Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Eurovision Song Contest Malmö 2013, Semi-Final 2 - Thursday 16.05.2013

One down, one to go.  After a generally well-received set of qualifiers from Semi-Final 1, we move on to Thursday night and semi-final 2 which is generally considered to be the stronger of the two semi-finals. 

As with semi-final 1 there are no opening titles as such.I don't like this opening act with the dancing orchestra.  Being the old ESC purist that I am, I'd rather have the real orchestra back.  This looks more like something out of "Sweden's Got Talent".  It gets slightly more interesting when it goes all free running and cycling-up-the-skatepark-wall.  And there is dubstep.  Oh bloody hell, will someone please take dubstep away?

Petra Mede is dressed in a pretty ridiculous outfit.  She seems more comfortable in her role tonight, although still coming over as one of the most "posh" ESC presenters in many years, but she has definitely grown on me.   

LATVIA: "Here We Go" - PeR.

Oh my beloved Latvia, what has become of you?
PeR, with their glittery outfits, spikey hair and random jumping around could be misconstrued as a Jedward tribute act.  There's even a stage dive and they're proud to tell us all about it.  "The first stage dive in Eurovision history comes from Latvia!!"  It's a lively start and they make the most of the catwalk, but I can't find anything positive to say about it.  Mum is watching again tonight and she is unimpressed. 
M: I don't like rapping.
L: I like good rapping,  but this isn't good rapping.

SAN MARINO: "Crisalide (Vola)" - Valentina Monetta.

One of this year's biggest pre-contest fan-faves, th
is is thankfully a million miles away from the car-crash that was the Social Network Song/Uh oh, oh oh oh beep beep etc etc.  It's a song with a major identity crisis though: it starts off as a ballad and turns into a big gay old Euro-stomper. I like it, but it might just be a bit too old-Eurovision.  I did have this as a qualifier though....

MACEDONIA: "Pred Da Se Razdeni" - Esma and Lozano.

Lozano. Yum.  Not only does he have a great voice, but he's just become even more yum as he's removed his glasses and looks damn gorgeous.  By this time, mum has dozed off again and so she's missing this visual feast.  However she wakes up again towards the end of the song, just in time for big Esma in full lelelelelelelelele flow.  

M: I don't get this.
L: I love this! Although it doesn't really work - there's no real connection between them and it's like two people singing two different songs at the same time.  But young Mr Lozano can come back and represent Macedonia next year.  And the year after that.  And the year after that. 

AZERBAIJAN: "Hold Me" - Farid Mammadov. 

In my own humble opinion, Azerbaijan has had a rather unhealthy influence on the Eurovision Song Contest since its 2008 debut.  So all the post-contest talk of voting scandals and the undercover SIMs-for-votes video didn't surprise me.  Ironically, "Hold Me" is probably their best entry yet, performed very nicely by the not entirely unattractive Farid, with just the right amount of vulnerability.

Unfortunately the staging (man in a box and a woman in a big frock) is from the "Believe" Kitchen Sink School of Eurovision Staging.  Which can end up a major distraction, to the detriment of the song.

M: This is too gimmicky, too distracting.  Can he not just stand there and sing the song without all that rubbish going on?
L: The song is good and his performance is very good but it's ruined by the choreography.

FINLAND: "Marry Me" - Krista Siegfrids.

Lightweight nonsense from the Finnish Ke$ha with ding dongs a plenty, and a "controversial" kiss at the end. Mum is irritable.

M: This is naff.  Like something from 40 years ago.
L: Actually it's quite up to date - you could imagine something like this in the charts nowadays.
M: I don't listen to the charts so I couldn't tell you!
L: Oh oh, oh oh a ding dong!

We then get Ana interviewing Andrius, the guy with one shoe called love and the other one is pain. Now back to the songs.

MALTA: "Tomorrow" - Gianluca.

Or Dr Gianluca Bezzina to his patients, administering a prescription of sunshine and relentless glee throughout his performance.  This is such a nice, happy song which always hits the target.  Gianluca high-fives his way along the catwalk, and the result is three minutes of happiness.

M: This is a nice cheery song.

BULGARIA: "Samo Shampioni" - Elitsa and Stoyan.

Ana calls Elitsa "the Bulgarian Sheila E" - I loved that comparison!  It's three minutes of percussion interrupted by wailing and what looks like the grandchildren of the Buranovskiye Babushki on backing vocals.

ICELAND: "Eg A Lif" - Eythor Ingi.

Eythor's wearing the black jacket, good choice I think. There's a lovely stage backdrop with a lighthouse and little wooden houses which makes me want to board a flight to Iceland right now.

L: Good old egg a leaf.
M: He's not singing egg a leaf, he's singing yegg a leaf.
L: Yes but the song title's egg a leaf.  Oh forget it.
M: He looks as if he should be in a heavy metal band.  Good singer though.  I like this.

GREECE: “Alcohol Is Free” - Kosa Mostra and Agathon Iakovidis.

At this point feel free to jump in and scoff, but I love, love, love this.  It's manic ska-flavoured fun with a capital F and Greek with a capital G.  Love it!  You can’t have enough Greek men in kilts.
Unfortunately due to the ongoing and worsening economic crisis in Greece, which shockingly resulted in the government's recent closure of ERT, we wonder where this leaves Greece in the Eurovision Song Contest.  Maybe a small and insignificant matter in the larger scheme of things, but we still wonder anyway. 

