“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”

Today I decided I was going to take a day trip to the Yorkshire Coast again. The difference this time was- I was going to drive it. I set off very early in the morning, grabbed a Starbucks, and then headed across to the coast. I had just a single high-speed road to take before a set of narrow, twisty country roads so it wasn’t beyond my abilities – that, and the roads were very quiet early on a Sunday morning. It was just very long.

Gannets
My trip started with a visit to the RSPB Bempton Cliffs. Context: The RSPB is the Royal Society of Birds. The Bempton Cliffs are a long stretch of sheer cliffs part of the Yorkshire coast which serve as a key nesting site for thousands of sea birds, many of them rare (especially in these parts) such as Puffins and Gannets. I have been wanting to go there for the longest time, because I want to see puffins (because who wouldn’t want to see Puffins.) Although the drive did get stressful on the approach to the cliffs, because of aforementioned twisty country roads, I got there OK and even managed to park OK. It was just past 10 when I had arrived, so the drive was just over an hour and a half. Bearable, especially with my excitement about the puffins to motivate me!

At the entrance to the nature reserve a very nice man from the RSPB talked me through my visit and what I could expect to see and he provided a helpful handout – for free no less – with detailed illustrations of the birds to help identify them.
I entered the reserve and began my walk along the cliffs, stopping at all the viewpoints to look for puffins. There were thousands of birds coating every available surface of the cliffs, sitting on the water and flying around the cliffs. (They were incredibly noisy too.) There were a lot of people there too, and I felt quite inadequate compared to the sheer number of them carrying all manners of binoculars, tripods, telescopes and DLSRs with what looked like a meter of lenses attached to them. A lot of people there were clearly Very Serious about birdwatching, and were planning to spend a long time at it. (I even spotted a man asleep, and snoring, on a bench and I imagined him spending his morning at a viewpoint, taking a noon nap before carrying on.) I felt a little sad when they could spot puffins and no matter how much I scanned with my camera on full zoom I just couldn’t. Looking for tiny little puffins among all those thousands of birds was a very strange, frustrating game of ‘Where’s Wally?’, with the picture far away and constantly shifting.

PUFFINS!!!
But, I did manage to see some puffins. Maybe not as many as I wanted/expected? But I was so close to the ones I did see which was absolutely amazing. I definitely agree with the RSPB information that they are slightly comical in looks, but I also found them incredibly cute. I could also see Gannets, Kittiwakes, Herring Gulls, Guillemots and Razorbills. (Basically all the birds listed on the sheet bar two!) I saw the very young, very fluffy babies of the gannets and kittiwakes, nestled in under a parent (Interestingly, and luckily, when I look over my photos I can zoom in and spot things I never picked up with my own eyes – an extra puffin, more babies. It’s pretty cool and I can see why most people were carrying about such heavy equipment – their photos must be incredible.) It was absolutely amazing and it would have been worth the drive just for that, but my day would get better.

My sister is in holiday in Scarborough with some girlfriends at the moment. So I asked her if I could crash their holiday for the day so I could see her- and she said yes :) I drove into Scarborough from the Bempton Cliffs, getting a little lost trying to find the car park I had chosen thanks to my GPS going wonky, but again just about managing it. I met my sister and her friends at a small, out of the way restaurant where we had food like hot sandwiches, burgers, chips, salad and nachos for lunch. It was all freshly made, very simple but flavorful and reasonably priced. 10/10. After a filling lunch we made our way to the beach, where we set ourselves up for the rest of the afternoon. I waded into the water with my sister for a bit, but then we both just lay down and chilled in the sun. Although the day had started out a bit grey, and I had started out wrapped up at the cliffs, it turned into a gloriously bright and sunny day and I was hot even after shedding all my extra layers.

It was really relaxing, lazing about in the sun with my sister and her friends, talking about nothing in particular and soaking in the warmth.

