March | May | August
March 11, 2019 — Seth’s first audiobook and more…
Happy March! You read that subject right: I have officially published my first audiobook! It is me reading my third book, Millennials are Ruining the World! from start to finish. It took me almost 24 hours, and clocks in at only 9. So for those of you (Laura, Summer, etc) who refused to read the actual book, now you can simply listen to me reading the book! How exciting? Assuming this audiobook sells some copies, I will be recording my other 2 books in the near future, too.
Here is a link to the book through Audible, which you can subscribe to and get lots of discounts or free audiobooks:
But if you’d rather just buy the audiobook and listen on your own device, you can find it on Amazon and iTunes in a few days.
IN OTHER NEWS
As the spring continues, I have weekly showcases Tuesday nights through May 14th. May 14th will be my 550th weekly showcase. As the 500th Showcase last year completely wore me out, so I’m forgoing anniversary concerts this year. I hope you will all forgive me.
I am continuing in my classes: Scene Study 2 at the Barrow Group, UCB Improv 301 (next improv show Saturday, May 11th at 6pm!), and just finished another Voiceover class tonight with Paul Liberti (who worked with Jim Henson!). I hope to get more into voiceover, and I am going to start submitting myself to record more audiobooks that I haven’t written, but only after I finish my other 2.
We did a wonderful Scene Study Showcase the first week of February, and while the videos of my scenes in Barefoot in the Park and The Goat aren’t public, I’m happy to share them with you privately, just ask! (We’ll see if anyone asks…)
In other news, I am making my stand-up comedy debut on Friday, March 29th at 9:30pm at the new Don’t Tell Mama comedy night! It’ll be weird joking around without being at a piano, and hopefully I’ll find something productive to do with my hands… If you’d like to come, here’s the reservation link: HERE!
Speaking of playing piano, I’m trying to eventually retire from playing auditions, as it’s exhausting and painful to play piano for 8 hours at my age, but I am accompanying 5 days this month because money talks. Sadly, it talks pretty loudly.
ANOTHER BIRTHDAY, ANOTHER DECADE
Last week, I had a milestone birthday. I went to a free movie screening the other night, and I have jumped a box! I was freaking out a lot about it before the actual birthday, but then once it passed, I realized that I’m pretty much still me. I had a week of celebrations: a family party in NJ, escaping the Clock Tower room at EscapeNYC Wednesday night, dinner at Cara Mia Thursday and Broadway Bowling after (my average is 108 right now, but this week I got my first turkey!!!!), and a huge bar party at House of Brews Saturday. 43 friends came out to celebrate with me, and over 600 people sent me texts, messages, posts on social media. I am very grateful to have so many wonderful persons in my life, and it made this transition not feel so onerous.
In particular, special thanks to my girlfriend, Emi, who got me a Muppet hoodie and the cutest new Miss Piggy Muppet Baby plush doll, in addition, to cooking for me 5 weekends in a row to celebrate this new milestone in my life.
As usual, I can’t really publicly talk about any of my writing projects until they are ready for primetime. Suffice it to say, there are a few in the works at various stages, and as usual, I am at the mercy of my collaborators’ schedules. While it does concern me a bit that I haven’t written anything this year, I do remind myself of all of I have written in the past few decades, and take solace in that. I have a palpable feeling that something is going to break soon, and even if I have had that feeling for awhile now, eventually it has to be true, right?
Regardless, I’m happy to talk about my projects on a personal level, just not public. That’s so sad! I guess the moral is if you want the scoop, you have to respond to this email, right?
Speaking of writing, I almost got a crossword puzzle into the New York Times! Almost! This was the first (out of 4) times that I received compliments and encouragement, so I think my first 3 puzzles must’ve been really crappy. Anyway, I did submit a 5th, and I’m very hopeful that will be the one. I also was googling and found out that the LA Times takes similar crossword submissions (though they pay half as much), so I’m going to send my 4th puzzle over to them to see if maybe they are less picky.
And again, I’m going to have to say feel free to message me because nothing is set in stone right now. In theory, I hope to be doing 2 Europe trips this summer, and one USA/Canada trip. I will say that Emi and my trip to the Carolinas was super, and since I mentioned the itinerary in the last ledger, I can refer you to that. There are 560 wonderful pictures on the Facebook, too.
At the moment I’m at 20 countries and 29 states. Hopefully by the end of the summer, those numbers will increase!
TO SMEE OR NOT TO SMEE
Smee doesn’t have much to report either, sadly. He is very excited for Daylight Savings Time (why is this still a thing that happens?). Indeed, the week before he kept waking me up an hour earlier than usual. It’s very sweet of him to prepare me for the time change, though, so I forgave him this time.
Smee has also been pretty naughty in terms of food, grabbing a piece of chicken out of the pot when Emi was cooking and slurping my scrambled eggs when I left the bowl for 2 seconds to respond to an email. He is very sneaky, and I think we need to be more careful when cooking because he is incorrigible when it comes to foraging for food.
TO READ OR NOT TO READ
Here’s what I’ve read this year so far:
Summerland – This wasn’t my favorite Chabon book b/c it deals a lot with baseball (boring) but I have like 5 other of his books to read, so hopefully I’ll like those.
Little Fires Everywhere – I LOVED this novel by Celeste Ng so much, and I highly recommend it! As you’ll remember from the last ledger, I read her first one “Everything I Never Told You” just as quickly and fervently.
An Evening of Long Goodbyes – Paul Murray’s first novel was very funny; I have to get his 3rd still, but it’s on my list…
Invitation to a Beheading – I felt like I hadn’t done a classic in awhile, so I went back to my favorite Russian author, Nabokov. Sadly, this one was my least favorite of his oeuvre I’ve read… ah, well.
The Best Babysitters Ever – My friend, Carrie Cala, who wrote Stanley’s Party the musical with me, is now a published author of a middle-school-aimed spinoff series of The Babysitter’s Club. Highly recommended if you know any 10-12 year olds who love reading!
The Muppets Brothers Grimm – My sister got me the 2nd in the Muppet Classics series, and it’s wacky takes on Grimm stories, and you can tell that Sondheim read them b/c the original stories are closer to “Into the Woods” than Disney movies…
Up next, I got the trilogy of “The Passage” after loving the new TV show (the first one in 850 pages, so I hope the book lives up to its hype!) and I’m still waiting on the quartet of “My Brilliant Friend” novels that I ordered in December. Guess they’re very popular, as it says it’ll be delivered by May 10th…
TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE
Movie wise I’ve taken advantage of an emptier winter schedule to see 4 free movie previews. Unfortunately, 2 of them are super early previews of movies that did well in festivals where we had to fill out surveys after and sign non-disclosure agreements, so I can’t actually publicly discuss those either! I liked one and didn’t like the other. When it comes out for free in 1-2 years, I will then be able to tell you what I thought… otherwise, here are the other movies I saw:
Lego Movie 2 – Sadly, this sequel did not live up to its first movie.
Free Solo – This documentary was hard to watch in parts, but wow, it definitely deserved the Oscar!
The Boy Who Would Be King – I went to see this movie b/c Patrick Stewart was in it, and he was basically the best part of it. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t super either.
How to Train Your Dragon 3 – Now, this was a movie that lived up to its hype and its first 2 features. Very nice ending to a wonderful trilogy.
Shoplifters – I actually got this one on FiOS on demand b/c I had points for a free movie. It was just a fantastic movie, so well done! I highly recommend it for those of you who speak Japanese, or who don’t mind reading subtitles.
Coming up, I’d like to see Captain Marvel and the final Avengers movie, but nothing else is on my radar yet for the year.
TV OR NOT TV
So much TV to watch these days; it’s very overwhelming.
Jeopardy – First I wanted to give a shout out to Alex Trebek. I hope he gets through his cancer battle in one piece.
The Other Two – This is my new favorite comedy this spring. It’s on Comedy Central and about siblings of a new YouTube celebrity tween, and it’s hilarious.
Miracle Workers – The other new comedy I like is on TBS and stars Harry Potter and one of the girls from Cockblockers about the after life, and it’s also very funny.
The Passage – This is a new vampire show, and I’ve very much enjoyed it, and I look forward to reading the books even if apparently my favorite character from the show isn’t in them.
Deadly Class – Speaking of science fiction, I’m enjoying this SyFy show that’s on after my favorite SyFy show, The Magicians.
Sex Education – This Netflix show is hilarious!
Russian Doll – I also liked this Netflix show which is very much like Groundhog Day.
Future Man – Shout out to the second season of this Hulu comedy, which is a Science Fiction spoof!
At some point, I need to get a free month to CBS All Access to watch the new season of Star Trek: Discovery. Other than that, I have long lists of shows to catch up on streaming-wise, but that’s what summer is for!
TO BE OR NOT TO BE
Here’s the theatre I’ve been to this year so far:
Choir Boy – Broadway play with wonderful performances.
The New One – Michael Birbiglia’s one man show about not wanting to have a baby but then having one was very amusing.
True West – Roundabout revival starring Ethan Hawke, I ended up doing one of these scenes for my acting class!
Gloria: A Life – I attended the PBS taping of this off-Broadway great play about Gloria Steinem (who I got a signed Playbill from thanks to Mel who’s the SM on the show!).
Merrily We Roll Along – I thought this was a wonderful production of one of my favorite Sondheim musicals.
By the Way, Meet Vera Stark – I had actually seen this play when it premiered at Second Stage years ago, but I enjoyed this revival very much.
Superhero – New musical off-Broadway about a superhero.
Lolita, My Love – I saw the York’s production of Alan Jay Lerner’s attempt to turn Lolita into a musical. Definitely worth seeing since it probably won’t ever be seen again!
Kiss Me, Kate! – Charming revival of a classic.
I am going to be seeing a lot of Broadway shows in the coming weeks, but so far this season, what I’d most highly recommend are: The Prom and The Ferryman, both shoes with The in the title!
Well, this feels incredibly short, but there’s just not much new I can talk about in a public forum. Please go buy my audiobook, if you’re into those things, and don’t forget to write a glowing review if you enjoy listening to it!
While reading the book aloud, I hope to have found the rest of the typos, so if you haven’t bought the book yet, you can get the no-typo version! Eventually after I read my other 2 books, all 3 of the books will be typo-free! I mean, I think the other 2 are close since I fixed any things people mentioned to me… but you can never be sure till you read it out loud!
May 31, 2019 — a report on my Portugal, Spain, Gibraltar & Morocco vacation
Pardon the very obvious subject up there, but I’m still very jet-lagged. However, with Dani & Luis’s wedding tomorrow, and a rescheduled Mother’s Day celebration on Sunday (as my sister had her second baby a week and a half before the official one!), I need to write this trip recap today!
Due to the Facebook’s complete bigotry against people who post 1357 photos at once (I actually had to put up a few hundred at a time in the album till it was done) and try to caption them as fast as possible (I kept getting blocked for going too fast leading to unscheduled hour-long furloughs from the task), it took me all day and night yesterday to get the photos up, but they are up, so go look!
Short recap: It was a really great trip with my BFF, Niki. This is our 5th trip together for those who are counting (mostly me). We have done a trip every odd year since 2013! Portugal is very charming, and so affordable. Spain is really fun, tough a little pricy. Gibraltar is super weird, but the rock is epic. Morocco is absolutely crazy, but the day trips were breath-taking.
BEFORE WE GET TO THE TRIP, THIS IS WHAT I HAVE BEEN UP TO
For those of you who aren’t on social media, you might have missed the following life highlights since my last ledger:
1. My new podcast cast, Millennials are Ruining the World? an Xennial perspective “I’m not woke, but I’m awake!” premieres Wed, June 5th at 1pm. You can find the teaser episode, here: soundcloud.com/sethbhdotcom … it’s also available on iTunes, Stitcher and TuneIn. I submitted it for Spotify and Google Play, but I don’t know if they ever were approved. If anyone’s on Spotify and can check, please let me know b/c maybe I’ll resubmit it if it’s not up yet.
