Recent Reads VI: Recommendations

Thursday 20 February 2014

One of the best parts of having a blog is connecting with others and ever since I started this regular Recent Reads series, my readers have been sharing all sorts of fantastic books with me.  The only thing that rivals a good book is sharing a good book with fellow lovers of the written word.

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
Sara from Le Petit Village sent along this recommendation.  She had read it after it had been recommended to her as she was moving to her very own 'Le Petit Village' in Provence and remarked at how she could see many of the characters in Mayle's book in her own experiences.  The book itself is a memoir of Englishman Peter Mayle and his wife's first year in Provence having bought an old, rural house in the South of France.  His account follows the calendar year and chronicles settling into Provence, the forever on-going renovations of his 200 year old house, his eccentric neighbours, the tourists, the food and the towns.  The characters are endearing and one really feels like they might be a few steps behind, listening and looking in on life in the French countryside.

What I really loved about this book was Mayle's ability to talk about the eccentricities of Proven├žal life he encountered as a Brit abroad, frustrations and celebrations, without a hint of judgement or negativity.  In fact, as an expat myself, I found his writing and attitude inspiring.

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
by Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Jr Newell
Gesci passed along this recommendation and I'm so glad she did.  It tells the true story of Huguette Clark, an heir to a grand American fortune.  It begins by tracing her father's path to wealth in the settlement days of the United States to building one of the most expensive mansions known to New York City to naming Las Vegas as well as some controversial roles in the US Senate.  Eventually, Huguette inherited this wealth yet despite her easy access to the NYC social scene, she remained reclusive, locked away (by her own will) in her sprawling, Fifth Avenue apartment with her dolls and her art.  While shunning society, Huguette remained a very generous woman, sharing her wealth with the few close to her and when her health began to fail, she checked into a hospital only to stay there for 20 years despite her many multimillion dollar properties and her ability to hire as many staff as required.

While we aren't privy to Huguette's personal thoughts, we do get a very good sense of the woman she was and the motivations behind her life choices.  At times, the novel dragged a bit for me but the story was intriguing and it certainly started discussions of the effect of wealth and what people will do to dip their hands in the bucket. Upon finishing the novel, I was sad to see that Huguette's inheritance is still in the news.  It's disturbing, although not altogether surprising, who comes out of the woodwork when there are millions of dollars at hand.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
Jess from The Stroke featured this novel on her blog and I figured it would make the perfect beach-read while on our trip to Mexico.  In actuality, it was such an easy read, I finished it on the plane over.  Attachments tells the story of Lincoln, a smart, almost overeducated guy in a bit of a slump, who takes on a job  as an internet security officer at a newspaper.  Part of his responsibilities include monitoring staff emails and by doing so, he becomes rather involved (at a distance) in the going-ons between two best friends.  While he knows what he is doing is wrong, he can't help but be drawn into their stories.

While the book itself is a tad predictable, the characters are relatable and it's light and fun - perfect for the beach… or the airplane.  Also, because the book takes place in 1999, there's the whole Y2K thing happening which is quite funny to look back on.

Currently reading...
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
This one was passed along to me on Twitter and was highly recommended by a couple of people so after finishing Attachments prior to landing on the beach, I commenced this epic novel.  I say epic because it's long.  It tells the story of a young boy who somehow manages to survive a terrorist attack that kills his mother sending his childhood into a mix of homes of varying degrees as he grapples with the loss of the only person he felt ever cared about him.  Theo struggles with practically everything in his life: his past, his choices, alcohol, drugs, relationships - but, he's one of those characters that despite his many flaws, you really want him to succeed.

I'm about 75% of the way through and yes, it's long but it's also rewarding.

What are you reading?