We then went into one of the arcades and wasted only a small amount of money playing the 2 pence a go games, then we did some quick souvenir shopping and headed back to the car. The walk back to the car was unfortunately uphill most of the way and I don’t think anyone was impressed with my choice of parking. :/

Although this was my first time taking passengers, thankfully the nerves about that didn’t get me too much and I drove everyone back safely to their accommodation. I pretty much dropped them off then set off back home. The drive back was way more tiring and I had to stop for some caffeine – even though it was late and I knew it would affect my sleep, I was getting worried for myself and my concentration. After getting a shot of caffeine in me I was OK for the rest of the drive. Thankfully the roads remained quiet and I got home in good time. I am interested to see how I will sleep tonight, if I will manage to wake up tomorrow morning, and how driving will be tomorrow… I’ve had a great day though and I’m feeling pretty proud for all the “driving firsts” I ticked off today, successfully.

It was my sister’s birthday recently so I met up with her yesterday to celebrate. We met up in Manchester, and did some shopping and then went for a meal. We happened upon a random food market and I discovered Manchester Tarts, which turned out to be a little sickly but delicious. My sister also took me to this awesome book and music store and I splurged on several new DVDs and books but they were so individually cheap I can’t feel too bad. I also bought new makeup, because there is no such thing as too much skincare and makeup (ahem.) Did I mention my sisters’ boyfriend came along? He was extremely patient whilst being dragged through the shops by my sister and me. I felt a little awkward with him there but I tried to nice, and I’m hoping he wasn’t too uncomfortable/wishing it was just my sister too much. Later, my mom and dad also joined us for the meal and it was a little overwhelming to have us all together (and so weird to be single whilst my sister is there settled into her relationship and bringing him into the family. I felt a little bit like a hanger on, OK. Group outings should always be even numbers.) But it was fun and the food was delicious. We went for Thai food at Chao Phraya. We last went there for my 21st birthday. It’s a good place to go to for special meals- with food that is a little up there in price, but extremely tasty, a lovely drinks menu including delicious mocktails, a good atmosphere and very nice staff too. Afterwards my mom and my sister insisted on going to one last shop, so they did, and myself, my dad and my sisters’ boyfriend sat on the comfy couches outside the changing rooms and waited. Then we all headed to get our respective trams/trains to get home. I got home late, and was sleepy, but happy.

Despite having high hopes for last weeks worth of work, I ended up having a terrible week (for various reasons I won’t bore you with) and it was great to have a nice day out with my family, not thinking about work, being a little frivolous, eating good food. I am a little nervous for this week at work, as last week has definitely kicked my already low motivation, but I’ve taken Friday off and I am going to look forward to a nice, long (much needed) weekend.

“Warm spring that left, won’t you come back to me?”

The past weeks have been swinging between extreme highs and extreme lows. Work is…there is a situation I cannot talk about but which is crushing me right now. I am stressed out and anxious. But in other ways things are good right now – my flat is not looking like a complete disaster for once, I have been getting into reading again and enjoying some good dramas too, my neighbour’s cat has taken to coming into my flat and letting me play with him and cuddle him, and I’ve had some pretty good weekends spent actually doing stuff and not holed up at home feeling sorry for myself (see: work.)

One of my goals when I moved to this city was to take advantage of the cultural elements available to me, and take advantage of my salary, to see more shows. I love going to the theatre to see ballets, plays and operas and I don’t do it nearly enough. So I’m doing something about that now. Opera North are currently hosting a Fairy Tale season and I’ve got tickets to them all. I love fairy tales, especially the dark originals. For these shows too, I admit I was drawn in by the posters, which show the main characters in traditional costuming, although I have been confused as to how different the operas are turning out to the posters. (Very confused.) Anyway, I also bought tickets for Turandot in May. This gives me something to look forward to in these stressful times, and gets me out the house, which is also good (see: no moping.) It’s not too expensive either. After all, you can get a seat for just £15, and I bought a three opera package which meant that both Hansel and Gretel and Cinderella were £13.70 each! (Lets not talk about how expensive Turandot was even with a three opera discount – I wanted a good seat and I better have got one!)

