Ten Food Commandments with Jay Rayner

Once I booked my flights to London, I knew what I had to do: check if there were any shows in the city I wanted to see. While on this hunt, I thankfully remembered to check if Jay Rayner had any shows on during my trip. I got lucky, there was a ‘Ten Food Commandments’ show on September 11 – the day I landed in London. I knew I’d most likely be jet-lagged that evening but there were no other shows during my trip, so I bit the bullet and bought a ticket.

Right, so I haven’t read the book on which the performance is based but I knew that whatever the show would end up being, I would be treated to a heavy dose of tongue-in-cheek and witty observations. Thankfully, I wasn’t wrong.

I headed off to The Crazy Coqs, which is located within Brasserie Zedel, just off the Piccadilly Circus station. Guests were queuing up in this basement-level foyer, which had some stunning murals and architecture. I looked it up while writing this post, and found out that the building, now restored, is a loyal retelling of its original 1930s Art Deco style. The room which houses the Crazy Coqs used to be the billiard room, and, according to the official website, has been restored faithfully.

Now – on the show! Once we were admitted to the intimate round venue, all clustered around a mini stage at one end, the show began when Rayner appeared in his Moses outfit…

The show started at 9.15pm and ended at 10.45pm, which included a 10 minute break. The first part of the show concentrated on the ten (food) commandments, peppered with interesting anecdotes that played into those commandments, as well as some brilliant jokes. After a 10-minute interval, before which he encouraged the crowd to tweet him with food commandments of their own, he returned and started reading those tweets and interacting with the tweeters and sharing his opinions. After that was an open Q&A, and then he stayed behind to sell and sign his books.

If you’re interested in the culture of food, and enjoy reading his restaurant reviews every week – this is definitely a good show to catch.

Let me leave you with one of my favourite quotes of the night: “People don’t go to restaurants to stave off rickets. People go to restaurants to collect memories.”

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Want to learn how to swim in Dubai?

OK, so as of the beginning of April 2018, I didn’t know how to swim. As a child, I was never sent to a swimming class, and I eventually developed a fear of going anywhere beyond the shallow side of the pool, or letting go of the wall. Worse, I have friends who have tales of how I jumped onto them out of fear pushing them under water, or grabbed on so tight when they were trying to help me learn how to swim that I left nail marks on their skin, or… You get the picture.

Anyway, in March this year (just before I managed to pinch my sciatica, aggravate my scoliosis and end up in a back brace – yep that’s another story), I saw a swimming class for adults wanting to learn on GuavaPass. I thought, doesn’t hurt to try this out, right? Right? On April 1, off I toddled to the location and got into the pool. I enjoyed that first class so much I signed up for the next term (it’s not on GuavaPass, you go directly through the academy), and then continued through the summer classes. Yep, it was pretty much the only thing I could do while undergoing physiotherapy.

And finally, on August 29, it happened… I swam the entire length of the pool! Not very gracefully, and certainly not in a conventional manner, but, nonetheless, I did!

Swimming - Devina

Since I started my journey, I have been sharing updates on social media, and what has been great to see has been all the responses – from people who can swim encouraging me, as well as those who, like me, have managed to reach adulthood without learning this skill.

So, how did I go from being terrified in the pool to bobbing about in the deep end?

TLDR: Go to Urban Swim Academy (find the academy on Facebook here or on Instagram here).

But to find out why I have stuck with them and what makes them a good shout to learn how to swim – or indeed, go for the masters classes if you’re already a swimmer – read on.

I cannot continue this post without mentioning the instructor for the ‘adults learn to swim’ class: Diana Mruk. I genuinely do not know how or if I would have ever been able to get here without her. Her insanely patient nature is why she put up with me and my fear – there were days when I just stood at the edge of the pool for minutes, freaking out about gliding because how would I survive, or days when I somehow managed to go underwater and then panicked while trying to stand up from a float, and so many other random moments.

