28 July 2012

olympic beginnings

It's Friday evening, 27th July, 2012 and I'm sitting in a lounge...er, sitting room...in England watching the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games 2012. I'm actually living in the Olympic Game city this time round. So far it's pretty spectacular and impressive. As always.

Today I was flicking through a massive book that had newspaper clippings from the twentieth century and check out what I found. From the Olympic Games in 1904, the third round of the modern olympics. What an entertaining event! Why is this one no longer in the olympics?And talk about drama. Ha ha.
Enjoy the London 2012 games.

25 July 2012

landlocked holiday--switzerland stretch

On Saturday 7th July I finally got myself together after a busy week and headed off to Gatwick airport for my next holiday. My new suitcase was sufficiently packed and excitement was starting to build. I had preplanned all the major things--accommodation, a couple of my train journeys, some tours. All the travel people must have got together to make sure I'd have an adventure though. At Gatwick my plane was delayed an hour. Waiting in airports is just part of travelling though I think. Hardly uncommon. Finally I was on the plane heading for europe and shortly after touching down in Geneva, Switzerland.
I waited at the baggage carousel until nothing was left. I even stood and watched nothing do a few more circuits before I accepted that they'd not sent my suitcase with me. Poor suitcase. It's first journey and it gets left behind. I am grateful that in major cities/tourist areas english is usually spoken to some degree. It was easy enough to report my unarrived luggage. I hoped it would get to me soon enough. I was grateful that for a change I decided to pack some clean underwear and quite a bit extra cash into my carry on. So I boarded the train from Geneva airport to Lausanne where I would be couchsurfing. I had trouble with my phone too and it took a while to get the settings right so I could text her to let her know what ws going on. Since I wasn't hauling a suitcase we took advantage of the evening and wandered up a hilly street for a view of Lausanne and then down to Lake Geneva for a roam along the shore. CSH (Couchsurfer Host) bought me gelati too. She also pointed across the lake to city lights indicating the otherside; "That's France." We ended up going back to her nice, super cozy flat and sitting on her little balcony and chatting late into the evening with a glass of wine. She's had a fascinating journey to her current occupation and she was really comfortable to be around. I also got a call to say my luggage was now in Switzerland and I'm super thankful that CSH happily spoke in french to them for me and gave her address. We told them I was only in Lausanne until midday the next day so I think they hurried my bag along so not to have to send it all the way to Lucerne. Still, we were waiting around the next morning and CSH suggested I go into town and Linklook around and she'd wait for the suitcase to arrive and meet me later. I caught the train down to Lake Geneva again to view it in the daytime and then made my way to Java Cafe. There I met the sweet Beatrice whom I met on my Scotland tour last year. It was lovely to catch up with her again. Later CSH arrived with my shortlost suitcase. Happy reunion. We ate and then they walked me to the train station and I managed to just make the one I had intended on catching. The plan was to get to Interlaken with 1.5-2hrs to look around but drama was the theme of travel this time. I did my one change that I was suppose to do. Then we stopped again further along. People started grumbling and moving off the train as I was waiting for the speaker to get to the english version. Problems with the train and we all had to change. Originally to buses which we waited for for a while and then were ushered to a train. Of course that only took us so far and then we had to get off and change to a bus anyway. We stood in huge queue and then had two squish onto a bendy bus till it was as full as could manage, leaving behind other passangers to wait for the next bus. I managed to fit on the second bus for the final leg to Interlaken. Needless to say, by the time I got there I had 30min to my next train so I just went to the train station. I realised I had forgotten my seat reservation and so found somewhere online to get the details--though I was expecting this not to actually work coz you needed the paper to show them. Found the right platform for the Golden Pass train which is a popular scenic route by train. It was 20mins late. I found my seat but had to pay extra in the end--though thankfully not much--as silly me reserved a first class seat and booked a second class ticket. (Coz the seat reservation website didn't sell the tickets as well.) I then sat back and enjoyed the mountains, lakes, greenery and villages all the way to Lucerne.

