Trip to Portugal

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The glistening blue sea

Earlier this summer me and two friends went on our first girls holiday together to Albufeira, Portugal which is a popular tourist city located in the Algarve. It had been a long time coming for the three of us to go abroad together, even if it was for a whirlwind three-night stay. I had only booked two days annual leave from work and was due to be back in work on Monday morning after getting back in the early hours, believe me that was a tough day… I had been to the Algarve once as a child with my parents one December many years ago and all I remember is grey, rain and storms. Apparently, we were lucky enough to have been there for one of the worst winters on record. Excellent! But of course, I knew that isn’t the typical experience of Portugal so it was good to visit again as an adult. And you know what? It was pretty warm and sunny. But I guess it helped we went at the end of June. Although believe it or not as I write the UK is going through a long heatwave so it was actually warmer at home when we went.

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Hello Portugal

We left nice and early to the airport and roughly two and a half hours later on the plane we reached Faro Airport. I’m assuming that as I had been to the Algarve once before that must have been the airport I went to previously. There were some really nice views on the approach to landing where you’re looking over all the buildings and yep, lots of water with the sea visible in the distance. One of the first things I realised about Portugal (and I will admit it did take a couple of hours) is that there is no time difference to the UK! This blew my mind (it doesn’t take a lot). The first day was fairly chilled out, we landed around 11am and we got to our aparthotel which was at the Alfagar Cerro Malpique Hotel (the name took us a little while to remember!). The balcony view was lovely as you could see over the pool, the Albufeira old town and the sea beyond. The only downside was that it was up a bit of a hill but we were aware of that before getting there.

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The view from the apartment

By staying in an aparthotel, we saved quite a bit of money by making our own food not to mention we didn’t really go out drinking so overall the holiday was fairly cheap. We took a walk around Albufeira to get a feel for it and first impressions were that it is very touristy with lots of bars and restaurants, but again we were aware of that. I’m not used to hearing so many British people abroad out and about in one place though! We then walked along the beach which was super windy and later on returned there to lie about on the beach. I even did a bit of swimming in the sea after getting over the initial chill of the water. I’ve always loved the beach, especially on a hot day. I suppose one reason is that back in Birmingham we are pretty landlocked. Oh, and the weather isn’t usually nice enough in the UK to go into the water.

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On the beach!

The first full day involved going to the Albufeira Marina to get on a 3-hour boat ride which took you around the coast of the Algarve and to some caves! The Marina itself had a lot of gift shops, bars and restaurants and even an arcade. There were some pretty looking apartments above them too in pastel blue, pink and peach colours. Just before we got on the boat, we paid the extra to go on the top deck and were greeted with a glass of white wine. Later, we were greeted with a glass of rose as well as the Tequila Sunrise cocktail we had just bought. So, we did pretty well! It was on that trip we all got the most burnt because the wind lulls you into a false sense of security. Early on we saw some dolphins at a glimpse jumping out the sea but we couldn’t stay near them too long as the boats can make them stressed, but it was nice to see them from afar. The main attraction was seeing the very picturesque Benagil sea cave, a beach in a cave which can only be reached by boat.

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The sea cave

We spent our second full day at the Zoomarine, a well-known amusement park in the Algarve which has a mixture of animals, rides and water attractions including its own beach. To make the most of it I would suggest taking swimwear so you can go on all the water attractions such as the slides and pools but as we weren’t sure what to expect we went in our normal clothes – but still got wet as it is a water park, naturally. I would absolutely recommend it if you were travelling as a family as there is something for everyone especially for the kids. My favourite part was watching the Dolphin and Sea Lion shows, both were very impressive. You can see that these animals are trained incredibly well but you can also see how much they are genuinely loved and taken care of by their trainers. I also liked their emphasis on conservation and the environment. The atmosphere in the park itself was nice and they even have their own theme song which got stuck in our head for the rest of the holiday (as well as Jess Glynne’s Hold my Hand – cheers Jet2!).

