Two Go Travelling: Part 4 – Where We Slept in a Zoo for a Night | Venice, Italy

Our first night in Venice was nothing less than disastrous. We began by being lulled into a false sense of security. The bus arrived at Venice Mestre station which was just a short walk away from where we were staying. Initially we walked straight past as the building looked far too fancy to be a youth hostel. But we were wrong, and eventually entered through the double doorway into the modern but chandelier lit lobby. We checked in, payed for our bed linen, and headed upstairs to our room.

The plan was to drop off our bags and head straight out to soak up as much of the city as we could before dark. We were raring to go; we were in Venice! And our youth hostel, places that are notorious for being horrible and manky, was incredible! Or so we thought. Until we got locked in the room… for the next two hours.

We were certain we were just being stupid. Maybe the key card was upside down? Or maybe you had to push a secret button first? The most exciting part though was that none of the phone numbers for reception were working and the best we could do was get through to their main branch in the Netherlands and politely ask if they would contact the reception in Venice. Twenty minutes later a man with a screwdriver came and saved us.

By now it was far too late to go into the city so we thought we’d sort out some dinner. To the kitchen! The further into the building we got, the more I was convinced it was a top secret government facility. You needed a key to open every door and not a single thing was signposted. On our hunt for the kitchen we ended up four floors up and in the breakfast hall…

After our small adventure we were told we’d have to move rooms as they couldn’t fix the door. So off we went, pillows in hand, to settle into our new dorm. We left. Forgot the keys. Went back. Left again. Forgot which key was for which room. Went back again. Left again again…

After a somewhat unsuccessful food hunt – due to being shouted at several times by angry Italian cashiers – we headed for bed and spent the rest of the night awake. I don’t remember agreeing to sharing a room with a snoring elephant…

The next morning we went straight into Venice. We hadn’t taken two steps out of the train station and already, bam, gondolas! Right in front of us was a canal surrounded by tourists and their selfie sticks. We made our way over the bridge and gradually walked deeper and deeper into the city.

On our way to the Grand Canal we stumbled across ruins and churches, a museum on Da Vinci, and a street performer playing a piece that was surely meant for an entire orchestra on a couple of part filled glasses.

The Grand Canal really was grand. As we stood on Rialto Bridge, boats and gondolas and tours and water buses went floating underneath us. The buildings that lined the edges of the canal, packed in as tightly as possible, all seemed like they were about to suddenly sink. Sat just in front of these buildings were restaurants filled with people laughing and talking and tucking into a lunch of pizzas and wine. As we made our way across the bridge, we could see further around the bend in the canal and watched as people hopped on and off piers with their shopping or on their way home from work. Life just happened in Venice. Nothing or no one interfered. It was just them, their boats, and the water.

Next stop was St Mark’s Square. Lotta pigeons. We marvelled at the incredibly ornate church of St Mark, complete with hundreds of carvings, paintings, and even its own four horses that stand above the entrance. Unfortunately we didn’t make it inside as the visitor line was probably as long as the massive clock tower next to it was tall. Having refuelled on ice cream, taken suitable amounts of photos, and been told off for sitting on the floor, we made our way around the corner to see the islands across the turquoise water. After more gondolas and getting our feet wet, we noticed the time and sprinted through the city, completely failing to avoid literally the busiest streets I’ve ever seen in my life, to meet an old friend who happened to be passing through the train station. Goodbyes reluctantly said, Becca and I went for dinner.

We must have decided on probably the tenth restaurant we found and sat down outside with wine and parmigiana, right next to the water as the sun began to set. Not a bad way to spend our last night in Venice, and in fact the last night of our adventure.

The next day we slowly made our way home via trains, buses, and planes. That night I went to sleep in my own bed and it felt strange. The last two weeks had been incredible, and in many ways life changing. Four new destinations were added to the ‘travelled to’ list and we’d learned all sorts about new cultures and ways of life. It was my last trip before the next big adventure: university. And while I’m at uni here in Scotland, being away in all of those foreign lands definitely helped prepare me. The gap year was coming to an end, but more on that later…

Oh, and Becca and I made it a full two weeks abroad without killing each other! Go team!

