Saturday, July 28, 2007

Ciao Roma!

On the morning of our departure to Rome we got up horribly early at 04:45.

Why, you may ask, at such an unearthly time when our flight was at 09:35 and Heathrow is a mere 30 minutes away by car?

Well, I'd been reliably informed by Paul, a friend of mine who works at Heathrow, that the queues were manic and that we'd be better off getting there three hours before the flight rather than the recommended two and the other half needed time to wash her hair! *grin*

Thankfully the mini-cab driver that I'd booked a few days earlier turned up though was less than impressed when we made him wait fifteen minutes and scowled silently at us through the entire journey. We were in good spirits though, made it to the airport quickly and then found a mammoth queue of one person in front of us at the check-in! Thanks Paul!

Then we got a shock when the other half put her bag on to be weighed and it was 31 kilos, a whole 11 kilos overweight! But the check-in attendant seemed to be in a good mood, probably because she hadn't had to start dealing with harassed, late running, long queuing passengers so far that morning and she let it go by even pointing to the +1 and saying, with a grin on her face in a nice Italian accent, "I bet that that is your bag?", "You realise that you will not be able to buy anything out there as they will make you pay much on the way back?"

Being so early also meant that we got through passport control quickly and managed to have a nice breakfast before the crowds arrived.

The journey after this also went smoothly with only the inconvenience of having to wait almost an hour and a half for our luggage at the other end, almost as long as our flight had been!

I'd arranged for a driver to pick us up at the airport as that had been a surprisingly cheap thing to do and we were thankful for the air conditioned car that drove us off into the city as the temperature in Rome was roastingly hot.

The driver had a friendly nature but didn't speak a word of English. Just before we headed off he fumbled in his glove compartment, got out a piece of paper and a pen and wrote three numbers onto it in a triangular formation: 5, 8 and 7 and then started speaking to us in Italian, obviously trying to explain something.

We looked on bemused and I wondered if this was some weird type of maths geometry puzzle or Da Vinci code that we had to solve before we could leave.

Then he started making circular motions and "brum brum" noises and mimed a steering wheel at us when the penny finally dropped and we realised that he was confirming our return time as 7am on the 5th of the 8th!

"Si, si", I replied to confirm that we had understood and with a wide grin and a relieved look on his face we started out.

The hotel was lovely and I almost jumped with joy when I saw our room. Last year's long weekend Christmas shopping trip to New York that had cost me an arm and a leg had ended up with us having a rather underwhelmingly small room. But here in Rome we had a beautifully large, air conditioned room at the end of a corridor with huge windows from which we could see the Pantheon, a lovely rustic red beamed ceiling and a huge queen-sized bed.

It was heaven!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The long and short of it

Both from Inner Mongolia, Bao Xishun (7'9"ish) meets He Pingping (2'4")

Thursday, July 19, 2007

If I was a rich man....

I'd buy this... *

On further consideration, I'd probably not. I'd have to be sooooo rich that money didn't matter to even consider it. But then if I were that rich I would probably build my own life size fully working Transformer instead...or alleviate world poverty. We can but dream, eh?

* (Oops, the E-bay auction for a full set of Transformers for a cool $1,000,000 has transformed into a cancelled auction. Q'uel surprise!)

(PS: Ouch, some of my blogged pics have disappeared. Will try to sort it out .)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Peace And Quiet

Yesterday, being a rare nice day during our not-so-nice so-called Summer, I took the opportunity to go to the cemetery to visit my parents' graves.

This entails a quick trip on the Silverlink out of Acton Central for a massive one stop journey to Willesden Junction and then a similarly huge one stop journey on the Bakerloo Line/Silverlink to Kensal Green. I know that two stops doesn't sound like much of a distance but it would take an hour to walk otherwise and it was a rather humid day, so I didn't really fancy turning up all sweaty and knackered.

As it was, I missed the first Silverlink train as it had left a minute before it was supposed to and the one I eventually caught, fifteen minutes later, actually left two minutes before its scheduled time. Aparrently, I was told by a passer-by, this is quite common on this branch.

I've not yet had a gravestone put on my mum's grave as I'm a bit concerned by the subsidence of all the other new grave stones in the area where she is buried. Instead I've fenced off the area around the grave and put silk flowers down to colour it up a bit.

However I discovered that the downside to the little white wire fence I had put around was that whilst it looks nice and tidies up the grave no end, it perhaps isn't as robust as I had first thought.

I turned up on Saturday morning to find the left side of the fence, broken having been pulled completely pulled inwards and warped. It didn't look like some kind of deliberate act. I'm guessing that it was more than likely to have been a wild animal in the cemetery trying to run through the fence, getting snagged and pulling it along to get free. It wasn't too bad. It would appear that someone had picked up the fence pieces and left them in a nice pile on top of the grave, so all I had to do was twist them back into place for them to be usable once more.

