Monthly Archives: June 2018

Christmas in Munich – Day 4: Egyptian Stuff and the Residenz

So here we are, departure day. Thanks to a combination of a later flight time and Munich’s excellent mass transit system, we managed to fit in a few sights before flying back to the UK.

One thing that really needs to be said is just how fantastic Munich is for art museums. It really is of the calibre and quality that you would expect of a capital city, which Munich was a century ago as the capital of Bavaria. So I guess that makes sense.

There is also Ludwig I, the first king of Bavaria, to thank for all these exhibits because his patronage. The size of the complex and the grand architectural design of the buildings are something to behold. Truly I could spend the best part of a week here and still not be done with the exhibits.

So, the first of the two places we visited was the Egyptian Museum (it has a more complex name, but this will do). It’s one of the newer museums, having been moved to this location a few years ago, and this really does show. For one thing, the entire layout of the museum feels remarkably modern with recent sculptures depicting how ancient Egyptians might have looked being mixed in with the ancient artefacts.

The most modern thing about this museum, however, is the audio guide. You see, this audio guide is a tablet containing pictures and audio snippets to give you more information about selected exhibits. This is done thanks to a metal strip on the floor that highlights the suggested walking path, which is not a perfect to do this but it really helps bring this museum to life.

I know from some reviews on TripAdvisor that a common complaint is that there isn’t a ‘big attraction’ in this museum. Whilst this may be true, there are still a large number of interesting things to be seen, including a silver sculpture of Horus and a golden face that was part of a sarcophagus.

Also of note is how this museum went into the encroachment of Christianity onto Egyptian art. It makes sense that this would happen as Christianity reached Egypt in the first century AD, but the idea of Bible stories being sculpted in an Egyptian style had never occurred to me.

The museum ends with a bit of an extra – some artwork from the ancient Middle East. The panels themselves were huge and, thanks to their proximity to a lot of Egyptian art, you could see how these figures might have been influenced. Especially the positioning  of the feet.

We left Munich’s museum district after this with thoughts of returning to see what on Earth a Glyptotek is. Our final destination being one that we should keep definitely have visited when we had more time to spend: the Munich Residence.

If I have my history correct, where Nymphenburg Palace was the summer residence of the electors of Bavaria the Residence was where they actually held court and would go about most of their business. The museum itself consists of a tour around the residence itself and an exhibition of the treasury – regrettably we only had time for the former.

Honestly, I think that there is more to the Munich Residence than Nymphenburg Palace. The only thing missing is the extensive gardens, which would tip the balance in favour of Nymphenburg should I visit again in spring or summer.

The first two rooms of the Residence alone are worth the price of entry (and the apparently obligatory free audio guide). The first room you come to contains a grotto, as was the fashion of the times. What gets me about this grotto is not only is it beautiful sight, but the outside of it is covered in painted shells. The patience required to complete such a work of art is beyond my scope.

The next room was the Antiquarium. It’s the one of the largest rooms in the building and boasts a square footage that could contain my apartment many times over. It was built to house the sculpture collection of the then Elector, but was later modified to become a banqueting hall of sorts. There’s no real way to truly capture this room, it’s one of those things that you just need to see in the flesh.

The rest of the rooms on the short version of the tour vary between your standard palace fare to some extremely lavish and beautiful galleries. It’s worth noting that a lot of this was destroyed in the bombings of World War II, including a court church that would have been spectacular back in the day.

It’s not only rooms on display in this part of the museum, but also the large collection of porcelain that was acquired by the residents of the residence. Originally these were all Japanese or Chinese imitating the Japanese style, but it was interesting to find out how the demand for these decreased thanks to the creation of Meissen porcelain in Germany. After seeing a lot of this on display in Linderhof it was good to learn some of the historical context.

Quick as a flash it was time for us to be headed back to the hotel to pick up the bags and make our way to the airport. Nothing new to add to any of my longer lists, but today was such a day of discovery that I felt keen to write about it.

