Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Holiday Diaries: Moraira, Spain

This past week since I came back from holiday has been long and looking at these photos has me itching to jump on the next plane to Alicante and go back to the warm and chilled shores of Moraira.

Moraira is a marina town on the Costa Blanca, about 45 minutes away from Alicante. Despite its closeness to the fairly built-up tourist spots of Benidorm and Calpe, it's incredibly unspoilt and a really peaceful place to spend a week away from the turmoil that was the week of Brexit in the UK. It's a place my family and I have visited fairly regularly since I was about 8, so it feels like a really true home away from home for us.

Our 'home from home', the villa we stayed in; the view down to El Portet; coffee at El Cafeti de la Mar; fountains in Moraira
What We Did
When we weren't just chilling out by the pool, we headed to...

Moraira Beach: A really sandy, quite popular beach. You can hire sun loungers & umbrellas if you don't fancy dragging your own down to the beach with you; if you like water activities you can do anything from hiring a pedalo to playing on the weird inflatable activity thing. There's also a nice cafe on the beach itself, which sells my fave frozen lemon drinks which I'm kind of addicted to.

El Portet Beach: My personal favourite. Not as big as Moraira, but the sea is almost still. You have to walk for ages before it gets deep enough to swim in, and you can spot fish and all sorts in the sea too. It's served by two cafes, the one further down is the better one if you fancy a quick toastie or sandwich and drink whilst you're there (they've also got a lovely cat). 

Altea: On a day that was supposed to be overcast and then turned out to be pretty scorchio, we visited the nearby town of Altea. It has a really beautiful old church at the centre of its raised old town and a really nice seafront packed with bars and restaurants. It's also got great shopping and markets (where you can get 10 churros for about 2euros).
The view down to El Portet beach; the view across to Calpe from El Portet; Moriara beach; that lemon drink <3

Where We Ate/Drank
Del Pescador, Calle Mar 33: This place has bizarrely sniffy reviews on TripAdvisor which I find totally confusing. We liked it here so much we went twice (and we've been loads before). A really traditional Spanish restaurant, we first had the Menu of the Day (which was amazing value) and second time around we had a paella. The service has never not been great when we've been; a lot of the reviews seem to suggest that the staff don't understand English which is just plain wrong (though it obviously helps if you can at least speak a touch of Spanish) I really recommend it for actual authentic food.

Pulcinella, Avda de la Paz 14: It feels a bit weird to be including an Italian restaurant on a list of restaurants in Spain but this is so. good. Amazingly fresh pasta, pizzas that look great and some amazing anti-pasti (the beef tartare with tuna is incredible). Plus their deserts are great, as is the service.

Vista Ifach, Castillo 11: This is a long-time family favourite. A traditionally Spanish restuarant (though it's diversifying into pizza & pasta now) with really great sea-food. Plus it has the best pan y aioli anywhere.

Gelateria Venezia, Calle de Mar: Another place we've been going forever. Amazingly tasty and good value ice-cream in a million different flavours or sundaes. The coffee is good if you are wrong and don't enjoy ice-cream.

Xambel Bar, Calle Castillo 16: This is a great place for a pre-dinner drink where you can watch the world go by. They also do great tapas if you fancy that.

El Cafeti de la Mar, Calle Castillo 30: We popped into this cafe for a breakfast treat on our first day. You can't go wrong with a toasted croissant or sandwich AND the coffee here comes complete with a shot of Advocaat and cream. At 11am. Wonderful.

Fishy Fishy, Kristalmar 30F: I do feel a tiny bit bad for including a Fish & Chips restaurant, but this was pretty much better than a lot of chippies back home. I had a Thai-style fishcake which was delicious and super fresh too. The portions are quite generous as a warning.

Altea church; me on our last night rocking some freckles; Vista Ifach dinner; Geleteria Venetia ice-cream

If someone could throw me a couple hundred Euros so I can head back I would be there again in a heartbeat.

Extra Notes
We flew from East Midlands Airport to Alicante, with Ryanair and returned with Jet2. Most British airports fly into Alicante which is about a 45 minute drive. Valencia is another option but a tad further away.

We hired a care from Goldcar (Moraira isn't brilliantly served by public transport), which was great aside from the two back passenger seats mysteriously missing seatbelts (?)

Our villa is owned by a couple who are selling up this year (sobsobsob), you can find plenty in the area and there are a couple of hotels in Moraira town itself too.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

A Month in Books: June

Having spent many months moaning about feeling pretty underwhelmed by my reading experiences; this month, perhaps aided by the fact that I was on holiday and just wanting to avoid the disaster of the ~real world~ I am finally back on track with my Goodreads goal and really ploughed through the following (and really enjoyed most of them).

