Over the Easter period I found myself with four free days. I decided to use this opportunity to do a little exploring. When I sat down to plan the city break I decided on two criteria. Firstly, I wanted to travel as cost effectively as possible. Secondly, the journey must take me somewhere new and be an exposure to fresh experiences . With only a week to plan and a starting point in Stockholm I scoured the internet for bargain holidays.
After a few hours of research I’d gathered a list of trains and planes that could take me somewhere within Scandinavia for a decent price. However, the costs seemed to treble when I searched for accommodation. Booking last minute meant all the bargains had already been bought and I was left with the more expensive options. I returned to the search engine disheartened and started reading other people’s recommendations. To my surprise, one of the most frequent options for budget traveling was to take a cruise.
Initially I was a little skeptical of boat travel. Cruises conjure the image of bingo halls and close quarters with very tanned pensioners who spend six months of the year in the Caribbean. However, after totaling the prices on several websites the savings of cruises couldn’t be ignored. Even with a last minute booking a three day journey came in slightly cheaper than flights for two people. By combining the cost of transport and accommodation traveling across the Baltic sea becomes a steal.
Finally, I had hunted down a holiday that fit my cost effective criteria. Now all I needed to do was choose a city to explore. Most cruises companies offer four or five destinations. That gives you plenty of options when picking a city break in a country that borders the Baltic Sea. The most frequent locations were Estonia, Latvia and Finland but if you were willing to travel for longer you can reach Russia and even China. With so many places to choose from it was impossible not to find somewhere I hadn’t explored. And by taking my first journey by boat I had the opportunity to appreciate a new country a unique way to get there.
The week quickly past and I found myself at Stockholm’s port, ready to begin my voyage. I still held some reservations about cruises but they were quickly washed away after a few hours. Unlike the airport leaving the country by boat is a much calmer experience. Gone are the frustrated families cramming through baggage checks and long lines at passport control. There’s no need to wrestle for a seat whilst you’re waiting to depart because you’re immediately at ‘hotel’.
Once onboard all there is left to do is relax and enjoy the journey. This is made easy with the amount of opportunities on board. Most hotels offer one or two restaurants whilst cruises double your choices. Alongside this there are multiple bars, shopping centers, live entertainment, spa facilities, play areas for the children and of course the obligatory bingo. Even though your are spending more time traveling by boat the experience itself makes the journey feel faster. What cruises lose in speed the make up for in comfort.
Taking a city break by boat is ultimately an experience in pleasure. From the effortless journey to the plethora of options for entertainment and dining, you arrive at your destination refreshed and ready to explore. When you consider the bargain prices as well then it’s not surprising why they are so highly recommended. If you have a few days to enjoy and a wanderlust to satisfy then a cruise around the Baltic may be perfect for you.
In February I wrote a review of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. As a response somebody recommended reading Stephen Fry’s Mythos. The books are similar in concept. Both retell the old myths of European polytheistic religions. But just as the civilisations of Ancient Greece and Scandinavia were strongly contrasted, Fry and Gaiman’s individual styles turn their retelling of the old stories into truly separate titles. Despite their differences I have come to view the books as companion texts. So much so that they rest together on the book shelf.
If you’re unfamiliar with the exploits of the Pantheon who sit on Mount Olympus then Mythos is a strong place to start. You could try your hand at Homer and the other Greek poets but if you are anything like me then it’s good to start with the basics. Fry’s interpretation covers a comprehensive exploration from the beginning of time and the birth of each God to minor folk stories about the transformation of certain mortals into spruces. The breadth of anecdotes within the book is as impressive as the ancient Greek’s achievements. Potentially the largest benefit of having smorgasbord of stories to choose from is that you can open the book at almost any point and start reading. Just like the myths themselves there is an origin that emerged from chaos but from there the book can enjoyed outside of a chronological order.
If you’re unfamiliar with Stephen Fry as a media personality then he is mostly credited as a Renaissance man with a considerable pool of knowledge and a linguistic flair. His familiar skill with language and interest in etymology underpins the style Mythos. The text is littered with extra information that explains how the stories have influenced modern English, science as well as segues into other reading material. Fry’s passion for Greek mythology helps his interpretation shine. This level of detail and some of the more adult themes may make the book unsuitable to particularly young readers. However, the text is ideal for anyone from young adults to those settled in retirement.
