Saturday, October 22, 2016
The Film Club #5

The Film Club #5

Hey film fans! I haven't written about my favourite films in ages and I've realised I should probably mention when there are films I haven't liked so much. So, I've decided to talk about them all - the good, the bad and the not worth wasting a cinema ticket on. Here are my recent favourites and not so favourite...

The Girl On The Train

I've been so excited to see this after finishing the book in 2 days over my summer holidays - quite impressive for someone that normally takes months to a year. There's good and bad press about both the book and film - saying the book was too easy to read, nothing new, similar to Gone Girl (which yes it does have similar themes to) etc. Others saying the film didn't match up to the book. First of all, I loved the book - it had me wanting to not go to sleep (sad) and wanting to get up and read it asap the next day, the story had me on the edge right till the end, guessing and questioning the outcome. As for the film, of course, everything was less of a surprise since I knew the whole story already but I still enjoyed seeing it all happen in front of me, seeing the characters I'd read about come to life and in my opinion, they matched up perfectly as I imagined when reading the story. 

In short, the story tells the tale of Rachel (played pretty well by Emily Blunt) a sad, clearly mentally unstable, alcoholic who rides a train to work everyday and watches people from the train...bit creepy, yes. Quite a simple narrative initially, until she sees something one day that somehow changes everything in her life. There's a lot of switching back and forth from different times as well as different characters pov...which my friend pointed out was probably to demonstrate the confused/lost/drunken state of mind of Rachel and her scattered memory caused by blackouts. All in all, I enjoyed both, the book more because I had no idea what was coming, the film a little less because there were some o.t.t/romanticized scenes that weren't entirely necessary. I thought the filming style was a bit ugly and could have been a lot better!


Sausage Party

Me and my flatmate decided to watch this one evening - with the colder evenings I'd much rather stay in and watch a movie than go out! The only way I can describe Sausage Party is that it's a stoner movie. I can imagine Seth Rogen, James Franco and the others sitting around smoking and one of them suddenly coming up with an idea for film - like "shit guys, you know what would make a good movie? A movie about food that talks". It's as random and as strange as it sounds. It's not for children either and is probably one of the rudest cartoons I've seen. Despite all the silliness, I'm sure there was some deep meaning behind it all...probably not.

War on Everyone

Oh dear god, where do I start? Well first of all, this was the free movie of the month at FACT, luckily, otherwise I would have probably *attempted* to ask for my money back. What a shambles. I can confirm that a few people even walked out of the cinema - which I haven't seen in a while. I have no idea what the director was aiming for here but it was a mess. The characters, the dialogue, the worst puns and jokes ever, pointless violence, pointless sex scenes, a story with no plot, the weirdest shemale actor i've ever seen...I don't, can't even...ugh...just think of the worst film you've ever seen and then realise that this is probably worse.


I think that if you're not up for watching a heavy movie and would prefer to watch a light-hearted, fun comedy then Wanderlust is the ideal choice! Keep your expectations low and you'll be pretty happy with this movie. Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston make the perfect on screen rom com couple, I'd definitely like to see more comedies with them in it! The story is about George and Linda who are a stressed couple from Manhattan. George is made redundant and they decide to move to his brothers in Atlanta - who I would honestly disown if he was my brother - on the way to Atlanta they stumble upon Elysium, an idyllic community populated by a bunch of hippies who embrace a different way of looking at things. Money? Careers? Clothes? Doesn't matter there! Fair to say it's nothing new, and it's all pretty predictable, but it's a good laugh and will be the ideal pick-me-up.