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide (trans. Eric Selland, 2014, Picador)
The Guest Cat is a quiet novella which explores the lives of a middle-aged couple living in a quiet corner of a Japanese town. They live next door to a young family and their ageing landlords, and one day the family’s cat enters their garden and soon their home. The presence of the cat brings a new routine to the couple’s lives, bringing them closer together and closer to their neighbours.
 This isn’t a book in which anything particularly happens. At all. Hiraide’s descriptions, as translated by Eric Selland, are lovely and the sense of place throughout the novel was really great. As a cat lover, I did also obviously like the way in which the relationship between the characters and the cat was written. However, I wouldn’t say it was anything particularly revelatory and unless you are a real cat lover (or really enjoy Japanese fiction), I wouldn’t necessarily rush out and read it.

David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits & the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell  (2011, Penguin)
I really enjoy Malcolm Gladwell’s writing, and his new podcast is just as good. He is great at bringing to life case studies and teasing out an overall message. If Outliers (my personal favourite by him) was slightly depressing in its acknowledgement of how many people succeed due to a very unique set of experiences, then David & Goliath explores how normal, ‘little’ people can really stick up to power.
Gladwell’s writing is as good as always, but I will admit that David & Goliath hasn’t really stuck with me as much as his previous works. Without a quick Google, the only studies that I really remembered were the well-known historical ones (the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama; the popular movement against the curfew in Northern Ireland during The Troubles). However, a brief Google did remind of the amazing story of Emil J. Freireich and his incredible work on attempting to find a cure for leukaemia, and whether that was linked to childhood trauma. 
I did find the theme links in this work a little less effective as they have been in previous books, but it’s definitely worth a read if you’re new to Gladwell or an existing fan.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier (1951, Virago)
Daphne du Maurier is one of my all-time favourite writers, but the last book I read by her (Hungry Hill) was not in any way a favourite of mine so I was definitely slightly apprehensive going into this. However, I needn’t have worried as My Cousin Rachel is really good. 
Philip has lived in rural Cornwall with his committed bachelor uncle Ambrose since the death of his parents. One winter, Ambrose travels to Italy for his health and suddenly appears to fall in love and marries his distant cousin Rachel. Philip is overcome with jealousy, which is compounded when Ambrose suddenly dies and Rachel has disappeared. However, when she appears in Cornwall, all of Philip’s previous ideas of her are thrown upside down.
The novel is told from Philip’s perspective, who is a tough character to really like, and who is an incredibly unreliable narrator as he ignores advice from practically everyone else in his life. 
Du Maurier’s writing is excellent, with the opening sentence just setting the scene almost as well as the famous one from Rebecca. Her sense of place is, as always, excellent. Du Maurier is always wonderful at evoking her beloved Cornwall, but the parts of the novel set in Italy also felt excellently stifling.
My Cousin Rachel is almost like a 20th century Gone Girl, where you’re constantly torn between seeing Rachel as a grief-stricken woman desperate to win over the beloved relative of her dead husband, or as a manipulative gold-digger who may well have had a hand in Ambrose’s death. I really recommend this. 

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (2015, Chatto & Windus)
Despite Anne Tyler being quite a prolific author, and this being one of her last books (apparently), I’d never actually heard of her until this novel was nominated for the Man Booker last year. A Spool of Blue Thread is the sprawling story of the Whiteshanks over many different generations (which is basically one of my favourite things to read).
It’s summer and Red & Abby Whiteshank, the current patriarch and matriarch of the family, are aging and their family is trying to get them to accept more help than they perhaps think they need. This means that their children; brusque Amanda, often-overlooked Jeanie, prodigal son Stem and somewhat flaky Denny, all descend on the house and the family’s history is unpicked.
A Spool of Blue Thread is at times moving, at times funny and at certain points pretty shocking. The overall feel is like a lovely meander through a family history on a hot summer’s day and if you’re looking for a book to compliment your summer this is a really great one. I’m definitely going to be checking Anne Tyler’s backlist. 

