Thursday, 18 October 2018

Five recent reads

My first ‘recent reads’ post went down really well, and since then I’ve read even more books – I placed an order on The Works, taking full advantage of their 6 for £10 offer, as well as raiding my own bookcase and my dad’s. Commuting an hour each way to work is something that really gets me down because it’s such a waste of precious time, but I’ve been spending my commute with my nose stuck in a book, in another world or in someone else’s mind, and that makes it a little bit better. So here’s some recent reads, part two!

I mentioned at the end of my first recent reads post that I had just started The Passenger by Lisa Lutz and I really enjoyed it; I took it from my dad’s bookcase and we have quite a similar taste in books so I expected to love it, and I wasn’t disappointed. It follows the story of a woman on the run who keeps changing her identity, which you’d think might get confusing but it’s really well written and easy to follow as well as being full of drama and tension, secrets and lies and accusations. It’s definitely one for you if you love a good thriller.

Having read Camilla Way’s The Lies We Told and mentioning it in my previous recent reads post, my mum’s friend passed on another of her books for me: Watching Edie, which I didn’t love as much but still really enjoyed and finished in a day. It’s a story split over two different time points, separated into ‘Before’ and ‘After’ chapters. Edie and Heather were best friends in sixth form, but something terrible happened (although we don’t find out what until the very end) and they are pitted against each other as the good guy and the bad guy. There’s a sub-plot with Edie’s neighbour and her abusive ex-husband, and Edie has a baby now, and the book keeps you guessing right the way through. Like I said, I didn’t love it quite as much as The Lies We Told but it’s still an incredible book!

Beautiful Liars by Isabel Ashdown is one I was really looking forward to – when I spotted it on The Works I added it to my basket straight away, having read and loved Little Sister a few months ago. I found it to be a bit of a slow starter but it turned out to be amazing. The plot is quite convoluted but the characters are just SO well written to the point of actually being a bit frightening, and I couldn’t wait to find out the truth behind the disappearance of 17 year-old Juliet, which is right at the heart of the storyline. Sooooo good.

I’d never read any of Lucy Clarke’s books before, but I really enjoyed Last Seen which follows the story of two women, best friends since childhood, their lives anchored together by a tragedy that happened 7 years ago on the sandbank where they spend their summers. Of course, the secrets that often come alongside a tragedy have a way of catching up with you and that’s exactly what happens in this book, which is full of twists and turns, lies and hidden layers and above all, a healthy dose of drama. I found the ending to be a little bit disappointing but I still thought it was a great book and I’d recommend it.

A couple of months ago I was sent a lot of new release books from various Penguin imprints, one of which was Need To Know* by Karen Cleveland which is a story about espionage and Russian sleeper spies and family betrayals. It's not the best book I've ever read but I did enjoy it - and there's a pretty good twist at the very end...

As always, hit me up with book recommendations! There'll be another 'recent reads' post coming soon for your enjoyment.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Arriva Click in Liverpool (AD)

Living so close to Liverpool means I spend a lot of time there - I also work there 3 days a week, so it's pretty much my second home. I’m not mad on getting the train, and it's a busy city so getting around can be difficult, but Arriva have just launched their Click service and I got to try it out yesterday for the very first time.

sunset in liverpool

arriva click app

It's got a really user-friendly app which you can download from GooglePlay and the App Store, and you put credit onto the app as Arriva Click is a completely cashless service; it shows you the journeys you've done, and any future journeys you've got booked (and you can plan regular journeys too, so if you want to use it to get to & from work each day the journey will always be booked). You can add 'favourite places' on it to book journeys with ease, and incredibly the app has SO many places you can put in as your destination - I often find with taxi apps I have to put in the next best place as my actual destination never seems to be on there!

arriva click minibus

Arriva Click have a fleet of minibuses, and I ordered one to pick me up form work - the seats are comfy and it has USB charging ports, tables and cup holders, seatbelts and big picture windows to gaze out of as well as being completely accessible for disabled people. The best thing about the Click service, in my opinion, is that it works on a bit of a car-share system. So the minibus picked me up from work, and then picked up someone else who was going the same way as me and had also ordered a Click - a bit like a regular bus, but taking us both directly to where we wanted to go. This reduces your journey cost and I also think it's really eco-friendly!

arriva click in liverpool

arriva click minibus in liverpool

The service is currently available between South Liverpool and the city centre, and the journey from Brunswick to Dale Street only cost me just over three quid - usually it's over a fiver if I get a normal taxi. I was genuinely so impressed by how easy it is to use, how convenient it is, and how comfy the minibuses are. 10/10 would recommend for travelling in Liverpool - thanks so much to Arriva for letting me try the service out, you're boss.

