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Good Times at Greenbelt

I spent my bank holiday weekend at Greenbelt Festival, in the grounds of Boughton Estate in Northampton. The weather was glorious, the company was great and I have a list of acts and things I took part in that were so good and you should check out.

1. La Chiva Gantiva

La Chiva Gantiva were really really fun. Formed in Brussels by 3 Colombian immigrants, the band is super high energy with music you can’t help but dance to. I couldn’t stop the entire set, and was exhausted by the end. But no-one in the band flagged, and even when we met them afterwards, they were still up and going. And so so lovely.

2. Toby Campion

At a spoken word event hosted by Harry Baker, several great poets performed – Erin Bolens, Bridget Minamore, Gecko and Toby Campion. As you can probably guess from the title of this section, I’m gonna talk about Toby, but you should check the others out too. Because who doesn’t need more poetry in their life?

Toby came on and performed a drunk love poem about a chance meeting abroad, about meeting someone called Marcus. I can’t deny that LGBT content always has me paying a little more attention, because as a queer woman, I’m alway looking for representation and community. And the poem was also well written and highly enjoyable.

Following the poem about Marcus, came a poem about imagining your ex in twenty years time that expressed feelings about the homophobia still riven through our society that I don’t know whether I could put into words. And then a poem about the Orlando shooting at Pulse nightclub, which had me in tears.

To end, Toby weighed in on the great debate of whether the Midlands is in the North or the South, reminding everyone that the Midlands is it’s own unique entity. At Uni this was well worn terrority, and this poem rings true with all the things I wanted to say about being from the Midlands. All in all, every poem Toby performed rang true to me, and if you’ve got the chance to go see him, I would really, highly reccommend it.

3. Harry and Chris

I saw Harry and Chris by myself at Greenbelt last year and have spent the whole year listening to Simple Times, so I was pumped to see them again, this time with family in tow.

Bringing their second Edinburgh fringe show to the stage, Harry and Chris were just as enjoyable as last year. I was a little disappointed that most of the songs I’d heard before, but I have been following their YouTube channel closely so it’s not too much of a surprise. Besides, hearing people live is always good. They’re touring now so you can catch them in a town hopefully vaguely near you.

4. Herstory

This year, in addition to all their usual areas (The Canopy, The Big Top, The Playhouse to name a few), Greenbelt had The Red Tent – a space for those people who identify as women. While some talks were open to all genders, for the most part over the weekend, it was a female only space.

One of the events was Herstory by Alice Wroe. Firstly, Alice gave a talk about the importance of finding women in history, reasons why we often can’t find women in history with the way we think about the past at the moment, and what the Herstory project is. Alice is a really engaging speaker, and I left with a lot to think about, particuarly about why, when I’ve questioned the lack of women in history books, I haven’t gone looking for them.

The second event was taking part in the Herstory project, where you are invited to recreate Judy Chicago’s art work, ‘The Dinner Party’. An important piece of feminist art from the 1970s, it remembers and celebrates women from history. At the Herstory event, you are invited to explore the story of a woman from history, to assemble her story in your voice and to present it back to those gathered as if you are her. Not only does it mean you learn about several women who you might never have heard of before, but you celebrate and support each other.

Both Herstory events were incredible, and if you ever get the chance to go to one, I would highly reccommend it. It’s left me trying to find the women in the history of the places I go to and the things I take part in, and not just accepting that history is always men because that’s the narrative we’re so often told.

All of the people mentioned above were really great, and I loved seeing all of them. If you get the chance to see any of them, I hope you have a great time. Let me know what you think.

I paid in full for my ticket to Greenbelt and no-one has asked for my opinion on any aspect of it, never mind asking for a list of my favourite bits. I just really enjoyed the people listed above. 

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Food Round Every Corner

I promised a blog post on great food in Barcelona and here it is. There was such great food everywhere in Barcelona, including bakeries down every side street that it was a) difficult to track everywhere we ate because we ate alot and b) to narrow down what exactly to put in this post. But I have managed to do it. Behold, the best places we ate in Barcelona.

Rasoterra

Off La Rambla, the vegetarian bistro Rassoterra is down a side street and inside is gorgeous inside – modern and chic and low lit.

The menu varies dependent on what’s in season and all of it looked incredible.

The best colour for food to be

Everything we had was fantastic, but beetroot soup was definitely the highlight.

