Friday, 19 September 2014

Malta and Gozo - August 2014

Not going to lie, I have felt the need to go abroad for a long time. Following my trip to Spain at New Year (check out what I got up to here I have had a huge amount of stress attempting to finish my degree. As did most final year undergraduate me and my best friend from boarding school, Jo (who was also at Reading University with me) decided to book a trip somewhere to celebrate the end of 11 years in education together.

It took us a while to decide where to go. We debated options like Croatia, Lanzarotte, Bosnia, Chile, and Portugal before we eventually settled on...drum roll....Malta. And it has to be one of the best decisions we have ever made.

I have to say...and I will try not to say this too much throughout the blogpost (although that will be difficult), Malta is absolutely beautiful. Everything about it...the views, the architecture, the quaint little cobbled alley ways, the harbours and beaches... And, even though the island is really small, it contains just about anything that you could want to entertain you...which I will go into, a little more here.

Areas of natural beauty

This is one of the main aspects of Malta which attracted us to traveling here in the first place. It has to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever been (I warned you that I wouldn't be able to avoid using the word 'beautiful' for long). Settled deep in the Mediterranean, it is such a southern part of Europe that it is basically Africa and has the dusty, humid heat to prove it. But the difference is, there's water everywhere. All around the island, there are little harbours and inlets, which are refreshingly damp views after you find yourself in the middle of the parched countryside, more inland.

the dead end
One of my favouritest (most favourite? I can't write English I am so excited by the memory) of these natural stunning views, was The Blue Grotto, which we visited on our final day in Malta. Finding it was a bit of a challenge. We were meant to get two buses but we somehow managed to get off at the wrong bus stop which made it absolutely impossible to find our connecting bus. Instead, we became hopelessly lost in the little rural village of Zurieq, wandering around it for about an hour, which included a 1.5 mile stroll down a dead-end. (Please also bear in mind that this was in the hottest part of the day so the temperature was 30+ degrees)

Eventually, just as we were considering returning to our hotel, we spotted a sign that said The Blue Grotto and what followed was a further two hour trek through the town and along various main roads. I kid you not, I was so tired and sunburnt by this time, I did actually have a little lie down next to one of these main roads (I dread to think what the people in the cars driving past thought of us). But we finally located the Blue Grotto, without any help from either bus or internet. Just our feet and a few blue signs. Maybe if we'd known that we were about to walk (for 3 hours) approximately 6 miles in searing heat, we might not have bothered coming here at all. But I am so so glad that we did. The Blue Grotto is definitely my favourite place in Malta. It was totally stunning, the ocean such a deep perfect blue and twinkling in the sunlight.

On arrival, we headed straight down into the little cove by the cliff you can see in the picture and jumped into a boat that took us around the surrounding caves. Well, to be more accurate, I stepped gingerly into the boat. I am slightly terrified of anything smaller than a ferry, and this particular one was unstable to say the least. I did not let go of the side of the boat for the whole half hour trip, which unfortunately meant  I couldn't take any pictures of the spectacular insides of the caves. As there is no (or very little) sand out here, the water is a completely clear blue and you can see right down to the seabed. It looks like we are mere centimetres from it, when actually it's at least a couple of metres deep. And the caves themselves were huge with wonderfully artistic ceilings, cut out from hundreds of years worth of pounding waves.

Other than getting lost, one of the better ways you could spend your time on Malta, is immersing yourself into the huge amounts of history that is prevalent across the island. There is so much - loads of museums in every town, beautiful old churches and cathedrals, old theatres, war memorials and the famous Neolithic temples.

We could have spent a lot more time than we did examining these ancient treasure troves, but Jo isn't very into history. So I had to forgo this mostly. We did have a chance to look around the beautiful St John's Co-cathedral in Valletta, close to where we were staying. You know how cathedrals are often beautiful on the outside, but completely plain on the inside? Well, this was the exact opposite. On the outside it was nothing special, but inside was incredible. The marble floor was completely covered with brightly coloured art, and all the gold decorations and statues that you can see are 24 carat gold. We were given a free audio guide and a map so we could press the right buttons, therefore telling us the right information. But somehow we became really confused by the map and ended up going backwards, unable to work out which numbers related to which bit. We must have looked pretty stupid, having no idea where we were going or what we were doing and wandering around, against the flow. In fact, I am pretty certain that we did look stupid because we had to wear these silly cloths to cover our legs as well. I guessed that we would have to cover our shoulders but apparently my hotpants didn't quite make the cut either so I spent the entire time tying and retying the stupid fabric.

