4874 kilometers

036

Map of where I have been these past 4 weeks. It isn’t even accurate because it didn’t understand I went through Fraknfurt to get to Leipzig…

These past four weeks, I have travelled almost 5000 kilometers. I had to calculate the actual distance to make myself understand that it is reasonable to be exhausted and to be looking forward so much to just being at home. While other people anticipate going to nice places (because undeniably, the places I went to were nice), I’m super excited to be home and go about my regular life. To finally be able to participate in those Rhine picknicks, barbecue evenings and party nights my friends keep inviting me to.

But right now I am still on a train – going home from Leipzig where I went to the Bach Festival with my mother. So cultured, right? And you thought I was all about schlager. Like last year, when I first went to Leipzig, the city managed to charm me once more. It truly is the jewel of the German East – you just have to go there. Not only is the train ride there absolutely picturesque with its lakes and soft meadows passing by in the sunlight, the Leipzig people seem exceptionally friendly to me, the buildings breathe history and the city gives off this pleasant vibe that just makes me want to hang around there. If Leipzig wasn’t so far from where I feel somewhat at home, I would put it on my list of “cities I would move to”.

031

Transfer in Frankfurt – a station to impress

041 (2)

Thought-provoking Leipzig

047 (2)

Mom: “Fettbemmen is the bruschetta of Eastern Germany”

122 (2)

Behind the scenes of “Oh, we’re both wearing stripes, let’s take a photo”

096 (2)

Bach Concert in St Nicholas. Bach’s music sometimes sounds like film music, Harry Potter-ish. Which is a good thing. Also, I brought down the age average by 30 years.

Europe’s best kept secret

DSCF1435 (2)

Just some hundred years ago, Ghent was the European metropolis. Bigger than London and certainly than Berlin or Brussels, only Paris outranked it in population and importance. Today, the city is nicknamed „Europe’s best kept secret“. I couldn’t stop thinking about what that suggests for our contemporary places-to-be. Will New York City in 250 years be a charming university town, is Tokyo going to be some kind of romantic getaway in 300 years?

Ghent sure shows off its former significance – and wealth. The Cathedral alone with all its splendor would be enough to remind the visitors of the grand days; the Belfort, all the other churches, the castles and all the old houses recount the history that Ghent can be proud of. Even thought it’s a bit too medieval (they consciously revamped the city some years ago to make it look even older), it charmed me more than Antwerp and maybe even more than Bruges. (I mean, Bruges feels more like a theme park, albeit a wonderful one.) Ghent breathes student life and vibrant vibes. It has the reputation to be a bit of a hippie place with headstrong inhabitants and on our night arriving there, we sat outside a wonderful bar (De Alchimist if you wanna go) in the shadow of the very impressive Castle of the Counts next to us enjoying the lit up streets and young people strolling by. Oh, yeah, and we enjoyed one of the 16 variations of Gin Tonic the bar is famous for.

DSCF1402 (2)DSCF1404 (2)

DSCF1406 (2)

The first Ghenter I encountered, fell in love instantly.

DSCF1410 (2)

DSCF1411 (2)

Ghent has lots of interesting graffiti and our map guided us there.

DSCF1414 (2)DSCF1420 (2)DSCF1428 (2)DSCF1429 (2)DSCF1437 (2)

DSCF1459 (2)

Medieval Manhattan is what they call this skyline of three towers

DSCF1461 (2)

DSCF1464 (2)

“Again one car less”, this sign says

DSCF1447 (2)DSCF1465 (2)

DSCF1455 (2)

Jesus would disapprove

DSCF1457 (2)

Ghent sells very peculiar things

DSCF1453 (2)

In the midst of all cathedral, they built something that looks like a cathedral without walls, it serves as a public space for concerts

DSCF1451 (2)

DSCF1466 (2)

Dignity in dress and manners. Sounds like a generally good motto for life.

DSCF1468 (2)DSCF1471 (2)DSCF1473 (2)

DSCF1476 (2)

See the golden bar between the two houses? We couldn’t figure out if that is art or needs to be there to keep the houses stable.

DSCF1478 (2)

Adorbale umbrella logo

DSCF1480 (2)

DSCF1481 (2)

Do you see the graffiti cooks?

DSCF1483 (2)

DSCF1497 (2)

Waterzooi is something Ghenters eat a lot, it literally means Water Mess.

In Bruges

DSCF1148 (2)

It might speak of my ignorance if I say that the first time I really heard about Bruges was when the movies „In Bruges“ was new. In German, the title was „To see Bruges and die“ which suggested to me that if there was anything you should do before dying, it’s visiting Bruges. As I have not seen the movie, I have no idea if my interpretation is anywhere close to the plot (probably not), but it made me want to go visit the much-talked about town.

DSCF1268 (2)DSCF1290 (2)DSCF1293 (2)

DSCF1298 (2)

Is this art or can we interact with it for a photo?

