The Lisbon Travel Guide


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Lisbon is one of those cities that at least one person in every friendship circle has visited. The tell-tale patterned tiles on the roofs, floors and walls, the mustard yellow tram, the pasteis de nata (aka the elixir of life) - all signs of a classic trip to the Portuguese capital.

The city is picture perfect, and a little more research into what it has to offer meant Lisbon has been on my travel hit list for years. My boyfriend and I decided to make it our summer holiday last year, and booked six nights in an Airbnb in the Sao Bento district. Lisbon is a big city, so it's important to do your research before booking a spot to stay and working out what sort of vibe you're going for. Alfama, for example, is on the eastern side of Lisbon and is quieter and more residential while Belem, on the west side of the city, boasts vast green spaces and clean cut architecture. Everything in between is a maze of alley-thin winding roads and hills that should come with a health warning in any temperature over 30 degrees (I speak from experience!)

Our apartment in Sao Bento was centrally placed, and was perfect for our holiday plans. We wanted to explore every part of the diverse city, and were lucky enough to have six days to do it. I have no idea how people cram a visit to Lisbon in a long weekend - there were still things we didn't get round to doing!

Day trips
As I've said, Lisbon is a huge city that takes around 45 minutes to drive from one side to the other, so it's important to plan your days.

Bairro Alto and Alfama
We started this day exploring the centre of the city called Bairro Alto, which is mainly filled with the shops you would find in most European cities, bars and tourist trap restaurants. The locals love their sardines, and there are entire shops filled with tins of the little slimy things! I very much doubt the natives would stock up in these tourist spots at €8 a tin, but the colourful interiors and staff wearing fish hats (and hating their lives along the way) are worth a visit. 

Also smack bang in the middle of Bairro Alto is the Santa Justa Elevator. It is quite simply a lift built within a gothic tower, and is used as a easy means of transport between the higher level Baixa district and Bairro Alto. Despite, really being just a lift, its roof is an amazing viewing platform across the entire city. You can see orange roof tiles for miles and is particularly stunning on a clear day. Access to the roof and a one way trip in the lift costs just a few euros, and despite being an obvious tourist trap, is worth it.

We then decided to make our way to Alfama Castle, which is atop an insanely steep hill. As the heat was almost 40 degrees, we jumped in a taxi like the lazy tourists we are and were on our way. Our non-English speaking taxi driver simply drove us around the corner for a three minute journey and then asked for five euros before abandoning us. We found the whole thing hilarious, and was the prime example of silly Brits abroad!

In the end we were glad about our little detour because it gave us the opportunity to explore the quiet side of Alfama. We wandered around the maze-like streets of the district, some of which were so narrow we had to walk single file. People around us were hanging out their washing and children were playing in the roads, much like any other residential street. Although a steep walk, I would definitely recommend making your journey to the castle on foot - you would miss so much in a car!

Although not much of a history buff, I loved the castle - Castelo de Sao Jorge. It was another breathtaking viewpoint, with never ending landscapes and photo opportunities. We were there late afternoon and it wasn't too busy, but I imagine it can be hectic in prime times. Entry into the castle was €12 apiece which, again, is worth it just for the view.

The view from the elevator rooftop with the castle in the distance!

The view from the castle grounds 


Home to the first ever pasteis de nata (custard tart) shop, Belem is a very different vibe to Alfama. With endless open space and immaculate streets, it couldn't be more different to Alfama. We started our day by getting a taxi from our Airbnb to air centre LX Factory, which was just a short ten minute drive from the city centre heading towards Belem. LX Factory is a hidden gem that I discovered on Instagram, and I'm so glad I did. As alternative as Shoreditch but with a cultural twist, this renovated factory beneath the famous bridge boasts restaurants, cute cafes, art, book stores and graffiti galore. It really is picture perfect and a perfect place to stop off en route to Belem.

We watched from LX Factory to Belem, which took around 45 minutes. It's nice to travel around vast cities on foot to experience the different neighbourhoods, and naturally we picked up multiple lime Calippos along the way (why don't they sell those beauties in the UK?!) Once in centre of Belem, we stopped by Pasteis de Belem – the first ever custard tart shop – which was predictably rammed with tourists. We got there just after a coach had arrived so it was heaving, and one woman ordered 50 tarts!

