I Ran Away with the Circus. Sort of.

It was a dark and stormy night. The lions rattled their cages, the acrobats slept a broken sleep in their rickety caravans, and the clowns drank merrily under the cover of the big top, their still painted faces flashing bright, smeared colours with each flash of lightening…

Probably. At some point. But that had nothing to do with me.

Nope, instead, my story starts six years ago with a shy, reluctant little kid grumbling about having to miss their English class to go to some weird ‘thing’ in the drama department. Rumours had been going around the first-years about these clowns teaching them to dance. Or was it acrobats teaching them to act? Or was it actors teaching them to juggle? Nobody really knew what it was, but we did know it was one of those inclusion and team building exercises that the head honchos of the school would always get the younger pupils to do. Looked good on reports I suppose: “The children enjoyed a wonderful afternoon making friends and learning to juggle, plate spin, and worked together to make human pyramids.” See, good on report. Truth is, last thing on a Friday afternoon before the summer holidays, everyone thought it was actually all pretty boring…

Well, everyone but me. I took to juggling like my dog takes to carrots (very well), and launched myself head over highwire into the crazy world of circus.

This company, ‘Modo’, that taught us at school teaches what’s known as ‘social circus’. Social circus is this fantastic idea of taking young folk who are hard to reach, disengaged, painfully shy, or just desperately looking for something fun to do, and throwing them up on stilts and having them perform to hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, in an attempt to turn their life around.

(That is a very short definition, for a slightly better explanation, check out this page here!)

And that’s exactly what it did for me. Gradually, my skills and confidence grew and I became a volunteer for Modo. I now had a purpose, and something I could finally say I was good at and could call my own. I stood a bit taller, spoke a bit louder, and smiled a whole lot more. I was now teaching folk who were just like me – shy, mainly – and I was helping them to build their skills and do what I had done.

Obviously I got a bit of stick for it at school and for a long time was known as ‘that creepy kid that juggles’. Hey, well at least I can juggle! With the confidence I’d gained from volunteering and interacting with new people on a daily basis, I was able to ignore it and not let it bother me – not something I’d have manged to do a few years before.

Since that afternoon at school, I haven’t looked back which has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. As a result I can now juggle nearly 5 balls, walk on stilts, ride a unicycle, spin plates, breathe fire, and clown around. I’ve worked with hundreds of people, from professional directors to members of the public, all of different ages, backgrounds, and abilities. I’ve been in two professional touring shows and have travelled to France, Belgium, Italy, London, and Edinburgh to take part in festivals and exchanges. I have made friends from all around the world. I’ve been on a flying trapeze, a German wheel, and a Chinese pole. I’ve watched incredible shows from all around Europe. I’ve been part of a team that puts on a huge Halloween spectacular every year to thousands of people in a small local park. I’ve performed in parades and cabarets. I’ve become more confident, learned how to interact with people no matter what language they speak, and I’ve learned to work as a team. To name a few.

All of which isn’t generally seen as the norm when you live in a little corner of Scotland. I may be ‘the creepy kid that juggles’, but if that means having done the things I’ve done and seen the things I’ve seen, I’ll take it. In many ways, I did run away with the circus. Or rather the old me did. And the me that came back is a bouncier, more experienced version.

However, after reading this, please don’t get the wrong idea: we are not all clowns, we don’t wear big red shoes, we don’t sleep in a tent, we don’t tame lions, and we can’t all do triple backflips through a ring of fire. We’re normal people, with a passion for being silly and helping anyone that needs it.

Now, I am employed by Modo and hope to continue with the circusy adventures for many years to come. Have a look at Modo’s website here to find out more about what we do, who we are, and why we do it.


Hoopla! And there we have it. It felt a bit odd not having anything written on here about one of the biggest parts of my life, so that’s the main reason for this post. I apologise for it all being quite ‘me’. It’s tricky for that not to happen when you’re writing about yourself. But hopefully back to neutrality next week! À bientôt!


Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

[Contains no spoilers]

I promised to review this book sometime in November last year. Clearly I got distracted by giant man eating space worms – or some other equally credible excuse.

Set in 2035, The Martian tells the story of the Ares 3 space crew and their mission to determine whether Mars can become habitable to the human race. Or at least that’s what it would have been about, if it hadn’t been for a freak storm that forced the crew to abort their mission only six days in, resulting in their crew mate, Mark Watney, being left behind. On Mars. By himself. Oops.

