Saturday, 23 May 2015

One Week Has Passed Already

PensionAnna- we are in the room above the door and to the right.
It has now been one week since we left Tasmania and headed to Europe. After a couple of days in Dubai where we realised we own no wealth whatsoever we flew to Vienna.  We have been staying in a Pension called PensionAnna and it has been lovely. Reasonable rate in the city centre, breakfast inclusive and upon posting photos up on my Facebook a friend said it looked "homey".

It took us a day to get our bearings but once we discovered the simplicity of the underground we were well and truly off.  We have walked everywhere, hopped on and off busses, had a tour of the Spanish Riding School which I loved, been to museums and eaten wonderful food.
The PensionAnna book corner. It is very sparse. I did check them out though.
All of them in German except one thriller in English

As this is a book and travel  blog I better also talk about books. There is a large, 3 story book store at the corner of our street that has a cafe on the first floor. Very  nice. I had a good look at all the books. As most of the books are in Deutsch I didn't get too far reading the blurbs on the back. However I did enjoy the covers.   There is a large section in the back of the store dedicated to English readers. The books were those you'd see in any modern book store, however mostly modern fiction and some non fiction. I guess that is what you would expect to see.  What was very nice is how busy the store was. People everywhere. All enjoying the books.

There was an area at the back of the second floor for children. I looked at the children's books and enjoyed seeing the variety of the German/Austrian selection.
There was little furniture in the back also where mothers were seated with their youngsters and I could hear them reading aloud to the child. It was lovely to watch.
Aren't these gorgeous little dishes. I wanted them all. Instead
I took a photo of them. "No Space in the Case" is my mantra.

I vowed not to buy any books on this trip. After all I have my Kindle. However I did buy a couple of little notebooks in the museum gift shop and a small book about the history of the Spanish Riding School.  I have wanted to visit this school since I was a child and saw the Disney Movie "Airs Above the Ground." I never gave up that little dream. We were here in the 80's but it was summer and it was pouring rain, the school was closed for renovation and the horses were south of here in their summer pastures. I always said I would come back and see the horses and finally it happened. They are simply beautiful. But sadly no photography allowed in the stables. So you'll just have to take my word for it.
Beautiful books available in the Museum gift shop.

Our other favourite pastime is taking photos and people watching. We have been pointing out all the dogs to each other. We love dogs and love to see the variety of dogs here.  I have scattered some shopping and eating photos throughout this post. As I only brought a small suitcase and a backpack with few clothes I vowed  not to take home too many souvenirs.  So I am shopping by camera. If I would love to buy it I take a photo of it instead and then if I do remember it once home I can at least look at the photos.

I have not been reading at all except for tour guides.  I have nothing bookish to post. We get back to the room at  night and then collapse in a heap only to be wide awake by 6 the next morning ready for another day.  

Interesting books about Lipizzaner horses and the Spanish Riding School.

Sadly we leave Vienna today and are scheduled on the 11:30 am train to Salzburg. We will be there for 3 nights before heading south to Verona, Italy.  I promise I'll continue to keep an eye open for very good book shops.










Wonderful black tea and a "Mozart Bomb" cake that really was heaven on a stick. Museum coffee shop

Later we visited the Jewish quarter and ate wonderful Saurkraut soup
for lunch. We love sauerkraut but had never had the soup.
Saurkraut, chunks of potato, smoked bacon bits and chives.



Which piggy bank do we take home to start saving our pennies for the next trip.







Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Anne Mustoe in South America and the Penguin in Europe

I wrote about Anne Mustoe's book A Bike Ride not too long ago. She is the middle aged retired English headmistress that decided to ride her bike around the world in the 1980's. She followed the trail of Alexander the Great and it was quite an adventure.

Now I am reading about one of her other excursions. This one is Che Guevara and the Mountain of Silver by bicycle and train through South America.

Her ride is several years after the first one in A Bike Ride. I am enjoying this book but I don't think it is as good as the first one was. She begins in Buenos Aires in Argentina and rides south to Beriloche which is in the mountains. Then she crosses west to Puerto Mont and north to Santiago. She not only rides her bike but she has a friend with her much of the way. She also uses buses and trains so it is not all bicycle travel.
Again she incorporates a great deal of history into the book and this time it is following the trail of Che Guevara who previously did the motorbike tour with his mate before he became a revolutionary.  

I get the feeling that this book, although structurally sound in her better than average writing it doesn't have the passion in it as A Bike Ride does. I feel she is fulfilling a contract and is all a bit "ho hum." 

The bright spots of interest is when she backs up and writes about the people she meets in rural areas along the way. The history of Che Guevara is also interesting but it would be better to just read his Motorcycle Diaries because she tries to recreate his journey but he does it so well in his book it isn't necessary.  I would rather read about the interesting places in South America, the apprehension of traveling in some places and the people she meets along the way.  I have travelled in many of the places she mentions and I don't feel she gives the smaller towns justice.  