Bicycle Thieves

I studied this film as part of my module about realism in cinema this semester and I loved every minute of it. Bicycle Thieves (or Ladri di biciclette in Italian) directed by Vittoria de Sica is about the unemployed Antonio who finally finds a job hanging posters around Rome - in order to have this job he must own a bicycle. Disaster strikes when Antonio's bicycle is unexpectedly stolen on his first day. We follow him through the streets of Rome for a day with his son Bruno to find it. It's a heartbreaking story that in one part, focuses on the relationship between father and son and the larger framework of poverty and unemployment in postwar Italy. We see what happens to a desperate working-class man who is prepared to do whatever he can to be able to support his family again. Unfortunately, it may also mean conforming to the same behavior of the thief who stole his bike in the first place. Antonio is torn between demonstrating to his son, Bruno, that he can win back the bike - pushed by his survival instincts but undone by his empathy and moral values.


War Dogs

Neither bad nor great, War Dogs sits somewhere in the middle. The narrative was a little bit, 'been there done' that, however I still enjoyed it and I think the duo worked well together. The genre is hard to pinpoint because it incorporates a lot of different elements such as crime, comedy and action thus this would make it appear to a wider audience range. Based on a true story, the film is about Efraim Diveroli and his childhood friend David Packouz who is offered a chance to make big money by becoming an international arms dealer. The duo exploit a government initiative that allows businesses to bid on US military contracts. In the beginning they are able to live the high life, enjoying the fruits of their labor however things get a bit darker and more dangerous when they land a deal with an Afghan supply force...if this tempts you then give it a watch!


Westworld -  TV series

Ok so this may not be classed as a film but I thought I'd include it anyway, because I'm obsessed. The series is in fact based on the 1970 Yul Brynner classic and has been re-adapted ft. a star studded line up including Anthony Hopkins, Thandie Newton and James Marsden. I'm 3 episodes in and already hooked! If you're looking to fill that GOT/Breaking Bad/*insert finished series here* gap in your heart then look noooo further! Amazing set design, costumes, action, narrative and plenty to keep you waiting till the next episode. I'm currently awaiting Sunday's new episode after last weeks cliffhanger.

Sunday, October 16, 2016
A Spain Travel Guide: Au Pairing & Solo-Travelling

A Spain Travel Guide: Au Pairing & Solo-Travelling

It's been 4 months since I left to be an au pair in Spain but I decided it would be worthwhile talking about my experience as an au pair, with some pointers and tips for those that want to try it themselves. Further on I've wrote about my week solo travelling and my experience staying in hostels... I hope you find some of this information useful.

- Madrid -
Tips from my experience as an au pair

So, the basics: back in February this year I decided to apply to be an au pair through Au pairs in Spain - the process all went pretty smoothly and I would recommend the agency - it was straightforward with just some forms to be signed, letters to be written and so on. I was offered a family who were interested in me, made a Skype call and knew instantly they were the perfect family to go with. 2nd year of university finished and I flew over to Madrid in June and stayed till mid August. 

I was very lucky because I got on so well with my family, didn't have any major difficulties with the children and I was overall very happy. I'd heard some stories from other au pairs I met there, and read about online, that had experiences not so good but I think this really depends on you and your family. It was my first time doing this but I think it's possible for anyone to try, child experience or not. I was accommodated, fed and paid as an au pair and stayed with a Spanish family with two kids - boy and girl.

My tips & advice:

- Find other au pairs on Facebook/through your agency before going. I created a group chat and the majority I spoke to, I ended up meeting irl when I arrived. It was a great way to establish who was going, for how long, if they were living nearby and to organise meet ups.

- Choose your family well. Where do they live? Near the center? Countryside? Do they speak any English at all? How many children? How old are the children? I didn't think toooo deeply into all these things but they are important factors to consider - if you get along better with girls/boys, a certain age etc. I decided a balance of a boy and a girl would be ideal, they were aged 9 and 5, and they were adorable!

- Make sure your family is the right one for you. I had a gut instinct that I'd found a great family but if you feel uncertain, maybe Skype them a few times before going to make sure they're the right match.

- Patience, things take time and keep as busy as possible to avoid homesickness! I was lucky in that, I didn't feel sad, homesick or dislike my family so settling in was easy. The initial meeting for the first time was nerve-wracking but that disappeared very quickly and I was happy to be there.

