Book Review: The Virgin of the Wind Rose by Glen Craney

I always struggle to find something witty and fascinating to say when writing the introduction for a book review. So, I am going to open this review with just one sentence: if you like Dan Brown, you are going to love Glen Craney.

The Virgin of the Wind Rose is a Christopher Columbus mystery-thriller which tells the story of State Department lawyer Jaqueline Quartermane who must unlock the infamous Templar Word Square to thwart a global conspiracy that reaches across five centuries. In parallel, it also recounts Portugal’s Order of Christ back in the 15th century and the conspiracy theory of the real identity and mission of Christopher Columbus.

I was completely drawn in as the book opens in Ethiopia and I was introduced to various religious elements which were new and interesting to me. By the time the themes of Christianity and Judaism were brought into play, I was hooked. Religious mystery and the Templar Word Square are slowly unravelled to the reader through each chapter, as the story jumps back and forth between Portugal and the present day. Now, I have to admit that this complicated things for me as I really couldn’t distinguish very well what the connection was and how the two stories would combine until the very end. However, upon reading other reviews, I realise that I was probably the only person who didn’t know that the story in Portugal was the story of Christopher Columbus and his voyages to the New World. If that light bulb was switched on earlier I might have enjoyed this book a lot more.

Nevertheless, excluding whatever information I did and didn’t know from the beginning, I do think that this book dragged out a bit. While reading the last chapters, I found myself skimming a lot, just wanting to come an end and find out what happened. The ending did bring clarity and one shocking event I did not expect to happen.

Returning again to the positive, I do have to praise Craney’s writing. Whether or not the story was too long for me, he has a good way of presenting detail to the reader which allows them to paint a wonderful picture in their head,. There is also a superb knack for unravelling a story. Additionally, one cannot fault just how well-researched this book was. I absolutely love secrets from the past!

While certainly not a quick read, I have to put my personal preferences aside and recommend this book to you all. Delve into The Virgin of the Wind Rose when you have the time to read it slowly and carefully and savour every well-thought out element of the story. Like I already said, if you love Dan Brown, then this really is one for you.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Virgin of the Wind Rose by Glen Craney

The Virgin of the Wind Rose by Glen Craney

Dealing With A Delayed Or Cancelled Flight: Tips For the Airlines

Last weekend, I travelled to London and was nearly stuck there due to the mass of fog which overtook the city. Naturally, my flight was massively delayed, but luckily mine was one of very few flights that wasn’t cancelled. These things happen and the finger of blame could not be pointed anywhere except for at Mother Nature herself. However, they were some areas which could have been improved to make the experience much more comfortable for passengers. Take note airlines!

Inform passengers of a delay as soon as possible

I was aware the minute I entered the airport that my flight was delayed. However, there were many flights where passengers were not informed of any problem until their flight was eventually cancelled. In my eyes, this is not good customer service.

Make announcements as clearly as possible

Further information about the status of my flight was not clealy given. It was more a matter of who you could eavesdrop on to find out what was happening. Also, remember that you are speaking to a large crowd. Make sure everybody can hear you and all passengers are together in the same spot before announcing anything.

Have your best staff dealing with the situation

Naturally people will become agitated when a flight is massively delayed, which of course can also result in staff becoming irritated. However, staff should be trained to deal with situations like this. Anybody sent to deal with customers should be professional and polite – in no case should they walk away from questions and avoid any sort of eye contact.

Create a smooth transition if alternative arrangements are available

My flight was transferred to another airport, but it was not a smooth process. Once we arrived at our new destination, nobody was at hand to assist passengers in going through security or boarding the plane. The information provided was very vague and resulted in confused and distressed passengers, especially elder passengers and those travelling with children. Clear and helpful instructions would have cut the delay time.

I guess the main message here is that the customer is the main priority. While airlines can claim that weather situations are out of their hands (and of course they are), it is the manner they take with passengers which is the determining factor when it comes to further use of their services.

Have you ever experienced a massive delay or cancellation when travelling? What advice would you give to airlines?

(Header image: Simone Ramella via FlickrCC. This post is not based on events which occured with the airline pictured here)

Pictures From the Top of the TV Tower

One good thing about living in Berlin is that you will never run out of things to do. There are already more than 170 museums to visit in the city, let alone the boat rides, festivals, restaurants and club nights (among many other things) available to enjoy. Therefore, I have learned that it is essential to get your priorities straight when deciding what to do and when.

My initial plan was that the TV Tower (Fernsehturm) would be something I would visit just before leaving Berlin for good, and only to say that I had been there. But, when my sister visited a few weeks ago, she really wanted to go so I decided to go along just because I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible.

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TV Tower. Thankfully the weather wasn’t as gloomy as it is in this picture.

We bought our tickets online and choose the ‘Fast View’ option which allowed us to pick the time we wanted to visit, as well as skip any queues. This option cost €19.50. It is possible to just walk up to the door and pay a cheaper entry of €13.50, but this could mean a waiting time of 3 hours or more. There is also the option of booking the ‘Early Bird’ (before 9:00am) or ‘Late Night’ (after 9:30pm) tickets online for €13.50. I would recommend booking these options a few weeks in advance as there are limited spaces and they sell out fast.

