friday, 24 August 2012

It's Safe to Say I'm a Coffee Drinker

It’s safe to say I’m a coffee drinker. I’ve spoken of my love of coffee many times before, especially with my colleagues.

Last Saturday as we* sat out in the blazing sunshine, sweating whilst drinking coffee, we discussed that maybe (just maybe), we drink too much coffee?  Debate ensued on whether we were addicted (make no mistake, I am) and whether we should cut back or give up or something? 

That lead to the hare-brained idea to go cold turkey this week.  We decided it would be easier if we all did it and replaced our morning coffee run with a smoothie run instead (so we could still enjoy the social side of coffee and have a break from our desks).  If there was any doubt that I wasn’t addicted, the sweats, the shakes, the lack of focus and the monster headache I had for Sunday and Monday removes it.  I need my coffee.  

We’ve spent the week not drinking coffee (or caffeine generally, no tea or coke or anything in its place).  Whilst the smoothie run was designed to help, it’s only been so useful.  It just doesn’t give us the caffeine (or the taste and smell of the coffee).  Aside from the headache (seriously, it was awful, I took painkillers for it and I’m not really big into painkillers), my diet** has suffered.  In place of coffee, I’ve eaten all the junk, all the sugar, all the salt.  Crisps, chocolates, cake etc.  As often as I’ve had them in its place, they are no substitute for coffee.

So with the week nearly over, I’m pretty excited about having a coffee.  I hope we can find some nice ones in Kiev*** this weekend.

How many coffees do you average a day?  Can you happily go without? 

* We being my colleagues Anna and Dave and I
** Diet being my food intake, not a prescriptive weight loss healthy eating regime thing.
*** That’s right.  The three of us are off to Kiev this weekend with Anna’s fiancĂ©e.  Anna’s Ukrainian and along with her brother and cousin, she’s going to be our tour guide.  I’m pretty excited about this seemingly random trip.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

I use to be a vegetarian, now I'm not

You may have seen me tweet that same statement last week. I used to, but now I’m not.

My meat, no meat, some meat, meat tale isn’t a particularly interesting one but it’s something I want to write about all the same.

While I wouldn’t say I was a wilful daughter, I was always stubborn with food and didn’t like meat even as a kid. I first wanted to give up meat in Year 7 (aged 12) and Dad put his foot down. A few years later it came up again, and once more Dad put his foot down. His view was never that I had to eat all the meat but that I was a growing girl and needed the protein and iron meat provides. Yes, you can get a balanced diet without meat, but with our life, Dad (a single father of two, a son of a dairy farmer who most happily exists with meat & 3 veg, a full time office worker, a football coach and netball umpire) didn’t think I would be able to. At the time, especially the latter I was far more stubborn. I gradually began eating less and less meat, cutting out more and more cuts of it. I wouldn’t eat anything with bones (chops, t-bones, roast chicken, ribs, rack of lamb etc). Then I wouldn’t eat anything unflavoured. Many a marinated chicken breast (and chili con carne, lasagne and stir-fry later), I was 20 and embarking on an overseas adventure with a friend. I was leaving the nest, and really free to make my own decisions. I booked my ticket to London, marked vegetarian and went on my way.

All of my issues with meat as a kid/teenager stemmed from not liking it. I didn’t like the tastes. I really didn’t like the texture – the dense chewiness, the stringiness (for want of another word), the way it felt in my mouth. I didn’t eat meat because I just didn’t like it

Fast forward ten years and I was approaching thirty. Recognising my tastes had changed a lot in the last ten years (hello gin, olives, avocadoes, mushrooms, blue cheese and I’m sure many other things I’m forgetting right now), I thought I should try again. Maybe I would like it now. Some trusted colleagues and I went to a favourite (of theirs) steak restaurant. A French steak restaurant, the steak was served slathered with a tasty sauce and some wonderful fries. Wary of the meat, I had ordered well done. That was a mistake and I chewed through it. I didn’t hate the taste but did hate the chewing and was left feeling so uncomfortably full. For a few days afterwards even.

