Friday, 26 September 2014

James III: National Theatre Scotland

This week I had an extra special theatre experience at the National, watching the National Theatre of Scotland's James III - from the stage.

Jamie Sives (Game of Thrones) and Sofie Gråbøl (The Killing). 
King James III and Queen Margaret of Denmark.
Photo Credit: National Theatre.

Click here to see trailer.

Theatre in the round

James III is one of a trio of plays by Rona Munro charting the history of the first 3 James kings of Scotland. It was originally performed at Edinburgh International Festival in the round and they've copied this format for the performance in the Olivier Theatre. This meant I got to go back stage. It was so magical to see the engine rooms of the National Theatre, the backstage props and the perspective of performers looking out on an audience from the stage.

The play itself is a contemporary rendering of the history of James III of Scotland by Rona Munro. Both acts commence with a ceilidh band playing 'Born this way' and other modern classics which subtly allude to the plot. The characters wear modern dress with the odd nod to the fifteenth century (a la Robin Hood circa 2006).

Jester King

James' court is portrayed rather like that of King Henry VIII's in The Other Boleyn Girl, pretty poor girls, poor economic decisions and banishment of the privy council. I particularly enjoyed the moment where James III sacrifices the funds for a pilgrimage to Avignon to instead employ a choir to follow him round at all times to make life more 'beautiful'.

This play is all about the girls; the mistresses, the mothers and the formidable Danish queen, Margaret, who might be a bit past her best but has one hell of a head on her shoulders. Beyond the privy council, the nobles, Lord John and sibling rivalries the real power is held by the girls. There was a particularly strong performance from Sofie Gråbøl showing depth of character and progression.

Poignancy of timing

I watched this play one week after Scotland's referendum. There are plenty of references to the relationship between England and Scotland as James III constantly suffered the threat of English invasion and coercion. Munro illustrates the links between the historical political circumstance and that of today very well, so  little has changed in 500 years. A contemporary play, James III gave me an insight into how Shakespeare's history plays must have been received by the audience of the day; the parallels to their modern day circumstances must have been clear.

The show was a sensation, taught me loads of Scottish history and provided a unique backstage tour as part of the bargain. I'm really looking forward to seeing the first of the trio, James I, in a few weeks time.

King James is played by Game of Thrones star, Jamie Sives, and Margaret of Denmark by Sofie Gråbøl from The Killing. James III features full nudity and is not appropriate for those under 14 years old. The three James plays run daily in rotation, you can still get tickets for £15 until 29th October.

Friday, 19 September 2014

The big 100!

Today is a momentous day.

We discovered that Scotland as a whole wants to stay in the UK but with a substantial minority expressing discontent. The rhetoric is that everything will change, I've yet to be convinced...

This is also my 100th blog post.

Shankhill Road (Jan 2013)

It all began 3 and a bit years ago, during my MA when the interesting things I was discovering and thinking about wouldn't fit inside essays, so I wrote about them here. My first ever post here, was all about car gears and families. Perhaps I was an eccentric child.

Camino (June 2011)

Since then I'm on job number three, and living a mere 51.5 miles from where this story began. I've lived up to my adventurous moniker having visited 8 different countries and more than 14 cities across Europe - always returning to London with all that it has to offer.

St Paul's (Jan 2014)

I've mused on whether Santa is racist, if social media is bad for us, the masterful work of Luke Leighfield and Susan Abulhawa, and if we really need vision to experience the world around us.

Llanthony Castle (Sept 2012)

My most popular post to date is My Berlin Diaries II, with Offa's Dyke and a review of Skyfall coming in a close 2nd and 3rd illustrating that my travel diaries are your favourites.

Berlin (Sept 2013)

Predictably most of you are from the UK, but then the US and Russia follow next. Whilst I knew I had German readers I was surprised to find many page views from Eastern Europe, Ukraine, Latvia etc. So 'hi' if you are from those places, I hope you enjoy what you find here.

It turns out that 2014 has been a prolific year for me, completing a third of the content for this blog. I really am surprised by that fact. At least perhaps it has kept me in the habit of writing if nothing else!

I've no plans to stop just yet, the adventure is only just beginning!


Adventurous Wilkinson

Venice, August 2014

Friday, 12 September 2014

Venice: TGT Episode 6

Venezia: Venusia - land of drama and expense.

