Friday, 30 April 2010
We decided to spend what was left of the morning doing a little trinket shopping. We both wanted to take our childs something 'traditional' back for them as a keepsake. Doozr had previously spotted a cute little mole character and thought his childs would appreciate him. I figured that whatever he got them, my child would also appreciate and so off we headed to find a shop selling wooden versions of the little guy. A quick chat with the shop assistant and some of our own research revealed that he is a famous character here in the Czech Republic called Krtek, created in 1956 and staring in 63 movies and numerous childrens books.
After a lovely half hour sit under the trees at the old town square we decided it was time to sample some more Czech cuisine. We headed towards Restaurant Lascala, a place we'd spotted that sold the local goulash served in a bread boat. The goulash was again awesome and neither of us could finish off the massive loaf of bread the goulash came in.
After lunch we headed towards the Jewish Quarter. Doozr treated me to a necklace and he bought himself a tiny Golem from the little stalls along the roadside. Golem is apparently a stone creature who used to guard the synagogue. Whatever he is, we think he is cute as.
By this point we were feeling more than weary, the sun was blazing and our legs were still a little sore. We headed back for the shade of the trees at the old town square, grabbed a crépe and enjoyed an hour in the shade watching the world go by. Just sitting, just being.
To be honest the day didn't much change after this. We grabbed a coffee before heading across Charles Bridge towards what appeared to be a park on the map. Indeed it was a park and when we finally scrambled our way through the hordes of teenagers that seem to have descended upon Prague overnight, we arrived at the most stunning of locations. The gardens are called Seminařská and, although there were a few people about, it was much quieter than we'd become used to.
After a few hours of lying together in the sunshine, chatting, dozing and taking in the scenery we decided to head back to the hustle and bustle of the old town square and have some tea before going back to the hotel to pack for tomorrows trip back to the UK.
Tea tonight was a little less extravagant than last night and we opted for a little Italian called Pizzeria Al Minuto, just along from the Astonomical Clock. I had a simple chicken salad and Doozr had a Quattro Stagio pizza. Of course this was washed down with a couple of Pilsner Urquells. When in Rome and all that.
Plans for a night cap in the pub across from the hotel were scrapped due to an annoying stomach ache I'd not been able to shake all day. The rest of the evening was taken up with Doozr rubbing my stomach and trying to pack! Not exactly the ending to the day I'd hoped for but still. The iPhone played us some lovely tunes while we listened to the noise from the train station through the open window.
Thursday, 29 April 2010
Day 2 has proved quite eventful! A nice early start followed by hotel breakfast of cereal, sausage and cake, and off out and about. We started off by heading to the old town square for a few brief moments of Internet and a nice sit down in under the trees. Then up to the famous Charles Bridge where we spent a little time listening to the musicians, admiring the views and appreciating the fabulous weather.
Over the bridge lies Prague castle, with a lengthy uphill trek to the top. The further up we climbed, the more spectacular the views became. Prague is a very beautiful city from the ground, but from above it's really quite amazing. Lots of photo opportunities meant I was never without my camera, and in the end decided to just keep it tied to my hand the whole time.
Once we reached the top of the long, shallow stairway our legs felt fit to drop. We had an icecream in a lovely little courtyard overshadowed by the tremendous St Vitus cathedral. The queues to get inside and a have a look were almost as long as the cathedral itself so we opted to carry on into the next courtyard after one or two (or three or four) more photo opportunities.
We almost missed the changing of the guard, but managed a rather obscured view through one of the many massive gateways. After that, we continued up toward the castle but spent some time admiring the even more impressive views of the city. The white walls and red roofs of the buildings looked particularly pretty in the bright sunshine.
Rather than continue upward, we headed down into the town and up to the rooftop of the Cowboy Steak and Cocktail house. We'd spotted the terrace from the castle wall, with it's distinctive whole-cow spit roast mascot and it was as lovely to sit in as we'd both hoped. The 69 spiral stairs up the inside of the castle wall helped us build a thirst, if the sun hadn't already!
Back across Charles Bridge, it was just coming up to lunchtime so we went to our new favourite restaurant, the Prague U Parlamentu, where we devoured onion soup and gloulash ready for the afternoons entertainment. A short soirée to Wenceslas Square for a look round and a drink was in order while we decided what to do next.
We decided, on 23inertia's suggestion, to go to look at the Jewish quarter. She said that the architecture was well worth a look, and it's right next to the Prague Metronom, which intrigued me.
Unfortunately, after several navigational mishaps, we managed to not only miss the Jewish quarter, but the bridge for the Metronom too. In fact, we were an entire bridge further along than we expected. We crossed it just to see what was there and realised the only way to get back would be to go back the way we'd come, or walk through a large green area on the map.