Then I turned thirty and celebrated the weekend in Prague. Also in Prague that weekend were the Christmas markets. After drinking a plenty, some mates got various food stuffs from the markets. I tried a bite of my mates hog roast and didn’t’ instantly hate it . A drunken hot dog was maybe a step too far (my body bounced it but that could have just been the alcohol).

Slowly since that trip I’ve been trying more and more types of meat. I’m not a big meat eater and I’m not sure I ever will be but I’m curious about it, keen to try it all again and find what works for me. This experimental period culminated in dinner at a rodizio grill last week. A meat feast. Skewer after skewer of meat is brought to the table, fresh off the barbecue where my favourite thing of the night my just have been the chicken hearts (although I didn’t really like that you could see the aorta). 

My initial observations are that I still end up really full, ridiculously so if I eat meat. My digestive track doesn’t love it, but I suspect it’s just a matter of getting used to it. I still haven’t had anything with bones (I had some ribs which I left as they just looked too fatty/boney). Pig (pulled pork, chorizo and bacon) tends to be my favourite. I don’t like lamb, chicken freaks me out a bit unless it’s crumbed (or is a chicken heart – I tried and liked them last week). Rodizio style topside was ok but very rich. Too rich maybe?

So yes, I use to be a vegetarian and now I’m not.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Dear you; food

Dear chia seeds,
Whoa! I don't think I quite realised how full of fiber you are.  You were really tasty in the chia seed pudding I made (based on sweet Dani's rough guide to it over on Somtimes Sweet) but I'm not sure my body was quite ready for that level of wonderful. 
~A more than regular girl

Dear coffee,
I miss you.  I'm sorry I relied on you.  I love you.  The taste of you.  Your smell.  Your social side.  I miss everything about you.  That said, I think it's only right I have a longer break from you.  These three days without you have left me sweating, shaking and headachey.  For all the love I have for you, I can't have you having this impact on me.  I need space.
~An uncertain, shaky, sleepy girl

Dear bananas,
What gives?  I have never liked you and never will.  Why do you insist on being in so many smoothies?  Way to ruin a good time dude.
~A gagging girl that accidentally got some of you

Dear meat,
Hmm, I don't really know what to say to you but you're in my thoughts. We'll talk later, ok?
~A confused former vegequarian.

Dear green earl tea,
I found you at Borough Markets and whilst I barely know you, I thought I loved you.  I certainly lusted for you and put you up on a pedestal with your refreshing bergamont taste and smell.  But the caffeine in you?  That's a deal breaker for now.  Back to you much more common cousin, peppermint tea.
~A fickle girl

These Dear _____ posts are popular at the moment and for good reason, they're fun and easy. Becky posted a great one today as well.  What letters would you be writing?

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Jordan–Another world out there

My trip to Jordan and Egypt was a while ago now, back over the easter break.  Jordan was the destination, Egypt a bonus when I realised I needn’t take much more leave. 
My desire to travel to Jordan is a reasonably recent one.  A colleague who I met in September 2010 raved about it which I think first tickled my interest.  Then over easter last year, some people I met on my Moroccan trip raved about it some more. Those two influences and my love of Morocco moved it up my must see list.

Whilst a completely different country to Morocco with probably more differences than similarities, to a naive western girl the fact they both have deserts and both are Muslim countries with the call to prayer ringing out throughout the day made me link them.  The call to prayer is something else when travelling.  It reminds you of how small you are, how far from home you are and how diverse the world is.  It gives me chills (good chills) each and every time.

