Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Snippet from NaNo 2014

Since I usually love to share what I write during NaNo just for fun, I'll share a little snippet from the Chronicles of Messinia (otherwise known as Allora and Dominic's story). The scene here is from after Allora is kidnapped, abused, rescued, thrown overboard, deserted on an island, and then rescued again to be brought back to Messinia by Dominic who suffers half of it right next to her. Her family assumes she's been violated or worse during her ordeal and she finally makes it to the breaking point with the stress of the effects of her situation. The following consists of conversations between Allora and her friend Gianni, and then between Allora and Dominic. Since it's fresh off the press from NaNo for the most part its not edited so bear with me if the grammar isn't amazing.

Enjoy!

Out of sight, Allora heaved and audible sigh and loosened the strings of her bonnet, sweeping it from her head.
            “Thank you for rescuing me, Gigi.”
            Gianni chuckled. “I did have the impression, yes, that you may have been in need of rescuing. I take it the wedding plans are not at all to your taste?”
            Gianni did not know the circumstances around when and why Allora had accepted Gabriel’s proposal, and Allora had not seen fit to explain the details nor had the time prior to her captivity. The night of the initiation ceremony seemed so long ago now, and her rash decision haunted her.
            “Not entirely, I will say. It all seems to be moving too fast. I do not think that I am ready to be married.”
            It was not necessarily a lie; Allora was not ready to be married to Sir Gabriel, especially when her mind was in turmoil surrounding her time with Dominic and her worry that she had not seen him in weeks. 
            Gianni raised a brow, not fooled by her friend’s attempts to remain nonchalant. “Oh?”
            Allora hurried to change the subject. “Indeed, So tell me, what other gossip have you heard – and do not say those that include myself and my scandalous time away from Messinia. I cannot bare the pitied stories I have heard.”
            Gianni rolled her eyes and harrumphed, but let her carry on. “I will tell you, dearest, but one day you really must tell me the truth of why you decided to marry Sir Gabriel after all when you do not seem at all fussed.” She twirled the parasol over her shoulder and her face became more relaxed and bright as she turned to a subject that agreed with her far more than before: city gossip. “Did you know that the Countess of Livern has disgraced herself rather fully after imbibing far too much at Lord Rutger’s ball? She drank half of the punch and made the most inappropriate comments on Lady Ivy’s gown.”
            The nature and tone of Gianni’s gossip, a firm shakedown on some of the lighter scandals of the aristocracy, began to cheer Allora up, and she even laughed at the thought of Baron Heyworth’s coat bursting at the seams under the pressure of his girth. Until Gianni’s words shocked Allora to a standstill.
            “Oh, and did you hear that Dominic Wellsby is back in the capital? You must be so grateful to him after he sailed to Hasah to rescue you, it is dreadfully romantic of him! Do you know Lady Ivy asked him how he had felt swooping into action and he said that he was doing his duty to his King and kingdom by ensuring that no harm came to you! Isn’t that lovely?”
            Doing his duty to his King and kingdom? Allora’s mind flashed to the first night in Hasah when Dominic had slipped into her chambers of the harem and the furious kiss he had pressed to her lips. Duty? Was that all it was?
            “I’m sure my father is very grateful to him, he did after all protect me from further harm and retrieve me from Hasah.”
            “Oh but Wellsby said it was what any man loyal to the crown would have done. He was only too pleased to be of service.”
            Internally, Allora began to fume and the only outward signs of her extreme displeasure was the tightness of her smile. “I see.”
            Gianni, face flushed with excitement and pleasure at the thought of Dominic’s supposed loyalty to the King, did not seem to notice and continued to gush about the many wonderful attributes that he possessed. Allora grew even more furious by the moment, especially after Gianni revealed that he had been back in the capital for days.
            They continued to walk throughout the gardens, as far as the edge of the forest of Gylen, and turned back when orange began to streak the sky. Allora’s face had begun to ache by the time she bid farewell to Gianni and spent the last few hours of the evening torturously restless before retiring as soon as possible.
            She dismissed Maddy straight away, needing the sanctity of solitude to finally release the pent up disappointment, hurt and anger that had singed her soul ever since Gianni had told her Dominic thought of her as a duty. How could he say that of her after all they had been through together? After she…after they…and she…her mind was a whirlpool of feeling, she barely knew where to start.
            Flopping to the four-poster bed, Allora buried her head in her hands and let quiet tears overflow to drip between her fingers.
            She sobbed for what felt like hours, until she could cry no more, and the palace seemed to fall silent as those within retired for the evening. Without Maddy to help, Allora crawled beneath the covers of her cold bed still strapped into her corset and tried to fall asleep as best she could. But as she tossed and turned, it seemed it was not meant to be.
            A gentle scratching sounded from the balcony as Allora became aware of the doors opening slowly and silently. She was afraid at first, remembering how she’d been taken by Borasah’s men from this very room. Her breath caught, crushed from her lungs with the corset, and she clutched the bed sheet to her breast as the shadowy outline of a man drew into view.
            For one very awful moment Allora was certain she would be taken again, when moonlight reflected off the man’s midnight hair and she recognised the set of his broad shoulders. Dominic. She did not know whether to be relieved and sob, or to erupt into anger once more.
            He stepped into the room, closing the door behind him and approached the bed. She knew that he knew she was not asleep, and she sat up to greet him.
            “I thought you weren’t coming back.”
            He raised a brow, and she saw it even in the dark. “Why did you think so?”
            “You never said so much as goodbye, and did not tell me you had returned.” Her voice was acid to her own ears, her anger refusing to be contained. “You said that I was just your duty.”
            Dominic sighed, he had known that she would hear the words he’d used.
            “And you believed I thought so?”
            “Was it a lie?”
            “No.” She gasped in outrage and pulled a pillow from the bed to fling it at him. He dodged it easily and caught her arms. “Ally, listen to me.”
            Allora tried to shrug him off. “Why should I? All I am to you is a duty!”
            He shook her gently. “Listen to me! Of course you are not only a duty to me, how could you even think so after all we have been through thus far? I did not wish to inform the aristocracy of our connection nor the King when your reputation has already been hurt. It is also common knowledge that your marriage plans to Sir Gabriel have been resumed. Did you want me to tell the world what happened on my ship? On the Island? In the cottage in the woods?”
            She shook her head at each prompt, tears forming once again.
            His hands softened on her arms and his voice lowered. “Of course you are more to me than a duty. So much more.” His words had drawn him closer to her, and soon his mouth was mere inches from hers.
            Allora should have told him no, told him that they couldn’t, but when he was so close and she had missed him so much, she could have sooner torn out her own heart then let him take her mouth in the blistering kiss he gave her.
            But even then it was not enough and her arms wrapped around his neck, tugging him closer as she pressed herself up against him. Dominic needed no further encouragement and pushed her backwards onto the bed, falling to the mattress beside her to keep his weight from baring down on her.
            Allora’s arms trailed from around his neck to sweep down to his shoulders and slowly to his back to rest on his hips. They both moaned when he moved more fully above her, and her hands delved beneath his shirt.
            “Dominic…”
            His shirt disappeared and her nightgown followed moments later, her thigh hooked over his hips.

            “Don’t tell me to stop, Ally. Gabriel has no place between us here. You’re mine.” 

Hah! I bet you thought I was going to post the whole smutty scene in there! I won't because I'm funny like that, but if you really want to read it and you say pretty please just hit me up on the facebook and I'll send it to you. 

