Monday, July 30, 2007

A few things which have been keeping me entertained of late:

Music - Mainly old stuff which I'm catching up with

M Ward - End of Amnesia
M Ward - Transfiguration of Vincent
The Ladybug Transistor - Can't Wait Another Day
Pelle Carlberg - In a Nutshell
Various - Labrador 100
Jackson C Frank - Blues Run The Game
Grant McLennan - Horsebreaker Star


Christopher Coake - We're In Trouble
Andrew Collins - Heaven Knows I'm Miserable now
Haruki Muarakami - After Dark
Various - Granta - Best of Young American Novelists 2

I discovered Christopher Coake in the Granta BoYAN2 book, picked up "We're in Trouble" whilst in Stockholm. It's a fantastic collection of short pieces, I'm a bit of a soft touch in the cinema and can often be found trying discreetly wipe away a tear. However I think reading the story of an old couple, where the husband is getting ready to die was the first time I've been moved to tears by a book. It was rather strange to be sitting in the sunshine of a lovely little park in Stockholm whilst trying to fight the tears. Not all the stories are in that mode but boy do they make you think about how you would react in certain situations. He's one to keep an eye.

The new Murakami was a very enjoyable somnambulistic piece.

Friday, July 27, 2007

So after an enjoyable but wet time in Norway, we jumped on another plane and made our way to Stockholm. As we waited for our luggage to come through, we wee suddenly hit by a wave of text messages from Bristol advising us that the Ashton Court festival had been abandoned because of the wet weather, we looked through the terminal windows and saw the sun shining through.

The super efficient train link whisked us into to central Stockholm and before we knew we were meant by the owner of our next temporary home. This time we had a very large apartment in the swanky Ostermalmstorg part of town, we were going to be the last people staying there, as the owner was about to sell it and move in with her partner.

Stockholm is a wonderful place, the architectural pomp and grandeur of Paris, the waterside attraction of Venice, the quirky leftfield areas of Berlin, and the cakes – the wonderful cakes of all the best cities of the world!

After coming from Norway, Sweden felt positively like bargain city, now that is obviously stretching a point but in truth it was nowhere near as expensive as we had been led to believe. We particularly enjoyed the excellent set price lunch offers, which everyone appeared to have. If we are reading our guide books correctly the “Dagens Ratt” or daily special system was set up to keep the worker happy by ensuring that they good have a good subsidized meal at an affordable price. Now that’s what I call Socialism.

As well as the huge amount of excellent waterfront walking, viewing and sitting to be done, Stockholm is blessed with a huge number of fantastic parks. Consequently we spent quite a lot of time sting in these lovely surrounding reading books and making the most of the sunshine. When we did venture inside, we spent the best part of a day in the combined modern art and architecture museum. Lot’s of interesting shopping, including some excellent record shops, the pick of these being Pet Sounds in the delightful “SoFo” district.

As the prices were so much friendlier we bought cd’s, went to the cinema a few times, and spent money on clothes and books. Wherever we went we were met charming people who almost always spoke impeccable English. Also saw lots of interesting Swedish design stuff, be it building household goods of clothes the Swedes have had so many wonderful ideas over the years.

Often when we leave great cities after a holiday I try to imagine what it would be like to actually live in somewhere like New York, Paris or Tokyo. Normally I think that it would be fantastic if you were lucky enough to have a large bank balance, now as I indicated previously, you could not really say that Stockholm is cheap but I think that you could enjoy a very good life there on a reasonable income.

I should also say that Bla Porten on the island of Djurgarden may just be the greatest cafe in the whole world!

I hope that we shall return to both Sweden and Norway in the future

Thursday, July 26, 2007

We arrived back home in Bristol on Monday afternoon after a lovely trip to northern reaches of Europe.

It was a holiday of contrasts, wet but wonderful scenery in Norway, sunny and perfect metropolitan living in Stockholm. Before leaving the UK we had a pleasant little interlude in Glasgow and hooked up with some friends in Edinburgh, all told a round trip of around 2200 miles.