2. A few weeks ago, I was on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and Cher; her and Jimmy lip synced to my karaoke: https://youtu.be/3_ot8SvZJSE
3. I filmed my first indie feature a few weeks ago. I have gone on ONE film audition and I booked it! I had 2 long monologues, and it’ll be out eventually.
4. I did my second hilarious standup act as apart of my friend, Celia’s eclectic cabaret: https://youtu.be/RYRfx_ewKhc
5. I have now completed 3 out of 4 levels of UCB improv comedy classes. (Fourth in the fall, probably.)
6. My song “Enough Already” from my musical “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” was named a finalist in London’s prestigious Stiles & Drewe Best Song Prize competition, and will be performed in a 2000 seat West End theatre on June 9th. I’m sure you’ve all seen the Mario Lopez video, but here it is if you haven’t, and here’s a selfie I took with him: http://tinyurl.com/enoughalreadyvote … http://www.sethbh.com/images/sethandmario.JPG
7. After 12 years of weekly showcases, they finally put up a poster of me at Don’t Tell Mama!
8. Speaking of DTM, to celebrate my 550th Showcase, we are doing a Jerry Herman cabaret this Tuesday, June 4th: https://www.broadwayworld.com/cabaret/article/Seth-Bisen-Hersh-Presents-A-Jerry-Herman-Cabaret-June-4-20190513
9. This summer I’m taking Paul Liberti’s animation voiceover class, and I hope to start auditioning for animated shows and movies by fall.
10. Speaking of animation, I’m developing a new kid show called Smee & Friends, which is Smee and his pet friends getting into misadventures and learning lessons with cute songs. It’s essentially “The Secret Life of Pets” meets “Muppet Babies”. Smee is also writing a picture book, “A Day in the Life of Smee”.
And a reminder from last time, you can get the audiobook of “Millennials are Ruining the World!” here: https://www.audible.com/pd/B07PJM1KLR/?source_code=AUDFPWS0223189MWT-BK-ACX0-145176&ref=acx_bty_BK_ACX0_145176_rh_us Thank you to the 35 people who already bought it!
DAY 1, SATURDAY, MAY 17TH: LISBON, PORTUGAL
The trip actually started Friday night, when Niki and I flew into London. After a few hours layover in the lovely Heathrow Airport (no sarcasm, besides Zurich, it’s my favorite airport to layover in), we were on our way to Lisbon! Our checkin time was 3pm, and we got to the apartment where we were staying at 3:01pm so we were off to a great start!
Portugal is so affordable. Seriously. It’s crazy cheap. Looking at our options for getting to our place, taking an Uber (or rather Captain was the name of the app available in only Portugal), it was only 4 Euro, so while I’m not usually someone who takes those sorts of things, I became one in Portugal b/c the price was right!
Our apartment was in the Alfama district, which is a very hilly area. Indeed, the entire city reminded me of San Francisco with its tram cars and hills. It wasn’t the easiest city to navigate around because of all the curvy roads, but it certainly wasn’t the most confusing place I’ve been.
After dropping our stuff off, we walked through the Mercado de Santa Clara which was a huge outside flea market. We stopped by the Paneao Nacional, which was basically a huge church. We just peeked inside briefly. These were en route to our first actual destination, the Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo). What a lovely discovery that it was International Museum day! Not only was the museum free for the day, there were free Fado (Portuguese music) concerts all day, which checked another must-see thing off our list for free! The museum itself was really great; so many interesting tiles. The city itself was filled with them, as well. We saw Claudia Leal perform on the third floor, but we were very jet lagged from staying up all night that we kept falling asleep, so we left after a half hour. But what we saw was really great!
Again, since the Uber was so cheap, rather than walk an hour and a half or take the bus, we carred (as in took a car) it over to the Belem district where all the major things to see are. On the way, we got a nice river view (the guy took the scenic route for us and also recommended a few things to do in the Belem area). We saw the Belem Tower and Padrao dos Decobimentos monument, then crossed the street to check out the cultural center, then a big fare of street food around the huge monastery, Mosteiro dos Jeonimos, which again we just took a peek of the inside of. (I don’t really feel the need to spend money to see churches, for obvious reasons.)
Then, we found a really cute restaurant for dinner (Niki has an international phone from work so we can use that to navigate and search for restaurants on Trip Advisor) called Taberna Dos Ferreiros. I had a Portuguese steak for very cheap. Portuguese style is having bacon and a fried egg on top = yum! For dessert, we stopped by to pick up pasteis at the famous Pasteis de Belem. The pastries were very good, and the official dessert of Portugal.
Of course, being completely delirious at this point from having been up for almost 30 hours, we again used the Captain app to get us back to our apartment so we could get to bed by 10pm since we had to be up for a day trip the next day at 8am.
DAY 2, SUNDAY, MAY 18TH: CASCAIS, CABA DA ROCA, SINATRA, LISBON, PORTUGAL
The next day, we went to meet our tour guide at the Hard Rock Cafe, and passed a really cute cat napping on the street (so many cats this trip!). We briefly saw a theatre and Rossio Square on our way. Our tour was through Inside Lisbon, and there were vans of 8 people each. So, we had to wait till our guide called my name since there were a bunch of different trips this group offers. In our van with us was a mother/daughter from MA/CA, a very chatty couple from Toronto, and a pair from Singapore.
Our first stop was the beach town of Cascais, which was really nice to walk through. On the way, we drove through Estoril, which is where Ian Fleming was during WWII and got the idea for James Bond. We passed the Casino Estoril, which was the inspiration for Casino Royale. Apparently, many spies were there during the war.
After an hour in Cascais, we stopped by a really nice beach on a cliff then the Caba da Roca, which is the westernmost point of continental Europe and a stunning view. We passed a lot of motorcycles on this mountain because apparently it’s a tradition to ride motorcycles up the mountain on Sundays.
Next up, we had a few hours in the cute town of Sintra, also very hilly. We had lunch at a cute cafe called Villa 6 (where I had a Portuguese burger that was pretty much the exact same thing as my steak the night before #oops), then walked around and saw the outside of the National Palace of Sintra before getting gelato (strawberry cheesecake and chocolate truffle) and getting back on the van to be taken up to the Park and Palace of Pena. We didn’t get to explore the huge parks much, but we did go through the Palace, which had both stunning architecture and stunning views. The only bad part about this day trip is that the phone had said it was going to be cloudy, so I hadn’t brought my hat, sunglasses or suntan lotion, so I got super, super burnt.
Upon getting back to Lisbon around 6pm, we walked around town, first to see the Synagogue Sharee Tikva, which was sadly walled in. Then we walked around the Bairro Alto district, which had a remarkable view of the city. We found a Portuguese restaurant, Allchaido, and I had a chicken salad to be healthy. After dinner, we strolled down to the river into the huge square, and then walked back up the hills of Alfama. We saw the walls of St. George Castle, though it was very closed by the time we got up around sunset. Around that area, we heard some cats talking to each other on our walk home!
All in all, Lisbon (aka Europe’s San Francisco) was a wonderful place to visit with the most affordable food you’ll ever find that is of such high quality, very friendly people and incredibly views and architecture. The streets were pretty tiny, as were the sidewalks, so I was really glad we decided not to rent a car (picking it up in Portugal and returning it Spain was not cost effective).
DAY 3, MONDAY, MAY 19TH: LAGOS, PORTUGAL
The next day we took an Uber to the bus station for our 4 hour journey to the Southern Portugal city of Lagos. I had very happily discovered that not only is Star Trek: Discovery available on Netflix outside of the USA (instead of having to pay for it on CBS All Access) that I could use the new version of the Netflix app on my iPad to DOWNLOAD all the episodes so I could watch them on the bus rides!!! SO I watched the entire second season (VERY STRONG SEASON) and the shorts that had been released prior to it coming out!!! What a wonderful added perk to being in Europe!!!
Lagos was breath-taking. After dropping our stuff off at our wonderful (and remarkably affordable) hotel, we walked across the bridge to the main area. We stopped by a quick cafe for lunch (I had another chicken salad #healthy), and then walked down the water. We went to an incredible beach, took off our shoes, and actually walked through tunnels that had the ocean coming in and out of them to get from beach area to beach area. These were secluded beaches with some people, but some of the areas were like private havens. And it was a beautiful day (mostly perfect weather all vacation!). Just a wonderful day on the beach.
We kept walking South till we got to the Ponta da Piedade, which were these EPIC cliffs right on the Southern tip of Portugal. Just breathtaking (go look at my photos!). And then we stumbled upon a grotto tour, which was the best 20 Euro we spent all vacation. For a half hour, we got driven around on a boat to see all of the grottos from down below. It was stunning. A lot of them have names for what they resembled: King Kong, a camel, an elephant, twins, a wedding cake, the Arc de Triomph, a skull, the Queen, a monster face and even the Titanic (see my photos!).
Just a remarkable thing to see, and we were so glad we stumbled upon the stairs down to the tour!
Afterwards, we walked back to our hotel, and ended up eating Italian food at Portofino’s (which is apparently a chain in Europe). It was very yummy, and we had a very good view of the marina as we ate. We saw a vending machine that had quite a variety of things including suntan lotion, Tylenol, condoms… and even vibrators.
When we got back to the hotel, I found the Game of Thrones finale illegally so I could watch it before getting spoiled. In fact, the whole day I was worrying about it, which is sad given that it was such magical views everywhere. Thankfully, Rori sent me a site to watch the show, and it worked. (Why does anyone pay for anything?) I won’t put any spoilers here, but if you’re interested in my take on the finale, my friend Aaron is coming on my podcast and in the episode that airs July 31st, we will discuss that show and a ton of other sci-fi/fantasy shows we watch!
DAY 4, TUESDAY, MAY 20TH: SEVILLE, SPAIN
Sadly the way the bus schedule was, we had to be on a bus at 8:15am (the other option wasn’t till 2pm) so we could get 5 hours to explore Seville, Spain. Thankfully, I had plenty of Star Trek episodes to watch!
We got into Seville and locked our bags in a locker at the bus station, then walked South. We passed the Plaza de Toro, then meandered into the main area where we saw the outside of the magnificent Seville Cathedral. Then, we waited on line for about an hour (should’ve gotten tickets in advance) for the Real Alcazar Palace, Rooms and Gardens. For those Game of Thrones fans out there, this is where they shot all the scenes from Dorn!
The palace and the gardens were splentaforous! Just wow! Totally worth the hour wait. (Go see my photos!) Stunning design. There were 53 rooms/gardens to see on the map, and we saw them all (I checked them off room by room). My favorite was the Jardin del Laberinto or the maze garden. We stumbled around the maze for awhile, and it was super fun.
After the palace, we went to the Parque de Maria Luisa and saw the Plaza de Espana, which was a really nice, large building with a pond out front.
On the way back to the bus station, we watched a Flamenca dancer on the street, had the best meal of our trip: tapas at the restaurant, Uno de Delicias. It was indeed incredibly delicious!! And, then, of course, we had gelato again. (I probably gained some weight on this trip.)
We took the bus to Malaga where we stayed in a very cheap, and you can definitely tell why, airport hotel. We ubered b/c it was late at night, but actually the local bus goes right there.
DAY 5, WEDNESDAY, MAY 21ST: GIBRALTAR
The next day, we took the bus to the bus station for another 2 hour bus ride, this time to La Linea, which is the border town with Gibraltar. (Our 5 bus trips averaged to just $20 each!) Then, we walked through customs and immigration, and got waived through very quickly with our American passports. And there it was: the epic rock of Gibraltar!
Sadly, we were convinced to spend 32 pounds on an official rock tour because we were told it would be insane to walk the entire 4.5 hours hike on our own. In hindsight, it was good we took a cab up because it would’ve been a little crazy doing that, but I think we way over paid for the “tour” through town because he barely said anything about it. At least our park passes were included, and we got a map to walk around when we decided to depart the tour halfway. (We were told a lot of people walk down.)
