Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Italian road trip: the hunt for my 'joie de vivre'

As all of you who read my blog know, I recently handed in my notice at work. I had intended to do this in September so that I could leave in December and enter the new year with a clean slate. This did not happen,instead I moved the decision forward to before my holiday. I didn't want to leave for my Italian road trip with my resignation hanging over my head and thought Italy would be the perfect time to come up with a plan.

I am now back from my trip and still planless and feeling a little lost.....but very inspired. I have never been on a more painful, tiring, exciting, amazing and inspiring holiday in my life. I have been feeling so creatively flat for most of 2016 and Italy really reignited my 'joie de vivre'(see- I have picked up a little French while living in Brussels). I have consumed delicious food and wine, marvelled at beautiful architecture, hiked through the hills/villages of Cinqueterre and soaked up ample amounts of Vitamin D. This was my first trip to Italy but will definitely not be my last, I threw my coin into the Trevvi fountain and will definitely be returning. 

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Some of my favourite photos from the trip!

Anyway I thought I would share a little bit about my holiday and hopefully it will be of use to anyone thinking of travelling to Italy.


So... firstly, I have always dreamed of visting, so many things on my bucket list revolve around this country. This year, my 25th, is the last time I qualify for a cheaper "youth" interrail ticket and the Scottish heritage in me means I always go for the cheapest option. Italy is supposedly one of the most romantic countries to travel round, I can now confirm this. However, I am currently experiencing a (long) gap in relationships and I refuse to put an Italian trip on hold until I find a guy..... so I enlisted my younger brother to come along with me. It was actually extremely well timed for him as he has just finished his A-levels.

We both wanted to see as much of Italy as possible on the trip and so planned to visit: Naples, Pompei, Rome, Florence, Cinqueterre and Venice- in just over a week. In hindsight this was a terrible idea as there is so much to see in each city that you could happily stay in each for 3-5 days. Anyway, in our naivity, we stuck to this plan and booked our Air b&bs. I'm going to list and post photos of all the places we stayed below as we really couldn't fault any of them and Air b&b is definitely a great way to get around as you feel like you're experiencing local life in each city .

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Our Air B&B's. Top to bottom: Rome, Florence, La Spezia and Venice.

Our trip began in Naples. I flew back to the UK for the weekend and we left from Manchester airport on Monday. I can honestly say that, regardless of what I thought was good planning, it was an absolute nightmare... all thanks to Monarch airlines. Our flight was delayed by 45 minutes which meant we missed our check in time for the apartment and had to panic book a groggy room in a fairly average hotel. Not the best start, stress levels rose and our holiday budget was cut into.

Naples is not a city I have ever been particularly interested in, I hadn't heard great reviews about it and, now that I have been, I doubt I will visit again.Walking around the central station of Naples felt like walking around a council estate, apologies to anyone reading this who might live there- this is just my opinion of the area we stayed in. I am not really aware of how the recent refugee crisis has affected Italy but after traveling between cities it seems that Naples has been affected the most.

Anyway...the real reason we were in Naples was to tick off something on my bucket list and climb a volcano, so off to Mt. Vesuvius we went. I was pretty excited for this, as was my brother, I'm a bit of a not-so-secret history geek and I have always been fascinated by the 79AD eruption that reduced Pompei and Herculaneum to ash and stone. It didn't disappoint. I would definitely recommend a visit to anyone doing an Italian roadtrip. it was really interesting seeing the distance between Vesuvius and Pompei and the panoramic views from the summit across the Bay of Naples were breathtaking. Naples definitely looks much better from afar. 

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After the climb we went back down the volcano, we didn't have time to visit both Pompei and Herculaneum so, as all tourists do, we opted for the site we had heard most about. We had started quite early in the morning, a theme throughout the holiday, which meant we arrived at Pompei around 10am and avoided peak tourist time. I have few words to describe the impact of seeing the excavation site, it really transports you back in time, I felt like I was on the set of Jason and the Argonauts. I had never realised how huge Pompei actually was, in its day it was the main city in the area, the amount of times we got lost around the excavation site is testament to this. The site seems to be an ongoing excavation and there were a lot of fenced off areas still being worked on but it was amazing seeing how well preserved some of the ancient roman houses were! It must have been a really spectacular place in its heyday with mosaic tiled floors, carefully painted murals and bronze sculptures everywhere. Another thing I loved about Pompei is how they have used the original stone water containers to create fountains of drinking water for the visitors.

Drinking water at Pompei. NB: these photos are taken from google images.

