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.
The festive season is truly over and we have all returned to work. Another twelve months stands before the next holiday period. Everybody’s face is as grey as the weather outside as the memory of December’s celebrations are fading like a dream. It’s no surprise that January becomes the month that most people change jobs. There’s an urge for excitement again and a desire to seize the next year. Even if you are happy in your job the blues may still come creeping. To help your beat them I have put together a short list of tips, hopefully making the winter months more enjoyable.
Treat Your Self
Even if it feels like the pages of the calendar flip by quickly a year is still a long time. Having something to look forward to breaks down the months. Book yourself a mini-break. The promise of sunshine or another culture makes the stresses of every day slip by a little easier. If you can’t wait that long then maybe it’s time for a day to indulge yourself. It doesn’t need to be huge expense. Buy a face-mask or wander around museums and galleries. Anything that gives you a little time for yourself is a good thing. People may say it’s selfish but the truth is that a bit of time to recharge is essential for everybody. We are human beings not robots. Living everyday for the demands of others is the existence of a machine and doesn’t promote an emotionally stable person. Sometimes you just have to treat your self in order to treat others to the best side of you.
No New Year New Me Nonesense
As soon as midnight strikes on New Years Eve social media becomes flooded with statuses. The posters are all proclaiming that profound changes in their lifestyle are about to occur. They are going to go to the gym, give up smoking and despite drinking two bottles of champagne last night they are definitely quitting alcohol. We all know that these attempts rarely last. The reason for this is because they are negative. Starting the New Year by guilting yourself into giving something up like drinking or fatty food isn’t going to make you feel better. Instead of starting the next twelve months with some encouragement you’ve given yourself a lecture.
Rather than revolving our lifestyle changes around something we dislike in ourselves it may be better to choose a positive target. It’s time to focus on increasing our self-worth an value instead of detracting from it. The question is, how do we go about doing this? Firstly you have to figure out what you want to do. Have you always wanted to paint or sew yourself a dress? Then it’s the perfect time to give it a go. Find a group in your area, watch online tutorials and get your hands messy. You’re going to be appalling at first but given time you will achieve, increasing your creativity and developing a new skill. Do you spend eight hours a day in front of a computer screen and have no idea how it works? Thankfully the internet is flooded with free online courses (like https://www.coursera.org/) that range from programing to art history. Engaging your brain can only be a positive, stretching your view of everyday life. Ultimately, when we are picking changes it’s best to choose something that will make us feel better about ourselves. Seeing ourselves develop and expand is an endorphin boost to beat the blues of everyday life.
Be Kind to Yourself
There are 7.6 billion Homo Sapiens spinning on a giant rock in a small corner of space. Each of us wakes up every day, hopefully eats, goes to the bathroom and eventually goes back to bed. If you make it through those waking hours then well done. Did you manage to do something a little better than the day before? Congratulations! If today defeated you a little be kind to yourself because there is always tomorrow. The next day might be the best day of your life.
Some days life can knock you down and sending your hiding under the duvet. On these occasions I find myself before the bookshelf. The pages contain past wisdom, with the power to perk me up and send me back into the struggle. From Camus I learned to keep pushing the eternal boulder with a smile like Sisyphus. Whilst the Stoics and Buddha teach how to accept the inevitable. When times seem especially tough I turn back to one of my favourite teachers: Maya Angelou. It is simply Dr Angelou’s positivity that picks me up again, preparing my return to the wider world. I’d like to share some of her most enriching expressions. Hopefully, I don’t infringe too many copyright laws along the way.
This is a simple lesson and it’s probably one you’re already aware of, “if you love something, sometimes you have to let it go.” Even though concept is common knowledge it’s hard to exercise. Like most things Love liberates is easier said than done. After all, complex emotions and bonds are easily muddled by every day existence. Our intentions can be perfectly pure in wanting the upmost for another but how we express these intentions can be binding. If you are blessed enough be loved and have people that you love then it’s worth loving a little like Dr Angelou.
Homo Sum Humani Nihil a me Alienum Puto
If you’re anything like me then your Latin language skills are none existent. Thankfully there are a number of slightly different translations of the sentence. Angelou offers, “I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me.” Although she was multifaceted person Angelou wasn’t a time traveler from Ancient Rome. The phrase originates from the playwright Terence. A slave who penned himself to freedom during the heights of the Roman Empire.
Dr Angelou emphasised the importance of these words and internalising their lesson. Doing so allows you enjoy the great achievements of our species. All the components for ingenuity, compassion and creation rest within you. Conversely, any destructive act a human can commit is within capabilities. This makes you empathise and stops you from imparting a moral judgement on another.
Homo Sum Humani Nihil a me Alienum Puto is a hard lesson to live. I must fail about a hundred times a day. But it’s always worth trying again. Offering understanding to yourself and others can only bring people closer.
And Still I Rise
There’s only so long you can lounge in your melancholy. If I need something to kick me into the shower and out into the sunshine then I remember And Still I Rise. When I hear the poem I am reminded of the effort that came before this day: A thousand hunter gatherers who scrapped through harsh winters for our survival; the immeasurable love and support that pushed me to this point in time; every drop of rain water and every rotation of the earth has projected me here. The lesson I learn from Dr Angelou’s poem is that the battle of life must be loved. It’s going to knock you down but eventually you will stand up again.
After the indulgence of the Christmas period and the unfortunately rapid return to work I found myself exhausted. To cure my January Blues I retired from the reawakening world and I spent my Saturday night (and majority of Sunday) curled up with Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology and the last of the season’s chocolates. I hadn’t intended to indulge both days in the stories but after the first few pages the outcome was inevitable.
If you ever attempted to explore the world of the Old Norse Gods then you’re confronted with a lack of modern interpretations. Most likely you’ll be offered the Poetic and Prose Eddas, quickly followed by Marvel’s dissimilar Comic Book hero. Last year I attempted the poetic Edda and enjoyed the lyrical stories. However, it’s not an easily accessible book and not recommended for young readers. Gaiman’s contribution is a perfect solution to this problem.
Norse Mythology presents the usual cast of Odin, Thor, Loki and others in an easily understandable way. The deeds and downfalls of the old Scandinavian Gods are depicted in a light and engaging manner. Gaiman’s re-imagining has the unique quality of appealing to both adults and younger readers, which all myths should do. His style makes for easy reading and this simplicity allows the quality of the original stories to shine. In his introduction Gaiman writes that he chose the tales because of his childhood fondness. Hopefully, he was also interested in the myths of other lands too. A whole series of the world’s ancient stories in this style is worthy of any bookshelf.