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22. Wanderlust Enthusiast. General Rambler.

Monday 11 April 2016

Lake Loving in Lago D'Orta, Italy

Italy is one of the best places on the planet. From the food to the wine to the architecture and history, it's beauty is unparalleled. I sometimes forget that there's an entire country beyond the village where my grandparents grew up. Despite the many summers I spent roaming the Sicilian countryside with my cousins, I've only made it to the mainland once before, so when an invitation to a family wedding on of the lakes arrived, it was more than welcome (and also my mum was maid of honour and my cousin was a bridesmaid).

Situated about an hours drive from Milan and 45 minutes from the Swiss boarder lies Lago d'Orta San Giulio (Lake Orta in English). It's easy to see why so may in love with the lakes of north Italy, set to a backdrop of the snow tipped Alps, the town is post card pretty. 

Exploring the town didn't take long, but you could easily spend days hopping from restaurant to restaurant, eating and drinking. Favourites included Ristorante Venus situated right on the water front. The tables outside are glorious in the sunshine and a bottle of prosecco comes in at a whopping 17. As well as the wedding, whilst away we also celebrated my mum's 50th and completely took over a little restaurant a short walk from the main square called Pizzeria La Campagna. The food is amazing. Large pizzas, flavourful pasta dishes and plenty of seafood made this place so good, we went twice. The staff are also unbelievably friendly, and didn't mind too much when we returned a pepper grinder that had 'accidentally' left the restaurant with us...

The lake even boasts a Michelin star restaurant that, although we didn't make it to, everyone raves about. Well worth checking out if you're in town for a special occasion (even if that occasion is simply that you are not in the office).

The wedding reception was held at the beautiful Hotel San Rocco. Views of the lake, killer espresso martinis and bridal suit like nothing I've ever seen (I'm 22 and single, it's the only bridal suit I've ever seen) made it a dream wedding location. The staff also couldn't be faulted and the menu for the dinner was mouth watering... And that's coming from a vegetarian at an Italian wedding. For a little luxury, this is the place to stay. In the summer months the pool overlooking the lake would completely clog my Instagram feed and I'd live in the little outdoor garden. 

We stayed closer to the main square in a quirky hotel called Hotel Aracoeli. The rooms were kitsch, with open plan shower/bedroom and little bathrooms with a toilet and sink for more privacy. Admittedly, this wasn't so great. I was sharing a room with my brother and cousin, so we were relegated to the balcony or bathroom whenever one of the others wanted to shower, but in the grand scheme of things it wasn't a huge issue. The rooms themselves were spacious, the beds were extremely comfortable and the balconies over look the square which is perfect if, like me, you love people watching. Breakfast at the Aracoeli is a foodie dream come true. Cakes, strudels, cheeses, yogurts, cereals, Italian coffee, eggs, meats, breads and fruits were available fresh every single morning. Porridge at my desk in my London office will simply never be able to compete!  

In terms of things to do besides eat and drink, there isn't a lot. Walks around the lake are strongly recommended, but there isn't a lot in the means of nightlife (although I would make an educated guess that in the summer, the bars are open much later). You can get a boat over to Isla San Guilio or further afield to a smaller town about an hour across the lake. Similarly, hiring a car at the airport is easy and Milan is only an hours drive away. The town does offer plenty of cute antique and clothes shops you can browse through and visiting Luca at 'Il Buongastio' is a must. This authentic food and drink shops sells everything from cheese and meats to 100 year old balsamic vinegar (the 15 year old one is bomb) to Italian liquors. Pop in for tasters of parmigiano, drops if balsamic goodness and shots of grappa and hazelnut liquor, leave with gifts for people who don't even need presents (or a couple of treats for yourself).

As a long weekend getaway or a week long stint in the summer, Lake Orta is offically a Hayley Approved* place to visit. Since it isn't as well known as some of the other lakes *cough* Como *cough* being there won't cost you an arm and leg. 



