I’m freshly showered and sockless, sat in a freezing cold hostel in the middle of Bulgaria. We would have missed out on this particular town completely had it not been for a kindred waitress in a restaurant in Sofia, who said we had to come here as part of our trip. “OK, sure,” was the general consensus of my boyfriend and I, “we’re just killing time.” We also figured the name of this penultimate destination on our month-long trip – Veliko Tarnovo – would sound pretty good in a rap verse (him) or a blog post (me).
For those not in the know, the Netherlands move had to be put on hold for a month for contractual reasons, giving us the smug excuse of hastily making travel plans that would sustain us for a month while we waited around. September was spent in a state of near-distress, wondering how on earth we’d find an apartment in an overpopulated town of students when we were previously both freelance and every real estate agent needed to see payslips from a current employer. Turns out sending a bunch of invoices wouldn’t suffice (understandably, I suppose), but after spending three weeks between hostels, caravans on eco-farms and surfing friendly people’s couches, a guardian angel (formerly known as a friend of a friend) came through and let us take over the contract on her beautiful Dutch apartment, complete with high ceilings, narrow stairways and the Euro-standard lack of bath.
Where would you go if you had a month to kill? There was no point going back to London – no tenancy was tying us down and we’d already said goodbye to our friends three times over. I obviously wanted to go to Italy to put the six Italian classes I’d completed earlier this year to good use, but after doing some simple maths we figured it would take a huge chunk out of our savings, which weren’t looking too bad, but not too bounteous either. (I’d spent a year living frugally AF in London, so wasn’t in a position to spend €90 on a gondola).
Bulgaria it was. And what a great decision it’s turned out to be. Dividing our month equally between four cities – the “multi-layered city” Sofia (named so because of its stacked-up archaeology), then Plovdiv, a town so beautifully named and even more beautifully formed. We then took the train to Varna, because if you’ve got a month to spend somewhere in Europe you may as well spend some of it at the coast, and now Veliko Tarnovo, where everything looks like an Instagram post, you can’t help but walk at a snail’s pace and take it all in (okay, maybe the steepness of the hills also slows me down).
We climbed a mountain on our second day but haven’t exerted ourselves too much since. Here’s a photo of me wearing my Peckham Rye t-shirt in the middle of a mountain range in the Balkans. I look fairly pleased with myself but I did cry a bit when the altitude got a bit much.
Spending a month somewhere is ideal because you don’t feel as guilty for spending whole days doing nothing. In October 2018, I knitted 1.5 scarves, had many 4pm beers and became acquainted with several hostel cats. We’re now heading back to Sofia for a couple of nights and then flying home (!) to Amsterdam, ending two rent-free months of transient life *namaste*.
I’m really excited for whatever the next year brings. London is a great city but I felt no compulsion to stay put. I don’t agree that “if a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” I think “if a man is tired of London, it’s because he grew up in a small town and London was just too expensive. And he went on holiday a few times and realised he could live and work anywhere else in the world so long as there was Wi-Fi.”
Anyway, time for dinner. Until next time!
P.S I am launching a newsletter this Sunday! Resourceful is a weekly email for people interested in living with less and saving some money. It’s going to be about figuring out what you really need and learning how to be happy with it. I promise to steer clear of too much ‘financial mindfulness’ BS and will occasionally drop in some tasty voucher codes. I’ll share more details on my Twitter page this week while I’m waiting to board my plane, most likely.
I read an article about anxiety among pop stars in the social media generation last week. You can read it here. I liked it cause I think it accurately captures the zeitgeist (wow, I sound like my old drama teacher) in that yes, we’re all conscious of having a political and #woke conscience, just as those generations did before us with punk and whatnot. But social media – for teenagers coming of age now – has formed part of their identity, and we’re now starting to see that in the pop landscape.
In the piece, the writer identifies two types of Gen-Z’ers on social media, the ‘fame-hungry narcissists’ and the ‘hyper-aware over-thinkers’. If like me, you strongly identify with both, how do you find your place on the internet? If you’re aware that having a presence on social media will do wonders for your ‘brand’, but also know that spending too much time trying to expand this network isn’t something that comes too naturally (preferring to spend your free time reading or mastering the art of a paper aeroplane), do you decide to take steps away from this dopamine-fuelled activity and ditch the smartphone altogether? (This is clearly the the hyper-aware over-thinker stepping up the mic.) I’ve had a dream twice within the past week or so where I snap my phone in half and it crumbles into ash. I then wake up and reach for my phone to see if anybody’s texted me.