Entering the TV Tower is nothing really special but I thought I would include a few snaps anyway:

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An understanding of the sheer size of the building sinks in once you enter the lift. It takes 40 seconds to reach 203 metres and the journey up can be viewed via the glass ceiling of the lift. It went so high my ears even popped!

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The view from the top is most certainly worth the money and is something I have never experienced before. It was truly amazing to see Berlin on such vast a scale, to see buildings I once thought as huge to look completely minuscule. Some of the other main attractions of the city could be clearly seen and were as beautiful 203 metres in the air as they were on the ground. Information is provided right around the tower so it is easy to pinpoint exactly what you are looking at.

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Postdamer Platz/Checkpoint Charlie area.

Postdamer Platz/Checkpoint Charlie area.

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Alexanderplatz

Alexanderplatz

Synagogue

Synagogue

Berliner Dom

Berliner Dom

There is a bar in the tower which serves drinks and snacks which wasn’t as expensive as I was expecting. As your time in the tower is not limited, it is possible to sit and enjoy the view with a drink.

Overall, I truly and most unexpectedly enjoy my time in the TV Tower. If it is something you have been hesitant about visiting while in Berlin, I recommend biting the bullet and going for it.

An Evening at Tadschikische Teestube (Tajik tearoom)

This summer, I had the pleasure of having dinner in the Tajik tearoom (Tadschikische Teestube) in Berlin. I had never heard of this place before as it was a friend who suggested we go there, but I was in for a delightful evening as soon as I walked in the door.

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The tearoom is hidden in a pleasant courtyard off Oranienburger Tor, an area I wouldn’t really have expected it to be in. Not much from the outside, once you walk in you are met with an eyeful of Oriental delights.

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Rich colours project a warm feeling into a room which has a hint of the GDR due to its high ceilings. This is actually pretty amazing as the entire interior came from the Tajikistan stand that was on display at a 1970s Leipzig trade fair, and presented to the GDR as a gift.

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Guests can choose to sit at the more traditional low tables on beautifully tapered cushions, or at a higher, more ‘everyday’ table.

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An absolutely wonderful amount of teas are available here and you can order anything from a single pot, to tea accompanied by biscuits, to a full tea ceremony. I don’t like any hot drinks at all so I can’t personally vouch for the taste, but my friend was more than satisfied by it. There was a pretty good food menu offering a selection of light and tasty dishes. There were enough vegetarian and vegan dishes provided so that there was something suitable for everybody. Silly me didn’t jot down the name of what I ate but they were basically dumplings filled with mashed potato and some mushrooms on top. Salad was served on the side. It was a delicious meal and just the right amount of food for a hot day.

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Tadschikische Teestube is definitely a place to go if you are looking for something a bit different in Berlin. There are plenty of teas to choose from and more than enough food to eat. The service is friendly and fast too.

Have you ever been to a Tajik tearoom? What did you think?

Rowing in Tiergarten

The weather has been absolutely crazy in Berlin for the last couple of weeks, hitting the 30s most of the time. My Irish body is certainly not made for those kind of temperatures! My sister and her boyfriend came and visited this month and after four days of walking around in this crazy heat, we decided to take the weight off our feet and go rowing.

Tiergarten can be found in the western side of Berlin, and is perhaps the city’s best known park. Those who pass there at any time of the day and week will find people relaxing, having a picnic, cycling, jogging and enjoying a whole range of other activities. We walked for about 15 minutes to get to our destination. These are some snaps I took along the way.

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The rowing boats are situated at the small lake of Neuer See. Even if you are not interested in rowing, it is a nice place to go and chill out for a bit. Pizza and drinks can be enjoyed at Cafe am Neuen See, even if they are on the pricey side.

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There was a bit of a queue waiting for the boats when we arrived, so we ended up waiting about thirty minutes. The boat costs just €10 per hour no matter if there is just one or four people inside it. One hour is enough time to cover the lake and to spend some times just floating, but I am sure the time can be extended if you ask the staff in charge.

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Rowing in Tiergarten is an excellent way to spend a few sunny hours in Berlin. The price is a bargain and the bobbing of the lake is the perfect setting for relaxation. Give it a try sometime and see for yourself!

A Visit to the Biosphere Potsdam

I am always looking for new things to do in and around Berlin so immediately grabbed a voucher for the Biosphere Potsdam when one popped up a couple of months ago. I finally managed to go there recently and wanted to share my pictures with you.

I went on a day when it was 37 degrees in the city to the climatized temperature in there was a blessing (it was two weeks ago and I still haven’t gotten over that heat). It took me approximately one hour and a half to walk around the biosphere, without any guided tour or equipment, and I think that was enough. There were many interesting animals housed here from snakes to lizards to tortoise and thankfully very few were hidden behind the plants.

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Standing by the waterfall made for a refreshing break.

