Category Archives: Art

Culture on the Cheap | Hull 2017

It’s been 2017 for over three months now and I’d started to beat myself up for not getting totally immersed in the cultural events which are happening in the city.

There were two arguments telling me to shut up. One: you’re often involved in cultural events, so all these additional events are no ‘biggy’. (That didn’t convince me much.) Two: You’re a busy working woman and the winter months don’t offer much motivation. (That angered me a little, but did seem justifiable.)

So, when my friend visited from London for the warmest weekend of the year so far, we decided to pack as much culture in as possible. On a budget, because, well…

Saturday started off as early as possible with a bus ride to The Deep. For me, this trip was free as I still had a couple of weeks on my year-long ticket from 2016. I never resent paying for The Deep and I think it’s absolutely amazing that they offer the year-long opportunity.

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There’s a couple of new attractions at The Deep which we were excited to see. The first being the new arrival of two Loggerhead Sea Turtles, named Mabouche and Sansbecco. It was explained to the crowd gathered around the viewing point that these turtles couldn’t be released back into the wild as they are missing their lower jaws – a result of being caught on a long line in the Mediterranean – and so wouldn’t survive. I was shocked by how large they were, and I think it was the smaller of the two that we actually got to see up close.

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The second attraction was an art installation entitled Washed Up Car-Go, part of the year-long Look Up programme. Coastline collected by artist Chris Dobrowski has been placed within three cars located in The Deep’s car park. The idea behind it was to represent the high-tide mark, where the debris collected by the ocean washes up on-shore, reflecting the idea of “our decadent disposable culture of mass consumption.” I liked the idea, and it linked in with previous artwork which has been exhibited at The Deep produced from the items washed up onto beaches. However, I found this particular installation was less impressive and nowhere near as striking. I liked the idea, but I wasn’t blown away by the actual pieces. We saw two of the three cars and they were rather similar, so we didn’t bother seeking out the third. For me, artwork is about creating a conversation and this didn’t work for us. We understood the concept and, after taking a couple of photographs, we were able walk away from it.

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We headed down Humber Street and stopped off at Humber Street Gallery to see the Raft of the Medusa which is displayed in the gallery space behind the bar. This piece reflected the dangerous journey of the crew of the Medusa, aboard the raft they salvaged together, as well as acting as a reminder of similarly treacherous journeys taken by slaves and migrants past, present and future. This got us talking a little bit more. The clothes strewn around the room, flowing from suitcases, could have represented anyone from almost any time. The raft itself told a vivid story and was a conversational focal piece. And the artwork around it was interesting. What I did miss was the “pungent smell” that was advertised, making this less multi-sensory. But we were talking about this artwork and we were linking it to stories from the news and our own experiences at sea.

We chose not to have a drink at the Gallery, instead opting to sit outside Butler Whites where we could take in the entire view of the Marina. We saw people standing at the podium for The City Speaks, another part of the Look Up programme. The idea is that you speak into a steel lectern where the microphone picks up your spoken words and translates them into a scrolling dot-matrix text on the tidal barrier at the top of Humber Street. We saw a few people standing up on the lectern but no dot-matrix, and with no Hull2017 volunteer around to guide us, we were unsure as to whether this was something we could participate in one the day.

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Saturday finished off with a trip to the Hull Maritime Museum, stopping before the door in order to take several photographs of the Weeping Window installation, significant to the pair of us as the thousands of poppies had made a similar journey to my friend, from London (the HM Tower of London, where they were originally exhibited) to Hull. It’s been massively photographed and a huge talking point in the city.

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The Maritime Museum was fascinating, specifically because I work with students who are studying Maritime Studies. There’s a huge whale skeleton and the exhibits take you on a journey of the former Town Dock offices which tell a story of the whaling community and the fishing heritage as well as including art installations. One installation which is there until the 28th August is the Offshore: Artists Explore The Sea.

This installation is shared between the Maritime Museum and Feren’s Art Gallery, which we visited on the Sunday. We enjoyed the aspects of this art collection in Feren’s; in particular, the outfit which represented coral. The outfit is on display and a video is shown of it being worn. It’s difficult to explain without sounded a little odd, because initially I found it a little odd. Reading the information and watching the video made it more and more interesting. The other video installation we noticed was of a squid currently residing in a formaldehyde tank the length of the space between two screens in which this artwork is presented.

