So, I’ve been back now for a week and I’m so very badly missing my holiday! I visited Spain for the first time and caught up with an old friend, as well as my friend who I met in Thailand who is now in Indonesia (jealous? me?). Then, I headed to France for Uzes and Montpellier…just, wow. I knew after last year that I could live there, but this time…as soon as I headed towards Uzes, I had a huge sense of calm. It seems my heart has found a home. Pictures and more detailed posts to come.

Anyway. Enough mushy stuff. As the title suggests, not very much of my trip went to plan – it was just another reminder to me that trying to control what happens in life is a complete and utter waste of time. Luckily, for me, the changes were all good. In a nutshell:

  • It turned out that getting to Madrid airport in the dead hours of the morning from Alcala de Henares was more than a bit tricky (note to self, check transfers to the airport are possible outside normal hours next time). It was no biggy, though. There was a train from Madrid to Nimes that took 6 hours – and as we know, I love trains.
  • Except, we didn’t factor in the waiting time to buy a ticket at Madrid Atocha station. As we were waiting in the seemingly never moving queue, my train left without me. Another note to self, ask if there’s a counter for international tickets. Because there was. And I could have caught the train if we’d have known. Oh well. In the end, it meant an impromptu flying visit to Barcelona, somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit.
  • Except, I didn’t stay very long. I literally found a bed to sleep in and had to be up for a 7.20am train. I eventually arrived in Nimes at 11am on Saturday and headed straight to the Market in Uzes to catch up with friends. It quickly became apparent that two days there simply wouldn’t be enough, so…
  • I extended my trip by four days. This was a combination of helping out my host and also because I got a little sick (as much as I love trains, I hate the air con – always makes me ill).

Were all these changes costly? Yes. Massively so. But then again, I had a blast. Because I stayed on in Uzes, I got to take part in the full moon party with my musician friends, my host and her lovely friends, and the other volunteer staying there too. I also got to hang out in Montpellier a bit, somewhere I’d been intrigued about for ages. And, more importantly, I got my itchy feet back.

Central America is no more. I really want to go but the flights are horrifically expensive and the time away would be too short. In fact, it looks like I’ll be heading back to Goa to do the Shiatsu course I was interested in for 3 months. The moral of the story is? Go with the flow. Having a packed itinerary is just silly and in the end, much more restrictive.

Which means I have a tight budget and schedule to work to up until it starts in December. And, this includes editing and releasing Heart Shaped Bruise.

Deja vu, anyone?

x

So, after my frankly depressing post last week, things have taken a slight turn. I’ve just booked a series of tickets for 8 days away in a little over a week’s time and I’m beyond excited. I can already feel my itchy feet returning. Here’s the plan:

Leg One

Fly to Murcia to visit my BFF who moved out there in April. I haven’t seen her since she joined me in Goa for her birthday in February, so it’ll be awesome to catch up. There’s also a week long fiesta happening in her village, so it’ll be time to partay!

Leg Two

Grab a train and head north to Madrid. There, I’ll be meeting up with a friend I met in Chiang Mai. He’s off to Indonesia in early September and then making his way to Thailand again, and since I’d been toying with the idea of seeing Bali, I thought it’d be the perfect opportunity to get some inspiration. There’s nothing like being with someone who’s about to head off backpacking to plant ideas in your head!

Leg Three

Fly to Marseille, grab a train to Nimes and then a bus to Uzes, my favourite little French haven. I’ll spend a few days there with Sylvie, the fab host I stayed with a year ago. I’m hoping being there will give me time to rest a bit and re-evaluate things. I’ll also be meeting up with the musicians who inspired me to backpack in the first place and one of them is off to Mali soon.

Leg Four

Fly home and book a ticket somewhere else (I hope).

