Welcome to my blog where I share book reviews
and life along the winding road

Friday, August 10, 2018

Lisette's List by Susan Vreeland

Lisette's List by Susan Vreeland  takes us on a journey from pre-war Paris to the beautiful countryside of Roussillon near Avignon, France after the German invasion.
Lisette and her husband move to the countryside to take care of his dying grandfather, Pascal and each time there is an event or upheaval in her life, she begins a list. Pascal had known many great painters through his work in the ochre quarries. Ochre was used for paint and also as a stabilizer for rubber.
When the German army invaded France, Andre hid Pascal's paintings given to him by Pissaro, Cezanne and many others. Lisette struggles to survive the war years with others from the small village and begins a quest to find the paintings after the end of WWII.

The book is packed with interesting historical facts and information about the painters.

Camille Pissaro moved to England during the Franco-Prussian war (between Napoleon III and Germany) and I have found many of his paintings interesting as he lived in my home town (Sydenham/Crystal Palace/Norwood) for a few years and painted artwork in that area. Near Sydenham Hill can be found in our local Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth.

The beautiful hillside town of Gordes was bombed when the French Resistance killed a German soldier, forcing people into their homes before dropping bombs on their houses.

Painter Marc Chagall writes a letter stating even though they escaped the Jewish persecution, his wife died due to lack of medication during their escape which was kept for soldiers. She died in New York of a throat infection.

Marshal Henri Petain announced his intention to sign an armistice (June 1940) with the Nazis and became a collaborator. Some believed it was to protect Paris and the historic buildings, but the Nazis soon looted the museums of paintings and stole statues. Their intention was to build a "super museum" for Hitler which would contain all the stolen works of art.

Widow's sewing patterns were used to make skirts from deconstructed men's trousers.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Quebec City Travel Tips

Travel and Hotel:
when booking a hotel, look at the reviews. Although some may look like a good deal there are many steep streets in Quebec City. A hotel on a steep incline may not work for some people. Of course the ideal hotel would be the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac and although it is an upscale hotel we found that by booking hotel and airfare together through Hotels.com it was affordable (we had a view of the courtyard but the room was wonderfully luxurious). Another tip is to ask for a room near the elevators for your stay at the Chateau as they are in the main lobby and it's quite a walk to most of the rooms once you get to the level your room is on.

Air Travel:
Most flights require a connection in Montreal. Be prepared for a long walk (our arrival gate was 2 and connecting flight at 85!) U.S. travelers go through another security check and customs before boarding the connecting flight for travel to the U.S. when returning home. Many Air Canada flights are also overbooked. It's recommended that you pay extra to reserve a seat, just choosing a seat when booking won't reserve it. Also, there is only food for purchase on most flights which don't seem very appetizing. You can purchase food to eat on the plane from airport vendors.

Most places take American Dollars but not American coins (you will receive change in Canadian dollars)
However, some do not convert it so you may give a $10 U.S. bill for a C$7.50 charge and only receive C$3.50 change which at the moment is $2.70 in U.S. dollars. Also, they are not consistent in charging credit cards. Some charge in U.S. dollars, some in Canadian dollars. Again, they may charge $10 in U.S. dollars for merchandise marked at $10 Canadian dollars. One souvenir shop said they were charging my card in Euros!

Sights in Quebec City:
Pick up a Voila Quebec guide and coupon book along with a map at the Furniculaire which operates on the boardwalk by the Chateau Frontenac.
There are so many lovely sights in Quebec City. A good way to start is by taking the Hop on Hop Off Bus (you may get tickets at the information center across the park from the Chateau Frontenac. Or the hotel concierge may help you.) You can use your ticket/wrist band all day so choose to hop off and visit sights farthest away from your hotel first. Take a map with you and note places you want to revisit. Most places are within walking distance.

