I fought the sea and the sea won.

I spent the first third of 2019 gallivanting around the world, ‘finding myself’ and other such nonsense. It was an exercise in independence, financial management and socialising. Quite frankly, I learned how to give less fucks about the passing thoughts and feelings of strangers, which has done wonders for my self-confidence and my ability to poop in places outside of the safety of my own home.

I started my trip in Australia, where I followed every other backpacker in existence down the east coast, stopping at big attractions like the Great Barrier Reef, Sydney Opera House and Fraser Island. Then came New Zealand, both islands. Seeing family, drinking beer, eating pies, visiting Hobbiton, climbing mountains, making friends…meeting a boy. It was perfection. Then I went a bit rogue. South America isn’t usually on the typical backpacker gap year itinerary, but I could feel it calling me. 6 weeks travelling through Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. Very high mountains, very strong altitude sickness, very good food, truly incredible people. This was a ‘proper adventure’. While I was travel-weary at times (especially in Medellin, where sickness truly got the better of me and I almost shit myself at Pablo Escobar’s grave), looking back it was an experience I will cherish and remember forever. How many people can say they’ve floated down the Amazon river on a rubber ring?

One of my highlights from the whole trip came in New Zealand. I spent my first 2 days staying with friends in Auckland, acclimatising and cooling off after the scorching temperatures of Australia. We went to a black sand beach to the north of Auckland and wandered around the North Shore area on the other side of the famous harbour bridge. In the evenings we chatted about our shared childhood experiences and went to a rugby game at the famous Eden Park. I could already feel myself falling in love with New Zealand.

On the third day, they dropped me in central Auckland at stupid early o’clock with a rucksack full of clean laundry and a belly full of nerves. I was catching the Kiwi Experience bus, one of the most popular ways for backpackers to travel the country. The Kiwi bus is a bright green monstrosity that winds through the New Zealand roads. It’s a great way to get around and meet a fantastic group of friends which I did later down the line.

This first morning on the bus I was terrified. I said goodbye to my friends and found a seat near the front of the coach and instantly felt out of place: why did everyone seem to have friends already? I sat in my chosen seat feeling like the eyes of the world were judging me for sitting alone. I tried to blend in with my seat while simultaneously praying that someone would talk to me. My prayers were answered; a tall Swedish girl caught my eye and asked if she could sit with me! Success!

From that moment on, we chatted for the whole journey and my heart felt lighter for having succeeded in making a friend!

The bus travelled south out of Auckland and then east to the Coromandel Peninsula to the first overnight stop of Hot Water Beach. Once here, we went for a short drive to Cathedral Cove for a 45 minute hike down the cliff path to the beach itself. The beach was busy, and it made it difficult to take a good picture of the natural features that the cove is famed for. But we managed, and then made our way into the sea.

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Cathedral Cove, New Zealand (ft some nice looking waves)

The sea was a totally different creature to the freezing Atlantic Ocean that we are accustomed to in the UK. It was warm and clear and blue and inviting. My friend and I had a wonderful time bobbing around in the tides and body surfing to the shore. And then she looked to me with a grin and said the immortal words: “shall we go over there where the waves are bigger?” I thought ‘yeah, fuck it! We’ll be alright!’ and followed her to where the waves were well over head height.

We laughed and jumped up when the waves came, getting smacked in the face by a surprise wave every now and again, but still able to touch the sand beneath us. But then after a particularly ferocious wave, my friend suddenly turned to me with panic in her eyes and said “Lizzie, my bikini top has come undone.”

I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried to stand still in neck height ocean before, let alone tried to stand next to someone, find their bikini top strings and summon the manual dexterity required to tie the two strings together again. It’s incredibly difficult. I tried my hardest, but a fierce wave ripped her out of my grasp and towards the shore. I was tossed through the sea by a following wave and rolled around in the sand trying to find where she’d washed up. I reached out for her again, we were both kneeling in the sand at this point, and I tried again to tie her up. But alas, once again we were shoved into the sand, shrieking. I popped my head out of the water spluttering, hair a mess, bikini bottoms full of sand laughing hysterically at our misfortune, only to find her lying on the sand like a stranded trainee mermaid, trying desperately to hold everything in place but laughing laughing laughing. I have never scrambled before in my life, but I did so at that moment, and went to her rescue. We were bedraggled, and on hands and knees weeping with hilarity at each other and how ridiculous we must’ve looked being thrown through thigh high waves like a pair of socks on a spin cycle.

