Packing Panic & The Orange County Fair: The California Diaries (Part 1)

It was 7:15 on a blustery summer’s morning, and I was frantically shoving a weatherbeaten banana into a backpack whilst struggling to recall if I had packed enough heart medication to last me a month, and wondering if dyeing my eyebrows 3 shades lighter the night before (without having the foresight to buy a matching eyebrow pencil) was possibly the most arbitrary last-minute decision I’ve ever made.

Note: I understand that “blustery” and “summer” are oxymoronic, however, we are in the United Kingdom here so keep rocking with me.

I’ve concluded that there are two types of people in this world:

1.) People who fly into a packing-related panic just as they’re leaving the house for the airport (regardless of the fact that they printed out a checklist the week before and have had their bags sorted and colour-coded for the last 48 hours.)

2.) Complete liars.

I fall into the former category. Despite having made travel a pretty solid facet of my life over the last 8 years, I still have to jump in the car and belt up before terrifying myself imagining that I’ve left a candle burning, and now the curtains are on fire, and the house is slowly filling up with smoke with Mum and Dad trapped inside (even though Mum’s the one driving, Dad’s in the back seat and I haven’t burned a candle since I was 14.)

So before I embarked upon my 4-week trip to California, I was a wreck. 4 weeks is a significantly long time to be distanced from your home comforts. And California is far away, like, across the planet kind of far. What if people don’t understand my accent and I wear out my voice from trying to imitate Elle Woods? – Should I have packed medicine for that? What if the sun is much stronger over there and just melts my sunglasses right off my face? – Do I need a burns kit? I knew I should’ve invested in those fancy designer shades…

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#GuiriGuide: The Most Mouthwatering (Veggie-Friendly) Mexican Food in Barcelona @ Taquerías Tamarindo

I once read an online article about the last meals chosen by inmates on death row. It detailed how murderers, terrorists and other equally wretched members of society were permitted to choose their final meal before being put to death and committed solely to history. The majority opted for “treat foods” such as lobster tail, steak, fried chicken and desserts such as pecan pie, apple pie, and ice cream. Some forfeited that privilege and died on an empty stomach.

That particular article inspired me to think about what I would like my final meal on Earth to be. After dining at Taquerías Tamarindo yesterday with my husband, I concluded that should one of the gargoyles from the building across the street have come plummeting down towards me and smashed me to smithereens, after demolishing a plate of tacos that tasted like they’d been prepared to perfection on a plancha in Heaven, I’d have certainly met my maker both satisfied and full.

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Visiting Vineyards & Touring The Douro: A Wine-Filled Weekend in Porto, Portugal

I’ve never been into wine. There, I said it. Probably not the most stellar way to kickstart this wine-centric blogpost, but I want to make it very clear that the fact that I can’t remember much about any of the wines we sampled on our vineyard tour in Porto is, in no way, related to the quantity of wine consumed that day.***

***That last sentence was a complete lie.

My dad has always harboured an extensive wine collection in the basement of our family home, and as a child I enjoyed looking at the labels and examining the intricacies of each bottle. I remember once trying to use a vintage Gigondas as a makeshift bat and playing a very risky game of “squash” against our freshly-papered walls. Blessèd be that the tennis ball was a castaway from our then-teething puppy and was virtually bounceless otherwise I can’t say I’d have been released from our basement in time to pursue writing a blog some 15 years later. But that’s neither here nor there…

So, that was pretty much about as far as it went. After spending an entire summer recovering from a gnarly tonsillectomy and being confined to the comfort of the living room sofa to watch The Parent Trap on repeat, I began to feel like I had developed a fairly decent idea of the innermost workings of producing wine – basically, you have a dad, you live in California, and then you accidentally-on-purpose play Cupid and ruin several people’s lives on an impromptu stay in West London. That’s the basic principle of wine…right?

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Follow Me To Annecy: A Day For Lovers in The Pearl Of The French Alps

In the spring of last year, the Gods of travel answered my prayers (in the form of Easyjet having a Europe-wide sale, obviously) so I decided to surprise my then-boyfriend with a weekend getaway to Geneva for his 25th birthday. Neither of us had been there before, and with us both being Easter babies, we both had some time off from work to go somewhere nice for a couple of days. The dirt cheap tickets were also a very welcome bonus.

I consider him to be one of the easiest types of travel buddy because he hasn’t travelled extensively through Europe, which means that nearly everything is a novelty to him. Being a Southern Californian who is used to enormous vehicles, mountainous portions of (alarmingly-)processed food and year-round sunny weather, I concluded that a romantic weekend break in one of the greyest, rainiest and most compact European cities was the obvious choice of host for his birthday celebrations. Is it any wonder he went on to marry me?

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Beach, What? A Summer’s Day Spent at Playa de Bolarque in Almonacid de Zorita

At the dawning of summer, the pace of life in Madrid city slows down dramatically. Small shops put up shutters and leave posters promising their return in a couple of months. Bags of ice go flying off supermarket shelves and street vendors take to peddling bottles of water in place of Coors Light. Construction sites are left deserted and school days are suddenly sliced in half. Why? Because summers in Madrid are excruciatingly hot. And nobody can cope. Despite the fact that Madrid’s turning into an urban inferno has been a recurring event for, yo qué sé, several thousand years, the city itself is still not equipped to withstand the fluctuations within its own climate.

Now, Spain is and always has been known for its glorious weather and its breathtaking costas – you’ve got Brava, Blanca, del Sol, de la Luz, Dorada and so on…

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48-Hour Adfriendture: Dos Días de Maravilla in Cuenca, Spain

This time last year, before the impromptu arrival of frigid winds and unyielding frostbite to our extremities, myself and a group of friends decided to evade the humdrum of inner-city living and escape to Cuenca for a couple of days’ break. Cuenca is a small, Medieval city built by the Moors in the autonomous region of Castilla-La Mancha, located some 140km east of Madrid centre (about 2h30m by bus), that sits on a steep headland at the point at which two deep river gorges meet. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site owing to its wealth of monuments and both religious and secular architecture.

Casas colgadas (lit. Hanging houses) sit precariously on the cliff’s edge, their balconies literally jutting out above the abyss and decorate the famous Cuencan backdrop that features on every postcard, coaster and souvenir tea towel available for sale.

From a photographer’s point of view, it is the ideal place to wander around with your photographic equipment (drone owners, I’m talking to you) and just get lost capturing the city’s evident historical richness.

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Christmas in Cack-alunya: The Squatting Man, The Smiling Log & Other Festive Traditions Explained

Christmastime is, without a shadow of a doubt, my absolute favourite time of year. Despite the fact that Santa-themed decorations start to slowly creep into shop displays around the beginning of November and clash with the odd pumpkin wreath and witch’s hat leftover from Halloween, as soon as December 1st rolls around, I start mulling over the endless whys and wherefores as I binge-watch Home Alone 2. How about we go somewhere tropical for Christmas? Are we even bothering with brussel sprouts this year? Can you die from edible glitter poisoning?

Although I have never spent Christmas Day anywhere other than at home with my family in the U.K., I have had the privilege of experiencing the run-up to the big day in several countries. In 2013 I was in Valencia, then Lisbon in 2014, and now, Catalonia. Having recently relocated to Barcelona, my husband and I have been able to witness first-hand how Catalans typically celebrate the birth of Jesus and, let me tell you, it’s…interesting.

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