Sunny days in Scotland: Loch Lomond and Balloch Castle

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The view of Loch Lomnd from Balloch Castle

The view of Loch Lomond from Balloch Castle

Just 40 minutes from my house by train and car is the stunning area of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, with Balloch Castle sitting overlooking the loch. It costs just £5 return and if you take a picnic is a very enjoyable and cheap day out. Whenever I have people to stay who haven’t been to Glasgow much, and if the weather is nice, I always suggest a trip to the loch. It generally takes them by surprise that somewhere so beautiful and perceivably remote is so close by. Trains run regularly from glasgow central, even on Sundays.

You can take a short 10 minute walk from Balloch station, go up the road and turn to walk up by the side of the loch to find a nice picnic spot. Kids can paddle in certain areas and there’s even

Feeding the gulls.

Feeding the gulls.

some sandy patches. Alternatively you can get a boat around the loch or do some water-sports, or take a more adventurous walk and bike ride around this picturesque area. Ben Lomond is nearby if you fancy climbing a mull. I just took the 1st option as it was so hot and I had my little monkey with me. After the picnic and some excitement of feeding the birds (monkey has never seen gulls so close before), we climbed a small embankment to arrive at the stunning green space that surrounds Balloch Castle. The Castle itself is generally closed as they seem to be refurbishing it but the grounds are so beautiful you probably won’t mind (the castle is pretty small too to be fair).

I love this place, it really holds a special place in my heart. If I had lots of money I would buy a holiday home or even a permanent home here in a second. It just encompasses it all for me – 40 minutes from a large bustling city but right in the middle of gorgeous countryside, by a body of water. Some spots are really isolated too, if you head up

The stunning grounds of Balloch Castle

The stunning grounds of Balloch Castle

towards Rowardennan hostel and camping area it starts where the road finishes. The hostel incidentally, is a really lovely place to stay in and the camping area looks great too. There’s some fabulous walks to do around that area including an old archaeology walk. You’ll walk past amazing family houses up that way with tree houses and outdoor spaces any young child would adore….

The Castle and the loch itself is good enough though if you fancy an easy trip close to public transport links and civilised society. I always find the spot overlooking the loch incredibly peaceful and whenever I go I kick myself for not going more. So my pledge this time is that I will go on a weekend more and I will go at least once in the week alone when my monkey is at nursery to just sit and meditate for an afternoon when the weather is nice.

If you fancy a more luxurious trip there’s some very nice restaurants and pubs and also some

A tree of yin and yang

A tree of yin and yang

cabins that sit on the west side of the loch that you can rent as part of a hotel. You can find these at http://www.loch-lomond-waterfront.co.uk but there are also many more that you will find with a simple google search.

There’s a fabulous tree here that has been struck by lightening and half of the tree died whilst the other half lived on apparently undamaged; despite the fact the entirety of the roots and the inner trunk appear to be completely destroyed. I love looking at this tree, for me it sums up the fighting spirit all living things are capable of showing – surviving against all odds and remaining a thing of beauty even in its gnarled and war torn state.

So Loch Lomond and The Trossachs and Balloch Castle is my next suggestion of what to do when it’s sunny in Glasgow! For adventure, relaxation, meditation and yoga or just a nice picnic, paddle and feeding the birds – Loch Lomond can see to your every whim in my opinion :)

A photo that sums up the pure enjoyment a little girl will get from just running in fields in the sunshine

A photo that sums up the pure enjoyment a little girl will get from just running in fields in the sunshine

A place I could live… Amsterdam!

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Continuing my theme of writing about past places I have visited, I thought I’d talk about Amsterdam. I’ve now been 3 times and it’s one of the places I would happily move to tomorrow if given the opportunity. I think it’s a mixture of the memories I have of going (I went for my 21st birthday and had an amazing time with 2 fantastic friends) which create a nostalgic feel, the fact that everyone speaks English which as a woman (or anyone in fact) makes me feel quite safe and secure. Add to that the beauty and friendliness of the city itself and you have a surefire winner with me. Of course if you love those special cigarettes it might well be high on your list (and possibly not the only thing that’s high either) but… I’m assuming everyone knows about that great tourist trap so this post is about those slightly more unknown treats in Amsterdam that are a wee bit further off the beaten track :)

As always my photos from a few years ago aren’t great due to being taken on a camera phone, but hopefully you get the idea anyway. Having been 3 times I’ve had the opportunity to explore Amsterdam off the beaten track a little. I’ve done all the usual things on my 1st visit (spending far too long in all the cafes, visiting the sex museum etc), so the next 2 times I went I tried to do something different.

