Archive for the ‘Clubbing’ Category

Ibiza 2010

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

The second half of September could mean only one thing — time to head back to Ibiza for the annual pilgrimage.

We arrived on September 18 with a serious plan in hand, involving 10 days and 11 nights with a well-balanced combination of beach visits, culinary destinations and evening entertainment. The result was one of my most packed but enjoyable visits to the island yet.

Highlights included seeing several friends who are either resident in Ibiza or were visiting from all over the place — the U.K., Switzerland, Japan and elsewhere. We made a one-day voyage to the neighboring island of Formentera and tooled around on a scooter from one end to the other. We also dined at everything from a fish shack to a Michelin-starred garden restaurant.

One of the more interesting culinary experiences had to be our lunch at Cala Mastella. The restaurant there is famous for once having turned away the King of Spain for not having a reservation! You have to reserve a spot at least a day in advance. There is one seating per day, at 2:30. In the back of the half-covered, half-open air room is a big pot in which the proprietors make traditional Ibizan fish stew (bullit de peix), purportedly with fish caught by the owner that morning. That's followed by a serving of rice cooked in the leftover broth from the stew. Delicious.

Overall, we visited 7 beaches and toured one new village (plus 4 villages on Formentera), had a top notch meal every night, and I managed to make it to about 12 different parties. Regarding the latter, house music made a triumphant return to the scene this year after years of techno dominance, but the house in fashion was a deeper, darker, almost underground style which I really enjoyed listening too. Also, the trend towards more outdoor events took hold and while there was a bit of oversaturation (such that some events were poorly attended) it is a welcome trend.

I'm already looking forward to next year and making plans to visit more locations and also complete my set of the island's Michelin-starred restaurants. It is amazing to me that after 10 years there are still plenty of new things left to see  on this little island.

Ibiza 2009

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

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We made our 9th annual pilgrimage to our favorite Balearic island for 10 days this month. As usual, the trip included visits to various beaches around the coast, several as-yet untried restaurants and, of course, the regular compliment of parties. As in the past 5 visits, our place of residence was the resort of Playa den Bossa (PdB), and we once again rented a car so as to explore as much of the island as possible. Despite spending 7-15 days on Ibiza over each of the past 8 summers, there still seem to be a myriad places (beaches, villages, restaurants, smaller nightclubs) we've yet to visit.

A new tactic this year was to try to “go local”on the restaurant front, taking the advice of longtime Ibiza residents on places they frequent. Beach trips were often designed around the choice of restaurant, allowing us to visit several new beaches while at the same time dining away from PdB. The system worked, for the most part, although there were occasions that our early dining time (usually around 6) clashed with the general Spanish tendency to close between lunch and dinner and reopen around 8. Still, we found a couple of new places we really enjoyed, including seafood restaurant S'Illot des Rencli in the north, Cas Mila on the west coast, and Ancient People in Ibiza Town. Michelin-listed S'Oficina in PdB also gets an honorable mention.

On the party front, the return of quality beach parties this season had to be the highlight, from the resurgence of the landmark Bora Bora to the emergence of newcomers Ushuaia, Delano and Sands, PdB has become a fun place to spend the afternoons and evenings dancing on the beach. We also found our way to a couple of local-oriented parties in smaller venues like PK2 and Aura, which I hope to repeat next time around.

The big nightclub parties Ibiza is famous for were less exciting for me this time around, although I did still go out on 9 of 11 nights. We were there just at the beginning of closing party season, but only one of the parties I attended was actually a closing party. Highlights of the trip included SuperMartXe on Fridays at Privilege, with its cabaret show, striking visuals and fun atmosphere. In terms of music, Cocoon on Mondays at Amnesia (attended twice) still takes the cake. The Zoo Project also gets a mention for a wacky good time at a great outdoor venue.

As usual, our time on the island was nowhere near sufficient, but I had further travel ahead. Suffice to say that we will be back next year, likely for the closings once again as my favorite period (openings in June) clashes with the World Cup.

EXIT Festival 2009

Monday, July 13th, 2009

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As with last year, this month’s trip to Montenegro was combined with a visit to the quaint little city of Novi Sad, Serbia for the massive annual 4-day event that is the EXIT Festival. This year was the 10th anniversary of the music festival, initially organized by local students as a protest against the repressive government of Slobodan Milosevic. As per tradition, the event was held in the giant Petrovaradin fortress, which lies across the bridge from the city on the shore of the Danube River.

