- There will be tears over the most random things, including (and embarrassingly) One Direction videos.
- Everyone has an opinion on everything to do with your pregnancy; from the actual birth, on whether your bump is ‘neat’, on how you’ll bring up your child. I’ve found the usual best response is just to nod and smile, nod and smile, then ignore.
- Hypnobirthing is amazing. I mean, it just makes so much sense and I really, really cannot recommend it enough. I don’t understand why it’s not completely standard practice. We’re currently attending a four-week course and both S and I are getting so much from it, not just for the birth but techniques that are excellent for life in general.
- Watching your stomach ripple because there’s an actual, live baby dancing a fandango underneath it is pretty magical.
- The imminent arrival of a little one brings so much joy and goodwill from others — it’s magical. This wasn’t something I was expecting so it’s been lovely to feel how much love there already is for our child.
- The NHS, especially here in Bristol, is frickin’ awesome. I mean, I appreciated it before but now I really, really do. Everyone we have come into contact with — midwives, health visitors, sonographers, consultants — has been brilliant, supportive and knowledgeable. The options for the actual birth in this city are also some of the best in the country, from midwife-led units to hospitals to home birth to freestanding birth centres.
- It still hasn’t really sunk in yet that we’re having a baby. I don’t think it will until they’re here!
- What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?
Went trekking in the Atlas Mountains. Ate soup from a bread bowl. Took part in a childhood memory, The Crystal Maze. Had my home featured on a design blog. Pitched a feature to a magazine I had no prior connection with and had it accepted for actual cash payment! Visited Durdle Door in Dorset. Knitted my first two baby hats, which I’m really proud of. Knitted my first rabbits, which I also love. Cycled to work. Watched an opera all the way through.
Oh, and get pregnant. Yep, I’m having a baby! The ETA of Mini W, as I have dubbed them, is 18th May. So this has also led to a whole load of other firsts: having an ultrasound, wearing maternity clothes, feelinh a baby kicking me, sharing intimate bodily details with total strangers…
- Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Last year I said “I just want to appreciate everything I have, continue to grow my freelance work and be the best wife, friend, daughter and sister I can be. I’ve also made a decision to do more of what I want to do and stop saying yes to things I don’t want to do (albeit in a polite manner).” I would say that’s been pretty successful. I read The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a **** earlier in the year and found myself nodding in agreement to everything the author said. Consequently I have really tried to only do things that I want to do, and while it’s not always worked, it’s definitely more in my consciousness. My freelance work has gone really well this year, and I’ve expanded my clients as well as launching a specific subsection of my business with its own website and branding. I’ve certainly been more appreciative of everything I have – global and personal events in 2016 have made this even more necessary – and I hope my friends and family would say that I’ve been a good person to have in their lives. Certainly everyone gave us an amazing and joyous reaction to the announcement of Mini W, so that bodes well! So this year, I want to continue on the same path, with the added addition of being the best parent I can be, and a bit less freelance work.
- Did anyone close to you give birth?
We welcomed a new niece in April, then friends’ babies in February (twice), April, May (twice) and November. Next year I have two friends (who handily live just around the corner) giving birth in January and February, and I’m sure (hope) that more will be announced. More hats and rabbits to come!
- Did anyone close to you die?
My wonderful friend N, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, died in August. I had the privilege of dancing at her wedding in June, which was the last time I saw her, and I’m glad I have such a happy final memory of her. Her death hit my friends and me really hard, and has really shaped how I view life and ensure that I am even more grateful for everything I have. She was an amazing person – funny, clever, engaged with the world, generous. I miss her a lot and still rail against the sheer unfairness of what happened to her.
- What countries did you visit?
Morocco in April for my mom’s 70 birthday, and then an epic Eastern European road trip encompassing Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia, Hungary and Austria in July.
- What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?
Wine, caffeine, unpasteurised cheese. I’ve only lacked these since September but my, it’s been hard at times. Alcohol and caffeine really do make everything taste better.
- What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
10th September, when I found out I was pregnant.
