Last Day in St. Petersburg ∼ St. Peter& Paul Fortress

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Is the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral the most beautifully adorned church I have ever seen? – without a doubt! It’s amazing internal design by Domenico Trezzini and Ivan Zarundy (1722-1729), successfully combines elements from the traditional Russian Orthodox with western Catholicism in a stunning Baroque style.

The details of our trip were quite sparse and after a long day visiting various locations we were ushered quickly in through the gates.  I must admit the external structure did not prepare me for its stunning interior. The church is not huge, but there is a lavish array of architectural splendor on display. Personally, it was the sumptuous ceilings which drew my attention; the cathedral is a rich and potent source of Russian history and probably contains more decorative gold in its iconoclasts than I have seen previously in my entire lifetime…

As well as, the iconoclasts and paintings, the Cathedral is also an important burial vault, containing the tombs of Peter the Great, and  Alexander II. In 1998 the remains of the last Russian Emporer  Nicholas II and members of his family who were killed at Ekaterinburg in the revolution of 1918, were buried inside. There is so much to see that is breathtakingly beautiful, and the history of the Cathedral and Fortress is fascinating.

Did I save the best until last? Absolutely – I hope you enjoy the photos!

 

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A walking tour ∼Photos from St. Petersburg

On my walking tour of St. Petersburg, the thing which surprised me the most was the vast scale of the city. My tour took in some stunning sites, which I have tried to capture in the images below.

Without a doubt, the most spectacular is the roof of Church on the Spilled Blood, which is the featured image above. The church was built on the spot where the Emperor Alexander ll was murdered in 1881. The design is incredibly beautiful the church is both a historical monument and amazing work of art. As this was a walking tour, unfortunately, I did not have time to visit the stunning mosaics inside – maybe next time…

Other photos below include The Winter Palace, Palace Square, St Isaac’s Cathedral and a statue of the famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canal trip – St Petersburg, Russia

Today I’m talking about my recent Baltic trip and have posted some photos of the wonderful canal trip taken by myself and my husband in St. Petersburg. It was a cold and rainy day, and if you catch the short video at the end, you will see it wasn’t the best day weather wise, but it was a wonderful experience, which I would highly recommend should you choose to visit Russia!

The trip took about an hour and twenty minutes and it was really special. I had little idea of the huge scale of the city until this point. St. Petersburg was founded in 1703, and was originally the capital of the Russian empire. It was the rather daring vision of Peter 1st to whom this grandiose and very ambitious project was symbolic of an era of confidence, extravagance, and optimism. The city was built on northern reclaimed marshland, which was perpetually wreathed in mist – which explains the less than optimum weather conditions many visitors to St. Petersburg experience. But as I am sure you are already aware, you don’t go to Russia for the climate…

When planning a Russian trip, you are required to obtain a visa, and the easiest way to do this is to book via a travel agent who will sort it out for you (it’s not cheap around 120 euros) or you can go on an organised group trip as we did. Even so, passport control is very strict and time-consuming. I did think I was going to have to continue without my husband at one point – when they brought a very official looking man uniform to question him about some apparently unsavoury stamps in his passport – he does get about a bit… but they eventually let him through and thankfully, the bus was still there waiting for us to join it!

Back to the boat trip: there are 342 bridges in total on the river Neva, which runs from Lake Ladoga, right through the middle of the city into the Gulf of Finland. On this canal trip, we lost count of how many bridges we passed under and there was some stunning wrought ironwork to be seen. It was an amazing trip with such an impressive collection of beautiful buildings and a vast assortment of bridges; some of which were so low that our tour guide instructed us to duck our heads as we went under them – and you most definitely needed to!

If the video looks upside – it does right itself once you press play!

 

Cooling in the Troodos Mountains & Free murder mystery book!

We decided to take a break in the Troodos mountains to escape the heat of Oroklini, and my husband and I also were celebrating our wedding anniversary the previous week so this was a special trip for us! We had been to the Troodos mountains In Cyprus before but never to the very charming village of Kalopanayiotis. It is so beautiful and peaceful up here – I have included a photo of our apartment balcony, which overlooks the river and has an amazing unrestricted view of the mountains. Kalopanayiotis village is very traditional in style, with cobbled narrow streets and pathways picturesque balconies and courtyards. It is surrounded by beautiful green forest vegetation and stunning landscapes.

