Archive for the ‘Nights out’ Category

Saturday at the Bluesfest I took a bit of a break from running stage to stage. When I arrived, Kat and I briefly met up with our new friends Ben and Danny, then I left them to head to the press tent as I’d been told I had an interview slot with Bela Fleck.

I was pretty excited about my interview – Bela Fleck is arguably one of the best banjo players in the world, and had recently done a tour around various parts of Africa, studying the banjos origins and playing with local orchestras and village kids as he traveled. I saw Bela Fleck live back in Maryland when I was about 15, so I was really excited about the prospect of getting to meet him in person. I know he isn’t the most high profile musician of the week – but any interview was great for me, and this was a blast back to my high school days, plus I couldn’t wait to talk about his travels in Africa.

I was duly escorted backstage and shown to a table to wait patiently for the man to arrive. Delay after delay after delay later, it started to become pretty clear that it wasn’t happening. Mr. Fleck was running late and ran out of time before he had to get on stage. It was disappointing to have been missing so much good music in the meantime, but the silver lining was Poor Man’s Whiskey did a little improv jam session backstage after one of their interviews. So at least I got to see a little music, and hey, can’t complain about a more or less private backstage show, right?

After that, I finally made my way back into the festivals and located my friends again. I had time to briefly check out a bit of Bela’s set before we headed to the Mojo Stage to stake out our spots for the night. First one was the Buena Vista Social Club – a great latin orchestra that makes you wish you knew how to salsa. The problem I had with them was, that while they are GREAT musicians, and their music is top quality, it isn’t the type of music I particularly enjoy listening to for a full hour. They sing in Spanish, eliminating any chance of singing along, and maybe it’s my ignorance, but I simply cannot enjoy that chilled Latin beat for more than a few songs before I want something a little different.

Obviously this is a personal taste – and there were plenty of people in the crowd that would have vehemently disagreed with me. Unfortunately for us, everyone in front of us was there for the same reasons we were – to get as close as possible to the stage before the headliner. Jack Johnson. Yes, I know, I know, I’ve already seen him play once this week, but how can you say no to seeing him twice?? He was just as great the second time around too.


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Now that I’m in Byron Bay I’ll be doing my best to update you all on what’s going on at one of Australia’s biggest music festivals – the Byron Bay Bluesfest.

Yesterday was the first day of the festival so I spent the afternoon/evening trudging around in the muddy fields flitting from tent to tent to check out some of the amazing music that is taking place here this week.

The selection is amazingly varied; I’m actually curious to find out what the criteria for performing here is, since there are plenty of bands that certainly do not fall under the category of ‘blues.’

From solo guitarists to folk bands, traditional pan pipers to Cuban 10 piece bands there’s something for just about everyone here.

Keep checking back for more details of how I spend my days. But for now, I’ve got a bus to catch for Day 2!

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As I’m sure often happens with travel writers who are on the move, I have, for a few days, neglected this blog and have received plenty of comments, E-mails, and other messages of concern. My only excuse is that I became quite unstable (in regards to my location, not my mental health…), so first, my apologies.

I’m actually very eager to begin telling you about my current situation – living and working in Yulara: a ‘town’ (I don’t know what else to call it…a settlement? A village? A random group of buildings set in one of the most unlikely and uninhabitable places on Earth?) in Australia’s Northern Territory that exists for only one reason: Ayers Rock.

But first: a catchup. There’s a lot to fit in. I’ll try to keep it short.

The last time I wrote, I described the hard life on the coast of Australia. After that grueling weekend, I spent about two weeks in Canberra. Thanks to my lovely network of £10 Poms, I was able to sleep on a surprisingly comfortable Australian swag in my friend Toby’s living room.

My first full day in Canberra also happened to be Australia Day.* After a good day of celebrations, I spent my time learning a bit more about Australian history and listening to some groovy tunes.

I was actually the third £10 Pom to grace Toby’s floor, and a few days after my arrival, another one, Tom, arrived for a one-night visit from Sydney.

After Tom, the Brits kept coming. Chris, Kerri and Kat (who spent just a bit more than £10 to fly Down Under) arrived in their camper van after exploring Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road. I count Chris among my STA connections thanks to Cam and the lovely people at STA Travelbuzz.