 

Advertisements

Two Go Travelling: Part 3 – Where I Steal Another Man’s Balls | Ljubljana, Slovenia

It took us hours to get through passport control. Nobody knew what the problem was. But twice we were all piled into a small room on the motorway as we tried to cross the border. Would this be the end of our journey? Had they realised that it was probably a terrible idea to give two excitable teenagers free roam of the capital city of their country? Who knows, but eventually we landed.

That evening we went exploring. We took photos of ourselves doing our best knight in shining armour poses with the dragon statues on Dragon Bridge, watched a jazz party float past on an open deck boat, and splashed about like the little kids we secretly are in the centre of the square where it magically rains even when it’s not raining…

Then the night took quite a musical turn. It began with us joining in with an out-door pop up Zumba class and busting some moves that stole the whole dance floor (i.e. we boogied slightly in the corner) and then followed a funky kind of sound that had come winding through the alley ways. Having been enticed by the mystery of the music, we discovered, what we would later realise was the coolest band ever, playing outside a small burger restaurant. For the next two hours we joined in dancing and drinking beer and almost getting squashed every time a car tried to drive right through the middle of the stage.

Leaving out the romantic side to this story, we headed back towards the square via a shop consisting of flamingos, kids’ toys, and erotica. I mean what a better combination? In the square we found a fire show about to begin and watched them spinning and lighting up the darkness. We then turned our attention to helping a lost dog find its owner. It seemed like the right thing to do. So we followed and it led us down an alley way. All relatively normal. Apart from the alley was lined with a red carpet. And about ten steps later, we stumbled across a huge British themed outdoor night club/bar, fully equipped with a live band and enough of an audience that I got incredibly lost incredibly quickly. It was one of the most bizarre discoveries ever.  This massive noisy space was hidden in plain sight right in the middle of one of the busiest parts of the city. And yet without that dog, we’d have had no idea it even existed.

Having made our way out of Wonderland, we started to head home. Or so we thought. But lurking just down the road in the direction we were heading was none other than two jugglers… so naturally we went and interfered. What began as an innocent woman asking me if I wanted to ‘learn to juggle’ resulted in me borrowing the other juggler’s LED balls and becoming a street performer in the capital of Slovenia for a night.

The next day we got two bus tickets to the famous Lake Bled. The journey consisted of beautiful mountains, rolling corn fields, and an exploding bottle of juice.

We arrived and were met with horse drawn carriages taking tourists around the edge of the lake. We took the short walk down to the shore where we started on the path that led right the way around the insanely blue and terrifyingly deep spans of water. After fighting off the wasps while we tried to have lunch, we decided to stray off the path and walk (or in my case fall) down to the edge of the water to go swimming. Becca made it right out with her snorkel while I paddled at the edge trying to avoid the fish which we had been told were about the size of a small child.

The rest of the day was spent laughing at Becca’s screams as the flung herself off a rope swing and eating cream cakes. We never made it to Castle Bled in the middle of the island, but I suppose that’s just a good excuse to go back some time.

Before leaving Slovenia, we visited the Postojna Cave. Which I personally think should be added as the eighth natural wonder of the world. You begin with a 2km long ride on a tiny train through chambers and passageways (where Becca discovered quite quickly to keep her arms and legs in the carriage at all times unless she wanted to lose a limb. Seriously, she came this close…) You then continue with a 1.5km walk up hill and down dale. We went over bridges and into smaller caves within the main system. We went through what was known as the spaghetti hall – aptly named after the shape of the tiny stalagmites and stalactites that have grown there. We saw a chamber that was blacker than black after a fire that broke out last century, and a shining white limestone stalagmite called ‘Brilliant’ that was bigger than me. The tour ended with a visit to the pink salamander aquarium and a stop off in the concert hall that is so vast, an echo lasts six seconds. We practiced our singing.

