Archive | September, 2019

Adieu September!

30 Sep

Another month has gone screaming past us and into realm of the distance memory. I have mainly noticed how dark the mornings and the nights are getting and I’m slowly resigning myself to the fact that autumn will soon be here.

Of course September has been another busy month as well. Here is what has been keeping me out of mischief:

  • I’ve now been in my current job for 3 months and last week I passed my probation period with flying colours. Calling it a probation period makes it sound like I work in a prison but I don’t. I am very happy and pleased to have found a job that I genuinely like and where I feel my work is appreciated even though I have only been there for a short time.
  • I am also celebrating living in Switzerland for 7 years this month. If you’d have asked me if I would still be living here six and a half years ago, I don’t think I would have said yes. It’s possibly the best decision I ever made and I am very grateful that the choices that I made in life helped me to end up here. That’s not to say that everything is positive about being an expat. I also missed my nephew’s birthday this week because I live in another country. You have to learn to take the rough with the smooth.
  • I visited my 32nd country in Europe and my 55th country in the world by visiting Belgrade, Serbia this month.
  • I started going to a theatre course at the start of the month and that will last until the end of October. I like the class and all of the students and the teacher is great but I think that the course itself is a tiny bit too serious for me. I think that I would prefer to do something more light-hearted and comedy based so I might start  looking to see if there are any courses that I can do in that direction next year. Having said that I am learning tons of stuff about myself and about acting that I never knew.
  • I have finished the bonus round of Erin’s Book Challenge and I’ve smashed my reading target for the year. I had originally aimed to read 52 (one a week) and then revised it to 70 when it was clear that I would easily manage that. I have now read 75 books this year and number 76 is also well underway. I was thinking about trying to revise the target again to 100 but I don’t want to rush though books just to get to a target and not enjoy reading them. I might set my target as 100 next year.
  • I also became a published author this month. It was a non-fiction ebook about travel tips in St Gallen, Switzerland. I would rather be writing fiction but at least it’s a foot in the right direction.
  • Talking of fiction writing, I am now half way through an online writing course that I have been meaning to do for forever. I’m definitely learning and I can already see myself that my writing is improving. I hope that I will be able to finish the other half of the course in October and then in November I can sit down and get stuck into sitting down and writing with all the new things that I have learnt in my head.

And that was September: another busy but fun month. I hope your September was as good and, if not, make sure that you make up for it in October.

img_7099.jpg

 

Bonus Round – Book Challenge by Erin 11.0 – completed

29 Sep

I have officially finished the bonus round of the Book Challenge by Erin 11.0 after I completed the initial round last month.

Again I have managed to read some great books that I wouldn’t have read if I wasn’t taking part in the challenge. Here is a short breakdown of the 10 books I picked for the bonus round:

61086969_1609374305861904_1982975581540581376_n

Freebie (any book that is at least 200 pages long):

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

This was a great book. I had no idea what this was about until I started reading it (I bought it last year when it was on offer in a bookshop). The theme of the book was very topical. It explores what it means to be a British Muslim and how conflict and betrayal can happen to anyone at any time. The characters were very believable and the ending was tragically beautiful

A book beginning with “F”:

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

This is one of the most bizarre books I have ever read. I’m still not sure exactly to make of the book. It is a completely barking mad story based in truth that tells the drug-addled of a journalist in the desert. Completely entertaining and very disconcerting at the same time!

A book with “rain”, “thunder” or “lightning” in the title:

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

I liked this book. I was quite an easy read, in that it was a book written for yound adults and was even a Newberry Award Winner. But in another sense, it was a hard read because of its themes of racism and how hard life was living in the southern US in the 1930s. The characters were realistic – some I hated, some I really liked because of how the author had described them.

A book with a building on the cover:

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

The book started with a house on fire and the disappearance of the youngest daughter of the family, who is suspected of starting the fire. The rest of the book is an explanation about what happened before to get to this point of the story. The way the book was written was very clever. The author also explores a lot of ethical issues dealing with parenting, surrogacy and adoption. It was very thought provoking and I loved the characters and how relatable they were.

