Converted to Cruises

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.

 

 

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How to Fight the Fear of Flying

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.

 

Some Do’s

  • 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.

 

Some Don’ts

  • 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.

 

 

Berlin on a Budget

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.

 

 

How not to Irritate at the Airport

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 Days Out That Didn’t Happen

Research claims that the optimal amount of holiday time is eight days. Just over a week away  is the perfect time frame to improve your mood and recharge you for work again. Defying science I recently found myself with twelve free days. Dividing my time between Stockholm and Manchester, I intended to develop my interests in art and design, returning to my colleagues as a matured individual. Unfortunately, this did not go according to plan because of a conspiracy to close all museums and galleries when I wanted to visit. The twelve days past and I only managed to browse one museum. However, I can still dream and write up a list of my desired days out, pretending I occupied each venue.

Färgfabriken

Established in its current incarnation in 1995 Färgfabriken is a gallery dedicated to art, architecture and urban planning. The word ‘fabrik’ translates from Swedish as factory, a fitting title that reflects the building’s original industrial purpose when built in 1889. Located in Liljehomen it would have been a perfect afternoon’s exploration. Usually, I take the airport bus straight to the area before heading to ICA for supplies. Not only is the location convenient for myself but the focus on art reflects my interests. On the other hand, architecture and urban planning are fresh realms for my imagination. I usually prefer to explore design through objects as opposed to buildings, so the opportunity to develop an interest in a new medium is intriguing. Alas, the gallery is currently closed for rehanging. Exhibitions don’t reopen until the end of January but the cafe is running still. It’s disappointing that i haven’t seen something so close to where I normally reside. However, the delay peaks my interest further and Färgfabriken is a must visit next year.

Centre for Contemporary Chinese Art

The CFCCA can be found in Manchester’s Northern quarter and promised to be the beginning to my Monday trawl of the city’s galleries. My plan was to peruse the CFCCA, grab some lunch with my friend and finish the day browsing the University’s collection. However, a more thorough search of CFCCA website would have revealed that the gallery isn’t open on Mondays. This left a hole in the morning’s plans and the Christmas market lured us in with mulled wine. Time passed and the University’s gallery had the dropped for the Manchester gallery, bowling and of course more wine.

It’s disappointing to have attempted to visit the CFCCA on a day when it wasn’t accessible. Their collection was alluring due to complexity of modern Chinese culture. I was hoping to examine expressions that detailed existence from such an influential country. With the largest population the breadth of creation must surely be far reaching. Similarly, the experiences of Native Chinese artists compared with those living abroad or children of immigrants provides even richer layers and opportunities for artistic expression.

Despite the set back the day wasn’t lost. Manchester gallery is never disappointing and I enjoyed introducing my friend to Pre-Raphaelite painting. It’s a good feeling to repeat a gallery and reacquaint yourself with your favourite paintings. The gallery appears to have taken Giacometti Alberto’s portrait of  his mother out of circulation. It’s a piece I’m particularly fond of and slightly saddened to see it gone. Thankfully there are still copies online. The following one in courtesy of Manchester gallery’s website.

Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (Östasiatiska)

Stockholm’s Östasiatiska  was my second opportunity to absorb Asian culture. I can’t explain why I’m heavily attracted to East Asian art but I know it always has me enthralled. Examining simple tea sets and art prints as well as clothing and sculpture   always enjoyable. With a free day I decided that Östasiatiska would be a perfect ending to this month’s Stockholm visit. The museum offers an exploration of Korean, Japanese and Chinese arts. These range from traditional Korean furniture and tea ceremony sets to a sculpture gallery. After absorbing all the artifacts there’s a cafe that even sells flower tea. If there was a tick list for an ideal afternoon then Östasiatiska potentially gets full marks.

Unlike the galleries this museum was open during my visit. My issue was trying to locate the building. It’s situated in Skeppsholmen along with several other museums worth wandering. In truth, I have been to the island several times but this time I got off at the wrong tube station and became lost. With evening drawing in and evening plans looming I decided the destination was a lost cause. I found myself in the national library again. Ideally, I would have preferred to traverse new knowledge but the library is a beautiful , circular building worth revisiting. Just like galleries and museums, libraries always provide a moment of calm and culture against the calamity of the city outside.

 

 

London, Hot Leaf Juice and Twinings Tea Shop

My love for tea is unparalleled. As much as I enjoy a bottle of good red wine or a strong morning coffee, it is tea that I turn to throughout the day. On average, I will consume eight to ten cups during a twenty four hour period. This is probably because I am British, and our affection for the beverage is renowned world wide. However, unlike the majority  of my country folk, my preference is always for green tea. Some people find the choice a little odd. They’re more accustomed to a stronger brew, often diluted with milk and sugar. Occasionally, I’ll join in a cup the country’s favourite but I know the best cup is always green. That being said, in tea, as with most things in life,  if it makes you happy then you’ll hear no objection from me.

This weekend I journeyed to London. I realised it was unusual I have visited five other capital cities but not my own. It’s difficult to pin point what it is about London that has always deterred me. Perhaps it is because I am already familiar with the tourist sites. The attractions are possibly so well assimilated into  our culture that there  appears to be no adventure in visiting them. Either way, it was my partner’s birthday and he chose to visit London to celebrate the event. I went to the capital regardless of my apprehension.

We did some of the typical tourist activities: strolled the national gallery; marveled at the British Museum’s stolen Elgin Marbles; and took in an afternoon West End Show. By the final day, as we wandered through Hyde Park, I found I had warmed to the city. Eventually, we reached the Albert Memorial- an effigy to the Victorian Empire. The subject of the structure made me uncomfortable but the monument was none the less awe inspiring. Looking at the corner that represented India I remembered I was in a pivotal tea drinking city and hadn’t thought to look for a tea shop. A quick online search revealed that the Twinings Flagship store was located on The Strand. With just over an hour before we had to catch the train home we headed for the subway and the tea haven.

The shop is approximately three hundred years old and a testament to the variety and development of tea. Walking the narrow aisle you’re greeted by a hoard of boxes all filled with different leaves. It’s difficult to know which to choose when all the smell samples are strange perfumes enticing you to purchase. Towards the back of the shop is a small exhibit exploring some of the history of tea drinking. Across from the lesson was a lady brewing three pots, each vessel with a different potion to sample. In the end, I settled on a charming wooden box and filled it with new and my favourite teas.

If you appreciate tea then I would recommend a browse of the shop. If you aren’t then there are tea pots and cups available for purchase. I’m sure the staff can direct you towards an exciting taste test. Just don’t make the mistake of purchasing loose leaves because they don’t sell tea strainers. In honour of the shop and the great beverage I shall leave you with a poem and implore you to visit the store if you’re ever in London.

Green Tea

When it’s too cool to be tepid

or to warm to drink with ease,

the honey has sucked the side

to form a gel altogether sweet,

If you can drive your digit to

the center, flail and feel no pain,

It’s time to throw the cup away

and braise the leaves again.

 

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.