Eight hours in Ravenna

A city famous for its intricate mosaics, Ravenna is an absolute must for any traveller exploring Emilia-Romagna. 

In a previous post, I explained why Rimini is an ideal travel hub for exploring this northern Italian region. It takes just under an hour to reach the former capital of the Western Roman Empire from Rimini. 

Before you head down to Rimini Central Station, I would recommend checking out train times and prices on the Tren Italia website. Usually, a return ticket costs just under €10, but prices can vary and trains can sell out too. So make sure you’re not the one boarding a 90-minute service. 

We arrived in Ravenna just as the sleepy city was waking up and made a beeline for a coffee and a pastry. 

Ravenna’s cobbled streets coming to life

Once we’d recharged our batteries, we headed down to the first of Ravenna’s monuments. Steeped in history, these monuments aren’t to be missed and for €12 entry into all five, you’d kick yourself for missing out. 

With our tickets purchased, we made a beeline for the Basilica di San Vitale. This 6th Century church exemplifies Ravenna’s unique architecture. From the outside, it’s red brick walls aren’t very revealing but inside it’s covered in a splendour of mosaics. This basilica was built as a tribute to the Emperor Justinian, whose face you can’t miss in Ravenna. 

The entry ticket
Basilica di San Vitale
Basilica di San Vitale
Inside the Basilica di San Vitale

Inside, the light is low and the temperature refreshing, if you’re trekking around on a hot summer’s day like us. One the walls, tiny deep green tiles are interlaced with gold and depict key scenes. Try to take in as much as you can because it’s truly a wonder to behold. 

Adjacent to the Basilica of San Vitale is another monument called Mausoleo di Galla Placidia. This mausoleum was built for Galla Placidia (the half sister of Emperor Honorius). Originally intended as her final resting place, it was never actually used for that purpose as the she died in Rome and was buried there instead. Despite this common misconception (I was none the wiser until I read a plaque), it’s still worth a visit. Of the five monuments, this is arguably the most unassuming from the outside but once you’re plunged into the depths of the tomb you are once again surrounded in breathtakingly intricate mosaics. 

From there, we took things at a slower pace and wandered around Ravenna’s cobbled streets and  grabbed some postcards for friends and family. 

Bicycles adorned the side streets of Ravenna
Away from the throng, an unassuming white statue

After a quick bite of bruschetta and a glass of wine, we headed over to the Battistero Neoniano. This is Ravenna’s oldest intact building. This Christian baptistry was built in an octagonal shape. Then, a Century later it was decorated with mosaics on the inside. The baptistery is filled with benches which means you can park your bum and really soak in the scene. 

Directly next to the Battiestero Nenoniano is the fourth stop on our tour, the Museo Arcivescovile e Cappella di Sant’Andrea. This Chapel of St Andrew is a hidden jewel and is actually inside the museum. It’s located on the museum’s first floor and it worth the hunt. 

Battistero Neoniano
Battistero Neoniano

Our final stop of the day was the Basilica of Saint’Apollinare Nuovo. Closest to the train station, we knew it made sense to leave this site for last. From the outside this basilica looks plain, but that brick exterior is hiding a treasure trove of wonders. Step inside and you’ll be amazed to discover more ornate mosaics. 

Basilica of Saint’Apollinare Nuovo

From there, we headed to the station and jumped back onto a train to our hotel in Rimini. 

While our day was short and sweet, I’m happy to say I ticked a travel a treasure trove of sites off my bucket-list.

Like with any trip, I always have a reason for returning and here are the three activities I’d do if I ever returned:

  • The tomb of Dante Alighieri. This Italian poet is famous for his contribution to Italian literature, most notably the Divine Comedy
  • I’d also try and head to the The Comacchio lagoons for a spot of wild flamingo watching 
  • Finally, if money was no object, I’d attended the mosaic making at the Art school, but at €750 a pop I don’t think I’ll be able to head there in a hurry. 

If you liked this, then you may also like these posts:

Thanks for reading, 

Hope 

Disclaimer: I took this trip in 2018, when there were no covid-19 restrictions on travel. 

A little bit of luxury in the heart of a city

Last week, I headed off on my first holiday of the year. We decided to take advantage of some cheap train tickets and headed up to the Scottish capital of Edinburgh. As this was my first full week off all year, we opted for a little but of opulence and booked ourselves into a four-star hotel situated in the heart of the Royal Mile.

Location

Fraser Suites is a boutique hotel located in the heart of Edinburgh. Situated on St Giles’ Street, this elegant hotel is tucked

just around the corner of Edinburgh’s numerous heritage sites such as St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle, the Museum on the Mound, the Writer’s Room and so many more.

It’s only a five-minute walk from Edinburgh Waverley station, after a small clamber up the New Steps. This little route was ideal for us and our mighty rucksacks. Fraser Suites’ sand-stoned facade is easily accessible on several other transport routes too.