ISRAEL: “Rak Bishvilo” - Moran Mazor.

This one has grown on me over recent weeks.  All the comments leading up to the contest have been about her and her glasses and that dress, rather than the song.  She is a lovely, real woman with a wonderful voice.  This may not be a particularly great song but she is mesmerising. 

ARMENIA: “Lonely Planet” - Dorians.

Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath wrote this, don’t ya know!  The Dorians ditch the gimmicks for a straightforward rock band/concert performance.  They are very comfortable on stage.  This is another ‘let’s save the world’ song but less offensive than that awful Russian effort this year.  Strangely enough I really enjoyed this, although there are some shabby camera angles and poor backing vocals towards the end of the song.  They all go on about Andrius from Lithuania's eyebrows, but these ones are serious!

HUNGARY: “Kedvesem (Zoohacker Remix) - ByeAlex.

Mum wakes from her slumber just in time for ByeAlex who as usual hasn’t exactly dressed up for the occasion.  This gets a few cheers from the audience and there is a trippy cartoon backdrop.  The song is quite sweet and less-is-more, although his can’t-be-arsed delivery of it suggests to me that he wouldn’t really be that bothered if it qualified or not.  I'd like to see him with a makeover, with the beard shaved off and the hat removed.  Oh and did he sing "Nurofen" at one point?

NORWAY: “I Feed You My Love” - Margaret Berger. 

Maybe not ‘skipping dinner to get thinner’ but I’d like to know the secret of how she gets into this dress. It's a little customised variation on the original MGP-winning dress by the way, and that little second-verse dance totally destroys the ice queen persona.  Effortlessly sailing to the final.

Hello, how's the flow?  Yes, Petra is relaxing in the green room and interviewing none other than the legend who is Lys Assia, the queen of Eurovision.  Long may she reign.

ALBANIA: "Identitet" - Adrian Lulgjuraj and Bledar Sejko.

Followers of this blog and my Twitter feed will be well aware that I wasn't too happy when this won FiK back in December 2012.  So it was one of the biggest surprises of this Eurovision season when this duo and their band took to the ESC stage to deliver a rock-tastic performance and suddenly it all made sense.  A confident performance with that pyro guitar solo.... they were robbed, weren't they!

GEORGIA: "Waterfall" - Nodi Tatishvili and Sophie Gelovani.

The G:son-written, bought-in song.  The not-entirely-unattractive Nodi will be welcome at ESC any time as a solo performer.  They may be sailing on a sea of dreams, but there is little chemistry between him and Sophie, and at one point it looks as if she's drunk and he's holding her up.  I still think we're back in cynical 'let's win ESC' territory.  It's a little too cold and calculating. It's Running Scared II. 

SWITZERLAND:  "You and Me" - Takasa.

Or the artists-known-as-Salvation-Army to be precise.  That 95 year old guy with the double bass doesn't know where he is.  Not much effort has gone into this - from the drab backdrop to the stage presentation where they all just basically stand in a line.  This is not qualifying, is it?  But that guitarist is hot.  Oh, and did I mention that guitarist is hot???

ROMANIA: “It’s My Life” -  Cezar.

Ana is calling this guy the second coming of Klaus Nomi.  He should have kept the song in the lower register.  But the song is secondary to the kitchen-sink performance with the gymnast/dancers who don't look as if they have any clothes on, and Cezar himself who seems to pay tribute to his country which after all gave us the legend of Dracula.  Eats My Life.  Even this has a flippin' dubstep breakdown. 

I’ve hugely enjoyed tonight, although mum didn't quite share my enthusiasm and bailed out of the proceedings, however promises to return for the final. 

Recap time, and for Georgia they show the propping-a-drunk-woman-up clip.  BBC Three has an interview with Ryan Dolan which I miss most of, because....I’m off to fetch the laptop, because I’m not going to make the same mistake as Tuesday night and miss what’s happening on stage.  Whilst.  BBC Three is doing a VT about Swedish music, even interviewing Westlife's Kian Egan and top songwriter and Idol judge Andreas Carlsson, I head over to SVT Play for the interval act - Darin and Agnes!  Not together but separately. 

Darin gives us a little medley of “Nobody Knows” and “So Yours” proving yet again that he should be a major international megastar.  I would really love so see him represent Sweden at Eurovision some day but that probably won't happen now :(  Ditto, Agnes.

Ms Carlsson then takes to the stage (with a subliminal nod to Sertab’s 2003 winning dress) with “One Last Time” and “Release Me”. 

Meanwhile over at BBC Three, they're interviewing Aussie commentator Julia Zemiro and the legend who is Paul "Dr Eurovision" Jordan, swiftly followed by some hot Greek men in kilts, and then Bonnie Tyler.  I think we all agree that the Ana Matronic experiment has been very successful, and maybe she'll talk Jake and her other 'Sisters' into representing the UK, eh?  But wait...

BBC Three: “Oh look, there’s a song we know - quick - let’s go to the TV coverage for the last minute of “Release Me”.

