Monday, 24 June 2013

WDW, E.P.C.O.T: Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow!

Epcot, stands for 'Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow'. I do love Cinderella's Castle but Epcot is seriously something else! Walt Disney had a vision for the future, I have experienced this theme park from two perspectives. Why will this futuristic Walt Disney Park forever be my favourite place at Orlando's Walt Disney World Resort? Epcot put me to work!

Epcot has forever been my favourite Disney park, for such reasons that I'll get right into. Accessing the main gates of Epcot is always fun, during my internship I always took the Epcot monorail from the (TTC) Ticket and Transportation Centre. Captured to the right is 'Spaceship Earth' encased in Epcot's most iconic feature like Magic Kingdom has 'Cinderella's Castle'. We all want to go back to the future, so I know that Epcot always sends me to another world! I've been on 'Spaceship Earth' countless times, I refer to this attraction as the 'giant golf ball'. Epcot brings the world to everybody's feet with the 'World Showcase!' Epcot has a different feeling compared with the other three main Walt Disney Parks in Orlando, Florida. The difference will be something that I can't get enough of, I want more from the Disney experience! No, I never imagined that Epcot would choose me, no! My first overseas job was magical beyond belief E!

In 2011, I had the opportunity to work at Epcot during my Walt Disney International College Program on a daily basis I was able to make magical moments underneath the 'Giant Golf Ball.' What more could I ask for?! I worked in the Merchandise department at Epcot's Future World North for three months. My duties ranged from distributing and cleaning strollers, working on the Glow Cart, making magical memories at three stores called Gateway Gifts, Camera Center and Gift Stop. Best of all my workplaces were underneath the magnificent 'giant golf ball'. I don't think I'll look at Epcot the same way again! I definitely won't! It wasn't all sparkle and magic but I merchantained my heart out and made friends for life! I know that my time as a Cast Member was truly magical! I will always feel truly blessed for my chance! I got to listen to my Spanish speaking colleagues and others who were from around the world. That corner of WDW Resort was our own world! Feel the WDW magic!

Future World East and West stands behind 'Spaceship Earth' opening a whole new world, each visit to this corner of Epcot is always unique. Too cool down for a moment I make a pit-stop at the 'Fountain View Ice Cream' parlour for the perfect ice cream treat. Mickey Mouse and his friends are so busy, but they are always waiting at 'Character Spot' for me. This corner of Epcot just makes me feel like I'm home! Playing in Epcot on my days off was always a pleasure, I would stop by my workplace before moving forward. Since my working days are now over I made my return to Epcot in January 2013 to play in the park with my fierce friends Zach and Dawin! Epcot, I might not work there anymore but Disney's Epcot hasn't seen the last of me! Where East meets West there's always somewhere to find a Disney favourite to meet and greet, I saw Chip and Dale do their thing close to the centre of this park. Yes M!

Getting a quick snack is easy because the 'Electric Umbrella' is a great place to grab a quick burger and a cup of soda, trust me I love it! The Seas with Nemo and Friends is a wonderful underwater like aquarium that centres around the motion picture Finding Nemo. This corner of Epcot holds the flagship MouseGear store, this monumental store has everything Disney to satisfy the most particular Disney Kid. I wasn't based in MouseGear but I made sure I had a look around once or twice to find the perfect Disney merchandise. Future World North, East and West Epcot has the best of three worlds! How did I get my job at Walt Disney World? I interviewed whilst I was in my first year at University College Birmingham in 2010, the interview was fun and I didn't stress about the process. Transition from a guest to a Cast Member gave me the opportunity to see the other side of the operation at Epcot, giving me an insight to see that Disney always does it better! Oh, Mickey Boy! Test who? Buckle up!

Let's get to the land! Epcot is one of the Disney Park that appeals to teenagers and adults, it's great to have magic in different ways. The Land is home to the majority of Epcot's main thrill rides, there is truly something for everyone! Captured to the right is Test Track, a crash test facility that doubles as an adrenaline experience that reaches speeds up to sixty-five mph! Let Test Track take you to the fast lane! I really ought to fasten my seat belt! I don't like to keep my feet on the ground all of the time so I love the Land for its sky-high attractions. Take off to new heights on Soarin' to realise that everything looks better from the top! I always waited patiently in the long queue to experience the thrill of Soarin' all over again. Keeping in with the flying theme with Mission: SPACE. I will be honest its scary being secured into the spaceship like compartment, prepare for the G-Force! Mission: SPACE is fast! Buckle up!

I'm not one to endorse fast passes so I won't! One thing that Disney does best is its lines and there's always a clear indication of how long I would be waiting in line for an attraction. Test Track is a ride I would wait a long time for because its one of Epcot's best thrill attractions by far! It's more of a teenage and adult crowd at Epcot, not completely but it doesn't exude the fairy-tale element that Magic Kingdom does so well. Epcot doesn't need sparkles and gumdrops because it's more of a thrill ride park with Mission: SPACE and Soarin' it attracts a different target market. As mentioned previously Spaceship Earth stands as Epcot's main focal point that stands near the entrance, defining the meaning of Epcot's futuristic past, present and future. The blueprint for Epcot does what it says on the tin, but does this Walt Disney World really reflect an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow? Whatever Epcot means to you I will hold it high above with the Disney Parks! Epcot was my world! 

Did I see an English Pub? Epcot brought the world to my feet! The World Showcase brought eleven countries to life before my eyes, to the left is the Rose and Crown Pub in the United Kingdom. I found lots of home comforts such as fish 'n' chips at Epcot own English pub. Cadbury's chocolate and an ice cold pint of Stronger Cider can be found in the heart of humid Florida. Canada made an appearance, a small exhibit but non the less fantastic! I've never been to Paris but seeing France at the World Showcase painted the perfect picture for me. The French pavilion included a luxurious perfumery. The Kingdom of Morocco was brought to life in the middle of Florida in front of me. Japan's Mitsukoshi department store is a great place to revisit for a slice of Japanese cool, I was able to hold onto some Kawaii in the heart of the WDW Parks. During my internship I couldn't drink alcohol in the USA, I needed to return! Yes!

