The Painted Churches of Texas

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Traveling Tri Deltas from the Houston Alumnae Chapter with our guide Sharon outside St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha, Texas.

This special edition post of travelbynatasha.com is dedicated to the sisters of Delta Delta Delta.  They are the ones who made this trip special.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The beautiful painted ceilings and archways of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in High Hill, Texas.

Shortly before 9 am on a spring Friday morning we left Houston to visit the historical Painted Churches of Texas near Schulenburg.  This small central Texas town on the Old Spanish Trail is approximately halfway from Houston to San Antonio, Texas.  It is also about an hour and a half from Austin.  This area was settled primarily by German and Czech-speaking immigrants.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in High Hill, Texas.

According to the Texas State Historical Association, “[t]he largest ethnic group in Texas derived directly from Europe was persons of German birth or descent. As early as 1850, they constituted more than 5 percent of the total Texas population, a proportion that remained constant through the remainder of the nineteenth century.”  Even as late as the 1990 census, “Germans rank[ed] behind Hispanics [to] form the third-largest national-origin group in the state.”  Schulenburg sits in the heart of this German Belt.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville, Texas.

Both my paternal grandparents grew up in Moulton, Texas, just 21 miles from Schulenburg (and only 12 miles from Praha where the final church we will visit is located).  I grew up going to the Catholic and Lutheran Churches in this area.  I still attend the annual fall festival at St. Joseph’s in Moulton; 28-year-old Rocky has attended more than 20 times.  Yes, this is a family tradition and this area feels like home.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas.

I grew up worshiping in Catholic churches like the ones we visited never thinking they were different or special.  Maybe they were older than the Cathedral parish that was my home in Victoria (a little farther south), but the Roman altars I thought looked like castles as a child were part of my religious and cultural identity.

Maybe that is why I am drawn to visiting churches when in Europe,  particularly the painted ones in places like Krakow, Munich, and Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in High Hill, Texas. Pulpits like these were removed from most churches after Vatican II when electric wiring and sound systems allowed the priests to be heard throughout the church. Fortunately this beautiful example remains in High Hill.

This year our Houston sorority alumnae group wanted to offer a range of social gatherings that appealed to Tri Delta alumnae of all ages.  Our membership includes recent college graduates to 90+year old members who have celebrated their diamond circle degree (75 years of membership).  These events would go beyond our traditional annual events and vary from year to year.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas.

Natasha got tapped to lead this new Sisters Connect concept.  Along with a committee, I planned six events.  The tour of the Painted Churches was our first choice and the only one among this inaugural year’s offerings to be a day-long event.  My event chair Connie and I made a test run in July to visit the Schulenburg Chamber of Commerce and check out a few dining options.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, Texas.

Our group traveled by chartered bus from a church in west central Houston.   We left just after the morning rush hour and made the trip in about an hour and a half, enjoying the beautiful Texas wildflowers along the highway.  That said, I not sure most people were looking out the windows.  The conversation was lively and the volume on the bus pretty high.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Historic Downtown building in Schulenburg, Texas.

We enjoyed coffee and homemade cinnamon rolls made by one of our chapter members, Madelyn before arriving at the Chamber of Commerce office next to the railroad tracks and across from the city’s historic downtown buildings.  Our local guide joined the group here.  I highly recommend engaging one of the local guides.  The cost is only $10/person and she gives travel instruction and church and social commentary.  We learned a great deal from Sharon.  She is a volunteer.  The $10 is divided equally between the four churches and the chamber ($2 per visitor to each) to help with the restoration efforts.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, in High Hill, Texas.

Our first stop was St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, in High Hill, Texas referred to as the “Queen of the Painted Churches”.  This facade of the church is made entirely of handmade red bricks.  This church lies among the tree-less fields cleared for the planting of cotton.  The name High Hill was chosen by the community to remind them of the hills in Germany and Austria that they left behind.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The stained glass from Munich, Germany in St. Mary’s Catholic Church in High Hill, Texas.

This is the third church to be built on this site.  The land was deeded to the parish in 1868 and the first church constructed in 1869. A second larger church was built in 1876 and the original church became the parish school.  The irreplaceable stained glass from Munich was stored in a local barn when a hurricane came through the area.  It was incorporated into the third church built in 1906.  The beautiful interior painting was added in 1912.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in High Hill, Texas.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in High Hill, Texas.

The church is a classic example of the Gothic Revival style.  Like all the churches we are visiting this day, it is reflective of the materials and style reminiscent of the settlers’ homeland.  It is now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Stained glass in St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in High Hill, Texas. The shape of the center figure represents good luck, the white edelweiss flowers the Austrian heritage, and the red beets their shared heritage with Germany.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. A marker representing the original settlers’ heritage at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in High Hill, Texas.

Next to the church is a small home, charming in and of itself, which offers a gift shop run by volunteers.  We made a stop before departing just to offer support for their church and the restoration efforts.  There are crafts, religious items, and memorabilia.  The shop did offer for sale a pamphlet covering the history of the church ($10) and another detailing the interior decoration of the church ($5).  During my first visit to the Chamber of Commerce I picked up the “Schulenburg ‘Offical home of the Painted Churches’ Historic & Scenic Driving Tours” ($5).  They are also available at the High Hill gift shop.  This was the only church on our tour that offered a gift shop.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in High Hill, Texas. As you enter the church, words in Old German adorn the walls. Notice the bell ropes; they are still use today to operate the church bells.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. On the sidewalk as you enter the church at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in High Hill, Texas.

High Hill is only 3 miles north of Interstate 10 and Schulenburg, Texas.  Current restoration efforts were completed in 2011 and St. Mary’s now appears in all its’ glory.  As you enter the church you find old German on the wall.  On the north side is psalm 47:10 and translates to “We have received O Lord Your divine mercy within Your temple.”  The church’s fall festival is held each year on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville, Texas.

Our second stop was St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammansville, Texas.  During the short drive over, we enjoyed more of the plentiful Texas wildflowers and drove past the charming KJT Hall just north of the church.  The Hall once served as a church, a school, a meeting place, and a library.  Today it is used for reunions, wedding receptions, and the parish picnic on Fathers’ Day weekend.  Unfortunately, the Hall is not air conditioned.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville, Texas.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville, Texas.

My favorite part of St. John’s was the beautiful white wood exterior.  I did not find the interior particularly attractive, but I am not a big fan of mauve or overhead florescent lights.  Like the High Hill church, St. John’s featured the three Roman Altars made in San Antonio, Texas by a craftsman who copied the Italian style popular during this time.  In St. John’s the altars were painted white, reflective of a slightly different cultural preference of the group that started the church.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville, Texas. The stained glass features the name of the donor in a panel near the bottom. A common practice during this time.

Like the High Hill church, the current church is the third iteration.  The first church from 1909 was destroyed by a storm; the second church was destroyed by fire, although some of the statutes were saved by parishioners that rushed inside the burning church to save them.  The present church was started in 1917.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville, Texas. The stained glass panels of the left side of the church (with one exception) feature female saints.

I was very surprised to learn that the interior painting, like that at St. Mary’s in High Hill, was done on canvas.  The canvas was then transferred and attached to the walls and ceilings.  The interior of St. John’s features stenciling and marbling techniques.  Noteworthy is the fact that the stained glass on the left side of the church features all female saints (except for one panel featuring Jesus) while the right side is male saints.  Female parishioners sat on the left side (like today’s wedding guests of the bride sit on the left side) while males sat on the right.  Small hat clips are featured on the pews on the left side.  Similarly, often statutes of angels found on the left side of the church are in pink robes, while those on the right are in blue robes.

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St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville, Texas. Note the placement of the angel holy water fonts in blue and pink robes.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Right side altar at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville, Texas.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Left side altar at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville, Texas.