We then wandered a few minutes up the hill to the Tropical Botanical Garden, or Jardim Botanico Tropical. Entry is just a few euros and it's so worth it - we spent around an hour wandering around the the huge palm trees, ponds and plants from far and wide.

From there we walked towards the river to see the Padrao dos Descobrimentos, a huge white monument, and then along to the famous Belem Tower. I wasn't fussed about going inside, which was lucky because the queue was absolutely huge. By the time we reached the tower it was around 3pm, so it's worth noting an early start if you want to venture inside!

LX Factory

A quick Google of Sintra will make it self explanatory as to why it was near the top of my list of places to go when in Lisbon. Sintra is at the foothills of the Sintra Mountains and is a 40 minute train journey from Rossio Station in the Baixa district. My top tip would be to get an early train to beat the rush at the other end, when all the tourist spots open at 10am.

Upon arrival in Sintra, we weren't really sure how to go about it. Despite lots of research, I didn't love the idea of jumping on one of the tourist coaches lurking by the station - they looked so out of places against the beautiful surroundings, and I wanted to explore more on foot. Instead, we walked the residential roads up to the Palace of Sintra, where we grabbed some breakfast and made an action plan. We then jumped into a motorised rickshaw, which took us all the way up the near-vertical hill to Pena Palace. The rickshaw was SO fun and only cost around €10. I would strongly recommend against walking between palaces - it's a long way, the roads are steep and there are no paths.

Pena Palace is stunning, but trust us to go there on a cloudy day! Views were blocked by thick fluffy clouds, but you still can't help but be impressed with the palace itself. Its bright yellow exterior, beautiful tiled walls and sheer majestic presence atop the hill was brilliant. It gets really busy, so be prepared to fight for a table to eat your lunch and feel like you're on a school trip shuffling around the palace interiors.

After, we headed (via another rickshaw) to Quinta da Regaleira, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The estate is worth a visit purely for its gardens - we didn't even go inside the mansion. The grounds are stunning. Waterfalls, underground mazes and greenery galore, it was truly beautiful and highly recommended. Don't miss The Initiation Well!

Pena Palace
Welcome to my crib!
Quinta da Regaleira waterfall

The Initiation Well 

Sintra town

 Other places to note
Despite Lisbon being a waterfront city on the river, beaches aren't far away. We caught a train from Cais do Sodre station to Cascais, a coastal resort town to the west of Lisbon. Train run every half an hour, but get to the station early - the queues are crazy! We had a beach day at Cascais, which wasn't too busy for a hot day in June. We explored the town before heading back to Lisbon, and it's filled with trinket shops, bars and restaurants. Sit by the harbour with a drink to soak up the atmosphere - it's beautiful.

Aside from the tourist hotspot that is the Time Out Market, my top food recommendation has to be Pistola y Corazon, a Mexican joint not far from the market. One of the best travel tips someone has ever given me is if the locals are queueing up for a restaurant, you know it's good, and this couldn't be more true in this instance. I still think about the tacos and we went back twice!

On our last night, we enjoyed rooftop drinks at a bar called Noobai. We drank white Sangria (who knew that was a thing) and enjoyed the amazing view of the bridge and city beneath us. It was the perfect way to end a lovely (but sweaty!) week away!

I loved Lisbon and would happily go back in a heartbeat. This is probably the longest blog post I;ve ever written but I hope the detail has given you some pointers to start planning your trip to the Portuguese capital! Happy holidays!

Lisbon Main Square




The Hearty Macaroni Cheese Recipe


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The jumpers are slowly emerging from the dusty depths of the wardrobe, we're all starting to (guiltily) pop the heating on for a few hours in the evening, and every other photo on Instagram is of a Starbucks pumpkin spiced latte - it must be autumn! This season is my favourite. I love nothing more than wrapping up in a big coat, woolly hat and boots, going for a long walk in the crispy leaves in temperatures that you can see your breath in, and ending up in a pub for lunch by the fireplace. Yes x 100000!