- What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Managing to give up all alcohol for three months straight and then reducing it to less than half a glass of wine beyond that! On a less superficial level, having the confidence to cycle to work. Luckily a lot of the route is off road, by the river, making it a lovely commute, but I’m still really pleased that I’ve had the courage to brave Bristol commuter traffic for the busy sections. Cycling to work is ace, and a great way to bookend the day.
- What was your biggest failure?
The fact I can’t think of one either says that I’m really arrogant, or that I had a lucky year. Hopefully it’s the latter!
- Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nope, I’ve been (touch wood) really well this year, even while pregnant. In fact I feel a little bit guilty sometimes when people ask how I am and my response is fine and dandy, especially when I know so many people who really suffered with morning sickness and fatigue.
- What was the best thing you bought?
As with last year, we have really tried to cut back on buying objects, as the older I get the more I despair at just how much stuff there is in the world. So again, the ‘experiences’ I bought, such as holidays and meals out, were the best. In terms of objects, I bought a pair of black boots that are the same as my beloved fox red ones, which I do love and wear a lot, plus a second hand cat jumper (it’s freaking awesome). Oh, and paying someone to landscape our garden was a brilliant decision.
- Whose behaviour merited celebration?
As always, S continues to be my absolute favourite human being. He has been a rock this year, and I genuinely don’t know what I would do without him. I was also so grateful to have an amazing group of supportive friends this year to cope with various issues that came up.
- Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
Oh, the list could go on for ever here. Trump, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, journalists from The Daily Mail and other such tawdry publications… So much of national and international events in 2016 made me appalled and depressed. It’s important to remember the good stuff, though, which is why I really liked the list of positive news stories that Colonel Chris Hadfield posted on his Facebook page on 31st December. Go check it out and feel a bit better.
- Where did most of your money go?
We spent quite a bit to get the front and back garden landscaped, but as mentioned, this was definitely worth it as man, lugging railway sleepers around is hard! Most of our money went to savings, actually, which is good to build them up after the Great House Renovation of 2014 and in light of having an extra mouth to feed this year.
- What did you get really excited about?
Telling our family and friends about Mini W. Spending time with one of my best friends in Sarajevo. Winning both of my crystals in The Crystal Maze!
- What song will always remind you of 2016?
Lover of the Light by Mumford and Sons, and Made-Up Love Song #3 by The Guillemots, although sadly not for the happiest reasons. The latter was N’s first dance, and the former was played at her memorial service. But as well as being poignant, they also remind me of what a wonderful human being she was. On a happier level, Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling always makes me smile.
- Compared with this time last year, are you:
–happier or sadder?
As happy as I was last year, as for the majority, it’s been a good year. Events on both a domestic and global scale make me even more grateful for my life, and my wonderful friends and family.
–thinner or fatter?
I’m 22 weeks pregnant, so definitely fatter! How much is a baby and how much is Christmas excess though is debatable…
–richer or poorer?
Richer as, aside from the garden, we’ve not had to do anything on the house and we’ve been able to save quite a lot. When I stop work this is going to come in handy!
- What do you wish you’d done more of?
Dancing, not worrying, going to the allotment.
- What do you wish you’d done less of?
Wasting time on my phone. As with last year, working on evenings and weekends. The curse of the freelancer! But the payoff is that I get to have odd weekdays off from work and also plan nice things such as the now-annual trip away I take with my mom. And I never learn, but stressing about deadlines. It always works out! I really ought to know that now.
- How did you spend Christmas?
S and I spent it with just the two of us (and Olivia). It was a sadly alcohol-free celebration for me, but I ate lots of warm mince pies and clotted cream to make up for it. I got given a lot of socks and chocolate (we now have a drawer full), we spent mornings snuggled under the duvet watching TV and I did absolutely no work at all.
- Did you fall in love in 2016?
I really understood for the first time what it’s like to feel overwhelming parental love for someone, even someone who’s not yet here.
- What was your favourite TV programme?