Sam xox

Healthy/ Unhealthy

It's been a little while! I know, I know.

First it was NaNo plus this new 10,000 step competition that was high grade kicking my ass and left me without any extra time to check in. Then it was the post NaNo depression that had me curled into a ball for a whole weekend feeling poorly, and after that it's just been work keeping me on my toes trying to get my head around everything. The world of travel is amazing, but still damn hard work.

But I'm here now, did you miss me? 

50k in 20 Days.Like I said NaNo this year was a little more than mental. 'Insane' actually falls short. I whipped myself into shape cracking my word limit every day and amazingly finished on target on day 20, two days ahead of my PB from last year and 10 days before the official NaNo end date (30th). And oh believe me doing a 9 hour day at work, keeping an average of 10,000 steps per day (not during work hours! I have a desk based job now) and pumping out 50,000 words of fiction that I already known the story for (Allora and Dominic'a story has been in the works since 2004, when I was 14! So I already knew exactly what I was working on from the start) is really, really hard. I seriously challenge you to tell me that it was easy. But I did it even if I had to increase my caffeine intake and occasionally slap myself awake when I started to pass out on the keyboard. Sometimes I had to delete paragraphs because they were written half asleep and made more or less no sense. 

But I did it! My PB NaNo certificate now has pride of place in a frame on the wall in my tea room. Hell, I earnt it. That little piece of paper saying that I did it really means the world to me. Writing is my life, it means as much to me as my day job so hitting that target is just as important to me as whatever I did during the day. Sure I 'do it to myself', but can I just say ditto to absolutely everybody else's job stress. 

And it is stressful. Starting a brand new job is hard enough without adhering to a strict exercise regime and wringing your brain for creativity on the side. 

So when I hit my PB 10 days ahead of schedule despite the insanity of it all, simultaneously fleshing out a novel I'd been working on for 10 years, suffered some real disappointment at work and at home, and no one was around for a high five it sent me into a spiral. I did something pretty amazing, and, regardless of whether or not its actually true, it seemed like no one really cared. 

I hate to admit it, and of course in hindsight it seems silly now, but at the time it felt like no one had time for me or really understood. I have a great selection of friends and family, let me get that straight, but sometimes all it it takes it one word from someone who cares to make everything better. And I got that, of course, but it wasn't from the get go and as a result I spent two full days feeling worse and worse. Which is my own fault as much as anyone's for not sending out an SOS immediately. Plus my feelings are usually pretty transparent so people catch me out right away if they see me face to face, which few people actually did since most of my correspondence was the digital kind. 

I'm generally pretty happy these days, and so I didn't make it clear enough that I was feeling so low until the second day in and by then I was feeling particularly terrible. Struggling to get out of bed or fake smile kind of terrible, and on the decline. It was getting bad enough that I knew if I let it continue I was going to be in far worse shape than I'd been in a long time. But I was lucky, I was aware enough of what was happening even if I couldn't stop it that it needed to be stopped. I needed the help, simple as that, and I knew that my friends would provide it if I only asked. So I did, better late than never, and things got better. It took a lot of internal bravado and virtual hugging, tears and animal cuddles, before they did but I was better for it in the end. 

My point here is sometimes you feel low, and that happens, but let my awful weekend be a lesson to everyone: get help right away. If it's just PMS or a down moment then that's great, but at least you have the support if things get worse and sometimes that support nips it in the bud before it even can get worse. I was aware, but not everyone is - sometimes you can fall so far before you even realise you have. Look at it like travel insurance; if things go wrong then you have it to help you out, and if you don't need it then at least you would still have been fine. But if you don't have it and you really needed it...well, dkshshahagsvsbsns!!!!!!!!!!

There really are no words for that. As they say its often way better to have something and not need it, then to need it and not have it. 

Plus, how can your friends help you if you don't let them know you need it? Not everyone can be like Carrie White, or Jean Gray. 

Despite my awful weekend, I am actually really good. My health kick is really working, I've lost 4kg in the past 8 weeks which is nothing to scoff at when you consider muscle weighs more than fat and I spend about 9 hours in a chair 5 days a week. I eat healthy, Krispy Kreme excitement aside, and I work really hard to make my recommended 10,000 steps a day using the Fitbit pedometer I bought. I carried on the Green Coffee Bean and Garcinia Cambogia for the entire time before getting too lazy to take them and decided to take a week off this week. I need to resupply anyway, so I'll get back on that next week. 

My BMI might still consider me obese, but with my muscle tone, epic exercise, 4kg weight loss and all the noticeable differences in my body I would definitely say that what I am doing is working for me. Especially since as long as I stay within my calorie budget per day and keep up my protein/fibre intake then I can pretty much eat what I want to (within reason). It's been pretty great actually. I'm committed as ever and I can see results so I'm sticking to it, and being healthy really just makes a difference in personal organisation and control. I'm not wonderfully spontaneous, but I was never really good at that anyway and to be honest I kind of think its overrated.

I'm a human so I have my down days like my awful weekend, and I am always trying to improve myself. Since I know that so many people do too, I'll leave you with this song because its something I like to listen to if I need a boost. If you're male or female, happy with your body but down, or if you maybe want to shed a few kilos or tone or put on muscle or even put on a few kilos, my biggest advice is just make sure you are doing it for yourself - not anybody else. Being healthy in body and mind is what you want to aim for, and that means accepting that you get down sometimes, that your achievements are amazing, and that you can change your body when you find what works best for you. But the most important thing? Remember that you are enough. 


Have a listen, think about what the words mean to you. 



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeoju61eYbw


Sam xox




Friday, October 31, 2014

NaNo 2014 begins

Now that another awesome Halloween is completed, today is now the beginning of NaNoWriMo. Somewhat of a festive season in it's own.



For those of you not in the know, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNo as it is affectionately called, is that crazy month of the year when you push to the limits to produce 50,000 words of text over the month of November. It can be whatever you want to write about, but usually fiction or poetry, although I shudder at the thought of 50,000 words of poetry. 

You start on the 1st of November, as early as midnight and you have all the way up until the clock strikes midnight again on the 30th to complete and validate on the website. And whilst you don't technically win per se when you complete, you do get a lovely certificate and all the feels that go with it. It's pretty great actually and I love the pleasure/pain of the whole situation. 

2014 is my 6th year in a row that I will be entering NaNo since my first time in 2009. Of the past 6 years there was only one I did not complete, 2011, and considering it crept in just after my thesis I really just shot my drive. But I still don't like to remember that I failed. 

Last year was my greatest NaNo achievement. I completed 10 days early, the last 9,000 in the space of about 24 hours. And that was on top of about 12 books I'd read that month plus an average 12km walk through the bush every day for work. It was a very hardcore month and I don't know how I did it. But I am very, very proud of it. 

So bring on NaNo 2014. It's Allora and Dominic's turn to be written after 10 years of planning. 

Sam xox

Thursday, October 30, 2014

This is Halloween

Boys and girls of every age, wouldn't you like to see something strange?

If you grew up in the late '80's or the '90's, then you're probably aware of the Tim Burton cult classic film Nightmare Before Christmas. It features the residents of the fabled Halloweentown, led by their nominated honorary resident Jack Skellington the Pumpkin King, in their quest to try something a little different by creating their own kind of Christmas. With all the spooks, thrills and noir of their signature holiday.
Well, this movie has become, like I said, a cult classic over time. Jack Skellington in particular has become an icon for many things like Disney's darker side, gothic clothing ranges, and surprisingly more often than not a symbol for the holiday of Halloween itself right along side his influence the Jack O'Lantern.

