Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Review: The Woman in Black

Not many shows try to scare the audience. And not many shows last 22 years on the West End. So when one does both, you know it's worth seeing. Also, Daniel Radcliffe is playing the lead in the movie adaptation.

I have to admit that I found the first act a little pedestrian. It was slow, and more than obvious that the play had been adapted from a book. I found myself wishing I had just read it instead. Perhaps, I thought, more modern shows (like Ghost Stories), despite owing a lot to The Woman in Black, are more able to deliver the promised chills.

But, I needn't have judged so soon - there's a reason this show stays open year after year. Act II does deliver, and even I had to muffle a scream at one point!

I doubt that this show is anybody's favourite. But I can see why it's lasted so long, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to see a quintessential London play. Well, after The Mousetrap anyway.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review: Journey's End

I'm still a bit numb after Journey's End.

Because it was written so soon after WWI, in 1929, the play has a feeling of authenticity that gives it depth beyond other war stories I've encountered. This timing also gives it an interesting lack of perspective for the tumultuous period in history that was to follow. The result is a very raw play, with a view of war more like Jarhead than Saving Private Ryan: lots of sitting around and waiting for something to happen, then ten minutes of action. But don't get me wrong, this play is far from boring. It's too well written for that.

Early on, you learn that the company will be manning the trenches on the front line for the next week, a stake in time that gives the whole play a foreboding sense of countdown.

The acting is impeccable. Particular credit has to be given to James Norton's portrayal of Captain Stanhope, a character who has been on the front line since the start of the war. Despite being younger than me, he's worked his way up to the level of Captain, and along the way developed a coping mechanism based on alcohol and aggression. He fills the sizeable shoes of Sir Laurence Olivier, who originated the role. Also very noteworthy is 'fresh meat' 2nd Lieutenant Raleigh, who joins the company at the beginning of the play, and is brought to life with wide-eyed innocence by Graham Butler.

The final five minutes, including the bows, manages to be powerful without succumbing to melodrama. It's some of the most moving theatre I've ever seen. Paul and I didn't speak until we were almost at the tube.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Quarter of a Century in Korčula

I hate getting older. But at least this year I had the beautiful island of Korčula to make everything seem better.

Lookout point with Korčula in the distance. 

Korčula is about two hours north of Dubrovnik, and I had been tipped off to how great it was by others who had visited.

The atmosphere is relaxed, the water crystal clear, and the food well priced. We stayed for hours.

Paul testing the water off the pier.
We walked around the coast for a bit until we found a secluded spot where we could swim alone. We sat on the rocks and dangled our feet in the water, until Paul's leg was grabbed by a huge tentacle. He screamed and fell in. We still don't know whether it was a squid or an octopus, but it sure was funny!


The trip back to Dubrovnik takes you through the main wine producing region of Croatia. Our driver took us to one of the wineries where we stayed for around an hour trying the local specialties, including one they'd served the pope only two weeks earlier!

When we arrived back in Dubrovnik, we bought some birthday cake in a bakery. Back in our room, we wrote postcards. I sat backwards when I'd finished, and sat backwards. Onto the cake. Not my finest moment.

This is what it looks like when you buy a birthday cake and then sit on it.
Once I'd cleaned the chocolate of my butt, I looked up and saw the sky lit up like it was on fire. Sunset in Croatia is so dramatic!

We headed back into the old town before it got dark. The sky kept changing hue.

The sky turned purple as we approached the famous city walls.

Dubrovnik sure put on a good show for my birthday. I don't think it had anything to do with it being the opening of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, and the President being in town or anything.

People lined the streets. I know I've used the word festive a lot these past few weeks... but there's no other word to describe it! Beautiful choral music filled the streets as thousands tried to catch a glimpse of the ceremony.

At about 10:30, Paul and I sat by the beach to watch fireworks over the harbour. They were spectacular.

The perfect end to a great birthday and a great trip. We flew out the next morning. I forgot to send the postcards.

Flying over Venice.

Flying over the Austrian Alps.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Today I learned that you shouldn't go swimming in Montenegro without titanium footwear.

