The start of adulthood?

N.B. I wrote the first half of this a week ago, and I have now left Oxford and am back at home in Lincolnshire.

It’s been almost a whole year since I wrote a blogpost but that is not to say that the past year has been uneventful. On the contrary, it’s been a highly formative year: I’ve completed my degree, found out what I’m really interested in, and made exciting plans for the coming year. To be honest, it feels like it’s been about five minutes since I got home from Spain last June having finished my year abroad…and now I’m sat in my room in Oxford, surrounded by boxes and suitcases ready to be taken back to Lincoln for the final time tomorrow.

To say a bit about Finals, suffice to say that they happened and I came out the other side considerably more tired and haggard but alive and proud of myself for getting through it. Oxford Finals are notoriously gruelling because for several of the BA courses 100% (or almost) of the degree hangs on a handful of exams at the very end of the three or four years. It’s an antiquated system which lends itself well to last minute cramming and for which I have (at present) little to no respect. Maybe I’ll feel differently about it in a few months time when the seemingly endless revision period and the flurry of sitting eight three-hour exams in less than a fortnight is but a distant memory. Or maybe not.

That said, I could not be more grateful for the myriad opportunities that coming to Oxford has given me; I genuinely feel that I am leaving the place transformed into a completely different person to who I was at the beginning. I’ve learnt a lot about my subject and about myself and met some people with whom I know I will be friends for the rest of my life. But, although I am sad to be leaving a city where I’ve been so happy, I have no doubt that it is very much time to move on.

And I’m moving on to something really quite exciting: at the end of August, I’ll be moving to Santiago de Chile, where I’ll be working as an English Language Assistant through the British Council for ten months. I cannot wait, and am currently in the process of sorting everything out: visas, insurance, flights, and so on. Latin American life is not exactly famed for its fast pace and things are taking a while, but I suppose that that’s something I’ll just have to get used to!

Anyway, I’m planning to rekindle this blog and post regularly while I’m in Chile, so watch this space for updates on my ever more desperate attempts to evade adulthood…


Sun, sea, and salted caramel in Guernsey

I spent the beginning of last week visiting my friend, Will, who lives in Guernsey. I was excited a) to see him now that he’s out of the exam hole and b) to go on what is my only holiday this summer. Always keen (as my blog title suggests) to visit new places, it didn’t take long for me to act upon Will’s offer of a visit and book flights.

I’d never been to the Channel Islands before but it turns out that there are flights to Guernsey available from East Midlands, our “local” airport. Note the quotation marks; it’s still a ninety-minute drive away from little old Normanby-by-Spital, but it did save me the hassle (and money) of going to Gatwick.

When I stepped off the aeroplane (which was so small that it looked to be powered by propellers), I could have been in Spain such was the temperature. My arrival very handily coincided with the hottest day of the year so far. The weather was glorious for the whole time I spent there and so I really did feel like I was on holiday.

Guernsey is very quaint: the streets are all fairly narrow (with a speed limit of 35mph) and there are a lot of brightly-coloured window boxes and hanging baskets (not that I’m complaining).There was also an inexplicably large amount of bunting. The sea views and the boats bobbing in the harbour are very picturesque; in essence, the whole island is reminiscent of a seaside town.

We spent the first day looking around the town (St Peter Port, Guernsey’s capital) and went to Herm, one of the other islands. Will’s dad had described a particular stretch of beach on Herm as “like the Mediterranean”, and it actually was. Pale sand, clear sea, excited children, the whole caboodle. It was also during the first day that I ate this beautiful salted caramel and banana crêpe:


It was as fabulous as it looks.

The next day, we had a guided tour around Victor Hugo’s house. Hugo lived in Guernsey for 15 years during his partially self-imposed exile from France. The house itself was nothing other than a work of art, and the tour was probably the highlight of the trip for me. It was still boiling so we spent the afternoon relaxing on a beach. Of course, the whole island had had the same idea but we managed to find a clear bit of sand.

It was a really fun-filled trip (thanks a million, Will) and I would definitely recommend a visit to Guernsey if you’re looking for a destination that’s not too far away. Next step: to be able to point to the Channel Islands on a map…

I wrote an article for The Oxford Student about Guernsey. You can read it here.

