Goodbye to Melbourne’s Palace Theatre

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Sadly, the Palace Theatre closed its doors forever last weekend; the inevitable result of a buyout by developers who now want to build a massive hotel atop its soon to be pile of rubble. For music lovers, Melbourne has lost a spectacular live venue, and for Melbourne’s history in general there’s concern in the fact the building is set to be demolished rather than transformed. It’s funny that the Palace is going to be a hotel really, given it originally housed a hotel when built in 1912. It’s kind of like coming full circle in a way, except instead of evolving and holding onto a piece of Melbourne history, the Palace Theatre as we know it looks to be simply erased from Bourke Street, just as the last musical Palace in St Kilda (another live music staple) was wiped out.

The Palace was a vital piece in the Melbourne scene; somewhat of a little brother (capacity wise) of the Forum Theatre – the two forming a kind of “mid-sized” alliance that allowed appropriate bands to climb the capacity ladder with each subsequent tour. In many local cases, you could predict bands playing one of these venues by the fact they’d sold out numerous Corner Hotel shows. Sure enough, the next tour would roll around and they’d have their upgrade. For international bands, the Palace was often the perfect spot for new breakthrough or hyped bands as much as it was for returning favourites, who with each new album were working their way from the pubs, the Corner and the HiFi (etc.), toward a Festy Hall and, maybe one day, Rod Laver or Sidney Myer sized crowd. The Palace was a prime spot for festival sideshows as well, which meant when Falls or Splendour rolled around I would find myself at the place several times in a single week.

Smaller than its Flinders Street friend, the Palace offered a rare and unique live music experience for Melbourne punters, with multiple levels, balconies and nooks to find yourself perched in. You could be standing on the floor and there might be a mosh pit, or you could take to the multiple vantage points on level one (including the sound desk steps often cited as prime). Failing that, you could go up and up again, allowing for an entirely new visual perspective that was high but never too far away. Probably the best utilisation of the space I remember was seeing Pnau perform in August 2008, when they filled the venue with lights, confetti and giant balloons that reached as far back and high up as the venue allowed. From the front corner of the first balcony, this created one of the most memorable visuals for a gig I remember.

My list of gigs attended at the Palace is pretty extensive and I’m proud of the ticket stubs I’ve acquired on my way out of the venue each night over the past eight years. As with almost any venue, the Palace had its cons. The timing of bands was often heavily influenced by the venue, which resulted in unreasonable waiting and unnecessarily late starts (yes, it’s my granny argument, but there’s little excuse to have a ventriloquist perform and then wait over an hour for the next act  – thanks Eels). The other issue I took with the Palace was its security, who were often in nightclub mode (it’s Mumford & Sons guys…) and gave everyone a hard time, berating for IDs, holding up lines for no good reason and generally being unpleasant meatheads.

But each little negative was outweighed by a great number of positives for the venue, which is why it’s so disappointing to see it go. As already mentioned, the set up of the venue meant you were always close to the action, could see what was going on, and could appreciate great sound production. The interiors added to the atmosphere of the gig, and on many occasions I remember international acts complementing the Melbourne site and noting how lucky we were to have it. The house lighting setup meant that bands could easily be visually extravagant; with the endless stellar photography that came from Palace gigs a testament to the fact. The calibre of bands billed for the Palace stage was another major pro, with the appropriate capacity ensuring you got to see big bands in an intimate setting. In the case of international bands, this often accounted for the last time you would see them in a Melbourne venue that had soul.

For me, my Palace highlights are numerous. I saw some of my absolute favourites there, such as Franz Ferdinand, Editors, Kaiser Chiefs and Band of Horses; finally managed to catch Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds totally own their hometown; watched Mumford & Sons on their rise to world domination; saw Tom Chaplin flounce, Jesse Hughes pounce and Justin Hawkins trounce; and genuinely took something ultimately positive from every gig there. For me and many, it’s an absolute shame to see the Palace Theatre go and I wish more could have been done to hold on to a Melbourne treasure. There are alternatives, but there is no equivalent; which is a damn shame indeed.

Zagreb: Museum of Broken Relationships

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Tired of history? Bored of artwork? Well Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships is bound to at least be your most unique museum visit in a while. The museum showcases just what its title suggests: a quirky exhibit of everyday items with significance to a couple’s broken relationship. The museum really has a collection of banal objects inside its walls, but it’s the stories about the object and relationship that spark an interest, not the object itself.

