Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 25, 2016

The historic Hotel De l’Europe Gastein, Bad Gastein, Austria

Bad Gastein, AustriaThe art nouveau architecture of the former Grand Hotel de l’Europe in Bad Gastein, an Alpine town in Salzburg province of Austria, hints at its former glory.

The grand hotel was built between 1906 and 1909 and once hosted kings, kaisers, heads of state and celebrities who came to this Alpine town for its gorgeous vistas and curing waters.

Grand Hotel de l'Europe in Bad GasteinWhen I was in Bad Gastein two summers ago, I read an excellent article in an Austrian magazine about the difficulties in building this hotel for the Armenian owner, who had grand plans for a glamorous watering hole in the Alps. Its construction turned out to be an expensive proposition and a logistical nightmare. All the construction material  had to be bought by train over these Alpine passes.

Grand Hotel de l'Europe in Bad GasteinToday, the grand hotel fits in beautifully with the other art deco buildings in town.

Although the Grand Hotel de l’Europe enjoyed a few years of glamour at the turn of the 20th century, attracting European royalty, including Kaiser Franz Joseph and Kaiserin Sissi, its success was short-lived as the advent of Word War I radically changed Europe – both in terms of geography – completely redrawing the map of Europe at the Versailles Conference – and radical changes to customs and traditions.

The Grand Hotel de l’Europe went through a period of decline. Today it serves as Bad Gastein’s casino and has been converted into a budget hotel.

Grand Hotel de l'Europe in Bad GasteinWe did not stay here during our visit, but we were close by and stopped in to see its grand halls.

Definitely worth a stay or a visit when you are passing by this Alpine watering hole. Close your eyes, and you can almost see the glittering balls that may have been held here to the strains of Strauss at the start of the last century.

For more tips in the region, see my earlier posts on hiking the Stubnerkogel, hiking the Graukogel, swimming in the Badesee, and visiting nearby Hallstatt.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 21, 2016

Does sloppy author research drive you crazy?

2016_september_researchI recently picked up a novel by an author who seems to set some of her stories in Italy. This one was set in Rome – my city. It had a gorgeous cover, and I’d never read any of her work before, so I picked it up.

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy anything about the book: the plot, the characters, and the writing style were all unappealing to me, but what drove me completely crazy was the haphazard ‘research’ that went into this book.

And, since it was published by a major publishing house, it begged the question: Why didn’t any of the editors catch the sheer quantity of errors?

After all, the novel was set in Rome, not Pyongyang. A few tourists do actually pass through here and have some idea of what the city is like: absolutely none proofed this book?

Before I sound unreasonable, all authors make some mistakes. I read an excellent book by an Irish author where her American characters living in America sounded suspiciously Irish. Fancy a beer, anyone? I read a book where a Swiss character claims that one of the official languages spoken in one area of Switzerland is English. I read an Italian author with a story partially set in New York who seemed to have some orientation problems in the Big Apple. One story set in Spain had a character often calling the US and mixing up time zones (having the US east coast six hours ahead of Central European Time, rather than behind). In these cases, the stories were strong enough that I could ignore these little slips, and otherwise the research seemed pretty solid.

But when you fill a book with so-called descriptions of a real place, I think you should make some effort to ensure they somewhat hit the mark.

This novel filled Rome with yellow taxi cabs, bike messengers, and hot pretzel vendors on each corner. Italian women sold bunches of daisies on the Spanish steps. None of those things exist in Rome. Italians went around inexplicably addressing women as ‘signorita‘ (apparently a mix of the Spanish señorita and the Italian signorina).

The main character goes to one part of the city and admires views of monuments that are in an entirely other section of the city. One character decided to have an early morning walk up and down the steps outside the Colosseum (none exist). A Roman restaurant boasts window views of gardens in different sections of the city – the New York equivalent might be a restaurant with spectacular views both over Central Park and Prospect Park. Pretty cool, huh?

Characters are constantly eating baguettes in restaurants (in almost two decades in Rome I’m not sure I’ve even seen baguettes in Roman restaurants) and dipping them in bowls of olive oil à la Olive Garden. The food is all wrong, the wine is all wrong.

