Pitch Black in Coober Pedy

Location spotting Down Under.

Everyone should try fossicking in Coober Pedy. Sounds rude but actually it’s quite innocent – it’s the hunting for opals in the spoil of opal mines in a remote town in central Australia. Sadly I didn’t make my fortune but I did find a spaceship…

Back in 2007 I travelled a bit around Australia and one place I found utterly fascinating and unique was Coober Pedy. It’s not a pretty touristy town, it’s desolate and barren, but in a way that is quite striking in the bright Australian sun. Most of the town’s inhabitants live underground in subterranean dwellings – it’s the only way to deal with the harsh conditions out there – too cold in winter, ridiculously hot in summer. Even the hotel I stayed in was carved out the earth. But the reason the original settlers started to live such an existence was to mine for opals – check out some of the pieces in the Australian Museum (https://australianmuseum.net.au/australian-opal-samples ) – they are stunning. Tourists get a chance to rummage in the spoil heaps in the vain hope they find some, failing that you can of course buy some genuine Coober Pedy jewellery before you leave.
When I had been looking at accommodation in my travel guide one of the backpack hostels was apparently easy to spot because it had a spaceship out-front. Turns out they used the area for filming the 2000 Vin Diesel sci-fi movie Pitch Black http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0134847/. For whatever reason the props were left behind – and I did indeed find a spaceship!

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I hadn’t seen the film at that point but was still suitably impressed to see an actual full scale prop left just off the main road. Coober Pedy has also the most creative use for left over props I have ever seen. Tucked away on a hill was (and hopefully still is) a fabulous art installation called the ‘Petrify forest’ which used further left over set dressing from the film.

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It was rather surreal, walking around in the fresh morning air beneath a brilliant blue sky with no-one else around. Weird twisted yellow towers, distorted shapes with seemingly random assortment of recycled computers and brick a brac stuck on. Made from foam, fiberglass and wire frames and out of context utterly bonkers. Really could believe I was in a strange alien landscape.

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Other than a donation box and a plaque saying the artists name was ‘S. Eger’ there is nothing explain what it was for or about. I loved it even more for that!

I was leaving the town the day the final Harry Potter book was released and was dreading the fact that probably everyone else in the world would be reading it and I was genuinely in the middle of nowhere. But I was delighted to find that there was indeed a little bookshop in the town and that I was the second person that morning to buy it (no midnight opening here!) I had practically finished Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows by the time my coach had reached Adelaide.

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Stalking Indiana Jones

I don’t know if watching the Indian Jones films influence me in choosing to study archaeology at university but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to more than a passing admiration for the maverick academic.

The first holiday I took after graduating was a tour of Jordan and Egypt – “Petra and the Pyramids” it was advertised – with the company Explore. Both countries and ancient sites were at the very top of places to see before I die list, and as I missed out on taking a gap year I wanted to make up for it.

The Treasury at Petra is familiar to many through its appearance as the hiding place of the Holy Grail in “Indiana Jones and Last Crusade”. It is truly an amazing place and aching beautiful. The Treasury itself is just a small part of the Nabetaean complex and the area is truly a filmmaker’s dream – I’ve seen it used in other films such as “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger” and most recently “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”.

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The second Indy location I came across was a complete accident!  I had been on holiday near the Dolomite mountains in Italy and had a few days to explore Venice as I had been able to get rather cheap flights to Venice airport (the fact that Venice has an airport still impresses me). Everyone gets lost in Venice – it’s part of its many charms. But I’d wandered past a bright white church with an open square in front of it a few times and each time I approached it I thought it looked oddly familiar. As this was in the dark ages before smart phones and abundant wi-fi I had to wait until I returned home before I could compare my photos to the film.

My location spotting radar was right on target – it was indeed used in a film I knew well – “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. It was the library that Dr Jones Senior goes missing from and Dr Jones Junior and company go to take up the quest – in real life it’s the Chiesa di San Barnaba.

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The third Indy location was again not purposely looked for but as I was in the part of Tunisia used a lot for Indy and also Star Wars it was inevitable I’d stumble across something. The town of Kairouan in particular was used a lot for ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark”. I’d seem a picture on someone’s website of the café where Indiana mourns the apparent death of Marion which had since become a carpet shop and thought I’d keep my eye open, not really expecting to find it – but I did!