S and I binge watched series 6 of Game of Thrones over Christmas and New Year, which was excellent. I feel that events are finally starting to level out and nasty people are starting to get their comeuppance.We also got through Stranger Things very quickly, and even went to a DJ Yoda gig inspired by the series. I really enjoyed The People v OJ Simpson, particularly the episode that focussed on Marcia Clarke. The ‘San Junipero’ episode of Black Mirror was superb, and so life-affirming — very different from the usual dark predictions that leave me feeling drained and depressed after watching. I also started watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix, and have reached series 5. S is not joining in with this, and in fact is not that impressed that it’s the only reason we’ve kept our Netflix subscription going.
- What was the best book you read?
Out of the 75 books I read, The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett was definitely my favourite. I loved it so much that I went out and bought it for my friend for her birthday and I keep telling people that they need to read it. I also really enjoyed The Muse by Jessie Burton, which S gave me for Christmas.
- What was your greatest musical discovery?
There was nothing noteworthy this year. We continue to listen to a lot of funk and soul, and saw Craig Charles live on Good Friday, who was excellent, and made up for the god-awful phone-in gig we last saw him give in Bristol.
- What did you want and get?
Exchange and completion on our old house. A landscaped garden.
- What did you want and not get?
To finish the online journalism course I started in April. The trouble with self-study is that
lounging around reading paid work has to take priority, so I’m only halfway through. My aim is to complete it by April, however, so it’s done before I start my maternity leave.
- What did you not want and not get?
Long periods of unemployment. Hurrah! I had a quiet April but I just used it to spring clean the house and get ahead with regular commissions, so while I could have done with some more income that month, it wasn’t the end of the world.
- What was your favourite film of this year?
It doesn’t make me sound highbrow but I really loved Bad Neighbours 2!
- What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 34 and we had a rum and reggae evening with friends at ours to take advantage of the warm weather and the balcony. I made jerk chicken and coleslaw, and we drank several bottles of rum. Then S took me to Go Ape in the Forest of Dean, which was a lot of fun, and that evening we drank a lot of Prosecco and ate pizza while watching Mystic Pizza.
- What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
.Less worry and more alcohol.
- How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?
I would never really describe myself as having a ‘personal fashion concept’, as I’ve been wearing exactly the same type of clothes for years now — skinny jeans, short skirts, dresses, boots. A few years ago I made a conscious design to be much more aware of where my clothing was coming from, and not to buy from the worst ‘sweatshop’ offenders on the high street. I have kept this up now and will only buy from a handful of shops that put effort into the transparency of their supply chain and that have better ethical ratings than Primark, Asda et al. It’s not always easy but it’s worth it. I also consider that (myself included) people have too many clothes, clothing is far too disposable, and this is something we really need to address as a matter of urgency. I’m halfway through watching The Minimalists documentary on Netflix, which I can highly recommend if this is something you’re interested in.
- What kept you sane?
I took up yoga on a regular basis this year, which really helped to calm down the chattering in my head, as well as being good for my fitness and strength. I find regular swimming good for keeping sane too. Mostly though, it’s my amazing husband. He always, always knows what to do to keep me calm. And red wine or gin as a last resort!
- Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I’m always partial to a bit of Kit Harington.
- What political issue stirred you the most?
Oh my gosh, where do you start with this considering the year we had? If I had to pick one, though, it would be the EU referendum. I am still horrified that the UK voted to leave and am hoping against hope that something comes along to block it. I wouldn’t have minded so much if I felt that Leavers had voted for good reasons, but it seems that the majority of them did it as a protest vote without considering the consequences. I was also appalled at the xenophobia that it stirred up.
- Who did you miss?
My friend N. We didn’t meet up a fraction of how much I would have liked, but we always had a lot of fun when we did. I still can’t really believe I won’t see her again.
- Who was the best new person you met?
I got to know one friend and her partner (now husband) a lot better this year, and I’m so glad I did. I now count her as one of my closer friends and someone I can talk to about so many things.
- Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.
