Saturday, 28 May 2011

Lovely Day in London

Bit of a back-post. I've been gallivanting around London. Started off at my cousin's in Hertford. She of Hanging the Star fame, who is a supremely talented singer, music manager and photographer. We did a promo shoot for my website.

It gave me slightly more respect for models. Posing looks easy, but when you have to hold poses and make the smile look 'natural' whilst staring at yourself down the barrel of a two-foot lens for hours - it's really not that easy. I think my favourite stage direction was 'try to look a little less pissed off.'

From there I headed to Camberwell to stay with my good friends from Rwanda: Jo and Pierre, who have just announced they're having a baby! Fantastic news.

Today I abandoned their couch and went in search of my friend Quito (of IMDB fame), and his wife Joan. We're members of a scriptwriting forum, so we've 'virtually' known each other for a long time but as he lives in Darwin, Australia, there aren't many opportunities for us to meet up. We were also joined by their lovely friend Judith from Germany.

Quito and his wife and family were doing a tour of the UK. They arrived in London via Ireland and Scotland. Having a day for the grown-ups, I met them outside Buck House (that's Brit for 'Buckingham Palace', obviously) as they were changing the guard. I'm always a little disappointed to see they just change them for more guards. I'd love to see the changing of the guards into froggie footmen, or maybe a pumpkin...

From there we took a walk across Hyde Park to take a peek at Speakers' Corner which was depressingly full of evangelical preachers. Give people freedom of speech and 80% of the time it seems they just want to bash on about religion.

We also chose the same day to wander around as Barcelona chose to meet Manchester United in the football at Wembley. The noise - especially in the underground - was unbelievable, and the crowds were even more crowded than usual.

We made a mad dash to Covent Garden for food. Famed for its street entertainers, pretty markets and Opera House. I was surprised Quito and the gang hadn't heard of it, and glad to be able to introduce them.

L: Inside Covent Garden market.
R: Crowds watching street entertainers.

click to enlarge

After lunch we took a rickshaw to Leicester Square and walked to Piccadilly to find the Rainforest Café which we'd read about, but it turned out to be more of a giant gift shop with no chance of a quick coffee - only reservations for the restaurant accepted.

Judith and I being cycled across town.

In an attempt to escape the chanting mass of footie fans, I suggested the South Bank and we hopped a tube to Embankment and took the river ferry up to London Bridge. It was about £11 return, only we didn't use the return as, once there, we decided to walk back, taking in the Tower of London, HMS Belfast, pausing at a traditional ale pub - The Mug House - to sup London Pale Ale from a pewter tankard, down past a giant metal ship in a shopping centre, wandering round the Dickensian Old Clink, passing by Shakespeare's Globe, then the Tate Modern before crossing the Millennium Bridge (which apparently also has something to do with Harry Potter?) to oggle St. Paul's Cathedral.

I have to say, it's a really nice walk with plenty of places to eat and drink along the way - often a lot less stressful than marching through central London. I highly recommend it as a route for sight seeing.

Clockwise from top left: Tower of London, HMS Belfast,
entrance to The Clink, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, the Tate
Modern from the Millennium Bridge & St. Paul's Cathedral.

From St. Paul's we hopped a bus and jumped off when we passed a lovely looking Italian restaurant where we had dinner before meandering towards Waterloo in search of the Cuban Bar. We found it, but opted for the quiet pub across the road for a last drink before home.

It's startling that in this day and age, in the capital city of England, tubes stop running at half-past midnight! Still, we had lots of fun and saw lots of sights. I think I did more walking in that one day than I have in months! Lazy me.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Greg Trooper, Leicester

The Musician Pub, Leicester.
Greg Trooper is somewhat of a legend amongst a group of friends from my Cardiff days.

It's really all Suki's fault. She is very into a type of music called Americana, and she used to travel to the States to catch her favourite acts. So, when one of them came to The Musician Club in Leicester back in 2006, we agreed to go along and find out what the attraction was.

Hands up, we were all thinking 'great, blue grass.' Drinking was top of the bill, listening to the music somewhere a little further down.

But, five years on, 'The Troop' is still playing regular gigs on my road trip music line-up. He's an absolute born performer. And no, it's not blue grass. It's something a little hard to describe. He's got an American twang, but it's not country. More upbeat. A little rythme and bluesy.

More than anything, it's his lyrics that draw you in. Greg Trooper is king of the one-liners, with gems such as:

I think you're lonely as a Sunday morning, that never had a Saturday night.

