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Afternoon Tea at Oakley Hall, Hampshire

24 Jun 2015

My Mum and I love our cake, scones, finger sandwiches and tea. So, what better way we thought, than to celebrate a 'special' birthday of hers with an extra special fancy-schmancy afternoon tea? 

So we set about booking Oakley Hall Hotel, which came highly recommended from a lot of Mum's work colleagues. I knew it was some sort of a hotel, but I didn't realise that it was actually a country house style place with beautiful grounds and everything. The setting was absolutely stunning and reminded me of the kind of houses depicted in Jane Austen novels which will always be a win for me. Luckily the sun appeared for just enough time for me to take a few snaps outside as well as inside. 



Aside from the acres of stunning garden and countryside, Oakley Hall also served up a pretty delicious afternoon tea. Everything about it was beautiful: the pristine white tablecloths, the pretty red roses, the adorable little jam jars. The quantities were also perfect and I felt sufficiently stuffed but not to the point of an uncomfortable food coma. The interior of the restaurant was also incredibly luxurious and perfect for a special occasion like a birthday (although I would happily go there on non-special occasions if I could, like every weekend!)













I can imagine that this place would be absolutely perfect as a wedding venue and sure enough, there was a little wedding party going on inside when we left.

 If you're ever in the Hampshire area, around Basingstoke and in need of a luxury afternoon treat, then Oakley Hall is a great option!



Life Lessons From A Year Abroad

21 Jun 2015

I didn't take a gap year. I went straight into university because I didn't see much point in taking a year out and because I convinced myself that I already knew what I wanted to do. To me and my unenlightened 18-year-old self, gap years were for people who didn't get the grades they wanted, or who didn't want to go to university at all. I knew exactly where I wanted to go, and I knew exactly what I wanted to study. I thought that going to university would be the only life experience anyone could need... 

I'm not going to say that I regret that decision, because there will be other opportunities to travel, but living in another country this year has really made me realise how much more I need to learn. For that reason, I am so glad that I study French as part of my degree, meaning I had a compulsory year out, and I would encourage anyone and everyone who is studying to do the same if they have the option.

So, what exactly did I learn? What are these great life lessons that I've been going on about above?

1. Talking on the phone isn't actually that bad.
To think I actually freaked out at the thought of phoning my landlord in England. Well, that fear was immediately squashed when I had to phone my French landlady about various problems every single week for the first few months. Bye bye having to write a script whenever I had to phone up customer service/book anything in England!

2. Challenging yourself is good, even when it goes wrong.
Which was certainly the case with a lot of things in France. The whole year was a challenge because I was completely out of my comfort zones in both social situations and academic ones. As someone who gets embarrassed incredibly easily, there were moments when I just refused to do something because I was scared of it going wrong. Over time, however, I started forcing myself to get on with things and to get over any negative consequences quickly.

3. Other cultures may not be for you, but it's still important to learn about them.
I learnt some great lessons in adaptability while I was abroad, because when you have no other choice, you have to learn to make the most of it. You have to put aside negativity towards the bits you don't like and focus on enjoying the bits you do.

4. You need to push yourself in order to find your limits.
This point is very similar to number two. I used to have a bad habit of not pushing myself to my limit because I was scared about getting too stressed. When you have this mentality, you soon realise that playing it safe all the time is not beneficial in the long term, and finding your limits is easier than you think.

5. It's okay to feel like you don't know where you're going in life.
I feel like I've had some kind of a quarter life crisis this year, and after speaking to other friends finishing uni it seems like we're all in the same boat. Some people have a set career path and that's okay. Some people have absolutely no fricking clue, and that's also okay.

6. Friends will come and go.
My first semester was a struggle at times, and I definitely had the full support of some people, but not of others. Some friends are just better at keeping in touch than others, and some are those annoying people who only reply when they're actually in close proximity to you. I used to take this incredibly personally and be (embarrassingly) needy about it until I accepted that most people genuinely just forget. Likewise, I met a tonne of people in France, and a lot of whom I probably won't speak to again. This kind of upset me at first, but at the end of the day those who you've really formed close bonds with will stay a part of your life.