What I also LOVE about her is her ability to take on your individual quirks to make them work for you. It’s never been about the “right” or “traditional” way to do things, it’s about, how can we make this work for you? I have so many examples (and honestly I feel really silly because of this but hey ho) to share. Here’s just one: My core has no strength or balance, so it was a struggle learning how to get out of a front float in the first place, but what’s been even more difficult has been the freestyle stokes, because every time I turned to take a breath, I’d lost control of my body and flip on my back, like a helpless turtle. While this has caused plenty of merry mirth among my friends, it’s clearly a problem if I can’t do anything after that except float uselessly. Diana helped me convert that problem into an advantage… I now take a few strokes, flip on my back, and then flip again and keep moving forward. It’s not the most elegant way of swimming a length but until I can figure out how to balance my body, this works!

Everything was a milestone to Diana, and to me. It honestly felt like no one was cheering for me as hard as she was. Learned how to float? WAHEY! Learned how to get out of a float? High-five! (Seriously, it took me a while to sink from a float.) Worked out how to tread? YASSSS! And so on.

Our classes happen at the same time as the ‘masters’ sessions, and while I have never had to work with him, I see Brett Hallam (the academy director) training veritable merpeople as they swim multiple lengths, with the same passion and dedication that Diana has always shown us. All the advanced students I’ve interacted with before we begin class seem to love coming there and polishing up their skills, so there are classes for accomplished swimmers as well.

So where are these amazing classes? Up until August 2018, Urban Swim Academy was using the pool of a school in Umm Suqeim. But from the start of the September term, we will be at Talise Fitness at Madinat Jumeirah. All you need to do is contact the academy and they will share term times, prices, and so on. It’s totally worth it. SEE YOU THERE!

And I’m proof that it really is never too late to learn how to swim. I absolutely love it, and my goal is to one day join the more advanced class, and I’m pretty sure I’ll get there – especially if the amazing instructors at Urban Swim are there to help me.

Movie Review: Ocean’s 8

This post comes out a fair bit of time after the movie release, but it’s taken me a while to put my thoughts together, and I saw it twice, so I feel like I have more insight into how I feel about the film. So you’re thinking, she has seen it twice – so does it mean it’s a good movie? Not necessarily… read on!

Ocean’s 8 follows on from the original Ocean’s films: 11, 12, and 13. In this movie, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), sister of the now-deceased Danny Ocean, is whom we see first, reminiscent of the first few scenes of Ocean’s 11. Debbie is released from jail after five years – for a crime we’ll learn more about through the course of this movie – and soon goes back to her con-woman ways. She re-unites with her friend Lou (Cate Blanchett) who’s busy running a club and diluting vodka, and pitches her a heist. A heist of a piece of jewellery by Cartier, currently in a highly guarded vault. The idea is to get movie star Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) to wear the Cartier necklace for the upcoming Met Gala, and then steal the piece there. So begins the assembly of the team: fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), jeweller Amita (Mindy Kaling), weed-smoking hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), hustler Constance (Awkwafina), and ex-associate and now-bored homemaker Tammy (Sarah Paulson). And so begins the story of how they do it…with a twist in the end. There’s also a sub-plot about revenge on Debbie’s ex Claude Becker (Richard Armitage) floating about.

If you have watched the Ocean’s movies before, you’ll know there’s a certain pattern that follows. Team assesses the situation, encounters a few roadblocks, solves ’em, heist in progress, twist, fun end. OK.

While there were quite a few fun performances, the standout for me was Anne Hathaway, who just stole the show as the petulant, extravagant and pouty film star. Bullock was a calm, calculated Ocean, while Blanchett’s punk rock biker girl personality was brilliant. Bonham Carter and Paulson got a decent amount of screen time (the accent was all over the place, I thought), but it was frustrating for me to not get enough of Rihanna, Kaling or Awkwafina. They didn’t get much to do or show more of their personalities beyond the plotline.

The plot. OK, I mentioned this earlier, but while it sticks to the tried-and-tested formula, which is FINE, what it doesn’t do is give me a sense of urgency, like the previous Ocean’s movie did. As soon as a problem cropped up, it was solved immediately. No stress. Nothing. I can think of a couple of points where I thought, hang on, surely this isn’t *this* easy.

