Posted in bloggers, Travel, United Kingdom

Escape To Edinburgh

Here’s a fact: one can go absolutely nowhere on short notice when one has a Philippine passport.

This is the reason why I had very limited options when I was feeling antsy over Easter weekend. I knew I had to get away from London for a while, but I didn’t know where to go that would a) be affordable and b) not require a visa.

Fortunately for me, all my searching eventually got me considering going to Scotland. Originally, I had wanted to visit the Highlands. Despite the fact that – as many of you know – I am NOT  a big fan of the Outlander series I kinda wanted to see the setting for it, maybe visit Loch Ness and just soak up some of Mother Nature’s goodness for a spell.

However, it was not a good idea to go the Highlands when the weather was so uncertain. Also, you will need AT LEAST 5 days to really be able to enjoy it and I did not have 5 days. At most, I had a long weekend. So, I researched Edinburgh instead and found that it was perfect for the kind of weekend I had in mind.

So I packed my bags, took a bloody uncomfortable ten-hour coach ride and hied myself off to the capital of Scotland.

I didn’t know much about Edinburgh beyond the fact that it had a castle right in the middle of the city centre. I was pleasantly surprised to find such a charming city that had all the modern comforts of London but with enough of a difference for me to know that I was definitely in Scotland.

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As I usually like to do when I first get to a new place, I walked around with my sister and my friend Romelyn to get a general lay of the land. The weather was NOT GREAT; I thought my boss was kidding when he said that it always rained in Edinburgh but I certainly did not feel like laughing when I looked up to overcast skies that day.

We didn’t really have an itinerary, just a list of places and points of interest to visit. Plus, it was Good Friday and the Catholic in me (plus thirty years of hearing my mother’s voice in my head telling me that one does not go gallivanting when the Lord has died) just could not bear the guilt of being out and about on Good Friday.

So we took a little tour around the city, passed The Scot Monument and crossed Waverley Bridge to make our way to The Royal Mile. We visited Victoria Street, which apparently served as the inspiration for Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter series.

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In fact, one can argue that Edinburgh is the birthplace of The Boy Who Lived, as JK Rowling wrote most of the first book in one of the cafes just off Victoria Street, a place called The Elephant House.

Side note: the owners of the cafe certainly had no qualms capitalising on the series’ fame.  It very clearly advertised this fact on the restaurant window for any and all tourists to see.

It was a little morbid but we also visited Greyfriar’s Kirk, which is really nothing more than a graveyard. Being total Potterheads, my sister and I could not resist visiting this place where JK Rowling apparently got most of the inspiration for the names she would eventually use in the book. It certainly had a very Godric’s Hollow feel to it and OMIGOD I AM SUCH A NERD.

After an afternoon of walking, we were so tired that we eventually decided to go back to our flat on Rose Street. I rented a flat off AirBnB from a very nice host called Charles. The location is so close to everything: Rose Street is a small street running parallel to Princes Street, which is the main high street in Edinburgh.

The area where we lived boasted lots and lots of restaurants, pubs and shops. It was extremely roomy – two bedroom, with a large living room and an open plan kitchen. It was so homey that there were times when I didn’t want to leave the flat. Thank you, Charles for being such a good host. If any of you are ever in Edinburgh, I would really recommend his place. Follow this link to see his page on AirBnB.

On Day two the rain was still relentless, but we still made the most of it by finally making our way to the jewel of the city, the Edinburgh Castle. This historic fortress sits on top of Castle Rock, which was made from some volcanic eruption millions of years ago. The view is absolutely magnificent, and it just dominates over the most of the city’s skyline. You can hardly go anywhere without seeing either the Castle or The Rock.

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We didn’t enter the Castle because, honestly, I’ve seen too many castles in my lifetime that I don’t think I can stomach forking over £30 to see another one. I usually go into castles if I know about its history and as I’m not as well-versed on Scots history as I am on say, The War of The Roses, I figured it wasn’t worth the cost or the time wasted on queueing. If any of you do decide to go, I would suggest pre-booking.

Below the castle is the Royal Mile and the surrounding Old Town, and its a good place to grab something to eat or drink. One of the things I regretted not doing is having whiskey in the place where its thought to originate but maybe I’ll do that some other time, maybe when I visit the Highlands. Its also full of the usual tourist traps but what do you expect; they have to get revenue from somewhere.

