Readable Piffle

Now here’s a book rating system I really like.

Lifetime reader, Stefanie Dreyfuss, used her own personal system of book rating abbreviations, and it’s totally inspired and brutally honest.

 

Here’s her delightful rating system:

RB: Readable Banality

RP: Readable Piffle

NFM: Not For Me

DNF: Did Not Finish

DNR: Did Not Read

RP+1: One Step Up From “RP”

RPM: Readable Piffle Mystery

G: Good, Different, Holds My Attention

VB: Very Bad

NMS: Not My Style

PB: Pretty Boring

NBAA: Not Bad At All

RR: Readable

WOT: Waste Of Time

Author Lauren Tarshis, Dreyfuss’ daughter-in-law, shared her discovery of Dreyfuss’ codes as she sorted through her belongings after Dreyfuss’s death last week at the age of 96. 

I think I would have really liked this lovely lady, and without question, I’ll be pilfering her rating system

Excerpted from BuzzFeed.  Full article HERE.

 

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Remember the old, creepy nursery rhyme?

In the dark, dark wood, There was a dark, dark house.

And in the dark, dark house, there was a dark, dark room.

And in the dark, dark room, There was a dark, dark cupboard.

And in the dark, dark cupboard, There was a dark dark shelf.

And on the dark, dark shelf, There was a dark, dark box.

And in the dark, dark box,  there was a big white ghost!

With this rhyme as it’s preface, I knew this book was going to be scary and — well — dark.  I saved In a Dark, Dark Wood for the plane home from Europe.   Turns out it was the perfect antidote for the mind-numbing flight.  Here’s the blurb from the book:

When reclusive writer Leonora (Nora) is invited to a hen party (British for bachelorette party)  in an eerie glass house deep in the English countryside, she reluctantly agrees to make the trip. But as the first night falls, revelations unfold among friends old and new and a haunting realization creeps in—they are not alone in the woods.

Forty-eight hours later, Nora wakes up in a hospital bed injured but alive, with the knowledge that someone is dead. Wondering not “what happened?” but “what have I done?” she tries to piece together the events of the past weekend. Working to uncover secrets, reveal motives, and find answers, Nora must revisit parts of herself that she would much rather leave buried where they belong: in the past.

Creepy and yes, dark  — this is pure thriller enjoyment — complete with an Agatha Christie-ish limited list of suspects, much Gothic foreshadowing, and a story line that twists and turns.   Like all good mysteries, the reader is challenged to piece together all the elements —  who, what, where, when, how and why. I had figured out some of it, but was surprised by the final tying up of loose ends.

Ms. Ware has crafted a perfectly creepy setting — a cold, modern glass house that looks out a large forest– a “wood” which looms dark, large and menacing throughout.

The characters were engaging and the story moved at a steady, never once bored, pace.  I must admit that I didn’t find the book to be the scary read promised —  to me it was just creepy — which is plenty for me.  (I’m still recovering from reading my one and only Stephen King novel back in my teens.)  In a Dark, Dark Wood was an easy read that kept me engaged for hours.

I wasn’t a fan of Ms. Ware’s other book The Woman in Cabin 10, but this, her first novel published in 2015 — is much better.

Recommended for your summer reading list– especially if you have a long plane journey ahead of you.

And, guess what folks, Reese Witherspoon is developing In a Dark, Dark Wood it into a film.

A digital review copy was kindly provided by Gallery/Scout Press via Netgalley.

Barmy Travel Tips

“He who returns from a journey is not the same as he who left.”

Chinese Proverb

 

We’re home, tired, a little bleary-eyed but very happy.

What a trip – what an adventure.  We loved every minute.

But as we unpack and try to stay awake past 8 PM, I thought I’d share some Barmy Travel Tips for what they’re worth:

 

Every shower tells a story:  Europe has weird showers and no two are alike.  Study the shower set-up before getting into said shower.  Turn on the water from outside the shower and adjust accordingly.  Otherwise you will get water everywhere except your body.  Husband graciously took on this role, always being first up and with the uncanny ability to wrangle showers in any culture.  I get shower instructions with my wake up call.

Ice dreams:  It will only make you miserable if you long for ice in your drinks.  Water, soda, beer, wine, ice tea and lemonade all come room temperature.  There is no ice, ever, anywhere. Deal with it.

Invest in good footwear:  Buy the best shoes you can, wear them for a few weeks before your trip to make sure they are comfortable.  Same for socks – you’re on your feet all day, every day and if your feet hurt, you’ll be miserable.  I took only one pair of shoes THESE which I wore every day  and a pair of lightweight sandals for around apartments, etc.  THESE.  My socks from Uniqlo were incredible, I love my socks.

