Every school year, I get two weeks off during the winter-time as a well-deserved break from assignments, tests, and schoolwork in general. There are always so many places I want to travel to during this time, but one place I’ve always wanted to visit is Austria. My family has Austrian roots, and having been to Europe once before I was anxious to visit again!
After lots of convincing, my family decided to visit Austria for eight days, traveling to the two beautiful cities of Salzburg and Vienna. I spent the months prior to the trip looking at photos and blog accounts of Austria, so my expectations were high upon arriving – and I was not disappointed!
Austria is easily the most beautiful place I’ve ever travelled to! Vienna was a clean, bustling, and vintage city full of beautiful architecture and tons of landmarks, and I enjoyed every minute I spent there, visiting the cathedrals and Christmas markets and other famous sights. Salzburg was just as gorgeous, with large stretches of countryside and small, sweet towns that felt like home.
Below are some photos from the Weihnachtsmarkts – Christmas markets that were set up around the city and sold charming homemade goods and treats!
Here are some photos I took around Vienna, where we visited a gorgeous cathedral as well as Schonbrunn palace and the Vienna Opera House, to name a few!
Lastly, here are some shots from Salzburg – we visited plenty of cozy towns as well as tons of landmarks from the movie The Sound of Music, like the gardens, the palace, and the mountainside!
Where have you travelled to this winter, or where would you like to visit?
RED QUEEN BY VICTORIA AVEYARD
Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood – those with common, Red blood serve the Silver-blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court. Before the king, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own.
To cover up this impossibility, the king forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything and uses her new position to help the Scarlet Guard–a growing Red rebellion–even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction. One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal.
Red Queen follows the story of a seventeen year-old girl named Mare Barrow, who lives in a society that is divided by the color of one’s blood – red, the lower class, and silver, the upper class. Red bloods labor each day, completing dirty tasks as well as fighting the wars of the Silvers, who live in luxury and have supernatural powers.
Mare is a Red blood – or so it seems, until she discovers she has powers of her own. The king immediately attempts to cover up Mare’s abilities by making her one of his own – a Silver – and forcing her to marry one of his own sons. Amidst a Red rebellion, Mare is sucked into the Silver world, one filled with power, choice, and worst of all, betrayal.
I loved Red Queen! The premise was what really drove me to pick it up – I adore dystopian novels, and I thought a division of society by blood as opposed to race or gender was a very cool idea. I was not disappointed! The plot was fast-paced and immersive, although it also did slow down in certain areas.
The truth is what I make it. I could set this world on fire and call it rain.
At first, Mare’s constantly annoyed and bitter outlook on the world bothered me. Even when others were trying to be nice to her, she pushed them away, which I found a bit rude. However, I grew to appreciate her strong personality, as her snarky answers provided humor in the midst of intense situations. And who can blame her for being bitter when she lives in a world that is turned against her kind?
Cal is another character I came to appreciate. At first I found him a bit cliche; charming, heir to the throne, develops a forbidden love. However, he really surprised me at the end of the novel! I can’t tell you why, because that would give away a lot of the story, but let’s just say he’s not as cliche as I previously had assumed.
I loved that the characters showed lots of development, and Aveyard’s style of writing showed voice and really flowed throughout the plot. Four out of five stars for an awesome novel, and I definitely recommend the read, especially if you love dystopians!
DUMPLIN’ BY JULIE MURPHY
Sixteen-year-old Dolly Parton-loving Willowdean doesn’t usually struggle with her identity and self-confidence as a fat girl in a her small Texas town, where her mother leads the local pageant scene, until hot former jock Bo kisses her. In this novel, Murphy takes her time letting Willowdean explore her feelings about a variety of situations relating to friendship, jealousy, sexual attraction, drag queens, her obese aunt’s death, her relationship with her mother, and her own self-worth.
Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy follows a sixteen-year old girl named Willowdean, who lives in a small town in Texas and has, for most of her life, struggled with her weight. This reality isn’t improved by the fact that her mother is a former beauty pageant queen, and runs an annual pageant in Willowdean’s hometown. Add a growing relationship with her coworker Bo combined with the constant struggle to feel comfortable in her own skin, and Willowdean’s life has suddenly gotten very complicated.
I LOVED this book. There’s no other way to put it; I started the novel the very night I purchased it and had finished it by the next morning. I could not put it down! Every chapter left me flipping more pages.
The characters in Dumplin’ were hilarious and completely relatable – I loved Willowdean’s sarcastic sense of humor and resilience through everything life threw at her, and I thought her struggle to feel comfortable in her own skin was one many teenaged girls can relate to. I also loved Bo’s character, and especially the banter between him and Willowdean. Their two personalities complemented each other perfectly, and I never got tired of reading about their relationship.
The storyline of Dumplin’ was fast-paced, but also stopped at key moments to really develop Willowdean’s character, and explore different messages. While the book wasn’t a difficult read, per say, I still found myself thinking at every chapter, and gained a new perspective on what it means to be confident and have self-worth.
I guess sometimes the perfection we perceive in others is made up of a whole bunch of tiny imperfections, because some days the damn dress just won’t zip.
I think one of my favorite things about this novel was that it was able to explore a variety of themes without anything feeling cliche; Willowdean’s thoughts were original, as was her outlook throughout the storyline.
I have absolutely no complaints about this novel; I loved every second of reading it! Five out of five stars!
I believe that Paris, France is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I visited with my family several years ago and fell in love with every part of the culture – from the food to the language to the architecture and the art. Ever since, I have wanted to return, and become a part of the magical city that so captured me.
What happened to Paris last Friday night is devastating. Innocent people were killed, and many others were injured, yet the greatest damage is that the city’s residents now live among fear and grief. I hope for a safer world in the future, in which attacks such as the one on Paris are unthinkable, and religion is not used as an excuse to massacre.
For now, though, I will keep those affected in my thoughts and prayers, as well as the city of Beirut in Lebanon, which was also subject to attack.
Above are several of the photos I took while in Paris – they do little to capture the true beauty and charm of the city.