Munich, Germany

18 Aug

It was time to leave France and the French language for now and head into Germany! We arrived in Munich around noon. The weather was pleasant. The Western European heatwave was subsiding. We headed to our hotel which was not too far from the station. Our hotel was in a very hip area, right near the Sendlinger Tor, a beautiful historic city gate on the south-western edge of Munich’s old town.

Our first stop was lunch. We ate at a restaurant right near the hotel, in front of Tor. We were planning to buy 1L glasses of beer in traditional German fashion, but we actually hadn’t drank any alcohol on our trip yet due to all the illnesses. Therefore, we had to ease ourselves into the booze and shamefully our first beer in Germany was only a 500mL glass. We were the only people at the restaurant drinking such small beers.

We quickly headed back to the hotel because we hadn’t been able to find anywhere to do our laundry yet, and it was time. On the way we visited a cute little fruit vendor and bought absolutely delicious, sweet and cheap cherries and raspberries.

With laundry in hand, we asked the hotel receptionist where to go. She directed us to a place behind the hotel. Upon arrival, it appeared to be more of a dry-cleaner. We dropped our laundry back at the hotel and decided hand-wash would be the way to go from then on.

It was time to start exploring Munich! We headed towards the Marienplatz, Munich’s main square, which was a relatively short distance from our hotel. The Marienplatz is home to the magnificent Neues Rathaus, or New City Hall, a delightfully ornate and grand building. The New City Hall is also home to the famous Glockenspiel, which is a little merry-go-round of happy dancing figurines which performs for the crowds a few times a day.

Nearby was the Viktualienmarkt, a market showcasing Bavarian fare, local and exotic produce, cured meats, sausages, breads, cheeses, and candied fruit.

 We proceeded north via Munich’s main shopping strip, Neuhauser Straße, until we reached the grand square Odeonsplatz, whose focal point is the epic loggia Feldherrnhalle. This is the site of the 1923 Hitlerputsch, or Beer Hall Putsch. The incredible thing about Europe is that you have so many opportunities to stand where something monumental once occurred.

It was getting late so we decided to head home. We passed the Karlstor, another historic city gate, but of a very different style to the Sendlinger Tor.

We arrived back at our hotel ready to watch the first game of the World Cup. After the game we headed out for a small dinner on the strip of Thalkirchner Straße. The street is full of bars and attracts a crowd of young intellectuals, or university students if you will. We ate a delicious New York-style pizza slice whilst drinking a beer and watching the sophisticated youngsters enjoy their Wednesday night.

The following day, we decided to have our first day of absolute nothing. By that I mean that we didn’t want to plan any sightseeing and we just wanted to relax after a week and a half of walking several kilometres per day. We came to realise that Munich is actually a rather small city and a place that was easy to see the main sights in only a few days.

But we ended up doing something anyway. Firstly we stopped for a quick breakfast at a traditional Bäckerei. So cheap and so good.

Across the road was the most amazing church I have ever seen in my life. Asamkirche, or  St Johann Nepomuk Kirche, is an unpretentious baroque church on the outside, but upon entering, is the most beautiful, gilded, extravagant and ornate church in the world. Quite possibly the best attraction in Munich.

We decided to spend the rest of the day at the Neue Pinakothek art gallery. This was a good decision, because the gallery was pretty amazing and we were able to see works by the likes of Van Gogh (and his damned lily pond), Klimt and Degas. Our first European gallery visit was a good one.

On our return to the city, we walked through a park and came to realise the rumour about Germans sunbathing is parks is very true. We passed the grand Königsplatz and Glyptothek, grand structures located to the north-west of the old town. We returned to the Neuhauser Straße for a spot of shopping, and then it was time to return home to rest our feet. On the way, we visited a supermarket. We were amazed by the low cost of groceries in Germany. I had been observing the prices of Milka chocolate in every country we visited, and so far, Germany was the winner of cheapest chocolate, at about $1 per bar (Australia’s chocolate is about $4 per bar. We do suffer so). Cheap chocolate means an excellent place to consider moving to. Beer is also cheaper than bottled water. We were enthralled.

