Goodbye 2017; Hello 2018!

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I won't lie when I say that I'm a little happy to see the back of 2017 as it's been a bit of a roller coaster year and one that has not allowed me to catch my breath. I was being pulled in so many different directions without the stability that I craved from the previous year. However, 2017 was better than 2016 in a lot of ways as I met some ace people this year. I just wish that I had been able to achieve some form of stability as I had too many changes throughout the year. This was the year of the major home renovation work (which began early last December), three different workplaces, and never being able to quite catch my breath or get caught up on anything. I felt like I have been running in circles, and I've not had a break and have been left feeling absolutely shattered (exhausted) a lot of the time. Anyway, I will cut to my best moments of 2017 now.


January: I returned from the states to a freezing home as the home renovations were taking place, and this was the beginning of being confined to one small bedroom for nearly six months. The month started with two separate light shows/festivals. I went to the Canary Wharf Winter Lights festival, which has returned for its second year and showcased several new light installations.


I also met up with my friends and a couple of their friends to go to Magic Lantern Festival at Chiswick House for the second year in a row, but this was a disappointment this year. We missed the unique Chinese lanterns and the larger-scale pieces; this year seemed to be a rip of western ideas and characters.


February: Although February was a fairly quiet month living out of one room in the height of winter while the house was gutted, I arranged to visit the Royal Mint Exhibition Experience near Cardiff to strike my own new pound coin; new pound coins came into circulation in the autumn of 2017. I saw how the coins were made and learned about them in the exhibition and museum.


Before heading back to London, I stopped at Caerphilly Castle for a tour, and I enjoyed the visit to this moated castle. This is just down the road from the Royal Mint, so I suggest planning this into a visit. The castle is in ruins but is well-preserved.


I also went to Down Street disused tube station, which is located in Mayfair, and that I had booked a few months before. This is a fantastic tube station with Churchill and World War II history as the disused tunnels were used during World War II.


Pancake Day also fell at the end of the month in February, and I watched the Great Spitalfields Pancake Day Race at Dray's Walk off Brick Lane for my fourth time after having to miss it last year. The race is a stone's throw from where I worked on Brick Lane, so I got to enjoy it again. It became a favourite tradition after visiting it first in 2013 while working at the same place and making so many happy memories there. (I'm no longer working in this area of London, so I will miss it in 2018.)


March: March was another quiet month of being confined to one room during the home renovations, but I had one event to look forward to. Several months ago, I had pre-booked a tour of Clapham South disused underground station, which was previously used as a World War II bunker, and the time came to attend the tour. The tour was fascinating with the bunks and signage intact from the war era. 


I also had my first ice cream of the year, and this one was served with cotton candy (candy floss) from Milk Train. They are based near Covent Garden, and you get to choose your ice cream flavour and the toppings. The ice cream appears to be floating on a fluffy white cloud.


April: Easter fell in April this month, and this was a fairly busy month for me. I was a little disappointed about the progress of the home renovations this month, particularly as the weather was warming up and the end seemed to be fairly near but there were set backs. I felt stressed this month. I decided to have a break on Easter. On Easter Sunday, I walked up the road to Ruislip to visit the bi-weekly market, Duck Pond Market, and to watch the Easter egg hunt in Ruislip Woods. This turned out to be an enjoyable day with lovely weather.


In addition to the Easter events, the Ruislip Fairy Village was also installed again on this weekend after it was torn up by vandals, so I managed to have a look for the little fairy doors at the bases of trees, stumps, and logs before the Easter egg hunt began. I also had a quick chat to the fairy responsible for creating the little doors.


On the Monday after Easter, I paid a visit to the abandoned village of Imber in the Salisbury Plains. This village is open to the public for only a few days a year (at some point in mid-August and usually over Easter), and these days are announced in advance but subject to change. During the rest of the year, it it forbidden to visit Imber as it is a military training ground. A few of the original town buildings and homes exist, and the church at Imber still holds services. Imber seems to be getting to be a popular place now that it has been featured in documentaries, and it was busy on the day that I visited, which detracted from the "ghost village" atmosphere.


At the end of the month, my cousin from New York City visited London for a few days. I picked him up from the airport, and we hung out for a day in London. He was also the first to see the home renovations, although the work was not yet complete. On the Saint George's Day Sunday, we had a traditional Sunday lunch at Mews of Mayfair.


