Archive | March, 2018

40 Before 40: Challenge #29

21 Mar

My 29th Challenge is to read the complete list of the 40 Books Every Woman Should Read. 

Being on holiday for five weeks has given me the time to read another three books from the list. Here is what I have recently read.

Runaway by Alice Munro

Alice Munro is a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature but, like so many of the authors on the list, I had never heard of her. She specialises in writing short stories and many of the stories flip back and forth in time. I don’t read a lot of short stories but it is nice to be able sit down and read a whole story in one sitting.

One of the stories, in particular, I thought was incredible. It was about a woman, who met a man after she had lost her purse. They have a spend a night together talking and getting to know each other. He asks that she comes to see him in a year’s time. She does this but when she goes to see him, he is incredibly rude to her and she feels that he has made a fool out of her. It is only years and years later, when she is working as a nurse, that she thinks he has been admitted to the ward where she was working. The man is not the man she met, but his twin, who has learning disabilities. This was the man who was rude to her and sent her away the second time. The man she actually met had passed away a few years earlier. It was heartbreaking to hear that arriving at slightly the wrong time left her embarrassed and affected the rest of her life without her realising it. I guess this kind of things happens all the time in real life, which makes it even more sad.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I don’t know how I have managed to make it to my age and to have not read this book. It was never an option for our GCSE set and so it was just back luck that I’ve managed to miss it. Of course, I have seen some of the many screen adaptations that have been made, especially the version with Colin Firth as Mr Darcy.

Even though I know what happens in the book, I was still completely surprised when Darcy announces his love for Elizabeth Bennett. When you know the thoughts of the characters, it’s a far more shocking revelation than watching in on TV.

Although the book was first published in 1813, there are quite a lot of issues and problems that we still have today. For example, people judge others and form opinions about them far too quickly. It’s then very difficult to be persuaded otherwise. I was thinking about a person recently, who when I first met them, I was convinced that I would never be able to get along with them and didn’t want to have that much to do with them. It’s only as time has moved on that I have changed my opinion of them and actually don’t might spending time with them at all. The last time I met them, it was no effort to see them for a few hours and get along well with one another.

Also, there is a lot of talk about marriage and Lizzy is worried that her family will not approve of her engagement to Mr Darcy. This, I am sure, still happens all the time. It doesn’t really matter how old you get or what walk of life you come from, everyone still want to have approval from the actions that they take – despite what some people might claim.

I wonder how much forcing schoolchildren to read classics at the age of 13 to 16-years-old actually puts people off reading these books for the rest of their life. If this book hasn’t been on the list, there is no way I would have read it. But I am glad I did.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

I have seen the film of the book and I was a bit nervous about reading it. In case you don’t know the book is about a young girl who has been murdered by a man in her local community. The story is told from her perspective as she looks down on earth from heaven and watches her family and friends come to terms with her death and what happened to her.

As is normally the case, the book is far better than the film and is beautiful written and thought-provoking.

I’m not sure if I liked this book so much because in a lot of respects it corresponds to what I think heaven would be like: that our loved ones never leave us but watch over us from afar.

If you haven’t read this book, I really think that you should. The subject matter seems morbid but the story itself is more about hope and the connections that we have with one another.

The demise of the humble postcard

17 Mar

On our travels in South America, I’ve been slightly shocked at the demise of the humble postcard and the Post service in general.

In Bolivia, we were keen to send a few postcards back home but, no matter how hard we tried, we weren’t able to find any at all in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. In fairness, these two cities are definitely not tourist destinations in the true sense of the word and we hardly saw any other tourists. So perhaps it wasn’t so surprising.

In La Paz we found postcards and stamps. Hooray! My general rule is that if you find a shop that doesn’t sell stamps to accompany the postcards then don’t buy them. You’ll end up forgetting to find a post office and end up carrying them with you for the whole time and then bringing them home with you. I also used the sneaky trick of asking the hotel to post them for us rather than look for a post box (and I have no idea what colour they are in South America, so it would take me ages to find one).

