Friday, May 30, 2008

Yey! It's Friday!

This has been the longest week ever, despite (or perhaps because of) Monday being a bank holiday, i.e. a holiday for everyone except the poor sods who work in shops and public transport. In theory, this week should have felt nice and short, after all there were only four days in it. Instead, it has felt like it's dragged on for ever! Maybe it's the weather, as it's been pretty miserable all week long (including the long weekend - what a waste), or perhaps it's the fact that I've had too many late nights over the weekend and wasn't able to get into my normal sleeping patterns during the week. Going to bed at 2 and 3 AM is fine if you can wake up at 10 AM the next day, but not so fun if you have to be at work by 9. Ho hum.

Or perhaps time expands to what we're used to - it may be a four-day week but it feels like a five-day week because that's what we usually get. Only because we know it's a short week, we keep thinking it must be finishing soon, which makes it appear even longer.

I've been thinking "it must be Friday" since Wednesday, and so it feels like Friday has taken far too long to arrive. But today it really is Friday and the weather forecast for the (normal-sized) weekend ahead is "cloudy with sunny intervals" so at least it won't be wet, so it's yeyyyyyyy time!

I can't wait for some hard earned rest ;-)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Random thoughts on the Eurovision final

It's already been 111 hours since the Eurovision final (I kid you not, there's a clock on the official website that counts down as well as up), so here is my long-awaited summary.

Overall impression: Good fun, good songs, likable presenters. I've been fond of Željko Joksimović ever since he sang Lane Moje for Serbia & Montenegro back in 2004, so it was nice to see more of him.

The new logo's ace, and the country postcard idea was good, but I found some of the spots that introduced each country a bit bizarre. I guess doing 43 different short films isn't an easy task, but hey, why not just show us snippets of Serbia or something? Anyway, I could live with the postcards, but the one thing I *really* hated were the long camera shots, as it was too easy to lose the singers in the middle of the oddly-shaped, multi-coloured stage. Bring back the zoom lens, that's that I say.

Now on to the performances, a few words about each country.

Romania: I liked the song, it was well performed, but on the day it didn't stand out. The singers did well, but this year just wasn't a good year for old-fashioned ballads. One more thing: jeans with smart jackets are soooo passé.

UK: A funky song that would have done better if it hadn't appeared in the dreaded second place, if it looked more energetic on stage (a dance song with no dancers - what were they thinking?!) and if the UK had a few more neighbours who were prepared to vote for us. As it is, even Ireland didn't give it 12 points, so can we really expect anyone else to?

BTW we love San Marino :-)

Albania: Nice song, performed well by a charming young lady with a good voice, but again, a ballad. Nothing too memorable about it.

Germany: This one was way too memorable for the wrong reasons. The song sounded OK on the CD, but the performance on the day was atrocious. If one song truly deserved nul points, this was it.

Armenia: Qele, qele! Nice beat with eastern influences and a catchy refrain. I wasn't surprised it made the Top 10.

Bosnia & Herzegovina: Sounded fantastic with eyes closed, but the presentation was a bit in-your-face. Still, it was pretty entertaining and as jokey entries go, much better than Estonia or Ireland, both of which bombed out of the semis.

Israel: I liked it, it was one of the better ballads (the other one being Serbia's). Not good enough to win, but a very presentable entry, memorable and without gimmicks (although you could hardly fail to notice the singer's well formed biceps - ahem).

Finland: Not a bad performance, but hard rock really isn't Eurovision. Just because Lordi won once, that's no excuse to put shirtless men with long hair on stage.

Croatia: A rather old-fashioned song which hadn't particularly impressed me in the semis, but I warmed to it in the end. Not enough to vote for it, mind.

Poland: This may have been a great song and a beautiful performance, however the only thing that caught my attention was the singer's orange tan and the contrast with the turquoise dress. I was mesmerised by it, and not in a good way either. I guess others must have thought the same, as Poland finished last despite having lots of neighbours.

Iceland: That was fun to watch. It was never going to make the Top 10, even with heaps of help from the Scandinavian bloc, but it was lively, energetic and pleasant to the ear. High feel-good factor.

Turkey: I didn't like it. Two things I found irritating: the Turkish lyrics and the singer's perfectly shaped eyebrows. Sorry, it just was too much for me.

Portugal: Great song, way too much eye liner. Not one of my favourites.