Something that intrigues me is the increasing number of people monetising their lives by just, like, travelling around the world. I’m fascinated with travel bloggers and how they use social media (yes, that thing you just tweeted a pic of your Wetherspoons round on) to fund their ‘adventures’. I wish it was as blissful as it looks but I don’t buy into it. Even more so after I watched this Vice News clip about these total #vanlife phoneys (please watch it if you have 10 mins and marvel in how messed up reality can be faked online). Millennials are more into travelling and ‘experiences’ than buying a tonne of nice stuff, apparently, so travelling the world as an influencer and getting paid for it seems like a pretty obvious way to do life, and with the inclusivity of the internet (so long as you have a Wi-Fi connection and, surely, a senior figure in your life who can bail you out of bad situations) it seems more possible than ever.
But is the content the top travel bloggers are making really that interesting? I’m always trying to find interesting things to read about travel, as everyone’s travel daddy Bill Bryson once said in an interview: “A basic error with travel writing is assuming everybody’s interested. You have to work from exactly the opposite assumption: nobody is interested. Even your wife is not interested. You have to somehow make it so that they become interested.”
When I read that, I laughed out loud. I felt like I’d just been given the best advice about writing about holidays or trips, in that no-one cares about the ‘Today I visited this church. Wow, it was so pretty!’ kind of vibe. I’m not slating enjoying a holiday and writing about it (obviously!) but my favourite pieces about travelling are always the ones that show travelling for what it can be: rare moments of wonder and feelings of unbelievable freedom – interspersed between long bus journeys, waiting in stuffy airport lounges, finding your companion unbelievably tiresome (even if you’re travelling solo) and maybe – just maybe – small pangs of homesickness (…you can take the girl out of Peterborough). That’s why I could read Bill Bryson’s books over and over, his petty moans about the irks of travelling make the experience so much more enjoyable to read (and sure as hell beat the #spon posts from the #vanlife elite).
I am so close to finishing reading John Waters’ travelogue about hitchhiking from his native Baltimore to San Francisco, and it’s one of the most original book structures I’ve ever come across. Before he ventured off on his trip, he spent a few months imagining the best possible thing that could happen – and the worst case scenario – which form the first two-thirds of the book. So, the first 200 pages give the weird and wonderful Pope of Trash – director of cult films Hairspray and Pink Flamingos – the ability to show off his endless, no-holds-barred imagination (the ‘Best Trip’ is so heartwarming because you’re so happy everything’s worked out so well for him, and the ‘Worst Trip’ actually made me retch while eating a mushroom omelette as we meet a gruesome character who picks up near-dead roadkill and collects the creatures in her car). It makes for such a hoot of book! Here’s the link to buy it. Or watch this video. (Or ask your local library to order it in!) Also, while I’m talking about holidays and trips, our next Girl Chat episode (landing next Wednesday, April 18) is about holiday romances. Check out the all the ones preceding it here.
I’ve digressed hugely: back to the phoney #vanlife-rs. Perhaps it’s the cynicism of the person typing, but I’m sceptical of influencers and wonder how satisfying their ‘jobs’ really are. This, by the maker of parody Instagram account Deliciously Stella is interesting – as it was her idea to satirise the whole movement, but she still got sucked into the allure of free stuff anyway. I would love to think that I could travel the world on an all-expenses-paid trip as a travel blogger with #hashtag revenue streaming in, but not at the expense of missing all of the opportunities immersing yourself in another culture brings by having my head glued to my phone. Bryson again, in Neither Her Nor There: “I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”
Something not totally evil about technology though: I’ve used the Headspace mediation app every day for the past three weeks (21-day streak, holla!) and it’s already made a huge difference to how I deal with my often extremely busy mind. There have only been benefits so far, which have weasled their way into all aspects of my everyday mundanity: dealing with 3,000 unread emails at 9am, coping with the petty but way valid stresses of sharing a house (and kitchen) with several people and, well, getting back into the habit of writing again.
At the time of writing this, it’s 8:30am and I’ve managed to write almost 1,000 words already – before my ‘working day’ has even begun. I woke up in a rotten-as-hell mood this morning (disclaimer: there’s a 90% chance I have glandular fever, sigh) but I took 10 minutes to listen to the Headspace dudes’s familiar tones, grabbed my laptop, and wrote the post you’ve just read.
For those who deal with anxiety as frequently as you brush your teeth, clarity of mind is not to be scoffed at. There are 10 free days before you have to subscribe: something I got way too pissed off about (capitalising on meditation seemed as icky to me as, like, the standard £15-a-session yoga classes everywhere in central London) but after four or five days of not subscribing in protest after my trial, I felt myself spiralling back into a pattern of negative thoughts. I was curious to see if the next 10 days would feel as good as the first did. In fact, they got even better, so now I’m telling you about it.
If you’re a student, you can get Spotify Premium and Headspace for £5 a month, (sign me up to a degree course already, purely for the discount). Btw, although it might seem it, this is definitely not #spon content.
