Book Review – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

So obviously I’m a massive Potter-head. (And then I’m talking about the books. I don’t care much for the films. But the books, oh man…) I mean, me and Harry, we grew up together! I remember the books being totally new, no one at school had heard about Harry. I was about 10 years old when I got introduced into the World of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And from that year onwards, every summer, me and my family had a fight about who got to read the new book first. Mom, dad, brother, me. As I grew older, Harry and his friends grew older and his adventures went from exploring his newly found magic to and playing quidditch to defeating Voldemort once and for all.

I’ve read all the books at least 15 times. I’m not exaggerating. I really have. I even got a Harry Potter-themed birthday party after reading the first book. My mom was Professor McGonnagal and my dad professor Snape, and my brother Pieves. My friends all got an invitation for Hogwarts and we spend the whole evening doing magic tricks and brewing potions out of all sorts of brightly coloured soft drinks. Best. Birthday. Party. Ever.

So naturally, this new “book” has been on my mind. I wasn’t sure whether or not to read it. I mean, it’s not really a book. Seeing the play would’ve been better maybe, but who’s got money for that shizzle, right? I’d heard some mixed things from friends about reading the script. From “fun read” to “it’s just not what you want it to be”. So when I finally did give in and started the first page of the script, I tried to read with no expectations. And after finishing the book, all I can say is I have mixed feelings.

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First of all, let’s not forget, it is just a theatre script, not a book. And that means that what I liked most about the books, the magical world it creates and makes you become a part of, it just wasn’t gonna happen. The set directions gave only very basic info as to the location (which still, in theatre terms, seemed pretty complicated to make happen on stage), and your memories as a Potter-head would fill in the gaps. (That way it was quite smartly written, revisiting a lot of old locations and stories.) But because it lacked all of the detail that created this wonderful new world, and our familiar characters had changed so much and new characters were introduced, there just wasn’t enough backstory. You know, the fun-in-the-Hogwarts-hallways scenes, the quidditch games, potions class, Christmas dinners,… Far from crucial to the story, but unmissable in the Potter-world.

At the same time, the story was a fun read. Already quite early on, you were shot into the level of suspense we are used to when reaching the final part of each book. What starts out as a little adventure goes more and more wrong, plot twist here and there, more suspense, turn-the-page-how-is-this-going-to-end. Perfectly readable in just one cozy couch session.

On the one hand, it scratched my Potter itch by reconciling me with my old friends. On the other, it left me wanting more. More Hogwarts. More adventure. More silly Weasleys and smart Grangers and loyal Potters. I think more than anything, this script has shown that us fans aren’t tired of Potter just yet. And we are willing to give anything a shot if it means we get to revisit the good ol’ days of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

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How (Not) to Make a Fool Out of Yourself in Academics

 

As a second-year PhD student, I now have to attend as many conferences as I can and really get my research out there. I’m meeting a lot of fellow academics, from fresh phd-ers like me to the older heroes in the field. And every time again, I feel hilariously out of place. So if you are a fresh academic as well, or if you are new to a job and get the opportunity to go represent your work or company at an (inter)national workshop or conference: here are some tips of what NOT to do. Believe me, I speak from experience.

  • If you’re a nervous talker and people are talking shop, stay out of it. Before you know it, you have compared someone’s work on primate vocalisation to the Monkey News on British comedy stars Ricky Gervais, Steve Merchant and Karl Pilkington’s Xfm radio show. Don’t forget: you are not there to have fun. You are there to make people think you are smart. And stories about monkeys stealing cars or getting married are probably not ideal for that particular purpose.
  • Know what to talk about during the coffee breaks and dinner for at least one or two intelligent conversations. After all, it would be a shame if no one noticed you and your genius ideas because you were too good at blending in with the furniture. And no, your last holiday is not a good conversation starter. Especially not when you are talking to an established and highly prized researcher. Where other people manage to discus their own research with these very interesting people or ask intelligent questions about Mrs. Professor’s latest paper, I managed to steer the conversation to Mrs. Professor’s cat and knitting work.
  • Make sure you know who’s who. As in, it’s slightly to very embarrassing when that one time you are actually talking about your research, you try to make a point by quoting research actually done by the person you’re talking to. Do not say something like “In this paper of Smart Person 2015, he claims that …” to have that same Mr Smart Person give you a vague smile and look just as confused as you do by the time you start realising your mistake.
  • Make sure you know who’s important. Don’t go round asking “and what do you do” to the people who have been invited to represent the whole field and give the main talks on your workshop. They sort of expect you to know who they are, turns out.

