Category Archives: travel

Stockholm still surprises me

Today marks the anniversary of the first time I got on a plane and left the little island known as England. My first journey to another country was for a second date at the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. Fast forward twelve months and I’ve flown to Sweden over a dozen times because the second date transfigured into relationship. As usual I step off the plane knowing exactly when the Flybussanar arrives; I’m aware the time it takes to grab a filter coffee from 7/11; how I jump from the coach, take the tube and always laugh at the stop called Aspudden. The routine is now scarily familiar but is the central reason why Stockholm feels like my second home.

On Saturday afternoon we wandered into central Stockholm for food supplies. On the way I detoured into the city library to get a smell of old books but was distracted by the road completely lined with people. There was a commentator with a crackled microphone whose every third word I understood. He was commentating the KTH Royal Institute of Technology’s student’s parade. I soon learned that every three years the scientific minds carnival the streets with a procession of floats. The whole city seemed to turn out for an exhibit of adapted cars and dancing. It lasted about an hour and when the last vehicle passed a trail of the public followed the music into the distance.

My last visit demonstrated an important lesson. It taught that cities are large with a plethora of people living within its boundaries. The lives of these people interact, collide and change. In each 24hour cycle a multitude of new events occur, making every day different. No matter how familiar you are with your roads there’s always another to wander or maybe a parade will stumble across yours. I’m excited for the new possibilites the city has to offer. I’ll sleuth our some more of your secrets Stockholm when I see you in three weeks.

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Liverpool for Easter

Liverpool was awarded the honour of European Capital of Culture in 2008. After spending 72hours in the city it is easy to observe how it achieved the title. Within the Easter break I managed to entertain myself with four museums, a couple of galleries and too much food. Surprisingly, a full weekend can be enjoyed without enduring a single Beatles song or a tour of Anfield. Wandering around the city there are whispers of an epic nightlife. I couldn’t advise you on wisdom within these rumours because I am old, slightly beige and prefer to spend my evening watching La La Land in the hotel. Instead, I’ll explore some of the day time highlights of Liverpool.

After arriving in central station the easiest area to explore is the Culture Quarter. Here you can find the theatre, World Museum, Walker Art Gallery and Central Library. If you can navigate your way around the parents with prams the World Museum contains five floors of exhibits. The displays range from the depths of the ocean in the Aquarium towards the reaches of the solar system in the Planetarium. In between you can explore a plethora of civilsations stretching across history and geography. By simply turning a corner you’ve strolled across the countries of Africa, into the golden relics of the Mayan Empire, and before lunch time arrived in Tibet.

Occasionally the crowds can make the Museum overwhelming because the attraction is exceptionally popular with families during school holidays. After hauling your luggage through the herd you can be slightly exasperated. To cure this I’d take a trip next door to central library. I’d suggest making your way up all the floors towards the roof terrace. Here you can take a moment to breathe and view the city from above. The calm of walking among the books towards the city-scape view is the ideal way to restore your peace before adventuring forward.

After the vertical walking of the World Museum and Central Library it’s probably time for lunch. As with all cities, Liverpool isn’t short of great places to eat. For lunch I’d advise a trip to Bold Street. Here you can find most of the world’s cuisines and a few unique eateries as well. Deciding on a restaurant will depend on what you’re hungry for but I’d suggest independent tea shop and bar LEAF. This cafe is also an occasional performance space and has always been busy whenever I have visited either for a pot of tea or brunch. Starting at breakfast you can enjoy a traditional Full English or vegetarian, pescatarian and vegan variations. Food continues throughout the day with Mezze style sharing platters and Mediterranean inspired salads and meat dishes. This can all be accompanied with tea (available to purchase for home) or something stronger.

After lunch, when the day is hopefully warmer, would be the best time to visit the Albert Dock. Braving the wind are several antique sailing vessels you can board in between your wander around the water. The dock is home to several attractions which include the famous Beatles Museum and the Liverpool Tate. The Tate’s currently has an exhibit joining the work of Tracy Emin and William Blake. As an ex-literature student and art enthusiast I was in my nerd epoch. Seeing Emin’s My Bed up close is a confidence enhancer about the cleanliness  of your own home. Emin’s work that focuses on grounded human subjects (such as impressionist paintings of the naked female form) provide a satisfying contrast to Blake’s idealised paintings of Christian mythology.