I read Mike Love’s autobiography last week, the lead singer from the Beach Boys who isn’t Brian Wilson. It’s actually a wonderful read, and a fascinating one at that for anyone supremely interested in 1960s America. In it, Love documents the sudden rise of the Beach Boys as ‘America’s Band’ after Life magazine ran a cover feature about California’s surf craze. So, writing to a brief almost, the Beach Boys signed a deal to produce seven records in something like two years, on the theme of surfing, girls and cars (Surfin’ USA, California Girls, Little Deuce Coupe respectively). While I was reading it I could help but listen to the band on repeat, which got me yearning for summer during a time in mid-March where we’ve been seeing blizzard-like snow. The interesting thing about the Beach Boys is that Pet Sounds and the re-imagined Smile Sessions aside, they have only around 15 hits that have kept resurging every 10 years or so, as another generation discovers their music and makes out with their boyfriends in the car to it. The memoir also recounts the band’s infamous lawsuits throughout the years which got me thinking about the workings of the music industry since the ’60s. So I made a PLAYLIST of songs about the curious, sneaky inner goings-on in the biz (scroll down for related lyrics*). You can listen to it here.
Here are a list of other books that I have hugely enjoyed since the turn of the new year: Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney; Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton, Rookie on Love by Rookie writers and contributors; Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I’ve tried to get into Goodreads as a way to easily share and get recommendations on what I’ve been reading, but I JUST CAN’T RATE A BOOK OUT OF FIVE! I just rate ALL the books I’ve read out of five, mostly as a pat-on-the-back to myself: Well done you! Five stars for reading a book!
I went to Newcastle for St. Patrick’s Day to see my dear friend and Girl Chat co-host Chloe Trayford. It were a right belter. Here’s some art I saw at the Baltic Gallery that I give you full permission to use as your phone wallpaper.
On the train home, I watched Beats Rhymes and Life, a documentary about A Tribe Called Quest available on Netflix! Watch it! It’s great! It’s so great I had no idea my train arrived 40 minutes late and I got the full price of my ticket back. All good news.
Other things that I’ve been up to: Saw the motherfucking GOAT Milo at Birthdays in Stoke Newington at both his sold-out shows in London a couple of weeks ago. I don’t have any photos. He did completely different sets both nights and it was probably the most life-affirming duo of shows I’ve ever seen (no hyperboles, trust). It was quite otherworldly to be stood at the front of the crowd and see someone be so creative so spontaneously and with such conviction. If you’ve not heard him yet, I suggest you do so wherever you listen to your music. If you want to support independent radio, here’s an appearance he did on NTS Radio. He steps up around 14m 30s, but listen from the start to hear an insanely good Busdriver track.
OK, I have a terrible cold and I’m out. I’ll be back soon having done some REAL writing.
(P.S. Here’s all the lyrics related to the music business in the linked up playlist, in case you didn’t believe me). *1. Check the Rhime – A Tribe Called Quest “Industry rule number four thousand and eighty Record company people are shady So kids watch your back ’cause I think they smoke crack I don’t doubt it, look at how they act”
2. Paint a Vulgar Picture – The Smiths “Best of! Most of! Satiate the need Slip them into different sleeves! Buy both, and feel deceived Climber – new entry, re-entry”
3. Free Man in Paris – Joni Mitchell “I was a free man in Paris I felt unfettered and alive Nobody was calling me up for favours And no one’s future to decide You know I’d go back there tomorrow But for the work I’ve taken on Stoking the star maker machinery Behind the popular song”
4. Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe – Kendrick Lamar “You shut me down, you like the control You speak to me like I’m a child Try to hold it down, I know the answer I can shake it off and you feel threatened by me”
5. Re: Animist – Milo “Showboat rappers get stood up in their studio I heard Wal-Mart signed Jason Derulo Then dropped him cause he couldn’t sell crew socks And refused to adopt the umlaut”
6. W.O.E is Entertainment – Jurassic 5 “Welcome to the wonderful world of entertainment Where life imitate art and people get famous Welcome to the world of showbiz arrangement Where lights, camera, action is the language”
7. We Walk – The Ting Tings We can’t be honest We call it off We got the choice if it all goes wrong We walk, we walk
8. Have a Cigar – Pink Floyd “You’re gonna make it if you try, They’re gonna love you. I’ve always had a deep respect and I mean that most sincere; The band is just fantastic, that is really what I think, Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink?”
9. Country House – Blur “City dweller, successful fella thought to himself Oops I’ve got a lot of money Caught in a rat race terminally I’m a professional cynic but my heart’s not in it I’m payin’ the price of livin’ life at the limit”
10. Show Business – A Tribe Called Quest “Let me tell you ’bout the snakes, the fakes, the lies The highs at all of these industry shing-dings Where you see the pretty girls In the high animated world Checkin’ for a rapper with all the dough If you take a shit they want to know And if you’re gonna fall, they won’t be around, y’all So you still wanna do the show business?”
