Europe 2015: Kutna Hora Update

As mentioned in my earlier update about Prague, I’m also doing recaps of the day trips that we did in Czech Republic. Last year’s Europe trip really tired me out because I felt like we kept hopping from out city to another even though we only visited four: Paris, Barcelona, Aix-en-Provence and Milan. So for this year, I wanted to visit only two cities and just plan day trips from there. That way, we only had to lug our suitcases around three times (from the airport, from Prague to Munich and then back to the airport).

One of the cities we visited from Prague was Kutna Hora. We joined a day trip organized by one of the many tour groups in Prague. It was just more convenient for us to join a tour group for half a day because it included the bus rides (about an hour and a half each way) and a tour guide to enlighten us about Kutna Hora’s history. Kutna Hora and its neighboring town, Sedlec, is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in Czech Republic. In its heyday, this mining city was the second richest in the country. Today, it’s a quiet and cozy city that has well-preserved historical structures.

Kutna Hora - for the blog

Near Kutna Hora is the Sedlec Ossuary, which has a creeptastic collection of bones that have been made into decorations. There is a huge chandelier of bones that contains at least one of every bone in the human body and also a coat of arms of the House of Schwarzenberg.

Europe 2015 - Sedlec Ossuary chandelier Europe 2015 - Sedlec Ossuary coat of arms
Europe 2015 - Sedlec Ossuary skulls Europe 2015 - Sedlec Ossuary vase

One of the well-known sites in the city is the gothic cathedral of St. Barbara, who is the patron saint of miners. Apparently it took 500 years for this church to be finished.

Europe 2015 - St. Barbara outside Europe 2015 - St. Barbara inside

After exiting the cathedral, we saw a path lined with big statues, like a smaller version of the Charles Bridge:

Europe 2015 - Kutna Hora with St. Barbara view Europe 2015 - Kutna Hora stone bridge

I enjoyed walking around the cozy cobblestone streets of Kutna Hora.

Europe 2015 - Kutna Hora streets Europe 2015 - Kutna Hora streets 2

We also saw this huge gothic water cistern that was used for water storage, it was filled with water through an irrigation system. And like with Prague, I noticed that even manhole covers have nice designs on them.

Europe 2015 - Kutna Hora water cistern Europe 2015 - Kutna Hora manhole

Have any of you visited Kutna Hora? I don’t know of any books set in this city but I think it would be a good inspiration for some authors, I’m sure Sedlec Ossuary would present various story ideas.

Europe 2015: Prague Update

Dobry den! I have a feeling my blog will look more like a travel blog than a book blog as I post updates about my recent trip. But I like doing these recaps because it also helps me remember the experience and I feel like I can look back and reminisce whenever I’m in the mood to do so. For the first leg of our trip, we traveled to the beautiful city of Prague in Czech Republic.

Whenever I find out that a friend has been lucky enough to go around Europe, I would ask what his or her favorite city was. I’ve gotten Prague as an answer several times. I found out more about this fairytale city when I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor and that just further strengthened my resolve to visit it one day. So when January rolled around and I started planning for my Europe trip this year, I knew Prague had to be one of the destinations that I’ll visit. And the city didn’t disappoint. It was even more charming and beautiful that I expected. Some parts of the city are modern (which is to be expected) while others feel like they’ve been frozen in time. It was a place steeped with so much history and I wanted to just absorb as much as I can in the days that we spent there. I fell in love with Prague the same way I fell in love with Paris last year. I think the pictures will do a much better job of showing everyone how beautiful Prague is. Here’s is a lovely view of the city from the palace gardens:

Prague - for blog

The iconic astronomical clock and Tyn Cathedral in Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site:

Europe 2015 - Prague astronomical clock Europe 2015 - Tyn with horses

Another shot of Old Town when we came back another day. You could see how big a difference the nice weather makes when it comes to historic buildings. Also, we noticed that even the manhole covers are pretty in Prague:

Europe 2015 - Tyn with blue skies Europe 2015 - Prague manhole cover

Another famous landmark in Prague is the historic Charles Bridge, which crosses the river Vltava. It was super crowded with tourists and vendors so I’m quite proud that I was able to get a shot of one section of the bridge WITHOUT any people in it. I also loved how the sunlight bathed the bridge and the surrounding areas in such a warm glow:

Europe 2015 - Charles Bridge Europe 2015 - Charles Bridge sunlight

We walked around the palace gardens and saw quite a nice view of Prague Castle. We went back another day to explore the insides of the castle (where pictures were not allowed) as well as the grounds within.

