Friday, 30 June 2017

My experience with MEDexperience

MEDexperience Greek Island Hopping Tour Review Athens

As you may be aware if you regularly read my blog, in early June I went on a Greek island hopping tour with a company called MEDexperience. When myself and my friend Kelly decided we wanted to go to Greece this summer, we knew that we didn't want to have to do much organising, so we thought that a tour would be the perfect way to see a few of the Greek islands, with minimal effort on our part.

We performed a good old Google search for tour companies that could take us to Greece, and MEDexperience seemed to stand out as the cheapest, plus it went to quite a few islands that we were interested in. We paid £469 for an 11 day Greek island hopping tour, starting and ending in Athens. There was also a 9 day tour available for £389, starting in Santorini and ending in Mykonos, but flights in and out of the islands would have made it more expensive than a couple of extra days of the tour and flights to Athens.

MEDexperience Greek Island Hopping Tour Review Athens

Signing onto and paying for the tour was fairly easy, and the company were really quick to reply to emails. A couple of weeks before we were due to fly we were sent a detailed itinerary for the tour, including accommodation details and a link to the Facebook group in case we wanted to meet others that would be joining us in Greece.

Once we were in Athens, it was really easy to get to our hotel from the airport via the metro (and much cheaper than a taxi, which would have cost us around 50 euros, compared to 10 euros for the metro). Whilst on the tour we were staying in dorm rooms, with up to 6 people in one room, although most rooms had a maximum of 4. On the first night of the tour we met our leader, Stavi, and the rest of our group. There were 12 of us in total, which was a really lovely size as it meant that we were able to get to know each other really well over the 11 days.

MEDexperience is cheaper than other tour companies because it does not include food or optional excursions. The price you pay for the tour includes all transport except airport transfers, accommodation fees and a tour guide. We had to pay extra for our flights, and take some spending money for food, drink and the optional excursions.

On our first day in Athens we were able to go on an optional walking tour around the city, which cost us 17 euros each. The tour took us around all of the main sights, and I felt like I had seen Athens after a few hours following the tour guide. If I'm honest, it wasn't my favourite city I've ever visited. I loved the old town and the history behind some parts, but the newer part isn't the prettiest place I've been to.

Our first island stop was Santorini. Everything felt really easy because the bus magically turned up for us without us organising it and took us straight to the ferry port for an 8 hour boat to the island. We got to know one another a bit more during the ferry journey, and Stavi was amazing as she answered all of our questions about the trip and Greece in general. That evening we were able to go for an orientation walk around Fira, the town we were staying in, and have dinner with everyone.

On the second day in Santorini we joined an excursion to do a hike to Oia, the iconic blue and white town in Santorini, visit the black beach, and take part in wine tasting. This tour was 40 euros. Oia was beautiful and just like you see in photos of Santorini, but I found the black beach to be a bit underwhelming. I was surprised by how much fun I had at the wine tasting - it was an incredible setting looking out over the ocean and all of the wines were honestly the best I have ever tasted.

Our next stop was Ios, and again the ferry ride and transfers were really easy. Ios is known for its partying, and we were given the option to join a bar crawl on the first evening, and try and make it to sunrise. I think I made it to around 1.30am and got too tired, so I went back to the hotel to bed!

MEDexperience Greek Island Hopping Tour Review Ios

Ios was definitely the best hotel that we stayed in - we had an amazing view over the town and only 3 people per room. I also loved the town, as it was quite small with little winding streets and colourful bougainvillea. Stavi took us to a different restaurant each night of the tour, and she seemed to know the best places to go - plus we got discounts in some restaurants by showing our MEDexperience wristband.

MEDexperience Greek Island Hopping Tour Review Ios

On our second day in Ios we joined the speedboat safari tour, which was 42 euros. We walked down to the beach and took part in a type of watersport called tube riding, which was so much fun. We then climbed aboard a little speedboat and the captain took us to explore caves, snorkel, and relax on a deserted beach. This was my favourite optional excursion of the whole tour and was definitely worth the money - I really enjoyed speeding along the sea with music blasting from the boat and the wind whipping through my hair.

