Stories from inside a Berlin apartment.

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bulb // plant // blur

Kreuzberg

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The Great(ish) Escape

I work in the attic of an old synagogue in Cheetham Hill, from this attic we sell goth clothes to traders. In my early teens when I indeed had my turn experimenting with the gothic look, I would spend my weekends in Afflecks and would walk out with items from the brand. The company has been strongly established as a market leader for the last 25 years, but the sad truth is the Goth scene is not as thriving as it once was.

We used to have people coming to buy all the time, however, sales are down and hardly anyone ever coming to our warehouse. We rely soley upon our online sales, through a heavily unreliable and outdated website built by a 16 year old some years ago. We do no advertising and a lot of the stock on the website is sold out. We are managed by a middle aged man who’d only been an accountant before coming here and doesn’t really get the industry or know how to run a business. The owners refuse to invest anymore money, instead they cut corners and produce less. The designer stopped coming in, they didn’t want to pay her rates, we were just rehashing old designs in new colours to great unsucess, Over time the quality if the fabric and dyes decreased and we go a lot of returns of faulty garments.

The work team has reduced over the year from five to three to two.

As I sit here writing this, my colleague has just been sacked. I’ve found out I’m going to be working on my own. Just last week I’d gone into my boss’s office with the intention of securing a slight increase in pay per hour as I’m currently on the minimum wage. I’ve been working here for nearly 2 years, 2 years hard work and practically running someone else’s business. I’ve been responsible for training

My boss just smirked when I asked if he’d consider giving me more money – I knew there’d be no way he’d agree to the living wage so I tried to haggle for at least a little more, maybe 20p per hour.

He starts asking me how much my rent is and why do I need more money anyway. I decide to leave his office before I explode. Now looking back, what’s even more insulting is that he will have known at the time that he was letting my colleague go and that I’d be working on my own, doing everything.

As I sit here this afternoon, I’m thinking, cogs are working, I’m looking around I’m planning my escape. I could walk out right now, should I just walk out? No instead I’ve decided that when my boss is back in tomorrow I’ll hand in my resignation and from this point on I will not do any work. There are no orders on the website so I’m meant to be taking inventory of our items on Amazon and updating the sold out stock but instead I think I’ll read my book.

He wouldn’t notice what I was doing anyway. It’s the sad truth and it took me a while to realise it but he really had no idea what we did there. When I first started I would go to him if I was unsure about something or if I’d forgotten how to do something on the website and he would tell me to “use my initiative” and that I shouldn’t be asking him what to do all the time as it’s unporfessional. My other colleague at the time was as quiet as they come and liteally would never say a word. He’d be off in another corner doing something else so I couldn’t ask him either. There was no one to go to. Feeling scolded and as though I was an idiot I would go back to my desk and try for hours at something that just wasn’t working. Our website was compacted to use sometimes, the back end had many functions and ways of doing things that I had never come across before. I would have to google things on line and try and look in forums etc.

I have no respect for employers that have no respect for their empolyees.

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Sour-d’oh

Sourdough bread can be hard. It all begins with a good starter, equal parts water and flour mixed together and fed daily to activate the wild yeast. I first attempted sourdough earlier in the year with a starter that was given out at an environmental event as part of Glasgow International Festival. It was a small pot of starter and as soon as I got back to Manchester I began feeding it. It grew and grew and was happy and healthy with a really good sour scent and was a joy to look after. Once a week was up I decided to use some of the starter to make my first loaf. The dough looked great and after extensive kneading and a lengthy rising it was ready to bake.

However my oven – an old gas thing with an ill fitting door that you have to light by hand- failed to get to a high enough temperature so the dough wasn’t cooking as it should. This meant I had to leave the loaf in longer to cook the inside, resulting in a hard outer crust.

ATTEMPT #1

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Starter lookin’ good

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Out of the oven, solid as a rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ATTEMPT #2

On my second attempt I didn’t get past the starter. I began a new jar feeding it for three days but then I was away and unable to feed it for a bit. When I returned the flour and etawer has separated and a thick film layer had formed in the mixture. It had a foul alcohol-like smell 😦

I tried to rectify the issue by scraping off the top layer and pouring half away before adding more fresh flour and cold water… but this proved to be futile.

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ATTEMPT #3

Began a fresh sourdough starter today. Hopefully the end result will be better than attempts #1 and #2

Results COMING SOON

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FIKA FORVER!! [Quite lenghthy] Tales of a Scandinavian InterRail

COPENHAGEN
It’s the Summer of 2015. My best pal Steph and I have arrived in Copenhagen clutching our InterRail passes. Nothing can dampen our giddiness. Not even when we come out of the airport and accidentally board a train to Sweden instead of the one to Copenhagen’s centre. Nor the weird man at the station on the way back who tries to steal an empty bottle from Steph’s bag.