Hallo! I am in Cologne. I arrived here but three hours ago and all it has done so far is rain. I have been looking for a cafe to sit in to shelter from it, the first: I got some lunch but didn’t stay there long enough to benefit from worthwhile rain protection, the second: The waitress served me coffee in a paper cup and said “Ciao”, which I took as a farewell (my multilingual skills aren’t great but good enough to understand such a gesture). I’m so glad I took an umbrella as a last-minute thought, otherwise I doubt the fatigue mixed with sogginess would’ve put me in the best mood.
People are friendly and chatty here but don’t speak much English, leaving me, a solo soggy English girl just going ‘Ack! Ack! Ack!’ as a response until they get the hint. Although it’s wet, it’s warm. I’m sure the first few days of travelling alone aren’t the easiest anyway.
I’ve found somewhere to collect my thoughts: In God’s House. Cologne’s cathedral (Köln Dom) is beautifully serene bar the low hum of yakking tourists and epilepsy-inducing camera flashes going off every few seconds. I can’t help but feel it’s fairly similar in majesty to Peterborough Cathedral (I know right, you can take the girl out of Peterborough…)
I might go to Amsterdam tomorrow. Well, chuck a stoner girl into Germany for a day and she’ll always find a way out. The train’s only a couple of hours away and it’ll be nice to get away from the rain – although it complements Gothic architecture beautifully. Right now I’m going to do a few laps of this cathedral, maybe get a coffee and something sweet and head to an art gallery before it closes. Then I plan to go back to my hostel, shower, incinerate this sweat-stinked top and go out for a huge plate of spaghetti.
Thursday 4 August
Fuck it, I went to Amsterdam! How could I not really, being so close (kind of), and it being so easy. Not only can you smoke weed here, you can have someone pre-roll your joints for you, which is important for a stoner girl – who’s always had a designated joint-rolling mate around her – on her first solo trip to Europe. I was into Cologne (kind of) but I’d done the free thing – the cathedral – and I somehow still managed to spend €60, so I got me the hell out of there and on the first train to Amsterdam (well, not the very first, I treated myself to a decent 10-hour sleep to rid myself of first-day fatigue). Amsterdam is full of smiley English boys walking slowly along the canals with pizza boxes.
Wow, Amsterdam truly is the best city on Earth. Coming here a second time has only proved that. I was a bit worried that certain memories here would remind me too much of my ex-boyfriend (we holidayed here last August), and it has at times, but in a really nice way. It fills me with a smug sort of feeling of a girl having travelled and being able to point out street corners where she’s been kissed. I’m so so glad I came here. I’ve had such a nice day in a city planned in heaven. I’m yet to go anywhere else that tops it, except maybe Rome. I’m happy to leave a place filled with happy people, happy in the knowledge that I got to spend eight and a half hours there today.
Friday 5 August
It has rained since I got to Munich, there’s something about Germany, hey! It took around 13 hours to get here from Amsterdam, which in hindsight was a total ordeal, but at the time I suppose I didn’t really know what lay ahead of me so I just plodded on.
Sunday 7 August
I haven’t written for a few days because every time I go to write I get chatting to someone. This hostel in Vienna is perfect, as is Vienna (although everything is shut on Sunday/Monday). I can’t believe I’m halfway through already. I’m going to walk for a bit and write some more later. I want to document what I’ve done and who I’ve met so far because I’ve drank approximately 25,000 litres of beer in the past week and I’m struggling to remember already. I didn’t write anything in Munich, but Munich = good. Pub crawls and 3am walks with American boys.
I’m sitting outside the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. It is baking hot, the sky is as blue as this pen [see below] and the building is totally beautiful. I’m going to see two more places today – I’ll pick them out on the map, even though I could melt in the heat. All I’ve been doing is napping and drinking. Drinking litres upon litres of beer and getting no bad hangovers because it’s a 24/7 thing.
I hung out with a group of volunteers who work at the hostel yesterday. We left at around 2pm (lazy, dreamy Sunday – on Vienna time) and walked slowly through the city looking for cheap apple strudel for a French girl who left later that day and really wanted to try some before she left (EDIT: She was disappointed). We dipped our feet in the fountain at Karlsplatz for an hour or so and then headed to the Wien Museum which is free on a Sunday, don’tcha know.
After I nearly bust an eyeball after not having a cigarette for about two hours (those Camels can have a certain hold over the Smoker-on-Holiday) we finally found some apple strudel, got some beer and walked down to Stephensplatz. God, this sounds like a Young Adult novel doesn’t it? I’m really having the best time. We came back to the hostel in the evening and met some terribly nice people and drank a terrible amount of beer. Fell in love with a Brazilian guy, too (EDIT: Still a bit heart-eyes for that night).
