The Saltbox, Kent

When I was at university, my birthday always used to seem to fall on a weekend or the run up to it, which is a complete waste when you’re at university because pretty much every day is a weekend (or it was for me, I barely went to any lectures or seminars after my first semester). The problem with that was that after I graduated and started working, my birthday fell on a Monday and slowly worked through the week again, meaning I had to either go to work on my birthday or take a day of annual leave to do something fun. I did get one round of weekend birthdays post-graduation but skipped a Friday birthday due to a leap year. Cheated. This year marks the start of weekend birthdays again, my birthday being on a Friday this year. I knew we had to take advantage of it (the fact that the May Day Bank Holiday tagged onto the weekend too was an added bonus) and we booked a glamping long weekend. Spotted on Canopy and Stars, my favourite website for treehouses, shepherd’s huts and all things glamp, the Saltbox had been on my list of places to stay for a while. It looked super fancy for a hut, had an indoor shower and toilet and being located on a nature reserve on the Isle of Sheppey, it was only a relatively short journey from London. Ideal.

As now seems to be tradition when we glamp, it was raining when we arrived on our first day. We quickly got ourselves in, put our stuff away and put the kettle on, before curling up on the bed to admire the view through the full-wall bi-fold doors. A window wall to the world.

The Saltbox is one of four huts in Elmley National Nature Reserve. Other than the Saltbox, two are wagons and the other is just like the Saltbox but brand new (in fact, so new that it wasn’t an option at the time we booked as it wasn’t there). All are tucked away from the main path of the nature reserve, although we did once during our stay get a couple wandering by our hut who had clearly taken our path by mistake. They were very apologetic as we sat there in our pyjamas watching them and drinking tea one morning, we found their sheepishness funny. Also, it’s worth bearing in mind if you book the Saltbox that the other hut of the same type (the Ferryman’s) now lies further down the path, so you might want to bear that in mind if you’d like your privacy, especially if you do what we did and keep the curtains open pretty much the whole time for the great sunrise view in the morning.

Every morning we would wake early (whether because of the light or because we knew there was potentially a beautiful sunrise to enjoy, I’m not sure), we’d raise a head, open a sleepy eye, make a quick judgment call on whether or not it was worth waking up to watch the sunrise and then either go back to sleep or get up and put the kettle on for a cup of tea to enjoy as the sun rose, with the bi-fold doors open and fresh air pouring in. We were cuddled up in jumpers and duvets of course because it was generally really cold despite the fact it was the end of April. By the way, how has it suddenly switched from winter to summer practically overnight?!

We started our days with sausage cobs (yep, I’m betraying my Nottinghamshire roots there). What do Southerners call sausage in a bread roll? It’s not a sausage roll because that’s obviously a sausage in pastry but I thought ‘bap’ was a more Northern thing.

We would then either go for a walk in the nature reserve or head out in the car to explore the local area. I have far too many photos to include in this post so I’m going to do a separate post on the nature reserve and our little side trips. I got to don my new walking boots, a birthday present from my sister and a nice bridge between what I previously had which was either trainers or wellies.

In the afternoon we’d sit on the bed and read or chat and as we did so we’d watch birds swooping past or, our favourite thing, watch things running or hopping past our hut. Our favourite was the hare that would sometimes run by, although we were also visited by pheasants and a baby bunny (or at least a very tiny one).

As the skies darkened each night we’d settle in to play Scrabble or card games, either ones we knew or found on the internet and one which I only half remembered from Sixth Form free period procrastination, but which came back to me slowly and as we played through, of course my boyfriend accused me of making up rules to benefit me as and when I needed them…

On our final night we decided the time was right to get a fire going with the logs that were provided for exactly that purpose. Unfortunately it was pretty windy during our whole stay and so we were fighting the elements, even more so when it started to rain. However, we got a little fire going after nursing it for a while and giving it some love and attention. Never give up, never surrender!

We managed to make one squidgy s’more before retreating inside to the warm and dry of our little hut to raise a toast to my 31st birthday and our little getaway.

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Because I’m doing my Masters dissertation this year (or I say I am, I actually need to make some serious progress on it), I’m having to use annual leave for writing it rather than going fun places, so we’ve been trying to make the most of bank holidays when booking our holiday. So we used Good Friday and Easter Monday combined with some annual leave to get six days for the price of two and headed to Germany. I’ve wanted to visit Neuschwanstein Castle for ages (who hasn’t? It’s on most bucket lists of places to see) but had never been. So, we worked out a trip that would allow us time to see the castles and also to visit Munich, which was where we were flying into. Plus, the chance to practice my German is always helpful in reassuring me that my time attending German classes every Tuesday, even though I often have to really force myself to go, isn’t a waste of time.

