That night we slept on the beach…

That night we slept on the beach…

Free Camping out of season in Eristos, Tilos.

The main focus of our trip to the Dodecanese islands, as arranged by my friend Lisa, was to camp out in the Greek wilderness. So called ‘Free camping’ has become something of a craze recently, with Eristos (on the tiny island of Tilos) being hailed as one of the top spots to partake in this mysterious backlash to glamping.  But I never really knew what the adjective was supposed to add to the experience. Essentially  free camping means camping somewhere where you don’t have to pay, and you don’t have the comforts and facilities that basically defeat the object of camping. So it’s basically what normal, non-hipster people refer to as  camping (don’t even get me started on ‘free swimming’… )

 

Except Eristos doesn’t really conform to that definition; in the summer there is a bar, supermarket, toilets and showers. It’s basically a free campsite. Free camping for dummies. Despite my pedanticness I was actually quite looking forward to spending a few days in a hippy haven, picturing camp-fire sing alongs, skinny dipping and hungover sunrise yoga. However when we finally pulled up to the beach after a day of hiking to remote coves, Eristos seemed to pale by comparison. While it was undoubtedly beautiful, being the only real sandy beach on the island, its beauty lay in its desolation. The beach is vast, framed by trees to camp under, and engulfed by rocky hills on either side. Behind the trees is less poem-worthy. The shells of bars that had been closed all winter, teasing us with faded advertisements for mojitos and other treats. Shower and toilet blocks where you half expect to find someone tied to a chair.

 

While we had initially planned the whole trip around our stay on Eristos,  I was beginning to feel grateful that weather and other circumstances meant that we only actually made it for the last night.

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We could have been back in Wales…

As dusk began to fall my hippy bravado started to wear thin. While I can imagine the beach in full swing being atmospheric, the full moon rising over the abandoned toilet blocks and the odd empty hammock was slightly eerie. While there were traces of people, the only two we saw were the guys building a shelter on the opposite end of the beach, who drove slowly up and down the track before leaving. I was becoming more and more aware of the fact that we were two girls in the middle of nowhere, but not far enough out of the way for that to offer us any safety.

 

I started coming up with plan Bs and counter attacks. I decided that leaving the moped in plain sight when there was no one else around was basically an invitation to our potential rapist/murderer. I convinced Lisa that we should hide it, and we spent a good  15 minutes wrestling with the thing. Our initial plan to move the industrial bins into place to shield it was thwarted by our lack of physical strength, which only served as a further reminder of our vulnerability. We finally managed to push it into some bushes to the side of the toilet block, and returned to our spot to settle down for the night. Or so I thought.

 

I couldn’t help but keep looking over to where the bike was ‘hidden’. At this point  it seemed all the more blatant, except now, when (yes, we had progressed from if to when) our rapist/murderer arrived, we would be helpless, as he would obviously  be able to hack us down before we managed to wrestle the bike out of its hiding place. At this point I was in serious danger of giving up all pretence of being a happy go lucky traveler, and running for the hills/back to the nearest guesthouse. . I finally plucked up the courage to tell Lisa my fears, realising that rather than mocking me, she was also slowly getting infected by my paranoia.  I promised her that once I moved the bike,  that would be the last she heard of it. And I kept  to my word.

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Creepy but beautiful

A few hours passed, and while I was still slightly wary, the  warm buzz from the Raki and the magic of the full moon had me  cocooned in a safe place. Lisa went off for a wee and I was probably mulling over whatever big life question we had just been discussing , when she came rushing back and knelt down to whisper in my ear ‘Kiki! Don’t look now but I’m sure there’s someone over there!’

