Instagram Top Nine of the Year

Camera on a wooden table with text "Top Nine Instagram photos"

The Instagram Top Nine of the Year has become “a thing” in recent times. In case you haven’t heard of it, a third party app will analyse all the likes on your photos of the year and show you a collage of your top nine pics.

Without further ado, here are mine!

Collage of my Top Nine Instagram photos

I thought it might be fun (for me, and also anyone reading, hopefully!) to hear more about the story behind each of the top nine pics. So, here goes!

Photo 1 – January

This was actually taken on New Years Day 2018. We hadn’t left our house in over a week (by choice, may I add) and thought perhaps we should integrate into society before the inevitable return to work. I thought it prudent to start the year wearing sparkles; why the hell not!

Photo 2 – February

A Sunday afternoon in February where I was forced to get dressed because a man came round to give us a quote on our garden makeover. This is actually a man’s t-shirt, from ASOS, I like the print. I remember captioning this picture with “double boobs” because both the pinup girl and myself were braless!

Photo 3 – February

We had a casual dress code at my old job; jeans were pretty much the norm. I’d worn these boots in an effort to have warm feet and legs under my desk in the office, but it still didn’t work!

Photo 4 – September

Taken in Oia, on the island of Santorini. This was our 10th wedding anniversary trip. Oia is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. One of these days I’ll actually get round to blogging about it!

Photo 5 – September

Posted on our 10th wedding anniversary, during the aforementioned Greek trip. The photo was originally taken on our wedding day, in Mauritius. We got married on the beach – it was idyllic. This is my most favourite of our wedding photos; perhaps of all time. You can read about our wedding here and here.

Photo 6 – August

2018 was the year of the garden, thanks to an incredible summer. I was out there as much as possible – planting flowers, eating food barbecued by the husband and having the occasional drink! This was taken on a lazy Sunday afternoon; my favourite kind of day. I made sangria a couple of times over the summer, and it was a hit. More of the same in 2019 please.

Photo 7 – September

Another one from our 10th wedding anniversary trip; this was part one – Athens. After a less than auspicious start on arrival the day before, we woke to beautiful blue skies for our first day of sightseeing. This was taken in Syntagma Square, opposite the Hellenic Parliament building after we’d watched the weekly Changing of the Guards ceremony. Read more about our trip to Athens here.

Photo 8 – December

A recent one here, taken just a couple of weeks back when we went to my “new job” Christmas party. I approach work events with trepidation, because who knows which Kelly might make an appearance! (my drinking has been known to take me by surprise – not big, and not clever). But it was a really good night, I was well behaved, the husband met a lot of my new work colleagues AND I go to wear my sequin trousers!

Photo 9 – April

Sequin skirt – say no more! This was an unnecessary and unseasonal purchase; who needs multi-coloured sparkles in April? The answer is obviously me! This skirt will never not make me smile. In fact, if we manage to leave the house to eat today, I think I’ll wear it. Starting last year with sparkles went down well, so…

I posted much less than usual on Instagram towards the latter part of the year, but I still absolutely love it as a social platform – it appeals to my nosy side (permission to look at other people’s lives, what’s not to like?!) and it’s a great way of documenting and looking back on your own life; days out, holidays, outfits and shoes!

Find me on Instagram here.

Did you do your Top Nine? Did it bring back good memories?

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival

Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - entrance with 2 unicorns

2018 is the third year that the Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival has been at the Botanical Gardens. But it’s the first year I’ve actually been.

If you read yesterday’s post about our trip to Blenheim Palace, you’ll know we missed out on tickets to the Winter Wonderland outdoor light experience. Instead I suggested we visit the Palace and the Cinderella exhibition, and then head back to Birmingham to visit the Magic Lantern Festival.

When we got back to Birmingham the weather changed for the worse and it started to rain. And rain. Then rain some more. The thought of a wet and squelchy walk, especially as we’d forgotten our umbrellas, was unappealing. So we abandoned the plans, and made new ones.

Magic Lantern Festival, take 2!