The other niggle I had was related to the actual relationships portrayed on-screen. I didn’t feel like the team bonded, or showed that they did, and it didn’t give me the ‘buddy’ movie vibe that I thought I’d get.

However, the movie was still fun for most part. I don’t know that I should have watched it the second time because I definitely enjoyed it more the first time around. But, what it does show is that it doesn’t matter whether you have male front runners or female, a movie can still be a heck of a lot of fun, engaging, and can fill cinemas and draw multiple laughs. So here’s to more diversity on screen!

Visiting the Wagah Border from Amritsar, India

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I was in Amritsar in January 2018 with my cousin, and while researching the many activities that we wanted to undertake, visiting the Wagah Border and witnessing the flag ceremony between India and Pakistan was something she definitely wanted to do, and I thought, ‘Well why not?’. While hunting around for the best way to get there, I found Jugaadus. When I first mentioned this name to my cousin, she broke out into peals of laughter. So, the word ‘jugaad‘ means, very roughly, doing something very cleverly, or just thinking out-of-the-box. And the person who does this jugaad, is a jugaadu. I think.

Anyway, we booked the tour through Jugaadus, which is a hostel, and this is just one of the many tours it organises for its guests as well as for the general public.

When we got to the hostel, we waited in the clean central living room and then six of us piled into a vehicle with the driver (Vicky) to head towards the border. Once we arrived as far as we are allowed to go with a vehicle (it takes about an hour to drive), we left the car at the parking area, and off we went on foot. That took about 20-30 minutes max – of course this depends on how fast you walk. Once we arrived at the gate, there’s a massive sign that proclaimed “INDIA”. OK, got it. Then it was time for the security checkpoints. My advice: do not carry your bag with you. They won’t let it through especially if it has things like portable battery packs and so on. I had my phone and wallet in my hand and that was it. There’s a separate line to get through for Indians and non-Indians – the latter will have to carry your passport to make it in. I hadn’t carried mine but as Vicky said to me, “your face is your passport”. Haha.

Inside, the division continued. I found – through my own experience and then watching people who followed – that once you walk in, guards will usher you to the dustier, crowded side of the arena if you’re Indian. If you’re not, you get sent to the “VIP” section. Or if you’re Indian and rich/important/kick up a fuss, we saw those get through to the ‘fancy’ section too.

Once you find a seat, be prepared to wait for a bit. Hopefully you’ll have company, like I did, because you can get bored.

Before the actual drill, people are invited to come down to the arena and take part in a few interactive sessions like passing the flag along, and there’s a bit of dancing to the tune of Bollywood numbers, a lot chosen carefully to incite a sense of patriotism amongst the crowd I imagine. On that note, there’s a man with a megaphone screaming out chants and trying to get everyone to join in, and it feels like a competition with the other side on who’s cheering the loudest.

The arena filled up eventually, and then the soldiers came out. The military drill was dance-like with exaggerated movements, stomping and so on, with both the Indian and Pakistani soldiers on either side of the now-open gate mirroring movements. There’s a quick handshake at the crescendo, before the gates slam shut.

I had, in the run-up to researching this visit, read a few accounts where authors had slightly unpleasant experiences but I, luckily, didn’t encounter any.

Would I recommend it? Sure, only in that I don’t know of many borders that have such elaborate shows, and it’s one of those things you should check out if you can.

To book the Wagah Border tour with Jugaadus, click here.

Movie Review: Mamma Mia 2 – Here We Go Again

Ten years after the first movie came out, we have the sequel to Mamma Mia. But does it work? Will it get the movie-goers up and dancing?

The premise is simple: Donna Sheridan (Meryl Streep) passed away a year before the events of this movie (we are not told what happened) where her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is reopening the hotel as Villa Bella Donna and making her mother’s dreams come true. But there are challenges: her beau Sky (Dominic Cooper) has been offered a job in New York and he is thinking about taking it and not coming back to the island, and her two fathers out of three (Bill Andersen/Stellan Skarsgard and Harry Bright/Colin Firth) can’t make it for the re-opening. And her on-island father Sam Carmichael (Pierce Brosnan) is grieving for Donna. While we follow Sophie’s journey and her struggles, we are also taken back in time to when Donna was growing up, and how she met the three potential fathers. Does everything work out in the end?

