Leaving on a Jet Plane

So, it’s only 12 days to go before myself and Kat depart for the grand old U.S. of A and we’re both insanely excited – like kids waiting for Christmas. 

Although I’m working 9 out of those 12 days before we fly I’m making mental lists of things to do in the mornings/evening/splits when I get a second to breath:

– clothes to pack

– gear to pack

– things to get before i go (currency)

– things to print / photocopy before i go (passport, drivers licences, hostel bookings)

Now.. I’ve got a few things ready already, but 12 days and counting and it will all be grand!

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When we’re out there we’re going for a social media black out. No Facebook, no Twitter, no blogging. No nothing. When we land we can announce our arrival but other than that it will be black out. It will be quiet until I return, and then picture album extreme makeover! 

Summer Camp Craziness!

YHA Summer Camps are an experience for anyone taking part whether they are the hostel staff, volunteer team leaders or the young people themselves the camps are intended for. I recently did a week at YHA St Briavel’s Castle hostel which played host to an Action Adventure camp for three weeks, I was on the last.20140802_205817

Now they say that St Briavel’s Castle is haunted. 800 years old and probably with just as many ghost stories to go with it. A beautiful castle with a moat running around the perimeter. Large old doors welcome you into the castle; you can still see the slots where the portcullis would drop from.

To the left is the East Tower. The East Tower holds 3 rooms, the Chaplains, The Constables and The Oubliette.  Now I’m not sure what the stories behind the first two rooms are but the Oubliette, now that’s a good one. Oubliette – French for ‘To forget’ – is where the dungeon is. On entering the 6 bed room nothing seems out of the ordinary, the wooden floor has a rug slap bang in the middle of it which is good as it covers up the trap door! Walking into a room with a trapdoor in the middle of the floor would probably freak some people out – hence the rug. If you ask nicely the hostel staff will unlock the trap door and let you have a look. Underneath the solid wood door is a 20ft drop – which used to be deeper. At the bottom is a plastic skeleton (although a lot of kids thought it was real!) to emphasis the story. The oubliette is where people we dropped to be forgotten about. If they were lucky they’d die on impact, if not they’d suffer in pain for days until they finally go.

To the right is the rest of the castle. As you enter the hostel reception is straight in front of you. Turn right and you have the self catering kitchen for the hostel, the old kitchen which has been turned into a lounge area, the Porter’s Lodge – the only bedroom on the ground floor. Turn left and walk down the corridor there is the hostel kitchen where the staff prepare meals for guests and the dining hall. Going upstairs there is the King John’s Lounge and the Chapel – both now social rooms for hostel guest but previous a lavish lounge for King John’s visit and his private chapel. Along the corridor are the bedrooms. Isobel’s Room; The State Apartments and the Prison and then up one more flight of stairs is the final bedroom – The Hanging Room. All rooms have their stories to tell –the Hanging Room lives up to its name. It’s where they got persuaded out of the top floor window with a rope around their neck. The prison – well it’s a prison. If you ever go there request this room, the etchings on the wall are intriguing and real history right there in front of you and finally The State Apartments. The King’s old stone throne is in here – it’s advised not to sit on the history but everybody seems to do it anyway – another story in a room.

Well that’s enough about the Castle. I loved staying there. I’m not sure if the ghost stories are real – one of my manager’s swears they are – but I reckon the 32 loud children probably scared them off!  Let’s get back to the camp. YHA has an aim, a goal if you like to reach out to 1 million young people regardless of race, gender or disability. They are a charity and have a fund called ‘Breaks for Kids’ that help young people of limited means experience things they would otherwise be unable to from a single night away with school on a Victorian quest in the Ironbridge Gorge to a week away on Summer Camps doing canoeing, climbing and caving.

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YHA Camps, unlike others, are not for profit. Anyone can come and everyone does; young carers, foster children, children with disabilities and everyone in between. Now, with the ‘not for profit’ part of the deal Summer Camps couldn’t run without their Volunteer Team Leaders (VTLs). These 3 words were printed on our uniform for the week – very fetching green tee shirts. Now I’ve been a scout leader so I’m well aware what the ‘Volunteer’ part of the title meant. Working for free – well 3 meals a day and a bed so not without benefits! The team part – also pretty simple – working with other VTLs (my room mates Louise (wearing the fetching orange overalls above) and Rosie (the climber below) and Cara, Jess and Louisa (who I don’t have pictures off); our camp manger (who will moan at me if I don’t write how awesome she was – Happy now Camille??, you were the greatest camp manager than ever lived), hostel staff and even the kids themselves to form a great week for everyone, to make sure everyone has fun and everyone gets the most out of the week. The leader part was a little more complicated.  Being a leader isn’t just about wearing the green tee-shirt. Anybody can be a leader. I may have had the green tee shirt but out on activities some of the kids should have had their own.