Chivuo’s

Serving street food and craft beer Chivuo’s was a life saver on the first night we got to Barcelona. Then it turned out to be so great we went back another night.

Jam jar beer and chili popcorn

It’s a little hipster so if you’re not into that, this probably isn’t the place for you. But if you’re looking for great beer in jam jars and street food snacks, I highly reccommend Chivou’s.

Flax and Kale

Serving vegetarian, vegan and gluten free food along side meat and fish, Flax and Kale was highly reccommended and it turned out to be worth the half hour wait.

The presentation was great

Such a great combination of colours

I started with the fish taco, (though it turns out I don’t like fish tacos) and Beth had feta and watermelon, which I feel shouldn’t have worked but was fantastic.

Colours like the food fight in Hook

 Have I mentioned how much colour the food had?

Then Beth went vegan with stuffed courgette flowers which was one of the most colourful meals I’ve ever seen. And I had mini salmon burgers. I still think about these burgers in an almost daily basis. That’s how good they were.

Flax and Kale is guaranteed to have something even someone with the strictest of dietary requirements can eat, and that dish’ll be delicious. If you can reserve a table, do. While the restaurant is worth the wait, the waiting area gets a bit cramped.

Bacoa

We found Bacoa by accident in Madrid, but we loved it so much we went there on purpose in Barcelona.

Avacado for days

Beetroot and bacon = a fantastic burger

With a tick box menu, Bacoa makes it really easy to get exactly what you want. For me that was beetroot on a burger, and Beth that was smothering her food in avacado. Anything is possible when you eat at Bacoa.

Eyescream and Friends

Ice cream with eyes. What more could you want?

Each flavour has its own character and there are so many different topping to choose from. If you’re looking for something slightly different, Eyescream is the way to go.

Milk

A bar slash club that becomes the best place to get brunch when the sun comes up sounds like a pipedream. But Milk does exactly that.

We only went for brunch so I can’t comment on their bar slash club aspect, but this was the best brunch I’ve ever had.

Possibly the best food I’ve ever had

French toast with yoghurt and redcurrants was incredible. I would go back to Barcelona just for that.

Beth described it as vegetarian hangover cure

Beth had avacado, tomatoes, feta and egg on toast, which looked delicious too. Basically, go to Milk. The staff are lovely and the food is amazing. Just go.

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Barcelona -Such Sights To See

Last February it was Madrid. This February it was time for Barcelona. Me and Beth spent most of our time eating or sightseeing, so rather than give you one long account of the holiday, I’m splitting it up. This week it’s the turn of the stuff we went to see. Next week will be the food. To be honest, I’m not sure which of these posts has my favourite things in it.

  1. Sagrada Familia

The big tourist trap of Barcleona is Gaudi’s cathedral. As yet unfinished, I had great hopes for this monument to sheer tenacity of a city’s dream. It turns out that about half of the outside of famous cathedral is Gaudi and the other half is another architect, who…as it turns out, I appreciate much more than Gaudi.

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Picturesque view of a construction site

The inside of the Sagrada Familia looks like the entrance hall of an organic, futuristic spaceship and that was very cool. It didn’t really feel like a cathedral, mostly because a) it was so different to every other cathedral ever and b) you could hear all the construction work the entire time you were there.

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This view was worth all the queuing

It’s worth going, even if it’s just to feel like you’re standing in the midst of a spaceship. I’d suggest booking your tickets online thought. That ticket queue can be super huge.

2. Miro Museum

Me and Beth discovered Miro in the Caxia Forum in Madrid, so it was great to find out that there was a whole museum dedicated to him in Barcelona. A modernist,surrealist artist who favoured big canvases, odd sculptures and burning paintings, he’s really interesting.

3. MACBA

The Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona aka MACBA is (shockingly) the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona. It’s a modernist piece of architecture that’s beautiful, and is also beloved by the city’s skaters. A fact which MACBA have not only accepted but encouraged.

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Photo by Beth

A really incredible space

On the inside, the space is all clean lines and excellent art. We saw an exhibition about Antoni Miralda, who, among projects with brightly coloured bread, started an art project that saw the Statue of Liberty and the Barcelona statue of Colombus get married, with wedding gifts from artists and art institutions from all around the world – including Birmingham, UK. It was very odd to be in the middle of an art exhibition in Spain and suddenly realise you were looking at art made in the town you live in.