With the arrival of colder weather disappears my cravings for salads and BBQs, replaced instead with soups and comforting hot meals. When the temperature dipped for the first time last weekend, I fancied a bellyful of hot gooey grub and here we are; my macaroni cheese recipe. Mac n cheese is one of my boyfriend's favourite meals and he said it was the best he's ever had - high praise indeed! This recipe makes four hearty portions and it's best eaten on the day.

350g macaroni
4 tablespoons of butter 
1 tablespoon garlic granules 
1 teaspoon of English mustard (optional)
5 tablespoons of plain flour
500ml milk
250g cheddar cheese
100g parmesan
2 slices of bread (preferably the crusts)
Black pepper to season

1. Preheat the oven at 180C. Break the bread into small pieces and scatter across a baking tray. Melt two tablespoons of the butter, pour over the bread and toss using your hands. Pop in the oven for 6 minutes and once crispy, put to one side.
2. Boil the macaroni for around 8 minutes, drain, and set to one side.
3. Put the other two tablespoons of butter, garlic granules and mustard (if using) into a saucepan on the hob and stir until melted. Add two tablespoons of plain flour, and gradually add the milk while whisking. Then add the remaining three tablespoons of flour slowly - add seasoning as desired! I used black pepper here, but I'm keen to try paprika another time!
4. Whisk the mixture until it becoming a sauce-like consistency - this can take a while, usually around 5-7 minutes, but keep the hob on a low heat and don't be tempted to whack it up - be patient!
5. Once thickened, take the sauce off the hob and add both types of cheese, grated. Combine thoroughly and then add the macaroni.
6. Transfer into a large ovenproof dish and sprinkle over extra cheese as desired, plus the breadcrumbs. Pop in the oven on the bottom shelf for 20 minutes and voila! Serve with green veggies or if you're really serious about bulking for the winter months, garlic bread. Yum!

My Tips To Finding The Perfect House Share


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House shares: the in-between renting option for those who need to get out of their parents' hair but can't quite stretch to their own place. I was a snob to house shares after uni, promising myself I'd never have to live with strangers again now I was out in the real world with a real full time job. How innocent I was!

The fact remains that despite having a paid full-time job straight out of uni, life is pretty bloody expensive and at 22 years old, just a year after graduating, I was never going to be able to afford my own place. I got myself a new job in London and needed to move out of my Dad's place in Hampshire, so I knew a house share was my best bet.

To state the obvious, London is really expensive. I looked at eight rooms before lumping for one in East Surrey, but most I viewed were in south London and were priced at around £800 for a damp, old box room - absolute robbery. Although I live further out from the city, I pay £525 a month for a double room, bills included, with a garden and brand new furnishings.

Things to consider

1. What do you want. I knew I wanted to be near a train station, in a house with at least one other female and preferably in a modern building. I realised how important the latter was to me after viewing some absolute horror old houses that hadn't been looked after and were smelly, mouldy and generally unpleasant.

2. Do your research. I knew next to nothing about south London when I began my hunt, with my knowledge extending to Clapham being 'quite cool but expensive'. It makes me smile thinking about it now, but I really didn't have a clue what I was doing!

I knew I wanted to live south of the river because my new job was based near London Bridge and I knew people around the south London/East Surrey area. I then looked at what areas I could afford, which places were nice near the train stations and what deposits were being asked for. Some want two months rent upfront plus a deposit AND admin fees - that's completely unreasonable and I couldn't afford it anyway.

I used to hunt for house shares, but other options include Gumtree and RightMove. I think SpareRoom and RightMove are the safest ways to meet with landlords, as they need to be a registered landlord before advertising (Gumtree just seems a bit shady to me).

3. Meet your housemates. This is absolutely essential. In one of the places I viewed, the live-in landlord showed me around and he was an absolute creep. Three other females lived there and he said he insisted on doing their washing because he was a good landlord, and then winked at me. He was about 5ft tall and probably weighed the same as an infant so I knew I could take him on, but that's not really the good start you want!

I actually only met one of my housemates before agreeing to move in, and he seemed okay at the time. He ended up being a bit of a weirdo, but it was the eighth house I'd looked at, I was going to be homeless in three weeks and everything was brand new in the room I was to be renting, so I just went with it. If I did it all again, I would insist on meeting everyone before signing on the dotted line.