So, the other weekend I saw the first of the fairy tales: the Russian “Snow Maiden”. My sister came up to my city and we went out to supper and then to see the show and it was all awesome. The Snow Maiden was extremely odd – it felt like it should have been sung in Russian, and the costumes were a bizarre mix of traditional and modern that made little sense (I don’t get why the Snow Maiden was in jeans for nearly the entire show whilst all the other characters got to change into different costumes. It was in stark contrast to the beautiful dress that Snow Maiden is wearing in the posters for the show. Shouldn’t the main character be the most beautiful, the one that stands out the most?) But it was short and funny and wonderful. My sister and I went shopping the next day which was also great fun.

I went to see the second of the fairy tales last weekend: the German “Hansel and Gretel”. This was a full on modern production of the opera. Again not as advertised, at all, though I did end up loving it. The music was stunning, and the opera itself was…surreal. It was very odd and slightly disturbing (young children singing happily after brutally burning to death a witch OK then) but it felt true to the dark spirit of the original fairy tale. I thought it was a more successful modern rendition of the opera than the Snow Maiden – the snow maiden swung between traditional and modern, which was confusing, but this one went all out modern. So OK. It was also hilarious… and I loved some of the odd details, like the witches wand being an electric beater (so random) and the use of video and cameras. It was really great. I also appreciated that it was also short – as much as I enjoyed 5 hours of parsifal, it can be a big demand on your time to sit through such a long show! I missed my sister, my default show-going partner, but she let me text her throughout the evening so it was like she was right there with me anyway. :)

I am looking forward to Cinderella, although I was drawn in to that by the gorgeous poster (the dreamy dress Cinderella is wearing, with bare feet) and from these two I can tell already that the actual product is going to be very different. Cinderella will at least be sung in the traditional Italian. Both Snow Maiden and Hansel and Gretel were in English. :( I can understand that for accessibility and drawing younger crowds (a goal of this opera season, if I’m reading the programmes correctly) it makes sense to present the operas in their English versions, but one thing I enjoy about the opera is getting to hear different languages. I would have loved to have heard Russian. Oh well.

This weekend though I am…actually holed up at home. I had plans to go out and buy some more fish, but it’s too cold and miserable. Winter is starting to get to me – dark mornings, grey, dull days and then it’s only a matter of time before its dark again. Last weekend there was actually some sunshine and I felt optimistic that spring may have finally started to come…the bulbs are starting to show… surely it should be time? I need some sunshine already. I’m starting to get cabin fever. I pace through my own flat, filled with restless energy. That’s maybe just the anxiety though. I wish work would be better. Then everything would be so great. I suppose it’s an impossible dream to want everything to be going perfectly well at all times. Come spring, hopefully things can settle down at least. Being pushed to these extremes, often quickly, is exhausting. I try on focus on all the good things going on in my life right now, those highs, but the stress of the lows leaves me so tired out and makes even being happy feel too effortful.

“Because nothing is so fearful as giving up”

St Michaels Church and Hungarian National Museum

{Nine more pictures under the cut}
BUDAPEST, DAY TWO – Woke up fairly late today then headed out to the Szechenyi spa. Enjoyed the spa for about five minutes then became acutely aware was sat in a hot bath with a whole bunch of strangers, all of us barely clothed. There were so many people too. It was claustrophobic.

Afterwards had a great lunch at a nearby cafe and then popped into Vajdahunyad Castle. Vajdahunyad Castle was insane – a mixture of every fairy tale castle and horror movie castle you can think of. Totally bizarre. I wished I had my camera on me to take some pictures, but I had left it at home because of the spa. (That’s why there are no spa pictures either.) We headed back to the apartment to get changed and take a little break. I ate some cake that was way too rich but too delicious and I wish I knew the name of it. We then set off to find St Michaels church. We wanted to buy tickets to the organ concert being held there that night. Usually, there are organ concerts every week at the St Stephens Basilica, but this week being Easter, there was a break in that programme. I had managed to dig through the internet and find out about a organ concert being held at the smaller St Michaels. I was quite determined to go to a Hungarian organ concert, and my sister and her friend were reluctantly allowing themselves to be dragged in. It was a compromise – I hadn’t wanted to go to the Spa, but I did for them, and in return they would go to the concert.

