4DX

This weekend I took the kids to the cinema to see Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. It was a fun adventure with lots of big laughs and a likeable cast.

But I made a mistake when buying the tickets. We were in a bit of a hurry to get in on time, so when the options came up on the ticket machine screen I just jabbed at “2pm” and paid. What I didn’t realise until we got into the room and took our seats was that I’d accidentally bought tickets for a 4DX screening.

4DX was launched in December 2017 at the Kinepolis cinema, and the first film screened in this format was The Last Jedi. I avoided it as I didn’t want any gimmicks distracting me from  the content of a cultural event as momentous and serious as a new Star Wars film. In case you’re wondering what 4DX is and how it affects the viewing experience, watch this:

I was intrigued to learn that the system was actually introduced by a company based in South Korea in 2009. After that it had a rather strange propagation: it spread first to Mexico, then South America, Thailand, Russia, Israel, and Europe starting in Hungary and Bulgaria. For some reason it only reached the US in 2014.

I’m the kind of person who only sees a film in 3D when there’s no 2D option, and I don’t particularly like rollercoasters or other kinds of theme park rides, so I wasn’t especially looking forward to this. And yet I was pleasantly surprised. Obviously it depends on what kind of film you’re watching, but a video-game-style action comedy like Jumanji suits this treatment pretty well.

It was interesting to see how and when the techniques were used, and to think how much work went in to preparing the chair movements and effects to coordinate precisely with the often frenetic on-screen action. When the film started we saw a slow track in towards an object on the floor, and the seats started to gently tip forward, as if you were physically leaning towards the object. This was pretty effective, although I did start to worry that if my seat was going to move constantly for two hours I’d feel nauseous by the end. But I got used to it pretty quickly, and they didn’t overdo the movement, only using it when most appropriate, such as when characters lean out over a cliff.

There were blasts of air when bullets and missles whizzed past our heads, the occasional mist or sprays of water when the heroes were on a river or diving into a waterfall, and strobe lights during storm sequences. During fight scenes we could feel the impacts in the back of our seats, and the backs of our legs were tickled when a character was dragged across the floor.

Perhaps the best use of seat movement was during a scene near the end when two characters kissed. As the camera circled them, the chairs tipped and banked, sucessfully creating the woozy, dizzy feel the camerawork was hinting at.

The kids loved it, and to be honest I wouldn’t rule out choosing this kind of screening again, depending obviously on the type of film.

 

 

 

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A night in the Snow Hotel

When you go on holiday to a place like Lapland in December, where temperatures can fall below -30°C, you’d think that your reward for a day out in the Arctic conditions would be a nice warm hotel room to sleep in. But some choose to then spend the night surrounded by ice and snow too. Of the five nights we spent in the area we slept for three of them in an airbnb apartment in the town of Rovaniemi, but then for the last two nights we headed 30km north west to the site of the Arctic Snow Hotel.

This small resort offers two types of accommodation: the snow hotel and glass igloos, and we spent one night in each. There are also a few ancillary buildings: a large reception/restaurant in a normal, heated building, another restaurant in a large yurt-type structure, and some sauna facilities. The snow hotel from the outside is nothing much to look at: a one-storey white oblong with no windows and only two doors. They build it every year, starting in November, and it takes about six weeks to complete. The entrance is fairly unassuming, although I did like the furry doors.

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Inside most of the corridors look like this, but the layout is fairly simple so getting lost isn’t a problem.

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There are individual rooms, family rooms, and suites. Here’s our family room, with two double beds and one single. The beds are blocks of ice but inside them are proper mattresses covered with reindeer hide. The LEDs in the base are the only lighting in the room.

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Adjoined to the snow structure are a couple of temporary wooden structures housing toilets/showers and a locker room/changing room. As the snow rooms are pretty small and dark, the idea is that you put all your stuff in a locker, get changed into a couple of thin layers you’ll wear in bed (for most people this means pyjamas with thermals underneath), and then take a pillow and sleeping bag back to your room. The bunks you see here are then available to sleep on if you decide during the night that you really can’t stand sleeping surrounded by snow.