Here are some of the places we visited:
Churches in Quebec City
Tour of Chateau Frontenac (discount if you are staying at the hotel) It was difficult to find the meeting place. Look for the pavilion on the Terrasse Dufferin boardwalk next to the hotel and facing the river. There is a sandwich shop below and I believe the only raised pavilion.
Notre Dame de Quebec Basilica Cathedral
Chapelle des Ursulines
The Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
Musee de la Civilisation (Entrance fee $17)
Hotel du Parlement (House of Parliament - free tour)
Furniculaire du Vieux-Quebec (cost $3.50)
Rue du Petit-Champlain (boutiques and restaurants)
Place Royale
Notre Dame des Victories (mass is held in French)
Fresque des Quebecois (trompe l'oeil)
New France Festival (August 1 to August 5 2018)
Place d'Armes - there are always street performers in the two park areas in front of Chateau Frontenac. Many evenings we sat on a bench and listened to music after purchasing a sandwich at either La Maison Smith or Epicerie Richard. Enquire about the nights that fireworks are displayed. Usually around 10:00 beginning in August.

Places to eat:

I found most places are quite expensive even for a sandwich or soup.
Aux Anciens Canadiens Good value (menu starts at C$19.95 for 3 courses- some items are an additional price shown on the menu)
Cafe de Paris (we had a delicious soup and sandwich here) Also a great place to people watch - choose a table by a window.
Le Petit Chateau Quebec  - not recommended. We waited ages to be served. Waiters were standing around indifferent to customers. The meal wasn't bad but dessert (ice cream) was melted. They weren't very interested in taking care of their customers.
Bistro 1640 Good food. (kitchen closes for a while between serving breakfast and lunch!)
Le Chicshack (Wonderful burgers and salads)
Epicerie Richard - 42 Rue des Jardins (great little market for practically anything. Several evenings we purchased sandwiches, snacks and drinks and sat in Place D'Armes.
La Maison Smith 9 Rue des Jardins (Coffee shop with sandwiches and desserts)

Look for events and plan around those before you leave. We were there for Les Fetes de la Novelle France.

Note: for souvenirs in Quebec I found the cheapest place for gifts was Boutique Stadacone - 25 Rue Buade. Stamps for postcards can be purchased at some hotels and the post office is just a short walk from Chateau Frontenac. The clock tower of the post office is visible from Place D'Armes or Chateau Frontenac.

Sales taxes are around 15%.
5% TPS (goods and service tax) and 10% TVQ (Quebec sales tax)

Friday, August 3, 2018

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman

Fredrik Backman is a great storyteller and with My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry there is a story within a story. Told from the point of view of Elsa who is almost eight, it moves between her real life in the apartments where she lives, and a fantasy made up by her grandmother in "The Land of Almost Awake." But the land isn't as make believe as she at first believes. After her grandmother's death, Elsa is given the task of delivering letters for her grandmother telling people she is sorry and as she approaches each person Elsa begins to realize the monsters and sea angels not only live in the "Land of Almost Awake" but in the present also.
Along with Elsa's quest she flashes back to times with her beloved granny who "borrows petrol from Elsa's dad's Audi by sucking it out of a plastic tube," and many other outrageous and hilarious escapades she takes her granddaughter on.
Note: Britt Marie is also a resident in the same apartments and leads up to another novel Britt Marie was Here

Friday, July 27, 2018

Maid to Match by Deanne Gist

Maid to Match by Deanne Gist is set in late 1800s North Carolina.
 It's a love story with an historical backdrop of the opulent Biltmore Estate. Tillie Reese's goal in life (prompted by her mother) is to become a lady's maid - quite a coveted position at that time. But her desire is not only to enjoy the travel and access to the finer things in life, but to help her family with an increased income and also those less fortunate than herself. But after Mack joins the staff her goals are steered in another direction.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Travel Tips for Touring London

London can be expensive with entrance to most places (even St. Paul's Cathedral) is $20+ dollars so I decided to mostly walk and enjoy the architecture and buildings rather than enter costly tourist traps.
You'll need a good pair of walking shoes and before you leave home, order an Oyster card which you can use on both buses, mainline trains and underground in and around London. You can add funds to the card at most stations. Take a water bottle with you. You can also purchase an inexpensive pocket map at most souvenir shops.