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There was also a butterfly house which was my favourite.

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I initially thought that this was a leaf but it was just a really cool butterfly!

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A pathway with loads of amazing plants led from animal to animal.

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The biosphere also has a cafe if you fancy taking a rest, and a pretty cool gift shop. Admittedly, I wasn’t very excited about this place. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t blow me away. Perhaps if I hadn’t seen the biosphere in Leipzig Zoo already, I would have liked it a lot more. Anyway, it was still a pleasant way to pass some time and I recommend heading there if my pictures look like your kind of thing.

Harry Potter Studio Tour

I could gush on forever about the Harry Potter Studio Tour but I know people are really only here to see the pictures. So I will say this and once only: this was easily one of the best days of my life. Going to see this studio tour is a must for Potterheads and is more than worth the £33 entrance fee.

In case anybody is confused about what the tour actually is, it is a look behind the scenes of the original sets and props. As the books were still been written as the films were being made, everything was kept in case it was needed again. During the tour, you learn all about the making of Harry Potter, as well getting the unique experience of feeling you are in the film yourself. Now, to the pictures!

The Great Hall

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Harry’s Invisibility Cloak

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Potions Lab

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Hagrid’s Hut

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Hogwarts Express

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Platform 9 & 3/4

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Privet Drive

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Drinking Butterbeer

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Night Bus

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Diagon Alley

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Dumbledore’s Office

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The Weasley House

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Harry’s Room Under The Stairs

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Griffindor Boys Dormitory

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Griffindor Common Room

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Death Eaters

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Hagrid’s Bike

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Hogwarts

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Dolores Umbridge’s Office

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Leipzig Zoo

Just a quick introduction to today’s post as I think the cute animal pictures will speak for themselves. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, I travelled for the day to Leipzig for the sole intention of going to the zoo there. With over 850 animals spread across six themed areas, it was such a great day. If you ever find yourself in the city, I would certainly recommend it. Now, to the animals!

Entrance Gate to Leipzig Zoo

Entrance Gate to Leipzig Zoo

There was a really cool aquarium where I got to see an octopus for the first time!

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There is a huge biosphere with animals and exotic plants. It is worth the €2 fee to ride around it by boat.

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This cheeky camel pulled a lot of funny faces.

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Giraffes have always been one of my favourite zoo animals.

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Along with elephants:

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But I think it was this guy who stole the show!

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A Day Out in Leipzig

Many people will tell you that Berlin is not Germany and they are correct in saying so. The capital has a completely different lifestyle and way of living than any other German city, perhaps largely due to its vast multiculturalism. So, after four years living here, I thought it was high time I discovered more of what ‘real Germany’ looks like.

Two weeks ago I travelled to Leipzig for the day, a former East German city conveniently located just 1 hour 15 minutes from Berlin by train. The main intention was to visit the zoo (post coming soon), but with a few hours to spare, a tour of the city was in order.

Leipzig is a compact city and easy to walk around quickly to get an impression of the city. I didn’t enter any of the fabulous museums they have there, but I did manage to get some nice snaps of the streets.

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One place I did take the time to enter was St. Thomas Church most famous as the place where Johann Sebastian Bach worked as a Kapellmeister, and as the current location of his remains.

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I couldn’t help but add a picture of these adorable dogs.

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I also travelled to Cologne last year for the Christmas markets. Check out my pictures here!

Sundays in Mauerpark: Berlin’s Top Flea Market

Do you know how I know that summer is well and truly on its way to Berlin? The U-Bahn station near my apartment becomes a lot more busy on a Sunday with people passing through on their way to Mauerpark.

If you have visited Berlin before, you most likely have heard about Mauerpark as it appears in most guides to the city. If you live in Berlin, well, there really isn’t a chance to avoid the place. It is one of THE hangout spots in Berlin at the weekend. It has a large, green area perfect for barbecuing, drinking a few beers, playing sport or just hanging out to top up your tan. It also offers a free karaoke show every Sunday (arranged by Bearpit Karaoke), as well as the most popular flea market in Berlin.

The flea market is my favourite thing about Mauerpark and the main reason I drag myself over there at 9am every few Sundays or so. The many stalls in the park are mostly taken up by private sellers looking to flog some of their old belongings. It is possible to find some real good treasures here, once you have the patience to rummage through some crap to get there. Not everything on sale in Mauerpark is secondhand and some really cool, small companies often set themselves up here to sell funky t-shirts, bags, stationery, etc. There also some really great food trucks which, of course, are my favourite part of the whole market.

There is not much else to really say about Mauerpark other than that it is a really cool place to spend some time in Berlin. Some words of advice: it is always best to arrive early here, whether it be to browse the stalls without getting trampled on, get a shaded spot for the karaoke, or enough space to lie in the sun. Get a better feel for the place by taking a look at my pictures below.

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These guys sold some of the best chips I ever had in Berlin (see picture below).

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Even dogs like to get in on the sales!

Token TV Tower picture!

Tasty Turkish food!

Fried wrap with rucola, tomato and feta.

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