Anyway, finally having resumed the right track, armed with a poor sense of direction and an abundance of enthusiasm, we set off in search of our hostel to drop off our shamelessly overpacked rucksacks. We walk through an area which we were later informed is Copenhagen’s Red Light district, all we really encounter however is one ‘adult’ shop and only the slightest whiff of skunk, merely suggesting a more laid back atmosphere than that of the bustling centre. We found Woodah Hostel easily enough, our accommodation for the next 2 nights. We are welcomed in and offered a drink of hot tea and a tour of the place. We are shown to our beds, which we had been warned in advance were ‘boxes’ and were now confirmed they literally were floor to ceiling boxes. Steph’s bed was high up at the top, mine at the bottom with only an entrance at one end and resembling a coffin, but it was all part of the fun! The hostel had only been up and running for 3 years and is based on the concept of offering the budget traveller cheap and charming  accommodation in an otherwise expensive city. We are big fans of this concept.

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Woodah Hostel offers yoga, games, activities & great food but with only 48 hours in Copenhagen we just had time to quickly freshen up before heading out again and begin our exploration of the city. Fortunately for us, on the Manchester > Copenhagen flight we’d been seated next to a local, late 20’s, cool. She’d nodded sympathetically at our guide book and then offered up a whole myriad of alternative must-do’s for our time in Denmark. We’d hungrily eaten up and her advice and now parade the written list as we walk the streets.

First up were the obligatory trips to The Danish National Gallery then Copenhagen’s Cathedral before a spot of lunch. Then onto Amalienborg Palace and later a look around Marble Church and a couple of other smaller galleries and furniture shops (at the advice of the dane on the plane had said the Danish Museum of Design was a no-no rip off so to check out some cool furniture shops for free – oh and did we check out some of these) Then lots of pictures of architecture were taken before ending the day with in Nyhavn, beer in hand, sitting out by the water watching boats. A little tired we headed back to the hostel where we were able to change and take a seat in the empty yoga room to read and chat and plan tomorrows activities. We left the door open and one of the other travellers came to join us – a new friend was made and a proposed trip to the Louisiana Art Gallery in the morning. Then the group of French girls came in and we played cards before retiring to the dorm where we sleep happy in our boxes.

In the morning we set off nice and early for Louisiana  Museum of Modern Art. We board a train which takes us 20 miles north of Copenhagen. Alighting at Humlebæk, we had no clue where to go but luckily we were able to follow a group headed in that direction. We walked for a round 10 minutes down a long road when finally we turn off and are facing the gallery. There’s a queue despite us arriving so early so we wait in line, buy our tickets, then enter through the gift shop. After putting our things in a locker we walked around, first exploring the outdoor sculptures, taking in also the views of Copenhagen across the shore before returning in doors to explore the interior exhibitions.

A personal highlight was the fantastical installation by Yayoi Kusama; we queue for a while without being given any indication as to what we will experience inside. We are only told 1 or 2 are aloud into the room at any one time, and when it’s your turn the Gallery Assistant opens the door and tells you to watch out for the water and to not stand too close to the edge. Once inside the door is closed behind you and a little bewildered you look around in amazement. Gazing all around you pace up and down the short narrow walkway, careful of the water either side of it. With no limit on how long you can spend in there, it’s definitely easy to lose all sense of time and definitely out-stay your welcome.

Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away

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Did take a picture but phone randomly deleted… so here’s one off the internet

In the afternoon after spending hours in the gallery and post snack in the cafe, we have time to pay a visit to Christianshavn. First we look up Vor Frelsers Kirke, a crazy old baroque thing with an external spiral staircase, the tallest church in Copenhagen. Anticipating my fear of heights kicking in I’m a little hesitant at first but nevertheless we decide to go on up. There’s not much to look at interior wise in the church, the staircase is steep and narrow and you have to keep stopping and moving to the side to let people coming in the opposite direction pass you, but once we come out to begin the external section we were greeted with the most amazing view. We take a couple of pictures of the view then start making our way up round the outside. It’s very windy and we’re being blown about as the staircase spirals round and round and round… Steph, starting to feel a little wobbly at this point stops and clings to the side. Unsure how high up we are we don’t know weather to keep going or turn back. Steph stays and takes more pictures and I decide to see how close to the top we are as I’m sure the top is just around the corner… Each time I feel the stairs tapering to the end I’m wrong and then try to turn back but people keep coming up behind me and I rhave to keep going for god knows how long. Finally the stairs do taper to a point and I reach the top where theres a squashed bunch of tourists stood taking pictures. I look over the edge and feel my knees wobble then decide that’s good enough and it’s definitely time to head back down.

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A fearful Steph clings on for dear life

After a rest on a bench and Steph recovered from the bout of vertigo, we walk to Freetown Christiania. When we arrive at the entrance of the neighbourhood we observe that the vibe differs greatly from the rest of the Copenhagen that we know and love. Because well, Copenhagen is perfect, voted the best place to live – and for good reason – with its clean streets, idillic architecture, good education, happy & beautiful people – yet now here we are walking through graffiti-ed warehouses and by people selling weed from booths and we see a guy not wearing shoes. There’s no swanky restaurants, no slick furniture shops, not really anything commercial going on at all. People have their own kind of style here, clothing is layers and quite a lot of camouflage, there’s also almost a passive aggressive attitude of “this is how we do things here” with signs and rules written everywhere. We see countless NO PHOTO signs. We check out a little arts space, where we don’t receive a warm welcome but we admire some of the art produced by those in the commune and we get an insight into the projects they’ve been working on. There is a strong sense of community but with it comes a niggling air of pretension, like are the residents just the ultimate hipsters of Copenhagen who’ve rejected mainstream society. Nevertheless, here we find somewhere to drink (affordable) beer, people watch and listen to th  free live music, which turns out to be a nice end to the evening and we toast the end of our time in Copenhagen.