One of the reasons why I think more people haven’t been is that Neuschwanstein isn’t actually that easy to get to. It requires either a car or a train ride from Munich to Fuessen and then a bus from there. It’s possible to do in a day from Munich, but it’s just over a two hour train journey so it’s better to not have to do there and back in a day in my view.

We landed into Munich airport at 4pm and trains to Fuessen are every hour and alternate between direct trains and trains that involve a change. With a 40 minute ride by S-bahn from the airport to the main train station in Munich, the first train we would conceiveably manage to catch was the direct 17:51 which would get us in just before 8pm, quite a reasonable time to check in and then get dinner. The next train was an hour later, required a change and would get us in just before 9pm, but would allow us time to pick up food at the station. I was hoping to get the first but knew that much of it depended on how quickly we cleared the airport (we had a checked bag) and got onto an S-bahn train.

As luck would have it, we cleared the airport quickly, grabbed S-bahn tickets and jumped on an S-bahn train with a few minutes to spare. I knew things would be tight for time so I’d already scoped out the map of Munich train station and with the assistance of the Deutsche Bahn website (which helpfully provides details of the platform the train is leaving from and every stop on the way to your destination with timings – got to love the Germans and their efficiency), I knew exactly where we needed to be. As it turns out, everything had been super smooth and we had time to spare. We bought our tickets and boarded the double-decker train when it arrived. All smooth. A few minutes after pulling out of the station they made an announcement, which wasn’t repeated again, in German, saying that if you wanted to go to Fuessen that you would need to be in the front four carriages as the back four would be staying at Buchloe. Thank god for those German classes as our ticket was one for the Allgaeu region and so didn’t say we were going to Fuessen so the conductor wouldn’t have known to warn us. So, even though we were on the direct train, we still ended up having to get off and switch carriages. As it turns out, all of the train stations between Munich and Fuessen are teeny tiny two track affairs so no risk of getting lost or missing a connecting train.

The train goes at a rather leisurely pace and I’m sure if it cracked on it could easily be there in half the time, but it’s a beautiful ride through the countryside, especially the second half of the journey as you approach the mountains and everything gets much more rural.

We arrived into Fuessen and checked in at our hotel, the Hotel Sonne, before heading out to grab a quick pizza dinner and a quick wander around Fuessen as it got dark before turning in, ready to head to Neuschwanstein the next morning.

Rather than try and cram everything into one post, I thought I’d post about the castles separately as they do really deserve their own post (and so does Fuessen). I’d only really thought about staying in Fuessen as a convenient base for visiting the castles but it turns out that it’s a gorgeous little town and well worth a stay almost in its own right. Our hotel was right on the main street too which was super convenient, although it’s not big enough that anywhere would have been too far away. When we were done with exploring the castles each day we spent out time wandering the streets of Fuessen.

All of the buildings were painted in beautiful pastel shades and many were painted with elaborate decorations. Seriously Pinterest-perfect.

Seriously, how adorable is this place?!

The town is beautifully framed by a backdrop of mountains but one of our favourite places was down by the Lech river. It’s an astoundingly beautiful turquoise green colour and it runs through Austria and Germany. In places along the riverside pathway you can get down onto little natural sand and pebble beaches from which you can enjoy the peace of the river flowing by.

The river was a really peaceful place to stroll and an ideal place to wander before dinner in town. Plus, it makes for some stunning views.

On our final day in Fuessen, after we’d visited Hohenschwangau Castle and before we caught the train back to Munich, we decided to walk to a viewing type point I’d read about – Kalvarienberg. I couldn’t work out from my research what it was exactly though. I’d seen photos of a monument type thing with Christian crosses on on the top of a hill but it wasn’t a church and so I couldn’t really work it out, but we headed there anyway. We walked along the river heading for a waterfall (Lechfall) which I knew was the start of the trail.

The waterfall itself is alright and probably a nice place to aim to get to if you’re out for a stroll. The sun had finally come out on our final afternoon and the water was looking beautiful. At that point we saw a sign which proclaimed we were only 600m from the Austrian border and we were tempted to go and see if we could get across to say we’d been to Austria (neither of us have been, although we want to do a whole tour of Austria one day). But we got seduced by a little cafe across the road selling ice cream and then decided to carry on in our pursuit of the Kalvarienberg, rather than get diverted.