Europe 2015 - Prague Castle garden Europe 2015 - Prague Castle

We were awestruck by the magnificent St. Vitus Cathedral which is inside the grounds of the Prague Castle:

Europe 2015 - St. Vitus Europe 2015 - St. Vitus clock

Europe 2015 - St. Vitus inside Europe 2015 - St. Vitus Mucha panel

The stained glass panel above was designed by world-renowned Czech artist Alfons Mucha and because Kim is a Mucha fangirl, we also visited the Mucha Museum in the city. No pictures inside so this was all I got:

Europe 2015 - Mucha Museum

Some traditional Czech dishes that we had: pork knuckle, beef goulash with bread dumplings, beef sirloin with cream sauce served with bread dumplings, potato dumplings with bacon. Of course, served with Czech beer.

Europe 2015 - Czech dishes Europe 2015 - Czech dishes 2

And because we are book nerds, we took note of bookstores whenever we saw them:

Europe 2015 - Prague indie bookstore Europe 2015 - Prague Knihy books

From the indie bookstore above, I bought the one and only book that I managed to buy for our entire trip. It’s a children’s book called This Is Prague and I loved its quirky illustrations. Even better? The bookstore also sold postcards based on the book. Such a perfect souvenir for a book and postcard nerd like me.

Europe 2015 - This Is Prague Europe 2015 - This Is Prague with postcard

I feel like I can go on and on about Prague but I’ll leave you all with this write-up. Next up will be recaps of the day trips that we took from Prague to Kutna Hora and Cesky Krumlov. Have you been to Prague? What did you think of the city? If you know of any books set in Prague that you think I’ll enjoy reading, please feel free to recommend them!

Back in Singapore

I’m baaack! I arrived in Singapore last Sunday afternoon and went straight back to work on Monday. Thank you for all your lovely messages in my previous post, I wasn’t able to reply to them because I was already on my way to Europe when that post was published. We had a bit of a rocky start when we missed our connecting flight and our baggage was delayed by a day but overall, it was an amazing trip. The places we visited were beautiful and I was lucky enough to meet one of my online bookish friends, Estara, in person! Will try to do a write up of that day in another post.

Europe 2015 - Kindle

I took advantage of the flights and train travel to read and picked up the following titles:

Love in a Small Town by Zoe York (recommended by Michelle)
Fall Hard by Zoe York
Midnight Captive by Elle Kennedy
Forgotten Suns by Judith Tarr (recommended by Estara, still reading)

Movies watched (on the plane):
Guardians of the Galaxy
Jupiter Ascending

That’s definitely an improvement compared to last year’s trip when I was only able to read one book. When we missed our flight and we were stuck for several hours in the airport in Paris, we had an Amour et Chocolat moment by hanging out at Laduree, where I also kept myself busy by writing postcards to friends. The second picture can reference another Laura Florand series, La Vie en Roses, because we spent some time choosing fragrances in the French artisan perfume store Fragonard.

Europe 2015 - CDG Laduree Europe 2015 - CDG Fragonard

See how we try to relate most things to books? That’s just how book nerds roll. I’m planning to do a write up of each of the cities we visited, just like I did last year but I still need to find time to do all of that. It’s always difficult to get back in the swing of things when your brain is still on vacation mode. I’ve kept my Instagram account fairly updated in case you guys want to see what I was up to. That’s all for now, will check back in again soon.

I’m Off to Experience Life as Karou

Minus the star-crossed love story and the magical world. In April last year, I said I was off to experience life as a Laura Florand heroine by going to Paris and Aix-en-Provence. It was my first time in Europe and I had an awesome time! You can check up my write-ups of the cities we visited in these posts: Paris, Barcelona (ala Isla and the Happily Ever After), Aix-en-Provence and Milan.