4. Know that it's not easy. It's been almost two years since I moved into my house share and lots of people have come and gone in that time, meaning I'm the longest standing tenant. 

Currently, we're two girls and two guys and everyone gets along, but at worst it was unbearable. We only recently saw the back of an alcoholic who, one night, came into my room as I slept. I woke up and he was just stood in the middle of my room in the dark. He was a drunken arsehole, to put it bluntly. This leads me to...

5. Be assertive. When you're reading through your contract, flag up anything of concern to your landlord. We don't have locks on our doors because of something to do with insurance, and I wasn't even allowed to have one fitted after that guy came into my room. If something like that is important to you, before you sign the contract is the time to bring it up. There may be some things you aren't willing to compromise on, but you have no grounds for argument with your landlord once that contract is signed.

Similar to this is how precious you are about your possessions. If you are funny about people using your things (plates, iron, milk), make that clear early on. It's hard to break people's habits once they've got used to how things are, but if you make it clear from the start what you're willing to share and what you're not, it'll make life much easier in the long run. 

6. Check the contract. Aside from what I mentioned above, looking at your get-out clauses is really important. Despite great first impressions, you may not enjoy living in your house after giving it a good go and it's reassuring to have a clause that enables you to get out before a whole year's tenancy. Most house shares offer a six-month break clause in the first year, meaning you can move out after six months and still get your full deposit back. 

7. Remember it's not forever. Few people envisage their living situation in their twenties or thirties to be in a house share. Like I mentioned at the start, look at it as an in-between arrangement while you get on your feet or arrange other plans. I'm planning on moving in with my boyfriend when my tenancy runs out in the summer, and if anything every annoys me now I think to myself just a few more months to go!

You need the patience of a saint to never get annoyed living in a house share, because the bottom line of it is that you're a group of people who don't know each other living under one roof - it's highly unlikely you're not going to annoy each other at some point. But you might also make lifelong friends who you'll stay in touch with in years to come - and you might even move in with a good cook!

11 Things That Make Me Happy


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1. Slow weekend mornings with my manfriend, watching TV in our pjs and drinking tea

2. The buzzing feeling after a tough workout

3. Cooking and baking for other people (and getting great feedback!)

4. Light evenings and the feeling of Spring creeping up on us. Alternately, crisp Autumn days when the leaves are colourful and a woolly hat is essential

5. Having lots of fun things to look forward to - days out with family, meals with friends, city breaks with anyone!

6. Getting a pat on the back at work when you've tried really hard on a project

7. Summer picnics in the park with my sisters, when we laugh til we cry and eat too many Pringles

8. Small gestures of kindness - a stranger holding a door open, surprise acts of affection, someone helping you out just because

9. Exploring new places and accidentally discovering ones you didn't know existed

10. Reminiscing with old photos

11. Brighton. The seafront, the pier at sunset, the narrow lanes, the seagulls who try to steal your ice cream, the kooky people who are comfortable in their own skin, the trinket-filled little shops (guess where I am in this photo?!)

Fitness: The Unofficial Club Anyone Can Join


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Let's start with a little story about my own weight and fitness.

Looking back, I was a slim teenager. I thought I was a heffa because I had big ol' melons (my first ever bra was a B cup and I was a DD aged 15), and I towered over my petite school friends. I feared bread and felt guilty when I ate my mum's delicious homemade cakes, despite doing after school sports clubs a few times a week, playing netball every weekend and, you know, being a kid. Nutter.

Fast forward to aged 17, when I moved to Devon and discovered a truly fantastic bakery near my new sixth form that sold cheese and onion pasties the size of my head for £1.50. Needless to say, that slim phase was long gone. Fast forward two years and I'm well into the swing of uni, drinking four nights out of seven, demolishing a large Domino's like it was quick bite to eat, and binging on biscuits and ice cream from the Spar underneath my halls because freshers, innit.

It wasn't til the end of my first year at uni when I saw some horrific photos of me squeezed into a pinstriped bodycon dress (fashionista til I die), that I realised something needed to change. At my biggest, I cried in a Topshop changing room because I couldn't fit into a size 16 pair of jeans.

