University: Keeping Your Brain Ticking Over Summer

I know only too well how easily knowledge can seep out of your brain over summer – and definitely how much it disappears during a placement year (I’ve now got my second year notes to go through over the next few weeks!).

 photo 2015-07-08 18.54.06_zpszgtrszq7.jpgWhen Ladbrokes sent me some bits and bobs to ‘train my brain’ I thought I’d really put them to the test. Over the past few weeks I’ve played around with the wooden puzzles, pondered over conumdrums and snacked on seeds. The outcome? I’ve definitely had improved concentration, and I’d like to think concepts are being grasped slightly speedier.

I’ve actually been given some advanced reading material by my boss (from exams I won’t touch for at least another two or three years). It might be a coincidence but I’ve definitely not found it as daunting as I’d imagined! My mind has also been more alert at work, I’ve even managed to correct coding errors for others!

So, my top tips for keeping the brain tick-tocking over the summer?

Don’t Do Nothing

You need to keep your mind busy – so don’t lie around in bed until midday or spend all day vegetating on the sofa. I’m not saying you can’t do this, but just not everyday. Get out, be active, take up knitting.
 photo 2015-07-08 18.53.57_zpsa8afohpc.jpg

Eat Healthily

I was always sceptical about how much impact diet has on brain function – and to an extent I still am. However I know myself that if I eat unhealthily, eat a lot of carbs, have a lack of veg, I feel sluggish and in turn my productivity plummets. The best way to avoid slipping into summer indulgence is to top up on healthy snacks, then just indulge a bit more at meal times.

I’m also yet to be convinced by supplements, but with Alzheimer’s in the family I’ll do anything to keep my brain healthy!
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Read Over Notes

If I know I’m going to be carrying on content the next year, I’ll keep refreshing my mind. Admittedly I’ll only do this over the latter half of my break, but it’s far easier than going straight in with no recollection of what you have already covered.

Read Ahead

Yep, geek alert! Sometimes I like to read ahead a little, grasp a few concepts before I get back in a lecture theatre. I find the beginnings of academic years really tough, so for me this takes the pressure off learning!
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Relax – Don’t Over-Do It

It’s important to get the balance right. Yep, you need to continue to work your brain, but you also need some time out. Chill, unwind, catch up with friends and recharge your batteries. And puzzles are great too – check out Ladbrokes’ other suggestions for brain training!
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*Disclaimer: I was sent a few goodies by Ladbrokes for the purpose of this post. All views are my own.

Do you find yourself forgetting content over the long summer? Do you take any steps to keep your brain in gear?

Travel: Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo & Personalised Magnums

Not a well talked about place, I’m very grateful to Libby for recommending this place. We sought shelter after the rainstorm, and were there when the sun came out and the paths (and people) literally started to steam as they dried out.

 photo Castel SantAngelo 15_zpssrzt60ty.jpg photo Castel SantAngelo 16_zpscqerwzgr.jpgNot only does the Castel Sant’Angelo provide some of the most stunning views of St Peter’s Basicila, it’s also one of the most interesting castles I’ve visited. It’s not very ‘touristy’, there’s little signs everywhere, you just have to explore. There’s lots of little paths to take, lots of hidden bits to look at.

 photo Castel SantAngelo 1_zps77uzxomp.jpg photo Castel SantAngelo 5_zpsrif66yet.jpg photo Castel SantAngelo 11_zps0mnc2bsp.jpgThis photo was a complete accident – my camera has a touch-screen, and I’d forgotten to take touch-shutter off. It was taking photos at virtually every step I look as the camera moved against me. Turns out it is one of my favourite photos of the trip!

 photo Castel SantAngelo 12_zpstmkym1kd.jpg photo Castel SantAngelo 2_zpssz8pi5xh.jpg photo Castel SantAngelo 9_zpsmlmdjydf.jpg photo Castel SantAngelo 13_zpsh06xlqio.jpgI peered through a dusty broken window (as a joke) and found the most stunning painting hidden from view behind it. We wandered through stunning, ornately decorated rooms (not expected in a castle!), peeked through arrow holes, and climbed our way up the narrow, winding staircase out to the top. I’m quite glad the thunder had stopped by that point!

 photo Castel SantAngelo 7_zpsp6i3syoj.jpg photo Castel SantAngelo 10_zpsdfsnxxlc.jpg photo Castel SantAngelo 4_zpsvw2pjzpd.jpgI wore one of my favourite summer pieces – a midi skirt with H&M in a burnt-orange colour. Perfect for travelling as it covers knees (a necessity with a lot of places in Italy), and it packs up really small. I threw it on with a black vest top, then had a white shirt over the top as shoulders should also be covered in the Vatican. It proved useful in the rain too…and protected my blistered shoulders very nicely!

 photo Castel SantAngelo 3_zpsrumzjdte.jpgAfter a good few hours in the castle (at €7 for students, less in off-peak months, it’s a bit of a bargain) we wandered along the river, dodging more blimming selfie stick sellers. The above photo isn’t actually blurry – the paths (and people!) were steaming as they dried out from the rain! We were hunting down a place I’d found mentioned on a school friend’s year abroad blog; the Magnum Pleasure Store.