So here we are at the end of this short break to Munich. I’m glad to have tomorrow off work as all this walking has pretty much destroyed my boots and I need to invest in a new pair. Also, I just like to have days off. Until the next trip away!

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Christmas in Munich – Day 3: Churches and Alte Pinakothek

So here we are already with the last full day in Munich. It’s amazing just how quickly the days go. With that in mind, there’s a lot to talk about so let’s get on it.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 689/751Food item: Schabziger

So, I managed to find some of this yesterday and figured that it would be good to try it as part of breakfast. As cheese goes it does look slightly off-putting as it is a pale green colour. This is because it is flavoured using blue fenugreek, so by virtue of colour addition this cheese becomes green.

On its own this cheese is dry and flaky, which speaks to this being it a cheese grated on top of things. It has a taste that is like a salty, herbal Swiss Parmesan. Nice in small amounts, but not something to chomp on. The web recommends mixing this with butter to have as a spread, and this is the far better option than just having it as it is. The butter tames the acid and helps add a bit of creaminess. It also helps to dilute some of the green colour of the cheese…

With breakfast taken care of, it was time to use and start abusing a group ticket for the public transport (seriously, this is great value compared to London) and went to the first stop of the day: the Asamkirche.

When I first saw this 15 years ago I found the Asamkirche to be incredibly overwhelming. I still have never seen any church that is as over-the-top as this one with its skulls, angel heads and figures of the grim reaper strewn around the place. Also, it’s hard to get to grips with the amount of gold leaf present in such a small space. To think that this was actually built by some rich brothers as a place to be buried. Just ridiculous amounts of money there.

From here we walked a few blocks until we reached the Viktualienmarkt: a sizeable daily food and crafts market that takes place around the corner from Marianplatz. One of the defining features of this market is that it happens in a square surrounding the Munich maypole.

You know me, I am a sucker for markets and want to see all the fresh produce on sale. It’s a real pity to stay in a hotel when there is so much nice looking food on offer. Still there’s one thing I couldn’t resist:

There’s no way that I could be here in Bavaria without having some Weisswurst and a pretzel. Finding this made me glad to have just tried out that cheese for breakfast. I know this sounds weirdly sexual, but I just love dipping the Weisswurst in the sweet mustard and sucking the meat out of the skin.

Anyway, from here we left the market and went to St Peter’s Church. This is one of the largest churches in the city and, whilst not as glamorous as the Asamkirche, is still an impressive building on the inside.

One part of the church caught my attention – the bejewelled skeleton of Saint Munditia. This is not the first time that I have come across one of these catacomb saints, but this is the first one I’ve seen whose placement wasn’t too far out of your field of vision when walking around the church. I have to admit that I really do not understand why you would dig up a skeleton in Italy and have is shipped to Munich in order to be put on display covered in jewels… then again I’m not am 18th century Catholic.

We had a quick break for coffee and poppyseed cheesecake (I had some Schwip Schwap, because I need as much Spezi as possible before I leave the country) is we could be fuelled up for our next stop…

The English Gardens. One of the largest urban parks in Europe and over three times the size of London’s Hyde Park. Considering the amount of snow that we traipsed through yesterday, it is incredible just quickly it can all just melt away.

We only spent a few hours here and we barely scratched the surface of these gardens. In all our walking we didn’t come across the Chinese tower or the Japanese teahouse or any of the interesting buildings that are mentioned on the Wikipedia page. If I ever come back to Munich then this is a place that needs revisiting and a proper explore.

By now our feet were aching, but we marched on to the final sight of the day: Alte Pinakothek. It’s an art gallery that focuses on ‘old art’, so anything that’s not classed a modern. Sadly this museum was under renovation so we only got to see about a quarter of the collection on display, but this was just enough for our now-aching feet to deal with.

