About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

29 December 2009

Roadtrip: Lamberts Bay to Bellville

The drive was fairly short; but impressively scenic - especially the pass around the Cederberg mountains. On one side, there is an impressive valley with vineyards; and on the other side a flat landscape with more conventional agriculture. The rest of the drive was rather boring; but short.

26 December 2009

Roadtrip: Augrabies to Lamberts Bay

Today was the longest drive, starting with some spectacularly long and boring roads between Augrabies and Springbok; which then turned to a really spectacular road down to Lamberts Bay.

The first part of the road from Springbok, to around the town of Bitterfontein meanders through rocky mountain passes, with some fairly spectacular colours of Fynbos (imagine all that in full bloom!).

The second section, around the Olifants river valley, from about Klaver to Clanwilliams is spectacular due to the contrast of the green vineyards, the river below and the irrigation scheme on the hillside. All contrasted with the rest of the rocky landscape! And the twisted roads make a spectacular combination!

Muisbosskerm: A Seafood Experience

A colleague told me of this restaurant at Lamberts Bay, but he did not give me any details. I only decided to come through to Lamberts Bay after passing Springbok, and struggled to find a place to stay - until I got hold of the owner of a brand new campsite directly opposite Muisbosskerm (they are the same family).

The restaurant holds a spectacular position - on the beach, about 3 Km from town, so quite secluded. And it seems very popular, such that most people book in advance to get in.

Basically, it is a buffet style restaurant, and you pay either for the option with Crayfish, or without Crayfish. You are adviced to pace yourself, because the food keeps on coming; and it keeps on getting better. It starts with some roasted mealies (corn/maize), fruits, smoked fish etc; then the mains start - variety of fish grilled, then hot bread, variety of potatoes, salads etc, then the meat before more fruit, coffee and koeksusters. The food is basic, but very good - very hearty and homely. The atmosphere is amazing and the scenery stunning.

Need to come again, and bring a party!


Forever the butt of jokes, Pofadder is not really remote nor is it that small. The people (or those that were hanging out by the petrol station anyway) are very friendly too.

Where can one get such a permit?

Where does one get such a permit, and what are the requirement for such a permit. The long straight road between the Augrabies turn off and Pofadder is calling.

Augrabies National Park

One needs more than a few hours to really explore Augrabies National Park. The main attraction, the waterfall is created by the Orange river being pushed into a narrow gorge - and while it is a spectacle, it cannot really be compared to a falls like the Victoria Falls (not that I was expecting that). Once it is in the gorge, the river seems a lot calmer. But the highlight for me was the really alien like landscape of the park itself - lots of rocks with some greenery by the water.

There is some wildlife, but I didn't see much more than birds, a gemsbok and a lot of dassies.

25 December 2009

Roadtrip: Delareyville to Augrabies

Vryburg was a surprisingly large town, as was Kuruman - and the only restaurant open in Upington at lunch time was the local Spur (which was pretty full). Beyond, that the road to Augrabies was pretty deserted, and except for a few places; pretty long and straight. It is no wonder that the next challenge for the land speed record will take place in the Northern Cape.

Even after a fairly early start, I arrived at the Augrabies National Park, just after 3:30pm, which I discovered was a bit too late. Due to the public holiday, visitors who had no reservations were only allowed in before 3pm, and since I had no reservation, I had to make some alternate arrangements to stay the night. The Falls Guest House, just outside the reserve is beautiful, in one of the wine farms, and quite well priced. Slight change in plans, so the falls will only be tomorrow.

Desert Wine

Upington may not be as famous as Stellenbosch, but it is the centre of the "Orange River Wine Route", which apparently specialises in sweet wines. This picture does not do the contrast of green vineyards against the surrounding semi-desert landscape justice.

Engineering Birds

Quite a few telephone and electricity poles on the N14, near Upington, is covered with humongous bird nests. This one was particularly impressive.

Long Road Ahead

The 160 Km of tarmac between Kuruman and Upington, was rather lonely with other vehicles very few, and far between. The road wasn't particularly interesting either - largely long and straight.

Cattle Country

Vryburg and Kuruman advertise a lot of cattle ranches - but this one particularly vexed me. Since "Brahman" refers to the high caste in Hinduism, the priests and scholars. Does this imply that the ranch is owned by a Hindu (an Indian rancher in Vryburg would be particularly interesting cultural mix at farm fairs I would think) or does the rancher think that his cows are particularly holy (and thereby much better than the rest). And off course, the stand out question - is the rancher ranching for beef or for milk?

