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One of my favourite celebrations. Today, I’m even wearing my Nightmare Before Christmas belt I got during my Halloween trip to Disneyland in October 2012! Even got a photo with Jack Skellington himself!

Claus and Jack Skellington in Dinseyland, California (October 2012)

Me and Jack Skellington in Disneyland, California, USA (October 2012)

Enjoy the celebrations!

After a few days travelling around the Netherlands in August 2013, I took the train down to Belgium to visit my friend Timothy, a native Belgian who lives in Antwerp. I spent the next five nights in Antwerp, exploring not only this northern city, but taking one day to visit Bruges, and another to visit the nation’s capital, Brussels.

Antwerp Central Station Dome

Antwerp Central Station Dome

I will go ahead and confess right away that, before my visit to Antwerp, I knew very little about the city. In fact, I knew very little about Belgium as a whole, except for some common knowledge about their beer, waffles, chocolate, and an obscure art history reference to a statue of a little boy peeing. Not sure if it was the country as a whole, or my experience of seeing Belgium through the eyes of a local, but I completely fell in love with Belgium!

Antwerp, a city I knew very little about, happens to be Belgium’s second biggest city, with a population of just over half a million. The city is beautiful, and despite not being overly big, it was lively throughout my stay.

Antwerp Central Station

Antwerp Central Station

Antwerp Central Station
The first welcome visitors to Antwerp will receive, is that of the beautiful architecture at the Antwerp Central Railway Station; and to be fair, this is the best impression any city could make, as the Central Station is possibly Antwerp’s most beautiful building, inside and out!

Antwerp Central Station is a fairly new addition to the city, with the building only having been completed in 1905. The station was one of the last buildings designed by famous Belgian architect Louis Delacenserie, before his death.

Despite being an early 20th Century masterpiece, Antwerp Central seems to fit perfectly with the rest of the city. The reason for this is that the Station borrows aspects of Neo-Renaissance architecture, giving a nod to the architectural style which was popular when the city was at its prime in the 16th Century. The Station also includes two grand Neo-Baroque stone facades, and an extravagant interior completed with marble and gold guild work.

The centre piece of the station is its impressive 60 metre-high metal and glass dome, which can be seen from many points in the city. Altogether, Antwerp Central is one of the most stunning buildings I’ve seen in Europe!

Grote Markt
The city’s main square (Great Market Square) is one of the most scenic parts of Antwerp. Located right in the centre of the old city, the Grote Markt is home to Antwerp’s City Hall and a few other guildhalls and stately buildings, many of which now house restaurants, bars, cafes and stores.

A main focus of the square, the beautiful City Hall, dating back to the 1560s, is now a UNESCO heritage building. The stately building is noted for its unique architectural style at the time, which went to inspire the design of multiple buildings around Northern Europe in the 16th Century. During my visit, the facade of the building was covered in flags, a very colourful sight!

The famous Brabo Fountain, which depicts a local legend about a giant (blog post on this coming up soon!), stands tall in front of City Hall.

Antwerp City Hall

Antwerp City Hall

Great Market Square is often home to temporary festivals and events. At the beginning of my visit, Grote Markt was hosting an international food festival, with various tents were perched up, serving a variety of cuisines, spices, and ingredients, from all over the world.

Meir Street

Meir Street

Meir Street
Antwerp’s main shopping street, Meir, is regarded as Belgium’s most important shopping centre. The street, which is pedestrian-only through large portions, leads all the way from Antwerp Central to City Hall. Street-front shops, shopping centres, and a few cafes, line the street on both sides.

Meir is not only important for being the busiest shopping street in the country; the street serves also as a visual of the changes of architectural styles that Antwerp has gone throughout its history, including many Renaissance, Neoclassical, and Rococo structures which survived the World Wars, and more modern post-war buildings. The Boerentoren (english Farmer’s Tower, also known as the KBC Tower), a 26-story building which was at one time Europe’s highest “skyscraper” (and continues to be Antwerp’s tallest building), and various smaller notable buildings and museums, are also located on or around Meir Street.

Statues depicting important historical figures (none of which I know) are sprinkled along Meir, along with modern-style sculptures, including a sculpture of giant’s hand, which also refers to the local legend I’ll post about on a blog post coming up!

Cathedral of Our Lady

Cathedral of Our Lady

Cathedral of Our Lady
The city’s main Roman Catholic Cathedral is a beautiful sight to see. Located just around the corner from Grote Markt and city hall, the Cathedral is another major point of interest in the city.

The Gothic-Style Cathedral’s “first stage” was built over a period of almost 200 years, starting in the 1350s. Although the first stage was finalized, and the Cathedral looks complete, it actually was never fully completed, with the South Tower ending up under half its intended height!