Okay, even if the writing had been stronger, this probably still would have annoyed me.

What do you think, readers (and writers)? Do these slips bother you if they become overwhelming? Or are you able to overlook them? Have you read stories where culture and setting are completely off, but you still love the story?

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 18, 2016

The new Whitney Museum: New York

Whitney Museum, New YorkNew York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, known more commonly as ‘The Whitney’, moved this year from its home on the Upper East Side to a shiny new home in New York’s Meatpacking District, just adjacent to the High Line, and along the Hudson River.

Whitney Museum, New YorkThe 50,000 square feet of indoor galleries and 13,000 square feet of outdoor exhibition space in its impressive series of terraces was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano (known for Paris’ Centre Pompidou, Rome’s Auditorium, Genoa’s Aquarium, Amsterdam’s Nemo Science Centre, New York’s New York Times Building, London’s Shard…)

Whitney Museum, New YorkIn Piano’s own words: “The design for the new museum emerges equally from a close study of the Whitney’s needs and from a response to this remarkable site. We wanted to draw on its vitality and at the same time enhance its rich character. The first big gesture, then, is the cantilevered entrance, which transforms the area outside the building into a large, sheltered public space.”

Whitney Museum, New York“At this gathering place beneath the High Line, visitors will see through the building entrance and the large windows on the west side to the Hudson River beyond. Here, all at once, you have the water, the park, the powerful industrial structures and the exciting mix of people, brought together and focused by this new building and the experience of art.”

The new space is beautiful, with a soaring Atrium entry, lots of natural light, and multi-floor terraces with stunning views over the Hudson River, downtown, midtown and the High Line, to which the building is adjacent.

Whitney Museum, New York - BellowsOne of the highlights of the collection is George Bellows’ iconic painting ‘Dempsey and Firpo’ (1924) depicting the Prize Fight between American boxing champion Jack Dempsey and Argentinian Luis Angel Firpo on 14 September 1923 at New York City’s Polo Grounds. Bellows was a painter of the Ashcan School movement, and he had been sent by the New York Evening Journal to sketch the bout for its readers.  Although Dempsey was favored and would go on to win, Bellows depicted the moment in which Firpo prevailed, knocking the American champion over the ropes.

Whitney Museum, New York - AvedonAnother iconic image – this a photo – housed in the Whitney will probably be familiar to most viewers: ‘Dovima with the Elephants’ (1955) by Richard Avedon. The photo was taken in Paris at the Cirque d’hiver, with Dovima, who was known as the first ‘supermodel’.

The dress she wears is the first one designed for Christian Dior by his young assistant, Yves Saint-Laurent. Avedon was thrilled with his model, but oddly was unhappy with this image – in particular the drape of the sash. Ironic, really, since it is one of his most recognizable images today.

So when you’re in New York, enjoy a walk on the High Line (see my earlier post) and a visit to the new Whitney. For other museum ideas, see my earlier post on the wonderful Cloisters Museum.

Whitney Museum, New YorkWhitney Museum, New York

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 14, 2016

It’s (not quite) Monday. What are YOU reading?

Book DateAlways love discovering new book blogging sites through other sites I enjoy. That’s why I was pleased that Emma from Once Upon a Littlefield pointed me towards The Book Date.

I like this blog challenge – ‘It’s Monday! What are YOU reading?’ – for those of us who blog fully or partially about books as a prompt to let readers know what we’re reading.

I often post reviews once I’m finished with a book, but I like the idea of posting a book I’m reading on a particular day of the week, no matter where I am within the novel.

Since I have pretty full weekend plans, and ambitious plans to edit some of my own work (I’ve been procrastinating FAR too long), I believe I’ll still be reading the same book Monday that I am Friday, Hungarian author Magda Szabó’s 1987 novel The Door.

The Door, Szabo, coverI am actually amazed I only recently discovered this novel, just out in a new English translation. When I lived in Prague and Vienna, I tore through Czech and Austrian novels, and kept an eye open for Hungarian authors as well, I never came across Szabó. Better late than never…

This is a beautifully written, slightly claustrophobic novel of a young Hungarian writer – whose name we never learn – who employs Emerence, an elderly woman, to become her housekeeper. Everyone in the neighborhood has tremendous respect for the older woman, but no one seems to know much about her or her past, which would be odd for the Hungary of the time. And she never invites visitors past her front door.  At the job interview, we quickly learn it is not the author to select Emerence, but the older woman to decide if she wishes to enter into the author’s service – and life.