Let's then have a look at the big 5 (and Sweden) shall we?  Petra then introduces ESDM and Cascada-Natalie in the audience. 

Petra: "When in doubt, turn to Norway!" as she introduces Mr Eurovision, Jon Ola Sand.

After a blast of the Euphoria-foghorn, Petra reveals the qualifiers for the final. 

First out is..Hungary!  Now there’s a shocker! The fan community is immediately wondering who’s going to miss out......   #lessismore

Azerbaijan #quellesurprise #maninabox

Georgia #nodinodinodi
Romania #haha #eatsmylife #100%successrecord

Norway #feedingtime #norvegedouzepoints

Iceland #yay  #eggaleaf

Armenia #12pointsfromAzerbaijan  #booing #eyebrows

Finland #dingdong

Malta #ohohohoh #jeremy #yay

And the final qualifier is:

Greece #kilts #hotbeardedmen #greeceistheword

So, San Marino misses out again, but could it be third time lucky for Ms Monetta in Denmark 2014?  It has been announced this week that she will represent San Marino for the third year in a row!  Glad to hear it - people of Europe, please reward her and San Marino with a place in the final next year! 

Albania fails to make the final: will they play it safe next year or will they send something completely off-the-wall Rona style?  The answer is just 6 months away!

And finally...there is no place for my lovely Lozano in the final, meaning that for the first time in many years, there will be no presence from the former Yugoslavia in the final.

So the line-up is now known for the final in Malmö....

A day out in Ayr

Yes, it's the return of "tourists in our own country" although in this case, it's a more familiar destination.  Ayr is the most popular seaside town, situated on the Ayrshire coast in South-West Scotland.  It has a beach, a river, and lots of good shops, restaurants and cafes. 

Recent weeks have been very unusual indeed, as we have enjoyed uninterrupted spells (i.e. more than one day) of dry, bright, warm weather.  "Summer" or as near as we get, came early.  Bringing with it all the joys of summer weather...
  • that familiar smell of burning food, a.k.a. 'the barbecue'
  • that familiar smell of burning flesh, a.k.a. 'the suntan'
  • that familiar sight known as 'taps aff' a.k.a. "Taps-Aff (Scots Vernacular) Literally "tops off." The removing of one's shirt in the event of warm weather, a phenomenon rarely seen in Glasgow. Now an expression describing good times being had". (definition courtesy of
All of these came together, on Ayr beach on 8th June, on a beautiful warm sunny day.  Footballs being kicked could have been Copacabana beach.  Bathing beauties in big could have been the French Riviera.  Bottles of MD 20-20 being passed around between under-age drinkers at 11.30 am....Ayr beach. Which is a shame really, as there were a lot of people enjoying a family day out.  The combination of alcohol and hot weather proved lethal later that day, as a major disturbance took place on the beach:  (We didn't actually see this happening as by that time we were on our way home). 

In spite of all this, however, Ayr is a great little town to visit in summer.  Away from the beach there's activities like crazy golf and an indoor and outdoor playground.  Those of us who prefer more adult pursuits like eating out and shopping are spoilt for choice.  There's a number of cuisines to choose from - everything from Scotland's favourite Italian, Chinese and Indian to Greek and French, and traditional Scottish cuisine.  Those who prefer a small beverage without getting sand in their shoes have a number of bars to choose from.  And although Ayr, like every other Scottish town in the depths of recession, has 'for sale' and 'to let' signs where shops once traded, it's holding up better than most and also boasts the Ayr Central shopping centre with a number of big-name stores:

Ayr is also a scenic little town and if you walk down to the bottom of the Sandgate it will take you on to the main traffic bridge across the River Ayr.  But there is also a nice little footbridge further along, which you can enter from just off the foot of the High Street, and from where I took this picture of the river, the main bridge and the redeveloped harbour area in the distance.

We always try to visit Ayr once a year, and when you go there you actually feel like you've "been somewhere", it's a great little day-trip destination.  However, they maybe need to up the marketing a little, as I couldn't resist taking a picture of these two juxtaposed signs which I spotted out of the bus window on our way out of town....

The Cruise Diaries: Day 7 - Saturday 25th May 2013 - Another day at sea, and homeward bound.

It's been another bumpy overnight sail on our way back from Crete, but with no port stops today it's a good opportunity for a lie-in.  Unfortunately I am not at my best today - I'll keep it brief, suffice to say that I'm battling a horrific hangover which doesn't leave me till lunchtime.  I am not used to mixing my drinks, and really shouldn't have had that extra cocktail.  But the good news is that I have learned from my mistake as I don't want to feel like that again!  

In case you wonder where we are, that landscape over there is none other than the Reggio Calabria area of southern Italy.  We passed it on the way out, and it's with a little bit of sadness that we pass it again as it means that we're heading back to Civitavecchia and the end of our cruise.

But it's another day at sea and we should get back out on deck.  Only problem is, it's blowing a gale.  A warm gale, but a gale nonetheless which makes it practically impossible to walk around the upper decks.  Meanwhile there is a little sun-trap down on the pool deck and the sun worshippers are out in force, enjoying a poolside BBQ, there's a paella cook-off going on and the bartenders are having a cocktail shaking competition.  Oh please don't mention cocktails....!

