Monthly Archives: August 2019

Segovia day trip from Madrid: Feast on history

The mighty Roman aqueduct of Segovia, Spain. Photo: JTB MEDIA CREATION, Inc. / Alamy Segovia is the perfect day trip from Madrid.
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Alcazar castle in Segovia at twilight. Photo: Jeremy Horner / Alamy Stock Photo

One of author Sally Webb’s sons at Alcazar castle. Photo: Sally Webb

It is snowing when we arrive in Segovia. Heavy flakes float silently to the ground, settling onto the terracotta rooftops of the medieval buildings surrounding Plaza Azoguejo like icing sugar dusted over the top of a cake. Above us, the Roman aqueduct is an imposing and awesome presence, and evidence of the strategic and architectural importance of this town for millennia.

We’ve come to Segovia for a day trip from Madrid, choosing it, on the advice of a friend, over the more famous and visited Toledo. It is the perfect detour – beautiful, easy to explore on foot, packed with cafes and restaurants and easy to reach. The train journey from Madrid’s Charmatin station on the Renfe Ave fast train takes only 28 minutes, although the whole journey takes closer to 90 minutes as we have to connect from the centre of Madrid to Charmatin by metro, and take a taxi from Segovia station into its historic centre.

It is bitterly cold on this winter’s morning when we leave the Spanish capital and it’s even colder in Segovia as the snowflakes settle in our hair. My husband and I have left our hats in the hotel so first stop is a tiny shop near the tourist office to kit up with knitted beanies. Second stop is the obligatory churros and hot chocolate that has come to be a staple of our Spanish diet (to the delight of our children Archie and Lulu, who think doughnuts for breakfast is the best thing about Spain).

Grabbing a map from the tourist information office we set out to explore this Unesco World Heritage City. The aqueduct, symbol of Segovia and the most important in Spain, is the obvious place to start. Built in the 1st century it has 166 stone arches set without mortar and was used until the mid 19th century to transport water to the city from a spring 17 kilometres away.

We climb the steps next to the aqueduct for a different perspective of this architectural phenomenon, getting superb views over Plaza Azoguejo as a bonus, then meander through the narrow streets. We find history lessons and photo opportunities at every turn, from the thick limestone walls that formed the boundary of the city in the 11th century, to the 15th-century Casa de los Picos with a facade covered in intriguing pyramid-shaped granite blocks. Originally a mansion for a patrician family, and designed in the style of grand Renaissance palaces in Italy, it now houses the Segovia School of Applied Arts and Crafts. In the 13th and 14th centuries, we learn, Segovia was home to a significant Jewish community who lived harmoniously throughout the city. This all changed in the early 15th century when their synagogue was confiscated and they were forced to live in a segregated area. Brass plaques embedded in the cobblestone streets indicate the ghetto’s rough location.

It feels like all roads lead to the cathedral, situated at the highest point of the city. Built between 1525 and 1768, it has Flemish tapestries and significant altarpieces by Van Eyck and Morales, among others, but the kids are more intrigued by the instruments of torture on display in the light-filled cloister.

Walt Disney is said to have modelled Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disneyland on Segovia’s Alcázar, and as we approach the turreted building the resemblance is uncanny. A fortress was first built on this strategic site – a rocky crag at the confluence of two rivers – in Roman times and it has always played a significant role in the history and defence of the Castile kingdom, although the current building dates mainly from the 13th century.

The kids adore exploring its decorated throne rooms and dank prison cells deep in the basement, but especially love posing with swords and cannon in the armoury.

The snow continues to fall as we wander back through the streets, with stops for snowball fights and the creation of the obligatory snowman. It’s weather that makes you hungry and fortunately Segovia’s other drawcard is of the culinary variety.

We mange to score a table at Mesón de José Maria, famed for its extraordinary cochinillo, or suckling pig. Our waiter brings the whole roasted, crisp-skinned animal to the table, snout, ears, splayed feet and all, and with a theatrical flourish proceeds to cut up the meat not with a knife but with the side of a bread plate. It’s that tender, and extraordinarily delicious, and even better with a glass of the house red, Ribera del Duero.

Day trips or detours are underrated. We’re all so busy ticking off big-ticket sights in major cities that we often forsake visiting smaller towns and villages to get away from traffic and busyness and travel a little slower. In a city like Segovia, with a good lunch and some unforgettable landmarks, you’ve got the perfect day out. TRIP NOTESGETTING THERE

The journey between Madrid’s Charmatin station (north of the centre but on the metro line) and Segovia takes 28 minutes on a high-speed train. However, Segovia’s high-speed train station is about 5 kilometres out of town, so you need to take a taxi or bus from there into the centre. EATING THERE

Meson de Jose Maria, Calle Cronista Lecea, 11, 40001 Segovia, +34 921 461 111


There are other dishes on the menu – lovely warming soups, cured jamon, croquetas – but it’s really all about the sickling pig.

