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weetoon
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Member since: 08.01.2006

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      08.01.2007 15:19
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      Having visited the Sagrada Familia and Park Guell, we wanted to visit one of Gaudí's houses too, the only problem was which one to choose. We eventually went for La Perdrera (aka Casa Milà), as we had passed this intriguing building several times and really wanted to see the unusual roof which we thought would offer great views of the city.

      The facade of the building is said to have no straight lines in it whatsoever, and its undulating, organic shape, is further enhanced by the wrought iron plant-like forms which adorn the balconies. The building owes its nickname la Perdrera to the quarry-like aspect of its frontage.

      On entering, the courtyard is also impressive, its shape drawing the eye up towards the little bit of sky at the top. The visit is in several parts, and equipped with our audio commentary, we first visited the 2 carefully restored apartments which took us back in time to when the building was new. The first is a bit like a museum, showing all the technological novelties of the time, telephone, cinema and so on. The second one was a reconstruction of an apartment in the modernista style, mixing designer and everyday objects. Remember to look at the interior patio from the apartment windows.

      Having seen the apartments, we were keen to get on the roof, not realising that there was a major part of the visit to experience before that, the 'Espai Gaudí'. The roof space, which was once used to dry laundry, is now an exhibition of Gaudí's life and work. I was most impressed with the space itself, with all its brick arches, and surprised at how beautiful it was, considering that it was not on show, but only seen by a few. This part of the visit made me glad we chose to visit this building, as there were displays on many of his other works which gave a really good overview of his style and techniques. There were pictures of buildings that are not normally visited which was interesting. I was fascinated by an upside down model of a building made of string with weights attached which demonstrated one of Gaudí's techniques for designing arches. If you looked in the mirror that was placed below the model, you could see what the building would look like. The coordinates were entered in a computer and it was found that modern techniques could not have designed it better.

      The roof terrace was great fun. The surface was not flat, but curvy, and functional objects like chimneys and ventilation shafts are given interesting shapes (owls, helmeted warriors and so on)and textures (broken pottery, marble, even broken champagne bottles).

      The gift shop can be entered from the street or from the Casa Milà, but you cannot return to the visit from there.

      At €6 plus €3 for the audio-guide, this was excellent value for money. Discounts are available for holders of a current 'bus turistic' ticket.

      Wheelchair accessibility is not very good, although there are lifts for getting on to the roof, the unevenness of the surface would make it very difficult to negotiate.

      I would recommend this visit if you don't have time to see too many of Gaudí's buildings as the exhibition allows an excellent overview of his techniques and style.

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      • More +
        05.12.2006 10:46
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        Try it, you might like it!

        The Montjuïc area of Barcelona has a lot to offer, not least panoramic views over the city. It is also where you will find the Fundació Joan Miró, an extensive collection of the artist's work in a custom built museum. It is really a case of the building fitting the collection here, with its simple shapes and gleaming white colour, a perfect setting for Miró's bold, primary colours. The way the light floods most of the galleries also enhances the rich collection.

        Much of the collection was donated by Miró himself and is extremely varied. The first work we came across was a huge tapestry which came as a surprise to me as I mainly knew of his work as a painter. I discovered he also made sculptures, ceramics and prints.


        I have to say I didn't know an awful lot about Miró before visiting this place but I was struck by how many of his paintings I recognised, or at least recognised the style of. The colours I mentioned before, the thick black lines, the stars, the moons, the birds... But there is much more to Miró's art than I imagined. The earliest work in the museum dates back from 1901 and Miró went on working more or less to the end of his life, in 1983. During this time, his art was constantly evolving, and Miró was always trying to move further and further away from convention. I have to admit that he left me behind on many occasions, but perhaps one short visit to the Fundació is not enough to develop an understanding and appreciation of this artist. But there was still plenty there I enjoyed.

        One of my favourite parts of the museum was the roof terrace, where one can admire some wonderfully quirky pieces and also get one of the best views of Barcelona in the city, framed by the beautiful architecture of the Fundació. A great place for taking pictures if you can manage to dodge other visitors who always seem to come round the corner as you are about to press the button!

        The Fundació houses a lot of work by other artists and I particularly liked a mercury fountain in one of the windows that looked onto the garden.

        There is a cafe there and a drink was very welcome, as I found the building seemed to favour the build-up of heat which did take away from the enjoyment of the museum. And as it was only April, I don't think I would like to visit in the full heat of summer. The cafe itself was fairly unremarkable. The shop has a great selection of art books.

        Overall, in any other city, I would say this museum is a must see. In Barcelona, where there is so much to see and do, I would recommend this to visitors with a taste for abstract art, or people who are interested in Art in general. And of course Miró fans.

        Other works by Miró can be seen all over Barcelona, in particular sculptures and mosaics.

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          30.10.2006 12:42
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          A little disappointing but still worth a visit

          When the Scottish Parliament was reinstated in 1999, after a 292 years 'holiday', it needed a home. For four years, it met in the Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland whilst the new building was being constructed. From the very start, this project was plagued by controversy and difficulties. The chosen site, at the bottom of the Royal Mile, was not everyone's favourite, and some even questioned if there should be a new building. When the Catalan architect Enric Miralles was chosen for the project, the choice of an architect out with Scotland was another contentious point. The original estimate for the cost of the building was £50 million, but it ended up costing around £470 million. To add to the already troubled start, Enric Miralles sadly died of a brain tumour in 2000, before the building was completed.

          Officially opened by the Queen in October 2004, Holyrood was visited by 250,000 people in its first 6 months, which to some was a vindication. However, as Margo MacDonald (independent MSP) pointed out, did it mean they all liked it?

          My husband and I were among these early visitors and our feelings were very mixed. We had been in Edinburgh when the work was being done, and had not been overly impressed with what little we saw behind the security barriers. But then again, a building site is never pretty so we put those very early impressions out of our minds. We really wanted to like the new building, not only because it had cost each of us about £85 (as it did everyone else in Scotland) but because it is an important symbol for the Scottish people. Personally, I felt the whole argument about cost had arisen mainly because the original quote was far too low. A Parliament is an important official building and as such should make people feel proud and give visitors a good impression of the country. After all, Portcullis House, the new accommodation block for Westminster MPs cost £250 million, whereas Holyrood came with all necessary accommodation and functions. I think there would have been as many complaints if the building had been 'cheap'. So what were we getting for our money?

          We were very under whelmed by the exterior of Holyrood. The front entrance looked to me like the front of an airport or train station. To be fair, the landscaping around the building wasn't fully finished. But what were those funny sticks on top of the canopy for? Not to protect people from the sun, this is Scotland after all, and they certainly wouldn't keep the rain away. I did quite like the pillars going through a leaf shape cut-out in the concrete; it looked like a plant or a twig and leaf, quite organic. I also like the windows on the MSPs building; they were quite quirky and fun. But other parts looked like tower-blocks with little decorations stuck on them to make them look less tower-blocky.

          Ok, the jury is still out, let's go in…

          We had hoped to visit when Parliament was in session, but it turns out they are mostly in recess during school holidays, so that is probably never going to happen. The visit is free, unless you wish to take a guided tour at £3.50. This lets you stand in the actual debating chamber, instead of just viewing it from the public gallery. If you wish to view a debate, it may be wise to obtain a ticket as you may not be able to get in on the day. More information on this is available here http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/vli/visitingHolyrood/chamberTickets.htm Free entry to the building doesn't mean you can walk right in however, you first have to go through security, as you would expect.

          The first place you come to after security is the main hall. This I did not like at all. It felt weighed down by the very low (or at least it seemed low) concrete ceiling, by the darkness and general gloomy atmosphere. The vaulted ceiling has strange looking crosses in low-relief which I have since found out were Miralles' interpretation of the Saltire. They didn't work for me, as they reminded me more of religious symbols which I felt had no place here. There was also an exhibition there about the Scottish Parliament, a lacklustre affair as I remember it.

          To get to the Debating Chamber, visitors have to follow corridors and stairs, again drab and uninspired. The chamber itself was a different matter. A huge, bright and airy space, where oak, glass and light come together in a most satisfying manner. This is more like it! The huge ceiling looks in places like an upturned boat and is truly amazing. Again though, small details enter your consciousness after a while, little niggles that spoil the overall effect. The semi-circular arrangement for the MSPs desks is very nice, but from the gallery they remind me of something. What is it now? Oh, yes, they have a distinct IKEA look. And who chose that pattern for the carpet?

          The whole visit saw me hovering between being impressed and disappointed…

          Having been to Barcelona since our visit to Holyrood, I can see where Miralles was coming from (both figuratively and literally, as he was native of the Catalan capital). Many times during our stay, as we visited different places, I saw elements that reminded me of the Holyrood building. Understanding Miralles' concepts better did make the building more satisfactory. The choice of a Catalan architect was a potent symbolic gesture, as Scotland and Catalonia have similarities in their histories and political statuses. Aerial photographs of Holyrood show that from the air it is an amazing ensemble. But that is just the thing, isn't it? Common citizens of Scotland and visitors do not get to see it from the air. And its beauty and clever design should jump out at you, not require a degree in architecture to be appreciated. Overall, I think the Parliament Building is full of good design ideas and concepts, but they haven't quite come together. Despite the deliberate use of Scottish materials in its fabric, it still looks like it would 'fit' better in Barcelona. But as a symbol, I think visitors to Edinburgh should visit it, and make up their own mind. I for one will go back, to see if a little distance from the original controversy, the passing years and the final touches to the landscaping have lent Holyrood a little more substance.

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          • Snakes on a Plane (DVD) / DVD / 82 Readings / 77 Ratings
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            10.10.2006 17:19
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            It's snakes... on a plane

            THIS IS A FILM_ONLY REVIEW

            Our little town’s cinema usually gets film ages after everyone else, even after they appear on DVD. “Snakes on a Plane” was no exception. At 90 years old, this cinema is the oldest working cinema in Scotland, and it is a lovely quaint building. I swear the seats must be 90 as well though, as they are not all that comfortable. And that is the way I judge how entertaining a movie is. Let me explain: because of the nature of the seats, after about an hour in the cinema, numbness inevitably sets in. Depending how involved I am in the action of the film, it takes more or less time to notice. “The English Patient” for instance, despite being very worthy, scored high on the numbness front, and not only because of its length… Last night though, watching “Snakes on a Plane”, it was only when getting up to leave the cinema that the lack of sensation in my bottom entered my consciousness. So despite all the negative press, the film must have been at the very least entertaining.

