Monday, 7 November 2016

Why you need to visit Vienna right now

I’m writing this on my third hour sitting in a cafe on my second coffee, first cake and fourth glass of water. The autumn sun is warm on my back. I can hear the quiet toll of bells in the distance. And every now and then a well dressed waiter silently moves past, making my eye naturally move to the tray of cakes he balances without effort. Not being one to keep quiet about something good, I felt compelled to try and explain why I am now all about Vienna. 

Could you be more Austrian? 

For quality of life, Vienna is literally number one in the world and has been for the past seven years. Our walking tour guide explained that it’s down to the unique chilled lifestyle that the city does so well. An ex-banker, our guide explained that his work day began with breakfast, then another breakfast, then lunch- all being the norm. He believed that the water that they drink, which has a thirty year trip through the Alps, was an important part of the superior wellbeing of Vienna. He also proudly proclaimed that Vienna is the only place in the world where you can go to a coffee house, order a water and not be moved on (I didn’t test this out, the coffee is so good I couldn’t just stick to water!). 

The Volksgarten: The Peoples Garden.
If you're lucky, you could spot Viennas president taking his morning jog

The city centre is a wonderers dream because Vienna loves walking. So much so that they have had a huge movement over the past few years to encourage more people to walk, resulting in pedestrian zones, logical traffic control and places that are so pretty, you find yourself walking by choice regardless of the weather. There are plenty of well kept public parks, dog parks and running paths. It’s clean. It’s tidy. It’s bloody beautiful.

The view from St. Stephen's Cathedral...after 343 steps
One thing I noticed in our trip is the distinct lack of heart rate increasing regular city-bustle. Sometimes, we’re not exactly ‘people people’. This can be a problem when we do the tourist thing. Tourists equal crowds; crowds can be beyond annoying when you’ve queued up for over an hour to see something ridiculously famous that doesn’t live up the the hype (Cough-Mona Lisa-Cough). Rejoice in Vienna; the anti-people persons dream. The clean, efficient U-Bahn never reached the dreaded Central Line levels of packed-ness and we often found ourselves walking down streets with nothing but the echoing of our own footsteps climbing the picturesque buildings around us.

St. Stephen's Cathedral - easier to get to the top this way tbh...
The only time we queued was when we visited the Schönbrunn Palace. But even while walking the picturesque gardens (Most of which you can see for free) you find yourself again in silence enjoying the moment. Maybe we got lucky, but when we saw The Kunsthistorisches Museum, it was quiet and peaceful perfect for learning, browsing and taking our time. 

No caption will adequatley explain the yumminess of this Apple strudel
If you’re looking for hustle, the Nauchermarkt was great for people watching and as we walked through it, it really felt like a place where good things happen. What those thing are, I’m not too sure. But I think we each got enough eye contact with some stunning Austrians where both of us could have scored that night- wink wink. After a conversation about the delightful lack of Euro-stags/hens of an evening, we did find the one place in Vienna where there were a few drunkies (albeit, all friendly, with none of them after a fight) at the Prater amusement park. Walking through it at night felt a bit like a zombie film waiting to happen. But my previous life as a film student had to pay homage to the beautiful ferris wheel famously shot in The Third Man. And yes, I did watch it prior to flying out.

Walking Vienna at night is a must...slightly spooky but totally worth it
Vienna is famous for indulgence when it comes to cake and pastries. I liked that I could set my indulgent side off. How could I not with delicate apple strudel, famous Sachertorte and everything served with fresh cream that had been whipped (no sugary canned crap here, thanks). But then I didn’t need to search high and low for healthy eating. Like Berlin, the Viennese take vegetarian and vegan food seriously with a good collection of food outlets specifically catering for vegan or veggie food. I didn’t feel like I had to look for it, it just seemed to find me. 
Secret spy holes at the Schönbrunn Palace
Throughout our three night city break we’ve been brought back to the same question: why are we loving this so much? Was it the food? (I didn’t meet a meal I didn't like) The people? (Friendly, patient with my crap German), the sights? (Palaces, art, just a dash is history…) or the music (Think Mozart, Beethoven with a side of metal if you know where to look for it). Maybe it’s because in Vienna, you’re on your own time. It’s delightfully paradoxical, considering that you want to see all the museums, the palaces, the history and the food but you also want to sit in a cafe for three hours and watch the world go by. I want to do everything, but I want to do nothing. And by doing nothing, your experiencing true Vienna life. 

