IMG_0104In free magazines, leaflets, through Facebook, word of mouth; there’s so many ways to find out what’s going on in this city. I often make a mental note to visit a new bar or buy tickets to an exhibition, fast forward a few months and have I been there? Have I got off my arse and done it? Of course not.

I am getting better at it though, the pursuit for self improvement continues; tickets are bought, outings organised and days well spent. Here’s some snaps from one of those days. IMG_0107IMG_0109TelephoneCallSecurity GuardIMG_0118IMG_0240We spent some fast-passing hours roaming around the Maxxi, to see the Transformers exhibition. Some of the photos are from other exhibitions of this modern art museum, but worth including nonetheless.

The idea of the exhibition is to use art and design to highlight social causes and to create discussions about them. For example, we saw a mechanical orchestra made from weapons confiscated by the Mexican Army. Notes created by hitting a xylophone made from gun parts show the potential to transform even the most dangerous of objects.  IMG_0125IMG_0121IMG_0133I particularly liked the idea of using everyday materials, albeit in a new way, to create art which is easily accessible to everybody.  Hubble Bubble, the green ‘suspended forest’ below is made from plastic colanders, while Life Life, this walkway of long swirling balloons, continually transforms as visitors pass through it. IMG_0126IMG_0145IMG_0127IMG_0142IMG_0147IMG_0151More than meets the eye – this is usually true isn’t it? It seems to me inspiration and ideas are out there for the taking, it’s the ‘doing’ part that’s difficult. But the transformation into something concrete and tangible makes you realise getting up and getting organised is well worth it.

More stuff soon.


Forbidden Fruit

You might have forgotten what I look like…yes it’s been a long time. What can I say? I’ve been busy. Rome has the ability to swallow you up and hypnotise you. Before you know it, an embarrassing number of months have passed since your last blog post.

Let’s just get right back into it with a trip to Giardino degli Aranci.

Giardino8Tree ClimbingFirstly, I suppose I should say that you’re not allowed to pick the oranges! And that’s certainly not a photo of me climbing a tree in order to satisfy my desire to take home a souvenir! I always find myself cringing at the typical ‘Brits abroad’ behaviour, but this time it was me being somewhat disorderly. At least I didn’t carve my name into the Colosseum or ravage a historic monument. Compared to some, I’m not so anarchic.

Giardino10Giardino6Giardino9One of those slightly hidden green spots in the centre of Rome, Giardino degli Aranci is where (if you haven’t already guessed from the name) you’ll find a garden of orange trees, which at this time of year are flush with bitter fruit. If you visit for some tranquility from the city, be sure to walk just around the corner and take a peek through the Aventino keyhole for a really special viewpoint of Rome. One of my favourites. FountainMiPacMoving country with only one suitcase in tow means I now choose from a more limited wardrobe. Less choice can be liberating, but it’s fair to say I’m getting sick of living in the same clothes all the time. Being light on outfits is probably one of the reasons my posting has dropped off the radar, however, I do want to say a little mention to my MiPac backpack – it deserves it.

I’m now a convert to the convenience of the backpack, this one comes with me on overnight stays, airport check-ins and faithfully carries my language books to and from school everyday. It’s also the bag that a friend of mine declared as ugly, suggesting one of MiPac’s usual canvas offerings instead. Always an advocate of animal print, I remember my friend’s differing opinion when I sling it on my shoulders.

Giardino12OrangeCakeAs you’re not supposed to take the oranges, you’re probably not supposed to eat them either. But cooked and added to cake mix, with a little extra sugar than usual, they’re really delicious! Plus, cooking and eating the day’s loot completes the story in a rather satisfying way.

DuomoMilano VinoOlio
ItalianPackagingDesign PantheonInstax

If you do want to know more of what I’ve been up to during this hiatus, send your eyes to my Instagram page where you’ll mainly find things I’ve seen and things I’ve eaten.

One last thing, I want to introduce you to the lovely Rosie and her blog Ragazza a Roma. If you look closely you’ll also spot me in an apron making pasta by hand…

Budapest Part II

You can probably tell just by looking at them, but we exhausted ourselves climbing to the top of a very steep hill to take these photos! The night before, we’d been on a cruise down the Danube and spotted the Liberty Monument overlooking the river. It was just so beautiful at night, we made plans to trek up Gellert Hill the next day. Gellert Statue Gellert HillOnce you make it to the top however, you find yourself a bit too close to take a decent snap of the Liberty Monument. These are two smaller statues which stand to her side. Liberty is a big old lady holding a palm leaf up to the sky commemorating those who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of Hungary. She’s quite the beauty – especially in comparison to the St Gellert Monument a bit further down the river which marks the spot St Gellert was hurled to his death in a spiked barrel. Grisly.