A book written by an author who has an initial in their name:

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

This is the type of book that I would love to be able to write. I only put it down to sleep and go to work. It was a page-turner! It is clear from the beginning that the narrator isn’t 100% reliable in what she is telling the read which made it intriguing from the very start. There were so many plot twists and turns that the book kept me guessing right until the very end. A great read.

A book with an item of clothing in the title:

One, Two Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie

This is only the second Christie book that I have ever read – I read my first in the last reading challenge. I really enjoyed it. The book starts with a murder in a dentist practice and it soon transpires that the verdict of suicide that is given by the coronor isn’t correct. I had no idea who was responsible for the murders, which is always good in a murder mystery book.

A book set in India:

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

I love the Disney movie version of this book but the book is nothing like the film. I normally don’t like a film version to alter from the book version too much but in this case the film is far better than the book. If all of the details from the book were used, there is no way that Disney would have been able to release the film as child-friendly. Ïf you haven’t read the book I won’t spoil it for you by pointing out the differences!

A book shortlisted for the Booker Prize:

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

This was another book that I bought a while ago in a book sale and haven’t got round to reading. I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book but it had my interest from the very beginning. The story begins with the author explaining that this is a true stroy about a relative of his and how he was tried and executed for murder. I still don’t know if this is actually true or was just included to make the story more believable. It was very originally written. The first part of the book is told via a diary and the read really gets to understand the character and his motives. The rest of the book is told via official sources, such as lawyers and psychiatrists. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.  

A book with a character who has supernatural powers: 

Firestarter by Stephen King

In a lot of this ways, this book reminded me of Carrie that I read in the first round of this reading challenge. The girl in the book has superpowers that allows her to make fires. She got these superpowers because her father and mother took part in a drugs trial when they were college students. The drug that they were injected with produce hallocinogenic powers. After her mother is killed, her and her father are on the run because the US government are trying to capture them so that they can make experiments on them. I can’t say it was the best Stephen King novel I have ever read but I did like the tension and the action when they were on the run from the government.

A book with the same title as a book in another genre:

Emma by Jane Austen

It’s not my favourite Jane Austen book by a long way and I have read at least three of her books over the past 12 months. I liked the character of Emma but I just thought the book went on for too long considering how much happened in it. I felt it lacked the drama of Pride and Prejudice and it was predictable what was going to happen.

 

A long weekend in Belgrade

26 Sep

Last weekend I was experiencing the delights of Belgrade in Serbia with a group of friends. Serbia is the 32nd country that I have visited in Europe, which means that I am slowly inching towards my goal of visiting 40 countries in Europe before I turn 40.

I was expecting Belgrade to be similar to Bucharest, where we visited in February this year but I was pleasantly surprised. The city is very modern and clean. I would even argue that it is nicer than many cities in the UK. I was glad that we had a Serbian native in the group; it meant that it was easier to communicate (though I am sure it would be ok to visit even if you didn’t know any Serbian) and we went to some cool places that weren’t crowded with tourists.

Here are some of the highlights from our trip:

Food

I felt like all we did was eat. Serbian cuisine is very hearty, full of meat, potatoes and general deliciousness. I was surprised that it was allowed to smoke in the restaurant that we ate in on the Friday night. It has been so long since I have eaten indoors at a place where smoking is allowed. The atmosphere was great, especially as there were musicians going from table to table throughout the evening. Luckily, they didn’t come and seranade our table! In Serbia there is a type of salad that is basically just cheese. So I am now a reformed salad dodger.

On Saturday morning we had a traditional Serbian breakfast which is savory pastries with spinach, cheese and meat, as well as a yoghurt drink. Somehow the breakfast didn’t fill us up and we decided to have a unlimited mezze-style lunch. The idea was that they bring you small plates of food until you tell them to stop. We managed to eat everything from the list and then ask them for more. It’s important to get your money’s worth on holiday.

We had an impressive all you can eat brunch on Sunday which left us completely stuffed and was, compared with Swiss standards, incredibly cheap. We definitely didn’t go hungry.

Drink

Serbian beer is very tasty and I was happy to try several different brands. We also managed to find a Serbian cider which was a bit too sweet for me. It reminded me of Kopparberg.