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The dolphins in action

Food wise I knew I wanted to try a few things Portuguese while I was out there so I made sure I tried Pastel de nata which is a Portuguese egg tart pastry which is very popular. On our final night in Portugal we went out for a meal so I wanted to go all out and have something I wouldn’t have back at home. Which meant I chose an octopus dish with olive oil accompanied with vegetables and potatoes. Very Mediterranean! I had never had octopus before so it was an experience, it didn’t seem as rubbery as squid but it was a little bit ick when the suckers fell off the tentacles as I was chewing. To accompany this dish, me and a friend shared a bottle of green wine and that was another Portuguese thing I never knew existed either. It doesn’t look particularly green, more like a white wine but it’s a type of wine from the green grape.

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On the final night accompanied with green wine

Albufeira was really fun and we packed a lot into the time we had. Unfortunately, it meant we could only properly go to the beach and pool about once but we made the most of it. Next time I would like to go for longer just to have a bit more time relaxing. Don’t get me wrong I could never be on a sun lounger for 7 days straight but it’d be nice to have a mix especially as I seem to end up on more city breaks. Albufeira’s old town is catered for tourists so if you’re looking to see a bit more there are plenty of trips out you can book so there is plenty to do. My colleagues at work were rather impressed with how little I ended up spending as they all thought I would need more money out there but it goes to show how much of a difference a self-catering apartment and a nearby supermarket can make. I’d love to visit Portugal again and next time I’d like to visit Porto as that seems to be an up and coming place, not to mention the second city. Maybe I can improve on my Portuguese for next time too… Obrigado!

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Trip to Paris

Earlier this month I went to Paris for the very first time. Considering its proximity to the UK, it’s one of those places I feel I should have already visited but have never done so. I’ve got as far as America and Asia previously but somewhere that is just an hour’s flight away and is considered a world city I just hadn’t quite made it to yet! I was really intrigued to finally see Paris because to an extent I’ve heard conflicting things about it – you hear that it’s romantic which is the general consensus on it but also you hear that it’s dirty and well, disappointing. The actual term for the latter is known as Paris Syndrome which in particular is exhibited from Japanese tourists. I really liked Paris, although I can see why it may disappoint some because rightly or wrongly it is really built up in our minds as this amazing place which is why I went in with an open mind.

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The Eiffel Tower in person!

We flew from Birmingham to Paris Charles de Gaulle with Air France. I’m a little bit of an aviation geek so I was happy to be going with the national carrier, but more so because it means food and drink included! There was only the one food option which was an Apple Onion Confit in a sandwich roll which I had with a little bottle of Merlot. Great way to start the holiday! Once we got there it was just a 45-minute train ride into the centre of Paris. We were fairly lucky with the weather so by the time we got there it was 28 degrees. The ticket machines and train station set up didn’t seem to be the most efficient really, but it probably seemed worse with the heat. Libertel Canal Saint-Martin was the hotel we stayed at in the area of Jaures which has really good metro links to the centre of Paris. There are plenty of places to get food nearby such as McDonalds and Subway, although there are plenty of restaurants around too. There are plenty of shops along the same street as the hotel too so you aren’t far away from any amenities.

 

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I was happier than how I look in this picture. Promise.

When you go to Paris, as with any other city break expect to do a lot of walking! I think on the one day we did over 10 miles easily. The first thing we went to see is the most iconic sight in Paris – yep, the Eiffel Tower. I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower so many times in pictures but it was amazing to actually see it in person. I loved being able to seeing all the intricate details of it that you cannot see or notice so much in the pictures. You can go all the way up to the top and it was funny seeing silhouettes of people taking the stairs – I wasn’t envying them. It was lovely to just take a moment by sitting in the park and looking up at it. I’m always in awe of tall buildings and love looking straight up at them – even if it makes me a little dizzy. Unfortunately, I only did get to see it by day so pictures will still have to do for it at night.

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Hanging by the Arc de Triomphe!

On the same day we saw one of the famous monuments in Paris; the Arc de Triomphe which honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. It’s located at the western end of the Champs-Élysées which is one of the most famous shopping avenues in the world. I was told beforehand that there was a McDonald’s along that street and the only reason it is there is because there is a white M arch to blend in with all the designer shops. I pictured this actual really fancy looking arch (whatever that may mean) but it really is just a normal looking one- but white! Then it was to the Sacre-Coeur, a basilica located on the highest points of the city, making for some very lovely views over Paris. We went inside the basilica and walked around, taking in the beauty of the mosaics and church. I respected the policy of no photography so it was a bit sad to see pretty much everyone else ignore that. Some tourists, eh?