Latvia: I liked this one. The song was pretty crap if truth be told, but it was performed with brio and was easy to sing along to. Lots of energy on stage and I *am* partial to pirates, but even I can see that it probably did better than it deserved.

Sweden: Loved the song although in the end it didn't stand out and was saved from last place by Sweden's neighbours and ...Malta, who must have bizarre musical tastes (didn't they give 12 points to Scooch last year?)

Denmark: Another feel-good song from the Scandinavians, performed well but not brilliant enough to make the Top 10.

Georgia: This was quirky and I liked it. I actually thought it might make the Top 5, but in the end narrowly missed the Top 10. I guess the weird dance routines didn't help. Or perhaps political angst doesn't sell.

Ukraine: I loved this one, although really it was a bit too slutty for my taste. The tipping back of the head was a nice touch. Great staging.

France: I thought this would be awful, but in the end I found it hilarious. Not sure this was the intention of the songwriter, but still.

Azerbaijan: I thought this would be awful too, and it was. No matter how many times I've listened to it, I can't make myself like it. Seeing it on stage didn't help. Angels with shrieking voices and devils with red eyes? Not my cuppa, thanks.

Greece: OK, so I *am* biased, but I thought it was a fab performance by Kalomira. The song was very Eurovision - nice beat, lots of energetic dancing with an ethnic twist, and a long haired female singer with sparky eyes and a decent voice. OK, so we've seen it all before with Helena Paparizou, but hey, this isn't an eccentricity contest and if you have the winning formula... why look elsewhere?

Spain: Maybe it was funny if you could understand the lyrics. I couldn't.

Serbia: Wow! These guys sure can do ballads. Very impressive. Not at all surprised to find it was composed by Joksimović. The guy is a genious.

Russia: Dima Bilan should have won two years ago in Athens, when he had a much better song (he finished second to Finland's Lordi). Still, this year's song wasn't bad, and Bilan is a good performer and easy on the eye. Bringing Plushenko with him on stage certainly added to the "wow" factor - and I bet it got him a few extra votes. This was the first Eurovision win for Russia, and for me at least it's thumbs up, even though I didn't vote for them.

Norway: Yet another feel-good song from Scandinavia, this one was greatly helped by the four leggy blondes in matching blue outfits, and most importantly by competing last on the night. I dare say, if it had competed second it wouldn't have done anywhere near as well, but as it was, it came 5th. Not a bad result for Norway, which has finished last no less than 10 times so far and was the first country ever to get the dreaded nul points.

Interval act: I expected to see Goran Bregovic and the Serbians didn't disappoint me. It wasn't Ederlezi but still.

Voting: Fairly predictable in the sense that neighbours supported neighbours, Malta voted all over the place, and ultimately the best songs did well in the final line up. It's always entertaining to try and guess where each country's coveted 12 points will go, and although I was very disappointed with Andy's 14 point total, I was really pleased with Kalomira's massive 218 :-D

The end result looked like this:

1. Russia
2. Ukraine
3. Greece (yey!!!)
4. Armenia
5. Norway
6. Serbia
7. Turkey
8. Azerbaijan
9. Israel
10. Bosnia & Herzegovina
11. Georgia
12. Latvia
13. Portugal
14. Iceland
15. Denmark
16. Spain
17. Albania
18. Sweden
19. France
20. Romania
21. Croatia
22. Finland
23. Germany
24. Poland
25. United Kingdom (sniff)

Dima Bilan is currently in Oslo, Norway on his Eurovision Winner's Tour. He will arrive in London on Saturday 31 May and will perform at trendy night club Scala, 275-277 Pentoville Road, N1 alongside Bucks Fizz, the UK winners from 1981. DJ Dave Simmons will mix songs from other Eurovision entrants.

Andy Abraham's new CD, titled Even If, will be released on Monday 2 June.

Roll on 2009, Moscow here we come!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Saturday, May 24, 2008

It's the Eurovision final!

Across Europe and the world an estimated 100 million people will be getting together with their friends tonight for a night of music and light entertainment. 25 countries are taking part in the final of the Eurovision Song Contest and the running order is as follows:

Bosnia and Herzegovina

It's hard to decide who my favourites are this year (well, apart from Greece). I love the Swedish entry, as well as the Russian one, and Portugal and Armenia are pretty good too. Choices, choices!

