Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Cabaret at The Marlowe Theatre (gifted)

At secondary school I had singing lessons, and with my teacher I used to sing musical theatre songs on a weekly basis. Cabaret frequently made an appearance in our sessions through 'Maybe This Time' and the titular track and since then it's been on my must-see list. When I heard the musical was making a stop at The Marlowe Theatre and a press night invite dropped into my inbox, I very quickly accepted as it's something I've wanted to see on stage for a long time. In the lead up to the performance we watched the legendary movie starring Liza Minnelli so I'd have a rough idea about what to expect in the theatrical performance. The movie is dark as it covers life in Berlin during the fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of the Third Reich, so I was intrigued to see how the creative team behind Cabaret the Musical would tackle such harrowing themes on stage. On Cabaret's opening night I took my seat ready for a very different theatrical experience, taking a step back in time to 1930s Berlin.

Cabaret at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

The Plot

It's New Year's Eve in 1930 and lots of Berliners are out celebrating at the famous Kit Kat Klub. Cliff Bradshaw, an aspiring American writer has just arrived in Berlin and at the border he meets Ernst Ludwig: a smuggler. Ernst recommends him a place to live: Fraulein Schneider's boarding house and this is where the majority of the production takes place. After securing lodgings Cliff Bradshaw is invited out to the Kit Kat Klub where he meets the star Sally Bowles and it's the start of an unlikely relationship.

The musical follows the lives of Cliff, Sally, Fraulein Schneider and her boarders at the end of Weimar Republic Berlin. The Kit Kat Klub's Emcee narrates the whole piece through song, dance and performances with the Cabaret performers. Politics are changing in the city and the Nazi party are gaining momentum, making the residents of Fraulein Schneider's boarding house and the Kit Kat Klub feel uneasy on the streets they once loved. Performances at the Kit Kat Klub continue and the residents go about their daily lives, but hatred starts to grow day by day. Cabaret is a difficult story to digest but an important one, seen through the eyes of individual people.

Cabaret banner in The Marlowe Theatre lobby

The themes

Friendship, love, acceptance and hatred are some of the themes covered in Cabaret. The Kit Kat Klub is a place of acceptance but the streets of Berlin are far from this towards the end of the production. Hatred overthrows acceptance and Berlin becomes a very dark place to live.

The stage for Cabaret at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

The Cast

In Tuesday's performance the role of Emcee was played by Oliver Roll: an understudy for John Partridge and regular ensemble member. He was tremendous singing Cabaret classics such as 'Money' and 'Wilkommen'. The iconic role of Sally Bowles was played by Kara Lily Hayworth and she was absolutely brilliant, lighting up the stage with her dancing, vocals and acting. 'Maybe This Time' and 'Cabaret' were extremely powerfully numbers, with not a peep coming from the audience. Last but not least deserving of a mention is Anita Harris: the actress starring as Fraulein Schneider. A theatre legend, Anita was charming in the role and her on-stage partnership with James Paterson (Herr Schultz) was a joy to watch. They certainly are great together!

There are some musicals that I could just see again and again, but Cabaret doesn't fall into this category. It was powerful and thought-provoking, so much so that I think the piece wouldn't have such a strong impact seeing it a second time around. It's something that all theatregoers should see at least once as it's a classic musical still resonating with audiences today, as they try to understand the catastrophic changes that happened in Germany in the 1930s. If you're a devoted Cabaret fan or a theatre fan looking to see something a little different to the jukebox musicals, you can find tickets to the Cabaret on The Marlowe Theatre's website. Please bare in mind that this production isn't child friendly and the recommended age for audience members is 13+.

A huge thank you to The Marlowe Theatre for the gifted tickets.

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Monday, 9 March 2020

How to visit Monaco on a budget

Monaco is one of the world's richest countries but contrary to what most would believe, it is possible to visit the principality on a budget. It is well connected to Nice and Cannes thanks to the brilliant train network in the South of France, so it's easy enough to book a trip to either of these places and hop over to Monte Carlo for a day. In late January Stuart and I stayed in Nice for 2 nights, heading to Monaco for 6 hours on the Saturday of our trip. In today's post I'm going to share some tips for visiting the small country on a budget.