Roadtrip: Morning Notes

It is easy to wake up early when camping; especially when you go to sleep a lot earlier :) I have not had so many mosquitos pestering me, since my time in the Amazon (where even heavy duty DEET had very little impact) - however, these mossies were definitely of the lower evolution chain - very slow and easy to kill - and my all natural insect repellant did work quite well (except it did nothing for the annoying buzzing noise). There is also a very strong wind this morning; and while my tent was very secure; it did make quite some noise!

The campsite/B&B is quite nice - much nicer than I would expect in a small town to be honest. The cheese maker and his wife also run a conference/wedding/function venue and it seems to be very well organised. There are also two caravans here - but these are more permanent residents - two contractors; working for about 15 months in a nearby plant (I assume it is the towering NWK mill by the road). The two contractors have gone home for Christmas; and the other two people from last night who were also looking for accommodation are not here; maybe they did find somewhere else.

Today, the intention is to drive all the way to Augrabies; and maybe have a good lunch at Upington; since it is the only big town between here and Cape Town, and it should have restaurants/takeaways open.

24 December 2009

Roadtrip: Midrand to Delareyville

I got away later than expected; closer to 15h30 instead of the wished 13h00. Part of that was due to work commitments; and part of it due to delayed planning in packing a few minutes before leaving.

As expected; the scenery on the road was rather dull - miles and miles of farmland; although the greenery against the red soil; against a clear blue sky could be quite a contrast at times.

The traffic was quite light; so it was easy to maintain a decent speed limit; but with the amount of police coverage; I didn't try to go too fast. I counted at least 5 roadblocks in the trip, with many more patrols.

Initially I thought of stopping at Baberspan Bird Sanctuary, but there was a notice on an e-coli outbreak in the dam; so I didn't see the point in risking the area. Delareyville was only 30 Km further, so it made sense to continue - although I started regretting the decision when I couldn't find a single place to stay. The first B&B I tried was open when I got there; but the receptionist abruptly said they were closing down for Christmas. After driving around the town a bit (small, pretty unremarkable), I came to a B&B and camping site (Pigmy B&B) just outside the town. Owned by a cheese farmer and his wife; it has pretty good facilities (decided to save some money and camp) although there are a lot of mossies around.


I am taking the long way to Cape Town - via the Northern Cape; visiting Augrabies, and then the west coast. It's a long weekend; and a good time to travel I think. Haven't really done much planning - booked no accomodation; though do have a tent, sleeping bag, lots of water and some snacks. Will try to post blog posts along the way ... if there is 3G coverage off course!

Movie: Avatar

Part Sci-Fi, part fantasy, part a crusade against greed and rampant destruction of the environment; Avatar is a visual feast. It is a stunning blend of CGI and live action; and the CGI is better than any other movie I have seen before; in terms of facial animation, movement and even the explosions. I watched it a 3D cinema, and while the 3D imagery was immersive; I think it actually detracted from the movie.

The storyline of the movie was however rather thin and predictable. This was a standard storyline from other movies that explored colonialism. It is a mix of "modern" people meeting a new race, not understanding them, infiltrating their ranks, falling in love, gaining acceptance, betrayal as the "modern" people try to commit genocide; and off course requiring the adopted hero to save the day. And even the alien world - while fantasticaly created in amazing level of detail; is not really that much different from Earth - the Na'vi (the intelligent alien race) has similar cultural traits to most aboriginal cultures in the world; the animals are a lot like existing or past animals on Earth (the triceratops look alikes etc).

But it does push the boundaries of movie making; and champions environmentalism and the impact of pursuing large civil projects over understanding the environmental impacts. It is a movie worth watching simply because of its scale and visual beauty.

16 December 2009

Coming Home

Part classical, part jazz and part gospel; Coming Home is a production by South African composer Isak Roux, which played last night and this afternoon at The Joburg Promusica, in Roodepoort. The production, was effectively a story of a young man who leaves his home to seek his fortune and his journey back when his dream crashes due to a depression in his adopted country. I suppose the story is very topical; but to be honest the story was not very awe inspiring - just a glue and reason behind the musical pieces.

The musical pieces were mostly adaptations of traditional works; but it was the amazing amalgamation of different musical styles that really made the performance worth it. The bedrock of the performance was a full classical orchestra (which featured many members of the JPO); complemented by the Chamber Choir of South Africa, a jazz band and soloist singers (a baritone, a tenor and a soprano). The Soprano, Sibongile Mngoma was particularly brilliant. Another notable highlight was the inclusion of traditional African instruments as part of the ensemble - such as the marimba and the pennywhistle.