(Follow Becca on the Insta Grams..!)

The next day we checked out of Slovenia and began the five and a half hour long bus journey to the floating city of Venice, Italy.

 

Two Go Travelling: Part 2 – Where I Come This Close to Picking Up a Pigeon | Zagreb, Croatia

Our next stop was just along the road: Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. We were going cross country with Flixbus, which is an incredible service when they don’t accidentally overbook the bus and make you wait for the next one.

The capital was rather different to the small coastal city of Zadar. It was bigger, bolder, and seemed almost regal. Every single building that was even vaguely important to the running of day to day life was massive and carved into the most intricate shapes and designs. I noticed a lot of green in Zagreb. The streets were scattered with trees and there were parks around almost every corner. Fountains also seemed to be a prominent feature in the city, but rather disappointingly they managed to turn themselves off every time Becca and I got anywhere near.

Like Zadar, Zagreb seemed to be split into the new town and the old town. Or more accurately, the old town, and the even older town. We made our way to the latter and visited the tallest building in Croatia: the Zagreb Cathedral. It was impossibly ornate and full of dead people and history (which we were able to do some research on with the free city wide wi-fi!)

Next we made our way back into the centre (where I came this close to catching a pigeon!) and bought ourselves Zagreb 360 cards for the student price of about five Euros. These cards allowed us unlimited access to the sky café and discounted entry to all sorts of museums and events across the city. We first made our way to the observation deck (this one had a lift) and spent at least another hour gazing out across the city.

We then used our new shiny Zagreb cards to get into The Museum of Broken Relationships. It really was an incredible place and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who goes to Croatia. The museum features various objects from teddy bears to axes that bore significance in a relationship that has fallen apart for whatever reason. Initially I wasn’t sure I’d be very interested in hearing about other people’s breakups and family deaths but there’s something about the raw honesty and simplicity of the museum that really draws you in and makes you want to find out every single little detail about these people and what happened to them.

As the sun set, we made our way up to St Mark’s square to see the church that sat right in the centre. It’s small, but undeniably one of the most interesting buildings I have ever seen. The roof is made up of hundreds of coloured tiles depicting two coats of arms. I’m still certain it was made of Lego, but Becca thinks otherwise.

The next day, we got a bus at 8.30am (8.30am?!) and headed for Plitvice Lakes National Park. In the end, 8.30am still wasn’t early enough as we then spent the next two and a half hours waiting in line. However, it was well worth the wait. Upon entering the park, you take about ten steps in and are immediately standing right above waterfalls and lakes as blue as the sky. There are several paths that lead you around the park, most of which are made up of wooden sticks and sit about two feet above the water with no barriers to stop you falling in, which almost happened too many times to count. The path we took first led us to the tallest waterfall in Croatia where I spent a lot of time taking photos of Becca in various “Geology Rocks” poses. We then climbed a stone staircase to the entrance of the caves. We wandered and explored and delved much further in than is probably recommended. After some accidental rock climbing (I was too short to reach the stairs that led back out of the caves) we stopped for lunch at a viewpoint overlooking the lakes.

Further into the park we jumped on a land train and sped through to the midway point of the lakes. Here there was a restaurant, boat hire, and a free boat service that took you across the water, so you could continue the adventure on the other side. So, this we did and hiked through to find more waterfalls and sparkling blue bodies of water with absolutely no regard for the time.

Which turned out to be a colossal mistake. Suddenly, at the opposite end of a national park full of tourists and queues, we realised the final bus of the day that would take us the two hours back to Zagreb, left in one hour. Inhalers used, shoe laces tightened, we ran. We arrived at the queue for the boats which had miraculously quadrupled in size since we were there two hours before. So, we did the only thing that could be done, something we may regret for the rest of our lives, literally the most un-British thing that has happened in the history of Britain… we… skipped the line!

