On Tour to Valladolid

Another whirlwind tour in November 2007, this time comprising two complete operas within 10 days. It started off with a bang – R. and I had a concert with our own group on Wednesday night in Nijmegen and arrived at my house at 12.30 AM. After a very short night (catnap, really), our taxi arrived at 5.15 to take us to the airport to fly to Bergamo. We arrived at 9 AM but my suitcase didn’t. They had no idea where it was or how I would ever get it back and wanted to send it on to Madrid to meet us there. I didn’t like that idea so much; I know how enormous Madrid airport is and thought I’d never see it again. So we reluctantly left the airport and drove to Lonigo, ready to meet the orchestra who had already been rehearsing for two days. What a feeling, walking into a rehearsal with your glasses on, unshowered, two hours of sleep behind you and no suitcase.

We rehearsed there that day and I discovered that the suitcase had gone to Pisa (not Bergamo), then to Rome, then to Bergamo where a colleague picked it up that night and met us the next day at Milan airport. So glad I was to see it… and then to check in again and relinquish all control once again. We traveled for exactly 12 hours that day; bus, plane, bus and hotel in Valladolid at 11 PM. What a lovely hotel, and such a relief to have a shower and crawl into bed.

Valladolid is a charming town and it was perfect weather, although a bit cold.

R. and I had a nice walk around town. The most stunning sight was the entryway to an old palace where the Museum of Sculpture is now housed. I’d never seen such a beautiful gateway with patterns behind the statues, a sort of 13th century wallpaper.

The concert was in a brand-new huge concert hall; so new that there were no mirrors in the dressing rooms and no cafe. It was also humongous and the audience wasn’t very large so it felt a bit empty, but they were very enthusiastic. After the concert, we raced back to the hotel and hid in the bar with our instruments, waiting for the conductor. When he walked in, we burst out in song — “Tanti Auguri a Te” better known as “Happy Birthday.” We presented him with a pink sweater and a cake and much merriment was had.


P is for…




In September 2008, we went to Paris for a mini-break. Our reasons for going were twofold: one, we wanted to go hear Ravi Shankar play his last European concert with his daughter, Anoushka.  Two, we hadn’t had a vacation together since October last year — I mean, alone together, no one else.  Item one, check.  Item two, check check.

The master himself

Well, we had a fab time!  Yay Thalys, it gets you there in a very pleasant 4 hours.  So, down on Saturday morning, back on Wednesday afternoon.  We had amazing luck and stayed in the beautiful empty apartment of some friends of my parents.  So every morning we had coffee in our place then went for croissants at the boulangerie next door.  On Saturday we went to the Musee de la VIe Romantique, the former residence of George Sand, then walked along the Canal St. Martin before meeting up with some composer friends of The Redhead.   Sunday we spent most of the day at the Marche aux Puces, hunting down vintage buttons and old Tin-Tin comics before meeting the friends again and having dinner with our absentee hosts.  Monday and Tuesday we took long walking tours of the Right Bank and of the Marais, after seeing the Orangerie and Notre Dame.

But of course the real highlight was Ravi Shankar.  He’s definitely getting up in years; he toddled on the stage and could no longer sit cross-legged, but he can still burn up his axe.  There were a few moments of doubt when he seemed to be going in a different direction than his daughter, but they resolved themselves with the help of the stunning tabla player.  He gave a “music lesson” on the second night, a sort of lecture-demonstration which worked well in some ways and less so in others; I sensed some rumblings of dismay in the audience when he spoke in faint, accented English for 45 minutes about his approach to playing before diving into musical examples.  But then, boy howdy!  The percussionists showed off their ta-ka-de-mi and he sang melodic bits to his daughter, expecting her to imitate him exactly (which she almost always did).  At the end of the evening, he sang a whole song, phrase by phrase, to the musicians to imitate and by the end, they had learned it in unison.  Most impressive for such a score-bound musician such as myself.

Prague 2010, Trip Report 1

In 2010, my partner M spent a month working in Prague and I went to join him for a long weekend in November. Prague is a truly beautiful city and we were lucky enough to have blue skies and white snow, which made it a complete fairyland.

We started our day off by going to Manes (?), a paradise of bells and whistles and lights and things with moving parts. It was heaven for both kids and the young at heart. We spent about 2 hours there, exploring all the diverse exhibitions.

