All posts by Charlie Murrell-Edwards

Charlie is a qualified ESL teacher currently living and working in Bari, Italy. She loves knitting, eating and everything travel. When she's not thrashing out the finer points of the English grammar system with her students, Charlie can be found sampling the many fine pizzas, wines and cheeses Italy has to offer... and scribbling in her notebook about them.

The Second City: First Class Comedy in Chicago

Welcome to Chicago! You’re jet lagged, you’re only in this city of world-class theatre and entertainment for a weekend and you haven’t (really) got a clue what’s on offer.

This is how I arrived in the Windy City. I’d done a bit of research on the sights I needed to see in my two days (‘research’ being two Facebook posts looking for recommendations, one to my news feed and another to a popular female travel forum I’m a part of), and had a few vague ideas concerning an architecture boat tour and the Skydeck experience (neither of which I actually ended up doing). But, bizarrely for this theatre nut, I had given absolutely no consideration to the shows I might be interested in catching. Moseying around the downtown theatre district in search of deep dish pizza to fill my aching stomach and soothe my sleep-deprived mind on that first night, seeing all the bright lights and ‘sold out’ Joffrey Ballet signs, I certainly felt a tad sheepish for taking such a lackadaisical approach to my travel planning.

Salvation arrived in the form of a Michigan-based friend from uni, who responded to my plea for guidance in the knowledge that I couldn’t leave this place without experiencing some of the entertainment treats it had to offer. She suggested I try to see something at any of the following: Steppenwolf Theatre, The Second City, Barrel of Monkeys, Blue Man Group and Looking Glass Theatre. Knowing I only had time for one show if I wanted to do anything else at all with my time in Chicago, a quick game of eeny-meeny resulted in my plumping for The Second City. I didn’t even look at the others — I’d left it too late to overwhelm myself with choices.

The Second City is an improvisational comedy enterprise that started in Chicago and now has locations in Toronto, Los Angeles and, I have since discovered, London. They also provide training for the next up-and-coming improv artists (Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Steve Carell all started off here) and, since opening in December 1959, have become one of the world’s most influential centres for comedy and improvisation.

Being on a tight budget and a limited timeframe, I searched for the cheapest show available on my last night in the city, which was a Sunday. To my delight, I discovered that tickets were available for ‘Infinite Sundaes’, a ‘singprov’ show performed by none other than The Second City trainees themselves. Tickets were only $12 a pop (not including tax) and, sitting in a downtown branch of Goddess and the Baker, munching my avocado and quinoa salad and filching their WiFi so I could order the tickets, I felt pretty chuffed at how things had turned out.

Arriving at the theatre near Lincoln Park the following evening, I was ushered into one of the smallest performance spaces I’ve yet experienced. With un-ranked seating for about fifty patrons (nicely upholstered chairs laid out in rows and the occasional table) and a stage so small that the actors looked like they were about to topple off and land right on top of us, I started to feel secretly pleased that I hadn’t decided to shell out for one of the big-name shows in the theatre district. With rough prompts in their hands and no costumes to speak of, the actors took us through an hour of high-energy improvised musical comedy, culminating in a totally script-free ‘singprov’ workshop that had everyone hooting with laughter.

The great thing about improv is that you could go to the same show multiple times and see a different performance on each occasion. I was lucky to experience these fledgling artists walking the sharp edge of their talent, producing characters and situations that no one could have predicted would appear on the stage before the show began — with roaring success. While I would definitely recommend at least doing a teeny bit of planning ahead (to avoid the panic and self-loathing involved in thinking you might miss out), my Second City experience taught me that there is entertainment available for every budget, taste and timeframe in Chicago. It was fantastic, and if you’re interested in improvised comedy I would certainly recommend stopping by if you’re ever in any of the four cities The Second City operates from.