PS: Hugest congratulations to the lovely Pav and Paul who tied the knot. Thank you so, so much for allowing me to be a part of your special day. It was beautiful. 

Tuesday 8 March 2016

International Women's Day 2016

In case you've been off the internet (or under a rock), today is International Women's Day. I'm a big fan of International Women's Day. I think it's important. It's important the way Black History Month and Pride are important. It gives us a chance to look back and celebrate how far we've come, whilst understanding how far we still have to go. And it provides perfect opportunity to inspire & celebrate the women around us. Which frankly, we don't do enough.

If you're still not sold that today is important, here's a few facts for you.
* 50% of all sexual assault world wide happens to girls under the age of 15

  • 66 million girls are out of school globally.
  • Women make up two thirds of the illiterate adult population.
  • In 2013 the statistic stood that if all women were allowed access to contraception, 100,000 deaths due to child birth could be prevent each year. As it is, 800 women die daily due to child birth.
  • Women are also more likely to be slut shamed and victim blamed than our male counterparts. 

So yes, to me, IWD is a big deal. And it should be. It's been inspiring seeing how the world reacted today. From brands to celebrities to charities. I was expecting lots more angry 'meninisits'* and trolls, screaming across the web 'Oh how unfair and unjust! A day JUST FOR WOMEN. How dare they? What do they think, that they're vaginas make them special? Please. Somebody think of the men!' But, from what I could see, there were less hate than last year. Or perhaps it just felt that way, because maybe, just maybe, the wider world is starting to see that whilst equality has come far, were still not quite there.

You needn't look any further than the comments on Instagram and Twitter to see the gap in equality. Love her, loathe her or nothing-at-all her, Kim Kardashian's selfies (with, or more recently, without) clothes never fail to cause a stir. Following yesterday's  post and a whole host of people protesting how she simply MUST put her clothes back on, Kim responded how only Kim could. She posted another snap of her undeniably rocking body sans any clothing with the caption '#liberated'. Good for you, Kimmy K. Zac Efron and The Rock are currently filming the new Baywatch movie, and are (quite rightly) proudly posting pics of their buffer-than-usual physiques. I'm yet to see a single person tell them to pop their clothes back on, so why was everyone so quick to shout at Kim? Is it because she's a mother? David Beckham is father and yet the world swiftly swoons whenever he removes his clothes, so please don't play the parental card with me.

Up until last year, women's breasts were treated as a commodity in the countries biggest selling family newspaper. I know to some, I may come across hypocritical, supporting a campaign to get the naked female body out of the paper but supporting Mrs Kardashian-West as she takes over the world naked selfie at a time. What a human being chooses to do with their body is their own provocative. I stand by the fact that what I disliked about Page 3 was the waste which the female form was used. Day in and day out The Sun used the female body to help it sell, whilst doing very little to represent women fairly across the board. When Jessica Ennis won gold at the London only pics, she didn't get as much page space as that day's Page 3 girl. It spoke volumes about what women are worth in our press. When Kim Kardashian gets her kit off, it's different. I see a women who is control of her image and the image of the women around her. She chooses when and how. She reclaims herself from the Kim Kardashian who got famous because someone decided to leak her sextape without her consent (which, FYI, counts as sexual harassment and possibly as a hate crime). It's subtle, but it's different.

The recent press that singer Kesha and sports newscaster Erin Andrews have been receiving is another nod to how much more we have to gain. Kesha is locked into recording contract with the guy who abused her, thanks to a judge ruling in favour of Sony. Meanwhile, Erin has had to fight tooth and nail for her compensation payout of $55 million following footage secretly recorded of her naked being leaked. In Erin's case, it was even suggested in court that the footage 'didn't exactly damage her career' and in Kesha's... We can't even talk about the mountain of things that are wrong with the ruling of Kesha's case. My heart fucking breaks.

There are still countries where being born a girl is seen as a dishonour and where marriage is more important than education. We still have (predominantly male) governments making decisions for female bodies. Contraception can be harder to get hold of than cocaine** and abortions are still illegal in certain countries. In some places, a woman will still be denied her right to an abortion even if the pregnancy was caused by rape. There are no laws like that for the male body.

