Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I had heard a lot of good things about this book by the time I had finally picked it up. Although I would not have described it as a historical fiction book, it really is one. Set in the Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1970), this book deals with the events before the war and life during it as well as the turmoil that Nigeria was left in once it was over.

Written by Nigerian born Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie the book was awarded the prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction in 2007. She has been hearalded as beeing the “21st-century daughter of Chinua Achebe” by the Washington Post, whose book Things Fall Apart written in 1958 is listed in the Time Magazine Top 100 Books.

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Adichie chose three narrators: Ugwu the house boy, Olanna who is an academic and the central character of the book and Richard and Englishman who comes to Nigeria as an Expat to write about Igbo-Ukwu art. To tell the entwined story of themselves and two other main characters: Odenigbo the professor and husband of Olanna and Kainene the twin of Olanna.

As well as jumping between narrators the story also jumps about the timeline, flipping back and forth as if the character is reminicing and then crashes back to reality. This allows Adichie to throw in curve balls every now and then as just when you begin to trust one of the narrators she drops in something that forces you to be disapointed with them.

Richards book is stratgically placed with in Half of a Yellow Sun detailing the war, which gives the reader a better understanding of the reality of the war and firmly cements this book in the historical fiction genre. This was a great spring board for me to do some further research into this war that I had not previously heard of.

In an Q&A for her website Adichie said the wove this second book into Half of a Yellow Sun as a “strongly-felt political point about who should be writing the stories of Africa.”

Throughout the book the author makes strong political points on the social conditioning of race, “I am Nigerian beacsue a white man created Nigeria and gave me that identity. I am black because a white man constructed black to be as different form his white as possible.”

The book covers a wide range of themes from interracial relationships, female empowerment to domestic abuse and infidelity all wraped up in the overarching theme of the Nigerian-Biafra War.

This is all the more intensified as Adichie is not affraid to hurt her characters by and stripping them of love, to symbolise the way the war fractured Nigeria and left the country to rebuild itself.

It’s also hard to ignore the references to academia both inadevertendly in that Olanna and Odenigbo are both university professors, while Richard is a writer and Kainene is a captain of industy. As well as overtly in statements such as “Education is a priority… How can we resist exploitation if we don’t have the tools to understand exploitation?”

In 2013 it was made in to a film by the same name by the Nigerian filmmaker Biyi Bandele, staring Chiwetel Ejiofor from Love Actually, Thandie Newton and Anika Noni Rose from Dreamgirls. Sadly the film did not recive a great reception, with The Guardian giving it 2 out of 5 stars and The Telegraph awarding it a more favourable 3 out of 5 stars. I haven’t seen it yet, but look forward to sitting down to watch it soon.

In the beginning I found the book hard going, but once I got used to the changing of narrator and the style of the book it was hard to tear myself away from it. In the end Adichie leaves the story much as a war leaves a nation in a sense of dispair and loss with many questions still to be answered.

I’d recomend Half of a Yellow Sun if you are looking to read something a little more challenging than your average historical romance that dares you to think a little further than the story itself. Adichie’s message may seem confusing when you are reading it, but this book is quietly powerful in the way that will stay with you for time to come.

Have you read Half of a Yellow Sun or any of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s other works? Have you seen the film yet?

 

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Maren Morris – Hero

If you like your country music straight then this one’s probably not for you, but if you like a little shake-up every now and then, take a listen. I absloultely love this album and have been playing it non-stop since it dropped in June 2016.

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This Texas firecracker made my ears prick with her witty lyrics and storytelling power that is up there with some of the greats. Hero is an unappologetic melting-pot of genres, making sure it is completely her sound, with a naughtyness that keeps it fun.

The album has a refereshing honesty in line with the music of Cam and Kacey Musgraves, which have been testing the boundries of country music recently. With confident lyrics telling of their inperfections and mistakes, not for judgment or redemption, but to show the world they’re human and though they might not make the right choices everytime, they are not going to let that stop them.

Morris’ sound is more daring than that of Cam and Musgraves, perhaps using the opening they’ve made in the country music scene to push the boundaries further. She even breaks one of country musics strictest rules and slings in a swear word here and there.

