Thursday, 18 September 2014

Prague Day 3: Turning 22 (Daytime)

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Despite crawling into bed at 4am, I was gently nudged at 8 the following morning:

"Shu, wake up... it's your birthday! Happy birthday!!! Shu?"

The sleep fought its hardest to coax me back into a deep slumber but excitement ultimately won. I slowly sat up, rubbed my eyes and adjusted to the 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY' bunting and balloons that presented themselves in front of me. My heart skipped a beat and I think I nearly burst into tears from the surprise (happy tears, mind)

Jordan had woken up an hour before to pin up the decorations: he silently blew balloons and balanced on top of wobbling tables all whilst trying to keep me asleep. Birthday cards from family and friends dotted themselves on the bedside tables, I sat cross-legged reading each one as I laughed, smiled and wiped away tears from my face.

After a quick breakfast, we strolled out to the warmth of the sun and a perfectly blue sky. I had been looking forward to visiting Prague Castle so we slowly made our way over, pausing to stop at the gardens and landmarks along the way.

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Once we reached the top of the hill, we rewarded ourselves with homemade herbal lemonade from a nearby stall. I opted for the dandelion flavour whilst Jordan chose the lemon balm. It was the right balance of sweetness along with a subtle shot of sour and was refreshing after our small trek!

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Prague Castle was spectacular with its towering turrets and haunting gargoyles guarding the walls. Drawing influence from a mix of Romanesque, Gothic and Bohemia architecture, it holds the Guinness records of being the largest ancient castle in the world. Walt Disney even drew inspiration from it and based the creation of Disneyland's castle on the structure!

Multicoloured specks of light were reflected against the walls from the stain-glassed windows and I may or may not have pretended to be a Disney princess when we were inside. I'm convinced that I even saw a flap of a wing from the stone creatures inside ;)

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We spent the next hour marvelling the detailing of the cathedral and its surrounding gardens before taking ourselves back into the city centre to feed our rumbling stomachs. We found a restaurant nestled quietly away from the hustle and bustle of the main square and plopped ourselves onto the stalls in the outside seating area. In no time at all, a plate of beef goulash appeared in front of me. The meat melted in the mouth and complimented the richness of the sauce perfectly. Jordan had chosen another Czech classic: svíčková - beef sirloin pieces in a creamed gravy sauce topped with cream and cranberry jam.  We mopped every last bit up with the bread dumplings and sat back to nurse our very satisfied food babies.

Next on our itinerary was the climb up The Tower for panoramic views of the city. Once we reached the summit, the scene that greeted us momentarily took our breaths away. Prague is already beautifully picturesque but seeing the city at a height is even more impressive. A blanket of miniature terracotta roofs contrasted with tall spires from Gothic buildings. Winding roads snaked themselves on cobbled stone paths from the main plazas and vibrant green trees lined along the city's borders.

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We ended our afternoon with a quick waltz around the jewellery shops (where a dainty amber ring was purchased!) and stopped to say hi to this little guy. I spoke a little parseltongue and he couldn't keep himself away from me! Sorry pal, I'm a Gryffindor.

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Now, I turned into a shutterbug and was rather snap happy so have split this post into two parts. After our reptile encounter, we stopped for a quick birthday drink and changed into our glad rags for the evening. Pop back in a couple of days for a night of the Black Light theatre, surprise birthday desserts and penicillin-themed cocktails!

If you've missed the first two days and fancy having a peruse of what we got up to, you can find day one here and day two here!

See you then! :)

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

casual outfits: ripped jeans and bardot crop

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On this particular morning, the weather proposed to have a casual day.

'Leave your kimono and floppy fedora at home. Ditch the ankle boots and put on your best weekend sweats. It's time to take a break from being indoors, go for a long walk and breathe in some fresh air!'

Ever the sun worshipper, I happily obliged with a triumphant 'I have JUST the thing!' and flung open the wardrobe doors. I had recently gone through a 'lounging' phase so gleefully held out my new purchases and didn't hesitate to pull them on.

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[Bardot crop - ASOS, High-waisted Ridley jeans - ASOS, Converse Dainty Ox trainers - ASOS]

Along with some white denim shorts, the bardot crop top was a gift from Jordan following a hospital procedure I had been nervous about. It was an extremely kind gesture and it certainly squashed the butterflies racing around my stomach!

