Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Life lately

A picture of smiling at the camera standing next to a lake surrounded by greenery wearing blue jeans, white trainers and a leopard print top
Happy Wednesday! How is everyone? I hope you’re all well.

I feel like you can’t start a ‘life update’ post without mentioning the pandemic and how life under lockdown is treating you. I’m staying indoors until 2021 with the occasional exception for outings with friends and family. I’ve developed some anxiety around going outside and I feel a lot safer indoors. I’m grateful to have a lot of space, a garden and be in a position where I only need to leave my house to go food shopping. 

A lot has changed in my personal life since I rebranded my blog in April. Firstly, I’m a business owner, I founded Black Geographers on Thursday 23rd April and I’ve been working tirelessly to get it to where I want it to be. Not only do I write from my blog, but I’m also a writer for My Mind Matters Too, an innovation hub for Youth Mental Wellbeing driven by Young People and an ambassador for 5050 Parliament, a campaign to tackle gender imbalance in Parliament and get more women elected. I sort of miss being able to laze around and play Animal Crossing from dawn till dusk but I love everything that I am working on and I feel like my work aligns with my values. 

An increased workload comes with increased pressure and the ability to switch off becomes harder. If you read my ‘dear overachievers’ post then you might remember that I said I needed to start taking accountability for my workaholic ways and how the way I work contributes to my periods of bad mental health and pending burnout. In an attempt to prevent a possible burnout, I no longer look at my social media or emails until I’m out of bed, showered, dressed and have eaten breakfast to avoid feeling overwhelmed before my day has even started. I’ve also become a lot strict about the hours that I work and as soon as it hits 5 pm, I turn my 'out of office' on and any work that is left can be completed the next day or at another point in the week, I can’t produce good work if I allow it to consume my personal life and I feel overwhelmed by it. Everything I do, I have passion for and I don’t want to lose that passion so, I’m slowing down. I’ve voiced this with the people I work with and I felt relief, I think as people we forget that we’re humans and can’t work like robots, you can pause and still achieve everything you want to achieve. Pausing doesn’t mean failure, pausing means you’ve recognised that the way you’re working is self-destructive and you need to rewind, assess your current situation, revise your goals and start again. If you ask me, that’s a sign of success.

In a bid to slow down, I’ve been dedicating my evenings to activities that bring me joy and allow me to relax. The other night, I started painting again, I haven’t painted since art in year 8 or 9 so it was great to pick up a paintbrush and just let my creative juices flow. 

I want to end with something positive that happened recently. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve already heard this story but for those of you who don’t, I lost contact with my oldest friend when I was 18 and last month, she found my Twitter and we spent that evening reconnecting. I didn’t realise how much I missed her and valued our friendship. She reaffirmed to me that everything I’m doing now is what I was destined to do. Reconnecting with her has made my year and I’m positive that there are more good things to come out of 2020 now that I have her by my side. 

How’s life treating you?

 Francisca 
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Wednesday, 15 July 2020

My favourite brunch spots in and around London

A plate of poached eggs in hollandaise sauce with a side of spinach
I asked on Instagram if you guys would be interested in a post about my favourite brunch spots in and around London, you can guess what the majority wanted.

A new one to my list of favourite brunch places is Grind, specifically the Covent Garden location. It's hidden away on Maiden Lane and has indoor and outdoor seating, perfect for winter and summer brunch dates. If you’re a blogger, the seating area outside is a great place to shoot Spring and Summer content as well as the downstairs seating area which has marble tables and pink neon lights. As for the food, I think there’s a good range of options for vegetarians and I went for the eggs Florentine, I’d never tried it before, but the presentation and flavour were a solid 10/10 for me. They also serve granola, acai and porridge bowls as well as smashed avocado, cold-pressed juices, smoothies and of course, a range of coffee and tea.
A stack of pancakes covered in maple syrup and summer berries on a white plate on top of a wooden table

If you find yourself in South London and you’re looking for a new place to eat, Burnt Toast is where you need to go. Their pancakes are second to none and I’ve tried a lot of pancakes from various brunch places before so this is a bold statement.
A plate of vegan pancake covered within almond butter, blue berries and a wedge of lemon
This is a new addition to my list, Chia Naturally Healthy. It’s located in Hitchin which is about 55 minutes by train from Kings Cross or just over an hour by car. I believe, it’s the first plant-based cafĂ© in the area and if you’re environmentally conscious like myself, you’ll be pleased to know that they don’t use any plastic products including their takeaway packaging. Everything is biodegradable, plant-based material. I tried their Organic Blueberry Cinnamon Pancakes and I'll admit, I was a bit iffy as to how they would taste as I've never had vegan pancakes before but they were incredible!