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The Sacre-Coeur.

One of the absolute highlights of the trip was Notre-Dame. The interior was stunning with beautiful architecture and stained-glass windows. There was actually a service going on as well. We then had to pick a slot to go up the cathedral and then return closer to the time so we took that opportunity to walk around along the River Seine and pop into the Fete du Pain – yes, a bread festival opposite! There was lots of bread being sold and you could see them making it too. After killing a bit of time, we returned for our slot to go up Notre-Dame which is the highest viewing point after the Eiffel Tower. I always struggle with the stairs in old buildings as it’s a bit claustrophobic and I always get scared of tripping up! But it was worth it because the views were gorgeous and my favourite memory of it is hearing the bells ring – they were so loud but so atmospheric. You get an up-close view of the architecture, including the gargoyles which is what I always associate with Notre-Dame! After walking around, you go up a second staircase which leads to the very top, giving you an even higher up panoramic view of Paris.

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View from Notre-Dame.

The rest of the day consisted of a lot of walking, we walked all around and got to the Louvre and saw the iconic glass pyramid. Home to the original (but small) Mona Lisa, there were tourists everywhere. Afterwards we carried on to The Tuileries Garden which is a park just opposite the Louvre. This lead us to the Place de la Concorde which is the largest square in Paris which is decorated with statues and fountains – as well as a lot of traffic circulating round it! The rest of our walk took us by Musee d’Orsay which is another famous art museum located in a former railway station. Eventually we managed to find the Luxembourg Gardens, the home to the beautiful Luxembourg Palace. It was designed for Marie de Medici, wife of King Henry IV to replicate the Pitti Palace in her native Florence. Those names take me back to A Level History! The park is known for its lawns, sculptures, fountains and flowerbeds. It was beautiful and the sunshine certainly helped.

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The famous Louvre.

I’m a big foodie so I wanted to try something quintessentially French while I was there. Initially I wanted to try frogs’ legs but escargot (snails) seemed more widely available. We went to a restaurant close to the hotel in Jaures where we had that as a starter. They were served in the shell and you are given a little fork to get them out. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be but it probably helped that they were heavily seasoned with garlic. I assumed the texture would be similar to mushrooms but I think they were a bit softer. It’s actually hard to look back and think what I would describe them as being like as I don’t think I’ve had anything quite like them! But the general review is that they are okay. For the main I had chicken with sweet potato mash and gravy with a little salad garnish. That was really nice and I’m assuming that’s reasonably French right? Other than that, we stopped off at a French café after lots of walking on the penultimate day and had a baguette and a drink. I had a glass of wine and my boyfriend had a coke. Guess which was cheaper? Only in France!

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A slightly different starter.

The final day was fairly chilled out as our flight didn’t leave until about 8:30pm but we just took the day to take it all in one last time. It was a beautiful sunny day too, so we took the opportunity to go on a boat cruise on the River Seine which lasted around an hour and in that time, you can see all the main sights which was quite fitting for a final thing to do. Paris was a positive experience for me and I can now tick it off my list. I went in with an open mind which probably helped as the place is far from perfect, for example there is a lot of litter I noticed. Arguably the hype probably gives it an unfair image to live up to. It probably doesn’t help that depending on where you live you may have to make a big effort to travel to Paris. For example, I noticed at the airport a lot of flights going and coming from Japan.

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On the River Seine!

Paris is a must see for a city break. There are plenty of iconic sights and it doesn’t have to be too expensive. We took about 200 euros each and I know I came back with about 60 so considering we were there for the best part of four days I don’t think that was too bad. One thing that helps is to not to go to restaurants or bars all the time, we had a McDonald’s opposite the hotel which cut some of the cost for eating. We went for 3 nights and I think that was enough time to see most of the sights, if you wanted to do it more thoroughly then I’d recommend a bit longer especially if you are coming from further afield. Next time I’d like to see Paris more by night as I didn’t really get to see much of it after dark. But overall it was a good experience and I would like to visit again one day in the future.