To minimise the classic Britney effect, I opted for these high-waisted jeans from ASOS that emphasised the waist line but covered the lower abdomen and hips. If you're 5' 3" like me, this will be just the ticket to fool yourself into thinking that you possess longer legs - if only for a few hours. The slight rip at the knee originally intended to add a grungy 90s feel until it took one look at my height, laughed and made a tent for itself under the knee caps. For Christmas this year, I'd like to add two inches to myself please!

What's a casual day without the appropriate footwear to match? I've fallen in love with a new pair of shoes: these Converse Dainty Ox trainers are the slimmer, sleeker and streamlined version of the originals. They're lightweight and extremely comfortable to walk in. I'm notorious for having a party of blisters (thank me later for the great imagery) when I'm trying to wear in a new pair of shoes but there's been zilch, zero, nada with these. If you find the usual pairs to resemble clumpy bricks on your feet, give these a try!

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To transition this for the autumn, sling on a nifty cropped leather jacket or duster coat over the top! For a more feminine approach, swap out the jeans with a high-waisted midi skirt with some moccasins to match.

I'm still feeling nostalgic for Buffy and the other TV shows from the era - Even Stevens and Sabrina the Teenage Witch anyone? Lizzie McGuire? Now excuse me while I hunt out the perfect 90s playlist and find old clips on YouTube...

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Recipe to Happiness

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For years, I was somebody who thrived under stress and found setting exceedingly high expectations to be a source of motivation - a way of bettering myself as an individual.

All-nighters were common; I ran off the energy from the constant pressure pushing at me and the endless thoughts of 'no time to rest, here are the next few things to tackle...' I had a checklist of life goals to achieve and instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment as I ticked each one off, it was replaced with another set of objectives to work towards. I wasn't happy, I was blind to the present and overlooked the things that I should have been thankful for.

'You only live once': whether that's an anthem for youth culture, a popularised lyric or an excuse to justify reckless risks - the meaning behind it is clear. You only have one chance to make a good shot at life so make it worth it. It's too easy to forget about the world that exists outside of your personal bubble by allowing unnecessary troubles to cloud over the bigger picture.

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On Thursday, life was forced into perspective for me. My normal commute home was interrupted by a sudden security alert at London Bridge. Myself among thousands of others were shifted from platform to platform before being emergency evacuated from the station due to a bomb scare from a man on the train next to me. I was pushed against barriers and frantic cries of 'what's going on?' echoed throughout the building.  Armed policemen and dogs lined the edges of the platform and announcements shouted at us to move towards the exit. Although the situation was safely controlled by the staff, I couldn't stop myself from panicking and a constant stream of 'what if' situations were playing out in my head. As somebody who's naturally very over-dramatic, this particular scenario of a potential terrorist attack didn't paint a fetching colour in my mind. It was the 13th anniversary of 9/11 which made it all the more terrifying.

'What if this is it?' As the thought firmly planted itself into my head, a sudden list of my day-to-day worries popped up. I scrolled through each one and realised that if I were to face a life or death situation, none of it mattered. Whether it's the delay with ticking off the next life goal on my list, having a clear and planned direction in life, the fear of being judged by others, the extra brownie slice at the weekend, the number on a scale or the extra cushioning on my stomach - it's all trivial.

The evening didn't get any better. On the bus home, I received a text from my mum telling me to meet her down the road as she was at her friend's home (incidentally, our old house as my mum had sold it to this lady and her family.) I rung her and the conversation started with a chilling silence before she reluctantly choked out 'her daughter passed away two days ago from a brain hemorrhage.' She was only 25 years old and a picture of health. She had complained of a bad headache to her mother a few days prior but aside from that, she didn't have any medical history of life-threatening illnesses. My mum and I had only just seen her the week before waving and smiling away at us. How could it happen? Why did it happen to her? We weren't close friends but had lived together for 6 months whilst the paperwork for the house was underway. Since then, little memories of her keeps popping up in my mind. I remember her baking every evening trying to perfect her sponge cake recipe. I remember laughing when she had worn a thick fleece-lined coat on a warm autumn's day. I remember our families throwing dinner parties in our living room every Tuesday and indulging in the grand spread of sushi her dad had made us. Did she have plans for the weekend? Did she say 'see you at dinner' to her parents before she had left for work? I'm sorry that we didn't get the chance to speak more, that I never took the time to get to know her better. I'm sorry that it took until her death for me to realise that. Why was she taken away so soon when life could have offered her more?