Unfortunately our little back-deck haven on the ship has been hijacked by the sun worshippers as it's one of the few places where you're not likely to be swept off your feet by a gale.  So like many others on the ship, we headed for the Cosmopolitan Club which provided us with a great view when the ship passed through the Messina Strait early in the afternoon.

One of the places on a ship which doesn't interest me in the slightest is the casino.  I'm not into gambling at all, apart from being a member of a long-term workplace lottery syndicate which is still waiting for that big win.  I can't imagine why people would spend all that money on a cruise to hang out in a casino for the week but each to their own.  The casino is situated on deck 4 and you have to walk through it to get from Boleros to the Schooner Bar.  But like everything else on this ship, the decor is a visual feast.

The Schooner Bar (above) is a nautical-themed hangout which hosts quizzes during the day and has a piano man playing at night.

Above: the entrance to the Ixtapa Lounge, which hosts music and dancing during the evenings, and some bingo sessions if you're that way inclined.  For us it served the purpose as Cafe Promenade overspill-seating-area as we took our coffees and sat on the sofas at the entrance when there were no seats left in Cafe Prom.

During my pre-cruise research I discovered that the Navigator passed Stromboli, the volcanic island north of Sicily, on the Saturday afternoon, and this was not to be missed.   Anyone who didn't know about it however, was alerted by Captain Frank to the impending appearance of it, on the right hand side of the ship. Even better and on cue, Stromboli put on a show for us and some smoke appeared from the top.  It's not quite an eruption, but I was happy to take this picture anyway.

A brief word about the ever-droll Captain Frank Martinsen who with his crew guided our ship around the Med for the past week.  The Captain quickly became a cult figure with the two of us, and faithful travelling companion incidentally does a brilliant impersonation of his little on-board announcements.  (On the final morning of the cruise, the on-board Royal Caribbbean TV channel on our stateroom TV also featured an interview with the Captain, who in common with many other cruise ship captains, is Norwegian).

I forgot to mention that we had a very special guest in our cabin last night - a monkey! This was the last of our three towel animals on the cruise.

A couple of things on tonight's agenda: the 'Farewell Showtime' variety show and our final dinner in the main dining room.  But firstly: packing.  If you are on a cruise, your case needs to be packed and placed outside the stateroom on the evening before disembarkation day, and you won't see it again until you're off the ship.  So you need to do your packing early.  Instructions are also left in the cabin for disembarkation - where to assemble and at what time.

In case you're not sure of tipping etiquette and rules, I'd definitely recommend pre-paying tips before a cruise which on Royal Caribbean is also a condition of booking My Time Dining.

The final variety show in the Metropole Theatre is "Farewell Variety Showtime" which takes us full circle from the Welcome Aboard Show on Day 1, the featured performers are again the aerial act Duo ArtMotion and the juggler/mime artist Michael Menes.   There is also a nice tribute video of the various staff teams which gets cheers and applause from the audience.   The grand finale is extra special, as the singers and musicians are joined on stage by officers, cooks and staff - including stateroom attendants with their towel animals!

After the show it was time for our last meal of the cruise in the Main Dining Room, with a couple of nice extra touches: the waiters do a parade at one point waving their napkins in the air, and we also have to wave our napkins too!  Later on they gather on the balcony to sing us a farewell song.  Aww!  It's touches like this which make a cruise such a special holiday experience.

We have a lovely dinner and after saying our last goodbyes to our lovely, friendly waiting staff, we take a last late night stroll down the Royal Promenade, before heading back for a early night.

I'm not going to do a separate post about Sunday, as it was all about travelling home.  We couldn't fault the disembarkation process, as we found our cases quickly on leaving the ship and were then straight onto the coach from Civitavecchia to Fiumicino airport.  Which is very disorganised and chaotic, and we'd be happy if we never had to see it again.  But I guess it's a necessary evil, and as the old saying goes, never say never!

So...was it all worth it, and was it the right decision to go a cruise?  Yes!
Would I do it again? Yes!
Would I recommend it to anyone?  Yes!

It was a much more hectic and tiring holiday than I'd imagined though - the combination of long days, early rises, clocks going forward and losing hours, and a busy itinerary did take its toll.  There was never an seasickness, however for a week after the holiday I struggled with "sea legs" and vertigo-type symptoms which were pretty scary but eventually disappeared.

I'm glad I had the opportunity to discover the joys of cruising.  It's a great way to get a flavour of different countries and cultures, discover new destinations whilst enjoying the facilities, activities and entertainment offered on a stunning, massive ship.  It was our first cruise around the Med on Navigator of the Seas, but it will also be our last on this ship, which is leaving the Med to go go into dry dock for refurbishment at the end of this year and will be based in Galveston, Texas from 2014, where it will operate cruises around the western Caribbean.

The Cruise Diaries: Day 6 - Friday 24th May 2013 - Chania, Crete

Warm sunshine and a silvery sunrise greet us on our arrival at Greece's largest island - Crete.

It's a beautiful morning for my little stroll on deck.  I'm even getting used to waking up at 5.30 am!

