Arcticterntalk.org

The blog of a travelling psychiatrist and football lover. Who happens to be a halfway decent photographer. Takes a cynical view of the world

Archive for the category “Cities EU”

Reflections on 24 hours in Stockholm and Reasons to walk around. Did I find a blonde version of Elisabeth Salander?


One of the many curious things you notice about Stockholm is the absence of lots of things that I have seen a lot of recently in other cities. People look healthy and generally contented. They talk more quietly and are more polite and respectful of personal space. There is little evidence of many people furtively smoking, and little evidence in the central part of the city of graffiti art.Not many homeless people are to be seen either, although as dusk was falling a few were trundling their trolleys with their worldly posessions into what will be their home for the night.  So Stockholm contrasts very strongly with Madrid, Amsterdam and Gothenburg. There also was not the sometimes slightly threatening and certainly disconcerting sights of beggars ( often immigrants to that country) aggressively trying to obtain money or sell unwanted goods to passers by. A huge contrast to Madrid where it seemed every 50 yards or less someone was thrusting, often literally, cups or containers into your face in an attempt to get donations of money.

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Stockholm Railway Bridge

It is very difficult to base a realistic appraisal of a city on a mere few hours walking around but it has a calm aura. I saw signs for places that I recognise from Stieg Larssons books such as Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In fact a thin girl, very thin, walked past me, short blonde hair, looked like she had cut it herself, and I glanced at her and she at me, and I thought, blonde Elisabeth Salander. She had many of the real features of the character, unlike the incorrectly cast Rooney Mara. Signs pointed to Gamla Stan, Aftonbladet, Sodermalm and Kungsholmen, all names that sounded so familiar from the books. A man scurried past who also might have been Mikael Blomquist.

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Aftonbladet

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Vasagatan

An air of affluence pervades the city, with few walkers by looking poor. Clothes are generally smart and people walk with their heads held high. In the whole 2 hours of walking the only exception to this rule was a group of three dubious characters drinking beer and other poisons on one of the walkways by the river. There was little evidence of the prominence of the graffiti art that so adorned Amsterdam and Madrid. In the city centre one had to look hard to find any and the little there was decorated bridges over the railway less favoured with pedestrians.

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Stockholm Graffiti Art

Central Station is a hub for the city with many trains going in all directions, over bridges and people walking in a thousand different directions at once. Everywhere you look there are important looking monuments and statues. The station somehow comes to life even more when it snows.

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Snowing in Central Station

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Trains escape Stockholm Station

In the world famous Karolinska Hospital and Institute a huge painted mural is the focus of the entrance and outside buses advertise the ABBA museum where we can all become instant dancing queens.

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Who wants to be a Dancing Queen?

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Karolinska Hospital Mural

A walk along the river provides a back drop to the city with steeples and important looking buildings rising out of the dusk. The daffodil bulbs have been slow to wake up and grow.

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Slow Waking Daffodils

At dusk many of the buildings look formal and a little grand and loom up out of what is left of the little fading light. There was an air of grandeur emanating from many of them without even knowing their purpose with an imposing look.

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Central Stockholm

The air was cold, two degrees Celsius in fact, with snow forecast for two days time and one could almost smell that in the air. The coffee shops do a brisk trade. They serve you quickly and are many  hierarchies above Starbucks and Costa Coffee in both their friendliness and ability to serve customers quickly. Not cheap though, with a coffee poured from an urn, some Colombian special coffee 39 SK, so to me 5 euros. The shops were warm and inviting and many of those inside were similar to me, single people in there for a reason, using their computer or talking on the phone to escape transiently the cold.

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Central Stockholm

Generically though there is a massive difference to the  UK in that anyone serving be it coffee, food or hotel workers, are unfailingly polite and respectful and provide a clear service, instead of the sometimes angry and often indifferent service that one gets in UK. And I think I am right. Contrasting similar workers in similar shops in both countries.

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Central Stockholm

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Central Stockholm

Sweden is not a cheap country though. A salami pizza, maybe 50% larger than needed or usual, cost 180 SK, so around 20 euros. A return ticket on the Arlanda Express, which takes you directly from Arlanda airport to central Stockholm is 520 SK.

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Central Stockholm

The highlight of the short walk around was smelling then finding a small stall on the edge of the water selling crepes and waffles decorated with the most gorgeous and calorific toppings. I can recommend paying 60 SK for a waffle covered with Nutella and white chocolate, that was less rich then it sounded but a perfect antidote and therapy to the cold that was making hunger come to life.