Oddly, both side altars feature large statutes of the Virgin Mary.  Usually Mary is just featured on one of the side altars.  The Madonna to the left has the unique features of a different Czech minority group.  A female patron with this heritage paid to have the statute added as a tribute to her heritage and to gain a sense of the familiar.  Note Jesus’ dangling sandal.  There are stories of the child Jesus escaping his parents which are associated with this depiction of Mary and the infant Jesus.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville, Texas.

Outside was a wonderful cemetery beside a lake featuring beautiful statuary.  I hope to have time to walk through and take pictures on my next visit.  Yes, I am already planning a next time.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, Texas.

Our final stop before lunch was Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, Texas built in 1912.  The community’s name came from the Czech word Dub, meaning a grove of oak trees.  The first settlers came in 1856 from the northeastern area of Moravia.  An earlier church on this site was destroyed in a tropical storm in July of 1909, but the iron cross on the steeple was salvaged from that structure.  The original church was constructed in 1877 after the Civil War.  That church was topped with the same iron cross made by freed slave and blacksmith, Tom Lee.  Alan Oakes, C.S.P., Dubina:  Giant Oaks from Acorns Grow.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, Texas.

In 1952 the church was “modernized” and much of the beautiful painted artwork was covered in a gray-green paint.  Fortunately, the upper portions of the wall were left uncovered.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The beautiful stations of the cross in Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, Texas.

Later restoration in the 1980s removed the paint and the parishioners themselves-not trained artists-added the stencil work that is seen today on the lower portion of the walls.  Although some liberties were taken, some of the original stencils were found and some of the original artwork uncovered.  “Judge Ed Janecka recalled as an altar boy seeing the faint traces of the earlier designs when the sunlight hit the walls of the church.”  Alan Oakes, C.S.P., from a retelling by Judge Ed Janecka who led the restoration efforts on the church, Dubina:  Giant Oaks from Acorns Grow.

 

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, Texas.

The parish later paid a trained artist to add the the stars on the ceiling.  The work was done in the style of Michangelo, with scaffolding and the artist lying on his back.  If you look closely, you can see that the stars are of various sizes.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, Texas.

Today the community at Dubina numbers only about 200.  Their parish feast is on the first Sunday of July.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Garden Co. Marketplace & Cafe, Schulenburg, Texas.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Garden Co. Marketplace & Cafe, Schulenburg, Texas.

From Dubina, we made our way back to Schulenburg for lunch at a charming old home that had been renovated to accommodate a restaurant.  There was wonderful outdoor seating which some of us enjoyed on this beautiful day.  In the July, Connie and I had had our lunch in the cool, air conditioned interior.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Garden Co. Marketplace & Cafe, Schulenburg, Texas.

The Garden Company also has a wonderful gift shop and garden center behind the restaurant and many of our sisters enjoyed a little shopping after lunch.  At the restaurant’s request, we had a late lunch at 1:30 pm to avoid the Friday lunch crowd.  As soon as we sat down, they took our drink orders and served us beverages.  We had pre-ordered our food selections and it came out very quickly.  I recommend the pre-order option if you are traveling in a large group.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas

Our final church visit was to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha, Texas eight miles west of Schulenburg.  The community was first settled by Czech-Moravian families in 1854.  St. Mary’s Parish was established in 1855.  The stone church we visited today was built in 1895.  The stone used in the church’s construction is from a nearby quarry.  It was hauled by oxen to the church site.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas

 

As with many of the churches built during this time, much of the labor used in the construction of the church was provided by the parishioners themselves.  I am proud to say that my own paternal family, mostly carpenters, help build both the Catholic church, St. Joseph’s (paternal grandmother’s family, the Broschs) and the the Lutheran church (paternal grandfather’s family, the Janssens) in Moulton, just 12 miles from Praha.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas

In this church the shape of the vaulted ceiling to resemble an overturned boat is quite pronounced.  Unlike the canvas-painted ceilings in the churches we saw early in the tour,  it is obvious that this painting is done directly on the wood.  The ceiling painting done by a Swiss-born artist Gottfried Flury from Moulton is original.  The depictions are meant to be reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican in Rome.  It is amazing that the beautiful color is still vibrant even though the work has never been repainted.  Preservation is most likely the reason that we were not allowed to turn the lights on in the church.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The restored Ambo or pulpit in Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas

Although the ceiling is original, the church has undergone extensive renovation to maintain this structure originally built in 1895; renovation work is detailed on the church’s website.  Pictures of the work are also online.  The church’s Ambo or pulpit, removed in 1965 post Vatican II, has been lovingly returned and restored.  The canopy had been lost, but a replacement was crafted by an artist from nearby Moulton.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas

The interior boasts some beautiful painted wood door panels and confessionals.  On the main altar there are also two wood statutes carved from wood from the Black Forest in Germany.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas.  These two statutes are made of wood from Germany’s Black Forest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas. Stained Glass featuring the image of the pelican.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas. Stained Glass featuring the image of the pelican.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The image of the pelican mother is painted above a doorway in St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in High Hill, Texas.

Also within the church is a stained glass panel depicting a mother pelican piercing her own breast to feed her young.  The image was found in several of the churches we visited.  “The symbolism of the mother pelican feeding her little baby pelicans is rooted in an ancient legend which preceded Christianity. The legend was that in time of famine, the mother pelican wounded herself, striking her breast with the beak to feed her young with her blood to prevent starvation…Given this tradition, one can easily see why the early Christians adapted it to symbolize our Lord, Jesus Christ…The pelican symbolizes Jesus our Redeemer who gave His life for our redemption…Moreover, Jesus continues to feed us with His body and blood in the holy Eucharist.”  Fr. William P. Sanders, “The Symbolism of the Pelican”, The Catholic Herald.  The image also appears on the Louisiana state flag.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas. In older churches you can find the traditional baptismal font in the back of the church, sometimes in a gated area. After Vatican II, baptisms now take place in the front of church to be witnessed by the entire congregation.

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Mary’s Grotto on the grounds ofSt. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas.

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Memorial to WWII veterans on the grounds of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Praha, Texas.

Outside you will find the traditional grotto with a statute of Mary.  Additionally, there are three small covered monuments to commemorate the death of the nine members of the community who left to fight in World War II.  None of them returned.  An annual remembrance service featuring a flyover and flower drop is held each year.  The community feast held in August is called the Prazka Pout which means homecoming.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Sengelmann Hall, Schulenburg, Texas

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Upstairs in Sengelmann Hall, Schulenburg, Texas

Our touring complete, we returned to Schulenburg to drop our guide Sharon off at the Visitors Center.  On our way out of town, we drove by Senglemann Hall.  One of our chapter members is married to a member of the Senglemann family.  Connie read an account from her father-in-law about the building, a dance hall that was hit hard by prohibition.  Today a restaurant serving German food is on the ground floor.  Connie and I had a chance to tour the upstairs dance hall and balcony when we visited back in July.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen

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Photo ©Jean Janssen

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Connie and I got lucky on the way back to Houston.  Chapter Presidents Brandy and Kristin served the snacks and drinks.

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Service with a (delta) smile.  On the way back to Houston, Chapter Presidents Brandy and Kristin served our snacks and drinks.

It was a wonderful day.  We were headed against traffic on the ride back to Houston and made good time.  In route we enjoyed wine and snacks.  We pulled into the parking lot at 5:28, meeting our 5:30 ETA.  The lenten season was a wonderful time to make this special trip, reminding me of my cultural and religious heritage and celebrating this spiritual season.  Sharing the day with my sisters made it all the more special.  I recommend a trip out to see the Painted Churches of Texas, a spiritual journey of beauty and heritage.

–Natasha

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Photo ©Jean Janssen

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Photo ©Jean Janssen

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Disney’s Marvel Day at Sea

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Rocky and I met Captain Marvel aboard the Disney Magic during our Marvel Day at Sea cruise out of Miami.

