Blizzard has recently released their latest expansion for the World of Warcraft Series, Battle for Azeroth. It wasn’t long before online recommendations pointed me towards it. The trailers, available cut-scenes and information about the new content were enticing. However, I have always been apprehensive about signing up for WoW. As a frequent player of MMORPGs I have sampled various titles from Lord of the Rings to Dungeons and Dragons. I played them for about a month, grew tired and turned to something else. Naturally, I was worried I would end up in the same scenario with WoW. To investigate I decided to dedicate some time to the free trial to discover if I could justify spending about ten Great British Pounds a month on World of Warcraft.
When evaluating if a game is value for money then we have to consider the amount of content available, and whether it is engaging. Since its inception in 1994, WoW has grown considerably and currently boasts a total of seven expansions. This provides players with a strong arsenal of backstory and gameplay to explore. In an RPG this is an essential element because it allows new players fully immerse in the universe from its early releases like The Frozen Throne right up to the latest title. Furthermore, Blizzard has split the character creation into two distinct sides, with multiple races and classes. This not only deepens the amount of content and lore available, but also provides several different opportunities in which you can tackle the game.
Most entertainment is now packaged as a subscription service: Our music comes from Spotify; films and television from Netflix; even snacks and toiletries are sent through the post to save a trip to the supermarket. Why should gaming be any different? Of course, the real question is whether WoW is value for money. Taking a browse over the price of new releases you see an immediate price difference. Most recent titles come onto the market upwards of thirty pounds (assuming there is no additional downloadable content). If you find yourself enjoying the game you’ll receive an average of four days worth of game-play. On a purely financial comparison WoW comes in cheaper than buying a new game, whilst assuring that you are making your way through the kind of content that you already know you enjoy.
After three weeks of exploring the free trial I have found that the pleasure in WoW comes from the immersion. Overtime, you and your friends have explored the world of Azeroth, enveloped yourselves in its rich lore and developed your skills throughout each expansion. What Blizzard offers, in their most famous title, is a fantasy world that can be continuously explored and challenged. The addictive nature as well as the frequency of fresh content sells a monthly subscription, often making World of Warcraft cheaper and more rewarding than buying a new game once or twice a month.
After completing all the tasks on Duolingo I found myself a bit lost. Suddenly, I had exhausted the app and needed a new direction for my Swedish lessons. The alternate learning methods needed to develop on the basics of Duolingo and engage me into further study. There are a variety of information points available ranging from websites with lessons plans to online video tutorials and subscription apps. With a bit of experimenting I found a combination of several resources suited me best.
This is probably the simplest way to boost your vocab. Once you have changed the language settings on your devices, social media and Netflix you will pick up new words everyday. Scrolling through Facebook and Instagram translates all the adverts, which makes them slightly more interesting and streaming your favourite show teaches you all the swear words that family friendly sources won’t. The only problem is if you have a technical issue. It’s easier to walk past discount Ben and Jerry’s than turn your phone back to factory settings.
Finding an app that fits for you is exhausting. They all seem to offer the same intermediate level lessons and charge the GDP of Kuwait. It took a lot of experimenting before I settled on an app that would engage me and justify a monthly subscription. Eventually, I settled on Memrise partly because it was the cheapest on offer at less than £6 per month. However, the app offers a lot of features others don’t such as videos of native speakers pronouncing vocabulary, an interactive story-line as well as access to tutors for an additional charge. As you complete each lesson your extraterrestrial avatar grows and journeys further into space. Learning this way keeps exploring a language fun and feels less like a chore. Ideal if your children are insisting on being bilingual.
If language learning resources were gold then 101Languages is as valuable as the crown jewels. Just like the name suggests they have information on about 101 languages available. The site offers samples of everything from vocab flashcards to links to radio shows and a smorgasbord of audio lessons. There is so much choice, all you have to do is click a link and learn.
