19 Oct 2011

Some photos of the trip

The Post Office in Madrid
The Relecting pool at the Al Hambra, Granada
View of the garden from the Queen's room in Al hambra
The Monastery in Battalha
Spain, Portugal and Morocco are really beautiful countries , with a lot of similarities in climate and vegetation. The only difference is the culture and religion but even this you can see a number of similarities. Like Spain, Morocco too had been a Roman outpost a long time ago and till today there are any number of Roman ruins to be found. In Spain especially nearer Seville, we visited a Roman aqueduct and a site that had once been a Roman village. It is fascinating to see the modernity of these antiquities - much of the layout of these Roman villages were very modern and showed careful planning and design. In fact we can learn a lot by learning more about them, I think.

6 Oct 2011


FRom Lisbon it was another 5 hour drive south to Seville, which was our  next stop. we had two short breaks during the journey, once to eat and a sceond stop just to stretch our legs. The view though was still as beautiful though as we drove further south  changes in scenery was inevitable. Instead of  the high mountain roads we now pass through farmlands - mostly olive but also oranges and other fruits. there are also more and more windmills - the ones that Don Quixote tried to topple in the legendary story of the Don from La Mancha.

The medieval city of Toledo in Spain

At Avila, walled city
Seville is even more beautiful than madrid, though in a different way. Oranges line the streets and for some one like me who has not really seen orange trees this is something. Much of Seville is made up of narrow streets which intertwine with one another and it is so easy to get lost here. Our hotel - Don Pedro - is situated in a quiet street but still very close to most of the sights that we want to see. For me, I had enough of churches and cathedrals and at the first opportunity Repin and I wandered off in search of other things to see and do. We walked towards the town centre and saw many shops and decided to do some shopping here.

That night we were treated to one of the highlights of the tour - a flamenco show and dinner at a really nice restaurant.

Fado singer

5 Oct 2011

Batalha and Fatima

There's so much to see and do in Lisbon we all felt that there were not enough days to do it. That is the problem with guided tours - you are on a schedule and everyone has to follow that schedule. That first night we went for a real Portuguese dinner - complete with a fado - or a singer/ singers. This is in a way some form of Portuguese opera with the singer telling a story in a song. The singers were good - really strong and expressive so that even though we didnt know the language we still liked the songs. Then there were the Portuguese dances which is very similar to our own Portuguese dances here in Malaysia. I think I enjoyed this night very much and it was a good ending to a really wonderful day - the tour of Lisbon, the trip to Cascais and Sintra and finally the dinner and the Fado. We took a walk from the little restaurant and saw the yellow tram that is like a funicular train climbing up the hill. This was like icing on the cake - the tram was crowded but some of our group jumped up anyway and took a short trip down.

The church at Fatima

Next day we were supposed to drive to Seville but with a stop at Battalha and Fatima - two cities with a lot of religious significance. Fatima is a very small town and is only famous because of its saint - The Lady Fatima. It was said that the girl, Fatima who lived in the 15th century was the daughter of an Arab fisherman. She fell in love with a young Portuguese nobleman and of course there was a lot of anger on both sides of the family. In the end Fatima, because she loved her young nobleman passionately, decided to run away with him. They were caught and she was killed. However after she died the young nobleman wanted to take away her body and bury it himself. To his surprise, the body was intact and not even decomposed. He brought this to the attention of the town people and many declared that she was a saint. After this there were stories of people who saw her and they said that she always appeared to people who were in trouble and she would help them, which is why she is considered the patron saint of fishermen in Portugal.

Battalha is another small town with a beautiful and very old monastery. The day we arrived was a holiday so entrance was free and we all had a good look around. After 30 minutes though Repin and I went out and decided to have some coffee under the trees at one of the outdoor cafes.

4 Oct 2011

Lisboa, Portugal

The Henry the Navigator monument
 Early in the morning of the next day we drove down to Lisboa, capital city of Portugal. The view changed from hilly to undulating to plain - we passed through scenic countryside and gorges as we passed through the mountains of Sierra Madre towards Lisbon, or Lisboa as the Portuguese call it. On the way we stopped twice - once at a wine bordega and had some wine tasting. Angel, being the caring person that he is, brought biscuits because he didnt want anyone taking the wine on an empty stomach. Here we learned the history of wine making in Portugal, the average ages of the various wines and why certain wines were for the table and some for special occasions at restaurants. I wanted a taste so Repin let me have a sip - no more! Hmmm... I didnt really like the taste - it was a bit bitter  and tart on the tongue - but they say it grows on you, and I guess it does. It did give me a warm feeling though.
Almost everyone bought some wine - to take with them to Morocco, it seems.

We arrived in Lisbon late in the afternoon and were checked in by Angel fairly quickly. Lunch today was on the house - paella - for us it was seafood. It was quite delicious actually and I was pleasantly surprised. Angel said that Portuguese food is so much better and fresher than Spanish food because most Spanish people had come to depend on restaurant and store bought food whereas the Portuguese still cooked at home and most of them dine at home rather than eat out.

We were then taken on a short tour of Lisbon - just a drive through actually. Lisbon is a very beautiful city and is situated on the banks of the River Tagus. There are more than 20 bridges spanning this river and the widest and longest looks a little like the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. We were told that the San Francisco Bridge was designed by the same architect.

