Friday, 27 September 2013

Book Reviews

I'm almost embarrassed to write on this blog after such a long absence. Almost. My creative output has been, of late, limited to a couple of cards and some fancy packaging (more on that another time), but there has been no shortage of book-reading on my agenda. So, as our half-term holidays approach here in Switzerland, I thought I would share a few of my recent good reads.

Book review Mariani

Scott Mariani's books are "unputdownable". Thrilling to the end, although some may find them gory in places and start to wonder if the hero, Ben Hope, is just a touch too, well, heroic! But I have thoroughly enjoyed every book so far.


Book review John Grisham
 
I have read most of John Grisham's novels and really think that this is one of his best. It is a race against time to save an innocent man from the death penalty and I found myself reading faster and faster, as if that would help somehow:/

book review expats
 
This is a book I picked up last week at the local library, a debut novel by Chris Pavone. Thought it was appropriate as I will soon be "celebrating" 25 years as an expat. I thought it would be a jolly story of an expat's life and some of the faux pas we make. I was wrong, It isn't. It's much better than that. It is a tale of deception and is utterly spell-binding. I'm a few pages from the end and have no clue how it will end. I'll be keeping a look-out for any more novels by this author.

Happy reading!


Tuesday, 14 May 2013

London's Calling...(2)

Our only full day in London and a bit of forward planning would not have gone amiss. My daughter really wanted to go to Madame Tussauds, while my son wanted to go on a city tour on a red, double decker bus. There were lots of leaflets at the hotel, but it was difficult to figure out how to  do both things best. If I had spent a little time studying this online before we left, I would have seen that there is a combined CityTour/Tussauds ticket, which is cheaper than buying the 2 things separately. But what if my children had changed their minds before we arrived in London?? I had imagined there would be a concierge service at the hotel, but, maybe in these days of booking everything in advance online, that is very much a thing of the past. Please bear in mind the last time I was in London as a tourist was 1996! Yes, way back in the Olden Days when they probably didn't even have Starbucks, let alone WiFi! But, I digress. In the end we bought 1 day Travelcards for the Tube for zones 1 and 2 (from the man at the ticket window Jennifer, - not from the scary-looking machines) and zoomed off to Baker Street to see what the queue at Tussauds was like. It was a 3 hour wait:{ However, just along from Madame Tussauds was a souvenir shop with an office of "The Original Tour" inside, where we asked for advice on the best way to spend our money, ermm, time. The lady there was very helpful and sold us tickets for the city tour with "free" river cruise, actually at the same price as the advanced booking price online.


London with kids
 
 She then told us to get off at Trafalgar Square, go into their office there and purchase Madame Tussauds tickets from them, slightly cheaper and with priority entrance, then hop on again and continue the tour. So, that's what we did and it worked out perfectly! After a couple of hours on the city tour bus, we hopped off and used our Tube tickets to take us back to Madame Tussauds, where, brandishing our tickets, we had the briefest of waits. After rubbing shoulders with all kinds of celebrities (albeit wax ones!) we hopped on the Tube again to Green Park and walked through a very green park to look at Buckingham Palace. Then back on the Tube again to Tower Hill, where we (and about 500 other tourists) boarded a river cruise down the Thames.

London with kids
 
As the boat made a stop at the London Eye, we got off there

London with kids
 
and 2 mins later were relaxing in our hotel room. We'd had a lovely stay and definitely want to return again soon to see some more of the sights. And go shopping!!

Monday, 13 May 2013

London's Calling....

On a recent trip to the UK to visit family, I decided to treat the children (and myself, of course) to a couple of nights in London before flying back to Switzerland. As I was travelling on my own with the children, I reckoned that 2 nights would be plenty, but another night/day would have been nice, although I'm sure my credit card was glad I kept it short and sweet! We started by taking the train down to London from Telford, which is just north-west of Birmingham. Having heard all kinds of horror stories about trains in England being expensive and delayed by leaves on the line, or both, I decided to play safe and book online in advance here. And I was glad I did. The site is very easy to use and you can see the different prices at a glance i.e. the more off-peak the train, the lower the price. Once you book your train online and pay by credit card, you are sent a code. You can then print your own tickets at machines at the railway station using the code and the credit card you booked with. So, having arrived at Euston station in London, we took a black cab to the hotel, as we had our suitcases and wanted to save a bit of time. With hindsight, it would have been quicker and alot cheaper to use the Tube, as the roads were terribly congested and the journey took quite a long time. But anyway, the children got to travel in a black cab. We stayed at the Premier Inn County Hall (thanks for recommending that, Kim!) which is situated in a great location right next to the London Eye and about 3 mins walk from Waterloo tube station. I booked the hotel directly on the Premier Inn site. I couldn't fault the hotel - the rooms were clean, comfortable and modern and the hotel restaurant came in handy too. After settling into the room we set off literally around the corner to the London Eye. I hadn't managed to book this online, so we had to queue for tickets and again to get on, but we were so excited about going on it and the weather was so fabulous, it didn't seem to matter. You can book in advance online here. Well, what can I say? The whole experience was spectacular. I particularly liked the fact that they don't cram each "pod" full to capacity, so that you have plenty of room to move around and enjoy the view from all angles.