The village is very attractive and there is a lot to see for such a small place, including several small churches as well as the Ayios Ioannis Lampadistis Monastery (courtyard photos below – you are not allowed to photograph the interior) which is literally on our doorstep. There are many restaurants and traditional taverns serving delicious food (some of the best we have tasted in Cyprus – I would definitely recommend the Old Cinema- the mezze was gorgeous!).

To celebrate our trip into the mountains in Cyprus, my kindle book Buried in the Hills which is partially set in the Troodos, as well as my own village Oroklini, is FREE on all Amazon sites at the moment. If you would like to have your own mountain adventure, then please follow the links on the Amazon photo below! It’s

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Next Stop∼Tallinn

This was my first visit to Tallinn, and indeed to Estonia!  It was not at all as I imagined because I think I expected something a little less colourful and austere.  The architecture in the old centre was beautiful, a mixture of romantic pastel coloured prettiness and stately gothic splendor. The Town Hall Square had a lovely mixture of restaurants and bars offering excellent quality food, and it was a great place to spend the day people watching and taking in the friendly atmosphere.

I was surprised at how contained the tourism was, the shops were not full of tacky, mindless rubbish you see in some places, it was more hand knitted socks, homemade handicrafts and really amazing amber jewelry – which of course I couldn’t resist! The town is famous for its markets, which have been happening since the 11th century; unfortunately, I didn’t catch one, but still managed to come away with lots of pretty amber pieces.

This was a quick visit but I wanted to mention it as it was so nice to roam around the beautiful old buildings, some of which date back to the 15th century. The centre had a lot of charm and the oldest coffee shop, the Maiasmokk Café, was gorgeously old fashioned as well as being very popular!

As well as the historic areas, Tallinn is actually a hub for IT and communications, with many major companies having development centres in the commercial part of the city. Tallinn is not only beautiful, historical and friendly, but is a surprisingly innovative and modern city too! ∼

First Stop Copenhagen!

There is nothing quite as exciting as travelling to somewhere that you have never been to before!  That feeling of not knowing what lays around the next corner, what you will see and whom you might meet, are all good reasons to venture to holiday destinations which you have never tried before. I had never been to any of the Scandinavian countries I was about to visit on this trip, and obviously, I was very excited to discover the cold North, as well as travelling to my dream travel destination of St. Petersburg, Russia.

The trip began in Copenhagen which was pleasantly cool after the heat wave in Cyprus, which had sent temperatures soaring before we left. It was a nice place, although smaller than I had imagined. We had taken a trip around the city and to be honest, you could have walked around the city center or taken a hop-on-hop-off bus just as easily. As on most guided tours there was a lot of historical information, which is great, but I probably only retained a small amount of this and am not going to bore you with lots of facts, particularly as most of the information was about the river, port and new buildings, which to be honest, looked a little unexciting.

The nicest part of the city is Nyhavn, this is the area with the fish restaurants and bars next to the canal, and it’s a very good spot to relax, take in the atmosphere and have a cold Carlsberg if you are so inclined. After our city tour that’s exactly what we did, before our trip to the ice bar, which turned out to be a lot more fun than we had imagined that it would be.

In the Reflections Ice Bar (the only one of its kind in Denmark, they seem to like to tell you – it opened about a month ago). The walls, tables, and bar are all completely covered with ice and there are some sculptured ice pieces too. It feels as if it is freezing, although it’s probably a few degrees above. It cost around 20 euros for entrance (this is a conversion price from Danish Krone) and for that, you got to wear an enormous cape, which stops you from literally freezing ( although you do end up looking like you have just escaped from an old episode of Dr. Who) and your first 2 drinks. There is a shot of vodka or whiskey served in a molded ice cube, and a cocktail mix in a plastic pot, that resembles one of those plastic dispensers that you use for washing powder! This is a traditional kåsa or cup, apparently. I can report that both drinks were delicious and the bar was very lively and a lot of fun.  Thanks to our enormous hooded cloaks we were able to stay on, for our full forty minute slot.…

Helen Dunmore∼Your Blue-Eyed Boy

Your Blue Eyed boyWhen a writer whom you admire immensely, dies, and you have to start referring to them in the past tense, even though you know that their work will endure, long past their own personal expiry date (5/6/2017), the question is, which book of theirs do you review?

Should it be Helen Dunmore’s last book, Birdcage Walk, which contains insightful references to the illusory nature and often damaged durability of life? Or perhaps it would be more meaningful to pay homage to the novel whose influence, if you are kind enough to look for it, can be seen in my own writing (especially in the flash fiction, Winter Baby).