This year, I’m going along a more Daughter of Smoke and Bone path by visiting the fairytale city of Prague with fellow Filipino book blogger Kim. I reread Daughter of Smoke and Bone because of this upcoming trip and took the chance to refresh my memory before picking up Days of Blood and Starlight and Dreams of Gods and Monsters. After Prague, we will be visiting Munich. The only book I know that’s set near Munich is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak *cries buckets of tears*. As you can see, I really enjoy reading books set in places that I visit so feel free to recommend some titles if you have any ideas.

We will be flying off this weekend and we’ll be away for two weeks. I won’t be bringing my laptop so no blog posts until I get back. Similar to what I did last year, I’ll do a write-up of the places we visit once I’m back. In the meantime, I’ll be posting pictures on Instagram. 🙂 I’m also bringing my lomo cam but I wouldn’t have those shots processed until a few weeks after I’m back. I will also be bringing my Kindle along with me and I’m hoping I’ll get more reading than done last year. Even though there was a lot of opportunity to read, with the flights and train travel, I only managed to finish one book. I don’t know if it was just because I couldn’t really get into what I was reading or I was distracted and couldn’t focus. Keeping my fingers crossed that I can maximize reading time for this trip.

That’s it for now, see you all when I get back!

Reading by the Beach: Bintan Island

Earlier this week, I posted about reading by the beach at Pico de Loro Cove. Today I want to share pictures from my trip to Bintan Island. Bintan is an Indonesian island located 45-min away (by ferry) from Singapore. Most people based in Singapore have gone to Bintan for mini vacations. I went there last weekend for my birthday (March 29). I’m usually pretty low-key when it comes to celebrating birthdays, like last year I just had dinner and watched a movie with a friend. But I turned 30 this year so I wanted to do something special. Bintan seemed like a good option for an overnight solo trip since it’s pretty accessible. I stayed at the Bintan Lagoon Resort, which I thought was a great place.

I wasn’t really rereading The Scorpio Races but I couldn’t resist taking this shot because that line is just perfect for a beach background:

The Scorpio Races - beach

A friend gave me this Dr. Seuss pop-up book as a gift last year and I took a picture of it when my birthday rolled around:

Dr. Seuss birthday pop-up

“THIS WAY TO PIRATE!” What I actually read during that weekend were the Superlatives series by Jennifer Echols, Biggest Flirts and Perfect Couple. I think these YA romances make great beach reads:

Biggest Flirts by Jennifer Echols

Other pictures on my Instagram account: view while waiting for lunch, view from the lobby, evening waves, trees. Check out more reading by the beach posts here. I’m hoping it doesn’t take me years to visit another beach! Do you like reading by the beach? What are the type of books you read by the beach or pool?

Snapshot From a Book: The Chocolate Touch

Paris is such a photogenic city. I’m so glad I decided to take a lomo camera with me because some of the results are just lovely. I feel like I keep going on and on and Paris and Laura Florand’s novels but I can’t help it – her writing vividly describes the city. The pictures just go perfectly with her words.

Snippets from The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand:

Lomo - Paris Seine

“He didn’t talk, but a man who had Paris in the springtime didn’t need to talk. Better not. Better just to concentrate on the cool breeze off the river, stirring his shaggy black hair, the bridges that stretched away through the centuries, that fresh young green on the trees along the quays. Evening was falling later and later. The sun was only starting to set now, easy blurred shades of pink and gold and gray through low strips of clouds. The sky above them was blue, clear, but blurring toward gray. Half the world looked in love, couples strolling hand in hand along the Seine. At the edge of that sunset, in the west, far away along the river that simmered with pink and gold, the Eiffel Tower rose, gentled by the low haze.”

Lomo - Paris bridge

Lomo - Paris bridge sunset

“Paris was a good place to fight your demons. The streets were so tempting to explore, the gritty realism of their dirt and crowds tempered by that element of fairytale inherent to the city.”

