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We’re funny (usually), controversial (sometimes) and insightful (always!). Our travel experts share their experiences below in hopes of hearing back from YOU. So read, comment and enjoy!

Posts in ‘Film, Art, Theatre, Music & Dance’

Artists to compete in the medium of ice

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Tourists and locals alike will flock to Livigno for the annual Art in Ice competition this December.

Taking place in the small city of Livigno in the Lombardy region, this year”s event is the thirteenth edition of the contest, which aims to honour the world”s top artists working in the medium of ice.

Between December 2nd-6th, ten national teams of three sculptors will chip, hack and carve away at three-metre blocks of compressed snow as they try to outdo one-another for the prestigious prize.

The artists will use a variety of manual and automatic techniques and methods, with their interpretations of the medium left entirely open.

Ice sculpting and carving is becoming an increasingly common sight across the world, with a number of similar contests and festivals rewarding this most unique artform.

Unless an unexpected early thaw intervenes, the sculptures will stay on display until March next year.

Ice is becoming an increasing popular construction medium in the tourism industry, with a number of ice hotels opening throughout the winter in the world”s colder regions.

Special Interest – Nightlife – From an extravagant meal to an eerie ghost walk – plenty of things to keep you entertained after the sun goes down.ADNFCR-1652-ID-18807408-ADNFCR

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Spanish-American cinema on display in equatorial Quito

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The Ecuadorian capital Quito will hold the 6th annual Zero Latitude Film Festival, or Cerolatiud, as it is know among locals.

From October 9th – 19th the city will become the focus for the Spanish-American cinematic community as it promotes the output of this burgeoning industry.

The festival, so named because of Qutio”s equatorial location, will see more than a hundred films shown across a range of venues.

A mix of genres such as shorts, animation, student cinema and feature-length films are all on offer.

Each year the festival concentrates on a different area: this year it will be Mexican cinema.

Since 2000, the cinematic output of Mexico has had an increasingly high profile on the global stage, with the success of stars such as Gael Garcia Bernal becoming a part of the mainstream.

What”s more, directors such Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu have gone from strength to strength, staking their claim to be among the Hollywood elite.

The festival will also hold a number of workshops and educational events aimed at increasing participation in Spanish-American film, and generating interest in cinema in general around the region.
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‘Sex and the City’ Madness Continues with DVD Release

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Just when I thought the Sex and the City madness had subsided, another wave of Manolo Blahnik euphoria swept over New York City last week at the ‘Sex and the City: The Movie’ Extended Cut DVD launch, which was, apparently, about as posh and exclusive as a ‘real’ film premiere – caviar, carpet, celebrities and all.

This meant I could finally see the film for the first time (wasn’t really up for the cinema queues at the time of release).  Now, as always, I am grateful to Sarah Jessica Parker for giving my name some added sex appeal (thanks!), but I’m not so sure about the strange, stretched out plot of her latest cinematic endeavor.  It was 2 1/2 hours long!  Great for a girls’ night in, I suppose, but I can’t justify owning it (I did, however, own the freebie, giant SATC Galaxy chocolate bar, awarded to my by Blockbuster for my release-day rental…)

I’m really not the best person to talk to about this era-defining series.  My colleagues, however, are big fans and have informed me that our On Location: Sex and the City Tour is well worth it.  Check out the list of famous stops here.

So, if you still haven’t had your fill—if the six-year TV series and loooooong  capstone movie weren’t enough—maybe the behind-the-scenes Sex and the City Tour is your ticket.

Let us know how it goes!

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Memories of C.S. Lewis

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Why is it that we remember the most tangential and hyper-specific scenes from our childhoods (personal examples: playing with the lace trim on my red and white polka dotted crib bedding; the yellow raincoat decal that I used to attach to my nursery school class’s ‘weather bear’ on rainy days)…yet we so often forget the name of an acquaintance that we discussed the election with last week? Or, even better, which drawer we placed our keys in 3 minutes ago?

Do you actually remember the design on your 4th birthday party cake, or have you just watched the home video 50 odd times?

What about your favourite childhood book? Do you recall what the cover looked like? Where the characters lived?