What are your favourite brunch spots in and around London?

Francisca 
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Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Dear overachievers

A shot of the outside of George Orwell's former house in London
I saw a tweet that said, ‘Black women have a serious problem with resting and relaxing. Honestly, abysmal. We don’t know how to do it and when we actually do it, we feel guilty and it defeats the purpose. Operating in a constant state of exhaustion and guilt’ and I felt attacked, so I got my laptop out and started writing and now you’re here to read my word vomit.

How do you practise self-care? I know what it is, and I know the things that make me feel good but how do you completely switch off from the outside world and give your mind and body time to heal? It’s funny because I have Sunday’s marked on my calendar as “self-care Sunday’s” but no self-care is practised on a Sunday. I preach about self-care too, especially to my employees and close friends, but I don’t practise it. Why is that?

I think the only way to figure out my issue with practising self-care is to find the cause of my incapability to relax. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best because I was an overachieving child. A few weeks ago, I read through my school reports and found that I’ve always performed above the national average, been on the school council, represented at national sports, played the violin, went to ballet school etc and now as an adult, I’m never satisfied with my achievements so I’m always striving for more so I can get the same buzz that being an overachieving child gives you.  

I enjoy working, some may call me a typical Capricorn. My life revolves around work and when my workload decreases, I will find a way to increase it just so I feel "me" again. Working provides me with a sense of security that I perhaps don’t have in other areas of my life. I can control my work, from start to finish and what I produce is a reflection of me, so I work tirelessly to make everything I put out immaculate. No one expects this of me but me, I feel like if I decrease my workload then I become meaningless. I’m no longer Francisca who has her sh*t together, I’m just Francisca and I don’t want to be “just me”. Well, I do but I want to be me with purpose and working gives me that.

Lockdown has definitely increased my unhealthy working habits. I find myself answering emails until 3am in the morning, creating graphics outside of my team's agreed working hours or signing up to more free courses in the name of "self-development" and "productivity". I want to do better and by writing this post, I'm holding myself publicly accountable and I hope former or current overachievers take comfort from my words. 

How people around me can help me to practise self-care is by saying no when I offer to help you. I love helping people, but I often put helping others before helping myself and that’s how my periods of bad mental health begin. 

Francisca
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Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Book review: The Prison Doctor

My hand holding up The Prison Doctor at an angle in front of a white wall
Before buying The Prison Doctor, I was volunteering with ex-offenders and looking for literature to increase my understanding of the prison system, in the UK, from the perspective of people working within prisons. It took me 8 months to finish as I found the content to be really heavy and graphic at times.

The book is split into three parts: Where It All Began (2004-2009), The Scrubs (2009-2016) and HMP Bronzefield (2016-present). Each chapter builds on the stories from the last and by the end, you have a better understanding of Amanda’s work and the experiences of the patients she treats. 

Amanda takes us through the journey of her sudden career change from being a village GP to a prison doctor. She was angry over the government plans for new GP contracts which would reward surgeries for meeting certain targets. She felt that it was taking away from her role, as a doctor, by turning appointments into impersonal exchanges and so, she resigned. After writing an article for a GP magazine, Amanda received a call from a recruiter with the opportunity to be a prison doctor at HMP Bronzefield.

I felt that Amanda let the stories and the people speak for themselves and the simplicity of the writing made it easier to digest. I've read various reviews that said this made the book seem childlike but I think, the writing style worked really well at making the contents of the book more accessible to all reading levels.

Going forward, I want to do more volunteering in prisons or with ex-offenders, particularly women's prisons. The stories women shared in this book were harrowing and I would love to offer them support in the form of conversation and teaching them skills to survive in a world that shames them.

