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I am escaping London for the weekend, to spend time with my friend Adam exploring Cardiff, the beautiful capital of Wales.

This will be my second visit to Cardiff, and Wales altogether, with the first being a day trip from Bristol back in October 2013, when I first traveled around the UK after I just moved here.

Mosaic Plaque Depicting Wales, Outside Millennium Stadium in Cardiff

Mosaic Plaque Depicting Wales, Outside Millennium Stadium in Cardiff

On the agenda for the weekend: Welsh whiskey, Welsh cakes, the Doctor Who Experience, and Cymru Pride celebrations… as well as some quality time with Adam and other friends!

Two weeks ago I went to see the West End production of Once, playing at the Phoenix Theatre in Soho. This was the first professional theatre show I’ve gone to see in London’s West End since the day I moved to the UK, when I went to see Les Miserables (back in September 2013!).

Once at the Phoenix Theatre in Soho. London, England.

I knew nothing about the show before I went to see it, but absolutely fell in love with the story, the music (so good!), but most of all, with the show itself. I can say this is a musical like I’ve never seen before, and I loved the way it was produced (keep reading).

Once:
Once really left a mark on me, and it is hard to pinpoint exactly what it was about the show that has had me thinking about it constantly since I went to see it. I honestly recommend you go see this musical if you are in London, it will not disappoint.

THE STORY of Once, which is based on an Oscar-winning film, is set in Dublin, Ireland, and follows Guy, a young busker who has lost his passion for creating music, as he feels no body is interested in hearing it anymore… that, and his heart is still broken after his girlfriend moved to New York months prior. Guy’s depression with the current state of his life is turned around by meeting Girl, a Czech immigrant who slowly makes him realize that he has a talent that needs to be shared. Together, Guy and Girl embark on a journey of discovery together.

Without giving too much away, there are a few plot twists popping up all over the place, and of course a number of other characters that aid to move the story forward. Once does have a little bit of a romantic storyline, although I think in the end it is much more about friendship and belief in one’s own abilities, than love.

The portrayal of the characters (especially Girl) is a little over the top and almost makes a mockery of them, but the excesses sort of work for this show. Once also has plenty of funny moments that literally made me laugh out loud.

The Stage
As mentioned beforehand, Once takes place in Ireland, so it is only fitting that the stage of the show is that of an Irish bar (one in the shape of a semi-circle). Interestingly enough, a very small portion of the story actually takes place in a bar, but the set works well. Sidenote: A little interesting fact you might want to know if you plan on going, is that, during the intermission, the set actually turns into a working bar, so hop up on the stage and go grab a beer!

So how does a stage that resemble an Irish bar, not be used as an Irish bar? Well, that was one of the things I really enjoyed about the show. Once focuses more on the acting and the music than on the stage itself, so the story is told using only a few props, and a whole lot of imagination. Chairs and tables are moved around the stage to fit whatever the needs of the scene are; for example, three chairs lined together may serve to illustrate a bed, a couch, or… well, three chairs. Likewise, tables are sometimes used as tables, although in one scene they are desks at a bank. The bar itself is also used in many ways, either as an actual bar, as a surface for the actors to dance on, or simply ignored altogether, as if it wasn’t there.

Lighting is probably the most utilized tool, used to emphasize certain spots of the stage, creating “spaces” with the light and the shadow, so the rest of the “Irish bar” doesn’t distract from what is actually going on in the story. There is also a small portion of the show played above the stage itself, where the entire bar becomes the ocean (this will likely make more sense once you go see the show!).

The Music
The single most important part of this musical is its music. Yes, that can be said about pretty much every musical in existence, but I honestly believe it is more crucial to Once than any other show I’ve ever seen.

It is not only about the music itself, which is beautiful, or the singing (although let me tell you, just thinking about the voice of David Hunter – who plays Guy- gives me chills), but about the way the music is created on the stage. What makes Once so unlike any other musical I’ve ever seen, is that each actor on the stage plays an instrument, so there is no separate orchestra to the show, but a bunch of really talented people doing what they do best!

Throughout the show, all the actors remain on stage, sitting along the semi-circle walls of the set. As their characters are needed, the actors will get up and join the centre stage, going back to sit down after their characters “exit” the scene. While sitting down though, the actors continue to play their instruments as needed. Instruments are also obviously played centre-stage as well, as music is a huge part of the story itself.

Another thing that really struck me about the music, is the variety of instruments used, as everything from a guitar, to drums, to violins and even an accordion make an appearance. Not only that, but most actors will play more than one instrument throughout the show… which to someone without any musical talent (I’m speaking about myself here), seems pretty impressive.

One last note, back to the singing. The singing in the West End production I went to see was flawless and I honestly felt goosebumps more than once throughout the show. Not only that, but the score itself is beautiful, with songs that really leave an impact.

The Extras
Once
didn’t have an immense amount of dancing per say, but there was a fair bit of choreography to accompany the music. The way the show was presented, it at times felt more like being at a gig, rather than a musical production.

Once

Once

Last Thoughts
I went to see Once without any expectations and really enjoyed the show… I did so much, that I find myself talking about it or tweeting about it, or quietly singing the songs to myself even now, a couple of weeks after watching it. I’m even really wanting to watch the movie on which the musical is based on, as I want to see where it all began.

Once is composed of beautiful elements, from the music to the storyline, and is so heart-warming that it honestly makes me want to chase my dreams, and be a better influence in other people’s lives. The storyline is relatable and bittersweet, with dashes of charm and really funny moments.