7. Don't waste time wishing you were elsewhere.
I spent the first few weeks back in England just longing to be in France again. I couldn't embrace the positives of being back home, and I'd forgotten everything negative about France. The thing is, it's better to have the experience and the memories to look back on, than to not have been there at all. I'm learning to be content with the memories and move onto the next part of my life.

If any of you have taken a year out or are intending on having a year out, then please let me know about your experience/what you're looking forward to/not looking forward to!
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France, it's been a pleasure.

14 Jun 2015

MY YEAR ABROAD: THE HIGHLIGHTS REEL

My adventure in France has come to an end, and as much as I would love to be back in France & enjoying the French lifestyle, I have to accept that I am now back to reality. A reality which does not include endless sunshine, beaches, lakes, and the perfect french fries. I knew that I'd be sad about leaving, and I knew that I'd feel nostalgic for a while, but I never imagined I'd miss it this much. I guess not allowing myself to expect much meant that I was overwhelmed by just how much fun I had and how much I learnt.

Along with being the most hilarious and the most mentally educational experience of my life to date, it was also without a doubt the most stressful. Having said this, when I look back on my year abroad as a whole, I have far more fond memories than bad ones. So I'm using this blog as an opportunity to highlight some of my absolute favourite moments from the year, whether that be events, places or just general memories.

ONE FARMHOUSE FOR 20 PEOPLE PLEASE
It's something that I've always wanted to do because my favourite holidays have always been those with a big group of friends. The weather was not what you'd hope for in a house with a pool, but we made the most of the rainy weather with childhood games and lots of tequila. I became closer to a lot of people while I was in Spain which made it so much harder to leave less than two weeks later.

ME TURNING 21
I went to France assuming that I'd have an awful 21st because I was convinced that I'd know barely any people and those that I did know would definitely not be close friends. Wrong. A month in and I was spending my 21st with a fantastic group of people that I already felt close to and enjoyed spending time with. I just remember being really, really happy when I had my birthday meal and I remember feeling really content with being in France at that point.

THE ALWAYS DELICIOUS CAFÉ LEON
This was my most visited restaurant in all the time I spent in Montpellier. I think me and Rowan took every single visitor we had to Café Leon, and like with Oz bar, they definitely ended up recognising us. Their menu was simple but perfect, and I've been craving their Confit de Canard (Duck Confit) ever since I've been home.

A BRIEF WEEKEND IN BARCELONA
In February, we went to Barcelona for Rowan's 21st, and I fell in love with the city. As in, it's my second favourite city now, next to London of course. I really, really want to go there again this Summer because two whole days was not even nearly enough time. We didn't even go to the beach! We did briefly manage to sample the nightlife though...

THE LAST LAKE TRIP
Where Georgie & I swam to the island in the middle & back. It was so peaceful and beautiful and I just want to go back there now, please.

My favourite little port. Pretty, adorable, and home to a billion and one great seafood restaurants. Not that I even like seafood but yeah, it's great.

MONDAY NIGHT AT THE AUSTRALIAN BAR
I couldn't even tell you how many times I went to the Oz Bar in Montpellier over the whole duration of my year abroad, but I'm pretty sure I was on a streak of five consecutive Mondays at one point. Or maybe it was only four, but I like to say that it was five. I think I'll even miss the 25-minute walk to and from the bar...

A LITRE OF SANGRIA AT ANDALUS
The first semester saw many, many trips to a bar called Andalus. Now this wasn't just any old bar, it was a bar which did a litre of Mojito for seven euros, or a litre of Sangria for five. That's five euros for a litre of Sangria. YES PLEASE. This was also where I met other Erasmus students for the first time in September, so (as lame as it sounds) it was a special place to me.

THE PANAMA AFTER PARTY
Such a bad club/bar in comparison to the ones in Leeds, and yet so many nights were spent there following one too many Gin and Tonics. It sounds so lame but so long as the right group of people were there, it was a hilariously fun night.

CHRISTMAS AT LES HIVERNALES
Every December, Montpellier hosts a little winter festival on the Esplanade. I loved the atmosphere around Christmas, and although Les Hivernales wasn't quite the same as the German Market in Leeds (which, by the way, is fanbloodytastic), it was cute and cosy and served delicious mulled wine. Which is really all I ask for in a Christmas Market.