From there, the book is made up of log entries made by Watney where he documents his life as the only human being on the entire planet…

To start with, I was a little surprised that the book was written almost in the form of a diary. It wasn’t quite the first thing my mind went to when I thought ‘thrilling science fiction’. However, a short way in, I realised how well it worked. With Watney being the only person on the planet, his log entries enabled us to share his feelings of loneliness and isolation because he was describing it as was, there and then.  It also allowed us to connect with the character. Mark Watney is, for lack of a better word, a smartass, and this comes across very well through the way the book is written. The character is able to tell jokes to us, share worries and concerns, and generally tell us what went on in his day. We’d lose all of this if it were written in third person, since there’s no one else on the planet for Watney to tell his jokes to…

One of the biggest things I loved about this book was how realistic it seemed. Realism adds to excitement because we believe it could happen to us. Sure, Godzilla is exciting. I mean whose ears don’t prick up when they hear about a giant prehistoric monster rampaging through a city? Do we believe it could happen tomorrow? Even in ten years? Not so much. But a space mission to Mars going wrong? Now that could happen, and possibly makes us just a little bit more interested in finding out how.

The two biggest reasons The Martian seems so realistic is how genuine the main character comes across, and how well researched the book is. I mean I don’t know about you, but if people start throwing around big scientific words that I haven’t heard before, I tend to think they know what they’re talking about. Because I certainly don’t! This book is full to the brim with scientific references, equations, calculations, and jokes. And I think it’s this excellent research by Weir that backs up the whole plotline and makes us believe it’s possible.

But have no fear, nerds of the arts world! If you’re like me and dropped maths and science as soon as you could at school so you could take extra art and English, this book is still for you! The thing that surprised me most was how much I actually understood what was going on. Or I did at least most of the time. Watney does indeed talk a lot about how E=MC2 and how speed=distance over time and all that jazz but nine times out of ten, he then goes on to explain what this means or why he did this or what the result of this experiment was. And then it’s as easy as pi(e) for us laymen to put two and two together and make 3.14.

(My only reservation here is that I couldn’t quite work out how to read some of the words and how they should be pronounced in my head when I read them. Not a problem though – I generally just made up my own way. Which turns out to be quite funny when you watch the film and find out you were totally wrong!)

Finally, I really liked how the book didn’t let you relax for a single moment. Whether it was in Watney’s logs or between the scientists in a panic back on earth, there was always something happening. And usually, that something was going wrong. But it made it exciting, and you could almost feel the tension that everyone in mission control feels when they’re staring at that giant countdown clock and hoping nothing will explode. As cheesy as it sounds, I couldn’t put this book down until I thought everyone was safe and nothing was going to go wrong immediately at the beginning of the next chapter.

To conclude: Just like a great science fiction book, The Martian is packed with humour, suspense, bad puns, and relatable characters. Every single page is a new adventure as we root for this character tackling all the challenges he has to face. And in the good old edge-of-your-seat style, there seems to be a new, terrifying problem on every page, right up to the very end.

I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone whether they’re a syfy fan, aspiring astronaut, poet, hater of maths, or giant man eating space worm.

You can buy The Martian by Andy Weir here! That rhymes…


Terrible, Terrible, Terrible…

That is what I am. Terrible. I haven’t posted anything for months! Terrible!

So everything has been a little busy. Or that’s my excuse anyway. November to Christmas was spent trying to keep my eyes open at my desk, over Christmas we had the whole city of Bethlehem come to stay, and in the New Year I was desperately trying to get a tedious application in for university!

I had been planning that my next post would be all about the video project I have been working on. However. I haven’t finished it yet. While I had time over Christmas and was all raring to go, my editing software broke. Terrible.

So then I planned to put up a post about applying to university when I had got my application in. Then I realised, hidden in plain sight – that’s my excellent attention to detail – that I had less than two weeks to submit an accompanying folio. Terrible.

After that, I thought I would put up a post about becoming a trainee adult since I had suddenly out of nowhere turned 18. But as usual, time ran away and I got completely distracted hunting for film and youth circus jobs around the world. Terrible. (But if anyone knows of anything…)

And now here we are. With a post after three months that only tells you lovely readers that I’m incapable of making good excuses.

So excuses aside. From now on, I will try my hardest to have more adventures, write more regularly, and share snippets of what I get up to on this funny little blue rock we live on.

