Category Archives: Completed

Off To Singapore: Day 5 – Little India and Southern Ridges

So this is it, the last full day in Singapore (not counting tomorrow where we will be flying out at 11pm) and I cannot believe:

a) that this trip, that I have been looking forward to for months, is pretty much over
b) how lucky we have been with the rain, I know we had a storm yesterday morning, but it didn’t effect us too badly.

With a lot left to do here in Singapore there’s nothing better to get you started than a breakfast of nasi lamak right as you get ready to explore. Today’s first destination was Little India, based on a lot of recommendations that I saw online. Most of these are centred on the major temples (one of which was sadly closed for reparations) and the Tekka wet market.

Aside from the temples themselves, it’s safe to say that Little India isn’t the best looking or the best maintained area of Singapore that I’ve been to. I guess I went into there expecting a cavalcade of colours and lots of nice smells (similar to walking through Chinatown), so I was probably always going to be a bit disappointed? However, this was worth the trip for some of the sights.

After breakfast, and a brief rain shower, our first stop was the Sakaya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple (or the Temple of 1000 Lights) – a Buddhist temple with some cool tigers on the outside and a 15 foot tall Buddha statue on the inside. It’s one of the smaller temples that I’ve visited, but I always appreciate a large Buddha statue. Maybe one day I’ll see the Spring Temple Buddha, but somehow I doubt I will.

From here our next stop, after the closed temple, was the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. This is the oldest Hindu Temple in Singapore is definitely one of the most colourful temples that I have ever seen. I know nowhere near enough about the Hindu faith to understand a lot of the symbolism, but this temple was such a sensory clash as we walked around (some of the loud music might have been part of this). One day I would really love or go to a place like this and have someone explain what I’m seeing – maybe when I end up going to India in the future this is something to look into.

Near this temple was the Former House of Tan Teng Niah. People come here because it is touted as being the most colourful building in Singapore. I don’t think I could disagree here, based on the variety and the heavy use of colours on this house. It appears that this house, which is a former Chinese villa, is mostly used to store products for the stalls that now operate outside of it. A pity really as I’d be really interested to see what I might have been like inside.

The final stop in Little India was the Tekka wet market. I was going here to try and find some fruit for my food list (which didn’t work out, partially as no one labels anything) and just look around the stalls. I probably would have spent longer there if everything didn’t smell of raw lamb, but at least it was interesting to see what was on offer.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 713/751Food item: Bird’s Nest

Back in Chinatown again where I have finally found a place where I could try prepared birds nest without leaving a massive hole in my wallet. This portion of birds nest with rock sugar cost me $12, which is still a fair bit of money but a lot less than most other places. This is one of those food items that is on the 1001 list because of the texture as this really doesn’t taste of anything. What it does do, however, is give a dish a pleasing jelly-like texture. There is also a believe in Chinese medicine that birds nest is good for you, so maybe this has done me some good.

The rest of the day was spent with us doing the Southern Ridges nature trail. We decided against the treetop walk in the north of the island as this was easier to get to and, should a thunderstorm have hit, we would have the opportunity to bail out.

The walk itself is about 10 kilometres long and it took us about three and a half hours to complete. We actually did this in the reverse order of what is published on the website as we wanted to end our day at the harbour front rather than in the middle of some science park. Also, by doing this in reverse order, it feels like we spent most of the time going up – so I guess that’ll help balance out the late night fruit and Fanta Lychee.

It’s really cool how this trail joins together a lot of different green spaces and does so with a lot of different walk styles. There is a section where you go on a long canopy walk across a series of metal platforms, you cross some interesting and architecturally interesting bridges and, at the end for us, you find yourself at the top of Mount Faber where you can look back over the city or look over to Sentosa.

For me there were two highlights. The first was the Henderson Waves bridge. Not only is this wood-panelled bridge really interesting to look at architecturally but, because it is highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore, it also has the best views that you can get on this walk.

