Adventures in Adversity

Over the past year, give or take a couple of weeks, I’ve adventured solo to Stockholm, journeyed to Berlin and Barcelona for the first time with two of my favourite travel buddies, explored beautiful English countryside and dreamy Scottish cities, and escaped busy London for the day.

Late last week, I stumbled across Inkifi and, without too much thought, ordered 20 of my favourite travel snaps, all taken from my Instagram. They arrived this week and I’m happy to see that they turned out brilliantly (who knew that Instagram photos were actually excellent quality?!). I’ve enjoyed scattering them around my room, filling up blank, empty spaces with memories of my explorations.

I’m not feeling positive about 2018. 2017 has been a tough year, possibly one of the hardest yet, but these Polaroids fill me with hope. They make me excited to plan adventures for the new year. They remind me that this year hasn’t been all bad, even if the negative constantly tries to push it way to the front. They help make my (rented, regrettably) room my own.

It’s true what they say, about that travel bug.

This was originally posted as a shorter Instagram post.

5 Things to Do in Barcelona

In November, I visited Barcelona for the first time with my friend Sarah before she left London for Australia (😭😭). It has taken me a little while to write this post, but here are five things to do in the city!

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Visit… the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló and Park Güell

Gaudí is everywhere in Barcelona. The Catalan architect’s work is unusual, for this Londoner, and a delight. These spots are pretty standard for any traveller to Barcelona. I particularly enjoyed the stained glass windows (spring, summer, autumn and winter-inspired) of the Sagrada. It’s worth checking out the audio guide and taking a trip up the spire. Casa Batlló was stunning – so much blue and green and turquoise! – and my favourite out of the three, whilst Park Güell is perfect for a sunny day. Don’t forget to book your tickets for all three in advance!

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Go on… The Shadow of the Wind walking tour

Sarah loves Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s popular series for bookworms and so we booked places on The Shadow of the Wind walking tour. It was fascinating to visit places mentioned in the book (such as the secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books). As we weren’t in tourist season, we were the only two on the tour and so could ask plenty of questions. Our guide kindly kept it spoiler-free for me, too, seeing as I was only halfway through the book (silly, silly Stacey).

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Eat brunch at… Federal Café

We visited this Australian café in Barcelona twice because we loved it so much – and I had avocado and poached egg on toast both times. It’s certainly a ‘hipster coffee shop’ but, honestly, those are my favourites.

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Drink gin cocktails at… Dux

After dinner, we stumbled across this gorgeous, elegant cocktail bar and it was the perfect spot to sit and chat. I enjoy fruity cocktails (although they don’t love me…) and hanging out at Dux was a great way to spend our evening. In Spain, people eat and drink very, very late and so everywhere you go is super quiet and you can always get a table! Dux had a lovely piano in the corner, the tables were candlelit, and the menu offered pop culture-inspired cocktails.

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Browse… Barcelona’s many bookshops

Barcelona is a haven for bibliophiles and I was fortunate to go on holiday with a fellow book industry friend, so bookshops were at the top of our list. One of my favourites was Altaïr. This travel bookshop was cosy, homely and had a little café with sofas. I buy a copy of Le Petit Prince every time I visit a new country and I bought El Principito in La Central. We drank coffee outside and I enjoy playing around on the swing seat. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go to Gigamesh, the popular sci-fi bookshop – next time! (I used a handy Guardian article to plan our bookish adventure).

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We only tried churros twice so I wouldn’t dare recommend the best place to eat them! But a few places on our list to go to were Xurreria Dels Banys Nous, Chok – The Chocolate Kitchen, Granja M Viader, and La Nena.

5 Places to Eat in Edinburgh

In July, I visited Edinburgh for the second time… and fell in love with it all over again. If I could move my job to Scotland, I wouldn’t hesitate to rent a (much-cheaper-than-I-currently-pay) flat in one of Edinburgh’s beautiful buildings. It felt like a little piece of east and north London, but with much fewer people. To me, holidays mean food + friends. Lots and lots of food, so here’s five particularly yummy places I went to in this stunning literary city.

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Ice Cream at… Mary’s Milk Bar

I love ice cream. I normally opt for Italian gelato, but Mary’s Milk Bar serves some of the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. I had a tricky time picking flavours (as always) because they all sounded amazing. I chose dark chocolate & cinnamon and raspberry ripple, and Cathy had dark chocolate & orange and poppy seed. It was so delicious. We promised to come back… but didn’t get time! Cathy and I are planning a wintry Edinburgh trip, so we’ll be heading to Mary’s for more ice cream and hot chocolate.

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Brunch and Lunch at… Loudons

I also really, really love brunch. If it were up to me, I’d happily eat breakfast all day, every day. For our first day in the city, we went to Loudons. I had a yummy bowl of rice, poached egg, avocado and chorizo. We shared haggis bonbons – haggis balls rolled in breadcrumbs – and they were surprisingly delicious. I’d always thought that eating haggis would be a strange experience, but it tastes like herby sausages. I am a fan.