The completed North Tower is Antwerp’s tallest structure by far (much higher than the KBC Tower, the city’s tallest building), and can be seen from pretty much any point in the city!

Saint Anna Pedestrian Tunnel
The Scheldt River separates the old town from what is now the new part of Antwerp. Despite the greater Antwerp area being split roughly in half, there are surprisingly no bridges to cross from one side to the other.

Antwerp is one of the few cities in Europe to not have any bridges, a decision mostly influenced by the fact that the city relies heavily in the shipping industry for economic survival (Antwerp is the third biggest port in Europe!) and bridges would get in the way of ships coming in and out. To fix the problem, the city built the Saint Anna tunnel in 1931, a pedestrian-only underwater tunnel, which runs 500metres under the Scheldt River. 

Saint Anna Tunnel

Saint Anna Tunnel

During my visit, Timothy and I walked over to the other side through the St. Anna tunnel. The experience is a little creepy, as the colour-less, half-kilometre tunnel seems to go on forever (its lack of colour or design honestly makes it look like it has no beginning or end!), but I must say this is one of the most unusual ways of crossing a river I’ve ever done!

There is not much to see on the other side of the river (aside from a big park, and a few nice restaurants), as it is mostly residential. However, the other side offers some beautiful views of the Antwerp Skyline across the river, which is worth the crossing in itself.

If you cross the tunnel, be careful with cyclists, as most of them tend to ignore the “no cycling” signs, and further have no concept of speed limits! Luckily there are no cars, as there is a separate underwater tunnel for vehicular traffic.

Antwerp Across the River

Antwerp Across the River

When going in and out of the tunnel on either side, check out the wooden escalators, dating back to when the tunnel was originally built… they’re quite cool!

Het Steen (Fortress)
The city of Antwerp was a fortification for most of its early history, and a number of fortresses and fortification walls were built to protect the city. Many of the walls and fortresses were disassembled over the years, starting in the 1800s, but there is still a reminder of this period in the form of Het Steen.

Het Steen, which literally translates as “The Stone”, is a medieval fortress dating back to 1303. For most of its history, the fortress was used as a jail and as an entry point from the river to the city. Today, what remains of the fortress (as most of it has been destroyed) is a museum.

Het Steen Fortress

Het Steen Fortress

In front of Het Steen, there is another statue of a giant, which refers to the local legend in Antwerp.

Zuid District
South Antwerp is a trendy, revitalized district just south of the town centre, which is mainly known for its art scene. Zuid Antwerpen is home to the city’s main museums, including the National Museum of Fine Arts (which was closed for renovations during my visit) and the Photography Museum; more over, there are plenty of independent commercial galleries spread around the area, as well as some cool designs on residential buildings.

Some iconic buildings to check out in Zuid, include the Dutch Synagogue, and the funky Five Continents Building, with its unusual boat-shaped balcony.

This trendy district is also home to some of the city’s most unique establishments, including the funky WASBAR, a laundromat / cafe which allows patrons to eat brunch while doing their laundry, hitting two birds with one stone!

Zurenborg District
The Zurenborg district, located just southeast from the Antwerp Central Station, might be one of my favourite parts of Antwerp, as it contains some of the coolest architecture in the city. Most of the buildings in the area have different aspects of Art Nouveau, with many exhibiting heavily organic features.

The area also contains various streets lined with beautiful, expensive mansions, most of which are still privately owned. Zurenborg is well worth checking out during your visit to Antwerp, if nothing more, at least to ogle at the beautiful architecture. Reaching the district can be done with a leisurely 20-minute walk from Antwerp Central.

Zurenborg is also home to Het Roze Huis (The Pink House), the central home for Antwerp’s LGBT community planning, including publications, queer events, etc. The ground floor of the Pink House also houses a cozy gay bar (The Dragon), which during my visit had an outside beach-themed patio, complete with sand!

The Pink House

The Pink House

*****

Antwerp really surpassed my expectations, and I highly recommend visitors to Western Europe check it out. Antwerp is easily reached by train from Amsterdam in less than two hours. It is also less than an hour away from Belgium’s capital, Brussels.

During my stay in Antwerp, I had the opportunity to go on day trips to Bruges and Brussels, so check this space for further posts of my time in Belgium!

Last week I made my way over to the Tower of London to check out the World War One memorial poppies, a beautiful (free!) art installation running through the Summer and Autumn until November.

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red - Poppy Cascade

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red – Poppy Cascade

The exhibition, named Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, contains over 888,000 ceramic poppies, which are being “planted” in the Tower’s moat over the summer. There will be one poppy for every British military casualty of the First World War.