I live in 21st century Britain, I cannot imagine having to pay for my pill, although my tampons are taxed for being a 'luxury' and I'm relatively sure only a man would decide that tampons are luxurious. Nor can I imagine being told I have to give birth to a child conceived out of what undoubtedly, would be the worst and most harrowing experience of my life. My injustices are having my arse grabbed by a drunk bloke in a nightclub or being cat called in the street. It's the message my parents engrained into me but not into my brother, that says walking alone at night is absolutely never ok. I am thankful everyday that I was allowed the same education to my male peers. I fight for feminism (or 'equality' as some would call it) because females else where are still not on the same playing field. But it doesn't mean that we have equality here in UK. The inequalities are different and vary on the scale of severity, but they are inequalities all the same.

International women's day does not mean that for the other 364/5 (since it is a leap year) days of the year, these issues go away. Nor does it mean that are issues only worth addressing annually. Instead, IWD is here to highlight, educate and empower. It's here to connect us.

For one day out of the year, women aren't pitted against each other. We're stronger when we work together, ladies.

And before anybody asks, International Men's Day is on November 19th.

*I question if we can really count meninism as a thing.

Saturday 27 February 2016

India 2016: Yoga Loving

It feels as though recently, yoga has become a thing for the girls of Instagram. Contorting their bodies into figures of eight, whilst balancing on their heads, perfectly filtered with Valencia. But of course, it's so much more than that. With a history spanning across centuries and religions, these days yoga is, to me at least, respite from modern life.

When I was away last year, I decided that in 2016 I wanted to visit India. Mum had been on about doing a yoga retreat for her 50th for ages and had always said I could tag along. We looked at a few  different ones. Ones in Ibiza and Italy and Bali, but couldn't settle on one we really liked. Then a client handed mum a card for a yoga retreat in Kerala, South India and before we could say 'Om' it was booked.

Run by the fabulous Elisa Williams and set in stunning north Kerala, our group of 21 took over the whole resort. Naturally, we were a little bit apprehensive as we set off. Was it going to be a week of head stands and wheels (neither of which I can do) and would there be food that was actually edible? Would it be all green smoothies and power juices? Would we get the dreaded Dheli belly? Mum and I had no idea what to expect.

As with most things, we really shouldn't have worried. Our group ranged from complete beginners to the uber bendy, and Elisa was able to create fun, dynamic classes that offered something for us all.  One of the ladies had recently undergone surgery following an accident last year, but she still took part in almost all of the classes, adapting where necessary. We also shouldn't have worried about the food. It's been amazing. Freshly made curries and dals, grilled veg and plenty of fish (for mum, not me), plus a Keralan breakfast is something to be marvelled at. A large pancake type of thing made with rice flour (called a 'Dorsa' but I've definitely spelt that wrong) topped with a fried egg and chillies... Foolishly, I thought I'd lose weight this trip. I haven't stepped on scales yet, but I would assume I was wrong.

Our first class would start at around 8am and last for approximately two and a half hours. Each day was different and (with a little assistance) I managed both a wheel and headstand by the final practice. These classes started slow and built up before coming to a cooling down period of rest at the end. Each person was catered for. Elisa always clearly explained the various levels that you could take each pose to and encouraged us to listen to our bodies. You could be practising for 15 years and still find that on some days, your body will scream at you to keep it simple. That's life.

We would the have the days to ourselves, to venture into the nearby towns or make the most of the pool and beach, before our evening classes began at 6pm. These were much less physical, but required a more mental kind of strength. I rapidly discovered that meditation was absolutely NOT something that came to me naturally and initially branded these sessions as 'dull'. Obviouly, they were in no way dull, I just have an untrained mind. Elisa would take us through guided meditation, which by the end of the week I was much better at following. The evening sessions also included plenty of 'yin' style poses (Yin is a type of yoga where poses are held for much longer, allowing the body to work into the connective tissues and fascias around the body). I'll be honest, I would float out of evening classes and could have gone straight to bed following them.  I suddenly understand why so many people rave about the benefits of meditation to ones mental health. There's nothing like feeling like your own oasis of calm.