About a month before the release of Captain Marvel (the origin story film), my adult son Rocky and I slipped away for a 5-day Disney Cruise out of Miami aboard the Disney Magic, the original ship among Disney’s four-ship fleet.  The attraction of this particular cruise was the Marvel Day at Sea theme.  This theme cruise is available only on the Magic from January through April.

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Natasha in the atrium of the Disney Magic.

The Magic is the oldest of Disney’s four ships and was launched in 1997.  It was dry-docked just last year for upgrades and repairs.  In spite of some online criticism I read, we found nothing to complain about.  In fact the wonderful new Rapunzel’s Royal Table is quite a treat.  The primary difference in the Magic is that this is a smaller ship in an industry and at a price point where the trend and expectation is that bigger is better.

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Goofy asked Natasha to dance at the Disney Vacation Club Member Welcome Party onboard the Disney Magic.

Beginning in 2021, Disney will add three new larger ships to its fleet.  One each year.  We learned at the onboard welcome party for Disney Vacation Club members that the exteriors of these ships will look very similar to what we have seen in the past with the deep navy hulls, yellow lifeboats and trim, and red accents.  However the interiors are supposed to look entirely different from any of the other ships in their fleet.  The names of the new ships have not been released.

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©Jean Janssen The Disney Fantasy at anchor in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands.

This was my fourth Disney cruise and I have now taken one aboard each of their currently available ships.  The newer two, the Dream and the Fantasy, feature upgrades and additions and are larger ships.  However, the interiors really are in line with what the line started with the Magic and then the Wonder.  Following industry trends, the three new ships will be even bigger.

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Families on the beach in White Bay on Jost Van Dyke Island. ©Jean Janssen

Like many cruise lines, Disney’s bread and butter is Caribbean itineraries.  Originally, they were designed as 3 or 4-day cruises with guests spending the balance of their week at the parks in Orlando.  These options are still available, but Disney now offers longer and more exciting and far flung itineraries in the Mediterranean, Alaska, and Scandinavia.  They offer a repositioning cruise from the West Coast to the Gulf of Mexico through the Panama Canal (or the reverse) that is on my bucket list.

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Disney is currently the only cruise line giving you fireworks at sea. ©Jean Janssen

For us, Disney cruises are less about the ports and much more about the onboard entertainment.  Disney cruises are priced slightly higher than other cruises in this category and for years I didn’t see the point of spending the extra cash for the Disney option.  All that changed after my first cruise with them.  The amazing onboard entertainment is worth the higher price tag.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen.  You don’t want to go too fast on the aqua duck or you may fly out of one of the openings in the tube and straight into one of the main stacks on the ship like Donald aboard the Disney Fantasy.

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The AquaDuck aboard the Disney Fantasy.

I have been on over 30 cruises and the choice to take almost all of them has been itinerary driven.  The choice to take a Disney cruise is the exception.  We take Disney cruises because of the entertainment options.  We chose this cruise because it offered Marvel Day at Sea.  In fact, we didn’t even get off the boat at one of our two ports.

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The Rebels-Rocky, Chewbacca, and Natasha-at Star Wars Day at Sea.

Personally, I don’t often bother with cruises for less than a week, but the attraction of this 5-day itinerary was the Marvel Day at Sea.  Rocky and I took a week-long cruise aboard the Fantasy for Star Wars Day at Sea.  It was so much fun for a Star Wars fan.  It was that experience that first got me thinking about the Marvel option.

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Natasha aboard the Disney Magic for Marvel Day at Sea.

While the Marvel (like the Star Wars) themed entertainment is only for one day, the bug is there all cruise with passengers sporting their Marvel attire and the on-ship movie theaters showing lots of Marvel films, particularly in that late night time slot.  The photo option backdrop was in the lobby from day one.  (On the Fantasy for the Star Wars cruise, they had some of the larger props from the film The Force Awakens right there in the atrium lobby.)

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Pirate Night Deck Party onboard the Disney Magic.

The themed cruise doesn’t mean they take anything away, the traditional Pirate Night complete with fireworks offered on each of their Caribbean cruises, the large production show musical, and the other production shows are all still there.  They just add all the Marvel entertainment on top it.  As the cruise director noted, they just do seven nights worth of entertainment in a five-night itinerary.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Marvel Day at Sea menu at Lumiere’s aboard the Disney Magic.

Traditional Disney cruise ship dining is found aboard the Magic.  You still rotate with your staff between each of the ship’s three themed dining areas.  We started in Lumiere’s just off the atrium.  Intended as the most elegant dining spot, it offers nothing special in the way of entertainment.  That didn’t bother us the first night when we were tired.  Our second night in Lumiere’s happened to be on our last sea day, the Marvel Day at Sea, so the themed menu gave us a bit of a special evening there.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. A visit from Sorcerer Mickey at Animator’s Palate aboard the Disney Magic.

The second night’s dining was at Animator’s Palate which is just a little different in design and show at each of the Disney ships we have been on.  On the Magic, screens feature both black and white and color sketches of characters and scenery from Disney films.  Often what you are seeing are the early drawings of characters or backgrounds and not the final iterations that make it into the film.  Sorcerer Mickey also makes an appearance in this venue.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Rapunzel’s Royal Table aboard the Disney Magic.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Characters from the Snuggly Duckling roam around at Rapunzel’s Royal Table on the Disney Magic.

The third main dining location is in the newly-introduced Rapunzel’s Royal Table.  Found in the location of what was the Caribbean-themed restaurant (at least that is what it would have been aboard the Wonder), the new concept was introduced when the ship went back into rotation after last year’s renovations.  The production show on this ship is Tangled, and the focus is carried into this dining venue.  The decor is top notch with notable touches from the film.  Characters from the Snuggly Duckling (the pub in the film) greet you as you enter and strolling minstrels perform around the restaurant and on stage.  Later in the evening, Rapunzel makes an appearance and actually stops at each table for pictures.  Likewise, Flynn Rider later joins her and makes the table rounds.

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Natasha had a photo opportunity with Rapunzel at her Royal Table aboard the Disney Magic.

The entertainers and the dinner production were better than I expected.  The at-table photographs were a particularly nice touch.  They close the show with the floating lanterns, which is lovely.  If you haven’t seen the movie, you might be a bit confused, but I think this is a really nice addition to the restaurant rotation and a way to carry the musical theme unique to this Disney ship.  The Magic is the only ship which features the Tangled full scale production show.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Rocky got to practice his smolder with coaching from Flynn Rider at Rapunzel’s Royal Table aboard the Disney Magic.

My only complaint about Rapunzel’s Royal Table is that with the crowd and all the talking, it is almost impossible to hear most of the dialog and music.  Such a shame.  I am not sure how this might be easily corrected.  We weren’t even at the farthest tables and it was second seating with fewer screaming children but it was still a problem.  Fortunately, the special themed decor and the visits at our table by all of the characters made up for some of our disappointment.

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Natasha with Hookhand at Rapunzel’s Royal Table on the Disney Magic.

Our dinner rotation happened to coincide with the production show schedule.  The night we saw Tangled, we also dined in Rapunzel’s Royal Table.  That night, characters from the film’s Snuggly Duckling also take over McGill’s Pub in the adult entertainment area.  It was Tangled overload.

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Natasha and Rocky with Mickey sporting Captain America themed attire aboard the Disney Magic.

Our five-night cruise felt like a five-themed night cruise.  There was Welcome Night (day one), Pirate Night (day two), Tangled Night (day three), Marvel Night (day four), and Farewell/Island Night (day five).  There were production shows of each of these nights.

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Natasha took advantage of the final night photo op to see Cinderella aboard the Disney Magic.