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Freetown Christiania

MALMÖ
Having checked out of the Copenhagen hostel we make tracks towards central station to get a train to Malmö. It’s time to get out our InterRail passes again and we are more than excited. We fill in our journey on the dotted line GOTHENBURG – MALMÖ in our best handwriting. We haven’t made reservations but find seats easily enough and enjoy the relatively short 1 hour train ride.

Arriving at the other end, we leave the rail station to find that it has begun to rain. We duck for cover in a nearby tourist information office and pick up some leaflets while we’re there. Once the rain eases off we set off on our way, starting with having a nosey in a little church that’s close by. We then spend the rest of the day wandering and stop off for a lovely late lunch before going on to inspect Malmö castle and gardens. We cover a lot of ground and get a quick look in the museum too before it closes, then end the afternoon taking pictures in front of some windmills. The weather improves and after sitting out for a last drink it’s time for us to leave Malmö and move onto our next destination, Gothenburg.

GOTHENBURG
The train from Malmö to Gothenburg takes around 2 hours and with us being fairly tired we’re happy that we get seats and it’s a smooth enough ride. We had texted our couchsurfing host earlier in the day, (To keep our accommodation cheap we had decided to split our stay between budget hostels, AirBnb & couchsurfing), he’d previously text us during the trip saying that he was away on a work trip but would be back in the evening, hopefully around the same time as us. We hadn’t heard from him yet so texted him again en route. Once we had pulled into Gothenburg we finally got a text from Jesse saying his plane has been delayed but he’ll be there soon. He gives us the address and tells us to go on and head for the property and he’ll come and meet us there. We stop to get some food and then with no directions we figure out a bus to get to the area in Gothenburg where his property is. The bus takes around 40 minutes and we watch through the windows as we are taken further and further from central Gothenburg.

We get off an the stop near Jesse’s apartment as originally instructed. Lurking at the bus stop are two unsavoury looking characters, so we immediately cross the road to avoid them. By now it’s dark and we can barely make out street names, so we hope we’re in the right place. We pause in a shop doorway in order to text Jesse to let him know we’re here. Then we wait. There’s a gang on the corner watching us. Jesse finally replies that he’s still in the airport and not knowing how long he’ll be advises us to find somewhere safe to wait, as he doesn’t think it’s a good idea to just hang around on the streets. He tells us of a bar that’s open, but it’s in the opposite direction to Jesse’s place. We walk further down the street in search of this bar. Everything looks closed, the buildings seem old and neglected, there’s no sign of life or anything going on. But then we see a red light in the distance, in the middle of the darkened street, we have found our bar.

There are a couple of local women stood outside smoking, they seem fairly merry and grab us as we try to pass them. They’ve recognised straight away that we’re obviously tourists. And it appears they have a warning for us, “I wouldn’t be wandering around her on your own, girls, it’s very dangerous”, they say in their perfect English. They ask us where we;re staying tonight and seem concerned when we point down the street Jesse’s flat is in. “There have been 2 shootings recently, and lots of gangs fighting”.  Steph and I exchange glances, thank the women and then enter the pub, growing increasingly restless at the current state of affairs. The place is dead, there’s no-one manning the bar either. We take up a stool at the counter, I rest my head down and start to close my eyes, then the bar man appears out of no-where, smacks his hand down near my head with a bang. I sit back up. He gives us a look, buy a beer or get out kinda look. I squint behind him at the row of alcohol, it’s all so expensive. I look down and make sure I don’t make eye contact with him again. It’s getting later and later, we’re absolutely knackered, stuck in what seems like the seediest dive bar in the dodgiest part of Gothenburg, waiting for a guy we’ve never met to take us to his apartment and we can’t even afford a drink; the situation could literally not get worse. Then we hear a loud cackle through the speakers.

We turn to see a wild-eyed lady stood in the middle of the bar brandishing a microphone. The karaoke has started. They say it isn’t over until the fat lady sings; and whilst I’d hate to comment on anyone’s weight, believe me when I say this is definitely GAME OVER. Our ears are now met with a deafening semi-operatic rendition of The Cranberries’ Zombie. It’s very loud and we are very tired and we are convinced that everywhere else in Sweden is closed right now and we just want to be in bed.

