A Fragmented Mind – Following Mystery and Memory Loss

But I believe above all that I wanted to build the palace of my memory, because my memory is my only homeland.
Anselm Keifer

It’s not often that I find a book which strikes a chord with me, even if it’s not a topic I don’t know much about or can relate to as well as others. It brings me to mind similar novels, simple yet amazingly written stories like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime’ and ‘Room’, both which handle sensitive issues well yet still engages the reader to a level which makes us think about the book long after we have finished reading.

EIM-pb-jacketElizabeth is Missing follows the narrative of 80-something-year-old Maud, who has been forgetting things more often lately, suffering from a growing but unnamed problem (which could be dementia, Alzheimer’s or just elderly senility), that makes her forget where she puts things, how many tins of peaches to buy (even though the cupboard is already full of them) and at times, who her daughter and granddaughter are. But Maud has her good moments too, gossiping with her friend Elizabeth, her love for her daughters and her granddaughter Katy, and the fact that she still has her own house that she can walk to the local shop from.
Lately Maud has been concerned with her friend Elizabeth, who has gone missing and which no one is telling her about, which causes ripples further than the questions she asks. Despite being told not to worry by her daughters, Elizabeth’s son, her caretakers and even the police, she becomes more and more convinced that Elizabeth is in danger.

As we follow Maud’s investigation into this disappearance, we see that she is hampered by her inability to remember things which happened just a few seconds ago. Yet there are some things from her past which come much more vividly to her, most importantly the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of her older, newly-married sister Sukey when Maud was a teenager 70 years earlier, and the subsequent incidents following her disappearance and the fact that she was never found. Remembering back to her sister’s life following up to the time she went missing, Maud also examines the strange behaviour of the people who knew her, such as her husband, her parents, their lodger and even the crazy lady who lives up the road.

As we follow both of these mysteries, we see how Maud’s obsession with Elizabeth’s disappearance parallels her memories of her sister, interconnecting past with the present so that her quest to find Elizabeth begins to overlap with Sukey in her mind and her memories as the book goes on. While we may not necessarily be able to understand how dementia feels, it’s beautifully written so we are able to sympathise with Maud’s fragmented mind, drawing us into the story even when the scenes feel so every day.

I read this at the same time as The Girl on the Train, and although both feature mystery, missing memories and a feeling of disorientation, the results are a lot more striking in difference. While in The Girl on the Train can made me feel a little lost and even disappointing at times, Elizabeth is Missing successfully lets us see the effects of old age and dementia even while we are lost with Maud. Throughout the novel, whether it is the elderly Maud we see or her 15-year-old version, her character is unforgettable – funny, warm and even at times unexpectedly impressive even when her frustrating memory loss lets her down.

This sounds like a depressing novel, but it’s not – there are comical moments in the mundane, ordinary events of Maud’s life, beautiful moments in the midst of heartbreak, and her character is one we embrace, rather than be embarrassed of. Not only does it address everyday routines we take for granted, it unwaveringly presents the embarrassments, the small frights, the patronising attitudes and remarks, and the simple limitations that comes with old age. And whether it is funny at times, embarrassing or even moving, these little stories all ring true to life. It’s worth a read to see another view of everyday life, even if it’s to answer that age-old question “Where is the best place to grow marrows?”

An Evening Walk

Every now and then, I’ll find something unexpected when walking around, even if it’s just in the local neighbourhood around where I live. During an evening walk with my husband recently, we found this beautiful mansion nearby, which I’ve been meaning to visit – the Eastbury Manor House. This is a beautiful large house which was apparently built in Elizabethan (the First!) times, although I’ll admit, as an avid watcher of Downton Abbey it reminded me of the TV show first!

I loved the beautiful, peaceful feel to the house, and the ethereal surroundings of trees and quiet roads, with the glowing lights – so naturally I couldn’t resist from stopping to take a few pictures.

I mean to visit Eastbury Manor House again soon (in the daytime this time), hopefully for tea and a tour, so hopefully will post pictures of the actual grounds, which is meant to be lovely as well!