We climbed up into the woodlands following a well-trodden trail. As we headed up the trail we started to come across tiny little stone buildings which housed imagery of the crucifixion story and little plaques in German with the story and extracts from the Bible. The extracts told the story sequentially as we climbed the trail

Apparently it’s called the Stations of the Cross and it wasn’t something I’d heard of before but Wikipedia does a better job of explaining it than I could: “Commonly, a series of 14 images will be arranged in numbered order along a path and the faithful travel from image to image, in order, stopping at each station to say the selected prayers and reflections. This will be done individually or in a procession most commonly during Lent, especially on Good Friday, in a spirit of reparation for the sufferings and insults that Jesus endured during his passion“. The name Kalvarienberg made more sense, meaning Mount Calvary, being the site where Jesus was said to have been crucified.

What was entirely coincidental was that we were climbing this hill on Good Friday and so there were actually quite a few people doing the same thing, although many of them were clearly doing it for the religious significance, we were doing it for the view.

And boy was the view worth it! On one side of the highest viewing platform was a view down and over Fuessen town and on the other side an amazing panoramic view across to the mountains.

From there you could see over to Neuschwanstein Castle and Hohenschwangau Castle. It was so much more beautiful than in the pictures. It’s so worth walking up there if you’re staying in Fuessen or have some time on a day trip.

After that highpoint of our time in Fuessen, we headed back down the hill to pick up our bags from the hotel and head to the train station to get the train back to Munich, another beautiful train ride through the Bavarian countryside, although this time it was lighter than on our way to Fuessen. We even saw a group of deer happily grazing in a field as we went by. Truly amazing.

It’s funny but on our two-destination trips I always like our side trip more than the big city. I liked Cordoba more than Madrid, I liked Sintra more than Lisbon and Bled more than Ljubljana. I was the same with Fuessen and Munich. I fell for Fuessen entirely, which surprised me as we mostly stayed there as a base for seeing the castles, but it really was so much more. It’s well worth the effort to get there.

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April 2017: This month I have mostly been…

Feeling: Like a hamster on a wheel

I’ve been super busy in April, hence the lack of blog posts. It’s been year end at work and I’ve had deadlines and holidays to work around as well which always mean lots of work before and after. It’s been a slog and I’ve been trying to prioritise but inevitably some things slip through the net. I’m catching up a bit more now, but need to make sure to do things that make me happy and prevent me from forgetting to just enjoy everything and appreciate everything I have (even when it feels like I’m falling behind, I know how lucky I am really).

Reading: Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

I’m still reading Alone in Berlin and although I can’t say that I am completely absorbed in it or invested in many of the characters, I am interested in seeing where it’s going, especially as it’s based loosely on a true story.

We stopped off at Whitstable briefly on the way back from our recent glamping trip and stumbled upon Harbour Books, an excellent bookshop selling a selection of new releases, classics at a reasonable price and books by local authors. I picked up a small stack of books, the one I’m most excited by being The Power by Naomi Alderman. So I’ve got to get reading!

Watching: Casting JonBenet

Ok, so technically I watched this the other night, ie. in May, but by the time the end of the month rolls around I’m sure I will have forgotten all about it and it’s too genius not to share.

I’m not sure why but I have a slight fascination with the JonBenet Ramsey case and have watched a number of documentaries about it. This new Netflix documentary is a bit out of the ordinary, it’s not about the case as such, instead it’s about how people project their views of a case like that onto the case, without any basis for their views other than what they’ve heard in the news. It shows amateur actors from Boulder, Colorado (where the murder took place) sort of auditioning for roles as the main players in the case. You probably do need some knowledge of the case so that it all makes sense, ie. the reason they have the little boy smashing a watermelon with a torch is because there is a theory that he killed his sister with a blow to the skull by a torch that was on the kitchen counter after she ate some of his pineapple.

It’s jaw-dropping and hilarious, despite the very sad subject. Watch it!

Planning: To have a quiet few months

My finances, my dissertation and my general well-being will definitely benefit from some quiet time, not spent rushing around, not trying to do everything, just a bit of time to collect myself again and then I can crack on again with a vengeance.

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Secret Cinema Moulin Rouge

Although I’ve read about some of the amazing events that Secret Cinema put on, I’ve never been to one. I suppose not being a big film-buff that I was reluctant to spend a lot of money on a ticket to see a film I’ve probably never heard of and won’t like (I’m thinking of the Alien one in particular). I was much more keen when they started doing immersive events where you knew in advance what the firm was, but none of them had particularly captured my imagination (I hate Dirty Dancing for example, girl crime, I know).

