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Ostend, our next stop on the toup of the Flanders coast on the north of Belgium, is less than an hour's drive, but we still took it easy, driving for the most part just inland of the sund dunes separating civilisation from the long stretches of sand and the edge of the Channel and the North Sea.

The wind had got up overnight and the kites were out at various locations along the coast, some taking their owners on a merry dance across the sands. White horses dotted the surface of the sea and flags flapped in the strong breeze. We drove past the container port at Zeebrugge, marvelling at the strage maritime shapes unladen and standing tall, and then Blankenberge and De Haan-Wenduine, stopping at various points along the way to take photos of windmills, dunes, the various activities on the water's edge and further out.

Mid-morning and it was starting to get busy, with temperatures about to hit 20C. Equine enthusiasts were out riding their hourses, families were unpacking cars for a day at the beach and many, many people were walking on the flat sand, with dogs, some on leads, enjoying the freedom and frolicking in the shallow water. It was also interesting to follow the tramlines, for this mode of transport makes it so easy to travel between towns and parallel to the coastline, as well as to visit and experience different spots. We later discovered the 65km of continuous tramlines is the longest coast tram service across the world, taking 2.5 hours to travel from one end to the other. You certainly don't need a car here.

Past lookouts and lighthouses as well as marinas, and stopping for a hop over the dunes and stroll on the sand and the boardwalk, then we were in the outskirts of Ostende, passing the Mercator, a former training vessel made up into a pirate ship tourist attraction until Hallowe'en, and following the sat nav to the Hotel Europe, leaving the car in the underground carpark. The hotel is perfectly situated one block from the wide promenade, 2 blocks from the fish market and on the edge of the shopping and restaurant district. Ideal for a short break.

Lunch at the Restaurant La Galleria in the James Ensor Gaanderij, an arcade just off one of the town's squares which was bubbling over with the spills and thrills of a funfair, attracting young and old. But La Galleria was insulated from the hulabaloo, with the 20-odd seat restaurant fast living up to its reputation. OK, servicve was not that rapid, but when the food came, it more than made up for waiting. In fact, Mondays (Lobster Day, with a set lobster meal at €25 per head is booked out for 2-3 months in advance).

We chose the Bouillabase, a seafood casserole containing shrimp, prawn, lobster, cockles, mussels, scallops and dogfish (yes, dogfish or bull huss (greater spotted dogfish)), followed by the local delicasy of deep fried shrimp croquettes. Scrumptious! The story behind the choice of fish is one of economics, one we found fascinating. Ostend used to be a thriving port, both with a fishing fleet and a passenger ferry terminal. With the advent of the Channel Tunnel in the mid-90s, the government-run ferry service could not react as quickly as other private operators, to the Chunnel and Eurostar, so its passenger ferry service died. Along with it went tourist numbers and many businesses, both small and large. The town needed to reinvent itself, and that it has, with aplomb.

The town offers a significant pedestrianised shopping, restaurant and nightlife area, just off the promenade, and the Belgian Coast's reputation for fine cooking has survived. The latter has many traditional fish to offer, including shrimp and sole, amongst others, but the fishermen were also bring back other species, too small in numbers to offer in bulk to the restaurants. Also, the restaurateurs did not know how to prepare and cook them; so, they got cooking lessons from the fishermen who were used to eating these other species, and now restaurants in Ostend frequently offer different species than would normally be found in restaurants in nearby towns. This has been very popular with locals as well as with tourists.

Ostend/Oostende is full of character and steeped in history. One of the stories were were told concerns HMS Vindictive, a British warship that was filled with concrete and sailed into Ostend harbour during WW1 whereupon it was deliberately sunk. It had suffered much damage in a previous battle so could be sacrificed, to block German submarines from leaving Ostend harbour where they were based. One of the warship's turrets is still visible, having been mounted on one of the breakwaters in the harbour.