List item: See where bananas come from
Status: Completed

The other highlight was actually seeing banana trees! I can’t believe that yesterday I wrote about wanting to see this (having just seen pineapples) and here I am now seeing a banana tree. I know this is a silly goal, but seeing how they grow in real life just made me very happy (as you can see from the picture).

So, after 3 and a half hours of walking what do you think we did? Kept on walking for another kilometre across the boardwalk and into Sentosa. You know, it was there for the walking after all and I don’t think we were quite tired enough! It was a great opportunity to get some nice pictures from the boardwalk and truly got our appetites going for dinner.

For our final dinner (not including the airport tomorrow) we went to a hawker-style centre in the Vivo shopping centre and got a whole bunch of different things. What you are seeing here is a Korean barbecue beef set, char siu and duck noodles, two barbecue chicken buns, Fanta Grape (blech) and something called bo bo cha cha. The last one of these is an interesting desert containing coconut milk and pieces of sweet potato and yam. Apparently that’s a thing, and I liked it.

So tomorrow is the last day in Singapore. Going to try and mop up some loose ends whilst getting some much needed souvenir shopping done.

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Off To Singapore: Day 4 – Botanical Gardens and Sentosa

The rains happened as the weatherman predicted. We woke up to some showers, which gave us pause as to what to do today. Then they appeared to have stopped, so it was back to the originally scheduled idea.

The Singapore Botanic Gardens are one of three gardens around the world to have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as being the sole World Heritage Site in Singapore. Oh, and they’re free to enter. This really means that there is no excuse to not see these whilst in the country – especially because they have their own subway station with an escalator leading right to one of the garden’s main entrances.

Unlike a lot of other major gardens that I’ve been to, the ones at Singapore are completely out in the open. I guess that, with Singapore being a tropical country, there is no need for hot houses whereas in countries like Denmark and the UK we have frosts that would kill off tropical plants.

By being completely open there is more a feeling of inclusivity and informality to the Singapore Botanic Gardens despite, in Singaporean style, there being a lot of signs displaying the rules, regulations and possible fines. However, this is still a set of proper gardens and so has a number of interesting sections including an ‘evolution walk’, where petrified wood is displayed, and a medicinal garden that contains plants that have been used for medical purposes.

List item: See where pineapples come from
Status: Completed

This is one of the weirder things from my list, and was added alongside wanting to see natural growing bananas. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of pineapples growing up from the ground like this and now I’ve seen it for myself. As well as a papaya tree.

Now, it was around this time that the rain started to spit, so we made a beeline for the nearest food place (as we hadn’t had breakfast) so we could try and ride out the rain. It felt like a mini-hawker place and so we were able to get brunch for a total of $11, which included the new love of my life: Fanta Lychee. Im not usually a bit Fanta fan, but I can make a huge exception for this.

Half and hour later and the rain wasn’t letting up. In fact it was now worse and we could hear thunder rolling in the distance. So we did what any smart person would do – walk around the gardens with out umbrellas up. I know this isn’t the best thing to do in a thunderstorm, but we couldn’t just stay inside for the rest of the morning!

So this was the rest of our morning in the gardens: walking quickly with the umbrellas up and admiring the scenery in the rain. Palm Valley, where they sometimes hold concerts, was especially beautiful – even in the rain.

No visit to the Singapore Botanic Gardens is complete without a visit to the orchid gardens. It’s the only part of the gardens where you have to pay for admission ($5 each) and you get to see a fantastically well laid out area filed with all manner of different orchids.

This part of the garden also houses the ‘V.I.P. Orchids’ that have been named in honour of visiting dignitaries as part of Singapore’s ‘Orchid Diplomacy’. Some of these are more recent, like the orchid for Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and others, like the one for Margaret Thatcher, have been cultivated for decades. It’s really interesting to see how the names and the orchids match up.

Given that it was still raining, and time was getting on, I bought some refreshing melon milk from a vending machine and we made our way back to the subway to head for our next destination for day: Sentosa.

