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Roman Holiday!

Donning my over-sized sunglasses and channeling my inner Audrey, I set off on my “Roman Holiday.”  It has been a little over a week since my return.  I wanted to get this post out much sooner but, I can honestly say it has taken me this long to even begin to process everything.  If I had to describe the city and our trip in general in one word, it would be overwhelming.  I don’t mean this in any way negatively, just that there was so much to see and do and eat, that it was impossible to absorb it all as fully as I would have liked.

So, what did we do?  I think it’s fair to say we made a good attempt at doing as much sight seeing as we could.  We took the sight seeing bus as soon as we arrived.  I like to do this whenever I land in a new city.  I think it’s a great way to get orientated, with as little chance as possible of getting lost!  (We did manage to get lost later that evening, but that is definitely a story for another day.)

Historical Rome was next on the agenda.  On our second day we took a tour of the Colosseum, before rambling around the Roman Forum and Palentine Hill.  It was amazing.  The guided tour was great and I would definitely recommend it, especially if, like me, you’re not an expert on the history.  It was difficult not to feel like I was in an Episode of Spartacus as I looked down on what would have been the arena.

We attempted to take the bus back to our hotel after the Colosseum, however it actually deposited us in the middle of the biggest, loudest and most colourful Gay Pride Parade you can imagine.  We were awed and disoriented in equal measure.  There may have been another navigational issue or two before we reached home.

Day three, armed with a map, and on foot, we went to see the Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps and the Pantheon.  The fountain is extremely beautiful and undoubtedly a Jewel in the crown of Rome.  The experience was only slightly marred by folks attempting to sell us selfie sticks and fidget spinners.  If I return to Rome, I will make an early morning pilgrimage back to the fountain to try to avoid the sense of claustrophobia caused by being surrounded by so many people.

The Spanish Steps were a joy to behold and a very up-market shopping district has grown up around them.  Definitely worth a look, if that is your thing.  I dared not go in, for fear of having my own Pretty Woman experience.  As for The Pantheon, it was breath taking, and inside it I found an oasis of tranquility, in an otherwise crazy city.  Even the McDonald’s we visited was like an assault on the senses!

Our last day, suitably covered up, we took ourselves off to see the religious sights.  In perhaps the most overwhelming day of all, we visited The Vatican, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica.  The day did not get off to the most auspicious start.  The area around the Vatican screams tourist trap.  You literally cannot walk two feet without someone trying to sell you something.  When you enter the Vatican at first, the building very much resembles a tax office.  Complete with clinical white walls and disgruntled clerks behind counters.  It certainly doesn’t prepare you for the wonder and splendour, which you are about to behold.

In the Vatican we decided to take another guided tour, again I would recommend this, particularly for your first visit.  The tour took two hours and we saw so many beautiful things, paintings, sculptures, tapestries and maps.  It was quite incredible.  By the end of the tour, I almost felt as though my mind was incapable of appreciating any more beauty.  I felt completely saturated.  Luckily, the tour ended at the coffee shop, which could never be described as beautiful, so we had an opportunity to revive ourselves!

From there, we entered the Sistine Chapel.  It was every bit as awe inspiring as you might imagine.  Every where you look there is something else to be appreciated.  Again, my mind struggled with the task of taking it all in.

The last thing on the agenda for the day, and the trip, was St. Peter’s.  Before we went inside, I had the opportunity to climb the 551 steps up to the Cupola.  I was able to walk around the outside of the Dome and get the most incredible 360 degree view of the Roman skyline.  This was undoubtedly the highlight of the holiday for me.

Not only were the views spectacular, but whenever I get to do something like climb up all those steps, I am presented with a rare opportunity.  I get the chance to appreciate my body and all it can do.  I am reminded to be thankful for my health and fitness, and granted perspective about the reason why I try to keep fit in general.  It is a wonderful and liberating thing that when I encounter such a physical challenge, I don’t have to ask myself “will I be able for this?”  That alone is worth all the effort in the gym!

Okay, okay, so I am sure many of you are wondering about the food, and the diet and the damage.  Food first.  We ate everything!  Or at least we tried to.  It turns out four days is not enough time to eat all the Italian food we wanted to.  However, we made a good attempt at covering all the bases.  Dinner was the only proper meal of the day, as breakfasts and lunches were quickly dispatched so as not to interfere with our adventures.  Breakfast was the typical continental affair and lunch was mostly sandwiches.  Luckily we still managed to get through a reasonable amount of pasta and gelato!