In Uyuni we found more postcards but no stamps. As I said before, my rule is if you can’t buy both together, don’t buy at all! But I was overruled. We found the post office but it was “closed for a week for a public holiday”. That seemed slightly suspicious to me as no one could tell us what public holiday it was and everything else seemed to be open.

We still had the postcards in Oruro. We found the post office but two days previously it had gone into administration!

We still had the postcards in Iquique, Chile. We found a post office that was open! So we now had Bolivian postcards with a Chilean stamp on. That wasn’t part of the plan and some people at home are going to be a bit confused if they study their postcard in detail.

We thought it would be good to buy some postcards of Chile at the post office because they had some on display. But it turned out these were for display only and they had none to sell us. In the rest of Iquique, we didn’t find any other postcards and now we have sort of stopped looking.

It is perhaps no wonder that people are sending less and less postcards because the stress of finding a stamp to send it home means that you need to plan another holiday for all the time you have spent looking for a post office.

I wonder how long it will be until postcards are no longer printed. I hope they continue for a long time to come. There is something quite lovely about receiving a note from someone you know who is in a far away land and marvelling over the pictures on the front and trying to decipher handwriting. This is a holiday tradition that I would hate to see no longer with us.

A week in Chile

14 Mar

After our time in Bolivia, we headed to Chile. Here is a brief summary about what we got up to –

Border crossing

This was the most ridiculous border crossing I have experienced which started when our bus departed an hour later than its scheduled time for no good reason. And ended with us waiting for around 3 hours to get through immigration because Chile only had one person on the immigration desk to Bolivia’s three, which caused a bottle neck!


We arrived in Iquique after spending almost a day travelling. Iquique is on the coast and the smell of the salt air smacked you around the face when we got off the bus. The city is surrounded by sand dunes and the main street looks like something out of the Wild West.

There was plenty to do in Iquique. We explored the black sandy beaches, visited the fish market and saw and tasted some of the freshest catches of the day first hand, we planned paragliding (which was sadly cancelled), we went sandboarding and brought home about half of the sand dunes to the hotel, visited a thermal baths and the ghost town of Humberstone and Santa Laura, which used to be one of the biggest potassium nitrate mines in Chile.

The bus we travelled on to Humberstone also broke down and we had to wait for a replacement that took about 2 hours to get to us.


We headed to the capital. The difference to Iquique and Bolivia couldn’t have been more stark. Being in Iquique was like being in Barcelona. Starbucks, Dominos, McDonalds and KFC everywhere – I was enjoying not missing these outlets! The city was bigger and lots more people were around.

We went to what we thought was another Jesus statue on a hill. When we got there we realised it was Mary. There was a great view of the whole city from the top. I was glad there was a funicular to get us up there. I never would have made it up there if I had had to walk.

On Sundays they close some of the main roads so people can bike, roller-blade and run along the streets, which is a great initiative.

The city is also full of amazing street art. I absolutely love it!


We took the bus to what we thought was going to be a small fishing village but actually it was a lot bigger than we thought. We took a free walking tour and discovered a lot about the city’s history and what life is like for people here in the past and now.

The town is full of creative people and the old prison had actually been turned into a creative arts centre for artists, dancers and even cooks. What a great idea!

Not surprising that the city is also full of mosaics, murals and more street art!

We have now safely arrived back in Argentina; more specifically we are in Mendoza, wine country. Our accommodation is at the site of a vineyard. I think it is safe to say we will be sampling the local produce!

Cheers from Mendoza!

Disappointments and small victories

11 Mar

I was so excited on Thursday because I was ready to tick off one more item off my #40Before40 list. Unfortunately, the paragliding we had scheduled to do in Iquique was cancelled because the wind was too strong.