 

Two weeks worth of backpacker’s  constipation threatened to resolve themselves all over  my brand new sleeping bag. What. The. Fuck. ‘Where?? Are you sure’ ‘Yes! Over there, by those trees!’ I don’t know if I was more angry or relieved when I realised that our crouching rapist was none other than the moped that we had so painstakingly parked… That’s not to say that I was reassured by any means… Once I’d stopped laughing at her, I too decided to go for a pee in the bushes, this time taking my phone with me to check out any mysterious dark shapes. When Lisa went to sleep , I decided that I wasn’t going to be so easy a target. I resolved to play dead, so that as soon as I heard a sound in the bushes I would leap up with my empty Amstel bottle, and show them that they messed with the wrong girl.
After a while I started to console myself with the fact that if someone were to make a move, they would have made it by now, and the Raki addled side of my brain that had been absolutely seduced by the full moon was arguing that if this was my time to go, there are definitely worse places to exit the stage. I drifted in and out of consciousness, and only when I was aware that I’d seen the moon make its journey across the entire sky, and that the glow coming from behind the bins was the sunrise and not the headlights of a psychotic mass murderer did I allow myself to fall completely asleep. I’d like to say that I finally knew peace, but with the alcohol wearing off and the wind rising, my body now decided that it was time to be cold. I spent the next few hours in eager anticipation of the sun making it past the trees to bake me in my sleeping bag, but by the time it made it around I became aware of Lisa packing up her things and shaking out the map. she was well rested and ready to rock and roll.

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Definitely an improvement…

The verdict? While we didn’t exactly have the chilled out experience we were looking for, I wouldn’t write Eristos off completely. Accounts of the beach during the summer sound like the experience that I was hoping to get from Ko Pha Ngan’s Full Moon Party (don’t eeeven get me started on that) – a great place to meet likeminded people and dance barefoot in the moonlight. If I was in the area I’d definitely go back to see the place in full swing, but for travellers to Tilos in general, I’d say the island has far more to offer than Eristos….(Stay tuned!)

11 language learning hacks from a TEFL teacher

11 language learning hacks from a TEFL teacher

 

As I’m currently brushing up on my Spanish before heading to Colombia, I’m thinking a lot about the way that I learn languages in the hope that it will make me a better language teacher when I get there. People tend to be quite shocked when I tell them that it’s my fifth language (disclaimer: I definitely had a head-start growing up tri-lingual) But either way,  as language learning has been a big part of my life, from studying French and modern Greek BA to teaching English as a foreign language in France and Italy, I thought I’d share some of my study hacks that have helped me over the years…

 

  1. The most important thing is to immerse yourself. I know not everyone is lucky enough to study or work abroad for a stint, but try and surround yourself as much as you can with your target language. When I was in uni my study breaks consisted of  French movies and crappy Greek soaps, I listened to the radio and tried to pick out words I knew, watched cheesy youtube videos of pop songs with their lyrics and then looked up words I didn’t know. If you can learn to learn while you’re not officially studying you’ll progress so much quicker. And you no longer have to feel embarrassed about having Enrique Iglesias on repeat….enrique-dancing
  2. Redecorate your house/room. Posters explaining  the difference between ser/estar, post-its on random objects to remember their names, or just randomly placed words that you can’t quite get to stick.  The Greek word for journalist is ingrained in my mind after seeing it written on my friend’s fridge in second year.

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    Make it rain…
  3. Don’t rely on one method/source. Things like Duolingo are great, but even if you meet your daily targets you will not learn to speak a language this way. Same goes for any course book/ grammar guide/online videos. Instead, use a combination of methods and different websites so that you don’t get stuck in a rut. Sign up for blogs and online dictionaries that send you a word a day and  take online quizzes to keep you on your toes.

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    Not gonna cut it love…
  4. I’m sure I’m not the only one who studied French at GCSE and then realised that no one actually says ‘comme si comme ca’ irl. Read newspapers, blogs or whatever you can get your hands on so that you  learn the real language that people actually use.

