Bettering Ridley

SECONDARY
Ridley: So last year, Latimer had the idea that 2015 would be a Year of Self Betterment. Basically, it was a plan to become the best version of yourself in all aspects of our lives. After she explained to me what exactly she meant, I (of course) loved the idea, and I decided to jump on the bandwagon. Now, obviously it’s 2016, and the year of self betterment did happen in 2015, but not nearly to the extend that I’d intended. So, this year, and more than likely next year and probably the year after (I see this as an ongoing project to be fair…there’s a lot of about me that needs bettering…) I want to continue and expand on this idea, so I said I’d share some of the areas in which I have been trying and will continue to try to be a better person.

Personally, I think there are very few people in the world who truly know where they’re going in life, it takes years of introspection, deep thinking, and list making before you start to understand what it is you really want from life. There are some people who are lucky from an early age, they find their ‘calling’ and they pursue it with a vigour and passion that is impressive. For the rest of us, it is trial and error, it is circumstance and happenstance, along with a vague idea of what you think you might like, and continuous questioning.

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So we hold on to what we do like, we avoid and change what we don’t, and we live. But my question would be, are we actively living? Are we aware of the days that pass? How often does it happen you let weeks and months and even years just drift by and the things you wanted to do, that course you meant to sign up for, that hobby you wanted to take up again or that place you really wanted to visit, just didn’t happen? I know I’ve done this, and once you take a minute to stop and think, it’s like emerging from far under water, you take a deep breath, look around at where you are and think, what happened? How did I get here? How did so much time pass and nothing has changed, despite having the desire for it?

The year of bettering Ridley, we’re taking control and actively living! It can mean anything, for anyone! So for me, it’s continuing some things I already have in place and it’s starting others:

  • Taking control of the direction of my career, so I began a masters October 2014, it finishes this year, which i can’t believe, that time has gone so quickly. It was something I’ve always wanted to do though, and education is never, never a waste, and I do like learning, and also i love all the new stationary, pens, highlighters and beautiful clean A4 pads that I get to buy (I know I have a problem….help me…. 😀 )download (1)
  • It’s continuing to write more, publish more books, to build upon the foundation Latimer and I already have in place. Do what you love, right?4863_9387c327726cfdaa62521c68712ec5ad
  • It’s to give back to my community, using my professional skills and my time, and to reconnect with charity organisations I was once part of when I was younger or becoming involved in new ones. While I’m trying to better my own life, it’s important to me that I do the same for someone else.images
  • It’s making more time and going to greater effort to better include the people I love in my life. It isn’t about what you have, where you are or what you do, life means nothing if you don’t have people in it who you care about and who care about you.images (2)
  • It’s finally mastering some sort of skill on the guitar after years of haphazard practice. I’ve been taking lessons!images (6)
  • It’s becoming fluent in a second language to a level that I understand the idioms and nuisances of a different culture, which many one day open doors to a new way of thinking. (Not to mention I’m always in awe of people who are able to flit effortlessly from one language to another, I find it so impressive.) This I have decided can wait towards the end of the year….or maybe 2017….but I will do this!! I need to decide on a particular language first!2073435727eb8d3f2f21e8192a3238a1
  • It’s about taking my health more seriously, taking time out to exercise regularly, relax, get proper sleep and meditate. Live the good life, not the fast life.Live-your-life-inspirational-quotes
  • It’s seeing more of the world, to do what I love to do and travel, experience different ways of living, expand my horizons and in doing so my views and beliefs.images (4)

 

All I’ll say is a big thank you to Latimer for her idea, for sharing it with me and letting me take part too! I look forward to trying to become a better person, and sure I’ve always worked well with targets, and with inspirational sayings (obviously I hear you say! Yeah yeah, you know you like them too 😀 )

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So….

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Make me Laugh

Latimer love's Smodcast

Latimer love’s Smodcast

Latimer: I love me some funny podcasts and Smodcast by Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier is one of my favourites. I just love listening to these two old friends talking about random stuff and joking around.