Here are a few organisations, if you’re looking to volunteer:
Princes Trust – look for contact emails and ask if you can volunteer 
England Shelter – homeless shelters that house ex-offenders 
Khulisa – social and emotional skills development support to disadvantaged young people (11-25)
Charity shops – some have rehabilitation programmes with local prisons 

Related posts: June TBR
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Francisca 
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Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Pitching to brands as a small blogger

A flatlay against a white bedsheet featuring a MacBook with a brush stroke sticker, a mug of coffee, dismantled camera and calendar reading 'all my planets are dead'
After tweeting, “over the past month, I have started pitching to brands and engaging more with other bloggers. It’s true what they say, don’t wait for opportunities to come to you, GO GET THEM!”, I received an abundance of messages asking me to share any tips and advice on how I have increased my engagement and started pitching to brands as a small blogger. I am no expert so take my tips and advice with a pinch of salt, these are things that I have been doing and have worked for me.

Before you pitch 
At the beginning of March, I looked at my current stats and set myself some milestones. I found that the best way to increase your following is to be engaged. You can publish your content and wait for people to see it or you can actively share your posts by tweeting them out during peak times, posting on Instagram during peak times, using hashtags like #bloggingsgals, #girlboss, #discoverunder1k in the comments section of your post, to make sure your content is seen. If you are using a specific brands product or service, tag them in the post, a lot of the time the brand will like the photo, comment or regram your post, which brings new traffic to your profile. 


Increasing engagement is not just about putting your work out there, follow other bloggers and comment on other bloggers latest posts. @bloggerstribe on Twitter do a comment thread every Friday and Sunday at 8pm where you reply to their tweet with one link to your post and comment on other bloggers posts. Once you have commented on someone’s post, you give their tweet a like and let them know you have commented. This is not only a great opportunity to promote your work but a great opportunity to engage with other bloggers. 

Before I started pitching to brands, I made a media kit on www.canva.com – It is super quick to set up an account and the site is easy to use. If like myself you are not a creative person, there are premade templates and examples which you can use for inspiration or search “media kit” on Pinterest, there are lots of great examples there too.  A media kit should include your blog name, logo (if applicable), a summary of what you write about, your stats and followers e.g. total page views, the number of followers on each platform – that sort of thing. Your audience e.g. gender, location and interests, affiliations and previous work, affiliations you currently have and brands you have worked with in the past, what service you're offering. 

Two other things that I did before pitching to brands were improving my photography (bigger and brighter photos) and setting a schedule (posting weekly instead of fortnightly) to ensure I was being consistent. Consistency is something a lot of brands look for!  

Time to pitch
Pick a brand that you would like to work with, which of their products or services can you use to produce a post, series or whatever it is you would like to use them for. Find out their pr email either by going to their site or sliding into their Twitter or Instagram DMs. If you are successful, they will give you their pr email and you are ready to go. Start with a greeting, keep it professional. Write a few lines telling them who you are, why you are emailing them and what you have to offer them in exchange for their good or service. End the email by stating that you have attached your media kit, outlining your current social stats/page info and that you look forward to hearing from them or something that shows that you are genuinely interested in working with them and would like a response. If you try and fail, just remember that the first three brands I ever pitched to, either did not reply or declined the opportunity to collaborate with me. Do not let a few disappointments stop you from pitching. If you want opportunities, go get them!


Francisca
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Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Things I wish I knew when I started blogging

A shot of me viewing my blog from an iphone
Last year, I was invited to a blogger workshop hosted by Three Pipe Reply, a London based brand performance agency. I had the opportunity to network with the team and other bloggers while being 'talked through the best blog layouts, SEO tips, media kits and general do's/don'ts of working with brands. 

I found this event to be extremely helpful and I wish something like this had been around when I started my blog many years ago. I thought it would be helpful to write a post on what I learnt at the event and hopefully help anyone thinking of starting a blog, beginners or those who've been doing it for years, there's always room to learn something new and improve our sites. 

A CHECKLIST FOR YOUR SITE
  • Is your site visually appealing?
  • If a brand wanted to contact you, is your contact page accessible? Is your email address professional?
  • Is your navigation bar split into categories?
  • Do you have a short blurb telling visitors and potentially brands wishing to collab, who you are? 


"Prioritise your blog over your socials. Socials e.g. Instagram should support your blog, not replace it" 

A CHECKLIST FOR YOUR SOCIALS
  • Is your real location visible on your site and socials?
  • Use hashtags correctly, mix them up with each post, don't copy and paste and keep a spreadsheet
  • Use different fields of hashtags ranging from high ranking ones e.g. 104k posts to low ranking ones e.g. 400 posts, to guarantee you're being seen 
  • Don't buy followers or bots, pretty self-explanatory but you can spot fake engagement, likes and followers from a mile away. Don't do it and don't be tempted to!
  • Post regularly and consistently. What days are you going to publish new blog posts? Are you posting on Instagram daily? I heard from a Youtuber that according to Instagram, you should post daily or twice a day to grow. This is something I need to work on
  • Engagement is the most important thing (even for micro-influencers, you can have a small following but have a high engagement rate)
  • Stay on brand and professional throughout your socials, everyone knows everyone in this industry
  • Quality over quantity. Don't post for the sake of posting!