Where the museum would usually cover artists from all across Western Europe, the rooms that were not under renovation were mainly Dutch artists, with some Spanish and German ones. Considering that the entry fee was only 4€ and this came with a free audio guide, this was still tremendous value for money.

On previous trips to art galleries in Rotterdam and Vienna, I have been seeing a lot of paintings by Rubens recently. With today’s visit I think I must have seen a substantial cross-section of his life’s work and, now, I am becoming a bit of a fan. The sheer variation in his pictures is astonishing as he goes form a contorted scene of the Last Judgement to an imagining of the scene when Seneca killed himself. So much talent.

It was also interesting to find out how the height of the rooms within this particular museum had been designed with a particular Rubens painting in mind. A painting that is one of the largest canvas painted at around 6 metres in height. As with all the other Rubens paintings on show this was excellent, but to think this dictated the height of ceilings in a museum wing is extraordinary.

The other artist that I saw that stuck out for me was Bartolomé Estéban Murillo with his posed and idealised paintings of street children. There is just something with these pictures that interest me, as does the fact that none of these are on display in his native Spain because only foreigners would buy them from him. Hopefully he was able to carve out a proper living for himself anyway.

Finally it was dinner time and, in stark contrast to the more refined surroundings of the previous day’s meal, we went to Augustiner-Keller for dinner. As with the Weisswurst from earlier in the day… when in Bavaria do as the Bavarians do. It’s a bit loud in the cellar (which is accessed via a long spiral staircase) but a lot of fun.

It was time to overdose on more sausages (again, this is Bavaria), drink a tankard of Spezi and share a starter plate containing local foods including brawn and the restaurant’s own version of obatzda. We were all stuffed by the end of the meal and proceeded to start walking this off with a final walk around the Christmas market in Marianplatz.

Today I brought my decoration count up to four with the purchase of a metal tree hanger of Santa on a steam train as well as a squirrel and a songbird made of something that I’m not currently able to name.

Tomorrow we leave for home, but we have enough time to at least get something done. At the moment I’m not sure what it is, but that’s a worry for tomorrow’s me.

Christmas in Munich – Day 2: Nymphenburg

Well, the snow that was falling last night just did not stop. We woke up in the morning to the sight of bright white streets covered in freshly fallen snow. I honestly cannot remember the last time I woke up to a winter wonderland, especially since I am staying in Lehel – which is one of the oldest suburbs of Munich.

So this was where the day started, a snow covered Munich with yet more snow falling slowly. Apparently this is a cold snap as this is not what you would expect in the first week of December… but this just helps to make everything feel that much more Christmassy.

Continuing yesterday’s theme of Germanic history, today our main attraction was Nymphenburg Palace. Not only is it the birthplace of Ludwig II but it was also the summer residence for the rulers of Bavaria since the late 1600s. So, as someone who enjoys absorbing history during holidays, a visit here was a no brainer.

When you arrive it is difficult to not be impressed by just how expansive Nymphenburg is – it really does put Buckingham Palace to shame. Then again I might be biased because I saw Nymphenburg completely covered in snow, which just helps to make anything feel a bit larger and more other-worldly.

Seeing how yesterday I was walking through Linderhof and Neuschwanstein, it would be expected that I would be a bit ‘palaced out’ or at least that most things in Nymphenburg would just pale in comparison. That is until you enter the Great Hall of Nymphenburg and you remember that since Ludwig grew up here, he would likely have derived at least some influence from his surroundings.

The Great Hall truly is stunning. A bit chilly because of the lack of heating, but artistically it is absolutely beautiful. It reminded me a bit of a Grand Hall that I saw during my visit to a palace in Tallinn, just on a far larger scale. It’s one of those rooms where pictures really do not do it justice, but there’s no harm in trying.

Walking around the many rooms of the palace with the audio guide playing reminded me just how little I know about European history. Especially German history, which must be extra complicated seeing how it was split into so many parts with their own rules for such a long time. I don’t think I am completely up to speed with how it worked for the rulers before Bavaria became a kingdom, so I guess that is some homework for me to do.