            Let’s get one thing clear from the start: this is no masterpiece. And I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be. But I was very much looking forward to seeing it, as I had heard so much about it. Unlike other movies that have been over-hyped (like “Blair Witch Project” which turned out to be not very good at all), this one didn’t disappoint one bit. So let’s look at it in more detail, but not too closely as there isn’t actually an awful lot to examine there…


            ~The hype~
            *********

            Even before the movie was released, there was a tremendous amount of activity on the internet related to “Snakes on a Plane”. It seems the title fired fans’ imaginations (I’m not sure how a film that isn’t even finished can have fans) and soon there were home-made trailers, posters, scenes, dialogues and even songs appearing everywhere. And in an unusual twist, this in turn prompted the film makers to change the movie to bring it into line with fans’ expectations. In particular the now famous sentence uttered by Samuel L. Jackson near the end of the film: “Enough is enough! I have HAD it with these * snakes on this * plane”.


            ~The plot~
            *********

            Well, what can I say other than it is totally ludicrous. Let’s see, a witness to a crime committed by the head of some criminal organisation or other has to be transported to the trial. To that effect, the FBI commandeer the first class section of a passenger plane, unaware that there is a huge number of venomous snakes in the hold of the plane (hence the very naff title) that will be released at a given time during the flight. Thanks to a little pheromone, the snakes’ behaviour is incredibly aggressive and other than attacking the passengers, they also get into the electrics of the plane with disastrous consequences. Hmm…

            Every formula of the genre is there, heroism, love, children in danger, pilot dying, plane landed by an amateur, etc. It is eminently predictable and at the same time totally far-fetched. But then, these disaster movies usually are. What I liked about this one though, is that it made no pretence of being clever and in fact it positively relished its absurdity. The phrase “it’s so bad it’s good” has become a bit of a cliché, but in this case it truly applies.

            ~The cast~
            *********

            Only Samuel L. Jackson could have pulled this off. His cult status means he doesn’t have to prove anything, and his presence on screen compensates for any limitation in the script and dialogue. He actually looks as though he is having fun making this movie, and sharing an in-joke with the audience. Which of course he is.

            Julianna Margulies (of ER fame) does a good job of the part of the flight attendant and doesn’t overplay it.

            There were a few other familiar faces in the cast, including a woman I could have sworn was Jo Brand, but after a little research I don’t think she was.

            The snakes are of course an important part of the action. I am no expert, but from where I was sitting, those snakes were definitely enhanced in size, teeth and aggression. And there must have been thousands of the critters!!! As well as some real snakes, dummies, animatronics and computer generated snakes were used to create the illusion of all these snakes crawling about.

            “Snakes on a Plane” was directed by David R. Ellis.


            ~What I thought~
            **************

            This film hovers between disaster movie and spoof. The snakes for instance, are more funny than scary, and the deaths they cause can never be taken too seriously. Once or twice though, you might jump in surprise or shock. So whilst it isn’t an all-out spoof in the category of Airplane, with a joke in every frame, it still does a good job of sending up the disaster movie genre. Most of all, it is entertaining. There literally isn’t a dull moment and I went from tears of laughter to jumping out of my seat in seconds flat. I would urge everyone to go and see it at the cinema, as I don’t think a DVD would have the same impact. Don’t expect anything too clever, but expect to be entertained. One strange side-effect of the movie I noticed last night was that it resulted in strangers discussing the movie as they were leaving the cinema. I haven’t seen that in years…



            *Add your own bad language in this space. This is a family site after all…

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            • More +
              04.10.2006 17:49
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              Soak up the atmosphere and enjoy beautiful food

              During a recent visit to Barcelona, we were determined to have dinner at Els Quatre Gats (the four cats). Barcelona does have quite an important Picasso connection, as he spent his formative years here. Els Quatre Gats was a regular hangout for him and other Barcelonian artists. This was what attracted us to this place. It is not however what I will mostly remember from it.

              ~Situation and history~
              *******************
              Halfway between las Ramblas and the Via Laietana, Els Quatre Gats is on the narrow and modest Carrer de Montsió. The restaurant is on the ground floor of the Casa Martí, a Modernista building in a neo-gothic style. (Modernisme is the Catalan version of the art and design movement present throughout Europe at the beginning of the 20th Century, known also as Art Nouveau).

              Open in 1897, the restaurant soon became a meeting place for Catalan Intellectuals and artists, including Barcelona's famous son - he spent his formative years here - Picasso. The atmosphere in those days must have been similar to that of a Parisian café-concert as they used to hold poetry readings, concerts, Chinese shadow shows and most importantly painting and sculpture exhibitions. Picasso held his first individual exhibition there in 1900, before leaving for Paris.


              ~Atmosphere~
              ************

              For some reason, I was expecting a dark tavern-type place. But when we set foot inside, the thing that struck me was how bright and colourful the bar area was, mostly because of the ceramic tiles and bright yellow walls. Pictures are hung everywhere, mainly photographs and prints from artists who frequented the restaurant. Stepping into the dining-room meant another surprise for me, I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't the rather old-fashioned, refined spectacle that awaited. An army of waiters in full black regalia busily serving customers, a pianist and a violinist playing tunes from another era... Imagine the dinning-room on the Titanic if you will and it will give you a good idea. After a day's sightseeing, we felt slightly under-dressed for the occasion, but this was not a problem. As with any really good restaurant that doesn't need to proclaim its credentials, Els Quatre Gats doesn't feel at all elitist and as such doesn't have a dress code. The place was full, mainly with tourists, including a lot of Americans.


              ~Service~
              ********

              When we arrived, there was no table available and we were told we had to wait for up to half an hour. Not a problem, we fully expected that and were looking forward to spending this time in the bar, soaking up the atmosphere and perhaps a Cava or two. I went to the toilet (which you must absolutely do, whether you need to or not, as they are worth a visit on their own merit) and hubby sat down. Not for long, as the Maître d' soon came back and urged us to 'come, come' and go through to the dinning-room, in front of another (rather pushy and unpleasant) couple who had arrived seconds before us. It just goes to show that you don't get anywhere by being disagreeable and demanding. We were shown to our table, on a gallery above the dining-room. I felt that this had probably been a late addition, to maximise space in order to respond to the demand. It was the perfect vantage point and we sat back and started to take in the scene I described above. Totally delighted with our experience so far, we perused the English language menu. The Maître d' then took our order, recommending a local wine instead of our safe choice of a wine we knew of. We had been wanting to try something local but weren't sure what to go for, so his help was very much appreciated. The rest of the service was left to another waiter to do who was helpful and attentive throughout the meal but without a hint of over-zealousness or obsequiousness. The Maître d' remained vigilant all evening to make sure every diner was looked after.

              Another thing I liked about the service was that it was never rushed. I detest having my starter plate whisked away and replaced 30 second later with a main course. I like to take my time over dinner when I am eating out, particularly when I am in as nice a place as this.


              ~Food~
              *******

              I believe the lunchtime set price menu is excellent value, but we didn't try that. The evening menu is by no means cheap, but in my opinion it is worth every penny. If you only have one treat during your holidays, make it dinner at Els 4 Gats. I kept the check for ages but I now seem to have lost it. From memory though, I think I had Fois-gras mi-cuit with figs and something else, a beautiful fillet of salmon, cooked to perfection, and Catalan cream (a kind of crème brulée). I can't remember what my husband had, but I know he enjoyed it very much indeed. I would describe the kind of food served as Catalan post-nouvelle cuisine (post because the portions are pretty decent..). The wine that was recommended was beautiful, and I'm sure far better than the one we had selected at first. The food was outstanding, every dish a perfect balance of flavours. I wish I could be more precise about what we had exactly, but in a way, I don't feel that it is really necessary as the menu changes daily.


              ~Final thoughts~
              **************

              So, do I recommend this restaurant? Yes, yes, oh yes to quote Meg Ryan in 'When Harry met Sally'. OK, it might be a little expensive (but not really when you compare it to some of the prices in this country), but it is most definitely value for money. Everything is combined to provide the perfect dinning experience, from the surroundings, to the food, not forgetting the service. If you find yourself in Barcelona, I urge you, go there!!

              ~Other information~
              *****************

              The restaurant is open daily from 9am to 2pm. Lunch cost €20 and dinner €30 (about £13.50 and £20.50)

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              • Top Five Jokes / Discussion / 66 Readings / 59 Ratings
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                21.09.2006 23:49
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                Make up your own.

                I was sent this today and thought it amusing enough to share with you. Perhaps you can think of a few more?

                Imagine if all major retailers started making their own condoms and
                kept the same advertising slogan



                Sainsbury Condoms - making life taste better

                Tesco Condoms - every little helps

                Nike Condoms - Just do it.

                Peugeot Condoms - The ride of your life.

                Galaxy Condoms - Why have rubber when you can have silk.

                KFC Condoms - Finger licking good.

                Minstrels Condoms -melt in your mouth, not in your hands.

                Safeway Condoms - Lightening the load.

                Abbey National condoms - because life is complicated enough.

                Coca Cola condoms - The real thing.

                Ever Ready condoms - keep going and going.

                Pringles condoms - once you pop, you cant stop

                Burger King Condoms - Home of the whopper

                Goodyear Condoms - for a longer ride go wide

                FCUK condoms - no comment required.

                Muller light condoms - so much pleasure, but where's the pain.

                Halfords condoms - we go the extra mile.

                Royal Mail condoms - I saw this and thought of you.

                Andrex condoms - Soft, strong and very very long

                Renault condoms - size really does matter!

                Ronseal condoms - does exactly what it says on the tin

                Ronseal quick-drying condoms - its dry and waterproof in 30 minutes

                Domestos condoms - gets right under the rim!!! (Eeeuww!!.....)

                Heineken condoms - reaches parts that other condoms just cannot reach

                Carlsberg condoms - probably the best condom in the world

                AA Condoms - for the 4th emergency service

                Pepperami condoms - it's a bit of an animal

                Polo condoms - the condom with the hole



                And the ultimate......