4. CosmoCaxia

The science museum has a many cool attractions, including a planetarium and more interactive exhibits than you can shake a stick at, but the coolest of the cool, is the square kilometer of rainforest that they’ve lovingly recreated, complete with piranhas and tropical storms.

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Rainforest in the outskirts of Barcelona

 

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Pride and Joy

This Saturday I was at London Pride 2016. It was my first Pride and I was a little nervous leading up to it, not knowing what to expect. What I got was an incredible day of music, community and joy. My highlights are below, but the whole day was amazing, except for some of the weather.

1. Proliferation of flags

As a country, Britain tends to only be inundated with flags when football is on and then there are English and British flags everywhere. But flags are a symbol of pride in something, of a sense of belonging, and the amount of rainbow flags at Pride was a wonder to behold.

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We were well and truly rainbowed.

2. Sadiq Khan

London Pride is sponsored by the Mayor of London, so Sadiq Khan walked in the parade and then addressed thousands of people in Trafalgar Square. I was lucky enough to be one of them and hear him talk about how he would fight homophobia and transphobia during his tenure as mayor.

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So many people. Even for London. So many people in one place.

3. Atmosphere

Good grief, it was crackling. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere that felt quite like it. The energy, the community, the sheer loveliness of everyone we talked to was incredible. And with various stages, family activities and a huge space to fill, it’s no wonder that it was so popular.

4. Danny Beard

We ended up at the Cabaret stage, watching singers and comedians. We were about to leave in search of drinks and food and maybe some chairs, when Danny Beard came on as the next host. They were incredible at reading the crowd, getting everyone involved and had a hell of a voice. Seriously, I would go and see them again.

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Dat skirt though. So great.

5. Accessibility

The main stage had a BSL interpreter for the duration of Pride, signing the speeches, songs and introductions. The screens set up were split into three, with one section on main stage, one of the sign interpreter and one section for subtitles. In the special access section there were at least another two sign interpreters. The thought given to making Pride accessible was so great.

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So the 1st section doesn’t have the sign interpreter in it in this photo, but that’s because he’s in the main section, signing & dancing with Alisha Dixon.

Pride was such a great experience, and I don’t think I’ve quite washed the glitter out of my hair yet. Roll on next year.

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Warships and ABBA

It was Eurovision yesterday! I hope everyone who watched had an excellent time, and if it was your first time, what did you think? Was it all you’d hoped it would be? Personally, I was hoping for some more weirdness than we got, but Bulgaria gave up light up sci-fi knee dancing, so I’m pretty happy.

But this post isn’t to talk about Eurovision 2016. Oh no. To  begin my tale, I need to take you back to Eurovision 2015. I was at a Eurovision party, glued to Twitter as I often am during Eurovision, and spotted a tweet by Tesco. They wanted to see pictures of people’s Eurovision parties and if you tweeted them one, you could be in with a chance to win a trip to wherever won Eurovision. Obviously I entered, and a week later got a DM from Tesco telling me I’d won a trip to Sweden.

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This super low quality photo won me a trip to Stockholm.

I didn’t think anyone ever won competitions like this. But they do! So me and my Dad got to go to Stockholm for three days this March. Tesco paid for flights, accommodation, breakfast, transport to and from the hotel and £30 to spend.

Walking out of baggage claim to see someone holding a sign with my name on it was so cool. So very cool. Felt like a swish business woman who travels the world to negotiate deals and drinks cocktails at every meal. That feeling didn’t disappear when we got to our hotel. The Radisson Blu is a very lovely hotel where all the staff were super helpful. We arrived three hours before check in and yet they let us have our room straight away. An excellent place to stay.

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The first thing you see and it really sets the tone.

Of course, the first place we headed when we arrived was the ABBA museum. Potentially Sweden’s most famous export, I feel like you can’t go to Stockholm and not visit the ABBA Musuem. After we’d figured out the trams, it was smooth sailing, and soon were were immersed in the world of Europop.

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Such costumes.

As museums go, it was great. It’s really colourful, informative, every bit of Swedish had an English translation and, most importantly, it was interactive. You can do karaoke, virtually dress up in iconic ABBA costumes, attempt to remix an ABBA song and even go on stage with hologram version of the band.

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Creepily life like wax models.

I really enjoyed it, even if they skated over the break-up of the band. It was a tad surreal, especially when there were surprisingly life-like wax models of the bad. What’s also attached to the ABBA Museum is the Swedish Music Hall of Fame. I was genuinely shocked at how many famous pop songs Swedes have been involved with, whether as the band performing them, or as writers or producers. They reckon that Sweden’s biggest export is pop music and they are the country with the third biggest involvement in the music industry, after America and the UK. Which is crazy considering how small the population of Sweden is compared to the USA and Britain.

