Friday, 29 August 2014

Restaurant: The Perfectionists' Café

So, I flew from Terminal 2 as usual this evening - a nicer experience than Terminal 1, I have to say. I had a few errands to run in duty-free, and as it happens, I was still upstairs - where most of the eateries are - when I got hungry.

After a stroll around to look at the menus - and several lonely-looking maitre-d's that tried to entice me into their respective, uncrowded establishments - I decided on The Perfectionists' Café, which occupies a prominent place, and is possibly the most visible of the restaurants here. It had been the first I'd browsed, and as I returned, the maitre d' welcomed me back..

It wasn't at all busy, and I got a good seat at the edge of the balcony. After dithering for a bit between chicken and steak, I decided that I hadn't had steak in a while, and I'd go for that - sirloin, rather than rib-eye. I noted that it was half the price I'd have paid in Liechtenstein.. I had it with fries; you can alternatively choose salad. And it came with Béarnaise sauce. Wine, sadly, comes only in 125 or 175ml glasses - then you're into carafes, and I didn't think I'd have time for one. Interestingly, I noted, the menu included no starters.

It was while I was waiting that I noticed the sign that read "Heston's Fantastic Food". O lordy, I was in a Heston Blumenthal restaurant - what was in store for me?! I've eaten in Jamie's Italian in Guildford - one of a chain run by Jamie Oliver - and it was terrible. And Heston Blumenthal has a reputation as an oddball. It also suddenly occurred to me that I probably wouldn't get a steak knife - I remember once ordering steak in Gatwick and they told me I wouldn't get more than a butter knife, so I passed.

After a while of staring at a giant caricature on the wall, showing Heston sitting amidst various kinds of food, my food arrived. Ingeniously, the steak was already sliced for me into parallel strips. The sauce came in a little bowl to the side, and the chips were presented in a little metal bucket. With greaseproof paper, and sprinkled with sea salt. It was what you might call a minimalist plate.

Well, it didn't take me long to discover that I was in the presence of sheer excellence. The steak was lovely, and perfectly cooked. When I came across a slice too big to fit in my mouth all at once, I discovered that my butter knife went through it - well, like butter! The chips were really tasty, and the sauce simply divine. If this is minimalist cooking, give me more!! And please, give me the recipe for the sauce..

Service, as you might expect for such an empty establishment, was swift. However, even at that, I have to hand it to them. As I finished my wine, a server passed and asked whether I'd like another. "No," I said, "I don't think I'll have time - can I get the bill?" She had it for me within 1 minute, and within another, while someone else cleared the table, she had brought me a card reader. They also point out that, if you're in a hurry, you can ask for the bill when you order. They know how to hurry, here.

This is fantastic food, indeed - combined with terrific service. Literally every staff member I passed on my way out bade me farewell and thanked me for coming - including a chef. Really, do check them out if you're in Terminal 2!

Still looking like The Grand Seduction on Monday. I should probably mention - just in case anyone wants to avail of them - that I cashed in a couple of excellent Time Out offers last night - they both expire Sunday. So, I got a £12.50 ticket to King Charles III next Thursday, and a £17 top price ticket for Land of Our Fathers, in October - which is the cheapest ticket on sale for that show! You heard it here.. remember, the offers expire Sunday!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Plays: The Ring Cycle

Yes, I did make it back. It took Global Baggage Solutions a solid hour to get our bags from plane to baggage belt, mind you. They "handle" most of the airlines in Terminal 1, it seems, and the crowd forming around their desk - where, apparently, neither complaint form nor manager was to be found - was increasingly large and irritated. But I did get home eventually.

Tuesday dawned wet and miserable, and stayed that way. After walking to work, I was sufficiently wet and miserable not to go out that night - instead, I caught up with this week's episode of the last ever season of True Blood. Love that show!

For last night, mind, I was determined to get out - because what was coming up was The Ring Cycle, in The Scoop. Yes, Wagner's Ring Cycle - the non-operatic version. Had the weather continued as it was on Tuesday, I couldn't have - but mercifully, it was dry - if not particularly warm or sunny. Sadly, I wasn't going to make it in time for the first play - Das Rheingold - not with having to cross town after work; so I decided to swot up on it before I left. I never have seen these before. The second - The Valkyrie - didn't start till 7, so I was ok to make that.

Having gorged my short-term memory with tales of gods, godesses, trolls, and Rhine maidens, I headed off in due course. The Tube wasn't horrendously crowded - disembark at London Bridge (Tooley Street exit), turn right, cross the road, head down More London Place. As I approached, I could hear the first play still in progress - they were running about five minutes late all evening. They were out of cushions, so I got to rent a bean bag! (Very comfy, some back support - I'll definitely have to invest in one to bring to these things in future.)

As I chose a seat, Woten and Fricka were just proceeding into Valhalla at the end of the play, and we were into a 15-minute interval. For the next 3.5 hours, we were treated to a helluva tale. A sword embedded in in a tree trunk, only to be extracted by the hero it's meant for. A cursed magic ring of power, guarded, with a stash of treasure, by a greedy dragon. A troll, embittered and obsessed with the ring that's been stolen from him. A sword, reforged from its shattered pieces. Any of this sound familiar..?

As the foreign-sounding lady beside me remarked later on, what a fantastic quality of entertainment to be provided for free! The production was pared-down (of course - the opera takes 15 hours!), great liberties had been taken with the script, which was pacy and modern. Brunhilda, far from being a rather portly woman in a pointy helmet, was an athletic young lass in what looked like hunting gear. Although the performance wasn't sung, snippets of the music were played at certain points in the production, and at the intervals - there was a 40-minute interval between plays 2 and 3 (Siegfried), and another 15-minute interval before the last (Twilight of the Gods).

It was a terrific production, and imaginative - the final scene, in particular, where Valhalla is burned and mortals inherit the earth - is quite memorable. Pretty much a must-see, this: but hurry, it only runs until Sunday! I was lucky to get to see it - I'm in Guildford today and back to Ireland for the weekend.

For Monday, at the moment, it's looking like a film - and currently, the highest rated showing on Monday is The Grand Seduction, a comedy starring Brendan Gleeson, set in a Newfoundland fishing village that's deteriorating and badly needs some new blood, in the form of a new young doctor.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Final Day, Balzers, Liechtenstein

Today dawned cloudy and rainy - not many mountain views until I got to Balzers. It snowed last night on the high mountains, too. But, as usual, the weather was warm and sunny in the lowlands. I must make mention, however, of the tightness of bus connections here. It's great in principle, having a minute or two between connections. In practice, what with variable bus arrival times, it's fraught with stress for connecting passengers.

Anyway, I arrived in Balzers, and knew exactly where to go after yesterday - which was handy. I hopped off the bus at Rietstrasse, which is where I got the bus yesterday, and passed under the church arch, taking a left to investigate the castle. The bells were striking midday as I approached - I felt like a pilgrim. Pictures on FB.

This is where my trouble started. I had read that the castle approach was steep - and, indeed, seen the pictures of the castle on a steep hill. I had it in mind to probably take the vehicle approach - there must be one, which would likely be the least steep. I came across the information map for castle approaches. Sure enough, the recommended one was the track through the woods that started right there. I had a peek up it - yep, way too steep.