A quick breakfast of croissant and Danish pastries in Cafe Promenade, which is always a lot emptier in the morning than in the afternoon where it's impossible to get a seat.  Then disembarkation, which has been a very speedy process throughout this week.  We are actually docked in Souda port, but there are local buses literally a minute's walk from the ship to take you into Chania.  You buy a return bus ticket which is only 3 euros.  It's a quick journey (15 mins approx) through the countryside and you are dropped off at the Agora (Market building).  

Shopping here is like a hassle-free version of Turkey, although they share many of the souvenirs on sale: seemingly Turkey does not have the monopoly on  'evil eyes' souvenirs nor on Turkish Delight - I buy a Cretan version here to take back home for my workmates in the office.  

After leaving the market it's not long till I find a CD store where, in the absence of any in-depth Greek music knowledge beyond everyone who's ever represented Hellas at Eurovision, I buy a Minos CD compilation which seems like a Greek equivalent of "Now That's What I Call Music", and which on later listening I discover that it contains Greek language "EDM" for want of a better description. Is nothing sacred?  Happily there's also more traditional bouzouki-type stuff on it though :)

Some more shopping and then time for a Greek coffee stop at one of the coffees at the stunning Venetian harbour.  I decide very quickly that Chania (pronounced Hania) is already my favourite of all the cruise stops, although in retrospect have revised my decision slightly, placing it a very close second behind Sicily. Anyway Chania is a very beautiful place which I fell in love with straight away.  And of course there is the small matter of some very hot men (mostly waiters), most of whom are unshaven.  I'm not usually a facial-hair fan but am seriously making an exception today!! :)))

Let's do lunch!  Greek cuisine is another thing which shares a lot in common with its Turkish counterpart, like chicken kebabs, for example....

Despite only having 4 hours or so in Chania, we make the most of our day with shopping, coffee, sightseeing, lunch, more shopping and then, finally, getting lost (in the streets of what turns out to be a larger town than we thought) but eventually find our way back to the Market and the bus back to Souda.

Where there is a very long line to re-board the Navigator!

It's an early departure from Crete - 3.00pm - which is a pity as we would like to have spent more time there.  But the ship has a sailing schedule to stick to, so that's the reason for sailing away so early.  However we make the most of our extra time on the ship, including a trip to the Windjammer for mid-afternoon snacks, a stroll on deck and a coffee stop.

It seems no time until we're getting ready for dinner again.  Tonight is the second of the two formal nights on this cruise, so we're going to the Windjammer for dinner, where "suggested attire" doesn't apply.  Unlike the first formal night, where we felt as if we were in a very small minority, there are many more like-minded, anti-formal night people in the Windjammer, although there is a more relaxed atmosphere than at the free-for-all at breakfast and lunchtime.  There is a massive selection of food for all tastes in this buffet, and I would particularly single out the Asian buffet which is of a high standard.

After dinner, Boleros (Latin bar) awaits, and another people-watching opportunity to watch the formal night brigade pass by, many in very recognisable outfits being repeated from the first formal night.  

Before going on this cruise, I had visions of late-night strolls out on deck, under the moonlight, in the calm Mediterranean night air...but the reality is very different, as it's very windy out on deck again tonight.  We're making our way to the cheesy cabaret of the Cosmopolitan Club once again.  The 'Italian Duo' are playing, although there is only the occasional Italian-language song.  Cocktail time!  Here is a Torched Cherry Sangria, which was very good at the time.....although I would regret it on Saturday morning.  But in the meantime it's Friday night, and tomorrow's a sea day.  Which in retrospect I would be very grateful for!

Eighties Coming Back!

(No, sadly, this is not a tribute post to top Estonian combo Claire's Birthday a.k.a. Ruffus who gave us one of the best Eurovision entries of the 21st century).

However, if you are a fan of classic pop from the 1980s, then you might be interested in Classic Pop magazine.

This is a new(ish) magazine which is now on its 5th issue, however I've only recently discovered it and bought the current issue and another recent one.

Back in the 1980s, I wasn't really listening to mainstream pop, as I had turned my attention elsewhere (check out my older post which goes into that in more detail).  However as that post also illustrates, I was living a musical double-life and was obsessed by the likes of Adam Ant and debut-album Duran Duran.  However, whether you love or hate the 1980s you can't deny that many of the songs and artists have turned out to have a very long shelf-life indeed.

Classic Pop is aimed fairly and squarely at the original Smash Hits generation who have grown up, grown older, and who will immediately recognise the opening bars of any 80s top 40 hit.  It's not just a retro tribute though, as where the magazine succeeds is in mixing then and now, featuring artists from the 80s (and 90s) who are still recording and/or playing live; or featuring modern-day artists who may owe a musical debt to 30-odd years ago.  More obscure pop names also get a look-in as well, (although maybe not as obscure as the acts featured on the many wonderful 80s pop blogs out there!) and you realise just how much good and enduring music was around three decades ago.

One negative point though is the un-80s cover price of £5.99; although all magazines these days are overpriced though, so it's not the only one.  Maybe they're hoping to drive everyone to a subscription or opt for the lower-priced tablet edition?