Petrovaradin is the 2nd largest structure of its kind still standing in Europe. According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, there has been continuous settlement at Petrovaradin since 15000 B.C. There was already a fortress at the site in 3000 B.C. Construction on the current structure began in 1692, about five years after the Austrians had recaptured the territory from the Turks.

EXIT, voted the best music festival in Europe in 2007, brings together about 20,000 music lovers to see literally hundreds of performers on 20 stages. The crowd at this year's event seemed a lot more Serbian to me than last year, probably a result of the recession as fewer people traveled from the UK and elsewhere in Europe. However, the Brit contingent was still rather large.

Highlights of Day 1 (Thursday, July 9) included main stage performances by British chanteuse Lily Allen, with whom I was very impressed, and indie rockers the Arctic Monkeys, whom I found somewhat disappointing. After that, it was down to the dance arena for Steve Lawler vs Lee Burridge and Sasha v John Digweed. In honor of the 10th anniversary, they booked pairs of DJs and had them play back-to-back. It was a great idea and worked out well as both sets were great. Unfortunately, I got really cold in just my t-shirt by early morning so I had to leave just as James Zabiela and Nic Fanciulli came on.

Day 2 featured main stage performances by Manic Street Preachers and Korn, both of whom I found to be much better than I expected and rather enjoyable. I took a break up at the Reggae stage in between the two sets and nearly got trampled in a stampede to get into one of the fortress's tunnels when the rains began. Heidi vs Justin Martin were in the dance arena later and were decent, but the highlight of the evening was Ritchie Hawtin vs Dubfire - all the techno drumbeats you can muster, as you'd expect from them. But then the rains began again, so I gave up and went back to the hotel.

On Day 3, I met up with a couple of friends and arrived just in time to see the last few songs of punk legend Patti Smith's set. A bit disappointed that I missed part of her show as she’s still got voice and energy to spare, but I was subsequently comforted by an absolutely amazing show by electronic music legends Kraftwerk. Wow. And then Moby came on and absolutely rocked the place. It was a great night of live music, followed by my longest stay in the dance arena — basically until closing time at 8am. Etienne de Crecy did his “live”music-and-lights show, which I'd seen in Moscow a couple of weeks earlier and which I totally enjoyed. Sebastian Ingrosso v Steve Angello and Eric Prydz v Adam Beyer ably provided the soundtrack for the rest of the night, although Angello still needs to learn to never touch a microphone (why MC your own DJ set!?).

Sunday, Day 4, began with a visit to a small stage at the highest point in the fortress, where a friend had won himself a turn on the DJ decks by sending in a mix to the organizers. He did great, especially since he was given horribly faulty equipment to work with, although the location meant there were only a handful of people around to hear it. Afterward, we raced down to the main stage to catch a song or two at the end of Madness's set. Prodigy was on next but, as I've seen them live a couple of times, I went back uphill to the Fusion stage for the legendary punk band, the Buzzcocks. Then it was down to the dance arena for top Serbian DJ Marco Nastic (along with Valentino Kazyani), who usually closes out the festival but not this year. I suffered through Japanese Popstars (or maybe wandered off for a bit… can't quite remember) and then caught the beginning of Sander Kleinenberg v Darren Emerson, and at that point realized that my tired old legs couldn't take any more.

All around the festival, the people of Novi Sad exhibit the wonders of capitalism, whether it be renting out their own apartments, increasing hotel rates, or selling everything from cans of beer to corn on the cob along the streets and sidewalks approaching the fortress. This is their annual cash cow, and I don’t begrudge them that (it’s still a very inexpensive city). The best piece of marketing I saw was the Serbian co-owner of a Chinese restaurant, who parked his car, full of thermal containers of stir-fries and rice, under a big homemade sign that said “F**king Good Chinese Food”. He got my attention… I bought food from him twice.

In closing, I'll just say that EXIT is as mad and fun an event as you'll find anywhere, especially if you love all kinds of popular music. I really hope to be back next year.