Not exactly Italian, but W is a huge fan of Magnum’s, eating them probably five nights a week.I knew we couldn’t pass up the chance to visit!

 photo Magnum Store 8_zpsyramf92d.jpg photo Magnum Store 6_zpss0a67p0s.jpg photo Magnum Store 5_zpssexfi5ic.jpg photo Magnum Store 4_zpstqkdsiwl.jpgProbably the most expensive Magnum you will ever eat at €4, you choose between a vanilla or chocolate ice-cream filling. It is then dipped in either white, milk or dark chocolate, and scattered with up to three toppings before being finished with a drizzle of more chocolate. Not only is the product yummy, the store is lovely, vibrantly decorated at the front, but quite trendy and ridiculously comfy (and air conditioned!) out back.

 photo Magnum Store 2_zpsbvexvkd4.jpg photo Magnum Store 3_zpsdnzzmfyd.jpgHere’s a challenge for you – guess which one was mine, and which one was W’s! The white one was a chocolate ice-cream, covered in white chocolate (duh), sprinkled with salted caramel, hazelnuts and pretzels, drizzled with dark chocolate. The brown one was a vanilla ice cream dipped in milk chocolate, topped with rose petals, raspberry and brownie pieces, drizzled with white chocolate. So, whose is whose?!

 photo Magnum Store 1_zpsgcusvvws.jpgBoth were damn delicious anyway…

Do you like exploring hidden gems, or do you stick to main tourist attractions? And the most important question – what would you top your magnum with?

The London Diaries: Lunch at an Aerodrome

So yep, my second post of ‘The London Diaries’ and I’m already moving out of London! In my defence I wanted to share this a good few weeks ago, but just never got the chance. And anyway, it’s not too far out of London (hell, this is where I’m commuting to each day!), and I can already tell that if I lived in London long-term I’d definitely be heading out to the countryside every few weeks!

 photo Redhill Aerodrome 2_zpsdkeilyj4.jpgNow I sound like I’m moaning. I’m not, really I’m not. I’ve discovered I LOVE living in London, really quite like the hustle and bustle. I’ve almost forgiven my landlady for not installing double glazing in a flat overlooking a bus stop with 3 24-hour bus routes. My purse is hating that shops are open late enough to pop in after work. I can go out for dinner and eat anything I fancy. But sometimes you need to unwind and take things at a slower place. And this little lunch spot is absolutely perfect.

I lived in Redhill for just under a year and, despite being told a couple of times about this place, I visited the aerodrome on my last weekend. Confession time: I’m a transport geek. Boats, trains, classic cars, tractors, I’m not exactly a ‘spotter’ but they do all excite me a little. And planes top the list. Living under Gatwick’s flight path hasn’t dampened that down, so having lunch overlooking light aircraft whizzing around was right up my runway (gettit?!).

 photo Redhill Aerodrome 7_zps6lis1b5e.jpgThe Pilot’s Hub is a cutesy cafe with a large outdoor area, serving sandwiches and simple bar-type snacks (think burgers and chilli – you’ve got it!). It overlooks right onto the plane ‘carpark,’ with some about 100 yards away from the tables. The runway is the opposite side of the field, so it’s not hugely noisy, but it’s still perfectly possible to watch the planes go up and down.

 photo Redhill Aerodrome 3_zpsnthemoyc.jpg photo Redhill Aerodrome 4_zpsk4kwpgtr.jpg photo Redhill Aerodrome 1_zpsi1kgdree.jpgWe stuck to sandwiches, myself going for the Pastrami with mustard and pickles. Delicious, excellent quality bread though I would have liked an extra slice of meat. What was there was tasty and succulent though! W went for a home-roasted ham with apricot chutney – heavy on the meat it was throughout enjoyed.

We both opted for some Rose Lemonade. Light, sweet and floral without tasting like soap, this was lovely – and wonderfully instagrammable too!

 photo Redhill Aerodrome 5_zpsgupdy5pw.jpg photo Redhill Aerodrome 6_zpsbub9o8ve.jpg photo Redhill Aerodrome 8_zps72efth3t.jpgWe sat in the sun and watched planes (it was a lot busier than I imagined), and I looked into flying lessons. One day perhaps! The Air Ambulance was scrambled which caused excitement (and the loss of some crisps at a neighbouring table from the wind!). Tempted by the cakes but knowing we had plenty to do meant we didn’t indulge – maybe next time!