During Tom’s visit, and again during the camper van crew’s stay, I visited Canberra’s War Memorial Museum and went to the top of Mount Ainslie. There was also a brief drive-by sighting of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. The ‘tent’ part of that should be a clue –this embassy is actually a tent city of activists who have been living outside Canberra’s old Parliament building more or less constantly since the early seventies. Not a recognised embassy at all, it is a group campaigning for the rights of Australia’s indigenous population. While they are not, of course, fighting the same issues, it reminded me of the campers that live outside London’s Parliament. I suppose hanging out directly on the path of every politician’s morning commute is a pretty effective reminder.

I was really impressed with the War Museum, which is surprisingly enormous. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I was more or less oblivious to Australia’s involvement in any wars past or present, despite their participation in just about every major war I’ve learnt about in school, particularly in the 20th and 21st centuries. Their perspective is very interesting; especially when it comes to the First World War. From what I saw at the museum, it seems the central most important event during WWI, to Australians, is the battle at Gallipoli. This was Australia’s first ever serious conflict. Were it not for my dad sending me the film ‘Gallipoli starring a very young Mel Gibson a few months ago, I would have walked into that room completely clueless. The battle brings up a few sore points in Australian history and at times I actually felt rather uncomfortable as a British person in the room. Luckily I left my Union Jack at home…

Next was Mount Ainslie for a birds eye view of Canberra. The city was built after Melbourne and Sydney couldn’t agree on which of them should be the nation’s capital, so somebody had the bright idea of building another city in the middle of nowhere. From the mount you can clearly see the perfect triangle that makes up the Parliamentary Triangle, leading down from the Parliament building across the manmade lake to the CBD, past the War Museum, to the Defence precinct and back across the lake to Parliament again.**

After all this guidebook following, I managed to spend one evening enjoying some jerk chicken and cold beer listening to my new Canberra friends DJ at a local café/art space/bar where I also acquired some funky retro heels. Who said backpacking was all about practicality?. Then on my last night in Canberra, Toby, his housemates and I found our way to a conference room at the Rex Hotel to see the launch of a band named Cousin Alice, after Alice – the person whose home I relaxed in during the tough weekend I’ve mentioned before. Alice described the band as ‘kind of a funky jazz and soul band’ so I’ll go with that. All I know is that they performed a very smooth version of Rihanna’s ‘Don’t Stop the Music’ that actually made the lyrics sound good during an evening of the kind of music everyone loves to sway to. Not a bad way to end my time in the ACT.

Phew. There we go. Next stop: the Northern Territory.

*To see my article about Australia Day, head to Go Girl Magazine and check out my post published on February 1.

**Check out Chris’ blog about our day in Canberra for some more good writing.

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So just before I disappeared Down Under, Tom and I went to explore the German capital. I’ve been to Germany twice but I never managed to get past Munich, so I was glad to finally see this famous city. I didn’t have a blog back when I was backpacking around Europe so I won’t have mentioned them before, but my favourite European tour company is Sandeman’s New Europe. I first discovered them in Amsterdam, where I met Rachel Sandeman – sister of the founder, and fellow Boston University alumni. I loved the tour, and better still, it’s free! Tour guides accept tips at the end of the tour, and the great thing about that is that the tour actually HAS to be good. Bad tour = no money. Plus it means even if you’re really really broke, you can see and learn all about the city and it doesn’t have to cost you a dime. Perfect.

After Amsterdam, I went on the Munich tour BOTH times I visited the city plus the Pub Crawl tours which have never been a disappointment. So of course I tracked them down in Berlin.

Our first day in Berlin was pretty uneventful. We arrived, having only slept on the plane and were told we couldn’t get into our room. Hmm.. I’m still wearing my clothes from Thai Square, I haven’t showered, I haven’t slept. I don’t look or feel good at this point. But there’s nothing to do but go out into Berlin to grab some lunch, unpleasant body odour or not. And so we did. A wander around Museum Island and a club sandwich later, we returned to the hostel and collapsed in the reception for awhile. We were woken from our nap and told we could finally get into our room. Where we slept. Again.

