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Visiting Vancouver? Check out the post I wrote for Round the World Experts, a specialist travel service by Flight Centre UK.
“With a picturesque oceanside location, fringed by emerald forests and mountain peaks, cosmopolitan Vancouver is high up on many travellers’ bucket lists. But with so many sights to see and activities to participate in, it’s sometimes hard to know where to start.
Here, Vancouverite Claus Gurumeta shares his insights on how to explore Vancouver as a local.”
This article was commissioned by Round the World Experts, a specialist travel service by Flight Centre UK.
All words and credited photos by Claus Gurumeta.
Here are some more photos of our visit to Pamukkale, which literally means “Cotton Castle.” You can see why they gave that name to the area in the 20th Century, when tourism started to bloom!
Have you checked out the white cliffs of Pamukkale yet?
One of our many awesome jumping shots we did in Turkey, on the site of one of the Roman baths in the ancient city of Hierapolis.
I know I know, how unoriginal, but we had a good laugh doing them in different spots around the country!
After our relaxing time along Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, it was time to return to the interior to check out Hierapolis-Pamukkale, one of the country’s most incredible sites. Hierapolis-Pamukkale is a UNESCO World Heritage Site made up of two components: the ancient city ruins of Hierapolis, and the natural white terraces of Pamukkale.
Ruins of Hierapolis
The ancient city of Hierapolis was originally constructed as a healing Spa in the 2nd Century BC, taking advantage of the area’s naturally occurring geothermal hot springs. Having switched hands from the Greeks to the Roman Empire to the Seljuks, and survived through various devastating earthquakes over many centuries, the city has a mix of architectural styles from all periods.
Hierapolis is home to Turkeys best-preserved necropolis, which is home to over 1200 tombs spanning a variety of empires and periods. There are also many well-preserved bathing rooms, and a couple of triumphal arches.
The ancient city sits atop the white cliffs of Pammukale, so the visit to the site continues on to the top of the cliffs, which can then be climbed down to the bottom, and both sites are included in the same ticket.
White Terraces of Pamukkale
The name Pamukkale, which literally means Cotton Castle in Turkish, was adapted to the area only in the 20th Century, when the white terraces and hot springs became a famous tourist attraction. The name seems silly, but the cliffs really do look like a castle made of cotton!
The terraces have been created naturally over the centuries by mineral deposits from the hot springs which have made the area important for so many centuries. The ground inside the hot, milky water of the hot springs is a white, rough clay, the same material that over time has been solidifying to create the iconic terraces.
Coming from Hierapolis above, we walked down the white terraces toward the modern town of Pamukkale, with the warm flowing water of the hot springs (only trickling around the springs themselves about 2 inches deep in most places) guiding us along, just as the sun began to set. Even though the sunset made the cliffs glow golden instead of white, the sights of this natural wonder was outstanding.
Together, Hierapolis-Pamukkale are a must-visit attraction, but even on their own, each site would be worth a visit, as each one is impressive by itself. Hierapolis-Pamukkale is one of those unique sites that will impress for both their cultural background and the wondrous natural setting in which they are located.
During my two years living in London, I came to fall in love with the city’s amazing markets, so much so, that they are one of the things I miss the most about living in London. Going to markets is a great way to spend a weekend morning, and worth skipping brunch to eat in a unique environment. Without further ado, here is a list of eight of my favourite markets in London.
1. Maltby Street Market
Maltby Street Market was a late discovery for me, as I only got to go for the first time a mere six months before I left London; yet, it somehow became my favourite market in town. As it is a bit off the beaten track, Maltby Street is bigger with Londoners than with tourists. The food options are great, with many of the stalls rotating often, which keeps the market interesting to visit again and again, while some restaurants have been established there permanently. The waffles stand is my favourite, so check it out if it’s there during your visit; if not, St. JOHN Bakery sells the most amazing doughnuts. Little Bird Gin also offers delicious cocktails, including the best bloody mary I’ve ever tasted, and has a seating area to eat all your market goodies!
