A Gap Year (and a bit): In Review

Happy new year! Well, almost. Technically I should have written this in September, but it never really felt like my gap year was over. There seemed to be adventures around every corner and new things to be learned – things that typically make the world feel gap year-y. But now, with 2018 just hours away, it’s maybe time to accept that the gap year has been, done, and been made the most of.

I suppose my gap year began in the June of 2016 as I left school. Exams were finished so straight away I disappeared to Lake Como in Italy with four good friends for ten days. While there, we explored the villages, took boat rides, ate a lot of pizza, and spent days in Milan and Rome. It was great, even worth the ten days without Wifi! I have two full length posts about our time in Italy too. Part one can be found here, and part two here.

Upon arrival back in the homeland, my family and I had to take the unfortunate journey to England for a funeral. As sad as it was, we made the most of it and took a trip to Warwick castle and met up with the rest of the family.

After arriving home again, I uploaded my first post here on Little Mishaps. Huzzah! And gradually things have grown to here…

In August of 2016, I went with everyone from work to Edinburgh to attend the Circus Works festival. We spent a week living and camping in a field, taking part in circus and theatre workshops, putting on shows, playing football on stilts, throwing people in the air, building campfires, and meeting the most incredible and creative people. The festival was brilliant and something I wish I could do every year. For more about this weird world of circus I often find myself in, I have a post here!

The next month involved one of the most important trips I’ve ever taken. I flew to Grenoble, France – my first time travelling alone – to take part in the grape harvest. All started well; I eventually found where I was supposed to be going and got to meet up with some friends I hadn’t seen in years. I was practicing my French and exploring the city. A few days later I arrived in Légny, marvelled at the old farmhouse building where I’d be staying, and started to meet my fellow harvesters. Then the real work began. I had no idea that picking grapes would be so gruelling. It didn’t help that I wasn’t used to being in such heat, but eight hours a day, scrounging around on your knees in the mud. Who knew?! Even so, I’m glad I did it. Even just to prove to myself that I could. Read a full post about it here.

Back in Scotland, I then went up in the world from volunteer to employee at work. It was great. I was being paid to do something I love which was mainly juggling and making short films. The next few months were spent there so little travelling was done. I did however have a friend from France come to stay for a week in February of 2017 which was good fun. March saw sadly another funeral but on the bright side, another opportunity to catch up with the fam. A while later a few friends and I went on a small adventure to the beach, which I wrote about here.

In June, I was back off to Italy, this time with work for the very first JéMBE festival in Monte Compatri, just outside of Rome. There we ran and took part in circus and theatre workshops with the local young people, culminating in a huge outdoor show that span almost the length of the village from the town square right to the top of the hill. We also put on a fire show, and a short comedy circus show about pirates called The Blootoon Picaroons. We made great friends with the people we met and became closer as a group – partly as a result of ten of us practically sleeping on top of each other in a teeny two bedroom flat. But it was all good fun. Eventually we had to head home, but spent the next few weeks missing the sun, the people, the workshops, and even in a way the hills we had to climb every day to get anywhere. I have a full post about the JéMBE festival here.

Just two weeks later, I was back on a plane. This time I was headed eight hours west to New Jersey, America. After sending literally hundreds of emails to organisations around the world, I had finally found a month-long internship with Trenton Circus Squad. The first two weeks was spent helping set up a pilot social circus programme in Camden and living with five of the loveliest girls I’ve ever met. They took me in and taught me the ways of Frootloops and 7-Elevens as if I’d lived there my whole life. The fourth of July was spent in Washington DC and we took trips to lakes and mountains and diners. Oh, and I survived a poisonous spider bite. Woo!

The next two weeks was spent working with the company in Trenton, putting on lots of shows, teaching in workshops, and over heating in the 40 degree air. I lived with two wonderful families, both of which have come to feel like my other family at the opposite side of the world. By the end of July we were trying to think of ways I could ‘accidentally’ miss my flight. I did not want to go home. And it was lovely knowing they didn’t want me to go either. I’ve written more about my month in America here.

Back in Scotland, I almost had time to unpack, wash my clothes, and have a new friend from Monte Compatri come to stay before I jetted off to Croatia with my travel buddy, Becca. Over the next two weeks we visited Zadar, Nin, Zagreb, Plitvice national park, Ljubljana in Slovenia, Lake Bled, Postojna Caves, and Venice in Italy. The trip was exhausting but we explored and saw so much, and certainly ticked off some destinations from the bucket list. I have full posts on Zadar here, Zagreb here, Ljubljana here, and Venice here.