The next island we visited was Paros. We stayed in a lovely little quirky hotel with a pool, which we spent most of the first day relaxing around.

I also loved Paros' main town, as it also had lots of little interesting streets and bright colours everywhere you looked. The first evening we took part in an organised Greek night, which was 25 euros. We were served lots of incredible Greek food, and then took part in Greek dancing which was so much fun.

MEDexperience Greek Island Hopping Tour Review Paros

On our second day in Paros, we went on the island day trip (48 euros). We caught a public bus to the port and got onto a boat that took us around Paros and Antiparos. We were able to swim in the sea, including in the beautiful blue lagoon, and had a barbecue on the beach. I did enjoy this trip, but we were a little surprised that there were other members of the public on our boat, as we were told that all of our excursions were private. The barbecue on the beach was really good and swimming in the sea was nice as it was so hot, but I wish we had had our own boat as we were all a bit squished at the front. I'm not sure that I would have paid nearly 50 euros if I had known this in advance, and everyone else on our tour said the same thing.

Our final island was Mykonos, and we stayed at the famous Paradise Beach Resort which has had many famous DJs play in its club, including LMFAO and Calvin Harris. On the first day we stayed in the resort, and partied from 4pm til late, as there was a Zumba party and then a face paint party. I had a lot of fun dancing the night away on the beach. The only thing I didn't like about the resort was that it was quite far away from the main town, so there wasn't that much to see except the actual hotel. I'm not sure that I'd want to stay there longer than a couple of nights, as it could get a little bit boring.

MEDexperience Greek Island Hopping Tour Review Mykonos

On the second day we relaxed on the beach and then caught the bus into Mykonos town, where we watched the sun setting and ate dinner. I also really liked Mykonos and would like to go back, as it is quite big and I didn't feel like I saw much of the town. It was really pretty, again with lots of little side streets and interesting-looking shops. One of the worst parts about being on a tour group was that we couldn't just stop and look in the shops, as we had to keep up with the rest of the group. When I'm on holiday I usually spend hours meandering through little towns and really enjoy exploring, but I felt like I couldn't do that whilst I was with MEDexperience as I would have got left behind.

The next day we made our way back to Athens for a final night with the rest of the group, before most people flew out of Greece the day after.

MEDexperience Greek Island Hopping Tour Review Mykonos

MEDexperience were a great company to travel to Greece with, and one of the best things was that we saw lots of different places with minimal organisation on our part. All of the transfers were really easy and we didn't have to make too many taxing decisions (except what to pick off the menu each night as everything looked so delicious!). Stavi was an amazing tour guide with loads of knowledge and stories about each place we visited, and she made the trip so much better than I thought it could be. We also had an amazing group and we all got on so well, and got to know each other over the 11 days that we were together.

If you want an easy holiday that will visit lots of different places, I would definitely recommend MEDexperience. The tour includes relaxing activities and partying, and everything is optional so you can choose what you want to do. We didn't want a holiday with masses of partying, but we enjoyed the couple of nights out that we had, so this was perfect for us. I also really enjoyed meeting new people from all over the world, and MEDexperience groups are not generally too large, so it's easier to get to know everyone (unlike Contiki, who had 80 people on one tour group that we met in Mykonos!). Greece is definitely a place that you should visit at some point in your life - as well as the beautiful surroundings and culture, the food is some of the best that I have ever tasted.

TIP: Take lots of cash with you to Greece as lots of places don't accept card, plus on the MEDexperience tour you have to pay for the optional excursions by cash.
Worrying doesn't take away tomorrow's troubles, it takes away today's peace.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Here's why you should stop comparing yourself to others

Instagram @hannahev19

We're all guilty of it at some point: comparing ourselves to others. Especially with social media as prominent as it now is in our lives, it's so easy to click on to an app and be faced with hundreds and thousands of other people who apparently have 'better lives' than we do.

Instagram is crammed with humans showcasing the best parts of their lives, with many showing off expensive-looking holidays to the Maldives, the new Mercedes they just bought, or their gym-toned bodies. My Facebook constantly seems to be full of people getting engaged, having babies, landing an amazing new job, or buying a new house. It's easy to see why social media can make others feel inadequate and less well off than others.