Smodcast is full of bizarre stories and funny nerdy references, and life lessons.

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I just love these two, they make me laugh but they also have all this funny random advice about taking risks on doing the things that you love, and being creative and surrounding yourself with ‘why not?’ people. All this inter-spaced with Kevin’s obsession with Batman and Canada, and fascination with Jaws (or just sharks and being eaten by one).

“But… what would Batman do Scott?” and “Can you give me that in Jaws measurement*? How many Jaws’ would that be Scott?” (*Jaws measurement being one of Kevin’s ways of measuring things in the standard unit of a Jaw’s shark!)

I’m so happy to say that Ridley and I will be heading off to see Kevin Smith doing a live podcast in Dublin in June! I can’t wait 🙂 

If you don’t mind swearing and you like to laugh you should check out Smodcast!

Hong Kong

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Latimer: Well, all things must come to an end and Hong Kong is a pretty nice place to end things.

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I was only really there for one day, but I got to go to the cool Sino Centre, which was like being back in Tokyo, with all the Asian drama and anime stuff.

Then I headed across on the ferry to Victoria Peak to check out the views of the city.

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And then it was more or less homeward bound!

Having been out and about travelling a bit again, reminds me that there is so much to see. As the Discworld’s first tourist, Twoflower, once said:

“Sometimes I think a man could wander across the disc all his life and not see everything there is to see. And now it seems there are lots of other worlds as well. When I think I might die without seeing a hundredth of all there is to see it makes me feel… well, humble, I suppose. And very angry, of course.” 

So true 🙂

A Chinese St Patrick’s Day

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Latimer: I know Saint Patrick’s day is long over, but this year was the first I’d spent ‘off world’ and it was a little out of the ordinary!

I didn’t really expect to see any Paddy’s Day stuff in China and just as well because I didn’t. I had to explain Paddy’s Day to my Chinese guide. In primary school we all learned about Patrick from An Bhreatain Bheag (Wales, that’s what we were told anyway), and how he was kidnapped by the Irish slaver Niall of the Nine Hostages and taken to Ireland.

I got a bit of a way into this story and paused.

‘Well, Saint Patrick’s day itself is more about celebrating your Irishness’; the guide looked confused, so I carried on, feeling the weight of the whole of Ireland bearing down on me. ‘It’s for the people that went away’, I smiled, ‘you know like in China when people leave and then they want to feel connected to home?’

He nodded. I’m not sure I explained it well enough in the end!

It’s just an Irish holiday to celebrating your culture and where you come from, or just having fun (or craic – Irish for fun)!

I spent the day in a monastery! I had fun letting everyone back home know I was in a monastery on Paddy’s Day!

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During the day I climbed the Giant Stone Buddha at Leshan, looking for any ‘signs’ of Paddy’s Day –  haha, which I didn’t find!

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There were no signs – no green, no shamrocks, nothing… BUT! When we got to the monastery to check-in we were introduced to our local guide.

Aside here: in China, people take Western names (like Tom, John, Seamus, Charles) so it’s easier for Western’s to say their names (their parents don’t actually call them John etc). These names are usually given to the Chinese people by their English teachers.

The local guide introduced himself; “Hello, my name is Patrick!” And I just started laughing. Brilliant.

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 So that was my Paddy’s Day in China – a simple name had me smiling all day!

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My Bailey’s Irish Cream drink 🙂

What’s for Dinner?

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Latimer: I’ve said this before (a lot!!), but honestly one of the best things about going to a different country is getting to eat their food! And I’m the sort of person who takes photos of the food they eat and Instagrams them – hence this post is photo heavy!

I love Asia food but I wouldn’t have ever said I particularly liked Chinese food. As with most countries, we have Chinese takeaways in Ireland and they’re fine. But having been in China, I don’t think they are making proper Chinese food (I think it’s Westernized to suit our palettes). But, I wish they weren’t, because as it turns out, proper Chinese food is so freckin’ good!