As mentioned earlier, the way the show is portrayed, it almost feels more like going to see a gig than a musical. If you are in London and want to check out a West End musical that is unlike anything else you have seen, go to Once!

To check out more about the show, visit their official site at www.oncemusical.co.uk. There are also some great summer discounts available through ticket master, so check them out!

My Rating: 4½ stars

Wow.

It’s been roughly three years and a half since I got my very own website and officially started my travel blog, and what a ride it’s been. I am honestly surprised that in this time I’ve had over 50,000 individual views on my blog.

So far in my life, I’ve traveled to 23 countries… Very far from the 30 countries I had hoped to travel to before I turn 31 in September, but I have still made incredible memories traveling extensively through these places. My writing is a little behind, so there is still much more to come on travels I’ve already done, plus all the travels I plan on doing in the coming future!

Me in Cologne, May 2014

Me in Cologne, Germany, May 2014

I know it sounds cheesy, but I honestly want to thank each and every one of my readers, who has taken any time out of their life to visit my blog, whether it is to read about my travels, or just browse through my collection of photographs. Whether you are one of my loyal readers who visit often, or you’ve only visited my blog once or twice, you’ve inspired me to keep up with the blog, and continue to share my travel stories.

Thank you very much for visiting; I hope you’ll continue to support my blog in the future. On my part, I will try to be better at updating more often, so you have a reason to come back!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!
-CG

PS. I have finally given in and created a Facebook page to go with my blog. Like my page if you want to connect on Facebook!

Last Saturday I headed down to Brighton to go to one of the UK’s most popular pride celebrations, Brighton and Hove Pride. The event, which at a 160,000 attendees surprisingly has about four times more attendees than Pride in London, surpassed my expectations, and my friend Shane and I had a great time.

Claus and Shane Brighton Pride

Claus and Shane Brighton Pride

This was my first visit to Brighton, which is located just south of London, a quick 1-hour train’s journey, on the coast. As we were there only for the pride celebrations, we didn’t get to walk around the city much, but from what I saw, I really want to go back and explore the city a little further. It was also nice being on the coast… I realized I hadn’t been to the sea since my trip to Tenerife in the Canary Islands this past January!

Shane and I wanted to go overnight but due to pride (and our planning last-minute!) most hotels were sold out, and the remaining ones were only available at outrageous prices; however, given the closeness to London, it was easy enough for us to go as a day trip, and still have a great time taking part in the celebrations.

The weather was mostly sunny, with a little bit of cloud cover and about five minutes of heavy rain, but it was pretty warm all throughout, even at night. The crowd was also great, a good mix of people of all ages (including many families), just having fun and enjoying the parade and celebrations.

Neon Girls

Neon Girls at Brighton and Hove Pride

The Parade
The Brighton Pride parade itself was a spectacle to behold, and everything I have come to expect from a pride parade. If you read my post on this year’s Pride in London, you will know that I was extremely underwhelmed by the UK’s capital’s pride parade. Happy to say, Brighton more than made up for it, and it’s restored my faith in the ability of the UK to hold world-class pride events that are well worth visiting!

Brighton is a fairly small city, and is easily walkable. The parade itself started near the beach and went across the city itself, culminating at Preston Park, where the official pride fair / market / party was held. While there weren’t that many floats, there were enough to make the parade last a little over an hour, which in my opinion was a perfect length for it.

The one thing I enjoyed most about the parade, is that it felt like a street party more than anything. Unlike Pride in London, which separates the parade from its viewers by an unsightly system of fences, Brighton Pride was open, and I felt, as a viewer, part of the festivities. Brighton Pride reminded me a lot about Vancouver Pride (in the feel of the parade itself, and even a little on the sea-side setting!). I can even say there is one thing I enjoyed more than my multiple visits to Vancouver Pride over the years (a pride parade and festival that I love): in Brighton, I was able to openly have a few beers during the parade due to less-strict alcohol laws!

The floats in the parade were nicely decorated, and all participants seemed to be having a great time, dancing along and interacting with the attendees. The crowds (both in and out of the parade) were mixed, about 50/50 men and women, and included people of all ages, including multiple families (with a large number of non-LGBT families), which was great to see… and of course, Brighton’s “Oldest Gay in the Village,” a local celebrity.

While the parade was light and fun, with lots of rainbow flags, colour, bubbles, and a healthy percentage of drag queens and sexy men in booty shorts, important issues were also addressed. Some of the most shocking included a march with one participant carrying a banner for each of the countries in the world that still criminalize homosexuality: an important reminder that we sometimes forget. Closer to home even, the “End Homophobia in the Commonwealth” group, addressing the fact that, while the Commonwealth Games were being held in Glasgow, Scotland, at the same time as the Brighton Pride parade, about 80% of the Commonwealth nations still criminalize homosexuality based on antiquated British laws.

Brighton Pride at Preston Park

Brighton Pride at Preston Park

The Park (Festival at Preston Park)
The Brighton and Hove Pride parade finished at the entrance to Brighton’s Preston Park, which happens to be where the main pride festival / party was held that afternoon and into the evening.

The park was a ticketed event, and by the time Shane and I organized ourselves we ended up paying £20 each for our tickets, but if booking early (memo to self for 2015, if I can make it back) one can get tickets for £10 per person! Tickets at the door were £25.

