In an earlier post I described how I had found the website Travbuddy and contacted Laura, whose travel aspirations matched a lot of my own. We exchanged some messages, and agreed that we both seemed to click with each other. However “clicking” through the internet (HA, pun not intended) and clicking in real life are two very different things, so we decided that we should meet in Birmingham – the halfway point between our hometowns.

I was a little nervous. However I have people from the internet before, both in travel and dating-related capacities so it wasn’t completely new territory for me. It was kind of like going on a first date.  I guessed Laura and I would talk and get to know each other. Size each other up and determine if we would want to see each other again. Except without the awkward kiss at the end, and the “will he, won’t he call” bit afterwards.

Any nerves I did have were soon forgotten when the train I was on reached Wakefield Westgate. A young couple got on with a baby boy, and the mother sat next to me with the boy on her lap. Almost instantly he started reaching for the magazine I was reading, grabbing my top, squealing in my ear and doing anything else he could think of to command my attention. Following several smiles to each other, and a countless number of apologies on the mother’s part, I asked if I could take him from her for a while. As soon as he was in my lap I started talking to the mother (Elena). I found out she was a PhD student studying in Sheffield and had been in Wakefield for the week visiting family. She came from Russia and had lived in both Spain and France before coming to the UK to study. She told me she loves to visit other parts of the UK regularly and asked me for recommendations. Her husband is an A&E doctor and, though they don’t get to see each other much, they count themselves very lucky to be in the position they’re in. In between these tidbits of information I was trying to stop baby boy from eating my magazine and licking the window. I’m sure Elena was feeding him properly, but I did wonder!

We soon reached Sheffield, and I said my goodbyes to Elena and my new, drooling friend. The rest of the journey passed uneventfully and I met Laura, as planned, in Birmingham New Street. We didn’t have a specific plan and just ended up walking aimlessly, talking the entire time. Stopping off at several cafes, pubs and eateries on our path we found out lots about each other and discovered that we had a fair bit in common. We shared with each other what kind of trips we like to take, the travelling we’ve already done and what we hope to do in the future. I scared regaled her with stories of mishaps on past trips, ignoring the slightly worried expression on her face and assuring her that i’m not cursed…just a little unlucky sometimes.

Before we knew it several hours had passed and it was nearly time to catch our respective trains home. As we parted at the station I think we both knew the meeting was a success and we could move on to start planning the trip. However the obligatory post-meet text was needed, just to confirm. We both sent them to each other almost simultaneously, and from there the planning started.

We ended up travelling to Krakow in early February 2013 (and, consequently, an Easter weekend in Nottingham). I will do a posts on those soon. However it is safe to say that Krakow was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.

I got two things out of the trip to Birmingham that day:

1) Affirmation that travelling by yourself opens up opportunities to have chance encounters with people you may never otherwise bother speaking to.

2) A new Travbuddy!

Leeds Art Gallery is centrally located, ensconced in the heart of the municipal buildings district. The Tiled Hall Café can be found on the ground floor of the Art Gallery, and is the perfect place for visitors to rest their feet and recharge.

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The first thing that hits you when you enter is the hubbub of chatter echoing around the huge room, aided by the lofty arched ceiling. The massive windows allow unlimited amounts of sunlight in giving a light and airy feel to the room. Couples sat on the small tables by the windows are able to look out onto Victoria Gardens as they eat and drink.

The Tiled Hall Café is named as such because of the original tiles covering the walls and ceiling. Once covered by shelving they have now been exposed and the colourful detail which they give to the room remains a unique selling point. I’ve been a few times before but always with friends and their children. As lovely as it was to be with them, I never really had the opportunity to take in my surroundings and appreciate the area for what it is. Sitting there on my own today, waiting for my friend to arrive, I had the chance to do that.

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Speaking of children the café is very family-friendly. It gets extremely busy during school holidays, and there isn’t a time when a child isn’t dashing around, chattering away or tugging on your leg and trying to make friends with you. Unless you’re incredibly focussed I wouldn’t suggest choosing the café as a location to do a spot of work (believe me, I’ve tried!) Having said that a relaxed, friendly atmosphere is always guaranteed.

Visiting today at lunchtime I chose to eat a lovely salmon nicoise salad, following by a scone with jam and cream. I washed my food down with two pots of Earl Gray Suki tea. All food is sourced within Yorkshire, ensuring that local business is supported. The food has a wonderful home-made, freshness to it and is delicious. I’ve been a fan of Suki teas for a long time so there’s definitely no disappointment there either.