Porthole Budapest View of PestNo such action going on anymore, the hill was a quiet spot for some shots of the skyline, including a panorama which my friend captured. Panorama River Budapest Panorama Heroes SquareThe next day bought a change in weather, some crisp blue backgrounds for our photographs and with it a sense that Budapest had lost a bit of its mystery. For me, it’s not Budapest unless it’s misty, grey and bloody cold!
War statue Heroes Square Traffic Bike Lights Budapest outdoor Ice Rink city park budapest Anonymous Statue Budapest Tour GuideAfter taking in Heroes Square and City Park, we had just enough time to see Budapest’s  Timewheel and Revolution Monument. The Timewheel is the world’s largest hourglass, some 8m high and 60 tonnes in weight. The sand empties from the chamber over the course of the year and the wheel is reset at New Year. I would have been impressed, if it had been working! Budapest Time wheel revolution monument 1956 revolution monument hungaryIt was worth a look though, as was the 1956 Revolution Monument. It was fun to weave in and out of the columns and see how far you could make it in. 
Budapest holidayWell that’s it, another trip over. All the postcards, tickets and metro stubs have been stuck in my scrapbook, ready for some more to join them soon.

5 ways to increase shorthand speed

About a year ago, I wrote an introduction to teeline shorthand post. It’s by far my most popular post, and brings a steady flow of visitors to the blog. As there must be at least a handful of people who have found it useful, I thought I’d revisit the subject with five tips on increasing your shorthand speed. My own experience is in Teeline shorthand, but these general principles can be applied to other methods, such as Pitman’s.

1. Practice

Practice, practice and more practice. Shorthand tutors usually recommend around an hour a day spent perfecting outlines and dictation. The more time you give shorthand, the more success you’ll have with it. From personal experience, if you can’t manage an hour a day, it’s better to practice little and often than for hours on end. I sometimes found after an extended time period you tend to question why a word has a certain outline, and get bogged down in unnecessary details. Try practicing for 30 minutes a day to keep the theory fresh in your mind.

2. Special Outlines

Commonly used words have special outlines to save even more time than writing with just the teeline alphabet. In some cases, they’ll be the same outline as a singular teeline letter but the context of the text will help when transcribing. I’ve noted some examples below:

Some basic special outlines.

Some basic special outlines.

3. Special Phrases

If you think your speed will increase by using special outlines for words, just think how much time you’ll save when using special outlines for entire phrases. Below are two sets of special phrases containing the words ‘be’ and ‘that’. This should be useful if you’re just starting out with Teeline as they’re very commonly used word groupings.

Basic special phrases.

Basic special phrases.

4. Control your nerves

The worst part of taking shorthand notes from dictation is not knowing what words you’ll need to write in advance. Inevitably you’ll come across words you’ve not used before but don’t panic. Putting a technically incorrect outline which will hopefully remind you of the correct word later is fine. If you’re totally stuck don’t waste time dwelling on it. Move on to words you’re more familiar with so you can keep up with dictation. Obviously this links back to point one, practice. Drill those unknown words until you can write from ‘muscle memory’ but don’t sweat it when you don’t know the answer.

5. Set realistic targets and achieve them.

Be realistic – you can only achieve speeds of 100 words per minute or more if you have the time to dedicate to shorthand.  Set goals which are achievable (but challenging) within the time and effort you’re willing to put in. Set a target of 40wpm and master this before moving on to 50wpm, and so on.

I must practice my shorthand to get a high speed

I must practice my shorthand to get a high speed.


It can be difficult to find comprehensive shorthand resources online, particularly free ones, so I hope these tips are useful for you – whether you’re a beginner or just want to improve your skills. If it’s still a bit baffling then refer back to my previous post for a reminder of the basics of Teeline shorthand. As I’ve said before, signing up for a course where you can ask questions and get one to one teaching will be the most effective way to learn shorthand. Please do leave a comment as I’d love to get your feedback, I’ll also do my best to answer any questions you might have.

Travel Journal: Play it again, Sam.

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The nitty gritty of booking a holiday, quite frankly, bores me. I hate comparing hotels, finding cheap flights and working out how to get from one to the other when your plane lands at 3am. Once all that’s done, however, I love researching things to do, places to eat and sights to see.

