Tag Archives: challenge

Challenge #30 – completed!

4 Jan

In the dying hours of 2019, I completed the latest of my 40 Before 40 challenges. Okay, that is slightly over-dramatic. I completed it at about noon on the 31st December 2019 because I had the day off and I was feel guilty that I hadn’t really done anything productive. But I finally solved my Rubik’s cube.

I have tried it a few times in the past and got more and more frustrated with it. It seemed like I managed to get part of it completed but then ‘messed’ up another side that I had already completed. This time I sat down and and completed the whole thing in one sitting. If I ‘messed’ up parts that were finished, I took a deep breath and started again.

Back together again!

I probably sound like a genius but I’m not – I did use a guide to solve the cube that I found online. The chances of you winning the lottery is much, much more plausible that being able to solve it just by randomly turning the sides. In fact, it took Rubik (the Hungarian inventor of the puzzle) more than 6 months to solve it himself.

Even with instructions it was tricky and I had to concentrate to make sure I was doing the next step correctly. And there are certain steps that you need to do in order to complete it. First you need to start with getting a white cross in position and then getting the correct corner pieces in position. I didn’t know that the middle square in a 3×3 cube doesn’t move so that determines what ‘face’ it is. You can’t just complete the white face without the corner and edge pieces being in the right place.

A lot of the solving of the puzzle is based on algorithms. When you see people on TV solving them in a matter of seconds, they must have memorized all of the algorithms previously and then just move the pieces in accordance to the moves they have memorized. It took me ages longer than the person who has the world record for solving a Rubik’s cube (4.22 seconds in case you were wondering) but I did it. I can’t actually put into words how satisfying it was when I turned the side for one last time and realised that it was finished.

I had thought that this could be a party trick of mine. I could take a Rubik’s cube with me to parties to impress friends and family by magically solving the cube. Or even show strangers on the bus, after all it doesn’t take up that much room in my handbag. The reality is that I would probably produce the cube and then spend another hour sitting in a corner, swearing quietly to myself while everyone slowly loses interest. So my search for a part trick continues but there is one less challenge on my list…

Challenge #28 – completed

13 Dec

I have cashed in my Christmas present from last year and can also mark another one of my challenges as completed! This was a very enjoyable challenge but that might be because during its completion I go happier and happier. Over the past two weeks I have spent 6 hours learning about and tasting wine on a wine degustation course.

Both of the evenings began with a smell test. There were 12 different scents that we had to try to identify. It was incredibly difficult because you don’t have any context to place the smell. You convince yourself that you can smell X but when you are told that Y is the answer you instantly know that Y is correct. On the first evening I got one out of 12 correct and the second evening I got 3 out of 12. The lecturer told us that you can get better at identifying aromas but it takes a lot of practice. He also explained our recognition of smell and aromas is heavily linked to the environment that we grew up in. For example, if you always ate watermelon as a child on holiday, the smell is linked to your memories and is much more easy to recognise than someone who does have this smell linked to a memory. The weird thing was that both myself and my boyfriend were convinced one of the smells was rose but it was actually hay. I guess I will be getting a bunch of hay for Valentine’s Day because neither of us can tell the difference.

The first evening focused on the world of wine, what conditions were best for growing wine and how to assess wines with all of your senses. We were shown how you should taste the wines and what differences you can look out for in different wines: “Do you also get the heady scent of mushrooms and coffee, darling?” We blind tasted 8 different wines during this evening. Some of them I didn’t like at all. My favourite of the whole evening turned out to be a 7 CHF  (or 5 GBP) bottle. 

The second evening focused on wine and food. I knew that on food programmes that wine is paired with specific meals and ingredients but I never knew why. Depending on what wine you pair with which foods the whole flavour of the wine can change. We tried this out by drinking wine on its own, then after eating a dried tomato and then after eating salt. How our perception of the wine changed with each combination was incredible. There is no way that you would think the wine was the same. Last year we went to a independent wine fair in Strasbourg and ate some strong, stinky cheese in between tasting wine. We now know that this has a huge effect on how the wine tastes so we might have a shock when we come to drink some of those bottles and they taste completely different to what we thought.

This knowledge is good to know for future tasting and it means that even though we have different tastes in wines we can ‘alter’ the flavour of the wine with what we eat with it.

