Mark\’s Rants, Raves And Other Things ;)

Rants and raves about things that interest me

A night at the Moulin Rouge (aka breasts, breasts and more breasts)

Posted by Mark Sztainbok on April 22, 2008

Before we left on our vacation I had booked tickets to go see the show at the Moulin Rouge for €145 each (about US$230 and AUD$245) which included the show and a meal.

The Moulin Rouge is located in Pigalle, which is a red-light district in France and is full of sex shops, table top dancing bars and porn cinemas. As such the area is exceptionally seedy.

On the reservation email, it said that we needed to be there at 6:45pm and were running late. It turns out there was no need to rush as when arrived there, there was a long queue of people waiting to get in. Once inside we were directed towards to a cloak room where we were effectively forced to check in our jackets at the cost of €2 per jacket (which was pretty rich given that we had forked out a total of €290 for the tickets). Little did we know that this was just the start of the high prices charged at the Moulin Rouge. Next we were offered a program at €8, which wasn’t really too badly priced but once again given the cost of the tickets should have been included for free. Funniest bit of the program was one photo spread where it looks it had the old cast and they stuck new heads for the current cast!

We were then taken to our table which was right in front of the stage and given a bottle of Champagne Jacquart Brut Mosaique to share. This champagne can be bought for about USD$40. Our meal then started to arrive. The meal I would say was exceptionally average at best especially given the price. The first course was a bit of chicken pate with some unknown pressed meat around it with a bread crust on the outside (Encrusted Poultry Pâté, Parslied Gelée). The second course was some veal in a creamy white sauce with bacon and some rice (Traditional Veal “Blanquette”, Rice Pilaw). I was a bit annoyed that it had bacon especially given I had asked the waiter what the dish was and he hadn’t mentioned the bacon. Luckily it was just on the top so it could be removed. The dessert I had was the Bourbon” Mille-Feuille, which was pretty much just a vanilla slice.

To give another example of the price gouging at the Moulin Rouge, the couple next us wanted to buy a bottle of wine and were told that it would cost €25 for a half a bottle (roughly USD$40 or AUD$42) and €50 for a full bottle (double the amounts for the half bottle :P). This is without a wine list so the wine could be anything (and given the champagne cost I’m sure the wine wasn’t much better value or quality).

Once the meal finished, the show started (at roughly around 9pm) and lasted for about 2 hours. During the show we saw the following:

  • A lot of girly men (I wouldn’t really say it’s their fault but the choreographers as all their dances conveyed that vibe)
  • Woman in extravagent outfits
  • Woman in outfits which showed off their breasts (hence the name of the posting as you get to see a lot of them)
  • The can can
  • Real ponies on the stage
  • A ventriloquist who was actually quite good
  • A guy who did golf ball tricks who was very funny and could do some quite incredible things such as juggle balls in his mouth.
  • A male-female pair who did gymnastic tricks such as him locking his feet around a chair, lifting up his partner with his hands only while she does a handstand, then lowering himself over the back of the chair by bending his legs then getting back again all without dropping his partner. Exceptionally impressive and I wish I had strength like that!

Once the show finished, we were encouraged to leave quickly as there is an 11pm show and they needed to get everyone out so they could seat all the new people.

Overall, I’d say the Moulin Rouge was interesting but the meal and show definitely did not justify the prices of either the tickets or any extras during the show.

Once the show finished , we headed back to the hotel and packed until about 1am before heading to bed as we were heading off to Melbourne that morning.


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Paris Day 3

Posted by Mark Sztainbok on April 22, 2008

After breakfast we hopped on a train and headed to the Les Quatre Temps shopping centre in La Défense where we did some shopping at Build-A-Bear Workshop (more about this in a much later post) and Craig did some clothes shopping.

After this we walked outside to look at La Grande Arche, which unlike other arches such as Wellington Arch and Arc de Triomphe, is a modern arch and was only completed in 1989.