Overall, I would recommend picking up a copy of Mythos. It’s the kind of book that you can recall a tale, return to the bookshelf and refresh yourself with the story again. There’s something comforting about rereading myths and legends and I think a retelling is essential in every personal library. Now the dust covers have been removed, Fry’s Mythos and Gaiman’s Norse Mythology will sleep on my shelf for a long time to come.
No matter how much time I spend in the air I am anxious for the majority of the flight. It’s a ridiculous fear for someone who spends at least fives hours on a plane every four weeks. According to the app for my most used airline I have flown one and a half times around the world. But despite my abundance of air miles I spend a large part of every journey panicking. Perhaps my anxiety of being in an airplane is justified and something I can never completely conquer. However, I am starting to gather tips after each experience in order to make the next journey slightly more enjoyable. Hopefully you have some too and will leave them in the comments below.
- Chewing gum throughout the flight is essential for me. Not only does it help with alleviating the pain of air pressure but gum also keeps your mouth occupied. This stops you nervously breathing large gulps of air, which is unpleasant for the person sitting next to you but also seems to make you panic more. Slower breaths through the nose release tension at a more steady rate whilst giving you a minty smile. As long as you aren’t a loud chewer gum is a winner for everybody.
- Whenever I fly it’s important to choose an airline I trust. Statistically air-travel is the safest mode of transport but a phobia isn’t a rational creature. If you know that an airline has had a recent accident then the it’s best to avoid them. Even though lighting rarely strikes the same place twice you’ll still be thinking about the worst throughout the journey.
- I’ve found that it’s worth paying a little extra for a flight instead of opting for the budget option. The main reason for this is simply breathing space. Budget airlines have limited room in order to their maximise profit and offer you a better deal. The down side to their lower prices is that you’re often cramped into a considerably smaller space. If your body is bunched up then it’s impossible to relax your mind. If you’re going to fly budget then I would recommend the aisle seat. You may get bashed more by the air staff but you will have a little more room and shouldn’t have to fight for the arm rest- an essential to grab during turbulence.
- Although a playlist of whale songs may sounds harmonious I wouldn’t advise listening to music in flight. When your ears are occupied then every muffled announcement becomes a minor panic. Something as simple as being asked to fasten seat belts or the starting of the drinks service can make you anxious when you miss it. Without all your senses the mind immediately races to an emergency landing in the Pacific ocean. To avoid this I’d recommend reading a book or if you are going to download some movies get the subtitled version and only use one headphone.
- It goes without saying the alcohol and coffee should be avoided in the air. Caffeine will only increase your heart rate leading to further panic and alcohol amplifies the feeling. It’s best to stick to water and if you need the bathroom then go straight away. I always feel like I am going to get pulled down the plane toilet when it flushes but at least I will have an empty bladder when it happens.
- A lot of people sleep during their flights but it’s something I don’t do anymore. There’s nothing more frightening than being in the middle of a dream and being shaken awake when the plane takes a turbulence dip. If you’re on a long haul flight then I would avoid naps and wait until you are tired enough to sleep for a long time. That way you will probably fall back to sleep as soon as the panic is settled.
A city break is an affordable alternative to a major holiday. It should be a weekend away to break up the monthly cycle and recharge your batteries. But all too often these mini vacations can be devastating to your bank balance. In the excitement to fully experience a new city we indulge our appetites a little too much and only once we are home begin to realise the cost. To celebrate a recent birthday I decided to visit Berlin. It was the first trip I intended to be thrifty with my cash. Overall, Germany’s capital isn’t the most expensive city in Europe but with a bit of extra attention I managed to make the most of my euros.
Being Careful at the Cash Machine
When it comes to paying your way around Berlin remember that cash is King. I was completely shocked when an affluent bar didn’t accept any card payments at all. It appears as if the German people prefer to take make their purchases in physical euros over a card transaction. This is a little irritating if your country doesn’t use the same currency but a secret blessing in disguise. As we all know, your bank will charge you for each transaction you make abroad. At the end of the end of a trip your card can accumulate a sizeable pile of overseas charges and currency conversion costs. The same applies to ATM withdrawals as well.
