Thursday, February 26

Book: A Crown of Swords, Robert Jordan Click for more info

Book Seven down, and I am officially over half way through the WoT series. This volume was better than the last, not least because stuff actually happened, but it also seemed to flow a bit better. That said there were some pretty slow bit and I'm left hoping that the pace doesn't become the norm going forward.

Oh and I'm still confused about exactly what's going on. But hey! On to 8!

Tuesday, February 17

Film: Project Almanac Click for more info

Depending on the audience, time travel can be a tricky subject to film about. For the general (read: normal) public it's all about the drama involved with meeting dinosaurs or killing Hitler/your grandparents, but for the geeks (you know, those brought up on TNG) it's more about expressing the mathematical beauty of causality and the elegance of balancing the formula of temporal relocation. These guys need a tight storyline otherwise they probably won't enjoy it.

Which, as Project Almanac proves, is a load of bokum. I think it's fair to say that Almanac treats time travel with very little respect - the whole presentation of the concept and its consequences is pretty shoddy, inconsistent and cheap; it's clear from the start that the film is all about the drama of... well okay, there were no dinosaurs or Hitlers and most of the issues that the protagonists used time travel to deal with were wholly of the teenage angsty kind.

And yet, the film wasn't that bad really, not once you stop looking for holes and inconsistencies. What's left is quite fun, if not at all deep, and the film just manages to be decent enough to watch.

It still just falls short of a recommendation though. And oh, if you did want to watch an extremely tight film about time travel you should definitely check out the excellent Los Cronocrímenes or Timecrimes (credit to Mash for that one).

Tuesday, February 10

Florence Day Four: Rome

Except we didn't actually make it home on the day we were supposed to. Grabbing the latest flight leaving Florence meant flying via Rome - an inconvenience for sure but better than the alternative of catching the direct flight to Heathrow at 1pm. Ordinarily this would have been nothing more than an irritation, but it turns out that whatever magical curse had blocked our collective ability to keep time was still in full effect; after dinner at Rome's airport (which included a chocolate cake which pretty much sealed our fate), we found out that our connection to London had decided to leave without us.

To be fair it was our pride that was damaged the most. Missing a flight is pretty unforgivable, especially given the context here, but I guess the luck we had been riding on for the trip had to run out at some point.

And so there we were, refusing to the accept the fact that we would indeed have to spend a further night in Italy, this time in Rome, in order to catch the earliest flight to London the next day. It's probably something we would laugh about later (if not during sooner), but the real joke was how we were about to again miss the rescheduled flight the next morning. I think I would have given up at that point.

So there you have it - a last minute adhoc trip to Florence that ended up being full of culture, laughs and surprises. That's not bad for a destination I had never before considered visiting; I even learned how to use Snapchat (which kind of blew my mind by the way), so any misgivings or apprehension I had with booking the last minute trip was totally worth it.

Monday, February 9

Florence Day Three: Siena

In what appeared to be a a majestic example of "winging it", we decided last night that we were going to attempt to cram in Siena. This was a town a few hours South of Florence and was said to be too beautiful to miss, so after a quick pre breakfast investigation we figured out which bus would be able to take us there and back in good time for our flight home that evening.

But first we had the little matter of Santa Croce to see. This was a basilica in Florence that contained the tombs of some pretty big and influential scientists and artists from Firenze history: Galileo, Michaelangelo and Dante amongst others were all buried here and it would have been a big shame to have missed it. After a whistle stop tour (photos here) we headed to the bus station across town to catch our ride to Siena.

By "headed" I mean "rushed like headless chicken", because it seems that for some reason any sense of timekeeping had totally been lost at some point on our trip in Italy. Although buses to Siena were regular throughout the day, the 11:40am that we aimed to get really was the only feasible option to take in order to get some decent time there. After collecting our luggage from the hotel and dropping it off at the train station's left luggage (adjacent to the bus stop) we managed to get our tickets and seats with minutes to spare. But hey, at least we were on our way to Siena and at around 1:30pm we had arrived.

It really was worth the hassle. The town itself was very pretty, both in aesthetics and sheer vibe, and I immediately regretted us not taking a much earlier bus - our return trip was leaving at 4:30pm so we really only had hours to experience it. The town square would have been so good to have chilled out in, and even walking around the numerous winding and undulating alleyways (replete with cute little archways) would have kept us occupied for hours. Instead we chose to have a hearty lunch and spend most of our time at the Duomo di Siena.