So I traipsed all around the hill, looking for the vehicle approach. Saw a couple more steep pedestrian approaches before I came across the one I wanted. It, too, was a bit steep - but not too bad, and I really wanted to do this. So up I went. This brought me to Haus Gutenberg. After that, the path began in earnest. There was another slope. Ok, managed that. There was a bend in the road, and another slope. Ehh.. ok, manageable. Worse than before, but I really did want to do this. I came to the top of that slope. Now nearly at the top of the hill, I could see that the next stretch was the last before the castle.

I couldn't do it. The bend at the top of the slope I was on was really sharp. It was nearly at the top of the hill. There was nothing between me and the drop. I'd already come up three slopes, two of which worried me - particularly the last one. I stood there for ages, trying to will myself upwards. There were what might have been electric torches on the side of the road - I was holding onto one for reassurance, and had great trouble letting go.

Finally I had to acknowledge that this just wasn't going to happen. Hey, I did great you know - nearly made it to the top! I decided, very reluctantly, to turn back. Of course, that's when other people decided to come up. There was a family. Wonderful - I was going to have to inch my way down, and I hate people watching me do that. The kids were ahead of the adults, so they all took a couple of minutes to pass, during which I had to find things to be doing - have a drink of water, take a photo.. which is why there's a photo on FB from the top of the hill! Anything to look as though I wasn't on the verge of a panic attack. Finally, they passed.. be followed by a group of Japanese people! O great, the greatest nation in the world for taking photographs! Sure enough, they must have spent a solid five minutes just on that stretch, photographing grapes. While I began to get dizzy from the effort of standing on this slope and trying to look nonchalant. Hey, I was even afraid to turn to see whether they'd gone yet, it made me so dizzy!

They did eventually leave, and I gratefully made my careful way down. So, an anticlimactic end to my sightseeing - but you know, I spent nearly an hour trying to get up that blasted hill. I really did do my best. Coming back and waiting for the bus in Triesenberg, I was intrigued to see, for the second day in a row, the #22 bus from Gaflei. This bus is request only - yesterday it carried a group of hikers, today a family that had been hiking. Really remote - I'd love to go sometime. Ain't walking it though!

Verdict on Liechtenstein - gorgeous. Spectacular scenery, lovely people. In future, I'll definitely look for some accessible hikes in Switzerland - this has really whetted my appetite. I stayed in the best place, I think - this is the most scenic part of Liechtenstein, and Malbun, being a ski resort, is better equipped for tourists, wrt accommodation and meals, than, say, Steg. The country is compact, so it's easy to get everywhere you want, and the buses are marvellous.

Well, I do hear Iceland has a red volcano alert in operation, but hopefully I'll get back to London tomorrow. For Tuesday, I see there's a good-sounding play in the Red Lion pub in Clerkenwell. Called The Picture of John Gray, apparently it's about Oscar Wilde's lover, who may have provided the inspiration for his story, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Day 6, Liechtenstein

A cloudy day.. Anyway, I persisted with my plan to take the bus to Triesen Vaschiel, and walk from there to Balzers. As we passed through Triesenberg, saw an attractively attired brass band - royal blue blazers and black trilbys - trooping to the church, apparently to perform. Anyway, back to business. Albeit that the wanderwegs aren't perfectly signposted, there are enough signs that you can just wander off without a map - certainly if you're not on the side of a mountain! And that's just what I did.

When I got off the bus, there wasn't much choice of ways to go - I figured my way probably wasn't to follow the bus along the main road, so I looked around for an alternative and saw we had just passed a side road. That's the way I went (photos on FB). After passing through some suburbs (and all downhill, thankfully), it led through orchards. Lovely route - would have been stunning with the mountains as a backdrop; sadly, they were hidden in cloud today.

When the road forked, as is often the case, there was no sign to tell me which way to go. Unsure of following the path through the woods, I made for the main road instead. After a while of that, I came across the wanderweg again, which I could probably have followed all the way - but as I say, not signposted well enough! My route then took me onto the Rheindamm again. This was a shorter section than the last I did, and took me past a dirt bike track where a race seemed to be in progress, then to a bench where I rested for a while, and then the wanderweg branched into a forest trail, before directing me through more orchards to town. So, plenty of variety on this trail, and well deserving of Liechtenstein Tourism's description of it as "outstanding". Even though I didn't follow the whole thing!

As I entered Balzers, it rained on me - the first time this trip! Not too heavily though. Anyway, I'm heading there again tomorrow to visit the castle - there are more bits open tomorrow - and I wasn't that pushed about sightseeing today, especially in the rain. I just wanted to head for the post office and catch a bus back to the hotel. The castle isn't hard to find - it towers above the town. It's the only thing in Balzers that isn't hard to find! I came across an information map that gave lots of streetnames, but no landmarks! Then I came across a sign that pointed down the road and said the post office was 5 minutes that way.

After traipsing down the road in the rain, I came to the distinct impression that I was headed out of town, in the wrong direction. There had been no further signposts, apart from streetnames. I turned back, and decided that it might be a sensible idea to just walk around the castle - all I needed was a bus stop, and surely there must be one near the castle! So it proved, and I found a bus stop for buses headed north, just a minute or so before the bus arrived! I also noticed that, had I walked around the church I'd been looking at, which is beside the castle, I'd have found the bus stop half an hour earlier. Well, now I know where it is. Must see what information I can glean for tomorrow's trip. But I am looking forward to it - Balzers seems a pleasant place and the castle looks interesting. The hill it sits on is planted with vines, which they were tending as I passed..

Friday, 22 August 2014

Day 5: Liechtenstein

Another of those sunny days. Chilly in Malbun, but I suspected - correctly - that it would be an awful lot warmer in the lowlands.

Well, I've pretty much done what I can around Malbun, and my mission today was to Eschen, which sounded interesting. There was supposed to be a themed walk, and walks into the mountains. So I got on the bus. The view of the Rhine Valley was reliably stunning, and I noticed that, if you do the descent to Vaduz all in one trip, the corkscrew roads are quite dizzying. The connection in Vaduz was quite easy - we all just trooped onto the bus in front. And I got off in Eschen.

The bus stop in Eschen is quite discreet - I found myself looking for landmarks so I'd recognise it again. From what I saw, there seem to be two monuments. One is a church, currently completely enclosed in scaffolding. The other is the Pfrundhaus, beside it, which is where the walks are supposed to start from. (Photos, again, on FB.)

Well, it certainly wasn't hard to find. I walked all around it. It looked very nice, but I couldn't see a way in. Nor could I see any information signs. Nor could I see a tourist office. Nor could I see any of the ubiquitous "wanderweg" signs. I wandered to the other end of the street. There was a branch of Migros. I wandered around it for a while, then returned to the "bus stop" to see what time the next bus out was (dodging the beer-guzzling teenagers).

I decided my next best move was to go to Nendeln, which at least is closer to the big mountains. A bus headed there came along shortly, but left while I was trying to figure out whether it was going the right way. Fortunately, another appeared minutes later, and hung around for a while - I think there was a minor technical issue. So I had time to figure it out and get on. And get off five minutes later, in Nendeln. Compact country, this. (And I have now used the value of my bus pass, yay!)