After that ordeal we decided that we’d had enough ocean for the day, and hiked back to the bus, giggling the whole way at how the sea gods had punished our hubris. With hindsight, this sounds potentially dangerous and a bit scary. But rest assured, we were totally fine, and the only things damaged were our prides.

I had such a great time with her, and after this day, we parted ways and I haven’t seen her since. If you read this, Tove, I hope the rest of your travels were full of laughter and that you bought a more secure bikini for future sea shenanigans.

Eye contact

In response to a prompt ‘write about two people seeing each other for the first time’.

*

The first time she saw him was on a ferry crossing between two islands of a foreign country. Her eyes were drawn to him. He looked like every stereotypical backpacker: baggy shorts and tshirt, rucksack jammed full of worldly necessities (including hiking boots tied to the external straps which were straining against their bulging innards), and a slightly dirty tan. Her eyes travelled over his form and soaked up every detail, filing it away for future reference on backpackers. They appeared to be travelling in the same direction, but he was outgoing and social, laughing and joking with his companions, while she maintained stilted conversation with a girl she had just met. He seemed so impossibly interesting!

The first time he saw her was a week later. This time it was in a tiny town built around a one block radius of a single main street. Despite its size and isolated position, the town drew thousands of visitors to the famous glacier nearby.

He had spent some time in the hot tub with friends in an optimistic attempt to drive off the chill of the overcast afternoon. He was steaming and becoming increasingly dehydrated in the heat of the water. Refreshments were required. Does anyone else want one? He left the gated area, towel around waist, damp hair and shirtless. He saw her peeking around the side of the building, clearly lost. He glanced at her and saw the polite uncertainty on her face as she turned to him and said in a ringing British accent “hey, do you know where the hot tub is?” Not the most intelligent question given the clues in his attire, but not quite ‘I carried a watermelon’.

He directed her and noted that although she was fully clothed, she was clutching a towel in her fist. Perhaps a chance at a full conversation was imminent? But first, he required a large glass of something cold and perhaps alcoholic.

The next time they met was a further week later, in a vibrant town on a beach which was neither sand nor pebbles but an uncomfortably coarse blend of both. They talked and laughed and singlehandedly raised the noise level in every establishment they entered with their enthusiasm alone. Were there sparks? Maybe. Fireworks, even? Possibly. Was a strong rapport established? Definitely. Did they want to talk all night about everything and nothing at the same time. Without a doubt.

But it was all over too soon. Time was against them. They were bound for continents on the opposite sides of the globe in a few short days.

Not this time, but soon.

With the wonders of modern technology, they kept their conversations as alive as they could through their adventures, until they both returned to their separate homes: him to the bustle and smoke of New York City, her to fields and routine of the south west of England. They may have moved a great distance apart physically, but emotionally they were in the same room, pressed into each other’s warm embraces. They wanted to kiss, they wanted to explore each other. They needed to figure out how to be a team.

When their eyes finally locked as partners it felt like a momentous occasion. The first true time seeing each other. The humdrum of her nerves and anxieties about their reunion faded into the pleasant calm of a still mirrored pond surface, the only ripple of thought being a relieved voice whispering ‘yes, there you are, of course you are’. He could not fold her into his arms fast enough. God he had longed for this, dreamed of it, yearned for it. She was jet-lagged and exhausted but smiling and delighted and perfectly his.

Their first eye contact led to their first hug, which led to their first kiss…and second and third and fourth.

Let’s talk!

Well, this is embarrassing.