                The Manchester United Condom... One Yank and your whole world falls
                apart

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                  18.09.2006 11:51
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                  One of my favourite restaurants which serves consistently good food.

                  The small town where we live has very little in the way of decent eateries, so when we get the chance, my husband and I like to spend a weekend in Glasgow, look round the shops (a bit of a novelty for us) and have a nice meal out. One place we go back to again and again is Bar Brel, in Ashton Lane.

                  ~Location~
                  *********

                  The west end of Glasgow has an atmosphere all its own. It is a favourite haunt of the city's students and BBC types (BBC Scotland HQ is just up the road), yet it's not a student-only area. It has a very cosmopolitan feel, and a great buzz, especially for us country folks. Ashton Lane is a narrow street off Byres Road, a street known to any Glaswegian worth his salt. It is a busy, bustling thoroughfare, with lots of great little shops and pubs. If you don't know Aston Lane though, you might walk right past it and not notice. When you turn into the lane, the first thing you notice is the cobbled stone paving. Then you start to see all the quaint bars and restaurant and the old- fashioned Grosvenor cinema. And here is Bar Brel.


                  ~Appearance~
                  ************

                  This lovely brick building used to be a stable and coach house. The conversion is very sensitive and doesn't make the place look too new. Downstairs is the bar and restaurant, all pretty basic with white tiles of the kind you used to see in the metro in Paris (or unkind people might say in the style of public conveniences). The restaurant part is a little crowded with small tables covered in brown parcel paper rather close together. It can be a struggle fitting everything on at times. Behind the bar is a conservatory where there are live music gigs on a regular basis and this opens to a beer garden at the back, with a couple of wonderful trees. When the weather is nice (and yes, that does happen in Scotland), they will sometimes put tables outside in the lane. Upstairs is another restaurant room which looks rather more sophisticated but we have never eaten there (we are probably too unrefined for that section!). There are posters of Jacques Brel here and there (more about him later). I am sorry if my description brings a shabby image to mind, as this is due entirely to my limitations and not to the venue itself. I think of the place more as having a rustic feel and the clientele is certainly trendy (although they do allow old crusties like us in…).

                  ~The name~
                  **********

                  Jacques Brel was a Belgian singer-songwriter who was at the top of his game in the 60s and 70s and in French-speaking countries enjoys a reputation as one of the best song writers of all times. English translations of his songs have been sung by a variety of artist, Bowie, Neil Diamond, Sinatra to name but a few. Occasionally in Bar Brel you will hear some of his songs being played. The French of course tend to consider he was French, as they do for any major artist who chooses to live in France (Picasso, Da Vinci, etc). But Bar Brel has a very Belgian feel to it, in particular the beer and food on offer.


                  ~Beers~
                  *******

                  Many Belgian beers are available here, both as draught beers such as Hoegaarden, or Leffe (both 'brune' and 'blonde') or bottled like Chimay (in its blue, white and red embodiments), Hoegaarden Grand cru (a hefty 8.5% ABV), Timmerman Gueuze Lambic and a number of fruit beers. Other non-Belgian varieties are also available in draught and bottle. If you like good beer and want to find out more check out their website.

                  ~Food~
                  ******

                  The menu here is absolutely brilliant, comprising mostly of unpretentious but well-executed Belgian dishes. The evening menu has a long list of mussel dishes which you can have as a starter with garlic bread or as a main course with chips. Those are lovely, although I recommend the mussel pots as opposed to the mussel platters (where the mussels are open faced and finished off in the grill). When I tried the latter I found it very dry and I felt you didn't get very much at all. This is the only time I was disappointed by the food here. The mussel pots though are huge and cooked to perfection. My personal favourite is the classic garlic and white wine variety.

                  The rest of the menu has some really nice casserole-type dishes, merguez (spicy north-African sausages), fish, etc. Every single dish my husband and I have had here has been really nice. Vegetarians are also catered for, although I don't think you will find anything suitable if you are vegan.

                  You can also add side dishes to your main course and the red cabbage is rather good. They used to do braised endives but these are no longer on the menu which is a pity as they were fabulous.

                  The trouble with the food here is the rather generous portions. You might think it is a good thing, but for me it means having to choose between a starter and a desert. I always take the starter as I think I will manage desert too, but I never do. It kills me to be missing out on such delights as Belgian chocolate mousse with berries or vanilla beans crème brulée with Grand Marnier… Starters are between £2.95 and £4.75 and main courses between £6.95 and £12.95.


                  The lunch menu comprises many of the same dishes, including the fabled mussels, but I cannot comment on portions as I have not yet eaten there at lunch time. They also serve lighter dishes like sandwiches and salad. The soup of the day with sandwich will cost you £5.95,

                  ~Wines~
                  *******

                  The wine list is fairly long, with wines from £13.50 to £22.50. I have to say that on the whole it is a little uninspiring, with a majority of New-World wines which don't really complement the menu very well. But perhaps I have been unlucky in my choices. I think the Chablis they offer would probably go really well with the mussels, but having had (more than once) white wine that was not sufficiently chilled here, I am reluctant to fork out £21. Having said that, the food is very reasonably priced and therefore we cold probably afford to splash out a little more on wine.

                  ~The dining experience~
                  ********************

                  Dinner is served at a continental pace, meaning you have a little time between dishes and you don't feel you have to hurry and vacate the table. The service is attentive and informal at the same time, and everything feels fairly relaxed and laid back. As mentioned earlier, the tables are quite small and if you are having the mussels for instance, where you need to dispose of the shells, it can feel like a bit of a balancing act. The tables are also quite close together, and if you happen to be seating where waiters and customers have to go past you, it is a less than ideal situation. However, I feel it is preferable to changing the layout of the place thereby removing some of its character.


                  ~Special events~
                  **************

                  Every Saturday afternoon you can enjoy free live Jazz. What could be better than sitting in the conservatory with a nice glass of beer with the Saturday papers enjoying a bit of live music? I only wish I got to do that more often. They also have acoustic gigs every Wednesday and the occasional poetry reading.

                  Every day from 5 to 7 pm, they have a 'food happy hour', when the mussels, merguez and chips, gourmet sausages, salmon fish cakes and vegetarian crèpes can be had at the reduced price of £5.95. A bit early for me, but ideal if you were going on to the theatre or comedy club afterwards. Or perhaps if you wanted to soak up some of the alcohol after an afternoon of Jazz and beer.

                  ~My opinion~
                  ***********

                  I pointed out a couple of niggles with Bar Brel earlier, such as the size of the tables or the wine not being cold enough, but all in all, we love going there. This is for three main reasons, the quality of the food, the choice of beer and the ambience of the place. When we are presented with the bill we are always surprised by how little it all comes to. And although we always like to try new places, we will keep coming back to this place as long as they keep getting those right, as they have for the past ten years.

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                  • Le Bonheur (DVD) / DVD / 60 Readings / 58 Ratings
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                    13.09.2006 10:10
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                    A wonderfully unusual comedy.

                    Francis is having a bad day. In fact, things have been bad for a while now, and his stress is reaching dangerous levels. Imagine: the toilet accessories' factory he owns is besieged with troubles, among which a workers' strike and a tax audit and his wife and daughter are stuck-up madams, whose main activity at the moment is to spend huge amounts of money on said daughter's wedding to an insipid nerd.

                    It's no wonder then, that when his best friend takes him out for a meal to cheer him up, Francis collapses face down on his plate. He eventually recovers, but the experience makes him realise he hates everything about his life. However, there seems to be little he can do about it.

                    One night, the family is assembled around the television, and the usual uneasy atmosphere reigns. The programme is one of these syrupy family reunion programmes and suddenly every one's attention is on the screen: two young women and their mother are looking for the latter's husband, gone missing 26 years ago. The extraordinary thing though, is that the picture they show of the man looks very much like Francis. So much so, that everyone believes it's him. He denies this at first, but eventually admits it, and swaps his hectic life and demanding family for new ones in the south of France, changing his name to Michel. But is Francis really Michel? Can things really be that simple and can he be happy ever after?


                    ~The director~
                    ************

                    In common with other films by Etienne Chatiliez, you never really know where the story is going, and there are plenty of surprises on the way. This French director previously made 'La vie est un long fleuve tranquille' (Life is a long quiet river) which has gained a bit of a cult following in France and elsewhere to a lesser extend. He is also the director behind Tanguy, a very funny film about a 28 years old who doesn't want to leave home, and his parents' struggle to get rid of him… Recently I saw 'Tatie Danielle', where a familly takes in an old aunt who turns out to be quite a handful. I realise as I write this, that another thing these movies have in common is an unconventional look at families. 'La vie est un long fleuve tranquille' is about two families from very different backgrounds, who find out after 12 years that two of their children have been switched. All three of these movies are very funny, but in each case the humour also has a dark side, although in the movie we are interested in just now, this is balanced nicely by the lovely landscape of the South of France, bathed in soft, warm light and by the 'joie de vivre' that the main characters exhibit.

                    I have really enjoyed all three films I have seen so far by this director, mainly I think because he has a very individual style. And I also have a wee soft spot for him as he was born in the same town as me, Roubaix in the North of France.


                    ~The cast~
                    *********

                    As ever, MICHEL SERRAULT is brilliant in this film. Although this actor has not really had much of an international career, 'La Cage aux Folles' his best known film outside France being quite a few years old already, his filmography makes impressive reading. Going back to 1954, he was involved in over 150 movies, whilst also doing a lot of work in the theatre. Despite looking (and often playing) very much the average Frenchman, he can also play exceptional characters, both in dramas and comedies. He won three Césars and was decorated with France's highest distinction, the Légion d'Honneur, in 1999.
                    In this film, his interpretation of Francis/Michel is flawless, to the point of appearing to be average. What I mean by that is that it's easy to forget he is acting and therefore overlook his performance.
                    The scene that sticks in my mind is near the beginning of the film, when he stands at a window waving a toilet brush while shouting insults at the striking workforce below.

