Life Over The Wall In West Bank, Palestine

Abu Dis: Israel built the wall quite literally through Jerusalem. Abu Dis is a suburb of Jerusalem but is now separated from the city not by distance but by a wall that has created a completely different economy for those living in the West Bank.

Abu Dis: Children watch on in curiosity.

Abu Dis: Israel built the wall right next to a Muslim faith school, which was shut down after Israeli soldiers intimidated students from their watch post on the other side of the wall. They used guns, fire and other methods of intimidation. On the left side of the wall is Israeli run Jerusalem. On the right, East Jerusalem is run by the Palestinian Authority, who answer to Israel. 

Abu Dis: Inside the abandoned Muslim faith school.

Abu Dis: Palestinians are often forced to abandon their homes due to intimidation by Israeli soldiers from the other side of the wall, or because of eviction notices issued by the Israeli government claiming the occupants need to leave for ‘security purposes’.

Abu Dis: Children risk irritating the watching Israeli soldiers by playing in front of the wall as their garden is now separated from their house by the wall.

East Jerusalem: The wall divides landowners and farmers from their land. The land is then redistributed by Israel to ‘occupiers’ who farm the land for their own profit.   

Beit Sahour: Day 4 of the trip and  I cracked and cried. The day was filled with a peaceful walk through a beautiful village. The Palestinian women were happy because they had heard about its beauty but had never been. When we were at home in Bethlehem, chilling and chatting, my roommate and her sister got a call from her their other sister, letting them know that a girl had been shot dead at the checkpoint near their home. They knew that their other sister was passing through that checkpoint to pick the girls up. Everyone’s phones started ringing. They were parents making sure that their daughters were alive. It was tense. I tried to calm my roommate down, but the sisters were torn between feeling shocked and scared and frantic. Their phone rang again and they were told that the girl had been identified. It wasn’t their sister but a close friend. There was a split second of relief before panicked tears of anguish and terror and sadness. Then it was a rush to get them back to their village before the Israelis shut the border, barring them from getting home. Later, the Israeli news reported the story, claiming that the girl had attacked them with a knife. The girl had been travelling through the check point to get to an evening revision class because she had an exam. She was 17. This is lunch time earlier in the day, when the girls were happy. 

Hebron: The largest city in West Bank, Hebron used to be a thriving market town. However, due to severe violent intimidation from ‘illegal’ Israeli occupiers and sanctions issues by the Israeli army, the markets have all but shut down and the residents are often confined to the street they live in when the Israeli army shut down the checkpoints. It’s a very volatile city where violence could erupt between the occupiers and the Palestinians at any point. Army presence is heavy but the children still smile. 

Hebron: Here I am showing the smiling children their photograph.

Jericho: Jericho is home to the desert where Jesus allegedly wandered for forty days and forty nights. The girls in this photo are from all over the world, including the UK, Palestine – both sides of the wall, Belgium and France. For me, this photo just highlights the fact at the end of the day, all young women worry about money, boys and make up. 

Jerusalem: A family take refuge from the sweltering heat outside Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Jerusalem: Me apparently dressing to match the beautiful Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Jericho: My sister Chloë and myself found it a little overwhelming visiting all of the place we’d brought up reading about in the Bible.

Nabi Musa: These camels were parked up outside the mosque built where it is believed the prophet Moses (the one who parted the red sea) is buried. 

Monastery of Temptation: Me pointing out a sandstorm picking up in the city of Jericho. Right behind me is a monastery built into the wall of the mountain, supposedly built in the cave Jesus escaped to whilst he reflected for forty days and forty nights.

Jerusalem: The Wailing Wall. The Western wall is part of a fort built around Al-Aqsa Mosque. Centuries ago, the wall was part of the old synagogue that used to stand in Jerusalem. Nowadays, Jews travel from all around the wall to pray at the wall, which is considered to be one of the holiest sites in the Jewish faith. 

The Pope’s Mountain: The Bedouin communities are persecuted by Israel due to their lack of permanent address. Their makeshift houses are demolished and they are left with nowhere to go. In this photo, the rubble are the remains of Bedouin homes. The built up city in the background is an ‘illegal’ Israeli settlement. Israel built these communities in the West Bank under the guise that they would be for displaced Palestinians to live. However, when they were completed, they occupied the houses with Israeli citizens and gated them off with armed guards. The United Nations have numerously named them illegal but what can you do to the people living there? Displace them?

The Pope’s Mountain: A Bedouin boy stands on the rubble of a home. 

Hebron: A child plays in the street in front of a heavily guarded Israeli settlement. The occupants of the new build are ‘illegal’ Israeli settlers who commandeered the building through intimidation. Now, the building is guarded by the army to protect the occupants from possible attacks.

Hebron: In Hebron, illegal settlements have been built inside the city, preventing the Palestinian people from living there. The newly built white building in the background at the end of the staircase is an Israeli settlement. People living in that building are encouraged to throw chemical bombs, rubbish and hurl verbal abuse at the Palestinians in the street below. You can see metal grids and verandas have been put up outside the doorways to protect the residents when they leave their house. 

The Pope’s Mountain: A child plays on the gate that guards his Bedouin home that he shares with his mum and sisters near The Pope’s Mountain. The Pope’s Mountain is an area of land that was given to the Pope as a gift from Jordan in 1964 when Palestine was under temporary Jordanian rule. This land now stands in the way of the wall joining together. Israel want to continue their building work so the Bedouin community are once again being forced out. 

Jerusalem: The Wailing Wall where Jewish people come to pray. Palestinians and Muslims are forbidden from traveling in this quarter of the square. 

Jerusalem: The Middle East sell some of the most beautiful incenses. Frankincense or myrrh anyone?

Refugee camp: According to the latest figures from the United Nations, the West Bank is home to nearly 775,000 registered refugees, with around a quarter of whom live in 19 camps. Some  of the camps are located next to major towns and others are in rural areas. Some children don’t know any different.

Refugee camps: Around 750 000 Palestinians became refugees following the Nakba (Catastrophe) between 1947-1948.

