Sunday, 13 December 2015

Mystery of the Disappearing Dolphin: Book Review

Hooray! - Another "Pack-N-Go Girls Adventure Series" book to review! 

The Pack and Go Girls series was set up to deliver positive messages around independence, adventure, and global awareness. 

So far the books have been based in Mexico, Thailand and Austria and the publishers hope to publish a Brazilian based book in the near future...

After previously reviewing a book based in Austria called the "Mystery of the Ballerina Ghost," the publishers got back in touch to ask us to review "Mystery of the Disappearing Dolphin."  This again sounded like the exact kind of book Malika (5) and Ameenah (2) would love!  Like the "Mystery of the Ballerina Ghost," the book is divided into ten short chapters,which were the perfect length to engage Malika.  Malika is really into chapter books at the moment (her name!)  and I felt that this was really suitable for Malika's age range (5+).

The story is based in Mexico and effortlessly introduces Spanish into the story.  Like Mystery of the Ballerina Ghost which has a  small Say It In German!  vocab list at the end of the book, the Mystery of the Disappearing Dolphin has a small Say in it Spanish vocab list which Malika loved discovering at the end of the book.

It was wonderful to look at the map of Mexico in the front of the book and then find it on our globe.

Here is Malika looking for Mexico on our globe!

Welcome to Mexico!

The book is set in the port town of Barra de Navidad.  Two friends, Izzy and Patti discover a beautiful glass dolphin that Izzy wants more than anything.  Strangely it disappears before she can buy it.  Later on it reappears in Izzy's bag and Izzy can't believe the trouble she's in.

Malika loved imagining how Izzy would feel to think that she is in BIG trouble; we also enjoyed discussing why honesty is the best policy,no matter the outcome...

 Ameenah, Malika's sister, loved reading about dolphins because they are her favourite animal!!

Malika's Review: 

"My favourite character in this book was Patti because she is funny and she has good hair which is nice.  I thought this book was great because it was so strange and mysterious.  I think the person who wrote the book deserves a medal! xx"

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

October Trip to Lithuania

DURING the October break we went on a week long trip to Lithuania and loved exploring the cities, Kaunas and the capital Vilnius as well as the former capital Trakai.  

These amazing colourful wooden houses in Trakai transported us all back to Finland as did the silver birch trees, lush forests and clear lakes.

Here is Malika enjoying a cold, morning walk back from the castle of Trakai.  

And inside the cosy hotel we stayed in right on the lakeside...

There are regular buses to Trakai from Vilnius and the tickets are just over one euro single.  Don't you think our bus driver looks like Putin?

We thought so anyway!

Here lies the edge of Vilnius old town, by the bus and train stations.  Vilnius has amazing street art all over the city and this yellow faced guy was one of our favourites.

Vilnius is such a beautiful city in autumn time and Ameenah and Malika loved nothing more than running and jumping in huge piles of freshly swept leaves.

This street is called Literatu Street and is a memorial street to Lithuanian's many famous writers and poets.  In the 19th Century there were many bookstores and antiquary shops which is why the street was named Literatu Street.

This is the Russian Orthodox Church of St Parasceve and is one of many churches within Vilnius Old Town.  This one stands on a triangular square where Pilies Street turns into Didzioji Street and according to tradition was built on a Pagan sanctuary for one of the gods.

And the TV Tower!  Malika and Ameenah loved driving through Vilnius late at night and eating black bread and Lithuanian hard cheese in the revolving restaurant at the TV Tower.  
The TV Tower has such a fascinating history as it was the symbol for the Lithuanian struggle for freedom.  On January 13, 1991, Soviet troops attempted to overthrow the Lithuanian government attempting to secede from the Soviet Union. During the attack to seize the TV Tower in Vilnius to create a media blackout, Soviet special forces killed 14 and injured over 700 unarmed Lithuanian citizens serving as human shields.

The Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit constructed in 1753.  This is the main Orthodox church in Lithuania and absolutely stunning outside and in.

