Uncategorized

Stepping off the Emotional Rollercoaster

It is safe to say that the last nine months of my life have panned out a little different than intended. I never imagined that I would be made redundant from a job I had had for twelve years, or that I would loose someone so very dear to me, or even that I would have to accept that relationships I valued highly were not as cherished on the other side.

Life, at times, is simply a hell of a rollercoaster of emotions and obstacles that we have to try to ride without falling off.

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Its not easy. At times, when you feel the lowest, when the situations thrown at you just seem too much to get through and when people cause you pain, it is very hard to keep a positive mindset. It is very easy to want to give in, to curl up and ignore everything and everyone. But we all know it is not healthy.

For me, as always, trying to remain positive during turbulent times is such a struggle. Trying to think ahead, to think of the bigger picture and remember there are things we simply have no power over requires such strength, when you are most likely at your weakest.

But I now am determined to step off my emotional rollercoaster, to channel my emotions into positivity and continue to drive forward, to carry on my adventures.

And in doing so I consider ways I strive to achieve and at the same time help other to do the same.

  • Stop! Think! Try not to get carried away by emotions. Take a moment to think about what the emotions are, what are causing them and what can be done to alleviate these emotions and keep them in check.
  • Consider the bigger picture. If the situation that is causing your emotions to surge is something you can change, what can be done to take control? Look at the situation in a different perspective. A few weeks after being made redundant, many close friends and family said “think of this as an opportunity.” And it was, I wanted to leave the company for years anyway, so being made redundant gave me time. Time to look for something else, to start a new chapter and most importantly it gave me time in the summer to spend with loved ones.
  • Acceptance. It is not easy to accept situations that cause us upset, grief and pain. However, until you accept the situation you cannot move on, you will hold on to negativity. We have to accept there are things we cannot change, and we just have to learn how to live with those feelings in a healthy way.
  • Forgiveness. It is something we don’t like to give. It is something I personally have issues with. Forgiving those that have caused my pain, my grief and my emotional turmoil has been, and still is, hard as it coincides with my anger. You need to let go of the anger, so that you can forgive. Grudges, resentment and anger can be so incredibly toxic. We need to let go of the toxic energy. Forgiving people, even if you don’t physically tell them you forgive them is so much better for both mind and body.
  • Listen to your feelings. Even if you do feel ready to step off your own rollercoaster, that doesn’t mean those feelings will never arise again. When they do, stop and listen. Listen to yourself, think about why you are feeling that way and find someone to talk to. Find something that will help you work through the feelings. I have always found great solace in exercise. No matter how upset I am, zoning out running or spinning has always been a great stress reliever. Going to the cinema is another – sitting in a dark room with a bucket of popcorn escaping in a movie is usually a excellent way to take time out.
  • Focus on a positive mental attitude. If you feel yourself falling into your emotions tell yourself “I must remain positive.” Let go of the bad thoughts and negative feelings.
  • Share. Our mental health is just as important as physical health. When those suffering do not share their feelings, their thoughts and their anguish it can be detrimental to their mental health. Suffering alone is not necessary. Share your feelings, talk to loved ones and if you really need it – seek professional help.

Through the most turbulent time of my life I have learned a great deal about my own strength, my own mental health and how important it is to surround yourself with those who are able to ride the rollercoaster with you.

Despite these hard times I have learned to find the ability to let go the negative, to forgive those who have caused anguish. I continue to channel my emotions into exercise to encourage mental well being.

And I will forever advocate for those who can no longer fight. To fight to remove the stigma surrounding mental health. To remind others that it’s okay not to be okay, but it’s not okay not to talk about it.

Let’s talk about it!

<<SPONSORS in memory of Robert Ferrari>>

#MilesBetter2018

Adventures, Fitness, Races, Training

Training: Walking goes wrong

“Just because you can run, don’t assume you can walk.”

Upon signing up for the Isle of Wight challenge I heard this statement a lot. I thought, at the time, It was the most ridiculous thing anyone could say.