The cathedral was magnificent. I think the main thing was how different it was - it was difficult to decide where it had more of a classic or modern ambience to it, and again I felt a pang of regret regarding how we had painted ourselves into a corner time wise. But what we saw was better than having missed it, and it was with a heavy heart that we walked (read: raced) back to the station to catch our bus. You can click the following for photos of Siena in general and its Duomo.

And that was pretty much it for out time in Siena and indeed Florence and Italy as a whole. The bus was exchanged for a taxi, the taxi for a plane (with us naturally checking in our luggage just after the counter had closed), and before we knew it we were well on our way London, I for one looking forward to having my bed back that evening.

Sunday, February 8

Florence Day Two: Pisa

Ah, Pisa. For most people it's the town that contains the most iconic of Italy's monuments - the leaning tower. And yes, although I will admit to initially not realising just how close Pisa was to Florence, I was pretty excited to be making the two hour drive west to see it.

I have to say, I was pretty disappointed.

This shouldn't really come of much surprise really. After all, it is just, well, a tower at an angle. I wasn't really sure what else I was expecting. But still, we did eventually go along with the whole tourist trail, including paying the extortionate fee to climb the tower as well as constructing those photos:

The rest of them can be found here.

After a pleasant yet underwhelming morning we made our way to Viareggio by train, a beach town further west of Pisa. Viareggio alone may have been worth a visit; it's a charming little town with a wonderful seafront alongside majestic mountain views and due to its accessibility would make a brilliant segue to a morning climbing leaning towers. However the real value and surprise for us was that as it was February, we were smack bang in the middle of carnival season:

It really was a brilliant experience - most of the afternoon was spent walking/strolling/dancing with the floats and performers, taking in as many of the colours and political statements as we could. And when we were exhausted with that we had sunset on the beach to bring us back down again. It was a vivid, unique experience which I feel lucky to have had been a part of. You can see the rest of the photos here.

But alas the day had come to an end and we made our way back to Pisa and then onto Florence for a late dinner. Unlike today, the next had not been planned in advance, so I was a little anxious as to what it would hold - on the other hand I think the trip had already surpassed my expectations.

Saturday, February 7

Florence Day One: Firenze

It was clear from the start that timekeeping wasn't going to be a major theme of this trip. For a start I had only booked my flight a little over 24 hours before take off, but the real indication was when I arrived at an empty gate - as everyone had already boarded the plane. Yes, City Airport is super efficient and yes, in theory you only need to (baglessly) check in 15 minutes before your flight... but no, in terms of stress it pays to arrive a little early than you need to. Of course this was a once off and I had learned my lesson and would never be so lax in catching a flight again. Oh no.

But I was on the flight and that's all that mattered really. Florence was never really on my list of places to visit (the first and only time I had previously been to Italy was Rome in 2003), but as some friends were already going I decided to crash and tag along. Three days sounded like a decent amount of time to spend in the region, and The Leaning Tower of Pisa just had to be something worth seeing. Other than that though I went in blind.

Although I initially cursed the insanely early flight it did pay dividends - after leaving the airport and checking into our hotel we were free to start exploring by noon. By virtue of it being situated right outside our hotel, the immediate sight to see was the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (photos here), a majestic cathedral with an immense dome that really did seem like something that belonged in a film. We bought a combined ticket that allowed us to climb both the dome and bell tower - there's not really much between the two in terms of views (of course the tower had a better view of the dome), but the climbs have their own sense of adventure in both. The ticket also allowed us entry into the baptistery (which was nice) as well as the museum in the basement of the cathedral (which was less interesting).

Next on our list was the Galleria degli Uffizi (photos here). This was a pretty sizeable art gallery containing the works of various classical Italian artists including at least three Ninja Turtles - I was actually quite surprised at how many I recognised, which is both a testament to the value of these pieces and a indication of my ignorance of the deeper aspects behind the famous art we see so often.

Our final stop of the day (both due to a lack of time as well as inclination - it appears three is the maximum number of museums we could handle in a day) was to the Galleria dell'Accademia (photos here), home of Michelangelo's sculpture David, and pretty much the reason we crossed town. The visit was whistle-stop, and the gallery did have other nice exhibits too, but the highlight was definitely the sculpture itself.

For our first night in Florence we decided to meander across Ponte Vecchio (photos here) to the south bank of Florence. We eventually ended up at Gustapizza, a cute intimate little stone baked pizza place that had brilliant food at a friendly price which I heartily recommend. After that we took a punt and visited Libreria Cafe la Cite, a bookshop-cum-cafe that offers live music at night.

It was a great way to end our first night in Firenze, and after day one I was already totally glad that I had been convinced to come. Random photos from the streets of Firenze can be found here.