We opted, of course, for the large unmarked green area. Always up for an adventure, and frankly keen to get out of the midday sun that was slowly turning my forehead into a red glowing beacon. Up we went. And up. And up. And, indeed, up.
At the top we were very pleasantly surprised to find a lovely wooded park, complete with a sports club to service our thirst and lavatorial needs. It was lovely to just sit under the trees in the shade and relax for an afternoon. Once the drink was empty, though, we thought we'd better push on, and I was extra motivated after checking the map and discovering we were actually almost at the Metronom.
Walking through the park we were amazed at how many brilliant children's play areas there were. If I were 10, I'd have had a go. I think they might have thought a couple of 30-somethings would have looked odd trying to get up the rope slide, though. Instead we satisfied ourselves with walking hand in hand through the trees and looking at the amazing views over the city afforded us by the aforementioned up and up.
Finally we arrived at the Metronom. It is ... Well, it's a metronome. Looking to be about 30 feet long and ticking about every 8 seconds. I still have no idea what relevance the time interval has. Subsequent research has, however, told us that it was built on the site of the Stalin monument and is on top of Prague's only nuclear bunker. The Stalin monument was blown to bits in 1962 after a very sad history.
All that up and up had proven very tiring, and we were both ready for some grub. We'd earlier been told of a restaurant built in a cellar with live music as we ate. Sounded good to me, so after popping back to the hotel to freshen up we headed back to the U Zlaté Konvice.
What a treat awaited us there! The waiter who invited us in earlier in the day recognised us as we entered, and we sat deep in the cellar on a long banquet table. A quartet consisting of a double bass, an accordion, a violin and a ukelele serenaded us with songs about beer while we ordered and consumed a hog roast consisting of 3 plates each, and a whole basket of bread. I had a lovely dark beer, the name of which escapes me competely, while 23inertia has a whole litre of Pilsner Urquell that apparently came served in a vase.
The food tasted great and certainly filled us up. The main plate was a cutting board containing roast pork, straight off the pig. A side plate of salad and another of potatoes completed the trio, and a small side of mustard, horseradish and pickled things were thrown in. We both polished it off nicely, and noted with some amusement that another couple had opted to share a single serving despite us having a whole one each.
After such a hearty meal, some rest and relaxation was in order. None of that though! Night had fallen, and I wanted to go to Charles Bridge for some nighttime shots. These were, unfortunately, not entirely successful. Mostly due to my tripod being too big to bring in the hand luggage. Got one or two nice shots, though. We shall have to wait 'til they come out.
Not wanting to go to bed too early, we stayed out for one more beer while sitting at the side of the old town square. At this point a very panicky little fellow started trying to push a leaflet into my hand, apologising constantly and telling me it was for "maybe later".
The pictures on the front advertised some burlesque dancing shows, but he wouldn't let me turn it over to see the back. This puzzled me, but once he'd left it all became clear. The dancing shows were a distraction. It was a strip and live sex show with "sometimes up to 150 girls". No wonder he was panicked: 23inertia was sat right there. Once we realised what he was trying to give me we couldn't help but laugh. There was a stag night out on the other side of the square. They would have been a much easier target.
A slow wander back to the hotel is all that remained for us to do. We picked up some essential supplies (chocolate and Haribo) and returned to the hotel. Thoroughly worn out, but thoroughly happy.
Wednesday, 28 April 2010
Day 1 in the beautiful city of Prague. After catching up with some sleep we realised it was only 2pm so we had plenty of time for some exploration. We headed out to the old town square and had a look at some of the architecture. I took lots of photos (on my other camera, so you'll have to wait) and we had a nice couple of hours just sat.
There was some sort of event going on in the middle of the square involving, from what I could see, trial riding, live music and men on offroad segways. I really fancy one of those. After taking some pictures of the gargoyles and the astronomical clock, we spent some time sat outside a bar and enjoyed a glass of genuine Budvar. Lovely.
I am realising only now, and blame the tiredness entirely, that I'm struggling to remember the names of places we've been. I will endeavour to photograph them from now on to make sure we have some clue as to what we did!
Following our lovely relaxing sit down, we decided it was time for food. We headed out away from the old town square for reasons of both exploration and thrift. A plate of goulash and dumplins was 1/3rd the price, despite only being 2 streets away. Absolutely delicious, though, and went well with the Pilsner Urquell.
After this feast, it was time to head back. Despite only being 7pm, 23inertia was feeling the strain of the 29 hour day. I was feeling surprisingly sprightly, but decided that my body was probably just fooling itself so we decided to call it a night. We slept 13 hours!