About now, some of you are thinking the title of this post is a bit deceptive, but I am getting there.  Prior to boarding the ship or at guest relations when you get aboard, you can make reservation for some of the character greetings (crowd control).  If you want an arranged time to see the Princesses, the principals from Frozen, or specific Marvel characters, you get a specified time for greetings, autographs, and photos.  Although the Princesses appear briefly on the last night (and only for photos, no autographs), there is no other way to meet these other characters while on-board.*

*It is possible that these characters go to the children’s clubs, but I can not confirm that.  Characters do regularly appear in those venues.

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Rocky and Natasha with Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy aboard the Disney Magic.

We actually arranged to meet Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy and the New York Marvel characters (as Disney refers to them in reservations) the following day before we got off the ship at Castaway Cay.  If your party is willing to do that, it is a good way to free up some of time on the Marvel Day at Sea.  We saw Spider-Man, Black Panther, and Iron Man, as well as Groot, on day five .

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Natasha’s bed aboard the Disney Magic.

There are some very special lectures on these themed cruises and really they are not to be missed.  For Marvel Day Sea, there were Marvel Origins and Meet the Masters presentations.  That said, Rocky and I did miss the first one because we wanted to get a picture with Captain Marvel.  I admit, we are those people on the cruise ship (or in the parks) that want to get pictures with the characters.  Some parents actually complain when adults are in line thinking this entertainment is just for kids.  Remember I paid for this cruise too and if what I want to do is get a picture with a character I can do that.  It is my time and my vacation.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Natasha was one of the very first to get a photo of Captain Marvel when she came out for her first character greeting of the day aboard the Disney Magic during Marvel Day at Sea.

Ok, it may seen silly but we are excited that a month before the movie even comes out, we already have a picture with Captain Marvel.  We had heard the lines would be long for her, so we went to the first offering.  The way that Disney does its open character visits is that the character has a slated 15-minute time slot.  You can get in line any time within that 15 minutes and are guaranteed to meet the character.  However, you might have to wait as long as 45 minutes.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Autographs of the Marvel characters were very popular. One of the smartest ideas I saw was rather than an autograph book, people had characters sign Captain America’s shield. Here is Dr. Strange doing just that.

Some of the characters roam around the ship without a specific location or queue (although people create a line anyway).  On Marvel Day at Sea we saw Captain Marvel, Loki, Thor, and Captain America by waiting in character lines.  We also got photos with Hawkeye, Black Widow, Star Lord, and Gamora while they were roaming around.  We got a photo of Dr. Strange just before he went into his special mystical arts production show in the Walt Disney Theater.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Rocky with Captain America during Marvel Day at Sea.

We did make the “lecture” (Meet the Masters) with Bill Rosemann from Marvel Games.  He gave us his history with the Marvel Company and the inside scoop on the evolution of some of the story lines.  He talked about how much fun they have with the “Easter eggs” and that they even create characters to show diversity and acceptance.  Comic book characters historically have tackled sensitive issues before they are otherwise fully dealt with in society.  My favorite story that Bill related was of the the hearing impaired boy who refused to wear his hearing aid.  His mother called the company and Marvel created a Super Hero, Blue Ear, who wore a hearing aid.  The young boy found a role model in a comic book character and started wearing his hearing aid.

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Natasha with Thor during Marvel Day at Sea.

Bill Rosemann is actually the writer who pulled together the current Guardians of the Galaxy group by selecting old characters that had not been featured in a long time.  He mentioned that when his wife saw the profiles on the table, she asked if he was really going to include a squirrel when she saw the picture of Rocket (who is actually a modified raccoon if you are uninformed).  Rocket is voiced by Bradley Cooper in the films.

We loved the lecture and suggest if you ever have the opportunity to see one of these presentations aboard a themed-cruise that you always take advantage of them.  The lectures aboard the Star Wars Day at Sea cruise were equally impressive.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Dinner Menu at Marvel Day at Sea.

There are Marvel lectures, character greetings, trivia contests, costume celebrations, drawing classes, art projects, children’s themed-events, movies, and announcements throughout the day.  There was even racing (crawling) babies dressed as superheroes in the atrium lobby.  Something for every taste.  You can also just go and enjoy the pool if you are not into the Marvel activities.  I liked some of the little touches, the daily schedule (Navigator) that looked like a comic book and the restaurant menu with Marvel-themed names to all the options.  The cast members wore special name tags and even the food options in the buffet line had identifying tags that looked like comic book dialog balloons.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Chip and Dale as Thor and Loki during Marvel Day at Sea on the Disney Magic.

The production show that day was a Dr. Strange mystical arts show which was definitely geared for children.  In the evening, the Marvel character greetings ended and then the most familiar Disney characters came out with Marvel-inspired outfits.  That is one thing about a Disney cruise.  You can take a picture with Mickey everyday and he is dressed differently for the theme of that particular day.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Donald and Rocky show their “smash” pose during Marvel Day at Sea.

Some of the characters really get into this-Donald’s Hulk was the very best!  We also saw Goofy as Iron Man, Minnie as Spider-Gwen, Chip and Dale as Thor and Loki, and Daisy as either Gamora or Black Widow (we weren’t sure which).  Mickey was inspired by Captain America.  It was a fun way for those of all ages to enjoy the theme.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Spider-Man swings into action during the Marvel Day at Sea deck show.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Marvel Day at Sea deck show aboard the Disney Magic.

Between the dinner seatings was a character show, but the real highlight to the evening was the upper-deck show billed as a Stark Industries demonstration of new technology, complete with a roving reporter and a greeting from “Captain” Stan Lee (bittersweet given his recent passing).  All the Marvel characters that are on-board (and a few extra villains) are featured.  The fireworks are creatively incorporated into the show.  I loved the Spider-Man climb.  I usually go out for these deck shows, but find them really cheesy and laugh at a lot of things that are meant to be as serious, at least in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way.  I wasn’t alone; there were lots of people that found it humorous.  However, not everyone approved; one guest even yelled out “stop laughing”.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Marvel Day at Sea upper deck show.

That said, this show was really well executed and was a great way to feature all the characters.  It was worth parents keeping the kids up for the 10:15 pm start time.  Honestly, it is the best deck show that I have seen on any Disney ship.  We got back to the cabin that evening to find our towel in the shape of Thor’s hammer.  It was a fun day.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Marvel Day at Sea towel art, Thor’s hammer.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Natasha and Rocky at Serenity Beach, Castaway Cay, Bahamas.

We rounded out our five-day cruise with a stop at Castaway Cay, Disney’s privately leased island in the Bahamas.  After our ticketed character greetings that morning with Spider-Man, Black Panther, Iron Man, and Groot, we headed to the 18 and over Serenity Bay Beach.  It was my 4th visit there and by far the best weather day I have ever experienced on the island.  The beach at Serenity Bay has plenty of chairs and beach umbrellas, walk-up and roaming bar service, and an adults-only dining area.  It was a great day and an excellent way to round out the trip.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Rocky with Hawkeye and Black Widow.

I want to offer a warning for those traveling out of Miami on this cruise.  We waited a long time for the ship to be cleared by customs on the morning of our return to Miami.  Ship departures started 45 minutes late and there were long slow lines on the ship and in the terminal.  At times, they held everyone just to clear certain areas.  Never book a flight departure before 11 am, even though the Miami airport is extremely close.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Characters from the various productions shows during our Marvel Day at Sea cruise aboard the Disney Magic appeared in costume for the See You Real Soon sendoff.

All of our Disney cruises have had a special theme.  Our first on the Wonder was during the holiday season and in celebration of Rocky’s birthday.  Our second on the Fantasy was for the Star Wars Day at Sea.  Our third was on the Dream as a post marathon vacation.  (My niece Maggie has now run the Dopey Challenge twice.  First Day is a 5K; second day a 10K; third day is a half marathon; and the final day is a full marathon.  Then she wanted to run the Castaway Cay 5K off the ship to earn an additional two medals.)