On the Upper Rock, we saw The Pillars of Hercules, St. Michael’s Cave which actually has a theater where they do concerts and weddings in the actual cave. We went to the Apes’ Den and got many pictures with monkeys. The guide did give us peanuts included so the monkeys could open our hands to get them, at least. After we left the taxi, we doubled back to walk to O’Hara’s Battery which is the highest point of the Rock. By that time, the clouds had dissipated enough so we could see Africa across the water. Indeed, we would visit the Atlas Mountains that we saw a few days later!
We walked back to see the monkeys again, and paused on the Skywalk, which is 340 meters directly above sea level (i saved the guide) and had a really great view with a glass floor. Next up, we went into the Great Siege Tunnels, which were a defensive system in the rock itself looking out over all the different directions of water. We came down the rock after that, briefly stopped into an old Moorish castle (built in 1160) and saw a quick exhibition on families who lived up on the rock in the 1700s.
Next we came off the rock, and walked down many, many steps to get into the town center. We actually walked down the street “Castle Steps” and there were houses on this only walkable road. Can you imagine getting pizza delivered to 2B Castle Steps!?
We walked around the main street of Gibraltar and saw the Line Wall Synagogue before having dinner at the Royal Calpe (carrot soup, lamb curry, then ice cream for dessert – hey, I was on vacation!) before heading back to La Linea to catch our bus back to Malaga.
Overall, Gibraltar is a strange and weird country, where British citizens speak Spanish, and everything closes at 6pm. Besides overpaying for the “rock tour” we loved everything about this visit, especially hanging out with the monkeys, and indeed, monkeying around.
DAY 6, THURSDAY, MAY 22ND: MARRAKECH, MOROCCO
We woke up the next day, took the bus to the airport, and then we flew into AFRICA. Our riad, (Riad Les Trois Mages or The Three Wise Men in English) sent a car to pick us up, so we were one of those people who comes out of the airport and has someone waiting for them!
Our riad was so cute, and the whole staff was super nice. It was like an oasis in the crazy Medina. Everything moves very slowly in Marrakech. I was ready to drop our stuff off and go, but first they made us some mint tea (yum) and gave us a tour of the place. There was an electric piano in the lounge and Scrabble (but sadly Niki didn’t want to play), and then a pool on the roof! Also, the manager gave us a map and marked all the spots we should see. Thursday was our only day to explore the city, as we had day trips planned the next two days.
Unfortunately, we hadn’t realized it was Ramadan, so most things closed early at 3pm. (FYI, Morocco suspends Daylights Saving Time for Ramadan, so it gets darker earlier since they are fasting all day, so we were only 4 hours ahead of NYC, as opposed to 6 in Spain, which worked out nicely when we had early mornings. Also, at sunset every night (and at every call to prayer) there were huge sirens alerting people of the time.)
Our manager actually walked us down to the Saadian Tombs because the whole Medina is very confused and not well-signed. Speaking of signs, we saw one for an Escape Room, and Niki humorously remarked, “This whole Medina is an Escape Room!”
At the tombs we saw a napping cat, and some old tombs. Speaking of cats, there are so many stray cats in Marrakech; it was crazy! And every single restaurant we ate at had a cat walking around begging for scraps. It was pure kitty heaven!
After the tombs, we meandered through the crazy streets, where people were speeding on motorbikes and we got harassed very often because we stuck out like a sore thumb. Lots of people offering directions to “the big square” and trying to get us to follow them or buy something. (However, compared to visiting Delhi, India last year, it was tame.) Anyway, we managed to find both the palaces (Bahia and Badii) that we would’ve gone in except it was just after 3pm. Ah, well. Then, after circling around a bit, we found the Slat El-Azama Synagogue and Jewish Cemetery (Le Cimetiere Juif de Marrakech) to pay respects to my people.
Next, we walked back up through the main area first stopping by the main square, Place Jemma El Fna and then the huge Koutoubia Mosque then went to the Secret Garden (Le Jardin Secret, cue “Clusters of crocus…”), which was so charming and another oasis from the chaos outside. Sadly, we were recommended to go to the Majorelle Gardens, but they were on the other side of the Medina wall, and there was no way we had time to do that, so the Secret Garden had to suffice.
Oh, on the way to the garden, we stopped by a souvenir shop off the beaten path in the Souk (store) area. Most of the vendors were very pushy and in your face, but we found a nice guy who just let us walk around and decide what we wanted. I got $28 worth of souvenirs for myself, my girlfriend, parents, sister and nephew/niece! And then the nice guy gave me 2 free keychains, as well! Niki spent more like $60 and he gave her some nicer free gifts. What a mensch! And what a relief to get all the shopping of the trip over with (besides my final magnet from Barcelona).
After the garden, we walked around to find the Medrasa Ben Youssef school to find out it was closed for 2 weeks for renovations. Then, we meandered around the Tanner Area, which was kind of smelly.
We ate at a charming restaurant our riad recommended called Kui-Zin. The beef and egg tagine was delicious, and there was a wonderful view from the roof, live music and then later on belly dancing! (And a really cute cat, and it started misting a bit when it got a little hot.)
The Medina was crazy at night (such a weird juxtaposition of inside versus outside) with people everywhere, and eventually we managed to find our riad. (It was much easier after the first night to get our bearings.) After that crazy day, we gladly went to swim in the roof pool before going to sleep.
DAY 7, FRIDAY, MAY 23RD: ATLAS MOUNTAINS, BERBER VILLAGE, AGAFAY DESERT, MOROCCO
Friday we went to a parking area close to our riad to meet up with our day trip. Our guide, Idriss, was very nice. It was a 10 person tour, in a little mini-van. The first stop on our day trip was to ride camels!!! Riding a camel was super fun, and I felt like Lawrence of Arabia, except in Africa. Seth of Africa! Also, we had a baby camel following us around, too, because his mother was one of the camels to ride. Before the ride we had tea, and got dressed in camel riding attire to help shield us from the sun.
Next up, we drove through the Atlas Mountains. On the way, we saw a Berber village that used to be the Jewish village before they were all exiled from the country, and a Jewish cemetery from the 400s. Also on the way, we stopped by a place for a snack where women make oils, lotions and creams from argan nuts a “maison de l’huile d’argan”. And then we took pictures from a great view, and past the Richard Branson retreat where stars like Tom Cruise (when he was shooting Mission Impossible on the mountains) and Michelle Obama stay when they visit Morocco.
We had lunch at a great place with an amazing view and the most adorable kitten who I fed tuna from my salad since I don’t eat fish. For lunch we had chicken tagine and then the dessert was amazing, some orange caramel.
After lunch we went to an actual Berber village where our guide lives. First we saw his childhood home which has been in his family for generations for 2000 years. His mother still lives there with his brother and nephews. We stayed there quite awhile, but finally left to see his actual home which is just a few steps down the mountain. His home was a little more modern, but still had a toilet that was a hole in the floor. But he had a TV! Apparently the entire village got electricity in 2006, just 13 years ago. We saw a lot of boys playing outside, but he said that girls were traditionally not allowed to play outside, so that’s why we hadn’t seen any. We ate some cherries off a tree, and then walked back to our van.
On our way back to Morocco, they stopped by a pottery maker, and gave us all a free mug, which was super nice (though obviously included on the tour since other vans stopped there, too), and then we had 2 stops in the Agafay Desert so we could take pictures of the sand dune and a large lake. The view was just thrilling.
After we got back to Marrakech, we went out to dinner at the Bazaar Cafe, which had another roof, and another cute cat. I had spaghetti Atlas which had goat cheese and some vegetables. Very yummy. Then, we checked out the main square at night; it was absolutely insane, and people were trying to get our attention everywhere we walked. There were street musicians and actual snake tamers and monkeys on leashes. It was just crazy and very crowded.
When we got back to our riad, we went for a late night swim, and then got some sleep.
DAY 8, SATURDAY, MAY 24TH: OUZOUD WATERFALLS, MOROCCO
Our second day trip was to the Ouzoud Waterfalls, which are the highest waterfalls in Africa. The trip to Ouzoud took about 3 hours, and 13 people were in the van, but then we joined another 4-5 vans so it was a lot of people on this tour, so it wasn’t as personal as the last one. We stopped off in yet another Maison de l’Huile d’Argan, though this one was less over-priced so I got something for Emi. This family who runs it all lives in one house, and whenever a son is born, they build another wing for his family that will eventually live there, as well. (Girls go to move to their husbands’ family’s house.) By the way, Ouzoud means olive, and there were hundreds of olive trees.
Incidentally, Niki and I were the only Americans on this tour (and the one the other day but that was only 10 people as opposed to 50).
After stopping by the house, we went down the many steps on the trail to the waterfall, which was breathtaking. We paid an extra 20 dirham ($2) to take a boat to the base of the waterfall, and then we jumped in and went swimming! At the base of the largest waterfall in Africa! (Go see my photos!) It was incredible, and also pretty cold. But like, totally super amazing that we were swimming in a pool at the base of a waterfall in Africa.
After I splurged and had a 10 dirham ($1) glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and then a 10 dirham ice cream bar (couldn’t resist and early dessert).
We walked up the path and stopped by some more monkeys, and Niki paid 20 dirham to a guy to help get a picture with the monkey on her head. (I decided it looked kind of painful.) Also, we saw a monkey with her baby on her shoulder, which was super, super adorable.
Next we had lunch – vegetable couscous – at a cute cafe by the waterfall, and then traveled for 3 hours back to Marrakech (giving me ample time to read my book!). We stopped by a convenience store on the way back for a potty break, and Niki got Kebab potato chips.
On getting back to the city, I did what I had wanted to do all vacation – ran out to get a $5 haircut (though I paid $7 b/c I had 20 dirham left in cash that would’ve gone to waste). What a nice barber! It was one of the best haircuts I’ve ever had and way cheaper than what I pay in NYC, even cheaper than the 10 Euro one from Estonia last summer, though not as cheap as the one I got in Shanghai in 2011.
Anyway, we decided to go for a swim before dinner, which we had ordered the night before from our riad. The cinnamon chicken dish was divine, and I had delicious caramelized bananas for dessert to be healthy.
DAY 9, SUNDAY, MAY 25TH: BARCELONA, SPAIN
We had been warned that Marrakech airport took a long time to get through, but we didn’t have that many issues, probably because we got there at 6:15am. It was nothing compared to getting out of Delhi airport, that’s for sure. We got through security and customs with over an hour to spare, and then we were finally on our way back to Europe! Phew!
Since I was going to have to get back to the airport alone since Niki (and her international cellphone) were leaving the next day, we decided to try public transportation to get to our hotel, especially because our checkin time was 3pm. We, of course, got there at 3:10pm because we are super punctual. We actually passed a street called “Placa de la Puntual” which I took to mean as a street I could live on because I’m so on time!
Our hotel, Hotel Barcelona House was really cute (though the walls were paper thin) and located in the heart of everything. We strolled down La Rambla, which is the most central street filled with food booths and restaurants and a few theaters. (We passed La Boqueria market which was on the list of things to see, but it was closed.) Then meandered in our neighborhood, el Gotic, on our way to the Picasso Museum. We stopped by to get yummy quiches at The Pan’s Club because we were hungry. And we passed the big Cathedral and took pictures with the Barcolina sign (though some kid wouldn’t get off the O so she photobombed the frame).
The Picasso Museum was okay. It was mostly Picasso’s older works (4,250 of them) because all of his masterpieces are all over the world, but it was nice to watch his style evolve over the decades from 1890-1957. As we got into the later years, you could see his style emerging. Our favorite room were the 57 works that he was inspired by Velazquez’s Las Meninas and his esoteric ceramic works.
After the museum, we headed down to the beach section of town, La Barceloneta where we sat on a bench by the beach then had some drinks. (I had a virgin pina colada, but didn’t get caught in the rain.) Afterwards, we headed to the Parc de la Ciutadella and also saw the Arc de Triomt.