Back to the coffeehouse, and my next cup of coffee, my typical tourist concerns about not having time to do everything drifted away into the afternoon. Instead I was filled with the quiet satisfaction that I was on Vienna time, and I would absolutely be returning in the future to explore more of what the city has to offer.  

x KB

Monday, 11 July 2016

How to make your festival experience healthier, smarter and more amazing

It’s festival season in the UK, which means it’s time to get together with your mates and listen to some great live music as you stand in knee-deep mud, balancing a warm cider to your breast while expertly dodging flying bottles of piss…some experiences may vary!

I am definitely a fan of ‘The festival’. I love the expectation. I love the music. I love that you can seriously get in touch with your inner child, be a bit weird and every one around you is doing the same.

But for the healthy living addict, festivals can be a bit challenging…

Where the hell is the organic fruit? 
Why is every vegan option Mexican-based?  
Wait, I’m drinking ALL day? 

For these questions, I have to give this side of advice: Ease off. 

Personally, I see festivals as a chance to let loose. They’re like mini super-exhausting holidays. I go to around two a year, which equates to about five or six days. There is no other time in the year when I will be drinking as much alcohol, eating so much rubbish or staying up so late. I justify my cutting lose by grabbing onto that beautiful word: balance.

Having said that, I don’t think going to festivals mess up my wannabe-healthy-living too much. On my first day at Download festival this year I walked 50,000 steps (Thank you, Fitbit). That is four times the amount that I normally do in a day. At Secret Garden Party, I dance for hours on end. Well, I call it dancing. It’s probably more flaying limbs, but hey, back to my point about being about to be a weirdo without judgement at festivals. 

So back to balance; it’s not cheating; this is rewarding. A few days of the year living ‘wild’ isn’t going to wipe out all the hard work you’ve already put in. Balance is key.  

Still, it doesn’t hurt to have the following at hand to help you inject a bit of healthy to your festival experience:

Yes, most festival organisers are starting to realise that not everyone wants to plant their face in a soggy burger and the selection of eateries is improving (Still waiting for you, Reading Festival…) but I still bring a selection of food with me. Preparation is everything, when I camp I bring the following: 

Vegan Mushroom Rolls: A doddle to make, easy to transport and great snack food. I took them to Download this year and they were the perfect first night dinner. 
- Bliss Balls of all types: You can buy them, yes, but there are so many recipes on the web one of my favourites have to be Raw Caramel Macadamia Balls  Again, easy to make, transport and they don’t need a freezer to carry. 
- Smoothies: This year I bought the packed lunch Innocent Smoothie cartons They were an absolute blessing when I woke each morning to menacing dehydration
- The obvious but I have to mention: Nuts, granola, oatcakes, avocados, bananas, coconut water, just plain water. Chuck some halluomi on the BBQ and have it with some hummus and avocado; it’s a winner. 

Your own penis
What, what? Okay, otherwise known as the Whiz. It’s basically a funnel to help ladies pee like a man. Or as Wikipedia like to call it: The Female Urination Device. I took one to Download and it improved my wellbeing to such an extent, it has to go on the list. Festivals equal queuing. My boyfriend waited for forty five minutes to use the portaloos one morning at Download. My bladder would have had none of that. So what did I do? I zipped up our tent and used the Whizz right into an empty bottle. No mess, no spills, all thrills because I was liberated. It also meant that I didn’t need to walk across a field filled with tents in the middle of the night for a wee. Safety first, people. I cannot express how the Whiz made my festival experience more awesome! 