                    EDDY MITCHELL's first career was as a singer in a rock and roll band in the 5Os. He has a vast knowledge of the cinema and in particular of the old western movies and even presented a TV programme called 'La Dernière Séance' (after one of his song) aimed at giving lesser known films an airing, often in English with subtitles, and giving the French public an appreciation of the genre. He ventured in front of the camera a few times, and if his performance in this film is anything to go by, he belongs there.
                    As Gérard, Michel's friend, he puts in a great performance as the larger-than-life Renault dealer Gérard. Crude, brash, vulgar, lover of good food, good wines and all round 'bon vivant', his friendship with Michel can be described as loving, caring, tender and intimate. I love the way he calls his friend 'lapin' (bunny). His language is often shall we say imaginative, which the subtitles fail to pick up on, using the 'f' word or some similar expletive where Gerard's language is far more interesting and funny. Eddy Mitchell received the César for best supporting actor in 1996 for his part in the film.

                    SABINE AZÉMA is very good in the part of Francis' wife Nicole, a snobbish and nagging pain in his neck. She may seem a bit of a caricature to some, but to me she is absolutely spot on. Her time is split between spending huge sums on her daughter's wedding and getting pampered at the spa. She was nominated for a César for this part.

                    CARMEN MAURA plays the part of Dolores, Michel's new wife. Her part is meant to be in complete contrast with that of the demanding Nicole and with her Michel finds happiness and warmth. Carmen Maura is perhaps best known for 'Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown' (Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios). She was nominated for a César for Best Supporting Actress in 1996.

                    Éric Cantona also has a small part in this film as one of the daughter's boyfriend and he does a surprisingly good job. His brother Joël, also a footballer, plays the other daughter's boyfriend.

                    ~My opinion~
                    ***********

                    To me, this film is a real joy. A story full of gentle humour and intelligent comedy, a witty script, sharp-witted dialogues and bit of mystery combine to give us 106 minutes of pure enjoyment. The friendship between the two main characters is as far away from the macho world of Hollywood as you could conceive. In fact, there is very much a French quality to this film, from the way food and wine is enjoyed (and prepared, do not watch this if you are one of the anti foie gras brigade), to the pace of life and the laissez-faire attitude of many of the characters.

                    Some might say that there is a sexist element to the film, as Michel's first wife is portrayed as a shrew, who only changes when his friend Gérard takes her in hand, and the woman he finds happiness with is a little too perfect. The (female) factory workers are not depicted in the best light either, with the strike's ring-leader eventually leaving her union-leader boyfriend for some guy on television.

                    I would say that, yes, there is an element of caricature in the film, but this touches as much on regional and social stereotype as it does on gender. I am as much a feminist as the next woman, but I wasn't offended by this film, even when Gérard explains to his friend that you have to slap women a bit to keep them in line. It's all done in the name of comedy, and let's face it, political correctness hasn't taken off nearly as much in France as it has here.

                    To me, this is very much a feel-good movie, with more than one layer beneath its apparent simplicity. I would like to give Gérard the last word in this review, since he had the last word in the film. As he and Michel are sitting at the end of Michel's garden, contemplating the beautiful landscape in front of them, he says the very words I would like to say to you: "Profite lapin, profite…" ("enjoy bunny, enjoy...").


                    __________________________

                    This review is film only as I don't own the DVD but only the video. From what I could see, the only extra included was a theatrical trailer. The film is in French with English subtitles.


                    You can buy this DVD for £5.49 from play.com (plus cashback if you go through a cashback site).

                    The title? It comes from a French rhyme and means 'Happiness is in the field...'

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                      05.09.2006 17:19
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                      A (slightly more) natural path to blondeness.

                      When I was a child, I had very blond hair, and my mum was determined it was going to stay that way, which is why our garden always had a little patch of camomile and an infusion of the flowers was used for rinsing my hair. It worked to an extent and I remained fairly blond. That is until I moved to Britain and the sun to rain exposure ratio was reversed... Now being blonde is not something I obsess over and I certainly wouldn't mind nice brown or black hair, but my hair was starting to turn a sort of off-blonde non-descript colour. I hated it and in desperation I turned to the bottle... The chemical bottle my hairdresser uses for highlights that is.

                      At first I wasn't keen, but my hairdresser wore me down and eventually I went with it, but not before the spatula method for highlighting hair was invented. For those of you not familiar with the subtleties of hair colouring, it used to be done using what is called the hook and cap method. And yes, that is as awful as it sounds. They used to put a kind of rubber cap over your head that is pierced with a multitude of small holes, and using a little metal hook, they would tease out small strands of hair prior to applying the colouring lotion. Painful, yes, and it made you look like some kind of weird alien. Without going into detail, the other method is much gentler, although I know the old caps are still in use in some salons.

                      I loved my new colour, as it was subtle and natural looking, but eventually, my hair became lighter and lighter until it was baby blond, and I found I wasn't disciplined enough to have the highlights done regularly which resulted in a sort of stripy effect at times. So I gave that up and it took about two years for the last of the colour to grow out.

                      These days I don't really worry too much about hair colour, but I enjoy using this product from Lush. The Lush experience has been described at length on this site and others, so I won't go into great details about it. If you have ever entered a Lush shop, you would have been hit by a multi-sensory experience unlike any other, piles of soaps and other goodies evocative of giant sweeties and a smell that can knock your socks off! Some people don't like it, and I can see why, as it is very strong; in fact I have been known to find Lush shops by smell alone... I enjoy the whole Lush shopping experience I have to say. They take all your money, but they do it in such a nice helpful way... For those who like the products but hate the shop, you can get this stuff online.

                      So to the product itself then. It comes in a plain black tub, the same that is used for a lot of other Lush products. The top label gives a list of ingredients (more on those later) and informs me that I own 225g of the product. The front label tells me what wonders the product will do for me (give me chamomile highlights and hair that's soft like silk) and how to use it (soak your hair with the product before washing, shampoo, condition normally). There is also a little yellow sticker with a drawing of Kris on it, who apparently made this on the 14/07/06. Now I have a question about Kris. From the drawing, he seems a nice looking young man, and my question is this: would they put him on the pot if he was ugly, and is this indeed a picture of the real Kris? Is there even such a person? I think we should be told!

                      Lush prides itself on its environmental credentials, use of natural products, against animal testing (you can sign a petition on their website), encourage you to re-use your little paper lush bag, etc. And so it has always been a puzzle to me why they don't take those sturdy little tubs back with a view to re-using them. I have asked about this in my favourite Lush shop, and was told that I could recycle them through my local council. Well, actually I can't, as they only take plastic bottles. And reusing is always a better option to recycling, as it uses a lot less energy. Having just looked on the forum on the Lush website, I see that two other people have asked this very question but didn't receive an answer. Come on Lush, I really think you should look into that. I think I will send them a link to this review, so if anyone agrees with me, please say so in a comment. In the meantime, the tubs can be put to good use to keep seeds, buttons, etc.

                      The list of ingredients shows that the lightening of the hair is obtained through the use of chamomile infusion, chamomile oil, lemon juice and lemon oil. The use of essential oils is something I really like with Lush products. Any one oil can have a number of effects not least on your mood and well-being. So chamomille oil for instance, whilst it highlights and conditions blond hair, is also soothing and calming. So you can be blond and Zen at the same time... Add to this the lemon oil, which is good for confusion, indecisiveness and irritability and increases concentration and you see just what a miracle little product this is. Well, we blondes need all the help we can get!

                      Unfortunately, not every ingredient on the list is as natural as those oils. You will also find Cetearyl Alcohol, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Methylparaben and Propylparaben. I don't have a degree in chemistry (I'm blonde you know) but even I can tell that these are not all that natural. Indeed, some of these ingredients have attracted controversy in recent times. After a bit of research, I have found this to be far too controversial to be able to provide a definite answer on this. It seems the negative effects of some of these have been greatly exaggerated, but if this is a concern for you, there are lots of websites where you can source (contradictory) information. All I can say is that they seem to pop up on the ingredient list for many beauty products and it is difficult to avoid them altogether. If anyone knows more about this, I would be interested in hearing from you.

                      Opening the tub has the same effect on me as the 'petite madeleine' had on Proust. Like this author on eating his favourite cake, I find myself transported back to my early childhood, when my mother rinsed my hair with the camomile infusion. The smell is really lovely, a real camomile hit. The colour isn't quite as natural looking, a sort of custardy yellow. To me, it is a good sign that the colour is never exactly the same, as it seems to go well with the idea that Kris made it this time, and someone else had made it last time.

                      I don't follow the instructions exactly, for a start I don't soak my hair with it. I apply a fairly liberal amount, and make sure it is well spread over my hair using a comb to help it go further, but to soak it would require huge amounts of the stuff. The instructions used to recommend you leave it on for 20 minutes, but they don't anymore. However, it would be a complete waste to put the hair moisturiser on only to rinse it off immediately. I tend to leave it even longer, as I usually have a face mask on at the same time.

                      Then it's in the shower to rinse the moisturiser off. This will probably require two washes to get every last bit off. As I do this, I can already feel a difference in the texture of my hair. It feels soft and not tangled. I am not one to use conditioners or blow my hair dry, so it's a quick rub with a towel. When combing I notice the absence of tangles, not that this is a huge problem usually anyway. As the hair dry, it feels beautifully conditioned and smooth. As for the colour, it does help to keep my hair lighter, in conjunction with the solid shampoo from Lush called The Blonde (how do they think up these names I wonder). I am not a very regular user, as the price makes it feel a bit of a luxury, but I think if you used this once a week the results would be quite dramatic. The smell remains in your hair even after it is dry, and my husband has often commented on it.

                      The tub costs £5.95 from the website and I get between 5 and 6 uses out of it (my hair is quite short), so it costs between a pound and £1.20 per use. For this reason, it remains more of a treat than part of my usual routine, but what a treat it is!

                      The product loses one star because of the packaging thing.

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                        01.09.2006 15:44
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                        Very Breton, very beautiful, a great day out.

                        The island of Bréhat, actually two islands joined by a tiny bridge built in the 18th Century by Vauban (the man responsible for much of the fortifications built around France at the time), is situated North-Northeast of Paimpol, in the Côtes d'Armor, Brittany. We decided to visit one day, not knowing very much about it other than it was meant to be very pretty and cars aren't allowed there. If you have read my review on the island of Gigha (Scotland), you will know that this is the kind of place I love the most.