After that we headed back to the hotel for food and sleep because getting up at 4am is tiring. The next day we headed out bright and early to go to the Vasa, which is a war ship from the 17th century. It sank 1300 meters into it’s first voyage and stayed at the bottom of the sea for centuries until a project was launched to bring it to the surface.

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This is a scale model because at no point could I get the entirety or even the majority of the actual ship fully in shot. 

It’s huge. I mean, it is so ginormous that I spent the entire two hours we were there in shock and awe at how flipping massive it was. It’s one of the reasons it sank. It’s just stupidly big. I’m not sure I’ll ever be over how big it is.

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See what I mean? This is just the very front bit of the ship.

The Vasa is really well preserved for a whole number of reasons, including the fact that the water it sank in wasn’t overly salty. Which means they have valves from the ship that look like they were carved last week, because they’re that well preserved. The ship that you see is 95% the original ship. They’ve had to replace all the metal and a small percentage of the wood, but the sheer amount of this massive ship that is the original wood from 1628 is ridiculous.

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Look at the fancy carving.

It’s nearly two months since I went to see the Vasa and I still can’t get over how well preserved it is and how big it is. If you’re ever in Stockholm, it’s definitely worth a visit. Would recommend so hard.

Afterwards we had a wander through the city and headed to the old town to have a look at the palace. The old town felt really lived in. When I was in Zurich, the old town was full of super posh business and artisan shops, which was cool, but meant it didn’t feel particularly old. Stockholm’s old town definitely feels old.

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My favourite bit of architecture in all of Stockholm

Later that evening we were back at the old town for tea at Fem Sma Hus. It was so good. The restaurant goes on for miles and we were eating what must have once been the wine cellar. I got to try reindeer and the pudding was chocolate art. Our waitress was the most helpful. Honestly, the whole experience was a delight.

Our final day in Stockhom we headed for the palace. It was cool but not as fantastic as the palace in Madrid, although Stockholm did have an exhibition about clocks through the ages on. The treasury was interesting, not least because Swedish monarchs are no longer crowned, so we saw the Crown Jewels that are now redundant. Or retired. I’m not sure which.

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The palace has some reconstruction going on.

And then we saw the changing of the guard. I had never seen a changing of the guard before and it was both interesting and hilarious. Every time soldiers hit their mark they then had to shuffle over so that they had actually hit their mark. And when they disappeared behind pillars, the odd one or two suddenly decided they were behind the wrong pillar and should be behind the next pillar over and would dash across.

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Fancy dress uniforms.

Sadly, that was the last of our time in Stockholm. I really enjoyed our visit, brief though it was. The city is lovely and the tourist attractions are great. I’d like to go back, though I think perhaps it might have to wait until I’m slightly richer, as food was expensive. Not just at fancy restaurants, but at cafes too. My trip was all warships and ABBA and that’s a great combination.

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Swingamajig – A swinging good time

Last time I said that there were many stories to be told, including my travels to Sweden and Liverpool. And this is true. Unfortunately, I’m blogging remotely today so I don’t have any photos from these places. However, I do have my photos from Swingamajig 2016 and so that’s what today’s post I all about.

Last weekend it was my birthday and as well as clubbing, I dragged Beth to Swingamajig with me. I went to Swingamajig by myself last year and had a fabulous time so I had high hopes for this year.

Held in the Rainbow Venues in Digbeth, we walked past some excellent graffiti on our way down, and were greeted by a big top. Turns out that was the main stage. I do love a good big top. First things first, we had a wander and my goodness, was it bigger than last year. With six stages, a swing dance room and a vintage market, Swingamajig really out did themselves this year.

After watching Jon Udry Punches Gravity in the Face, which was a spectacularly named, incredibly entertaining juggling act, we headed to the Arch Stage to see The Rin Tins. I saw them for the first time at Swingamajig last year and were a big part of the reason I wanted to com to Swingamajg this year.

And they were fantastic. The Rin Tins a) are a great band to see live, b) play what they call thrash jazz and c) get everyone dancing like a maniac. They’re so good – and they’re playing Glastonbury this year! If anyone’s lucky enough to be at Glastonbury, you should check them out.

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All of my other photos were blurry – I was dancing that much.