Well, yes. This *is* a feel-good movie after all!

Let’s start with the returning cast. Amanda Seyfried is really good in this one – I really think I preferred her in this movie compared to the original, and I absolutely and unequivocally loved the duet between her and Sky after their phone call where it seemed as though the relationship was at at end. Not only were both their performances heart-breaking (in a good way, I was totally in the moment), but the way it was shot was beautiful.

Sky (Cooper) isn’t in the movie much, much like the first instalment. But I did have a niggle with his contrived plot point: I mean, okay, he came back mid-way but why did he? Fine, every single decision doesn’t have to be explained, but I was genuinely confused with his ‘I couldn’t stay away’ reason, but hey-ho I’m just nitpicking now.

Both of Donna’s friends, played by Christine Baranski and Julie Walters in the current day, were as brilliant as always. And it was amazing to see that their younger selves, played by Alexa Davies and Jessica Keenan Wynn, were so perfectly cast, I couldn’t believe it. Both forms of these characters were so in sync, I was well impressed.

And the same goes for young Donna. Played by Lily James (I first discovered her in Downton Abbey), I was blown away by her voice and her performance throughout the movie. Cannot wait to see more of James in the future.

Now, on to the dads. Pierce Brosnan still isn’t necessarily the best singer of the lot (sorry Remington Steele, I still adore you) but he puts on a better performance than 10 years ago. How much he misses Donna can be seen through his nuanced acting, and I felt like I could feel his pain as he looks over her photographs. Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard were hilarious, and Firth’s comic timing is still perfection. Quick note about the younger actors who played them: I hadn’t actually noticed them in anything before, but they were great! And such good singers too!

So, Cher is in the movie. When she starts singing, it’s like, OK this is what we were waiting for. She obviously, absolutely nailed every song she performed. I almost wish we had had more of her powerful voice in the movie. Andy Garcia is also in the movie, as the older, still smouldering, hotel manager, and his role in an enjoyable song later in the movie led to so many laughs and cheers in the theatre. I wish so much I could have heard him sing more, though.

Mild spoiler alert, so maybe gloss over this para if you can? There is a touching scene at the end of the movie which left me tearing up. The whole mother-daughter connection (what, you thought it was all about ABBA?!) was strong in the first movie, and is strong here too – especially where we are seeing the parallels between what Sophie is going through and what Donna was dealing with so many years ago. But it all comes to a satisfying, bone-tingling and eye-tearing end when Sophie and Donna share a duet, in a ‘she’s looking down at you from the heavens’ way that worked, that actually didn’t make you think, ‘well this is cheesy’ but made you sing along and cry because that’s how wonderful it was.

OK YOU CAN READ FROM HERE ON, SPOILER AVOIDERS!

The plot isn’t exactly strong and obviously some points seem built just so a song could be sung, but it’s so much fun nonetheless. Since so many of ABBA’s hit songs were used in the first movie, there are some that are repeated (like Mamma Mia, Waterloo, I Have A Dream and so on) but done well enough that it doesn’t matter. Look, I watched this movie right after Mission: Impossible – Fallout which stressed me out so much for nearly three hours, this one calmed me right back down and I left feeling chirpy.

Do you enjoy ABBA, love singing, and want to see a feel-good movie that may make you cry and laugh? OK, here’s your chance.

And stay for the last song where all the characters get to sing and dance together, it’s so worth it.

Movie Review: Game Night

The premise of Game Night is relatively simple: a group of die-hard gamers (who indulge mostly in board games) enter a real-life ‘game’ of their own where the stakes are life or death. And hey, it’s a comedy!