The beautiful monastery at Battalha
In Lisbon we visited the Henry the Navigator Monument, The Belem Tower, the Royal Palace and also the Expo site. The next day we went to Cascais and Sintra both outside the city and a fair distance from Lisbon. The journey to Cascais which is a seaside resort on the Estoril coast took about one hour. We had plenty of time to wander around the pretty coastal town and had lunch at one of the tiny cafes near the seafront.

After Cascais we went to Sintra, this time a town up on the mountains. The drive was scenic but a bit harrowing though our driver Sergio was rather good and very experienced, in spite of being young. The views here was fantastic and what I loved about it was that it was much cooler than Lisbon, though Lisbon was cooler than Madrid.

Cascais seen from the bus
view of one of the castles in Sintra

view from Sintra

3 Oct 2011

Coimbra, Portugal

The third night we spent in Coimbra. Actually we drove on to Coimbra right after Avila where we had a light meal of coffee (cafe leche) and muffins. I noticed some others had hamburgers but since we could not take meat during this trip we made do with muffins, pancakes and other light pasteries. An interesting thing happened in Avila that day - Ron and Julia, the only New Zealanders among us - were late to the bus and was finally thought to be lost. Poor Angel. our Tour Director was quite distraught because nobody knew them at that time except us - I sat with them during breakfast at the hotel, so could give a description of the couple. I'm sure it must have been a scary experience for them - I know how easily one can get lost in that medieval city - a wrong turn and you don't know where you are! We sent out a small search party but after half an hour still could not find them. Finally after waiting for almost one hour they turned up at the supposed meeting place, very pale and frightened thinking we might be angry with them. Of course we were not for anybody could get lost in the narrow winding streets!

So at 2.30 pm, one hour later then the scheduled time we left for Portugal. It was a long drive through narrow gorges and splendid looking scenery, past olive and cork plantations as well as vineyards.We arrived at Coimbra in Portugal earlier than we thought, thanks to our fantastic driver, Sergio and still had time to visit the university that is so famous for its black uniforms or capes! The Coimbra University or Universidad de Coimbra is the oldest university in Portugal and the fifth oldest in Europe. Coimbra itself is a scenic city, very well-preserved with old cobble-stoned roads, tiny alleys that climb up to the university which is situated at the top of the town. I noticed that there were also a lot of nice shops but we didnt have time to shop so had to say good bye to that!

One of the narrow cobbled streets

Gate into the old city

Facade of old church

Avila and Coimbra

The second day of the tour we journeyed to Avila, a fortress city north of Madrid, in the province of Castile. It is a beautifully preserved city - looks practically medieval as we approached it, with high walls surrounding the city and lots of churches and cathedrals. It was first built in the 5th century it is claimed, but deteriorated due to the Roman invasion but was rebuilt in the 12th century and still stands today as it was. There were at least three large churches or cathedrals in this small city and two universities!

Walking along its narrow streets

The medieval looking Avila seen from the road

walled city of Avila, Spain

Madrid, Spain

The Spanish trip had actually been planned since a year ago and included Morocco. We planned to go in April initially, mainly because it would be nice to travel in the Spring when the weather wouldn't be too hot. However circumstances such as Wan's wedding, overtook us and the trip had to be postponed.We finally made the trip and flew via Emirates on the 29 September. After a really long journey ( 13 hours in all) we arrived in Madrid on a warm September afternoon. The plane trip was smooth and unexciting - we had left KL in the early hours of the morning and thus I fell asleep as soon as the plane took off.
A Cosmos representative was waiting to take us to the Hotel Praga, a smalll hotel somewhat far from the city. After checking in we decided to go around The Plaza Major, right in the center of town. A bus goes there daily and it was convenient for us as it stops right in front of the hotel.
The Plaza Mayor is actually more like a square- with buildings surrounding it. It is one of the oldest plaza in the country and one can see so many old buildings, some going back hundreds of years old. Today there are many restaurants at the plaza, offering mostly international cuisine.

2 Oct 2011

Travelling through Spain, Portugal and Morocco

For this year's holiday we went to Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Three countries with almost the same climate but very different cultures and traditions. The holiday began in Madrid - we arrived there on 30th September, Friday about noon and were taken to the hotel by the Cosmos people. The Hotel is in the suburbs and quite decent, though we had to pay through our nose for the Internet! The following are some pictures from the first few days we were in Madrid - mostly taken with my Iphone, so may not be too good.

Hotel Praga where we stayed

 There is a beautiful park a few metres behind the hotel, we discovered and for the next few days took our evening walks there.
It's a large park, with a river running in between and since the evenings are warm and balmy we notice that many families go there - either to exercise or relax.

The tour proper only began on 2nd October and our first trip was a tour of Madrid - the palace, some monuments, museums etc and later in the afternoon we were taken to the ancient city of Toledo, famous for its steel and sword making. Toledo had at one time been captured by the Arabs and turned into a fort, so there is a very high wall around most of the city, surrounded by a river. We watched the making of jewellery - mostly made of platinum, steel and silver as well as the making of daggers and swords at one of the small workshops there.