In the meantime, here’s a chilly picture of a lighthouse…

Les Vendanges…

On the 18th of September 2016 I set off for France to try my hand at grape picking, with absolutely no idea what I was letting myself in for – and boy, do I wish I’d done my research!

Leaving home for two weeks already seemed like a bit of a challenge – not having my own bed, there potentially being no wifi – the usual things us folk who like being comfy worry about. But this was also the first time I would travel by myself. I was launching back into the abyss, but this time, alone.

I was nervous, but I don’t think I realised just how nervous until a few days later. I had somehow managed to cover up the internal ‘aaaaaaaah!’ with ‘ooh, there will be croissants!’ I couldn’t turn around and wave to my mum when she dropped me off at the airport for fear of realising I really was by myself.

So, through the airport with my trusty rucksack and new sleeping bag, (setting off any security alarm you could set off) and onto the plane. Done. Arrive in Birmingham. Done. Stay the night at Grandma’s. Done. Could I just stop here? No? Oh fine then…

So day 2, and onto another plane. This time I landed in Lyon, France. I’ve been here before, but back then I wandered through the airport with reckless abandon, knowing I was being looked out for, and mostly knowing that whoever I was with knew what they were doing. This time I had to find the right bus to Grenoble and inevitably got lost almost straight away.

However, 18euros, a sandwich, and about an hour’s ride later, I arrived in Grenoble – ready to get lost again. And that’s exactly what I did!

Luckily I was rescued and the next day, I ventured out to explore the city. This was my third time in Grenoble and it was still as mesmerising as I remember it to be. The mountains tower over the city on all sides, keeping watch as people go about their daily lives – which seemed to mainly involve drinking coffee and looking cool. I saw the theatre that we have visited each time we’ve been to Grenoble, and wandered all the way up a long road to Fontaine, a sort of small town on the edge of the city. I bought post cards and watched, strangely, fully grown adults commute to work on push scooters.

Later that day I caused confusion at the post office (mainly by standing in the line to open an account instead of the line to buy stamps), jumped on a tram, and went across the city to see an old friend.

The great thing was that there wasn’t much of a language barrier between me and the people I met. We always seemed to find a way to communicate what we were trying to say. For example, ‘fries’ became ‘long potatoes’. And my French gradually improved over the time I was there. There was always a way to explain something with what we knew. This was not only incredibly useful and quite a relief, but I thought also sort of amazing. Two languages, two rather different worlds, but the ability to come together as one with nothing in the way. Pretty neat, eh?

Before leaving to go to the harvest, I got the chance to visit a food market. Full of fresh fruit, veg, bread, and cheese; it wasn’t a typical sight to see in Scotland. Here, some kids think that carrots come from super markets and have no idea that they’re actually grown in the ground first. Well I say take ‘em to a French market. I’ve never seen so much food fresh out a field in one place before.

We drove to Légny through a landscape that was so typically French farm, I wondered if I was on a film set. Fields full of grape vines, houses with terracotta tiles, rolling hills as far as the eye could see. Finally, we arrived. I got out the car and stood in a courtyard, surrounded by old farm buildings, again with the typical red roofs and yellow brickwork. Lizards scurried along the wall and the fellow grape pickers all sat outside on a bench, chatting and smoking. That night I saw a spider the size of an orange, made friends with a huge dog, and went to bed early for an even earlier start…

Up the next day at 6.30am. At breakfast everyone drank their coffee out of a bowl. You know you hear those things about the culture of some places, and you don’t really believe it because it’s so different to home – well guess what, they’re mostly true! And it’s quite odd finding out. After breakfast we all climbed into the back of a van and sat on the floor in the dark. This is when I started to realise it wasn’t all going to be fun and games. We were driven to a field where we jumped out and everything was explained – in French, and I hadn’t got a clue. The next four hours was spent crawling up the field going snippety snip, and putting bunches of grapes into a bucket.

We stopped at 9am for a 5 minute break and the first bottle of wine was opened. Wine at 9am! That was also around the time that it started to get incredibly hot. Back in Scotland, we were just moving into the beginning of a very chilly autumn, and the south east of France was storing up all the heat we were losing in one place. That one place seemed to be whatever field we were in. It was like an oven! To make it worse, it was not a good idea to wear shorts out on the fields. Most of the ground was hard dry mud, and without long thick trousers, knees would quickly become, well, not knees. So there I was; 30 degrees in long trousers, a t shirt, a sun hat, and another layer underneath so the brambly branches didn’t scratch my bum.