But it was the right decision. We made it to the bus with time to spare so we decided to pay a visit to the souvenir shop. That night we had dinner at the brilliant Submarine Burger (who, by the way, donates 4kn to Clown Doctors International for every dessert they sell!) where we had the best burgers we’d ever had ever.

The next day we got the tram to the bus station and this time, successfully got on to the Flixbus. Shame the same can’t be said for the journey into Ljubljana, Slovenia…

Two Go Travelling: Part 1 – Where We Become Infamous Supermarket Thieves | Zadar, Croatia

This adventure began in a quaint countryside village some ten minutes from my house. My friend, Becca, and I threw our terrifyingly light luggage into the boot of the car and were soon trundling down country roads past highland cows and potato fields with nothing but our destination, Zadar, Croatia, in mind…

A 4am start and eight hours later, we awoke with an almighty thump (and, in my case, a small yelp) as the plane touched down on the melting runway. Bags collected, shorts changed into, ready for our exciting student holiday – we stepped out of the airport and… nothing.

We were surrounded by what I can only describe as desert. Dust, crickets, and tumble weed. Not the glamorous teenage retreat we expected. So we sat. And we waited. Locals came and went. We continued to wait. Taxis took families to their expensive white marble hotels and we sat… and waited. Almost three hours later, the airport bus decided to turn up. How kind…

So we were off again. Whizzing along one long straight road which seemed to go for hundreds of miles. In reality we were on the bus for about half an hour. But we were eager to go and explore.

The scenery became less barren and was scattered with wilting trees and dilapidated military buildings. At some point we left the desert and stumbled into the mountains which towered over each side of the rusting bus.

Finally, we found ourselves in Zadar, in the new town. Built up and modernised, the first things we saw were a department store and a McDonald’s… So we briskly made our way to find the sea, the culture, and the ice cream.

The old town of Zadar is right on the coast. The architecture consists of churches and red terracotta tiles. The cobble stone streets twist and turn though little markets, past museums, bakeries, and the Roman and Venetian ruins on the peninsular.

Our first stop was the Posjet Zvoniku. Entry was just a couple of Kuna (8.41 Kuna = £1) which allowed us to climb up four floors of agonising stairs to the top of the bell tower where we must have stayed for at least an hour. And not because of the thought of having to do the stairs again. On every side, the horizon was a line of mountains. We could see right out across the sea in one direction, and the rest of Zadar in the other. We were surprisingly high up: a fact Becca liked to remind me of by climbing up the wall and dangling herself over the edge while watching me panic. But it meant we could see everything and everyone.

Later that same day (having made our way alllll the way back down the tower…) we wandered along the sea front watching the locals practice their diving or pushing their friends off the pier. Further along we found a sea organ which was essentially a few holes in the floor making eerie screeching noises. I make it sound so poetic, I know. But somehow, perhaps from knowing that sound was coming from the sea rather than something man made, it was oddly musical.

At the end of the stretch we stumbled across what is known as ‘A Greeting to the Sun’ – a monument made up of solar panels and lights which lit up the floor at night with the most incredible disco shows. Having busted our best dance moves we headed for the bus, and promptly got lost.

While we stayed in Zadar, we took a day trip to a small town called Nin – home to the first cathedral in Croatia (which admittedly looked much like the second cathedral in Croatia, and the third, and the fourth, and so on…) In many ways it was similar to Zadar; terracotta tiles and twisty streets. The town is built on a tiny island in the sea. I mean where else would one think “ah, isn’t this an excellent place to build a town? I’m sure we won’t sink!” As you make your way through and come out at the other side, you’re smacked in the face with a huge beach. One long stretch of sand, which I personally felt reflected the shape of a dolphin – how apt – with a shallow section for kite surfing on one side and the mountain topped sea on the other. We spent most of the day on that beach watching the kite surfers, taking photos, and trying out the famous medicinal mud found in the water. (Side note: it doesn’t work. I continue to suffer from chronic procrastination, hence the reason I’m posting this three months later.)

