Nails on Tour – South Africa

It’s now been almost two months since I was in South Africa for my sister’s wedding.  I thought I’d left it too long to write about it but I’ve had so many people ask me how it went that I’ve decided to jot down a few memories from my time there.

It was my first time to Africa, my first time south of the equator! And the tenth country I’ve ever visited. What took me there was my sister’s wedding and what resulted was an adrenalin-pumping adventure packed with overcoming challenges and facing up to my fears.

Hannah, my sister has always been the adventurous one in our family – swimming across seas and cycling all over Europe. The only mountain I’ve ever climbed on the other hand is a metaphorical one.

The first obstacle I had to overcome was my fear of failure.  Before heading out, I needed to accomplish watermarble nails to go with the pink, romantic theme of the wedding.  Having tried twice to master this technique, it was very possible that it could all go wrong again.

Pink watermarble nails

However, one by one, I slowly and carefully dipped each finger in the swirls of varnish. I was thrilled with the outcome and they set me up for the multitude of challenges still to come during my trip.

To begin with, relocating an entire family to the opposite end of the globe is no mean feat.  Add to that the threat of ebola and the anxiety of missing various flight connections and what you have is a disaster just waiting to happen!  Fearing the worst, we all set off on our separate journeys.

Sadly one of our party was struck with an ear infection the day before flying and was unable to travel, but with a sigh of relief, the rest of us made it there in one piece.

Most of my family arrived the day before the wedding and that evening we met up with my new brother-in-law’s family for drinks before the Bride and the Groom’s families went their separate ways for dinner.

The morning of the wedding was a happy chaos of eating a delicious breakfast whilst getting ready.  My sister had her hair and make up done and I painted her nails a nude pink. She looked stunning and all the details were utterly beautiful.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so happy!

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It was a huge privilege to have been a bridesmaid for my sister but that of course comes with further fears of looking like an idiot and tripping up the aisle or forgetting key duties and responsibilities.

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Thankfully, however, the day ran perfectly.  We had photos on the beach …

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… and then we drove a little way to the reception – a breathtaking location filled with millions of twinkling fairy lights with a backdrop of Africa!  The whole day was glorious.

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The day after the wedding my boyfriend, Jonathan, and I decided to embark on an adventure trail which bordered the hotel my family was staying in.  It started off tamely enough …

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… but before long, we were crossing rickety little bridges with no rails to support us, and strong gusts of wind intent on pushing us into the rushing waters beneath.  It sounds lame, but I honestly feared for my life out there, or at the very least, falling in and getting drenched. Naturally I sent Jon off ahead to test the waters!

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We made it across safely – thank goodness!

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And were rewarded with a stunning view of a little pathway down to the beach.

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On another beautiful morning, a few of us decided to go on a bike ride along the coast.  Given that I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was about 12 you can understand why I began to feel anxious.  I was struck with multiple fears – the fear of disappointing everyone if I stayed behind, the fear of missing out if I didn’t join in and the fear of ruining the experience for everyone else if I went with them but couldn’t remember how to do it.

I should have listened to the old adage and taken comfort in the fact that it really is ‘as easy as riding a bike’!

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Once I was out there, it soon came back to me and there was no stopping me!

Whenever I go on holiday I try to create a mental snapshot of a time when I feel completely happy so when I’m back in rainy London I can think back on it to cheer myself up.  This was one of those moments – cycling along that promenade in the sunshine.

We took a rest mid cycle-ride to visit an aquarium and had to combat another common fear: fear of sharks!

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And that wasn’t the only life-threatening animal I would see that holiday.  A few days later, the remaining party went on a safari to the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve.  There we saw three of the Big Five on our first afternoon: rhinos, elephants and buffalo.

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What I discovered while on a guided tour that evening was that they are called the Big Five because of the degree of danger they pose to humans.  If I’d realised that earlier in the day, perhaps I wouldn’t have tried to get quite so close!

We also managed to get near to a sweet little warthog family.  I couldn’t resist a photo!

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In total we saw over 20 species of birds and animals, including zebras …

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… for which I’d gratifyingly done matching nails.

Zebra Print Nails

And giraffes …

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… which inspired my nailart following the trip.

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All in all, it was a wonderful holiday filled with huge excitements as well as the satisfaction of facing up to personal challenges.  I know I sound utterly neurotic going on about all these fears but you’ll be happy to know they in no way tainted my experience.  My memories of the trip are all wonderful and now that winter has set in, I find myself thinking back to that cycle ride more and more often…

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Nails on Tour – Memory Lane

Discovering My Inner Child

Mickey and Minnie Mouse Nails

Not long ago I was in Devon for my oldest friend in the world’s wedding. We’d been at nursery school together and now she was beginning a new life as a married woman!  All the nostalgia caught up with me and I felt the urgent need to go to a tiny village about an hour’s drive away the following day.

