Sunday, 2 September 2018

28 Hours in Amsterdam

Less than a week after arriving home from Paris, Alex and I realised we had caught the travel bug and decided to book another trip. Fast forward to 29th August and we were back on the Eurostar, this time to Amsterdam. I've always wanted to go to Amsterdam, and being a fan of Eurostar and decidedly not a fan of planes, I was very happy when they finally opened up a London to Amsterdam route in May.

We originally booked to stay from 29th-31st, but something important came up for Alex on the 31st and then I got a GP appointment, so - not wanting to cancel the whole thing, hell no - we just cancelled the last day and got our money back for that. It ended up being fine, and I feel like I saw everything I wanted to see.

After an eight hour shift at work, four hours of sleep, and then eight hours of travelling, we made it to the AirBnB which was about 45 minutes from the centre of Amsterdam. Here it is if you want to have a nosy. It's a private room in a large house, with private access and a terrace. We didn't actually meet our hosts (which I don't care about to be honest because ew, socialising) but we couldn't fault the place at all. I mean, the bed was four-and-a-half Ambers in width. I measured.

Literally the comfiest bed I have ever slept in. I tried to sneak it into my rucksack but surprisingly it didn't fit.

After we got settled, we went straight to the Vondelpark. We had a wander, and took all of the speeding cyclists as an opportunity to get used to walking on the right...

Next we went to the Damrak, a main street leading off Centraal Station, in search of food. Instead, we hit distraction after distraction after distraction. I was on a mission to secure 1) a postcard, 2) a magnet, and 3) a novelty pen for my step-dad (which ended up being a pen with a massive pink tulip on the end. You're welcome for the quality gift.) In true British fashion I was also amused to see all of the weed. We're so sheltered. Bless us.

Then we popped into McDonald's (don't worry, we popped into an actual restaurant later) for a bite to eat, before spontaneously going to... the Sex Museum. OMG. Guys. WTF? Most hilarious €5 I've ever spent. Walking in, we were treated to, um, certain noises coming from two mannequins in a cupboard. And then we discovered all of the motion activated animatronics, such as a bum on the wall that made a noise giving multiple people almost-heart attacks, and a man who would appear from the shadows and open his trench coat...

Need I say more? I'll spare you the pictures (and video, which I hilariously sent to all of my friends. And my parents. Again, you're welcome for the quality gift, guys.) In addition to those fun parts of the museum was an entire room of nudes from the 1800s, and a selection of cakes that said things like 'Have the breast birthday, Rob!' Not forgetting the two six-foot penises that I made Alex stand next to for a photo. I'll spare you that as well.

It was great. Genuinely. A wacky, creepy, hilarious gem.

After that, we went for crêpes at Pancake Corner. I have actual heart eyes just looking at this.

By that point, it was 10pm and pouring it down, so we made our way back to the apartment and I got in the four-and-a-half-Ambers bed. Sleep, beautiful sleep.

The next day, we packed, had breakfast in the garden, and then left at 11am as it was our check-out time. And so, duh, we went to the Red Light District. Isn't that what everyone decides to do over breakfast? Anyway, I was facing the canal, innocently looking at my camera settings, when I heard a tap on a window behind me. Reader, all I saw was a woman's naked knee poking out by a red velvet curtain, and that's all I needed to see.

I kind of loved it, just because we're not open about that kind of thing here at all. I guess it was a novelty. But what I loved even more was the Anne Frank museum, where we went next. Having read her diary as a child, I've wanted to visit her house for over a decade, and actually going into the house where she hid for those years was so surreal. Seriously, it was incredible, the best museum I have ever been to. Unfortunately (but understandably) photos weren't allowed in any part of the building, so I don't have anything to show for it, but it really was amazingly and sensitively done. I devoured every single piece of information they gave. Anne Frank is one of my heroes.

I bought a book and some postcards in the gift shop, and then we had lunch in their cafe. We had a fair amount of time before our train home, but not quite enough to do anything substantial, so we wandered around and I got distracted by the American Book Centre, an amazing bookshop where I wanted everything. I also got some chocolate ice cream. Obvs.

The journey home was loooong. I forgot to buy train snacks. Not one but two people walked in on me on the toilet (damn you, faulty locks!!!) Trains were cancelling here and there so we were slightly concerned that we would miss our connection in Brussels. But I felt satisfied with the trip and I'm now trying to persuade my parents and, like, all of my colleagues to go to the Anne Frank museum. Plus, I got actual Belgian chocolate in actual Belgium. Um, yes??? Thank you @ the universe?