Review: Cafe Shanti, Lincoln

Now that my year abroad is finished, I’ve found myself feeling reluctant to call it a day with this blog as well. I’m going to try and keep going with it by writing about places I travel to (bound to happen far less often than it has over the last year, but never mind), things I eat, whether in a restaurant/cafe or cooked by me, and anything else of any interest whatsoever that might happen.

I’ve always been a bit wary of food blogging for a number of reasons, the main one being that a lot of it ends up seeming (very) pretentious and inaccessible. Reviews of cafes or restaurants that the average person can afford to visit don’t seem to be the norm; in terms of recipes, chia, coconut oil, out-of-season fruit, etc. seem to be the order of the day. In my mind, food should never be classist. Everyone needs it to survive, and everyone should be able to enjoy it. I hope that this will be reflected here.

So, let’s get going with a review. I’m currently in Lincoln, my home town, and on Friday I went to Cafe Shanti, a vegan and vegetarian restaurant that hasn’t been open for very long but that seems to have quickly established itself. I feel like “vegan and vegetarian restaurant” carries a certain number of connotations, not all of them positive, but these should be left at Shanti’s door.

The first thing I will say is that it is SUCH GOOD VALUE FOR MONEY. I’ve been to this cafe a few times and am amazed every time by how they offer really delicious food for remarkably low prices. Each of the main meals is about £5 and the menu includes several curries, lasagne, burgers, and wraps, most of which are suitable for vegans. I’m not vegan, but the friend who I went with on Friday is; she, too, has visited a few times, mainly for the falafel wraps. It’s stated on the menu that everything except for the bread and the vegan ice cream is made on the premises.

The second thing to be said is that Cafe Shanti was set up to raise money for a charity called Lincs2Nepal. As far as I can tell (and I could be wrong about this), all of the cafe’s profits go to the charity, which provides aid to oppressed and marginalised Nepalese people. How great is that? You can check out the charity’s website here.

After a lengthy bout of indecision, I chose a peppermint and liquorice tea for £1.35 (which I would highly recommend) and a falafel burger with hummus and sweet potato fries, which was £4.95. As someone who has had more than her fair share of falafel over the last couple of years, I was excited to try some more.

Disappointment did not feature. It was all perfect: the burger was suitably seasoned and came with a soft brown bun and plentiful salad. And who doesn’t love a sweet potato fry, really? Although Bill’s is still the undisputed champion of the traditional chip’s “healthy” (or not) relative, these ones weren’t bad at all.


Additionally, the service was quick and friendly, and waiting time is quickly whiled away by admiring the plentiful decorations inside the cafe. I could be wrong, but I would suggest that a lot of them are souvenirs from Nepal or gifts from some of the people that the charity has worked with there.

I’ve never had dessert there, but there are several varieties of vegan cake on offer as well as waffles with various toppings.

I would really recommend this place for vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters alike. Lincoln is distinctly lacking in other choices for non-meat-eaters and so it’s a very welcome addition to the city. The food is delicious, it offers outstanding value for money, and I really think that local businesses such as this cannot be supported enough. And, perhaps best of all, it’s for charity. Really, what’s not to love?

Price: £6.30 for a main course and drink. Contact details available on Cafe Shanti’s website.

Featured image taken from Cafe Shanti’s Facebook page.

Final thoughts and happenings

This post was written in two bits, mainly because I never got round to finishing it the first time round but then couldn’t bring myself to delete it and start again.

Written on Monday 20th June

I write this, (probably) my final blogpost concerning my year abroad, from the comfort of my bed in little old Normanby-by-Spital, the Lincolnshire village where my parents live. There’s nowhere quite like home, is there?

There’s not really a lot to say about my last few days in Santiago apart from that they happened.

Last Monday, I flew from Santiago to Madrid, where I spent a dreamy three days playing my favourite role: the tourist. I was really lucky with my hostel, Way, because it was by far the most sociable and friendly hostel I’ve ever stayed in. They offered paella and tapas nights a couple of times a week for not much money and there was an unexplained night of free sangria while I was there. The kitchen was huge and well-equipped and the bedrooms clean and spacious; check out the hostel’s website here.

