Tag Archives: #travel

Box #5 remains empty…just in case

The first professional performance of an Andrew Lloyd Webber show that I saw was Phantom of the Opera at the Manchester Opera House circa 1993/94. I fell in love with the show, so much so that we used some of the music at our wedding. (All I Ask Of You, just in case you were curious.)

Manchester Opera House was also the first opera house that I had visited. We had gone with a friend who had bought the tickets at the last minute. The seats were high up in “the Gods” and in fact we were so high up that we were above the chandelier!

Over the years, I’ve seen the show several times, including twice in London where we were seated right beneath the chandelier’s path and were so close, we felt the draft as it swung past!

This year, as I explored out options for places to visit while we were in Paris, the Palais Garnier caught my eye. It was the first tour that I booked. In fact, our whole schedule ended up dictated by when we could do that tour and it was in fact the first of the trip.

So, what’s the connection? Where’s she going with this? I hear you muttering.

The Palais Garnier, the National Opera of Paris, was the inspiration behind Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom Of The Opera.

Now, I’m not about to turn this into a history lesson…whew!… but its impossible to write about the Palais Garnier without including the basics, so humour me please.

According to our tour guide, prior to the Palais Garnier being commissioned, opera houses in Paris were built from wood. They were lit by oil lamps and/or candles and as you can imagine were prone to burning down. In 1860, Napoleon III launched a competition to design a new opera house for the city. The competition was won by the then unknown architect, Charles Garnier. In fact, according to our lovely guide, it was his first commission. In 1861 construction began. Garnier designed everything himself as well as personally selecting the collaborating artists and sculptors. The opera house was finally completed in 1875. Napoleon III never visited his opera house. He died two years before it was completed.

The result is stunning both inside and out!

We entered the building to meet our tour guide via the entrance that was reserved in the past for season ticket holders, finding ourselves in an ornate vaulted rotunda, themed along the signs of the zodiac. Our guide led us through to the grand staircase, past the beautiful statue Pythonisse by Marcello.

The grand staircase is breathtakingly ornate. There are 30 different kinds of marble and stone involved in its construction. It doesn’t take much imagination to visualise the Paris elite of the 19th century sweeping up and down the marble stairs in their finery. I felt suitably under-dressed in my t-shirt, crop trousers and converse!

The main auditorium is stunning in its red and gold colour scheme. Red was chosen as that’s the colour that was most flattering to a lady’s complexion and ladies came to the opera house to be seen and admired by potential suitors. Its in here that the main inspiration for Leroux’s novel can be found. The theatre is steeped in history but let’s dispel a couple of myths.

There is no lake under the opera house. There is however a huge water tank/cistern to help balance out the weight of the building which was constructed on swampy ground.

The 7 tonnes chandelier is beautiful but its never fallen to the ground. But, in 1896, one of the lead counterweights fell. The 300lbs weight landed on a woman in the audience. As our guide quipped “she became a crepe”. The poor unsuspecting woman had been sitting in seat #13.

As for the phantom himself, he’s never been seen but box #5 is kept empty…just in case.

We were unable to see the full stage during our tour as it was being readied for the opening of Fin de Partie, an opera adapted from Endgame by Samuel Beckett. Our guide informed us that the stage is one of the largest in Europe and reaches a height of 65m. The Arc de Triumph would apparently fit on it!

The ceiling of the auditorium is a bit of a bone of contention with many Parisians. The original ceiling painting was replaced in the 1960’s by a new bright modern one by Chagall. It’s not popular and is noticeably out of keeping with the rest of the theatre. The good news is that the original still lies beneath it… funding just needs to be found to restore it. There’s a small replica of it on display and having seen it, I truly hope that funds can be found to restore the original artwork as Garnier intended it to be seen.

The most spectacular room in the opera house is without a doubt the Grand Foyer hall. Entering it really was a WOW moment. The room is 18m high, 154 m in length and 13 m wide and is as ornate if not more so as the palace at Versailles. This was effectively the opera house’s drawing room. The gold and mirrors accentuate the size and I honestly think it’s the most impressive room I have ever been in. The Grand Foyer also affords access to the opera house’s balcony and offers an uninterrupted view down Avenue de l’Opera.

As our guide explained, visiting the opera was more about being seen to be there than to watch the performance. The show was almost incidental. This need to be seen extends beyond the stone walls of the Palais Garnier. The Avenue de l’Opera is the only one of the city’s main thoroughfares to be void of trees, allowing a clear view for those watching of the people arriving and leaving the opera house.