Refugee camps: It’s always good to see the bigger picture. Here, someone snapped me being snap happy.

Refugee camps: The United Nations recognises the plight of the Palestinians and provide food bundles are needed by the people who can’t afford to live under Israeli Occupation.

Jerusalem: The four green doors on the right flying the flag of Israel are occupied by illegal settlers. One day, the Palestinian residents left their homes for the day, only to return to find their front doors barricaded with these hefty, green military doors and the locks changed. The settlers refused to leave. Although people who do this are deemed illegal by the Israeli government, they are very rarely persecuted. The Palestinians are forced to leave and find somewhere else to live, which is difficult as they are banned from building any more homes and there aren’t enough existing places to live. 

Bethlehem: It’s not what it looks like on the Christmas cards.

Bethlehem: Israel control the West Bank borders, and with it the imports and exports of Palestine. Many shops supply Israeli products, who’s packaging is written in Hebrew. Palestinians living in West Bank and Gaza are encouraged to take part in the boycott Israel movement, by refusing to buy Israeli products. 

Hebron: Not many years ago, these shop fronts in Hebron were open and brimming with customers. Now, they are subject to the laws of Israel who dictates when they can open, which isn’t very often. Some shopkeepers are forced to closed because they just can’t afford to stay open. 

Hebron: Below the tin canopies are the shops in the market. Shopkeepers have been forced to put up the metal to protect themselves from the things the settlers throw at them from above. Rubbish, bleach and dirty water are just some of the things thrown at the marketeers. 

Hebron: Jewellery seller at Hebron market. 

Hebron: However, some parts of the market are thriving. 

Hebron: A market seller who’s produce ranged from spices to live poultry in cages.

Hebron: The Palestinians are being forced out by Israeli settlers, room by room, house by house. 

Hebron: Residents have been forced to put bars on their windows to protect themselves from things being thrown through them, or even from people getting in to squat when they leave to go about their daily business. 

Abu-dis: It doesn’t matter how horrendous and frustrating life can be for the Palestinians, you’ll always find someone smiling. Someone told me it’s because if you don’t smile, you’d cry. 

Hebron: Children living behind bars for their own protection. 

Bedouin community: Some of the huts on the land where the nomads are forced to live are funded by the United Nations. 

Jericho: The views of the desert are breath taking. 

Hebron: Driving through the ram-packed streets of Hebron, Palestine.

Bedouin community: When Palestine met France. 

Bedouin community: When Palestine met England. 

 

Checkpoints: You’ll probably have noticed the lack of photos of the checkpoints in the elephant in the room in this blog post. It’s because taking photos of them are an arrestable offence. And considering the most murders of Palestinians living in West Bank happen at checkpoints, you don’t want to piss off the Israeli soldiers. Instead, I drew this illustration of what I saw. Checkpoints are horrible places. This woman was taking her son to hospital which was on the other side of the wall. He was motionless and his eyes were rolling in the back of his head. Ambulances are forbidden to drive through the checkpoint and you have to apply for a pass to get through, even if emergency care is needed. These can take hours, days or weeks to be approved. Israeli soldiers did nothing to make her passing through the checkpoint quicker – if anything they made it longer, making her walk back through the detectors just because. No one was permitted to help her. She wasn’t crying, she wasn’t screaming, she was just a mother trying to save her son. It was heartbreaking. 

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New York City: Wake Up And Smell The Cawfee

I spent 3-5 days literally laughing until a bit of wee came out. Manhattan with the girls was AWESOME.

How the Spice Girls became the Spice Girls

The Spice Girls from left to right: Me, Chloë, Mum and Marie.

For Clo’s 21st birthday, Mum promised to take her to New York for some mother-daughter time. As time went on, the group grew (because who doesn’t want to go to Nee York?!) with family friends my mum’s age. Chatting to me over the dog and bone, mum was worried that Clo would need a youthful member to join her in the clique. Much like Katniss Everdene in the Hunger Games, I volunteered to take one for the team. Poor students/young professionals that us sisters are, we began saving. Ain’t no dollar gonna stop us from travelling. So there was four of us: Mum and Marie, the two grown ups (I use the term lightly), and two young’uns. The perfect recipe for a weekend city break – no boys thank you very much.

And made it! You’ll remember it was a little hit and miss for a while, thanks to Clot II. Armed with a set of horrendous flight socks despite the fact that I get blood clots in my ARMS. What a tit.

Palais de Airbnb

As a foursome, we were working with very different budgets and us being the povo students decided to introduced mum and Marie to Airbnb. I think it’s safe to say we did not convert them.

While a hotel room was going to cost around £700 for the three nights we were there (and we’d probably get two), our Airbnb was around £500 for the stay. Now, my experience with Airbnb is that you get what you pay for. In Croatia and Barcelona it served us really well, with clean, gorgeous little apartments providing us with everything we needed. Iceland was a bit hit and miss. New York was crap. But also hilarious.

When your mum has been to Central Park many times before and is less than impressed…

We should’ve known how things were going to pan out when we were left waiting outside for 40 minutes for the cleaner/housekeeper to bring us the key to the apartment at 10pm at night, and a young woman buzzed up to the ‘penthouse’ wearing a short, mid thigh length coat that left a little bit of flesh on show before the thigh high metallic silver stilettos began. Of course, she may have been the owner of the apartment who had just lost her keys or, of course, she could have been a lady of the night. No judgment either way of course.

Chloë ft. jazz hands in Times Square.

When the cleaner did finally show up with no apologies, she showed us up to a weird looking apartment at the end of a fag stinking corridor that was supposed to sleep five. It’s hard to imagine but I the apartment was split across three floors. So through the door on the right was a kitchen, the left a bathroom and then a little further on was a ‘bedroom’. I say ‘bedroom’ because the entire room was a double bed. At the end of the corridor it became a sort of balcony where you could go up to the open plan double bedroom or down to a living area. And the weirdest part was, there was an internal window at the end of the box room that looked out into the living room and upstairs bedroom so in the morning Marie could wake up, all Sleeping Beauty-like, open the window and bid us good morrow whilst we were still in bed.