Because I was somehow obsessed with being one with nature for this trip (I don’t know maybe I’ve just seen to much of the concrete jungles of the world that my soul was yearning for a little greenery), we made the hike to Carlton Hill. Hey you Instagrammers, apparently this is THE place to be if you want to take some of the more iconic shots of the city’s skyline.

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It was quite a hike to get up to Carlton Hill, but what I would soon find out is that this nothing compared to the trek up to Arthur’s Seat, a journey that – for me anyway – was so fraught with risky paths that it deserves a blog post dedicated solely to it. More on that later though.

The view from Carlton Hill is also quite nice, if a bit ruined by the city’s evident industrial boom. Still, its easy to imagine Scotland the way it was when clans ruled the land and they had to fight over every bit of territory they could get their hands on. At least that’s what it seemed like to me anyway.

Being on top of that hill was a very welcome respite to the hustle and bustle that I’ve gotten so used to in London. It was nice to just walk around and breathe in some fresh air. Even though I am a self-confessed city girl, its nice to get away every once in a while.

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Of course, I would soon be itching for a little bit of civilisation as I got a little bit too up close and personal, LITERALLY, with nature while hiking up to Arthur’s Seat but that’s a story for another day. I will post it on my blog soon, along with tips on how NOT to approach a hiking trip.

Until then, have a good week blabbaholics and bookworms! Stay tuned for more travel posts just as soon as my day job lets up on the pressure. Lol

 

 

 

 

Posted in Books, Politics, Reviews, Self-Discovery, Young Adult

Book Review: The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

I once had a friend who called me out for posting a flippant comment on Facebook about a social issue that was being raised 2-3 years ago.

At the time I think I told her to mind her own damn business. I didn’t think it was wrong of me to try and focus on the good things, and to try to make light of the situation, because there’s nothing I can do to change the bad things anyway.

To this day I still remember her answer to that, which was to say that that was completely the wrong attitude to take. She said that as someone who’s met, been and stayed in contact with so many young people (I was a teacher in the Philippines) and who’s so active on social media, I have a responsibility.

I have a responsibility to raise awareness about important issues, and to encourage people to think about things like equality and justice. I have a voice, and the ability to influence opinions through my words. I should use it for more than just making witty comments.

I’d like to take this opportunity to tell my friend Jerah that after reading this book I finally understand why she was so upset with me, and I’m sorry that I didn’t get it at the time. I get it now.

To make light of something is to diminish its importance, and its important that people raise social awareness in any way they can. The people who have been victims of hate crimes are not laughing at my witticisms because they’re too busy fighting for their lives.

That’s why books like these are so important. They give a voice to the people who don’t often have the courage to speak up for themselves. Through Starr, an ordinary teenager who proves that she’s capable of extraordinary things, Angie Thomas sends out a powerful message: that every one and every life matters.

Starr is a very strong heroine. Having been a witness to not one but two of her friends’ brutal murders she’s understandably scared, but she finds a way to turn that fear into strength, making her a worthy role model for teenagers everywhere.

It helps that she’s also so damn relatable, and that her family – even in the midst of all the violence – is able to retain a sense of normalcy for Starr and her siblings. They stick together and they protect each other even when they disagree with each other’s opinion. Or even if they’re fighting over whether Lebron James is or is not a complete and utter fraud (I personally am not a fan. Laker girl all the way!).

This book offers a social commentary on equality, diversity, the justice system and police brutality. However, its the way it portrays racism in ALL FORMS that really got me.

Its not just the blatant and overt things like treating someone differently because they’re black or Asian or any other minority. Sometimes the small snide comments, (often meant to be humorous) comments that show a lack of understanding about other people’s culture or beliefs, that hurt even more than any form of outright racism.

This book made me think about the many ways I may have disrespected people who come from a different background just by throwing out a careless comment or two, and how I really have to be more careful about drawing the line between banter and just plain being rude.

I am not the most socially aware person in the world. I tend not to read the news anymore because it just depresses me. I do, however, read books. Like, a lot. So it helps when they publish books like these because it gets people to stand up and take notice of the things that are happening in front of our very noses.