We got up early in the morning and were picked up by a driver who took us across the border. We stopped in Kotor, an ancient walled city for gelato, then continued on the main town in Montenegro, Budva, where I swam.

The cathedral in Kotor

I shouldn't have dared to swim. The water was so murky that I couldn't see the bottom. The ground was all big rocks, some sharp, covered in slippery slime. But something in me wanted to swim in another country, so I braved it.

Suddenly I felt like I was being stabbed in the foot. I thought I'd sliced it open, then realised there were spines still stuck in there. I plucked them out while standing on one foot, then went back to shore to inspect the damage.

I'd stood on something like a porcupine underwater, and had about eight spines firmly embedded in my foot.

Made me glad I hadn't sat down.

About half an hour past the border.

St Marko Island, a major Montenegro landmark.
Now privately owned by a Russian billionaire.

We went back to the island of Lokrum after returning from Montenegro.
We caught the last ferry back at 8:00pm. Perfect timing for sunset over Dubrovnik!

Old town just after sunset.

Friday, July 8, 2011


I'm still pinching myself. I can't quite believe we're here.

I've dreamed of visiting Dubrovnik for five years or more - ever since seeing a photo of the city in a travel book on my Aunty Chris's coffee table.

What I've learned since then only makes me drool more. They don't call this place the Pearl of the Adriatic for nothing. Check out the view from our room!

After a quick shower, we catch the cable car to the top of the mountain range behind Dubrovnik, so I can see the view of Dubrovnik from that photo with my own eyes.

On the way up in the cable car.

The camera battery dies the moment we reach the top. The spare is in my bag in our room. Luckily, years ago clever photographer Paul worked out that you can give it some more charge by taking out the battery and rubbing it furiously for about five minutes.

So basically, I get the photo in exchange for looking like a complete tool for five minutes. Works for me!

We stayed up there for ages. I now have this photo from about a million different angles. And let me tell you, that took a lot of furious battery rubbing! I could barely tear myself away.

Back at the bottom of the hill, we bought an amazing gelato and booked a daytrip to Montenegro for tomorrow.

Then, we caught a ferry to a tiny pedestrian only island 15 minutes away called Lokrum. They have a twelfth century monastery:

A tiny salty lake dubbed the Dead Sea:

And wild peacocks with babies! Lots of them:
Most of the peacocks were up trees. That was weird!

But best of all, they have crystal clear water and dozens of great spots for jumping in:

We swam the afternoon away there.

After ferrying back to town, we grabbed a quick feed in old town and went exploring a bit. You can still see bullet holes in walls from the Croatian War of Independence, 1991-95.

To cap off our first day in paradise, we headed to the Dubrovnik Museum of Modern Art.

We got home just in time to see sunset over the city.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Night Ferry Across the Adriatic

I've crossed borders all sorts of ways, but never by boat. I've never slept on one either. So I'm really looking forward to the overinght ferry from Bari, Italy to the last (and most hotly anticipated) stop on our trip Dubrovnik, Croatia.

I think I would have more to say about the trip if I'd got seasick or something. But honestly, it was fine! Sea was calm, we slept well, and there was breakfast provided in the morning! Can't ask for more than that.


I've wanted to visit the buried Roman town of Pompeii ever since studying it as a kid. While Rome itself should hold more attraction, there's something eerily engaging about the idea of a whole town frozen in time, where life just stopped in an instant and no development has occurred for nearly 2,000 years.

There's something ominous about those clouds above Mt Vesuvius.
I was surprised that I didn't really feel anything for the bodies we saw. It was nothing like visiting Auschwitz, or Pearl Harbor, where there was a grief in the air. I guess it's because they would have been dead for thousands of years by now anyway. Still, it was fascinating to try and imagine the lives that they lived on the ground I was walking, and how the eruption would have felt to someone caught up in it.

I was quite taken by both the sheer size of the town, and the level of sophistication contained within it. As I'd heard from other visitors to the site, the architecture, town planning, statues and frescoes are mind blowing considering their age.