Find Maltby Street Market at 41 Maltby Street, London SE1 3PA
2. Camden Markets
Up in north London, the Camden Markets are the complete opposite: packed with tourists, and you’ll be lucky to find any Londoners on site; however, I loved them from my first visit and returned again and again during my time in London. The Camden Markets are actually a bunch of different markets which merge into each other. Two large markets sell food (one has international cuisine stalls and the other more generic, greasy options), and the rest sell funky boutique clothing and all sorts of knickknacks. The Camden Lock side is the best, with great food stalls (try out shrimp & bacon burgers from Shrimpy), the Lock 17 pub overlooking the canals, and the local gem Cookies & Scream which sells the best vegan, dairy free, chocolate chill shake in the world (according to me).
Find the Camden Markets at Camden Lock Place, London NW1 8AF
3. Brixton Market & Pop Brixton
A visit to the market in Brixton in South London feels like taking a trip to another land, with a large concentration of Caribbean and Latin stalls selling a bunch of produce and packaged food items that I can honestly say I’ve never seen before. Brixton is more of a traditional market rather than a ready-to-eat foods one, selling produce and meats as well as really cheap clothing. The main street market is surrounded by covered arcades which are now full of trendy restaurants and bars. Just around the corner, the newly opened Pop Brixton uses a bunch of repurposed shipping containers to house food stalls, full-on mini restaurants (check out Donostia Social Club for great tapas!), and even pubs, as well as small clothing boutiques.
Find Brixton Market & Pop Brixton at Electric Avenue, London SW9 8JX
4. Southbank Centre Market
Located in Southbank (aka my favourite area in London) just outside Southbank Centre, this new market is open Friday through Sundays only, and concentrates on ready-to-eat food (and ready-to-drink booze) stalls only. The Southbank Centre Market is quite small and is packed with stalls, which means there is not a lot of space to sit down to eat, but with the riverfront walkway just around the corner, that’s a minor inconvenience that’s easy to overcome! A good spot to eat your grub is the staircase towards the east end, which comes with an included view of the market below and iconic London Eye in the distance.
Find Southbank Centre Market at Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX
5. Brick Lane Market
Brick Lane Market is another popular tourist spot, and it operates only on Sundays, which makes it incredibly busy… but don’t let this stop you from going, as it actually is great fun! The market is centred along Brick Lane, a street known for its high volume of Bangladeshi curry houses, and has a mix of street-stalls and established businesses selling anything from antiques, to clothing, to books. As a foodie, my favourite spot is the Boiler House, an old brewery’s boiler room that now houses the market’s food stalls, which offer over thirty different options of international delights. Now, I don’t usually advocate the closing down of breweries, but for this purpose, I’ll let it go.
Find Brick Lane Market at 91 Brick Lane, London E1 6QR
6. Portobello Road Market
Another one-day-a-week market is the popular Portobello Road Market in upscale Notting Hill, in west London, which only operates on Saturdays. The market’s setting is beautiful, along the winding road, lined with pretty Victorian terrace houses and shops on both sides. The buildings house a bunch of maze-like antique shops, while the Saturday market stalls lined on both sides of the street sell all sorts of funky fashions, art, and interesting food items including squared marshmallows in interesting flavours like strawberry-basil. The market is mostly known for its antiques, and its one of the best places in the city to get some.
Find Portobello Road Market at Portobello Road, London W10 5TA
7. Borough Market
The popular Borough Market near London Bridge might be the city’s most popular market, and although extremely touristy, this market has its merits. The market sells fresh produce, meats, cheeses and fish to the general public, while continuing its tradition of selling fresh food items as wholesale to restaurants around the area. The market also has various ready-to-eat booths, and even has some stands selling wine by the glass. Borough market is one of London’s oldest continuously-running markets (although its location has shifted slightly over the years), and while often bashed as being a tourist trap, it’s a great place for locals to buy hard-to-find and locally grown produce.
Find Borough Market at 8 Southwark Street, London SE1 1TL
8. Columbia Road Flower Market
Located just a quick walk away from Brick Lane Market, Columbia Road Flower Market is a beautiful (although again, crazy busy) market to check out. As the name suggests, the main pull of this market is a great collection of flowers, plants, shrubs and trees being sold in stands along the street. The market is only open on Sundays and closes earlier than most other markets, but it’s good to check out before or after going to Brick Lane for some food. Otherwise, you can check out the shops and cafés established along Columbia Road, behind the flower stands. Wether or not you actually plan on buying any greenery, a walk through the market amongst all the plants and colourful flowers is pretty unique!