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. See Ya Real Soon show, final night, aboard the Disney Magic.

This 4th Disney cruise was on the Magic for the Marvel Day at Sea.  Returning to an older, smaller Disney ship and with a theme that I wasn’t as excited about as Rocky was, left me a little leery that the trip might disappoint.  I should not have been worried.  We had a fabulous time.  Some big pluses on this itinerary-smaller ship meant we made some new Marvel friends (both guests and characters), excellent Tangled musical production, a wide(r) array of character greetings, Rapunzel’s Royal Table was a new and entertaining venue, execution of the Marvel theme was better than expected, and the best Disney upper deck show in their repertoire.

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With Iron Man on our Disney cruise

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With Iron Man???? on Marvel Day at Sea

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A final day of theater in London

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The amazing venue for Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution is County Hall, London.

This is my final full day in London and to keep myself out of the stores, I have discount tickets for two more productions, a play and a musical.  If you have been following the blog you know this is day 3 of 3 days in London with two shows each day.  Pure heaven for Natasha.  I love that discount tickets are available even several days in advance so I could do a little planning.

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The Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London with a statute of Wellington in front. Across the street is the Bank of England.

I had some cash from my last visit to London that is no good.  The paper 5 and 10-pound notes have been reissued in a more plastic feeling version.  So I have to go convert these old notes.  Since I don’t have an account at a London bank, I have to go to “headquarters”, The Bank of England.  The Bank was started in 1694 as a private bank for the govenment and is now the Central Bank for the United Kingdom.  Luckily we are staying in the Financial District so there is a branch (actually the main location) within walking distance.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. On my walk over to the bank, I stepped into a church wedged between the new construction in the financial district before continuing on to the Church of England.  It was charming.

Apparently the new notes have been circulation since September 2016, but some proprietor was happy to foist the old notes on me during my last visit.  According to the Bank of England, the £5 note featuring Sir Winston Churchill was “the first Bank of England banknote printed on polymer. Polymer is a thin, flexible plastic material that lasts longer, stays cleaner and is harder to counterfeit than paper banknotes.”

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Photo ©Jean Janssen In the financial district in London, a statute of Wellington with the main branch of the Bank of England in the background.

Not surprisingly, there is a lot of security at the bank, sometimes referred to as the “Old Lady”.  I had to wait in line a while.  I found out my 20-pound paper notes were ok and my 10-pound note was in the new material, so I ended up changing only two, five-pound notes.  A lot of work for not much reward, but at least the building was interesting and next door was a tube station (not surprising named BANK) that took we directly to Waterloo Station, the closest tube station to the “theater” for my first performance of the day.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The production will be at London County Hall. Note the top of the London Eye in the background.

The line was direct to and from the Bank station in the financial district and the Waterloo station, on the South Bank; it is the only direct link line in the London underground system.  Navigating the Waterloo station is a bit confusing as it is also a major train and bus terminal.  There was also construction going on outside.  I am now south of the Thames, near the London Eye.  I went looking for the theater venue first and once I located it, I found a spot for lunch.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. I sat next to a charming British couple at lunch who were also going to the show.

Its my last day in London so I wanted to take advantage of my last chance for authentic fish and chips.  I sat next to a charming couple who are also in town for the play.  They come with a group to see London productions on a regular basis.  He is a retired civil servant and she is a yoga instructor.  People I meet when I travel always want to talk about American politics; under the current leadership, it embarrasses me.  However, Natasha will share her thoughts when they ask.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. London County Hall

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. London County Hall.

I have to admit that one of the reasons I chose this play was because of the venue.  The idea of seeing the play in council chambers that look like an English Courtroom intrigued me.  I also love Agatha Christie and this is one of her own favorite works. “According to her autobiography, Witness for the Prosecution was one of Agatha Christie’s favourites of all her works, stating: ‘One night at the theatre stands out in my memory especially; the first night of Witness for the Prosecution. I can safely say that that was the only first night I have enjoyed… It was one of my plays that I like best myself.’”

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. London County Hall

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. London County Hall

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. London County Hall

The fact that I am a lawyer, particularly a litigator, means that courtroom dramas fascinate me.  It was not a hard choice to make this selection.  The promotion material drew me in. “A brand new, site-specific production of Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution will be staged in a a unique court room setting inside County Hall, adjacent to the London Eye on London’s South Bank…[It] will place the audience in the centre of the action within the court room.”

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. London County Hall

 

The acting was superb and they did very well with the limited set.  But of course, they had this amazing room.  The actors moved smoothly in and out of the council chambers, often passing right by me.  Its a great play to begin with and includes-in true Christie fashion-a wonderful twist.  I highly recommend this special production.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Near Piccadilly, London

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lots of flags out for VE Day in London.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Celebrity selfie, sort of.

After the play, it was back to the Waterloo Station to head to Piccadilly.  I found my next theater venue easily and then wandered around the area.  This week the country celebrated the anniversary of VE Day, or V Day, Victory in Europe Day, the end of World War II.   There were lots of flags out; the country is also celebrating the wedding of Price Harry to Meghan Markle.  Plenty of souvenirs celebrate the event and I picked up the one Emma had requested.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. One of the Chinatown gates, London.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. One of the Chinatown gates, London.

I was once again in the area of Chinatown, but today opted for Italian Food near the theater.  Once inside, a single patron was vacated her place and offered me her spot by the window.  Here I enjoyed the food and watched the world go by.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Watching West End activity through the restaurant window, London.

Tonight, I am seeing a musical, Everybody’s Talking about Jamie.  This show was not on my radar before I came over, but I heard so many wonderful things about it from other theater patrons I have met the last few days I thought I would give it a try.  I got a pretty good seat purchasing my discount ticket at TKTS on Leicester Square.  From this retailer, you have to buy your tickets in person, but you can check out availability on-line.  You can also buy discount tickets up to two days in advance of the show.  More tickets become available closer to the show and sometime the discount increases as well.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Apollo Theater, London, current home to Everybody’s Talking about Jamie.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie centers around a 16-year old boy from Sheffield who wants to be a drag queen; the musical was inspired by a true story.  The telling of the story started as a documentary film, was supported by regional theater and eventually became the West End musical currently playing at the Apollo Theater.  The real break-out star is John McCrea who plays the title role character of Jamie.  McCrea already has a string of theater (including West End), television, and film credits, but he is beyond phenomenal in this role.  He played the part in the original Sheffield production and transferred to the West End.  To be honest, you must see the very tall, platinum blond McCrea in this role.  I can’t image the production without him.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The stage set for Everybody’s Taking about Jamie at the Apollo Theater in London’s West End.

I loved the musical.  Its a strong story, very sad at some points and hysterically funny at others.  Great staging with the band just above the action at all times and a set that transitions easily.  And what about the musical numbers?  Of course the choreography and costuming is fantastic, but I just loved the music.  It is not typical for me to buy the CD after the production, but this time I bought it at intermission.  Yes, it was not good.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The beautiful ceiling in the Apollo Theater, London.

After the show, I made my train connections from Piccadilly.  I throughly enjoyed 5 of the 6 productions I saw.  Its been a great trip to London for me; I just love theater here.  Until I travel again…Natasha

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. I spotted the seemingly out of place, General Lying-In Hospital near the London County Hall. Note the names of the patrons on the building. “The General Lying-In Hospital was one of the first maternity hospitals in Great Britain. It opened in 1767 and closed in 1971. Lying-in is an archaic term for childbirth, and “general” here refers not to a hospital handling all sorts of cases, but to one accepting all patients, i.e. not linked to one religion, as hospitals often were.”