I really don’t have a bad word to say about the café and will continue to return whenever I want a reliable, central place in which to stop off and have a break.

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I’d started that fateful day waking up late. The alarm on my phone thought it would malfunction, and go off without making a sound…which is never handy. Dashing around like a mad thing, I eventually made it to my first meeting of the day on the opposite side of the city, half an hour late. Nobody was impressed, least of all me. Travelling between my first and second meeting on the bus saw me almost get pick-pocketed, and realise I had then somehow gone to the wrong venue. Once again I was late. By the time I was on my way back into the city on my penultimate bus of the day I was ready to go home and never face the world again.

I was at the bus stop in town, sat in a shelter without a roof in the pouring rain. I was waiting for the connecting bus when a car went flying through a huge puddle and drenched me from head to toe. I was as thoroughly miserable as I was soaking wet, and desperately needed a little pick-me-up. The bus wasn’t due for 20 minutes, so my eyes went scanning nearby buildings for somewhere to seek solace. Moving from a florist, onto a men’s clothes shop, I immediately stopped on STA Travel. “Can’t hurt to browse the brochures for a while”, I thought.

Australia has been a dream travel destination of mine for at least ten years. I can’t say what triggered the fascination, nor what made it grow, but it has remained ever strong. I have looked at flights, and explored visa options many times, but nothing has ever come of it. I was browsing flight comparison websites again a few nights before, and found some good deals with Emirates to fly later in the year. I’d filed it in the “to re-visit” section of my brain.

And so, when I was idly flicking through a brochure in the shop, I found myself responding positively to one of the agents asking if he could help in any way. I sat opposite him and began to explain my dream. Despite extensive questioning on his part, I discovered I really had no plans in mind other than wanting to land in Melbourne and be there for the Australian Open. I suppose that made his life easier in terms of searching prices, maybe not so great in terms of selling add-ons. Before I knew it, he had found quotes that beat the flight comparison sites and with amazing routing. He seemed a little surprised when I immediately handed over my card and told him to go for it. I suppose faced with somebody who had extremely vague requirements, the least he would have expected was for me to want to go away and think about it.

The truth is I’ve been thinking about it for ten years. I’ve been talking myself out of it for ten years, and always managing to find reasons to stay at home “for another year or so”. There will always be reasons to stay at home, and delay the trip of a lifetime. There will always be a job where you earn a good salary, or family members and friends who will miss you to bits (and vice versa). However chances to live in, and explore, another country become more and more limited as the years progress. I want to make the most of the opportunities whilst I have little commitments or responsibility.

Stop thinking and start doing.

I had missed the bus by the time I had left the travel agency and returned to my wet spot in the bus stop but, for the first time that day, I was smiling.

The event

A collaborative venture between The Culture Vulture, the Blog North Awards and Creative Tourist ‘Food Glorious Food’ was the fourth in a series of day long workshops, with previous sessions focussing on art, culture and social media. The aim of the game was simple – to get as many like-minded bloggers (of varying levels) in the same room, and provide a number of inspiring and informative sessions from influential people in the business. The day covered photography; social media; writing skills; PR and how to build effective relationships with brands, as well as listening to Lynn Hill (Clandestine Cake Club) and Leigh Linley (Good Stuff) describe how they went from blogging to the heady heights of published author-dom. The opportunity to taste Café Moor’s food came at lunchtime, and Bompas and Parr were present later in the day to demonstrate the amazing things which can be done with jelly.

It was not expected that bloggers in attendance would just learn from those they were listening to in the workshop sessions, however. Just as (if not more) important was the opportunity to network and mingle. To ask questions and share ideas with each other. I loved meeting those who I’ve interacted with in the cyber-world for the first time, and new links.

The venue

In the introductions Duke Studios was described as a place providing “creative, co-working spaces” and I could understand why. Walking into the open-plan room located on the first floor of Munro House, in the centre of Leeds, I felt just like I was stepping outside again into a bright and colourful garden area perfect for mingling and networking. A range of work spaces are provided, as well as hireable studios for photography and equipment for laser and vinyl cutting. There is even The Not Bored Room – a refreshing twist on the generic, bland meeting room. The entire area has a rough edge to it, and is perfect for people who need an inspirational place in which to complete their work. I’d be back there in a second if I ever get the opportunity to work full-time for myself.