If the galleries aren’t your scene then the Museum of Slavery/Maritime Museum is a peculiar three floor combination museum. They advertise themselves as separate buildings but are more akin to individual exhibits within the same space. As you traverse each floor a feeling of melancholia develops as you delve into the depths of the city’s connection to tragedy. Being heavily involved with the Titanic and her infamous sinking the second floor highlights the devastation the ship’s destruction had on Liverpool’s population. Many workers and relatives of the city embarked on the Titanic’s maiden and became victims of the disaster.

The third floor explores the slave trade and importantly acknowledges Liverpool’s involvement in the atrocity as a port city. Although we all know the abuses of history this exhibit serves as a reminder to revisit the horrors of our history, learn again of the awful acts and how they have shaped as well as still impact modern, industrial societies. You are sobered as you exit the exhibits and truly entrenched in the glory and falls of Liverpool.

As a city of culture Liverpool is encumbered with places to enjoy your evening meal. The choices are numerous and even boast a Michelin star restaurant. If overly fine dining isn’t within your price range or style then I’d opt for something simpler. Lunya is a tapas bar and deli where you can enjoy the catatonia delicacies sold to grocery customers alongside a brimming table of small dishes. There’s something for everyone (even the vegans) served by delightful Spanish waiters. I’d recommend the deep fried goats cheese and everything else on the menu.

After a fill of good food, sea air and intense images in the galleries and museums it’s understandable if you don’t want to chase down a bar. You’re more than welcome to do like me and room service a bottle of wine, watch Hollywood’s latest attempt at a musical and get a good night’s sleep before journeying into the city again tomorrow.

 

 

Marina Abramovic exhibit at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet

Marina Abramovic is often hailed as the grandmother of performance art.  Now seventy years old Abramovic is still creating new works, highlighting her position as perhaps the most prevalent performance artist in the world. Her latest performance (The Cleaner) was centered in Stockholm’s Moderna Museet. Unfortunately,  Abramovic’s new act only ran until March 5th 2017 but the Moderna Museet still features an exhibit of her most prolific work and several re-performances until May 21st this year. Recently I had the uncomfortable pleasure of touring the eight rooms the Modern Art museum has designated to Abramovic’s collective works. The space unveils Abramovic’s extensive contribution to performance art, demonstrating the breadth and development of her art over four decades.

After you’ve paid the entrance fee of 160 krona (approximately £16) you enter the first room of the exhibit. Inside you’re introduced to Abramovic’s juvenalia, a gathering of sketches, paintings and letters that detail her subjects before the move into performance art. There is a fixation upon wagon crashes and disembodied legs. On first impressions the fixation on these macabre subjects is uncomfortable. Once accustomed to the images, it becomes evident (especially through the paintings) that even from an early age Abramovic was capable of finding  beauty in a chaotic subject, capturing devastation and energy in a collision of colour.

Abramovic’s youthful darkness lays the foundation for the second room. The earliest performances, starting from 1973 are displayed here. Through the photographs, videos and slides we are shown the extremes Abramovic stretched her body to in her earliest performances. Overall the art in this section creates an uncomfortable tension. The artist is seen to be whipping and cutting herself; standing in pentagrams of fire; screaming until her voice breaks. The unease in these performances comes from the potential danger the artist is inflicting upon herself. Walking through makes the viewer consistently flinch away from the potential pain. A particularly disturbing feature are the recordings of Abramovic working with knives. In this performance she uses twelve knives to stab between the spaces in her fingers. The first attempt is recorded and listened to by the artist before attempting to replicate the previous stabbings, cuts included. Hearing Abramovic deliberately inflict wounds to demonstrate the difference in re-performance contracts the skin and takes a strong will to listen to. Overall her early performances places the viewer in a state of anticipation that borders on nausea. The pieces take the audience out of the traditional, controlled viewing of art and hangs them on a precipice of uncertainty.