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I’m just wild about Harry: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in London

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Palace Theater, London, the current venue for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

As my frequent readers know, I am a Harry Potter fan.  On one of my last visits to London, I took a bus out to see the Warner Brothers Studios in Leavesden.  Today the Harry Potter theme continues with the two-part play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  To experience the full story, you go to two performances, one of each part.  You do not need to see both parts the same day, or even on consecutive days.  However, given the timing of our visit, it only worked for me to see a Wednesday matinee performance of part I and Wednesday evening performance of part II.  I have the same seat on the aisle for both.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Palace Theater in London, the West End venue of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

The play was highly recommended to me by the Dean of the Faculty of the the liberal arts University where I serve as a member of the board of trustees.  She had seen the plays on a trip to London with her husband and son.  It can be very difficult to get tickets.  The plays are now also being performed in New York, but when I saw the London venue I was so glad I had chosen to see them here.  The Palace Theater location just added to the experience.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Tower Hill Tube Station was just a few blocks from our hotel. The platform there offered a great view of the Tower of London.

I figured out my route on the tube and left from the Tower Hill Station, just two blocks from my hotel.  I arrived early to pick up my tickets at Will Call.  The box office ticket agent let me know that the theater would open an hour before the performance.  At the time, I wasn’t sure why he made such a big deal about that.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The McDonald’s just across from the Palace Theater in the West End, London has large screen terminals where you place your order.

Since it sounds like I might not have as much time as I thought, I just went to the McDonald’s across the street to grab lunch.  I really try not to go to chains restaurants, particularly American chains, when I travel.  However, I just wanted something quick.  There were a lot of “American” options nearby.  As I ate my lunch siting next to the window that gave me a view of the theater, I realized why the box office worker had stressed the opening time.  Long before security began clearing people for the 1,400-seat theater, patrons began lining up.  As I sat, I saw the line growing and growing.  It snaked completely around the building when I finally got in line, just under an hour before the play started.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The side wall of the Palace Theater, the West End, London. The brick facade dates from the theater’s opening in 1891.

I cleared security in plenty of time and stopped at the gift counter.  Hard to know what you wanted before you actually saw the play.  The Palace theater is a wonderful venue for the Harry Potter production.  It originally opened in 1891 as the Royal English Opera House, but shortly thereafter converted to a grand music hall and reopened under the name Palace Theatre of Varieties.  In 1897, they also began showing films as part of the varied entertainment.  The Marx Brother appeared on the Palace stage in 1922.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Inscription over the stage door at the Palace Theater in London.

The name of the venue was shortened to the Palace Theater in 1911.  It became a preferred venue for musicals in 1925.  Through 2013, many famous musical productions found their home there.  “The Sound of Music ran for 2,385 performances at the theatre, opening in 1961. Jesus Christ Superstar ran from 1972 to 1980, and Les Misérables played at the theatre for nineteen years, beginning in 1985. In 1983, Andrew Lloyd Webber purchased and by 1991 had refurbished the theatre.”

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Natasha at the Palace Theater, home to the London production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

The theater only went dark in January of 2016 in preparation for a new large scale production.  Harry Potter and the Cursed Child‘s opening performance at the theater was in June of 2016.  In April 2017, the play picked up a record-breaking nine Olivier Awards, including Best New Play and Best Director.  I anticipate a long run.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Stage set for the opening scene of Part I of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Luggage at the railway station, platform 9 3/4.

The story picks up where the last Harry Potter movie leaves off.  In fact, the first scene of dialogue is an on-stage recreation of the closing scene in the film.  The story centers around Harry and Genny’s middle child, Albus Severus Potter, his first year at Hogwart’s, and his unlikely best friend.  I warn you, you won’t be so wild about this Harry.  The adult version makes many mistakes as a parent and is not necessarily a very likable character in the play.  That was probably the only disappointing and weak point for me in an otherwise wonderful production.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The stage is reset during intermission at Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part I at the Palace Theater in London.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Looking up at the three additional levels of seating above the stalls at the Palace Theater, London.

I loved seeing the magical moments recreated on stage.  You will want to see it, so I won’t ruin any of the surprises for you.  I did enjoy the Part I, more than Part II.  I had fairly close up seats on the aisle in the stalls (orchestra or ground level seating), worth springing for.  This is one of the largest theaters in the West End, seating 1,400 on four levels.  The building itself is long and narrow.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. YMing Chinese Restaurant just behind the Palace Theater in London.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Natasha’s main course at YMing Chinese Restaurant in the West End, London.

After being drained by the first show, I went to an early dinner between the productions.  I had done a little research and realized this is an area of London with an Asian bent, so I chose a restaurant on the back side of the theater with authentic Chinese food that came highly recommended.  YMing did not disappoint.  I had a lovely table in the corner by the windows and throughly enjoyed my dinner.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Bar in the Palace Theater, the West End, London.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Things are a little darker as the story begins again in Part II of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theater, London.

I knew to get in line a little earlier this time for security.  I had time to check out the gift shop and buy a few things, find the bar, and look around the theater a little bit before the Part II production began.  After the show, I walked a little farther to a tube station where  I could get a direct train back to the hotel.  The crowds leaving the theater made this safe.  I have now had two full days in London and seen 4 shows-3 plays and a musical.  You would think I would be done with the West End by now, but I bought discounted tickets for two more production tomorrow.  Natasha loves her theater.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Natasha is wild about Harry, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child that is.

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Our last day in Paris

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Brassiere Lipp, the Left Bank, Paris

We are headed to London later today on the Eurostar.  After packing, we decided to return to Saint-Germain to have lunch and to see the Abbey Church.  We rode through this area a couple of days ago on the hop-on/hop-off bus.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Abbey Church of Saint-Germain de Pres, Paris, as it is today.

The Saint-Germain district of the city in Paris’ 6th arrondissement was home to existentialist movement in the 40s and 50s and it the current home to the Ecoles des Beaux-Arts, the famous school of fine arts.  We started with a visit to the cultural center of this area of Paris on the Left Bank, the Church at Saint-Germain de Pres.  Founded in the 6th Century, the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, sits just beyond the outskirts of early medieval Paris.  In medieval times, the Left Bank of Paris was prone to flooding from the Seine, so much of the land could not be built upon. The Abbey stood in the middle of meadows, or prés in French.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Church at the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Germain de Pres, Paris

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Church at the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Germain de Pres, Paris

The Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés was the burial place of Merovingian kings of Neustria.  The Abbey has seen its tragedies.   During the French Revolution all the Abbey priests were killed.  “An explosion of saltpeter in storage levelled the Abbey and its cloisters, but the church was spared… in a [later] fire in 1794 the library vanished in smoke.” The church was actually hit by a German artillery cell in 1918 and people inside the church were killed.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen The Church of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Germain de Pres, Paris.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen The Church of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Germain de Pres, Paris.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen The Church of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Germain de Pres, Paris.

The abbey church remains as the Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés, one of the oldest churches in Paris.  It is exceptionally beautiful.  There are some very remarkable tombs to be seen inside and the glass work and decorated columns and ceiling are particularly lovely.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The church at the Abbey of Saint-Germain de Pres, Paris.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The church at the Abbey of Saint-Germain de Pres, Paris.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The church at the Abbey of Saint-Germain de Pres, Paris.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The church at the Abbey of Saint-Germain de Pres, Paris.

We emerged from the church in time for our lunch reservations.  There are many famous cafes in the area.  Two of Boris’ favorites are Cafe de Flore and Brasserie Lipp, both right next to the church.  On one trip we had lunch in one and then crossed the street to have a drink at the other.  One of the things that made this area of Paris popular were the annual fairs which began in the Middle Ages.  It was at one such fair that the first cafe was started.  When the fair moved on, the proprietor made the establishment permanent.  And so it began.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Brasserie Lipp, Saint-Germain de Pres.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Brasserie Lipp, Saint-Germain de Pres.