I’m so, so excited, and the grand total of all those flights and trains? Approximately £140 – how cheap is that? It’s a great, sunny day here today and I’m feeling massively optimistic. I can feel my shoulders asking for the load of a backpack……

I love trains. They’re probably my favourite mode of transport after driving. If I could take a train to Australia, I so would and in fact, I read somewhere that China have started building some kind of tunnel for a train to go all the way to the states. How cool! Now, I’m not an actual trainspotter, that’s not my bag, but I appreciate what they do. I appreciate the way they look, and how they’re infintely more comfortable than, say, planes, which make me feel like I might drop out of the sky at any given moment, so I thought I’d dedicate this post to the awesomeness that are trains and how I’ve fared on them so far when it comes to travelling.

France

Yes, that place again. In 2012, I was constantly on trains going to Marseille from London. A 2.5hr journey on the Eurostar, followed by about 3.5 hours from Paris to Marseille. Now. The Eurostar. I first took it around 2005 and was a bit unimpressed. I’d imagined something like the Orient Express (now that I would love to experience) but it was a bit shabbier than I was prepared for. Apparently, you need to travel first class where you get champagne and foot massages and all kinds of wonderful things. In France itself, I was blown away when I saw their double decker metro trains. Why don’t we have them in London? Think of how much roomier the commute would be! And it’s fun, being able to walk upstairs on a train (or is that just me?). Yes, some are dated and shabby, but who cares? Too cool.

The TGV’s were double decker too and I just loved the approach into Marseille, one of my favourite cities in France. Stepping off the train into blazing heat and knowing I’d travelled from London to practically the mediterranean…do it! You must! If only to experience the sing song announcements from the French train information centre.

Japan

Oh, what to say. Where to begin? Possibly the best trains I’ve ever been on. The train from Tokyo Narita airport was awesome, simply for the fact that the seats all turn around so everyone is forward facing. No backwards travel sickness happening there! The metro I was a bit disappointed with, mainly because it was older than I expected and despite staying in the business district of Shinjuku, I didn’t get to see that crazy business – you know, the ones filmed on YouTube where people are literally shoved into the carriage. What I did like though, was that the drivers wore white gloves and proper uniforms, with hats. Very tidy.

But, by far and away, the best bit of the entire trip was the bullet trains. If you’re a foreign national, you can get a Japan Rail pass that basically allows you unlimited train travel for a set period of days. You can only get it in your country of origin, so you need to sort it out before you leave, but it is sooooo worth it. Not only were the trains beautiful, but the g-force was pretty cool. I remember bouncing along when I went to the toilet, it was that quick. Plus, the views on the way west towards Kyoto were awesome, including a close up of Mount Fuji.

India

It just has to be done. India is bloody huge and it’s expensive to fly from destination to destination as opposed to the train. A 1500km trip cost me £7 -bargain! Ok, so it’s not luxury. At least, it wasn’t in sleeper class, but it was fun. I was scared out of my pants if I’m honest, having heard a million nightmare stories, so I genuinely didn’t know what to expect. Apparently, I was lucky both times because it was relatively quiet. Busy (some people sleeping on the floor) but quiet.Well, apart from the girl who spent most of her time vomiting out of the window, bless her socks. A few tips:

  • In sleeper class, you get to choose between a lower, middle or upper berth, and I would recommend you take an upper berth, reason being that during the day, the bottom berth is used as a seat and the middle one is folded down. The upper one is left well alone, so you can chillax to your heart’s content.
  • Take a pair of shoes/flip flops you don’t care about, same goes for clothes, cos it’s not the cleanest of places
  • Take some kind of blanket, better yet a sleeping bag liner. My silk one came in handy because at night, it was bloody freezing, and like I said, it wasn’t all that clean
  • I’d go for a fan carriage than an A/C one. Yes, it’s hot during the day but the windows are fully open and there are no doors on the train, so fresh air usually circulates
  • On the subject of air, take some fragrant smelling essential oil to dab on a scarf or something because, man alive, there are some sections of Indian countryside that hummed to high heaven for a good few minutes. And you know its bad when the Indian’s themselves are covering their noses
  • Try the food. It cost something like 70p for a biryani and it was one of the best I’d tasted
  • Take some toilet tissue. Because there just isn’t any
  • Book your ticket well in advance. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait til the day before to get a ticket through the thadkal system (think I’ve spelled it right) which involves queuing for ages in the hope of getting a ticket in a specially held quota for foreigners to where you want to go.