Not only did it get very hot very quickly, but you got very sore very quickly. The constant crawling would make your knees black and blue and the joints ache like nothing else with all the standing up and going back down. To fix that, you could pick the grapes stood up but bent over to the floor. This was temporary pain relief because after about 10 minutes of that, you would quickly return to being on your knees but now your back was also on fire. Finally, there was the secateurs we were using. I didn’t think they were that sharp to begin with, but they certainly made quick easy work of cutting through my thumb.

One of the most ‘fun’ parts of the grape picking was the bugs. Apparently the spiders are great pesticides and stop the need for chemicals. I guess I must be a bit of a pest too then, because the spiders were very good at keeping me away! I gradually came to realise the fact that if there was a spider in my bucket, it was because I had put it there when I dropped the grapes in. That made me shiver, even in the heat…

Spiders weren’t the only things living in the vines. I also saw dragon flies, stick insects, crickets and grasshoppers, and these funny shiny beetle things.

On the Sunday, we got a day off and a few of us went to Lac des Sapins – which translates to the lake of fir trees. It was a cool place, one of those that has ‘something for everyone’ whether it was swimming or archery or paintball or if you just wanted a walk around the forest path. I did the latter mainly because it was still too cold to swim despite the air feeling like a million degrees.

“This is like Scotland! Brrr,” I said, dipping my toes into the water.

“Are you going in?” said my new French friend.


“But you said it was like Scotland..?”

“Yeah, and we don’t do it there either!”

We got back to the house that afternoon just in time for a thunder storm to hit. There’s something quite spectacular about thunderstorms in the rest of Europe. The thunder is twice as loud and the lightening twice as big and a hundred times more colourful. The entire sky changes and you can feel it in the air.

We then spent the next four days finishing off the fields. Time passes very strangely out there. It doesn’t seem to move for hours and hours and then suddenly a huge chunk of it will disappear when you’re least expecting it. Being finished was the best feeling. Knowing I didn’t have to get up at 6.30am the next day, and no longer having to fill up on pain killers just to make it to lunchtime. The next day I wandered off to the nearest town and took plenty of photos. I tried taking a photo of a little street, but when I looked through the camera on my phone, there was a man walking towards me. I apologised and he replied with “Je ne pas un Pokémon!” That still makes me laugh. The town was a little bigger but still so very French. I bought one of the best pain au chocolats I’ve ever had which helped in making it feel all worthwhile.

The next day I was back off to Grenoble and the day after that, back off to Lyon, then Birmingham, then Scotland. To tell the truth, I almost didn’t make it to Lyon. Have you ever tried navigating your way through a surprise street market that has just popped up on the street to the bus station that you really need to be at, with a huge bag on your back, and already being really late? Well I have!

But I made it, and even got back home. The feeling when I stepped off the plane into the freezing Scottish night air wasn’t one I thought I would welcome so gladly. Yes, it was an incredibly tough two weeks, physically and mentally. Am I still glad I did it? Absolutely. I’ve now been away from home by myself, I can say I’ve been grape picking in the south of France, and it’s made me so much more confident in so many ways. Would I do it again? Not right now, but maybe one day. For now, I’m enjoying having my feet firmly on the soggy Scottish soil, and really enjoying a new job. Yay!

Just to finish, I compiled some geeky little lists…

What I learned:

  • Picking grapes is so much harder than it sounds
  • People are often friendlier than you might think
  • France has some BIG spiders
  • And it’s roasting hot, even at the end of September
  • If there’s a spider in your bucket, you put it there
  • My French is better than I thought
  • How to grow potatoes on Mars (I was reading The Martian, review is on its way!)
  • I can do it!


  • Total days spent away: 14
  • Total flights taken: 4
  • Total hours spent in fields: 45
  • Total scary bugs seen: A billion and a half
  • Total new foods tried: 29!
  • Total miles travelled: 2678.6

Finally, thank you to all the folk that I met and stayed with. You’re all such wonderful, kind people and the experience wouldn’t have been even nearly as amazing without you!

A bientôt!