Architecture in Monaco City, Monaco

Visit the Côte d'Azur during low season

The Silver Coast is extremely popular with tourists during the Summer months and hotel bed prices can soar from June to August. If you visit the region earlier or later in the year, you should be able to secure a 3 or 4-star hotel for the equivalent of budget accommodation prices. For reference, we secured a room at Hotel 64 in the centre of Nice for £97.64 (total price for 2 nights accommodation, Friday - Sunday) in late January. This was a 4-star hotel, just footsteps from Nice train station and a short tram ride from the Nice Côte d'Azur airport.

Stay in a hotel in France

Hotel 64 in Nice, France

Continuing on from my previous point, hotels in France are far cheaper than hotels in Monaco. From a brief search on Hotels dot com for a weekend in August, I was able to find a handful of hotels in Monaco: costing a minimum of £200 a night. Looking at Nice hotels for the same weekend, I was able to find hotels for upwards of £100 a night. There is far more room choice in neighbouring French towns and cities, which aren't far away from Monaco by train.

Travel to Monaco by public transport

Nice to Monaco SNCF train ticket

It costs less than €7 to get from Nice to Monaco and back by train. The bus is even cheaper at €1.50 each way, but the journey takes a little longer. If you were to arrange a private tour from Monaco to Nice it would be a lot more expensive, so definitely try and travel there by public transport if you can.

Plan your Monaco transport in advance

Monaco Le Grand Tour hop-on hop-off bus parked in Monaco City

Monaco is just over 2km² in size but even though the principality is small, it's not easy to explore the length of it on foot. If you'd like to visit Monaco City for example, the district is located at the top of the cliff overlooking the harbour and in a day you wouldn't be able to make it up there without a taxi or public transport. If possible try and arrange your Monaco transport in advance of your trip. Public buses and the hop-on hop-off service will be able to take you everywhere you need and cost a fraction of the fare of a taxi.

Scout out the free things to do in Monaco City and Monte Carlo

Colourful buildings in Monaco City, Monaco

Exploring the Grand Prix circuit, strolling through the Old Town and visiting the lovely St Martin Gardens are just a few of the free things you can do in Monaco. There is easily a day's worth of fun in the principality that doesn't require entry fees, so you can be confident that there are plenty of free things to do in Monaco.

Hopefully I've been able to convince you that a trip to Monaco doesn't have to be as expensive as you'd initially expect: you just need to be prepared to commute to Monaco for the day from neighbouring cities or towns in France. Out of season Nice hotels have some extraordinary deals so you could bag yourself a very cheap weekend in Nice and Monaco if you're happy to travel at less popular times. With lots of free things to do, Monaco is very accessible to budget travellers in early Spring, Autumn and Winter!

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Saturday, 29 February 2020

Budget travel tips for Copenhagen

Early in December we headed to the Danish capital for a weekend of Christmas Markets. It was our third annual Christmas Market trip and by far the priciest, as Scandinavian countries are notoriously expensive for UK tourists. With higher prices came stricter budgeting and I found that we had to organise and divvy up our trip spending money more than normal. Food and drink were more expensive than at home and these ate up the majority of our budget, so we quickly found ourselves heading to chain eateries where prices were more standardised. In light of this experience I thought I’d share some Copenhagen budgeting tips on the blog today. It is possible to visit Copenhagen and not spend lots of money; you just need to be aware of the exchange rate and be prepared to hunt around for more affordable restaurants.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen

1. Make sure you book breakfast at your hotel.

Most hotels offer breakfast buffets and it’s easy to ‘stock up on breakfast’ so that you don’t have to pay for lunch. We didn’t have breakfast at our budget hotel but we did take cereal bars with us and although that reduced our hotel bill, we did need to pay for lunch. I recommend getting breakfast paid for at the time of booking, so that you know at least one meal a day is already paid for when you arrive in Copenhagen.

2. Book Tivoli Gardens in advance.

In high season you can save money on Tivoli Gardens tickets if you are happy to book them online before you arrive. You can also choose to print the tickets at home which allows you to jump the queue when you arrive; saving you time on peak days or during seasonal periods.