Tuesday, 27 April 2010
No hiccups en route and, save for the satnav sending us down a road that didn't exist, we got to Robin Hood airport in good time. The parking system at Robin Hood airport is quite brilliant. It's right in front of the terminal building so easy to find, and if prebooked it's possible to gain entry with the card used to book it. It even greets you by name, which is nice.
A swift breakfast and a long wait later, we boarded the plane and set off across Europe. The flight itself was uneventful, so nothing exciting to report. A cup of tea and a gentle doze and we were notified of our imminent descent! Possibly the least hassle of any short flight ever.
Getting from the airport to the town centre was to be by the AE, or Airport Express. After a short scout about we located the stop and headed across town. It was a very pleasant journey and we saw a lot of the city, but a little panic set in when we drove past our hotel and the station we thought we were supposed to get off at.
Silly fools that we are didn't realise that the hotel is near the other train station. Actually there are quite a few. So after alighting we set off across town. In entirely the wrong direction. On the plus side, we got to see a decent amount of the city, gained our bearings (after accidentally stumbling into Wenceslas Square) and learned our first practical Czech word: nádraží. Train station.
So here we are, thoroughly settled in our cheapy hotel. We're right above the train station and look down on the roof, we can hear our neighbours through the plumbing, and there's no kettle. But we're happy. The room itself is nice enough, the snooker is on the telly live from Sheffield, and best of all, we've arrived!
Monday, 26 April 2010
On Friday night Doozr and I headed to Leeds O2 Academy for The Wonder Stuff's Hup! Tour. I have been a fan of The Wonder Stuff for as long as I can remember. When I told my mum who I was going to see her reply was "Wow, I know them. How do I know them?". Simple mum, I used to force you to listen to their Hup Album over and over in the car when I was about 15.
The Wonder Stuff decided to head out on a 20th Anniversary tour of their first album 'Eight Legged Grove Machine' last year. It was an amazing gig and their new line up was impressive. Erica Nockalls being a complete surprise, not only fantastic violinist but also adding a touch of glamour to The Wonder Stuff line-up.
When they announced that they would be touring again in 2010 to tour Hup I had to get tickets. Hup is without a doubt their best album to date and, having seen the show they put on last year, I knew I couldn't miss it.
We dashed across to Leeds after work and found ourselves entering 'The Light', an entertainment and shopping centre around the corner from Academy. We parked up and with a good hour to spare we popped into Subway for a bite to eat and a sit down. We headed for the venue at doors opening and found ourselves a little corner midway back, out of the way of, what we knew from last time, would be a sea of 30 somethings moshing about like loons.
The first support act came on at about 7.30. An interesting fellow called John McKeown. He is sold as a solo artist but he appears to be more of 7 piece, a number of guitarists, keyboard, drums and violinist. The songs were catchy and I even found myself bobbing my head a little. Unfortunately, he appeared to think he was very 'rock and roll' and even strode off the stage at the end of the performance without even a simple thank you. This left his 'band' to accept the slightly sparse clapping from the yet to fill up audience.
The second support act seemed to have a large following in the audience and I had spotted a number of gig-goers with their t-shirts on. They were called Amsterdam and hail from Liverpool. Immediately I noticed the common theme for the night; another beautiful girl with a violin in hand.
Amsterdam did not disappoint though. They were excellent - I particularly liked the title track from their album, Arm in Arm. Their entire set was really catchy. Solid folk pop tracks with a distinct Irish feel thanks to honorary performer Elmear McGeown on the flute and penny whistle and Anna Jenkins on violin. We enjoyed it so much that we acquired the aforementioned album. Another new band to add to the collection.
A nice addition to the stage performance was a roadie who clearly appreciated Amsterdam's music. He suddenly appeared from nowhere on the stage and started performing Bez-like dance moves whilst singing his lungs out. Very amusing indeed.
All too quickly they had finished the album tracks and had vanished off stage. There were a few minutes when I wondered if that was it. Slightly disappointed that it could be over so quickly. But then they were back and on form to sing some excellent covers, B-sides and classic songs from the era. Circlesquare, Size of a Cow and Caught in my Shadow being 3 of my favourite tracks and the amazing Ten Trenches Deep to finish the set.
They were on stage for over 2 hours. 2 amazing, non-stop hours. I danced. I never dance at gigs. I was completely drawn into what was happening on the stage and could have kept going for another 2 hours. At some point during the evening, without me even noticing, Doozr snuck off to the Merc stand to grab me a copy of the re-recorded Hup album. A welcome addition to my Wonder Stuff CD collection. Due to the complete overhaul it has received, it's like a new album rather than a re-recording of an old classic.
