Romeo and Juliet @ The Garrick

On Saturday the 18th of June I traveled by Eurostar to London together with a friend. It would be a short stay, only the weekend itself. Our main purpose was to see a play: we had tickets for Romeo and Julliet at the Garrick Theatre.

Although it was the middle of June, it wasn’t summer yet. The temperature  was cool but pleasant,  around 18 to 20 degrees. We walked from St. Pancras station to the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square. There was some festival taking place on the square. It looked like fun, but we ignored it since there was a huge queue to enter it. A queue that went on for several blocks, so we entered the Gallery instead. Part of the impressionist wing is still closed for renovation, but Van Gogh’s Sunflowers can be admired. We didn’t stay long since we’ve both visited the museum several times already, we just went to see our favorites again, such as Rubens’ A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning.

Belgium’s football team, the Red Devils, played against Ireland in the afternoon as part of the European Championship. Since we’re both avid fans we looked for a pub near Leicester Square to watch the match, and to have lunch. It was steak & ale pie for me, fish & chips for my friend. We flushed down the decent food with beer and cider. The television was acting odd at times, maybe a lagging satellite connection: moving players became a bit blurred and had 8 legs. Belgium crushed Ireland with a 3-0 victory. Giving us (idle) hope for the matches to come and putting us in a very good mood.

After the match we went south, crossed the river Thames and headed to our hotel: the Westminster Tune Hotel. It’s the third time I stay there. Many services are available as an option (early check-in, WiFi, hairdryer,…) and if you select them, you pay for them. But if you are satisfied with the minimum, it’s quite cheap. We had a decent and clean room that was also small and windowless. Next to the hotel there is a pub: The Horse and Stable. We went there for dinner and WiFi. While we ate a tasteful ‘house burger’ we watched the first half of Iceland – Hungary. We didn’t see the second half because we needed to get to the theater in time for the play.

We walked back north to the Garrick Theatre, which is near Leicester Square, were we spend the afternoon. The doors closed at 19h30 and not a second late. We would see Romeo and Juliet in a direction of Kenneth Branagh with Richard Madden as Romeo, Lily James as Juliet and Derick Jacobi as Mercutio. The play has a duration of 2 hours and 45 minutes including a 15 minute break. I found it a very powerful performance. At times I didn’t understand all the words, but that did not lower my experience. Juliet did not grab me as much as Romeo. But overall, it was very good and I enjoyed it very much. The decor and costumes are set in the 1950’s and the stage changes smoothly from square, church, crypt to balcony. Next to me was an unoccupied seat, next to it was a thirty-something year old  guy sitting. He used the space of the seat to store several drinks on the ground. He joked that everyone should have an extra seat for storage. I wondered if he was serious and had booked an extra seat. He had two pints of beer for himself during the first half, and came back after the break with two more. Twenty minutes into the play came the answer when a young women rushed to the seat, moving so fast that I could not prevent her tripping over some of the stored pints.

After the play we headed towards the hotel and stopped by the Duke of Sussex, near The Old Vic, for a drink. We had been to this pub in November 2014, but in the mean time it had changed, there was no karaoke anymore. When we remarked this while we were standing outside looking in, a passer-by overhearing us, burst into laughter. We had some local craft beer and we were discussing the play when we got into a conversation with a slightly drunk Englishman, who was part of a party sitting next to us.  He wanted to speak German with us, thinking we were speaking German and not realizing we were speaking Dutch. We talked about differences between Dutch and German and explained that Dutch speakers are not necessarily Dutch, his next assumption, but that they can also be Belgian. This being England, the pub closed at 23u30, and we continued towards our hotel.

We chose an excellent timing to visit London. It was the opening weekend for the new wing of Tate Modern and because of this there were several volunteers giving talks about their favorite art pieces in the museum. The old power station turned into a modern art museum is very stylish. I quite like the architecture of the concrete and lines and prefer it above Paris’ Centre Pompidou. We saw the free collections in both wings and listened to some interesting stories. My favorite story was about Dali’s Autumnal Cannibalism. On the top floor (level 10) Tate Modern offers a nice and free view of the London skyline. The viewing platform of the Shard is a bit higher, but costs around 20 pounds.

We crossed the Millennium bridge to St Paul’s Cathedral, and headed to the British Museum. On the way we lunched in The White Swan where we had the Sunday Roast Beef and I had a Fourpure Session IPA to drink.

Sunday Roast

Season IPAThis London craft beer is quite fruity. It’s a bit strange for me to see a beer that’s only available in draft or can, not in bottles. I found it tasteful and it went well with the roast.