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Weekend Pretty…Floral Stained Glass

I love finding beautiful parts of a building that’s been hidden away for you to stumble on, like this beautiful arch window with a gorgeous floral border. It’s just the sort of thing I like to see which shows the intricate beauty and workmanship of colourful stained glass hung up high for you to lift your head and admire.

A nice way to begin my bank holiday weekend, admiring beautiful windows!

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Journal Your Ramadan – Day #16: P is for Prayer

As we enter the last ten days of Ramadan, the focus is on prayer, and how we can best make the most of our time to focus and show appreciation for what we have. The last ten days of Ramadan are even more blessed because its marks the time that the Qu’ran was revealed to Prophet Mohammed (S.A.W.) on the night of ‘Laylat Al Qadr‘, also known as the ‘Night of Power’ – it’s also an amazing time to prayer, make requests and reflect.

So here’s a prayer for you all who are fasting these last ten days – I hope you make the most of it and that your prayers are answered.

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Journal Your Ramadan – Day #9: I is for Iftari

These days, every evening, my sisters and I ask each other the usual question – ‘What’s for dinner tonight?’
It being Ramadan, the iftari, or the food we have to break open our fast with, becomes something which we all drool over while we swap recipes, tips and ideas for dinner.

This is something we made a few days ago, which I’ve never made before so was pleased to try. It’s a traditional dish called dahi baray and consists of chickpeas, chopped potatoes, yoghurt, seasoning and cooked lumps of gram flour which are mixed in for a crumbly, savoury taste.

It came out pretty nice, although we added a lot of seasoning on top which gave it a sharper flavour – definitely one to try again I think!

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Journal Your Ramadan – Day #4: D is for Dates

Dates have been been a staple food for Ramadan since the beginning of Islam – traditionally, dates were the food Prophet Muhammad (SAW) ate when he broke from his fast.

So it’s no wonder that you see them in most food stores these days, especially during Ramadan time when the food shoppers go a little crazy! Here’s my picture of the day for today – a happy smile for when you open your fast : )

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Harlequin Travels in Santorini – DAY 4: Caldera, The Hot Springs, Volcano Island, Thirasia & Oia

Santorini Day 4: Caldera, The Hot Springs, Volcano Island, Thirasia & Oia

Day 4 of our visit to Santorini involved a lot of sight-seeing, so this is a slightly longer post than the other ones, so bear with me! My husband and I had been searching around for boat tours or cruises which would take us to different islands. You can get ferries to other islands but they can come at obscure times, and some islands are pretty far away so will take hours to get to. While in Fira, Perissa and Pyrgos (another part of the island we drove few a couple of times), we had been looking around at different travel agencies and tour companies, and comparing prices. We found a pretty big difference between prices, the tour we ended up going with was a full day tour for €35 per person, this same package cost as much as €65-75 from other agencies, so we got a pretty good deal.

(We also looked into private boat hire, because we wanted to see the more private, romantic options. The prices were astounding, with some of them being as much as €1500 for about 6 hours for a private boat! Needless to say, we didn’t go for any of those options).

So, 8.30 in the morning, we had breakfast and made our way down to the local bus stop, where a coach was booked to pick us up, along with a few other passengers who had booked the same tour along the way. We had a quick walk around a small town called Pyrgos, there’s a famous monastary there but we didn’t get to spend much time there, but it was a lovely town with white buildings and a lot of shops.

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Our view of the docks where we would board

DSC_4524We arrived at the docks where the boats were waiting, the one we boarded was called King Thiras and was pretty big (not quite a ship but a decent-sized boat) which held around 30-40 people. There were toilets and a lounge in the cabins below, with a bar area on top for cold drinks and snacks, as well as plenty of benches to sit and sunbathe on.

From the moment the boat was safely boarded and pushed on, the breeze was beautiful. The weather was pretty perfect for us, scorching sun, bright blue skies and no clouds at all, but the heat was practically non-existent because of how cool the breeze was and the fresh air from the sea.

You can see our view from the pictures below – the boat moved quite quickly for the expanse of water that it crossed, and we quickly saw islands that we were approaching becoming bigger and bigger, while at the same time, Santorini became smaller and we could see tiny white buildings perched on huge cliffs (and also the zig-zag of those 587 steps we had gone up and down a couple of days before!)