Arrival

Our train arrived into Edinburgh one hour before we could actually check-in, so we thought we’d try our luck and stash our bags at the hotel as this would leave us unencumbered to wander around the city freely.  As we made our way into the hotel, signs and posters were clearly indicated that guests needed to wear mask when moving around the communal areas. So, we pulled our masks from our pockets and were promptly greeted by a cheerful receptionist. There, we were told that we would be able to check-in early. After all the usual formalities, we were given our room keys, a map and an information pack inside a little envelope. Then, we clambered into a lift and made our way up to the fifth floor.

 

Our room

When we were planning our trip, we knew we wanted to stay in a room that had a kitchenette just in case we needed to cook in the evening because of Coronavirus restrictions. Once we’d found Fraser Suites online, we opted for a Classic Deluxe Room,  which came with a rather large bed (so much space), a comfy armchair (the dream reading nook), a desk area, a large bathroom and of course the kitchen area. The bathroom area included L’Occtaine en Provence amenities, which smelled heavenly. The room also include Wi-Fi access, a self-controlled heater, a safe and a TV for some much-needed bake off viewing.

 

The view

The most stunning feature of our room by far was the view from the room. The hotel itself is built on top of a hill, which meant we were promised stunning views from our window and they did not disappoint. From our room, we had sublime views of Calton Hill, which made me itch with exploration.

 

The facilities

We didn’t spend a lot of time in our hotel room – we never do – but I thought I’d share my thoughts on the facilities we did use. On our final day, we were able to leave our bags at the hotel’s left luggage facility. I was a but nervous this wouldn’t be offered because of the new coronavirus restrictions, but I’m so glad they kept this service going. As we were picking up our bags, I also used the toilets in the reception area, which were clean and filled with yet more L’Occtaine en Provence products. I didn’t get time to use the gym or eat food in the hotel, but from the snippets of conversation I overheard from the other guests, these services were more than satisfactory.

Fraser Suites is definitely on my list of hotels for my next trip to Edinburgh. But until that day comes, I’ll keep the memories.

 

 

 

An afternoon in Ely

As the world slowly started to bloom, my inner traveller self began to get restless. I wanted to explore somewhere new without jumping on a plane or travelling the lengths and breaths of the country. As I searched the web for ‘attractions near me’ that had feasible public transports, nothing seemed to emerge. Then, on a train back from my home town, I saw it. My new destination. It whizzed on by past the window but I know that’s where I wanted to go: Ely.

The following weekend, I recruited a friend or two and dragged them to this picturesque cathedral city to wile away the day.  We jumped onto a train from Royston and then changed train at Cambridge onto an Ely-bound service. Direct trains do run from Ely to London, but make sure to travel during quieter times. Including our train change, the whole journey took in the region of 40 minutes. When we arrived at Ely train station, we followed the deep blue one way stickers out towards the exit. Then, we meandered down to the riverside.

We already had one local site an in mind, the Peacock Tearooms. This traditional English tearoom was recommend as a must by one of our very close friends and it didn’t disappoint. It started life in 2004 inside the family’s own home. The business has now expanded and taken over the family’s kitchen and hall. They’ve even added their own B&B suites, which look so quaint and homely.

When we arrived, there was a small queue (the tearoom doesn’t take bookings, so turn up and try!). The wait wasn’t very long at all and the staff were very attentive. They had all the necessary Covid-19 restrictions in place such as hand sanitiser, track and trace and everyone was keeping their distance.

Once we’d jumped through these necessary hoops, we opted for a table inside. I wasn’t quite sure where to look first as I sat down. The tearoom was filled with homely touches. Cupboards were lined with books all about tea, shelves were filled with tea cups, tea tins and other pieces of bric-a-brac. Dry flowers hung from the ceiling with an argon oven and smog fridge tucked into the corner behind me. The tables were covered in perspex sheets with the menus popped underneath, it was a quirky touch and made the menu a conversation piece rather than a lonely scroll through a PDF.

The menu is packed full of sumptumous cream teas, heart-pumping coffees, and flavourful teas. As this was a birthday treat, I opted for the Peacocktail (try saying that five times faster). It’s the tearooms own recipe and contains gin, vodka, iced tea and a few other bits and bobs. The cocktails were also garnished with strawberries – yum! I’d love to head back and try one of their afternoon set teas. The website lists a choice of four and I already have my eye on the Peacocks Pink Perfection.

From the tearoom, we headed on over to Ely Cathedral via Ely market. This outdoor market was open and vibrant. It was joyous to see so many people peering over stalls, whilst staying safe. I meandered on over to a stall called Oriolo. A boutique of handcrafted jewellery and other accessories. The stall had an abundance of hand sanitiser to allow customers to try on rings. Now, I’ve been on the look out for some silver rings (particularly one with a turquoise stone or Celtic knots), so when I saw that they had a 2 for £30 deal on, I knew I had to nab some. I’d recommend shopping with your eyes and sanitise your hands before you find the right size. And yes reader, I bought two.

From there, we wound our way around the outside of Ely Cathedral. It’s a vast structure that dominates Ely’s skyline. The cathedral’s octagonal lantern tower is classed as one of the medieval wonders of the world. The cathedral is now open for visitors and tickets can be booked online, we decided to simply to walk around the perimeter of the cathedral, which is still a treat in itself.