On Monday 9th July I got myself organised and headed into town. I spent the morning wandering around the new town. In the afternoon I went on the Golden Round Trip of Mt Pilatus. We went to nearby Kriens and boarded the cable car to take us up to near the top where we caught a big cable car all the way to the top. Such brilliant views from the top! :P It was cloudy at the top. Clouds covering the top that is. All we could see was white. Unfortunately it was like that the whole time we were up there. This also made it cold and as it had been lovely and sunny down below I'd worn shorts and tshirt though I had bought a thin cardigan. I still walked around the dragon path which had plaques telling dragon tales from ancient times. It was claimed to have dragons living up there in the past. To come down we rode the steepest cogwheel train in the world that boasts a 48% gradient. That was the most interesting ride of the day. It was a treat as well to pass by fields of musical cows. It's interesting to hear the various clangs of their bells as the randomly moved about their bovine business. At the bottom from Alpnachstad we boarded a paddlesteamer and sailed across the lake past views of mountains and villages back in the brilliant sunshine all the way to Lucerne. It was fascinating to watch the huge engine pump its pistons and look through a window to see the paddlewheel spin through the water. But I did spend most of my time on the outer deck in the sunshine enjoying the view. Back in Lucerne I roamed a few shops and wandered along the waterfront eating icecream. Then went back to the backpackers to relax and check emails and such. Oh, and of course I ate some swiss chocolate. I was in Switzerland after all.

Tuesday a.m. was set to sightsee in Lucerne. Particularly the old town area. It was another gorgeous day too so my photos were set to hold Lucerne in the best light. Chapel Bridge with it's flower draped walls is probably THE most photographed icon of Lucerne. It was constructed in the first half of the 14th century though in more modern times it almost completely burnt down but was restored. It passes by the water tower which was built around the 1300s as a part of the city wall. And along with Chapel Bridge is Lucerne's most photographed icon. So naturally I needed to make sure I had a good photo or two as well. After walking too far and too much back and forth, I eventually found "The Dying Lion of Lucerne" which is a famous monument. It was hewn out of natural rock in memory of the heroic death of the Swiss mercenaries at the Tulleries in 1782. So my guidebook said. Don't know the story or how it relates. Then climbed and walked along what remains of the old city wall. You get a nice view of the city and lake from up there. One of the towers has the oldest city clock (built 1535) and it is privileged to chime every hour one minute before all the other city clocks. It chimed while I was right near it. When it finished you heard the various clocks around the city begin to chime. I wandered along, down and around back to the waterfront and stopped to view the Needle Dam. Built in 1859 following the clever style developed by Poirée, the Needle Dam is a unique attraction in terms of both technology and history. Even today, the level of Lake Lucerne is regulated by hand trhough the removal and placement of the so-called needles (wooden posts). I found it interesting and there were guys out there doing something with the 'needles'.
As I was arriving at the meeting point I realised I had forgotten to bring my tour booking paper. Argh. I jumped online at the tourist information centre and found it again in my email while listening out for a tour guide collecting tourists. I did hear one but it was for Mt Pilatus so I kept hurrying with my task. In the end I took out my phone and photographed the screen and then stood around a moment before asking an employee if the tour guide had come in. I ended up having to run across the road to catch the bus. Phew! Just made it. And it was a jumble anyway because they'd overbooked the tour so it was all a bit confusing at first with two buses and two different tours and who was going where but we were eventually on our way to Mt Titlis. It took a while to get up this mountain and we had to catch three cable cars to reach the summit including the Titlus Rotair --the world's first revolving cable car. That was interesting as there ended up being 50 something of us that squeezed into this cable car--thankfully it was big--and the floor inside rotated slowly so you did a complete lap to the top of the mountain to get a 360 view. Though the top was in cloud. Not quite as bad as yesterday. Unfortunately with all the bussing and cable caring we only had 1.5hrs at the top. I decided to wander the Glacier Cave which the brochure sold as being bathed in atmospheric light and sound. There was niether. But there were a few sculptures. Needless to say, being less than impressed, I didn't stay in there long and headed off to the Ice Flyer. Doesn't that sound interesting. Yeah, it's just a chairlift. At the other end there was a snow field with a tube run and sledding area. After watching for a while and numbing my nerves I lined up for the tube ride. It was fun too. And as I expected, not that scary. My hands froze in the icy wind and I got snow up my jeans but it was giggle to have some snow fun in summer. They had a conveyor belt to stand on with your tube to get back to the top. By now half the clouds had cleared and I actually got to see across the Swiss Alps which was a delight. I was glad I got to see that sight. I caught the Ice Flyer back and stopped to take some more photos of the Swiss Alps on the other side of Mt Titlis and then hurried inside to meet up with the guide and other tourists. We took the same route home. Again I wandered the town for a while since the evening was so nice. Ah, some sun was refreshing. Up until this holiday I'd seen mostly rainy summer days this year.