The weather was glorious and particular highlights of my trip included seeing Velázquez’s Las Meninas in El Prado, one of Madrid’s art galleries, visiting the Royal Palace, and photographing as many streets named after Golden Age authors as I could.

Madrid was also absurdly cheap compared to other major European cities – or it at least seemed like that to me – and so I didn’t really end up spending much money. There was a Lidl just round the corner from the hostel which was great, and a lot of the museums and galleries I visited were free for students.

I flew from Madrid to Stansted and I can safely say that it was one of the worst flight experiences of my life. I am not a hard-to-please customer. But Ryanair really excelled themselves this time. I should have known that it was going to be hellish when they tried to charge me €90 for overweight baggage – which still only weighed 24kg. Yeah. In the end, I paid €35 to put my rucksack in as an extra checked bag instead. I was extremely happy to get off the plane a few hours later, having spent the whole of the flight secretly seething.

The couple of days I spent in Oxford were fabulous: on Friday, New College had its last Guest Night (meaning a black tie dinner in the dining hall) of the year followed by a bop (college-exclusive party) and it was the best night out that I’ve had in a very long time.

Written on Friday 1st July

I’ve now been back in the UK for more than two weeks, and it feels strange to think that I was ever abroad at all. I’ll try to continue with this post by carrying on from where I left off.

Yes, Guest Night: we danced and chatted all night and it was basically the best night ever. The photo is of me (second from the left) with my best gal pals. Needless to say, given that the birds were starting to sing by the time we went to bed, the next day was pretty much written off.

The next week passed quietly by. I came home on the Sunday because my brother and I met in London to see The Lion King at the theatre and then came home together on the train. I bought us the tickets as his 18th birthday present back in March and we weren’t even slightly disappointed by the production. Every aspect of it – the costumes, the dancing, the songs, the set – was fantastic, and I felt a bit like we’d reverted back to our 3- and 6-year-old selves. The rest of the week was spent sleeping, seeing my grandparents, sleeping, and dog walking. Thrilling stuff. The highlight of the week was going to our village’s pub quiz with my parents and two of their friends.

Then, on Saturday, I went back to Oxford (I honestly think that I’m singlehandedly keeping National Rail going) for New College (my Oxford college) Commemoration Ball. I’m going to write a separate post about this at some point, but here’s a quick summary: an opulent night full of food, drink, and dancing held in the college grounds.

And now I’m back at home for the whole of July. I’ve got an essay to write but that’s about it as far as plans go. August and September are pretty full with work experience at various newspapers and magazines in Lincoln and London and I’ll be heading back to Oxford for fourth year at the beginning of October. Scary stuff.

As I’ve said before, there is a massive build-up to going on a year abroad, and this just makes the sense of anticlimax when it’s over all the more palpable. No doubt that I’ll look back at the past year over the course of my life and regard it as one of the most formative, but at the moment I’m just enjoying being at home (even though the UK is currently going through a period of immense political turmoil and uncertainty – thanks, Boris). Having days filled with doing absolutely nothing apart from the odd dog walk is definitely underrated.

These boots (okay, trainers) were (not) made for walking

I’ve just arrived back in Santiago after catching a painfully early bus this morning from Muxia, the final destination of my four-day walk. That pilgrimage that I talked about possibly doing a couple of posts ago? Yeah, I actually did it.

And it was honestly one of the best decisions of my year abroad. I had the best time ever. It’s difficult to pin down what exactly made it so good. Obviously, it’s not particularly exciting – after all, the lion’s share of the day is taken up by walking – but the landscapes, the headspace, the escape from the city, and the other pilgrims all combine to make for a very enjoyable experience.

Day 1: Santiago to Vilaserio (34km)

On the first day, I left my flat at 7:00am after having been woken up even earlier than I’d planned by my flatmates ringing the bell after a night out. Meanwhile, the other flatmate, who isn’t really a flatmate at all but a guest of one of the actual flatmates and who has been here for a month, not paid any rent, monopolised the living room, and STILL NOT LEFT (but I’m not bitter…) was having some rather loud sex. Needless to say, this and the doorbell incident made me ever more keen to get away. By 7.30am, I’d started the proper, marked route. The whole thing is marked by yellow arrows and scallop shells:IMG_7202
which, thankfully, make it quite difficult to get lost. Although I still managed to, briefly (more of which later…).