That following summer, I bought myself a new pair of trainers (the very same pair you can see in the above photo!) and signed up for Results With Lucy, an online subscription service that had lots of different types of workout videos that were all under half an hour. This was my first taste of HIIT - high intensity interval training. That, teamed with an alcohol and takeaway ban, meant I shed 22 pounds (1 stone 10 pounds) in two months.

My relationship with health and fitness has changed since then - with lots of peaks and a hell of a lot of troughs - and it's developed in an even more positive way most recently, which is what inspired me to write this post.

I've realised health and fitness is an unofficial club anyone can join. I think a lot of people (including myself until more recently) get caught up on what they see on Instagram, like that they must have defined abs because everyone on social media seems to have them these days. That's just not the case. Instagram isn't always real, too - Photoshop is a beautiful, and ugly, thing.

My point is that you don't need to look like fitness bloggers and personal trainers to look brilliant, or workout five times a week to be deemed as dedicated. It's these people's jobs to have the tightest tushes and bulging biceps, but for 99% of us with full time jobs as well as other commitments, we should give ourselves a pat on the back for that spinning class we squeeze in or that half an hour run we sweat out. And if you eat that bag of Minstrels later that evening? Ah well, you're only human.

My own little fitness struggle at present is running. The love/hate relationship is so damn real: When I've had a crappy day or I'm pissed off, I love it. I finish, sweating my nuts off, but feeling like all my stresses have buggered off. Other days, like my last run, I bloody hate it. I couldn't get into a rhythm, I got a stitch half a mile in, and I literally could not wait to get home and be horizontal.

Exercising is like that, though. Everyone has off days, but the rewards will come through in the end. I hope, at least, because I'm doing the 10-mile Great South Run in October and I'm wheezing through my three-mile jollies right now!

You could want to perfect a certain yoga pose, or complete three unassisted pull-ups. I'm no personal trainer that's for sure, but I know fitness is all about being the best version of you so you can lead a long and healthy life. And remember, you don't need an eight-pack to be beautiful. Don't worry about what you see on social media and get into your own little health and happiness bubble - you can do it!!

Smear Tests: What You Need To Know


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WARNING: this blog post contains a lot of explicit vagina chat. And trust me, it ain't the sexy kind.

S M E A R  T E S T S.

Yep, that dreaded envelope that you find on your doormat every 3-5 years, asking you to pop in to see the nurse and have a little cotton bud wiped around your cervix. Sexy, huh?

As I nudge towards 25, my first such envelope arrived last month and I booked my appointment the very next day. Although I knew it wasn't exactly going to be the most enjoyable 10 minutes of my life, health tests like this are really important to me.

So what exactly is a smear test? A smear test, or cervical screening as it's now coined, involves taking a small sample of cells from the surface of your cervix. The sample is then sent to a lab and checked for abnormal cells. These cells aren't necessarily cancerous, but they could develop into cancer if left untreated.

The test is to look for types of human papillomavirus, more commonly known as HPV. This might sound familiar because there was a big hoo-har around a decade ago about bringing in vaccines for teenage girls and whether or not they were safe (and if I remember correctly, I was part of the first school years to have the injection). The trigger to action by the government was, of course, Jade Goody's death. The space between her diagnosis with cervical cancer to her death was just six months.

Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by HPV, which is actually a very common virus that most people will unknowingly be infected with at some point of their life as it can be passed through sexual activity. There are lots of different types of HPV and usually your immune system just gets rid of the abnormal cells, but sometimes they can lead to cancer.

Before the appointment
First, it's important to know you can't be on your period for your test, and you should tell the nurse or person you book your appointment with beforehand if you're pregnant or have had a hysterectomy. Also, I specifically asked to have a female nurse to do my test when arranging my appointment - it just made me feel more comfortable. 

I'd recommend wearing something loose that's easy to whip off, so I went for a dress and leggings - the dress made me feel a little more covered up, although once she's down there you're not really thinking about flashing too much flesh, believe me! It's also recommended not to use any vaginal medication, lube or other cream 48 hours before your test because they can affect the sample taken.

What happened in the appointment?
The nurse welcomed me in and asked me a few questions, such as whether I'm sexually active, if I'm in a relationship and if I've ever been tested for sexually transmitted infections/diseases.

