Traveling through the movies: Scottish Highlands

WWDOOH1This installment of “Traveling through the movies” takes us to the Highlands of Scotland, particularly the northwest coastal area. The movie is What We Did On Our Holiday, from 2014, staring Rosamund Pike, David Tennant, Ben Miller and Billy Connolly.

The basic premise is that Tennant and Pike are Doug and Abi MacLeod, a married couple on the verge of divorce, which has been very hard on their three children, ages about 4, 6 and 10 or thereabouts. Doug’s father, Gordie is turning 75 and as he is very ill with terminal cancer, the family is going to drive up to Scotland for a large birthday party, likely Gordie’s last. Gordie lives with his older son and family, Margaret and Gavin and Kenneth. Gordie is a bit tightly wound and Margaret is struggling with depression. Kenneth is struggling with his father’s high expectations. Gavin and Doug seem to have a long time rivalry.

WWDOOH2The day of the party dawns and Gordie and the three younger grandchildren head to his favourite beach for the afternoon to get out of the way of the party preparations. While watching the children, Gordie dies on the beach and the children decide to give him the Viking funeral he told them he wanted, rather than have a lot of fuss and warring family members. They build a raft, and, using a spare can of gasoline from Gordie’s truck, set him aflame and push him out to sea. The repercussions are many but the movie ends with Gordie’s friends and family celebrating his life under a spectacular sunset on the beach.


Red Point Beach, Wester Ross

The scenery is the real winner, here. There are shots of the car driving down roads with the mountains rising bleakly on either side. The beach is surrounded by hazy purple mountains but the water is blue and the sand white. It’s easy to see why this is Gordie’s “God’s country”. I’ve been to the Scottish Highlands a couple of times, and this movie certainly makes me want to go again, hop in a car and drive wherever the notion takes us. It’s a beautiful country, much of it remote and with single track roads the further north you go.


Billy Connolly as Gordie MacLeod

There are pleny of movies that are set in the Scottish Highlands but many of those are actually filmed elsewhere, Ireland being one of the favourite replacements. Many of the castles in Scotland are seen in films, including Eileen Donan (Highlander, The World is Not Enough), Duart on the Isle of Mull (Entrapment) and Doune (Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the tv series Outlander which has lots of other scenes filmed in the Highlands as well). A few examples that have scenes filmed in rural Scotland include Braveheart (Glen Nevis and Loch Leven), Prometheus (Isle of Skye), Skyfall (Glencoe),  and a new upcoming version of MacBeth.


Traveling through the movies (Paris) – My Old Lady

MOLPosterKevin Kline is one of my favourite actors. You can always be sure you will enjoy any film he’s in. Given the added bonus of Maggie Smith and you’ve got a winner. I discovered My Old Lady and the story sounded interesting. A middle aged man inherits a Paris apartment from his father, a man that he didn’t get on with and had been estranged from for some time before his death. He is divorced and spends his last penny on a flight to Paris, intending on selling the apartment for a small fortune. But he discovers that the method of the original purchase of the flat is a “viager”. The law in these types of real estate transactions is very old and it dictates that he must pay the sitting tenant (former owner) until she passes away before he can sell the apartment.

The sitting tenant is, of course, Maggie Smith and her daughter, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, lives with her. Kline’s character, Mathias, falls for Kristin’s character, Chloe while he wheels and deals trying to raise the money he must pay the old lady, Mathilde. He then discovers a secret. Will he manage to sell the house? Will the secret affect his new relationship?

MOLParis1This movie takes place in Paris. The apartment is in the neighbourhood near the Place des Vosges in the Marais district. There are wonderful shots of the streets of Paris in addition to some of the more well known sites including the riverbanks of the Seine.  It’s particularly poignant as we were planning to stay in the Marais when we had planned to visit Paris last year. Our holiday had to be cancelled but if we manage to get there again, this movie is definitely inspiration!


Kevin Kline (Matthias) on the banks of the Seine


Another view of the Seine


Notre Dame at night


The Streets of the Marais


My Old Lady on IMDB

Traveling through the movies – London and Venice

Wings_of_the_dove_ver1Wings of a Dove – 1997

This is a period piece, based on a Henry James novel, it takes place in Edwardian England, 1910.  Helena Bonham Carter plays a poor relation, Kate, who has been taken in by her well to-do aunt after her mother dies. Her father is an alcoholic and drug addict. Kate’s in love with a radical and political journalist, Merton, played by Linus Roache but now that she’s the ward of her rich aunt, he will never do as a husband. Meanwhile, her aunt is trying to arrange a marriage for her  with a rich man, Lord Mark, rather than let her make the same mistake her mother did, marrying a lower class man. Aunt Maud puts her foot down and forbids Kate and Merton to see each other.