Starting a bit earlier than I’d planned actually turned out to be a blessing: on all four days, the time before about 9.30 in the morning was my favourite for walking. The temperature is perfect, the birds are singing, and the morning sky is just beautiful. There’s also a certain sense of satisfaction about walking 15km by 10.30am. I’d planned (in the loosest sense of the word) the route so that the first day would be the longest; it was 35km to Vilaserio, my first stop, and I got there at about 2.30pm. The village turned out to be a throbbing metropolis composed of the albergue (the type of hostel that’s especially for pilgrims), the attached bar/cafe, two farms, and that was about your lot. However, I soon discovered that I didn’t really need a lot else: after arriving, food-shower-nap-food-sleep was the literal order of the day. The salad that I had in the cafe was so good that I also had it for dinner.


All of the protein. All of it.

I was in a room of 16 beds but, sadly, none of the other pilgrims on the first evening were that talkative, and I went to bed early in preparation for the next day. However, that first night set the tone for the rest of the week: loud snoring and the constant opening and closing of the door by people going to the toilet meant that not many people got a lot of sleep.

Day 2: Vilaserio to Hospital (24km) 

The whole dorm was well and truly woken up by the alarm of someone who had gone to the bathroom and forgotten to turn it off. I was keen for another early start, and so left the albergue at 7.00am. The breakfast in the bar seemed kind of expensive so I decided that I’d just have a snack before leaving and would stop at the next cafe I came to along the camino. This turned out to be a very good idea: it meant that I got 7km of walking under my belt before breakfast, and the next cafe offered two very generously sized tostadas with butter and jam and a large mugful of cafe con leche for €3.

It was shortly after this that I met my first camino friend, Andre from Holland. After walking next to one another in awkward silence for a good five minutes, I plucked up the courage to ask, in Spanish, how long he’d been walking for. Turns out that he doesn’t really speak Spanish, and so we chatted in English and walked together for probably about two hours, although the time seemed to pass so quickly that I can’t be sure. It was during this time that it started to rain for the first and last time over the four days. Out came the raincoat meant for boys aged 12 to 14 (it was cheaper, okay?) and the borrowed rucksack cover. Andre stopped at the next bar we came to; I ploughed on, had a quick snack in a bus stop, and eventually neared my next stop, Hospital. As I was coming into the village, I managed to acquire three more friends; our search for the albergue united us. Greg and Hélène are a Canadian couple from Canada, and Marylisa (at least, I think that’s her name…) is from Holland. We finally managed to find the albergue, where Andre joined us shortly after; despite being the youngest by at least 30 years, I ended up spending the whole of the afternoon and evening with these people. They were hilarious: a particular highlight was Andre’s attempt to lull us all to sleep with a Dutch lullaby.

Day 3: Hospital to Finisterre (27km)

Our albergue in Hospital was the last establishment offering sustenance of any kind for 15km, and so I took full advantage of this by indulging in a hearty breakfast of eggs (luxury!), toast, fruit, and, of course, cafe con leche before leaving. I didn’t realise that this would be the last time I would see my new friends, but I did at least have the foresight to get their email addresses. A big breakfast, combined with a playlist called “Throwback” (we’re thinking JoJo, Busted, Rusted Root…) meant that I absolutely powered the first couple of hours of walking, which I was later very pleased about because it soon got very hot. The 15km of nothingness were a dream, not least because a lot the time was spent going downhill; Cee, however, the next town on from Hospital, was less delightful. In fact, it was horrible and poorly signed into the bargain, and I walked through as quickly as possible without bothering to stop for a breather.

The final stretch of day 3 was to Finisterre (meaning “the end of the world”), a coastal town with a famous lighthouse on a small peninsula. The last couple of kilometres were along a glorious beach, but I was so hot and desperate to get to the albergue that I didn’t stop for a paddle. I fear that, had I done so, I might still have been there now.IMG_7216

The albergue was fab: modern and clean, with a huge kitchen and social area…and, to my delight, a supermarket right across the road! After food and the obligatory nap, I walked to the lighthouse…which was, if I’m honest, slightly disappointing. The views of the ocean were great, but the lighthouse wasn’t as rustic or as impressive as I’d hoped. Never mind, eh?IMG_7224

The most popular time to go to the lighthouse is just before sunset, but tiredness and the fact that the path leading from the town to the lighthouse was bordered by a sheer drop to one side meant that I didn’t really fancy it. Instead, I went back to the albergue, chatted for a while to an English guy called Peter (who I still can’t figure out) and went to bed.