Our last German dinner would be typically German. I ordered spätzle (a sort of cheesy noodle), which is probably my favourite German food ever, but I’d only ever eaten it outside of Germany. It was yummy. Our dinner was finalised with a delicious apple strudel. All massive servings too, as seems to be the norm in Germany. No complaints from us.

We ended our night with another World Cup match, accompanied by a pretzel and two Munich beers.

Germany, you will be missed.

 

P.S. Happy 100th post to me!

Strasbourg, France & Weil am Rhein, Germany

1 Aug

We left Brussels nice and early as we had a long trip ahead. We had to return to Paris to catch a train to Strasbourg, a quaint city in Alsace, to the east of France by the German border. Alex’s old friend from Costa Rica lives there.

Our train to Paris was slowed down due to a broken window. We arrived back in Paris at Gare du Nord and only had 5 minutes to catch the connecting train which was departing from Gare de l’Est. We ran and managed to find the station in record time (it’s only about a 5 minute walk but via the streets so a map was required). It turned out our train to Strasbourg was running late so it was no big deal in the end. We noticed that Paris was much warmer than when we left it a few days earlier. Since arriving in Brussels, Europe had been experiencing a late-Spring heatwave.

In just over two hours, we had arrived at Gare de Strasbourg and were welcomed with a scorching 35°C.

We met Alex’s friend, his wife and their two absolutely gorgeous children. We had lunch and wandered around the phenomenal city for a while. Strasbourg is just so perfectly beautiful.

We caught the tram closer to the city centre and walked a few blocks until we reached La Petite France, a small island in the city centre which houses some of the most gorgeous buildings I’ve ever seen. We lunched at a restaurant serving true Alsatian cuisine, which is almost a mix of French and German cuisine, but also with a few dishes particular only to the region. We ate in the beer garden overlooking the river and many spectacular timber-framed buildings.

After lunch we continued our short tour of the city and came across the enormous gothic cathedral of Strasbourg, which is very grand, beautiful and even more intricately detailed than the Notre Dame.

We purchased some delightful gelato (Speculoos flavour for me!) to at least allow our insides to cool down somewhat. We sat down for a while to people-watch. It was a public holiday (Lundi de Pentecôte) yet there weren’t many people to watch, probably due to the weather.

Alex’s friends drove us to our hotel to drop off our luggage, and then we headed off to the nearby Mont Saint-Odile, a mountain housing a medieval convent that also overlooks the magnificent Alsace region.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at our friends’ house in a nearby town called Obernai. The town was gorgeous and we could have spent a day there just waking up and down the streets. The buildings there, like Strasbourg, are very Germanic in style and have their wooden trusses showing. Our friends live in one of these styles of buildings, although the interior was much more modern. From their window you could see the ruins of a fortress and a moat, which was literally across the road from them. It was unbelievable to be in such a fairy tale town.

Our friends served us a variety of French cheeses, from mild to smelly. We preferred the mild as we’re not very experimental when it comes to smelly cheese. All served with a baguette, of course.

Before leaving Obernai we took a walk around the beautiful city at twilight.

The following day after my follow-up x-ray (my arm was healing well, yay) we went on a one-hour road trip to Weil am Rhein, a small town in the south-west of Germany, by the French border. I like that we went on a road trip to another country. I wish we could do that in Australia. We were also contemplating road tripping into a third country (Basel in Switzerland) but ran out of time. Europeans are so lucky!

The reason we went to this small German town was to visit the Vitra Design Museum, which is a place that architect husbands dream of. The museum, or “campus” as they call it, is really a collection of buildings designed by famous architects. The collection is owned by this wealthy guy who happens to like collecting things, and in this case, designer buildings (as you do). We ate an extraordinarily delicious lunch of vegetables fried in butter atop the most amazing pesto spaghetti. We then went on a campus tour to view some of the buildings. Alex’s favourite was Zaha Hadid’s fire station.