I wandered in the direction of the massive mountain in front of me. By the wanderweg signs that had finally appeared, I had two choices: Planken or Schaanwald. I read about Planken last night - it sounds lovely, on the side of the mountain and, proverbially, the start of many hiking trails. It also sounds unfeasible for me. Besides, that looked like a hard road up to it - and is, by all accounts. And the sun was beating down. So, I set off towards Schaanwald.

I was soon high above Nendeln, and before long found myself in the forest. Which made a nice change, and gave some shelter from the sun. And I wandered along the marked forest path for a good while - until the proverbial happened, and I was faced with a slope I couldn't handle. So back I came again, found the bus stop, and got the bus back to Vaduz. Frankly, I was looking forward to a rest. Did my now habitual trick of getting the bus to Triesenberg, popping into the excellent shop beside the bus stop, and getting the bus to Malbun a convenient while later. I swear, that bus timetable is deliberately designed to facilitate the shop. And as the bus climbed to the tunnel, and came out the other side, I again marvelled at the astonishing scenery, which quite literally takes my breath away every time I make this journey.

When I got back to the hotel, the Galina Hotel, across the road, was holding yet another falconry display - they had one as I was leaving this morning, too. It's quite a feature of theirs - they hold them in the beer garden, but also have a stand built for spectators. Me, I sat on my balcony, finished off my wine and enjoyed the sunshine. A good afternoon all round.

For dinner, the main problem hereabouts is the sameness of the menus, combined with the price. My solution is the Hotel Turna, which offers a more varied, and price-conscious menu. And never fear, you still get friendly service by ladies in dirndls, and antlers on the walls. Highly recommended. Tonight, ironically, I had exactly the same as I had for that infamous lunch yesterday. Higher quality though, and no desperate runs to the toilet - yet.. their version of rosti, by the way, is quite salty, but v tasty.

Tomorrow, I have a yen to do the walk to Balzers. However, I'm making the executive decision to take the bus to the closest point - Triesen Vaschiel. I doubt not there are wanderweg signs there, I shouldn't get lost.. :-)

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Day 4: Liechtenstein

Today dawned bright and sunny. Although it was rather nippy, I did think it was liable to warm up. I was right, and was to be glad I wore the lightest top I brought..

I started off by trekking the short distance up to the Friedenskapelle in Malbun (again, pictures on FB). Now, the road to Saas starts here, and I had a go at it. Turns out it's better known as the Lisa and Max trail, suitable for kids and with a kids' story laid out on storyboards along it (about Lisa and Max, twins who want to climb the Drei Schwestern. Good luck with that.) "Gentle", they describe the trail as. Well, it goes to show how careful I have to be. I wasn't at the third storyboard before I had to chicken out - it had gotten too steep. It's not a question of stamina or fitness, it's a question of panic attacks. Yes, I encountered many children on this trail - I'm just glad no-one was around as I inched myself back down the slope I'd just been rash enough to climb. Hey, I tried, and now I know.

So I decided to take the bus to Triesenberg and see what there was to do around there - it had looked scenic on the way up. I discovered a new way of travelling - get off if it looks interesting. So I got off at the first stop after the tunnel. As the bus pulled away, the view of the Rhine Valley looked enticing - I crossed the road to get a better look. After snapping a couple of photos, I noticed a path leading over the hill. Ooh! Flat, too! So, naturally, I took it. Turned out to be a doable path leading all the way down to the town. Result!

When I recrossed the bus route, I figured it made more sense to wait for the bus, which was due in 10 minutes. Ah, the advantages of an unlimited bus pass! I got off in the town square, noted a couple of shops that looked promising for buying snacks n such, but were closed for lunch: and decided to try the Hotel Kulm, adjacent to the bus stop, for lunch myself. I was delighted to discover that they did a nice, cheap set menu, and that one of the options was chicken! (That's unusual for this part of the world, and I had just been bemoaning to myself the difficulty of getting chicken.) The price included a decent soup (or salad - I had the soup). The meal itself was nothing special, but quite edible - I wasn't mad about whatever garnish they had on the chicken, so left most of that. A couple of scoops of ice cream finished it off. Really friendly service, too!

Now, I had read about a walk from Triesenberg to Masescha, and that it was "challenging". I said I'd give it a go. It didn't take long for it to get challenging and for me to turn back, but again, now I know - and I was just nicely in time for the bus to Vaduz. I decided to go with plan #3 - walk from Bendern to Schaan along the Rheindamm, the road that runs along the Rhine. So I changed buses in Vaduz and got off at Bendern Post (post office), which I had determined last night was the closest to where I wanted. Wasn't hard to find my way to the Rheindamm, and off I went.

The road runs straight and wide along the border with Switzerland. With trees fringing the road to my left, for most of the way my view was, therefore, of Swiss mountains - and beautiful they were! Most of the other road users were cyclists. There was the odd lorry - it isn't a major thoroughfare, but some businesses have entrances on that road. Indeed, at one point, I came across a mini-airstrip: turned out to be the Lichtensteiner model airplane association! With their own little airstrip, aww. There were also a few roller-bladers. I was the only walker.

It became apparent why this was the case. It's a lovely road, with great views - but it's quite long, very flat and straight, and the views don't change. It makes more sense to travel it quicker than walking pace. That sun I'd noticed first thing in the morning was oppressive, too. And although the guide to the walk says there are benches - they're only at the beginning and end of this stretch. I did make use of them, and it was very pleasant to sit there, with a cool breeze coming off the water. I could've used some more of them.

Especially when lunch began to talk to me. Yes, something I had in the Hotel Kulm disagreed with me - and dramatically. I was just lucky it didn't strike properly until I was nearly in Schaan. As it was, my entry to Schaan was rather stressed, as I frantically searched for a toilet. I didn't find one, but was lucky enough to find the main street into town, with buses that would take me to the station, where there must be a toilet! Checking the timetables, I figured, with one due in 5 minutes, I had better just wait for it - and I did. When we disembarked - not nearly quickly enough for me, and delayed by rush-hour traffic - I had a little bit of a search to find a loo. I wasn't familiar with the station, which is very avant-garde, with all facilities contained in a circular construction. I could've wept for joy when I located the toilet.

The toilet merits some description. It's as avant-garde as the station itself. When you enter, you're faced with a large, stainless steel basin with a hole in the bottom. The toilet seat is suspended from a steel bar above, and must be physically lowered for use. Fair enough. It lowers to just the right position, and you use the toilet as normal. Toilet paper is to the side. When you raise the seat again after you finish, it springs back into its out-of-service position and the toilet flushes automatically. There is no hand basin - you wash your hands over the toilet. There's a semi-normal looking tap to the side - push it to get soap. There's a button below that. Push to get a jet of water from the spout, under that again. To the left, a vent with another button under it. Push for warm air. After a minute or so, as I was preparing to leave, the toilet flushed again - doubtless to clear the soap away! V space-age.