I was asked a lot about the food when I came home – people would grimace, ‘what did you eat?!’ Well, okay, to be honest in Chinese food, they use everything and the food is always fresh (i.e. the fish is alive in the tank then cooked and put on your plate). It’s harsh to look at, but you have to respect that Chinese people know where their food is coming from; we eat the steak and the pork and we don’t think about how it got there.

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Weighing the fish

And here the fish is cooked moments later (it's called Beer Fish a dish from Yangshuo)

And here the fish is cooked moments later (it’s called Beer Fish a dish from Yangshuo)

And they have some amazing food markets! The Muslim Quarter in Xi’an was one pretty cool food spot…

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Muslim Quarter Xi’an

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The yellow stuff is rice cake

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They are making this sticky bar type stuff from peanuts and honey… beating the crap out of it with mallets!

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A prune, fungus drink… wasn’t nice! 😦

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Roasted walnuts

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Kitchen in the Muslim Quarter

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A kitchen in the Muslim Quarter

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Making fried wraps

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Yummy fried wraps

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Squid on a stick!

From hotpots to noodles, to taro chips… I ate well in China!

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Meet in a bun… sooo good… and spicy cauliflower

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Noodles in Xi’an (they’re known for their noodles – this was the only time I had noodles actually! wow)

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Spicy beef

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Yummy spicy cabbage

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Sweet and sour fish in Beijing

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Dumplings in Xi’an

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Some seriously spicy hotpot in Chengdu (they have the best hotpots apparently!)

Do you see the brains? Yup... I did not try that! ah... ha... nooo...

Do you see the brains? Yup… I did not try that! ah… ha… nooo…

Spicy potato... Love me some spuds!

Spicy potato… Love me some spuds!

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We stopped off at a local woman’s house for lunch in Yangshuo. This green stuff (a type of lettuce I think?!) was soooo tasty… I could have ate the whole plate!

These were homegrown in the above woman's garden... yummy!

These were homegrown in the above woman’s garden… yummy!

Taro chips.... They could give potatoes a run for their money!!

Taro chips…. They could give potatoes a run for their money!!

I went to a cooking class and this was my end result.... not too bad?!

I went to a cooking class and this was my end result…. not too bad?!

If you ever go to China know that you are going to eat well!

And to round things off you’ll find some nice drinks too!!

This beers quite nice... and bloody massive - I could hardly hold it for this photo!

This beers quite nice… and bloody massive – I could hardly hold it for this photo!

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Strawberry soda

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coffee art… how can you drink it now!!

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More coffee art… so cute!!

 

Monkey Madness

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Latimer: Who knew walking up a Chinese mountain to stay the night in a monastery could lead to close encounters of the wild monkey kind? I sure as hell didn’t, but it happened!

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Our Chinese guide said the monkeys of Mt Emei Shan were well-known for jumping onto people’s backs, opening their bags and stealing food (and anything else they could get their hands on). Sometimes they mistook phones and cameras for food and on realising that they couldn’t eat the precious electronics and priceless memories, they’d toss them over the edge of the cliffs.

Nice!

The monkeys had adapted to the influx of people climbing the mountain to see all the temples and monasteries. They were being opportunists – ‘okay cousin humans, you can traipse around our home, but be aware, we are going to steal your crap!’ And, because the monkey’s had no fear of human’s anymore, the human’s had turned them into a tourist attraction (but of course!).

You can buy nuts to feed the monkeys so that they’ll jump up on your back and you can get a photo with them. Wooden bridges have been built along the mountain to allow people the chance of a close encounter… and there are even people called ‘Monkey Police’ (who scare the monkeys away for you if you are about to be robbed).