Later that night we unintentionally became infamous supermarket thieves. But that’s another story.

The rest of our time in Zadar was spent swimming (or paddling in my case), watching Becca throw herself off diving boards and holding up towels for her as she stripped in the middle of the street, visiting museums, eating the local food, and watching one of the strangest street performances I’ve ever seen. I think it was a highly stylised performance Ubu the King, but I guess we’ll never know…

There’s More to ‘Murica than Froot Loops (Fortunately)

A little while ago, I had the misfortune of having to get out of bed at 5am on a Sunday morning. But thirteen hours later, I found myself at the other side of the world, in Newark, New Jersey.

As I stepped off the plane, the first thing that hit me was the heat. Why I hadn’t bothered to check the weather before I came, I have no idea. But it was certain the four pairs of trousers in my suitcase would be staying there.

I wandered into the airport and suddenly realised that having drank a litre of water on the plane, I really had to pee. So there I was, through border control and past baggage claim. I turned the corner and… shock horror! Toilet stalls… with gaps in the doors! I half considered waiting but after a six hour flight, I was desperate. (Turns out, this was the case everywhere, and not just the airport scrimping on funds.)

My plan was that I would be staying in America for the month of July, and interning with a youth circus called Trenton Circus Squad in New Jersey. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, who I’d meet, or even exactly what I’d be up to. I was nervous, but also quietly excited knowing this was to be my biggest adventure yet.

That night, I met the five girls and our chaperone that I would be living and working with for the next two weeks. As the very long day drew to an end, we sat on the porch outside watching the sun go down and the fireflies come out like a reflection of the stars in the sky.

For breakfast, finally I got to try one of the icons of great American cuisine – ‘Froot Loops’. Conclusion: blech. “Shall I compare thee to licking a battery?” And so, we left at 7.30am for a 9am start in Camden, NJ where we would introduce Trenton Circus Squad’s new pilot project. The day was spent taking part in workshops, practicing five ball juggling, meeting the rest of the group, and sweating like crazy in the un-air conditioned hall. Yippee. That night we went to the boss’s house for dinner and we made guacamole. I say ‘we’. I supervised. And tried a burrito for the first time – Froot Loops: 0, Burrito: 10.

The next day was the Fourth of July, so we did as what most of America seemed to do that day, and drove down to Washington DC! We spent the day in the sun at the National Mall, (which I expected to be a rather large shopping centre. It’s not.) for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and watched shows and performances from circuses up and down the country. Somehow I ended up talking on the social circus panel for the National Endowment for the Arts which was, as I believe the kids say, “kinda cool” (or rather one of the highlights of the trip!)

On the drive home, it rained. But it was brightened up when we passed a proper, motorbike riding, bandana wearing, denim jacketed, biker gang. Not your average view when cruising down the A90 Southbound. It grew dark as we were passing through Philadelphia and we oohed and aahed at the fireworks lighting up the tower block littered skyline. We drove through five states that day.

The rest of the week was spent improving on our skills, putting a show together with the whole group, and sweating like a cheese sandwich in a warm rucksack. On Saturday we headed into Philly for the Puerto Rico Festival where we spent the day performing, teaching kids how to spin plates, salsa dancing, and trying not to get heat stroke.

The next day we ventured to New Hope – a wonderful little town where trees line the streets, bookshops and art stores are more common than grocery stores, and the Delaware River roars through the middle. The plan for the rest of the day was to hike up Mount Tammney. But we got lost. And instead drove through the mountain roads, listening to music and holding maps the wrong way up. We managed about 45 minutes of the Appalachian Trail but decided it was much too hot and went swimming instead.

Week two was incredibly full on. Every day consisted of workshops for young summer camp kids, and shows. Lots of shows. Oh, and attempting to survive a poisonous spider bite that mysteriously appeared on my leg. That was exciting. But nothing was amputated so all was well.