Population: 270, 843

Accommodation: Glass-blowers apartment on Campo San Maurizio through airb'n'b (highly recommend - central, high-spec apartment)

Highlights: Rialto bridge, Teatro Goldoni, Chiesa santa Maria della Consolazione, Arsenale, all of Castello.

So we arrived in Venice, this theatrical island where cars are rendered useless and delivering post requires a very clever trolley to mount the never ending stairs. There are several ways to get on and off the island; we arrived by train, naturally, but picked the rest of the family up on the airport ferry.

(View from the bedroom window)

We stayed in Venice for 4 days during high-season and there were people everywhere crowding the alleys, particularly at St Marks where you can expect to queue for over an hour to visit the church or climb the tower. We arrived early in the morning, queued for one hour but got the basilica to ourselves.

(View from the Basilica roof)

(Illicit photo inside the Basilica)

Venice is at its most magical when we explored at night. Coursing down the Rialto on top deck, with all the gothic buildings up-lit really was magical. As was another walk we went on after dinner one night - hearing the bands play on the San Marco square and walking winding alleys reminiscent of Medieval Shambles in York. Both of these were close to nightmarish during the day when there were people everywhere!

(Night-time Venice; musicians at St Marks)

One evening we went to a really eccentric Italian play with English subtitles at the Teatro Goldoni. The audience were mainly English tourists and the players all wore masks. It was a bit odd and reinforced my opinion that Venice is all about the drama.

(Rialto bridge)

During the day one of the best things we did was leave the central area of St Marks and explore Castello. The roads are wider, there are fewer gondolas with men singing the cornetto song (Mum says those blokes were the highlight of her holiday), food became more affordable and authentic too, we even found a supermarket. You also finally escape the street sellers with their fake handbags!



There are also churches in this area that are gorgeous and far less busy. Key mention here goes to Chiesa santa Maria della Consolazione one of the only buildings in all of Venice that John Ruskin actually liked, constructed 1470. We also enjoyed the hospital with its water taxis and long walks by the Arsenale - look carefully and you will spot 4 lions each in its own architectural style.

(Chiesa santa Maria)

For us, Airb'n'b changed everything, we wouldn't have afforded hotel rooms or to eat out all the time. There were definite advantages to living on the island, gelato less than 20 metres from my bedroom, seeing the sites without the crowds, being able to nip home for a siesta. Another time there are still other things I'd love to explore but I reckon they could be included in a day trip.

(The bus stop)

Monday, 8 September 2014

The Journey South: TGT Episode 5

And so we left Vienna, for Innsbruck. Breaking our habit of spending two nights somewhere before moving on in favour of progressing quickly to Venice we journeyed Vienna to Innsbruck, then onto Venice via Bolzano, Trento, Verona and Padua.


Innsbruck in August is a bit nippy and decidedly alpine; it is a famous Winter resort for a reason. There is a mountain at the end of every road, and the mist rolls down into the valley most mornings. We only overnighted in Innsbruck but I wish we'd had longer to explore.

(Mountain at the end of every road)

We stayed at Bistro B'n'b with the Sill River running past our window. The hotel itself was like something out of the late 70's but we got good sleep there. We made our way into town to find some dinner and stumbled across a Medieval Fayre complete with court jester in the Old Town. I was pleased to see that even out of season Innsbruck was making an effort to entertain.

(Stilt Walkers)

That evening we had my favourite meal of the whole holiday at Goldenes Dachl - a restaurant right beside the historic building of the same name. We really ate the view this time - Dad had gulash and I had Bauernschmaus with local beer but the real thing to write home about was the wine, Lagrein Doc, oh my goodness me!

(Goldenes Dachl)


Our journey to Venice was an incredible 7 hours of train travel. Innsbruck was decidedly chilly and hilly, as I've mentioned. Venice was warm and sunny and cloudless. We left Innsbruck in jumpers, we arrived in Italy in t-shirt and shorts. The bonus of rail travel though is that you see it all unfold before your eyes, there are no shocking temperature changes.

During our 7-hour journey we made friends with two American alcoholics and the Danish coffee lady who was working on the trains as her gap year opportunity to meet people. We stopped to change trains in Verona and the heat was immediately apparent. Relieved to join a train with air-con the mountains unfold to reveal the plains around Venice. Beautiful.