Tour of East Central London 
 Begin at London Bridge Railway Station (Both underground and mainline trains arrive and depart from here) 

Note: If you prefer to go directly to sites rather than walking, there are plenty of underground stations and bus stops along the way.
Cross the River Thames via London Bridge (there are good views of Tower Bridge and the HMS Belfast from here). Keep walking along King William Street and you will come across The Monument on your right (Monument Street/Fish Street Hill). The Monument commemorates The Great Fire of London in 1666. If you feel energetic you can walk up the 311 steps to the top which affords great views of London. The cost is around $6 for adults (cash only).

Turn left on to Cannon Street which will become St. Paul's churchyard. To the right of the church take New Change Street which becomes St. Martin's Le Grand and leads to The Museum of London (free entrance).
Take note as you are walking that there is a Tesco mini market which is a great place to buy lunch (three pounds for a sandwich, chips/crisps and a drink). Across the street is St. Paul's churchyard - a great place for a picnic.

Note: Many of the supermarket chains: Tesco, Sainsbury's have mini market but they are very busy during lunch time where a lot of office workers stop to get a low price lunch.

After viewing the museum return to St. Paul's Cathedral and directly opposite is Peter's Hill which leads to the Millennium Bridge (pedestrian bridge). Cross the River Thames to the Tate Modern Museum (there are free displays if you don't want to pay for any of the exhibitions). Be sure to look for the toilet constructed of mirrors in which occupants can see out but others can't see in!

Continue along the river, returning to London Bridge Railway Station, where you will pass a replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, a replica of the Golden Hind - Sir Francis Drake's ship and Southwark Cathedral. Southwark Cathedral is worth stopping and viewing and if you haven't yet eaten, is a great place to sit in the gardens after purchasing food at a nearby eclectic selection of stalls. A little farther on is the Borough Market where you can buy fresh produce.

Note: The Shard is a good place of reference when trying to find your way to London Bridge. It's quite expensive to go to the top but affords spectacular views. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

In the Company of Others by Jan Karon

In the Company of Others is part of the Mitford series but is set in Ireland. It wasn't my favorite book of the series. Although, like all Jan Karon's books, it is well written, I didn't find the characters as quirky and likable as those in Mitford. Nevertheless, it has a story with intrigue, secrets and a lovely look into Irish life.

From the cover:
The very word has been foreign to Episcopal priest Tim Kavanagh, who has traveled across the Pond but twice. 
Now retired, he's making good on an old promise to show his wife the land of his Irish ancestors and they arrive at Lough Arrow guest lodge.
As three generations struggle to find deliverance from the crucifying power of secrets, Tim and Cynthia discover a journal written more than a century ago. Who knew the faded ink could be the key to unlocking a crime and revealing the truth?

Friday, July 6, 2018

Sisters First by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush

Sisters First by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush is both a poignant and humorous look at their family life especially during the years when their father and grandfather resided in the White House.
They were born when their grandfather George H. Bush was Vice President of the United States and were followed by both the media and with secret service agent protection for most of their life.
Both their father and grandfather were presidents of the United States but their family tried to give them some sense of normalcy, mostly during their family summers at Kennebunkport.
Jenna shares her dating experience with her now husband, Henry who parked (on their first date) in an area where President Bush was coming in to land on a helicopter, ran out of gas and slid downhill into a secret service vehicle and an embarrassing bike ride with President Bush where he lagged behind and was consequently flipped over his handlebars when the door of a secret service SUV was opened and hit Henry's bike.
Barbara struggled with having the same name as a former first lady and struggled with even trying to order a pizza (they thought it was a prank when she said her name was Barbara Bush). She went on to be co-founder of Global Health Corp.

Despite their different personalities (Jenna says she is the performer and Barbara is her audience) they hold a strong bond as does the Bush family.