Jul 012014
 

I have been itching to do another photo-a-day month for a while now, but the prompts I’ve found online haven’t been inspiring. There were some that were okay, but most really didn’t do it for me. Also I had an additional goal. My plan was on top of a photo a day, to make them all black & white photos, intentionally, not just photos that screamed for B&W.

So I turned to Mick who gladly took it upon himself to check out older prompts from photo sites and pick out 30 I can actually do something with, some that are really inspiring and weren’t working against my B&W plan.

Also, he only told me the prompt of the day on the day itself, so I haven’t been able to plan in advance. You can find the list of prompts and photos below.

 

  1. My Space
  2. Something You Made
  3. Simple
  4. Dark
  5. Family
  6. Lunch
  7. In My Hand
  8. Partial
  9. Far Away
  10. Magic
  11. Dreaming
  12. Faux
  13. Close
  14. Childhood
  15. Ordinary
  16. Words To Live By
  17. Free
  18. Chair
  19. Under My Feet
  20. I Spy
  21. Cross
  22. Upside Down
  23. Loving
  24. My Town
  25. Details
  26. Soft
  27. Kindness
  28. Tools
  29. Liquid
  30. Transport

 

 

 

 July 1, 2014  Posted by on July 1, 2014 Photography Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »
May 312014
 

prvw_0_11557

Lower Austria (Niederösterreich) is the Austrian state that completely encircles Vienna. Over the years, Mick and I visited many sights in Vienna itself, but then we started driving outside of the city more often.

We had often heard of the Niederösterreich Card, with which you can visit a lot of sights (over 300) around Vienna and some in the city itself. For a full year, from April 1st to March 31st it costs 54 EUR for adults.

Since I didn’t grow up in Vienna, to me Lower Austria was just a part of the country I drove through to get elsewhere, and only after some time did we start looking at what was going on around the city. Many of the sights are within an hour driving distance from Vienna, and I reckon you can get to all of them within about two hours.

As always, I have been taking loads of pictures whilst we were out and about, so I thought I’d share some of the things you can see outside Vienna (and some in it, too).

Website Niederösterreich Card

 May 31, 2014  Posted by on May 31, 2014 Niederösterreich, Travel, Vienna Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »
May 172014
 

For the May holiday weekend, we took a trip to Prague with a couple of friends, one of whom is Slovak and thus fluent in Czech as well. This helped a lot, especially when it came to finding nice and not-touristy spots to eat. On top of that, Prague is also excellent when it comes to cafés and the selection of cakes you can find there.

Overall, the city is much cheaper than Vienna for eating out. In Vienna you can seldom go out and pay below 40 EUR for a meal for two, but in Prague we paid about the same for the five of us.

Other than Prague being a really great city, I decided to write a bit more about the restaurants and cafés we visited there. Important to know are two words – in case the menu is only in Czech – knedlík (dumplings) and spek (bacon). That’ll get you through most menus ;)

 

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Pod Dračí Skálou
Karlštejn 130, 267 18 Karlštejn

Our first stop on the way to Prague was the town of Karlstejn, south west of the city, location of a great castle. The restaurant is not easily accessible, you either park at the town’s car park and walk for half an hour since the whole town and the way up the castle is a pedestrian area, or you try to drive through the masses of people by car. Either way, it’ll be worth it. Hearty Czech cuisine, duck and bacon dumplings, pork roast with more dumplings and skewers with… dumplings. Washing it down with Kofola, the Czech/Slovak version of coke, and pancakes with fresh berries as dessert.

Mick adds:
A word about Kofola – this is a very dark (think Guinness-black) fruit drink we first came across in Slovakia. Its history dates back to communist-era Czechoslovakia, but it still functions as a viable rival to the big US brands who have appeared on the scene since the Velvet Revolution. The drink is more fruity and rich, but less overtly sugary than brand colas and is worth a try if you are steering clear of the ridiculously cheap Czech beer.

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Café Savoy
Vítězná 124/5, 150 00 Praha 5

Once we arrived in Prague, it was time for coffee and cake. The café Savoy is located in the “Small Town”, is a beautiful café with tasty cakes and on the way to the toilet you can even see their kitchen and watch the bakers at work.

Paul
Václavské náměstí 42, 110 00 Praha 1

I admit it, if there is a ‘Paul’ in town, I will go there. This French bakery can be found in many large cities in France and across Europe, but not in Vienna. I’ve been to their branches all over France for breakfast, so when I heard there was one in Prague as well, we had to go there. For croissants, and breakfast eclairs, and breakfast mini quiches and and and…

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Hergetova Cihelna
Cihelná 2b, Prague 1

Going to lunch at one of the prime spots next to the river with perfect view of the Charles Bridge is just as fancy as it sounds, but by far not as expensive. Whilst I had fantastic salmon and home-made ice tea, my beloved went for the octopus monster that’s coming out of the black sea. It tasted much better than it looked!