The fishing fleet is now down to half a dozen trawlers, but they still bring in fresh fish daily. We took in a stroll by the fish market where there were shrimp, sole and plaice as well as a couple of bass and other species too. Alongside the fish market was another market selling fish products ready to eat, including salads, deep fried, etc., as well as dried whiting hanging up, dangling in the onshore breeze.

Ostend, not unlike Luxembourg, organises many festivals, particularly in the summer, including dance, music and art, with The Sea, an art exhibition featuring both contemporary and classical works, about to open in a building transformed from a delapidated cinema. Just a short distance down the coast (reachable by tram) is a racetrack for horses, and tours include fishing for shrimp, flat and round species, and visiting the wind turbine park in the sea. For walkers, there is the promenade and kilometres of flat sandy beaches.

The Bistro Mathilda was where we ate that evening. When in Rome.... We ordered the shrimp salad - again, we were certainly not disappointed at all - and a beef casserole with green beans. To finish off, the crème caramel with raspberry coulis, and Belgian chocolate mousse. Yes, Belgian cuisine at it best!

A stroll back to the hotel Europe - by now the streets were almost deserted - and to our room; in stark contrast to the spartan lobby, the room was plush and spacious, and extremely comfortable. After a great night's sleep and a light breakfast - the choice was rather limited - we were back on the road and already thinking of what to do on our return to the Belgian Coast.

For full photo album (on Facebook), click https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.609571309154178.1073741887.238112732966706&type=3.

For the first of these two travel blogs, click http://www.chronicle.lu/categoriestravelopinion/item/8915-geoff-thompson-the-flanders-coast-1-2-gastronomy,-seafood,-art-nature

Photos by Geoff Thompson

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The Belgian coast is just over 300 km away from the Grand Duchy, a three to three-and-a-half drive, firstly through the forests and hills of the Ardennes, then across flat lands used primarily for agriculture,both tillage and animals.

North of Brussels, the terrain changes with the myriad of canals traversing the terrain and farms of wind turbines dotting the skyline. Keeping up the sustainable energy and green environmental theme, many farms and other buildings support solar panels. By now, the roads have become much smaller, but the destination, Knokke-Heist is much closer, with the rural architecture based on red bricks.

Around the outskirts of the coastal town it becomes clear that this is most definitely an affluent region, what with Ferrari and Bentley among the car dealerships every few hundred metres. The region has a resident population of around 34,000 but, like Luxembourg city, swells by around 100,000 as people descend on the up-market coastal resort, particularly during the summer months. Historically, around the 1950s and 60s, the rich-and-famous came to the town, some by private plane courtesy of its long-gone airport.

As we drive through the town centre with 6-storey appartment blocks lining the streets, we noticed a strange phenonemon - a growing number of golf buggies.

No, the golf course was not in the town centre, rather it epitomised the growning trend of using small electric vehicles in and around the town centre. Along the promenade, meanwhile, couples strolled leisurely, many cycled - some whizzing by - and some roller-skated, with children availing of the myriad of 2- and 4-wheeled contraptions.

Lunch was at Brasserie Rubens, one of the excellent reataurants in the region which counts many with Michelin stars. Outdoors was hustle and bustle with waiters serving the dozens of tables in the balmy sea breeze; indoors, the plush interior gave a slightly elevated view of the strand and allowed us to watch the world go by, as well as the inshore yacht race just s few hundred metres off the gently sloping beach, with the craft skimming the surface of the water, propelled by the warm sea breeze.

With excellent service, we tried the local delicacies, prawns (both prepared in garlic and with a curry sauce) for starters, followed by a main course of lemon sole cooked to perfection. Also on the menu was Irish Angus beef filet, served in pepper sauce, mouth-wateringly tender. With minimum garnish on both dishes, the emphasis was on the main ingredients, with the Surf-n-Turf leaving us truly "bien mangé". This is undoubtedly a "must-stop" for any return visit!

The temperature by now was low 20s, ideal from a stroll and taking in the sea air. But, before we ventured along the promenande, it was time to explore the cultural richness of Knokke-Heist which is know for its art. Had we visited last week-end, we would have come across a major classic (old-timers) car rally, including a Bonham's auction (of classic cars).