I got the bus to Vaduz, and waited for my connecting bus. I had hoped to buy a snack for the evening - I suspected I wasn't going to be eating much more today - but there was nothing around Vaduz Post. The next bus only went to Triesenberg, with the bus all the way to Malbun coming half an hour later. So I figured I'd get the bus to Triesenberg and use the time I spent waiting there to have a scout around that shop I'd seen at lunchtime, which had been closed. Well, what a find! Finally, a decent shop - the nearest to where I'm staying. All necessities, including many varieties of Swiss chocolate. I'll be back.. But you know, for all of its lack of shops, I'm still glad to be staying where I am. I definitely found the most scenic corner of the country, and felt happy as the bus climbed up here this evening.

Tomorrow, on balance, I think Eschen looks worth a look. I do like to explore the further reaches of the country - make use of that travel pass!

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Day 3: Steg

Slept a bit better last night. The mattress is a bit hard, but I found a workaround - it's a double bed, but with two separate mattresses and two quilts. The quilts are quite soft.. so I just put one under me, the other over me, and I'm a bit cushioned from the mattress. In other happy news from this morning, there were no exciting deodorant incidents. The most exciting thing to happen before I left the hotel was that the landlady was stunned that I didn't want anything hot to drink with my breakfast!

Well, I had it in mind to head to Steg and assess the ease of the walks around there. And to head there by bus. The Lonely Planet guide said I could only get weekly tickets from the post office or tourist office, so along I went to the tourist office, first thing after breakfast. To be told that I could only get bus tickets - of any kind - on the bus. So, off I schlepped, up to the main square, where I sat and waited - there's only one bus per hour out of Malbun. My goodness, the temperature dropped today - my breath was misting hard, and my face was freezing by the time the bus arrived. Thankfully, it was early, and he let us on as soon as he got there. I got a weekly travel pass for all zones, so I'm covered for all travel for the duration of my stay.

And I hopped off the bus five minutes down the mountain, in Steg. (Pictures available on FB..) I had two main treks in mind, each of which leads out of Steg and down a valley. I thought I'd do the trek to Valuna first. It's said that walks in Liechtenstein are well marked - they are marked, but not consistently. It's easy to miss a turn. I had to retrace my steps a couple of times, but the walk was easy enough - just follow the river - and stunning. Now, my map said there was food at the end of this trip. Eh, yes there is - a hut, selling hot and cold drinks and snacks. I bought a couple of bars of chocolate and left. I could've continued down the valley to Waldboda, but figured I'd had enough of the valley by then, and retraced my steps to Steg.

I availed myself of some conveniently located toilet facilities at the head of the trail, and went in search of lunch. Steg, however, is not so well served as Malbun, and my search was fruitless. With some time still to go before the hourly bus back to Malbun, and since I wasn't that hungry, I decided to embark on hike #2, along the mountainside on the other side of Steg, to Mittlervalorsch.

I did so with some trepidation. I have a reasonably severe case of bathmophobia, which includes fear of slopes. Ironic that I love mountains.. so I was determined to continue as long as the walk didn't get too scary. By which I mean either a bit of the path that was too steep, or perhaps a too-narrow path on the edge of a steep slope.

I was utterly delighted with what I found. The path did climb, but gently, up the mountainside. I proceeded along it for about an hour before it got a bit steeper, and I was tired by that stage anyhow, and came back. In the meantime, however, I got unbelievably high up the mountain (again, see the above link for pictures). The views were fantastic. The path crossed two streams, and led to a house, perched high in the forest. Along the way, I came to a mountain hut. When I investigated, I discovered that it contained a wood-burning stove, piles of chopped wood, benches and a table. Walls and door were covered in graffiti of people who'd been there. Outside, facing the valley, was a ledge where you could sit - and I did, on the way back, to eat the Mars bar I'd bought in the Valunahutte.

The whole thing was utterly stunning, and yes, I did break into song on the way down (Sound of Music, natch). Well, there was no-one to hear, and something had to compete with the sound that the hills were alive with - cowbells. All the way up, and all the way down, nobody for miles, not even any cows - they were on the other side of the valley. But you could hear them, oh yes. Dang-a-dang-a-dong. You couldn't be elsewhere but in the Alps. Poor animals must be deafened, though..

And this evening, I ate in my hotel, where the lady of the house was all dressed up in a dirndl to serve customers. Indeed, the place seems busier tonight - even the bar was open, which it wasn't on Monday, when I arrived. But then I overheard a conversation she was having with the English guests at the table next to me, and it seems said bar closes at 8! Up to them, but doesn't seem good business.

This blog is quite late because I've been deliberating about what to do tomorrow. I've pretty much run out of accessible walks. Well, I still have to pay a visit to Malbun chapel. And then I might consider the road to Saas again. Failing that - or after that - I could pop by Triesenberg, with its fantastic views of the Rhine valley. Next accessible walk is Bendern to Schaan, along the Rhine dam. We shall see - after all, the country is my oyster!

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Day 2: Malbun, Liechtenstein

An unpromising start to the day, with a huge bank of cloud covering all the mountain peaks. An equally unpromising start, with the exploding deodorant.. see, the aerosol was sticking and wouldn't spray, so I dismantled it to see whether I could do anything. Fiddled around with it, reassembled it.. and the damn thing wouldn't stop spraying! I had to open the balcony door and hold it outside - it looked as though the place was on fire, with all the smoke! Got it all over my fingers, which stung somewhat. It's quietened down now, but still in purdah outside..

Over breakfast, I noticed the cloud lifting. A continental breakfast isn't the best preparation for physical exertion, but what can you do. Anyway, the view from my room was restored..

Note the cranes. There's building work all over Malbun! And today I went off exploring it. Found a shop - half sports gear, half whatever else you might need. Actually, it's housed in that building whose first floor is white, second floor brown. The tourist office is just across from it, but nothing great. Mind you, that's where you'd get travel tickets - I must look into whether that'd be worthwhile.

Now, I wanted to explore my environs today, and had a couple of options. I didn't fancy the chair lift - not today, anyway - which left the walks around town. I had this vague yen to walk towards Steg - I could see paths heading in that direction, which appealed more than the main road, which doesn't have provision for walkers. As I meandered through town, looking for the way onto one of these paths, I had to agree with the description I've read of Malbun as a rural idyll..

The first two show my hotel - the first, the restaurant terrace with the mountain behind: the second, the entrance. I only noticed those fellas today (second chairlift in the background of that shot). The third shows the small petting zoo down the road. The sheep wear cowbells - you can hear them from afar. They all livened up when some kids came to visit. It occurred to me later that, while I was traipsing around, I should have taken some shots of some of the spectacular houses hereabouts - some holiday homes, for sure, but some beautiful buildings. Well, I am here for a week.. plenty of time.

Finally, I decided the easiest way onto the path I wanted was just to cut across a field, and that's what I did. I proceeded smugly down the road - only to find my way barred by an electric fence. Now, I could see it was in two parts, so I was probably entitled to pass through - a fence meant to deter animals, not people. But I wasn't sure of the procedure. Looking back, I saw two hikers approaching. Ah, I thought, I'll wait and see what they do. So I nonchalantly pretended to be doing stuff as they passed, and watched as they used their walking sticks to brush the fence out of the way as they passed through. I figured I could use my bag to do the same, but said I'd wait till they were out of sight. Of course, one of them, further down, decided he needed to relieve himself.. so all this took much longer than it needed to, but I got through eventually.

