I’m a bit late to the party here pals given that we’re almost one month into the new year, but at this particular moment in time I appear to be stuck in a hotel in Hamburg with not a whole lot to do; so what better way to fill the time than a casual reflection on the year just gone!? I mean, I thought I might as well, for a laugh. If anything I always find that it helps you to feel grateful for the experiences you’ve had, the lessons you’ve learnt and the people you’ve met, and at this point in time (the point in time where I couldn’t board a flight to the Dominican Republic due to a sick bug and am hanging out in Hamburg for a week instead), I feel like this could really help me, know what I’m saying!?
January started in the best way possible, after a glorious and highly un-rock-n-roll style New Year’s Eve, playing board games and watching a Disney concert on TV at my pal Alicia’s. Mainly it was glorious as I’d missed my friends just so very much while I’d been away for half of 2016, and also this was the first time in the last five years that I hadn’t been working on New Years Eve. As much as I truly love singing, it was also BRILLIANT to have a NYE to chill out and enjoy with my pals. After making the most of my time at home in Blighty, I returned to Hamburg to start rehearsals for my second contract as a singer on a ship. The last time I saw Hamburg was in the Summer, so seeing the city on the opposite side of the year was pretty beaut, as well as giving me mild frostbite and permanently blue lips.
READ ALL ABOUT IT: What to Do in Hamburg
During a casual few days off from rehearsals I mildly-spontaneously decided to hop on over to Rome for a few days to live out my childhood dreams of ‘learning more about the Romans.’ Unfortunately that’s not even a joke, it really was my childhood dream to learn as much about the Romans as I possibly could, and I even wrote to my favourite magazine at the time to express this dream to them. Rehearsals continued in Hamburg with probably one of the biggest number of dance routines I have ever had to learn at once, and I discovered a bit more of the city with my new-found pals from the cast. My most favourite new place discovered in Hamburg was a toss-up between the artwork on the ground near the Elbphilharmonie, and I’m so sorry to admit it but an English shop called Kittels, selling all number of English goods- teabags, marmite, crumpets- plus laying on a rather brilliant afternoon tea.
READ ALL ABOUT IT: What I Learnt in Rome (Dreams Come True: The Sequel)
Rehearsals continued and I’m particularly happy to report that me and my new pal Rachel were officially regulars at our new favourite coffee shop, Kiezbohne, owned by a part-time pirate and circus runaway named Jörg (true story, all of it). It became clear that we were OFFICIAL regulars when the shop wished us an official farewell on their Facebook page when we left Hamburg for sunnier shores. It was a VERY proud moment. And yes, that’s right you guys- there was a whole change of scenery halfway through March when we flew to La Palma in Gran Canaria to start our time on board the ship. SUNSHINE, you guys!! REAL LIVE SUNSHINE!! I felt like a small mole emerging from the ground for the first time ever. It was a stressful old time getting our shows up and running, but we bloody did it and got off to a lovely old start cruising round the Canary Islands. PLUS I was elated to discover that my new friend and fellow singer Rachel was also a great travel-buddy, sharing a similar attitude to having a good old fashioned wander as me! Marvellous times, all around.
READ ALL ABOUT IT:
In terms of transport- April had it all. Camels (mildly concerned for their welfare in hindsight), a surfboard in Tenerife (mildly terrifying but proud of myself for giving it a go), a road trip across Lanzarote (being a passenger in this car was way more terrifying than surfing, honestly, although it did feature the soundtrack of Russian rap which helped calm the fear), baskets down a hill on the Portuguese island of Madeira (yep, you read that right), and a tired old tuk tuk in Lisbon. It was all going on, I tell you. I also spent far too much time sitting at either the front or back of the ship, staring and occasionally squinting at the water in an attempt to spot the hundreds of dolphins which other crew members kept reporting to me. Literally HOURS. Every ripple became a potential dolphin and every potential dolphin was therefore merely a ripple. Alas. Back home, two of my pals got married-hurrah!! I was over the moon for them and simultaneously pretty sad to not be able to celebrate with them, but this is what you get when you choose a job that puts you out of your home country for such a long time, pals…it’s all swings and roundabouts as they say. Our ship’s main route changed from the Canaries to a four day route in Northern Europe, but first with a trans-cruise stopping at Lisbon, Cádiz (btw Easter in Cádiz is downright astounding), Le Havre (where I tried escargot for the first time and we met a small boy named Brian who insisted on joining us for a game of Smack-Foo and then literally shot us out of the park with his toy gun), Amsterdam and Dover. Well what a load of travelling for a mere month I tell you.
READ ALL ABOUT IT:
- What to Do in Funchal, Madeira
- What NOT to do in Lisbon
- One Day in Cádiz (Solving an Easter Mystery)
- The Beginners Guide to La Palma
Yay, May!! This was the month that I was very briefly reunited for a whole day with two of my most favourite pals when we docked in Dover…a speedy trip to Canterbury and a very awesome gift of the basic necessities such as teabags and Werthers Originals meant that I was pretty sure I’d make it through the rest of the contract on board. You can take the girl out of England, but take away the tea and you’ll have a crisis on your hands, I kid you not. The route we were on was not the most exotic, but the people you’re with can make or break pretty much any experience in life and there were some real corkers on board, who I’m full on glad to have met, including a knowledgeable Slovenian and a Mauritian Lion-tamer to name but a few. We took a trip to Haarlem, and I was also overjoyed to discover the best dog cafe in the whole of Holland (possibly the world), which is located on the beach in Ijmuiden, and I couldn’t wait to get back to on every fourth day. Good one, Ijmuiden, and good one on your dogs.