Our first stop were the Hot Springs, which were next to the Volcano island, which took us about half-hour to reach. The Volcano Island is literally an active volcano (although the last eruption took place in 1950 AD), and actually consists of 2 islands, the bigger called Nea Kameni and the smaller Palea Kameni. This also means there are two areas with the hot springs; one in Nea Kameni island and one in Palea Kameni island – the former means you have to swim from cold water to the hot water, the latter means you can go straight into the hot water (which is where we ended up).

At this point, those who wanted to swim in the hot springs for a little while could jump in the water (which was not very deep), and enjoy the water for a while. I decided not to jump because I didn’t bring anything to change into, and I didn’t really want to join twenty other people in the water, plus while I love swimming, I didn’t want to pull out the burkini and swim, so we stayed on board with a few other people while some of the passengers splashed around.

The spring were quite calm when we visited, but you can still see the sulpher and coppery stains.
The spring were quite calm when we visited, but you can still see the sulpher and coppery stains.

TIPS:

  • Don’t wear your best bikini if you’re going to swim. We were advised that the water taints clothes a little orange due to the sulphur in the water, so to expect it to be a little stained.
  • The water is apparently not that hot, so don’t expect sauna/spa conditions!
  • You still need to swim safely in this area, there are a lot of rocks around and even a boat or two, although they maintain their distance. While we were at the hot springs, a private boat party parked nearby to enjoy it as well!

Eventually the boat was ready to move onto the main part of the volcano island, which is Nea Kameni. This involved a lot of hiking (which we didn’t realise, and were wearing the wrong footwear for!) around the volcano to to main parts at the top where you could see the volcanic craters.

The walk took about 30-40 minutes and was actually pretty tiring because the heat was stronger and the road was really rocky. There was a clear path around most of the island, but it was still pretty rough and slopey in a lot of areas, and you need to be willing to walk!

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TIPS:

  • Wear sturdy footwear! It really makes a difference when walking around.
  • Take water bottles with you if you can, they can really help if it’s too hot.
  • There are seats with umbrellas for shades dotted around along the way – take a break if you need one!
  • Enjoy the view! The islands which can be see from here look pretty amazing from far away.

We walked around the majority of the island but didn’t spend as long as some of the group did at the top, we rested for a while and made our way back to the boat one we’d seen enough.

If you look closely you can see hikers all the way at the top, at the back
If you look closely you can see hikers all the way at the top, at the back

We all loaded back on the boat for a quick break, before making our way to our next destination – an island called Thirasia. This is a smaller island, which is also a little more cosy and small-towny, with a fishermen feel to it, because of its ports, sea-food restaurants and greenery.

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There were quite a few restaurants along the beach and pier from the spot that we landed at, and it was also time to stop for lunch. Most of the restaurants serve mostly sea-food, and the menus are pretty much similar in most of them. We stopped at a restaurant (the name of which I’ve unfortunately forgotten) and had  a meal of battered fresh-fish, and grilled sword-fish, with chips and vegetable rice, which tasted beautiful.

The restaurant we were in was beneath a big windmill, which we went upto and took photos from until the restauranteurs asked us to come down because it was a little dangerous with a moving windmill.

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We had about 3 hours to spend on this island before our next stop, so we took our time to stroll around and explore. A lot of the passengers from our and other boats took the opportunity to climb up (or ride donkeys up!) the zig-zag stairs to the top, where where was a small monastary and tiny village that could be explored. We were feeling a little tired from the Volcano island so decided to save our energy and relax a little (and we were glad we did, because the next island had more stairs and we didn’t have a choice about not going up!)

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The view in this place is pretty beautiful, and the water is seriously lovely in its maze of greens and blues – we even saw small tiny fish trying to eat crumbs from bread floating away from the shore!

Once we were ready to leave we set off for Oia, which is actually at the most northern part of Santorini, and a very popular destination like Fira. This is also the most popular place to view a sunset as well, because it faces the sun without anything getting in the way. The boat arrived at this last destination around 6ish, and jetted back to the port when it came from, leaving our group with a tour-guide who told us how to get up to the top.