During our short stay in Paris, we passed the Palais Garnier daily. (It was across the street from our hotel, so it was hard to miss it.)

On our last morning in the city before our taxi to the airport arrived to collect us, we went for one final walk round the opera house’s perimeter. As I stole a last look up at the balcony, I could just imagine the phantom watching from the window of the Grand Foyer, searching for Christine among the throngs of tourists outside.

For more info on the Palais Garnier see links below

Visit The Palais Garnier – Opéra national de Paris (operadeparis.fr)

Palais Garnier – Wikipedia

RnFnR Me Time…. yes, I escaped unchaperoned!

A wet lunch hour and a couple of breezy showery ones were obviously sent to help me get this blog post written.

The past ten days or so have been a whirlwind of rock’n’roll shows, work and home all wrapped up in a million precious memories to last a lifetime. Apologies for the lack of a proper blog post on here last week but I was up to my eyes in photo editing and gig reviews and, if I’m honest, was still reflecting on how to structure this blog.

After months of anticipation, the 5th of October finally arrived- the start of my RnFnR weekend. This is a blog of two halves.

 

Part One – Thursday   

With my overnight bag slung over my shoulder, I headed into the local station to start my rail journey to Edinburgh. Safely tucked away in my bag was my concert ticket for the Alter Bridge show at the Usher Hall.

You can imagine my horror at being greeted by a sign saying “All trains cancelled”! Cue panic! This was 11.13am. Quickly I asked at the ticket office “How am I meant to get to Glasgow to catch the train to Edinburgh?” Reply “There’s a bus at 11.15”

Apologies to any locals who witnessed my Usain Bolt impersonation as I flew out of the station and across the car park to the bus stop. I caught the bus by the skin of my teeth!

I don’t travel smoothly on buses and, ninety minutes later when it finally reached Glasgow, I was quietly turning 50 shades of green. At the earliest opportunity, I got off and walked the rest of the way to Queen St station.

Fortunately, trains between Glasgow and Edinburgh run frequently and I was soon settled on the express train with my kindle, a sandwich and a most welcome coffee. I loved the ticket collector’s sense of humour too. He punched a love heart out of my ticket. Wonder if he’s secretly hoping for a job on the Polar Express?

20171005_131842.jpg

I was booked into a hotel near the venue and finally arrived there around 2pm- still plenty of time to get to the Usher Hall for 3pm. Someone was definitely having a laugh at my fears and anxieties about travelling alone as I checked into the hotel’s Room 101!

Finding the Usher Hall in the bright warm afternoon sunshine proved to be easier than I expected. The Usher Hall truly is a stunning building.

1.jpg

I had upgraded my humble standing ticket for the show to the whole VIP Meet and Greet package, hence the early arrival at the venue.

There’s a close-knit Facebook community of Alter Bridge fans and I was relieved to see a few familiar faces already basking in the sun on the steps.

By 2.35 it was more like a family reunion than a queue for a rock show. I hadn’t seen some of these people since last December. Others hadn’t seen each other for twenty four or forty eight hours. Others had never actually met face to face. The warmth being shown to all was incredible to see. Everyone, myself included, was made to feel so welcome.

I was especially delighted to meet my friend Miss M from Brazil. We caught up with each other’s news while we queued in the sun.

The VIP Meet and Greet package gets you entry for the band’s soundcheck, a signing session  where you meet the band and get tickets/cds etc autographed and have the opportunity to pass over any gifts you may have brought for the band then you queue up for a second time to get a souvenir photo taken before being shown back out into the sun to queue again for early entry to the show itself.

I could wax lyrical for hours over this band but I’ll spare you that. (PHEW I hear you cry!)

Suffice to say, hearing the band soundcheck and watching them work to prepare for the show was fantastic. For me it was a great research opportunity for future book babies. 😉

I’ve met these guys before but was still a tad tongue tied and nervous about meeting them. There was no need to be. They are all so sweet and skilled at putting fans at their ease. I passed over some small gifts, got my cd insert and ticket signed and wished them all the best for the show. (Sorry, not sharing details of actual conversations) The photo opportunity is a high speed whirlwind but the end result wasn’t too scary. It’s a little fuzzy but I’m happy with it.

20171009_182721

Time to queue again for the actual show. If you’ve never experienced this kind of event, be prepared to be on your feet for hours and hours and hours!