Schnapps are also popular but I’m not a fan of drinking schnapps in general so I avoided partaking whenever possible. We also did some late-night drinking in a couple of trendy places.

Churches and architecture

Churches seem to be everywhere in Belgrade. I love looking around churches and those that we saw at the weekend were some of the most ornately deocrated buildings that I have ever seen. One small chapel in the Belgrade fortress also sold bottled holy water, famed for its healing properties but I decided not to purchase one.

There are some incredible-looking administrative buildings in the capital and they are all lit up at night which I think makes them look even more stunning.

Markets

We visited a market, which was a fresh produce market but also incorporates a flea market. Thankfully, we had already eaten by the time we walked around the market so we weren’t tempted into buying anything. I found it interesting that there were meat stalls or butchers where you can order your meat and they will prepare it and cook it for you so it can be picked up later in the day. It seems like a really good idea.

Escape rooms

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you might have noticed that I love an escape room. We managed to do two while we were in Belgrade. We finished the first one so quickly that we had time to do a second one. The employee was very impressed that we managed to solve both of the rooms so quickly. We almost beat the record for both of the rooms. She even suggested that we enter the Escape Room World Championships which I am sure would be great fun and would possibly be the only way I will be able to claim that I have competed in a World Championship! We’ll have to see if anything comes of that in the future.

The Beach

I was shocked that there was a beach in Belgrade but there is. Of course, the beach isn’t on the coastline to the sea because Serbia is a land-locked country. The beach is a man-made beach on a lake. The weather was beautiful and I would have definitely gone for a swim if time had allowed. It was just nice to relax in the sun with a cold drink.

Thanks to Stefan (translator and organiser extraordinaire), Mark, Araz and Markus for being great travel companions on this great weekend.

I will soon be visiting my 33rd country in Europe in two weeks when I go to Kiev for a long weekend.

Arosa Animal Adventures

18 Sep

Last weekend we headed to Arosa in glorious sunshine to get in touch with nature. Arosa is famous in the winter for being one of the best ski resorts in Switzerland but there is also plenty to do in the summer.

There is an “Eichhörnchenweg” (“Squirrel Pathway”) which you can wander down and feed squirrels and birds. 

I was sceptical that the squirrels would be tame enough to come up to you and take food from you but they did. In fact, I would say that a few of them were very cheeky. They would take the nut from you, go and bury it in the wood and then come back to get another one. It was so much fun. We even spotted a very cute squirrel who looked like he was wearing white socks – we nicknamed him “White Feet”.

Birds wanted to get in on the action as well. There were some bigger birds that I didn’t like. Their claws dug into you when they swooped down to rest on your hand and their beak dug into you when they went to eat the nuts. I liked the little birds. You don’t really realise that they have landed on your hand because they are so delicate. I felt like Snow White with little birds landing on me.

After the squirrels and birds we took a gondola up the mountain to see the bears. Unfortunately, two of the bears were sick and they weren’t outside. But Napa, part brown bear and part polar bear, was happy to show off to the crowds. The bears have all been rescued from places where they have been drugged, forced to perform and chained in small cages. It’s sad that people feel that they have to exploit animals for their own amusement. I’m sure the bears are happier now, living on a Swiss mountain being looked after properly.

Of course, there were lots of mountains on the hillside as well. I don’t feel that I have had a lunch on a Swiss mountainside if I can’t hear the jingle-jangle of cow bells in the distance.

I had thought that the summer was over and days and weekends spent like this were already over but the weather seems to be good again, so I am hoping for one or two more days like this – enjoy the weather and nature before winter really begins.

Challenge #15 – completed!

11 Sep

I have just finished my fifteenth challenge on my 40 Before 40 list – to have something that I have written published. I can now officially call myself a published author!

Unfortunately, I am not publishing my debut novel (but I hope that will be coming soon) but a book of travel tips. I found the job online through a freelancing website and applied for it. It took me a lot longer than I thought it would to research and format the book but I finally handed it in last weekend. I got confirmation that the book has been accepted and will be published early this week.

