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.


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.

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.



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.