One of the great things about Florence was that it was so well connected to other parts of Italy. So, when we were approached by a tour salesman offering a day trip to Pisa, we readily agreed. The tour was to include a morning trip to Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa to see the leaning bell tower, Duomo and the Baptistery. Then we would be taken to the medieval town of San Gimignano to explore the wonderful views, have lunch and wine tasting in a local vineyard and finish with a tour of Siena.
“You can’t go all the way to Florence and not see the leaning tower of Pisa” is what my younger brother told me, and I have to agree. This famous symbol of Italy is a must-see if you visit this side of the world, only 1 hour 30 mins away from Florence by car.
Aside from the iconic leaning tower shot that everyone will be getting (I include you, no matter how strong willed you are, you won’t be able to resist), you can actually go to the top of the bell tower for great views over Pisa. I warn you now, walking up will feel wonky!
After you have got your shots and climbed wonkily to the top, make sure you visit the Duomo next door and the baptistery. I didn’t feel like I needed more than a morning in Pisa to see the Piazza dei Miracoli (square of miracles) but there is more to Pisa than the tower if you do want to spend the day!
A magical town, built upon a hill, enclosed in medieval walls; this beautiful location happened to also be the place that my colleague and friend got engaged, in fact the friends whose wedding I attended the day before my very first solo adventure (read about it here… it was emosh).
It’s easy to see why it is a popular romantic spot for many couples from all over the world when you approach the castle-like walls and wander through the inclining and declining walkways defined by the towering medieval stone shops and houses.
Between buildings you may find winding alleys that lead you to magical views, history-infused sculptures, medieval buildings or local Italian restaurants, gelaterias and cafes.
Take your time and explore, you will certainly find something you love here.
We were taken to a local family vineyard, the vineyard of Famiglia Mazzarrini, for a tour of the winery, a taste of the Tuscan Italian wines and a delicious pasta for lunch. We enjoyed a selection of refreshing and rich red and white wines, as well as a sparkling, and this was a chance to really get to know others on our tour who were sat with us.
In addition to the wines, we were given a platter of meats and cheeses with breads to try a drop of the most expensive and potent truffle oil I’ve ever tried (probably the only truffle oil I’ve tried).
Afterwards, we were also educated on real olive oil/balsamic vinegar; extra extra virgin olive oil comes with extra bullshit and if you buy balsamic vinegar that contains sugar or colourant then throw it in the bin. Consider yourself now also educated.
A few glasses later this was us…
Shout out to spinach boy and to the girl who got wasted on the wine tasting, fell asleep on the bus and then wandered off so we couldn’t find her. What a lad.
So the final part of the excursion was a guided walking tour of Siena, by which time my feet were so sore it felt like I was wearing down the heel bone. But, I hobbled through the tour paying particular note to the bi-annual 90 second Palio horse race that takes place around the Piazza del Campo. They transform their main square into an arena by adding sand to the outer square whilst people gather in the centre by the thousands, or if they are lucky (rich) they can nab a balcony above one of the many shops and restaurants surrounding the square.
I also learned that there’s an equally weird reason for the weird breastfeeding wolf symbol of Siena and that’s all thanks to a legend of two brothers, Senius and Aschius, who were suposedly raised by wolves.
A final point worth noting is the Cathedral in the centre was built by the same architect who built the leaning tower of Pisa as well as Florence’s esteemed Duomo.
It’s been a year of this transformation journey and as January 2018 arrived, I thought this would be a good opportunity to reflect on each month and what impact, if any, it has had on the way I live my life now.
If there was ever going to be a controversial challenge it was this one. With opinions and beliefs splitting people world wide on the subject, it was always going to be harder for a previously strict carnivore to “try out” being Vegetarian for a month and then blog about the short lived and not hugely successful experience. But this journey is my own and now I can see this short lived month really did have an effect on my view, and now my lifestyle choices. However insignificant they might seem, they are still small steps toward a healthier life and a better world.
Since January, I’ve found myself increasingly choosing the vegetarian options whether it is in my work canteen, at home or out to eat with friends. I put this down to a change in my attitude towards meat as a result of understanding the vast amounts of waste, the damage to the environment and the inhumane treatment of animals all for the sake of corporate greed.
From a health point of view, I am so much more aware of the fats and greasiness of meat and how much heavier it sits in my stomach, I do tend to feel a little odd when I eat some types of meat now. It does make me wonder what sort of diseases we are potentially exposed to by eating meat. That’s not to say I don’t crave the odd steak now and then but I am so much more aware of trying to choose organic, free range, grass fed meat.