His new album, Upside-Down Town, is out now and you can buy it through his official website. I have most of his other albums: Straight Down Rain, Backshop Live (my favourite), Make it Through This World and Between a House and a Hard Place. There really isn't a song on any of them that I don't like. He's a rare artist in that he's consistently very good.

It's not often that one man and a guitar can keep you entertained for an entire evening - but I have to own to it, I'm a complete fan. If you ever get a chance to catch him, he's well worth the effort.

Last night he returned to the Musician. I took my dad along. It was a brilliant night. First time in the UK for almost six years, and that was the last time I was at the club! Hasn't changed at all - well, minus a sofa perhaps.

The Musician is a fantastic, intimate venue. If I lived closer I'd go more often. If you live close - go! They also have a FaceBook page you can join.

To wrap this up, Suki - the lady with whom all of this began - just gave birth to her son, Toby, the night before the gig. I half expected her to strap him to her back and come straight from the hospital, but apparently even she needed a little recovery time after that. So I managed to get her a signed baby top saying "Welcome". One thing's for sure - the kid's going to have an eclectic taste in music.

There's some great photos of the gig by Paul Needham on the Musician FB page. 

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Toy Town

Hmmm, a statue of a man dancing on one leg whilst a monkey displaying his tackle throws dice and a hog poops on the floor. Interesting...

Whilst in Dresden, I also visited the folk art and toy museum. It cost €3 entry and I needed to get out of the rain. Bargain.

I'm not sure photos were allowed, but err...well, I took some anyway.

I thought these were really special. It shows how they mass produced wooden animals. A wheel of wood is cut into a silhouette, then sliced through and shaped. There's even a DIY kit.

Traditional rocking horses, and less traditional rocking lion.

Miniature fairground.

But then there's miniature...

...and there's miniature (matchstick men!)

Toy soldiers.

Toy towns.

I love these so much. They're really clever toys shaped like pagodas - or chandeliers. Around the outside they attach candles and the heat from the flames turns the turbines, causing the central core of the tower to spin. There are little wooden animals on them, going round and round. Ingenious.

I think the dolls (left) are better dressed than the locals (right).

But the traditional caps and bonnets are very pretty.

And the lace work is extremely fine.

They also had lots of painted eggs, like the ones we made in the village, but my camera had packed in by that point.

It was a nice little museum. Full of magic and mystery. Not sure I'd like to be in there at night when the toys come to life...

Friday, 6 May 2011


Well, I made it!

Ten hours to the ferry, two hour crossing, three hours home. Could have done it in less but the M25 to M4 West-bound junction was closed! My tomtom's answer to that was to drive me round in a big loop. It was still closed the second time. I could have wept. So I determinedly drove for a long time in the wrong direction until it picked another route.

I hadn't done much night driving in a long time and was hampered by two issues. One, I had a headlight out, and two - in a bid to save the environment, rather than lives, our government has turned off most of the motorway lights! Worse, on the exit from Dover, they've replaced street lights with glowing coloured bulbs in the road: red on the left, orange on the right and a sea of blue in the middle. It's like driving through a discotheque on acid. I had no idea what was going on! More like a video game than real-life driving.

At one point my vision was going a bit blurry so I stopped for a tuna-melt and a double espresso.

Services at 2am.

Anyway, here's some pictures from Dresden. I'm glad I stopped by, but being honest, it wasn't my favourite city. I stayed at the Park Inn - which wasn't exactly value for money. Having not made a booking in advance I paid full price, which I wouldn't have minded had it not been that, charging extortionate prices for a bog-standard room (think Holiday Inn), they then charged €8 a day for the car park and also charge for the internet. When you're peddling mediocrity you win points on the little things - free parking and internet being top of the bill.

It also tipped it down all morning, and the one place I was really interested in - the Green Vault - was closed for the day. So, not a great start. Instead I wandered around and looked at the sudo-old buildings. The city was flattened in 1945 and has been steadily reconstructed over the years. What is truly quite bizarre is that, given how new most of these old buildings are, they are caked in black - like genuinely old buildings. It just seems strange to go to all the expense of re-building these giant structures, and then not to clean them. Gives the place a slightly unloved feel.

Impressive fountain.

A memorial, I believe, to Friedrich Schiller.

With mythical figures.

Controversial deconstructivist
fire escape. I rather like it.

Looking up the River Elbe towards the old town (click to enlarge).