Like most people excited by big holidays, I love Halloween. I have a genuine interest in the spiritual, spooky and paranormal side of things and Halloween purely encapsulates all those things that I love whether it be slasher films, haunted histories, mythology and the hidden messages and meanings behind all these things. Halloween is a mask holiday now - it wasn't always, but I'll get to that - and often greatly represents the duality to human nature. The fact of the matter is that the majority of people have a dark side, I don't mean a serial killer or sociopathic side, but just something that they do that is a little bit naughtier than the norm. Things like kinky sex, slasher films, and the desire to watch a train wreck or a house fire. Don't deny it, most people have the urge and hey its totally normal so long as you're not putting people in a hole in your floor and telling people to rub lotion on their skin. Dark sides are often what keeps things interesting, and what the churches usually try to discourage.

But things weren't always this way. People always had this dual nature, yes, but the freedom that we now have to express it (within reason) didn't always exist. Initially Halloween was a festival to celebrate a number of things: Summer's end, the autumn harvest, and the spirits of the dead. Like most other holidays like Christmas, the roots of Halloween lie way earlier than the arrival of Christianity throughout the UK and Europe. Archaeologists and historians suggest that the earliest evidence for Halloween-style festivals and celebrations come from pagan and pre-christian belief systems in the UK and Ireland, more commonly considered to be 'Celtic' in origin. But because 'Celtic' is itself a very fluid concept and not at all an actual secular religion, there is no clear cut designation for exactly where and when the celebrations first began. However, the most important thing to remember is that it is a very old concept, just like Easter and Christmas before Christianity swept in and amalgamated them into its overlord religious system.

I love Halloween, but I happen to have the misfortune of living in Australia.

Time-out just quickly, I love Australia. In terms of healthcare, university, salary, childcare, you name it we've got it pretty good. We don't have to pay ridiculous prices to have fingers replaced individually like some countries, but we are...well, kind of boring.

Not in everything obviously, when we travel people love us because we have a reputation of being very laid back, fun and some of the best drinking buddies you will ever make. Plus we have weird lingo that the Brits and the Americans especially can go nuts over. But we just don't do holidays in the same way as the rest of the world.

Christmas is perhaps the only one that turns up, usually too early, and filters into everything. There's carols at the shops, there's gift wrapping stalls in the CBD and there's been different scavenger hunts over the past few years centered around the holiday, but that's were it sort of stops. The sad fact of the matter is that Australians aren't huge holiday people - but why?

Considering our history, at least on the colonial side, why don't we embrace Halloween? The majority of Australians originally came from areas of the UK and Ireland, later from the European mainland and all other corners of the world, so in theory the same practices of out British and Irish heritage should have been maintained at least in the beginning. Christmas, again, was not the way that it is now 300 years ago. The Christmas we are familiar with didn't really start until the Victorian Age and Queen Victoria herself systematically re branded Christmas to follow more steadfastly in the traditions of mainland Europe, particularly Germany and Austria, in order to accommodate her Austrian husband, Albert. Before the 1830's there was no decking the halls in London or much of a Christmas tree culture in the UK at all because that just wasn't the way the British celebrated before that, let alone become the the huge deal it is today. Yule, the pagan origination of the Christmas festival in Europe, didn't include sparkly decorations and presents right from the beginning and different traditions developed regionally over time. Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is probably the most well-known example of this newer style of Christmas celebration that evolved very quickly in the UK and Ireland before spreading to America to explode into what it is now.

Halloween developed far more slowly worldwide, and trick or treating and scare festivals started far earlier that the majority of the Christmas traditions we recognize today. Anyone who suggests that Halloween was invented by candy companies, especially in America, are sorely misinformed even if said companies likely scooped up the opportunities to boost sales are the scare-tastic time of year. And not all aspects of Halloween even revolve around the procurement of candy; watching horror films, for one, and visiting scare attractions for another. It even bodes the question as to whether the need for sweets evolved from a desire for comfort after particularly harrowing scare situations or experiences at what was the more paranormally charged time of year for centuries longer than sugar was accessible.

So when you think about the fact that Australia takes almost all of its core holiday traditions from its mother countries, why does the average modern Australian have such a disdain for an otherwise fun, spooky and potentially freeing day of the year? Religion and multi-cultural reasons can't be the be all and end all when you consider that the front-runner of Halloween fun is the United States, Canada and Mexico, the former being globally known for its need for the PC in all things and its foundation on religious definitely would suggest otherwise. Even since the UK and Ireland are still much bigger than Australia for Halloween.

So at the end of the day, why don't Australians care for Halloween? I could continue for hours about all the features, benefits, history and attempt to psycho-analyse the reasons that Halloween has become so big in a lot of other places, but I won't because I don't want to let this one day of the year that I always whole-heartedly look forward to just get away from me. I will, however, leave you with this:

Halloween is scary, full of candy, it allows you to delve into some of your darkside and gives you a free pass to push for that adrenalin-pumping fright factor that keeps you young and healthy, so why not embrace it? It's just supposed to be a bit of fun, and since when does Australia pass up on fun?

P.S Halloween is one big festival closer to Christmas. 

P.P.S NaNo is back on tomorrow. Get ready for it. 

Sam xox


Monday, October 27, 2014

Single

Like everything in life, there's good and bad to being single. Most of the time the good generally outweighs the bad especially when we live in the 21st century and women can do pretty much anything without a partner. Except for the occasional ridiculously tough jar. 

Once upon a time I used to wish I was a princess and I dreamt of meeting a prince. But as I got older people seemed to feel the need to tell me over and over again that fairy tales aren't actually real and that Prince Charming isn't going to be the way that I imagined, that there are no happy ever afters. By now that kind of talk is beyond old and I don't care for it, especially when fairy tales are the kind of lucid thing that changes depending on the situation. I'm not locked up in a tower, no, but writing off that optimistic, fluffy, magical side to romance sort of leaves you with that age old pessimism that I don't agree with.

I don't necessarily believe in Prince Charming, per se, but I do believe in love and when it comes to romance I have some pretty high standards. Which is probably why I have only ever been single. 

The perks of being single could write their own book, the least of which denoting how free it can make you. You get to do your own thing, you're independent, you're free to meet whoever and in whatever context you like, and you don't have to always take them to functions. Plus you get way more time with your friends, and when you're working full time this can pretty much be invaluable.

But since I don't actually have a past relationship to compare single life with, I'll shy away from what I think are the myriad of perks and get to the root of my problem with being single: it's full of double standards. 

For one thing people can pity you, not always and they don't always mean it in a bad way, but it happens. I guarantee you at some point every single person has been or will be pitied in some way. People can be mean, and sometimes they love to show off what they have that you don't. Be it "my boyfriend does this" or "my girlfriend has that" or even the classic "oh, you don't have a boyfriend?". Depending on the mood you're in, a comment like that can be brushed right off or is going to swirl around in your mind like Iago whispering in your ear. Everyone has their own self confidence and esteem issues, and  a lot of people have days when they don't want to be on their own.

