We haven’t really watched any television since leaving the English-speaking countries. This is usually just as well since we should probably be doing something productive like writing blogposts or watching the latest episode of Amazing Race on YouTube (internet permitting). Nonetheless, I can’t help but do the obligatory once-through the TV channels once we are settled in the room. On the continent, it’s usually a 60 second chore just to see if there is at least one English channel like BBC World News. Then, we proceed to ignore the appliance but for the weather check in the morning if the internet is not working.
During my initial run through, I like watching a few seconds of each channel. Normally, I am rewarded with some kind of American programming dubbed in French. For example, today’s scan found that the French Cartman sounds fairly similar to his American counterpart. In Ireland, I found that Sponge Bob knew Gaeltalk. In Nice, we had a wacky deja vu moment…
What's that category again?
Yeah, that’s the French Vannah White. A couple more…
In the final entry in our three part series entitled Museum Madness, we explore the Palace of Versailles (sort of) as well as the culturally diverse museum Quai Branly.
I’d heard of Rick Steves’ free mp3 tours awhile back but completely forgot about them until right before Paris. I was stoked to find that two of the iPhone apps, Paris Historical Walk and the Versailles Tour, were available as free downloads from Rick’s website. Too cool.
According to Rick, if we only saw one palace in all of Europe, it should be Versailles, so we set off for the Palace of Versailles with our free tour and Paris Museum Passes. We had to do some creative trip planning on the way there since our Metro passes did not cover the whole train ride, but no biggie– it was all a part of the adventure. As we made our final approach by foot to the palace, we were impressed even from afar. I could imagine being a peasant or country noble, awed by such a sight…
On Final Approach to the Palace
At the Palace Gates
After getting through security and picking up an oh-so-helpful map (hear the sarcasm, people), we started our free audio tour. The descriptions were very helpful in putting context into all of the rooms as none of the plaques or signs had any translations, despite the fact that most tourists were non-French speakers. Of course, this is probably just to force you to rent the 7€ (10 on the weekends) audio guides. With the exception of the British Museum, we have found that most are not worth the expense. And yet, I digress–
Royal Chapel Entrance
The Versailles is indeed a very impressive complex. Initially occupied with such opulence by King Louis XIV, the self-proclaimed “Sun King”, Versailles was part ego-maniacal, part nobility control. Mistreated as a youth, Louis XIV was a shrewd politician and leader, forcing all his nobles to hold court at Versailles so as to distract them, allowing him to run the country as he wished. The palace stayed in the family for only three more generations before being ransacked during the French Revolution. The art went to the Louvre; the furnishings went to auction.
Stunning ceiling art... even better than the Sistine Chapel methinks
And herein lies the rub. The palace is grand and impressive and mocked up well enough, but I thought it lacked character without the long-gone furnishings. I found that I had seen better in other cities (the Hapburgs’ palace in Vienna comes to mind) for less. Knowing what I know now, I would have been a little upset if it hadn’t been covered by the museum pass and I’d paid the full entrance fee (15€ at the moment). There really wasn’t much to explore inside, and while we’ve heard the gardens (free to the public) are some of the most beautiful, the fall/winter doesn’t see much (blooming) there and most of the statues are covered up for the season. Add to that the 30-45 minute ride from city center one way, and it kind of doesn’t add up. Charity and I agreed that perhaps at 10€, maybe, but 15 seems kind of steep.
Part of the gardens which inspired The Mall in Washington, DC
So we ditched Versailles only halfway through the garden part of Rick’s tour. We wanted to hurry back to the city to squeeze in just one more museum on the pass.
We’d learned of the Quai Branly museum from its temporary exhibit at the Louvre. The Quai Branly covers in depth a lot of the art missing from the Louvre: Africa, Oceania, the Americas, and Asia. We arrived just under two hours before closing, and right away, we knew the museum would interesting. First, the building was very different from all the other museums we’d visited in Paris, built in a modern style that reminded me strongly of modern Pacific Northwest architecture– glass and natural light meeting wood and metal elements, creating a functional space.