Final Fantasy XV: Thoughts

 

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Warning: Spoilers ahead… you have been warned.

Ahh Final Fantasy XV. The game is one I had been curious about ever since it was announced as Final Fantasy Versus XIII back in 2006 and it was only released as Final Fantasy XV towards the end of 2016. I would have been 14 when it was first announced and now I am 26, scary thought! Last night I completed the game after playing it for over a month. Sounds like a long time but sadly 40+ hour games and working full time doesn’t really mix in terms of getting them completed quick. It’s been a journey I’ve really enjoyed going on alongside Noctis and his friends and now I’ve finished it’s like finishing a boxset, it’s sad that it’s all over and I’m not quite sure what to do now.

The story is centred around Prince Noctis and his close friends Ignis, Gladiolus and Prompto. Noctis is about to get married to his fiancée Lady Lunafreya but circumstances see his father King Regis killed by the empire which leaves Noctis going on a quest to reclaim the throne. The main villain who you meet later on is Ardyn, who is after the throne for himself. The fact that the team are already established from the start makes it a little bit unusual compared to other RPGs where you meet people along the way and assemble a team. However, it’s nice that it focuses on already established friends and further develops their relationships with each other.

One of the key themes of this game is brotherhood and aptly there is a five-part animated series called Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV which focuses on the backstories of the characters and how they all met. There is also a film called Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV which runs parallel with the game’s story at the beginning and focuses on King Regis, Noctis’s father before he is killed. The main theme is a cover of Stand By Me performed by Florence and the Machine which you hear at the beginning and during the credits. It captures the theme of the relationship between Noctis and his friends. One thing that impressed me throughout was the amount of dialogue between them all as they generally go around. Even late in the game you hear new bits of dialogue, some of which can be quite amusing at times.

The battle mechanics work in real time and you can only control Noctis, but the others help throughout and at points you can get them do their special attacks once the gauge is filled. Once you get further into the game you are able to summon and of course you can use magic. Noctis also has a warp ability which proves pretty handy at times, especially when you need to get out of the firing line. In battle your HP can go down to zero but you don’t necessarily die, if you do then you have a chance to use a Phoenix Down before it’s too late. In some cases, your teammates can heal you too so you don’t even have to use potions and as long as you’re not being attacked your HP and MP will climb back up both in and outside of battle, making things easier in some ways. You also gain your experience points every time you rest at a hotel or camp so it tallies up after every battle or mission.

The games tagline is ‘This is a fantasy based on reality’ and it is very much a modern Final Fantasy (although don’t worry you can still ride on the Chocobos!). You spend a lot of time driving in the car named the Regalia and it is your main mode of transport. You can make camp or stay in places which relates to the day and night feature, meaning it encourages you to stay somewhere and clock up your experience points and skills. Ignis creates meals for the party at camp which boosts their stats and gains recipes along the way. Prompto takes pictures daily and you can review these, a lot of these pictures could be group pictures, selfies or just general scenery which gives it a nice personal touch. You can also take your own photos if you like too. Another bit of realism is the real-life brands that you see in this game, some a bit unexpected such as Lunafreya’s wedding dress being designed by Vivienne Westwood to Nissin’s Cup Noodles!

There are a lot of stunning places to behold in the game too, my personal favourite would be the city of Altissia which is heavily based on Venice, complete with a gondola system to get around. Driving around you see many beautiful landscapes, some of which call for photo opportunities by Prompto. If it doesn’t make you want to get your friends and go on a big road trip then I’m not sure what would! The world feels so vast and you’re constantly moving around going to the next place or doing the next mission but luckily you are able to fast track getting to certain destinations which helps getting around smoothly.

The game isn’t perfect by any means but I do think it’s the first Final Fantasy that I’ve really enjoyed and engaged in since Final Fantasy X. Not counting FFXI or FFXIV, FFXII I admittedly never really liked. FFXIII was alright but even back when this game was supposed to be part of that world as Versus XIII I always preferred the look of it. I can see in some ways some may feel FFXV is a bit rushed. Once you get to Altissia and Luna’s subsequent death, the game narrative goes into a quick drive towards the end. I spent a lot of time doing the missions and levelling up before heading back to Noctis’s home town of Insomnia and facing Ardyn but sometimes the missions can get a little repetitive. Some aspects of the narrative aren’t always clear, for example I understood the slightly confusing ending because I had spoiled most of it for myself previously (yep, just too impatient). It also would have been nice to have seen a bit more of Luna before she died as she clearly meant a lot to Noctis and could have given her death a greater impact.

