Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas eve eve greetings from Canada

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we've no place to go,
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

Hello from London, Ontario! Hope you are all having a good lead up to Christmas - all your shopping is done, and time to relax and spend time with family.

Gideon and I are here staying with his Aunt Liz, cousins Lawrence and Stephen and his grandparents, Ruth and Doug. Although the snow has been melting over the last couple of days, it really feels like winter and Christmas with all this snow around. Hopefully it will snow tomorrow and we will have a right proper white Christmas!

Liz's gorgeous house

It took a long time to get here, we spent almost 2 full days driving, flying and waiting around in airports. Tuesday's travel was pretty straight forward... we left home at 6.30am in the morning, drove to the airport, caught a flight from Heathrow to Washington, then Washington to New York. About 19 hours later, we arrived in New York at 8pm local time. A long day, but we were less than half an hour late. Pretty good. We stayed in a hotel near La Guardia that night and left at 10am the next morning for another long day of travel. We were due to fly to Toronto at 12.30pm and then from Toronto to London, Ontario at 5.30pm. As we were at the airport early, the offered us the 11.30am flight to Toronto, although our connecting flight would be the same. I refused citing the chance to do some duty free shopping at La Guardia. As it turns out, you should always take an earlier flight if offered. There was next to no duty free shopping at the terminal where we were, and the 12.30pm flight was cancelled due to mechanical problems. They were unable to get us on the 1.30pm flight, and so after much hanging around, we finally left New York at 2.30pm. We got to Toronto with still some time to spare and waited around patiently for our next flight to London. That flight ended up being delayed due to mechanical problems, and they had to switch planes which delayed us by about an hour. It begs the question, do Air Canada have planes without mechanical problems? Still, we arrived safely, and none the worse for wear.
The back yard
Since then, we've had a lovely time relaxing, shopping (my first Walmart experience), eating and playing in the snow! :D Behind Liz's house there is a golf course which when covered in a reasonable layer of snow, we are allowed to play on (no damage to the grass). Yesterday, I even got my snowboard out and had a bit of fun on the small slopes of the golf course! Yay!
Gideon, armed and dangerous.
What's going on then... Gideon and his aunt Liz
Liz and Gideon's granddad, Doug

Out on the golf course

The boys roll the biggest snowball ever... or at least, that was the intention.

Gideon and his cousins, Lawrence & Stephen

More beautiful winter wonderland

Meanwhile... me and my beloved board...

I even managed to build up enough speed to get some wind in the hair!
Boarding on a golf course... coooool.

Merry Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Driving along the A420

I've been driving into Oxford every day for the last week and a half to do some temping. It's a pretty slack job, I spend about 85% of my time on Facebook or surfing the net. I'm doing reception at the company that registers all domain names for the UK.

Anyway, a couple of times last week, on the 50 minute drive to work the DJ played "I'll be home for Chrismtas", by Josh Groban. It made me cry both times. Needless to say that driving with tears in your eyes is not the safest thing to do. Not only is it a beautiful song, sung by a beautiful voice, but edited into the song are phone messages from various servicemen/women who will not be home with their families this Christmas. You should be able to have a bit of a listen by going here and scrolling down to the listen to samples section. I'm not usually one to buy Christmas Albums because they are a bit useless for the rest of the year, but I might just make an exception in this case.



Beowulf: 2.5/5

Cast: Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs), John Malkovich (Dangerous Liaisons), Angelina Jolie (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider)

In a nutshell: Some pretty impressive animation, but would have preferred real actors.

Brief Synopsis: Based on an old Danish Poem, a warrior in 507 AD comes to a kingdom to rid them of the monster Grendel.

The first 20 minutes of this movie were strange for me. I did not know that this was a CGI movie, and so I spent the first 20 minutes waiting for the CGI to turn to real life people. When they didn't, I finally settled into the movie and did enjoy it. The story has been told many a time, and lends it self to an animated treatment. Sometimes a little too violent, the action is exciting. The characters are life like - the characters looks almost exactly like the actors who are lending their voices to them - and the scenery is quite rich. However, everything is so close to being real, but not quite, that it is somewhat distracting and I wondered through most of it, why didn't they just make a proper movie the way they used to.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Australian Idol vs X-Factor

I know most of you don't really care... but sadly I am a bit of a slave to reality tv talent shows. Without doubt I would say that So You Think You Can Dance? is my favourite. It feels a little less manipulated than the likes of say, X-Factor, and the talent that they attract is a sight to behold.

At the moment I am following the current UK series of X-Factor which into it's semi-final round. If you recall, they attempted to bring X-Factor to Australia a couple of years ago, and failed dismally. Australian Idol also just finished a couple of weeks ago. Comparing the two shows, I have to say that Australian Idol comes up trumps. The talent seems to be much brighter and the show itself is an easier watch. One journalist described X-Factor as a 'pantomime', they are not too far wrong. There is something very artificial and staged about the show, maybe I have been affected after reading Chart Throb by Ben Elton which is a satire on the whole Idol/X-Factor phenomenon. Having said that, the last winner of X-Factor here in the UK has just released her first single, and it is actually brilliant, if not a bit Celine Dionish in a more modern sort of way. Possibly the viewers of X-Factor might be a bit older, and the format for the show allows for a wider variety of singing style than Australian Idol.