Kudos to the author for not mincing words even though she knows her main demographic will be young impressionable teenagers. In fact I think the point IS to reach as many young people as she can. This, THIS is the kind of books that they should be reading, not books about sparkly vampires.

The Hate U Give is not a book that will give you a lot of closure. Even towards the end there is a sense that there is still so much more to be done, so many more battles to fight before the war against racism can be won. If you’re expecting a happy ending all tied up in a neat bow I suggest you move on to the romance section of your local bookstore.

But if you want a book that will inspire you and make you think, feel and HOPE, this is the book for you. Absolutely brilliant.

4 stars!

Posted in Books, Classic Literature, Reviews

A Tale of Two Cities: A Book Review and Some Melancholy Musings

It was the best of times and it was the worst of times

My love affair with Dickens started when I read Great Expectations five years ago. It was the first piece of classic literature I’ve read that was not written by Jane Austen. I’m almost ashamed to say that I was only driven to read it after watching an episode of Pretty Little Liars where a character was quoting a line from the book.

Up until that point I’ve only ever associated Dickens with Scrooge and A Christmas Carol. So I was pleasantly surprised when I started reading his extensive catalog of works to find that Mr. Dickens is not only observant, witty and blessed with a superb sense of comedic timing, he is also – in my opinion – the most underrated romance writer ever known to man.

Every book of his, including the one I’m reviewing now, is a love story in one form or another. First of all, his book is very clearly a love letter for the city of London – he describes the city so faithfully and evocatively that you can almost see the fog over St Paul, feel the spattering of rain, and smell the odours coming from both the river Thames and the sea of London’s inhabitants.

Every book is a story of a loving family: in this one, the history of the French Revolution is distilled to its most basic component as Dickens tells it through the eyes of the Manette family. With them we feel the dangers of the Reign of Terror and the ominous presence of La Guillotine, and through their experiences, we see the effects of years and years of oppression and how it can bring out the worst in people.

The best thing about a Dickens book, though, is that always, ALWAYS, it is a celebratory tale of unrequited love, two words that I never thought I would ever put together in one sentence. There is no reason to celebrate loving someone knowing all the while that that love can never be returned. But in every book, Dickens manages to turn something so utterly pathetic into something so triumphant, and never is that more true than in the character of Sydney Carlton.

Almost like a foreshadowing of future events, Dickens made Sydney Carlton an almost inconspicuous character for most of the book, weaving in and out of scenes like a side note, like a bit player waiting in the wings before he has to take center stage in life’s pivotal scene.

His love for the married Lucie is so all-encompassing that he willingly makes the ultimate sacrifice for her sake. In doing so, he takes the meaning of the words friend zone to a whole new level. HONESTLY.

He is a dissolute character who’s never done anything useful in his life but I promise you, you will find yourself cherishing this character long after you read the last couple of lines in this book, which comprises the most haunting words I’ve ever read in my life.

Finally, I just want to say this. I struggled all this week to find a reason for doing the things that I do. I’ve felt discouraged about people in general to the point where I ask myself why I should even bother. In a weird way, finishing this book gave me the answers I so badly needed.

It is not a failing to care too much for other people, to want to help them out to the best of your ability: it is a STRENGTH. And you do these things knowing they won’t always be appreciated and nor can you expect they’ll do the same for you; the point is to do them anyway.

A Tale of Two Cities is proof positive that even in the worst of times, there are still people capable of the best of things. And therein lies the hope.

4 out of 5 stars!

Posted in Books, Reviews, Thriller, Writing

Book Review: The Woman In The Window – AJ Finn

At this point in my reading career I should know better than to START READING A BOOK at 9 in the evening when I have to get up early for for work the next day.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

But, you know.

So I’m a little short on sleep this morning. This book was soooo worth it.

First of all, I have a love/hate relationship with books who have an unreliable narrator. I know it adds nuance to the story but it also adds a level of frustration for ME. I like figuring things out on my own but with a protagonist like Anna Fox, you can’t take anything she says or observes at face value.

Anna is an ex-psychologist who’s suffering from an extreme case of post-traumatic agoraphobia. She keeps in contact with her estranged husband and daughter sporadically. The only other connections she’s made in the last year are online ones in a community called Agora.