America appears in the World Showcase at Epcot as a colonial craze. Venetian luxury can be found in Italy at Epcot, its another place I need to try the cuisine! Germany is famous for its beer so its not difficult to find some sauerkraut and a pitcher of Bavarian lager to enjoy. China is super because I met Mulan the Chinese warrior princess. Norway serves a great pint of lager, so my last visit saw me enjoying an ice cold pint! Finally, Mexico took me back to my Epcot experience in January 2013 with some tasty enchiladas and strong margaritas to compliment my vacations. find a spot around the World Showcase when the sun goes down to be ready for the sky to light up! Seeing Illuminations: Reflections of the Earth is the perfect day at Epcot! There isn't anymore strollers for me to clean! You know that I left that shift one evening to me a special friend, oh yes I did! Epcot will always be my ultimate WDW Park, both for pleasure and for employment its been amazing!

Future World North...

Joseph Harrison

Monday, 17 June 2013

WDW: Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, E.P.C.O.T and Animal Kingdom!

The Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, USA is a magical place that fills my heart with joy! Covering the space of San Francisco. The Disney Parks, water-parks and hotel resorts all make dreams come true for millions of people. Here's why I love Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios! Oh, E.P.C.O.T! Come through Mickey with that magic! 

Magic Kingdom is the perfect place to start any Disney experience, that’s just the way it is! Every little girl dreams of being a princess, dressed as their favourite Disney princess staring up at Cinderella’s castle.  Hey, I do too! I’m lost for words each time I see Cinderella’s enchanted castle, I want to be a princess too! Walking down Main Street USA always gives me that happy, free and child-like feeling. Every child should visit this place! This part of the Walt Disney World Resort makes me burst with excitement, this part has to be Adventureland where I met Ariel and Eric the last time I visited Magic Kingdom. Having a cold and refreshing pineapple dole-whip close to Frontierland has to be the best way to beat the Floridian sun at Magic Kingdom. Yes! 

Walt Disney World is perfect for children and the young at heart. Fantasyland has to be one of my favourite zones at Magic Kingdom, I guess it's a small world after all! Tomorrowland has Space Mountain, a ride that took me to the moon and back again! I couldn't possibly say how many times I have been to MK but each time it has been extra-special! I've kept quiet about my ultimate moment at Magic Kingdom, deep in the heart of Frontierland is the home of Princess Tiana the jewel of the deep south. I met Princess Tiana in August 2011 during my International College Program one evening under the bandstand. Tiana's my favourite! Magic Kingdom is truly magical! I'm such a nerd when it comes to Disney, I would take the Monorail from the TTC to Magic Kingdom during my ICP in 2011! Oh! 

Disney's Hollywood Studios makes me feel like a movie star! I really don't know where to begin? I love the Voyage of The Little Mermaid, a show that makes me misty eyed every time Ariel sings Part of That World! Mickey's Fantasia hat always makes me feel like I'm home, back to the studios where I belong! I like to turn things up a notch by riding Aerosmith's Rockin' Rollercoaster, now that rock star themed attraction really speeds up! I have memories of Studios back when I visited in 1998 when I was a boy. One thing I always do is grab an ice cold Coca-Cola and a tasty Churros to enjoy in the boiling hot sun. That's how we do things at Hollywood Studios! I would have to say that Studios is the breakaway park, it has something for everyone from the Pixar zone to the many character spots. I had a few friends who I would visit during my days off when I played at Hollywood Studios during  summer 2011. Turkey, who?

I must admit that Hollywood Tower of Terror is a room with a view! The Tower of Terror genuinely scared me but it was a mighty experience for sure! Hollywood Studios actually feels like a real movie set, with real looking movie lots that look the part. I have fond memories of my first visit to Disney's Hollywood Studios, I remember the parade we watched and the kind Cast Member that got me a water fan because I was suffering from the heat! The Muppets are back in town, their show is so funny and captures the true sassy attitude of Miss Piggy. I'm a big kid at heart, so when I got the chance to meet Toy Story's Woody and Buzz Lightyear at the same time I couldn't believe my luck! One thing that I never saw at this park was Aladdin's Jafar, but I can't have everything! The Rockin' Rollercoaster took me to new speeds in a matter of seconds, a much needed thrill ride at Disney! There's really nothing more that I can say about Disney's Hollywood Studios! Get me back there already!

Disney's Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow has secretly been my favourite park out of the Disney Four! Little did I know that I would be working underneath the giant golf ball like sphere, Spaceship Earth acted as the backdrop to my Walt Disney World College Program during summer 2011. On my days off I would love to 'play' in the parks. Saying 'hello' to my colleagues was the one, not being able to drink had me seeing the 'World Showcase through new eyes when I returned in 2013, all turned 21 years of age meant I could drink all around the world! The world pavilions all served their own liquors and concoctions but all I wanted was a pint of Strongbow cider from the UK's 'Rose & Crown Pub!' Mexico served me a few margarita's, whereas Germany brought the ice cold pints of Bavarian lager! Getting snaps with the different characters that were stationed around the vast pavilions was great! Go, go EPCOT!

The futuristic elements within E.P.C.O.T always had me occupied during my days off, I definitely visited Soarin' a few times. The 'World of Coca Cola' held many tastes, some were genuinely delicious but Italy went gravely wrong with 'Beverly!' Not a good taste at all! The exhibits from Kodak were cool but the post office allowed me to post some things home. Having the familiarity of the park for work allowed me to walk effortlessly around the park without any issues. I always loved having a 'Mickey' shaped ice cream during those scorching summer days out. Looking down over Future World Gifts, Camera Stop and the Stroller Mobility sections, the epic sphere of Spaceship Earth saw me taking a few rides during my College Program. Knowing where Daisy Duck and Snitch went between their character stops gave me a right laugh, the other park-goers didn't have a clue. My craving for British food grew dangerous, EPCOT had me covered within the 'World Showcase!' Miss you FWN!