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

One of the coolest parts of this installation is that it continues to evolve throughout the summer, as new poppies are planted every single day, continuously growing the display until all ceramic poppies are planted.

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red - Tower Entrance

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red – Tower Entrance

Throughout the summer, anyone is able to buy a poppy (for £25.00), which they’ll receive as a keepsake once the installation comes to an end in November.

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, with Shard in the Distance

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, with Shard in the Distance

If you are in London, go check out Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, it’s well worth the trip over!

One year ago today (25th September) I arrived into the United Kingdom for the next chapter in my life.

On my first day, I wandered around London’s South Bank with my friend Alison, falling in love with the beauty of the area. Tonight, I found myself accidentally wandering around the same place with my friend Adam, before I realized I had done the same thing on my very first day in London, exactly one year ago!

View of London City from South Bank (September 2014)

View of London City from South Bank (September 2014)

View of Westminster from South Bank (September 2014)

View of Westminster from South Bank (September 2014)

What can I say, my move to London has been incredibly amazing, and I honestly can’t believe a whole year has flown by. In this past year I have met so many incredible people and done so many great things.

Here is to many more amazing adventures in this wonderful city!

Yesterday I wrote about the grounds of the London Wonderground and mentioned the carousel  bar… yes, this is a bar built inside a carousel that actually rotates, with the bar in the centre of the carousel, and the horses serving as tables.

One of my favourite parts about this year’s Wonderground… go check it out before it’s taken down until next year!

Also, check out my reviews of LIMBO and BRIEFS, two of the shows I went to check out at the London Wonderground 2014.

Having a Beer at the Carousel Bar at London Wonderground.

Having a Beer at the Carousel Bar at London Wonderground.

A couple of months ago, I wrote a review about the show Limbo at the London Wonderground, a great cabaret / circus hybrid show that blew my mind. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to check out another cabaret-style show at the same venue, in the form of the very sensual, extremely comedic, Australian sensation Briefs: The Second Coming.

London Wonderground 2014

London Wonderground 2014

The London Wonderground grounds have expanded over the summer (since my first visit to see Limbo), to include a much larger sitting area which includes more bars and eateries.

The Wonderground is meant to resemble an old-style fair / amusement park, and now also includes popular fair games, an amusement ride, and a carousel bar. Yes you read that right, a bar build inside a carousel that actually rotates, with the classic carousel horses serving as tables!

The stage for Briefs, is the same one used for Limbo, built inside an old-style circus tent (the Spiegeltent). A circular stage in the middle of the tent is surrounded by arena seating, with booths for bigger groups not he outskirts of the tent.

Briefs: The Second Coming
Briefs is an australian, all-male cabaret show which merges together a number of acts, including burlesque (boylesque?), drag, and circus acrobatics. Often described as an ‘Aussie Cirque du Soleil meets Ru Paul’s Drag Race,’ this show is sure to entertain anyone who likes laughter. Or scantily clad men. Or fun.

What most surprised me about the show was probably its audience. Being a show built around showcasing the bodies (and ok, talents) of beautiful men, with strong nods to gay culture (drag queens, cross dressing, etc), it was surprising to see a large number of straight couples enjoying Briefs… but I guess that is the fun of events such as the Wonderground, which are welcoming to everyone who has an open mind. After seeing the show, I would definitely recommend it to straight people, and be sure that they would enjoy it, because it is fantastic.

BRIEFS: The Second Coming

BRIEFS: The Second Coming

The show is hilarious from the beginning, thanks in large part to its incredible MC host, Australian drag superstar Fez Faanana, who may just be the funniest queen I have seen in my life. Her comedic ability is incredible, not to mention that it has no boundaries, and is non-stop, through the entire 75-minute duration of the show.

But laughter is not everything that we wanted to get out of this show; after all, with a name like Briefs, we were hoping to see some skin… and believe me, Briefs delivered skin. Through a series of acrobatic, comedy, drag, and classic burlesque acts, the boys at Briefs flaunted their beautifully-toned bodies throughout the show. I went in expecting to see men in briefs, but was greeted with everything from briefs, to jockstraps, to thongs, and even what can only be described as penis-sleeping bags (I’m sure there is a proper name for them, but this sounds… cozier). Surprisingly though, the almost-nakedness was delivered, for the most part, in a sensual, tasteful way. With a dash of skank here and there, to spice things up.

Each of the six members of Briefs contributed something different to the show, whether it was comedy, drag expertise, burlesque acts, or acrobatics. The numbers were often performed solo, but sometimes the team came together to perform, whether it was a choreographed routine, or everyone doing their own thing in a way that complimented each other’s acts.