Outside the Quai Branly with a famous landmark showing off behind
The museum was also one of the best organized we’d ever visited with nearly everything displayed in glass cases in the middle of the floor, allowing you a 360 degree view of the artifacts. Stuff that was in “storage” was in a couple of huge glass… towers?… neatly organized by serial numbers and allowing visitors to get a hint of what was not currently exhibited. There were clever bench alcoves everywhere, some of which were equipped with interactive displays exploring some aspect of a native culture, art, or history. Some were even in English.
As you walked through the different sections, your attention would occasionally be drawn to audio from a village in Africa or the South Pacific. Most pieces did not have English descriptions, so we kind of cruised through and tried to figure out non-obvious objects. We were lucky enough to catch a temporary exhibit of Iranian photographs– thought provoking and fuel for my Iran curiosity.
The Quai Branly was definitely one of my favorite museums thus far. I would recommend stopping in even for a quick visit if you’re into art/native artifacts from outside of Europe, especially if it’s still covered by the Paris Museum Pass.
Side note: just testing a new layout/theme for the website. Let us know what you think either way– we’ll probably be experimenting for a while.
On the advice of a friend, we sought out the Musee des Arts & Metiers and Pascal’s Arithmetic machine. Luckily, the museum was covered by the Paris Museum Pass, and wouldn’t you know it, the place had its own Metro stop. Sweet! The A&M covers all manners of science and inventions– vehicles, communications, machines (think: gears), computers, and mad scientist laboratories. This one was definitely a nice break from the usual works of art. Minus the attitude on the way in, we had a nice time cruising through the various exhibits and especially liked the Chapel and Foucault’s pendulum.
Charity on the 1s and 2s, super retro stylie
My favorite Metro stop-- too cool
Next up, we visited the Musee national de l’Orangerie. The l’Orangerie is yet another museum housing works of the Impressionists, most notably wall-length murals (yes, plural) of Monet’s Water lilies. OK, so just a bit of commentary on Monet’s obsession— err… “work”… with those water lilies. Essentially, the guy built his house then created a huge water lily garden out back complete with Japanese bridge. Then, he proceeded to paint the same freakin’ garden hundreds of times. W…t…h…?? Once or twice, sure, that would be awesome and creative. But seriously, hundreds of times?? What makes him less insane than, say, Van Gogh? Yes, the latter ended up in the mental hospital, but at least he seemed to paint different stuff and didn’t get famous for painting the same thing over and over again. I know some people are really into Monet, but I really don’t get it. Aaaaah… art.
Anyway, the museum also had tons of works from other artists which really impressed us. We were especially surprised to discover some of the Picasso’s pre-Cubist work downstairs. This one was especially interesting to us, from his “blue period” (the color palette explains that well)…
The Embrace, Picasso
The Centre Pompidou: modern art. Before coming to Europe, no other phrase sent me running for the hills faster than “modern art”. Difficult to understand, usually just plain weird, I’m not usually a fan of the stuff, but as Rick Steves mentioned (paraphrasing here), after seeing so much religious art, going to a place where somebody smashed a piano and glued the pieces to the wall can be refreshing. And it really was. I didn’t get a lot of it, but there were a lot of thought-provoking pieces as well as a few bittersweet ones.
Posing on her special day on the giant calendar outside the Pompidou
Side note: just testing a new layout/theme for the website. Let us know what you think either way– we’ll probably be experimenting for a while.
Paris really is a beautiful city– from what little I remember from being above ground and outside. As Charity likes to remind me, we spent most of our time either in museums or on the Metro getting to those museums. 🙂 And why not? We– ok, mostly Charity– meticulously planned out our time in the city, researching which museums would be open on what days as they all had different days of closure and widely varying hours of operation. We filled in Google Calendar with our plans. After counting up the must-sees with the maybes, we found that we could actually get the Paris Museum Pass and do some damage with it. We only had to go to four museums as well as the Palace of Versailles to make up the cost of a four day pass– and we got to cut to the front of most lines. Usually, those passes make a profit by counting on the fact that people don’t really use them to their fullest extent. I can proudly say that they definitely lost money on us.