It was such a wonderful trip, and also quite a big thing considering my anxiety has been absolutely awful recently. Bring on my next trip, which is NYC in just six weeks! If you have any New York recommendations, please comment below or tweet me @MileLongBookS.

Have you been to Amsterdam?

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Amber Actually Reads Things?! | Emma Gannon, Holly Bourne and More

Having gone straight from annual leave into sick leave (sounds fun, it's not) I've been able to read much more than I have in recent months. Blogging in a much more relaxed way than ever before means that I've also been reading a broader range of books - where I used to mainly review books sent to me, I've had the opportunity to actually read the books I buy instead of them piling up next to my bookcase, unread. It's been... different. Here's what I picked up, and what I thought!

Title: The Multi-Hyphen Method
Author: Emma Gannon
Published by: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 31st May 2018
Pages: 288
Genres: Non-fiction/Business
Format: Hardback
Source: Gift.

I can't say I've read Gannon's first book about 'growing up online' or listened to her podcast, despite their popularity. I really wanted to read this one, though, as I'm in a tricky career situation right now which you'll know if you've read my latest posts. But, guys, it really isn't great. Maybe it's because I'm not in a good head-space right now career-wise, or maybe it genuinely isn't all it's cracked up to be. Maybe it's both. There are some decent bits - interesting facts and shocking figures here and there, or snippets that are far too relevant to my job and which I sent to a Fellow Suffering Colleague for us to laugh over. But ultimately The Multi-Hyphen Method has barely any practical tips for real-life use, and is very vague in its advice. No topic is written about in depth, so instead of being the career bible it's said to be, it more skims the surface of modern career and tech in general. It is badly written, too, with some sentences appearing once and then again word for word later on. It is not a method. One thing I will say in its favour is that, unlike most business books, it didn't tell me to quit my job and follow my dreams.

Title: My Heart Goes Bang
Author: Keris Stainton
Published by: Hot Key Books
Publication date: 28th June 2018
Pages: 288
Genres: YA Contemporary/LGBT
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought.

This book, on the other hand, made my heart happy. Set in Liverpool, Ella, Lou, Issey, Liane and Paige share a house in their second year of university. There's drinking, there's boy bands, and there's a checklist on their fridge of all the people they should sleep with before the end of the academic year: winner gets £££! My Heart Goes Bang also focuses on more serious topics such as dysfunctional families, abusive relationships, the stress of being poor, and sexuality. I read it in one sitting (rare, these days) and missed the girls once it was finished. It is warm, funny, authentic, and in true Stainton style, a celebration of girlkind.

Title: How Do You Like Me Now?
Author: Holly Bourne
Published by: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 14th June 2018
Pages: 368
Genres: Adult/Contemporary
Format: Hardback
Source: Gift.

I've loved all of Bourne's YA novels, so of course I had to read her first foray into writing for adults. How Do You Like Me Now? is about being in your 20s/30s when everyone seems to be making big life decisions: having kids, getting married, having awesome careers, and generally having their lives sorted - and it all seems to come so easily. Tori Bailey, on the other hand, has what seems like a good career, but in reality is something she's finding hard to sustain; a boyfriend who doesn't want to marry her; and no kids, meaning everyone else looks down on her. It's about societal pressure, the expectation on women to follow certain paths, and the internal conflict that can create. It also showcases strong friendships and how social media can warp reality. How Do You Like Me Now? is written with sarcasm, wit, and takes a look at life with and without a filter.

Title: Only Love Can Break Your Heart
Author: Katherine Webber
Published by: Walker Books
Publication date: 2nd August 2018
Pages: 400
Genres: YA Contemporary/Romance/Grief
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Wing Jones was a stunning debut from Webber, and Only Love Can Break Your Heart was just as good, if not better. Against the vibrant colours of the Californian desert, Reiko mourns her sister, going for late-night drives through the sand and climbing the rocks. When she meets Seth, their worlds clash: Reiko is wealthy and popular, and lives in a beautiful home; Seth lives in a trailer with his mum far away from anyone. When Reiko takes Seth under her wing, he soon becomes a mirror for her personality - and she doesn't like what she sees. Only Love Can Break Your Heart is about grief, heartbreak, and finding yourself when nothing else in life is working.