Making a political statement outside the Trump Tower (and also being scared of all of the NYPD protection)

Moaning aside, the apartment provided us with a place to sleep and it wasn’t unliveable. It was situated in Midtown, and a stone’s throw from the Chrysler Building and Central Park. At the end of the day we were in New York baby!

Have your selfie stick licence With you at all times

This is my mum using her selfie stick to take a photo a the view. Need I say more?

We were well and truly jet lagged but you don’t have time for it when you’re only in the city for a short weekend. My advice? Man up and push through it. Plus, tiredness makes everything seem so much funnier and you end up giving your abs a proper workout purely from your hysteria.

Absolutely loved showing this cherub around the city (as if I knew where I was going…)

We didn’t go there to shop because, thanks to globalisation, pretty much everything we would’ve bought out there we could’ve picked up in the UK. Besides, it was Clo’s first time and who’s got time to go to Zara when you’ve got an entire city to see?

To see the sights, we opted for the City Pass. For £70 it got us into three attractions and allowed us to join the speedy queues. In my opinion, paying entry on three attractions is all you need. We used ours going up the Empire State Building, the Rockerfella and visiting Lady Liberty. You can screenshot the QR code on your phone too so it’s dead easy and no flapping about with bits of paper.

The Rockafeller building at night. The view from up here is even better than the Empire State Building because the Empire State is in the skyline.

(I say no flapping about but my mother still managed to lose her pass that she had emailed to a disused email address. This meant we had to go to Grand Central Station so she could get on to the wifi to then call the company to get a new one sent. They were very helpful with cancelling the lost pass and issuing a new one. Here’s a short video of Mum and Marie trying to work out why they couldn’t hear when BOTH OF THEIR PHONES WERE PLUGGED INTO THEIR SELFIE STICKS. I can’t even.)

Make use of the freebies

There are loads of free things to do in Manhattan – it’s one of those cities where sometimes all you need to do is see the sights. There’s Wallstreet, Times Square and Broadway. Walking the Skyline, seeing China Town, Soho, Central Park, Ground Zero. And if you can’t afford to shop, that’s no problem. There’s more to New York than Fifth Avenue.

Sisters on tour ft. Times Square.

Grubs up

If you’ve had any experience dining out Stateside, you’ll know that the meals are often the size of a baby elephant. Not in New York though, where fash-hun is paramount and being skinny is on trend, the portion sizes are not overwhelming. You’re safe here.

Chloë was nearly defeated by her french toast brioche avec cream brunch at the Hundred Acre in Soho.

Like all women on a city break, we were obsessed with brunch – which New York does really well. I’d recommend the Lexington Brass on 48th Street, Lexington Avenue (not for New York cheesecake though), just don’t order a Bloody Mary or the lining of your stomach will disintegrate from the pure Worcester sauce. And if you find yourself in Soho, Hundred Acres is a beautiful brunch spot with sweet and savoury on the menu – perfect for the quinoa and spinach lover. It’s the city that never sleeps – except is does. Things do actually close.

Mum and Clo in a swanky tapas place somewhere in Manhattan.


Marie and me sipping on pink fizz, resting our barking dogs (it’s a northern thing apparently…)

Showing Clo around the city was AMAZING. It’s like a film set isn’t it? The buildings are huge – puts London’s Shard to shame. I love it. I would absolutely love to live there, if it wasn’t for the crappy labour rights in the US. And Trump. It wasn’t until Clo said ‘there’s no space’ did it dawn on me that because of the block system, there is no room to breathe.

But who needs to breathe when you’re in Manhattan?

When I went to the Jungle refugee camp in Calais

It’s easy to comment on something like the refugee crisis, particularly when it feels like the news is dominated with stories about refugees. About how their tragic journeys ended at the bottom of the sea, or those being forced to live in squalor whilst they seek asylum or how refugees are the cause of terrorist attacks, raped and disorder. It’s less easy to get off my fat ass and do something about it.

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Actually, that’s a lie. You just need a little time to spare and be prepared to slum it a little. There are so many different organisations calling for volunteers that all you need to do is drop them a line on Facebook and you’ll have a meeting point and a contact. I got in touch with Tunbridge Wells based Wonderwoman, Val Osborne, the brains behind the charity RefugEase, and volunteered in the Jungle camp in Calais.

Aside from my own personal adventure (sorting through the warehouse, piling into a van with eight strangers, being locked out of a crappy hotel room, sleeping eight in two beds, getting a flat tyre on a Sunday in France etc.) I really think it’s something everyone should experience. You can’t truly understand something until you’ve experienced it yourself. Of course, I’m not comparing my weekend volunteering in a refugee camp to the plight of families fleeing war-torn countries but going to hear their stories first hand is the closest I can get right now.

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Most of those living in the camp are men and teenage boys from all over the world, particularly Eritrea and Afghanistan. The reality is that boys and men are more likely to be fleeing because they are a) prime targets for conscription and because b) men earn more money. As a white, blonde girl from Kent, I’ll admit that at first I felt a bit intimidated. Another reason that I needed to go and see the camp for myself – to get over those occasional irrational presumptions.

The camp reminded me of a music festival, with it’s quirky, makeshift tuck shops and restaurants lining the main street. A bit like Glastonbury but at the end of the weekend when the stench from the overflowing toilets clings to the inside of your nostrils and bits of people’s beddings are strewn across the pathway and the see of damaged tents are a sorry sight. But the people were friendly enough.

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You’d be naive to think that every person living in the camp are refugees and this is another reason I wanted to go. I met people with stories of war torn hometowns, tales of young boys fleeing conscription, older brothers who feared for their gun wielding siblings. People recalled their fond memories of affluent homes in the up and coming areas of town, about the cars they have at home and about the families they left behind.

