23 Nov 2007

Los Angeles and Las Vegas - Day 4

Did I mention a few days ago how my patience with air travel is running out. Well here we go again. After dropping the car off at the rental depot at LAX we boarded the shuttle bus, the driver stopping on the way to hand out a pre packed lunch to a homeless gentleman sleeping among his shopping trolleys in a bus stop in Inglewood.
We are just about to check in when the whole airport terminal is evacuated. I don't have a problem with being evacuated for security risks but I object to not being informed about what's going on whilst being left to bake on the pavement two yards from the same terminal. It also gets my goat to then see the same security personnel wandering up and down the deserted terminal, laughing and joking with each other and generally acting like children who have the whole playground to themselves. After almost an hour more and more people build up outside we are admitted back in to scenes of utter chaos as the system fails to cope with so many people trying to check in at once. Its an absolute farce worthy of a third world country.

The flight to Vegas is quick and easy and after collecting our bags we grab a taxi to the MGM Signature buildings. We have a suite here for the next few days and it can only be described as grandiose, magnificent and elevated, especially as it's on the penthouse level. Our separate bedroom is a corner room with floor to ceiling windows; one side giving fantastic views of the mountains and the other the strip itself. Though I could probably get in the jacuzzi in one of the bathrooms right now and go to sleep we head out for a walk up the strip.

We have been to Vegas some three times before usually for no more than 2 days and I have to say that has always been enough. Even though there are some new fancy looking hotels now it only takes a few minutes to peek inside them to realise they are exactly the same as anything else you have already seen. A dim smoke filled casino does not interest me and the same boutique shops selling the same goods. It keeps popping in my head we could be either watching Fantasmic in an hour or riding Indiana Jones again and I have to remind myself we are here for the airshow tomorrow at Nellis otherwise I think we would get on the next plane back to Anaheim. We also have some great restaurants booked (we hope) starting with Sea Blue in the MGM.

After buying some bread to make a quick breakfast with in the morning we head back to change for dinner. The Sea Blue is nicely placed for us from our tower because the restaurants in the MGM are all placed near where the walkway connects the MGM signature towers to the MGM main hotel complex. We check in at the podium and are seated immediately. Full review to appear in the Restaurant Section Soon.

20 Nov 2007

Anaheim - Day 3

Looking through my notes I see that we spent the remainder of that second day having a great time wandering through the Magic Kingdom until the evening, passing the time riding our favourite rides which were all walk ons. If I was forced to place the three Magic Kingdoms in order of preference I think it would go something like this.

1. Disneyland California for its extra beauty and lushness, its hidden corners and the way its size is so deceiving. Not forgetting of course that all the rides here are full and complete, non of that edited experience that was rushed into Florida. The only downside has to be the quaint and rather demure looking castle. I accept it's the original and perhaps deserves less of a hard time for being a rather stumpy brother, but I just think more majesty and grandeur are needed in the centre of the park.

2. Disneyland Paris. Once again it's such an attractive park and one with proper seasons and sometimes real snow coating its ground. The castle has to be the greatest of its achievements; pure stone here, not a piece of fibreglass in sight. Once again the rides are full and complete (in some cases superior) all that's really required is for the park to slowly develop a little more and with the Tower opening in what was a rather bland Studio Complex along with the massive re theming and placemaking happening there, Disneyland Paris may finally have the park that was originally imagined for them.

3. Magic Kingdom Florida. Not my favourite (So this may seem cooler than I intend). It seems so false compared to the others. The castle seems too clinical and plastic. Pirates of the Caribbean is a disgrace to the original ride, why do we not enter Haunted Mansion through the front door? Fantasyland from certain angles looks like a car park with rides scattered on it. Its one saving grace is PhilharMagic, a show that should be copied into all the other parks with haste. However it does have some areas I like. The lagoon approach is inspired, if you have the time and the transport system is ideally placed to get you away quickly :) However I tend to think of Walt Disney World as a whole package and it's the rest of it that excites me be it Animal Kingdom, EPCOT, or the Studios. When it's all combined Florida is still the number one.

Day 3.

After a morning in both parks re riding favourites and searching out things we missed( I must especially mention Monsters Inc here which we actually rode on a preview the last time we were in California but it was then incomplete and did not make a whole lot of sense. Now the storytelling aspect is much more defined and the ride more satisfying as a whole). It soon became time to think about lunch. Not wanting to repeat the same mistake as yesterday and actually get food that tasted of something we decide to grab the car, hit the freeway and head out to the nearest beach area. Newport beach is about 20mins away and we soon park up on the beach and search out somewhere to dine. I like the feel of this coastal town. Its not too over trendy and still has lots of working boat yards down its back alleys and marinas.