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LAST CHANCE SALOON; before the karaoke, expensive drinks purchases, American Psycho

A man with a limp walks into the bar, we wonder if it’s Jesse but then he starts hugging people and proceeds to take up a seat in the corner and spends the rest of the night staring Steph down. After greeting him, the barman comes back and stands before us, the bar is getting busy now, loads of people piling in (apparently for karaoke hour) and we’re taking up precious bar seats. I look back down at my phone, still no word from Jesse, I buy a gin and Steph buys a wine. Another wave of locals come bustling in, so far everyone has been middle aged then a younger guy comes and sits next to us at the bar. He then moves closer as he recognises straight away that we’re obviously tourists and he asks us where we’re from, and begins a conversation. He sees the guidebook we’re using and he wants to point things out and give us tips. We offer as much enthusiasm as we can command but then give up and apologise, explaining how tired we are and that we’re not out, we’re waiting for Jesse. He thinks this isn’t a problem and he says: “Girls, we can have drinks and you can stay with me”. Frying pan/fire springs to mind, then, just as it looked like we’d have to make a decision, I hear Steph say “I think Jesse is here.” She’s peering over my shoulder at the window. “Oh my god, Persis, he looks so creepy, he’s just standing there. He’s wearing a white blazer and white jeans”. I turn to have a look but Steph squeezes my arm; “Why is he dressed so white, he doesn’t look like he just got off a plane. It’s so American Psycho.” He doesn’t come into the bar he just continues to stand at the window watching us. We’re still sitting at the bar, we have a bad feeling about this. Should we go? Probably not, but I cannot express how tired we are. The guy we’ve just been talking to has his phone on the side so we tell him we need to take his number explaining our fear that something could happen to us and that we might need to contact someone. Bemused, he accepts the responsibilty and I take down his number. Then slowly, reluctantly, we gather up our things and exitting the bar, we go over to meet Sweden’s answer to Patrick Batemen.

He’s at least 10 years older than he looked in his picture. We are greeted with: “Hello, girls.” Then we start walking, he’s leading us from the bar and into the dark, Steph and I staying close and him asking us questions in low grunts. He snickers at the fact we chose to go in that particular bar (even though he’d told us to wait in there?!) then we ask him if he ever goes in, he turns back and looks over his shoulder smirking with: “No. I don’t like to go in that bar.” (in my head I imagine him stroking his lapel and saying this in a Hannibal Lecture f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f kinda way)

Next thing we know the three of us are squashed into a tiny lift going up and up in a run down apartment block. When the doors re-open we clamber out onto a dark corridor, he doesn’t tell us what floor we’re on nor does he help us with our bags. He shows us the front door letting us enter first before locking the door behind us. Bed for the night is the sofa or a matress that has been thrown on the floor. Steph goes for the matress and I take the sofa. He lets us start to unpack then anounces he’s going for a shower and disappears into the bathroom. I note that he goes in withour a change of clothes and sure enough 10 minutes later he comes back out damp, with only a hand towel clutched around his nether region. He then finds it appropriate to lean in the doorway attemtping full conversation. As we awkwardly avoid looking at him, he finally goes into his own room and lets us go to sleep.

In the morning we wake to see that we are alone, Jesse has gone to work, phew. We get dressed and look around, we hadn’t realised last night because it had been dark, but looking around now we notice that the apartment is not as it had appeared in the pictures. Surprise, surprise.  Once we’ve had a bite of fruit that we’d brought for breakfast we collect up our things for the day and go to let ourselves out. When low and behold, the front door doesn’t open. Jesse has locked us in. Steph and I exchange disbelieving glances. We try turning the handle again and various other knobs but the door is definitley locked. There’s a round metal thing on the door which looks like it could do something so we mess with that but it falls off so we have to figure our how to put it back on and that’s when we decide we have no choice but to call Jesse. He doesn’t answer. Maybe he’s keeping us in here so we get hungry and our skin loosens which makes it easier for him to get off. “Who’s face will he wear first…” Steph wonders aloud. We pace the flat looking for alternaitve exit routes, but being a few floors up with no fire escape stairs we didn’t really have any options.

Finally within the next half an hour my phone rings and it’s Jesse. He tells us where the key is and how to open the door. Ordeal over and plenty of time wasted we we head straight for the train station, as the weather is nice we decide to get out of the city for the day. There’s an island that we’ve read about that we think sounds worth checking out..

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have a great day.

 

MARSTRAND ISLAND
We decide to get as far out of Gothenburg as possible and as the weather is shinning down, we head on a trip to an Island north of the city. We get a bus, then a boat and we arrive on the shore of Marstrand Island. Marstrand is a quaint little fishing island lined with interesting architecture including the impressive fortress Carlsten. We venture the perimeter and walk up a steep hill to explore the old church. We then climb further up to find the entrance to fortress Carlsten. The sun is shining and we turn and admire the view of the island so high up before turning our attention to the entrance of the castle. We wonder if this is the place Steph read about, where the soul of a murdered priest haunts the grounds, but with the guidebook missing we can’t be sure so we ask the ticket office guy. At first he looks a little baffled but then kindly inform us that as far as he knows we are not walking on haunted ground. We then buy our entrance tickets and walk through a cafe/gift shop. Because of the heat we are very excited by the prospect of buying an ice-lolly and we ask the ticket man if we can walk round the castle with them. He nods and we skip on out to the main bit.

