Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dublin, Ireland: Guinness Brewery

Well, it's been six days since our last show, so I think the majority of us are ready for a work day. As the saying goes, "idle hands are the devils workshop". We arrived in Dublin a couple of days early due to the Paris shows being postponed. I didn't have plans for Dublin, but I knew that I didn't want to spend my days drinking in the local pubs every night. Instead, I opted to go straight to the source, the Guinness Brewery. No, honestly, beer is not my alcoholic beverage of choice, I'd much rather a fine bottle of red or something bubbly, but, seeing as how I'm in Dublin, it made since to do as the Irish and "throw back a chilled pint", plus,... it was one of the highlighted stops on the city bus tour. Yep, I and my buddies were tourist for a day making all of the pertinent stops around town, while riding on the open air bus. I've learned not to criticize "those" people anymore,... yes, the person in town for a day or two, walking aimlessly with their head held high and cocked at a 45 degree angle observing any and everything above eye level, a Canon camera dangling from around their neck and a paper map at their disposal. I find that "occasionally", I AM "those" people and that's okay.

The bus pick up location was at a nearby intersection, it was from that point that we made a loop around the city all the while listening to the automated explanation and commentary for the historic landmarks we saw. Most interesting to me was learning of Trinity College of Dublin, founded in 1592, the Book of Kells, Ireland's most coveted manuscript and seeing the birth place of renowned playwright, poet and author Oscar Wilde.
Once at the Guinness Brewery, which, might as well have been called the "Guinness Brewery Magnet and Tourist Depot", we skipped the tour and headed straight to the top to The Gravity Bar. A bar with an endless supply of Guinness and a 360 degree view of the city. Being a Guinness "newbie", I did my best to get through my pint with a little help from my friends. We laughed and cheered with a few toasts, before leaving to go to Grafton Street for some window shopping.

The streets were full with the "hustle and bustle" of people seemingly moving fast, but going nowhere. It was now late in the day, the stores were soon closing and we had finally worked up an appetite. Unanimously, we decided on Wagamama, a favorite. Being back in Europe and the UK, it was only a matter of time before we'd seize the chance for the "Asian persuasion." For anyone not familiar, Wagamama is an easy modern dining experience of pan-Asian cuisine that taste very fresh and flavorful. As for the US, there are only locations in Boston and DC, so I get my fix whenever I'm in Europe. We worked off our meal by walking a good distance back to the tram stop that would take us to the Gibson, our home away from home. In all, it was a day well spent. Now,... what to do with the rest of my days off!?....

Monday, October 25, 2010

Oslo, Norway: The Nobel Peace Center

We arrived in Oslo on a Friday afternoon in October. Eager with anticipation, I dropped my bags in my room, and walked aimlessly around the neighborhood, expecting to take a stroll, or maybe grab dinner. I started out toward the waterfront, figuring that that would be as good a place as any, I could at least take in the view. As it was, I was chasing daylight, it was already close to 5pm. Unknowingly, I came across the Noble Peace Center. Perfect!!! I was familiar with Alfred Nobel, and knew that the Peace Prize was awarded in Oslo in his honor, but I did not know of the museum and hadn't thought to ask. Many times when I'm in a new city I often look to see if there are art exhibits or galleries that interest me. In this instance, the featured exhibit was Strengths and Convictions: The life and times of the South African Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. I wasted no time proceeding to see what it was all about.
I found it to be a very compelling show of work documenting and highlighting the past decades and struggles of South Africa's fight for freedom and democracy. Featured are the four South African Peace Prize Laureates to whom much credit is given--Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, FW de Klerk and Albert Luthuli, the latter two, of whom I was not familiar.
The artwork of varied mediums captures the emotional distress and suffering of the peoples of South Africa and photographic images display the turbulence, violence, despair, perseverance and will of a country. It was a great treat to see this exhibit in such an appropriate venue.
Upstairs on the second level is an additional room that displays a field of LED lights that fade in and out, showing recurring biographies and headshots of all the awarded laureates throughout the years. I was proud to see President Obama among them.

After leaving the Nobel Center, I found a great pizza restaurant near the waterfront called Eataly. I sat solo and treated myself to a wonderful pizza dinner with caprese and wine. It was an almost perfect ending, to a perfect afternoon. The only thing missing was Mui Alto.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Brussels, Belgium: Moules et Frites

Here's a look at our time spent in Brussels, while on our way to Dublin. Having only nine hours to spare, myself and my friends started out to Le Grand Place, a popular square in the city, for photo ops, then had dinner at Le Petit Bruxelles, a restaurant located along one of the small corridors off the square. We enjoyed a candlelight setting, while dining on fresh mussels, assorted shellfish, fries and LOTS of wine. Bon appetit!!!
We carried on to a local pub in the area drinking even more wine and "Kwak", a distinct Belgian beer served in its signature hour-glass shaped glass and held upright in a wooden stand. When in Belgium, drink Belgian, why not! There's rarely a time when we're out socially that we don't have a blast, and this was yet another.