Park behind the hotel

Plaza Major,  is one of the main squares in Madrid, very popular with tourists and locals alike, with restaurants and lots of souvenir shops. Since there is a bus that goes there directly from the hotel, it was one of the first places we visited upon arrival. We spent hours there, just walking and admiring the scenery - very European with a main square surrounded by small shops and restaurants. We had lunch at one of the many outdoor cafe - seafood paella - very Spanish indeed! We sat outside and watched the world go by - so our first day in Madrid was spent there!

Repin at Plaza Major

21 Sep 2011

New books for September and October

 The following were bought for August and September actually:

  • Jill Mansell - To the Moon and Back (read it and can give it 4 for readability)
  • Mary Balogh - Yes I bought 4 books together because I wanted to read about the Huxtable family all at once. These are : First Comes Marriage ; Then Comes Seduction;  To SEduce an Angel; At Last Comes Love; and the last one to marry - Constantine Huxtable in A Secret Affair
I really enjoyed reading these books and would recommend Mary Balogh for anybody who loves Regency romances. Just a word of caution though - Mary Balogh does not hide the real social scene behind parties and non stop gaiety. The society that she describes has war and its inevitable consequences as well as all the horror of poverty in 18th century England which she integrates so well in her stories that they give us readers different and  seldom shown view of the period.

I also bought a re-telling of a famous and well-known Shakespearean play - Hamlet, called Falling For Hamlet, written by a new comer to the writing scene - Michelle Ray.

Falling for Hamlet follows the Shakespearean tragedy fairly closely but we see the whole thing from the eyes of Ophelia, Hamlet's girlfriend, whose father is the King's advisor - Polonius. OPhelia is a girl of 16 - young and in love with the crown prince of Denmark who is a college student. Although the Queen, Getrude , does not really like it, she bears with the relationship, even befriending the motherless Ophelia and going shopping with her sometimes. Things however change when the King dies suddenly and Hamlet who was close to his father suspects that his father was murdered, and by his own uncle, the greedy Claudius. The rest of the story follows closely to the original, except that this has been modernised, that is the setting is modern day Denmark and Hamlet and Ophelia use phones and send text messages and the media is very much in the picture. In fact the story begins with a television interview - Ophelia is ready to face the press and tell her story. As we can see, Ophelia does not kill herself in this story. She is a young woman who has faced a lot of challenges and heartbreak but is strong against the storm.

THis is one book I literally could not put down until the last page. Its a stupendous read and whether you like Shakespeare or not, I recommend that you read this book. It has everything you want in a book - great characters, superb plot, stunning detail and lots of sex and murder. Shakespeare is ever a master story teller and the re-telling is not half bad!

Visiting Rizal and family

On Thursday 12 September Sarah and I decided to visit Sophia in Singapore. It had been at least 2 weeks since we last saw her, during the Eid celebrations and at that time I was just too busy to really enjoy her. So off to Singapore we went!As usual the arrangements were made by Repin, my husband. And as usual we went by night train, taking the sleeping berth and arriving in Woodlands at approximately 6.30 am. After immigration and customs were over we hailed a cab and arrived at Paya Lebar at 8 am - a bit too early for my daughter in law, who was obviously woken up by us ringing the bell!

Anyway she welcomed us and prepared breakfast - pancakes with maple syrup ! Hmmm I can still remember the delicious taste of the pancakes right now- two weeks after the visit!

Sophia was excited and to show how excited she ran around the living room and jumped up and down.But she still had to go to school- nenek or not. Poh ling sent her to her pre- school which was about a block away and after that since Poh ling had a Mandarin class to attend, we decided to meet at Orchard Road and have lunch with Rizal.

We had a great time walking along Orchard and just window shopping at first. Then we had lunch with Rizal and Poh ling at a place called famous for it's sandwiches. Later Poh ling took us to a new store- H&M which is well known in UK but had just opened in Singapore! Talk about queuing for clothes - there were so many people we had to queue to go in!Even though I didnt initially want to buy anything we ended up buying a shirt for Sarah, socks for me and a sweater too. They were so cheap at the discounted prices I just had to buy! Ha ha! So says the eternal shopholic.

Repin arrived later that night and we fetched him from the station at Woodlands in Rizal's new car. It 3was quite an adventure because Rizal had not driven much in Singapore and that was to send his boss to meetings and so on. However we did not get lost - much to my surprise actually and it is true that Singapore is so small you cant really get lost!

Next day was a Saturday so we all decided to spend some time at the zoo with the small fry who was initially excited and talked of the zoo non stop before that. All that changed however when we were there - she was afraid of everything! We couldn't walk near the monkeys or any of the animals or she would scream her head off and yell instructions - no not so near, stay in the middle of the road, no don't go near the animals! Luckily all that changed after she had her lunch and a dip at the water park - which was after 2pm., by which time she had calmed down enough to allow us to take her to some of the animals. Which was the point of the whole visit actually - to introduce her to some of the animals she sees on tv or in her books. Sophie however is more like her father in many ways - one of which is their fear of anything new! Rizal as a baby was just like that - he cried when we took him to the beach  and refused to touch the sand - it was too grainy and stuck to his feet so he refused to leave my arms and clung like a baby orang utan!
Sophia in her pram "reading" the zoo map

The Singapore zoo actually deserves a whole page to itself - its so well maintained and beautifully landscaped. There are lots of huge old trees, orchids and other plants the walk around the zoo is like walking around a park and the view is certainly fantastic, with lakes and rivers all around. I hear they are adding other attractions - a river boat ride is one of them. This is one place I promise myself I will visit again.