The monkeys are so unafraid of humans that they get mad when you try and stop them stealing and they get pretty aggressive. So, we were warned to be careful. We were given bamboo sticks to scare them away (not hit them, just smack the ground and scare them). The sticks were cool because walking along a mountain is not the same without a stick!

I didn’t want a monkey to jump on me, but I did want to see them…

On the walk up the mountain the only monkeys I saw were on the ‘encounter bridges’.

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A few people from my group went out – brave souls. One had a monkey jump up onto his back and the rest of us started shouting – “He’s trying to open your bag! He’s trying to open your bag!”

Seriously the monkey was pulling at the zippers; he knew exactly what to do. He didn’t have any luck though, our group member sauntered back, indicating his double-zipped super bag and in a cool American accent, smiled; “This isn’t my first rodeo!” 🙂

I was half-disappointed and half-relieved not to have had more of a monkey encounter. We all made it safely to the monastery on the mountain – the walk to which nearly ended me! I thought, ‘they’ll have to leave me here, I’ll learn Chinese and live off the land!’ – it was rough!

There’s a small kitchen/café near the monastery – the oddest most remote place – and they had the best pancakes, and half the world thinks so too judging by all the messages people had left on the wall – all talking about the pancakes.

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I found some Irish one’s, so that made me smile – these girls, they have v.good Irish!

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It’s a husband and wife duo that run this kitchen (and live above it); I got some photos of the kitchen, xie xie (thank you :-)) to the woman for letting me! Isn’t it an amazing place?

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And this was the monastery we stayed overnight in…

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We stayed one night then headed back down the mountain in the wee hours of the morning – I thought that was the end of my potential monkey encounters… but OH no… they’d only just begun.

The monkeys are very active in the morning as it turns out. There were big groups of them. By the time I’d realised that we were surrounded I was at the back of the group with the tour guide and local guide, when holy crap this big angry male monkey appeared (he was massive!).

I fear feeling fear in front of animals, because I’m always thinking; ‘they can smell my fear!’

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All I could think was the warnings we’d been given; if they jump on you don’t scream (yeah right!) and don’t show them your teeth (that’s an act of aggression in monkey speak).

The tour guide tried to scare the monkey off with the bamboo sticks, and you know what this monkey did? He paused, took one measured look at the stick, and the man to which it was attached, and seemed to say; ‘I’ll have you!’ and charged back at the man, swiping his hand at the stick, trying to whip it away from the guide!

The guide managed to ‘scare’ the monkey away in the end and I scuttled off down the path. It was pretty scary!

Monkeys (and apes) are so intelligent; there’s a new series on the BBC called Monkey Planet and it highlights some really interesting traits that monkeys and apes have! When I watched it I kept getting flashbacks to the smart, scary, monkeys on the mountain!!

The Art of Terracotta

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Latimer: Overnight trains in China are an experience, let me tell you! On my tour I think I ended up taking 4 of them. I was really worried about the first one, because I like my creature comforts; I’m not proper backpacker material at all!

So, standing in an unbelievably crowded Beijing train station waiting to board the overnight train to Xi’an, my mind was racing with the thought – “I really don’t want to do this…”

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Coming from a small Island where the longest journey from one end of the country to the other is probably about 6 hours, I sometimes get overwhelmed by the fact that 14 hours on a train doesn’t even take you from one end of China to another, not by half. It reminds me how vast the country is – I thought you could go to Beijing, see the Wall, then pop off to Xian and see the Terracotta Warriors, almost in the same day – oh what a fool!

The train to Xi’an could carry up to 1,000 people, and it felt like there were 1,000 people waiting to board it. I must have looked like a caged animal – there are more people living in Beijing than there are on the whole island of Ireland, I was well out of my depth!

The train ride wasn’t so bad in the end and by getting to Xi’an I was off to see the glorious Terracotta Army!

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Pit 1

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Pit 1

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Pit 1

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Pit 1

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Pit 2

Pit 3 (a lot left to find eh?!)

Pit 3 (a lot left to find eh?!)