She beckoned me behind a curtain, where there is a long sun lounger-style bed (not quite a poolside Bali vibe, though) and asked me to take my leggings and pants off, and then pulled over the curtain to give me privacy. While the curtain was closed, I needed to sit perched on the edge of the bed end, put a big bit of kitchen roll-style tissue over my lap, lay down and prop my feet up by my bum with my legs akimbo.

Like I said, not the most glamorous of blog posts.

The nurse then came back round the curtain and sat on a chair at the end of the bed when my bits were getting an airing. Honestly, I thought I would be really embarrassed but that wasn't the case. As much as a computer is a day-to-day thing for an office goer, a vagina is commonplace to these nurses. And strangely, that piece of tissue stops you seeing what she's up to and eliminates some of the stress of the situation.

She then inserted a speculum (sort of like small tongs) inside the foof and gently opened it probably around 3-4cm, so not much at all when you think that one day you will probably push a whole human out of there! This was the part I was most nervous about, but there was no pain and it was just a little uncomfortable. She did her swabs using a long cotton bud looking thing and it was all over.

From inserting the speculum to removing it was probably around 30 seconds, if that, and my whole appointment lasted about 5-10 minutes including chats about how to check your breasts for lumps (why don't they teach that stuff in school instead of algebra?!) 

What's the verdict?
If you say you haven't got time for an appointment, make time - this can save your life. If your doctor's surgery doesn't have an early and evening service for appointments for those working full time, you can book in to have the screening at a sexual health clinic for whenever suits you.

Not booking an appointment because you're embarrassed also isn't an excuse - remember my computer/office worker analogy. They don't care if you have weird flaps or a birthmark or a shaving rash - the nurse is there to test your health and make sure you haven't got any nasties lurking in there. If there is something in there that shouldn't be, it's much better to know sooner rather than later and get rid of those buggers!

When the next letter landed on the doormat to tell me I was all clear for another three years, the relief felt amazing. The technical wording was: 'The cells in the sample from your cervix looked normal. This means your risk of cervical cancer is very low at this time.'

And that is that. All over til 2020, when another suspicious looking white envelope will arrive to invite me to go through it all over again. As I've said, this is pretty graphic in detail and not like anything I've written about before, but that was even more of an incentive for me to - I couldn't find anything online as detailed as this prior to my test, and that made it all the more daunting. If this little post encourages just one gal to book their appointment, that's all the justification I need!

If you want to learn more about cervical screening, click here.

13 Things That Prove You're A Pro At Adulting


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The other day, my boyfriend and I were discussing renting, buying houses, growing up, and he said to me: "You realise you're an adult now, don't you?"

Ew. An adult. Yes, at the ripe ol' age of 24 I suppose I have to accept I have fallen into this category, but I take on the label begrudgingly. Despite having moved out long ago and fended for myself for even longer, in my head I'm still that clueless teen just stumbling through life with one accidental small win after another. 

I've realised that's all adulthood is. I was chatting to my 19-year old sister the other day and she was saying she's not sure what she's doing in life but she's just giving it a good go for now. And that's what it's all about. You can ask for all the advice and read all of the top tips manuals, but let's be honest - we're all bloody winging it. 

We are all guilty of giving ourselves a hard time about not saving enough, achieving enough, eating too much, not exercising enough, but here are 13 things that prove you're winging this adulting thing pretty damn well...

1. Having your breakfast and packed lunch ready the night before, in separate tupperware boxes. Alright, mum.

2. Still being able to afford cheese at the end of the month (unlike the uni days...)

3. Having a salary wing its way into your account every month, meaning you can pay rent, transport yourself around and, you know, have fun occasionally.

4. Your direct debits come out of your account hassle free without Vodafone emailing you saying your payment has bounced.

5. You understand what a pension is and you're paying into one, ready for when you're a wrinkly (HELP).

6. You don't wait up til 12.01am on payday to do a £200 ASOS order.

7. You've got a job that's at least kind of  in the field you'd always planned to work in and you're pretty damn good at it. Go you.

8. You're more comfortable in your skin than you were ten years ago, because you realise you're lucky have arms to hug and legs to walk, and that jelly belly really isn't the end of the world (and it's super cuddly anyway).