As mentioned before, the game is meant to be a fantasy based on reality which explains why the ending is so tragic as Noctis goes against antagonist Ardyn for the final time over the battle of the throne. Once Ardyn dies, Noctis is left with no choice but to sacrifice himself which leaves you with a bittersweet taste as justice isn’t really done. Justice not being done both in fiction and reality is something I struggle with because it is a reality that life isn’t fair but you always want the bad guys to get their comeuppance. The ending is sad not only because Noctis makes the ultimate sacrifice, but you feel after the death of the two people closest to him he deserves to have a happy ending. Honestly, the final scene after the credits gave me chills as you see Noctis and Luna reunited and ‘getting married’ in the afterlife. It’s so bittersweet and I’m still reeling from it.

Final Fantasy XV overall to me is a great entry in the iconic series. I truly engaged in the story and the characters. While I’ve finished the main story, I am aware that the Royal Edition has just come out, with the Royal Pack available for those who already own the game. I’m not rushing to get it as it stands as I understand there may be more expansions so I will leave the game as it is for now, but I’m sure I will return to it at some point.

March Diary aka General Life Update

Well would you look at that… we are now into March! I have to say, I am so looking forward to moving into Spring. Even just looking back on my old blog posts and seeing the springtime blog from last year makes me crave that sunshine we have been missing. Other than my birthday, I always associate March with the beginning of spring although I think this year especially it has been a bit blurred!

My birthday was just over a week ago on the 2nd and I am pretty sure it has been the only birthday where I woke up to a ‘white birthday’. There had been plenty of snow on the floor from the night before so I lived in hope that it wouldn’t continue to be too bad during the day. Wrong! The snow bucketed it down and I don’t think I’ve heard my phone go off so much in my life as me and my friends scrambled to decide what would be for the best given I had the plans for that evening all sorted. In the end it was more or less impossible to go ahead with the original plans. Luckily, we did manage to salvage something in the end by going to a nearby café/bar which is in walking distance, even with the snow. It would have been disappointing not to have done anything, not because of any place I wanted to go to in particular but because it would have been rubbish not seeing anyone!

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Made for a good photo op though!

Following this, a trip to Liverpool on the day after my birthday was cancelled due to the aftermath of snow as it was still pretty bad. The evening before my birthday, me and a work friend went for food and drink at the nearby Beefeater and the snow really started to come down during this time. I drove home from Tamworth carefully with gritted teeth, just wanting to get back safe especially after driving past a few cars who had obviously already been involved in collisions. It’s amazing what chaos snow can cause, particularly in the UK. I don’t think anything on my birthday weekend actually went to plan so to be honest I’m not too sorry to see the back of it! It did make it all a lot more memorable though.

Other than that, nothing too major has happened so far this year. I’ve done a few interesting things such as trying out Ghetto Golf in Digbeth – which I really recommend if you live in Birmingham. I’ve been for a couple of really lovely meals at the Malmaison and Asha’s for an anniversary meal and Valentine’s meal respectively. I’ve also gone along to Birmingham’s Chinese New Year’s celebrations in the Chinese Quarter. It was a great opportunity to check out the street food and just generally see what the festival was all about. And last night as a late birthday treat we went to see The Music of David Bowie at the Symphony Hall as performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony and Tony Vincent, which was really enjoyable given I do like David Bowie and orchestrated music. Plus, some members of the symphony were dressed up as Bowie from different eras which was a really cool touch.

It all might not sound like much but it is the little things. I’ve not really travelled outside of Birmingham so far this year but it goes to show that there are always things going on in the city which I love. Even walking in Birmingham last night, I actually felt quite proud of how far Birmingham is coming along and there is still so much more to come. Having said that, all going well should be on the verge of booking a trip away with the girls and hopefully get somewhere else in the year too. I definitely think a trip to London (which is basically the city I know best outside of Brum) and attempting to go to Liverpool again will be in order too! Next week will be the MCM Expo – otherwise known as Comic Con, I haven’t formally bought a cosplay but I think I could cobble together a Rachel Amber from Life is Strange cosplay. We will see how that turns out!