Orchids at the zoo

2 Sep 2011

Mary Balogh's Huxtable series

Now that all the hullabaloo about Eid is over, I've got more time to sit and read a bit. Actually I have been reading, just not writing about it, mainly because I discovered a very addictive pastime - playing Angry Birds, City Story, and Empire Story on my new Ipad. I can tell you that it is very very addictive - I can sit there with my Ipad and forget about cooking or cleaning or reading for that matter! Repin comes home from work and when he sees me sitting with my Ipad he'll say - "Oh Mama is busy empire building or city building or fighting angry birds!" Which makes me feel very guilty...

Anyway now that I have a bit of time I'll just tell you all about these books I've been reading. They're about the Huxtable family which is a fairly big one. There's Constantine Huxtable, a tall, dangerously sexy and formidable guy who was the illegimate son of the Earl of Merton. He was illegitimate only by a technicality - his parents - the first Earl of Merton married his mother two days too late - and because of that he could not inherit the title and property of his own father, even though he was the first born. His second brother, who was born much later and slightly retarded, inherited the title instead. BUt his brother died early, when he was only 16 years old so the title went to a  second cousin, as the only one who was a direct descendent.

The first book- First Comes Marriage is about this second cousin's family - a family of 3 young beautiful women and one handsome young man who was to become the next Earl of Merton. Elliot Wallace is a trustee of the Hustable Estate and when the young Earl of Merton dies, it is his job to look for the next heir. He is Constantine's cousin on his mother's side and actually looks very much like him - tall with dark good looks and dangerously sexy. However, due to false rumors and prejudice, he hates Con's guts and refuses to acknowledge him, even though they are cousins and had been best friends in their teenage years. After much search they manage to find the heir to the Huxtable estate and the Earl of Merton in a remote village where he found the 4 siblings living in genteel poverty, with Margaret, the most beautiful of them all and the eldest, trying her best to keep the family afloat. Stephen, who would soon be the next Earl of Merton was a mere boy at only 17 years old. Margaret was wondering how she could send her brother to Oxford to continue his studies, as a gentleman's son should. But their father - the former Vicar of Throckbridge - had so angered their grandfather by marrying their mother - his family had cut him off without a penny, or even acknowledging them. So apart from what Margaret and Kate earned from teaching at the local school, they had no means of support.In fact soon, even their cottage would no longer be theirs and Margaret was desperate enough to think of moving somewhere where she could find work.

At this stage, along comes Elliot with his announcement that their brother Stephen was in fact the new Earl of Merton and that he would not only inherit the title but also a large sum of money and an estate that was rich beyond their imagining. The only flaw was that they found Elliot arrogant and slightly condescending and that he meant to take Stephen, their baby brother away from them! So they all refused to budge, unless they all went along to the new place. Elliot, who was supposed to guide Stephen into his new role and act as mentor was forced to accept the ultimatum and finally took all of them, including the widowed Vanessa Huxtable, the second oldest sister. In fact, Elliot who was soon to be the Earl of Moreland decided to marry one of the Huxtable sisters, which one though he was not so sure, until one of them , the most audacious of them all - proposed to him!
This is one of Mary Balogh's finest books - I always love her style, which is slightly like that of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer combined and really enjoyed the read. Her characters are lovable and real and the situations they find themselves in sometimes funny and hilarious. If you like Regency romances, then this is the book for you.

There are 5 books in all - First Comes Marriage, Then Comes Seduction, At last Comes Love, Seducing an Angel and finally A Secret Affair.

These books tell the stories of the three sisters, Vanessa (First Comes Marriage), Katherine (Then Comes Seduction), and Margaret (At Last Comes Love) and of their brother Stephen (Seducing an Angel) and second cousin Constantine (A Secret Affair).


20 Aug 2011

Fasting... or feasting?

Its that time of the year again - Ramadan - the month when we are supposed to abstain from all earthly delights - in whatever form - physical, emotional or spiritual. For most of us Muslims in Malaysia, Ramadan means one thing - to fast physically. Many of us forget, or maybe just don't realise that Ramadan does not only mean to fast or abstain from eating during the day but to abstain from all things evil or harmful to us, whether physically or emotionally. Thus it means to be free from all forms of wrong doing, whether physical or emotional. One is supposed to be free from anger and any form of malice, especially if it is directed at another human being.