In Glasgow we made our normal pilgrimage to the wonderful Monorail record shop, within the Mono complex. Bought loads of CD's which they kindly agreed to post to us in Bristol, saving us from carrying them around Europe. In the evening we went to the GFT to see the beguiling Paris, je t'aime. It's a film of many parts as directors such as the Cohen brothers, Wes Craven, Gus Van Sant, Oliver Assayas, Gerard Depardieu and others take us on a fictional tour of 18 arrondissments of Paris. The next day we took the short rail trip to Edinburgh where we spent several hours having a splendidly relaxed catch up with Rhona and Duncan. Then it was off to the airport for the real adventure to start.

For the Bergen flight we were using an airline that we (and no-one else that we spoke to) had not previously heard of - Widroe. The plane was so small it didn't justify a set of steps being wheeled out to it, the door simply opened and 2 small steps dropped down to the tarmac. I'd guess that about 35 people were on board, so it was a flash back to the early days of European air travel! All went well, and later that evening we landed in a very Bergen, a sign of things to come.

Three things immediately strike you about Bergen, it's very cute, it's very hilly and it's very wet. The airport bus dropped us off and with the rain splashing onto our map and email containing the apartment address we set off. Uphill of course, suitcase wheels bouncing over the lovely cobbled streets! Arrangements regarding payment for the apartment were splendidly lax, no deposit to be paid, just turn up at the owners house which just around the corner. If they weren't at home the key would be in the little hiding place and we can pay the full amount by cash or credit card. Our genial host was at home and smiled sanguinely when we commented on the weather as he showed us around our home for the next week. We took off our damp clothes and went to bed looking forward to the next week.

Within a couple of hours of getting up the next morning Orynthia had made her first purchase, a pair of very stylish wellies. The next priority was to sort out some travel plans, the tourist information centre in the centre of town was able to take care of all our needs and we booked a 4 hour Fjord cruise from Bergen harbour and a combination day long trip called Norway in a nutshell which involved travel by train, coach, boat, mountain train, then normal train back to Bergen. Both trip gave us some amazing experiences and sights, luckily for us the weather even held up for us, so whilst we were on the Fjords we could stay outside and gawp in wonder at the amazing views which we were passing. It's probably obvious to say that If you are ever in Norway you should spend some time on the Fjords, the other I would really recommend is a trip on the Flam railway, which runs through the mountains to a station where you can switch trains to join up with the Oslo - Bergen line. It's a classic winding trip through incredible scenery, including a brief stop in front of a magnificent fast flowing waterfall, truly exhilarating stuff.

Other than that we really enjoyed the Museums alongside the large lake near the railway and bus station, the City Art Collection is in a great 1930's building, just along from that you can find the Contemporary Art collection and the Museum of Decorative Art both of which are worth a visit. The funicular ride up one of the central mountains which surround Bergen rewards you with great views, walk on a little further from the stopping and you will have some amazing scenes around Bergen. Amazingly given the normal weather conditions we found in Bergen, we made this trip on a warm and clear day so the views stretched out for miles and miles as Fjord melted into mountain and back again.

Everything that you may have heard about the prices in Norway is true. It's horrendously expensive, even for us English who are quite used to paying rather a lot for food and travel. Luckily having the appartment we could load up with things in shops and eat at home and the duty free booze that we picked up in Edinburgh airport came in very handy!

That's enough for now, update on the Stockholm part of the trip to follow.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Tomorrow we are heading north for a couple of weeks, initially our destination is Scotland. Then we move on for a week in Bergen, followed by a week in Stockholm.

It will be our first visit to Scandinavia and we are really looking forward to it. We hope to get out and about in Norway, with visits to fjords and mountains on the agenda. We have booked an apartment in both places and have sorted out our own flights, so we have a nice circular route.

We hope to catch up with some of the burgeoning Nordic music scene and the same is true for Sweden as well. Could have some interesting food and drink, but the amount will be determined by the cost of things over there.

I’ll let you know how we got on when we return.