For dinner, we found a cute bar & bistro called Milk and celebrated a wonderful vacation together. I had nachos, an Asian chicken salad then a banana split for dessert to be healthy (which wasn’t like the ones here – the banana was smushed up in a glass).
DAY 10, MONDAY, MAY 26TH: BARCELONA ALONE
Since my check out wasn’t till 11:30am, I slept in! It was really nice after a vacation with so many early days to finally have one where I didn’t have to rush out. Niki had already left, so I was on my own for the next two days. I walked 18 minutes to my AirBnB, which was at this guy, Mo’s apartment. He has moved, so there were 2 rooms, and I was in the single one. It was a 3 floor walkup, with a very tiny stairwell; very old building with very thin walls, but absolutely charming and in a great neighborhood by St Antoni square.
I had such high hopes for this day, but I had no clue things were so popular and sold out! Ah, well.
After chatting with my host, I got out around 12:30pm for my day. I stopped by the lovely fountains at Catalunya, then got pictures outside Gaudi’s Casa Batllo and Casa Mila. Next I meandered over to the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia. I had actually tried to get tickets the night before on my phone, but they weren’t going through, so I figured I’d just get them in person. NOPE. Sold out. It’s the number one thing to see, and completely sold out. So, I had to get a tour. It was the only way to get in that day. Instead of paying 17 Euro, I ended up paying 40. Sigh. But it was definitely worth going in because it was tremendous! Gaudi has outdone himself, even after his death. They plan to finish the whole thing in 2026, which will be 100 years after it began.
The perk to a tour is that I found out things I would’ve missed on my own, and since I paid money for them, here they are in no particular order:
Gaudi didn’t believe in straight lines because he was inspired by nature, which is why all his designs are so curvy. When you go in, there are two turtle sculptures. The one on the right is a land turtle because it faces the land, and the one on the left is a sea turtle because it faces the sea. The original sin snake is also there swerving through a column, and when you go in there are little bugs hidden.
The church has 52 columns representing 52 weeks of the year people worship. And they are like trees because it’s supposed to represent a forest. There are names of saints from all over the world on the beautiful colored stained-glass windows. The one side is red to represent death, while the other side is filled with shades of blue for the resurrection, and both sides have darker colors on the bottom so that more light is let in at the top to fill the huge space. There is a balcony for a 1000 person choir to sing.
Gaudi never drew blueprints, he made models and drawings because he was tactile, and everything in the church is in a multiple of 7.5 meters because that length is perfet for proportions!
The interior was finished in 2010 when the Pope came to open it up, and the organ has 1492 but will eventually have 8000 all lining the entire church.
There were lots of sculptures on both sides outside to represent different bible scenes, and there was a magic square of 33 representing the age of Jesus.
Also, there was a helmet design inspired by one of Gaudi’s casas, that also inspired George Lucas as a design for the Storm Trooper helmet.
The roof inspiration is leaves from a Magnolia tree.
Gaudi was hit by a tram in 1926 and died in the hospital. People didn’t realize who he was and thought he was a homeless person because he never invested in new clothes and had a very long beard. He never married or had kids because he was very work-focused, and the crypt of the church has his tomb.
Aren’t you glad I took this tour now?
So after that, I was off to Parc Guell! Unbeknownst to me, it was a HIKE all the way up. It was inclined more and more, just as I was inclined more and more to just be there! I even had to go up escalators to get to it. Of course, when I got there the paid section was completely sold out for the day (it was already almost 5pm by this time). So both things I had wanted to see were sold out. Ugh! However, the park has a lot of grounds you can explore for free, and I got a decent look inside the actual park so I’m not so bummed about it. I explored the whole area, including the Viaducte de Dalt, the Upper Viaduct, and the Turo de les Tres Creus.
The view from all the way up at the top of Barcelona was stunning, and I took a few moments to just take it in.
At this point, it was clear to me that I was not going to be doing anything else that was on my list for the day. I had planned to possibly get to the Monestir de Pedralbes, but it was nowhere close to where I was, and with all the hills would’ve been a trek. I had already crossed that out, but I was hoping to subway down to the area with The Magic Fountain, Poble Espanyol where the Olympics were hailed and Montjuic – the Jewish Mountain. Sadly, this was not to be when I looked at the time.
Instead, I subwayed back to Catalunya so I could be on time for the opera. I ate dinner at the cute Santa Anna Restaurant which was on the way. I had a veal burger and fries. I was seeing Philip Glass’s “Einstein on the Beach” at 8pm at the beautifully gorgeous Palau de la Musica Catalana. I have never seen such an amazing music concert hall (go see my pictures!). There were stained glass windows and the natural light lit the space till it got dark. And the whole outside and interior were just wow. That’s really all I can articulate about it.
For those of you who don’t know, “Einstein on the Beach” is 3.5 hours long with intermission. Its music is minimalistic and quite repetitious, which makes it very meditative and hypnotic. A lot of people in the balcony left before the end, so I ended up moving up and up till I was almost in the front mezzanine. Audience members are just as rude in Barcelona as America, especially millennials on their phones. But the closer I got to the stage, the less rude the audience was. I feel like it’s a classical fans right of passage to sit through the entire thing, and I was really happy to finally see a production. I was tearing up in the last section, and the audience who remained gave the concert a much deserved very lengthy standing ovation! The narration was done by Suzanne Vega who according to google is “best known for her eclectic folk-inspired music”. Regardless, she was very good, as was the choir. They had 2 conductors and 2 pianists who rotated, sometimes all being there together so that they didn’t have to take an intermission. It was all seamless and just fantastic.
Anyway, I didn’t get out till close to midnight, and I can assure you that La Rambla is much like Times Square = much nicer around midnight.
DAY 11, TUESDAY, MAY 27TH: GIRONA & FIGUERES (HELLO, DALI!), SPAIN
On my final day, I had a day trip to Girona where they filmed a bunch of Game of Thrones and Figueres to go to the Dail Theater Museum. It left at 8:30am, and the first stop was Girona.
In Girona we had a tour guide take us around for an hour. The tour took a little longer because we had some people who couldn’t walk very fast, and so afterwards, I had to run like crazy to get to the other Game of Thrones spots that the guide nicely pointed out on my map.
I managed to get to all of the outside spots to see including the stairs in the Jewish Quarter (where Arya begged), the steps of Girona Cathedral (where Margaery did her walk of atonement and Jamie rides a horse up the stairs), Placa dels Jurats (where Arya watches a play), and Sant Domenec stairs (where Arya was chased). (I missed the Arab Baths, and I apologize to all GOT fans for this, but I ran out of time.)
After this, I spent 20 minutes at the Jewish History museum as Girona was filled with Jews in Medieval Times – indeed it was considered the center of Jewish wisdom – before the Inquisition in the 1400s (there was a sign about that but I had to leave the room because I couldn’t stop singing the Inquisition song from “History of the World, Part 1”). Indeed Jewish people lived in Girona as early as the 4th century and by the 9th it was burgeoning. The museum has the oldest collection of Jewish gravestones, and an old mikvah bath.
On the way back to the bus, I had a yummy homemade croissant filled with chocolate, and then grabbed a quick chicken sandwich to eat on the bus.
An hour later, we were in Figueres to go the incredible Dali Theater Museum, which was worth the entire trip to Spain just to see! Wow. Salvador Dali is a twisted genius, and the whole place is exquisite. I ended up taking over 130 photos of just the exhibit! For the first hour, our guide, Gemma, showed us some of the mysteries hiding in the first view rooms. Dali believed in the audience using their imagination so there are no plaques explaining anything. Also, he intended people to meander and get lost, but thankfully they had an order to the rooms so people could avoid missing anything.
There were so many amazing paintings and works of art.
When you come in there’s a big car with an umbrella on top of a poll, and then it actually rains in the car (which is why it’s apparently called the Rainy Cadillac), and I totally wouldn’t have noticed if Gemma hadn’t pointed it out. And there was a painting that when you blurred your eyes looked like Abraham Lincoln. Another one of a toreador had him and the bull hidden unless you looked for them. Oh, and there was a painting of a Happy Horse, but you also had to search for where it was.
One of the best rooms was the Mae West apartment where items from an apartment were arranged such that when you looked down from above (after waiting on a long queue because the museum was incredibly crowded – good thing I came on a tour that already bought the tickets b/c if I had come all the way to find it was sold out, that would’ve been quite a travesty) turned out to BE Mae West’s face! (Go see my photos!)
Dali was in love with Gala, and she shows up in a lot of paintings throughout the museum; also, there were a bunch of self-portraits and you could see he viewed himself as a misfit or even a monster, so he probably had low self-esteem that he worked out with his art.
There were a lot of optical illusions, and the temporary exhibit which they also got us tickets for was his unique jewelry.
Finally, Dali is buried in the center of this museum, which means I saw 2 tombs of artists this trip.
Before we got on the bus, I walked around La Rambla (every Spanish city has one) and got some fast pizza, which the woman over burnt. Then, I read my book on the 2 hour bus ride back to Barcelona.
When I got back, I ran over to the Palau de la Musica Catalana because I knew they had a string quartet performing that night. I hadn’t gotten tickets because I was afraid my tour would get back late (it actually got back 10 minutes early), but I was happy to get back in time. However, of course, given the theme of the Barcelona portion of the trip, the concert was sold out. And apparently it was a gala or something because police had roped off the whole area. Given that the balcony for the opera was half empty, I had wrongly assumed I could get a last minute ticket. Ah, well.
Instead, I had the great idea that I should walk over to the section of town by the Jewish Mountain I hadn’t had time for on Monday! On the way, I got gelato (duh) by the Cathedral. Three scoops (pistachio, mango, chocolate) with a chocolate cone because I had some cash left. #noregrets
And, of course, I was walking past the Basilica Santa Maria when I realized that they had a flamenco guitar concert at 9pm! I had seen the sign for their concerts on Thursday, but had forgot. I talked to the woman handing out fliers and she said this guy, Pedro Javier Gonzalez was absolutely remarkable. (He was, and he’s apparently famous, too, because has a wikipedia page.) I took her word for it, and got a 16 Euro ticket.
Then I had an hour to kill, so I ended up walking in a mall, the Galeries Malda, which was the dorkiest mall I’ve ever seen! There was Disney store and anime stores and a Game of Thrones store and a Harry Potter store and a Star Wars store… and then just outside there was the Barcelona Duck Store filled with different special rubber duckies! I obviously couldn’t resist and got my new niece a flamenco dancer duckie!
The concert, as I said, was remarkable, and the perfect way to end my adventure in Barcelona.
I’m going to lump the travel day into day 11 because it doesn’t deserve its own heading. First off, I took the airport bus to the airport, which was more efficient (though 2 Euro more) than the subway. It’s the weirdest thing. They have two different buses, A1 and A2, and they each go to separate terminals, unlike everywhere else that has one airport bus that stops in all of them? It makes zero sense, but I had to get on A1, not A2. Shrug. They both come every 5-10 minutes anyway. The bus actually went by the area that I had missed, so I got a brief glimpse of it, though the pictures didn’t really come out because I got my camera out passed where I could actually see Mountjuic. Ah, well, at least I can say I saw it.
My flight from Barcelona to Atlanta was 4 hours delayed, but I hadn’t been informed so I just did crosswords in the airport for hours when I could’ve slept in. Then, I missed my connecting flight, so I had to take a 9:30pm flight back to NYC. Welcome to flying on the cheap, but 23 hours after leaving for the airport, I was finally home, and Emi and Smee were very happy I made it in one piece.
Speaking of Smee, he was pretty mad at me the first 24 hours, but now he’s back to normal and napping on the fridge as I finish this up. (He was keeping me company for most of the 5 hours it took to write this.)
Here’s what I’ve read since the last update:
Sondheim on Music – This book has interviews with Steve about his composing process, and it’s just incredible.
Brooklyn – This book is even better than the movie they made from it! I’m glad I waited a few years to read it so I could forget a little of the plot.
