Traveling through the movies – In Bruges

InBrugesIn Bruges came out in 2008 to a lot of critical acclaim. It’s a really good movie, too, deserving of it’s praise and it’s a wonderful movie to see what the medieval city of Bruges looks like.  It stars Colin Farrell as Ray and Brendan Gleeson as Ken.

A hit man (Ray) was sent to take out a priest but in the process, it all goes horribly wrong when he accidentally kills a child. He has to get out of London while the heat cools down and is told to go to Bruges. He’s accompanied by a companion, a “watcher” to keep an eye on him and maybe,  ultimately, to kill him. They have to spend as much as two weeks together in a pokey twin room and have to make the best of it, “quietly sightsee”,  while they wait for instructions from their boss, Harry, played by Ralph Fiennes.

Ray isn’t dealing well with what he’s done to the little boy. His sense of humour is black and grim and is the only thing that’s holding him together for now. There’s really quite a lot of funny moments and lines in the movie even though it’s also quite dark.  Because it’s set in winter, the streets aren’t wall to wall with tourists like it usually is.
Bruges is every bit as much a start of the movie as the actors. We get to go on their sightseeing journeys with them. We get to see Bruges in winter, the quiet, deserted streets of night and in the daytime. They take a canal boat on the still waters to see the city from the water level. Ray is less than impressed and can’t wait to get back to London. We get to see the beautiful churches and museums, the exquisite art and architecture and hear lots of tidbits of history.
Ken finds the city fascinating and wastes no time climbing up the bell towers for views over the beautiful canals and buildings but he’s also got to deal with Ray who is a bit of a loose canon and not very politically correct. They encounter a film set at night and Ray meets a girl, Chloe. There’s always a girl, and she’s not what she first appears to be.  In fact, she’s got a bit more in common with Ray than you’d think.

NightSwans KenRayI went to Bruges on a day trip from Amsterdam a few years ago.  The sun shone, the canals were blue as the sky. We went on a canal cruise and we explored a few churches and tried the mussels and Belgian beer.  It’s a beautiful city and would be even nicer at night when all the hustle and bustle has died down.

Here’s a few of my own photos from that trip:

Cruising the canals of Bruges

Cruising the canals of Bruges

The Basilica of the Holy Blood

The Basilica of the Holy Blood

It's all about chocolate in Belgium

It’s all about chocolate in Belgium

Traveling through the Movies – Tuscany

under_the_tuscan_sun_verdvdUnder the Tuscan Sun was a book written by Frances Mayes and depicted her experiences moving to the Tuscany region of Italy after a divorce. A movie starring the lovely Diane Lane was made, based on the book, 10 years ago. It’s definitely what you’d call a “Chick Flick”. There’s romance, heartbreak and a happy ending though not the ending you would expect, at least, I didn’t, because I didn’t read the book. I’ve no idea if the book ends the same way as the movie but I won’t say anything either way in case you haven’t read/seen it!

So yes. Tuscany is a beautiful, hilly part of northwest Italy, the region north of Rome and south of the Italian Alps. The largest cities in the region are Florence, Pisa, and Orvieto with lots of little hilltop walled towns and villages as well. The roads wind through hills that are blanketed by vineyards in many areas, with tall cypress trees lining the roads and lanes. The light is golden and the colours are warm with golds, oranges, soft greens, yellowy pinks and sky blues. Towers raise above town walls on distant hills. Villas cling to the sides of the hills or nestle into valleys.  Between the food, the wine and the scenery, You’d be gloriously happy here if you are a gastronome, a wine connoseur, an artist or photographer or just a lover of beauty.

The movie, Under the Tuscan Sun, was filmed in and around the towns of Cortona and Arezzo but with glimpses of Rome, Positano, Florence, Salerno and a few other locations around Italy as the main character, Frances,  travels about a bit. Frances buys a run down villa near Cortona and renovates it with the help of locals who may or may not speak English or even Italian. She makes friends and meets a lover. My favourite moment surrounds the fate of a washing machine!

