Croatia – from North to South, and some countries in between…

Over this summer my family and I went away on holiday for a couple of weeks to Croatia, where we travelled from North to South. I was so excited about this experience: I had never been to Croatia before, but the idea of a road trip, stopping at some interesting places along the way, seemed a brilliant way to truly discover a new country.

Istria

We started in an area near the North of Croatia called Istria –  the largest peninsula in the Adriatic, and lies in three countries of Croatia, Slovenia and Italy. It was a lovely area that seems to be traveled to less by British tourists, and instead lots of German travellers. (Whenever we were greeted by anyone who knew we weren’t Croatian, it was assumed that we were German!)

Pula
Pula is the largest city in Istrian Croatia, and was a great historical city. It has a rather impressive Roman amphitheatre (I have said before that we always have to find a theatre while on holiday!) – which was very well intact – as well as other places of interest such as the Temple of Augustus and some fortress walls too. It was an great day out, although very hot and sunny!

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The Lakes

Plitvice
The lakes are absolutely beautiful, and definitely one of my favourite places we visited over the holiday. We only spent an afternoon around the lakes – we walked around the bottom lakes first (including a couple of boat rides), and then around the top lakes towards the evening. By the end of the day, once the big crowds of people had left, it was gorgeous and peaceful – with some long drives of our road trip still to go, it was exactly what we needed.

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The South – Dalmatia Region 

Zadar
Getting to Zadar was the longest drive we made, but a good place to stop off for the night to get between the lakes and the south of Croatia. We were lucky enough to be there at the same time as a festival around the city, which made it really fun to walk around in the evening, watching buskers and musicians perform. Like many of the major cities we had visited in Croatia, Zadar also had an Old Town area, with historical monuments including the remains from a Roman Forum and the Church of St Donatus, which was built using material from the forum it stands on (I found this so fascinating that I even fell down a hole and bruised my foot… oops!)

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Inside the Church of St Donatus

Dubrovnik
This was yet another impressive city, which we got to by boat to visit for the day. Although we explored the city for a few hours, I feel like we perhaps didn’t do this place justice – I certainly wasn’t captivated by the place, and we were a bit put off by the price to go along the city walls! (Although if you’re a fan of Star Wars or Game of Thrones you will be excited to know that both of these have had scenes filmed here.)

Elefanti Islands
While near Dubrovnik we were able to go on a boat trip for the day to some gorgeous nearby islands. I would highly recommend a visit to these islands if you are near Dubrovnik – this was a brilliant day out, and so much fun (and lunch was provided too!).

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Other countries too?!

Slovenia: Piranho
While in the North of Croatia we decided  to take a day trip over to Slovenia. We obviously didn’t do as much research as we should have, which resulted in spending 3 hours in traffic queues to get through the boarder! Nevertheless, once we arrived we had a great time: it was a beautiful place (it looked a lot like Venice, but no canals and fewer tourists!).

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Bosnia and Herzegovina
We stopped along the few kilometres of coast of this country for lunch, while driving from the north to the south of Croatia. I wouldn’t say it was necessarily a special place, but it’s certainly a country that I can say I’ve been to!

We also tried to get to Montenegro but, due to forest fires while we were there, one of the boarders was closed, so the traffic was too bad for us to want to sit in yet another queue for a boarder crossing.


 

The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood

This book is the second book in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian ‘MaddAddam’ trilogy, which I started last summer. I really liked the first book (Oryx and Crake), so was looking forward to finding out what would happen next (although, like the plot line of the first, I didn’t find out until well into this book!).

As in Oryx and Crake, the plot starts after the apocalyptic events and, from the character’s memories, looks back at what has happened in their lives to bring them up to the ‘present day’ of the story. Different from the first novel however, this sequel followed two characters’ journeys: two females who are part of a religious environmental cult, as they try to survive in their dying society. I really liked that this allowed the reader to see characters and events that had already been established in the first novel but from different perspectives. Very clever!

