Archive for January, 2019

Updated Britain 2009 travel diary

Saturday, 19 January, 2019

If anyone is interested, I’ve just completed an overhaul of the diary of my 2009 trip to the UK. A 24-day extravaganza of touring the English and Welsh countrysides, and ending with several days in London. I’ve enlarged the photos from thumbnails to presentation size, added some new photos, updated all of the dead web links, added a little bit more explanatory text in places, and fixed a few typos.

Now showing here.

Game of Thrones, Season 6, Ep 1 “The Red Woman”

Thursday, 17 January, 2019

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

The Wall: Jon’s body lies abandoned on the snow of the keep courtyard at Castle Black as night begins to fall. Jon’s wolf Ghost recognises that something is wrong and begins to howl. Ser Davos investigates and sees Jon’s body. He calls for help from then handful of men who were loyal to Jon, and they take his body inside. Melisandre comes in, and is shocked to see Jon dead. I think maybe she’ll do some sort of ritual and heal him, and he’ll be right as rain.

But no, she says in a shocked manner that she saw Jon fighting at Winterfell in a vision in the flames. And now this has happened, which contradicts her prophetic vision. She’s clearly shaken, and leaves. Davos and the loyal men discuss what to do. They realise the mutineers led by Alliser will probably kill them, and realise they need help. But there’s nobody there to help them. Davos points out: Isn’t there anyone who owes Jon a favour? The others realise he means the Wildlings, and one of them goes to fetch them. It’s not clear to me why they can’t just all go at this point if one of them can manage to sneak out to get help.

Alliser appears and bangs on the door, but they don’t let him in. Alliser promises them that they are free to leave Castle Black if they surrender by nightfall. But if they don’t… well. The Wildlings better be back before then.

And then in a weird scene Melisandre stares at her reflection in a dull brass mirror. She undresses for bed, but as she does so her body changes from youth to an old crone. She climbs into bed. I guess this represents her failures – to guarantee Stannis victory, and her false prophecy of Jon living to return to Winterfell. She’s a beaten and wrecked woman. The Lord of Light has abandoned her – if indeed he ever supported her in the first place. What she does next is now completely unpredictable. She could wither away meekly, or she could lash out and become very dangerous. I guess we’ll see.

(more…)

Game of Thrones, Season 5, Ep 10 “Mother’s Mercy”

Monday, 14 January, 2019

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

It’s another season-ending episode. Hang on!!

Braavos: Mace Tyrell’s guard is back in the brothel, with three young girls lined up in front of him. He beats two with a stick, eliciting cries of pain. He beats the third, but there is no response. Trying again gets not a sound. He gets an evil gleam in his eye, says he needs to work on this one some more, and dismisses the other two girls. As he turns to face the third girl, she pulls off a blonde wig and reveals herself to be Arya! She attacks the man, stabbing him in both eyes with a dagger, then a few more times for good measure. When he’s incapacitated from pain, she talks to him.

She says her name is Arya Stark, and he, Meryn Trant, is the first person on her list of people she has to kill. Because he killed Syrio – her swordsmanship teacher from way back in season 1 (episode 8)! Reading back on my notes for that episode, I recall that I never even realised that Syrio was dead. The scene cut before seeing him get killed, so I’d always assumed he may have escaped and we might see him again. Well, I guess I was wrong about that one. Anyway, Arya tells Meryn why she’s killing him, then dispatches him with another thrust of her dagger, about 5 seconds after I learn his name. Characters really do die a lot in this show. And we’re only warming up for this episode.

Arya returns to the House of Black and White, with Meryn’s face peeled off his body, and she goes to place it among the thousands of other faces in the giant hall, but is interrupted by Jaqen and the older girl. He says Arya took a life that she wasn’t supposed to, and that the price for a life is a death. He takes out a small vial, no doubt of poison, and the other girl grabs Arya from behind. I think he’s going to force it down Arya’s throat… but Jaqen drinks the liquid himself! And falls to the floor, dead! Okay, this makes no sense whatsoever.