Welcome to the jungle, Disney's Animal Kingdom takes me out to Africa, India and beyond! I had never been on an African safari until I had been to Animal Kingdom. It's a Bugs Life because that's where I saw Flick on two previous occasions. I love the Tree of Life, this wise work of nature always makes me feel closer to mother earth. I have to pinch myself when I'm at this Disney park because its so different from the other three parks. Meet Rafiki and look out for the beauty that's Pocahontas, its the only place you will see her in the flesh! Do you like the Lion King? I love that film, but at Animal Kingdom there is a short musical spectacle that amazed me. Dino-Land is home to the exhilarating attraction Dinosaur, its a ride that shook me up for sure! 

Finding Nemo comes to life in his own show, Finding Nemo: The Musical a show that moved me to tears I won't lie it made me cry like a baby! I have a younger cousin called Indigo Nemo so I was touched by the musical as I was away from home during the summer of 2011. DAK gets overlooked for guests always reference Magic Kingdom for Cinderella's Castle but I have love for Animal Kingdom! I spent a great day at Animal Kingdom with my friend Vikki for her birthday, we both had a great time at AK! One of my first visits to Animal Kingdom saw me take on Expedition Everest, its a super fast adrenaline filed ride that tested my fears! Animal Kingdom, you are awesome! I'm a Disney Kid! I have decided to leave EPCOT to another time because it holds a special place in my heart! Yes!

Dream Big!

Joseph Harrison

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Krakow, Poland: Rollin' On The River!

Witamy! That's 'Welcome' in Polish. I'm a sucker for a short break, so back in February of 2010 it was time to fly east to Krakow, Poland. I would like to say that Poland has a family connection so I wanted to get closer to this notion. I loved Krakow because this city served realness, no false pretences about this Polish hot-spot! Nalej mi kieliszek Wiśniówka teraz P!

I was ready for Poland! The weather in February was bone-chillingly cold, that added to the overall experience. Captured to the right is Grodzka, a beautiful and historical area of Krakow's city centre. I stayed in Grodzka Apartments for three three days and two nights, check this accommodation out! Anyway, if you look closely at the photo to the left you can see 'St.Mary's Basilica'. I was blown away by the stillness of the cathedral, it was sobering! Now if you would like a brief history lesson the basilica was used in movie epic 'Schindler's List'. Krakow's Grodzka quarter didn't serve 21st century Realness, I appreciated the rich architecture that spoke louder than words! Mixed with the historical buildings, it was fascinating to see the soviet style concrete vibe, I was getting all up into that Polish city experience! As the E.U has widened the Polish contingent in the UK, we had to see what the fuss was about!

Krakow's main square stood triumphant before us, exuding a bold statement with its grand buildings and vast array of outdoor restaurants and bars. Tell me Krakow, what else can I do and see? Mixing things up we thought it would be good idea to walk into a part of the city that we didn't know to find the factory of Oscar Schindler. It was great to do some exploring away from Grodzka. We were on the lookout for Oscar Schindler's former factory, my mum had read that the former factory had been transformed into a museum. Oscar Schindler saved many Jews with his subtle yet cunning skills during the Nazi German occupation. Unfortunately, the museum hadn't been completed but it was interesting to see it from the outside nonetheless. We were able to walk back through some parts of the city that we hadn't planned to. We had accomplished something worthwhile since our Ryanair flight touched down from East Midlands Airport. Auschwitz was the reason for our visit! Yes, PL! 

London has the River Thames and Paris has the Seine, but Krakow has the Vistula River! This river is lined with countless monuments, for me I have to say that 'Wawel Royal Castle' was a sight that stood out for me! Walking around the castle walls to reach the vista of all vistas, where the Vistula River will capture your soul. Built on a giant limestone rock the 'Wawel Royal Castle' dates back to the 7th century. The river looked very still, teamed with the freezing weather I would have loved to see this sight during warmer climbs, but who knows? I didn't get the chance to walk along the riverside but we cannot have everything. I wonder how 'Buckingham Palace' compared to Krakow's 'Wawel Royal Castle?' Krakow's historical flex knows how to work and serve, do they build castles like that today? Polska, mi powinna odwiedziłem szybciej?! We didn't have a plan, it was some years ago and for that I'm chilled about that. It's OK P!

From the 'Wawel Royal Castle' and 'St.Mary's Basilica' this Polish powerhouse has the future covered! Poland is no longer a communist country, throughout my short time spent in Krakow, Poland I saw a lot of new developments that sat alongside a barrage of concrete avenues. The weather made everything look much more wintry, the snow tucked Krakow in each night with its white blanket but it looked so good! Casting my mind back to our arrival into Krakow's John Paul II International Airport it would have been a near impossibility for any UK airport to handle the adverse weather conditions that faced our approaching Ryanair flight. Krakow was cool in many respects but I was all about the Wiśniówka! I loved that Cherry Vodka, taking a few shots was just enough for me because that sauce was lethal! Polish lager is so much stronger than the stuff I can buy in the United Kingdom, was I complaining? No! Daj mi więcej Wiśniówka i Piwo! Sorry Goulash, I really wanted some KFC!

Shopping isn't my thing but they city's 'Galeria Krakowska' offered us the best department stores and restaurants that suited us where our tastes lay. I didn't try any Polish cuisine because the 'Galeria Krakowska' had the best food court. So, I'm afraid it was KFC for the two nights I was there! Forgive me because I am usually quite adventurous when it comes to trying new foods. Even though I could find the same shops in Birmingham as I saw at the 'Galeria Krakowska'. The ice cream served from one parlour that caught my eye was one for the books, my brother will agree with me there! Getting to the 'Galeria' should have been easy but I somehow found myself travelling on a short train journey, probably only taking five minutes the experience was something else! An experience for sure! But for what stood before I was taken aback, Krakow impressed me! If this is Poland's future for shopping then I'm all up for that! I love KFC!