I feel a bit sheepish, like an apologetic boyfriend shuffling back to his furious girlfriend after an argument. Or like when you call your teacher ‘mum’ and everyone laughs while you go a red and feel like a fool for the next hour.

Hi! It’s been a while hasn’t it. How are you? Almost two years is a long time to leave a blog unattended, isn’t it? I can only apologise and offer pitiful excuses. …I was just so busy! And I needed to wash my hair that day.

I’ve just spent the last hour updating almost everything on this site to reflect changes that have happened in the last two years, including my age. It’s weird to think that I’m not 21 anymore. I sometimes have to really concentrate when people ask me how old I am because I can’t quite come to terms with the fact that I’m moving towards the age where people expect you to get your life together. I feel like my life has got even less together over the last two years. 23 isn’t old by any means, but it means that I’m getting closer to the ages where I thought those big life markers might fall. You know, moving into your own place, dream job, meeting that special person, marriage, kids, the whole shebang.

But here I am, resolutely living back at home to finish my Masters degree, with the same job I’ve had since I was 16 that I still think of as my ‘holiday job’, and emerging from (or still wrapped up in?) a heartbreak.

So here I am, typing words on the screen, hoping that self-medication by writing is the answer. Today was just one of those days: too many swirling thoughts and emotions, so my personal Pensieve has been resurrected. Help me through my almost-quarter life crisis won’t you?

Bare with me, we’ll get into the swing of things again soon!

 

Now playing: Change Your Mind (Stripped) – Jack Vallier

A Night in an Airport

The more I think about it, the more ridiculous it seems that I am 21 years old but have never been on holiday without my family. But within 24 hours, this will have changed. It is time to cast away my cares and dismiss long sleeves! Now that my exams have finished and my year abroad in Strasbourg is technically over, what better way of filling my last few weeks ‘on the continent’ than gallivanting around the south eastern coast of Spain with the gang.
I have packed up my bag, thrown away the shrivelled carrots in the back of my fridge, decanted my shampoo into 100ml and told my boyfriend that he can watch the next 2 episodes of Game of Thrones without me while I’m away which I’m already regretting. Almost as much as I’m regretting my grand plan to spend a night in Basel airport alone. Sometimes I am surprised by my own brilliance at concocting such horrible plans.

My flight out to meet my chums in Alicante is at 6:10 in the morning and so in order to save time and money, I have set up camp in a comfy chair to make the most of the free wifi and warm surroundings.

  
There’s a man nearby snoring as though his life depends on it and a lady with shoes off, feet on the seats and not a care in the world. The building as a whole is quiet and dark, not too bad a place to get a couple hours of kip before my flight tomorrow morning. I’m going to set a few dozen alarms to make sure that I wake up in time and don’t render this whole exercise a waste. I know some people sleep in airports fairly frequently, but this is new territory to me, as is mainland Spain – I have never experienced either and I’m excited to get this first objective done and move onto the next one!

Now playing: nothing, it’s nap time!

Learning To Be French

As the dust of the admin storm fades, I now find myself on the road to becoming settled and actually working out how to live in a foreign country. Culture shock is definitely a thing. Geographically, England is so close to France, but culturally it’s a million miles away.

I sat on the tram yesterday evening, baguette under my arm, pondering how I was one string of onions away from becoming a walking stereotype. Genuinely, I carried a baguette around with me for about half an hour. Then, due to the new-found bravery and ‘don’t give a shit’ attitude that I have developed from living here, I started to eat my baguette. Yes, I sat on the tram eating a fresh baguette not caring about the h8rs. That in itself is very French: they don’t give a damn and do what they want. It’s admirable, but was alien and scary at the start for a timid anglaise.

I got to thinking about other aspects of French life that are surprising for a non-francophone and these are my best offerings, friends. If any of my fellow intrepid explorers of French life have any other suggestions then feel free to get involved!