The third room displays Abramovic’s work in collaboration with artistic and romantic partner Ulay. Whilst in partnership, Abramovic dropped the more violent aspects of her work, whilst still focusing on the extremes of the body. Together they are seen to be colliding, shouting, kissing and breathing as if the activities are feats of endurance. They had taken the everyday motions of the body and through effort and time turned them into events of aggression. Something as traditionally beautiful as kissing  became almost combative, in which both artists attached their mouths until they could no longer breath. The pair explored the the utmost points of the body, nudity and endurance before their separation. Their last meeting, on the great wall of China, is displayed on several video screens. Both parties walked across the monument from opposite ends until they met in the middle. From the center they parted and never saw each other again.

After the separation with Ulay the exhibit returns to solo performances. There is a focus of life, death and sex that is explored through the artist’s Baltic roots. Through videos explaining the traditional Baltic rat extermination method and a re-performance of Cleaning the Mirror, Abramovic depicts death in quietly disturbing manner. The life cycle and sexual creation of the world treats the taboo subjects as everyday. Occasionally they are as uncomfortable as the earlier works. However, the tension is not created through danger but by confronting the fundamental aspects of existence that are often ignored.

Finally, the collection focuses on Abramovic’s most recent performances. In these the artist has become almost meta as she journeys past the traditions of her early works and begins to completely incorporate the audience into the art. The Artist is Present depicts over 700 hours of Abramovic making eye contact with hundreds of members of the public. The performance itself seems quiet in comparison to early pieces but maintains her foundation themes of endurance and the extremes of the body. It is evident that despite the less violent motion of her youthful performances Abramovic is still creating art that is physically and emotionally tasking.

In contrast to the performance art the exhibit is dotted with the artist’s sculptures in quartz crystal. These appear to have become a focus of Abarmovic’s work as she has aged and studied in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Everyday objects such as brooms and chairs have been altered to accommodate the semiprecious rocks. The combination of pale wood and purple stone is calm, beautiful and completely impractical. After traversing the main exhibit it is worth peaking through the Moderna Museet’s permanent exhibition. Amongst the Picasso, Matisse and occasional Dali are a large pair of crystal boots. Rooted into the ground visitors can discard their footwear and become statues in Abramovic’s sculpture. After the intense images of the exhibit, the crystal sends cool up into the visitor. You are calmed as you look out into Stockholm, gentled on the stone and the view of the waves.

 

 

 

 

 

Malmö for the Day

Two weeks ago I landed in Copenhagen for the weekend. I enjoyed the city and have briefly briefly about the adventure in my previous post. On the final day in Denmark, after checking out of the hotel, I crossed the border into Sweden. When I planned my journey around Copenhagen I had only intended to look at the bridge that connects Malmö to the Danish capital. Somehow I couldn’t resist being drawn onto the train and across the Scandinavian border. Admittedly, part of my motivation was due to the thriller television series Brön (The Bridge). The series starts with a murder victim being placed in the center of the bridge that connects Copenhagen and Malmö. The victim is so perfectly located on the border that the Swedish and Danish police both have claim to the investigation. Thereafter, the hunt of the serial killer jumps between both countries. A large part of me wanted to stand on the bridge and pretend to be a detective. Unfortunately, it is illegal to walk on the bridge and is only accessible by rail or car. This was disappointing but I took the tourist train across anyway.

Regardless of where you board the Denmark to Malmö train, the journey is shortly interrupted at Copenhagen Airport. Passengers have to disembark the vehicle, evidence their passports or identity documents, and wait for the next train. The pause isn’t long, approximately fifteen minutes in total. A major downside of the wait is the temperature. This is due to the platform beneath the airport acting as a wind-tunnel, which makes the passengers grateful that (due to a lack of Danish border control) the train back into Copenhagen is direct, without passport inspection. After the chilly wait, the journey by the thankfully warm train straight into Sweden is dotted with stunning scenes of waves and the island of Saltholm in-between.

I was only in Malmö for approximately three hours, killing time before the flight back to England. Clearly, three hours isn’t enough to fully explore the city and enjoy all it has to offer. Mostly, time was spent wandering between the “small” and “big” squares. Their name is simple but accurate- two different sized areas, walled by some of Malmö’s best buildings. The architecture in the city center is as beautiful as any other Swedish city. The trademark colourful buildings, ornate features and great height put me in mind of Stockholm, whilst the lack of overbearing commuters and city rushers gives chance to stop and admire without always being in somebody’s way. I imagine the city is at it’s picturesque peak in summer, when the sun can truly highlight the coloured walls and a walk towards the harbour would be paved in rainbow.