We queued outside for a couple of hours in the late afternoon sun, happily chatting together and making new friends. It was truly an international AB family gathering. I was the only Scottish fan in this group. There were fans from the USA, France, Belgium, Austria, Japan, Brazil, England and Russia and many more. People of all ages and from all walks of life made up the queue.

Soon it was show time and we were allowed to re-enter the venue to take up our positions on the rail to enjoy the show.

Some four hours later, after finally making a trip to the loo, we all found ourselves back outside the Usher Hall, smiles on our faces and music ringing in our ears. It had been an incredible show and Alter Bridge were in fine form. (If you want to read my gig review , here’s the link https://the525toglasgow.wordpress.com/2017/10/11/alter-bridge-at-the-usher-hall-edinburgh-05-oct-17/ )

While most of the audience headed off into the night and others headed to the nearest pub, a handful of us decided to wait on the band coming out to their bus.

I had never done this before…..honest!

Fortunately for us they didn’t keep us waiting for too long. The area outside was a hive of activity as the support act, As Lions, packed the last of their gear into their van and departed. The Alter Bridge truck was loaded up and departed then some of their crew hung about with us, happily chatting, while we waiting on the bus to return to pick the guys up.

It was all very relaxed and friendly. It almost seemed normal! When the band finally came out to board the bus, they happily posed for photos and signed autographs.

AB EDIN

 

At the Meet and Greet earlier, Myles hadn’t signed my ticket. I think I distracted him by asking him a question so I was delighted to steal a couple of minutes of his time to get it signed.

20171006_080550.jpg

I think it was the band’s drummer, Scott Phillips, who asked, “How many of you are we seeing in Dublin on Saturday?”

All of us was the reply.

 

Part Two – Saturday  

 

With my overnight bag re-packed and flung in the back of the car, I headed off for Glasgow airport to catch an early morning flight to Dublin.

Safely tucked away in my bag this time was my Alter Bridge ticket for the Olympia Theatre, Dublin.

After weeks of worry over whether my flight would actually take off I arrived to discover all was on time. Happy days!

It’s a hop, skip and a jump flight to Dublin. I’m sure I stood for longer in the queue to board the plane than the plane spent in the air!

I’d arranged to meet a fellow Alter Bridge fan at Dublin airport to share a taxi into the city. Only minor snag was that we had never met face to face before! After a quick exchange of messages, I determined I was looking for a lady in blue jeans and black boots with a red suitcase. I loved her message to me “Am I looking for a pair of Converse on you by any chance?”  But of course! – my purple gig shoes no less! The zebra print overnight bag may also have been an identifying feature.

The taxi dropped Miss N at her hotel then dropped me at mine just after 10am – too early to check into my room. Having left my bag at reception, I set off to explore a bit and prayed that I wouldn’t get lost!

I’d only ever passed through Dublin twice  nineteen years ago when we visited Ireland to see the Tour de France and I’d never been in the city centre before. Camera in hand I explored Christchurch Cathedral. Well, it was straight across the street from my hotel, then wandered off in search of the Olympia Theatre. It was closer to the hotel than I’d thought and just as quaint from the outside as I’d expected.

P1010369.JPG

With plenty of time to spare, I kept walking and eventually found myself at Trinity College. My rough plan had been to visit it on Sunday morning before heading back to the airport but as I was already there I wandered through the entrance and into the quadrangle.

P1000900.JPG

I had hoped to visit the Book of Kells exhibit in the college library and was a little disappointed to discover not only a huge queue waiting to get in but also two signs, one saying “temporarily closed” and the other confirming the restricted opening hours for Sunday. I wondered if it was closed for a VIP tour? (A VIP AB tour perhaps judging by some of the photos on Instagram later that day) Who knows?  I just knew I wasn’t going to get to see it this time round.

P1000914.JPG

I spoke nicely to the security guard and asked if it was possible to access the gift shop. If I couldn’t see the exhibition then at least I could purchase the guide book and read up about the history.

Souvenir shopping complete, I wandered back towards the hotel, pausing to pick up a sandwich, some iced tea and a bar of chocolate for lunch plus a large bottle of water for later, and then detoured round Dublin Castle.

P1000939.JPG

After finally checking into the hotel (no Room 101 this time – 410 instead) I relaxed in my room with its cathedral view while I ate my lunch and read my guide book. (Did you know the Book of Kells may date back before 890 AD?) then having freshened up, headed back out to the venue.

Again, I was doing the VIP soundcheck and Meet and Greet so I was on the look out for some familiar faces. It didn’t take me long to find the ladies that I had last seen on Thursday night in Edinburgh.