- Go to au pair meetings and network. If you go with an agency, like mine, they will organise meetings for you. I went to the first one during my stay and met loads of other au pair girls. It gave me helpful info about the next 2 months ahead of me and I made some new contacts to hang out with during my stay.

- Find fun ways to teach the kids English. Board games, word games, films with subtitles. Cycling/swimming/arts & crafts/toys - are all winners.

- Use your free time wisely. I worked Mon-Fri 9am-3pm and the rest of the time was my own (and some nights I babysitted). The family offered me to hang out with them or do my own thing. Looking back I think I made the best use of my time and saw every inch of Madrid I wanted to see, as well as in the surrounding cities like Toledo and Avila. You can go out during the week but don't be tired or hungover, the kids have a lot of energy so be prepared! Go out on weekends, see as much as possible but also spend time with your family in your spare time too. You are with them for a long time and it's important to build a good relationship with them - and don't just spend time with the kids in your working hours.

- Skype home occasionally. See as many places as possible. Take photos. Enjoy living life like a kid again. Ice breaker: buy the kids some toys from the UK. Have patience and if all else fails play hide and seek because it makes everyone laugh. Help around the house. Don't pack jackets when it will be 37c in Madrid. Learn Spanish. Enjoy it.

Me and some of the lovely au pairs I met in Madrid!

Overall, I had the best time, with a few ups and downs which is only natural. My family made me feel at home and included me in their life. They would even ask if I wanted anything I like from the supermarket, they didn't make me feel like a part-time worker, but a member of the family, were helpful, welcoming and made the BEST food. Make sure your family ticks those boxes too, although it is not totally necessary that they buy you avocados on their food shop - but it's a bonus.

- Valencia -
Travelling solo, getting lost, getting burnt & partying on a 'party bus'...

On my last day as an au pair (so many tears) I got the bus (would recommend Alza & Avanza) from Madrid to Valencia. With the money I earnt and saved from working I had enough to do some travelling. Other au pairs I met had longer contracts/had already left etc. so I decided to go it alone. I knew it wasn't forever so if it was horrible then I knew I could cope!

Where I stayed: the River Hostel in Valencia - cheap, good location, modern, helpful, ideal for backpackers and students, breakfast was £3 and there were lockers in the bedrooms. There were communal showers and bathrooms and I shared with 6 other girls. Now, I know for most, and for me, the first thing to cross my mind was, will I have to sleep with my phone under my pillow each night?! Are hostels thatttt safe? I think this all depends on the place - look at reviews on the hostel first, decide on how many you will share with in a room, mixed or same gendered etc., use the provided lockers and you will be fine!

The good thing about hostels is that it's really relaxed so if you want some time to yourself then do that or if you want to socialise then you can talk to literally anyone. If you're shy, this could definitely help with your confidence by chatting with strangers and if it's awkward, just talk to someone else! There is always someone nice with an interesting story to tell. Hostels are really friendly places and there are a lot of other people backpacking alone. Another thing to remember is that, people are coming and going all the time. For example, I met some nice New Zealanders who I had paella with on my first night, they left the next day and then I went on to meet more new people. 

Honestly, the day I left and the first full day in Valencia, I was feeling homesick - for Madrid! I felt all of a sudden anxious because I didn't have a family that were looking after me anymore, but I got my adult on and tried to get on with it! I had no desire in Valencia to do anything touristy, I was tired and maybe just emotionally exhausted (lol) so I just decided to spend a day on the beach - the best decision I made. Except I forgot my sunscreen and turned pink - moving on...

I got lost my first evening walking round Valencia - luckily kind taxi drivers exist, who drove me to my hostel for free, I didn't have enough change on me, turns out I'd walked past my hostel by about a minute - but I would recommend saving numbers of your hostel, people you've just met, your hostel address, don't stay out till late alone, bring change on you always - the kind of things I should have known before going. I was so relieved to re-find my hostel, I went straight to the bar and chatted to the first people I saw...personally, I don't like being alone too long!