I’m not one who has ever really shown interest in art galleries. I enjoy music and theatre and spoken word, artwork I can comfortably engage with. So I always get nervous when expressing my opinions about art and art galleries. There were several pieces in Feren’s which I was happy to simply walk past. One I stopped at specifically was the Rembrandt. Here until the end of August, The Ship Builder and his Wife is one of five loans from the Royal Collection Trust which will be displayed at Feren’s between 2017 and 2021. We discussed the story and of the painting and the details we could spot, within the expressions and the paperwork of the ship builder. It’s also just a little exciting to see something with the word ‘Royal’ attached.

Of the two days, we paid for one ticket to go into The Deep (between us both), and that ticket will last another 12 months. We purchased food and drinks, naturally, and had the option of donating to the museums and galleries. To visit an aquarium, a museum and two galleries for the total cost of £12.50 is pretty amazing.

We were blessed with the most stunning weather, which meant that we were happy to wander around and stumble on the new eateries that are popping up around the city as well as taking our time to snap photographs whenever and wherever we saw something which captured our interest.

If you live a bus ride, a train ride away from Hull, then you’d be silly not to pop by. You can make a day out of what we did over the weekend, and for very little money. With a bit of planning via the Hull2017 website, you can ensure that you fit as much in as possible. And if you can plan a couple of weeks ahead I certainly advise that you check out the ‘What’s On’ section of the website and check if there are any ticketed events happening which you don’t want to miss out on.

A day of culture and, with a Day Plus Pass from The Deep, a logical reason to return.

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Freedom Festival 2015 – in summary

The things which made my weekend:

It won’t strike you with much surprise that my highlight of the weekend was Streaming Lights.

When the initial programme came out, I was convinced that I would be camped outside the Yellow Bus Stage for the headline slot. And at 9:45pm I was stood clutching the barrier at the front of this stage, with thousands stood behind me watching the amazing Public Service Broadcasting.

At 10pm, however, I was twisting my way out from this crowd and into the one which had already formed in front of the Fruit Trade Music Stage.

And boy was I glad to have made this decision. Everyone I’ve spoken to said how amazing Public Service Broadcasting were, and I have no doubt in this, but anyone who saw Streaming Lights was saying the same thing. Every time I see these guys, they grow stronger. Their music is utterly fun, their energy unrelenting, making for a fast-paced and humorous set. Between Ryan’s intoxicated fist pumps to the guy in the audience who took control of the audience in chants and calls, this was a set which didn’t pause even for a breath. My chest hurt from laughing so hard, but the night ended on a high.

Streaming Lights - Steve & Ryan Streaming Lights - fist pump

I caught the end of Urban Astronaut on the Saturday as I headed down to the Marina. Performed by members of Highly Sprung as part of “Gone in 20 Minutes”, they told the story of the planet destroyed. The crowd was so dense however, that I could only see so much, though watching the Astronaut spinning in the air was quite fascinating.

Spotting the set up for this performance on Sunday, I parked myself on the floor and joined the front row for the entire set. With a two year old on my knee, we watched and took photographs as the story unfolded in full. In short: the atmosphere has turned toxic, leaving the ground barren and the air dangerous to breathe. A girl wearing a dress which reflected the summer sky set the stage, forming a circle with dirt and ‘planting’ flowers around. “Look after this for me,” she asked my toddler friend, engaging with key members of her audience. From up King Edward Street, four masked figures rolled a contraption which held the Astronaut in place. He bounced up and down, launching into the air above spectators’ heads. This brought more and more people. Their dance continued as a diet, the Astronaut fearing the girl who tried to comfort him and show him that life can survive once again on Earth.

It was amazing to watch as the Astronaut launched into the air, sailing above the audience who watched in awe. Children and adults alike seemed to watch with the same intrigue.

There was the chance to vote for your favourite of the “Gone in 20 Minutes” performances. However, I was watching so intently that I didn’t note the code and number down to text my vote. And the crowd dispersed so quickly that I couldn’t catch someone to ensure this was done. I’m not even sure how I check which performance won, but if it wasn’t this one then those I missed must have been extraordinary!

Urban Astronaut - Freedom Festival 2015 Urban Astronaut - Freedom Festival 2015

Taking kids to one of the days meant that I got to experience those attractions where a single lass may not be overly appreciated. “Mums and dads” were welcomed to join in with their offspring in Tangle, and so I joined two friends and their toddlers. And in doing so, I saw how this was both a wonderful idea for kids and also something… well, not. One of the little ones was just tired enough to be overwhelmed by the whole thing; surrounded by people in an environment she wasn’t used to, a tantrum ensued. Her little friend, however, enjoyed it so much that I was literally dragged back into the queue so that we could have a second go.

