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Edinburgh Zoo, Edinburgh 16/09/2014

Where the Penguins Have a Scottish Accent

Northanger Abbey - Val McDermid 10/09/2014

Back to Northanger

Northanger Abbey - Val McDermid I have always been a big Jane Austen fan and was quite excited to hear of the Austen Project where 21st century authors re-work Austen’s classic novels into a modern day setting. Having read some Austen fan-fiction in the past I knew that these endeavours could be a bit hit and miss and that the first in the series (Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope) wasn’t particularly well received. The new Northanger Abbey by award winning British crime novelist Val McDermid was the second to be published so when a free copy came my way I did not pass it up. The original novel was probably my least favourite of the original full Austen novels, and I was unsure how this book would go. I was pleasantly surprised. The original Catherine Moreland was a tad dappy, and whilst our new contemporary Cat has also had a sheltered upbringing, Val McDermid has explained any naivety due to her youth and general inexperience. However she is social network competent which makes her seem more grounded in the real world and possibly more relatable to new, younger readers. The cast of characters are still present and correct – Isabella Thorpe, the Tilneys etc, but the setting has changed. This time Cat has travelled with the Allens (her neighbours in both books) to the Edinburgh festival rather than to Bath. Isabella is still an air-head, John Thorpe an annoyance and Henry Tilney still handsome (if a tad pale). I thought that most of these characters had been brought up to date well – their ...

Holiday Inn, Edinburgh 05/09/2014

Had a Nice Holiday Here

Holiday Inn, Edinburgh A friend and I are big fans of wildlife parks and zoos, and as the only place to see koalas and pandas in the UK is Edinburgh zoo we used to joke that we would have to come here. This year she surprised me with a trip for my birthday! She booked through a package with the neighbouring Holiday Inn hotel, which I understand was all online, and included zoo tickets as well as allowing you to book panda viewing times at the same time. LOCATION The hotel (and the zoo) is not in the central part of Edinburgh, but in the Haymarket district. We arrived by train from London and it was about £8 taxi from Edinburgh Haymarket station, and about 15 minutes on the bus. It would be quite a walk. Alternatively there are a number of bus routes to and from central Edinburgh that come here and would take 30-40 mins, dependent on traffic and the area of the city you want to visit. It costs £1.50 each way and there are a number of regular services, so waiting times are short. The zoo is right next door – come out of reception and cross the access road that takes you into the car-park, and you are inside within two minutes! It is also fairly close to Murrayfield rugby stadium. There is not a lot else here as far as food and drink options go however, if you have come for nightlife, this isn’t the hotel to stay at. ARRIVAL AND CHECKING IN The main entrance to the hotel is at the back – the road into the hotel is shared with the zoo car park. The taxi dropped us outside the reception and ...

Odessa Opera & Ballet Theatre 03/09/2014

Baroque Ballet

Odessa Opera & Ballet Theatre The Odessa Opera and Ballet Theatre is a magnificent Baroque building on Tchaikovsky Street, at the bottom of Richelieu Street. If you come down either ofthe parallel streets (Pushkin or Katherine Streets), heading towards the port, you won’t miss it either. This particular building is Austrian designed and opened 1887, to replace the previous theatre that was destroyed in a fire, and was recently renovated in 2007, and is certainly impressive. Many greats have performed here as singers, dancers and conductors, including Caruso, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Pavlova and it is considered one of the premiere opera venues in Europe, if not the world (that came from my city tour guide, and they can often be biased towards their home city, but in this instance I think she had a point). Odessa is a city with a number of very attractive buildings, although many are now somewhat faded, this one is still looking good and constantly being maintained due to subsidence in this area. When we were in town it was showingTchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake by a touring Russian company (I think it was the Russian National Ballet but I couldn’t get a consistent translation) and were warned, by our guide, that as a touring production there would not be a live orchestra and that they would dance to a recording. I understand the local ballet and opera company are also highly regarded, should they be performing. Our guide booked tickets online for us and they were UAH 300.00 (£22) for the royal ...

That Summer in Ischia - Penny Feeny 01/09/2014

Summer of Innocence

That Summer in Ischia - Penny Feeny I downloaded this novel on my Kindle many years ago and forgot all about it. I recently went through all my old purchases and have been trying to read some of these books that got forgotten about. It was apparently one of Amazon’s best sellers in the summer of 2011 which may have been what attracted me or else it was part of a Daily Deal or other promotion. I had not heard of the author, Penny Feeny, before. This is apparently her debut novel although she has written one other full novel since (also set in Italy) and contributed to a number of other books. Helena and Liddy were best friends from school but after a summer working as au pairs in Ischia (a small island off the coast of Naples) their friendship is over and they lose contact. But just who let who down is not clear. When some twenty years later, Liddy bumps into Allie, Helena’s daughter , who has no idea who she is, she sees a chance to build bridges and right any wrongs on her part. With kidnap plots, prison cells and affairs with the wrong man that fateful summer was nothing if not eventful but it put their friendship to the test. The book seemed to have a bias towards Liddy’s voice, and subsequently Allie’s. It is told in the third person but we do seem to get a better idea of what Liddy is thinking and feeling. Helena seems to keep her distance from us, and for that reason I did not really engage with her finding her selfish and manipulative. This, of course, is only half the story as we don’t often get to ...