Personally I liked Herzog & De Meuron’s houses-shaped house. I sound pretty clever reciting the names of famous architects don’t I?!

I also enjoyed a furniture exhibition they had in this house, which showcases many famous furniture and homeware designs over the past century. I love furniture exhibitions.

My favourites were all the chairs and also Alexander Girard’s dolls and colourful display.

The campus was also full of cherry trees, and we ate some of the cherries which were so sweet and delicious.

We returned to Strasbourg and farewelled Alex’s friend. We ventured back to the enchanting La Petite France one last time for dinner.

We tried an Alsatian kind of pizza called tarte flambée, as recommended by Alex’s friend. The base was thin like a tortilla and it was loaded with crème fraîche, onion and cheese. Our final French treat was a decadent and rich chocolate fondant.

Strasbourg was another one of my favourite cities on this trip.

Bruges, Belgium

28 Jul

The journey to Belgium took some time as we had to catch slow trains to Amsterdam airport and Rotterdam first. We finally boarded our train to Brussels, where the G7 summit had just been held. It was an eventful trip – towards the end of it the conductors warned us that there were pickpocketers on the train. Fun times.

We arrived in Brussels, the train passing the Red Light District which gave us a scenic view of several window girls. We were unaware that Brussels had this district. We departed the train at Brussels south station. We did not feel very safe at all. The station gave off bad vibes and walking to our hotel, we felt all eyes on us. Alex mentioned that the area reminded him of a scary part of San Jose. We hurried to our hotel and stayed there for the afternoon. We did not have a very good first impression of Brussels.

We stayed at the Pantone Hotel, a themed hotel where the rooms on every floor are decorated with one Pantone colour. Of all the beautiful bright lovely colours, we got brown! Alex reminded me that brown is the colour of chocolate so I guess I became okay with it.

We went out for dinner in the trendy district of Ixelles. We were having trouble determining if we should have been speaking French or Dutch, but the waitress ended up being Spanish. We were extremely dehydrated and were advised by my doctor earlier to stop drinking tap water, just in case, so we ordered two Sprites. The restaurant was Italian and we were informed the only drinks they had were the tiniest bottles of San Pellegrino mixed with fruit juice. I think we finished them in two sips.

The following day we had to choose between a day in Brussels city or Bruges. We chose Bruges and were very happy with our decision, even though we had to again venture into the deep darkness that is the south station.

We entered Bruges from a lovely and modern train station. To get to the city centre we followed a picturesque path via a quaint park until we reached a string of restaurants where we stopped for lunch. We also caught a glimpse of some incredible freestyle street soccer.

We continued on towards the historic centre. On our way we spotted many antique buildings. We noticed that many of the edifices in Bruges have particularly charming stepped gables.

We crossed a bridge which overlooked a breathtaking scene of medieval buildings resting alongside a dreamy canal. I had to pause to marvel at the beauty and serenity of the scene. We had arrived in the historic centre of Bruges and it did not disappoint.

We approached Markt, a huge public square enclosed by grand medieval buildings and filled with a marketplace. We visited the ornate Basilica of the Holy Blood, whose extravagant façade featured gilded figurines and whose interior was rather colourful.

We entered into the courtyard of the Belfry, the tallest building in the square, and enjoyed a brief moment of shade from the scorching sun (we were there during an anomalous heatwave).

We admired a row of differently coloured buildings, all with those lovely medieval gables.

We spent the rest of the day wandering through the cobblestone streets, visiting more medieval monuments, drooling over shop windows and admiring the canals.

Our day ended with some Belgian waffles and a trip to a chocolate shop to buy some tantalising Belgian chocolate which unfortunately melted into a big mess and were eaten a few days later once we finally entered a cooler climate. Delicious, however disappointing at the same time as all the unique flavours I carefully picked out had amalgamated into one.

Bruges is an extremely picturesque town and very much a place where a fairy-tale might be set.