The solution is simple but effective. It’s best to convert your cash before you go. The benefits of this are twofold. Not only do you avoid charges for spending your own money but you immediately have to budget your spending. If you have a set amount to purchase with then you value every time you hand over your euros. Having a fixed sum in cash should make you a little more careful as you see your stockpile dwindle.
Food and Drink without a Fortune
My favourite part of any city break is always the food. The majority of my plans are made around meal time and whilst it is nice to spend an evening in a fancy restaurant it isn’t the cheapest option. Fortunately, Berlin responds to this with its fondness of street food. Currywurst and Kebab vendors can be found on every other corner-particularly handy if your walking across the city and are in need of tasty fuel. And it’s no surprise with chain restaurants like Vapianos that the Germans rank in the top five pizza eating countries in the world. However, if you’re in need of supplies then I would highly recommend finding a nearby Lidl. The prices are astounding. Four beers, a tub of hummus and a pack of Kettle Chips totaled less than five euros.If Berlin has imparted any lesson then it’s to ditch the Martini at the hotel bar and go to the pub instead.
Walk Your Way Around
There’s a temptation with a new city to take transport everywhere. Simply getting from point A to point B is probably the largest expense after food. In the age of smart phones when there is always a map at our fingertips there is no longer an excuse to not explore the city by foot. At first this seems a little daunting but it is especially rewarding in a city as historic as Berlin. Every street discloses another secret of the past. The effects of the wall are evident on how the city was shaped over the last century. It’s surprisingly simple to spring from Checkpoint Charlie, to Parliament and then to the Brandenburg Gate. Just as Venice is the city of canals, Berlin is the city that wears the history of the twentieth century.
I first discovered blooming tea about two years ago in a small, hipster cafe. As I watched the dehydrated flower blossom to life again I knew it would become one of my favourite beverages. Fortunately the flower tea trend has taken off and a pot can be ordered in many more eateries or purchased online. However, despite the popularity of the product its origins are still a mystery. We know that the majority of the blooming buds are produced in China but who or when it was invented is still unknown.
Regardless of its secret history I am happy we have it in the present. In the era of Starbucks and Coco Cola producing high caffeine, high sugar drinks, flower tea offers something fresh. Most blooming tea bundles are wrapped in whole green tea leaves which are renowned for their numerous health benefits. These range from being rich in antioxidants to the claims the drink can lower cholesterol, improve blood flow and block the plaques linked to Alzheimer’s disease. However, if the green leaves aren’t your cup of choice then black tea and flavoured varieties are also available.
Not only is it a healthy drink the aesthetic value is important too. The dramatic resurrection of the flower turns a simple cup of tea into a Twenty First Century tea ceremony. There’s a tranquil moment as you take time to enjoy the natural artwork unfold. The only issue is that you can’t share the beauty of blooming tea. Attempting to take a photo is very difficult because light sources are reflected on the glass surface. This makes a pot of flower tea a private pleasure. The feast is only for those at the table, a selfish moment to be enjoyed away from social media or the wider world.
The health benefits of green tea:
An affordable example
Towards the end of last year I wrote a post titled ‘The Days out that Didn’t Happen’. The piece lamented my unfulfilled holiday plans and the three galleries/museums I didn’t explore. One of the places I missed out on was an old paint factory, Fargfabriken. Located in Liljehomen, Stockholm the building originally opened as paint producer in 1889. Nearly 150 years later it now houses art and architectural exhibits available to the public for a small fee.
To find Fargfabriken you need to journey about five minutes away from Liljehomen’s tube station. Unlike most art spaces which are located in affluent, central city locations the surrounding area of Fargfabriken is entirely industrial. Walking past the concrete landscape, coated in old snow the red brick of the factory is a contrast. It’s purpose is immediately imparted. The grey buildings are for working but the red is for exploration.