It seems that all I do in Vienna is walk a lot and do nothing a lot, in equal measures. It suits me though. When I’m in London I like to go to museums but I haven’t been to one yet (possibly because they’ve all been closed). In Munich too, I didn’t go to a single museum. I went to an art gallery in Cologne, which was great actually, but I didn’t go to one in Amsterdam either because apparently you can smoke weed there. I want to in Berlin though; I think they’d be hard to avoid in Berlin.
I just napped for half an hour; a restful little cat nap. I feel so free and happy.
8am-9am: Get up/pack/shower
9am-10am: Breakfast/check out
10am-2pm: Explore more of Vienna
2pm-4pm: Cook lunch at hostel
5pm: Catch train to Prague
It’s funny documenting the time of writing as you realise just how much can happen in a hour. Just as I was writing the above list, there was this hot young couple sitting over the way from me, all intertwined and smooching and generally looking Hollywood-worthy. I would’ve got a little jealous, but they seriously looked way too good together to incite envy – the sun was shining, and here were two hot young things smooching around in Vienna. I felt weirdly enthusiastic about it: Young love’s poster couple, right here in front of me. I put my shoes on, got up and thought maybe I might want a boyfriend again soon, say, within the next 45 years or so, when this guy approaches me and asks me on a date. He was all: “Hey, I’ve been watching you from over there and wanted to come and talk to you”, ending in an only-slightly awkward exchange of broken English and phone numbers. I was kind of baffled by it as I’d just woken up from a very deep nap and people don’t really do that since Tinder happened, and I haven’t shaved my legs for a week (but then he probably couldn’t see that from wherever he was stalking me. Also, he was French, so whatever). Maybe I’ll go and see him tonight, being my last night in Vienna and all. I’ve finally got out of my sun-induced comatose with a huge black coffee, and I feel very, very happy to be here. This feels like my kind of city.
Tuesday 9 August
Was just speaking to an Australian guy in my dorm who’s been backpacking for six billion years or something. He tried to convince me to go on a walking tour with him, but I was all like, “Actually, I was thinking about going to Forever 21 today” (I didn’t actually say this, but c’mon, dude. I’m a slow walker. And I want to go shopping! Whatever! It’s my holiday!)
Friday 12 August
There is a god. I’ve somehow managed to bag the only seat on this train without a reservation. That’s four and a half hours of uninterrupted sitting. My kind of holiday. I’m a bit baffled as to my luck with this. Everyone standing up’s looking at me like I’ve performed a magic trick right here on the carriage, and in a way, I have. I’ve not had to reserve any trains yet – this is my last of the trip – although most of them have been near-empty. This one’s come from Budapest and is going all the way to Hamburg, somewhere I would have loved to have gone if time allowed, so it’s picked up ALL the Europeans along the way, tourists or no.
I had the nicest time in Prague. I thought it was going to be a huge party place that revolved around nighttime but there was so much to learn about during the day – so much recent history. It’s also one of the prettiest cities I’ve ever been to. The beer’s cheap, too.
The hostel wasn’t too sociable though, in fact, it was a little stark, but I was lucky enough to meet a girl on the first morning when the shower water was cold and I asked her for help. We then hung out for 48 hours straight – we didn’t share aforementioned shower, mind – but we had a great, great time.
I’m staying in two hostels in Berlin – it’s a really long story, but basically I’ve figured out that when you’re travelling alone the type of hostel you stay in can make or break a city, and I had a bad feeling about the one I’d initially booked. The new hostel’s called Heart of Gold, so I have Neil Young looking over me if anything. It has a kitchen, which is important, as I’m cruelly broke (EDIT: Didn’t use the kitchen once). I had loads of Czech money left over that I couldn’t convert into Euros for some reason so I just bought loads of snacks for the train. AND I got a seat! Hey hey!
Saturday 13 August
I’ve already checked into my second Berlin hostel and I’m so glad I did. The first felt a little like a Travelodge; full of Brits on Snapchat in the bar. I met this amazing guy last night from Jordan who’s been travelling alone for more than two and a half years. He wasn’t annoying about it though, the opposite – a really fascinating person with a particularly kindred soul. I only wanted to have one beer last night and thought I’d hit the jackpot with an atmosphere-lacking hostel, alas, we started talking and I ended up having seven or eight beers and going out for falafel at 2am. I’m really feeling it this morning though. I knew I needed to rest last night and I feel totally exhausted today. Berlin is so beautiful but it’s so big, I don’t even know where to start. I guess you just start somewhere. It’s Saturday so it’s busy – like a Saturday in London – so naturally things are a little harder.