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Dentsu Mitchell dumps AdCorp from major government advertising contract

AdCorp has placed federal government recruitment ads since 2009. Department of Finance merged ad buying into one contract in 2014. Photo: Melissa Adams
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Advertising powerhouse Dentsu Mitchell has dumped listed company AdCorp from an alliance on a major government media-buying contract worth up to $150 million annually.

The two agencies jointly won the four-year contract in 2014 and Denstu Mitchell has been sub-contracting AdCorp to book non-campaign federal government advertising, such as recruitment advertising, public notices and tender notices.

The contract for information campaign and non-campaign work is worth up to $150 million annually. When AdCorp last held the contract for non-campaign ad booking on its own, it was worth about $40 million annually.

BusinessDay understands AdCorp is considering legal action over the abrupt move.

In a statement to the market, AdCorp said Dentsu Mitchell would “consolidate the management of the Australian government’s Master Media Agency contract” and would no longer use AdCorp to place non-campaign ads.

“After several years providing services to the Australian government and its many clients, we are disappointed this relationship will no longer continue,” AdCorp chief executive David Morrison said in the statement released on Friday.

AdCorp would provide the market with another update this week, Mr Morrison told BusinessDay, as it was too early to know what impact Dentsu Mitchell’s decision will have. Up to 15 people were working on that government contract, but their future is unknown, he added.

Acting national manager of Dentsu Mitchell, Penny Davy-Whyte, said she hoped the “transition-out plan” from the alliance would be finalised this week with “minimal impact”. The non-campaign media buying would now be done by a team in Melbourne.

Ms Davy-Whyte added Dentsu Mitchell alone held the contract and sub-contracted work to AdCorp.

The decision leaves AdCorp with a big revenue hole. On Friday shares traded hands, but did not drop below the opening price of 1.7 cents. Once worth $1.80 a share more than a decade ago, AdCorp has been hit by cuts to government hiring – which reduces recruitment advertising – and declines in advertising spends.

Last year it raised $3.76 million through a renouncable rights issue and bought a $1 million stake in video-production company Shootsta.

Founder and chairman Ian Rodwell remains the company’s largest shareholder with 74.3 per cent of shares.

Two state government contracts were recently renewed, but the federal government contract has been a reliable source of income.

However, the Department of Finance decided to consolidate campaign and non-campaign advertising contracts in 2014, and awarded it to Mitchell and Partners (since re-branded Dentsu Mitchell) in alliance with AdCorp.

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How to choose a primary school? Not just academic results, say parents

Chebiwot Kipsaina and her Australian-born daughter Malaika Kisia. Photo: Chris Hopkins Kenyan migrant and mother Chebiwot Kipsaina and her Australian born daughter Malaika Kisia. “I wanted a school that went beyond that,” says Chebiwot. Photo: Chris Hopkins
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A government primary school in Melbourne’s south-east was Chebiwot Kipsaina’s first choice for her daughter, six-year-old Malaika.

Close to home and near to public transport, initially at least, it ticked all the boxes.

But Malaika would have been the only black African at the school, so during orientation Chebiwot asked the principal how it promoted diversity.

“We have children from Denmark,” was his reply.

“It was very limited,” Chebiwot says with a wry laugh. “That kind of put me off. I wanted a school that went beyond that.”

For most of the 20th century, it was uncommon for Australian parents to actively choose a primary school for their children, but this is changing.

And while academic or sporting prowess might feature in high school deliberations, less is known about how parents decide which primary school is the best fit for their kids.

Now, using data from 8000 families across Australia, researchers have discovered that parents decide on primary schools based on a whole host of largely personal factors that go beyond academic results.

“Australian parents and mothers, in particular, tend to do a lot of research into the school community, its reputation, academic performance and the affordability of fees,” said Anne Hollonds, researcher and director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

The proximity of a school to home, whether other family members are attending, academic quality, and its religious or philosophical outlook were the main considerations, researchers found.

But the reasons behind school choice differ considerably depending on whether parents send their children to private or government schools.

Government schools are still the main providers of primary school education, while about 20 per cent of students go to Catholic schools and 12 per cent go to private schools.

Those who sent their kids to government schools were most concerned with convenience and if another family member was already at the school. Those who chose independent schools were motivated by academic results and religious values.

Kipsaina, who came to Australia as a student and then became a citizen, decided not to enrol Malaika at the government school and opted for a Catholic primary school in their south eastern Melbourne suburb instead.

Malaika is still the only black African student at this school, but when her mum asked the teachers about diversity she liked their response: “She was quite frank, she said they hadn’t had children from an African background specifically, but she said it was a learning opportunity.”

Religion is a central part of Kipsaina’s life, but she has had to adjust to the Australian approach, where not all parents at her daughter’s school are practicing Christians.

Some parents expected religiously-affiliated schools to demonstrate active religiosity, while others saw them as a haven for their children from unsatisfactory government schools, the study noted.