A woman donates four CDs of music to the museum; the only remaining evidence of her affair with a man 35 years her junior.

An axe, used to destroy a loved one’s belongings one piece per day after she ran away with her new girlfriend, hangs idly on the wall like a safety instrument.

A clock inscribed with “We broke up on Skype,” is complemented by a transcript of a dull conversation had on Skype text chat that bizarrely ends with an entirely out of the blue, “Oh, and I’m seeing someone,” and a fairly amusing reaction.

A watch sits encased, its pin having been pulled out to freeze the time at which “he” first said he loved her; a bitter reminder of the time in fact wasted on a failed relationship.

A love letter is glued to a mirror, shattered like the relic it is in an email age and displayed ornately in domed glass.

Yep, this museum is weird.

The Museum of Broken Relationships is a wonderful insight into how people end up leaving or being left, with plenty more strange examples to take away, many of which will leave you truly puzzled. At 25 kuna (about 3.5 euro), the museum takes about 60 – 90 minutes to cover thoroughly; although, you could easily omit a few of the longer blurbs that (a) take themselves a bit too seriously and (b) often don’t make a lot of sense.

Dubrovnik: The city’s top 10

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This is not necessarily a list of the best things of Dubrovnik, nor is it in any particular order. These are just 10 of the most memorable bits and pieces about an absolutely gorgeous destination.

Steps. There are steps everywhere in Dubrovnik – the place is effectively built entirely along the side of a mountain after all. They’re tiring, sure; but the steps add so much to the city. Steep and winding paths, a new and spectacular view every few paces, peaceful cliffside neighbourhoods, and a chance to laugh at lazy people who can’t handle the excess exercise (short of a taxi, there’s no real alternative to getting about).

Rock Palace Apartments. We decided to look for a place via Air Bnb and came across this fella, Zlatan, and his Rock Palace. Our apartment was named Ziggy and was decked out in Bowie posters, transfers and album paraphernalia. The place was simple but great and had one heck of a balcony view; perfect for some brewskies and a chill. Until the rain rolled in.

“Have you seen the horses?” This is the question asked to us by Zlaton when we asked what was being filmed in the city centre. Us: “What’s being filmed down there?” Z: “Ooh, have you seen the horses?” Us: “Yep” Z: “The horses? The ones inside the walls?” (he was pretty stoked about the horses) Us: “Yes…” Z: “Do you know the show Game of Thrones?” Us: “Yes!” (pretty stoked ourselves at this moment) Z: “It’s not Game of Thrones. It’s Borgia, a show about…….” Us: … (what a set up) Even though it wasn’t Game of Thrones (and even though I couldn’t find and high-five Peter Dinklage), it was pretty fun to have characters roaming around the streets in their full ancient getup.

Atmospheric Rain. We came to Dubrovnik from Pula, where we were told “it almost never rains in Dubrovnik and when it does it doesn’t last.” Well if that is the truth then we managed to score the city’s only six days of annual rainfall. Storms arrived and died as frequently as characters on Game of Thrones; but because it wasn’t actually cold and we could watch the ocean from up high, we were treated to a series of pretty special weather performances, complete with major light shifts, rolling skies and oncoming sheets of water. The rough weather also contributed to my next item…

Mega Waves. Dubrovnik is a walled city that sits on the edge of the sea. It’s high, old and an obvious period and/or period location. The storms added an element to its charm, however, by introducing some seriously rough sea action, with waves bashing and smashing the walls as the water tried to breach King’s Landing. Er, I mean, the city centre. Sure, special effects might create such an illusion on TV; but that’s nothing compared to the truly dark and gloomy atmosphere we had our fair share of. These last two items are also the complete opposite of what you expect in Dubrovnik, so I kind of feel like we lucked out in some kind of twisted way.

Walls. Like the steps and unlike the bad weather, Dubrovnik’s walls are one of its permanent attractions. The trail along the top of the walls, which leads around the entirety of Dubrovnik’s old town, is actually much higher than you first expect. There is some fantastic perspective as you walk around ocean side, as you see just how high up you are and how fortified the place is. And while you’re up there look at the repair work they’ve pulled off – a demonstration of just how mean and relentless the ocean can get.