Now well into the training I am beginning to understand how true this is.

I spent months, upon months this time last year clocking up the miles and getting the kit just right in preparation for the London Marathon. I thought walking and everything about walking would be a piece of cake in comparison.

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So I did not put much thought into kit, into planning for the next few months. I decided to take it day by day to see how it goes. What I did not factor in at all was that the kit required for running is completely different for walking.

For the first few walks I simply threw on the runners and off I went, soon to discover that the comfort of the footwear I cherish so highly are not suitable for longer walks. Next I switched to my trusted marathon trainers, which had a higher level of support, but found on a very rainy day they did not offer the waterproof protection I needed. Lets face it, walking round for hours on hours with soaking feet is asking for trouble.

So, I had to look at alternative footwear and as such I purchase a pair of sturdy walking boots. Despite not getting on with walking boots previously I knew that this would be the most sensible option to complete the challenge comfortably.

I completed a few shorter walks to break them in and on Sunday I took them for their first big walk. A planned 20 + miles from Harlow, with the aim to reach Stratford.

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The morning started off well. It was a beautiful sunny morning and we remarked at how lucky we were, weather wise, so far in training. I was feeling happy, we were making great pace and I was determined to clock up the miles.

The problem. The new boots.

At around mile six I started to become aware of a few niggles. The balls of my feet, the little toes and my ankles – all started to become tender. I carried on, trying to ignore the feeling. However, over the next couple of miles all I could think about was the pain. I started to feel each and every pebble under foot. I could not think further ahead, and I knew that 20 miles was out for me this.

Reaching eight miles I decided to remove a pair of socks, leaving me with my trusted running socks. I would then test myself a little further to see if anything improved.

Unsurprisingly it didn’t. By ten miles I was hobbling, my pace was dropping and the gap between myself and the rest of the group was starting to increase. For someone who is used to being at the front or middle of the group – dragging behind started to stress me out.

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So the sensible decision was made to cut my losses at 10 miles. The team had paused for a refreshment stop, so I used this opportunity to board the train and head back home.

Time to re-asses my kit. Think about the mistakes I made and make moves to ensure the next walk will be more comfortable.

My biggest mistake this time round? Socks!

I assumed my running socks, which I never received a single blister from, would be sufficient for walking. They were not!

Team the thin material with the tough new boots and my feet had turned to putty. Tender, full of blisters and cuts.

After advice from my fellow team members, the first thing I did that day was purchase a pair of 1000 mile socks. Made from a careful fibre blend and exact padding zones they claim to ensure a complete system of protection and cushioning. Sounds too good to be true, right?

Only time will tell, as I plan to head out again this weekend to test them out.

Just like all training, each day teaches me a new lesson, it helps me improve and gives me that extra knowledge to complete the challenge as comfortably and successfully as possible.

<<SPONSORS>>

Travel

City Break: 4 days in Boston

When I planned a short break to Boston eight months ago, I expected a city much like others in the USA – busy, loud and fast paced. What I actually experienced on arrival was so much different.

A smaller city to explore in comparison to the likes of New York, you can easily take four days at a leisurely pace and manage to fit in everything you want to see.

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I made no set plan in the lead up to my trip. It was probably the least organised I have been when planning a holiday. Usually I have lists of sights to be seen and daily itineraries. Maybe I sensed the more relaxed city pace, maybe I was just happy to be away enjoying the company of the other half or maybe it was a mixture of the two.

Either way, I have never come away from a break to the USA with my head filled with so much culture and history.

As I mentioned, I did not plan out our days as I usually would, other than a half day trip. My other half had things he wanted to see, being a big sports fan, and restaurants he wanted to eat at after watching numerous episodes of Man vs Food! So we took each day as it came – we tried to get sights further away from our hotel ticket off first so we had more time to enjoy the area around our hotel – The Boston Park Plaza.

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Day one was filled with a leisurely walk down to Fenway Park, which was obviously closed for the season, as this was one of the sights furthest from our hotel.