Preston Park‘s pride celebrations had large open spaces in which attendees could relax in the sunshine. The festival also included a fun-fair area with rides (we were drinking so did not go on any because that probably wouldn’t have been a good move!) and a large expo-style market with tons of booths educating visitors about different LGBTQ organizations, advertising political parties or government bodies, or promoting other LGBT-specific activities, such as the Gay Men’s Chorus. There are also a few others that are simply advertising personal businesses for products that might be interesting to LGBT, but not exclusively for gays and lesbians.

The rest of the park was set up with multiple tents, some which were bars, and some which housed dance floors. The dancing tents were fairly fun, although we soon realized they were all playing pretty much the same music, a techno-house mix that was perhaps a little too early in the day to enjoy. Even though the tents were supposed to appeal to different groups of people (ex. the “Bears and Men’s” Tent), the lack of music variety was probably the festival’s only major downfall. Other than that it was very fun!

Brighton Pride Main Stage

Brighton Pride Main Stage

The bar tents were surprisingly efficient, with queues going through quite fast, so we never had to wait long before we had another beer. Also, for a festival, a £4.50 charge for a pint of beer was quite reasonable and similar to most bars out in Soho in London. Outhouses and urinals were also numerous and spread out throughout the grounds, with queues sometimes taking a little longer, but never excessively long.

The Main Stage at the festival was probably the centre point of Preston Park, and had day-long singers and performances, which were quite good, including some decently big ones like Blue, Frank Musik, and Katie B. The area in front of the main stage was a big dance floor and everyone seemed to be having a great time, so overall, the celebrations at Preston Park were well worth the admission fee.

Brighton Itself
I have been waiting until now to go to Brighton, and I can’t wait to go back now.

Me and Shane at Brighton Beach

Me and Shane at Brighton Beach

As mentioned above, because we were there mainly for Pride, we didn’t really get to see much of the city, although we did take a break in between the parade and the festival at Preston Park to go down to the beach and have a few beers. The beach in Brighton is rocky, but still quite scenic, and the city itself has that distinct feeling of a coastal town.

Brighton Beach

Brighton Beach

After the beach, as we slowly made our way towards Preston Park, we also stopped at a park that had a food fair going on, to grab a bite to eat, and then stopped at one of the pubs in the city (Brighton Tavern) to grab a pint. After the festival ended, before catching our train back to London, Shane and I returned to the tavern for a couple more beers, to socialize with the locals.

Brighton and Hove Pride 2014 was a great event, and I enjoyed every part of it. Definitely on my list of Pride festivals to go to next year if I am able to… in the meantime, I really need to make a day trip to Brighton happen, to explore the city a little better on a less heavy-packed day!

Fair warning: This post contains adult-themed material. But don’t worry, this is aPG13 blog after all, so “adult” advisories can be taken lightly. (Note: the show I am about to discuss IS intended for audiences 18+ years). Oh yes, and be warned, this post is gay. VERY gay.

Bathhouse: The Musical

Bathhouse: The Musical

So here it goes. I went to see Bathhouse: The Musical!, at a small theatre in Vauxhall, London. The show was put on by an amateur theatre production, but was originally created in Orlando nearly a decade ago. There were parts I enjoyed about the production, and while some parts of it could definitely be polished up, it was a good show over all.

The Theatre: Above the Stag Theatre
First of all I want to rave on about this small theatre a little, as I really liked it. The theatre, built under a railway arch in Vauxhall, an area in inner / southern London. Building businesses under railway arches is quite common in the UK, but for me, begin a foreigner, this still seems fascinating and quirky.

Above the Stag Theatre has a welcoming foyer / bar at the entrance, in which the theatre goers can enjoy drinks and conversation before and after the show, as well as on intermissions. As the place is quite small, it creates a cool, intimate atmosphere, that is great for interacting with others.

Decor is quite simplistic, mostly consisting of a few pieces of black and white furniture, with walls decorated with the posters of previous shows running at the theatre. The bar is quite well stocked (given the size of the venue).

The theatre portion itself, in a room adjacent, is small enough to tightly fit 60 seats, with a stage that is at the same level as the first row of seats. The theatre is small enough that it works well with the acoustics of the shows, projecting the sounds without much need for sound equipment. Being built under a railway arch, every so often it’s possible to hear a train transiting above the stage, but again, I found this more fascinating than distracting!

I’d definitely be up for visiting Above the Stag again.

Bathhouse: The Musical!
The musical is obviously a gay-themed musical, set nowhere else than in a gay bathhouse. Not being a personal huge fan of SIPV, I got to admit that I was a little skeptical about the premise of the show, but it was funny enough to enjoy – if you take it lightly, and come in with the expectation that the content in the musical will not change your life.

The set of the musical is very simple, mostly consisting of a backdrop of showers, two benches which were moved around pretty much for every scene to fit the needs of the choreography, and a few lockers. Costume-wise, apart from the beginning 2-minutes in which the main characters are introduced, most of the costumes consist of white towels in the first half of the show, and brightly coloured towels (with each of the five characters donning a colour), for the second half of the show. A last costume of incredibly gaudy sequins-covered towels were used after the show for the ‘encore.’ Oh yes, and let’s not forget a little bit of PG13 nudity added to the mix.

Without giving too much away, the musical follows Billy, a young boy who is discovering the bathhouse for the first time. He is looking to find the man of his dreams, but soon discovers that most of the goers are there for less permanent relationships. Through his time there, he gets to know  a few of the characters, with special affection for Maurice, who isn’t really in an emotional place to be the man who Billy needs (insert plot twist). The other three characters help to move the story ahead, but are not crucial to the main storyline.