Pit 3 (broken statues!)

Pit 3 (broken statues!)

The Terracotta Army belongs to Emperor Qin Shi Huang – he of the Great Wall fame.

He became the first Emperor of China at age 13yrs and started planning his tomb straightaway. He is buried inside a man-made mound that is overlooked by Mount Li (a scared mountain), in a valley that is considered to have excellent Feng Shui. The Emperor’s body is said to rest with his feet towards the Yellow River and his head towards Mount Li, because this is Feng Shui (which means ‘wind-water’).

The Emperor’s tomb has never been opened – it’s said to be an underground palace with rivers of mercury and Terracotta concubines. The reason it hasn’t been excavated is the technology doesn’t exist to open the tomb without damaging it. And the tomb is booby-trapped.

It’s also said to be full of great treasures. In fact, the whole city of Xi’an is said to rest on top of enough treasures of jade and gold to purchase the whole of America (I might take that with a grain of salt though!). No one’s excavated so it’s hard to know, but if it’s true there could be more amazing things yet to be uncovered in China!

The Terracotta Army stand in battle formation around the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. They face outward, ready to be led into battle by the Emperor. Each of the men in the army has a different face; this was a mandate by the Emperor, each warrior had to look as unique as any person did. If the artist failed to do this, he was executed and the warrior destroyed.

They used to be brightly painted but once they were excavated the paint faded and was destroyed. They were painted green, pink, gold and blue; bright colours that were lucky and said to fend off evil spirits. The one’s uncovered in recent times are sprayed with special chemicals to keep the paint from fading.

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When the Emperor died and was entombed, the army was buried in underground pits and covered over with wooden planks and grass to hide them from the rest of the world.

But after the Emperor died, there was a rebellion in China (called the Farmer’s Rebellion) and the rebels broke into the Terracotta Army pits to steal the bronze weapons that the army held. On the way out of the pits, the rebels set fire to the wooden planks, this caused a cave-in that smashed and buried the statues, so that today they find the warriors in pieces. There are always archaeologists in the pits trying to excavate the statues and piece them back together.

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3 pits have been uncovered to date. They contain; infantry, chariots (and horses), archers, lieutenants and generals. In the first pit there are estimated to be 6,000 warriors and only 1,000 have been excavated.

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The warriors were discovered in the 1970s by farmers. They discovered the head of one of the warriors in their field. They thought it was bad-luck (evil spirits) to their families and the village, so they smashed the head and brought it to a priest. The priest sent to the cultural department in Beijing and the excavation of the field began.

Today you can meet one of the old farmer’s at the site and shake his hand if you like!

Seeing the warriors, was amazing 🙂

On my way off the site, I managed to pick up my own mini warrior – it’s the General (pronounced Jun-Jwin in Chinese)… 🙂 well I couldn’t leave China without one!

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Previous post: Walking along a Wall

Walking along a Wall

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Latimer: There are lots of things to be excited about when you’re going on holidays; you don’t have to worry about work, you’re going somewhere new and you can relax and do what you want – it’s a great feeling. Aside from the food, which is one of my most favourite things about being on holidays, one of the best things is getting to see famous places you’ve only seen on the TV!

In Beijing there were lots of famous places to stamp my foot on.

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You can’t go to China and not go to the Great Wall.

To me it was one of those places that I’ve known about my whole life; it’s a place of massive human achievement, but had it been overhyped in my mind – could it really be that good?

Yes, as it turns out! It was as amazing as people say.

Getting to stand on the Great Wall and stare around the valley (like a boss), as it criss-crossed the landscape, weaving up and down like a great stone snake slithering over hills through smog into the far north of China – spectacular!!

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The Great Wall started its existence as a series of small walls that were unified into one Great wall by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (namesake of the Qin Dynasty). This is the Emperor who also built the Terracotta Army – a busy man right? Up to a million people died building the ‘Great Wall’ and are actually buried within the wall itself. So there’s an eerie feeling walking along the wall and thinking about that!