Anyway, the reason I started this blog entry was because today I read an article which talked about how one of the songs that one of the contestants on X-Factor, Rhydian (Operatic style voice), wanted to sing in the semi final was vetoed by makers of the show for not being mainstream enough. I beg to differ, especially seeing as he sung I Vow to Thee My Country/World in Union on last week's show. The song he had chosen was The Prayer by Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion. For those who are Australian Idol followers, 3 years ago, this was the song that propelled Athony Callea to become one of Australia's highest every selling singles. Given Rhydian's background in opera and musical theatre, I am sure the song would have suited him to a tee.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Iceland Holiday 3

You can tell it is December here and that Christmas is approaching. Over the last few days Christmas lights, trees and decorations have been popping up everywhere. On monday a road train with Santa in the back, blaring loud carols came around our neighbourhood with door knockers collecting money. The place I'm working at this week has been in a frenzy putting up trees. It is quite different from Australia, it feels more festive. I guess that is the difference the cold weather and tradition makes.
Most of you know, Gideon and I will be in Canada for Christmas. I'm crossing my fingers for a white Christmas - I've always wanted one of those. And looking at the weather forecast for this next week, I'd say there is a good chance. Today it's a max of -4dC and a minimum of -11dC! I can smell the snow already! : )

Anyway, back to our Iceland Holiday. Not really much left to tell. As most of the tours leave first thing in the morning, and we only found out about the cancellation of the glacier tour at 10pm at night, we were unable to book something else, and so we were left with a spare day. With the weather looking a little grim, and our enthusiam somewhat waning, we spent most of the day sulking in our hotel room doing nothing...or should I say relaxing in our hotel room watching crappy day time British TV. We did, however, go out for a little big of a pleasant walk around Reykjavik.

Hallgrimskirkja church
The largest church in Iceland, it's tower can be seen from almost everywhere in the city.

Gideon enjoys getting outside and a little ray of sunshine.
Despite looking a little foreboding from the outside, the church is well lit, warm and cosy on the inside.

A local milkbar

Sculpture Sun Voyager by Jon Gunnar Arnason

Freezing down on the waterfront

That evening we went out to a lovely little restaurant, VidTjornina. Strangely it was decorated with old American memorabilia such as newspaper cuttings and pictures of the likes of Shirley Temple and Lana Turner. Gideon ordered Codchins (still trying to work out exactly what they are, but bizarrely, I think they literally are the chins of cods) which were delicious, and I had a some fish (a type of which I'd never heard of) with a langoustine tail - very yummy. I think having a really good meal ended up turning the mood, it left me with a good feeling about our trip despite the disappointments of not seeing everything that we had hoped. Funny how good food can do that.
In the end, I recommend Iceland, especially if you like the outdoors. There is a lot to do (provided you have better luck with tours, and perhaps if you go in the summer) and it really is a beautiful country.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Iceland Holiday Day 2

We woke to a wonderfully crisp morning. The Golden Circle tour we were booked on began at lunchtime so we had some time to have a look around the capital city and also book our planned glacial walk tour for the following day, something we were both very excited about doing.

The town lake. Frozen over after a cold night.
You can actually see some birds standing on the ice if you look carefully.

At midday we waited on the side of the main road, 5-10 metres from the front of the hotel, to be picked up for our tour of the Golden Circle.

Gideon waiting outside the Castle apartments where we were staying.

We waited for half an hour in the cold, and then received a phone call from the tour company. Apparently they had sent a shuttle bus to pick us up, but after 8 minutes of waiting/looking for us, they left. The best they could do was to offer to reschedule us for the next day. This was not an option as we had the glacier walk the next day, and so we were left with nothing to do for the afternoon. Dammit.

After much discussion, Gideon decided to give driving a go. We hired a car and attempted to do our own Golden Circle tour. I was most impressed with Gideon's driving. Driving on the wrong side of the car (with a right handed gear stick) on the wrong side of the road (I mean, the right side of the road) was a scary thought, but he didn't drive on the left side of the road even once!

Beautiful landscapes of snow covered mountains.
As we left the city the sky clouded up, the wind picked up and it began to rain.

Lake Thingvallavatn

Thingvellir is the original site of the oldest existing parliament in the world.

It is also where Silfra is located, a fissure in the crust of the earth where the European and American tectonic plates meet. If you ever go to Iceland it is possible to do a tour and snorkle or scuba dive in Silfra.

Some of the local landscape

Rugged up in my new hat at the Geysir area

The star attraction: Strokkur, it goes as high as 60-100 feet

Strokkur goes off!

The carpark at Gullfoss Waterfall

By the time we reached the Gulfoss waterfall it was almost dark. Still, I was determined to see it. With the setting of the sun the wind had picked up and we could feel it buffetting against the side of the car. Still, we could see the wooden path down to the falls and there wouldn't be another chance. So we braved the cold, wind and rain. However, the path was covered in patches of ice and the wind was so strong I could barely walk and was just a little worried about being blown off the side of the rail-less path. So we aborted. Dammit.

We finished off a long day with dinner at the Viking Village restaurant, where we tried whale steak and putrified steak amongst other traditional Icelandic foods. It was a very quiet night and we missed out on the Viking singing. Still it was good to try something of the local food.

It was about 10pm by the time we got back to the apartment. About a minute after we arrived, the phone rang. It was the tour company for our glacier tour - our walk on a glacier was cancelled due to anticipated bad weather for the next day. Double Dammit.