The Music
Being a musical, a large portion of Bathhouse consists of music. Many of the songs are downright silly, with enough composition to make them work, but lacking any sort of meaningful content. However, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t actually really enjoy some of the songs. The song “The Steamroom” which is sang along to the tune of loud exhalation (much like people actually do while relaxing inside steam rooms), is probably one of the sexiest songs I’ve heard in my life. Likewise, the song “Lonely Love Song” had enough heart in it to actually move me.

Then there were the really silly ones, like “The Bathhouse ABCs”  which is mostly an attempt at throwing in stereotypical gay jokes; “Clickin’ for Dick,” a country song (and dance) about looking for action on grindr /scruff / tindr/ etc.; “Bear chaser” about a …. well, kind of self-explanatory; and “Penises are Like Snowflakes,” which talk about how different and unique every penis is!

The singing on this specific production was mostly good, although there were many parts where the  voices of the actors could be polished. In my opinion, two of the supporting cast (David “the married guy” and Teddy “the party boy”) had the best voices and were able to hold on to their notes at different pitches. Billy the main character was good at times, but I felt his voice cracked much too often when he tried to sing higher than his voice allowed. Maurice, the love-interest and main supporting character, also had on and off times, while the fifth guy (whom I’ve learned is not part of the original script) had some great numbers, which probably worked mainly because the theatre is quite small.

The Choreography
Along with catchy tunes, no musical would ever be complete without some dancing. As a whole, the best choreography for this show was the country dancing along to “Clickin’ for Dick,” although I also liked the workout dance routine for “The Workout,” in which David sings about transforming from a “fat gay” to a “god” through constant exercise. 

A number that could really have been much sexier than it was is “Seduction Tango,” in which Billy and Maurice performed a tango while they sang two versions of the same song: about their individual intentions with each other (Billy to fall in love with him, Maurice to have a one-night stand). I personally felt the tango could have been much spicier, and better executed.

Other parts of the choreography to me seemed just messy, not only in the execution, but the way the actors were expected to dance altogether. Not calling myself an expert theatre-goer, but I have gone to enough musicals (including multiple amateur shows like this, which I’d say were a step up) to know that jazz fingers are never cool, no matter how camp you want to make the routine!

After the show ended, the cast existed the stage and returned for an encore, which happened to be a medley of every song that formed part of the musical. While I do appreciate an encore, I found singing the whole thing again kinda took away from the experience and although it was a second laugh to sing the funny part of the songs again, I’m not so sure it was highly necessary (especially with over-the top camp added to the dancing, and costumes consisting of sequins-covered towels).

Last Thoughts
The show was camp and entertaining, and although not incredibly revolutionary, it was a good time. The show does rely heavily on stereotypical gay jokes, but if taken lightly, it’s possible to find a little bit of heart under all the rainbows.

Bathhouse: The Musical has been extended to run at Above the Stag Theatre until mid August, and I do recommend you go see it if you’re feeling a little gay and want an inappropriate laugh.
Check out http://www.abovethestag.com/ to buy tickets for this and other shows.

My Rating: 3½ stars

Festival of Love, South Bank, London

Festival of Love, South Bank, London

London’ s South Bank is host this summer to the Love Festival, a celebration of food, drink, theatre and, well, love. Perhaps the best part of the Love Festival (as far as I know, anyhow) is the London Wonderground, a side festival that celebrates the underbelly art of cabaret, burlesque and circus.

The London Wonderground grounds are made to resemble an old fair / amusement park, with old-style wooden bumper carts acting as two-seater chairs. Other patio chairs and tables and picnic tables offer additional seating, while higher table surfaces provide more gathering places for visitors standing up.

The grounds are enclosed by wooden walls, all of which are neatly decorated with old circus posters, and of course, there is a large bar on one of the walls, providing liquid refreshments to visitors (and pizza, in case you get the munchies after a beer or two!).

Yesterday I went with my work team to see the show Limbo at the London Wonderground, a jaw-dropping mix of circus and cabaret that is equal parts acrobatics, laughs, music and sensuality… with a bit extra sensuality added, just for kicks.

The stage for Limbo, which has an entrance from the main Wonderground fair grounds, resembles an old style circus tent. A circular stage in the middle of the tent is surrounded by arena seating, while the outskirt of the tent have booths, perfect for groups (that’s where we sat!). Despite the tent not being overly high, nor too big, the experience was just as incredible as any Cirque du Soleil show I’ve ever seen!

LIMBO, a Circus-Cabaret Extravaganza

LIMBO, a Circus-Cabaret Extravaganza

LIMBO The Show
The show started with a bang with an incredible music score that set the tone for the evening (quite literally, as the same song in different reincarnations kept seeping throughout the show. The second number went into a completely different direction, which to be honest had me ordering if the show would suck. Glad to announce, it didn’t!

Limbo included classical circus tricks reminiscent of old-time circuses, including a contortionist (who happens to be a man), a fire breather / sword swallower (who happens to be a girl), and heart-racing acrobatics that had me on the edge of my seat through most of the show. In between acrobatic numbers, the cast showed other talents such as playing instruments (including an accordion and a big wind instrument that I honestly can’t identify), tap dancing, singing, magic tricks, and even comedy.

The acrobatics, which at times defied what I would have imagined humans were capable of achieving with their bodies, were accompanied by an original score that is rhythmic and fun. Strong notes of electronics and club beats mixed in with hip-hop elements to create a sound that’s unique. The music was sometimes fitting – as in the number “watch me fall,” which accompanied a number in which an acrobat climbed up and down a large pole in the centre of the stage, purposefully falling from the top, before stopping himself); and sometimes simply silly and playful.