It's a good read though and an escape from the torture of the 2013 top 40, which is all over-hyped international stars, UK 'grime'/'dubstep'/'the new boring' and bog-standard 'EDM'.  I doubt whether 30 years down the line, when I'm hurtling towards my 80th birthday and zimmer-framing it into the 2043 equivalent of WH Smith, that my eyes will light up with glee when I spot a nostalgia magazine with the likes of Rita Ora, Emeli Sande, Rihanna, Rudimental, Wiley, Jessie J and Ed Sheeran on the cover.  I will definitely pass on that one!

The Cruise Diaries: Day 5 - Thursday 23rd May 2013 - Kusadasi, Turkey

Regular readers of this blog will be well aware that Turkey has figured significantly in our travels since 2009: two trips to Icmeler and one to Bodrum.  We've never been to Kusadasi though, so this cruise provided a good opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with all the joys of the Turkish experience - good food, Turkish coffee, apple tea, great scenery...and of course the great tradition of running the gauntlet, trying not to make eye contact with numerous shopkeepers trying to get you into the shops to buy handbags, T-shirts, leather jackets - designer names everywhere, all of them "genuine fakes".

But before all that, when we wake up, the ship is already docked in the port of Kusadasi, which is just literally a few minutes' walk from the centre of town.  No need for shuttle buses or having to travel anywhere else.

Unless of course, you're one of the many cruise ship passengers who bypass the town of Kusadasi and head for the major tourist attraction nearby, Ephesus, with its great religious, cultural and architectural significance. However, regular readers of this blog will be award that both faithful travelling companion and I are very pale skinned people who burn very easily.  Factor 50+ is our default setting on holiday.  We decided very quickly  therefore, that it wouldn't be such a good idea to spend our day in such an exposed place like Ephesus, and we would remain in Kusadasi.

First shopping stop is the D & R Shop in the Scala Nuova shopping centre where we buy some Turkish music CDs.

After a must-do stop for an apple tea, we head to the seafront for a nice relaxing stroll and a seat.  It becomes anything but relaxing though, as we're yet again under attack from one of the perfume sellers, who seem to have accosted every tourist in town and every cruise ship passenger since they left the ship - and they do not take 'no' for an answer!  Hassle, or let's call it....'persuasion' is the norm when shopping in Turkish resorts but in Kusadasi they take it to a whole new level.

One thing that doesn't change, no matter which resort you visit in Turkey, is the wide variety of food for all tastes available on all the restaurant menus.  There really is something for everyone, and in my case, lunch today is that good old Turkish speciality, the chicken kebab, accompanied by an Efes beer :)

To be perfectly honest, Kusadasi is not up there with Icmeler or Bodrum when it comes to Turkish resorts.  It seemed to lack that special something, and the hassle-level was at times extremely annoying, mostly those perfume sellers who continued to produce fake Coco Chanel and Armani Code right up until we were almost re-boarding the ship.  Yet Turkey also has so much to offer: stunning scenery, the friendliness of the people, the quality of the food is always of a high standard, and nothing beats the ritual of drinking a Turkish coffee or an apple tea.  Of course, all is not well in Turkey right now: over recent weeks we've watched the Gezi Park protests and shared the despair of the country's downward spiral into what is beginning to resemble a dictatorship, if the reactions to the protests are anything to go by.  As the country enters a very dark spell we can only hope that people power will prevail.

But we have to leave the Turkish coastline behind... we are now back on the ship.  After a stroll on deck and a coffee break it's time for a teatime nap (I'm getting old!!) and we get ready for tonight's dinner.  The theme tonight is "dress in white clothing" although all-white clothing and dinner have not been a good combination for me in the past - #messyeater - so it's a white patterned top and white cardigan tonight.

More pasta, preceded by a new adventure on the ship....cold soup!!

Now we have tried cold soup before - gazpacho in Barcelona - but I've never tried cold mango and pineapple soup.  Until tonight.  And do you know what?  It was very tasty indeed.

More pasta for the main course, followed by a nice fruit dessert.  Unfortunately my pictures didn't turn out too well tonight :(

One event I was looking forward to prior to the cruise was the "white party" which takes place out on deck, late at night, with everyone wearing white clothing, party/latin music being pumped through the speakers and lots of dancing going on.  Sounds right up my street (or should that be my ship).  However, it was an extremely blustery night out on deck; much too windy to spend any more than about 5 seconds there.  We tried it, and decided that this would not be a good idea.  There were some hardy souls who did turn up for the "Latin Fiesta" but they must be made of very strong seafaring stuff indeed.  Either that or they are windproof.

So our destination was the Cosmopolitan Club at the very top of the ship, for some late-night drinks.  Which, in my case, meant today's "Drink of the Day".

But everything in moderation, as we have a very early rise tomorrow, the earliest of the cruise so far in fact, and a new destination for us: the island of Crete.

That's after a very bumpy overnight journey through the choppy waters of the Greek islands!!

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: March-June 2013

You'll all know by now that I'm the queen of the backlog and never quite get round to finishing that book/TV show/DVD box set/blog post etc etc.

So while I'm off work this week I thought I'd better finish off some of that unfinished business - at least those blog posts! My last TV review took us up to February, then my life was overtaken by pre-cruise planning, Eurovision season, and a very tiring and stressful few months at work which left me exhausted.  So it's now time for a catch-up.