The truth is that someone will always be 'better' off than you (if you can even measure how good someone's life is). Someone is always going to earn more money than you; be able to afford more luxurious holidays than you; have your 'ideal' body shape. Plus nobody really ever puts the more mundane parts of their life on social media (apart from those really annoying people that seem to need to document their entire lives on their Facebook). I will post colourful photos of my holidays and new clothes that I have bought on Instagram, but I would never put a photo up of the salad I just made for lunch or the paperwork that I have to sort out.

I now use social media as a way to gain inspiration, and not to feed envy. The women I follow are those that inspire me each day - whether that's with fashion, beauty or posting quotes that I can relate to. When people post holiday photos, I am interested to see whether I'd want to go there, and to get tips on places to visit. Fashion posts are now a way to gain inspiration for a new outfit, rather than to compare my body type to that other person's. New home posts give me ideas for my new flat, and how to decorate it.

Since I stopped comparing myself to other people, I am so much happier. I find that I am happier about myself and who I am, and I have grown in confidence because of this. I also feel really happy that I am an individual and unique to others - I don't particularly want to look like every other 20-something girl in the world. I like that I'm my own person and I don't care so much what others think of me, because I am not concerned about what others are doing when it doesn't involve me.

I guess the point of this rambly post is that we should be ourselves and stop caring what others think, or what other people are doing. We should have our own goals in life and work hard to reach them, rather than trying to do something that someone else is doing. Life is too short to make yourself miserable by comparing your life to other peoples', and the best person that you could be is you. Get out there and be that person.
You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.
             - Buddha

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

West Midlands Safari Park

It was my sister Mollie's 16th birthday today, so to celebrate we all decided to go to the West Midlands Safari Park for the day. The safari park is somewhere that we used to go quite a lot when we were kids, but I haven't been for years since then.

The best part about it is driving around all of the different animal enclosures and seeing them up close. Some of my favourites are the lions, the zebras and the white tigers. Animal photography is one of my favourite types of photography, so I was having a whale of a time with my DSLR camera.

This lion in the photograph above was watching some deer on the other side of the fence.

Mum nearly got 'attacked' by this zebra, or so she said...

The elephants are another one of my favourites! One of the best days I've ever had was when I was at the elephant sanctuary in Bali last year.

The safari park also has some rides, so we decided to spend the afternoon whizzing around in the air. I actually still feel a bit sick from it now!

We had a really great day as a family and it was such a lovely way to spend Mollie's birthday. I just personally cannot quite believe that she's 16!
In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.
                 - Buddha

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

The Fox at Shipley

The Fox at Shipley, Wolverhampton Road, Wolverhampton, WV6 7EH

This evening my family and I went to The Fox for a meal with my grandparents, to celebrate my sister's and Grandad's birthday. The Fox is somewhere that always makes me feel quite nostalgic, as we always used to go there when we were younger, especially for birthdays.

The Fox always has a 2 for 1 menu, so when you buy one main meal you will get another free (or they usually halve the price of a main meal if you end up with an extra one, eg if there are an odd number of people). This makes the food really good value. The menu has lots of choices, most of which are typical pub meals, and they are well-known for their huge variety of meats on offer. The menu has exotic meats such as crocodile, zebra, wild boar and kangaroo - we even saw that there was horse on offer this evening, which for some reason seemed more odd than the rest of the meats!

To start I shared some nachos with my mum. They were so cheesy and came with a large bowl full of salsa, guacamole and sour cream.

For my main I chose the goan vegetable curry, which contained chickpeas, sweet potatoes, onions, spinach and curry leaves. It was served with rice, chips and naan bread. It was delicious but so filling...

...But, of course, I still had room for a pudding. The ice-cream sundaes at The Fox are some of my favourite desserts around, and if you choose a large size they are humongous. I chose a small chocolate brownie ice-cream sundae and it was still really filling.