As for the damage, I weighed myself on the morning of departure and again on the morning after I got back.  Although I did put on about a kilo,  I wasn’t overly worried.  I am not a great traveler and usually retain fluid after I fly.  As of today I am back to my pre-holiday weight.

So what did I do to limit the holiday damage?  I walked!  We did in excess of 60,000 steps over the course of the four days.  I drank gallons of water.  In temperatures over 30 degrees it was needed, and I normally drink a few litres a day anyway.  I ate when I wanted and what I wanted for the most part.

I did try to be somewhat sensible though.  For example when we had the gelato, I would get at least half of it as yogurt.  It is an easy swap and I didn’t feel like I was missing out.   We stuck to just having main courses at all dinners except the last one.  (On the last night we shared a starter and a dessert.)  This wasn’t a conscious calorie counting decision particularly.  Dinner was usually late and we were too exhausted by that stage to sit through three courses.  A big thing which probably helped, is I didn’t drink as much alcohol as I usually would on vacation.  I typically had one drink with dinner and maybe one or two more back in the hotel.  Again this wasn’t really a decision.  My travel companion is pregnant, so she wasn’t drinking.

Overall, I am very happy with how it all went.  Every time I take a few days away from my routine, I tend to get a little panicked, thinking the wheels are going to come off completely.  However, each time I do it, and they don’t, I gain a little more confidence.  Of course, I would be more “comfortable” keeping to my routine, but what would be the fun in that?  After all, if we can’t go away or even take time out to enjoy ourselves, what is the point in any of it?  As Audrey herself says

“THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS TO ENJOY YOUR LIFE
– TO BE HAPPY – IT’S ALL THAT MATTERS.”

Be well xxx

 

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Lost and Found

For the last few weeks, I have been getting ready for my trip to Rome.  I am going away with one of my oldest and dearest friends.  She and I have been through a lot over the two decades we have known each other, and I am so looking forward to getting to spend time catching up.  As well, of course, as checking out all that the Italian city has to offer (read pasta, coffee, gelato, pizza!)

On the run up to my Roman Holiday I can’t help noticing that I feel really good.  I am in a good place with my health.  I feel reasonably happy with my body and self-image.  I haven’t had the usual nightmare in work, trying to get everything done before heading off.  I don’t even feel under as much financial pressure as I normally would before a trip.  In short, all is well.  In fact, I don’t think I have ever felt so good going away before.  Even my usual anxiety has not reared its ugly head.  At least not so far!

All this feeling good, has lead to some very strange happenings.  I am finding myself doing things I never would have thought of doing in the past.  Small, seemingly insignificant things really.  Like buying dresses, shorter than I usually would.  Or daring to try red lipstick.  Even just baring my legs on hot, summer days, would have been something I would have balked at previously.

The weird thing is, the more stuff I do, which is totally unlike me, the more like myself I feel.  It’s almost like the red lipstick wearing woman was stuck inside me, and has been waiting 35 years to finally make an appearance.  I feel as though I am beginning to find myself.

I wonder how much of this is a natural part of life.  As we come of age, do we unfold and stretch and become a truer version of ourselves?  Or could it be that as I have grown in confidence, I have gained the courage to try all the things I wanted to, but was afraid of?  Or maybe it is simply that I stopped giving a f$ck what other people think!  I walk down the street in a bright yellow rain coat.  I have no problem singing out loud in work or in spin class.  If I get funny looks, I just shoot them back a smile, and think what a shame it is that they have no magic left.

Being ambivalent about what other people think is the most liberating thing I have experienced.  Sure, I still care what my family and friends think of me, and certainly don’t go out of my way to upset anyone.  However, I no longer fall into the category of chronic people pleaser.  I do things now because I want to, or because they make me feel good, not because it is what is expected of me.

If you haven’t reached this point in your own life yet, don’t worry, it will happen sooner or later.  At some stage, you will reach a point where you have had enough of trying to make everyone happy, at the expense of your own joy.  When this happens, it will feel like your life has begun in earnest.  You will start discovering what it is that you like.  You will gain a new understanding of yourself.  And best of all, your mind will be freed of all the agonizing, paralysing overthinking, which comes from trying to do the “right thing” all the time.

I spent a lot of time as a girl feeling like the ugly duckling.  I was the typical teenager with acne and braces.  Painfully self-conscious and awkward.  All my pals were beautiful and had boyfriends and I always felt inadequate.  Even into adulthood, these feelings stayed with me.  I never felt like I fit in anywhere.  Never had quite the right outfit, or said quite the right thing.  I was always a little lost.