Look up:  Despite the cobblestones ready to trip you, remember to look up.  Gaze at the tops of buildings to see statutes, carvings, and especially those all important street signs.

To market, to market:  Go to both grocery stores and outdoor farmers markets.  Explore the offerings, see how other countries sell bread, coffee, fresh meats and cleaning products.  Enjoy the beautifully arranged produce (but don’t touch, just look – they choose the produce for you).

I love wandering the aisles of foreign grocery stores not only to marvel at the numerous yogurt offerings, but also to watch how people shop and what they buy.  (Why is that lady buying handkerchiefs from a grocery store?)

Get lost:  We enjoy Rick Steeves walking tours and learn much from his descriptions. But we also like to get lost on purpose. Venture down a side street, find a small neighborhood.  Discover a little hidden park or a shop that sells nothing but brushes. A small church where a choir is practicing, a courtyard where children are playing soccer while parents watch indulgently. This is another way to experience a city – to see how and where its people live.

Go rogue for meals: Seek out a small cafe, one with a chalk board advertising a worker’s lunch deal.  A cafe you’ll have all to yourselves…with an owner pleased you stopped in. 

Often you’ll get samples of things ‘on the house’ and be offered a special not on the menu — home made just that morning. Ask for the restaurant’s recommendation for wine, beer, dessert…9 times of out 10, they will be delighted to bring out the really good stuff, usually saved for locals. Food is one of the best ways to experience a culture, be brave and embrace the unknown. Universally, food is how people welcome you, enjoy it, no matter how different from your own.

Trains rule:  It bears repeating — take the trains in Europe.  You can get anywhere, no matter how small the village or town.  It’s a chance to rest your weary feet, see beautiful countryside, peek into back gardens.  Most valuable, trains get you to your destination without the hassle and confusion of driving a car in a foreign country.  To me, there is nothing more exciting than an European train station – (I admit I actually hopped up and down in excitement at one point).

Bring sunscreen:  There is no need to take big quantities of toiletries from home.   Trust me, they have toothpaste and shampoo in Central Europe.  You can buy anything you need — the exception being sunscreen.  For some reason, it is very expensive in Europe.  So do invest in a few tubes to take with you.

Stop and rest:  Just when you think you’re done, when you’re too weary to go any further and you long to call it quits – stop for a moment.  Sit on a park bench, duck into a cafe for a lukewarm drink, rest that back and look around you.  Inevitably something will delight — a family playing together, an old man chuckling over his newspaper, or a little dog dressed like its owner  — you’ll find you soon regain your travel mojo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack light – no even lighter:  We took backpacks, no wheelies…and we were incredibly pleased.  These backpacks allowed us to go easily up and down train stations, across cities, and climb long stairwells to the loft apartments we rented.  Yes, you’ll be wearing the same clothes over and over again,  you’ll actually get sick of your clothes.  But, if you can master the showers, you will be clean every day and you’ll be surprised at how often you can re-wear things before needing to wash them. (Food spills notwithstanding.)

It’s never too late:  Back in our 20’s, we dreamed of backpacking across Europe, but college and careers got in the way.  These two aging hippies with backpacks did it anyway – 40 years later. You can too – we’re proof it’s never too late.

 

Travel is a privilege:  You are guests in another country, you need to adapt to their culture, customs and habits (see ice above).  Don’t expect them to adapt to you.  Take the time to learn the basics of the language — being able to say hello, thank you, and please in their language is a gracious step which will endear you to those you encounter.  Travel is fun but it is also a learning experience, treat it as such.  Studying the country’s history will let you see into their backgrounds.  Who are their artists?  Their rebels?  Their authors?  Why are their heros cherished?  Understanding what’s important to a people will give you a insight into their culture.

 

I will end this final installment with this –  from one of the great travel adventurers.

 

 

 

 

 

Hijacked in Croatia

We were indeed hijacked upon our arrival in Croatia, but most happily by our friends who live in Zagreb.

Lloyd and Lana picked us up at the bus station and promptly whisked to their new home which they planned and designed themselves.  They found an investor who sold the upper units and our friends live in the lower unit.

After sleeping like logs, we awoke to plans to visit Lana’s father’s (Vladamier) small farm about 30 minutes outside of Zagreb.  This is where he happily lives all but the winter…his own little piece of man-heaven.

Vlad is a very fit 84, he was, for many years a principal dancer with the Croatian national ballet.  His tends his farm, cuts his own wood, harvests his own food, and best of all, makes his own delightful wine.

Lloyd and Husband donned farm hats and white overalls (better to see the ticks and bugs) and cut the grass for Vlad.

Then we had a lovely meal with Vlad’s wonderful wine.  We taught little Marc (aged 4 1/2) all sorts of American expressions.  “Hey Dude”, “What’s Up?”, “See you later, alligator” —  well, you get the gist…He’ll be a star at kindergarten next week.

