Anna Hartley

A blog about travel, books and navigating your twenties in one piece

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Saturday, 22 September 2018

Let's Catch Up // My Blogging Break, Rebrand & Plans Now I've Graduated

Yes we did decide to try and recreate Friends before our graduation ball - best idea we ever had

I can't believe it, but it's been nine months since I last wrote something here. I think that's the longest break I've ever taken since I started blogging and, to be honest, I wasn't sure for a long time that I'd come back to it. Life has felt *so* busy. My degree and enjoying every last minute of uni really took over for me and I didn't feel the urge or feel like I had the time to write about it. But over the past few weeks I've felt that niggle again to come back to writing and so here I am. And not only am I back but I've also got a brand new blog design which I hope you love as much as I do! Shoutout to the guys at Pipdig for being so amazing and sorting it out for me.

I've done the classic blogging thing of changing my blog name to my name rather than something that doesn't really feel like me anymore. And this way I figured my blog's content can be whatever I want it to be depending on what feels relevant in my life because the blog is an extension of me - it always has been really. Anyway I hope that you like it and if you've committed to reading this I would strongly suggest you get yourself a cup of tea or coffee and settle in because I'm about to try and summarise the last nine months in one blog post.

My third and final year of my undergraduate degree flew by (just as everyone said it would) and it was definitely my best year of uni but also an incredibly tough one with painful times, a friendship lost and the huge pressure to pull all of my work off. I'm going to go into it more another day but just know that I had the best time overall and I can't wait to do a proper write-up of my thoughts on finishing it!

So, with that done I am officially a graduate and for the first time since I was four years old I'm not entering formal education this September. It's a very odd feeling to say the least but it's not quite as horrible as I feared. In fact, I had feared it being so awful that in April I signed up to do another year at Exeter studying for an MA in International Relations. I had got to the Easter holidays and the thought of uni ending put the fear of God in me. I loved living with my best friends so much, I loved the lifestyle and education was all that I knew. So the prospect of another year of structure to figure everything out really appealed to me and led to me applying for the MA. But over the last month or so I've realised that the MA isn't right for me at this moment in time and that my heart isn't fully in it. Being out of education isn't quite as scary as I thought (although as I said it is definitely still weird and I plan to write about how much of an adjustment it is) and I now have plans to instead finally do something that I've wanted to do for as long as I can remember: travel.

One of my sisters moved to New Zealand in 2010 and I've wanted to visit her ever since. I was planning on doing a gap year between school and uni so that I could travel there but my Mum was completely opposed to me doing that then and on that occasion I decided not to put up a fight and to do what she wanted me to. So throughout uni I had in the back of my mind that when I graduated I would finally go on that trip. But, come April, I didn't feel as ready as I thought I'd be by that point to travel and I just wanted to prolong the best three years of my life for as long as I could. It's funny how sometimes you have to make the wrong decision to realise what the right one is. But making that choice has shown me that right now travelling is what I really want to do. And, while it felt like the scariest thing ever going back on the decision to do a masters, I know that it was the right decision for me. (Again, I'm going to dedicate a proper post to this but I just wanted to give a whistle stop tour today of the key things that have happened in my life over the past few months.)

Now that brings me to one of the most exciting parts of this year for me. There's someone who I've left out of this narrative who has completely knocked me for six. In my last month of uni I was introduced to a boy. He was a friend of a friend and somehow throughout our three years in Exeter we'd never crossed paths (absolutely typical of my life), but I pretty much instantly knew that there was something special about him. He's quickly become one of the best people I know and I've had the best summer spending time with him. His name is Liam and since being with him I've become the happiest I've been in the longest time. In hindsight I'm really glad that I was single during uni because I had the best time (for the majority of it) and I wouldn't have grown as much (huge cliche I know) as I did had I not been. But, being single for three years, I think I'd almost forgotten how amazing it is to be in a relationship with a really great person. And he is a really great person and I feel incredibly lucky.

I would guess that right about now you're thinking that this Liam guy sounds fab but also wondering where he fits into my plans to travel. Well, before we'd met Liam had planned to go to New Zealand this year to work and travel. In fact, he flies there on Tuesday. And I'm so glad that New Zealand is the country he'd chosen to go to given that it's been at the top of my list for so long. So, we don't know exactly how it's going to work yet, but I'm in London working and saving money until December when I'm going to fly out to New Zealand and hopefully see Liam sometime after that. It's a bit daunting being so early into a relationship and having to do long distance but (call me crazy) I really think that we can make it work and I can't wait to see him on the other side of the world.