March was all about one thing: Borgen, Borgen, Borgen.

Back in January/February I recorded series 2 of DR's brilliant political drama and feasted on it during March.  It didn't disappoint.  What's the worst thing about "BORGEN" (BBC Four)?  When it ends and you have to wait all those months for the next one.  Series 2 was gripping, as the strands of Birgitte's political and personal life unravelled throughout the course of the series.  Great acting all round, and a great big 'awwww' for Kasper and Katrine too :) Laugesen was as big a boo-hiss baddie as ever, and didn't Katrine and Hanne make a great double-act? Not wishing my life away or anything, but roll on series 3 which will be its final series, just like "Forbrydelsen".  If only that three-series-then-you're-out concept could be used over here.  I can think of a few stale programme concepts which are ripe for culling......!

To fill the post-Borgen void I'd Sky-Plussed "SPIRAL 4 - STATE OF TERROR" (BBC Four) which I'm currently working my way through at the moment.  Shame on me for missing the first three series, but I've managed to pick up the basic threads of the show, and I'm going to buy the box set in the next few months so I can catch up with those early series.  It's not Nordic Noir, but it'll do....

Unfortunately I had to give the latest Swedish import "ARNE DAHL" (BBC Four) a miss, due to the sheer volume of my telly backlog and other stuff going on.  It was very well received though, if my Twitter timeline was anything to go by.

"GREY'S ANATOMY" (Sky Living) reached the end of its 9th season, which began with the aftermath of the plane crash which was to have far-reaching consequences for the doctors and the hospital.  As with every season of Grey's, I lost patience with it several times along the way, particularly the introduction of new interns (above) who were obviously supposed to mirror-image the original crew but I felt it didn't work for a while.  Grey's being Grey's of course, just when you think the show is flatlining, the quality of writing and acting always pulls the series out of danger.  Even Meredith has done the impossible and has stopped annoying me - who'd have thought it?  But with every season of Grey's, the grim reaper comes calling and this time was no different, setting things up for season 10.  Although I hope the next season will be the last one.

Money is the root of all evil, and that was the premise behind "JACKPOT" (Sky Movies) a Norwegian film adaptation of a Jo Nesbø story.  Set at the Norwegian-Swedish border, it's a blacker than black comedy/violent thriller which begins with a syndicate's big pools win, but let's just say they won't all be sticking around to share the winnings.  That scene at the Christmas tree factory means you won't be able to look at a Christmas tree in the same way again.  If Quentin Tarantino relocated to Norge, this would probably be the result.  (By the way, my "Headhunters" DVD is on my to-watch list this week and I'll review it in next month's Square-Eyed).

"AGNETHA - ABBA AND AFTER" (BBC1) was a very nice documentary, timed to coincide with the singer's long awaited solo album. The best thing about it was that there was lots of great archive Swedish TV footage of A, B, B and A's life before Abba, and included a rare new interview with the singer who is often described as "reclusive" - but is there anything wrong with wanting a quiet life away from the spotlight?  She is such a refreshing change from the fame-hungry celebrities of today, and we could do with more like her.

Another contrast between 'then' and 'now' was very evident in "GOODBYE GRANADALAND" (ITV), which was screened to commemorate the closure of the iconic Granada TV studios in Manchester.  By the way, does anyone remember the Granada Studios Tour?  Back in 1992, I had the opportunity to go on this tour which took us behind the scenes of many of Granada's TV productions, and a chance to walk down the real cobbles of Coronation Street - we were shocked at how small it actually was, just goes to show how those camera angles can be deceptive.  But I digress. If anything, this documentary just showed how commercial TV in the UK has sunk to such a low level.  Granada was responsible for the likes of "World In Action" and possibly the greatest TV programme concept ever, which began with "7 Up".  Now with regional TV practically non-existent, and ITV's schedules in the grip of the Cowell-monster, we probably won't see Granada's like again.  Which is a real shame.

The celebrity disease which has infected TV in recent years still shows no sign of disappearing any time soon.  The latest international TV format to be sold to a number of countries is "Your Face Sounds Familiar". From what I've seen though, I'm guessing "Celebrity Stars in their Eyes".  Proof that there's nothing new in TV any more...but I'll reserve my judgement until I see the ITV version and will review it next month.

Talking of top TV formats, I mentioned "THE BIG REUNION" back in my February post, and this show just went from strength to strength, with the one-off Hammersmith concert spawning a UK tour.  Needless to say though, there will be a second series.  Lots of rumours bouncing around at this point in time for the series 2 line-up, however I have mixed feelings about this.  Big Brother and Så Mycket Bättre were also great programme formats to begin with, but like them, I don't think the special magic of the first series could ever be repeated again.

It's not just the 90s/00s popstars making a comeback.  Yes, it's the return of the docusoap, that fly-on-the-wall real people format which was initially such a hit in the 90s, which is putting the "ordinary people" back on our screens.  Well, anything which keeps the "celebrities" out of the TV schedules can only be a bonus.  This year we've already had "The Hotel" and "The Railway: Keeping Britain On Track", and more recently Sky 1 has also jumped on the docusoap bandwagon with "GREGGS - MORE THAN MEATS THE PIE".  That title immediately appealed to me being a major fan of puns, although I'm not such a big fan of Greggs products.  It's a nice, homely, feelgood weekly hour of bakery life, and what all the recent docusoaps have in common is that in spite of all the daily obstacles they face, not least having to wear a hairnet to work (!), these employees all enjoy what they do for a living.  It's all about the job satisfaction, which in the increasingly stressed modern workplace environments of today, is a quality to be treasured.