The common theme throughout the album is love and girl power, but Morris keeps the album light and the topics from digging too deep. The album saw her nominted for four Grammy’s in 2017 – Best New Artist, Best Country Song, Best Country Album and Winner of the Best Country Solo Performance!

Plus Rolling Stone put Hero at #13 in their 50 Best Albums of 2016. Not bad for her first album with a “Major” record label! You’d be forgiven for thinking she is just starting out on the music scene and testing the water in the different genres with this album, as this lady has been releasing music independently for 10 years now.

My personal favourite song from the album also happens to be the first track I heard from Morris – My Church. I found it very relatable as I too find there can be nothing better than a long drive when I need to clear my head! She even adds in a shout out to country music greats with the line “When Hank brings the sermon, And Cash leads the choir”.

My favourite line of the album comes from the second song Rich, “Me and Diddy drippin’ diamonds like Marilyn”. Which explains all the things you could have and do if you had money every time you went back to a bad boyfriend and were right about him being wrong.

Morris is not aftraid to juxtapose her own approach, with Drunk Girls Don’t Cry explaining her frustration at a friend who goes back to a bad boyfriend. With verse upon verse comparing the likelihood of him changing to drunk girls not crying. This is exactly the same situation she made light of herself being in, with the song – Rich!

I love this album as it seems so honest like it’s comeing from the heart, but you by no means feel like you are reading her diary. Perhaps the most personal sound on the album is I Could Use a Love Song, which describes the broken hearted searching for some way to clear your mind and make you forget the pain when nothing else seems to work.

I’d defiently recomend checking it out, it’s perfect for the commute or in the background at home, my personal favourite is having it on in my car when I am using it as “My Church” (pardon the pun!). In June 2017 Hero was certified Gold in the United States.

Maren Morris is following Hero’s 2016 album release with a tour of the United States, Ireland and finally the United Kingdom. I have tickets to see her in London when she is over and I cannot wait! So check out the album and if you like it you have time to choose if you want to see her while she is over!

 

I’ve Been Nominated for the Liebster Award

A few months back Lydia from Mademoiselle Women nominated me for the Liebster Award and now I’ve finally got around to witing my response. So here goes:

What is the Liebster Award?

I’d heard the name floating around the blogosphere for a while, but took no real interest as I assumed it was another unachievable award that had no relevance to small time bloggers like me.

After Lydia nominated me I did some reseach and I found out it’s actually an award given to new bloggers by other bloggers.

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What are the Rules?

While the premise itself is simple, the rules are not. There are more versions of the rules floating around than there are fake Mulberry Handbags in London!

For ease, my post will follow the same format as Lydia’s did when she nominated me:

  • 11 facts about me
  • Answer the 11 questions set by Lydia
  • Nominate 11 bloggers with a further 11 questions posed by me

So, without further ado:

11 Facts About Me:

  1. I was born in Plymouth.
  2. I identify myself as Welsh – predominantly for sport, but I also spent a lot of time there while I was growing up.
  3. Aged 11 I went to boarding school and loved every minute of it.
  4. I used to fence épée for Wales when I was younger, now I just do it for fun, when I can be bothered.
  5. I can’t click my fingers!
  6. Oh and I can’t whistle either!
  7. I obtained a 2:1 hons in History from Oxford Brookes, despite going out 4 times a week in my final year!
  8. My favourite family in history are the Medici’s and my favourite person is Catherine de Medici.
  9. I live in constant fear that I will not have enough books to read, I have a “To be Read” pile of well over 100 and that is not including my reserve pile in Cornwall.
  10. Even though a large part of this blog is about country music I have no musical talent – my mum made me give up the recorder aged 7 because I was rubbish and only used to practice in the car on the way to school!
  11. I’m hopeless at cooking – I once burnt pasta twice in the same morning!

11 Questions from Lydia:

Q. How do you keep organised, in terms of a planner?

A. I use a year diary (page a day) and a month to view sheet that I insert so it can move through the pages. This way I can focus on the day-to-day with out losing sight of the month plan. I try to set myself 3 main tasks a day for my blog and personal life and then 3 separate ones for work, in-line with my goals. I make sure to schedule in catch up time so I can eliminate missing the deadlin. This is key as I love to procrastinate.