  1. Trying to cross the road and being almost hit by a car, tram, bike or another person every time because you haven’t yet worked out which way to look. Add to that the fact that French drivers do not seem to play by the universal ‘green man means it’s my turn’ rule makes for some interesting crossing situations.
  2. There is graffiti everywhere. It ranges from single French words scratched into the tram window, to random English nouns (I’ve seen the word ‘tumour’ painted under a bridge), to proclamations of love tippexed on the desks in lecture theatres. Yesterday I saw this absolute belter and thought it was too good to not share.

    Definitely worth a snapchat
    Definitely worth a snapchat!
  3. French teenagers LOVE their Nikes. I’ve never seen so many pairs of Jordans in my life! Everyone has really snazzy trainers and the majority of these are Nikes…we can deduce from this that French kids get too much pocket money. Cool it, maman et papa!
  4. Walking past a boulangerie or patisserie it’s impossible to not stop and steam up the window with a hungry gaze. Man, it all looks so good, I do my strange pastry glance dance – walk past the window, glance at the calorific delights laid out for all to see, stop walking past, go back, eat it all with my eyes, carry on my merry way. I want to eat it all.
  5. Wine is cheap. Other booze is not (as we’ve previously discussed with the diabolical too expensive jagerbomb situation).
  6. The police officers are armed. There are soldiers with gurt off assault rifles who take a turn about the town centre every now and again and armed guards positioned outside the synagogue I pass every day. They are conspicuous and no one bats an eyelid.
  7. Being in France, means that it’s much more difficult to eavesdrop and hear about the mundane aspects of people’s lives which on boring days can be a wonderful distraction. Hearing a snapshot of a stranger’s life is surprisingly therapeutic, but the rapid-fire casual slang of colloquial French is proving difficult to understand. It may sound strange, but this makes me long for England, where I can listen to people planning evenings out and discussions with their parents. My French is improving though, soon I’ll be able to tell you all about Mathilde’s date with Jean-Claude.
  8. They’re mad about recycling. People have knocked on my door twice to tell me about recycling and given me a little bag for separating my waste. On all bins, you’re encouraged to think of ‘le tri’ (sorting). I haven’t yet found out if there are any consequences of not sorting your bins but I hope not because as much as I love recycling, my French isn’t up to asking for directions to the nearest food waste disposal unit or if I can put my paper waste in with the tins, which it seems like they want me to do…I’ll get the hang of it, just not right now, okay?
  9. Finally, number 9 – if they’re rude to you, it’s not because they hate you or because you’re being targeted, that’s just what they’re like as a populace. Don’t get offended, that’s just what they can be like.

As of tomorrow, I will have been living in Strasbourg for 7 weeks, if my maths is right. A scary and exciting 7 weeks. I’m sure the French culture will reveal to me more of its secrets, but for now I have mid-terms and then half term next week which will be a blessing – time to go home, unwind, forget all about the ordering of personal pronouns and how to use the subjunctive tense in real life and eat some proper cheddar.

Now Playing: James Bay – Scars

A Séjour in Strasbourg

I’m folded into the passenger seat of our family’s car. My dad is in the driver’s seat and the sun is shining down on us and making me wish I didn’t choose to wear my blackest jeans and winteriest boots today. We are sitting in a companionable quiet, lost in thoughts or in my case, a blog post.

20kg of my life is packed into a suitcase and sitting in the boot, daring me to take a look inside and realise I’ve forgotten something crucial.

Passport? Check. Health insurance card? Check. Raincoat? Check. Gym kit? Check. Slightly too big to fit stuffed animal of Toothless the dragon from that Dreamworks film ‘How To Train Your Dragon’? Check.

These are the more mobile of my possessions, the ones that would fit in a suitcase. Bigger things have been left behind.

Today, I move to Strasbourg, in the north east corner of France. Apparently it’s called the capital of Europe; the European Court of Human Rights is there, along with the European Parliament. And there’s an enormous cathedral too. One could want for nothing more!

I’m going to the university there. For a year. In France. On my own. For a year, did I mention?