The evening didn’t go to waste though! We dragged ourselves up, showered and put on clothes that didn’t smell like a London club and headed out to dinner and a little music. Tom decided to be as authentic as possible and get a jellied leg of pork. I went with the salmon… Then we went in search of somewhere for a few quiet drinks and found the B Flat club. It’s the perfect place if you’re looking to grab a few cocktails in a slightly hidden bar with fogged up windows and a grand piano. It also helps if you like jazz music. We listened to the sounds of the Diego Pinera Group for a couple of hours before finally calling it a night and collapsing for a very good nights sleep. I should mention that our hostel, City Stay, was great by the way. Perfectly located in the centre of Berlin just by a train station, with a good bar and really nice rooms. I would recommend checking it out.

The next morning, after a false start, we found the Sandeman’s New Berlin Free Tour and walked around the city for almost five hours with Nikolai, our Bulgarian born, American raised, German resident guide. The tour was great if not exhausting, but these tours are always the perfect way to see the city and actually put all the buildings and sites into context. That night it was off to the New Berlin Pub Crawl which started in Zapata. Zapata was exactly how I imagined Berlin bars to be. Dark, graffiti-ed, not unlike an abandoned warehouse with a table tennis table in the middle. Naturally. We moved on to a few other bars with our friends from the Free Tour before we parted ways as they went off to the clubs and we headed home since we were determined to get up the next morning and make good use of our final day.

True to our plans, we were up and off to the Jewish Museum bright(ish) and early(ish). We spent far too much time in the new exhibit which was really interesting, and so unfortunately had to rush a little through the permanent exhibit which was a shame. It’s a very good museum. Then it was off to our Red Berlin tour (also provided by the lovely people at Sandemans) where Paulo took us around some of the lesser known parts of Berlin, as well as some famous sights like the East Side Gallery. We saw a part of what is now called the ‘Death Strip‘ (the space in between the Berlin Wall that stopped anyone from having a hope of jumping across). Paulo had a pretty interesting perspective on everything which was nice. Wasn’t the average talk about how the wall was nothing but terrible and that the opening of the wall is the greatest thing to have happened to Berlin. There’s a lot of different opinions out there and a lot of sides to the story, so it was nice to have a tour guide who appreciated that and maybe opened my eyes a little to what life is really like these days in Berlin.

That night after a way too filling dinner, finding out our train was canceled, and grabbing a taxi just in time, we made it to the airport to make our way back home to London. We arrived at midnight and went straight to packing up the rest of my things to prepare to leave for Sydney the next day….

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So November the 14th rolled around. Ten days until I leave. Hmmm should probably sort myself out and maybe see a few people before I disappear. Right. Let’s go.

Day One: A trip to The Photographers’ Gallery in London with Tom before heading to the Apple Store. I love the Apple Store – so many pretty things. So many things I can’t afford. But I still got seen by a lovely Genius who fixed all the little bugs on my Mac and bought a World Traveller Kit which is AWESOME. Okay, a tiny overreaction, but it lets me charge my iPod (and my laptop if I switch the plug) anywhere in the WORLD! So basically it’s a box that comes with all the little plug ins to switch in the white block thing. But I was excited. After dealing with plugging in adapters on top of adapters to find the right combination, it’s pretty thrilling. Then we headed to Bizarros for a really nice Italian dinner near home. We were going to the new Moroccan place for it’s opening, but overcrowded buffet and eating while standing up wasn’t our idea of a good meal. Day One: check.

Day Two: Sunday lunch with Johanna and Tamsin at Pearl Liang. My very late discovery and probably one of my favourite restaurants these days. Yummy Dim Sum and super cheap. Perfect.

Three: My last English Fish ‘n Chips!! Ok, it ended up not being QUITE my last, but certainly my last one from a greasy take away soaked in vinegar and tartare sauce. Sooo good. I can’t resist a good English chippie!

Day Four, November 17th – Dinner at Las Iguanas and rather expensive cocktails with the lovely Nims. I’ll miss that girl. Can always be trusted to come out for a good drink and a chinwag.

Wednesday, the 18th – Off to La Porte Des Indes with my godparents who are nowadays in possession of all my worldly belongings that didn’t fit in my backpack.

Day Six – My last day at Black Tomato! Although they’ll be using my talents while I’m Down Under. Good company, good internship, and good people. Then I headed into East London to another late find and another favourite restaurant – Lahore. REALLY good food (try the pork chops: simply mouthwatering).