The 'Galeria Krakowska' is located a few steps from Krakow railway station, so I know for next time I could take the train to somewhere else in Poland. But my weekend in Krakow wasn't all department stores and castles because this trip took a thought-provoking avenue. We traded the historic and charming streets of Krakow's showcase city centre for a more sobering outing to the nearby town of Oświęcim so we could visit the former Auschwitz Concentration Camp that was used to exterminate the Jewish population under Adolf Hitlers Nazi rule. After speaking to family members I'm sure that my distant paternal relatives suffered at the hand of the Death Camps. I tell you from my heart that returning to Krakow was a relief because when you visit such a place like Auschwitz, it touches you in the most raw way. Poland is a country that's rising, I'm looking to revisit this city and I definitely want to see more of this post-communist county! Polska jest głównym! Chodźmy! 

Dzięki Kraków!

Joseph Harrison

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Birmingham Hippodrome... Birmingham Royal Ballet: Coppélia

I've been extremely cultured recently, going to see a musical and the ballet. On the 4th of June 2013 I attended a performance of Birmingham Royal Ballet's Coppelia. I previously attended a ballet some years ago but didn't understand why the dancers were silent, so this time around things were a lot clearer. Let's turn the television off for once? I loved the ballet!

Taking my seat, ready for Coppelia the first ballet I have seen in a long time, I must admit I was very excited! My seats were perfect, located on the left side of the front circle I was more than happy with my purchase. Things were very punctual as the curtain rose at just the right moment all in perfect time. From the very beginning I was mesmerised by the floating ballerina's and ballet dancers, they were simply beautiful. How would this performance compare to the vibrancy of Hairspray: The Musical? It had only been five days since I had last been to the Hippodrome, now that's what I call dedication! Why had I not booked a ticket to the ballet sooner than this? It might seem like I'm droning on but this scene from act I was simply charming! I'm going to keep this straight, the vibe before the show was quite stuck up, people needed to pay more mind on the arts not their entitlement. Money too much for some? Yes B!

Act I - Swanilda; a beautiful young woman danced onto the stage wearing an elegant gold ballet dress, followed by a very good looking man who was named Franz. This gentleman must have been Swanhila's companion or friend? Regardless of that fact, my eyes were straight up bamboozled, those male ballet dancers tights showcased everything! I'm going to the ballet more often! Swanilda stayed to one side as Franz had discovered something sitting upon the balcony of Dr. Coppelius's workshop, the young man was captivated by the doll like figure who was frozen but looking as if she was reading a book. Franz started to cheekily blow several kisses up to the doll named Coppelia. Swanilda had caught Franz in the act of his deceit, she threw a book from her balcony onto the stage, which almost hit Franz's head but it missed. The first act was complemented by the open orchestra that was being conducted below the stalls. So, I loved it BHM! No mistakes made, what took me so long?

Act II - With the first interval done with I was ready for the second act of Coppelia to begin. Dr.Coppelius went across the way for a drink in his local tavern but a group of men gave him some trouble, thankfully the landlord of the tavern came to his rescue! Did Dr.Coppelius forget something? Swanilda and her friends tip toed with the key to the workshop in-search of Coppelia. Franz made his way closer to the workshop with a ladder to get to Coppelia. Like sparkling fairies in the night Swanilda and her friends made it to the workshop where Coppelia sat. Franz pushed the boundaries by breaking his way into the workshop in-search of Coppelia. Dr.Coppelius didn't take kindly to Franz's audacity, greeting him slyly with a glass of wine to make Franz welcome. To the Dr's delight Franz fell asleep instantly, leading to another revelation that didn't concern Franz's slumber. Did she appear? Of course Coppelia did! 

Seeing is believing because I was taken aback at what was going on in the workshop. Swanilda appeared, but she looked every so slightly like Coppelia. Dr.Coppelius couldn't believe his luck because he thought that Coppelia was coming to life! Swanilda played along with the Dr's frantic behaviour, taking life from Franz to give to the convincingly looking Coppelia. Nobody knew anything different! But Swanilda became tired of the Dr's tedious commands, she revealed a flattened doll to the Dr which had previously been Coppelia. Not content with causing enough carnage Swanilda woke the frozen dolls from their sleep and she also roused Franz from his slumber, taking him away into the night. I don't ever want this ballet to finish! Who knows if I'll go back to the ballet? I'm more of a jazz hands kind of guy! The demographic within the theatre wasn't the usually crowd when I see a musical, I guess variety helps sometimes? Don't quote me about ballet any further! Prance I say! Brum Royal Ballet, go!

Act III - Coppelia's true form had been revealed, leading the speculation that Coppelia was simply a motionless doll. Franz had been drugged and Swanilda had been the heroine by saving him, whilst still pretending to be the doll. The bells of matrimony were chiming, leading a series of solo dances by the female ballet dancers. Wearing baby blue costumes the male ballet dancers graced the stage with their talent and moves, celebrating the upcoming wedding of Franz and Swanilda. Yes, those male ballet dancers were beautiful! I could tell that the ballet was drawing to a close as the shows concluding routines were executed. OK, I'll get back to the ballet! Where's Coppelia got to?! Oh, I lied about ballet I loved Billy Elliott! Copp was next level! Yes!

Seamlessly dancing into the final minutes of the show, the whole cast transitioned into a beautiful finale dance, revealing the exchanging of gold between Swanhila and Dr.Coppelius. I have no trouble in saying that Coppelia was a beautiful show by all accounts, from the simple set to the precision of the ballet dancers who danced effortlessly throughout the whole performance! Now that's what I call perfection! My evening at the ballet was simply breathtaking, now that would be a talent you have to be born with! Get your tickets for an evening at the ballet, its definitely one way to experience a civilised night out! Until next time Birmingham Royal Ballet, I would like to thank you for such an amazing show and opening my eyes to the beauty that is ballet! Coppelia showed me a thing! Slay B! 

Ballet Is Beautiful!

Joseph Harrison

June 2012: This Time Last Year...

This year is flying by, I only have to blink and time passes by! 2013 has been blessed so far, but I want to look back at what I was doing this time last year. From my tour around the United Nations HQ to my amazing day at NYC Pride 2012 it was ace! Yes, life has changed so much but I won't dwell about one single thing! June 2012, what were you like? Oh, it's been a while!

