Top British TV thrillers of 2014 ›

You must be living under a rock (or somewhere without a stable Internet connection) if you haven’t been thoroughly caught up in the recent flurry of top notch television series.

The gaping hole left after the departure of Breaking Bad and the season wraps of other applauded names such as Game of Thronesand True Detective urged me to look for other quality series to get stuck into. And I found them in the UK.

Great TV is a British institution, especially comedy, with the likes of Peep Show, The Office, Black Books and Spaced, to name a few. This year, however, it’s the turn of the Thriller with many interesting and engaging new series coming to fruition more or less at the same time.

Without giving too much away, the following series -all either premiering or returning for new seasons this year- made my pick of the best of 2014.

Utopia – Channel 4 

“Comic fans stumbling across a global pharma conspiracy and an outbreak of a mysterious deadly illness”

Wilson-in-back-of-van

A manuscript in the form of a creepy graphic novel holds the secret to one of the world’s most disastrous pandemics and it’s up to lead characters Ian, Becky, Wilson and Grant to try and stop it.
Not only championing in the plot and character stakes, Utopia is also beautifully shot with a great -yet undeniably disturbing- soundtrack to boot.
This horror-SciFi-thriller will make you want to revisit old conspiracy theories, avoid CCTV cameras on street corners and run in the opposite direction of strange men with unusually sized holdalls.
Find a whole hoard of extra scenes, blogs, competitions and online games over on the official Channel 4 website here.

You’ll recognise:
Ian – actor Nathan Stewart-Jarrett played shamed runner Curtis in Channel 4′s Misfits.
Young Milner – Rose Leslie played Ygritte in Game of Thrones.
Wilson (pictured) – Adeel Ahktar previously gave life to one of Chris Morris’ Four Lions.

Happy Valley – BBC1

“When a kidnap spirals out of control, Yorkshire police sergeant Catherine Cawood comes face to face with the man who destroyed her family.”

HappyValley-560x315

Set in a quaint Yorkshire town riddled by a rising drug problem, Happy Valley sees Sarah Lancashire play spunky Sergeant Catherine Cawood. The award winning series will leave you screaming at the screen in frustration as The Murderer stalks closer and closer to our leading lady. Flying the flag for bad ass women, Lancashire has been praised for her great portrayal of Sergeant Cawood despite complaints from the public that the plot was unnecessarily violent.

Boasting drama, intrigue and tension, Happy Valley has rightfully been commissioned a second series.

You’ll recognise:
Sarah Lancashire is known for playing pint-pulling bimbo Raquel in Coronation Street in the 90′s.
League of Gentlemen and Benidorm star Steve Pemberton plays fumbling, plotting idiot Kevin.

In The Flesh – BBC3

“Set after a zombie uprising, treated zombies are rehabilitated back into society.”

6032220-low_res-in-the-flesh

Rehabilitated zombies return to their homes after the invention of a drug which keeps their “rotter” tendencies at bay. The show follows teenager Kieren as he adjusts to his new life and combats prejudice and attacks from militant anti-PDS (Partially Deceased Syndrome) neighbours.
Things hot up in season 2 when PDS sufferers fight back with a grizzly vengeance.
The fate of Kieren currently lies in the balance as TV bosses squabble about commisioning a third series, much to the disappointment of the show’s huge online fan base.

You’ll recognise:
Roarton neighbour Ken – played by The Royle Family star Ricky Tomlinson.
Simon – actor Emmett J Scanlan was once a Hollyoaks bad boy.

Do you have any more recommendations? Send them my way! And happy viewing!

Read more on sepiavlc.com

El dret a Gaudí(r) ›

Park Güell, Gaudí’s fairytale playground, pays as much homage to modernist art and architecture as it does to Catalan identity. But nowadays it all comes at a price…

Panorama_from_Parc_Güell

Built between 1900 and 1914 and inaugurated as a public park in 1926, the quirky wonderland has, for nearly a century now, been lending itself to those searching for a bit of peace and quiet amidst Barcelona’s intense mix of city centre high rises and traffic jams.

