REVIEW: Yoga at The Shard with Yogashpere

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Saturday morning greeted me with a cold fog as I made my way to The Shard, Europe’s tallest building, for a sky-high yoga class hosted by Yogasphere on the 68th floor of the tower.  On a clear day, one can see nearly 40 miles out.  How often do you get a clear day in London, though?  Not worrying about the nonexistent view, and embracing the fog as a zen-like haze, I chose a mat and began to unwind for class.

As soon as the instructor began speaking, though, I knew relaxing was not going to happen.  Though there are pleasant accents found in the U.K., the accent of this woman was coarse, unpolished, and not conducive to a yoga class.

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I understood that this was not YogaMos, my local, family-owned studio that I know and love, but I was disappointed to realize that the Yogasphere class was clearly a choreographed yoga highlight reel.  At home, YogaMos teaches yogis to look inside oneself to find one’s center, and to use this inner-self recognition as strength to carry through breathing, poses, and reflection. With Yogasphere at The Shard, we hardly had a moment to center ourselves when we were off completing speedy sun salutations and dramatic balancing poses.  As YogaMos instructor Chris would say, it is all part of the practice; one must endure any yoga adversity through self-centering, for it is the essence of the practice.  This class at The Shard, however, was a spiritual challenge.

I expected a yoga experience similar to that of home, or even classes that I’ve done at school, but Yogasphere only seemed to be interested in the yoga that sells.  Had it been a clear day where I could see over all of London, I probably would have looked more favorably on the experience, but poor weather and poor practice made for a mediocre morning.

 

Destination Locations

  • The Shard
    • 32 London Bridge St, London SE1 9SG, UK
  • YogaMos
    • 410 Main St, Hellertown, PA 18055, USA

 

Peace, Love, London

A.J.H.

 

REVIEW: “Le Songe,” Ballet of Monte Carlo

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“Le Songe,” Ballet of Monte Carlo;  Source: dancetabs.com, Credit: Marie-Laure Briane

Bravo!

My host mom took me to see “Le songe,” or “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” at the National Theater of Nice (Le Théâtre National de Nice) performed by the Ballet of Monte Carlo (Les Ballets de Monte Carlo).  We attended with a few of her friends, some of which sing in the Nice Opera.  I danced for 10 years, and I enjoy visits to Broadway and off-Broadway shows with my mom and sister, so I assumed I would enjoy the production.

Enjoy is an understatement.  I loved the ballet!  The entire show was incredible.  This production was mimed, so there was little speaking from the performers on stage (lucky for me!).  In this style, the dancers had to exaggerate their movements and rely on the music to carry the plot of the story.

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Oberan and Titania, royal fairies of the forest; Source: monacochannel.mc, Credit: Alice Blanger

The choreography was amazing.  To be able to create an entire show to tell a story through dance is a true talent.  Equally impressive was how the dancers executed the choreography to the alternative soundtrack.  The piece was presented through a funky, futuristic lens, as opposed to the classic organization of  a traditional Shakespeare production, so the unique set, sounds, and costumes that distorted the audience’s reality made the dancer’s delivery  of the plot that more impressive.

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The object of Titania’s affection leading the other fairies in dance, ahead of Titania; Source: balletsofmontecarlo.com, Credit: Alice Blanger

As per Shakespeare’s original piece, the performance had a dreamlike, or perhaps nightmarish, quality.  Even reimagined, the show stayed true to story, and was a fun, updated version of a time-honored work.

Though there is only one more ballet production scheduled to show in Nice while I am here, I plan on putting it on the top of my to-do list.  Once I return home, I can’t wait to explore ballet performances in New York, D.C., and beyond!

Destination Locations

Paix, Amour, Nice

A.J.H.

REVIEW: Las Ventas Bullfight

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With varying levels of comfort and curiosity, my family and I decided to check “watch a traditional, Spanish bullfight” off of our Madrid bucket list.  We prepurchased tickets from TicketsToros, an online bullfight ticket distributor, and picked them up at the office just outside of the Plaza de Toros de Las Vantas.  The exterior of the building itself was beautiful, and though the inside showed some age, it added a sense of historic time travel to the event.