May: Although May was a quiet month, I wanted to get out of the house as I was tired of being confined to one room to eat, sleep, drink, and relax in. Near the middle of the month, I visited Reigate Caves and Reigate Castle (and Baron's Cave) during their open day; this has been on my radar for awhile. The caves have a few "open days" a year, and these tend to take place once a month until the autumn. Unfortuately, everyone else seemed to have the same idea as I overheard that the event was heavily publicised on Facebook, so the caves were busy. I was able to see the Tunnel Road guided tour cave as I arrived very early and visit the museum, but Baron's Cave underneath the castle was crowded and rushed.


Toward the end of the month, the home renovations were complete except for a few snags. Although, as I write this in December, I am still not yet done unpacking. There will be more renovation work to be completed in a couple of years when I have saved up. Regardless, I spent a lot of time unpacking and sorting out bits and pieces for the remainder of the year. 


June: June is my birthday month, but it was a low key affair this year.


I celebrated my birthday having a weekend brunch at Chiltern Firehouse, and the food was delicious. I've been wanting to visit the venue for awhile now, so I am pleased to have managed to do this for my birthday. 


Additionally, last autumn, the bloke's brother won second place for raising the most for a cancer charity, so he and the winner received a prize. They had to coordinate with the winner on the arrangement of this prize, and they happened to book my birthday day (which fell on a Saturday this year) for the prize, which was a sailing trip from Southampton to the Isle of Wight with a stop for lunch on the boat. We had perfect weather for this and learned the basics of sailing. Unfortunately, the bloke's brother's fiance could not make it as she was expecting, but I would have loved to have caught up with her on the trip.


On the last day of June, I received the news that all freelancers were being cut from the project that I was on in order to save money. The majority of people on the project were also freelancers. This came as a blow as I had hoped to stay at the company for awhile again for stability, and I had previously worked at this company for over two years. I really enjoyed working with new colleagues and ones that I had worked with in the past, and I made some great new contacts and friends. We had several group and team lunches at Dinerama and BoxPark. 


July: During this scorching hot month, I spent my time working hard in order to meet deadlines at work for the final month, and I spent a lot of time trying to get the house in order. In the middle of the month, I visited the town of St. Albans to see the cathedral and also toured the museum for the Roman town Verulamium, which I found interesting.


On one of those weekends (the only one which seemed to rain as the weather was scorching this month), was the visit to the RAF Northolt Open Day. I live near this airfield and have been hoping for a new open day to visit. Unfortunately, there was not a lot going on. There was a single plane fly-by, but there was not a lot to see and do here. We could see inside one plane and a helicopter, but the queues were so long because there was little else to do. We actually waited for over 3.5 hours to get inside the plane (pictured below).


At the end of the month, I started a new role at Aldgate East (just down the road from the last one) in London. Unfortunately, this new role ended up being a rolling monthly contract, which I have done previously for nearly a year. With a short contract, it is difficult to plan a life. However, I worked with some wonderful people that I would get to know better over the next months.

August: The beautiful weather returned for the majority of August, and I filled my weekends with fun activities. At the beginning of the month, I took an advance tour (due to charity donations) of the Postal Museum, one of London's newest attractions. This museum documents London's underground rail tunnels that were in operation until the 1990s. I went on one of the first tours before it was open to the general public.


I also completed a tour of listed building Broadway 55, the former headquarters of London's transport company. We learned a little about the staff and their working day, the architecture, and the company itself. The views from the top of the building across London are excellent from Broadway 55.


After the tour, I decided to take a walk through London to Regent's Park to see the sculptures in the park at Frieze Art Fair and enjoy the gardens. This was such a lovely day with perfect temperatures.


I also finally got around to booking my exhibition for 'Star Wars' Identies at the O2. This was a Christmas gift, and the exhibition was ending soon. I'm a massive 'Star Wars' fan but just had not gotten around to the exhibition earlier even though it had been open for several months. While guests went around the exhibition of props, costumes, illustrations, storyboards, and models, they answered personal questions in order to develop their own identity in the 'Star Wars' universe. I enjoyed creating my own identity.


Last, but not least, Merlin the cat got a kitten friend, which I named Sir Lancelot, though I don't think the name really fits him now. He was such a lanky kitten and all ears, but he has grown into a beautiful kitten. Merlin did not like him for the first couple of days, but they tolerate each other now and get along 99% of the time. He is sneaky and loves food so much that he will steal if from under your nose and run off with it. Yes, this has happened a few times. He's also not a confident kitten when it comes to human interaction, but he loves to play.


September: September was a fairly quiet month with more time spent trying to get the house in order. I had a trip on a vintage steam train from Harrow-on-the-Hill to Amersham. A part of the Metropolitan rail line was used to put on steam trains, and these went from/to Ruislip, Watford, or Harrow-on-the-Hill.