Montenegro 2009

Friday, July 10th, 2009

I was quite taken with the beauty Montenegro when we visited in July of last year. Towering green and granite mountains descend almost directly into clean, sparkling blue waters. The countryside is dotted with ancient churches, monasteries, castles and fortresses. Winding roads take you past quaint villages and scenic valleys.

The country is aiming to become a major tourist destination and while its facilities still have some way to go, a lot has been invested to upgrade the tourism experience. Four- and five-star hotels have popped up in towns along the coastal highway from Budva down to Bar. There are plenty of restaurants around serving fresh fish and other national dishes. Local money and foreign assistance (mainly from the EU and US) have been used to repair and refurbish tourist attractions.

So, with last year's journey fresh in our minds, we returned to Montenegro for a week's vacation this month. We truly retraced out steps, too — we booked the same car rental agency and the same hotel in the same village – the 4-star Hotel Montenegro in Bechichi, just outside of the tourism center of Budva. When we arrived, the nice young man at reception even said he remembered us from last year… right before informing us that we'd been upgraded, at no additional cost, to their 5-star neighbor, the Splendid Hotel & Spa. Bonus!

Over the course of 6 days, we drove down the coast to Bar, an industrial port town but one that also has an historic old town (really more like an old fortress) nestled up in the hills. We visited the quaint former trading village of Rijeka Crnojevica, which has a famous bridge over a river leading to gorgeous Skadar Lake. We later had dinner on the lake's shores.

On another evening, we returned to the beautiful walled city of Kotor, located on an inlet bay surrounded by mountains and capped with an old castle. The walk up to this mountain fortress nearly killed me (it competes with the one in Tbilisi as the tallest mountain I've climbed on foot) but the view is magnificent. We later dined at a rustic restaurant further down the road the encircles Kotor bay.

Other side trips included a visit to the ugly capital city Podgorica and a harrowing journey to the Ostrog monastery. The monastery is built into the side of a mountain and is quite a sight. The road leading to it is a death trap (one lane, two-way traffic!). On my way up, I was within a meter or two of losing a game of chicken with a full-sized bus. I had a monk pray for me while there, so hopefully that helped get me back down safely. Our final evening was spent dining at Sveti Stefan (pictured above).

I also tried out Montenegrin nightlife which is, well, quite amusing! They have several outdoor nightclubs along the shore in Budva which stay open until 1:00, then the action moves inside the giant Trocadero nightclub (not to be confused with the outdoor Trocadero club… especially when talking to taxi drivers!). In Montenegro, there isn't really a dancefloor — the clubs’ floorspace is full of bar tables. People stand, chat and dance around their own tables, upon which they rest their drinks, complete with wait service. Curious format. Word of advice – make sure you are shown to a table by a waiter, rather than just walking up and standing at one. Otherwise they get pissy, bring other people over to your table, and tell you to go away because it’s reserved!

And one other thing I tried while there — parasailing! It's a lot of fun, but it leaves a lot of bruises where the straps were! Can't wait to try it again sometime.

All in all, a wonderful trip and I look forward to visiting this delightful little country again. Photos are already online.

Sensation White Party

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

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Saint Petersburg is a city that I’ve never been especially enamored of. Yes, it has beautiful architecture, the canals, and the cathedrals, and it is probably a more tourist-friendly city than Moscow, but much of the place really could use a coat of paint. I had my wallet stolen on my first visit there so I suppose that had a major effect on my viewpoint, and you always here stories about foreigners targeted by crime and xenophobia. I find some of the people more provincial than much smaller cities in Russia and service in most places is atrocious.

Nevertheless, they do get some good events up there, including concert tours by major artists who don’t come to Moscow and some very interesting parties. I’ve visited the city twice over the years for the FortDance parties, which were held on a fort on an island in the Gulf of Finland. They were amazing parties. Sadly, after several successful years, that series kind of fell apart last year and this year’s FortDance will actually be at a large nightclub in Moscow.

This year, for the second time, St Pete played host to the Sensation White Party on June 12. The event was organized by a group of Dutch promoters who hold similar parties in Holland and all over Europe. As the name indicates, everyone has to dress all in white. Headlining DJs included one I had seen before – Tocadisco (disappointing) – and two I had not – Fedde Le Grand (average) and Sander van Doorn (much better than expected).