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild (2015, Bloomsbury)
I really, really enjoyed this. The Improbability of Love came to my attention as a fairly improbable (lol) inclusion on the Bailey’s Prize shortlist.
The title comes from the name of a painting which is at the centre of the story, which opens with its auction to a variety of wealthy and ridiculous people. However, the narrative really kicks off some six months earlier when the broke and heart-broken Annie finds it in a junk shop as a gift for a potential love interest. This sends her suddenly into the art world as it begins to appear that this painting may well have a rich and dark history.
Rothschild just brilliantly draws sympathetic, and not so sympathetic characters, from Annie and her alcoholic mother, to the truly ridiculous movers and shakers in the art world. The plot also moves really well between crazy goings-on in London to exploring some of the truly dark periods of history, and the lengths that people can go to protect themselves. A particularly great technique that Rothschild uses is having the painting itself narrate certain passages, giving a really great insight into the historical importance of art.
The Improbability of Love is a really fun read, which has made me want to visit an art gallery like tomorrow, and I’m so hoping it gets some kind of BBC mini-series adaptation because the novel is just crying out for it. 

Sweet Caress by William Boyd (2015, Bloomsbury)
I picked up Sweet Caress after running out of things to read on holiday and my Brexit-blues making me not too keen to read Owen Jones' The Establishment. It's the fictional autobiography of Amory Clay, a woman who becomes a photographer against the backdrop of the major events of the 20th century. Her work, and her love affairs, take her through London, Germany & New York in the 1930s & 1940s; Paris in the post-war years, back to England and (in my favourite part of the novel) to Vietnam. 
Boyd is excellent at weaving history into his novels, and I really liked the insights into the seedy world of pre-Nazi Germany, the Blackshirt riots in the UK and as mentioned previously, the madness of the Vietnam War.
Against this, Amory deals with more 'normal' life events; strife with family and lovers. Whilst I did find her relationships with her parents, uncle and siblings really interesting and nuanced, I never really found myself caring too much about her romantic relationships. This may well be the point, as Amory's life really shines outside of her private world, but as much of the novel is devoted to her feelings towards various men it did detract a tad from this. I did also find a couple of the plot points a tad convenient or unnecessary; but Boyd is a really solid writer and this is a really interesting insight into being a news photographer (and sent me down a wormhole of looking up the photographers mentioned in the novel who are real).


Monday, 4 July 2016

(Belated) Thoughts On: Birmingham Royal Ballet's Shakespeare Triple Bill

A couple of weeks ago, I made my likely final visit to Birmingham Hippodrome for a while (more on this soon) to see the final show in Birmingham Royal Ballet's season in Brum until October. As part of Shakespeare's 400th year, BRB presented their Shakespeare Triple Bill, made up of Wink, 'he Moor's Pavane and The Shakespeare Suite.

The evening began with a new piece choreographed by Jessica Lang called Wink. This is a dance piece inspired by Shakespeare's many sonnets and set to music by Jakub Ciupinski. Whilst I wasn't entirely sold on the dancers moving the set pieces (designed by Mimi Lien), which felt a tad random, this was an otherwise really great new piece. The sonnets were really sensitively chosen and fitted the score beautifully and Peter Tiegen's lighting really added to the overall impact. The dancing throughout was incredibly strong, and featured some really great male partnering between Brandon Lawrence and Lewis Turner. Lawrence was really the star of this piece, doing some great solo dancing to almost music-less sonnets and is definitely someone to watch.

The next part of the evening was a mounting of Jose Limon's The Moor's Pavane. This is what really attracted me to the evening as Othello is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays  and this piece is based on the central plot of that piece. Stripped back to just four performers, Limon uses the pavane style of dance and ballet style steps to tell the story. All four dancers were great; Tyrone Singleton coolly imposing as The Moor, Delia Mathews seems to just glide across the stage as his wife and then Iain Mackay & Elisha Willis (dancing some of her final performances with the company) as the scheming and more sexual couple really added the edge to the piece.  

The highlight of the evening was David Bintley's Shakespeare Suite based on the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. This presents the numerous dysfunctional relationships that various Shakespearean characters have with each other (or in the case of Hamlet, with himself). Really, the entire company is fantastic in this. Angela Paul and Lachlan Monaghan as the duelling Katherine & Petruchio on their wedding day; the darkly sexy Celine Gittens as Lady Macbeth manipulating Iain Mackay's Macbeth into committing murder and Laura Purkiss and Kit Holder as the drunk/giddy Titiana and Bottom were all just fantastic. As Hamlet, Mathias Dingman bought a really acrobatic swagger to the piece, but literally everyone was brilliant in this at times dark (especially the presentation of Othello) but also laugh-out-loud funny piece.

My delay in getting this up means that the run at the Hippodrome has ended. However, you can catch Wink & The Moors Pavane alongside Frederick Ashton's adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Salford & Plymouth (info here) from September and this Triple Bill again in London from October (info here).

Thought I'm going to be sad not be a walk away from their home, I'm definitely going to be trying to get to see the new Bintley-choreographed production of The Tempest, at my new home in London.