I can only imagine how Ely would look in the heat of the summer with bright light shining through its markets and across its skylines. Until I can head back, my imagination will have to do. If you’re planning a trip to the east of England, maybe make Ely a pit-stop for a pint or two on the river at least.

Things I’d earmarked for my next trip:

Five reasons Rimini is the perfect Emilia-Romagna hub

The Emilia-Romagna region in Northern Italy stretches from the tips of the Alpine mountains all the way to the micro state of San Marino. Rich in its renaissance architecture, each city has its own splendours that deserve to be discovered. Just over two years ago, I spent six says wandering such sites. In that short time, I managed to explore Bologna, Rimini, Ravenna and San Marino. Each of these had been on my bucket list for a very long time, so imagine my excitement when I ticked them off. It was a tiring holiday with lots of ambition and one that could not have been completed if I didn’t have a hub to travel to and from. And for that, I picked Rimini and here’s why…

Easy access to Bologna Airport

I don’t drive. Sorry, I just can’t. I’m hoping to learn later this year but until then my travel is truly dictated by planes, trains, buses and my feet. As such, I’m a clinical planner and constantly ask myself: How will I get there? What time are the buses? Will that leave me enough time for X? Sometimes, this can be quite exhausting but trust me it certainly pays off.

To explore Emilia-Romagna, I knew I’d have to touch down in Bologna Airport. Now, you’d think the obvious choice would be to jump into a taxi and head to Bologna but not for me. I landed quite late in the evening (around 10pm) and had a 90 minute wait for my transfer to Rimini. Lots of airport websites work differently but most of them will have information on ‘getting to and from’ this is where I head to first. If the transport options are erratic, then I will normally curtail my plans. In my experience, Italian airports have always been well-serviced, so this hasn’t been a problem yet. For Rimini, I booked my coach with Shuttle Italy Airport. Their site is recommended on Bologna Airport’s own website. I booked my transfer when I booked my flights (I would always recommend doing this). I think the ticket cost me £15 for the 90 minute bus journey. I arrived at Rimini central train station in the early hours of the morning, only then did I jump into a taxi and go to my hotel.

Affordable and charming accommodation

The view from our balcony

Now, affordable accommodation may not always be the case. I found the prices accessible because I visited Rimini out of the main tourist season. I opted to go in May instead of the summer months. It might for my British bod that the weather was still warm but the hotel prices were at rock bottom prices. For my budget, I was able to nab a hotel with a swimming pool and a room with a balcony (when I visit Italy I love nothing more than grabbing a pizza and a bottle of wine and taking in those views on a balcony). When planning a trip, tourist seasons are always something to consider. School holidays and the sunny seasons will always shoot prices up but doing your research means you’ll be able to save some coppers!

 

Good public transport links to the rest of Emilia-Romagna

Rimini’s transport network was the main reason I was drawn to the city if I’m honest. I’ve already discussed why the transfer from Bologna airport to Rimini made sense but there are other reasons too. Firstly, Rimini itself is a highly walkable city. You won’t find yourself hopping one and off buses. Instead, you can use your feet and take in the city’s sites for yourself. Its walkability means you can get to the train station and bus depots without a hitch.

When I went, I knew I wanted to tick Ravenna and San Marino off my Italian bucket list, so that’s what I did.

From Rimini, I booked a train to Ravenna. Depending on your budget, there are a couple of options the slower trains are cheaper while the faster trains are naturally more expensive. I use TrenItalia to book all of my trains. You don’t need to book train tickets in advance on the website. You can just turn up on the day and buy the ticket from the ticket booth (I think I paid around 10 euros for a return trip). Although, it’s worth researching your trains a few days before you intend to travel and turn up early when you book your ticket as Italian trains do sell out.

San Marino is a little tricker to get to via public transport. There aren’t any options (that I could find from Bologna). However, Rimini does provide a bus service. I booked with Bonelli. Here, pre-booking wasn’t an option. To ensure my place on a bus at a reasonable time, I turned up at the bus stop early and queued. I’m really glad I do too, as there wasn’t enough room for everyone on the bus, so a few people had to wait for the next one. The trip costs 10 euros return and takes about an hour. For me, visiting San Marino is a must and I’d recommend hopping on this bus early on during your trip, otherwise you may be disappointed.

Rimini’s Roman ruins and other attractions

Rimini itself has so much to offer and I’ll write a post about it’s own attractions and delights very soon. In a nutshell, Rimini is littered with Roman ruins. They fill the streets and when you walk from one to the next, you’ll find bits of rubble cordoned off. There are larger Roman ruins such as the Augustus Arch and the Tiberius Bridge. If you’re not as into your history as I am, then there’s more to Rimini then its ancestors.

It’s by the sea!