It was a very different performance - a lot less formal than the JPO, and a lot more accessible. The audience was also a lot more varied - in terms of race and age group - and the performance was a lot more inclusive.

I don't know if there are further performances (A Google search revealed that it was also performed last year at the Johannesburg City Hall); but it is definitely worth it.

15 December 2009

Best seat on the plane?

For the past 6 weeks, I have contributed a fair amount to global warming through my air travels. I have been on stand-by twice (incredible considering my seats are supposed to be guaranteed) and have also been upgraded to business class twice (although these are not that special on the Cape Town - Jo'burg trip :p).

Last night, was one of my upgrades, to Seat 2D which is basically the first full row on the plane. On the Airbus 330 (in the SAA configuration), this means that I had a business class seat, with massive leg room. In SAA's configuration for economy class on local routes, Seats 11A and 11C, are the best seats - business class seats, and legroom for the price of economy; followed by 12C - economy class seat with massive leg room. And although overwing exits are favoured, they do not lean back (since it would cause blockage in an emergency) - but BA's configuration on certain 737 flights, means that 10A and 10F also have massive leg room; and are definitely good seats for economy class.

So, I wonder, has anyone ever made a list of the favoured seats across multiple airlines (and their respective seat configurations)?

27 November 2009

4 Years to Close a Call

This morning, I was suprised to get a notification that a call I had logged as a student was closed ... almost 4 years after the fact! I appreciate that they follow up I suppose, but it does raise the issue of why the call was not labelled as abandoned or closed much earlier.

Your call reference number 00416274 as described below has been closed and
we trust that the call was resolved to your satisfaction. Should this not
be the case and you need follow up on it , please quote the reference
number 00416274 to the Helpdesk so that we can re-open the call.

Call Information:
Calltype: Bandwidth Access: Bandwidth Access
Date: 2006-06-06 10:14:50
Abbreviated Call Description:


IT Helpdesk
Information & Communication Technology Services (ICTS)
University of Cape Town
Tel: (021) 650-4500

23 November 2009

Movie: Okuribito (Departures)

Winner of the 2009 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, it is a somewhat off beat story idea - a cellist without a job (after his orchestra closes down), goes back to his home town, to prepare the dead for their funeral.

It is a story above all about tradition and formality - you hardly ever see the main character without a suit. It is also a story about the value of jobs that do not have high social standing, but have a very meaningful impact on the lives of people; together with a story about lost families, and the need for forgiveness.

It is certainly a special movie - something most western directors would never be able to film IMO; and is a wonderful record of cultural practices.

Movie: Inglourious Basterds

This is probably Quentin Tarantino's best movie to date - combining all his trademark elements of great writing, cinematography, dialogue and story telling (inevitable about revenge) with exceptional acting performances. The setting of the movie itself is impressive - Jewish commandos that are out for revenge - going to collect 100 scalps of Nazis. And off course bring down the Nazi empire. Revisionist movie telling at its finest!

The standout performance is definitely Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa - the "Jew Hunter". Waltz's performance, and role - as the fluent multi-lingual SS colonel, is impressive and his performance alone makes it worth going to watch the movie.

22 November 2009

Not so unfit after all ...

Lion's Head in Cape Town has always been a short hike up, and a good inidcation of fitness for me. A few years ago, I could easily do the trip up in under 45 minutes, without breaking in to much sweat. I decided that before I left Cape Town this afternoon, I should do the hike. I haven't been to the top for at least 2 and a half years, probably last time being just before I left for Germany for my internships.

Fearing a much longer trip, I got a very early start. The weather in CT was truning - and a there was a fairly thick cloud cover over the mountains, although the cloud over Lion's Head cleared well before I reached the top. I was fairly surprised that I managed to get to the top in under 60 minutes, although not as effortlessly as in previous attempts. The sun was still low on the horizon, and the clouds were still swirling around, and as CT awoke, it was a pretty amazing sight from the top!

I wish I had my camera along.

19 November 2009

Concert in a cathedral

Last night, the JPO had a special concert accompanying the organ of the Anglican Cathedral in Johannesburg. With the misty weather, it was certainly a somber atmosphere, and I must say, most of the organ pieces were equal to the task.