Drove home filled to the brim with good food, fun friends, and too much sun.

The next day we headed for the Dalmatian coast of Croatia.  Our destination — a 300 year old stone villa, Lana’s mom (Jadranka) operates as a guest rental.  A three hour drive to Biograd where we caught the ferry to Pasman.

It was so hot that, upon arrival, we ditched our clothes and shoes, donned bathing suits and headed to the beach just a short walk away.

Then as the sun set, tired and cooled off from swimming and wading in the cold water, we headed back through the tiny stone village of Tkon.

Villa Antiqua is unlike any other place, a magical 300 year old stone house converted into a large rental for families with stone passages and bedrooms hidden up high.  Here’s their website with photos.

Villa Antiqua on the Island of Pasman

Highly recommended if you’re looking for a relaxing, beautiful and non-touristy place on the Croatian coast.

Here are my photos ~~

They gave us this apartment with its own lovely deck and view…

Husband did his own relaxing by weeding in their garden. Marc and I watched the butterflies on the lavender.

Jadranka cooked for us –fish, fresh off the boat that morning and salad from the garden.

Lana is an interior designer and her lovely touches are everywhere.

Have I convinced you to go here yet?  Trust me – it’s magical.

At the end of our visit we were surprised with matching tee shirts commemorating our visit ~~ we gamely posed for photos.

What a lovely end to our trip.

Next stop an overnight in London — then home after 25 days away ~~ sigh.

Budapest – the river and Buda

This morning we gratefully board a little boat for a tour on the Danube to see the city from both sides.  Both Pest and Buda.  The boat tour company we chose was great.  Not very crowded, each passenger gets a  headset with commentary in many languages, and cute attendants who brought free lemonade and water on request.  It was much much cooler on the water, and we enjoyed every minute of this one 1/2 hour tour.

You may recognize the Parliament, you’ve seen the same view (only better photographed) from the Viking Cruise adverts on PBS.  Our little cruise was much less pricey…but the views from the river just as impressive.

Also note the business complexes and industrial style apartment buildings.

After our cruise, we ventured over to the grand market for paprika (the only souvenir I can fit in our (whoops my) back pack and to find some lunch.  An amazing place, we had fun.

Despite the heat (90 degrees), and fortified by a lunch of salad and mint-lemonade, we  decided to cross the river to walk on the Buda side.  It was really hot, but pleasant under the trees.  Our plan was to take yet another funicular (sorry guys but we just love ’em) up to the castle.  Here’s our walk along the river and the views from the castle, complete with sentry guards standing at attention in full uniform in the heat.

We ended our day down in a simple, cool cellar café near our apartment.  We’d passed it several tines as we headed out on our walks. They had a chalk board promoting their Chicken Paprakash for 6 Euros – sounded good to us.

There were two regulars eating and chatting with the owner and then just us,  The owner recommended the goulash which we tried, very good and we shared an order of the Chicken Paprakash – a perfect Budapest ending.

Tomorrow, we take a bus from Budapest to Zagreb to visit our friends in Croatia.  All we have been told is that we are being high jacked to their island home – a 300 year old stone villa —  and it sounds like heaven.

I’m not sure about internet connection so Travel Barmy may go dark for awhile.  Will catch you up as soon as I can.

Just looked at our tickets and our bus trip is four hours over Hungarian mountain passes. No train service. Wish us luck…

 

 

 

Budapest ~ a city of contrasts

Our final train journey. I love the thrill of standing in a train station, watching the clicking departures board as various exotic locales flip over. Finding our destination and the train platform.  And our train is going somewhere just as exotic – next stop — Budapest.   The train trip was three hours through countryside, small villages and farmland.

This little formality struck me.  Throughout our train travels as our train slows to pass through a small village train station (where we don’t stop) the village train agent stands outside his/her tiny little station, at attention and in full uniform — as the train passes by.  There is something wonderful about this ritual.  I imagine they know exactly when the next train will pass through and picture them, brushing their lunch crumbs off their laps, straightening their ties, and donning their hats to be out front. Sorry, I never had my camera ready at the right time to show you.

Our first impression of Budapest, arriving late afternoon on a very hot day, was dirty and unkempt.  Our Airbnb apartment was easy to find, but in a sketchy alley, filled with graffiti, trash, and building construction.  Our building was ancient, but someone was taking care of it, as it was one of the only decent buildings on the street.

After a cryptic phone call to our apartment host, they said wait a minute and suddenly a little lady appeared in the courtyard — she obviously lived in the same apartment complex.  Anna  ushered up two long stairways to our apartment.  Newly renovated, it’s a marvel.  Big and airy with the best shower we’ve experienced this entire trip.  A bit noisy at night, but we’re so tired it won’t affect us.