Arya is shocked, but then the other girl turns into Jaqen, and says that the other person was never Jaqen, he was No One. Arya drops to the floor and peels of Jaqen #1’s face, and someone else is underneath. She repeats this, pulling off mask after mask, until finally her own face is revealed. Shades of Luke Skywalker in the Dark Side tree on Dagobah. All right, so all of this stuff is weird and magical and allegorical. And then the new Jaqen says that wearing a face before one has become No One is like poison… and Arya is magically struck blind!

Whoa. I wonder if this is a reflection of what she did to Meryn Trant, blinding him in both eyes. And also, is Arya going to be blind from now on, or is this a temporary condition? So many questions. I dare not speculate, but I hope Arya isn’t going to be blind permanently. Or if she is, that she becomes some sort of hyper-aware blind fighting master and it doesn’t slow her down.

Body count: 1
Cliffhanger count: 1

(more…)

Game of Thrones, Season 5, Ep 9 “The Dance of Dragons”

Sunday, 13 January, 2019

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

The Wall: Jon leads the wildlings rescued from Hardhome back to The Wall. They approach from the North on foot. So, they must have left the ships berthed somewhere on the north side of The Wall. Earlier Stannis lent the ships to Jon on the condition that he get them back. But now they’re stuck in a harbour on the north side of The Wall somewhere. That could be tricky – Stannis would need to march his army back north of The Wall to pick the ships up.

Anyway, they approach The Wall. Ser Alliser is standing on top, looking down at the wildlings with contempt. I think for a minute that he’s going to defy Jon and isn’t going to let them through. It looks like Jon thinks this too. But then, after what seems an eternity, Alliser gives the order to open the gate. Jon looks relieved and leads Tormund and the wildlings through. For a second I think maybe Alliser has set a trap and will slaughter the wildlings inside the tunnel or something, but no such thing eventuates. They make it through and walk through Castle Black, including one huge giant, who looks around curiously.

Alliser and many of the guardsmen watch with obvious disapproval, but defer to Jon’s orders. The boy whose village was destroyed by the wildlings looks defiant and angry. Jon comments to Sam that he failed, thousands of wildlings were killed in the White Walker attack. But Sam points out that he saved thousands who’d be dead otherwise. Alliser comes over to Jon and says, “You’ve got a good heart, Jon Snow. I hope it doesn’t get us all killed.” And walks away.

Well. I thought Alliser would lead a mutiny, but he seems to have resigned himself to following Jon’s orders. The perfect opportunity has passed. If this were any other story, I’d say that Alliser will probably remain loyal from now on, but this is Game of Thrones, so all bets are off. The resentment is still there deep inside, and might surface some time in the future.

(more…)

Game of Thrones, Season 5, Ep 8 “Hardhome”

Wednesday, 9 January, 2019

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

Braavos: In an intercut flashback/forward scene, we see Jaqen asking Arya who she is, and Arya telling him a story about her being an oyster seller down by the harbour, intercut with images of her dressed as the oyster seller, walking around and observing the people of Braavos. She says she takes a turn onto a specific street, and Jaqen tells her not to take that turn, but to walk a different way. Then we see her do that, and pass a man by the docks, who calls her over and buys some oysters, asking for them served with vinegar. While preparing the oysters, Arya overhears the man’s business dealings with a sailor. She tells Jaqen that the man seems to be a gambler, taking bets that the sailors won’t return hom due to some accident at sea. One of the two (I forget which way around Jaqen/Arya had this conversation) asks why a sailor would make a bet that they have to die to win, and the other answers that the gambler would pay a large sum to the family of the missing sailor. In other words, this is a life insurance scheme.

Then for some reason, Jaqen gives Arya a vial of poison, and tells her to put it on his oysters next time she goes out. Maybe he doesn’t like insurance salesmen? Otherwise I think I missed the motivation here. But anyway, Arya has been given her first assassination job! It’s not clear how she’ll go with it, but I think Arya is tough enough to go through with it. She has motivation to please Jaqen and progress through this training of his. It should be straightforward… which means there’s always the chance that something will go spectacularly wrong and Arya will be caught red-handed or something. But I think the odds of that are low.