Review: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

[Contains no spoilers]

I surprise even myself saying that A Walk in the Woods is the first book I have read by Bill Bryson. With his reputation for being such a hilariously witty travel writer, surely he would be an immediate go to for someone who longs to be churning out some equally creditable pieces of work? But nope, this is indeed my first Bryson experience and I must admit it wasn’t what I was expecting.

This non-fiction book follows Bryon on his attempt to walk America’s Appalachian Trail with long term friend, Stephen Katz. The trail spans 14 states covering 2200 miles from Georgia to Maine. For an experienced hiker to go the full length, it would take around 6 months, all the while battling mountains, bears, hunger, snow, and heat.

To hike the whole trail, you are expected to be young, fit, and know exactly what you’re doing. Bryson quickly demonstrates how he fails to be any of those things, adding a whole lot of humour to the book straight away. He is relatable in his writing and that’s one of the things I most like about him. I think of myself as quite the outdoorys type – that is until I get outdoors. But he wants to change this, and sparked something in me which agrees with him. One of my favourite quotes in the book explains this quite well…

“When guys in camouflage pants and hunting hats sat around in the Four Aces Diner talking about fearsome things done out-of-doors, I would no longer have to feel like such a cupcake.”

However, a short way into the book and I realised it wasn’t all going to be quite as relatable and witty as this. His reputation and type of books he is known to write had me expecting hilariously described experiences, scattered with little trivial thoughts, and details of all the things that inevitably go wrong while travelling; making us feel more connected to the writer. I was very surprised to find this book rather missing these little things.

Instead Bryson intersperses his experiences with long details about the history of the trail, the nature, and America. While I found all of this quite interesting, it was not what I thought a third of the book would be about. The factual chapters were still funny for some parts, but I wanted to hear about what it was like to hike the trail from someone I could relate to, not how someone ended up destroying acres of woodland 60 years ago, partly because it really wasn’t very cheery…

In some ways Bryson made up for this with his brilliant description of people he met on the trail. While they weren’t all necessarily thought of as a valued addition to his experience, the characters came to life on the page. From Katz’s lowbrow personality and interests to the infamous Mary Ellen forever nattering away about something unimportant. To read it, it felt like these people were stood in front of me and I could share in Bryon’s laughter or frustration. The stark contrast in character between Bryson and Katz and the different ways the two of them saw the world created quite an amusing read as well.

In conclusion: even though this book wasn’t necessarily what I was expecting, it most certainly won’t be the last Bill Bryson book I read. Between the factual parts of it, the descriptions of Bryon’s experiences were still gripping, funny, and have most certainly rekindled a wanderlust that had me Googling how much it was for a proper backpack. The book interested me despite the slower parts but if you’re in it just for the humour I would suggest trying another one of Bill Bryon’s books first. Otherwise, go buy it, make yourself a cup of tea, get reading, and enjoy the bumpy ride through the Appalachian Trail. Just keep an eye out for the bears…


First book review… ooh. Hopefully it made sense and helped a few folk who weren’t sure decide to read the book. Or not? This is the first post in a rather long time. Oops. ‘Excuses, excuses.’ But plans are being made and adventures are on their way so check back for more soon!


Avventure in Italia – Part 2

Back to it. If you ever visit Lake Como, I highly recommend taking advantage of the boat trips that are available all day, every day. For 15 Euros we bought a ticket that gave us unlimited boat travel to seven different places for the day. At 11am we set off from Varenna and made our way across the lake, stopping off and visiting Menaggio, Bellagio, and Lenno. If it weren’t for a slightly late start and getting caught in the biggest thunderstorm I’ve ever experienced, we’d have gone to the other places too. It was interesting to see how the towns around the lake varied in terms of tourism, attractions, and the kind of people you found there. Despite them all being only a ten minute boat ride apart, they were all quite different. Menaggio was a lot more residential than Bellagio which was full of adorable little shops and streets, whereas Lenno was quite open and had some fancy gardens and fountains (including the villa where parts of Star Wars and James Bond were filmed!). It was on our trip to Menaggio that I discovered the most amazing ice cream imaginable. It was dark chocolate but was more like frozen fudge cake than ice cream. That became my flavour for the rest of the trip.