Church organs are impressive, but I am not sure they can really play joyous music. It was certainly an interesting experience, and great to hear a complex musical instrument in full flow; but maybe not something to repeat.

10 November 2009

Cape Town's new Departure Terminal

Went through the recently opened departure terminal on Sunday - and it was a great change from the old terminal. Very spacious, and really well designed. There are still some things to be sorted out - like lounges and access notices to the lounges, but overall a really good job!

One complaint about SA airports in general is the continued use of permanent aisle/queue markers. Instead of using temporary markers they insist on installing metal bars all over the place, which are damn inconvinient when you are the only person in the queue.

And one last point - the 15h10 flight on SAA was the big A340 plane, more or less, full capacity. Considering that the Johannesburg-Cape Town flight is the 6th most popular flight in terms of passengers carried in the world, it is not too surprising I suppose. It is a great plane too - a pity that I can't catch it all the time :D

24 October 2009

Music: Big City Bash

I think it was the first time bands have played at the Alexander Theatre in Braamfontein. The Rockford Big City Bash was quite well organised, with lots of parking guards, visible security, clean venue, good bar service and a good set up of stage and sound. 5FM DJ Koula was the MC, except she didn't do much other than look pretty. I think she was on the stage less times than the number of bands! Although, I did miss the first band, so she may have done a song and dance before the first band - but I doubt it.

New Academics
I have heard a lot of the band, but apart from a few snippets, I had not really heard any of their songs. They do have an unique edge - the combination of rap like lyrics backed with rock music. However, I don't think their songs are particularly impressive, and neither was the backing music. It is certainly different - but in my opinion, it does not work.

Death Valley Blues Band
It's almost as if I am becoming a groupie, this being the third time I have seen the band live. The fact is, they are a great party band, playing really good music, and playing it very well. A large percentage of the crowd indicated that they have never seen the band before, and the fact that everyone was dancing to the music is good testament to the quality of their show.

Zebra and Giraffe
They exploded on to the scene last year, from seemingly no where. I has not seen them live before, and this was the main motivation to going to the gig. It is even more impressive that they won the MTV Base Best Alternative Rock Band award this year, seemingly after just 18 months or so in existence. I am not sure how to describe their music - it's partly pop-rock (like Coldplay) but with a harder edge than most pop-rock bands. They have a good collection of songs that work well in a live gig, and present a really professional show. In these regards, it is not hard to see why they have been so successful.

I first saw Fokofpolisiekar, early in 2005, when they were known more for their name than the music. In that performance, the band was mostly completely trashed, with lead singer Francois Badenhorst more or less slurring his way through the sets. Given the line-up that day (they were followed by Karen Zoid and the Springbok Nude Girls), it was a great disappointment. The band has definitely matured, and there performance was truly impressive and well worth the extra 20 minutes wait (they arrived late from another gig). Even though they sing completely in Afrikaans (which I know very little of), it was a very enjoyable performance. While earlier it seemed that the band was successful more because of their name and being an Afrikaans punk band, they certainly deserve their success now. They certainly deserved being the headline act.

05 October 2009

Music: Rocking the Gardens

I came to know about the concert quite late (Friday night actually), and I am glad I went. Similar in concept to the Kirstenbosch concerts, Rocking the Garden was at the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens at Emmarentia Dam. It was certainly not as scenic as Kirstenbosch, but it did have a very cool family day atmosphere with an absolutely fantastic lineup of bands. They also did not have a restriction on cameras (which is quite rare for concert these days) and thus I took the opportunity to take a lot of photos.

Overall, I think the band timing could have been better. This was effectively a family day out; and thus one would expect the really popular family bands such as Freshlyground to play earlier; before all the kids nod off to sleep and people start leaving. Given the band line-up, I think it may have been better to have a band such as Freshlyground earlier in the day before getting into the more "Adult Rock" bands.

Ashtray Electric

I arrived about 10 minutes into Ashtray Electric's set, and to be honest, they didn't really make an impression. I honestly cannot remember much about their set. Going back on my blog looking for another band, I see that I did actually see them live when they were starting out, and they didn't make an impression back then either :(

Bed on Bricks

I think I first saw Bed on Bricks at Obz Fest, and I have always rated their live performances. They combine good music with great stage performance and are a pleasure to watch. However, I don't think I have heard a single new song since 2005, and although their website claims that they were working on a new album, I don't remember any evidence of that.