Halfway through the month, we changed route again, this time heading further North where the sun very rarely shines (at least, that’s what it felt like), to Norway. Sailing into Geiranger for the first time as the snow was melting was all round astounding, partly because it’s such a beautiful place and partly because it was really early in the morning, in all honesty. It was also MENTAL to be experiencing sunset at at least 10.30pm the further North we went. I mean…what craziness is that!?? One hidden benefit of travelling to the fjords meant that it provided me and my pal with hours of endless entertainment thinking up fjord puns; it was unfjordtunate that nobody else found them quite as extrafjordinarily funny as us but what can you do?
READ ALL ABOUT IT: Getting to Know…Geiranger
Midway through the year and after hanging out in Norway for a few weeks we were heading on up to Iceland and then Svalbard and Arctic Norway, for Winter in Summer, where the sun didn’t set for several whole days. IT LITERALLY NEVER WENT TO BED. And I will tell you this for free: Iceland is a right stunner, probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. (There was one incident with an awkward pre-thermal bath communal shower which I’ll get to at a later date and has probably scarred me for life, but it’s good to see the funny side of these things and I lived to tell the tale so no harm done) I saw whales from the ship, and had a downright lovely birthday with several surprise birthday cakes and renditions of Happy Birthday at various locations; so although I couldn’t get off the boat that day, it turned out to be a rather good birthday, as birthdays go. I saw Nordkapp, the most Northern point of mainland Europe, in broad daylight at 2am- which was a strange experience to say the least, and we continued sailing down the coast of Norway back to Hamburg.
READ ALL ABOUT IT: What to Do in Reykjavik
July was the month that I became an expert on Norwegian coffee shops, and that the novelty of Winter in Summer began to wear off. Norway is, it’s true, a stunning place. But spend two and a half months visiting the same ports- none of which you can get very far away from, because obv you’re actually there to work- and things can start to drag a little. We stopped at Bergen, Geiranger, Åndalsnes, Molde (the town which became known as mouldy Molde as it brought nothing but bad luck), Eidfjjord, Trondheim, Ålesund and Stavanger. Stavanger and Bergen have a pretty nice atmosphere, and Trondheim is nice but chilly, but my favourite places to dock were Geiranger and Eidfjord, where you could just step off the boat and start walking in any direction to be surrounded by nature on all sides. Don’t get me wrong guys, I still appreciate having had the opportunity to be in Norway, but in July the lack of vitamin D was really taking it’s toll!! Luckily towards the end of the month we had an amazing opportunity in the form of a cancelled show, giving us the chance to explore further afield and climb Preikestolen- or Pulpit Rock as some people know it- on the sunniest day I have ever witnessed in the whole of Norway. What a joyous occasion that was, I’m telling you.
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Finally August came around, the month that we were due to leave the ship. I started to make the most of my Norwegian time once again, although did also have three calendars on the go, counting down to the day of our disembarkation. UNTIL…disaster struck and my replacement singer became sick (poor lass), leading to me waving goodbye to the rest of my team in a very forlorn manner, knowing that I had an extra week to stay on board for. What a strange old feeling! But guys, I was being a drama queen. It is very sad to expect to be seeing your friends and family and then suddenly you can’t…but life goes on. And every cloud does have a silver lining. The ship was sailing back to the Canary Islands, and while sailing in the region of the Bay of Biscay towards the coast of Northern Spain, I was feeling mildly gloomy so took a trip to the bow of the ship (basically the bit where Rose and Jack would stand) to get some sunshine and fresh air. After a spot of reading I stood up to go inside for a soundcheck and discovered…WE WERE SURROUNDED BY DOLPHINS. They were crisscrossing all over the place! I was loving every second of it. Later on that day I spotted a whale, so let me tell you: the Bay of Biscay is where it’s at for marine life in general, clearly. Staying on the ship also meant I got to see Ferról in Spain, Porto in Portugal (which is just lovely), and return to Lisbon, where I flew home from, to be met by my two best pals and swiftly reintegrated into English life. Tea, fish and chips on the beach, and a good old fashioned country fete. Just what the doctor ordered. But only two days worth, because after that it was time to gallivant over to Paris with my pals for my friend Chrissy D’s very Versailles hen do. GLORIOUS.