Thailand

After India, the Thai train system was an absolute dream. I used http://www.seat61.com for all the info I needed and never looked back. They were so unbelievably clean and with two berths instead of three. Again, I chose an upper berth and I slept a full 8 hours. There was a mattress with real sheets! And a real pillow! And a real blanket! And a curtain for privacy! You can see why I was excited. Other great additions were dedicated spaces for your bags that you can secure with a chain, and the toilets were all super clean with about 5 basins with SOAP. Heavenly. The only downside was that they come and turn the upper berth down and the lower berth into two chairs, so you pretty much have to be awake for that. It didn’t bother me, but if you’re someone who’s going to go and get wasted in the restaurant car, be prepared for an awakening. Speaking of, I’d highly recommend taking dinner or breakfast in the restaurant car instead of in your berth. It’s nice, usually with music or a film and obviously, you meet people too. In fact, I found that I met more travellers on the Thai trains than in India. Oh, and try not to be too rigid with your travel plans because they were horrifically off schedule every time. Apparently a 4 hour delay is quite normal – luckily mine weren’t quite that bad!

index

Man, I love trains. Might actually look at inter-railing, I’ll be in heaven! Have a nice weekend all!

x

While writing Heart Shaped Bruise this week, I got to a part where my characters go to Westport in County Mayo, Ireland for the weekend. It’s obviously a fictional story, but Westport most definitely isn’t a fictional place. I went there for the weekend in 2012 with my friend and had a wonderfully, spectacular time. Little did I know that one weekend would be what set me off on the path to travel.

First things first, it’s Ireland. No offence to the Irish, but it’s practically on my doorstep and it’s not much different to England. It’s apparently known as the adventure capital of Ireland, and I could see why. There were activities like kayaking, caving, surfing and all sorts to choose from. The most active I got was making my way up Craogh Phadraig (St. Patrick’s Mountain), the rest was spent either in pubs or being hungover.

Sometimes, I sit and wonder how weirdly the world works. On the day we arrived, me and my friend went to find a bite to eat and went into The Helm. The music was good, the vibe was good, the food looked good…until we were told we’d have to wait 2 hours to be served. So, we left, looking for somewhere else to eat, but there wasn’t anywhere that had the same vibe and so we went back, prepared to wait it out. We ordered our food, and were then approached by a french guy, who asked if we’d managed to order. This then led to a conversation, which ended up with us eating together and spending the night drinking far too much alcohol until the sun came up. Happy days.

What came out of that was a six month relationship for me with one of them. That alone re-sparked my love of the french language and gave me the final push I needed to get into learning the language, and it resulted in me spending a lot of time in the South of France. The relationship didn’t work out, but it was what inspired me to spend the summer there in 2013, and it was that summer, in 2013, that I ended up in Uzes and met the people who persuaded me to go to India and then to Thailand, and meet the people I met who’ve inspired me for the next trip.

I’ve often thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great to be like Jim Carrey in Yes Man, and taking every opportunity that life throws my way. Who knows where I’d end up? I mean, I know I’m not alone in meeting one person, or going to one place, and having it lead somewhere completely unexpected. Of course I know things don’t always work out for the best, but for me, it was a perfect case of the stars aligning to put me where I needed to be, today, writing this post, on a blog I started to shout about my book.

Nuts. And it all started from one innocent (okay, it was never going to be entirely innocent) weekend. I still wouldn’t necessarily class my weekend in Ireland as travel in the broadest sense of the word. In reality, we barely even scratched the surface, but it was what started me off on this whole adventure. I’d initially thought it was my time in Uzes, but it was only while writing the scenes in Westport that I realised, that was where it really began.