I began June 2012 in Las Vegas! Jetting off from Newark Liberty Airport to Las Vegas McCarran International Airport with Southwest Airlines. I would say my outbound flight was very eventful! My friends got re-routed with Delta so I made the best of my situation. Flying via Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport I made the best of Southwest's in-flight refreshment service! I had a great flight and didn't have to spend any money on-board, well maybe $4.00 but I'm not going to be bitter about that! I would love to fly with Southwest Airlines again because their flight attendants were truly delightful! Another gin and tonic please? Throughout my four Southwest flights I got crazy but it was Vegas baby! Would I choose Southwest Airlines in the future? Yes, I need to visit the Windy City for a cut price airfare! I've got you Chicago! Getting to and from Las Vegas was just as eventful as my short packed trip to Nevada! 

Living the Las Vegas life for four days was out of this world, I went with my two British friends who I was working with at Hallmark Aviation Services. Myself, Paolo and Tom had a blast that weekend, discovering the casinos of the Las Vegas strip! Marlene, our faithful hire car took us where we needed to go! We reenacted the 'Hangover Movie' gambling in the 'Bellagio' and 'Caesar's Palace'. I had only been living in Newark for around four months when I embarked on my Las Vegas adventure! I will say that the whole weekend was completely surreal! Tequila became my new best friend! Las Vegas is all about the gambling but I didn't let that change my experience, well I did win a bit of money at the 'Bellagio!' There's really no other place like Vegas, its just oozes that 'Bright Lights, Big City' vibe all day and night long! Thanks boys for inviting me onto your trip, I'll be forever grateful for the immense weekend we spent in Las Vegas and L.A! It was a shock to go back to work! Life!

Everybody goes to Hollywood! I didn't need to make in the neighbourhood because I'm already a superstar! Britney's words not mine! My Las Vegas holiday took a crazy twist as I, Paolo and Tom embarked on a new adventure! Paolo was the only one who could drive and also possessed a United States drivers license, so we drove off to the land of the stars! The terrain changed from the high-rise hotel casino's of Las Vegas to the baron Nevada Desert! It was crazy to see nothing for miles, passing through death valley was an experience as the heat was intense outside our air-conditioned car. We stopped at Peggy Sue's Diner, an American themed Diner that was crazy for it was located in the middle of the desert! Peggy Sue's served us a great breakfast for we departed from Las Vegas at a very early hour! I never thought I would have had the chance to revisit L.A! Death Valley was scorching hot! The drive was worth it B! 

Finally, the palm trees of Hollywood Boulevard could be seen! Boys, we were in Hollywood! Treading the pavements on the famous Hollywood Boulevard was just amazing, we were at one with the stars! Seeing the 'Graumans Chinese Theatre' was amazing! I must add that Hollywood Boulevard was crazy around the Dolby Theatre and Hollywood & Highland Centre, it was a chore to take a good photo but I got some good ones for sure! Could my month of June get any better? Wanting to see some celebs we took a star-spotting tour around the exclusive 'Beverly Hills' neighbourhood to be at one with the stars of Hollywood! Could I live in 'Beverly Hills?' Yes I could because I'm a superstar! Our day had been super, but we needed to get back to Las Vegas for the rest of our holiday! Being back in Los Angeles, California was amazing! I plan to return to La La Land in the future to get down in West Hollywood, those boys can't have all the fun without me! East L.A I will hunt you down! Yes!

As June progressed I found work at the airport very stressful, things just weren't easy around that time. I was twenty minutes from NYC, I knew the perfect way to cure my post Vegas blues! I made my way over the headquarters of the 'United Nations'. My day out gave me a boost! I got a little bit lost but I gave myself enough time to reach the visitor experience, so all was good! I don't know what made me visit the UN HQ? Maybe I was looking for an international intervention? Visiting the headquarters was a sobering experience, it's got a quiet and still feeling about it. The security process was very serious, TSA would have had their eyes opened because it was almost like an airport! My trip around the United Nations HQ made me realise that I'm one lucky boy! Trust and believe! I need to inform my evil and shady BB personality, she doesn't take any prisoners! Sobering and educational, NYC showed me more! Oh!

After being a political tourist I was feeling rather hungry, so I decided to hop on the NYC subway to Chinatown. Choosing to eat at a restaurant called 'Wo Hop' ended up being a good idea. The food I ate was alright but the restaurant was a bit 'spit and sawdust!' I love a bit of something different so I just treated this as a new experience. I should have kept to 'Pho 88' because that's the my restaurant! The movies sometimes use different sets because New York's Chinatown looks completely different, but I'm glad it does for its real streets serve a clear picture of people's everyday lives! New York City has one interesting Chinatown, it's more than just interesting! This Chinatown has an edgy personality, which should not be messed with, I knew how to navigate and nothing looked out of the ordinary for me. Being without my Hallmark brothers hurt, I had somewhere to run to when shared apartment life got a bit too much for me! I had to keep on my grind, occupied all the time!

On the 24th of June 2012 New York City's Greenwich Village district prepared itself for 'Pride NYC March 2012'. I waited on the crowded and hot 'Christopher St' with my rainbow flag ready for the campery and fabulousness of the march. Thanks to my new friend Dean we had the connections to grab a great place. Did I mention 'Girl Just Wanna Have Fun?!' Looking back I must say that feeling on the streets of Greenwich Village was amazing, but there was also a sense of cohesion! Until that time I had never been to a Gay Pride celebration, but when in New York City it would've been quite rude not to embrace the festivities! I'm really fortunate that New York City was my first pride celebration because NYC is like no other! I was bitten by the Pride but so I'm on the lookout to experience Birmingham Pride in 2014 due to conflicting issues in 2013. Out of everything I say the pizza was bomb! Oh, I was home in New York! 