(Laguna Veneta)

Friday, 5 September 2014

Vienna: TGT Episode 4

Population: 1.731 million

Accommodation: IBIS hotel (budget) – we really felt the difference to IBIS Frankfurt.

We left Munich on Tuesday morning, pausing to post our cards and then board a proper international train. This journey gave me my first glimpse of the Alps, and of Austria more generally. I love train travel, all of the scenery unfolds before your eyes; flat urban areas, mountains, and then the plains.

Our arrival in Vienna was a wet one, but by now we were used to negotiating new underground systems, sandwich in hand, and emerged at our hotel right beside the famous Prater fairground. A short nap later we set out to explore the city by tram. In Vienna you can get cheap 4-journey tickets (like carnet-dix in Paris) and if you’re over 60 there are discounts to be found as well. The trams are gorgeous old vehicles and the metro looks like a 1960’s space-age – all silvery tin-foil. We looked at Viennese architecture and then ate steak for tea, making plans on serviettes and living the dream.

(Hofburg candlesticks)

Day 2 I climbed the Stephansdom South Tower for a better view of the Viennese skyline - just as Stephansdom dominates the view in Vienna it also penetrates much of Viennese history.  Having got my breath back I went to the Hofburg - I saw Queen Sisi’s chambers and their massive dinner services – they even had a whole dinner service just for taking onboard a ship, which was incredible! If you like visiting National Trust properties audio-guide in hand then the Hofburg will suit you down to the ground!

(The view from Stephansdom)

After the Hof I headed off for a piece of Sacher Torte - it was really tasty, and not as hideously overpriced as I had feared. From the Sacher Hotel I progressed to the Naschmarkt via a post office, where I successfully ordered stamps in German. I also bumped into the Spanish Riding School Ponies on the way. The Naschmarkt is a foodie paradise with as many different styles of cuisine as you can imagine. I enjoyed tasting, and then buying some raspberry vinegar, seeing the bottling process before my eyes was magical.

(Spanish Riding School Ponies)

(Sacher Torte)

(Naschmarkt Sausages)

From the Naschmarkt I went on to the Jewish Museum. When I visited there was a heightened focus in the press on Israeli-Palestine so there was a body guard on the door and visiting felt like making a political statement. The museum was the antithesis of the toy museum in Munich, it was interactive and expansive, used multimedia modes of explanation and created space for people to leave their responses to the material. I learned a lot, particularly about the roles of Jews in World War I. I was particularly challenged by a comedy piece written by Georg Kreisler, you can listen to it here - he satirises the horror of going to work alongside people who had behaved so atrociously towards you mere years before.  I also learned about the ongoing relationship between Jews and Vienna itself, how they had paid a special Jew-tax which paid for Stephansdom and that several rich Jewish women founded the intellectual salons of Vienna. It was well worth the 10E entry fee.

(Jewish Museum suitcase)

(Interactive displays)

After all that thinking and heritage I met up with Dad and we went for tea at the oldest beisl in Vienna, Beim Czaak. Visit if you can, the service, restaurant design and food were a complete novelty.

(Beim Czaak)

From the restaurant we travelled out to Schloss Schönbrunn to listen to some Mozart 'where Mozart actually played'. We felt the original price offered to us by a street salesman was too high; and got a 50% discount from attempting to walk away. A very civilised evening all round.

(Schloss Schönbrunn)

Before leaving Vienna I insisted we go to the Wien Museum, and I'm so glad I did. Its a high-quality museum with a variety of exhibits for every taste from Medieval sculpture to Klimt-originals, a temporary installation on the Viennese Great Exhibition, Ottoman Siege Maps, the entire flat of Franz Grillparzer, Austrian poet. I bought their Highlights Catalogue, in German. Has to be seen to be believed, Wien Museum gets an A* for me.

(Viennese Armoury)

Next time we cross the border to Italy.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Munich: TGT Episode 3

Population: 1.378 million

Highlights: Unironic lederhosen, the Third Reich tour, Sausage at Bratwurst Glöcklein (The Sausage Bell), a rail service named Bob.

Accommodation: Air b’n’b room.