Apparently, open air cinemas are quintessentially Greek. I’m no film buff, but I do love a trip to the cinema so a visit to an open air theatre was a must. Before the trip I’d seen that Casablanca was listed as ‘Coming Soon’, so I was pleased to find out it was showing a couple of days before we were due to leave.

I’ve only recently (within the last six months) watched Casablanca for the first time. Despite it being a classic film, I’d never got round to seeing it but I wish I’d watched it sooner! I know the blog title is a misquote but it’s still iconic.

Athens Open Air Cinema

Watching for the second time in an open air theatre with a couple of hundred Athenian locals was an unusual experience. It was in English with Greek subtitles so everyone could follow along together, but interestingly, the locals reacted differently to parts of the film than I did. They laughed at different parts and there were a lot more gasps and boos than an English girl could politely make in the company of others.

I knew I’d be watching with a Greek audience but I was more looking forward to an outside viewing on a warm night than considering how another culture watched the same film. It was a pleasant surprise, and by the end there were plenty of people holding back the tears, me included. (Oh Rick, we knew you were a good guy all along!)

After mixing with the locals at the pictures we had one full day in Athens left (doesn’t time fly?!) In a week, we’d ticked off most of the main sights and tourist attractions, leaving only the Ancient Agora to visit.

An agora is basically a meeting place, used as somewhere to buy, sell, or trade, or as a place for public speaking and meetings – think of a Roman forum. It’s also where we get the word agoraphobia; a fear of open spaces.

With so many different things happening in an agora, there was lots of different types of building and styles of architecture. A good place to start is the Stoa of Attalos; the Oxford Street of it’s day, it was once full of shops only affordable to the wealthy Athenian.

Ancient AgoraNow, it’s home to a museum which showcases these lovely models of the Acropolis and surrounding area throughout different time periods.

Pantheon ModelJust hanging out at the Parthenon, I love the little fella leaning on a collumn!

There’s something about minatures which is so likeable. It must be the quaintness of an imaginary mini world, either that or the sense of power I get from feeling so tall!

Back to normal scale, we carried on exploring the rest of the Agora.

And that’s it for the Travel Journal series! We’ve reached the end of the holiday, ate all the Greek salad we can, and put the sunglasses away.

Travel Journal: Little Miracles

Athens ThriftLook how beautiful this Greek antique/vintage/junk shop is! I spotted the shop front down a side street whilst we were strolling along eating frozen yoghurt. The  little wooden sign informed me it was called ‘Little Miracles’, and knowing  it wasn’t to be missed I went for a poke around.

Vintage Horn

Vintage Umbrella Stand

Vintage Grammaphone

Spilling out onto the street were; pots and pans; candlesticks; vases; an umbrella stand; a tricycle, bed warmers; and numerous brass instruments.

Inside was just as chaotic, with items pinned from wall to wall and trinkets crammed into every nook and cranny.

vintage cameras

Vintage Perfume

Perfume bottles are always so pretty, and make such a pleasing dressing table. I love vintage bottles, particularly those with atomisers, instant glamour.

I’d never heard of ‘Crepe De Chine’ before but I’ve found a lovely review online:

“Crepe de Chine is a stunning, world class perfume. The scent has a clean, fresh entry with a gorgeous full bodied greenfloral accord at its heart, all over creamy, dreamy exotic woods. Crepe de Chine envelopes you with beauty beyond compare.” [1] 

One look at that Art Deco bottle and I’m picturing flapper dresses, classic cars, and cigarettes in long thin holders being smoked by ladies with red lipstick.

Vintage TeacupsI was brought crashing back to reality when the shop owner told me these china teacups were €27! Maybe she knows something I don’t about the floral motif, but you could thrift something similar much closer to home. Our charity shops are always full of tiny treasures at bargain prices.

Little Miracles antiques was a detour on the way to the Acropolis museum which was our main plan for the day. However, no photographs are allowed in the museum. This doesn’t make for a very fun blog post so instead I’ll show you our quick visit to the Panathenaic stadium later that day.

We’d spotted the stadium from our open top bus tour on the first day and thought it looked quite impressive. Although marble is everywhere in Athens, the stadium really stands out from its’ surroundings due to the solid shape forming a huge block of colour. Panathenaic Stadium

That tiny figure on the steps is me, I’ve gone trundling down the steps because I’ve spotted something worth investigating.