And enter into the author’s life she does, filling every sphere during their 20-year relationship, spanning the 1960s to the 1980s. Slowly, a relationship builds between these two very different women in a manner that is all-consuming. At this point, I am not quite certain what it is building up to, since the novel opened foreshadowing events that will happen later … and I haven’t yet connected all the dots. Still, Szabó’s writing carries the reader along in this unusual tale, and I am enjoying the journey.

So, readers: It’s (not quite) Monday! The Door is what I’ll be reading. What are YOU Reading? C’mon, we’re headed into those cooler autumn months, when we can curl up with a blanket, warm tea and  a good book. I’m in need of good tips! Do share yours…

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 11, 2016

Early morning jogs in the Bahamas

Bahamas joggingWhen I travel and have space to squeeze my running sneakers into my suitcase, I’m usually happy to start the mornings off with a scenic jog.

If it’s an area I don’t know, it also gives my my bearings in a new town or city.

On a recent trip to the Bahamas, it turned out being an ideal way to enjoy the peace and quiet of the white sand beaches and turquoise waters in the hours before the hordes hit the shore.

Bahamas joggingAnd there is something about early morning jogs with the sound of the waves accompanying you that manages to even put a not-by-a- long-shot-early-bird person like me in a  good mood.

You can see my earlier posts about morning beach jogs in Durres, Albania and Agadir, Morocco here.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 7, 2016

Sorry to have missed this year’s Matera Women’s Fiction Festival

AMatera Women's Fiction Festivalround this time of year, I find myself engaged in the (pleasurable) task of writing up what I’ve learned at the annual Matera Women’s Fiction Festival.

Matera is a very special town in southern Italy where writers of women’s fiction and women writers of all genres gather to learn about changes in the industry, to take craft seminars, to meet agents and publishers, and to chat with fellow participants about books and writing.

Matera, ItalyThis year, the festival did not take place, but mark your calendars because it will be back next year. You can learn more about next year’s festival here.

As you wait for the schedule to be announced, you can take a look at my wrap-ups of the 2015 Festival and the 2014 Festival.

Hoping to see fellow writers and literature lovers next autumn in Matera!

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 4, 2016

Movies in Central Park, New York

New YorkI’ve already written about all the reasons I love New York in the summertime, and especially when we visit in August.

When we’re there, we always make a point of seeing the free films screened in Central Park – these tend to be the third week in August, rain or shine. A big screen is set up in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow and you can bring along blankets or towels to camp out on the grass and a picnic dinner.

Central Park outdoor filmsThe films are older and are usually set in New York. We’ve seen lots over the years: The original King Kong from 1935, back when the Empire State Building was brand spanking new, Saturday Night Fever, Fame, Animal House, Dream Girls. This past year we saw I Am Legend (the adults hated it, but the kids loved it), Tootsie and Desperately Seeking Susan.

It’s fun to see the grittier New York of the 1970s and 1980s, especially for my husband and kids who never saw that version and don’t quite believe me when I tell them about it.

A great way to spend an evening out under the stars in beautiful Central Park.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | September 30, 2016

August reads

In summer, my reading always picks up. And during holidays, I had the chance to read quite a few books, some of which I really enjoyed.

Now that I am back to the daily grind, I decided to take a look back at my August reads and (hopefully) somehow feel as if I’m back on vacation again, relaxed with a good novel at hand. *Sigh*

Villa America, KlaussmannVilla America- Liza Klaussmann

I was eagerly anticipating this novel ever since I read Klaussmann’s excellent debut novel Tigers in Red Weather. Unfortunately, despite all the elements that made me think I’d love this novel: post World War I in the south of France, glamorous expats, authors, artists, it didn’t live up to my expectations. This was a shame, since I wanted so much to like it, but the characters all felt rather flat to me. The artist Gerald Murphy and his wife Sara were an integral part of the Lost Generation and their famed parties in their Riviera villa attracted the illuminati of that exotic intellectual circle. The Murphys were said to be the inspiration behind Fitzgerald’s Tender is The Night. Sara and Gerald didn’t develop for me much on the page, and Gerald’s constant and tortured struggles with his sexuality didn’t capture my attention. However, I did enjoy many of the cultural and generational aspects of the novel and there were individual scenes beautifully written. But it didn’t match novels set in this period that I loved like The Paris Wife or Hemingway’s Wives, where I felt far more invested in the stories and the voices of the characters telling them.