Legendary pop singer 'Cyndi Lauper' happened to be the Grand Marshall of the 2012 march! I couldn't believe my eyes for I saw 'Cyndi Lauper!' I would have to say that she looked amazing, I suppose girls we just wanted to have fun?! As the extravagant floats passed I caught a glimpse of drag-star 'Manila Luzon' looking fabulous alongside her new drag daughter! I was in heaven, the weather was beautiful and the parade was something I had always imagined it would be! Could my day get any camper? As the parade made its way through 'Christopher St' I noticed one group of people were working in it to the fullest! My pride experience within Greenwich Village brought my love for the region to the highest, even though I loved my day back in March 2012. The Puerto Rican's knew how to work it! From that moment onwards I was in love with Pride NYC! It was definitely a Gay day for sure! New York City, you're a place that has a lot to answer for but much for me to be thankful! I will be back B! 

Counting My Lucky Stars!

Joseph Harrison

Monday, 3 June 2013

Stratford-upon-Avon, England: Shakespeare's Birthplace...

Another month, another adventure! Keeping things local I chose to visit Stratford-upon-Avon to see what all the fuss is about. William Shakespeare, Britain's great poet and playwright was born in Stratford-upon-Avon during the Elizabethan reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Has this historical town being tarnished by the influx of tourists? How many delights did I see? Lots and lots!

I needed to get out of my Birmingham comfort zone. Starting from the beginning, William Shakespeare's Birthplace stood before me. Born in 1564 in the Warwickshire town of Stratford-upon-Avon. I decided against buying the five houses pass because I wanted to enjoy this town my way! Shakespeare's Birthplace looked very well preserved, a true British gem! Catching a snap of this attraction took some work because the masses of tourists wouldn't stop walking past the building, they be getting me mad! Getting to Shakespeare's Birthplace was very easy, just follow the signs from Stratford-upon-Avon's railway station, it took me about five minutes to walk there. I  was impressed by Shakespeare's Birthplace, it got me thinking about William Shakespeare's early years. Judging by the size of the building could have meant that Shakespeare's family were in a good financial situation when he was born in 1564? Riches for our wordsmith?

Looking over the privets of the main building it was easy to see that multiple houses were connected to Shakespeare's Birthplace, maybe buying a ticket to see behind the reservation desk may have allowed us to see more? Nevertheless, I know that seeing this sight the way I did was worth making a saving. I had only stepped from my London Midland train twenty minutes early with great expectation for my Shakespearean discovery. With Will's birthplace found I wanted to see the River Avon! Like already?! Feeling the vibe of Stratford's busy town centre I wanted to make the best of the sunshine conditions. The sea of American chat filled the main street in the heart of Stratford-upon-Avon, as a Brit it made me feel very proud because we can own William's Shakespeare's notoriety as a part of our history, plus Will still makes his contribution with all the tourists that visit that famous town! You should take a chance on Stratford-upon-Avon? You're very welcome! OK, let's go!

Taking a break already? I found a perfect patch on the riverside, yes I had made it to the River Avon. You guessed that's where the town gets its name. I'm not one for water-sports of any kind so I thought it would be wise to watch the people row their hired boats rather than trying it for myself, believe me that would have been a catastrophe if I did such a thing! The riverside was packed to the brim with lots of other tourists, most of these people sounded American! I lived in America, so pipe down! Technically speaking the whole world has a things for the work of Britain's most famous playwright! There was just something about this part of Stratford, a small town feeling with a large tourist following. There aren't many other towns that have the past that Stratford has been blessed with. Taking the stresses away from my schedule I know Stratford-upon-Avon chose me! Did I see a theatre? Yes, Shakespeare's!

There seemed to be a slight chance during my Stratford day as I originally wanted to see Anne Hathaway's Cottage before the river. I found out the hard way that Stratford-upon-Avon has a strange layout, something that cannot be helped due to the age of the town, so my usually good sense of direction did get compromised a few times. Sold as the Heart of England I know that this region holds the key to success for tourism, its a no-brainer! I suppose William Shakespeare's legacy lives on in more ways than one? Of course it does! Who wants to see a show? Shakespeare didn't make is pennies doing anything else? The Royal Shakespeare Theatre stared me right in the eye, sat practically upon the Avon River it blended in quite well within its historical backdrop. No, I didn't see a show because I wasn't on that hype! In a strange way all this Shakespeare talk took me back to my English lessons at secondary school! Deep down I really enjoyed learning about the different plays he wrote. Sure!

Holy Trinity Church showed me the grave of the great William Shakespeare, taking my day down a spiritual path. The Church itself looked lovely, lots of historical features were on display. Upon entering the church both of us adopted a whispered demeanour, being respectful I lit a candle for a dearly departed loved one. Paying our donation I made my way to the foot of Shakespeare's grave, for what I saw was inspiring. I hadn't been to a church for a very long time upon visiting Holy Trinity Church, I appreciated what I saw there. The Church of the Holy Trinity stands close to the River Avon, close enough it can be viewed from the opposite side of the river. This church holds a lot history for William Shakespeare because on the 26th April 1564 the playwright was baptised at this church. I make an allowance for places of worship when I visit a new place. Holy Trinity Church gave me calm! So much to see in one day!

The famous poet began his life at Holy Trinity Church and was put to rest there on the 25 April 1616. Visiting this church in essence brought me closer to the life and times of William Shakespeare. From rivers, to birthplaces and then onto reflecting in church our day in Stratford-upon-Avon had been extremely productive and cultured. Who knew that Stratford-upon-Avon would show me so much history and personality?! Holy Trinity Church were on to a winner, I gave my required donation of two pounds to enter the back of the church where William Shakespeare's remains lay beneath the stonework. With the popularity of Shakespeare's resting place such a hit with the visiting public I surmised that the church could be benefiting form the playwrights resting place? Even though that Shakespeare passed away in 1616, he's making a contribution to the town of Stratford-upon-Avon! Any place of worship deserves the respects its entitled to, I gave respect! Stratford, trust and believe!