As both a writer and reader, I cannot resist opting for the novel which impressed me the most, the book I have read endless times, whose characters gained my attention years ago, and were seemingly unwilling to let me go. So for me, in remembrance of her brilliance, it’s got to be, Your Blue-Eyed Boy.

The novel is about blackmail, ‘the most intimate of crimes’  it’s about how it makes you feel, how it entangles and corrupts your soul and the lengths to which it can make you go, in order to keep your dark, shameful secrets from destroying your already troubled life.

“The wind blows harder and your house begins to move on a sea that was always there, beneath the crust of the land. And you are afraid, but you are beginning to move with it.”

Simone is deeply in debt, she has taken a job she doesn’t want or enjoy, in order to support her family, through her husband, Donald’s bankruptcy and subsequent emotional breakdown. Donald is gravitating towards suicide, his attitude of relentless negativity is wearing Simone down to a point in which things look very desperate indeed.

Add to the mix, a disturbed middle-aged man, recently released from prison, who was once her lover and has become her nemesis; the prognosis is not healthy, the characters are horribly damaged and appear to be on the verge of dissolution and disintegration.

“He has consumed himself. He has made himself not exist anymore in this middle-aged man with bulky flesh and face. He has lost his fine sharpness. He is loose and blurred, like a photograph out of focus, stickered with a note from the laboratory that tells you where you have gone wrong. I look for what I knew before.”

The writing is beautiful, dark and uncompromising in its willingness to explore what it feels like to face a serious threat, only to discover, that perhaps the most deadly danger of all, was already lingering, malevolently, inside of you.

Why do I enjoy her writing so much? It is her style, which is unique; her special combination of poetry and prose blending seamlessly, giving a sense of transcendence as if she is pushing at the boundaries of what it is possible to express.

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Helen Dunmore & her poetry: Passionfood-three poems about love.

 

Please note that I will be taking a two-week holiday break and then I will be back with some travel reviews

 

You’re Not Supposed to Cry ∼ Gary Duncan

After I mentioned this book by Gary Duncan in the previous post (when I was interviewed by Fiona Mcvie), I thought it would be a good idea to write a book review – as hopefully, you will already be aware, I try to keep  a balanced  blend of books, travel pieces and my own writing on this site, and I haven’t reviewed any new books for almost a year!

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So why this one? Obviously, I really enjoyed reading it or I wouldn’t be posting this; but what was so special about it? This book is actually a collection of flash fiction – around 60 in total, each one beautifully crafted and insightful from writer and editor Gary Duncan, who runs the website Spelk, which is dedicated to amazing pieces of flash fiction. Do I have a personal favorite? , Yes of course, for me it got to be Better Than This,  in which a young man with sex on his mind, is lured into babysitting for a woman who appears to have no moral qualms about deceiving him, or leaving her young children with someone she barely knows; in order to enjoy a night out with her equally horrible boyfriend. The story made me smile, but horrified me at the same time!

In this collection, the situations and characters are very flawed and human, and there are many layers of complexity, which draw you into a fragmented, but instantly recognizable, fictional world. But instead of  me wittering on  endlessly about how much I  enjoyed it, here is my actual review:

This superb collection of flash fiction offers readers a perfectly formed, miniature world of other people’s wishes, desires, dreams and regrets. The elegant but understated writing style creates a dynamic tension between the simplicity of the stories, and the complexity of the lives and actions of the beautifully formed characters, which we are observing. Each story, memory, fragment and feeling, has been crafted with a very poignant sense of emotional intelligence.  Some stories are subtle; some will make you smile, while others are uncompromisingly honest. This book is a kaleidoscope of multifaceted characters and situations, whom you will remember long after you have finished reading; finding their hopes, fears and very human humiliations, have somehow, quite imperceptibly, blended into your own.

Yes – it really is that good – but don’t just take my word for it! – check it out for yourself…

 

Gary’s book at Vagabond Voices

At Amazon co.uk

Here is my interview with Sonia Kilvington

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Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.

 

Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?

I’m Sonia Kilvington and I’m 53.

 

Fiona: Where are you from?

I was born in Hartlepool in the North East of England. My family on my dad’s side came from the Headland. My mum and her family lived in the museum, where my granddad was curator. I havelived in various locations around that area for most of my life, before moving to Cyprus 11 years ago.

 

Fiona: A little about your self (ie,  your education, family life, etc.).