The village was Lustleigh and happens to be where my granny lived before she passed away about twenty years ago.  I have never been back but I have so many fond memories of my time there – Christmases together as a family, making secret hideouts in her garden and rolling down the little hill which ran adjacent to her thatched cottage.

A long and winding drive later, we eventually approached the village and a lump formed in my throat as the emotions started creeping in.  I couldn’t believe I was finally returning to this treasure trove of memories.

Anyone who’s met me will know that I have a terrible memory – I write everything down and try to document life events as well as possible purely because I have so much trouble retaining information about my life.  I envy friends who can reel off anecdotes from years ago with no struggle at all.

You can understand therefore why I was slightly nervous about having dragged my boyfriend to the middle of nowhere, in the rain, with the threat of Bank Hoilday traffic all around us, with absolutely no promise that I would recall where we would need to go or how to get there!

We parked up on a winding little street and wandered along a road barely wide enough for a car to drive down.  Suddenly I picked up the pace as the smells all around began to scream familiarity, beckoning me further along the road.  I couldn’t believe it.  Turning a corner, a sign boasting ‘Yonder Wreyland’ swum into view and I realised we had found the house.

I was hit with mixed emotions.  It certainly looked and smelled familiar but so much work had been done on the house over the years that in some senses it was barely recognisable from my childhood memory.  I so wanted to explore the grounds and peak through the windows and sneak upstairs to find my room but I no longer had that right.  I didn’t want to corrupt what little memory I did have with any new images and thoughts associated with the house.

I began looking up and down the hedge, I could have sworn it was around here somewhere.  Turning a corner, I spotted it.  Set back from the road, was a little green gate that opened from the bottom of the garden onto the road.  My eyes began to tear up as I realised I hadn’t imagined it.  My memories were becoming a reality!  

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Wandering further down the road passing quintessentially English cottages, the smells of wet leaves and berries and honeysuckle consumed me.

IMG_8522.PNGI felt like an exuberant child again.  The walk into the village always felt like an eternity when I was little, wrapped up in my coat and wellies, but now it was only a few paces before the sound of the stream began getting louder.  Honouring my childhood tradition we played pooh sticks over the bridge, reliving the endless competitions I’d had with my siblings growing up.

The road had now become a path and, as we continued down it, I realised I could see over the hedges to my right.  I had never even considered that there would be a cricket pitch there.  I had always been completely oblivious to life beyond what I had been able to see.  I guess when your line of sight gives you nettles and bugs and puddles, you’re pretty content with what you have that you don’t have to spare a thought about what you can’t see.

IMG_8523.PNGAs I looked ahead my eyes gleamed with excitement as another memory came rushing back.  Standing under the bridge I hooted and squealed as my voice echoed all around me. I felt five again!  I don’t do this often enough in the busyness of every day life.

Veering around a bend we came up the ascent to the centre of the village. We ducked into the church and I was hit again by the familiar smells of dusty hymn books and wooden beams.

Now for my final search – I had to find the playground.  My memory was starting to get hazy. There were so many possible avenues and things looked a little bit different from what I could remember.  The post office had closed so there was no option of penny sweets for us today.  

Then, coming over onto the other side of the hill, I spotted the silver glint of a slide.  Yes, the very same slide that had graced the edges of the park all those years ago.  Skipping past the swings and the apple trees, I headed straight to the middle of the green, where the May Queen rock stood, a giant rock with a throne on the top and the names of the former May Queens carved into its side.  I took a seat on the throne and surveyed my kingdom with glee.

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I was so relieved that my memory hadn’t failed me, that I had been able to reminisce on all the happy times I’d had here and reinforce the fading images in my head with fresh ones.  My trip down memory lane has reminded me that my past is as important to me as my future.  So often I forge ahead with plans and forget to appreciate what’s got me here and made me who I am today.  It’s taught me to embrace a child’s perspective again, taking each day as it comes and enjoy the simple pleasures once more.

Nails on Tour – Israel

I recently returned from a trip to Israel and wanted to share a few of the highlights with you.  The purpose of the trip was to gain a deeper understanding of the Bible by visiting the locations where the action actually took place.  I was also there to enjoy some respite from work and absorb some sunshine.  For this adventure, I set off with some Mediterranean lemons on my nails which seemed to fit in quite well.

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20140516-141732.jpgWe started out in the lush terrain which surounds the Sea of Galilee in the north of the country. There we recapped on the stories of Jesus and followed in his footsteps up Mount Beatitudes and around the towns of Capernaum and Nazareth.  The weather was perfect and even among the busy tourist sites we managed to find some peaceful solitude.  There is so much to take in when visiting these areas, when you think about where you are actually standing and the history that took place there, it takes your breath away.