Happily, I trotted down the road. Until I saw what probably made them turn back, as they did, towards town. Further down, the road was completely roped off. Not for hikers, that way! So all you could do was go down as far as the base of the second chairlift (and, apparently, an outpost of Radio Liechtenstein). I thought about proceeding along the main road, but there are no footpaths, and I was reluctant. I did come to another hiking sign, pointing along the road to Saas, up the mountain. Now, I'd love to go that way, and one of these days I well may. But when I saw the gradient, and considered how tired my legs were by now.. I cried off and returned to the hotel for a rest. Honestly, I'm not used to this much walking.. must pace myself.

For lunch, I thought I'd try somewhere else in town - there are eight hotels, after all. I thought the Hotel Restaurant Walserhof looked appealing, but when I went in, people were only drinking and I didn't fancy it (I had left it late to eat). I ended up in Hotel Restaurant Turna, whose entrance is upstairs from the hotel. It was practically empty, and service was.. relaxed, but very friendly. I'm not having much luck with the German - it doesn't help when you can't understand what someone just said to you - but the waiter was happy to speak English. And I had the most delicious schnitzel in a cream and mushroom sauce - you had a choice of pork or veal, noodles or something I hadn't heard of (and, as usual, my phrasebook couldn't help). Pork was cheaper, so I had that, and the noodles - which turned out to be tagliatelle. And this time I made sure to ask for a LARGE glass of wine! They don't seem to be great wine drinkers here, and last night I was given a pitiful measure. I fancied dessert, and got myself a moreish ice cream and caramel sundae from the ice cream menu. Very well fed - and obviously very much envied by the large, persistent fly that buzzed around me for the whole meal. Until dessert - he obviously didn't have a sweet tooth.

As I waited for the relaxed waiter to get back to me, I mused that there were a couple of photos I should take when I left - views I caught a glimpse of through the restaurant windows. Sadly, by the time I did leave, the cloud had descended again and there was no point. I'm sure I'll get another chance. There wasn't much point in doing any more walking either, so I stopped by the shop, picked up some (roll-on) deodorant and a bottle of Liechtenstein Riesling, and I've been chillin' ever since. From my current position, I can see the cloud has continued its descent. The chairlift is still working though, despite the fact that it's headed into a cloudbank now - and a couple of paragraphs ago, I actually saw some mad people heading up the slope in one of the chairs. Straight into dense mist. And it must be freezing - it was pretty nippy when I got back, some hours ago! People are strange.

Here's a shot of what I can see from my position..

You can just see a post of the chairlift, in the mist. Oh, and also the offending deodorant bottle, just outside.

Tomorrow, I think I'll head to Steg. By bus. The walks down there are supposed to be flatter! And I must decide whether a bus pass would be good value..

Monday, 18 August 2014

Day 1: UK - Switzerland - Liechtenstein

O lordy, lordy, what a long day! I'd be gone to bed already, and glad of it, but I'm watching the Rose of Tralee. When the RTÉ Player will let me, of course! Technical issues meant I missed most of the first half, and there have been breakdowns in transmission all through the second half. But if I'm interested, the individual contestants' appearances are now recorded.

Well, it's a good job I didn't go with Google Maps' estimate of what time I needed to catch the Tube to the airport - I'd have been late! Anyway, I made the airport with ten minutes to spare - Terminal 1 again, ah, the nostalgia! Aer Lingus, whom I normally fly with, moved to the revamped, shiny new Terminal 2 last month; seems Swiss Air aren't due to do so until October. And they were right down the back!

Duly checked in, I bought meself a backpack - my mother pointed out over the weekend that I didn't have one, for these hikes I'm optimistically planning! It's also a computer bag, which is handy for the equipment I brought with me.. then I needed something in the Duty Free. What IS it with the people there? Do they think no-one is rushing for a flight? There was no-one on the desk I needed, I had to grab someone from somewhere else. I then had to wait forever for someone to take my money.

Meantime, my gate was announced - later than scheduled. Thankfully. I couldn't believe it when I saw their estimate of time taken to walk the distance was 25 minutes - but they were pretty accurate! Up and down escalators.. up and down, round and about. I don't know where they sent us, but I was so glad that every board we passed just said "go to gate", rather than that boarding had started. Indeed, it still hadn't started by the time I finally arrived at the gate - but it really should have, we were obviously delayed. At least it gave me time to run to the Boots adjacent to the gate, for the things I hadn't had time to get!

One of the nicer things about Swiss Air is that, for no extra charge, they gave me the option of an aisle or window seat. I went with window - although all there was to see was a vast cloudscape. My though, it's been a long time since I had a free snack on a plane - which was very welcome, I was starving. Surprisingly refreshing, it was. And finished off with a sizeable chunk of Swiss chocolate, with the Swiss Air logo. Cartoons on the drop-down electronic screens kept us occupied for the remainder of the flight.

When we landed, I needed the toilet - but it seems a feature of Zurich airport that toilets are few and far between! Despite them apparently being award-winning. Also a feature is the difficulty in finding a lift! I had two cases, and escalators were a challenge. I had an issue with buying my train ticket too - although the machines take both Euros and Swiss Francs, and I had both, the notes were too large. It rejected my credit card, and didn't seem to know what my debit card was, so I ended up queueing for a ticket desk, where a very helpful, multilingual lady (she'd just been dealing with someone in French, then dealt with me in English, despite being a native German speaker) gave me a return ticket to Sargans.

I set my watch by the trains that were leaving as I waited for mine. This is recommended - in a dispute between your watch and Swiss trains, your watch will lose. The trip by Lake Zurich was absolutely lovely, aided by a lovely sunny afternoon. But it was once we left the lake behind, and were immersed in mountain valleys, that I found the scenery most impressive. Very exciting for me, I do love my mountains! When we got to Sargans, it wasn't hard for me to see which way to go - the buses of Liechtenstein have a distinctive, canary-yellow colour, which is quite visible from afar. And they have ramps at this station! Joy and jubilation.

I soon identified the right bus, due to leave in a few minutes. I went over and tried out my German, asking him about getting a ticket and saying I was going to Malbun. "Yeah," he said, "get on, it's free." Um. Ok then! I arranged my luggage around myself - these postbuses don't have luggage space - and wondered why it was free. Then I stared at the mountains a bit - we were very close now. It wasn't until another English-speaking couple got on that I discovered why it was free - the ticket machine was broken! Wow, v obliging of them!

I had seen some beautiful scenery on the train, but the windows were a bit mucky to take photos. I had better luck on the bus..

