One from each country – January

This is a first update on my little reading project. I don’t have the energy to write a fully-fledged review for each book, but maybe a word or two. Just so I can keep track of what is happening in the book world.

Here are my read project books from January, countries/territories in alphabetical order.

  1. Canada: Atwood – Moral Disorder — like honey with chilli, delectable and disturbing
  2. England: Thubron – Shadow of the Silk Road — every turn of the road or page a new discovery
  3. Finnland: Rajaniemi – The Quantum Thief — incomprehensibly exciting
  4. Hungary: Kertész – Roman eines Schicksallosen — chillingly factual and deeply disturbing
  5. India: Ghosh – In an Antique Land — crisscrossing times, places, genres yet never losing its bearings
  6. Poland: Kapuściński – Another Day of Life — made me feel the heat and never wanting to go to Angola (something that needs to be rectified) (translation: I do want to go)
  7. USA: Greenberg – The 23 Greatest Solo Piano Works — great inspiration for my piano lessons
  8. Wales: Wynne Jones – Chrestomanci Series — magical and a gazillion times better than other young wizard books

There it is: I’ve read eight books and nothing to complain about. Instead, I thoroughly revelled in all of them. I’ve got to admit that this is a rather rare event. Usually, it’s even small inconsistencies within the story or fictional universe which I don’t like and which put me off a book. Less often, I’m not too happy about some author’s style or use of language. On top of that, regarding audiobooks the narrator can make or break the enjoyment of a story. In ‘Shadow of the Silk Road’, Jonathan Keeble created some new places and people in China, but on the whole his performance was still alright to my ears.

Well, so I can recommend all of the above mentioned books. Do you have any recommendations for me?


My trials as an Orange customer

This is the story of the difficulties I have had to deal with, as an Orange customer, since I upgraded to a smartphone in August 2015. The staff at the EE store arranged for me to continue with a pay plan I had been using since 2002 with a basic mobile. I didn’t pay close attention to the details of this plan, and what the staff didn’t tell me was that this plan charges an extremely high rate for Internet access. It wasn’t smart of me not to check, but I was assuming that my pretty modest Internet use would cost something like the reasonable charges my family and friends pay for their smartphones. The end to my innocence came after a month’s use of the phone in the UK, when Orange sent me a bill of more than £900. The greater part of this is a charge of £753 before VAT for 295 MB of data access – so a charge of about £2.50 per MB. European Union regulations say that a phone provider may not charge more than, in Sterling, about 16p per MB.
What followed was a waste of hours, indeed days, of my life, as I disputed this bill by phone and by letter. Letters were ignored; eventually an Orange agent said that they don’t deal in letters, only phone calls. This means you have no record of what was said. Phone calls tended to last almost an hour, while I spent time on hold, listening to loud music. An Orange manager tried to argue I was obliged to pay the £900+ bill, because I had had this payment plan since 2002, and so I must be familiar with its details. I reminded her that the UK did not have 3G in 2002. She ignored this point, and tried to get me to agree to pay the excessively large bill by instalments, although she should have been aware that the amount exceeds the EU limit by more than £800. In all my phone calls the Orange staff refused to engage with my arguments, and appeared to be simply repeating phrases from a prepared script.
Over the next two months the bills for my continuing use of the phone charged about £2 per MB. Orange refused to move me to a more appropriate pay plan until I paid the inflated bill. It took a letter to the CEO, indicating that I was going to take the matter to the Ombudsman Service, to make them finally agree that they were overcharging. Now I have paid a reasonable charge, and I want to leave Orange and move to another provider. But they are refusing to unlock my phone until after I have had it for six months, so for the last two months I have been without any mobile phone service.
I am a deeply dissatisfied customer!

Finished Reading

While on holiday in Greece, I had plenty of time to read. During the last three years, when I did my master degree, reading had basically meant work, so it was wonderful to have not only time but also room in my brain for stuff that was not connecting with teaching or linguistics. So I had this idea to read, and read much more than I had got used to over the years. As a child and teenager, I managed to go through a book a day on average. Working full time, this is next to impossible to do now, but reading more is always a good goal!