End of 2017

It’s New Year’s Eve, which makes this makes my last blog of the year and to be honest, it’s not that much of an achievement (or it really is, depending on how you look at it) given my lack of posts. 2017 has flown by so much and to be honest it scares me a bit because I’ve never known a year to go by so fast, it makes me wonder if this is what it’ll be like from now on. 2018 is on the horizon and I honestly have no idea what it’ll bring. If it got me and my partner any closer to moving out I think I’d be ecstatic but it seems to be a rather uncertain world for many of us. To have a decent, full time, permanent job and your own place is a much harder achievement than you’d think. I just have to remember that I’m always moving forward and getting closer to my goals rather than further away, so any progress is something.

2017 started difficult. I started the year in London with a friend, which on paper sounds great. Unfortunately, it went horribly wrong while out on New Year’s Eve and our friendship was irreversibly damaged. I did get some sort of apology and we made peace the next morning as I hate to fall out with anyone, but I had to walk away after that. I won’t lie, the events of that night took me a while to get over and I felt resentful, despite only hurting myself by feeling that. Looking back there were signs which others saw, but I was naive enough to carry on our friendship until I got truly hurt and learned the hard way. I recall on that fateful night even their own friends said that I didn’t deserve what happened and that I’d have to re-evaluate our friendship after that. It’s never easy when a friend’s true colours come spilling out, but I hope I’ve come out the other side stronger and wiser because of it.

But 2017 has been an alright year really, all things considered. I’ve travelled abroad twice – to Berlin in June and Warsaw in October as well as visiting other places in the UK such as London (six times!!!), Cardiff (twice), Colchester, the Peak District, Carlisle and the Lake District and Oxford. I’ve also done a full year in my job too, been given more responsibilities and learned a lot more about the industry that I’m working in. Also, I went to my first proper office Christmas party at the NEC recently which was a lot of fun. I have also hopefully strengthened friendships and relationships this year too. Reflecting on this year it hasn’t been too bad, but I will remember it based on it going so bloody quick! There’s no specific New Year’s resolutions this year, but I’d like to try and sort my living situation out and be a bit healthier. I’d also like to be a bit more creative this year, 2017 hasn’t been a great year for my writing (I think I’ve written about one poem – eek) so it would be really nice to try and get inspired again.

Christmas itself was a bit of a let down this year as I got the flu which began on Christmas Eve but was at its worst on Christmas Day. I spent Christmas Day bedridden and in a constant state of being in and out of consciousness, day and night. As a result, I couldn’t celebrate Christmas and had to cancel seeing any family. It’s rubbish but it’s not the end of the world, I think there can be a lot of pressure to be seen to be having a good time at Christmas which doesn’t always help but you have to remember not to compare. I do love the festive feel about Christmas though such as the lights, music and little things like the Christmas drinks at Costa and Starbucks and it’s been those aspects that I’ve ironically ended up enjoying more than the day itself! Even on the 23rd me and two friends went for a meal at Prezzo in Harborne then went to the see the illuminated trail at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens which was so atmospheric and pretty. Given that I was out of commission after that, I’m so glad I went!

I’m also having a quiet New Years Eve too. Again, like Christmas there is a lot of pressure on NYE to be good. As Mark Corrigan in Peep Show says, “All rational people agree it’s a truth self-evident that it’s impossible to have a good time on New Year’s Eve. The pressure’s too immense.” And so, I’m keeping it low key this year, and when I say low key I mean a takeaway curry and TV. I’ve had people ask me countless times what I’m doing for New Year’s Eve, as if it is a shame that I’m not doing anything. But honestly, I couldn’t be happier as it will be drama free this year (unless a curry can cause drama – which I certainly hope not!). To be honest, the best New Year’s Eve’s I’ve had in the past anyway have been when I’ve been chilling in the house with those who I care about.