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I stumbled across an article once of the 5 things people would commonly regret on their deathbed:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

It shouldn't take until your dying day to regret the things that could have been simple to achieve and it really put things into perspective. Take risks for your happiness (within reason!) Do more of what makes you happy rather than focus on the practicalities to a better way of life. Money helps but it's not everything. Whilst it's great to be ambitious, don't kill yourself over it. Work hard but don't sacrifice your time with family and friends. Make sure happiness isn't compromised with each life decision. Go travelling, explore different cultures and meet people from all walks of life.

Indulge in the sheer wonder of life itself. Appreciate each breathe and step that you take. Be thankful for your health and body that's working itself away each second pumping life into you. Make sure to greet each day with a smile and to be happy : )

I recently uploaded a video on my channel on general tips of staying positive with ways to reduce stress and to keep bad days at bay. These are some of the things I've been doing in the past few months that I've found to be extremely helpful at staying optimistic so I hope it helps others too! With the start of the school year comes a whole host of stress so take the time to unwind to avoid burning out!

For those who aren't the video type or simply fancy a read instead, I've written down the things in a list below. I've saved it on the 'notes' app on my phone as my own personal mantra to follow too ;)

1. Write down the highlights of each day.

Some things may seem too insignificant to record but it'll transport you back to the exact moment and put a smile on your face when you reread it in a few months' time! I wrote down 'watching Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets with my sisters and spending the afternoon looking up fan videos' in July and thinking back to it still makes me laugh! The simple things are sometimes the things that will end up meaning the most! : )

2. Unfollow the triggers on social networks and spend less time on internet

I've since unfollowed some fitness accounts on Instagram as I found that it provoked feelings of guilt and a relapse into bad eating habits as soon as I see them. Instead, I've followed more travel/lifestyle accounts but try to generally spend less time mindlessly scrolling on Instagram!

3. Admitting bad days are OK, acknowledge and move on. 

Not every day is going to be as positive or as efficient as the previous one before. There will still be days that you may struggle but it doesn't mean that you're weak. Accepting it means you're ready to battle the demons constantly looking over your shoulders. Let's fight it together! 

4. Speak to somebody about it. 

Don't hide yourselves in the shadows silently suffering. Reach out to a family member, close friend or qualified professional. They won't judge and I'm sure they'll be more than happy to help you in the best way that they can! If you know somebody who's going or been through a similar experience, try to speak to them to support each other through it. You're never alone!

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5. Have some time out for yourself. 

It's important to also do the things that you want to do rather than focusing all your energy on the things you need to do. Rome wasn't built in a day and to avoid feeling overwhelmed, make sure you schedule in some good quality 'me' time. I've been reading, drawing and rediscovered my love for photography recently. Doing these things helps me to unwind, relax and to stress less.

6. Walk, walk, walk

Take in the abundance of fresh air, skip the tube/bus/train and go for a brisk walk instead to clear the mind! Pop on a happy playlist and enjoy it with every step and breath that you take. Be thankful for your health to be able to do so! :)

7. Set small challenges for yourself. 

These may be meaningless to others but will be beneficial for you.  Taking these little steps will not only give you a sense of achievement, but will help to make the bigger things in the horizon a little less scary too!

8. Say yes to more social events.

I went through a phase of saying no to everything as I was scared to present this 'less shiny' version of myself in comparison to the confident young soul I once was (haha). It's easy for a bad habit to crawl itself into your daily routine and I soon became a little ol' hermit with no social life which made matters even worse! I've since said yes to more things and I've been so much happier. It showed me that I had nothing to worry about and it feels good to laugh/make jokes again : )

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Phew! If you've made it this time, give yourself a pat on the back and a rub of the eyes. Your tea has probably gone cold too, woops. I'm sorry for the morbid tone to this post but I really do hope that by sharing this, it'll help some of you out there.

I also wanted to thank you all for the overwhelming amount of support received in my video about the struggles I had with 'clean-eating'. No amount of words can even begin to describe how grateful I am but please know that I appreciate each and every one of those comments/messages/tweets. Thank you for sharing your personal stories with me, hearing your inspiring accounts has given me strength in finding the light at the end of this tunnel. As fellow Wildcats from High School Musical would sing, 'WE'RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER!' 

*cue lots of dancing*

:) xxx

Thursday, 11 September 2014

the 90s smock dress

This outfit was an accidental creation after a Buffy marathon and a bout of 90s nostalgia. The era had a way of making opposites attract. It was a break from the norm - nothing made much sense and because of that, it was brilliant.