For a free ride on the Arriva Click service, use the code 'LILAC'.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Brussels museums: the lowdown

When I went to Prague I wrote a post about the museums I’d been to and whether they were worth the trip/entrance fee – I love museums because I have such a passion for learning new things and seeing artefacts that I haven’t seen before, or that you can’t see anywhere else. I visited a few museums in Brussels (though maybe not as many as I would have liked) and I thought I’d write a similar post this time around. So, if you’re heading to Brussels and want to know which museums are worth it, here’s my two cents.

get up stand up exhibition mima

mima museum in brussels

The first museum I went to was MIMA, the Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art, which was conveniently located opposite my hotel – it’s part of the old brewery that the hotel is in, and MIMA also has a bit of a roof terrace that offers some decent views. You can’t see the Grand Place or anything, but it’s a nice view all the same. The museum costs €9.50 to get into, and is included in the Brussels Card if you have one; I did and I loved it, because it meant I wasn’t worrying about finding cash to pay my entrance fee, or wondering if I had enough to spare. But more on that later! MIMA has a gift shop which sells t-shirts and notebooks, and you get a free pin badge on entry which I think is amazing – it also has a cafĂ©/restaurant and you can take dogs in (to the restaurant, although I’m not sure about the rest of the museum). There’s a mixture of temporary and permanent exhibitions, and the current main exhibiton is called Get Up Stand Up; it focuses on posters used for political protests throughout the years in various countries. There were some I recognised, and some that were completely new to me, and they were all fascinating. There is also an exhibition with punching bags that have people illustrated on them who do a variety of different professions, and some stuff about the moon landings etc. If you’re staying at the Meininger Hotel, you can get in for a reduced cost of €6; under 12s are free, and under 18s/students/OAPs/disabled or unemployed people can get in for €7.50; the museum is open 10-6 Wednesday through Sunday.

mima museum brussels get up stand up

brussels flower carpet 2018

The next museum I visited was the Brussels City Museum mainly because I wanted to go on the balcony and get a better view of the flower carpet; the museum costs €8 to get into, and is also one of the museums you can access for free if you have a Brussels Card. I had to pay an extra €1.50 to access the balcony, which I felt was a little steep – I’m not sure if this was because the flower carpet was down, or if this is a general thing, but either way I paid it. The museum itself was okay, nothing TOO special – it houses loads of little outfits for the Mannekin Pis statue, which is cool, and some artwork and archeological discoveries. It’s not the most glamorous or exciting museum, but there is a lot to see. The balcony is quite narrow but it did offer an amazing view over the Grand Place, and allowed me to get some gorgeous photos of the flower carpet. This museum is one I’d say go to if you’re really interested in learning about the history of Brussels, or if the flower carpet is down and you want to see it from a different perspective. But for me, it’s definitely not a must-visit museum.

brussels flower carpet 2018

belgian brewers museum brussels

Another museum you can probably skip, unless you’re REALLY interested, is the Belgian Brewers Museum which costs €5 per person, also in the Grand Place. It’s down a questionable set of stairs, and there’s a dingy-looking bar there; I asked barman/ticket man if I could use my Brussels Card (again, I could) and he scanned it then pointed through an opening on the other side of the bar. I followed his direction into 1 (one) room which makes up the entirety of the museum. Most of it is taken up with seats and there’s a screen which was showing a film of the beer-brewing process. The remainder of the space was filled with tanks and funnels and pipes, each one with a tiny placard alongside it with the bare bones of information. I felt a bit let down and I only stayed for around 5/10 minutes because there really wasn’t all that much to see and do. I’d have loved it to be bigger and more interactive, but you can’t win ‘em all. Apparently the entrance fee also gets you a beer at the bar, only I didn’t see this advertised anywhere and the man didn’t tell me, so I left without any beer and only just found out when it came to writing this post. Had I known, this definitely would have redeemed the museum slightly!

marc sleen museum belgium

As I mentioned in my day two travel diary post, I also visited the Belgian Comic Strip Centre.  The main museum is in a stunning art deco building, but there’s a smaller exhibition over the road all about Marc Sleen who was a Belgian comic book creator. It was nice to see all of his work laid out and to learn about him, and this part of the museum is completely free of charge so it’s worth popping in if you’re heading to the main comic book museum anyway. The main museum itself costs €10 to get into, and again is covered by the Brussels Card if you have one. It has three floors, and contains comic book artwork from a huge variety of creators and artists from Belgium. There’s loads of stuff about Tintin, of course, and also about the Smurfs – including a little Smurf house that you can go into which is probably mostly for kids but is adorable all the same. There was also an exhibition called Drawn Destinies of Strong Women, by Catel – the drawings are beautiful and there’s a replica of her work station, too. There’s so much to see in the Comic Strip Centre and I’d definitely say it’s worth a visit – while it’s not right in the city centre, it didn’t take me too long to walk there and it’s fairly close to the cathedral, too.