As with all travel destinations food was high on my agenda. Malmö lays claim to the best Falafel in Sweden and the city boasts it is their preferred street food. Apparently, falafel became popular among the city dwellers after immigrants from Israel and Lebanon began to reside there and began serving the fried chickpea balls. The low price of the food made it popular even during manufacturing and economic slumps of the 80’s and falafel has been a local staple ever since. In my limited time I only had chance to eat one lunch at a small place called Jalla Jalla. The warm, freshly made falafel, despite being located in a take-away shop, was potentially the best non-hummus  chickpeas I’ve ever had. If I had a few days in the city I would tour the best restaurants and become as round as a chickpea. However I can n now I can attest to Malmö’s claim to be falafel king of Sweden and worth the Danish border check for lunch alone.

Hey there Copenhagen

If you have read any of my previous posts or know me in real life, then you’ll be aware that when I take a weekend break it’s almost always in Sweden. In the last year I have been to Stockholm over a dozen times. I’m found in the Swedish capital for festivities such as new years and Midsummer; events like Eurovision; or when I just really need a sugar, cinnamon Kanelbullar fix.  Of course, I visit other countries and cities too but Stockholm is my favourite and has started to feel comfortably like home.

I broke my mini-break tradition last weekend and went to a country southward: Denmark. Scandinavian Airlines had a ridiculous sale and I managed to score return flights to Copenhagen for less than £70. A bridge connects Malmö (situated in Southern Sweden) to the Danish capital. Originally, it didn’t seem like a brave choice to go to the islands next door to my normal destination but I’d never been so far south in Scandinavia and the cultural differences are striking.

Food is arguably the most important aspect of any trip. Before I arrive at the airport I’ve scoured menus and reviews of the most recommended places to eat. Once I’m off the plane my time is mapped around meals. In Copenhagen this meant one food: The Danish Smørrebrød. Smørrebrød is an open sandwich with a rye bread base used a plate for various toppings. This was particularl a challenge because Danish food relies heavily on fish and I am a vegetarian. Unfortunately, the first restaurant didn’t have any non-meat Smørrebrød but I would recommend it to meat eaters with their wide range of fish dishes and red meats that ranged from beef to fresh liver. The carnivore only dishes was a little disheartening but I drowned the disappointment with deep fried, breaded Camembert.

The second Smørrebrød restaurant I tried was much better. After stepping inside from the sea air that wraps the city, Rabes Have had exactly the welcome we looked for. The lady who ran the lunch restaurant was incredibly friendly and  created the relaxed air against the cold outside. Initially, she believed that we had been before and queried our return to the city, which only enhanced the friendly feel. The food was the best I had all weekend and there was plenty to choose from the chalk board menu. Carnivores could range from Steak Tartare to pork belly and I opted for one of the traditional Danish cheese dishes. The server warned me about the strength of the cheese but feeling brave I determined upon the Smørrebrød. I had be forewarned correctly. The Danish variety was stronger than most English cheddar but had the waxy texture of a dutch cheese. The flavour punched my taste buds and was strengthened by the suggestion that I top the sandwich liberally with rum which the server presented with the dish. Rum on a cold cheese sandwich seemed an absurd suggestion. At first I thought it being offered as a local side aperitif of so some sort. However, I would highly recommend the alcoholic accompaniment as it both breaks up pungency of the cheese whilst simultaneously strengthening the impact on the tongue. It was a shame to leave Rabes Have. I’d have sat the day away, drinking schnapps and eating the cheese menu. I would definitely recommend dining here and when I’m in Copenhagen  again I’ll be having the chocolate cake as well.

Naturally, the whole weekend was spent stuffing my face with cheese sandwiches. The city is an interesting exploration as well. If Copenhagen had two proceeding themes they would be water and  Hygge. Being a coastal city it’s impossible not to spend some time gazing at the water, either as you cross the bridges that connect the capital together or wander around the harbour. Once you have emerged from your hotel room your vision will be filled with ocean and estuary. The prevalence of water on the lives  Copenhagen residents can be epitomized by “The Little Mermaid”. Hans Christian Anderson’s creation is depicted in numerous sculptures and paintings, demonstrating the city’s appreciation for his work and the sea it was born from.