                        ~How to get there~
                        ********************

                        If you are driving, to go to Bréhat, you first need to get to Paimpol and from there, the island is well signposted. Five kilometres after Paimpol, you will come to the 'Pointe de l'Arcouest', the point where you can get a boat to the island. The 'Vedettes de Bréhat', a boat company, has got the monopoly for transporting people to and from the island. You can leave your car at the car park, either near the wharf or a bit further up the hill. The car park cost €5, and they undertake to check the car park regularly for thieves. If you don't have a car, you can go to Paimpol by train and from the station get a bus to the point. Take time when you are there to admire the beautiful viewpoint.

                        Although there is only one company to travel with, you have two options to get to Bréhat from the Pointe de l'Arcouest. You can either go directly, a short 10 minutes crossing which will cost you €8 (£5.40), or you could elect, as we did, to go around the island on the way over for an extra €4.50 (a total of £8.45). Children from 4 to 11 years old pay €6.50 or €9 respectively (£4.40 and £6.10).

                        The tour of the island is available every hour from the 1st of April to the 14th of July, starting at 9.30. From the 15th of July to the 31st of August, this goes up to every half hour. To come back, you just catch one of the direct boats at a time of your choice. For other dates and more precise information, consult http://www.vedettesdebrehat.com/index-gb.htm.

                        There are a number of other ports you can sail from, but this is the most direct. If you are interested in any of the other crossings, consult the Vedettes de Bréhat website above.


                        ~The boat trip around the island~
                        ************************************

                        If like us you choose to take the long way round, it will take you 45 minutes. I think this is only an option if you take the first or second crossing, but if you set off any later, be aware that you may not have time to see very much on the island itself. Now, my advice to you is to dress up fairly warmly for this, even if the weather is quite good, as you will find that once you are on the water, the temperature can drop quite sharply, particularly when you get to the north side of the island.

                        We really enjoyed this trip and were amazed at just how many islands there are in this part of Brittany. The Bréhat archipelago comprises 96 in total, of varying sizes. The route the boat follows does vary quite a bit, as tides in this part of the world have some of the widest range between high and low tide, over 7 meters (23.5 feet). This means the person in charge of the boat has to know the area very well indeed to figure out which channel is navigable. It also means very strong currents and backwashes. Although the place looks beautiful, it can also be very dangerous.

                        When going round the island, you are struck by how much the landscape changes, with the north part, much more exposed to very rough weather indeed, being very rugged and wild. The southern part's climate is almost Mediterranean. The most notable thing about this island is the pink granite it is made of, particularly if you happen to see it in the morning sun. In common with the pink granite coast, one can observe fascinating chaotic formations created by the erosion of the rock. We saw many landmarks that we would come across again when walking around the island, so I won't detail them here.

                        ~The island itself~
                        *********************

                        This island is home to only about 300 people, yet as many as 300 000 tourists visit in the high season. So much for a nice, peaceful place! Don't let this put you off however, as it doesn't actually feel that bad, as I will try to show in the rest of the review. If you still think that would spoil your visit, another option is to go in the spring.

                        The boat drops passengers off at one of 3 quays, depending on the tide. This is something to bear in mind when coming back, particularly if you intend to take the last boat, as there can be up to 15 minutes walk between the first and the third quay. From the quay, on your way to the 'bourg' (the main village), you will see a hotel/restaurant/café and some tourist shops. The bourg itself is very pretty, all around a little square which accommodates a daily market in July and August. There are a number of cafés, restaurants and crêperies (serving the local speciality of crêpes and galletes). We just enjoyed a quick drink at one of the terraces, but we were keen to be on our way. After a visit to the little tourist office to buy a map and accompanying booklet, we were off.

                        Many houses in the bourg are adorned with a wealth of wonderfully bright flowers. Due to the micro-climate that operates on the island, the plants brought back by local sailors over the centuries from far-flung corners of the world seem to thrive here. Palm-trees are the most obvious, and do look particularly lush, but there's a great many other plants to admire. We stopped at the church, with its unusual bell-tower in the Lannion style, which looks more like a wall with 3 bells.

                        I should probably say at this stage that you can also rent bikes, although that is not something I would recommend in the height of the season. Some paths are actually out of bounds for bicycles, and in the busiest parts, cyclists find their progress very much impeded by people walking. At 3.5km by 1.5km (2mix1m), the island is small enough to be covered easily on foot. If walking or cycling are difficult, there is also one of the little trains that criss-crosses the island. I don't think it is exclusively a tourist thing, just the only mode of public transport available on the island.

                        Signposting is very good from the bourg and depending on how much you want to walk, there is a choice of itineraries. We decided to go to the north of the island and in between taking little detours and getting lost, we walked miles, but without really realising it. The next day however, we knew we had walked a lot!

                        The South island is a maze of paths lined with fragrant bushes or drystone walls adorned with flowers. So now, across the little bridge to the North Island… We walked passed the ruins of an abandoned chapel dedicated to St Rion, a 6th Century monk. The chapel itself is 12th Century and was attached to a lepers' colony.

                        The northernmost point of the island is marked by the 'Phare du Paon' (Paon lighthouse). This is a very impressive site, with amazing views all around. The lighthouse itself dates from 1949, as the previous one was destroyed by the occupying forces in 1944. The new lighthouse is fully automatic, but the old one was manned, or I should say 'womanned', and the ladies who had to look after this place must have been made of very stern stuff indeed. The last one died at her post, at a very advanced age (83 if memory serves). Her main complaint about the job had been that the force of the waves kept putting her fire out!

                        In his part, the coast is extraordinarily jagged and indented. Next to the light house, the granite split into a huge chasm. Legend recommended girls throw a stone between the two sides of rock once a year. If the stone went straight into the water, they would be married within the year. If it bounced from rock to rock, the number of bounces would tell them how many years they would have to wait. As I am already married, I didn't try it in case the stone came flying back to my face!

                        Although a lot less clement from a climatic point of view, this side of the island is very beautiful, if in a somewhat rugged manner. While there aren't as many exotic species of plants, there are a lot of local ones, sometimes endangered. It's also a great place to observe marine birds.

                        We didn't manage to walk around everything during our visit, but we did see the tidal mill on the south Island from the boat. It uses the power of the tides to grind wheat into flour and was built around 1632. It is one of only two examples of these types of mills in France. It was still in use in 1920 when the new baker starting importing flour from the continent. The miller destroyed the wheel and mechanism so as not to have to pay the tax on mills in working condition. Fortunately, this was subsequently lovingly restored to its former glory.

                        There are many fine-looking houses to see on the island, including some that belonged to privateers in the 17th and 18th Centuries.



                        ~Famous visitors~
                        *********************

                        Because of its beauty and remoteness, Bréhat has appealed to many artists and writers. The beautiful light and colours attracted such painters as Chagall, Edouard Cortès, Foujita, Matisse and many more, and today the island is home to many artists. The square resembles the famous Montmartre square at times, with all the artists exhibiting their works.

                        Writers also elected to stay here, and Colette wrote two of her books here.

                        ~Tourism, yes, but not at any cost~
                        **************************************

                        This is very much a working and living island, not a museum, and there is a lot going on besides tourism, in particular agriculture. What struck me about Bréhat was how unspoilt it all was, despite a fair number of visitors walking around. I didn't see one item of rubbish lying around anywhere. People are reminded in several places just how long different types of refuse take to biodegrade and many plant species are protected.

                        In 1906, a law was voted in France that afforded protection to natural sites, and Bréhat was the first site that was recognised under that law in 1907. The visitor cannot fail to notice that this will to look after one's environment is still very strong in Bréhat. And this to me is what makes the island such a special place.


                        http://www.ile-de-brehat.org/AlbumHTML/brehat_tourisme.htm

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                          11.08.2006 19:43
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                          If you think these are just for kids, you could be missing out!

                          In France, comics are thought of as an art form in their own right (often called 'the ninth art'). They are called Bande Dessinées (which translates as 'drawn strips'), or BD, a name which doesn't prescribe the content as much as the word comics, which could be looked upon as somewhat derogatory. There are BDs on a wide variety of subjects, and they are not just for kids or nerds to collect. In fact, reading BDs is something most French people do or have done at some point, and Asterix is probably to be found on most families' bookshelves. I think I have read most of them in French in the past, and am currently enjoying reading my son's books in English.


                          ~A few facts and figures~
                          **********************

                          If you have never heard of Astérix, then you must be the only one! With 33 books translated into more than 100 languages, Astérix has also been the hero of a few animated movies, of a couple of live action movies (the least said about those the better), of video games and even has his own theme park. More than 5 million copies of the latest book were sold within 3 months of its publication, 1.2 million in 6 days in France alone! It is expected than 300 million copies of the next instalment will be printed and distributed worldwide.


                          ~A little 'history'~
                          *****************

                          Let me start at the beginning, in 50 BC. "Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely… One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders. And life is not easy for the Roman legionaries who garrison the fortified camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium…" This is the way every single Asterix book starts, complete with the map of 'Gaul' showing the area of Brittany where Asterix lives through a magnifying glass.

                          Let's fast-forward now to 1959, when René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo created Asterix to be included in the new magazine 'Pilote'. Born in 1926 and 1927 respectively, the two men had already created 2 comic book characters together, one a pirate and the other an American Indian. Little did they know when they created Asterix on the kitchen table of a council flat, amidst paper, cigarettes, glasses of pastis and much laughter, that this was to be the start of an extraordinary adventure. Goscinny wrote the stories, and Uderzo did the drawings. Asterix was very well received, with 200 000 copies of the first edition of the magazine Pilote sold straight away. In 1961, the first book, 'Astérix le Gaulois' (Asterix the Gaul) was published, with 6 000 copies printed. Each subsequent book was sold in ever bigger numbers.

                          They two men had produced 23 volumes when tragically, Goscinny died during a routine medical check-up in 1977. Uderzo didn't want to finish the book they were working on, but the publishers took him to court to force him to illustrate Goscinny's last script. This volume, 'Astérix chez les Belges', was to be the last signed by both authors.

                          Subsequently, Uderzo went on to write and illustrate more adventures for the little Gaul, with varying degrees of success. Apart from one or two, the books he signed on his own are not nearly as good. The few I have read have left me feeling very disappointed.