Day 4: Finisterre to Muxia (30km)

My final day got off to a bad start. Having woken up especially early to get as much walking done as possible before the heat of the day hit, I ended up getting lost. The signposting out of Finisterre wasn’t very clear, and I went hopelessly round in a circle before the help of a kind man named Carlos put me back on track. By 8.30 I was frustrated with myself and had wet feet from going through a field, but at least I was on my way.

The unclear signposting continued for the whole of the day, and this is because it’s possible to walk in either direction between Muxia and Finisterre and so the arrows and shells point both ways. I went off track again about 7km and was on my way back to Finisterre before coming across some other pilgrims and asking them which direction they were coming from. The fourth day was also the hilliest and the hottest – not a great combination – and so I was very pleased to reach a signpost saying that it was 2km to Muxia. The last stretch was, again, coastal, and a very welcome breeze came off the water.

The final albergue was probably the best of the four. It was recommended by the owners of the albergue in Finisterre, and so Peter and I had booked rooms in advance. We ended up spending the afternoon together and, although I’d got a bad first impression of him in Hospital (“You’re at Oxford? You must have rich parents then!”) he turned out to be a really nice, insightful guy. Muxia’s famous church, Nosa Señora da Barca, was only five minutes away, and so we went to see it together.IMG_7233

I definitely preferred Muxia to Finisterre: it has all the beauty but is a lot more untouched and less touristy.

Then, this morning, the adventure was officially brought to a close when I got on a 6.45am bus back to Santiago. It is difficult to adequately express how pleased I am that I decided to do the camino. It’s given me insight into myself and into other people, and I actually think that I could seriously get into walking. Several people asked whether I’d be tempted to do another of the routes, maybe starting in France or Portugal, and the truth is that I really would be. Something for the future, perhaps.

I’m leaving Santiago on Monday; all that’s left to do is pack my suitcase and say goodbye to my friends here. The situation in the flat is less than ideal, even though it seemed to have such promise to begin with, so I’m keen to get away from that. However, it’s a shame because my social life has really taken off in the past couple of weeks: I’ve been out a few times and have made some lovely friends.IMG_7127

I’m spending three days in Madrid before going back to the UK, and at some point I hope to do a final year abroad-based post to tie up all the loose ends. Today and tomorrow, however, I intend to get some well-deserved sleep. After all, it’s only a matter of time before walking 120k starts to take its toll on the old legs.

The Costa del Sol’s got nothing on this…

After two failed attempts, yesterday was the day that I finally made it to las Islas Cíes, a gem off the coast of Galicia and home of the world’s best beach, according to this article in The Guardian.

I had a friend from school visiting for the weekend and, seeing as one day is more than enough time to see the whole of Santiago, going for a day trip (with somebody else!!!!!!) seemed like a very good idea. Having been told by several people that las Cíes are nothing less than paradisiacal and also being aware that, with only two proper weekends left until leaving, it was probably now or never, I booked the tickets last week.

The Cíes are made up of three islands: Monteagudo (“Sharp Mount” or North Island), do Faro (“Lighthouse Island”, or Isla do Medio, “Middle Island”) and San Martiño (“Saint Martin” or South Island). The islands are a nature reserve and also part of Galicia’s national park; rules aiming to protect the islands’ nature are strict and, judging by how untouched they are, seem to work. Additionally, the number of visitors is capped at 2,200 per day. Ferries run to and from Vigo, a city in mainland Galicia, several times a day, and tickets are a bargain, costing as little as €10 for a return.

In short, the islands were a dream. The weather could not have been better – the evidence being my quite badly sunburnt ear and, bizarrely, foot – and the seascapes offered by the various viewpoints on the islands were second-to-none. There are several hiking routes of which we did two, both of which led to lighthouses.