Gang of Instrumentals

Gang of Instrumentals are an awesome crossover act - fusing afro-pop/Kwaito sound with Rock backing band. And it really helps that the musicians and the singers are really talented and take the opportunity to show off. Unlike other pop bands, the backing band is not just for support, but are allowed to really showcase their solo playing skills. The lead singer has a really great voice, and they are really a great band to watch live. And this performance was better than their last performance I attended at the Jo'burg Easter Festival.

340 ml

The Mozambican band, based in South Africa has been around for quite a long time, and plays a combination of Jazz, Pop-Rock, Funk, cross-over music - and is actually great as a chill/laid back music. I haven;t really followed them for a long time, and except their last song, none of the songs were familiar to me.


I haven't really seen Freshlyground too many times since they exploded in the South African public consciousness and became globetrotters. Their music and on stage performances has definitely not deteriorated with all their fame, and the saddest part of the show was actually their rather short set - it was over too quickly! A great mix of old, and some (I think) new songs and overall a great stage performance.

Just Jinjer

I wasn't too sure of what to expect from Just Jinjer - they have after all been out of SA shores for the last few years, and although they have had a number of SA top singles, they haven;t toured since they started their US adventures. They are back in SA (and now back to being based in SA), and they really did a performance showing why they are one of the biggest SA bands, and why they did manage to break out into the International market. It was a mixture of great songs, great music and a great stage performance.

03 October 2009

Hog Hoggidy Hog, Death Valley Blues Band and Rambling Bones

Wow - what a pumped up gig. It has been a long time since I was last in a really packed club, for some great local bands. Back 2 Basix was packed, and except for the obvious lack of good ventilation, it's fairly intimate size made a great gig atmosphere.

When I arrived, a band had just started but I missed their name. One of the other people at the gig said they were "Acoustic Fuzzygish", and some quick Google search got me the name: Rambling Bones. What was really impressive about the band, was their variety of musical styles, and the ability to merge different musical styles into a somewhat rambling ska style - with some really hilarious lyrics. And it does help that all the band members are really talented musicians too! Highlight was definitely "Stevie Wonder vs Slayer" (I think it was Slayer at least), taking lyrics of the heavy metal band, and singing it in the style of Stevie Wonder!

I watched Death Valley Blues Band once a while ago, and was very impressed. Tonight was no exception - and in fact, in my personal opinion; they were even better than Hog Hoggidy Hog! An 8 piece band, they were a tight fit on the stage; but it was a trully rocking performance - and the fact that most people were rocking out despite never having been to one of their gigs before is a really good testament to the quality of their music. I really think this band has what it takes to be one of the foremost bands in the country - great music, great stage precence, great musicians and rounding it all up, brilliant performance.

It has been a long time since I last saw the Hogs play live - probably in early 2007, or more likely in 2006 (I do have a blog post from 2005 ...). They have definitely not lost their touch, and they put up a really impressive 75 minute set, with great energy and getting the entire club moving! There were quite a lot of new songs, but while their sound has changed slightly (matured?), their style hasn't - and it was a great show.

30 September 2009

Movie: Dsitrict 9

District 9 is almost what a dream South African movie should be: starring South Africans, written by South Africans, directed by a South African and set in South Africa. That's not to say that it is an entirely South African production - the CGI is largely by WETA (of the Lord of the Rings Fame), music is not entirely South African (although Zola stars quite a bit) and it is produced by Peter Jackson.

And it should be; it has all the fundamental parts right: story, acting and production. A brilliant storyline (although it has lots of apartheid parallels, I think it rings closer to last year's xenophobic attacks than on apartheid) about an alien ship stranded in Johannesburg, and how they are put into slums and kept apart from the "humans". And the movie raises a number of very uncomfortable philosophical questions (which have been raised before in science fiction literature, but not in this manner) regarding the basic concept of human rights and would these extend to other "intelligent" species (or for that matter to non intelligent species.

The acting, many by new actors, is equally impressive with very believable performances. It is a South African movie starring South Africans - not Americans with fake accents. The dialogue and mannerisms are utterly believable making this movie very "authentic".

And lastly, the production values are superb; especially the CGI for the aliens and their technology. The aliens feature one of the best animations I have seen, and the scenes of alien weapons being utilised are spectacular.

I have seen a lot of comments on how well the movie can become a serial - I sincerely hope not. I think District 9 had a story to tell, and it told it well. Like the first Matrix movie, it may not close all the plot lines, but it is actually better that way.