Find Columbia Road Flower Market at Columbia Road, London E2 7RG
There is nothing I want more, when the temperatures reach the high 30s, than a cold beer and a refreshing ocean to take a dip in every so often. Thankfully, when the temperatures hit 38 degree celsius during my visit to Kaş in Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, that is exactly what I had!
As the weather gets cooler and cooler in Vancouver, I honestly wouldn’t mind going back to that moment right about now. Now that is my happy place.
Remember the good old days of plane travel? Those days when you used to get food on your flights (but no on-demand entertainment systems) and passengers dressed up for their flight?
Well, I found this little gem, a photograph of me (on the left) with my brothers Michael and Andres flying from Vancouver to Mexico City in Summer 1989!
I’ve been flying since I was a baby, but as far as I know, this photo of me only weeks before turning six years old is the oldest photographic evidence that I was destined for a life of travel.
When was your first flight?
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been telling a few people my so-called BIG NEWS, and here it is, time to come out publicly with what the next chapter in my life will be, coming up only two months from today.
Well, it happens that my two-year working visa for the UK is coming to an end, and after much deliberation (as I was exploring options to maybe extend my stay through a work sponsorship), I’ve decided to take the “easy” road and return to Canada in mid September.
I can’t believe that after making a life in London over the last couple of years, just as I was starting to plant some roots, it is time for me to leave. I have grown to love this city so much, so, although I am happy to be returning to Vancouver and being close to family and friends, I have a bittersweet feeling about this move.
HOWEVER, If you’ve followed my blog over the last few years, you’ll know that I don’t just “move” places. En-route to moving, I take the long way around, and get some travel under my belt while I am free from any responsibilities. Moving to Australia meant I got to travel for three weeks in New Zealand and 3 months in Australia itself, before settling down to work in Sydney. When I moved to the UK, I took 10 days to travel the Netherlands and Belgium, followed by three weeks in Turkey and a month traveling around to various cities in the UK, before I started work in London.
So, in true Clausito’s Footprints fashion, before I settle down in Vancouver again, I will be doing an epic six-week trip around Central America this Autumn, visiting all seven countries which make this sub-continent.
This trip will not only help me tick a whole lot of new countries, cities, towns, beaches and archaeological sites off my bucket list, but it will also mean I will have FINALLY reached my goal of visiting as many countries as the years I’ve lived (that will be 32 countries visited, just past my 32nd birthday!).
And there’s more BIG NEWS!… but I can’t go into that just yet…
Stay tuned as I finish up my two-years living in Europe in style over the next two months, followed up with many new adventures throughout the rest of 2015, and in the years to come.
Happy Canada Day 2015!
To celebrate this Canada Day, celebrated the 1st of July every year, here are some Canada Geese, hanging out by Burnaby Lake in Vancouver, BC, Canada.
I took this photo about two years ago now, as I went around the city with my friend Ryan trying to find new secluded places to hike and walk around the greater Vancouver area, before moving to the UK.
Happy Canada Day!!
Happy Pride in London 2015!
Last year, I notoriously bashed Pride in London, as there were a number of things I didn’t enjoy about the event. That had been my very first Pride event outside of Vancouver, and I felt may things about the parade itself were badly organized, and combined with other factors (like a torrential downpour), I was really disappointed with it.
Aside from the parade, I had really enjoyed what came afterwards, which was basically a big street party in all of Soho.
Well, I went to Pride in London again this year to give it a second chance, and I am happy to report, that Pride in London 2015 was MUCH BETTER than it was last year, and I have kind of forgiven the event for doing certain things the way they do. Sunny skies and warm temperatures also helped, but I think there was more to the weather alone!
The morning started on the right foot, as I joined my boyfriend Eamonn for a “Champagne breakfast” (it was actually Prosecco, but you get the idea) with his colleagues at Citibank, as he was marching with them to represent his company. It was a leisurely morning in a patio near Oxford Street, where we got to enjoy the sun, some light breakfast foods, and plenty of bubbly and mimosas.
We were there for a couple of hours before I had to leave to meet my friend Shane in Oxford Circus, to grab good spot to watch the parade. With over 950,000 people expected to attend (that is about 1/3 more people than they had last year!), we wanted to make sure we’d be in the front row to be able to take it all in.