When we were danced out, me and Beth ended up watching a burlesque act that INCLUDED FIRE. Fire eating, fire breathing, fire running down her arms…. It was incredible. And also adds credence to the You Gotta Have A Gimmick song from the musical Gypsy.

We eventually found burritos and then wandered to The Night Owl which was the swing room, so I could ask strangers if they’d like to dance. Everyone was super lovely, I bumped into some friends from University and I even got some excellent dances. Despite my new years resolution, I really haven’t done all that much swing this year and it’s so lovely to go to a social dance and just have fun.

After a pint in the setting sun, we wandered back to the Big Top to find Electric Swing Circus beginning their set. ESC are the founders and organisers of Swingamajig and put on a great show. I’ve not really listened to them much, but I really enjoyed seeing them live.

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Electric Swing Circus in the Big Top. I love it when names comer together.

Eventually me and Beth wandered off, looking for seats. And instead we found Troy Savoy ft live Sax from Eugene the Cat. Regular readers might recognise the name Eugene the Cat as I saw them back in December when I was out in Stuttgart. So what we were faced with was a swing rave, formed of a DJ and a live saxophonist. It was so good. I’d go to that again in a heart beat.

After sitting at the Vintage Roof Terrace for a good hour, looking up at the stars and listening to the strains of upbeat swing and jazz, we decided to head home. Swingamajig was excellent last year and it was excellent this year. It was bigger and better and I’m so glad that I got to go. Would highly recommend for next year. Maybe I’ll see you there.

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Shiny, happy people.

 

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Magnificent Madrid

February in the UK is cold and wet and often miserable. Which is why it’s the perfect time for adventuring abroad. At the end of Feb, me and Beth went to Madrid, in search of tapas, art and a blue, blue sky. It did not disappoint.

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Look at that sky.

Flying at a reasonable time from Gatwick meant we could travel down to London on the day of our flight, which was awesome, though getting up at 4am was not fun. It meant that we got into Madrid at 2pm, giving us plenty of time to struggle with huge suitcases on the metro and to find our hostel before it went dark.

Our hostel was TOC Madrid and it was a like a good hotel. Quirky, polished and having rooms with balconies, we were really impressed with TOC. Because we’re adults now with shiny paychecks to blow, we stayed in a private room at the hostel (Which was still cheaper than staying at an actual hotel), rather than in a dorm, and it was so cool to be able to eat our lunch on a teeny tiny balcony.

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Balcony, balcony, balcony

When we’d siesta’d (4am is too early to be up, guys), we headed out into central Madrid to have a wander round. We headed to the Puente de Toledo aka the Bridge of Toledo. Very pretty, surrounded by gardens that’ll probably be better when it’s not February and dark. Then we ended up at Las Bravas  for tapas, which involved two different kinds of squid. Tapas is pretty great though it helps when you know what is you’re eating.

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Points for you if you can guess which two things are made of squid.

On Saturday we headed to the Musuem of Romanticism for breakfast, where it became apparent to us how little Spanish we know. Breakfast was delicious, but we decided not to go round the museum in favour of finding Caxia Forum. It was a great decision.

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Caxia is pronounced Kai-sha by the way.

Caxia Forum is an art gallery that looks like it’s floating and has a four storey wall of greenery next to it. It was a gorgeous day and the living wall was very impressive. Of course we went into Caxia Forum, which had an exhibition of Joan Miró’s work. He was modernist or post modernist – either way it was a lot of fun coming up with faux artistic reasons for the art.

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Four storeys. Four whole storeys.

After stopping off in the excellent shop at Caxia Forum, we headed across the road to the El Retiro Park, which is a public garden with a couple of art galleries. Madrid loves its art. We spent a very pleasant couple of hours with baguettes and beer in the sunshine. We eventually wandered to the Palacio de Cristal which is a beautiful art space in the park before we headed back for a quick siesta and then headed out for food.

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The Crystal Palace of Madrid is gorgeous.

We went for paella, because when in Rome. The restaurant was called La Paella de la Reina and Lonely Plant (my go to guide book) recommended it. The paella was great, though we struggled for half an hour to get the bill, because every time I caught the waiter’s eye, he’d smile and walk off.

The next day was Sunday, and according to all the literature, the thing to do on Sundays in Madrid is to go to the flea markets. So we did. Streets full of old paintings, second hand clothes and general tat/antiques. As always, the weather was glorious and it was lovely if a little crowded.