Three weeks later, my gap year was technically over. But the next adventure feels too big to not include. I started at Glasgow university studying film, theatre, and French. The next few months involved making friends, going to the theatre, doing juggling shows, visiting Loch Lomond, and even going to a party or two. University has been quite the learning curve, especially considering the extent of my cooking was toast before starting in September. But I’m gradually getting there…

I’ve learned a lot over my gap year and a half. Mainly that Frootloops taste really bad. But also, that while travelling, new people, and new things might be terrifying at first, I never want to go home by the time it comes around. So, take on those opportunities, even if they don’t make sense at first. And jump in at the deep end (even though you know you can’t exactly swim). Because it will all work itself out eventually.

Total gap year miles travelled: 21,555.1

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Two Go Travelling: Part 3 – Where I Steal Another Man’s Balls | Ljubljana, Slovenia

It took us hours to get through passport control. Nobody knew what the problem was. But twice we were all piled into a small room on the motorway as we tried to cross the border. Would this be the end of our journey? Had they realised that it was probably a terrible idea to give two excitable teenagers free roam of the capital city of their country? Who knows, but eventually we landed.

That evening we went exploring. We took photos of ourselves doing our best knight in shining armour poses with the dragon statues on Dragon Bridge, watched a jazz party float past on an open deck boat, and splashed about like the little kids we secretly are in the centre of the square where it magically rains even when it’s not raining…

Then the night took quite a musical turn. It began with us joining in with an out-door pop up Zumba class and busting some moves that stole the whole dance floor (i.e. we boogied slightly in the corner) and then followed a funky kind of sound that had come winding through the alley ways. Having been enticed by the mystery of the music, we discovered, what we would later realise was the coolest band ever, playing outside a small burger restaurant. For the next two hours we joined in dancing and drinking beer and almost getting squashed every time a car tried to drive right through the middle of the stage.

Leaving out the romantic side to this story, we headed back towards the square via a shop consisting of flamingos, kids’ toys, and erotica. I mean what a better combination? In the square we found a fire show about to begin and watched them spinning and lighting up the darkness. We then turned our attention to helping a lost dog find its owner. It seemed like the right thing to do. So we followed and it led us down an alley way. All relatively normal. Apart from the alley was lined with a red carpet. And about ten steps later, we stumbled across a huge British themed outdoor night club/bar, fully equipped with a live band and enough of an audience that I got incredibly lost incredibly quickly. It was one of the most bizarre discoveries ever.  This massive noisy space was hidden in plain sight right in the middle of one of the busiest parts of the city. And yet without that dog, we’d have had no idea it even existed.

Having made our way out of Wonderland, we started to head home. Or so we thought. But lurking just down the road in the direction we were heading was none other than two jugglers… so naturally we went and interfered. What began as an innocent woman asking me if I wanted to ‘learn to juggle’ resulted in me borrowing the other juggler’s LED balls and becoming a street performer in the capital of Slovenia for a night.

The next day we got two bus tickets to the famous Lake Bled. The journey consisted of beautiful mountains, rolling corn fields, and an exploding bottle of juice.

We arrived and were met with horse drawn carriages taking tourists around the edge of the lake. We took the short walk down to the shore where we started on the path that led right the way around the insanely blue and terrifyingly deep spans of water. After fighting off the wasps while we tried to have lunch, we decided to stray off the path and walk (or in my case fall) down to the edge of the water to go swimming. Becca made it right out with her snorkel while I paddled at the edge trying to avoid the fish which we had been told were about the size of a small child.

The rest of the day was spent laughing at Becca’s screams as the flung herself off a rope swing and eating cream cakes. We never made it to Castle Bled in the middle of the island, but I suppose that’s just a good excuse to go back some time.