We were also shown how temperature effects wine, how long it is best to store wine and how the wine glass can also affect how a wine tastes. There was also an instructional video about how to open a sparkling wine bottle with a bread knife. I will be trying that outside in the summer with a very inexpensive bottle in case it goes wrong. There was a huge amount of information packed into both of the evenings. The course was in German so I also learnt some new words related to food and wine.

I’m so glad that I had this on my list. I’m far from being an expert in wine but I know that the most expensive wines are not always the best and what I can eat to make a wine more pleasant for my palette.

 

A weekend in Kiev

15 Oct

Over the weekend I was visited my 33rd European country – Ukraine. It seems that there are always political news stories about Ukraine and I confess that I don’t read enough to know 100% what all the implications are.

A few people gave me raised eyebrows when I mentioned where I was spending the weekend but that didn’t stop me from having a great weekend in Kiev.

Kiev city

Kiev is a very smart modern city. I loved the old style buildings from the Soviet era mixed in with the new. The city was vibrant and full of life. All of the churches we saw were incredibly stunning. We didn’t realise that it was the start of a long public holiday when we arrived and on Saturday the Main street was closed to traffic. Being able to stroll down the street of a European capitol city and enjoy music and fire-eaters is something special.

Monuments

I love that many Eastern European countries have lots of monuments and memorials to people and battles that we’re not so aware of in Western Europe. I think one of my favourite monuments was in Kiev. It was called the People’s Friendship Arch. It’s beautifully made and commemorates the 1’500th year since the city of Kiev was established.

Chernobyl

The highlight of the trip was a full day tour of Chernobyl. I haven’t seen the HBO series and before going I didn’t know a great deal about the disaster and what actually happened. The tragedy happened during my lifetime but I was only 4 so I don’t remember news reports at the time.

You can only visit Chernobyl if you have a guide because specific areas are still dangerous and there are no road signs so I can imagine it would be easy to get lost if you don’t know where you are going.

We joined a group tour and our tour guide was fantastic. She could answer all the questions we put to her and had a great sense of humour which, in a case like this, must help to keep you sane.

The videos and photos that you have seen of creepy dolls, abandoned school buildings and former inhabited places overgrown by weeds and vegetation are true. I think my overwhelming feeling was of sadness. Not only did people leave a thriving new city which had the very first supermarket in the whole of the Ukraine but they thought that they would be coming back to their homes in a few days. The land we visited will never be inhabited again because, on a long-term basis, it’s not safe for human habitation.

We were regularly checked for radiation poisoning but I felt this was more a bit of entertainment than anything else. We had a dosimeter with us the whole time that told us how much radiation we had been exposed to. For the whole day we had been exposed to the same amount of radiation as you would be exposed to on a one hour flight. Also if you were contaminated, what could you do? You can’t take a pill to change it. What’s done is done.

 

 

Food and drink

No trip away is complete without sampling the local food and drink. We stumbled upon a local microbrewery and decided to have a beer tasting which included 6 beers.

We also tried borsch – a traditional beetroot soup, khachapuri – originally a Georgian dish and delicious dumplings! Now I’m back home it’s definitely time for a few salads to compensate for how much I ate.

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Passport Stamps

Of course, one of the most exciting things about visiting a country that isn’t in the EU is that I got another two stamps in my passport.

In November I will be heading to Tenerife for some winter sun and then to Nice and Monaco, which will become the 34th country I have visited in Europe.

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.

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Book Challenge by Erin 11.0 – completed

28 Aug

I have officially finished the first round of the Book Challenge by Erin 11.0 that started on 1st July. The idea is to read a book from 10 different categories. This is the third time I have participated in the challenge and, once again, I have read some interesting books that I wouldn’t have read off my own back.

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Here is a short breakdown of the 10 books I read:

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

Stories We Could Tell by Tony Parsons

I bought this from a second hand book shop about six months ago and I had no idea what it was about but I liked the look of the front cover.  I found this book very funny and relatable. I love some of the descriptions in this book. The story takes place on the day that Elvis died and tells the stories of three friends writing for a music magazine.

