Archive | February, 2019

40 Before 40: Challenge #29 – update

15 Feb

I’ve been busy reading more books from The 40 Books Every Woman Should Read. Here are the latest books that I’ve read.

Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson

This was a strange book. I don’t know what sort of genre it was – it was a mixture of fantasy and historical. It also incorporates The Twelve Dancing Princesses which is a commentary about women’s role in society. I found the book very surreal. If the book had have been much longer, I am not sure that I would have stuck out reading it until the end.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

The story is set after the American Civil War and tells the story of a woman who murders her daughter. When a mysterious woman returns, she is convinced this is the ghost of the child that she murdered. The book is hard to understand at first because it flips between different time periods, so you do have to concentrate to know where the part of the story relates to.

When I realised that this was essentially a ghost story, I wasn’t convinced that I would like the story. But the story is very intriguing. How the ghost affects the family and the mother in particular is interesting.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

By far the worst part of this book is seeing the dates that the diary entries were made knowing that the hope of them being free isn’t going to happen. The contrast between the musings of a teenage girl (complaining about classmates etc) and the description of the harsh conditions is mind blowing.

The House of Spirits by Isabelle Allende

Four generations story. set in Chile. It’s an incredible read. It was super easy to read even though the book was almost 500 pages long but it was incredibly tragic as well as very funny at the same time. It is for books like this that I wanted to do this challenge; to discover new authors and great works of literature that I wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to read. I would easily say that this is in the Top 5 of my favourite books. There is pretty stiff competition with the amount of books that I have read so that is high praise indeed.

This was a joy to read. It’s the story of four generations of an eccentric family in Chile and charts the tragedy, hilarity and surreality of their lives in an ever-changing world. One minute I was laughing out loud, the next silent in shock at the events that were unfolding in the story. I would go as far to say that this was one of my favourite books that I have ever read. This was another long read but I doubt it will be long before I am re-reading it once again.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

This was an incredibly long book. Whenever I was thinking that there was no way that the books could continue for much longer, there was a plot twist and I was completely engrossed in the story again.

This was a long book (my edition was 884 pages long) but was a great read. Set during the American Civil War, it is essentially a story of love and loss, focused on the main character Scarlett O’Hara. Throughout the book, I was wondering how on earth the story could keep going and going, but there was always a clever plot twist to stir things up again and leave the reader wanting to read on. I haven’t seen the film but I wonder how the whole story can be possibly cut down to the length of a film without losing part of the great story. I’m so glad that I stuck with this book and read it until the end.

Willful Creatures by Amiee Bender

This was a book of story stories. They were honestly the most bizarre stories that I have ever read. They were very surreal and made me re-think how a short story can be written. To show you what I mean, these were some of the outlines of the stories: a family of potatoes, who try not to be eaten, a boy who is born with keys as fingers and he has to find out what each of the keys opens and a man who keeps a small man locked up in a cage like a bird.

After reading most of the stories, I did have to wonder if I had read the story right and that I some how hadn’t misinterpreted it completely. The stories are brilliantly imaginative and entertaining.

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer

All of these stories had a strong religious tone to them, which I think probably says a lot about the background of the author. The first story in the collection is called “Brownies” which brought back a lot of memories for me because I also went to Brownies, when I was a child. Even though you would think that this story couldn’t have a religious tone to it, one of the leaders of the Brownie pack was overtly religious. I thought the stories were interesting: overall, I wasn’t completely bowled over by the collection as a whole.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

There are a lot of books of short stories on this list and this was another of them. The first part of the collection were stories exploring relationships between men and women and love. The story called “Unaccustomed Earth” is about a widower, who has found love with a new companion but decides not to tell his daughter because he wants to remain independent.

In the second part of the book, the three stories were related and told the story of two childhood friends, who, later in life, fall in love but decide not to pursue a relationship because she is already engaged to someone else. The ending is really sad. There weren’t many happy endings in any of the stories.

I have now read 25 out of the 40 and I am really enjoying this challenge.

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A weekend in Bucharest

11 Feb

I know that it seems as if I am constantly on holiday (and most people who know me tell me this on a regular basis) but this is all in aid of Challenge 2 on my 40 Before 40 – visit 40 countries in Europe. My trip to Romania means that I have now visited 28 countries in Europe.