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Being a hippie at heart and always having had a n affinity with buddhism although I’d never describe myself as practising; it was great to find a fully functioning Chinese Buddhist Temple ‘Fo Guang Shan’, right in the centre of Amsterdam. Not many people I’ve met know about it and it offered a really peaceful break from the bustle and ‘greenery’ of the city.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALocated in Amsterdam’s Chinatown at, Zeedijk 106-118, 1012 BB AMSTERDAM. I really recommend going if you can. It is a centre for meditation but also offers tours. According to tourist information, “the animals on the roof represent the Chinese Zodiac. The dragon is thought to protect the entire temple grounds. The buildings flanking the temple house the Buddhist nuns and a library. The characteristic architecture of these buildings makes for an unusual juxtaposition with the typical Dutch buildings surrounding the temple.”

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Wandering further afield on my 3rd visit took me to the real life fairy tale castle that is Muiderslot. It was a bit of an adventure to get there – it took 2 trains, a bus and a bit of a walk but it was well worth the visit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more perfect representation of a fairytale castle up to date. It’s included in the UNESCO world heritage sites and dates back to the 13th Century. It was built by Count Floris V but 300 years later was inhabited by ‘the Dutch Shakespeare’ Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft. The castle is huge, with it’s own moat which comes with picturesque lilly pads. It’s a real family day out with plenty to do and see – there’s a fanatic armoury, and an interactive quest for children and adults alike. I happened to go on a gorgeous hot day and the actual town of Muiden is also very beautiful too. According to tourist information you get there by the following instructions:

Your Connexxion 1 day or 3 days ticket for the Amsterdam Region is also valid on bus 320, 322, 327 and 328 from Amsterdam Amstel Station to Muiden/Muiderslot. Take the train to Weesp and a bus to Muiden or cycle along the river Vecht in 15 minutes to Muiden.

From March 30st 2013 you van take the ferry from Amsterdam IJburg, tram 26 from the Central Station, to the castle. A great trip away from the city. For information and bookings: http://www.veerdienstmuiderslot.nl

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As you can see the Castle also boasts some lovely gardens where they hold battles and a falconry. It’s all set in the midst of some peaceful countryside too by the river so it made for a nice walk back to the station.

One of the reasons I love Amsterdam is it’s architecture. It manages to merge the quaint with the modern, culture and history with liberal laws on marijuana consumption and it also appears to do it with comparatively few social problems. Now I know the sex district and the drug culture worries some but it’s not something you even notice unless you purposefully venture to those areas – or at least that’s what I found anyway.

My favourite cafe in Amsterdam is called the dolphins – it has trippy underwater murals downstairs and sells some of the best greenery in the city (in my opinion) – if you like that kind of thing then I fully recommend a trip there (if it’s still open of course)!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou’ll find the cafe here: Kerkstraat 39, 1017 GB Amsterdam,

Even writing this post has just made me want to go back – Amsterdam most definitely stole my heart!

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I loved this little house near to Muiden … although I think it would be the city in one of the higgledy piggledy town houses that I’d ultimately choose to live, overlooking the canal right in the middle of the city hubbub.

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So there you have it … my 1st love but hopefully the 1st of many to come. One day I really hope I get the opportunity to live in this city even if only for a few months. Barge life does also appeal in many ways although maybe not in the winter months!

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Feeling a difference!

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healthIt has been 3 weeks since I really made an effort to change my diet and exercise habits for good. The aim has been to generally better my holistic health – yes I want to lose the last bit of baby belly I have, yes I’d like to lose that final half stone I gained during pregnancy and yes I’d love to fit back into some old jeans. But this is more than that, it’s also about feeling better in myself, focusing on the whole of me – a mind, body and soul enterprise. I’ve also been trying to do this in a really cost effective way. The plan has been to build up to doing an hours decent exercise a day, start meditating and to improve my diet.

I’ve started slowly by joining a local and free badminton group on a Tuesday at a community centre and I’ve been doing a target exercise/weights video in the evenings too. I mentioned in my last fitness related post that I already walk for about an hour a day minimum so obviously I’ve been continuing to do this. I’ve slowly built up to doing 2 hours with the badminton group and I’ve joined a boxercise class on a Friday at the same community centre too. I was already a member of the uni gym but I’m not a fan of solo training I eventually lose my motivation and just stop going but I’m investigating more classes there that are included in the price. For now I’m going to start doing an hours swimming on a Thursday. I also emailed a local yoga group who offered a decent student discount for their early morning class – the centre is called ‘Yoga, meditation, healing, Glasgow’ and looks very professional but after a week I’ve heard nothing back and they provide no number to call so I’ve looked elsewhere. Today I found another place which is actually a dance studio closer to my house who do an hours yoga on a  Monday and the student price is even cheaper so for £3 I’m off to my 1st ‘yoga flow’ class on Monday.

