Moi

+ 5 Reasons to Travel on the Green Tortoise Bus

five reasons to travel with the green tortoise across America

Ever wanted to explore the USA, meet new people and save money along the way?  Green Tortoise is probably your best option! In 2006 and 2007, I took the Northern Dream and Southern Crossing tours, scoring the hat trick in April 2014 with the Yosemite 2-Day Tour - each time trying out a new Green Tortoise bus.

If you live in the states or are visiting there very soon, I really would recommend taking a look at their options before spending $$$s on something similar. Obviously, this is by no means a replacement for your own special road trip, but there's a few pros particularly if you're travelling alone and/or can't drive or get insured.

You get to travel thousands of miles, take in some unique American gems and meet a wide array of people for a really reasonable price. For instance, the 14-day cross-country tours can cost ~$1100 but my weekend trip to Yosemite was under $200. See below for the five reasons I think you should seriously consider taking this tour.

1) It's a Great Way to Meet New & Interesting People: 
I've now been on three Green Tortoise tours, and on every single one there's been a great mix of teens, twenty-somethings, travellers, San Franciscan locals, Aussies, oldies and everything in between! Although I don't necessarily keep in touch with everyone, the fact that you get to spend up to 14 days with such a wide set of people is an experience in itself.

2) The Food is Healthy and Cheap
You pay a set amount for basic meals (barely anything) and for that money you get a wide array of meals that you and your fellow travellers cook in national parks most mornings/evenings. On my various trips the meals have included bean burgers, pancakes, tortilla pizzas such as this, pasta, and you also get

3) Inspirational Destinations
You can go east-west, west-east, via Burning Man and right on down to Central America. The sheer variety of tours and dates (through the year) means it's very likely you'll find something to fit your wishlist.

4) Fuss-Free - No Need to Plan
If you drive by yourself cross-country, you are responsible for planning ahead, paying for permits and are reliant on yourself to find the best camping spots. With Green Tortoise, the two drivers you share your trip with have years' worth of experience and Green Tortoise wisdom. It takes all the hassle out of planning the trip yourself, and guarantees that things will go smoothly.

5) You'll Tick So Many Things Off Your Bucket List
In my three Green Tortoise trips, I've been able to do the following:

- Cover myself with mud from the banks of the Mississippi river and let the current take me downstream

- Camped in a giant hole in South Dakotan prairies (the remains of some 20th-century Nuclear tests), surrounded by bison

- Ok, this wasn't actually part of the Green Tortoise tour, but when in New Orleans I ended up in a lapdance bar!


Here's some photos from my Northern Dream trip:

 

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+ Dollz & Geocities: Nostalgia for a '90s Internet

Initially, I wanted to write an article about the pre-2000 internet I only vaguely remember (being around 11 at the time). And then, it quickly became apparent that a spot of Googling was not enough to bring it back to life.  In the process of searching for old websites I used to frequent, basic screenshots of crafty HTML trickery and garish GIFs concocted in Paintshop Pro, what really hit me was that millions of opinions and web-design relics are essentially lost to the current day.

What does this mean for how the internet will be looked at in years to come? For me, having so much of the internet get 'recycled', deactivated and deleted is a devastating loss of culture, history, and prevents mine and so many other people's memories from being shared with future generations.

I tried to view emails from my 12-year-old self to reacquaint myself with my favourite 'web rings', forums and personal blogs, but Yahoo bluntly told me that my old account "has been inactive for an extended period of time and is being recycled". So I tried to search for names of old blogs I knew about, but most links led to "Problem Loading Page", broken images and dodgy hosting websites. Below I'll talk through how I first used the internet, and the scraps of a nostalgic net I've been able to uncover!