(The Second City perform and train at multiple locations across Chicago, Toronto, Los Angeles and London. Ticket prices depend on show, venue and city. For more information visit www.secondcity.com )

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Navigating Bari Port: A How-To Guide

Bari. La Perla d’Apulia. Well… the biggest city in the south of Italy after Naples that’s got a bit of a beach and an alright Old Town. It may not be the biggest tourist destination of the region, but its main selling point is the port. The Porto di Bari is the doorway to the Balkan Peninsula and the means by which travellers and holiday-makers alike, sated with the delights of Italy and Western Europe, travel towards the Middle East. In fact, it was in Bari that a group of 11th century sailors deposited the bones of Saint Nicholas (affectionately known to you and I as Father Christmas, or Santa Claus), after seizing them from the Byzantines in what is now Demre, Turkey.

Look out for Basilica di San Nicola in Bari's Old Town. (Photographer: teens4unity; Flickr)

Look out for Basilica di San Nicola in Bari’s Old Town. (Photographer: teens4unity; Flickr)

Multiple ferry lines serve the Port of Bari and you can travel from Bari to Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece. We had a bit of a nightmare figuring out where we were meant to go once we actually got to the port and would have appreciated some advice beforehand, so for those of you packing up your bags and choosing a more novel way of travelling than flying this summer, here is my Bari Port How-To Guide.

1. Book your tickets online. You can do this via Direct Ferries www.directferries.com. Prices are actually very reasonable. For a two-berth cabin without a window (but with a washbasin) on the ferry that serves Dubrovnik, we paid under £300 return between us. I would recommend a cabin, as at peak times these ferries get VERY busy and it’s a long night if you’ve nowhere to doss down. It is of course cheaper to go without and choose ‘deck space’ (which can be anything from a reclining chair if you’re one of the first on board, to a bit of floor in the corner of the restaurant), so it’s up to you. You have to decide how hardy a traveller you are and what you’re planning to do on arrival. Personally, I wanted to get the most out of my day, so was happy to spend a bit extra for a semi-decent sleep.

Dubrovnik's port: not a bad place to wake up after a long ferry journey! (Photographer: pablococko; Flickr)

Dubrovnik’s port: not a bad place to wake up after a long ferry journey! (Photographer: pablococko; Flickr)

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Bari: The Gateway to Puglia

Bari is… viscerally Italian.

If you’re travelling in the south of Italy or taking the ferry across the Adriatic to the Balkans, you will in all likelihood pass through Bari, or find you have some time to kill there. The second biggest city in the south after Naples, Bari is known as La Perla d’Apulia (The Pearl of Apulia), and while some cynics may quibble as to whether it really deserves the title, it’s worth making the most of what it has to offer nonetheless.

Bari is the capital of the Puglia region and is also a port city, so if you're in that part of the world there's a high chance you'll end up seeing it! (Photographer: Mike Sowden; Flickr)

Bari is the capital of the Puglia region and is also a port city, so if you’re in that part of the world there’s a high chance you’ll end up seeing it! (Photographer: Mike Sowden; Flickr)

One plus point of Bari is that you can comfortably see everything in a day — or even an afternoon. So if you arrive at the train station at 11am and you’ve got to be at the ferry port at 7pm, you won’t feel like you’re missing out. It’s also a good base from which to take day trips, if you’re staying in Puglia a bit longer.   

I’ve lived in Bari for seven months now, and as my time here comes to an end, here is my list of worthwhile sights and experiences.

Bari Vecchia (Old Town)

One of my favourite things is to bimble through the streets of the Old Town, people-watching. Bari Vecchia is almost exclusively Italian — no holiday homes, no expats, just the odd Italian-run B&B. Barese people, incredibly loyal to their nationality and their city, can seem a bit aloof, with a ‘them and us’ mentality, but it’s mostly just a front. While you’re unlikely to feel like one of their own, neither are they at all hostile. Remove the Barese from Bari Vecchia and it’d just be another pretty Italian Old Town, full of tourists taking photos. Women gather outside their homes on plastic chairs to chat and keep an eye on the children as they play in the streets, grandmothers grill fish on open coals, and old men gossip together on street corners. It’s only a small town and it’s fairly easy to re-orientate yourself if you take a wrong turn. Get pleasantly lost.