Such a simple idea, this was great fun and produced a colourful piece of art when complete. Absolutely loved it, and so did most of the children who joined in.

Tangle - Freedom Festival 2015 Tangle 3

Things which didn’t work for me:

The World Village Market didn’t really seem all that worldly. I saw a range of food stalls which offered cuisine from around the world – Turkish kebabs, French crepes, Chinese noodles and some delicious hot and spicy Indian curry – but little by the way of worldly goods. Considering the theme is Freedom, I would have expected more Fairtrade stalls. There didn’t even seem to be the usual extent of local stallholders as usual. Perhaps simply worded incorrectly, but I just didn’t agree that this aspect of the festival was achieved.

More of a niggle than a criticism, there were often huge crowds for events which were quite obviously going to be popular. I missed out on seeing Faust because the crowd was already six-deep when they started. I’ll accept some of the blame, as I’d not kept track of time as well as I should have to get myself to the front of the queue, but a larger space or some seating at the front of the crowd would have solved this. The Yellow Bus Stage were no longer using their deckchairs: could these have been put to use here?

I think this is something the festival-goers need to consider next year. But also something which the organisers could give some more thought to. Many of the attractions were repeated over the weekend, but sadly Faust was not one of these.

New acts I now follow:

I caught two new acts performing on the Bridge Stage on the opening night of the festival, catching the end of their sets as I wandered over to enjoy local bands I have seen many times.

Scarlet Riot - Freedom Festival 2015

The first was Skarlett Riot, a Scunthorpe-based rock group. Frontwoman Skarlett was wearing a rather impressive outfit. Their sound is reminiscent of the wonderfully heavy nu-metal and punk rock of the 2000s, guitar-fuelled and aggressive while still rhythmic enough to move to. It was a sound I could easily get caught up in, and I would love to see them perform again.

Spring King - Freedom Festival 2015

Spring King, fresh from Reading and Leeds festival stages and about to embark on a tour supporting Slaves, instantly got my attention as their guitarist threw himself and his instrument around. Whereas two of the band seemed pretty static, this guy and lead vocalist/drummer Tarek Musa seemed to exude endless energy. It was great to see a drummer fronting a band, though he was situated quite deep into the recesses of the stage.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend. The idea of Freedom was everywhere, with people being given the chance to voice their opinions as well as listening to the ideas of others. The variety of music and theatrical performances, spread over the weekend for thousands to attend. And all for free!

Here’s to Freedom 2016.

Budapest: A Cultural Holiday

It’s not all that often I leave Hull. Sad as that sounds, it doesn’t usually bother me. Working two jobs, one of which is promoting the culture and allure of this city, there’s rarely time for anything else.

But sometimes you have to get out of the skin you’re used to in order to truly relax. And I was stressed. I was wound so tight I couldn’t even see myself anymore. So I was really glad that my best friend had booked us a five-day holiday to Budapest, Hungary.

Day One: Arriving at Budapest

It’s been years since I last flew. Flying doesn’t bother me much, until the last stretch when my right ear feels like someone has clamped it shut and is trying to fill it with water at the same time. But the landing at Budapest was utterly pleasant. We’d arrived, entirely unknowingly, on St Stephen’s Day, the day of Hungary’s national saint. From 9-9:30pm there are fireworks along both banks of the Danube River, with a spectacular display above the Basilica. And we got to see most of it from the air! I don’t think I’ll ever have a more splendid entry into a country.

We stayed at the Boscolo Residence, in a room on the fifth floor – this is only relevant because a storm earlier in the week had left the basement flooded and their lift out of service. The room was amazing. Nextdoor to the luxurious Boscolo Hotel, we didn’t have a marble bath in our room, but we did have a washing machine and kitchenette with all the necessary appliances. This may not excite most people on their holiday, but for me the freedom to make breakfast for less than the €25 the residence offered.

Gellert Hill
Gellert Hill

Day One: Winging It

Completely unplanned (a little stressful for me), we headed out into the city centre. We got a little lost, pulling out the maps before changing course again and again. Turned out we’d headed south of the city, and there wasn’t much to see on the stretch of road we’d selected. Fortunately, a guy working for the Red Bus tourist services suggested a route which lead us to the Central Market Hall.