{Full Disclosure: On a whim, I decided to try out the Amazon Affiliate program which essentially means if you happen to purchase one of the books I linked to from my page, I will earn a very minimal commission.  Up until this point, I have never made a dime on From There To Here and all past Recent Reads posts were linked without having any connection to me.  As for content, nothing changes and I'm not getting paid in advance to write about anything that I haven't already purchased on my own.  Should you choose to purchase a book from my page, I thank you for your support.}

Tulum Town

Tuesday 18 February 2014

One morning, the skies were overcast and the threat of intermittent rain showers loomed beckoning us away from the beach.  We spent a couple of hours catching up with Joe's Grandma and Great Aunt who, by the way, are both avid travellers.  We laughed as they told us about getting soaked while taking in the Panama Canal and listened in awe as his Aunt casually mentioned her trip from Beijing to Europe via the Trans-Siberian railway.  If that doesn't inspire you to leave the resort, I'm not sure what does.

Joe's cousins had already caught the Collectivo, a public transport system, into Tulum town and we hoped to meet up with them somewhere along the way.  We had heard there wasn't much to do in town although prior to our trip, I did come across a few articles and blogposts chronicling Tulum's rise to popularity with it's sustainable, low-key and hippy-esque vibe.  Our taxi deposited us in the centre of town, along the main strip which was chalk full of tourist shops filled with knickknacks.  We sauntered up and down the street, occasionally peeking into the shops but mostly just taking in the surroundings: a couple of cars driving slowly through town with a man on a loudspeaker and a girl in a bikini draped across the hood, dreadlocked men walking down the street barefoot, a variety of tourists haggling in shops.

Eventually, we found a little more of what I was expecting - one block off the main road we landed in Batey's.  It was a funky, little place that smelled delicious.  We hadn't known this when we were there, but apparently, they're the place to go for mojitos.  Everything that came from the teeny, tiny kitchen out the back looked fresh and yummy but we settled on some homemade guacamole and a couple of beers although that didn't stop us from salivating every time we saw something else make its way to another patron at another table.

Had we not been at an all inclusive up the road, we might have come into town more often in search of those little restaurant gems.  I suppose that's one of the downside of resorts - food and drinks are included in your rate and it seems wasteful not to use what you've paid for yet, in turn, that means you're missing out on all of the little opportunities for great dining elsewhere.

-Some restaurant/hotel recommendations in Tulum town
-Travel and Leisure's take on Tulum


Thursday 13 February 2014

Joe and I went to cheer on Norway in the final of the European curling championship held here in Stavanger at the end of November.  Norway has been known for their curling couture long before People Magazine picked it up.

#WeAreWinter is Team Canada's slogan for Sochi 2014 and it seems fitting.  I love the Winter Olympics.  I love watching our nation come together to cheer on our athletes and I love seeing so many countries come together with a love of sport.  Even though these games in Russia have been controversial from the start, I can't help but be drawn in to the hoopla that is the Winter games.

As a Canadian, clearly I'm all for watching the Curling and Hockey but there really is nothing I won't watch.  In fact, there are plenty of sports I don't follow at all throughout the year yet find myself drawn to the TV to cheer on our Canadian delegates.  I can't help but tear up when I watch our flag raised and our anthem played when we've claimed a gold and even when we don't reach the podium, I'm proud of the sportsmanship my country has shown.

I'm not sure if Norway has an official Olympic slogan for these games but it should be #NorwayCanSki.  In the last year and half, it's become blatantly obvious how large of a roll skiing takes in Norwegian society.  In Oslo last February, Joe and I marvelled at the amount of people carting around skis in the city (perhaps not quite to the extent to bikes in Amsterdam but certainly up there.)  In Stavanger, we don't really get lasting snow so we don't see people cross country skiing however we do see people using road skis all year long.  They're essentially a ski with wheels allowing people to practice the sport on pavement.  All winter long, every weekend, skiing competitions grace our television and now that the Olympics are on, the ski atmosphere has only heightened.

Norway has won more Winter Olympic medals than any other nation in the world.  (This article takes an interesting look at that fact and perhaps some of the reasons behind it.)  Even as someone who pays particular attention to the Winter games, before moving here I really had no idea of their success.  When I looked a little closer at the medal table, it's obvious where their strengths lie and perhaps they continue to float under the radar of many nations who don't pay particular attention to skiing.  While the Canadians are busy watching hockey, Norway is dominating the cross country skiing scene.