I don’t feel like that anymore.  I am going to be spending four days in a beautiful city, with one of the most gorgeous women I know, and I can honestly tell you, for the first time, I feel like I am enough.  I am like a kid experiencing the world for the first time.  I have no idea what is going to happen next, but I am very excited to find out.

As I was thinking about writing this post, the words of an Avicii song have been playing in my mind.  “All this time I was finding myself and I didn’t know I was lost.”  I wonder now if anyone ever feels themselves truly found?  I guess I will soon find out.  Be well xxx

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Rescue Remedy!

I have often said that I believe people come into our lives for a reason.  They cross our paths to fulfill a specific need.  Sometimes their purpose is to become a lover, a friend or a confidant.  Sometimes their purpose is instructional.  They come to teach us a lesson about the world or about ourselves.

In the last while I have come to learn that these people, who come to shape our existence, may not always be physically present.  Occasionally it may be an author you have never met, or even some of their characters who come to your aid.  Sometimes a work of fiction has the power to reach you in a way a “real” person simply never could. Just in the same way as it happens with real life people, this always seems to occur exactly when you need it most.

I have had an experience of this very recently.  In a very convoluted and six degrees of separation type way, I came to discover Terry Pratchett.  (I had heard about Amanda Palmer on a Podcast, which prompted me to read her book.  She is married to Neil Gaiman, and so I read a couple of his books.  After Neverwhere and American Gods, I was hungry for more, so I read Good Omens, which Neil and Terry wrote together.)  It was from here that the love affair with Terry began.

It amazes me that I have not stumbled across his work before now.  I studied literature in University and even outside of that, I am usually a voracious reader.  Stranger still, is that my sister and many of my friends have all read his work, and yet until now none of it had landed in my lap.

I am a couple of months and half a dozen books in to my tour of the Discworld, and I honestly don’t know how to describe it.  The books are mesmerising and enchanting.  I have been spellbound from the start, and the series has given me more honest to goodness, laugh out loud moments, than any other.  After months of taxing my brain to its very limit, Terry’s Multiverse has been like a balm.  Being able to completely immerse myself in a fantasy world, has proved to be the tonic, I didn’t even know I needed.

Terry’s characters are where the magic really lies.  Each one I meet, instantly becomes my new favourite.  The cast of witches and wizards, dwarfs and even Death himself, are all so incredibly relatable.  It is as though they hold a mirror in front of you to show you the long forgotten parts of yourself.  I had forgotten that there was a part of me that believes in magic.  I had neglected the little girl inside me, whose wide eyed wonderment makes the world just a little more interesting.  I had stopped allowing myself to be curious, to fantasise, to be surprised.  And how “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable” it had all become!

If you had asked me last year if I liked fantasy novels, I would have said absolutely not.  I am far too sensible and busy for all that!  However, thinking about it lately, if you enquired about some of my favourite books, among them would be The Hobbit and The Eyes of The Dragon.  Both fantasy, and both read to me as a little girl.  I have loved immersing myself in Terry’s world.  I have become extremely protective of the time I spend with Rincewind, Granny and Death.  These days, I feel I dream in Octarine!  I can’t help but wonder, why I had resisted it for so long.

I think the answer is simply this.  I had become so caught up in creating this “perfect” version of myself, (Arwen the accountant, Arwen the student, Arwen the writer) that I had failed to nurture any parts of myself which appeared not to fit this persona.  I stopped taking myself out to play.

Moving pictures

A very wise woman (thank you Sarah) told me recently that we need to learn to embrace our duality.  We need to try to accept that we can be both serious at times and zany at times.  Being more of one doesn’t make you any less of the other.  It’s okay to love the Beatles and still enjoy Bieber!  I am coming to realise that taking time out to refresh myself with fantasy, actually makes me better able to cope with reality.

I have written many times now, about the importance of balance.  I can’t stress how crucial it is to take time out to do what you want to do, in order that you can be re-energised to do what you need to do.  Important as well, is being open to trying new things.  Watch the movie that’s not your preferred genre, read the book your friend recommended, order the main course you haven’t tried before.  You just might discover a new passion!

As I questioned why it took me so long to trip over Terry, one phrase kept coming to mind “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear!”  I am beginning to feel that he was waiting for me.  His world has come to me right at a time when I am at leisure to explore it.  His writing has been soothing and inspirational in equal measure.  Magic!  Be well xxx