This book definitely continued my love for this series, and dystopian as a genre too, with the freedom for creativity an imagination with a complete lack of boundaries. Margaret Atwood is undeniably one of the most celebrated of the dystopian and speculative fiction genre, and with good reason. Atwood obviously has a vivid imagination in the creation of her novels, which she conveys through her writing very efficiently with beautiful and simplistic descriptions – I was particularly impressed in this novel with her ability to describe events while maintaining the different characters’ personalities.  Furthermore, the foundations of the deterioration of her fictional societies are issues that can already be found in our current society. The MaddAddam series focuses on the influence of a company that creates health and beauty products, and how they can sell products that harm people in order to raise the sales of their other products – and consequently develops into the death of an entire country’s population. (Similarly, her novel The Handmaid’s Tale has recently been received as a satirical response to President Trump, despite it being written in 1985…).

Dystopian fiction genre, and Atwood, has been increasing in popularity recently (which I would like to think is not a reflection of the route the world is taking!), such as YA novels, film and TV programmes. The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my favourite novels ever (wow, I should probably write a post about it…), and the US tv series so far (we’re a bit behind in the UK) has only increased my appreciation  of Atwood’s writing. I’m sorry that was a bit of a tangent from reviewing The Year of the Flood as a novel, but I just like Atwood’s writing, which very much includes this novel!

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The Ferryman, Jez Butterworth

I was lucky enough to see Jez Butterworth’s new play The Ferryman last month at the Royal Court Theatre in London. It was a highly anticipated production, with many expectations raised due to the success of his previous writing, and the prowess of the Royal Court. Nevertheless, this play exceeded my expectations: I thought it was brilliant.

As I settled down in my seat before the performance started, I was worried the writing would be too profound or self-indulgent, but actually it wasn’t at all. I luckily know a bit about the history of the Irish Troubles and the IRA – the context of the play – which I felt helped me get into the plot and characters quickly, although I think it still would have been understandable and easy to follow even without any knowledge. The history of Ireland is a fascinating topic, and was incorporated brilliantly into a plot that had me guessing about what would happen next throughout. It was great writing – yep, Butterworth yet again has written a great play!

The production itself was brilliant too, including the set which was gorgeous! With the play all in one setting (except the opening scene) a lot of time was put into the one set. It was the attention to small details that caught my attention most – such as children’s drawings pinned to the walls of the home – making it feel like a real family home. The stage was a big space, which was important with such a large cast, but very well adapted just by moving the furniture around, as well as the stairs for characters to enter, exit and stand on when not directly involved with the action.

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The performances given by the actors were exceptional too, particularly for such a big cast with so many very young actors (who all did great jobs giving some very believable performances). Paddy Considine (Quinn Carney) and Laura Donnelly (Caitlin Carney), as the key protagonists, gave especially great performances: it was emotional and passionate, as well as mysterious (which kept me guessing throughout!). What was particularly impressive to me was all the casts’ Irish accents – although many of the actors had an Irish background, I actually thought all of them were Irish (which wasn’t the case!).

This was a brilliant play, and I’m so grateful that I got to see it in its original form at the Royal Court Theatre – and on its last day too! It has now transferred to Central London in the West End, and I would highly recommend going to see it for some excellent theatre.

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Photos from: https://royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/the-ferryman/

‘Working’ at Southwark Playhouse

I recently saw a production of the musical ‘Working’ at Southwark Playhouse, south of the river in London. This was the European premier of the musical, following success across the USA, with writing by well-known theatre names including Stephen Schwartz (Wicked) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights [see my blog post here], and Hamilton). The whole story of the musical, particularly the characters and their dialogue, is based on the book of interviews by Studs Terkel: ‘Working: People Talk About How They Feel About What They Do’. (What a title!).

This musical performs a range of people from different jobs and backgrounds – a topic that is becoming an increasingly discussed with arguments surrounding jobs given to migrants, both in the UK and US. However, I agree with the idea around this musical, that it’s something that should be explored, and theatre is a perfect way to do just that! The cast was brilliant in this production, with a group of six older, experienced actors in contrast and six young performers, who had just graduated (and were all very good!) I really liked this contrast of experience and new. To me it really emphasised another overarching theme of the musical: passing on working knowledge from the old to the young.

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There was a great range of songs to go with the range of work, from slow and sad, to fast and funny. A lot of them were beautifully produced and performed, with a live band too. Lin-Manuel’s first song was particularly easy to recognise, written in a similar style to In The Heights with internal rhyming and a fast pace that made it stand out from the songs written by Schwartz and others.

The stand-out element on the performance for me was the choreography. The young performers were incredible with their energy and very well-timed movements – plus they looked so happy and excited to be performing! Their movements were especially prominent within such a small stage space, with the thrust-stage design. This was helped by the clever staging that gave space for actors to sit on-stage all the time they weren’t directly performing (which I always like), and areas to the side for the actors to complete costume changes.