The Parade in 2015
Shane and I found a perfect spot at the circle itself of Oxford Circus, which allowed us to see the parade without any issues. Now, I will deconstruct my complaints from last year, explaining why this year was SO MUCH BETTER, and maybe apologizing a little about some of the things I may have under-thought about.
1. The barricades. Pride in London runs right through the centre of the city, an area that even at the best of times is transited by thousands of people every single hour. I noticed the amounts of people trying to cross the parade and having to go towards one of the designated crossing points and wait for their chance to cross, only because the barricades got on their way.
Last year the barricades made me feel like they were separating the people watching from the parade itself, but yesterday I understood that without them, the parade would constantly be interrupted by people crossing from one side of the street to the next.
I also understand now, thinking about it, that in other pride festivals, such as Vancouver Pride or Brighton & Hove Pride, the parade routes don’t need the same kind of separation as the areas aren’t as busy as that of central London, so people won’t need to cross over from side to side as often.
So here it is: I apologize, Pride in London, I now know you use the barricades for a reason, and it works… but maybe it just felt better this year because there was an improvement in the next four points!
2. Last year, I felt there was a complete lack of interaction between the parade marchers and those of us watching the parade. This year, I honestly felt that, for the most part, the marchers came over to us more often, waving at us, at times hugging us, and most of the time giving us high fives.
Despite having the barricades in front of us, it felt like we were part of the party, rather than merely watching it, as it happened last year!
3. The goodies! Yes, everyone loves getting stuff, even if it’s pretty useless, as long as it is shiny. One of my favourite things about Vancouver Pride, for example, are the bead necklaces that nearly every float throws at the audience, making pride an event to enjoy, like a small version of Mardi Gras.
While Pride in London participants didn’t have beads to hand out, they were interacting with us more, and giving out a number of things… We got mostly stickers, but we also got a rainbow flag, some pins, candy, and even simple things, like the marchers coming over to glue some glitter on us, or paint rainbows on our faces… or shoot confetti into the sky above us!
Again, more than actually getting anything, it was this interaction that made it feel more like a fun party that we were all part of!
4. The volunteers. Pride in London runs only because of the hard work of volunteers, most visibly the “stewards” who keep an eye out on the crowd & marchers to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
Last year, the volunteers became more of a hinderance than an asset, as they stood still watching the parade from one spot, blocking our view with their giant umbrellas.
This year, the stewards seemed to take on a better role, helping pump up the crowd before the parade even go to where we were, and making sure the atmosphere was fun and enjoyable for everyone the whole way through. Little things, like moving around in their designated area, instead of standing in one place through the entire thing blocking people’s views, made the parade more enjoyable for us watching.
5. The parade ran smoothly! In addition to a better job by the volunteers, the entire thing went ahead much more smoothly than last year. I am going to assume that Pride in London learned from their mistakes last year, and made changes to ensure that any stresses that surely arose, were fixed without making a big visible drama that gathered more attention than the parade itself.
Overall, I really enjoyed the parade, and seeing Eamonn marching was an extra added treat. Also, I got to give a credit to the sun for making an appearance, as the sunny weather surely had to help impact the atmosphere and the attitude of everyone involved.
Soho Street Party
While the sun made the parade much more enjoyable to watch, it also meant that thousands more people would be out and about for Pride in London.
Last year, one of my favourite parts of Pride was when we headed over to Soho and enjoyed the celebrations, when the entire area closed to traffic and turned into a giant street party, with stages for singers and drag queens to perform and entertain. With so many more people out and about this year, I actually found it a bit overwhelming, and unfortunately didn’t enjoy Soho as much.
I think I will stick to visiting Soho in normal nights, when the venues and the streets are busy and buzzing, but not overwhelmingly packed!
Trafalgar Square Festival
London is unique amongst other UK cities, in that they host a post-parade festival which is free of charge… this sounds amazing, until you realize that a free event means the place will be over-packed and hard to access. Also, because the parade runs a central course, it is only logical that such festival be held central as well, and the best place to host that kind of party is Trafalgar Square. The square is a great venue, but not nearly big enough to host the large number of people Pride in London attracts.
We went into Trafalgar Square in the late afternoon, just before the last sets ran, when the crowds had reduced by about half from what they were earlier. There were still hundreds of people in the square, but we were able to actually see some of the performances.