While the number of hotels in the town has fallen significantly over the past couple of decades, thanks mainly to property developers razing old hotels and building appartment blacks, the number of art galleries has mushroomed.

The town's love of art can be seen everywhere, with large sculptures decorating roundabouts and street corners, as well as the 10km-long continuous promenade, and on the beaches themselves - a particular favourits is sculptures that are coverered at hight tide but exposed at low tide, allowing children and others enquisitive to examine the effect of the sea on the man-made creations.

We walked past the Casino through the atrium of the 5-star Hotel La Réserve. We were given an exclusive pre-opening tour of the following day's opening of the exhibition "Architecture in Knokke-Heist" which is held every three years to illustrate the municiality's emphasis on contemporary and traditional Normandy architecture. It also included a section on beehives, with outside active hives glassed- and fenced-off to enable children and adults alike see bees entering and leaving the hive, with the protect of 2m high glass and wooden panels.

Also, while we did not get to see it, special mention must be made of the hotel Van  Bunen which promotes the new concept of "Sleep in Art", a unique experience where one can stay, relax and sleep in an art gallery, combining Belgian design and modern art.

We then had a quick drive up to the oldest golf club in Belgium in Knokke-Zoute, with a drive through tree-lined streets of large villas, many owned by wealthy Belgians from other Belgian cities. Many of the streets in the suburbs and centre are paved and some are cobbled. There are many green areas too, not unlike Luxembourg city, including dog-free zones for children to play.

The golden triangle offers shopping and art, with the latter's highlight being half a dozen large panels using the shells of scarab beetles to reflect light to create different colours, at an art gallery on Albert Plein, just a stone's throw from the Hotel Lugano. After a good walk up and down the promenade, not quite the entire 10km available, we retired to the hotel for the evening. The Restaurant La Terrace du Zoute offered local mussels with a sauce according to someone's grandmother's receipe - mouth-wateringly exquisite.

The hotel is for holiday-makers to enjoy the coast, the sea air, the nature and the art, not to mention the gastronomy; it's not to service those who want to work; as a result, the emphasis is on these issues, rather than wifi. But this meant we could relax, not worry about what what's happening online or on the other side of the world. For today, at least, we were revelling in the Begian coast.

After a wonderful night's sleep - it must have been the combination of the soft beds and the sea air - and a relaxing breakfast, it was back on the road and off to Oostende.

For the second of these two travel blogs, click http://www.chronicle.lu/categoriestravelopinion/item/8945-geoff-thompson-the-flanders-coast-2-2-shopping,-gastronomy-a-fishy-tale

For full photo album (on Facebook), click https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.609571309154178.1073741887.238112732966706&type=3.

Photos by Geoff Thompson

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As the Equinox storms start to hit western Europe, the 5th annual British & Irish Film Season is reaching its climax.

Unlike previous years in which there may have been a certain amount of tailing off, this year the festival is gearing up to the finale on Tuesday evening; not only will the winner of the Audience Award be announced and the winners of the Young Journalist Competition be awarded, but the Audience Prize will also be presented (by Luxair).

These awards will follow the Closing Speeches, and after which will be the Closing Screening, of Castles in the Sky, a drama set in Britian in the 1940s: it follows Robert Watson-Watt and his team's discovery of RADAR just prior to the Battle of Britain. The screening will be attended by the film's producer Simon Wheeler and actor Karl Davies who is otherwise known for his roles in tv series including Emmerdale Farm, Kingdom, Game of Thrones and The Syndicate. And lead actor, Eddie Izzard, will be joining via Skype!

But before that, as I compose this blog post on an autumnal Sunday afternoon as the showers stop and start again, and the leaves are trying to stay on the trees while taking on yellow, golden and reddish hues, there are still a couple of other films left to be screened.