She’s not been able to leave her house in Harlem for the last ten months. She has her food and prescription drugs delivered and she spends her time drinking merlot and spying on her unsuspecting neighbours. When The Russell family moves in in the house across the road, Anna develops an unhealthy obsession with them, observing them day and night. As a result, one night she sees something that she wasn’t supposed to see.

I loved the premise of this book, despite as I said the unreliable narrator. I like how Anna has to struggle to get people to believe her because her state of mind is so unstable.

I like how she’s obsessed with old black and white thrillers a la Alfred Hitchcock and that these movies play out in the background while all these terrible things are happening. It adds a layer of creepiness to the book as the movies often parallel what’s happening in real life.

The house itself, and the fact that it encompasses the sum total of her existence, adds to the claustrophobic feeling of the whole book. As a setting, its really evocative.

Honest truth, I skipped to the end because it was coming up to the point where I really had to sleep if I was going to be of any use at work the next day. But the twist was so compelling that I still ended up reading and finishing the whole thing anyway.

The story moves at such a brisk pace and its a total page turner. You’ll find yourself turning page after page after page and there’s no use telling yourself you just want to read another chapter because the chapters don’t help. They’re of variable lengths and some of them are only two pages long so you have to read more.

There were two twists in this story. Both I saw coming but brushed off because I didn’t think it was possible. Mild spoiler ahead but I thought the most likely outcome was that this was all in Anna’s head and the neighbourhood doesn’t really exist and she’s created some kind of fictional place in her head because she’s gone completely bonkers. But no, that wasn’t it. Sorry, if that’s one of the theories you come up with then you’ll have to come up with another one.

Anyway, some of the truths we discover in this book really broke my heart. Anna really is at the heart of this book and you will feel for her. She’s made a lot of mistakes and she’s suffered greatly for her errors in judgment.

She’s a cautionary tale about how one tiny decision can change the course of your life. But she really is someone you want to root for and you’ll be anxious for her to find a satisfactory ending. Or you know, to make it through the ordeal alive.

I highly recommend this book especially for fans of The Girl on The Train (I think this is better) and just fans of the psychological thriller genre in general. Maybe buy it on Kindle. At the moment, its only the hardback edition that’s out and this book is good but maybe not worth shelling out for hardcover.

I’d love to know what you guys think! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Posted in bloggers, Travel, United Kingdom

Random Thoughts on A Ten Hour Coach Ride to Edinburgh

I have random moments where I suddenly get the urge to go somewhere I’ve never been before. These days, especially, because I’m saving up money for my “big” holidays later in the year, I feel like all I’ve been doing is work, work and more work. I feel like I never even get out of Central London.

So I spontaneously decided that I want to spend Easter in Scotland. There are two things wrong with that sentence: spontaneous and Easter. I looked up plane and train fares and they cost more than what I want to spend considering that I’d still be within the United Kingdom. I think return flights would have cost me around 160£. Come on. I can fly to Spain with that kind of money.

So I had this bright idea that we can take the coach to head over to Edinburgh and then take a flight to come back to London. Megabus fares going to Edinburgh were only around 40£, which is pretty sweet for a last minute trip on Easter weekend. That’s the upshot. However, it takes TEN HOURS to get from London Victoria to Edinburgh.

Ten hours on a bus.

It sounds like a nightmare. Ordinarily, I would balk at spending more than 5 hours on a bus. I’ve done it before and I promised myself I never would again.

But I underestimated just how much I wanted to get out of London. So I booked it (and convinced two other people to book it with me). We chose to go on a sleeper one, leaving at 10:30 from London Thursday Evening and arriving in Edinburgh at 7am the next day. I rushed from work (the list overran, of course) to the station to catch my coach ride, got into my seat and settled in for the long haul.

It was a very loooonnnng bus ride.

Some of the thoughts that were running through my head:

10:30

Please God don’t make me want to do number two at any point during this bus ride.

10:31

Hey wait, is there even a toilet on this bus? Oh my God, I don’t think there is one.

10:40

Okay, how do I recline these seats? My colleague promised me these seats were better than National Express because they recline.

10:45

Oh hey, I did it! This seat reclines!