Having said that, I do want to aim to be even more veggie and I have concluded that being a full time vegetarian would be the ideal lifestyle choice and probably is how we were once meant to be. Not that any of my life choices are ideal- we’ll see!
Note: Spiralizers interest me now more than ever before!
This one has to be the hardest of all as it’s a continuous battle and a continuous cycle. Choosing to let people off the hook when they have wronged you seems unnatural to our human instincts and makes us feel like a doormat sometimes. But this doesn’t have to be so. I am continually reminding myself that forgiveness does not mean reconciliation; if you are continually wronged, don’t let them wrong you again. But love them and show them kindness anyway.
I can definitely see improvements with the way I handle disagreements, knowing that just because we have differences of opinion doesn’t make us bad people, just unique individuals who handle things in different ways. I try to respect another’s perspective even if I disagree.
I still struggle with letting things go quickly, but I can usually get over it after taking a breather. And with my long term grievances, it will always be a battle to maintain forgiveness but I will keep trying.
This challenge is one that went beyond my natural disposition. I’ve grown up in an environment of complaining, from my family to the culture of the UK, so trying not to was a real difficulty. Being thankful for everything, including the bad times, just opens your eyes to how blessed you really are. Blessed you have arms and legs, and eyes and ears, blessed you are able to use them, blessed you have food, shelter and a job. There’s actually a lot to be thankful for!
I really struggle, still, to see the glass half full rather than half empty but I am working on it. A good way to start thinking a bit more positively is by writing a diary of your week noting, at various points of the day, how you felt – happy, sad, angry – and to what degree out of 100% you felt those emotions. When you look back, you will likely realise you have a much happier life than you initially thought. This is because our minds get conditioned just to remember the negative and not the positive.
This challenge actually made me realise that my problem wasn’t so much giving up on things, as feeling like giving up every time something gets tough. Also it was about believing in my ability to achieve what I set out to do.
Through going travelling, something I needed to do for myself but was afraid to, it helped me build confidence in myself. I’m trying to maintain this confidence now that I am back; it’s actually the mundane things in life that knock the confidence out of you.
I have found myself being a little braver and taking those risks even if I might fail, but there’s still work to be done!
This one’s gone out the window! Seriously, I don’t like doing any of it – classes annoy me, I don’t even know where to start in the gym, I HATE running, going for walks in the cold British weather is not up there on my fun list… so what can I do?!
I know I have to exercise, I know it’s very important for mental and physical health, but I just need to find something I actually enjoy doing.
I am working on it!!! The only classes I do quite enjoy are yoga classes, so I will try to keep those up at least. Any suggestions? Let me know!
A challenge that you either understood completely or didn’t get at all. Fellow water haters, I confess, I was doing so well and then I reverted… But I have a plan to get me back on track!
Drinking water has always been at the bottom of my to do list, and something happened when I realised, in my sugar free month, that (some) wines only had naturally occurring sugars; I started drinking more wine… And more… Not like an alcoholic, but just like with my dinner and in replacement for water…
Okay jokes aside (sort of), I just struggle in this already damp and wet, cold English weather to feel thirsty. I feel somehow I’m absorbing so much water just through breathing damp air. And even when thirsty, I’m so cold I opt for a dehydrating cup of tea (that’s right, tea is a diuretic so you ultimately lose more water than you take in).
But the plan? I bought this from Kikki.K and I intend to use it.
This challenge was certainly the most adventurous and the most rewarding, delivering me to exciting new places, giving me more out of life and connecting me with the best people the world has to offer!
It’s an attitude that takes courage and takes self-belief. You need to be a risk taker, taking chances when there may be disappointment. Worst, you need to be prepared to be disappointed.
I have definitely carried on with this type of attitude, but I have to remind myself. I am naturally cautious and if left to my instincts, I would let opportunities pass me by. I struggle with disappointment and so when I am let down it hurts, a lot! But life is not going to get more interesting, fun or exciting if you don’t take risks.
I hope 2018 will be a year that I don’t hold myself back with my own self-doubt, but a year which I open my eyes to opportunities and take them with both hands!
This is the challenge I am most proud of. It was complex and required a lot of effort; cooking, reading ALL labels, turning down tasty office junk food etc. But I smashed it!
I honestly saw the health benefits (especially when I returned to sugar), I realised the effect that sugar had on my asthma!
Sadly, the return to sugar has been a full submersion due to the time of year, but I would like that to change in the new year and I’d like to greatly reduce my intake. If not for my overall health, for my asthma (which has suffered greatly due to the return to sugar and all the other factors that trigger it).
I will proudly say though, that I have not returned to putting sugar in my tea!
Being cut off from the world of social media came with mixed feelings… It was strangely freeing but at the same time isolating.