We then headed to the station to head back to Central Paris. For some reason my Paris Visite ticket started playing up and wouldn’t be accepted by the ticket machines. I went to the ticket counter and unfortunately the lady there didn’t speak English. I used my limited French to explain that the ticket wasn’t working. She tried to fix it but her computer wasn’t working correctly so she gave me my broken ticket back and a free one to get back into Paris with.

Once we arrived at Charles de Gaulle Étoile station, I went to the ticket counter there and once again the man at the counter didn’t speak English but he was able to replace my ticket. We exited the station and headed up the Champs-Élysées where we had lunch at a French Italian restaurant change called  Bistro Romain.

We then went to look at Arc de Triomphe but had to go to the top one at a time as we were told our camera bags were too big and wouldn’t be able to climb the stairs with them as they are very narrow. As such, one of us had to stay with out bags while the other went to the top. I went up first and then Craig went up while I watched the bags.

We had to walk through a subway to get back to the station and in the subway we stopped by a lady who started talking to Craig and asked him to put out his arm and them proceeded to make a bracelet. She then asked for my arm and started to chat to me and make a bracelet on my arm. When we finished and were about to leave. she asked for €10. I had my suspicions as soon as she came over that she was going to ask for money and this confirmed it. Craig paid the €10 and to make things worse, she expected €10 each for the bracelets. As soon as I heard this, I said no way and proceeded to walk off. Her goon (for better words) who was nearby started to walk towards us but she told him it was OK and said that €5 would be OK. We still refused and walked off. I was actually surprised that Craig stopped in the first place especially given that we were running short on time at this point.

We then headed to Bir-Hakiem station. There we had a coffee at Cafe Eiffel which was located next to the station and then headed off to the Eiffel Tower. Around the base there were a lot of Serbian or Bosnian woman who would ask you if you spoke English and if you said yes should you a prewritten letter which effectively asked for money. Funny thing is that if they asked you if you spoke English and you said no, then they would walk off. They clearly weren’t smart enough to realize that you had to understand what they said in order to reply to them!

We decided to head up the top section of the Eiffel Tower but didn’t realise the queue was going to take so long so we had to quickly have a look and take some photos.

At this point, it was already after 6pm and we need to be at the Moulin Rouge by 7 so we had to rush back to the hotel and quickly iron the clothes we were wearing and have a shower before catching the Metro from Rue du Bac station to Pigalle (which luckily was on the same line).

I’ll talk about our visit to the Moulin Rouge in the next entry.

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Paris Day 2 (Disneyland Resort Paris)

Posted by Mark Sztainbok on April 19, 2008

We spent our second day in Paris at Disneyland Resort Paris (formerly known as EuroDisney).

As we wanted to spend the full day there, we had an early breakfast and left the hotel at 9 to catch the RER Line A train to Marne-la-Vallée – Chessy station where Disneyland is located and arrived just when the park was opening at 10am. After collecting our booked 2 park 1 day tickets from the Pluto desk, we entered the main park (Disneyland Park) and proceeded to the rides.

Here are the rides and attractions we went on/saw with brief reviews:

Space Mountain: Mission 2 (Discoveryland)

A roller coaster in the dark. Coolest bits are being fired from a cannon at the start of the ride and the spinning spirals towards the end. 7/10

Honey, I Shrunk The Audience (Discoveryland)

A 3-D movie based on the Honey I Shrunk The Kids movie series. It had some of the best 3-D effects that I have seen in a 3-D movie and was quite entertaining. If you do plan to see it, be sure to go to one of the English screenings (it screens in both French and English). 9/10

Star Tours (Discoveryland)

Simulation ride based on the Star Wars movies which takes you into the battle on the Death Star. This is the third time I’ve been on this ride (once at Disneyland in Anaheim and twice at EuroDisney) and the ride doesn’t have the same impact when all the dialogue is in French as it does when the dialogue is English (due to not be able to understand it). 4/10

Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast (Discoveryland)