Like the water, the concept of hygge permeates the city. Walk past any cafe and the locals are rolling away Saturday with a small smile on their face. They pass the hours  drinking beer, smoking too many cigarettes and grazing at Smørrebrød.  A walk down Nyhavn is the perfect combination of water and relaxed Danish lifestyle. The canal is reminiscent of Amsterdam with the colour palette of Swedish buildings. As you stroll down the path you’ll see the Danish people unwinding into the weekend as the bright shops and houses pass slowly like the water you walk along. Once you reach the end of Nyhavn and embrace the wide sea again, you’re calmed and ready to embrace the city.

 

Ear Pain from Air Pressure

I fly to Sweden roughly every third or fourth weekend. Flying is something I enjoy (even the turbulence) but on the descent fellow passengers look at me strangely because I’m holding the side of my ears. For some reason I seem unusually susceptible to the air pressure. Other flyers rarely display discomfort but for myself the return to ground is uncommonly painful. After exiting the plane I am often deaf in my left ear, (which can last over twenty four hours) and the first day is always tainted by the changes in air pressure. For example, if I burp, blow my nose or stand up too quickly something in the side of my head feels as if it has burst.

I have done a few online searches and asked friends if they happen to know the cause or cure. The  cause of the problem has been fairly easy to unearth: The changes of air pressure in the plane result in stretching of the ear drum either inward (flying upwards) or outward (flying downward). There is a small tube within the ear known as the Eustachian tube, which runs between the middle ear and nose. It acts as a pressure valve and the “popping” sensation when flying is the tube releaving the pressure to the normal equilibrium. Correct functioning of the Eustachian tube would allow the ear drum to maintain its proper positioning and remove the discomfort experienced in flight.

For some people the Eustachian tube does not function as designed. However, there are several simple remedies to promote the tube into fulfilling its purpose: Chewing gum; sucking hard boiled sweets; drinking a none alcoholic beverage; swallowing and even yawning. Unfortunately, none of these methods seem to work for myself, even removing earrings and abstaining from caffeine for the day.

A friend recently suggested that she had the same issue until she went scuba diving. Apparently the changes in water pressure experienced in the sport have a similar effect as those in flight. Initially, I doubted whether it was worth paying for scuba diving lessons until I read some disturbing anecdotes. Apparently, there are frequent cases of fliers with colds or blocked sinuses whose ear drums burst, covering themselves and fellow passengers with blood and other bodily fluids. Until I read this I thought I’d just live with the pain, after all it’s only one or two days a month. Today, I fill the bath with as much water as it can hold and dive as deep as possible.

Swedish Language Lessons

I first went to Stockholm in March 2017 and haven’t stopped going back. I now have my first frequent flyer card. It’s shiny, silver and says SAS Eurobonus. After so many flights to the capital I started feeling like a part time resident. I took to Duolingo and decided to try  attempting to learn the language again. But it is hard. Stupidly hard to learn Swedish. Here are my main to obstacles:

Firstly, the accent is unique. When I try to talk Swedish my tongue does an uneven waltz between Russian and Welsh. It’s a complicated sound with unique syllables and accented words making it hard to replicate for none natives. Even once you’re past the embarrassment of speaking like an alien and talk to a Swede they look at you with either horror or excitement. The frightened people express fear because your sound is so poor that the words are misrepresented and it’s better to “Tack”, thumbs up and walk away. On the other hand, those who are happy to talk are enthused because you’re so blatantly English you may as well wear a mask of Elizabeth II and carry a teapot. Their eagerness quickly overshadows yours because they desire to practice their English. After all, the country is full of Swedish speakers and you can always work on your words with somebody else.

The second reason I find Swedish particularly challenging is the word endings. More specifically the different approach to the indefinite article,  definite article and plurals. When you learn a new Swedish word you also have to learn the grammatical rules which differ from word to word. The indefinite article is fairly simple. It’s usually placed at the front of the word as “en” or another variant. Plurals and the definite article are located at the end of the word. For example:

Child- Barn

A Child- En Barn

The Child- Barnet

The Children- Barneten.

Before you know who the parent of the child is and breach into possessive suffixes there’s already two attachments to remember. I don’t doubt this is something that I will adapt to with practice. Eventually, I expect this issues to become second nature but for now I’ll just have to hit Duolingo harder.