Briefs began with a sexy dance number with all the cast, and a hilarious introduction to the show by Faanana.  Afterwards, we were treated to our first circus acrobatics, with the gorgeous contortionist Thomas Worrell showing us that he knows how to work his body around a ring suspended in the air. Newcomer Adam Krandle was introduced afterwards as a untamable monkey with a love for bananas… a running joke that kept creeping up throughout the show. The graceful Dallas Dellaforce was the only typical drag queen in the show, mostly lip-synching through her numbers, with dashes of good ol’ Aussie humour. Then there was Louis Biggs, a 20-year-old eye candy who instantly became the lust of everyone in the audience, with a boy-next-door smile that made everyone melt int her seats. Finally, Mark Winmill, who is a top player in the boylesque scene, delivered a number of incredible performances that left the entire audience feeling a little hot, and topped the show off with an exciting finale that is splash-worthy (spoilers!).

The Dog Show Scene, One of the Most Memorable Parts of BRIEFS... For Many Reasons.

The Dog Show Scene, One of the Most Memorable Parts of BRIEFS… For Many Reasons.

Instead of using an original music score, Briefs borrows current pop music for its show, as an homage to classic burlesque / drag culture. The music is all replays of the original tracks, which means there is no live music in the show, which, for this show, works perfectly.

Briefs was flawless, and it’s so good I dare say I’d be up for re-watching it. I highly recommend you make your way down to the Wonderground and check the show out before it’s over. Briefs runs every night from 7:30pm until the 28th of September 2014. For tickets, visit http://briefsfactory.com/

 

I have just returned from an amazing trip to Florida, sponsored by British Airways, Visit Tampa Bay and Visit St. Petersburg / Clearwater. I will eventually be writing more about these destinations in detail, but as a little preview for now, here are some photos of the amazing pleas I got to visit.

Tampa Skyline

Tampa Skyline

Clearwater Beach

Clearwater Beach

Marina in St. Pete

Marina in St. Pete

Caladesi Island State Park

Caladesi Island State Park

A bit of a city break, some cultural aspects, some nature, and some beach. Lot’s of food and drinks at trendy restaurants and bars. A trip to remember for sure!

A Rainbow Welsh Flag

A Rainbow Welsh Flag

Earlier this month (on the 16th of August 2014), I returned to Cardiff, the beautiful capital city of Wales, to attend Pride Cymru, the official Pride celebration not only for the city, but for Wales altogether. I made a weekend out of it, visiting with my friend Adam, and met many of his Welsh friends.

I really enjoyed my time in Cardiff, spent surrounded by great friends, and the Pride Parade and festival was a great centre piece to the weekend.

Pride Cymru was my third (and final, for this year) Pride festival of 2014. Like the Brighton and Hove Pride, I felt that Cardiff organized the parade and festival much better than Pride in London. The weather held out, a little overcast with many sunny breaks, and warm enough for us to enjoy the whole day outside.

The Parade
The title of this section should really be named: The Shortest Parade in the World. I honestly couldn’t believe that the parade had come to an end when it did: about 15 minutes after it started. Having said that, it was still lively and colourful, and it flowed through the parade route without any delays.

The biggest downfall of the Pride Wales Parade was that the different floats were often too close together, so it was impossible to read at times the banners which they carried, so most of the time I had no idea who was sponsoring what. As a parade it was fine because attendees were treated to music and dancing and lots of colour, but it didn’t really allow the sponsors to showcase their causes all the time.

Good points were: the music was fun and lively, and everyone really seemed to be enjoying themselves, both the attendees and the march walkers. Despite being an overly short parade, it was fun enough, and because of the route, we were able to watch it from the street near the beginning of the route, and then again from a pub at the end!

The Main Event
The Main Event was held at Cooper’s Field, near the Cardiff Castle, and was fantastic… once we finally got in anyways.

Getting into the event was a bit of a pain due to a bit of disorganization (which to me was the only major flaw of Pride Cymru), as everyone who had pre-purchased tickets had to stand in a queue, to switch our e-tickets to cardboard tickets, which then had to be scanned to enter the park. Pointless to get an e-ticket with a bar code which doesn’t work, but despite the long wait to get in (I speculate it took us nearly half an hour), things got better right from there.

The Main Event was a festival-style fair similar to the one in Brighton Pride, with a few amusement rides, a section with tents advertising LGBT-related causes, and two sections on either side with food outlets. The event also had multiple bars spread around Cooper’s Field, and show tents with different performances scheduled throughout the day.

