The First Girl Child by Amy Harmon

Amy Harmon is becoming one of my favorite authors in recent times. The First Girl is a story loosely based on Norse mythology. In the fictional kingdom called Saylok spins a story of salvation and love. It is a fresh take on a completely unique legend whereby the clans are the descendants of eagle, bear, wolf, horse, boar, and lion. Each clan takes turn to be the next King of Saylok. A curse has fallen onto the people of Saylok. No girl child shall be born. Yet one girl is born. Will she become the salvation of Saylok? Will Saylok survive the conflict within and beyond?

I would strongly recommend The First Girl Child. It is a magical journey, an easy read, and a page-turner.

Weathering With You – A Must-Watch Japanese Anime

This weekend, I took my wife to a cinema and watched Weathering With Me. To be honest, I did not know how this would turn out. I am a big fan of Japanese anime. The Japanese have a wild imagination. Out of the world kind of wild imagination. It is a story about a runaway boy, looking for a job and earned a living by writing stories in a magazine. Soon he came across a girl who can control the weather. A special bond was developed.

I must confess that the beginning of the movie was a bit slow (the rain didn’t help) and I was trying very hard not to fall asleep (my wife did initially). As the story developed, it got more and more interesting. Exciting too. The artwork is beautiful. The story is very well written. A strong recommendation from me. My wife loves the movie a lot, which is a bonus.

Mr Bowling Buys a Newspaper – A Murder Story by Donald Henderson

This is one very unusual book. Originally written in the 1940s, this book has gone out of print for more than 60 years. It took me a while to get used to the old English. The really good thing about this book is that I could never guess what would happen next. To me, this book isn’t a pageturner but it isn’t a bad thing. There are quite a number of characters introduced and each has an associated story. At one point, I wasn’t reading a novel but was seeing characters coming alive! I agreed with Raymond Chandler (an American-British novelist and screenwriter who had been actively promoting this book as his favorite). Reading this book once is not enough. Mr Bowling Buys a Newspaper deserves to be read multiple times. I can’t possibly understand Mr. Bowling right from the beginning. Now that I have finished reading the book, I understand where he comes from. The loneliness. The lack of love. Not necessarily depressive (as he found the act of suicide lacked the humor). Just another guy in the world who has to go through hell in order to find the meaning of life. Or rather, the reason to live.

PS. This is not really a typic detective novel. This is simply a murder story.

Sophie Kinsella’s I Owe You One – Her Best of Late

After my return from the UK, I have picked up Sophie Kinsella’s new standalone novel I Owe You One from a local library in Singapore. The book is almost perfect. Except for the color of the book – um pink? – which even with my metrosexually thickskin personality, I do find it a little bit uncomfortable reading a pink covered supersized book in public. I read it in public nonetheless.

Sophie Kinsella is famous for the Shopaholic series, which kind of lost me lately. She is also very good at standalone novels like this one. She wrote under the pen name of Madeleine Wickham in the past as well. Yes, I am a fan. I don’t particularly think I dig the chick-lit genre per se. But I have read almost all her books.

Most of her books start with a flawed female character. And through character development, readers get to fall in love and relate to the main character. Her books come with tons of humor. I Owe You One is funny. Yet, I don’t think the main character Fixie is flawed, which is refreshing. She just loves to fix things. Compulsively so.

A pageturner. There are bits that moved me deeply and there are bits that make me laugh. A high recommendation from me.

A Recovered Travel Journal of Spain Holiday in May 2011

Imagine this. It took me 8 years to process the photographs I have taken during our family holiday in Spain back in 2011! Again, the results are always very rewarding. It is as though my wife and I get to relive a holiday day-by-day. To see the pictures, check out my photography page.

13 albums in total for our Spain holiday in 2011!

Again, I have managed to recover my travel journal. Unlike the one from Tasmania (see my previous post), this one was handwritten. So, I am trying my best to type out what I wrote, which may not make sense for sentences that I can’t read. My handwriting is notoriously horrible.

Day 1 – May 16 (Mon) – Barcelona to Gran Canaria

Direct flight [from Singapore] to Barcelona. 3 hours transit to Gran Canaria. 24 hours door-to-door [from home to our first stop]! [We rented a car from] Eurocar. Took us a while to get GPS working. [The volume of the navigation was ] very soft.

The hotel was Meliatamarindos by the beach. A nude beach! Dinner at Playa der Inglés and we had tapas. We rested for the day. The sky was still bright at 10pm! Windmills (note: huh?). I have finished reading Wild Sheep Chase [by Murakumi].

Day 2 – May 17 (Tue) – Gran Canaria

08:50 Las Pasadilla

Woke up at seven but since Gran Canaria is one hour behind Madrid so it was still dark outside. And it was too early for breakfast! No wonder the staffs were not too happy.

Roque Nublo – a volcanic rock in the island of Gran Canaria. It was quite a walk up and it took 40 minutes to come down.