The first two days were spent wandering Amman before heading south via the Dead Sea, Mt Nebo, Karak Castle and many other pilgrim sites.  I was surprised at how green some parts of the country were as well as just how buoyant the Dead Sea is.  Floating is so so easy.  Walking was hard and you can forget about standing once the water is above your chest. 
{looking out over the suburbs of Amman from the citadel | me & the Dead Sea| the view from Karak Castle}

Wary of the heat, we entered Petra at opening, spending the next six hours wandering the site, seeking respite in the shade of the canyons and stopping in awe at what we were seeing more times than I can recount.  The Treasury is the most famous facade but the Monastery was my favourite (even with the extra climb to get to it).
{canyon in Petra | first view of the treasury | the royal tombs | the monastery}
{the treasury by day | the treasury by night}
{looking back over Petra – it’s easy to see why it wasn’t discovered for so long}

Wadi Rum was what most excited me about Jordan and it exceeded it’s expecatations.  A mountainous desert, the landscapes blew my mind.  Limiting the photos I’m sharing here is hard!  Watching sunsets and sunrises, stargazing and sleeping in the desert is magical.  It’s something I want to do again and again.
{Jabal Umm Fruth Rock Bridge | a canyon elsewhere | Jabal Umm again}
{rock formations | seven pillars of wisdom | petroglyphs}
{sunset | sunset | sunset}
{moon and stars | sunrise | sunrise}

From Wadi Rum we headed to Aqaba to catch a ferry to Egypt.  Due to delays, we ended up with nearly a day there.  After a hot and sweaty few days, we opted to spend it at the InterContinental beach club.  More food than we new what to do with, a swim up bar and our first swims in the Red Sea, it was an unexpectedly indulgent day). 
{mosque | swimming in the Red Sea | the view from the sun lounger}
{the other South Beach | views back from the ferry when we eventually left}

This post was a long time coming but this part of the trip was fantastic, and one I want some words to.  Have I been able to convince you to add Jordan to your must see list?  It really is worth the trip.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A Coast to Coast Walk–my thoughts

“…The coast to coast walk is enjoyable for its beauty, for the dramatic variations of landscape and for its many interesting relics, some rooted in prehistory….  I finished the Penine Way* with relief, the Coast to Coast with regret.”
Alfred Wainwright
{almost sad to have finished, for it to be over and contemplating
it all whilst dipping my toes in the North Sea}

Alfred Wainwright is the brains behind a Coast to Coast walk.  A famous fell walker in England, author and illustrator of many a walking guide, his book “A Coast to Coast Walk; a Pictorial Guide” was first published in 1973.  In this seminal guide, he sets about showing just one of many ways you may walk from one coast of England to another using existing paths (including public footpaths, bridleways, roads, rights of way and permissive paths).

~It’s been a few weeks since I finished the coast to coast and I’ve been trying to get my thoughts together on this and form some sort of coherent post. I’m struggling to tie things together so this post may be a bit long winded.  The take away of this longwinded post is that it was fantastic. An enjoyable holiday at the time and a self appreciation boost to take away from it. I loved this walk. Love it ~

The above quote from Wainwright, in closing his guide, sums it up completely.  I finished the coast to coast with regret.  Weary, sore and a little injured.  I was sad it was over.  The walk had been somehow perfect and I wanted more.

Long distance walking is a simple way of life.  Yes, it can be hard work at times and downright painful at others but it is freeing.  It’s you, your boots and the path and you juts keep walking.  Spending thirteen days gave me time think about lots of things, both big and small.  But for every profound thought I had or big decision I made, I had hours of not thinking about anything.  About seeing shapes in the clouds, countries in the rocks and just taking in the beauty of the surrounds. A type of relaxation I don’t get in the city.

Long distance walking is both social and solitary.  For great stretches you walk alone with your thoughts yet along a well travelled path, you meet so many.  From a quick hello to those heading in the other direction to long fun recaops with the familiar faces in the pub who are following the same intinery.  Many of those I met are avid walkers with many stories to share (think Everest, the Camino, St Cuthberts Way, GR5, GR20, Tour de Mont Blanc, AP, PCT, Kili, Kokoda and many more).  I hadn't factored in this social side and it was a really pleasant surprise. 