This evening (Sunday) sees the second screening of The Riot Club, a psychological thriller which garnered rave feedback and discussion after its premier on Friday evening; and tomorrow (Monday) sees the second and last screening of Pride, a hilarious British comedy drama following in the footsteps of The Full Monty and Made in Dagenham, which received spontaneous applause and whistling as the credit rolled after its premier on Saturday evening.

While these, and many other, films have been screened during the course of the 5th annual British & Irish Film Season, the mix of geographic regions and genres has ensured that there has been something for everyone.

Personally, it is immensely satisfying when the cinema-going public has enjoyed one or more specific screenings and enjoyed the input of the Special Guests, as well as for the Special Guests to enjoy themselves in Luxembourg, a place where hardly any have been to before. Maybe we will see then back in the Grand Duchy again soon, on the silver screen or in person!

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I'm writing this piece the morning after the night before; yesterday evening, Graham Hughes, director and co-writer of A Practical Guide to a Spectacular Suicide, was at the screening of his film at the 2014 British & Irish Film Season at Ciné Utopia in Limpertsberg.

The film season kicked off last Wednesday evening with the opening speeches and opening screening, the up-tempo and feel-good film Hector and the Search for Happiness, starring Simon Pegg and Rosamund Pike. Thursday was the turn of two Irish films, An Bronntanas, the Irish language thriller, and Calvary, the thought-provoking drama starring Brendan Gleeson. Then, on Friday, we had the first of two screenings of Noble, the inspirational biopic of christina Noble who set up a Foundation for Street Children in Vietnam, and Locke, the strong stama starring Tom Hardy, the only actor on screen for the entire film.

The organisation of the festival, which includes 18 screenings over 14 days, started almost as soon as last year's finished. First there's the Where? and negotiations regarding the screening rooms and scope of what can and cannot be achieved. Then there is the collaboration with the international film festivals, specifically in Edinburgh and Galway, and subsequent attendance in June and July respectively, at which I was able to watch many potential films and talk with the directors, producers, actors, etc., about coming to Luxembourg.

Then there is compilation of the "wish list" of films, covering ensuring a geographic spread (England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man) and a balance of genres; this phase undoubtedly includes disappointment when some cannot be included in the BIFS line-up (for whatever reason) and delight when, not only can we screen the film, but a "special guest" agrees to come over. Then, when 90% of the film line-up is known, it's all about seeing which other relevant and appropriate films are about to go on general release and which could be included in the line-up.

And there are the issues too of negotiating screening fees and arranging transport of films, both to and from Luxembourg, ensuring they are in the right format and checking if sub-titled versions are available, etc.

In the meantime, the budget indicates that there must be much cash coming in to pay for all these direct event-related costs, so the Fiche Technique had to be created a couple of months after the end of last year's film season, and then the sales activity put into action. This year we are thankful for the continued support of many loyal sponsors, plus others who have come on board for the first time.

The programme brochure is another aspect into which much work needs to be channeled; last year we had a 1-page brochure and the thinking was that this year we would move to 16 pages. We eventually went to 20 pages due to the inclusion of some advertisements for which we are also very much grateful. Using last year's layout helped save some time, and resources, but we had a new logo designed to fit in with that created for the Nordic film Festival we organised in June, to a similar format. It is not just designing the layout, it is designing the framework of the film season, with the Documentary Day, the Young Journalist Competition, the Audience Prize, the Shooting Stars Programme, all this together makes the event.

We needed many more brochures printed this time round, almost double the quantity of last year, including not only the ads but the film synopses and, of course, the posters, another challenge. Agreeing the schedule, of what films should be screened when, needed more time. Then we needed to distribute them all, with the posters too...

The roll-up banners are the same as last year's (we reserved the core design in the new logo) but the website needed a lot of work, with the online payment module needed to be incorporated. And festival t-shirts too.

Volunteers was the next issue, with Eibh Collins from the front desk at the Galway Film Fleadh offering her services, not only for that aspect, but for the social media too, as well as co-ordinating all local volunteers too. A few things less on my plate!