1996 B.I. (Before Internet)

Yes, the first form of the internet was alive and kicking in the 1950s, but to all intents and purposes, in 1996 I had no idea what the internet was. I was in year 6 of primary school, aged ten going on eleven and I has decided I wanted to run my own magazine (print, of course). At this point of time, the word 'blog' had only just begin its onslaught into our collective consciousness:

Ngram Viewer to Show Increasing Use of word 'Blog' in BooksI borrowed my dad's Amiga 1200 PC and started compiling a few pages of content for my new project (entitled 'Bazaar'). A few trusty classmates helped me out - one classmate drew a cover image of me (a dopey looking dog), one wrote a poem about snowflakes and another wrote about her favourite music. To top it off I bought a CD for my magazine competition prize. I charged my classmates 20p for the first and only 12-page issue of Bazaar. What led to its failure was (according to one classmate) the fact that 20p was too steep for such a sparse mag!

~1998: When I Discovered the Internet

A year or so later, I discovered 'the internet'. Again, with the help of my dad's PC magazines, and books not unlike this 1997 Web Design and Desktop Publishing for Dummies, I started to connect 'the internet' to self-expression; you could spread actual words and thoughts through this fantastic invention, with some crazy  code called HTML. My dad's computer was painfully slooooww, so when I went over to my nan and granddad's house it was a real treat to use an up-to-date Windows desktop PC with faster internet. The scariest moment for me was realising I didn't know how to copy and paste from a webpage! I clearly had a lot to learn about the online world.

Geocities:

Before I go any further, I want to take a moment to lament the cruel deletion of this web hosting site and the plethora of historical websites along with it. In years to come, I have no doubt future generations will marvel at the tidbits of 20th-century websites somewhat saved from infinite obscurity by the likes of The Deleted City The Archive Team and the Wayback Machine.

Setting up my first website with GeoCities was by no means an easy feat. Thanks to slow internet pre-2000s, it used to take half an hour to pull up my File Manager, and probably another ten minutes to upload an individual image... I used to get a bit cocky and try and upload more than five files at a time, boy was that a mistake!

Browsing other websites (mostly Angelfire, Tripod and Geocities domains) I quickly realised my Geocities handle (babie_bliss!) was random, slightly idiotic and had no meaning so I set out about other names for my blog. And thus was born 'Jenesis', accessible via a mighty cool "http://jenesis.cjb.net" short URL…. I promptly spent my afternoons after school learning some mad skills to blind as many people as possible with bastardized attempts at HTML/CSS/Javascript.

My Fave Early Internet Memories

1) GuestBooks:
This was pre-Facebook/Twitter and other fancy sharing technologies, and so your only real way of self-promoting your website and letting a 'webmaster' know how much you enjoyed their little space in the internet universe was via a guestbook.

2) Experiments in Text Style:
- Using as many font color hex codes as humanly possible:

- Adding a 'glow' filter to text as seen here - at the time most of us were having a love affair with Internet Explorer, but apparently the text doesn't work on Chrome or Firefox :(

3) Marquee Text:

This style is so out of date it barely works in code anymore, but you can view examples here. Not content with just uploading mere text, us pioneering webmasters then took it upon ourselves to thrust lines of text from left to right, top to bottom, or even to 'bounce'.

4) Blinkies:

I am forever indebted to the still-live but most likely forgotten Angelfire websites such as this and this which have allowed me to provide some actual examples of these delightful, blinking graphics:

Cupcake blinkie

6) Dollz

You can read the lowdown of this 90s internet craze in Salon's Playing with Dollz article as well as uncovering more examples at The Doll Palace
Dress Up Games, Doll Makers and Cartoon Dolls @ The Doll PalaceDress Up Games, Doll Makers and Cartoon Dolls @ The Doll PalaceDress Up Games, Doll Makers and Cartoon Dolls @ The Doll Palace   Dress Up Games, Doll Makers and Cartoon Dolls @ The Doll Palace   Dress Up Games, Doll Makers and Cartoon Dolls @ The Doll Palace

7) Making your browser scrollbar as garish as possible

Opening My Horizons

The excruciating squeaks of our modem were the gateway to a universe of other peoples opinions and glimpses of tangible but far-off next steps in my life. The sheer possibilities of where my life would go after high school were formulated into searches on Google (and AOL, Ask Jeeves and various defunct operations) including but not limited to:

1) how to start my dream retail business in fashion

2) how much money I would need to rent retail space in Los Angeles and how much it would cost to live in a 'condo'

3) which American universities in glamorous locations would admit a poor foreign student like moi.