As my day in Stratford-upon-Avon entered its final stage I still had one more place to visit. Walking around one mile away from William Shakespeare's Birthplace took me to Anne Hathaway's Cottage. Anne Hathaway was William Shakespeare's wife, making her cottage home since her early childhood. During Shakespeare's time Anne Hathaway's Cottage was known as Newlands Farm. I loved the beautifully thatched roof, something that I don't see everyday in the metropolis that is Birmingham. Out of all the Shakespeare Trust properties I would say that Anne Hathaway's Cottage was located quite far from Stratford's town centre. Opting to not entertain the idea of paying to see inside the cottage I marvelled at this property from the outside. I peered over the picket fence to see the manicured gardens that looked lovely, I shouldn't be a miser with my money but that's a story for next time! OK? Never, no!

I went off on a tangent back there by the church, call it a moment of madness if you may? Introducing Stratford-upon-Avon fared to be a really good thing, it got me away from the city for one day and I learnt something about the town of Britain's most famous playwright, William Shakespeare. That master of words and the arts still makes a round coin for his town even thought I keep going on about that, I don't think many other people could be capable of doing that beyond the grave? Anyway, his birthplace happened to be on a pretty ordinary looking street and the frenzy that's created around the town certainly makes it a busy place to discover! Like many things on my doorstep I'm too quick to judge or I make too many excuses not to visit but the town of the River Avon was good to me! I even paid my respected to good old Will and walked one mile to see where his wife once lived! There's one thing that's for sure, Warwickshire hasn't seen the last of me! Play on! Thanks, William!

Keep Telling Shakespeare's Story! 

Joseph Harrison

Birmingham Hippodrome... Hairspray: The Musical

Hairspray! No, not the stuff you style your hair with, I'm on about the musical! Taking a break for one night I ditched the booze for the theatre to see Hairspray at Birmingham's Hippodrome Theatre. Grabbing a bargain priced ticket I was transported back to Baltimore, well in a fashion through the musical! Tracy Turnblad, don't ever stop that beat! Curtain up!

Why Hairspray? Why not! This current show happened to be my second time seeing Hairspray The Musical, after seeing it previously some years ago. During my American Industrial Placement in 2012, I went down to Baltimore, Maryland to see if the movies had done Tracy Turnblad's home city any justice. If truth be told I saw similarities with Baltimore and the movies both original and remade. The row houses of Baltimore's Eastern Ave did just the trick, something about seeing that edgy city made me love Hairspray even more! Keeping the image of Eastern Avenue in my head I embraced Birmingham's edition of Hairspray's 2013 UK Tour. The line-up looked great with a respectably well known cast, I was quite impressed! Being a lover of the theatre and musicals most importantly I am sold every time with Hairspray with its up beat vibe and its fight for racial integration. Yes, university students can be cultured! I know I am!

With a Drag Mama and racial segregation this musical deals with serious issues with a sprinkling of musical theatre magic. What story can span two films, one original released in 1988 that starred TV host Ricki Lake as Tracy Turnblad, right through to 2007 when John Travolta amazed us as the new Edna Turnblad in the remake. It was Good Morning Baltimore! Well more like Good Evening Birmingham! Tracy had took to the stage, singing the opening tune 'Good Morning, Baltimore!' with some gusto! I got into the rhythm of the show instantly, reminiscing about my Baltimore day. Actor 'Mark Benton' took to the stage as Tracy's mom Edna Turnblad, looking every-inch the fabulous lady Edna is! 'Benton' embodied the same qualities like 'John Travolta' did in the remake film but what about 'Divine?!' The Corny Collins Show wowed the audience with their vocal efforts, were they 'the coolest kids in town?' I was in my own kind of theatre heaven, nothing beats going to the theatre B! Oh, oh, o!

Bringing the drama was Velma Von Tussle, played by Ex-Eastenders actress 'Lucy Benjamin.' 'Lucy' worked her role perfectly just like the self obsessed and over protective mother she was playing! Tracy had her Baltimore savoir faire at all times, proclaiming that she could hear the bells. We could all rejoice for Tracy's mama was made very welcome to be a part of the sixties! From detention to the final showdown 'Marcus Collins' embodied the personality and groove of Seaweed, mesmirising Tracy's friend Penny Pingleton. Could this show get anymore camp, there was an Ex-Eastender actress and an X-Factor finalist! Tracy Turnblad held her head up high throughout all the adversity that she faced, the real star in this show! Amongst the big show tunes Tracy Turnblad had a dream to be a dancer on the Corny Collins Show, she wouldn't be deterred by the shade thrown at her! I bowed down to Tracy Turnblad!

Whilst I remain living in the heart of Birmingham's city centre I want to continue with seeing as many shows that my student loan will allow! Yes! Back to the show! Through Tracy's defiance at school she got friendly with some African American students who suffered racial discrimination everyday! Tracy learnt a few dance moves during her spells of detention and realised why these people didn't have the same freedoms that she took for granted! Teaming up with Seaweed and Motormoth Maybelle, Tracy Turnblad took it to the streets being a part of the race riots for equality! Mama Turnblad got out of comfort zone to realise her world hadn't disappeared completely! I'm not sure what part of the show I've got to right now but I'm cool with that! Tracy's mama was serving the 60's! Dragging her from a state of depression Tracy Turnblad took her mama to the salon and for a spot of shopping to realise she still had that spice in her life! This musical empowers first and foremost! Go TT!

You can't stop the beat! Against all odds Tracy Turnblad escaped from prison! Tracy T was locked up for protesting! Escaping just in the nick of time she was hidden in the giant can of Ultra Clutch Hairspray to make her grand entrance! You already know that Tracy was rightfully crowned Miss Hairspray, proudly defeating Amber Von Tussle. I think that this time around my love for Hairspray The Musical has only grown! Penny Pingleton forgot about her religious mother to become a 'checkerboard chick' as she danced with Seaweed! To finish the show the whole cast took to the stage, signing 'You Can't Stop The Beat". Edna Turnblad made her entrance by springing out of a giant 'Ultra Clutch' hairspray can! Tracy got her man, bagging a cheeky snog with Link Larkin! Leaving the Corny Collins Show finally became a racially integrated show at long last! You don't need to be blond and skinny to win Amber Von Tussle! No way!