Also, to top it all off, since my last visit at the tail-end of April, the weeds had been busy multiplying. *sigh* It took me over an hour of work to clean up the grave by which time the sun had come out and I was thoroughly hot and aching all over. But it was worth it. Check out the before and after pictures and you should be able to see a nice contrast.

Unlike my last visit, it was really peaceful in this part of the cemetery and during the few breaks that I took, to let my back and legs to recover, my only company was a lone crow cawing and a squirrel scampering about across a fence by me and up and down a tree a few feet away.

"Hmmm", I wondered if it was the wire fence wrecker?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Music Is My Life

It's been a very musical week for me.

I love going to gigs. You can't beat going to see someone whose music you like, seeing them perform live in front of you and depending on the type of music, perhaps even in an intimate setting.

Well, I had one of those weeks when a few artists popped up in a big one week clump and if I wanted to see them at all, it'd had to be this week or nothing.

The first gig of the week was a tad unexpected, in that I only bought the ticket on the day. Tori Amos was playing at Hammersmith and despite being on her mailing list (yes, I do sign up for these things as sometimes you get more than just junk mail out of them) back when her tickets went on sale ages ago, I got no prior warning. Boo! Crap mailing list!

So I accidentally found out a few days after her tickets went on sale, logged on and tried to get something decent and I guess that I wasn't too surprised to discover only standing room in the back was available. So I passed.
I then forgot all about her gigs until I got an e-mail on Tuesday from a ticket seller's mailing list telling me what was coming up at the Hammersmith Apollo. (I also have the Shepherd's Bush Empire on a similar mailing as both venues are so easy for me to get to.)

I didn't really think too much of it but clicked on Tori Amos just out of curiosity to see if it had now sold out and lo and behold, a single seat only a dozen rows from the front came up! I snapped it up still annoyed at the extra service charge type costs that they add onto the ticket price despite the fact that I would be picking it up from the box office and went along to see a mighty fine concert.

Then the very next day it was off to the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank to see Suzanne Vega live. I'm also on her mailing list, but this one is decent in that she offered pre-sale tickets which I snapped up quickly and ended up with rather excellent front row seats!

I took the +1 along to this concert (having lent her Suzanne Vega's latest CD) and she was a bit worried that at the end of a long working day, the soft, melodic tones of SV's music might send her to sleep, front row or not. Luckily that wasn't the case and she really enjoyed it. SV engages the audience really well and gave us some nice patter in between songs, even almost accidentally leading into the wrong song at one point, only to be corrected by her cheeky bass player. The only minor hassle we had was finding somewhere to eat beforehand that wasn't packed. In the end we had to settle for the South Bank's cafe and some rather pricey sandwiches.

Then to wrap up the musical week, it was yet another artist's mailing list to the rescue. Live Earth sounded like quite a good gig at the time that it was being promoted but has since been a bit of a TV viewing figures failure. We entered the SMS text ballot to get tickets but both failed to be selected which was a bit depressing when you have your heart set on something and it doesn't pan out. (Though I'm still holding out to win big on the lottery one of these days!)

As it was, early in the morning, just after I had got into work, I logged into one of my webmail accounts to find that an e-mail had literally just that minute arrived. It was from the Corinne Bailey-Rae mailing list and since she was performing at Live Earth, 10 pairs of seating and standing tickets were up for grabs on a first-come-first-served basis! Needless to say I jumped at the chance, quickly logged in and got us a pair of seated tickets straight away. Result!

Despite the poor reception around the world and the controversy over the legitimacy of getting rock stars to be role models for an environmentally friendly way of living, the concert was brilliant. Our seats were bloody good too, just to the right of the stage. I felt sorry for all those who were standing in the blazing sunshine for 10 hours. Our seats were comfy and we had a great time. We even spotted a Bill Gates-look-a-like on the tube on the way to the concert; or perhaps it was the man himself? Who knows?

And all-in-all a great week of music.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Holidays, holiday, holidays

I'm starting to suffer foreign country withdrawal symptoms. It's been a whole six months since I've left the country and as much as I love London and its relative safety(!), it's nonetheless nice to get out and see other parts of the world too to expand horizons, gain new perspectives and whatnot.

So, first I'm off to Rome with the girlfriend on her birthday at the end of this month for a week. We've booked a lovely hotel and I've sorted out a car to pick us up at the airport (it didn't cost that much extra) and drop us back on our return. We'll spend a few days exploring the city and then head up to Florence for a day too.

Then, since that's only for a week, we're both off to Budapest on the 20th of August for another week, so that I can show her where my ancestors came from and stun her with my crappy Hungarian.

I've booked a hotel with great reviews and with a guaranteed view across the Danube (which I know from experience will be beautiful.)

The 20th also happens to be St Stephens Day, a national holiday in Hungary as he's the national saint, so there will be a 25 mins firework display in the evening over the Danube and the Red Bull Air Race will also be in town. We should get a brillant view of all this from our hotel balcony.

Then I'll go off to see my family on one of the days too.

How's that for organisation? Now I can't wait to head off. Just 26 days to go...