These are the throne’s where the Greek King and Queen sat during the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. These days the stadium is used for Olympic events and other concerts and festivals.Close up: lion paws hold up either end of the throne’s.Ready, set, go! It wouldn’t be right to leave without a quick once around the track. Enough fun and games for one post, I’ll leave you with a selection of my favourite details from Olympic posters around the stadium.Vintage Olympic Posters

L-R: St Louis 1904; London 1908; Paris 1924; Paris 1924; Berlin 1936; London 1948; Rome 1960; Mexico 1968; Athens 1896.

Travel Journal: dusty trails and cocktails

After spending the previous day hiking up the Acropolis, it felt like we needed to recharge our batteries a little. Isn’t that what holidays are for?

Our hotel was slightly outside of the normal tourist areas, but the extra 10 minutes on the metro paid off as it had a rooftop pool with 360° views of Athens! It was super quiet with no traffic noise and (on this particular day) no children splashing around! Perfect for getting engrossed in a good book.

Tim Burgess Book

I picked up Telling Stories months ago, flicked through the photos (not too embarrassing) and left it on the ‘to read’ pile. Sometimes,  it just doesn’t seem like the right time to start a certain book, and it gets left gathering dust just waiting for your attention again.

Telling Stories is the memoir of Tim Burgess, the lead singer of The Charlatans. I wouldn’t say I’m a die hard fan of The Charlatans, but I do think they’ve had more great songs than some people realise. I went into the book without much background knowledge or expectation, but afterwards my overwhelming impression is that Tim Burgess seems a likeable person, although slightly bonkers.

I like the fact that it’s slim on facts and figures; I’ve never found it useful to know dates of birth or inside leg measurements. Instead, I prefer to slowly get an understanding of the author, like you’re getting to know a friend, which is the case with this memoir.

Anyway, back to Athens!

The sun had mellowed by the time we left the hotel and we went off in search of food. We ended up at Thanasis for one of many kebabs of the trip. I had what I think was called the Thanasis special, which turned out to be an extra large portion of souvlaki.

After being faced with four kebab skewers I didn’t want to stretch myself too much so we took a stroll towards the Roman Agora. What we didn’t know is that it closes early on Sundays, so we were left peering through the gates from the outside.

Gate of Athena Archgetis
A snapshot of Hadrian’s Library next door to the Agora as we carried on our stroll.

Sometimes Rich and I walk hand in hand, sometimes I get distracted by interesting buildings or a sleeping cat on a windowsill. Whilst I was reading about some rocks which women would slide down to promote fertility (erm, no I didn’t) Rich had found a cocktail bar.

Acropolis View Bar

I’m thankful it had such a lovely view of the Acropolis as Greek service is the slowest I’ve ever encountered. They couldn’t be any more laid back if they tried. It’s acceptable for a holiday, but can you imagine living there? I think my patience would be severely tested.

Rich had a Mojito and fancying myself as a bit of a Bond girl I plumped for a Vespa Martini.

CocktailsIt looks the business, but was quite possibly the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted. I’m partial to a gin and tonic so had high hopes, but it didn’t seem to be made from anything edible (drinkable?) whatsoever. More like a cocktail made from liquids you’d find under the kitchen sink, 0/10.

While I debated how to ditch the Martini, Rich was snapping away to make a panorama of the skyline (he’s stitched a few together now so I might post them later on.) In the distance he noticed a thick green forested hill with a little white building on top. We plotted a course and ended up at Lykavittos Hill (‘hill of the wolves’.)

We’d spent almost the entire day gazing into the distance so it was apt that the views are the main reason people visit Lykavittos Hill.

At the top is the Chapel of Agios Giorgios, where that evening a wedding was taking place. I felt a bit of a gatecrasher as they had their wedding photos taken, but everything was still open to the public. It was nice to visit Lykavittos and witness something special even from a distance. It’s often the unexpected things which makes each holiday memorable.

Travel Journal: You know, they say of the Acropolis where the Parthenon is…

Greece Flag

So, on the next day of our holiday we climbed a hill! Unfortunately, the Greeks had already planted their flag at the top, having got there a few millennia before us.

‘Acropolis’ roughly translates to high city, and the Parthenon which sits on top is the tourist attraction in Athens. It’s visible from all round Athens and I found myself scanning the skyline for just one more sight of it throughout the trip. On day two of our holiday, we strapped on our sensible shoes and went for a climb.