Last weekend, I was exploring the quaint, picturesque streets of Malvern, England—the town where C.S. Lewis (who happened to be favourite author as a child) went to school—when my knowledgeable guide asked me if I had enjoyed the recent film adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Having just listened to his engaging overview of the famous Lewisian haunts and Narnia landmarks scattered throughout this lovely countryside town, I wanted to discuss a range of parallel cinematic moments. But I quickly realised that, actually, I couldn’t. Yes, I had seen the film (in fact had rushed to the cinema like an excited child when it came out 3 years ago), but I could not even cite my favourite scene.

I realise now that my wires had gotten crossed. I could not answer because I could not differentiate between two visual memories—the first being the imagery that I had generated in my 8-year-old mind whilst reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and the second being the imagery that Disney had delivered to my local cinema, 14 years later.

To add to my moment of mental convolution, this was the second Brit lit expert, in the second quaint, historic English town that had made enthusiastic claims regarding Lewis’s sources of creative inspiration.

Hmm…

You see, I’d been told that Lewis devised his plots whilst wandering the streets of Oxford. But now, it seems to me that perhaps Malvern had an equal, if not greater, impact on his writings. For, apparently, the Narnia gas lamp is located in front of a Malvern College dormitory…

So, then, which is it? What town, which landmarks, and which people inspired C.S. Lewis to create the allegorical fantasyland that continues to engage children, adults, filmmakers and tourists today?

We can only speculate which memories and life experiences may have, consciously or subconsciously, inspired Lewis in his vivid creations. I will now trace some of the most famous landmarks that I have encountered, which have been linked to his writings….

Tracing the footsteps of C.S. Lewis…

1. The Malvern Hills.

This most picturesque area of Worcestershire, UK is the perfect daytrip destination from Birmingham, Oxford or London (1, 1.5 and 2.5 hours by train, respectively). It’s no wonder that Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and co. embarked on frequent retreats to the Malvern Hills for years after Lewis completed his schooling at Malvern College 1916.

It has been said that the friends enjoyed leisurely walks through the hills to soak in the stunning panoramic scenery of the region, which has doubtlessly inspired artists for decades. (Apparently, on a clear day, you can see all the way to Wales!)

2. The Unicorn Inn, Malvern.

Lewis’s scenic treks typically ended at this charming, hillside pub, presumably with all of the activities that we would imagine—philosophical debates, pints of ale, visions of white, magical, single-horned creatures, etc.

Unicorn Pub Malvern

Sadly, when I visited, the plaque commemorating Lewis’s visits had been dismounted. Hopefully this was just a temporary move, and you will have better luck!

3. The Eagle and Child Pub, Oxford.

The informal, weekly meeting place of the ‘Inklings’ literary discussion group (comprised of Lewis, Tolkien, Charles Williams and several others), this popular watering hole is one of Oxford’s most famous landmarks.

Definitely worth stopping here for a pint to check out the framed ‘Inklings’ memorabilia…but often difficult to secure seats, especially for large parties. Though I suppose if you drop in on a for some Tuesday morning rounds, as the Inklings often did, you won’t have much of a problem.

4. Magdalen College, Oxford.

Last, but certainly not least…a place that I cannot stop writing about.

magdalen-cloisters_resized.jpg

The idyllic meadows, the lazy tributaries, the stunning architecture, the gorgeous spring foliage…all of the wonderful things that comprise this 550-year-old Oxford College make it feel like a fantasyland.

I can only imagine what Lewis, a former fellow of Magdalen, was dreaming up when he strolled around the college’s deer park…alongside the gondola-esque punts…through the weeping willows…perhaps pausing to gaze back at the colourful sunset framing the college’s majestic bell tower…

It’s no surprise that Lewis stayed at Magdalen for nearly 30 years!

The trail continues…

These are only a few, noteworthy places that I have personally experienced: the list of landmarks goes on, including sights in Belfast, Lewis’s place of birth, and Cambridge, where he served as a departmental chair until a few months before his death in 1963.

Your ideal Narnia adventure will, of course, depend on the way in which you imagine or remember Lewis’s stories. You’ll never see the world as he did, but you sure can try to match your memories of his work with an interesting travel experience.

In honour of my Malvern adventure, I (re)watched The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe last night. I now remember (or at least, I think I remember…) exactly what I was thinking when I watched it the first time: I must go to the place where these beautiful Narnia landscapes were filmed.