So, that's Liam, my graduation and my plans for the next few months. I'm going to stop waffling on before this becomes as long as my dissertation but if you're interested in travel content and brutal honesty about how terrifying it is finishing uni and being thrust into the world (even to do something really exciting) then this is the place to be, I can tell you that! I hope you all have wonderful weekends and I promise that I'll be back soon with proper updates into everything, travel plans and new 'Recently I'm Reading' posts.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

A Year in Review // Seventeen Highlights of 2017

So, it's been a while to say the least. In August I fully intended to come back from my trip to LA and Florida and write up a travel diary but I guess life happened and then I was swept into the craziness that is third year of university and before I knew it it was December and I hadn't written anything in months.

I think it was a combination of both feeling like I didn't have time and also not really wanting to write which led to this hiatus but I didn't want to miss the little tradition I've had over the past couple of years of writing up my highlights of the year. And so here I am, back and raring to write right now.

2017 has been a year and a half. Incredible and exciting but also a frustrating and trying year in equal measure. Like everything in life it seems, it's been full of highs and lows. But the highs have definitely outweighed the lows and they have included these seventeen things...

1 // Going to Lapland, Finland - I started off 2017 in the best way possible; going on holiday to Lapland with my Mum and two of my family friends. It was an absolute dream and I'm desperate to go back as soon as I can. If you want to read more about it, you can find my travel diary here.

2 // My twentieth birthday - My birthday this year really was perfect. I had my hair blow dried in the morning (an essential to any birthday!), had brunch with my Mum and Grandma and then hopped on the train to Exeter where my closest friends and I ordered Deliveroo for dinner and then went out to our SU. That was such a fun night out and it was completely the right balance between being chilled but also having a celebration. Special shout out to my friend Nathan for making the effort that night to come out even though he was on crutches from a hockey injury!

3 // Going on my first proper date - If you've read my blog a lot this year then you'll know that this first dating experience didn't exactly end well, but I'm genuinely so proud of myself for trying dating out a bit this year. It's actually kind of terrifying to put yourself out there and up for rejection but I really feel like I'm learning that the best things in life often happen when you take a bit of a risk, and for me giving a guy your number is *definitely* a risk. I actually had such an incredible time on my first date which resulted from said giving a guy my number, and there have definitely been highs and lows in dating, but overall it's been such a good experience for me.

4 // Getting a first in my 7,000 word history project - In the Spring term of second year I had to do essentially a mini history dissertation. It was an almost entirely independent task which I could do on any part of history I wanted (within reason - there needed to be a big enough source base) and I wrote mine on African-American women's involvement in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement. I poured blood, sweat and tears into this project and to have it all pay off when I got a first really meant the world to me. Academic achievement really drives me and it's so nice when hard work pays off, so this was a definite highlight of the year.

5 // Seeing Ed Sheeran live - This has been on my bucket list for years and I finally got to tick it off. Ed Sheeran is one of my favourite artists and getting to see him in Newcastle with an incredible view of the stage and with my best friend by my side was just incredible. A particular highlight was him playing Barcelona which isn't part of his Divide Tour set list but is one of my favourite songs from the album and has a special place in mine and Lish's hearts as Barcelona was where we went on our girls' holiday after A Levels.

6 // Going to a live recording of Ctrl Alt Delete Podcast - I've followed Emma Gannon's work and blog for a few years now and have loved listening to her amazing podcast ever since she started making it (if you haven't ever listened to it stop what you're doing and download an episode right now!). With that in mind, I was so excited to go and see her record an episode live in Waterstones on Tottenham Court Road. The episode was with the wonderful Gemma Cairney and after the interview (which was just great) I got to meet Emma briefly and it was *so* lovely. Just the best thing ever when you meet someone in real life and they are just as they come across online - Ellie and I left that evening on such a high; it was super inspiring.

7 // Meeting Meg Fee - Speaking of how great it is when you meet someone in real life and they're just as fab as they come across online (pretty good segway there if I do say so myself!), during my Easter holidays last year I got to meet Meg Fee. Meg is my favourite 'blogger' and her talent with words is indescribable. I've read her blog for years now and have found her words such a comfort so it was incredible to get to meet her in a pub in London with some other amazing ladies and to find that she is just as lovely in person. I am beyond excited for her first book to be published this May and to hopefully get to meet her again.

8 // Going to Poltimore Festival - I wrote about it at the time, but this day really stands out to me as one of the happiest days of the year. Poltimore Festival is a small but beautiful festival in Exeter's countryside and I went this year with four of my best friends. Summer exams were over, the sun was shining, the music was great and it was just a perfect day. I can't wait for next year's one!