The workshops & speakers

Everybody had the opportunity to attend two workshop sessions from a choice of four. In the morning I opted for “Brands and Blogs”, which had Sam Ward (Brand PR Manager for Taylors of Harrogate) at the helm. She explained how Taylors of Harrogate approach working relationships with bloggers, and highlighted what both sides should expect from a collaboration with one another. Sam emphasised the need for bloggers to approach a brand with a unique idea and that it must be relevant and refreshing. Hearing about some of the recent projects which the brand are undertaking solidified the need for constant, creative thinking from a blogger’s perspective. Scary stuff when you think about it…but not impossible. Though this workshop was not relevant to me right now, I learnt a lot which I can take into the future if/when I ever get the opportunity to work with big brands.

I thought I would choose ‘No Such Thing As A Free Lunch’, a writing workshop run by food writer Emma Sturgess for the afternoon session. I’ve done some writing work in the past, both paid and unpaid, and had a journal for many years before starting this so I knew I could string two words together but had no idea if I was doing it effectively. The hour with Emma contained so much practical advice that sparks were flying off my pen by the end. She took us through every aspect of creating the perfect blog post from establishing an identity and unique ideas for posts, all the way through to structuring and producing posts, and critically editing them. All the underlying principles of writing covered by Emma can be applied to writing of any subject, and I would have paid just to listen to her alone. The end of the workshop consisted of Emma encouraging us all to write one thing we could work on on our blogs on a postcard, which she would mail back to us in a couple of days. The idea being that we sometimes put these things off, and that receiving a hand-written reminder in the post would prompt us to act. I like it.

The food

Bloggers were truly fed and watered all day. The day started with breakfast (toast or croissants) and a hot drink from Café 164 – located on the ground floor of Munro House. I’ve been in Café 164 a few times when I’ve needed to work in a quiet, relaxed space and their service is always fantastic.

Lunch was served by Kada Bendaha, owner of Café Moor which can be found in Leeds Kirkgate Market. Kada showcased his talent in creating delicious Middle Eastern food, and many bloggers just had to return to him for seconds. I’ll be visiting the markets to sample moor (sorry, I couldn’t help it) of his food.

High tea saw an afternoon break full of cake happiness provided by Clandestine Cake Club members, including a massive pink cake provided by The Sunshine Bakery. I stopped myself from going back for seconds, as difficult as it was.

Throughout the day there was as much Yorkshire Tea available as people were able to drink.

The people

As I alluded to earlier, the event was an opportunity for people interacting in the cyber-world to finally come face to face, and I was no different. I met the lovely Nelly of Nelly’s Cupcakes for the first time, along with her friend Lauren of Around The World in 80 Bakes. I spoke to @acurlyspoon and @woodalljoshua who are both fellow newbies keen to take the first steps into blog-dom. I also met Shirley Quarmby, who runs Chez Shamwari – the first underground tearoom in Saltaire, and am already planning an afternoon there at some point in the not too distant future.

The verdict

I was incredibly reluctant to register and attend the event. The day was geared towards food bloggers, of which I am not. Combined with the fear that I was plunging myself into the unknown world of networking, I had almost talked myself out of it and was getting ready for a Saturday at home. I’m pleased that I ignored all my instincts though. I was rewarded with the opportunity to listen to, and learn from, some inspirational people. I took away many tips which will hopefully make me a better blogger, and I got to taste some AMAZING food…what more could anybody ask for?!

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Of course, I may well be eating my words once I’ve experienced the US and Australian Opens (eeeee!!…more about those in a separate post).

Wimbledon. I love it. Simple as that. I remember one overcast summer’s day back in 2001 when, much to my mother’s chagrin, I went channel surfing in the hope of finding something half decent to watch on TV. That’s when I happened upon Wimbledon for the first time. More specifically, the excruciating semi-final between Ivanisevic and Henman. Tiger Tim ultimately went on to lose, but what unfolded before my eyes was five sets of determination, excitement and sheer tension! I always thought tennis was a dull, ‘posh boy’ sport…how wrong I was!

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From that moment on I was hooked and, in 2004 armed with a tent, sleeping bag and much anticipation, I went on my maiden voyage with some like-minded friends to “The Queue”. For myself and my good friend, Rachel, it was the start of something special. Very little has stood in the way of our annual pilgrimage to the land of strawberries, Pimms and CENTRE COURT ever since.

Me and Rach, Court no.1

Wimbledon is the only tournament where you can get premium, show court tickets on the day of play. Such is the popularity, of course, that you have to queue and this involves pulling an all-nighter if you want to be on a show-court. However that is a small sacrifice when the end result is court-side seats in one of the most famous tennis arenas on Earth, watching world-class players thrashing it out.