Always be grateful for what you’ve got.
- Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
“They say that new life makes losing life easier to understand” — Jack Johnson, If Only I Could. It’s a cliche but it’s so true. I found out I was pregnant a month after N died, and it helped to put things in perspective a little. I like to think that this baby will have some of her amazing characteristics, and I look forward to telling them about her achievements. I’ll probably skip the more juicy tales of us getting drunk at university, though.
As part os Eastern Europe, particularly the Balkans, are still developing when it comes to tourism, I thought I’d pass on some tips for fellow travellers that may be of use if you’re planning a similar trip to our recent one.
Initially we thought about picking up a hire car in Split and then driving it all the way to Belgrade, but the problem was that in going to another country, every company then whacked a relocation fee on top of the hire fee, making it too expensive to justify. Public transport it was then.
Travelling around Bosnia and Serbia is not the easiest, however, as the infrastructure just isn’t there yet, so it’s harder to be spontaneous about how to get to places. Trains are pretty much non-existent, but there are buses, and with some forward planning you should be fine.
It’s always a good idea to have your passport with you when moving between the Balkan countries and Hungary — the Schengen Agreement doesn’t come into effect until you get further west.
Split to Mostar
To get from Split to Mostar there are lots of coaches leaving from Split’s bus station. It takes about 3 and a half hours, cost about £12 each and the coach was air conditioned, and even had free wi-fi. Don’t be alarmed if you have to get off the bus and transfer to a second one once you’ve gone over the border. And do remember to keep your passport on you and not in the luggage hold as once you cross from Croatia to Bosnia, the driver takes everyone’s passports for border control. Having to get off the bus and explain to a stern-looking driver and border official that I needed to fish them out of the hold was not a fun experience. Again, handing over your passport to a complete stranger and watching it disappear from your sight is a little alarming, but it was all fine.
To get to Kravice from Mostar we hired a car, from the car hire place next to the train station. They spoke good English and while we got their last and most rubbish car, everything was fine. Pre-book if you can to make sure you get one and that it’s not as shit as ours was. It’s not as cheap as you think it’s going to be to do the actual hiring (I can’t remember the exact cost but I think it was around £50) but the petrol is cheap and it’s definitely worth it to experience the waterfalls. Bosnians take a somewhat random approach to driving (although it’s nothing compared with the Italians), so be prepared for people to turn off the road without warning.
Also, do not use the Google map directions as to where the car park is for the waterfalls. We did, and ended up going down this terrifyingly narrow bumpy single track, which ended in what I can only describe as an ‘unofficial’ car park that a few locals seemed to know about. I can only tip my hat to S for his calm head and calm driving, as I would have been having a panic attack at the thought of navigating a car over all the rocks. There’s another more official entrance which is the one to aim for – ask at the car hire place.
Mostar to Sarajevo
To get from Mostar to Sarajevo, there are two options: bus or train. They take about the same length of time, three hours, but the difference is that the buses are way more frequent – there are only two trains, around 7am and 7pm, whereas there are around 6-7 buses per day. They both follow the same route too, which is one of the most stunning I have ever travelled – think mountain passes and sparkling blue lakes. The train is around £4.50 and the bus about £6, which compared with British prices is an absolute steal.
Sarajevo to Belgrade
Sarajevo to Belgrade is a lot trickier. There are flights, although they’re quite expensive, and public buses take around 9 hours, so we originally opted for a private minibus transfer with http://www.gea.rs that would take around 5 hours, leave in the afternoon and cost 20 EUR each. I found this company really hard to communicate with, however, and on the day of our actual transfer, they were running three hours late due to a problem at the border, which meant we wouldn’t have arrived in Belgrade until midnight at the earliest. Add this to torrential rain and driving in the dark on mountain roads, and we decided to cancel the trip and hire a car, partly because they didn’t have any seats on the next morning’s minibus and partly because we didn’t feel the company was trustworthy. Ironically, we then ended up having to pay the relocation fee that we hadn’t wanted to pay in the first place, but it was a cheaper and more convenient option than flying and we really had limited options at this stage. The drive took around five hours and was very scenic, particularly the first part going through the mountains. Although after seeing the hairpin bends, I was very grateful we’d stayed another night in Sarajevo and not been on a minibus negotiating them in the dark and the rain.