The first museum we visited was the Louvre. I was so very excited to go– this was the one place I knew I wanted to visit. Holding over 30,000 pieces (not on display all at once, mind you), it is the largest art museum in the (Western) world and would take days to explore properly. As it is, we spent about six hours spread over two days there. On the first day, armed with Rick Steves’ Louvre iPod/iPhone app, we spent a good two hours covering all the great highlights like the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and Wings of Victory, all conveniently located in the humongous Denon wing. Just that wing alone is large enough to get lost in, and we did– several times. Even skipping all the baby Jesuses and Jesus-on-a-sticks, you could spend way too much time wandering the rooms. Awesome.
Pretty chipper for an early morning start to the Louvre
Random huge art on a landing
The next museum we visited was the Orsay. We got a brief preview of the building while on our discount river cruise and were surprised to learn that the museum is located in an old train station. Built in the late 19th/early 20th century, the station fell into disuse sometime in the 1940s and was going to be demolished in the 70s before being saved and converted to this museum…
One of the old train station clocks-- with a view of the Seine River
The other train station clock. Lovin' the Rick Steves' iPod/iPhone app
Though not as large as the Louvre, the Orsay still held quite an impressive collection of works and picks up where the Louvre left off– around the mid-1800s. That means there are a lot of Impressionist paintings– a period I didn’t like very much before visiting Europe but have grown to appreciate, especially after our visit to the British Museum in London. I was lucky enough to have grabbed the Rick Steves’ app when it was still free months ago, and so we enjoyed a free guided tour of the place. I liked the Louvre a lot, but I think I liked the Orsay better. Well-organized and a bit laid back, it didn’t feel nearly as frantic as the Louvre. The lack of camera-snapping super crowds probably had something to do with that, though. 😉
Aerial of the Orsay-- imagine trains running down the middle
After Ireland and a one-night layover in Amsterdam, we headed over to Belgium to play tourist in Brussels and Bruges. First up– Brussels.
Advance research told us that there was not much to see and do in Brussels, but we went anyway because we couldn’t secure “affordable accommodation” in Bruges right away. No problem, we booked a cheap apartment-type place in Brussels just a short walk away from one of the major train stations. We trekked around the city a bit, admiring the architecture everywhere, including the Grand Palace…
Heading towards the Grand Palace
One side of the Grand Palace
Another side of the Grand Palace
…and of course, the most senseless tourist site anywhere– the Manneken Pis…
Manneken Pis – why is this a tourist spot again?
Ta DAH! A little guy peeing!
…that’s right. It’s a tiny statue of a little guy peeing into a fountain. People travel from all over the world to take a picture in front of that thing. We did it. So did the huge group of Japanese tourists milling about in front of the little guy. Apparently, they sometimes dress him up on special occasions, but he was nekkid when we were there. Good times.
Ever since we started watching Rick Steves‘ show in Washington, we’d wondered if Belgian (“Flemish”) fries were really all they were cracked up to be. After all, what we call “French” fries were supposedly invented in Belgium. They are also different from the taters we know and love as they are fried not once but twice.
Our conclusion: while good in theory, we found that the resting period after the initial cooking made the fries kinda stale. Like refried fries. The resting period is usually a mystery; you’re never really sure how long they were sitting there before you ordered them. Ironically, we’d had some Flemish fries in Amsterdam and found that they were much better– probably because they were not allowed to rest for very long as the fry joints in Amsterdam were always really busy.
Brussels also happens to be the political center of the European Union, and being the political geeks we are, we were really excited to visit the EU Headquarters. We’d heard that you could tour the facilities as well and maybe even catch a session in progress. Yeah… well, we probably should have confirmed a few things beforehand. We got there only to find it almost completely abandoned. Apparently, we showed up on a holiday of some sort. We saw more diplomatic representation in front of the Manneken Pis. Heh.
After only two days, we were more than ready to leave Brussels. It’s certainly a nice city– good transit, nice people, and all that. But boring as heck. Seriously. So we headed to Bruges with higher hopes.
If you’ve ever seen the movie In Bruges, you already have a pretty good feel for the city. And if you haven’t seen the movie, you should– not your average action/comedy/drama/hitman movie, for sure. Here’s the trailer…
We saw the the film a while ago, so we had that in our heads when we arrived. Unfortunately for us, the weather was crummy for most of our time there; kinda like the movie, actually, but with rain.