But I also heard stories of people who were offered asylum in Italy and Germany but had run away for a life in the UK. One man even told me about how he was already granted asylum in the UK and was given a British passport, until it was held by police when he was granted parole after being arrested for drunkenly assaulting a police officer. He then smuggled himself out of the UK to visit his mother in Afghanistan. It’s hard to sympathise when someone’s story starts like that.

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But then you remember where you are: in a stinking squalor. People don’t chose that for themselves. Refugees and economic migrants alike tell stories about sinking lifeboats, drowning friends, being smuggled across borders, walking across countries on foot, being rejected by the inhabitants of every city you travel through, leaving behind family and friends.

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And then it doesn’t really matter what their backstory is because at the end of the day these people are here and they need help. And if that help means a warm blanket to sleep under, sufficient food to keep them alive and a game of cricket to keep their spirits up them so be it.

<The problem is here, right now and it’s on our doorstep, so stop closing your door.

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Iceland: Winter Road Trip

People who’ve been to Iceland told me that once you’ve been, you won’t need to go back. I can’t say that I agree. In fact, I’m already planning my next trip out there.

Dreaming of snow

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Back in late September, Oli and myself found ourselves looking online, hunting for some winter snow. We wanted somewhere beautiful and secluded, away from our typical city breaks. We had visions of us staying in the mountains in log cabins, wrapping up warm and going for walks in the snow. That’s how we came across Iceland.

We booked five days away (with a early morning flight home on the sixth day)’ spending two nights in the capital city, Reykjavík, and then we planned to go ‘beyond the wall’ (Game of Thrones was filmed there),  into the mountains to stay at the capital in the north, Akureyri.

Doing it on a budget

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There’s no denying it, Iceland is SO expensive. Think London prices and some. It suffered badly in the 2008 economic crash plus its tourism industry was screwed over when Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in 2010. That, combined with the fact that pretty much everything is imported, means that the excruciating VAT prices could be the make or break of your Viking trip. But don’t let it be. Icelanders are suffering too and there are ways to get around it.

There’s a little bit of a housing crisis going on in Reykjavík at the moment as so many Icelanders are converting parts of their houses into Airbnbs to earn more dollar, so there are plenty to choose from. We stayed two nights in an apartment in the capital, with a shared kitchen and bathroom. That cost us around £130. Don’t be put off by the thought of sharing with other people because it saves you money and you’re out all day every day anyway so you’ll hardly even care. As long as where you sleep is warm!

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The best way to avoid the eye watering cost of eating out in Iceland is to stay in places that have a kitchen. Your average KFC meal will set you back a tenner each and a meal for two in your local Italian restaurant with two soft drinks, will cost you around £50 together. Instead, head over to the local BONUS (the cheapest supermarket around. Don’t get caught out like we did by shopping at the equivalent to Waitrose on our first shop…) and buy ingredients you can cook at home.

Because we’re not millionaires, we even went as far as bringing a bag of rice and some chicken stock from home and grabbing some fresh veg whilst we were out there so we could make veggie risotto. We also picked up ingredients for breakfast and sandwiches and general road trip snacks. Don’t go overboard though – the more money you save on food means the more money you have to spend on the fun things!

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There’s no denying the fact that there’s SO MUCH TO SEE in Iceland. BUT all of the sights are quite spread out (due to being forces of nature, Icelanders had no choice where to put their tourist attractions. Sorry about that). There are day excursions that will take you on mini tours but they are going to set you back at least £150 per excursion, and trust me, you’ll want to do at least three or four of them. Of course the benefit of going on a tour is that you don’t have to think about getting from A to B but you can do it so much cheaper if you hire a car and share the cost with some pals…

(Ps. Iceland don’t really do cash – it’s cards all the way!)

Getting around

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I would definitely recommend hiring a car and planning a road trip around Iceland. If you’re going in summer, your bog standard two-wheel drive will do the job just fine. However, if you’re looking to go in winter, I would highly recommend you get yourself a four-wheel drive. Petrol is a little bit more expensive than in the UK but when it’s shared between two of you it’s really not a lot considering how much distance you cover!

We were suckered into the cheap price offered by the hire car company for a two-wheel drive. We ended up with a very fashionable (not) pea-green Renault clio. However, we were caught out by the unreliable weather and ended up driving through a snowstorm in the mountains. To give you some idea of how scarey it was, they have reflective posts on either side of the road stations every 10m or so and at some points we couldn’t seem them until they were at our window… Our four hour drive to the north turned into a tense seven-hour trek. But Oli is a cool-as-a-cucumber driver and totally aced it so never fear!

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As soon as the snow hits, drivers will realise that they are never far away from a snow plough, keeping the roads clear. However, it’s worth noting that during winter, almost all of the roads become closed at some point and iced over. You can keep an eye on what the roads are doing on your trip here.

Embrace the weather

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There’s a saying in Iceland that goes: “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” There’s a reason for that.

Because of the way the land lies, the weather is temperamental to say the least. It’s unpredictable and subject to major mood swings. That means that whatever time of year you go, you’re never guaranteed sunshine for your whole trip.

For us snow-hunters, Iceland didn’t disappoint. It snowed alright. From the moment we stepped of the plane, we were slapped round the faces by the bitterly cold, icy, sea wind. Little did we know – and nor did the Icelanders – that the weekend ahead was going to be the biggest snowstorm of the year so far.

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This stunning, Nordic country is home to volcanoes, mountains, thermal springs, geysers and so much more, which enables it to be powered almost entirely by green energy. It experiences long, hard winter nights and equally long, days in the summer. In January, sunrises at around 11am and sets at around 1pm, and in August the sun sets at midnight and rises at around 3am. When you head out to Iceland, you want to see it all!

However, the intense snowfall did prevent us from seeing many of the things on our bucket list. It didn’t ruin our trip though – far from it.  We got to see the beautiful countryside covered in a blanket of snow. And I’ll tell you this for free, the views don’t get any less impressive!

And what about the Northern Lights? I hear you ask. Like many tourists who seek them out, we were disappointed. They can be seen from Iceland between September and April but of course you are then cursed with cloud cover. It’s just hit and miss really and it just gives me an excuse to go back and find them! You can check out the likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights on your trip here.