Competitions and group outings are two sources of block-bookings of tickets to attend specific screenings, with receptions to be organised. The Special Guests also need flights and accommodation, as well as picking up from the airport and then shown around Luxembourg, and gift bags need to be arranged.

The press kit needed finalising, including writing a press release, then inviting journalists to the press conference, for which a venue and invitations needed to be organised too. Then there are interviews for press articles, going on radio for more interviews and then organising our own video, both regarding creating our own trailer and also recording the opening and closing and when the special guests arrive...

And to tie all this, and other issues I have forgotten to include above, together? A trusty spreadsheet.

But it is when people come out to support the film season and remark that they have enjoyed themselves, that's what makes this all worthwhile, enjoyable and rewarding. And what a fantastic crowd that turned up to see the film by our first special guest this year, Graham Hughes, A Practical Guide to a Successful Suicide!

Then, this evening, Sunday, we have our Documentary Day with the screenign of A Dangerous Game, and the post-screening Q&A with the director, Anthony Baxter, via Skype. And we're only one third of the way through...

Friday, 19 September 2014 14:46

Geoff Thompson: A Bird's Eye View of Longwy

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On Friday morning I accepted an invitation from the head of tourism for Longwy, Christian Mamfredi, a passionate character who serves the position in a volunteer capacity albeit having been democratically elected to the position.

The invitation concerned a helicopter tour of the French town just across the west border of the Grand Duchy; a number of journalists had been invited to board the flying machine ahead of the town's Journées de Patrimonie (Heritage Days) this Saturday and Sunday.

The helicopter, a 4-seater Robinson R44 model from Héli Travaux which operates out of three locations in the north-east of France, took off and returned its passengers to a small tarmac area close to sports grounds comprising a running track and rugby pitch, just off the motorway at Cosnes et Romain, a suburb of Longwy.

Before commencing, Christian Mamfredi explained to the press about the collaboration with Héli Travaux and the heritage days on tomorrow and Sunday, where most of the flying slots have already been reserved; there are a few spaces remaining.

Our pilot Caroline completed a counter-clockwise route when enabled us to appreciate the hilly terrain on which the French town is located, plus the expanses of forests to the south, between which a golf course is sandwiched. To the north, meanwhile, the terrain was mainly farmland. A hilltop Church at Mont-St-Martin stood out spectacularly, as did the 17th century fortifications built by Vauban which are now classified a Unesco heritage site. These sights contrasted with that of the derelict and abandoned factories that used to provide much employment in the region, from the steel industry which has since got up and left.

We flew at around 500m, with the weather offering great views. It was a bit nerve-wracking though when we ploughed straight into a large cloud where everything went milky white for a few seconds, until we emerged the far side, unscathed but enriched by the experience.

Caroline also explained that 50% of her work is tourism-related, with the other 50% commercial, with some work for the university where they use special cameras to record water temperatures, and aerial photography for various clients.

Those interested in taking the helicopter ride can tel: +33-3-8224-9454 for public reservations. Tickets cost €45 for a 7-minute round trip. There will be 2 helicopters available at the week-end.

Photos by Geoff Thompson

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Friday, 05 September 2014 09:46

Geoff Thompson: Event Planning

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It's that time of year again, summer is closing in and autumn is fast approaching. Some mornings we wake to mist in the valleys and some leaves are starting to turn colour. The grain harvest is almost over, the fruit harvest is just startign and the grapes will be collected in around 2 weeks' time.

The Schueberfouer is up-and-running and the schools are almost all now back, signifying increased traffic at rush-hours. The number of caravans and campervans on the motorways has started to slow down and the number of learner drivers on the roads is now also dropping off.

August has traditionally been a time when politicians and business leaders are away, and this year is no different; as a result, the volume of news to be reported is reduced. This has also been the time for planning for autumn events, with the Discover Luxembourg event on Saturday and the British & Irish Film Season starting its two-week run on 24 September.