A book beginning with “F”:

Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco

This is one of the best books I have ever read. It was a long read, about 650 pages and the style of the writing took some getting used to. The book is about the Knight’s Templar and their alledged involvement in many historical events. The books centres on three bored editors at a publishing house who become obsessed by a theory that is put forward by a potential author. The plot is a complicated mix of history, religion and politics, which is right up my street. I absolutely loved this book, even though it was a challenging read at times.

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

The Rainmaker by John Grisham

I think this is the second Grisham novel that I have read. I like the style of writing – it is easy to read and the action flows at a good pace. This book was about insurance companies refusing to pay out on a policy. It was interesting to learn more about how these companies make their money and how the underdog can take on corporations. I wasn’t so keen on the ending. It seemed a little unrealistic to me but I won’t spoil the ending for people who want to read it themselves.

A book with a building on the cover:

The Last Tenant by Sarah Kisielowski

This is a book that was written by a friend of mine who goes to the same writing club as me. She has told me a lot about the plot and about the writing process and I am really interested to read the story for myself. The story centres around a man who has to go to Berlin to clear out the apartment of his maternal grandfather, who has passed away. He finds out about his family history through a series of recorded tapes that his grandfather has made. He is surprised to learn the truth about his family.

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

Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

I was slightly sceptical about how good this book was going to be. I mean I loved Harry Potter (when I finally got round to reading it) but not every one can right for children and adults with the same degree of success. However, it turns out that J. K. Rowling is the exception that proves the rule. The best thing about this book was that it was set in the countryside and it reminded me a lot about the village where I grew up. When a vacancy suddenly becomes available on the parish council when one of the councillors dies (that is what a causal vacancy is), there is competition to fill the role. The consequences are tragic and thought-provoking but there were part of the story that made me laugh out loud.

A book with an item of clothing in the title:

The Black Glove by Geoffrey Miller

I struggled to find a book for this category and I only found this one by searching the library catalogue. I read this book in one sitting. It was another easy read about the kidnapping of a man’s son who is then found murdered. The plot is complicated but the writing makes the action zip along at a good pace.

A book set in India:

Kim by Rudyard Kipling

I’ve never read anything by Rudyard Kipling, apart from a few poems, so I thought this might be a good book to read. Even though many people claim that this is Kipling’s best work, I wasn’t a big fan of it. It is a semi-autobiographical novel about a young boy growing up in India. I did like the descriptions of Indian culture and reading about how difference life is compared with living in Europe during modern times but the plot didn’t pull me in so that I wanted to read non-stop.

A book shortlisted for the Booker Prize:

Milkman by Anna Burns

This is a recent winner of the Booker Prize. I have heard quite a few bad reviews about it but I actually thought it was well-written. It took me a while (about 50 pages) to realise where the book was set – Ireland – because not much background detail or details to help the reader orientate himself to what is happening in the book. The narrator isn’t even mentioned by name (I don’t think). The narrative refers to “them” and “us” which, if you don’t realise where the book is set, it wouldn’t make any sense. I have heard people say that there is no plot to the book but I definitely thought there was enough things happening in the book to make it entertaining.

A book with a character who has supernatural powers: 

Carrie by Stephen King

I thought this book would keep me up all night. Even though it is a horror story, it wasn’t a blood-and-gore-type story. It’s about a girl with a very abnormal upbringing, who develops the ability to move things with her mind. I felt sorry for the title character because she is very misunderstood by her class mates and the people around her. The book ends with catastophic consequences for the whole town where she lives. I actually read this book very quickly and would recommend it to someone who wanted to read something that was a thriller without being too terrifying.

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

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

This book made me cry. I can’t remember the last time I cried while I read a book. The story is about a kid who has facial deformities and what happens when he joins a mainstream school. The book is a children’s novel but it is also interesting to read as an adult. Keep the tissues ready for the ending though!

As usual I have decided to tackle the bonus round as well. It has take me so long to get round to writing up the first round of the challenge that I have already finished five out of the ten books that I have picked for the bonus round. So it might not be too long before I’m writing about next ten books I have read for the challenge.

40 Before 40: Challenge #3

26 Aug

Challenge Accepted. Challenge Completed!

My third challenge from my list is now completed. I have always wanted to go paragliding and for one reason or another I have never got around to it.

I began trying to complete this last year. During our trip to South America we tried and failed to arrange the excursion; first in Mendoza in Argentina with the Andes as a backdrop (but communication issues meant that we didn’t manage it) and then in Iquique in Chile with the landing spot on the beach (but the wind was too strong and we weren’t allowed to go).