Random architecture in Bruges… and a crummy day
Bikes in a random Bruges square
The Belfry Tower in Market Square
Also adding to this aggravation was the fact that everything in the town center closed by 6PM– shops, grocery stores, restaurants– everything. It was crazy. You had to walk across town (OK, it’s not that big, but still) to get to restaurants, bars, and “night shops” that still had a pulse at 6:30PM. It’s a good thing the hostel we stayed at had 1) a bar with a Belgian beer tasting every night and 2) a city tour based on the movie In Bruges.
The latter was definitely an interesting experience mainly due to Kai, our intrepid guide, originally from NYC. After the tour, he was kind enough to invite all of us over to his apartment for dinner. We all threw in some change for the groceries and proceeded to drink and talk stories with a very diverse group of people– Australians, Canadians, Americans, a Spaniard, and a Brasilian to boot.
The Belgian beer tasting: if we take nothing else away from Belgium, we have learned this– they really do have the best beer in the world (Charity adds, “So far– I haven’t been everywhere yet” ;-)). Supposedly, Belgium is the birthplace of beer, invented by monks. There are still beers made by monks from centuries-old recipes called “Trappiste” beers, and according to Kai, they are the best because of all the love the monks put in. Normally, that sort of statement would make me laugh, but then I tried some and… well, let’s put it this way: I am not– by any stretch of the imagination– a beer drinker. But those beers with their 8-11% alcohol-by-volume content would and did make me one for a few days. I still think about that beer and can’t wait to find them again. Trader Joes maybe?
Oh, and one more thing– what they say about Belgian chocolate is true, too. Made fresh daily, Belgians buy their chocolate daily like other cultures buy their bread. Unbelievably good stuff.
While in the UK and Ireland, we’ve stayed in numerous of bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) and guesthouses. As the second B implies, the room also comes with breakfast in the morning. More often than not, breakfast isn’t merely yogurt and cereal but a hot, cooked breakfast usually consisting of sausage, bacon, beans, an egg, tomato, and toast. Sometimes you also get black pudding; sometimes you get hashbrowns or mushrooms. Sometimes the tomato is missing.
Before arriving in the islands, we’d heard these referred to as “English” breakfasts. Imagine our surprise when we got to Wales and saw “Welsh breakfast” on the menu. “Neat!” we thought. We were interested in trying something different. The difference? Absolutely nothing but name. Sausage, bacon, egg, tomato, mushroom, beans, and black pudding. As we continued traveling, the same held true for “Scottish” and “Irish” breakfasts. Well, the latter sometimes included Irish pancakes, but that was the only difference.
That said, we found that the biggest B&B faux pas one could commit is to call that breakfast by any other name. We saw this in action in Scotland when an unfortunate Englishman asked for a full “English” breakfast in the dining room. The host paused, laughed, and asked “Scottish breakfast?” while fellow diners looked over and snickered derisively. The poor guy stammered and giggled and managed a “oh, yes, Scottish breakfast, of course”.
You wouldn’t think the regional name of a breakfast would be a big deal (and perhaps it isn’t), but it seems more of a reflection of regional pride and a need to distinguish one’s area from the former mother country of England. We have observed and often commented between ourselves about the general attitudes of both British subjects and the Irish. It’s a broad generalization, but here it is anyway: the Welsh, Scots, and Irish have a deeply-rooted suspicion and dislike for the English, and the English hold a general disdain for anyone not English. The latter seems subtle in everyday life, but the former is a matter of pride and usually worn on one’s sleeve. We heard anti-English comments regularly outside of England.
Before visiting Europe, I never knew that Continental breakfast referred to the kind of breakfast you usually find on the “continent”– pastries, muffins, bread, and tea/coffee. As we leave the islands tomorrow, I will indeed miss the breakfasts, especially the egg part. 😉 More than that, though, I am going to miss these countries. They are jam-packed with history and culture, and I have had a great time. Hope to get back again soon.
Quick note: lots of pics in this post, so please forgive us if it loads slowly.