29 September 2009

Airlines and Airports

  • Silver status on British Airways is hard to get (I got mine through asking nicely to be upgraded) but it really compares to "Gold" status within One World.
  • Airport lounges are a great way to get away from the general crowd at airports. Except maybe when dealing with SAA Lounge at OR Tambo, which seems to be overcrowded all the time.
  • Priority lugage handling is not what it is promised to be ... except at OR Tambo, where my BA priority tag was read as belonging to SAA :)
  • SAA is far better than Lufthansa, at least on the long haul between South Africa and Germany.
  • Lufthansa however gives more frequent flyer miles than SAA on cheaper economy class tickets
  • Finnair has an ad on TV (at least in Europe) on how different they are ... it is a lot of hogwash.
  • Frankfurt airport is usually a pain; but Terminal E is quite nicel and it is possible to travel between a few terminals without requiring a visit through the (thorough) security checks.
  • Berlin's Tegel is probably the worst airport I have been to in Europe when it comes to ease of use and facilities.
  • Helsinki's airport is rather uninspiring.
  • Finnair's lounge in Helsinki however is very cool with lots of funky seats.

28 September 2009

Virtual Goods 2009

This was my 3rd Virtual Goods Workshop, and my first as program chair. Without blowing my own horn too much, I think that although the number of papers in the workshop was not as high as I would have liked it to be, the quality of the papers was amazing.

The highlight for me was the keynote talk by Bill Rosenblatt, on the past, current and future of DRM. Like many in the DRM research community, it is well accepted that the biggest fundamental problem with DRM was not necessarily the technology, but the economics and the marketing that went in. More and more, DRM is being proposed as a means to enforce privacy legislation, one of the original use cases of DRM, that was overlooked in favour of pushing for a very small control set of copyright regulation enforcement. Bill Rosenblatt has been in the field of DRM for a long time, and the presentation was insightful on the many aspects that led to the current outlook on DRM.

Another interesting talk was Mario Kubek and Jürgen Nützel's paper on "Novel Interactive Music Search Techniques", which takes a number of different search techniques including text analysis, melody analysis, frequency analaysis and much more to derive the various genres that correspond to a musical item; and also look for similarities between musical pieces using sources such as Google and Wikipedia. It is certainly an interesting way for powering future media exploration.

Next year's Virtual Goods Workshop will take place in Namur, Belgium.

24 September 2009


I was in Nancy for the ODRL WG and Virtual Goods 2009 conference (where I was the Program Chair). Getting to Nancy from outside France, without a car is difficult. There is no direct air link, and the only trains are from Paris, Starsbourg or Luxembourg. It took me 4 trains and some running to get there from Frankfurt. Luckily the way out was to share a car with a friend from Fraunhofer traveling to the same city in Germany, so that was easier.

Nancy's old town is stunningly beautiful, and mostly well maintained. Apart from the public buildings mostly shown on the photos, the private buildings are also well maintained and stunning. And at night, under various lighting effects, the city is even more stunning - especially Place Stanislas, seemingly the main square in the old town.

My hotel was orignially a mansion belonging to the "favourite" of a King or Duke of the region in the 1700s. Even though it was under refurbishment, the decor and general atmosphere was absolutely amazing, and fairly cheap too.

But for me the highlight was the food - and especially the food at "La petite Cuillere", a small restaurant near the hotel. The food was amazing and presentation and service was amazing. Now I really understand what good French food is all about.

Oh, frogs dont taste that bad either.

22 September 2009

Music: Apocalyptica and Nightwish

The reason I was in Helsinki, was actually to go to the last Nightwish concert on their "Dark Passion Play" tour. This tour was almost 2 years long, with close to 200 shows - and this was actually the only occasion where I had the possibility to attend a concert. Symphonic metal is my current favourite music genre, and Nightwish is, in my opinion, the best exponent of this genre. Getting tickets was in some respects fortuitious - the concert was sold out and I only found one offer for double tickets on eBay (for which I was surprisingly the only bidder). So I had double tickets, btu no one to share with - and there were no takers for the second ticket (although I did not try eBay).

Apocalyptica, the band best known for playing cellos to the music of Metalica, and a recent Eurovision entry, was the support band; playing a combination of covers (opening with Enter Sandman IIRC), classical music (their take of Greig's Hall of the Mountain King is amazing) and some of their own music. Apocalyptica were a great support band, and played a highly enjoyable 1 hour set.