Ireland sent Dustin the Turkey who failed to impress at the semis, so the country who's won Eurovision more times than anyone else, won't be competing at this year's final and a good thing it is too - I hated that song (I'm using the word loosely).

The UK is participating with a singer who can sing and a song that is passable at worst. A huge improvement over the last few years by anyone's standards.

As for France, they're singing in English for maybe the first time ever. Amazing or what?!

If you're a Eurovision enthusiast (don't be afraid to admit it, guys), the Eurovision blog, a blog "100% dedicated to Eurovision" is the place to go for detailed reviews and predictions.

For the rest of you, enjoy your Saturdays/Sundays, whether you spend them at a Eurovision party or not.

May the best song win!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wordless Wednesday 18

Hunger justifies the means
H πείνα αγιάζει τα μέσα

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Go Kalomira!

It's official - Greece is through to the Eurovision final, along with Romania, Israel, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Poland, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Russia, Finland and Norway.

I'm soooo pleased with the result, especially as Greece was the first to be announced and I didn't have to go through too much agony.

Μπράβο Καλομοιράκι!!! Καλή επιτυχία στον τελικό!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sunday chores

My social life has improved considerably since the weather picked up - I've even managed to meet up with two friends I'd not seen since last year - which is great. However, as a result of my various outings my housekeeping has become a bit... (ahem) lax, and piles of books, magazines, shoes, clothes and dishes have been appearing all over the place and growing at an alarming rate. So I've decided enough is enough (hubby had decided some time ago, but he's wise enough not to speak up about things that are out of his control) and have spent Sunday morning trying to restore some order.

So far I have (*with help from hubby):

Washed up
Taken the rubbish and recycling out *
Finished the ironing
Changed our bedding
Done two loads of washing (more ironing to follow...)
Bought some flowers for the living room *
Prepared a chicken and potato casserole which is bubbling in the oven as we speak *

We're not even half of the way there, but at least the place now looks less like a tip and more like a home - and the flowers have added a nice splash of colour to our living room.

Not bad going for a Sunday morning, eh?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What a scorcher!

If you're wondering about the lack of recent posts, I'm blaming it on the weather! For the last 10 days or so, summer has put in an early appearance and we have been spending every possible minute outdoors enjoying the sunshine and warmth. After last year's washout (coolest UK summer since 1998 and wettest since 1914!!) we are taking no chances - every sunny, dry day is taken advantage of. Parks and open spaces are packed with people enjoying the sunshine, pub gardens are full to the brim with punters in short sleeves and red faces (also known as the lobster tan) and restaurants offering al fresco dining are proving extremely popular of a sudden. Last weekend was glorious, particularly Sunday which, at 26C, was the hottest day of the year so far - warmer than Madrid, Athens, Corfu and even Marrakesh.

It was slightly cooler today, but still sunny and pleasant, so I met up with a friend and we had lunch by the river. I took these photos while we were waiting for our cheese burgers and chips. Not a bad view, huh?

Friday, May 09, 2008

How many top travel destinations have you been to?

Tripadvisor, the travel information website and source of all knowledge for modern-day tourists, published today their 2008 Travellers' Choice Destinations Awards, which include a Top 100 list of destinations from around the world, and Top 25 lists for the US, Europe, Asia, South Pacific, Latin America/Carribbean, South America, Africa and Canada.

According to them, the 25 best destinations in the whole world are:

1. Milford Sound - New Zealand
2. Queenstown - New Zealand
3. Philipsburg - St Maarten
4. Cayo Largo - Cuba
5. Rhodes - Greece
6. Charlotte Amalie - St Thomas, US Virgin Islands
7. Cruz Bay - St John, US Virgin Islands
8. Bridgetown - Barbados
9. Banff - Alberta, Canada
10. Lake Tahoe - California, US
11. Salzburg - Austria (finally, a destination I've been to!)
12. Cape Town - South Africa
13. Amalfi - Italy
14. Bath - England
15. Siena - Italy
16. Victoria - British Columbia, Canada
17. Hamilton - Bermuda
18. Dingle - Ireland
19. Lake Louise - Alberta, Canada
20. Bruges - Belgium
21. Marigot - St Martin
22. Sydney - Australia
23. Cairns - Australia
24. Kyoto - Japan
25. Lucerne - Switzerland

Other popular european destinations are listed further down, such as Edinburgh at no. 27, Paris at no. 57, Prague at no. 62, Amsterdam at no. 80, London at no. 84, Copenhagen at no. 86 and Barcelona at no. 90.