                          ~What are the books all about?~
                          ***************************

                          Asterix is a little Gaul warrior, who lives in the last village in Gaul that is still resiting the might of Rome. Along with his best friend Obelix, a fat menhir delivery-man (!), they live through many adventures, which usually involve winding up the Romans. In this they are helped by the magic potion brewed by the druid Getafix, which gives them superhuman strength. The whole village loves fighting the Romans, but they are not adverse to a bit of infighting from time to time, and they all love eating (in particular boar), drinking and having a laugh. Each book has a different theme, which often involves our unlikely heroes visiting a new country.

                          The books all include running jokes, such as Obelix's touchiness about his weight and the many different ways of denying he is fat: ""There're not two fat guys here, only one...and he's not fat !", or along the lines of "I'm not fat, my chest has slipped a bit!".

                          Another remarkable feature is the use of Latin phrases put to comical use. Julius Cesar is of course very often quoted as when he says: "Alea jacta est, as I always say…".

                          Most books include caricatures, and although a lot of these might be alien to non-French readers, there are many that will be familiar, such as Sean Connery, the Beatles, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Eddy Merckx, Charles Laughton and a young Jacques Chirac. Apart from the latter, these caricatures are more an homage to the person depicted than a way to make fun of them. Indeed, the authors even included caricatures of themselves, and the most caricatured person in their books is one of their best friends, Pierre Tchernia (a French Barry Norman).


                          ~Asterix's appeal~
                          ****************

                          The enormous worldwide success is not easily explained for a comic book that is essentially very French. The cultural references are mostly to French history, the humour is very much pun-based, and as such impossible to translate. Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge have done a great job of creating the English language version, which often meant having to re-invent a joke to fit with a particular picture. Most characters' names are also made up of a pun, all of the Gauls having names that end in -ix to evoke the famous Gaulish chieftain Vercingetorix, and therefore they have different names in the English version, sometimes retaining the original joke. For instance, the village elder who first appears in the book we are looking at today is called Agecanonix, a pun based on canonical age, and this was translated to Geriatrix which was along the same idea. I have to say that despite the wonderful way in which the translators have tackled what must be a most arduous task, much is 'lost in translation' (even if in some cases, something is actually gained).

                          To me the interest of Asterix has multiple layers. First, Asterix appeals to all age groups. Children enjoy the medium, with pictures supplementing any difficulty with the text. Much of the humour is visual and children will delight in the fight scenes and many love Obelix and his little dog Dogmatix. When I was a child, there were worries about comic books, as people though they would give rise to a generation of children with poor reading and spelling skills (interestingly, the same is said of texting nowadays). In fact, it has been shown that reading (good) comics had quite the opposite effect, and my brothers and I, who were brought up on a heavy diet of this type of literature, have all turned into avid readers in later life. As a child, I often 'knew stuff' from picking it up from my reading of the Asterix books.

                          But these books were written very much with adults in mind. Olivier Todd, an occasional contributor to The Times Literary Supplement, once wrote in an article in L'Exprès, that French parents gave their children the Tintin books and then borrowed them back, while they read Asterix before passing the albums on to their children. The magazine Pilote, in which Asterix was first published was intended very much as an adult publication.

                          The use of national stereotypes is rife in Asterix, and oddly enough this is one of the books' strength on the international scene, as stereotypes are indeed often shared between nations. It is worth noting that there is a healthy dose of fun poked at the French themselves.

                          The subject matter is also of wider interest than might first appear: after all, the Romans didn't just occupy Gaul, but a good chunk of Europe, and many people have drawn parallels between the Roman empire's dominance as represented in Asterix (which was never intended as a true historical representation) and today's picture where American culture dominates...
                          Indeed, José Beauvais, a French anti-globalisation hero, has often been likened to the mustachioed Gaul warrior, and not only because of the physical likeness. This, along with the European flavour of the stories, could explain in part why Asterix was never hugely successful in the USA.

                          ~Asterix at the Olympic Games~
                          **************************

                          After this rather long introduction (which I felt was necessary to give a sense of what Asterix is about), let me talk a little about 'Asterix at the Olympic Games'. The French edition came out in 1968 and it was translated into English in 1972. This is the twelfth album in the series, and as such bears both Goscinny and Uderzo's signatures.

                          The Roman athlete Gluteus Maximus (which is the name of the buttock muscles!), is in training for the Olympic Games. He is full of confidence as is his entourage. While practising his sprinting in the forest, he comes across Asterix and Obelix out for a spot of boar hunting. As Asterix has taken magic potion, and Obelix doesn't need to as he fell into the cauldron as a child, they soon undermine our Roman athlete's confidence with their prowess. The 2 Gauls then decide to enter the competition and all the men in the village head to Athens to support them. But can they really beat the Romans, and indeed the Greeks? One thing is certain, they will have a lot of fun trying.

                          This album is full of all the stereotypes you would expect, with the Greeks all sporting the famous 'Greek nose' and the Spartans living on a diet of figs and olives, but once again the Gauls do not escape intact. Some of the funniest moments is when they display the typical Frenchman abroad attitude, describing the Parthenon as 'Not bad if you like columns' and clamouring for 'Aquitanian' wine when forced to drink the local brew!

                          The theme remains very much relevant, particularly the satire of drug usage in sport. Just as the original French version was released in the year of the Tokyo Olympics, and the English version was timed to coincide with the Munich games, a live-action film will come out in 2008, just in time for the Beijing Games!

                          I think the drawings in this volume are particularly beautiful and researched thoroughly, adding to the overall quality.


                          ~Trivia~
                          *******

                          The authors themselves make an apparition on page 29 in a Greek engraving. The engraved words they are saying to each other mean 'Despot' and 'Tyrant'!

                          Albert Uderzo is colour blind!

                          ~General information~
                          ******************

                          Hardcover 48 pages, published 22 Jul 2004
                          Publisher: Orion
                          Price: £6.59 from Amazon
                          ISBN: 0752866265

                          Also exists in Paperback ISBN: 0752866273

                          Some Asterix books are also available in Scottish Gaelic and Welsh.

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                            08.08.2006 15:49
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                            A beautiful melancholic album to disover this artist.

                            I bought this album out of nostalgia, as Françoise Hardy's song 'Tous les garçons et les filles' was a frequent item on the radio when I was growing up in France. And what an excellent buy it was, as I rediscovered - or perhaps more accurately discovered - the gem that is Françoise Hardy.

                            If you like Jane Birkin, there's a good chance you will like this CD. If you have no idea who Françoise Hardy is, or what she sounds like, check out her beautiful website where you can hear extracts of songs spanning her whole career.

                            This CD is a very good introduction to Françoise Hardy's work, as it contains a collection of her early love songs. In 22 songs, you will be under the spell of this enchantress. Three songs are in English, two in Italian, and the rest is of course in French. Being French, I sometimes wonder what the big deal is in this country about listening to foreign language songs. In France (and probably in most of Europe), English language songs are heard - and enjoyed - all the time on the radio, TV, etc. In fact, I believe the Beatles were instrumental in making a whole generation of Europeans want to speak English, so they could understand the songs. Anyway, I tried to put myself in the British public's socks (what a strange image!) and wondered how the language thing would affect people in this country listening to the songs. That's actually quite a difficult thing to work out, so I asked my husband instead. He doesn't speak any French at all but he really likes this CD. In fact, he said that the songs that are translated sound better in the French version. For any of you that are learning French, it is worth noting that Françoise Hardy's diction is very easy to grasp.

                            Considering the number of songs included in the album, I will not give a detailed review of each, just mention the ones I particularly enjoy, as reading a lengthy review about an artist you have not heard of (I am guessing that will be the case for most people) could be a little boring. Furthermore, most of the songs are of a similar type and I should be able to give you the flavour of the album through a few songs.

                            *Ce Petit Coeur*

                            This song is about being in love with someone who is self-obsessed and basically not interested (I very much doubt this ever happened to Françoise as she is, in the words of my husband, a babe). There is a real French pop feel to this 1965 offering. With its simple melody and unadorned backing, this is light as a feather and reminiscent of more innocent days. You can hear an English version near the end of this CD ('This little heart'); personally I prefer the French version.

                            *Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux*

                            This is a famous poem by Aragon (a significant French poet and resistant), put to music by Georges Brassens (a very important singer-song-writer in France, little known in this country). 'Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux' means 'there is no love that's lucky' (or happy), and it is quite a reflective song. Françoise's version replaces the simple guitar accompaniment of the original with a beautiful piano arpeggio, and her voice is perfectly suited to the sad theme of the song.

                            *Mon amie la rose*

                            A song about the brevity of human life, like the rose, beautiful one day, faded the next… The CD also includes the Italian version 'La tua mano'.

                            *Tous les garçons et les filles*

                            Probably her best known song in France, this was originally a B side track, which went on to sell 2 million copies. It was later covered by Eurythmic. She wrote the lyrics to this teenage lament along the lines: all the other boys and girls my age go around in pairs, whilst I wander the streets alone. I have to warn you about this song, you will be humming it at unexpected time, as the melody is highly 'singable'. The title is reprised further in English 'Find me a boy'. Again, the French version is superior.


                            *L'amitié*

                            A beautiful ballad about friendship.


                            *La maison où j'ai grandi*

                            Looking back at the past, the title means 'the house where I grew up'. It starts with Françoise singing alone, then accompanying herself on the guitar, then builds up to full orchestral accompaniment as the tempo increases. Another wonderful melody.

                            *Le temps de l'amour*

                            Françoise's husband and longtime companion Jacques Dutronc was involved in the composition of this song, which is about the way that at 20 we feel we are king of the world, and that love is going to last forever. The song feels like a slightly slowed down twist.

                            *Ma jeunesse fout le camp*

                            A touching song inspired by an old folk song, about the ephemeral quality of youth. (Can I see a theme appearing here?)

                            *Parlami di te*

                            This is a song that allows me to have an idea of how the album might be received by a non French-speaking public. I don't understand Italian, yet I find myself captivated by Françoise Hardy's voice. I'm guessing the title means 'tell me about you'.



                            Overall, I love this album and its lovely melancholy tones, for which Françoise Hardy's voice is so suitable. The only small criticism I have is the insertion of English versions of songs already included in French, and the meagre offering in terms of information on the CD itself, with only a list of the songs and a very brief biography. I would have liked to have seen the lyrics of some of the songs collated into a booklet.