Nightwish played the longest uninterupted set I have ever attended by any musical performance - close to 2 and half hours! They played most of their songs from their last album (Dark Passion Play) as well some of their older songs. What is most interesting in this regard, is the change of lead singers from Tarja (who gave Nightwish a very distinctive, operatic sound) to Anette (whose voice in my opinion is a lot closer to pop music) - and it is the old Nightwish songs where this really becomes aparent. The difference is not necessarily bad - but very diffferent.

The show itself was amazing - great stage show, brilliant lighting, nice set design, a big audience, fire with the usual smoke and a finale of fireworks inside an enclosed stadium! It was a great show and I really enjoyed it. Seats in a concert like this just does not make sense, and next time I hope to get better tickets. The organisation was slick and efficient and overall was a great experience, and definitely worth the effort (and money) expended! The only negative I have is that Nightwish didn't play "Eva", even after a big chant in the stadium ... but the encore was an equally special (but older) song.

Bear Steak and Reindeer - Reflections of Helsinki

I remember an ad by Investec, asking "Who goes to Helsinki" ... and while my motivations for visiting Helsinki for a weekend was fairly arbitary, it seems that the majority of visitors to Helsinki are Russians, Latvians, Estonians and a smattering of the older American globe-trotters.

Helsinki is a rather compact city, and to be honest not very exciting. While there are certainly a number of impressive architectural specimens with the highlight being Suomenlinna, an old fort built by the Swedish in mid 1700s to protect the city against the Russians, but which did not seem to stop the Russians in 1808 without much resistance.

There are however quite a few interesting cultural points - that were surprising to me. Firstly, fur, is openly traded in the market - not only in clothing, but also as blankets and scarves (one scarf made of a small fox still had the fox head ornamental as part of the scarf).

There is also the language - Suomi (the language of Finland) is very different to every other European language except for Hungarian, but the Finns are very multilingual and almost all speak Swedish (all signs have at least Suomi and Swedish) and English and many other languages.

And then there is the food, specifically the availability of rather exotic meats as part of the menu. Reindeer meat is available in many menus (and is rather indefferent to mutton in my opinion) - but one restaurant I came across also offered Bear steak - for a princely sum of 50 odd Euros for the plate.

Overall, I think Finland has a lot to offer, but more for hiking and wilderness exploration rather than Helsinki itself. And next time, I should save more to afford Bear steak :)

07 September 2009

T5 and the Mountain Sanctuary Park

I sort of had a vague idea where I wanted to go (or thought I wanted to go) - a nature reserve in the Magaliesberg. I ended up taking a scenic back road - the T5, a small dirt road that goes up from the town of Magaliesberg (near Krugersdorp) and over the mountain towards Buffelspoort (near Rustenberg). It was certainly not a road that I would drive after rains, and I was glad I had 4 wheel drive. But the scenery on top of the pass was well worth it.

The lack of rains made much of the park uninteresting - the landscape was largely yellow, and the rivers were mostly dry. That said, there are some awesome rock formations, and I could have spent a lot longer in the various nooks and cranies. The reserve also has camping and cabin facilities, and it was only when you reach the rest camp area, that you realise that this is actually quite a popular place; and there is a reason why the brochure (from the reserve) says you should book.

06 September 2009

Model Exhibition at Sci-Bono

I heard an ad snippet on the radio about a model exhbition somewhere in Newtown - models being model trains, cars and aeroplanes. I decided to investigate yesterday, and found the exhibition at Sci-Bono.

Sci-Bono is a facinating science and engineering museum/activity centre with some really impressive hands on displays on all sorts of funky things. Supported by a number of corporate sponsors, displays such as details on how a car works (from BMW) featuring not only cut outs and detailed information but also great exhibitions on fundamental engineering concepts such as pulleys and gears. Other displays include a section on electricty, lasers, magents and radios. It's a hands on exploration centre, and the kids definitely seem to enjoy it. It is also danm cheap - free after 2pm on weekdays, free on weekends and public holidays and a nominal charge of R10 (IIRC) otherwise.

As for the exhibition, the stand out display was the Model Train section by the N-Gauge Guild of South Africa. The landscape modeling was spectacular featuring cliffs, glaciers and even a crashed train in a tunnel - and there was also a great variety of trains on show.

30 August 2009

Standard Bank Joy of Jazz

I missed last year's Joy of Jazz for some reason or another, and after a reminder through both inflight magazines of BA and SAA, decided to try and attend at least one "session". I was a bit surprised at the high prices of the tickets, but the festival was well organised with good parking options, lots of signage and cops.