Now, I don't know how the results were compiled, but it seems to me that the sample was largely American/Canadian, as I've not even heard of most of these places, let alone been to them. Of the places I know, I'm baffled by Salzburg's popularity - I wouldn't in a million years consider it more interesting than Paris, Bath, Edinburgh, London, Barcelona, Brugge or any number of other destinations. I guess there's no accounting for taste, eh?

I'm also ashamed to admit that I've not been to the one and only Greek destination to make the Top 100 Worldwide and Top 25 Europe lists - the island of Rhodes! We were supposed to go there on our honeymoon a few years back but had to change our plans at the last minute due to a travel agent mix up. I never thought it was such a big deal, but now I'm wondering if it's perhaps time to reconsider our summer travel options ;-)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Saturday, May 03, 2008

A short description of Greek Easter

In Greece, Easter is as big as Christmas is in England (minus the excessive consumerism). It's the biggest festival of the year, a major religious celebration characterised by fasting, church-going and big family meals! It is celebrated in April or May, sometimes at the same time as English Easter, more often a week apart. Western Christian churches use the Gregorian calendar to calculate Easter, whereas Eastern Orthodox churches use the Julian calendar - hence the difference in dates. Unusually this year, Greek Easter was a whole 35 days after English Easter.

Easter starts with a 40-day fast (Lent) during which many people cut down or abstain from eating meat and dairy products. The end of Lent marks the start of Holy Week with more fasting, church-going and preparations for the big feast on Sunday. Preparations involve spring cleaning, dyeing eggs (mainly crimson red although some people do different colours, but not pastels), baking Easter bread (tsoureki) and Easter biscuits (koulouria), candle buying and travelling to spend Easter with their extended families, usually at the village or small town where the family originates from. Candles are key to Easter - big candles (called lambadhes) are used on Good Friday, when there is a procession during the late evening church service, and also on Saturday night for the main Easter service. The lambadhes used on Good Friday are plain brown ones, whereas the ones used on Saturday are usually white and sometimes decorated. Children's lambades are bought by their godparents and come in different colours, with ribbons, toys and elaborate decorations.

Easter is a time for godchildren, as tradition dictates that godparents should buy their godchildren their special Easter candle, a pair of shoes, a tsoureki and an Easter egg. Kids get very excited about their special presents, particularly the Easter candle, which they take with them to church on Saturday night and have to bring home lit, so that they can make a cross with the flame over the main entrance to the house.

On the Thursday before Easter an almost life-size icon of Christ on a cross is put up in church. On Good Friday the church is decorated in purple, which in Greece is the colour of mourning, and the bells ring all day long as if for a funeral. The priests take down the icon of Christ from the cross and wrap it in linen, reenacting the burial rituals. The icon is then placed in a special coffin decorated with flowers and wreaths, which is carried through the town during the evening procession, followed by worshipers carrying candles.

The Saturday night service starts at about 11 PM. At midnight, the "holy light" is distributed through the church from candle to candle, and then the priest announces that "Christ has risen", at which point everyone embraces and offers each other wishes. In many areas of Greece there are special customs, for example people may take a red egg to church and crack it at midnight, or bangers and fireworks may go off, or hot air balloons let up, or a bonfire started at which Judas's effigy is burned etc.

When the church service finishes, usually around 1 AM, people return home where they tuck into lamb soup, Easter eggs and koulouria. Egg cracking is a popular custom, whereby each person cracks the end of their egg against someone else's saying "Chist has risen" as he does so. They then turn their eggs round and the other person cracks his or her egg saying "Indeed He has". This goes on round the table and the person who has been left with an uncracked egg is the winner.

The next day, on Easter Sunday, family and friends get together to eat lamb on the spit, other meat delicacies, eggs and more cakes than you can shake a stick at. In the evening, there is a special church service called the "service of love" which is often performed in the centre of each town and is followed by dances, eating and drinking. More eating, drinking and general merriment goes on into the evening and the next day (Easter Monday) which is also the day when most people return to their homes, so all the motorways are clogged up.

I have added more photos to my Flickr Greek Easter set so you can have a full account of Greek Easter in words, photos, or both!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

May Day flowers

After the rain, spring is back with a vengeance. Happy May Day!