Thursday, January 30, 2014

Travel Photo Diary: Quebec City

The first city on the Canada leg of our trip was the beautiful Quebec City. I was in a less-than-great mood when we arrived because Greyhound had postponed our bus ride meaning we missed our connecting bus and didn't get to Quebec until after midnight, but once I looked out the taxi window on the way to the little auberge we were staying in I was utterly captivated. It's a gorgeous place to visit, it's like stepping back in time or somehow transporting across to Europe in a blink of an eye.

Quebec was easily the coldest place we visited. Our first day was a real shock to the system, after a couple of hours walking along the Governor's Promenade and gazing at the Chateau Frontenac we had to race into a restaurant to warm up before heading home to throw on a dozen more layers! It was so cold that after a few hours I couldn't take any more photos my camera's battery would refuse to turn on. So yeah, cooold.

But the cold had the added advantage of lots of snow, and the prettiest snow I've ever seen. It must have snowed earlier in the day that we arrived because it was all so clean and white and deep. If we'd been better organised I would have arranged for us to go dog-sledding or out to a neighbouring town like Portneuf, but I kind of liked spending our time sleeping in and lazily walking around before spending hours in cafes and bars.

Vieux Quebec (Old Quebec) is really charming and was only a short walk from where we were staying. It does get quite touristy (LOTS of souvenir shops) but it's also where a lot of the museums and quaint chocolate shops are, so it's almost impossible to pass up. The restaurants did seem a bit pricey so we mostly ate outside of the fortifications and just came down to enjoy the view over the icy Saint-Lawrence River and the cobblestoned streets. Those streets were crazy icy and steep though. I was sure either Tom or I would fall at some point,* so I was clutching onto any handrails I could find. There's an amazing place in the Old Town shopping streets called La Fudgerie which, you guessed it, makes fudge. The little store is full of all these different varieties - some sold in huge blocks, some dangling from the ceiling like fudge salami - and Tom and I went a little nuts trying samples and buying a bunch of fudge and chocolate to bring home as gifts. Another great place to visit is the Morrin Centre. It was originally built as military barracks before being turned into a jail, then a college and now a beautiful library. You can still visit the cells from when it was a prison - but not during the winter. Unfortunately I had to content myself with a beautiful old building and piles and piles of books /sarcasm.

Timing wise, if you're thinking of a winter trip to Quebec you're probably better off visiting in February. December is definitely their off season so the streets were empty and there weren't very many activities outside of the museums available. But if you come in February you get the beautiful snow plus their winter festival, the ice hotel and a lot more winter related fun. But if you'd rather make the most of the cheap accommodation (Auberge Du Quartier gets my recommendation) and are happy to just visit cafes and museums (which, let's be honest, is a brilliant way to spend a holiday) then December is actually kind of perfect. Plus you get those Christmas happy feelings with all of the lights and snow and outdoor santas on display.

Also, a good thing to do would learn some French. It hadn't really occurred to me how much French there's be in Quebec. That sounds super ignorant of me (and it was), but I had just assumed everyone would be bilingual so my 'bonjour' 'bonsoir' 'oui' 'salut' would be enough. Turns out French is the mother tongue of 97% of people in Quebec and only a small percentage actually speak both English and French. So while there was usually at least one person who could speak English wherever we went it really wouldn't hurt to know at least some basic phrases before you head off to explore the city.

*I did eventually but that was from pure clumsiness on a flat and non-icy street corner!

Movie Trailer:The Fault In Our Stars (2014)

So it was always pretty obvious that John Green's most beloved novel would be made into a film eventually and here's the resulting trailer. It's starring Shailene Woodley (from Divergent and The Descendants - I swear I couldn't pick her out of a line up if my life depended on it), Willem Dafoe (as author Peter Van Houten), Ansel Egort (as Augustus, interestingly also in Divergent) and...Sam from True Blood as Hazel's dad? That's SO not who I was seeing when I read the book.

I didn't hate the book, but I also didn't think it was as good as all of the reviews made it out to be. Did John Green try to do something different? Yeah, sorta. Was it still completely emotionally manipulative? Oh my god yes. And it looks like the film is going to hit the same notes completely. And while these sorts of books usually make me anger-cry, the films just usually make me bored. On the plus side it looks like they found the smarmiest and smuggest actor to play Augustus, I can't even handle his face saying those lines I want to punch it so much, so they're clearly going for accuracy. Also, does anyone else think Woodley and Elgot could be brother and sister? It's kind of weird to see them making out what with them looking IDENTICAL.

But enough trailer-bashing. If you liked/loved the book it looks like it's going to be a pretty true representation of Green's story and it looks like it's decently made so it should be a pretty good (and sobby) cinema experience. It comes out in June pretty much world wide.