A truly unique lunch venue, and one which I loved. One which I definitely think is worth a visit, and with trains taking less than an hour from central London it’s certainly a viable option. I only wish I’d visited sooner!

Where is the most unique place you’ve ever eaten?

Travel: Italy with a Tomato Allergy

One of the things I was most worried about before our holiday was the eating part. The last time I accidentally exposed myself to a little bit of tomato resulted in the scariest 10 minutes of my life. And yet here I am going to a country where tomatoes are pretty much the favourite ingredient. Oops.

 photo Food in Venice 4_zpsi3upwtc8.jpgIn the end, it wasn’t too bad. Realistically my choices were limited, I’m not going to lie. I had a lot of ‘fried fish’ – a mix of prawns, calamari, and other seafood – which I’m not complaining about. I wasn’t particularly inspired by most white pizza options (cheese on bread – no thank you!), and carbonara was a safe bet.

 photo Pizza in Rome 4_zpscsmv3wdu.jpg photo Pizza in Rome 5_zpsxvci5uc0.jpgIn terms of what I ate, I found more local restaurants were actually easier in terms of they had more options – but it was more difficult to get across my allergy. I did manage to learn the Italian phrase I needed, but even then I wouldn’t have felt comfortable ordering something I was uncertain about! On our final night in Rome we found the most lovely Pizzeria, wonderfully decorated, friendly service, cheap wine and a whole menu of tomato free pizzas (plus more ‘normal’ ones!). I ended up choosing a mozzarella pizza with anchovy cream, radicchio and parmesan – and it was stunning.

 photo VenicePasta2_zpslyvdv34m.jpgI’ve had a lot of practise of eating out with allergies, and unfortunately it’s not all good. It says a lot that I felt more comfortable eating out in Italy than I do in the UK – clearly the new legislation isn’t going enough! My tips are;

  • Don’t be too adventurous. I tend to stick to meals I can tell are safe for me. Fine in Italy, in the UK unexpected garnishes can often cause an issue.
  • Inform and ask. Always, always, always inform a restaurant of your allergy even when picking ‘safe’ foods. This might end up getting you a special dish too – my favourite meal in Italy was a specially cooked Seafood Pasta. So good.
  • Take allergy meds. I never go anywhere without strong antihistamines – unfortunately doctors don’t take my allergy seriously so until I end up in hospital I don’t have an epipen.
  • Avoid exercise. You are more likely to have an allergic reaction if you consume the allergen before or after exercise – no idea why, but it makes sense!
  • Know your symptoms. For me, the first sign of a reaction (small or severe) is my chest going blotchy. Completely unattractive, but its great to have a warning sign!

 photo VenicePasta1_zpsrfsihdib.jpgIt’s not easy having an allergy or a food intolerance, so when Vital Footprint along with EatJoy sent me over their detailed document on exactly that I couldn’t help but share. So here it is, the Food Intolerance Guide (With Illustrations).

 photo Food Intolerance Guide_zpsxg812cys.pngIn essence, it offers a discussion about the differences between allergies, intolerances and gastrointestinal diseases. It talks about what causes intolerances, common ‘problem’ foods, and how to ease (and possibly eliminate) symptoms. It’s a highly useful document, so I definitely recommend giving it a read!

Do you suffer from an allergy or food intolerance? What are your tips for avoiding being affected? 

Healthy Eating: The Snack Edit

I’m not an overly snacky person, I just have very little self-control. You know the Pringles slogan “once you pop, you just can’t stop” – that sums up my relationship with just about every snack. It’s easier for me just to avoid snacks entirely.

 photo IMG_3601_zpstnrbwxmc.jpgHowever since living with W things have had to change slightly. As a Type 1 Diabetic snacks need to be on hand in case of low blood sugar. He also seems to be always hungry. And of course, if he is eating a biscuit, I want a biscuit. It doesn’t help that the OCD in me doesn’t like leaving an odd number of biscuits in the packet either…

As a compromise I’ve been searching for healthy snacks, something I can nibble on instead of feeling deprived.

 photo 2015-07-08 18.53.57_zps9vpfqugf.jpgSeeds are a great way of keeping me occupied – I’m a boredom eater (car journeys are the worst!), so as seeds take ages to eat they always seem to satisfy me. I’ve loved these mixes, which I was sent as part of a Ladbroke’s brain training kit (which you’ll hear more about soon). The slightly savoury ones are pretty addictive, but the dried-fruit-hater in me has discovered I love goji berries. Who knew?!