Fortress Carlsten, is an exciting explore. Origionally a prison for men, we get a glimpse into the inmates conditions and what went on, and also we read about the only female inmate, Metta Fock.  We walk through the grounds, exploring the cells and the fotress itself as a fascinating structure. We walk the perimeter and covering a lot of the castle before climbing a hill and across a covered walkway with a spiral staircase to get to the highest point. Here we look over the side of the stone castle wall out onto the tranquil scenery below. We take pictures and find a place to sit to enjoy the sunshine and reflect upon Marstrand. After a good couple of hours we decide to head back down to the exit. We find the staircase going down but then as we start to descend we realise this is not the way we came in, we’re being taken back into the castle. We try to go another way, convinced we’ve found the right way and there’s a brief moment where we think we have it, but then we spiral round to a dead end at the wall. Lost on what resembles Escher’s House of Stairs and absolutely perplexed as to how to go about getting down the way we’d come up, we decide the only way forwards is to climb over the bannister, edge across the roof and join up the right staircase on the other side. Or at least this is how I pitch it to a less-than-convinced Steph. We stand still, staring at the roof then in less than 30 seconds later we find ourselves clinging to the side of the fortress wall, caught up in the afternoon wind. Who’s stood below us but the ticket guy leading a tour group, they’ve stopped just below us. We move slowly and quietly in the hope we don’t catch their eye.

Post fortress climbing peril we head down to walk along the shore and have a leisurely wander down through the little houses and shops, where we make a few purchases. Each shop is very different, though all offering the quaintest gifts and trinkets, all made on the island; lots of handmade paper and clothing items etc. In one particualry charming seaside shop, run by a fisherman, I find a pair of interesting socks; I am informed they’re special socks for sea captains, the left foot coloured green with the right coloured red so he always knows starboard from port side. I also stumble across the bestest smelling soap in the whole wide world. After leaving this last shop we realise we are quite hungry so walk back along the stretch we had previously seen some restaurants. As to be expected on an island with a heavy fishing culture, most of the dishes on all the menus were seafood related. We found one pretty place with delicious sounding gnocchi option. We get comfortable. A quaint place, where the waiters are sons of fishermen who have lived on the Island for generations. Our waiter recommends a beer and shows us the menu. I go for the only vegetarian dish, the gnocchi; and egad, it’s the bestest, freshest, most delicious gnocchi I have ever tasted.

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Taking our minds off Jesse with some hipster beer 

Full and happy we wave good-bye and take the ferry back to the mainland and once ashore we head for a couple of beers in the cheapest place we can find (after purchasing captains socks, soap-on-a-rope and exquisite gnocchi, I’m especially watching that Swedish Krona) While relaxing in the comfy pub we receive a text from Jesse. It’s a picture of chicken drumsticks and he asks us if we’re hungry, we politely decline the offer and as we’ve just eaten anyway and I explain I’m vegetarian too. Our second beer takes us into the evening where we realise we’re tired and look at the time, knowing it’s time to head in. We exchange glances before making the emotionally arduous journey back to the apartment.

Of course when we get back Jesse is eating chicken in his underpants on the sofa (my bed.) “Hi, Girls!”
He asks us about our day and we answer and then wait for him to leave, turning our backs so we don’t catch sight of anything we wouldn’t want to catch sight of.
And then finally in bed, we laugh ourselves to sleep.

STOCKHOLM
A new day, excitement as we we pack up out things. Jesse is gone for work, we escape unscathed with only a cryptic iMessage about orange juice.

Gothenburg > Stockholm sees us encounter our first hiccup with our InterRail passes ; without reservations on a fully booked train we find ourselves having to keep moving seats at each stop as people get on and claim our seats as theirs. We do however find seats near the toilet that nobody comes to claim. We’re just happy to be on the way to Stockholm. Yay. We entertain ourselves with the most exciting game of Frustration ever had.

3 hours later we are arriving in the area of Södermalm where we were spending our last 24 hours in Sweden. Our AirBnb host, Olivia, on her lunch break meets us round the corner and takes us to the apartment. She shows us around the place, with high ceilings and beautiful features in a beautiful old building that she informed us was going to be knocked down in the next 2 years. She makes us promise we’ll enjoy ourselves and she urges us to not to just stay but to live, to make ourselves at home, to wear her clothes, to make a mess… As soon as she’d gone we sprawled out and unpacked our suitcases and certainly made ourselves at home. We later go on to spend the afternoon exploring Söder and have a little wander to the supermarket where we pick up a few things to take back. Steph throws together a veggie friendly tea and we sit by the window looking out onto the street below us. We have a restful night and a good sleep with time in the morning to check out a gallery or two before moving on to our next port of call.