Island Hotel, Hinckley 20/08/2014

Happy to Stay at Hinckley

Yalta Intourist Hotel, Yalta 15/08/2014

A Very Big Hotel

Yalta Intourist Hotel, Yalta HOTEL YALTA Hotel Yalta, you won’t be surprised to hear, is in Yalta, in the Crimea, on Ukraine’s (as it was) Black Sea Coast. Nowadays it is only accessible via Moscow (although this could change). Prices quoted are in Ukraninan Hryvnia and sterling, but I assume you would now need the ruble now, and am unsure how that has impacted the economy/prices. As this is a lovely part of the world and well worth a visit I am posting this review for those who are considering exploring this part of the world for themselves. Hotel Yalta is the biggest hotel I have ever stayed in with a tad over 1100 rooms over 16 floors. It has a number of restaurants, a gym, a private beach, an Olympic sized swimming pool, three llamas and a miniature pony. The hotel was an Intourist project, which was the Soviet tourist bureau founded by Joseph Stalin, and was finished in 1977. Yalta was one of the most expensive cities in the Ukraine and whilst I cannot be sure what we a paid (it was included in my holiday price), but off peak price for standard twin room (which I had) was about £60 a night, including breakfast. The hotel is massive, this is no understatement; I got lost here often. It is on a hillside, accessed by the twisty mountain roads from the coast. From central Yalta it is a good twenty minute brisk walk uphill on small roads, and not much different by taxi or bus which have to take the scenic route. The hotel has a free shuttle bus but it only runs three times a day. RECEPTION This is ...

The Last Letter from Your Lover - Jojo Moyes 07/08/2014

Letters to Jennifer

The Last Letter from Your Lover - Jojo Moyes Last year I read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes and loved it, so it was only a matter of time before I picked up another one of her books. This book was recommended by a friend, so I fast-tracked it to the top of my metaphorical ‘to-read’ pile (it was on my Kindle) and got stuck in. London 1960, Jennifer Stirling has the perfect marriage to the perfect man with a perfect home and lifestyle. However, she has just come round from a serious car accident and can’t really remember what happened; let alone what was so perfect about her life. One day she finds a letter. A letter from a man who loves her very much. A man that isn’t her husband. Jennifer’s quest to find this man she knows so well, yet barely remembers begins. London, 2003 Ellie Haworth is trying to piece together an article for her newspaper when she comes across one of the letters that Jennifer had received and is intrigued by the story behind it. The plot synopsis above is deliberately vague as I don’t want to spoil the story for you. Yes, it is a romance but the outcome of it is never straight-forward and always complicated (at least for the characters, it isn’t for us). I loved the story and allowed myself to be immersed in it and was always happy to pick up the book and see what was happening in their lives. The first part of the book is mostly all Jennifer’s story and we see her life both pre and post-accident. I initially found this confusing as I sometimes forgot which time-frame I was in (the difference was ...

Odessa Catacombs, Ukraine 01/08/2014

Going Underground

Odessa Catacombs, Ukraine Last summer I visited Ukraine as part of my main holiday. Obviously the situation has changed considerably there now, and it is not advisable to visit. However, should the situation change, then this attraction is something to consider. The catacombs are situated in Nerubayskoye, which is approximately 10km north of the southern city of Odessa and I did it as part of an organised excursion which took about 2-3 hours for tour and private transport. I think I paid about UAH 250-300 (approx. £20) including a guide. This was organised by our holiday tour rep, but very similar tours will be available through many hotels and tour agencies. The Odessa catacombs are all man-made and dug relatively recently, initially by Russian Cossacks, who quarried here for the limestone for building materials a little over 200 year ago. There is thought to be 2500 km of tunnels under and around the city. Upon arriving our guide (who was a general Odessa guide, not just for the catacombs) asked us to spot the catacombs entrance and we pointed to the nearby doorway, but in fact there were three other entrances in the immediate vicinity which had been blocked up (and would have been concealed during the Second World War). The catacombs are 10-40m below ground and there are a few parts that are deeper. It is quite hard to tell underground how deep you are, as slopes are often gradual, I was quite surprised at the end how many steps I went up. The temperature is, on average, 10-12 C, so although it ...

