‘The Longest Ride’ – Nicholas Sparks

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What is this book about?

Ira Levinson is in trouble. At ninety-one years old, in poor health and alone in the world, he finds himself stranded on an isolated embankment after a car crash. Suffering multiple injuries, he struggles to retain consciousness until a blurry image materializes and comes into focus beside him: his beloved wife Ruth, who passed away nine years ago. Urging him to hang on, she forces him to remain alert by recounting the stories of their lifetime together.

A few miles away, at a local rodeo, a Wake Forest College senior’s life is about to change. Recovering from a recent break-up, Sophia Danko meets a young cowboy named Luke, who bears little resemblance to the privileged frat boys she has encountered at school. Through Luke, Sophia is introduced to a world in which the stakes of survival and success, ruin and reward — even life and death – loom large in everyday life.

Ira and Ruth. Sophia and Luke. Two couples who have little in common, and who are separated by years and experience. Yet their lives will converge with unexpected poignancy, reminding us all that even the most difficult decisions can yield extraordinary journeys: beyond despair, beyond death, to the farthest reaches of the human heart.

GenreRomance
Pages: 398
Released: September 17th, 2013

My rating: 4/5

What I thought of it?

A friend of mine recommended me this book quite a while ago, but other than adding it to my endless pile of ‘to read’ books, I didn’t really think about it any further. It wasn’t until I noticed the trailer of the on-screen version that my interest was peaked again. I’ve always loved Nicholas Sparks so with the movie coming out soon, I put this book on top of my pile.

Even though the story was somewhat predictable, I still really, really liked this book. What can I say, I’m a mush for romance. And this book has plenty of it. It was also such a touching story, and throughout the entire thing, I just wanted to reach out and hug Ira. I don’t think anyone can stay emotionless while reading about Ira’s feelings towards his wife.

I admit though that at first I was more interested in Luke and Sophia’s story, but I guess that was just because we weren’t 100% sure how their relationship was going to turn out and because they were my age throughout the entire story. Nonetheless, in the end I must say that Ira is by far my favorite character. I loved all the other characters as well, but Ira just stood out for his kind nature and his unconditional love for his wife.

The reason I only gave this book a four star rating is because I wasn’t very fond of the switch between the two stories. Whenever one story went back to the other I wanted to just continue the other one as it often ended with some sort of cliffhanger. It often felt like a struggle to get back into the other story as for most of the book the two stories are completely seperate from one another. It sort of seemed like I was reading two books a the same time.

But still, I loved this book and anyone who loves Nicholas Sparks will find his usual style back in this one. I definitely can’t wait to see what they made of the movie.

Until next time,

With love, Ellen

 

Cinderella

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What is this movie about?

When her father unexpectedly passes away, young Ella finds herself at the mercy of her cruel stepmother and her daughters. Never one to give up hope, Ella’s fortunes begin to change after meeting a dashing stranger.

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Lily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett
Genre: Drama, Family, Fantasy
Duration: 105 min

My rating? 4,5/5

What I thought of it?

As a massive Disney fan (who isn’t though?), I just had to see this new version of the classic story of Cinderella. So far I’ve loved all the new versions of the Disney classics they’ve made the past few years, so it was with high expectations I went to the movies last weekend.

And I certainly wasn’t disappointed. While this movie is obviously more for children than the other Disney remakes, it’s also has a great appeal for adults with the many great “inside” jokes. It also has so many really similar scenes to the original movie that it brought back so many childhood memories. Loved it!

The acting was also quite phenomenal. This is the first time I’ve (conciously) seen Lily James play, but I loved every bit of her. She was a perfect portrayal of Cinderella. The only thing that disappointed me a bit was Cate Blanchett as the stepmother. Not for her performance – because that was at times really good as well – but because I just couldn’t see her in a role of a villan. And then last but definitely not least; Helena Bonham Carter. Damn. Could she be any more awesome? A really amazing twist to cast her as the fairy godmother. I adored her in this role.

And definitely a great freaking thumbs up to the costume designer for this movie as they were simply marvelling! Exactly as I imagined them to be. I’m still in awe. The sceneries as well were breathtaking. So when it comes to the visuals, this movie is just A++++++.

And just one more thing; tight. white. pants. Hehe.

So you all better go watch this movie as soon as possible. Every lover of Disney will simply adore this remake.