Playa de Rodas, the one specified by The Guardian, connects two of the islands and is a vast stretch of almost white sand bordering crystal clear water. After the first of our hikes, a lot of which was uphill, we spent a good couple of hours reposing at our leisure on aforementioned sand. There are nine beaches in total across the three islands. We visited one other, but the tide was so far in that we couldn’t actually venture onto the sand. Playa de Rodas was more than enough. I am hardly a seasoned beachgoer; the only other beach that I’ve visited that comes close to las Islas Cíes is Zlatni Rat on the island of Bol, in Croatia. The latter’s downfall is the number of tourists it attracts. When I went last summer, we struggled to find a spot on the sand; yesterday, the choice was almost too much.

Before getting the ferry back to Vigo, we had a drink in one of the beaches only bars. I’d been warned that it was expensive, and €2 for a bottle of agua con gas did sting a bit. From Vigo, we took the train back to Santiago, and arrived feeling very relaxed and, in my case, very happy not to have missed it during my time in Galicia.

I’m now asking myself why this hidden gem is quite as hidden as it is. I’d never even heard of it before coming to Galicia, and I’ve got no idea whether or not the islands are well-known outside of the region. I’m inclined to think that they’re not, and I feel like the whole of Spain is missing out on something great. Equally, an influx of tourists would inevitably lead to the steady decline and ultimate destruction of the islands, which would be a tragedy. These beautiful little islands are a real Spanish treasure, and, although I’m judging from my somewhat limited experience of the world’s beaches, I very much agree with The Guardian’s assessment of Playa de Rodas.

Polly the potential pilgrim

Before I arrived here in Santiago, when they found out that I was coming here, people would often ask whether I was planning to walk any of the famous camino de Santiago. I would laugh nervously, slightly ashamed to admit that I knew next to nothing about the camino, and mumble a vague reply. It’s only since arriving here that I’ve realised just how big of a deal the pilgrimage trail is.

Camino de Santiago can refer to any of the routes that finish at the city’s Cathedral, supposedly the home of the remains of apostle St. James the Great. The tomb was discovered in around the year 800AD, and pilgrims have been completing the trails pretty much constantly ever since. Popular starting points include Lisbon, Porto, Arles, and Le Puy; along the way are cheap boarding houses, known as albergues, where walkers can settle down for the night for as little as €5. Traditionally, of course, spiritual enlightenment was the desired outcome; nowadays, tourists keen to say that they’ve done the camino seem to be the order of the day, and the number of pilgrims welcomed by the city rises year on year.


Image taken from Wikipedia

Being the destination of so many pilgrims, Santiago might as well have a license to print money: the zona vieja is crammed full of souvenir shops and the bars and restaurants must make a killing from all of the appetites worked up by walking.

I’m writing about this now because I transformed my room into an albergue (free, of course) over the weekend for a friend. I met Katie in France when she very bravely signed up to come to the château to work as an animatrice during the October stage. We didn’t get to know one another that well then, but year abroad friends are friends for life, and so when Matt told me that she was walking the camino from Porto I was very swift to message her offering up my bedroom floor. She accepted (because who turns down free accommodation, really?) and arrived in Santiago on Saturday after ten days of walking. We went to midday Pilgrim’s Mass and she introduced me to some of the friends she’d made along the way. We had the most fun-filled weekend ever, during the course of which we discovered that we have a scary amount of things in common. Highlights included numerous positive affirmations (Katie, if you’re reading this, remember that you don’t owe him anything), tinto de verano, octopus (which, despite being unwilling to try, Katie loved), and many hot drinks.

And it was clear that she’d had an absolute ball during the walk. She’d met a lot of interesting people from all over the world – most of whom we went for dinner with on Saturday night – and had spent a lot of time reflecting. She’s inspired me to seriously consider doing a bit of the camino before leaving Spain. I’m not religious at all, but I do enjoy a good walk and I would definitely be very glad to have done it. From Santiago, there’s a route to Finisterre encompassing 90km and three days (at least) of walking; I could do it from Friday to Sunday. Check back for more updates on this probably overly spontaneous, still-to-be properly thought-through plan.

This weekend, one of my closest school friends is coming to stay, and I’m hoping that the weather forecast (which is looking good at the moment) will stay positive enough for us to go to the Islas Cíes for a day. After two false starts, I might finally make it to this mystical paradise. I’ll be sure to let you know.