After the lunch we continued to the British Museum. Before we could enter the museum we had to pass through a security check where all big bags were searched. I have the feeling that the definition of a big bag is dependent on the size of the queue. We didn’t stay very long in the museum, we focused on  some special items. My favorite part of the museum is the Japanese section on the top floor. No only for the displayed items, but also for some practical reasons. Since it’s the furthest to reach, it’s less busy then other parts, such as the Roman or Egyptian sections and it’s also a bit darker and cooler.

Time flies, and we didn’t have a lot of it to start with. We left the museum and  headed towards St Pancras. On the way we stopped in a Starbucks for coffee and cake and reminisced a bit about all the things we’d seen. It was an excellent weekend.

Click here for the Guardian Review of Romeo and Juliet.


On Friday the 27th of March at around 23h our plane landed at Dublin airport. There my two travel companions and me got on a bus that would bring us from Ireland’s east coast to it’s west coast, and three hours later we arrived at our final destination: Galway, City of the Tribes, a city of seventy-five thousand people on the River Corrib. We were staying in the Bunk Boutique Hostel, which has the seeming advantage of being located across the street of the bus station: so very easy to find. The three of us had booked beds in a shared dormitory of six, the smallest room available, and we where hoping finding it empty. But no, three of the six beds were taken. Two of the available beds were solitary ground level ones, but the third was the top level of a three story high bunk bed. Agreeing that this one was the least desirable, we played rock-paper-scissors to determine the unlucky owner. I can only imagine what our roommates must have thought, seeing three men playing this game at three in the morning, in the semi-dark, to determine the bed ownership. The advantage of being close to the bus station turned sour when the buses started coming, waiting and going very early in the morning, especially because the windows next to the other occupied beds were open. At around quarter before seven I noticed I was not the only one among my friends laying awake, so we got up, got dressed and got out exWP_20150328_07_03_01_Proploring the city. The sky was grey and it rained a little: the dominating weather conditions of the trip. We walked to Eyre Square and then through Shop Street, the main shopping street, towards the River Corrib and Galway Bay. Breakfast was included in our stay and was served from eight ‘o clock onwards, so made sure we were  back at the hostel by eight. It was basic but sufficient: there were three types of cornflakes, brown and white toast, three types of jam, milk and coffee available.

The goal of trip was to visit a friend, Willem, who has been working and living in Galway for the past nine months. So after breakfast we set out to achieve our goal and walked for about an hour in eastern direction to Doughiska, a suburb of Galway City, passing the Greyhound racing track where we refrained from placing bets. We arrived in a sort of gated community of a few hundred similar houses called Fiodan, where our friend lived: quite a nice neighborhood, with a lot of well maintained green. I rang his bell, twice, and on his first floor a window opened where an old lady appeared asking what we wanted. I had the address wrong, my cell phone’s battery was dead, and to make matters worse none of my travel mates had his current number. We walked a bit the streets of the neighborhood and asked passersby if they knew a bearded Belgian guy living nearby. Non did however. We had come a long way and were so close but it seemed we were stuck. My travel mates might not have his current number, but they had his mothers number, and she guided us to the correct house, which was just around the corner.WP_20150328_10_33_01_Pro It’s a small three bedroom house with a spacious balcony and a nice view. We got a tour of the place and noticed our goodbye gift to him, a signed Belgian flag, which we gave him when he left Belgium some years ago, in his room. Against all agreements there was no cider in the fridge but our friend corrected the situation and jumped on his bike to get some.

Once all the cider was processed, we took the bus back to Galway City. We had lunch in the McDonald’s of Shop Street and afterwards explored the city further. Walking back to the River Corrib and following it upstream towards Galway Cathedral. The light drizzle had changed into a downpour, getting us all soaked. We waited out the rain in the Cathedral, which is quite ok, but since it’s only fifty years old, it lacks history. Since I wore a leather jacked, I didn’t have a hood, so to keep my head dry, I went looking for a Sou’wester, and Galway being a fishing town, I expected to find it. Easier said than done, it took us several stores and several trips crisscross the city, in the rain, before our local friend remembered a small fishing and shooting shop, Duffy’s, where they would certainly have what I was looking for. Ironically we had passed this store already WP_20150328_17_07_06_Proseveral times that day, before looking for a hath, without paying any attention to it. They did have what I wanted and with the joy of a small child I walked back to the hostel, along the way going through a shopping mall which has parts of a medieval castle incorporated into it.