Until next time,

With love, Ellen

Istanbul: Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Grand Bazaar & Usküdar

Surprisingly, our last day in Istanbul started off with a somewhat clear sky, so we headed out fairly early once more. Our first stop of the day was The Blue Mosque. Yes, we’d already seen it many times, but up until that day, we hadn’t had time to go inside yet because of long queues. This time, we were at the entrance around 8:15 pm and managed to get inside by opening at 8:30 pm.

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While The Blue Mosque is beautiful, I didn’t really find it all that different or more special than the other mosques we’ve visited the first day. Nonetheless, it’s one of those things you can’t not do when you’re in Istanbul.

Next we headed towards Topkapi Palace. There it’s also important to be early if you want to avoid long queues. When we arrived little after opening hour at 9pm and there was already quite a line at the ticket booth. But by the time we walked out around 12pm, the queue was just crazy.

Topkapi Palace used to be the residence of the Ottoman Sultans from the 15th century up until the 19th. The complex consists of four courtyards, each with different buildings. Entrance to those courtyards is 30TL. You can admire many beautiful interiours, porcelains, weapons, shields, but the most beautiful thing ought to be the Ottoman treasures. You can admire a iron coat of mail decorated with gold and jewels, a gold throne, Ottoman miniatures of the Treasury, The Spoonmaker’s Diamond and many more amazing treasures. In the privy chamber you can also see sacred relics, such as a cloak of Muhammed, a tooth, a hair of his beard, etc.

Unfortunately I can’t show you any pictures of those treasures, as we weren’t able to see them. Apparently you should do it first as queue to get inside those buildings can get insanely long. We didn’t feel like queuing over an hour to see some objects. Of course, now I regret that I haven’t seen them, but at that time there was just so much more we wanted to see instead.

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Another part of Topkapi Palace is the Harem. If you want to visit this part, you need another ticket, which costs 15TL. The Harem are the private chambers of the Sultan. There are 400, of which 40 are open to public. It’s definitly worth to pay the extra money, if only to see the Imperial Hall with the sultan’s throne.

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After three hours of wandering around the Palace, we headed back towards the Grand Bazaar which we had already passed on our first day. The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. It consists of 61 streets and over 3000 shops selling all kinds of products. It’s very easy to get lost in the Grand Bazaar, but don’t worry about that. I even advice to let yourself get lost a bit, as it’s nearly impossible to keep track of where you are.

Our hotel manager told us not to buy anything inside the Bazaar as it’s really expensive there. You should buy whatever you like in the shops just outside the Bazaar as they’re better priced. Oh, and don’t forget to look up every once in a while because the building itself is really amazing as well.

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By the time we came out of the maze of the Grand Bazaar and managed to orientate ourselves again, it had unfortunately started raining again. We had originally planned to spend the rest of our day in Üsküdar, the Asian side of Istanbul which is easly reachable by ferry boat. But the weather was literally raining on our parade.

We took a seat inside the New Mosque (which was probably our favorite Mosque) and tried to decide what to do the rest of our day. But with no other option in sight, we jumped onto the boat anyway (which you can also pay with the Istanbul Kart) and crossed the Bosporus to Üsküdar. Now we were at least dry on the boat. And luck seemed to be on our side again, as by the time we set foot on land again in Asia fifteen minutes later, the rain had stopped.

We walked around Üsküdar for about forty-five minutes without a specific goal. Apart from the Mosque that was right at the place where the boat stopped, there wasn’t really anything we wanted to see. We were happy just to get the general atmosphere of the place.

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Way too soon, we took the boat back to Eminonu, and then quickly walked back to the hotel where we had planned to have dinner. As I mentioned in my first post, this dinner at our hotel was quite basic, but good nonetheless.

After dinner we headed back to Arasta Bazaar to buy some souvenirs and then it was time to pack up and go to sleep as we had to be ready at the hotel entrance by 5:30 am for our airport transfer. *insert sad face*

As you can see, we had a really busy three days in Istanbul and I loved every second of it (except many the rain!). I had expected to be harrassed much more in the streets, but not once did someone annoy me (as they did in Tunesia) so for me this trip was a complete success. To me, Istanbul is the perfect citytrip for those who love culture, history and of couse shopping. I definitely don’t regret going. And hey, at least now I can say that I’ve been in Asia. ;)

Until next time,

With love, Ellen

Istanbul: Taksim, Galata Tower, Bosporus Cruise, Wall of Constantinople & Spice Bazaar

With the promise of a sun-filled day, we were already up and going by 6:30am the second day to go sight-seeing in the neighborhood around our hotel. And I must say; the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque sure look a lot better when the sun is shining.