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This was a really good production – it may not be a big grand show found on the West-End, but it was extremely well performed and beautiful to watch (the set, the costumes, the sound…), even at pre-views stage when I saw it. I would very much recommend this show – and because it’s not West-End it’s a lot cheaper too!


Photos from: http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show/working/


 

Derby Book Festival, 2017

This summer is the third year of the Derby Book Festival, and this year I have been lucky enough to both attend one of the events and work for the festival too, on a placement organised by my university to help organise one of the events.

Placement
I received my placement through the School of English at university, and it was a brilliant opportunity. When I got the news that I had received the position, after going through the application process at uni, I was so excited to start – particularly working at a book festival, which seems such a unique experience! I was partnered with a fellow English student, and we were given the task of creating the Children’s Book Trail along one of the streets in Derby centre. It felt like such a huge amount of responsibility (and still does): not only were we organising an entire event by ourselves, but it was also the first event of the festival!

We worked once a week in Derby, communicating with the shops and buying materials for the event, all the time aware of our very fixed timeframe. I learnt a lot, and developed lots of skills in my time working for DBF. It was also fascinating working alongside the creators and organisation team for the festival, being able to see everything develop for myself and how much work goes into creating something so big.

We successfully launched our finished Book Trail a few weeks ago now, including inviting a year group from the local school to be the first to try the trail. We even dressed up as book characters from our favourite children’s book, and got interviewed by BBC Radio Derby! Overall, a lot of fun.

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Festival
I also received the opportunity to see one of the events: Virago Press: Changing the World One Page at a Time. It involved publisher, and now chair of Virago, Lennie Goodings in conversation with her author Rachel Seiffert. As someone interested in going into a career in the publishing industry, I found it particularly interesting. Overall, it felt like a very well conducted event (and I know all about how much organisation it takes!).

It was a very enjoyable evening, but I also really enjoyed my time working for Derby Book Festival too. I learnt a lot by working here, and has made me all the more interested and enthusiastic about working in a literary sphere.

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Photos by jaktphotography.

Scrappy Little Nobody, Anna Kendrick

I really like Anna Kendrick – both her career as an actress and her personality, as a lovely human being (if you don’t follow her on twitter then you really should, she’s hilarious!). So when I found out she was putting her funny little quips into a book I just couldn’t resist picking up a copy. Well I wasn’t disappointed! I loved this book a lot; it had me chuckling with laughter to myself all the way through (and if that’s not a mark of a good book, then  don’t know what is!). I know it’s rather cliché, but it felt like she was in conversation with her readers, using a colloquial writing style that put me at ease and made her anecdotes stand out as even funnier.

I’ve read quite a few autobiographies, but never one by an actress, so I was really iterated in finding out more about that type of life – particularly Kendrick’s career on both stage and screen. The book follows her life and developing career from a child working on-stage on Broadway, all the way up to her recent cinematic appearances, such as Pitch Perfect, her time working with Zac Efron, and even working on the Twilight franchise.

The writing is very honest, covering a range of issues, which I liked. This included conversations about her family life, both good – like her memories of travelling to New York with her brother to attend auditions – and then bad too – with her struggles of working away from home at such a young age, and the death of family members. Her honesty continues when writing about even more personal problems, with relationships and even accommodation when moving to LA – proving that er life is not always as glamorous as we may expect it to be (although awards season still sounds very glam to me!).

I really liked this book – I can be quite nosey at times, so it’s nice to be invited to learn a bit about someones life in such an open way! Anna’s personality – humble, quirky and hilarious as a ‘scrappy little nobody’ – shines through in her writing, making for a very entertaining read.

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The Jane Austen Book Club, Karen Joy Fowler

So if you can’t tell from previous posts on this blog, I love Jane Austen – and that was what made me initially attracted to reading this book. (I mean, her name is in the title!) However, it turned out to be not quite what I expected.

The premise of the book is that the lives of the characters of the bookclub start to resemble the books that they are reading. But to be honest, I didn’t really get it. I don’t know if it was just me and my forgetful nature about the details of the book (some of which I read quite a while ago), but I felt like it was just a gimmick to entice the readers by using Austen’s name, rather than a well-used device that improved the novel. Continue reading