Last Christmas we didn’t leave the house between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, which isn’t exactly healthy! So we decided to rearrange our plans for 29th December, which would force us out into real life!

I’d read good things about the festival from previous years, but didn’t know what to expect. Short answer – it was brilliant! There was a great mix of festive and none festive decorations; wonderfully lit, brightly coloured and really well spread out. The pitch darkness meant they look great on photos too!

Christmas themed lantern displays

Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - snowman and reindeer
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - reindeer and presents
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - gingerbread house and presents

Whimsical fairytale lantern displays

Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - cute insects and toadstools
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - cute insects on a toadstool swing
Multicoloured teapot pouring into teacup
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - large chinese style dogs
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival fairy with moving wings holding butterfly
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - brightly coloured snail
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - plants and insects

Flower displays everywhere!

Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - blue LED flowers
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - blue and pink LED flowers
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - bright pink lotus flower
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - lilac LED flowers

Animal lantern displays

Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - lion and monkeys in jungle setting
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - elephant
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - penguins and birds
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - light up peacock
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - cartoon style dolphin and shark
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - giraffes and zebra
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - zebra and palm trees

Finally, my favourites – the pandas!

Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - animated pandas with painted flowers on their bodies
Birmingham Magic Lantern Festival - 4 pandas and a superhero panda

We got the tickets for the bargain price of £8.50 each via Travelzoo, and it was well worth the money. If you’re quick you can still catch it, as the last entrance is on New Year’s Day. If not, I’d definitely recommend it for next year.

The same organisers also do festivals in Leeds and London. Have you been to any of the locations?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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Christmas at Blenheim Palace

2 weeks ago we went to “Christmas at Blenheim Palace“.

Yes, I’m still talking about Christmas! Today is perhaps the last official day of Christmas, before it turns into New Year, so I need to get this post in!

Now I didn’t even know Christmas at Blenheim Palace was a “thing”. But my Mother in Law has been to something similar at Chatsworth House, and wanted to take me for my birthday. The husband found the Blenheim Palace event, and a plan was made.

From late November til early January the gardens of Blenheim Palace are turned into a Winter Wonderland light trail. There are thousands of fairy lights and light displays that run through the gardens, creating a magical walk around the outside of the palace and beyond. Unfortunately the tickets for that were already sold out (at least those available at suitable weekend times, taking into account the drive back to Birmingham from Oxford), so we just went along in the daytime to see the Palace decorations.

We arrived fairly early, before the huge crowds, so had a little wander round and perused the Christmas Market stalls.

Entrance to the exhibition is timed, with timeslots every 20 minutes. We were booked in for 12pm, but went in at about 11.45.

This year’s theme was Cinderella. The main entrance hall was decorated with a grand dining table; opulent with candlesticks, fancy dinnerware and Christmas trees everywhere!

Poor Cinderella’s table was tucked around the back, away from the grandeur.

From there we wandered through rooms and rooms of beautiful decorations, trees and garlands, while the Cinderella story was told along the way.

The ugly sister’s room

Beautifully bedecked in jewelled pink, blue and purple. Clothes were strewn on every surface as they planned their outfit for the ball.

Cinderella’s room

In contrast, poor Cinders’ room was much more sparse and plain (as plain as it can be, when hosted in a palace!) There was an original Singer sewing machine, with fabrics and cottons for Cinderella to make her own outfits.

The Prince’s room

Spot the invitations to the ball spilling off the table, along with his velvet cloak ready for the ball.

Cinderella’s carriage

Absolutely beautiful; covered in fairy lights and surrounded by pumpkins!

Midnight room

Full of clocks, and a clock decorated Christmas tree – a reminder to Cinderella that she must leave the ball before the clock strikes 12!

The ballroom

Breathtaking in white and silver, with flower and crystal decorated tables and roaring log fires.

Topped off, of course, by Cinderella’s glass slipper!

Everything was beautifully done, with so much effort and detail. Our only gripe was that the rest of the palace was closed off for the duration of the Christmas event, so we didn’t get to see any of the rooms other than those that were part of the exhibition. At £28 per ticket it was quite expensive for what took no more than 30 minutes to walk around (and we weren’t rushing either).