One of the rooms that has, weirdly, stayed with me was the Queen’s antechamber which has been decorated with the ‘Gallery of Beauties’ as commissioned by King Ludwig I. The idea of commissioning portraits of 36 beautiful women to be hung in your home sounds a bit creepy. More than that, it is a little bit creepy. However, it is also incredibly fascinating. All of the pictures are pretty chaste and many of them come with very interesting stories (especially those of Lola Montez and Jane Digby, the latter of the two being so interesting that I purchased a biography of her within a few hours of leaving the palace).

After the palace we had a wander through the gardens, which coincided with the snow becoming decidedly heavier. As weirdly magical as it was to be seeing these gardens covered in snow, there’s a part of me that would love to see the gardens in their full glory during the summer.

One benefit of being in the gardens in winter is that you can go for a long time without seeing anyone, so you can walk around and pretend that these gardens belong to you. We also managed to see a doe and fawn bound across the path and graze within the bare trees. That was a pretty cool moment.

We made our way back to the Munich a Central Station for lunch (because nowhere was open in Nymphenburg Palace… which feels like a wasted opportunity). This may sound a bit weird to any Germans reading this, but I am so jealous of the sandwich shops that you can find in German stations. In Britain it’s a bit of a tasteless baguette with some generic filling, here I had a leberkase, pickle and salad sandwich in a role that tasted of pretzels. If a sandwich place like this opened near where I worked, then I would be an incredibly regular patron.

The rest of the afternoon was spent looking around some of the larger shops and department stores in Munich. Just window shopping, for now, but it is always a treat to see how some of these larger stores are when you go to other countries. I tried to use this opportunity to track down the last German sausage on the food list, but nowhere had it. I guess that I’ll have to give up the ghost on finding Thuringer Leberwurst during this trip.

By the time we reached the Christmas Market near the Rathaus it was well past sunset and a choir had just started a half hour set. How Christmassy, right? It’s hard to not get in the spirit and find yourself buying a decoration. For my sins, I purchased an elk carved out of a tree branch. I really love this one because of how unique he is because of the wood itself.

Dinner was at a restaurant called Alter Hof where I found myself demolishing this plate of sausage and sauerkraut with a trusty glass of Spezi. I am not sure if I have mentioned Spezi before on this blog, but this is pretty much the only thing I drink when I find myself in either Germany or Austria. It’s a blend of cola and orange that just makes me incredibly happy.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 688/751Food item: Basler Leckerli

For dessert is a food item! I managed to find some of these being sold by a gingerbread stall in the main market. These are Swiss-style spice biscuits in the same family as gingerbread, but in these the ginger is in balance with, what tastes like, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. You also have the bitter, sweet and sour influences of the candied citrus peel. In terms of texture, this is more like a dense, sticky and slightly dry cake instead of a biscuit, which would make this like a spiced flapjack. Have to say that I may need to buy another pack of these to take home.

Tomorrow is set to be the warmest day of this break as we reach a maximum of 4 degrees. I’m expecting that all the snow will be gone by the time I wake up tomorrow, which will be a pity in a way but I’ll be happy to not have freezing cold toes and thighs.

Christmas in Munich – Day 1: Palaces of Ludwig

It’s been 13 years, but I’ve finally gone back to my roots and am spending some time in Germany. This will be my fourth time visiting as well as being my fourth time in Munich. Why Munich? Well it’s December and that means one thing: Christmas markets!

More on that later. We arrived late on a Saturday night which meant an early night because, on our first full day, we were doing a palace tour. Why am I mentioning this? Well, I had the weird pleasure of satisfying a goal of being the first person to walk onto a plane. I know it sounds bizarre, but seeing the plane completely empty with my being the first to board made me feel incredibly important.

List item: Be the first person to board a plane
Status: Completed

Anyway, onto more interesting things.


