Tag 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.

 

 

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.

Paris without the Price

In June this year I wandered for several days around Paris. Between the hotel, flights and sparkling drinks my card whimpered in my wallet all the way home. My bank balance shall forever wear the scars from the champagne deficit of 2016 and the month sized chunks it devoured. More money was poured into crystal flutes than the gross domestic product of Malta. However despite the drinks being slightly pricey, excursions around the city were fairly inexpensive but the visit could have been considerably cheaper if I’d been more thrifty in my bubbly haze.

The first thing to have been avoided was climbing things. For some reason there’s always a charge for a decent view of Paris. Photos end up costing nearly £5 a snap because of the excessive entrance fee and by the time you’ve scaled your way back down a monument you feel deserving of another drink. Next time I’ll avoid the Eiffel Tower. Yes, it’s beautiful to survey the city from phallic scaffolding and an effective way of burning off the morning’s croissant but it’s also pricey, even if you don’t take the lifts. Perhaps my experience felt underwhelming because only three stories were accessible to the public that day. If all the floors were open there would have been less unfit American’s blocking the stairways further up. I’m certain that the view from the utmost platform would be breath taking. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, it would have been better to save the entrance charge and picnic nearby; devouring cheese and wine, pitying those willing to take excessive exercise.

Cathedrals like Notre Dame and Sacre-Coeur are normally free to explore but come with seemingly inexpensive extras that quickly accumulate into a price larger than the Eiffel Tower. I’d like to be able to wander around these places without the guilt to pay but the glares from the stained glass apostles and the brass depictions of crucified Jesus can break even Ebeneezer Scrooge. By the time I’d finished ambling through Notre Dame and Sacre-Coeur I’d prayed for the first time in my life, lit four candles for the Virgin Mary, deposited in several donation boxes and bought tickets to every exclusive staircase. Visits that were originally intended to be a free option to while away an hour in between Kir Royals somehow turned into a fund-raising spree for the Catholic Church. That being said, both buildings are absolutely worth the visit, especially the staircase of Sacre-Coeur. The view from atop the Cathedral is superior to that from the third platform of the Eiffel Tower and several euros cheaper.

Another expensive mistake I made in Paris was dining. Every restaurant was fantastic and I never chose a course I later regretted. Waiters were always accommodating and through their practiced charming natures led me to excess. On the first evening meal I asked for a wine list and was instead offered the waiter’s recommendation. Maybe sitting on a Paris street, somehow toasty beneath the restaurant canopy despite the rain, infected me with the romance the city perfumes. I accepted his suggestion only to later realise that the bottle was costing a euro per drop. Despite the price, I will never regret that wine or the whole cheese boards I thought acceptable as a main course. There’s something in the atmosphere (perhaps the extreme air pollution) that fogs the everyday senses. Thus transforming everyday caution into a craving for opulence. Even when waiter’s explain a meal is too large for one and reminded me that the cheese board’s traditional function is as a savoury sharing dessert.

My favourite aspect of the trip was the Pantheon which was free because I’m under 25 years old. It’s best described as an ‘atheist temple’. It has huge paintings of French history, photography exhibits and a marble laden crypt of prominent French figures such as Marie Curie, Voltaire and Alexander Dumas. I can’t sell this place well but it’s the highlight of my trip, along with the adult grape juice. For only a few days I’d recommend squeezing it in for a few hours.

It seems that I’ve grumbled over the price of my visit and now sit, scanning over bank statements, in miserly regret. In truth, I cherish my visit to Paris and even though I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the Eiffel Tower, I’m glad to have walked part way. One day, when it’s fully accessible, I’ll climb the structure again. Hopefully it will force me to regret what I have just written and readdress my opinion. Even if it doesn’t, I’d encourage everyone to visit the city regardless and any money you spend there is well spent. I shall return if only to make my way around the Louvre, but until my return I’ll always have my hazy memories of Paris.

Three free things to do in Stockholm

Last month I had nine hours on my own in the center of Stockholm whilst all my friends were working. Yes, I had to wander a new city alone. Some people thrive on this sort of thing adventure but I’m more of Shire hobbit than a Bilbo Baggins. There was the temptation to sit in a 7/11 and embark on an all day ficka binge. It was very much a possibility if I was willing to pay for nine hours worth of coffee and cake. However, I intended to do my visit on a budget and set out to find moderately interesting things to do for free. Here’s what I got up to:

National Library

This was the first place I headed on my exploration day. Largely it was a massive disappointment. I expected an ornate building crammed with books; I’d wander through the stacks and shelves for hours, absorbing smells. A mysterious cover would draw me in, settle me into a quiet corner and by some mystery, only known to the universe, I would be able to read Swedish with ease. This didn’t happen. Mostly because the National Library is a research library as opposed to a fantasy realm. I walked in, felt embarrassed about my confusion and read for forty minuets to save-face before leaving. However, whilst I wouldn’t recommend the National Library’s interior the exterior is worth a look. The building is the size of a stately home and beautiful to look at. It’s also located in a park that’s equally picturesque on a pleasant day. Judge this place by its cover and don’t delve into the contents of the building then it’s a lovely place to spend a few hours.

Kulturhuset

I’m still not 100% certain on the purpose of this building. From the outside its five floors and name in giant letters, tempts or intimidates passers by. Kultur seemed close to the English word culture and people interested in that tend to be occasionally pretentious and have hot drinks. It sounded like my kind of crowd, so I headed in. Downstairs is a cinema (I wasn’t willing to pay for a film that may not have subtitles), there’s also two cafes, a book shop and three galleries. I went to the galleries because they were free if you are under 25. At the time one of the exhibits was shut but the National Design presentation and a fashion gallery were open. Normally, I’m not drawn to these kinds of displays but I headed in anyway. The clothing exhibit was clothing and as always it will remain a mystery to me. A few pieces stuck out but for the most part I struggled to reconcile how designers match what they want to create with profitable clothes. However, one display stuck in my head that I’d like to mention, Human by Linea Matei. The exhibit focused on cartoon depictions of humans which were used as prints onto pajamas. I’m not sure why I liked Human the most but I’m glad I saw it.

The National Design Exhibit was a much more grotesque affair. It was more memorable because of the visceral motif: the body. With interactive machines that measure your pulse, glass cases with breathing faux lungs and cubes of what looked human meat, the exhibit left me slightly nauseous but impressed with the numerous ways human matter can be interpreted.

Old Town

This was actually the first place I went to in the day. Unfortunately, most exhibits don’t open until 11am, so I left for the national library and returned later. There are many many things to do here: The Royal Palace and armory; the Nobel laureate museum and several other museums; or just wandering around the buildings and admire how it’s like walking through Balmory. Looking for free things I went to the Royal Armory, the parts of the palace that don’t charge and the economy museum. All three are brilliant. The armory was my favorite with basement carriages and royal sledges. The main exhibit displays Swedish military weapons and armor alongside the history of the royal family and the wars the now neutral nation engaged in. The free palace sections are filled with stunning carvings and paintings. Walking through inspires wonder at the fading masonry skills in stone the world is slowly losing. Finally, the economy museum is filled with old coins throughout the world and serves as a reminder that trade has unified the planet longer than any other cohesive method. I didn’t get to view all the economy museum because it was time to return for supper but I shall wander it more completely next time.