Once at Amersham, I got the vintage bus into the old part of town where the Amersham Heritage Day was in full swing. I checked out the market and the classic cars, and this was a real treat. I wish that I could have stayed longer.


October: Quite a few little bits and pieces happened in October. I caught up with my friends that I last saw in January at the Chiswick Lantern Festival, and I celebrated their engagement. I also went to Cardiff for a day in order to locate as many snowdog sculptures as I could for the Snowdog Sculpture trail. I did not get to see all of them because they are spread out over a large area, but I did get to see a lot of them.


I had lunch at The Corner House in Cardiff, and this was one of my favourite meals of the year. The food was exceptional. I loved my melting dessert.


I also got to do something fun for Halloween this year. For Halloween, I went on the Haunted Hampstead to Highgate Pub Walk. This was good fun as it was a trek across this part of London, and we stopped off at a few pubs and heard ghost stories along the way.


I was also told that the rolling monthly contract could not be extended further, but my boss had a word and they managed to extend to the end of November, which brings us to November.

November: Although I was told that the contract could not be extended as the work did not come in, several projects came through by the end of the month. Unfortunately, as I was told that there was not going to be an extension, I had already secured a new role. The new company wanted me to start before the end of the month as I had a three week holiday from the last week in November until mid-December, so I started on the third week into the month. Overall, I found November extremely stressful as I left that job and colleagues and started a week of the new one. I had a low key Thanksgiving as I was into my fourth day in a new job. My three week holiday kicked off in the last week of the month when my parents arrived. We spent a couple of days doing activities in London before having festive afternoon tea at the Connaught hotel.


We also went to the circus play 'La Soriee' and had dinner at Smith & Wollensky, which was my favourite meal of the year as everything I ate tasted delicious.


At the very end of the month, we went to Scotland and explored Edinburgh, Inverness, Loch Ness, and the William Wallace Monument in Stirling ahead of our short trip to Germany in December. (I will be adding more posts from Scotland in the coming weeks as I have a lot of work to do and a lot of photographs to look through.)


December: I spent the first day of the month visiting Winchester Christmas Market with my parents before we left for Europe. I know Winchester quite well as I lived near it and visited it often. It was also the first place in England (and Europe) that my parents visited and stayed at while I was finishing my Master's degree. We went to my favourite pub, Bishop on the Bridge, to have lunch before walking down the canal and into the cathedral close to wander around the market.


I then spent part of the first week of December with my parents in Germany where we went to Munich, Kufstein and Innsbruck in Austria, Lindau, and Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles. We saw a few Christmas markets in the towns and cities that we visited, and this was the primary reason for visiting. Of course, we did much more than see Christmas markets.


The view from Kufstein Castle in Kufstein, Austria was stunning. We took the funicular up to the castle and admired the views and explored the grounds. We then went on to Innsburck, but we had a late start and did not get to see a lot.


Our day at Neuschwanstein Castle and Hohenschwangau Castle was memorable in the snow. We explored Hohenschwangau Castle first and had a tour of it before walking down the hill to get a horse and carriage up to Neuschwanstein Castle for our tour. 


We spent the final planned day in Munich to visit Nympenburg Palace, which has a stunning Great Hall and gardens. Unfortunately, the end of the trip did not go as planned as snow in London meant that we were stuck in Munich for over a day as our flight was cancelled and we had to wait over a day for the next flight, which was delayed again. This was the most stressful day that I've had in awhile. When we finally did get home, at a very early hour on Wednesday morning, we were so happy. 

In addition to Germany and Austria, we had more events and places to see. We had some late nights when we returned to London because we saw the midnight showing of 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' (which I thought was good and better than 'The Force Awakens'), and I took my parents to see the BT Christmas Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, which ended up being another late night. Before the concert, we ate at Elgar Bar & Grill inside the Royal Albert Hall, and this was one of the best meals that I have had all year. In London, we also visited the Geffrye Museum for its Christmas Past exhibition before they close the museum for two years, and we had a short visit to Oxford late in the day, but it turned out to be a shopping trip on the last day that my parents were in the country.


After my parents left in the middle of the month, I returned to work for the week up until Christmas, and also had to help the previous company that I worked for on work that came in as I was in the process of leaving. I've been spending the holidays working. 

Now that 2017 is coming to a close, I hope that 2018 is a better year and offers more stability and success. I'd also like to travel more as I've had a busy three years and have only just managed to have a short holiday, and that was the most ill-timed holiday that I've ever taken as it really screwed up my options; however, the rolling monthly contract and the previous contract being cut short also screwed up my options. So, I am hoping for success, travel, and more time for myself in 2018. I hope that all of my readers have a great 2018, and Happy New Year!

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