Before leaving Slovenia, we visited the Postojna Cave. Which I personally think should be added as the eighth natural wonder of the world. You begin with a 2km long ride on a tiny train through chambers and passageways (where Becca discovered quite quickly to keep her arms and legs in the carriage at all times unless she wanted to lose a limb. Seriously, she came this close…) You then continue with a 1.5km walk up hill and down dale. We went over bridges and into smaller caves within the main system. We went through what was known as the spaghetti hall – aptly named after the shape of the tiny stalagmites and stalactites that have grown there. We saw a chamber that was blacker than black after a fire that broke out last century, and a shining white limestone stalagmite called ‘Brilliant’ that was bigger than me. The tour ended with a visit to the pink salamander aquarium and a stop off in the concert hall that is so vast, an echo lasts six seconds. We practiced our singing.

(Follow Becca on the Insta Grams..!)

The next day we checked out of Slovenia and began the five and a half hour long bus journey to the floating city of Venice, Italy.

 

Two Go Travelling: Part 2 – Where I Come This Close to Picking Up a Pigeon | Zagreb, Croatia

Our next stop was just along the road: Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. We were going cross country with Flixbus, which is an incredible service when they don’t accidentally overbook the bus and make you wait for the next one.

The capital was rather different to the small coastal city of Zadar. It was bigger, bolder, and seemed almost regal. Every single building that was even vaguely important to the running of day to day life was massive and carved into the most intricate shapes and designs. I noticed a lot of green in Zagreb. The streets were scattered with trees and there were parks around almost every corner. Fountains also seemed to be a prominent feature in the city, but rather disappointingly they managed to turn themselves off every time Becca and I got anywhere near.

Like Zadar, Zagreb seemed to be split into the new town and the old town. Or more accurately, the old town, and the even older town. We made our way to the latter and visited the tallest building in Croatia: the Zagreb Cathedral. It was impossibly ornate and full of dead people and history (which we were able to do some research on with the free city wide wi-fi!)

Next we made our way back into the centre (where I came this close to catching a pigeon!) and bought ourselves Zagreb 360 cards for the student price of about five Euros. These cards allowed us unlimited access to the sky café and discounted entry to all sorts of museums and events across the city. We first made our way to the observation deck (this one had a lift) and spent at least another hour gazing out across the city.

We then used our new shiny Zagreb cards to get into The Museum of Broken Relationships. It really was an incredible place and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who goes to Croatia. The museum features various objects from teddy bears to axes that bore significance in a relationship that has fallen apart for whatever reason. Initially I wasn’t sure I’d be very interested in hearing about other people’s breakups and family deaths but there’s something about the raw honesty and simplicity of the museum that really draws you in and makes you want to find out every single little detail about these people and what happened to them.

As the sun set, we made our way up to St Mark’s square to see the church that sat right in the centre. It’s small, but undeniably one of the most interesting buildings I have ever seen. The roof is made up of hundreds of coloured tiles depicting two coats of arms. I’m still certain it was made of Lego, but Becca thinks otherwise.

The next day, we got a bus at 8.30am (8.30am?!) and headed for Plitvice Lakes National Park. In the end, 8.30am still wasn’t early enough as we then spent the next two and a half hours waiting in line. However, it was well worth the wait. Upon entering the park, you take about ten steps in and are immediately standing right above waterfalls and lakes as blue as the sky. There are several paths that lead you around the park, most of which are made up of wooden sticks and sit about two feet above the water with no barriers to stop you falling in, which almost happened too many times to count. The path we took first led us to the tallest waterfall in Croatia where I spent a lot of time taking photos of Becca in various “Geology Rocks” poses. We then climbed a stone staircase to the entrance of the caves. We wandered and explored and delved much further in than is probably recommended. After some accidental rock climbing (I was too short to reach the stairs that led back out of the caves) we stopped for lunch at a viewpoint overlooking the lakes.

Further into the park we jumped on a land train and sped through to the midway point of the lakes. Here there was a restaurant, boat hire, and a free boat service that took you across the water, so you could continue the adventure on the other side. So, this we did and hiked through to find more waterfalls and sparkling blue bodies of water with absolutely no regard for the time.

Which turned out to be a colossal mistake. Suddenly, at the opposite end of a national park full of tourists and queues, we realised the final bus of the day that would take us the two hours back to Zagreb, left in one hour. Inhalers used, shoe laces tightened, we ran. We arrived at the queue for the boats which had miraculously quadrupled in size since we were there two hours before. So, we did the only thing that could be done, something we may regret for the rest of our lives, literally the most un-British thing that has happened in the history of Britain… we… skipped the line!