And the food in Lithuania was absolutely incredible...Autumn red currants, forest mushrooms, hard Lithuanian sheep and goat cheeses, black bread, rye bread, potato dumplings called zeppelins, fermented bread beer called Kvass, picked herring, beetroot soup with hard boiled egg and hot potatoes.....and a three course meal of superb food in a restaurant costs on average 5 euros....

We were really lucky to stay beside this food market Hales Turges, which sold an array of wonderful, fresh local produce...The market is the oldest and largest in Vilnius and was constructed in 1906 by the famous architect and engineer Vaclovas Michnevicius.

I loved all the redcurrants for sale and the variety of forest mushrooms, took me back to my days of living in Yunnan, China, an area which is famed for its mushrooms.

We loved the hand knitted socks for sale also!

Red-currant breakfast pastries....very delicious and very cheap from the Hales Turgus Market....

A favourite pancake breakfast place beside the Gate of Dawn....Pancakes often served with salty curd cheese and salmon...

The famous beetroot soup, traditionally served cold with yoghurt and boiled egg....with hot potatoes on the side.  I loved this version from the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Vilnius...

The National Gallery did a great version also served with delicious black bread...

And the Kvass!  Kvass is a traditional Slavic and Baltic fermented beer (very weak...) made from black or rye bread....each restaurant has their own version and it is so so tasty!

Fresh red currants from local Lithuanian forests...

The National Art Gallery in Vilnius, formerly housed the Museum of the Revolution and this amazing Soviet modernist building was built in the 1980's...
However apart from this colouring table outside the cafe, it was not very child friendly and after Ameenah tried to climb on top of a sculpture we had to make a quick exit...

Autumn was such a beautiful time to see Vilnius...

And the girls loved running in the leaves, chasing cats, picking and eating apples from the many apple trees in the city...

Another pit stop in one of many great restaurants in Vilnius...

One day we picked up a copy of a Charlie and Lola children's tour from one of many restaurants in the city and the girls loved this....We discovered so much about the past lives of buildings in the Old Town of Vilnius.
Part of the tour took us to Malunu Street and we discovered that No.3 Malunu Street was the home of the largest nunnery in Vilnius and homed Bernadine Sisters.

It also has the longest (132 metres) balcony in Vilnius!

We were also directed on the Charlie and Lola trail of Vilnius to see the monument of a man, who was a famous Lithuanian Polish poet, Adomas Mickevicius (1798-1855).  We plan to find some of his poems now that we are home in Edinburgh!

Beside the monument of Adomas, is the famous St Ann's Church which was built in the late Gothic style (1600).  It is famous for its harmonious grace and beauty and they say that Napoleon wanted to put it on his palm and carry it over to Paris.

The girls loved this wire heart sculpture inside the church covered with small origami birds.
Here they are!

Whilst on our trail across town we also explored the independent Republic of Uzupis, which was declared independent in 1997, and the area now has its own flag, constitution, president, cabinet of ministers, an anthem and an army!

The wondrous constitution from the Republic of Uzupis!

The girls loved the children's restaurant Kuku Muku ( which was in the centre of the Old Town and featured face painters, a great menu, children's clothes shop and space for fashion shows!

To get from Kaunas, the former capital and our first port of call (as we could take a direct Ryan Air flight from Edinburgh) to Vilnius, we went on the rather romantically named, Rail Baltica.

I would love to travel on Rail Baltica from Warsaw, via Riga, back up to dear old Helsinki, the capital of Finland....

The train is cheap and efficient although the girls really missed the children's carriage that we found on most trains in Finland....

We also spent a morning in the Mykolas Ĺ˝ilinskas Art Gallery in Kaunas, and the girls really enjoyed looking at this artwork by Nick Darmstaedter, an artist from a Brooklyn collective in NYC.  This exhibition was part of the Kaunas Biennial whcih runs until the end of December 2015.

And a final few of us enjoying cafe life in Kaunas despite the chilly temperature!

We had a fantastic week in Lithuania and would thoroughly recommend a trip this wonderful Baltic state....Latvia is next on our list!

Ryan Air fly to Vilnius directly from Edinburgh Airport and prices start from £14.99 one way...