OSLO
We say goodbye to Stockholm and set off for central station to catch the train to Oslo, our longest journey so far. The train is a large comfortable thing, it’s fairly empty when we board so we spread out and delight at the spacious seats and tables. The ticket inspector comes over, asking for our tickets then proceeds to eye our InterRail passes suspiciously. He gives them back to us and then walks off. We get comfortable for the ride but without reservations of course we hit trouble roughly two hours in when the train suddenly gets quite full and we have to move. We pass the inspector with the pony tail numerous times as we move for carriage to carriage looking for any free seat. An unsuccessful full circle sees us wind up in the restaurant car, sitting at a small table in the corridor. It’s quite cramped as they are not real seats. At the next stop the man with the pony tail walks by to check tickets. He see’s us and we think he’ll tell us to move but as he approaches his expression softens. He’s obviously seen us have to hop from seat to seat and probably pities us so he leaves us in peace. From the window we are still able to enjoy the views and our excitement builds as we approach Norway.

We arrive in the evening so decide to head straight to our AirBnb. It’s one that Steph booked so I’m excited to see the place. We are given the warmest welcome by Norway’s politest couple and they show us around their home. They live in a small but cosy apartment in central Oslo, over the years they’ve had many backpackers and travellers stay with them and they are keen to hear our story. We sit and chat with them for a while and they offer up some of the key things to experience in their city. It’s only around 9pm but they go to bed as one of them has to be up super early in the morning. We go to our room and quietly unpack our things then slip out for a drink as they’ve told us of a good pub further down the street.

Being midsummer in Norway, it’s still fairly warm and light at 9pm so we take up a seat outside the micro-brewery on the corner. The drinks are not cheap – unsurprisingly – but per pint value here is a little better that what we’ve experience up to now. We sit back with an IPA and are having a perfectly pleasant time when a group of Norweigan guys ask if they can join the end of our table. Being two friendly mancunians, we oblige. They are fine, having their own conversation but then they begin listening in to what we’re saying and interrupt our conversation to ask us questions. They are quite loud and are asking us a lot of questions, they’re then shouting across to a couple of guys at another table.

At this point I’d like to point out we have experienced nothing but friendly, warm, open-minded people on the whole trip straight through Denmark, Sweden & Norway. From the people we’ve stayed with to the people on the street who’ve offered us directions, everyone has been no less than a decent human being. This group of lads were the exception however, and the final straw was when a man of African decent walked past and one of them shouted “Black panther”. Steph and I were shocked and got up and changed tables. The guys made noises and questioned our decision to move seats so we explained that we didn’t want to sit with a racist. Reeling, we couldn’t finish our drinks quick enough and get out of there.

By morning, finally over the shock of the events from the night before we went for breakfast and then decided to set off on an excursion to the coast. Today was the hottest day so far and we fancied taking it easy and being beside the sea. Once on our way we chose to catch a boat over to Hovedøya Island, we’d heard it was worth a look and today felt right. The boat dropped us off at the edge and we started walking along a path. We eventually come to the ancient monastery ruins  The few others from the boat all split off in different directions so we too took our own path. We come across the old ruins of a Cistercian monastery, dating back to 1147, founded by English monks. We walk through the ruins which leads us round the island where we then come across wild flowers and trees which leads us to the beach where we stop to admire the view.

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Hovedøya Island 

BERGEN
The Oslo to Bergen train is hailed as one of the worlds most scenic train journeys; this is the journey we’ve been most excited to take. And it certainly lives up to our expectations… and then some. We pass through some of the most dramatic landscapes of Norway that we’ve seen so far; one minute we’re going through green countryside, the next through the snow covered mountains. After 7 or so hours we arrive in Beautiful Bergen.

We leave the station and step out into the sunshine and make our way to our hostel. Tonight we’re staying at the YMCA. Turns out it is fun to stay at the YMCA. We arrive on the reception area and wait to be shown our dorm. Before we enter we are given a bed sheet and a floppy pillow each. It a huge room with low ceilings and line after line of bunk beds. It’s quite crowded and there’s an interesting smell but we only have one night here so we don’t mind. We make our beds and put our bags in a locker then head back out to wander the Bryggen markets before they close. We get some ice-cream and wander to the When things start to wind down at the markets we look for something to eat. Earlier we passed an interesting looking cafe/restaurant called Pygmalion. We noted that it had a good looking menu with a few vegetarian options, unlike a lot of the cafes we’ve been to on the trip and with it being right next to our hostel it’s a no brainer! We have some great organic food and soak up the lovely atmosphere.

After our meal we decide to stop off at the local shop to pick up a couple of bits for breakfast, we decide to pick up some beers to take back to the hostel. We enter and ask him where the cans are but its just gone past the time it’s legal to sell alcohol and he is unable to sell us anything. He’s in the process of putting crates in the back and the door is open, we see all the booze but he respects the law and does not let us buy anything. We buy some sweets and head back to the hostel where we spend the evening in the communal area. A couple of the guys pass round a few tins of lager and we play games and chat with the other travellers, before retiring to bed at a good time in order to start the next day early.