I did also manage to drag Jo around the Ġgantija temples which were on Gozo. I thought they were pretty cool but she wasn't so impressed, calling them 'a load of old stones'. But they are two of the oldest structures, not only in Europe but in the world. I loved being able to wander in amongst their walls and imagine how beautiful they must have looked back when they were in their prime, thousands of years ago.

Surrounding Islands

The temples that we did get around to visiting were actually situated on Gozo, the sister island of Malta which we devoted a whole day to exploring. We had wanted to see, Comino as well but unfortunately didn't have enough time for both the additional islands so we picked the larger one.

For speed and to ensure that we saw as much of the island as possible, we decided to go on one of those open-topped tour buses. I always laugh at the people sitting on those, snapping away with their cameras whenever I see them in London. But actually on Gozo, it was quite effective.

Khaleesi's wedding place
AKA the Azure Window, Gozo
The Entrance to King's Landing
AKA the entrance to Mdina, Malta
We saw a huge amount, including a factory/warehouse where sundried tomatoes were...well...dried by the sun; a beautiful bay with stunning cliffs surrounding it; a beach with really unusual red sand; the ancient temples I mentioned above and one of the many places where Game of Thrones was filmed (Khaleesi's wedding at the very beginning of season 1. I could do a whole essay on the areas that they filmed Game of Thrones in. We visited the old capital city of Mdina the gate of which is the entrance to King's Landing so that was pretty cool as well).

The Ramla beach on Gozo is definitely the prettiest that we came across, with unique red sand and a smattering of Roman remains on the edge of it. After we had become really sunburnt, it was a relief to stop off here and to relax in the cool, glittering sea.

Apart from the odd one, there aren't actually that many beaches on Malta or Gozo. Which may surprise you, as they are islands after all! What are far more common are the harbours, which are nearly as cool. We strolled along many bays, harbours and little inlets, lusting after the beautiful boats. Getting around by boat is often far quicker so many people on Malta do own one of some kind. And some of them are ridiculously extravagant.


What there is definitely no lack of, are bars and there are a huge number of both bars and pubs dotted evenly throughout the whole island. But if you did want a bit more of a boogie and a dance scene, Paceville is where you need to head to. This holds the 'strip' of the island and although it may not be quite as big or insane as Magaluf/Zante/Malia, it is still pretty fun.

We didn't actually stay there long. Being extremely old, we found ourselves to tire very quickly of the intense noise and slightly overwhelming crowds of people in these clubs. So we left in favour of a nearby pub, just around the corner. There we shared a bottle of wine and were chatting in relative peace until this was ruined by some middle aged Italian men who seemed intent on bringing us back to their hotel to 'show us their swimming pool.' Needless to say, as soon as we had finished our wine we looked for a way to escape without being too rude. They bought us a few drinks, sang karaoke dedicated to us and finally left us alone for a moment, to visit the toilet. We took the opportunity and legged it from the pub. Not stopping until we reached the bus stop about half a mile away. There we hopped around in fear, expecting them to round the corner any minute, but the bus arrived and we made it back to our hotel safe and sound. And very drunk.


Wherever I go when I travel abroad, I always make sure I dedicate a portion of my time to simply wandering around the new place. It helps you to get your bearings but more than that, it is a great way to soak up the atmosphere and to observe every day life as it goes on around you.

The tall, softly coloured, sandstone buildings tower over the narrow cobbled streets and we instantly seemed to lose ourselves in the midst of these little mazes within each town. The more rural towns were slightly different, and were much more shabby, with smaller farmhouses, spaced out amongst loads of browned fields, that had gone dry in the sun. Each was separated by a walls that were basically piled stones which was apparently common across the whole of Malta to prevent soil erosion.

I loved the cities of Malta though. Each building and street had its own character and there wasn't a moment that I was bored. For anyone who wants sun, sea and (a little bit of) sand - you will find that all here. As well as so much more.

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Saturday, 13 September 2014

Top 10 types of people you will meet during Freshers Week

Many of you will be starting university in the next week or so and during that initial week, you will be meeting a lot of different people. Some you will like and some you will want to throttle, but all of them will be a vital part of your university experience. Check out below a few different stereotypical people that you will be more than likely to meet and see how many you can spot once you start university.