                            Available for £4.99 at www.101cd.com

                            http://www.francoise-hardy.com/

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                            • mutualpoints.com / Internet Site / 55 Readings / 53 Ratings
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                              07.08.2006 12:59
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                              If you shop online and read emails, you may as well get paid for it!

                              With unemployment now looming (I am on holiday at the moment, but when the schools reopen in August, I will have to face the fact that I don't have a job...), these reward sites are starting to look more and more attractive. I know you cannot make a living out of them, but at least you feel like you are doing something.

                              ~How does it work?~
                              *******************

                              Mutual Points reward you for a number of things by awarding points to your account. 150 points are worth £1, in other word, each point is worth 0.66666 (I could go on but I won't) of a pence. Why not make it 1p for each point? Well, call me a cynic if you will, but I think perhaps that is so you are never quite sure how much actual money each transaction is worth, and in effect, you probably feel like they are worth more that they actually are.

                              You need to have accumulated 3 000 points to claim a reward worth £20. You can also claim a bigger reward, in increments of £5 (750 points).

                              One of the things I like about this site, is that you have a number of ways to accumulate points, and shopping through the site is only one of them. I will try to detail them below, with their value in points and in pounds.

                              *Signup bonus. 50 points to get you on your way, that is to say 33.333p (etc.). Not a fortune, but hey, you haven't really done anything yet. Along with that, I got 100 points (66 pence) for filing in a member survey; I would imagine every new member gets that opportunity.

                              *One-off points. You can get 10 and 5 points respectively for choosing mutualpoints.com as your home page and for adding it to your favourites, a total of 10p. Subscribe to Mutual news, a lunchtime newsletter for another 10 points.

                              *Reward mail. By clicking on the 'my details' link, you come to a page where you have to enter your personal detail (after all, if you want that check in the post, you need to give them your address) and here you can also elect to receive reward mail or not. If you choose to sign up for this, you also have a choice of how often you want to receive them (up to 3 per day if you so wish), and whether you want to opt out of emails advertising alcohol products, gambling or over 18 stuff. I feel this to be another plus point of this site.
                              When you receive the email, there are a number of possible scenarios. The most common type of email will ask you to click on a link to visit the site of a company and reward you with 5 points for your troubles. For others, you have to sign up to a newsletter of some sort and the rewards for that can vary.
                              Sometimes, to obtain your reward, you need to buy something. These can be good if you are clever about it, but I would advise caution here. I will give you two examples of these which worked for me, but you really have to read the small print. One email offered me 4 800 points (£32) if I joined an online casino and deposited £10. Now, I am not a gambler, but this is my kind of bet, the kind where you can't loose. Having discussed this with my husband, we decided to use half of our £10 to gamble on the Scotland-England 6 nation rugby game and the rest to buy gaming chips to play the games. We lost the gaming chips but won £25 on the rugby (he, he!). Already a good deal! However, it took nearly 5 months and a couple of emails to the support team for my points to be credited. So, to recap here, having spent £10, I won £25 and received £32 worth of points. Total gain for this operation was £47.
                              Another time, I took out a £1 subscription to a magazine for 3 issues and got points for that. I can't remember how many, but they were worth more than one pound. You have to be careful with these though, as you need to cancel the subscription sooner than you think (even before you receive all the issues you are meant to get).
                              Now, these particular emails do come with a health warning from me: most of the time, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Do check the small print before you commit to anything. There, don't say I didn't tell you.

                              Another word of caution, responding to these emails and taking up offers can sometimes generate quite a lot of spam. Again, you need to be careful what you sign up for.

                              * Shopping. There are a great many traders advertising on mutual points, too many to count. You can search through an alphabetical list or by clicking on headings for the type of shop you are looking for. The rewards vary from 2 points to 50% of your purchase. If you belong to several of these reward sites, you may well find the same shops on them, but not always with the same rewards. For instance, Yves Rocher offers 10% cashback on this site, a flat £2.50 on myshoppingrewards.com, 2 points (worth about 5 pence each depending on the reward you select) for every pound spent through ipoints (10%), etc.

                              *Bargain notices. On this site, you have the possibility to post bargain notices for other users to see. If you find something that is particularly good value from one of the traders on the site, you can advertise it and get a small kickback of 10% of the points earned through your notice. For instance, if somebody earns 50 points by clicking through a link you put up, you get 5 points.
                              I have had mixed results with this the couple of times I have tried to use it. The first time, I got nothing, the second time I got 6 points! It was only for a very cheap CD though. I think this has the potential to make you some money, but you would have to test out what works and what doesn't. In any case, it allows you to let other people know about good value products.

                              *Search rewards. As with many other sites, you can get rewarded for searching the net through specific portals. You can earn one point with mutual point's own search facility, up to 5 times a day, 8 points up to 5 times a day with Price Runner, 8 points with Kelkoo (only once I think). You could therefore clock up to 53 points every day (over 35 pence). It may not seem much, but if you compare that with your Ciao earnings (those of you who are members); you might find it a little more interesting. It could come up to £127.75 a year, if you haven't died of boredom before then. In any case, it is worth remembering to use this facility if you are actually looking for something.

                              *Refer a friend. Like with most of these sites, you have the opportunity of earning money for referring people. The fee here is £10 worth of points, but only when the person you have referred reaches 3 000 points themselves.

                              *There are also various other rewards available for joining different sites, trying out DVD rental providers or online photography services, etc.

                              There, I think I have listed the main ways of making money on this site. I think there is quite a good variety and you can get points even if you don't shop online.

                              ~The site~
                              **********

                              As I write this review, I notice they have changed the appearance of the site slightly. The site colours are white with orange highlights, the whole thing looking busy but uncluttered. Navigation is easy and the pages load very quickly. From the top of the front page, you can access the shops, the special offers, the bargains posted by other users, and the free rewards. You also have a way into your account, where you can see what rewards you have earned (this part is not very detailed and it is sometimes difficult to tell if you have been awarded your points or not) and redeem them when the time comes. The search engines are also on the front page, as well as a link you can use to refer people to the site. The latest 3 bargains are also there. As bargains have to be checked by staff before they are posted, the last 3 bargains to get on on a Friday get to stay on the front page the whole weekend. I would imagine people who manage this 'coup' do very well out of it.

                              ~My experience~
                              ***************

                              I have been a member since December 2005 (7 months at the time of writing this review), and in this time I have accumulated 7653 points (£51.02). This works out at over £7 a month, but the big payout from the betting site has a lot to do with that. I got 860 points (£5.73) for reading emails, and 648 points for 'shopping', but this category includes searches as well. Points usually appear fairly fast into my account, with the exception mentioned above, but the problem got solved satisfactorily for me. Claiming is done at the press of a button once you have enough points and although they tell you your cheque might take up to 3 weeks to get to you, I received mine in less than 2.
                              If you are a frequent internet shopper, or have lot of time to spend on the site to try and make the most of it, you might do quite well. If not, you might feel that you still want to get rewarded for whatever small amount of shopping you do, or for doing searches or reading email. This site caters for a wide range of needs and you do not get emails unless you choose to. It is difficult for me to be 100% objective about the site, having just received £50 in the post, but I feel that out of all the sites I know with a similar premise, this one is one of the best. Well worth checking out.

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                                03.08.2006 14:14
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                                Getting about is easy, but try walking to make the most of Barcelona.

                                What I really wanted to write about was the ‘Barcelona Card’ (see below), and I proposed this product months ago, but it wasn’t added by Dooyoo, so I will try to widen the scope of this review to include all transports (well, all the ones I can think of…). This review will not include information on driving in Barcelona, as we had no first-hand experience of it.

                                First, let me give you some general information about Barcelona by way of an introduction. Situated in the northeast of Spain on the Mediterranean coast, Barcelona is the second city in Spain, but this fact matters little to the Catalans for whom it is the capital of Catalonia (Catalunya in Catalan). One and a half million people live there. The city’s development is arrested on two sides by the hills of Collserola and by Montjuïc Mountain, and it has had to expand into the Mediterranean itself, as witnessed by the Museu Marítim, which used to be a shipyard and is now landlocked. Barcelona is the cruising capital of Europe with more than a million visitors docking in its harbour every year. For me, there are two Barcelonas; one a modern city with wide avenues and bustling traffic, the other, the old Barcelona is all narrow streets and ancient buildings, with Roman walls still visible among more recent buildings. The transport system has to cater for both.

                                ~The airport~
                                *************

                                Barcelona’s major airport is situated 8 miles southwest of the city and if you come from the UK, you will arrive at either terminal A or B depending which airline you are travelling with. Presumably when you arrive you will just want to get into Barcelona itself, but it is worth mentioning how nice the airport is (as these places go), particularly if you find yourself having to wait ages for a delayed flight as we had to do on the way back… It is kept spotlessly clean and has many, many shops to while away the time, as well as plenty of comfortable sitting. The airport staff is pleasant and helpful and they were trying to find out information about our flight for us when no Easy Jet personnel was to be found.

                                To leave the airport, you have a choice of transport. Taking a train from the airport’s own station will cost you around €2.50 (£1.70). Trains travel every 30 minutes between 6 am and midnight. Between those hours, buses are also available and will get you into the city in about half an hour, depending on traffic of course. This can get very busy and is not a very good option if you have a lot of luggage. The airport also offers the usual rental desks and lastly, you can get taxis easily. This was the option we chose, as we arrived quite late and didn’t want the hassle of having to find our way round with full luggage and empty stomachs… It took about 20 minutes and allowed us to catch sight of some of the city’s landmarks, including the statue of Columbus which worryingly was pointing in the opposite direction. Anyway, we got there without any major hiccup and it cost us around €20 (about £13.50).

                                ~Taxis~
                                *******

                                Whilst on the subject, a quick word about using taxis in Barcelona. I have to say our experience has been positive, with prices being very reasonable for a major city. However, there will often be a cheaper alternative (but not always as convenient depending on your circumstances). You can spot taxis that are available by the green light on the top of the taxi. Smoking is not permitted, an extra bonus.