If you are a long distance bicyclist there is still a great deal to get out of this book but I find I get bored in several places. There is just too much sameness.   The history is thrown at the reader like a professor lecturing and you just want to put your feet up and have a little snooze. Che Guevara's life was fascinating, his life philosophy was controversial and his journeys dangerous.  I felt like she is riding on his back to put a bit of life in this story when in fact the idea she is riding her bicycle through these areas could be equally as exciting on their own, but that message doesn't seem to come through. I am almost through with this read and I have her other books that I will get to. I love a good bicycle journey and I want to read her other books but think I'll take a break once I finish this one. I am almost done by the way.

Now some exciting news for myself, Mr. Penguin and I leave on Saturday flying from Tasmania to Dubai where we will be for two nights to break up the journey on our way to Vienna, Austria. I have been to Vienna before but it was a long time ago and the weather was awful.  We were only there a day or two as well.

I have wanted to see the stables of the Spanish Riding School since I was 8 years old and the last time I was there the horses were in the countryside on holiday and the stables were closed for renovation. This year I know they are open so I am most excited. From Vienna we have no idea where we are going next.  Armed with 5  more weeks of time and a Eurail Pass we will head across Austria, go south to Italy, then across Southern France and spend some time in Spain.  We hope to get to Lisbon, Portugal and fly to Paris but we may run out of time. We want at least 5 or 6 days in Paris before we return to Australia with another 2 nights in Dubai to break up the journey.

I am taking more journal writing items, technology, cords, and a power board than I am clothes. Don't want to carry a lot. I will keep up the blog as long as I have wi-fi and I will post extra photos on my Facebook page.  I am really looking forward to wandering and will try to incorporate as many bookish places into the trip as possible. Plus coffee shops, pastries, gardens, brightly coloured flours, dogs and cats and people.  I know there is history galore, dozens of cathedrals and more museums than one can see in a lifetime. But we just want to walk.  Get to know the areas by foot, stop, eat, drink coffee, wine, cold beer. Enjoy the summer weather. Our Kindles are full of books. So my blog gets to be truly alive with travel and some Penguin hunting. 

If I see shop windows with books I will be sure to record that in the photo diary here.  I will return to more mundane things at home in July.  I plan a large book cull when I get home and some more Penguin additions to the collection. But that will be another story. 

So stay tuned.  When I know where I'll be staying you'll hear it first here.  


Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Lady With Lapdog and Other Stories: Anton Chekhov

I have been reading quite a bit of mush lately and my brain is feeling it.  I enjoy popular fiction very much but before long I start to crave something a bit more intelligent. Kind of like when I don't eat chocolate for a long time.

I picked this book up off my shelf where it sets with many other older Penguin Classics I have picked up at tip and op shops over time.

I have not read Chekhov but the idea of some short stories appealed to me and I was not disappointed. I continue to work my way through them but the first one I read was actually the last one listed in this book.

Lady with Lapdog is a story of a middle aged womaniser, Dmitri, who believes women are the lower class but he does not mind spending available time with them. His wife is a bit of a shrew and he prefers to not be around her much.  One day he meets Anna, a lovely woman who has a small white Pomeranian. She is on a bit of a holiday in Yalta and the two meet up.   They begin to spend evenings together talking and walking and enjoying each other's company.
The story is extremely short with the beginning describing their meeting, then onto the development of their affair.  Anna is then called homge to her husband who is having difficulty with his eyes. They part. Dmitri who has had many affairs and is now approaching the far side of middle age generally continues on until he meets his next conquest. But Anna is different. He realises he has fallen in love with her and goes to St. Petersburg to seek her out.  He meets up with her during intermission at the theatre and talks to her. She is very nervous to see him again and sends him immediately away, saying she will come back to Moscow to meet him.

This story is more of a story of beginnings then of endings because they possibly have an entire life ahead of them but the reader is left wondering what will happen to them.

Evidently Chekhov's stories revolve around everyday feelings that occur to an average person and this story is a good example of that.

I also read the short story Grief which is only a few pages long. A long married farmer is driving his wife to the hospital in a blizzard. He has left it too long and the horse has difficulty walking through the snow and he cannot see where he is going.  He realises in this short amount of time how important his wife has been to him over the past 40 years but he never acknowledged it. She dies in the back of the wagon, the blizzard rages , the hospital is too far so he simply turns around and drives home.  Chekhov's stories appear to reflect the mistakes humans make and realisation appears to come too late.  I look forward to reading more of the stories in this book.  It is certainly entertaining for my brain.  It is good to delve into the classics between the amusement of popular fiction. These stories are the kinds that seem to really stay with you despite only being pages in length.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Penguin Gets On The Train with the Girl

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.  I am getting ready to go overseas to Europe for six weeks so I guess that is why I am drawn to bicycles as in Anne Mustoe (previous post) and now The Girl on the Train.  Trains, planes, motorbikes, bicycles even horses.  All of these appeal because I have not been off this island. When one lives on an island it is important to get off and see something new. I am ready.