Laser shooting gallery game ride based on Toy Story. You hop in a moving cart which has 2 laser guns (one for each person in the cart) and a control which allows the cart to be rotated. As the cart moves, the goal is to hit the various targets which are on the walls. The targets each have different scores based on the colour that they are and a score is kept for each player. Each player is then rated at the end of the ride based on their score. If you purchase the photo at the end of the ride, each player’s scores are printed on it for posperity. 8/10

Peter Pan’s Flight (Fantasyland)

Ride based on Peter Pan. You hop in a boat car suspended from the roof and fly over London and into Neverland following the adventures of Peter Pan, Wendy, John and Michael. No thrills or spills but strangely the most popular ride is EuroDisney with the longest queues and wait times. 7/10

Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups (Fantasyland)

A spinning tea cup ride. Craig span our cup so fast that the background was blurry. I took a video which will be uploaded at a later point. 9/10

“it’s a small world” (Fantasyland)

It’s a world of laughter, it’s a world of tears, it’s a world of hopes and a world of fears….

The quintessential Disneyland ride with animated dolls singing the It’s A Small World song continually in various languages. Not exactly 100% politically correct as many of the scenes for various countries are based on stereotypes. 9/10

Sleeping Beauty Castle (Fantasyland)

Walk through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle which has stain glass windows and displays that tell the story. 5/10

Phantom Manor (Frontierland)

Known as the Haunted Mansion at other Disney Parks. You sit in a chair which moves around while showing ghostly and ghastly scenes. Not really scarey. 3/10

Big Thunder Mountain (Frontierland)

Mine car roller coaster similar to those found at other amusement parks. 8/10

La Cabane Des Robinson (Adventureland)

Tree top house based on Swiss Family Robinson. Effectively you climb stairs up into a treehouse and see how it would have been for the Swiss Family Robinson. 6/10

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril (Adventureland)

Similar ride to Big Thunder Mountain except that you are in a individual mine car instead of a carriage connected to a locomotive. Not overly thrilling although it does have one loop. 6/10

Pirates of the Carribean (Adventureland)

The ride that the movie trilogy is based on. You hop on a boat past displays of pirates behaving badly. Has a few dips and you also get a little wet. 6/10

We had lunch at the Plaza Gardens Restaurant on Main Street which was a buffet style restaurant which cost €24 per person (including one drink). The food wasn’t fantastic but was sufficient to keep our energy levels up for the day.

We skipped the parade at Disneyland due to the crowds and headed off to check out the neighbouring Walt Disney Studios, which is the other park at Disneyland Resort Paris. Walt Disney Studios is a park similar to Universal Studios or Movie World except that I think it is only movie themed and that they don’t actually shoot any films there unlike the other two.

There we went/saw on the following rides and attractions (again with reviews):

Stitch Live

Live interactive show where an animated Stitch interacts with the audience by asking them questions and when they provide answers asking new questions based on them. The most impressive thing is how the Stitch animation adjusts its movements and lip synchronization to the questions it asks on the fly. This is only new but definitely worth a visit. 8/10

Crush’s Coaster

Roller coaster based on the Crush character from Finding Nemo. You hop into a turtle shell which has 2 seats facing forwards and 2 facing backwards. As you go through the roller coaster, the shell spins as it goes around corners, etc. which add to the fun. Originally when we went to this ride it had stopped for a while for some reason and we waited about 20 minutes or so in the queue before leaving. When we went back and we actually on the ride, the ride was stopped for a very brief period of time and everything went silent and dark. Luckily we were right near the ride exit. I dread to think what would have happened to people who were in the middle of the ride on a curve or loop. 9/10 for the ride, 1/10 for the ride reliability (at least when we rode it).

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster featuring Aerosmith

Cool roller coaster where you sit in a limosuine car which plays Aerosmith music and get launched right into a loop at the start of the ride. Definitely of the best roller coasters I have ever been on. If you like roller coasters, you should definitely go on this one! 10/10

Armageddon Special Effects

Attraction which is meant to show you how special effects work and places you into a scene of Armageddon. The leadup for this took too long and everyone was packed into a small room so we left before the main scene took place. 2/10

When the Walt Disney Studios closed, we headed into the Disney Village to try and have dinner at Cafe Mickey but the queue was really long and after waiting 1/2 hour we decided to hop back on the train to Paris to the Saint-Germain-des-Prés  area where we had dinner at an Italian restaurant called Pizza Vesuvio. The food there wasn’t bad but wasn’t anything either.