My friends and I spent most of the day going between the Main Stage and the smaller Cabaret Tent. The Main Stage had a number of performances by semi-famous singers (none of which I knew, to be honest!) and choirs, while the smaller Cabaret Tent had drag shows and smaller performances.

The cost of food and drinks at the event  wasn’t outrageous, with a Turkey Sandwich coming in at £5 and pints of beer at £4 each.

Pride Cymru: Main Event

Pride Cymru: Main Event

The Incident of the Broken Tooth
I can’t talk about Pride Cymru without bringing light to my (personal) biggest downfall of the event: the incident of the broken tooth, or what I like to refer to as “My hero complex #fail.

I do have to note that throughout the entire event, I kept seeing groups of police men and women walking around the grounds at the Main Event, which makes me believe the event was safe overall. That’s why it was so surprising that, on my way to the toilet in the evening, I saw a couple of attendees in a full-on fist fight.

Call me crazy (I prefer the term whisky-fuelled insanity), but I felt it was my duty to attempt to stop the fight. My attempt was greeted with a side punch to my jaw from one of the fighters, which resulted in a big chunk of my wisdom tooth being knocked off. At the time I got punched I gave the fighters my classic “Oh no you didn’t” look, shrugged my shoulders to signify “I don’t really care if you stop fitting or not,” and walked away (mostly because I didn’t want to get involved in the fight).

The two people who had been fighting stopped (I think they realized how dumb they were being), and I walked away, broken toothed and pissed off. It took me a little angry cry in the darkness for a few minutes, and then the realization that there was nothing left to do, so I went back to dancing with my friends, determined to not let the issue ruin my evening!

Cardiff
The rest of the weekend was filled with non-pride activities, such as a visit to the Doctor Who Experience and an afternoon having wine and pub grub in a sunny patio by the bay… but I will write about Cardiff more in a very far away future, once I get myself up to date with my past travel stories!

Wow. I have just realized that it has been a year now since I packed my bags and left Vancouver for this new adventure of living in the United Kingdom.

Travelling Claus. I don't get tired of being out there constantly.

Travelling Claus. I don’t get tired of being out there constantly (Photo: September 2013).

Looking back, I know that I’ve done A LOT of new things over this past year, and seen plenty of new cities. I checked off a few countries of my list (although not as many as I had hoped), and met some wonderful people along the way.

Yet, despite seeing so much and doing so many fun things, I am honestly surprised the year has gone by so fast. One whole year down, which means I now only have one year left on my visa to work in the United Kingdom, and the terrifying question of “What next?” will soon be a question I have to ask myself.

For now, I will continue to enjoy my life in London, get excited about my coming trips, and fondly remember all the amazing adventures I’ve had since leaving home!

And to end this, here is a photo from every one of the eleven countries I’ve had the opportunity to visit over the past year, since August 2013!

Visit to Amsterdam with side-trips around Netherlands to start the adventure. August 2013

Visit to Amsterdam with side-trips around Netherlands to start the adventure. August 2013

Visiting my friend Timothy in Belgium (Antwerp, Brussels, Brugge). August 2013

Visiting my friend Timothy in Belgium (Antwerp, Brussels, Brugge). August 2013

Travelling around Turkey for three weeks, with my best friend Ryan and a bunch of new friends! September 2013

Travelling around Turkey for three weeks, with my best friend Ryan and a bunch of new friends! September 2013

Re-visiting one of my favourite cities: Rome, Italy, with my friend Nic. September 2013

Revisiting one of my favourite cities: Rome, Italy, with my friend Nic. September 2013

Starting my life in England with visits to a bunch of cities around the country. October 2013

Starting my life in England with visits to a bunch of cities around the country. October 2013

A visit to Wales... and then another one. October 2013 & August 2014

A trip to Wales with my friend Adam… and then another one. October 2013 & August 2014

A winter escape to Scottland (Glasgow, Loch Lomond) with my lovely friends Lindsay and Nat. November 2013

A winter escape to Scotland (Glasgow, Loch Lomond) with my lovely friends Lindsey and Nat. November 2013

Getaway in search of sun in Tenerife, Canary Islands (Spain). January 2014

Getaway in search of sun in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain. January 2014

Re-visiting another one of my favourite cities: Paris, France (and my friend Loic!). April 2014

Re-visiting another one of my favourite cities: Paris, France (and my friend Loic!). April 2014

A visit to Portugal (Porto and Lisbon). April 2014

A visit to Portugal (Porto and Lisbon). April 2014

Multi-city trip around Germany. May 2014

Multi-city trip around Germany. May 2014

One year left now, lets see where this takes me.

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/

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