Paprika chillies and Garlic  adorning one of the stalls
Paprika chillies and Garlic adorning one of the stalls

An expansive space with two floors, the top holding various traditional stalls and tourist shops and the bottom home to food stalls, we started our souvenir shopping early. The place is very popular with tourists, for obvious reasons, but we managed to hit it at a quiet time. Perhaps Friday’s aren’t popular shopping days with regular tourists. (Note: we returned to the Market Hall on a later day and it was so busy with people that I couldn’t smell the paprika.)

The delicious Gundel Pancake
The delicious Gundel Pancake

We ate lunch at Anna Café across the road; Lauren having a croissant while I had a traditional Gundel pancake, which is like a sweet baklava rolled up in a crepe pancake served with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with dark chocolate. It was so delicious that I had to finish ever drop even after that moment when your stomach clenches with that absolute satisfaction of being full.

Across the river from the Market Hall is Gellert Hill, a spectacular place to view from either side of the river. We aimed to walk to the top of the hill, instead realising that our lunch was weighing us down and we’d ended up walking in circles anyway. There was a cute trail of hearts painted everywhere they could be painted. I took great pleasure in photographing all the ones we found. Perhaps not the most iconic aspect of Gellert Hill – there’s the baths at the base of the hill, the citadel, the church in a cave where we found the second heart – but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

A heart painted on a tree on Gellert Hill
A heart painted on a tree on Gellert Hill

We returned to the hotel a little tired. The weather was beautiful, a constant 26°-28°C and each day we tired our feet out by walking everywhere. But after a few hours back at the hotel, we headed out in search of a bar.

We ended up in a music bar called Johnny Pumps. We found the name far too hilarious for two twenty-somethings who hadn’t had a drop of alcohol, so we headed inside and tested the cocktail menu. They played House music and they didn’t have the ingredients for the one cocktail I really wanted, but we had a brilliant time. The staff were fab. We visited Johnny Pumps a second time during our stay, and I got quite tipsy as the bar manager demonstrated the lack of measuring cups. The best part was that he really looked after us – as two lasses holiday together we could have felt quite vulnerable in a busy bar, but anytime someone seemed to get pushy he spoke up and told them to move on out. That’s good customer service.

Day 2: A Day of Folk

My friend Lol and I love to get cultural. So when we stumbled across the Mesterséqek Űnnepe, a Festival of Folk Arts, we were delighted.

We’d purchased a 72 hour Budapest Card, which entitles you to free or discounted entry at most of the tourist sites in Budapest. It cost about £25 and was a godsend.

A small segment of the Festival of Folk Arts
A small segment of the Festival of Folk Arts

We were headed to the National Gallery, located within the Royal Palace (Buda Castle) of which there are two ways to reach: in a cable car or by walking up the winding walls of the hillside. Seeing the festival stalls lining these walls, we purchased a wristband and took the longer route. There were stalls selling porcelain flowers, glass and metal jewellery, leather bags, knives and whips, hand-woven baskets and gingerbread in various shapes. There were workshops demonstrating how things were made, with traditional music being sung at random intervals. One stallkeeper even sang from his seat behind woven baskets. It was fantastic, and another excuse to spend some Hungarian Forints.

A basket weaving demonstration
A basket weaving demonstration

When we did make it into the National Gallery, I realised that there are certain aspects of culture which really are not my thing. I like art, it’s interesting. I don’t care for hundreds of painting, a third of which seem to be self-portraits. I’d advise people to go to the gallery because the walk up there is amazing, and the views are so spectacular. But, if you’re like me and not really into art in any serious way, then perhaps just walk up there for the fun of it.

Day 3: Abusing the Budapest Card

I had wanted more than anything to visit the Jewish Holocaust memorials located around the city. I know it’s a little dark, but I have always been interested in World War 2 and I’m quite open about my enjoyment at hearing the different stories from a range of aspects around the world.

So, we started in the Jewish Quarter at the second largest synagogue in the world on Dohány Street. It was our first opportunity as the synagogue and museum are closed on Fridays and Saturdays as the synagogue is used for worship. Unfortunately, this meant that a lot of people had a similar idea to us and our long lie-in meant that we arrived at the same time as a couple of hundred others. It was the first queue we had joined since the airport, so we couldn’t really complain.

The stained glass artwork
The stained glass artwork in the Memorial Park 

We joined an English-speaking tour group, which informed us about the history and architecture of the building. It’s similar to many Christian churches because the architect felt it was important to conform to their traditions when bringing something new to the city, so it is forward-facing and has huge stained glass windows. There are two pulpits which were used to translate the readings of the Torah into both Hungarian and German, the two main languages of the country. The tour guide we had worships at that synagogue and she was very passionate, as well as humorous. She’d picked up a slight American accent but the sarcasm of the British, and snapped at the Spanish group who dared shush her when speaking to, as she pointed out, a significantly large group of interested people.