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We also had a quick stop at the Four Seasons Hotel, as this hotel was used as a prison back in the early 1900’s. In 1992, they converted the building into a hotel. You can just walk in (we asked the three doormen if we could and it was no problem at all.) and take a look around.

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After breakfast, we took the tram to Kabatasfollowed by the funicular to Taksim Square. 

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From Taksim Square we took Istiklal Caddesi, which is the main shopping street, down to the Galata Tower. You can go up that tower by elevator to have a breathtaking view over Istabul. Unfortunately, it’s quite pricy; 25TL, but in my opinion, it’s still worth it.

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When we finally managed to tear ourselves away from this lovely view, we walked across the Galata Bridge back to Eminönü. You definitely have to walk across that bridge at least once to see all the fishermen. You can even buy a fresh fish sandwish for only 6TL.

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Once back on the shore, we took the Turyol Bosporus Cruise. This cruise took about 2 hours and costs only 12TL. It takes you all the way to the second bridge over the Bosporus. If possible, go sit on the left side of the boat, as it first goes along the European side of the Bosporus and on the way back, it goes close to the Asian side. This way you have the best view of the shore. Also, make sure you’re early on the boat to have a good spot. We went onto the boat 45 minutes before departure and luckily still managed to get a spot on the left side.

Near the end of the cruise, you sail right past the Maiden’s Tower, which is mostly known for it’s appearance in the Bond movie ‘The World Is Not Enough’.

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With both feet back on land, we headed for the busses that were lined up only a bit further from the harbor, and took a bus up to the Wall of Constatinople, Istanbul’s city walls (also known as Theodosius’ Wall). We had quite some difficulties to find the right bus as everyone who wanted to help us didn’t speak one word of English and we didn’t speak one word of Turkish. So don’t ever let anyone tell you Turkish people aren’t nice, because they are literally the nicest. They tried to help us despite the language barrier and our touristy appearance. Anyway, if you want to go up to the city walls, you need busline 38 (Bus to Chora Museum).

From on top of the wall, you have an amazing view once again, but beware, it’s not for the weak-hearted. If you want to get to the highest point, you’ll have to climb a bit. The stairs are quite tricky and without any rails. And there is an almost vertical stairs that you have to take to get to the best viewing point. We almost didn’t go up as it looked like something too dangerous, but many tourists of all ages climbed up, so we didn’t want to look like pussies. And to be honest, it’s a lot easier than it looks. Yet, it’s not for those with fear of hights.

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Back in Eminönü (once again by bus), we had a gap of time as everything had gone more smoothly than originally planned. We filled it up with the Spice Bazaar close to the harbor, which we first were going to do the next day, as they once again predicted a day of rain then. But as we didn’t really find anything else to fill our time with, we did it on Sunday anyway.

The Spice Bazaar, also known as the Egyptian Bazaar, is one of the largest bazaars in Istanbul. It has 85 shops selling mostly spices and Turkish delights, but you can also finds souvenirs, jewellery, handbags and many other things. It’s definitely worth wandering around for an hour or so, if only for the lovely colors of the goods.

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Seeing all those kinds of food and sweets made us somewhat hungry, so we headed for a lovely restaurant in the Arasta Bazaar close to our hotel we’d spotted the day before and wanted to go have dinner. Mesale is a traditional Turkish restaurant in a sort of tent. It has live music and of course is heated.

I once again had the Turkish Spinach pancakes because I fell in love with them, and after dinner, we also smoked a waterpipe with apple flavor because we couldn’t help ourselves. It really was a lovely evening.

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And look what a lovely sight, that Blue Mosque by a clear night sky!

Until next time,

With love, Ellen

Istanbul: Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, Mosques

After a short night, we were quickly en route the first day of our trip. We had planned to see most of the old city of Istanbul so we were eager to start exploring. Especially after the Blue Mosque (or the person doing the call of prayer in the Blue Mosque) woke us up at 5 am, we really wanted to see that fucker.

Luckily for us, we only had to walk about 200 meters before we were in front of the Hagia Sophia, the Hyppodrome and the Blue Mosque (= Sultanahmet Mosque).

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As you can see, the first day was a really gray day, with lots of rain. Luckily we knew beforehand, which is also why we planned to do most of the inside stuff the first day. So if you’re going anywhere, always check weather forecasts and adapt your planning accordingly.