Day Seven – The Big One. Leaving drinks. I randomly chose Thai Square in Trafalgar Square as the meeting point. It ended up being pretty successful although we were just about the only non-Asian’s in the place, but that was no reason to not enjoy ourselves and we certainly did. Lots of people made it out including my lovely ex-housemate Hannah, my original London friends (two of whom have headed off to Thailand, so you can read about their trip here plus if you’re looking to get some good, cheap Thai shirts and accessories imported, or want some bespoke artwork and furniture designed by two great people, Sophie and Claudia are the girls to talk to!) along with Tom and Miguel (the suave one).

Day Seven/Eight – My leaving drinks and the following day all kind of blend into one since my head never hit a pillow in between. After (thankfully) grabbing a night bus home from Thai Square, Tom and I were home for….ten minutes? Then it was off to Liverpool Street Station where we accidentally bought First Class tickets on the Stansted Express. Oops. We traveled in style to the airport and grabbed the VERY early flight to Berlin!

Four days until I leave. To be continued.

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Well, it’s official. In one week I will be boarding a plane headed to Sydney via Bangkok, on a one way ticket.

It’s hard to really get my head around it all. The fact that I haven’t started packing at all probably helps with that.

Last weekend I managed to head up to Glasgow to see my lovely family one more time before I leave the hemisphere. I realised that having spent the last 12 years of my life in a different continent, whether it was North America, Asia or Australasia, my family have gotten older (and wiser?) and I haven’t been as close and in touch with them as I would like. My ‘baby’ cousin Lucy is 12 years old which seems impossible, my older cousin Martin is married (I was lucky enough to make it to the wedding), and Raymond is in his last year of uni and getting ready to go around the world with his girlfriend.

As excited as I am to head Down Under, it’s definitely going to be hard being so far away yet again. On top of that, I’ll be leaving an amazing home, with the best neighbours I could have asked for, and a job that is the closest to perfect I’ve come so far (I basically get to do this – travel writing – all day, what could be better?).

So here it goes. A week of manic running around and seeing all the faces I’ll miss before I walk through the gate at Heathrow.

That’s my sentimental post of the week. The next one will be more upbeat as I’ll be recounting what is sure to be a fantastic week of celebration and farewell. First stop – a nice little dinner with the one and only Nims at Las Iguanas. As long as I figure out how to get there in the next two hours…

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If you’re going to visit London, you’d be missing out if you didn’t try to hit up at least one West End show. There are few places where it gets as good as this. New York City is the obvious other choice with plenty of high profile celebs grabbing the title roles. But unless you’ve got another eight hours to spend on a plane, head to Covent Garden for just as many pap-worthy shining stars and plenty of red carpets.

Last week I managed to hit two note-worthy performances: one old and one new.

A couple of years ago, I saw a movie that I loved, written specifically for the fantastic actress, Jane Horrocks, who played the title role. So as you may have guessed, I hit up the new stage version of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice. Starring Diana Vickers, an ex X Factor finalist who was, I have to say, brilliant. I’ll admit, I don’t know her music although have since clicked on a few old X Factor clips and have yet to think any less of her. It takes a pretty good singer to sound believable while impersonating several other iconic belters (I’m talking the likes of Marilyn Monroe, and Edith Piaf) and creating your own original voice at the same time.

The movie is great and the stage play was no less, although the focus on characters was a little different, but since when did any book/movie/play exactly follow the original story line, right?

I’m not usually one for plays, I’m a musical girl. If that sounds like you too, then Little Voice is still for you. Yes, it’s a play, there’s lots of talking and no synchronized dancing, but the great story and cast are more than enjoyable to watch, and Diana’s vocal performance fills that little musical-loving hole in my heart.

Next, I couldn’t help but get my music fix at what has become a modern-classic. Avenue Q. It took me four years to get around to it, but I finally go to see the adult version of Sesame Street. I learnt the alphabet from Sesame Street, and if I was still four years old I would have learnt all about the birds and the bees from Avenue Q. So to speak. More like… how everyone is a little bit racist, sex is on everyone’s mind (all the time) and we all watch porn on the internet. Even if you don’t admit it. You know you’ve been a little bit curious at least once before. Don’t lie. I know you did it.

There’s something that just makes me warm inside about watching puppets and humans interact like it’s no big deal and then breaking out into intricate dance routines as they sing about how much life sucks. Perfect.

I love the West End.

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