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There are some great YouTube videos of locations used in Kairouan, and I’d love to go back again having done some more research. I also now fancy trying to deliberately hunting down some locations, there are a few I didn’t realise were here in the UK.  This website is great for Indy location research; https://tokyofoxbeyondthemovies.wordpress.com/tag/kairouan-tunisia/

Doctor Who Experience

It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…

 
I made a final and unexpected visit to the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff last week. I’ve been many times, twice already this year and hadn’t really planned on going again. But my brother mentioned wanting to see it before it closed and I reminded him that that would be the 9th September so he couldn’t dawdle!
So I checked availability, booked two tickets and just a few days after he suggested going, we were doing a 384 mile road trip in a day to see a room full of Doctor Who props!
The Doctor Who Experience is more than a display of screen used props and costumes. Cardiff has been the home to Doctor Who since it was brought back in 2005…feels like yesterday but it’s twelve years ago now since the Doctor returned to our screens. There have been a couple of Doctor Who exhibitions put on but the big blue building on the bay in Cardiff was a purpose-built exhibition space solely dedicated to the series and it was an amazing place to visit for any fan of the programme.

 

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The exhibition has evolved over the years, and it was given a ‘Museum of Gallifrey’ theme around the time of the 50th anniversary. I always enjoyed the interactive element of the experience which you go through before seeing the props and costume sections. You queue up to enter surrounded by some gorgeous Time Lord related costumes – Eric Roberts’ Master costume from the 1996 McGann TV Movie is a particular favourite of mine. Then a group of you go in together (about 12/24 depending on how busy it got) and are welcomed into the ‘Museum of Gallifrey’ by an enthusiastic curator (a roleplaying member of staff in robes). You start watching a film celebrating the life and adventures of the Doctor narrated by the fabulous Lalla Ward as the President of Gallifrey, then something goes wrong….
What follows is an adventure through a series of rooms which you all pass through which include the 11th Doctor’s console room, Skaro, a cemetery full of Weeping Angels and a familiar looking junkyard. No photos are allowed in that section of the experience which is nice as you can fully involve yourself in it rather than focussing on the need to ‘point and click’. The Daleks on Skaro section was spine-tingling good and I’ll miss going through that. Once you’ve all been saved by the Doctor of course, you escape the interactive element and walk out into a thing of beauty – the 1st Doctor’s console room recreated for the 50th anniversary drama ‘Adventures in Time and Space’. It’s stunning, simply gorgeous.

 

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The ground floor of the exhibition contains another console room that’s a favourite of mine – the 9th/10th Doctor’s that was used when the show came back. It’s slightly organic look was different to those of the past but has rather a sentimental feel to it now as an ‘old familiar’.

 

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I could list everything there but I’ll summarise is by saying it covers the history of the show the best it can through the costumes it has. A lot of the original series costumes and props don’t survive but the pre-New Who is still represented by such creatures as a yeti, the Melkur and my all-time favourite – the Special Weapons Dalek. The new series dominates with costumes of the companions and monsters covering nearly all of the Eccleston to Capaldi era (and Torchwood!) on display. It was great to see the new ‘old style’ Cybermen on display from the last series, they look striking close up. It’s sad to think that in less than a week these will all be boxed up and stored away, and any items in private ownership returned.

 

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There’s no news as yet as to what will happen and if there’ll be a new dedicated Doctor Who exhibition. Rumours of something in London persist and that would be terribly sad for Cardiff, the city has fully embraced Doctor Who as part of it now and it would be a great loss to not have the show celebrated there. Not to mention the income having the exhibition there must have generated for the city – the geek pound is strong!
So it was with a heavy, but happy heart that I took a final around and headed out the door, through the nearly empty shop and back into the sunny Cardiff Bay. One day we’ll return, yes one day…

 

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N.B In future posts I will write about the many, many locations used in Cardiff for filming the show, and also that time I walked on the actual TARDIS…

 

 

 

Then came the night of the first falling star

Few people I’m sure have romantic notions of Woking, even less will have a visit there on their bucket list. But I don’t think many people will appreciated it as one of the locations featured in the one of the earliest science fiction novels ever written – The War of the Worlds by H.G.Wells, first published in 1898.