It seemed like the moment a guitar finds its way into an open field in the UK, the heavens open and you end up in a lot of mud. But sometimes you get lucky. So bring the suncream to protect your skin as well as bringing your wellies to protect your feet. And don’t forget the socks! After all, Bear Grylls puts dry socks as one of his top ten survival essentials because, and I quote, ‘It's as important emotionally as it is physically’. Because wet feet SUCK.   
If you’re looking to get lucky, and don’t mind that your partner may not have washed their nether-regions in three days, bring condoms. If you would like to hear the ‘Cheese Toastie’ story told to me by one of my festival friends, just ask me on Twitter

The Bum-Bag
I am a portable supermarket at festivals. I hate having a bag when I’m dancing, so the bum bag is another one of my festival staples. The following is a list of what it carries, all of which I always end up using and thinking to myself: ‘You are so smart for having these on you, you smart thing, you!’. I carry loo roll, pain killers, mini hand sanitiser, money, phone, poncho, hip flask, eye drops, plasters, snack bars. I also clip a water bottle to the bumbag, which as well as allowing me to be my own hydration station, provides me with a subtle dance space maker when I swing my hips. Hey, it worked at Secret Garden Party! 

Have fun, people. See you in the mud.


Monday, 4 April 2016

Seize the day: Why traveling makes your life better

Chances are you’ve had the following conversation:

Mate: “Oh my god, we SO have to go to ‘Random European adventure/reasonably priced short hall destination’
You: -“Absolutely! You know, I saw you can fly there for 12 quid/I have loads of airmiles that I need to use!’
Mate: -*gasp* “Why don’t we go next weekend?”
You: -*gasp* “I will absolutely go with you next weekend!”

Sure, you might both whip your phones out at the same time, letting your thumbs dance in their search for the best cultural experiences in Barcelona, luxurious spas in Dubai or the prettiest Airbnbs in Rome. But when you come to say ‘Tata’ and Monday rolls around, all your travel plans get pushed back, forgotten or you just get that ‘Meh, can’t be bothered’ feeling. It’s not intentional, but like so many things life gets in the way. Time rolls on, and before you know it you’re saying: “How the hell is it April? This year is going SO fast.”

And time does go fast. Maybe that’s the darker lining to having a well oiled weekly routine. 2016 is the year where I promised myself that routine would frequently be broken. And after visiting The Travel Hack and reading about their 12 trips challenge, I made it my goal to visit somewhere I haven’t been before every month.

My travel style is part fake local, part super tourist. I try to find the thin line between following a self-made itinerary to just letting things happen without feeling like I’ve missed out on something important. So an added part of my challenge is to chill the hell out a bit pre, and during,  each holiday. I have to put away the Von Trap whistle and learn to exist in a new place even if the coffee bar around the corner had a much better write up on Trip Advisor.

Three months in, and I’ve been to three places that I’ve never been before - one in England, one in Scotland and another in the Middle East. Where will I go in April? Who the hell knows, but I’m up for it. Think it’s a waste of hard earned cash? Below are just a few reasons of how traveling makes your life better:
  • Get out of your comfort zone- My best travel moments have been when I’ve done something that has scared to kale out of me (Kale? Why not). My first solo excursion in a foreign country happened at a time where doing something by myself would usually break me out in a sweat. It was a point in my life where I really, really needed to start getting to know myself- hell, even LIKE myself.
    To this day I still highlight the very moment where I sat down with the Grand Canyon in front of me as the time when I started to change for the better. Even typing that sounds cliche- but thinking about the memory made me smile. I want that for everyone. By getting out of your comfort zone confidence will be built. Horizons will be expanded. Balls will be grown. I am yet to travel totally solo- I hope to do it in 2016.
  • Remind yourself that the world more than your corner of it- the world is fricking big, my friend. Something I am always reminded of when I travel. Honestly, EVERY TIME. We may meet people who we initially feel are so different to us, but with closer inspection (or conversation- hold the magnifying glass) you’re reminded that we ‘peoples’ aren’t actually so different after all. It’s a humbling experience. 
  • Break the routine- Routines are great. They help us stay on top of things. They help us reach goals.  But they can also provide us with mirror days where one day is the same as the next. Not being able to decipher one Tuesday to the next, or just living for weekend is no way to be. Travelling forces us out of that routine- or at least make a new one. This slows us down and can remind us that we don’t need to have a constant to do list. 
  • Education, Education, Education - Is there a better education that one you get while travelling? I love being on tours and listening to commented about history, cultures and art. You know, that moment you tilt your head to the side and start to drool with pleasure as your brain matter is massaged with delightful new information? Amazing. Eating different foods. Meeting new people. Changing your perspectives not just on the world but also yourself. It’s one thing to read about it in a book- it’s quite another to feel it under foot, breathe it in and see with your own eyes. 
  • Experiences vs Things- This video explains the point beautifully.Final note: please do not let the idea of cost stop you from exploring the world. 