As Charity mentioned, Ireland is the Coach Isle. As we do not have a rental car to go sightseeing, when we reached Galway, we decided to set up basecamp and use the city as a jumpoff point for tours– something we only did in Salzburg with the Sound of Music tour. Luckily for us, we found that Galway had a few larger tour companies that would take us to places we’d heard of from Rick Steves. After just a bit of research, we settled upon the Galway Tour Company because of its very favorable reviews on TripAdvisor.
We went on the Connemara and Cong Tour first. Between acres of 40 shades of green, we visited an abandoned friary, observed a stone circle and burial cairn from afar, and risked our hides dodging killer sheep to get some spectacular lake valley pics…
Reading nook at the Ross Errily Friary
Medieval fish tank in the kitchen– a constant stream of fresh water flowed through the tank. Clever!
Connor — hilarious and awesome driver/guide
Lough Nafooey. Also we’re being watched by gangs of killer sheep.
Peat bogs: source of heat and former major revenue for Ireland
Kylemore Abbey – a 19th century “castle” built by a very rich guy for his beloved wife. For the last 100 years, it has been an elite boarding school, currently in its last year of instruction. Transitioning to a tourist attraction.
The next day, we went on the Cliffs of Moher and The Burren tour. The Cliffs have a new visitors center… and lots of walls to keep the tourists from going towards the edge. Yes, folks, people have actually gone over the edge on accident, and now, there is a park ranger watching for fence jumpers. For the Potter fans out there, the Cliffs of Moher were used in The Half-Blood Prince. Besides the incredible Cliffs, the tour included a castle, an archaeological national park, an ancient wedge tomb, and a fairy fort…
Dunguaire Castle – closed to tourists for the season
Cliffs of Moher – facing south
Cliffs of Moher – facing north
Not walled like the other areas, so a gentle warning
Ballyalban Fairy Fort and our intrepid guide, Decklin
During our many coach rides, Gaelic Storm popped up and really set the mood for our trip. We’ve been fans ever since they performed at Borders Ward Centre (where we worked) over a decade ago. An American Celtic band, they rocked the house and probably still do. I would highly recommend catching them if they are ever in your town. With that, here’s Hills of Connemara:
Update: this was originally an Imeem link, but Imeem shut down in 2009.
We booked our trip to Belfast from London with EasyJet out of Stanstead in an effort to save a few pounds and arrive at a decent time. With the flight leaving at 11:55 am, we were off to the airport via Underground and then 45-minute train ride from Liverpool Street at 9 am. We made our connections beautifully and arrived at the airport by 10:30 with plenty of time to get through security and have a cup of coffee before the flight.
When we approached the EasyJet check-in area, we were shocked to see the long, snaking line of people waiting to check-in and then noticed a separate counter open just for our flight that was nearly empty — what a lucky day, we thought! As all airlines and planes are different, and we are very hesitant to allow our bags to leave our sight (since they carry all of our worldly belongings), we had originally determined that we would save the £5 and take them on-board with us. However, when we asked the attendant if they would fit on the plane, she suggested they wouldn’t and said we should check them. Okay, well – we didn’t really want to deal with the hassle of check-in at boarding if they didn’t fit, so we went with it and agreed to check. Well, at the counter, we were shocked to find the cost had risen to £18 each (vs. the £5 when buying our tickets online) but still went forward to be in compliance with airline requirements. After a few quick adjustments, the customer service agent informed us that the plane had been delayed by two hours. We were still okay with that, as we’re really flexible and figured we’d just hang out and read and talk story to pass the time – no biggie. The attendant offered to provide us with a food voucher for our trouble but was kind of embarrased to tell us it was only for £3 each. We thought, that’s okay – at least we can pay for coffee.
We went through security without issue and spent some time perusing the shopping options inside the airport. Since we would be arriving in Belfast much later than planned, we decided to go have some lunch to pass the time. That’s when we saw that the flight was again delayed by another half-hour. *sigh* Oh well – more coffee and reading before the flight. While enjoying our Starbucks, we saw the flight had been delayed another 15 minutes to 2:35 pm. We finally boarded at around 2:50 pm and joined the rest of the cattle in the queue for seats next to one another, since they are not assigned. The flight was without incident – and yes, I did note that our bags would likely have fit in the overhead with no problems – but given the long delay, we were still thankful to have checked them and not to have been burdened with their weight.