And sometimes it bothers other people that you are, too. Single people, especially happy single people, can be threatening to couples. Particularly the ones that are unhappy or insecure. Generally I am happy to be on my own, but sometimes I desperately wish I wasn't purely because it would stop some of the problems I have had with other women surrounding their men. I've had more than one occasion in the past 5 or so years when dramas have arisen because I've been perceived as a threat. I have a flirty personality, apparently, that was once described as "will flirt with anything that moves". Far from flattering, really, and since it's predominantly unintentional it can be pretty upsetting when it gets me in trouble. Like the time a close male friend sat me down and informed me that we couldn't hang out too often because his girlfriend flat out hated me. Or the time a friend yelled at me because her boyfriend and I had a joke together...in a room full of others. 

I am far from beauty queen material, and my self esteem has it's wobbly moments, but I am definately not a maneater or boyfriend stealer. Believe me when I say I wouldn't know how to go about it if I tried, and it really hurts when people treat me like I am because I can't control my personality. Those moments are the worst. 

Not as bad as being set up, perhaps, or accused of putting people in the 'friendzone' (talk about a unfair and stupid concept) but no more flattering to you either. As someone who makes friends relatively easy, with both sexes, it's kind of craptastic when you're accused of popping people in the friendzone if you'd genuinely just rather be their friend. We've got to stop treating the friendzone like it's the hell mouth. 

I will be the first to say that I have very high standards. It's a fact I've no choice but to accept by now, and I'm not necessarily always glad of it. Having high standards in life are great because they mean I don't settle and I'll get myself the best (in most aspects, not just this one) and I respect myself, but the downside is that because my expectations are so high I am easily disappointed. High jump, higher fall and all that. 

I have high standards on the kind of man I'd like, the sort of things I'd do, and the way i try to treat people and expect to be treated in return. It's all a part of that fairy tale, rose-coloured view of the world that people always tell me not to have. So being a single girl I have views on the way single people should be treated, and my absolute pet hate is to be bailed on for a guy. If we have plans and you bail on me for your significant other, 9 times out of 10 I'm probably not ok with it. For one thing I think it's just not cool, you don't ditch friends for a date even if there is a possibility of sex, and secondly it's insinuating that because I'm single I would do the same if I 'understood'. Nope. I don't have to have a boyfriend to see that you want to spend time with him, but don't bail on me if we've got plans. If all my friends were to continue to bail for a date, male or female, then I'm going to end up on my own so much more than I already do because I'll feel my friends don't respect me or my time, and they're unreliable. It's do unto others, but that is one thing I'm telling you I could never do. 

So there is good and bad to being single. I like my independence and I love the way my life is without some guy, plus I'm not settling and still keep my fairy tale image that an unfortunate amount of people seem to bury in realism. But I don't have anything to compare it to, so my opinion comes from only one side of the coin and consists of both the good and actually pretty negative experiences I've had over time. I'm not trying to say it's better to be single, and I'm sure as he'll not bemoaning the fact that I am, this post is just meant to re-establish that single people aren't lepers. We aren't miserable, we aren't trying to steal your partners, we don't deserve to be bailed on and telling us to 'just give him/her' a go even if we're not that keen isn't the best way to go about making us meet the right person. Spark is a real thing, and the 'friendzone' is not a bad place to be unless you're willing to settle or be settled for. 

Something to think about. 

Sam xox

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Healthy

About two weeks ago, around the time of my last post enthusing my awesome new job, I figured it might be a choice time to get right back on that horse and ride to the land of fitness.

I've tried a lot of different diets and healthy eating plans in my time, and the past two years I worked out very regularly at my gym in the Pilbara. I may not be some size 6 (and seriously, I wouldn't want to be), but despite that I do actually live a pretty active life style. I may not be a member of any gym right now because I'm a little poor due to my 6 months or more of travelling (this year only), but we really don't live in a world where fitness is tied to being a member of a gym. It's easy enough, and significantly cheaper, to make use of the bevy of work out applications available for smartphones as well as go for walks, run, skip, jump and swim the way we used to before the treadmill was invented.


Like I said, I'm actually a pretty active person most of the time and I tend to eat relatively well when I'm not trying to save money by skipping meals (I don't recommend it). But since I indulged too much as a child and I've always struggled to drop weight, I carry enough extra curve to make myself want to get a bit more fit for my own piece of mind. Hear me world and women alike, I'll be getting fit and sexy for me. I'm all about that bass, but being a 'skinny bitch' is just as acceptable if you do it for you. So I'm back on the bendy road to losing a little bit of fat. Plus I want to reduce my risk of diabetes when I'm older, that my family history seems to suggest could be a problem.

Since I have tried this before, and actually succeeded to a point, I figured just getting back into it would be simple enough. I refuse to say 'easy' because there is nothing easy about losing weight, especially if you're thinking 20kg like myself (45lbs more or less). In theory it's all very simple: you eat healthy, plenty of fibre and protein, less sugar and fats, and you exercise regularly enough to burn off what you eat. But being simple in theory does not mean that it is actually simple in reality, and for the sake of a little extra help I decided to try something new: dietary supplements.

Now, before I get into this let me just say that these literally what they say they are: supplements to a healthy diet and exercise regime. They don't replace meals, they don't replace the need to work out and they certainly don't work like miracle fat disappearance pills. And I'm not expecting them to.

So, the supplements I decided to try are something that I read about recently and figured it wouldn't hurt to try out and record my progress. After all if they do help then my experience may work as a positive influence for someone else to do the same. The supplements I decided to try are Green Coffee Bean and Garcinia Cambogia, the two natural extracts that seem to be relatively popular right now, kind of the way chia, quinoa and kale seem to be as well.


Green Coffee Bean is basically the raw product before they roast and whatever the beans in order to use them to make coffee. It supposedly slows down the rate of glucose release and forces the body to burn fat more quickly, thus making it more difficult for fat to settle. Plus, it is a natural energy booster even if it contains a little of the recommended daily intake of caffeine. Garcinia Cambogia, on the other hand, is more commonly known as Tamarind, and contains a HCA (Hydrocitric acid). It claims to slow down fat storage from carbohydrates, suppress the appetite, reduce stress (by raising cortical levels), and raise seratonin. The best recommended results are to take both Garcinia and Green Coffee Bean twice a day roughly 60-30 minutes before a major meal.


Everyone responds to different foods and whatnot differently. so after two weeks of plenty of exercise, very little fatty or sugary foods, and taking both the Garcinia and Green Coffee Bean, here's how it's going:

I definitely feel good, for starters. I have more energy, I'm sleeping better, my system seems to be moving better (let's not get into that part too much), and I certainly feel pretty happy most of the time. I haven't done too much to be stressed about so I don't know if I feel less stressed, but I feel fuller quicker, feel less hungry and don't seem to crave much sugar - a plus since I'm not eating much of it (one treat a day that I enjoy so much more). So far there seem to be so many upsides to the whole thing, the least of which being that I actually feel really good about my body right now.

But obviously there are downsides to something like this: over-eating is a bitch when it happens, and so is pushing too hard with exercise. Since my appetite is suppressed I have to be so careful to not eat more than my body needs, something that green tea and increase water intake help with also (I'm also highly addicted to coconut water now). If that happens, and it has, it almost makes me want to embrace bulimia - just to get the excess food out of me so that my stomach will stop hurting. But its not a pain kind of hurt, so much as it just feels like having eaten too much Indian food: like your stomach is too tight it may just explode. So its a downside that is controllable, just like pushing too hard with exercise which is a problem combined with the Green Coffee Bean. Because exercise seems to only make it work harder to push all the toxins out of your system the only way it knows how: the digestive way. If anyone has ever eaten an entire bag of sugar-free gummy bears in one sitting you'll know how that feels.