Our first visit for the day was the Hagia Sophia Museum. The Hagia Sophia used to be a Cathedral, but then became a Mosque in 1453 after it was captured about the Ottoman Empire. Now it’s a museum.

We made sure to be at the Hagia Sophia about fifteen minutes before opening hour at 9am, because we didn’t really fancy queuing a lot to get in. Unfortunately, there was already a small queue in front of the entrance despite the rain. So if you’re going in full season, remember that if you want to see the museum, you’ll have to queue or either be really early. Entrance costs 30 liras.

Important: I forgot to mention something in my general post about changing your money. We couldn’t get any Turkish liras in Belgium, so we needed to change them at our destination. You’ll need money to get to the city center from the airport, so you’ll have to change some money in the change offices at the airport. However, do not change a lot there as those exchange rates aren’t really good. The best exchange rates can be found at the Grand Bazaar, but anywhere else in the center they are also favorable to those at the airport.

Anyway, back to the Hagia Sophia now. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed in this building. I had expected more extravagance and gold etc, but in fact, this building is quite modest on the inside. Nonetheless, it’s a must-see when you’re in Istanbul.

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After the Hagia Sophia, we passed the entrance to the Basilica Cistern, which is the largest cistern (= water storage place) beneath the city of Istanbul. It was built in the sixth century.

We had only planned to visit the cistern the second day early in the morning as we had heard that queues could get long there as well. But as we passed, we saw that there was hardly a queue, so we didn’t hesitate twice and entered the Basilica Cistern immediately. The entrance price is 20 liras and it’s definitely worth it. It’s such a lovely, magical place.

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Inside the Basilica Cistern, there is also a little corner where you can dress up as a sultan and his court and get your touristy picture taken. We hesitated a while but in the end decided to go for it anyway as it would make a lovely souvenir. I won’t put my picture online as it’s quite embarrassing but I found a picture of what it looks like online. (You should totally check out Kaitlin’s blog as well, because it’s awesome!) The picture costs 5 euros (or 15 liras) and you get a lovely frame for that price as well.

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Once back above the ground, we continued our walk towards Nuruosmaniye Mosque. To go inside every mosque in Istanbul, you have to take your shoes off and women have to cover their head. Plastic bags are usually provided at the entrance to put your shoes in, and at the Blue Mosque (which I will talk about more extensively in another post) they also offer scarfs to cover your head. The other mosques don’t, so make sure you bring your own scarf if you want to visit the mosques.

The other mosques in the neighborhood that we visisted were the Beyazit Mosque, the Suleymaniye Mosque, the Sehzade Mosque and the Fatih Mosque. These are all worth your time, especially the Suleymaniye Mosque, which is the biggest one in Istanbul and offers a really nice view on the city. Each mosque might seem the same at first, but when you look more in detail each is so different and beautiful. I didn’t dare to take a lot of pictures inside, out of respect for the people praying, but here are a few pictures of those mosques.

 

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From the Fatih mosque we then continued downwards towards the Golden Horn, an inlet of the Bosporus. We kind of got lost there as our map literally sucked and didn’t have enough street names on it to make sure we were able to keep track of where we were. But getting lost sure has it advantages, because we arrived at a point where we had a beautiful view on the city.

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On our way down we also saw the first stall that sold fresh pomegranate juice, which was really delicious and only 1 lira. In the busier parts of the city we also saw the juice, but it was a tad more expensive there.

And then we finally arrived at the harbor of Eminönü. It’s a lot busier there than around the mosques and you can find many stalls selling mais and chestnuts. You also have a lovely view on the Galata Tower and the newer part of Istanbul.

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In Eminönü, you can also find the New Mosque, which is just so lovely.

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As you can see, it was quickly getting dark by then, so we set out to go find a restaurant to have dinner. We walked in the direction of our hotel, hoping to come across one that attracted us. There were plenty, but I literally can’t stand when you can’t even look at the menu without those people starting their sales pitch. I just walk away immediately then. Luckily, we did find a lovely restaurant called ‘Ela Sophia that had the best Turkish spinach pancakes. I never had those before but I’m totally sold on them. Yum! You can even see the women making them, which you could in many other restaurants as well. Definite must try if you ever go to Istanbul.

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With our bellies full, and our feet tired from all the walking, we headed for our hotel for some well deserved rest, but not without stopping to take a few pictures of the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque by night.

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Until next time,

With love, Ellen