The route to the church was a pleasant walk that took us along the river and past the white bridge. The church was on a pretty touristy bit of street with plenty of souvenir shops and people standing outside of restaurants that would call out to you and try and lure you in. We found the church and purchased the concert tickets we wanted. I had been very worried they would be sold out but there were no problems. We then walked to the nearby National Museum of Hungary. This was a fascinating museum. Unfortunately I went through the first section backwards which was very confusing – I know enough about history to have realised I was doing so, but not enough to be certain of it. Once I’d realised that I could enjoy it knowing I was reading about Hungarian history in the proper order. Going to this museum also helped to clear up lingering confusion from the Legislation Museum the day before. It was a big, grand museum stuffed with artefacts and information. I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately though I lost my sister and her friend fairly soon into the visit and thus spent most of my time worried about where they were, whether they were worried or annoyed. I couldn’t text my sister as you have to give your bags in to enter museum and I had forgotten to get my phone out and take it with me. When I finally spotted my sister, I ran over to her and gave her a big hug…which was inappropriate but necessary.

Reunited, we went back to the tourist street and allowed ourselves to be suckered in to one of the tourist traps…I mean restaurants for supper. We really wanted to find somewhere else, but we decided to stick to the tourist street so we would have enough time to eat before the concert. The food turned out to be pretty good actually, and not too overpriced.

Afterwards we went to the concert. The church was very impressive – much smaller than St Stephens Basilica obviously, and still in the midst of its renovations. It was interesting to see the contrast between the parts that had been restored and the parts that had not. There was something a bit more sombre and slightly more severe about this church. Also, the pews were extremely hard. We sat for two hours on those extremely hard benches, completely unable to get comfortable. This was a long concert. My sister and her friend were pretty bored by it. And as for me, I was interested but also confused- where was the organ? Well, turns out that there wasn’t one. Or at the least it wasn’t connected to its pipes. I waited and waited and listened out for it but it never showed itself. It was a very good performance – a full orchestra, a full choir with some very good leading singers – but the uncomfortable seat and the fact that it dragged on without ever really climaxing was a bit disappointing. The balance between vocalists, choir and orchestra was not quite right too and didn’t utilize the space correctly. I wanted something grand. I wanted to feel the floor shake with the power of the music, as it had the last time I had heard an organ played. Ah well. It was still brilliant, even if the reality was quite different from what I had expected. I did feel slightly bad for dragging my sister and her friend to this. However, I became quite excited to go to the opera the next day.

Because nothing is forever

The summer is going past at breathtaking speed. I am feeling overwhelmed by all the changes going on in my life right now, and struggling to keep track of it all. I want to sit down and write but I don’t even know where to begin,and then the next thing happens, and the next.

I went to my new city again, and this time I was successful in finding a place to live there. I saw a flat I liked and was already so done with house searching, that I asked to apply for it right then and there, and was allowed to do so. A few weeks of paperwork and sorting out references (and much more time spent on the phone than I really feel comfortable with) I have a flat to live in. Its a first floor apartment, two bedrooms, set in communal gardens, in a nice area of the city, in a quiet development surrounded by other flats that all look exactly the same, but white washed walls with red details and well maintained gardens means its attractive. Its close to a main road so I should be able to get the city center and work without any trouble. The flat has plenty of windows to let in the light and there is a full sized kitchen, and thus a full sized fridge which means I will finally have a freezer.(My old house did not and life without being able to freeze meals or have frozen vegetables was possible, but annoying.) There are wooden floors in most of the room and a built in cupboard in the bedroom (I love built in cupboards – my room in my parents house and my uni house both had them, coincidentally, so I am glad to carry on the trend.) It was love at first sight, and I am a bit worried that the flat harbors some terrible secret I didn’t catch during that brief viewing – perhaps a really loud neighbor, a mold problem, especially cold and drafty in the winter, large windows but no light. I am very nervous about it. But also very excited to have my own place, having started to really panic about how terrible house hunting was going and beginning to resign myself to settle for a house that wasn’t quite right or deal with a house share for a while. But no, I will be living on my own in a really nice place. I will have my own space, and I do have a lot of furniture, but I’ve already got plans to take my artwork and hang it up, to bring my CDs and Hi-Fi, to buy a really nice bookcase, to really make it into my home in a way that my old place was not quite. As settled as I felt in my last house, it was always a temporary place and I lived in it on a student budget. Now I look at this place as somewhere more permanent to settle down in, to make my own …with the help of a salary. ;)