If everyone adheres to the ruling then this world would indeed be a peaceful and safe place. But of course no one (or very few) follow such a ruling. Even where food is concerned, one is advised not to eat too much - gluttony is a sin, and one of the seven deadly sins at that. But come Raadan, bazaars mushroom everywhere. Today they are called Ramadan bazaars and food is plentiful. Just name what you like to eat, and provided you have the money, you can definitely buy it anywhere at the bazaar. The one near my house is a perfect example - all kinds of food and delicacies can be found there. Food that you have not eaten since you were a child like the serabai - a kind of pancake made with rice flour and eaten with a sweet concoction of bananas and brown sugar and coconut milk, can be found. Delicacies from the East coast states, from Sarawak or Penang can all be found at this bazaar. People from all walks of life will throng the place and come 6pm, the atmosphere is almost that of a fiesta; crowds of people pushing just to move, vendors selling their wares at the tops of their voices, and if that is not loud enough, using a hailer to make their voices louder and more noticeable.

I went there on the first day of Ramadan and vowed never to go again. First there is the crowd, then the noise and the smoke (from barbeque fires and others) and finally the amount  and variety of food available. I have been told - never to go food shopping when you are hungry - and oh how true that is! I bought murtabak, ayam percik, roti bom, tauhu bakar and rojak - food that can feed a normal family of four. Its not that I am greedy or a glutton, its just that the sight of so much food releases certain enzymes in our body which relays the message to our brain saying - "Buy, buy, buy!" At break time, after the euphoria of eating is over, I look at all the left overs and wonder as well as promise myself - tomorrow I will not indulge myself. I will eat less..."

Its well past the 15th day now and I still have not fulfilled my own promise. I still go to the Ramadan bazaar and buy up too much food again. My husband comes home from work and bring home some cakes he picked up at the office cafe, my maid prepares some favourite puddings or pie to add to the main dish. So in the long run we end up feasting... and not fasting. Hmmm... tomorrow my son is coming over for iftar with Emma. I wonder what I shall prepare .. better look at my recipe book.....

29 Jul 2011

Back to normal

Well Sarah has been back for almost 2 weeks now and things have settled down somewhat . Bear bear her large British short hair is also back at home still trying to get used to a house full of other felines! He is so used to being alone with Sara that he is still a little confused - what with the different climate and all. But he seems to be settling down a bit, and is getting used to seeing other people around , besides his owner.But he is cute though quite big sized - he looks like a small dog! We will need to take him to the vet one of these days,just to register him, but I felt it important to let him absorb his surroundings first and get used to the different environment.

A lot of things have happened since I last wrote - some sad and some good. First of all last week on Thursday Emma's mum passed away. Emma is my new daughter in law who got married to Wan in April this year. We had wanted to wait until July but now I'm glad that we didn't because at least she got to see her youngest daughter married. I still remember her serene look of happiness as she looked at the newly married couple. She and her husband - Mr.Ebrahim even posed on the dais after the wedding - a picture of married bliss. May her soul rest in peace.

On Saturday 23 July we celebrated Sara's return with a small family gathering - all my brothers and sisters as well as Repin's came over for the function and we had a few people from the surau to perform some prayers too. This was a good time for me to show off my new extension - don't really know what to call it - it's too small to call a sitting room and yet it is part of the living room. It kind of brightens up the living room and gives it an added character!

17 Jul 2011

Sarah and Bear Bear return home

Yesterday at 12.15 pm my daughter Sarah arrived home, or rather at KLIA. We had been texting each other since she was in Moscow airport - me because I was concerned about Bear Bear, her cat which she was bringing home to Malaysia finally. A lot of preparation had to be carried out before Bear Bear was actually allowed to come to Malaysia. The Russian authorities were very strict - his vaccinations and other documents had to be in order and he also had to take his anti -rabies shot exactly one month before departure. Then on the Malaysian side we had to get the papers from the Veterinary Department - import permit and so on. So finally the cat was allowed to be taken back here but first he had to undergo the journey - 6 hours by van from Nizhny Novgorod to Moscow, a stop at the Malaysian Embassy to get his permit stamped, then to the airport where there was a wait of another 5 hours before boarding. Bear bear had his own ticket, which costs us RM1200 - he would be in his cage in the plane with Sarah!

According to Sara he was a really good traveller - he was quiet most of the journey,only miawing for food early in the morning just before they were to arrive in Bangkok. In transit he was the centre of attraction - being a big cat (8 kg) and black a few people thought aloud whether Bear Bear was in fact a cat or a small lynx! In fact quite a few took pictures of him on the leash, walking around Bangkok airport.

Then here in KL, he had to be quarantined - luckily for a week - but much to Sara's disappointment because she had heard from a friend that her cat was not quarantined at all!  Anyway after some tears (from Sara) Bear Bear was finally released to the vet and taken to the Quarantine Department, a few kilometres away from the airport.

Of course to day we had to visit him at his quarantine place - and it was quite ok - spacious and airy. There were a few other cats with him (all in their own rooms) some were quite noisy and attention seeking.

Poor Bear Bear in the quarantine place

Bear Bear was quite stressed, judging from the furballs rolling off his back and his very quiet demeanor. In fact at first he wouldnt even acknowledge Sara who felt terribly guilty. We spent half an hour gently petting him and trying to make him relax. Looks like I will be driving to the Veterinary Department every day until he is released. Sara says she must visit him every day!