Lomo - Paris crowds

Lomo - Paris flare

All over Paris
April 2014
Camera: Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim
Film: Fuji Velvia, Kodak Elitechrome, Lomo Redscale

Snapshot From a Book: The Chocolate Thief

You know how sometimes you take a picture that perfectly describes a snippet from a book that you’ve read? I love it when that happens. While I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to match the shots that I take with the books that I read, I wanted to share these moments on the blog. When I went to Europe last month, I brought along my Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim film camera with me and was able to go through a couple of rolls. I received the results last Friday. I think some of them turned out great while some left me wondering what the hell was I trying to achieve while taking those pictures. One can never really predict the results when shooting lomo. I guess it’s not surprising that some of these pictures made me think of Laura Florand’s books.

From The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand:

“She liked to just walk all over the city. She really never saw a cobblestone street or an old building she didn’t like.”

Lomo - Montmartre

Lomo - Montmartre

Montmartre, Paris
April 2014
Camera: Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim
Film: Fuji Velvia

I think it’s fitting that both of these pictures have couples in them, perfect for a Laura Florand romance. 🙂

Europe 2014: Milan Update

Ciao! I always thought “ciao” meant goodbye but apparently, it also means “hello”. The last city that we visited during our Europe 2014 trip was Milan. From Paris to Barcelona to Aix-en-Provence and then on to Italy. How I wish we had time (and resources) to explore other cities in Italy – I would love to visit Rome, Venice and Florence. We chose Milan for practical reasons, the tickets were cheaper if we fly from there back to Southeast Asia. We only had a brief stay – two nights and one full day – in Milan. I’m a big fan of Italian food so of course, I loved the dishes that we got to try! We also visited Duomo di Milano, the city’s famous Gothic cathedral and also the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which is right beside it. The latter is one of the oldest shopping malls in the world.

Books I’ve read set in Italy:
Rome: Antonio & Carrie (Love Stories) by Rachel Hawthorne
The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
Angels & Demons by Dan Brown

Books set in Italy that are in my TBR pile:
Wish You Were Italian by Kristin Rae

The scenery was beautiful on the train ride from Aix-en-Provence to Milan. I’m hoping that I could go back to France so I could visit Nice, Cannes, Eze and Grasse. Here are some shots of Cannes that I took from the train:

Cannes Cannes2

Milano Centrale is the grandest train station that I’ve seen so far:
Milano Centrale2 Milano Centrale

Here’s Duomo di Milano:
Duomo di Milano Duomo di Milano2

And here’s the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a lovely and historic mall where I wasn’t able to buy anything because all the shops are so fancy:
Vittorio Emanuele Vittorio Emanuele2

Milan also has such a nice post office. Unfortunately, it was closed when we passed by. It would have been great if we were able to get some philatelic stamps.
Milan Poste Milan Poste2

Last but not the least, some pictures of Italian food. I loved the prosciutto with melon, ravioli, ossobuco and tiramisu. And the coffee!
Italian food Italian food Italian food Italian food

I hope you’ve all enjoyed browsing through the pictures I’ve posted. Going through pictures is making me want to go back. Fingers crossed! In the meantime, I’ll console myself by reading books set in Europe. Please let me know if you have any recommendations that you think I’ll enjoy.

Europe 2014: Aix-en-Provence Update

Bonjour again! We started our trip in Paris then traveled by train to Barcelona and then back again to France for a few days in Aix-en-Provence, a city in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. I loved Aix-en-Provence and it’s probably my favorite city out of the four that we visited mainly because I felt like I could live there. I like the small city charm of the place and how everything is within walking distance, although some places take a bit of a walk. It’s also only 30 minutes away from a big city, Marseille (which sadly, we didn’t get to explore). I liked that we were able to stumble upon quaint shops just by walking all over Aix. Plus, there were some pretty good restaurants which served good food at more affordable prices compared to Paris. It was expected that Musee Granet would have paintings of Cezanne since he lived in Aix but we were surprised that they also had paintings by Ingres, Van Gogh, Monet and Picasso.

I don’t think there are that many books specifically set in Aix-en-Provence so I’m broadening the scope to the whole region of Provence. Would love to read more books set in the south of France.