4) volunteer organisations in Africa that badly needed an inexperienced and a starry eyed 16-year-old girl to help 'em out.

Certainly a lot has changed!

Some More Retro Internet Reading Material:

Net of the '90s

Important Milestones of Social Networks

404 Page Not Found

17 Ancient Abandoned Websites That Still Work


+ 10 Fun London Birthday Ideas

The first birthday I spent in London involved me renting a limousine which took me and some friends from my hometown to an American-themed restaurant called Jailhouse Rock (sadly no longer open!). Since then, each year I've been in London I've always spent a lot of time researching nightclubs/bars/restaurants in the hope that I find the ultimate destination for my birthday celebrations. Let me share with you some places I've trailed out since I moved to London in 2010 that are perfect birthday London ideas:

1) Proud - Camden

I spent my 24th birthday here with friends, and have also attended numerous friends' birthdays here too. You can book yourself a stable which is really fun - the one my boyfriend booked had a pole for dancing which got used a LOT as the evening progressed! It's not as claustrophobic as your standard nightclub, thanks to the fact that it has two dance floors, the large stable area, an outside bar and more space for chatting around the bar.

There are so many bars within the club to choose from and more than different music playing in each dance area, plus the in-club entertainment has been known to include women on stilts and flame eaters!

2) Drink Shop & Do - Kings Cross

I love how fun and unique the event nights are here! I've only been for drinks here so far, but booking a themed night is on my to-do list.

You can pre-book an area in the bar downstairs for groups of ten or more, and they also do a special food menu for parties.

3) Gordon's Wine Bar - Embankment/Charing Cross

Gordon's Wine Bar

4) Bounce - Holborn

I've only been here once or twice, but the venue is MASSIVE, is centred around a really fun sport which gets more fun after a cocktail or two, and the place has a great playlist.

> You can play on a London 2012 Olympics table!

> For up to 25-30 guests, you can hire the Gallery Table and ensure you have a nice area for all your friends.

> As told on their website, "Bounce is located on the very site where the game of Ping Pong was invented and patented in 1901 by John Jaques III".

5) Barrio Central - Soho

Warning! This place gets really sweaty and full. If you don't like the idea of having to spend half your night pressed up against a load of tourists you should a)rent a private area or b) avoid at all costs.

> You can rent an area called 'the porch' which is at the very back of the bar on the ground floor. This area seats up to 20 people. This is as far away from the main dance floor (in the basement) as you can get, so you might also want to consider the Stone Clad as this seats the same amount of people and is right in the thick of it. There's also the 'Love Shack' in the basement, right next to the DJ.

6) Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes - Bloomsbury/Holborn

> This place has karaoke rooms, bowling lanes (obviously!) and also a dancefloor/bar area which is open until 3am.

> What sets this place apart from other London nightclubs is that it's one of the rare venues to serve food too. Ray's Pizza and Diner is only open until 10pm, but it does mean if you want just one venue for your whole evening (dinner, drinks, dancing) you're covered!

7) The Blues Kitchen - Camden

This venue gets crowded really quickly, but you can book ahead for a booth for dinner, and (from what I remember) you can usually use that as a base for the rest of the night. This venue offers free live entertainment if you get there before 9.30pm, and after that it's around £5 on the door.

8) Metro Garden & Bar - Clapham Common


From the outside this is a dark and mysterious bar, but if you walk through to their outdoor area, you'll be pleasantly surprised. This venue has high-quality and has a real touch of sophistication, a far cry from how Clapham high street often looks on a Saturday night!