When we arrived in Belfast, we were delighted to find the tourist information center open and empty so we could make transport and accommodation arrangements with them while waiting for our bags to arrive on the carousel. Perfect! We even high-fived on our way back to the carousel – pleased with our accomplishments and happy to finally be able to leave the airport at about 4:15 pm.
That’s when I began to feel like I was in a bad movie. As I approached the carousel, I saw that Maylene’s bag was on the floor already – and open – you could see her clothes in it and things were kind of bursting out. One of the airport attendants was standing next to it and, in a lovely Irish lilt, asked if it was mine. I nodded, confused, and she said “The baggage attendant said it was stuffed and just burst so he didn’t want to put it on the carousel and have anything fall out of it. I nodded and called Maylene over to take a look. I bent over and tried to zip up the bag but found that both zippers and the lock that held them together were missing – completely gone. There was no way to seal the bag shut. It was absolutely ruined. The airport attendant asked if we wanted to file a claim for it and since it cost us $99.95 for the bag (the travel-specific Rick Steves’ Covertible Carry-On) plus another $9.95 for the flexi-lock, we thought this might be a good idea. She told us where to wait for assistance from the baggage claims personnel and we went over there with the promise that someone would be available to help us in ten minutes or so. Twenty minutes later, we summoned her again and even though she was clearly on her way home, she did tell us where we could find the Easyjet ticket office where we could report the loss.
At about 4:50 pm, we finally had someone to help us complete the claim. We filled out the required paperwork and asked about the process of refunding the damage done to the bag. While the sales attendants were very nice and understanding, they seemed to not completely understand the reimbursement process. However, they were kind enough to explain that we would not only have to complete this documentation but would also be forced to send a copy of our itinerary, baggage tags, and a written complaint to EasyJet before anything further could be done for us. Ridiculous since they have all of this same information and have everything needed to deal with our request but yet it’s another hoop for us to jump through made more difficult for being in a strange city where not only do we have to find an internet cafe to print and complete the required paperwork, but we now are also stuck in this town until we can find a replacement bag – at an inflated cost with the currency exchange differences.
We jerry-rigged the bag with Maylene’s belt, my scarf, and another bag strap and I walked behind her to the bus and from the bus station to the hotel to ensure nothing fell out of her bag – after taking on as much as I could into my bag, of course.
I can’t help but feel like I got ripped off today — I truly hope that EasyJet will do right by us but have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll never get a cent for our trouble.
Charity and I recently got around to reading Wicked. I’d heard about the book from friends, and of course, one could not escape the mega-commercial, gratuitous onslaught of the Broadway musical. First season Ugly Betty fans, you know what I’m talking about.
Since arriving in London, we could not help but notice the ads everywhere for it in the West End. I remember being a bit remorseful about missing it when it breezed through Seattle, and since we liked the book so much, we decided to go for it. So we’d been on the lookout for discount tickets at the tkts counter nearly everyday. No love, no love. Occasionally, we’d check online, and see a few 15 pound seats available waaaaay up in the nosebleeds, but they were out when we finally broke down and went straight to the box office on Monday. Going on Tuesday was out because we had an early morning on Wednesday. We got a lucky break for the Wednesday night show, so we decided to spend our last night in London at the “thee-ah-tah”.
OK, if you’ve never read the book but have seen the musical, you should go ahead and read the book. It poses some interesting philosophical questions and themes that I enjoyed discussing with Charity. On the other hand, if you’ve already read the book, I’m not sure you will enjoy the musical.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Unlike Charity, I am a musical fan. Might be the dormant Drama Kid in me. Who knows. I just like musicals. Love when TV shows have “the musical” episode (Scrubs, hello?). That said, Wicked is a musical musical. Seriously. Not very much talking not-in-song anywhere in the program. It was a little irritating at times, especially in the beginning. It could also be that my irritation increased proportionally to how much they modified the story to fit the format. Lots of chopping off storylines, characters morphed and merged, and of course, the storybook ending. Gag. OK, semi-gag. I actually kinda liked it after all the tragedy upon tragedy upon “oh just give up on life already” tragedy of the book. The book read like a Shakespearean tragedy.
