Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I'm off on my travels again

I'd realised that in my life I've been to quite a lot of Capital cities, so when I'm not visiting theme parks I've decided to see how many I can get around.

Rome and the Vatican became numbers 18 and 19 respectively and now I'm off to visit #20 Berlin

Pics will be up when I return and sort them out.

Avenue Q


A show I'd been wanting to see for a while and as I had the week off I had no excuse. Best described as South Park meets Sesame Street, we have the tale of a bunch of puppets and live actors that live on the same street and how they deal with the issues in their lives. Its nothing like Rent and remains cheerful all the way through. With songs like "Everyone's a little bit racist" its not a show you're going to enjoy if you're easily offended.

I liked it a lot, even if the performers were putting on American accents.

TMNT


I was at a loose end in Leicester Square on the weekend and thought I'd go and see a film. The big movies being advertised were 300, Norbert and TMNT. Having seen the first on Friday and not being interested in Eddie Murphy dressed as a fat woman, I thought I'd give the turtles a go...

...and I was really surprised how good it was. Forget the cheesy cartoon of a decade ago and remove any memories of the costumed movies. This is an updated CGI take on the tale, and what good CGI it is. The humans in the film look a bit like they failed the auditions for The Incredibles; guys with big chins, think skinny women in tight suits.

There's no Shredder this time, the bad guys are a bunch of former warlords turned to stone, who are brought back to life by their leader. In fact the plot doesn't really matter, it's no Usual Suspects in turns of complexity but its better than most Disneyfodder. There are also nods to The Matrix and Spiderman amongst others.

Definitely the biggest surprise of the year so far.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

300



a retelling of the classic Spartan Army vs Xerxes Army story, given a CGI twist this time around. Gerrard Butler plays Leonidus, the king of the Spartans who takes the 300 soldiers who have been doing their stomach crunches most into battle against hoards of enemy soldiers.

It sounds like a video game and it looks like one, with the fighters taking on wave after wave of enemies. The plot is fairly shallow but the fighting does keep you engaged for the 2 hours runtime. It could have been a lot shorter but for effect a lot of the film is shown in slow motion. There are some great fight sequences particularly those that feature the spartans pairing up, those did impress me.

Acting quality is pretty ropey throughout but there's enough flesh for the women and violence for the men to disguise it. Gerrard does shout a lot in this movie, and I don't know if its just me but whenever I hear a Scotsman shout I expect him to say "Contestant, you will go on my first whistle. Gladiator, you will go on my second whistle", but rather disappointingly its not said in this.

I also noticed that the queen, who is actually a good character and not the Hollywood dumb female you usually get in action flicks, has a BCG scar on her arm. I guess they either missed this or left it in to give attention-to-detail freaks like myself something to comment on.

Visually the film is stunning, and deserves to win Best Portrayal of a Cornfield in this year's Oscars. If scenes look like paintings then I think they pass the visual test and I wouldn't mind having some shots of this film on my wall (just not any scenes that feature naked men showing off their abs)

I will admit to learning a couple of things from this film. Firstly, I now know how to pronounce "Xerxes" and secondly I can now say that I've seen an elephant fall of a cliff; never though I'd ever see that.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Rome Day 4

Piazza Republica again

Piazza del Venezie and for some reason a reluctant motorcyclist.

Bellini Piazza and one of the two fountains on it.

Luna Park

I knew that Rome has a theme park, and I also knew that it was closed whilst I was out there. I thought on the off chance of asking the information bureau if it would be open. When two of them told me it was open I decided to head out to it.

This is the view from the station, had I headed left from here the park would have been found within 10 minutes. However because I didn't have my maps with me, as I thought it'd be closed, I guessed right, that is wrong.




When I eventually found the park, it was closed and due to open the next day, when I was scheduled to return home. The information bureaus, both of them, had got their facts wrong. However on the good side, now that I know where it is I could easily do this in a day.

Out of City Tour

Having injured my leg from all the walking I decided on the last day to try the tour buses available in the city. Having seen all of the attractions in the city I decided to take the one that left it.



An original Roman road, the No Entry sign was added later.



The catacombs of San Callisto. Quite an interesting place with 20 miles of Christian resting places. Quite funny that in our group there was an American who couldn't decide whether to go down or not as he was quite thirsty and wanted a coke.


Piazza del Venezie, Mussolini used to give his speeches from up here.

Vatican Galleries

Simply stunning, just a pity we weren't allowed to take pictures inside the Sistine Chapel. I guess they wanted to make money from the postcards.















My little tip is to get here early. It had the longest queue by far in all of Rome. All the way down to the road and just as long around the corner as to it.

Palatine

The Palatine are the gardens where the Roman leaders, after travelling around the world, would come to get some rest and recreation. The gardens housed baths, resting places, churches and the like. Considering this is in the middle of the city it is extremely calm and serene here.





Coliseum


Hurrah for wide-angle lenses!!



The lower level is where they channeled the animals into the arena. At the far end is where the emperor would sit.

Rome Day 3

Circus Massimo is where they used to race horses, as seen in Ben Hur. Now there's nothing left of the place except for the grass, which is now one the main park in the city. The pic is taken from one end of the centre of the track, where the horses and chariots would turn around. Although there's nothing to see here it was actually my favourite bit of Rome because you were left to imagine what it would have looked like.

Some old church, which was very popular with the tourists for some reason.

On the southern edge of the main city is this rather out of place Pyramid. Apparently some Roman dude was so impressed with what he saw in Egypt that he decided to build his own pyramid, shame it was so rubbish!

The Tiber River runs through the city and this island is the only one of its kind, at least within the city walls. There's an excellent ice cream place on it. Not sure how I managed to make the island look like it was snowing.

Some old church in the Trastevere part of the city. Its famous because it was one of the first to use gold in its patterns. Quite a stunning church.

Taken at the end of the night, this is the fountain in the Piazza Republica. Again I was playing with the long exposure in the camera. I think this came out alright considering...

Vatican

The Vatican is one of the most stunning places I've ever visited but then with it being the centre of one the main world religions I guess it has to be.

St Peters Basilica is in the background. When the new pope was announced people were queueing all the way back to here.

Inside the Vatican the light levels are too low for good photos to be taken and those taken with flash came out rubbish. This meant that to get a half decent photo you had to use long exposures. Even though the hawkers were selling them on the way in, tripods aren't allowed, so keeping the camera still is the challenge in here. I felt a bit awkward leaning all over the place to keep the camera steady but it allowed me to come away with some nice shots.






After walking around the main building I took a tour of the tombs, which now include the resting place of the previous Pope. A respect for the dead meant that no pictures were taken down there, even though some tourists (mostly the Italians I might add) sneaked a pic in front of the security guards.

As well as descending beneath the Vatican you can also ascend to the top of it. Not wanting to be seen as a lazy Brit I chose to ascend the 500+ steps to the top, and not rely on the elevator for half of them. As you ascend the Cupola (the main dome) the side wall curves in, as you'd expect, and the final few steps feels like being in a funhouse. But the views from the top are amazing, even on an overcast day.