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams star as Max and Annie, and they are introduced to us in an almost Up-esque montage of two people who meet over common interests, bond, and then host game nights forever. Once the cutesy montage is over, we reach a point in their lives where they are trying to have children, but Max is brutally told by the doctor that his sperm are lazy and tells him that it’s also most likely a by-product of his sibling rivalry with his brother, Brooks (played by Kyle Chandler, whom I discovered in Early Edition which I LOVED). Brooks is constantly living the jet-set life much to the envy of Max, but he returns one day and offers to host the couple’s regular game night at his new swanky digs one day. He hires a company to engage them in a real-life mystery game, but that’s when it all horribly goes wrong. Brooks is taken by real goons and, while the group of six don’t realise it at first, they soon catch on that this is playing for the high stakes, where nothing is really transparent.

So I said group of six. In addition to Max and Annie, we have Billy Magnussen as Ryan (who is a character that’s slightly blank and seemingly superficial) who, to this game night, brings along Sarah (played by Sharon Horgan), who is pretty different from the usual kind of date he has on hand. The final two are married couple Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury). Added to this is the standout performance of Jesse Plemons as Gary, the next-door neighbour of Max and Annie’s, who is their friend Debbie’s ex-husband as well as a cop.

This is a movie with comedic moments, sarcasm, hilarity, and some brilliant deadpan moments. The chemistry between Bateman and McAdams is pretty good, and both their comedic timing is perfectly in tune with each other. Plemons, as I said earlier, steals the show. His character is devoid of any reactions of personality and his blank face and creepy expressions just add to the fun in the movie. And Chandler is great as a rake!

By creating sub-plots for most of the characters, the writers have cleverly pulled off depth and backstory for them, which is nice. There’s a few cool set pieces in the movie, one involving a dog, and the other involving a fairly absurd chase through a huge mansion. The plot isn’t necessarily straightforward though – there are twists and turns, and by the climax scene, it’s almost like the characters are acknowledging that there have been an almost silly number of ‘gotchas!’ – you’ll see what I mean when you see it.

So yes, the story gets absurd at some points. But what works in this movie is that it doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s a game night-themed movie that was presumably set out to entertain audiences, and that’s just what it does.

Where to try barre in Dubai

So after my ‘where to Zumba’ and ‘where to learn dancing’ posts, it occurred to me that I’ve also tried quite a few barre classes in Dubai and figured I’d share my experiences to anyone else interested. And if you scroll all the way down, I’ve got my GuavaPass referral code if anyone would like to sign up.

First of all, what is barre? So barre combines a range of disciplines from ballet poses (we are on tiptoes for quite a bit, for example) through to yoga and pilates, along with using weights where necessary. There is the barre that is used for balance for a few reps. It’s quite a workout, one that you do barefoot, or with grip socks. I have scoliosis, but despite that, I am able to work out quite effectively with barre. I’d of course recommend you mention any and all problems to your instructor, but also definitely know your own body. If it hurts, stop.

So here are the studios (and in some cases, instructors) that I like (in alphabetical order!!!):

Cafe de La Danse
Located on Al Wasl Road in Dubai, there is a ‘booty barre’ class and a ‘power barre’ class, which is the intermediate version of the former. I’ve only been to the booty barre classes so far and most of them have been taught by the studio’s founder, Milla Tenorio. There’s a healthy mixture of the barre, weights and matwork, and what I like is during some of the mat exercises, she comes over to help us stretch our bodies, which is great to improve our elasticity and flexibility.

DEFINE body & mind
This studio is in Dubai Marina, within Silverene Tower B. I’m not entirely sure how to get there without going through the Dubai Marina Mall, but I’ve not gone there often enough to figure that bit out yet. This class [titled DEFINE body (barre)] is almost military in its preciseness and approach, and there’s a very clever use of what can be misconstrued as a small space. You pick a spot in front of the barre where the mat, weights and exercise bands await. The music is loud and pumping, and the instructor is tough but encouraging.

DS2dio
So I’ve mentioned this studio before when talking about dance. But I’ve also tried its booty barre class, which is pretty good. The studio, located in Cluster T of Jumeirah Lakes Towers, is smaller, but there’s movable barres so the space is flexible to the various exercises. I’ve done this one just once, but I had a good experience and would return.

