Holiday Reads: September 2019

Right. I’ve overthought my ‘return’ to blogging regularly for long enough and it’s time to just get writing. I could start by blathering on about all the things that have distracted me and all the reasons I haven’t been blogging but that would be a waste of everybody’s time so instead we’re starting the best way I know how – with books.

For the last two weeks of September, my husband and I hopped our way across four Greek islands – Naxos, Santorini, Syros and Mykonos. I’m planning a ‘She Roams’ post to chat a bit more about the different islands, drop in a few tips that we picked up along the way and generally wax lyrical about how fantastic it all was. For now, suffice to say it was absolutely delightful. Much delicious food was eaten, local wine was drunk and, handily for this post, books were read!

On the flight out, I finished Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kowaguchi. Apparently this was a hugely popular book when originally released in Japan and I hope that it gets the same level of love over here now that it’s been translated into English. It’s a bit of a strange one on the face of it – in a cafe in Tokyo, customers can travel back in time. They can only travel back within the cafe (and so can only ‘visit’ people who have also been to the cafe), nothing that happens in the past will change the future and they can only stay in the past for as long as it takes for their cup of coffee to go cold. I suppose it might sound like it’s going to be quirky and all style and no substance but it absolutely isn’t. It’s sparsely written but beautiful. The exploration of what you could use time travel for if you knew it wouldn’t change anything was perfect – you might not be able to change your present, but you might just change your outlook on a situation and improve your future, for example. I cried on the plane. Twice. 100% recommended and I might write about it a bit more soon because I’m still thinking about it a few weeks on.

I often use holidays to delve into my Kindle back catalogue and pick out random books I’ve had for years. First up on that list was Nemesis by Brendan Reichs. If I’m perfectly honest, I can’t really decide what I thought about this one. It follows Min, a teenager who ha been stalked and murdered by a mysterious stranger every other year on her birthday since she was eight, only to wake up unharmed in a field a little while later. What I can say is that it’s very action-packed – there’s the frequent murders, a local government conspiracy, the impending destruction of Earth by a meteor, general teenage angst and a Lord of the Flies style climax. The plot barrels on relentlessly and it’s an easy read but it’s a bit…well, a bit much. I might pick up the next in the trilogy because I’m intrigued enough about what Reichs is up to but I’m not in a rush. Cautiously recommended to fans of Lost.

Next up, Troy by Adele Geras. I’ve had it for years and I figured what better time to read about Troy and Ancient Greek gods than while I was in Greece occasionally visiting Ancient Greek ruins. Sadly, it was a bit of a let down. I liked the fact that it’s told from the perspective of those within Troy, rather than the usual Greek take, but it was unbelievably repetitive. There are about five central characters, all of whom seem to be in love with one of the others who in turn loves someone else. There are regular visits from gods who give a character (and readers) spoilers for what’s coming up, before ensuring that the characters promptly forget what they’ve heard. It happened at least 10 times and it became super annoying. It isn’t dreadful but I wasn’t impressed. If you want to read about Ancient Greece, go for either of Madeline Miller’s books instead!

After Troy, I wanted a bit of a banker and something fun. Enter Moonlight and Mechanicals by Cindy Spencer Pape. I won’t say a lot about this. It’s the fourth in a loosely linked ‘series’ following various members of the Order of the Knights of the Round Table in a steampunk Victorian London that also happens to feature werewolves, vampires and the like. They might not be top drawer literature but they are a great diversion from the real world and they definitely meet the fun brief. There’s always a strong romance thread and a mystery/investigation of sorts and this was one of my favourites so far on both fronts. I actually would tell you to pick them up if you like your romance a little more adult!