9. You buy alcohol you like, not just because it's £3.99 for a litre.

10. You know cereal isn't really an acceptable dinner, but it's likely to slip into the meal plan every so often amongst all those casseroles and chillis you've perfected making from scratch.

11. You happily put practicality in front of anything else, because this girl only has one back and you can laugh all you want at my Dora the Explorer backpack.

12. You're really into hot beverages, and are known to say things like "I was craving a cup of tea that whole journey" or "a cup of tea will sort it all out".

13. You actually get excited at the thought of plant shopping AND you can keep them alive for at least a month. 'Ello Mrs Titchmarsh. 

Gold stars all round!

Hunting For That Silver Lining


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It's a frosty Wednesday morning just past 11am, and I'm sat at my desk at work. I get an email from two directors asking to have a quick meeting in 15 minutes. I shrug it off, assuming it would be another moan about the train strikes and me having to work from home. Twenty minutes later, I've been made redundant.

It wasn't the way I planned to start my 2017, that's for sure. I had never considered I'd ever be made redundant, let alone at the peachy age of 24 years old and definitely not when I had been working my butt off.

That's the way life works, though. You could be the nicest, hardest working, most deserving person in the world, and life just plops a big ol' turd on you. 

People say that good fortune is self made, but I disagree. In the most extreme cases, I've known truly fantastic people to be taken away by tragedy and seen loved ones crumble under the pressure of bad news. Good fortune isn't made, no more than bad fortune is deserved. No one knows what's round the corner, and that's why you have to cling on to that silver lining.

If I'm honest, I wasn't too happy in my job, but I sure as hell gave it my all. The tears that followed that meeting, as I stood lurking around the corner of my office hiccuping on the phone to my boyfriend, were from shock. What was I going to do? How would I pay my bills? How am I going to find a job quickly? Will I be judged by employers for being kicked out with four weeks' notice?

Irrational, wild thinking is so bloody normal when lumped in a shocking situation, but once the emotion had buggered off, plans needed to be made. I need to pay rent, I need to put food on the table, but that's all I NEED. This is what I told myself to try and keep away the sleepless nights and anxiety attacks that have plagued my life before.

Unless you are very unfortunate (and I'm so, so sorry if you are one of those people), I'm a strong believer that a silver lining can be pulled from any situation. For me, I knew I wanted a job nearer to home, I wanted to be promoted and fairly paid in line with the effort and level of work I was producing, and I wanted to be respected - because I sure as hell deserve that! The silver lining was that being made redundant gave me that extra push to pursue these career goals.

Being made redundant, or even in broader terms, being made to feel not enough, is shit. There's no two ways about it. But you're not shit. You're fucking fabulous. If you don't believe in yourself and your abilities, then no one else will. Confidence and determination will come up trumps in the end. And guess what? I start my new job in three weeks. Their loss, eh?

*mic drop*

16 Happy Days In 2016


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Let's face it: 2016 has been a bit of a shitter for the world. We've become accustomed to the death, destruction and political meltdown that has plagued the news all year. But fear not my little smile makers - let's each look for the light in the dark and toast to the end of another year. Here is a run down of my 16 happy days in 2016, with links to my Instagram photos from each - I would love if you had a go at this too, be sure to tweet me @kirstiepicker if you do!

1. All of the lights
My other half and I joined what felt like a million other Londoners scrambling around the city on the hunt for a series of creative light displays as part of the Lumiere Festival. It was a fun little evening and we walked miles. It was crazy to see Oxford Street and Regent Street closed off to traffic, too!

2. Work perks
As a journalist, I get sent to a hell of a lot of unglamorous places to get a good story. That wasn't the case when I hopped on the tube to Bethnal Green to review Paradise Garage, a row of railways arches that have been transformed into restaurants and bars. They were all unique in their own little Pinteresty way, and the owners were blooming lovely too.

3. Windy Whitstable
A day at the seaside always get a big tick from me, and my first trip to Whitstable sticks in my mind. A blustery February day, we wandered around aimlessly with no need to clock watch and was just what we needed after a particularly stressful work period.