I'd recommend this place for some early evening Pimm's on their outside daybeds, and then when it gets a bit darker the fairy lights come alive and the whole place transforms into something from a fairytale!

9) Circus Bar - Covent Garden

Circus Bar, London
You'll likely miss this bar when you go looking for it - the front door is a non-descript heavy steel door and you can barely see the 'Circus Bar' sign. You will need to book ahead for dining here, but most evenings after work I've been able to visit here for a glass of vino with friends.

> Every 30 minutes or so, a new performance act will come 'on stage'. By stage I mean the massive dining table which is usually reserved by a large group for dining.

> I've never eaten here, but the Sharing Menu could be a great option for a birthday meal with friends.


10) The Boat Show Comedy Club

I went here with my boyfriend a few months ago, and this place was so much better than I had anticipated! Firstly, if you get there straight after work and well before the show, this would be an ideal place to catch up with friends for a few drinks while overlooking the South Bank and Big Ben.

The comedy event itself is obviously the main draw here, and I saw plenty of groups seated in their reserved booths having a great time! There's a bar towards the back of the room, and the quality of comedy acts here is second to none - many well established comedians apparently do warm-up shows while on tour.

We didn't stay for the dance night (after the comedy show they move the chairs and transform the room into a club night) and I haven't heard many people rave about it, but you're at least in central London if you want to carry on the night elsewhere.


+ Copenhagen City Break

My boyfriend and I were desperate to go on a city break to help get us through the long, cold winter months here in England. We had a few options; Madrid, France, Denmark – being in London means you’re no more than 2-3 hours away from some vibrant and cultured cities in Europe.

Considering we spent five days in Copenhagen earlier this month, I should really know more about Denmark than I do! However, what I do know is that Copenhagen strives towards beauty, whether it’s the architecture, the people or the furniture and lighting sold in one of its many interior design shops. As well as that, I ate some of the best meals in my life while there.

Any self-respecting food lover has heard of NOMA, three-time winner of the Best Restaurant in the World accolade courtesy of Restaurant magazine. It’s well known that it’s almost impossible to get a reservation there, however we were able to book ourselves onto the NOMA shared table upstairs. The only difference is that you are at the mercy of a set menu and have to sit next to strangers, but this just made the experience more unforgettable really.

We went there for lunch, and the experience overall ended up taking us from 12.15pm right up to early evening. Everything we ate and drank was derived from the local region, with the exception of some Ethiopian coffee following the twenty-serving feast!

Some other highlights from our time at NOMA:

    • The water we drank was actually obtained from “birch tapping”, a method of collecting birch sap and using that to create mineral water.
    • Each member of staff there REALLY knows their shit. You can ask them anything about the ingredients in each dish, how it was made, the context of each ingredient, and you can be sure they know the answer!
    • Samphire is probably the best find of the trip! Not just served in NOMA, this salty sea vegetable is one of the tastiest greens I’ve ever eaten, shame it’s £14.99 by the kilo at my local market :(
    • Be careful if you are offered a ‘Nordic coconut’. It’s actually a hollowed-out turnip, which the staff at NOMA kindly fill up with a hot, steamy broth.

Aside from NOMA, here’s some recommendations if you’re thinking of heading to Copenhagen anytime soon:


Nyhavn

We stayed within five minutes’ walk of this area, and it quickly became out destination of choice when we had run out of ideas for where to go for dinner. You’ll find a great restaurant called Barock. It’s not cheap (where in Copenhagen is?!) but this place offered me one of the best rib-eye steaks I’ve ever tasted. The waiter was also really, really helpful and friendly and suggested some places to go as well as going into detail about the samphire vegetable served alongside our mains.

Further down the terrace of restaurants and bars, you come to McJoys, a dependable Irish pub that has friendly staff and usually offers live music for its punters. Ned and I ended up there for a round or two more than once!