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At Symonds Yak one rainy morning I went climbing with Group 1. We had 3 groups on camp, and group 1 were the younger kids. Kitted out in harnesses and helmets we made our way down to the rocks we were about to climb. Now there were ten in the group but two girls caught my eyes. Encouraging everybody on both the climbing and the abseiling, helping people with where they should put the feet and their hands in order to scale the crag. One of the other VTLs took a go and both these girls were ‘leading’ her up the wall. One was belaying the other shouting up to where she should put her feet.20140805_121428

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and I saw so many develop over the week. Some children were obvious leaders; others came out of their shells as the week progressed. This is what YHA Summer Camps do, they bring children out of their shells, have them out of their comfort zone trying new things, developing new skills, making new  friends and learning to be the leader in their life.

It wasn’t just climbing and abseiling we did on the Action Adventure camp. There was caving, canoeing, archery and mountain biking as well. I stayed well clear of Mountain Biking – I don’t have the best track record with bikes but enjoyed the thrills of the other sessions

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Camp didn’t just see the young  people developed, I saw myself develop. I learnt new skills, I freshened up old ones and I made new friends. YHA Summer Camp isn’t just for the young people it’s for the VTLs as well. I know of one VTL who impressed YHA hostel staff so much he has just become their newest team member. Summer Camps can be a life changing experience for everybody and anybody.

I would encourage anybody who is thinking about doing a summer camp as a VTL or sending their kids on one to stop thinking and just do it, as for me, I’m just waiting for the applications to come out for next year.

Oxford Outings

A weekend off… let’s go away…. Oxford it is!! 

After chatting to a friend I’d not seen in a while and finding out that we both had the weekend off I booked a train and a bed at YHA Oxford and headed down for the weekend. Jamie met me at the train station and we meandered down to the hostel, catching up on each others lives. After quickly checking in, dumping my kit on the bed we head up George Street and having some grub at Pizza Hut before heading back to the hostel to have a few drinks and for Jamie to work out how he can get the receptionist phone number (he failed in the task!).

YHA Oxford is one of my favorite hostels. A short walk from the train station, five minutes into the city center. Friendly staff on reception, a comfortable bar area with good price drinks and a cosy lounge area. Upstairs the rooms are en suite but there are showers and loos in the corridor. I was in a six bed room with a view of the neighbouring street but it was clean and tidy and the locker had plenty of room for my gear. The  breakfasts are great, a steal at £4.99 and there is a nice outside space for some fresh air. 

Saturday I met another friend, then another two and the three of us had lunch at the local Weatherspoons before one disappeared and the rest of us  went shopping. We were soon joined by friend #4 and were having drinks when friend #3 reappeared. Now I’ve not seen #4 for 5 years so it was great to catch up. 

My weekend was full of friends and fun. This blog post  has been pretty mundane but I wanted to write something as it’s been a while and it’s another 27 days before I go to the states – now when I’m back that will be an awesome blog! We’ve put a social media ban on the trip so it will be when I get back, so until then… stay tuned! 

Being a Tourist.

Arriving in London to the hustle and bustle of people, a mixture of colour, sounds and smells its an attack on your senses but having been to Lodon before, several times it didnt faze me. The last time I was here was October with a good friend. We saw some sights, did the Warner Brothers Harry Potter studio tours and enjoyed ourselves.  It had been a while since we last saw each other. Now  I’m down in London for a different reason,  mainly a day at work on Thursday but the kind hearted boss has given me the day before and day after off so I thought I’d make a mini-break out of it!

As it falls the week before pay day (arragh!!) My main goal is cheap, cheerful aand carefree. Two nights, two different hostels – why not! I know there is the hassle of moving but I only have a small bit of kit so doesn’t bother me 🙂

So, arrived in London half hour late as train was delayed leaving Taunton, jumped off at Paddington then jumped straight on the Undergrounds District Line to Earl’s Court station. Sun beaming down as I hit street level and make my way to YHA Earl’s Court – a ace hostel a few minutes walk from the station (just turn right when you exit, walk until you see a cafe on the corner with coin in the title, turn left down that street and bam, welcome to the YHA).

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I wasnt expecting to be able to check in as it was still early, I just need to dump my bag so I could go and explore but the lovely lass behind the desk said the room waa ready so I checked in. Gear locked away, camera fully charged and Oystercard loaded I meandered back to the station.

Having not a clue what to do with myself, I scanned the board, caught the next train and rode it to Westminster.  Now I’ve seen all the government stuff before but there is just something about the sunshine that makes everything sparkle.

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From Westminster I dwadled towards Buckingham Palace and St James’s Park . Tourists everywhere.  Just like me today, noses pressed up against the palace gates trying to get the whole thing in the picture, parents taking children’s pictures and visa versa.  Lots of cameras, tablets, and phones trying to capture that perfect holiday memory.