When the stage closed, we decided to call London a night and head back to South London for dinner, as returning to busy Soho was a little more than we were looking to put ourselves through!
Overall, I can actually say Pride in London did a fantastic job in 2015. This is estimated to have been the city’s largest pride celebration, and they ran a successful and fun parade, as well as a multitude of options in Soho and Trafalgar Square for people to continue celebrating afterwards.
In terms of redeeming themselves for the chaotic Pride of last year, I can say – Pride in London: mission accomplished!
June is here, and with it, the beginning of pride season, as pride festivals and events begin to pop up all over the world (mainly the northern hemisphere). No, this blog post is not about songs, despite the festive title (although singing to my favourite gay anthems shall happen this summer), but if you read through, you’ll understand the name of the post!
Pride festivals are meant to increase the visibility of LGBT people in our communities, and stand for gay+ acceptance and equality in rights. These pride celebrations have their share of fans (and a number of not-so-fans) in both the straight and gay communities, and to me they are an important part of gay culture and a way for everyone to have fun in a non-judgemental, colourful way. No, a pride parade is not everyday life for every gay and lesbian, but I see nothing wrong with a little celebration now and then!
The Ghost of Prides Past
Until two years ago, I had surprisingly only ever gone to one pride (albeit many times). This might come as a surprise to some of my friends, who perceive me as ‘very gay,’ hopping from one bar to another on any given Saturday night (which does happen, but not as often as it seems!).
For me, until 2013, it was all about the Vancouver Pride Festival, a week-long celebration that happens every year in the last week of July, culminating with a fabulous parade on the first Sunday of August (which happens to be a long weekend). To date, I have gone to Vancouver Pride six years so far (I skipped a few in between!), and being the great celebration that it is, I never even considered traveling anywhere to witness other cities’ pride celebrations. When I moved to the UK nearly two years ago, I decided I’d branch out. It was not that I didn’t want to see other pride festivals. It was simply that I didn’t feel the need to go out of my way to go to other prides, when a great one already happened at home every year. But this was a new beginning, and a new opportunity to try new things.
My first pride experience out of Vancouver was Pride in London 2014, a parade that to me, just wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. I wanted so badly to have a good time, but it was a combination of things seem to have conspired to make me not enjoy the event as I was hoping: I may have over-built the excitement of seeing a new pride parade too much; I may have compared Pride in London to Vancouver Pride just a little too much… like, through the entire thing; or maybe it was the fact that it rained buckets that day! – In any case, London’s pride just didn’t meet my expectations, and left me wanting a lot more. With the rain as a complete damper, my friends and I ended up skipping most f the parade and the post-parade festival at Trafalgar Square, and opting for pub drinks instead.
A month later, I headed over to my second pride festival in the UK, in the coastal town of Brighton. To put it bluntly, Brighton & Hove Pride 2014 blew Pride in London out of the water, and it surpassed my expectations a gizillion times. The atmosphere of the parade and the excitement of the people was so vibrant you could almost feel it in the air. The Brighton & Hove Pride is the UK’s biggest pride festivals and it’s definitely worth checking out, with an interactive parade that reminded me of Vancouver (both in the way it was well-organized and the geographical setting itself), and the post-parade festival at Preston Park, which was great fun with good music and loads of stalls to keep us entertained.
Lastly, I headed to my third pride festival of 2014 at Pride Cymru 2014, the official pride for Wales held in its capital, Cardiff. Pride Cymru is much smaller than Brighton, but it held the same fun atmosphere, although in a much smaller scale. The group of friends I went with (all Welsh) were great company through the entire day, watching the mini parade (twice, actually!), and dancing the day and night away in the post-parade festival Main Event at Coopers Field. Aside from a little incident in which I got punched in the jaw and lost part of a tooth for trying to stop a fight between two pride goers (welcome to Wales!), I had a great night!
The Ghost of Non-Prides
No, not an official ghost, but in between last year and now, I have attended two gay-heavy events that, although not official pride events, could easily compete with some of the best.
