31 Dec 2007

Disneyland Paris 24th Dec Day 1

Early morning Christmas Eve and we're driving down deserted motorways towards Liverpool to catch the first flight to Paris. After parking and checking in we hardly have time for a cup of tea before we are being called (by name) to the gate. Soon we are climbing into the dawn at 32,000ft heading south for the one hour hop to Paris. I always draw breath when landing at Charles de Gaulle; does such a beautiful city deserve one of the ugliest airports on earth. Before we know it the plane is taxiing up to a monstrous concrete silo that apparently has a double life as a terminal building.

After a swift debarking into the freezing air we make our way over to the TGV terminal and buy tickets. The ticket office is housed in what looks like a concrete car park, not even a coat of emulsion to hide the depressing skeleton of the building, I really feel for the poor souls who have to work in this environment.

However the TGV whisks us in ten minutes flat to the Transport Hub of Disneyland Paris where we board a bus to our hotel. Its too early to check in and its not worth bothering to anyway as a line stretches from the Vienna Dream Castle Hotel's desk practically back to the entrance so after dropping the bags with the concierge we head back towards the park, we have a lunch appointment at Inventions.

We arrive back at the transport hub and head over to the bag search area, (Now where is the No bags entrance DLP). What a fantastic site it is to see the ToT in all its glory stretching up into the sky from the Studios as we approach the parks. Last time we were here it was an incomplete grey concrete monolith slowly reaching up in anticipation (A little like the terminal buildings at the airport only the Tower was cleaner). For us it's straight into the Disneyland Hotel for our reservation at Inventions and settle down to the once again exquisite buffet. Its so nice to sit here relaxed with fine wine watching the train pull into Main Street Station whilst enjoying everything this buffet has to offer, and lets face it there's not much it does not have to offer. Superb, and a full review will of course follow.

After lunch we head back through the lobby of the hotel and set off to get our Dream Annual Passes. Once purchased from the guest relations booth we are given a temporary access tkt and told to visit the AP center in the park before 7pm. As soon as we enter the park and hit the town square a trolley enters and Jackie takes time to make a new friend though looking at the photo again neither seems sure of the other...

The Park itself is looking in tip top condition, just as it should for a 15th anniversary with all the repaints on main street now completed; our last two trips last year involved careful camera work to miss out the false facades that had been placed over the scaffolding as the refurbishment took place. We have been lucky enough this year to visit the MKs of Florida, California and Paris and despite the chill today and the fact I only entered the gates 2 minutes ago, I remain convinced once again that this is the most beautiful of the MKs in terms of design and aesthetics.

We make our way into Discoveryland and grab a fastpass for Space Mountain which surprisingly, despite the time of day has a slot available in an hour or so. Based on last year's experience (lets just say it took a long time) this should give us time to get our AP sorted out, however we are dealt with efficiently in the AP office and are in and out quite quickly; so we have a ride on Star Tours which has a small queue before using our FP on SM.It's nice to see the steams working fully, it looks very effective especially in the cold but the piston action of the launch cannon appears to have given up. Space Mountain is , how can I put this politely: great but as rough as ever. Once will be enough this trip I think.

As darkness begins to fall upon the park and preparations begin for the parade we decide to dash over and take our first look at the new additions to the Studios. A lot has changed since our last visit and we cannot wait to see it. The first major change you encounter is the placemaking and themeing as you exit Studio 1. Previously you exited onto what looked like an average main road, a barren piece of tarmac surrounded by the attractions. In a time of tight budgets it was the best thing the imagineers came up with, the excuse given was always that this is in reality what a studio looks like, but it always felt wrong, was rather uninspiring to look at and felt totally lacking in Disney quality. Now the transformation has begun. Hollywood architectural buildings and facades have grown out of the ground in front of the new ToT along with palm trees and new lighting. To the right a new land is materialising "Toon Studio" with another major ride and a some Pixar inspired theming.

By a stroke of luck we seem to have arrived just at a perfect time. A lot of the crowds are heading back to the MK for the parade and there's only a 5min wait time for ToT. Having only just ridden the Californian version a few weeks ago there's not much to add as its the same ride here, known in certain circles as "bad tower" for its lack of the forward driving section and its odd corridor to nowhere between the lift doors. But that's being very picky. its still a fantastic E+ ticket ride the park should be proud of and my goodness, this has a view at night from the top that surpasses all the other towers without any doubt. They should also be proud of Crush, we managed by some amazing good fortune to walk up to this amazingly popular ride just as its reopening after technical difficulties and therefore avoid the usual 100min queues this ride can generate once the Studios has been open a few minutes. Its an odd ride in the trilogy of Nemo rides we have ridden this year. It has less storytelling aspects to it at the beginning, but good grief, once it hits the current section, we both found ourselves dropping and spinning with no recollection as to which way was up or down. In three words Fan tas tic. After a spin on the new Cars Race Rally which is also beautifully themed and then another drop on the ToT we head back to the hotel, pick up our bags and finally check in and get some sleep. Got to make that early entry tomorrow.

17 Dec 2007

Porcupine Tree - Manchester Dec 8th

Back to the Academy Jackie and I go for our first PT gig. Been really looking forward to this one since the tickets dropped through the letterbox earlier this year and the albums are hardly off the Linn, I find the music infectious listening. We had to miss them earlier in the year when they played at Preston Guildhall as we were in Florida at the time so it was great to see that they decided to fit a winter tour in as well.