Oslo, Aarhus, Herning, Brussels, Dublin: Buses, Trains and Ferries

What a week it's been....
Last Sunday we traveled from Oslo to Aarhus, Denmark, where we stayed before our scheduled performance in Herning (Denmark) two days later. I had never heard of, or been to, Aarhus, but knew that being a smaller town than that where we had been, I'd have a chance to catch up on a little R&R, after having burned the midnight oil in Oslo.
Reaching Aarhus midday on Monday, there was little time for much else besides dinner, and my choice was room service. The following day, feeling the need to get some fresh air and explore, I roamed the streets finding my way to the main pedestrian shopping street and into the old part of town. I learned that Aarhus is actually the second largest city in Denmark, the oldest large city in Scandinavia and dates back to the Viking Age or as far back as the 7th century. After finding the older section of town, I was taken with the character and charm of the narrow cobblestone paved roads and buildings of ancient brick facades that now occupy modern day upscale clothing boutiques, restaurants and cafes. I came across a couple of weather beaten stone churches, a theatre and sea port in the near distance. Many of the buildings were interestingly designed with atriums and inner courtyards that you pass through to enter.
I stopped at an adorable traditional Italian food market for the most satisfying warm mozzarella, tomato and arugula pannini and washed it down with an aranciata. I was taken by all of the yummy products on the shelves, beautiful packaging and fragrant aromas. Oh, and the deep, rich red, pink and orange colors of the stacked assortment of meats and cheeses were a feast for the eyes,...the dolci and the cakes.... It was a moment of sensory overload, and I loved it,.....or maybe I was just starving. Naaaaaahh!!!
I walked the streets a bit more before heading back to my room with plans for an early night. We had a full work day and early departure planned for the next morning. I woke on time for the 6:45am bus call and was ready for the hour and a half trip from Aarhus to Herning. It's my understanding, that we were only in Aarhus due to lack of accommodations in Herning. Once at the newly built arena in Herning is was business as usual.
Now Wednesday, it was midday when we unexpectedly learned that our initial plans to drive to Paris that evening had been cancelled due to the protest currently going on in France. Instead, we would be leaving for Ireland, via Belgium. Following load out, we drove 12 hours to reach Brussels and once there we raced around town filling our time before the midnight bus departure to Dublin. As it goes, our drivers are required a mandatory break, explaining our time off to take in some sights.
We found ourselves at Le Grand Place, one of Brussels more famous and beautiful tourist traps and sightseeing plazas. Like arteries from the plaza center are tiny winding alleyways full of Belgian waffle and chocolate shops and fresh seafood restaurants. We wasted no time assuming our position as tourists, and delved right in for a fine dining experience of "moules et frites." As the saying goes, "mussels in Brussels!"
Satisfied and stuffed we loaded the bus at midnight and were gladly ready for "lights out".
Now Friday, we reached Wales for the 3 hour ferry ride from Holyhead to Dublin. The seas were choppy, but bearable. We were now in the home stretch. Yes,'s been an exhausting, yet, surreal and exhilarating experience, alike. How often do you get to feel as though you've traveled through time. Think about it, 5 days, I had experienced people speaking Norwegian, then awake to people speaking Danish, then French, now Irish. Each day I'd encounter a new environment, setting, culture, language and climate. It's something that just don't happen everyday. It's random, yes, but I consider it pretty special!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Helsinki, Finland: H&M Home Store

Hey, how did this sneak by me!? While in Helsinki, I discovered the H&M home store. It's great! Only in Scandinavia for now and similar to Ikea in price point, if not cheaper, the collections are desirable, offering a little something for everyone. It is merchandised to please the shopper in search of something soft and feminine, to the person looking for something more classic, as well as, kitsch. It's my understanding that select stores have been open since the beginning of 2010 and that items can be found on line.

Paris, France: Homage to Paris...

Ahhhhh,.....Paris in the summertime!! This is my shout out to you. We were scheduled to perform in Paris tonight at the Bercy venue. Unfortunately, or fortunately, for us, the show has been postponed due to the unrest and protest in France, against raising the retirement age from 60 to 62. Not that this is a trivial matter,... just interesting,... considering how we, in the US, are required to work until 65, or is it 67. Hell,... by the time I'm a senior, I'll be lucky if it's 75! Whatever the case, we were detoured and are now in Dublin.
For now, I'll think back on the great time had in Paris this summer with Mui Alto and my tour family. We did two shows at the Bercy in July, and here we were having an amazing day people watching, while drinking beer on the steps of the Sacre Coeur at Montmartre. It was one of those days that will never be forgotten.