A CHECKLIST FOR YOUR SEO
SEO is short for search engine optimization, it is the practice of increasing the amount of traffic to your website through search engine results.
  • Update old posts with current dates, information and images. Tag old related posts to your new posts e.g. if you're going to Italy and it was on your travel bucket list, link the post so that it can gain more traffic 
  • If you're using WordPress, optimise metadata. The Yoast plugin makes it easy for you to control titles, meta descriptions, set your targeted keywords and track how often you're using them
  • Compress images before uploading and add alt text to your images 
A self-discovery, a lot of us have been using ALT text wrong. ALT text is supposed to be used to describe the image and make your post accessible to those who are visually impaired and rely on screen readers.
  • Aim for posts to be a minimum of 500-750 words 
  • Proofread your posts. Install Grammarly onto your desktop and read posts back to front to make sure it flows
Improving your SEO will improve your DA. DA is how well a website will rank on search engines. The higher your DA, the more likely your site is to appear on the first page of search engines.

A CHECKLIST FOR YOUR MEDIA KIT 
A media kit is a CV for your blog and can be used when pitching to brands. Below is my old media kit from 2015 and an example of what a media kit should (roughly) look like:
A screenshot of a media kit created using canva.com
  • Have you included blog details? Your name, URL, your niche
  • Are your social media links and stats up to date? Try to update them monthly
  • What services do you have to offer? Personal posts, reviews, collabs, social media packages, unique content. 
  • Don't give a price, just say what you offer. You can discuss how much you charge for your services via email as it may vary from brand to brand and as your stats increase
  • Have you included an overview of the brands you've worked for? Get some testimonials to strengthen your pitch
Sites that you can use to create a media kit that offers free templates: Canva, Powerpoint & Word 

DO'S AND DON'T FOR WORKING WITH BRANDS
  • Read pitch emails thoroughly and don't respond until you properly understand what is being asked of you
  • Respond to emails even if you're declining
  • Don't wait until last minute to cancel
  • Avoid burn bridges with brands via social media
  • Avoid gossiping about collaborations via social media. Everyone knows everyone in this industry 


"Closed mouths don't get fed. Email brands and pitch your ideas" - Marissa

The last piece of advice we were given by Three Pipe Reply is to be yourself. Sounds cliche but don't copy what everyone else is doing and create artificial content just to fit into the blogosphere.
Francisca
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Wednesday, 10 June 2020

How I edit my photos using Lightroom

A shot of Cambridge Satchels in-store
A lot of you asked for this post and I’m finally delivering, giving the people what they want. So, you’re wondering how I use Lightroom to edit my photos? I start by saying that I’m not a professional. I wouldn’t even class myself as a beginner, is there anything lower than that? Whatever it is, I’m that.

What do you use to take your photos?
To take my photos, I use EPL7 Olympus pen with a 14-42mm lens or an iPhone 11 on either photo or portrait mode.
How do you edit?
I’ll be honest, it’s a lot of trial and error. This is the before of the satchel photo:
A shot of Cambridge Satchels in-store pre editing
And this was the process of getting the after:
LIGHT
A shot of Cambridge Satchels in-store during the editing process
Exposure -0.15
Contrast -22
Highlights -76
Shadows -35
White +29
Black -31

COLOUR
A shot of Cambridge Satchels in-store during the editing process
Temp -10
Tint -3
Vibrance +13
Saturation +20

EFFECTS
A shot of Cambridge Satchels in-store during the editing process
Clarity 100
Dehaze -1
Vignette -15
Midpoint 50
Feather 100
Grain 50
Size 28
Roughness 50

And for other photos, I up or lower all the above. Very rarely do I use the detail tool as I’m not a fan of photos that are too sharp, I prefer the grainy effect.

What apps do you use to edit your photos?