For both events, the planning process goes back weeks, months really. There are so many issues to address, from venue and oganisational logistics to publicity campaigns and media relations, not to mention content. Personally, it's an extremely satifying, yet challenging, time - with the main issue to identify in advance all the potential issues. To quote Murphy's Law "What can go wrong, will go wrong". It is really a case of identifying all the components and reducing the risks, leaving as much as possible within one's own control. The weather, of course, is something that we cannot plan, but we can certainly work around and plan for all evantualities.

So, tomorrow sees the 7th annual Discover Luxembourg event, with over 40 teams registered to take part. The preparatory check-list of known issues is almost all checked-off, with some last-day issues to be addressed today, D-1...

 

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On Saturday evening, Utopolis-Belval was the place to be ; the 50th anniversary of the long-running science fiction series on British television, Dr Who, was being celebrated with the screening of the first episode of the new series starring the new Doctor played by Peter Capaldi.

 

Rather surprisingly, such was the interest shown here in the Grand Duchy, that the organisers screened the feature-length episode in two of the screening rooms. Those that watched it in cinemas – in Britain, continental Europe and further afield – were treated to a special 15-minute behind the scenes making of the first episode, including the introduction of the new Doctor, the Scottish actor Peter Capaldi, something to which BBC tv audiences were not treated.

 

But if you think that this is a new dawn for cinema, this sort of additional content has been evolving for a few years now. Since the dawn of the video recorder, both VHS and Betamax, the demise of the cinema has been mooted. However, this has only given the industry a stir which has resulted in cinema screening a whole host of alternative content.

 

Much of this new content is targeted towards more classical arts, with high-quality drama, opera, dance and music all being transmitted live on to the silver screen from around the world, often live. From the New York Met Opera to the  National Theatre in London, to the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow and the Berlin Philharmonic or the New Year’s Concert from Vienna and, most recently, the Royal Shakespeare Company, not only is the quality of content significant, but the grandstand seats offered by the cameras offer cinema-goers the best possible view.

 

And then there’s other content attracting the younger audience, such as One Direction concerts and the like. And one-off specials with Monty Python to concerts by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Williams, to name but a few. Additionally, while some sports events are also screened in cinemas, sport is not quite ready for 3D cinematic experiences, particularly as more 3D cameras are required at stadia rather than just the couple that have been used in trials so far.

 

So, like many industries today, the cinema industry is adapting to technology and evolving according to their customers’ needs. Do you remember when cinemas (picture houses) were to place to go for visual news, à la the Pathé news reels, for example: this was until the television entered people’s homes. The cinema industry adapted then and is no longer just the place to watch films.

 

So what will be the next stage of the cinematic evolution? Space/exploration missions? Museum collections tours?...

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August is normally a quiet month all-round; for me it's when the daily avalanche of email slows to a dribble and I can catch up on a few things I've put on the long finger; I also do most of the preparation for events happening during the autumn.

So, with the Discover Luxembourg event happening on Saturday 6 September and the British & Irish Film Season taking place from 24 September to 7 October, and not to mention a number of chamber events for which I've volunteered my services shortly afterwards, the autumn is starting to shape up and my calendar is already filling up fast...

I suppose the real indicator of the summer starting to draw to a close is when the football season, specifically the FA Premier League in England, starts up again and Match of the Day is back on television on Saturday evenings. That probably more so than the light starting to fade in the evenings just a little earlier every day, the cereals being harvested in the fields and fruit ripening in the gardens, and the trout changing their feeding patterns onto end-of-the-season flies...

A lot of this we see with our own eyes while we can follow what is happening in the wider world through television and newspapers, and what is happening with our friends and family by social media, etc. A lot of content of social media recently has been taken up with holiday snaps and "Wish you were here" comments, with people switching off from daily concerns and recharging their batteries.

August is traditionally a time of reflection too; many people consider their employment positions and some decide to look for a change once they get back home, either within the same geographical area or further afield, or changing career direction altogether. Others decide to seek a change within the organisation for whom they work, and others decide on a specific strategic direction for their company, division or department to follow, setting specific goals and targets.

