Sunday, 31 May 2015

Secret Cinema: Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back...

A friend of mine, Claire, invited me to a 'Secret Cinema' screening of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Which when it is hosted by someone who's 'secret' is always intriguing.

I looked it up. They'd done a similar thing the year before with the Back to the Future series of films and some of the videos from it looked really fun. Its a mixture of live action scenes mixed in with the movie. So I said yes and Claire gave me a brief that I was to be a 'Galactic Explorer' and needed to dress like one. 

I fashioned together an outfit I thought looked fairly Star Wars-y and got the train up to London with a few strange looks from the other passengers. When we neared Canada Water tube station it became clear we weren't the only ones dressed up, and the number of Jedi's, Galactic explorers and rebel pilots got thicker as we were directed down an alley way to the RebelX venue.

We were ushered towards a check in area to a big gated area of London by people swearing the crafts were leaving soon and we needed to be quick! Our bags were searched for contraband and anyone who was an Imperial who may be infiltrating the RebelX facility.... This is it. Straight away you're part of the action. You can't tell who's an actor and who's a participant as everyone is dressed up. I had my phone sealed in a super sticky foil bag and was instructed that I was not able to use it. (later realising it was to prevent undercover photo taking, it added to the experience)

A group of around a hundred of us were briefed that we were leaving on the next available ship and that we needed to be quick. Inside a huge warehouse we were shouted at by commanders and others in authority, putting us to task loading various spacecraft freight on to different platforms before being lining up in 4 lines. We were on our way to Alderaan but couldn't make it that far so had to stop off in Tattooine.

We boarded the space craft which was in a little cinema type room and 'flew' to the dock on Tattooine. Half way through the flight, as the screen showed us shooting in to warp speed, we were stopped and the ship boarded by some Imperial guard and Stormtroopers. They were looking out for rebel fighters and we were warned not to make eye contact. One guy obviously slipped up and was dragged out of his seat and removed from the ship... his fate unknown.

Finally the Imperial guards were satisfied we were just a trade ship and we were allowed to dock at Mos Eisley on the baron dusty planes of Tattooine. It was really amazing here.

The whole warehouse sized area was covered in sand with mud and straw huts everywhere. The Bith Band played some pretty funky tunes on weird african looking instruments. We took a leisurely stroll around for an hour, taking in the atmosphere, sinking some beers in the Canteena which was a really good representation from what I can remember from the films. We even saw Han solo and Chewy throwing some dice with a group of strange looking folk.

Mos Eisley (photo from the films)
We enjoyed a little light dinner in the way of a lamb Tagine sold by a black guy who had 3 tiny Jawas running around his hut, eyes glowing through their hood. I tried paying with cash but the slightly sinister looking bloke insisted on me using my 'loading card'... Mine's sponsored by Nationwide. He wouldn't trade for my pack of Death Sticks ;)

That's what's so cool. The whole thing is around you...No it is you. You participate as much or as little as you want. Every now and then there would be a little scuffle in the bar between a trader and a vendor who felt he'd been hard done by. A full sized X-34 Landspeeder casually rolled through town just as Han Solo and Luke skywalker bolted from the bar, pursued by some lazer toting guards. A little battle broke out and we all dived to the floor. The heroes managed to get away up some metal stairs and we heard them make a swift exit in the Millenium Falcon.

Jedis practiced their meditative tantras looking out to the double suns projected in the sky as Kenobi watched them pensively.

A flashing beacon and siren indicated that the next craft was due to leave from bay 93. On board I was given a few shiny polished gems and a whisper in my ear that I'd need to help our comrade once we got to our destination. I tried to ask the hooded guy who I was meant to help but he vanished in to the crowd.

After a bumpy ride in a smaller simulated craft we got off in to a huge 3 story space akin to a typical prison with balconies stretching up and a large space in the middle. We had docked on the Death Star Everyone of the 1500 participants had made their way here and wandering round through the crowds was an adventure as storm troopers marched past in formation.

On one of the balconies the legendary fight between Obi-wan and Darth Vadar and the whole crowd got really riled up, until the goodie was inevitably defeated. Then a roaring noise started and the already dim lights all but extinguished. 1500 eager Star Wars fans then started whooping and cheering as a full sized X Wing emerged at roof level 4 stories up, swaying, its burners firing jets out the back and firing Proton Topedos that shot along the length of the giant hall to a projected effect of them entering the Death Star and finally blowing it up.

It really made my hairs stand up on end. The whole place had erupted as people on the ground and the balconies all gasped, looking skyward at the spectacle.
Fantasy art of an X-Wing

We'd been in this world for around 3 hours and it was now time to watch the movie. 2 Large cinema screens awaited us in the next part of the warehouse and we all sat down, getting drinks and settling in to the film. Again whoops and cheers from the enthusiatic fans roared through the space as the distinctive Star Wars tune fired up.

At pivotal points in the film a section of the warehouse around us would get brightly lit up and actors would replicate the action on screen in real life. It was a really good effect and there were whistles and cheers as Luke got his kiss from Princess Leia. The lightsaber scenes were very well presented, with sparks flying as they missed and caught the gantry.

Claire and I had seen the film before so we snuck out and headed back to Tattooine to enjoy a few more beers and the band. Others milled about and it had a really cool bar/club feel to it.