The above is Frauenkirche - the Lutheran church - reconstructed after the bombing in 1945. Completed in 2005.
The church withstood two days and nights of the attacks and the eight interior sandstone pillars supporting the large dome held up long enough for the evacuation of 300 people who had sought shelter in the church crypt, before succumbing to the heat generated by some 650,000 incendiary bombs that were dropped on the city. The temperature surrounding and inside the church eventually reached 1,000 degrees Celsius. The dome finally collapsed at 10 a.m. on 15 February. The pillars glowed bright red and exploded; the outer walls shattered and nearly 6,000 tons of stone plunged to earth, penetrating the massive floor as it fell. - Wiki

The Cathedral (Hofkirche).

The church was commissioned by Frederick Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. In the crypt the heart of King August the Strong is buried along with the last King of Saxony and the remains of 49 other members of the Wettin family as well as people who married into the family, such as Princess Maria Carolina of Savoy, wife of Anthony of Saxony.

The church was badly damaged during World War II and was restored during the mid-1980s under the East German regime. - Wiki

The Semperoper - Saxon State Opera House and Saxon State
Orchestra concert hall. Also destroyed in 1945 and rebuilt in 1985.

Impressive statues. The one on the left - not too sure who he is - stands outside the Semperoper. The one on the right is 'Augustus the Strong'. After going to all the expense of gold-leafing him, you can't help wondering why they didn't give the stones a bleaching whilst they were at it. Sort of spoilt the effect a little.

Click to enlarge.

Really beautiful wall. The inscription apparently reads something along the lines of: A family of sovereigns whose line of heroes reach to this day. In olden times they were absorbed into our people's sagas. It's called the Fürstenzug or 'Procession of Prince', made from 25,000 Meißner porcelain tiles.

There's some great architecture in the city. I absolutely love these windowed bridges that connect the houses, and the large, imposing statues under this archway.

There were also a couple of modern things that caught my eye, including this waterfall and a cute piece of graffiti in the underpass.

It was an interesting place to wander around, and it probably does look a lot nicer on a sunny day. Although the buildings are dramatic and imposing, I think I rather prefer the prettiness of Wrocław.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Homeward Bound

The sun at Dunkerque, setting on my escapades.

Oh my bleedin' god.

My arse hurts from sitting on it. Just driven for ten hours straight from Dresden to Dunkerque. Literally stopped for petrol and (simultaneously) to ask for directions when I missed my turnoff.

Cougar car and navigator Percy Bunny both held up like troopers. But I didn't plan this very well. Overshooting my friend's comfortable spare room at Torhout, I drove within walking distance of the Norfolkline entrance and pulled over. I couldn't see any signs for a ticket office, only ones reminding you to 'have your booking reference ready'. So I panicked! I've always booked online before so wasn't sure if there was a sales desk. Logic said there should be - I just wasn't sure!

Then I had another panic when I thought I'd left my phone at the hotel in Dresden. Ten hours is a little far to drive back and get it... so I asked St. Anthony (I will blog about this later, it's a little hard to explain...) and there it was, under a bag in the boot of the car. Phew.

My plan was to call Dad and ask him to book me a ticket online. Only he wasn't answering. So I tried my friend in Edinburgh...and she wasn't in. Then my friend in Dublin...and on, and on. Sodding sunny weather, everyone's out enjoying themselves, mobiles neglected!

Then I had the brainwave of trying my USB modem. Unbelievable, it worked! So I hurriedly booked myself a ticket.

Going the wrong way. *sigh*

That's what ten hours of driving does to you...

A very lovely lady at the port relieved me of more money and changed the booking for me. So, here I am, blogging from a ferry in the middle of the channel at ten o' clock at night.

I was going to book into a hotel and get some rest, but once I'm behind the wheel this super-woman homing instinct takes over and away I go. It's another three and a half hours once I disembark at Dover. My wonderful friend offered to book me a hotel, but I declined. Home, home,'s all I can think about at the moment.

Provided I can stay on the right side of the road. The good thing about driving in the early hours is that there's fewer things to hit. But there's also fewer things to follow. I kind of rely on watching other people to gauge which side I'm supposed to be on.

So. Here's hoping I make it. And to wonderful friends who have been phoning to offer their support. I'm very blessed really. Nice to know wherever you are in the world, there are people who can bail you out at the push of a telephone button.

Was going to upload the pictures of Dresden but the free internet seems to be struggling a little with that, so I shall save it until I get back to base. That way you know I've made it.

So - from the middle of the English Channel, I bid you adieu.