Afterwards we went for a wander around the grounds, following the path for the Winter Wonderland trail I mentioned earlier. Due to the huge amount of rain and the poor pathways it was a soggy mushy mess underfoot. It actually made us glad we hadn’t been able to get tickets, as it wouldn’t have been a pleasant walk, and would probably have ended up with one or more of us on our ass in the dark!

We had a lovely lovely time, but I do think the organisers should consider value for money a little more next year. And definitely sort those paths out!

Christmas at Blenheim Palace runs until 6th January 2019, although the Christmas Market ended on 16th December.

Have you ever been to a stately home at Christmas? Do you still have your decorations up in your own home? (We do!)

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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5 ways to deal with disappointment

Person holding picture in front of their face showing a drawing of a sad face. Text: dealing with disappointment

Disappointment. It’s a fact of life. Not a nice fact of life, but one most of us have to deal with, nonetheless.

Special occasions can be a huge source of disappointment. The anticipation in the build up to the event, the high expectation to enjoy yourself and have a great time – there’s a lot of pressure. This is further exacerbated when the world around you seems to be having the best time; the most amazing birthday, fantastic holiday or cosiest Christmas.

That’s not to say all events go badly. Of course they don’t! But, if anything, that makes it even more upsetting when things don’t go to plan.

Take Christmas, as an example. Our insta feed is full of the biggest trees, the prettiest gifts, the fancy meals and family get togethers. Christmas is a pinnacle in many people’s annual calendars; we use it as a measure of how far along we are in the year, how ready we are during December (how many people have asked you if you were ready for Christmas this month?), how we feel during December (hands up if you’ve uttered the immortal “I just don’t feel Christmassy” line this year!) Of course we want it to the be the best one ever. And, if it isn’t, our heart rightly breaks a little.

The same goes for other occasions. Disappointing holidays – when we’ve spent time and effort and hard earned cash to getaway – leave us feeling crap. Disappointing gigs; maybe the band is late, or the sound is poor, or the crowd are obnoxious and spoil things (talking from experience seeing the Foo Fighters at Wembley this summer – the crowd were bloody awful) – we feel crushed.

How do we deal with it then? What can we do to ease the inevitable disappointment?

Allow ourselves time to wallow a little

It’s ok to feel angry, upset and hurt. I certainly find it helpful. Glossing over your feelings can often lead to resentment. Acknowledge the disappointment, feel it deeply, and then move on.

Direct your disappointment at the source of the cause

I’ve been guilty of taking my feelings out on the wrong people; either by being vocally upset with them or withdrawing and being sullen. That’s not fair on anyone. Make sure you’re not dragging other people into your disappointment and associated feelings.

Keep a sense of perspective

In most cases, the event we’re disappointed in or at is not a one time only opportunity. Christmas comes around once a year. So do birthdays. There will be other gigs and holidays (hopefully). Try to remember that you can always improve things next time around. If it’s a special occasion that has been spoilt, try to take the attitude that it’s “just a day”.

Try to look for a silver lining on that cloud

After the Foo Fighters gig our group of friends spent the following day together and had an absolute hoot. We drank in the sunshine, laughed at ourselves and each other, and had a great time. Despite a 2 day rainy start to our holiday in Italy, we saw the most amazing stormy skies and sunsets. It’s rare that there’s absolutely nothing good you can take from a situation.

Try to “make up for things” by arranging an alternative good time

Perhaps it’s a nice meal to cheer yourself up, or visiting friends, or just something you didn’t plan to do but know it will raise your spirits. Erase bad memories by making better ones.

Most of all, as so many people have said and will continue to say, don’t compare your bad time with the wonderful lives of friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Especially Instagram! It may just leave you feeling worse, when that person’s truth may be a bigger disappointment than your own. Concern yourself with the things you can control, and try to move past the negativity and back to a shiny happy place.

(in case you were wondering, part of my Christmas was pretty crap thanks to the rotten behaviour of some people, hence the words of “wisdom”. Trying to take my own advice by making the rest of the holiday enjoyable, and memorable for the right reasons).