The Lad
And by this I don't necessarily mean male...they can be female as well. They throw themselves wholeheartedly into the freshers week student stereotype ie. sleeping with everything that moves. Which is fine if that's what you want to do, and it's definitely good to get that out of your system now. But if you don't want to be a notch on the belt, you had better watch out for these people.

The homesick one
They have never been away from their parents before, never done washing before, never cooked a meal before. And are often very very close to their families, with a long term partner back at kind to them. They are going to find the first few weeks very tough.

The shy one
They are scared of large groups of people, they are nervous of new people, blush when someone of the opposite sex talks to them and so far have said about 10 words. But suddenly give them a few drops of alcohol and they are away, talking nineteen to the dozen about family, school, pets, hopes and discover they are enigmatic and hilarious. Draw them out of their shell gently, they are nice I promise.

The confident one
These are the people that you are sure you saw arrive just ahead of you but somehow seem to know what they are doing already and have pretty much everything sussed out. This is most likely because they already know people at university or have been to a uni before and dropped out...something like that. They are super laid back about the whole thing, very social and ultimately really nice people. Stick with them they will help you out as you are finding your feet.

The one desperately trying to fit in
To be honest, even though you have had some very in depth toilet cubicle conversations at 1 in the morning, you have no idea who these people are. They act one way with you, another with the rest of your flatmates and another way again with the opposite sex. They join every society and sport going, turn up at every single welcome talk and are definitely fun to be around. These are the people pleasers so they are often well liked but at the same time you are not entirely sure they are giving you their full attention/full personality. But this will be revealed eventually. Nobody can pretend to be someone else, forever.

The one who didn't come for their studies
They pretty much get drunk all the time and just about manage to crawl out of bed for the societies fairs. That's all. Nothing more. University is meant to be fun right? So writing essays is definitely not on the cards for these freshers.

The one who already knows people at the uni
You don't see much of them during fresher's week. A swift hello and then they are off to see their infinitely cooler buddies in the years above. They are introduced to a different circle of friends from you, their hangovers are far far worse, so of course they don't turn up to any of the welcome lectures (and they know full well that they don't need to) and seem to already know their way around campus.

The clingy one
Very similar to the shy one. You're in their flat, they come to know you reasonably well and are too nervous to get to know anyone else so they refuse to let you go. They follow you everywhere on nights out, sign up to the same societies as you and won't take your hints to go away while you are desperately trying to flirt with that ultra fit guy/girl. But be nice to them, they are trying their best in a situation they don't feel entirely comfortable. And you should be flattered.

The one looking for love
They don't really seem to like going out, but they are extremely social, especially with the opposite sex. They dress up nicely in their Hollister shirts and cute Topshop dresses every single day, and make sure their hair (and make up where applicable) is perfect. They are bound to become one of those statistics who finds their husband/wife at university.

The one who is worried about the £9000
They turn up to every welcome talk going, (even the useless 'how to log into the library computers' ones); they already have a timetable set out in their student planners and they put their student loan straight into a high interest savings account. They then refuse to drink too much throughout the week as they don't want to be hungover for those all important sessions and they explore every single opportunity going. They are absolutely determined to make this £9000 worth it.

Are you starting university in the next few weeks? - let me know in the comments.
And check out these articles:

Top 10 things to do in Freshers Week

Top 10 items to pack for university

Social Societies

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Thursday, 11 September 2014

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

I first became interested in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat back in 2007, when I was 15. Having decided they wanted to bring back this classic musical, (written by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber), Bill Kenwright and Lloyd Webber himself were on the hunt for a brand new Joseph to front it. I watched the X factor-style show with avid interest and being the teenager I was, promptly fell in love with each of the handsome young contestants. Much to my disappointment though, I was unable to go and see either the winner in the West End or the runner up in the tour, so I have been waiting a long time to be able to finally see this musical.

Unfortunately though, there weren't any of the men who I'd fallen in love with, still donning the 'many coloured coat.' (Actually remarkably few of them are still in theatre at all which is a bit of a shame). But who we had instead was X Factor finalist and Welshie, Lloyd Daniels (he came 5th in Olly Murs and Joe McElderry's year). Despite it being his musical theatre debut, he played the role with a certain amount of flair and was definitely engaging in his performance. I feel that he was more comfortable in the catchier numbers rather than the quieter Close Every Door To Me where his tuning could have been improved. Saying that, I did find him really entertaining and his funny response to Potiphar's wife's advances had me giggling.

