30 November 2014

1st December 2014

Welcome to our 12th annual Advent Calendar! We're celebrating anniversaries this year, with 40th, 50th, 100th and 150th all making an appearance. If it's a special anniversary Christmas for you this year, why not let us know?

Maybe you've been getting things ready this weekend, like we have. No tree yet, but we certainly have bought a lot of party food! Our greatest find was at Carluccio's, which has just opened in Woking. We missed them last year, but we have this year's cream of the almond crop, it's the delicious Ricciarelli:



What have you done to get ready for Christmas? Let us know in the comments. And of course, tell your friends about this Advent Calendar. The quick link is: bit.ly/adcal2014

Advent Calendar 2014



16 November 2014

Interstellar

With visits to the cinema becoming few and far between (ironic given the Year of Film in 2003-4 where winning an unlimited cinema pass meant over 50 visits) I wanted to mark the latest blockbuster I've seen on the big screen. It's all about spectacle not subtlety, and is the third in what I call the Space Trilogy:

  • Prometheus
  • Gravity
  • Interstellar

Where the first of these was fatally marred by unscientific behaviour, and Scott not leaving his earlier greatness well alone, the second was like a road movie in the same way that Hanna was, with less emphasis on the science and more on the journey (physically and emotionally). Now Nolan (and Nolan) have their own space epic to promote, and they take a third route, that of explaining the metaphysical power of love.
Spoilers abound, as there's no way I can write a review without talking about the plot.

HATHAWAY
I thought it was a particularly neat trick to give McConaughey a daughter who looked like a young Anne Hathaway, so that viewers who had already heard that characters would get a lot older, would see the girl and imagine her as an adult. But then the rug was pulled from under us, Hathaway is Michael Caine's daughter. At least that's what we are meant to believe. Right until Jessica Chastain appeared, I was sure this would be a cunning Nolan twist.
But no, Hathaway is a tragic wide-eyed scientist, pining for her planet-bound love interest. Along with the equally wide-eyed Amanda Seyfried, I find Hathaway a tiresome actress who runs the full gamut of emotions, from A to B (as Dorothy Parker once said about Katherine Hepburn). There are too many close-ups of her face, and she's sure to win the Oscar for Big Eyes again.

BURSTYN
How clever to have Ellen Burstyn as the first person who appeared in the When Harry Met Sally-style interviews that appeared at the start to frame the Dust Bowl story, and therefore the first person in the final credits. Nolan had seen Ken Burns's documentary The Dust Bowl (2012) and wanted to use some of the interviews from that film. So when we see the much-older Murph at the end of the film, we get a sudden flash of recognition.

MUSIC
In space, no one should be able to hear the strings. But the problem that Interstellar shares with Gravity is a need to fill the silence, and overpower the visuals with intrusive and repetitive orchestral motifs. Hans Zimmer (who I'm contractually obliged to remind you wrote the theme for Going For Gold) takes up Steven Price's baton and provides driving themes that are even more exhausting than the action they underscore.
Whether it's driving a truck through fields of corn, synchronizing rotations with a runaway Endurance, or some other nail-biting scene, the sense of relief when the music ends matches ‎Matthew McConaughey's exhaustion at having jumped through another hoop on the way to the future of the human race. I just wish Nolan (and CuarĂ³n) had had Kubrick's vision to let space speak for itself.

TECHNOLOGY
The sudden appearance of NORAD when the secret space program is revealed was a great filmic reference to Wargames (1984) with its super-computer WOPR. And when the monolith-like TARS and CASE appear with their 4-letter names, and their slightly-unbelievable scraping/walking motion, we're expecting a double dose of HAL. I hope the Blu-Ray has a LOT more information on these two not-evil-at-all robots. They get the best lines as well.
TARS should appear in more films: link.

SCIENCE
Too much has been made of the Kip Thorne Black Hole invention (link). As anyone who's seen Disney's The Black Hole (1979) knows, bad things happen when you travel with a robot into a singularity. But they were going to have to go into it anyway, and if you can accept that they don't die being made into strands of spaghetti, the eventual 3D/4D/5D tesseract they arrive in fits pretty well with the ideas introduced in Abbott's Flatland.
I was also impressed by the explanation as to why a wormhole would be spherical not circular. So there, Stargate SG-1.

DAMON
Isn't he OLD?

COP-OUT
So the only plot-hole I'm going to complain about is the 5-dimensional beings. If they can make everything else happen, couldn't there have been an easier way that didn't involve driving off cliffs, falling off cliffs, etc? If they can send information back through time, why not just do that? It reminded me of the Asimov concept of the Eternals (link) where humans in the future have shaped the past to ensure that their own existence occurs. It also reminded me of Bill and Ted at the end of their Bogus Journey, where they have to remember to do all the things they will have done in the future to ensure that De Nomolos gets captured.

Well, what were you expecting? Philip French or Mark Kermode? Hope you enjoyed my thoughts anyway.

2 November 2014

Nicosia Travel Guide


This is slightly different to our usual guides, as it covers a capital city that many would never consider visiting, as Cyprus is very much seen as a resort destination. However there is much to see and very little information about the practicalities, ironic as most Cypriots speak English, and many things are similar to the UK, not least the plug sockets and driving on the left!