The atmosphere was good but there was one huge drawback – no alcohol on sale! The party was held in the SKK Arena and Russian law forbids sales of booze in sports arenas. It was a major drawback to an otherwise well-organized event. I had to down a succession of beers before going inside and then spend the night feeling the buzz wearing off.

I’m not sure I’m such a big fan of these arena-sized parties. Overall, I had a good time, but I don’t think I’ll attend another event like that any time soon. I had more fun back in Moscow the next night at the Toolroom Knights party in club Arma17. Not as many people, but they had better DJs (Funkagenda and Mark Knight)… and beer! Plus, in terms of traveling to St Petersburg for an event, nothing can beat FortDance.

Ibiza 2008

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

I usually like traveling to Ibiza in June for the opening of the season. The temperature is perfect, the beaches aren’t overcrowded, you can get a table at a good restaurant, and the nightlife is just gearing up. In fact, I’ve avoided going during the high season in July and August. The only other time of year I’ve traveled there is September (2001 and 2003), which is what we ended up doing this year due to Irina’s classes in June.

Don’t get me wrong – September is also a great time to visit Ibiza. It’s when the season’s closing festivities take place so there is plenty to do but, like June, it’s not too crowded. Unfortunately, the weather in late September of this year was not conducive to ample beach time.

But that’s not to take anything away from our visit to the “white isle” on Sept 21-30. We had a blast. One of our best trips to the island in 8 years of going. We were fortunate enough to have friends from practically all over the globe whose trips coincided with ours. We had some delicious meals of Ibiceno and Mediterranean cuisine. And we attended some of the best parties the world has to offer.

We managed to do drive-by’s of the villages of San Juan and Cala de San Vincent. We dined in Portinatx and Cala d’Hort. We relaxed in Cala Tarida and Cala Llenya. And we took in the sunset at Cap des Falcon.

Alongside that, I attended CircoLoco @ DC10 twice, Cocoon @ Amnesia twice, a special Laurent Garnier party at Space, the Wildlife on One party at Gala Night, Danny Tenaglia @ Space, Pure Pacha, People from Ibiza @ Amnesia and We Love @ Space. Danny Tenaglia won my vote for best party – not only was his DJ set amazing but the atmosphere, decorations, dancers and everything were spot on. Honorable mentions go to the first of the two CircoLoco’s (the 10th anniversary edition) and the Cocoon closing party (our last event).

Some regular Ibiza travelers have lamented some of the changes taking place on the island over the past few years, especially laws this year that restrict daytime parties and events. I say that if that’s all you go to Ibiza for, then stay home and good riddance. While the nightlife is amazing, Ibiza is so much more than that – it is a place with a special atmosphere which can never die. It’s beautiful scenery, it’s delicious cuisine, it’s quaint little villages and lovely beaches, and it’s the international crowd and friendly people. Yes, you can find all of these things elsewhere, but nowhere combines them quite like this little Spanish island. Can’t wait to go back next year!

Photos from the trip are already online.

What’s the Matter, London?

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

Our annual trip to Ibiza came in September this year, but instead of the usual flight path through either Barcelona or Madrid, we decided to stop off in London on the way. It was, after all, the weekend of the Chelsea v Manchester United home match. Can’t miss a big game like that.

We arrievd on Saturday morning, checked into our hotel, and ran a couple of errands before I finally got around to taking a nap – long desired after having had little sleep the previous night in Moscow. In the evening, we met up with a couple of friends for a very nice French meal in Soho, after which I met up with another group at a bar in the Southbank area. From there, the group proceeded to board a boat which ferried us down the Thames to the O2 Arena complex, where we attended the opening of new London superclub Matter.

Matter is an interesting animal. Concrete minimalist design but lots of colored lights nevertheless giving it a shiny feel. The ceiling is extremely high, thus giving balconies on the 2nd and 3rd floors a view of the proceedings down below. The crowd was a bit random but the sound system was superb and this latter point probably tipped my view of the place into the favorable column.

Most importantly, the “club night” opening party (3rd in a series of opening nights) was headlined by DJ Carl Cox, who played a massive set and kept the crowd going all night.

I was, needless to say, a little slow getting up on Sunday but we made it to the football on time. Unfortunately, Chelsea could only manage a 1-1 draw with Man U at Stamford Bridge that day. I’d kind of expected a draw, to be honest, so I wasn’t too worried. In any case, that night, we were heading off to Ibiza!