Here are some of the things that we got up to on our long weekend in Romania.

First Impressions

Arriving when it is starting to get dark and trying to navigate yourself around an unfamiliar city is not one of my favourite activities. Large cities always look unwelcoming, dangerous and dirty at night. But it was clear that the Old Town was liveliest place to be in the evening, even if there were enough massage parlours to make you think that you might have ended up in Amsterdam by mistake.

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But during the day, the place was transformed with blue skies and busy streets. Some of the buildings are quite run down but the city has a certain charm to it and it is cleaner than a lot of Western European cities that I have visited. The influences of Communism can still be seen in the architecture and other parts of life.

Food and drink

If you are vegetarian or vegan, you might have trouble finding dishes to eat in Romania. The main ingredient in almost every dish seems to be meat, meat and meat. You can by huge mixed grill platters, slow-cooked pork knuckle and different sausages and stews. We were keen to try the local food and beer and even tried the local shots called palinca, which definitely warmed us up on a cold February morning.

We also tried mici, which are small sausages, as well as a cold meat platter which was excellent. There were quite a few dishes that I didn’t get to try because all of the food was so filling.

Free Walking Tour

It is second nature for us to find a free walking tour as soon as we arrive in a city that we were visiting. More than 75 people turned up for the tour and we were split into two groups. The guide that we had was one of the most entertaining guides I have ever had and the 2.5 hours we spent standing with the cold wind on our faces in various parts of the city flew by with his interesting spin on things. We learnt a lot of surprising things about the city, the history and what life was like under Communist rule. I still find it mind-blowing that people living not so far away from us were being suppressed by dictators during our lifetime. It doesn’t really seem possible.

Thermal spa

A friend recommended a thermal spa to us, as he had discovered it on his trip to Bucharest a few years previously. There were an awful lot of people there but it was a great experience. There was an indoor pool, where you can enjoy a cocktail or beer in the pool, an outdoor pool with jacuzzis, aromatherapy pools, massage beds and saunas. The disadvantage of so many people being there was that people were queuing for the saunas, so we didn’t wait for them. It was great fun but not really the type of spa that I had expected – people drinking, smoking (outside) etc.

The Romania Parliament Building

The Parliament in Romania is the second largest administration building in the world, after the Pentagon. We had heard that visitors are able to take tours inside on production of a passport or ID. When we arrived a security guard stopped us at the gate and said that the tours had been fully booked out. The tours are less frequent from now until June 2019 because Romania currently holds the presidency of the EU and the building is being used more frequently for meetings for EU specific topics. It was disappointing as there are not many parliament buildings that are open for the public to view but if I ever go back to Bucharest that will be the first thing on my list to do.

Overall, I really enjoyed the trip. It was relaxing, with plenty of walking and fresh air and some nice food and drink.

I have already planned my next trip to another European country – Poland in May. It seems like a long way off but it will give me some time to do some research so that we can maximise our time there.

Update on Challenge #8

7 Feb

For challenge 8 on my #40Before40 list, I am attempting to watch all of the Top 250 films of all time as listed on iMDB. I realised in November that I hadn’t watched any of  the films since September so I am getting back into my film watching to give me a fighting chance of completing this challenge.

Here are the films I have watched recently:

11. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

To be fair, this wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  I’m a little bit confused about what the difference between an orc, a goblin, an elf and a hobbit but I have been able to work out who the good guy are.However, the other two films are also on the list and I will have to watch them as well. So I have time to work out who is whom.

30. Once Upon A Time in the West

Westerns really aren’t my thing. I think my day put me off watching them because they always used to be on the TV when we were growing up. It involves an mysterious harmonica-playing cowboy and I can still hear the haunting tune that he played in my head. It wasn’t awful but it just wasn’t my sort of film.

54. Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

I have tried to watch this film before but failed miserably by falling asleep. I managed to say awake for the whole of the film and actually found it quite funny in parts. It’s the story of what happens when a nuclear war is triggered by mistake.

57. Grave of the Fireflies

This is a Japanese animated film. It’s another war film from the list and is about a brother and and sister who are separated from their parents during the war. It was a very heart warming story with an incredibly sad ending.