One of the highlights of it all was the 2 days we spent in Rome. We were up at 6am to catch a train to Milan, and then three hours on a high speed train the rest of the way. Unfortunately Rome is another one of those places where the train station is miles away from the touristy bits but it was great getting to experience the hustle and bustle of daily life in the city on the walk down. Although we did almost get run over several times. Eventually we reached civilisation and witnessed what was probably the funniest thing we saw on the whole trip: a pigeon with a cake wrapper on its head. Okay, so maybe you had to be there, but believe me, it was funny. (And I conveniently have a clip of it in the video below if you want a giggle!) We emerged into the Piazza Venicia which was full of columns and archways and the Altare della Patria in the background. For those of you who don’t know what that is, (I had to Google the name) it’s basically a giant memorial built with blazing white stone and adorned with columns and stairs and statues of horses and chariots. Armed guards stood around and whistled at you if you tried to sit on the steps. We also visited the Capitoline Hill (Campidoglio), – where we posed with statues and embarrassed each other – The Roman Forum (Foro Romano), saw a statue of Romulus, Remus, and the wolf, and wandered down the Via dei Fori Imperiali in the sweltering heat, gawking at the street performers along the way. Eventually we arrived at the other end and found the Colosseum. And oh wow – to put it plainly. We stood before this massive ancient building, full of history and stories, and were completely taken aback by its size and structure and stonework and general amazingness. This is another one of those Milan Cathedral moments when something is just so incredible and well known that words don’t really work anymore. Here’s a picture instead…

We slowly made our way back to the train station, passing the Pantheon, a souvenir shop, the Trevi Fountain, and the oldest ice cream parlour in Rome – Giolitti. We hopped on our train and made our way to Frascatti, and then on to Monte Compatri where we stayed with two wonderful, kind friends for the night. We had homemade carbonara for dinner which turned out to be the best meal we had in Italy.

The next day we made our way back to Fiumelatte after warm hugs and goodbyes. The rest of the trip was mainly spent paddling in the lake, walking up mountains, and eating ice cream and pizza. You get how that’s done so I’ll stop here. Thank you for sticking with me this far if you are indeed still reading the second part of this rather long set of posts. Anyway, my dear fellows, if you ever get the chance, go to Italy, any part of it. Just experience the culture, the food, the language, and the amazing people. I came back with a love for espressos and memories I will never forget.

Finally, here is a video I made with some of the footage I got while I wasn’t too busy staring in amazement or eating ice cream. It’s a little shaky but it still gives you a bit of an idea of what we got up to…

Avventure in Italia – Part 1

“Benvenuti a bordo di questo volo Easyjet,” my ears pricked up at the sound of the cabin tannoy. I’m going to Italy… and I hadn’t even realised it until now!

This also wasn’t the best moment to pick to get excited – having been squeezed into a sardine can that was now taxiing along the runway at however many miles an hour, and will soon be thousands of feet above any ground that would be suitable for an excited teenager to be jumping up and down on.

Excitement contained, we landed about two hours later. I stepped out of the plane and was immediately hit with that longed for warm European air. It has the same familiarity as the very British smell of rain on dry tarmac. But this one makes me think of adventure and discovering new things – not sitting inside sipping tea.

We made our way through Milan Malpensa and reached the other end where we were met by a friendly taxi driver holding a sign with our name on it (that was quite cool…) He didn’t speak much English but we were able to communicate through enthusiastic giggles. He drove us to our hotel, and for a terrifying moment I forgot they drive on the opposite side of the road. We arrived at the hotel and were met with locked gates and dark windows. It looked a little like those hotels in horror movies where everyone is gradually picked off one by one, leaving the last person to shut themselves in the cupboard until morning. However, we were pleasantly surprised when we got inside. We had two rooms, and the bed in one of them was about 5 times the size of me. No murderers in the cupboards. And the night was cold and sounded of crickets. Sleep took its time as we waited for morning to arrive and the next leg of the adventure to begin.

We woke at what felt like the crack of doom and hurriedly packed away our pyjamas and made our way downstairs to catch the shuttle bus. We arrived back at the airport and spent a lot of time being lost. Much confusion, a helpful Italian lady, and an hour’s bus ride later, we arrived in Milan and started heading what we thought was towards the cathedral. After half an hour walking down the same street we thought we must be close. Fools! Over the next 10 days we would learn that in Italy, the exciting things are almost always miles and miles away from the convenient train stations.