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The part of the wall that I was on is called the Jiangshanling Great Wall; it’s a bit of a less touristy spot. It was great because there was hardly anyone else on the wall. It was basically empty, so it was even more incredible to be able to stand on one arching swell and look into the distance and see nothing but the wall and its watchtowers 🙂

As I walked I noticed that there was a lot of graffiti – people had carved their names into the wall. This started a conversation about how if the graffiti’s been there long enough it becomes historic (is a 400 year old piece of graffiti terrible… or historic?).

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When people used to visit Shakespeare’s home (a long time after his death), they used to write their names on the windows to say that they were there. Lots of famous writers (Dickens etc) signed the windows, and now they are a museum piece within the house.

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It’s an odd one and it happens everywhere; I’ve seen names carved into the stone at our own Newgrange (which is 5,000 years old, which makes this really bad).

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It is sad, and you do shudder at seeing it; ‘I’d never do that! That’s terrible’… but then if enough time passes… does it become alright? Do you start to think; ‘someone in the 1800s was standing where I am now, in awe of this thing I am seeing that they once saw too… (of course they were busy carving their name into it, so we aren’t really experiencing it the same way, but still!)’

People like to write their names on things because it says; ‘I was here, I existed once and I was here’. And I get that, but…

Argh, it’s a tough one; but people shouldn’t be doing it anymore – that’s what the visitor’s guestbook is for!

While on the wall I ate the bag of Hula Hoops I’d gotten in Dublin airport (and failed to eat on the plane – I told you we’d be seeing those food items again!)… That was bizarre!

Then it was on to the Forbidden City (give or take a day, ha). That place is amazing.

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It was built according to the rules and laws of Taoism – the cultural religion of China. For example, Taoism is crazy about numbers. The number 9 (and 5) is very important and lucky in the religion. The doors of the city’s gates have gold circle embossing – there are nine rows with nine circles across.

The Forbidden City is also said to contain 9999 rooms; the Emperor is the only one on earth who can have 9999 rooms. This is one less than the Jade Emperor (the King of Heaven in Taoism); only he can have 10,000 rooms. The Jade Emperor sounds cool doesn’t he?

There’s a lot to see in the Forbidden City, I found myself just wandering on my own at one point, enjoying my own novelty as a white foreigner (I’m hardly ever exotic, so that was fun!).

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It wasn’t long before my time in Beijing was at an end, but I did manage to check out the Bird’s Nest Stadium and the Cube before I was off on an overnight train (13 hours!) to Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors, but that’s another post 🙂

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Previous post: Middle Kingdom Musings and next post: The Art of Terracotta

Chillin’ at Court

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Latimer: For as long as I can remember, I wanted to go to Hampton Court.

But, I kept forgetting/never knew, what it was called, so I’d get really frustrated trying to explain to people where it was I wanted to go.

“I’d love to go to Henry VIII’s Palace… you know with the,” cue my distant expression, “with the red-brick gatehouse.”

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I would stare expectantly at the person and they would stare back rightly confused. I would get frustrated, thinking everyone should know what I meant and give me the name of said building (so I could forever remember it and not look like a fool every time I said I wanted to visit it!).

This has been the way it’s been for me for years. But finally I realised it was Hampton Court I wanted to visit.

It’s in London, so when Ridley and I went there, I just had to go!

Hampton Court is epic and after being stuck in a queue for every which-way-thing in London, it was surprisingly low on visitors, which probably made the experience all the better. We had an ice-cream on the lawn, enjoyed the sun and stared in wonderment at the gorgeousness that is the Court.

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While there, Ridley got real bohemian. She headed over to a tree, sat down, pulled out a notebook and pen, and with a big smile said –

“Let’s do book-work!”

I shuffled over to the tree, thinking this was a very quaint idea; we’d be like Jane Austen or something. A minute later I leaped up. “There’re ants crawling all over the tree! I hate nature -!”