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I could wax lyrical for hours about the All England Lawn Tennis Club and the amazing matches I’ve seen there, but I really want to talk about The Queue. I capitalise it because it has become an event in its own right. The Queue is as efficiently and strictly run as the tournament itself, thanks to a vast number of honorary stewards, stewards and security staff overseeing the operation. And they are definitely needed. Thousands of people join the queue over the fortnight in the hope of landing a golden ticket. The Queue is now so popular that Wimbledon organisers introduced a dedicated policy, and god help anyone who doesn’t adhere to it.

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The premise is simple…you arrive and join the back of the queue. On arrival a steward meets you and gives you a queue card with a number on which shows your place in the queue, and the date of play for which you’re queuing. If you’re number 1-500 you get EXCITED because you know you will be on Centre Court the following day. Numbers 501-1000 and you will be guaranteed court no.1. Numbers 1001-1500 will see you in court no.2. Anything outside of this and you will receive a ground court ticket. When the district line train is rumbling overground in to Wimbledon Park station (The Queue is now located in Wimbledon Park) Rachel and I eagerly peer out of the window, trying to guess how many people are already there.

Queue cards 2012

You MUST keep hold of your queue card. If you leave the queue for any reason, or any length of time, anybody can ask to see it before you reclaim your spot (though I’ve never known this to happen…queuers are generally a friendly bunch). It also helps you to identify where you have pitched your tiny tent in the sea of tennis fans! If you’re found queuing without a card, the stewards reserve the right to throw you out (and I have seen this take place).

The Queue sign

I won’t lie, there is a lot of waiting around so it’s a good idea to a) take playing cards/fully charged ipod/a book; b) make friends with your neighbours; c) scope out Wimbledon Village and town or d) all of the above. It is also a good idea to go with somebody who you know you can tolerate (and who can tolerate you) for lengthy periods of time. Rachel and I have known each other since nursery, so we’re aware of each other’s good/bad habits and how to deal with them.

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Local takeaway and food outlets have identified The Queue as a lucrative source of business. Daily, around 3pm, people will start coming round chucking leaflets in your tent and telling you about the special offers they have. Take your pick from pretty much any cuisine you can think of, and chances are you will receive a leaflet for it. Then, when you’re ready, you just call and place your order and wait for your delivery to arrive at the gates. I don’t think i’ll ever grow tired of that novelty. In recent years, however, Rachel and I have started opting more for picnic food from local supermarkets or proper restaurant meals. This can work out slightly cheaper, and there is more chance of getting some of your five a day!

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I always feel that The Queue has a festival atmosphere to it. People from all walks of life brought together, camping in close proximity for one common goal. The majority are extremely friendly and good conversation often occurs. Impromptu games of Frisbee/football/tennis break out as a result of new found friendships, and there is a general air of camaraderie. However, like most festivals, there is also little sleep to be had. Despite stewards’ best efforts to enforce silence after 10pm, the sound of frivolity and excitement still breaks through. As you have to be up, with all your gear packed away and ready to move by 6am, chances are you’ll have caught little more than 40 winks.

The following morning

Our mornings usually begin at 4am, so we can beat the early morning rush to the bathroom and get a good place in the left luggage line. Once we’ve dumped our stuff (and paid the £5 per camping item…£4 of which goes to charity) we get back in line and prepare to wait…and wait…and wait some more. Wimbledon Park is located around half a mile from the tennis club itself and the walk there (beginning at around 7am) is a slow and painstaking one. Eventually you reach stewards who ask you which court you would like to get tickets for, and you are given a wristband (once you have shown your queue card). That is followed by more waiting. Gates to the tennis club open at 11am, and there is little to do in the meantime. Newspaper sellers often come round the queue before it starts moving, which is handy for a) the day’s order of play and b) something to read during the wait.

On way to AELTC

Once you eventually reach the turnstiles (following a full security check…I once had a metal padlock confiscated), you need to have cash ready as cards are not accepted. If you want to sit in a particular place check out the seating plan beforehand and try to head for the appropriate turnstile. Last year Rachel and I wanted to sit opposite the umpire’s chair and landed ourselves the best seats we could have wished for! So it’s possible.

Centre centre court

After all of that, you’re finally in! In the home to one of the most hallowed, loved, talked about tennis tournaments ever. In my foggy, sleepy haze there has never been a time when I haven’t let out a little joyful “squee” at the thought of what the day ahead may include.

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The Queue is not for everyone, but it is an unforgettable experience. Even if only remotely interested in tennis, head down there and get yourself a piece of the action.