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Leaving the hoards, I crossed the road into the park. Here the camera totting tourists took a break and joined the locals basking in the sun, enjoying the shade that the huge trees provided and watching their little ones splash around in the fountains. It didnt feel like London at all, the traffic noise was minimal and the birds could actually be heard tweeting!

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Getting lost was my plan of action. I avoided maps and sign posts and just let my feet do the walking. I ended up at the other end of the park at the Hyde Park Corner station. After admiring the memorials that I wasn’t even aware we had – an Australian one and a Great War one – I hopped back on the tube and headed to the hostel to rest my weary feet and recharge the batteries – both mine and the cameras!

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Batteries recharged, feet refreshed and the heat not so harsh I headed out to meet an old university friend I’d not seen in three years.

We live in a tiny country compared to somewhere like America or Australia,  but it is still hard to meet up with people – the joy of jobs, houses,  families – you name it, it gets in the way!!

Trooping back to the tube station I hitch a ride to Leicester Square to meet Jen. I arrived first and hunted down the meetig place – no where near the station she’d said! A quick phone call from Jen as she exited the underground had me walking back to my original starting point – although I did take a short cut through China Town 🙂

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Finally reunited, Jen and I tracked down the TGI Fridays in Leicester Square and graced them with our presence whilst we enjoyed a nice meal and caught up on each others lives. Guts ready to burst we paid the bill and walked the long way around to Covent Garden (not deliberately – we may have gotten a little lost), down to the river and along to Westminster.  Final goodbyes were said and we seperated on promises of keeping in touch more often.

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Wearily I headed back to the hostel and crashed out in my creaky bottom bunk.

Missing Out

I dont know if you’ve seen it but there is a video called ‘Look Up’ that has recently gone viral. For those who haven’t watched it its all about how we are constantly looking down, looking at our screens – tablets, mobiles,  laptops. Were not looking around anymore. Now ill admit im guilty of it. Facebook, Twitter,  Instagram – you name it I look at it. Recently ive moved into a flat where I dont have wifi and due to it being a listed building and its location and cost were not going to be getting it.

This has made me LOOK. Ive look around where I live, visited the area, cycled the area and gotten out. My phone gets mobile data so I still get my social fix but im loving the freedom not having constant internet is giving me. I talk to my flat mates, get out and am actually reading again rather than just staring at a screen.

Im going on holiday for two weeks in September and Im setting myself a challenge. I wont use social media for the duration.  Im on holiday, I’ll be seeing what I want to see. If my friends want to see it they can either come with me or wait until I return to see the photos. Ill have my camera to take photos,  tablet to book accommodation and phone for when I land. If I cant manage two weeks, then …. well …. its more of a situation that I initially thought!!

If you havent seen it you need to watch it, the link is below.

Look Up: http://youtu.be/Z7dLU6fk9QY

Rockin’ Road Trip

So as everyone knows the key to a fantastic road trip is the soundtrack. Now, if you’ve read my earlier posts you’ll know that come September I’m heading to America for two weeks with 3 friends to do a little road trip of our own. Now the van is reserved, route is semi organised and the flights will soon be booked but the most important thing still to sort is the tunes! 

At the moment I’ve got a playlist simply named  ‘U.S.A.Road Trip’ with NOTHING under it. I will be adding a few of the classics under it such as ‘Summer of ’69’, ‘Born to Run’ ‘Life is a Highway’ ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and a few of the more recent rocking tunes like ‘Hey Brother’ ‘Lost Generation’ and Bonfire Heart but my question to all of you, if you are off on a road trip – whether just to the shops or school, or off on holiday or that trip of a lifetime – what tunes are a must for your car! 

I have some money on my iTunes account from Christmas presents that needs spending!

Let me know in the comments, I’ve got 6 months to go and need enough music to cover around 2,500 miles!! 

 

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Pocket Monkey {Review}

So, just before Christmas a friend and I decided that we were going to do presents but had no idea what to get each other. We decided to choose five things we wanted, email the ideas to the other person and then they choose one. That way we got a present we wanted but it was still a surprise to what we were getting. I sent my five things to my friend and he chose to buy me the Pocket Monkey Multitool

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It’s a very nifty, awesome credit card sized piece of kit. It has multiple functions: 4 different screw drivers, 6 sizes of Hex wrenches, Ear bud cord wrap, Letter opener, Ruler/Straight Edge, bottle opener (clearly the thing that will be used the most!) along  with an orange peeler, phone kickstand and door latch slip! 

The screw drivers are fantastic and due to the fact there are no blades/sharp edges it complies with the TSA rules so you can carry it on, unlike the credit card Swiss army style ‘knives’ you can buy. 

This piece of kit fits right in a credit card slot in any wallet and is now nicely tucked inside mine. 

If you’re like me and like gadgets, buy one! There a fantastic bit of kit and useful to have in your wallet, car, backpack or handbag. 

http://zootilitytools.com/ – Check out their site here! 

 

(I genuine love this piece of kit, no one is paying me to review!)