On our way back we strolled down Newbury Street, checking out what the shops had to offer. If you have been to Boston, you will know it is one of the most beautiful shopping streets you will encounter. Known as the “Rodeo Drive” of the East the street is simply enchanting offering a mix of designer and high street stores to coffee shops and restaurants.

By the time we had got back to the main hub of the city it was approaching the afternoon, so we took time to take in Boston Public Gardens and Boston Common. I had read reviews about spending a leisurely amount of time around this area, enjoying the sunshine, perhaps taking a Swan Boat onto the pond. At the beginning of February, although the sun was beaming, the opportunity to linger was not there. The pond was heavily frozen over and there were no Swan Boats in sight. That did not make a difference, as it was just as stunning to take in during the colder months as a imagine it would be in the Summer. Many adventurers were even walking across the frozen pond and making patterns in the ice – definitely not something I was prepared to risk even with my adventurous nature.

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My favourite part of the Common was the “Make Way for Ducklings Statue.” Inspired by the children’s picture book by Robert McCloskey the ducklings were clearly feeling the sub zero temperatures as they were donning some rather fetching wooly hats to keep their heads warm.

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After lingering on the Common a little too long it was time to defrost ourselves and we did so by heading over to the Harpoon Brewery.

Located on the Boston waterfront, the transformed warehouse space offers a fantastic tour, including tastings for $5. Here you can learn about the history of the brewery, the process and the opportunity to obviously taste the majority of their produce. Not a massive beer fan myself (I much prefer the rolling hills of a winery), I tentatively tasted a few of the offerings – preferring the ciders or fruit tasting beers they had on tap. The other half was in his element – I believe tasting every beer they had on offer during the tour.

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His tasting did not end after the tour either, stopping at the bar for a few more tasters (paid for of course) before having to drag him away for a light dinner and early bed (we were still on London time after all).

After a restful nights sleep it was my day to drag the other half to the sights that were on my agenda, mainly Harvard University.

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We took the T Train just a few stops to the prestigious Ivy league university to take in the beautiful architecture and history. Interestingly – we would find out the next day – the university itself is actually made up of 70% international students.

The university buildings, the surrounding architecture and the neighbourhoods in the vicinity were simply divine, I was quickly trying to work out which houses we could purchase as a holiday home – throw in the snow that was starting to fall and we found ourselves in one of the most picturesque spots in the USA.

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We decided (well me) to walk all the way back into the city centre rather than take the train, so we could get more feel of the area – and I wanted to loop round to the Bunker Hill Monument. However, the beautiful gentle falling snow we saw at the beginning of our walk in Cambridge quickly turned into a snow blizzard in the space of twenty minutes. When they say snow is forecasted in Boston – they mean the snow is coming!

So we took a pit stop in a sports bar, just in time for the other half to watch the football game back home.

Eventually the snow blizzard turned to heavy rain and we decided, that night, to not stray too far from the hotel, get another early night so we were refreshed and ready for the half day trip booked for the next day.

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Day three was our bus trip to Lexington and Concord, via Harvard.

From the get go the tour we booked with Viator was superb. The driver and guide was clearly passionate about Boston, its surrounding areas and all the history it had to offer. We were bombarded for the whole trip with interesting facts and timeline of the American revolution and the Civil Wars.

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We drove along the famous battle trail, following the same path Paul Revere took in 1775.

At Lexington Green the guide unfolded history, going into detail about the battle that took place here – where the opening shots of the American Revolution were fired.

We then continued along the path taken by British soldiers and the road Paul Revere took to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that “the British were coming.” Though this was not the phrase shouted, as legend leads us to believe.

The tour continued into Concord, stopping by Old North Bridge – the historic site in the Battle of Concord, the first day of battle in the Revolutionary war.

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Along the tour we also passed the house of the famous Louisa May Alcott – the author of Little Women (a sight I was particularly interested in seeing) and the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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Soon enough our half day tour was coming to an end, so we were off down the pike back to the city centre.

Just in time for a spot of lunch at Cheers – “where everybody knows your name”.