Francisca
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Wednesday, 3 June 2020

June TBR

A flatlay of a open book placed on a white bed sheet with brown reading glasses on top and a brown throw peeking out from the left corner
What a week. I've had an overwhelming feeling of sadness following the murder of George Floyd but the global response has given me hope. Hope in my generation and hope in the generation that follows. 

I feel heavy and the things that usually bring me joy, aren't bringing me joy and so I've taken to writing and writing leads to reading. I have always felt peace when I am offline, sat on my bed with a black tea, two sugars and I'm reading. For a few hours, you escape and forget. This feeling is temporary but its what I need right now, a few hours a day to just escape and forget. To the black community, keep fighting but remember to step away as and when you feel like it, find those things that bring you joy.

I've been reading Anika's blog Chapters of May for years and she's inspired me to start doing book content here starting with a June TBR. 

The Prison Doctor by Amanda Brown
'Dr Amanda Brown treats inmates in the UK's most infamous prisons. From miraculous pregnancies to dirty protests, and from violent attacks on prisoners to heartbreaking acts of self-harm, she has witnessed it all from her patients.'

I've been reading this book since last year but university life comes at you fast and suddenly, the books you read are gathering dust until the summer. I'm determined to get this finished by the end of June so I can review it! 

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
'Hidden away from the Record Department of the sprawling Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith skilfully rewrites the past to suit the needs of the Party. Yet he inwardly rebels against the totalitarian world he lives in, which demands absolute obedience and controls him through the all-seeing telescreens and the watchful eye of Big Brother, symbolic head of the Party. In this longing for truth and liberty, Smith begins a secret love affair with fellow-worker Julia, but soon discovers the true piece of freedom is betrayal.' 

I love dystopian fiction and I've been meaning to properly read this for months. If you have any dystopia novel recommendations, leave them below. 

Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman
'Sephy Hadley and Callum McGregor have been friends since childhood, and they both know that's as far as it can go. Theirs is a world full of prejudice, fear and mounting violence - where Noughts and Crosses are fated to be enemies.' 

I started reading this in April and put it down to start watching the BBC series but like the prison doctor, I'm determined to power through it and come back with a full review. 

What books are on your June TBR?

Francisca 
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Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Reflecting on mental health awareness week

A side profile shot of me sitting on a doorstep in blue jeans and a floral blue crop top
Mental health awareness week has passed, and I stopped myself from publishing this post last week because I wanted to continue the conversation. I shared the story about my battle with mental health over on twitter and I will be sharing it here, once I’ve found the strength to write about it in depth.

There’s a lot of clichĂ© things I can say in regard to mental health, I’m sure you’ve heard it and you’re sick of hearing it. This post is not that. The theme for this year's awareness week was kindness and I struggled to put my thoughts into words that make sense to someone living outside of my head so, I wrote a poem.

Valid
I feel my lungs fill with air,
heavy hands press down onto my shoulders.
I feel myself begin to sink,
as it takes over.

My limbs are not working.
I’m stuck.
My ears are full of water.
I can’t hear.

Can you see me?
Can you hear me?
If I scream louder, will you notice me?
If I don’t scream at all, am I still valid?

It has my thoughts under lock and key.
I am trapped.
I have the ability to breathe but I can’t.
I feel suffocated.

Its hold is stronger than I.
“Give up”, it whispers,
I nearly give in.

I fall,
I’m saved.
I fall again.
This time,
I shatter

I fall one last time,
I overcome
I stand tall-
For now

Francisca 
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Wednesday, 20 May 2020

How to curate your Instagram feed

A screenshot of my instagram feed
While we've been in quarantine, I've noticed that a lot of us have become more creative. Before lockdown, creating content was a lot easier because backgrounds, locations, tools etc were more accessible and now, we've been forced to make do with what we have and adapt to our new reality. 

I've taken this time to sort the mess that was my Instagram feed and I thought I'd put together a post with all the resources I've been using and would recommend to anyone trying to curate or clean up their feed. 

How I take photos:
I take my photos on an iPhone 11 in photo mode, older photos from March 2020 or earlier were taken on an iPhone 8 plus or Olympus pen E-PL7. Please note, a camera is not necessary for taking good quality photos like they say, a good workman never blames his tools. 

How I edit:
I mainly shoot using natural light but if I want to edit a photo e.g. before and after shots when I'm playing around with my camera, I edit using Lightroom, there's a free mobile version in the app store and I play around with all the different features until I get the desired look. I also use Unfold (app) and the FF1 templates (£1.99) to create photos like the CDG converse one on my grid. If I want 9 photos in one post like the one where I'm wearing a pink dressing gown on my grid, I favourite the 9 shots that I want to use, screenshot and crop the border. 