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You are free to wander around the rest of the structure and even visit other people’s rooms, which is safe since no one leaves anything valuable in there anyway. There are no doors as such on the rooms, but you can draw a curtain and hang a “do not disturb” sign outside. There are a lot of LEDs to add some colour to the surroundings.

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The suites are a lot more elaborately decorated, and probably have a price tag to match. You don’t get any extra facilities or services, but a bit more space and light, and something to look at.

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You can also just visit the hotel and look around the rooms even if you’re not staying there.

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If the cold gets too much you can always warm yourself by the fire. The ICE FIRE, ha ha.

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There’s a small chapel where you can get married. Or pray, or whatever.

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There’s a restaurant where we ate dinner one night, and a bar where you can, er, chill out.

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My shot of cloudberry liqueur in an ice glass was very pleasant, and we bought a bottle in the airport on the way home.

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But of course what you want to know is, what was it like to sleep in? Well that depends who you ask. The rest of my party slept just fine. I barely slept a wink. Maybe it was because I found the sleeping bag uncomfortable and restrictive (I haven’t used one since scout camp over 30 years ago). The hood part of the bag came right up over and covered everything except a small area of my face. At a minimum my eyes were exposed, and I tried a couple of times just covering my head completely but that got too stuffy and claustrophobic, so I had to put up with my eyes and/or nose feeling chilly. Either way I just couldn’t get comfortable enough to drop off, although I think I eventually managed to get about an hour of sleep towards the morning. Staff members come and wake you up at 7:30am, but I was already up and dressed and keen to get out for breakfast by then, much to my family’s sleepy-eyed bemusement.

On the second night we slept in a “glass igloo”, which was much more to my liking. Essentially they’re individual cabins with domed glass roofs to allow you to see the Northern Lights if and when they appear (there’s also an alarm in the igloo which rings to let you know when the lights could be seen).

We’d been to Lapland once before in 2001 and seen nothing due to overcast skies, and by the last night of this trip I was resigned to having missed them again, in spite of having paid for an aurora notification app during our nights in Rovaniemi. And then, on our way back to the igloo from the restaurant on our final evening, just before 8pm, something started to happen in the sky. Nothing like as bright or spectacular as the images we saw every day on postcards in the gift shops, but it was there nonetheless. For about 20 minutes we saw several wavering bands and shimmering blobs of green. The photos don’t do them justice; I should have had a tripod for starters, but they should give you some idea.

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The next morning we woke at our leisure after a good night’s sleep, and saw our igloos in the daylight for the first time.

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Prompted by seeing the Japanese tourists from the next igloo doing it, we boiled a kettle of water and threw it into the air outside to see how it reacted to the chill morning air which was getting below -30°C (-25° Fahrenheit).

And finally, the aurora borealis wasn’t the only unusual atmospheric phenomenon we saw in Lapland. One morning while on a husky safari we saw these strangely coloured blobs on the horizon. They’re nacreous clouds, whose mother of pearl colours are caused by the light being diffracted by ice crystals. They’re also bad for the ozone layer.

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Mellow fruitfulness

We spent Sunday morning picking fresh vegetables on a farm just east of the edge of Brussels. La Finca runs a farm specialising in local organic vegetables. They have a shop and a small restaurant and run activity weeks for kids. Once a year they open to the public and let you pick your own produce and watch demonstrations of apple-pressing and the manufacture of woollen goods.

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Even though summer is lingering, Indian-style, the gourds were already out on display:

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We brought home a basketful of tasty veggie goodies, but I was more interested in the visual aspect of many of the plants. The swirl and bulge and violet hue of these leaves.

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These alien purple tubers.

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Basically anything with a hint of purple in it caught my eye.