Eastenders star Matt Lapinskas, in the role of Pharaoh, was also in his first musical theatre role and he was enigmatic enough to pull off this over-the-top character well although I, at times, could not hear all of the words he was singing which was at a fairly crucial point in the story, meaning I was confused for the next part. Danielle Hope joined these TV stars and was truly fabulous in the role of Narrator. Her perfect vocals sounded effortless. It is a hard sing for this particular character as it carries the majority of the songs and she was rarely off stage, but she did not let it show. Her theatre training was obvious and she kept the cast ticking along nicely with humour and a natural ease that was a joy to watch.

The chemistry between the three leads was great. There was a nice touch at the beginning where, having introduced the story, the Narrator permitted Joseph to begin and he thanked her with a little nod of his head. It was additions like these that signalled the production to be of the highest calibre. These three, along with the rest of the talented supporting cast, brought you along for a glitzy and really entertaining ride. Some of the dance choreography seemed a little simplistic for the group who were clearly accomplished but it was still so fun to watch. And that is essentially what Joseph is - fun. The kids in the audience were loving it and I found that a smile didn't leave my face not only for the duration of the musical but for hours afterwards as well. If you need cheering up or simply to have a very distracting break from reality, this is the musical for you.

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Thursday, 4 September 2014


As a self professed cynic when it comes to love, I seem intent to completely surround myself with couples this summer. My first trip of the holiday was spent travelling with a friend around Malta (a blogpost about which will be appearing soon) while my second smaller trip - a weekend city break - was to the city of love itself. Paris.

Words can not describe how much I love this city. I have been once before when I was about 14 and on a school trip, but at that age you definitely can't appreciate it. Back then we did things like go to Disneyland Paris. This time we did EVERYTHING.

Well, maybe not quite everything. Anybody who has been to Paris would be able to tell you that there is A LOT to do. So much to see, so many chances to view the city from cool places, so many shops, so many little cafes and restaurants, so much architecture and culture and everything else in between. But we did manage to do a lot of it!

The top of everyone's list and the uber clichéd thing to do, is the Eiffel Tower. Now, I love this unique structure. I am not even sure why, it's not particularly pretty but there's just something about it. I think it's an incredible piece of engineering, particularly considering that it was only meant to be a temporary adornment to the city. However, the Parisians fell in love with the 300+ metre flagpole so it stayed. Me and my buddy Kim, decided to take the elevator to the very top which offered some breathtaking views of the city. And it provided us with the best map we could have asked for, meaning we could plan what we wanted to do next.

As I am a huge fan of architecture, I was in my element here, particularly around the Sacre Coeur in Montmarte Hill. So much of our weekend was just wandering around; through quaint little alleyways, becoming horrendously lost in the process but we got to see some truly beautiful areas. At one point our vagueness meant that we managed to misplace the Eiffel Tower, don't even ask how. I think we just got distracted and didn't look to the right. Duh. But every single building we came across, whether it was a world famous monument or just a street of houses, were such a delight. Obviously there are the famous Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur, the pretty Louvre and the majestic structures of the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower...But I actually prefer simply wandering the streets. Montmarte Hill was without a doubt the cutest part of Paris, with it's steep hills, stone steps and pretty houses.

But if you want to see some truly majestic architecture, you have to visit the palace of Versailles. As it was the home of several French kings, each one wanted to outdo their predecessors, and added wings, redecorated with plush furnishings and generally made sure it was one of the most beautiful palaces in the whole of Europe. And of course, the Hall of Mirrors is a very important historical location. It was pretty amazing to visit this iconic home at last.

Another iconic place that we did visit, although we were vastly underwhelmed by it, was the Moulin Rouge. Made famous by the popular film, travellers and fans have high expectations but unfortunately it is simply a tiny theatre, in one of the seediest areas of Paris. It was the only time that, as two females, Kim and I didn't feel completely safe so we didn't hang around long.

I was expecting the world-renowned Mona Lisa, housed in the Louvre to be similarly disappointing. In fact, it was a lot bigger than I originally imagined. This may come as a surprise but the reason for it was that everyone always stresses to you that it's going to be smaller than you think. So I had begun to prepare myself that it would be roughly the size of a postcard. However, it really isn't. It's just an averagely sized portrait. Compared to the rest of the paintings in its gallery, which are all about the size of a small house (and that's not an exaggeration, they are huge) yes it is very small. But ignoring that, it seemed about the right size for a portrait to me. And I was really glad that I had met this celebrity at last.