I’m a big War of the Worlds fan – in any version; book, radio play, film, television, concept album – whatever the format I’m all over it. H.G.Wells gave us the best and simplest alien invasion story, and probably the most realistic. They invade, we run in terror – there is no hero to save the day, just a narrator trying to survive and observing the ‘massacre of mankind’ as he tries desperately to reunite with a loved one. Book ends with the planet being saved by germs, mankind basically got lucky, genius!

A few summers ago, I had been visiting friends down south and had timed it so that I would have a free day to finally do something I’d wanted to do for ages. Ever since I’d seen a picture of a shiny Martian tripod on the internet which was apparently a rather striking sculpture in Woking town centre I had wanted to do a War of the Worlds pilgrimage.
I jumped on the train from London clutching a battered vintage Penguin copy of the classic and went to explore unlikely ground zero of the Martian invasion of Earth….
Woking has fully embraced its links to the novel – H.GWells actually wrote it while he lived there and there are several public art works around the town. There is a beautiful tiled mural in an underground walkway and ‘Red weed’ twists its way round the ornamental gate to the main square.

 

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I found the Martian!

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Gleaming in the sunshine exactly as I’d seen it in pictures. It looked amazing and seemed odd that people were just walking past and carrying on their business without giving a glance to the GIANT MARTIAN WAR MACHINE in the road!!
What I hadn’t realised was the tripod was one piece of a much larger street long art work. There’s a crashed cylinder made from brick at one end then little inserts into the pavement showing bacteria dividing and multiplying. I would happily live Woking just to walk by it every day.

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I then ventured to Horsell Common itself, landing site of the first Martian Cylinder, just a short walk from the town. I have wandered many places on my own, but during the walk to find the sand pits I genuinely feared I’d get lost and my body would be found weeks later clutching a useless map and my battered copy of The War of the Worlds. But I did find them and survived to tell the tale! The sandpits are an interesting feature, lovely and quiet and peaceful and it’s strange to find what looks like a ‘beach’ without being by the sea.

 

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I returned to the town passing by the tripod again, it is beautiful!

 

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How better to finish my pilgrimage than to head to Primrose Hill once I was back in London – where the books narrator finds the Martians have been defeated and mankind has survived.
Primrose Hill is beautiful area of London I’d never been to before – there’s a stunning view of the city’s skyline. With just a bit of imagination it was easy to turn the large cranes on a building site nearby in to the three-legged war machines which I eyed nervously as I walked to the top of the hill…

 

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N.B. I’ve also realised there is another geeky location to add to my bucket list location – Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, USA. Which is the site of the Martian invasion in the famous 1938 Orson Wells radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds. Be a shame not to do the double!

 

Skellig Part III

In the footsteps of Rey and Luke…

I costume as Rey with a Star Wars costuming group so there was a temptation to cosplay – but I resisted (also it’s the wrong costume – I’ve still to upgrade my Jakku Rey to Resistance Rey). But as Star Wars was the primary motivation for visiting Skellig Michael – and to be honest the whole holiday in Ireland I couldn’t not do the full location geekery. My lightsaber was the first thing I packed!

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So it was with fannish glee we worked out the spot that Rey stood as she offered the lightsaber with arm outstretched. My boyfriend posed in the spot Luke stood as he turned and lowered his hood broodingly.

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Rather windy, looked on by fellow tourists and puffins we did it!

The descent of Skellig Michael was more precarious than the assent. Going down you had to look beyond the steps which was rather un-nerving, especially if you have reaction sun glasses which can mess with your depth perception! Sitting down in the worst parts helped – it also allowed you to take pictures without the fear of overbalancing.

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From landing to returning to our scheduled pick up by our boat we had about two hours in total on the island which was just enough to experience it. I would go back tomorrow and do it all again, my boyfriend however is just happy he survived the boat trip and the climb.

The trip to Skellig Michael is the perfect adventure for any Star Wars fan. It is simply stunning – there’s ancient history, wildlife and breath-taking landscapes. With a bit of forward planning it’s easy to do – weather permitting of course.

Useful info;

I’d highly recommend the B&B we stayed at on Valentia Island just over the bridge from Portmagee Carraig Leith House.