The next leg of the journey was Rome, a city I was particularly excited about visiting because of the rich ancient history. We arrived in the evening and our airb&b apartment was lovely, set up in the eaves of a Roman townhouse in Trastavere, surrounded by lovely little restaurants, vine covered bars and gelateria's- perfection. It was also right next to the river which became our main point of navigation. Tip to anyone airb&b'ing their way around Italy- always choose a place near a landmark/geographical point of interest then, regardless of how much wine you consume, you will always find your way back. This being said, I would have spent my time constantly lost if it weren't for my little brother- his orienteering skills and internal navigation never ceased to amaze me on this trip. The only times we found ourselves lost was when I took the lead, even his drunken navigation was better than mine sober.

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 Having only allotted 2 days to exploring Rome, definitely not enough to do it justice, we had to be very strict with our timing and decisive about what we wanted to see. We decided to see the Roman forum, Colosseum, Spanish steps, Trevvi fountain and the 'Bone church'/ crypt of the Cpauchin monks on the first day and the Vatican on the second day. Once again we started super early and arrived at the Roman forum around 8.30am, ahead of the majority of the tourists, which meant that we could take some pretty great photos without other people in the background and without having to join a selfie queue. The Roman forum was definitely one of my favourite parts of our Italian trip, I think its partially because of the time of day we visited, it was surprisingly tranquil and well signposted with information placards everywhere so that you understood what you were looking at. The Colosseum, however, was an anticlimax. Too many tourists, which is a fairly obvious thing to say, but in contrast to the forum it just didn't measure up- although it is a spectacular building solely based on size. To think that gladiators arrived there knowing they might never come out is a pretty overwhelming thought.

Next was the Trevvi fountain and Spanish steps, we had decided to skip public transport and do everything by foot, that way you get to see a lot more and explore the side streets on the way. In theory this was a great idea, in practice...not so much. After scaling a volcano the day before in below par footwear, my feet were ripped to shreads...blisters EVERYWHERE. Note to self, do not wear previously unworn New Look pumps when walking large distances/up volcanoes. Needless to say, while in Rome I was in a great deal of pain, only one pair of trusty shoes actually fit me as the others had ankle straps and my ankles had swollen up in the heat, I could almost have been confused with someone with elephantitis. Anyway, I'm a pretty determined person and we still took on Rome by foot. I threw 3 coins into the Trevvi fountain(as you can see in the video above) so I will be returning to Italy hand in hand with my beautiful Italian husband(yet to be discovered,but I'll keep you posted on that haha). 

We then went to the bone church which I had actually really been looking forward to as I had wanted to visit the Paris catacombs earlier in the year but didn't have time and had attempted to do this again in Budapest but they were closed. Despite my excitement I really didn't enjoy it. Firstly the man at the ticket desk was exceptionally rude to my brother and I, then walking around it felt more like we had entered into a cult than a museum. There were oddly painted portraits of monks everywhere and the instruments they use for self-flagellation in glass cases. When we finally got to the bone crypt we were unable to take photos, which was disappointing as I hadn't been aware of this. The crypt itself was both interesting and extremely creepy, definitely the creepiest place I have ever visited!Patterns imitating ornamental plaster moulding were created from bones in a tromp l'oeuil way. It was both exquisite and disgusting. I've put some images of the interiors below so you can get a sense of what it was like, although they are all taken from google. Despite my mixed emotions about this, I think it would make for a great source of inspiration for a project.

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Details from the bone church.
After a lot of walking during the day we went home to get ready to cross another thing off my bucket list- opera. Where better to experience your first opera than in Rome! It was my little brother's 18th while we were in Italy and I had bought him the opera tickets for his birthday present- I had given him the choice between opera and a crazy night out and he chose opera. So we got dressed up fairly fancy and hopped into a taxi to the small, beautiful church 'Chiesa de S Paulo entro le mura/St Paul's within the walls' and tucked into a few glasses of wine and complimentary pasta while we were waiting. The 3 Tenors, minus Pavarotti(who died in 2007) stepped out and began their performance. It wasn't a busy venue, there were about 50 people there and the church was so small with such good accoustics that no microphones were needed and it felt quite personal. They performed so many of my favourite pieces of classical music including "volare", "o sole mio"  and "funniculi funnicula" and, at one point, I actually felt my eyes dampening a little. I can honestly say that it was one of the best nights of my life, here is a video clip from the night.