And then we had the best brunch ever. La Central is a bookshop who not only have an excellent selection of books, but had the one of the best meals I’ve ever had. For €23 euros you get, mini pastries, juice, tea or coffee, a main and a pudding. Of brunch. I had eggs benedict for the first time and a chocolate crepe (not at the same time), and the juice wasn’t bog standard orange or apple. No, it was fancy with over three ingredients and tasted fantastic. Simply incredible.

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After a relatively lazy day, that evening we went out looking for drinks. After some seriously great burritos, we wound up in a down at heel bar for cocktails before we went in search of another watering hole.

We sucked at finding places to drink. But it all worked out when we found a swish looking bar who had local beer. They also had a band playing who were American metal folk. It sounded pretty much like you’re imagining.

Monday was our last full day in Madrid and we began in the district of Chueca, where we found some amazing niche shops, some fabulously expensive clothes and some really lovely people. We ended up at a café called La Linda where they have their own juice and some pretty great toasties.

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Chicken, brie, mustard and honey.

Later that day, we tried to go to the palace but it was closed for an official event. So we wound up in Costa surrounded by a lot of English speakers before we headed to the Reina Sofia, one of Madrid’s most famous art galleries. On certain days, you can go for two hours in the evening for free, and me and Beth love us some free art galleries. And so we ended up at the Reina Sofia after dark.

Being in an art gallery in the evening was quite exciting. I was less impressed with the actual art gallery. From having interactive art that you weren’t allowed to interact with to endless rooms of paintings with no context other than the name of the piece and the name of the artist, it wasn’t super fun. So we left.

Our hunt to find food using the guidebook didn’t work very well, with all three places we headed for being closed. So we went to MacDonalds. They have a big mac but with chicken burgers. It was so good. So good.

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Much chicken, so good. 

On Tuesday we packed up and bade the hostel farewell, before heading back to the palace. This time it was actually open and we got to go round the very impressive building. Built to show off wealth and power, it’s still achieving those goals. Particularly the room where the wall paper is made out of porcelain.

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So impressive. 

Eventually we had to leave, after having the best burger at Bacoa, we took the metro back to the airport and the plane back to England. Our flight was delayed and then cancelled so we got an extra few hours in Madrid but in the airport wasn’t an ideal way of spending them.

Madrid was an incredible city and I’d go back. The art was great, the food was amazing and it has a constantly blue sky. What more could you want?

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Casual heroics

There was no blog post last week. This is because on Saturday I went paintballing and then spent Sunday recovering. And so, of course, I’m going to tell you about paintballing now.

First things first – yes, being hit by a paintball hurts. Though not as much as I thought it would. Don’t get me wrong, I’m bruised all over and going up and down stairs on Sunday was difficult. But once I’d been hit once, it wasn’t so scary and I charged headlong into battle.

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Photo credit: GO Paintball London                                                                                                                  

Look at those war faces.

We went to Go Paintball London which is in South London. A friend had a voucher which is why we went so far south. It involved a delayed train the night before, a surprisingly nice hotel and navigating the tube while half asleep.

When we got there, we got geared up. Camouflage body suit, visor and an ammo belt. Ammo was, of course, extra but from what I understand that’s pretty de rigueur with paintball. Before we were allowed guns, there was a safety talk by the owner of paintball and then we were divided into teams.

Instead of just playing with the people we’d come with, we had masses of strangers on our teams. And we were on opposing teams. Great in theory because you get to shoot your friends. But in practice, it was difficult to spot your friends when you had a visor on and paintballs were flying.

We played four maps, two of which were essentially capture the flag. Stockpile meant trying to capture three flags, Wasteland had us protecting one flag and trying to steal another. Then Stronghold you either stormed or protected a castle and in Bunker you were trying to secure both a nuclear reactor and (shockingly) a nuclear bunker for your team.

Discussion later revealed that each of our favourite maps were where we got to do some thrilling heroics. So for me it was Wasteland, where, having run out of ammo, I made a desperate run to try and capture the flag. I did not succeed. But I tried and that’s what counts, right?

It was a really fun day, especially when I figured out that my talents lay in providing cover and not in attempting to run anywhere. I’d go paintballing again, thought maybe not before any important events because I am still very bruised, several days later. And while Go Paintball was a great experience, it’s kind of far away. And I’m not sure how good the day was makes up for the expense.