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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The additional need for charity at Christmas

Three young children sitting on some steps. Text reads "charity at Christmas"

Like many people, I think I become more aware of the need for charity at Christmas time.

I support charities year round. Don’t get me wrong, I think the very fact that charity has to even exist is abhorrent. Avoidable disasters like Grenfell; disasters the government should be paying for – people run the London marathon for charity. Illnesses like cancer (which I believe there is a cure for…whole other post) – people running around local parks in a pink tutu raising cash for “research”.

I’ve posted my opinions on charity before. The government wastes thousands on crap like Brexit (also posted about this before) but expects the public to pick up the tab for REALLY IMPORTANT SCHIZZLE.

Anyway, this wasn’t a post to promote previous posts! Or to lambast the government (OK, maybe a little bit). It was to talk about charity at Christmas.

Back to the first paragraph

I am a regular charity supporter. It makes me feel good about myself (sorry, not sorry), and I hope the money goes where it should. But something about Christmas makes me extra generous. Especially to those in society who don’t enjoy Christmas in the same way as me. Last year I did a reverse advent calendar and donated food stuffs to charity. I’ve done the same this year (not the advent calendar, but a supermarket basket full of food in the local food bank collection).

One of my new colleagues (still bleating about having a new job, whatcha gonna do?) came to the office with some present tags from charity KidsOut. Her son goes to a local day nursery and they were supporting the charity. There are a mix of tags. Some show just an age and gender, some show an age and gift request, and others show a name and preferred present. KidsOut is a charity supporting children affected by domestic violence; many of whom will have escaped a violent home with a parent and have no presents to open.

My tag was for an 11 year old boy who requested a diablo. What with me being old, I thought this was a technological present I had never heard of. Imagine my surprise when I googled it (don’t judge me) to find it’s an old school toy made of wood and string!

I couldn’t resist bringing it into the 21st century (and to make that boy the envy of his friends!) so I bought a light up one that changes colour as you spin. He deserves something a little bit special, don’t you think?

Christmas happens for everyone

Back to the point of my post. Christmas happens for everyone – in varying degrees. There are people like me and the husband who have enough money to buy gifts for each other and donate to charities to help other people. There are people like the homeless who I saw on the streets where I live and gave money to yesterday. And there are children who, through no fault of their own, will wake up on Christmas morning not only without presents; but without a bed, a bedroom, clothes or their favourite teddy bear.

The other point of my post is that charity and goodwill isn’t just for Christmas. It’s lovely to try and help people have a slightly better time, in line with our own Christmas. But shit like this happens every month of the year. The UK police recorded a 23% increase in reports of domestic violence crime in the year up to March 2018. Many of those cases will involve children.

This isn’t a guilt trip post. Far from it. It’s not even an awareness raising post. We all do our own thing.

But do think of others. Not only at Christmas but year round.

Thanks, as always, for reading!

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A December city break: Rome at Christmas

Close up of the Colosseum with text saying Rome at Christmas

I can’t believe it’s a year since we were in Rome for my birthday! Weirdly, Rome at Christmas isn’t that Christmassy. More to the point, that’s why I chose it!

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still quite clearly Christmas in the city, There are fairy lights in the streets, big trees in large piazzas and decorations in shop windows and restaurants. It’s more that the sole focus isn’t Christmas, if that makes sense? Some cities are renowned for being Christmas destinations, with markets and winter wonderlands and the like. While that’s absolutely wonderful, and I do love a Christmas destination, I wanted my birthday to be more about my birthday than celebrating Christmas.

Clear as mud, right?

I suppose what I’m saying is, if you were looking for a Christmas getaway to give you all the Christmas feels, then Rome probably isn’t it. If you’re looking for a winter break with a healthy smattering of Christmas and loads to do, see and eat, Rome is perfect.

Now I’ve got that straight (!!) here are some Christmas pictures we took around the city during our 4 days. There are trees, street decorations, fairy lights and garlands. And seeing these make me want to go back!