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Brunch at… Spoon

Spoon was recommended to us on our Harry Potter walking tour – it was technically the place where J.K. Rowling wrote chunks of the series, but back then it was known as Nicolson’s Cafe. You may have heard of The Elephant Cafe (the ‘birthplace’ of Harry Potter), but I’d personally pick Spoon, which has much fewer tourists. We had the mixed grill: bacon, sausage, black pudding, haggis (again!), beans, and a fried egg. Yum!

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Meze at… Meze Meze

Meze Meze was one of the first places I came across whilst holiday planning. We got there at 8pm, but as we hadn’t reserved, we had to wait another hour for a table (totally fine with us as we were still full from brunch!). Meze Meze does the most amazing Mediterranean food – we had the chef’s selection of 5 cold and 5 hot dishes served with warm pitta bread. We loved it.

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Coffee at… Brew Lab

Edinburgh has so many pretty coffee shops, it’s quite unfair. We were never surrounded by Prets (we counted three, which is quite impressive since I’m within a few minutes’ walk from five) and from what we could see, indies far outnumbered Starbucks, Costa and Caffe Nero. Brew Lab serves strong coffee, although my Aussie travel buddy would disagree, and was perfectly cosy. I could see myself blogging here every weekend.

And don’t forget to try Scotland’s tap water!

Which foodie places should I add to my list for next time?

Friendship Breakups

Let’s chat about breakups. Not the romantic breakups that usually feature in the myriad of gorgeous YA novels we all know and love. No, breakups of the friend kind.

If you asked me what my favourite genre was, I’d immediately say YA contemporary. It used to be science fiction. It was middle grade mysteries for a bit, and it’s never been fantasy. But contemporary has appeared at the top of the list since the spring of 2012. I cannot resist those summery, poignant and relatable stories. I love adorable couples who are just right for each other (I’m looking at you, Anna and Etienne) and the thrill of discovering a new book boyfriend. And I love to read about female friendship. It’s the most important kind of relationship in my life and it’s been that way for years now. I’m shy and introverted – and social.

If you’re like me, you’ll have friendships that are comfortable and stable; the sort of friendships that seem to stick for years even when you haven’t seen or spoken to each other for months. You might not send a message for what seems like a lifetime and yet, when you do finally meet up, it’s like you’ve never been apart. I’ve known one of my best friends for over 20 years and our relationship has barely changed within that time. It’s a great kind of friendship.

And then there are the friendships that are all-encompassing, the kind that you couldn’t possibly survive a day without (that you wouldn’t want to survive a day without). The friends who may just as well have known you a lifetime, even if they’ve only been around for a fraction. The friends you message every day because you just love talking to them. Because it’s cold outside and you need to tell them that your hands are frozen (complete with appropriate emojis ❄️), because the world is pretty unbearable at the moment and you need to rant about what Trump’s done this time, and because you just fancy knowing what they’re having for dinner. And let’s hang out tomorrow. And hey, let’s have brunch next week. And let’s go to the cinema the week after. And I miss you, even though I just saw you yesterday.

It’s not only about the companionship you’ve had every day for the past few years, but also the plans you’ve made for the future. It’s about enjoying that friend’s company, no matter what you are doing together. It’s about laughing, all the time.

It’s about the friend you enjoy talking with most, even if the topics of conversation are rarely that significant. You talk about Netflix and the newest dessert pop-up and what to read next. It’s comforting, especially in this daunting time of uncertainty.

It’s about the friend who takes you on adventures, makes you challenge yourself and forces you out of your comfort zone, but is always there in case you fall. It’s about the friend you really care about and root for when they accomplish something incredible, no matter how tiny. It’s about the friend you turn to when you’ve had a bad day and when you’ve had a good day, in equal measure.

It’s about the person who knows you better than anyone else (even if they don’t really know who you were before) and who you want to know everything about. It’s about the one who can always tell when you’re not fine, even though you assure everyone else that you are. It’s about the person you love so, so much.

But what do you do when that isn’t enough?

Society doesn’t have much time for friendship breakups. It’s not something that’s as prolific in books, in music, in film and in television as romantic breakups, but ask anyone and they’ll probably tell you that their friendships made them who they are. We radiate sympathy and dole out encouraging advice and support when romantic relationships end, but for most people, friendships have lasted much longer and have meant much more.

So, let’s chat about them. 👭

Hello, Kew

I visited Kew Gardens for the first time in 2013, just as summer was leaving. I was blown away by its beautiful grounds and I have wanted to go back ever since, especially when it was more autumnal. So, once it hit mid-October, I bought a ticket to one of my favourite places in London.

Autumn is also my favourite season. It’s normally a time of happiness and excitement at the prospect of all the fun things to do (and eat and drink…). Unfortunately, it hasn’t been a great one for me this time, but I’m glad I got to go back and experience this beautiful retreat once again. 2016 has not been a forgiving year. With one thing after another – both globally and personally – it’s been tough. But wandering slowly through the botanical garden’s glorious fiery trees, colourful flowers and secret pathways gave me a chance to focus on myself and forget about everything else, even if just for a few hours.

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