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If It Ain’t Got That Swing

So recently I’ve been to two electro swing concerts, and have blogged about neither so far. And thus today’s post so about the genius of Parov Stelar and Caro Emerald, and how I need all concerts to have an excitable saxophonist from now on.

Parov Stelar

In November, I was listening to Parov Stelar as I often do, and idly wondered if the band was touring. To my shock and delight, they were. And they were going to be in Stuttgart at the same time as I was. So I messaged Helen and made her agree to come with me.

Getting to the Hanns Martin Schleyer Halle was surreal for two reasons. 1) I learnt about Hanns Martin Schleyer at university because German history and 2) it’s next to the Porsche arena and the Mercedes Benz arena so their names were up in lights.

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A little bit surreal.

When we got into the arena, we headed straight to the bar for pretzels and beer, because when in Germany, right? The arena wasn’t exactly full, and as we had standing tickets, I was looking forward to not being super squished. And then the support act started.

Eugene and the Cat are an Austrian band, who play jazz, swing and glitch hop. No, I have no idea what glitch hop is, but I was looking forward to finding out. I still have no idea what glitch hop is. But Eugene the Cat were pretty great. Super energetic, super excited to be there – all in all a great support act.

And then after a long interval in which the entire arena filled up, Parov Stelar came out. And the crowd went wild.  With a DJ, double bass, bass guitar, guitar, trumpet, trombone, saxophone and vocalist, there’s a lot going on. But because me and Helen had bothered to watch Eugene and the Cat we were really close to the front, so we got to see all the dorky dancing and how excited the saxophonist was.

We spent a good while trying to figure out which of them was Parov Stelar and decided it must be the saxophonist because he was enjoying himself so much. I had a lot of fun and Helen even had a good time, which is good seeing as I’d made her come with me to see a band she’d never listened to before. And then we nearly missed the last tram home because we were buying merch.

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All my pictures are blurry because I was dancing too much.

Good night. Such a good night. I would definitely recommend seeing Parov Stelar because they had so much energy. It was one of the best atmospheres of any concert I’ve ever been to. And I went to see S Club 7.

Caro Emerald

Caro Emerald was my first explicit introduction into electro swing and I am really grateful that my Dad discovered her, because she is great. We went to see her in 2014 and about a month later we booked tickets to go and see her in 2015.

Cue Decemeber 2015, and me and Dad were in Nottingham ready to see Caro Emerald again. Supported by Andreya Triana who was freaking amazing, Caro Emerald wasn’t too shabby either.

With a band that between them played keyboards, trumpet, saxophone, clarinet, guitar, double bass, bass guitar, and a DJ, many of the songs were more electro than the CD versions, and that was fantastic. I do love me some electro in my swing.

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Again, awful quality because I was dancing an awful lot.

Not only were the band good at music, they were pretty good at dancing too. At one point two of them abandoned their instruments to break into the Charleston in the middle of the stage. And Caro Emerald did exactly what I would do if I were a singing sensation – she took her shoes off and joined in.

It was such a good evening and I can relive it, as when buying a programme you got a code to download the audio from any concert from The Absolutely Me Tour. Caro Emerald always gets an audience dancing, and really what more could you want?

2

Stellar Stuttgart

So there has been no blog post for two whole weeks. Lately Christmas prep has got in the way, but before that I was in Stuttgart. Naturally this means that this week’s blog post is all about Stuttgart. So sit down comfortably and prepare to hear about a city that has a car obsession and a pig museum.

In the past couple of months, I’ve found myself missing Germany. I lived out there for 9 months (which you can read all about here) and although I enjoyed it, I was very happy to be back in the UK by the end of it. So the fact that I was missing Germany was somewhat of a shock. I also found myself craving German Christmas markets. The Birmingham one is good but it’s just not the same.

As luck would have it, I have a friend out in Stuttgart, doing their year abroad. Helen’s great, I was missing Germany and Christmas markets open in December. Perfect combination of excuses to go gallivanting off to Stuttgart for four days at the start of December.

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Look at Helen being excited about a mmetre of chocolate

My flight was at 7.10, which meant I got up at the hellishly early time of 4am. Don’t do it. Just don’t. I was so tired that I forgot tea was hot. I FORGOT TEA WAS HOT. That’s like forgetting the sky is blue, guys. But, sleep deprived though I was, I made it to Stuttgart for 10am. With a hotel room that I couldn’t get into until 3pm. Such planning ahead.