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Later in the day we visited a see-through church in Flanders, and on the way passed by fields of corn…

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…and orchards bursting with ripening apples.

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The hedgerows nearby were also full of less familiar seeds, berries and blooms.

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These seed pods were probably my favourite:

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Although these were a close second:

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Backwash

I like going to the beach, but rarely feel the desire to swim in the sea. When I do go in the water, I’m often happier just standing at the water’s edge, letting the waves lap at my feet and lower legs. If I do go in for a full immersion the water has to be pretty warm and even then I take it slowly, wading out and waiting a minute before ducking under.

But the area where the waves spill, plunge, collapse and surge is more fun. Like many people I can stand there and watch them for a good long while. Allowing them to swirl and pull at my lower extremities while I do so adds a sensual element. On the beach near San Vincenzo in Tuscany this summer I took to standing at the edge where the waves would slide up the gently shelving sand. They would crash up to around the middle of my shins and then wash backwards, creating gurgling vortices around my ankles.

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As they did so they also pulled at the sand under my feet, and with each passing wave I would be sucked a little deeper into the surface of the beach, heel first, which made it increasingly difficult to keep my balance.

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The power of the water was surprising, given that it was only a few inches deep.

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The glassy smooth surface of sand freshly washed by the sea is probably my favourite part of the beach, and I love walking along it and seeing it change tone and dry out under the pressure of my feet.

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Moss and Moonscapes

Iceland has a lot of dramatic scenery. That’s kind of the point of Iceland. Glaciers, volcanoes, cliffs and waterfalls; all lovely.

But I actually found myself enjoying more some of the quieter, more subtle landscapes.

For example at one point driving through the hills near Möðrudalur we stopped for a breather in a relatively featureless, desolate spot.
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The view across the plains, in the direction of our accommodation for that night.

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Barely any life to be seen.

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A verdant moss haze filled nooks and crannies.

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Another favourite spot was Mýrdalssandur, on the south coast. Miles of flat plains; we had been warned by a friend that this was likely to be the most boring part of our tour. I loved it.

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Immense lava fields covered with sparse vegetation. Mossy hummocks as far as the eye could see.

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This was the bit of Iceland I’ll remember. Not so dramatic perhaps, but unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been.

More photos on flickr.

Thin ice

A change to the lunchtime routine today. A social event in the lobby provided a free lunch, so my half an hour break was available to be used for something other than eating. Usually that would mean reading, but I wanted some fresh air and exercise and it was a bright, sunny day, so I wandered outside and found a park I’d never visited before, only a few hundred metres from the office.
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Don’t walk on the grass ice.

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Rebellious ducks.

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Frozen feather. The black blob stuck to the twig is a snail. I like how the ice creases and folds around the shell. Still, poor snaily.

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An awful lot of leaves in this pond.

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I was fascinated by the way tiny bubbles under the surface of the ice outline the objects below them; rocks and branches.

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Maybe I should get out more often.

Antici-pain-tion

Compare and contrast: Last Saturday I went to a friend’s birthday party. I had a few beers and got home around 1:30. I slept until 5:30, then woke with a pounding head. I was awake until 7:30 when I was sick. The pain was sharp, located in a precise spot just at the base of my skull, and impervious to Paracetomol. The usual “never again” thoughts passed through my head. Now when I’d had the drinks (although they were stronger than I’d anticipated) I knew that a certain quantity would be enough to have this effect the next day. But somehow that’s never enough to stop you.

Then yesterday I took my kids for vaccinations in anticipation of our trip to Sri Lanka at the end of December. One of them in particular was very upset about the idea of a small amount of brief pain, even knowing that it would be over in a matter of seconds. The suffering, at least in terms of physical pain, was much less than mine, and yet the emotional stress was that much greater. It’s like the opposite of those old “delayed gratification” experiments. We’re more upset at the idea of a little pain right now than the strong possibility of maybe even greater pain in the future (even if only a few hours in the future).