You can keep an eye on the weather in Iceland here.

Doing it again

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If I were to do it again (which I totally will), I’d go out there with a bunch of pals – and Oli of course! – I’d hire a four-by-four car, and I’d map out a route before booking where to stay. Then I’d stay in different places every night en route.

Although the south is on the tourist run (the Golden Circle route is a tourist fave), I would still head north because there’s so much to see there too. Getting off the beaten track a bit is fun and makes the road trip that little bit more special.

Got any questions? Get in touch either via the contact page or catch me on Twitter @HollieBorland.

When we got home, we were looking through our photos and found a bunch of me where I really should have taken my Ray Bans off. In fact, I looked like Stevie Wonder. Just for laughs, and because we have bare photoshop skills, we transformed me into the Three Blind Mice. I’m crying with laughter! 

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The bittersweet destruction of the Calais ‘Jungle’

Today marks the first day of the destruction of the Calais Jungle. Around 60 buses will leave the camp, taking with them around 3000 troubled souls to accommodation centres where they will be registered and their fates decided. Tomorrow there will be 45 more buses and 40 the day after that.

Since 1999, the camp has grown from a few hundred tents to a home for around 6,000 to 10,000 refugees and migrants who are trying to enter the UK via the Eurotunnel and ferry crossing. Yes, there are showers, there are small businesses and some cafes and restaurants have electricity and wifi.

The majority of people living there are men because adolescent boys are the prime targets for Taliban recruitment and army conscription in civil wars. Families living in poverty tend to send their sons away in search of better wages because the sad reality is that men are paid more. There are estimated 400 unaccompanied children living in the camp.

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These guys run the Kids Café. Just inside the door is a hand-scribbled list of names pinned on a post. It’s titled: ‘Have you seen these children?’

The Jungle is a dangerous place. There is insufficient sanitation, poor washing facilities and sleeping arrangements are cramped, temporary and leaves people vulnerable. Drug culture and violence are rife. There are often intercultural clashes. Men, women, children and volunteers are victims of rape.There’s no one to protect a common law, apart from French riot police armed with rubber bullets and teargas. The camp needs to be destroyed.

People flee homelands from all over the world: Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria; Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan; Bangladesh, Pakistan, Burma and Vietnam. They have all made the most horrific journeys with traffickers, crossing war-torn lands and seas in sinking boats. Some have lost friends, some family, some both. But when all seems lost, they find the strength to continue to reach their goal: the UK.

But seeing the destruction of the camp won’t make these people go away. We’re just moving the problem to somewhere else. Out of sight, out of mind right? Wrong. Because these people have gone through too much to give up at the last hurdle. And what about the people who are already on route? They’re going to keep on coming, keep moving towards to UK via Calais. Remember, they’re chasing a dream – a dream which the United Kingdom has sold them.

London Calling: Outside the camp, graffiti artist Banksy has sprayed a picture of Steve Jobs who was the son of a Syrian refugee.

London Calling: Outside the camp, graffiti artist Banksy has sprayed a picture of Steve Jobs who was the son of a Syrian refugee.

The news that the move has meant that so far around 70 children have been reunited with family in the UK, at least 43 of them young, unaccompanied girls who have been brought here to safety under the Dubs Amendment. Some have been taken into foster care, whilst others have been forced to stay in a ‘pre-departure’ immigration detention unit called Cedars near Gatwick airport.

However, as I write this, the latest census by humanitarian organisation Help Refugees has found that there are still 49 unaccompanied children in the Calais camp who are 13-years old or younger. All are eligible for resettlement in the UK under the same act.

I’d like to think that all of the residents of the Jungle are being taken somewhere safer and that their futures are bright. However, whilst the threat of deportation and trafficking still hangs over their heads, I can’t help but feel a little apprehensive. If I’m feeling like this then God only knows what it feels like to be a refugee in Calais.

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Myself and Oliver J Hill took on the challenge of climbing Scafell Pike in the Lake District back in March. We’re two thirds of the way in taking on the Three Peaks Challenge (climbing the highest peaks in Scotland, England and Wales in ‘one go’ – usually 24hours. These peaks are Ben Nevis in Scotland, Scafell Pike in England, and Snowdon in Wales) – only we’re doing it across a couple of years. Yeah, alright, so I’m not that fit okay?

We took on Snowdon around the same time in 2014 and this was the view from the top:

View from the top on Mount Snowdon in April 2014

View from the top of Mount Snowdon in April 2014 avec champagne nonetheless.

It was fair to say we were sozzled.

So we planned to take on Scafell Pike in the same manner. The day we arrived in Cumbria we went to check out the mountain. This was the view:

View of Scafell Pike in Cumbria on March 27, 2015. It was a stunning sight.

As you can imagine, our expectations were high.

We woke up the next day and this is what it looked like:

View from the bottom of Scafell Pike March 28, 2015. Far from what it was like the day before.

I was raining, it was windy and it was so cold. But it’s okay because we came prepared:

Hollie and Oli take on Scafell Pike.

Confident that I looked like Lara Croft and Oli looked like Sir Ranulph Fiennes, we took on the challenge anyway. Here’s a video I made for you all to laugh at. It was shot on my iPhone and bear in mind IT WAS SO COLD that the touch screen couldn’t recognise my fingers and I gave up filming. But it was such a laugh.

Anyway, enjoy.

Hollie and Oli take on Scafell Pike from Hollie Borland on Vimeo.

Stop 21: Amsterdam

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It wasn’t actually our 21st stop, it was our 11th city on the trip. No, it was a time of celebration to welcome in my 21st year. Now, I’m going to try and not make this blog post all about me but I did have the best birthday EVER.