It’s so hot and I seriously considered throwing myself into the Spree when I decided to follow the crowds t’ward the Brandenburg Gate. There was a huge protest down the Unter der Linden for the legalisation of marijuana. Literally thousands of people smoking weed down a street just metres from what was referred to as a ‘death strip’ only 27 years ago when the Wall was up.
I’m going to walk again. I’m currently sitting at the Holocaust Memorial, loads of big blocks like this in a whole square:
Police keep having to stop kids from climbing all over them, which you wouldn’t think they’d have to do – being a Holocaust memorial – but kids are kids and it’s the summer holidays. Today started shakily but has turned into the most gorgeous day. Tomorrow I’m going to do a walking tour and then find a flea market. On Monday I think I’ll go to the zoo.
Tuesday 16 August
Today’s one of those horribly discombobulating days where you have to catch a flight at 6pm, thinking you’ve given yourself a whole extra day to enjoy a city, whereas all you’ve done is give yourself a day of anxiously checking your watch every five minutes to make sure you haven’t taken an involuntary nap.
I’ve had the most wonderful few days in Berlin. What an amazing edge this city has to it; not any one thing at all, but rather a city of contrast and a feeling that it’s on the brink of something special.
I’d definitely come back here again and check out more of the nightlife. If I were here with some close friends I probably would have; they could have lent me some money as I am truly stone-cold broke now. Also, I’m not madly into techno unless I’m up to my eyeballs in something illegal. I was happy instead to buy bottled beer from the shop and stroll around dark corners of Berlin with a boy from Barcelona. What a perfect three-day relationship we had, arguments and all. We were together quite intensively for a few days, and I was almost glad to be back alone and having a solo travel experience once again when he left for Amsterdam.
I’m waiting for my train to the airport with the heaviest of hearts. I wish I were going anywhere but home. I’ve truly had the most wonderful fortnight, filled with positivity and curiousity – I’d do anything to be getting on a train to Hamburg now, just one more hostel, one more stop. Berlin has so much to offer a visitor and I am 100% going to save up to do this again next year. Maybe the States, but then again, I’m not quite done with Lady Europa yet. I’d want to do it for longer – a month at the very least – and although I’d be happy to go with a companion, I think what I’ve really found over the past two weeks is just how fun it is to do these things alone.
I can heartily recommend reading Bill Bryson’s Neither Here Nor There if you’re into the Continent, a book I swallowed up in four hours on a train to Wales a few months ago which convinced me to go to Europe in the first place. Amazon link is here.
I thought I’d write something today because of the sound and cohesive nature of my mind that’s been serving me well lately, which has felt totally magnificent as I’ve felt very capable of doing things for once. For a good few weeks there, a long run for any 19-year-old, I was doing things pretty well and not freaking out about much – which sounds like a huge NBD – but for someone who’s a long-term nail biter, or dealing with undiagnosed bouts of anxiety, feeling a-OK is such a blessing. It’s nice to surf that wave of feeling good for as long as you can.
Of course, as soon as I began to contemplate how well things have been going, it only filled me with impending doom, which is actually a medical condition linked to anxiety.
“Hey man, how you doing?”
“Yeah, not too bad really, although I’ve got a serious feeling of impending doom right now.”
So sudden, and so unwelcome. Although the thing with panic attacks is the fact they take you so much by surprise, yet feel so certain, like – ah, I knew this must’ve been coming.
Anyway, this wasn’t meant to be about impending doom, it just got in the way (by its very nature)
I’ve been very busy over the last few months, something I feel very lucky to have been. I’ve laid my hat in in London (several times), Amsterdam, Brighton and Dorset for End of the Road festival – something I had planned to write about when I got my photos processed – but the photos ended up being so shitty I almost feel like the time is up in terms of doing a huge write-up on it. I have one photo of Girlpool, but being a film camera, it is doubly exposed with a picture of my friend’s clay model of a rollerskate. Which looks actually very cool and I might send it to them as a suggestion for their next album cover.
Girlpool were very very good – I love to see musicians where I can be like, WOW, I love your work and I can so easily learn those chords and get my mate to play the bassline. It’s nice having bands you admire to be very easy to emulate (not putting down their talent, by any means) – but rather inspiring you to pick up a guitar and make music, too.
We also saw Tame Impala, St. Etienne (who played the WHOLE of Foxbase Alpha – gee, whizz) Laura Marling, Alvvays (another guitar band that I can play along with!) and Fat White Family (among others).
We also went to Amsterdam for the week a couple of weeks ago. As said in my previous post, I reverted back to journal writing during the holiday and it was nice to be away from technology for a bit. I am literally a person that takes social media detoxes! I don’t think I’m ready to accept that.
While away, I continued my ‘supremely enjoyable’ run of writing and wrote two or three times a day.