Maybe about a year ago the Secret Cinema social media channels started posting gifs which hinted that a Moulin Rouge event might be on its way.

Now, I love Moulin Rouge, it’s one of my favourite films, which is unusual because I hate musicals, however, I love Baz Luhrmann. When we were in middle school my friends and I watched Romeo and Juliet (the Baz Luhrmann version with Leonardo di Caprio and Clare Danes) and were a little bit obsessed with the clever twists on the story. So when Moulin Rouge came out I went to see it in the cinema. I remember liking it but not being quite sure what to make of it on first viewing. However, one friend in our group was particularly obsessed with it (her sixth form ball dress was in the style of the ‘smouldering temptress’ dress from the film) and so we ended up watching it as part of group sleepovers. I fell fully in love with it (and Ewan, *sigh*).

I couldn’t think of a film more suited for an immersive experience, it’s visually stunning.

I made sure I was on the mailing list and the day that tickets went on sale we booked ourselves two tickets, an early birthday present to me. We booked tickets some time late last year and it was a few months after that that we received our first email, asking us to sign up. We were allocated characters and provided with a dress code befitting our ticket level (there were three different price brackets and accordingly, three different types of role/character), together with a backstory, a list of people our characters liked and disliked and certain Calls to Action.

Last night our visit to Montmartre finally rolled around and I couldn’t have been more excited. We got ourselves all dolled up in our finery for our night out. As cameras are banned inside, we took a few quick photos in our stairwell before walking down to Shadwell to get the DLR (where I realised I’d forgotten my gloves). I have never felt so self-conscious or bathycolpian walking from our flat down to the station. My boyfriend had gone all out and grown a beard which he then shaved off the day of the event into a moustache. As for my boyfriend, apologies for the weirdly cropped photo. I usually keep him off the blog and don’t refer to him by name because writing this blog is my choice and under my control, not his. Plus, he isn’t on any other social media and I have to respect that. However, this is an exception because we never put this much effort into anything and it’s worth showing off. Unfortunately the crop for privacy means you miss the great top hat, you’ll have to imagine it!

In the spirit of Secret Cinema, I am not going to give anything away about what’s inside (Timeout have a sneak peek here), save to say that it was unbelievably good, I was blown away by how good the live action stuff was and the whole experience was amazing – I gasped, laughed and might have even shed a little tear. The staff all added to the experience, from the first one we saw outside Canning Town tube station to the bar staff, to the actors wandering around, they were all incredible.

Fresh from our experience, I thought I’d offer some spoiler-free advice:

  • Watch the film first. I imagine that most people going are going because they’re fans, but it’s conceivable that people will go along with fans for the experience. This is NOT the time to see it for the first time. There will be background noise around you during the film (although for the most part people were pretty respectful). Go with an idea of the plot.
  • There is a Secret Cinema online shop selling everything you need for your costume, however, don’t forget other places like charity shops or ebay, they’re likely to be cheaper. I found my little beaded capelet on ebay for only £3.99 and my corset for just over £10.
  • Don’t feel like you have to stick slavishly to the dress code. I can’t speak for other Secret Cinema events but at least for Moulin Rouge, although it helps to wear something befitting your role (Aristocrat, Child of the Revolution or Creature of the Underworld) it doesn’t really matter. If you have an Aristocrat ticket you will be marked out so won’t lose any of the benefits you’ve paid for.
  • Don’t overdress – this is 1899, aircon doesn’t exist yet, it is warm in the Moulin Rouge!
  • Don’t worry if you don’t have all the props. You’ll be asked to bring things but we didn’t use the one we brought or missed out because we didn’t bring another.
  • Do take a credit/debit card though – they don’t accept cash, so if you want to buy drinks or food (it’s French themed street food) or souvenirs of your night then you’ll need a card.
  • The scale is vast, make sure to explore and really get into the middle of things. However, watch for changes, so if one area quietens down, chances are there’s something going on elsewhere – follow the crowd!
  • If you have a last train to catch, take a watch! Your phone will be sealed in a grey plastic bag to prevent the temptation to take photos/spend the night on social media, it’s an awesome rule, but we came out completely lost as to what time it was.
  • EMBRACE IT! It’s incredible and unlike anything else you’ll do.

If you didn’t get tickets in the first round then you haven’t missed out, new dates were added the other day, so you can still experience Paris, 1899!

Vive la vie de boheme!

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