Limbo loosely followed a story in which a group of individuals are stuck in a sort of purgatory (or Limbo, perhaps), and aimlessly try to accomplish goals – whether it is a jail escape (with the most incredible hand-stands I’ve ever seen), or getting it on with someone they fancy (a comical break in which two people just can’t seem to get naked enough for it).

To put it all together, the show wasn’t purely acrobatics, but also had a strong element of cabaret to it, which gave it a more sensual edge (a bit reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity in Las Vegas). The cast flirted with each other, with the spectators, and with inanimate objects (read: the fire breather virtually getting off by rubbing fire against her body); the acrobats are not only incredibly talented, but also quite beautiful (boys and girls alike); and the costumes are less, circus-leotard and more cabaret-chic. To please my gay readers, there is also an element of bisexuality to the show, which is quite sexy… but I won’t give much more away, as you should go see the show!

Limbo  is in fact SO GOOD that this is its second year running in the London Wonderground, back due to popular demand. The show debited for the first time at last year’s Wonderground before embarking on an international tour… and if the show I watched is anything to go by, I would expect Limbo to go abroad again after this year’s stint in London is over!

London Wonderground

London Wonderground

The entrance to the Wonderground itself is free and is open seven days a week. Limbo is on every evening from Tuesday through Sunday until the 17th of August 2014, with additional matinée shows on weekends. Tickets start at £20 per person. Check out tickets for this and other shows at their website:

http://www.londonwonderground.co.uk/

Cube Houses in Rotterdam, Netherlands

Cube Houses in Rotterdam, Netherlands

On a previous post, I mentioned that during my stay in Amsterdam, Netherlands, I took a couple of  excursions out of the city, to explore other parts of the country.

First, I visited some small fishing towns and the countryside in North Holland, which gave me a completely different impression of what the Netherlands is all about.

In yet another contrast, I went on an excursion to explore some of the country’s other major cities.

Euromast Tower

Euromast Tower

Rotterdam
The city of Rotterdam is the second-largest city in the Netherlands (after Amsterdam). Although the two cities are less than 80km apart geographically, they couldn’t be any further apart in the way they look and feel.

While Amsterdam remained relatively unscathed after WWII, Rotterdam suffered extensive damage. Most of the city’s beautiful, centuries-old architecture was completely demolished during bomb raids, leaving nothing but a flat canvas to be re-imagined after the war.

The city took up to the challenge, and over the decades following the war, has rebuilt a modern city with some of the most eye-catching architecture I’ve ever seen. From the Erasmus Bridge, which was designed taking inspiration from a swan, to the incredibly quirky ‘Cube Houses,’ Rotterdam is pushing forward on the design of atypical architecture… and somehow making it all work together!

As I visited Rotterdam as part of a multi-city one-way excursion, I didn’t get the chance to explore the city as much as I’d like to, but I did get to get a taste for the city. Perhaps the best part of my visit was the ride up to the Euromast, an observation tower which provides visitors 360 degree views of the city from 100 metres above ground.

Rotterdam Seen From the Euromast Observation Deck

Rotterdam Seen From the Euromast Observation Deck

Delft
A much smaller city, Delft retains the authentic character of Dutch architecture. Like Amsterdam, Delft is a city built along a series of scenic canals, which make it a beautiful place to see. Delft is small enough to be explored by foot in a few hours, with most of the points of interest being located around the main square.

Delft is probably best known for the famous Dutch Delft Blue Pottery, an art which started in the 1500s, inspired by Chinese porcelain. Only ceramics, handmade and hand painted, in the city of Delft, are approved (by the Dutch Royal family nonetheless!) as official Delft Blue Pottery. During my visit to the city, I got to take a tour inside one of the factories, and see how the ceramics were handcrafted, hand painted, and fired.

The Hague
The tour I took to southern Holland also included a drive around The Hague, the country’s other Capital City (Amsterdam and The Hague both share being a capital). Although I got to see the Parliament Building, the World Peace Memorial, and drive around the embassies of many countries, It was just a quick drive around the city aboard a coach, so I can’t honestly say I’ve been to The Hague!

*****

Although packing three cities into a one-day tour doesn’t provide enough time to see it all, this tour was great at giving me a taste of the Netherlands, outside of Amsterdam. It is great to see the contrast between cities that are so close to each other geographically, but completely different from one another. This tour cost €54, including the entrance to the observation deck at Euromast.

A few months ago, my good friend Erik Carlson, a real estate agent in Vancouver, interviewed me about my experience living in London England, vs my life in Vancouver Canada as part of his quarterly newsletter.

It’s a pretty nifty interview if I do say so myself, so I figured I’d share it with you!

If you’re interested in looking at real estate in Vancouver, you can follow Erik on twitter at @ErikLists or visit his page at vancouverdowntownproperty.com.

Name: Claus Gurumeta

Where I Live Now: London, England, UK

What Took Me Here: Mostly adventure; a yearn for change! (But I do work.)

My ‘Must-Do’ List: 
  1. London has an impressive array of museums to satisfy everyone’s interests: from art (classic, modern, contemporary), to natural history, to historical jewels, weaponry, and fashion, you’ll find a museum in London. Most impressively, most museums are free of charge!
  2. Explore one of London’s many markets, whether it is the weekend markets in Brick Lane, or the daily markets of Brixton or Camden, they are a must-do!
  3. London’s pub-culture is impressive, with a multitude of different pubs anywhere you look. Definitely try out a few, and taste the local room-temperature ales for a change!