The first happened by pure un-planned accident in November 2014 as I happened to be in Cape Town, South Africa, on the weekend of Gay Day in Cape Town, a street party that works as a teaser to Cape Town’s official Pride, which happens in the middle of February. Gay Day was so much fun, with various streets around the gay area closed to traffic and turned into a huge street party, in which drag queens performed, and a combination of live music and disco tunes alternated between two stages. The atmosphere was fantastic, and the only sad part about the day was that I had to leave early-ish, as the place started to really fill up, because I was leaving Cape Town that evening!
The second event happened only a few weeks ago in May 2015, at the gay-inundated European music contest Eurovision, which Eamonn and I went to in Vienna, Austria. This is not an official pride, nor a gay event even, but with a large gay attendance, the party was full of rainbow flags waving about, literally and figuratively!
The Ghost of Prides Yet to Come
This summer I will once again be gaying it up by visiting three prides. I am also once again being an ambassador for #mygaypride, an initiative set up last summer by one of my favourite travel blogger duo Two Bad Tourists.
The initiative #mygaypride, started up last year by Two Bad Tourists, is back again this year and will see a bunch of real travel bloggers (not wannabes, like me), gay website Gay Star News, and many more ‘ambassadors’ (that’s me!) spread the hashtag #mygaypride on social media, as we visit a multitude of Pride events this summer, all over the world. The hashtag is a way of uniting gay and gay-friendly individuals world-wide as we celebrate diversity and promote equality everywhere through sharing our experiences in and out of pride events.
To start up my 2015 pride season, I will be giving Pride in London a second chance, and I promise I will go with a clean slate and no preconceptions. I am hoping this year’s parade and celebrations will completely blow me away and I will have nothing but good things to say about it. My boyfriend Eamonn will also be walking the parade with his company, so I also have him to look forward to!
Secondly, I will once again return to Brighton & Hove Pride on the first weekend of August. A small group of friends will be going with me this year, and I know that I’ll have a great time making the mini-trek (aka the gay pilgrimage) down to Brighton in the morning, and enjoying what has become one of my favourite places in the UK, pride style! Brighton & Hove Pride is celebrating their 25th anniversary this year, and to add to the excitement, the after party at Preston Park has a fantastic line-up of artists and DJs, including Fatboy Slim, Hercules & Love Affair, Freemasons, and Bright Light Bright Light, so it’s sure to be a fantastic festival as a whole!
To end 2015’s pride celebrations in style, this year I will be heading over to pride in no other place than…. Reykjavik! That is right, my boyfriend Eamonn, two friends and I will be visiting Iceland for a few days, staying in Reykjavik and exploring some of the island from there. We planned to go over the pride weekend so we could experience the pride atmosphere as well as the country’s natural beauty. I am very excited to see pride in a country that, although quite small and fairly secluded, has been historically very strongly gay-friendly – can’t wait!
I hope all my LGBT and gay-friendly readers are looking forward to the summer pride season, and maybe you’ll be enjoying some of these festivals yourself… if so, please let me know, I’d love to hear! And don’t forget to tag all your photos under #mygaypride to keep connected!
What is the favourite pride festival you’ve been to?
If you’re not from Europe, you might be unfamiliar with the continent-wide phenomenon Eurovision, a singing competition in which a bunch of European (and pseudo-European) countries submit a singer(s) with an original song, and then award points to each other, until a winner is crowned. The winning country gets the honour of hosting the event the following year, as well as bragging rights for winning the competition.
This past weekend, Austria’s beautiful (very European) capital, Vienna, hosted the 60th Anniversary of Eurovision. With a bit of luck on our side, my boyfriend Eamonn and I got to go to the Eurovision final show as VIP guests of the Vienna Tourism Board! Not only did we get two tickets to go see the final, but also return airfare from London with flag carrier Austrian Airlines, three nights accommodation at the 25 Hours Hotel, and a city pass which included free transit and discounts at museums within the city.
VIENNA AS A HOST
The week-long event catered not only to those visitors who went to the live Eurovision shows, but to anyone who was in Vienna through its duration.
The large plaza in front of the Rathaus hosted public parties from which visitors (and locals) who did not have tickets to see Eurovision live could watch the performances on large outdoor screens. The weather unfortunately did not cooperate during one of the semi-finals, bringing a downpour which killed the party, but dry skies allowed the final to be a success.
Eamonn and I had tickets to the live final show, but headed down to the Rathaus afterwards to grab some food from one of the many stalls, and although the crowds had mostly dispersed by then, it was clear the place had been a huge party!