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Kavárna Obecní dům
Náměstí Republiky 5, 110 00 Praha 1

That afternoon, the rain was pouring, but we found shelter in this huge and beautiful Art Deco café. We “had” to try almost all the cakes because the rain took a very long time to stop, but this was the very place where I discovered honey cake. Honey in the dough, honey in the cream, many layers, crunchy, moist, delicious!

Mick adds:
In addition to the food and drinks, we were treated to some live music, courtesy of a jazz trio (bass, piano & sax) who played a mixture of classic standards as well as a couple of modern pop songs given the jazz treatment. They were generally greeted by polite applause, but were not intrusive. The resulting atmosphere, despite the lashing rain beating against the windows, was very relaxing and it was such a pleasure to have something other than the usual piped pop junk clashing with the natural murmur of conversation. Apparently jazz is really a big deal in the Czech Republic and it was common to come across bands playing out on the street, as well as in cafés and bars.

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Mistral Café
Valentinská 11, 110 00 Praha 1

Another day that started with French breakfast, though some of us went for an English one (not who you think!); it was delicious! The only problem we had was that it only opened at 10am, which is a bit late when you are under-caffeinated and hungry.

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Posezení u Čiriny
Navrátilova 1632/6, 110 00 Praha 1

For lunch, we went for the native’s suggestion again and ate in this small and cosy restaurant. There were spaetzle with bacon and cheese on the menu at which point we didn’t even bother to read more. As usual, it was fantastic!

 

Grand Café Orient
Ovocný trh 569/19, 110 00 Praha

This cubistic café – though I’m not sure why it was supposed to be cubistic – was full of people, twice. If you have the patience to wait for a table and for the attention of a waiter (who seem to be even more aloof than Viennese ones), you will be rewarded with great café and even better cake. The honey cake was even better than the one we had the day before.

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School Café Restaurant
Smetanovo nábřeží 205/22, 110 00 Praha 1

Our last breakfast in Prague was also by far the most lavish one. There was savoury breakfast and pancakes, accompanied by fresh juices and a lot of coffee. Some even had two courses of breakfast. Another great start to a busy day!

 

U třech čertů
Starobrněnská 7, 602 00 Brno

Driving back to Vienna, we stopped in Brno, a town close to the Austrian border. After going for a small walk, we came across a restaurant with two devils as a logo, that looked intriguing. Inside, there were people eating from huge pitchforks, so we knew we were at the right place. Somewhere between very stinky cheese and a comfy pub atmosphere, we ended up pretty stuffed for our drive back home.

Mick adds:
Of course, we didn’t spend ALL our time in Prague eating and drinking. As well as a walk up to the castle (which is stunning, but was very crowded), visiting several great bookshops (Shakespeare & Sons and The Globe being particularly memorable), climbing up the Observatory tower and visiting the National Library of the Klementinium (the guided tour is recommended for a stunning view over the city) and taking in a Tim Burton exhibition, we thoroughly enjoyed losing ourselves in the various winding streets of Prague. Western high street shops are, as everywhere, starting to take over the centre, but there are still plenty of interesting local shops, restaurants and cafés to explore. The popular tourist attractions (especially the Charles Bridge, the castle and the Astronomical Clock) can be overwhelmingly mobbed, but it doesn’t take too much exploring to escape the crowds and find some true gems.

 

 May 17, 2014  Posted by on May 17, 2014 Food, Travel Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Mar 192014
 

Dawn's Early LightI have been a fan of Pip’s and Tee’s writing for many years now. Naturally, when they ventured into Steampunk, I made the discovery with them. Reading the first two novels in the series was a delight and I have also already preordered Dawn’s Early Light.

When I heard about the blog tour I was excited to take part and – totally not selfishly – asked to post an excerpt of the book which I can share with you today.

Below you can find the links where to get the book, the excerpt and also more info about the authors. Enjoy!

Goodreads
Amazon
B&N

A selection from Dawn’s Early Light by Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris
released by Ace Books 

She reached for the lantern hanging at the bottom of the steps, struck a match, and then turned up the light once the flame caught. The sconce’s glow pushed aside the shadows to reveal a small analytical engine, her pride and joy, sitting in the corner of the room.