We continued the merriment with some cocktails, a lot of cocktails. My brother decided that, now that he had finally turned 18, he was obligated to decide what his signature drink would be....so, of course, to make an informed decision we had to try all of the drinks....error....huge HUGE error. When it came to waking up to go to the Vatican the next day we both struggled. Neither of us had actually made it into our beds the night before and had fallen asleep in random locations around the apartment, needless to say there were a few aches and pains and upset stomachs on the way to the Vatican. We managed to pull ourselves together enough to walk there in time for our 10.30am group tour which was to take 3 hrs walking around St Peters square, the basilica and the Sistine chapel. The Vatican is a phenomenal building, so much detail has gone into it, seeing as it took 123 years to complete I would expect nothing less(little fact from our group tour). There is so much gold on the interior of St Peters basilica, it's such an extravagantly decorated place of worship that, although I marvelled at it architecturally, it sickened me. to think that this building was brought into being through taxes and money given to the catholic church- money that could/should have been used to help those in need ...I'm fairly sure this wouldn't have been something god wanted.

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While visiting I also got to see the Sistene chapel, which I am sure I would have enjoyed had it not been for the Vatican security claustrophobically herding everyone to the centre of the room and repeatedly shouting "silencio!no phones!" down a microphone every 3 minutes, ruined the ambience a little. I did get a chance to marvel at Michaelangelo's amazing sense of perspective in 'final judgement' and 'creation of adam', he painted with such depth that he managed to make the ceiling look twice as high. The tour finished around 2pm and our intention was to go to the pantheon but, after climbing versvius and tackling the entirety of Rome on foot, I really couldnt walk any further so sadly we had to skip it.

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The Sistene chapel ceiling, 'The creation of Adam' and 'The final judgement'- all photos borrowed from google images.

Onwards to Florence. My brother was particularly excited for this one as I had found an airb&b with a huge terrace and an amazing view of Il Duomo. We arrived and it didn't disappoint. The view was amazing, so, of course, I used it as a photo opp...

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After so much walking we decided to take it easy in Florence, indulging ourselves with sunbathing/reading on the terrace in the day with an amazing bottle of Tuscan wine and a beautiful meal in the evening- probably up there with the best food I have ever eaten. The place was called 'La Menagere' and I really would recommend it to anyone visting Florence. The portions were teeny, the menu pricy, but the food was worth every penny. I had a candied lemon and poppy seed risotto with aubergine for my main meal and a creamy tiramisu for dessert, here's a link to their website and menu in case you fancy a look :) http://www.lamenagere.it/food-2-2/

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The next day was probably the one I had been most excited for- Cinqueterre. We had stayed overnight in La Spezia at another Airb&b which I would definitely recommend as our host was extremely friendly and helpful and the location was perfect. From there we got on the train at 7am to Riomaggiore to get a glimpse of the Cinqueterre trail and the quaint little fishermans villages before the tourists rolled in. From Riomaggiore we went on to Manarola where I managed to catch a video of the sun rising over the village- it was a pretty glorious moment. Manarola to Corniglia was next and from there we jumped onto the hiking trail between Corniglia and Vernazza. 

Map of the Cinqueterre villages, taken from google images.

  For anyone thinking of visiting Cinqueterre I would definitely recommend hiking one of the trails as you get to see the beauty of the area a lot more than by train as most of the track is through tunnels. If you do this though please proper shoes and carry a lot of water. The shortest trip is around 1 hr on uneven surfaces with jagged steps that seem to have been made for giants/people with very long legs, I wasn't warned of this. The views from the trail were so breathtaking, the only way I could flaw the experience is that you can see places along the trail where you would like to head down the cliffs and swim but there is no trail down. I loved this day so much and I even managed to get a mini beach and swimming fix too. This was quite a rushed day unfortunately as we had to get a train from La Spezia to Florence at 2.15pm then Florence to Venice at 5.30pm. In hindsight I wish I had allotted more time to exploring Cinqueterre, 5-6 hrs was definitely not enough.

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The last few days of our Italian road trip were spent in Venice, a city I had made absolutely no plans for but felt the need to visit anyway. It was beautiful in a forgotten historical kind of way. I don't think I have ever been anywhere where I have sensed the history of the city so strongly, I was particularly interested in its history of plague as it seems to have left such an impact on Venetian culture, particularly in the design of the carnival masks that line the streets.