The Republic of KaZantip

Monday, July 28th, 2008

Entrance to Kazantip 

My friend Ariel's birthday is in late July, so he decided it would be a good idea if the boys got together and spent a weekend at Kazantip, an annual month-long music festival in the Crimea, Ukraine. A short flight from Moscow to Simferopol and a 1.5 hour taxi ride and we'd arrived at our destination.

This year's 18th edition, as it was for the past couple of years, is being held on a beach in the village of Popovka.  Popa means butt in Russian. Popka is the diminutive form of the word. You can get where I'm going with this, and thus understand what I though about this little village. To say it was somewhat undeveloped would be an understatement.

Even so, each summer, thousands of people descend on this little town to help enrich its inhabitants by eating at its handful of cafes, relaxing on its beaches, frequenting its tiny stores, and renting every room that passes for a hotel, hostel or bedsit. Our “elite hotel”was one of maybe 2 finished houses in what appeared to be a small planned neighborhood. One of our hostesses explained that the other homes were unfinished due to Ukraine's political and economic instability. Could also have something to

The Republic of Kazantip itself was still under construction when we arrived, despite the fact that it was opening on Saturday. So, Friday night, we ventured into the neighboring town of Mirniy (“Peaceful”) to sample the nightlife. That “nightlife” was a couple of cafes and one small nightclub, which I dare say we helped bring to life. It was… an experience.

Saturday, we stood in line to purchase our Kazantip passes and went inside to take a look. We'd seen videos online of daytime parties and people dancing on the beach and in the water, but given our early arrival those scenes were nowhere in sight. Instead, it was a chilled afternoon on the beach for us and the other early birds.

We returned later in the evening and the event slowly got underway. Only three of the music zones were open and a large section of the site, known as “Mars”, was not yet completed. Still, it was an entertaining night moving from bar to bar and dancefloor to dancefloor. We were most impressed by the DJs at the Inside zone, and by their promoters’ inventive bumper stickers all around town.

One notable thing about our stay was that the people we ran across were all very friendly. We stuck out a bit in the crowd (2 Americans, an Israeli, an Australian, a Swede and an Indian!) and people approached us from all over Russia and Ukraine — I met people from Donetsk to Syktyvkar.

I'd like to go back someday when Kazantip is in full swing to see what this festival is really like. In the meantime, I'll take comfort in the fact that the boys and I had a good time just hanging out for a weekend away from the bustle of Moscow.

Balkan Adventure Pt. 1: The Exit Festival

Monday, July 14th, 2008

Exit

A few months ago, some friends in the UK started talking about attending something called the Exit Festival in Novi Sad, Serbia this July. I’d heard of Exit but knew very little about it, aside from it being a large music festival. Turns out it was named the best festival across Europe last year. As the weeks went by, the announced line-ups started to look good as well.

In the end, I decided that the festival would be the perfect starting-off point for a trip to Croatia, which I’d wanted to visit for some time. There are no direct flights between Belgrade (the nearest airport to Novi Sad) and Croatia’s Dalmation coast, so that meant flying in to nearby Montenegro, which led to the idea of spending some time there as well. A plan had come together.

Novi Sad, a quiet town of 300,000 plus along the Danube River, is the capital of the Serbian autonomous region of Vojvodina. It has a nice central square with a church and town hall, and a Serbian Orthodox cathedral, but the only truly notable landmark in the city is across the river – the Petrovaradin Fortress.

The fortress is supposedly the second largest in Europe and was built in its current form in the 1700s by the Austro-Hungarian Empire to fend off the Ottoman Turks, although a Roman fortress was on the site long before that. Now, Petrovaradin plays host to a massive annual festival of music of all sorts – rock, punk, house, techno, Serbian folk music, reggae, latino, world music, etc.

There were numerous stages and dance areas, food and drink vendors and 50000 fellow music lovers from all over Europe (although mostly Serbian and British) and as far afield as Canada and Australia. Some stayed in hotels, as we did, while others camped out in a special area set up along the banks of the Danube just across from the fortress. Besides Irina and I, several friends from the UK were in attendance and made for really good company. I am indebted to them for helping make the festival a fun time. The people of the city of Novi Sad were also warm and hospitable, and Serbian food (highlighted by grilled meats and huge portions) was delicious in every restaurant we visited.