For my review of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS click here

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Book Review: Tell The Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Tell The Wolves I'm Home

Written by: Carol Rifka Brunt

Published: 2012

Synopsis: 1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.

“You can build a whole world around the tiniest of touches.”

Even though I'd read everyone's brilliant and glowing reviews* of this book and even though I borrowed it out from the library I wasn't sure if I was going to ever get around to reading it. Not that I didn't believe that it'd be a gorgeously written début novel that made me cry and warmed my heart in equal measures but sometimes it's hard to start a book that you know is going to send you spiralling through all the roughest emotions. So when my holiday came closer I let it go back to the library unread and without any real intention to pick it up again too soon.

But the shining reviews everyone gave this book came back when I saw it sitting on the shelf at the library and hey, maybe I was in the mood for a book that was guaranteed to knock around my emotions. So I borrowed it out and I gave it a read. And you guys weren't lying in your reviews. It is a stunningly beautiful book and it is definitely, absolutely NOT a book to read in public. After feeling the tears come on at around page 6 it became very clear that this was not a book to take on my bus, a fact which was corroborated by just about everyone on twitter. Of course, that didn't stop me from taking it with me anyway. And up until the final 30 pages of the book I managed to hold it together on the bus and in the park on my lunch break. But for those of you who haven't read Tell The Wolves I'm Home yet (and you really must read it, emotional rollercoaster or no) don't get cocky and think you'll hold it together. Just read it at home. It'll be hard to put off but do yourself a favour and DO NOT read it in public. You will end up a snotty red-eyed mess and you will wish you had listened to me.

PSA over.

This book is about grief and growing up and how differently we all go about the two. When June is told that her uncle (Finn) has died she loses the one person who seemed to understand her and love her as she is. June is a wonderfully unique girl,  so thoroughly obsessed with the past she spends much of her time losing herself in the woods in a too small dress and boots her uncle bought her at a medieval fair. But Finn was about the only person who accepted that this was who June was, and not just a phase she was going through. Unlike her parents who seem perplexed by her desire to be alone and middling grades or her sister who seems to think she's uncool and boring, Finn took her to the Cloisters and to see old movies at the cinema and encouraged her art. So in losing Finn June also loses a really valuable asset in navigating her way towards adulthood. And much of this book is about June struggling to keep her head above water. Not only because she is now untethered from the rock who had helped her for so long, but because she comes to realise that Finn had a life outside of her, a past, a career and a love that she'd never known or been given a chance to understand. She, understandably, goes through the full gamut of emotions, hurt, anger, betrayal and sadness when she realises how much there was still to know about her uncle and how much she can now never know.

One of the things this book did so well was show how complicated people are. When I started the book I was infuriated by June's older sister Greta. She was mean to June (unnecessarily so) and unbelievably cavalier about her uncle's illness. Similarly June's mother made me want to tear my hair out and then punch her in the face. But like the characters in Where'd You Go, Bernadette it soon becomes clear that they're all dealing with their own problems in their own ways. Yes Greta is an absolute bitch at times, but if I'm truly honest me and my sisters had some pretty rough years there. I'd like to think we were never quite as antagonistic as Greta but maybe we were. We probably were. As for June's mum, I didn't completely change my mind about her by the end but when you consider that her 14 year old daughter had a closer bond with her brother than she did, you can't help but empathise with her ridiculous reactions. Death can be such a selfish thing and you can't help how you grieve.

There is so much to say about this that I just have no idea how to tackle. June's (probably kind of inappropriate**) friendship with Toby, the locked away portrait that becomes a way for the family to communicate, the parties in the woods and the trips to the amusement park. It's such a tumultuous ride of emotions and overreactions and stupid mistakes and silly obsessions. It's life as a teenager smooshed into 300+ pages and it's so. god damn. gorgeous. I can't express enough how much I adored this book and how much I wish I could read it for the first time again. It astounds me that this could be a début novel and if this is the calibre Carol Rifka Brunt is putting out now just imagine how much her 14th book is going to blow our minds all the way to Mars.

If you've hesitated about whether or not to read this book because of the subject matter, I hear you. It's definitely not the kind of book you can just pick up and be in the mood for any day of the week. But keep it fresh in your mind in case you find yourself wandering the library or bookstore looking for a book that will tear your heart out but then tenderly embrace you until you're feeling whole again. Because when you find you're in the mood for it, it's going to be a real treat.