Title: Notes on a Nervous Planet
Author: Matt Haig
Published by: Canongate
Publication date: 5th July 2018
Pages: 310
Genres: Non-fiction/Mental Health
Format: Hardback
Source: Bought.

Notes on a Nervous Planet is an intelligent and considered commentary on the nervous system that is our world today. It looks at how technology has advanced to make our lives easier but has also inadvertently made our lives more difficult. The constant barrage of notifications, news, work emails and updates from old classmates we never even liked about how great their lives are, is not what we were built for. Short chapters and a scrapbook-style collection of thoughts really suits me in regards to non-fiction, and Haig's distinctive voice makes this even better.

I think we can safely say I've read a variety of different things. I enjoyed reading all of these books - even the first one, at times - but my favourite of the bunch has to be My Heart Goes Bang by Keris Stainton. Now the difficult decision of what to read next...

What have you read lately? Have you read any of these? Tweet me @MileLongBookS or comment below!

Monday, 6 August 2018

Paris in June

Last night, I realised that I never blogged about my trip to Paris in June. During my childhood and early adolescence, Paris topped my bucket list, and when I finally went for the first time in October 2017 with a couple of my friends, it was such an amazing time (you can read about that here!) A week after that trip, I somehow acquired a boyfriend (yeah, I don't know how either) and a few months later we booked our own trip to Paris. I wanted to go again, and he'd never been, so why not?

I decided to stay in an AirBnB because I'd had such a positive experience before. It makes for a much nicer experience to visit a home rather than a hotel room, and they're quite often cheaper, too. We actually ended up staying in a small apartment just a couple of streets away from where I stayed before - this wasn't intentional as you're not given the exact address until you've booked somewhere, but I did know it was in the same district. Montmartre is beautiful. It's not right in the centre, but I like that it's away from the tourist attractions yet only 20/30 minutes or so on the metro.

Here's a photo of our apartment which I LOVED. It was much, much smaller than the one I stayed in before, and definitely couldn't have fit more than two guests, but it was perfect for us. You can check out all the details here if you're looking for somewhere to stay (not sponsored or anything, just for anyone who might be interested.)

It's only a five minute walk from the metro, so getting around was quick and easy, especially as I'd done it before. The first day, however, started slightly traumatically. After getting up at 3am to get the earliest Eurostar to Paris, we knew we would get to the apartment an hour before check-in, but we weren't too bothered about that. But then it got later, and later... and we were just sat on the steps outside with our suitcases, with no contact from the host. It got to a point where I didn't know what to do and all I could do was imagine the worst case scenario: that the host never turned up. What if all the hotels were booked? What if they weren't but it was expensive? Where would we go? I was so stressed that part of me just wanted to go back home - but even that wasn't an option, because 1) They can be hundreds of pounds on the day of travel, and 2) I wasn't about to throw away a holiday in one of my favourite cities. So, we waited, and eventually we heard from the host. If I remember rightly, we'd been waiting for nearly 3 hours at this point? So yeah, not the greatest start... we literally got in, dumped our bags, I changed into shorts (READER, IT WAS BOILING) and off we went to the Eiffel Tower for which we had booked a specific time slot that was fast approaching...

If you've read my post from my last trip, you'll know I'd already been, but it was Alex's first time in Paris and how can you not go to the Eiffel Tower? Plus, I'd been in Autumn/Winter so the view hadn't been great. This time, it was 33C, with bright blue skies and not a cloud in sight. The views were much better this time, that's for sure.

That's a tiny Arc de Triomphe in the middle, which we went to next. Again, this is somewhere I had visited during my last trip, but that was a spontaneous 10pm 'hey, let's go to the Arc de Triomphe!' when the Eiffel Tower was all lit up and sparkly, and this was during the middle of the day. I'm a photography geek, okay, I need to see things in all lights...

After a long day of travelling and barely eating, we went to McDonald's where I discovered French McDonald's barely caters for vegetarians at all. I wasn't that surprised because I've always known France isn't great for vegetarians, but I thought I'd be safe with an international brand - I was wrong. Luckily, I'd prepared for this situation and brought lots of hot snacks (the kind where you just add boiling water and boom, delicious rice/pasta/greatness) with me from home. Girl's gotta eat.

The next day we went to Disneyland. It was an hour and a half on the train, and it was nice to get out of Paris a little bit. I'd never been to any of the Disney parks, so I was so excited! I got ears, obviously.