Over the Easter period I found myself with four free days. I decided to use this opportunity to do a little exploring. When I sat down to plan the city break I decided on two criteria. Firstly, I wanted to travel as cost effectively as possible. Secondly, the journey must take me somewhere new and be an exposure to fresh experiences . With only a week to plan and a starting point in Stockholm I scoured the internet for bargain holidays.
After a few hours of research I’d gathered a list of trains and planes that could take me somewhere within Scandinavia for a decent price. However, the costs seemed to treble when I searched for accommodation. Booking last minute meant all the bargains had already been bought and I was left with the more expensive options. I returned to the search engine disheartened and started reading other people’s recommendations. To my surprise, one of the most frequent options for budget traveling was to take a cruise.
Initially I was a little skeptical of boat travel. Cruises conjure the image of bingo halls and close quarters with very tanned pensioners who spend six months of the year in the Caribbean. However, after totaling the prices on several websites the savings of cruises couldn’t be ignored. Even with a last minute booking a three day journey came in slightly cheaper than flights for two people. By combining the cost of transport and accommodation traveling across the Baltic sea becomes a steal.
Finally, I had hunted down a holiday that fit my cost effective criteria. Now all I needed to do was choose a city to explore. Most cruises companies offer four or five destinations. That gives you plenty of options when picking a city break in a country that borders the Baltic Sea. The most frequent locations were Estonia, Latvia and Finland but if you were willing to travel for longer you can reach Russia and even China. With so many places to choose from it was impossible not to find somewhere I hadn’t explored. And by taking my first journey by boat I had the opportunity to appreciate a new country a unique way to get there.
The week quickly past and I found myself at Stockholm’s port, ready to begin my voyage. I still held some reservations about cruises but they were quickly washed away after a few hours. Unlike the airport leaving the country by boat is a much calmer experience. Gone are the frustrated families cramming through baggage checks and long lines at passport control. There’s no need to wrestle for a seat whilst you’re waiting to depart because you’re immediately at ‘hotel’.
Once onboard all there is left to do is relax and enjoy the journey. This is made easy with the amount of opportunities on board. Most hotels offer one or two restaurants whilst cruises double your choices. Alongside this there are multiple bars, shopping centers, live entertainment, spa facilities, play areas for the children and of course the obligatory bingo. Even though your are spending more time traveling by boat the experience itself makes the journey feel faster. What cruises lose in speed the make up for in comfort.
Taking a city break by boat is ultimately an experience in pleasure. From the effortless journey to the plethora of options for entertainment and dining, you arrive at your destination refreshed and ready to explore. When you consider the bargain prices as well then it’s not surprising why they are so highly recommended. If you have a few days to enjoy and a wanderlust to satisfy then a cruise around the Baltic may be perfect for you.
I first discovered blooming tea about two years ago in a small, hipster cafe. As I watched the dehydrated flower blossom to life again I knew it would become one of my favourite beverages. Fortunately the flower tea trend has taken off and a pot can be ordered in many more eateries or purchased online. However, despite the popularity of the product its origins are still a mystery. We know that the majority of the blooming buds are produced in China but who or when it was invented is still unknown.
Regardless of its secret history I am happy we have it in the present. In the era of Starbucks and Coco Cola producing high caffeine, high sugar drinks, flower tea offers something fresh. Most blooming tea bundles are wrapped in whole green tea leaves which are renowned for their numerous health benefits. These range from being rich in antioxidants to the claims the drink can lower cholesterol, improve blood flow and block the plaques linked to Alzheimer’s disease. However, if the green leaves aren’t your cup of choice then black tea and flavoured varieties are also available.
Not only is it a healthy drink the aesthetic value is important too. The dramatic resurrection of the flower turns a simple cup of tea into a Twenty First Century tea ceremony. There’s a tranquil moment as you take time to enjoy the natural artwork unfold. The only issue is that you can’t share the beauty of blooming tea. Attempting to take a photo is very difficult because light sources are reflected on the glass surface. This makes a pot of flower tea a private pleasure. The feast is only for those at the table, a selfish moment to be enjoyed away from social media or the wider world.