*Be sure to read Alley, Laura, Meg, Emily and Tika's reviews. It's really hard to review a book knowing they've already done such a fantastic job covering it all.
**I mean, he gave a 14 year old a smoking habit and got her drunk. I love him but dude, no.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Monday Links

Hey look what's back! *waves furiously*

*New trailer for A Long Way Down. This was actually my least favourite of Nick Hornby's books, it's not bad by any measurement but it just felt...meh? Anyway, I'm totally on board for a film with Aaron Paul REGARDLESS of what I thought of the book.

*The latest silly body trend is apparently the bikini bridge (and actually not a trend, something 4Chan tried to launch) and this article tries to clarify that being against a stupid (usually unattainable) trend doesn't mean you're against people who do conform to that trend. (Via Your Friends House)

*I know we all know what Hogwarts house we'd be in but does that mean we can't take part in another Sorting Hat quiz? Of course it doesn't (Via Buzzfeed)

*This is a pretty decent little op-ed about different types of feminism. I.e. A call to stop bashing each other when we all basically want the same thing (Via The Hoopla)

* #ReadWomen2014 is pretty great you guys. I would like all of those bookmarks please and thank you. (Via Buzzfeed)

*Over at Belle's Bookshelf there is a part by part recap of Garden of Shadows by V.C Andrews. It's amazing and disturbing and I'm hoping Belle will be able to make it through all of the books! (Via Belle's Bookshelf)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Holiday Photo Diary: Philadelphia, Providence and Boston

This final leg of the American part of the holiday was a complete whirlwind. We'd originally intended to spend a few days in Philadelphia but ended up decided to put the time towards longer stays in the other cities we were visiting. But as luck would have it the backwards dating system caught me up and when I was going over our plans I noticed we had a day and night which fell between our New York and Boston stays.

So down to Philadelphia we went. And I'm so glad we managed to get some time there, even if it was unbelievably short. The people were so friendly. I wouldn't say people in New York were rude but they pretty much kept to themselves or the people they were walking with. In Philly we had two separate groups offer us help finding our hostel, one guy actually walked us halfway there and the guy at the counter wrote out a detailed itinerary so that we could see all the best parts of Philly in our short stay. It was just really, really nice.

We walked through the city up to the Museum district. We didn't go into any of them so I can't say how good they are, but if their size and architecture is anything to go off they must have been pretty decent. We took photos with the Rocky statue and walked up the  famous steps (it was too icy to run) of the Art Gallery. Afterwards we walked down the road to the Reading Market and had lunch (pretzels, always and forever pretzels) and then dropped into the Mutter Museum. This place is insane. Alley recommended it when we were at dinner and it was so perfectly us we had to go. It began as a donation from Doctor Mutter to the Philadelphia College of Physicians of a lifetime's collection of medical tools, specimens and information. It's actually fairly small in terms of museum size but the collections are dense. There are 100s of skeletons, fetuses in jars, tumorous tissue, and preserved exemplars of regular and defective body parts and organs. It's probably not for the faint of heart but it's utterly fascinating.

We finished our night with a walk through the city down past all the Philly cheese steak restaurants and finally finishing up for dinner and drinks at Mac's Tavern. If you've watched It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia this is a must visit. It's partly owned by Rob McElhenney and Kaitlin Olsen (Mac and Dee) and there are a few loving touches in the bar that hint at the owners. It's always really, really good food. Tom had a buffalo cheesesteak and he did not shut up about it for days. DAYS. And this was on the back of New York!

These photos were so incredibly awkward to take.

 After we left Philly we had a few days in Boston. Our first day was actually spent in a completely different state. Tom is a huge H.P Lovecraft fan. One of his few must-visits for the trip was a stop at Lovecraft's grave in Providence, Rhode Island. So that's what we did, we hopped on a train and sped down (up?) to Lovecraft's beloved home. I won't lie, visiting a town purely to see an author's grave is a little morbid and weird but Providence was actually a charming stop to make. I absolutely adore the houses in this area of America, they are so full of character and history. It's enough to put in my visa application and plan my move now. We never actually found Lovecraft's grave. It never occurred to us how big the cemetery would be and after walking around for two hours and getting hopelessly lost we had to give it up as hopeless.

 Back in Boston we had a whirlwind day and night. I had so many things I wanted to do and see, walk the freedom trail for instance, but we struggled with the time we had in the city and the tremendous snowfall on our second day and night. We did okay though, we walked through Boston Common, the theatre district and Chinatown, got to do a little shopping and saw The Hobbit. We also took a train out to Harvard where we mostly just drank a lot of coffee, visited comic and book stores and watching some students play a game of Quidditch in the snow. I wish we'd had more time in Boston, there's so much we didn't even get to think about seeing but oh well. You can't win them all.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Holiday Photo Diary: New York City

New York City is AMAZING!