14 Jul 2011

Jill Mansell's newest book

Ellie and  her husband Jamie seem to have it all - they are desperately in love and married! Jamie is fun, gorgeous and the perfect husband, until fate takes its hand and jamie is killed in an accident on the way to a class gathering. How can Ellie cope, can she cope? She is devastated and at first just goes on from day to day without even knowing whether she has eaten or not. But sooner or later she has to go on living, and she does - she changes job, moved from a louzy apartment to a very nice neighbourhood and gets the perfect boss!
 She definitely doesn’t need a new man, not while she has a certain secret visitor to keep her company...

Ellie's boss, entrepreneur Zack McLaren seems to have it all, but the girl he can’t stop thinking about won’t give him a second glance. Why can’t she pay him the kind of attention she lavishes on Elmo, his time-share dog?
Having moved to an exclusive flat in North London, Ellie becomes friendly with neighbour Roo who’s harbouring a secret of her own. Between them, can both girls sort out their lives? 

This is just the sort of book to lift you out of your doldrums - Jill Mansell's newest certainly does that and more! A funny, yet touching romance with characters that are lively and personable. I enjoyed most of her books and this one is yet another of her romances that are full of humour and humanity. A really good book that you wont be able to put down until you've finished reading it!

I'd recommend it to anybody who enjoys chick lit once in a while and for those who love light romances. 4 out of 5!

30 Jun 2011


After the graduation ceremony we all decided to go to Moscow - Repin and I will take a flight back to KL from there and Sarah and her room mate, Zakiah will go for a short trip to St Petersberg, Helsinki, Copenhagen and Stockholm, after which they will fly back to Malaysia, tghis time for good, with Bear Bear in tow. Bear-bear's permit and visa had been prepared months ago and he will travel back to KL with Sarah on the plane! I wonder how he will take it, he being so shy and a bit of a scaredy cat.

From Nizhny Novgorod we all boarded the train at around 10.30pm. Sarah had booked two compartments - one for us and the other for Dr Mansor, Zakiah and her sister Zawiah. The train was quite okay - maybe bigger than our KTM and smoother too. It was very punctual and left NN exactly 10 minutes after 10.20, which was the boarding time. We all had sleeping berths so we quickly settled in and soothed by the swaying movement of the train, I nodded off soon after!

a tired looking Repin at the railway station

Before we knew it, it was already dawn. Here in Russia, dawn comes very early in the summer (as early as 3.30am) and dusk is as late as 10.00 pm! I had slept the whole way and soon at 6.00 a.m we could see the outskirts of Moscow already. It was rather like any other large city in the world - buildings that have not much character, industries and manufacturing areas, bits of farm land and by 6.30 we had already reached the station. There are 3 main railway stations in Moscow and this one, where we are is supposed to be one of the largest and the beginning of the Trans-Siberian Railway. As soon as we could we left the train and dragged our bags out. Together our bags numbered 11 - more than our group of six! This was why we took the train anyway - because we could never go on the S7 which had a baggage limit of 15kg.

Sarah then called the apartment but the landlady said we could only go in at 11 am so we decided to stop at the railway station and have our breakfast, which consisted of buns and a cup of coffee each.

view from our bedroom
By the time we could check into the apartment, it was already 12 noon! But the apartment was quite nice - fully furnished with 3 bedrooms and a kitchen which had a stove, an oven, a fridge and a washing machine! Now we were all set! First thing to do was explore the area so after putting away our stuff we all trooped down and took a walk. It seems the train station is just across the river which has a lovely covered walk way. The view from our bedroom is quite fantastic!

Giant Matrushka

Sarah at the walking street

We took a walk across the covered bridge and discovered that there were shops along it. Right across was a huge new shopping centre which had the giant matrushkas ( Russian nesting dolls). Zakiah and Sarah were so excited they ran all over the exhibition area to view the different matrushkas. They were simply gigantic and really beautifully painted.

The Kremlin at the Red Square

29 Jun 2011

Russian sojourn

Finally after six long years of slogging and a lot of heartache, pain and sickness suffered alone, joy and withstanding the bitter cold of a Russian winter, my youngest Sarah has graduated with an M.D! She worked hard for it of course even though critics here in Malaysia say that overseas trained graduates, especially Russian doctors are not as good as the locally trained ones! Just because many of them were not pampered government scholars who rely on the government for everything, they are looked down upon. Anyway Sarah had a grand occasion yesterday. They looked splendid in their red and black gowns and black graduation caps with red tassels. The ceremony itself was quite simple - it was presided over by the Rector of the Nizhny Novgorod State Medical Academy (NNSMA) and went without a hitch. It began with the Russian National anthem sung by a really good choir who went on to sing the university song.

The morning started with a grand gesture from the students - they had hired for themselves a limousine to go to the convocation venue- a really huge, white limousine that could take 10 of us easily. So we went to the hall in style! There they quickly dressed in their graduation robes and I noticed that there were a lot of Malaysian parents on hand to help their children. Eighty students - all from foreign countries- would be graduating this year. Almost 80% of the students are Malaysian , the rest coming from some African countries (Kenya, Tanzania and Morrocco). There were also some students from Sri Lanka and one from Indonesia.
After the ceremony we all went for a celebration lunch - at a Japanese restaurant, booked by Sarah and her friends but paid for by parents (lol).

