Shaolin Warriors 2011: A Journey Across Europe
This article by Russell Goold is a fantastic and amusing insight into life on the road with the Shaolin Warriors. Thanks to Russell, my family and I got to see their show this year and it was superb! You can find my write up on that experience here: http://iainabernethy.co.uk/news/iain-and-shaolin-monks
Russell sent me this tale of their travels and I really enjoyed it! I asked Russell if he would be OK with me posting it here for members and visitors to this website and I’m pleased to say that he was!
I hope you enjoy this article and if you want to contact Russell you can reach him via his karate group’s website: http://midlandwado.com
All the best,
Shaolin Warriors 2011: A Journey Across Europe (or Where’s the cucumber?) by Russell Goold
Before we begin this journey, I need to make you aware of a small piece of paper. This paper is called an ATA carnet, and is an official document which details all the goods in the back of the vehicle, and is stamped by an official, thus rendering ones transit across the world in peace and harmony—The ATA Carnet is an international customs document that allows the holder to temporarily (up to one year) import goods without payment of normally applicable duties and taxes, including value-added taxes.
You will need this nugget of information later.
When we were told by Corrado, our European booker that there is a chance to take the Shaolin Warriors show to Geneva, and subsequently Belgrade in Serbia after the UK leg of the tour, we were all very excited, and it seemed that finally the company; Theatre Productions International, had made the first steppes (sic) into mainland Europe!
After the very successful UK and Ireland tour, all was geared up to take 3 large vans with the equipment for the show to Jersey, where we were to play half a week, and then onwards to la Continent. (We decided not to take the tour Lorry, as there are driving restrictions in Switzerland at weekends)
We all (sort of) knew that we needed various documents to transit (see what I did there?) across certain borders, but because we were travelling mostly in the EU, we also knew that Europe has free borders, and that really we shouldn’t have too much problems getting through. It was only a theatre show after all, and everyone loves a show!
So off to Jersey Opera House
Getting the ferry to Jersey from Poole harbour was easy, and the fast boat was –fast! (I had trouble standing up in the duty free shop, which is where I had based myself for the duration)
Arriving in Jersey, we found the accommodation eventually, and had a relaxing evening. The next day we went straight to the Theatre (Opera House) and had a great time with the local crew (sounds different when you say it out loud) and a very successful run.
Jerseyis a lovely island, and we did get time to explore the town and the surrounding countryside. Going to a beach and having ice creams with Jersey cream. If you can imagine England in the 60’s but with a French feel to it, then that’s what Jersey is like. Think Sophisticated, with a touch of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot thrown in (oops should have mentioned Bergerac if I was doing the detective theme).
The Warriors were staying in a hostel, which was lovely and recommended. They even had a Zorb ball, in which you put yourself in a big balloon and roll down a hill. (I don’t know either)
Footnote to this: If you bring a van longer than 13 ft, then parking is impossible, so be warned, however you can park at the harbour, if you are prepared to walk back to town.
Another note: Don’t take a 3.5 tonne Luton van down the “green routes”, although you will see red squirrels (yes I did) and deer, you will also have to reverse 2 miles if something comes the other way—oops.
So Jersey was a success and it was a wrench to have to leave.
The morning dawned when we were to get the fast boat to St Malo, (France) and continue on to Geneva, (Switzerland) and we needed to be at the Jersey harbour port at 6am, so we were up very early on that Sunday morning.
Boarding the ferry was a breeze (quite a strong one actually as it blew my boarding and exit pass into the channel) and we were all excited about the next leg of the journey, which would see us driving across France and then into Switzerland. On the ferry we met 2 guys who were cycling from John O’ Groats to Paris—mad!
Landing in France, (drive on the right- drive on the right) and clearing customs, proved to be easy, and spirits were high, although unfortunately we had to lose one of the vans to go back to base to get some items for the show, (sorry Chris) This left me driving the Luton and Richie and Lisa driving the Transit, although Lisa did some driving later in the Luton (non of this is particularly important, but it pads out the story)
So then there were 2. (More of Chris’s adventures later)
So the 2 vans headed of toward Switzerland, and it seemed that all was good and fine.
The route we took looked the quickest, (other routes are available) and we went through Rennes, Le Mans, Tours, Lyon and to Geneva –I will show the routes later in a map, but we needed to do about 900 kilometres that day.
Driving on the French motorways is a doddle, if not a tad expensive, as you have to pay tolls on most roads, ranging from 10 Euro to 40 Euro but if you have a ready supply of Euros/debit card, it is no problem. There are great service stations and rest stops, which put the UK to shame, and much cheaper to buy food and drink than say Watford Gap for example, and no Ginsters pasties! However be warned, the toll stations have a time and distance check, in other words if you get to the end of the road before you should, it means you have been speeding and thus are fined on the spot, hence the rest stops everywhere.