Vienna’s version of Eurovision had ‘Building Bridges’ as its general theme, which centred about connecting with each other, despite nationality or any other differences (which interestingly enough was Eurovision’s main goal when it was first invented a few years after WWII). As part of the ‘Building Bridges’ theme, Vienna wanted to portray itself to the rest of Europe as a gay-friendly and welcoming city, with the additional tagline adopted by the city’s tourism board for 2015: ‘Vienna, Now or Never.‘
To welcome the competition’s largely-gay spectatorship, Vienna added a number of welcoming features to its streets. A large rainbow flag hung down from the Rathaus (city hall), and small rainbow flags topped most of the city’s trams. In a more permanent addition, the city changed many of its pedestrian crossing lights to include gay and lesbian couples (as well as straight couples), instead of the traditional single figure.
Now, my moment of truth, which is likely to enrage Eurovision fans all over the world: I had seen very little Eurovision in my lifetime before this weekend.
Eurovision is truly a European phenomenon, which means it’s not as popular (or even known about) in countries outside of the continent – except for Australia, which for some reason has been a long-time fan of the competition. What I can honestly say now, after this weekend, is that I am a convert, and can now call myself a fan!
I had binge-listened to most of the entrants to the competition in the week before flying out to Vienna, but nothing compared to seeing the final show live. There were many songs I had listened to before and wasn’t crazy about, which I loved seeing live; in many cases, these under-appreciated songs surpassed some of my previously-favourite songs!
The evening, held on Saturday the 23rd of March 2015, was amazing. We had to be at the stadium at 7pm in order to get a good spot on the floor (which in case you’re wondering, is the best place to be!) and the show went on until nearly 1am, including voting and a final performance by the winner. Yet, the evening was fun from beginning to end. We ran into some friends and had a great time chatting before the show started, discussing the sets, and dancing during the intermission. The venue in the Wiener Stadthalle also had bars, so a couple of beers throughout the evening helped loosen us up to get a bit of dancing.
Aside from the music itself, what really blew my mind was the atmosphere on the floor. Not only was everyone enjoying themselves, it was also touching seeing thousands of flags from many different countries – as well as a bunch of rainbow flags – waving above the crowd. The artists also got a warm reception from the entire stadium after their sets; even non-fans like me got really into it: my hands and throat are still a little sore now from all the clapping and screaming!
The only downside of the evening was when Russia’s singer received clearly audible booing from many in the stadium at the start of the voting. This is obviously due to Russia’s blatant discrimination of LGBT rights, since the artist herself is very talented, and her song was definitely one of the best songs in the contest. Fans did not want a homophobic country hosting a usually gay-friendly event next year, but took the wrong approach, punishing an artist who has stood up for LGBT rights against her country’s laws. Thankfully, a little nudge from the hostesses reminding the crowd about ‘Building Bridges,’ and a heart to heart from Conchita Wurst (the beloved Austrian bearded drag queen, winner of last year’s Eurovision), turned the boos into a more accepting applause.
At the end of the night, once all 27 finalists had performed and the votes were counted, Sweden took top prize with the song ‘Heroes’ (we’ve been rooting for this song since the entry got announced, as it is a pretty nifty song!), while Russia came in second with ‘A Million Voices,’ and Italy third with ‘Grande Amore.’ Belgium’s catchy ‘Rhythm Inside’ ended up in fourth place, while Australia, a country invited as a one-time-only guest due to their long-standing support of Eurovision, ended up in fifth place with Guy Sebastian’s ‘Tonight Again.’
Biggest surprises of the night were Lithuania with the duet ‘This Time,’ which quickly became one of my favourite songs even though it didn’t do great in the competition, and Spain’s ‘Amanecer,’ which despite having a great song and performance, got only a few points. The live performance of France got roaring applause in the stadium, but the grandeur didn’t seem to translate into the TV, leaving the country in third-to-last place with only four points awarded. Austria and Germany surprisingly ended up in last place, without a single point awarded.
As I try to adopt the United Kingdom as my new home, I proudly waved my Union Jack flag, despite our entry ‘Still in Love With You’ only earning 5 points and ending in 24th place overall. Another guilty confession is: I actually really enjoy the song! It is a silly and playful jazzy melody, which would get me moving on the dance floor any day (after a few beers, especially).