And our bodies. Our bodies are amazing.  Mine, as overweight as it is, carried me across this country on foot.  I don’t take good care of it but this walk has left me appreciating it a lot more.  There are more photos of me on this walk than there are of me the rest of this year.   Not because I’m suddenly gorgeous, skinny and sans belly/chub.  No, but because I climbed a mountain.  And I damn well want a photo of me atop that mountain.  And then the next day, when I climbed another pike? Well I wanted a photo atop that pike.  And when I scaled a waterfall?  Same again.  Got to have a pic of me scaling that damn waterfall.  At some point during the walk, I began to focus not on what my body looks like but what my body can do. This I think, is my biggest take away.

I didn’t think six months ago that I would ever do this walk.  Now I can’t imagine having not done it.

*The Penine Way is another long distance walk in England.  One that I have no interest in.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

A Coast to Coast Walk–stage by stage

The coast to coast winds its way across England.  As the crow flies, it’s 125 miles.  As the path goes, it’s 192 miles.  Through Cumbria and then across Yorkshire (referred to locally as Eden and God’s Country). Vastly different counties with so much varied terrain.  What Cumbria and the lakes has in stunning scenery (world class scenery in my mind), Yorkshire makes up for in its people, villages and variety of terrain.  The Lake District was fantastic, but Yorkshire will always be my favourite.  I’m getting my thoughts on it as a whole together but this post serves the selfish purpose of recapping my thoughts on a stage by stage basis.


Day 1 – St Bees to Ennerdale
14miles / 23kilometres
Fresh and maybe naive, we set off full of nervous energy.  Some rain along the way, heavy enough for full waterproofs but nothing to diminish the smiles.  Randomly, we saw emu chicks as we left St Bees head behind. A steep climb up over Dent Hill and an even steeper descent.  A wonderful day’s walking at the time but unremarkable compared to what was to come.

Day 2 –Ennerdale to Rosthwaite
15miles / 24kilometres
Into the heart of the Lakes District, along Ennerdale Water and then up over Honnister.  Today’s route was full of memory and meaning for me, through a part of the world that many of my loved ones love.  Lunch at black sail YHA.

Day 3 – Rosthwaite to Grasmere
9miles / 14kilometres
A short day, up in the morning and then a few hours down into the arvo.  This is a day to be enjoyed with the views savoured.  Options of a high route (taken by most but not me) offer even better views.  An early arrival in a sweet postcard pretty tourist driven town. Noteworthy scrambling up a waterfall early in the day provided a few hairy moments for me.

Day 4 – Grasmere to Patterdale
9miles / 14kilometres
Simliar to Day 5, climbing for a while and getting our last glimpses of the west coast.  Over a saddle and to be suprised by a lake.  Four options from the top to Patterdale, I took a mid level one and ambled solo in the sunshine.  One of my favourite days walking.

Day 5 – Patterdale to Shap
16miles / 26kilometres
Climbing to the highest point of the walk in the first five kilometres of the day, and loosing all ascent in the next one, undulating for the rest.  We left the lakes behind today.  Force fed freshly baked lemon meringue pie on arrival at our b&b (there are worse fates).  Saw our first sunset of the trip (10.15pm) after staying out later than usual. Hurt my knee some though.

Day 6 – Shap to Kirkby Stephen
21miles / 34kilometres
The first of our long days.  Split my shorts early in the day which meant walking in sweaty waterproofs after lunch when the tear became indecent.  Had a wonderful morning tea of crumpets, saw loads of ancient ruins and just enjoyed the walking. 

Day 7 - Kirkby Stephen to Keld
14miles / 23kilometres
The most fun I’ve ever had walking.  Up and out of Cumbria, past the Nine Standards and through the bogs of the Penines.  Spent hours jumping over the bogs, falling in and getting muddy up to my waist.  Another cream tea and so so so many laughs.