11:00

Damn you, woman whose seat is at the back of mine. I have every right to recline my seat if I want to! Its why that feature is there, so that people can get comfy. Have you never been on a plane? Its the same concept. Unless they’re serving us meals, I can bloody well do whatever I want with my seat!

11:05

Should I recline this seat just to spite her? I’m kind of in the mood for an argument.

11:10

Ugh, its not worth it. Its roomy enough and comfy enough that you’re able to sleep anyway.

11:20

Wow, my Spotify playlist really is very good.

12:00

I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier. Woohooo, Killers.

12:15

I am so bored. I wish I’d taken on more bank shifts or planned this trip earlier so that we could have gotten better fares for the plane or the train.

12:30

What time is it in Australia?

12:35

No, you will not randomly message someone because you’re bored. That is never a good idea.

12:40

Okay let’s start counting some sheep so you can zzzzzzz.

13:00 (I think)

15:00

Oh hey, stopover. Should I quickly run to the loo?

15:01

Nah, I’ll make it. I don’t need to go to the loo.

15:03

But what if I do need to go to the loo and we’re still hours away from Edinburgh. Better to go now than suffer later.

15:04

Alright, I’ll go to the loo.

15:10

Let’s get this bus back on the road. Hmm, maybe I should start writing a new post for the blog.

15:15

Bloody hell, there’s no charging station on this bus. THERE’S NO CHARGING STATION ON THIS BUS and I’m only on 40% with 4 more hours to go on this trip.

15:30

Okay, zzzzzzzz.

18:00

Oh man, the Scottish countryside is so beautiful. I can’t remember the last time I saw this much greenery.

18:15

Zzzzzzzz

19:00

Oh we’re here? YES! I survived a TEN HOUR COACH RIDE.

I am never doing this again.

Posted in bloggers, Food, Lifestyle, Reviews

The Beef Wellington Experience

This past month my sister has been OBSESSED with watching Hell’s Kitchen on Netflix. I think she’s developed a serious crush on Gordon Ramsay and his swearing, blustering, slightly misogynistic demeanour (the kind that will probably not be tolerated in the current climate of #timesup and #metoo movements).

So because I am an incredibly generous sister, I decided to buy her a gift voucher for The Beef Wellington Experience at The Savoy; this package includes a three course meal – in which the main attraction is the beef welly of course – and a complimentary glass of rose wine.

Just a quick shout out to the people who contributed money for this voucher. I would not have been able to afford this for both Arlene and myself so thank you to our orthopaedic team and Arlene’s friends for your generosity!

Anyway, my sister and I were so excited for this experience. We pulled out all the stops, got dolled up and got ourselves outfits that cost pretty much the same as a meal at The Savoy but hey, that’s what extra shifts at work are for. Arlene looked all grown up in her pant suit look from Oasis whereas I stuck to my usual cropped top Taylor Swift circa 2015 inspired dress.

Its a good thing we live so close to The Savoy, which is located at the Strand near Charing Cross Station and Covent Garden, because those heels were NOT made for walking. Its a lovely old hotel that’s been around for decades and its got a really classy, elegant, old-world feel to it. Also, I always say that you can tell a lot about a place based on its toilet and the toilets at The Savoy are top-notch. Lol

Our restaurant voucher was to be redeemed at The Savoy Grill, which is a Gordon Ramsay restaurant. Obviously, the man himself wasn’t there but I’d like to think he still keeps one hand on the pie and ensures that the restaurant standards live up to his name.

I love love love the service. I found myself thinking that its nice to see how the other half lives every once in a while; its true what they say, money DOES grease the wheels and make everything easier. The servers seamlessly served us our aperitifs and starters while my sister and I tried not to feel too out of place.

For starters we had a glazed omelette Arnold Bennett, which is a really fancy name for something that consisted of fish and eggs. Nevertheless it was really really tasty.

I was really apprehensive about the Beef Wellington. It’s such a well-known dish and I’ve always wanted to try it, but I was worried this was going to be like the time I really wanted to try a cheese soufflé and ended up wasting 30 euros for what is basically egg and cheese.

I didn’t want the Beef Welly to be like an oversized sausage roll or worse. I’m also not used to eating my meat medium rare; for some reason I’ve always preferred it well-done but because medium rare was recommended I figured, what the hell?