9 // Paris - In June I went to Paris (my Dad currently lives about an hour outside Paris) with my sister Meg and her boyfriend to celebrate Meg's birthday. We were only there for a couple of nights but it was lovely to spend quality time together and to get to spend time in Paris again.

10 // Starting a podcast - Again, this is a project that's been on the backburner while uni has taken over our lives but this year Ellie and I started a podcast called The Time of Our Lives. It's all about uni and us trying to debunk the myth that uni is this perfect time and instead just talk about our experiences frankly and honestly. I'm hoping we'll pick this back up in the new year because we have so many ideas for it but I'm so proud of us for trying this new thing and getting it up and running.

11 // Wimbledon 2017 - If you know me at all, you'll know that for the past two years I have worked at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships and that I absolutely adore it. From the atmosphere, to the people I work with who have become some of my closest friends, to the experiences I've been lucky enough to have there, it really is the dream summer job. And this year totally lived up to those expectations - let's be honest, Federer hi-fiving me after winning the men's singles tournament is not just a 2017 highlight but probably going to be a life highlight.

12 // Sicily - Sarah and I went for a long weekend in Sicily over the Summer (which you can read about here) and it was such a lovely few days. Take me anywhere in Italy and it's almost guaranteed to be a highlight for me. Palermo was stunning and I loved every minute.

13 // Ramsgate - Myself and most of my friendship group from sixth form went to Ramsgate in Kent for a few days in the Summer and had the *best* time. Although I love travelling abroad sometimes you can't beat an Air Bnb in an English seaside town with your best friends. We cooked, we drank, we laughed, we had a murder mystery party - it was such a fun few days and I love those girls to absolute pieces.

14 // LA & Florida - I never got round to writing about this like I said but this was really the trip of a lifetime for me. Myself, Ellie and Soph went to LA for a week followed by a week in Florida and it was such a highlight. Before this holiday I'd never been outside of Europe and it was amazing to get to go to the US for the first time with two of the nicest people. Soph actually vlogged a lot of the trip so if you're interested in watching those vlogs you can find them here.

15 // Women of the World Festival - This year at Exeter I've joined Razz Magazine, which means that I get to write for the students' online arts and lifestyle blog. In October I was lucky enough to be given a press pass to the Women of the World Festival which came to Exeter in exchange for a review. You can read that review here but it was so amazing to get to spend the weekend listening to the most interesting panels on all kinds of topics ranging from women and mental health, women in politics and consent. WOW is an incredible festival enabling a platform for some of the most important questions in our society to be talked about and I'd highly recommend it if you have a chance to go to one near you.

16 // Living in my third year house - I couldn't write this post without talking about my third year university house. The three boys I live with and Ellie are four of the best people I know (don't let it go to your heads if you're reading this boys) and living with them is (mostly) the absolute best. I can't believe that I'm in my final year of university but because I am I feel like I'm really appreciating every minute and, although it's not been the easiest of terms, it has been the most fun one so far and it wouldn't be the same without these four - I'm going to miss living with them so much when we all leave Exeter at the end of this academic year.

17 // Making new friends - This was my final highlight of last year too and I didn't really expect to be writing it again this year. Because I have such amazing friends already I'm always a little surprised when I make new great ones. But it's amazing how you can make room for new friends and so I've done just that this year and it's been such a pleasure to get to know some new people who have each taught me something about what it is to be a friend. Good friends really are the best, aren't they?

So there you have it. What a year it's been! Wishing you all the happiness in the world for the New Year and let's hope 2018 will be a good one!

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Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Palermo 2017 Travel Diary

Two weeks ago now my friend Sarah and I flew to Palermo, Sicily for four nights and we had such a wonderful time. I've mentioned many times before that Italy is one of my absolute favourite places and it's always been a dream of mine to travel around the entire country, which I'm slowly doing by going to a new place every summer!

Since Sarah is so well-traveled already in Italy, when it came to booking this trip Palermo became a pretty obvious choice because it's one of the few places in Italy which Sarah hadn't been to. This turned out to be a great thing because Palermo has never been top of my immediate list of Italian cities but it was beautiful and we both loved our time there.

We had to wake up excruciatingly early for our 5:50am flight to Palermo but, despite this traumatic start to the holiday Palermo was so beautiful that it more than made up for it and it was nice to have essentially the whole day ahead of us once we landed in Sicily!