Sentosa is basically a resort island that contains a lot of hotels, a theme park and a whole lot of other touristy things. Honestly it’s not my sort of thing because it erases a lot of what makes visiting Singapore special, but I guess I can see the attraction of staying here and just doing things on the island (although you miss an awful lot by not venturing onto the mainland, which someone behind us in a queue was not going to do during a week long stay.)

Our visit to Sentosa got off to a rocky start as there was a problem with their machine redeeming our pre-bought tickets. Half an hour waiting at the counter to be told that we would have to pay again in cash and then wait on a refund to be done in the next five days. Hardly ideal, especially as there was no refund receipt that they were able to give out… so just a bit of a warning there.

Anyway, that unpleasantness aside, we were here for the oceanarium… which was closing an hour early some some unknown reason. Pushing forward though!

This oceanarium was excellent. I mean, I am a real sucker for a good aquarium but this is one that, until recently, boasted the largest viewing panel for a single tank in the world. More on that room later, because that really was special.

I also really appreciated that a lot of the glass on the front of the tanks appeared to be anti-reflective, which made it a lot easier to take pictures of the more interesting residents like the nautiluses, hammerhead sharks and sea dragons.

List Item: See a manta ray
Status: Completed

The real highlight, as I previously mentioned, was this big tank and the three manta rays that lived inside. Sure there were a myriad of other fish in there including unicorn fish, tuna and other rays, but I was here for the manta rays. If the aquarium had closed at its normal time I could have easily just sat there watching this tank for a solid hour. Still though, I had plenty of time with the rays and now I am left with whale sharks as the final ‘must see’ animal on my list.

Since we had some time before the water show (whose tickets gave us the problem earlier) we decided to explore the island of Sentosa for a bit – which lead us to an islet dubbed as the ‘southern most point in mainland Asia’. A cool moment for the hub as he could say, with some certainty, that this is the furthest south that he has ever been.

Dinner at this resort island of Sentosa ended up being ramen. It’s been so long since I’ve had a ramen this good (probably not since Japan) and, considering that we were in a touristy area, it was reasonably priced. For dessert, I had a very literal durian ice cream sandwich (yes, that is bread wrapped around a block of ice cream) which helped to change my mind on the taste of durian. As an ice cream it tasted like rum raisin, which just happens to be my favourite flavour.

We finished the night with the Wings of Time water and lights show. It was technically impressive with flamethrowers and fireworks alongside the projected images on water. However, this was very much aimed to be family friendly and I found myself rolling my eyes when two of the characters in the show began to sing a song about achieving dreams (because I’m dead inside). It had a lot to live up to after the more abstract water show that I caught two days previously, and I think that it lacked some of the heart and the authenticity that the other show had. Still, it was entertaining.

So this leaves tomorrow as the last full day. The weather is set to rain all day, but weather reports here change on a dime, so I guess it’s a game of wait and see.

Off To Singapore: Day 2 – Chinatown and Gardens By The Bay

The jetlag almost got me! I was awake at 4:30 this morning and it took me an hour to go back to sleep again. Take that jet lag… please don’t get me tonight.

So, today was the first full day in Singapore and it feels like we got an awful lot done, which I’m very pleased about because it’s very hard to do anything when it is 32 degrees and the air feels so thick that you might be able to bite a chunk out of it. Still, this is a holiday and this beats the -2 degree weather that we were having in the UK as as left.

To start off we took a walk up to Clarke Quay to try and find something for breakfast. Sadly most of the things were closed, but we still had a nice walk around the closed up shops and used this as a reminder that Singapore is a city state that draws its life from the water. A lot of the restaurants looked pretty touristy anyway, so it was probably for the best that we bought some pastries in a nearby shopping mall.

The first main thing on the itinerary was to finish off our exploration of Singapore’s Chinatown. This possibly the nicest of all the Chinatowns that I have seen (thus taking the title from Toronto) because of how well maintained it is. I mean, the New Years decorations help, but the Food Street and the main market street are so well done that, for the first time, I really enjoyed having a peruse through some of the stalls.