The scenery is enough to make you want to move there to the next villa beside her or find a little apartment in the town. There are many beautiful areas of Italy but Tuscany is one of the most spectacular. See the movie. Visit Tuscany from home and then book your ticket!

Also see WordPress blogger Palladian Travel’s Insight tour through UTTS Cortona for photos around the real town of Cortona.

tuscan 2

Frances arrives at the run down villa


Grabbed this photo of Tuscany from Google Images. It looked very much like this when I stood on the walls of San Gmignano looking over a valley

Travel Theme: Connections

Where’s My Backpack’s travel theme this week is “Connections”.  Anyone that travels makes connections, whether it be for transportation, or for the people you meet. You might make a spiritual connection to a location as well, a place in which you really feel at home. Connections can be made on an emotional level as well.

Piccadilly Station concourse (via the Manchester Evening News)

Piccadilly Station concourse (via the Manchester Evening News)

I met the man I’m currently engaged to in an online chat room for fans of Coronation Street, a British serial, the longest running on television today. He lives in Salford, UK which is in the Greater Manchester Area. We really made a connection over the airwaves and when we met up face to face, on July 12, 2004, it took a plane and a train connection to get there. I flew to London and a few days later, took a train (though I missed the first one because the signs at the platforms weren’t obvious as to which was the arrival from Manchester and which was the departure) to Piccadilly station. We met in the concourse. It really felt like time stood still. A cliche, yes, but that’s what it seemed like.

He still lives there and we travel back and forth, trading visits alternately. For me to fly to Manchester, I have to make a connection in London Heathrow most of the time though have had to route through Toronto once in awhile. That’s frustrating when you have to fly 2 hours backwards to go forwards, whether I fly past Halifax to come back or fly west to Toronto to fly east to London. It’s a connection we gladly do without if we can help it. We then usually travel somewhere onward, by car, train or plane.

Speaking of Coronation Street, in addition to a fiance,  I’ve made many, many wonderful connections with new friends who are fans of the show. We have fan gatherings, called “pings”, and if someone travels to your home town, often there is a ping organized so you can meet and chat with the local fans, many of whom you may know from the various boards and forums.  There have been international gatherings organized in Manchester, the home of Coronation Street, where fans/friends who connected via the internet have met up and enjoyed hanging out together and even been lucky enough to visit the television studio where the show is filmed. Good times!

Corrie fans at the Cafe (Roys Rolls, Coronation Street set, 2010)

Corrie fans at the Cafe (Roys Rolls, Coronation Street set, 2010)

Traveling through the Movies – Notting Hill (London)

Hugh Grant wanders Portobello Road in Notting Hill

London is one of my favourite cities and it’s where lots and lots of movies are filmed. Recently I caught most of Notting Hill on television. Another romantic comedy, another chick flick and another one of my favourites. This one is mainly filmed in the Notting Hill district of London just to the northwest of Hyde Park. It’s famous for the Portobello Road antiques market and for the annual Notting Hill Festival every summer. The area has a large West Indian population but in the movie, Notting Hill, you might be forgiven if you thought it was very white.

There are lots of scenes of the streets in and around the neighbourhood including Portobello Road itself. Of course, the shops and restaurants you see in the movie are fictitious but some of the storefronts used are still there. The gardens can also be found in the area but as in the film, are also private so you can’t go in them.  There are also some other locations elsewhere in the city including a stately home in Hampstead, the Ritz Hotel, the Savoy Hotel and Leicester Square.

The movie is about a man, William, who runs a little travel bookstore. He runs into a famous American actor, Anna Scott. He is smitten instantly. She likes him too, because he’s genuine and charming and while he’s star struck at first, he’s not in it for the celebrity. He just likes her for who she is, not for her image on the screen. He has a zany sister, and nice, yuppified friends who also treat her like ordinary folk once they get over the shock of meeting her. She has a truckload of complications that come along with her, including a dolt of a boyfriend and all the media attention on her which makes things difficult.