After dinner, we headed back to the hotel to relax.

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Catching up…

Posted by Mark Sztainbok on April 18, 2008

I’m finally starting to catch up on my blog entries…expect some new ones about the past few weeks soon..

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Paris Day 1

Posted by Mark Sztainbok on April 18, 2008

After waking up late and having breakfast, we headed out into the rain to catch a train to Place de la Concorde. While there, Craig took some pictures of the Obelisk, Tuileries Gardens and Champs-Élysées before we proceeded to walk through the Tuileries Gardens to the Louvre.

Once at the Louvre, we had a quick small lunch and picked up some multimedia tour packs and headphones.  We decided to do the 2.5 hour Castle to Pyramid tour which took us through the remnants of the Medieval Louvre, past the Venus De Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace, Mona Lisa (which has been moved since I last saw it in 1988 to a wall of its own and now looks much bigger) and through the Napoleon III Apartments. Overall we spent the whole afternoon wandering around the Louvre and looking at the art.

We then headed back to the hotel where we rested for a little before heading out to the Latin Quarter where we at dinner at a restaurant called Le Christine, which was recommended to us by Craig’s friend Nick. After dinner, headed to Notre Dame to get ice cream at a shop also recommended by Nick but were unable to find it so we returned back to the Latin Quarter to have Nutella and Grand Marnier crepes at a little creperie called Crêperie des pêcheurs.

We then walked back slowly to our hotel and checked out the various shops on the way.

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Experiments with HDR photography

Posted by Mark Sztainbok on April 11, 2008

While in Edinburgh, I decided to experiment with HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography a little.

In order to create an HDR photo, 3 photos are taken: one which is underexposed, one which is overexposed and one which is normally exposed (the exposure bracketing function of most DSLR’s is useful to create these images).

The 3 images are then combined using software such as Photomatix Pro, to create a 32-bit image which is then tone mapped to create the HDR image.

The images below were created using an exposure bracket of ±2. The original 3 images used to create each image as well as larger images of the HDR images below can be seen on my Flickr site.





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London Day 5 and the train to Paris

Posted by Mark Sztainbok on April 10, 2008

We woke up relatively early, packed, had breakfast followed by more packing. We then proceeded to check out of the hotel and caught a train to King Cross station where we dropped our luggage off in the left luggage store in St Pancras International station which is joined to King Cross station and is where the Eurostar train departs from. We also picked up our train tickets only to discover that the automated system had put us in seats that weren’t actually together (there was an aisle between them). We went to the customer service window where it looked like a lot of people were having seat issues and were told that the system for some unknown reason does things like this. The seats were corrected and we headed back to Kings Cross station.

Kings Cross station is an interchange for 7 different Underground lines as well as a main terminal for trains within the UK so as you can expect it was exceptionally busy. We hopped on a Piccadilly line train to head down to Knightsbridge. The train was so packed that we had to cram into the doorway and bend our heads to the curve of the train to be able to get on. This was a Saturday so I dread to think what the trains must be like during peak hours on a normal weekday.

Once we reached Knightsbridge,we headed to check out Harrods. At Harrods we mainly wandered around as it is way too expensive and upmarket for us and had a gelati before heading back to Kings Cross/St Pancras, where we picked up our luggage and proceeded to the Eurostar check in.

Once checked in, we passed through security and passport control (where they give you a French passport stamp) and waited to board the train.

The train trip wasn’t bad. We had a meal and some French Champagne and wine and got to see the British and French countrysides. The Chunnel (Channel Tunnel) wasn’t as exciting as we both expected as it is literally just darkness outside the train for about 20 minutes or so. The train trip took a little over 2 hours and arrived in Paris’ Gare Du Nord station.