Well they did not know my name, but I had the dish I had been craving for since arriving in the USA – Mac ‘N’ Cheese! I don’t know if it was freshly made or out of the box, but it was just what I needed after our morning tour.

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The day concluded with more wondering round the city, trying to spot the things we had not managed to see, taking roads we had not walked down and generally working off the Mac ‘N’ Cheese on my part.

We briefly passed the Boston Celtics, but was rather disappointed with not being able to see anything without a tour. We passed the Massachusetts State House in all its glory, we wondered around Quincy Market – picking up souvenirs to take home – and generally strolled through the city back to the hotel.

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Our last night in the city, we headed for Maggiano’s Little Italy for dinner. A stones thrown from our hotel, it had mixed reviews. But for us, we saw no fault. The service, the ambience and the food were simply excellent. It was just what we needed for such a jam packed day.

Day four, our final day. As with all final days you do feel at a loose end. Hotel check outs usually are around 12pm and flights back to the UK not until later that evening. So filling your time, but at the same time being conscious that you cannot venture too far, means you have to fill your time wisely.

So we simply spent the last remaining hours at the Samuel Adams brewery. This free tour must feature on your list. Like the tour with Harpoon Brewery, you will discover information about how the brew is made and the history of the company itself. But what stands out here is the way it is delivered. The insightful, friendly staff have bounds of energy (or perhaps beer) and are clearly passionate about what they do.

With the free tour they offer tastings, which in our group being so early in the day meant plentiful amounts of beer and root beer for those not so keen like me. In addition for me, I discovered that there are beers in the world (obviously Samuel Adams) that I actually enjoy. It’s just a shame that they are not distributed to general sale – only at the brewery itself.

The tour was a fantastic way to end what was a whirlwind, culture infused city break.

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Boston you have fast become one of my favourite places!

If you are thinking about visiting. Don’t think about it – just book it!

Adventures, Fitness, Training

The Rise of the Fitness Watch

If I think back twelve years, when I first started dabbling in running, the ability to track fitness activity and running in particular was not as readily available as it is today.

All those years ago I relied heavily on the machines on the gym, fully aware that they were not giving me an accurate reading in terms of my performance, running took place with no idea about time, milage or pacing, and STRAVA was something that had not entered my vocabulary.

Fast forward to the present day and you will struggle to find a day when my fitness watch is not strapped to my wrist. But, like many, it has only been in most recent years that I have invested heavily in the one piece of work out gear that I class as important as my trainers.

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My first attempt to track activity came around ten years ago. Taking to the streets with my mobile phone tracking my mileage and pace through a variety of fitness apps. Mapmyrun, Run Keeper and, most recently, Strava were all used over the years, sometimes holding the phone out in front as I approached the nearest mile. Obviously using the app on its own had its flaws – the constant need to get your phone out to check how far you have left to go being one of them. But I carried on using the trusted running apps regardless.

When I first joined boot camp four years ago I noticed many fellow members with what looked like plastic wrist bands. Not knowing what they were, I enquired and discovered the “Fit Bit Flex.” Soon enough I had my own snazzy plastic wrist band and became addicted to ensuring I reached my “steps” for the day as well as competing to remain at the top of the step chart! Not competitive in the slightest mind!

Whether it was due to over use or the model I picked being inadequate for the level of activity I was taking part in, I do not know, but I soon started encountering problems with the Fit Bit Flex. From synching problems, to the watch freezing or the strap breaking – I seemed to be getting through a large number of replacements. So, I thought it was time for an upgrade.

So along came the Fit Bit Charge. A slightly upscale model, that included the ability to record your heart rate. I stuck with this model for a good year, before I started seeing the same problems – synching issues, strap snapping and the watch freezing completely. It was at this point that I started to realise that perhaps the FitBit models were not able to cope with the level of activity I was taking part in.

Although they had been a great introduction into the fitness tracker world, and did their job at the time, I had simply outgrown FitBit.