The last thing that isn't quite what I was expecting is the fact that despite everything I haven't actually lost any weight at all. It is more or less exactly the same right now as it was two weeks ago. Its my saving grace that I keep telling myself that muscle weighs more than fat does and I would hope I've at least toned a bit.

At the two week point my results are better in a less tangible way, and even if I haven't dropped any kilos just yet it hasn't made me want to give up. I feel too good to quit and I don't want to; its a game, a challenge, and at the end of it Rome wasn't built in a day. No one drops 20kg by trying to be healthy for two weeks and giving up. So I'm going to keep at it and continue to record what I'm finding.


I'll keep you posted!

Sam xox

Thursday, October 2, 2014

From traveller to travel agent

Well its been about three weeks now since I made it back to Australia by boat (does that make me a boat person?) and I've achieved more or less nothing. Unless re-watching all of Friends can be considered massively productive.

But after so much time spent in the pursuit of adventure and experience, I figured it was ok for me to have a little down time to recover. Despite what you may think travelling, and especially for so long, is inherently super exhausting. And going from spending every day for 5 months on the go and flittering from one super amazing place to the next, I was more than happy to spend a decent couple of days enjoying life in my pyjamas.

And I really did go to so many amazing places - I could spend hours telling you all about where I went that I haven't already mentioned. Since my last travel blog post I went to Istanbul in Turkey, back to London for a completely amazing time at the British Museum Summer School program, a few weeks spent wandering through the UK and Ireland, a week in Singapore, and finally two weeks with my family on a cruise. Full-on sort of falls sort as an explanation of what that last month and a half was like. It was mental.

Plus I got a tattoo. Teehee!

Now that I am finally back, and ready to plunge back into the world of...something, the question sort of came back as to what next? Now that I've gone on my extended trip and seen a great chunk of the world (in addition to many other years of travelling), what was I going to do next? A job was obviously on the cards but what? Where?

The unfortunate thing is that jobs in Archaeology in Australia are sort of few and far between these days, a lot of the paid work and subsequent research grants got so tied to the mining industry that when that went into a sort of remission - so did opportunity for me and my colleagues. It's not ideal for any of us, and morale is particularly low, but at least I was luck enough to leave before things started to get really bad (sorry to everyone who didn't!). I used my sudden enriched freedom to go travelling, as you know, and now that I'm back and things aren't improved in archaeology I needed to come up with a new plan.

I spent a lot of time this year thinking about it before and after my trip - ever since I was in the US in January to be precise. But it was a real tough one - did I go back and study again? Did I move overstate, overseas? Did I change careers?

I considered a new degree, I considered a masters or phD, I considered moving away and I even applied for jobs away - but the issue came from logistics, of course. I probably will go back and study someday, because I love to learn, but I decided against it for right now since I had barely been out of the classroom for long anyway. Moving away - and most likely overseas because opportunity in archaeology in Australia is just that bad right now - was my next option and one I'd have preferred, but the logistics were so hard. The most feasible plan appears to already be somewhere before applying for a job, especially in the UK (where being an EU citizen allows me to work). It's not as easy as I thought to move over seas for a new job from the other side of the world. Still want to do it sometime, but whilst my bank accounts are still smarting from their recent overtime it doesn't seem to be the best option going.

And so I turned to one of the things I know I am definitely good at (besides writing, cue arrogant writer syndrome): travel.

Heck knows that I love to travel. I love to plan it, talk about it, rearrange it, dream about it and otherwise fit any form of travel into my life where possible. I even love to travel write - there hasn't been one trip I've been on since I was about 13 that I haven't kept a journal. So why not try something different and join the lucrative world of travel?

So, I did. I start in 2 weeks, and I am so excited about it.

Sam xox

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ping Pong Simulation



Before I left on my epic adventure, I got a little more addicted to the Sims 3 than was probably healthy and spent a lot of times raiding tombs in fake Egypt and fake China. But for all the time I whiled away playing god with computer people, some of the misadventures that my characters got up to inspired me to write some more ordinary stories. I don't always write about the real world, but when I do I'm usually inspired by the fake world.

So without further ado, here is a little something from one of those moments of inspiration that I wrote back in April before La Vie began.