Cats. The unbelievable amount of cats is kind of incredible – I think they run the joint. From the city walls, looking down into abandoned properties you can see that the cats are opportunists: they’ve moved in and they even hold meetings and the occasional gang brawl. I followed one particular feline along a kind of wharf. At first I thought she was stupid, as cats don’t dig the water and there was nowhere else to go but for a swim. The cat had an insider tip, though. She knew that just over the edge where my eyes could not yet spot there were three fishermen at work. Strolling ever so casually to the end, the cat planted herself next to her new best friend and waited. Not so silly after all. Another example of feline fearlessness was this little beauty, just casually chillin’ beneath a backyard guillotine:

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 “Where are my dragons?” Disappointed at the lack of Thrones filming, we decided we could at least pretend like we were in the fantasy series and find the key spots around town, like the place where Joffrey was an ass, the stairs where the people talked about what an ass Joffrey is, the tower in which Tyrion lamented about what an ass his inbred nephew is, and the place where Calisi’s dragons tore Joffrey’s nads off and threw him into the ocean before breathing fire down upon the surface and actually boiling him to death (I’m sure that’s going to happen – you’ll see the very spot yourself if you visit Dubrovnik).

Mountain Goats. On our last day in Dubrovnik, we decided to hike our way up the cliff hill to the fort. Short, steep and rocky switchbacks through the woods quickly opened up to muuuch longer, but equally steep progressive paths that made the funicular look so much more appealing than a “casual hike.” But on the way down, we made some new friends! A herd of mountain goats were making their way down hill as well, skipping between rocks and chomping on the shrubbery. These guys were a totally mismatched crew and pretty chilled out by our presence, which allowed Colin to acquaint himself with his own kind.

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Low Season. It rained a heap, lots of places were closed and the boats weren’t operating, but boy did Dubrovnik hold its charm. In the summer the place is swarming with tourists and heat can be ridiculous, so I was glad to avoid that. We practically had the place to ourselves. The old town was quiet and relaxed and we could come and go between the storms without a hint of stress, enjoying the sights at our own pace. It may not be the ideal picture of southern Croatia, but I sure as heck would recommend it.

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Ljubljana: “It is allowed to stay longer than 3 days, but NOT TOO LONG”

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“There is only ONE purpose of this book and this is: To keep you in Ljubljana for 3 days – well, for more than one, at least. PSST! Let me tell you a little secret: it is allowed to stay longer than 3 days, but NOT TOO LONG! I don’t want me perfectly small capital to be overcrowded.”

Before planning for this trip I had never heard of Ljubljana – I don’t even recall glancing at it on a map. All I knew about Slovenia was that it bordered Italy. It turns out that Ljubljana (“Luby whatever” as my mum referred to it as over Skype), Slovenia’s capital, is actually a pretty awesome place (and quite straightforward to pronounce).

For a capital, the place is tiny; and it is apparently one of the safest capitals in Europe. But because it’s a Uni town, the size and safety don’t make it a quiet place. There is loads of life around and plenty of watering holes and the like to keep a real public life-force flowing through the city. On our first night, I immediately compared Ljubljana to Bratislava, which is quite a bit larger, yet easily the quietest city I’ve ever visited.

The “City of Bridges” is built on the Ljubljana River and the old city is entirely walkable (you’d have to be extremely lazy to consider anything else). Prešeren Square acts as the centre from which the city spreads outward from in all directions. Here you will see the Triple Bridge (literally, three bridges directly next to one another) that are unique to the city. They’re pretty nice, but the buildings surrounding the square, which show off an eclectic mix of architecture, are the real winner – the collection sucked us in immediately.

Along the river heading east are several more bridges, including a rather nice oriental inspired example; and heading south from the Triple Bridge is the Cobbler’s Bridge, covered with padlocks and decorated with sculpted fish heads (we were thoroughly confused by this) and then further along the Dragon Bridge, guarded at each end by a pair of rather fierce looking dragons that form a true city icon.

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The sculpted art seen of those last couple of bridges can be found throughout the city, too; many of such artworks depicting animals rather than the obvious busts of {Insert token European figure}. Weird is wonderful in Ljubljana and some of the more obscure sculpted highlights include shrunken head type creations, a starving dog and a decaying human body (head not included). Along with the great number of buildings that are either grand, gorgeous or both, the city centre is a visual delight to explore.