belgian comic strip centre brussels

drawn destinies of strong women

Out of the four museums I visited in Brussels, my top two recommendations are definitely MIMA and the Comic Strip Centre; both are bright and colourful while being interesting and informative. I had a Brussels Card*, gifted to me by the Brussels tourist board, which gave me free entry into all of these museums. It covers most of the museums in the city, and also gets you discount in various shops and restaurants. There’s an option to upgrade your card to include the use of public transport or a hop on/hop off bus, and you can get the card to last 1, 2 or 3 days. Prices start at €26 and in my opinion, it’s well worth it. My card was the most basic one, the 24h card that doesn’t include the transport or bus tour, and for me it was definitely worth it – had I paid for my Brussels card I would have spent €26, while entrance fees to the four museums I visited that day would have added up to €32.50 so I’d have saved €6.50, easily enough for some fries or a pint of Belgian beer. I could definitely have fitted in some more museums that day, and I’m disappointed that I didn’t make it to the Musical Instruments Museum with its rooftop bar that offers views across the city centre, but I’m pleased with what I did see. If you’re heading to Brussels, definitely have a look into the Brussels Card and see if it will save you any money based on your plans!

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Six recent reads

I’m an avid reader, and sometimes I fly through books – sometimes I read less, but over the past month or so I’ve managed to read quite a fair bit. I saw somebody do a ‘five recent reads’ blog post and if I can figure out who it was, I’ll update this post with a link but for now, here’s something similar: six books I’ve read recently and what I thought of them…

These two are part of a trilogy, so I’ve lumped them in together but not in a dismissive way: The Sleeping Price and The Scarecrow Queen by Melinda Salisbury are the last two books in The Sin Eater’s Daughter series, the first of which I reviewed ages ago. I said in that review that fantasy isn’t really my jam when it comes to books but I have to say, this series has really made me think that I should give it another chance. The storyline is amazing, and throughout the three books I didn’t spot any plot holes which is no mean feat. I love the way the books are written, and I found myself really connecting to the characters even though I don’t come from their world, where they have moons instead of months and fairy tales come to life. They’re definitely YA fiction, so they’re easy enough to read but without being boring or childish – I would highly recommend!

These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf is a book my mum recommended, and we have quite similar taste in books so I was fairly confident I’d like it – and I did. It’s quite a shocking storyline but really well written and one of those books you don’t want to put down. It mainly follows the story of Allison, who has just come out of prison – but it also follows the stories of her sister Brynn, another girl called Charm, and a woman named Claire. Each chapter is narrated by or on behalf of one of these characters and as the story develops, it becomes more obvious how intertwined these women’s lives are. On the front it says that fans of Jodi Picoult will love this book and honestly, I couldn’t agree more. If you like her stuff then this will be right up your street!

Linwood Barclay has been a favourite of mine since I was pretty young, and I recently read Far From True which starts with the screen at a local drive-in cinema falling down, and turns into so much more than that. I love the twists and turns of Barclay’s writing, the interesting character developments and the little subplots that make his books so interesting without ever being too confusing. It’s not one of those books that will stick with you forever, but it’s definitely worth a read.

Hold Back The Stars* by Katie Khan is a book I was sent a while back to review and I just never reached for it, until one day I was in a rush to leave for work and realised I needed a book for my hideous commute – I pretty much picked at random off my to-read pile and this is what I ended up with. It’s an absolutely fascinating book about love and utopia and bending the rules; set in the future (I think, or at least in an alternate reality) after a world-war has pushed Europe into becoming Europia, where people live ‘on rotation’, moving every three years, not allowed to start a family until the age of 35. They are completely tech-driven and tech-focused, and it’s such an interesting concept. And while life on rotation is supposed to be simple and pretty much perfect, Carys and Max’s love story ends up being anything but. It’s really well written and I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it! I know I’ve not explained it well at all but I’d really recommend it.

My mum and her friend both read Camilla Way’s The Lies We Told on holiday and I ended up with it on their return – I started it one Monday morning on my commute to work, and had finished it by 8pm that night. It’s an absolutely gripping story about a man who disappears, alongside a story set 30 years prior about a sociopathic child. Of course the two stories end up being deeply intertwined, and it’s scary/confusing/weird in just the right amounts, with a bit of a twist thrown in too. It’s an easy read but one that will have you holding your breath ‘til the very end.