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Waffle

Reflections on 24 Hours in Madrid


Central Madrid is a fascinating place and full of fascinating people. In some regards it is like Amsterdam in that one can walk to most places with a little bit of planning. Despite daytime temperatures being as high as 16 degrees celsius, many locals dressed in warm coats suggesting that Madrid was a suburb of Antarctica. Smoking was it seems obligatory with no actual need to buy cigarettes as breathing the air in certain places would contain just as much nicotine. I am surprised that there these many cigarettes left in Madrid. Getting from Madrid Barajas Airport is painless taking around 20-25 minutes and costing in March 2016 a fixed fare of €30 and the taxi drivers do not seem to expect a tip.

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Epidemic of smoking in Madrid

The one thing to get used to very quickly is that Spanish locals tend to push and shove more than other Europeans and I doubt a word exists for ” to queue” in the Spanish dictionary. A nice facet was that many locals did not or chose not to speak English, meaning that it was essential to at least try and convey questions in Spanish. I like this. Why should we expect the world to speak our language and make little attempt to speak theirs?

The day seems to start late for most citizens of Madrid and the streets and parks are almost empty at 11 am which makes early visiting a good option. A downside is the plethora of mostly dreadful accordion players and other “musicians” making a fearsome noise totally unwanted, then waving various sized containers in your face for money. I would happily donate to stop them playing but that seems a little mean.

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Parque Del Buen Retiro

Madrid is a busy city and most pavements and walkways even in the parks are crowded and  do not expect the Spanish to be fast walkers. Plenty of cafes and bars, and various eating places. There is another curious Spanish habit, in that they do not like their food hot in temperature. Even when food starts hot it is often served on cold plates, such as my omelette in the hotel this morning.

Madrid does seem to be divided into two very different parts. The city centre shopping area in and around Gran Via is incredibly busy and in fact I can only recall the pavements of Hong Kong being busier and almost impassable at times. Everyone carries it seems a dozen shopping bags and the entrance to Primark looks like a football crowd. In contrast the parks may get busy but are essentially beautiful places to walk and very relaxing. At the end of Gran Via however one reaches Plaza Espana with some interesting monuments and areas of grass to relax on. One statue has to be seen from a couple of directions to avoid giving the wrong impression of what is intended to be conveyed, which is the pouring of water!

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Very easy to get the wrong impression of this statue in Plaza Espana

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Plaza Espana

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The Dark Horses look like Ring Wraiths from Lord of the Rings with reflections

 

There are so many places to visit that a simple article cannot begin to make many recommendations, however I would make two specific ones:

  1. To avoid Gran Via, in the day unless shopping or the need for food outlets like KFC, MacDonalds and Burger King, are on your Madrid agenda, as the place is packed. Nightime it becomes a place where there are lively bars, with many choosing to sit out on the pavements.
  2. Spend a morning walking around Parque Del Buen Retiro on the Eastern side of central Madrid. This is a huge park with many avenues and monuments, and a large lake, making it popular with walkers and runners. The earlier you visit the less crowded it will be, and with a plentiful supply of cafes a few coffees and ice creams may get consumed. It may be a better and cheaper option also for breakfast, as I paid 19 euros for my hotel breakfast ( which was a less than astounding meal option, and in my opinion an extortionate price).
  3. Take a nighttime walk to see some of the many monuments lit up

There are three things that almost automatically appear on the table here in restaurants. An ashtray, orange juice (freshly squeezed) and a bowl of crisps. What appears less often is a waiter to take the order, it is true that a certain degree of Mañana does pervade Spain, and such thing as a ” quick meal” almost certainly also will have no specific word in the Spanish dictionary.

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Essential Spanish Meal Ingredients

Just walking around you will see many curious sights, and the price you pay in cafes is generally mostly determined by the ” people watching” quality of where the cafe is sited. While having lunch today a young well dressed male, maybe 18 years, stopped at one of the lunch tables and tore out the middle pages of the drinks menu. It occupied me for 10 minutes trying to fathom what his purpose was, and in fact I will never know as he scurried off in a furtive manner clutching his piece of paper. Small kiosks exist to sell drinks and sweets generically all over Spain, but here in Madrid there are also specific kiosks to sell cigarettes. An older woman was inside and when a customer came up she opened a small window to conduct her business, the window was maybe the size of a cat flap. Curious behaviour.

The general feeling of Madrid though is of a happy and relaxed place with no immediate visual sign of any work actually going on. Are there things I do not like about Madrid? The plethora of the fast food restaurants in nice areas is a little irritating.