Books I’ve read set in Provence:
La Vie en Roses series by Laura Florand – Turning Up the Heat, The Chocolate Rose, A Rose in Winter

Books set in Provence that are in my TBR pile:
Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart

Aix has been referred to as the city of a thousand fountains and yes, we came across a lot of them:
Aix-en-Provence - La Rotonde Aix-en-Provence - mossy fountain Aix-en-Provence - four dolphins fountain Aix-en-Provence - modern fountain Aix-en-Provence - fountain at night Aix-en-Provence - more fountains

Cours Mirabeau is the main road of Aix, framed by plane-trees on both sides. There are cafes, pastry shops, souvenir stores and old houses along this road.

Aix-en-Provence - Cours Mirabeau Aix-en-Provence - Cours Mirabeau2

I found a picture posted on Tumblr of the facade of Bibliothèque Méjanes so we decided to look it up while we were there because we were curious about the giant books in front of the library.

Aix-en-Provence - Bibliothèque Méjanes Aix-en-Provence - Bibliothèque Méjanes2

Some of the shops we loved:
Aix-en-Provence - Expressions Aix-en-Provence - Place aux Huiles Aix-en-Provence - real chocolate Aix-en-Provence - more chocolates

We discovered Le Bistro Latin on our first night, just by wandering and checking out menus of the restaurants. We loved the food so much that we decided to return on our last night, and get bigger courses.

Aix-en-Provence - Le Bistro Latin Aix-en-Provence - Le Bistro Latin2 Aix-en-Provence - first dinner Aix-en-Provence - last dinner

Lavender and roses:
Aix-en-Provence - lavender Aix-en-Provence - roses

We were planning to travel to Grasse, the perfume capital of France (and the world?) but it’s too far away from Aix for a day trip. Good thing artisan soaps and perfumes made from Grasse are available in Aix.

Aix - perfumes from Grasse

I feel like Aix is a hidden gem of a city because it’s not as well-known as other cities in the south of France. I’m so glad we included Aix in our itinerary. Have you been to Aix? Know of any novels set in Aix or the Provence region that you think I might enjoy?

Europe 2014: Barcelona Update

Hola! After Paris, the next leg of our trip was Barcelona. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t really excited to visit Barcelona because I hadn’t heard a lot about the city. As a result, I was pleasantly surprised at how vibrant the city was. It’s a place where we found delicious food (all those Spanish dishes like tapas, jamon and paella), architectural masterpieces, lovely artwork and warm, friendly people.

A book I’ve read set in Barcelona:
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

A book set in Spain that is in my wishlist:
Small Damages by Beth Kephart

I would gladly go back to Barcelona just for the food:
Barcelona - tapasBarcelona - pintxos Barcelona - paella Barcelona - jamon

There were so many creative and original art pieces all over the city and I was tempted to get some as souvenirs but decided not to since I don’t really have a place of my own to display them in.

Barcelona - graffiti Barcelona - portrait Barcelona - original ar

Plaça de Catalunya is a lovely park for tourists and locals:

Barcelona - Plaça de Catalunya Barcelona - Plaça de Catalunya (2)

A post about Barcelona would not be complete without talking about the architect Gaudi. I wasn’t familiar with Gaudi’s work prior to our trip in Barcelona but I’m impressed by his style. I like how he was inspired by nature and how there’s an almost whimsical aspect to his designs, making them seem like objects out of fantasy novels. Some shots from Casa Museu Gaudi:

Barcelona - Casa Museu Gaudi Barcelona - Casa Museu Gaudi2

Casa Batllo, probably my favorite Gaudi-designed house:
Barcelona - Casa Batllo Barcelona - Casa Batllo (2)

And of course, the awe-inspiring Sagrada Familia, which is still under construction after more than a hundred years:
Barcelona - Sagrada Familia1 Barcelona - Sagrada Familia2 Barcelona - Sagrada Familia Barcelona - Sagrada Familia

Have you been to Barcelona? What were your favorite aspects of the city? Have you read books set in Barcelona or Spain that you think I will enjoy reading?