We refreshed ourselves at the hostel and scoured through TripAdvisor to find a good restaurant with local cuisine nearby. We decided on Oscar’s Bistro, a little but cozy fish restaurant across town, just on the other side of the River Corrib. We had some difficulty finding it, mainly because of the piercing wind numbing our senses. We arrived shortly after the restaurant opened and we were the second party attending, but it wouldn’t take long before the restaurant was full and people had to be refused at the door. I counted myself lucky being, for once, early. WP_20150328_18_22_17_Pro As appetizer I had oysters, fresh from Galway Bay, and prosecco: these were the best oysters I ever tasted. Great structure and flavor. The shellfish was followed by Gambas prawns in garlic and lemon butter: the dish was nicely presented and tasteful. Monkfish, or sea-devil, was to be the main course: one of my favorite fish for its big and meaty structure. To put the devil to rest, we moved on to rhubarb crumble with vanilla ice. And concluding the meal with, of course, an Irish Coffee. Of the entire meal, two things stick out: the superb oysters and the attentiveness of the adorable waitress. We were really taken in by the restaurant, it was also not expensive, we paid around €60 each, and were planning to comeback the following day for other fish and more oysters. Sadly Oscar’s Bistro was not open on Sunday evening.

We walked back to town and in Shop Street we went into the Coyote bar, looking for a bit of fun. We found only a handful of men watching the Netherlands – Turkey football match. We ordered a Guinness and joined them. Then a hen party came in, and another, and another until the bar was filled with partying women celebrating the wedding of their friends. Quite the turn around, apparently the bar advertises for its stag/hen party location. There was a cocktail bar, but the waiter was quite incompetent and the cocktails contained almost no alcohol. Around midnight we left the bar and walked to the hostel. At the Eyre Square we said our Goodbyes to Willem and lent him some bus money because not all bus drivers give change,  after which he got into a cab.

On Sunday morning we had breakfast at the hostel and decided to take the Cliffs of Moher bus tour. This tour travels south of Galway, to the other side of Galway bay, over the limestone covered hills with its grikes and clints to Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher. We met Willem at the bus station across the hostel and the four of us set off for a day of sightseeing.

Our first stop was WP_20150329_10_50_13_ProDunguaire Castle, a 16th century tower house on the southeastern shore of Galway Bay. It was a quick 15m stop, a mere photo opportunity, because it was not possible to visit or enter the castle. Our bus driver talked ceaseless, first about the state of  Ireland’s economy and people of the years from the potato famine, to the Celtic tiger years which ended in the recession, and the now the recovery. Then about every detail along the road, including local folklore and historic events. He did his job well.

WP_20150329_12_18_19_ProAnother highlight before the cliffs was the Poulnabrone Dolmen, a portal tomb of around six thousand years ago in the Burren. The structure in the desolate limestone landscape is quite beautiful, it gave me a sort of melancholy feeling. We continued to Doolin, a small coastal village where we had lunch in a local pub. There are walking trails from the village to the Cliffs, which are situated around 8km to the south, but we stayed with our bus.

The cliffs themselves are spectacular, rising up to 200m above the Atlantic. The ocean pounds them violently and I’ve never encountered a fiercer wind then on the edge of those cliffs. We saw and felt upside down rain: water drops taken by the wind and pushed up along the cliffs until at the top edge they form little geysers. And it was not even a stormy day, only a bit grey. WP_20150329_15_53_50_ProThe cliffs have featured in a number of popular films, probably the most memorably of them is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince where they are the setting of the sea cave in which a Horcrux is hidden.

We had an hour and a half free time at the cliffs, and we made good use of them, walking along the top as far as we could in the time provided. Strangely, we met our hostel roommates along the trail. When we left our room they were still in bed, and what is even more strange, when we got back to our room after the bus drive back to Galway, they were once again in bed, at around 6 ‘o clock in the evening. That evening no Irish fish was to be on the menu, but Irish steak. we had found a promising restaurant on TripAdvisor, but it was full, and there was waiting queue of three parties in front of us. They suggested leaving our mobile phone number and waiting, but we were famished. Willem advised us to go to Maxwell’s in Shop Street, he had been there before and was quite pleased with it. You could catalog it as a family restaurant, a clear space with lot’s of light, several tables were occupied by parents with small children. And one table was now occupied by four Belgian boys. Maxwell’s doesn’t have a liquor license, which became apparent when we tried ordering a Gin-Tonic to kick off our meal. The Irish steak I had was good and the Chilean red wine accompanying it was decent. We spent the remainder of the evening in Sonny’s, a pub in High Street, drinking Guinness and watching the Irish football team draw against Poland. Once more on Eyre Square we said our Goodbyes to Willem, this time it would take longer than a day to see each other again.