Hup has and always will be my favourite offering from The Wonder Stuff. After that performance I really hope they come back next year and tour Never Loved Elvis. I will certainly be there, cheap seats or not!
Sunday, 25 April 2010
Dalek Storm (Special Tactical Operations Radioactive Mutant), a fan built project based on sketches done by Rocky Marshall in the 80s after disappointment with the red "Supreme Dalek" on the show.
Alan Clark, who hails from Stanley, near Wakefield in our very own sunny Yorkshire, built Dalek Storm from wood and an old electric wheelchair. It's fully mobile, complete with water cannons, neon lights and the obligatory voice-changer for EX-TER-MI-NATING hapless pedestrians.
Sadly, as this is a fan project, it'll likely never appear on the show or, much to my dismay, as a radio controlled toy. Looks like I'm going to have to be as resourceful as Mr Clark if I ever want one.
The photos in this post are from the Dalek Storm Facebook group. Have a look for loads more pics.
Thursday, 22 April 2010
So yes, a new revelation. For some reason that to this day remains a mystery, the Daleks invaded Sheffield train station yesterday morning. Sadly I couldn't get down there for a look, but a friend of ours who works nearby took a camera. What greeted him was this:
Is that not the most awesome Dalek variant you've ever seen? I can't wait 'til they make an appearance on the show. Also, 'til the radio controlled toy version comes out. Hey, I have to indulge my inner nerd!
A couple of weeks ago I did something I very rarely do. I clicked on an advert on the internet. It was for a musician I'd never heard of, Paul Cusick, who the advert billed as being like Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree and Nine Inch Nails. Sounded interesting. I clicked through and had a listen to the sample tracks.
I'm not sure about the list of similarities, but what I heard was some pretty decent prog rock. Not hard rock in any way, but good stuff and similar to many things I already like. There are hints of Porcupine Tree in there, and certainly I can hear hints of Bryan Josh in there. A lack of long, meandering instrumentals and more to-the-point lyrical hooks make it a more mainstream sound than many prog artists, and it loses nothing for it.
Paul Cusick (aka Q) has been the guitarist for several prog bands, Gabriel, Ripped and Riversea, who I've never really listened to. Perhaps I should, because if this is the sort of talent they have playing for them they're probably worth a listen. His solo debut album, Focal Point, is available in myriad formats from his website. He's certainly been very considerate when producing for the widest possible audience, and has maintained his own record label so he can control distribution.
A couple of listens is all it took to convince me to buy the album. I bought the CD, but with that you also get a download version in a format of your choice. The usual contenders (high and low bitrate MP3) are there, but also VBR MP3, AAC, FLAC and even OGG. Can't fault him for not covering all bases! Once downloaded, I was very impressed by the production quality of something as simple as an MP3 file. The first track, Focal Point, has the album cover as the artwork. Subsequent tracks have their respective pages from the little book, complete with lyrics when viewed large. A very nice touch and will definitely be appreciated.
The music then. There is quite a variety on there. Everblue is a great track, using some interesting vocal techniques to make a complex, immersive track. Fade Away and Hello mellow out to become almost balladic in their melancholy, while Big Cars and Soul Words stand out as being the most proggish with some of the best riffs. There's even a bit of political commentary in Hold On with a rather depressing, but fitting for the genre, message about holding on to what you've got. An eclectic mix of styles which, unsurprisingly, we at TME find most agreeable.
Another nice touch is that, once the CD arrived, Paul included an autographed postcard of the album cover, not signed en masse but personalised for each customer. The CD packaging itself is very good, with some nice artwork and good integration of the song lyrics. I've very much enjoyed looking through the little book, and of course seeing as I have the downloaded MP3s on my iPod, I can enjoy it when listening to it out and about too.
Overall, I'm very pleased with this random purchase brought on by a momentary lapse in judgement. Although not all the tracks are amazing, they are well laid out and hold the album together. An excellent first solo album.
Wednesday, 21 April 2010
Yes, the ash cloud emanating from that most unpronouncable of all volcanoes that has shut down most of Europe for the last week is still at large, although much diminished. Airlines are frantically trying to get planes in the air and everything is going horribly, horribly wrong. Hopefully all will be well come next week, but if not, we need a backup plan!
So if we can't get to Prague for beer, food and scenery, what's the next best thing? Why, staying in England and doing the exact same thing from a nice little country cottage, of course! It has come to our attention through some searching that some holiday cottage companies are trying to boost their Spring business with handy tag lines like "Flights cancelled? We have cottages to rent TODAY!" So that's the first plan; go and spend a week in a lovely little cottage and get quietly sozzled on the English moors. Or something to that effect.