Chinatown is also home to two impressive temples – the first being the Sri Mariamman Temple. This is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore and the first Hindu temple that I have been into, which means:

List Item: Enter a house of worship for the main world religions
Status: Complete

I hadn’t even thought about this goal for ages! Nice to know that some of these can occur without me even really thinking about it. Anyway, this temple had a lot of beautifully painted carvings of Hindu deities. You can tell that this was recently renovated as the colours are still incredibly vibrant.

After this we walked down the street to visit the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Just by stepping into the courtyard everything felt just that bit cooler than the outside world (this felt like some kind of miracle), and then we entered the hall of the 100 Buddhas.

The amount of gold and statues on display was astounding. Also, since we are in Singapore and this temple is only 11 years old, they are a lot more free with people taking pictures. It’s not a huge temple (you can see more floors if you’re on a pre-booked tour), but the ornamentation really does pack a punch.

From here it was onto a small bit for brunch (we had a lot of small shared meals today) at a nearby hawker centre (a different one from the day before). Why? Because I have been researching places where I could find foods from the 1001 list and I found a place that did this rather unfortunately named crustacean.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 710/751Food item: Moreton Bay Bug

So this name is the Australian name, but this is also known as slipper lobster or (in Singapore) crayfish. Looking at the shells on the crayfish, I am satisfied that this is the correct seafood for the list. It helps that this ‘crayfish’ tasted great, with meat so tender that I could just whip it out of the shell using chopsticks. It tasted like sweet lobster tail meat and this went very well with the peppery sauce. Considering the price, this is something that I would seek out if it was available in the UK.

From here we began our walk to the Gardens by the Bay. In total it is only about 40-45 minutes to walk there from Chinatown. It would be faster to use the subway, but where’s the fun in that? By doing this walk we started to get to know the Marina Bay region with fantastic view of the Singapore skyline plus a first sight of the weird and iconic Marina Bay Sands building. It was on this walk where I really began to think that Singapore could be an ideal place to live – if it was an average of 5 degrees cooler that is.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 74/100Sight: Gardens By The Bay
Location: Singapore
Position: #187

This is the first of two Lonely Planet places in Singapore and it is the one that I have been looking forward to the most. I do love gardens and areas of green within a city, but I don’t think there is any in the world quite like that Gardens By The Bay. The first things that demand your attention are the Supertrees. They are of varying size, but are all very tall and covered in climbing bromeliads.

Of course we had to walk along the Supertree Grove walkway. It helped give a better view of the surroundings and allowed a closer look at some of the orchids that were flowering near the top. It’s a little bit steep at $8 a ticket, but the majority of the garden is free, so I really cannot complain.

Due to the long walk and the increasing temperature we were in need of refreshment, so we shared this pile of flavoured ice (called ice kacang) as a small lunch. This pretty much solved my dehydration problem whilst also being really delicious. The fact that, beneath the multicoloured flavoured ice, there were sweet beans, grass jelly cubes and other things just added to the enjoyment.

With enough water to keep me going for a while, we went to the Flower Dome. Sadly the Cloud Garden was closed for maintenance, but there was more than enough to see in the Flower Dome to keep us happy. The temperature in the dome is set to be an eternal Mediterranean spring day, which means that it was ideal.

This enclosed garden houses plants from a number of different regions of the world that exhibit a Mediterranean climate. Amongst the plants were carvings and some sculptures (including an incredibly impressive wooden dragon) which helped to add to the flavour of the garden. We were technically there at a time where thy were dismantling a flower exhibition on dahlias to make way for a future exhibition, but most of it was thankfully left in tact.

It was with much reluctance that we left the cool temperature of the Flower Dome, but we took this as the opportunity to go to the hawker style area called Satay by the Bay to eat, well, satay.