We arrived in Amsterdam at around 15:30. We split from Kieran as he was meeting a few friends from home who had flown out to meet him for the weekend. We were staying at the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel (names can be deceiving, it’s still a hostel) on Kerkstraat. The instructions said told us to take a tram. By now we considered ourselves to be experts at map reading and able to distinguish between a long walk with our heavy backpacks or a short walk. We made it to Kerkstraat within 10 minutes. We felt proud of ourselves. Now all we had to do was follow the numbers until we reach 136-138. We were at number 670. Oh my was it a long walk. An hour later we made it.

We had booked the hostel back in England because we had been told that last minute in Amsterdam is unlikely and expensive. The Hans Brinker doesn’t have a kitchen but it does serve breakfast in the morning (included in the price of the room) and meals at dinner time. Granted, they’re not Michelin standard but at around €6 a meal it’s pretty good grub. The rooms are small with a small en suite shower and toilet. This makes it stuffy and horrible to move around in. However, it’s clean and perfect for a few nights stay. There is even a club in the Hans Brinker basement.

Our bodies knew that Amsterdam was our last stop and all we could think about was sleep. So we did. That is when our two roomies arrived. They were a very sweet Argentinian couple but meeting them properly would have to wait a few hours. We were out for the count.

Prepping for the evening’s activities (we were going out to welcome in my birthday) I hopped in to the shower. Upon exiting said bathroom I was greeted with a cake and a face full of balloons, accompanied by Uncle Bryn style shouting “SURPRISE! SURPRISE! SURPRISE!” (For those of you who are not avid Gavin & Stacey fans, click here to see what I mean.)

Now, I’m going to try and explain the evening’s events and still maintain that it was my best birthday ever, but you’re not going to believe me. I think it was a night where you had to be there in order to understand the hilarity of it.

We met up with the boyf and his four friends who had flown to Amsterdam for a lad’s holiday and overlapped for my birthday. They had been here for two nights already so we followed them. They were taking us to ‘the best club in Amsterdam’, Club Air. It had better be the best club at €16 per person for entry! It wasn’t. It was pure House music (that’s the kind of music that pumps your ears, has no lyrics and you have to dance by sort of punching the air). I guess for some people it’s great, but we were seeking Katy Perry, Tom Odell and Carley-Rae Jepson. After about 20 minutes we left. We weren’t upset/gutted/angry at all. Our night was to continue. We then walked the age back to the Hans Brinker to resume drinking in the club there. After a while we decided to go for another walk to seek another club and so on. It doesn’t sound epic, if anything it sounds like it an absolute ball ache (excuse my Dutch), but we had a laugh.

I would like to say that the following day, 1st September, we explored Amsterdam, but we didn’t. We climbed into bed around 5am and didn’t stir until 12. What we did do however, was hit up one of Amsterdam’s most famous attributes: it’s Coffee Shops. Needless to say that that night we slept well.

The 2nd September was our final day of the entire trip. As we had to check out of the Hans Brinker by 10am and we weren’t due to leave until 21:30, today was our day for sightseeing.

Amsterdam is stunning. By now I would have though we would have seen it all but no, Amsterdam is something else. The canals cannot be compared to Venice of course, but they are still beautiful. The houses are tall and thin and some of them even appear to be falling forward. I thought those buildings were dangerous to walk past, let alone live in. However, Architect Emily informed us that “it is possible to rebuild a building but keep the original facade.” So that’s what we presumed was the case.

I found visiting Anne Frank’s house very moving. Although it is not furnished (in respect of Otto Frank’s wishes) it is still has the same impact as if they had been mocked up. At €9 per adult visiting, I found it fascinating walking around the rooms in which I had read about in the diaries. The original book shelf hiding the doorway to the annex remains. Videos of interviews documenting the lives of the inhabitants by surviving friends are scattered throughout. There isn’t too much reading required so you are free to absorb the information at your own pace.

We did take a trip into the Red Light District. It’s insane! Men, women and men dressed as women are just flaunting their junk in a window the size of a shop. If the curtains are pulled it means the prostitute is occupied. It is such a foreign concept to us. We did leave shortly after we were hollered at. “Do you girls work here? No of course not, you’re too sexy.” Er, no thank you.

What better way to finish our Amsterdam trip than with a visit to the infamous ‘I Amsterdam sign’. We thought we were hilarious having our photographs taken whilst we were sitting on the ‘T-E-R-D’ section. We thought that was the most hilarious thing until Rebec tried to get down from the top of the ‘E’. Rather than describe it, I have included the video below.

I would like to say that come 21:30 we would be boarding a flight to Gatwick and that we would be home before midnight. Alas, no. You must remember we are still students and we took the second option. We took the 11 hour Megabus that would drive through Brussels in Belgium, to Calais, take us on to a ferry for an hour and a half, arrive at Dover only to drive past our junction on the M25 for another hour to take us safety in to London Victoria for 7am. But for £1 it was worth it. By now we had learnt to sleep on public transport and we were such a close-knit group who shared so many hilarious memories, we didn’t care.

I thought Amsterdam was our last city stop, but I awoke as we were crossing Lambeth Bridge, where the rising sun set the Houses of Parliament alight. No, this was our last city. London: a stone’s throw away from home.


Rebec trying to get down from the ‘e’

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Berlin, the Cultural Capital

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I underestimated the German capital by about 500 percent. We had previously booked ourselves on to a tour around the Reichstag (German parliament) on the 28th at 10:30 am which was the only slot available. This meant we would have to arrive in Berlin on the 27th, giving us four nights in the city, making it our longest stay yet. If I’m honest, I wasn’t that impressed with the idea of four nights in Berlin; I was more keen to redistribute our days elsewhere. Like the accidental night in Venice, I am so glad it worked out that way. I was gutted we had to leave.

We walked drearily out of Berlin Hbf at around 22:00 and without warning, we came alive. I can’t really explain the feeling but the city is buzzing with people and music and culture and history, and it smacks you in the face the moment you confront it. It’s the kind of abuse that cuts through the tiredness of travelling and sets the adrenaline running through your veins and I was excited to emerge myself in the city.