The four young doctors

22 Jun 2011

Renovation project (2)

After the initial work (the breaking of the arches and the floor), they put up the windows for the side area. The door will be moved to the front too and will be bigger than the present one. Tomorrow they will put up the window ledges and the door but they have to plaster the walls first, which is still not done. According to the window man the walls need to be plastered and painted before he can put up the windows? Our contractor Lai Ah Yee has not even plastered the walls! And he didnt come at all today, yet he promised us he would finish it by the third week, which is this week! Sigh...

Finally after a lot of  waiting, Lai the contractor (who happened to also be Repin's cousin!) came and in one day worked his miracle. A whole crew came and fixed the plaster, put up the windows and fixed the ceiling. However  he couldn't do anything about the doors because the door man was in KL doing some other work and would only be back in Malacca on Monday! Talk of exporting our talents! Can't KL find their own door making experts? The following pictures show the transformation.

The finished product does look nice, even 80% completed as it is now. Next will be the floor and the wiring as well as the outer door.

5 Jun 2011

Renovation project in Malacca (1)

After the wedding was over Repin and I decided to continue with our planned renovation of the Malacca house - we needed to increase the floor level to prevent flooding and this can only be done if we did some major changes to the outer verandah - cover the verandah, increase the floor level, add windows. I love bay windows so this is my chance to have one!

After a lot of discussion and looking at pictures on the internet, we decided to increase the floor level (by 8 inches) and cover the wrap around verandah that is already there. We would close the verandah area and build windows instead so the verandah will be an extension of the living room. Repin intends to have large windows that look on to the yard so that he can be as close to the garden as possible, without actually going to the garden! (LOL) He also wants to set his study there! For now, its dust, and noise every day - while they skin off the outer layers of the walls and add bricks to the lower level. The following are the while renovation pictures. I'll post some after pictures once renovation is complete!

The front door that will be added

31 May 2011

Re reading old books

I'm in my re reading mood these days - didn't feel much like reading romances or thrillers either, so I went through my bookshelves and got out some much loved classics - Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty by Robin McKinley and my much loved Alice in Wonderland - the book for when you are tired, or despondent or just plain bored. When I was 10 and very very sick, my father bought this book for me - Alice in Wonderland. I was at once fascinated and engrossed in the book and forgot to be cantankerous and demanding or whiney and attention seeking.

Today the book that he bought for me is still around, though tattered and hanging by its bare threads. It should be put in a museum of much loved books - together with all the Enid Blytons, Hans Christian Anderson and Frances Hodgkins. Anyway, last year I came upon this beautiful hardcover edition with illustrations by the original artist, Sir John Tenniel at the Big Bad Wolf Sale and quickly grabbed it, thinking myself the most lucky person that day! There were only 6 copies and they cost, can you beat it, RM8.00. Gem of the year!
What I loved about Alice, and still do is the no nonsense style of Lewis Caroll. In those days I didn't care who the writer was nor how the book came about. I loved the conversational style of Alice, the main character and narrator of the story and I enjoyed her adventures. In fact for a long time after that, I wanted to be Alice and wished we had rabbits in top coats in hot tropical Malaysia, one I could follow down a rabbit hole and have adventures that were both funny and brave.

Another book that I loved and enjoyed reading recently was a re-telling of Charles Perrault's Sleeping Beauty. This was  written by Robin McKinley and called Spindle's End. It is a truly spell-binding book full of rich detail and colourful characters. The main story does follow the original - about the baby princess who was about to be baptised and on her baptism day the wicked fairy came and sent out a curse. But after this there are so many twists and turns in the story that at times one forgets that it is the story of the sleeping princess. McKinley's baby princess is rescued by a fairy, but a fairy who is not even one yet. She is only a young girl who happened to be at the christening and who happened to overhear the curse. Out of the goodness of her heart she runs to the cradle and holds the baby and says "No, no it will not happen... it will not happen.. You will have all my magic, all knowledge if it will help you at all and it will protect you." Words that became actually the little princess's protection for this young fairy had a gift of talking to animals. Somehow she found herself with the little baby princess in her arms on her way home to her village which is at the very furthest corner of the kingdom. It took her almost 65 days to to reach home , having to keep away from the main pathways and using only the forest track that wound along the borders of the country. Along the way, the little princess was helped and nurtured by all the animals in the forest - bear, fox, cow, even wolf gave their milk readily to help keep the princess quiet and safe. The fox was the first creature to help her, though generally foxes avoided humans as much as possible.

" All the creatures of forest and field and riverbank knew the infant was special. She was the princess, spirited away from the evil fairy Pernicia on her name day. But the curse was cast: Rosie was fated to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into a poisoned sleep - a slumber from which no one would be able to rouse her..."