So there’s six books I’ve read recently – I’m already onto my next book, The Passenger by Lisa Lutz, so expect a review of that (or another one of these posts) some time soon. If you’ve read anything good lately that you think I’ll like, please let me know because I’m always looking for good books to get stuck into.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Free things to do in Brussels

When I travel, I usually try and do so on a budget – I’ve always found that doing it this way and saving as much as I can wherever I can means that I can squeeze in one extra trip with the leftover money. And you don’t need to spend a lot when you’re on holiday, especially if you’re on a city break; I usually tend to visit little Polish cities that aren’t too touched by tourism, but as you’ll know if you read my blog, this year I went to Brussels. It’s the capital city of Belgium and home to the EU Parliament and NATO and loads of other important things that make the city a business hub for thousands of people. But there are some free things to do in Brussels that will leave you with plenty of money for beer and waffles.

Visiting the Grand Place itself is completely free, and the architecture is so genuinely stunning, so woven with beauty and so intricate that just standing there is an experience in itself. On a sunny day the gold sparkles from every angle and the square is quite often frequented by street performers – I was lucky enough to see a man on a harp alongside a young boy playing a whistle, and later on that day I sat with my back against a lamppost, listening to a busker while kids and adults alike danced around to his gorgeous voice. I tipped these street performers a couple of euros each, but essentially it was free to sit and listen and bask in the music and sunshine. At one end there's a free selfie machine which somehow allows you to take a panoramic selfie in the Grand Place. I’m not entirely sure how it works or how long it's there for, and every time I passed there was a massive queue, but it is completely free. If you get there at the right time (every other August) as I was lucky enough to do, you’ll also get to see the Brussels flower carpet which is woven out of begonias and created by volunteers – I’d heard of it before but had completely forgotten about it, and it was completely by chance that it was there when I was. It’s so beautiful and you can stare at it for as long as you want, free of charge.

Most cities offer free walking tours both day and night, where mostly you have to follow someone who’s carrying an umbrella and you stop at various hotspots around the city. I didn’t do a walking tour in Brussels, although after finally doing one in Bruges which Holly booked for us, I kind of wish I’d done one in Brussels. The guides are often locals who know a lot about their city and have a wealth of knowledge to share with you, and you really can find out information that you wouldn’t really know otherwise as well as getting to see some hidden gems that you might not think to visit on your own. A quick Google search will lead you to loads of different free walking tours, so depending on what you’re after you’re bound to find something to suit you. They’re definitely worthwhile, in my opinion, but be warned you might get stuck with some really annoying people who love the sound of their own voice. It’s sort of expected that you tip at the end, but sometimes you’ll get a free pint or something like that, so it works out pretty well.

On the first Sunday of every month, and the first Wednesday afternoon of the month, if that’s when you happen to be in the city, loads of the museums in Brussels are completely free to get into. Obviously this one is completely dependant on your travel dates, but it’s really handy to know that you can pop in and see some exciting things, learn something new or just escape the hustle and bustle of the city for completely free if you time it right. You can find a complete list HERE of the museums that won’t cost you a penny to visit on some occasions.

Despite being a city, and quite a busy one at that, there are quite a few parks and green spaces dotted across Brussels if you know where to look; I personally visited a little patch of grass (probably not even considered a park) that’s opposite the beautiful cathedral – which is also free to enter, and you might catch the amazing organ music – where I sat and read my book. There was a pop up bar there so I did pay for a beer, but if you really want to do it on the cheap there are loads of newsagents and little supermarkets strewn across the city where you can buy a few cans or bottles to relax with. The main park is Parc de Bruxelles and it’s massive, and there is also the Mont des Arts park and garden which has benches and a really nice view.

Street art isn’t, from what I saw while I was there, as big of a deal in Brussels as it is in some cities but that’s not to say there isn’t any; for example, right by the aforementioned Mont des Arts there’s a set of stairs, and on the wall somebody has attached frames so that the stains and marks look like abstract pieces of artwork. I loved this – it’s such a quirky little piece of art and the captions made me laugh, and had me straining my eyes to work out if I really could see a man with a backpack. This was completely free to see, and I really enjoyed it. Near my hotel there was a lot of art, from a gorgeous giant lighthouse painted onto the side of a building (sadly I didn’t get to snap a picture because I was rushing to make my train to Ghent when I saw it) to some neon monsters on the walls of the buildings that line the canal. I’d have liked to find some more street art, but there are loads of cool pieces dotted around – just keep looking up and around, and you’re bound to spot some.

So as you can see, there’s plenty of free things to do in Brussels if you’re travelling on a budget – you don’t need to spend loads to have a good time, and I think that’s the best thing about travel.