Q. Ice cream – yay or nay?

A. What a silly question. I am eating some while writing this post! Mint chocolate chip is my favourite.

Q. Manicure or pedicure? 

A. Pedicure, my toes always have to be painted!

Q. Apple or Samsung?

Apple 100%. I love my iPhone and my other Apple bits and bobs.

Q. First album you ever bought?

A. Busted’s 2002 album Busted!

Q. What motivated you to start blogging?

A. I had been a fan of blogs for a while and one day I just thought I could have a go at this and see what happens. As I started, I found I had a need to have my voice heard, which is perfect as now I am not at uni, blogging allows me to continue being creative and forming an opinion on things.

Q. Dream job as a child?

A. After I got over the fact I could not become a helicopter! I settled on the rather understated General Surgeon in the Royal Navy – A-level chemistry put paid that.

Q. Would you call yourself a feminist?

A. Now here’s an interesting question. No, I wouldn’t call myself a feminist as I’ve never liked the term. Whenever someone has asked me this I’ve always rather flippantly turned and said, “if it wasn’t for those darned feminists I could be sat at home with my feet up right now.” That said, I think if I looked objectively at my life I would find that I make a very stong case for a feminist; I’m a well-educated, unmarried woman, living with my boyfriend, I work in the city, with aspirations to go into a traditionally masculine career and certainly always put my opinion across. Yet, I feel society works best when we work together as a community made up of men, women or whatever else you choose to identify as. So I guess I’m an equalist, just freeloading off the growing tide of feminism? I feel feminism can be percieved and used as a way for women to dominate over men, but maybe feminism is just a stepping stone on the way to equalism?

Q. Who is your role model?

A. My friend Freya. She I the cleverest person I know, she knows exactly what she wants to do with her life and while the rest of my group of friends, myself included, are dilly dallying about deciding if we’re willing to take the risk and go for our dream jobs, she’s already starting hers. She also happens to be the funniest person I know, with the unique ability to command a room and have everyone hanging of her every last word. So if there is anyone I look up to and want to imitate it is her.

Q. Who is your hero?

A. My dad, he has had the courage to stand up to his superiors on occasions when he has not felt working conditions on his ship have been up to par, but got on with the job at hand when faced with no alternative but to meet the set tasking.

Q. Pineapple on pizza – yes or no?

A. No, no, no! Never!

Chosen Bloggers to Tag:

Natalie from Rawli

And anyone else who feels they want to complete the challenge.

I know the rules stipulate that I was supposed to tag 11 bloggers, but as this tag has been going round for a while I struggled to find people who had not already completed the tag. Also I didn’t want to tag people randomly in case they did not want to complete it so I approcahed around 20 bloggers and Natalie was the only one who wanted to do it.

11 Questions for those tagged to Answer:

  1. Where would you rather live a city or the country?
  2. Who’s your favourite person in history?
  3. If you could go back to a time in the past when would it be?
  4. Where is your dream travel destination?
  5. What is the best lie your parents ever told you as a child?
  6. What childhood toy do you still own and why?
  7. Who is the first blogger you followed?
  8. What is your favourite book?
  9. What is your favourite alcoholic drink?
  10. What is your pet peeve?
  11. What’s the scariest thing you have ever done?

Royal Ascot 2017 – The Day

After the stress of all the preparations and the debarcle surounding Jonny's suit the day finally arrived, in the morning my hair would not curl propperly and our taxi booking got lost, I sware something was trying to tell us not to go!

My boyfriend and I knew taxi's would be busy on the day, but we booked one anyway and an hour after it was supposed to arrive we started to worry and when we called the company they said the system had crashed and our booking had been lost.

So Jonny and I decided to start walking in case this new taxi we booked was also an hour late. I had just got to the end of a long gravel road in my heels and the driver arrived so we got in – I had to sit at a very strange angle so my hat could fit in, much to Jonny's amusement!

On arrival Jonny was pounced upon by a woman with a "lucky Carnation" which was all very lovely until we realised we had no cash on us!

We headed in after a thorough search of out bags, which was very efficient and professional. Once inside Jonny laughed as the photographers wanted to take photos of all the ladies around us except me.