Today I went to my 1st half hour meditation class at the local Buddhist centre – it’s also £3 and they unfortunately don’t do a concession price but I really found it to be incredibly beneficial. I actually didn’t expect to, I was dubious I’ll admit but even without being able to do it that well on the 1st go (to be expected really); I left the centre feeling incredibly relaxed and positive. It did help that the sun has been shining all week but I’m pretty sure most of that was to do with the meditation so I’ll be going back every Wednesday i think. It worked out quite well, as I have a driving lesson every Wednesday morning and these are so intense in terms of concentration and adrenalin response that when I got home and just left straight away to go the the meditation class it sort of put me back on an even keel but also leaving me refreshed and light.

Now I’ve always been a bit sceptical (and in truth a teeny bit irritated) of people who are super fit and healthy and go on about how good they feel. But I can honestly say that after 3 weeks of putting the effort in I feel like a different person. I’ve not seen any particular change physically and I probably shouldn’t expect to after 3 weeks but I have never felt better. I’m sleeping better, I feel happier, more relaxed and just more energised. So I’m having to swallow my pride and admit that you healthy, smug irritating fitness types were genuinely right all along (I always knew that – I just wanted an excuse for my own laziness I guess)! So I think I’m going to join the smug club and I’m loving it. I should realistically not expect to see any major physical changes for about 6 months but I’m happy with just the change in how I feel. It makes me feel genuinely positive that I will be able to use these methods as a tool for managing stress and anxiety in my final year at uni and that I can start implementing these things as permanent lifestyle changes.

I’ve been eating healthily too – I’ve been taking proper vitamins to try and address a mouth ulcer problem. I’ve started cleansing each morning with water and aloe vera concentrated liquid and I’m going to introduce coconut water into my diet too (thanks to the following post for nudging me to do it – I’ve always known the benefits but I feel motivated to really make the change after reading this and also after seeing the positive change the last 3 weeks has had on me http://belikewaterproduction.com/2014/06/18/the-many-benefits-of-drinking-coconut-water/ )

So from now on my weeks should look like this I hope:

Monday: Yoga Flow and evening weight training DVD

Tuesday: 2hrs badminton

Wednesday: Meditation and evening cardio and weights DVD

Thursday: 1 hr swimming

Friday: 45 mins Boxercise

Saturday: day off

Sunday: Cardio and weights DVD

Add to this that I do at least an hours walking Monday – Friday too. Next week will be my 1st full week of this regime so I’ll let you know how I get on – I think part of my success is I’ve built up to this slowly for the best part of a month so I can see a progression. I think if you try and do too much it feels like an impossible task so you get demotivated and give up so I’ve started slow.

The biggest thing I’ve noticed with this is that I’m now just enjoying it, I’m watching less TV (between the blog, and the TEFL course and fitness stuff and bringing up my little monkey time is pretty tight) – don’t get me wrong I will always make time for Game Of Thrones but I’m watching less crap that’s for sure. Because I’m tired I’m sleeping much better and naturally waking up earlier whilst feeling refreshed which is a novelty in itself. I’m now waking up an hour before my daughter so I get a chance to chill out and have a coffee and get her food ready for nursery before she’s even awake which means my mornings feel so much more relaxed and this also makes a huge difference. I think all these little things have just created a domino effect which is what has made this massive overall holistic change to my life – so I can safely say it works. It’s an effort, nothing comes easy but really worth the hard work!!

 

Taking a holistic approach…

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I wanted to add to my slightly bonkers previous post and say why I’m trying to transform myself into a carefree ‘hippie’; over the last couple of years since having a baby I’ve really had the chance to assess my life from every angle. I’ve always known the conclusions that I’ve come to; it’s just not an easy thing to implement necessarily (for anyone!).

Nearly every news site or ‘health and diet’ site on the internet will always have these so called ’10 easy steps to a happier healthier you’ – but the crucial thing is, is it’s never actually that easy. As an anxious type of person I’ve always known doing things like yoga and meditation would help me significantly to get a handle on this, but I’ve never quite had the motivation to do it. Or I’ve had the motivation but after 1 or 2 classes I’ve felt so self-conscious I’ve not gone back. I’ve never really been a gym bunny, but I did play a huge amount of sports in primary and high school. The problem when you leave school is that you really have to go and search out these clubs and sports as an adult. I think if I’d gone to university straight after school I probably would have joined the university teams in the same sports I did at school. However, this wasn’t the case so it all just fell to the wayside.