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    We’ve all been there…
  5. Better still, find a native speaker to practise with. Most unis have an Erasmus society where you can sign up to be a buddy to a foreign student, or even just a language exchange system. If you’re not a student (I feel your pain) then try leaving an advert on local noticeboards/facebook pages.use-your-words
  6. Use a monolingual dictionary when looking up vocab, and accept that in most cases, there’s no such thing as a direct translation. I thought my teacher was crazy when she first suggested this, but it is one of the most helpful habits I’ve picked up. Although a bilingual dictionary may be quicker and easier to use, words have different nuances in different languages, and simply accepting that x=y is only going to set you back in the future, especially if you study translation. Learning the etymology  of a word also helps me remember it, as it helps me make associations. bart dictionary.gif
  7. Find out what works for you. For example I have to write things down several times to retain them. If I’m learning a new grammar rule I have to paraphrase it, write it down, possibly draw a diagram, and then colour code it. It’s all about finding ways to trick your mind into remembering things, draw pictures, make word associations… If you use the right techniques you should be able to visualise your notes when you’re trying to recall the information.hangover
  8. Make lists. And more lists. Carry a small notebook around with you and make a note of words you don’t know.  List new words you’ve learnt, or ones you had to look up whilst reading. Read over the list, and make a new list with the words you still don’t know. Then read over that list and make flashcards with the words you still don’t know. If there are some that you really struggle with then write them on post-its and stick them by your bed.  You know it’s working when they start popping up in your dreams.

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    Repetition is the key.
  9. Get organised. If your class notes are chaotic (mine always were) take the time to copy them out neatly, re-arranging them if necessary and dividing them into topics. I always have a file or a notebook with 4 sections: 1. Grammar rules 2. Verb tables 3. New words 4.Mistakes. I also re-arrange them as part of revision so that I’m studying subject areas rather than random vocab.monica
  10. Learn from your mistakes. It’s a language teacher’s cliché, but mistakes aren’t always a bad thing. Take snowboarding for example, a cautious border could make it straight down the mountain without falling over once, while his friend who is popping tricks off the side of the piste lands a 360 but is covered in bruises. Who is the best border? Ok we don’t know for sure, but we do know who made the most progress. I find that it helps to keep a list of the mistakes I’ve made, alongside their correction/ an explanation of how I went wrong. (We’re talking strictly language based btw, or I’d never leave the house) Read through them now and again, but make sure you memorise the correction and not the mistake itself!ross mistake.gif
  11. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. While it’s definitely a good idea to set realistic targets, it can also be difficult to measure your progress. Don’t freak out and try and overload your brain as that can be counter-productive (been there!) Frustration and feeling like you’re not learning quickly enough are totally natural, but just take a step back and remember that this is supposed to be fun, and you’re probably taking in way more than you realise. And if that doesn’t work, just  look at this lama!!!como se llama.gif
    Have I missed anything out? Please feel free to comment and share your study tips 🙂

Confessions of a Courchevel housekeeper, Part 2

Confessions of a Courchevel  housekeeper, Part 2

 

While I spent roughly a third of my time as a housekeeper asking myself what I was doing with my life, it was almost worth it for some of the stories that I’ve got from the season… In this sequel I focus on the more entertaining side of my time as a housekeeper…

 

1. C’est la MERDE

 You can tell a lot about someone by how they leave their room- especially knowing that a stranger is going to have to deal with it. It still baffles me how people can walk out of their room, look me in the eye and smile, knowing that I’m going to have to flush three times in between gags when I enter their putrid bathroom. Is the length of your log some kind of weird pride thing that I don’t know about? Like seriously, Snapchat it to your mate if you must, but I definitely do not need to see it.  It also astounds me how many people seem to be suffering from IBS, and I wonder whether I should start telling people not to drink the tap water, when about 80% of  toilets are pebble dashed every morning. On the other end of the spectrum it always makes me laugh when couples, clearly in the honeymoon period, spray copious amounts of perfume into the little unaired toilet cubicle. Admirable though their intentions may be, what happens when she realises that his shit doesn’t actually smell like Dior’s Homme Ideal??