10 sticks of assorted satay for $7 – and people were telling me about how expensive Singapore is. I guess it’s a perspective thing, also knowing where to get the cheap eats.

We wandered around the garden a bit more after this, making visits to the Indian Garden, the Chinese Garden and the Web of Life (which contains topiaries of a number of local species including the orangutan and the fig wasp). We spent a good 4 hours in the gardens and it was time to visit the building that towers over them: Marina Bay Sands.

With Singapore’s big Ferris wheel out of commission the best place to get an aerial view of the island is from the Marina Bay Sands Skypark on its 56th floor. It’s priced a bit steeply at $23 each, but this is a once in a lifetime thing and it really paid off once we were up there.

This must be one of the few viewing platforms in the world where you can see three different countries – in this instance: Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. The views that you can get of the surrounding are are excellent, plus there is plenty of room on the deck to sit in the shade and just admire the view. Something we did for quite a while.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 711/751Food item: Silver Pomfret

For our final stop, we walked to the nearby Marina Link Mall where I had this beauty for dinner at a restaurant called Pappamia. Past me would have been initiated by the presentation of an entire fried fish, but now I’m in there scooping out flesh with the best of them. In terms of taste… I always have trouble differentiating fish. From eating it you can tell that this whitefish is an ocean fish because of the slightly mineral taste in the flesh. It’s also worth noting that this fish didn’t really have a fishy tast.

Could I identify this in a blind taste test? No, but that doesn’t stop it from being delicious.

Now, this this was to going to be the end of the day whereby we would walk back to the hotel and admire the city as it was all lit up (which, as you can see from the pictures, is beautiful) but luck had a different plan for us.

We were walking by the Event Plaza of Marina Bay and we saw a huge crowd gathering. Turns out it was for the nightly water and lights show (called Spectra) and we were bang on time. Over the next 15 minutes I was completely taken in by the synchronised fountains, lasers, music and superimposed images of mandalas, animals and other cultural icons. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit this, but this show managed to move me to tears in its third act. Amazing considering that this was free!

So yea, for a day that was going to be a bit of a slight lean into Singapore in order to get over the jet lag, this became a bit of a mega day. We got lucky that we had no rainfall, but I don’t think we’ll be as lucky tomorrow as we visit Singapore’s many zoos.

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.

Oscar Bait – Phantom Thread

Title: Phantom Thread
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Year: 2017
Country: USA

This is the first time where I have had reason to write about Paul Thomas Anderson, so I thought that it would only be fitting that Phantom Thread would be the only one of the nominees to receive its own blog entry. You see, I would probably rank him among my favourite working directors alongside Hayao Miyazaki, Lars Von Trier, Pedro Almodovar and Wes Anderson – so I am going to take this chance and run with it.

Having seen Phantom Thread I am now only left with Inherent Vice and Hard Eight to see in order to complete the Paul Thomas Anderson oeuvre. I’m still hard pressed to see how, at least for me, he will ever top Punch Drunk Love – but he sure did come close with this beautifully twisted work of toxic masculinity.

Watching this in the context of Oscar season is pretty bittersweet. You see, Phantom Thread is never going to win the statuette. This isn’t just because it was a bit late to the Oscar hype party (seriously, I was thrilled to see PTA’s latest work get as many nominations as it did), but because this is not an Oscar film. I know Moonlight wasn’t either… but all the more reason for them to go for something more regular and less artsy.

As much as I thought, at the start of Oscar season, that my heart would belong to The Shape of Water – in comes PTA with this impeccably shot, dark and twisted love story about a master fashion designer and the muse that his plucked from a countryside teahouse. The three principle cast members are exceptional with Daniel Day-Lewis’ idiosyncratic performance completely leading the way no matter the scene he is in.

It’s also worth noting just how beautiful this film looks. The costume design is sumptuous and on point as is the cinematography and art direction. This is one of those rare films where it is hard to turn away not because it’s riveting, but because everything is so artfully done. In a better world Phantom Thread would have taken in more nominations but, as it is, 6 is still an amazing achievement.

So here we are. Now that I’ve seen all of this year’s nominees for Best Picture I can rest assured that this entry on the bucket list remains complete. It has been an uncommonly strong year (for the most part) for films that fall into the field of vision for Oscar voters. Sure my favourite eligible film of 2017 (which would be the Pixar film Coco) didn’t receive a nomination, but here is how I would rank these 9 films anyway:

1) The Shape of Water
2) Phantom Thread
3) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
4) Dunkirk
5) Call Me By Your Name
6) Get Out
7) Lady Bird
8) The Post



9) Darkest Hour

What’s On TV – RuPaul’s Drag Race

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 195/501
Title: RuPaul’s Drag Race
Episodes Aired: 117
Year(s): 2009 onwards
Country: USA

There is no better way of showing the difference in work colleagues between myself and my husband. Where I fast-tracked The Great British Bake Off to talk to some of mine, he asked to fast-track RuPaul’s Drag Race in order to share it with some of his. Yes, both are competitions and involve a great deal of innuendo – but that’s where the similarities stop.

For the uninitiated, RuPaul’s Drag Race is a competitive reality show between professional drag queens in order to be crowned “America’s Next Drag Superstar”. The challenges that the contestants face include photoshoots, acting, singing, lip-syncing and the infamous ‘Snatch Game’.

As someone who is afraid of drag queens (yes, I have been known to flee when one enters my personal space) I was really apprehensive about watching this. Over in the UK I have only really come across the more aggressive types of drag queens which has resulted in me viewing them all as scary gay clowns.

So let’s start the healing.

For the purposes of ticking this off we decided to watch two complete seasons: the first and fifth (the latter being recommended by the hub’s work colleagues). And we watched both of these incredibly quickly – especially the fifth season because I fell in love with this show.

I don’t really watch much reality television (especially with Bake Off switching channels), but what really got me with Drag Race is the cheer level of talent on display here. They have to make clothes, be witty, sing, act and do all of this whilst being pretty (or fierce depending on the persona). The level of respect that I now have for these drag artists is so high now – especially for the more accomplished ones that I saw.

This is where I probably should mention the performer who really helped me work through this fear of mine: Jinkx Monsoon. If I had watched the first season before the fifth I would have probably would have used a picture of Nina Flowers, but there you go.

In the two weeks since finishing off Season 5 I still catch myself looking for Jinkx Monsoon highlights on YouTube. They found new ways to make me smile and to soften towards the whole concept of drag artistry. It’s not something I would really want to go and see live (mainly because of the amount of alcohol consumption involved) but I think the number of times I have watched this clip on YouTube shows just how far I have come.

List item: Overcome a fear
Status: Completed

It may be a bit too soon to call this, but I think the healing has truly begun.

So yes. I will now be watching the rest of this show and it will be an utter delight to do so.

Mending 101

There are a number of goals on this old bucket list of mine that could be put under the umbrella of ‘become an adult’ – whatever that means anymore. Previous posts have covered the likes of holding a dinner party, getting married and building a bookcase.

Today is something a bit more practical… and annoying. Mending rip items of clothing.

In the last week, two pairs of work trousers have ripped. The first when I had to clamber under a table to unplug a laptop, the other when I crossed my legs rather awkwardly. This has lead to an extreme knock in self-confidence, as you would expect from both happening in such quick succession.

I am going to chalk this up to regular wear and tear; mainly because I have lost 25lbs in the last 4 months and both pairs of trousers were wearable before I started losing weight. If it was anything else, like my suddenly gaining all the weight back in 2 weeks, I don’t want to know.

So, I got out my sewing kit, found a how-to video on YouTube and started mending my rips.

I accept that this is not a perfect job. Why would it be for a first attempt? However, the location of this rip falls underneath a fold of fabric, which means that you can’t see my stitching when this pair of trousers are worn.

For the moment this stitching has held after a machine wash and a day of wear – so I think I can consider this as crossed off.

List Item: Mend your own clothes
Progress: Completed

The Great EU Quest: Spain – Figueres

For our final day in Spain we ventured out of the city of Barcelona towards the town of Figueres some 70+ miles away. We booked tickets on the highspeed train so the journey only took 55 minutes each way (regular trains take 2.5 hours, so this was a no brainer).

Breakfast was a feast after we confused the server at the train station’s sandwich kiosk… being the English person I am I felt that I would rather pay the extra 4€ than make a fuss at there being an extra sandwich. The sandwich I asked for (which was Spanish omelette) was perfect for breakfast and has inspired me to make my own when I am back in the UK.

So, why did we go to Figueres in the first place? Well…

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 69/100Sight: Teatre-Museu Dalí
Location: Figueres, Spain
Position: #361

 

It’s the home of the Dalí Theatre and Museum. The final Lonely Planet check of this trip and something of genuine interest. I remember back when there was the Dalí Experience in London and have since enjoyed seeing anything of his that I come across. Even his sketches and lesser known pieces are inherently interesting because of the surreal nature of things.

So it’s little wonder that this museum was incredibly interesting. The only issue was the abundance of tour groups. Mostly school groups. It just meant that, at times, it was hard to navigate around the narrow corridors of the museum or get a good view of all the artworks.

Still, that didn’t overly detract from the unique experience that having so much Dalí in one place affords. I mean where else can you have an entire room with furniture set up to show the face of Mae West if you see it from the right angle?

How about corridors filled with paintings of rocks that look like naked women, gilded money skeletons and busts crowned with bread? It’s a truly unique experience that I would recommend – just make sure to seek out Galatea of the Spheres. It’s a great painting that few people were paying attention to… which is a shame.

So, what do you do after all that? Well, we decided to go on a bit of trek to the Sant Ferran Castle. The museum of antique typewriters wasn’t quite tempting enough.

For a reasonable price (and some collateral) you can get access to the castle with its free audio guide. The audio guide is a brick where you need to press play and pause (because it is one continuous track) and actually speaks to you out loud rather than through earphones. Honestly, it all felt rather comical as images of groups of tourists with different guides all playing at the same time immediately sprang to mind. What an awful cacophony that must be.

I say must be because we were the only tourists there at the time. Other than people who actually worked at the castle we were on our own. This castle is massive and is, at least according to the guide, the biggest fortress of its kind in Europe.

Vast and empty. So it felt like we were playing a sandbox version of Uncharted with the audio guide acting as director’s commentary. We clambered up the parapets, observed the plains from high vantage points – which reminds me:

List item: Visit a Spanish plain to see if it rains there
Status: Completed

 

I think what we had was a pretty unique experience that others who come to the fortress in the summer time wouldn’t have. I mean, this is a site that was only in the triple figures for Facebook check-ins. I would find it hard to recommend this enough should you fine yourself in the Figueres area. The free audio guide alone (the interesting information, not the comical size) would be enough. The ability to explore in isolation is a bonus.

We still had a few hours left until our return train to Barcelona, so we figured it was time for lunch. It’s the first time I have ever had someone make fideua for me… And I have to say that I prefer the one I make more. Not just because of the fiddly shelling of prawns, but because I put chorizo in mine. It may not be as authentic as the one we had… but sometimes authenticity needs to give way if something tastes better.

Our final moments in Figueres were spent in the jewels section of the Dalí museum. Originally we were going to give this a miss because it didn’t sound as interesting, but boy were we wrong. I never realised just how much he did in the way of jewellery design.

So many of the pieces were exceptional. Some of them were able to move, including a beating heart of rubies within a golden casing. My favourites are the two pictured above: an elephant with a giant crystal on its back and a lapis eye that can be used to tell time. Truly this man was an amazing talent. I always felt this, but now I definitely know it.