New Zealand, anyone?

A blog for another day…

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Film festival in New York

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The Independent Feature Film Market will be taking place at New York”s Angelika Film Centre from 14th to 19th September.

Celebrating American film production, the annual event focuses on films and filmmakers operating outside the mainstream Hollywood studio system.

The market also looks at projects in progress, in addition to presenting workshops, talks and screenings of more than 200 different films.

It was originally established in the late 1970s as a way of countering the increasing number of blockbusters seen to be dominating the American film industry.

Notable filmmakers who have used the market as a career springboard include Joel and Ethan Coen with Blood Simple, Kevin Smith with Clerks and Quentin Tarantino with the controversial Reservoir Dogs.

New York has become a centre of film culture in recent years – a development spurred by the establishment of the Tribeca Film Festival by superstar actor Robert De Niro and producer Jane Rosenthal.

The city is now regarded as one of the film culture hotspots of the United States, removed from the vacuous glamour of Los Angeles.

From the dizzy heights of the Empire State Building to the serene Central Park New York has it all!
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Pictures from Edinburgh Fringe

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I finally got my camera cable to work! Here are some photos from my trip to the Edinburgh Fringe.

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(Above) Performers “advertising” our show on the Royal Mile (this is perhaps the most common and effective marketing method that companies use to promote their shows, often up to 4 times/week).

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Royal Mile – late afternoon – the chaos had died down a bit.

Roxy Art House Edinburgh

Behind the scenes at the Roxy Art House (a really cool venue where we did our show) in Edinburgh.

KFOTR at Roxy Art House Edinburgh

Lastly, the final run of the musical at the Roxy Art House.

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Fringe Festival Highlights

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I hope everyone managed to get away, or to get into something interesting here in the UK, over Bank Holiday weekend. I just stepped off a plane from Edinburgh—it was my second weekend trip up to the Fringe Festival this year, and I had an absolutely amazing time. I wish that I could paint you a detailed picture of the museums, architecture and natural scenery that characterize this beautiful city (= next trip!), but I spent most of my time watching comedy, theatre, musicals and working on a show that I helped to put on (as choreographer). I got to meet talented and interesting young people from all over the world (and I even got to see some tele stars in person – ooh la la…)

Some Fringe Highlights:

  1. The Udder Belly

This local watering hole is the place to be during the month of August. With hundreds of performers, directors, producers and spectators running around at all hours of the night, you are bound to strike up some interesting banter; however, should awkward conversational pauses ensue, the venue has provided you with the ultimate chat-worthy icon—an enormous, inflated, upside down purple cow. I would pay someone for an Udder Belly t-shirt: this is the one thing I forgot to get before leaving. Seriously, get in touch if you have one (I mean it!).

  1. Comedy, Comedy, Comedy

The selection of stand up comedy acts in Edinburgh was HUGE: I am now, officially, convinced that trying to “make it” as a stand up comedian is perhaps the most trying (and humbling!) of paths within the performing arts industries. I saw dozens of stand up acts…from young, transatlantic favourite Matt Kirshen (you may have seen him on the American reality TV talent show Last Comic Standing) to Fringe regular Reginald D. Hunter, who delivered his signature, philosophical American wit. I was, overall, entertained, amused and satisfied.

Important to note: lots of people that I talk to think that the “Fringe Festival” is primarily a theatre-focused event, full of avant garde one acts and student-quality productions. Yes, you can certainly find these things; however, there are 7 big festivals occurring in Edinburgh during the month of August (13 in total throughout the year), including the International Book Festival, the Art Festival, the Mela Festival and the Military Tattoo Festival. The Festival Fringe is just one of many events to explore, within which comedy seems to be the entertainment category with the widest audience appeal.

  1. The Forest Café

We stumbled across this quirky little gem of a venue on our last night at the festival and ended up in a loft/attic-style room, full of eclectic pieces of furniture and oh-so-stylish hipsters. Only one type of local brew on sale at a little corner bar, served up by a man with a mini acoustic guitar. On stage was a freestyle rap group with a live percussion ensemble to complement their superb “beat boxing” skillz. A cultural experience, to say the least!