Ridley jumped up, screaming, her dream of book-work in the park destroyed by nature. Deflated we gave up and headed into the Palace, letting the magic of Hampton Court wash over us.

If anyone watches/reads Game of Thrones, Robert Baratheon reminds me of Henry VIII. I think that might be intentional – George R. R. Martin draws from history right? Well, the banquet hall has Baratheon stamped all over it – it’s so cool!

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In my head I was saying, ‘ours is the fury’! over and over again, until I annoyed myself!

Ours is the Fury!... or something.. ha!

Ours is the Fury!… or something.. ha!

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Apparently the tapestries that hang in the hall are made of gold and silver thread.

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Rich people back then got tapestries as a show of wealth, because of the cost involved in making them and the materials used. Henry VIII amassed tapestries like celebrities today buy diamond encrusted iPhones and fancy cars. Tapestries were the flash accessory of the day, and Henry VIII had the largest collection. The tapestries aren’t as bright now as they were in his day, but they are still impressive!

Throughout our holiday we were asking each other the question of – ‘what would you do if you fell back in time?’ Our hypothesis started out with the notion that we’d be gods! We’d know everything.

But, Dara O’Briain sums up the truth of what would happen…

Ridley struggled to read the tiny script writing on a massive charter in Hampton Court. Waving her hand she moaned; “And I wouldn’t even be able to read!”

Even if we could read it wouldn’t be written in the same English as it is today – we would probably not even understand what people were saying to us. That old adage by Wittgenstein that; “If a lion could talk, we would not understand him,” because his frame of reference would be so different to ours.

So, the portal that opens sucking me and Ridley into the past becomes more and more dangerous! I think our science backgrounds would also lead to us being burnt as witches!

We did conclude, on our travels, that it would not be good to get sucked back in time and end up in Edinburgh. It was hit by ‘plague’ (we never learned which plague) 11 times. We also would not have survived the closes, with people tossing buckets of waste down the narrow streets… or having to drink beer because the water was so dangerously full of bacteria (from the waste flowing down into the lake and therefore the drinking water).

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Walking around the Court is almost like walking through time (the safer version of it). You half expect to turn a corner and see a man in tights, a grey curly wig, heels and a fancy velvet jacket…

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Funnily enough, that did actually happen at one point. He was sitting talking to a 1700’s era woman.

We (the tourists) all walked past them, listening in on the conversation, confused as to whether they were in-character or not and nobody talking to them to find out.

We all kept a safe distance; blinking and straining inward to listen to them, but glancing to each other and giving a nervous laugh, like we were all thinking, ‘is this a mass hallucination?! Can you see them too?!’

We left the palace, happier for having been there! If you’re in need of an oasis of calm in London, head to Court!

God’s Architect

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Latimer: I got to go to Barcelona last week.

My stupidity started when I neglected to pack sunscreen. Oh yes, I brought sunscreen to England and Scotland… but to Spain? No. Why? I don’t know! “Latimer you fool! You complete fool!”

It was so hot over there. I touched down, stepped off the plane and my insides began to melt! I didn’t actually burn like I thought I would – nope. I boiled, from the inside out!

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My second lot of stupidity was my continued disregard for one Antoni Gaudí. Yup; I was more or less content to let my exploration of the man’s work end at a fly-by visit to Sagrada Família and a hellish, blistering walk around Parc Güell .

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WOW!! @_@

I flew by Sagrada Família for two reasons; 1) I thought I didn’t like it (but actually I was in awe like everyone else when I saw it) and, 2) the queue to get inside stretched around the entire building, in the harsh glare of the sun.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t queue (not after a summer of queuing in London, and the heat of the Barcelona supernova sky @_@).

Parc Güell was a-trip-and-a-half.

A view of Barcelona from the climb!

A view of Barcelona from the climb!