Pilates Academy
Located on the 42nd floor or Jumeirah Bay X2 Tower in Cluster X, Jumeirah Lakes Towers, this studio is probably my favourite right now for barre. I’ve been taught by Victoria so far and she is amazing! The studio is spacious, and there’s such an inviting feeling as soon as you walk in. The exercises are tough, but the instructor is an absolute joy to work with. I’m not sure if it’s how green, woody, and open the entire studio is, I just feel uplifted when I walk in. A combination of the music, the instructor’s cheerfulness, and the exercise is why I think I’ll definitely be a regular there.

Yoga House
Really love this studio and its overall aesthetic; it’s located in The Greens area, in building 4 of the Emaar Business Park. It has quite a few – you guessed it – yoga classes, but there’s also a barre offering. I’ve had two different instructors every time I’ve gone there, and both have had different styles yet equally effective in working out the body. I’ve always felt like I push myself to the max and beyond when I do this class, and leave feeling refreshed.

So there you have it, it’s my round-up of barre classes and studios in Dubai I have personally tried and like.

As always, if you’d like to try GuavaPass, click here for my referral code! Enjoy barre-ing, among many other things!

Movie Review: Black Panther

nullIt’s been a while since I saw Black Panther, but I’ve been:

  • (a) too busy to pen all my thoughts down
  • (b) letting these thoughts percolate into something more cohesive than: ‘OMG THAT WAS AMAZING’.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, have a look at the trailer before moving on… I’ll keep this as spoiler-free as possible.

So here’s the basics: Black Panther sees the return of T’Challa whom we saw in Captain America: Civil War, where we witnessed the death of his father, the king of Wakanda. In this movie, he returns home to the African nation of Wakanda to assume his role as king. But an enemy of the state returns, and he must work with his friends and allies to keep both Wakanda and the world safe.

This is possibly one of my most favourite Marvel movies yet. What struck me straight off the bat was the visual oomph this movie possessed. Not only how everything looks from landscapes, architecture, and overall set design, but also clothes. I’m not exactly someone who notices outfits in movies, but the vivid colours and designs lent themselves to the story. It’s not just that, but the music is beautiful. Beyond the fantastic work by Kendrick Lamar on the songs, the background score is also fitting. It’s a great way of showcasing how music and design enhance storytelling.

The characters are equally vivid. Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa is restrained, and sometimes I wanted him to break free of those restraints but as the movie progressed I realised that actually added to his nuanced performance. Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger was brilliant; he showcased a range of emotions from rage to sensitivity, to cruelty with aplomb.

The women though. Oh. My. Goodness. These are not women who need to be rescued. These are not women who could just as well be written out of the plot. These are women who are an integral part of the story and that was absolutely amazing. Lupita Nyong’o plays Nakia, who plays a spy/activist/protector-of-all. She’s also the woman T’Challa loves, but isn’t defined by it. She fights alongside and without him, she is there to support him but is there to protect Wakanda and all that she holds dear.

And what can I say about Danai Gurira’s character Okoye? I’m not going to lie, I do not like her character in The Walking Dead, so I was almost ready to dislike her here. No such thing. Her role as a warrior and the leader of the all-female troop of bodyguards is pretty cool. I loved her sass and her complete dedication to Wakanda.

But for me, Shuri, T’Challa’s sister, was the best. She is intelligent, smart, irreverent (and has amazing outfits omg), and is the backbone to her elder brother. Played by Letitia Wright, she is funny, has these great one-liners and is responsible for a lot of laughs in the audience when I watched it. She is integral to so many plot points, and her portrayal of this cool geek was on-point.

Martin Freeman as Everett Ross and Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue lend admirable support, as does Winston Duke as M’Baku, who was more or less an antagonist but then rallies around for the good of Wakanda. There are many more well-written characters with not as much screen time, but were important to the plot, from Angela Bassett as the queen mother, to Forest Whitaker as Zuri, and Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi.

I clearly found the movie impressive, but my only niggle is with the slight abruptness of a certain moment at the end of the final battle sequence, but that’s it.

Something else that’s absolutely relevant and beautiful about this movie is its diversity and inclusion; it’s something many others have written about so I’ll let you explore that on your own (as a starting point, read this piece by TIME).