I am definitely interested in what 2018 brings, as I say more than anything I would love to get my personal life sorted out by getting my own place and also through this it would be good to finally declutter. I have so much rubbish and I feel the best way to declutter is to sort what I would actually want to take with me and be ruthless in that way. Apart from when I lived away in Colchester I have never moved house, so this place must have 25 years’ worth of stuff. I feel like as of late I haven’t really been buying myself many things and minimalism is something I want to get into because it encourages you to make more use of the things you actually have instead of buying more which leads to clutter. It’s hard to know where to start but at least I’m not adding to it, right?

Hope everyone has a wonderful and prosperous 2018!

Trip to Warsaw

This autumn I went on a trip to Warsaw, Poland with my dad for 4 days. Warsaw probably isn’t the top of most people’s lists for a city break, but I think it’s becoming increasingly popular, as well as other Polish cities such as Krakow. I had been interested in going to Warsaw before and it was even an idea for earlier this year but in the end, I went to Berlin. Warsaw is a city with a mixture of the mostly new and some old. For example, the city centre itself is very modern with impressive skyscrapers and beautiful buildings such as the Palace of Culture and Science which is relatively new being built in the 50s. Warsaw is a lively, bustling place and very accessible with plenty of trams and buses. It doesn’t seem to be quite on the map compared to a lot of European capitals, but I’m glad I chose to visit as it has a rich history with plenty to see and do.

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The Palace of Science and Culture, accompanied with the skyscrapers.

The centre of Warsaw is a lot more modern looking compared to a lot of European capitals, so it immediately feels different to a lot of other cities with its skyscrapers, tall buildings and lots of shopping areas. This however, is linked to its unfortunate destruction in World War II. The centre has a main shopping complex which is called Zlote Tarasy with things nearby like the famed Hard Rock Café where we went and had a drink – my first time actually sitting in a Hard Rock Café! I always like high up views so a visit to the Marriott Hotel with the Panorama Sky Bar was a must in the evening. We went during Happy Hour so it worked out cheaper as it is usually expensive! The views of the centre were so good with bright lights and buildings lit up in different colours. Another viewing platform is at the top of Palace of Culture and Science which is the city’s tallest structure and where you can walk around the terrace for panoramic views of the city and beyond.

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Warsaw and beyond.

The Old Town is (as expected) the oldest part of Warsaw and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is usually what you see pictured when you look up Warsaw online and the main part resembles something on a postcard. The Old Town has very colourful architecture, which all looks very typically European. This is the area that was spared so you get an idea of what the rest of the city may have looked like if it hadn’t been destroyed. There is an Observation Terrace nearby which you can go up and you can look over the main square at the front, the Vistula river on the left, then to the distance on the right you can see the contrast of the modern architecture of the city centre. In the centre is the oldest part known as the Old Town Market Place which has restaurants, cafes and shops, all surrounded by more beautiful buildings in similar vein to the first ones you see at the start.

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The Old Town

The streets feature medieval architecture like the Barbican and surrounding city walls. There are a lot of churches around there as you walk around and even spotted a soldier’s funeral taking place at one, which was sad to see. There is also the Royal Castle, located at the entrance of the Old Town which used to be the residency of the Polish monarchs. I had seen it on the bus arriving into Warsaw but it was only on the last day I saw it properly, on my second visit to the Old Town. Unfortunately, there was a lot of construction work going on at the front of it, but the house itself looked wonderful and it still serves as one of the most recognisable landmarks of the city.

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The Old Town Market Square

Another place worth seeing is Lazienki Park, which is the largest park in Warsaw and home to the Chopin Monument and the Lazienki Palace. It was at this park I saw a red squirrel in the wild for the first time! It is a massive but beautiful park, especially in the autumn with lots of falling leaves, leaf piles and vivid autumn colours! You could keep walking all day around there and I know I barely scratched the surface having only walked around for a couple of hours. There is also a smaller park known as the Saxon Gardens which is the oldest public park in the city which was originally inspired by Versailles. It has the Marconi fountain which was created in 1855 by Henryck Marconi, when I saw it I couldn’t help but be mesmerised by its design and beauty.

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Definitely looks like autumn here!