All in all it was an amazing experience. I'm not a Secret Cinema fan.... I'm not a Star Wars fan.... but to be fully immersed in such an amazing world was really exciting and I couldn't help but get excited and involved in all of the different sections. I'm looking forward to what next years Secret Cinema experience is!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Annecy, Sisteron, Gorgeous Gorges...

Me with Robbie and Meg ;)
It was a little emotional leaving Sainte Foy, and the Alps, after a season of awesomeness. Saying good bye to people never has been, and I don't think ever will be, a forte of mine.

We weren't leaving alone though. Raf and his Family, Daughter Meg and Son Harvey along with Meg's boyfriend Robbie, were trucking out of town as well, and both vans were headed for warmer climes ;)

We'd decided to head South for a spot of R + R. (Because we hadn't had enough already!)

First stop out of the mountains was Annecy, a quaint little town perched on a huge Lake right at the entrance to the Alps. Kerry and I had been through Annecy before, even spending a night there, but we didn't explore properly and listening to Raf's stories it would appear we missed quite a lot!


And as it turns out Annecy is a spectacle of medieval architecture and cafe culture nestled amongst little canals from the river that feeds the Lake.

We enjoyed a day in the Palais de L'ile museum smack bang in the centre of town. It dates back to the 1300s and was first used as a prison and other associated functions like court rooms etc. At some point it was used as a Counting house and even forged some of the local area's coinage. Later in the Second World War it was turned back in to a prison of sorts, holding some Nazi Generals.

I much preferred the town at night. Not that it isn't stunning during the day. Everything is brightly lit up with different colours, giving it a jovial feel. Pubs seemed full and we enjoyed just ambling about the town, from the castle at the top of the hill down to the Lake.


Robbie is a good BMXer. I'd enjoyed an afternoon watching him ride the skate park in Bourg Sainte Maurice back in the Alps. When we were driving in to Annecy, the skatepark was the first thing he spotted. So Kerry, Meg, Harvey and I pootled down for an afternoon watching mainly kids (and Robbie) on their blades, boards, bikes and scooters. It was a nice afternoon. It made me feel like I was a teenager again, hanging out at the skatepark, doing things I wasn't meant to be doing... the good old days ;)




The days were really hot, with the sun beating down on us, but that all changed at night. We were still close to the mountains and once the sun had gone in it was time for jumpers and the van heater. We left Annecy late one day and drove South skirting past the entrances to the various valleys of the alps. Waking up the next day to find we had parked up next to a spectacular view of a ridge line... again parking in the dark is always fraught with delights!

Heading South again we entered Gorge country. The roads meandered through huge cracks in the earth, climbed steeply over huge ridgelines and plunged back in to a gorge again. Rivers ran everywhere. We were taking the route slowly as Raf's van was a little underpowered, but it was a saving grace as Kerry and I were able to take in all of the sights.
Raf's van

Raf came on the radio on one of the steeper descents down the mountainous roads that he thought he had some problems with his brakes. A daunting prospect with all of these declines!

The convoy were headed towards Sisteron and it was decided that we would stay overnight in the nice Aire de Campingcar located in the middle of the town.

Upon arrival it was clear we'd made a good decision to stop here. Sisteron is a small town located on the borders of the Alpes de Haute Provence and the Alpes de Cote d'Azure regions. It's commonly called the 'Gateway to Provence' and for a good reason. It's located on the banks of the Durance river right where two mountain ridgelines come together and plunge down to let the river flow through them. Kind of like a gateway!

Perched on one side of the river, looming above cliffs, is a medieval Citadel formed over thousands of years and seeing many a battle from the Barbarian invasion after the fall of Rome, to Napoleon passing through on his march north.

We scoured the local town for a motor factors and got Raf some new brake pads on order which were due in a couple of days later. The citadel was the perfect way to while away the days. We paid to go inside and were able to meander around the old defences as they wound their way down through various narrowing points. You get a real feel for what it must be like to try and attack these places, built on hills and heavily fortified. Arrow slits lined each gantry and sluice gates adorned each doorway.

An impressive looking bell hung at the top of a large tower which doubled up as the main water catchment for the small community. It also had very impressive views North along the Durance valley with the modern town of Sisteron spreading out to the South.

It was so hot during the day Robbie, Harvey, Kerry and I decided it'd be a good idea to investigate the shimmering blue water of the river. Robbie and I thought it was so enticing we ventured in, despite the current looking fairly strong. Luckily the side we'd picked to go in was fairly slow flowing.... but freezing freezing cold! It was obviously run off from the mountains and it took our breath away! Harvey, being 10 years old and obviously much wiser than us, decided to stay on the river bank!

Raf's brake pads finally came in and we had a morning of engineering, removing the old, very worn ones and fitting the new ones.

Then we were off, heading for the coast and a bit of seaside. We showed Raf, Meg, Robbie and Harvey the delights of Port Grimaud, St Raphael and all of the coast between Cannes and Sainte Tropez where Kerry and I have frequently spent a couple of weeks whiling away the time.

As we progressed Westward the weather started to turn for the worse. Robbie and Harvey were looking forward to a few days riding a huge skatepark in Marseille, however, with the looming weather looking to last atleast a week Kerry and I decided to say good bye to the other van and speed North, cutting the 750 miles through the Centre of France in a day and catching the midweek (cheap) ferry to get back to Blighty.
Having a cold swim