Perhaps it was an indulgence, but she was guaranteed a small amount of privacy and confidentiality when using it. The money should have gone to the church, but this device was in a sense keeping the church together. It was her personal line of communication with those who called upon her for specific talents. When noon struck, the green light on the panel before Van switched to red. She threw a few connectors forward, awakening the amber display in front of her. It squeaked lightly when she adjusted it to a more comfortable reading position. Yes, along with the piano, her analytical engine was also in need of some maintenance.  

TARGET IS FAST APPROACHING NORTH CAROLINA.
APPREHENDING OF TARGET ALIVE—TOP PRIORITY. 
ELIMINATE ANY OPPOSITION. 
RESPOND IF AVAILABLE. 
—HOU 

Van tapped her lips as she thought about the shadowy organisation. It had been at least six or seven years since the House of Usher had been active in America. What could it mean that they now wanted a hunt and retrieval from her? Whoever this mark was, the House wanted him or her badly, considering the terms of the bounty. 

The term “Eliminate any opposition” would be her judgement call—and solely hers—in the field. She had made a pledge to herself that in these assignments, her sword would only take a life if her own was threatened. She was not an assassin. She was a tracker and a retrieval specialist. 

Accepting this commission would see to the many needs of their church. The piano would finally be tuned, and the roof fully repaired in time for next winter. There could even be some money in the coffer for a garden. Meals for the poor. 

Her fingers had already begun typing before her eyes returned to the screen. 

ASSIGNMENT ACCEPTED. 
PLEASE FORWARD AVAILABLE IMAGE OF TARGET. 
WILL LEAVE IMMEDIATELY FOR N.C. ON DELIVERY.  

Van’s thoughts scattered when the signal returned to red. She flipped the switch underneath, and the display began to assemble itself, line by line. In an hour’s time she would have the face of her latest assignment. Even the telegraph could not offer that.

As the image assembled itself, she would have plenty of time to pack for an unexpected journey south. Van connected two more leads, and flipped a switch that would provide a printed copy of her screen once the image finished its travel through the æther. She turned toward the wall to the left of the machine and gave a section of its moulding a gentle push. The top half of the wall slid away, revealing several rifles and handguns. After a moment’s consideration, she took down the quad-barrelled Winchester-Henry-Armstrong 1892, and felt the weight in her hands. Stopping power and distance were guaranteed, provided the target’s weight was not an issue.

Van propped the ’92 up against the wall and looked over the handgun options in front of her. Her fingers ran along the edges of a wide, rosewood case. She tapped the sides of the box, wondering if these would be needed.

Apprehending of target alive is the top priority, she recalled from the message. Eliminate any opposition. The House of Usher wanted this target with no expense spared. The order was brief, but told her so much. There was no suspicion of opposition. It would happen. Without question.

Van pulled the box free of the wall case and flipped open its brass latches. The pair of .38 Smith & Wesson revolvers within duly reflected the lantern light. She had not picked up either pistol yet, but the wooden grip under her brushing fingertips felt warm, as if expecting her touch.

Closing the lid to the case and then hefting the rifle free from the wall, Van ascended the staircase, her speech to Everett already prepared. Two weeks. She’d only be away two weeks. Three weeks, at the most. For that amount of time, she would be able to do so much good for the church and their little town. Even her stoic partner would see that. The reappearance of the House of Usher could provide a welcomed windfall, and a gift from above. 

Van had to keep the faith that was why the House of Usher had returned to America. She didn’t dare contemplate the other possibility.

 

———–

Bio: New Zealand born fantasy writer and podcaster Philippa (Pip) Ballantine is the author of the Books of the Order and the Shifted World series. She is also the co-author, with her husband Tee Morris, of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels. Her awards include an Airship, a Parsec, and a Sir Julius Vogel. Morris is the author of Morevi: The Chronicles of Rafe and Askana and the co-author of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels. In addition to his work as a fantasist, he is also a social media pioneer and the author of Podcasting for Dummies and All a Twitter.

Pip’s website: www.pjballantine.com
Pip’s Twitter: PhilippaJane

Tee’s website: http://teemorris.com/
Tee’s Twitter: TeeMonster

The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TheMinistryOfPeculiarOccurrences

 March 19, 2014  Posted by on March 19, 2014 Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Mar 082014
 

WB1_klAfter rereleasing the eBook and writing on the sequel, it is now time to bring out the new paperback version of The Coffee Legacy.

Thanks to my husband’s help with the formatting, I was able to get a proof copy which I’m really happy with.

The paperback is already available on Amazon and Createspace and will also be shipped out to other online booksellers. I hope you will enjoy having it in your hands as much as I do! :)

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.de

 March 8, 2014  Posted by on March 8, 2014 Uncategorized Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »