Category Archives: Completed

A Post About Being A Friend

When making the first (and subsequent) drafts of the ‘to do’ list there was something I hadn’t quite thought of: evidence. Sure, for a number of them I can take a photo of a place I’ve been or write a short thing about a piece of music that I have listened to – but what about some things that can’t quite be forced or quantified?

Today I’m crossing off something that I had kinda forgotten was on my list and, thanks to have an ultra thoughtful friend, I actually have something concrete I can cross it off with (and also said was okay with my using in this blog).

List item: Be there for a friend in a time of need
Status: Completed

So imagine coming home from holiday to find this postcard in an envelope. Pretty much all the feelings right? I won’t give back story on this, as I don’t want to really say too much, but I was so incredibly touched to receive this – and has actually made me resolved to send more thank you notes as it really is a lovely feeling to get one.

My apologies is this was a bit of a cringe read, but honestly it was a bit hard to write this without thinking of a certain song from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend…

I need to make more of an effort with some of the other items on the main list – so hopefully I will be able to pepper more posts like this amongst the longer term projects.

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Freiburg & Forests: Day 3 – Seeing Freiburg

It rained all day today. Okay that’s an exaggeration. It stopped raining at about 5:30 in the afternoon after precipitating near constantly since we left the hotel. Annoying? Yes, but I managed to escape rain for the most part during my trip to Singapore so I can’t exactly complain here. Still, got to make the most of our time here.

We woke to the sight of a big market in the square surrounding the Minster – the smell of which truly made us hungry despite having already eaten breakfast. The smell of cooking sausages, olives and cheese followed us into the Minster, which was currently undergoing some restoration works which rendered the tower inaccessible and made the interior darker (and more atmospheric).

It’s a pity that we didn’t get a chance to see all those stained glass windows shining in their regular glory (due to both the scaffolding and an overcast sky), but you get a flavour of them whilst you’re in there. The distinctive thing about this cathedral would appear to be the integrated sculptures (of which we’ll see more at a later point in the day) and some of the metal railings that had been painted to resemble vines, leaves and berries.

From here we walked down what appears to be one of the main shopping street to see two of the old city gates that are still standing. I saw one of these on a YouTube video about a photographer in Freiburg so it was a bit weird to see them in the flesh. These two are far more prominent than the ones I saw in Munich. It is a shame, however, that the city walls that these once found a place in are no more. Still, they are great to see with the backdrop of the more modern city, their old clocks and murals still being preserved.

From the second gate we went to the Augustinermuseum where we bought a day ticket, which also gives you entry to four other museums around Freiburg. The museum gets its name from the monastery that it occupies, which has been repurposed and updated in recent(ish) years. The focus is mainly on church art, but the attic contains some 18th century paintings that serve as an interesting contrast.

Among the collection I really did enjoy some of the gargoyles that were on display (especially the screaming lion man that represented the sin of wrath) and some sculptures of patron saints of the guilds within Freiburg. There was also a pretty creepy painting of a crying Christ surrounded by lots of crying cherubs (including one who appears to have gotten his leg stuck in the wound on Christ’s side) that still haunts me as I write this.

Lunch was a return to the Minster Square and we indulged in a hot dog made using a local Freiburg sausage. It made for a nice change from the regular bratwurst, and the Freiburg sausage is so long that it needs to be bent in half to fit in the roll.

Next was the second museum of the day: the Archäologisches Museum Colombischlösse. It’s small museum housed in an old villa (which appears to be a theme for the museums in Freiburg) that contains locally excavated Stone Age, Bronze Age and Roman artefacts. What this museum lacks in big ticket items, it really makes up with excellent display work.

There are three things in particular that they did well. Firstly, all the tools were shown alongside the modern equivalents, which helped given context. There were also videos showing some of the techniques used to create a toll within the room. Finally, for fragments, most things were shown in the context of what they once were. All of these things are small touches, but it makes a big difference in a museum like this.

After this we went to the final museum of the day: the Museum Für Neue Kunst. Another fairly small museum, as one where your experience lives and dies depending on the temporary exhibition. The permanent exhibition is still interesting, with one room making a rather powerful statement about the censorship of art under the Nazi regime. There was also a room set up with new acquisitions to the gallery, each with an accompanying essay written by a local art student – which is a novel way to encourage art appreciation.

The temporary exhibition was excellent. It was centred around the idea of interconnectivity and featured audio, video and virtual reality exhibits. There was also gigantic versions of the board game Risk, where the method of world domination had been changed to more modern means such as economic block chaining. I got to use a virtual reality headset twice, the first allowing me to watch and listen to some interviews with immigrant students on topics like LGBT issues and religion. The second one… I took off pretty quickly because it gave me a hint at what it might be like to be schizophrenic and it wasn’t exactly pleasant.

The rain had let up slightly (only to return later in full force) and we decided to make our way up to the top of Schlossberg, the nearby hill that looks over Freiburg. We took the funicular half way up the hill and then hiked our way to the top, where there is a metal observational tower which can give you a birds-eye view of the surrounding areas. The main platform is 251 stairs up, but there is also a single person platform that is even higher up… which shakes in the wind like nobody’s business, so I got down form that quickly.

As we descended the tower the heavens truly opened, but we still wanted to take our time exploring the Freiburg-facing side of Schlossberg. We walked around the forest until we made our way down to the Kanonenplatz which, despite being lower down, allows for better views of the city.

List item: Kiss in the rain
Status: Completed

Honestly, the whole thing was kinda romantic. We’ve probably done this before, but this might be the first time that the rain, the view and the situation properly lined up. Maybe it would have been nicer on the Kanonenplatz if it had been sunnier and less misty, but it would not have been as quiet or as atmospheric.

We gradually made our way back down off the hill and it was getting towards dinner time. For the first time in God knows how long, I thought it would be a good idea to have dinner at our hotel. After all the restaurant where we were staying, Hotel Oberkirch, is fairly high on TripAdvisor and the food always smells great as we get back in the evenings.

After our hike I really wanted a particular type of soup you find in Germany – and they had it at the restaurant. I don’t know what it so comforting about beef broth with cut up pancakes in it, but when done well it is hard to beat… which is great when this hotel made one of the best versions of this that I have ever had.

For my main I had something from the seasonal menu, which was themed after chanterelle mushrooms. Honestly I couldn’t see the meat escalope for all the mushrooms, spätzle and sauce – never a bad thing. The chanterelles were so so good and gave a wonderful flavour to everything on the plate. I need to find a recipe for something like this as I could see myself copying this meal for when I eventually cover Germany for my food challenge.

So, with my trip up the Schlossberg I had a preview of the Black Forest today, but tomorrow marks our trip out to see it properly. Lots of walking through the hills and forests tomorrow… so a good sleep and breakfast seems like the best way to prepare for now.

Freiburg & Forests: Day 2 – Europa Park

So yesterday I made a bit of a point around setting foot in four countries in one day. Today I visited a place that has themed areas from all over Europe – the amazing Europa Park. It was a happy coincidence that this trip to Freiburg would allow for this visit – we originally booked this trip as it was on the edge of the Black Forest. I guess things happen for a reason sometimes.

The trip from Freiburg to Europa Park takes less than an hour (depending on your connections), but we still got up before seven so we could get breakfast in the hotel and still be at the park for when it opens at nine. The bus section of the trip was jam-packed with teenage boys, which brought to mind the scene in Pinocchio where they make the trip to Pleasure Island. Thankfully I did not come back as a donkey.

One thing that I want to properly draw notice to is just how lucky I was today with the number of people in the park. I see people on TripAdvisor talking about how they often had to wait at least an hour to get on a bunch of the rides (similar to my time in Tokyo Disneyland). However, in the 9 hours that we spent in the the park, we managed to fit in about 25 rides – the longest wait being just over half an hour with many others being almost immediate.

I won’t go over every ride I went on (otherwise I would be here for hours) but there are a number of highlights that I want to get down for some sort of posterity. The first cluster of highlights happened in the Austrian section of the park, which is where I actually managed to tick off something for my main bucket list.

List item: Ride a record breaking roller coaster
Status: Completed

I think it’s fair to count a first as a record, and in that case the Alpine Express helps me to check this off as it was the first coaster to use virtual reality. It’s set us you would expect, you get in a physical roller coaster with a headset on that plays a 360 video which is synced up to the twists and turns. We picked a video that had you flying around on some sort of glider and, surprisingly, it was incredibly immersive to the point where I thought I’d actually gone upside down. We re-rode the ride straight afterwards without the VR and got a completely different experience with the original runaway train through a goblin mine setting.

The next big highlight was two rides in the Iceland section. Both of them were some of the parks bigger coasters and yet,between them, we only waited for 45 minutes. I also made the potentially stupid move of riding these even though I had pulled my lower back 3 weeks ago and still had residual soreness. Weirdly, this soreness has disappeared after riding Wodan (a gigantic wooden coaster) which was like some sort of miracle.

Blue Fire, the other coaster in the Iceland section, is probably the best coaster that I rode whilst in the park. It doesn’t reach the heights of Silver Star (which was previously the tallest coaster in Europe), but it has more interesting twists and loops that help you have those thrilling extended moments of weightlessness.

We did a lot of the smoother rides in the park too. There are so many well themed rides that are fun for the family, but the runaway winner for best theme and experience was the Madame Freudenrich’s Curiosities. It’s an indoor track ride where you see lots of cute dinosaurs wearing kitted items and making cakes. Sounds weird but it is adorable and makes me marvel that Europa Park is able to make these mini-worlds without having the intellectual properties that Disney have to fall back on.

Of course we visited the England zone. There weren’t really many rides here but it was funny to see what stereotypes were used here. Mostly it was London based with the black cabs, double-decker buses and Paddington station, but there were also arcades like you’d find at the seaside.

In terms of best whole world (for rides, decor and available food) the winner for me has to be Greece. It had the best water ride, a cool coaster and a really fun laser shooting game. The place was done up as a mash-up of Ancient Greece and present day Santorini and you could smell that they were cooking gyros.

Speaking of food – we didn’t really have any meals today but just had snacks every now and then. This included a hot dog in England, burger and Olivier salad in Russia and a visit to the Foodloop restaurant in Luxembourg. Food Loop has a bit of a queue to get in, but the gimmick of having your food delivered to your table by mini-roller coaster is worth the wait. We had Mezzo Mix and Black Forest gateau, with the cake being a pleasant surprise.

We finished the day by going on the panorama train for one final look around the park before getting onto the last: Voletarium. We weren’t event going to go on this originally, but our interest was piqued as I bought myself a keychain in the ride’s gift shop. To think I almost missed out on the best experience of the day just goes to show how an amazing day can unexpectedly get even better!

To describe Voletarium is to make it sound a little bit twee. It’s essentially a large indoor cinema were it feels like you are flying through the air and the landscapes that you see. For this ride it is a number of different places in Europe (sadly none in the UK) and you are soaring through the sky between different scenes. Now, I don’t know if it was the music, my love of Europe or some other factor… but it made me cry (in a similar way to the water show in Singapore). I was just so moved and it really was the perfect way to end the day.

As you can gather from this entry, not only am I considering this trip to Europa Park as my best ever day in a theme park – but also in the top ranked of holiday days that I’ve had with my husband. We still have two more days here in Germany, both of which are set to be incredibly different to today. Tomorrow I’ll be seeing more or Freiburg itself – and will also be getting a well earned lie in.

Just as an FYI I’m finishing this post with a list of the rides we managed to fit into our day with a few notes if not already mentioned before. I’m trying to do this in order, but it’s already getting a bit fuzzy:

1) Jungle Rafts – gentle boat ride around some (possibly insensitive) depictions of African culture (Adventure Land)
2) Alpine Coaster with Sky Riders VR Experience (Austria)
3) Alpine Coaster as originally built (Austria)
4) Tirol Log Flume – which goes through the same goblin mining scene as the coaster (Austria)
5) Feria Swing – an inside spinning ride where the controller yelled Spanish exclamations in an extremely strong German accent… which made the whole experience hilarious (Spain)
6) Fjord Rafting – River Rapids ride where I stayed dry… but the man opposite got absolutely soaked (Scandinavia)
7) Blue Fire – best coaster of the park (Iceland)
8) Whale Adventures – water shooting ride (Iceland)
9) Wodin – a huge wooden coaster, possibly the largest I’ve ever been in (Iceland)


10) Euro-Mir – a spinning coaster themed around space station Mir, but is also unapologetically nineties with its blacklights and techno music. Really fun, even if going backwards down a coaster is moderately terrifying. (Russia)
11) Snowflake Sleigh Ride – gentle indoors ride where you’re sat in really cute sleighs (Russia)
12) Cassandra’s Curse – my first revolving room ride. Cool and trippy (Greece)
13) Poseidon – a water coaster where I got absolutely soaked. Totally worth it (Greece)
14) Pegasus – a coaster that I hoped would help to dry me off. It didn’t. (Greece)
15) Atlantis Adventure – laser shooting ride with a lot of cool sea creatures. Absolutely thrashed my husband with my score (Greece)
16) Monorail (between Luxembourg and Iceland)
17) Puppet Boat Ride – gentle cruise around a bunch of puppets depicting folk tales (Germany)
18) Elf Ride – another cruise ride where my main memory is signs of crying flowers saying “Let Us Live” as a way to stop people picking them (Germany)
19) Ghost Castle – similar idea to the Disney haunted mansion, but actually pretty gruesome in places (Italy)
20) Picollo Mondo – cute gondolier ride where animatronic animals take on different Italian stereotypes (Italy)


21) Swiss Bob Run – bobsleigh coaster where you do the whole thing when lying down (Switzerland)
22) Silver Star – previously tallest coaster in Europe, had one hell of an initial drop (France)
23) Madame Freudenrich Curiosities – super cute indoor ride with dinosaurs, cake and laundry (France)
24 Panorama Train – for a final look around the park via a train with not a lot of leg room for someone who is 6 foot 3 (Germany-England-Spain-Russia)
25) Voletarium – breathtaking indoor cinema flight ride (Germany)

It Just Needs More Duct Tape…

Okay so this feels like a silly thing from my list, but as a man it really feels like a right of passage to fix something with duct tape.

List item: Fix something using duct tape
Status: Completed

Right so a bit of backstory here – for the last year or so this light fixture was hanging a bit from the ceiling from the kitchen, to the point where I couldn’t pass underneath it without the bottom of the shade touching the top of my head. It got knocked by my husband when something frustrated him… and it had been getting lower and lower ever since.

I know that this is a temporary solution, but this can wait until we have the chance to give the kitchen a bit of a face-lift. I’m just happy (and a bit surprised) that you can get duct tape in white – if it wasn’t for some of my clumsy folds then you wouldn’t notice the fix. I guess I can count that as a victory. A manly victory. With duct tape!

World Cooking – Venezuela

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Venezuela
Progress: 19/193

It is my hope on this rainy evening in August that, when this post is published next year, that there has been some sort of resolution to the current problems and food shortages facing the country of Venezuela. Like with my previous post making food from Yemen, it feels a bit off making food from a country that is currently experiencing so many problems. Hopefully things will be sorted soon.

As I previously mentioned in my post making food from Chad, the reason behind Venezuela being today’s country is my very lovely neighbour and her daughter. Since I gave them a slice of cake that I made for Uruguay, I have received special maize flour and a recipe to make arepas for when I get around to Venezuela – so I had to expedite things so that I would be able to thank them… and then share some more dessert as further thanks.

Just looking at the list of foods seen as Venezuelan reveals just how much the native pre-European food has survived and, in some cases, co-mingled with the cuisines of the Old World. My main course is an example of such a mixing… whereas the dessert is something that it very much influenced by the Spanish settlers.

Main: Arepa Reina Pepiada

As a food stuff, arepas are nearly as old as you can get. They have been made for centuries by the original residents of Venezuela and are still incredibly popular to this day. In this recipe, which translates to Curvy Queen arepas, we see this New World food filled with  chicken mayonnaise and avocado. Not hard to believe that this combination is incredibly popular – I mean, why wouldn’t it… it’s delicious.

Arepa are, in essence, a small round fried bread made from pre-cooked maize flour. They are similar to pupusa,  but instead of filling them and frying them arepas are fried and then split to be filled with whatever filling you desire. I cannot argue with the use of shredded chicken, mayonnaise, avocado, lime juice and mustard  when filling these arepas.

Tastewise it’s a slam dunk, but it’s the texture difference between the thin crispy layer of the outside of the arepa and the cool and squishy chicken and avocado salad. I still have half a bag of this special flour left, so I feel like I have license to try and make more arepas with different fillings.

Dessert: Bienmesabe

Right so it’s been a month since I last made an insane cake – so why not make one that was even more insane? That’s what happened with this cake (whose name means ‘it tastes good to me’) where I had to make sponge, a coconut custard, a rum-infused sugar syrup and a topping of Italian meringue. Note: I have never made Italian meringue before.

The name of this cake (recipe from The Spruce Eats) is pretty apt. It’s delicious and it looked so amazing when I first removed the protective cuff of my springform tin. The Italian meringue topping in particular looked glossy and gorgeous perched on top of the cake.

Given the amount of coconut custard, I was so nervous that it would collapse, luckily it did not. In fact, it appears to be structurally sound and has lasted in the fridge for a few days without toppling over. It took a very long time to make this, but with a result like this… it was time well spent.

Next time in my world cooking journey, I will be in Europe and sampling a dish that I first heard about from an episode of Archer. Any guesses of what I might be making?


Right, so time for an important addition to this post. Thanks to the lovage that I found yesterday this world cooking post has a very special significance:

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Food item: Arepa De Choclo
Progress: 751/751 – COMPLETE

I wasn’t planning to hit the next landmark of my 1001 food quest in such a way, but it’s pretty cool that this completion happens as part of my  world cooking challenge.

Now, I’ve posted previously that I know will probably never complete this list. Some of the things are no longer being made and others are either threatened or endangered… which means it would be incredibly irresponsible for me to go after them.

With 751 of these eaten, I am still going to try and eat as many of them as I can. So I think that will be the phrasing of the final phase of this challenge:

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possible
Progress: 751/1001

It will be interesting to see how far I get before, you know, the end of me. To mop up some of these final ones I will need to make special trips abroad and make some interesting substitutes along the way, but that’s half the fun of it.

Oscar Bait – Vice / Green Book

Title: Vice
Director: Adam McKay
Year: 2018
Country: USA

Right, there’s no point mincing words here: Vice is one of the worst films that I’ve seen in years. In YEARS. I mean, I had trouble watching Fences but at least it had material for the cast to work with and the tour de force performance from Viola Davis to get me through. Not with Vice though, where I got an hour in and I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t even halfway towards the finish line.

Honestly, I thought that Bohemian Rhapsody was a shoo in for being my least favourite film in this batch of nominees. But no, Vice manages to eclipse that and it is all down to the choices that Adam McKay made. Here’s the thing, Dick Cheney’s life should have made for an engaging movie in the vein of House of Cards, but instead he goes for something far more flippant in an attempt to mimic the great The Big Short

In the end, this film just ends up being a boring mess which is a complete waste of Christian Bale and Amy Adams’ talents. As much as I hope Amy Adams one day wins an Oscar, please for the love of God do not let it be for this role in Vice. She should have won for Arrival over Emma Stone in La La Land – but that’s something for another time. Vice is such a drag to watch – I’m just glad to never have to see it again.

Title: Green Book
Director: Peter Farrelly
Year: 2018
Country: USA

And this is it, the final Best Picture nominee from this year’s Academy Awards. It’s one where I have probably heard the most conflicting opinions with a co-worker (whose taste I trust) seeing it in the cinema twice to hearing a film reviewer say that Viggo Mortensen’s acting is so broad that it has made them re-evaluate him as a performer. Quite a contrast.

The benefit of hearing such differing thoughts is that you really can go into a film and just take the film as it comes… which for the first half an hour was the fear that this was going to be another Vice. During this first section I got the criticism of Mortensen’s acting and I began to question how this film could ever be considered a comedy. Then Mahershala Ali came on screen and suddenly I began to enjoy the film.

There is no doubt that, at times, there are some issues with the film. The score tries to hard to highlight emotional moments that it can become overly sentimental. Some scenes and lines feel like they are reaching too hard to be Oscar worthy that it can be off-putting… as well as making you feel that they have been heavily fictionalised. In the end though, despite these problems, this is a good film that really flies as long as Mortensen and Ali’s characters are together. As much as I loved Adam Driver in BlacKkKlansman – the supporting actor Oscar deserves to, once again, rest in Ali’s hands.

So, where does this leave me with the final rankings. Honestly, this is not as strong a group as last year but that’s on the Academy for failing to nominate better films. These films were out there and eligible to be nominated, but that’s just how it goes. In the end, unless you are paid to do so, it’s difficult to think of people out there who can watch every single films in a given year that might be good enough for the award.

Anyway here are my ranking, for what it’s worth:

1) The Favourite
2) Roma
3) BlacKkKlansman
4) A Star Is Born
5) Green Book
6) Black Panther

7) Bohemian Rhapsody
8) Vice

Oscar Bait – Bohemian Rhapsody / BlacKkKlansman

Title: Bohemian Rhapsody
Director: Bryan Singer
Year: 2018
Country: USA

The Academy are a mysterious beast. Scratch that, awards season is a mysterious beast. Acclaimed films like First Man, If Beale Street Could Talk and Can You Ever Forgive Me? get scraps and then there’s Bohemian Rhapsody with it’s middling-to-negative reviews and a more-than-problematic director… that somehow gets a nomination.

I’ve mentioned before about my complicated feelings about Queen, which means that I am most definitely not their target demographic. However, it does have the benefit of my being able to watch this purely as a movie and not be won over by the frequent clips of the Queen discography. Stripped of that, this movie is very much a paint-by-numbers biopic that takes timeline liberties and sanitizes a subject for mass appeal.

In the end, this gets by on Rami Malik acting his socks off (although, at times, it feels like something more out of Saturday Night Live than an award-winning film). Divorced of this performance and a liking for the music of Queen, then Bohemian Rhapsody is a bad film plain and simple. However, so many people love Queen which would go a long way to explain the massive divide in critical and public opinion. Will it win? No, but Malik might pick up Best Actor if Singer’s recent child sex allegations don’t damage his chances.

Title: BlacKkKlansman
Director: Spike Lee
Year: 2018
Country: USA

It’s unusual for there to be multiple films in the running for Best Picture that are already playing on the movie channels or have already been released on DVD. This year’s nominees have been a treasure trove for this and have allowed me to watch three of the films from the comfort of my own sofa in the company of a stuffed walrus.

BlacKkKlansman is one of those films that I was so happy to see nominated for the Oscar. Not only did it give me a proper excuse to prioritise it over watching movies on the 1001 list, but it gave Spike Lee an overdue nomination for Best Director. Also, it’s one of the few nominees that I was actually interested to watch – especially because it’s based on a ridiculous, but true, story about an African-American cop who infiltrated the KKK.

Despite being set in 1972 (although the events of the film actually happened 7 years later), Lee ensures that we as viewers understand the timelessness of the messages of his film. He makes a lot of effort to hammer home the atmosphere of racism that was (and still is) prevalent in areas of America. He does this not just with the members of the KKK, but also members of the police. This is also tied into misogyny, antisemitism and homophobia – but racism is the main issue of the film.

Some of the messages are very on the nose, especially when you think of the pre-selection that will occur of people who would want to see this film, but these are the times we live in. The ending sequence where he plays real footage of neo-Nazi marches and how Trump apologizes for them is remarkably chilling; the final footage depicting the death of protester Heather Heyer being particularly harrowing.

It’s weird to think that a film like BlacKkKlansman, which depicts so much darkness, has so many comedic moments. Then again, it would be hard to watch if it wasn’t for those moments. Sometimes the switching between tones gives a bit of whiplash, but for the most part it’s done well. It’s also worth heaping praise on both John David Washington and Adam Driver for their roles – just a pity that the former couldn’t achieve a nomination at the Oscars.

So, will this win? Probably not. It may snag a screenplay award, but I would be surprised if it would achieve much else. Still, it’s a very interesting and worthy nomination – and I am so glad to have seen it.

Current Rankings:

1) The Favourite
2) Roma
3) BlacKkKlansman
4) A Star Is Born
5) Black Panther

6) Bohemian Rhapsody

Oscar Bait – A Star Is Born / Roma

Title: A Star Is Born
Director: Bradley Cooper
Year: 2018
Country: USA

One of the interesting things about keeping a watchful eye on awards season is seeing how films rise, fall, peak too soon or never quite gain momentum. Obviously, you have to take things like the Oscars with a substantial pinch of salt because if a film or any part of a film really is the best of the year, then there shouldn’t be this whole momentum thing to consider.

I mention this because A Star Is Born looks as if it could be the latest victim of losing momentum in the month before the Academy Awards ceremony. It picked up a bunch of early awards, but despite being nominated nearly everywhere it’s starting to lose out. Means that whilst there is a consensus that it is one of the best of the year for a number of fields – it’s not quite the best. Having seen it (finally), I would have to agree with that sentiment.

Coming into this version of A Star Is Born having already seen the original 1937 version and the 1954 Judy Garland version, it feels like I am at a bit of a disadvantage. After all, this is a remake and it very much follows the same story, except that it is transplanted to the modern day with it being set in the music industry rather than in film-making. So, as someone who sees the finale coming, it’s interesting to see how they tease things as an act of foreshadowing.

Now, considering that this is Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut – A Star is Born is actually quite impressive and I hope this means he does some more work behind the camera in the future. Similarly, Lady Gaga gives an exceptional performance in her first leading role and I hope she goes down the Cher route and continues along this cinema path whilst still releasing music. She may not get another role as meaty as Ally Maine, but I’m sure there will be scripts out there to help her shine.

Here’s the question though – is this the best of the nominated films? The answer is no. This is one of the three films I was looking forward most to seeing (the others being The Favourite and Roma) and it started off with a real bang, only to whimper a bit at the end once the power dynamic shifts in her direction. It’s definitely earned it’s nomination this year, as well as a bunch of the others it’s got. For now though, my fingers are crossed for The Favourite.

Title: Roma
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Year: 2018
Country: Mexico

Before getting into the film itself, I just have to say that I hope that as time goes on we see more and more of these releases being available streaming or on demand in and around Oscar season. I’m not being lazy or stingy here, but you need to be really on it if you want to catch things in the cinema that may just be nominated a few months later. So thank you Netflix and I hope you keep on distributing Oscar nominees.

Now back to the film, which made me realise something: I may have been sleeping on Alfonso Cuarón as a candidate for one of my favourite directors working today. If you look at his body of work there is an insane amount of variation in genre and it would be difficult to not consider Roma and three of the four more recent films of his as modern classics. Hell, he helped make the Harry Potter films grow up.

Then we get to Roma, which in any other Oscar year would have been my automatic front runner (as of now, that distinction still belongs to The Favourite). Not only is it a sensitive yet compelling slice-of-life film that manages to teach you a lot about a world and history that you may not be aware of, but it’s got two great roles for women and challenges your preconceptions about how a film like this will proceed.

Roma may also be one of the most beautifully shot films that I have seen for a long time, which means that if Cuarón doesn’t walk away from the ceremony with his second Best Director nod, he should at least be given the prize for Best Cinematography (hell, why not both). I’m also so heartened to see a nomination for Yalitza Aparicio whose naturalistic performance as Cleo the native Mexican maid makes you feel everything.

Given the climate at the moment it would be truly delicious if the Academy ended up giving this year’s Best Picture award to Roma. Not only would it be the first foreign language film to win the gong, but it’s a Mexican one that features dialogue in an indigenous language. It would thoroughly deserve the nod as well, it’s just that the politics would make for an interesting night – especially as it stands to possibly clean up 10 awards!

With half of the films now watched, this is where my rankings are:

1) The Favourite
2) Roma
3) A Star Is Born
4) Black Panther

Oscar Bait – The Favourite

Title: The Favourite
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Year: 2018
Country: UK/Ireland

There is nothing about the blurb of the film that made me doubt how much I would end up loving it. I mean, a period comedy-drama, directed by the man behind Dogtooth and starring Olivia Colman and Emma Stone. That alone is worth the price of admission (which is now hard to gauge now since I finally took the plunge and paid for a cinema membership card). Having watched it, I find it hard to remember the last film that stimulated so many discussions afterwards.

Set in 1708, The Favourite tells the story of Queen Anne and two cousins who end up battling for the title of her favourite in court. In one corner is Sarah, who has occupied this position for decades and is Queen Anne’s secret lover. In the other is Abigail, Sarah’s cousin whose family have fallen on hard times and wants to regain her title of being a lady. This tale of a royal lesbian love triangle is further complicated by Britain’s war with France and a whole host of political machinations operating in the background.

Aside from the lesbianism, I get how this story can sound a little bit dry. Then again, this is national treasure Olivia Colman we’re talking about, so how dare you. To say that I laughed out loud in this film would be an understatement. Whilst this film deals with darker topics like depression, multiple child loss (Queen Anne losing 17 children in her lifetime) and disfigurement – The Favourite is incredibly funny.

In a year where A Star Is Born had previously been anointed for awards glory, it was frustrating to think that a great film like The Favourite might miss out of a lot of awards. However, hope springs eternal with this film having the joint most nominations at this year’s awards… so you never know. As of the moment I cannot think of another performance as good as Olivia Colman’s. She completely runs the emotional gamut as Queen Anne – makes you laugh with her, laugh at her, cry with her, pity her, get frustrated with her and (ultimately) proud of her. At the moment she looks like she may lose out to perennial bridesmaid Glenn Close, but we’ll just have to see.

I also think this deserves some love for the Art Direction, Costuming and Screenplay – but as for Best Picture… I can’t judge as I haven’t seen all of them yet, but this is going to be hard to beat.

So, as normal, here are my rankings as things are now:

1) The Favourite
2) Black Panther

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.