Quite a good support from Anathema (I also have an album of theirs) and then a truly dazzling show from Porcupine Tree who rip with perfection through track after track, the material from Fear of A Blind Planet sounding particularly breathtaking live. The audience is polite and mesmerized by the display of skill on show. Manage to get a few pictures though the band are back lit only with a simple but effective light and video show; think Steve Wilson must be very camera shy.

I don't have any faves tonight in the songs, its all superb. Along with Rush in Rotterdam this is a show of the year for me and I look forward to seeing them again, hopefully if I heard SW correctly, sometime next year after a well earned rest for the band.

16 Dec 2007

Marillion - Manchester Academy 30th Nov

Time to return to the Academy (the new building this time which judging from the entrance and the porta cabin bathrooms is not quite finished) to catch Marillion for the second time this year.

“We’re not really a festive band. Most of our songs are about death and water”, joked Hogarth early in the gig. After opening the first set with a selection pulled from Brave I had to smile and agree. The band ended the first set with a sing a long favourite, Seasons End, quite apt for the Christmas show. The second set showcased the impressive back catalogue of Hogarth-era produced music. There were epics, such as Hooks In You and Genie, and then there were foot-tapping rocky numbers like Cannibal Surf Babe and Most Toys which admittedly are fun and work better live than on the album.

The band closed the second set with This Strange Engine - returning to perform a joyful cover of Let It Snow - complete with fake snow, inflatable Santa and Steve Hogarth dressed as Father Christmas.

To be honest I much preferred the focus and energy of the earlier tour when the band seemed fired up promoting the new album. I though there was to much from Brave in the first set which perhaps left me feeling a bit melancholy. Having said all that musicianship was as usual at its highest, the crowd were in top voice and H once again effortlessly held everyone in the palm of his hand with his abundance of charisma.

I'll leave you with the title track from the most recent album Somewhere Else performed live at the forum earlier this year and a link to more pictures from the gig

11 Dec 2007

Las Vegas - Day 5 Nellis AFB

F22 Raptor by Tim Beach

I must admit to being slightly concerned that in all the time we had so far been in Vegas I had not seen one advertisement or flyer for the weekend's airshow. Who knows perhaps it had been cancelled whilst we were in Los Angeles.
Because we now had no car, getting to the airshow was a challenge in its own right. We took the monorail up to the Stratosphere early on a glorious Saturday morning and then asked one of the passing buses for advice. The result was basically like a scene from Dumb and Dumber so in the end we took a cab and set off for Nellis AFB. As we approached the base it became obvious the main entrance was off limits to the general public and only for military personnel and the state governor so our taxi driver asked what on earth he should do with a couple of poor souls who were foolish enough to try to walk to an event. The solution was to drop us off in the middle of the desert at the NASCAR speedway arena where 200,000 other people had arrived by car, then get bussed back to the base. I'm already wondering how we're going to get back to the hotel but we will worry about that later.

Jackie enters a KC-10

Fantastic displays throughout the day against the backdrop of clear sparkling blue skies and terracotta mountains. Plenty of space between the ground items and numerous of aircraft open for a good nosey around inside. A reasonable selection of food was on offer as well which made a change from the usual airshow fare. It was interesting to see how the average American seemed reluctant to queue for anything other than burgers and hot dogs, the lines for these items being as long as a Disney ride in peak season whilst the delicious Indian cuisine on offer had no queue at all.


The flight line was well placed and despite the vast numbers attending it was always easy to find a prime viewing spot, especially with lots of people choosing to view from under the shade of a B52s wing.

The butt ugly or beautiful A-10. The Warthog

Favourites of the day had to be the old, ugly versatile A10, an aircraft which for some reason has always had a place in my heart. The great Korean and Vietnam set pieces which as Jackie pointed out gave great instruction on how different aircraft designs were developed for specific purpose. The Canadian Hornet team must have heard I was in the crowd sporting a RUSH tour t shirt, as its display was performed to a track from Snakes and Arrows. The Thunderbirds put on a superb and lengthy display: the missing man formation was particularly poignant as it flew out from the mountain landscape opposite.

F22 Raptor by Tim Beach

The F22 Raptor stealth bomber took to the skies late afternoon, this was the first time we had seen this beast in action. An unbelievable example of man and machine performing the almost impossible. The manoeuvres were breathtaking, if a little deafening! This was the ultimate highlight for us. Raptor pictures kindly supplied by Tim Beach who we met at Maclaren Airport on our return home, instinct telling us that a man with a lens that long snapping shots must have been at the airshow.

In the evening as the light faded the question of how we were to get back to the city still remained unanswered. The mobile had no signal and being shipped back in the opposite direction out into the desert would be a mistake. I began to look for a sympathetic looking individual among all the AF personnel, call me a sucker for a lady in uniform. After overseeing the State Governor's departure, her superior officer kindly sorted us an escorted ride off the base to the town of Nellis. Our lucky streak remained and we jumped on a bus opposite heading in vaguely the right direction. Phew- Vegas bound for a reservation that evening at Rosemary's Restaurant. ( Highly recommended place off the strip). Review to follow.

Below I have included two links. The first takes you to our gallery from the airshow and the second is a link to the website of photographer Tim Beach

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