The question arose what to read. My first thought was I could go for the writers who had won a Nobel prize in literature. Somehow that seemed a bit too exclusive and would have ruled out writers published before the prize, so the plan changed.

What I shall try is to read one book from each country on the planet, possibly in one year, possibly this might take a little longer. Getting all the countries is tricky enough – there are currently 193 member states of the UN if wikipedia can be believed (I did not count the entries on the UN website). And then there are of course places like Taiwan – which in my book is a country – plus places which seem to be quite distinct from their officially designated country, e.g. Greenland or Palestine. Again, this is also very political and I’m not sure where to draw the line, but time will tell.

Yet another matter is availability. When Ann Morgan did her ‘Year of reading the world‘, she found it challenging to get English translations of some books, or to get a book from a certain place at all. I also read in German, and I can try to convince my brain that there’s still some Portuguese and Icelandic. However, that will take a lot of time.

Lastly, what to read? I can use Ann Morgan’s extensive list as a guide, but I’m also very happy to receive suggestions, especially regarding the Balkans, Central America, and island nations. Fiction, poetry, non-fiction or scientific publications (if about an exciting topic like astronomy or archaeology), nothing is ruled out.

So, if you want to know where I’m standing with this little undertaking, have a look at the Finished Reading 2016 page. So far, I’ve covered Canada, Wales, Finnland, Hungary, USA and Poland. I’m currently reading England, India and Peru. On the pile are the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Turkey, Australia, Scotland, Russia and Germany.

Let me know your ideas, they are very welcome!

At Mycenae

On a rather cold and windy day in late December, we took the bus to Mycenae. In spite of the uninviting weather, it was a great trip. Nobody was on strike and only a few dozen tourists were around, which in the vastness of the site didn’t matter much. The first construct we admired was the tholos tomb ‘Treasury of Atreus‘ which is not the burial site of Atreus (or Agamemnon). The beehive-formed roof was most fascinating.

treasury of Atreusroof treasuryThis tomb is a few hundred meters away from the citadel, so we had a good view of the actual hill with the acropolis’s ruins on top.

hill with citadelThe most famous bit of the citadel of Mycenae is probably the lion gate with two headless lions. At least it provided lots of people with the more exciting part of their selfies.

lion gate For me, the remaining structures of buildings inside the citadel were actually more interesting than the gate.

citadel MyceneEven back then people had built secret passage ways!

subterranean path I was most intrigued, however, by some pieces in the on-site museum. Pottery with octopusses was a novelty for me. And the second piece, which looked to me like a seal, is probably a dove!vase octopus bird seal

Sanctuary of Asclepius at Epidaurus

The Peloponnese is covered in spectacular archeaological sites, five of which are a UNESCO world heritage site at the time of writing. We visited the sanctuary of Asclepius on a perfect winter day, meaning splendid weather and almost no other tourists. Judging by the size of the parking lot this is very different during the summer.

The most famous part of the site is the huge theatre. The acoustics are spectacular. I took a seat on one of the top rows and could not only hear people ‘on stage’ talking, rustling paper and dropping coins, but also hear the grains of sand moving under their feet.

Theatre Epidaurustheatre Epidaurus1

Walking around the vast area of the sanctuary was great fun. The ruins are well-described, so one gets a really good idea what the place might have looked like in its heyday. Even now, without any info, I thought it quite amazing.

Asclepeion2The on-site museum was smaller than expected, but well-organised and labelled. Many pieces found at the site can be seen in Athens – that’s another trip.

museum AsclepeionAlso the location of Epidaurus, the village Ligurio (and, confusingly, neither Palaia nor Nea Epidaurus), is beautiful. Small hills and olive groves, no big roads, just ideal for a sanctuary.asclepeion1

The Three Fortresses of Nafplio

Nafplio’s turbulent history provides the interested tourist with at least a day’s worth of excursion. At some point, it was capital of Greece, the Venetians and Ottomans ruled from here, and even during classical times it was already an important port and stronghold. Reason enough for us,palamidi fortress to venture out and see some remnanpalamidi3ts of Nafplio’s past.