We returned to Brussels quite late and headed to dinner in a fancy pedestrian street full of restaurants called Rue Jourdan. We chose an Italian restaurant with delicious pizza but awful service. We noticed the pizzas in Europe are delectably cheesy and more like New York-style pizzas than the boring pizzas we have in Australia.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

27 Jul

Goodbye Paris! We were off to Amsterdam. I was feeling good. But, by the end of our train voyage, Alex and I were both feeling horribly nauseous. Upon arrival we entered into the rather chilly ‘Dam air and could barely move out of fear of being sick. We sat on the floor of Amsterdam’s beautiful Centraal Station, watching all the sophisticated locals rush by. We both were thinking about how carefree and fashionable the people of Amsterdam seemed, but at the same time we were thinking about how desperately we didn’t want to be sick. After chewing on a few anti-nausea tablets I was given the day before and not feeling any better, we asked some station workers where the nearest hospital was. This was not a good start to the day! The station workers advised us to go to our hotel as there was a hospital near it. They took us to a taxi and we survived the ride, feeling pretty awful but paying attention to the amazing city. A city that gives you a fantastic impression when you feel like death must be an amazing city!

We quickly checked into our phenomenal hotel (so grateful it was a good one) and spent our first day in Amsterdam in bed. I started to feel better but Alex not so much. Alex was sick only once (compared to my 6 times two days before – he’s a machine). I still blame the unwashed lettuce.

The following day, our first and sadly final day in Amsterdam, we were feeling a little better and we were able to leave the hotel. We weren’t feeling 100% but we managed to make the most of our day. We absolutely loved Amsterdam. It just had a tranquil feel to it.

We jumped on the tram and headed to the city (we noticed that the tram and taxi drivers are often young and cheerful). First we went to see the EYE Film Museum, which was on Alex’s architecture to-do list. We had fun at the museum, watching some really old films including a series of strange Disney films from the 1920s about a mischievous girl called Alice.

We noticed many, many bicycles on our way — there seemed to be more cyclists than pedestrians even. We walked along the port towards the Nemo museum, another building on Alex’s list.

As we walked back towards central Amsterdam we spent some time at the modern city library which had a lookout point with an obscured view of the city.

Lunch time! My first meal in a few days, and Alex’s too. I ate little but savoured the small amount of food as it dropped to the bottom of my poor empty stomach. We noticed many smokers in Amsterdam, which we’re not used to.

We spent the rest of the day browsing the beautiful city and walking up and down the canals. We found some fabulous shops and continued to discuss what a liveable city Amsterdam seemed to be.

We sat for an hour or two to wait for our tour of Anne Frank’s house. We still were not feeling superb and a long day walking out in the sun certainly did not help. I was so excited about Anne Frank’s house as I has just read her book. It was really remarkable to be there, and to see everything she’d described in real life.

We headed home via the Red Light District, which was full of loathsome tourists making lewd comments about the young girls enclosed in glass boxes. Many feminist soap box comments were made by me and then it was time to head home for our last night in a very cool hotel in an amazing city. Amsterdam is beautiful and currently our first choice of expatriation (although I’ve never seen it in winter so we should be cautious).

The following morning it was time to leave. I had meticulously planned our trip, including all hotels, trains and flights, but for some reason our train trip to Brussels turned out to be on a flexible ticket. So instead of leaving at 6am as originally planned (completely absurd) we were able to spend a little more time in wonderful Amsterdam and could leave later in the day.

We took our last tram ride to the museum quarter to see the grand square featuring my favourite Rijksmuseum, as well as the Van Gogh museum. No time for either but we had a wander and took some photos with the I amsterdam sign. Back we went to our amazing hotel to check out and we headed to the nearby south station to begin our short trip to Belgium.

Vernon, France

20 Jul

Our third day in France was memorable for all the wrong reasons. The day started on a joyful note: the excitement of finally visiting Monet’s house and gardens was sinking in. One year earlier we saw an exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria featuring works from Monet’s garden and vowed we would go one day. That day had come!