At Exit, the major live performers usually appeared in the evening while the top DJs went on all night, making festival attendees basically nocturnal over the 4 day event. Day 1 events for me included a live performance by N.E.R.D. and DJ sets by Sven Vath and Francois K, although I called it an early night on the latter as I eased into the festival routine. Day 2 featured live performances by The Gossip, Paul Weller and Primal Scream and DJ sets by Laurent Garnier, Anja Schneider (half of each as they played at the same time in different areaa) and 2 Many DJs. Day 3 brought live sets by Gogol Bordello and Manu Chao followed by DJ sets by Kruder and Dorfmeister, Axwell and Tom Novy. On the final day, Ministry and the Sex Pistols took the Main Stage and Orkestra del Sol rocked the World Music Stage, followed by a semi-live performance by Booka Shade in the Dance Arena and DJ sets by Sharam and Dubfire of Deep Dish (separately, as is now their custom) and annual event closer Marko Nastic.

This was, of course, just a fraction of the literally hundreds of artists that played at venues all over and around the fortress. Highlights for me included opening up new (for me) artists like Gogol Bordello and Manu Chao, both of which were amazing performances. I was somewhat impressed by the Gossip and very impressed by Primal Scream. The Sex Pistols and N.E.R.D. were a bit of a let down. Ministry was just cool to finally see live all these years after I used to listen to them. Of the DJ sets, I enjoyed almost every one I stuck around to see. I’d be hard pressed to pick out a favorite in the bunch.

I had to run in the middle of Marko Nastic’s set in order to get back to the hotel, change, and catch a taxi to the Belgrade Airport to continue our Balkan journey. Next stop was Montenegro, but on the way out I promised Novi Sad I’d be back for more fun next year.

Halloween, London and the NFL

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

Halloween is a big deal in Moscow. It’s not a traditional celebration in this part of the world, but it was adapted and absorbed rather quickly as Russia catapulted toward capitalism. Savvy nighclub owners took it as an opportunity to hold massive parties, and some of the best, craziest, most fun events I’ve seen anywhere have been here on Halloween (Club XIII’s parties are legend!)

In fact, as of now, it’s gotten so big that it’s not so much fun anymore. After a one-year break, I attended Club XIII’s party this year, held on the Friday before Halloween, and it was just O.K. Good music supplied by Ron Carrol and Jorge from Who Da Funk, but not the best crowd. I think that there are just so many Halloween events these days that it’s hard to hold a party that’s so in-demand that you get a great crowd and the same level of craziness of years past.

My celebration this year was also limited by the fact I had to catch a plane in the morning. It was time for the annual visa renewal trip (to a convenient Russian embassy anywhere… outside of Russia!). Back to London this time and another packed weekend with little/no sleep (reference Prince weekend below!).

We arrived just in time to see Chelsea FC dismantle Manchester City with a scoreline of 6-0. Fun match to attend, unless you’re a Man City fan I suppose. Comprehensive victory. Even hapless striker Andriy Shevchenko scored! Then it was off for drinks and Indian food with friends, then over to the club Turnmills for DJ Etienne de Crecy, followed by a foray to Ministry of Sound where some friends were shaking it to Sebastian Ingrosso.

NFL at WembleySunday came around and it was tough to drag myself up and out but there was no choice as Wembley Stadium was hosting the big event: the first-ever regular season NFL American football match to be played outside of North America. I’d timed our trip around this event and it was worth it. The game itself – mediocre. The Miami Dolphins are the whipping boys of the league this year and their opponents, the New York Giants, put in a subpar performance when they should have dominated. However, the atmosphere was great as was my role as the expert – explaining how the game is played to my Russian colleagues and their English guests in the section where we sat. It was a great day out.

Can I just take a moment to complain about what NFL football has become? The constant breaks in play for television commercials, which have to be at least double what they were when I was growing up watching the sport, are frustrating beyond belief. Even in the stadium we had to endure commercials (for the Dolphins, who were designated as the home team) on the big screens during odd breaks in the game. I tried to explain to my colleagues why… but failed. There is no reason other than greed, which is basically ruining the game.

Got my new visa on Monday and we flew home the next day. Another fun visit to the British capital.



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