Insider Tips: If you plan to catch a musical in the West End, pre-buy your tickets to get the seats you want! Yes, you can sometimes buy discounted tickets on the day of the show, but you’ll end up with the worst seats in the house, and still pay for it. Also, don’t be afraid to walk off the main tourist areas and try a local pub for lunch (or for beers); there are so many great options around the city that there is no reason to stick to the tourist traps. If you see a recommendation in your Lonely Planet guidebook, do yourself a favour and skip it!

My Biggest Struggle Here: Shopping for specialty groceries. It is impressive, despite being such similar cultures, how hard it is to find certain ingredients which are easily found at home!

What Surprised Me: Being a foodie, I’m pleasantly surprised to find out cuisine in London is not as bad / unimaginative / tasteless as its reputation holds. There are plenty of amazing ethnic restaurants all over the city, and even pub meals (especially Sunday roasts!) are quite satisfying. Another pleasant surprise is finding out that many things are cheaper than Vancouver, including groceries and clothes, so shop away.

In Vancouver I Lived In: North Vancouver

If Money Were No Object, I Would Live in _____ In Vancouver: I really like the West End in downtown Vancouver. The area is close to everything, but still feels secluded and peaceful at night, and you have Stanley Park for bike rides or runs at your door step.

What I Miss Most About Vancouver: 
Sushi! Other than Japan, every other destination I’ve ever lived in / visited disappoints when it comes to matching Vancouver’s amazing sushi.


Favorite Place(s) To Wine, And To Dine, In Vancouver: 
I really like Italian Kitchen on Alberni St for a nice dinner, but mostly you’d find me chowing down on cheap eats and some beers at The Fountainhead Pub on Davie St. On a summer day, nothing beats the patio at the Cactus Club on English Bay.

If I Could Live Anywhere In The World, It Would Be: I’m liking London at the moment, great city with lots to do and explore…think I’ll be happy here for a while!

 *****

Where would YOU live if you had the opportunity to move abroad?

Happy 4th of July to all my American friends; enjoy the celebrations!

USA Flag in Seattle, WA, USA

USA Flag in Seattle, WA, USA (August 2013)

Happy Canada Day 2014!

White Rock Pier, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Canada Flag Flying Proudly in White Rock, Vancouver, BC, Canada (March 2013)

Happy Pride from London!

Pride in London #mygaypride

Pride in London #mygaypride

Yesterday, London celebrated its annual pride parade and festival, an event I have been looking forward to for a while, as it is the first time I go to a Pride festival outside of Vancouver. After so much building it up, I’m sad to say I was actually underwhelmed by the parade itself, and I ended up leaving about half way through.

Before I sound like I’m complaining too much, let me assure you I actually had a great time in Pride in London. I honestly think that I am a little jaded, after attending Vancouver Pride multiple times over the years, Pride in London just didn’t cut it for me. The reality is that Vancouver Pride is pretty freaking awesome, a parade that is getting bigger and better, and more colourful, year after year. Vancouver Pride is amongst the top most visited prides in the world, and it’s always a really fun time, and the parade does justice to such an event. Pride in London’s parade to me seemed all over the place.

The weather did not want to cooperate; aside from a couple sunny breaks, there was a downpour for most of the afternoon. Had the weather been nicer, I would have definitely stayed for the whole parade, but water was literally seeping through my umbrella, and I just didn’t feel like being there anymore.

Why didn’t I love the parade of Pride in London?
1. The barricades. Not exactly sure why they needed to barricade spectators from the parade, behind fences. I mean, I understand it is to avoid delays from people getting in the way of the parade itself, but seriously, Vancouver Pride is SO MUCH BIGGER, with a lot more attendees, and somehow there is no need to fence out the spectators. Being fenced out really made me feel like  I was merely a spectator, rather than part of the event.

2. While we’re on the subject of “being a spectator,” I felt like Pride in London lacked interaction between the parade participants (the people marching / aboard floats) and the people watching the parade. Yes, many of them waved their hands, but I often felt like the participants  had great banter going on amongst them, rather than connecting with the people watching. This lack of interaction made me feel even more like I was merely watching a group of people having fun, while I wasn’t really having any. I honestly feel, that the Pride in London parade simply lacked the interaction between participants and watchers, which is what makes a Pride parade fun.

3. Whatever happened to the goodies? One of my favourite part about Vancouver Pride is collecting the bead necklaces… Yes, a little Mardi Gras-wannabe, but it is amazing how much fun it is collecting bead necklaces, or temporary tattoos, or flags, throughout the parade. I enjoy going to the bars afterward and seeing everyone who attended the parade decked out with the colourful beads, and sometimes using that as a platform to begin a conversation with perfect strangers. Pride in London gave nothing away (at least not that I saw, on the part of the parade that I watched).

4. The volunteers and event managers. Yes, this event would not be possible without the time and effort put on by the people who make it happen. These people tried to ensure things would go as smoothly as possible (which didn’t really happen… see point 5 below!), and tried to be cheerful despite the rain. HOWEVER, I honestly felt like they were in the freaking way ALL THE TIME. Bad enough that we were barricaded behind the fence, but at least we had a front row, as we got there early… that was until a group of four of the parade workers decided to stand in front of us, open up their umbrellas, and cover pretty much the entire view. Many of the people around where we were asked politely if they could move a little to avoid being in the way, but the parade workers didn’t move, and seemed more interested in watching the parade themselves with their umbrellas open, so over half of our view, in the front row, was blocked.