Fast forward to yesterday and my third time lucky in Interlaken, Switzerland. Although it would have been a lot cheaper doing this activity on holiday in another country, we did have the added benefit or being able to choose a day to go when the weather was good to avoid being disappointed. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. The skies were blue without a hint of a cloud and the sun was shining.

First of all we had to choose our pilot. When I found out that one of them was called Haydon, which is the same name as my nephew but spelt slightly differently, I knew that I had to fly with him. He was Australian as well, which meant a lot of banter and jokes during the flight.

Taking off was much easier that I thought it would be. You basically have to run as fast as you can until you take off and you run out of ground. I didn’t even have time to be nervous because it happened so fast. Plus the staff did a great job of making me feel completely at ease but perhaps not when someone mentioned, “We should be ok. I watched the Youtube video last night and I think I can work out how to do it.”

The feeling of being up in the air, hands and arms dangling free, was completely liberating. I genuinely felt completely safe throughout the whole flight. We were only up in the air for about 20 minutes, which went by very fast, but it worth it for the views.

Before landing you can do some rollercoaster tricks and loop-the-loops but I get sick just watching people on the teacup rides at fun fairs so I decided not to. I was more than happy to cruise down and enjoy the view instead.

Landing was almost as easy as taking-off. You have to start running a bit when you hit (not literally) the ground and after a few steps you are back on terra firma.

I am so glad that I made this one of my challenges and I have no idea why I left it for so long to do it. I would highly recommend anyone to try this, unless you have a fear of heights. I could have happily gone straight back up to do another flight as soon as I had landed.

40 Before 40: Challenge #31 – completed!

26 Jun

Number 31 on my 40 Before 40 list was to take up a new sport. I have already taken up an old sport this year by getting back into netball and I have been more active and getting back into running and cycling now that my knee injury is no longer a problem.

The sport I have decided to take up is shooting. Before I moved to Switzerland I had never even held a gun nevermind actually used one. But living with the President of one of the local shooting clubs got me intrigued and when I said that I wanted to go along and try it, he was (relatively) happy to take me along.

I’ve now participated in a few competitions and I seem to be improving and getting the hang of it each time I practice. It doesn’t seem all that hard, does it? But you have to be so precise and stay as still as possible while pulling the trigger and dreading the bang coming.

I did wonder if shooting is a sport. Some people might argue that it’s not. The fact that it is in the Olympics isn’t conclusive evidence because there are lots of sports that aren’t in the Olympics, like my beloved netball.

A definition of sport that I found on Wikipedia is sport includes all forms of competitive physical activity or games which,  through casual or organised participation, aim to use, maintain or improve physical ability and skills while providing enjoyment to participants, and in some cases, entertainment for spectators. So that settles it! Shooting is definitely a sport.

I’m most proud of having hit the target in the dead centre at the Feldschiessen competition in May. This competition is harder than a regular competition because you have to shoot a certain number of times in a set amount of time (6 shots in 6 minutes then 3 shots in a minute, then another 3 shots in a minute and finally 6 shots in 1 minute). If you don’t manage to pull the trigger within the time limit, the shots don’t count. It means that the pressure is on, especially when someone is behind you shouting out how much time is left. I shot a 100 and 96 in that competition. Unfortunately, at the range they don’t print any number above 95, instead they print a star, which is why on the photo you can see that I have 2 stars. I was only 2 points on winning a prize but the 100 made up for my disappointment.

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The shooting club, where I am a now an active member, celebrated its 150 year anniversary last weekend. There was a celebratory dinner on Friday with entertainment and on Saturday the club house was open to anyone who wanted to come and shoot. As I was working all day manning the bar, I didn’t get to shoot but I will be going to a training session soon to enter the anniversary shooting competition. Then in August I will probably go to Wyberschiessen (Ladies Shooting Competition) in the local area to compete for the first time in that competition.

I’m glad that I choose a sport that isn’t completely focused on cardio. Not because I don’t have the desire to do something physical but because it is a sport that can teach me different things. I have learnt (or am still learning) how to achieve complete concentration and how to remain calm under pressure, which are both good skills to have in life.

My challenge was to take up a new sport and I will be sticking this one in the future.