Small Admissions – Cute comic novel about the crazy world of prep school admissions, fast read.
The Passage – Since I spent so much time watching Star Trek: Discovery I haven’t finished the 850 page first part of this trilogy yet, but I’m close, and it’s (duh) even better than the TV series adaptation (that sadly got canceled).
Here’s what I watched on the plane rides:
Ralph Wrecks the Internet – The first one was better, but this one had some fun moments and characters.
The Hate U Give – This movie was fantastic.
The Perfect Bid – This documentary about this guy who knows the prices of everything on The Price is Right and kept helping people from the audience is exquisite.
On the Basis of Sex – Felicity Jones is amazing; the last few minutes made me tear up!
Bohemian Rhapsody – Rami Malek deserved his Oscar win for this movie. Though it was a little paint-by-the-numbers in terms of plot, and a tad long, Queen is iconic and it was an enjoyable watch.
Movies I saw in the theatre since the last ledger:
Shazam – This movie was so funny! Why can’t all the comic book movies be this funny?
Avengers Endgame – So long (and we said “so long!” but it hit all the moments it needed to hit. I haven’t seen all 22 (?) movies of the series, so I didn’t know all of the tertiary characters, but I have seen most of them. The biggest thing that happened during this movie is I came out and found out I was an uncle again! (As it were, my new niece was born during previews, so I didn’t find out till more than 3 hours after the fact… oops!)
I’ll tell you, there are fewer and fewer shows I watch on the 4 main networks every year. If it weren’t for Jeopardy and the CW, I would consider getting rid of cable. Maybe one day, as FiOS keeps raising its rates on me. I am getting closer every day to cutting it out! Indeed, there are so few summer series this year that I will probably focus on catching up on streaming.
Netflix queue for summer: Jessica Jones season 3, Black Mirror season 5, On My Block season 2, GLOW season 3, Orange is the New Black season 7, Daredevil season 3, then new shows: Dark Crystal prequel, After Life, The Umbrella Academy, The Society, Dead to Me, Derry Girls, Tuca & Bertie and The Haunting of Hill House. Amazon queue: The Tick and Good Omens. Hulu: Handmaid’s Tale season 3 and Veronica Mars, season 4. HBO: I need to catch up on Barry season 2 and then I’m looking forward to Big Little Lies season 2, and I want to watch the new show, Euphoria.
Can I manage to catch up on all these while still watching everything on the CW (and clear my DVR from being gone for the last 2 weeks)?!!?? Ask me in a few months!
Here’s what I have seen since the last ledger:
The Light – wonderful off-bway play. Just wonderful. (And there was an actor from “The Passage”!)
King Lear – Glenda Jackson was incredible, but the rest of the production was hit-or-miss.
Oklahoma – Honestly, I preferred the last revival, but Mary Testa is wonderful, as always.
The Enigmatist – Really fun combination puzzle/magic show at the Highline Hotel.
Broadway by the Year, 1943/1951 – great concert at Town Hall.
The Cradle Will Rock – Off-Broadway revival of this old classic.
Do You Feel Anger? – This was the best play I’ve seen all year, period, off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre.
Tootsie – Really funny Broadway musical based on the movie!
My Fair Lady – Laura Benanti was tremendous in this strong revival.
Gary – Nathan Lane was good, but this play wasn’t that good.
What the Constitution Means to Me – This was another wonderful Broadway play, definitely deserves its Tony nomination.
Perp – Went to support The Barrow Group and saw their production of this new play.
Hadestown – Broadway musical with an incredible cast.
Ink – Not my favorite topic for a play (it’s about Rupert Murdoch) but Act 2 was riveting
Sincerely Oscar – Off-Bway revue of Oscar Hammerstein’s songs that Meghan and I will never forget..
Lady in the Dark – This was such a great concert of this Kurt Weill show that is never done. Truly magnificent to see.
The Big Bang Theory: a Parody Musical – Got to see Teresa’s Off-Broadway debut as Amy in this parody musical of the now done show.
Burn This – This was a great revival of a great play. I have always loved Keri Russell, and she didn’t disappoint.
Octet – Loved this off-Broadway musical oratorio about the times we live in.
Timon of Athens – I had never seen this Shakespeare (half Shakespeare?) play so I was happy the Fools & Kings Project brought it to Central Park!
BLKS – Off-Broadway play that had some really funny lines (and Star Trek/Curb Your Enthusiasm references)
Coming up: All My Sons, Happy Talk and To Kill a Mockingbird
Well, there you have it. I’m caught up just in time for summer!
I hope YOU have a most amazing summer. To Smee’s chagrin, I am planning on going on at least 2 more trips. My friend, Jen and I are going to New Hampshire (it’s the one state on my Been app I’ve checked off without really having done much more than driving through it) and Montreal (which I’ve never been to). And then, I’m visiting my friends, Helena and Alex, in August in Strasbourg, France, and we’re going to take a road trip to Switzerland (also hoping to stop by Lichtenstein then do Luxembourg and Belgium before going home).
Oh, that reminds me. I’m now up to 24 countries that I’ve visited, including one full third of Europe! Woohoo! Eventually I will compile all these trip ledgers into 2 books: “Seth Reviews the States!” and “Seth Reviews the World!”
So, there you have it. If I haven’t heard from you in awhile, please send me an email to let me know what you have been up to.
August 28th, 2019 — That time I felt the Bern… the one in Switzerland!
Happy last week of summer! I just returned from my third summer vacation, and I’m all vacationed-out! Don’t forget to check out the FB album to get visuals of the trip! (Only 900 photos this time – I tried to be discerning.)
AS THE SUMMER ENDS
Before I get into the latest vacation, I will recap the summer for y’all:
1. I put up some great comedy videos: my dance reel, my standup debut at Gotham Comedy Club, and The Muppet Green Acres on my YouTube channel/ (http://youtube.com/everydayalittleseth)
2. I produced a 13 episode first season of my new podcast, Millennials are Ruining the World? an Xennial perspective. (http://www.sethbh.com/podcast)
3. I started a new Instagram story series “Songs with Seth!” that you can view in my Instagram highlights and on my Facebook music page. (@sethbhdotcom)
4. I took a great animation voiceover class and hope to do a real reel soon!
5. I produced 13 showcases, including a well-reviewed Jerry Herman showcase! (https://www.struckchris.com/the-new-blog/2019/seth-bisen-hersh)
6. I took 3 epic trips! (Read on, MacDuff!)
Besides the regular weekly showcases, and a special William Finn cabaret evening on 9/10, I’m taking Improv 401, the final of the 4 levels of improv at UCB with class shows Sundays October 20th and November 17th at 1:30PM. I am also doing standup again on Saturday, September 14th at Greenwich Comedy Club at 6pm and Thursday, September 19th at 8pm at the Broadway Comedy Club. If you’d like to attend any of those, message me for details!
Then, in November, we are reviving Love Quirks (http://www.lovequirks.com) to do an industry reading with the hope of raising the money to finally move the show Off-Broadway in 2020. I have been depressed about the show not being off-Broadway for so many years at this point, and I just realized that no one else was going to put in the time and effort to produce the show besides me. If you know anyone who is interested in investing in theatre, please let me know, and I will put them on the invitation list for the reading!
The original song cycle version premiered in 2010. Ten years later, it is time to stop waiting on other people, and to take the musical where it belongs. And now that I put it in a ledger, I have to do it! #accountability
NEW HAMPSHIRE + MONTREAL
Before I get into my most recent trip, I would be remiss in not briefly recapping my July trip with my pal, Jen. We went to the White Mountains of New Hampshire for a few days before spending a lovely weekend in Montreal.
In NH, we stayed at a charming B&B in Campton. Thursday, July 4th we went to the Lost River Gorge and Boulder Caves, tubing (where I got a hole in my sneaker), to Plymouth for dinner and ice cream, then Center Harbor for a concert and fireworks. Friday, July 5th, we went to the Flume Gorge then Franconia Notch State Park where we took a tram up a mountain for a great view of Canada (where we’d soon be!), then we went to the Ben & Jerry’s Factory (yum!) in Waterbury, VT on our way to Montreal.
We had a bit of AirBnB drama in Montreal, which is the basis for my new standup act, which I won’t spoil here to entice you to come. Other than that, Montreal was a wonderful city! Four free festivals were going on, so we saw at least one thing in each: world, circus, jazz and fireworks festivals. We walked around a lot, seeing the touristy areas (Notre-Dame basilica, Rue de Saint-Paul, Jacques-Cartier Place), the Old Port, Chinatown, the Gay Village and the mural district. We took a ferry to Parc Jean-Drapeau and saw the environment museum. We went to a free Barbie exhibit in the mall, to the Museum of Finel Arts and climbed up Mont Royal for a wonderful view, and also some Tam-Tam (drummer circles). Food-wise we had poutine, wonderful deli food at the Main Deli and Montreal bagels, which are completely different than New York ones.
All in all, a very fun packed weekend in a charming city, and there are pictures on the Facebook!
DAY 1, FRIDAY, AUGUST 16TH
I’m calling Friday day 1, and excising the travel days from the trip summary. Both were long commutes, but I made it there and I made it back. I am actually still arguing with FlixBus since I missed my bus from Frankfurt Airport to Strasbourg by 2 minutes – and it was the only bus the entire vacation that left on time! They are making me snail mail to Berlin an oath of testimony that I didn’t use the ticket, even though they should have a system in place to prove that. Sigh. Anyway, I only ended up arriving in Strasbourg 2 hours late and 32 Euros poorer, so it’s not the end of the world, I suppose. Apparently, FlixBus does have a policy where you can use the bus ticket for 24 hours if there’s a delayed flight, but the bus driver didn’t know about it, and you apparently have to call the number to make that happen; something I couldn’t do without an international phone plan.
Anyway, enough about day zero, I should probably start by why I went on this trip before I get into the details, right? My friends, Helena & Alex, sick of this country, moved to France for a few years where Alex is teaching English and Helena is photographing family and child portraits (and also weddings now!). Unlike most people, when I say I’m going to visit someone, I actually visit. So, I had a hole for my August trip this year, and we made it so. Hanging out with Helena & Alex, I mostly became the arbiter to their marital spats (of which there are many). They are very opposite personalities, and they actually represent the two archetypes of people I hang out with, so it was actually about 50-50 with whom I aligned. It was like being the swing voter, aka the one with the most power in decisions! All in all, it worked out really well to see them for a few days, take a few days off, see them again, then finish the vacation alone, and it allowed me a home base to leave my larger bag for the middle portion of the trip.
Thursday night, I was so tired that I went to bed super early after arriving in Strasbourg, as Friday morning we had an 8:30am bus to Basel, Switzerland to optimize the day. This was the first of 7 bus rides for me, and the only one where I didn’t watch Netflix on my iPad since I had company.
Basel is a cute city, but the only thing special about it is the Rhine River running through it. We walked around town leisurely, and had lunch at 1777, which was a restaurant that was recommended by some vegan blog Helena reads. The prices in Switzerland were astronomical, so I just got the cheapest burger on the menu for $17 (even more than 5 Napkin burger). We went into the main church (every city I visited had at least one really big church, of which I’m obviously not much of a fan, but I went into them anyway). We walked a little bit in the Rhine since the alternative would’ve been to climb back up many stairs. We sat in a park for a bit. We went passed a restaurant called Hirschenneck, and I took a cute picture pointing to my neck.
Then, we headed for our 6pm train to Zurich, which was surprisingly a very cheap train ride given how pricey everything in that country is. Oh, and I had a yummy chocolate + pretzel type thing at the station.
We got to our AirBnB, which was located in a super hip neighborhood in Zurich. Zurich is a very fun city; things are open very late, and there are people about till the early hours. Indeed, when I was walking to my bus Sunday morning at 8, it was completely deserted and that’s how I know it’s my kind of place! This AirBnB was fairly affordable and very centrally located, so obviously the room was minuscule, which led to some sleep issues, but thankfully my next 2 were amazing.