Inside, there is a popular cafe, gift store and exhibit rooms. Currently, the main attractions are installations from Beckers Art Award winner, Petra Hultman. Her exhibit focuses primarily on the home and the work of the women who make it. The walls are lined with old instruction manuals designed to inform housewives on creating the perfect living environment. The center tells a story of an elderly couple. The husband and wife have their creative outlets: He builds key boxes out of wood; she forms blankets from material. His work is stacked high and displayed for examination. Her work is folded into piles, neglecting the intricacies and effort of each piece.
I wondered if the works belonged to real people or if the couple were a fictional device to emphasise the experience of domestic labour. Huntman was available to question because she was working on a tapestry as part of the exhibit. However, I was stopped by a question: Did the origin of these characters matter? Whether they were a product of fact or fiction didn’t change the story. I’ll never know the answer and I’m content with that, If you have the time and about £7/70Sek spare perhaps you could visit and let me know your thoughts. I’ll leave a link to Fargfabriken and Hultman below.
Airports should probably be labelled with a public health warning because of the stress they induce. They’re crowded with a mass of people all seeking different locations in different languages. The result is a swarm of chaos filled with swinging suitcases and screaming children. Every day the news doesn’t report on a riot at an airport is a surprise. Somehow the chaos succeeds and safely transports people to every country on the globe. However, the triumph can only last so long. The law of averages dictates that someday this system must fall apart. I think we can delay this though. By lessening our irritating traveling traits perhaps airports can remain brawl free a little longer.
The Golden Rule of Waiting in Line
In every airport there are two vital queues. Firstly, there is the baggage check line, followed by the wait to board the plane. How you behave in these social structures determines your fellow travelers perception of you. The golden rule for any queue is space. Waiting in lines is understandably irritating but feeling someone else’s breath on your ear is worse. You have to provide the person in front of you with enough room to drop something and bend down to retrieve it, without feeling obliged to buy them dinner afterwards. Shortening each other’s personal space doesn’t make the process any quicker. After all, we are all boarding the same plane or waiting for the individual who forgot to take their laptop out of their carry-on bag. A little consideration for each other’s breathing space makes for a much smoother wait.
The People Getting the 16:35 Flight to Shanghai
If there was an award for the most appalling passengers it would go to these people. Approximately twelve individuals whose collective failures managed to be irritating in every part of the airport. Beginning at baggage check we have two young men and a lady. The trio’s biggest accomplishment was taking eighteen minuets to be scanned and collect their luggage. They achieved this through their desire to keep all personal belongings in their pockets, refusing the separate the liquids from their luggage and hiding hair straighteners and laptops under their clothes. Their collective efforts were an effective tester of airport security and proved just how safe air travel can be.
Once the Shanghai destined party were safely ushered through baggage check they descended into duty free shopping. It was relief to other passengers to see them browsing discount chocolate and reduced price alcohol. Avoiding their crowd I headed to the long passport control line. The relief was short lived as all twelve party members came rushing with their new purchases, attempting to push to the front of the queue. Only one individual offered an explanation for their behaviour. Essentially, they had been shopping so long that they forgot their flight was departing in ten minutes. Armed with discounts they managed to push to the front of a line every body had been waiting in for nearly half an hour. Their collaborative irking deserves a lifetime ban from air travel. To achieve this I have appealed to several UN bodies but have received no response. The next logical step seems to be crowdfunding. My goal is to gather enough cash to only send these people on cruises.
Conserve your Carry on
The price for extra baggage is excessive. It’s no wonder people attempt to cram excess carry-on luggage onto the plane. Flight staff rarely check the amount of cargo people are trying to smuggle onto the aircraft. Most of the time they are too busy or it’s not worth the hassle of engaging a cranky traveler who is over eager to complain. The result of this lack of regulation is a serious lack of space. People are scrambling to stuff their slightly too large cases into the over head compartment, willing to crush everybody else’s belongings in the process. When the compartments are opened upon landing several suitcases descend on people’s head. On average four passengers are removed from the aircraft on stretchers for immediate medical attention. In order to reduce airplane injuries we should attempt to only take an appropriate amount of luggage and remember that your family’s coats can under the seat, instead of taking up valuable storage space.