At Gare Du Nord, we validated our Paris Visite tickets and the RER Line A to Hausmann Saint-Lazare station where I mistakedly thought we had to catch Metro line 13 to our hotel which was located next to Rue du Bac station when in fact we had to catch Metro line 12. The problem with this was that the 2 Metro lines were at completely opposite sides of the station so we had to lug our 4 suitcases, 2 camera bags and 2 carry-ons all the way to a wrong station then walk all the way back to the other station.

Once we got to Rue du Bac station, we headed to our hotel (K+K Cayre) and checked in. This time I asked to look at the room first without taking all the luggage up in case there was another issue like in London. Luckily the room was fine so we took our luggage up and rested for a little bit.

We asked at reception for a recommendation for dinner and were directed to a French restaurant up the street called A La Petite Chaise, which is the oldest restaurant in Paris. The food was really good. I ate smoked salmon with a purple mustard cream, duck fillet with a roasted apple and finished with a creme brulee).

After dinner we headed back to the hotel.

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London Day 4

Posted by Mark Sztainbok on April 10, 2008

After breakfast, we hopped on the Tube to go to the Tate Modern gallery. The Tate Modern as the name suggests mainly has modern art which is classified as any art since 1900. I’ll be frank and say I don’t get modern art. Some of it looks like it could be done by a 5 year old yet I’m sure is worth thousands of dollars. I’ll take 2 examples from the art pieces we saw. One piece was a piece of canvas with a big knife slash in it. Another piece was a piece of string threaded through pieces of soap. See what I mean?

There was some cool stuff in the Tate Modern though such as the room with geometric shapes created out of lines, some of Roy Lichtenstein‘s pieces and the big crack through the Turbine Hall on the gallery’s ground floor.

When we left the Tate, it started to rain heavily and we didn’t have any raincoats or umbrellas. We quickly made our way over the Millennium Bridge with its view of St Paul’s Cathedral and stopped to have lunch at restaurant called Itsu. Itsu specialize in healthy sushi, salad and noodles and is definitely worth visiting for a quick and healthy meal while in London. The menu can be read here. The mint tea is definitely worth a try as they literally use fresh mint leaves in a tea bag. The thai basil lemonade is also very unusual.

After lunch, we headed off to St Paul’s station and caught a train to Marble Arch station to view the Marble Arch, which was the original gateway to Buckingham Palace. I was under the wrong impression that Marble Arch was Wellington Arch and Wellington Arch was what I actually wanted to see as you can to the top of it and look our over Hyde Park and the gardens of Buckingham Palace. Some nearby tramps saw that we looked puzzled and asked us what we were looking for to which we replied Wellington Arch. They were very helpful and gave us directions to where it was located.

It turns out that we at the opposite side of Hyde Park from it so we walked down Park Lane through the suburb of Mayfair down to Hyde Park Corner where Wellington Arch and the Australian War Memorial (not that we realised what it was until the gentleman in Wellington Arch told us) are. We went up to top of Wellington Arch and took some pictures before proceeding to Hyde Park Corner Station to head to Holborn station so we could go to the British Museum.

The British Museum is a weird place. It’s interesting to see all the historical artifacts but at the same time you know what a lot of them (e.g. the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon in Greece) were effectively stolen in the name of “preservation”.

After the British Museum, we headed back to Earls Court where we had dinner at an restaurant called Masala Zone which emphasises traditional Indian food before going back to the hotel for the evening.

Monopoly places visited:

Park Lane


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Slow catch up

Posted by Mark Sztainbok on April 10, 2008

I’m going to try and catch up with my blog postings but it may take a little while…

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I wouldn’t want to be touching that…

Posted by Mark Sztainbok on March 31, 2008

One thing I forgot to mention about the Edinburgh to London train is that under every sign there was a braille sign for blind people. I’m not sure about you but I wouldn’t want to have to feel over every surface in a toilet on a train to get the instructions how to use it…

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