I was disappointed but obviously in the interest of health and safety it was the best thing to do. The guy whose company it was actually explained to us the reasons why and said he really wanted to take us up there.

As a Brit, I find it a little bit strange that sports get cancelled because of weather, particularly “a bit of wind”. I’m pretty sure as a teenager that I took part in athletics competitions in hail and I definitely played hockey in 2 inches of snow.

We will try again at the next available paragliding place on our trip.

The bitter taste of disappointment was sweetened a little when we went sandboarding in the evening instead. If you know my #40Before40 list as well as I do, you will know that one item on the list is to try snowboarding.

Although they are not quite the same, it’s given me a bit of an idea about what I am up against.

I wasn’t 100% happy with the lack of instruction that we were given. Everyone else in the group had snowboarded before and I think that it would have been good to be able to have some tips of what to do.

It was quite exhausting because you had to walk up the sand dunes after every run and re-wax the bottom of the board with a candle before going down again. Obviously you don’t have to do this with a snowboard.

Also there was no aprés-ski available – no small bar at the bottom of the hill where you can get a beer or two. I will never not admit that I am more of a social winter sports person than any sort of winter sport athlete!

Still it gives me a bit of hope that I should be able to enjoy snowboarding to a small degree when I finally take the plunge and try it. That will have to be next season now as the snow will have gone by the time we get back. Only around 8 months to wait…

Travel update

9 Mar

Greetings from Iquique in Chile! A few of you have been in contact and have been wondering how we have been getting on in South America so far. I will write more when I am home (I have been keeping my diary up to date) but so far, so good.

I did have a few really bad reactions to mosquito bites in Iguazu and Sao Paulo and a bit of sunburn in Boliva, but apart from that healthwise, we are both fine.

Here is a short summary of what we have been up to so far:

Buenos Aires, Argentina

I arrived here in what seems like an age ago. Markus was very excited to see me and promptly walked the legs off me, showing me everything that he had discovered in the seven weeks previously. We will be back again to Buenos Aires at the end of the trip but my first impressions were that it is a really nice city. It’s not quite was I was expecting, with large open spaces and lots of public areas. It will be nice to come back here at the end of the trip.

Iguazu, Argentina and Brazil

I love waterfalls and I am slowly ticking off the biggest and the best in world one by one. We had heard differing reviews about which side is the best side to see the Falls from, so we saw it from both. Water is such a powerful, beautiful thing. Unfortunately, when we were there, the weather wasn’t great and we did get a bit wet but we would have got wet from the spray from the waterfall anyway so it didn’t matter much. Plus, as a Brit, I never leave home without waterproofs!

Sao Paulo, Brasil

This stop-over was never part of the original plan but we stopped here because the route was easier to take. The problem was that Portuguese and Spanish are quite different languages. We had no idea what people were saying most of the time. I was pleasantly surprised by the city. There seemed to be quite a lot to do and there is a lot of history surrounding the city. Unfortunately, there is a huge problem with homelessness here.

Santa Cruz, Bolivia

We hardly saw any other tourists here (maybe 3 other couples?). There were some interesting things happening in the main square and the colonial past of the city was quite apparent. We visited a wildlife centre where you could really get up close to exotic birds, butterflies and tarantulas, which I loved.

Cochabamba, Bolivia

Most tourist only visit Cochabamba to see the statue of Jesus Christ which overlooks the city. It is in fact bigger than the statue in Rio, on which it is modelled. We also visited the market, which is the largest open-air market in the whole of Latin America, and Laguna Angostura, where we enjoyed a nice lunch of fish and chips on the lake.

La Paz, Bolivia

Arriving in El Alto airport at 4,000m above sea level feels like you have been slapped around the face with a brick. It took me a while to adjust to it but I was glad of the cooler temperature for a few days. Here we took a free walking tour where we learnt a lot about the city and the politics of Bolivia. I was amazed that instead of trams, you have to take a cable car. What a commute that must be!

