22 December 2006

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and Happy New Years from London. We are thinking of all our family and friends, wherever in the globe they may be! Wishing you all good health and safe travels during the festive season. Love from Michael and Anna. xxx
As a bonus, here is a photo of the 30 foot chanukiah (Hanukah menorah) outside the Golders Green Tube station. Apparently the largest in the world!

17 December 2006

Winter hits hard!

It's finally here: the bitter, dark, zero-degree winter of London legend! As best described on my friend Connor's blog:
London, for all its joys, is not really a city built for summer. It's not until winter when this city comes into its own, and becomes the London of imagination - warm crowded pubs, cold streets shrouded in fog, and long dark nights. ... Winter's cold jaws have descended upon London in the last couple of weeks and the weather has become, at long last, what I had been led to expect from this city.
A morning visit from Jack Frost:

The nightly fog that has been grounding hundreds of flights (hopefully not ours!) out of the UK:

Camden markets

Weather was clear this weekend, so we took a stroll through the markets at Camden Town. Very vibrant, and a terrific selection of food. I'm afraid these pics don't really do it justice, but it's something different to look at. Plus - blue sky! (After a fashion.)

Anna in Valencia

View of the historic centre of Valencia from the cathedral bell-tower:

The historic Silk Exchange building:

Central market:

Lunch at the America's Cup pavillion:

Buildings at the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences), designed by Santiago Calatrava:

Dinner at Restaurante Submarino, plus Kasia, Matt and Christina from Engle Architects:


December in London

We've been pretty quiet recently (other than Anna's trip to Valencia, more of which soon...) so I thought I'd post a few random pictures:

Went for dinner with some of the York girls. Fortunately we went to the Chinese restaurant opposite this one.

So much for taking a stroll though Greenwich.

A great piece of graffitti near the Chalk Farm tube station.

30 November 2006

TOOL at the Wembley Arena

Good evening! I have good news and bad news. I'll start with the good news. Good news is: Danny Carey, Maynard Keenan - Irish. Adam Jones - Welsh. And Justin Chancellor - English. And the bad news is: there is no bad news. - Maynard
Went to my first Tool gig with good ol' James Chapman. After getting some food, and buying a t-shirt and packet of Maltesers, we went and took our seat in the nosebleeds. (The standing tickets sold out fast...)

All in all it was a pretty good gig - standouts for me were Stinkfist, Jambi, Schism and Vicarious. In fact, Jambi surprised me - it was a hell of a lot better live than it is on the album. To be honest though, the rest of the set kind of bored me a little bit. I appreciate Tool's prog-rock angle, but the long, slow numbers really dragged - especially after the weird 15 minute candle-holding intermission. Eek. At least there was a helluva groovy laser show. Nevermind, bigger Tool fans than me seemed to enjoy it!

Also, Maynard stood at the back of the stage the whole gig. What's with that? Must've been disappointing for the devout fans getting squished up at the barrier.

Setlist: Stinkfist / Swamp Song / Jambi / Schism / Lost Keys / Rosetta Stoned / The Pot / Wings For Marie / 10,000 Days / Lateralus / Vicarious / ├ćnema

Video Games Live

I attended this wonderfully nerdy event at the Hammersmith Apollo on Saturday night. A full orchestra and choir performing music from a variety of video games (including Halo, Warcraft, Super Mario, Zelda and Metal Gear Solid, among others) combined with video, light, lasers, and special effects. The first of its kind in the UK! It was really quite brilliant - if not just because a lot of game music these days is fully scored by mainstream composers. The highlight was the solo performances by the "Video Game Pianist" (Martin Leung), a piano virtuoso who plays at incredible speeds - while blindfolded! Watch him go on the video below...

Casino Royale

Finally saw Casino Royale. It's blistering! I've always supported the casting choice of Daniel Craig - he's terrific in Layer Cake and Munich - and he's proved all the critics wrong by delivering a knockout performance. Bond's character is now on the most even ground it has been, since probably OHMSS.

I think Craig builds on Dalton's performance, and as much as I enjoyed Brosnan, Bond is finally the killer Fleming always wrote him to be. Martin Campbell was a wise choice for director, and he reintroduces the character just as well as he did for Goldeneye - but this time the action is even more brutal.

My only concern is the length of the film, and the somewhat jarring sentimentality Bond displays in the latter half. But then, from a character development point of view, I guess this is where Bond learned to jettison emotional attachment.