Food & Drink:

After a quick wander around and a precautionary plaster break, we headed to the bar. Jonny bought us half a bottle of champagne for £35 – we wish we had bought the full size one for £70, as you get a little bag to carry it in so you can wander and drink. We drank it on one of the outside balconies so we could watch everyone else coming in and some ladies hats flying off!

Here's a picture of me looking glamorous with my champagne:

  

And here's the reality of wearing a hat on a windy day and trying to take a lovely photo:

We had not booked into one of the restaurants as they were very very expensive, instead we headed to the alcohol free area at the Lavazza Coffee Bar and had a lovely sandwich and coffee. This worked out well as not many people were in that area, so we had a fabulous view of the Queens carriage procession! We also saw the Queen walk into the Royal Box, whcih was pretty spectacular.

A few races in Jonny made battle at the bar, which took a good 30 minutes. We decided to get a bottle of Rosé wine as that would last us longer a normal drink. I was pleasntly suprised that it only cost £20!

We didn't stay for a drink after the meet, in an attempt to beat the sea of people, with mixed success. We actually stopped off at one of Jonny's family firends house for a few drinks, which really rounded the day off in a wonderful day.

For dinner Jonny took me to his local Indian in Sunningdale where the food is sublime. Unfortunatley we were both so tired we kept falling asleep at the table! So we headed straight home to bed afterwards.

Betting:

Jonny and I's first bet of the day was on "How many other women we would see in my hat?" – loser had to buy dinner! Jonny went for 2 or less and I went for 3 or more, as soon as I saw one I was praying for over 3.

In total of what we saw there were four of us, which isn't bad when you consider how many women were there and the price of my hat. I've never really been that fussed with wearing the same thing as someone else, in fact I find it quite flattering!

All four of us wore it differently and looked incredible in it. It wouldnt have mattered if I had worn one of the other hat's I liked as there were about the same number of people in them too!

We bet about £5 each per race, sometimes Jonny got a bit excited and stretched that a bit further. I love going to the old fashioned book makers at the races. I use the race card to help me choose my horse, in so much as I see which name I like and if I like the jockeys colours! Then I like looking at the bookies LED screens for the best odds and rushing over to place my bet before they change!

I tend to do £2.50 each way, which is effectively two bets, one on the horse to win and one on it to place – traditionally in the top 3. I like this type of bet as I find you tend to get a bit more return. Especially with my method of choosing a horse it may place, but I'm not likely to pick the winner!

Overall between us I think we came out about £65 down, which is not too bad given our skill and that it was a whole day of entertainment. I won £35 on Stradivarius in the penultimate race, which I was over the moon with!

All in all despite arriving there with both Jonny and I saying we will never go again as it is too stressful and too expensive. We both left saying when we come next year we will do things differently.

The things we would have done differently this year are:

  • Checking the suit order
  • Practicing my hair before the day
  • Matching Jonny's tie to my outfit
  • Organising the taxi a few days in advance
  • Wearing lower heels
  • Buying a full bottle of Champagne instead of a half
  • Eating a snack before we go

Have you ever been to Royal Ascot before, what did you think of it? Or, do you want to go to Royal Ascot?

Royal Ascot 2017 – Outfit

I had been to Ascot Racecourse a couple of times for other races and events, as I love a day out at the races! So I was super excited when Jonny surprised me with tickets for my birthday as I had been desperate to go to Royal Ascot for a few years. We had discussed going for a long time now and I just thought it would be another one of those things you talk about, but never happens.

Jonny chose Royal Enclosure tickets as his parents are members andthat way we would get the full experience.

Once the initial excitement was over, it was down to serious business checking out the dress rules for the year and planning my outfit.

I’m usually rubbish at outfit planning for upcoming events, I will talk about buying a dress for ages, then forget to actually do it and end up buying one last minute off ASOS – thank The Lord for Premier!

However as Royal Ascot is one of the biggest events of ‘The Season,’ I knew this time my fashion game had to be bang on point.

After a month or procrastination I got down to business, my dress budget was pretty broad as I wanted to find something I liked first and then worry whether I could afford it. I knew I wouldn’t go over what I thought was the right amount to spend, especially as I had time on my side!