What was once a tranquil haven set aside from the hustle and bustle of the Catalonian capital, Park Güell is now surrounded by fences, guards, workers and Guàrdia Urbana vans. Since 25th October 2013, the Ajuntament de Barcelona have been charging visitors €8 to enter, something that will amount to approximately €1 million euros a year destined to “help with park maintenance”

No longer can you venture up to Park Güell, bocadillo in hand, ready to awe at the sights and while away a sunny afternoon – a common pastime of my Erasmus days. Five years ago I spent 6 months studying at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona because I studied Catalan at university. While claiming to be no expert, I’m no stranger to the Catalan culture, independence plight and what some of Gaudí’s artwork represents and means to the nation. As a Catalanist (he hardly ever spoke Castilian), Antoni Gaudí incorporated many emblems of Catalonia, hidden or in plain view, into his works. Such emblems adorn the park and are often portrayed using the technique that many would say is synonymous with Gaudí: trencadís, or mosaicing.

1919373_553505101419_3904784_n

Symbols of religion and nature are abundant and the use of water, both actual and allegorical, is a common denominator throughout the park. As well as the iconic dragon perched on the entrance steps, a serpent can be seen nearby emerging from the Catalan flag (above). This symbol of Catalan identity refers to Sant Jordi, the patron saint of Catalonia who, as the legend goes, slayed a dragon to rescue a princess. Of course, the flag is a further, more direct use of imagery to portray Catalan nationalism. In fact, the park was the venue for the First Congress of the Catalan Language in 1906. The blue tiles that surround the flag may also be another reference to water and national unity. Yet another possible reference to Sant Jordi is made through the naming of the park – Gaudí and Eusebi Güell, who comissioned the project, chose to use the anglicised version of the word “park” because it has a “very English pedigree”.

Several of the above symbols are also present in Gaudí’s other works in the city such as the impressive (though incomplete) Sagrada Familia and eyecatching Casa Batlló, the latter offering skull-like balconies and an impressive serpentine roof reminiscent of the dragon which guards the gates of Park Güell. Visitors are also charged a pretty penny to enter each attraction, with prices for Casa Batlló andSagrada Familia set at €21.50 and €14.80, respectively, with the extra fee of €4.50 to go up the spires of the cathedral.

10429415_478140225621769_623657634349660079_nCasa Batlló

The question is: how far are we to believe that the idea to charge an entrance fee is to “preserve the emblematic zone of the city”, as stated on the FAQ’s on the official Gaudí Park website? Authorities now only let 400 people per half hour visit the monumental zone of the park, which covers the part stretching from the “Gingerbread houses”, past the emblematic dragon/lizard, and the trencadísadorned balcony that offers unique vistas over Barcelona city centre. Basically, if you want to see any of Gaudí’s famed tile artwork (or any of his works in the city, for that matter), you have to pay up, son.

Have the measures really been put in place to protect Gaudí’s artwork from the adverse effects of mass tourism? Or is this just a scheme set to make money off of tourists who have their heart set on seeing the works of one of Europe’s and, arguably, the world’s most famous artists? Tourism is a polemic issue right now in Barcelona, with a huge new cruiseliner set to regularly drop off thousands more tourists starting from next year. But, for a country in crisis, is complaning about tourists spending money in your cityreally the way forward? Xavier Fernandez, a tourism consultant, told The Sunday Times, “Frankly, [the closure of the park] is a good idea…Tourism is pretty much the only industry that is working [in Spain] right now. So the authorities are constantly looking for new ways to raise revenue from tourists.”

One blog and Twitter account, Defensem Park Güell, made a documentary, El dret a Gaudir, to address the people’s fight against the park closure. They say, “Queremos ayudar a romper el silencio sobre esta iniciativa municipal, la que convertirá un bosque urbano, espacio de descanso vecinal y encuentro artístico, emblema de la historia de Barcelona, en museo privado.”