When we arrived at the airport we bought tickets for a bus into the city. The company running the buses is called Prestia e Comande and I'd highly recommend it as we bought return tickets for just ten euros, they were incredibly helpful in telling you what stop is closest to your accommodation and it runs a half-hourly service. There's a stand in the arrivals section of the airport you can't miss!

Once we'd checked into our hotel and recovered a little from the flight and the early morning (it took us a good while to get over the lack of sleep!) we sat down to decide what to do with our first afternoon/evening. Usually when I go on holiday I have a stack of travel blog posts on the place I'm staying in full of recommendations for what to do and where to eat as I usually find that people's personal suggestions are far more helpful than professional guides. However, despite having had a look for some before I left, I couldn't find very many useful ones on Palermo and so I had picked up the Lonely Planet guide for Sicily which has a great section on Palermo and which Sarah and I used religiously throughout our trip!

We stayed in the Mercure Palermo Centro Hotel which was great in that it was in an ideal location and had a very nice room but was quite average really in terms of everything else. I'd recommend it as somewhere to stay to see the city but I wasn't blown away by it.

Anyway, having had a flick through the Lonely Planet guide, we decided to head to Palermo's Cathedral, which was absolutely stunning both inside and out. What was great about Palermo was that everything was in walking distance, and since walking is definitely my preferred way to get to know a city, this was ideal! Stopping for a gelato on the way and going for a wander after looking around the cathedral, we then went back to the hotel, freshened up and decided to head for dinner.

For our first meal out we went to Bisso Bistrot, a recommendation from the Lonely Planet guide (which is a running theme of this trip!). Sicily, being an island, is known for serving excellent seafood and so I felt like I had to try the ravioli which came with the fresh catch of the day in Bisso Bistrot, on this evening being tuna and prawns. It was absolutely delicious and so cheap - a win-win for sure and I would highly recommend this restaurant if you're visiting Palermo.

The next morning we got up and out quite late - something that I loved about this holiday was how laid back we were and that we weren't rushing the whole time - and, on our way to the Mercato di Ballaro and Palazzo dei Normanni, we came across the Fontana Pretoria. The fountain was bought by Palermo in 1573 and it is absolutely beautiful.

Having had a look around the fountain we soon found our way to the Mercato di Ballaro and had a look around all the stalls before deciding to try and find somewhere for lunch. By chance on our way down a side street between the market and the Palazzo dei Normanni we found a little bakery/deli which seemed to have only locals in it buying lunch. I wish I'd found out the name of this place because we had the most amazing and reasonably priced lunch there and the gentleman who served us (unable to speak English and impressed by my very basic Italian) even gave us a free freshly baked olive roll which was very sweet.

We finally made it to the palace which originally dates back to the ninth century, contains Sicily's regional parliament, the royal apartments of King Roger II from the twelfth century, and the Capella Palatina or Palatine Chapel designed by Roger II in 1130. You have to pay to get inside but there is a reduced price for students which we were very pleased with and the interiors are just stunning. It's also a nice break inside if when you're visiting it's the peak of the Sicilian summer like it was when we were there!

Exhausted by the heat and all our walking, Sarah and I headed to the Gelateria Ciccio Adelfio which is very near Palermo's train station. It offers an incredible number of gelato flavours - I settled on one scoop of peach and one of fererro rocher in the end - and is very well priced; it was just what we needed to cool down!

For dinner on Saturday night we headed to Pizzo & Pizzo. It's first and foremost a wine bar but does amazing food as well. This restaurant was definitely our priciest and doesn't serve what I'd call a budget dinner, but the service and food were impeccable. The waiters were so accommodating, asking for our specific wine tastes before bringing us a glass that best suited them, bringing out aperitivos without you asking (although, be warned, you do have to pay for these!) and just being incredibly welcoming. The ravioli we had was absolutely incredible - I can't remember exactly what the flavours were but it was different to anything else I've ever had but worked amazingly.

So all in all if on your stay you're looking for a really nice dinner, this is definitely the place to go and I loved it!

One thing to be aware of if you're visiting Palermo over a weekend is that on Sundays most museums, galleries and churches close at around midday give or take a few hours. Sarah and I didn't realise this until we'd got ready that day which wasn't before midday! This might be a good day to head to Mondello to visit the beach which we ended up doing on Monday but we did manage to make it work anyway.

We went for lunch at Francu U Vastiddaru, which sells yummy sandwiches with really interesting fillings for only 2 or 3 euros. Palermo is famous for its street food and this did not disappoint. I got the triplo panino which has chickpea fritters, potato croquettes and aubergine - apparently a classic - and it was delicious.