To conclude Friday night, we went out in search of dinner, but everything was so expensive, and we had already eaten a pricey lunch, so we ended up getting the cheapest food we could find: Helena at the grocery store, Alex at an Indian restaurant with an inexpensive take-away, and I got a gyro with fries and a drink special. (I got an iced tea and saved it for the next day to wake myself up with caffeine.)
Due to exhaustion, we made it an early night so we could get up early for our hike.
DAY 2, SATURDAY, AUGUST 17TH
We woke up around 9, and headed back to the train station to go to Arth-Goldau, which was the start of a hike on the Rigi Mountain. I had googled it, and the webpage had said prices from 10 Euro, so we thought it would be a 20 Euro round-trip. However, when they said “from 10 Euro” that meant that 10 was the discount price for seniors/kids, etc, so oops, the trip was twice that much! Incidentally, there was a Chinese kid on the train reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and it was so short given that Chinese characters encompass so many words! Anyway, when we got to the Rigi Bahn (train to go up the mountain), we were absolutely appalled by the price. It was going to be like $64 for a roundtrip and that was only because we had unexpired student IDs. I think without it was $128! What?! So, we talked through the options, and decided, of course, we could just hike down for 4 hours – what else had we come for? That halved the price. Then, we managed to halve the price again by going up only most of the way to the top, figuring we could just hike up to the tip-top then back down.
However, when we saw that they weren’t checking tickets once we got on the train, (indeed, so much of Europe is honor-based ticketing, which is the stupidest thing ever and would never fly in NYC) Alex was out-voted, and we decided to just ride a few more stops to the top so we only had to climb downwards. Thankfully, when we got to the top, we ran off the train excitedly to see the view of the Alps, and then Helena waved us further and further down because they had people checking the tickets when you got off the train! If we hadn’t ran off so quickly, we might’ve had to pay a steep fine! Oops!
The view was breath-taking, and that reminds me to open up a new email to send highlight photos to those of you not on the Facebook because you must see how amazing it was. We went up to the top, top, top, took some pictures and just enjoyed the view. Alex hadn’t eaten breakfast (I always have granola bars for that purpose and Helena got some while we spent time figuring out the train fares), so we stopped at the restaurant in the hotel where you can actually stay for probably a lot of money. Helena and I split a crisp apple strudel (it is one of Maria’s favorite things, after all, and we were in the alive hills of the Alps!). It was really good.
Then, we began what turned out to be an almost 5-hour downhill hike to the train station in Inversee. We lingered a bit at the last spot of the view, and watched a live polka band playing at some event on an inn a little further down the mountain, as well. The hike was enough nature for me for the next 12 months. My knees were absolutely killing me by the end of the steep decline from the tip-tip top of a mountain to the bottom. In fact, they are throbbing right now just thinking about it. OUCH! There were some really nice trees along the way, and some butterflies and weird bugs and ants and then cows and sheep. We had a really good view of the Lake Lucerne, and took some wonderful pictures.
By the time we got down, we were ready to get back to Zurich, but oops, there were no trains from Inversee to Zurich on a Saturday night. That’s what we get for not planning! We took the first train that came, thinking we could just get off at the first stop that did have a train back to Zurich, but it turned out the train was to Lucerne, which is supposed to be beautiful. It had fallen off the itinerary because Alex and Helena had already been and only had the time to spend the weekend with me in Switzerland. However, I reasoned that we might as well spend 28 minutes going to Lucerne because there was no way we could find a train to Zurich before that anyway, plus then I could see Lucerne. Since we hadn’t actually bought tickets, we were a little on edge, but of course, no one had checked on the way to Arth-Goldau and no one checked on the last leg of this train to Lucerne.
Lucerne was indeed beautiful. There was a covered bridge with lots of flowers, and the old town kind of reminded me of Salzburg. We hung out by the river, and ended up having incredibly expensive cheese fondue. We actually split one portion 3 ways, and it was still $12 each! And they don’t give you free water in Switzerland (or Italy or Belgium) even though there are free water fountains everywhere to fill your water bottle. It’s very strange. Anyway, I think it’s good we had some Swiss cheese fondue where it is known to be good. And then, we walked and saw the Lion Garden where there is a lion etched in stone as a memorial for something or other.
Next, we got on a train to Zurich. We bought the tickets, even though they did not check again! What a waste of money! And that train had a kid’s car just for families, so the rest of the cars didn’t have to be bothered by them. So sweet!
In Zurich, we walked around the Old Town, where since it was now night my pictures didn’t come out that great. Ah, well. It was certainly not as nice as Lucerne. There was a super amount of late night activity from string quartets to a roller skating show, but Helena was hungry, so we finally found a restaurant that was decently priced. However, I wasn’t that hungry, so I just got a $5 ice cream bar (chocolate-banana) to tide me over till I was in a cheaper country.
DAY 3, SUNDAY, AUGUST 18TH
Sunday morning I woke up bright and early to take a 4 hour bus ride to Milan. Once there I took the Metro to my amazing AirBnB in the Navigli Canal district — the host not only had 2 bunnies and a cat (who was afraid of men so I didn’t really hang out with her), but she had a Kermit doll, so I knew we would be BFF. Speaking of the Metro, in Milan, you actually pay for it and have to swipe it in unlike Strasbourg (where I just kept riding for free), and the letters for the Metro were ATM, so I kept trying to take money out while on them! Also, there was a camera watching you while you rode, which was very Big Brother…
Regardless, I dropped off my stuff at my amazing place where I even had a private bathroom (and air conditioning!), and headed out to the Duomo Square for my 3pm walking tour, after arriving in town at 12:15pm, thankfully 15 minutes earlier than expected! Actually, this was the only bus I had that was not late, and it was a relief because it was the only time I was in a hurry to get to something.
I overpaid ($75) for this 3 hour walking tour, but it was the only way for me to see Leonardo daVinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper. I mean, can you really go to Milan and not see it? I mean, you can, but I personally wouldn’t suggest skipping the major thing you’re supposed to see. The actual ticket for the painting is 10 Euro, but my tour also included a Duomo ticket, which I think was also 10 Euro (though we got to skip the line at least), so I really only over paid by $45 or so. The guide was very knowledgeable, however, so I feel like I could’ve gotten my money’s worth had I: 1. Cared anything about religion since most of the stops were religious. 2. Been able to focus given how exhausted and starving I was (I didn’t have time to stop for food, so I was subsisting off granola bars till the tour ended). Ah, well.
The Duomo is just another huge cathedral with lots of Jesus-y things plus a huge organ (insert your own innuendo if you desire). The ceiling was actually painted on, even though it gave an optical illusion like it was real. I feel like the guide said a lot of other interesting things, but I didn’t write them down, so I guess you’ll have to take your own tour one day.
We went through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle and saw the original Prada store, and the spot on the Turin coat of arms where you’re supposed to turn 3 times on your heel on the bull for good luck. I did it, though it took a few times, and I couldn’t figure out how to selfie it. (If you don’t take a picture of something, did it happen?)
We passed through the square with the Leonardo daVinci statue and La Scala Opera House where the last production was apparently Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” directed by Woody Allen. How I wish I had gone to Milan in July instead of August! Ah, well.
We continued through Castle Sforza where I saw signs for an orchestra concert that night (!) and then we continued passed the Cadorna subway station (where I found cheapish magnets and postcards, though not as cheap as I’d see in Belgium) to go to the Santa Maria delle Grazie church to see The Last Supper! Woohoo! So, you get exactly 15 minutes to see it, and it’s a hermetically sealed room, so you keep going through various doors that won’t open till the one behind you closes. The 15 minutes you are in the room are epic. The painting shimmers with brilliance, and everyone struggles to both take as many photos as possible and to just seep it in.
The guide told us many things about it, and I didn’t really retain much because the tour was running over thirty minutes late, and I was so starving. Basically, there are a lot of things hidden in the painting, and the landscape in the back is of Milan, not Israel because daVinci had never been there. It was a very intricate and detailed, literal work of art that miraculously wasn’t bombed in WW2 even though almost the whole rest of the church was destroyed. It has to be painstakingly refurbished every few years. Basically, he froze the climax of the drama and foreshadows something that happens in Jesus Christ Superstar where Jesus is declaring someone betrayed him, and even of the apostles is frozen in that moment where they are processing this accusation. There is also eel and fruit on the table, and daVinci signed the painting with a knot, instead of his signature because Vinci in Italian makes a knot pun (vincolo means to tie). Anyway, I’m sure if you really cared, you could google more facts like this.
After the tour I recreated our steps to get gelato at Chocolat – and it was the best (and cheapest) gelato I have ever had. I had orange chocolate, mango & some concoction with a vanilla base that had live fruit. IT WAS SO GOOD, and thankfully the chocolate came out of my shorts in the wash. (I don’t think it’s possible for me to eat gelato or ice cream without getting some on me!) Then, I got my magnet and postcards, and headed back to the Duomo area (passing Puccini Street!) because there was literally no other neighborhood open in August (besides the Navigli which I’d go to Monday) since most things are closed besides the touristy neighborhoods. I had been price checking on the tour, and I went to the restaurant with the cheapest Veal Milanese (what else are you going to eat in Milan?!), and I allowed myself to spend 27 Euro on it for the experience (I actually found some for only 22 the next night – oops!). It was really ridiculously delicious, though, so no regrets!
After dinner, I went back to Castle Sforza for the orchestra concert. I had assumed it would be free (nope, it’s not NYC), but it was only 15 Euro, and it was well-worth it! No offense to NYC orchestras, but wow. It was by far the best orchestra concert I’ve ever been to – I think it was a larger orchestra than we have here because the sound was super full and exquisite. The Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano directed by Enrico Fagone played 4 pieces, of which I knew 2 very well: a suite from Bizet’s “Carmen”, Manuel De Falla’s “El sombrero de tres picos”, Arturo Márquez’s Danzón n.2 and the a medley from Bernstein’s “West Side Story”. It was the perfect end to a wonderful first day in Milan.
DAY 4, MONDAY, AUGUST 19TH
I let myself sleep till 11am on Monday because so many things in Milan are closed, plus I was exhausted. I still needed the alarm to get up, though! My first stop of the day was to have pizza for breakfast at Pausa (your Italian break) for only 8 Euro. What a great way to start the day?! I also went to the grocery store and got some Italian gummies and pasta to take home. Next I continued on through the Duomo Square to my first stop: La Scala Theatre Museum. Included in the price of admission is a look at the opera house itself. I marveled at the beauty from an opera box and took a lot of pictures. The museum itself was okay. There were some cute busts of Puccini and Rossini, and I learned about the opera house’s history. It was originally built in 1778, and had to be recreated after it was bombed in 1943, though they got it back up within 3 years. Before it was moved to this spot, there was an original opera house in Ducale that was burned 3 times before they were like – maybe this is not the best spot to put the opera house. Besides opera, the theatre has been used for horse tournaments, carnivals and balls.
Next stop was the Royal Palace where there were 3 free exhibits. Thankfully, none of them let me take pictures, so I could actually live in the moment. The first one was an artist called Nespolo. His exhibit Fuori dal coro was modern and colorful. My favorite painting being Nudo con Gatto which had a cat and another one had a cartoon yoyo. The next exhibit was Guido Pajetta: Miti e figure tra forma e colore. This one was very modern arty. Finally, I went to Nanda Vigo’s light project. She’s apparently moderately famous for playing with lights, and it was very well lit. (Or as millennials say: how it was lit was lit af!) Also the neon lights kind of reminded me of act 2 of Sunday in the Park with George…
Then, I started walking to my next stop the Shoah Memorial, and of course, I got more gelato on the way (pistachio, oreo and stracciatella (vanilla with tiny chocolate chips)). Sadly, I walked for almost 45 minutes, and it turned out that the memorial was closed for August! Sigh. So, then I headed another 40 minutes walking to my next destination the Monumental Cemetery only to find out that it was closed Mondays! It hadn’t occurred to me that a cemetery wouldn’t just be open every day till sunset. I got a little of a peak inside, but it was a double fail for me. I sat on a bench outside of the burial grounds to just rest my poor, poor feet, which were still recovering from the hike down the Rigi Mountain. And I worked on my animated character voices! (I also did this a lot while walking in Milan this day.)