Yes, I missed out on social events, life updates from all my 900+ facebook “friends” (ha! I have more than you! JK) and ultra-hilarious memes, BUT I gained an independence, learned a new language (slash carried on learning Spanish from all my years of dabbling) and met people in more organic ways.
Being back on social media, I actually am not as bothered anymore… It’s sort of an effort to post so I’m doing it less. And I’m only really scrolling through facebook for the “12 times you failed at life” style posts, because … they make me giggle.
So, although I won’t keep off social media, I think I have struck a balance along the way.
What a feel-good way to end the year; by volunteering! I honestly got such a sense of achievement by helping these charities in the skills that I had to offer. I really cannot urge you enough, if you have any spare time, to give some of it to a charity of your choice. You will form new friendships, new connections and it can even help you gain more skills.
One thing that is overlooked when people are looking for jobs but lack the experience, is volunteering. The way I gained my administrative experience was by volunteering for the Lifetrain Trust. So if this is where you find yourself, just go for it – if not to help, then to look better on your CV. But you will feel good when you see the contribution you have made to these charities.
Charities do amazing work, and I will be more than happy to give more of my time to volunteer during 2018!
So that’s it, my end of year update! Let me know how you have found my challenges and if you have a resolution for 2018!
This month, in spending time in reflection, being self-aware and harnessing positive thoughts, I’ve realised that it is important to define the things that matter most to you. And in doing that we need to be intentional about taking steps to respond to those things.
We like to complicate life and stray away from the simplicity of day to day “in the moment” living by creating barriers and being defined by other people.
But this year of monthly challenges is all about being more of “me” as I define it and less of “me” as current society decides it should be.
For that reason, here are the 12 steps that are important to me in my ‘Simple Living’ challenge.
12 Steps to Simple Living
1. Do not isolate yourself. It’s a big world out there but it gets smaller as you branch out more. Never be afraid to ask others for help, say “yes” to more invites, call that old friend up out of the blue! You will be surprised where this takes you.
2. Shh… listen, don’t speak – take time to listen, think carefully and work out what your mean before you speak. You cannot take words back once they are said, so guard your tongue. Show empathy and be compassionate.
3. Don’t let fear make your decisions. How many times have thoughts of what might go wrong got in the way of you pursuing the things you want to do? Fear is the number 1 dream-killer. Don’t let what might happen get in the way of what could happen.
4. Own your happiness – take responsibility of your feelings and emotions. Happiness is something you create within yourself and no person or circumstance should have the ability to take it away from you. Do what it takes to make you happier, you only have one life!
5. Change – you know you’ve been wrong, you know you make mistakes. Change! Always aim to be the best version of you and don’t make the same mistakes twice!
6. Be kind & understanding. You don’t know what someone has gone through to get where they are today, so assume the best in people. Give them a chance! So often we judge others from afar but when we get to know them, we wonder why we didn’t meet them sooner.
7. Have role models. It is good to have someone we look up to, but be careful not to put them on a pedestal or compare yourself to them. You are your own unique you and role models should be there to encourage us to be the best versions of ourselves.
8. Surround yourself with your goals. If you want to be a dancer, hang out with dancers, similarly, if you want to be more patient then spend time with patient people. You become like those you surround yourself with so choose carefully where you invest that time.
9. Release emotions creatively and healthily. There are many creative ways of expressing emotion. Things like painting, dancing, writing, singing and even cooking or baking. All of these are gifts to enable us to express ourselves and give an outlet for emotion. Too often we fold into ourselves or lash out when we are experiencing negative emotions, but next time try directing those emotions into something creative as a way of healthily expressing your feelings.
10. Be spiritual. See the world as more than just a physical place. Don’t stop seeking more. Whether it be more enlightenment, more love, more peace or more faith. Expand your knowledge, deepen your understanding, grow in wisdom.
11. Be healthy. Your body is a precious temple, look after it. It is our only “earth suit” and it isn’t easy to repair when it’s broken. So take very good care of it and invest in it. Choose to eat more veg and less meat, drink more water and less alcohol, exercise to keep everything mobile and strong, don’t take sleep for granted, make sure you give your body enough time too regenerate each night and keep up the personal hygiene (if not for your sake then for everyone else). It will be worth the investment in the long run!
12. Know who you are! – Finally, always remember, you are good enough, you are capable, you are strong; you will achieve your goals. Don’t ever let anyone else define your worth, know your value and don’t settle for being treated less than what you are. You are beautiful!
The monthly challenges I have set myself are all part of this journey. The hope is that by the end of this year, life will be more purposeful and intentional as I rid myself of complications and just simply be me.