A rather interesting illustration on the wall of one of the 24 bordellos.
The highlight was visiting the amphitheatre, the first known one of its kind in the world. The space still feels so grand that I could almost imagine watching a concert there now.

After we left the excavation site, we did one last cross-country drive before returning the rental car (without even a scratch!) in Bari, on the Adriatic Coast.


Positano is a former fishing town built on the side of a steep cliff on the Amalfi Coast near Naples. It has one, one-way road that snakes its way 4.5km down from the main highway and back up again, with drivers (mainly on scooters and tiny three wheeled trucks) racing round the hairpin bends like slot cars. No matter where you're stayin in Positano, you'll take this road to get there. At some point, you'll leave the road and continue on foot through the labyrinthine pathways and tracks that make this area so quirky (and getting lost so easy!).

We like the place we're staying in. I was determined not to book just-another-hostel, and tried to google for a nice Pensione instead. I was switched onto the idea from a book I'd read set in Italy in Summer. So, home is now the Pensione Maria Luisa, run by a smiley old guy named Carlo who says good morning no matter what time it is.

The Pensione Maria Luisa as seen from the one road.

Everything in town is expensive, so we've been skipping meals to keep costs down. But it's been worth it. We also got a €39 parking ticket for paying the wrong rate. Apparently only residents are allowed to pay the €8 per day rate on the signs. We're meant to pay €3 per hour. After getting the ticket, once we realised we couldn't afford the real rate, we decided parked the car way up along the main road and walk the very, very, very, very long way back into town. We're still not sure how to actually pay the ticket... the whole thing's in Italian and there's no web addres... hmmm.

I splashed out on a room with a view for our last night. Check out how much you can get for €15 extra!

(Side note: the room with a view had a broken shower, so it wasn't all flash. Sponge baths are so in right now.)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Today I discovered that Capri is the kind of place 60 year old men take their 30 year old lovers to the beach in matching Prada jandals. And turquoise Capri pants, naturally.

Despite feeling like the lower class all day, Capri really is a magnificent place.

We were blessed with flawless weather, which we only cursed when climbing umpteen stairs.

We swam at the crowded beach by the Marina Grande at the beginning and end of our day, and in-between caught the cable car up the hill to the Piazzata, which you are breathlessly reminded several times is a celebrity hangout.

We didn't see any celebrities. But we saw loads of places they'd love to shop!

The highlight of the day didn't start very well. We walked down a kajillion steps to the most beautiful part of the island to be sneered at by a maitre'd who informed us that there were no public beaches on this side of the island. Only private ones for rich people, like his, with a €16 per hour pricetag.

"Never fear", we said to each other, "private beaches are for sissies anyway!" and we marched away to the rocks in a huff, where I spent forever finding the perfect grotto to illegally swim between beaches.

My definition of perfect is "you can get out again after you jump in". Luckily, I found such a place just a short walk on jagged rocks away.

We had a quick swim and Paul cut his toe almost immediately. It didn't keep me out for long though!

Though my other half may disagree, I though it was bliss.

And we were even treated to beautiful views of Positano on the ferry back in.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Life Lesson #31 - Tolls Aren't So Bad

When we first got stuck in Naples I could feel today would teach me a Life Lesson.

Though I'd already been driving for five hours since leaving Rome, there was a grit to Naples that I appreciated having the chance to see. I planned to call the Life Lesson "Always Set Your GPS to Avoid Tolls".

How wrong I was! Avoiding tolls meant we had to drive from one end of Naples to the other (and it's huge!) in standstill traffic. On the motorway we would have paid maybe €3 in tolls and it would have taken half an hour. Instead, it took two and a half hours, and cost untold in petrol!

Though it was nice to see Mt Vesuvius up close, this is the main thing I will remember about Naples:
So many photos like this to choose from...

As some redemption, the last half hour of our drive to Positano took us further around the coast to Sorrento right on sunset:

Then, after winding our way around hairpin bends on impossibly thin roads next to sheer cliffs dropping straight down to the rocks, we were greeted with this view as the last of the sunset streaked across the horizon:
Yes, that is the road.

A great end to a hopelessly over-complicated drive!