Still on the subject of baking, the artisans of a certain Brighton bakery take cake-making to the max.  But even they can't escape the celebrity-aspect.  "CHOCCYWOCCYDOODAH - STARSTRUCK" (Good Food) was a rather unnecessary variation on the show's usual format, as various celebs set cake-making challenges for the Choccy crew.  Meanwhile, away from the celeb commissions, Choccy were making some stunning creations and the results were as jaw-droppingly brilliant as ever.

Let's rewind to April/May, which meant another series of "WHO DARES WINS" (BBC1) with Nick Knowles.  You will know that this is one of my favourite TV quizzes.  However, I think there needs to be a change in the rules if the show is to return, so that both members of the quiz couples need to answer the questions on the list.  Chrissy and Joe won a lot of money on the last series, yet she did virtually nothing but smile, nod and agree while he did all the hard work.

Anyone remember Leif Garrett?  Late 70s US teen idol and star of all the teenage magazines, best known for "I Was Made For Dancin'"  but a classic "too much too young" story of self-destruction.  Perfect fodder then for a "BEHIND THE MUSIC" (Sky Arts) documentary about the rise and fall and, er, further fall of the American singer and pop poster boy.  Let this be a lesson to all those young fame-hungry wannabes!  But they will just ignore it anyway....

"20 YEARS OF EORPA" (BBC2) was a very interesting documentary about the Gaelic-language BBC show which focuses on European issues.  I was particularly interested to hear about the about the role of the "fixers" who smooth the path for the journalists and often keep them from danger.  Although I was very late to this series, I will be watching it again in future as it's one of the rare opportunities to find out about European issues on mainstream British TV.

Finally, it's the parting of the ways.  I've regularly watched BBC Scotland soap "RIVER CITY" for the best part of 10 years, but a couple of months ago I made the decision to stop watching the show.  Over recent months it has lost its way, becoming more of a gangster/crime drama focusing on DCI Donald and DC Cooper (pictured above), and when it's not being that, it would give EastEnders a run for its money in the dark and depressing stakes.  Glasgow is known for its humour, yet this aspect of life is completely overlooked by the writers of the show.  River City needs to get back to its roots, and until the scriptwriters, storyliners and producers let some light in, I won't be watching :(

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Cruise Diaries: Day 4 - Wednesday 22nd May 2013 - Athens, Greece

Two days ago, we were in Sicily, and we wake up this morning in Greece.  The joy of cruising! Visiting all these countries and no need to unpack.  Our ship is docked in Piraeus, the main port for the Athens area.  no formal excursion today but a DIY tour of the city.  The hop-on, hop-off bus is just perfect for that.  A short walk from the port terminal and then get on the first bus in the two-part Athens and Piraeus city sightseeing tour.  You get a tour of Piraeus which is on the outskirts of Athens and then the bus takes you into the city, to the Acropolis and Parthenon stop.  Ah yes, the Acropolis and Parthenon.  The mythology!  The history! The....scaffolding and cranes ?!?! 

It's a very hot day in Athens so it's best to stay on the tour bus.  We transfer to the Athens bus tour which lasts approximately an hour, covering an extensive city route and takes you round all the main sightseeing spots.  Here are some of them as seen from the tour bus.

Above: the parliament building. 

Above: another view of the Acropolis, from the Monastiraki area. 

Above: Hadrian's Arch.

Due to our limited time in the city we don't get off the bus until the Plaka, which is a nice old-town area.  Where there are lots of restaurants.  Time for lunch!

Above: some fantastic, delicious fried aubergine slices.

Above: stuffed peppers and potatoes.

All accompanied by Greek wine of course.  But as I said, we have limited time in the city so it's back on the bus, taking us back to the Acropolis stop and transfer to the bus back to Piraeus. 

We have a little free time in Piraeus - just enough time for a Greek coffee.  Which is just like a Turkish coffee.  Only it's Greek.  

Back to the ship in plenty of time for its 5.00 departure.  We're out on the back deck again, sailing out of Piraeus.  But the Navigator of the Seas is not the only Royal Caribbean ship in port today: there's also the Splendour of the Seas, which is a much smaller ship than ours and holds over 1000 passengers less.  Here it is, sailing away just a little while before the Navigator leaves Piraeus. 

We return to the main dining room for yet another very nice evening meal, including an aubergine bake for me.

It's been a very tiring day, so no shows for us tonight - our evening is based around a long leisurely dinner.  There's a nice surprise waiting for us when we return to our stateroom later in the evening....

Is it a towel? Is it an elephant?  No - it's both!  Towel animals are a big tradition on cruise ships.  We had three of these during our cruise and the elephant was my favourite.  Unfortunately he only stayed overnight with us as he would go back to being a towel again the following day :(

Tomorrow: another day, another port, another country - hello, yes please - where else could it be but Turkey!