Oh, and how could I forget about the Symphony of Sickness all around us. I didn’t notice anything unusual other than Charity shrinking more and more into her seat as the play progressed. At “half-time” (I know, I know that’s not what it’s called– I don’t care), Charity turned to me and said, “I feel like I’m in a sick ward.” Apparently, she was getting coughed on from all directions, save mine (which reminds me: time for more echinacea). On my way back from the restroom, I had to run the Coughing Gauntlet– the tight space between the wall, the doors and the queue of women waiting to go. Coughed all over me. Good times.
So for the rest of the play, I was distracted with the full-on coughing from behind, the phleghmy, open-mouthed breathing of the guy next to Charity, and the symphony of coughing throughout the theatre. A couple of times, I was shaking silently because the guy behind us was just obnoxiously coughing. I wanted to hand him a Ricola and the other guy a tissue. Probably should have. Or maybe just wave my magic wand and make them go poof. Charity kept catching the corner of my eye with her scarf over her face. You’d think everyone had swine flu or something. It was starting to make me paranoid.
All in all, it was a “wicked” night at the theatre.
OK, that last bit was Charity’s. I take no credit. What have you.
We’ve been in the UK for about three weeks and managed to get hooked on three TV shows:
? Strictly Come Dancing – the original _Dancing with the Stars_
? Any random BBC documentary
? The Wright Stuff
Now, we discovered The Wright Stuff pretty early on in our trip while getting ready for the day in Wells. Yes, folks, we were watching morning programming and actually liked it. Horrors!
The Wright Stuff is a national talk show with rotating guest panelists discussing current topics pulled straight from the morning papers with audience participation in the form of e-mails and tweets as well as the more traditional call-ins. The topics are interesting, the discussion is usually lively and smart, and the host and guests are fun and entertaining. We didn’t catch the show everyday but would switch on if we happened to be in our room between 9:15 and 10:45.
Thinking about our trip to London, I jokingly mentioned trying to get tickets to the show while in town. Little did I know that Charity would go through with it and wrote to the show producers.
And goodness gracious, they actually enthusiastically replied!
Fast forward to yesterday, and it is the first really early morning we’ve had in ages. The studio is in a mall about an hour by subway from our hotel, so we purposely avoided any night activities on Tuesday so that we could drag ourselves from bed before the crack of dawn. We arrived to the mall at the appointed time and met the audience manager at Starbucks for paperwork and free coffee/tea.
Save for us, all the audience members seemed to be regulars to the show. And what a motley crew they were– pensioners, oddballs, would-be starlets, celebrity chasers, and one rather tall transgendered woman wearing an interesting ensemble of fabulously long skirt, pantyhose, Keen’s closed-toed sandals, and wilderness survival t-shirt. Sweet. Definitely different from the three-hour wait we had when going to The Daily Show. In fact, they seemed to have trouble with no-shows.
Since this is a live show, on the occasions when they do not have enough callers, e-mails, or tweets about certain topics, they question audience members for their opinions. Of course, this is setup beforehand as part of the paperwork process. We were to read the day’s topics and let the audience manager, Eric, know if we had anything to say about it. Charity made it very clear from her first contact that she had no interest in participating. So of course, Eric decided he was going to use her for topic #3, Manchester airport’s use of body scanners in the security area. Hahaha! He assured her that it would be a last resort sort of thing, but that didn’t stop her from sweating bullets and aiming the same at the back of his head when returning from commercial break to that topic. I felt really bad for her, but made sure to give her a pep talk beforehand so she wouldn’t break down on the spot.
Luckily for her, opinions are like… well… `okole— everyone’s got one. They had enough callers and tweets, so Charity was saved the pressure of speaking on British national television. Whew.
The show was very well done, certainly running like a well-oiled machine. Watching live was very close to watching on television. Actually, I think the TV audience gets to see more since they discourage the studio audience from looking at the monitors in case the live shot switches to the handicam guy and everyone gets an awesome view of the boogers up your nose as you gawk up at the monitor. There are a lot of cutaways to content you don’t see in studio (i.e. photos or videos of the subject matter).
Whenever they post our episode on YouTube, I’ll be sure to put up a clip.