More people should do yoga. More people should meditate. More people should do things just beyond their comfort zones. I honestly thought I'd hate yoga before I tried it. Mum had been on at me for ages to join her at one of the classes at the studio where she went, but I always argued against it. What would someone who talks as much as me do with a hour's worth of silence?

Little did I know. Yoga offered me a chance to silence my racing mind, space to work out answers to questions that puzzled me; a place to retreat to when life gets too much.

I am leaving Kerala inspired, humbled and absolutely dreading my commute come Tuesday...

But at least I'll have my mat.


Friday 19 February 2016

New Adventures Begin

Back in October, I bagged myself a job. Not just any job, but my dream job doing social media for a big charity in London. Honestly? I didn't actually think I would get it. I applied on a whim because I felt so shit having come back from South America and hated waitressing... In my head, I was half way to Australia on my working holiday visa.

So when the call came and they offered my the job, apart from being utterly gobsmacked and totally excited, I couldn't help but suddenly feel a little stuck. How was I ever going to quench my travel thirst whilst holding down a full time job? Was this it now? Was I to live out the rest of my days, mindlessly commuting in and out of London? Because, frankly, I'd rather die (or maybe something less dramatic) than battle my commute for the next 40 years.

No, no. Instead, to show off my new found move into adulthood and a proper 9-5, I agreed to go on as many holidays as my annual leave would allow.

Which explains why I am currently writing this from the porch of a beachside bungalow, in Kerala, India. As an early birthday celebration for herself, my mum has brought me with her on a yoga retreat. I cannot wait to throw myself into intensive yoga, lounging in the sun and exploring as much of this beautiful region as I possibly can. Stay tuned.

Also coming up in 2016: Vegas, Italy and Rhodes. Who said a real job was a ball and chain?


Monday 24 August 2015

Hayley in Wanderlust: San Diego, Las Vegas and Sacramento

My final week saw me leave behind the chaotic beauty of Latin America and head north for a whistle stop tour of the USA's West Coast.

It has to be said, after 4 months of arriving to new places on my own, walking through arrivals at LAX and having my two childhood best friends (plus one of my surrogate Mothers and Nan) waiting for me was a pretty special feeling. Following a three hour drive, and a shower and many girly squeals of excitement dinner and cocktails at The Cheesecake Factory was the best way to kick start my final week.

On the Thursday, we headed to Pacific Beach for a day in the sun. Having been in Costa Rica for a month, my tan was coming along nicely, but my friends aren't as passionate about sunbathing as I am. So tanning quickly turned into tacos and margaritas at Fat Fish Cantina Grill. We were there during happy hour, so fish tacos were only $2 and a house margarita was something like $3.50. This set up us nicely to move on to Baja Beach Club, where Mega Margarita's were $16.50 and contained 4 margaritas in each one. We drunk three each, ended up making friends with an entire family and woke up as living proof that tequila is the original dirty, rotten scoundrel.

We were, however, unable to bask in our hangovers for too long though, as it was time for the drive to Las Vegas!
I love Vegas. We went at 16 whilst staying with Chelsea, and I was crazy about it then. Now, at 22, Vegas held so many more possibilities and I was going to get to experience them with my oldest friends in the universe. Doubly exciting was the fact that one of the guys I met in Valpariso (Chile) was also in town and I ended up bumping into him in the middle of the dance floor at Drais Nightclub, located at The Cromwell Hotel. He lives in Australia and I live in the UK and yet, through the magic of travelling, we ended up not even a metre away from each other. How I ever thought I'd make no new friends whilst away is beyond me!