THE EVER SO CHARMING PROVENCE
Rowan is lucky enough to have a family house in Vaison La Romaine, Provence, where I spent two weekends, one in October, and one in May. We walked up to the top of a big hill on both occasions and looked out at the beautiful view across Provence. It really is a charming little French town, and I hope Rowan's family keep the house there because I would love to go back again!

Well, there it is. 

I still can't believe that it's over, & I still don't want to believe that it's over.

It's hard looking back without feeling sad at what is now not my life anymore, but I just have to be positive in looking towards the future. I'm ready to knuckle down and work hard in my final year at Leeds, and potentially begin the next travelling adventure once I've finished my degree. Fingers crossed! 

I'm also currently working on a reflections post, which I'm hoping will benefit anyone thinking of living abroad for a year. 

Imogen x

Montpellier & Its Coffee Shops

10 Jun 2015
If you don't like pretty pictures of coffee shops and yummy food then hang your head in shame and leave right now, please.

I've been saying that I'll write a summary of my favourite coffee shops in Montpellier all year, but I really wanted to try them all before I did. Well, I managed a solid 70% I'd say, which is pretty good considering I was there for 9 months in total. I was also going to rate them, but they're all blooming fantastic, so what's the point? 

FIVE STARS FOR THEM ALL.


CAFÉ GEORGES
My ultimate favourite for coffee presentation. I also got a caramel cappuccino from here which was delicious and always beautifully presented. The Banoffee pie was also demolished by me on multiple occasions.


CAFÉ BUN
I read about this being the best place for coffee, and it really was. It also did an incredible Speculoos Fondant on the weekends, which was literally heaven to me.



CUPCAKES BY LILA
I was lucky enough to be a few seconds away from this dainty little cupcake shop. They definitely made the best cupcakes I have ever tasted, and have an adorable vintage interior. 


CAFÉ SOLO
This was my favourite café at Christmas time because it was so magically decorated. The drinks weren't the best I've had, but the inside was enough to draw me back in time and time again in the winter months.


MARY CHERRY
The owner of this café is unbelievably sweet and makes the most wonderful cupcakes.


MA PREMIERE CANTINE
I cannot tell you how much I adore the Duo Chocolat Coeur Caramel which is served here. It's literally a chocolate fondant with a salted caramel inside and it's just top, top notch.

COFFEE CLUB
This was just down the road from my apartment and was where I spent many afternoons catching up with my friend Anna. It was always full of various nationalities (primarily British), which made it feel ultra homely. Oh and their Chai Latte is f a n t a s t i c. And they're really friendly. Win win.

NOOK CAFÉ
This café reminded me of an ultra stylish London café, with great coffee and a sophisticated interior.


With an additional shoutout to these beauties:

Creperie Jean Moulin
French Connection (which I never even knew existed but is apparently THE best for lunch).
Fairview Coffee
Café Noisette
Food Corner (Bagels galore)
Bagel & U (More bagels)
Bagel House (More bagels)

Imogen x

Daytripping to Toulouse

5 Jun 2015


With the end of our year abroad rapidly approaching, Rowan and I decided to fit in one last day trip in our final week. Although Bordeaux was at the top of our list, it was too far away for a last minute visit, so we settled (and when I say settled, I mean that in the best way), for Toulouse.

Toulouse is apparently one of France's most underrated cities. It's also known to some as the 'Pink City' due to its dusty pink brick buildings. Although that kind of building is very familiar to those of us who live in the UK, it's a fairly unusual sight in France. I have gone on and on about the beautiful architecture in French towns and cities in many previous posts, and despite the brick buildings, Toulouse was very much the same. It actually reminded us slightly of London, because of the large River Garonne running through the city and the many bridges crossing it.

The first picture is from the top floor of Galeries Lafayette, where there was a fantastic little balcony/terrace that you could wonder along and admire the city. This was a little tip from someone who spent a semester in Toulouse, a tip which we were very grateful for as I doubt you would guess that you could go up five floors of a department store and find this without the help of someone who knows the city!







I can without a doubt vouch for the fact that Toulouse is a fantastic city. Although I only spent a day there, I can see why students on their year abroad there absolutely love it. Not only is it beautiful, but it's also busy, thriving, and there are so many shops! 

Imogen x