Paris is one of those places that everyone has to visit at least once in their lives. Preferably before you are 26 because then, on production of a European Passport or driving licence,  you are allowed to enter all the main attractions/sights for free. But whenever you go and whoever you are with, you will be sure to have a great time. This is one of the most gorgeous cities in the whole of Europe and you would not regret your time here.

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Monday, 1 September 2014

The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre

Whether they be memories, cherished books, or old toys, the things you encounter in your childhood always stay close to your heart. They inexplicably link themselves to the innocence and hope for your life that you have while you are that young age. For this reason, I will never ever be able to forget or stop loving Roald Dahl. His crazy stories were my constant companions for the first 12 (ish) years of my life with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; George's Marvellous Medicine; Matilda and Boy being my favourites. And I was definitely not alone in this. Dahl remains to be one of the most popular children's authors (despite having passed away over 20 years ago) and his books have been translated into many languages, made into films and adapted into musicals (read my review of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory here

It seems only fitting that that such a legend of a writer, be honoured with a museum - and the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre opened back in 1996.  It is located in the little Buckinghamshire Village of Great Missenden, which is where he spent the majority of his writing life.

Due to my inclusion of Boy in my undergraduate dissertation (which was centred around how boarding schools within children's literature changed over time) I decided to visit this museum and the attached archives, a few days ago.

'But Charlotte, you have already graduated from university...surely you must have finished your dissertation months ago?' I hear you ask...

Indeed that is true.

Unfortunately when I was writing my dissertation back in April, the archives were closed due to refurbishment. However, if I was still interested, I was invited to visit at a later date, when the archives had been reopened, despite the fact my research would be complete. And now was that later date.

What a fabulous day it was. On arriving, I went straight up to the archives where I met some lovely members of staff, Annie and Rachel. And then I spent around 2 and a half hours in there looking at various material, that was relevant to the research I had been carrying out previously. Unless you are a total literature nerd like me, you might not understand my excitement, when I say this was one of the coolest things I have done in a while. I was given the chance to flick through his original draft of Boy, which was all handwritten in pencil, on yellow paper. There were so many scrawlings, crossings out, changes, additions....and it was almost as interesting to see what had been there right from the original to the final publication. I also looked at a few of his letters that he sent his mother from a variety of different ages (he really did sign off as 'boy' until he was 10 and then clearly grew out of the nickname) as well as his reports (he received consistently top marks in English surprises there). And then finally, I was shown an exercise book from St Peter's when he was aged 11 and read the essay 'The Life Story of a Penny' that he'd made famous in Boy. So that was rather cool as well. To be honest, his handwriting was a lot easier to read when he was a child. The curly old fashioned script was tons neater than the slightly more undecipherable scrawl of his older years.

Having completely interrupted Annie's lunch break, I left her in peace (eventually) and had a look around the museum itself. This is definitely aimed at children, with bright colourful displays, entertaining exhibits and lots of fun activities to do along the way. It constantly promotes, reading, writing and using the children's imagination, which as an ex-teacher, pleased me a lot. It also gives lots of information about Dahl's life in a child-friendly way and has some really interesting information about him. One of the highlights was the chance to enter the replica of Dahl's story-writing hut, with original furniture included.

My final activity of the day was to have a little wander around Great Missenden itself. It is the epitome of an English village, nestled in the heart of the Buckinghamshire countryside, a mere 45 minutes outside of London. The quaint highstreet was filled with tea shops and charity shops, as you might expect and there was also the typical parish church, watching over the entire village from the top of a small hill. This is where I located Dahl's grave, situated near a memorial bench stating a touching inscription from The Giraffe, Pelly and Me: 'We have tears in our eyes As we say our goodbyes We so loved being with you, we three So do please now and then Come and see us again.' I don't think they could have found a more fitting quotation from any of his books.

I know I will come again, as will many of his other fans I am sure, both young and old. And I do not think they will be disappointed. What they will find is a fitting tribute to a great man who has inspired so many children in the past. And it was very clear from walking around the museum, he is continuing to inspire yet another generation of children, even now.

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