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‘Pokie-Leaks’ campaign calls for gambling industry secrets

Whistleblowers are being urged to reveal poker machine industry secrets. Photo: John Woudstra Greens deputy leader, Larissa Waters, Andrew Wilkie MP, Senator Nick Xenophon, and former pokie machine victim, Shonica Guy launch PokieLeaks in Sydney CBD. Photo: Peter Rae
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Andrew Wilkie MP, with Senator Nick Xenophon, and former pokie machine victim, Shonica Guy launch PokieLeaks in Sydney CBD. Photo: Peter Rae

Three federal politicians are calling on whistleblowers to send them poker machine industry secrets with a promise they will be made public using parliamentary privilege.

The Pokie-Leaks campaign is being launched in Sydney on Tuesday by independent senator Nick Xenophon, Greens senator Larissa Waters and independent Denison MP Andrew Wilkie.

They will call for confidential information, such as details of how machine design targets vulnerable players and undisclosed industry interaction with political parties, to be sent directly to them for release in Parliament.

It comes as Crown Casino and Australian pokie manufacturer Aristocrat are taken to court by former pokie player Shonica Guy, a supporter of the Alliance for Gambling Reform.

Ms Guy is seeking an order that the machines she played are deceptive.

Potentially, information made public via the Pokie-Leaks campaign could be used by lawyers Maurice Blackburn in the case.

“This information needs to be out there in the court of public opinion,” Senator Xenophon said.

“If you know something that needs to be revealed, tell us, and with parliamentary privilege, we can tell everyone. For too long, this predatory industry has relied on secret and harmful features, which are designed to be addictive.”

Senator Waters said information about dishonest or illegal behaviour in the pokies industry “can help us hold them to account in Parliament” and that the identity of whistleblowers would be protected.

Mr Wilkie, who was included in a recently abandoned defamation action brought by Clubs NSW against the ABC, said the poker machine industry “is fundamentally exploitative and very careful to try and keep its methods secret”.

“Pokie-Leaks will establish a valuable mechanism for industry insiders and members of the public to tell us what they know,” he said.

The defamation action was launched after ABC’s 7.30 program broadcast claims by former federal MP Peter Garrett that someone from Clubs NSW handed him an envelope full of cash after his election in 2004. Mr Wilkie described it as a bribe.

Mr Garrett later said it was a cheque, not cash, and was given before he was elected.

Clubs NSW denied the claim and sued, but dropped the action after the court granted the ABC access to its financial records.

“It was telling that Clubs NSW dropped its legal action against the ABC on account of the court discovery process and requirement to open its books to scrutiny,” Mr Wilkie said.

“This just goes to show the steps that this particular industry player will go to in order to avoid scrutiny, and of the need for whistleblowers to speak up.”

A Clubs NSW spokesman said the campaign appears to be “a typical Nick Xenophon and friends publicity stunt”.

“Sadly, it shows yet again how little regard is held by some politicians for the serious business of governing our nation,” he said.

An Aristocrat spokeswoman declined to comment.

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New law will compel websites, including IMDB, to delete actors’ ages if they ask

How old is Jen? A new law will prevent you finding out. Photo: Richard ShotwellEntertainment industry websites that publish the ages of actors will be forced to stop the practice in the wake of new legislation in California intended to combat ageism in Hollywood. The law, which becomes effective on January 1, 2017, will force online databases that publish filmographies, resumes and actor headshots to remove an actor’s age if a formal request is made to do so.
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The most obvious example is the online film and television resource Internet Movie Database – IMDB – which publishes agents, headshots and other biographical material. But the law would apply to any casting website that accepts payment for the posting of professional information. It also affects any individual who works in entertainment, though it is principally aimed at actors.

“Even though it is against both federal and state law, age discrimination persists in the entertainment industry,” California assemblyman Ian Calderon said. “[The law] provides the necessary tools to remove age information from online profiles on employment referral websites to help prevent this type of discrimination.”

Though the principle is essentially to protect actors from having casting directors discount them from roles on the basis of their age, the debate over the legislation has provoked fierce opinion on both sides.

Advocates of free speech and a free internet say the law is risky because in principle it advocates suppressing factual information on the internet.

“Requiring the removal of factually accurate age information across websites suppresses free speech,” internet freedom advocate Michael Beckerman said earlier this year. “This is not a question of preventing salacious rumours; rather it is about the right to present basic facts that live in the public domain.”

The law only affects paid casting websites, and requests for information to be taken down can only be made by a paying client of the site. That limitation may also insulate the legislation from a constitutional challenge on the grounds that it contravenes the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech.

The California legislature also came up against the powerful Screen Actors Guild, which supported the law. “It is time to stop the ageism that permeates Hollywood’s casting process,” SAG president Gabrielle Carteris said earlier this year. “This problem exists for all performers, but most distinctly for women.”

Carteris is best known to television audiences as one of the stars of the 1990s drama Beverly Hills 90210.

SAG issued a statement thanking California’s governor Jerry Brown for signing the legislation into law on behalf of “everyone in the industry who has struggled with age discrimination”.

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