Instead of queueing up outside the front of the theatre, we were advised to wait by a back door in a small courtyard that was accessed down an alleyway to the side of theatre.

Soundcheck was a more relaxed affair than in Edinburgh. All members of the band were in a  playful mood. Myles even treated us to a little Led Zeppelin as he played a snatch of Stairway To Heaven and Brian Marshall needed little encouragement to demonstrate his dancing prowess – well, from the waist up!

The Meet and Greet and photo slot were over way too quick but for once I didn’t feel quite so tongue tied in front of them.

Screenshot_20171010-060744

All too soon we were re-assembled back out in the courtyard to wait for the show. No sun this time. It was decidedly chilly out there after a couple of hours. The time passed swiftly though as we all chatted and got to know each other a little better. Miss M wasn’t part of the Meet and Greet group this time but she did pop round briefly before returning to the front of the building and the main body of the queue of fans.  Again, I was the sole Scot amongst the group at the head of the queue. There were some new faces from other countries including a few ladies from England and a guy from America that I hadn’t met in Edinburgh. You really do meet some very sweet and interesting people at these events, although there were a couple of die hard fans who were slightly less friendly than others. Well, it takes all sorts. 

Eventually, the witching hour was upon us -show time! Entry into the venue was less well organised than in Edinburgh. A bottle neck in the doorway, not helped by the security guy half blocking the door, led to a fair amount of unnecessary pushing and shoving. However, we all got inside in one piece and I happily took up my rail spot off to the left (Myles’ side) of the stage.

The show itself was fantastic! Probably the best Alter Bridge show that I’ve been to so far. (You can read all about it here – https://the525toglasgow.wordpress.com/2017/10/14/alter-bridge-at-the-olympia-theatre-dublin-07-oct-2017/ )

Watching Myles perform Watch Over You for his folks was a magical moment, one that will live with me for a long time to come. You couldn’t miss the look of pride on his face and the glint in his eye.

Four hours on the rail disappeared in the blink of an eye.

As the fans trooped off into Temple Bar, I joined the group of die hard fans waiting down the side of the theatre for the bus to arrive to take the band to their next destination.

Further down the narrow cobbled lane where we were waiting was a nightclub called Sin. Our entertainment while we waited on the band was some of the best people watching I’ve ever done! I’ve never seen so many scantily- clad , drunk teenage girls in impossibly high heels teetering about on cobbles before in my life. It was hilarious! Shout out of the night goes to one friend (who will remain nameless here) who commented loudly as one young lady in a particularly tight skimpy dress staggered past, “Do they not sell that in her size?” Priceless!

While we waited Myles’ parents left and his step dad thanked us all enthusiastically for supporting the boys. He was just oozing pride and looked as though he had thoroughly enjoyed the show.

The band didn’t keep us waiting for too long and after an hour or so, once the bus had reversed down this tiny alley, they began to exit the theatre. Again, the atmosphere was relaxed and unhurried as we each got a moment with the various band members to steal a hug and pose for a photo or two. Precious memories.

727374

Again we were asked, I think it was by Myles this time, if we’d all be in Belfast the next night. Sadly Miss M and I shook our heads. He wished us safe travels home.

I arrived back at my hotel around 1.30am absolutely knackered (I’d been up since 4.45am) and ,if I’m being totally honest, more than a little dehydrated. The sandwich and iced tea for lunch had been the last sustenance for eleven hours, apart from the obligatory rock’n’roll polo mints (You can do anything on a polo mint according to my mum). The large bottle of water that I’d bought earlier awaited me and was most welcome!

Sleep, however, eluded me thanks to the cathedral bells that rang every thirty minutes all night! Trust me, at 3.30am I was thinking some truly unholy thoughts about those f**king bells! It gave whole new meaning to having ringing ears the morning after a gig!

20171008_062345

After a much needed breakfast of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon washed down with a strong cup of coffee, I set off for a walk along the Liffey Boardwalk. I didn’t stray too far as I was dead on my feet but I wandered across Grattan Bridge then crossed back over via the Ha’penny Bridge then meandered through a largely deserted Temple Bar area, past the sleeping theatre and back to my hotel in time to check out.

Dublin

As I walked I reflected back on the past few days. I’d had the time of my life! I’d met some fantastic people. I’d been on the rail for two incredible shows. Oh and a hug or two from some of the nicest rock stars you could ever hope to meet.

 Till next time, AB family.