The castle is another cool touristy addition to the city for several reasons. It’s a hike, but a relatively quick one, and I’m always up for a little forest exploration. There are some great views along the way, including the old town, more modern additions (including an eyesore I hope is known as the mega-escalator) and the mountains. Up top, the castle grounds are a delight. You can visit the old prison and chapel, browse galleries, and wander freely without any pesky (and expected when in Europe) entrance fee. The castle even has “Little Libraries,”  which are simple tiny cabinets that act as a free book swap.

On the other side of Ljubljana’s city centre is Tivoli Park, a massive are of public parkland and forest that is a joy to wander through. Expansive forest tracks allow for quick strolls or hefty hikes, of which we found a happy medium. At dusk, the crows take over the skies, which is somewhat foreboding with an air of fantasy about it; after all, once you’ve visited Ljubljana you might remember it as the stuff of fiction.

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Prague: An artsy fartsy walking tour

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Having visited Prague before, I felt like I had covered the guidebook list of sights to see. We came back because we loved the gothic atmosphere of the old town, varied architecture of the greater city, Czech beer, and the hope of snow. Naturally though, we wanted an idea of “things to do”. So, figuring Prague has so many cool public artworks, I jumped on Google to perform an “Alternative Prague” search. I’ve done this in several cities and you do discover some of the cities cooler sites by doing so; however, I’m still amused at how counterintuitive a website that lists “Prague’s Top 10 Alternative Sights” is going to be. I would wager that those sites, if they really are worth seeing, won’t be alternative for long.

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Still, like I said, you do discover some interesting things and it didn’t take long for me to come across and start researching the works of Czech artist David Cerny. Finding images and descriptions, I quickly appreciated the humour and obscurity of his sculptures, so out came the map to plot said pieces over the city. The next day, we had an extensive walking tour marked; one that led to a great range of pleasant arty surprises along the way.

My tour started on the wrong side of the river (that is, leaving the city centre) with Prague’s Metronome, a giant, functional metronome that sits high up on Letenské Sady, ticking over Prague where once stood the largest Lenin statue in Central Europe. There’s a big skating scene up near the Metronome, which might explain all the sneakers thrown lace-tied over the power line. The shoes make for some arguably cooler shots than of the time-piece itself, as the hill provides some excellent views of the city with plenty of examples of Prague’s mismatched cityscape.  Also, if you squint at the TV Tower off in the distance, you’ll see some of David Cerny’s giant babies climbing up the thing…

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On from the metronome, we headed downhill and along the Vltava River towards Charles Bridge, on which a horde of tiny humans can be spotted competing the length of. The bridge wasn’t what we were after, though, but rather the Kafka Museum for the first of the day’s Cerny’s. Entitled Piss, the statue in the museum’s forecourt is pretty hilarious; if not for the fact it’s two fellas swinging back and forth and taking a leak, but that regardless of this tourists still want to cosy up for a photo. There is something quite wrong about that prospect.

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From Piss, we made our way to the other side of Charles Bridge (that is, past the bridge, not over it) to find Lennon’s Wall. The area here was pretty cool, with lots of crafty shops and windy streets to get lost amongst.  The Wall itself isn’t too hard to find given it has become a pretty popular spot to visit – a stretch of concrete covered in graffiti, stencils of John Lennon’s face and lyrics and messages from the former Beatle’s extensive works. The wall was a nice, bright photo op, complemented by an equally colourful display of padlocks just around the corner. These locks give the bridges of Florence and Paris a run for their money and create quite an effect.

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South from the wall, keeping close to the river, we came across Kampa Park. There were a number of public works here, but we came for another of Cerny’s – a trio of enormous babies whose faces had been converted into some kind of cassette stack; caved in and alien like, the stuff of horror films. Disturbing as they were, at least there was something more upbeat happening over the river’s edge. Perched along a structural beam in the Vltava, a line of yellow penguins sat, patiently waiting for no one. These guys were particularly amusing for the game the seagulls were playing on their heads. Forming a line and moving up sequence each time a penguin’s noggin was contested. Also in the park was the Kampa Gallery, of which you could find plenty of neat sculptures just by wandering through its courtyard.