An hour or so later and we were back in Barcelona. We took the metro to the Arc de Triomphe area of the city, just because it can be nice too see what remnants are left over from World Fairs. I mean, sure, this is no Eiffel Tower but this promenade has its own calming charms.

From here we, finally, managed to gain admittance to the Santa Maria del Mar. We tried a few days earlier, but it was during the 2-3 hour where you needed to pay and we didn’t see the point. So glad that we were able to get in for free as it was mighty impressive on the inside.

It was never going to beat the Sagrada Familia, but looking at the columns and ceiling work it feels like Gaudí might have got at least some inspiration from here. Even if it was the number and thinness of the columns used to support the structure. On the who it felt very pure and uncluttered… something I know Gaudí would have appreciated.

So here I am now. We polished off a dinner of paella and chocolate covered churros and now it it time to pack for the flight tomorrow afternoon. Thanks to EU customs I have 6 food list items that will be coming home with me and will likely become their own blog post incredibly soon.

I wish that we didn’t have to leave here so soon, but that’s the issue with not spending a full week somewhere. Somehow I doubt it will take another 27 years before I am back in Spain. Already the precursors of itineraries are springing up in my head – so maybe I’ll be visiting Grenada, Madrid or Seville at some point in the near future. I hope so.

Good Eatin’ – Wattleseed Bread

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

Once again I am trying to lose weight. I say once again because I usually end up a third of the way there, get frustrated and then start all over 9 months later. It’s one of those vicious cycles that I really want to break this time around.

I mention this because it nicely ties into today’s food.

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Food item: Wattleseed

I got this tub of wattleseed from my favourite spice shop at Borough and have been wracking my brain trying to find a decent use for it. The label says that it can be used in ice cream or baked goods, so I decided to take the lid on its word and make a loaf of bread.

On it’s own the wattleseed has a taste in the region of cocoa-coffee-nut, but you would never just have it like this. Therefore I used a recipe I found online for a quick wattleseed soda bread to give this ingredient a real test.

Progress: 623/751

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List item: Bake a loaf of bread
Status: Completed

I’ve made bread a few times before, but usually quick breads instead a fully yeasted affair. This was, however my first attempt at making a soda bread. It was also the first time I tried to take a bread recipe and reduce the fat content by using 0% yogurt.

The dough was wet and hard to knead which probably didn’t help with the rise. Still, the taste of the bread made up for it being a little bit close-textured. The wattleseed really added a taste in the region of hazelnut-coffee as well as some crunch.

As you can see from the recipe – this was dead easy to make and I probably will make more of this while I still have some wattleseed knocking about the cupboards.

Adventures With Flat-Pack Furniture

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To quote Sufjan Stevens, “it’s Christmas in July”. Man I love Christmas, and I miss the Christmas season whenever I see a set of twinkly lights and it is not December.

As a couple we really made out like bandits this Christmas, but the big ticket item was a brand new TV from my mum that we got as a joint present. I also got a Nintendo 64 from the hub and have found solace in a bit of Pokémon Snap.

Still, with this new TV and the ever expanding collection of Lego Dimensions figurines and Amiibos it was time for a new TV stand and an actual bookshelf in the living room.

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It was only a few hours after deciding on new furniture before we had two flat-packs from Argos delivered to our flat. Same day delivery between Christmas and New Year? Man I love Argos.

Now I am a master of the flat-pack. Most of the bedroom furniture that I had growing up were flat-packs from Ikea or Argos. Sometimes I end up building it upside down and then having to rebuild it, but the screws are just that easier to put back in once you’ve widened the holes.

This was one of the first times I made some flat-pack with the hub apart from some white Ikea bookshelves of little consequence. Because hammers and screwdrivers come out (and because we’re competitivr with each other) these builds weren’t always the most chilled.

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List Item: Put up a bookshelf
Progress: Completed

Still though, it was fun and we ended up with a nice new bit of storage. Also my Porygon Lego sculpture now has a place to perch. Probably a lot more that we could do with the place, but there’s no rush.