5. The parade did not run smoothly. Every float / group of marchers would move a few metres, then stop in a standstill. I am not exactly sure what the delays were, but the portion of the parade that I attended was painful to watch. Meanwhile, the volunteers, event managers, photographers, and others who were working for the parade, had their own over-dramatic show going on. Stewards pushing through the crowd and moving one of the fences to come in and out of the street, continuously. Volunteers and managers yelling at each other from across the street. Workers running from side to side, looking severely frazzled as if whatever was happening was a life or death situation. It was a stressful behind-the-scenes situation, happening right in the spotlight, calling more attention than the parade itself, which for long periods stood still, without music, without dancing, with very few smiling faces.

The weather, as mentioned above, did not collaborate with us, and made the event a little more painful to withstand. This is obviously out of Pride in London’s control, so not something they could have fixed. As the rain started to pour, everyone’s umbrellas got on the way (as I said, even us, being first in row, had our views blocked by the umbrellas of the volunteers). My view on the front row was so bad, I couldn’t even take photos to share with you (and believe me I tried).

Pride Drinks at Ku Bar

Pride Drinks at Ku Bar

And now, on to the good
Alright, so I need to end this on a high note, since after all, despite a disappointing parade, I had a fantastic time at Pride! The parade was a bust, but my friends and I went to a few gay bars throughout the afternoon and into the early hours of the morning, and the Pride atmosphere was great.

To hide from the rain after leaving the parade, we headed over to Retro Bar, which quickly filled up with parade participants and watchers after the parade ended. Afterwards, when the rain subsided, we headed over to Soho, and were able to visit a few bars. The lines were crazy, and everywhere was packed, but the atmosphere was fun and happy. My favourite part about it is that Soho closed many of its streets to traffic, and the area became a huge beer garden of sorts, with everyone enjoying their drinks in the street.

The Pride in London parade could definitely become an incredible event to attend if they change a little the way they do things. The weather couldn’t be helped, but the parade could instantly become better if the procession was more fluid (fewer breaks), the participants were more interactive, and if the crew ran the parade from behind the scenes, rather than in the spotlight, overshadowing the parade itself.

And then there are bead necklaces… is it too much to ask for a little more fun?

Today is the official beginning of Summer, as we celebrate the Summer Solstice. That (usually) means one thing: MORE SUNNY DAYS!

London is incredibly beautiful in the sunshine… here’s a photo I took I took earlier this year in a sunny day. Happy Summer, an enjoy the sun today, everyone!

Big Ben and an Iconic Telephone Booth in the Sun

Big Ben and an Iconic Telephone Booth in the Sun

Earlier this month, I read a post by a fellow travel blogger about his recent experience in Jamaica, and it got me thinking back on my own travels to the island Nation. Talk about mixed feelings regarding a destination; I am unable to say I completely hated it (because there were many positives), but also unable to say I loved it (because there were likewise too many strong negatives).

Beach in Whitehouse, Jamaica (Photo by my friend Natalia DiSensi)

Beach in Whitehouse, Jamaica (Photo by my friend Natalia DiSensi)

Since my two trips to Jamaica, I’ve often thought about my experiences there with bittersweet feelings. I by no means regret going, but suffice it to say, I simply wouldn’t go out of my way to go back. Even if I had the opportunity, I’m not sure I would return to Jamaica. Funny thing is, it has taken me years to realize how dire the situation was, thinking back on my experiences, to realize there were perhaps more bad points than good ones about the destination itself.

But let’s go back to the beginning.

I’ve been to Jamaica twice, once to Ocho Rios with an ex in 2009, and once for a work conference in Whitehouse in 2010. I’m mostly basing my experiences on my 2009 Ocho Rios trip, as Whitehouse 2010 was mostly a conference so I was with a large group of friends and coworkers.

Jamaica definitely has its positives, but it was a major nightmare in some ways. And I’m not talking about irrational inconveniences like ants in my room, or a one-off bad-service experience. I am talking about the hard truth that Jamaica is not socially ready to be a top travel destination, in my eyes at least.

Resort Life: The Only Jamaica Most People Will Ever Experience

Resort Life: The Only Jamaica Most People Will Ever Experience

The fact is that Jamaica is a dangerous place, no matter how bright their tourism bodies try to paint it.  Granted, most of the violent crime in this island Nation occurs in the capital Kingston (a city to which, realistically, virtually no traveler will ever think of visiting); yet, it is impossible to erase the fact that Jamaica is within the top most-dangerous countries in the Western Hemisphere, with some of the highest murder-rates per capita in the world. High levels of unemployment and poverty don’t do much to help; add a touch of that infamous volatile Jamaica temper, and you’re likely to encounter some sort of violence (mostly verbal threats) by simply looking at someone the wrong way, or, lets say, simply being yourself (see point one, below!)… Unless you never leave your resort.

Point one: Being gay in an openly homophobic country is scary as Hell. I can deal with places where homophobia exists, but people restrain themselves to hate me in private, or simply make derogatory comments behind my back – never fun, but I’ve learned to let things slide off my back. Going to a country where even the customs agent at the airport has the guts to tell my partner he doesn’t understand our lifestyle, and downright refuses to check my documents upon arrival, is worse. Walking through the airport humiliated after that incident, with airport workers in uniform pointing and laughing at my partner and me, making fun of us in Patois, their local language, not cool. 
Let alone knowing full well I was in a country where homosexual people are brutally lynched on a regular basis and the police not only turn a blind eye to these events, but in many occasions participates in the lynching… now that is terrifying.