The day warmed up and became glorious, driving through the French towns passing yellow fields of sunflowers and poppies, (they were red by the way) and stopping whenever we wanted. We had 2 days to get to Geneva, and so we didn’t really need to rush. Saying that we decided to get there as soon as we could, and then we could rest in the hotel before the next days work.
900 km is a long way, and the day became shorter (but no cooler) as we approached the border to Switzerland.
Earlier I mentioned that we were travelling within the EU, but Switzerland has its own rules as it has never become a full member, and this was evident at the border, when we were told by a suspicious customs official, that we would need the correct papers to get into the country. “You mean an ATA carnet-surely not” I said. “Oui” he said, and the conversation ground to a halt.
However after finding a kind man (Frederique) and much paperwork and not an insubstantial amount of bluff and bravado, and money, we were given the passage through. (You see we were not carrying any kung fu weapons and even if we were, they were only wibbly wobbly swords, but we decided not to mention this unless it came up in passing)
Also a footnote: if you are using the Swiss roads you need to buy a vignette which is a sticker that you place in the windscreen to be allowed to drive on the Swiss roads- 40 Euros. (Or equivalent Swiss francs)
So we eventually cleared the customs and onwards into the city.
We eventually found the hotel, but it seemed that everyone and their mother (And token small dog) in Switzerland, were driving down our road, and we couldn’t find anywhere to park 2 vans. Stopping in a street, Richie our chief LX ran to the hotel to ask where we could park, and it transpired that they had coned off 2 places for us next to the Theatre. So parking up, hot and tired, we got our bags and walked to the hotel lobby. (A quick look in the theatre as well)
In front of the hotel were the most expensive cars I had ever seen, and it transpires that the Saudi princes were staying there. And now us!
We had joked earlier, that if there was a swimming pool, then it would be the first thing we would do to cool down and relax. Checking in to the 5 star Kempinski hotel, we went to our rooms and marvelled at the style and opulence of the rooms. Wow! Swiss chocs on the bed and hot and cold running Evian water, and I had a balcony with a great view. Although managed to pull the curtains down the first time I tried to open the French windows.
10 minutes later, and in our complimentary hotel slippers (are you supposed to leave them behind) we were swimming in the hotel pool, the grime and tiredness of the trip getting eased away by the gorgeous setting and listening to the wonderful soft eastern music that permeated from the changing rooms.
I won’t dwell on the hotel too much, but needless to say, we made the most of the facilities there, and the breakfast was out of this world. (3 hours Chris?)
(Should you want to buy a breakfast in the hotel it would cost around 70 Swiss Francs?)
The Theatre (Leman) itself was amazing, and we had a great crew and were made most welcome. And the seats were bright Orange which matched the Warriors costumes! (I was tempted to do an Orange and Leman joke there, but I won’t)
Take note theatre designers, the seats in the theatre were like sitting in an armchair!
Deciding to cue the show in French, to the amusement of the local crew and our team, we all tried our hardest to speak the language (French) whenever possible. This was made harder because we were also trying to understand the Chinese Warriors, so sometime we would speak French to the Chinese and Chinese to the French and French to each other!
This was a really fantastic week, and we found ourselves hiring boats, swimming and diving in Lake Geneva, watching storms over the city and having great meals and Swiss fondues, and steam rooms. We even found an ex pat bar which became the “après show” must do. (For some)
Karie and Findley flew in to join us for a day, which was really nice, and it meant that they could see the show in Europe as well.
Mind you, the cars parked outside the hotel seemed to grab Findley’s attention more than the show. (Oh well he had seen it a few times)
There was a massive festival on the Saturday, called the Parade du Lac and there were floats and a Mardi gras atmosphere everywhere, a few drinks were had by the Swiss that day, but there were no issues at all as it was all done in the best possible taste. (Kenny Everett)
Our great week in Geneva was coming to a close, and we were gearing up for the next, and last leg of the Shaolin Warriors tour, which was just one night at the Sava Centre in Belgrade Serbia.