I have been living with my parents these past few weeks. My father came to pick me up from my old city with a ridiculously large van, in which my entire house was packed up into, then there was a mass scramble to get the place clean before handing it over to the letting agents and driving away. Just like that, I left behind what had been my life. Well, packing was terrible and I left it all too late so I’m sure I’ll never find anything again, and my father was angry for me not having packed, and angry because my house was untidy. Meanwhile, I was stressed and overwhelmed by packing, and reacting to him, so actually it wasn’t pleasant, and it was a long two days to get it all done. But it got done and my full deposit on my old house is being returned, so it must have been done well despite being so last minute.

Living with my parents hasn’t been too bad, a little stifling as to be expected, but also nice not having to worry as much about bills and chores and food. There are other people to share the burden with. I am enjoying lazying around and eating in excess, because there is always food here.

I am also not looking forward to moving to a new city and starting work. Panicking is putting it mildly. I am desperately trying to ignore the passing days and how the time between then and now is narrowing so quickly.

Learning to drive is not going well and my test is next week, but I am resigned to not passing it and having to put up with public transport for a longer while. I can get the bus to work, well two buses, and it will take an hour, but I have commuted for an hour and a half before, I remind myself, and was always on time then, so I can do it. I can do it and am fine with it. But my parents are expecting me to pass first time and that I cannot handle.

As a belated birthday trip, my sister took me to the aquarium which was as fun as ever, and then we went shopping. I think we shopped from about 2pm until 8pm. We were absolutely on a mission to find nice work clothes, the both of us, as well as a few other things. Powered by a delicious lunch of American Diner Food (Hotdogs/burgers/fries/shakes) we shopped and shopped and burned through crazy amounts of money. I now have a killer work wardrobe, even if I say so myself. My sister guided me as to what looked good and was appropriate both for work and for my age. I thus now have two skirts, a handful of dresses, nice shirts and tops, and a couple of pairs of pants for work. All of it in materials I can handle or loose enough to utilize cotton camisoles and slip dresses underneath. (I am allergic to polyester and most synthetics, which usually makes shopping hard, but as it turns out when you have the money, and you take the time to really hunt through the shops, it is possible to build a work wardrobe around this issue.)

I also bought perfume for the first time. My mom says its the grown up thing to do, to wear a light, subtle scent. It’s so strange, wearing those clothes, doing my makeup just so, putting on perfume. It doesn’t feel like me. But this is how I want to present myself. No, I need to present myself well in my new role. I need to look put together and professional. I know that. Its just so strange.

My mother and I took the cat to the vet the other day, and it was uncertain whether it was the cat or myself who was the most anxious. I took the cat and put her in her cage and sat with her in the car, and she protested the entire time. Sitting in the vets, she continued to protest loudly. (At least we were the only ones in the vet, and there were no dogs) She was good during the appointment though. And she was healthy – apart from a flea problem, and the fact that she has lost 1/4 of her body weight. This shocked us. She has also changed color. This surprised the vet.

Our cat came to us from a friend of my mothers, who had kept the cat indoors mostly. When she came to us, she was a black cat, a little plump, very shy and scared of men in particular (or maybe just my father, who is very big and very tall), wouldn’t go outside at all. When we installed a cat flap for her we had to work hard to coax her outdoors. Now, this summer, we have hardly seen her. She comes in to eat, but spends her days outdoors. She is confident, no longer scared of men (she loves my father). She is playful and friendly when she feels like it. She has thinned down and her coat has turned what we call a coca-cola color – dark red, turning redder or even orange in bright light, still just about black in the dark. Sometimes it feels like we’ve ended up with a changeling cat, a creature entirely different from what we originally had. We love her to death, but she is constantly surprising us with her growth.