As we are walking around these we come across what looks like a huge seafood deli "The Crab Cooker" and notice it has a restaurant attached to it. It's doing a brisk trade with the locals, who seem to be discussing the collapsing property prices in the area, and it looks just the place. A lovely chowder to start served in a no nonsense plastic cup, then Lobster, King Crab Claws and Sauvignon blanc for an unbelievably small amount of money. If I lived here, and maybe we should if property really is going cheap, I could see myself eating here every lunch time.

We return to change and rest at the hotel. Later that night we return to the Magic Kingdom on our way to the Napa Rose restaurant, a cast member on the PoC had advised us to come into the park in the evening and ride the new Nemo attraction at night, when the queues are shorter, this plan also gave us a look at the parade as well. The new Nemo ride occupied what used to be the Submarine Voyage and is basically the ride re imagineered into the Nemo environment with some modern technology twists once you're in the dark section. I like the a mix of old ( the subs are the originals from Walt's days, minus their diesel engines and newly fitted with eco friendly electrics) and new ( wait and see!)bringing a new lease of life to a dated old ride. Some of the story telling aspects don't work as well as in the EPCOT shell version but you do get ride value here with the submarines taking about 20minutes to complete a circuit. This must be a nightmare ride when the park is busy with no Fast Pass available and agonizingly slow loading times. After our ride we take the hop on the monorail, conveniently located above the Nemo attraction to Downtown Disney and from there we walk in to the Napa Rose restaurant in the Grand Californian Hotel. Dinner here is everything we had hoped and a review can be reached below or using the side menu.

19 Nov 2007

Anaheim - Day 2

After a good night's sleep in the quiet rooms of the Hojo we cross the road and search out breakfast opportunities. Mimis restaurant is on the doorstep and what a fine establishment this turned out to be, setting us up with various omelettes, eggs benedict, waffles and pancakes over the course of our stay. Delicious and just what you need before tackling a day of non stop walking otherwise known as the Disney experience. Having sorted out tickets we entered a rather deserted Californian Adventure. It was actually a little before official park opening time so only Soarin is open yet. As we enter the hanger that forms the queuing area I found myself wondering again why the imagineers in Florida seemed to think it was acceptable to have put little thought into themeing the ride's entrance and queue area in EPCOT.

We bordered the first ride of the day. I still have a problem with the rerun value this ride gives. It's a wonderful experience the first time but its replay value seems limited; in fact I think I enjoy the music more than the ride and can now happily nod off whilst being gently rocked from side to side. On the plus side at least here in California they seemed to be using a freshly struck print of the film. The last time we saw it in EPCOT in April the image was marred by a totally unacceptable amount of scratches and dust marks.

When we leave we can see people starting to gather at the hub so we head over to await the rope drop heading for the Tower of Terror which we ride fanatically no matter which park we are in. In fact our Christmas plans have now been totally re adjusted for this year due to the opening of Disneyland Paris's very own Tower on December 22nd. They will inherit the same interpretation as the Californian Adventure version (with some minor storytelling differences and a couple of architectural tweaks). I had actually forgotten some of this Tower's unique points: such as the mirror, as it's a couple of years since we were here last, so I really enjoy it. However I still think it's not quite the full experience compared to the Floridian version.

Jackie wants to head over to get onto California Screaming now that our breakfasts have been shaken about as much as possible, so we set a steady pace and head to the far side of the park. However when we arrive we discover its not set to run until a little later so to pass the time we decide to hit a ride we have never bothered with before as it always had lines over a mile long and no fastpass. Im talking about that odd looking Ferris wheel that sits overlooking the lake. I say odd because the swinging cars on this don't just pivot on the outside of the frame like any normal ride, but ride a track inside the wheel as well and at certain times get thrown out along these rails. It's hard to describe and the effect on the rider is well illustrated with these two photographs of Jackie.

Here we see Jackie looking calm and swinging gently over the park

And here the car has started to slide out.

After being shot in the air on the Maliboomer then launched on California Screaming its time to take in the more civilized side of this park and in my opinion no Disney park does it better than the Hyperion Theatre at the California Adventure with its production of Aladdin. A full blown musical production in a purpose built enclosed theatre with three levels of seating; this show is worth the price of admission in itself. With great timing we arrive for the first show of the day. I am always staggered by the quality of the shows that Disney puts on in its parks but this one just has everything and should not be missed. Never make the mistake of thinking this is for kids, if anything it's too good for them :)

For lunch we head into Downtown Disney for an instantly forgettable experience at the Jazz Kitchen. The food is best described as bland and boring, in fact it must be quite an achievement to make the cooking of the deep south taste so dull. I don't think I'll be wasting blog space reviewing this at all. After dinner we head into the Magic Kingdom but I'm going to talk about that more in the next entry, its very slow in here too with no Fast Pass machines operating at all and only the new Nemo ride attracting any sort of line. After a full day its time to get back and rest before heading out to Stanton to Park Avenue restaurant. I'll put the review up as soon as I can.