If you take the hire car route, make sure you have the right paperwork for crossing the border – this should be standard with the bigger hire places but it doesn’t hurt to check. You’ll need to show this and your passports at the border between Bosnia and Serbia, and also be prepared for a bit of a wait here – it took us about 20 minutes to get through, but it can be more.
Belgrade to Budapest
Belgrade to Budapest has a good train service, and as it takes around eight hours we opted for an overnight one to make the most of our time there (and save on a night’s accommodation). The woman at the international ticket desk at Belgrade ticket office was hilariously unhelpful and with the deadest of deadpan expressions, but hey, I don’t speak Serbian so I guess I should be grateful we could order our tickets in English. Ask for the 15 EUR ticket, which gets you a bed in a four-berth cabin. There is also the ‘Russian carriage’ option, which is much fancier and I think is named because it then continues onto Russia after Hungary, but this was a lot more expensive — around £50 per person. Be aware that you will be woken up twice in the night by the border guards – first by Serbian guards and then by Hungarians, both of whom want to see your passport. The beds are the typical fold down ones found on trains (similar to those in Thailand and India), and you get a blanket, sheet and pillow. Also be aware that everyone smokes in Serbia, and your carriage will probably be full of smoke wafting in from people lighting up in the corridors. At over 6’2”, S also struggled to physically fit in this bed, so tall people take note! The train arrives into Budapest’s Keleti station, which is in the south of Buda and has excellent metro, tram and bus connections, as well as left luggage lockers.
Budapest to Vienna
Once you’re in Budapest, everything travel-wise becomes a lot simpler and a lot more modern (and also more expensive, obviously, but that’s the pay off). There’s a frequent train service from Budapest’s Keleti station to Vienna’s Hauptbanhof, which takes 2 hours. We pre-booked our seats and got one in second class for 19 EUR and one in first class for 29 EUR, which was much cheaper than buying on the day at the station. Check both the Hungarian railways website and the Austrian one as they have individual ticket allocations. I very kindly gave S the first class ticket, but ironically, I had a much nicer seat in an open carriage with a huge amount of leg room, whereas he was in an old-fashioned carriage with the individual compartments, sharing with three very grumpy people! Hungary and Austria are part of the Schengen Agreement so you won’t have to show your passport to go between the countries.
Split to Dubrovnik
I also thought I’d include an answer to a query about driving from Split to Dubrovnik that I struggled to find a definitive answer to on the internet when we went on our Croatian trip two years ago. On this route you cross into Bosnia for around 20km, going through what’s called the Neum Corridor (given to Bosnia when the countries were formed in the 90s so it had access to the sea). This is not considered by car hire places to be leaving the country, so you don’t need to worry about having the extra insurance and paperwork that you would if you’re going to Montenegro or Serbia. Do mention it, however, when you hire the car and make sure you have the car’s registration documents. There is a border at Neum and you’ll need to stop and show your passports, so have them with you.
I hope this helps if you’re planning a similar trip, and do let me know if you have any further questions as I’d be happy to give more info.
I can’t believe that someone hadn’t made me go to Budapest before — it really is the most amazing city and I urge you to visit at the earliest opportunity if you haven’t already!
Split into two parts by the Danube, Buda and Pest, it’s full of amazing architecture and green spaces. Budapest is also renowned for its hot springs and there are loads of places where you can take to the water.
I also got to fulfil a long held dream and eat soup out of a bread bowl!