Food was a big thing for me in Poland. It was so nice to be able to eat out affordably every day. When I’ve gone to other cities it’s usually been too expensive to eat out all the time, but here you can really take advantage of the cheap cost of living compared to the UK. The food is very good and the portions are generous. The one day I had a three-course lunch at a place called Sexy Duck (I was quite amused by the name) which probably came to roughly £5. Bargain! Another notable restaurant was called U Szwejka, which is an authentic Eastern European restaurant, both with food and its predominately green and red décor. It made me think of Christmas when I first saw it. The restaurants there seem to be super popular as there was more than one place where I saw people queuing outside just to get in! Oh, and in the Old Town I had a really nice ice-cream made up of very colourful Strawberry and Blueberry scoops. As you can gather, Warsaw is an excellent place if you’re a foodie.

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Potato Pancake, a popular dish.

Warsaw is a great place to visit as an alternative to the many expensive European capitals. Next time I’d like to visit Krakow, another popular destination which is known for its history and proximity to Auschwitz. Also, Polish people generally seem to be friendly. For example, when we were trying to find the hotel, a woman saw us looking at our map and tried to help us, despite the language barrier. I must admit my Polish wasn’t great, not extending too much beyond hello and thank you. But as with a lot of nations nowadays, English is still widely spoken. I’m not advocating not learning any of local lingo, however! Warsaw is stepping up as being a notable capital and when I first landed there was a leaflet claiming it’s moving faster than Berlin – that’s fighting talk, I thought! And in fairness, it is definitely worth the visit for the sights, shopping and of course food!

Sonic Mania – Thoughts

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Sonic Mania has been out for a little while now and like a lot of Sonic fans I couldn’t wait to play this long-awaited game. I have been a Sonic fan since I was very young – my first games were the original classic Mega Drive games. I hold so many fond memories of playing them. I’m not the type to disregard anything after that though, I very much enjoyed the Sonic Adventure games, in particular Sonic Adventure 2. However, like many I’m sure I admittedly lost some interest along the way after a string of mediocre games. Admittedly, it’s been tough to be a Sonic fan at times. Essentially this game is a mix of new and a remix of the original five games (I’m counting Sonic CD in this).

Sonic Mania is almost identical in game play to the side scrolling Sonic games of the 90s and it certainly stands in the way of games like Sonic 4, which claimed to be a direct sequel. The game is consistent and makes good use of references to other levels that haven’t been remade in the game. We see classic levels like Green Hill Zone, Chemical Plant Zone, Metallic Madness return, but my only gripe is that the old levels outweigh the amount of new levels with only four out of the twelve zones actually being new as well as having an extra final boss once you’ve collected all the Chaos Emeralds. I understand that this was a bit of experiment as it wasn’t known how it would be received so hopefully if we get a sequel it will be all new content.

The new special stages to get the Chaos Emeralds are impressive, it’s a 3D stage where you have to speed up and chase after a UFO on a track. It’s reminiscent of the special stages in Sonic CD where you chase after several UFOs on a stage. The other special stages are the Blue Spheres from Sonic 3 & Knuckles where you can collect little coins for your trouble and unlock bonus features such the Super Peel Out move from Sonic CD. Another thing is the impressive soundtrack composed long-time fan Tee Lopes. Among fans, a firm soundtrack favourite is the Studiopolis Act 1 music which became known well before this game was even released. Lopes’ music for the game really sounds as if it could have come straight from the original team.

This game is something Sonic fans of all ages can enjoy and appreciate. Older fans can definitely appreciate the throwbacks and all the little nods while new fans can play this as a gateway to Classic Sonic. It also has a lot of replay value as you can go back and get any Chaos Emeralds you missed the first-time round, play as Sonic and Tails, Sonic on his own, Tails or Knuckles. In Mirage Saloon Act One, Knuckles even has his own different stage for it. As always Tails can fly and Knuckles can glide which makes exploration even easier as replay the levels.

Personally, I’ve found I’ve been replaying this game loads lately, going back and getting the Chaos Emeralds that I’ve missed on other playthroughs and just generally exploring the levels a bit deeper as well as facing the very final boss as Super Sonic. As much as I like my games with a bit of depth and story, you cannot beat having games that you can just pick up and play! Let’s hope for a sequel now.