Back in June my friend Steph contacted me and asked me if I wanted to attend afternoon tea with her. “Of course”, said I, rarely turning down a request to go out. Especially if that invite includes tea and cake! Further conversation revealed that not only was it afternoon tea, but it was part of the underground tearoom/cafe phenomenon currently sweeping the country. I will admit to being completely ignorant to the movement and, even after Steph’s explanation, I presumed that we were going to be dining in a closed cafe/coffee shop…kind of like a lock in. How wrong could I be?!

But, first of all, Lindley! What a pretty place it is! Even in the dreary, cold and damp weather of today, it felt welcoming and warm. It wasn’t really the best day to be visiting given that Rudolph and his friends were due to be trotting down the high street, and every child in West Yorkshire seemed to appear on the pavements lining the road to greet them. We had a cursory walk up and down the high street, and I was delighted to find a cake decorating and sugarcraft shop. There were so many lovely little businesses of varying descriptions, all appeared to be doing a fine weekend trade and no doubt supported by the locals and beyond. But we weren’t there to shop…

Before I knew it we had reached the end of the row of shops and Steph was leading me through an unassuming gate and through the front door of a house. “Shouldn’t we knock?” I thought, but apparently not! Underground tearoom organisers simply like you to walk in and make your way through to the dining room. I was greeted with a happy hubbub of conversation, and a table full of delicious looking savouries! There were eight guests in total, most of us were newbies which made me feel a little better. We were all seated around one large table which encouraged us to engage with each other, something which we had no trouble doing…when we weren’t indulging in all the lovely treats, that is!

And how lovely they were! In keeping with the ‘nuts’ theme we had a selection of sandwiches including mature cheddar on walnut bread, poached salmon with red pesto, and chicken and waldorf salad; leek, goat’s cheese and walnut tart; a selection of cakes including hazelnut macarons, pecan tart, and coffee and walnut cake; fruit scones and mini nut scones served with clotted cream and strawberry jam. All of these were washed down with a selection of loose leaf teas and coffee. All food and drink was served in, or on, gorgeous, mismatched stands and pieces of crockery.

Marie Claire was the perfect host – happily joining in the conversation with all of her guests, in between deftly tending to our every need, and always made sure our teacups were full up, as well as our tummies. She instantly made people feel at ease and it was lovely to see her husband and two kitty cats occasionally wander through the room occasionally.

All in all I don’t have one bad word to say about the experience. I thought that I might feel a little awkward walking into a stranger’s house to eat food that they’d spent hours pouring over. But, actually, it was quite the opposite. Eating 100% homemade food served happily by Marie Claire in her lovely home made me feel, well…quite at home. So at home, in fact, that I almost completely let go and went to undo the top button of my jeans because I was THAT stuffed. I didn’t…that would have been a step too far for all the poor, unsuspecting people in the room!

If you’re ever in Huddersfield, look up Cafe Nouveau at Home and see if you’re able to grab a spot at the next underground afternoon tea.

Hmm, over a month since my first post. That isn’t very good. However, here I be again!

Since the last post I have certainly gone places, both travel and career-wise. Some time ago I applied for a 12 month temporary vacant role in my place of work. An improvement on my current salary; a completely different department where i’d get to learn about a whole other side to my workplace; a role in which I can utilise all the skills and knowledge i’ve developed over the past four years yet still be stretched and challenged. Best of all? I will no longer have to attend all the meetings in all corners of Leeds which are currently expected of me. Can I have a giant “HURRAH” please?

Occasionally I wonder if I am making the right move. I know what I am doing in my current role. I have built strong relationships with all the people I work with, both in and out of the office. I am relied upon and am a source of assistance for many colleagues when they need something. However I have also become increasingly disenchanted over recent months, due to events which I won’t divulge here. I feel like i’ve become a bit TOO comfortable and, the fact that i’ve now found myself feeling fed up with the role I’m in, is a big indication that I should try something new. All of that is before we even consider the fact that I’m actually quite scared about the thought of having to integrate myself into a completely different team. To make new friends, and prove myself as somebody my fellow colleagues would want to work with. However if I don’t confront that fear I’ll be stuck in the same place forever, stagnating and feeling bored. If you want to go places you need to take risks. I’ve taken a lot of risks in the past. Some have worked out, a lot haven’t. But an important lesson has been learned from each and every one.

I will be on a secondment from my current role so, if the position isn’t extended at the end of 12 months, I will still have a job to go back to. However I feel that this will ultimately be the beginnings of new things for me. I have other plans in mind…other things I feel like I need to do, and to go and explore places which have been on my agenda for an indecent amount of time.

So…watch this space!