I think a lot of problems can be solved by a good amount of pre-conference stalking. Look up who’s coming to the conference with you. Actually read the abstracts for the talks. I don’t know, rate them on a scale of importantness and also of relevance to your field? Oh, maybe go full on detective style, maps with pins and yarn connections or something. After all, don’t we all want to pretend we are not just boring academics? Or maybe, that’s just me and that’s where my ridiculous conference encounters stem from…

The Weirdest Wanting – Baby Season

Here’s a weird thought: what if your mind and your body are ready to have a baby, but your life isn’t?

Lately I’ve been seeing babies everywhere. No one told me the end of summer is baby season! It’s like an invasion! They’re taking over the world! And on top of that, for the first time in my life, people in my group of friends are getting babies too! Even my childhood friend whom I’ve known since we were 4 years old. She’s like super pregnant. And I’m ridiculously excited to meet her mini version any time now. And also, I notice myself daydreaming more and more about starting our own family. Huh?!?!?!?!

Obvious question: then why don’t I? Well, because I’m only 25 and my life hasn’t really settled yet. The boyfriend and I have been living together for over a year now and it’s been bloody amazing. So that part is definitely settled. But we live in a smallish rental apartment. I mean, it’s not small now, but I think if we add a baby to the mix it’ll start feeling small real soon. We don’t have the money to start thinking of getting our own place any time soon. Let alone the money to support a child and then eventually a second one. Oh yeah, and I still want to get married first and turns out that also cost money, because secretly I think we want to do it right. And did I mention my current work contract only runs for another two years? Quite likely, I’d be pregnant and unemployed with a toddler at home. I think anyone would agree: not the best plan.

Not to forget: I still want to travel. One more big one. Before we take our foot of the gas for at least 18 years, I’d want to have one final race. And I really don’t want to make any life-changing decisions like starting a family knowing that I might regret not having done everything I wanted to before the boyfriend and myself stop being the most important people in my life.

But also: I really want a baby. A tiny little human to show  the beautiful things in our world. To want to make the bad things in the world disappear for. To love and care for with my amazing boyfriend. To cuddle and laugh with. To share our wonderful life with.

Why do I want something I know is such a bad idea! I mean, it’s not like wanting that new sofa that’s really too expensive. Or wanting seconds even though you’re quite full. It’s a baby for god’s sake! Can the mother instinct please go into hibernation now so I can focus on what my life is supposed to be like the next two to five years?!

 

Our Hike of 2016: Val Gardena and the Dolomites

When we were talking about our 2016 holiday last year, the boyfriend and I were thinking of a camping-mountain holiday: three weeks with the car and the tent to Austria, finding maybe three or four fun camp sites and hiking around the mountains and lakes. But with our work situation of this year, three weeks was just not an option unfortunately. And then I arranged to go to Bolzano for work, so we figured we’d take a week off after the work thing and spend our holidays in Bolzano. A random turn of events, but one we are now super happy about. Because our holiday was absolutely spot on. And of course, one important thing to cross of our list last week, was that mountain hike we had been craving for. So we took a bus to Val Gardena…

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The bus ride itself was a good way to ease us into the different landscape. The Bolzano vineyards slowly disappeared, the mountains became higher and the deciduous forests made place for pine forests and eventually tall rocky peaks. The Dolomites.

We got off in Santa Cristina, the middle of the three villages of Val Gardena, and headed straight off to the tourist centre to pick up some maps. (Which, from now on, we will probably try doing before we actually leave on holiday so we can spend our time maximally on hiking and not on figuring out which hike to pick.) We went for a hike up to the edge of the Sassolungo, a pretty impressive peak. There was also a hike around it, but for that we’ll have to continue training a bit and try again another time.

First, we had to take two chairlifts up to the start of the hike. The boyfriend had never taken a cable cart before, let alone a chairlift, and it was hilarious to make him nervous. Every time the chairlift slowed down to let someone off, I told him it’s what they do when someone falls off. Hehe. But soon he was too distracted by the amazing views to worry about the swingy ride.  The clouds were slowly fading away and in the distance we were starting to see more and more mountains. And more. And more. They just kept coming as the sky was clearing up. By the end of our second chair lift, we found ourselves on a big grassy slope leading up to the foot of the mountain. Which is where we went.