The older I get, the happier I am to do tours. As a bit of a control freak in my everyday life there is something soothing about having an entire day sorted for me. Of course this meant an early start (5:30 when adjusted to British time) so we could get onto the coach.

So there’s me bringing a bunch of things for entertainment for these long coach stretches and then I see it: snow. When we booked ourselves onto this tour of the palaces of Ludwig II, I really hoped there would be a bit of snow for the sake of pictures and atmosphere. I did not expect to be greeted with forests and mountains covered in a blanket of snow.

If seeing this from the coach window didn’t make me feel Christmassy enough, getting out at Linderhof, and feeling that first crunch of snow beneath my feet, was just something else. Then came the walk from the parking lot to the palace itself. Bright sunshine, glistening snow and a whole lot of crunching.

With this visit to Linderhof I have now visited the three palaces of King Ludwig II (the first I visited being Herrenchiemsee back in 1999). Interestingly, Linderhof is the only of his three palaces that ended up being completed and actually lived in by the king. Sadly the grotto and the fountain of Neptune were under restoration work, but we still had a tour inside.

Since no pictures are allowed to be taken I’m going to move on to our next stop after a few thoughts: I want a gilded peacock statue, this may be one of the most consistently ornate palaces I have ever seen and I don’t think I have ever seen so many vases in my life.

After Linderhof was a quick hop to the village of Oberammergau – most famous for their tradition of holding 6-hour long passion plays. It’s also well known for having buildings painted with Germanic frescoes and traditional woodcarvings.

It’s definitely a beautiful village to walk though, and that’s all we could really do. You see, today was the first Sunday in Aadvent… meaning that nothing was open except for cafes and restaurants. I mean there was a weird wood carving place open… but they were selling very offputting crafts of babies for €60 so I kinda want to leave it at that.

From Oberammergau it was time to head to the village of Hohenschwangau – the home of Neuschwanstein Castle. This is my second time here, but my first time inside the actual caste. At least I don’t think I went into the castle 16 years ago. I honestly cannot remember… so let’s just go with this being my first time.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 73/100Sight: Schloss Neuschwanstein
Location: Hohenschwangau, Germany
Position: #159

The walk from the Hohenschwangau to Neuschwanstein should take around half an hour, but that doesn’t take into account just how often we stopped to take pictures. At this point we must have taken nearly 100 pictures of various views of the castle. Kinda wish I was kidding, but the castle is just that magnetic. Little wonder that it is one of the big inspirations for the castle in Disneyland.

As you get higher up the mountain, you also find yourself starting to peak above some of the tree line. With the entire landscape covered in snow, this view you get from near Neuschwanstein is just out of this world. Like something I can imagine Bob Ross painting, just with less mountains.

As with Linderhof there is no pictures allowed inside of Neuschwanstein itself. Considering the number of people that we were being herded around with this makes a lot of sense on the level of just getting people in and out. Still, it’s a pity I couldn’t get anything of the inside. Makes me wish that Google Glass had taken off and been more affordable. There’s so much in both of these castles that I didn’t really get the opportunity to completely digest – like the little grotto room in Neuschwanstein that seemed to make no sense other than being pretty.

The fact that there is so much in Neuschwanstein to see and yet it remains unfinished is absolutely mind-boggling. Then again, there was no way that Ludwig could complete this due to the extreme cost. Same with Herrenchiemsee, another of his unfinished palaces. To think that a man like Ludwig could be so out of touch with reality and had a high enough of a position to actually carry out his fantasies probably goes a long way to explain why few countries have a monarchy. Still, makes for some excellent landmarks.

This was the end of the tour and meant a two hour ride back to Munich. En route we caught a glimpse of a blood red supermoon and it started to snow. King Ludwig would have really been in his element tonight. I only wish I was sitting on the right side of the coach in order to capture this scene on film.