Icurrently live in a lovely Cypriot village called Oroklini with my husband Derek. I have been working as a journalist and freelance feature writer/editor on local and glossy magazines for the last 9 years; but writing fiction has always been…

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An interview with Tom Vater ∼ writer& publisher

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Here is my interview with the multi-talented Tom Vater!

Tom is a crime author, journalist, documentary writer and the co-founder of Crime Wave Press. If that wasn’t enough, he can write in two languages and his work has been published in an impressive variety of cool places such as: The Wall Street Journal, The Times, The Guardian, The Nikkei Asian Review, Marie Claire, Geographical and Penthouse, as well as being The Daily Telegraph’s travel’s destination expert for Thailand!

Although his publishing imprint is based in Hong Kong, Tom is always on the move somewhere in Southern Asia; his last known whereabouts being Cambodia, where it was great to have the opportunity to catch up with him and ask a couple of pertinent questions!

You first travelled to Asia in 1993, to document indigenous music for the British Library’s International Music Collection, and have remained there ever since writing novels, documentary screenplays, and travel features and guides; why do you find Asia so fascinating?

I suppose, after fifteen years in the UK, where I studied and then played guitar in punk rock bands, I felt it was time to move on. Two friends invited me and my then partner to India and I was hooked from the minute we touched down in Delhi.  Everything I’d learned in school and life could be upended here. I realised that one could think about reality and live life in a way that was diametrically opposite to the way one lived in Europe. I also understood that as a European one could live outside of Europe however one chose to. Of course that is part illusion but when you are in your mid-twenties, it’s very real. We stayed five weeks in India. I think I never slept. We returned to the UK, sold all our belongings and hit the road for five years, traveling around India, Pakistan, Nepal, Iran, Turkey, The Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia. Of course I needed something to do beyond recording music for The British Library who graciously supported me with a small grant, so I started writing. I needed to deconstruct and then reconstruct my new reality to make sense of it, but also to celebrate it. I fell in love with India and by extension with Asia, with its people, its outlook, its culture, its bright and its dark side, and it has never let me go.

When you had your first article was published in 1997, was it a pivotal moment for you as a writer, maybe a sense of being in the right place at the right time?

Absolutely. I was living in Kathmandu and had met a couple of cyclists who’d ridden their bikes from Switzerland to Nepal. They were writing about their experiences but needed help to get the stories into good enough shape to sell them. So I accompanied them to the offices of The Rising Nepal, the government daily. I edited their work and watched the editor pay them for their efforts. A light went on in my head. I asked the editor if he’d take one of my stories and he agreed if I had anything interesting to say. I knew a little about Nepali music, so a month later I was back with text and photos and they gave me the weekend supplement and I never looked back. I’ve been making a living from writing ever since. Definitely an epiphany.

You seem to live a nomadic existence, travelling far and wide across Southern Asia – is this purely for work projects or does this ‘on the road’ lifestyle fuel your own writing?

After some twenty-five years on the road it is both work and life style, it has become second nature. It is for work of course. I am writing these lines in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Last week I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Next month I will be back in Thailand, then in Hong Kong, then on to London, France and Germany. From there back to Cambodia. And so on. I have my usual stomping grounds but I also live exploring new destinations. I was in Sri Lanka for the first time last year. In January 2018 I hope to be traveling to Colombia. Most of the travel is work related but as I have friends in lots of corners of Asia, the travel has become life. I don’t think I have been anywhere for more than three months in the last two and half decades.

Your detective novel, ‘The Cambodian Book of the Dead,’ is incredibly atmospheric and engaging, how were you able to create such an amazingly authentic sense of place and time in your book?

I first came to Cambodia in 1995, illegally on a speed boat from Trat to Koh Kong. Someone wrote that Cambodia is the most dangerous country in the world, first you fall in live with it and then it breaks your heart. Someone else had told me that a kilo of weed was one US$ in Cambodia. I wanted to find out whether either was true. And it was, and there was more… the realities of forty  years of conflict infused with the superficial, trivial cultural reference points I brought with me – Apocalypse Now, the Vietnam War, the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields movie.

When I had returned to Had Lek, on the Thai side of the border, a man called out to me from the Cambodian side, asking me if I was going to the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh and whether I might be able to deliver a letter for his wife whom he had not seen for years. We talked through the wire until the Thai soldiers shooed me away. One fate in millions, terrible, broken by war and life that has reverberated with me to this day. I could not help him.