I'm finally including a link to our Californian photos. At the moment it's not a full album but I will be updating it on a daily basis.

15 Nov 2007

Los Angeles - Anaheim - Day 1

I was prepared to give BMI the benefit of the doubt after our last experience with them flying the shortest haul possible to Newquay. I even rang them the night before we travelled following the precise instructions on the website to give our API information and check our seat allocations (BMI don't appear to have entered the 21st century yet and allow you to do this online). On arrival at the check in desk we are of course asked for our API information all over again, a process that doubles the time taken to check in. When we ask the check in assistant why I wasted half an hour on the phone giving them this information (as per their own instructions) she says the computers don't talk to each other at the call centre so it's a waste of time. We are given our boarding cards for this flight through to Vegas and the connection through to Los Angeles. Once through security and checking the departure board it's soon apparent that the flight is going to be about an hour late. We have yet to leave the ground and my impression of BMI is once again confirmed. We eventually board and its the usual monotonous flight over the Atlantic interrupted by some poor excuse for food. The flight was delayed due to a technical error. Do BMI ever service any of their planes?

Quick film review. Die hard 4.0 - laughable for all the wrong reasons, the die hard franchise now truly leaves the action genre and enters the slapstick comedy genre. Harry Potter (the last one) seen it before but passed the time. Seven (also seen before, who hasn't. BMIs excuse for showing old films is to call them classics) but it's a long time since I had last seen it and I had forgotten what a well crafted film this is.

Finally arrived in Vegas without picking up any lost time so had missed the connection. Good old TED got us on the next flight out two hours later and boarded us on time, and arrived at the gate at LAX early. However the jetway must have been operated by trained monkeys (I think that was the captains announcement) who couldn't get it to line up with the door despite attempts to ram the side of the plane. We are being sorely tested by airline travel today (or has two days passed).

Then we collected the car and Jackie is following the smooth Google Earth instructions to the Hojo on Harbor in Anaheim. Smooth check in, nice room with a view to restore my faith we are on holiday. Roll on tomorrow.

6 Nov 2007

In Transit

Well I'm sat here typing as the clock approaches four thirty am. What an ungodly hour to be listening to Alex Lestair on the radio whilst drinking tea and having weetabix.Still he's playing the new Krauss and Plant single from the new album that dropped through the mail last week and is worth a listen at any hour. Just time to say off we go then into the West. The joys of a 10 hour flight await (AAARRRGGGHH) but hopefully the rewards at the end will be worth it. They better! Next meal (not including the muck they throw at us on the plane) will be somewhere in California, see you soon.

5 Nov 2007

Amsterdam Day 4

After a good nights sleep we returned to Amsterdam on a morning train. Once back we had plans to see the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh museum. The Van Gogh musuem is housed in a new modern building with I'm sure many architectural qualities. Prince Charles would probably describe it as an ugly carbuncle and for once I may be inclined to agree with him. I have never really got Van Gogh and being subjected to a gallery devoted to his work I found the history of his life a lot more interesting than the art itself. The irony is he spent most of his life frustrated that he was no good at anything. Not to be cruel but when it comes to some of his art he had a point. I don't want to sound snobby but what should be a calm experience is ruined by the fact the gallery seems filled with a high percentage of ignorant people, who pile around at breakneck speed trying to find that horrible sunflower picture like train spotters trying to tick off the final number in an I Spy book. So perhaps my view is tainted a little but all in all a very disappointing experience.

A good lunch is then taken in a brown cafe (Cafe Panaroma on Raadhuisstraat) that does some of the best baby back ribs I have ever had the pleasure of eating. Jackie has a great piece of Sole in a lemon sauce and some enormous potato wedges. Then we walk around in the evening to Anne Franks house. A truly moving experience even though I have never read the diary, something i put to rights immediately, sitting up most of the night reading it .

Im going to leave you with a little more Rush , the overture from the R30 tour from 2004. Would love to have shown you something from this tour but I simply could not find a decent clip that was either in focus or undistorted.