The train ride was only one hour, but towards the end of the trip I began to feel a little nauseous. Once we arrived in Vernon, we were to catch a bus to Monet’s house in Giverny, which would take 5 minutes. Somehow, we made it, even though I felt even sicker than on the train. We even managed to enter Monet’s property, and I got to catch a glimpse of his colourful gardens and the outside of his beautiful house.

But then I spent a lot of time in Monet’s bathroom. After unfortunately emptying whatever awful thing was in my stomach, I felt so much better. So we headed towards Monet’s famous pond, home to his water lillies.

Before I could see much else, I had to run back to Monet’s bathroom. This happened several times. The periods in between I sat near the bathroom, watching beautiful French children on an school excursion laugh and play. We couldn’t stay any longer at Monet’s home. We had to leave, but I was too sick. We were an hour from Paris and our hotel. We left the property and tried to work out our next move. Alex tried to get a nearby restaurant to call a taxi but they weren’t very helpful until I appeared and was sick in front of everyone (including the diners, sorry). Lucky for me, an American tourist approached me. He happened to be a G.P. in the States and made his local tour guide call the ambulance. I spent the night in a French hospital, with my beautiful husband by my side the whole time.  Every test imaginable was conducted. The doctors suspected gastro or food poisoning. I suspected the unwashed lettuce from the day before.

Needless to say, my two admissions to French hospitals helped greatly to improve our French language skills from awful to poor. We spent most of the time watching tremendously interesting French daytime television and listening to the old lady in the bed next to me mumble incessantly with the assumption that we were French. My doctors and nurses in Vernon were especially patient and lovely. And lucky for us, before we left we managed to find a Spanish-speaking doctor who was able to clarify our concerns.

I was released the following day at around 4pm and we arrived back to our hotel in Paris at 7pm. We missed an entire day (our last in Paris) and had to give away our Louvre tickets. Next time!

Paris, France

17 Jul

I probably didn’t mention that we had planned a trip to Europe. Well, we did, and so begins the next chapter of my travel blogging, which happens to be my most favourite yet most unfortunately irregular type of writing.

The flight is never really the fun part. It wasn’t a very exciting 23.5 plane hours plus 4 waiting hours to commence our 4-week European getaway. I spent several plane hours in agonising pain after I fainted and smashed my lip into the floor whilst also severely hurting my wrist. I spent several waiting hours at the Dubai airport hospital being seriously tormented by the worst nurse to exist who was twisting my agonising wrist in every direction asking, “Does this hurt? Does this hurt?” while I was writhing in pain. At least we got to experience 2am Dubai heat (32°C) on our walk back to the terminal. However, we did finally make it to Europe, even though that meant the Dubai to Paris leg of the trip included me wearing an unsightly sling whilst sporting an attractive fat lip.

We arrived at Paris airport to a mess of people. I don’t think they were expecting our plane. We eventually made it through “customs” (meaning, no customs at all) and used our bad French to find the railway station. We spent our first Euros on a ticket and off we went through the scenic suburbs of Paris, experiencing our first amateur European busker enchanting us with a poorly executed karaoke hit (we later heard this hit song again in Barcelona, performed by a slightly better karaokist). The train journey was interesting. Paris is so huge a city and so crowded, but all the areas of train stops leading right up to the city seemed sparse.

We changed trains and already encountered our first scam, a man trying to help us buy a train ticket (€20 for one stop apparently).

We arrived at our destination, the grand Gare de Lyon station, located in the eastern section of Paris, north of the Seine. We found our apartment which is located on possibly the most beautiful and colourful street in Paris.

We proceeded to collapse onto the first bed we had access to in two days. Oh, to lie with our bodies flat! Just heavenly. We relaxed a little before heading out for our first exciting day in the city.

We headed west and visited the Bastille market, which is a typical market you’d expect in France, full of meats, cheese, antipasto, delicious fruit and other knick-knacks. Unfortunately for us, we had no small change yet, so the flat peaches were left unpurchased for now. The market is shadowed by the grand obelisk of the Bastille. We eventually came to realise that everything is Paris is grand.