The cast is excellent, with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts taking the leads and supported by the most excellent and wacky Rhys Ifans as “William’s” flatmate. Most of the actors that play William’s friends and his sister are familiar faces to those of us that watch a lot of British movies and series. There’s great chemistry on screen between them all.

Julia Roberts in the travel bookshop in Notting Hill

It’s a love story and it’s standard issue, you know they’ll get together in the end. Will they live happily ever after? Who knows? But if you want to see this part of London, it’s got lots to look at. All the times I’ve been to London and I’ve not yet managed to get myself to the Notting Hill area to investigate the little shops and the pretty terraces. Maybe next time!

Meanwhile here’s a closer look at the locations used.

London has been the scene for filming a lot of romantic comedies that I like including  Love Actually, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Four Weddings and a Funeral,

Travel Festival Webcast on Saturday

I’m a fan of Rick Steves’ travel shows and his travel advice. Yes, he and his company conduct tours in Europe and no, tours aren’t for everyone, as I’ve just finished explaining earlier today. But if you’re a fan, and can work out the time difference, there is a day of web-seminars today. They start at 9 a.m. Pacific time, noon on the east coast of America, 1 p.m. Atlantic time where I am, and so on. I’m reblogging the details from Liberated Traveler here for those interested.

Liberated Traveler

Rick Steves is hosting another live travel festival tomorrow.  The webcast begins at 9:00 AM Pacific Time and can be found at this link.  What seminars will he be offering?

  • 9:00 a.m. European Travel Skills
  • 11:30 a.m. Packing Light and Right
  • 2:00 p.m. France
  • 4:30 p.m. Italy
  • 7:00 p.m. Europe 101: Art and History for Travelers

I enjoy letting the webcast play as I dream about my next travel plans.  Have a great weekend!

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Traveling through the movies: Midnight in Paris

I’m not a Woody Allen fan overall but I went to see this movie because of the Parisian setting and the unusual premise.  A couple from California, Gil and Inez, (Owen Wilson, Rachel MacAdam) are vacationing in Paris with her parents. He writes screenplays but really wants to be a proper writer. Gil loves Paris,even in the rain, and would love to live there and write. He admires all the writers that lived there in what he considers Paris’ golden age, the 1920s. Life was better then.

Late one night, after drinking too much at a wine tasting, he stumbles around a corner in old Montmartre. An classic car comes around the corner and he’s invited to a party. Gil finds himself in the company of his idols, Hemmingway, Stein, Fitzgerald and other notaries from the era including painters (Dali, Picasso) and singers. He meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard) who feels as he does though she thinks Paris’ golden age was the Belle Epoque. He spends several nights like this, getting to know all the “celebs” of the time and falling in love with Adriana and with the era. It inspires his writing but alienates him from Inez whose shallowness and pretentiousness is emphasized by comparison.

The movie is about making the most of life, not wishing for a different life that probably would be no better. It’s about what you make of it and about being true to yourself.

The movie was shot all around Paris, day and night, in sunshine and rain,  with an awesome opening sequence showing a day in the life of Paris.  In addition, there are views of Monet’s Giverney and of Versailles.  Restaurants, shops, markets, streets, the Seine, the boulevards, the streets, the views. This movie has it all and you’ll be tempted to pack your bags and book a flight! Here’s some screen shots from the opening and a few other shots from the film.

Travelling through the movies – Ireland (Leap Year)

leap_year_poster2Today’s blog is another in an occasional series of moves that feature places that make you want to travel.  The movie is called Leap Year and the location featured is the Republic of Ireland. A blog review of the movie over here on Tranquil Dreams reminded me of the movie and how it would suit one of these Locations blog posts.