The following day was our last, and also the hottest. We walked along the river and had a quick look at Notre Dame Cathedral before heading to lunch at Hank Burger, one of my favourite (vegan!) restaurants. We had planned to visit Jardin de Luxembourg too, but we finally gave in to the heat and returned to the apartment to pack. We just couldn't cope with the heat anymore.

Just before leaving for Gare du Nord, we went to a supermarket so I could buy some snacks to take home, like bolognaise-flavoured Lays. I tried them last time and I knew I had to get some more - they sound disgusting but I promise they're delicious.

And that was the end of the trip! It was nice to go at a different time of year, and I'm still missing Disney even now - it really is the most magical place on earth.

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Saturday, 28 July 2018

Louise Pentland's 'Wilde About The Girl' Preview Party

On Thursday evening I had the pleasure of attending the preview party for Wilde About The Girl, Louise Pentland's second novel. Wilde Like Me, her first book, was a huge success, and having enjoyed Louise's online content for a few years, I knew I had to go - for that, and also who can resist that stunning coral cover?

The party was at the flagship Benefit Cosmetics store on London's Carnaby Street. As I waited for Google Maps to load on my phone outside the tube station, I was nearly abducted, dear reader. Yes, a random man decided to drag me away by the hand so we could 'talk', and then asked me to go to a nearby restaurant and sit with him. Funnily enough I decided against being trapped in a situation with this random dude, made my excuses, and walked away. I don't care if you 'get lonely sometimes', I would quite like to stay alive long enough to read this book I'm about to go and celebrate.

ANYWAY. (Yay London...) Benefit is a predominantly pink brand, and the room downstairs was the perfect location to match a gorgeous book. There were canapés and drinks, pink sofas, goodie bags, piles of books adorning the surfaces and a surprisingly heavy Instagram frame. ("I can hold my drink too! Wait, no I can't...")

Excuse the photos, it was 34C and I didn't want to lug around more than I had to which meant leaving my camera at home. These are phone pictures, but they do the job just about...

Zoom in to see what people wrote. I won't tell you which is mine...

It was a very intimate party, and it felt great to actually have proper conversations with most of the people there. Sometimes you can go to a book launch and not even get chance to speak to the author (as it was, we spent about half an hour towards the end sat at a table talking about anything and everything, it was most excellent.) I also spoke to two lovely competition winners, Jade and Amelia, as well as a blogger I know from Twitter called Zarina, and numerous people from Bonnier Zaffre. I was feeling very anxious at the beginning (yep, that's made a comeback) but it was such a lovely evening and I'm so glad I was able to go.

I said this on my Instagram (oh hi, follow me!) but I'll say it here too: it's been a joy to watch Louise's journey, from when I was a young teen obsessing over YouTubers, to growing up and joining that world myself and seeing them go on to achieve even bigger and better things. I cannot wait to read about Robin and Lyla's adventures, and additionally to see what's next in store for Louise. Having interviewed her earlier this summer for my Wonder Women series, it was a pleasure to meet her in person.

And now for our usual sneak peek into the goodie bag, because everyone loves a goodie bag!

How cute is Lyla's snack pack? And yes, the gigantic bar of Galaxy did melt on the way home but I ate it anyway.

Thank you so much to Bonnier Zaffre for a lovely evening. I can't wait to read Wilde About The Girl, and you can pre-order your copy here!

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

On Work, Unhappiness, and Big Dreams

I feel stuck. Can I tell you a story?

At some point last year, I decided to take the pressure off in regards to blogging. For roughly a decade before that, I'd been pushing myself to get all manner of 'content' out there regularly, including videos which took entire days to film and edit, and blog posts that took hours too. There wasn't much reward - I was making a bit of money, but not enough to survive, so I had to get a job. It ended up being a full-on, stressful job, and soon enough I was officially burned out. Work sucked all of the joy and creativity out of me. I was, and still am, a cog in a big machine. When I come home, it's not even that I'm exhausted, although I often am, but that the creative juices have simply gone.

And for a fundamentally creative person, it's devastating. I rarely feel inspired to blog. I've completely lost interest in YouTube. I prefer my personal Instagram over my blog Instagram, where I often go months without posting. Before, these things were my life. And I desperately wish they still were, but the love has disappeared.