Fortunately, my next stop Sempione Park was open. It was a smaller version of Central Park, and I sat on a bench and read a bit by some live music where some old people were dancing to things like the polka. (Okay, maybe it wasn’t the polka.) After that, I briefly stopped by the Basilica di Sant Ambrogio and Colonne di San Lorenzo which were both conveniently on my way to the Navigli Canal area where I had a three course meal for only 15 Euro: the most delicious lasagna bolognese I’ve ever had, eggplant parmesan with roasted potatoes. YUM! Sadly, the restaurant didn’t have WiFi (or free water) so I got stir crazy waiting on the slow service (not to mention the smoking going on all around me) and ended up going to the bar to pay so I could get back home and get rest before my travel day in the morning.
Overall, I liked Milan a lot. I love Italy. The prices were so much nicer than Switzerland! I found the curvy streets annoying – I prefer grid cities like Zurich, but mostly you could just stay straight even if the street name changed 5 times, if you knew the direction you wanted to go, you’d generally get there.
DAY 5, TUESDAY, AUGUST 20TH
What a relief that my bus this day wasn’t till 11:45am! Even so, I still didn’t wake up before my alarm. I took the Metro back to the bus station, and then I had almost 7 hours on the bus (it was only supposed to be 5.75). At least there was a really nice view on the road from Milan to Bern (the capital of Switzerland). When I got to Bern, it was POURING. I had printed Google Maps directions, but I decided to try just using the app without wifi/cell service. For the most part, if you got off the path, as long as you got back onto it, the phone would realize it. Everything in my bag got soaked, including my passport. Sigh. I stopped for a quick gyro because it was relatively cheap for the country and I was starving. I was dismayed that Google failed to mention how many stairs I would have to climb at the end to get to where I was staying.
Anyway, this AirBnB takes the cake! The last one in Milan was nice, but these hosts (a married couple) were so super nice. And they gave me a free transit pass (not that anyone ever checked on these trams either). And they had a sweet cat, and they gave me hot apple cider, and a map, and breakfast in the morning, and the room was super nice and had its own sink and a writing desk so I could write my postcards, etc. Just a wonderful experience. The only problem was there was a church near by which chimed every hour from 6am – 10pm. However, I was so tired that it didn’t actually wake me, also thanks to my heavy-duty ear plugs and rain noise app.
They talked me into going back out in the rain to get ice cream (chocolate sorbet & pineapple) and then I took the tram 6 minutes to the center of town. I walked around in the rain a bit, which was okay because it is all mostly covered over. And I was able to see where everything I wanted to do the next day was because heaven forbid I enjoy the view or the night without planning the next day completely.
DAY 6, WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 21ST
I woke myself up at 10am so I could actually have time in the city before my 5:45pm bus. Sadly, this was a day where I had to carry my backpack with me all day. The host said I could leave it there, however, then I would’ve had to trek back to the place instead of going straight to the bus station, so I sucked it up.
I walked around Old Town again, this time without the dark and the rain, so my pictures came out much better. I got some of the clock tower, Zytglogge, and of the full-sized chess set. (I really wanted to play, but I was on a tight schedule and when I came back later, it was very crowded.) My first stop was Albert Einstein’s apartment, where he lived when he was working on the Theory of Relativity around 1909! It was pretty much like all the apartments of famous people I’ve been to (Mozart, Freud, Ibsen) with some actual artifacts and then a recreation of their living space. There was also a 20 minute video on Einstein’s life which was like the cliff-notes version of watching the Genius TV show about it.
After that, I went briefly to the Münster Church, yet another really large church. Then I took some pictures of the gorgeous Aare River, and I crossed the bridge to go to the Einstein Museum, which was part of the Bern Historical Museum. This was a far more comprehensive exhibit, and I truly enjoyed it. Mixed with Einstein’s life were displays on history, and on the Jews’ experience in WW2, which I already knew pretty well. Also, there were some science demos where they explained all of his theorems in simple terms. They also had a huge collection of things Einstein owned, and letters he wrote, and some original Time magazines with him on the cover. I learned that Einstein and I had many things in common besides being geniuses who are secularly Jewish – we both also played instruments (him the violin), have flat feet and are mostly teetotalers.
After I finished the exhibit, I did a cursory run through the rest of the museum seeing some Polynesian art, displays of Bern over the years, some religious sculptures, and a man on the moon room where I got to don an astronaut’s attire.
Next, I walked on the other side of the Aare, fairly close to the edge on my way to the Bear Pit. It was super crowded, and I had thought there would be a lot more bears, but it was actually only 2. It was bear-able, though! Afterwards, I walked up a steep incline to the Rose Garden, which as you’ve surmised, was a garden of roses. One of them was a polyantharose, which was labeled “scentimental” which I’m not sure if that was an actual name or a cute pun? There was also a very nice view of the entire city, so I took a bunch of photos. Since I had a tram pass, I hopped the tram to go back to the center of town. Once there, I walked around a bit more, found the theatre, and also ate a crepe for $6.50, which while overpriced at least allowed me $4.50 left over in Swedish francs for… you guessed it: gelato! (Cherry something, and I actually can’t remember what the second one was… sorry!)
I watched some old people playing chess, then went to the Aare view again until it was time to get on the tram to the bus station… where I ended up waiting over an hour since I went so early and my bus was 45 minutes late! OY!
I bussed back to Strasbourg, took the subway back to Helena/Alex’s without paying (I’m a criminal, but they really shouldn’t trust you!). It was there that I gave Alex my Time magazine, which I had finished because when I asked if he wanted it, he said, “yes, please… what a great way to pass the Time!” And I must give Alex props for that pun, as it was truly timely.
DAY 7, THURSDAY, AUGUST 22ND
Thursday was a lovely day. I slept till 11:30, when Helena woke me up because she was getting impatient to start the day. Our first stop was Lidl, the cheap grocery store where we picked up breakfast and lunch for under 5 Euro! Indeed it was only 29 cents per croissant, so I got enough to have one each day for breakfast through the end of my trip.
We stopped by the Ancient Synagogue site where the Strasbourg Synagogue had been before the Nazis burned it down in 1940. And we went to the little Magic Shop, which was a Harry Potter store, and Helena bought HP cards, Clue and some notebooks. Next up, we walked through the downtown/old town area, and of course, saw yet another big church. In that one, there’s a clock that strikes every 15 minutes, and has a little figure come out and strike the bell (it was fairly striking). After we finished that neighborhood, we stopped for lunch by a palace museum, overlooking the river. Next we went over to Petite France, and took lots of pictures!
We sat in a park and played the card game, Palace, which I hadn’t known. I WON, which is my favorite thing to do. Then, we went through and over a covered bridge, which was not the one called the covered bridge. And we had dinner by the water, yummy spätzel, which is a combination of pasta and gnocchi. Very yummy! And I had a chocolate/banana muffin cake for dessert there, as well. Plus, it was France, so we had free water! Phew!
We made it an early night, and went home and played Harry Potter Clue in French… and I won! Then, we played Rummicube, and since they don’t play with the correct rules, and Alex managed to get 2 jokers, he ended up beating me, which is virtually unprecedented, but what can you do?
DAY 8, FRIDAY, AUGUST 23RD
Friday I had to wake up at 7am for an 8am bus to Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. Since there is no good way to get from Strasbourg to Brussels, it actually made logical sense to stop by this charming little country. It was more time efficient, cheaper, plus I got to check it off my app! Win-win-win. The only lose part is I had both of my bags all day, so the half hour walk to and fro the Ville Haute (high town) was a little painful.
Luxembourg is a perfect place to walk around for 4 hours. The town had interesting, unique architecture. There was a big church, but it had a monument of remembrance (kaddish) for the Jews the Nazis murdered out in front. Also, there was a Fosse Street, so maybe they are really big fans of the movie “Cabaret”?
I basically walked around and took pictures of all the spots on the map I had printed, included the Casemates du Bock, which were the remnants of a castle wall on the outskirts of the town. I stumbled upon a free museum, and I never pass up free, especially when they have lockers to leave your bags! The museum had both art and history (and probably art history). There was a sub-basement, actually 5 of them, I just kept going lower and lower… they had exhibits on the interesting furniture of Luxembourg (lots of wardrobes) and some weird clocks. There was some modern art. And displays of how people lived throughout the years like they had in Bern (and also in Stockholm last year). And coins. The only painter I’d heard of was Peter Paul Rubens. There was a room with pictures by Edward Steichen who was apparently a very well known American photographer who was from Luxembourg. They rotate out 20 of his pictures at a time, and there were some of Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo on display.
Afterwards, I finished my walking tour, and ate some pizza (yum!) in a lovely restaurant with a garden view. I stopped by the park on my way back to the bus station and just relaxed and read for 20 minutes.
This time was the 2nd time out of 7 that the WiFi on the bus didn’t work, and was also my 7th and final bus for the trip. (It’s a good thing I had downloaded shows on my iPad before the journey!)
When I got to Brussels, it took me awhile to figure out which train to take to my AirBnB because there are a few types of transportation there. Also, when I got out of the Luxembourg (the station in Brussels, not the country) station into Luxembourg Square, I was completely turned around and eventually had to find WiFi and use my (gasp) phone to get turned in the right direction. Indeed, it took me till my third time in that square till I finally figured out the most efficient route out of it to where I was staying.
Sadly, my wonderful AirBnB streak ended with this one. While there was a very friendly cat, the room was in the mezzanine. I didn’t realize that meant it was a loft room above another bedroom. The ceiling was super low, the stairs were rickety, I could hear everything happening in the entire apartment, especially below me. It was hot b/c there wasn’t any AC. I mean, it certainly wasn’t as bad as the Montreal one or my New Orleans experience, but in the dozen or so I’ve been it was definitely one of the worst experiences. However, it was very clean, and she did leave me chocolate the first night. Plus, the location was amazing, and the price was ridiculously cheap… so, um, I suppose you get what you pay for!
I walked around around 10pm in search of dessert, and was pleasantly surprised that in the Ixelles district on a Friday night, everything was all abuzz. I had a Belgian Waffle Sundae (ice cream, whipped cream, hot fudge), and it completely hit the spot. YUM.
DAY 9, SATURDAY, AUGUST 24TH
Saturday I had an 11am free walking tour that started in the Grand Place from the company Sandemans Tour. I took a bunch of pictures on the way, and then a lot of pictures on the tour. The guide, James, was really funny and knowledgeable. We walked around the main area of the older town, and we learned about Victor Hugo and Karl Marx being exiles who lived there for awhile. And apparently jay-walking is illegal in Brussels, and they’ll give you a ticket, but I still did it anyway. (My grandfather was very into jay-walking. In fact, he would do it daily b/c his name was Jay.)
We looked at all the buildings in the Grand Place, including the main one that is asymmetrical and looks like it’s a middle finger. Then, we walked and saw the little statue, Mannekin pis, which was basically a tiny little peeing boy. He said most people thought it was “smaller than they expected” and added a “that’s what she said!” which made me appreciate him. He said that in the old days, people would get paid to pee on explosives to disarm them, and the expression “piss poor” came from the fact that some people were so poor, all they could do for work was sell their piss.
Since it was a free tour, he kept advertising their paid tours: beer, pub crawl, chocolate, Bruges, etc, but obviously, I wasn’t going to pay for another tour, especially after the one in Milan.
Anyway, I ended up making 4 friends – 2 of them from NYC – and that was nice. Only 1 of them responded to my Facebook message, though all 4 of them did accept, so I don’t know that I’ll ever see them again, but it was nice to talk to fellow world travelers!