Because of the debacle at the Swiss border, we had to return to the very same office on the Monday morning, to prove to them that we hadn’t sold any of the goods we were hauling, and consequently prove that we didn’t owe them any tax. (They like to collect tax when they can those Swiss) So dutifully we set off at 6.30 am to the customs office. (I was actually woken by Kempinski room service, wheeling a trolley in, explaining that Mr Will Carr had ordered a breakfast for me. This was at 5.45 am, erm thanks Will, the thought was there, but 5.45! (Bless him, he had ordered the low calorie breakfast for me, which consisted of low calorie chocolate brioche and 30 other items)
Now 6.30 am is a time when most Swiss folk haven’t had their coffee and cake, or fondue, so when we got there we were given a cursory wave of the hand, and a stamp on a document and checked passports, then told “Bonn Voyage” AKA sling your hook, within 5 minutes.
So that was Jersey and Geneva done, now just one more show, and then back home, what could be simpler!
The route from Geneva to Belgrade would take us through France, over the Alps, into Italy, then Slovenia, Croatia and finally into Serbia. A total of well over 1000km
After leaving Geneva, we headed toward the Alps, (You can’t miss them) and went through the Mont Blanc tunnel. There are many tunnels and many mountains, so if you don’t like driving through tunnels, then do a different route!
Stopping near the summit of Mont Blanc, we picked up some stones as a keepsake, and with the backdrop of a huge glacier, we were in a great mood.
As you exit the final tunnel you find yourself in Italy, ah Bella Italia the land of pasta, pesto, ice- a- cream and Limon cello (An alcoholic drink akin to lemon curd with a kick!)
So now onwards toward Milan (which was a motorway car park) Turin, (which is famous for a shroud, and little else I gather) and Venice, where we had to stop, as we need to eat something, and the rocking of the Gondola was spilling the iced Mochaccinos.
Anyway, we were soon on the way out of Italy toward the City of Trieste.
This city marks the border between East and West, and is an ancient Italian port.
The next stage was into Slovenia and the city of Ljubljana.
Getting into Slovenia was easy as there are no border restrictions as such, (EU you see—take note other countries) and although we had to pay the usual toll at the border, it was a quick stop.
So we are now in Slovenia heading toward the border for Croatia and Zagreb.
Well there we were, in the Croatian border customs compound in the middle of the night, with 2 vans loaded with props and weapons (Wibbly wobbly swords I mean) for the show and no ATA carnet (I told you that it would rear its head) But we had faith!
Heads held high, we got out of the vans, and walked to the customs guard to see what we needed to do. I say guard, he would not have been out of place in a Hollywood film, with his sub automatic weapon, and side arms, (where are arms usually) and crew cut (where did he get that hair cut, I so need to get the address), anyway he said to us “ where are you going” I said “we are a theatrical troupe going to Serbia, so if you could stand out of the way and let us through my good man” (paraphrased) Well if I had “you are ugly and stupid” he may have been more sympathetic, but saying we were going to Serbia was “like” totally the wrong thing to say.
“You cannot come through Croatia with your vehicles” he said “This is impossible” Now call me old fashioned, but I was getting a slight vibe of this Dolf Lungren look-alike, this may have been something to do with the fact that he had his hand very close to the holster, or just that he didn’t like theatre people (how could he not dwarling!)
I asked him if there was any way we could get past, and he told us that there may be, but it might involve putting a bond down which could run to many thousand Euros, even if at all it could be arranged, which may be very unlikely. Then he asked us to go back to Slovenia (politely) I asked what we should do, and he very kindly said that there may be a way to get to Serbia without transiting through Croatia, but this would mean detouring to Budapest. Budapest!
Isn’t that like 500km north of here? No he said, more like 600k. (However he was a very nice man)
So let’s recap.
We are tired and hot (middle of the night still 29 degrees) and starving, at the Croatian border, very close to our destination which is Belgrade Serbia, we have a major show in less than 20 hrs, and some guy has just thrown us out of the country, with a flick of his head and a smile (He was actually gave me his phone number, but I think I’ll pass on that)
Anyhoo we had no choice, give up, drive back to Calais and go home, or, drive through the night to Budapest, and then down through Hungary to the Serbian border. No issue there, as the show must go on, so Budapest it was.
Later that night and into early morning, we found ourselves on the outskirts of Budapest, so turning south; we headed down through Hungary (starving) and to the Serbian border, where now our tale begins!
So as you can imagine we had had a few issues by this time. Almost 30 hrs driving, living on Haribo mixtures, chocolate and ice tea and the ubiquitous Red Bull (temperature controlled at 30c)
But we were absolutely determined to get to Belgrade, so we soldiered on.
This is where it gets confusing, so bear with me, you may need to read this a few times (I did)
We were told by Stephen, (the Producer) that we had to go to a “specific” border crossing in the south of Hungary, and that the border officials and customs were aware of our coming, and should let us through without too much problem.
We were to find a village called Kelebia and cross over there. So off road we went and through the very lovely small villages in southern Hungary to find this border crossing.