Today Boris has chosen Brasserie Lipp for his final “timeless” Paris restaurant destination (5 of 5).  One of the oldest brasseries in Paris, Boris loves this place because of the literary connections.  Brasserie Lipp was a favorite of Earnest Hemingway (he along with William Faulkner are Boris’ two favorite authors) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (my favorite author).  One of Boris’ favorite stories about this brasserie is when Faulkner saw James Joyce eating but was too shy to say anything.  Boris wishes the two of them had sat down and had a conversation.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Brasserie Lipp, Saint-Germain de Pres.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Brasserie Lipp, Saint-Germain de Pres.

We started with champagne cocktails and added lunch fare and dessert.  We had a noon lunch so we could make our train and it was pretty empty (again we are ahead of most of the locals) while we were there.  I was underwhelmed with our seats, but we had a terrific waiter who had been there a long time.  That along with the wonderful food and drinks made the meal memorable.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Brasserie Lipp, Saint-Germain de Pres.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris at the Brasserie Lipp, Saint-Germain de Pres.

We will catch the Eurostar this afternoon and be in London this evening.  Once we arrive there it is mostly work for Boris.  I get to play.  I am going to see quite a few shows.  I have done enough shopping in Paris, so I am cutting myself off in London.  Its been a wonderful birthday trip for Boris.  Glad to have shared this with him.  Until London…Natasha.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Abbey Church, Saint-Germain de Pres, Paris.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Abbey Church, Saint-Germain de Pres, Paris.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Abbey Church, Saint-Germain de Pres, Paris.

 

 

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High Tea in London

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Photo©Jean Janssen. A well-placed table to enjoy a English sparking wine, the entertainment, and traditional high tea in the Thames Foyer of the Savoy hotel, London.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. High Tea at the Savoy in London is in the Thames Foyer under the glass dome.

While Boris is in London on business, I tagged along to enjoy the city while the hotel room is “free”.  We just concluded a long weekend to Paris celebrating a milestone birthday for Boris.  This part of the trip will be all work for him.  We usually stay near the West End, but this trip our hotel is next to the Tower of London in the Financial District, close to Boris’ firm’s office.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. High Tea with the Queen at the Savoy-well, kind of. Portrait at the entrance to the Thames Foyer at the Savoy in London where high tea is served.

Our hotel is not in the best location for tourists, although we are right next to a Tube station.  I just need to plan out my routes, get a oyster card-prepaid travel by local trains, and allow more travel time.  The Tower of London is a major tourist attraction, but I have been several times and there is always a long queue, so I will not make another visit on this trip.  We do have a wonderful view of the Tower and Bridge from the hotel elevator bank.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Highclere Castle, England

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©Jean Janssen. Set for the Gryffindor Common Room at Hogwarts from the Harry Potter films at Warner Brother Studios, Leavesden, England outside of London.

Since the dollar is not particularly strong against the pound right now, I did my shopping in Paris and will be spend my time in London enjoying the theaters.  The last few trips over, I took several excursions, even some out of the city-Warner Brothers Studios in Leavesden where the Harry Potter films were shot and where currently the sets and props are stored and Highclere Castle and Bampton Village where the Downton Abbey television series was filmed.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen Sandwiches at High Tea at the Savoy, London.

One of the wonderful things about theater in London is that they have matinees multiple days of the week at various theaters.  On this Tuesday, I got a matinee tickets to see An Ideal Husband at the Vaudeville Theater right on the Strand.  I realized that our location at the Waldorf (last trip) would have been perfect for the theaters I am going to on this trip.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Tea tower for one at the Savoy, London. The waiter didn’t know what to do at first when I said I did not want any chocolate.

Just across the street from the theater is the famous Savoy hotel.  Their traditional tea is very highly rated and begins early.  It starts at 1pm and the last seating is at 5:45.  I booked the first seating at 1 pm so I could make the 2:30 curtain across the street.  It was a fabulous tea.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Special offerings at the Savoy during their traditional high tea.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. A sparkling rose from Sussex, England, an offering at the High Tea at the Savoy, London.

They are currently offering a special tea in honor of Price Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding.  They also have an English sparkling wine and I decided to go with that to accompany my tea.  After champagne for four days straight, it would be a shame not to continue with more sparkling.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Entertainment for High Tea at the Savoy, London.

I completely threw the waiter when I asked for no chocolate offerings with my tea.  His flustered reply was “but almost everything is chocolate.”  Actually, there was plenty to enjoy without it.  I am more about the sandwiches anyway.  When I was almost finished, I made a quick trip to the restroom to freshen up before the play.  There was a woman there so heavily made up, I wondered.  A few minutes later she appeared in the foyer as our pianist.  She did a wonderful job, but since she didn’t start until 2 pm I didn’t have long to enjoy the music; I needed to close my tab in order to make the play.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen.  In the center of the room in the Thames Foyer at the Savoy, London, where traditional high tea is served, sits a gazebo and above it a beautiful domed glass ceiling.

The Thames Foyer is a large, lovely room just off another dining area.  In the center sits a gazebo covered in (fake) wisteria, rather ironic after our trip to Giverny and the Monet’s wisteria-covered bridge at the water garden.  The ceiling is a beautiful glass dome.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Even if you don’t have time to stay for tea, you can stop into the shop just outside the Thames Foyer at the Savoy and pick up some tea and pastries to take home with you.

I had waited in a seating area just outside where there are comfy sofas and a gift shop where they sell the pastries and teas served in the Thames Foyer.  There is also a portrait of Queen Elizabeth.  I was able to sit here, having arrived early for my reservations.  However, there was no time at the end to stop in the shop.  I needed to get across the street quickly for my matinee performance.

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Stock photo of Freddie Fox from the Vaudeville Theater performance of An Ideal Husband.

I made the play with no problem at all.  It was a wonderful performance.  I am familiar with Oscar Wilde’s comedic play An Ideal Husband and have also see the film adaption with Rupert Everett, Minnie Driver, Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore, and Jeremy Northam.  The stage performance was a hoot and in this small theater the intimate seating made it even more special.  That is another thing I love about English theater, many of the performances are given in smaller venues.

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Edward Fox in the Vaudeville Theater’s An Ideal Husband.

One of the things that made this performance particularly memorable was that real-life father and son Edward Fox and Freddie Fox starred as Earl of Caversham and Lord Goring respectively.  The set was well done, the costuming spot on, and everyone gave a wonderful performance.  I highly recommend the show.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. I had dinner at a brasserie, Cote, near the London Coliseum.

My evening show is also in the West End near Covent Garden, very close to the Vaudeville Theater.  I found the next venue, the London Coliseum, easily.  Remember what I said about small theaters, forget it for this one.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. A charming outside table and the sparkling wine tradition continues in London.

After I found the theater, I had dinner at a bistro nearby.  I guess I am still channeling the French vibe from Paris.  Champagne and dessert have somehow become part of my routine the last few days.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The stage for Chess at the London Coliseum.

I am seeing Chess “written in 1984 by ABBA songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, The Lion King, Evita) [The musical] tells a story of love and political intrigue, set against the background of the Cold War in the late 1970s/early 1980s, in which superpowers attempt to manipulate an international chess championship for political ends.” (from the production’s website)  It is the first revival in more than 30 years; the original production was in 1986.

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Stock photo of Chess at the London Coliseum.

The audience loved the performance.  For my dime, I think a limited run is a good thing.  Because much of the action takes place around a chess match, it is hard to stage in a large venue.  They have chosen to use cameras to catch the action and close-up facial expressions.  I was impressed with the additional adjustments the actors had to make, but I found that I was very distracted by the large screens where they projected the images the cameras captured, not the mention the distraction of the cameras and cameramen on stage.  This is live theater; I don’t want to see projected images.  Perhaps this is a new production wave, but I was disappointed.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lighting adaptions to an older theater at the London Coliseum.