We were staying in Industriepalast Hostel on Warchauer Strasse which is situated right opposite Matrix club (which turned out to be a very handy situation because it made taking one of us home in a drunken stupor easy). We were down the road from 24 hour supermarkets, the U-Bahn, the S-Bahn and it is around the corner from the Eastside Gallery. The hostel is divided into sort of living quarters where your shared room has access to private bathrooms. Our room was a shared dorm of eight and we had access to two immaculate bathrooms. We ended up sharing our room with two brilliant Israeli lads. I’m not going to insult either of them by attempting to write their names but I’ll go with what they asked us to call them – Uvi and Liron. They were travelling Europe in their break from uni and Israeli National Service. They were a great laugh.

Okay, so here is my advice for when visiting the Reichstag: as you’re looking at the Reichstag, the mobile building to the right is where you need to go to show your tickets for the tour you’ve booked on to. The door on the front is where you need to go if you’re touring the whole of the building. The door round to the right is where you show them your booking confirmation for a tour around just the dome. DO NOT under any circumstance stand at the wrong door for 15 minutes only for the woman to tell you you’re queuing in the wrong place and so by the time you go to the right door you have missed your tour. Don’t do it because that would be stupid and incredibly annoying.

Because they took pity on us poor English girls, luckily we were allowed on a tour of the dome. It’s free and I would say worth a visit, despite the fact that you are required to wear an audio tour pack which is synced to different sections of the dome. For instance, one of the favourite phrases mentioned is “let’s walk further up the dome”. Or at least that’s what I was told was said because I kept walking too fast. I would accidentally walk past another check point and consequently the voice would stop mid sentence and begin something else. The skyline here is brilliant. There is a clear view of the ex-Soviet Eastside, the ex-Allied Westside and where the Berlin Wall used to run. On the clear sunny day that we went we could see the whole of Berlin. It was modern, historical and simply buzzing.

After picnicking in the Reichstag grounds we went off to visit the memorials. First on our way was a memorial garden for all the gypsies who were murdered during the Holocaust. It is a very peaceful spot. My only objection was that right outside the memorial were a family of gypsies conning tourists out of money, claiming they were deaf. This may have well been the case, that an entire family had been struck by the misfortune of lack of hearing, but when we saw them whispering to each other we had our doubts.

The Jewish Memorial consists of 2711 concrete blocks set in a sloping ground. Every single block is the same length and width but differ drastically in height. The idea behind it is that an uneasy atmosphere haunts the person walking through it and is representative of an ordered system that has distorted flaws, like the Nazi regime. When we returned a few days later, our tour guide told us a theory that if you walk in, you’ll meet someone and then turn around and they’re gone, but you know that when you leave the maze of concrete coffins you’ll see them again. Much like the Jewish population during WWII. Should you choose to visit, go to the free Ort der Information (Place of Information). There is a lot to take in, but you can read the names and stories of the victims of the Holocaust.

That night we decided to do another pub crawl. As we were there for three more nights, we figured we could go to the pub crawl to meet people and then go out again on our own. We drunk with our Israeli roomies and then walked to the first meeting point. Well it was no Prague, but still good fun. At first though, it was what we call a ‘sausage fest’, whereby Rebec, Em, Clo and myself were the only girls. We met some lovely lads from the army. Initially, I accidentally insulted them by asking if they were builders. However, having struck up a conversation with them, I began to feel less guilty about the insult. “We’re in the British army,” one of them announced. “No we’re not, we’re in the English army!” another shouted. I left them to decipher their issues. I then went on to invite a group of Australian lads to invade the UK for an easy victory. Kieran was less impressed with the lack of chicas. Again, I would love to tell you how many places we went to but my memory is a little fragile about this night. We ended up in the Matrix club. It’s an underground club with several different rooms. A different room is open every night, hence the name Matrix. Although it was good fun, I wouldn’t really recommend a pub crawl in Berlin because you don’t really need to. Alcohol is dirt cheap, meeting people is easy and there is nightlife everywhere you go. Despite having a good night, we all wished we had saved our money and done it ourselves. Our plans to do just that the following night were foiled due to the fact we were all hanging beyond belief.

The following day we visited the Eastside Gallery. It is a brilliant place to go. The vibrant colours and epic murals are enough to get the creative juices flowing. Around a mile long, each painting is completely different to the previous one. It made me wonder what it would have been like as a youth in 1989 when the wall came down. My belly bubbled with anger, excitement and revolution.

As it turns out, Berlin is a good place for tattoo artists… I’ll be brief, but three of us got inked. We figured if its rubbish we’ll just be able to blame it on the travelling bug. I actually quite like mine, but ask me again in a year’s time….

Aside from tattoos, our final day in Berlin consisted of a walking tour. By now we’ve found that the free tours are the best ones to do. Because the tour guides work on tips, they try really hard to be informative and funny without going overboard. It was perfect because we were taken around the places we wanted to see (we were mainly fascinated with the WWII stuff) but places we hadn’t really thought about, like the Humboldt University where Einstein taught and holds 22 Nobel Prizes.

At six o’clock in the morning of the 31st August, we walked to the train station with sleep in our eyes, ink on our skin and bags ladened with cheap alcohol. I found leaving Berlin a hard one because it was such an unexpected gem, but I know full well I’ll be back. I feel we saw so much but Berlin has so much more to offer. After all, Berlin is a city home to the worst parts of history, but also gave birth to some of the best.

Auf Wiedersehen Berlin! Aber nicht für lange!

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East Side Gallery

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Jewish Memorial

What we saw in Warsaw

The train journey from Kraków to Warsaw is direct, short and sweet. The only challenge was the walk to the hostel. All the hostels we tried to book into we’re fully booked so we ended up staying in another university halls that were recommended to us by Atlantis in Kraków.

Well I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. And if these were my uni halls I’d definitely commute from home. With three people to a room, we were split across two (this was not a problem). But it said it had a fully equipped kitchen but it doesn’t and it’s very far out from anywhere. Clo and myself shared a room with a bloke who we called Handy Andy, because he was neither handy, nor called Andy.