Then was our first French meal, lunch. We noticed there were those fancy red shuttered French restaurants with outdoor café seating on every corner (we also noticed the colour scheme of the city is a constant golden yellow colour with highlights of red). Most of these restaurants were expensive and full of seafood. We continued on past all the shops, cafés, restaurants, chocolateries, boulangeries, patisseries, even sandwicheries, until we happened upon a more budget-friendly restaurant serving deliciously fat and fluffy omelettes, mine featuring bubbling emmental cheese and served straight from the saucepan.

We encountered the exquisite Place des Vosges, which is a square park enclosed by lovely repetitious buildings. It was delightful and I was enchanted by its beauty.

Our final stop for day one was the Centre Pompidou. Alex was very much into the architecture, and I learned it was designed by Renzo Piano. It is an art gallery which includes a few famous artists such as Picasso and Lempicka.

The Centre is not a typical Parisian building. It is famous for its outer escalators, which lead to a marvellous view of Paris.

Sacre Couer can be seen on its majestic hill to the right, and the iconic Eiffel Tower to the left.

Our second day was the longest day I can recall from the whole trip. We walked 17 kilometres. However, I am glad for this exhausting adventure because we saw most of Paris’ important attractions before the following day, which I will get to later.

Our first stop was for a petit-déjeuner (a little breakfast) near our apartment. Breakfast included a café crème (coffee with milk), croissant, a buttered baguette slice and orange juice, plus a jar of Bonne Maman raspberry jam. So simple yet so delicious. French butter is amazing.

We then headed to the pharmacy as we were advised by the owner of our apartment that “radiologie” could be conducted at the pharmacy. We communicated this to the pharmacist and she advised us to go to a place nearby to get my x-ray done. We’d actually spotted the place the day before and kept it in mind. All this was in French mind you. We were doing very well. The radiologist advised that I had fractured my wrist (yay!) and his P.A. gave us the addresses of nearby hospitals. We got to check into the emergency ward and I even got a hospital bracelet! How lucky. I was even more lucky that the doctor who wrapped my arm in a cast spoke Spanish so we were able to understand him telling us to get another x-ray in one week’s time.

By noon I was casted up and finally ready to start my holiday with an unattractive blue cast on my arm. But we figured it could have been worse – at least it wasn’t my leg. You could also say it was a true local experience and we learnt lots of important French words (like radiologie).

We headed towards our first attraction – Notre Dame – via the Canal St Martin, home to many homes (boat style). We followed the Seine and ate our lunch overlooking Notre Dame, beside the unfortunate bore of the first “lock bridge” ever (we saw many copies on our trip, all of which made me sigh due to the uglification and destruction of several beautiful bridges due to a trend and its followers – in fact, a part of this Parisian bridge collapsed several days after our visit due to the added weight of the locks). Our lunch involved a cheap baguette, sliced emmental cheese and likely unwashed mixed lettuce leaves which we purchased at the supermarket prior.

We then experienced our first European gothic architectural delight, the famous Notre Dame cathedral, which was built in a time long before Australia was even known to the Dutch. Another epic and grand structure of Paris. The immense interior was just as impressive as the outer façade.

Our next stop was the Louvre, but just to see the outside. We assumed there’d be more time for the inside later. It’s a very old building which has been a museum since the French Revolution. I also remember reading about it in The Count of Monte Cristo. Napoleon was even involved at one stage.

We followed the path through the Jardin des Tuileries until we arrived at the Egyptian obelisk at the start of the famed Champs-Élysées. We continued along the tree-lined avenue, stopping once for me to take a nerdy photo by the plain door of 30 Champs-Élysées (the residence of my fictional hero, The Count of Monte Cristo), and twice to purchase Monet House and Louvre tickets for the following days.

We eventually arrived at the wondrous Arc de Triomphe. Another ridiculously grand and beautiful structure. The Arc is encircled by a rather busy and frightening roundabout.