In the end, I went to my hotel anyway, and beginning in German, asked if I could leave my suitcase there until the room was ready. They said sure, no problem, and asked me my name. And promptly switched back into English.

I know this may come as a shock, but after 9 months in Germany, I can speak German. My grammar can be shaky and my vocab has diminished somewhat, but I can speak German. And as it turned out the receptionist’s English wasn’t as great as you would have thought. But no matter. I left my suitcase and went to explore Stuttgart.

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So pretty.

It’s a decent looking city. Looks like most German cities, so it’s nice but not beautiful. As cities tend to be. I wandered down what I later found out is the most popular shopping street in Germany. And yes, I ended up being part of that statistic.

Laden down with new clothes, I wandered round a pool that’s in the heart of Stuttgart before beginning to wander back to the hotel. Earlier I’d seen a few stalls of a Christmas market and been disappointed in how small it was. Oh how wrong I was. It turned out that the Christmas market went on for miles and so it was through there that I made my way home.

German Christmas markets are great. It’s difficult to explain what it is about them, and I think it’s a combination of the atmosphere and just how much food and drink there is. And that’s before you even get to the knick-knacks, ornaments and all the other stuff that is sold there.

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I ❤ German markets

So eventually I ended up back at my hotel, where I fell asleep because I’d been up at 4. And then about ten minutes before Helen was due to meet me, I woke up. You’d think that would be an issue, but seeing as I told Helen the wrong hotel, it wasn’t actually a problem. (I’d like to clarify that I accidentally told her the wrong hotel. I am not that cruel.)

When Helen and I had finally found each other, we went to the Christmas market to thoroughly explore and sample the Glühwein. It was an excellent night but I was back at my hotel by 9 and asleep by 10, because, as I believe I have mentioned once or twice, I had been up at 4 am.

The next day I headed back to Königstrasse to do some much needed shopping in the shops that I missed most from Germany (New Yorker, why do you not sell online? Why?). And then, because I felt like I needed to be at least a little bit cultural, I went to the Art Museum.

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Can’t ignore an exhibition called I Got Rhythm

They had a jazz in art exhibition on, which was great. But the coolest thing about it was that the audio guide played you songs that had inspired various paintings in the exhibition. Looking at art, listening to jazz – nothing could be better. Well, except for the part where I had to explain to an elderly couple how to use the audio guide auf Deutsch. That was kind of stressful.

Culture successfully absorbed, I wandered back through the Christmas market to my hotel (yes, this happened an awful lot) and then, after watching How I Met Your Mother in German, I met up with Helen to go to a concert.

We were seeing Parov Stelar supported by Eugene the Cat. It was a really great gig and we nearly missed the last train because we were buying merch. Hopefully there’ll be a full blog post dedicated to that evening soon.

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Give me a gig with  a brass section any day.

On the Saturday, we met at a reasonable time because we were going to Tübingen. Tübingen is about an hour from Stuttgart, is very pretty, but most importantly, has a chocolate festival in the first week of December.

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So pretty.

There was so much chocolate. From artisan truffles to chocolate sculptures to metre long cases of Ritter Sport, it was amazing. I bought a chocolate that looked like a conker, because it looked so much like a conker. And it was super delicious.

After we’d successfully chocolated ourselves out, we returned to Stuttgart for the evening. We ate at a burger place that gave us free satsumas when we left, and then we headed back to the Christmas market. Because where else would you go on a Saturday evening in a thriving German city?

Sunday was a very chilled day, because of the Glühwein from the night before and because I was leaving in the evening. So we went to the pig museum. It has over 50 000 pig figurines, divided into different categorgies like “The Divine Pig” or “Pigs around the World” or “Fictional Pigs”. It is an odd experience and well worth the five euros entry, just for the bizarre factor.

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This pig shaped tram was terrifying. 

I had a really great time in Stuttgart, which, it has to be said, is mostly down to Helen and the fact that I am very happy exploring Germany by myself while my friends are at work. I didn’t make it to the Porsche museum but seeing as everything was sponsored by either Porsche or Mercedes-Benz, including the art gallery and exhibits, and the fact that every tenth car was a Porsche or Mercedes, I feel like I got my monies worth from the city of cars.

Stuttgart’s not am obvious tourist destination, but the Christmas market was fabulous. The city itself is headed towards hipsterdom, though it’s got a ways to go before it can rival Dresden. But I enjoyed it. And managed to understand the local dialect, so result.