I’m not sure my sub-heading needs further elaboration, but I’ll give it a go! Rimini’s beaches are renowned for their beauty. They stretch for more than 15km and pull in thousands of tourists each year. And, after a busy day taking in the sites, there is nothing more relaxing than a dip in the sea and a drink on the beach.

So there you have it, my reasons why you should consider Rimini as a travel hub for a trip to Emilia-Romagna.

Thanks for reading!

Hope

xx

Three off beat tourist attractions in Milan

Milan, Italy’s northern metropolis, is a global powerhouse of fashion, food, desgin, architecture and finance. Every year, millions of tourists flock into the city to climb the winding steps of duomo di Milano, to take in the light pastels of Leonardo da  Vinci’s last supper and dine out in the trendy waterworks of the Navigli.

I have followed such footsteps but on my second trip to Milan, I wanted to carve my own path. I scoured tourist information sites, read tripdavisor reviews and asked friends for recommendations because I wanted to sample something different. I wanted to go off the beaten path. And, away, I went

So where should you go to get away from your fellow tourists?

Here are my top 3 off beat attractions…

Casa Manzoni

Alessandro Manzoni is a renowned Italian writer who is revered for unifying the Italian language through his works of fiction. The birthplace of this famous writer is just a stone’s throw away from Milan’s Duomo on via Gerolamo Monroe. The three storey town house is somewhat unassuming but inside bookish delights await inside.

It costs five euros to enter for a fully paying adult (and just three for a student). The museum itself has been recently renovated to give visitors to the museum the best possible experience. I headed to the museum on a Friday morning in September. It was quiet and the staff went above and beyond to make me feel welcomed. I knew a bit about Manzoni before I visited, which seemed to impress the staff. They even gave me some insight into the most interesting artefacts to cast my eyes over. The house itself has been transformed to appear as it would when it was occupied by Manzoni.

If you want to learn more about Italian culture, past the pizza and pasta that is, then I’d recommend a visit to Manzoni’s home on your next trip to Lombardy.

 

Civico Museo di Storia Naturale

Disclaimer: I’ve lost my museum pictures for this museum on a memory card somewhere!

This is Milan’s natural history museum and the oldest civic museum in Milan. I think like most people I have a thing about dinosaurs. I don’t know what it is but if there’s a dino skeleton in a museum, I have simply have to go. Located in the leafy grounds of a public park just off the cross Venezia, it’s worth a trek over just to have a meander through the park.

The museum itself is a red stone building that features six display areas. It was only three euros to enter the museum (for a student), and of course I made my way straight to the palaeontology department. Most of the descriptions and captions are written in Italian, so if like me you speak a bit of Italian, it’ll test your language know how. If you don’t speak Italian, you may struggle to know what it is you’re looking at but you shouldn’t let a language barrier stop you from taking in the museum’s collection. It’ll prove to be a highly informative hour or two. There’s also a coffee shop and a book store in the museum if you fancy resting your tourist feet but I’d actually recommend the coffee kiosk in the park for an early afternoon break .

 

Museo di duomo vicino

 

This museum is less off the beaten path and more right in the heart of Milan in the Royal Palace. I’ve always found this museum to be quite quiet even though it’s included in the duomo’s entry! It’s really a museum filled with sculptures and statues that are destined to be admired by adoring tourists. Personally, I love a wander around this museum when it first opens. It gives me the space and the time to drink in every sculpture and over the years, I’ve added some favourites to my list including the eagle.

When I went, the museum was split into two parts. The first was the sculptures and statues and the second was a temporary exhibition on religion and art. I’m not sure what the moving exhibition is now but I always find them to be extremely well curated and not one to miss.

So there you have it, my list of off the beaten path tourist spots to had to the next time you’re in Milan. What are your favourite spots in Milan? I’m always looking to add to my travel adventures.

Thanks for reading!

Hope

xx

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

This novel popped up on my radar thanks to two people: my mum and Reese Witherspoon. My mum is an avid follower of Hello Sunshine, Witherspoon’s bookclub, and just an avid reader in general. And, when Where the Crawdads Sing was reviewed by Reese in September 2018, my mum added this hardback onto her Christmas list.

After my mum devoured all 368 pages, she loaned it to me. I’m embarrassed to admit that I let this bookgather dust on my shelves for well over a year.

Then, three weeks ago, I plucked it down from my bookshelf like it was Wheezy in Toy Story 2. Instead of putting up for sale in the yard, I read the first page. This simple action is one I regret not taking sooner.

Where the Crawdads Sing takes place in a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. The novel centres around the character of Kya, referred to by the locals as the Marsh Girl. She is isolated and distanced by the snobbery of a town who are quick to blame her for the murder of the handsome and popular Chase Andrews. Kya, however, isn’t what the town folk perceive, she’s intelligent, sensitive, interesting and has survived years alone in the marsh.

The opening few chapters of the novel flit between the past and the present. As readers, we grow with Kya and watch her through the lens of a guardian angel. We share her first memories, her every triumph and every heartache. Kya is the underdog outsider that every reader should cheer for.