And look at this  courtyard, like something out of a film…

Despite the heat, we decided to get out and walk.  Budapest is divided by the river into two parts Buda and Pest – we’re on Pest side, between the train station and the Opera House — lots of construction.  We wandered around and found the grocery store and bought our breakfast staples — yogurt (which we swear is keeping us healthy), rolls and what I thought was butter (turned out to be a cake of yeast – Fail).  Also got some beer and wine to go with the bread and cheese we brought from Bratislava,   Headed back, had our little meal and went to bed early.

Woke up to heat even in the morning.  We headed out to the magnificent opera house and stared at the ceilings.

Given the heat we chose to walk the shady Andrassy Avenue towards the Hero’s Square and the city park.  We passed embassy after embassy and some grand homes on our way.

Hero’s square was impressive.  You’ll see my hero among the others.

Had lunch in the park, a yummy salad and ice tea — almost thought I was back home. Then wandered over to one of the natural thermal baths which Budapest is so famous for.  Not the day for soaking in a hot thermal bath in our opinion — but obviously not others.

Kept walking and walking.

Here’s where I’ll try and show you the contrast of Budapest —  bullet ridden buildings next to lovely old mansions.  Small lanes with trendy restaurants, that dump you onto a street with massage parlors and tacky underwear shops. Whimsical statues in the shadow of military ones.

A beautiful city of many contrasts.

Barmy financial tip:  Invest in Central European construction cranes -they’re everywhere.

Tomorrow we booked a boat trip to see both sides Buda and Pest from the river.  Should be cooler on the river, we hope.

Jó Ejszakát  Good night.

Bratislava ~~ a work in progress

Backpacks shouldered once again, we take our final Viennese tram ride to the city canal dock where we boarded a boat to take us along the Danube to our next stop — Bratislava, Slovakia.

Located smack dab between Vienna and Budapest, Bratislava was a stop we just had to make.  Ten years ago, it was a grim soviet-forgotten town, where no one (let alone tourists) dare venture.  The soviets didn’t care about Bratislava or its history and razed its real estate to build grim looking office and apartment complexes.

Now, it’s an interesting mix of restored colorful buildings and charming town squares but clearly still in the shadow of grim, industrial architecture.

Our little Airbnb apartment was in this unattractive building that had an ancient rickety elevator that somehow, with both our breathes held, made it to the 5th floor.  The view out our apartment window was a very sad looking St. Martin’s Cathedral, with a soviet built highway roaring right by the front of its doors,

Bratislava was the capital of Hungary during its Ottoman rule and St Martin’s was the scene of more than 19 coronations of Hungarian kings and queens, including Franz Josef.

After wandering St. Michael’s, we felt sorry for the poor old place, but noticed there was a monastery and a seminary adjoined both of which seem active, if worn.  We hope restorations are in the future for this historic landmark.

Quite hungry, we decided on a little place (once again down a side lane) where we ordered a plate of regional deli meats with bread and mustards.  As we sat down, the afternoon rain came — (we seem to be charmed, every time it rains, we’re safely under a café canopy eating — haven’t gotten rained soaked — yet).

Here’s the obligatory photo of Husband having coffee and dessert

The sun came out and it got really hot and muggy, but we explored a bit more, until we were in desperate need to escape the tour groups, a face wash, and kicking off our shoes (those cobblestones are tough on the feet no matter how good your footwear).

Early evening we set out again, and had the place to ourselves.  Here’s the main square and some of the quirky statues that date from the 1990’s when the town was first being restored.  A French lieutenant leaning over a bench and ‘Cumil’ (the peeper) grinning at passers by from a manhole.  We of course, found some alleys to explore as well.

After WWII, it took many years to sort out who owned what in this war-destroyed part of the world.  Slovaks were deported, many fled, and never found again.  The buildings and real estate in Bratislava sat empty for years while the new government tried to figure out who owned which buildings, if they were still alive, and importantly, if they wanted to come back and restore their old homes and businesses. It wasn’t until the mid-late 90’s that restoration here really began.

But Bratislava is still very much a work in progress, as evidenced by the wide range of restoration. The last shot is an old Sovet office builing that has been turned into a strip club — irony at its best.

The next morning before we caught our next train, we hiked over the bridge to go to the top of what they call the UFO – a revolving bar and restaurant that gives amazing views of both sides of Bratislava — old town with the red rooftops and then the other direction, 1970’s apartment complexes and office towers.

Then as we came back into old town to pack up and catch the next train I saw this.  Someone has a sense of humor ~~

 

A charming town, with a fascinating history and I think its best years are still to come.