Sterling Electric Quartet (or Sterling EQ for short), was my main motivation to go the Saturday evening session at the historic Market Theatre. Sterling EQ is a band comprising of 4 hot female artists - Carina Bruwer on the electric flute, Eriel Huang and Magdalene Minnaar on electric violins and Ariella Caira on the electric cello.

It's a bit difficult to really rate Stirling EQ. Their classical works are only slightly different to Vanessa Mae and bands like Bond, and that is mainly through the use of the electric flute. And while Vanessae Mae makes use of a live backing band (at least in all the live recordings I have seen), Stirling EQ makes use of a pre-recorded, pre-mixed drum and bass mix - limiting the flexibility of their music playback. But at the same time their interpretation of non-classical musical pieces such as Nkalakatha (their producer also worked with Mandoza) and Mbube as well as their original pieces such as Nova and Bach's Kitten at Play show what they can really do (and do it very well). None the less, it was a great show and very enjoyable (and I even bought their CD).

Arlee Leonard was a more traditional singer and poet helped with a back up pianist (who also did a brilliant beatboxing routine for an entire song) and for a short while by a saxophonist and trumpeteer Brian Thusi. Her songs were some times racy (the second song was titled "Self Pleasure"), some times humourous and mostly thought provoking.

It seems most of the audience was there for the last act, Phil Perry, and although it was not really my genre of music; it is easy to see why. Phil Perry has an amazing vocal range, and he uses it to amazing effect. As the MC put it, Stirling EQ was for the guys, and Phil Perry was for the ladies - and he had seemingly every lady in the audence swooning to his love songs.

What I really like about Jazz is its variety, and on that last night was amazing. It could have been worthwhile going to some other stages in the future - as it seems that there was some rocking shows elsewhere in the festival.

24 August 2009

Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens

Although I had heard of the gardens, I did not know much about it. It is probably most famous for its nesting Black Eagles at the Witpoortjie Falls, close to the source of the Crocodile river. I found out through my hiing book that there is a nice hike inside the park - and it is actually quite a facinating area.

The hike itself is basically uphill and downhill on the one side of the gardens - and covers a lot of ancient geological history - not only of the area but the world at large. The area (which includes all of Johannesburg and most of Tshwane) is one of the oldest geologically speaking - with rocks dating back to almost the formation of the earth. Thus markers along the trail give some facinating insight into the formation of the world as we know it - and together with a display later in the main gardens itself - a history of how gold, platinum and other precious minerals came to be in such abundance in this area of South Africa.

Although it is almost Spring, the landscape was largely very yellow. I suppose it is the general nature of the African savannah - but at least there was some colourful areas in the main gardens.

What is also nice is to have a protected place of nature and greenery in the middle of ever increasing development in Gauteng. Although there will be always pressure given the lack of any buffer zone (this lucky guy has a house right against the boundary of the park) - it is better than nothing; and given the power of Walter Sisulu's name, I doubt the park will be buldozed in the name of development. I just wish there were more of these areas in Gauteng.

17 August 2009

Tswaing Meteorite Crater

Not too far from Pretoria, I heard about the Tswaing Crater (SAInfo, Wikipedia) via a book on hiking trails in South Africa. In an effort to get more physically active (Gauteng is just not condusive to doing things outside in my opinion), I am trying to see how many different day hiking places I can get through - especially in Gauteng.

The crater site is facinating - massively large, quite untouched, and quite empty. The site can definitely do with a lot more marketing (more signs from the N1 would help), but the quietness within 100KM of Jo'burg-Tshwane megapolis is refreshing. And even with the dull winter colours, it is a facinating landscape.

The hike itself is fairly easy - not too much up and down; although the route down to the crater is fairly steep. It is 7.2 km in length, and nothing too taxing. I hope I can continue and find other places as interesting.

10 August 2009

West Coast National Park

It is flower season again, and together with my sister and her friends (many of them involved in the restaurant walkout), we went to the West Coast National Park, a short drive from Cape Town.

It did take a longer time to get there - particularly because I drove for a bit longer than I intended to on the N7 and thus overshot. The scenery along the N7 was spectacular though, and we did drive through an interesting small town (whereupon its closeness in resemblance to Zeerust was debated thoroughly in the car).

West Coast National Park is beautiful and provides a stunning combination of sea side sand dunes, the fybos vegetation and the Langebaan lagoon.