Tracy got her man and that mean girl got knocked off from the top spot! Has modern American been influenced by this upbeat musical theatre show? Now, that's a question that I wanted answering! Going to Baltimore, Maryland won't ever be the same, well that's if I decided to return? I'm all about the housing projects of Atlanta next! Hairspray wowed me, just as I expected it to if I'm completely honest! I know that spending £20.00 on a ticket for this show was worth every single penny! Everyone loves an underdog, now that's why we love Tracy Turnblad! This musical never ceases to amaze me, I think I shall be watching both of the movies all summer after seeing this show again! I am pleased to announce that I shall be returning back to the Birmingham Hippodrome theatre again on the 4th of June to see Coppelia. I can't get enough of it! After seeing this show two times I can't promise it will be the last time that I see this show! So, until next time Hairspray! Keep on dancing Tracy, Tracy!

Don't You Stop The Beat! No!

Joseph Harrison

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Jonzac, France: La Ville Médiévale

All good things must come to an end, just like my French holiday to the South-West of France. I have been to Bordeaux, Cognac and Chatenet so far, but it was time to revisit one final place. Jonzac, a medieval and endearing town was my last adventure for this trip. Make the great escape to the town where castles, rivers and cute French bakeries exist! J, are you in?

I went to Jonzac during May 2013, that French medieval town once before back in January 2011. During my latest trip to France I wanted to recapture the essence of this quaint town during a brighter time, back in January 2011 my first visit was frigidly cold! Arriving at the top of Jonzac's town centre I saw the charm and beauty of this place staring right back at me, it definitely a case of Déjà vu. Calling Jonzac a town might be the wrong way to describe this small French area, as I would call Jonzac a community within the castle walls of the chateau that's still standing to present day. Standing before me was a majestic chateau, honestly you could not see anything that was more French! Within the castle walls there stood the 'Hôtel de Ville', known as the 'town hall' in French. In France the 'Hôtel de Ville' handles local town issues functioning like a local council when explained in English. J, Je l'ai aimé!

I felt something special as I walked through the castle's main entrance into the grand open air courtyard. This castle-like structure looked over the rest of the town, revealing the greener pastures that sit amongst the houses close to the river. C'est gentil! It was absolutely crazy to think that just five minutes away there is an out-of-town shopping centre, two large supermarkets and a McDonald's! In France, I found that consumerism never compromised the local charm of a place. Does Jonzac have the best of both worlds? Vraiment? Ce ne est pas très français! The 'Hôtel de Ville' was an attraction in itself even though its a council building! I didn't see much of Jonzac the first time around so I'm I got the chance to return. All this talk of forts made me think that Dudley is the nearest place from my hometown to have a castle! Dudley might well be closer to my hometown but let's not talk about right that place right now, Jonzac's got the look! Alors, quelle est la prochaine? Allons-y, J!

Jonzac showed me many cute cake shops, all of which sold a wide variety of cakes, breads  and all things sweet. In French the words 'Patisserie' and 'Confiserie' both translate to pastries and cakes. This sweet addition to Jonzac served the town perfectly. There's nothing quite like a French cake or bake, but to be honest I will have both if I have the choice. We've got Cafe Rouge but that French wannabe chain really doesn't cut it against the authentic establishments that are on offer in Jonzac! On the day I walked past this bakery, I noticed things were looking a little quiet but I can imagine during the summer months this place would be busy with people enjoying their French fancies! French culture marginialises different places that sell specific products, like bread from a 'Boulangerie' and meat from the 'Boucherie' Jonzac servi un petit sentiment de ville avec un bord cosmopolite. Oui! Maintenant, revenons?

France is one of those places that sets its own trends and doesn't want to emulate anything from its European neighbours for this small town of Jonzac possessed its own savoir faire! Anyway, I loved Jonzac's answer to 'Greggs' because it looked quintessentially French. I would love to see classy cake cafes in Bilston and around the West Midlands, maybe it would bring a bit of much needed sophistication to the high streets of England? I unfortunately didn't have a sweet treat from the cake shop pictured to the right because I went to McDonald's for a McFlurry before I arrived in Jonzac's town centre. I do feel bad now! Voyant un peu de vie était belle, le hameau Je étais dans était très calme! I am learning that the French make use of their local amenities, endorsing the small and independent businesses from what I've seen in the Poitou Charantes region of South West France. Love Jonzac, it sure serves medieval Realness like its neighbouring towns, I appreciated my afternoon! Oui, Jo!

Along with the kitsch and historical delights of Jonzac, I almost expected to see 'Belle' from Disney's 'Beauty and The Beast' walk past with a pile of books like she did in the film! I didn't see 'Belle' or 'Gaston' but held that vision in my head as I walked down the hill in the centre of Jonzac's old town. Disney fantasies aside I loved the winding streets of Jonzac's descending paths, leading the way to the main shopping streets. Each place I have visited during my French holiday have all been very unique, for instance Jonzac showed me something that made me feel like I was in another time period completely! Spending time with my paternal grandparents is always interesting, they are a funny pair! Word on the street was that most of Jonzac's architecture dates back to the 17th century, something that I had never seen before I had been to Jonzac. So, the question remains, where was 'Belle' really hiding? Où était Belle? 

France is a country of rivers because almost every town or city I have seen during this past week had its own river flowing through. 'La Seugne' river flows through the town of Jonzac, which has been captured to the right. I will be brutally honest to say that France does have some beautiful rivers, which have some very picturesque surroundings. Looking at the river that flows through Jonzac it looked less frozen compared to my 2011 visit. My visit to Jonzac the second time round was coming to an end but we had to find out what the river was called, all in the name of blogging! I originally thought that this river shared its name with the Parisian river called 'La Seine'. Honestly, it should be easier if you speak the language? My pops speaks French like a Parisian, everything always sounds so proper when he would tell me such words. I wouldn't rule out another visit to Jonzac, I would be bringing my Euros for those cakes! Jonzac, servir la réalité médiévale! Vous devriez visiter Jonzac déjà! 

Disney à Jonzac? sacré bleu!

Joseph Harrison