How I plan:
You see how all of my photos blend well together? To achieve this, I use Feedr (app) to plan my feed to avoid posting and deleting it immediately after. I try to plan each row at a time to keep the same vibe across a row. To schedule posts, I use buffer but usually, I publish automatically.

And that's it, nice and simple. 

Francisca 
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Wednesday, 13 May 2020 / Hinton Airfield, Steane, Brackley NN13 5NS, UK

What skydiving taught me about fear

A black and white landing shot from my skydive
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” - Franklin D. Roosevelt.

I remember watching Will Smith’s video on what skydiving taught me about fear and I was left feeling inspired. Will said, “God placed the best things in life on the other side of fear” and now I can confirm, he’s not wrong. Think of all the things you want to achieve in life but your fears are holding you back. the things that would leave you feeling more fulfilled are on the other side of your fear-filled thoughts. This video is how I came to say yes to doing a charity skydive.

Back in September, my friend Ibraheem asked me if I would do a sponsored Skydive for charity, I said yes despite being petrified of heights. On Saturday, I jumped out of a plane from 13,000 feet to raise over £3,000 for British Blind Sport.
A black and white falling shot from my skydive
I may come across as being brave and fearless on my socials but I actually have a lot of fears, I’m just good at masking them. The art of faking it until you make it has got me this far in life but there are still so many things that I want to achieve that my fears are likely to get the better off and stop me from doing. One of those fears is heights, don’t take it lightly when I saw I am petrified of heights, those who know me in real life will tell you that I am the biggest wuss, I don’t do rides or anything more than a few cms off the ground.

You don’t register what you’re about to do when they’re strapping you up, taking you through safety procedures and you board that plane. The shutter goes down and that’s it, the plane is getting ready to take off and before you know it, you’re 13,000 feet in the air, above the clouds and the only way down is by jumping out. Your instructor goes through the safety procedures with you again, the shutter goes up, the light turns green, you slide forward, hang your feet over the edge of the plane and it's your turn to jump. For about 45 seconds, you’re freefalling with no parachute at 220 mph through the sky. I can’t describe the feeling, it doesn’t feel like the way falling feels in a dream or that feeling you get in your stomach on rides. The best way to describe it is a euphoric sense of freedom, at this moment, I burst into tears and said “Keith, I just jumped out a fucking plane, I can’t believe it” and he replied with “You did it, Fran, you’re amazing”. 

My nerves started to kick in as we got closer to the ground because you realise just how fast you’re going and the fear of death starts to kick in, “what if we don’t slow down enough to land”, “what if Keith accidentally steers us into a building” and then you land and you’re overcome by a feeling of relief, happiness, tears - a real mix of every emotion. 
A black and white shot with my tandem instructor smiling with our thumbs up
From a girl who had a panic attack at the top of the Manchester eye to jumping out of a plane at 13,000 feet. I couldn’t have done it without the encouragement of Keith and Simon, even if they were taking the piss that I was going to slip out the harness.

I hope my story encourages one if not all of you to push yourself and conquer your fears. Now I’ve conquered my fear of heights, what should I do next? I’m thinking a bungee jump.

Francisca 
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Wednesday, 6 May 2020 / Dublin, Ireland

Dublin travel guide

A shot of Guinness storehouse in sepia tone
I have a list of places that I want to visit over my lifetime for specific reasons e.g. Croatia to do a game of thrones tour, Finland to see the northern lights, Rio de Janeiro to see the Christ the Redeemer statue, you get the gist. Ireland was one of the places on my list that I wanted to visit so I could experience St Patrick's weekend and see Giant's Causeway in the flesh.  

Last March, Sian and I hopped on a plane to Dublin for St Patrick's weekend. We were there for a total of 3 days, 2 nights and managed to see most of the tourist sites and do a day tour to Northern Ireland. 

Where to stay
We book our trip in October and a lot of city centre hostels, Airbnb's and hotels had already been taken for St Patrick's weekend so our options were very limited. We managed to find a good deal on Premier Inn for €171.50 roughly £151.81 (£75 each). The hotel is a 5-minute drive from the airport and there's a shuttle for €2 roughly £1.73, that takes you directly from the airport to the hotel and vice versa. 