And others look at regaining a work-life balance which is often left by the wayside over a holiday, with the best of intentions laid out for adopting a new fitness and/or eating regime.

Others look at things from a wider perspective and decide to offer their time to some well-deserving cause, whether locally or far away. With the threat of war coming from many directions - Ukraine, Palestine, Iraq, ... - as well as the threat of disease and infection spreading, e.g. Ebola from West Africa, and then there's the ever-present challenge of over-population and food shortages, not to mention ecological and environmental concerns due to so-called progress and climate change, there are many choices to be made.

So I suppose the Reflection Time is really a Decision Time, with reflection the lead-up to taking decisions. And autumn is then Action Time, when decisions are acted upon. Let's hope that some of these actions (leading from reflection and decisions) make a difference, not only to the individuals concerned but also to the world as a whole.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014 23:08

Geoff Thompson: Knowing Too Much

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With the Summer in the City Programme in full swing, there really is something for everyone in Luxembourg at the moment.

We have had the Eve of the NAtional Day festivities, the Rock um Knuedler and the Blues n Jazz Rallye music festivals, we have had open-air screenings of the FIFA World Cup from Brazil and we are looking forward to the Streeta(rt)nimation in around 10 days' time. The Picadilly festival is coming up at Stadtbredimus, the e-Lake festival will be held in Echternach and the Schueberfouer is started to be built to open in three weeks' time.

The First Sunday of each month sees the regular Art in the Grund event where images and senses of Prague and Paris come to Luxembourg, and the Place d'Armes bandstand is host to a series of afternoon and evening concerts. Luxembourg's city parks also host classical concerts, with Wiltz and Beaufort also putting on a series of open-air concerts and dramatic performances.

Ciné Sura in Echternach held its annual open-air film festival beside the lake just outside the town and it was the turn of Luxembourg city again to host its annual City Open Air Cinema with Orange event; as last year, the event is being held in two phases, the first of which is currently underway and involves screenings with circa 550 seats in front of the Royal Palace and the Parliament, creating a cosy courtyard feeling. With the sale of popcorn and nachos, the outdoor setting is certainly creating the ambiance of an indoor cinema, particularly with a superb screen and sound system. That is, if the rain holds off...

Some screenings to date have attracted almost one thousand people, particularly last week-end when the weather was glorious well into the evenings. We chose to attend on Monday evening, for the screening of Alfred Hitchcock's 1956 classic The Man Who Knew Too Much, starring James Stewart and Doris Day. Last year we were there for another Hitchcock classic, North by Northwest from 1959. For us it is not simply watching a film in a outdoor setting, it is the entire experience packaged together.

The temperature had started to drop a couple of degrees by the time the film started and with around 30 minutes to go, the drops started to fall. The free ponchos given out provide adequate protection so that one doesn't get too wet, and only a few people moved to get protection from the sun shades outside the Chocolate House (which was cosed on Monday).

But, as I mentioned above, it is all about the overall experience, and we all stayed until the end, and all eager to come back for more. The open-air screenings outside the palace continue until this Saturday with a range of classic and contemporary films, before it moves to the Capucins courtyard for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th week-ends in August. With the mix of genres too, there is something for everyone's taste.

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The Wild Atlantic Way was launched last year and covers 2,500 of coastline, from Kinsale in the south of Ireland, clockwise around the coast and all the way up to the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal in the north-west. It is split into five broad sections and can be joined at any stage.

I recently got the opportunity to fly to Ireland direct with Luxair, pick up a hire car and head west to Galway. Staying at the Jury’s Inn hotel in the centre of Galway, the City of Tribes, our room overlooked the tidal stretch of the Corrib River. It was just a couple of hundred metres downstream of the world-famous Galway Weir where anglers use one- and two-handed rods to tempt a grilse or salmon to take their fly. With the riverside walk providing a serene alternative to the bustling pedestrian streets linking the hotel at Spanish Arch to Eyre Square, this was a frequent route of mine those few days. At night the flies came out and the anglers retired over a Guinness or two, but the sound of the water could be heard from the hotel room 24 hours/day, providing a peaceful backdrop to any and all activity.