We finished that week with a trip to an American diner. It was incredible. The portions were bigger than the plates. The building, like an oversized jukebox, had a neon red front and the inside felt friendly and welcoming with red booth seats and high pitched chatty waitresses. That weekend, we all went our separate ways – Maimi Florida, Boston, New Orleans, New York, and Trenton. The Camden pilot project was over, and I had to survive two weeks without the group.

That Sunday, the second leg began. I changed lodgings and went to stay in Hillsborough with two rather wonderful families. These two weeks would be spent at the Squad’s headquarters in Trenton. The building was amazing – an old abandoned factory donated by the council. The ceilings were high enough to throw diabolos and feel like they’d never come down, and enough floor space ride unicycles without ever banging in to anyone (anything however, is a slightly different story…)

“Not at home. Definitely alone. Lost in New York.”

I spent two days in New York City. I inevitably began by getting lost and confused and unable to find the right train ticket or platform – something even my 75 year old grandmother is capable of. But in the end I rode the PATH train to NY Penn Station and of course, got lost again. In my attempt to find Time’s Square which was in theory just up the road, I spent an hour wandering around the same three streets. Time’s Square was incredibly busy. I had been warned that New York would be at least ten times busier than I could possibly imagine it to be. That was about right. But it was amazing and bright and shining. There were billboards everywhere and the lights advertising all the theatres and shops lit up even in the midday sun. I wandered through the various chocolate shops and made my way towards Rockafeller Centre, stopping off in the public library and St Patrick’s Cathedral on the way. Rockafeller Centre was much smaller than I thought but still worth the visit, even if it was just to go into the Lego store like the adult that I am…

Afterwards, I headed to Central Park with the intention of finding the zoo. But, I got lost, again (are you noticing a bit of a theme here?) and took the long way around. By the time I had found it, it was due to close in an hour, so I quickly bought my ticket and hurried around the plethora of reptile, bird, and penguin enclosures, giggled at the turtles, and managed to catch a glimpse of the back end of a grizzly bear.

After the zoo, I went to the Museum of Modern Art where I was let in for free because they didn’t recognise my Scottish student ID. Oh dear, what a shame… Over five floors I saw the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, and Van Gogh’s Starry Night. It was definitely worth the free entry.

The next day I took a new friend with me into the city. Our first stop was the 9/11 memorial. We walked down through Battery Park and got the free (yes, FREE!) Staten Island Ferry across the water and right past the Statue of Liberty. Afterwards we had a long trek up to Brooklyn Bridge where we avoided getting hit by cyclists. The bridge made for a great viewpoint of the city; rather than paying $40 to go up the Empire State Building, you get a great, and possibly more authentic feeling view, by crossing the bridge for free. Afterwards we spent a long time looking for a working subway station and headed up to Time’s Square where we visited the Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum. It was fantastic. From the marvellous to the downright weird, there was everything in that museum. Statue of the tallest man in the world? Got it. Train crafted entirely from match sticks? Got it. Hallway made of Cheetos? Got it. The museum was great, and highly recommended.

The last week finished with a fantastic final show (despite several injuries…) and some incredibly hard to say goodbyes. It’s a little known fact in the circus world that circus is like family. And up until spending a month with some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met, I don’t think I realised just how true that is. In the hours leading up to leaving for the airport, I was desperately trying to think of any excuse for me to stay. Maybe the dog ate my passport? But the next adventure was waiting just around the corner and the flights were already booked, so I reluctantly got on the plane.

I have to admit, before I left home I was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. “The other side of the world. By myself. For a whole month!” The entire prospect was terrifying enough that once or twice I considered not going at all. I’m so glad I did. I’ve met people and done things that I won’t ever forget and I’m determined to earn enough money over this year so that I can spend another month next summer with Trenton Circus Squad.

Handsome space rogue: now seeking employment.