Now fly my pretties…fly!! 


Monday, 4 January 2016

The Menstrual Cup review: Why the secret cousin of tampons rock

Along with my hashtag healthy living:healthy choices wannahave lifestyle, where I’ve been starting to pay close attention to what I was putting in my mouth, it made sense to start paying attention to anything else I was putting in myself. And in this case, I’m talking my vagina. 

Considering that half the population experience surfing the crimson wave once a month, it’s absolutely something that we should be talking about. And talking proudly, without cringing or using our inside voice. So here we go…

Hopefully, you’re aware that disposable sanitary protection have actually been quietly subjecting the southern region of our bodies to chemical warfare. That and the impact on the environment means that it’s high time to look to other methods. Enter the Menstrual Cup. 
Menstrual cup
The Menstrual Cup. So squidgy. 

Often seen as a petrifying silicone bucket destined to be lost forever up your vagina, the Menstrual Cup is the unpopular, perhaps even secret, cousin of well known tampons and sanitary towels. When I had the ‘period talk’ at school, I don’t remember my teacher ever putting a menstrual cup on the table as one of my options. Go to my local supermarket, I see every brand of tampon under the sun but I am yet to see the cup. In the UK, it seems like the choice of disposable sanitary products are being made for us. (Note: I have seen them in some Boots stores hidden away on the bottom shelf). Conspiracy theory paid for by industry giants? Meh, that’s a different online rant. 

Menstrual cups are flexible containers made of silicone that sit low in your vagina and collect your flow. The variety of cups is overwhelming. Each new cup bringing more questions…such as but not always including: 'Well, how long is my vagina?', 'Do I want a stem or a tail?', 'How do I know if my cervix is high or low?', 'How many holes to I have down there again?!' 

Eww. That sounds so gross. Why would I ever? <- My former thoughts.

But then I tried it out. Mostly out of curiosity and the idea of never having to deal with tampon ‘wee wee string’ was too tempting to pass up. 

So with that, I launched into slightly obsessive research mode in searching for the perfect cup for me. I was met with a lot of options, detailed videos and confusion. But eventually, I picked the right one for me. I’ve tested out this bad boy now for just under a year. The past six periods have been absolutely hassle free. So it’s time to share. 

The first time it went in, I had the same thought as when I first had sex; ‘Oh, is that it?’. Too easy. That little thing just popped in, opened itself up and spent the next few hours quietly collecting bits of my former self. But then it was exit time.

For thirty minutes I was crab walking across my bathroom floor with my bloodied fingers up myself in the most unsexual way imaginable. My hands (and perhaps parts of my arm) were covered in blood. I was making noises only made my the severely constipated and I was clumsily treading between realising how funny the situation was to how long it was going to be until I needed to go to A&E. Yes, I sure as hell got to know myself in that thirty minutes period. 

Anyway, after more bearing down than I thought possible, it came out. And I didn’t swear never again. Instead, I was determined to get this little bastard thing working for me like it had for so many others. After all, if the YouTube menstrual cup guru could use it, why couldn’t I? My next attempt included overthinking it, dropping it on the floor and feeling a bit sick. Back to the tampons till next time it was. 

It was touch and go for the next few periods. There was a small amount of leakage, but that was nothing compared to the ridiculous pain that I experienced. My lower abdomen was screaming at me, even though the cup wasn’t in me. I’m talking horrendous pain, the type where you feel you want to vomit. Hot water bottle later and it subsided, but I was worried that I’d damaged myself. 

I googled the crap out of it but didn’t come up with a definitive answer. Other girls mentioned some pain, but nothing really fit what I experienced. It could have been worse cramps than usual because my body was just changing, it could have been psychosomatic or it could have been the cup itself. Determined not to give up, I ordered another two. But this time, I made two more small holes in the cup after a recommendation that I read on the interwebs. 

This. Was. It. 

Ever since then, there’s been no pain, no leakages, no worries. Almost too easy. I am now the menstrual cup poster girl. I happily bounce about during yoga and wipe from back to front with no fear of stinky string during my period. I don’t want to go back and as long as I’m pain free, I don’t think that I will. 