While there we also went on an all-Israeli-singing, all-Israeli-dancing boat trip across the Sea of Galilee.

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The days were packed with panoramas of rocky mountain ranges, ample countryside and endless olive groves, and in each location we would read the corresponding Bible passages and watch as the imagery and meaning of the text would come to life.  One memory which particularly stands out was visiting the waterfall by Mount Hermon.  As you get nearer and nearer the roar of the water becomes almost deafening as it powers through the cliffs.

On our ascent we sang the lyrics of the song inspired by Psalm 42, written by David, there in the ‘heights of Hermon’:

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All who are thirsty
All who are weak
Come to the fountain
Dip your heart in the stream of life
Let the pain and the sorrow
Be washed away
In the waves of His mercy
As deep cries out to deep

 

The imagery was suddenly so strong and, standing above the bellowing waters, the meaning of the words began to take root within me.

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Trying to pack so many sites into one trip meant that we were soon moving on from Galilee but not before I had painted my nails. I went for a simple distressed design, decorated with some adhoc neon polka dots which became brighter still in the glorious sunshine.

Travelling further south, we visited the seaside town of Caesarea, an ancient port built by Herod the Great.  There we explored the Roman remains of the amphitheatre and the arena, imagining the chariot races and gladiator contests.

Compared to England, where historical artefacts are mostly cordoned off from curious tourists, I was stunned that the original stones from 2,000 years ago were so casually exposed to the elements, quite content to be clambered over by children and adults alike.

Staring out at the aquamarine sea, we found ourselves longing for a cooling dip in the water but, short on time, settled instead for a refreshing ice cream.

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Setting off from there we headed to the even hotter climes of Massada and the Dead Sea visiting Jericho, the oldest city in the world, and the location where the Qumran Scrolls were discovered.

While in our hotel one evening, sitting out on the veranda and watching the sun set over the desert, I painted my friend’s nails with a monochrome iKat design to match her trousers and iPhone case!

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Dead Sea float

Having already taken in a fair number of sites, a few of us decided to take a day out to sit by a pool and soak up some rays.  We even braved the Dead Sea float.  We’d heard numerous warnings about it stinging or being dangerous, so were rather anxious tiptoeing through the shallow water until it reached the tops of our legs.  At this point I didn’t know what I was meant to do until someone said ‘now sit down’.  I sat on the water and immediately my legs came up in front of me and I found myself floating effortlessly on the water.  It felt utterly bizarre and reduced us to hysterics.

Camel ride

The following morning, rejoining the group, we went for a camel ride along the cliffs overlooking the Judean Desert.  Not being an animal lover, it surprised me how much I enjoyed it.  We bumbled along on the humps of the camels, testing the locals on their English, when one came out with ‘you silly sausage’ in a thick Israeli accent which was completely unexpected but also a comforting reminder of home.

Nearing the end of our trip, we drove to our final destination: Jerusalem.

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We had been really excited about visiting the capital, but when we got there I found it quite a cultural shock.  I hadn’t realised before but it is split up into four quarters – the Christian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter, the Arab Quarter and the Armenian Quarter.

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It’s extraordinary walking round the city and crossing from one quarter into another and experiencing a complete shift in sounds and smells and clothing and colours.  It’s quite jarring and makes the religious clashes that much more of a reality.

Our time there was divided between exploring the biblical sites of The Mount of Olives, The Garden of Gethsemane, Hezekiah’s Tunnels and Golgotha and enjoying the delights of the bustling Jerusalem markets.

20140421-153358.jpgTo fit in with the multicoloured stalls of Mahane Yehuda Market, stuffed full with spices, tea and fruit, I decided to paint some watermelon nails. Approaching a large and intimidating-looking seller, I asked if I could please take a photo of his watermelons! Showing him my nails, he agreed.

We picked our way through the covered market stalls, practising our bartering skills on anyone who’d take us on, reconvening every so often to compare bargains or shamefully admit defeat in having been ripped off by some shrewd dealer.

Reflecting on my time in Israel, I remember it as a land of layers – history built on top of history; cultures and religions overlapping one another like a venn diagram. The people are friendly and welcoming on the surface, but you can’t help but notice there is an underlying sadness, a discontentment with the present and, sandwiched in there somewhere, is a hope for something different.

There’s too much to see to try to fit it all into a ten day trip and equally there’s seemingly too much diversity to fit it all into one country – something’s gotta budge, but what? Despite some incredible memories and the satisfaction of learning so much, I must say, I was pleased to reach the end of my trip. There’s a tension in the air, particularly in Jerusalem, that I was glad to escape. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back. If I ever do, who knows what the country may look like then?

Nails on Tour – Paris

On Thursday I took my nails on a trip to Paris for the day and in doing so, ticked off something else from my 2014 bucket list.  I’d never been before and so I was fully aware that there would be too many things to do and see to squeeze into one day but I was intent, nonetheless, on getting a feel for the city.