This brings me onto one of the novel’s prominent themes – social pariahs and by extension outside judgement. Kya is ostracised by a town who doesn’t understand her, her family, or her knowledge of themarsh. There are some kind town folk who take pity on the young Kya and soon start to champion our young protagonist. These characters are Kya’s support network and are often few and far between.

However, other characters aren’t as open minded, they judge Kya because they don’t understand her, her home and her love of nature. But as characters minds slowly open, Kya lets more and more people into her world. Despite her increasing popularity, she’s constantly judged and profiled for the murder that takes place in the novel’s opening pages. Not only is Kya a well fleshed out character, her relationships are too, which makes this work of fiction became instantly believable.

Kya isn’t the novel’s only triumph, the setting of the novel is superbly articulated as well. Owens’ description of the marsh is exquisite. Whenever I read Kya wandering through the marsh and observing it’s wildlife I truly felt like I was there with her too. In the same beat, this immersion isn’t clunky or overburdened in the slightest.

Perhaps, this description is made more realistic thanks to Owens’ own childhood. As a young girl, she  explored nearby Oak Forests where she grew up and has already co-authored three award-winning books about her life as a wildlife scientist.

This chimed with an Elizabeth Gilbert interview that my mind often whirls back to, which I’m about to paraphrase: ‘fiction is the best place to write about your own experiences.’

Part of me believes Owens put snippets of her own memories of exploring the outside world into this novel. It could be these early experiences that help to drive the novel’s authenticity. Equally, I don’t think anovel has any more weight if the author writes through personal experience. I just think the parallels between Gilbert’s musings and Owens’ own work were striking.

This is a fast-paced whodunit. I didn’t want it to end and found myself savouring the final pages because I didn’t want to leave Kya and her world. For me, this novel is just some damn good storytelling. And, abook I’d recommend to everyone.

Thanks for reading & as ever I’ll speak to you soon

xx

Disclaimer: This review first appeared in my Newsletter the book report. Sign up here to read my next book review before anyone else.

Bookish thoughts: my May reading wrap up

I love getting lost in a good book. In fact, in May’s 31 days, I got lost in 6 books. So, I decided to pen a few thoughts on each of these books. If you’re in the mood for some reading recommendations, then keep reading!

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert 

It’s 1940 and Vivian Morris has been kicked out of Vassar College and been sent to live with her arty aunt Peg in New York. While she lends a hand at her aunt’s theatre company, she meets an array of colourful characters from actors to showgirls and back to script writers, Vivian meets them all. Now, aged 95, Vivian reflects on her whirlwind time in the Big Apple and how it shaped her life.

Gilbert’s X novel is a rip roaring success. The glamour, the hedonism, and the characters are intoxicating. Gilbert’s light-hearted prose is reminiscent of a warm hug. This is thanks to the novel’s narrative structure, the entirety of which is written as a letter from Vivian to a younger woman.

At the very beginning of the novel, Vivian sees a world (on the brink or already at war) through rose-tinted spectacles. She’s a 19-year-old girl living frivolously on her parent’s allowance. In the big apple, she discovers her sex, desire and want. She meets many a male suitor but soon her casual hook ups become her downfall. For the latter half of the novel, Vivian must repair her reputation and fix the pieces of her broken life.

The novel itself is certainly split into two halves, a factor that I lived. As a reader, you’re there at the heigh of her fun and during her demise. Her demise is a feminist issue. Her love life is judged by those around her and when the couple are shamed, she’s the one to suffer the consequences – not her male partner. As a young girl, she’s swept up in the loss of her life. But as a older narrator, she’s aware of the injustice.

This book will make you think, feel and question the world around you.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carre

It’s hailed as the greatest spy novel of all time and it’s easy to see why. It’s fast-paced, quick moving and simply hypnotising. From the very first page, I was hooked. I’m typing carefully because I don’t want to let the spy secrets slip. If you’ve never read a spy novel before, this one is the gateway. I’ve got my eyes firmly set on Le Carre’s back catalogue.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

I’ve already reviewed Swing Time, so read all my thoughts here. If you’re new to Smith’s writing, then I’d recommend starting with Swing Time. The characters are compelling and real. There’s a deep sense of authenticity to their lives, which kept me turning the page.

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

At the very start of the year, I set myself a few reading goals. One of them was to read some Virginia Woolf. I spend a lot of my time reading contemporary fiction and felt like I was missing out on some classics. I’d never read any Woolf before and knew this needed to be rectified. So, for Christmas my mum bought me some of Woolf’s works. With a few books to chose from, I wasn’t sure where to start. But then, I found this handy article from Penguin that guides readers through an author’s back catalogue. So, I followed their advice and went with Mrs Dalloway.

The plot of the novel is simple, Clarissa Dalloway is throwing a party. The novel takes place over the course of one day, and builds up towards the party. The novel is written through the perspective of several characters, which gives the reader a great deal of insight into this small section of society. While the literary devices should be heralded, I just didn’t get on with the novel myself. I found it slow to move and sluggish. I realise its meant to be lazy and free but I felt impatient. I wanted more action and less inner monologues. While it wasn’t my cup of tea, I can completely understand why others adore Mrs Dalloway. That being said, I’m not giving up on Woolf! I will be following that Penguin guide and reading To the Lighthouse next.