58. Paths of Glory

Set in World War I, this is a dramatisation of a court marshall of French soldiers because of cowardice. The commanding officer attempts to defend the soldiers and highlights the flawed tactics of his direct commander. It was an interesting story.

84. Double Indemnity

Insurance salesman falls in love with a clients wife and sets out to plot his death to claim on an accident insurance policy. I found it interesting that the film starts with the main character admitting that he had something to do with the death. The rest of the film is then an explanation of what happened leading up to the confession.

93. Singin’ in the Rain

I can’t make my mind up if I liked this film or not. I do generally like musicals so it isn’t that I don’t like the genre itself. The film hasn’t particularly aged well – a lot of the comments would be seen as sexism or discriminatory these dates, especially as the backdrop for the film is Hollywood movies.

135. On the Waterfront

This was a story about the mob trying to gain control of the waterfront and the underhand dealings that go along with that. I found the story hard to follow at first and the story didn’t keep my interest that much. There was a great fight scene in it though.

150. The Wolf of Wall Street

I genuinely thought this was just a remake of the original but it definitely isn’t. I didn’t watch this when it came out in the cinema because so many of my friends said that they didn’t like it. I thought it was ok and the story was so ridiculous that it was funny. I’m not sure I’d sit down and watch it again.

162. Fargo

The most incredible thing about this story is that it was based on a true story. When a kidnap plot goes wrong, murder and mayhem follow. I always like true stories and this was no except. I still can’t believe that it actually happened though but a great film and definitely worth a watch.

173. There Will Be Blood

A silver miner, who portrays himself as an honest family man, buys land from people at a pittance in order to drill for oil. As the title of the film suggests this doesn’t end well because a local priest realises what he is up to and a feud between the two develops and threatens the whole of the community. Daniel Day Lewis won one of his Oscars for this role and his performance is mesmorising.

199. Mad Max: Fury Road

It took me ages to work out what on earth was happening in this film. It’s set in some futuristic world in a desert, where people are controlled by a tyrant, until rebels try to break free. There isn’t a lot of dialogue but there is lots of action, with fight scene after fight scene.

215. Before Sunrise

Two strangers meet on a train and decide to spend the day together in Vienna. As I spent a few weeks in Vienna a few years ago it was nice to recognise some of the locations in the film. The film itself wasn’t as soppy as I thought that it would be; there was something innocent about two people agreeing to make a perfect memory of one day together.

217. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

I’ve read all of the Harry Potter books but I’ve only seen one or two of the films. I remember reading this book and being utterly terrified by it. Seeing the dramatic representation on screen was just as terrifying. None of the other Potter films are on the list so I would if the reason that this one makes the list is because of the computer graphics used. Either way, I really enjoyed it.

While I was reviewing the list of films that I am yet to see, I noticed that there were 3 that I have seen which I hadn’t noticed were on the list. I have seen Amélie (which I saw when Netflix sent the DVDs to your house – remember those days?), Donnie Darko (with the scary rabbit) and Monsters Inc. which I can probably recite line for line because I have seen it so many times before.

That means that my current total of films that I have seen from the list is 135, which means only 115 to go! Hurray!

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Winter Sun and Snow

4 Feb

Last week I did something I have never done before: I made the decision on Monday to fly on 6 days later to the sunny climbs of Tenerife. It’s not quite as extreme as waking up one morning, going to the airport and taking the next available flight but it felt like it to me because I’m normally so organised that my flights are booked more than 6 months in advance.

It was getting so cold here in Switzerland that I decided a few days in the sun would help to thaw out my bones and might even put some colour into my pale skin (but that was definitely a long shot!)

As my mum was already holidaying in Tenerife, I just had to get a bus from the airport and meet her just outside where she was staying. It was so much warmer there and I did get a few strange looks from people wearing my big winter coat, which I assure you I needed for the journey back.

We spent a lot of time walking, drinking in English bars and eating English food. It was great to relax and just enjoy life without any time pressures. We also visited La Caletta, which is a fishing village, and had a great fish and chips there.

All too soon it was time for me to come home, but not without some Chorizo sausage and olives as edible souvenirs.

Of course, I landed back to a very wintry and cold Switzerland. I did wonder if it was worth going for such a short space of time and now I feel like it’s even colder here than it was before I left. The 25+ degrees difference hasn’t been a very welcome gift but at least it looks pretty.