After having no luck in any of the major high street stores I decided to choose my hat first, seen as this would be the first event I’d ever worn a hat for.

Rules:

If you are going to Royal Ascot or any race meet for that fact, make sure you have checked out the dress code and any specific rules, otherwise you will look silly and may not even be allowed to enter! (Also be aware that the dress code can change year on year.)

Royal Ascot2017 Dress Code

Ladies: – Formal Daywear:

  • Dresses or skirts should fall just below the knee or longer
  • The straps of dresses or tops must be one inch or wider – can be covered by jackets or pashminas, but they must still adhere to the rules
  • Full length trouser suits are acceptable as long as they are matching
  • This year jumpsuits were allowed, as long as they were full length and their straps were wider than an inch
  • Hats must be worn, but a headpiece with a solid base that has a diameter of more than 4 inches is acceptable

Gentlemen: – Morning Dress:

Black or Grey and must include:

  • A waistcoat and tie (no cravats)
  • A black or grey top hat (cannot be customised by coloured ribbons or bands)
  • Black shoes

My Outfit:

Dress:

While I was waiting to drag my boyfriend around hat shopping, I put in an ASOS order for a few dresses I liked.

This was my favourite: but I thought it might be a little too much, especially the relatively see-thought back. I got it for £38.

This was my second favourite: I really thought this was the one, unfortunately it was too tight. I bought it for £28.

My least favourite: I wasn’t that keen on this one, but everyone else I asked was, in particular my boyfriend. This was the one I ended up wearing on the day as I couldn’t find anything else I liked more. I purchased it for £35.

Hat:

I met Jonny one night after work to go hat shopping in House of Fraser at Bank, I tried on all the hats they had that fitted the strict rules, but I didn’t like any of them. However I had a better idea of the type of hat that suited me.

A few days later Jonny and I headed to Westfield Stratford hat shopping, I tried some on in John Lewis to start with. I really liked this one at £110 but the one it the shop didn’t sit right on my head. I also nearly bought this one at £50 as a back up, but they did not have any hat boxes left! Who runs out of hat boxes in the weeks leading up to Ascot?! Surely this is the time you put in a bulk order for hat boxes?!

I poped in to M&S on the off chance they might sell hats and it turns out they have a fantastic selection, this was where I found the hat I wore, plus it was the cheapest I liked at £45. On the website they called it a fascinator, which really worried me so I carried on looking for other hats.

Here we are in our hats before we left!

I trapsed up and down Oxford Street in and out of department stores and I utterly fell in love this one, for £80. However I decided as I would likley only ever wear it once, I should take the £35 saving and spend it on the actual day. As much as it pained me!

Shoes:

I had a look around, but I could not find any that I liked that went with my outfit, so in the end I settled for a pair of nude and white heeled sandles I already owned. The only draw back being I knew they rubbed my feet, which sure enough they did.

If I went again I would definetly wear a pair that did not rub and were a little shorter as you are on your feet all day!

Bag:

I fell in love with this £20 bag from Accessories, which I only bought on the evening before, it is my new go to clutch. I also bought a black satin clutch in the sale for £9 as a back up.

Here’s a picture of me messing around in my full outfit before we left, as I am screwing my face up in all the proper ones we took!

JONNY’S OUTFIT:

Morning Dress:

Whilst at Westfield looking for my hat we went into Moss Bros to hire Jonny’s morning dress as it is far to expensive to justify buying for one day of the year.

The gentleman who helped us was lovely he showed us a fantastic grey Ted Baker suit, which we both loved, however he forgot to tell us that they actually do an “Ascot package” in store!

Rather stupidly we did not check the reciept, as the whole discussion had been about a grey suit and he seemed on the ball, why would we? This however would be our downfall!

We went to collect the suit form the store the night before. As soon as we got in there I was not very impressed with the staff who left us waiting for a long time while they chatted amongst themselves

and watching videos on their phones!

When they finished laughing and we were finally served, disaster struck as Jonny went to try his suit on only to find out it had been ordered in the wrong colour! He had a blue suit, grey waistcoat and a black top hat!