 Venice is a beautiful place but I felt like the macabre history combined with the murky green waters made it feel quite eerie. My brother and I did a little bit of research into this and found that, in November of 1630, 16000 people died of plague IN ONE MONTH!!!!The Venetian government of the time created quarantine islands in the lagoon in an attempt to control the deadly outbreak where anyone even suspected of having the plague was sent to die. Lazaretto vecchio and Povoglia are two such islands where quarantine colonies were created. Walking around in the evening as the sun was setting, passing by dark doorways with steps down to the canals as silent gondolas pass under the old iron bridges, the history was almost tangible. Oddly, I really enjoyed the eeriness perhaps I will combine the venetian history with the bone church and make a sinister Italian inspired project....

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We had one day in Venice and two evenings, which actually felt like the perfect amount of time, I can see how if you were visiting as a couple you could happily stay longer though. On our solo Venice day we woke up early, as usual, and got on a water bus to Burano island, something I have been looking forward to for a long time. Constantly featured on bloggers' instagram feeds and in travel guides, I couldn't wait to visit this colourful little island. Among my friends I am known for dressing quite/very colourfully and if I ever turn up to work wearing black they assume I am either in a foul mood or that it is laundry week-perfectly valid assumptions. When I arrived on Burano island I literally felt like, if I was a village, Burano would be me. So, of course, I took a thousand photos.Ii took a photo of me against every coloured wall I could find(well....I made my brother do it which is almost the same thing) and made a Becky on Burano colour palette...

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I don't think I have ever seen so many colours in one pace, I felt like I had just stepped over the rainbow like Dorothy in 'The Wizard of Oz'. I read somewhere that, traditionally, the fisherman painted their houses in bright colours to distinguish between different properties because they are so tightly packed together- why don't we do this in the terraced mill/factory houses in the North of England. We actually saw one man painting his house and he was taking so much time and care while doing it, his house was next to a blue painted church and he was painting each brick in his wall a different colour, it was really inspiring to see someone taking so much pride in making their house beautiful. I loved the contrast between the different streets and that the only part of the village to be in black and white were the striped poles for mooring boats on the canal. Looking around that island truly made my heart feel glad.

Next stop Murano island, where they make the most beautiful glass. I think its amazing that this is such an artisanal island, dedicated to one craft. I felt quite reflective on this part of the trip and it made me think that instead of trying to be good at everything, surely its better to become an artisan of one thing...I just need to explore what that one thing will be.

Here are a few photo collages of some architectural details I came across on the trip :)

I think this would make a pretty nice colour palette for my Macabre and eerie Italian project!

This Italian trip came at a really necessary junction in my life. For pretty much the entirety of 2016 I have been feeling like my 'joie de vivre' has been dissipating, my creativity has been waning and I have been struggling to find the motivation needed to reset it- I think this has become increasingly obvious through my blog posts...or lack of. I needed to marvel at something, to experience beautiful art and architecture, to eat delicious food and drink rich wine and to find my 'raison d'etre'(seeeee the French language isn't completely lost on me, Brussels has taught me some things). I'm not saying I'm completely there yet but Italy has definitely helped. I finally feel the buzz of new inspiration and ideas seeping back in to me and I definitely have Italy to thank for this. 

I am very keen to return, Italian people are some of the warmest and friendliest souls I have ever encountered. Their culture is rich in history, both modern and ancient, and their lifestyle, in my opinion, is exactly how life should be- full of passion and the pursuit of things that bring them enjoyment while maintaining traditional family values. I prefer it to the U.K very much, and I definitely prefer it to Brussels. 

So there's my holiday summary. I can only apologise for its length but I wanted to be able to remember it fully and writing it down on here is a good way for me to do that. I was hoping to use the trip to figure out what i want to do now that I have handed in my resignation at work but I honestly didn't have the time. I am no closer to deciding and the 31st October(my last day) is looming-wish me luck and, as always, I am very open to any freelance opportunities people know of.

Ciao for now ;) x

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

B-EXIT.......Thursday=resignation day

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After much deliberation today I decided to hand in my resignation at work. As of November I will no longer be a Print designer at C&A(!!!!!!!!)

Now I can hear you all piecing things together from my previous blog posts featuring projects I have been working on in my "spare time"... yeah they were all for job interviews....job interviews where I didn't get the job.....but still its nice that companies are even interested enough in you to want to see a project(notice how I'm trying to put a positive spin on this). Recently I have had job interviews/done projects for/been turned down by Tally Weijl(Switzerland), Bershka(Spain)and H&M(Sweden) suffice to say I am thoroughly exhausted by the fashion and retail industrys' exhaustive interviewing process. I have been looking for a replacement job for around 3 months and I did not expect to find it so hard....particularly now that I have so much more experience, but it seems like companies are being increasingly careful with who they are hiring and how they are spending their budgets, BUT as a very wise man once said:

I am trying to remind myself that I can only see a limited section of my life, I have no idea what the future holds....what might seem disheartening now could lead to something great...hopefully...I will keep you all posted regardless.