Galway city is host to the Film Fleadh, the Arts Festival and the (horse) races over the summer weeks, and its resident and visiting population are currently on the go. There is always something on, with the streets offering relaxed and varied shopping, plenty of choice for dining (especially fresh seafood) and numerous coffee shops and bakeries. In the evening, the streets come alive with music from pubs and a myriad of street entertainers, with the streets thronged with young and old, all socialising and getting on well together.

It was not difficult to notice the multicultural nature of the city too, not unlike here in Luxembourg, with many different languages spoken by Galway natives and first and second generation immigrants, as well as visiting tourists. The World Cup was still on when we got there and one pub in Galway had the bright idea of knocking 50 cents off a pint of beer for every goal that Germany scored in their famous 7-1 semi-final win over hosts Brazil: with pints at 50 cents each towards the end of the game, news soon spread and the pub got a name for itself – the marketing ploy certainly worked and its name gained a lot of publicity in the local and national media, as well as with locals.

We took the opportunity to explore part of the Wild Atlantic Way and travelled more than 200km, heading west by Salthill, Barna and Spiddal, with help all the way with the extensively-signposted direction arrows. At low tide the small harbours revealed mudflats and marooned boats, waiting for the tide to turn and start to flood. The seabirds let themselves be heard as they flew overhead, while others explored the exposed mud, rocks and seaweed where they foraged for marine snacks. On land, there were multiple seasfood eateries offering not only delicious menus but also stunning views of the sea and coastline.

The shoreline became a bit more ragged and the roads less straight, and rivers and lakes everywhere as we headed past Roundstone and on to Clifden which was made famous by British aviators Alcock and Brown who, in 1919, made the first non-stop transatlantic flight in a modified World War I Vickers bomber from Newfoundland to Clifden. Having got up early it was time to stop and sample a local café before setting off on the road again. Past Letterfrack and we stopped at Kylemore Abbey, a magnificent structure that was a Benedictine monastery founded in 1920 for Benedictine Nuns who fled Belgium in World War I.

Past an entrance to the Connemara National Park and on to Killary Harbour, Ireland’s only fjord that provides safety from storms at sea for a significant aquaculture industry of mussels and oysters. Down to Leenane at the top of the fjord, where the famous film The Field, by Jim Sheridan and starring Richard Harris, was shot. A slight detour and out the Castlebar road to the River Erriff. Up on the right, the river cascades over a waterfall and flows over and through the rocks, under the bridge and through pools before it becomes tidal and reaches the sea. Some salmon were restlessly swimming in the pool downstream of the bridge, breaking water every few minutes, possibly trying to get rid of sea lice, and waiting for the tide to turn and the pool to fill before they could continue their journey upstream. One angler was trying his luck, but he didn’t seem to be having much of it that day.

Back to Galway via Maam, Maam Cross and Oughterard, a town I know well from fishing Lough Corrib most years, particularly when the Mayfly is up. (going straight at Maam would have brought us to Cong, lying between Lough Corrib and Lough Mark, and Ashford Castle...) We stopped at Breathnach’s Bar for some pub grub, only to notice office colleagues from Luxembourg sitting at the next table! We say Ireland is a small place, but what are the chances of meeting someone we know from the Grand Duchy …?

Back on the road and through Moycullen, to the City of Tribes, with a section of the wild Atlantic Way under our belts. Although the weather on the day we chose to explore a section of the Wild Atlantic Way way misty with low clouds, what locals describe as a "soft day", I personally cannot wait to return and explore further stretches of this treasure that has now been put firmly on the tourist map and a real reason in itself for which to visit Ireland.

How to get there: Luxair flies 4 times/week all year round. See www.luxair.lu  for details.

Photos by Geoff Thompson

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