The Other Daughter, WilligThe Other Daughter- Lauren Willig

I enjoyed Willig’s novels The Ashford Affair and That Summer, so I was looking forward to another historical fiction novel, this one set in 1920s London. Rachel Woodley is working in France as a governess when she must return to England for her mother’s funeral. Rachel discovers the father she believed died when she was a child is very much alive, a feted earl with a new family and another daughter, Olivia. Rachel sets out to infiltrate the world of wealthy London society, with the aim of getting closer to Olivia and her father. The plot was a little far-fetched from the outset, but the real problem, as I saw it, is that these characters never came to life. As a reader, I didn’t feel invested in what happened to Rachel and none of the characters truly came alive on the page. The romantic angle also seemed a bit forced. Rachel doesn’t seem to know what she wants either. Revenge? Answers? Closure? The chance to dress up in great clothes? I think her indecisiveness and lack of development as a character kept this from being more engaging than it could have been. What Willig did well were the period settings and some of the era’s dialogue among this smart set, with its lingering sense of loss and ennui following WWI.

The Admissions, Mitchell MooreThe Admissions- Meg Mitchell Moore

I knew nothing about this book or its author when I picked it up, but I was drawn in very quickly to a world I (hope to) avoid living abroad: the world of helicopter parenting in the high-stakes game of Getting-into-Harvard for teenagers today. Rather befitting that one of the book blurbs came from the author of You’re Not That Special, the book that argued that high school children (and their parents) should start to realize their talented students are only one of countless other talented teenagers throughout the world and that the culture of constantly cheerleading one’s children is best abandoned. None of this is being had at the Hawthorne household, where the whole family is obsessing about high school senior Angela Hawthorne’s chances of getting into Harvard early admission. In fact, there is no plan B. Angela is only applying to Harvard. After all, she’s valedictorian at her California Bay Area high school, runs in cross country, and studies Spanish. She’s obviously a shoe-in, or so she and her parents think. Not surprisingly, this conviction that as long as you continue to stay top of your class in your hometown, there’s nothing to worry about eventually causes Angela to crack. Her parents, Nora and Gabe, are swept away in the madness, but they have their own stress caused by secrets they do not want revealed. A nice send-up on ‘You’re so incredibly special and unique’ parenting today and the student and family stress as college acceptance season rolls around. This brilliantly written book fell apart for me just a bit toward the end as problems work out just a little too neatly all around, but still an excellent and entertaining read.

Maybe in Another Life, Taylor Jenkins ReidMaybe in Another Life- Taylor Jenkins Reid

This was another nice find. I kept coming across this in book stores while I was in New York, and liked the ‘Sliding Doors’ premise of the plot: how one little choice – to stay at a party or leave early – could set off a series of events that would lead to two entirely different life choices. For don’t we all feel like that sometimes? That one little choice in our life could have set us on entirely different paths? The writing was engaging and this was a quick read, following Hannah Martin through her two alternate lives chapter by chapter. It was fun to skip between two alternate, and realistic, lives. The only aspect that I felt weakened the story is that Hannah – who is decidedly in need of making some smart decisions on where her life is headed after years of drifting – ends up with two remarkably similar paths. I would have liked seeing two more divergent life paths, but otherwise an enjoyable read.