The video interviews various project members, neighbours and board members, one of whom says, “The objective of the exercise is not to earn money”. Ok, love. We also see that, despite regularly earning over €2 million from Casa Gaudí and Casa Guarda entrance fees and parking, none of this money is destined to park maintenance. The same group wrote this piece about the results and possible conclusions 6 months after the closure of the park to the public. Read the platform’s manifesto on why they think the park should be públic, grati de lliure pas per qualsevol personahere.

cropped-img_73472

The fight against the initiative also saw vandalised ticket machines outside of the park in protest of the closure.

General views and comments on newspaper articles on the subject seem to depict the same sentiment… “ha sido un parque público… nos roban”

A recent trip to Barcelona sparked a mix of nostalgia and anger upon trying to reenter my favourite part of the city. If only I was a resident in one of the surrounding barrios, then I’d get in for free.

10294320_949169676439_1479310565895863446_n“Indignada”

My view? Is it selfish to want a 100-year-old UNESCO park to remain free (or at least cheaper than €8) for all? After all, shouldn’t we be encouraging people to enjoy cultural, educational and artistic exhibits, not deterring them? I’m all for protecting the park but, in a country famed for its corruption, it would be interesting to see where those millions of euros really go.

More on sepiavlc.com

A weekend in Cabo de Gata ›

Rugged landscapes, hidden beaches and free tapas: Cabo de Gata Natural Park in a nutshell.

The Cabo de Gata area, located at the south easternmost tip of Spain, is vast and sparsely populated. Apart from greenhouses and the odd hamlet, the area is mountainous and desert-like as far as the eye can see. All of the coastal towns, however, are charming and bustling and offer some of the best beaches in Spain.

Base camp for the weekend was Níjar – a beautiful little Andalusian town famous for its pottery andjarapa rugs. Its central location means that nearly all of Cabo de Gata’s beaches can be reached in about a half hours drive.

A cove that kept being mentioned on our quest for The Perfect Beach was Cala de Enmedio. Enmedio? It is literally in the middle ofnowhere and is only reachable on foot, up a sketchy mountain “path” surrounded by desert-like landscape and scrub for miles on miles. 40 minutes and various scratched shins later, we were dipping our toes into the clear, turquoise waters.

One thing we’d heard about the area was that is had a definite hippy vibe. This came all too obvious when, while looking for things to do over the weekend, we came across a meditation festival:

[Las actividades] Fueron creadas con la intención de hacer accesible la meditación al hombre contemporáneo. En muchas de ellas, se han incorporado técnicas ancestrales de otras corrientes espirituales como el sufísmo, el tantra o el zen.”

Needless to say, the promise of hippies practising tantra in the Mediterranean moonlight was quickly overruled in favour of beachside drinks with free tapas.

Highlights of the area: 
Agua Amarga: A charming little town with a bustling square and extensive beaches.
Alcazaba de Almería: Despite not having a great reputation, the city itself does boast a 10th century Muslim walled city. Kind of like the Alhambra’s less flashy, younger sister, if you will.
La Fabriquilla: A tiny coastal town close to the Arrecife de la Sirenas and the lighthouse. Drive the precarious, cliff-side lanes to reach the stunning viewpoint at the end of the road. Stop off at nearby Las Salinas for flamingo spotting, and check out the old town on the coastal road which featured in the film Vivir es facíl con los ojos cerrados.
Fresh fish: Seafood dominates Andalusian menus. For a tasty local tapa try the boquerones or sardinas.
The Andalu accent: ”Tre’ servesa’? Qué tapa’ queréi’? De donde soi’? Vai’ a La’ Negra’?” etc. Very breathy. Very airy. Very reluctant to use the letter S.

One thing you need if you’re thinking of visiting Cabo de Gata is a car. There is virtually no public transport between the towns, and be wary of walking from beach to beach up the barren hills – unless you don’t mind being confronted by a nudist twisted into some obscure yoga position, that is.

See the photo gallery here: http://www.sepiavlc.com/cabo-de-gata/

Expats Blog living in Valencia