I think it's still in me somewhere, or I hope so, anyway. I want it back. But it doesn't help that my domain provider completely messed up my domain name when I renewed it a few months ago, meaning that you won't necessarily get to my blog when you type in my URL - it's hit and miss. And I can no longer link directly to certain blog posts, just my generic, which means if I want to point someone to an old blog post, I can't. My views have tanked but they can't seem to fix the issue. They've literally broken my blog, so even though I want to come back, there isn't a lot of point as it's pretty unusable. Honestly, if you're reading this, it's a miracle.

And I am very unhappy in my job at the moment. I only work four days a week, yet they are long shifts, mentally exhausting, physically laborious and painful, and... it's just not what I enjoy. It's not me. I've been close to quitting many times, and people online and in books are always like, quit the job you hate! Life's too short! But I can't afford to just quit my job when there aren't any others around. I want to chase my dream, but I can't put the finances of my future in jeopardy. If I dropped even one shift at work (if they let me) I wouldn't be earning enough, so that's not a possibility either.

For a while, work made me question if I even wanted to work in publishing/journalism anymore, despite having wanted that for years and years. I felt no joy for it anymore. I think it's slowly coming back to me, as well as the dream to finish a novel and become a published writer which is SO strong and SO big and it's a need, not a want. But I just can't seem to do that while working this job which I've come to hate.

I know most published authors have a full-time job as well as writing, but at the moment, I can't do it. My job is one you end up taking home with you. Even when I'm not there, I might as well be. There's no space for me to be me, whether I'm at work or at home.

So, readers, we come back to what I said before: I feel stuck. I am stuck. And I am well aware that this is a first world problem to have. At least I have a job. At least I have some sort of income. But it's having such a negative impact on not just my mental health but also my physical health (I was there for three months before I had to be referred to physio for my knees, having been perfectly physically healthy before).

Question, universe: why wasn't I born into a rich family, damn it?

In an ideal world, I would be back to putting all my time and effort into blogging, vlogging, freelancing, writing, and all that jazz. It would be making me just enough money to live on. I would be handing in my resignation right now (something I genuinely dream about). I'd be working on my new WIP, and seeing if I could take it further. I would be so much happier.

So, reader, what should I do?

Have you been in this situation? If you have any advice, I'd love to hear it. I miss you!

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

An 'Old English Company' Haul

One of my favourite things to do is decorate. I love interior design and always have (although if you asked me to design your house, I don't think I could. Sims, though? Hell ya.) My room has been through a few phases over the years: pink and purple, then just purple, then completely mismatched and crap and annoying, then covered in High School Musical and Harry Potter posters simultaneously... and now? Just how I like it. So when Old English Company got in touch, I was like hello beautiful shop of my soul, where have you been all my life? LOOK AT THE PRETTIES.

'Good Morning My Love' coaster: £2.95 | 'You Are My Sunshine' card: 50p (usually £2.50) | 'I Like You A Lot' card: £2.95 | 'Glad We're A Thing' card: £1.75 | 'Hello' card: 50p (usually £2.50)

Welcome to my beside table. I cannot go to bed without my phone, a book, and a drink. Unfortunately, this last one doesn't quite go with the fact that the table itself is white and that its owner is accident-prone. I don't know how long that coaster will last in the presence of moi, but it's very cute.

I've got two drawers which you can't see, and the top one is filled with greetings cards for all occasions, from birthdays and Christmas to cards that simply say I'm proud of you or that I appreciate you. These ones are the perfect addition to my collection. Beautiful typography? Check. Foil? Check. Smidgen of my favourite colour, which I'm sure you can't possibly guess...? Check.

I bloody love a good handwritten letter or card. I still have a box under my bed of letters that I've received from friends over the years, going right back to 2008... there's some questionable stuff in there, let's just leave it at that.

ANYWAY. I also really like unusual wrapping paper, and these three are so me. Can you tell I like showing my appreciation for people? *hoards all the greetings cards*

Gift wrap: £1.75 each | New York print: £21 | Shakespeare print: £13.95

Finally, I picked two art prints, another of my obsessions. The first is New York made up of its place names in beautiful gold foil. I chose this one (there were other locations) in anticipation of my trip in October, which has been a long time coming. The second is a Shakespeare quote: 'I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it.' For years I wasn't happy with my room, but I'm finally there.

Thank you so much to Old English Company for letting me loose in your wonderful store and I have absolutely no doubt that I will be returning as a customer at some point. The quality is great, the prices are reasonable, they ship worldwide, not to mention their massive range of pretty things. If you like Oliver Bonas or Sighh Designs, this may well be your kind of thing too. ❤

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