DSCF1311 (2)DSCF1313 (2)DSCF1323 (2)DSCF1328 (2)

My friends patiently tagged along, warning me beforehand that Bruges was hyped. And boy, was the inner city crowded. I am not sure if I saw any locals at all, if we don’t count those working as tour guides, waitresses or horse carriage drivers. It’s not surpising tourists flock this town – it’s basically a living fairy tale. I would not have been particularily shocked if a knight in shining armor had turned up at some corner. Things I noticed Bruges has a lot of: lingerie shops and statues of Mary. Add to that the designated „kissing spots“ and tell me how that all works out together. The kissing spots were somewhat ironic: while they were mostly located at very romantic places in Bruges, they were so well known to tourists that any potential kissing would have to be done in front of an audience of on average 53 people. But maybe thats’s what rocks the boat for Belgians…?

I thought Bruges was absolutely picturesque but I would like to come back at 3 a.m. to be able to enjoy it in more privacy.

DSCF1321 (2)DSCF1336 (2)DSCF1339 (2)DSCF1342 (2)DSCF1346 (2)DSCF1347 (2)DSCF1351 (2)DSCF1353 (2)

DSCF1357 (2)

Oh and yes, by the way, Happy Pentecost!

DSCF1360 (2)DSCF1362 (2)DSCF1368 (2)DSCF1371 (2)

DSCF1379 (2)

DSCF1282 (2)

The weirdest thing we saw was an exhibition on the Bruges Belfried.

DSCF1283 (2)

“The Blue Eyed Lady”, a series sold for 700 euro each.

DSCF1284 (2)

DSCF1381 (2)

The afternoon we spent in De Haan where they have really pretty houses that all have names.

DSCF1382 (2)DSCF1383 (2)DSCF1387 (2)DSCF1389 (2)

Throw your hands in the air

DSCF1205 (2)

“Of all Belgian cities, we have the best style. […] Our dialect is a world language. […] We have the best nightlife. […] Our cathedral tower is the prettiest in the country. […] Even fleamarkets are fun in Antwerp. […] Antwerp has the best painters, theater makers, choreographers and fashion designers. […] We have the prettiest train station in the world. Every international newspaper has written so. […] We have soldiers on the streets. Lots of them.”

This is what the “Use it travel guide”, that believe has been written after the U.S. election of 2016, says about Antwerp, the city that marks the beginning of my road trip through Flanders with my Dutch friend and my Belgian friend. The last time we all saw each other as when we studied together in Uppsala, so it was about time for #beneger to reunite and see Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent.

Antwerpians don’t seem to be well-liked in Belgium and I still have not figured out if it’s jealousy or if they really are stuck-up. What I have learned so far is that the name Antwerp comes from “throw hand”: legend has it that local hero Brabo cut off the hand of a giant who wanted to tax people. He threw the hand away and that is what “hand werpen” means. So…throw your hands in the air to fit in, I guess.

DSCF1201 (2)DSCF1249 (2)DSCF1240 (2)DSCF1235 (2)DSCF1228 (2)DSCF1226 (2)

DSCF1197 (2)

Yeah, they mean seaweed

DSCF1196 (2)

DSCF1192 (2)

In the castle there is a photo machine and if you leave your picture, they put you up on a large wall in the month you took it

DSCF1185 (2)

DSCF1174 (2)DSCF1137 (2)DSCF1156 (2)DSCF1184 (2)DSCF1185 (2)DSCF1187 (2)DSCF1208 (2)DSCF1211 (2)DSCF1220 (2)DSCF1224 (2)

DSCF1148 (2)

While my friend Manon as enjoying her “lost bread” (Dutch for French Toast), the waitress got into a heavily violent fight that included choking, right next to us. Apparently Belgians are not avoiding conflict. Still a little shocked.

 

Life in transit

022 (2)

One thing people never believe me is that I don’t enjoy traveling. But really just because I do it a lot or maybe exactly because I do it a lot, I don’t like it. I don’t like packing, I don’t like being on planes and trains and I do like my own bed. These current ten days, I really live life in transit though. After the Southern Germany trip for five days, I was home one day to hop on a plane to Berlin for two days. I’ll be back tomorrow for 12 hours to continue to Belgium. Let’s say my planning skills have been better.

I am in Berlin for work, adding some time to see Michelle and Ingrid. This morning when I came to my meeting at the embassy, I was delighted to be greeted by my former intern who now works at the embassy. It felt almost like home!

020 (2)

027 (2)

Just one of many reminders that we are hanging out in the East of Berlin

021 (2)

The evening I got to spend with Ingrid who now lives in super hipster Prenzlauer Berg. (To get there from the embassy only takes the same amount of time as flying to Berlin from DĂŒsseldorf. Don’t you love traffic in the capital.) Everyone here either has to have a hipster beard or must be pregnant, it seems to be a rule. 