The Fox is a great place to visit if you're looking for some well-priced and delicious pub grub that will fill you up, with some really friendly staff that are always happy to help. The pub often gets really full in the evenings, so it's usually worth booking ahead, especially at the weekend.
The only cure I have ever known for fear and doubt and loneliness is an immense love of self.
                          - Alison Malee

Sunday, 25 June 2017

6 things that have made me happy today #18

1) Catching up with my friend Jenny
Jenny is someone that I have been friends with since primary school, and each time we meet up we just pick up from where we left off last time. We don't see each other that often as we now live in different parts of the UK, but when we do I always enjoy spending time with her and catching up on each others' lives. Today we decided to go shopping in Telford and for a drink at a bar there.

2) Drinks at the Liquor Lab
I've written a post about the Liquor Lab on my blog in the past - it is an independent bar based in the Southwater development of Telford. Jenny and I decided to go there for a couple of drinks after we had been shopping in town. I had a hot chocolate and then a virgin mojito. I think mojitos are my favourite type of cocktail, as they are so refreshing and delicious!

3) Watching Reign
I'm not sure whether I've mentioned it before, but I have been watching a series called Reign on Netflix. It is basically a drama about Queen Mary of Scots and her teenage love life and troubles as a young queen, and I'm really enjoying it so far. I'm currently on series 2 out of 4 and would definitely recommend a watch if you're looking for something new.

4) Buying an inflatable pizza pool float
Primark are currently selling some pool floats for £10, and I bought a pizza slice one today (as encouraged by my mum!). There was also a flamingo (which I also own...), a swan, unicorn and doughnut. We are going on holiday as a family on Saturday to Croatia and have our own pool at the villa we are renting, so we're basically going to fill it with inflatables... #familygoals

5) Seeing my other friend Chelsea this evening
This evening I picked my friend Chelsea up from work and spent a couple of hours at her house. I love that I don't particularly have anywhere to be this summer, so I can just make spontaneous plans and stay out late if I want to. We spent the time chatting and watching MTV programmes - I always really enjoy spending time with her as she's such easy company to be around.

6) YouTube
Since coming back from Greece I have been catching up on my favourite YouTubers, including Thatcher Joe, Shane Dawson and Megan Ellaby.
Stick with the people who pull the magic out of you and not the madness.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

I want to travel more of Europe

Going to Greece this summer made me realise how much I want to see more of Europe. Us living in the UK are so lucky having the whole of Europe a few hours' plane ride away, and I don't feel like I have made the most of that in the past. Although I have travelled a lot, especially last summer, so I'm definitely not complaining about that!

On our tour group in Greece there were quite a few Australians and they were explaining how lucky we are to have Europe on our doorstep, with so much history and culture to explore. Whereas in Australia, everywhere takes a long time to get to - the nearest place with lots of culture is Asia, and even that is 8-10 hours away on a plane. Also they were saying that Australia is beautiful, but it just doesn't have the history like Europe does. For example, Athens is thousands of years old and the buildings reflect this. The current Australia as we now know it is only just over 200 years old, dating back to when Britain transported convicts to the Australian continent. That means that most of the buildings do not have a long history to them, and the oldest Australian culture comes from the Aboriginal Australians. Australia does not have the old cities to explore like Europe does.

So that got me thinking - there are so many places in Europe that I would like to travel to. Yes, 'travel'. Most people from the UK would not see Europe as travelling but just a holiday, whereas if you said you were going to backpack around Asia or Australia, you would then be seen as a traveller. Well I think that that's a bit silly and that any sort of exploration of a new place should be seen as travelling, even if it's just within the UK and a short drive away.

When I start working I'm probably not going to be able to take more than a week off work at a time, so I would like to go on some city breaks in Europe. The places that are top of my list are Budapest, Barcelona, Venice, Krakow and Paris. I also would like to see more of Britain, and really want to visit Brighton, Scotland and Ireland. There are some beautiful places that are so close to home and I just haven't made the time to see them yet. For example, Manchester is only about an hour away from Liverpool and I've never been there.

I think one of the things that I am most excited about in Europe is the foooooood. You just can't beat food from around the Mediterranean - everything seems to taste much better and have more flavour. I'm excited to embrace some different cultures (even if it's just seeing bagpipes in Scotland), have some new adventures, and spend some quality time with friends and family in a new place.
Be happy in the moment, that's enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.
                      - Mother Theresa

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

How to upcycle chests of drawers cheaply

The majority of today has been spent moving things over to my flat and moving out of my student house, so I thought I would share one of my DIY projects with you as I was so excited to put it in my new home.

