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!
Getting myself started with volunteering wasn’t as simple, quick and easy as I thought. The thing with volunteering is, the opportunities to do so are there but you do have to look for them. Most charities really need long term commitments and not one off days here and there. But I found this site useful in finding opportunities nearby that fits my skillset and availability.
Thankfully I have some good connections and so it wasn’t long before I had booked myself up for a few days. My workplace pay for up to 5 days a year of volunteering leave so I can volunteer without fear of losing out on a day’s work. I was able to take advantage with 2 of those days. Tip: If you are thinking of volunteering, why not ask if your work place would be open to doing the same? Charity has become a very important part of our society, especially to businesses and you will be surprised at how supportive your place of work can be towards you volunteering.
How did it go?
As promised, I gave time to Be@titudes, giving two of my Saturday mornings to hang out with Rosemary and be that extra pair of hands. It was there that I found out how much of a help it has been that the Duke of Edinburgh awards have included voluntary work as a mandatory. Two lovely girls were also giving up their Saturday mornings to help in the shop and really seemed to be enjoying it!
If you have a spare Saturday and want to do something good for the local Dorking community, consider volunteering here!
I was also lucky that Val (my partner in crime for all of my challenges) volunteers regularly at the The British Red Cross and so was able to contact the manager directly and arrange a time for me to come along.
I was given free reign to arrange the Bridal window as I please and organise the bridal room. I was also able to bring in my pre-loved wedding dress and donate it. I hope you think I did a good job:
If you are getting married, try popping in to the Red Cross, you will be surprised at the quality of the Wedding dresses in stock; some are even brand new!
Even if you aren’t getting married, pop in anyway – I put out some (otherwise) expensive designer bags and shoes yesterday; Ugg, Cos, Ted Baker and more! I may have nabbed a cheeky deal myself… shopping and working, what could go wrong?!
Sadly, I couldn’t volunteer at The LifeTrain Trust this time, but I will be doing so in the new year which I am looking forward to!
I was, however, able to volunteer my time from home by doing some admin work for The Natasha’s Project! This has been particularly good because it means I can fit it around my job and social life so it doesn’t feel as if I’m giving up an entire day. If you have any skills around fundraising, social media, general admin or even if you have some connections that will help this amazing charity to get some secure funding then get in touch!
Success rate: 100%
Hours given: 23
Will I carry on volunteering? Definitely! I already am looking at doing some hours with the LifeTrain Trust in January and I will continue to support Be@titudes, the Red Cross and the Natasha’s Project.
What can we do? Get involved! Give some time to any of the charities that I have supported this year, or any causes that are close to your heart. Whatever you do, whether it is giving a sandwich to a stranger, or lending a hand to a friend in need, the reward is the same; a little light of kindness in a broken world.
Volunteering at Spring Harvest
Friends giving a helping hand
If you can’t give time, you can always give dolla $$. Many companies are starting to do charity matching, whether they match a certain monthly contribution you decide to make to a charity of choice or they may match an amount that you raise for a charity through an event up to a set limit. Ask your employer about this!
Or if, as the new year looms, you are feeling super inspired by my 12 months of simple living, why not give yourself monthly challenges and wager your time/money to a charity for when you (inevitably) balls up!
I hope you have enjoyed following my year! Here’s to an amazing 2018!