Did you see my other posts about Rome?

Rome part 1

Vatican Museums and St Peter’s Basilica

Colosseum and Roman Forum

Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and Spanish Steps

Where we stayed and ate in Rome

I cannot wait to go back to this beautiful city! Next time I’d go when it was slightly warmer but not high season to be able to take advantage of lighter nights and outdoor cafes. Perhaps May or late September. That said, I would definitely recommend a visit in December, because the city isn’t too busy and hotel rates are reasonable.

Have you ever been to Rome?

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5 things I learned whilst I was out of work

Hand writing list with a laptop in the background. Text: "Lessons learnt whilst being out of work"Being out of work was not a fun experience for me. Not that unemployment should be fun. But I had a decent pay out so I wasn’t poor, and I have friends and family around me for company, so it could have been a good time, I guess.

My own brain stopped me from throwing myself into it wholeheartedly; I was very aware that I didn’t know when I would get a new job and therefore my next pay packet, so being sensible was the right way to go.

In all I was “off work” for 14 weeks and 6 days. A quarter of a year! Prior to that I couldn’t have comprehended that amount of time not working. Looking back now, 2.5 weeks into my new job, it doesn’t seem like I was off for that long. I didn’t really do anything of value or substance.

I did, however, learn a few things. In no particular order, here they are:

1 – I love going bra-less

I’ve never been troubled by bras. I don’t have huge mammaries so support isn’t an issue. I don’t get back pain. I don’t get straps cutting into me. My size is well catered for in the major high street shop, so I don’t have to spend a month’s mortgage payment on a new boulder holder. But when I didn’t have to wear a bra (and when I say “have to”, I mean based on society’s demands and norms for a woman) it was wonderful.

The advent of autumn meant digging my fluffy jumpers out of hibernation and, let me tell you, a soft fluffy knit against a bare nipple is a delight! I wore a bra as little as possible during those 14 weeks. It’s only now, being part of the rat race that demands a certain level of underwear, that I realise how fucking annoying bras are.

2 – Monday blues exist even without a job

You’d think the one benefit of being out of work would be not having to get up for work on a Monday. There has to be some advantages to not having a job, right? Actually though, for me, Monday was an ever present reminder that I didn’t have a job to go to. After a weekend with the husband the house felt quite empty when he left for work, friends were bemoaning being back in the office after 2 days off, and I was embarking on another week of no-one wanting to employ me. Sounds dramatic but Monday was the worst day of the week for me. Ironically, in my new job, I’m currently excited to go to work on Monday. Long may that last!

3 – I hate housework

I’ve always known this, really. I’m no Mrs Hinch! But when you’re working it’s easy to say “I’m too tired to do housework”, or “I deserve two days off after a week at work”. I had all the time in the world to clean our house top to bottom, but I just find it so unsatisfying. I believe a house is for living in, not to be a show home. I did do home improvements, as I said I intended to in my to-do list, but they were more around home improvements than Zoflora! Don’t get me wrong, we don’t live in a stinky hovel, but anyone who does housework “for fun” is barking mad, if you ask me.

4 – I can pass ridiculous amounts of time on the internet

I’m not much of a TV person, really. I enjoy watching it, but wouldn’t think to put it on when I’m at home alone. Similarly with music; I love listening to it but I don’t think to put the radio on or play CDs. I’m quite happy just bumbling along and keeping myself occupied. There’s always something to look at on the internet – be it losing hours debating with strangers on Twitter, scrolling oodles of photos on Instagram or playing a-bit-crap-but-super-addictive games. Occasionally I’d choose to read a book instead, and feel great about it, but mostly the lure of absolute shite on the WWW was too much to ignore. Bit pathetic really.

5 – I need to work

A conclusion from points 3 and 4, I’m not great at being off work. I’m not rubbish, I wasn’t climbing the walls or anything (apart from the odd bad day where I despaired for my future). But I don’t know how people can not work. I don’t mean those who have no choice; through illness or parenting or the like. But people who are affluent and don’t need the money. Lottery winners, for example. I don’t know, maybe it’s different when you have money and no worries about where your next pay packet is coming from. Perhaps you can fill your life with hobbies and lunches and stuff.

