Who are the artists, and who are the subjects in the photos? An artist called A Tonila has painted many of the electrical boxes.
There is little doubt that the Finnish are an attractive and healthy looking race. There was little or no sign of obesity anywhere in Helsinki despite the city having a plethora of the same restaurants that in UK seem to carry the blame for obesity. There were a few shocks however.
In all my travels I was not prepared to see a restaurant OLO Creative Kitchen in an ordinary central Helsinki street advertising a meal for 149 euros.
I stood there for 5 minutes pondering both my eyesight and my cognitive ability to recognise the currency, but in the end it was euros and the cost was 149 euros. The option of then paying a higher price 315 euros to have what I take to be unlimited drinks seemed a sensible one for the reason that drinking enough might allow one to forget the cost of the meal. Amnesia may have its benefits. But the maths are curious. 166 euros gives you these unlimited drinks, but wine by the glass is 21 euros , so essentially you need to drink 8 glasses minimum to get value.
The food generally here in restaurants is expensive compared with many other European cities, and substantially so. Eating a dinner in the Radisson Plaza hotel in Helsinki would be a nice event, nice restaurant and good service in good surroundings. Until the bill arrives. A few examples. Fried sole 36.5 euros, grilled Reindeer fillet ( like beef actually) 34 euros. An average starter such as reindeer mouse ( yes that is average here), 11.90 euros, the same as a cheese salad as a starter. Desserts again look particularly attractive but you will not pay less than 9.50 euros for Creme Brûlée, and “old-time” ice cream does not have an old-time price tag weighing in at 11.50 euros. Should we decide that reindeer and cloudberries are too exotic for a chilly and rainy April evening then a Club Sandwich will set you back 18 euros. The same price as a caesar salad with chicken.
There are a few ways around this if you are prepared to eat a main meal at lunchtime. There are a plethora of restaurants with either lunchtime buffet choices, which was my option, and in the Radisson Plaza I ate a nice lunch of unlimited salads and bread, and various choices that included Pork and Elk stew, fried trout and plentiful roasted root vegetables for 12 euros. Many other restaurants had their equivalent.
Street food was however plentiful and delicious and available in many places.
The real way to eat? Clearly sample The Reindeer hotdog.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
There are so many places to visit that a simple article cannot begin to make many recommendations, however I would make two specific ones:
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.
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.
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
Two 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.
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.
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.
More paintings by the British artist Vincent Van B. Bergen sits on the Norwegian coast and I struggled to be captivated by it, in contrast to cities like Stavanger that have something special. Here are a few paintings designed to try and bring Bergen to life and light.
Few interesting turrets floating around.
Not sure about this one. The offer of Champagne and Cheesecake for 19£ does not seem that much of a bargain unless one gets the whole bottle of champagne? The definition of a ” Light Breakfast” also seems a little different to any southern interpretation. These food related offers were available at Edinburgh Airport.
Scotland is always an interesting place to visit even in winter when it seems a little bleak and cold. The Edinburgh Castle always looms large over the visitors. The food is always an interesting equation with high amounts of cholesterol seemingly obligatory. Interpretations of ” light breakfast ” are maybe not quite what they might be down south, and as for “Champagne and Cheesecake for ONLY 19£” I am quite speechless.
The folks are pleasant and you will find the most talkative and happy taxi drivers maybe anywhere in the world.