The highlight of our stay in Bergen is our trip to Fantoft Stavkirke. We get a bus then have to walk a little. We follow the signs but it takes us a while to locate as it’s well concealed within a wooded area. Once we find the church we look on in amazement at the great gothic structure. Just inside the gate a man is sat at a small table and tells us we have to pay to go in. On the table he has a little tin containing change and next to it a few old postcards with pictures of the church on. We’re dubious about whether he’s an official ticket man or a resourceful local, but nevertheless we pay the the small entry fee he’s asking for and Steph buys one of the postcards. He then gives us the history of Fantoft Stavkirke. Originally built in Fortun in Sogn in 115, it was then moved to Fantoft in 1883 when threatened with demolition. It’s salvation came in the form of a wealthy business man who bought the church and moved it piece by piece to Bergen. Here it spent many a happy year, then in 1992 it was tragically burnt down in a suspected act of arson carried out by a member of the Norwegian black metal scene, a group who were responsible for a number of church burnings at the time. The church had to be rebuilt from scratch, the restructuring began soon after the attack and all work was completed by 1997.

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Fantoft Stavkirke

STAVANGER
We’ve been putting off the thought but now on the train, speeding towards our last stop, we have to face that we’re coming to the end of our journey.  We arrive in the picturesque old town of Stavanger in the early afternoon and head for our accommodation. For tonight’s stay we have a hotel, we have decided to splash out for our last night since we’ve done everything else so cheap. We check in, drop off our bags and put our inter rail passes away for the last time. We then head back out to see what was going on in Stavanger. We stroll the cobbled streets, admiring some of Norway’s most charming wooden houses, making our way to down to the harbour. We stop at a few shops on the way including a huge treasure trove of vintage and secondhand items, which we of course have to spend hours looking through. Find some great Nordic knitwear, shame we’ve run out of spending Krones. We have something small to eat and consider visiting the Norwegian Petroleum Museum.

Later that evening we arrive back at the hotel and crack out the mini bar. We sit on the bed and laugh at our photos and look back at our favourite moments before falling asleep in the worlds most comfortable bed. In the morning we go down for a cooked breakfast and then climb the stairs back to the room to pack up our things. When I look at my watch, I see it’s time to go and we walk to the bus stop outside the hotel. This is where we part ways; I board the bus to the airport to head back to Manchester. Steph’s flight is later in the afternoon as she’s catching a different one to Brighton. We say our goodbyes and after the longest hug I get on the bus and we wave at each other through the window, tears in our eyes.

Denmark, Sweden, Norway, you’re beautiful.

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Farewell, Scandinavia. Until next time…

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MY BALD HERO

I guess Persis is a fairly rare name but people seem really struggle with it or find it weird or patronise the ‘unusualness’ of it. I’m often asked where it  from and the truth is I’m not sure, it seems to be Persian with Ancient Greek origin.  So I get called Persia. And then get the mythological references made such as Pegasus and Persius all the time. People miss hear, mispronounce and misspell. Oh the spellings: perses, pursis, parses, parcis, persys, percis, perceis, curtis, perfif (yes) etc… I only really know of one other person with the same name as me; the actor Persis Khambatta who inspired my naming. My mum was a Star Trek fan and in the original feature length film she was particularly charmed by one bald alien from the planet Delta, played by Khambatta, thought she was beautiful with smooth head and all, deciding on the spot if she ever had a daughter she would give me her name. It made me wonder if the other Persis experienced name exhaustion, finding herself in Hollywood in the late 70’s with people having trouble understanding her name?? It made me realise that actually I did not know much about Khambatta and that after sharing a name for 23 years it was about time I looked her up.

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Persis Khambatta, bald ambition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Khambatta got her hair shaved for the role of Lietenant Ilia. In 1979 this was perceived as a shocking thing to do; the real life head shave was enough of a news item that it was filmed for promotional purposes.

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STAR TREK FILES:  Lieutenant Ilia was a female Deltan Starfleet officer in the 23rd century. She served aboard the USSEnterprise under the comand of Captain James T. Kirk.

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Khambatta was not just an actor/model. In the United States, she used her film success to campaign hard for ethnic minority actors to play ethnic roles, which were being cornered by white men in dark make-up. She then went on to write a book entitled Pride of India which was dedicated to Mother Teresa, with part of the royalties going to the Missionaries of Charity.

I was then sad to then find out that Khambatta had passed away as I’d assumed she was still alive, but she in fact suffered a heart attack in India and died aged only 49.
However, her memory lives on and every year fans descend upon Star Trek conventions baring their heads in her honour.

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She turned down a bond-girl role and went on to make history as the first bald female heroine. That’s my kind of girl. Persis Khambatta is my hero.

Rest in Peace

xxx

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The Humous Disco.

Discovery: humous makes a good alternative to butter. have it on wholemeal toast or  spread a generous amount on bread and top with fresh lettuce, tomatoes & red onion. Bob’s your humousy uncle.