But it was the right decision. We made it to the bus with time to spare so we decided to pay a visit to the souvenir shop. That night we had dinner at the brilliant Submarine Burger (who, by the way, donates 4kn to Clown Doctors International for every dessert they sell!) where we had the best burgers we’d ever had ever.

The next day we got the tram to the bus station and this time, successfully got on to the Flixbus. Shame the same can’t be said for the journey into Ljubljana, Slovenia…

A Small Adventure

The other week, a few friends and I went camping for a night at the beach. Over the two days we were there, I realised that as exciting as the thought of jetting around the world is, no matter how far away from home you are or how long you’re away for, even the smallest of trips can become an adventure.

That weekend we built a campfire, barbecued sausages, climbed the hills, and explored the caves. As daunting as the thought of camping can be, I was surprised at how much I missed the feeling; the smoky smell of burnt wood from the campfire on your clothes, the sound of the waves rolling along the rocks, the warmth of climbing into a sleeping bag at night and being cosy despite the hard ground, constantly having grubby hands and not minding one bit. There’s a carefree air to camping that almost nothing else in the world can provide.

Once I had remembered I’d got my camera with me, I got some footage of what we got up to. I then tried to see how little is actually needed to create a ‘travel video’… (turns out, a mere 5 clips!)

As much as I love exploring and travelling, I also really value having time to recharge. For a while now I’ve been without that wanderlust feeling after my last trip into the big wide world turned out to be a little more taxing than I expected.

But something seemed to click that weekend, and now I’m once again longing for that familiar warm European breeze, and the wonder of being able to have breakfast in Scotland, lunch in the Netherlands, and dinner in France.

Luckily, I’m off to Italy in a couple of weeks! Luckily, because, I think I’m ready for another adventure…

Review: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

[Contains no spoilers]

Reading this book has all over again made me want to become an astronaut when I grow up. Chris Hadfield tells an incredibly personal story of how he became an astronaut, the challenges he faced, the adventures he had, and what he learned along the way that helped him become the person he wanted to be.

I’ve seen online that some people call this a self-help book, which isn’t necessarily true. Hadfield manages to apply what he learned in his astronaut training to everyday life and in turn offers us various suggestions on how to properly carpe that diem, take criticism as a good thing, and generally not be a total arse.

What’s great is he doesn’t say “you need to do this to become a good person.” But instead offers us with “I did this and it helped me become a good astronaut, try applying it to your life if you want.” I’m personally a little sceptical about all those ‘self-help’ books that you find advertised online. A lot of them are great if you want to make big changes and are willing to get out of bed 3 hours earlier to have time for some yoga before whizzing yourself up a green smoothie and heading off to work in your running shoes. But if, like me, you’re still just working things out but wouldn’t mind a little push in the right direction, Hadfield has some great ideas that can be applied to almost every situation.

At times I found the 300 pages a little information heavy and it was hard to keep track of the timeline and different meanings of Hadfield’s various jobs as test pilot, astronaut, guitar player, and CAPCOM. And there were moments when I got a little bored of reading about all the skills and qualities needed to be good at making sure you pushed all the buttons in the Soyuz in the right order. However, Hadfield always managed to end the chapter on a high note, whether it was with a useful explanation on how to be a great group contributor (something we’d all like to be good at now and then) or by telling an exciting story of how he was stuck, blinded, on the outside of the ISS for over an hour.

I initially bought this book for the geeky space side of it, and while it does include lots of useful advice, it certainly doesn’t lack in geeky space stuff as a result. Hadfield has taught me that being an astronaut isn’t all about flying around in rockets like I thought, but there are so many different elements to it that I never imagined existed. For example: he writes about the fact they have to take Russian lessons for months on end to be able to communicate with the cosmonauts on board, about the various traditions and ceremonies that take place before and after a mission, and (hilariously) about the ways the astronauts on the ISS entertain themselves by having zero gravity races through the corridors. I suddenly realised that there was even more to being an astronaut than what meets the eye.

It was also really interesting reading Hadfield’s descriptions of their training and of life aboard the ISS. Somehow he manages to make the science easy to understand and describes their day to day life in space in a way that allows you to imagine yourself floating around, looking out at the shimmering oceans of earth through the Cupola.

Overall, this book is a brilliant read with lots of really interesting space-geek orientated stories and insights. But this also doesn’t overshadow the books central message of how to become the person you want to be by taking life into your own hands and influencing what you want to do.

You can buy An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth off Amazon here!