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood

I’m a big of Atwood, her philosophy, her writing tips and of course her works of literature. Atwood’s second novel is part-detective and part-psychological thriller. We fellow an unnamed narrator as she drives with her boyfriend and another couple to her father’s cabin. Her father has mysteriously disappeared and our narrator goes on a quest to find him. As she arrives at her father’s remote cabin in Canada, she begins her search for clues. However, her sanity slowly starts to unravel in the wilderness. She is confronted by her past and her present relationship with her boyfriend Joe. As our narrator grows more erratic, more questions need to be answered. There is a mystery to be solved but you start second guessing our narrator. Is she unreliable? Insane? Or, justified? Atwood’s brilliant storytelling is rich. It’s filled with insights into marriage, contemporary life and womanhood.

What books did you all read in May?

Let me know in the comments!

 

Books I want & why

UPDATE: I have cancelled my Troubled Blood pre-order. I don’t think this needs any further explanation.

Is there a better sound than the thud of a book on the doormat as it’s launched through a letterbox on the day of its release?

…I didn’t think so.

Recently, I’ve been a bit pre-order friendly when it comes to books. Normally, I’ll ask for newly-released books for my birthday from friends and family, but this is no normal year. So, instead of sticking to the status quo, I’ve gone full-blown bookworm and bought these books myself. I’ve told myself it’s fine to pre-order all the books and bankrupt myself because pre-ordering books is a great way to support authors you love and bookshops you miss. But let’s be honest, I just want them in my clammy little mitts.

Without any further adieu, here are the books I’ve ordered and more importantly, WHY.

Olive by Emma Gannon

UK Release date: 23/7/2020

I first came across Emma’s blog Girl Lost in the City several years ago and as her internet fame grew, I followed her across platforms. She’s the host of the world famous podcast Ctrl Alt Delete and a champion for flexible working. She’s already published 2 books in the non-fiction genre. The first is a memoir all about how she grew up online. The second is the Multi-Hyphen Method – a modern day take on a portfolio career.

Olive, however, is her first work of fiction and immediately caught my eye when she announced its publication a little while ago. The novel follows a young women called Olive who is at a crossroads in her life. As her friends start to get married and become mothers, Olive questions her own choices. The blurb really struck a cord with me on a personal level.

I’m 26 and I’m not entirely sure what the next ten years have in store, and it seems like Olive is at a similar. It seems like juncture. I’m not sure about you, but when I’m at a loss, I turn to books for an answer. And while this won’t tell me what to do, it will give me an insight into the lives of other women and they choices they’ve made.

 

More Than a Woman by Caitlin Moran

UK release date: 03/09/2020

Caitlin Moran is a true hero of mine. I met her a few months ago – read my post about all that here. Back then, her kind words gave me the nudge I needed to keep the writing momentum going (I was flapping about jobs and getting rejected A LOT).

She is a renowned journalist and novelist and is a woman – who I think – has a highly amusing answer for everything. A decade ago she published the instantly successful How to be a Woman. By the sounds of things, More Than a Woman is a sequel of sorts. It’s answering all those questions and dilemmas that women in their forties may come across.

While I’m only 26, I still want to read Moran’s wise words. I don’t think advice and books can be realistically divided into ages, everyone experiences life differently. I think books are open for all to take what they will from them, and dive back into them if they ever need their pages again. While any advice I can glean from Moran will be warmly welcomed, I simply can’t wait to laugh until my sides hurt as Moran’s anecdotes once again.

Troubled blood by Robert Galbraith

UK release date: 15/09/2020

This is the fifth instalment in this thrilling crime series. Readers will continue following private detective Comoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacot, as they solve yet another crime. Not much has been said about the plot of this novel and you may think me a fool for ordering something I know little about. But I have enjoyed the previous four books. I read the previous Strike novel Lethal White in a few days last August when I was holidaying with friends in Spain last year.

I love the plot twists, the character relationships, the red herrings, the writing, the confusion and the page turning which ensues. These novels not only seek to uncover the perpetrator of a crime, they also intertwine the main characters personal lives and family roots perfectly.

UPDATE: MY PRE-ORDER OF TROUBLED BLOOD HAS BEEN CANCELLED.

Just Like You by Nick Hornby

UK release date 17/09/2020

For those who are unaware, Nick Hornby is the acclaimed writer behind one of my favourite books About a Boy. I lap up anything he writes – whether it be in a book or on screen and his new novel will be no different. Just Like You is all about falling maddeningly in love with someone who is not like you in the slightest. Nick Hornby writes about love so very well. His writing style is easy, warm and just like receiving a reassuring hug.