  1. Putting on a show.

Being a part of a Fringe production involves a lot of hard work, no to negative (monetary) compensation, shameless company promotion, and, if you are a performer, 20 + straight days of delivering the goods…sometimes to empty chairs. So then why do, literally, thousands of young artists flock to the cloudy little city every year to return home as paupers? Because the Fringe is fun, fun, fun, fun (did I mention FUN?). If you are lucky enough to get involved with a quality new writing project that has a solid cast + creative/marketing team, you are bound to draw some good, responsive crowds and supportive fellow artists (who you will, of course, join afterwards at the bars (which stay open until 5am…every night…for a month = FUN)).

Cheers to another UK cultural adventure!

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Edinburgh Fringe: Avoid the Royal Mile Madness

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“It’s so cool to be at the Fringe with a show that I’m not embarrassed about,” explained a vivacious, young college student as he ‘fliered’ me on the ‘Royal Mile’ during the opening weekend of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Edinburgh is chaos right now. I can’t imagine being a local resident, attempting to go about a daily routine. Forget it! The ‘Royal Mile’ (which is actually a series of seven streets that connect the Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyrood House) is swarming with enthusiastic performers and tourists at all hours of the day. Look left, and there’s a group of buskers, clowning to a semi circle of families; listen right, and it’s a booming chorus of actors, belting catchy show tunes; stand still, and three producers will simultaneously attempt to shove fliers in your face about X show, with X Y and Z special effects, which is going to have rave reviews— really, they promise!

There are hundreds of shows of all genres—from morning Shakespeare to midnight stand up—playing in venues across Edinburgh throughout the month of August. Lots of rubbish, but also, some fabulous gems. How to sift through the madness? How to know which is the best of the 3 versions of Little Shop of Horrors? Or which of the 2 performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream has the best ‘Puck’? How to gauge whether the musicals with the most off-putting, controversial titles (examples: Kiddy-Fiddler On The Roof and The Great American Trailer Park Musical) are as well-written and composed as their eager participants claim?

I wish I could offer you a full-proof formula.

The truth is, even if you research the reviews thoroughly, you are still bound to encounter some time waster shows. The best way to find some performances that will suit your tastes is really to ask around once you’ve arrived. If you, like me, loathe the idea of plodding down a jam packed pedestrian street full of makeshift stages, noisy kids, irritated parents, and over-excited marketing reps, I suggest pre-booking a few shows online—ones that you are pretty much certain you will enjoy—before heading up (exs: stand up by a well-known comedian, performance of a play by your favourite writer, a street dance show with rave reviews, etc.). Book two or three shows for your first day, leaving plenty of time in between each show. This will allow you time to investigate…i.e. ask fellow audience members what they’ve seen, loved and hated. Find out whether Kiddy-Fiddler on the Roof is suitable for your 10 year old son (- no!) or is as hilarious as the adverts claim (-yes!). Stumble across a young writer, who claims that his new drama—playing at a nearby venue in 30 minutes—is even better than his 2007 sell-out production, and take a chance.

And lastly, if you’ve got the energy, hit up the local bars for a few late night (…and early morning) pints. Everything stays open until 5am, and you are bound to find out about some great shows (and creperies…and kebab stands…). But whatever you do, avoid the Royal Mile!

Links:

Guided Tour of Edinburgh

Edinburgh Fringe Official Website

Fringe Reviews

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Mama Mia! Mania: Behind the Scenes in Greece

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“(I would) fly to the beautiful Greek Isles, to a quiet marina, where I could introduce my wife to the boat that would take us island hopping – sailing from fishing village to fishing village…local ports fringed with tavernas…seafood washed down with the native wine whilst the blood-red sun kisses the Mediterranean sea `good night’…”

– Fred Harper, ‘Perfect Holiday’ Contest Entrant

Sparkling blue water, rugged coastal terrain, sailboats, sunshine, serenity, and fresh seafood (mmm…..)

…not to mention a strutting, overall-clad Meryl Streep, a feisty Julie Walters, a singing Pierce Brosnan, a glowing Amanda Seyfried……and, of course, a non-stop ABBA marathon.

Who’s seen Mama Mia! And doesn’t want to go to Greece?

I’m always skeptical of movie renditions of musicals, but, in this case, the big screen certainly exploits what the West End can’t: the absolutely breathtaking scenery of the Greek Islands.