The first, I took while we waited to leave Sargans station. The last is of Balzers Castle.
The driver took great pains to make sure I got off at the right stop - just as well, because I had no idea. I was already really tired - it had already been a long day. Turns out you change at a suburb of Vaduz, called Au, to the #21 to Malbun. Then everyone on the bus made sure I knew I had to cross the road! Just as well I had half an hour to wait, I was frazzled..
The second bus journey was a doozey. I'm only sorry I got no photos from it - the road was a real corkscrew, and twisted and turned so much as it climbed the mountain that it was hard to get a view of a scene for more than a second. But the view over the Rhine valley was stupendous! The inhabitants of Triesenberg, high on the mountainside, have a terrific sight to wake up to every morning. I shudder to think what that gradient must do to local motorists' engines and brakes, though..
At last we arrived, literally, at the end of the road. I certainly picked the right hotel - it's right across from the bus stop. Hard to get lost here, though. As you approach, the only entrance you can see is the one to the restaurant. Yes, that's the hotel entrance too. Sadly, because it means more steps - although, if you climb uphill to the other side, there are fewer of them. This is significant if you have two cases. There was then great fun - the place is family-owned and run, and they were busy with dinner. They eventually got around to me, and got me to fill out a guest form. Well, they tried - unfortunately, my German wasn't up to it and I had to be rescued by the cute teenage son, who obviously has the best English of the lot. :-)
The accommodation is actually in the block across the way, accessed by an underground tunnel, of all things. The accommodation block is a massive building comprising both apartments and individual rooms. I'm in one of the rooms, all of which (on the same level) share a balcony. The view is, potentially, terrific..
When there's no cloud, of course! There had been less before I took this, and from my balcony you can see the bowl that Malbun sits in. We'll see how the weather shapes up - mountains do create their own weather, but it is supposed to be mostly fine.

I had dinner in the hotel restaurant. It isn't cheap, but then, Liechtenstein isn't cheap. It was good, although maybe a bit salty - but the chef is a good one. We'll see what I do tomorrow - highly weather-dependant!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Film: Women From the Lake of Scented Souls

Eh, yeah. Sorry, I actually couldn't be bothered. I'm sure it's interesting and all, but the weather is awful, I've had a tummy ache all day and a hard day to boot, I have the place to myself, and I'm looking forward to staying in with dinner and wine, putting my feet up, and mind you, I also have to scan the map for next week so I can enlarge the bit with Liechtenstein in it.


Auf wiedersehen.. next time you hear from me, I may be in the Alps!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Film: The Purge: Anarchy

Film again tonight, and I FINALLY get to The Purge: Anarchy. It started rated highly enough on IMDB, but slipped to a point where I never thought I'd get to see it - but then, with a dearth of good releases, combined with a spate of films being made available online at various sites (predictably, cheaper there than you'd pay in the cinema), behold and lo, The Purge: Anarchy came to the top of my list at last.

It's showing at my local cinema, but not until 10pm, for goodness' sake! The closest cinema showing it at a reasonable time is the Vue, Shepherds Bush. So I schlepped up there. Overground again, no seat again - but I was only going two stops this time. And there was more oxygen in the coach, this late in the evening. You know, it occurred to me later - I don't think I've been to this cinema since I moved accommodation last, the better part of a year ago!

Anyway, they accepted the voucher I'd got at their other branch, but didn't give me a replacement. Never mind, I still have one to spare. With the voucher, tonight I paid a little over half what I paid the last time I was at the cinema! but that was extreme. I made sure to choose my favourite seat tonight - aisle, with the aisle in front of me as well. Just as well I did - it was quite crowded. Despite having been showing for some time now, this is still pulling them in (although there is also a 2-for-1 deal on Wednesdays). I did get a bit miffed though, at the sheer number of people traipsing in and out and blocking my view. Thankfully, they didn't do so far past the start of the film.

I think the gaggle of underage kids that snuck in just after the start enjoyed it. They had a bonus of several horror film trailers before the main feature. I see there's a prequel to The Conjuring, called Annabelle (named, of course, for the possessed doll). Also Deliver Us From Evil, and one I haven't heard of, called As Above, So Below, and set in the catacombs of Paris.

And so to the main feature. Well now, this was a pleasant surprise. I didn't see the original Purge film - it wasn't rated very highly - but knew the story: "The Purge" is an annual - well, in this film it's called a holiday - 24 hours (7am to 7pm) during which all crime is legalised. American, wouldn't ya know. As The Purge: Anarchy begins, we are treated to some statistics. Crime and unemployment are at an all-time low. This is due to The Purge. The message is broadcast loud and clear: get off the streets before nightfall. Stay safe. Unless you're purging - in which case, we hope you feel cleansed.

Now, the first thing that occurred to me upon reading those statistics was - of course the Purge is responsible for the excellent figures, they just kill all the criminals and unemployed. The homeless are obvious targets too. Guess what - I wasn't disappointed in my opinion. That's exactly what the filmmakers rammed home to us also. Ooh, the rich come in for some stick in this series. They can pay for protection - the poor can't, and they're the ones who concern us in this film.

I see Michael Bay is a co-producer. Now, there's a man that knows how to produce an entertaining film. Unlike the first film, which concerned a home invasion, this takes us onto the mean streets, where anything can, and does, happen. What happens, for instance, if your car breaks down on Purge night, miles from anywhere safe? The pace hardly flags. The scenarios are terrifyingly believable. The gang chasing the pair whose car breaks down are nightmarish, and many of the scenes are unashamedly populist. The finale is pure crowd-pleasing rich-bashing.

And it's great fun. But the series is also a thinly disguised rebuke of the NRA, and a comment on its adherents, and on America's gun culture in general. And there'll be more - an anti-Purge movement appears in this film, and at the end, a notice reminds us that there are 364 days to the next Purge. This could run and run - and if they can keep up the quality, more power to them!

And tomorrow, something completely different. I'm heading to the BFI, to a film in their Century of Chinese Cinema: Women From the Lake of Scented Souls. Then Ireland for the weekend, Liechtenstein for next week. And if I ever get around to doing any German in the meantime, I'll be lucky!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Concert: Sinéad O' Connor

Nuts. You know, I should've checked the stage times, available on the Roundhouse website - but I didn't check them in time. Sinéad O' Connor isn't due to go on until 9. The last Overground outta there that would get me home is just after 11 - and it's a 10-minute walk from the venue. So I'd probably have to leave early. And the weather is, to coin a phrase - "cat" (that's not praise). I got drenched on the way home - not rain, but hail, of all things! I couldn't believe my eyes. And I'm not that mad about her, to go out in those conditions, and come home a complicated way.

So I cut my losses and stayed in.

Tomorrow should be more reliable - I'm heading to another film: The Purge: Anarchy is showing in Shepherd's Bush. Much earlier, much closer, and I'm much keener on it.. On Thursday, I've booked to see another film in the Century of Chinese Cinema at the BFI - this one is called Women From the Lake of Scented Souls. It's mostly sold out, so I said I'd book. Then I'm back to Ireland for the weekend. Next week, and covering the UK bank holiday on the 25th, I'm in Liechtenstein! Well, it makes a change, and I can practice my German.. I'll be based in Malbun, in the Alpenhotel Vogeli.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Film: Wakolda

Fanfare please! It's happened, I've gone to a film rated at 6.9. And it was excellent!

So, Wakolda came out top of the list for today, by IMDB ratings. This is given the amount of rubbish that's being shown at the moment, plus the number of kids' films that I wouldn't be interested in, plus all the films available online - which is always cheaper. Ok, I didn't mind -  it sounded interesting, and I could live with the fact that it's only showing in the Curzon chain, despite their exorbitant prices. I'd generally pay more for a play, anyway. The closest was the Curzon Victoria, so that's where I headed this evening.