My research on the Las Ventas experience advised purchasing seat cushions for the concrete benches from we would watch the show.  On the way to our seats, we picked up the much-appreciated, rear-end protection for a euro and change, and shuffled through crowds of tourists, spotted with the occasional group of Spanish elders, towards the ring.  Our seats were in the cheapest section, “Sol,” or the area of the open-air coliseum that received the most sunlight during the event.  We were happy to be out of the shade, because April in Madrid isn’t too warm.  Squished together on our small section of bench, I remembered the tight quarters of the Flamenco show, and couldn’t help but wonder if the seats were Spanish-sized or if we were American-sized…

 

 

At 6 p.m. exactly, the event began.   Between spirited music from the band and the procession of participants in proud, shining dress, I felt the pregame jitters.  Just like any other sporting event, the performers prepared in the ring while the spectators sat in anticipation of the start of the event.

 

Generally, a bullfight begins with the least prestigious matador of three.  For six bulls, the matadors perform in order of increasing esteem twice, each fighting two bulls.  The matador-to-bull matchup totals about 30 minutes, comprising of three parts.  The first stage requires field assistants to tire the fresh bull, prompting him with double-sided pink and yellow capes to charge repeatedly back and forth across the ring.  Once the animal has burnt its initial energy, horses enter the ring for the second phase of the fight.  In this middle section, horse-mounted assistants spear the bull in the shoulders with banderillas to further weaken him.  Finally, the matador takes over, one-on-one with the bull.  The goal of the matador is to make as few movements as possible to make the bull charge.  By a single spear thrust in between the shoulders of the animal, the fight is finished.

The body of the bull, once drug by horse-drawn stirrups out of the arena, is then prepared for consumption.  Rabo de toro, or tail of the bull, is a popular dish, especially during bullfight season.  Sometimes, however, body parts are reserved for the matador.  If he performs exceptionally well, he may receive the ear of the animal as a prize.  The matador can even earn the second ear, or both ears and the tail, for a truly impressive fight.  It was obvious to all, though, that the matadors that we watched were not receiving any execution prizes.

In the first fight, the matador’s assistants fatigued the bull.  Then, a horseman introduced the decorated spears, sticking them in the bull to further drain him.  Watching the blood drip down the bull’s sleek, dark hide, shining in the setting sun secured my distaste for this event.  Already, the poor animal, had had enough, and the matador hadn’t even begun.

 

 

When the matador entered the arena, he inched his way closer and closer to the bull as it became increasingly exhausted.  Then, though, in one, quick motion, the bull scooped the matador off of his feet, sending him face-down into the sand as the animal reared about him.  Saved by his assistants, the matador recovered quickly.  He did not, however, emerge from the hiccup unscathed.

The sweep from behind pierced through his beautiful uniform and punctured his behind!  With flaps of fabric hanging down, and skin fully exposed, the matador continued the fight.

 

From the bloody beast to the injured matador, I tried to act like I was watching TV and not real life.  It was all a little too much.  I had mistakenly imagined the experience with more theatrics and less reality.  I thought it would be a show, instead of the bullfight that it was.

To make the trip worthwhile, my family and I saw the first fight through to the end, but by then, we had had enough.  Once we had gathered our belongings and were ready to leave, the second fight had already started.  On our way out, we ran into old men and angry yells.  Too slow to exit, we were forced to stay for the second fight.  Feelings of frustration soon turned to understanding when we realized why fate determined us to stay: the second fight was horrible.

From our barely-attentive, untrained eyes, things seemed to be playing out in the second matchup just as they did in the first.  Then, the whistling began.  Drawing from tennis knowledge, my aunt suggested that they were sounds of disapproval.  We glanced down at what was happening in the ring to realize that the second matador had spiked the bull with the “final” spear multiple times and was still trying to finish the animal.  As the bull stumbled in disorientation and pain, my aunt recognized that we had to see a poorly executed fight to appreciate the skill and humanity of the first set.

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Though there is beauty in the grace of the matador and the fanfare of the event, bullfighting is an ugly sport.  I am glad that I got to experience a great Spanish tradition, but only those who enjoy fight-to-the-death events or are truly invested in learning about Spanish culture should attend.

 

Destination Locations

 

Paz, Amor, Madrid

A.J.H.