 

(I now have a video of the footage I got while I was there too…)

Picaroons, Parades, and Tripe – The JéMBE Festival 2017 | Monte Compatri, Italy

There’s nothing like a bit of Italian driving to wake you up after nine and a half hours of travelling. I swear traffic lights are just used as road side decoration in that country. But we all survived, all 11 of us, and made it to Monte Compatri ready to start a week at the JéMBE Festival of international theatre and education…

Monte Compatri, which is just outside of Rome, is a small town built almost entirely on a hill.

Advantage: rather incredible views of Rome. Disadvantage: even walking to the ice cream shop was like a fully-fledged gym workout (which, due to the slightly alarming amount of ice cream we must have eaten, was probably a good thing.) Mountain climbing aside, the town itself was lined with cobbled streets, fountains, and yellow houses adorned with shutters, lizards, and greenery. Not a bad place to be spending a week in the sun…

The house we stayed in had two bedrooms; two and a half beds, one shower, one toilet – between ten of us. I think it’s fair to say that boundaries between our group are certainly now a thing of the past.

We were the entertainment for that first night, performing a fire show we’ve been rehearsing for weeks, in the town centre. It was surprisingly well received by the Italian public who out of no-where had a bunch of Scottish misfits spilling kerosene and blaring out bagpipe music in their quaint little square at 9.30pm on a Sunday night. We even ended up in someone’s Facebook live stream – talk about hitting the big time!

Later that night we went to see what would turn out to be one of my favourite parts of the week – a traditional Italian serenade. It felt like half the town was climbing through the narrow streets with hushed voices until we came to a stop outside a tall pale house with two balconies. The unsuspecting maiden inside was about to have her fiancé and his friends sing to her in celebration of their upcoming wedding. The singing began and the crowd fell silent. Eventually she appeared on her balcony and attempted to catch a rose thrown to her by her fiancé. That took a couple of tries and an eventual piggyback but it was all still rather lovely. Soon the crowd joined in whistling and clapping and having fun.

We finished the first day stood on the Belvedere – or ‘beautiful view’. And that it was. The square looks right out over Rome, over the thousands of shimmering lights that could have easily been mistaken for stars that had decided to take up residence on the ground.

Day two. Chased by rabid dogs. Survived. *

The morning started off calmly with croissants, coffee, and fruit juice. Then we trekked down the hill to meet everyone that would be taking part in the festival, play games, and say ciao. We had a group of 12 young people that took part in the stilt workshop we were teaching. Stilts and language barriers are a fun combination. But we didn’t kill anyone so all in all a success.

After lunch we huddled in a shady corner of the park, desperately avoiding the 30 degree heat that would turn us ghostly Scots immediately into scarlet lobsters, and started putting together a routine inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream to perform in the final parade at the end of the week.

* On the subject of the rabid dogs, I partially take responsibility as I feel that had I not been quite so insistent on venturing up a particular street that happened to be their home, they would have perhaps, indeed, left us alone…

The next couple of days of workshops went as planned. Hiding from any direct sunlight, picking up stilt walkers, and repeating “If we shadows have offended” in ever so slightly different tones. We took the stilt walkers a-wandering up to the town and successfully caused a scene. Later on they marched right up to the Belvedere – goodness knows how someone who learnt to walk on stilts 2 days ago manages to walk a mile up a 90 degree hill in the sweltering heat, but I think I speak for all of us when I say we were very impressed.

The day after we taught them two traditional Scottish country dances to perform at the end of the week. They all jumped into it with their best stilt forward and seemed to really enjoy themselves! This was a pleasant contrast to the expectations matching every pupil who is forced to learn them in school. Our Shakespeare routine gradually became more of a performance too and we slowly started to memorise our lines in Italian.

Halfway through the week, we performed our second show – The Blootoon Picaroons! – which is a bouncy pirate show where juggling clubs become bottles of rum, people become pirate ships, and children turn into the Kraken itself when handed water balloons…  The show went  brilliantly, despite a few technical glitches, and it felt great to saunter about in our pirate costumes feeling like we owned the place – right up until the moment where we all got thrown into the fountain and had to climb out chilly and dripping before the audience, but perhaps feeling even more like a pirate… even if it was one who had walked the plank.