Monday morning at eight ‘o clock we were faced with a closed breakfast room, the attendant had overslept, probably not expecting anyone to be so early eager for food. But we were in a hurry, we had a bus to catch. Check out was simple and quick and we got on the Dublin bus at 8:45. A bit before noon we got off our bus at O’Connell bridge, we went up and down O’Connell street, crossing the River Liffey, moving thourgh Temple Bar towards Christ Church. At the cathedral we changed course to the National Gallery. This museum can’t be compared to its sibling in London, it is much smaller but nonetheless it has some works worth visiting such as Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ. We had some coffee and a brownie in the cafeteria of the museum. While discussing the things we’d seen these last couple of days we became aware that spread around the room three woman were busy breastfeeding their babies. Thinking of the hens parties of the first evening it appears the Irish do things separately together. When we left the museum rain was pouring down, we headed to the shopping street, Grafton Street, but decided against another march through the rain. In Suffolk Street we saw a pub O’Donohgues and wanted to take shelter there for the remainder of the afternoon drinking Guinness.WP_20150330_16_16_20_Pro But we still had to figure out how to get to the airport, so after some beers we headed into the rain searching for a tourist info point, we found one at the end of Grafton Street and there is an airport shuttle that had a stop nearby. Glad with this, we returned to the pub for some more Guinness. A bit before five ‘o clock we headed through the rain to the bus stop and after waiting quite a bit in the rain, the bus appeared. We still had an hour forty-five before take off so there was little stress. Dublin rush hour however raised our stress levels. The bus trip that should have taken us about twenty minutes now took us well over an hour. We got to the airport five minutes before the official closing hour of our gate. We ran to the security check where there was luckily no queue, we passed and continue running to our gate were we arrived in the nick of time, only to see that our plane had yet to land. No stress.

Elektra @ The Old Vic

On the first of November I traveled with an old friend to London.  The purpose of our trip was to see Sophocles’ play Elektra in The Old Vic. After an uneventful journey, our Eurostar reached St Pancras station around 9 o’clock in the morning. Being both avid Harry Potter fans we crossed the street to King’s Cross station to look for the Platform 9 and 3/4. We overlooked the huge queue at the photo opportunity and the HP shop and wandered a bit lost through the station, until at last we noticed the large crowd. In the shop/tourist trap I resisted the urge to buy a Slytherin Quidditch jumper.

The weather was nice: the sun was out and for a first of November it was quite warm. We decided not to use public transportation, and to walk through the city. We followed Grays Inn road towards the City of London and Saint Paul’s Cathedral, buying a cup of coffee in a Costa along the way. The smell of roasted nuts greetings as we crossed the Millennium bridge, after which we walked along the south bank towards Westminster. Hunger was starting to rear its head, so we stacked up with calories by eating a McDonald’s burgerMc Do London at Westminster bridge.Westminster Bridge After lunch we continued to Tate Britain for ‘Late Turner – Painting Set Free‘, a temporary exhibition devoted to the works that JMW Turner produced during the later years of his life. It’s a wonderful collection and  I really loved it. The exhibition runs until the 25th of January, 2015 and I highly recommend it.

We had booked a room at Westminster Tune Hotel not far from The Old Vic. The room was clean and silent, the staff was polite and helpful: this all for £75 in London isn’t a bad deal. We asked reception for the nearest Nando’s and enjoyed some grilled chicken before going to the theater. We walked to The Old Vic and because there was still some time before the start of the performance,  we decided to have a drink in the Pit Bar, the bar below The Old Vic, but here it was already quite crowded. We skipped drinks, exchanged our vouchers for program books and read them while standing outside the theater.

We had seats on the fourth row of the stalls, so the actors were performing at a few meters at eye height: great seats, and all things considered not that expensive: £85.The Old Vic The Old Vic’s podium setting is for the moment round, with the spectators sitting around it for about 270 degrees. The other ninety was reserved for a large door: the entry of Elektra’s home. In fact we walked round/over the podium to get to our seats. Once we were all seated, the lights dimmed a bit and a large man walked up the podium from a corridor and the performance started. Kirsten Scott Thomas performance as Elektra was intense, but sometimes it balanced on that of a caricature. Overall we both were highly impressed by the performance, the hour and forty five minutes were over in the blink of an eye; superb experience.

We left The Old Vic tingling from exhilaration, went looking for a pub and found The Duke of Sussex. Although it looked like a traditional English pub, it had a karaoke stand and one of the employees was doing his best to get it going, with a bit of success.Gangly Ghoul After a pint of cider, we tried some British ale, a pint of Gangly Ghoul. It did not rock my world. Getting tried of a long day, we walked back to the hotel and stopped along the way in a night shop for water and donuts.