We checked the reciept and to our dismay it said blue, by this stage I was fully pannicking. We definetly would not get in with a blue suit and we had already spent so much money on the day! After arguing with the guy who was serving us and getting no where, we asked to speak to his manager.

The manager was superb, he completely grasped that we understood a mistake had been made and wanted a solution and not someone to throw further problems at us! He agreed that it was a joint error as we would not have ordered a multi-coloured outfit, but we should have checked the form properly when we ordered it.

He went into the stock cupboard and luckily they had “The Ascot Package” in stock, in my boyfriends size, so we rented that and he gave us £85 back as an appology, which we were very impressed with. This gentlemans approach to the whole issue was a fantastic example of customer service, he did not try to place blame he just tried his best to sort out our problem.

Thank God it was only Ascot we were picking up a suit for, imagine if that had been for a wedding!

Unfortunately after all that we did not have time to find a tie that matched my dress so settled for a pink one from M&S, which looked lovely on him.

Here’s Jonny looking very dapper in his suit before we left!

Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever had an issue when ordering a suit? Or struggled to find a hat for an event?

 

Anglea’s Ashes – Frank McCourt

The full title is Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir of a Childhood. The name is a big giveaway as to the type of book it is, it’s an autobiography focusing on Frank’s upbringing.

Frank was an Irish-American teacher and later author. For this book alone he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1996.

The book is written from the perspective of Frank’s younger self – Frankie. When you start reading Angela’s Ashes you embark on a journey with Frankie through his childhood, everything is experienced through his eyes. The reader learns the story at the same pace as he experiences life so you become fully emersed in his childhood. 

Despite his upbringing being so tragic, Frankie is always able to see the funny side of life. His wit shines through and although he faced adversity during his childhood, it was not always sad. It is this cheery approach that stops you dead in your tracks, whenever as the reader you become close to pitying Frankie. His comic words always turn these feelings on their head and force the reader instead to root for his escape from poverty.

His flippant comments will make you laugh such as “What’s the use in having a Grandma who won’t go blind and get a government radio?”

Frankie honestly explains the confusions and misconceptions faced by a child when growing up, that often need adult explanation and clarification to be understood. These are the errors that often cause you to cringe on reflection as a grown adult.

The book moves through the whole of Frankie’s childhood and accompanies him as he takes his first few steps into adulthood. Exploring the ramifications on his upbringing of his fathers’ alcoholism and resulting family  poverty. It explores many themes such as love, loss and the desire for self-improvement.

Frank leaves no detail out when explaining the plight of the downtrodden in Limerick. As a result the book is extremely depressing. This obsession with detail makes the book hard to get into in the beginning, yet after chapter 10 it becomes difficult to put down.

Frankie sees only positivity in adversity and even points out “a happy childhood is hardly worth you while.” With a strong message that kindness can be found everywhere – even in the deepest of poverty, a sense of unity can be found even if people are only brought together by their struggles. The McCourt’s took solace in the fact that someone somewhere was worse off than them.

The story does come to an abrupt end, leaving the reader wanting more, yet this comes in the shape of his second book ‘Tis. I am yet to follow the story on and read this one, but it is firmly in my to be read pile. Angela’s Ashes was made into a film in  1990, which I also need to watch.

This book is certainly a memorable one and really made me appreciate the privilege of my childhood. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in poverty or loves a story about an underdog!

Have you read either of these books or watched the film? Let me know in the comments.

Return to Island Paradise: The Azores

Last month I did something pretty unheard of for me when it comes to travel – I returned to somewhere I have been before!

I love to visit new places and for me when I go somewhere I don’t like to sit still for long. Don’t get me wrong I can lounge on a beach for an afternoon, especially if a good book is involved, but another activity has to take place at some point that day be it a walk, sport, sightseeing, etc.

For this reason, I don’t often see the point in going back to somewhere as I have most likely done all of the activities I intended to do when I was there.

I loved the Azores last time I went, so much so I wrote two posts on it – the first on the hotel, food and drink, and the second on what there is to do there! Again I had a fabulous time there and thought I’d update you on the different things I got up to.


As with last time the Azores were chosen as my dad was already there with work and could meet my mum and I afterwards for a holiday.