2 Nov 2007

Amsterdam Day 3

After another traditional breakfast following another slightly disturbed sleep, we set off for Amsterdam's central station with an overnight bag to catch the train to Rotterdam. We will keep the room on here in Amsterdam, as it will save packing and unpacking. The trains are relatively cheap and frequent so within an hour or so we are in Rotterdam looking for our hotel.Whilst looking at the map in the metro station a member of staff tries to explain to us how to use the strippenkaarts (which by the way, have to be the first ticket I have come across that requires origami skills to work ) to travel on the trams and metro. I feel a headache coming on the more he explains. Eventually we get on a tram and stick the strippenkaart into the machine after folding it into various shapes first. Of course when we hand it to the conductor he bursts out laughing and tells us we have done it wrong. Other than that we sit on the tram and off it goes. A little later when we are the only people left and it appears the tram has reached the end of its journey I mention to the conductor where we want to go (near the euro mast). Turns out we're on the wrong tram so we stay on it and the conductor tells us where to get off, points down a street and tells us to pick another tram up somewhere down there. If we do all this in an hour the good news is we don't have to play with the strippenkaart anymore. Eventually after a lot of staring at maps we arrive at the hotel. Only in Rotterdam would the hotel be floating on the water and resemble a floating Hong Kong restaurant. In fact it practically is, with two chinese restaurants, a chinese supermarket and a few rooms. I'll not go in into details but it's a bit basic and I would not recommend it. Other than that it's in a quite spot (middle of nowhere) apart from the dock across from us seems to be drilling for oil and theres a constant bang, bang, bang. Just hope to god that stops by tonight. We check in , have something to eat in the restaurant which is pretty awful, and stare at the rain. The idea was to go to Delft and meet up with some people from the T.N.M.S. forums, but we have spent so much time finding the hotel its now too late. We go for a walk, have a rest, shower and set off to find the Ahoy Arena, fortunately the weather has gone nice again though it's chilly.

We walk around the old dock area, which is the only nice bit of Rotterdam I think, the rest is basically a huge industrial estate the size of a city. Crossing a large bridge we decide to risk the strippenkaart ticket again and stamp it a few times just for the hell of it. I fully take the blame for deciding that I know where the Ahoy is, and then we go past it and watch it disappear behind us. Eventually we get there and seem to be about the first 30 people there. Now you would think that would give you loads of time to waste and be bored standing in a queue. No. The Ahoy has a little place round the corner where you can buy fries and mayonnaise. If you don't arrive a couple of hours before the arena doors open though chances are the concert will be over by the time the girl cooks your order.

Eventually we are in and walking as fast as possible into the arena. No seats here, its stand and have fun. We get straight onto the barrier right in front of Geddys keyboards and Pedals. Theres a great atmosphere here as well, no major crushing, but boy its already starting to get warm and they are not even on yet. Once the show starts its unbelievable, this crowd are so up for it and seem to be moving as one. The sides unlike Manchester do look quite but who cares when you are in the front of a crowd of jumping, dancing, appreciating fans. Jackies jumping and punching the air so much I can see Geddy peering over his sunglasses and smiling at the reaction. Everyone is in good voice too, singing out every word even to the new material. This night and last night are being filmed for a DVD and it's good to see the band are on fire, reacting to the atmosphere of this fantastic crowd. If anything the sound is more guitar heavy here than it was in Manchester and Geddys vocals are the best I have ever heard. Geddy has a few problems at the opening of the second half with his bass levels which seems to annoy him a little, lots of indications to stage left, but it's soon sorted.

A lot has been said about the opening of the second half and the decision to play 5 new songs in succession. I have never really had a problem with it but I did notice in Manchester how it did slightly slow down the crowd a little. Here in Rotterdam something completely different seems to happen. The crowd seem to know the new material so well they are supporting it like crazy and the atmosphere is just getting better and better. Then during "Way the Wind Blows" something really special happens, the crowd are yelling the chorus and on the spur of the moment invent this swaying arm motion to the whole songs chorus. I almost feel a tear run down my cheek as you can see Geddy and Alex smiling away at the reaction.

It's an absolute joy to be so near and a joy to be among such appreciating fans. The eye contact with Geddy really adds so much to the experience and I hope they spotted our enthusiasm and appreciation for the music. I think Jackie has signed herself up to form a groupie for the next tour. This seems confirmed as Geddy comes on in the encore and is given the basket of special T- Shirts they throw out at each concert (think its 8-10 a gig). He steps forward points a finger at Jackie and aims it at her chest, low enough so it can't go anywhere else. Well thats how it looked and thats how we'll remember it.

A couple of things I remember after the concert that made you realise you were not in the UK.One, wondering why no one was moving to get out and then realising we had joined a line of thousands collecting coats from the cloakroom (can't imagine that ever at a UK gig). Wondering why a about a 1000 fans are all stood in a group next to an empty road. (They were waiting for the green man to come on before they crossed the deserted road) these people are so polite.

One thing I didn't like, most people were very dehydrated by intermission time, but being a standing concert it's hard to move,buy water and then ever get back to the front. Asked the security on the other side of the barrier about water for people "Not our problem, we don't give it out". First standing gig I have been to where water is not given out. So extra thanks to the camera crews who were filming from the pit who gave out there own water.

And finally, got the metro back. Of course the metro people had put loads of staff on to help people through the barriers quickly. Jackie handed our strippy thing over and says "We're English we haven't got a clue" I think the lady who stamped it for us is probably still laughing at our ticket even today.

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