On our way back to the hotel we took out first proper browse through the Munich Christmas Market. Whilst it isn’t as large as the one in Vienna, this holds a special place in my heart because it’s the first one I ever visited.

The falling snow made the walk home so special that I was feeling giddy (or that might have been the hot chocolate). This isn’t the clumpy snow we get in the UK, but proper beautiful powder snow that crunches beneath your feet as you walk through the street.

I’m sure we’ll have a proper go at the market in the next few days when we are less tired from a long day being guided around. I’ve seen a few decorations that I want to purchase, but I’m going to just see where the days take me.

XL Popcorn – Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 656/1007
Title: Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Year: 1974
Country: Mexico/USA

Being a big fan of Gilmore Girls, the first time that I heard about Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia was in one the many references that comes out of Rory Gilmore’s mouth. Now that I’ve seen this film… I have to say that I question that Lorelai Gilmore let her daughter see it at such a young age. Then again, this is a mother-daughter combo that refuse to eat vegetables so there’s probably bigger things at play.

Anyway, back on task, I find it hard to believe that, upon release, Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garica was tarred by some critics as one of the worst films ever made. I mean, I get that this is a very bleak and violent film, but this is also blackly comic and unpredictable (in an intentional way, unlike The Black Cat). You also have a fantastic performance from Warren Oates as Benny – the man who locates the titular head.

The central plot of this film is simple: a hit is put out on Alfredo Garcia to the sum of a million dollars. The man who brings back his head has the rights to claim the money. The kicker being that he is already dead.

Out of this weird conceit comes a film that takes a deep dark look at humanity. Sure there’s a lot of murder, an almost rape and a rotting head (the growing number of flies around that head is utterly revolting… in an almost comic sense), but there’s also the fact that we’re watching a man who, without much to lose to begin with, gains a chance of love and money only to have it violently taken away from him so senselessly.

It really takes a lot to lead a film like this. As a character Benny has to go through the mangle from being this smart talking, piano playing guy to someone so consumed and singular that a severed head becomes his best friend. Seriously. He has full blown conversations with a severed head because, in all this craziness, it’s probably the only thing that can provide Benny with some modicum of comfort.

I know that The Wild Bunch is said to Sam Peckinpah’s best film, but seriously there is no competition if you ask me. Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia is fascinating and manages to keep up pace and interest throughout it’s run time. With there being two more films by Peckinpah left on this list (Straw Dogs and Pat Garret & Billy The Kid) I wonder what my final thoughts on this director will end up being.

XL Popcorn – The Garden of the Finzi-Continis

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 655/1007
Title: Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini (The Garden of the Finzi-Continis)
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Year: 1970
Country: Italy

Not too long ago when I posted about The Ascent I made a comment about how it’s interesting to watch a film about World War II that was made by a country that was occupied. Having seen The Garden of the Finzi-Continis I had completely forgotten just how intriguing it is to see a film about this era that is made by one of the axis countries.

Maybe this is extra fascinating for me because, as a Brit, school and the media pretty much teaches you about World War II as being good versus evil with no real thought to the native Germans, Italians and Japanese. I mean you just have to see films like The Marriage of Maria BraunLa Vita è Bella or Grave of the Fireflies to see just how many shades of grey there are.

With The Garden of the Finzi-Continis I once again had my knowledge broadened about the plight of Italian Jews in the run-up to World War II. More specifically, the lives of well to-do Italian Jews who have their rights slowly taken away from them bit-by-bit until their eventual rounding up and how they deal with it. Some with denial, others with anger. In the case of the titular Finzi-Contini family, they cut themselves off from the world and only venture as far as their garden walls.

The end is inevitable the moment you realise this is Italy in the late 1930s and most of the characters you get to know are Jewish. The fact that so many of them are pretending to ignore it or just accept that this is the way things are is astounding. It is only when things are at their darkest, and therefore too late, that some of them think to flee the country. For people who clearly have money it’s remarkable that this is probably how this went down.