In other winter sport, Norway is also well-known for its national curling team who is recognizable for two reasons: obviously, their style choices as their heavily patterned pants stick out amongst a sea of black.  Secondly, the skip, Thomas Ulsrud, is pretty handsome.  This year it seems that international media (outside of big curling nations) have picked up on this.

While my allegiances lie with Canada, I'm quite enjoying having two Olympic teams to cheer for this year.  It's also been interesting to watch another winter-centric country's take on the games.  Like home, athletes are gracing milk cartons and cereal boxes.  A large screen TV has been set up in our local shopping mall and Joe's noticed loud cheering in his office during the day, presumably when the cross country events are on.  Tonight, the two countries meet centre ice for Canada's first men's hockey game.  Norway isn't particularly well known for hockey but I'm enjoying a little friendly rivalry between my two homes.  My landlord had a chuckle when I answered the door today in my Team Canada jersey.

Escape to Mexico

Monday 10 February 2014

It's fairly well known that Canadian winters are long, cold and dark.  Where I grew up, the first snowfall came around Halloween and it would be followed by months and months of below zero temperatures and snow storms.  Come January, many of us were completely over winter - the terrible road conditions, the temperatures plunging below -30, shovelling driveways and plugging in cars to ensure they'd start in the morning.  Unfortunately, winter continued well into March.

Mexico has always been a popular sun destination for Canadians but in the last fifteen years, it has really taken off.  Sick of frigid temperatures, more and more residents of the Great White North began escaping winter by heading South, if only for a week.  Airlines have been adding seasonal flights to Cancun and Puerto Vallarta from even our small city airports and the abundance of all inclusive resorts in Mexico have made the trip affordable for a lot of people.  Joe and I have gone twice - once with friends marking our convocation in 2005 and again in 2008, just the two of us.

For many of the sun seekers, travel isn't necessarily at the forefront of these trips.  We're there for heat and sunshine where we'll completely overdo it and end up burnt to a crisp on the first day.  We're also there for the unlimited slushy, sugary drinks which we'll also overdo and almost all of us will battle montezuma's revenge at one point or another.  It's all worth it because for those seven days, winter will be the furthest thing from our minds and the break from the monotony of snow and cold will give us just enough energy to last through the latter half of the season.

Mexico has also become a very popular wedding destination which is exactly what brought us to the Mayan Riviera this time around.  We met around 30 other guests in Tulum to celebrate Joe's sister's wedding.  (In fact, on her wedding day, there were 3 other weddings just at our resort!!)  Our itinerary was pretty quiet although my parents were also conveniently at their timeshare a little over an hour away from where we were staying which allowed us to visit them as well.  Aside from that, we rotated between sun and shade, pool and beach and we spent a lot of time catching up with Joe's side of the family.

This was an interesting trip for us.  I had to relinquish all travel planning control as the location, the dates and the resort were all chosen for us which was a little harder than I expected.  We were also coming into our third Mexican vacation from a completely different place, figuratively and literally, than our last two trips.  We've been living abroad now for three and a half years, traveling regularly and while we've had our fair share of 'holidays,' we have stayed away from large, all inclusive resorts as we've become more comfortable in foreign countries.  It was certainly enjoyable having so much time with family but, both us were yearning to see a little more of 'real' Mexico.

What is a pretty easy, quick trip from Canada is a fairly lengthy journey from Norway.  Our three flights spanned near twenty five hours each way with a seven hour time change.  We were lucky to not struggle with jet lag while in Mexico but, days after our return home, we're still readjusting.  Over the weekend, we caught ourselves sleeping until well after eleven, something we haven't done in ages but we're definitely feeling a little rejuvenated, having had a slight break from the rain and wind of Stavanger.

Our favourite holidays to date are Mauritius and Santorini.  Where are you favourite places to relax?

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