Monday, October 29, 2012

Skyfall

Life's most difficult question ... who is the best Bond?


Some like the suavness of Sean Connery, the wit of Roger Moore, the looks of Pierce Brosnan, the brute of Timothy Dalton or perhaps some find an endeering quality in George Lasenby ... but for me, the cool ruggedness of Daniel Craig gives him the title (with Sean  running a very close second).

Skyfall brings us into a new era of Bond movies. Sam Mendes directing a post Ian Fleming script gives us a very different feel of the series. There is far more of a  "story" in Skyfall. The action sequences remain, but this somehow feels different. More contemporary... perhaps even more "grown up". It's more of a serious movie, and for me, that's how and why Daniel Craig excels (although his debut portrayal in Casino Royale remains THE qunitessential performance to beat in what, for me, is the best Bond movie till date).


Despite the changes, thankfully, the critical elements of what makes a Bond movie exactly that are not touched. The one liners, the cunning bad guy and his masterful plot, the big hit theme song, the chase sequences and the exotic locations.

Much has also been written about Skyfall falling victim of sponsorship as our hero now drinks Heineken, but he has also developed a penchant for Macallan whisky ... keeping the ultimate movie charachter a man after my own heart.

Daniel Craig again plays this role as a uncompromising tough guy, but continues to show his vulnerability (he is the only bond that wears blood and bruises with class). As the the movie is still new (at the time of writing), of the few people I have spoken to, it has received a mixed reviews, but I loved it ... welcome back Mr. Bond!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The new kid on the block


Every since we moved our Hong Kong office from the United Center to Wyndham Street, finding a suitable hotel for my trips has been a challenge.

United Center offered the convenience of Pacific Place and a convenient selection of hotels all just a short walk away. Our Wyndham Street office certainly has a better variety of eateries around and is in the heart of Lan Kwai Fong, but convenient hotel choices are few and far between (especially if walking to work is the goal).

My usual haunt has been the LKF Hotel (my review of the LKF Hotel). A decent place, but simply too noisy at night. I am (as it turns out) a sensitive sleeper, and the buzz from the streets in Lan Kwai Fong below have kept me awake during many jet lagged nights, no matter how high up I am in the hotel.

So what options do I have should I wish to keep my proximity to the office, not sacrifice my comfort, but be able to get a decent quiet nights sleep? The answer now may well be the Ovolo hotel.

Located at the top of the Spanish Steps, these newly converted service apartments have just opened as a boutique hotel … and very nice it is.

Ovolo has a less than traditional entrance, stemming from its apartment heritage, but once on the first floor, you are very much in a "hotel" environment. The check in staff were polite and efficient … and were quick to offer me a free late check out as soon as they knew I had a midnight flight the next day (and this was a proper late checkout … till 6.30pm, as opposed to the the "traditional" late check out time of 2pm that may be lucky enough to scrounge from traditional hotels).

I was brought up to my room ... there are just 2 per floor. The lobby area outside the lift appears quite cramped, but once in the room, it is remarkably spacious and well designed and thought out, especially for the business traveller. From the convenient suitcase stand to the spacious desk (which has ample plug sockets and multi region adapters provided to the Apple TV in every room allowing airplay viewing of your iPad movies on the big screen (a nice touch).


Every room has free wifi, a free mini bar with drinks and snacks and a Nespresso machine with free capsules. Its a small thing, but it's a constant frustration for me when I travel that I pay premium hotel prices and then get nickel and dimed for extras on top. I like this approach of everything "free" in the room. I saw it in the Upper House in Hong Kong also, and find it a refreshing change.

Speaking of "freebies", there were some excellent slipper provided (2 pairs found their way into my suitcase and I am now using them on flights) and a lovely back pack which now accompanies me to my football games as a kit bag.

The bathroom was spacious and when lit with an excellent shower cubicle (with a padded seat) and some great amenities provided (which somehow joined the slippers in my suitcase). The shampoos powerful minty essence remains a fond memory and will certainly wake up the weary jet-lagged traveller on a trip.


The bed was large and extremely comfortable. Plug sockets on either side are provided as well as an iPod / iPhone docker.

Allegedly, the hotel also has a gym and a spa ... but I just didn't get the time to visit either, and there is an attached "cafe" next door where breakfast is provided.

To be fair and to give a balanced opinion, there was a corner window in my room that had shutters instead of the electric curtain that closes the rest of the windows in the room … something my ultra light sensitive wife would not be pleased about, and I missed there not being any dressing gowns in the room.

While I like the small touches and attentino to detail that you really only find in boutique hotels, I do miss some of the facilities of a big 5 star hotel ... and in this case mainly a 24 hour room service option. Perhaps next time I will try a Pizza Hut delivery to my room ... that might prove to be the answer!

But I am nitpicking. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the hotel and the experience. I was only there for one night and had good (and quiet) nights rest and shall certainly plan to stay there again.