In terms of film-making The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is beautifully shot. The opening scenes where all the young people of the town are playing tennis together and riding their bikes is done so idyllically that it feels like the film itself has drunk a few pints of cider. The focus is soft and the colours are vibrant only to become sharper and more muted as we move towards the end.

There are many layers to this film. If I actually had it in me, it would be incredibly easy to write a proper essay on them. Going beyond the history, it is interesting how this film paints the Finzi-Contini family. Being Jews who are destined to die at the hands of the Holocaust they are one of the films many victims. However, it does posit the role this well to do and isolated family play within the city. They are very much snobs who are happy to keep to themselves at the expense of interacting with those they see below them.

In another book or film the Finzi-Contini family would be much like the Bingley’s in Pride and Prejudice (with Antonio taking on the role of Charles Bingley). You could even see Micol being an Estella type from Great Expectations. Still, here in this film they are levelled and end up as one of the many which makes for an interesting change of dynamic in the final scenes as they are led off by the police to whatever awaits them.

So yes, there is a lot to unpack in The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. As films go this feels a little bit off the radar and it really should not be.

XL Popcorn – The Black Cat

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 654/1007
Title: The Black Cat
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Year: 1934
Country: USA

When you think of the old Universal horror films the images of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in their Frankenstein and Dracula make-up instantly comes to mind. Considering how lucrative those films were it was little wonder that Universal put them in a film together… albeit a rather nonsensical one.

Let’s start off with the biggest weirdness of this film – the fact that the credits say that The Black Cat is inspired by the short story of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe. The film and the story have nearly nothing in common except for the name and the presence of a black cat. That’s it.

Then we have the plot, which involves the aftermath of an Eastern European war, a newly-married couple being held hostage in a Art Deco house and some light Satanism. There’s even a bit where the ‘heroine’ is drugged and starts acting all weird (which apparently turns on Karloff’s character so much that he starts caressing the leg of a statue).

Here’s the thing though. Despite the fact that this film seemed utterly bananas and descended into satanic ritual where one of the characters ends up being flayed, I found myself intrigued all the way through. At no point was this scary – because every ounce of emotion is played with the nuance of a sledgehammer – but it was weird and off-putting, which is nearly as good.

It was also a real treat to see Karloff and Lugosi in a film together, especially in one where neither of them was made up like a monster. Sure, I don’t understand how Lugosi at this time was seen as sexy, but that’s by the by.

The Black Cat really is one of those horror films where it pays to have friends to make fun of it with. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good film, it’s just that  there is enough weirdness here in terms of topic, plot holes and over acting that would make it entertaining for a bad movie night.

What’s On TV – The Good Old Days

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 203/501
Title: The Good Old Days
Episodes Aired: 245
Year(s): 1953-83
Country: UK

I could have been finally watching The Sopranos or The Wire or Orphan Black. But no, the bucket decreed that the next show to be watched was The Good Old Days – one of the oldest entries on the list… which is also a variety show based on the traditions of the Edwardian music hall.

The idea of music hall and variety shows is pretty universal in Western countries, but I can’t imagine many other countries having a show like this on the television when punk and prog rock was ruling the airwaves. Then again, Britain has always been a country that hearkens back to the ‘good old days’ to an unhealthy degree. I guess it’s the whole thing about being an island whose empire crumbled and then never quite getting over it.

So yes, this was an hour where traditional Victorian and Edwardian music hall performances were created by contemporary performers. I imagine that, at the time, a lot of these people well known (or at least were regulars on the circuit). As someone born many years after this show ended, my recognition was patchy. Other than appearances by John Inman, Sandie Shaw, Eartha Kitt, Bernard Cribbins and Keith Harris & Orville I was lost.

I went into this not expecting this, but at least hoping that I could enjoy enough of the acts to make this, in the very least, amusing. By the end of this I would say that the hit to miss ratio was 1 in 10, which left me with entire hours where I just found the whole thing tedious.

