Tokyo

Many say springtime is the time when Göteborg awakens. With the first rays of sunshine, suddenly the streets are filled with elated citizens – making you wonder where all of these people were hiding outduring winter. While right now may be a great time to enjoy this city’s soft evening light and the spring flowers, there is one destination more than 8550 kilometers eastwards that offers an equally splendid springtime experience. Nihon e yokoso: Welcome to the Land of the Rising Sun, and the imperial city of Tokyo.

Photo: Tanaka Juuyoh
Photo: Tanaka Juuyoh

FOTO BStarting at the end of March and continuing throughout April, Japan is cloaked in a flurry of cherry blossoms. Delighted Tokyoites will be out en masse, carrying with them the obligatory items for a proper cherry blossom viewing party. Ueno Park is the place to be to spread out your blue tarpaulin, munch on some snacks and – naturally – consume copious amounts of sake. After all, who could resist getting gloriously drunk with friends under a starburst of pink and white flowers?

If you’re low on greasy food, you can check out the cramped, seedy and all-round awesome Ameyoko alley, right underneath the train tracks of Ueno. Sellers will shout at you in a hoarse voice, praising their fresh lobsters, fake Pokémon watches, freshly cut pineapple or flip-flops. Take your pick of the cheap and delicious street food like yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) or yakisoba (fried soba noodles with some vegetables and lots of gloopy brown sauce).

FOTO CIf you are lucky enough to be in Tokyo on an unclouded, nicespring day, it’s definitely worth heading over the financial district of Shinjuku to get an overview of the city. Shinjukuharbors the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (or simply Tochô), which offers a panoramic view that will leave you almost as dizzy and light-headed as a cup of sake in the park. Completely free of charge, you can drink in the city sights and maybe even catch a glimpse of legendary Mount Fuji in the distance. Compared with the ridiculously expensive Tokyo Tower (a red and white replica of the French Eiffel Tower), this is an excellent early morning stop.

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FOTO EOne thing that is very noticeable from the topmost levels of Tochô, is the massive Yoyogi Park. Walking into the park through the giant wooden Shintô gate, you are enveloped in a peace and quiet that seems oddly out of place in such a big metropolis. Wander onwards underneath the centuries-old trees that were donated from all over Japan, until you discover the serene and stately Meiji shrine. At the entrance, you will find all the attributes of a typical shrine: a water well to cleanse your hands and mouth with a bamboo spoon; small votive tablets on which people write their prayers and wishes; and a rack with rows upon rows of white paper strips fluttering in the wind. These little fortune notes are taken home by people when they contain good fortunes, but tied to the rack and left behind by worshipers who draw a fortune paper with a bad prediction. A convenient way of dealing selectively with messages from above! On a springtime weekend day, your chances are also quite good of witnessing a typical Shintô wedding at the Meiji shrine, with the couple beautifully dressed in traditional garments.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERATo discover the difference between a shrine (the Shintôism place of worship) and a temple (where Buddhists pray), switch from perfect peace to the bustling atmosphere of the Sensôji temple. Located in the down-to-earth, residential neighborhood Asakusa (a far cry from the skyscrapers and office buildings of Shinjuku), the precincts of this temple are a world of their own. You’ll be met by the scent of joss sticks, ferocious lion statues, paper lanterns towering over you…and hundreds of believers. Whether they worship at the altar of bodhisattva Kannon or in the rows of little food and souvenir shops might remain a matter of some doubt.

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FOTO H - cory doctorow_creative commons
Photo: Cory Doctorow

In stark contrast to these spiritual matters is the craziest and perhaps most Japan-ish neighborhood of Tokyo on the edge of Yoyogi park. Harajuku is the natural habitat for lovers of fashion and cosplayers, who congregate especially on weekends to admire each other’s outfits and swap the latest fashion news. See and be seen! Guys dressed like Dracula in tophats and waistcoats sit next to lolita girls with teacups in their curly hair and dresses straight out of Alice in Wonderland. 18th Century princesses shriek in delight over Hello Kitty shoelaces, while Visual Kei fans with insane hairstyles will make you realize how Japan got its cutting edge reputation. Wander up and down Takeshita Dôri street (a must for lovers of claustrophobic crowds!), assemble your own outfit or simply allow yourself to be enthralled. Of course you also have to pick up a Japanese crêpe along the way, complete with Nutella, bananas, strawberries and agenerous helping of whipped cream.

 

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAIf you’re suffering from sensory overload, head over to the Tokyo-Edo museum. This high quality museum provides a most enlightening overview of the capital city’s history, including a huge replica of a traditional Kabuki theatre. If anything, the fact that the exterior of the museum looks like a spaceship straight out of Star Wars should be reason enough to go check it out.

Close to this museum lies Akihabara: a mecca for electronics collectors, with hundreds of stores filled with weird Japanese gadgets and video games. Especially at night, this area is magically lit up with neon advertisements and flashing colors – the Japan of legends. Akihabara is also where you can have a drink at one of the notorious “maid cafés.” The waitressesthere are dressed in French maid-uniforms, talk to customers in the most incredibly polite Japanese, act cute, and will basically live up to your horny fetish dreams of being treated like a lord. It’s no problem if you don’t want to venture into one of the maid cafés themselves, since you’ll usually bump into one or two maid girls on the streets already, handing out flyers for promotion. Apparently maid cafés take on non-Japanese girls as waitresses too, so if you’re a bit short on cash and need a summer job: you know where to send your CV.

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Another breathtaking location at night in Tokyo is the hip and glitzy Shibuya area. Excellent for shopping and dining, this is where a famous scene with Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation was shot. Follow in her footsteps and stand on the junction of seven streets and countless pedestrian crossings, surrounded by an impressive wall of towering neon commercials.