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When I arrived, the weather was so glorious that my friend, Charlotte, and I threw the idea of going round the Louvre out of the equation.  Instead, we went for a wander through the Tuilerie Gardens, pausing to sit near the fountain and bask in the sunshine while taking in the ornate architecture that distinguishes Paris from any other European city I have been to.

Whenever I’m visiting somewhere new or even just trying to make the most of an experience I’ll always check that I am engaging all five of my senses – sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch.  As we worked our way around the city, it soon became evident that it would be impossible not to indulge every one of these, multiple times over.

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We pottered down the banks of the Seine, generally getting our bearings and waving at tourists on passing boats, and then crossed over towards the gothic spires of Notre Dame to wonder at the intricacies of the sculptures and, upon entering the cathedral, the rich blue hue of the stain glass windows.

Once done there, we continued down cobbled streets, nipping into the occasional chocolatière to ogle pastry chefs at work and sample tempting morsels left out for the scavenging tourist.

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This only increased our appetite for French cuisine and before long our stomachs were transported to a bustling brasserie where, packed in like sardines, we gobbled a tarte fine and salade césar.  Then, shunning all discretion like true Brits should, we bared our shoulders to soak up the rays alongside the Parisienne women, seemingly oblivious to the warmth, still cloaked in their grandiose furs.  Just as we reached that wonderful sleepy-full feeling, the thought of macaroons sparked a second hunger and surge of energy, and off we went in search of the desirable French delicacy.

I’d like to say we stumbled across Pierre Hermé, but in reality, the ‘Picasso of pastry’ was one of the few places I was absolutely determined to visit. There they were, perfectly formed in all their multicoloured glory, laid out for us invitingly.  We limited ourselves to a small box and selected our flavours of choice carefully while desperately trying to decipher the thickly accented recommendations from the assistant.

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Skipping off like school girls, we perched on the side of a fountain and opened our box of treasures with breathless anticipation.  As we took it in turns to bite into them one by one, comparing notes on the concoction of flavours and varying consistency, each one melted away in our mouths leaving nothing but the memory of the tang of passion fruit or the saltiness of caramel.

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Chasing one pleasure with another, we took a stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens, passing retired French men playing chess, gratifyingly bringing an age old cliché to life.  Then nearing the fountain, we seemed to come across the entire population of Paris, apparently enjoying an extended lunch break in the sun.  We located the only available bench and rested for a while, absorbing our surroundings, and listened to some of Drake’s album, Nothing Was the Same on shared headphones – tracks like From Time and Too Much.

Next on our agenda was, of course, the infamous Tour Eiffel.  Zipping across town on the metro to save our now rather tired feet, we eventually rounded a corner to be greeted by the majesty of the towering metal construction.  The novelty of seeing it for the first time in real life was somewhat tarnished by quite how familiar it was – etched as it had been into my mind by countless photos and films.

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There’s also something rather disappointing about watching hundreds of irritable tourists queuing up to ascend 1,665 steps, seemingly bored by their impressive and supposed romantic surroundings.

Not to be deterred though, Charlotte lay out embracing the sunshine while I took up residence in a nearby tree to observe the scene.  The solitude didn’t last long however as a handful of children, envious of my lookout spot, challenged me for prime position.  I relented easily, and Charlotte and I meandered off instead to find a café.  Tucking ourselves in at a table outside alongside a group of beautifully dressed French men in fine suits, we ordered some tea and sat and chatted the afternoon away until we had worked up enough of an appetite to go in search of our final destination – Entrecôte, a restaurant famed for its steak, chips and secret sauce.

It was only by sheer determination that we made it there, as every part of our bodies now ached from the long day and hours of walking (although recounting the events now, it seems all we did was sit and eat and drink!). There we were, wolfing down our salad starter, and hoovering up our steak.  We attempted a third course, only to admit defeat a few mouthfuls in.  It seems there really are too many pleasures in Paris for one day.

Paris Nails

Before I knew it, we’d been ferried back to the station, had collapsed into our Eurostar seats and were surrendering ourselves to dreaming of the indulgence of our visit, rocked to sleep by the rhythmic motion of the train.

To summarise Paris, I would say it is predictably mysterious.  Turning each corner, unsure what I’d find, I was comforted to see more of my imagination unfold before me.  

Perhaps the films have captured the clichés and stereotypes to such an extent that there is no element of surprise left.  Or maybe it just holds a familiarity in the air which is both distinct and recognisable, allowing you to feel immediately accepted into Parisian culture the moment you arrive. Whichever it is, the convenience and ease of the trip left me wondering why it had taken me so long to make the short journey to the neighbouring land, packed with so many pleasures.