Things to do
A collage of two photos. Photo 1 is a shot of me infront of the Guinness storehouse gates and photo 2 is a shot of me under a statue of a man holding two beers
We discovered that there was a lot more to do in Dublin than we expected. Here's a list of a few of our discoveries: 
Guinness storehouse
River Liffey
St Stephen's shopping centre
National botanical gardens
Dublin castle 
Oscar Wilde's house (Merrion square)
National Gallery
Temple bar
Henrietta street
Fitzwilliam square
Abandoned prison of Kilmainham Gaol
Paddywagon Tours (specifically to Giant's Causeway & Belfast)

After checking into our hotel and freshen up, we hopped on a bus to the city centre and took the Laus from Abbey Street to the Guinness Storehouse for €4.80. A piece of advice to anyone planning a trip to Dublin, make sure to get lots of change if you're planning on using public transport as drivers only accept exact change. Tickets are roughly €2.15-3.30 each way. 

We booked our tickets for the storehouse online for roughly €50, a drink voucher is included with your ticket. I was expecting the storehouse to be floor upon floors of Guinness but it was so much more than that. There was music, interactive stations, video explanations of the history behind the beer, artwork and so much more to see and get involved with. At the top floor, there was a rooftop bar overlooking the city and this is where you can claim your drink voucher. This was my first time trying Guinness and I can confirm, it was disgusting.

Our next stop, Temple Bar. Again, I wasn't sure what to expect but I wasn't expecting for Temple Bar to be more than just one bar. It's actually an area bursting with pubs, restaurants and galleries. If you're looking for somewhere with a proper Irish feel, this is the place to go. Please note, it can get very crowded so if you want to get good photos, I'd suggest going earlier in the day. 

A collage of two photos. Photo one of the interlocking basalt columns and photo two is of sea next to carrick-a-rede rope bridge

For our penultimate day in Ireland, we booked a Paddywagon coach tour (roughly £55 each) from Dublin city centre to Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.

First stop, the Dark Hedges. If you're a huge game of thrones fan like myself then you may recognise this road, its the King's Road in Season 2. The hedges are two centuries old and were planted by the Stuart family in the 18th century to impress visitors approaching the entrance of their home. I was certainly impressed, that's for sure! 

Next stop, Carrick-a-rede. A famous rope bridge near Ballintoy in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. The bridge links the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede. The was a long walk from the car park to the actual bridge and due to bad weather conditions, we weren't actually able to go across the bridge but we stood by the edge, close enough. 

Giant's Causeway, possibly my favourite stop of the whole tour. I have a list of natural landforms that I want to see and Giant's Causeway was one of them. Giant's Causeway is an area 40,000 interlocking basalt columns as a result of a volcanic fissure eruption. The views here are amazing and if you're like me, you love physical geography then you'll love this landform. 

Last but certainly not least, Belfast. Our stop in Belfast was very brief and there wasn't enough time to properly wander around the city. Across the road from where we were parked, there was a Greggs so I took the opportunity to lose my Vegan sausage roll virginity and I was not disappointed.

Our last day in Dublin was St Patrick's day. There was a huge parade in the city centre, public transport is limited or usual routes are diverted as you'd expect but we hadn't planned properly so nearly missed our flight as we were cutting it close to get through security. 

Places to eat
A shot of a raspberry hot donut
Anyone who knows me in real life will tell you that I love food and going out to eat. So, naturally finding good eateries was my top priority. 

If you've got a sweet tooth, The Rolling Donut and Hot Donut have got you covered. I had the Kinder Bueno rolling donut and a classic raspberry doughnut from the latter, solid 10/10 and would highly recommend. 

A few other places that we were recommended and tried were:
Takara
Gelato d natura
Laudree
Yamanori Tengu
Banyi
Cookes restaurant 
Saba 
Eat Yard
Fire restaurant and lounge 
Clever East
Vintage cocktail club
Elephant and castle
House Dublin
NoLlta
Blushing healthy food coffee
Esquires Coffee
The Hungry Mexican
Bakehouse 
Thunderroad Cafe
Pitt Bros
The Merchants Arch 
POQ Cafe
Umi Falafel 
Kimchi Hophouse
Eat Okyo
Yamamori noodles
Brother Hubbard 
The Happy Pear

We had the best time in Dublin and it is definitely on my list of places to revisit. There is so much to see and do, you can easily find something for everyone to enjoy.

Francisca 
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