Reconstructing Amelia, Kimberly McCreightReconstructing Amelia- Kimberly McCreight

I don’t read mystery/thrillers all that often, but the plot looked intriguing and I picked this up looking for a summer read. Successful lawyer Kate gets a call at work that her overachieving daughter, Amelia, is being suspended from her exclusive Brooklyn high school. When Kate arrives at school, Amelia is dead, a presumed suicide. Kate, unsatisfied with the seeming speed with which the police seem willing to close the case, begins an investigation of her own and discovers worrying details about her daughter’s life, her group of friends, and dealings with school that lead her to believe Amelia did not take her own life. I’m still not completely convinced this is a genre I enjoy, but I did like how this novel was executed, told through the perspective of Kate and Amelia, using  teenage social media entries to allow the story to unveil slowly  (and in turn sending a chill of terror down the spine of parents who wonder if their own children could be so naive). I certainly found this enjoyable and read along quickly to discover the outcome. BUT, as I find with so many of these stories (Gone Girl and Girl On A Train, too) there are too many elements that force me to suspend disbelief. Reconstructing Amelia was no exception. The silliest perhaps being the seasoned police officer taking on the bereaved mother as his sidekick to investigate her own daughter’s death – questioning suspects and all. I’m starting to think this goes along with the genre, but nevertheless, I thought this was an engaging summer read.


Posted by: kimberlysullivan | September 27, 2016

Hollywood on the Lusatian Neisse River: Görlitz, Germany/Zgorzelec, Poland

Goerlitz, GermanyDuring a stay in Prague, Czech Republic, we decided to make a day trip to an interesting town partially in Germany, partially in Poland.

This architectural gem is called Görlitz in German and Zgorzelec in Polish. You can see the tourist information site here.

Goerlitz, GermanyIt may be familiar to many who haven’t yet visited because it is a popular place to set Hollywood films. The Grand Budapest Hotel , The Book Thief , and Inglorious Basterds among others, were shot here.

Unlike many German towns that were largely destroyed in World War II, Görlitz – so far to the east – was left untouched, and its impressive examples of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Historicist and Art Nouveau architecture make it a pleasure to explore.


Look Mom, we’re in Germany AND Poland!

One of the fun aspects of this town for my kids was how it’s divided between Germany and Poland.

They loved standing on the bridge over the Lusatian Neisse River, which serves as the border marking. They had fun putting one arm and leg in one country and one in the other or hopping between the two. Kids will be kids. Still, it is pretty cool to be surrounded by German or Polish on opposite sides of the river.

The town is made for wandering, and all the picturesque corners, squares and cobblestoned streets add to its charm.

Goerlitz, GermanyAnd its clear that Görlitz takes great care to renovate its impressive architecture, lots of work was taking place during our visit. The photogenic Town Hall clock dates back to 1584.

I tend to avoid Tarantino films, but I did see both The Book Thief and The Grand Budapest Hotel – the latter I especially loved.

I had to stop by the beautiful art nouveau department store on Demianiplatz, which serves as the Grand Budapest Hotel in the fictional Mitteleuropa town of Nebelsbad in the equally fictional Republic of Zubrowka.

Goerlitz, Germany

The Grand Budapest Hotel – minus the quirky guests and staff

Sadly, it’s closed for renovations, but we could still peek in to see the impressive, soaring Atrium that was so familiar from the film.

Did I mention enough how much I loved the film? : )

I highly recommend a visit to this pretty German and Polish town when you’re in the area.

We’ll definitely be back to explore the surrounding area some more.

Goerlitz, Germany, from Polish sideGrand Budapest Hotel

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | September 23, 2016

I completed my Goodreads Challenge 2016

Goodreads Challenge 20162016 is not yet over, but a recent burst of enthusiastic summer reading means I’ve wrapped up my Goodreads Reading challenge early.

Even if it’s only for fun, always nice to get things in before deadlines.

I know some people criticize the Reading challenge, calling it a useless check-list, but I enjoy participating each year.

I’ve always been a bit of a list-keeper when it comes to books I’ve read, so I love having my lists available electronically. I often find my next reads on the site and by seeing what friends are reading, and, bookworm/nerd that I am, I get a kick out of seeing how many pages of novels I’ve read each year.

Strangely, I never have that same desire to quantify corporate reports or technical documents I read for work each year, so I do maintain good priorities…

I still have plenty of novels to read before the end of the year, but nice to pat myself on the back for reaching this (enjoyable) goal for 2016.

Happy reading to all!

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