Our final stop was the beautiful Eiffel Tower, the ultimate Parisian icon. It’s lovely to take in the detail of the tower as well as the colour, which is actually a bronze tone.

We had some time to kill before our visit to the viewpoint at the top of a tower, so we scanned the streets for a cheap dinner. Upon our return we lined up to take the elevator up the tower. We went just before sunset and the lighting of the city was absolutely beautiful. The city left us in awe. What a magnificent view.

We descended the tower after some time and ended our first full day in Paris by watching the tower from the famous viewpoint across the way at the Esplanade du Trocadero, just as the sun set and the night began to envelop the romantic city.

All-time favourite books

5 Jul

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

It all began at the Westgarth Horror Fest of 2001 (or thereabouts). It was a 24-hour horror movie marathon located a short 20-minute walk from my house. My parents strangely permitted me to attend such a morbid event at such a tender age. My friends and I had a wonderful time, even though I was to return home at 2am or so. The event ran from 7am on a Saturday morning to 7am the following morning.

My first favourite film of the event was Roman Polanski’s The Tenant, however this is a post on books and I digress.

The next best film was 1945’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, the first old movie other than The Wizard of Oz that I’d ever seen and loved, starring no one I really knew except a young Angela Lansbury (you know, the old lady from Murder, She Wrote).

I was enchanted. I have always been a bit of a creep and this film was creep personified (or, filmified). I discovered soon after that it was a book so after the Horror Fest I promptly went out and borrowed the book from the school library.

I was obsessed with this book and still am to this day. It is the only novel I have read more than once (although, not for 10 or so years now – perhaps it’s time to reunite). Also it makes me feel super smart to tell people that my favourite book is by Oscar Wilde.

Dorian Gray is about a really vain man whose narcissism kills him. Totally amazing. Please read.

Perfume, by Patrick Süskind

Just when I thought there was no book as creepy as Dorian Gray, out comes Patrick Süskind with this beauty. Another creepy book which suits my tastes just marvellously. Unfortunately I cannot recall why I picked this book up to begin with, but I assume it’s because the blurb sounded phenomenal. Turns out Kurt Cobain was a big fan too.

This book is about a cursed Frenchman named Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. I would love to name my son Jean-Baptiste but perhaps it is not such a good idea. JB develops an amazing sense of scent due to mother and abandonment issues and decides to kill women and make perfume out of their scents. The ending is all of the romanticism in the world combined, or at least that’s what I think.

I took this book to Spanish class one day as our assignment was to recite a review about our favourite book. Everyone thought I was strange after that class.

1984, by George Orwell

Holy crap. This book was endlessly recommended to me over and over by a communist I am familiar with. I read it whilst unemployed in Costa Rica, in conjunction with binge watching Breaking Bad (a good combination). Also at the time my old favourite band Muse had just released a song called United States of Eurasia which is totally about this book (and also includes a sample of my second favourite Chopin song at the end, hence this song was quite obviously written just for me).

So basically this book is about people controlling the lives and minds of humans. My favourite quote is:

Under the spreading chestnut tree

I sold you and you sold me

It will make more sense once you read it.

Orwell is a genius and seer.

The Book Thief, by Markus Zuzak

A new contender to my list. It is no secret that I am insanely obsessed with World War II and in particular The Holocaust. This book is absolutely beautiful, and one of the only books to make heartless Nicole shed a tear.

The story is narrated by death and follows the most beautiful little girl named Liesel who meets a beautiful little boy named Rudy and who steals books on the odd occasion. It is also about two nice men named Hans and Max.

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë

Woah. Jane Eyre is one amazing woman.

Although I was thoroughly disappointed with the much-too-gossipy-for-my-liking Pride and Prejudice (sorry world) and wrongly assumed that all old English society literature might be similar, I thought I’d still give Charlotte Brontë a go, just because the blurb sounded interesting and appealed to my feminist views.

I was so very wrong about this sort of English literature. This book is about an amazing woman who makes her own decisions. I was so proud of Jane Eyre and to this day she is my hero.