REVIEW: Széchenyi Thermal Baths’ SPARTY

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Spa bath + party = SPARTY.  In order to spend our very few hours in Budapest efficiently, my friends and I bought tickets for the Széchenyi Thermal Baths’ sparty, granting us after-hour access to the famous Budapest baths.  We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, six American girls with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in an unfamiliar aspect of Budapesti nightlife.  For those curious about a Hungarian sparty, I have done all of the dirty work and outlined everything there is to know about hanging out for 5 hours in a steamy pool with hundreds of your closest friends.  So if you’re planning on one day attending a sparty, or are still not exactly sure what I’m talking about, you can find here the knowledge that I wished that I’d had before my nighttime Széchenyi Thermal Bath experience.

  • We arrived at the Széchenyi Thermal Baths about an hour after opening to avoid lines, because we had not purchased “XPRESS” tickets.  Our wait was only about 5 minutes, indoors.
  • Everyone received a wristband at check-in that could electronically secure any chosen locker.  The lockers are located in the bath house, separate from the outdoor pool.  Spacious and safe, the lockers can hold a few pairs of winter boots and thick jackets without worry of running out of room.
  • Regular entrance to the sparty cost 40€, but my friends and I purchased tickets with drinks included for an additional 5€.  We got two drink tickets each in hopes of avoiding inflated prices of drinks that I’m sure, if purchased directly from the bar, were well above what we paid.
  • We had considered the fact that uncovered liquids in a pool wasn’t the best idea, but once in the baths, my friends and I found that spilled drinks were the least of our worries.  If you think too hard about what we were actually sitting in, it’s a little unsettling.
  • Colorful lights and loud music quickly distracted our young, careless minds from sanitation to remind us that we were at a party!  The lights set a fun, spirited atmosphere, but the music was only mediocre.  One, generic techno beat carried on throughout the night, making us wonder what the DJ was actually getting paid to do.
  • Though it seemed as though the crowd was more male (65%) than female (35%), my friends and I never felt uncomfortable.  In fact, we chatted with a few, very nice people, and even met some fellow Terps!  Additionally, although there was a clear majority of attendees under the age of thirty, we spotted some older couples mixed in the crowd.
  • The Széchenyi Thermal Baths’ sparty website explicitly stated no form of videography or photography allowed, so we left the GoPros at home and phones in the locker.  Silly us for following the rules.  Many people had a drink in one hand and a camera in the other.  We eventually brought our phones out onto the pool deck to capture our experience, but were annoyed that listening to instructions left us without our own sparty footage.
  • The party took place from 10:30 p.m. to 3 a.m., and we stayed nearly the entire time, talking with each other, enjoying the warmth of the water, and the presence of the crowd.  For college-aged students, attending a sparty is a unique experience that I would recommend to other adventurous adolescents while abroad.

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Destination Locations

 

Nyugalom, Szerelem, SPARTY

A.J.H.

REVIEW: Citylife Madrid

 

Citylife Madrid

I went to Morocco with Citylife Madrid, a integration activity company based in Madrid, Spain.  For only 209€, I had an amazing trip with the fantastic guides.  Our Moroccan guide, Rasheed, always assured that we felt safe and comfortable, giving us everything we needed.  Jorge and Matt, our CityLife Madrid guides, were enthusiastic, engaging, and attentive, the best guys for the job.

Though the people on the trip were fantastic, the size of the group was not ideal. I would have preferred to tour Morocco with a smaller group of around 20, rather than our herd of 60. Many parts of the tour felt rushed and chaotic to make sure everyone was together and where we needed to be. A smaller group, would have allowed me to take my time in the cities and to appreciate and learn more about Morocco, instead of running through the streets to get to the highlights.  I would have liked to know about the bus ride law ahead of time to prepare for start-and-stop traveling.  Additionally, we were told that the hotel bedrooms were for three people, but were not aware that the third bed was a cot, and in some cases, only a small mattress directly on the ground.  Though it was a cheap trip, it is unacceptable to make someone sleep on the floor.

The Moroccan trip, my first European weekend getaway, revealed positives and negatives of cheap group travel for the college-aged.  Overall, I had a great experience, and would recommend CityLife Madrid and Morocco to fellow travelers.

Travel Tips

  • Consider group travel.  Though you may sacrifice some time, exploration, and intimacy, traveling with a tour group may provide safety, organization and peace of mind.
  • Prepare for your price.  It is important to consider your standards in regard to what you spend.  Cheap trips may exceed expectations, but also have the potential to be underwhelming.  The same goes for pricey outings.  Either way, be prepared for your experience to be a reflection of what you pay; don’t complain if you got a great price, and do complain if you feel you deserve more.