The only memorable song was One Night in Bangkok.  If you want a different type of production, maybe give it a try.  Otherwise, I think the story is thin, the staging distracting, and the songs unmemorable.  Spend your theater dollars elsewhere.  I have no qualms with the acting or vocal performances; they were top notch.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Waiting area outside the Thames Foyer, the Savoy, London

After the show, I made my way back to the tube station and took a direct line back to the station near the hotel.  I feel pretty safe in London, even traveling alone at night.  Lots of people about in the West End with all the various productions going on.  Just stay alert and plan your route ahead of time; you’ll be fine.

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Boris’ Birthday in Paris

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Moulin Rouge in Montmartre in Paris’s 18th arrondissement.

We spent the morning of Boris’ 60th birthday touring Claude Monet’s farmhouse and Gardens in Giverny, France.  Now the birthday celebration returns to Paris for lunch at one of his favorites, Brasserie Bofinger.  Last time we were in Paris the restaurant was closed for the season, much to Boris’ disappointment.  We stopped by so Boris could show me the location, but I only got as far as the curb.  This visit we have reservations under the dome.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The beautiful stained glass domed celling in the main dining room at Bofinger’s in Paris.

As the restaurant puts it…”Founded in 1864, close to the Place des Vosges and the Place de la Bastille, the Brasserie Bofinger is considered the ‘most beautiful brewery in Paris'”  The restaurant’s claim to fame is Alsatian food.  Alsace is a cultural and historical region in eastern France, on the west bank of the upper Rhine next to Germany and Switzerland.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris makes his sections for his birthday lunch at Brasserie Bofinger Paris.

My impression is that the specialties of the house include German pork as well as fresh seafood.  We started with seafood appetizers.  I have been drinking champagne on this trip (my favorite).  Boris has been joining me, but today he has switched to beer.  And not small beers either.  We are talking a really tall mug.  We have ordered the assorted German meats to share as a main course.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris’ escargot at Bofinger, Paris.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. My clams at Bofinger’s Paris.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our neighbors’ seafood towers at Bofinger’s, Paris.

The seafood was extraordinary from Boris’ escargot to my clams to the seafood tower that our neighbors had at the next table over.  It was a lot of food.  Next the waiter brought a raised stand to hold our meat and maintain the heat.  By now Boris was on tall beer number two and we were both on butter overload.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The speciality of the house, assorted pork and potatoes at Brasserie Bofinger, Paris.

Boris looked at the food.  I served him; he was halfway through that second beer.  He looked at the food again and then he got up, left the table, and said “I’ll be back in a minute”.  Twenty minutes later (or at least it felt like it) he returned to the table and told me he didn’t feel so good but that I should keep eating.  What?  I am supposed to eat that platter by myself.  (I do admit to eating some of the sausages while I was waiting, my German and Polish heritage shining through.)

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Photo ©Jean Janssen Paris

Once he tilted his head back and moaned I knew we were done.  I hated to not try at least one of the desserts-it was probably the best dessert menu I had seen in my life.  I will definitely go back, for the seafood and the desserts (not sure about those large pork portions).  I don’t know if it was the heat of day, the mix of beverages when we were a bit dehydrated, the excess of butter, the heavy meats after the seafood…In the end it really didn’t matter.  I knew we had to leave.  We handled the bill, got a cab, and got him to the hotel room as quickly as possible.  Not exactly the way you want to celebrate a milestone birthday; I was also becoming increasingly concerned about out evening reservations at the Moulin Rouge.  Timeless meal 3 of 5 didn’t go so well.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Paris.

Once I knew the worse had passed and there was nothing I could do for him, I just let Boris sleep.  At one point he got up and said he just wanted to sleep some more but that I didn’t need to stay.  And then I remembered where our hotel was-right in the heart of all the department stores in Paris.  Suddenly Natasha knew how to salvage the afternoon.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Saint-Germain de Pres, Paris.

So I just walked down Rue Lazare and checked out a few of the stores I had found on-line or seen while we were walking by.  I found an interesting boutique with colorful clothing and went in.  The saleswoman-the only one who spoke any English-sized me up and then proceeded to pull things for me.  Actually the clothing was quite reasonably priced and we had a lot of fun while trying to communicate with each other.  Some reactions are universal.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Paris.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen Paris

A mom was in the dressing room next to mine.  Her two teenage daughters sat in the chairs by the large mirror next to the upstairs dressing area.  The girls knew a little English from school, so they tried to help too.  I actually had fun and came back with some unique and colorful clothing.

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Old photo of the Moulin Rouge I spotted in the lobby before we got our seating assignment.

Boris was awake and reading when I got back and said he really wanted to try to see the show at Moulin Rouge.  So he got up and got dressed.  We’ll give it a shot; we had prepaid reservations for the dinner and show.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Waiting in line in the lobby of the Moulin Rouge for our table assignment.

At the Moulin Rouge, you check in in a hallway with several set of stairs.  We arrived early for our 6:30 reservations, but the room was already crowded with guests.  Just after 6:30, we were ushered into the lobby where our seats were assigned.  Our wonderfully-placed table seated six, but we are the only two guests for dinner.  Four more will join us for the show.  There are two nightly shows at the Moulin Rouge.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The dark lighting made photography a little difficult, but I tried to capture the red and white fabric panels that cover the ceiling at the Moulin Rouge, Paris. It is almost a circus tent feel.

According to Paris, the official website of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Moulin Rouge is the “most famous cabaret in the world [and] was immortalized by Toulouse-Lautrec…it opened in 1889[. Today t]he room is magnificently decorated in belle époque style and red velvet, with typical burlesque frescoes.”

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Tropicana, Havana, Cuba

We have now celebrated Boris’ birthday at two of the three famous cabarets in the world.  First the Tropicana in Havana in March on our Cuba Cruise and the now the most famous, the Moulin Rouge in Paris.  If we could make it to the Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro this year we would have the perfect trifecta.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. My octopus appetizer at the Moulin Rouge. Note the icon on the plate.

Boris pulled his disappearing act during the three course dinner.  He ate nothing.  The food was good, but not the best of Paris.  My octopus salad was particularly interesting and very good.  The upside was that with Boris not eating or drinking I had the whole bottle of champagne to myself; nothing to complain about there.  During dinner there were singers performing but the real show happens once dinner service is complete.  That was when 4 additional guest joined us.  Most people were there for both dinner and the show; that is certainly the way to get the best seats.

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Natasha at the Moulin Rouge.

Unlike the Tropicana, I was unable to take photographs during the show.  The performance featured a troupe of 60 artists from all over the world.  The current show is called Féerie and is done in four acts  Here we go again: “feathers, rhinestones, sequins, sparkling decor, acrobats, original music, international attractions … not forgetting the famous fast-paced French Cancan.”

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Happy 60th birthday Boris! Celebrating at the Moulin Rouge, Paris.

The roller skating performers had to be the strangest, but excellent.  The men’s costuming resulted in almost complete body coverage (unlike the Tropicana).  On the flip side (and unlike the Tropicana) 95% of the time the women’s breasts were completely uncovered.  You get used to seeing them.  And if I may say, these women appeared to be natural and in all sizes.  Not the fake oversized American “breasts” featured in the stateside shows.  I liked all the acts except the clowns.  (I’m not afraid of clowns, not do I find them creepy.  I assume this part of the show was meant to funny, but it just came across as odd.)

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Attempted selfie in the dark Moulin Rouge, Paris. Dinner performers are in the background.

Of course the highlight of the evening was the cancan.  I am sure they can’t get away with doing a show without it.  It was definitely Boris’ favorite.  All too soon the evening was over and then you have to fight for a cab.  Lot of price gouging was going on-be sure to settle on a price before you get in the cab or take alternative transportation.  We tried several cabs before we found one with a price we could live with.  The further from the door, the better the price.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen From the cab, the facade of the Moulin Rouge, Paris.

Dinner and a show at the Moulin Rouge, this is the way to end a milestone birthday.  Congratulations Boris!

 

 

 

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