31 August 2015
“It’s our last day here in the city today. Jack says ‘hi’. We were so lucky with the weather and now it’s raining. Raining hard, the kind of rain you get in Paris, but more stoned. This holiday has been beyond wonderful. Amsterdam is so chill, though, like I know that’s such a cliched thing to say, but it’s true. Generally looking forward to things at the moment, feel very positive about the future.
Hanging around this city has the same atmosphere of being at a festival, but with no real pressure to see any bands, and a less likely possibility to stumble upon a Fatboy Slim set (unless, of course, he is holidaying as Norman Cook). I feel good about writing, and almost content about the fact I can be doing this for my whole life. It feels very satisfying. Not even to make money, but in the more basic sense, i.e I will have the ability to write as long as I have a pen, something to write on, and am not crippled with the inevitable arthritis that runs in my family.”
That ending almost reads like a line from Morrissey’s Autobiography.
I’m writing this as my computer slowly dies, as it downloads a virus or something. Forever finding something less productive to do, I began scrolling through Instagram on my phone realising the reason I’d fired up this old machine was to write, so I really had no excuses.(I am on WordPad! There’s no spell check here. Forgive my errors but no-one should have to do this much work on a Sunday.)
I went to Manchester a week or so ago to visit my boyfriend who’s recently moved there. His flat lies right near the Northern Quarter, so I got to see LOTS of hipsters all the time and ended up feeling really-not-at-all hip (I had brought doc Martens but mainly walked around in neon blue Nikes because blisters.) (I think Nike is deemed quite cool these days but I got mine from a bargain bucket at Sports Direct, and from the eyes I get from passers-by, there is just something that tells me they’re not fashion-approved.) I never really got what made trainers cool and I don’t think it will ever click. Trainers used to solely mean P.E lessons and now mean being able to walk around a city without stopping at every bench just for some relief, you know? Who cares if they stop traffic in the worst way possible?
It’s hard to say if the city was what I expected it to be like, as it always is – remembering your initial preconceptions after you visit a place. It was flashier than I thought, but then again my previous images of the place were just that everywhere looked like Coronation Street. Cobbled streets and Rovers Return, but hopefully no melodramatic, multiple-life-taking tram crashes. Anyway.
I was expecting all the industrial architecture, thanks to Morrissey’s depictions of the town in his Autobiography, and I was pleasantly surprised with how gorgeous those buildings looked against the Gothic cathedral and medieval library.
Jack was working during the first two days of my visit, so after locating where the nearest takeaway was, just in case (downstairs! Korean! Delicious seafood soup!) I set off on my own – in my Nikes – to see what the place could offer me.
I do this horrendously pretentious thing when exploring a city solo, where at every sign which points one way (towards the shopping centre, towards the cathedral) I go the other way. Usually, this winds me up in a multi-storey car park and unusually, it did this time too – I ended up walking alongside a motorway that led me into Salford. I was like, OMG! Salford Lads Club! (I’m painfully Smiths-conscious. I later found out ‘The Symths’ played in Peterborough during this weekend and I would have given up a weekend in Manchester to see them – nothing like the authenticity of a really, really decent tribute band. Faux-authenticity, it’s the next big thing)
My life-threatening walk down this very dangerous road could now be classed as an altruistic pilgrimage. Who knows what I could discover? What indie pop gems lay ahead? What I did discover was that my blisters were worse than I thought, Google Maps wasn’t entirely sure where this place was, and like always – my truest daily struggle – I was hungry.
Therefore, as I caved into the fact I might spend the whole day turning my GPS on and off, I decided to take the plunge and go to the ‘People’s History Museum’ across the road and ask them where to find it. Upon entering, I became very shy and embarassed to ask (ironically ‘If there’s something you’d like to try/ Ask me I won’t say no/How could I?’ didn’t apply to this situation) so I stayed put and walked around this wonderfully executed and well laid out museum.
The People’s History Museum is essentially about society post-1819 in the city (and nationwide), the importance of the Labour Party after the war (welfare etc) and the value of the vote. There was a great section about the suffragettes which I permenantly smiled at, although with my irrational fear of mannequins the entire event became a bit of an ordeal. Usually I am alright in museums if there is someone with me to look around corners first, or if there are lots of people around. The place was unusually quiet, so I quickly paced around it, taking a few pictures, and finally breathed when I got back to the shop at the end. The fear is long-lived and TOTALLY justifiable OK. All of my worst nightmares take place in Madame Tussauds. Literally never take me there. Ever. Please.
The People’s History Museum was a great place to visit in the run-up to the election. As I’ve said, it was well curated and actually mannequin-free (excepting a part-whimsical part-terrifying puppet of Harold Wilson that needs to just GO.)
Next, I walked along the Salford Quays and noted in my head that, in the cities I’ve visited recently, the first step of regeneration in a big city is at the docks. They (London, Dublin, Manchester) all seem to have these huge office spaces with top floor gyms, Zizzi’s and Pret’s aplenty. I like to imagine what the docklands might have been like 150 years ago and think I may have preferred it.