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KFC along Gran Via. Not the pavement cafe of choice for everyone

On the other hand prices are mostly very low by UK standards, for example this beer at a pavement cafe in a street just off Gran Via cost    €1.65

IMG_2387Two favourite places emerged to visit when I return to Madrid. Parque Del Buen Retiro is an essential walk and stop for coffee, and Plaza Espana at the end of the day when the sub starts to set to see the monuments and the water grace the views. The reflections are simply astonishing.

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One of the many walks in Parque Del Buen Retiro

Night time is when Madrid really seems to come to life with numerous bars and restaurants and a good time to take a walk to see some of the sights by night when they convey totally different impressions.

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Plaza de la Independencia at night

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Plaza de la Independencia

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Plaza de la Independencia in daytime

At the entrance to Parque Del Buen Retiro is Plaza de la Independencia, as seen above in the day and by night. For Spain it is surprisingly easy to cross these huge wide roads around the Plaza without too much fear of death.The Plaza de la Independencia is a central square in the Spanish capital, Madrid. It sits at the intersection of Calle de Alcalá, Calle de Alfonso XII, Calle de Serrano, Calle de Salustiano Olozaga, and the Paseo de Mexico, making it the single biggest area for busy traffic that I came across. One word of warning is that the restaurants around the Plaza seem enticing but are highly priced in comparison with those even 50-100 yards away, and of course in Madrid as in most of Spain, the price you pay relates mostly to the views and people watching and has little correlation with the food quality or service. To pay  €17.50 for an average hamburger is excessive. As this was one of my favourite areas adorning the entrance to Parque Del Buen Retiro , a little history seems reasonable. The square was opened in 1778 during the reign of King Carlos III and has survived rather well in the interim.

Eating fruit in Spain is always a good option and the small shops that sell frozen yoghurt with toppings always have a good selection of kiwi, strawberries, pineapple and mango.

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Fresh Strawberries in Spain

 

Photographs of 24 Hours in Amsterdam


Amsterdam is in my opinion the most photogenic city in Europe and maybe the world. Despite having been there with cameras numerous times there are always things to photograph and see. With only my I Phone this time the weather changes were immense ranging from snowing to sun in 15 minutes and cloud formations to match.

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This time however I took more than a passing interest in the amsterdam graffiti, or graffiti art depending upon how one visualises this option. Graffiti was everywhere including in the urinals that adorn the canals. One knows they are urinals before entering them from the odour de latrine that they ooze for many yards. The question that resonated in my head was who painted the graffiti in them, why did they do it and even how did they do it?

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The Graffiti on the walls was far more eloquent and spoke to a lot of thought before painting. I have posted many blogs already on Amsterdam and the risk is repetition, so I have attempted to minimise anything previously photographed and take views or views from angles that are new. Like Penguin graffiti. A real new experience for me.

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The place was wet and this was easily determined by how much rain fell on one’s head but if that judgement felt unsound then the standing water on the tram tracks gave a better explanation.

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Wet Tram Tracks Amsterdam

Vondelpark is always beautiful but less so on a grey day, however with a little sun it begins to show its charm. However the muddy paths showed again how wet the last few days had been.

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Gates of Vondelpark Amsterdam

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Vondelpark Amsterdam

Even Central Station joined in the fun looking grand in the warm light with the clouds looking like they were dancing in the sky.

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Amsterdam is truly a beautiful city and just an hour walking along the canals it does not matter so much which direction one walks, just remembering that the canals are best thought of as onion rings outside each other and eventually leading to Central Station.IMG_2038IMG_2033IMG_2032IMG_2015

And if you cycle there which has its positives and negatives in terms of enjoyment and death risk, it might not be so easy to remember where you left your bicycle.Unless you left it next to the penguin graffiti in which case it might still be there. Maybe

Paradiso is a world famous music venue but one would never know that from the outside. An old church converted into a music venue in which many famous names have played. Including Lady Gaga, Duran Duran, Joy Division, David Bowie, Suede and Rolling Stones, amongst hundreds.

Paradiso Amsterdam

Paradiso Amsterdam

A Photographic Memory of Hamburg in Winter 2016


This is a simple slideshow of Hamburg as seen through a humble I Phone camera in February 2016

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Reflections on Hamburg


Spending a day in a city never allows a comprehensive opinion on what it is really like, but first impressions here are good and a potential place for a short weekend break. A couple of things are sticking immediately:

  1. There are many people clustered together like peas in a pod smoking outside of their workplaces. This was analogous to what I saw and was surprised by in Switzerland before xmas. Their expressions all mirrored extreme furtiveness and even guilt. IMG_1637
  2. Outside of hotels one cannot expect, nor should one really, people to speak English. This is actually quite refreshing as so many from the UK do expect it to be their right that everyone speaks their English, and that our abysmal failure to learn foreign languages should be acceptable. The taxi drivers for example cobble a few words together and was able to convey to me with a mixture of curious phrases and even more curious facial expressions that although potentially he could take his fare from credit cards, it was difficult and he really did not want to. He conveyed this nicely with more than a little humour.
  3. The city has many parallels with Amsterdam. Canals and cobblestone streets and inclement weather to start with.IMG_1621