I just felt my brain was starting to decay, my social skills were diminishing, and I had no purpose. I’m not saying you need a job to feel worthwhile, Of course you don’t. But, for me, work has always pretty much been a constant for me. And without it I felt a little bit lost.

So, there you have it! Five deep and meaningful (!!) insights into my jobless life. Let’s hope I don’t revisit redundancy-town any time soon!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Athens. Not pretty, but pretty awesome!

When we first decided to go to Athens, we hadn’t booked to go to Rome. Bear with me here! The appeal of Athens was the ancient history and the architecture. It would be somewhere quite different to other destinations we’ve visited.

Then we went to Rome for my 40th birthday and soaked up all the ancient history when we visited the Vatican Museums and St Peters Basilica.

We witnessed amazing architecture at the Roman Forum and the Colosseum.

And, all of a sudden, we were worried that Athens might be a little bit samey. Call me a heathen, if you like, but you can have too much of a good thing. Temple fatigue is a thing, as we found out on our trip to Penang in Malaysia. You stop appreciating the beauty and detail if you see too many too quickly. We didn’t want to not appreciate Athens.

We needn’t have worried. Athens is a great destination in its own right and there was plenty to fill our 2.5 days there.

After the initial not so good first impression, we woke up on the Sunday morning raring to explore.

Changing of the Guards at Syntagma Square

Syntagma Square is home to the Hellenic Parliament building, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The tomb is s guarded by two Evzone soldiers, and a changing of the guard ceremony happens every hour. Each Sunday morning at 11am there is also a much larger changing of the guards ceremony and procession. The road is closed and crowds gather to watch the spectacle.

Every step made by the Evzone guards is monitored by a military official who walks alongside them (you can see him below, in the blue beret). At first we thought he was there to keep the crowds back, but then we noticed him looking at the height and angle of their steps.

It’s worth getting there slightly early to grab a good spot, or do as I did and wheedle your way opportunistically through throngs of people. Seriously though, if you want to see the actual Changing of the Guard on the square rather than just the procession, get your shit together and don’t arrive at 10.55am like we did.

Hop On Hop Off bus tour

I’ve said it before, many times, if I’m on a city break and there’s a bus tour then I’m all over it. Such a good way to see the highlights of a city and choose when and where you want to spend more time. Most cities will have different bus operators vying for business. Where possible we usually go for the red City Sightseeing buses because we’ve used them on multiple occasions and always been happy. They’re reasonably priced and the commentary (available through provided earphones in multiple languages) is always good too. Athens was no exception; we paid 25 euros for a ticket which included one day free (48 hours from time of purchase) and both the city and beach routes. The city route covers the obvious tourist attractions, while the beach route takes you out to the Athenian Riviera for sea views and sandy stops. We chose to stay on for a full loop of the bus tour, to get our bearings, then hopped on and off later for places we wanted to revisit.

Plaka district and Roman Agora

Athens is split up into multiple different districts, which have their own characteristics. We were staying steps away from the Plaka and Monistiraki districts. Plaka is renowned for being picturesque with lots of restaurants and shops to browse. After completing the City sightseeing bus tour, which we started and ended in Syntagma Square, we wandered through Plaka. Here we stopped for pictures of the Agora, not bothering to go inside, with a view to heading back to Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of the Zeus which we’d seen on the bus tour.

We didn’t realise at the time that the Agora was included in the Rome Pass we later bought. That said, the pictures were pretty good from outside.

Then we had a Plaka pit stop for wine and ice cream (me) and beer and cheese pie (husband), before heading off on the next part of our sightseeing adventure.

Arch of Hadrian

One of the things I find crazy about cities like Rome and Athens is the history that just pops up in the middle of the city. Hadrian’s Arch is right by a busy junction of a main road, and it’s just there. There is no cost to view the attraction.