I returned in February 2001. I made a film with my brother about the future of Angkor (we were too conservative in our imaginings) and began to write about the country, the people, the politics. I travelled everywhere and sucked up as many stories as I could for a few years. I was at the current king’s coronation and the grave of Pol Pot. I saw Khieu Samphan (since convicted for mass murder and crimes against humanity) in the street in Pailin. I interviewed the sons of the elite about their hobby – gang raping impoverished sex workers. Because of the Khmer Rouge history and the subsequent venal government that rules the country to this day, the appalling were and are common place and I was mesmerised by this for a long time. Everything one could point to as corrupted and unjust in European society was amplified by a thousand times in this beautiful and terrible country.

And I am writing these lines in Cambodia. More than fifteen years on, there are roads and a couple of hospitals now but by and large the venality has not changed. My eye has changed and I am more detached now. But I still think Cambodia is a very special place, full of lovely people. And some right bastards. So all that sucked me in and enabled me to write The Cambodian Book of the Dead.

One of your collaborations with the renowned photographer Aroon Thaewchatturat produced the bestselling book ‘Sacred Skin’ – what drew you to this unusual project and did you discover anything that you hadn’t expected to find?

Having been based in Thailand for years, I wanted to write a book about the country that was not about monks, beaches or elephants. I also wanted to write a book about working class Thais who almost never get a voice in their own country – the elite dictates the cultural discourse and looks down on darker skinned people, indigenous people, foreigners, really anyone who’s different from the top 5%. Sak Yant, the country’s sacred tattoo tradition was the perfect subject and with Aroon, I submerged myself in this mystical world of mantras, hidden meanings and blood for a year.

You are the co – founder of Crime Wave Press, an indie publisher based in Hong Kong – this seems like a brave move as the area is not best known for its crime fiction – has your publishing imprint proved to be as successful as you had originally hoped?

Well, we are still here after five years. We have published 31 titles to date. We have sold thousands of books. The company keeps itself afloat. One of our books The Curious Corpse by Nick Wilgus, will be made into a feature length movie. But selling books is a hard slog and we can’t compete with massive advertising budgets of the five large publishing conglomerates. And of course most people read terribly conservative crime fiction pap. The days when incredible writers like Raymond Chandler, Chester Hymes, Jim Thompson or Ross MacDonald shifted copies have given way to shallow authors like Jo Nesbo which I find simply mind-numbing. There are some exceptional crime fiction authors around today. I am a big fan of Philip Kerr for example. But the publishing business is so totally profit oriented and readers by and large want to be comforted, not challenged, so a lot of real talent is not published or ends up with tiny imprints like ours. And me and my partner Hans Kemp are quite eclectic in our choices of what we publish. But I love publishing exceptional crime fiction and am very proud to have provided a platform for many writers who might otherwise not have been published at all

 Are all of the crime books on your list about Asia or written by Asian writers?

Initially we wanted to publish only titles set in Asia. But we could not find enough good titles and did not want to publish bar girl novels or Vietnam War reminiscences – that’s what most of the submissions we initially received boiled down to. There are an awful lot of retired white men living in Southeast Asia, most of them insufferable conservative bores, who feel the need to put their rather modest fictional ideas to paper.

So we branched out and now sign authors from all over the world. That said, our two most successful writers, American Nick Wilgus and Kiwi Brian Stoddart both write crime fiction series set in Asia. We currently only have one Asian writer in our catalogue, Kalyan Lahiri from Kolkata, who writes wry whodunits set in West Bengal.

In ‘The Man with the Golden Mind, which is the second in the Maier detective series, the story originates in Laos, where you filmed a revealing documentary about a clandestine CIA War; are there more secrets for Maier to discover in this new novel?

Indeed, the research for The Man with the Golden Mind was largely derived from a documentary I co-wrote with director Marc Eberle called The Most Secret Place on Earth about the CIA’s largest clandestine mission at the time in the 1960s in Laos. The film, broadcast in thirty countries to date, demonstrates how the US committed crimes against humanity on the sidelines of the better remembered Vietnam War and whether this has informed US military adventures since. The novel is a meditation on foreign intervention but it is also, as it turns out, a father son story as Detective Maier encounters his long lost dad and is confronted by very serious personal questions – what does it mean to be adrift in this world without home or roots for example. And Henry Kissinger gets a cameo.

That was interesting! Any closing thoughts Tom?

Thanks very much, Sonia, for the opportunity to answer your thoughtful questions.

My pleasure – I feel a little closer to exotic Asia, after this interview!

More info on Tom Vater