An afternoon in Cambodia

There are few things in life which I enjoy more than a holiday aboard a Thompson (TUI) cruise ship. That little blue plastic card is the ticket to two weeks of paradise! The first stop on our trip was in Cambodia – not the most obvious choice of a tourist destination but interesting nonetheless.

Our first trip out from the boat was to Sihanoukville on Cambodia’s south-west coast overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. With only an afternoon free in this port we boarded a tuk-tuk (complete with smoking engine and decorated with green astroturf) around a couple of areas of interest, including the famous ‘golden lions statue’ and the Wat Leu Temple on the outskirts.

There is a lot of poverty in Cambodia and it is impossible to ignore people living by the roadside and children begging for money in the streets. There is also massive construction work of luxurious apartments and it seems that every other renovated building is a casino, which is a shame.

Cambodia has a terrible history as I am sure you are already aware, and any decent tour guide will point out the killing fields and the legacy of the Khmer Rouge 1975 -1979, when Buddhist temples were destroyed, desecrated and used as mass graves. Even before this, the country was bombed consistently in the Vietnamese War with America.

The country is trying to rebuild and establish itself as a tourist base, and it does have a lot to offer, although there is such a lot of work needing to be done. Should we visit Cambodia again in, say, another ten years’ time, I am sure that it will look very different…

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Photos of Lake Bled∼ Slovenia

 

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There are few sights more beautiful than Slovenia in the autumn! Here are some photographs I took on a wonderful day out in Lake Bled, before attending the Alibi International Crime/ Noir Festival in Slovenska Bristrica. This was my first ever trip to Slovenia – but it certainly will not be my last!

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An interview with Renato Bratkovič ~ creator of Alibi International Crime/Noir Festival!

As you may know, I have just spent a wonderfully creative weekend at the amazing Alibi International Crime/Noir Festival in Slovenia, which was the hosted and created by the very talented writer and creative advertising director,  Renato BratkovičThe festival is unique in its concept and originality, and so I was it was a real  pleasure to catch up with Renato, to ask him he felt about this year’s event…

Alibi is a unique, noir festival, set in the beautiful Slovenian mountains. What was the initial inspiration for its creation?

Nino, our friend photographer, and I made the film about Gora pod lipo (http://www.gorapodlipo.com) back in July 2015. When the film was finished I realised, what a lovely place this was. I could imagine a bunch of writers writing there, eating, drinking, having fun … I told Lena (she runs the place with her boyfriend Primož) about the idea and she said, “Yeah, sure, create a concept and we’ll do something about it.” After two weeks I had this idea about inviting five writers for a weekend, let them draw titles for their stories, write them and present them in the end. The last weekend in September the first guests arrived.

This is the third year of the festival, how has it has evolved since the beginning?

We try to add little bits every year – the writing workshop concept, where participating writers get their titles and have to write the stories, is unique I believe, but I wanted a film night as well. The first Alibi happened so fast and the film I wanted to present (the first official Slovenian film noir Case: Osterberg)  but I was travelling from festival to festival at the time, so we ended up with Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me.

We hosted Case: Osterberg with the screenwriter and the producer last year, and this year we presented a film based upon my story and we invited my favorite director, Damjan Kozole, with his film Night Life.

What are your feelings about this year’s event?

Well, it seems I’m lucky to choose writers who form a brilliant team. And this year was no exception. But most of all, I’m happy I had more women than men this year. Women tend to write even darker stories then men, I think.

Alibi differs from many other literary festivals as the writers create their stories while in attendance – do you believe it is important to celebrate spontaneous creativity?

I believe we need this sense of accomplishment in the end. I mean it’s great if you’re able to visit a festival where you read your own work, but when you find yourself with a task of having to create something on the spot and present your work, you win twice: you get this beautiful feeling of having created something and you have one more story that year. I guess this is what drives my guests to come here and I’m happy about it.

How has the festival evolved over the years, and what are your future aspirations for Alibi?

Well, the workshop concept will definitely remain the core of the festival. In the future I’d also like to have Slovenian publishers as guest – maybe some collaboration between them and our participating writers might come out of it.

My story began with Bistrica Noir literary evening at our local library a couple of years ago, so I’ll try and find a way to get them involved in the festival. And I feel one film night is not enough.