Of all the places we visited it's probably the one I'm most familiar with thanks to litany of TV shows, films and books set there, and yet (unsurprisingly) it was nothing like I expected. We arrived late-ish in the evening but considering this is the city that never sleeps we couldn't just bunker down in our room and rest could we? We were staying in the Bowery so we walked up Prince St and had pizza is the most stereotypical pizzaria imaginable. There were signed pictures of Italian-American actors on the walls, really amazing pizza and the most Newest, most Yorkiest owner I had ever seen. Across the street was a bakery so we bought some cupcakes and headed up to the roof of our hostel to get a look at the city. It was a pretty great welcome to the city.

We went to Central Park on our very first day. We actually ended up going back like three times all up. It's so damn big that any time we were in the area we'd stop in and see if there was anything new for us to discover (there always was). Even so, I think there's probably a good third of the park we didn't even get near. These pictures are a mix from all the trips so there's some from our first day pre-snow and then some post-snow. The park looks completely different under a blanket of snow, it's absolutely lovely either way, but I'm glad we got to see it both way. 

What else did we get to see? THESE GUYS!

We don't have squirrels here in Australia so I was pretty excited when I saw the first of these little guys up a tree. I think I probably gave us away as tourists right then and there though!

One of my favourite things in the park were the little plaques on the benches. We'd stop and read them as we walked along and the tributes to friends, family members and special dates were really touching. I'd love to have a memento like that to visit whenever I wanted. My favourite though were two benches next to one another. I nearly died when I moved on from the first one and saw the second.

We spent a little over a week in New York so we managed to chip off a fair chunk of the city's must-see spots. But even more important than the museums and bridges was the food. Oh man. This holiday was A+ for food in general but New York was very satisfying from start to finish. A few places I absolutely must recommend, The Bowery Diner (the greatest milkshake of my life and really amazing herb chicken too), Jacob's Pickles (a southern style restaurant I went to with Alley, Tom and Tom), the Shake Shack (one of Alley's recommendations pre-trip and I'm glad we went. Really tasty burgers) and the Mac Bar on Prince St for a gazillion varieties of Mac & Cheese. But seriously, I think you could spin around and walk into the first door and be guaranteed good food in New York. And such variety.  Also awesome? Starbucks. I never go to Starbucks in Australia because, and no offence Americans, our cafes make proper coffee. But since I couldn't trust what most shops were selling in America we started to frequent Starbucks and I only ordered off the holiday menu. I had my very first Pumpkin Spice and Gingerbread Lattes in New York. The gingerbread was by far my favourite, but I'm finally starting to gain an understanding of America's love of pumpkin as a sweet flavour. Also awesome? Pumpkin spice cupcakes *drools over keyboard*

What else did we do? We went to a lot of museums and galleries. like A LOT a lot. We visited the Natural History Museum for hours and hours of educational fun. The Jewish Museum for the Art Spiegelman exhibit, the New York Historical Society which was an accidental visit but had a brilliant art exhibit about the Armory show from 1913. We went to the legendary branch of the New York Public Library and gaped at the prettiness of it. We went to MOMA which luckily coincided with a Magritte exhibit they were hosting. I love Magritte so that was a very happy couple of hours. And my absolute favourite was the Cloisters. I had no real idea what to expect from the Cloisters but I had my heart set on going and I'm so glad I persisted. It was like stepping back in time. When we got out of the subway we had to walk through the park and it was silent. There were no sounds of traffic, no bustling crowds and buskers, just Tom and I walking down a snowy path with trees shading our way. And the's stunning. New York is full of gorgeous old and modern architecture, but the Cloisters were just magical. It's absolutely my top recommendation.

I mentioned the Broadway shows we saw in my earlier posts but I can't stress enough how much I loved the experience. I enjoy going to the theatre whatever the city, but there's something about the small yet grand New York theatres that's so much better than seeing the same show at QPAC. We also went to a UCB show, which was free (best price!) and HILARIOUS. Lutz from 30 Rock was one of the improv actors on that night, which made waiting in the snow for an hour even more worth it. Also great and free? An acrobatic troop that were busking in the Washington Square Park. The people in costume in Times Square were not my favourite (no I do not want a photo with a 40 year old man in Iron Man pyjamas) but this troop was excellent. 

We didn't walk across the Brooklyn Bridge or climb the Statue of Liberty or take in the view from the top of the Empire State Building, but I don't regret missing anything we missed. Rather than run from sight to sight we took our time and basked in the big crazy weirdness that is New York City. We'll be back for sure, and anything we missed we can visit next time or not at all. Travelling is more fun when you don't have absolutely every detail locked down, especially in a city as big and explorable as New York City. 


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