So it was time to research and look at upgrading to a more suited product for what I was trying to achieve. It came at the perfect time too, as I had signed up to run the London Marathon. With many, many miles to run I would need to invest in a watch that had far more capabilities than my FitBit had. At this point I had many fellow fitness fanatic friends who I turned to for advice.

Garmin was a brand that popped up over and over again – with many friends recommending their watches. I picked out the Garmin Vivoactive HR GPS Smartwatch. Like the title suggests not only did the specifications include heart rate monitor and GPS tracking, but it could also be used for a variety of physical activities including indoor cycling, for my spinning sessions, swimming and walking. It also allowed me to keep a close eye on my pacing, timing and distance throughout my runs – which became incredibly important during the longer training sessions.

Although I loved this watch and its capabilities, I did find that it was very manly and clunky on a woman’s wrist – clearly designed for a male wrist rather than female. So whilst the watch was glued to me constantly – I did continue to keep an eye out for something that looked a little more appealing.

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At the end of 2017 I had found exactly what I was looking for. The Garmin Vivoactive 3. With similar capabilities to my previous watch, with the addition of a stress level monitor, abilities to record your VO2 max and Garmin Pay ready, but more visually appeasing. It came in a variety of colours and fitted nicely on a smaller wrist. Just what I was looking for! I purchased the rather snazzy white strap version and have been extremely happy with my choice ever since; using it for indoor spinning sessions, running and walking. I am lost without it.

Although the fitness watch has become a standard piece of equipment for many athletes alike – just watch runners on any start line ready to set their watches – I do sometimes think we have become so heavily reliant on these items that we sometimes forget to enjoy the journey and at times loose track of why we do what we do.

If I think back to my very first 10k race, when I had not discovered fitness trackers or running apps, I just ran. I had no concept of time, of pacing or how far I had left to go. My only guide was the route markers. Back then I ran my fastest time for a 10k, perhaps because I just went out and ran, I was not consistently checking my pace, my mileage or trying to work out what my finish time would be. A much simpler time perhaps.

Now, our races are focused on so many numbers it makes my head spin. Nine times out of ten I do attempt to beat my PB and fail because I focus too much on the finish rather than the journey. Fitness trackers have definitely played a part in this. On days when the worst happens, the battery starts to run out and no longer displays your stats, I find that I run better, I run faster and my performance improves.

So perhaps its time to leave the fitness tracker at home? Then again, lets be realistic, that’s never going to happen.

 

Uncategorized

London Winter Run 2018

Sunday saw me run the London Winter Run for the third year running.

The 10k race, taking in many iconic landmarks around London, is always one (if not the first) event in my racing calendar for the year.

In the three years I have taken part I have witnessed a steady growth in numbers, with this year boasting 20,000 eager runners signing up to get their own piece of the action. In the lead up to the event it seems that those too late to join the party were desperately trying to blag a place – to no avail.

Luckily, I always take advantage of the Early Bird discount soon after the event is completed (almost booking a year in advance) to ensure that I am not one of those to be to be disappointed.

And the race this year certainly did not disappoint.

The organisation, the atmosphere and the route as usual, was flawless!

Crowds were gathered to cheer on the thousands of runners, no matter what ability.

This year, it was clear to see the numbers had grown on previous years, the sheer volume of people in each wave was phenomenal. It has clearly become one on the most popular winter races.

This year I had not prepared for the race at all. Don’t get me wrong, I had been training. However, this mainly consisted of Spinning sessions and long walks as I prepare for the Isle of Wight challenge. I had only managed a very slow parkrun, with my Niece and Nephew in the months leading up to the event.

So, I started the race thinking “this is going to go badly” but at the same time I was not bothered about time, if I walked then so be it. I crossed the start line with no expectation or stress. So I took my time, I allowed others to speed out in front and I took my time to steady my pace. My sole aim was just to finish without stopping, and if I got a good time then fantastic!

What actually happened was that I improved on my 2017 time by over three minutes. Not only was I dead chuffed with the time, especially as I had not put in the running miles, but I was shocked.