Of course, being the cautious sorts, we didn't want to risk getting to the big day and not being able to find an available cottage. With all the upheaval it's possible that next week will be fully booked all over the place. So what is a self-respecting Englishman to do if there is nowhere to stay and he really wants to go on holiday? There's always ... this:
Even though 23inertia has to date shown an almost pathological fear of tents, she has recently mellowed a lot and, in fact, suggested the idea! So if, come flying out day, it all goes completely pear shaped, we'll be heading down to Towsure and CCC. After rapidly stocking up on camping equipment and finding a nice campsite we will go somewhere rural, calm, relaxed, and with a good source of beer.
Sunday, 4 April 2010
Nope, it's the sound of a Spectrum loading Horace Goes Skiing off a tape cassette! After a rather geeky chat about retro computing last month, 23inertia revealed that she probably still had her Spectrum+ somewhere at her mum's house. Seeing as we were down there for Easter, I had a rummage about in the loft to see if I could locate it.
Here is a short list of things that I found:
- A dead mouse
- A very 70s hair dryer
- A box brownie camera
- A metric ton of Sylvanian Families toys
- A Spectrum+ with datacorder and a bunch of tapes!
While 23inertia played with the Sylvanian Families, I set about refreshing my brain with the immaculately kept Spectrum+ User's Manual. Considering it's been 23 years since I last used a Spectrum, it was surprising how much of it I remembered. I had the classic rubber-keyed Spectrum 48k but the plus operates in much the same way.
I haven't actually had a chance to hook the thing up to the TV yet, but I've been messing with an emulator on my MacBook to get myself back into the swing of it. Remembering where all the BASIC keywords are on a Mac keyboard is tricky, to say the least, but I got as far as designing a space invader sprite and making it wiggle about.
One thing that struck me about the users manual is the assumed basic use of the system. Loading programs off a tape isn't touched on at all for most of the book, and the first half is about how to write short single-use programs to make the machine do what you want. Even the last sentence of the system set-up page says, after tuning in the TV, "now you are ready to start programming." It's stuff like that that makes old nerds like me go all misty eyed and nostalgic.
I think it might be fun to apply some modern software paradigms to the Spectrum's capabilities. Last time I programmed one I didn't even know about procedural programming. GOSUB was as close as I got to structured programming and there were GOTOs everywhere. To be fair, though, I was only 7 ...
So. What shall my first conquest be? And where can I source a copy of the DK "Spectrum Machine Code Reference"?
So, my dad decides as I am visiting Shropshire for Easter, we should all go for a meal in The Gingerbread Man, Market Drayton. Not averse to a nice family meal we decided to book a table (there were going to be 9 adults and 3 children so best to be prepared).
We arrived a few minutes before the table was booked and went inside. The staff looked terrified of the large group of people who had just entered their pub and were not expecting us at all. The Manager came over and said that as soon as there was a table for us we could have it. Erm, we've booked. Why is the table not ready for us already? 45 minutes later, no table, no attempt to arrange a table, new people arriving and being seated all the time - my step mother snapped and we started looking for our own damn table.
We found ourselves a corner where there was a large table for about 8 and a smaller table for 4 next to each other, so we grabbed them. The Manager came over again to apologise and to offer us free sweets and coffee. Apparently the booking had not been written in the diary and so they were not aware we were coming. Fine. Not an issue. Why not tell us that 45 minutes ago? Why not be a little more pro-active and find/create a space for us ... there were plenty of tables empty that could have easily been moved together.
The kids were hungry and fed up and so were us adults so we quickly chose what we wanted to eat and sent Doozr to order it. They had a special Easter menu and we all wanted the mixed grill - 2 main meals for £15 ... bargain. Sadly, the special offer mixed grill was out - apparently we could have the normal mixed grill (which cost £13 each) instead. Erm, no!! Doozr insisted we have the mixed grill at the Easter menu price and, not wanting to annoy us any further, the manager agreed.
The meal itself was very nice, steak was even cooked perfectly which usually never happens on a mixed grill. The complimentary sweets and coffee were a lovely treat that would have probably been missed under normal circumstances.
Everyone left the pub, very full and very content. The mess up with the booking had been all but forgotten. All in all, it was an interesting experience. I am not sure it was a good experience, but the reduced cost main meal, free pudding and free coffee certainly helped sweeten it a lot! Where can a party of 9 adults and 3 kids eat a 2 course meal with drinks and coffee for £123?? :D