(more…)

Germany diary, days 9, 10, 11

Monday, 7 January, 2019

Saturday, 6 October, 2018. 17:32

We slept right through to 07:00 this morning, finally getting past the jetlag on the day when we need to leave. Since we planned to shower just before checking out at midday, we simply dressed and went out to seek breakfast.

We thought we’d try to place next door to Café Kosmol, which M. wanted to check out. But when we got there the man setting up tables out in the square said they weren’t open for breakfast yet, only coffee. They would start serving breakfast in another half hour. So we went next door to Kosmol and the same man who served us yesterday welcomed us in again for breakfast. We sat at the same table.

This time we ordered with more restraint, asking for just fried eggs with bread rolls, plus a serve of yoghurt and fruit, and coffee for M. and hot chocolate for me. When the eggs arrived it was two eggs per plate and they all had bacon on them! This hadn’t happened yesterday. M. was okay with me taking the bacon off hers. We ate the eggs with the bread rolls by splitting the rolls and using them like slices of toast. The yoghurt and fruit failed to materialise, but we decided we were full enough to not bother.

After paying what seemed like a random amount that they guy made up and had no relation to what was written on the menu, we went off to walk around the town a bit. The sun was emerging through a veil of high fog, and shining directly down some of the east-west streets, illuminating the half-timbered buildings in a yellow morning light. To take advantage of this light, we returned quickly to the hotel to pick up my camera, then walk through the deserted streets up the hill to see the eastern side of the cathedral lit by the morning sun, and then down to the river and along it to the old bridge. Here I got some photos of the cathedral backlit in the fog, reflected in the still river. Yesterday in a shop where M. had bought a colourful woven basket, the woman who sold it to her had spoken about how she walked across the bridge every day and never tired of seeing the cathedral as the light changed throughout the day and the year. She said it never looked the same twice.

Morning on the Lahn
St George’s Cathedral over the Lahn River, in morning fog

Done with the morning light, we walked back into the town. A market was in progress in the town square just outside the old town, and there were also a couple of stalls set up in the small Kornmarkt square where the old town began, and it looked like more would appear soon. Here there was a stall selling various mushrooms, and another with honey or something. Down in the main square were the fruit and vegetable stalls that had been there the past two days, plus several other stalls and trucks, selling cuts of meat, sausages, cold cuts, cheeses, fish, eggs, honey, bread, cakes, and so on. There were no stalls selling cooked food ready to eat though.

Read more: Further exploration of Limburg, the market, the cathedral, the church of St Sebastian, then travelling by train to Frankfurt Airport and flying home

Germany diary, day 8

Saturday, 5 January, 2019

Friday, 5 October, 2018. 15:48

We are taking another afternoon rest break, in the true spirt of being German, sitting in a cafe with hot drinks and apfelstrudel with vanilla sauce. We are in Café Will, which says it’s the oldest cafe in Limburg, with five generations in over 135 years. M. is having a latte macchiato again, while I am having a hot lemon juice with honey, since I have developed a bit of a sore throat.

My throat got really sore during the night, and I found the bed a bit uncomfortable so didn’t sleep very well. We woke up about 07:00, and I was surprised that it was so late. We had showers and prepared for the day out, having decided to get breakfast at Café Kosmol, which we’d passed yesterday.

St George's Cathedral through fog
Cathedral through the morning fog

It was only a short walk through the cold streets. There had been a fog when we woke up, but it had lifted to a grey overcast. The cafe opened at 07:00, and it was after 08:00 by the time we got there, but there was just one old man running the place, and the inside was full of the display tables that had been outside yesterday, with arrays of biscuits and fruit and nut breads on them. We had to push past the tables, moving them out of the way to reach the cafe tables inside.

Read more: a very busy sightseeing day! A huge breakfast, a small art gallery, wandering along the river and over the old bridge, circling the cathedral, having afternoon tea, sunset by the river, and a fully laden German dinner!