A must-see and, at the same time, can’t-be-avoided is Palamidi Fortress which looms large on a hill over the town. Depending on the sun, it either glows or looks somewhat forbiddingpalamidi4. palamidi2





The number of stairs which lead up to the fortress varies according to source, but it took me about half an hour of leisurely walking and taking pictures along the way.

the stairs up to palamidiInside the fortress, there are eight smaller castles in different states of decay. The cold weather that day gave a good impression of how awful it must have been when some of those castle were used as prisons.

in palamidi2 in palamidi in palamidi 3Views, however, were breathtaking. This is the newer part of Nafplio.

nafplio new townOne can also see the second fortress, Acronauplio, and the third, called Bourtzi. The latter one is located on an island, and closed during the winter.

acronafplio and burtzinafplio and burtziAcronauplio still features a lion of St Marcus from the times of Venetian rule. Otherwise, it’s home to a lovely forest of prickly pears.acronafplio lionacronaflpio


Delightful Nafplio! Small town, great heart. A truly charming place nestled between a couple of hills and the sea.

NafplioNafplio makes for an ideal base to explore the eastern part of the Peloponnese. We stayed there for several days, in the lovely Atheaton pension. Fabulous host who is a fountain of information and serves a delicious mastikha.

We were lucky to be there off-season. The way shops tried to create and hold people’s attention screams of herds of tourists during the summer. It reaches from the philosophical to the ludicrous.

philosopy in Nafplio shop in Nafplio








The architecture is a quirky mix and mirrors the town’s turbulent history. I’ll post more on that at another time. Here are just some examples of what it looks like in the Old Town.

in Nafplio 3in Nafplio in Nafplio 2 grafiti in NafplioThe urban wildlife consisted mainly of cats. In the harbour waters, however, we noticed sea urchins who covered themselves with pebbles. Extravagant fashion!sea urchins


Venturing on a bus through the Greek countryside is a rather pleasant enterprise. At this point, you will already have been able to decipher the schedule:

bus scheduleYou can also be sure, at least in winter, that any connecting services are in no way related to the one you’re on. All in all, very comfy nonetheless, lean back and enjoy the beautiful scenery passing by. At arrival, somebody will surely direct you to wherever you need to be, if necessary, by shouting GO GO GO at you, and then you jump on the next bus waiting in some obscure sidelane.

This is how we arrived at Olympia. All was indeed very well until … ‘No open today. We strike.’

Bloody hell! So this is what the fence of Olympia looks like, and then we move on to the much nicer events of that day.

fenced in olympiaShowing my enormous disappointment by turning on the waterworks, a Swiss uncle and his niece, Herbi and Sandra, took pity on me/us and offered a lift. And what a ride we got!

First stop was at the theatre of Olympia. Fab acoustics and great views.

teatro olympiaThen we took to the country roads. The next stop was at a sulphur spring, where we saw snakes, fish and turtles.

turtleLunch was had near a dilapidated railway station. The trains stopped several years ago, which I find a shame. The food, however, was excellent, including the home-made grape schnaps.railway station Unfortunately, I don’t know its proper Greek name.

Near Kyparissia, we had another little excursion into an old, but still working water mill. old millbaking equipment

The grounds also included a lovely garden with apiary equipment, fruit trees and a little creek running through. Thanks again to our two Swiss rescuers who made that a wonderful day!oranges


Gialova is a place where I’d like to spend at least a handful of days, at some point in the future. Hiking, swimming, birding and more can be done there and around the nearby lagoon. gialova beach

But due to a holiday-bus-schedule, we only had about an hour instead of the hoped-for half a day. Anyway, the traditional Greek coffee in the place near the bus stop was great and the bus driver extremely helpful in pointing out that he’d be back in no time to whisk us away again … gialova navarino bay