Saturday, July 23, 2011

London Walking Tour

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This past Saturday Le Cool, one of my early finds upon relocating to London in May and my first stop whenever looking for something to do, was hosting the launch party for Artesian Wanders, a walking tour of London in partnership with Fiji Water.  Although the walking tour from Camden to Clerkenwell, an area of the city we haven't spent too much time in yet, would've been enough by itself, we were especially looking forward to this event because it would involve an organized pub crawl and free drinks at the final destination (and I'm a whore for free drinks).

As expected, this walk was SO much fun!  Mike & I joined a larger group, mostly made up of Le Cool writers but with a few other readers such as myself, and had the best time not only seeing the city from a different perspective (we're never with a group and rarely learn anything historic, or of interest, about our surroundings) but also getting to know new people with similar interests (they were all fans of Le Cool).

The walk followed the path of the Fleet River, which flows underneath the city (who knew?) and which we actually glimpsed through a street grate outside the Prince Albert (perhaps my new favourite pub?).

King's Cross station
Another of the many interesting stops along our walk was at King's Cross (where we arrived from Dundee back in May) and St. Pancras.  We discovered not only the circumstances (privatized, competing train companies; capitalism at its best) which caused two train stations to be built right next to each other (seriously, they're neighbours) but also the amazing rejuvenation which St. Pancras has recently gone through (it used to be a hotel and then stood derelict for some time, avoided demolition, and is now a working station again).

We continued on to the Farringdon area, passing the UK headquarters for Amnesty International (a very small and unassuming building), finally arriving at our destination pub, Three Kings, at around 4:30pm (maybe; we weren't really checking the time) where we were greeted by loads of free Palm beer.  We mingled with more of our awesome group and then, seemingly only minutes later, it was 7:30pm and we had to leave for our next engagement.

With or without the free beer and Fiji water, this was an amazing way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon and I'm so happy that we did it.  We made some new friends and had an amazing experience and would happily do it all again.  Our Artesian Wander will definitely go down as one of the highlights from our London summer.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Gothenburg: Metal Capital of the World

köttbullar
Last Saturday we grabbed the first plane out of London Stansted for Gothenburg, Sweden. After immigration and airport transfer, we were ready to start our weekend in Göteborg by 11am.

From Centralstationen we started walking aimlessly, just trying to get our bearings. We stumbled into the tourist information centre at Kungsportsplatsen where we were told lutfisk was only available at Christmas, not to expect any street food beyond burgers and hot dogs, and our first meal in Sweden should be köttbullar (meatballs).  We were pointed in the direction of a food market where we could experience the famous Swedish meatballs and subsequently had a delicious introduction to Swedish cuisine.

a failed attempt at capturing the 'metal'
element of our weekend
From the moment we had left Centralstationen, Mike had noticed a disproportionate number of Iron Maiden t-shirts (my observation skills are not as keen and my ability to spot a pattern is seriously lacking). As the day progressed he started seeing other metal band representatives, such as Motörhead, Mötley Crüe, Metallica, and Slayer. It got to the point where we were convinced Gothenburg was the metal capital of the world. We later discovered that Iron Maiden had just played Gothenburg the night before and that a metal quadruple play - Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, and Metallica - was hitting the town on Sunday night. Basically, we hit Gothenburg in the midst of a holy weekend for metal fans.  It definitely added an unexpected, unique, and memorable element to our weekend.

We had purchased the Lonely Planet Western Europe phrasebook for our trip but discovered that wasn't completely necessary because, according to a couple members of the staff at our hotel, everyone under 50 speaks English and it's not at all rude to not speak Swedish.  However, because no signs are in English, the phrasebook's menu reader did prove useful and the people we did address in Svenska seemed to find it humorous that we were attempting the language and did respond in kind, which was rewarding.

Besides the amazing meatballs, we also discovered kanelbulle, a delicious cinnamon roll with sugar crystals instead of icing and a hint of cardamom, and, thanks to the buffet style breakfast at our hotel, we were able to sample a number of local breakfast dishes on Sunday morning.  Some more memorable options include a giant tube of kaviar which you eat with your hard-boiled egg (pretty good), some type of fish in some type of mustard sauce (an acquired taste, I'm sure), and some type of processed meat similar to bologna or Spam (okay).

Gothenburg was not a clean city.  There is obviously no 'keep Sweden clean' campaign and we didn't notice any public toilets but did see a definite need for them.  However, although there was a lot of public urination it was being perpetrated by both sexes, corroborating the reputation of gender equality enjoyed in the Nordics.  We did enjoy the friendly culture of the Swedes and Gothenburg was surprisingly inexpensive, contrary to everyone's warnings about Sweden.

We left Gothenburg around 7pm on Sunday evening, just as the metal festival was getting started.  The whole city seemed to be celebrating, with a few restaurants offering their own metal concerts for those who couldn't make the main attraction.  With 'Enter Sandman' as the soundtrack to our Gothenburg weekend, we flew off into the sunset.

For more pictures, please visit my Facebook page here.

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