Mary Jane Jenkins started at the university in the summer of her 22nd year, having spent the time after finishing high school working and travelling abroad as she’d always wanted to do. She failed her first term of Technology, unprepared for the life that university brought when it was so different to the previous years she’d spent either aboard a ship, living in hostels or riding the subway of whatever city she’d made it to.
                Study was harder than she’d thought it would be, and after some appalling results on her first exam, MJ took a serious step back to consider her options.
                If MJ’s parents had still lived she’d have sought their counsel, and as it was with friendly only abroad and a cat named Lucifer who, sadly, couldn’t respond to her questions, MJ had little choice but to return to her psychologist.
                “You need to adjust,” Dr Fisher told her, as MJ sat across from her on a plush couch fiddling with the fringe on her skirt. “You’ve spent four years travelling and looking for a place to call your own, something you haven’t had since you were eight.”
                MJ remembered being eight a lot more vividly than most women her age, it was the year her parents had died – rather traumatically. They’d always loved her, and she them, and as a little girl she’d never wanted for anything. But that year they’d been killed by a drunk driver less than a block from their house in the suburbs.
                MJ’s father had been relatively wealthy, accruing a large amount of assets and shares in companies like Google and what had back then been IBM, and his death had left money to grow in folds over the years. Her mother had been successful in her own right, and alongside her husband had left MJ more than enough to live on.
                However, being so young at the event of their deaths and with no other living relatives, the officials had had little choice but to leave her to the foster care system and seal her inheritance into a trust left locked until MJ’s 18th birthday. Luckily, the woman at the bank in charge of the account had seen enough movies about what would have happened to a young heiress fending for herself a world of greedy money grabbers, and made the executive decision to have the inheritance remain a secret. And so, MJ’s childhood after that had been stable, uneventful and almost happy but for becoming so quiet and introverted that she hardly made any friends.
                Dr Fisher tapped at her notepad with a purple biro, contemplating MJ’s fears. Despite being the psychologist and grief counsellor appointed all those years ago to help a scared little girl through the untimely deaths of her parents, she had grown very fond of her and perhaps knew Mary Jane better than anyone alive.
                She was a self-made trap; afraid to bond with anyone lest they die as her parents had before hence the introvertedness, but desperately lonely. Not an uncommon psychoanalysis considering the circumstances.
                “What do you suggest?” MJ finally asked, dropping the hem of her skirt and looking up to meet Fisher’s eyes. “Return?”
                “An adjustment period, Mary.” Fisher was old fashioned in some things; never called MJ anything but Mary to her face. “This is a second chance to make friends, finally break out of that lonely world you live in and perhaps even try to settle a little. You’ve been alone a long time, and as wealthy as you are you can’t afford to travel forever.”
                MJ’s gaze flicked towards the window, out into the city beyond and remained silent for long moments. Fisher forced herself not to smile, knowing that she had pulled the right strings, and steepled her fingers, resting her elbows on the desk.
                “Alright,” MJ turned back to her only confidante and sighed. “You’re right; I need to try this adventure as I have others in the past. I owe it to the memory of my parents, and to myself, to try.   They never would have given up and I won’t either.”
                With a nod back and forth, Fisher rose as MJ exited the office, watching her through the window as the younger woman walked to her car and got in. At the sound of the door slamming shut, Fisher finally gave in to her impulse to smile.
                MJ didn’t know it yet, but Fisher was positive that the next year was going to be better for the young woman than either of them could even imagine.

 ~~~

Mary Jane Jenkins stood in the entrance hall of the Student Union building and tried not to panic. It was the first day of the Fall semester and people were everywhere as the Union hosted its annual ‘Welcome Back’ event with free food, drinks, Frisbees and the occasional poster. It was where friends caught up, new acquaintances were made and the university mascot cheered newcomers with the school song. It was effectively one big party to celebrate new friends, and old, returning to campus and an indication as to how the rest of the year was going to be.
                It was a sort of common knowledge on campus that those who partied hard at the WB were probably going to do so all year, and would know where the best soirees were going to be.
                MJ was not one of those people. With her chocolate brunette hair pulled to a side ponytail, clear lens Ray Bans, and high-waisted rose shorts with suspenders, she couldn’t have thought of a way to describe her discomfit if she’d tried. So on entering the building, following the crowd to the extra large common room, she had swiped a slice of piping hot Hawaiian pizza and tried to become one with the shadows in the corner.
                And it worked for a little while, enough to let her racing pulse calm a little before attempting to circulate the room.
                It was purely her attitude that kept her from having many friends; she was a good person at heart, gave to charities, had volunteered a lot whilst abroad, and did her best to treat everyone she met with kindness. And she wasn’t a physical underdog either; standing at 5”6 she had big blue eyes even hidden by her glasses, was slim because she never ate enough and had been said to be ‘hot’ by some of the boys at her high school and that she’d met overseas.
                But it was her intense quiet and shyness, not to mention panic at speaking to people other than Fisher, which stood between her and her ability to make friends.
                It was also why she froze like marble when a hopeful youth bounded up to her when she went to the refreshment table to acquire a napkin for her oily hands.
                “Hey there,” he said, flipping a lock of strawberry blonde hair out of his eyes. “I saw you move into the dorm today. Royal House, right? You starting this year, too?”
                He was tall and gangly, and looked to be around MJ’s own age. She vaguely recognised him from common room at the dormitory house she’d moved boxes into earlier in the day.
                “Yes – sort of.” She replied in a rush, nerves springing back up. “I’m technically a second year, but I botched the first few classes I took so I’ll be supplementing them.  And yes, Royal House.”
                He grinned down at her. “I thought so, I’d never forget your pretty face or those bizarre shorts. Name’s Scott Macklamore, I just transferred. I’m second year, too.”
                “Mary Jane Jenkins.”
                Scott whistled. “Nice name – what do your friends call you?”
                MJ couldn’t help the blush that spread across her cheeks and practically singed her eyebrows off. “MJ – well, at least they would if I had any friends.”
                Chuckling at first at what he found a ridiculous joke, he slowly drew to a halt as he realised she was serious. A kindred spirit though she didn’t know it yet, Scott took her hand and squeezed it. “Well, MJ, now you do.”
                The next hour saw Scott and MJ chatting, as his good-natured enthusiasm and jokes gradually drew MJ a little out of her shell enough to smile and laugh at his stories. During that hour they consumed a total of five beers between them and much more pizza than they needed, and MJ learnt that Scott was studying to be an historian. Having transferred from UCLA , he had a sunny disposition like his homeland and a passion for history – particularly European – that most people just didn’t have.
                It also turned out that they had a lot in common, too; they both enjoyed Studio Ghibli films, loved cats and considered Halloween to be the best time of year. Scott argued it was second only to Christmas, but MJ, having found Christmas hard since her parents died, thought otherwise.
                It was when they were entering their second hour that Scott was called away by a gaggle of girls, ladies man that he apparently was, and promised to see her later since she ‘couldn’t escape him while they lived in the same house’. MJ couldn’t help the smile that statement had given her.
                After he left, MJ slowly began to return to her familiar and comforting state of quiet when a ping pong ball sprung off the nearby table, smacked someone in the face, rolled along someone else’s arm and with a surprisingly big splash landed in MJ’s beer. Face sprayed with fizzy alcohol, MJ gasped and stared down at the perpetrator floating like a giant peal on the surface of the ruined drink.
                “Oh jeez, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get you – you can blame Ethan for that one.”
                MJ looked up dazedly into the darkly handsome face of the man who stood over her, racquet in hand and sheepish grin on his face. He thrust a thumb in the direction of a buff blonde god across the table who began to whistle surreptitiously like it proved his innocence.
                Stunned, she turned back to the man in front of her and sputtered. Even when Scott had cornered her earlier, she hadn’t felt this flustered.
                “Can I get you another drink?”
                Later, MJ wouldn’t be able to recall what had possessed her or what magic had worked on her, but  despite her misgivings she place her hand into the one he offered her and let him lever her to her feet.  Even following him to the keg, she wondered why she didn’t feel that intense panic and desire to run like she had with Scott and practically everyone before him.