Thistle City Barbican, London 28/07/2014

Not exactly the Heart of the City

Thistle City Barbican, London THISTLE CITY BARBICAN I belong to a London based Social and Adventure group and booked to attend their spring Black Tie ball in February at the Thistle City Barbican hotel. They did a package including room with breakfast, but my friend and I found a better deal ourselves – It appears that group bookings don't represent particularly good value. The hotel has a four star rating. BOOKING PROCESS I booked online, direct with the hotel, as recommended by a friend who had booked a single room. I put in my requirements for a twin room and the date, and the site advised the best price was £130 including breakfast. I booked about six weeks in advance. My friend booked his single room about ten days previously and got his best deal without breakfast. One couple booked a double room a week before for just £109. I paid online with my credit card. There were no transaction fees on top of the quoted price, but my card was charged straight away. Overall I found the booking process very efficient and liked the lack of extra and hidden charges. LOCATION AND ARRIVAL The hotel isn't the best located, and it not in the nicest area, surrounded by lots of blocks of flats. I arrived via Old Street tube (Northern Line) but Barbican tube is also nearby- about ten minutes. The walking time was about eight minutes from Old Street. There are limited facilities outside the hotel – a few local grocery stores and pubs that had seen better days. The nicest pub/restaurants were on Old Street or if you ...

Necessary Lies - Diane Chamberlain 22/07/2014

Unnecessary Truths

Royal Opera House London 18/07/2014

A Beautiful Building

Royal Opera House London The Royal Opera House is one of London’s première venues for the opera and ballet. It is situated in Covent Garden, and the front doors are open to Bow Street. Covent Garden tube is just a few minutes’ walk away. It is the home of the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet companies Originally just a drama theatre, built in 1732, the venue has had a massive refurbishment in the 1990s through money from the National Lottery and is truly a fantastic venue. In between other work had been done on the building, especially after a number of fires in the nineteenth century. I entered via the revolving doors to the left of the building and the ticket office was nearby. A friend had already booked and collected our tickets, which can also be ordered online. As you go through and get your tickets checked there is a large cloakroom area. It is free to keep coats and brollies here and I do recommend it, especially if you are in the cheap seats as there is not a lot of legroom. After a quick trip to the spacious and posh lavatories, we went up the stairs to the Paul Hamlyn bar. The glass fronted part of the opera house (to its left, as seen from the street) is now a superb sleek and modern restaurant and champagne bar. I chose a small glass (175ml) of house white wine for £5.55. It was an excellent wine, and I gather the red was also good too. I had a quick check of the menu and main courses were about £15. We were seated in the Amphitheatre (the ‘Gods’) with reasonable priced tickets, and ...

The Storyteller - Jodi Picoult 15/07/2014

The Storyteller

The Storyteller - Jodi Picoult The Storyteller is the latest book by popular novelist Jodi Picoult. I believe the paperback only came out in January 2014, but I read this on the Kindle after it came highly recommended by a friend. I had read one Picoult novel before (Plain Truth) and found it enjoyable, so was glad to read another, and for that reason I didn’t really take any notice of the blurb or what the book was about. The paperback has apparently 464 pages. All of which I found absorbing, if sometimes shocking. A number of characters speak in the first person in the book. The protagonist who opens the book is a young Jewish woman called Sage Singer. Since being disfigured in a car crash, she keeps herself to herself and works as a baker at night. Apart from her colleagues, her only real interactions are with her married boyfriend and the people who attend her grief counselling group, which she has been going to since the death of her mother. She prefers to keep her distance from the world, rather than get involved in it. Interspersed with these parts is italicised text telling a ‘fairy story’ type tale of an Upior (a vampire type creature). These parts are short and quite different and don’t worry if they don’t seem to fit into the story. They are the work of The Storyteller of the title, and it is soon revealed to be the work of Sage’s grandmother Minka. Minka grew up in 1930s Poland, and anyone with even the slightest grasp of world history will be able to predict, to some extent, the ...

The Crown Inn, Chislehurst 11/07/2014

A Regal Roast

The Crown Inn, Chislehurst One Sunday, earlier this year, a friend of mine arranged a Sunday lunch at a pub near her home in Kent . She chose The Crown Inn, which is in Chislehurst, and opposite a lovely green if you fancied a (water-logged) walk. We parked along the street here and there seemed to be enough spaces. I believe the pub is also a hotel. We booked for 1pm and arrived in good time. Our table was ready but we decided to wait as one of our party was delayed and had a chat in the bar area. Although this is a spacious, high-ceilinged pub there was no spare seating in the bar. Once through to the restaurant we were seated on a good sized table. There were seven of us, but we got a table for eight, rather than making us squeeze onto a table for six. One side was bench seating and the other side had chairs, and were all comfy and clean. We had the Sunday lunch menu which was not as extensive as their usual menu (which I think was still available). Starters included soup, pate etc and were about £4.00 but having had a sneaky perusal of the dessert board, we elected to skip in order to leave room…just in case. The roast dinners are £10.95, but there are other options such as steak and ale pie, monkfish as well as sausage and mash. One friend went for the sausages (£8.95), whilst the rest of us had roasts. The meats available were pork, lamb and beef. One friend asked for a slice of each, whilst most others went for the lamb, and I went for the nut roast. If you ask for a slice of each, you will ...

The Trouble With Alice - Olivia Glazebrook 07/07/2014

Alice? Who the Hell is Alice?

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