I arrived at the station just as a train had pulled in - which meant I missed it. But it probably wasn't headed into town anyway - because the one 1 minute later was! So it wasn't long before I disembarked at Victoria, and weaved my way through heaving crowds to the cinema.

They only have Pullman seats in Screen 3. I have nothing against them - they're very comfortable, mine tipped automatically to whatever angle I leaned back to. I just wish you had a choice of paying less than £18. Never mind. There were trailers for a couple of interesting films - particularly Night Moves, with Jesse Eisenberg and Peter Sarsgaard. Not highly rated, but you never know these days. Obviously!

Wakolda is a highly atmospheric film. Based on a novel, it opens with an Argentinian family heading south, across the Patagonian desert road, to Bariloche. There's a German that wants to travel behind them - foreigners are nervous of this road, and they accept. Turns out he's a doctor. Turns out he wants to be the first guest at the hotel they're opening. Turns out he wants to experiment on their daughter, who's not growing as fast as she should..

The scenery is breathtaking - I'm definitely putting this place on my bucket list. And he's suitably sinister - at first, the concerned and obliging doctor: later, when the net closes on him, we see his darker side. Utterly compelling - I highly recommend this. And it was interesting, having a mix of German and Spanish throughout the film - meant I could practice both!

Tomorrow, I'm off to see Sinéad O' Connor at the Roundhouse, which, as I mentioned before, will be the first time I've seen her live.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Play: Holy Warriors

Holy Warriors was another of those things I didn't have to think twice about. Not with Richard the Lionheart appearing in it.. I'm a sucker for things mediaeval. And then I noticed a deal offering premium seats for a tenner. Yes please! and I booked one.

And then Tropical Storm Bertha came to town. Reassuringly, the ticket said the performance would go ahead whatever the weather, despite the Globe being open-air. Well, the stage and seats are under cover - it's just the poor sods in the Yard that would get drenched. And by the looks of this morning, they would have - it was lashing! By lunchtime, it had cleared up pretty much, and there was brilliant sunshine - when the clouds parted. Cooler than lately, but generally fine. And so it was when I set out.

When I got to Mansion House, I took the steps with the sign at the bottom that said "Shakespeare's Globe" - among other things. Now, meanly, they don't have a similar sign at the top, for you to choose between the two exits. You have to know that you're looking for Southwark Bridge - the exit to the right. Well, I did, and as I proceeded down the road, a family approached me. Ah, more tourists! the weekends are full of them. Anyway, they mustn't have been native English speakers, because it was the daughter in her early teens who asked me the way to somewhere. I bet she's top of her class in English. :-) Anyway, I had to ask her to repeat it - the London Eye, they wanted. You what?! That's the other side of the centre! too far to walk, anyway. Well, if you have a middle-aged lady and some kids in the group. Google Maps gives the walking time as 29 minutes. Well, I pointed them in the right direction, and remarked that they might want to take the Tube. She looked dubious. I explained that the station was just up there on the left. She looked much happier. I just hope she didn't expect to find the London Eye down that alley.. O why, o why, don't people bring a map? They're not hard to find..

It was breezy crossing the bridge, but you know, frankly, the cool breeze is a relief after the hot summer we've had. I was in plenty of time, so no need to hurry. It was nice, when I got there, not to have to queue at the box office - I had chosen a Print at Home ticket. And I was soon to discover that it's quite a different experience, going to an evening play there rather than a matinee, as with my last one. The first difference was that we were let into the "piazza" - the area outside the theatre - much earlier. Just as well it wasn't raining, though, because it took them forever to let us into the theatre proper. I had plenty of time to notice some more famous names among the plaques of donors. I hadn't bought a programme, but the lady standing behind me had, and remarked to the chap standing behind her that she was sorry now, there was such a wealth of historical information in it! Turned out the guy she was talking to was the playwright's old history teacher. "You can blame me!" he laughed.

I was in the Lower Gallery this time - the ground floor. Entry is via the Yard - that uncovered bit surrounding the stage. So that was interesting. My seat was close to the door, and I was shortly to realise what a terrific view I had..

Right, so let me explain what's going on here. Suspended over the stage is a large, decorated cross - supposed to represent the True Cross. It's held by a pulley system, that allows it to be winched out of the way, as it is here, or displayed vertically. Centre-stage is a golden throne, and if you look really closely, you can see a scimitar propped against it. Suspended from the roof of the stage are two large bowls of incense, which infused the theatre with the most marvellous aroma. There are musicians at the back, to either side, and the lady in white on the upper stage was singing something that sounded like a hymn to Allah. Now, this was a highly illicit photo, because you're not supposed to take photos when performers are on stage. But they didn't catch me, so nyeh. They did stop another couple of photographers near me - and someone in the Yard who was taking photos with a professional-looking camera at the interval. So I was lucky..

Other observations about my seat: I didn't have back support, but didn't feel the need, which was handy. Also, I do think you get more legroom if you're not in the front row of a section, because you can stretch your legs so your feet are under the bench in front. If yours is the front row, there's nowhere to go..

And so to the play. The first half is all about Richard and his compatriots (yay!) Lovely mediaeval costumes billow in the wind, the Queen of Jerusalem makes an appearance in a dazzling outfit, and it all feels terribly exotic, with the incense and all, and rose petals scattered from the Upper Gallery by people in black hooded robes. The act ends at the siege of the castle of Chalus-Chabrol, where some soldiers are musing about why Richard never entered Jerusalem. And then, of course, he's killed (not really a spoiler).

Act II sees him in Purgatory, with his mother, who somehow has the power to see everything that's going to happen in the Middle East for the next 800 years. So we get a potted history, with many famous characters. All that Richard can think, apart from "What the hell is the Soviet Union?!" is "If only I had my time over again, I'd go to Jerusalem." So, before we know it, we're back to relive his story, in modern fatigues, with guns. And to see what he'll do, and how it'll pan out..

I loved it. I'm glad I didn't buy a programme - if you're reasonably familiar with the history of the area, you'll manage the potted history at the beginning of Act II. And it strikes me that the history given in the programme is heavier than what's needed for the play. You don't really need to know everything that happened in the Middle East for the past 800 years. With dates. The play itself is highly political, of course, and as the warning states: This production contains violence, firearms, gunshots, explosions and some politicians. The politicians are indeed scary, and the explosions etc. - which happen in Act II - are quite shocking. Mind you, so is the bell that peals on occasion from the tower above the stage.

There was a lovely, cosy feel to the Globe as the evening drew in and the lights came on, illuminating stage and Yard. Yes, I'd love to come back here again, in the evening especially. Lots, in fact. And I haven't been to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse yet.. I might just think about bringing my own cushion though, rather than hiring one all the time!

Recommended for history buffs, or Middle East buffs. Runs until the 24th, Saturdays @7.30pm and Sundays @1. Sadly, the What'sOnStage offer code of premium seats for £10, which I availed of, seems to have run its course. Still, there are plenty more seats available for this.