Strøget
Although it’s not ideal to go shopping in Copenhagen thanks to the strength of the Danish Krone, this street is where to go should you need to pick anything up while away. Illums Bolighus is a department store that, for me, is unrivalled in style and its vast array of designer furnishings. We spent nearly an hour wandering around the store and basking in the beauty of its wares!

Canal Tours
Going on a canal tour is an experience not to be missed, as it really helps to solidify in your mind the beauty of the city. The city reminded me of Amsterdam, which isn’t a coincidence as we learnt via our canal tour that King Christian V deliberately used Amsterdam as a model of what he wanted Copenhagen to look and function like.

Freetown Christiania
During our time in Copenhagen we were also able to ‘leave’ the EU by heading to the self-proclaimed Green Light district, a place which aims to be a self-governed commune. In fact there’s only three ‘rules’: Have fun, don’t run and no photos.

Most of the housing is ramshackled and slightly devoid of sanitation (we walked past a garden with some discarded bits of toilet roll lying about, not so nice!), however it does seem to be a place where most people just want to live and let live and there’s an undeniably optimistic vibe pervading the district.. or that might just have been weed!

I’d definitely recommend going, although I’d stay in a nicer hotel next time round – the one we were in had two cheapo mattresses squidged together, paperthin walls and reception staff who seemed to know very little about either the hotel or the city!

More photos from Copenhagen:

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**Republish of a previous post thanks to a small site breakdown!**


+ My first week at Google

Thousands of miles from home, I've finally started my first week as a "Noogler", a new hire at Google!

The Mountain View campus is quite something, comprising of dozens of buildings, and what's great is that the company provides a free, regular wi-fi enabled shuttle service from San Francisco. I'm currently staying at Hotel Union Square, in a lovely room which overlooks Powell Street, so the shuttle service is a great perk which allows me to get a taste of city life over my next two weeks working out here.

I walked into my orientation building, and the first task was to set up a login name and have a photo taken for my badge. After a brief (free) breakfast in a nearby cafe, I then sat down to a brand new MacBook Pro... it's lovely and shiny and I've started adding Google stickers to it so I don't accidentally pick up someone else's! If that wasn't exciting enough, the loos cater to every girl's need. With complementary hair straighteners, mouthwash, hair clips and a HEATED toilet seat, a trip to the loo is definitely a step-up from the skanky Patriot Court toilets I was used to in my old office at Slough! *update* as soon as the main orientation was over, the complementary straighteners and hair dryer disappeared so I'm not sure if it was a one-day perk only!

Theres's dozens of restaurants to choose from across the campus. I've eaten Japanese food, Indian food, sushi, Chinese food... and that doesn't even count the cooked breakfasts, gold-leaf chocolate cupcakes and the snacks I've devoured from the micro-kitchen! I'm trying to say no to all of the amazing treats, and it's not like they don't offer healthy alternatives, so I guess as long as I make the use of the free dance/fitness classes and one of the gyms at some point it will all balance out. Further to that, there's also a lovely tradition they have which is "tea time" in a nearby building every afternoon. From lemon and ginger tea to earl grey, the teas from across the world are normally offered in conjunction with a piece of cake or stilton, salami and bread.

I've spent most of the week recovering from jetlag so social events have been few and far between, but last night the team lead took us to us house for a lovely barbecue and smores evening. I wish I had a bit more spare time to see the sights of SF (it's been five years after all!), so for anyone who assumes I'm just sunning myself and strolling around the city are wrong!

Today is my fifth day at Google, which can only mean one thing... my first TGIF experience. This involves sitting in front of hundreds of Googlers in the main restaurant, where Larry and Sergey take questions from employees from the nearby stage. I'll be wearing my red beanie hat along with my new Google t-shirt, quite a sight I'm sure!


Some photos from my travels around the campus:
Me outside one of the Google buildings

Noogler

main campus

Google bike - free to use to get around campus