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It was the height of the midday heat, a harsh, steep upward climb to the top of the park, and 30 minutes spent traipsing around looking for the damn Gaudí lizard fountain! I didn’t come into the park through the entrance, but rather the end; so I really faded fast walking around in the heat.

I don’t know what feeling Gaudí was looking to create, but to me, it was like I was in hell; walking through the dried out skeletal carcasses of vast beasts that had perished in the desert sands of Güell/Hell.

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Whoooh, are those two peeps snogging? I think so!! HA!

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I nearly gave up looking for the entrance, but I steeled myself and plodded on, thinking of Bear Grylls and how I must have learned something that could save me, should the moment arise (which on a few occasions I thought, yup, it’s time to go Grylls!).

All I could think was; “Drink my own wee? Güell no…”

I found it in the end, and the lizard was being held hostage by the mob. I couldn’t get to see him much.

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Back away from the lizard… pluz-leezz? No? Damnit…

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I was feeling nauseous at this point, so I fled almost straightaway for a lie down in the hotel.

After that I thought, no more Gaudí.

BUT! An accidental walk over to Palau Güell changed that.

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It was the mansion of the Güell family, the patrons of Gaudí, who commissioned Parc Güell . This family was super-rich, by today’s standards they’d be on the Forbes list and worth 70 billion euro. Their mansion was, actually very small, but the Gaudí -ness of it was astounding. I came to appreciate that he was in fact a genius architect and his mind was a wave of pure inspiration.

No one built like Gaudí before or afterward. The buildings are wacky and over the top; but its more how he built, his attention to ventilation or the way natural light could be brought into buildings. He put so much thought into the building itself, how it should and would function.

Palau Güell doesn’t have doors as such. It has two massive ornate wrought-iron gates, with curling metal.

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When you stand in the entrance hall you can see right out onto the street, but the metal is deceptively thinner and thicker in parts that means the people on the outside can’t see in. That’s all Gaudí.

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The halls curve and arch like waves; it’s like stepping onto a movie set, something from the imagination of a fantasy, or sci-fi writer.

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Shakespeare-inspired stained glass! The Bard is everywhere!!

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That is a Gaudi designed toilet!

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When Gaudí was awarded his degree one of his teachers remarked that; “We have given this degree to a madman or a genius, only time will tell.”

The most famous of the Gaudí buildings is probably Casa Batlló.

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The interior is inspired by the sea, the ceilings are like ripples of water and there are whorls and eddies all over the house.  

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People have lots of thoughts of what the façade looks like. Some say it looks like bones (the spine of a fish); so they call it the House of Bones. They also say that Gaudí was inspired by Monet’s lilies painting and that the façade looks like that; or the balconies look like the masks worn in the parades that used to walk down the street outside the house. And the roof is supposed to look like a dragon resting.

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Many people in Gaudí’s life died in the first decade of the 1900s – including his close collaborator and his patron Eusebi Güell. He took refuge in his work on Sagrada Família. By this point Gaudí didn’t have much money and confessed:

My good friends are dead; I have no family and no clients, no fortune nor anything. Now I can dedicate myself entirely to the Church.”

He had to take alms to continue his work on the church.

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One day, aged 73, Gaudí walked away from Sagrada Família and was knocked over by a tram. He was dressed in tatty clothes so people thought he was a beggar. He did not receive immediate aid and by the time he got to hospital, and was recognised, his condition was critical.

He died of his injuries and was buried in his Sagrada Família.

His story ended on a sad note. But we can look at it like this; his work survives to inspire people in big ways and little ways, and even though he passed away in poverty, the inspirational wealth he left behind will always be far greater than the money he might have had 🙂

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Ridley also went to Barcelona a year ago! Check out her thoughts here!

Also, just a quick note: if you want to see any more of our photos we’re up and running on instagram, pretty regularly now 🙂

If you are on it too, drop us a line! Or if you haven’t joined yet, do!, it’s a great fun way to share your photos!