View of Oia from the bottom
View of Oia from the bottom

As with a lot of other islands and parts of Santorini, Oia (pronounced Eey-ya) can be reached at the top from the 287 steps which make up the zig-zag staircase, and which again can be reached either by foot or by donkey. We decided to be a little adventurous and walk up the steps this time (plus we were still a little put off by the donkey-ride in Fira!) and we managed to make it to the top in about half-an hour, although we had to keep stopping for the donkeys which went past (and which was a little scary because they push past you!)

We finally reached the top, to a long strip of road which makes up the main street of Oia – full of restaurants, gold shops, designer clothes shops and art stores and souvenirs places. Out of all of the places we went to, Oia was definitely the most expensive, and it was also the most crowded, and at the middle of it all at it’s heart is a huge church called the Church of Panagia of Platsani situated in Oia Caldera  Square, which is also a popular meeting place.

Oia Caldera Square
Oia Caldera Square

We also managed to a lot of things happening at once – a wedding shoot in a tiny church, children playing in a small playground, jewellery trying to entice customers to come in and various quirky shops and restaurants.

We stopped at a restaurant called Porto Carra (I think!) where we had a lot of cold drinks after that long climb and also a light snack, and also stopped to look at the daunting view all the way down to the bottom of the cliffs.

This restaurant was decorated with flowers and butterfly paintings
This restaurant was decorated with flowers and butterfly paintings

Around 8’o clock, we made our way down to the northern end of the street, where the best viewing platform was among the edge. There were hundreds of hotels, buildings and the ruins of an old castle around this area, which we manage to get a good viewing seat from. Lined up along all of the walls and hotels were hundreds of other people who wanted to see the sunset as well – I was pretty stunned at how many people there were.

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The sunset itself lasted about half-an hour, and there was plenty of photo-taking and enjoying the scenery (bar one dog who kept barking at the crowd from his building because of all the people!), while we slowly watched the sun go down and the colours of the sky merging from blue, to gold to burnt reds.

This was one of my favourite moments of the day, because it was pretty awe-inspiring to watch something that seemed so effortless and majestic. Having said that, it wasn’t really a romantic moment (not that we minded!) with the hundreds of spectators next to us, the barking dog and the shuffling of the crowd!

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At the end of the sunset, when it finally dropped down from a tiny sliver to complete dark with a little light to see ourselves in, the entire crowded applauded, which was nice to hear (not to mention seeing hundreds of flashes from cameras and mobiles going off at the same time!)

TIPS:

  • Bring a jacket or jumper, it can get chilly in the evening, especially after the sun starts going down
  • Oia is way more expensive than Fira – expect high prices! We wanted to try lobster while we were in the island, but didn’t because it was just too expensive. One restaurant was offering a lobster meal for €95 which was ridiculous. Don’t worry if you don’t spend a lot of food, sometimes the expensive ones taste the same as the cheaper meals!
  • Make sure you camera battery is fully charged – by the time we got to the sunset in Oia my camera battery died! There’s a lot to take photos of, so be prepared!
  • Try and arrange transport in the evening back to where you are staying – it can get pitch dark and there’s not much street lighting on the main roads.

This was the end of the tour for us, and time to also head back to the hotel – it was seriously crowded and we had to be careful not to get lost in the crowd so that we didn’t miss our coach either, but from here the coach took us directly back to the hotel and we watched the sky getting darker and darker from our windows of the coach. It was a pretty eventful and tiring day for us, and we went straight to bed for a long rest when we got back, since our feet were also pretty tired!

Flashback Friday: Topkapi Palace

One of the places I would recommend to anyone visiting Istanbul is the Topkapi Palace, a gorgeously luxurious palace-slash-museum with some seriously gorgeous artifacts, and several buildings and gardens to wander around and admire. I love looking at historical pieces, and there were several from different eras of the Ottoman Empire, but the best thing about this place was wandering around the different gardens and palace buildings and seeing the work that went into each of them.

Wherever you wander, there’s blue tiles, gilded gold walls and beautiful arched doorways to walk through and explore, although I think my favourite place was a small clearing on the side of the palace which lead to a view of the sea – serene, peaceful and somewhere to think about the history of this palace and its legacy.

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