We also saw traditional Bolivian wrestling which was an experience. As we were up in the mountains and there was a Swiss Fondue restaurant, we had to indulge a bit in some home food comforts.

Uyuni, Bolivia

Another bucket list was ticked off my list when we visited Salar De Uyuni. I have wanted to go here for longer than I can remember. Armed with wellies and a camera, we set off to explore. It was like being on another planet – so calm and dream like. It far exceeded my expectations. We also waited there until sunset; just magical!

Oruro, Bolivia

This is THE place to be in Bolivia for Carnival time. We were obviously a bit too late for carnival but we did manage to see the statue of the Virgin Mary (which you can’t really miss) and some silver mines. We actually went into the silver mine with the president of the cooperative. It was a bit unnerving and I spent most of the time wondering if they had passed a health and safety inspection so that tourist can visit. Answer: definitely not. There is more to explain about this experience and I will promise to update you soon!

And that is us about up to date. As I said we are now in Iquique in Chile, enjoying the warmer weather and the amazing seafood on offer.

I will write again soon to let you know that we are still alive and enjoying life.

Until next time, or as we say here, Hasta luego!

40 Before 40: Challenge #27

6 Mar

For this challenge, I need to read 40 novels in German.

I haven’t put that much effort into this challenge yet, which is partly due to the fact that I still have to look up quite a lot of words when I am reading in German. I have, however, managed to read two more novels in German this year.

Der kleine Prinz (The Little Prince) by Antione De Saint-Exupery

This is a very well-known children’s book across Europe but I don’t think that I have even seen in the UK. The story is about pilot who, while trying to fix his plane in the desert meets a small prince who is travelling to Earth from an asteroid. The prince describes different worlds that he has explored.

Although this is a children’s book, it is very philosophical in nature and criticises the social nature of the world. I managed to learn a lot of words while reading it. I could see myself re-reading this book again in the future. It is only short and it would also be a good way to make sure that I have remembered the vocabulary that I have learnt.

Die Frau mit dem Hund (The Woman with the Dog) by Birigt Vanderbeke

This was a longer, and definitely, more adult book. When the book began, I knew that normal life was not being described. The first character in the book, Jules, has to go to the supermarket to buy goods with points and, from the descriptions, the whole place is very clean and regulated. When she gets home, there is a young girl called Pola with a dog sat outside her apartment. She panicks because dogs are not allowed in District 7 and she quickly ushers her into her apartment so that the caretaker or someone else doesn’t see her with the stranger.

After giving her food, she discovers that she is pregnant and she says that she needs to get to another district when women have babies. She is so scared about the authorities finding the pregnant woman with her dog in her flat without ID that she tells her that she has to leave. Meanwhile, the neighbour, Timon, has smelt the smell from the dog and this reminds him of the time when he was growing up before the districts were formed. He finds the woman the next day and takes her in. Timon and Pola, with the help of some people she knew before she ended up in District 7, build her a place to live in the attic. Pola ends up giving birth to the baby in the attic one night, even though Timon has tried to get her ID and a safe passage into the birthing district.

At the end of the book, I really wanted to know more about the circumstances of these districts because nothing is 100% explained to the reader. A lot is left to the imagination of the reader, which is no bad thing, but so many things are left unsaid that it is a bit frustrating to know exactly what happened for the living and working condition of the population to end up like this. The book could also lend itself to further books, where the reader sees exactly what happens to Pola and her baby girl, who she, for some reason, calls Michael.

40 Before 40: Challenge #29

3 Mar

Challenge #29 on my list was to read all the books on the 40 Books Every Woman Should Read. This is a list of 40 books by female authors, the majority of whom, to my shame, I am not familiar with or even heard of.

At the start of the challenge, I had already read 4 of the books on the list, mainly because we were forced to read them at school and not necessarily because I was particularly interested in reading them.