We crossed the Vltava over into Mala Strana and got into the queue for the tram up Petrin Hill. We waited so long and the journey was so unimpressive that we were quite sorry we hadn’t just walked up. But we got our exercise, as we climbed the imitation Eiffel Tower at the top and got the world’s most fabulous view of the gorgeous city around us. Upon descent, we got mulled wine and then slid down the mountain towards the castle and the Charles Bridge.

We were aiming to reach the Old Town square for the 5.30 lighting of the Christmas tree but so was everyone else and his/her brother/sister. It was a madhouse but we did manage to find a spot not too far from the tree which was fine until proud papas hoisted their toddlers on their shoulders, blocking our view. But we still enjoyed the light display when it finally appeared. By that point we were COLD so we went to a beer hall to warm up and then went to find dinner, a very typical meat/potato affair. It was a lovely day.

Trip Report: Dominica 2006, Part the First (Martinique, if we’re really honest)

We were supposed to have a family vacation on the Caribbean island of Dominica (no, not the Dominican Republic) with M, my parents, granny, aunt and uncle. However, M and I and the folks arrived a few days earlier and decided that it was probably not the best destination for an 87-yr.old. So they changed their plans and we had a two-week holiday for just the four of us.

And it was fantastic! We flew from Amsterdam to Paris to Martinique (via a shuttle bus between Charles de Gaulle and Orly, arriving Orly as they were boarding, one of the most stressful bus journeys of my life) and had two days in Martinique.
I have to say that Martinique was more or less what I expected (a tropical island) but also, strangely, very much European.

Distillerie Trois Rivieres

I especially felt this when we came back to catch our flight to Paris. From the savage beauty, terrible roads, smiling people of Dominica we flew back to Martinique to agriculture, a BIG capitol city, light industry (and all the negatives that implies) and pretty roads and cars with French license plates. It felt so terribly different from what we had just left and so very similar to our destination.
But Martinique was also a very nice introduction to the area. It is lovely, something about the forests of palm trees is very captivating. Not to mention the beaches!

Anse Ceron

The first evening the sun set much quicker than we were ready for, dark at 6 instead of 7.30 like in Amsterdam. We found a small local restaurant with outdoor tables under a tent right next to the bay — like, 2 meters from the water. They only served grilled things that they prepared right there on an oil drum barbecue. Young men were playing dominoes on a nearby table with a SLAP every minute. Our one full day we mostly spent driving. We went up the coast, searching for coffee — impossible to find on a Sunday morning, but we did find a small dark patisserie and a tiny grocery. We stopped in St. Pierre, the town which lost all of its inhabitants in the volcanic eruption of 1902 — all, that is, except for one man who was saved by the thick walls of his prison cell. I’ll bet he had some serious cognitive dissonance over the morality of his situation.

St. Pierre

We had a picnic at the beach shown above and spent the afternoon at the botanical gardens “Les Ombrages.” It was a beautiful jungle walk with massive bamboo all over.

We ended up at Presqu’ile La Caravelle for a walk as the sun was going down. It was supposed to be a short jaunt 5 minutes down to the castle ruin but it was closed so we walked (jogged, more like) 30 mins each way to the lighthouse at the end of the point.

We found a fantastic restaurant for dinner, Case Coco in Ste. Luce, near our hotel. Wonderful!
The next morning we left way early, our ferry was not till 1.30 but at 9 we were on our way to return the car and take a taxi to the ferry. We arrived at the port at 11.18, lots of extra time. Taxi driver: “Where’s the waiting room (or check-in or whatever you call it) for the ferry to Dominica?” Port guard: “Oh, there’s no ferry to Dominica, it’s in dry dock and won’t be running till next week.” GULP. Taxi driver to us: “So, where would you like to go now?” Us: Absolute Silence. After way too many negotiations, discussions, phone calls, debates, to get into now, we somehow ended up back at the airport with our taxi driver leading us by the hand to the private planes. And that’s what we did! When faced with the idea of buying flights for the next morning, getting another rental car, organising another hotel and wasting the entire day OR hiring a private plane and leaving within the hour for not much more money, we went with a private plane. What jet-setters! Our pilot was extremely capable and only let down her guard when I asked her for a photo — “Oh, je ne suis pas coiffee!”

And so we made it to Dominica.