200 metres walk away is the entrance to the Temple of Zeus. This costs 6 euros (well worth it) or is part of the 30 euro city pass which is valid for 5 days and 7 attractions. Bearing in mind that entrance to the Acropolis is 20 euros, you only need to do 3 sites (including Acropolis) to make this worthwhile.

Temple of Zeus

This place blew me away. Maybe because it was my first time up and personal with Greek columns and ruins. Maybe because it was there I realised that columns are built in sections because we saw one that had fallen and disintegrated into its original pieces (who knew?) Maybe because I’m an excitable sausage who wants to see everything in the world. But it was fab. You know something is good when you take so many photos of the same thing. Here are a few.

Panathenaic Stadium

Because of the aforementioned excitable sausageness, and FOMO, I suggested we walk the “short distance” from the Temple of Zeus round to the Panathenaic Stadium. We’d passed it earlier in the day, on the open top bus tour, so I knew it wasn’t very far. Everything feels longer in 30 degree searing heat though! The Stadium hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, and is the only stadium in the world made of marble. Honestly though, it was a bit underwhelming. We didn’t bother to go in (it wasn’t included in our city pass and didn’t seem worthy of shelling out extra cash for). But at least I can say I’ve seen it!

The Acropolis

We’d decided to do the Acropolis on the second day, getting there early to avoid the heat and the crowds. You can walk up to it, but it’s on a hill and again it was scorching hot, so we used our hop on hop off bus ticket to go as far as we could. There was still a steep incline to the entrance, and the marble tiles were quite slippy underfoot.

I always thought the Acropolis was the temple on the hill. It wasn’t until we started researching that I realised the Acropolis is the hill itself; the area. The main large temple is the Parthenon. There is also the Temple of Athena and Erechthion on the same site, once you’ve passed through the grand columned entrance.

Because of its elevated position you can see the Acropolis from many areas of the city. Here it is seen from the Temple of Zeus.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

This stone stepped theatre is built into the side of the Acropolis hill. It has been renovated in recent years and you can see modern lighting rigs and speakers as it’s used for concerts, but it’s still very impressive. You can’t walk into the attraction, it can only be seen from a viewing platform, but there is no cost and it’s well worth a stop. As with most of the ancient ruins we saw, the real amazement comes when you remember just how old they are, and how they were constructed without modern tools or machinery.

The Parthenon, Temple of Athena and Erechthion

The first thing I noticed as I walked towards the Parthenon was the proliferation of scaffolding. You don’t see that on tour operator pictures! There is an ongoing, lengthy and expensive restoration project going on to save the integrity of the building. Some of the columns are weak and damaged. Previous restoration work in the mid 20th century, actually made the situation worse. Parts of the area, therefore, are quite the building site, with loud and noisy drills and work people, plus temporary project office buildings dotted around. And the site was crawling with visitors – I can’t imagine how busy it must be in high season. It was this part of our trip that contributed in some way to my previous rant about tourists. Such an amazing piece of architecture and history, yet for some people just a backdrop for their own photoshoot. Infuriating.

Also on the site are the Temple of Athena and the Erecthieon, both dating back to around 400 B.C. and of course the views across the city are pretty great too!

Hop on hop off bus tour – beach route

As I mentioned earlier in the post, the red Citysightseeing bus operates two tours – the city one which we’d done on Sunday, and the beach one which cost just an extra 5 euros. For a change of pace we took the beach tour on Monday afternoon. There wasn’t lots to see, it’s more useful if you actually want to get off at one of the multiple beaches, but with the route only running every hour we decided to just do a loop for some sea air and sea views, before heading back to the city for a late lunch.

Ancient Agora and The Temple of Hephaestus

Not to be confused with the earlier mentioned Roman Agora, which was built later, the Ancient Agora is a vast area which would have been a central point within Ancient Greece. Municipal buildings, commercial and residential dwellings would have sat alongside each other. There are excavated drainage channels, statues and pots.

The most impressive structure inside the Agora is the Temple of Hephaestus; which remains largely as built. It’s incredibly well-preserved because it was in use from the 7th century until 1894, although building started in the mid 400 BC years. Again such craftsmanship and accuracy for the time is hard to fathom, and today it sits in the middle of a more modern Athens which has grown around it. Amazing.