    Hamburg Rain

    Hamburg Rain

The city has a nice relaxed feel to it, the restaurants were all full at lunchtime and maybe because they had limited menus of nice food at more than reasonable prices.  Rialto restaurant was my feeding trough and a nice place too. An excellent Wiener Schnitzel. A lot of building is going on and wherever one looks there are steepled buildings and impressive looking buildings, such as the Rathaus.

Rathaus Hamburg

Rathaus Hamburg

Rialto Restaurant Hamburg

Rialto Restaurant Hamburg

The downside to the city was the huge number of people begging . Many did not look German and some of the begging, although not aggressive as such was certainly beyond what one might want to see when passing by. A large number of Germans were also selling what I presumed to be the equivalent of the Big Issue, in a far more mellow way and indeed interacting nicely with people passing by. The pavements outside shops were littered with evidence of the homeless with their sleeping garments, duvets, sleeping bags and sometimes maybe their entire possessions on public display.

Hamburg Beggar

Hamburg Beggar

In every European capital and city one sees graffiti which in fact is often so artistic in nature that it is better to refer to it as Graffiti Art. Should this be encouraged? My impressions are that it rarely detracts from where it is painted and often adds something to a grey nondescript wall. Technically though I imagine it is illegal, but why not encourage it in the same way that legal busking works on UK railway stations.

hamburg Graffiti

Hamburg Graffiti

hamburg Graffiti

Hamburg Graffiti

There are a plethora of high quality shops, and although I cannot pretend to be an expert in these types of shops, they kind of stand out as shops that have no-one shopping in them and no price tags on the clothes. Prada was one such example where two young women dressed seemingly in doctor’s white coats, maybe they were doctors from the UK and taking part in the UK doctors strike, were avidly cleaning a clean window outside Prada and at times hoovering the pavement or sidewalk. All the time being watched by a woman dressed in black. The beggars and those sleeping rough did have their “beds” on the pavement outside these shops and to the credit of German society I saw no attempt to move these people on.

Prada Hamburg

Prada Hamburg

Prada Hamburg

Prada Hamburg

Walking around Hamburg is a pleasurable and easy thing and my Fitbit told me that I had easily done my 10,000 steps before early afternoon. The canals are pleasant on the eye, and not unlike Amsterdam in many regards. Travelling around seems simple, with the exception that the Underground runs overground looking like the Docklands Light Railway in the UK.

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An Overground Underground

Everywhere one looked there were interesting things ranging from a sluice in the centre of the city, locks adorning railings and numerous coloured flags.

One monument that in fact was a memorial to lives lost through war, looked uncannily like the “monument” in 2001 A Space Odyssey. If anyone remembers that curious start to the film.

IMG_1588The Rathaus and the surrounding area were busy with tourists and a nice walking area, with shops nearby. Hamburg is a city well worth visiting and this view is shared by people far more eminent than myself, Karl Lagerfeld and John Lennon.

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Stockholm


SnowAlthough I have been to Stockholm a few times I have never truly appreciated what a pleasant city it is. This time snowbound, everything looked cute but everything worked. Trains and planes and cars were all on time, taxi drivers spoke eloquently and engaged passengers in meaningful conversation. The people all looked young. Maybe the old ones get locked away in some sinister plot. As one arrives at Arlanda Airport, they really do play ABBA music to welcome you and photos of famous people like ABBA and Roxette adorn the walls of the luggage reclaim area. T

There is a price to pay and that is literally true. This city is expensive and is best visited when someone is paying the bill. A Croque Monseiour would cost you over 12£. Coffee usually is around 4-5£. Hotels are pleasant places where receptionists are helpful and smile. They are also warm. One of main complaints this last winter has been arriving at Marriott hotels to find that the room heating has been switched off for seemingly the last millennium. On my arrival it happily gets turned on but then takes the length of my stay to warm the room up.

The characters in Stockholm also are straight from the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I could have cast that film many times just by sitting in a cafe and looking around. Lastly the food. It is good. The restaurants have a kind of laid back attitude where service is good but not to the point of being obsequious. Tables have gingham cloth covers and serve you pretty much what you want. I had Meatballs. I could have had massive Steaks. This is a place to come back to, but please someone invite me and pay my bills while I am there. The street names are right out of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo like Sodermalm.

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