The health benefits of green tea:
An affordable example
Towards the end of last year I wrote a post titled ‘The Days out that Didn’t Happen’. The piece lamented my unfulfilled holiday plans and the three galleries/museums I didn’t explore. One of the places I missed out on was an old paint factory, Fargfabriken. Located in Liljehomen, Stockholm the building originally opened as paint producer in 1889. Nearly 150 years later it now houses art and architectural exhibits available to the public for a small fee.
To find Fargfabriken you need to journey about five minutes away from Liljehomen’s tube station. Unlike most art spaces which are located in affluent, central city locations the surrounding area of Fargfabriken is entirely industrial. Walking past the concrete landscape, coated in old snow the red brick of the factory is a contrast. It’s purpose is immediately imparted. The grey buildings are for working but the red is for exploration.
Inside, there is a popular cafe, gift store and exhibit rooms. Currently, the main attractions are installations from Beckers Art Award winner, Petra Hultman. Her exhibit focuses primarily on the home and the work of the women who make it. The walls are lined with old instruction manuals designed to inform housewives on creating the perfect living environment. The center tells a story of an elderly couple. The husband and wife have their creative outlets: He builds key boxes out of wood; she forms blankets from material. His work is stacked high and displayed for examination. Her work is folded into piles, neglecting the intricacies and effort of each piece.
I wondered if the works belonged to real people or if the couple were a fictional device to emphasise the experience of domestic labour. Huntman was available to question because she was working on a tapestry as part of the exhibit. However, I was stopped by a question: Did the origin of these characters matter? Whether they were a product of fact or fiction didn’t change the story. I’ll never know the answer and I’m content with that, If you have the time and about £7/70Sek spare perhaps you could visit and let me know your thoughts. I’ll leave a link to Fargfabriken and Hultman below.
After the indulgence of the Christmas period and the unfortunately rapid return to work I found myself exhausted. To cure my January Blues I retired from the reawakening world and I spent my Saturday night (and majority of Sunday) curled up with Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology and the last of the season’s chocolates. I hadn’t intended to indulge both days in the stories but after the first few pages the outcome was inevitable.
If you ever attempted to explore the world of the Old Norse Gods then you’re confronted with a lack of modern interpretations. Most likely you’ll be offered the Poetic and Prose Eddas, quickly followed by Marvel’s dissimilar Comic Book hero. Last year I attempted the poetic Edda and enjoyed the lyrical stories. However, it’s not an easily accessible book and not recommended for young readers. Gaiman’s contribution is a perfect solution to this problem.
Norse Mythology presents the usual cast of Odin, Thor, Loki and others in an easily understandable way. The deeds and downfalls of the old Scandinavian Gods are depicted in a light and engaging manner. Gaiman’s re-imagining has the unique quality of appealing to both adults and younger readers, which all myths should do. His style makes for easy reading and this simplicity allows the quality of the original stories to shine. In his introduction Gaiman writes that he chose the tales because of his childhood fondness. Hopefully, he was also interested in the myths of other lands too. A whole series of the world’s ancient stories in this style is worthy of any bookshelf.
In 1967 Last Exit to Brooklyn was trialed for obscenity by a UK court for its graphic content and depictions of cruelty. The jury consisted solely of men because Selby Jr’s narration of prostitution, homosexuality, violence and drug taking was deemed potentially embarrassing to women. After deliberating on the novel’s content the trial concluded it unfit for public consumption and prohibited sale and publication. Fortunately, this verdict was reconsidered, only to be overturned the following year.
Last Exit to Brooklyn is still a challenging book to read. Selby Jr treated his characters with the contempt they treat each other. Every person in the novel is dragged along by their base desire for sex, violence or securing a chemical high, often leading to their demise in a pool of their own blood.
Overall, it is a brilliant but uncomfortable book to read. The character’s lives are fast and you’re pulled through the pages by the sentences missing full stops and chapters lacking paragraphs. The foregoing of traditional punctuation lends a unique style, as if a friend is telling you graphic gossip at a bar.