 

Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

UK release date: 15/10/2020

Dolly Alderton is the author of the best-selling memoir Everything I know About Love. She’s a journalist, a prolific podcaster and now a novelist. Ghosts is Alderton’s first work of fiction. In this novel, we follow the life of Nina Dean. She’s a successful food writer with a loyal online following. But her life is in tatters. She’s struggling to date online and is ghosted by those she does interact with. Her dad is grappling with dementia, her mum dreams of a mid-life makeover, and her friendships are slipping through her fingers.

Alderton has been hailed a millennial voice and from that short synopsis it’s clear to see why. She understands, and has written widely about, the perils of online dating, so the character comes from a place of authenticity. There’s also factors outside the characters love life at play including her family and friendships – all the dynamics are there.

So those are the books that arriving onto my doorstep this summer and autumn. Let me know which books you’ve preordering and are dying to read.

 

 

Book review: Swing Time by Zadie Smith

At the start of the year, I wanted to diversify my reading. I’m an obsessive reader who gets into readings ruts and will re-read from the same genre until the end of time. I know this about myself, so I wanted to challenge my own cliches and broaden my reading horizon.

A few authors – who I’ve never read before – sprang to mind. One such author was Zadie Smith. I simply adore contemporary fiction and probably read way too much of the genre. But I wanted to read an author’s back catalogue who my friends and other bookworms have already lapped up. Enter: Swing Time.

 

Swing Time is set in London, New York and West Africa. The novel itself follows the lives of two brown girls from Willesden who dream of being dancers. However, only one of them has the talent to truly make it on stage: Tracey. While our other unamed narrator finds herself moving further than she could have ever imagined.

The novel is really story of these characters and their friendship. At the start they are drawn together by the colour of their skin (they’re the only brown girls at their dance school) and it’s this passion for dance that the two bond over. We see their childhood develop through the lens of the unamed narrator. Tracey is boisterous, sexual and dominant in the friendship from a very young age. While the other narrator, in my opinion, is much more reserved.

As they grow into teens, their lives take different paths and they see less and less of each other. Our narrator studies Tracey’s life from afar. At times jealous of Tracey’s dancing on stage, while at other stages she’s simply curious. Then as they move into their adult lives, the narrator’s watching becomes less physical and more virtual. She refreshes Tracey’s Facebook page and follows her profile on online forums. As our narrator begins to age, there’s a distinct feeling that her social life is stuck in the past with a young Tracey on their housing estates.

That being said, our protagonist is drawn to confident, strong and talkative women. First there is her mother. While she isn’t very maternal, in the loving and hugging sense, she’s constantly on the picket line protesting, gaining qualifications and voicing her opinions. Her dominant nature is the first that our narrator encounters. Then, there’s Tracey. Then, comes along her employer, the international pop superstar Aimee. Aimee is another whirlwind in herself. She finds listening to others difficult and shuns those who attempt to confront her and any deluded decision making. Finally, there is Hawa. She’s less in your face than the others, but she is talkative and chatty. These four women are all happy with how their life has panned out. Growth in a wider sense doesn’t come naturally to any of them. Their interests are the same as their childhood selves and for some don’t their ambitions extend beyond geographical boundaries or any wealth.

At one time or another, these relationships must come to an end. And it’s towards the end of a novel where the core theme of the book reaches a triumphant crescendo. Friendship. A friendship that spans decades, moves across time zones, jobs and judgements. Family is who you chose for our characters, it’s not just genetics. It’s this notion that Smith articulates beautifully with her lengthy passages of prose.

If you want a novel with a deliciously rich writing style, features music and films that will leave you longing for a film adaption with a great score, and will make you question your own friendships, then pick up Swing Time. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

My top five brunch spots in London

I love brunch. I love its humble beginnings. Its lazy Sunday mornings filled with buttery scrambled eggs on toast and smeared avocado on rye bread. It is the start of a relaxing day. At home, you’ll find me pouring over the Sunday supplements while sipping a freshly brewed cup of coffee.

But when I’m out and about, Brunch takes on a slightly more grand affair. If I’m at a cafe ordering the mid-morning meal it’s because I’m about to have a sumptuous catch up with a good group of friends. It then because a meal that I’m willing to spent a bit more on because, for me, it’s no longer food, it’s time spent with good friends.

Each time we agree to meet for brunch, hours are spent pouring over the internet and Whatsapping suggestions. I scrutinise the menu in a vain attempt to predict what food I may want to eat in a few weeks time. And, thanks to my military precision I’ve never felt dissatisfied.

So, to save you, my lucky reader, from the same internet deep dive, I’ve popped my thoughts of my five favourite brunch spots below.

 

Duck & Waffle 

The first restaurant to feature on my brunch list is Duck & Waffle. This skyline restaurant first opened its 24/7 doors in 2011. Diners enter through a private entrance on 110 Bishopsgate, one of London’s tallest buildings. After speaking to a doorman, you’re directed to a lift which takes you 230 metres into London’s skyline.

Before you pop down to Bishopsgate, I would highly recommend booking a table (especially if you’re trying to seat a large number). Table reservations open around one month in advance, so if you have a date in mind, try to think 4 weeks ahead. However, your painstaking plan will pay off once you’ve taken your seat near one of floor to ceiling windows.