It hasn’t been easy. There were times I felt like crawling under a rock and never coming back out again (Irish hangover), days when I felt like I couldn’t communicate effectively (less than fluent French in France) and times when I wondered, what the HELL am I doing here? (after experiencing my first time with an Indian toilet).

But, you know what? I wouldn’t change it for the world.

So, as I might have previously mentioned, I’ve been bitten by the travel bug. I first got it into my head that I could combine travel and writing last year, though I hadn’t decided to publish Together Apart at that time. I’ve always harboured a dream of spending time in the south of France, handwriting an epic manuscript with a glass of red wine in a crumbling farmhouse. I think this was possibly further enhanced by Colin Firth’s character in Love, Actually (at least, I think it was that film).

The first rule of travelling, is to actually go. Or at least make preparations. Decide where to go, and book a ticket. After learning French for a year, I decided to do just that. So, last August, I found myself in Nice, alone on holiday for the very first time. After a week of beach-side living and wandering around Monaco and Grasse, I moved inland, to a tiny little town called Uzes, not far from Avignon. And it was there the bug got me.

South France? Check. Massive, rustic farmhouse? Check. Manuscript? Check (albeit, not handwritten. Come on, it’s not 1850). Red wine….well, I don’t actually like red wine, so it was substituted for beer. In any case, I’d completed the first step. I had arrived. And for the next 6 weeks, this was home.

The fresh air, the countyside, the food, the drink, the people, the sun. What wasn’t to love? As cliched as it sounds, it provided some great, great inspiration. The population of Uzes is around 8,000, though the town itself feels small with an abundance of art galleries, an enormous market, friendly locals, craft shops and of course, cafes. It’s like a little hippy town – apparently it was a des-res for Parisians to escape to in retirement. For a first experience of travelling alone, it was perfect.

Did I get much writing done? Not really. Aside from the fact that I was busy relaxing and other such things, I was earning my keep. I’d signed up to Workaway, a site which lists people wanting to travel the world and hosts willing to put them up and give accommodation and food in exchange for help with a project. I was beyond lucky. The family I stayed with were awesome. A little bohemian, a little eccentric and a lot of fun. The host’s daughter had emigrated and got married, and while I was there, she came back to celebrate the wedding with her new hubby and a load of their friends. What resulted was a 2 day garden party with some of the best food I’ve ever tasted, as well as making new friends.

Travelling this way opened things up to me that wouldn’t have presented themselves if I’d have stayed in a hotel on my own the whole time. Because of where I stayed and the people I met, the following happened:

  • I decided there had to be more to life than my 9-5 back in England. I wanted to write.
  • I met an awesome group of musicians who ended up convincing me to go to Goa.
  • I had an amazing massage from a woman and then decided I wanted to learn how to do it myself – thus ending up in Thailand.
  • I decided that, in the pursuit of a new life, I wanted to do all of these three things. And publish my book while doing it.

So while I didn’t get to sit on my laptop every day and write a new chapter, I did advance in what I wanted to be my new life. I started putting the building blocks in place. And I can’t imagine never having gone now.

I’ve met so many people who have given me so much inspiration for new books that I’d struggle to write them all. I’ve been to places I would never have gone, again, getting inspiration that I can translate into my books. It was probably the best decision I’ve ever made.

So, I guess my advice is this. If you’re considering doing something similar – do it! If you’re on some kind of creative pursuit, all the better. Look at it as research. I thought it would be impossible to write a book and publish it outside the UK, but let’s get real, everything is done on the internet. As long as you have an internet connection, you’re all set.

It’s never going to be the wrong thing to do. Experience is the best inspiration there is.

I’m always looking for/fantasising about places to go. If you’ve travelled somewhere amazing, please share it!