As soon as I first saw my flat, I decided that I wanted two chests of drawers: one for my bathroom and one for my bedroom. My bathroom is actually rather large and had a big space with nothing in it, so I decided that some drawers would fill that space, as well as being very useful to store my products in. And my bedroom - well, let's just say that I own way too many clothes to just fit in a wardrobe...

The first task was to find two chests of drawers. I decided that I wanted to get some wooden ones that I could paint and make my own, but I didn't have the money to pay too much for them. My housemate mentioned the website, where people advertise things that they don't want any more, and give them to other people for free. If you need something, you can also put a post up asking anyone if they can provide it. I had a look through the posts and couldn't find exactly what I wanted, so I put a post up saying that I needed 2 chests of drawers - and a couple of days later a lady contacted me saying that she had 2 wooden chests of drawers, plus a bedside table, that she wanted to get rid of, and could I pick them up from her? Err, yes!

So Freecycle is definitely worth browsing if you are looking for some furniture for free, but other places worth checking out are charity shops that sell furniture. There is a specialist Oxfam down the road from where I live that purely sells furniture and they had lots of chests of drawers for around £15, which I would have purchased if I hadn't got the drawers from Freecycle. eBay is also worth a look too.

After picking the drawers up, the next step was deciding what colour to paint them. My dad and I went to B&Q and found this emulsion by Colours Premium that works on all surfaces, plus it was only £16 for a huge pot (and on offer at the time!). I decided that I wanted the wood to be painted matt, and I wanted blue for the bathroom and a light pink for my bedroom. I chose 'Tropez Blue' for the bathroom as I loved how bright it was, and 'Tutu' for my bedroom as it was a really pale, almost grey-pink.

I also considered using chalk paint, which is what people use to make furniture look really vintage and shabby-chic. However it was more expensive than the paint I chose, and I also would have had to have waxed the wood after I painted it, which can take days to fully dry. Ain't nobody got time for that!

With the emulsion I chose, the first step was to sand the wood down. The drawers were already painted in a glossy white emulsion, so I needed to get rid of the shine so that the new paint would stick properly and dry smoothly.

I then wiped the wood down with a wet cloth to get rid of the sandpaper dust, before wiping it again with a dry cloth. Then it was time to paint! Painting was so much easier than I thought it would be and the emulsion applied so well. I just bought a couple of paint brushes from Home Bargains that were around £2 each. I did do a second coat as it was streaky in a couple of places, and then I left it to dry overnight. 

And voila! The only other thing left to do was pick some drawer knobs. For the pink drawers I decided that I wanted some gold handles, so I scoured the internet. I found these beautiful bee-shaped drawer knobs on eBay and instantly fell in love with them. These were quite pricey at £3.25 each, but so worth it. I decided that I didn't want all bees, so I also chose some golden geometric drawer knobs, also from eBay. The shape of these reminds me of globes, and I think they match really well with the bees.

The drawer knobs were definitely the most pricey part of this project, but I love them so I was prepared to pay a higher price. However if you want some cheaper drawer knobs, places like Home Bargains and Primark do sets for a few pounds, and Homebase also had a pretty good selection for £1-2 per knob.

I also used the bee drawer knobs for my upcycled bedside table.

Here is my finished drawers that are in my bathroom. I think these are my favourite as the colour is so vibrant, and I love the mismatched drawer knobs.

All of these drawer knobs are from Homebase and were all very affordable.

This project was so easy to do and really inexpensive. I also love that I now own two sets of drawers that are completely unique and very personal to me. They also make my flat feel more like my own, and I'm so excited to properly move in when I start working in July!

Also update on my mental health, just in case you're interested - I'm feeling so much better today and found myself singing all the way home from Liverpool in the car. I've been busy all day which I think really helps, and I also feel like I've straightened out a few things in my mind. I'm feeling like my happy self once more, which is amazing :)
You can be soft and successful, a traditionalist and a rebel, a lover and a fighter, vulnerable and invincible.