Warsaw is an interesting city. It’s still a building site. If you look at it without taking it’s history into account, it’s a lot less impressive. During World War II, Warsaw was practically destroyed. The Warsaw uprising in 1944 led to a retaliation by the Nazi’s who bombed the city within an inch of it’s life. Thousands were killed and the majority of the buildings destroyed.

We went to watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at 12 o’clock on Sunday. Well, they’ve only gone and surrounded it by a building site haven’t they? We had to stand on flower pots to see over the industrial fencing and watch it from behind. It was still interesting, still very ceremonial but annoying that we couldn’t watch it properly.

Upon visiting the Old Town, I really began to appreciate the efforts by the Varsovians. They have completely rebuilt it in the style that it was before. It’s odd because the design doesn’t suit the age of the buildings. They seem too intact.

On our way to the Old Town we stumbled across a mini festival – I can’t work out what it was, despite looking everywhere – where there was food, trinkets and dancing. We decided to spend our time looking around and taking it slow here. We purchased some travelling flags for our respective uni rooms and the biggest waffles you have ever seen. They were covered in so much cream and chocolate and fruit and nuts. They were beautiful. We then decided to go for a bit of a walk to burn off the calories. We weren’t at all annoyed when we unintentionally ended up in a roof garden overlooking the river and city. It wasn’t such a bad accident.

The following day we began by going to the local supermarket and stocking up on our vodka. I’m talking practically buying out the shop. We were determined to purchase as many flavours as possible. The thing is, 350ml of vodka was about 17 Polish zlote, which is the equivalent of £3.50. It is a student’s heaven.

Later that day we decided to walk to the Jewish Quarters to visit the Warsaw Uprising Museum where it is free entry. We discovered why these cities have trams everywhere. It was so far away! With full bladders and aching legs, we didn’t really appreciate our surroundings.

If you ever find yourself in Warsaw, visit the museum. It is very atmospheric with cobbled floors, bullet holed bricks and air raid sound effects. It is simply crammed full of information; photos, relics and videos. The videos don’t hold back mind. Some of them are very graphic when it comes to the disposal of starving corpses in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. I left the museum feeling very cultural.

Faced with a long walk back, coupled with our new found knowledge, we appreciated the buildings a lot more. Amongst the recently built glass skyscrapers, there are surviving 1940’s buildings, in the middle of building sites, or in the middle of a block simply shut off from the world. When you’re looking for them, they are obvious: grey, dirty and unkept. Behind the gateways lie a labyrinth of old Warsaw. However, unless you are looking for them, wartime Warsaw remains unnoticed.

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Warsaw Skyline

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Some of the old buildings can still be seen in the Jewish Quarters

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These are postcards of the city after it was bombed and how it looks now

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We saw the shape of these ice creams and we couldn’t resist… (Rebec, Chloë, me and Em)

Kraków and Auschwitz

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(Images copyright of Hollie Borland)

We arrived in Kraków in Poland around 23:45. The instructions we had been given by the hostel was that we were to take tram 19. Well, the main crossroads in Kraków is busy and full of tram stops. After looking at a few we decided to ask two tram drivers who were having a smoke. They turned their backs on us and continued their conversation. We persisted.

“19? No.” Well that was helpful. And rude. That was all we got from them. They finished their conversation and walked away to their respective vehicles. At midnight it becomes tram central. They all move at once. After walking around a bit more we found a stop for tram 19, only the number had a cross through it. So our tram wasn’t running. As we were getting a little desperate, one of the funniest things happened.

An approaching tram was playing loud music and had flashing disco lights. As it passed us, we were greeted with drunken cheers, thumbs ups, waves and even a woman’s behind pressed up against the window. It was one of the infamous party trams we had heard of. It’s passing by was enough to restore our faith in Kraków and we walked to the hostel.

Atlantis Hostel has a decent kitchen, comfortable communal area, clean bathrooms and wifi throughout the hostel. And for around €6 a night in a dorm of 10, it was well worth the money. Upon arrival we were greeted with a complimentary shot “to help you sleep”. Between us we tried apple, cranberry, pineapple, toffee and nut flavoured vodka. In addition, they helped us book on to a tour to Auschwitz for the next day that picked us up right outside the hostel.

Auschwitz

During the months of May and October it is only possible to visit Auschwitz on an organised tour. These tours include transport to the camps Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, which are about 70 minutes away by coach. Our tour operators were See Kraków, who charged us 105 Polish Zloty (about £22) for a three and a half hour tour in English around the two camps, including our transport to, from and between the camps, picking us up and dropping us off outside our hostel.

We began our tour at Auschwitz I, which is made up of the old brick army barracks. We passed through the infamous gates that bears the sign ‘Arbeit macht frei‘, which translates as ‘Work makes freedom’. In all honesty, they do look like ordinary barracks. They look too new to be involved in such a large part of history. Some of the blocks have been converted into museums, displaying photos, documents and personal belongings that were confiscated and remained at the camp. The exhibition includes a huge display of surviving human hair, forcefully shaved from the heads of prisoners. The hair was sold to make carpets and socks for soldiers, but a large amount of packaged yet unsold hair remained at the liberation of the camp. Children’s plaited pigtails are at the top of the pile.

The museum is heaving at this time of year. We followed another group in front of us and were closely followed by another group behind us. Ironically, at times I felt like cattle being moved from one room to another. I wasn’t able to ponder at the exhibition but that is because they want to keep the traffic of tourists flowing. It did feel a little commercialised. But then we were shown around a gas chamber. We walked in silence in respect of the dead. The rooms were real, dried and stained with death. That hit home.

Visiting Auschwitz II-Birkenau was what was needed to force the realisation upon myself that I was where around three million people had been exterminated. We stood where the soldiers would herd the thousands of prisoners from across Europe off of the cattle carts, sort them into groups: men, women, children, the weak. This was the centre of the Holocaust.

To stand on the spot where some many people died is a very powerful thing and can only be understood through experiencing the feeling yourself.

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Birkenau (copyright of Hollie Borland)