Pelicans at St James Park

After a good night’s sleep we checked out of the hotel and went looking for a place were we good get a traditional English breakfast. We crossed the river Thames, went through St James Park, where we saw the Pelicans and lots of squirrels, past Buckingham Palace into Brompton Road where across the street from Harrods we found Richoux. A small tea room with traditional English breakfast, without beans: so does this still count as traditional? During our breakfast rain started to pour down from heaven. Our current goal was the temporary Constable exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, which was at a distance of about 500 meters from our current position. We risked our dryness and steady stomach, and ran through the rain to the museum. It was nice exhibition, but I prefer Turner, for my friend it was the other way around. We skipped the ‘Wedding Dresses 1775-2014‘ exhibition and left the museum for a stroll through Harrods.

The sky had cleared up a bit, and it remained dry for the remainder of the day. We believed you could find anything in Harrods, but after examination we are quite sure there are no puppies! Disappointed we left the store and crossed Hyde Park to Speaker’s Corner and Oxford Street. Even after devouring a traditional English breakfast, all the running and walking made us hungry, so when we passed a Nicholson’s pub called the Pontefract Castle at the corner of Wigmore Street and St Christopher’s Place, we went in for Fish & Chips. We sat at table and were ignored for about twenty minutes, after which we left, hungry and annoyed. We walked to Piccadilly Circus and on the way we found another Nicholson’s pub in Kingly street: The Clachan. Here we made sure we were not ignored and had a decent plate of Fish and Chips: yum.

We still had a bit of time to kill before heading back to St Pancras, so we went to Trafalgar Square, which for the moment has a Big Blue Cock erected on its fourth plinth,Big blue cock and strolled through the National Gallery, visiting some of our favorite paintings: A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning, The Arnolfini Portrait and  Sunflowers. A great way of finishing a great weekend.

La sixième semaine

Een kwart van mijn Straatsburg avonturen is intussen achter de rug. Het vliegt voorbij want het voelt alsof ik er nog maar pas ben.

Dinsdagavond heb ik met Jasper A Serious Man in cinéma star gezien. Hoewel de proloog van de film, die volledig onafhankelijk was van het kern verhaal; een beetje vreemd was: Poolse gesprekken met Franse ondertitels waardoor we zelfs even twijfelden of we wel in de juiste zaal zaten. De voorstelling was in een kleine zaal en deze zat bijna vol; naast Jasper kwam een Frans koppel zitten en wat stonk de man ervan! Hij rook uren in de wind naar dagenoude sigarettenrook, ik was erg blij dat Jasper tussen mezelf en dit goor wezen zat.
Deze week begon ik telkenmale om negen uur met werken, en dit is een uur vroeger als wat ik gewoon ben. Ik voelde het ‘s ochtends maar het was al bij al een aangename werkweek.

Het hoogtepunt van de week was echt het bezoek van Dimitri en Katleen aan Straatsburg. Ze arriveerden zaterdag tegen elf uur en na een korte verkenning van de stad besloten we te lunchen in een salon de thé genaamd Au Pain d’Elise gelegen aan de Pont Kuss. Vervolgens dwaalden we door de straten van Straatsburg, met af en toe een onderbreking om stil te staan bij het waanzinnige aantal bankfilialen in Straatsburg en de pracht van haar kathedraal. Hoewel het de laatste dagen veel sneeuwde in Straatsburg zijn de stoepen proper en was het dus hoegenaamd niet gevaarlijk om te wandelen. De vrieskou maakte de verschillende stops in cafeetjes echter welgekomen. Rond half zes begonnen we uit te kijken naar een restaurant en besloten te eten in Au Dauphin aan de Place de la Cathédrale. Ik nam de Choucroute met 7 soorten vlees en dit was erg lekker. De rest van de avond brachten we door in het café Exils in de rue de l’Ail. Waar ze zo vriendelijk waren onze halve liter bier nog aan een reductie tarief te rekenen hoewel happy hour juist voorbij was.
Zondag begon met koffie en een stukje erg lekkere appel amandel taart en ‘s middags lunchten we in Brasserie Alsacienne Le Gruber in rue du Maroquin, waar we een tarte flambée tot ons namen. Met een goed gevulde maag kon in mijn gasten met een gerust gemoed laten vertrekken en een emotioneel afscheid volgde.
Ik vond het een superbe weekend.

Je vous prie d’agréer, Monsieur, Madame, l’expression de mes salutations distinguées.