The King's Garden in Copenhagen, Denmark

3. Explore the city centre on foot.

You can walk the length of Copenhagen city centre in an hour, so public transport tickets are only really necessary for your journey into the city from the airport and the return journey. Most of the tourist attractions are in and around Nyhavn (the new harbour), so you can easily save some pennies by exploring on foot. Tivoli Gardens and the Little Mermaid Statue are on opposite edges of town, but they are still each only 25 minutes walk from Nyhavn.

4. Know your exchange rate!

It’s so easy to not realise how much money you’re spending if the scale of money is very different to your own. £1 currently equals 8.5 Danish Krones and I always tried to keep this in the back of my mind when paying for food, drink or souvenirs. Have your phone calculator with you if you’re ever unsure whether something is expensive; it’ll save you getting confused and paying above the odds for a product!

Downtown Copenhagen in December

5. Purchase hot drinks at fast food restaurants.

Danish coffee houses are beautifully modern and stylish, but they come with a price tag. If you’re looking for a cup of tea, a hot chocolate or a coffee in the middle of the day, definitely head to McDonalds or an alternative food outlet.  They are far cheaper and if you’re happy not having gourmet brands, it’s an easy swap to make.

6. Eat dinner at the Tivoli food court.

A hidden gem at the exit to Tivoli (and accessible without a Tivoli ticket), the food court is filled with popular food brands that have prices similar to UK chain restaurants. There’s a Vapiano at the top of the food court with a view over the park and you can take in the wonderful views, knowing your meal is a similar price to what is considered fair at home.

Strøget in December, Copenhagen

Albeit expensive to visit, Copenhagen is such an exciting city. Flights from the UK are usually very affordable so definitely try and secure a bargain flight and hotel before you get there, so the overall cost of your trip isn’t above budget. The more you can pay for in advance, the easier and cheaper your trip should be. 

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Saturday, 8 February 2020

Alice and the Hatter, Herne Bay

When family or friends come to visit us in here in Kent, I like to take them to local places for food that they wouldn’t be able to find at home. The Alice and the Hatter tearoom in Herne Bay is one of these places: about 25 minutes away from Canterbury by car, offering a very different lunch experience to chain cafés and eateries. Slap bang in the centre of town, there is a car park less than 5 minutes walk from Alice and the Hatter and the tearoom is brilliantly located at only a short walk from the seafront. When my sister Steph and our friend Sarah came to visit me a couple of weeks ago, I booked a table at Alice and the Hatter and we stopped in the seaside town for a couple of hours at lunchtime. Filled with Alice in Wonderland décor, we were in for a real weekend treat.

Sarah and Kat Last at the Alice and the Hatter tearoom in Herne Bay, Kent

Our table was reserved for 12pm and I’m really glad we did book, as the tearoom was very busy with it being a Saturday. We were seated on a beautiful table at the centre of the restaurant and greeted with elegantly themed menus. My eye wandered straight to the heart-shaped sandwiches section of the menu and quickly spotted a vegetarian option. I ordered a ‘Down the rabbit hole’ heart sandwich without the avocado: essentially a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich on ciabatta bread, carefully cut into the shape of a heart. Served with delicious vegetable crisps, I was thrilled with my lunch choice. In a ‘Wonderland’ themed place I absolutely had to order a pot of tea as my drink and I chose the Earl Grey kind that smelt divine.

Heart-shaped sandwich at Alice and the Hatter, Herne Bay

We didn’t have any room for cake after our sandwiches, but that didn’t stop us from purchasing some cupcakes to takeaway with us. The Alice, strawberry heart and chocolate cupcakes took our fancy and the host kindly boxed them up for us to take away with us.

Kat Last, Sarah and Steph with the Alice and the Hatter tearoom props, Herne Bay

To summarise, it was a lovely themed lunch in the heart of Herne Bay. It wasn’t a cheap lunch out by any means with 3 sandwiches, 3 pots of teas and 3 cupcakes totalling £37, but Alice in the Hatter is far more affordable than any of the London Alice tearoom experiences. There is convenient parking in the nearby Market Street car park starting at £1.20 an hour and you can always combine your visit to Alice and the Hatter with a stroll along the Herne Bay seafront. If you visit at a weekend, reservations are a must and you can make them via the tearoom’s website.

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