We hiked all the way up to the Vicenza hut, built at the end of the 19th century and now still a popular spot for hikers to take a break. From way down below, we could see the tiny hut standing lonely between all the rocks. And all the little specks of hikers making their way towards it. It was a busy path, felt like playing leapfrog with other hikers: we overtake, stop to take a photo, they overtake, we overtake,… But I didn’t mind too much. I was a woman on a mission: I was gonna be the first one on top of that hill. I don’t know if you remember from my previous blogs, but when I got back into the gym, I gave myself a challenge: I wanted to be the first one on top of the mountain when we would go hiking in Austria, and prove to the boyfriend and mostly to me how much fitter I’d become. And booyah I did it! (The boyfriend would tell you it was just because I happened to be walking first at the time and that he was right behind me, but I’ll take it :p At least he didn’t have to wait for me and stuff!)

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We sort of spoiled ourselves in the hut: espresso and Kaiserschmarrn please! With a view, of course 🙂

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The way back was very different. We soon left the gravel path that we took up and walked along the side of a mountain, until we found the little path down that was going to take us into the valley. It led through a little pine forest and for the first time since we started hiking, it was just us two. Lovely hiking! When we got out of the forest, we found ourselves in troll land. You know, these kinda trolls… (Sorry for the Disney reference :p) Perfect spot for lunch. Sorry, lunch number two. We had a drink and a sandwich and just enjoyed the view. I think that’s the main reason we never manage to go on truly long hikes. We like to “enjoy the view” extensively around every bend. Which we did for the rest of our hike.

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It was gorgeous and so much fun. I totally love it when we’re adventuring. Adventuring our way. Just us against the mountains. Mission accomplished.

 

Bolzano Evenings – Easy Surprises

Our time in Bolzano is coming to an end! In fact, we only have one full day left! And we just got back from our second last night in town. And let me tell you, our nights in town have been wonderful.

Since we’re staying in a hotel, we have been going out for food every night. In some towns, that can be a bit challenging depending on how picky you are. Right atmosphere, right kind of food, right price, right location, etc. But in Bolzano, it’s easy as pie. There are restaurants seriously everywhere and, unless you go onto the main square, they are all super decently prized (at least compared to Belgian food). They generally offer a wide range of Italian and Tiroler food: pizza, pasta, and deliciousness such as knödeln, spinatspätzler, schnitzel, etc. And with drinks and sometimes even starters, it never comes to more than 40 euros for two people! I’m impressed. And also super well fed. Our favourite so far: the Paulaner Restaurant. Excellent food, excellent service, and a nice variety of both wine and beer! We’ll be going back tomorrow for our last night 😉
We also sort of pigged out on pre-dinner drinks this one time (or like they call it here: aperitivo). There is this hotel, the Grifoncino Bar, that has an outside cocktail bar on their first floor where they make you feel so super fancy! Which they really should, for the price you pay. Let’s just say we spent more on our aperitivo than on the meal we had after. But it really was perfect. The staff was so very friendly without being pushy, and as soon as we sat down we received the drink menus, some water with fresh strawberries and a little bowl with olives and crisps. The cocktails were impeccable. The staff definitely wasn’t stingy on the alcohol or the quality of the ingredients, and the flavours were perfectly balanced out. For example: my first cocktail contained amongst other things ginger, but it totally didn’t overrule all the other flavours. And the boyfriend had a fruity cocktail as his second one, which I usually avoid since I’m not a fan of fruitflavoured liquors, but this one had actual real passion fruit and real raspberries, no cordials or grenadines! De-li-cious! Of course, I stole the half passion fruit that was floating around in it before the boyfriend could even blink. Tasty! The atmosphere of the bar totally finished the picture. I’d call it a lounge bar: comfortable outside longchairs, plants and cheerful lights everywhere, and some lounge music in the background. Even though I would never consider spending all that money for cocktails back home, it did make for a perfect holiday experience and it was totally worth it.
But the best part by far was the random music we found in town. I think we might have just caught the end of some Bolzano festival thingy? In any case: we’ve been having good fun! Yesterday, there was a cover band on the main square, playing songs like Mustang Sally, Jailhouse Rock, and Freedom. The band looked like they were having so much fun on stage, with little dance routines amongst the musicians and some fancy tricks here and there: proper rock ’n roll performance. Naturally, the boyfriend and I boogied the night away. Tonight, after food we went for ice cream on the main square, secretly hoping we might catch another show. No luck this time, there was only a dj playing some unimpressive dance. But then we heard some trumpets in the distance and guess what we found on a nearby square: a Tirol brass band! They were all dressed in the traditional Tirolian attire and played a wonderful variety of songs: from a Mary Poppins Medley to a Benny Goodman tribute and the Game of Thrones theme tune. And also some classical gems of which I really should’ve written down the names!
We’ve really had some amazing nights in Bolzano, without really trying to! Thank you for surprising us, Bolzano!