The next paragraph needs to be underscored with the music from the film Deliverance.
As we drove through this village, we knew we were in the wrong place, as there was no border crossing, and it seemed no inhabitants. I then rang Stephen who was in contact with the Serbian promoter, and he said that the border was definitely in the village and to ask someone. (Ask someone!)
So I saw a post office, and a woman who was having a fag outside, “where is the border” I asked in perfect English, and strangely enough she replied in a broad scouse accent, “no border here wack”—I made that bit up. She looked at me as if I had spat on her cat, and said “Tompa” Now I don’t know about you, but when a crazy fag smoking post office worker shouts Tompa at you, its time to skidaddle. So skidaddle we did, actually to Tompa, which turned out to be the border after all.
So here we were again at the Serbian border, (42 degrees in the shade) all the officials knew we were coming, as Karie had been working behind the scenes in the UK to do paperwork and sort out our transit through, (Big up to the K) it was going to happen, wow!
Driving up to the sentry post, we said who we were, (Do you realize who we are?) and the guard, stamped our papers, and waved us through—are we in?----nope, we were only just into the next compound, where we would have to jump through so many hoops it made us dizzy. We then got a guard (Weirdly similar to the Croatian chap-you know the one with the haircut) who wanted to see the weapons, and so we had to show him what we had in the flight cases, this made him happy seeing weapons, I still don’t know why!
Next we had to go to an official office to be interviewed, by Lisa, who accidently sat in the official chair, and after the thumb screws were removed, we were allowed to go into yet another compound, (They like a compound over there) where a nice man said that he had had a call from the Serbian officials, and that we were allowed to go on to Belgrade. We had made it! However checking the time we were still 300k away from the Theatre and the show was due to start at 9pm, and this was now way past 6pm We resigned ourselves that the show could not possibly happen, but we should go to the Theatre anyway, if only to see the Warriors one last time to say goodbye. (Obviously in Mandarin/French and Serbian)
Heading off down the road and waving goodbye to the group of angry Serbian lorry drivers, who were most annoyed that we had been fast tracked through customs, therefore making them late for their various activities, we immediately got stopped by the police!
The police car pulled Richie and Lisa over, and he got out of the vehicle, sauntering up to the window, he said “Hello” “Hello” chorused Richie and Lisa, and he turned on his heels and went away, strange?
After a change of pants all round, we set off again, heading past signs for Sarajevo. (Another change of pants)
The motorway to Belgrade was “interesting”, as there was only one carriageway, and it seemed that whichever direction you were driving; you should use just that one carriageway! So it was Russian roulette for 300km. We arrived at the theatre at 8:50pm.
Stephen and George, the Serbian Promoter, met us in a petrol station and guided us in—a whole other story!*
All the Shaolin Warriors and the Chinese managers were at the stage door with the local crew, when we arrived and it transpired that the Theatre Manager had “held the house” for half an hour so we could still do the show, and also the TV Serbia were there to film it.
We had 30 men on the get in and within 30 minutes, we were ready for the show. (I still don’t know how Richie did the relight?)
What an amazing response from the local Serbian audience, it had to be the best reaction to the show we had ever got, and it came down well after midnight.
Well I suppose you are thinking and then to bed, but no, we had decided to drive back after the show to get the Euro star to UK. (Against Stephen’s wishes, but you know how pig headed we can be)
However we needed to get the warriors something to eat after the performance, (Oh those boys get hungry) and Will Carr went to get 30 kebabs from a local shop. I kid you not.
I wasn’t there but I can see the scene unfolding:
Act 1 scene 1
Will: Hello my man, can I have 30 of your finest kebabs please?
Will: GOVORITE LI ENGLESKI?
Will: shouting a little: I want 30 Kebabs
Man: Ah, of course, it was only when you shouted in English that I understood you, of course you shall have 30 of my finest kebabs.
Well later that night, we had lost him and the food, and time was ticking, we really thought that he had been kidnapped by some local kebab thieves, as it was now 2am, and no sign of a pita bread, let alone Will. On a serious note, we were really really worried by now, and Stephen and the hotel staff went to look for him.
Time went on and we thought the wurst, (the kebabs would be stone cold) no sorry, he should have been back hours ago. I was in a bad-ish (note to self) mood and tired and exhausted, and took it out of the team, handbags right up to the chin (sorry guys) but then result, Stephen eventually found him in a basement tied up, and surrounded in donner meat and paprika, (who asked for paprika) and after paying the kidnappers 10 Dina (40 pence) the kebabs were shared amongst the warriors and the tech team. Now I know that a kebab is usually something to eat after 10 pints, but this one was to die for! (Almost)
So we made our getaway from the fantastic theatre, and wonderful people of Belgrade (no really they were amazing) and set off for Calais. Hold on we are in Serbia and possibly 3 days from Calais.
