Here’s a tip to all the budding CEO’s out there: there is no better way to completely destroy productivity and focus for the day than giving your employees a surprise day off. Indeed, I would estimate that it took no more than 3.5 minutes from the email being sent out for the entire office to abandon work in favour of furiously searching Skyscanner for the weekend’s best deals. After 5 minutes we all mentally had cocktails in our hand and our Out of Office on. With Thursday a bank holiday in the Netherlands, the surprise addition of a work-free Friday (+ a weekend heatwave on the forecast) meant that we had 4 days to go at. “I’m going to go to Portugal and get a tan!” squealed one girl to no one in particular, her mouse poised on the BOOK NOW button, whilst across the desk another worker rang her mum to announce her surprise return home that weekend. Safe to say we didn’t get much else done that day.

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Straight after the indulgence of Christmas comes the self-loathing of January. Suddenly eating 13 mince pies in a single sitting – which seemed nothing short of genius at the time – is an obscene idea. The Christmas tree looks slightly menacing and grotesque, and those cosy nights in front of Westworld have been replaced by evenings in front of the 30 day shred.

All this being said, I love new year. I love the fresh start that it brings, the self-reflection and the feeling of opportunity – maybe this will be the year I finally learn how to style my hair in a style that isn’t just ‘up’; maybe this is the year where I realise I quite like salad; maybe this will be the year that I start running for pleasure and not just for the bus. With a new year always comes a new set of resolutions, and whilst I know that they are more than likely going to be forgotten by the second week of January, I just can’t help myself.

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May this post be read with interest by nobody other than my own mother and maybe myself in years to come. 2016 was a blur – it absolutely sped by – and although there were definite downs, I feel I have come out the other side a lot stronger and a lot more ‘me’ than before. Marking my first full year with Amsterdam as my home,  with trips to 8 countries and a new member of the family being born, 2016 on the whole was really very good to me.

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Much to my mother’s disdain (‘what are you, 8?’), I am a big birthday person. It’s not so much that I like to be the centre of attention – quite the opposite in fact – or that I like party games and endless rounds of pass the parcel. Rather, it’s more that your birthday gives you the excuse to do things you wouldn’t normally, be it an extra drink, a fancy dinner or a brand new sparkly dress that you’ll maybe wear for 3 hours in total. Birthday are a chance to do things by your rule book and your rule book only. Oh, and you get to eat cake for every meal.

This year to celebrate turning the big 2-4, we took advantage of a deal on (a fantastic site for anyone looking to explore the Netherlands for cheap) for a little weekend trip to the southern city of Maastricht. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the place, and as part of my resolution to explore the Netherlands it was the perfect choice.

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A Walk in the Woods.

There’s nothing I love more than a nice long walk. Some people take showers, some people head to the pub, but when I’m feeling a little overwhelmed I walk. I walk and I walk and I walk until my head starts to detangle and everything comes back into focus. Sometimes it takes hours, sometimes I listen to music and pretend I’m in a rom-com, but it always always works. On our recent trip to Veneto, then, a walk in the tree-lined valleys was an absolute must. Not such a must that I remembered to pack my walking boots, mind you, but a hurried raid of B’s mum’s wardrobe and some thick socks in the toe later, and I was all set to take on the elements.

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Venice has never really been top of my list of places to visit, simply because I’ve seen and heard so much about it, it kind of feels like I’ve been a thousand times over. From the postcard sights to the ever-so-famous smells, it’s always felt as if visiting Venice would be just a little bit underwhelming. And my reluctance wasn’t exactly eased by the fact that it seems like you either love or absolutely despise Venice. My friends and B had labelled it ‘the worst place in the world’ (no exaggeration), whilst my boss had gleefully squealed, ‘Oh, it’s like Disneyland!’ With the crowds the main complaint – even the residents of Venice have begun to complain about the sheer volume of tourists crammed into the narrow canal-lined streets – I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit.

So believe me when I tell you that nobody is more surprised that I absolutely hand-on-heart dance-in-my-socks loved it.

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Italy is a country that has always enchanted me, and yet I haven’t seen nearly as much of it as I’d like. I elected to study Italian at university, hoping that by the end of four years I’d be scooting around the streets of Florence on my Vespa, living a life that only The Lizzie McGuire Movie could emulate. Things may not have panned out that way (to say the very least), but my desire to see Italy – and devour just about everything in sight – has remained strong, even after graduation. So when B suggested recently that we made a trip back to his birthplace of Verona to see his parents and old haunts, I couldn’t have been more excited.

The plan, then, was set. We’d fly out from Amsterdam in September for a week at his parent’s house near Verona, exploring the nearby towns and sights and generally letting loose. Immediately I set to making plans, almost all of them revolving around food (as the French say, quelle surprise). On our itinerary we had hikes, meals, city explorations and many nightly marathons of The Killing (obsessed is not the word). First on the list? A trip into Verona, B’s birthplace and the true home of his Italian side.

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