2. C’est l’AMOUR

This is what you really want to hear about right? The dirty stuff.  All that grimy hotel sex. I have to admit that this was one of my greatest apprehensions on starting the job, but luckily for me, and somewhat depressingly for everyone else, there doesn’t seem to be much action happening between my carefully laid sheets. It makes me feel better about my practically celibate existence when I go into a young couple’s room and see that the duvet is barely crumpled and  still tucked in at the sides. Either some seriously lacklustre missionary is all that’s going  down or they’re all too tired from snowplowing all day…

While most of my guests are reasonably well behaved however, when it goes wrong, it goes very wrong. I can almost tolerate the usual soggy sheets, sticky flavoured lubes and used condoms but nothing could have prepared me for the Dutch girl who (on a family holiday, no less…) had period sex almost every day. And I don’t mean that she put a towel down and left a bit of a smear, I mean it looked like a crime scene.  I’m not one to judge, but for everyone’s sake- just do it in the shower.

 

3.C’est le BORDEL

I always wondered why the French and the Greeks used the term ‘brothel’ to describe a mess/ a shitty situation. Until I had to clean up after Russian prostitutes. It turns out they really are messy puppies (and mean to boot.) Thankfully our modest establishment was a place for them to rest and recuperate during the day as opposed to an, ahem, place of work. Nevertheless, cleaning around all their vials and bottles, jewellery and accessories was no joke. Not to mention the facial syringes.  Cleaning up after them made me question my life choices even more than I usually would over the course of a room, playing my usual guessing game of where would I rank on a list of the world’s most overqualified cleaners. I don’t mean that in a snobby way, dusting around their designer bags I was almost in awe that they could make such a lucrative living from such a glamourous lifestyle- this is Courchevel after all, more sitting in clubs sipping Cristal than standing on street corners. Although they spent about three hours getting ready to go out (which made the rare glimpses of their unmade-up faces pretty frightening) as they tottered back up the stairs in their heels and furs as I served breakfast, I couldn’t help but think to myself rather bitterly that they probably come into contact with less bodily fluids than I do in a day….

 

4.C’est WANK

My eyes have also been opened to novel and creative ways of masturbating.  The phrase tickling the kipper has always made me giggle, but I never would have guessed that smoked salmon offered a route to self-gratification… Apparently if you’re from Marseille it does. I’d like to say that the sight of sticky salmon crumpled up in toilet paper put us off eating the unopened pack that the gentleman had left behind, but mountain prices are way too high for seasonnaires to pass up on such a tasty treat.

One of the most important things to remember when cleaning a room is to check that nothing has been left in any of the cupboards. I’m sure a guest would have been even  more shocked than my colleague was to have found a courgette and a cucumber in the bedside table of  a room that didn’t even have catering facilities….Not as creative as Mr. Salmon-Dance but still made us giggle.

 

C’est FINI!!!!

So while life as a housekeeper can be exhausting and demoralising there are also moments where it is just  hilarious. Next time you’re living it up on holiday, remember that  a) house-elves aren’t a thing and b) someone very real is silently judging you, probably cursing you, and then more than likely recounting the whole story to the bar later on!

Confessions of a Courchevel housekeeper, Part 1

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First confession: I didn’t actually clean in this…

For about five months of the year I like to take a break from my busy lifestyle of traveling the world /sponging off my mum to actually do some proper paid work in French ski resorts. This year, that mostly consisted of cleaning up after disgruntled Russians and unruly Brits in one of the most exclusive ski resorts in the world. It also involved a lot of soul searching and some pretty big life revelations…

Ever wanted to know what’s going through you housekeepers mind? Ok, probably not, because I bet it’s never even occurred to you. Just in case you are curious, here are some of my confessions from my time as a housekeeper, which will hopefully remind you that your bed is made by a human, who is probably having a worse day than you…

 

  1. As someone who has stayed in a lot of hotels, I’m ashamed to say that I’d never really given much thought to the people who clean my room before. I mean obviously I tip in poorer countries, and at least try to keep it tidy, but it’s never occurred to me that the fallout from a night’s pre-lash can ruin someones day, whilst a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign can actually make it. If you want to do a good deed a day whilst traveling, pass up on housekeeping if you don’t really need it (I mean do you even notice beyond the folded toilet-paper end, seriously?)

    And please, for the love of God, don’t pee in the shower!