Francu U Vastiddaru was also right next to the Garibaldi Gardens which were a perfect place to eat our lunch and admire Palermo's oldest tree, at 150 years old! We then made our way to the Galleria d'Arte Moderna which was open on Sundays and is in a fifteenth century palace containing some absolutely stunning Sicilian pieces of art.

I'm not always one to enjoy art galleries but Sarah and I both hugely enjoyed the couple of hours we spent wandering around here followed by a cold drink outside its cafe.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped to have a look at Palermo's harbour which was stunning and later went for dinner at Pizzeria Frida. Our pizzas were nice and it was lovely to sit outside but the service here wasn't amazing and I've definitely had better pizzas so I don't want to sing its praises too much.

On our last full day in Sicily we got the bus to Mondello, which takes about half an hour from Palermo, and went to the beach. It's been years since I've spent a full day at the beach properly, spending the entire day sunbathing, reading and renting a sun-lounger. It was pure bliss and the beach was absolutely stunning - I don't think I've ever seen sea water so clear.

If you have enough time when visiting Palermo I would definitely make a trip to the beach. We weren't sure we were going to because there were some more things in Palermo we could have gone to see instead but I'm *so* glad that we did because it was incredible and just what I needed.

On our final night we ate at Enoteca Buttice - a lovely wine bar that served simple but great food. We sat outside and talked about everything going on in our lives as well as reflecting on our trip and it was just perfect.

All in all I absolutely adored Palermo and would love to explore more of Sicily sometime in the future. It was so fun to go on holiday with Sarah and see everything with her as well! If you're thinking about going to Palermo at all if it's not already clear it has so much to offer and I would highly, highly recommend it. Apologies for this mammoth post but I wanted to get everything down from the trip - I hope you're having a wonderful week!

Some of the photos in this post were taken by lovely Sarah (thank you for letting me use them!), the rest all by yours truly!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Let's Catch Up // Where I've Been For The Past Month

Beautiful Romania

I haven't written a 'let's catch up' post since April, or anything at all on here for over a month, and so I thought this would definitely be a good time to fill you in on where I've been! As always when I stop writing regularly on here, I didn't intend to have such a long pause but my life has been very busy over the last few weeks and I haven't had the time to write about it. I'm here now and ready to write a bit so let's go!

Working at Wimbledon was, once again, amazing. More tiring than any job I've ever had in my life (I do not know how I will ever cope with sleep deprivation if I have kids) but the best. The atmosphere every single day is incredible and, while I was exhausted the last few days, Roger Federer hi-fiving me after he won the men's singles' final more than made up for it. So that was Wimbledon.

A few days after Wimbledon I went to Romania for a week with my Mum. It wasn't the easiest of trips. Only being half-Romanian and having been born in the UK, I still don't know Romania all that well and so I'm very dependent on my Mum when we visit. Which is ok and I'm glad that I go with her to learn and see more of the country she grew up in but what with me essentially spending the week away following her around and her going through some difficulties with a few of her childhood friends there, I felt quite caught up in it all and it was a little stressful. Absolutely fine now but not the most relaxing of holidays shall we say! Anyway, it was still great to go and I did enjoy seeing a new part of the country I hadn't been to before and catching up with a very close friend and my cousin.

At this point I'd essentially been busy non-stop since the 25th June (it being the 26th July at this point) but two days after getting back from Romania I flew to Palermo, Sicily with my friend Sarah. Sicily was incredible - I'm going to be writing a travel diary about our trip in a couple of days but it was such a great holiday. It's no secret that I adore Italy and Palermo only re-affirmed that once again for me. It was also great to go with Sarah because we tend to chat about anything and everything and she's wonderful. 

I got back from Sicily on the 1st August and I've just taken the past few days to fully relax for the first time in a month. Working at Wimbledon and having two holidays is obviously amazing and I feel incredibly lucky to have had these experiences over the past few weeks. But that's not to say doing so much without stopping in between is not incredibly tiring and these last few days of chilling out have been much needed. 

I've also been in a bit of a weird headspace for the past month or so and it's meant that I haven't been all that keen on sitting down and writing even if I had had the time. There's nothing major going on - I think I'm just in a very reflective period and I've got a few things I want to think through on my own for now, but I just wanted to check in and say, hey, I'm here, I've been super busy doing some really cool stuff and I'll be here writing when I can and when it feels right! I hope that's cool and if you're reading this, that you're well and having a wonderful weekend. Like I said, I really want to write up about my stay in Sicily so hopefully that will be coming at you in a few days! Until then...
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