Giving Jamaica a Try in 2009

Giving Jamaica a Try in 2009

I knew before I went my first time, what I was getting myself into… but I was a much less experienced traveler and a much more naive young man, and so I went ahead, despite all the negatives, to a resort in one of the most homophobic countries of the Americas.

I had faith things would work out (and they did… sort of), and deep down I hoped I could return home to tell people how exaggerated the talks about homophobia in Jamaica were (which I didn’t, because they’re not).

Aside from the anti-homosexuality issues, Jamaica feels dangerous all together. Even in the more resorty areas of  the country, there is an air of peril as soon as you leave the confines of the resort… or even stand too close to the border of your resort’s private beach. And who in their right mind wants to spend their vacation confined to a hotel?! Well, I’m not one for resort lounging myself, but decided I would take a different approach in Jamaica, and enjoy the resort-side of the Caribbean, rather than exploring the country itself and the culture of Jamaica (except for an excursion in Ocho Rios to go swim with dolphins, which realistically also included very little “outside of the resort” time).

So, let’s lay on the beach and enjoy our vacation shall we? well, the gun-carrying guards protecting the entrance to the resort’s private beach, constant news on the radio advising of the multiple daily murders in the island, and locals constantly arguing heatedly and loudly in public, is enough to take away any R&R you might get from laying under the sun sipping on a fruity cocktail.

Leaving Ocho Rios I was determined to only look at the good and overlook the bad, so I remember coming home thinking I loved Jamaica. The more time that goes by, the more I realize that the country really wasn’t all that great.

Jungle Behind Resort

The Lush Mountains in Jamaica are Stunning

HAVING SAID THAT, I will have to say Jamaica’s got it going on in some ways.

Jamaica, naturally, is stunning. The mountains are incredibly green and lush, and the ocean is a stunning mix of turquoise, and blue, and green. The beaches are better in some parts than others (Ocho Rios I’d give a 5/10 in all fairness, while Whitehouse gets a proper 7/10). Lush jungles, waterfalls and rivers, and dramatic coastlines, make the Island a sight to see.  Overall, based on its natural appearance, Jamaica is a gorgeous country.

Being a foodie, I also am in love with Jamaican cuisine. Everything from jerk chicken (or anything with a jerk spice, really), to ackee and salt fish, and delicious Jamaican patties (my favourite), I love the flavours of Jamaica. Goat curry? Not my cup of tea, but the point is, the food is bold and full of taste, and wonderful.

Me with My New Friend Cacelia, May 2009

Me with My New Friend Cacelia, May 2009

LASTLY, to contradict myself (hey, this is my blog and I’ll contradict myself if I want to!), the people of Jamaica.

While many Jamaicans, in my experience, were hostile and unwelcoming, I was lucky enough to really get to interact with a couple of Jamaicans that I absolutely loved. Yes, they were all resort workers, and yes they get paid to be nice to their guests. Even still, I returned home with two good contacts I interact with regularly to this day  on Facebook.

The best part is that the Jamaicans I connected with were aware of my sexuality at the time and they were accepting of it, which makes me believe Jamaica still has potential to become a better nation that deserves the travel-hype it’s getting… but it will take time.

Have you visited Jamaica in the past? If not, would you visit? What are your experiences? Please comment below!

 

*Read the blog post that inspired me to look back on my trips to Jamaica here*

One of the highlights of my stop in the charming fishing village Volendam, just north of Amsterdam in North Holland, was visiting the local cheese factory.

Cheese Factory, Volendam, Netherlands

Cheese Factory, Volendam, Netherlands

In the factory, I saw a short and sweet demonstration of how typical Dutch cheeses are made, and then got to eat all sorts of cheese. The factory sells the cheeses as well of course, but seeing as how I was traveling to Belgium for a few days, and then going on to Turkey for three weeks, buying cheese there would not have been the best idea!

Either way I got to taste many of the different kinds of cheese that are produced locally, with local milk.Volendam’s cheese is apparently recognized as one of the Netherlands‘ best cheeses. Being an absolute cheese-lover, this visit was a little taste of Heaven!

 

Clog Factory's Window

Clog Factory’s Window

Wooden shoes (proper name clogs) are surprisingly still worn by some people in the Netherlands in their day-to-day life. It seems incredible to me that a shoe made of wood would be comfortable enough to actually walk in, but from what I hear, they actually are incredible comfortable.

During my short visit to Marken, a small town North of Amsterdam in North Holland, I went to a clog shop in which the owner demonstrated the making of clogs. Today, the clogs are actually made by a machine (not hand-made) and a pair can be created in less than five minutes; however, the process of drying, polishing and treating the shoe to be worn after it is made, takes an additional few weeks. Furthermore, to this day, wooden shoes continue to be hand painted, so there is still a high level of craftsmanship in the trade.

Visitors to the Netherlands can easily find clogs to buy as souvenirs. The clogs, as mentioned, are actual working shoes that you can wear (although I doubt anyone would ever wear them outside of the Netherlands), but can also be used to store things like stationary or loose change, and can even be used as flower-pots!

Other clog-related souvenirs can also be bought all over the Netherlands, including t-shirts, oven mitts, aprons and underwear with clogs designs on them, or even tiny wooden clogs attached to a key chain.

Clogs Used as Flower-Pots

Clogs Used as Flower-Pots

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