We stayed at Caesars Palaces, which is just incredible. I will never cease to be awe struck by the size of Vegas hotels. Caesars is also home to Omnia nightclub, where the likes of Calvin Harris, Afrojack and Above & Beyond are residents. We caught Above & Beyond on the Sunday night and they amazing. Not that any of nightclubs put on a crap night. Drai's opens up into a large outdoor area with a pool that has a pretty mind blowing view of Caesars after dark. As much as Vegas is expensive, sourcing out the club promoters is easy and getting on the guestlists gives you free or discounted entry to the clubs themselves, which comes in handy. Especially when three jagerbombs, a long island ice tea and two vodka lemonades will set you back $106. Ouch.

Should also just mention that if you're in Vegas you should just go ahead and have a meal at Tao, in the Venetian. The food is amazing, and all things considered, not that pricey.

From Vegas, it was a short flight up to Modesto to visit my cousin and his wife, who live out there (I swear I'm not envious in the slightest). We visited what I am told is one of Modesto's only two bars, eating cheese and catching up. The following morning, we set off to Sacramento for the California State Fair. As someone who grew up in a sleepy village in South East England, I have always viewed the concept of a State Fair as a place where food is unhealthy, vegetables are the size of buildings and up and coming bands play (ie: the Jonas Brothers in 2008). To be honest, I wasn't that far off. I didn't see any giant vegetables, but there were plenty of prize winning cows and goats, stands that sold any deep fried any food item you could think of (including Oreos and cookie dough) and wine slushies. The slushies were delicious. There was also a huge fairground with rides brought in from Michael Jackson's Neverland (bit strange) and plenty of stools selling a multitude of crap.
I loved it!

My visit was a mere 36 hours long, but I got to tick another new place off my list before flying back to San Diego for my very last night.

Then, that was it. I found myself at LAX, boarding my flight back to London struggling to believe that it had all come to an end. I was not flying somewhere new, or even somewhere sunny! The 19 weeks that had once stretched endlessly infront of me had caught up to me. A blur of amazing places I'd seen and people I'd met, a long collage of  new memories.
My dream was over; but what a dream it was.

- xo

Sunday 16 August 2015

Hayley in Wanderlust: Manuel Antonio & Uvita


In the name of being a true 'dithery bollocks' (a term lovingly coined by my parents), I found myself heading back to Quepos and Manuel Antonio. This 'retracing of my steps' happened for a few reasons, Firstly, the weather had been so bad along the Caribbean coast that the roads were all over the place and I found myself not wanting to spend any time in the rain and the grey (a nasty side effect of being English). Secondly, Silvia and Olivia, the two girls from my G Adventure's tour, were going to be there and this was going to be our last chance to see each other before we were all back in Europe. Thirdly, I wanted to see a mother loving sloth and according to everyone I'd met, this was the place to see one.

Three Toed Sloth
So I finally made it inside the national park. Entry is $16 and we paid an extra $20 to have a certified guide take us on a tour and point out plenty of animals. WORTH. THE. DOLLAR.
Not only did I get to see Capuchin Monkeys, Howler Monkeys, various types of Grasshopper, Land Crabs, a Vine Snake and (sickeningly) a collection of Spiders, but I also got to see both type of sloth.
It was truly magical and I would just like to thank the baby Jesus and anyone who ate at the TGI Friday's in High Wycombe between August 2014 and March 2015 for the opportunity. The money you paid for your food paid my wages which created this memory for me. Amen.

Beach inside Manuel Antonio National Park

(I'm still not over it)

It's also worth noting that the beaches inside the park are absolutely gorgeous and well worth the entrance fee. Unlike a lot of the beaches along the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, the waters here are perfect for swimming and terrible for surfing. Just be careful that Capuchin and Raccoons don't try to steal your sun cream/food/life.