Explore the Old Town's winding streets and let yourself lose your way. (Photographer: Nicola; Flickr)

Explore the Old Town’s winding streets and let yourself lose your way. (Photographer: Nicola; Flickr)

Civic Museum

Just inside the entrance to the Old Town (off Corso Vittorio Emmanuele) is the Museo Civico. Spend half an hour or so in here learning about the history of the town and looking at paintings and photos of Bari in the past. On the second floor, there are recreations of 10th century traditional dress, which they bring out for the festival of San Nicola (Bari’s patron saint) in early May. It’s also a good idea to make use of the toilets here!

Entry: €2.50

Reduced entry: €1.50

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Il Volo dell Angelo: The Flight of the Angel, Basilicata

I’m strapped-up parallel to the earth, gripping onto the straps suspending me from the zip-wire above for dear life. ‘Good flight!’ the guy who rigged me into the harness grins, then announces ‘donna, 64 kilogrammi’ into his walkie-talkie to let the people on the other side know I’m on my way, and releases the karabiner which tethers me to the earth. At first I sail, and then with gathering velocity I slide out, over the side of the mountain until, reaching a speed of 120kmph, I am soaring approximately 130m above the countryside of Basilicata.

The green mountains of Basilicata, Italy: not a bad view during your flight! (Photographer: Charlie Murrell-Edwards)

The green mountains of Basilicata, Italy: not a bad view during your flight! (Photographer: Charlie Murrell-Edwards)

The Flight of the Angel is an outdoor experience of its kind in Italy. It’s not a bungee jump, it’s not a skydive — it’s a flight. Rigged up between two mountains in the Lucane Dolomites of Basilicata in the south of Italy, you literally fly across the middle. You can fly solo or in a pair. I actually chose to fly with a friend (for moral support!) but a solo flight is probably even more exhilarating. There are stories of people proposing mid-flight, although quite how one would manage to get the words out when travelling at that speed is beyond me!

You wear a hammock-like body harness that is attached by two steel cross-bars to the steel zip-wire that runs between the two mountains. You’re allowed a small bag on the flight, as long as it can be securely attached to the harness/you. I would recommend a small rucksack containing water, tissues, sunglasses, a snack or packed lunch, sun cream, hat, bug spray (if you’re planning to stay into the evening), hand sanitiser, camera, phone, and anything else you consider essential. Wear a long-sleeved top, or take a light cardigan to wear over a t-shirt. You will also need to wear lightweight trousers or leggings, and closed shoes that are comfortable for walking in.

Does this look like your sort of thing? If so, you know where to go! (Photographer: Charlie Murrell-Edwards)

Does this look like your sort of thing? If so, you know where to go! (Photographer: Charlie Murrell-Edwards)

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Adventure Dubrovnik: Sea Kayaking

My boyfriend and I recently returned from a four-day trip to Dubrovnik over Easter. While we were there we had the opportunity to go sea kayaking around the immediate coastline, and I can honestly say this tour is so much fun! It is run by two lovely, highly experienced brother-guides Luka and Mijo. They’re very friendly and attentive and if you’ve never kayaked before then have no fear because the pre-departure briefing is thorough and meticulous. We made several rest stops along the way, which Mijo used to fill us in on some of the history of the area. Bobbing around in a tiny kayak gazing up at the walls of the Old Town is pretty special. Taken as a whole, this tour was the best activity we did on our four-day trip to Croatia (albeit the most expensive), and I’d definitely recommend it even if you’re not a seasoned kayaker.

The walls of Dubrovnik's Old Town as seen from the sea.(Photographer: Jose Miguel; Flickr)

The walls of Dubrovnik’s Old Town as seen from the sea. (Photographer: Jose Miguel; Flickr)

What’s involved:

A 3-4 hour moderate-difficulty tour around the walls of Dubrovnik’s Old City, out to Lokrum Island, across to the mainland (with a rest on a small cave beach) and back along the coast. Wetsuits (short-sleeved and -legged) and life jackets are provided, as well as water and a decent sandwich for the break (I’m vegetarian and they catered well for me — I was given a lovely cheese salad sandwich in a soft roll with pickles and tomato salsa). All of your belongings are put into 100% watertight floatable barrels which are then strapped onto the kayaks, and you’re given a little barrel which you can put your camera in for when you want to take photos. Participants complete the tour in two-person kayaks.

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