Anna Brady (Amy Adams) is a stager, she sets up empty houses or condos for the realtors to show to their potential buyers. She makes it look inviting and she’s very exact. She and her doctor boyfriend are hoping to be accepted to an exclusive condo. They’ve been together some time and have a very professional and yuppie life together.

Her fiance must go to Dublin for a conference and before he goes, he takes her for a “very special dinner”. She hears he has been to a jewellery store and combined with the potential meal, she thinks he’s going to propose. When he doesn’t, she’s crushed. He jets off to Dublin and she realizes that it’s coming up to February 29, a traditional day that women can propose to men, just like her grandparents did.
So she follows him to Ireland except things do not go as planned. Everything goes wrong and it turns her perfectly ordered life upside down. She meets a handsome, rascally Irishman who owns a failing pub who drives her to Dublin in an old Renault 4 because he needs the money and en route they get to know each other for better or worse, usually worse. How does it end? Does she get the man she thinks she loves or does she end up with the rowdyman? Take a guess! But it doesn’t quite go how you might expect.
The film didn’t get good reviews overall but I really liked it. I like Amy Adams, I really do. She’s very versatile and in romantic comedies, she really brings a sparkle to the screen. Matthew Goode who plays Declan is gorgeous and if his put-on accent is all over the place, who cares! One particularly big clunker has her landing in Wales due to bad turbulence and taking a boat around to the west coast of Ireland to Dingle in a few hours. That wouldn’t happen in real life and would take a much longer time. Why not just have them cross the Irish Sea and land on the East Coast of Ireland (where, incidentally, the scene of her on the beach was shot)? Because then the cross country journey she has to make to Dublin would take about 30 minutes! ;) Never mind.

Don’t go to Dingle or the Dingle Peninsula or Tipperary expecting to see familiar scenes or villages from the movie. It wasn’t shot in those areas but the movie was indeed filmed in the Republic of Ireland.  There’s a scene where they climb up to the ruins of an abbey and that’s somewhat CGI enhanced but again, it doesn’t really matter. There are ruined abbeys on hills in more than a few places around the country. The scenery is authentic even if it’s not the parts of Ireland that the story takes place in. The narrow roads lined by rock walls and blocked by sheep (yes, they do have highways but where would the fun in that be?). Sweeping low mountains. Friendly inhabitants.

It’s definitely a film you have to take with a grain of salt as far as locations and events go but let that slide and have fun with it. Enjoy the scenery and plan a driving tour around Ireland!
Here’s a bit more detail about the filming locations:

Leap Year: Where was if filmed?

Ten Myths about the filming locations in Leap Year

IMDB’s location page for the film.

Traveling through the Movies – The Talented Mr. Ripley (Italy)

index Let’s go back to Italy with Jude Law, Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow in the movie The Talented Mr. Ripley. It’s the story of Tom Ripley, the classic hanger-on, who is hired by the father of a rich young man to go to Italy and talk him into returning to the United States and the family business. Father and Son are estranged and the son, Dickie Greenleaf, played by Jude Law, does not speak to his father. Tom sees this opportunity to belong, to be part of the in crowd and latches on to Dickie and his girlfriend, Marge (Gwynneth Paltrow) after pretending he was an old college friend of Dickie’s though Dickie doesn’t remember him. He accepts him anyway because it suits him at the time but Marge is uncomfortable with this clingy intruder. Tom soon tries to take over Dickie’s life, manipulating and covering his tracks. Matt Damon plays the creepy Tom with hair raising accuracy.


Bagno Antonio, Ischia, Italy
The Talented Mr. Ripley

The action starts in a little village in Sicily called Mongibello. The real life island of Ischia and a nearby smaller island are the locations used for this part of the movie. The villa, the beaches the water are all drenched in Mediterranean sunshine. Later the action moves to Rome and there are great location shots of the squares, narrow streets and sometimes more famous sights like the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona or a glimpse of the dome of St. Peter’s.  Tom soon finds things closing in on him and he runs off to Venice. There we get views of the Grand Canal, Piazza San Marco and the faded but elegant palazzos.