Game of Thrones, Season 5, Ep 7 “The Gift”

Thursday, 3 January, 2019

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

The Wall: Jon prepares to leave north with Tormund to make his offer of safe passage south of The Wall, as snow begins to fall more heavily. Winter is definitely coming, apparently. Jon tells Ser Alliser that as First Ranger he is in charge of Castle Black until Jon returns. Alliser says it’s his duty to inform Jon that he thinks this mission is reckless, dangerous, and stupid. Jon thanks him for his “usual honesty”. Sam gives Jon a dragonglass blade, telling him that it’s what he used to kill a White Walker. Jon says thanks, but hopes he won’t need it. He and Tormund head off north. Alliser, the boy whose village was wiped out by wildlings, and a few other rangers give Jon dark looks as he leaves. You can tell there’s trouble fermenting here. Castle Black may not be the same, or as loyal to Jon, when he returns.

Sam and Gilly sit with Maester Aemon as he succumbs to illness and old age. Aemon babbles a story about his brother, who became the king, before slipping away. The next day, Sam gives a eulogy before they burn Aemon on a pyre. More dark looks from Alliser. He knows Aemon was the deciding vote that gave Jon the title of Lord Commander over him. With Aemon gone, he may start to question the validity of the ballot, and perhaps use this as justification for a mutiny of some sort.

Later, Gilly is doing some cleaning work when two members of the Watch walk in on her. She tries to leave, but they prevent her, and start to make rude comments and request a kiss from her. Then Sam walks in and tells them to leave her alone and get out. The two are primed for a fight, and think they can take Sam. They nearly do, pummelling his face and giving him a good kicking, when Jon’s wolf Ghost comes in and growls at them in no uncertain terms. The two flee, leaving Gilly to pick up Sam and tend his wounds. A bit later, Sam is resting in bed, with Gilly dabbing his bloody face. Then she stops and kisses him. Then she straddles him, and loosens their clothing… and Sam violates the Night’s Watch oath of chastity. Although as he pointed out to Jon, not technically, since the oath is to abstain from marriage, not sex.

Well, Castle Black is prime for a mutiny, and Sam and Gilly may end up caught in it if they’re not careful. And we’ve yet to see if Tormund can really be trusted in his bargain with Jon. It feels like he’s not one to make a deal with the enemy, so I’m suspecting a better than even chance that Tormund will betray Jon at some point.

(more…)

Game of Thrones, Season 5, Ep 6 “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”

Tuesday, 1 January, 2019

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

Braavos: Arya washes more dead people in the House of Black and White, doing her best “wax on, wax off” routine in the hopes of actually getting some of the combat training she came here for. But she’s too much like Ralph Macchio and impatiently asks an older girl what happens to the bodies. The older girl says she’s not ready to know yet. Then she proceeds to tell Arya a story, of how she came to be here in the House, coming from a family torn apart by tragedy, a story with echoes of Arya’s own. Arya is sympathetic, but then the girl asks her, “Did you believe what I just told you?” and walks off.

Jaqen shows up and asks Arya who she is. Arya tells her story, but Jaqen interrupts several times, telling her she’s lying and hitting her with a thin stick. Arya looks like she’s just about to snap, but she keeps her seething bottled up inside. Jaqen says she’s not only lying to him, but to herself. Honestly, I don’t get this mystical Obi-Wan Kenobi crap or why Arya’s putting up with it. I feel like I want her to snap and throw Jaqen to the ground and start punching his face and start yelling, “Just get on with it already!!”

Later, A man comes in with a sick young daughter, telling Arya that this is his last hope – none of the other temples could heal his daughter. She lies in pain on the floor. Arya makes a decision, and goes to the girl, telling her everything will be okay, and to drink the water from the well in the floor – which is poison. She drinks. Next scene, we see Arya washing the dead girl’s body. Jaqen appears and leads Arya down some stairs into a huge chamber that looks a bit like the Hall of Dworin, except the pillars have hundreds of life size clay faces on them. Possibly the faces of all the people who have become Faceless Men? Do they actually rip the faces off? It all seems a bit weird, but suitably mystical and spooky. Jaqen tells Arya she’s not yet ready to become no one, but she is ready to become someone else.

Okay, more cryptic* rubbish. Seriously, I would have lost patience with Jaqen’s schtick long before this. I guess I’m not cut out to be a Faceless Man. I wish he’d just get on with it and tell Arya something straight for once.

* Ha ha!!

(more…)