Rosie as she was later called grew up never knowing she was a princess, away from palace rules and curses. The wicked fairy along with the whole palace, looked for her but nobody suspected that the little girl growing up with two fairies far away in a corner of the kingdom was actually a princess. For one thing she grew up to be robust and tomboyish, liking all manner of boy adventures rather than to sit at home and learn to spin. She was also, inspite of the gifts by her twelve fairy godmothers, quite homely looking. Her hair was beautiful it is true, being long and golden and blond and soft as silk. She had a very happy nature and the gift of friendship - everyone who knew her loved her. But she had a nose which while not ugly, was a trifle big for er face and eyes which were as blue as the skies with long curly lashes but which were too big for her small inquisitive features. She was protected by the very ordinariness of her upbringing and thus it was that she never knew that she was the princess the whole country was talking about, until just the week before she turned 21, when a stranger came to the door and claimed to be from the palace and that she Rosie was actually a princess.

After that night things happened very fast. Penicia the wicked fairy who had been looking for her finally realised where she was. The handsome young man who had come to work as Narl's apprentice was actually a prince and her bethrothed, but he was in love with Peony her best friend. Rosie herself realised that she did not want to become the princess and rule a kingdom but preferred to be in her village looking after the animals. But curses as we know cannot be thwarted and so things become even more interesting after this. All in all , this is a very satisfactory book to read, even if you are not really a fan of fantasy or fairy tales. The writer weaves a tale that is really magical and yet so astoundingly real that once you start, you cannot put the book down until you have reached the end. Because the end is not like the fairy tale. There is a ball where the princess was supposed to be introduced to her family and her kinsmen but Pernicia comes to this ball too. And the curse is thrown except that this time, it is Rosie alone who can rescue herself. And this she does, with the help of all her animal friends (very Disneyish this one) but also Narl the blacksmith who is actually a fairy in disguise and who loved her. Like all good fairy tales there is a happy ending, though it is not the ending we all think it would be. I would give this book a 4 out of 5!  Very good read indeed and one a lover of words would love - beautifully written with lots of descriptions.

21 May 2011

Surabaya jaunt 2

An Tibetan llama greeted us as soon as we entered the gates
The Surabaya Safari Park is situated roughly 25km out of the city. Its a sprawling 290 hectares of  woodland - huge grassy areas blend well with huge old trees that simply look as if they have been there for centuries, instead of only 20 years old. Well most of the trees are but many are also older than that. But I beleive what Malaysia failed to produce, Indonesia has done quite well - a well maintained safari park. There are easily more than 60 0r 70 animal species here, with most of the major large mammals as well as the reptiles and birds represented.

The tigers were beautiful - large and rather lazy looking they were all having a siesta in the afternoon. One lion was seen having a drink but this one was quite old looking, and thin too.

We saw the endangered Sumatran rhinos from far though - there were three of them but they were too lazy to move. The elephants however were a mite too friendly and when Wan threw some bananas out at them, a trunk came sniffing right inside our van!

The most interesting of these animals to me were the dancing elephants! They could actually sway to music!

Surabaya jaunt

Last week we all flew to Surabaya for a supposedly long weekend break. However it didnt really turn out to be a relaxing one - not for me or Emma, my new daughter in law who was with us. First the flight there was early in the morning - at 8.30 am, which meant that we had to leave the house about 5.15 am!  We arrived in Surabaya about mid morning - just nice we thought. But the journey from the airport to the city was horrendous - a mile long jam indeed awaited us just as we left the airport, on the way to Bromo, a mountain resort,  70 km west of Surabaya. Because of the congestion, the driver decided it would be better for us to have an early lunch since Bromo it seemed is not a town,nor even a village, but just a resort in the midst of acres of tea and other vegetation.
After a long journey along a narrow, bumpy, winding road that seemed more like a track used for jeeps we arrived at Bromo Cottages, a resort about 3000m above sea level. Mount Bromo is actually a volcano, an active one at that! The resort however is only about 2,000m above sea level but even then the temperature was fairly cool - very temperate, I'd say. Almost like an English spring!

Hydrangeas just outside our cottage

Lillies and roses on the slopes

Bromo Cottages itself is quite a surprise - a welcome one. The cottages are really single- roomed chalets and they are all on the hill slopes. So we had to climb down a few stairs to get to ours, which luckily is just next to my son's. Shasha my daughter and Yatie, our maid has another cottage closer to the main reception. There are flowers all over the slopes and around the cottages. Hydrangeas as big as plates bloom brightly beside our cottage and the roses are simply stunning. All around us we can see the mountains - green and verdant. Other cottages dot the hillside - these we were told later are workers' cottages. The hillside is heavily planted - all kinds of vegetables (temperate ones like cabbages, onions, potatoes, carrots etc) are grown here. There are also a lot of apple orchards but they were further down. We stopped at one on our way to Surabaya, the next day and I managed to take a few photos.

Apple trees
 Evening comes early in these parts and by 5pm the mists are rising and the clouds cover the sky. We stayed indoors after some tea, taken with Indonesian meatball soup - me to finish reading my book and Repin to tinker with his blackberry. There is very poor reception, but I'm not surprised.

That night we all retired early, not least because we were bushed by the journey, but also partly because there was nothing else to do! The next day was Sunday and the plan was to visit an apple farm and a waterfall, then on to the Safari Park. We ended up just doing the last one - there's nothing much one can do at an apple farm (its not picking season yet) and none of us were prepared to climb a rocky hillside to see the waterfall. At least the Safari park was interesting, though the animals, especially the lions, looked a little too thin for my liking. Pictures will be in the next write up.