                At the keg her took the red plastic cup from her with another apologetic grin, tossed the contents into the sink, rinsed it and refilled it.
                “No point in wasting a perfectly good cup,” he explained handing it to her. “I hope you can forgive me.”
                Still dazed, MJ nodded.
                “You don’t talk much, do you?”
                She shook her head.
                He laughed. “Well, how about a conciliatory game? Ethan’s forfeited his game, I think, after the damage he’s already caused.”
                MJ half smiled. Nodded again. A part of her wondered what else she’d have agreed to at that moment, oddly charmed by this tall stranger in a different way to how Scott had before.
                “Excellent. Well, I’m Jeffery – Jeffery Dean. Friends call me Jeff. How about you?”
                “I’ll tell you if I win the game.”
                In a move bolder than she’d ever been and made MJ think she’d actually lost the plot, acting completely out of character; she watched the look of surprise cross his features, soon replaced with a dazzling smile.
                “I like the way you play – you’re on.”
                Jeff led her back to the ping pong table and poked Ethan in the ribs. “Alright, buffoon, game’s over for you after that little show of public nuisance; hand over the paddle to my friend here and let someone else have a go.”
                Ethan, the blonde god who’d hit the ball across the room and into her drink, just laughed at his friend’s antics. “Sure, Jeff.” He handed the racquet to MJ with a courtly flourish, laughed, scratched the back of his head and wandered straight into the arms of some big-busted blonde to watch from the sidelines.
                MJ had a moment of panic that she was the centre of attention, but a quick survey of the room and a glance at the clock indicated that the bulk of the WB had headed either out on the town or home for the night. There was maybe fifteen people left to see her play and that thought was strangely comforting.
                “Alright, let’s rumble.” Jeff declared, wiggling his hips in a little dance football players sometimes did to warm up, before bouncing the plastic ball once and serving it across the table.
                What ensued quickly became a hard and fast ping pong duel the likes of which few had ever seen. MJ was actually quite good at ping pong, having convinced herself she’d win and escape unnamed, but then so, it seemed, was Jeffery. Eventually, it was panic that spurned MJ to hit harder and led to her overshooting the ball off the table. He lunged, they volleyed, she parried, but eventually her panic and desperation got the better of her and Jeff scraped through ahead.
                The crowd cheered, Ethan slapped his friend on the back and Jeff laughed, little droplets of sweat beading at his forehead as he breathed hard. MJ figured she probably looked just the same as her chest heaved to suck in oxygen. Her eternal lack of appetite had made her thin, but it sure hadn’t made her fit.
                Amidst the cheering and congratulations all round, Jeff managed to extract himself from the gathering groupies and job the few steps around the table to snag MJ before she could skulk away.
                His hand lacing unconsciously – at least on his part – with hers, he gave her another of his disarming smiles and nodded. “I believe we had a deal, milady – what do I call you?”

                MJ glanced down at their joint hands, then back up to his face, bewildered. “Mary Jane,” she murmured. At that moment, amidst a cheering, chattering crowd, her hand in his, MJ had the distinct feeling that she’d spent her last moments in the familiar loneliness she’d known for almost fifteen years. Life, as she knew it, would never be the same again.

Sam xox 

Field of Flowers



After spending the past two days organising and de-cluttering my whole apartment area, and getting rid of plenty of stuff, I moved around all my old travel journals. Since I always have different story scenes and whatnot scrambled through them amidst the day to day fun of my adventure, I thought it might be an opportunity to transcribe some of them to my master files if they hadn't been already.

So flipping through my journal from the Viva des Americas Part One trip in January/February 2011, I came across this small but important scene involving Allora and Dominic. It's super light-hearted and its one for Spring - since its Spring now! I hope you like it.


Allora caught the edge of her gown and ran through the grass laughing merily as she did so. The air caught her loosely bound hair and she felt free.
It was a pleasure to be out in the sunshine again; away from Maddy's hawk-eyed supervision, away from Sir Gabriel and her mother's ever-watchful attention. It seemed only now was life beginning to return to some of the normality, if you could call it that, that she had had before her abuduction to Hasah.
She turned in a spin and closed her eyes, taking in the sweet smell of the flowers in the meadow around her. The air was so fresh after the previous night's thunderstorm.
From behind, strong arms wrapped around her waist and a deep chuckle sounded beside her ear. She gasped, though she knew who it was already, and smiled before breaking away. Picking up her skirts she ran, laughing as she did so.
Far enough away, she came to the outbreak of the forest and ducked behind a tree out of sight of her pursuer. Unaware of where she'd gone, he ran right past her hiding spot and further into the dim of the woods.
Allora smiled, delighted by her duplicity, and crept out slowly to turn and double back in the direction from which she'd come. In the open air she found a soft patch of sunny yellow flowers and settled to the ground, feeling the warmth and crispness of the grass beneath her.
Rawr!” A figure launched out of the trees nearby, pouncing on her and rolling with her well into the field of flowers. Allora let out a squeal of surprise and shoved him away, bolting to her feet only to have him grab her arm and tug her back down to land with a whump on his chest. She was eye to eye with his cheeky grin and flushed face.
“Tried to pull one on me, Ally?” He asked when she tried again to push him away and run.
“Let me go!” She ordered him in mock anger, her legs flailing, caught between his and her skirts.
“Hooking her leg with his, her captor rolled them over and over again, each of them fighting for dominance of the other. Soon she was caught, legs thoroughly tangled, arms over her head and out of breath.
“Now, now, Ally,” he smiled, handsome face almost as bright as the yellow flowers now tangled haphazardly through their hair. “Don't you want to play nice with me?”
“I don't play nice with people the likes of you!”
“Oh,” he put a hand to his heart and gave her his most pained expression. “You wound me, Princess.”
She couldn't help but laugh at how pathetic he managed to look, then leant up to softly kiss his nose. He instantly grinned and moved to press his lips to hers in retaliation.
Their play fighting now over, Allora's arms came up to gently wrap around his shoulders, holding on to him as he chastly kissed her mouth. When she moaned in frustration at his slow pace, he started to pull back slightly, fighting another smile. Allora tightened her grip to keep him in place.
Dominic resisted enough to pull back and gaze down at her in all seriousness. “I love you,” he said, eyes on hers.
In response she pushed herself up on her arms and took his face in her hands. She nodded, eyes still locked on his, and kissed him.
Instantly he melted and opened his mouth to her.

For the first time since she'd seen Dominic astride astride his horse riding into Messinia months ago, Allora finally allowed herself to admit that she truly loved him, too. And that she had all along. 

Sam xox

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Train to Transylvania: Part Deux

When I let you last I had a splendid day in Mini Europe and felt practically incandescent. Well, the second half of my train journey down to Transylvania was no less exciting with many more moments to make me want to pinch myself, as well as the odd couple that made me want to hit someone.

Copenhagen

The next stop on the way after plucky little Belgium, was Denmark – home of the Danes! More specifically Copenhagen, land of the Viking conquerors. See why I chose to go? At any rate it was a fun trip on the train – even if it involved sitting in the stair wells and spending a decent 5 hours standing in the hallway – because it was the first time I'd ever been on a train that actually goes onto a ferry to cross a body of water. Yes! Because bridges are too mainstream, the train from Hamburg to Copenhagen actually boards a ferry for 45 minutes to cross into Scandinavia from mainland Europe. How's that for awesomely weird?
At any rate, I made it to Copenhagen and it was pretty much more or less everything that I expected: chilly, expensive and pretty damn cool. The Danes sure now how to tempt me, too, with their glorification of their Viking heritage and the utter love that they have for Hans Christian Anderson, author of what would become my favourite movie of all time: The Little Mermaid. They love it so much that the musical has made it there (unfortunately not until after I left, mind you) and they also have that important little statue by the water past the new harbour. It was on my bucket list to see, and even though it was kind of little and most people are disappointed by it I wasn't. There was something just so nice about it.

On the other hand there was just so much else to do that made it wonderful like the National museum, full of significant Bronze and Iron Age pieces like the Trundholm chariot (it's significant to my area of interest, at least), the HCA storybook museum, and the Tivoli gardens, the second oldest theme park in the world. Whilst expensive, the city of Copenhagen was just so nice and so pretty that had I more money I definitely would have liked to stay longer and enjoy all the delights of the New Harbour and seen some more pantomime's at Tivoli. Plus actually venture out into Denmark itself, I didn't get the chance and I've heard that some of the best things lie outside of the city. Roskilde for one.

Munich