  2. Every day is a struggle. Cleaning is exhausting and let’s face it, demoralising work. (Four months on, and I still have shoulder issues from polishing…) But as a seasonnaire, I always had the mountain as motivation and a reason to stay.  This made me think of all the people who don’t have this luxury, people who work themselves to the bone in this degrading job to feed their families, unable to draw comfort from promising themselves as I did every day that I would leave if it got any worse. I could tolerate the feeling of powerlessness, knowing that come May I would be leaving, and my final pay package would fund my full recovery on a beach somewhere. However, this didn’t stop me thinking almost every day about my grandmother who worked as a housekeeper for thirty years, walking miles to work in the Greek sun, having already done a morning’s work in the fields at dawn,  all whilst raising four children. I bet she still didn’t complain about stingy tippers as much as I do…

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    Putting things into perspective…When the first run of the season makes up for the 72 hour week!
  3. Cleaning people’s rooms gives you a unique and often creepy insight into people’s lives. There’s something oddly intimate about it, as you tend to build up an image of a guest over the week, from the books left out on the side, to the products that they use and even where they leave their pyjamas. It’s always fun trying to match a guest with a room during breakfast/ bar shifts, but it get’s a bit creepy if you accidentally let certain information slip when you’re chatting to them in the bar after work…
  4. I’m definitely judging you, and your housekeeper probably is too. From the women with Chanel handbags but Primark pyjamas to the single men whose rooms smell of women’s perfume, I’m drawing allllll kinds of conclusions.  
  5. I sometimes try your perfume/hand cream/fur coats. Come on, I have to have a little bit of fun.
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    Not these though. Jeezus...

     

  6. I sometimes play God. When the lovely man in 209 told us that he needed his room cleaning thoroughly because his boyfriend was leaving and his unsuspecting wife was arriving, a receipt for an expensive dinner for two may have found its way from the bin onto the bedside table. She didn’t need to waste any more of her time with him.
  7. Tips are nice, but snacks are sooo much better. And free alcohol is the dream. Changover days have been saved by packets of Haribo and crates of beer left on the balcony. We’re basically scavengers, and even leftover toiletries mean more beer money at the end of the day.

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    We named him Dmitry
  8. I’m basically a pro at guessing where you’re from, without peeking at your reading material/ passport. And you guys really perpetuate stereotypes. Bulgarians invariably have a holy icon on one bedside table and a bottle of Vodka on the other, and almost every Asian family who stayed brought a rice cooker with them. Stereotypes aside, there were loads of quirky patterns that I never would have guessed. British people can’t seem to leave the country without a week’s supply of home comforts (fyi, leaving Dairy Milk on the bedside table =playing with fire) while French people’s rooms seem eerily tidy by comparison, with an extensive collection of medicines, balms and grooming tools. They make their beds to perfection but almost always leave skid-marks and a trail of pubes around the bathroom.  My favourite guests by far are the Norwegians though, as I often have to check the list to see if the room has already been cleaned and then look for signs of human activity.

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    Too much snow is NOT A THING!!!!
  9. While I have a pretty good reason to be miserable during housekeeping shifts (when powder days mean housekeeping takes twice as long because people stay in, as there is ‘too much snow’…) It shocks me that despite having hands that are raw from the chemicals, not to mention the aches and pains from carrying/bending/polishing,  I am rarely the most miserable person in the hotel. Guests who supposedly ‘have it all’ but can’t crack a smile over breakfast before a day’s skiing/shopping make me wonder when, or rather if, they will ever be happy.

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    This view actually makes waking up at sunrise to work bearable…
  10. Finally, If you don’t give a shit then I don’t give a shit. I know I’m supposed to clean every room to the same standard, but let’s face it, if you don’t respect yourself enough to flush the toilet after you’ve used it, or rinse blood/snot stains off the shower before they crust, then I can only assume that you don’t care about streaks on the glass or crumbs on the floor. On the other hand if you are a clean and tidy person then I will go the extra mile to make your room spotless, knowing that you will appreciate it, and all of my hard work won’t be undone by the morning.

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    All guests are equal…But some are more equal than others!