Visit Skellig Experience for an understanding of the significance of Skellig Michael and why it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Enjoy a pint or two in The Moorings

And a hot chocolate and free samples at the Skellig Chocolate Factory!

Star Wars may have been the trigger for making the trip to that part of Ireland but the places we visited – Cork, Valentia Island and Waterville, Killarney and Kenmare made a fantastic holiday even without the geekery.

BTW there’s a Lord of the Rings themed bar in Killarney that has excellent ale…

Part II On the steps

Getting off the boat at the tiny landing site on Skellig Michael was an experience in itself on the choppy waters. Only one boat can dock at time and once you’re off it leaves immediately and another quickly takes its place to discharge its own cargo of twelve. With a time to be back for our pick up we made our way round the island to the start of the steps were a guide met us to give another safety briefing to us. Despite itching to start the trek up it does pay to listen to the experts, Skellig Michael isn’t a film set it, people have died – the most recent in 2009. They force the point (no pun intended) that this is a ‘wilderness site’ and rightly so, it would be so very easy to get distracted and take a misstep.

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Starting the assent my whole world pretty much reduced down to a one metre wide stretch of stone hand carved and laid in place by monks who first settled on the island in the 6th Century. They’re in remarkable condition as well considering their age, though uneven in places with the occasional overhang designed to catch the unsuspecting boot.  I carefully made my way up Skellig Michael in the footsteps of those monks and a certain young Jedi to be…

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I had blinkered myself by shear force of will to ignore the precipitous situation I now found myself in on the quest to bag THE Star Wars location I surprised myself by coping remarkably well with the shear drop beside me. Though I found my nerves started to fray when I had pause and wait to avoid those fellow travellers who had stopped to take pictures of puffins – admittedly lovely creature, but there the island was covered in them. I wasn’t going to risk walking around them! There is absolutely no need to stop and block the way for others who are in a genuine fear for their lives!

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We made it to the area known as Christ’s saddle, which is an opportunity to gather our breath before the next steep section of steps up to the monk’s ‘beehives’. The views  are absolutely stunning when you can peel your eyes away from your footing. Spotted a familiar stretch of wall and doorway which Rey wanders through in her search for Luke. We wandered the ancient dry stone buildings as a everyone gathered to have a bit of a lecture about them from one of the Skellig Michael guides. But having been to the Skellig Experience the day before we gave it a miss so as to avoid a bottle neck on the stairs as we attempted to make it back down.

to be continued…

Skellig Michael adventure – Star Wars and puffins Part I

Weather permitting.
Two words that strike dread in to the hearts of any traveller. I had booked two places on a Skellig Michael Island landing boat trip for the Tuesday 13th June – way, way back in March and since then hadn’t allowed myself to get excited about it just in case the weather indeed ‘did not permit’.
My boyfriend and I arrived in Portmagee on the Saturday evening with enough time to sample the delights of The Moorings were The Force Awakens wrap party was held and Mark Hamill poured a pint of Guinness and a legend was born… (I’m not ashamed to say I now own a T’shirt with the words “May the Craic be with you”).
Sunday we woke to rather bluster gales – we drove up to the Kerry cliffs with a view of the islands grey in the distance to see waves crashing below us and hardly being able to stand up!
Monday was calmer, but still there were no boats sailing that day. The weather looked to improve for the Tuesday – our day of sail – but I was still anxious when I called to confirm our attendance. Not to worry the voice on the line said – be at the dock in for 9am in the morning – it was on!

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Still I didn’t let myself believe it until we were sat on the small 12 seater boat, wearing a life jacket and bouncing across the Atlantic Ocean with spray in our faces!
The trip we booked was with Casey’s Tours to Skellig Michael and they have a safety film on their website that I had held off watching for a while…watch it and you’ll understand why, the journey and assent of Skellig Michael is not one that should be taken lightly. There is a reason monks thought it would bring them closer to God…

Now we had watched the safety film, seen the safety notices on the dock and also the handy leaflet given to us on the boat as we sailed from the safety of Portmagee harbour. So we were as prepared as we could possibly be. I was reassured by the fact that if a film crew could lug up camera gear and Mark Hamill could make it then I certainly could! Not so much scared of heights but scared of falling from them.

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To be continued….