There has been so much hype around this book that I was put off for quite a long time in reading it. But having read a little synopsis about it I knew that I would probably enjoy it.

This book is Paula Hawkin's first thriller type book.  It is the story of three women. Megan, Anna and Rachel.  Rachel is an alcoholic whose husband Tom took up with Anna and she lost her marriage. She now drinks too much, living in a room in her friend's house not too far from Tom and Anna.

Each chapter rotates between the three women and the tale is told from their point of view. I always enjoy this format for the most part and it was no different here.  Megan who lives a few doors down from Tom and Anna goes missing one night. Rachel is in the area stalking Tom and Anna at the same time and is blacked out drunk.  Things happen all at once. But she has no memory of it. Rachel is interested in Megan as she sees her from the train window every morning. But the fantasy is no where near the reality.

I won't say anything more because I don't want to spoil it.

I found the story very good. It kept my interest and I found I read it in two sittings, the last being too late into the night. I cared about all of the women and I wanted to see what happened to them.

I found the actual writing to be a bit uneven in places but as I enjoyed the characters so much I ignored this.  I don't think this is a great piece of literature but an evening's entertainment and better than some of the television series I watch.  I could see this book easily becoming a movie. I would go see it if it did.

It takes place on the outskirts of London in a quaint suburb but for the life of me I could not get the Melbourne suburbs out of my head. The whole book took place in Melbourne in my mind. I could see the descriptions matching the suburbs I have ridden through on Melbourne trains.  It was very clear in my head.

I thought all of the characters were developed quite fully with perhaps Megan's character being a bit of the weakest.  There were a few red herrings tossed in to the story I didn't think were needed but they did add another layer of suspense in regards to who disposed of Megan. Or did they?

It was an enjoyable read, I didn't have to think much and as I usually spot the ending, I didn't in this story. I always like it when I am taken by surprise.

I think Paula Hawkins can only get better in her next attempt at thriller fiction and I will certainly pick her next book

up, crawl into bed with my dogs and my hot drink and enjoy an evening's entertainment without much hassle.


Sunday, 19 April 2015

Riding Around the World on a Bicycle

Her first trip in the later 1980's
I think Travel Writing must be my favourite writing. Not just any travel writing as there is a lot out there. But really purposely, well written travel writing. I think this series of books by Anne Mustoe must be at the top of the genre.
 I read the book A Bike Ride when it first came out and really enjoyed it though there was much I didn't understand.  Anne Mustoe was an English headmistress of a private girl's school who decided at an age of mid 50s to ride around the world on her bicycle. She hadn't ridden a bicycle before but for some reason the wanderlust hit her and off she went.

A Bike Ride is the first book she wrote. She had a purpose to this ride. As she was classically trained she decided to follow the route of Alexander the Great and ride along the path of some of the old Roman roads. Her trip takes her from England through France, Italy, Greece, Turkey and right on through Eastern Europe eventually to Australia, the United States and back to England.

There is something about a road trip, of any kind that pulls me towards adventure. People walking, hitchhiking, bicycling, horseback riding, motorbike riding, there are all kinds out there doing the big adventure thing. Now a days with technology it is so much easier. But when Anne took off she didn't have a smart phone or a tablet with wi-fi.  She rode 50 miles a day and hopefully when she reached her destination there was somewhere to stay.

1987
I love the way she writes about the people she meets. Little snippets of the culture, the mood of the people she  meets, the funny episodes. There are a few times the reader really worries about her too.

There is a lot of history in this book. Sometimes at times there is too much. She can go off on a tangent at times. When she is in Turkey she does get carried away but this reading I understood much about it as I have visited Turkey and have seen some of the places she writes about.

One of her later books and on my TBR
reading list.
Quite a bit of time has passed since I read her first two books. I didn't know she hadn't written more. I was thinking of her last week. Don't ask me why but her name popped up into my mind. I looked her up on the web to see what had happened to her and was saddened to know she was on a bike trip in Syria in her 70's, became ill and died. For some reason that really resonated with me. But for 20 years she continued her bike rides. There are now several books on sale written by her and I hope to get through a few of them. The one she wrote about riding through South American especially looks appealing.

You can see the list of books she wrote here. 

I would have enjoyed meeting her but now with these unopened books in front of me I am really looking forward to more of her adventures.