London with kids

We had booked the "Day and Night Experience" where you can go on at night as well, so we simply popped out again after dinner at the hotel. And the "Night Experience" was arguably even better than the "Day Experience":

London Eye at night

The next day was our only full day in London and in retrospect a bit of forward planning would have helped......more on that tomorrow!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Motivation

What do you do if you are totally lacking confidence and motivation to create anything? Simple - invite one of your creative friends round to give you a gentle nudge. Monique is one of the most creative and productive people I know. Just look what she gave me as a birthday present.

These were once dark brown frames containing tapestry. Monique used a special technique to make the frames appear shabby chic and then added these lovely cups of tea to cover the tapestry - just my cup of tea! So when she visited last week and I casually mentioned this tutorial  I had seen from How About Orange on  how to make bows from magazine pages, she didn't need much persuasion (none actually) to try it out. We started out with this



A magazine in topical colours for Easter which I had been hoarding just happened to have on hand, and, after a happy half an hour spent cutting (she did that - no confidence you see), glueing and stapling, came up with these:

recycled magazine crafts

It was great fun and best of all used things I already had around the house. Can maybe feel a flicker of creativity returning...watch this space!

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Multi-tasking

We all know that us women can multi-task. The question is, should we? Take me, for example. My son and I popped to the local shopping centre yesterday by car. Didn't have a lot of time and a few things to get done, so zoomed into the nearest parking space and got out of the car brandishing reusable shopping bag and handbag containing money etc. In my mind I was obviously already sprinting through the shopping centre, ticking things off my list. My son was standing by the car and I noticed he was frowning and looking at me in a strange way. "But Mummy", he said, "you've left the engine running!"
Anyone need a getaway car, they know where to find me....or maybe I've just discovered the need for a drive-thru shopping centre??!!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Bargain Hunter

It's that time of year again. Sales everywhere. Items 20%, 50%, even 70% reduced. I have to admit that I am not a bargain hunter. Even if I do find out which shops are having a sale, I just can't be bothered to traipse there and elbow my way to the bargains and often by the time I get there all the good stuff has gone anyway! So it was curious then, that this post from Crafty Helen at Home fascinated me. Now that's what you call organised. But I did surprise myself this week. We have a home furnishings shop here in Switzerland called Depot. They have some really nice things and at the end of November I wanted to make an advent decoration with 4 candles, so made a trip there. However, as the candles I liked were 13.95 CHF each (around 15 US$)and I still needed something to put them on and decorate them with, I decided to rustle up something with stuff I already had, so slunk out of the shop empty-handed. Calling in at the shop this week and the place was full of Spring decorations but...at the back of the shop was a section with Xmas things with at least 70% off! Well, I had the feeling that it was now or never and quickly filled 2 baskets with baubles and candles and lights and and and... This is what I got:
20 items worth 186.50.-CHF for 51.70.-CHF! Still reeling from the shock of such rash behaviour, I was hauling my purchases back to the car (thank goodness I hadn't taken the bus) when, wouldn't you know it, I managed to bump into someone I know from our village, so I'll probably have a reputation as a shopaholic now.. But I must say I was pleased with the things I bought. Some are wintry enough to go on show now, others have been squirreled away for use this Christmas. Just need to remember where I put them. What bargains have you picked up this year??