I don't remember too much about the train to Munich as I was so deeply engrossed in What a Girl Wants by the wonderful Lindsey Kelk that I didn't really notice Germany flying by. Since I'm not Germany's biggest fan (and it wasn't the Black forest) I didn't really care anyway, but all I needed to know was however long it took me to read that wonderful book is exactly how long it took from Hamburg to Munich.

I do have to say though that Munich, and Bavaria in general, really impressed me. Everything that was missing in that awful city of Berlin was back with a vengeance in Munich. The city was just so full of life and colour that I was terribly disappointed to leave as soon as I did, and barely brushed the surface on all the things I would have loved to do in that city.

But some of the things I did do was take in the Bavarian scenery, listen to the crazy clock in Marienplatz, sample some pork knuckle and imbibe a little too much at the Hofbrauhaus in the middle of the day. It was some pretty good fun. Of course I went on yet another amazing walking tour and learnt as much as I could in the 3 short hours I had, including plenty about the unfortunate mishaps that Hitler put the city through during his time as Chancellor and the war. At least one thing I learnt that impressed me was that Munich, knowing it wasn't going to escape from the war unscathed, secretly had architects record, photograph and take extensive notes on the majority of the city. So, that when the city was heavily bombed by the allies the people were able to rebuild the city just as it had been before – with all the beauty that Bavaria is known for. Yet another thing I hated about Berlin – it was so full of shiny new buildings it lost so much of its character.

The real reason I went to Munich, however, was in order to visit the so-called Disney castle of Neuschwanstein. Built in the 19th century by the poor, unfortunate and handsome Lugwig II, it still remains uncompleted to this day since the king's mysterious death over a century ago. Obsessed with fairy tales and religions around the world, the castle really doesn't look like the ones you'd find in the rest of the area let alone much of Europe. It does in fact look like it had been taken from the pages of more than one story, be it Snow White or Cinderella or Rapunzel, and I'm saddened that Lugwig II never got to see his dream realised. Especially when he paid for its construction with his own money and didn't bankrupt his kingdom in the process, unlike some past monarchs I could name (Louis XIV).

It was a super long day, with a two hour train journey each way in order to reach the castle site. But I made a good day of it with some new friends, ate some schnitzel, drank some beer, and sailed around the lake on a peddle-boat just for fun. Even if by the time I got home I was wrecked, I regretted nothing about how amazing a day I'd had.

Krakow

I do, however, kind of regret the ridiculously long bus ride from Munich to Krakow the following night, in which no one spoke a word of English but for myself, it was super cramped, and it was so hot it was like a circle of hell. Thinking back, I really should have just caught the night train instead.

But when I finally made it, I really enjoyed Poland. Well, at least until a point.

For one thing it was really cheap and not much less beautiful than places like Budapest and Prague, just in its own way. Traditional food was sort of delicious and you could really see that the Polish people, who'd been hit really badly by WWII, were all so lovely, optimistic and nice – not at all the kind of people beat down by circumstance. There was a real sort of dry humour about the place that made it fun to be around and you could tell from the pissing Lenin statue (yes, really) to the carved gnomes in the Salt Mines, that the Polish were a proud people. I really liked the time I spent there. Even if sometimes their stories and history felt a little more like black comedy.

Auschwitz, however, was another story. It is impossible to say that I enjoyed my trip to the standing memorial to one of the most horrific aspects of modern human history, when so much death and terror occurred in the very places I stood. Before Mathausen, I wouldn't have thought I would have been so monumentally affected by a place like that. Not because I think I'm cold, that's certainly not true, but because I had never been anywhere like that before and was not sure how hard it would hit me to be there in the flesh. And it hit me so hard, I almost had to walk out or risk being physically ill. Its so hard to even process the thought that someone could give the orders to liquidate hundreds of thousands of lives let alone actually carry those orders out. There was no excuse for what they had done, and no one will ever accept one.

But despite the human tragedy that has forever tainted the very land that the former concentration camp stood on, it has since become a memorial and warning to the future. In every language of the victims, including Hebrew, we are informed in iron of the events that happened and the hope that this will never, ever be allowed to happen again.

It was a harrowing day, one that needed to be had, and I am glad that it is something I can remember to regain some perspective now and then. People should go to mourn, to cry, to rail against the perpetrators, and to hurt, but most importantly people should go to remember. These people were murdered, mostly left in unmarked graves, but no one deserves to be forgotten. Each victim had a story, and keeping the remnants of the camp open to visitors allows at least a little part of it to be told.

Vienna

Back in Vienna I was so happy I practically bounced off the walls in incandescent glee. I gave a bit of a run down on the city before, and this was only a day spent again, so this will be brief. But even a single day spent was so nice I spent most of the morning reading over breakfast at a cafe then did some shopping, just having a classy, dignified sort of morning you'd really expect from a city like Vienna.

I thought about it actually and decided that Vienna had all the beauty, class, dignity and baroque that Paris did but without being so pretentious.

And that virtually set the scene for the day. I visited the museum dedicated to the unfortunate Princess Sissi and learnt about her life, I wandered up to the markets, spent more money than I actually intended to and later met a lovely new friend who I was able to eat cordon bleu with.

It was too-short a day in Vienna, but I enjoyed it no less than I had the last time.

Budapest

Budapest was much the same: a fairytale city that was just as amazing the second time around like Vienna. But of course the days were spent doing things differently to what I had before. For one thing I went to some more markets and saw some amazing and abstract works, and I spent hours lounging in all manner of baths at one of the biggest and most beautiful bath houses in the world from hot, to temperate to medicinal and even a very fast moving whirlpool. And to top off that awesome day I managed to wine my way to a ruin bar with a couple of attractive men and found myself stalking a pub crawl all the way to a kebab shop outside my hostel door.

The second day was a tad more dignified in effect as I visited the great market hall, some museums and highly amused myself by learning about the princes of Transylvania – which for those of you who aren't sure or don't know is not only a real place it used to lie within both Hungary and Romania, but now its just a part of Romania. There was also a lot of information about various phases in Hungarian history and culture including costume through the ages and propaganda from the communist occupations under Stalin. I hadn't realised before then what a varied and epic history that Hungary had had, and I found I was so interested in learning more about it than I already knew. And it wasn't just because of Elizabeth Bathory or the connections to Transylvania.

Like Vienna and Prague, I'll be back to Budapest again. There's just something about those three fairytale cities that made me feel all too at home and like a part of the stories I've always loved.

Bucharest

Romania was a very different kind of fairy story. It reminded me much of Krakow and the people I met had a similar disposition, albeit with a different kind of black humour. Such as, say, positioning a bust of Vlad Tepes across from a steak house and staring blankly when asked about when he died. One tour guide I had said, “What do you mean? He still lives. Sort of.” Romania takes Dracula pretty seriously, and its sort of nice to see them embracing their national icons in the same way that England reveres Sherlock Holmes.

In fact, like the creation of 221B Baker street, Bran Castle was designated as Castle Dracula – even if the Prince of Wallachia barely spent a month there in his life. But I have to say that it was perfectly chosen, completely atmospheric and I could almost see Jonathan Harker hobbling down the steps. Or maybe someone in the streets yelling 'Van Helsing!' I could go on, really. But what was pretty damn cool was that that morning we left Bucharest in sunlight and blue sky, only to make it to Transylvania in the afternoon when it was dark, grey and storming. I know. I even convinced a little boy on our tour that the weather had turned bad because we'd angered Dracula and he needed to apologise. He did.

Vampires are still big in Romania, don't be fooled otherwise.

Peles Castle, the summer home of the royal family, was pretty and architecturally interesting although for me sort of lacked a kind of originality. Compared to Bran Castle and Neuschwanstein it was practically boring. But it was fun to see not in the least because of how cool the surrounding city was – it was pretty much what I thought of when I imagined Romanian towns and culture.

Bucharest itself was nice – not crazy, but nice, and I could have spent longer touring around some of the more interesting museums that I didn't make it to the first time around. Plus my hostel was just so comfortable that I could have stayed for ages. It was a really nice little city that I vastly enjoyed.

Just a quick word too about Romanian desserts. When you go, don't forget to try a little something known as papansi. Its food of the gods.

So, in the end I did make it all the way from Lisbon in Portugal to Bucharest in Romania. It took me 25 days, 15 trains, 11 countries and one very long bus ride to make it, but I did and I loved just about every damn minute of it. 

Sam xox