People are so helpful therefore don't be afraid to ask - a kind South African girl offered me a gel compressant for my sore back (am I even 21) and I gave her a mini tour guide about Madrid, the next destination of her travels. Two Dutch girls gave me aftersun when they saw how burnt I was and it reminded me that people can be so friendly. The final night I decided to join a pub crawl organised through my hostel - 20 euros for a 'party bus' (as tacky as it sounds), a tour round 3-4 night clubs on the beach and shots (sorry mom) in each night club. It was such a fun way to meet people and I ended up hanging with a group of 20+ girls from an Australian football team who were so fun, friendly and up for a good time.

 All in all, my first few nights travelling alone weren't so scary after all!

- Barcelona -
 Hostel life continued, seeing the Sagrada, partying on the beach & navigating the city

I got a bus from Valencia to Barelcona early in the morning and booked 2 days there. 

Where I stayed: the 360 hostel - great place to stay right in the center, reasonably priced, communal kitchen and showers, private lockers in rooms and social nights organised by the hostel. They also sent me my phone which I left in my room the day I left (yes I am that stupid sometimes) - so a big thanks to them! This time I shared with 1 other person, a lovely woman from Turkey who again, was so friendly, helpful and kind. There was a slight language barrier but we managed. I know for some it may seem odd to share with a complete stranger - and I don't know if I trust people too easily but there really wasn't anything to worry about and I felt very comfortable and safe. She also offered me a light shirt for my ongoing sunburn, bless her...yes I was pretty burnt btw.

My first day I explored Park Guëll and the Sagrada familia - note: book in advance! I did both of these alone and was very happy to. I met another au pair I found on Facebook and spent some time with her - it felt good to speak to someone, and in French which helped me refresh my language skills. The first night my hostel put on a free tapas night - delicious and a great way to socialise with other travelers. Barcelona wasn't the easiest to navigate mainly because I'd got to know Madrid so well, therefore getting to know another big city was tricky. But don't feel afraid to bombard your hostel with questions and ask for advice - that's what they're there for! Mine gave me maps, directions, recommendations and were always there to help.

My final day I went out in hope of seeing the famous market la Boqueria but sadly it was closed (holidays in Spain) so I made a quick decision to not waste my day and bought an open top bus ticket. It was the ideal way to see the city. Barcelona is huuuge so this allowed me to see all of it and parts I would never have known about such as the Port Vella and the gothic area. The last night I decided to go on a night out on Playa de la Barceloneta - where I joined an au pair I met in Madrid. The nightlife is crazy, with clubs on the beach, people laying on the beach till sunrise and just a great atmosphere. 

The final night, my hostel organised a paella night which was again amazing, and allowed me to speak to other travellers from Brazil to Chile and my homeland UK. 

I discovered a beautiful rooftop bar on top of a hotel in Barcelona called the Yurbban terrace - which was open to anyone, with amazing views, a small pool and served amazing cocktails. Currently deciding when to go back...

My time in Barcelona wasn't perfect but it was lovely and an important learning curve for myself. I'm not the most independent of people, I am in some ways, but when travelling I am prone to rely on other people/friends/family, so this trip put me on the spot and forced me to go about things alone. Would I travel alone again? Sure, I think now that I know what to expect, there isn't really anything to fear. However, I think travelling with someone is fun too because you can share the experiences. But honestly, whenever I was alone, I was extremely content and relaxed so I think both travelling alone and together has it's benefits.

I hope this helps any future au pairs and gives you some advice, or to future backpackers ready to take that plunge and travel alone. You won't regret it! SOOO cheesy but that is why travelling is so important to do because you gain so many new amazing, fulfilling experiences and memories that you won't find just staying at home. I can hand-on-heart say that deciding, quite spontaneously, to go and be an au pair in Spain, was one of the best experiences of my life. I discovered a new country, a new language, met people from all over the world, ate delicious food, had so much fun and met a loads of lovely new people.
Wednesday, October 05, 2016
Plant-Based, Organic, Ethical Hairdressing - Oh My!