We went through the St. Hubert Galleries which looked like a ripoff of Milan. And in our break, a bunch of us got some delicious Belgian fries for 3.50 Euro. We saw the huge cathedral and some statues. He explained the history of Leopold the 2nd who was a horrible tyrant of a king that took advantage of slaves from the Congo to build the city, and was actually booed at his funeral. And he talked about Albert the first who was a really good king who managed to keep the Germans at bay for 3 weeks in World War 1, giving the Allies time to regroup in France.
After the tour, I went to take pictures of the Palais de Justice, and then the Great Synagogue of Europe (which was sadly closed to visitors). Afterwards, I headed to the Musical Instrument Museum, which was really fun. It wasn’t as nice as the one in Berlin, so I only took 54 photos, but there were still esoteric, unique instruments including a curved keyboard, a claviharpe (half piano-half harp) and a hurdy-gurdy. The museum actually had more Eastern instruments than the one in Berlin, so that was interesting, at least.
Afterwards, I got a magnet for only 2 Euro (cheapest one on the trip) and I was going to eat at a sandwich shop I was recommended: Tonton Garby’s, but it was closed on weekends. Oops! So I went to my next stop, and I saw some Smurf chocolates for 25 Euro, but then I randomly stumbled upon a chocolate shop that had 6 boxes of Belgian truffles for only 10 Euro! Of course, I had to get those, though I had to buy an insulated bag for 4 Euro so they wouldn’t melt too much. (I’m happy to report, while they are a tag disfigured, they are now safe in my fridge and taste very, very, very, very good.)
Next up was the Comic Book Museum, though I stopped by a free exhibit on Marc Sleen on the way. He apparently was a Guinness Book record holder and a legend in Belgian comic strip art. Of course, I had never heard of him, but free is free. The Comics Art Museum wasn’t free (10 Euro), and it was really fun. They had a whole section on the history and origins of comics with some of the first strips ever made, including the mouse Mozart: Mousart and Little Nemo in Slumberland.
There was a whole area on Tintin and then, my favorite, an area on Peyo and the Smurfs! I didn’t actually know much about Peyo (actually originally named Pierre), so it was fascinating to find out about his life. He idolized Disney, and was also really into the Medieval Times. The Smurfs guest starred in a story with his main characters, Johann and Peewee, and then shortly broke out on the own. The Smurfs started as a comic, and then the TV rights were sold to Hanna Barbera in the 80s, and were on TV from 1981-1989 when I watched them every Saturday morning (yes, I used to wake up early on Saturdays just for cartoons!). And, of course, now they are movie stars! I took a lot of Smurf-tastic pictures, and even paid 1.25 Euro for a postcard that portrays “Smurfin’ in the Rain” which now hangs upon my wall!
After that, I walked to Parc du Bruxelles (Brussels Park), and stumbled upon a free children theatre festival. There was a circus show going on, and then I was super happy to come across some food booths, and found a huge portion of chicken, pasta and creamy sauce for only 4 Euro!!! AH! Such a steal, and it was so filling that I didn’t have to eat for the rest of the day!!! #winning
I took pictures of the Parliament building and the Royal Park Theatre, then circled back through the park and found there was a free marionette show happening! Next, I came out the other side of the park and took pictures of the Royal Palace.
Then it was time to go to a concert, but it was off my map, so I had to navigate using my printouts and maps by the buses. Somehow I managed to find the Flagey Concert Hall with 20 minutes to spare. I had Flagey Place as the address, and that’s just a huge square next to some water. The hall itself was around the corner, but I eventually located it. I was trepidatious about seeing a Young Orchestra, but I wanted to see the symphony space, and it was only 17 Euro. These 14-17 year olds were fantastic, though, because Europe actually cares about teaching music. And the soloists were adults and very impressive. The program was in Flemish/French, so there’s not much I can tell you about it besides that it was an orchestra of young people from throughout Europe called Concertgebouworkest Young that was from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
They played a Belgium premiere of a piece by Detlev Glanert that was okay, and then did wonderful renditions of Mendelssohn’s opuses 61 and 64 and Tchaikovsky Sympony #5, which are two of my favorite composers.
After the concert, I was pretty exhausted from being out for over 12 hours, so I went home to get some rest before my last day of vacation.
DAY 10, SUNDAY, AUGUST 25TH
This is the only day I didn’t set an alarm for, but by then my body was acclimated enough not to sleep too late. I walked to the Brussels-Midi train station (there are 3: Central, Midi and North). I was pleasantly surprised that the ticket to Bruges was not only cheaper than I thought because it was a weekend, but the price I thought was a one-way was actually a round-trip! Of course, not that it mattered because no one ever came around to check to see if I had a ticket. The train was so super, ridiculously packed that I had to sit on the stairs.
Bruges was a really cute town. It was super nice to walk around; there were many shops and plenty of picture opportunities. I was following a walking tour that I printed off the interwebs, so I think I managed to see all of the main sites, though I wasn’t really reading about anything because it was the last day of vacation, and I was worn out. But I know I got to the Market, and I’m pretty sure I took pictures of the Basilica of the Holy Blood, Brugse Vrije (Liberty of Bruges), the Church of our Lady Bruges, the Belfry of Bruges and the Belfort Tower. And I definitely saw the lake of swans that I obviously referred to as Swan Lake.
The first museum I went to was the Chocolate Museum, which not only gave us a chocolate bar included, there were unlimited samples in 3 spots, and then a demonstration of how to make chocolate with filling inside that concluded with us eating a sample! Suffice it to say, my mood completely elevated exponentially the more chocolate I devoured. The museum itself was very interesting, and incredibly well organized, which I always prefer. There was a guide sheet that told you the order to visit, and each room had arrows to guide you around efficiently. I learned all about the history of chocolate and how it originated from the Incas, where it was used as currency (there was even a chocolate piggybank type thing), and then the Spanish brought it over to Europe, and it eventually became popular in France because of a royal marriage. And chocolate used to just be drunk until someone invented how to make chocolate bars. First sugar was added to cocoa, then eventually someone added milk in 1875, as well. And they had the earliest boxes for chocolate and molds for making it, as well. And there was a video on how chocolate was made… and did I mention the free samples!?!?
After that, I was on my way to the Fry Museum, when I came across a free performance art piece. Basically for a half hour, these 10 girls in black dresses and heels were on wooden chairs and then started to saw the chairs to pieces. And they kept their poise the entire time, always domineering over the chair, and persisted in demolishing them till there was nothing left. I think it had to do with smashing the patriarchy, but as it was art, it’s hard to say. It was quite enjoyable to watch, though.
The Fry Museum wasn’t as good as the Chocolate one, especially because there weren’t any free samples. But I did learn about how fries were made, and there was a lot about potatoes, which were originally from Peru, but became very popular in Ireland. (There was a mildew that caused the major potato famine.) I also learned that fries actually supposedly come from Belgian, and the reason they were dubbed “french fries” is because during the war, a French soldier introduced them to an American one, so he just assumed they were French. Also, there were some fun picture opportunities on the top floor.
After that, I finished the walking tour, then circled back to the Market Square because I had seen them setting up for a free band concert! What’s not to love about a city that has both a free performance art and a concert on a lovely summer Sunday? Oh, there were also lots of crafts sales, and I bought 3 cat items (keychain, picture holder and little cute statuette of one that looks like Smee).
I actually didn’t watch the concert, but I could hear it from the restaurant I got dinner at. The restaurant had umbrellas so there was shade, plus I definitely wanted to have a Belgian meal, so I went for the 14.50 Euro Flemish Stew + fries and a salad. And for 1 Euro more I could get the chocolate mousse! So, being good at math, I worked it out that between my cat purchases, the airport train ticket I still had to buy and this meal, I used up all my of cash, save a few coins. #math
After dinner, the concert was done, as well, so I leisurely walked back to the train, which was even MORE crowded going back to Brussels. Then, I got out at the Central station, and walked past the main view again to find there were chairs set up and a guitarist playing some songs (Fly Me to the Moon, the Beatles, Leonard Cohen, etc). And this was right at the sunset, so the crepuscular view was breath-taking, and I just lay there on a chair for 45 minutes eating up my last night of vacation before walking to the Luxembourg station, getting my plane ticket (so I didn’t have to in the morning) and repacking everything for the very, very long journey home.
Here are the books I’ve read since the last ledger:
The Passage Trilogy – I thoroughly enjoyed this vampiric trilogy! So sad the TV show got canceled…
Netherland – I had gotten this novel b/c it was on the best books of the year in 2009 or 2010, but I really didn’t like it that much. Ah, well.
Best Babysitters Ever: The Good, the Bad and the Bossy – The 2nd in my friend, Carrie’s series, and it was even better than the first!
Kenning and Gold – My friend, Chris, wrote this sweet book.
Next up, I’m excited to say that the quartet of “My Brilliant Friend” novels I ordered in December after watching the HBO adaptation of the first book has finally arrived, and I assume I will binge-read those till I’m done.
Here are the movies I saw in the theaters in the last few months:
Book Smart – Really funny movie about smart kids in high school trying to party!
Stuber – Really great premise for a movie, but sadly the execution didn’t quite work.
Blinded by the Light – Loved this movie based on a true story of a Pakistani Londoner’s love of Bruce Springsteen.
I watched the following on the plane: Captain Marvel (pretty good!), Alita: Battle Angel (it was okay!), Little (amusing!), Teen Spirit (cute!), Greta (decent!), Happy Death Day 2U (not as good as the first one!), Mirai (sweet Japanese animated film!), Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (it was okay!) and the documentary, Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit (absolutely insane!)!
A lot of my TV shows ended this summer. Most recently, The OA got canceled prematurely. But I watched season finales of Orange is the New Black, Jane the Virgin, iZombie and Divorce in the span of an August week! The one that I’ll miss the most (and the one that had me in tears) was Jane the Virgin. What a wonderful show! Go watch it on Netflix before they lose all the CW shows!
Speaking of Netflix, I managed to watch the final seasons of Jessica Jones and Daredevil on the copious bus rides, and they were both so good. It makes me very sad that Disney+ made it so they were both canceled. I am going on the record as saying I will not be getting Disney + or Apple TV. I have yet to cut the cable cord, and I do not anticipate doing so for another few years. Maybe when I eventually do, I will get all these new platforms, but until then I say NO.
I usually report on new shows I’m looking forward to for the new season, and I’m sad to say there isn’t a single one I’m that excited for. That combined with the amount of shows I loved that have recently ended or are ending makes me have time to catch up on Netflix and Amazon shows, at least. Or maybe I’ll just read more.
Here’s what I’ve seen this summer:
All My Sons – Brilliant revival of this Arthur Miller classic.
Happy Talk – Jesse Eisenberg’s new comedy starring an exquisite Susan Sarandon.
To Kill a Mockingbird – Great production based on the classic novel.
Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare in the Park) – Wonderful adaptation of Shakespeare starring Danielle Brooks from Orange is the New Black.
Dying City – Revival of a depressing play about the Iraq War.
Road Show – Encores revived Sondheim’s last musical, but I still prefer it when I saw it in Chicago as Bounce.
Coriolanus – I got rained on 3/3 times I went to Shakespeare in the Park this season, but the 2nd time I went for this one, I got to see it delayed only 45 minutes.
Overall, it was a very well-balanced trip between incredibly full days and lighter days. I have finally figured out a nice balance, and visiting friends, and splitting up when I see them was ideal. I am now up to having been to 23 countries of Europe, which is 40% according to my Been app!! Woohoo! I think that’s higher than most people I know. For the world, I’m at 11% or 28 countries, which means I should probably get to some other continents since I’ve mostly done Europe… maybe South America next year?
Anyway, a HUGE THANK YOU to Helena & Alex for hosting me for a few days and joining me for a weekend to the most expensive city in the world!
I hope you all had a tremendous summer and that you have many fun and exciting plans for a productive fall. Do write me a note to let me know what YOU are up to.