For the second week, I wanted to get stuck into something long that I wouldn’t normally have the time to get into. With the release of the final book fast approaching, I boldly took the plunge into the Thomas Cromwell trilogy with Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Given that it’s sort of a global phenomenon at this point, I won’t labour on about this but, surprise surprise, I loved it. It’s huge and detailed and oh so rich and worth waiting seven years for. I did a Tudor History A-Level (I know, niche) so the events are familiar to me but the colour that Mantel adds is just incredible. I wasn’t prepared for how readable, accessible and funny it would be. I’m glad I read it while I was away because it gave me the time I needed to really get absorbed into Tudor England and Cromwell’s political wranglings. I will obviously be picking up Bring Up the Bodies so I’m all caught up for 2020’s finale.

And that was my holiday reading! Tell me what you’ve been reading lately! Let’s catch up friends.

She Roams: Barcelona

As well as reading, cooking and running, I love travelling. We got back from our first trip of the year this week so I thought I’d start a new blog feature to chat about the places I visit – ‘She Roams’.

First up: Barcelona!

It feels like a huge oversight that we haven’t been to Barcelona before. You know those cities that you visit that just seem to…fit? That pull together the good bits of other places you’ve been to before in a way that just makes you feel like you could settle down and live there?  Barcelona was one of those for me.

Let’s start with the food (because if there’s one thing that I love about travel, it’s getting to eat new things). There were a lot of restaurants. Even discounting the obvious tourist traps, there were so many restaurants that I wanted to try. Far too many for a four night trip sadly, even allowing for lunch and dinner! We ate some amazing tapas (cod fritters and grilled octopus sitting high on the list of favourites, alongside the solid (and delicious) staple of patatas bravas). Because I’m a geography dunce, I didn’t know that Barcelona was on the coast so was pleasantly surprised about the delicious, abundant fresh sea food – when I found out, I was super keen to find a good paella and had a gorgeous version at a wonderful local restaurant called Bosque Palermo. If you’re a foodie, there’s a lot to get stuck into.

It also has an impressive range of craft beer pubs – Barcelona Beer Company, BierCab and Garage being personal highlights. You can get decent wine all over for a reasonable price and it’s fabulous. The city feels safe and I’d particularly recommend the Eixample district if you want somewhere to stay that has a good range of bars and restaurants, is within comfortable walking distance of most of the main sights of the city and has reasonably priced hotels. We stayed at the Hotel Praktik Vinoteca and it was lovely, with super helpful staff and an excellent wine bar.

Looking at things to do, Barcelona is a great city just to walk around. We tend to walk most places on holiday because you get to see more and Barcelona is a real treat on that front. I won’t pretend to know a lot about architecture but I do know that Barcelona is pretty (see why I haven’t started a travel blog?). There’s a cable car with beautiful views up to Montjuic Castle that I’d recommend – not necessarily for the castle (which is a bit underwhelming) but for the views back over Barcelona. You can also take a trip up to Tibidabo but to be honest, that was disappointing (the views aren’t any better than up at Montjuic but it’s a lot more expensive) and there’s a theme park that’s just a bit odd.

One of the best things about the trip was a guided tour of La Sagrada Familia. We’ve been to a lot of cathedrals in our time and even so this was breathtaking.As in genuinely, emotion-inspiringly breathtaking. I’ve never seen anything like it. Despite having been started in 1882, it remains unfinished. The space, the light and the sculptures were all incredible and I loved it. The photo on the left is one I took when we were there and the coloured light is all natural. It’s due to be finished in 2026 and I will absolutely go back. We spent a little extra (€26 instead of €17 each) on a tour that was absolutely worth it. There are signs around that will give you some information but if you can spare the extra, the guided tour is really great.

My only word of warning (aside from avoiding Tibidabo) – I’ve heard about a lot of cities that there are pick-pockets and have never been pick-pocketed once until Barcelona. Fortunately the person didn’t get anything as I felt my backpack being unzipped and managed to move away but it was a narrow thing. So if you do head to Barcelona (and I’d still recommend that you do), make sure you keep your valuables close to you when you’re in busy tourist areas.

Bottom line: Barcelona is charming, friendly, full of fabulous food and wine and beautiful to look at. Definitely recommended 🙂