As I have got older, I tend to read only contemporary books. There are quite a few older books on the list, like Little Women and Jane Eyre. To be blunt, I wasn’t looking forward to reading these at all. It was always hard work reading them as a young adult.

For this update, I have read two of these “older” books and I have to say that I have really enjoyed them. Below are some of my comments about the books that I have read from the list.

Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector

This is one of the authors from the list that I haven’t heard of. She is actually Brazilian and the book was originally written in Portuguese. Before I started to read the book, I found out that her writing style has been compared to that of James Joyce, who made famous the stream of consciousness narrative style. In fact, the title of the book is actually a quote from Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I enjoyed reading Joyce for my English Literature A-Level exam so I was hopeful that I would also find this book enjoyable.

The main character is Joana and the story provides flashbacks between her childhood, her adolescence and present day. It tells the story of her relationship with her husband and their divorce (which must have been scandalous to read in the 1940s) and the woman, who her husband gets pregnant. In one part of the book, Joana meets with this woman, Lidia, who she knows is having an affair with her husband. Her reaction was a bit strange as she is not particularly bothered by this.

I really enjoyed this book. Sometimes the book was hard to follow because it flipped between different times but some of the descriptions and the writing was incredible.

Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

I had this book as a child but I only managed to ever read a couple of chapters of it. It is perhaps one of the most famous books on the whole list. The story is of a group of four sisters, who are growing up during the time of the American Civil War. Their father is away working as a pastor and the four girls and their mother are left at home waiting for news about his return.

The four young women have very different characters and personalities: one is a tomboy; another very quiet and interested in art; another the mother figure of the group, when their mother is absent; one is very shy and musical.

The story tells what becomes of the sisters as they grow up, which includes marriages, deaths, births, work and extensive trips to Europe.

The BBC showed an adaptation of the book between Christmas and New Year. As it was after I had read the book, I thought it might be a good idea to watch it. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get into it. Perhaps the characters didn’t look as I thought they would have done. I also found the American accents a bit uncomfortable. As I was reading the book, I did have the tendency to forget that the story was set in America and not in England and so it sounded a bit funny to my ears. I only got about 20 minutes into the programme and I decided to stop. I guess, in this case, the book was better than the screenplay.

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

I always find this book confusing. Is it Jane Eyre written by Charlotte Bronte or Charlotte Bronte written by Jane Eyre? Again I think that this was a book I had when I was younger that stayed on my book shelf unread. In the end I really enjoyed this book, so it was a shame that I had left it so long to read this book.

As many books from this era begin, Jane Eyre is an orphan, who is unwanted by her uncle’s family, who she is put into the care of. Eventually, she is sent away to a boarding school, where she is educated and thrives, but not before she watches her best friend in the world die of consumption. She goes on to be a teacher at the boarding school but, after getting a job as a governess of a child in a private house.

Jane falls in love with the Master of the house and is due to marry him until the wedding is stopped because Mr Rochester is already married. His wife is actually a lunatic who lives in the attic (all very bizarre). Jane leaves in the middle of the night because she does not want to become his mistress. Exhausted and hungry, she comes across a house where the people take pity on her and nurse her back to health. The new Master of the house gives her the job of a new governess of a school for poor children. He wants to marry her but she is still thinking about what happened to her Mr Rochester, who she still loves and always will. She goes off in search of him to see what has happened to him and… I won’t spoil the whole thing. You can read it yourself.

I liked the book because, although it was a romance, it wasn’t too over the top. I think a lot of books talk about love as it is some magical spell that transforms people suddenly, when in most cases love is a lot more dignified and isn’t necessarily know to the beholder immediately.

Also I learnt the word “lugubrious” which means looking or sounding sad or dismal. This is my new favourite word. If I was still at school, I would be desperate to get this into one of my exam scripts. I might try to get it into one of my short stories.

I have now read 7 out of the 40 books that I need to complete this challenge. I am so glad that I decided to have this one my list. I’m really enjoying it.