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

I picked this book up from an amazing second-hand book store in Costa Rica and read it during my 2-hour daily bus ride to work.

I wasn’t expecting to love this book given the subject – an older man falling in love with a female child. But it is just written so absolutely marvellously, cleverly and amusingly.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey

I purchased this book at a local scout hall’s sale of old library books for about $1. Its pages were stained an orangey-brown and quite often while reading I found rather horrible surprises sticking one page to another. I also found a Metro ticket, circa 1993, inserted as a bookmark deep into the book. Such nostalgia. This book was amazing but given its revolting state I decided to leave it on a train after finishing it as a nice surprise for someone else to delight in.

I am not sure why I decided to purchase this book in particular, given the lame-o movie tie-in front cover featuring a young Jack Nicholson (I do dislike such covers). Perhaps the old-school bright-orange of the cover redeemed this fact. Perhaps the fact that I’d heard the movie was amazing and imagined the book must be too. Perhaps the fact that it was $1.

Again, another book in which I was astounded that I fell in love with, given the subject. A mute man residing in a mental hospital narrates the book, and in particular he observes the newest addition to the hospital, a man who continuously undermines the idea of insanity.

This book is so good that I recently watched the movie for the first time and was 95% sure that I’d seen it already. But I hadn’t. The book is just that well-written.

The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood

This book I judged solely by its cover, and gladly so. It turned out to be a very good decision as now Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite authors. The cover of this book featured a 1950s styled woman, and at the time of consumption I was obsessed with the 1950s (I seem to have quite an obsessive personality really).

I got it for my 19th birthday, or thereabouts. I always thought I hated sci-fi, but Atwood always makes it interesting. Bravo.

This story is a story inside a story inside a story, involving sisters and a mysterious death.

The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

On an earlier day of my solo Europe trip back in ’07, I was lucky enough to meet Kate, who, it turns out, is pretty much me, but from Perth. Kate and I had the most fun in the world. It saddens me that she lives so far (only 4 hours by plane but that’s still $600 or so). She sat next to me on a bus because I was the only person sitting alone. We drank pure blue alcohol together all night in Austria. We ate Viennese hot dogs and sighed on Freud’s lounge. She made fun of me for breaking the karaoke machine whilst singing Me and Bobby McGee. We accidentally met some awesome Italian locals in Florence and had a fun time. We brought snow back from a Swiss mountain so that we’d have a makeshift “fridge” in our hotel sink to keep our Irish cream liqueur chilled (much to the disapproval of many a Swiss traveller on that very 2-hour train ride home). She’s the best.

Anyway, she was reading a novel during our time together by a Spanish author called The Shadow of the Wind. She finished it towards the end of our trip and said, “It’s amazing, please read it.” At the time I was not much of a reader and to tell you the truth I was probably still reading The Baby-Sitters Club around that time. But I gave this book a whirl. And it was amazing! If you are travelling to Barcelona any time soon, this book needs to be read. It’s about a guy who owns a bookshop and many a mysterious event ensues.

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas

Another new addition to the list. It took me three months of more-than-regular reading. Yes, it’s rather epic.

Why on earth would a simpleton like me decide to venture into reading a 1,300 page book, even longer than the epic Anna Karenina which was my record at the time?

a) When I met my current husband Alexander at a hostel, I also met an Alexandre, from Mexico, and for some reason I noted, “Oh, like the author?” and he said, “Yes, I was named after him”. So Alexandre Dumas reminds me of Alexandre from Mexico who reminds me of the beautiful man whom I met so so randomly from a country I’d never heard of 6 months earlier who ended up being my husband.

b) I like stories about revenge.

c) My super smart sister-in-law lists it as her favourite book so I thought it had to be good

d) With great embarrassment I must mention my love for the soap-opera called Revenge which is loosely based on TCOMC

So with these terrific reasons I finally embarked on my journey. I laughed. I cried (well, maybe with happiness). And most importantly, I revelled in my hero’s terrific, brutal, lasting and truly epic revenge.

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