Philip Seymour Hoffman in Piazza Navona, Rome.
The Talented Mr. Ripley

This is another of my favourite films, one I haven’t seen in awhile so I was delighted to catch the last half of it recently on television  (even thought I do own the DVD). I like the cast and the story and the locations are very alluring. I’ve not been to Sicily or to any similar small rural coastal villages in Italy but they make it look so inviting in this film! The views of Rome are, of course, familiar due to my most recent trip and I have been to Venice in the past.

There are more photos and descriptions of all the locations here.

Traveling through the movies – Premium Rush (NYC)


Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Premium Rush keeps ahead of the yellow New York cabs

My trip to New York has me still in a mental holiday spirit and with memories of the city still clear, I bring you an excellent movie filmed on the streets of New York. Premium Rush is about a bicycle courier, Wilee,  who has to deliver a ticket to a location in Chinatown but the ticket is also worth a lot of money to a dirty cop, a gambling addict whose debts will be forgiven in exchange for this ticket.

premium-rush-blu-ray-box-artThe ticket which is a receipt, was purchased by a Chinese immigrant and it proves her payment which will allow her son and mother to come to the US aboard a ship that is used to smuggle immigrants out of China.  The dirty cop chases Wilee through the streets of New York and Wilee, with the help of his ex girlfriend and courier rival must get the ticket to it’s intended recipient by 7 p.m.

It’s a pretty good thriller and the movie was shot on the streets of New York, mostly from a low level so you really feel like you are part of the action, in the middle of the traffic with Wilee, or zipping along the paths of Central Park. There are streams of yellow cabs, lots of traffic and great shots of the shops and streets, most of which are not lined by skyscrapers as the action starts in the upper west side of Manhattan at Columbia University and traverses through to Chinatown by the end of the film.

Also interesting to me is the star of the movie, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I was surprised to find out this is the actor that played the younger lad in the great comedy Third Rock from the Sun. I think I probably have seen him in a few movies since then but it never struck me who he was.

Anyway, watching this film really puts you on the streets of New York City, mostly the Upper West Side and some of Central Park,  the streets of everyday working people rather than the famous tourist sites. I would love to go back!


More Streets of New York in Premium Rush. The camera work is shot from street level and you really feel part of the action

Traveling through the movies – Roman Holiday


Inside the Colosseum

Here’s a classic movie filmed in Rome. The great thing about Rome is that not much changes in the historic city centre. You can see the same things today as you could in the 1950s when this movie was made!

The story is about a princess played by Audrey Hepburn who comes to Rome for a reception. She is bored by all the hand shaking and ceremony and slips out one evening. Gregory Peck plays a journalist and he spots her but doesn’t recognize her at first. She gets drunk and he takes her home and puts her to bed in his flat. The next morning he’s discovered who she is and realizes he’s got a story on his hands.

He takes her around Rome for a “Grand Day Out” and we have loads of views of Rome, both the famous monuments and the streets and bridges as they zip around the city on a moped.


The Mouth of Truth, “La Bocca della Verità” in Santa Maria Cosmedin

The movie was filmed in 1953 in black and white by director William Wyler and was Audrey Hepburn’s breakout movie. Gregory Peck was so impressed by her that he allowed her to have top billing, a very generous gesture in the actor pecking order of things. She charmed the world and shot to stardom.

It’s one of my all time favourite movies, and is a wonderful “visit” to Rome. Rome is still as interesting a city to visit as it would have been then. Other good films set in Rome include Woody Allen’s latest, To Rome with Love, La Dolce Vita (another classic), The Talented Mr. Ripley, Angels and Demons,  and Only You (which I’ve mentioned before).


Audrey enjoying gelato and the sunshine on the Spanish Steps


Bernini’s Leaky Boat fountain (“Fontana della Barcaccia “) at the foot of the Spanish Steps.