The first place we found that was worth a wander off the route to the cathedral was a couple of rather quintessentially Italian streets, full of greenery and lovely buildings and the occasional old bicycle. It turned out that this was also where I would feel the most out of place in my whole life. As I plodded along with my 20 ton back pack and a very sweaty t shirt that almost certainly didn’t go with my shorts, I realised that everyone around me was impeccably dressed from head to toe. Each shop door was guarded by a man in a suit who presumably wouldn’t let you in if you looked like you’d have to ask how much something cost. We were surrounded by designer shops and with no confidence to go inside anywhere, we stared in astonishment at the hats and watches in the windows that would set you back sums of money that most people (including us) could only dream of.

Finally we found il Duomo di Milano – it sort of gets to a point when you can’t miss it. The meticulously carved 14th century stonework (although only completed in 1965) towers over the more recent buildings in the city, completely taking centre stage with its amazing detail and sheer amount of carvings, statues, and patterns. The cathedral is just so huge and spectacular, it’s actually quite hard to describe in writing. This was the second time I had seen it, and still I stared open mouthed and wide eyed. We paid nine Euros to climb the 254 stairs to the roof where we could gaze over the city and marvel at the incredible architecture from a new angle. The sun shone and bounced off the white marble floors so brightly I had to spend a lot of time with my eyes closed.

We arrived at Varenna-Esino Station, Lake Como in the afternoon; there we were met by Franco. He was a slightly odd chap but a lot of that possibly came from the fact we couldn’t communicate very well with each other, and he had just realised he was about to rent out his beloved lake side house to 5 bouncy teenagers. “Very young,” was the first, and possibly the last thing he said to us. He drove us (frighteningly quickly) to what would be our home for the next 10 days.

Our house was in Fiumelatte – meaning milky river – home of the river of the same name. It got its name from the fact the water rushes down the mountain so fast it appears a milky white colour. The river is so fast because it’s so short (roughly 250m!) – The shortest river in Italy.

Fiumelatte itself was a beautiful little town nestled at the bottom of the mountains, full of tall quirky buildings of all different colours. With only one restaurant, and a couple of little fresh bread and fruit shops, it’s a relatively quiet place and perfect for being able to step out your front door and straight into the lake with only a couple of fish and friendly ducks and coots to share the water with. No matter where you were you could look out across the shimmering lake at the neighbouring towns and villages, or at the mountains that guard the water in every direction.

The closest town to us was a one and a half mile walk either back along the road path or through the mountains. On our first trip to Varenna, we took the mountain path and nearly stepped on a snake. Which was rather exciting given that tends to be an impossible thing to do here in Scotland. We explored little cobbled streets, full of greens, and yellows, and reds. The sun seemed to make every colour even more intense than normal and the lake look as if it was full of thousands of little stars reflecting in the light. In the centre, down at the water’s edge, there were bars and restaurants, ice cream shops and places full of handmade little trinkets. Of course, we made a beeline for one of the ice cream shops and bought our first ice cream of the trip – mango and passion fruit. Yuuuum.

That night, we had still failed to find a supermarket so walked back to Varenna and had pizza at what was to become our favourite restaurant: Bar il Molo. The friendly, helpful staff spoke perfect English and were really interested to know where we were from and how long we’d be staying. If anyone plans to visit Varenna in the near future, I recommend getting a table next to the lake at Bar il Molo and spending the evening with one of their pizzas.

One of the things I now miss most about Italy was the wildlife. Okay, so we didn’t see any bears or wolves, but what we did see still felt excitingly unusual compared to the hundreds of seagulls and sheep in the north east. There were loads of fish of all different types and sizes swimming about in the lake. Sometimes they’d come right up to the shore where our house was. Along with the ducks, bats, and coots there was also the occasional huge bird of prey including black kites and eagles. Then there was the snake incident. But my favourite was the Italian Wall Lizard, or Run Lizard in some places. The funny scaly little critters were covered in bright colours and patterns. They would often come and sit next to me on the rock when I was down at the beach and sit so still it would take me a while to realise they weren’t part of the rock. I never did catch one. They could run faster than I could blink. But they were fascinating to watch and were generally good at posing for photos. Finally, one of the most mesmerising things I saw in Italy, were fireflies. I had never seen them before and to start I had no idea what I was looking at. There was one night we went for a walk up the mountain in the pitch darkness (sounds intelligent doesn’t it) and on the way back we stopped where the railway tracks meet the path. We stared down the tunnel of black in sheer wonder. Thousands of fireflies were dancing and flickering like a galaxy of stars for as far as we could see…

However, this post is becoming a little long, so check back tomorrow for part two!