As this was the third year, my plan is to have an anthology with 25 stories published every five years. So in three years, all the writers from the first five years are going to be invited to join us again for the sixth edition when we’re going to promote the book and have some real fun. But we’ll have to find some additional sponsors.

Thank you for your interesting insights Renato!

For more information on the festival why not visit the Website and Alibi FB Page?

For further information on Renato please visit:

 Radikalnews

Artisan advertising and publishing house.

Renato at Amazon

 

 

Alibi International Crime/Noir Literary Festival

 

The Invitation

I was very fortunate enough to be asked to the 3rd Alibi International Crime/Noir Festival in the beautiful surroundings of Slovenska Bistrica, Slovenia. It is a very special event with five guest writers invited to spend the weekend surrounded by stunning scenery in the mountains at the idyllic Gora Pod Lipo . The festival is organized in conjunction with Artisan advertising and publishing house and Tednik Panorama, media sponsor.

How was the experience?

Imagine the nicest place you have visited on holiday; then add some of the best cuisine you have ever tasted, a beautiful full-bodied red wine, named Alibi especially for this event, add a selection talented writers, a lovely, comfortable hotel in the mountains, (Hotel Jakec) and of course, a cool bar to hang out in when you are not writing (Bar Grega). It’s all true! I can assure you I am not exaggerating – this was a very special event!

What did you do?

On the Friday evening (after I had spent a lovely day at Lake Bled with advertising creative, writer, and festival organizer Renato Bratkovič, the five writers attended a dinner at Goro Pod Lipo, (where we were spoiled the entire weekend with excellent food and wine), and each of us drew a slip of paper with our story title ready for the following  days writing.

Did we enjoy creating new stories?

Yes very much! Of course, there is a little extra pressure in writing a full short story to be read the following day, But as the guest writer, poet, and publisher Jaka Tomc observed, sometimes a little pressure can be a good thing for a writer…

Goro pod lipo has a warren of private rooms and secluded spaces and so we all chose our own areas, carefully, meeting up for coffee with German, thriller writer, Silvija Hinzmann . And Croatian radio presenter and fiction writer Andrea Žigić-Dolenec   for delicious meals in the cozy, traditional style restaurant.

Where there any trips out?

On Saturday evening we all bundled into the minivan and headed down to the local cinema in Slovenka Bristrica. The first feature was a new film starring Igor Korošec, Jana Jeglič was created by Artisan, Final Focus,  called Minus 1 – and very entertaining it was too. I loved the noir feel of the piece and the character- without revealing too much, was very dark and manipulative; but he did want to help…

The second film was called Nightlife, which was based on a real-life incident with a lawyer in Ljubljana. To say that this man exceeded the boundaries of taste and decency is an understatement. The lawyer’s wife seemed a little dubious too, she kept saying she didn’t understand what was happening, but I was never sure if that was actually true. Her attempts to hide evidence in her handbag while being questioned at the police station, were quite humorous, although I’m not entirely sure if this was meant to be the case. The film’s director Damjan Kozole,  kindly answered our questions afterward.

After all of that hard work, what did you do to relax?

As if you need to ask! We all headed off to the very cool Bar Grega to drink more wine, local beers … and yes, eat a little extra, delicious food… more strudel anyone? (as I’m sure you can imagine being a writer is very thirsty work, and we have to keep our strength up by consuming as many calories as possible in order to produce our very best efforts!)

What happened on Festival Day?

After spending the morning editing our stories and drinking coffee (caffeine is also indispensable to the writing process) we prepared ourselves for the event. The five stories readings came first, followed by some questions from Renato, and then from the audience. It all went very smoothly, and the audience seemed to be engaged and entertained. There was a pleasant time spent socializing afterward with the audience members, quite a few of whom, we recognized from the bar and the cinema earlier.

So what happens next?

The stories will be translated so that they can be read in Slovenian and English and the will be posted on the website, and eventually, they will be included in an exciting anthology of stories with the writers of the previous years and future festivals. I will, of course, keep you informed of what’s going on and when the stories are posted for reading.

For more information why not visit the Website and Alibi FB Page?

 

 

 

 

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.…