4. Holla to Helsinki
Rather than a specific day, this four day trip is a huge highlight of my year. The first trip away with my boyfriend, it couldn't have been better as we ambled around the city on foot wearing five layers and darting into coffee shops every hour to defrost. The sea even froze over!

5. Afternoon tea for two
After developing a bit of an unhealthy love for miniature cakes and sandwiches, I took my mum for her first afternoon tea and it's safe to say we blooming loved it. It was a lovely little afternoon, just us two and gallons of tea!

6. Hello Your Highness
I (casually) popped to Windsor Castle for work to cover an event the Queen was attending. I'm not embarrassed to say I love the Royals, and it was surreal seeing the Queen and Prince Phillip roll up in their huge armoured car just metres from where I was stood. She's so cute and tiny!

7. A Wight Wedding
In May, my boyfriend and I travelled to the Isle of Wight for my Dad's wedding. It was the first time my other half had met any of my family (poor guy) and it was lovely having everyone together. Naturally, the night ended with trays (yes, really) of Jagerbombs because how else do you finish a day of formalities?

8. Run rabbit run
Attempts to get back into running saw me sign up for two 5ks - a Race for Life and a Santa Run! The first was earlier in the year and I ran it on my own. It felt so good to run my first race and raise a bit of money along the way. I ran the Santa Run with the boyf just a few weeks ago and it was just as fun - have you ever tried running in a felt Santa suit?! Yeah, don't...

9. Mucky pups
My friend Bex, her boyfriend and I did a very muddy 10k walk to raise money for charity Look Good Feel Better. What I had envisioned as a sunny wander in the Surrey Hills turned into a soggy affair as it poured down for much of the afternoon. We were a state! Thanks to the walk and a cake sale though, I raised over £100!

10. Sister sister
I met up with my two younger sisters (one of which is at the very energetic age of 7) for a sunny day in the park featuring a picnic, space hopper and park acrobatics. It's not often we all get to spend time together given that we live all over the country, and it was a blooming lovely day.

11. Birthday bonanza
I hate to be that cringing gal, but I really do have the best boyfriend. Day one of birthday celebrations saw us have seats at Wimbledon's Centre Court to see the likes of Federer, Murray and Serena Williams play. I love tennis and going to Wimbledon was a dream come true, let alone sitting at Centre Court! The next day we went to West Wittering beach, a beautiful sandy shore a few hours away. As it was a weekday we had the beach to ourselves, and it was one of the first warm days of the summer. Perfect!

12. Wandering west
We took a week off work in July and headed to Somerset for a few days. We stayed in a beautiful barn conversion near Frome that was all of my AirBnb dreams wrapped up into one (minus the bat, but that's another story). We took a day trip to nearby Bath, somewhere I had never been but had always wanted to, and it was just as pretty as the pictures.

13. An Irish wedding
Another family wedding took us to Ireland, where my boyfriend's cousin got married. I'd never been to Ireland and got to experience Dublin, as well as the greener side of the country. It's a wonderful place filled with wonderful people - everyone wants to talk to you and hear your stories, and you can guarantee they will tell you one or two themselves. A stark contrast to the misery guts I face everyday on my commute to London!

14. You're a wizard, Kirstie
I finally got to visit the Harry Potter Studios near Watford and it was bloody fantastic. Hours walking around the set and props that I grew up with obsessing over was the dream!

15. Week off wandering
Again, not just one day, but an impulsive week off in October saw up don our day trip hats. Brighton, Rye, Camber Sands and playing tourists for the day in London made for a great few days of freedom. Camber Sands, a huge stretch of sandy beach in East Sussex, is one to visit in the colder months - although windy as hell, it's completely desolate and a sight to be seen. We even sought shelter in the dunes with a picnic! In October! Nutters.

16. Cycling success
I get serious present paranoia and when I bought tickets for the bf to a little-known cycling event at the Velodrome, I was nervous! My worries were in vain, because it was a brilliant evening. I had never watched track cycling live, nor been to the Velodrome, and the atmosphere was fantastic. I'd recommend anyone to grab tickets for Six Day London - Wiggins and Cavendish were there this year, so it's a pretty big deal but under the radar.

Here's to an even better 2017! I've got a good feeling about this one..!

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