The neighborhood is very nice with lots of pretty restaurants and cafĂ©s. Also, the park area of only Prenzlauer Berg amounts to approximately the entire green area of DĂŒsseldorf, or so it seems. And Ingrid didn’t even show me Volkspark Friedrichshain yet.

037 (2)

Stop and smell the flowers.

A walk in the park with Heling

Idyllic beyond words

034 (2)Ascension Day this year is spent in a small town in the South of Germany. I was not aware of how idyllic this place is when I decided to go here and now, I’m just wandering around gazing at the charming environment in amazement. The town is a medieval one with two lakes, half an hour north of Lake Constance. In its city center, there are lots of small little shops and no chains. Instead, there is a store selling only nightwear and swimwear, a shop selling socks and stockings exclusively, a real butche shop that has German solid Hausmannskost for lunch, a book shop where they play the piano on Saturday mornings for customers.

There is the SpĂ€tzle museum, the art museum and the mobile home museum. The little movie theater by the lake called Seenema (See means lake in German) shows a good and high quality selection of films. The sun spoils the town with 28 degrees which makes people jump into the lake or get a paddleboat that looks like Herbie. Then there is the swan who also lives on the lake but I’ve heard reports that he’s friendly.

044 (2)040 (2)0037 (2)013 (2)

People keep getting married in the beautiful church overlooking the village, it seems, two brides already passed me by as I was sitting on one of the squares marvelling at the fairy tale setting. It reminds me a tiny bit of Sweden, of StrĂ€ngnĂ€s or maybe Gripsholm. I would not be entirely surprised to see Kalle Blomqvist dash out of one of the tiny streets with names such as Rabbit Street or Lord’s Lane. Maybe the nicest thing is that there is a cafe, restaurant or pub wherever you turn to – but not in the touristy way. Even though this is a spa town, there are lots of young people hanging out on the squares drinking Most, and occasional obvious foreigners melt into the crowd that seems so relaxed as if there were on an endless vacation. I live in a house from the 14th century and the floor is not straight at all. At night the half-timbered walls make tock-tock sounds and to go to the bathroom, I have to climb over a 30 centimeter difference in floor level. It’s all so romantic, I might even consider coming back.

046 (2)

Selfie-proof I am here and the butchery exists. #wurstsalat

Del 34 i citatsamlingen

Man börjar ju undra: varför Àr inte jag sÄ sympatisk som Kim KÀllström?

Mein Bewerbungsbild kann ich nicht nehmen. Auf dem Foto sehe ich aus wie ein Indianer!

Jag Ă€r kissnödig. – Sa du quiznödig? Jag har gjort ett quiz om Lil’ Pesto!

Har alla i BĂ„stad alltid Ralph Lauren skjortor?

Jag tĂ€nker mina barn kan ha tre faddrar. – Vad blir det, en gudmor, en gudfar och en gudhen?

Stockholm Social Race

“But you did manage to really do a lot this weekend”, my friend Marita said this afternoon during the 23-minute-lunch I could have with her at her home. Staying with her is really such a wonderful thing because I get to come and go as I want and she’s taking care of me with advice, food and most of all an extremely understanding attitude towards my day time absence during most time of my stay.

Other people run marathons. I do the Stockholm Social Race. I’ve been doing that for many years now, several times a year, but I feel my performance is not improving. I am still a time optimist and I still try to fit in too many people into too little hours. Because what am I supposed to do, who am I supposed to say no to if everyone is such inspiring, cosy, beloved company? As I only had 72 hours this time, of which I had to work almost one whole day, I already missed two thirds of the people I would have wanted to hang out with, too.

For being able to see the remaining one third, among them my French friend Laure exemplifying that if you don’t meet regularly you’ll miss serious life changes ( since we last met a few months ago, she managed to get married and is due to become both a mom and a Swedish citizen shortly), I cut down on sleep this time. I’m sure that’ll haunt me until next weekend, failing to catch up on rest, but it was worth it. My first night I got to spend a calm, much needed girls’ night with Marita on her sofa, the next day after work I hung out with Bianca. We headed to Gallerian and ate a foccacia because that’s one of our earliest memories of our friendship from seven years ago. Back then, she convinced me to dye my hair blonde and introduced me to the Italian toast, all in Gallerian. If they were not constanly rebuilding and opening and closing shops in Gallerian it would have felt just like back in the day.

Friday evening saw even more nostalgia when we had a somewhat unexpected Uppsala reunion. What had originally been planned as a dinnner with Tabea and me turned into a lovely meet up of my former room mates William, HĂ©lene and Paul – first time in four years in that constellation!