Filling up at mealtimes is also a good option as it really does prevent snacking, but I’ve found a breakfast option that also works really well as a mini-desert if I realllyyyy need it. Overnight Oats have become a BIG obsession for me since I started commuting, and now I’ve started sneaking spoonfuls just before bed too. So good. A whole post coming on overnight oats soon, I promise you.

 photo IMG_3602_zpsptievcq0.jpgNow, Nakd Bars*. I was sceptical about these as (1) the ingredients aren’t exactly my cup of tea, and (2) the flavours seem a little odd. That said this box of 18 is diminishing fairly quickly. They are pretty expensive in shops, in fact way out of my budget, however buying a box of 18 via Natural Balance Foods is a lot more affordable. I like the fact you can pick up multipacks too, including chocolate multipacks – I adore the mocha flavour! Healthy cereal bars (that are yummy too!) are so hard to find, I feel a little order coming on!

Pre-packaged options are all very well and good, but I also like whipping up some snacks of my own.

 photo 2015-07-18 18.16.38_zps5gj51qd1.jpgPopcorn is my current favourite, and in fact has been a favourite for several months. It’s easy to do a small bowl just for me, or a big bowl for sharing with friends. Not to mention alllllll the flavour combos you can make. I have kept it simple, just sprinkling with sugar. Add a bit of cinnamon if you’re feeling fancy. Grating over a square of dark chocolate is an easy way to get your fix. And if you’re feeling really naughty? Stir through toffee sauce and bake until crispy. Me and my sister shared a whole bowl of toffee popcorn over the Hunger Games (I’m late to the party!), it was far yummier than shop bought.

On the savoury side there is something I never thought I would find myself trying. Baked crispy chickpeas were definitely a good shout and, whilst I need to perfect the recipe, they certainly satisfied a savoury, crunchy, munchy craving. I covered mine with cajun spicing, but I’m sure virtually anything would work. Yum yum.

 photo 2015-07-18 20.27.51_zpsr0welb9i.jpgHealthy snacking has definitely added something extra to be diet, and I’m looking forward to taking these options to university in September (I definitely need to snack during a full day of lectures!).

What are your favourite healthy snacks?

Beauty: An Italian Kiko Haul

I couldn’t go to Italy and just walk by about eight Kiko stores now, could I?! I’d heard great things about the brand, loved the lipstick I bought a few months back, and had quite a long wishlist.

 photo Kiko Haul 1_zpstovgz28r.jpgIn the end I was very well restrained, with two separate ‘hauls’ coming to less than €25 euros in total. Could I have spent more? Hell yes, but I tried to only pick up items I knew I would get a lot of wear out. W firmly told me more lipsticks were unnecessary (I have to agree), and I’m wary about new foundations which did limit my spending. I’m sure my overdraft let out a sigh of relief!

My first haul was in a store very close to the Vatican (on the main road leading from the metro stop). I went in just to have a browse really, and came out with a highlighter and two lip liners.

 photo Kiko Haul 3_zpsoydgh9dv.jpgThe Mosaic Highlighter was on my original wish list, but I couldn’t find this anywhere so I assume (sob) it has been discontinued. I’d dearly love to try it though! This one is probably the most pigmented highlighter I’ve used, you definitely need a light hand! I reckon it will be a touch too golden (there is a white shade) once my tan has finally faded – but I have plenty of ‘pale’ highlighters so this doesn’t bother me.

 photo Kiko Haul 4_zpsxdgrguie.jpgThe lip liners are perfection. I’ve tried a few and the only ones I’ve liked before these are from Max Factor. These are creamy but stay put, and are available in LOADS of colours. I picked up two of the more neutral colours, one leaning more brown, the other pink. I just wish I had grabbed a red one – I arrived back to find mine had dried out?!

 photo Kiko Haul 2_zpsbnz1gztd.jpgThe second haul was in Venice and the result of dragging W round half a dozen stores to find somewhere that had the right combination of palettes and eyeshadows in stock. I realise I could have split the buying but I didn’t want to add more card charges to my account (RBS isn’t exactly wonderful when traveling abroad!). I picked up a quad instead of my original plan of a triplet, and grabbed 3 matte shadows and 1 shimmery. The mattes are crazily pigments and smooth for the price, the shimmery nothing less than what I would expect (and a pretty good dupe for a certain cranberry shade…). It’s annoyingly bulky, but at around £9 total for a custom palette I can’t complain!

My little shopping sprees haven’t definitely got me interested in what Kiko has to offer, and I’m sure I’ll be nipping into their London store over the summer – I’m really intrigued by some of their blushers, and also their brushes!

Have you tried anything from Kiko? What would you recommend?