24 November 2006

Wales (Part the Second)

Starting to feel pretty darn tired come Sunday morning. Quiet drive to Porthmadog, a harbour and lengthy seawall (called the Cob), built to reclaim a large proportion of the Traeth Mawr for agricultural use. Ships used to load with slate carried on the many local narrow gauge railways that terminated there. We came for a train ride, but the trains were closed once again! This tour company doesn’t do its research…

Nevermind, this just gave us more time at the next stop – Portmeirion – home of The Prisoner! An Italianate resort village built by local weirdo Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975, it incorporates fragments of demolished buildings, including works by a number of other distinguished architects. “Portmeirion's architectural bricolage and deliberately fanciful nostalgia have been noted as an influence on the development of postmodernism in architecture in the late twentieth century.” It’s also a great place to shoot a surreal television series.

I have to say, it’s pretty wild visiting Portmeirion if you’re a Prisoner fan. The scripts were clearly written around the location, and used the layout of the buildings to drive the narrative. For this reason, it’s a very immersive experience - much more so than at other film locations I have visited. It actually feels like being in “The Village”.

Of course, I bought a bunch more tourist crap (book, t-shirt, mug and magnet) and posed for lots of photos. (Watch out for that fountain - Rover emerges from it in the first episode.)

The place also has its own merits, and we enjoyed wandering through the eclectic woodlands nearby, and visiting the canine graveyard there.

On a similar note, we also visited Gelert's Grave at the village of Beddgelert (oddly enough, “Gelert's Grave” in Welsh). He was a hunting dog, allegedly owned by Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Gwynedd. As the story goes, Llywelyn returned from a hunt to find his baby's cradle overturned, the baby missing and the dog with blood on its muzzle. Imagining that it has savaged the child, he drew his sword and killed the dog. Its dying yelp wakes the missing child, revealed to be hidden under the cradle, alongside a dead wolf. Sad! Llywelyn buried the dog with great ceremony, yet never spoke again…

Brief photo op at Snowdonia National Park.

And another at the 70ft high Chirk aqueduct and viaduct, built between 1796 and 1801.

23 November 2006

Wales (Part the First)

It’s a long drive from London to north Wales, especially when there are roadworks on the motorway. Fortunately we had a really good guide, Darren, to amuse us, and a couple of DVDs to pass the time. Nonetheless, we didn’t arrive in the wee castle town of Caernarfon until 2am! Consequently, we were a bit slow to get out and explore on Saturday morning.

The name Caernarfon is from the Welsh Caer yn Arfon, "castle in Arfon", a reference to the Roman fort of Segontium. Nowadays, the town is famous for its great stone castle, built by Edward I, which is sometimes seen as a symbol of English domination. In fact, the town is a focal point for Welsh nationalism, and 92% of the population speaks the Welsh language.

Anna and I had a wander alongside the seaport, around the castle and through the shops. We heard a lot of Welsh being spoken (even by the teens), and bought some yummy “Welsh cakes” for breakfast. It was like a biscuit made out of scone dough. Num nums.

Then it was back into the minivan, over the Menai Bridge to the island of Anglesey. First stop, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch – longest place name in the United Kingdom. (Translates as "St Mary's church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool and the church of St Tysilio of the red cave".) We took the requisite photos of the train station sign, and bought some tourist crap in the local shops.

Next we drove through Snowdonia National Park (Parc Cenedlaethol Eryri) to Mount Snowdon, the highest in England and Wales. Over half the tour group were willing to make the 6 hour ascent, despite some dodgy weather (including hail!) on the way over. Anna and I were going to take the train, but it was closed. Instead, Darren offered to take us on a ‘mystery’ Wales tour – how could we refuse!

This little improvised trip was probably the best part of the tour. First we stopped to visit the Ugly House – apparently named after the Ugly River...

...then a small waterfall...

...and the World Heritage Site of Beaumaris Castle. Begun in 1295, this was the last and largest of King Edward I's Welsh fortifications. It’s a lot of fun to explore, and all the walls and towers have survived.

Then Darren took us all over Anglesey, which is dotted with Neolithic stone circles and burial grounds. We stopped to visit the Bryn Celli Ddu chambered tomb, where Darren gave us a demonstration in dowsing. Basically, one holds a metal rod in each hand, and watches for them to move independently. Anna got some good results, with the rods crossing themselves each time she passed the tomb’s entrance or over the henge surrounding the tomb. I didn’t get diddly squat.

We tried to make it to Holyhead for the sunset, but weren’t entirely successful. Instead we visited one last tomb, Barclodiad y Gawres (“apronful of the giantess”) on the cliffs overlooking the Irish Sea. It is an example of a cruciform passage grave, and noted for its decorated stones.

After picking up the Snowdon survivors, we headed back to Caernarfon to hit the bars to celebrate Darren’s final tour! Bedtime, 3am.