Before I knew it, my 20s had gone by and I was suddenly a ‘proper’ adult who used to be fit and healthy who was getting used to the idea that I no longer was. Having a baby really changed things – I had a home birth booked so I suddenly had an added incentive to really get into all the mindfulness and meditation and relaxation stuff. Even though the home birth never happened all that practice did stick with me. And now of course I have another incentive to be fit and healthy and have a good decent diet. Longevity suddenly becomes of the upmost importance; I mean it always was important – don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying without a child people don’t care how long they live. It just really rams it home in an indescribable way, that you want to be there for as much of their lives as possible. I gave up smoking as soon as I found out I was pregnant and I’m lucky enough that I’ve just never had the urge to start again …

So this brings me to now – I think deciding to travel and really assess what I want out of my life has made me decide that this dream and my path to achieving it should really be a holistic approach I take. I should take this opportunity to really take stock of my life and change it in the ways I want to – if I’m fit and healthy and fuelling myself with good decent food, I’m more likely to be happy a and healthy and therefore positive. I think the yoga and meditation speaks for itself in terms of the benefits. I really want the little monkey to be able to just follow by example – I don’t want to be that annoying parent who constantly says ‘do as I say, not as I do’. Had two of those and it’s supremely irritating! I want her right from the start to just be naturally living a healthy and active life – without it being a big ‘thing’ – it’s just how we live.

Of course building my fitness and stamina will help no end in achieving all the things I want to achieve over the next couple of years; the final year of my degree will be one of the most highly pressured things I’ve done so far for starters. And travelling and trying to work abroad too, being fit and healthy will hopefully keep any medical care we need to a minimum – always a bonus when abroad.

So – there’s some slightly more rational reasons for my ‘dress like a hippie, become a hippie’ plan of action!

Just as an afterthought to – I’ve been really looking into nice and cheap or even free ways to do all this, so I thought I’d share what I’ve managed to do and for how much money. One of the things I’ve discovered that I didn’t really know is that local community centres actually have a lot of stuff on for people within the community (obviously) for little or no cost. So it’s my local centre that has got funding to buy the badminton equipment and pay for someone to come in and teach once a week for 12 weeks. Anyone can go along for free, but because it’s a morning class it’s pretty quiet so I’m getting lots of one on one training which is great. Once the course is over I think the centre is hoping people will just keep going in and using the equipment and space for free. The same centre has a boxercise class on a Friday for £3 – I’m there anyway on a Friday doing voluntary work and the class starts when I finish so it seems a poor effort if I can’t stay and do that – it’s pretty intensive though so will see how I get on. I’m going to the 1st one next week.

I’ve always had a gym membership through uni – when you’re a student I can’t recommend it enough as it’s a fraction of the cost. Now I said earlier I’m really not a fan of the solo workout stuff; but my gym has a pool so I’m going to try and go swimming once or twice a week. They also do drop in classes – a lot are off in June due to renovation work taking place but they start up again in July so I will look at what I can go to there. My aim is to do 1 class a day Monday – Friday and then I’ve been doing 15 minute weights workouts to a DVD at home in the evening just to target certain muscle groups. My choice has been Davina McCalls 15 minute workout DVD – I love the little bitesize target workouts, as my attention span isn’t great for that stuff. But this way I can shove the DVD in and it’s done before I realise.

I’ve also managed to find a cheap yoga class I can do – all the ones at the gym are on in the evening but as a single parent I can never get the regular weekly babysitting needed to keep up constant attendance so I end up getting demotivated as I tend to only make 50% of the classes. I’ve found a local one that gives a discount to students but if you go to the early morning class at 8.30am it’s even bigger and the class only costs £4 so I’m thinking of trying that out next week.

I walk around a lot as a non driver (for now) so whenever I walk I make sure I’m doing it at a good speed. Monkey’s nursery is a 15 minute walk away so when she goes I do an hours total walking (30 minute round trip to take her and again to pick her up). This never seems like much but it does count – and all free!

These are just the things I’ve found since I started looking – there’s a drop in meditation class on at the Buddhist centre too (I think it’s just a small donation to attend (£1.50 or similar) so I may go along and see if I can join them. So that adds up to £8.50 a week for a really good range of exercise – If I compare it to things I used to buy, that’s only just over the cost of one pack of cigarettes or a coffee each day in the university canteen Monday – Friday. So I feel like this is an OK cost as long as I try and keep other costs down (so I don’t buy coffee when I’m out ever for example) – also it probably has immeasurable value in terms of what I’m getting out of it!