DSC00170 (2)DSC00217 (2)059 (2)DSC00230 (2)

For Saturday, I had vowed to not go through all the shops I usually roam. I can nevertheless inform you that le derni cri is flounces at the shoulders and pleated long skirts. Instead of buying those, I looked for a new pencil skirt – an item I actually needed. ÅhlĂ©ns has taken out all my favorite brands so after Malin, who had come up from Karlstad to see me, and I left there empty-handed, she said, “You know, Helen, I’m thinking, as you like old ladies’ stores, shouldn’t we check at Dea Axelssons?” Ouch! Dea Axelssons is really an old ladies’ stores. Even for me. However, Dea Axelssons also had the greatest skirt. So I guess now that I’m getting closer to 30, it’s come that far, I’ve passed that Dea-frontier.

IMG_6501 (2)

Since I fell in love with Haymarket last time, we ended up there again this time. They have scones that definitely exceeded my expectations.

IMG_6502 (2)IMG_6505 (2)

IMG_6552 (2)

My dear Malin, with what I call a bit of a Noora-facial-expression

022 (2)

Happy Spring – let’s all continue to dress in black

021 (2)

Malin attacking a hipster lego man (notice his hat)

009

IMG_6636 (2)img_6616IMG_6600 (2)IMG_6595 (2)

Malin had planned quite a happening for Saturday night: she’d booked us into a karaoke room and invited her former co-workers to come. I was very impressed with the performances to say the least. These (impossible-not-to-like) guys could sing, even without previous alcohol intake. In Germany, you can hardly find a man who will dare to sing in the comfortable anonymity of a choir let alone get on stage and do a whole-hearted “Circle of Life”-show. There is no denying it, Sweden is a singing nation and I love that. I think I personally mostly excelled at the schlager with “Det gör ont” being my most expressive act.

Somehow the night kept continuing even after the karaoke and I fear that all the money I saved on not buying new clothes went to buying alcohol. On the list of things I do not miss about Stockholm goes, apart from the gravel on the streets between October and May that keeps getting into my shoes, the following: alcohol prices (15 euros for a tiny cocktail), ridiculous admittance policies at clubs, artificial shortage of seats (in pubs), space (in clubs) and housing (in general). Going out is so difficult in that city, it made me appreciate the German culture and especially the Rhineland ways of going out. Maybe it was that that prompted a sudden emergence of #dizzelpride because I started selling DĂŒsseldorf to everyone around me. Inexpensive wine, 25 degrees and sunshine, relaxed people hanging out by the water, excellent affordable sushi – Malin remarked surprised that I’d never advertised my city of residence this well before.

026 (2)

We concluded the night at McDonald’s after the casino strictly refused to let us in. (I had hoped to win 4 million Swedish crowns to be able to afford a two-room-apartment in the outskirts of Stockholm.) Going to the casino meant going back and forth between the South and North Island which gave us the opportunity of analysing all the advertisments in the subway. I will probably never cease to be intruiged by Swedish advertisement and I tell myself I managed to instill at least some enthusiasm among my company.

014 (2)

012 (2)

There is something greater than Stockholm, this ad by the Swedish Forest Initiative tells the inhabitants of the capital. Other posters read, “There is something greater than fredagsmys, Friday night coziness”.

I came home at 5 am which makes that night quite a milestone in my Stockholm history. Also because it was the night I at first try correctly identified a southern SmĂ„land dialect in one of Malin’s friends and another of her friends misidentified me as being from the north of Sweden, something Malin non-chalantly commented with, “You may give me the credit for that”.

Needless to say, Sunday was a hungover, tired day but any possible I’m-gonna-die-feeling was blown away by the radiance of Andrea who I met at Cafe String. (Which my phone kept autocorrecting to Cafe Strunt.) Because Marita lives in the south, I’ve put most of my activities this time on Södermalm to shorten my commute. The funny thing is though that I barely ever hang out on Södermalm so I literally have to check google maps not to get lost. (So does Andrea. We must have looked like tourists but really we just rarely left Östermalm/GĂ€rdet/City, I guess.) That did not stop a German girl to ask me for directions though, something that made me very happy as I apparently still have an air of I-know-where-I’m-going. I succefully pretended to know where Bellmansgatan is located. Also, I deeply impressed her with my German language skills.

064

Last tea before departure with Bianca on top of Stockholm

Despite the flight being overbooked, I made it home. In the security check, they frowned confused at my eclectic collection of imports: cheese, colored feathers, paper easter eggs and snus. Things change: before, I always would’ve brought the Amelia magazine and I’d always have been heart-broken to leave. Today, I buy VĂ€sterbottensost and I’m relatively okay with returning to spring temperatures. Relatively.

Citatsamling del 31, Stockholmseditionen

Hen Àr tysk, men trevlig.

Hennes efternamn Àr som en tagg i mitt öga.

Du Ă€r en riktig hetspelle. – Det kan jag ta. Det Ă€r faktiskt nĂ„t fint!