Kate meets a young American heiress, Milly, who is alone in the world aside from a companion, played by Elizabeth McGovern (currently known as Lady Grantham on Downton Abbey). Milly is very, very rich and finds herself attracted to Merton. Lord Mark, though,  he does love Kate, needs to marry Milly because he needs her money after she dies.  It turns out she is tragically and fatally ill. Kate persuades Merton to make a play for the heiress, let her fall in love with him in order to inherit her millions so that they can be together after Milly’s death. As you might expect, things don’t go according to plan.


Arriving in Venice at night

Knebworth Hall standing in for Lord Mark's shack

Knebworth Hall standing in for Lord Mark’s shack

The scene moves from London to Venice when Milly decides to go traveling.  Kate goes with her and Merton is persuaded to go llater and meet up with them there. Kate soon leaves them, thus all the better to get Milly to fall for him but she is jealous and paranoid, suspecting Merton is developing feelings for Milly as well.

London's Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park

London’s Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park


Venice Sunrise


A small back alley in Venice

There are good location shots in various London parks and streets  and in the underground, fitted up with an old train rather than the new ones. The joy really comes when the location moves to Venice. There are beautiful shots of the bridges, piazzas, canals and buildings, with wonderful early morning and evening light much of the time. There is a costume party on a street at night, there are romantic midnight rides  in gondolas, there are sunrises and sunsets over the wonderful Venetian skylines. We see Venice in all types of weather and it makes me want to walk the narrow streets myself.


Merton arrives in Venice


Corner of the Doge’s Palace looking towards the lagoon


Down the Grand Canal


Another Grand Canal shot, you can just see the Rialto bridge at the back


Santa Maria della Salute


San Marco

Traveling through the movies – Light in the Piazza (Italy)

Florence - Piazza Signoria

Florence – Piazza Signoria

Here’s another in the occasional blog posts about movies that have great location shoots. Light in the Piazza is an older movie from 1962 starring Olivia de Havilland, Rossano Brazzi, Yvette Mimieux and George Hamilton. A pretty woman in her 20s, Clara, is traveling through Italy with her mother. They meet a handsome younger Italian man, Fabrizio, and the young couple fall in love. Fabrizio is smitten with Clara and turns up everywhere they go. He’s got the hotel manager on board and the manager lets him know where the object of his affections will be, you see. Is Fabrizio merely in love or is he a gigolo, after a young woman that he thinks is an heiress?

Piazza Signoria - Florence

Piazza Signoria – Florence

Mama Meg is afraid. You see, Clara had an accident as a child and her head injury has left her with the maturity level of a 10 year old but she’s bright enough, bubbly, pretty and full of the joys of life. Fabrizio thinks she’s just refeshingly naive but her mother doesn’t want Clara to be hurt. Seems other men in the past have rejected her when they find out about her condition and Meg wants nothing more than that Clara have a normal life. Fabrizio really does seem sincere in his affections for Clara and Meg starts to think, if he doesn’t find out the truth, Clara could be happy.

Spanish Steps - Rome

Spanish Steps – Rome

Much of the movie was filmed in Florence with a bit in Rome and during a train journey between the two, we get some views of Italian countryside as well.

Italian countryside

Italian countryside


Streets of Florence


Overloooking the Arno in Florence with de Havilland and Mimieux

Luckily, with older European cities like Florence and Rome, very little changes in the historic city centre so what you see on a screen from 1962 isn’t so very different from what you would see if you go now. The movie opens in Florences Piazza Signoria which is filled with statues and a big fountain in the middle. We get to see great views of the Arno river and some of the bridges but not really the famed Ponte Vecchio as much. We see the great Duomo and the narrow streets. It’s a great “walk” through Florence. We also get a bit of Rome including the Forum and Spanish Steps.

Another movie definitely worth watching for the wonderful locations in Florence and the movie itself is pretty good, too.

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

Inspiring Travels from Women – the Travelettes

Ana, The Habitual Runaway, posted a link on Facebook to a blog article on five films that make you want to travel. Of course that caught my eye, since you all know I like to post “Traveling through the movies” type things. These are all new indie films that the writer saw in a couple of film festivals in Berlin and Glasgow. The blog is a collaboration of a group of young women that call themselves the Travelettes with a great tag line, “Backpacking in heels”.

It seems their main objective is on backpacking adventures but they have loads of other posts about their travels and they encourage contributions from the outside world as well. I’ve already found their huge list of posts on London and more than a dozen on Paris, particularly timely as we’re heading there soon. I think I shall be spending a lot of time over the weekend having a good look through their site and maybe making notes for future trips!

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

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,

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.