On the second of our two full days there we bought a 24 hour city card which gave us unlimited travel plus free access to the St Lukacs baths (and some free and discounted museum entries, but the weather was so glorious that we didn’t go to any of these). We started off with our visit to the baths, which comprise some outdoor thermal swimming pools plus a complex of indoor pools and a steam room. The indoor pools vary in temperature from 30 to 36 degrees, and I spent most of my time in the hottest pool, just lounging around and enjoying a spot of people watching. The motto here is that ‘silence is the best medicine’, so the idea is that you just relax and let the warm water work its magic. It was full of locals so I think it’s an engrained part of daily life in Budapest — I could get used to that!
There is a distinct sulphurous smell, which does take some getting used too, and which makes the option to drink the water something that can be a little hard to stomach. I did try a sip but Evian it ain’t.
We didn’t try the outdoor pools, partly because you’re supposed to wear a swimming cap, which I didn’t have, and also because after the relaxation of the warm water I wasn’t up for going into a cooler pool!
Ferries form part of Budapest’s public transport system, and these are a fab way to see the city from a different perspective. They go north and south down the Danube to various points in Buda and Pest, as well as to St Margaret Island, a lovely green corridor that lies in the river between the two sides of the city. We caught a ferry at random and ended up on the island, which had some unexpected treats — it had fountains that shot up water in time to music and stands selling the most delicious boiled sweetcorn.
We rounded off our day with a trip to a ruin bar, another of Budapest’s specialities. These are bars that pop up in abandoned buildings, some of which are temporary and some of which end up becoming permanent fixtures. We went to Sziget, which is one of the oldest and well-known. It’s a warren of interconnected rooms and spaces, all with funky decor, and a huge selection of drinks — they even had cherry beer on tap. After a pint there we ended up going for a second drink in a random burger and beer bar around the corner where a pub quiz happened to be taking place — just our type of drinking establishment! Even though it was in Hungarian I was pretty pleased to answer one music question correctly.
Vienna is only two and a half hours away from Budapest by train, so it was a really nice easy journey to make. We also fulfilled a wish of S’ on this train by having a coffee in the buffet car, which was very pleasant and felt vaguely Agatha Christie-esque.
We got around Vienna using the city hire bike scheme, which I can highly recommend. It’s really cheap — 1 EUR registration fee, then the first hour is free, and it’s around 1 EUR for every two hours after that. Vienna is definitely a cycling city as it’s super flat and has dedicated cycle lanes everywhere, so I felt safe even without a helmet and with very limited gears. There are stations for the city bikes everywhere, so there’s never a shortage of bikes to rent and places to drop them off at, and it’s a great way to see a city that’s quite spread out.
While I liked Vienna, I felt there were so many grand and beautiful buildings that sometimes it was hard to orientate yourself. My favourite bits of the city were the path along the river, where we enjoyed a bottle of Prosecco one evening, and the huge open air food market at Naschmarkt — we bought the fixings for an amazing picnic there, which also included a delicious cherry and cream cheese pie/cake hybrid thing. In the food and drink category, I was also pleased to find Almdudler, the Austrian herbal lemonade that I’d tried a few years before in Bavaria and which has a pleasingly retro can design.
As in all the cities we visited, we rented an apartment through Air BnB and the Viennese one was definitely the best — the kitchen was really well stocked and it even had a Nespresso machine. After two weeks of not-so-good Balkan stove top coffee, this was a very welcome sight.
We also found via Google maps that our apartment was a few minutes’ walk from a renowned cocktail bar (winner of Austria’s best bar 2014!) so we went there for a drink one evening. I’ve never seen a more comprehensive menu — over 20 pages of original cocktails plus all the classics you’d expect. It wasn’t cheap — around £8 each — but the artistry put into our drinks was second to none.
We were away for a fortnight but it felt much longer than that, which to me is always the sign of a good holiday! It was a lot of fun to seeing so many different places in one trip, and while I appreciate it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to be on the move so much, I loved experiencing five countries in one go, seeing where they shared common cultures and enjoying the differences, too.
The Balkans themselves weren’t always the easiest place to actually travel around so I’ll also be sharing a post with some tips I picked up that might be useful for people making a similar trip. I know that I gleaned some useful info from people’s blogs when we were planning so I wanted to give something back!