As an artifcact The Good Old Days is an interesting entry on the list. Given what it represents and that there really are not many shows like this I can see why it was included. It’s just that, at least for me, it really did not stand up to modern scrutiny in the same way that Green Acres or The Prisoner did.

Good Eatin’ – New Zealand Honeydew

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You DieFood item: Beech Honeydew

So here I am a month later with the final of the three food items that the hub got me for my birthday. Sure it isn’t as fun to eat as the miracle berry, but considering that there are five types of honey on the food list it is time that I found a way to cross off the third one.

Like manuka honey, the origins of beech honeydew lays in New Zealand. The idea with this is that the honey is produced by bees who only feed on the sweet liquid produced by beech trees (which is also known as honeydew). The result is a type of honey that is thick, dark and weirdly smoky.

This beech honeydew is a definite step up from the manuka and heather honeys that I’ve had before. Things haven’t changed in the last few years in that I’m not the sort of person that is able to eat honey straight from the jar, but this beech honeydew was actually nice with some butter (well, olive spread but you get the idea) because it helped to tone down the smokiness.

I’m never going to be a big fan of honey on it’s own or as a topping on bread. It’s the same way with chocolate spread; I guess that the only breakfast spreads for me are jam, peanut butter and Marmite.

Progress: 687/751

What’s On TV – Green Acres

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 202/501
Title: Green Acres
Episodes Aired: 170
Year(s): 1965-71
Country: USA

Every now and then one of these lists produces a surprise completely out of left-field. From the TV Shows list alone I have started on the path to cure my phobia of drag queens (RuPaul’s Drag Race) and found a new favourite game show (Only Connect). Now, whilst it might be a far reach to say that the random pick of Green Acres has given me something truly amazing, it has provided something truly binge-worthy.

It is incredibly easy to look over a show like Green Acres. The premise alone, where a well-to-do couple move away from New York in order to set up a farm, feels a bit cringe-worthy. A lot of the jokes are a bit obvious or are based on running gags that have begun to pile up. The supporting cast is primarily composed of country folk who embody a number of stereotypes and act as foils to the city folk.

However, this show is far far more than the sum of its parts. It has real heart and a lot of affection to everyone it is sending up. With the exception of the slippery Mr Haney, everyone in this show is well intentioned. They have their quirks, but that’s what makes them lovable – especially Eva Gabor, who I fell for right away.

Being a sitcom set in a farming town there’s no escaping the animal cast who had their very own breakout star: Arnold Ziffel the pig. Within the show he introduced as the ‘son’ of the Ziffels and everyone in the valley accepts this situation. Probably helps that this is a pig that loves watching John Wayne on TV, can’t sleep without his electric blanket and helped the police capture bank robbers.

The character of Arnold helps to typify the slightly weird sense of humour found in Green Acres. During Season 2 this show starts to dabble in a bit of metahumour. Examples of this include Eva Gabor’s character addressing the audience and characters who begin to notice the presence of subtitles on the screen.

At the centre of everything is Oliver and Lisa Douglas – i.e. the couple who moved to set up a farm. A lot of the fun is watching how their characters develop as a farming couple and fit in with their new surroundings. Where Oliver struggles to become part of the community, in part because of the way he continually eulogises the farming life whilst also seeing himself as better as the rest of them, it is Lisa who really shines as the series progresses.

Despite the fact that she is upper class, foreign and starts the series having never washed a dish – it is her who adapts and becomes a member of the community just by being herself. She also finds a way to order eggs from chickens… but that’s another story. I’m sure there’s a lesson in how their experiences differ – and quite a positive one at that.

So yes, from the initial reaction that this would be a bit of fluff that we could ditch once we’d seen enough episodes, Green Acres has become a show that is part of the rotation. Having seen the next show that’s out of the hat, I can already say with some degree of certainty that I won’t be as positive.