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From Kampa we kept heading down and just away from the river. At the end of Patřinská (I think this was the right street), at the edge of Patřinské Park, there was a really powerful and sobering memorial from Soviet Victims. Obviously, you can draw your own interpretation of pieces such as this, but to me I slow destruction of a man, worn away by the tyrants that once controlled the Czech Republic. Behind the memorial, Patřinské Park is steep and expansive; but it offers some A grade views of Prague between the trees for those with the energy to climb (of course, all the trees were naked given it was winter so the views not be as giving in Spring and Summer time).

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Back at river level and down further, this time heading south west along Holečkova, we tried and failed to find Cerny’s Brown Nosers. This is an unbelievable installation of two giant rear ends that you can actually climb a ladder and enter! Unfortunately, we failed to pinpoint its exact location and couldn’t find it. Bummer. Backtracking, there was at least a great coffee spot in this area called Lou Kafe on P. Švandy z S.

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Crossing back over Vltava on Jiráskuv most, we approached The Fred and Ginger Dancing Building, which is a landmark structure of Prague and a stunning and whacky piece of architecture. Finding the remaining Cerny works required us to head north after the Dancing Building, but there were also a couple of cool spots further south again. These included Emauzy, a unique and pointed modern church, and Vyšehrad, a distinctive and peaceful cemetery with some beautiful sculpted memorials.

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Three final works of Cerny’s completed our not so little walk around Prague and in no particular order (because no such order makes sense), they included: Freud (above U Medvidku beer hall on Na Perstyne), a life sized statue of Freud hanging by one arm from a pole three or four stories up in the air (at twilight, the thought that someone is genuinely hanging there is quite real); Wenceslas’ Dead Horse (inside Lucerna Pasaz on Vodickova), a hanging statue of said King mounted on the belly of his belly-up steed; and Guns (in the courtyard of AMoYA – Artbanka Museum of Young Art), a well and truly larger than life sculpture of four handguns suspended midair and aimed at one another.

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Hamburg: Turns out you can get a good coffee in Germany

I had in my mind that coffee in Germany was (a) fairly rubbish and (b) seriously pricey. The latter is a fair assessment, but if you pay right you’ll get an exceptional cup. And once you’ve done the conversion, chances are the coffee will end up being cheaper than M-Town prices, even if that is a horror in comparison to its Euro friends.

Here are four great coffee spots in Hamburg:

  1. Joe & The Juice Bleichenbrüke 9–11 – This place teetered on the fence between hipster (staff and soundtrack) and chain (layout and furniture). The coffee was easily the best in Hamburg, though.
  2. Elbgold KaffeeMühlenkamp 6a – The smell of this place will immediately convince you you’ve made the right choice. Built into an unassuming complex of old brick buildings, you’ll notice this one by the walls of coffee beans. Quite a bit out of the way, but worth the walk.
  3. Alem Do TejoMax-Brauer Allee 53 – Staying in Altona? Then this place would make a pretty good local. Portuguese inspired, the taste and price of an espresso will meet your expectations (if you haven’t been to Portugal – that is delicious and cheap!) Also, we visited this place twice, four days apart, and the owner remembered us and what we wanted to order!
  4. Laib & LiebeNeue Große Bergstaße 243 – Another Portuguese place in Altona. Again, the coffee prices demolish much of Hamburg’s coffee, the flavour is spot on and you can accompany you beverage with genuine Portuguese tarts. Best I’ve had outside of Portugal.

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I have one further cafe suggestion; it’s not in Hamburg and it’s not exactly about the coffee. In Dresden, we came across a cafe called Kalter Hund. Literally, that means “cold dog” in German, but kalter hund itself is a German dessert similar to hedgehog slice. Regardless of the name, the window had a silhouette of a dachshund on it so who could really resist? We weren’t aware until entering, however, that there was actually a resident snaggie in the place! Stefan the sausage dog greeted us when we walked in and for the remainder of our visit he returned again and again for love and affection. He’d then make his way around the cafe to score more attention from each patron, before deciding popularity was tiring and heading to his couch for a lie down. After a while, he was back up and doing the rounds again – a gorgeous and obedient pup that truly made our day!

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