Challenge: Don’t Give Up, Stick at things!
Charity: The Natashas Project
Total £ accrued: £8
Status: Looking forward to this month’s task!
The Fourth Challenge: Not Giving Up
I’ve had something that I always wanted to do but had been putting off time and time again, and at every opportunity would find a reason to “snooze” it.
This dream, or goal, is to go travelling… by myself (eek!).
It is something I need to do for me, to prove to myself that I can and to be able to take time out to be with myself whilst trying to figure out life.
Last year was full of curve-balls, and when that happens it can really disorientate you and send you out of balance. Travelling will be my way of centring myself and grounding myself again in some solid foundations.
So I took the first step finally and booked myself three months off work!!!!! Aaaahhh!
This is a big deal for me because there are a number of factors that try push me to give up on this dream. These are factors that may be stopping you from fulfilling your dreams too. Factors like … Work! Safety! Money! Comfort! Family! Friends! Relationships!
Buts and Butts
There are a lot of ‘butts’ (yes I know, it’s on purpose!) that get in your way when you try to work towards your goal and here are some of mine.
“But I’m working towards promotion, I might miss out on an opportunity,”
“But I am saving for a house and this will slow my progress.”
“But what what if I am taken/raped/murdered?”
“But my parents don’t think it’s a good idea!”
“But I don’t want to go without so and so!”
And you will have plenty of your own ‘butts’ when you try to work towards your dreams too.
Maybe you are working towards a promotion but you are at a bit of a standstill, or the opportunities are not there yet, or others are competing for the same opportunity… Ask yourself, are you losing out on what could be for what might be? Hint: It is worth noting here that any performance reviews should be based on the time you were at work and not take into account your time off.
Maybe you do want to buy a house. Ask yourself how long it will be before you are able to buy? Then how long for you to save more for travelling? How old will you be then? What will life look like then?
I am not an advocate for spending outside of your pocket so would urge you to save your own hard-earned cash to travel and not to take a loan.
As for safety, especially as a woman, I can tell you now you aren’t safe anywhere. Trafficking happens worldwide, as does rape and murder. Think of some of the scares you may have had walking in the dark somewhere near you. Or if you are like me, when you are home alone and suddenly everything is creaking and you are convinced someone has broken in. Being safe whilst you travel is as important as being safe where you live. If anything, we tend to let our guard down more in familiar places. Take the necessary precautions, but (as I used to say when I was young) don’t let fear decide for you.
Two memories come to mind when I think about giving up on my travel dream – Spain & Russia. This was when I was younger, a teenager. I had the opportunity on two separate occasions to go to Spain and also to Russia. In both scenarios I set my heart on going, I even paid deposits, in both scenarios I lost out on my money – £150 with Spain (at the time that was all of my savings) and £300 on Russia. I let the opinions of my (then very strict) parents get in the way.
I’m not saying don’t listen to your family, do. Because they will have insight you might not. But don’t give up on your dreams just because of one voice of fear. I saw firsthand the devastating effects fear had on hopes and dreams.
There have been many other dreams I have given up on, but my second chance is here and I am going to take it.
Now I have this goal; to make the first booking by the end of the week.
Challenge: Don’t Give Up, Stick at things!
Charity: The Natashas Project
Total £ accrued: £0
Status: Looking forward to this month’s task!
The Fourth Challenge: Not Giving Up
“One of the hardest parts of life is deciding whether to walk away or try harder.” – One Tree Hill
I have always struggled with being a bit of a quitter; when things get hard I struggle to find the willpower to put in the effort it takes to work at things. I’ve found myself (at different stages of life) wanting to give up on dreams, goals, people (including myself), relationships and even (to an extent) life.
I found a thought-provoking quote by an unknown author that said, “If you give up, it means you never wanted it.”
And to an extent, I agree. Because sometimes giving up is your way of telling yourself that you don’t value what you are doing. But I have struggled with depression, anxiety and the feeling of not being good enough. And I believe, a lot of the time, the desire to give up stems from the fear of rejection.
So I am going to be facing my fear of rejection and of failure, I will be focusing on finding value in what I set myself to do. The challenge will be to ‘stick at it’ with my goals and my challenges and not give up!
How will I do this?
What I love about the charity I have chosen this month is that I know how hard the founder, a good friend of mine, has worked to set up this amazing project which is a merger of two things she has been passionate about for as long as I have known her; dance and putting a stop to human trafficking. A perfect example of not giving up on your dreams and goals.
I will be focusing on:
Persevering with my goals
Following up on my dreams
Sticking at tasks and goals I set myself out to do
Taking the chance despite fear of failure & rejection