She lead us out into the Memorial Park located behind the synagogue and introduced us to the two main pieces there. The stained glass piece was very impressive, showing an image of a snake rising from the flames and ascending into the spiritual sun. However the weeping willow statue seemed to lure everyone over. On each leaf is the name of a victim of the Hungarian Holocaust, ad our tour guide was very keen to point out that alongside the empty unidentified leaves there were names which are neither Hungarian nor German. It was an impressive piece of art and a beautiful way in which to remember those whose lives were too quickly taken.

The Weeping Willow memorial artwork, with stones laid in respect as the Jewish lay stones on graves
The Weeping Willow memorial artwork, with stones laid in respect as the Jewish lay stones on graves

Following on from the synagogue, we walked down to the Hungarian National Museum. Each room takes you on a journey through the significant eras which affected Hungary, from the royal families who lead the country to the inventors who made a name for themselves. It was really interesting to see everything, and I enjoyed reading about their history. I didn’t know much about Hungary as a nation, but I felt proud to be in the country and to be soaking up their culture as I wandered those rooms.

Day Four: Spa Day

Budapest is the ‘City of Baths’ so we had to use our last full day in order to visit one. The aim of the day was to relax and simply enjoy the day.

We chose to visit St Lukásc Baths because it was free with the Budapest Card (Note: It is only free on the first visit. If using the same card you had to pay 80% of the price. It also isn’t explained that only the entrance is free, and you have to specifically state which sections you want to visit – including the sauna.) It’s located on the Buda side across from the Margaret Bridge, which meant we got to walk past Margaret Island. We’d discussed visiting the island after our spa experience, but this didn’t happen as we ran out of time.

The baths were a little confusing. We found two swimming pools first. Both of which were not heated and require you to have swimming caps. I don’t swim and Lol didn’t have a cap, so we wandered up stairs to the rooftop where you can sunbathe. There’s also an outdoor fitness suite, but this negated our Only Relaxing policy of the day. It wasn’t until I’d realised we hadn’t brought sun lotion with us and I’d been fully exposed to the sun for some time that we decided to head back to the locker room, feeling a little robbed that we hadn’t found what we’d expected.

Getting lost – theme of the holiday – we spotted some heads free from caps in a pool downstairs. A heated pool with massaging jetstreams of water and a wave pool and submerged sun loungers. I was in my element: I may not be a swimmer, but I have always loved the water and I wanted to try out everything again and again. It was truly relaxing: I had my back pummelled by the jetstreams and I floated as best I could around the wave pool and I simply enjoyed the warm water. I was most impressed. And the other tourists in the pool were very gracious, as we all took turns on the sun loungers.

The Shoes on the Danube Bank, strewn with flowers and lanterns
The Shoes on the Danube Bank, strewn with flowers and lanterns

We walked back over the Margaret Bridge and headed along the Danube riverbank to the Chain Bridge, from which we knew the way back to the hotel. This is a particularly wonderful stretch of the river as there are a series of sculptures along the riverside, including the Shoes On The Danube which stand in remembrance of those Jews who were killed by the Arrow Cross militiamen. I had been told to visit this site, and I was pleased that I had, taking several photographs.

We also walked past Hungary’s Parliament building, which is designed based on our own Houses of Parliament but is significantly more grand. It is guarded by soldiers, who were kind enough to answer tourists’ questions.

Hungarian Parliament building
Hungarian Parliament building

Last Day: Finishing Up

We sent the final day visiting the Market Hall again to buy the last souvenirs and enjoyed the food of the restaurants we had most enjoyed.

Five days had been wonderful, both enough time to relax but not enough time to take everything in. There were several things I wished we had done: taken a boat cruise along the Danube, visited the Statue Park, and planned the dates better so that we could have attended the Sziget Festival.

Usually with holidays I plan every last detail, creating a timed itinerary. With this one I had been too busy beforehand to consider it. This made it much better – we stumbled across some fantastic events and we got to see two of three tournaments of the Ironman 70.3 which was also being held that weekend.

A truly cultural city, with something for everyone.

A place to relax, a place to explore, and certainly a place to enjoy.

A statue of the Virgin Mary looking over the Danube River from the Buda Castle
A statue of the Virgin Mary looking over the Danube River from the Buda Castle