Transport:

We took the four-hour flight with RyanAir from Stanstead Airport to Ponta Delgada on a Saturday (the only day for direct flights with them), costing around £230 per person. Unlike last time, we had a wide choice of airports and airlines to fly with. The flight was easy and I love that RyanAir allows 2 pieces of hand luggage, perfect as we were only taking one hold case between us.

Stanstead is fast becoming one of my favourite airports as it is nearby, really well connected and I find the airport itself is hassle free.

One thing that annoyed me with RyanAir was we had already paid for priority boarding at about £8, yet as we approached the gate people were trying to sell it to us for £5 – fine. However when we got to the gate the priority boarding has already boarded, luckily we were let in the queue, but had we bought it for £5 it would have been a rip off as we never would have gotten to use it.

Accommodation:

Unfortunately the hotel we stayed in last time was fully booked so we chose one nearby, the São Miguel Park. There were three main criteria to our hotel: location – Ponta Delgada (the main town), an indoor pool (as the weather is unpredictable) and free wifi (which is not often included in hotels out there!).

Overall our hotel was lovely and did exactly what we wanted. As my dad was not supposed to be staying with us overnight we chose a family room, luckily we did as his plans changed and he had to fly out and meet us later in the trip! The room and the balcony were huge with a fantastic view over the city and the Atlantic Ocean. The bathroom was a little dated, but the shower was incredible.


My only bugbear with the hotel was breakfast, which was included in the price. I could not fault the amount there was to choose from and was able eat enough to tide me over until well past lunch time. However, whenever we went down to the restaurant for it the staff were always clearing the tables for dinner, we even tried getting there just after it opened and it was the same.

This made us feel very awkward and as if we were not supposed to be there, especially when the only breakfast tables left for the three of us to sit on were set for two! We never tried dinner at the hotel as we felt they may be setting the tables for breakfast around us.

At the start of the trip here was a lot of rain so the indoor pool was a lifesaver.

Food & Drink:

As I mentioned last time the food there is really reasonable and is mainly steak and seafood, both of which are to die for.

One of my favourite foods is squid, but it is hard to find in the UK and when you do it is often very expensive and not all that tasty. Squid is on offer in most restaurants in São Miguel, for around €10 so I was in heaven. Alternating each night between steak and squid!


We visited a couple of our favourite restaurants from last time;

The Yacht Club – which was as exceptional as before, my mum and dad had Earth & Sea which is veal and langoustines on a skewer (a popular way to serve meat there) all to die for and I had squid which was fantastic.

Casa da Rosa – our favourite from last time disappointed us, the service was not all that quick, to the extent the couple behind us walked out. The wine they recommended was beautiful but the menu and the food were not as good as we remembered.

We also tried a couple of new restaurants, the one that stands out the most to me is Rotas do Vinho. We popped in for dinner one night thinking it was a restaurant, but in fact it’s a wine bar that does food on the side. Something we would not have known, had we not looked on TripAdvisor afterwards. The food here was incredible, so good we went back two nights in a row!

The first time we had limpets (a local delicacy – they taste a bit like muscles) to start followed by steak, pork belly and pineapple on a skewer. Both were to die for, I wish you could get limpets over here. Paired with a beautiful red wine from the Alentejo region called Gambo Zinos.


The second time we went for chorizo and langoustines to start followed by the skewer for my parents and squid in pesto for myself, it was the best I have ever had. This was paired with a wine from the Dão wine region, I forget the name. For desert we had pineapple and port, I tried Madeira wine for the first time and had a big hangover in the morning.  Both times dinner was al little over €100, which is very good going considering the quality of what we had! A firm new favourite.


My parents and I are partial to sharing a bottle of wine or three and the wine while we away did not disappoint on price or quality. A good bottle of wine in a restaurant is about €12-€18 and this is by no means the cheapest. In the supermarket, you could pick up a bottle of wine for as little as €1.20! I found a new favourite red while I was away – a merlot & cabernet sauvignon called Faria’s Vinyard from the island of Pico. Available in most restaurants and only €3.39 in the supermarket! Let me know if you ever spot this anywhere.

Activities:

The first few days with my mum were very chilled we went on walks read our books and just caught up with one another. My dad was having none of this, as soon as he arrived it was hands to action stations, every day needed a plan and an activity!