(Milkmaid vogue)

Munich itself epitomises all the stereotypes I used to hold about Germany; lederhosen, milk maid outfits, lots of sausage and pork knuckle delicacies, beer halls and beer –I drank one from a 14th century brewery) and architecture reminiscent of Christmas toy-towns.

Munich has a long association with toys and toy making, so we were excited to see the Toy Museum one gloomy morning, but were a bit disappointed. It wasn’t very big and the displays weren’t that imaginative. But I think I am forever scarred by the teddy skeleton and Barbie in her original butter-milk hue.

(1960's Barbie with bob)

One of the best things we did during our time in Munich was a 3-hour walking tour covering the history of the Third Reich in Munich. That sounds like a strange sentiment, let me explain. Munich was the birthplace of Hitler’s Germany, the site of the Beer Hall Putsch, his failed revolution, and several communist uprisings that would shape the future of the Nazi party. All the events on the GCSE History syllabus (1918-39) were happening in Munich – and unlike in Berlin where history is blatant, you really need a guide to point out the clues. The reality that Munich was the breeding ground for so much hatred is very quietly brushed under the carpet such that this gold stream through the pavement counts as one of the only memorials in the city. I also learned on this tour that Germany was created in France, how contrary.
(Hofbräuhaus München - mid-tour)

(Memorial. Source: Around the world in 5 months)

Had we had better weather or more time we’d both have liked to go to Chiemsee, me for the Benedictine nunnery (founded 782) and Dad for the trains. Also in for a penny, in for a pound to continue the black tourism, perhaps a guided trip round Dachau would have been sobering and interesting.

As we were leaving Munich we realised they have a regional train called Bob – we were so tickled we took a photo.

(BOB and BOB)

So Munich, you were a bit wet when we visited, I never realised that this sort of Germany really existed outside of story-books. Your commitment to beer is impressive. But outside of Oktoberfest you are consigned with Frankfurt to my ‘been there, done that’ bin.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Frankfurt: TGT Episode 2

Population: 691,518
Accommodation: IBIS hotel.

Our Grand Tour did not begin in grand style. We spent well over an hour queuing to get my bag put in the hold at Heathrow. The saving grace of this disastrous start was the presence of an old uni friend and his travelling Elizabethan bevvy of boys, The Queens Six. All proceeded well after that.

(The Nutcracker(s))

On arrival at Frankfurt airport we decided to make the most of our inter-rail passes from the get-go and travel to the nearby town of Freinsheim. We had heard there was a BING toy museum there; we had not heard there was a rail replacement service for this village, in the middle of the countryside!

Transport aside, we were so pleased to have made the trek. We found ourselves in a walled, Medieval town complete with portcullis. I can’t tell you that much about the museum as I only made it to the ground floor – but my Dad disappeared for a good 2 hours whilst I immersed myself in an After Eight Liqueur Sundae. They’ve really cornered the ideal complement to a museum, with an ice cream parlour.

(After Eight Sundae)


Whilst in Frankfurt we stayed at an IBIS hotel which felt a long way from the town centre and public transport, until we discovered (near the end of our stay) that there was a tram stop right outside the hotel *face-palm. The hotel was clean and tidy, the staff were helpful and doubled-up as cocktail waiters (bonus!), and the breakfast buffet was substantial!

When asking friends about Frankfurt I found people had very few positive things to say about it, that’s sad because actually Frankfurt wasn’t half so bad as had been predicted. It is essentially an urban metropolis with banking at its heart but here are 3 things you shouldn’t miss if you visit:

  1. Iimore Delicatessen - just off the main square. Believes coffee and sticky buns are a science. Have a cosy cuppa without it costing the earth.
  2. Historiches Museum Frankfurt – they have underground archaeology in situ. You can feel the true weight of a suit of armour, view large scale wooden models of the city and a very impressive mixed-media exhibit about the town’s development. Costs 10E to get in, but easily lose 2-3 hours of your day in there.
(Underground at the Historic Museum)

(How heavy is a suit of armour?)

     3. The Botanical Gardens – our trip round the botanical gardens was time limited by our need to get to Munich, but, if you like exotic looking flowers, cacti, rose gardens and slightly strange fashion exhibits this place is for you!

(Botanical Gardens)

So would I bother going back to Frankfurt as a holiday destination? Probably not, but for 2 days it provided good entertainment and was worth it for our afternoon in Freinsheim, alone.

Next up: Munich.