For the first time in my life I am leaving a job with no replacement to move on to, this scares me a little(okay A LOT). Ideally someone will miraculously hand me a well paid print design role in the UK in the next 3 months...*hint hint to anyone out there recruiting- I would like to move to Manchester or London please*  Failing this I am going to take a whack at setting up my own business and actually commit to it. I will also be doing this on the side even if I do secure a job. Although I am not 100% sure of my business plan yet. Recently I've been working on some wedding artwork for a friend(see below) and I've been getting a lot of positive feedback with several other friends asking me to work on commissions for them too....so this is something I want to factor in to my business plan. I basically want to create illustrations/prints/patterns/textiles that matter to people and inject an extra bit of happiness into their lives. I also have another colouring book commission for an American Publishing company so that should be fun....baby steps ...but still....steps ;)

I would also quite like to get back in to Textile print freelancing so if anyone reading this knows of any freelance openings(in the UK or internationally) please feel free to contact me on here or on LinkedIn- Rebecca Lois Burns. I am hoping that, if I don't get a full time job somewhere in the UK I will be able to use the time to really focus on my blog.

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As much as the idea of not having a reliable monthly paycheck petrifies me, the idea of a life without creativity and passion scares me far more and I know that if i stay in my current role this is what will happen. When giving advice to friends regarding jobs I generally say this "if 3 out of 5 working days you're hating your job, you need to leave. If you are wishing your life away trying to get to the weekend so that you won't be at work, you need to leave." It's time I started taking my own advice. 

When working in a creative job role, where your hobbies are merged with your 9-5, you need to have passion and if your day job is removing this and reducing your creativity instead of enhancing and encouraging it then you can reach burnout point. This is my current situation. For the past few months I have been coming home from work, sitting down to draw and finding myself with no ideas, no passion and no inspiration. This is anathema to me. Trapped creativity, where there is so much raw emotion but no outlet to express it, is an absolute nightmare. It leads to frustration and negativity and a massive dip in creative confidence. 

When trying to decide whether to hand in my resignation, on some good advice from a close friend, I decided to make a pros and cons list. Usually this doesn't work for me as I have an irritating tendency to try and make the lists the same length, which obviously defeats the point. However this time, I was very strict with myself and quickly realised my reasons for staying were far outweighed by my reasons to leave. My main reasons for staying were my lovely friendship group, my (almost)perfect apartment and a fear of feeling like a failure upon returning. None of these reasons are particularly strong. Real friendship is not diminished by location, my apartment is not completely perfect(it has no bath,no washing machine and a teeny tiny kitchen) AND moving back to the UK does not have to feel like a career backtrack- it's just a new challenge in a different direction.

My lovely Brussels family/bunch of absolute nutters.
There are things I really love about my life here; the freedom of living as an Expat, the friendships I have made here, the ease at which I have been able to travel, my apartment and the thrill of living in a different country....but Belgium will never feel like my home. I miss being able to overhear people's conversations on public transport, being able to help people with directions and having light-hearted banter with locals in bars. 

I also miss the prospect of going on spontaneous dates/any dates at all. I have been here over a year and the few dates that I have dared to go on have been horrific, to the extent that my friends are now fairly convinced that I should write a book of dating anecdotes "Becky's bad dates: Britain to Brussels"...I would share some of the stories on here but my mum and nanna are my most avid readers ;) and the more humorous dating stories are not for their eyes...suffice to say that the best Belgian date I had was probably when a boy took me for a beer and we sat on a bench in the street(it turns out that It's called going 'dutch' for a legitimate reason) I am aware that sounded sarcastic...it was not- that really wasn't the worst of the bunch. Another memorable,and not too inappropriate, date story was the one I went to on Valentines day which lasted 30 whole minutes. From the point of meeting the guy was staring at my mouth trying to lip read to understand what I was saying.....I left promptly to go and get a Valentines evening takeaway...for one.... hardly a high point of my dating life. I find myself actually craving the bad dates I had in the UK because at least then, even if you aren't attracted to your date, you can still attempt a conversation with them. 

So there is my life update- I am quitting and moving back to the UK. Germany and Brussels have been a great adventure but I miss my family and friends, I miss dating, and, in an oddly patriotic way, I miss my home country. On that note..... I am going on holiday- my Italian roadtrip awaits ;)