Quad Biking:

We went with ANC Moto Rent for half a day to see Sete Cidades one of the volcanic calderias on the island, which was beautiful. Last time we went it was misty so we saw nothing – this can happen quite often up there and it does get chilly. When up there you can also see the famous Monte Palace Hotel, which is derelict but is a tourist attraction in itself, with an interesting tale. The ride was great fun we saw some other breathtaking scenery, we went off-roading and stopped in a cafe for a coffee and a snack. This was quite expensive at €56 per quad bike, but taxis and tours up there can cost a lot too. If you do go I recommend you rent there coats for €2 each as they do save your clothes from the dust and it can get a bit nippy. A shout out must go to our guide Vera who was very informative and attentive.

Whale Watching:

This was one of the things we didn’t do last time we went, I have been very fortunate to see whales and dolphins in the wild a lot as a child. Plus last time we were on the island we went swimming with dolphins in the wild – an incredible experience I cannot recommend highly enough. I’d heard a rumour while on the island that a blue whale was in the area and naturally I wanted to go and see this incredible mammal.

The company we went with Futurismo were thought to be the best on the island, they recommended we went in the morning as typically they see more whales then. Frustratingly due to the wild nature of the animals and the need to not disturb them, I saw the back end of a fairly unentertaining fin whale from about 20 metres away. He wasn’t playing ball and clearly did not want to perform the Seaworld special show to music I had planned in my head and quite rightly so seen as we were disturbing him on his way to breakfast!

We did see some common dolphin, which despite having seen them copious times before when we lived in Gibraltar were still pretty mesmerising. This cost €55 per person, so quite expensive. I overheard people on the plane who tried other boats to more success and less cost, so I’d recommend shopping around.

Hire Car:

Last time we did not have a hire car, which was a large oversight on our part. It was not that expensive at €80 for four days. It made getting around much easier, especially as my parents were moving inland once I left for the next two days of their trip.

Terra Nostra Thermal Pool:

I love this place, it’s set in the botanical gardens and is a real hidden paradise withing paradise itself! They are thermal pools heated from the volcanoes. Don’t be put off by the brown colour of the main pool this is due to the iron that is dissolved in it. The second pool is much clearer but is a lot smaller and quite shallow. They are both refreshing at between 35-40 degrees centigrade and are a perfect place to spend an afternoon, especially if it is raining. Plus your skin feels super soft after even if you do look like you’ve had a proper Essex spray tan until you shower. Just make sure you were a black costume to avoid looking like you have had an accident. It costs €5 each for entry and €5 for towel hire, you get €3 back on return – this is much easier than messing around getting your own towel dirty!


Arruda Pineapple Plantation:

The Azores used to be famous for pineapples and they were one of their main exports up until World War Two, it’s a cool place to visit. Plus they also have a great gift shop selling all sorts, the scarves there are beautiful and hand woven. A steal at €15, I bought three this time, I also bought some pearl bracelets at €14 and my dad bought a pineapple root so he can try and grow one at home!

Anything else wish I’d done while I was there?:

  • The natural thermal pools set inside a rainforest, I remember how beautiful they were last time.
  • Swam in the sea or even dipped my toes in.
  • I’d definitely wish I’d seen some of the other islands.
  • Finally, I wish I had visited Lagoa do Fogo a crater lake often called the Fire Lake, this was one of my favourite sights in the world.

Overall:

I cannot recommend this hidden gem of the Atlantic Ocean enough, especially if you want to get away from it all without a long haul flight. The people are really friendly the beer, wine and food are cheap, the accommodation is good and the views are utterly breathtaking. There is something for everyone, whether you’re a beach babe, hiker, thrill seeker or want to do a bit of everything. I’ve been twice and can’t wait to go back again in a few years and for someone who never likes to re-visit places that’s really something! The one thing to be aware of is the unpredictability of the weather, when it rains in the Azores it hammers it down so always take a raincoat with you. That said we had a pretty rainy first few days, yet I still managed to get sunburnt as once the rain clears it is glorious sunshine.

Have you ever been to the Azores? Are you thinking of visiting São Miguel Island?