My worries were completely unfounded because this was one of the most delicious dish I’ve ever had in my life. Served with mashed potateoes, kale and red wine jus, and with the beef perfectly cooked, it was worth every pound that I paid for it. Okay maybe the serving was a little small, but that’s probably a testament to how good it was: I wanted MORE.

After a palate cleanser of passion fruit sorbet, we were ready for the final course. For dessert, we had a table-side server to flambe crepe suzettes for us. This got me really excited, I felt like a kid watching a fireworks show, I don’t know why. I was grinning the whole time the server was doing this, he must have thought I had a few screws loose.

We though the night would end there, so imagine our surprise when the manager offered us a tour of the kitchen, a chance to meet the chefs and some petit fours to cap off the evening. I thought my sister was going to cry she was so happy. I think she was having visions of Hell’s Kitchen and was super excited to see the behind the scenes action; I’m happy to say its nothing like Hell’s Kitchen in terms of swearing and near-nervous breakdowns, but it was just as intense in there. Thank you chefs for the photo op!

Anyway, apart from the petit fours they also gave my sister a complimentary birthday tart with candles and everything. It was an absolutely incredible evening and it really made my sister so happy. It was a night she won’t soon forget and I’m banking on that because the 12th of August (MY birthday) is just around the corner and she’ll have to plan it. Lol

You can purchase the same experience and lots of other offers at The Savoy website by clicking here. Its quite pricey but its nice for special occasions or to purchase as a present when there’s lots of you pitching in.

Thank you to the staff at The Savoy Grill for a memorable evening.

Posted in murder mystery, Reviews, Theatre, Thriller

Theatre Review: Witness For The Prosecution

For my sister’s birthday, I got us both tickets to see a production of Agatha Christie’s Witness For The Prosecution. Having just become massive fans ourselves, we thought it would be a good night out and plus, who doesn’t love a good murder/mystery?

First of all, the venue itself is amazing. I was excited when I heard it was going to be at the County Hall and in the room where Parliament used to meet in the 20s. The entrance is on Belvedere Road which is just across St. Thomas Hospital and at the back of the London Eye.

We were really chuffed when we got inside the actual theatre. Its set up so you can pretend you’re at the Old Bailey, which I think is the old criminal court near Newgate Prison. It had jury boxes and everything, and if you’ve got money to spend you might want to get a seat in the jury box for a more immersive experience. You may or may not get to participate in the actual play so get your best thespian voice ready.

It was worth splurging for stall seats because you’re really close to where the action is. Also, they were really roomy and comfortable so you don’t ever feel like you’re practically sitting on top of your neighbour for the duration of the show.

The play tells the story of Leonard Vogel, who’s been accused of murdering a rich woman that he’s befriended and goes to visit once or twice a week. His arrest is based on the testimony of the housekeeper who swore she heard him talking to the victim around 5 minutes before the time of death.

The play unfolds like a courtroom drama, and I had initial misgivings about that because I thought it would be very dry and boring. I could not have been more wrong. The actors were so good and the story itself is so riveting that you won’t even notice you’re halfway through the first act already.

There were also some unexpected lighthearted and even comedic moments, usually aimed at the Britishness of the British. Because this play was oh-so-British, from insulting each other politely (no one does this as well as the British) to offering tea during times of crises and even the British attitude towards foreigners…it was all very well done.

I have to say I guessed the plot twist about 3/4 of the way into the play but I was still shocked when THE BIG REVEAL was unveiled. I love how, just like in other Agatha Christie works, she manages to convey so much without having to bombard the audience or the readers with unnecessary details. You are instead led through a series of truths, half-truths and out and out lies and its up to you to make heads or tails of it to come to your own conclusion.

Overall, I had a really great time and I’d highly recommend this play to both theatre lovers and fans of the crime and murder genre because I can guarantee you’ll have a great time.

Click on the link here to go to the website, wherein there’s a tab for you to buy tickets. The shows are incredibly popular so the weekends might be fully booked but there’s plenty of seats during the weekdays and it doesn’t really last that long. Its finished by 10 and there are good transport links around the area (Waterloo, Embankment and Westminster stations and a lot of buses).

Cheers and Happy Birthday to my sister Arlene (shown on the photos with me)!! xx