Once I'd recovered from Sloth-mania, it was time to head further down the coast to the tiny little beach town of Uvita. By this stage of my travels, I'd overcome the fear of turning up some place new without having booked any accommodation, and wandered off in search of 'Flutterby House' hostel. You can only book three days in advance, otherwise you have to chance it and turn up, hoping they've got room for you. Thankfully (especially with it being rainy season) they had room for me. The place is incredible. All of the dorms and private rooms are up in treehouses, you sleep under mosquito nets and the place runs of eco-friendly values. It's also a mere 3 minute walk to the beautiful beaches inside the Marino Ballena National Park.The place has one of the longest whale seasons in the world, and if you have $75 spare (I didn't), you can spend the day on a boat trying to spot them.
Beach inside Marina Ballena National Park

In town, there is a bar and restaurant called 'Roadshack' and Saturday night is Reggae night, (I've leart that they love a Reggae night in Costa Rica), which is where the girls and I spent our last night. I wish I could comment on drink prices, but I can't. I was drunk.

Before I knew it, I was back on the bus and heading back to San Jose ready to catch my flight as my month in Paradise drew to a close.

I blinked, and my little Latin American dream was over.
Just one week left to go.


Thursday 6 August 2015

Hayley in Wanderlust: The Nicoya Peninsula

The Nicoya Peninsula, I have decided, is where I want to be laid to rest… You know, without getting all morbid and stuff. The place is a slice of sun drenched heaven, and I want to spend the rest of my days there. Literally, who needs the city when you can wake up in paradise?

I took the taxi boat directly from Jaco, it was pricey, at $40 and worth it for the time it saved me, but I'd still rather not discussing parting with so much of my now dwindling budget.

Montezuma is glorious. I stayed at the 'Downtown Montezuma Hostel' which is run by a lovely lady called Elena. It's $10 a night for the dorm and there's pancakes in the morning. Perfect. It's another one of those fab hostels where you get to know all of the other guests and travelling on your own is made to feel like the easiet thing in the universe. It's also a mere two minute walk from the beach, which isn't hard, since almost everywhere in Montezuma is a mere two minutes from the beach. The place isn't very big.

I stayed a week. In South America, spending a week to 10 days somewhere wasn't an issue as I had plenty of time and it didn't tend to mean giving up seeing somewhere else. Out here, where I only have four weeks and spending a week somewhere does mean compromising going somewhere else… I had really wanted to go to Nicaragua. It's cheaper than Costa Rica and would have enabled me to say that I'd been to 10 countries overall.
I'm ending on 9, so can't exactly complain. I know, I know, I was being greedy.
I don't regret it though, Montezuma is incredible and besides sunning myself on the beach there are plenty of waterfalls to visit (took me a week to visit them, mind) as well as the 35 minute beach front walk to the gorgeous Playa Grande. A beach fresh out of a catalog. The walk there takes your through jungle and little beach coves, each one different from the last. One beach in particular is named 'Red Beach' after the red coloured rocks that reside there. It is here that, if you scramble over some rocks, you can find a little set of water falls with small pools you can paddle in. It's also where I saw an entire troop of Capuchin Monkeys swing on by.

Have I mentioned that I love it here?

From Montezuma (you know, once I finally left) I made my way to Santa Teresa on the other side of the peninsula. Santa Teresa is essentially one road with lots of hostels, hotels and restaurants coming off it. I stayed at 'Hostel 7' which was friendly enough, but Lord, I have never been so sweaty at night. The rooms are sweltering. A friend had recommended that whilst here I go up to the hotel 'Vista de Olas' to use their infinity pool and watch the sunset. Sadly, on the day I went the sky was overcast, so it wasn't so much of a sunset as it was a chance to watch the sky change colour. It was amazing. The view was utterly unreal, just shoreline and jungle as far as they eye could see. It was a pricier backpacker activity, probably costing me about $25 overall. That included that $16 you have to put behind the bar on a tab upon arrival, but with that $16 I got 3 beers and a cocktail - so it was (as always) money well spent.

Despite having not really done a lot, this part of Costa Rica totally has my heart and I'll be back. It opened me up to the idea of doing a work exchange and being able to spend some real time here without worrying too heavily on how expensive it all is. Almost everyone I met was on some sort of placement and I couldn't help but be super envious.

Looks like I know how I'll be escaping the UK again once I'm back!

- xo