10.00 Pico de las Nieves (ball ball, aloe vera car) (note: huh?!)

13:30 Artenara. We had lunch at a restaurant inside a cave!

Tapas: (1) cuera de Molino and (2) morsilla de teror (black in color!).

After lunch, we returned to our hotel and called it a day. We walked by the beach and had paella at a restaurant near our hotel. The waiter was chatty about Android phones!

Day 3 – May 18 (Wed) – Gran Canaria

Woke up at 8am because Cynthia was not feeling well. Breakfast was so full of people. And Cynthia had her tea this time around. Deliberating on where to for our camal ride, we have decided to visit the one at Maspalomas because of the dunes. At Maspalomas, we were approached by three Spanish students. A short survey on where we came from, how long we planned to stay in Gran Canaria, and what we liked about the place. The interviewer was a girl and she spoke in English. My wife replied in Spanish. Both were trying to practice a foreign language.

After our interview, the young boy showed us the way to the camel farm. The ride cost us 12 euro for 30 minutes. The camel behind ours was hallowing in pain. Perhaps because the passengers were large in size and heavy in weight. It was a pretty funny sight in a sad kind of way. Camels are docile animals. It was hard labor for them, unfortunately.

After our camel ride, I took an hour’s walk to the dunes under the sun (note: my wife must have been waiting in a bar or a restaurant avoiding the sun). The weather was lovely. Cool breeze. Some women sunbathed without tops as I got closer to the nude beach.

We had pizza and salad at Maspalomas. After lunch, we drove to Las Palmas. There were many narrow and confusing streets. I did shopping (Zara) and bought two books (boxset) by Mathias Malzieu (the version we saw in Barcelona was in Catalan). We dined at Las Palmas Pollo Kiev. I had a revelation at the diner. Perhaps my purpose in life is to take care of this woman in front of me.

Day 4 – May 19 (Thu) – Gran Canaria

  1. Caldera de Bandama / crater / school kids.
  2. Arucas / cathedral / Mountain de Arucas / lunch / paellas and apple tart.
  3. Cenobio de Valerón / dig site / craters / racing blue car / staring (note: huh?!) food similar to Northern Africa not preparing women for wedding (note: what?!).
  4. Gildar / walk the town.
  5. Agaete / Dedo de dios / raining / lost but saw the cliff.
  6. Back south / Puerto Rico / scenic.
  7. Puerto de Mogán / seafood with wine / best chocolate cake with 3 layers!
  8. Drove in the dark / slept just before midnight.

Day 5 – May 20 (Fri) – Sevilla

What a hard day! Woke up at 5.45am for the 8.45am flight to Sevilla. We miss Gran Sevilla already. Such familiarity. So tourist-friendly compared to Sevilla.

Sevilla is a big city. Roads are complicated outskirt. In town, the roads are unforgivingly narrow … so many traffic lights. Rested a bit in the afternoon. But we managed to tour the palace (7.5 euro). Things are expensive in Sevilla. Parking was 2 euro per hour or 14 euro a day in the hotel. So many cars on the street. Late at night, we walked out to buy bottled water and have resisted the temptation to dine at Burger King. We didn’t feel safe … “The Time is Now” (note: I believe I was referring to a Spanish song).

Day 6 – May 21 (Sat) – Córdoba & Camona

This silly song kept on playing on the road … or that Rihanna song.

I wanna boom bang bang with your body yo
Were gonna rough it up before we take it slow
Girl lemme rock you rock you like a rodeo
(Its gonna be a bumpy ride)

A song by Mohombi

New hotel and no breakfast. It cost 14 euro. What a joke!

Bought pastry at a petrol station. Fuel needle not working. Car smelled like banana cake inside (note: what?!). Dented. Golf VW. Engine stopped at the junction (ps. clutch down to start engine). Rather easy to find parking space in the morning.

Misty. But a clear blue sky in the late morning. The temperature went up from 24-degree C to 35!

Next, drove to Camona. Wedding! Lots of wedding.

BK for lunch. Oxtail/fish for dinner.

Day 7 – May 22 (Sun) – Andalusia Crazy Driving!

  1. Arcos de la Frontera / Cynthia asked the policeman where the church was and the policeman asked the local instead! Lol. Managed to park before the hill up to the church. San Pedro / Santa Maria.
  2. Ubrique / nothing!
  3. Zahara / lake / lunch time / a ruin up the hill but we did not go / driving in the town was tedious enough.
  4. Ronda / city on a cliff / we didn’t park inside / had icecream and coke – 7 euro.
  5. Gibraltar / can see Africa from here / unpaved road / Cynthia has to open the gate! (note: huh?)
  6. Jimena de la Frontera / tried to drive […] / had dinner by the mountain / see the horse!
  7. Took us 2 1/2 hours to return / through the mountain area / small road / pitch dark / not a soul nearby / nearly hit the cows / reached the hotel at 00:40.

