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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?

Hotel Dacia, Chisinau 02/07/2014

Pleasant, well located hotel

Hotel Dacia, Chisinau Hotel Dacia is a four star hotel located in central Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. It is a former archives building, which has been converted to a hotel with plenty of space in the communal areas. It is situated on 31 August 1989 Street (not the snappiest of addresses it has to be said) which is so named as that is the date that the newly independent Moldova switched from Cyrillic script to Latin Script. The area is a business district, so a good location for visiting businessmen or political advisors, as the UN buildings, plus many embassies and government departments are located on the surrounding streets, and the Parliament building being just the other side of the pleasant park. The external aspect of the building is an unremarkable concrete structure (Chisinau is a ‘new’ city, many old buildings were destroyed during the Second World War) and whilst the interior couldn’t be described as remarkable, it is modern, smart and clean. The hotel looks very big, and I was initially surprised there were only 84 rooms (including singles, doubles, suites and ‘apartments’), but the communal floor space on the bedroom levels was massive (with an assortment of weird and slightly disturbing paintings). The reception area (manned 24hours) is an attractive marble finished space, with an elegant staircase leading to the upper rooms. There were two lifts and I was pleased to see they were larger than the tiny Ukrainian ones I had become used to. However, one of the lifts you could see ...

Hilton London Gatwick Airport, London 26/06/2014

Best Located Hotel for Gatwick South Terminal

Hilton London Gatwick Airport, London The run up to my last year’s holiday was a bit of a nightmare. Having booked airport car parking for Gatwick Airport, four days before my (two year old) car broke down and with no parts available and no available courtesy car I was a bit stuck how best to get to the airport for a Sunday morning flight. Whilst there are public transport options, the way my luck was going I would end up getting stranded. Therefore, when my mum offered to pay for me to spend the night at an airport hotel, I gratefully agreed. I did some research, and was originally going to go for the Holiday Inn at £77 for the night. When I went to book it to the next day it was £89. I then spotted the Hilton for £85 (plus credit card fee). It was the best located, being walking distance from the South Terminal, when most other hotels required a shuttle bus (an extra £3 each way). The deal did not include breakfast and was available two days before it was required. Booking earlier would no doubt get you a better price. I arrived at Gatwick by train on the Saturday evening, the station is next to the South terminal. It took approximately six minutes to walk to the hotel following the signs through the multi-storey car park. When I arrived at the check-n desk there was no queue (although I spotted one later) and the process was swift and efficient and I was given room 3296 and directed to the lifts. The hotel is a bit of a rabbit warren, but I managed to find my room eventually! I did wonder if the other lifts ...

Black Sea Hotel, Odessa 19/06/2014

No Sea Views

Black Sea Hotel, Odessa The Black Sea Hotel was the hotel selected by my tour operator whilst I was staying in Odessa, a beautiful city in Southern Ukraine, last summer. Apparently there are several hotels in the city by this name (part of the same group) and this one is on Rishelyevska (Richelieu) Street which is in the main part of the city (I think the others are near the beach area). The hotel is situated just a few streets from the railway station and is about 15-20 minutes’ walk to the centre of the city. Head down Richelieu Street, and it will take you straight to the gorgeous Opera & Ballet Theatre, which is a handy orientation point as you walk around the main parts. The hotel on the outside just looks like a tall, concrete building. It is pretty uninspiring, but the floor to ceiling glass windows on the ground floor, make it look more modern than the cold war design. The reception area is bright and smart with modern, clean lines and generally sparse considering the space available. There were low chairs, tables and plants by all the windows, and a long reception desk manned by the polite and friendly staff who generally spoke good English. The hotel also has a gym and a pool, and I understand the latter was quite nice, but with a limited time in the city, I didn’t manage to visit personally. There is a tour service on the first floor (2nd as marked in the hotel) which can be accessed within the building. There is a restaurant and nightclub (we couldn’t hear it, and we were more or less ...

The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After - Elizabeth Kantor 13/06/2014

Not Happy With This Book

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