 

Complete enormous to do list? Tick!

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I realised I’ve had such a busy week I’ve not had much chance to post for a few days; so I wanted to say a wee hello!

I feel like I’ve had an incredibly productive week. I’ve had another driving lesson (everyone is alive and well), Ive written my dissertation proposal and handed it in (I now have an enormous self-inflicted reading list to get through this summer), I’ve joined a badminton class and a boxercise class (get rid of baby belly and get fitter and healthier, phase 1), I’ve done an enormous amount of housework (not in the name of procrastination, just for its own sake), I’ve joined various new social media platforms including google+ and Facebook (check out my new pages if you have a chance although they are both huge works in progress so please cast a forgiving eye!).

So out of this big list of things I’ve managed to do there’s one glaring black hole (oxymoron? Can a black hole glare? I digress sorry…) I’ve not managed any TEFL since my last post. I’m learning another lesson; I keep thinking that if I don’t have 2 hours to sit and do a full section of the course then I can’t do it. Whereas a much better plan of action would be to just grab bite size half hour sessions whenever I can but just make sure I’ve got a block of time available when I need to actually sit down and do the tests. A handy little tip I have discovered though is that if you’re like me and a bit of a proud pedantic type of personality; the minute I blogged about not doing any TEFL the last time, I was immediately galvanised into action and spent an hour reading up on verbs. Almost as soon as I’d hit the ‘publish post’ button. So I may just try that in future if I’m not getting much done, I’ll just publicly blog about my uselessness.

I have also started what will sound like a very strange social experiment – just for my own personal gain. I’ve always wondered whether the fact that hippies (by hippies I mean floaty, smily types who seem endlessly calm, wear floaty clothes, practice meditation and yoga, eat hippie food, and carry their babies in great swathes of material until there about 3 – I know I’m generalising here but we all know one or a few; in the west end of Glasgow they’re practically an institution!). Anyway I’ve always wondered whether they are very relaxed, chilled out positive people who therefore become hippies who are identifiable by sight, or if when they’re young they kind of get into the fashion and the rest just sort of follows like a self fulfilling prophecy. As someone who is a bit uptight and pedantic and often suffers with anxiety but prescribes to a lot of the hippy ideals without ever jumping in 100% (probably because I met a bunch of heavy metallers at a key impressionable age and went a completely different route), I’ve often pondered over this chicken and the egg question. Do calm, anxiety free floaty people become hippies or do hippies evolve into calm floaty people?

This all no doubt sounds like a bit of an odd generalistic line of thought and reasoning; sorry if I offend any hippies with my shamelessly narrow description – it’s truly in jest and admiration, I really do just want to be in the club! So I’ve decided to give myself a complete hippie makeover. Whenever I feel stressed or anxious I’m forcing myself to smile and think happy thoughts. I’m off to find a meditation and yoga class next week and I’ve hunted out all my floaty comfy clothes and shoes and vacuum packed everything else. I did actually already own an awful lot of floaty, brightly patterned comfy stuff so it’s just been a wardrobe exchange if I’m honest. The bonkers plan is to see if I can make myself into one of those carefree non-pedantic types who irritates the life out of anyone even remotely uptight. I have a feeling that if I’d met different people and been influenced by those more inclined towards Buddhism (or something similar) from an early age then I would be a different person today and would have taken the paths I’m taking now at an earlier point. This is not about regret, please don’t think that – but it is about trying to take control over my life and my thoughts and my anxieties – albeit in a slightly mad way. I guess the idea is ‘dress like hippie, become a hippie’ and float around the world on a sea of positivity, taking each day one step at a time. But most importantly I want to pass some of that philosophy to my daughter. I was raised by highly anxious people and I inherited those idiosyncrasies, so more than anything I want my little monkey to inherit slightly more positive ones. I’d also like her to truly master and gain a love for yoga and meditation as the benefits of these two things are now firmly set in the social stone that is ‘science’. Brain scans of monks who regularly practice transcendental mediation have been publicised a lot recently; they’ve known this stuff for thousands of years of course but now we have brain scans as proof it’s become ‘common knowledge’. I’d really love monkey to be a calm, happy, positive floaty hippy to start with, rather than have to struggle and claw her way to the same place as I have over the course of 20 odd years.

So I’ll keep you all updated – can I reinvent myself as an anxiety free, carefree, happy, positive hippie? I really hope so although I suspect it’ll take a bit more than that such as a true commitment to serious ideals of buddhism and some serious practice of mediation and yoga. Which will serve me right for such blatant and insulting stereotyping won’t it?