We took advantage of the free night after and went in three cars to Lake Albano, a wonderful lake in the top of an extinct volcano, also acting as the view to the Pope’s summer house. As lakes go, this one was quite small which meant that it was actually warm enough to jump into. We spent the next hour splashing about and seeing who could be thrown the furthest. I practiced my doggy paddling.

On the final day of the festival, we did the parade and performances in the afternoon. The stilters did their fantastic Scottish dancing, the clowning workshop made everyone laugh, and we (supposedly the professionals) messed up a juggling routine. Then we climbed up to the Belvedere with about 200 audience members and participants where the puppet and Commedia dell’Arte workshops did their performances overlooking Rome. And then even further up we marched to the Piazza Fanti for the fire, circus, and Shakespeare routines. Everything went brilliantly – even if I did get giggled at for the pronunciation of my Italian lines – and everyone seemed to love our fire routine at the end.

So, festival over, and the next day we ventured into Rome. I’ve done the tourist parts of Rome before, but the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and the Altare della Patria are the kind of things that are quite incredible no matter how many times you’ve seen them. This time in Rome was different to my last in that we also visited St Peter’s Chapel, which I hadn’t ever seen before. Through the security and past the scary guards who check you’re wearing enough clothes, and through the grand doors of the chapel. The exciting thing was, unlike with the Colosseum or the Trevi Fountain which is pasted all over the internet, I had no idea what to expect from the chapel. I think I spent the first ten minutes of the visit staring, mouth wide open and catching flies. It really was quite mesmerising – all the carvings and paintings and caskets. Luckily for us, there was also a service going on so the eerie sounds of the choir and organ echoed throughout the massive building and drifted around the statues. After they had finished, the priests all calmly walked past and through a door as if there was nothing to see here.

That night we had our final get together and ate dinner with everyone that had been involved in making the festival happen. First off there was a lovely pasta dish that we all wolfed down and hoped there was seconds. There was seconds. But it wasn’t pasta. Tripe. It was tripe. Blech. It was quite a change to the north east fish and chips we’re used to. But I put on a brave face and finished the whole plate. Blech.

The night went on, accordions were played, wine was drunk, songs were sung, and new friends were hugged, all in a little stone building decorated with shields, corn, and a hog’s head. It was nothing like what we would call a community centre here, but I think more so than here, it made you feel like part of a community.

In the end, I think the JéMBE Festival was a huge success and I am so grateful to have gone, taken part, performed, made friends, wondered at the views, and met people that I won’t ever forget. I also managed to eat a few more ice creams than would be recommended – but it was glorious – and I can’t wait to go back next year.

A Small Adventure

The other week, a few friends and I went camping for a night at the beach. Over the two days we were there, I realised that as exciting as the thought of jetting around the world is, no matter how far away from home you are or how long you’re away for, even the smallest of trips can become an adventure.

That weekend we built a campfire, barbecued sausages, climbed the hills, and explored the caves. As daunting as the thought of camping can be, I was surprised at how much I missed the feeling; the smoky smell of burnt wood from the campfire on your clothes, the sound of the waves rolling along the rocks, the warmth of climbing into a sleeping bag at night and being cosy despite the hard ground, constantly having grubby hands and not minding one bit. There’s a carefree air to camping that almost nothing else in the world can provide.

Once I had remembered I’d got my camera with me, I got some footage of what we got up to. I then tried to see how little is actually needed to create a ‘travel video’… (turns out, a mere 5 clips!)

As much as I love exploring and travelling, I also really value having time to recharge. For a while now I’ve been without that wanderlust feeling after my last trip into the big wide world turned out to be a little more taxing than I expected.

But something seemed to click that weekend, and now I’m once again longing for that familiar warm European breeze, and the wonder of being able to have breakfast in Scotland, lunch in the Netherlands, and dinner in France.

Luckily, I’m off to Italy in a couple of weeks! Luckily, because, I think I’m ready for another adventure…