The intermission proved to be another great treat. While the 40 voting countries around Europe gathered their votes, we were presented with an incredible half-way show filled with music, both upbeat drum & base and a classical chorus segment. Biggest highlight of the night was definitely when my group of friends and I ended up being recorded during the intermission, appearing dancing for about four seconds in front of an estimated 200 million viewers world-wide!
I am not sure if I’ll ever make it to another live Eurovision contest as visiting the show does require some serious commitment in the financial sense… however, this has been one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in Europe, and I am so happy I got the opportunity to go!
Have you ever been to Eurovision? What did you think?!
Back in January, I dragged my boyfriend Eamonn and a few friends over to a gay travel expo in London, hosted by Gay Star News Travel.
The expo was small (having worked in the travel industry for over seven years now, I’ve been to my share of travel expos and markets, so I know!) but, surprisingly, had a raffle with a grand prize that consisted of a trip to Vienna, to see the Eurovision song contest final!
For those who don’t know what Eurovision is – so basically everyone who isn’t from Europe or Australia (not sure why, but Eurovision is super big there too!) – it is a huge multi-national European singing contest, in which countries submit a singer with an original song, then award points to each other to pick a winner. The winning country usually hosts the following year’s Eurovision, and the show goes on.
Despite most people outside of Europe (and Australia) not knowing about this event, Eurovision has launched the careers of a couple famous people over the past few decades – most notably, Sweden’s ABBA, and believe it or not, Celine Dion, my fellow Canadian that for some reason sang for Switzerland, taking that year’s prize for the country.
Last year, a lovely bearded drag queen named Conchita Wurst from Austria, rose to the top of the competition with her song Rise Like a Phoenix, earning the country the chance to host the singing contest this year in its capital Vienna.
And so, as fate would have it, my boyfriend Eamonn participated on the “Pin the Beard on Conchita Wurst” game at the Gay Star Travel Expo (a funny version of the popular pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game), and his entry to the raffle won him the grand prize!
And so, this coming Friday we are off to Vienna, on the winning trip sponsored by the Vienna tourism board. Our trip includes return airfare on national flag carrier Austrian Airlines, three nights accommodation at the funky 25 Hours Hotel in Vienna’s museum ring, a city pass which offers us discounts to various attractions, and of course, tickets to see the Eurovision final!
I’m especially excited about this trip as it will be my first 2015 trip visiting a new city (and country!), after re-visiting Rome, Madrid, and Bangkok so far this year. It will also be Eamonn’s first time visiting the city, so we already have a list of things we want to do, and most importantly for our foodie selves, places where we want to eat!
So if you’re watching the Eurovision final this year, keep an eye out for me on the television… You never know, you might see me there!
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the Hagia Sophia, one of Istanbul’s most important attractions. The structure itself is an architectural wonder, the art inside it is priceless, and the history of the Hagia Sophia is an important heritage to the world altogether.
However, more than the Hagia Sophia itself, there are other areas included within the Hagia Sophia Museum, that I didn’t write about… so here you go, a post dedicated specifically to the lesser-known, but just as important, Sultan Tombs.
During my visit to Turkey in September 2013, I went to check out the Sultan Tombs with my friend Ryan. The Tombs are a series of beautifully decorated mausoleums, each which contains a number of sarcophaguses that happen to be the final resting place of various sultans and their families.
Each mausoleum is intricately decorated in its own individual manner, with different colour schemes and designs on its tiles and carved doors, and are hence worth visiting individually. The older mausoleums date all the way back to the 16th Century, so the historical significance is no less important than that of other buildings in Old Istanbul.
A single entry ticket will allow visitors access to all the tombs, and the Istanbul Museum pass includes the entry to this area of the Hagia Sophia Museum as well. Keep in mind each individual mausoleum is considered a sacred structure, so make sure to respect the traditions and rules of Muslim places of worship, including the use of acceptable clothing and removal of shoes before entering!
Have you been to the Hagia Sophia Museum Tombs?
Happy Earth Day – 22 April 2015!
I took this photo of a mural of Earth in downtown Belfast, Northern Ireland, during my visit with my boyfriend Eamonn in December 2014.
Belfast is a wonderful little city, and one of my favourite things about it was the amount of murals everywhere!