At the same point in 2017 I had racked up so many running miles to prepare myself for the London Marathon, yet I performed worse than this year with next to no running miles under my belt. How could this be?

Firstly, although I have not been running, I have been pushing myself in other aspects of training. I have ramped up the intensity during Spinning classes, I have been using more weights and the hours spent walking means that I am stronger on my feet.

In addition I don’t feel the pressure to perform this year. Yes, I have a big challenge ahead of me, Yes I still have many events to take part in, but none of these make me feel as anxious as the London Marathon did in 2017.

Maybe my more relaxed attitude towards racing, along with the fact that I am now enjoying a better mix of training compared to last year, is allowing me to perform better.

So perhaps it’s time to think about these factors going forward. To stop putting pressure on myself each time I approach the start line. To enjoy the journey rather than put too much focus on the finish line.

Travel

Eight Hours in Paris

As someone who loves to travel at any opportunity and a great lover of a bargain at the same time I was quick to book some cheap Eurostar tickets to Paris several years ago (almost exactly five years ago to be precise). With the return journey being less than £50 per person I would have been a fool not to, especially as Paris was on my travel bucket list.

So I quickly got to planning what I could fit into an eight hour trip to the French Capital, booking in a “hop-on-hop-off” to ensure that I ticked off as much as possible.

First port of call was the Eiffel Tower – the most recognisable landmark in the city. Exiting the Metro, the tower looming above, I headed straight to the line for tickets to see the view from the top. What a better way to start the day than having bubbles at the top, taking in the 360 degree views across the city.

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So after taking in the views and a few glasses of champagne I jumped on board the sightseeing bus to the next stop on my list – Notre Damme cathedral.

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The medieval Catholic cathedral is widely known to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture and one of the most iconic church buildings in the world. It simply did not disappoint. The exterior is simply impressive, the interior equally so with beautiful architecture and stained glass windows.

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If you have a little time to spare I would thoroughly recommend spending a few Euros to climb the spiral staircase to the roof top of the cathedral. Although it could be a tough ascent to the top – the views are extremely rewarding, with views across the River Seine with the Eiffel Tower standing as a proud backdrop.

Next stop on the whirlwind day trip was the Louvre – the world’s largest art museum and the central landmark within the city. Famous for housing many pieces that would please many art fanatics, including Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, here you could easily spend hours upon hours roaming the beautiful building taking on all the collections the museum has to offer.

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Personally, as someone who is not that big on the arts, I found the actual building of the Louvre and it’s history, more impressive than what it housed. For many years I wanted to see the Mona Lisa believing in my head that it would be this massive masterpiece. I was rather disappointed to see it in the flesh. You know you have found the piece as visitors gravitate towards it. In reality, I found myself feeling deflated. Though I am not denying it is a impressive painting, it was rather smaller than I had expected.

Though the time at the Louvre was well spent wandering numerous rooms, I do feel that the hours I spent here were rather wasted for such a short trip. It would have been better planned to visit several other sights that were on my list and save the vast collections of the Louvre for a longer trip.

After an early dinner and wandering up the Champs-élysées, night was starting to fall and my time in one of the most romantic cities in the world was coming to a fast end.

It was only fitting that the final sight I would fit into the itinerary would be the Arc de Triomphe. Another amazing monument, which honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.

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Here, if you take the lift into the attic you can learn about its history in the small museum. If you take the 46 steps onto the roof you will be able to enjoy a panoramic view of the city.

By the time I reached the roof of this magnificent building, the city was dark but lit up spectacularly. The Eiffel Tower, the start of my Parisian adventure, was twinkling in the distance. It was rather fitting that my trip started and ended with the tower in sight.

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After lingering and taking in the views, it was time to head back to Gare du Nord station, ready for my return trip to London.

What a whirlwind day, attempting to fit in as many of the iconic landmarks as possible.

As with most European city day trips, there is never enough time to take it all in. I fully intend to return to the French capital in the future, perhaps extending my adventures to the outskirts of the city itself.