Day 8 – Keld to Reeth
11miles / 18kilometres
A gentle day walking, with neither much distance or difficulty.  Stopped for a few hours for a Sunday lunch and pints before setting off again. I don't do my best walking on a belly full of beer. Enjoyed the familiarity of the Yorkshire Dales.

Day 9 – Reeth to Richmond
11miles / 18kilometres
Joined by some friends of friends, this day zoomed by and I took barely a photo.  Another gentle day to be enjoyed and not rushed.  A bit of a pub crawl around the town and an enjoyable non-pub dinner (a rarity).

Day 10 – Richmond to Osmotherley
24miles / 39kilometres
This day sucked.  Big time.  A long day through the Vale of Mowbray.  Long, mostly flat and mostly muddy.  Not the first time we’d spent in paddocks and agricultural lands but the smelliest most unpleasant day of the trip by far.  I lost my lunch at the smell of one of the farms (dairy farm), to then loose my afternoon tea as we had the misfortune to follow a tractor spreading blood and bone.  My knee was playing up and by the end of the day I was just over it.  Thankfully, we were able to laugh about how foul it had been at dinner.

Day 11 – Osmotherley to Claybank Top
13miles / 21kilometres
A short fun day.  One of the highlights of the walk.  Over the Cleveland hills and into the North Yorkshire Moors.  Hilly, views of the east coast (yes, the east coast we were aiming for!).  Knee troubles though which sucked somewhat at the time. Smiles all around.

Day 12 – Claybank Top to Glaisdale
18miles / 29kilometres
An early start to the day, walking as the mist rose off the moors.  The moors were pretty desolate and a wonderful place to be walking.  Excitement was building and knowing it was the penultimate day gave us some sort of energy.

Day 13 – Glaisdale to Robin Hood's Bay
20miles / 32kilometres
The last day.  A capsule walk almost, covering all of the various terrain of the days prior – bog, forrests, wide tracks, roads, coast, paddocks, hills.  A not so gentle 1 in 3 climb mid morning but relatively flat/downhill for the last fifteen miles.  A lot of time for reflection.  Finished strong, happy to have done it, sad to have finished it.

{ St Bees & the Irish Sea, West Coast | Robin Hood’s Bay & the North Sea, East Coast }

Dubrovnik–The prettiest town I ever did see

panorama  IMG_4980panorama  IMG_4874panorama  IMG_4971IMG_4844IMG_4986IMG_4875IMG_4872IMG_4982IMG_4983IMG_4988panorama  DSCF0447

Thinking London might be a bit hectic during the Olympics and knowing my tickets were all for very early in the piece, a colleague and I booked a long weekend in Dubrovnik, Croatia.  The only beachy weekend I’ve booked for this year, I had high expectations for lazy swims, beachside naps and ice cold cocktails. We were blessed with low thirties every day and warm evenings that didn’t require anything more than a sundress.

My friends, Dubrovnik did not disappoint.  Knowing the old town is was a UNESCO World Heritage Site and having heard great things about it, I was still shocked by just how beautiful this town is.  Easily the prettiest town I ever did see.  Easily.  This is despite a massive earthquake in 1667 and the bombings of the Yugoslav conflict in the early 1990s.

As well as a gorgeous old town, plenty of fresh seafood and flavoursome gelato, it really was all about the beach.  I managed to fit in about fifteen swims over the three days I was there.  Mostly at Banje Beach, just outside of the old town where we rented a cabana like thing (for whilst I love the beach, I hate lying in the sun and need shade).  Pretending to be adventurous, we did actually venture out on a day trip on Saturday, day sailing around the Elaphite Islands (Lopud, Kolocep and Sipan) where we indulged in some more gelato, swimming and cold beverages.

These three days in the sun and water were exactly what I wanted.  A perfect long weekend.

How were your weekends?  Warm enough for swimming or was that the last thing on your mind?

(panoramas in this post were taken on a new-to-me app, DMD which is free.  Not as extensive in it’s abilities as 360 but easier to use, it’s one I’d happily recommend)