From fur crops and patent skirts, patterned chokers with duster coats to a denim jacket tied around the waist, it was the decade where grunge truly thrived so I decided to pay homage to it with a personal twist.

how to style a smock dress
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[smock dress - topshop, denim jacket - eBay, leather boots - topshop, fedora hat - asos, sunglasses - urban outfitters]

My sister spotted this smock dress reduced from £45 to £10 in the Topshop sale last season. After exclaiming that it was very 'Alexa-esque', she gazed at it a final time before returning it to the clothing rail only for me to swiftly pull it towards my loving arms a second later.

The sheer chiffon skims delicately over the body showing a hint of the cream slip nestled underneath. The flared sleeves adds an ethereal quality and there's a gentle nod to a subtly cinched waist whilst hiding a multitude of sins. Throw in a roughly tied vintage denim jacket for an instant boost of modern grunge - a transitional outfit that will take you straight from summer to the awakening stirs of autumn.

To darken up the lightly coloured palette, I slung on my leather ankle boots and a felt fedora to add a sharper silhouette to the casual outfit. The boots does wonders by creating an illusion of longer legs, adds height without compromising comfort and is perfectly suited for a trip down a path of crisp golden leaves in a few weeks' time.

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Fancy the swingin' sixties a bit more? Ditch the jacket, pull on your best platforms and sway along to your heart's content! Whether combined or on its own, the smock dress and checkered print present a canvas of possibilities. They're perfect layering pieces and can be adapted for all seasonal needs - a justified excuse to invest in a few more similar items, amiright?

Which era is your favourite to recreate?

I hope you're all having a lovely day so far! :)

Monday, 8 September 2014

Prague Day 2: Kafka, MindMaze and Prague Pub Crawl

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A tower of pastries greeted us at breakfast the next morning. There were mountains of cinnamon rolls (!!), raisin bagels and local delicacies stacked up as fuel for the incoming hungry travellers. Crowds assembled around the extensive selection of cheese, bread and cured meats whilst I excitedly waved slices of watermelon at Jordan who was sat inhaling his second mug of coffee.

With our tummies fed and watered, we clambered down the stairs and set off to explore the city for the second day.

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We walked around the Jewish Ghetto (Josefov) and stumbled upon the Franz Kafka museum after spotting an American tour group outside. David Cerny's sculpture, titled 'Piss' (yes, really), was positioned outside showing two men in a proud stance mechanically rotating mid-pee - Jordan was inspired.

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We had pre-booked MindMaze after seeing it listed as the top thing to do on TripAdvisor. After arriving an hour early and luckily being able to fit us in, we were lead into the 'alchemist's chamber'. We had 60 minutes on the hourglass to escape and solve the clues to unlock the Philosopher's Stone. 

Without giving too much away, it felt like a mix between Crystal Maze/Jungle Run/The Da Vinci Code and it was SO. MUCH. FUN. We felt like detectives and every item in the room suddenly became suspicious. We were peering through secret doors, picking up potion bottles and attempting latin on old spell books. If you're planning a trip to Prague and you fancy bringing a bit of Sherlock with you, I highly recommend this!

...P.S. The inner Harry Potter nerd in me took it upon myself as a Gryffindor (Pottermore said so) to find it but we didn't solve it though, drat.

Good thing we weren't Ravenclaws.

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Sherlock Holmes won't have anything to worry about for a while. We awarded ourselves with cocktails from Be Bop Bar (served in milk bottles with pineapple foam) and a spelt basket from an artisan bakery in Old Town.

After a quick tour around the Chocolate Museum and becoming official hazelnut praline tasters, we returned to the hotel for a quick pitstop before rushing back out for dinner.

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Our evening was spent at the Prague Pub Crawl, another recommendation to us to fully experience the infamous nightlife. It wasn't something that I would normally do and it was completely out of my comfort zone. If I'm being honest, I spent the day getting into a bit of a panic by second-guessing whether I even wanted to sign up before dismissing any doubts and pushed myself to go.  

I didn't have anything to worry about. Everyone was lovely including a bunch of Scottish girls that we'd met after bonding over their accents, our similarities and James McAvoy. At the stroke of midnight, we all raised a glass and brought in my 22nd birthday together. It was surreal to be yelling out the lyrics to cheesy pop songs at a 5-storey club in Prague with newly made pals from around the world.

Whilst it's good to be aware of any potential risks in certain situations, it's made me realise that unnecessary over-thinking and anxiety can turn worried 'but what ifs' into 'but what if you had said yes' moments. Life really is too short to be sitting at home panicking - go forth and live!

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We fell into bed at 4am and set our alarms to wake up for 7 zZzzZz. A day of birthday celebrations was planned!

Our last day in Prague will be up next! 

I hope you're all having a lovely day so far :)