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Eating Barcelona

Food in Spain? I begin having flashbacks to September 2015 when I was doing a stretch of the Camino De Santiago – my only previous experience of Spain. As most of the journey was long stretches of path with nothing in sight, food options mainly concerned of grabbing things in the odd albergue along the way or eating in peoples’ farmhouses in the small villages nearby. There wasn’t room to be fussy and there wasn’t always room to be vegetarian. Veggie options were just not catered for. My pleading “Sin Carne” would be met with raised eyebrows and confusion. At best I got a tortilla or cheese sandwich. At worst I got rice and ketchup. (Sometimes with banana fritters) Very interesting things but not always entirely appetising.

On a recent visit to Barcelona however, I discovered that Galicia and Catalonia have very different food; Barcelona being arguably one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe, I was ignorant to have been concerned that my meat-free requirements would not be catered for in this city.  I was quite frankly spoilt for choice. Vegetarian and vegan only restaurants were of an abundance, open late, serving beer…

Over the course of the week we ate at a range of delightful places from popular cafes in the trendy Barri Gotic to small tapas joints in backstreets to fancy restaurants near the sea. We had some nice beer in the Moritz brewery and good grub on the hoof at Primavera Sound festival. I had the added advantage of being there with a friend who was fluent and had lived in Spain for 10 years. We dined like locals, we dined like kings. Barcelona is definitely the place for foodies.

Below are our a round up of our top 3 dining experiences:

La Cereria Cooperativa
Part rustic vegetarian eatery, part musical instrument shop, La Cereria Cooperativa is a marvellous cafe with plenty of character within the famous Gothic Quarter. It’s easy to walk past without noticing it, we were casually strolling by one afternoon and happened to look through the window and the small, colourful place sparked our curiosity.

We stepped inside and took up a comfy seat at a table. We were served by the owner and we found out that the restaurant was a family run co-operative with organically sourced ingredients and locally brewed beer. On offer was an extensive vegetarian, vegan and gluten free menu consisting of hearty dishes including, veggie bakes, chilli, moussaka,curry, tacos etc.

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Sampling the microbrew

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We had a beer while we pondered the menu, then once we’d ordered we had a nosey look around. It was only a small place, one section was half a dozen tables and chairs the other half doubled up as a music shop. We looked in cabinets containing various instruments lining the walls, including an array of unusual collection of musical paraphernalia. In one corner was a pile of old sheet music and collection of posters. Also on sale were old records, tapes and second-hand CDs.

It was a pleasant dining experience and we were blown away by the list of specialist dishes and it was clear to see the passion for food and music. Enjoy your moussakka or savoury vegan pancakes whilst browsing for a vintage recorder.

El Xampanyet
Dining at El Xampanyet was a charming experience. Despite there not being much in the way of vegetarian options, what I could eat blew me away in this non fussy traditional Spanish champagne bar.

TAPAS PLACEWe entered  by pushing through the crowded doorway packed with locals (already a good sign) and managed to secure a seat. It soon became clear that this was a place that you came to if you wanted good tapas. Everyone seemed like a regular, the way the staff casually chatted with the diners, we observed lots of handshakes and high praise of the food. The menus were all in Catalan, so after having it translated we picked out a few dishes, then we sat back. Food arrived on simple white plates, the bread coming first, followed by olives
(delicous), tortilla (perfectly done), peppers (very tasty) and lastly cheese (which turned out to be non vegetarian so we offered it to a delighted journalist on a neighbouring table).

We looked around and admired the decor, many interesting pictures, signs, tiles hung from the tall walls. There may have been music playing in the background but it wasn’t heard over the energetic buzz of hungry locals engaging each other over their dinner.

CAT BAR
Poking out of one end of the Gothic Quarter we saw a black shop front that read CAT BAR. Having heard of it previously and with the sign out front confirming it was vegano we grew excited and decided we would stop by and grab something to eat.

CAT BAR DECOR 1

meow wall art

We enter the cafe and are instantly greeted by a relaxed vibe and the madly wonderful cat themed decor. If you love cats, it really is heaven. You’ll find painted murals on every wall, things hanging from the ceiling, while kitsch kitty ornaments line the bar top and shelves.

At the bar we were met with an impressive menu of artisan beers, even one being advertised as ‘ecological’. It was clear to us that ethics were integral to the concept of this cafe bar. Their passion and enthusiasm really came across in the chat we had with the girl behind the bar. It had been the only vegan eatery we’d found so far and the fact they were concerned with politics and the environment was a huge selling point.

CAT BAR FOOD

one hell of a tasty burger

After ordering a pint of Weird Beer (genuinely its name) we took up seats near the bar and browsed the menu. Also given to us was a small sheet of paper with a list of the food on with a tick box next to them. We were instructed to simply right on our table number and tick what we wanted then hand it in to the bar and the rest would be taken care of. Cat Bar is known for its burgers – there isn’t a vast choice of different dishes on the menu but we’d heard that what they do, they do well.

As soon as our burgers arrived we began tucking in. I’d been persuaded by the Mexican burger and wow it was delicious. A generous Mexican bean patty served on a toasted bun with fresh salad and hot sauce and when paired with a delicious artisan beer, it was pure heaven…

Priced at a reasonable 8 euros for the meal, you can’t get much more of a bargain.

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