I went here for a very early breakfast on my 26th birthday. I’d perused the menu before and knew exactly what I wanted to order: the caramelised banana waffle (£13). The bananas were soft and the waffles were the perfect blend of tough and doughy. I loved opting for a sweet breakfast when I’m out, for me ice-cream before noon is the ultimate treat. To accompany our breakfasts, we each had a coffee and a freshly squeezed glass of orange. While I was tempted by a breakfast cocktail, I was slightly put off by the price – maybe next time I’ll save enough coppers for a morning mimosa.

Spiritland 

 

Just around the corner from London Kings Cross is Spiritland. What first attracted me to this brunch destination was its low prices and close proximity to the station I commute through five days a week.

The Kings Cross branch is home to an enormous sound system, which has a unique musical programme. If your a music lover, this sound system will make you drool.

We went on a rainy Saturday morning back in January after an early morning tour around the British Museum. As we entered, the low level lighting made both me and the table feel instantly chic.

I ordered a glass of OJ, while I pondered over the breakfast selection. Dining out as a vegetarian can get a little repetitive, but I wolfed down my avocado, lemon and chillis on toast (£7.50). This is on the cheaper end of my brunch choices and is situated in near the Coal Drops Yard, which is home to lots of interesting independent shops. You can certainly work up an appetite wandering around the vintage rails, and for me Spiritland is the perfect place to head!

Redemption Bar 

 

For my third pick, I’ve chosen Redemption Bar. Located in three of London’s trendiest suburbs, Redemption Bar serves up vegan, sugar-free and wheat-free food. This micro-chain was founded in 2014 and aims to make socialising healthy. Before we went round the Christian Dior exhibition at the V&A last year, myself and two friends headed to the Notting Hill Branch for a much-needed catch up.

Once again, it was the sweet treats that caught my eye when I ordered the: very berry pancakes (£11.95). These buckwheat American pancakes are topped with coconut yoghurt, berries, walnuts and apple slices. While this isn’t as obviously indulgent as my other brunch choices, it still felt treelike – to me, American pancakes always do!

It’s really worth pouring over this menu, there are lots of sumptuous choices to choose from, each with an ingredient or two that will surely peak anyone’s interest. In total, I spent around £20 on this brunch (including a tip). And, it’s a place I’ve always wanted to go back to, the menu alone is inspiration enough on how to revamp your home cooked Sunday brunch choices. While we had booked a table for three, on the day the restaurant was fairly quiet so I can imagine that small groups are seated fairly quickly.

Farm Girl 

When I first moved to London a few years ago, Farm Girl was high on my list of brunch spots to visit. Farm Girl’s roots lie in Melbourne. It’s founders, Rose Mann and Anthony Hood, wanted to bring vibrant brunches to England’s capital. Arguably, Farm Girl pioneered the idea of an Instagrammable lunch with their hearty plates and nutritious ingredients. This Instagram presence is most certainly what caught my eye.

My friend and I headed over to Farm Girl’s Notting Hill branch. En route to Farm Girl, we snapped pic after pic of ourselves outside the areas most photographic of homes. I’m grateful to say that the majority of these pictures never saw the light of day!

Once we were at Farm Girl, we found ourselves at the back of a rather long queue. It seemed as though we’d underestimate it’s social media standing and other people’s weekend plans! I’d definitely try to book a table in the future. We were eventually seated in the outside courtyard, it was a little nippy but we were given blankets to keep ourselves warm.

It’s the details that were my favourite touches. The cucumber water on the table, the slightly chipped tables and the very attentive waiters. I settled on Shakshuka and a Rose Latte. While I can’t find the prices online, I know I wouldn’t have paid more than £20 for both. I’ve got my eye on the Soho branch for a takeaway coffee for my next visit.

Beany Green

I’ve been to Venice and I grew up in Birmingham – another city dominated by canals, and now I’ve finally been to Little Venice. Located just a few minutes away from Paddington Station on foot, Beany Green is another top-notch Brunch spot. In fact, it’s even been hailed as the best brunch in Little Venice.

Once again we’d booked a table ahead of our trip around the Mary Quant exhibition at the V&A. As I entered, I fell head over heels for the decor. I popped myself down on a pink velvet chair and waited for my friends to arrive. And once they did, I knew exactly what I wanted to order: the healthy start (£12.70). And indeed it was, packed full of greens, including broccoli and avocado this brunch left me feeling both full and virtuous. I also treated myself to a chai latte and drank plenty of water – it was a scorcher of a day.

Once again, we’d booked a table and I’d recommend booking ahead of your arrival. The restaurant was busy and bustling with customers comfortably packed into every nook and cranny. Personally, I loved the lively atmosphere and will definitely be returning at some point.

So, there you have it – my five favourite brunch locations in London. I definitely have my eye on one or two that I’ll be making a beeline for straight after this lockdown has been lifted! Let me know if you have any fave brunch spots that you think I should check out on my next trip to the old smoke!

Thanks for reading!

Ciao for now,

Hope

xx