Can’t wait to watch the movie again, if I’m honest!

I mean, even Michelle Obama loved it!

Book Reviews: Discworld 36-41

And we’re back! This is the final installment of my Discworld reviews. I set out on this mission in January 2016. Between life, work, and reading other books, it’s taken me two years to go through the entire Discworld series. It’s been a fantastic journey, filled with laughter, lessons learned and some bittersweet moments too. I will take a break from Discworld for a bit, but I’m sure it’s something I can return to, time and time again…

Earlier installments: Books 1-4, Books 5-10, Books 11-15, Books 16-20, Books 21-30, Books 31-35

Making Money: Discworld, #36

Moist Von Lipwig returns in this book, which many might assume (somewhat correctly) is a repeat performance of Going Postal. Well, it sort of is. After his success with changing the fortunes of the post office, Lord Vetinari ropes in Moist yet again – this time to fix the fortunes of the Bank. There’s a rather old, wicked woman, golems (obviously), and a few strange characters in the bank. It’s a typical Pratchettian Discworld novel, and while some may feel like there’s a sense of repetition, it’s actually still ridiculously enjoyable.

Unseen Academicals: Discworld #37

While this this is part of the Rincewind series, I was thankful that he wasn’t the central focus in this book. Rather, the focus is on all the wizards at the Unseen University, who might have to resort to leaving their comfortable space to engage in…physical activity *shudder* – football. And while this is ongoing, a Romeo/Juliet is playing out against the background of this sport, unbeknownst to the wizards. And then there’s Nutt…who is he? Or rather, what?! I found the book slightly long in places, and some jokes a bit flat – but it’s still an enjoyable read.

A Collegiate Casting-Out of Devilish Devices: Discworld #37.5

This is an online-only piece, and can be accessed here. I was a little confused by the appearance of the Dean, since he was absent in the last book (#37) due to his defection to another university. A short read, but entirely missable – really not that entertaining, and slightly pointless.

I Shall Wear Midnight: Discworld #38

The fourth Tiffany Aching book shows her grown-up (I think she’s 15 or 16 in this book?) and as the Witch of the Chalk takes care of many people. Roland is also back, but what’s this? Their relationship has slightly changed, because he’s engaged! Letitia is his fiance, and there’s more to her than anyone thinks – and Tiffany can’t help but like her when she meets her. I have begun to love the Nac Mac Feegles more than ever before; I initially found them annoying but I’ve found them more and more endearing as the books went by. Not my most favourite Aching, but a good one.

Snuff!: Discworld #39

Ah Vimes. A really good, satisfying Vimes adventure – and his final one. Sybil finally manages to drag Vimes off to her ancestral home, which he, of course, now commands. He hates it but Vetinari signs it off, and off he goes. While there, he feels like something is afoot, and he gets embroiled in an adventure involving goblins and shady landowners. What I loved about this book was the continuation of themes of acceptance and diversity. Vimes fighting for what is right, rather than following the status quo. I found the river climax fairly lengthy but once that was over it got interesting again.

Raising Steam: Discworld #40

The final Moist Von Lipwig adventure, this one was pretty satisfying. The railway is here, and it’s ready to power its way through the Discworld. Connecting Ankh-Morpork to Quirm, to Uberwald, and beyond… I enjoyed reading of Moist’s adventures beyond the Ankh-Morporkian borders, and it was nice to see yet another species – goblins – continue to make their mark felt in the series. Plus, the appearance of characters like Nobby Nobbs, Colon, Cheery Littlebottom and so on on the side are welcome. Loved the ‘reveal’ at the end, although I’ve suspected it for a while, this is definitely one to read and cherish. Ties up the Watch/Moist side of things nicely enough… considering it’s the last we will see of them…

The Shepherd’s Crown: Discworld #41

Finally… the last Discworld novel. It’s not his best book, but it’s a pretty near perfect end to the series, even though, as the afterword reveals, we will now never know about the new adventures he was clearly planning. The book has some goodbyes (keep tissues handy), and some new characters creep in. I’m grateful to have been able to read this book, because it brings together so many beautiful elements across the entire Disc-verse. Thank you Sir Terry Pratchett ❤

Note: there is a 39.5, called The World of Poo but I wasn’t able to obtain a copy, so haven’t penned anything on it.