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Well you guys I was back in England again for such a brief time that I hardly could catch my breath, moved into a very cute flat on the seaside and then pretty sharpish headed over to Greece to gallivant about with my pal Rachel for a bit. Some solo time was had in Santorini and Athens, and then Rachel did a grand job of navigating the often treacherous roads (it’s true they were treacherous because they were full of bends and also were at the top of mountains) of the Pelopponese region and then all the way up to Lefkada in the North West of the country. What an awesome time I tell you! I stayed in a cave on Santorini, in a hundreds-of-years old castle on a massive rock in Monemvasía, and in a house halfway up a mountain in Stoupa, and was reunited with my friend Ezza Fez who moved out to Greece last year. What a rollercoaster ride, and such an epic scale of adventure that I’ve barely begun to write about it yet. It’s times like the month of September that remind me that the world truly is a village, and that is bloody brilliant.
READ ALL ABOUT IT: 2 Days in Santorini (Budget Edition)
Guys. Exciting times. In the last year I’ve missed two of my most bestest pals weddings, plus the bridesmaids duties they asked me to perform, due to being a singing sailor. And this October I FINALLY GOT TO ATTEND AN ACTUAL PAL’S WEDDING AND BE AN ACTUAL BRIDESMAID!! The wedding of my oldest pal Chrissy D and his husband Polis (that’s P-man for short), was all round beaut; they are such an awesome pair and as P-man is Greek Cypriot the day featured a whole load of Greek Cypriot touches which also brought back awesome memories of my adventures in September. (Mainly the food, I’ll be honest) The rest of the month was spent mostly appreciating being back by the seaside in Eastbourne and hanging out with my pals, and that was just GLORIOUS. I drank even more tea, ate even more fish and chips, and went on a great deal of seafront strolls! It’s all well and good marching off round the world but sometimes what is needed more than anything is a cozy old time at home. I did a whole lot of dance and singing teaching, poured pints behind the bars of several theatres (not very well might I add), and finished off the month with my pal Nicky J’s annual birthday treasure hunt in the woods, which is now such a highlight in my yearly calendar that I’d say it even beats Halloween as an event to look forward to.
The main goal of my time at home (aside from making the most of being with my friends and family) was to finally pass my driving test. I’m pretty old as learner drivers go, but in years gone by dancing and singing lessons always took priority over any other kind of lesson for me, until I realised it was actually probably a skill worth having- particularly when I started working all across the South East of England and relied heavily on Southern Rail’s incredibly unreliable and overpriced services. English trains are not the one, folks. So…November was the month I finally took my test!
And failed it.
With two minors but one serious fault involving a guy who sprinted across a zebra crossing. All I’m saying is- was I on the zebra crossing though? No. Did anyone die though? No. Should I have passed the test? Errr, probably, yes! Not that I’m bitter or anything. Ugh.
On the plus side to November…my very miniature niece arrived in the world, hurrah! And I was able to be in the country long enough to help sort out my pal’s baby shower…it’s pretty mind blowing that by the time I’m back there’ll be a whole brand new human being there. The end of the month arrived, and after my lovely times at home, I flew back to Hamburg to start the rehearsal process again, this time getting ready for a cruise to the Caribbean and Central America.
Hamburg was one of the Christmassiest places I have ever stepped foot in, and I began collecting glühwein mugs from each Christmas market like there was no tomorrow; possibly I could’ve turned glühwein mug collecting into a sport if I felt like it. But I chose not to. Rehearsals went generally swimmingly, and just before Christmas I flew back to England for a very brief festive visit. My family and me stayed in an AirBnB in Eastbourne which turned out to not actually have a working oven, which as you can imagine is quite the issue on Christmas Day, of all the days you could be stuck without an oven for. Pah! The owner informed us that it was ok- he knew the oven didn’t work, that was why he put the microwave there! WELL I NEVER. Never fear you guys, all was not lost. My pal Alicia offered up her kitchen and we spent a great deal of time ferrying dinner back and forth across the town from her kitchen to our AirBnB. It was definitely one of the more memorable Christmasses I’ve ever had, that’s for sure. It was a whirlwind of a time, and by the time I got back to Germany to start rehearsing again I was bloody exhausted, got I’ll, and spent New Years Eve hanging out by myself watching the rest of the city throw fireworks right left and centre from my window in Sankt Pauli. Aside from the illness factor, I didn’t mind that one bit. It turns out that New Years Eve in Germany is kind of terrifying, with fireworks starting around 11am on 31st December, reaching a continuous peak between about 10.30pm till 3.30am, and finally they seem to stop by 11am on 1st January. It’s probably the closest I’ve ever been to feeling like I’m in a war zone.
READ ALL ABOUT IT: Christmas in Germany: The Art of the Weihnachtsmarkt!
In conclusion, pals. I’m pretty lucky to have the job I have, and I’m really glad that I have it. It’s basically shaped my entire year, and whether I was on a singing on a ship or singing at home, the beauty of it is that I never know where I’m going to be from one year to the next. Sometimes that’s mildly terrifying (like this year for example, I know what I’m doing up until the beginning of May, and after that there is a big black hole of not even knowing where I’m going to live, let alone how I’m going to earn money). But for the most part that’s ok. There are some full on awesome times to be had but that also comes with some sad days and some bad days but I reckon whatever course your life takes, that’s going to be the case, know what I’m saying? It’s all relative, and looking back on this year has made me realise more than ever how the people you share your life with can really make or break a situation. (And very luckily in my case, this year they have really made it).