Also in the Agora is the Church of the Holy Apostles, which can be dated back to the 10th century.

Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens

On our last morning, before heading off to the airport, I went into the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens, which was right opposite our hotel. Although it looks quite new, construction started in 1842 and finished in 1862 (which is new, by Ancient Greek standards!) While the outside is fairly minimal in sleek white marble, inside is quite opulent, with beautiful painted domes.

So why isn’t Athens pretty?

I said this in the title of this post, and feel it deserves more explanation. There are parts of Athens that are picturesque, and certainly lots to see. But overall, as a city, it’s not beautiful. The effects of the financial problems can be seen in many areas of the city, with shops closed down and shutters vandalised. The contrast was clear looking out from our hotel – directly in front was the Acropolis, to the right was the Metropolitan Cathedral, but the left was a building which, at one point, would have been beautiful, but now looks burnt out, abandoned, and covered in parts in safety netting.

By saying Athens isn’t pretty I’m not detracting from it in anyway. It’s a wonderful place to visit and I would recommend it. Just don’t expect the pretty architecture of Prague, or the refined elegance of Nice, for example. But if you like ancient history, ancient ruins and good food, then it’s definitely up your street!

Have you ever been to Athens? Would you like to? Let me know in the comments!

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Skulls aren’t just for Halloween!

Skulls are an integral part of Halloween decorations. Of course pumpkins are the main feature associated with Halloween, but with the date being celebrated with horror and gore, dead bodies and bones are also part and parcel of many films, parties and dsplays.

We don’t decorate our home for Halloween anymore. We used to, in the early days of living in the flat. We’d have small Halloween parties which would usually end in absolute carnage, and I used to love buying fake cobwebs, spiders, skeletons and the like.

I’d hoped, when we moved to our house, that we’d get Trick or Treaters. But we’re tucked away in a hidden corner of a quiet cul de sac with no passing traffic, so my dream of doling out sweets to cute little kids was not to be!

Because of that, and the fact we no longer have parties (I don’t think our livers could take it!) I don’t bother with decorating the house for Halloween anymore. I don’t even bother with pumpkins – they’re just so messy.

I do sometimes cook something Halloween themed – you can see my recipe for eyeball meatballs here.

But skulls, on the other hand, are part of our every day decor! The husband loves skull imagery; it’s very prevalent on the rock scene, and the biking scene too. He has loads of t-shirts with skulls on, mugs, hoodies and jewellery.

Here’s a couple of examples that are in our house all day every day – not just for Halloween!

This skull print was a gift the husband received for Christmas last year. It sits perfectly on his record player cabinet, and conveniently hides the door to the meter cupboard too!

Outside, another of the husband’s gifts, this time from his birthday. This isn’t really a threat to anyone, as it’s on the inside fence of our back garden. We can see it from the lounge and it always makes me smile!

The latest addition is this glass skull from Homesense. It’s hollow with a sprayed enamel finish and I bought it with the intention of filling it with fairy lights and using it as a lamp. It doesn’t throw out a lot of light due to the enamel coating, but it does look very cool! We haven’t found a permanent home for it yet, but it will definitely be around all year through.

I know we have other stuff that we still haven’t unpacked from the move, including skull ornaments and a Salvador Dali print. It’s fair to say it’s a metaphorical and literal pattern in our home!

Do you have any particular themes in your home? Or keep occasion decorations up year round? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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People with cancer do not “lose the battle”

Female hands holding a peach rose, with text the cancer "battle"

Last night, as we settled into bed, we saw the terribly sad news that a friend of ours had passed away. Chris had cancer. He died because of cancer.

But cancer did not beat Chris, and he didn’t lose the battle.

Sure, it’s only terminology, just words. But for the people left behind, experiencing the death and pain and emptiness, it’s important. At least it was to me, when my Dad died. I hate that anyone might think my Dad “lost”. That he didn’t fight hard enough, or long enough.

I feel the same now, talking about Chris.

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