Day 8 – May 23 (Mon) – Cádiz

Woke up late (10.30pm). Had coffee at the cafeteria. Cost a fortune. Didn’t take long to drive to Cádiz. 1 1/2 hours. Cynthia missed the pharmacy by 1 minute. 3 hours lunch break. I think I like working in Spain.

Plaster = tirita.

Bought sandwich and ate at the cathedral (windy!). Beer is cheaper than juice. We walked through the beautiful city. One old lady spoke to me in French. Throughout the day, people were very friendly to me. Cynthia wondered why.

Day 10 – May 25 (Wed) – Baeza & Úbeda

Bubble bath with milk?! Think of the number of calfs deprived of milk makes me fizzy (note: the young me did not make sense at all!).

Breakfast at the hotel was a bit costly. But it was a great way to start the day. I am quite excited by the trip. A UNESCO site with lots of history. Baeza is about 1 1/2 hour drive from Granada.

During lunch, we have decided to visit a UNESCO site nearby as well called Úbeda. Úbeda has more life in it.

Not sure why GPS took us back through small roads. We got lost in a town called […] Dinner at the hotel. We just wanted to take things easy.

Day 11 – May 26 (Thu) – Las Alpujarras

  1. Lanjaron / spice town.
  2. Orgiva / Thursday market / parking was insane / millimeter away from hitting the cars on the side.
  3. Capileira / lunch.
  4. Pórtugos.
  5. Trevélez / had coffee and dessert.
  6. Cadier.
  7. Yegen.
  8. Válor / met an old man in a pub and he was with a dog / quarreled with pub owner because he has a dog inside the pub / the old man offered to buy us a drink / he said Spain is not only beautiful but also marvelous.
  9. Puerto De La Ragua / rain / condition of the road was quite poor / electronic road sign that said, “drive with extreme caution” / drove up to a mirador / saw the snow capped mountain (and a caravan).
  10. Guadix / ruin & church / McDonald’s.

Day 12 – May 27 (Fri) – Barcelona

Woke up at 6am. Drove to the airport. If not for Cynthia asking the receptionist, we might have missed a turn. 5 hours it took to reach the hotel in Barcelona. The airport was just so far away. Headed directly to Picasso museum (had Subway lunch). Most of his work in the museum were unsigned and undated. More like work in progress. Next, we headed to Plaza Catalunya. Tons of people protested on government. We shopped and had Hard Rock Cafe for dinner.

Day 13 – May 28 (Sat) – Barcelona

Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. We have been there two years ago but it was closed. This time, we got to visit the museum. Spent five hours inside. Most of the artworks are from the local Catalunya artists.

Next, we took a bus to Park Güell. We boarded the bus at the wrong direction. An old woman was kind enough to speak to the driver […]

Park Güell is huge. We took the [momument] path. “Museum” cost 5.50 euro per person. Rather expensive for a two-story house.

Next, back to Plaza Catalunya. Walked through Las Rambla. Had dinner there.

Day 14 – May 29 (Sun) – Barcelona

Woke up ridiculously late. Attended the 1pm Mass because Cynthia so wanted it. Made up of mostly old people. The Mass was in Spanish of course.

May 30 (Sun) – On an SIA plane

Hola! We are back from Spain. Spain again, you may say. Haven’t we visited Spain like 2 years ago? True. But since we have been dipping in and out of the language for three years – to me the word ‘soaking’ would have been a vast exaggeration – touring Spain thus becomes one of our favorite choices. Fortunately, there are lots to see in Spain. This year, we have visited one of the Canaria islands so far off that could well be part of Africa. But they are significant enough to be printed onto the 50 euro banknote. We have also visited the southern part of the country where the territories were lost to the Islamic Moors from Africa and were re-conquered by the Christian Spaniards. Majestic Islamic influenced architecture can still be seen in Spain today. And since we flew direct from Singapore to Barcelona, we have spent some days to cover the points of interests that we would love to see but did not manage to in our last trip. To my avid readers, after failing to visit the museum of Picasso in Barcelona with two attempts in 2009 and the museum of Picasso in Paris in 2010 (under renovation), we have it covered this time. On top of it, we have added three more UNESCO sites to our travel list.

To be totally honest, while I always look forward to a long break, I seldom look forward to the physical demand of traveling in Europe. Maybe I am a lazy traveler. A cruise would have been my ideal holiday. The planning and logistic arrangement of the itinerary and hotel and car, the rather long traveling time – traveling from Singapore to Gran Canaria took 24 hours – getting used to the left-hand driving and to drive through the narrow roads in around the city area and through the mountain (one time at night we nearly banged onto the cows and deers, hiking the mountains, and that heavy photography gear of mine … my body ached throughout the trip. Less so on the second week as my body was conditioned for the physical demand. Having said all of the above, every trip to Europe has always been a rewarding experience – both in the culture and nature departments. I hope to share the journals and the photographs soon. Preferably a faster turnaround compared to our last trip. (note to the 2011 me: it took 8 years in the end).