I will get paid for the book, when it is released on Amazon in the next month or so. The amount of money won’t break the bank and that wasn’t the main motivation for doing it but it is a nice bonus.

Up until now, I have resisted marking this challenge as completed because I have had work published on other blogs, for example, but I have never been paid or rewarded in any way. I think part of being a published writer is that you get money for the work you have done.

It was interesting to take on a project like this because:

a) this type of writing was something completely new to me. I had a brief from the client that I needed to fulfil and a deadline when I had to submit by. A lot of the writing that I have done up until now has only been for me and, therefore, I haven’t had a hard deadline or a list of requirements to fulfil;

b) I was able to appreciate how much time and effort that goes into the researching, writing and editing process. These processes are very different from one another so you have to use different skills or learn them quite quickly;

c) my biggest problem with writing, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, is that I find it hard to finish anything. I happily start writing about something but it soon goes downhill as I start thinking that what I’m writing makes no sense, isn’t good or both. I did want to stop this assignment. I was under no contractual obligation to complete it but I decided to push through and finally finish something. I am so glad that I did. I felt so satisfied that I had successfully completed the assignment. Plus, at the point in time when I thought about quitting I was about 75% of my way through. If I had’ve quit, it would’ve been a huge waste of effort.

I now feel more motivated to try and get some non-fiction writing projects and I seem to be gathering momentum with my fiction novel that has been parked out of sight and out of mind for a while.

If anyone would be interested in getting a copy of the book when it becomes available, please let me know. Though it will only be of use to you if you are planning on visiting a very specific place in Switzerland.

writing-828911_960_720

Update on #40Before40

1 Sep

It is now two years since I decided to start my 40 Before 40 challenge. Basically I set myself 40 challenges to do before I become 40-years-old.

Here is the second annual update about how things are progressing.

To date I have completed 11 out of the 40 challenges. It doesn’t sound like a lot but I have at least 10 of the longer challenges started and well under way. I do still have three years left to go but I know that this time will fly by.

Here are the six challenges that I have completed over the past year:

Challenge #3 – Go paragliding

Challenge #17 – Write a diary for a year

Challenge #25 – Cook every recipe from one cookbook

Challenge #29 – Read The 40 Books that Every Woman Should Read

Challenge #31 – Take up a new sport

Challange #39 – Downsize

Here are some of the challenges that are currently in progress:

Challenge #2 – Visit 40 countries in Europe

So far I have visited 31 countries so far but by the end of 2019 that total should be up to 33. I have already chalked off all of the main countries off the list. Now I am left with some of the harder to get to places to get to. I hope that I will be able to visit at least 3 more countries next year but I will have to see when is the best time to visit some of the places.

Challenge #8 – Watch every movie on iMDB Top 250 Films list

I have seen 168 films from the list, so there is still some work to be done. I haven’t watched anything since around June time. I think movie are the sort of thing you enjoy more in the winter time. As the nights are drawing in, it means that it won’t be long until I sitting watching films again.

Challenge #26 – Learn how to fold 40 origami designs

The designs actually take longer to make that I thought they would but I have enjoyed learnign the designs that I have made so far. This is one challenge that I hope to have completed before the end of 2019.

Challenge #27 – Read 40 novels in German and Challenge #35 – Read 40 non-fiction books

For most of this year I have been reading English non-fiction books and these two challenges have been forgotten about. I am planning on focusing on these challenges in the last three months of the year.

Challenge #37 – Have a haircut at least 4 times a year

I prefer going to the dentist that going to the hairdresser. I have been doing well on this challenge until my haridresser ghosted me and moved back to the UK. I am now not convinced that the replacement I have found is right for me but I will stick with her or find someone else to do this so that I keep on track.

I have also decided to make one change to my list. I am going to change my Challenge #40 from starting and maintaining my own travel website to create a piece of artwork. I never intended on changing any of the challenges that I had chosen but after trying to start writing for this website, I realise that writing about travel wasn’t giving me as much enjoyment as I thought it would. The whole point of the list was to make sure that there were things on the list that I would enjoy doing. So, sorry, but that challenge needs to be replaced.

overcoming-2127669__340