Tomorrow is looking like a film again. Now, since I came to London, and going on the IMDB ratings, as I do, I haven't managed to get below 7.1. Well, if I go to a film tomorrow - and supposing there isn't a seismic shift in ratings - that's gonna change; the highest rated, at the moment - eliminating all those available cheaper online - is Wakolda, at 6.9. It's based on the true story of an Argentinian family that took in Mengele as a lodger without knowing who he was.. and on Tuesday, I'm off to The Roundhouse to see Sinéad O' Connor: the first time I'll have seen her live. Pity I missed the Time Out offer for half price tickets. Ah well.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Film: The Black Cannon Incident

Yup, went to a film in the end. Now, I had a choice of three at the top of the list for today, all with a Chinese theme. The one I most fancied was Chinese Puzzle, a romcom with Audrey Tatou, but by the time I'd decided I was going to a film, it was too late to make the only showing today. Unfortunately, that was the only showing I could've made this week - and it's been out for a while, so probably won't see it any time soon. Never mind.

So that left two films in the BFI's Century of Chinese Cinema season, which I hadn't been to yet. I decided on The Black Cannon Incident, a political comedy about a chap who gets into trouble over a missing chess piece.

For once, the District Line behaved beautifully. Not only were the platform indicators correct for once, but I only had to wait about a minute for the train at West Brompton. I had to change at Earl's Court, but the train I had to change to literally arrived at the adjacent platform as ours was pulling in. So that left me some time to negotiate the crowds on the South Bank when I got there. The pavement was dense with people watching the numerous performers, many involved with the Southbank Centre's Love Festival, which runs for the rest of the month.

Happily, the screen this was showing in was the one just upstairs from the box office, so I didn't have to retrace my steps as usual. Unhappily, I couldn't see where to get the notes for this - maybe they didn't print enough and were out of them. When the film started, I was to discover it was an unusually poor quality print - spotty, scratchy, jumping, but watchable. Hey, I guess it isn't always possible to source a good print, and the main thing is to see these films.

So, it's a political satire, about a translator for a Chinese engineering company, who has a great working relationship with their German business partner. Then his bosses intercept a cable from him about a missing "black cannon" chess piece, and get all suspicious. This must be a code! He must be kept away from the German at all costs! Unfortunately, as it transpires, the cost of this infuriating obstinacy on the bosses' part turns out to be quite high.

It's an interesting film. I've never before seen a film from China from the 80s, and it's interesting to see the little differences with what we are familiar with from that period in the West. It makes its point clearly, but very gently, and frankly, would be too sedate for most tastes. Still, as I say, interesting.

Making its point more forcefully should be Holy Warriors, tomorrow in The Globe. It describes the relationship between the West and the Middle East from the Crusades to the present day. And they have an offer of premium seats for £10! which I availed of. So, Tropical Storm Bertha or shine, off I go..

Friday, 8 August 2014

Cirque du Cabaret

Cirque du Cabaret was a last-minute decision, but not a difficult one. Circus, burlesque, the Spiegeltent.. how can you lose? When I checked the website for London Wonderground, of which the Spiegeltent is part, availability seemed to be limited - and when I checked the Cirque's own website, they said as much: so I booked. Indeed, this was their last show in London this year.

It was raining when I left - the first lashings of Tropical Storm Bertha, I suppose. Well, the platform indicator at West Brompton was wrong again, telling me the train was headed to town when it wasn't. So I changed at Earl's Court, where the platform indicator also thought that train was headed to town! When a train finally arrived that was headed to town, it was delayed on the platform for ages, first waiting for the train I'd come on to leave, then apparently waiting for the next train to arrive.. Just as well I left in time.

It rained on me as I crossed the bridge, but the bright lights of the Wonderground called to me from across the river. I made my way straight to the box office.. where people were queueing, and had started to do so from the wrong side. Guess it doesn't matter. What mattered more was that it was pouring on us as we waited. Could they have been any slower..? Once I'd collected my ticket, the Spiegeltent wasn't hard to find; it must be the best advertised venue in the place. On my way, I passed a curious sight - a slow-moving carousel, crammed with people holding drinks, with music playing. A revolving bar. Well, they were out of the rain, I guess..

When I got to the Spiegeltent, I discovered that they hadn't opened yet. And there was a queue. A very long queue, that snaked down the road and under the bridge. So, with the end of the queue under the bridge, at least there was cover! Not perfect - it did drip on my paper - but better than nothing. After a while, someone made her way along the line, tearing tickets and muttering at us where to sit. I caught something about "red" and "not in the first three rows" and she was off again. Finally, the doors were opened and in we went.

Initial confusion about where to sit - given that no-one on the door was giving directions - cleared when I saw that many of the seats had red cushions. Ok, so just don't sit in the front three rows. Actually, there's hardly a bad seat in the place, so I picked one and sat, trying to find somewhere for my wet coat. And waited for the show to start. And waited, and waited. It must have been 15 minutes late.

When it finally got underway, the producer came onstage. Turned out she was Irish. Asked whether there were any more Irish in the room - a bunch of us yelled from the side. "Well, we are certainly used to the rain!" she exclaimed. Can't argue there. She soon turned the stage over to Mr. Louche, the MC, who entertained us with witty banter and introduced the acts.

Now, this is, of course, a mixture of circus and burlesque. There's another show running at the moment, in the same venue, called Limbo - runs until the 17th. I saw it last year, and it's spectacular. They have a high quality of circus acts, around which they build a framework of sauciness. Cirque du Cabaret, on the other hand, also does circus acts, but not of such high quality - their emphasis is on the sauce. All the performers are female, and it's more a burlesque show with circus tricks added.

It looks fantastic, though - and I have to imagine that the adhesive required to hold the teeny bits of covering in place that preserve their modesty must be really, really uncomfortable when you're taking them off afterwards! It deserves its over-18 rating; by the end, even I was shocked. Slightly. There's a short interval, during which they sell raffle tickets, and which seems mainly designed to give them time to clean up the stage after the fire-eater. And what a spectacular act that was - the most memorable of the night, and truly messy as she flung props left and right. Entertainment was to be had at the interval, simply from watching an usherette, in stilettos and fishnets, a teeny jacket and a little top hat with a feather in, unroll pretty much all of an industrial-sized roll of kitchen paper with which to mop up the floor. Lordy, they earn their wage!

Standout acts of the night were the fire-eater, just for her flamboyance, and the musical act - the Four Femmes on the Thames (Femmes rhyming with Thames). One of them limped on with a crutch, bless her. Their parodies of popular songs chime well with originals to provide a comprehensive volume of love songs to London. I'd happily listen to them again.

This show is finished, as I say, but for more circus talent and a show a little less risqué, check out Limbo - you won't be disappointed.

Tomorrow, at the moment, is coming up as a show akin to Marry Me a Little - along the same lines, a show of roughly one hour's duration with no interval, and no plot, only songs. Just with less famous writers. Edges is running in the Tabard pub theatre in Chiswick - I was there just once before, when I lived close to there. And on Sunday, I'm back to The Globe, to see an interesting-sounding play called Holy Warriors, which chronicles the relationship between the West and the Middle East from the Crusades to the present day. I made sure to book, considering how popular the venue is - and given that premium seats for this show are available for £10! I just hope Bertha doesn't cause havoc..