Behind the Scenes in Skiathos and Skopelos

Just over a year ago, Streep, Brosnan, and the rest of the multi-talented Mama Mia! cast were staging 1970’s ABBA mayhem on remote islands of the Aegean sea…

It’s time to follow in the footsteps of the stars (and as well as the imagination of our contest entrant Fred) on the following tours:

1. Romantic Sunset Cruise in Skiathos.

If you’ve seen the film, it’s impossible not to imagine yourself as a blissful, young bride or groom to be, sheltered from the realities of the world on a little Greek slice of paradise. The amorous atmosphere of the Sophie’s dream island wedding lingers on the island of Skiathos, where a Calypso fishing boat awaits the next pair of lovebirds that desire a taste of Aegean seaside culture, music, cuisine and scenery.

The Skiathos ‘Music and Moonlight’ Sunset Cruise departs Tuesdays from 15 May – 15 October and is the perfect romantic outing for the adventurous duo. Indulge in freshly prepared island cuisine, feel the rhythms of the traditional Greek folk music, and dance your way into the sunset…..

2. Tour of Skopelos

Explore the magnificent setting of Donna’s infamously ‘rustic’ hotel—‘the greenest island in Greece’—by embarking on the Sporades Island Hopping Tour, which includes a stop at ‘Kalokairi Island’, or rather, Skopelos!

Your adventure will begin as you board a boat in the harbour of Skiathos, where some of Mama Mia’s most lively scenes were created. Coast across the sparkling Aegean until you arrive at what was, just under a year ago, the central hub of ABBA action—where Pierce Brosnan’s flip flops are now on display…and where the film’s fairytale church, Agios Ioannis, juts out over the sea on a magnificent, towering rock formation.

Your day will end with a stop at neighbouring Alonissos; you will return to Skiathos in time for a relaxing sunset meal.

Mama Mia! Here we go again…

May your romantic, island hopping adventure leave you ‘stranded’ at an isolated taverna…complete with a staff that breaks out into spontaneous song and dance…

Other great behind-the-scenes film tour ideas:

The ‘Film Tours: Hollywood and Beyond’ Blog

The ‘Hollywood, Bollywood and Beyond’ Blog (a favourite!)

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The Counting Crows are ‘back’, apparently.

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Yesterday, while the rest of London was immersed in the sporting event of the year—the final, epic match of Wimbledon 2008—I had the privilege of attending the city’s (equally as epic!) music event of the year—the 02 Wireless Festival in Hyde Park.

From Queensland-bred rock band Powderfinger, to Guyana-born reggae star Eddy Grant…to hip hop icon Jay-Z…London was, literally, booming with the festival’s diverse lineup of performers…especially with this year’s headliner: the Counting Crows.

After the band’s 5 year hiatus from album production, UK fans were ready to rock out—to both old favourites and new hits: in other words, we were ready for a CC comeback!

Counting Crows at O2 Wireless, London

As lead singer Adam Duritz expressed towards the end of the show: “we’ve been gone for a while, but now, we’re back…and we thank you for being here for us.”

And a welcoming, patient crowd we were…

All I have to say to is: Adam, it’s time to lay off the booze, really. You were more lucid when I encountered you belting Madonna covers in a Bourbon Street bar during Jazz Fest ’03 (a memorable moment, to say the least…)

We love your music, we love your voice, and we even love your wild antics…your flailing appendages…your crazy dreads…but last night was too much—you were falling all over the place! (that must have hurt?). I nearly left after the third song…

However, I (reluctantly) stayed, and I am glad that I did: the band did, miraculously, pull their act together in the second half—Duritz managed to somewhat sober up; he even threw in a few British tunes for audience kicks…but still, I am skeptical regarding this performance’s degree of ‘comeback’ worthiness…

Either way, for die hard fans that missed the London show, the Crows will spend another week taking the UK and Ireland by (a drunken?) storm…at the following venues:

Liverpool Arena, Liverpool, UK (July 7th)

Ambassador Theater, Dublin, Ireland (July 10th)

Oxegen Festival Punchestown, Kildare, Ireland (July 12th)

T in the Park, Scotland (July 13th)

But, whatever you do, beware of the front row: you may well end up cradling a flailing, drunken fireball of a lead singer…

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