I stumbled on the John Ryland’s library – which I thought was the functional central library – but the reality actually made me gasp and say ‘Oh my!’ in true Dorothy style. It was beautiful (I didn’t pick up any historical or factual info to bore you with but it was well pretty with WINDOWS.)
Then, I found the real library which was a gorgeous dome building based on the Pantheon in Rome! I know! Italian! This place was great with BFI film archive booths and tonnes and tonnes of useful things and so so busy which was great to see.
The Manchester Art Gallery was well worth my visit, with a National Trust botanic display upon entrance that was lovely in a city of concrete. There was a display of dresses commissioned by the Manchester-based Cotton Board of purely French-designers, using Manchester-made cotton and designed by, uh, French designers. Pierre Cardin, Carven – and all so West Side Story-worthy.
This painting by Andrew MacCallum is called ‘Oak Trees in Sherwood Forest’ and shows oak trees in Sherwood Forest.
His mission was to educate working people and said:
“Show people the best pictures you can get of beautiful common things,
make them notice the beauty of form…of colour…
and when they next see the thing which the picture represented,
they will see in it beauty,
which, but for the picture, they would not see.”
I don’t know much about art, but I think that’s quite lovely for its simplicity.
I also found a Grayson Perry vase, made in 2009 called ‘Jane Austen in E17.’
He links past and present in the work, saying: “I think of Jane Austen as the touchstone of a polite, middle-class culture in Britain. These ladies in Georgian dress represent that comfortable, bourgeois mindset – conservative – yet heavily laced with an arch humour.”
With this, there are cut-outs from gossip magazines as well as photos he took around his studio in Walthamstow (London, E17.) They are supposedly ‘symbols of how far and yet how near East London now is from Hampsire two centuries ago.’
I then moved on to see the Royal Exchange Theatre which was totally beautiful and I hope to see a play there when I go down again this weekend. Photographic evidence:
There was the obligatory visit to the Hard Rock Café, of course: 2 pints of Budweiser, 2 hamburgers, extra bacon on one.
We went to an indie night at The Deaf Institute – achingly trendly place – called ‘I am the Resurrection’, on Easter Sunday! Oh, the pun. I insisted we went for the pun. Also drank at the ‘smallest pub in Europe’ (I’m certain every touristy city has one of these) – but George Best drank there AND a Manchester-born-and-bred woman from the ‘scum of the city’ (her words not mine) said ‘Fuck you, cunt!’ to Jack when he said he didn’t really like football. I love Manchester!
Totally heartbroken that he’s moved up there, but very excited to visit every fortnight or so. I lost my phone and card in a club, realised two drinks later in a different bar, and went back to find it STILL THERE! Let’s just say this sort of stuff wouldn’t happen in London.
Good afternoon! Being off school for the next two weeks, I firmly told myself in the mirror that I must aim to be out of the house by noon each day, and, being 12:03pm as I write, it is nice to be like ‘Fuck you, me!’ It has helped with meal times though, I have been known to wake at half 12, have some breakfast, and then immediately follow it with some lunch because ‘well, it is lunchtime.’
Anyway, things are good! I have 3 days off now with no school or work, and I’ve treated myself by finally emptying my Amazon basket and turning it into a real delivery that will turn up at my doorstep in a couple of days (if I have sufficient funds, fingers crossed.) It wasn’t much anyway, just things I’ve wanted for a while, including Pink Martini’s, ‘Splendor in the Grass’, Godard’s Au Bout De Souffle (which I have literally wanted for over a year) and some iron on patches- great conversation starter, especially with cute boys with floppy hair in pop-up bars.
There is a lot going on at the moment, I’ve decided to take a gap year (an involuntary one, of course, thank you drama school) but no, actually it seems like a really good thing for me right now, and I finally will get to s ee my beloved Europe- still young, blonde and unaware of danger. This blog might begin to slide towards travel writing/hoping/dreaming etc, I want to go there so exciting and with the highest expectations that I will have to fulfill as a matter of necessity. Yes, I have such a romanticised view of it, which derives from too much teen trash novels- which means I have too much of a romanticised idea of pretty much everything.
I am probably going to Interail it all, and am particularly excited about travelling through Italy, where my dad’s side are from. If anyone’s been through this all before, please get in touch! I want to know the best places to go, eat, drink, dance etc.
This wasn’t supposed to be a post about this, but I guess that is what it’s now become. I really must leave now though, I have to meet a friend about a little upcycling business we’ve started up (you will no doubt be hearing about this too!)
Write very soon, I promise. (Setting myself up to fail, as per.)
P.s Glastonbury line up half announced, next 3 months have POTENTIAL!!!!!