A long drive ensued, and after driving through Hungary (again) Austria, Germany, and then driving the vans round the The Nürburgring. Don’t tell Stephen, but the Transit set a new record. (See Top Gear)
A motor sport complex around the village of Nürburg, Germany. It features a modern Grand Prix race track built in 1984, and a much longer old North loop track which was built in the 1920s around the village and medieval castle of Nürburg in the Eiffel Mountains. It is located about 70 km (43 mi) south of Cologne, and 120 km (75 mi) northwest of Frankfurt. The old track was nicknamed The Green Hell by Jackie Stewart and is widely considered the toughest, most dangerous, most demanding purpose-built racing circuit in the world.
Then to Aachen, Brussels, Oostende, Dunkirk etc, on and on.
So here we are at Calais, and the final trip under the pond (the channel to you, La Manche to the French). We checked in to the Euro star office, only to be told that our booking was wrong, and we had booked from Folkestone to Calais, not Calais to Folkestone. All this way to be thwarted by a typo! How we laughed eh Richie?
Anyway 300 Euros later, and a wait because one of the tunnels was leaking (what?) we were on the Euro star train to blighty, and its just 20 minutes under the sea!
Coming out of the Euro Star terminal, you drive straight on the M20 (drive on the left, drive on the left) and we were now driving on will power (although Will was asleep) and all just wanting to get home.
Which we did at 2.30 Friday Morning 15th July 2011
So we did it! And the shows went on.
Half way across Europe and back again for one performance, was it worth it?
You bet it was, as the Shaolin Warriors show “The Spirit Within” is a spectacular piece of theatre that deserves all the heartache and stress, fun and laughter that we went through, and is the most amazing piece of theatre, and the team behind this show were amazing (did I use amazing too many times in that last sentence?)
(And I will name names) those people who were amazing,
Stephen -Director Producer
Karie-Executive Producer, Finance Director
Me (Russ) -Technical Director (I was particularly amazing)
Richie Mayes- Chief LX-Red Bull sponsored
Chris Bourne- Company Manager/Logistics/Breakfast King
Lisa Frost-Wardrobe Mistress/Follow spot/Only girl with 30 men
Will Carr - Hospitality manager/Indiana Jones
Sue - Press Officer (at base)
Kay - Administrator (at base)
Tim - Promotions Manager (at base)
FindleyChurch for house light operation in Geneva and drooling over cars
PS, why did I call it “Where’s the cucumber”?
Well, we were just about to start the show after 39+ hrs driving, traveling through many borders, back and forth- (ah there’s Budapest again) are we in? yes we are-- no we’re not—come through—stop now—hands up--Karie help!—Stephen where are you—Will needs a wee—etc etc, when Will the hospitality manager comes up to me in the prompt corner in the Belgrade theatre and says “Where’s the cucumber”
Laugh, I almost cried, as one of the main parts of the show, demands a cucumber to be diced on stage, to show the sharpness of the swords that the Warrior will lie on. (And these are not the Wibbly wobbly ones so well documented earlier) But as always, Will came up with the goods.
Now I am still not sure how he produced a cucumber that night, but maybe it’s best not to ask.
So all you people embarking on tour reading this, take heed, if you go through Europe/and further, without an ATA carnet, and manage to get to your destination –always take a spare cucumber—you never know!
Now there is another great story happening whilst we were driving the 4000k and this is the story of the Warriors train journey from Geneva to Serbia. It’s a good one, but it’s for another time, but it involves late trains, and sequestered passports and Will Carr doing an Indiana Jones leap onto a train at full speed, with the Warriors leaning out of the train windows shouting “Come on Will, come on Will”---maybe we can tell this another time.
I have written this only as piece of amusement, and wish to comment on the fantastic support and respect we all got from the French, German, Austrian, Italian, Belgium, Swiss, Hungarian, Slovenian, Croatian and Serbian people, and the help from all the border officials, who were only doing their job to keep illegal traffic out of the respective countries.
Heartfelt thanks to Mr. Xing, Mr. Leo (sp), Mr. Tom, Mr. Han & Mr. Pete
And all the Shaolin Warriors and the 2 young Warriors who were brilliant
Special thanks to Steve Rowe at Shi- Kon, John Broughton for his reviews and card playing, Iain Hunt for his ability to do seemingly anything, and to all the crews for support and work behind the scenes.
(Thanks also to top coach driver; Ozzie, a true rock and roller)