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Twelve

It seems that 12 is the order of the day at the moment. Not only did we celebrate my daughter's 12th birthday on 12.12.2012, but we will soon have been in Switzerland for 12 years. If you google the significance of the number 12, you come up with all kinds of weird and wonderful things - 12 apostles, 12 months of the year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 hours in the day and 12 hours in the night, to name but a few. But, I digress. Let's get back to that birthday. As soon as we realized it would be a significant date, we said we would do something special. As the day approached, I asked my daughter what she wanted to do, given that her birthday was in the middle of the week in the school term. I was thinking in terms of a party, a special meal out, a trip somewhere nice. I wasn't prepared for her absolute birthday wish: a trip to Paris! We tried  to discourage her saying that Paris in winter would be cold, no leaves on the trees, can't sit outside at cafés etc. But she wouldn't budge. So, after extensive searching and researching (do you know how many hotels there are in Paris?), the trip was booked - 4 nights in Paris, leaving on....yes, 12.12.12!! Here are some of the highlights:

TGV
Although the TGV was as expensive as flights from Zurich, we decided to take the train to avoid Charles de Gaulle airport and having to travel into Central Paris with luggage in rush hour. The journey from Zurich is direct and takes 4 hours and 3 minutes, reaching top speeds of 318 km/h. You get a seat reservation with your booking which is great, as between Dijon and Paris the train is packed. A tip here is to book the TGV 3 months in advance to get cheaper fares.

Hotel
The train comes in to Gare de Lyon in Paris and we stayed at the Novotel Gare de Lyon. We chose it purely for ease of arrival and departure - you literally walk out of the station and across a square to the hotel. Plus, children under 16 stay free in the room - there is a pull-out sofa. We were actually pleasantly surprised by the Novotel. The room was fine and despite the location at the station, very quiet. The buffet breakfast was good and from Gare de Lyon you have several Metro and RER lines. On departure day it was a doddle to have a leisurely breakfast and then wander across to get the train home.

Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower

What can I say? Absolute highlight. If you are travelling with children, be aware that they will want to buy half of the contents of the Eiffel Tower shop - i.e. mini towers, magnets, mugs etc. On our first evening, in freezing temperatures, we took the metro to Trocadero - from here you get a fantastic view of the Tower, in our case in all its glory illuminated and sparkling on the hour. Next day we went up - having pre-booked and printed our bar-coded tickets here - you get a specific time to go through the ticket barriers and save queuing up for hours. I can really recommend doing this and the website is very user-friendly.

Louvre
One word to sum this up - vast. We got in, via the pyramid entrance, fairly quickly and had to queue  for about 15 mins for tickets - there are several ticket booths inside and machines as well, but I think in summer it would be wise to pre-book. Our main aim was to see the Mona Lisa - the route is well-signposted and basically you just follow the other thousand or so people making their way there. After that we decided to look at the artefacts from Ancient Egypt. There were so many and, again, the place is so vast, that this took a couple of hours. After that we were completely museumed out and called it a day. At 11 Euros per adult (children under 16 are free) I didn't feel we had seen too little for our money and the experience of being inside such a grand palace was well worth the price of the tickets.

Arc de Triomphe
Fabulous! There is no lift and the steps really take it out of you, but the view from the top is breathtaking. Get there early to avoid the queue.

Centre Pompidou
I remember being shown a film of Paris in French at school - say late seventies. Oh how we laughed when we saw the Pompidou Centre with its bright colours and escalators on the outside, for goodness sake. I didn't realize, but ever since then I've harboured a desire to go up those escalators and that's what we did. We had received tickets via our train/hotel package so got in fairly quickly. Due to the Dali exhibition being staged there until March, there was then a 90 minute queue to go into all parts of the centre. As we were not particulary bothered about Dali, we were able to go, thanks to a tip from a friendly member of staff, via those famous escalators, to the permanent modern art exhibition.

What I Could Have Done Without
  • Using the metro so much...we seemed to spend large amounts of time marching for what seemed like miles along grimy underground corridors and even more time sitting in dirty, run down trains - obviously been in CH too long, I'm sure it's just the same in any metropolis. Another time I would take a more centrally located hotel and walk more to the sights i.e. better to go when the weather is warm.
  • Sacre Coeur / Monmartre - teaming with people, you really had to watch your backs and your bags - better to admire Sacre Coeur from a distance e.g. from the Arc de Triomphe


After all that excitement we have enjoyed a very quiet and very relaxing Christmas and New Year. Now our batteries are recharged, we are looking forward to our next trip, wherever that may be. Happy New Year!!

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