I’m terrified, I’m frightened, I’m a ball of anxiety and worry ready to ping and explode at any point like a watermelon with too many elastic bands wrapped around it. All these weeks of burying my head in the sand and ignoring that I had to go away have been for nothing. My plan was foiled again! You know in the Harry Potter series when Dumboedore and everyone else it seems all KNEW that Voldemort was going to come back but did hardly anything to prevent it other than ignore it and have a cracking feast every now and again and play a spot of Quiddich? That’s what I’ve done all summer. And now I have to go and meet Voldemort anyway…ugh! All burying my head did was leave me with a lot of paperwork to sort out last minute! Silly Lizzie, eh?

Underneath the all consuming terror of moving abroad, there’s a glimmer of something golden. If I get out my internal microscope and inspect it further it sparkles and shows me visions of friends yet to be made, smiling faces, improving my language skills and the many people over the last few days who have given me pep talks saying ‘hey Lizzie, you know what? You’re going to do great! This is an adventure, embrace it.’ I am grateful for this small glimmer of hope, it’s the only reason I didn’t leap out of the car this morning and curl up and hide under my duvet for a couple more weeks.

Yes, it’s terrifying and I’ll stumble over all my French verb conjugations and basic vocabulary for several weeks but isn’t that what I’m going over for? To improve and be around those who speak the language much better than I do?

So people, today, on the day I leave for France, I am dreading it slightly less than I have been…which is something at least! I’m being brave and starting my next adventure. Now in the next half an hour I just need to get over my absolute dislike of flying! That’s nothing, I’m about to live in France with all the French people and their berets and baguettes, I can do anything!

Now playing: Don Broco – Tough On You

One Saturday Afternoon…

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Moved to Tears.”

I’m an incredibly emotional person and I’ll cry at a great deal of things, both sad and happy, some of which are quite stupid. I shed a tear when seven years ago, I met my new-born baby brother for the first time and I got ridiculous happy wet eyes when my rugby team won a competition last year.

I cry when I tell people about the scary thoughts in my head, and even harder as they hug me and tell me it’ll be ok. I cried as my heart was stomped into a thousand little pieces over and over and over and I could only helplessly watch.

I had tears streaming down my face as I watched Rhod Gilbert’s stand up comedy piece about Henry Hoovers for the first time and was absolutely hysterical when a mate of mine tripped and knocked over a girl in a night club and then proceeded to try it on with her while they were both in a heap on the floor. Now THAT was funny!

I was so upset reading the ending of ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ (so shoot me if you think it’s a terrible book, I disagree and think it’s beautifully written) and the most recent time I sobbed my heart out was last night watching the season five finale to Game of Thrones. 7/10 would not recommend watching it. My parents were moderately concerned until I sobbed out what was happening…they rolled their eyes and continued watching the news.

But when I saw the prompt yesterday asking me to describe the last time I cried at something beautiful, I was puzzled for a few minutes until I was transported to the exact moment that I was told such beautiful words that I couldn’t help but give myself over to the emotions that followed.

Allow me to take you back a few weeks; it was late afternoon one Saturday, deep in exam season and I was spending a few precious hours with a precious friend. We were talking, laughing, discussing life. We were incredibly, hilariously, sublimely happy.

The conversation took a more serious turn and we each aired our fears for the future and my uncertainty at my ability to cope with the rocky road of terrors laid before me. He took my hands in his, clasped them tightly and murmured the words: “I’m so proud of you”.

The simplicity of these words and the conviction with which they were delivered was the most beautiful thing I’d heard for a long time. It left me stunned and I took in the tide of calm that washed over me. The tears built up as I looked intently into his eyes and whispered “thank you”, words that never quite seemed adequate for the importance of the moment. Then I was vanquished by the hand of emotion and left damp spots on his tshirt as he gave me a comforting hug.

This may not seem quite as beautiful as a breathtaking landscape or carry as much emotion as your child grabbing your finger for the first time, but for me, the overly-emotional twenty year old, this was magnificent and gave me the strength required to go forth and take on the world. I was a happy Lizzie that day.

Now playing: Avenged Sevenfold – Seize the Day