So now, for your reading pleasure, the best things about a menstrual cup:

  • You are now an Eco warrior- no more will your used tampons and pads be sitting in a landfill for all to see. As the average woman roughly uses 11,000 tampons in her lifetime, there is a pile of disposable chemically cotton somewhere with your DNA all over it. Plus, the time it takes for that tampon or pad to degrade is centuries longer than your lifespan. And remember, its’ not just the sanitary product itself, that little dude is usually wrapped in a plastic wrapper or bag which gets thrown on the trash heap as well. 
  • No stinky string- we’ve all been there; just put in a fresh tampon when suddenly you need to do twosies. You know, the period ones. When you feel like the organs of the lower half of your body are about to fall out of your ass. One wipe it shall not be. With the menstrual cup, there is no string- so there’s nothing there to get stinky or change. Result. 
  • Money saving expert- the cost of sanitary products (Or rather the fast that they are taxed as ‘luxury goods’ in the UK) has been a lot more vocal of recent, suggesting that we spend around £90 a year. Menstrual Cups cost between £11- £22 and they last for years if looked after. Bargain. 
  • No bleach up my minky- If you would like to know the kinds of chemicals your putting up your vagina click here
  • Getting to know ME- A conversation that I have a lot with my fellow vagina-havers is that for the longest time we didn’t know diddly squat about it. Maybe we’d had a quick look with a mirror once or twice, curled our lips at the different crevices, bits of skin and holes, but young ladies aren’t taught a thing about their bits. It's like female masturbation when I was a teen in the 00s: everyone was doing it, but nobody was talking about it. While men publicly rearrange their testicles, we don’t know shit about our vaginas. And that's sad. Very sad. The good thing about the menstrual cup is that you get to know what you’ve got. You have to, in order to understand what’s going on during your period. After all, why should stick with the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality thats been sold to us by giant disposable sanitary product companies for years?  
  • The Lazy girls guide to periods- menstrual cups can be left in for twelve hours. TWELVE fricking hours! I’m telling you, I’ve actually nearly forgotten I was even having my period when I’ve used it because I literally change it after work and then take it out at night. Bonus. 
  • Your vagina will be a moist haven- That word. That word. But be gone the dryness that you feel when you shove a tampon in. Or worse- out. That horrible feeling when you need to take a dry tampon out is no more. Unlike the tampon, the menstrual cup doesn't suck up every ounce of moisture in your vagina so you’ll be wetter than a ducks wet bits (In a good way!)
  • No Toxic Shock Syndrome risk with a menstrual cup: Think that TSS is an 80s myth used to scare us? Think again, again and again.
  • Feel free to get me off- Something that was only brought to my attention by a fellow mooncupper. Suddenly, you can go back to having furtive feel ups without the fear of your partner touching a string that really wants to touch them back. Third base is still on the cards with the menstrual cup. 
  • You are no longer a walking Boots chemist- Every fricking bag I had held several tampons within. I now have one moon cup which I carry with me when I’m due. That’s it. Awesome.
Reasons why menstrual cups can be ‘meh’
  • Oh, so thats was menstrual blood looks like- yes, you do get acquainted with what your releasing. Who knew that it was that goopy? You do get over this. But to be honest, I’m always interested to see how much my cups collected. And I’ve been known to offer a private viewing to friends who want to see how it works. Share and educate, people. 
  • They can leak- Not to the point of the contents of the Thames flowing out of your vagina, but similar to how an overused tampon would. Since I cracked the moon cup code, I haven't had any leaks for over seven months. Having said this, it's rare that I will wear a menstrual cup without a reusable mini pad when I’m out of the house just for my own piece of mind.
  • Maintenance- It’s recommended that you boil your cup for three minutes for at least once per cycle. This can be annoying and cause some raised eyebrows in the kitchen.
  • Get it out of me!! It takes time to get used to removing the cup. Practice really does make perfect, but fully expect some hilarious removal story of your own when you first give it a go.
  • Issues- I’ve read reports that those prone to thrush may enflame a re-occuring condition. There are arguments that they can also cause problems with IUDs.

Conclusion (TLDR): Menstrual cups get the thumbs up because after a lot of testing and fiddling about, it works for me. But I’m not you. Our bodies are different. Still, what have you got to lose? The pros outweigh the cons on this secret little cup that could be a total game changer. 

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