Getting to Cyprus

Direct flights from London airports:
Cyprus has 2 main airports, Larnaca and Paphos.
From Heathrow, you can fly BA to Larnaca – from Terminal 5, and often Club Europe can be a very cheap upgrade that gets you lounge access and better meals.
Ryanair flies Stansted to Paphos, and Easyjet flies Gatwick to both Larnaca and Paphos. BA also has some flights from Gatwick to Larnaca.
Cyprus Airways flies Stansted to Larnaca, and for middle-of-the-night flights, you can always try Monarch from Gatwick and Luton.

Getting to Nicosia

Larnaca Airport:
There are not a lot of options. Taxis are around €50. There is no public bus, and Cyprus does not have a rail network.
The Kapnos Airport Shuttle runs every hour, and is only €8, but drops you at a car park on the outskirts of Nicosia, from where you would have to take a taxi (which they also run).
There is meant to be wifi on the bus but it is password protected and the driver did not have the password.
Another option is the shared taxi service which picks up people as a group and drops them at their individual hotels. Prices from €11 per person, not personally used, but a big company in the city.

Paphos Airport:
Kapnos also run a shuttle from here, but only at 11am, 7pm and 11.30pm. It takes 2.5 hours and you are really advised to fly into Larnaca.

Hotel

Number 1 on TripAdvisor is Asty Hotel, which Adam stayed at many moons ago. It’s a budget hotel, expect to pay around £50 a night including breakfast. It’s about 15 minutes walk to the city walls, so not ideal for everyone.

The Holiday Inn is poorly rated and does not seem to match the usual quality of the brand, so we’re not recommending it. Nearby is the Classic Hotel, which is inside the city walls on a busy street, so may be noisy. Pay around £70 a night.

For luxury, expect to pay £200 a night at the Hilton Cyprus, 20 minutes walk out of town along the main high-end shopping street.

Tourist Information

Within the city walls is a small pedestrianised area full of gift shops called Laiki Geitonia. The tourist office is here, but is very small and can offer a map of the city. There are free walking tours within the city walls on Thursdays at 10am (recommended, lasts 3 hours), and bus tours on Mondays at 10am (also recommended, need to book). These go to Kaimakli and Chrysaliniotissa, two outlying suburbs of Nicosia, a visit to the Mayor's house and art collection, several churches and craftsmen's workshops, and also views of the Green Line, with historical background.

Sightseeing

The Leventis Museum is in Laiki Geitonia, in a pair of mansions that have been modernised. It has many artefacts from the island, pottery and jewellery, as well as a history of the city to British times. Free, and has a nice cool courtyard ideal for relaxing and snacking.

The Leventis Art Gallery is one of two brand new skyscrapers to the south of the city walls (the other was designed by Jean Nouvel). Over three floors, it houses a family’s collection of French (mainly classical), Greek and Cypriot art. €2 only.

The State Gallery of Contemporary Art, on the corner of Leoforos Stasinou and Kritis, just south of the City Wall, has many modern Cypriot artists. Some figurative, some historical, some reflecting op art and sculpture, it gives a broad sweep of artistic styles. Free.

The Shacolas Tower is above the Debenhams store on Ledra, and has a panoramic view from the 11th floor. €2 to enter, there are touchscreens and photos and videos of Nicosia through the ages.

The Postal Museum is at 3B Agiou Savva St, and has displays of Cypriot stamps, explanations of historical background, and a 'post office' with a badly-coiffured mannequin. You can also buy stamps for your postcards here.

The Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation is in the first bank building on the island, backing onto Ledra but with the entrance on Faneromenos. It has permanent exhibitions on bank notes and coins, and temporary exhibitions about the island.

The complex of buildings based around the Archbishop’s Palace have many interesting sights. As well as the Cathedral of St John, there is the Folk Art Museum, and the Byzantine Museum with an impressive display of icons.


Shopping

Inside the city walls is the main street Ledra. As well as a Debenhams (see above) it has Next, McDonalds, Starbucks and a post office at the north end (open 9am to 3pm).
There is a non-threatening checkpoint into Northern Cyprus, with free passage between the two halves of the city, but have your passport handy. We’ve never been across but there is a similar range of tourist sites and shops.

Running south-east from the southern city gate is Archbishop Makariou Street, with more expensive fashion shops, and some British brands like M&S and TopShop. You’ll be underwhelmed by the choice and prices.

The Mall Of Cyprus is a medium-sized shopping complex out of town. It has an IKEA and a Carrefour supermarket, a food court and the usual high-end shops.
To get there, catch a 158 or 160 bus from the bus station at Solomon Square, just inside the southern city wall gate. Tickets are €1.50 each way for a 20 minute journey. Get off outside IKEA (the first stop after the bus turns off the motorway). The bus stop back is on the other side of the road and is labelled Nicosia 158 160. Buses run regularly twice an hour.
(Limassol has a bigger and better mall if you are driving.)

Eating

Have the tastiest lunches and take home the best Cypriot treats with a visit to ZORBAS, a chain of bakeries. Fresh savoury and sweet pastries, cakes, ice cream, and gift boxes of baklavas are all good value. Although most branches are in the suburbs, there is one close to the city walls, at 24 Digeni Akrita Avenue, two blocks from the south-east gate.

You can also get nice pastries in the Food Hall in the Debenhams stores on both Ledra and Arch. Makariou.

The streets Diagorou running into Themistokli Dervi to the south-west of the city walls have TGI Fridays, Wagamama, Ocean Basket (cooked fish and also sushi), Souvlaki Bar, and a bit further on, a large Starbucks. The best of these is the souvlaki restaurant, with massive meze and kebab plates for under €10.