Sayonara LKF, Hello Ovolo.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ich bin ein beer drinker!

I went on a retreat last week ... it was held in Munich to coincide with Oktoberfest.

My limited experience of this beer drinking frenzy is in Dubai where a number of hotels make a valiant effort to celebrate this 150 year old festival, so with that in mind as my benchmark, I was not at all prepared for what I saw.

Munich appears to be a beautiful and modern city in any case, but with the sun shining and crowds of people all over wearing traditional Bavarian clothes, you couldn't help but get sucked into the very unique spirit of Oktoberfest.

While the whole city is buzzing at this time of the year, the "Oktoberfest grounds" are the main place to go. It is swarming with hundreds of thousands of people, all there to have a good time ... and drink! The scale of the event is colossal ... more than 7m people visiting it in the 2 week period over which it runs.


Once inside the territory, you are surrounded by games and rides and all manner of food, drink and souvenir concessions, all interspersed between some enormous "beer tents" ... which aren't tents at all, but colossal halls that can each hold several thousand people.



The atmosphere is amazing. Despite the vast majority of people being somewhere on a scale from "slightly tipsy" to "totally plastered", there is no discernible sense of trouble or violence ... everyone is there to just have a good time, and mostly quite tolerant of those who have managed to tip the scale slightly beyond "totally plastered".

We were (fortunately) well organised. The head of our group had booked us a table at one of the larger tents. We had a 5pm entrance time, and as lined up with the hoards trying to get it (many finding unscrupulous but ingenious ways of getting in without a ticket), I was surprised to see our delay in entrance was due to the earlier batch taking their time to exit. Some were tardy due to their inability to walk straight .. but somehow managed. Other needed what can only be described as a "helping hand" from the very friendly security.

So our time came and we marched inside, and I just looked around in awe at the sheer scale of this single "tent". Once inside, we settled down at our table and started to enjoy our first beers, and started to line our stomachs with pretzels.

 


Over the 2 week period that Oktoberfest lasts, some 7 million liters of beer are consumed, and half a million chickens and 200 thousand oxes sacrifice their lives for our indulgence!

The sheer logistics of this event defies belief, and its no wonder that it is executed so well in a country like Germany. The waiting staff are self employed. They earn (we estimate 1 Euro per beer) and are said to earn between 30-40 thousand Euros per week during Oktoberfest. With that kind of reward, it makes it understandable how they can deal with this crowd and the sheer volume of work and the loads they have to carry.


As the evening wears on, the consumption increases, the music gets louder, your neighbours become your best friends, the tables become dance floors and the whole tent becomes a riotous party.



Allegedly, the beer is specially brewed for this event and has double the potency of normal beer - that could certainly explain the actions of the majority of the crowd by the end of the evening.

video

It was a fantastic experience and well worth the trip ... a big thank you to my friend Arian for organising it ... the bar for our next retreat has just been set very high indeed!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Seen the movie, read the book ... and then saw the movie again!


I've been a month away from blogging ... and although i missed it, it's a terrible struggle to get myself going again ... but when something happens that spurs up my passion, it makes it that much easier.

The Hunger Games did just that.


I was a laggard in seeing the movie (I caught it on a flight recently, long after it had finishes in the cinemas) , but I'm so glad I did. A superb story well told on the silver screen, and that inspired me to read the book.

There are a number of books I have read which have led to "blockbuster" movies. Those that come to mind are "The Silence of the Lambs",  "The Da Vinci code" trilogy and several John Grisham novels.

Some live up to their billings, and some are just a disappointment (compared to their written counterparts) ... the Da Vinci Code falling into the latter catagory

So with the Hunger Games, I was going in reverse order. I took a well worn copy of the book from home (everyone else in my family had been through it), and started reading.

I rifled through it. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I was gripped and riveted at every page turn, and, as expected, it was better than the film. The descriptions of places, surroundings and events - far more vivid than even big budget Hollywood could muster. The thoughts and musings of Katniss Everdeen being communicated on the page in a way that can't be done naturally on screen ... I could share her senses of hunger, thirst, fear and anxiety.
I'm a slow reader normally, but I just couldn't put this book down. I normally take the best part of a month to complete a book, but this was finished in a week ... Coincidentally, on a plane!

Katniss

As soon as I finished, and felt my usual pang of sadness that accompanies the ending of a good thing, I had the opportunity to see the movie in-flight again.

Star crossed lovers

I enjoyed it thoroughly, the second time ... this time noticing the parts left out for expediency and to keep the story telling "simple", but I also noticed and appreciated that the producers had done the book justice. Much of the descriptive detail was executed well. The stage set for District 12 and the Capitol easily recognisable from their page descriptions and the character castings were near perfect.

From book to screen

I've become obsessed by this book and story, and I am rummaging quickly through "Catching Fire" as I write this.


I'll be sad again when I finish the trilogy and hope the movies come out thick and fast to appease me!