Plant-Based, Organic, Ethical Hairdressing - Oh My!

My favourite thing from blogging all these years is now being given the opportunity to go to events and discover exciting new businesses and brands. And I love it even more when it's an inspiring lady behind it all! I was so excited when I got invited to The Blonde & The Bear's launch, which boasted live music, tapas, cocktails and beauty treatments - I couldn't have asked for anything better on a Friday night after a long week!

But what is The Blonde & The Bears, you ask? Well, the lovely Dominique - who is at the forefront of the business - kindly took the time to answer some of my burning questions!

How would you describe The Blonde & The Bears to someone who has never been before?

We are a fresh thinking hair salon with high end results using plant based products and colour from the Aveda brand. Coming to our salon is more like a spa visit with your friend -  you will be treated to a head massage, Aveda teas and made to feel really welcome while we tend to your hair.

When & why did you start the salon?

I opened The Blonde & The Bears in February 2016. Since starting in hairdressing, my goal was to have my own salon. I've trained and worked in two of London's top salons (Billy & Bo in Soho and The Painted Lady in Shoreditch). I wanted to bring a salon with more of an edge to our lovely part of world. Where we are based, Cedar Farm in Mawdesley (about 1hr from Liverpool), has over 25 different independent businesses and a good, quirky feel so I knew having grown up nearby that this would be the perfect place for the salon.

What are Dominique's go-to hair essentials?

Aveda Damage Remedy Treatment; we always recommend our guests to be doing a treatment at least once a week, especially for coloured hair. This treatment is made from quinoa, which is protein and makes your hair feel so good.

Aveda Be Curly Curl Enhancer; any of our curly guests will swear by this stuff, you use it when your hair is damp. Simply twizzle or scrunch in and diffuse or leave your hair to dry naturally and get luscious frizz free curls.

Aveda Air Control Hair Spray; it's a light hairspray so doesn't weight your hair down or go sticky - it smells absolutely divine too.

Dominique (centre) and friends enjoying gin cocktails provided by Bill's!

At the party, guests were offered cocktails and food on arrival. I had the Bill's bramble gin cocktail, tortilla and pizza (diet...what diet??) which were all bloomin' delicious. I have been a big fan of Bill's since I visited for the first time many years ago in Brighton - so whenever I get the occasion to go again, I take it! It's one of my favourite restaurants in the UK which I'd highly recommend - the food is notorious for being jaw-drop-dribble amazing but after this event I've realised the drink is on point too! 

The evening was spent mingling and listening to the lovely live music (thank you Meghann & Tom!), enjoying manyyyy more slices of pizza and getting a manicure. Can you tell how happy I was?! Very, btw.

Lea, one of the lovely girls from The Blonde & Bear's gave me the full salon experience providing me with a head and hand massage. The head massage involved Shakra were you pick a card of the word that you are drawn to, and after choosing, she picks the scent accordingly and sprays it around you before the massage. I've never felt so relaxed, like, I was actually almost falling asleep - relaxed. I can't wait to return to get my hair done, and be pampered again!

The salon is beautiful inside with a fresh and relaxed vibe. I know sometimes going to the hairdresser can be a bit, ahem, stressful for some what with all the noise around you and uncertainty about getting your hair chopped/coloured but I can assure you that at The Blonde & The Bears, it will be a completely different, more enjoyable and 100% relaxing experience with fantastic results - just check out some of their fabulous clients on their Facebook page here!

Lastly, I asked Dominique what her favourite thing is about running the salon...

I love being around amazing women, the best thing to come from the salon (apart from all the lovely hair!) is meeting lots of talented woman who have been drawn to us. I feel honored to be part of a growing movement of creative women helping each other.

Well, amen to that!

PS. Shout out to my lovely pal Una for taking these photos since I lost my SD card, you're a star and a big thank you to Story for the invite and getting me along to event!