Wednesday morning I got myself ready, fully packed and sorted. I headed into Lucerne to the bahnhof (train station) and caught the next train to Zurich. The train car I rode in had a playground inside. How cool is that! A rather decent one too. Anyway, in Zurich I stowed my suitcase in a locker and set off on foot with a map. I had a few hours to roam city. It was just a city though. Not as appealing as Lucerne had been. I didn't really bother stopping anywhere much. Basically just wandered around the main city area following a trail on my map and taking in the general sight. Since I was only there a few hours and never did any research on the place I wasn't that impressed. I never found a tourist shop except for finally at the train station where I bought a ridiculously priced teatowel with a half decent 'switzerland picture' to add to my UK+ cushion cover I will eventually make. (It will have patches of every country I've visited on my two years here.) I grumbled to myself for a while about wishing I'd bought something in Lucerne. So with all this I just decided to move on and caught the earlier train to Buch. A slightly delayed train if I recall correctly. Not so much drama this time. Buch is near the border and this was where I ended the Switzerland stretch. Four days is not much time to visit a country but I'm really glad I spent most of my time in Lucerne. It was a lovely town and it was a good decision to base myself there for a while. And now I can say I've been to Switzerland.

01 July 2012

a 360° viewing of narnia

I spent some birthday money on a ticket to see this show at the threesixty theatre which is set up in Kensington Gardens. I handed my ticket over, entered the tent and found my seat and waited for showtime.

The threesixty theatre is so called because the stage is round and viewed from 360°. Inside the tent the whole area is used. Actors come in and out of various exits, mainly on the stage, sometimes in the aisles, sometimes suspended from the roof. Even the ceiling of the tent has various projections to help create the atmosphere of where you are in a given scene.

I was able to purchase a voucher that got me a premium seat for £30. I was five rows from the stage. I wouldn't have wanted to be any closer I think. As it was my feet were at the same level as the stage. I would suggest just getting a cheap ticket anyway. It's only 13 rows deep so you'd never be more than 15m away from the stage. The only issue which was a little disappointing was I was in section F which turned out to be "behind the stage". I know it's 360° but the main stage entry was right on my left and a few of the major scenes were facing away from me. Like the wardrobe doors. But there was loads of cool stuff. The characters interacted with the audience a little. One of the wooves came in scowling and growling and came right up close to the side of the entry platform on my left. The girls in front didn't notice at first and jumped in their seats with fright when he growled in their faces. Also just near the end of intermission the forest animals came gathered on stage for a picnic. Hedgehog went foraging around the audience and got a little popcorn from some of the children. Eventually squirrel called hedgehog back on stage and she climbed up and did three neat rolls to the picnic blanket. Typical for me, I most enjoyed the costumes and 'sets'. So fascinating and creative.

There was lots of stilt work and some puppetry, all with a very woods theme. The squirrel had a tail that was a framework of branches, the beavers had bare hoop skirts (they were great with lots of furry clothes and hoods that looked like a beaver head) and Aslan...

He was an amazing huge puppet that took three puppeteers to operate. He looked skeletal, made to look like he was constructed from wood ripped of trees. The stage itself was quite impressive too. The wardrobe came in from the floor, there were various trap doors and there was a ring near the outer edge of the stage that rotated. The projections on the ceiling varied depending on the scene. It was basket weaving when inside the beavers hut, snowing and snow mountains outside in Narnia and when Aslan was running with the girls they were running on the spot while the projections zoomed along to create the illusion of movement. It was very well done.

Though I've never really got into the Narnia series, it was quite a good experience. The threesixty theatre was fun to witness and the actors and costumes were great and entertaining. It was worth a viewing.