At the bottom of the slope is the Theatre of Dionysus, festivals were held  in the name of Dionysus on this site since the 6th century BC. Dionysus was the god of wine so I guess his theatre held some rowdy parties in its’ time. In a story you might be more familiar with, he was also the god who gave Midas his golden touch (which became a curse when he realised he couldn’t eat or drink and his daughter turned to solid gold.)

Rich looking somewhat un-rowdy considering the surroundings.

Carved with intricate designs, marble thrones were made for festival officials and top priests. Women sat on the back rows, no carvings there.

Part way up our days climb: an overall view of the Theatre of Dionysus.

On the way to the top, you also pass another theatre, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Impressively, it’s been completely restored and hosts concerts again. However, it’s only open for performances so you can’t get in during normal times.

The Parthenon was originally built as a treasury and to house the statue of Athena, from whom the city takes its’ name.  She was gold plated, with ivory hands, feet and face and jewels for eyes. She stood 40 feet tall but was lost or destroyed in the 5th century AD. How does something so opulent go missing?

Admiring the view after a sweaty clamber to the top.

Seeing the Parthenon close up for the first time is a special experience, it’s just so iconic.  We’ve all seen it on TV and in books, and it’s must be on everyone’s list of places to visit. The photo above, however, wasn’t our first glance. I thought I’d save showing you the scaffolding propping up the entrance.  Above is the other end of the Parthenon, equally impressive I think.
greek columns

Is it any wonder it needs scaffolding with columns like this? Over time, it’s been damaged by earthquakes, attacked by invaders and set on fire by a gunpowder explosion.

The Acropolis entry ticket is €14 and gives you access to a number of ancient sites around the city, including the Temple of Zeus…

Building work on the Temple of Zeus began in the 6th century BC, and amazingly it wasn’t completed until Hadrian (of Hadrian’s Wall fame ) came along 700 years later.  Not satisfied with finishing someone else’s temple, he commissioned another monument for himself;  the Arch of Hadrian.

The arch is a crossroads separating the ancient and Roman parts of the city. We sat in some shade nearby, taking in the view and thinking about our own crossroads: Where should we go for dinner?

olive branch

No, I didn’t resort to eating olives from the trees, but I did pick one as a new accessory like in my last post.

I’m going to try and make my holiday blogging a bit more frequent as there’s a lot to get through, so more of the same in the next few days. Hello and thank you to my new followers as a result of my last post, it would be great to hear your comments!

So, what do they say of the Acropolis where the Parthenon is?

Travel Journal: All aboard the Athens tour bus!

I just can’t stop going through my holiday photos! We’ve barely been back home a week and yet as we get back into our daily routines, our trip already feels like a distant memory. I’m glad I can share the holiday moments all over again on this blog.

On our first full day in Athens we decided to take an open top bus tour to get an overall sense of the city and also, roughly work out where everything is – it’s one thing looking in the guide book, but just who knows how long it will take to walk across two map squares?

I thought the bus commentary was pretty uninformative, but there was some ‘interesting’ Greek music to keep us entertained. We also got our first peek at the Acropolis and Pantheon, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

After the tour we found ourselves nearby the Greek Parliament. The building attracts a lot of tourists, and whilst you can’t get inside to see the real goings on, it’s worth dropping by if you’re near Syntagma Square.

Soldiers are on guard outside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Not a job I’d fancy to be honest. Although they do get to perform changing of the guard ceremonies every hour. I saw this particular soldier impressively (but accidentally) boot the top of the hut whilst doing his ceremonial stomp.



Some detailing on one of the crests/shields decorating Parliament. Don’t you think the Phoenix’s shadow looks like a face in profile?

Not yet used to the heat we had a quick pit stop, which I spent examining some heat rash appearing on my arm. Once Rich reassured me that I wasn’t going to die, we sought some shade in the National Gardens nearby.

And look what we found, some stone columns just waiting for two eager tourists to pose with them!

National Garden

A sprig of stolen Rosemary which I tucked under the buckle of my bag so I could sniff it as I pleased.

And because I can’t resist a food photo, here’s what we had for dinner that evening:

Greek meal

We went ‘To Kafeneio‘ which is in Plaka but just on the edge of the main tourist area where you can avoid the waiters trying to drag you into their restaurant – all with the same promise of  “the best food in Athens!”

We ordered fried pork & peppers, potato fritters, a trusty greek salad and some tzatziki. We ate late in the evening (Greek style) so once we’d finished it was time to wander to the Metro and speed our way back to the hotel.