                                ~Bus Turístic~
                                *************

                                I have written at length about this in another review, so I won’t go on and on (at least I’ll try not to). If you are in Barcelona for a few days, this is a nice way of getting an overview of the city and finding your bearings. The buses follow two main lines, the blue and red line, which have a few stops in common. Although I have listed this here, and you can get on and off the buses at several stops in places of interest, it is not all that useful as a mode of transport. The buses follow circular routes and it takes quite a long time to get back to your starting point. You can buy tickets for one or two days. Most people seem to buy their tickets on the bus and start their journey at the Plaça de Catalunya, but this is the busiest stop and you often have to wait in queue as you see one or two buses go without you. It is much easier catching it somewhere else, once you know what the bus stops look like.

                                ~City buses~
                                ***********

                                To use these to the best, you really need a bus map. This is why we headed to the tourist office on the Plaça de Catalunya one day, only to be told they don’t have them (despite what it said in my guide book) and we had to go to a Metro station a few stops away to get them. We never did get round to doing that, and as a result, our use of the buses was only sporadic. From what we could figure out, there was an extensive and regular service and buses are clean and comfortable (anyone used to travelling on Glasgow buses would find the contrast startling). They are also air conditioned, which if you are visiting the city in summer must be a godsend. You don’t need the exact change to buy your ticket from the driver.


                                ~Metro~
                                ********

                                By far our favourite mode of transport around Barcelona, as it is fast, frequent and covers most of the city. Again, the stations are very clean, as are the carriages, and most trains are air-conditioned. Surprisingly, for a city with such nightlife, the last metro is at 11 pm, although it runs till 2 am on Fridays and Saturdays. You can get a map from Metro stations. Note that to get past the turnstile, you have to insert your ticket in the slot to your LEFT, not right as is perhaps more common. The Catalans are unconventional indeed, down to the last detail… Be aware that if you have to change to a different line, you might have a very long walk on the interchange. Consider whether you wouldn’t be better off getting out and walking straight to your destination (in the fresh air).



                                ~The Telefèric de Montjuïc~
                                **************************

                                This is a cable car which runs between Barcelonetta and Montjuïc, the mountain which dominates Barcelona. Even though I hate height, we always seem to do things that involve climbing 8 367 steps or hanging from a cable by our fingernails… I exaggerate, but my husband seems to love dragging me kicking and screaming to elevated places… Anyway, the day we went on this, I was dragging my feet a little, but actually it was fine. A little scary, and I had to stand in the middle of the cable car the whole time hanging on to the central pole, but the views more than recompensed my efforts. Wow! We were able to see the harbour and other parts of the city from a very privileged viewpoint. The cable car stops half-way and you can get off to admire the view from a viewing platform, but that was a bit too much to ask of me. I would certainly recommend the Telefèric, particularly as when you get to the top, there is much to see and do. Another way to get there is to take the funicular, but as it runs inside the mountain for much of the journey, there isn’t much to see.


                                ~Walking~
                                *********

                                Much of the city of Barcelona is made up of narrow streets to which no vehicle can have access. So you will almost certainly have to walk. And that is no bad thing, as this is the best way to really discover a place and its people. Barcelona is a wonderful place to stroll, whether you are going from A to B, or just strolling lazily and taking in the whole alphabet! The waterfront, the Ramblas, the Barri Gòtic and la Ribera are especially well suited to this activity.

                                I noticed in some areas that you could be taken around in a carriage pulled by a bicycle. Whilst I admired the riders stamina and toned physique, I didn’t think it was fair to expect them to haul me around, even if my husbands slenderness did go someway to even out the situation!

                                ~The Barcelona Card~
                                ********************

                                At last I can now tell you about it, the reason I wanted to write this review in the first place. There are other discount passes and you can find out about them at www.tmb.net., but the Barcelona card is the one we went for. It is available for 2, 3, 4 or 5 days, working out cheaper and cheaper the longer you choose. For instance, the 2 days card costs €23 (£15.74) which works out at €11.50 per day, whereas the 5 day card costs €34 (£23) and that is only €6.50 per day. I think that is really very good, as you get unlimited travel on the bus and the metro and discounts on other transport such as the Telefèric or the funicular. On top of that, you can get 17 visits absolutely free, as well as discounts on a significant number of places including museums, restaurants and even some shops. We visited the Museum of History of the City (which included a visit of an entire Roman town under one of Barcelona’s square) and the Botanical Gardens for free, as well as taking a tour of the Harbour by boat. A number of other museums could also be accessed gratis, some of which seemed very interesting. We could have climbed to the top of the ‘Mirador de Colom’, a 60 m monument with a statue of the great traveller at its top, but decided that enough was enough!

                                You can get a card for children too, and this costs from €19 for 2 days to €30 for 5.

                                The cards are available at tourist information offices or from the bus station (Estació de Nord). I believe you can even buy it online before you leave.

                                All this helps make the Barcelona card very good value indeed, I think you will agree. I hope this little tip will be helpful to anyone travelling to this beautiful city.

                                The city’s motto is BARCELONA ES TEVA, which means ‘Barcelona belongs to you’ in Catalan. I think it would be a very good slogan for the Barcelona Card too.

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                                  29.07.2006 16:59
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                                  Millions of visitors can't all be wrong!

                                  If you enjoy visiting art museums, Paris really is the place to go to. In the last 20 years or so, Paris museums re-organised their collections and the musée d'Orsay became the receptacle for art dated between 1848 and 1914.

                                  ~The Gare d'Orsay~
                                  ******************

                                  The building that houses the collection used to be a train station and hotel, which due to its proximity to the Louvre needed to be built sympathetically. Its inauguration in 1900 revealed a very fine building where the stone façade hid the metal structure inside. At the time, the painter Edouard Detaille wrote ""The station is superb and looks like a Palais des beaux-arts...". Little did he know that he was writing a prophesy…

                                  After 1939, the progressive electrification of the railroads meant that the platforms were now too short to accommodate the new, longer electric trains, and the station was relegated to serving only the suburbs. The years that followed saw a number of uses for the station, from mailing centre for packages sent to prisoners during the second world war, to a film set (Kafka's 'The trial' by Orson Welles was filmed there). In 1978, the building was classified as a historical monument, and in 1986, François Mitterand, the then President of the Republic, inaugurated the new museum.

                                  The work that was undertaken to turn this old railway station into a museum was extremely successful… What a stunning place! The outside is very much the way it must have been originally, but the inside area has been turned into the most fantastic space for displaying art. Despite being shaped like a tunnel, the first thing you notice about the musée d'Orsay is the amount of natural light penetrating the building. 35,000 square metres of glass overhead and at either end allow light to flood the space.

                                  The museum is built over 3 levels. On the ground level, a nave the height of the building houses a number of sculptures. There are a number of rooms to the side of this.

                                  Many features from the original building have been retained, and they are not the least appeal of the museum. I particularly liked the big clock (you can stand behind it and watch Paris through its glass). There are also some wonderful stained-glass windows in one of the restaurants.

                                  These features, being contemporary with the exhibits, serve as a wonderful backdrop.

                                  ~The visit~
                                  **********

                                  The museum is open everyday (except Monday) from 9.30 am to 6.00 pm, with a later closing time of 9.45 pm on a Thursday. Entry to the museum costs 7.50 €, with a reduced tariff of 5.50€ for young people from 18 to 25 years old and on Sundays or after 4.15 pm. Entry is free for the under 18. Everyone can also get in free on the first Sunday of every month, although I think it is worth paying the fee rather than facing the crowds that are bound to take advantage of this offer.

                                  The museum building being fairly recent, it is fully accessible to those who have a disability, and guided visits in sign language are available. As always with major museums, try to get there as early as you can. The queues at the museum can be somewhat lengthy, but do not be put off by this, as once the museum opens, they move fairly quickly and efficiently.

                                  The collections in the museum are presented by theme and in chronological order. The musée d'Orsay covers a period going from 1848 to 1914 and all major artistic movements are represented. The collection is divided into 4 categories: painting, sculpture, architecture and decorative arts. The visit starts on the ground floor, then goes on to the top level and finishes on the middle floor. It is a good idea to visit in this order as you are then able to view the works in a more or less chronological order, but on the other hand, the end of the visit is home to some of the most popular exhibits, in particular some impressionist works, and can get very busy indeed by the afternoon.

                                  If you want to do this museum justice, you will need to spend the best part of a day here. There are cafés where you can have a bite to eat, or if you want to do things in style, you could try the 'Restaurant du Musée d'Orsay' which serves unpretentious cuisine in beautiful surroundings, with its impressive frescoes and mouldings.


                                  ~The collection~
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                                  This part of the review will have to be at best a brief overview as there are so many great works here, many of them being extremely famous.

                                  >>sculpture<<

                                  Most of these are on the ground floor, where full advantage is taken of the changing light afforded by the glass vault. I have to say sculpture is not one of my favourite media, but there is much here to be admired. Some of the sculptures exhibited were very scandalous when they were first shown to the public, such as the 'woman bitten by a snake', where the snake was only added as an afterthought, to hide the real reason for the woman's languid pose… Look out for Degas' young 14 year-old dancer on the top floor, which questioned accepted ideas of art and was described as ugly at the time.


                                  >>paintings and pastels<<

                                  This represents the bulk of the exhibits and there are some real gems to be admired here. Grouped by aesthetic currents, the visit gives you a real overview of art at the time. There really are too many paintings to mention, but some of my personal favourites included 'The Angelus' by Jean-François Millet, some great Degas, Edouart Manet's 'The balcony', Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette, Montmartre by Renoir, and 'the siesta' and other Van Gogh paintings.


                                  There are also exhibits on architecture and decorative arts and photography, with notably a photograph of Charles Baudelaire dating back to 1855.

                                  ~Final thoughts~
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                                  I really enjoyed visiting this museum, but found it a little much to take in over one day. As much as I enjoy art, I find that, after a while, tiredness and sensory overload combine to diminish my enjoyment of the works on offer. This meant that by the time I reached the end (the part I was most interested in), I was not as receptive as I should have been. This is a difficult one to solve, as I felt the order in which the visit was organised was really useful to help understanding how art evolved and the relationship between the different artistic movements. There is only one thing for it, I will have to visit again, this time going straight to my favourites… I definitely recommend visiting the musée d'Orsay if you enjoy art or want to enjoy it.

                                  http://www.musee-orsay.fr

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