Travelling to Tbilisi, Georgia? My tips!

Georgia (in Europe) has been a bit of a hot-spot for a while now; everyone I know has been, or is planning a trip. The country offers visa-free travel for many countries, visa-on-arrival for many others, and has a simple e-visa process; it is definitely climbing up the list of destinations to visit.

Plus: for those travelling from Dubai (which is where I travelled from, obvs), there are direct flights with flyDubai, which is pretty convenient.

Georgia, as a country, certainly has a lot to offer. While I used Lonely Planet’s guide (from my library, woohoo), I also booked a variety of tours to find my way around the country. One was Taste Georgia (which I’ve written about here), and also Culinary Backstreets (post to come, will update the link when it’s ready). Unfortunately, I wasn’t there long enough to go beyond Tbilisi and Kakheti, but on my next trip, I hope to visit other areas such as Kazbegi and Batumi. On my list!

Now, when in Tbilisi, here are a few things you can do (not necessarily related to food):

Go on a free walking tour of the city…

…and you’ll see things like this:

I found this free walking tour after some web searches, and I’m so pleased I tried it. We met at the spot mentioned on the website, and Anna was our guide for the day. We walked across the Peace Bridge (the first photo on this post) to Rike Park, we took a ride up in the cable car to take some photos under Mother Georgia, and scrambled over to the Narikala Fortess where we overlooked the Natural Botanical Gardens.

And of course we saw many more things, before winding up in front of the “I heart Tbilisi” sign right opposite the Metekhi Bridge, where we took a photo with Anna. What I loved about it was the way she shared facts about culture, history, architecture, food, and so much more, into the few hours we spent with her. It was easily one of the most informative ways in which to learn more about Tbilisi in particular, and Georgian culture and history overall. I’d really recommend taking this walk early on in your trip – definitely a must-do.

Take the funicular up the mountain!

I’m a sucker for cable car rides, funicular railways, and all that sort of thing (I mean, I gratuitously took it while in Montmatre on Christmas Day 2016 while I was perfectly capable of walking, but that’s another story). So when I heard there was not just a cable car (which I’d taken during the free walking tour – see above), but that there was also a funicular… I could’ve screamed with joy. I rather think I did! The funicular takes you up to Mt Mtatsminda – you can obviously enjoy the views on the way to the top or back down, but there’s things to do once you’re up there. For one, there’s a building at the point where you disembark to eat and drink, and then you can walk further into the park, which has rides, a carousel and so on for entertainment. At the top, you’re also really close to the 274.5m-high Tbilisi TV Tower.

Take a touristy bus tour

Before you decide to do this, I will say that it’s quite a ‘touristy’ thing to do, and there are a lot of buses carrying out this route.However, it does cover quite a bit of ground and takes out the hassle of finding your own way to some of these sites. I found Holidays in Georgia on Facebook, along with a schedule of its tours and decided we should try it out. I used Facebook Messenger to buzz the company and a rep responded very quickly.

I walked off Liberty Square into one of the side streets – Kote Afkhazi – and I found the office where we could purchase the tickets. We bought a bus tour going to Mtskheta, Jvari, Gori, and Uplistsikhe. The tour started with the Jvari Monastery, from where you overlook the old city of Mtskheta.

Then we headed over to Gori, whose claim to (dubious?) fame is hosting the Stalin Museum. It was quite, quite odd if I’m honest – but it was a fascinating insight into the personality. Finally, we were at Uplistsikhe, which is basically a sprawling complex, with structures cut straight into the rock. There’s a lot of walking to do here, but the views are breathtaking, and it’s just awe-inspiring once you’re there.

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The trip lasted the whole day – and it was a convenient way to see a lot of the sights without having to worry about transport.

Other than this, let me know what else I need to do in Tbilisi the next time I visit! Or where I should explore within Georgia next.

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