Photo: Guwashi/Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Guwashi/Wikimedia Commons

If you’re getting hungry from wandering around the concrete jungle, going to an izakaya café is highly recommended. The best izakayas are often stylishly decorated in the traditional Japanese way (with sliding doors separating the rooms, tatami mats and low tables). Instead of being just an ordinary bar, izakayas can serve as high class restaurants, business meeting places, pre-karaoke hangouts or the setting for a romantic date. When Japanese friends go to an izakaya at night, they’ll usually eat a full dinner there by ordering a variety of small dishes like sushi, sashimi, noodles, or dim sum. The fun starts when people sign up for “nomihôdai” (all-you-can-drink), which usually includes anything from cocktails to jugs of warm sake. Since many Japanese don’t seem to tolerate alcohol very well, you can imagine they’re in for a lively night…

Photo: Lloyd Morgan
Photo: Lloyd Morgan

This is why late at night is a good time to round off a day in Tokyo by going people-watching – a free and most interesting way to study Tokyoites when they’re out and about. Or an anthropological goldmine if you’re trying to find out how drunk Japanese (returning from an izakaya party) attempt to navigate through Tokyo’s busy subway system. The awesome blog Tokyo Damage Report (your number one insider’s guide to Tokyo, including a search for the legendary Japanese vending machines of schoolgirl panties and vacuum-wrapped used sanitary pads – complete with Polaroid photo by the previous owner) does a hilarious report on this practice:
http://www.hellodamage.com/top/2008/02/24/people-watching-in-shinjuku-station-drunks/ and http://www.hellodamage.com/top/2008/02/10/more-shinjuku-station-war-stories/.

In the space of less than two hours, you could witness people getting into fights, slipping and falling grandiosely, sobbing tragically under the influence of alcohol, or friends bowing to each other when saying goodbye, thereby bumping butt-first into another passerby.

Since any sentence or blog on the topic of “Meanwhile in Japan…” can lead to the craziest, most baffling, amazing stories, a single city guide can hardly cover the myriad wonders that Tokyo has to offer. Do yourself a favor and include springtime in Japan on your bucket list – you may find yourself addressing the spirits next to a Shintô priest, fighting with schoolgirls during a pink tutu sale, or getting advice from a suit-clad salaryman directing you to the best sushi joint in town. Either way, it will be “cool!!”

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Text: Eva Corijn
eva.corijn [at] utblick.org
Photo: Eva Corijn and others where noted

Krakow

800px-Cracow_view1The past week has been insane. Or perhaps I should say the past 10 days to be more precise. Part of the insanity has been the destination of my last conference – Krakow. As a European city, Krakow has been underrated and definitely under-marketed as a tourist destination. Krakow is evidence that good things hardly make it to the news – it is one of the few cities that survived the looting and destruction of WWII no damage, while majority other cities were bombed to the ground.

Having visited the city in the winter I had the opportunity to appreciate the -12 degrees C that loom over the populace. However, all is not to a loss. Constant snowfall coupled with the cold degrees, turned the central city park into a mini Narnia, where the trees complemented the white snow with dark silhouettes. The park in itself spans most of the inner city, so one is able to avoid walking next to traffic when making their way from one end to the other.

Unlike the grid designs of Manhattan, Krakow is planned in pear drop shapes. In the middle is the historic Rynek Glowny (Old Town), housed within the walls of the fort that surround the inner city. It reminded me of the old Town of Tallin. Not far from Glowny (perhaps a 10 minute walk) up on Wawel hill, looming above the city, is the old castle – Wawel along with a beautiful cathedral. Around this, flows the main river – Visla. Old town, main square

Fact 1: The Wawel housed the royal families of Poland but also one of the last Catholic Swedish monarchs – Sigismund. In fact, he is buried in Krakow.

The city’s former diverse mix of ethnicities is evidenced by the numerous synagogues found within the old Jewish quarters of Kazimierz. This was most probably my favourite part of the city, with little bustling shops and restaurants sprawled out. As a Swede reading most of the signboards became one of my main forms of entertainment, as more than one, would read as crude or embarrassing words.

Fact 2: Roughly 90% of the Polish population is Roman Catholic.

Being a foodie, I’m always curious as to what the local foods are and can’t wait to try them. I had recently seen a documentary about pirogues and their commonplace in Poland. However, I remained unprepared for the fact that I would NOT be able to try most foods, you see, Polish are big on pork. . As a non-pork eater, I had a difficult time getting pork-free food. So for majority of my stay, I was vegetarian – except of course in the Jewish quarters where there was plenty of kosher food available. By the end of the trip my summary of Polish cuisine, in one sentence; “Would you like some pork with your pork?” This is not an exaggeration. Having ordered a chicken schnitzel (as replacement of pork) I was caught off guard when there were tiny pieces of bacon chopped into my sour croute. The appetiser had been pirogues with a dip sauce – the dip sauce contained tiny pieces of bacon. And the soups were mostly based on meat bouillon, wouldn’t be surprised if it was pork. Even more, they are big on breading and frying their food.

The lack of non-pork options did not bog me down, because the restaurants offered great salads at great prices. The fact that one can still eat a whole lunch under 50KR, this too including your drink, was a pleasant surprise indeed. The silverlining however lay with the numerous bakeries to be found at every little street, offering delicious treats – ranging from cheesecake to simple pastries stuffed with some form of cheese.

Fact 3: Krakow is one of the oldest cities in Europe, dating back to the Stone Ages.

The city is rumoured to have more bars per square meter than any other in Europe! And true to its reputation, we ended up being out at bar until 3 am, sitting next to a live fireplace (which are very common in bars there) warming us, while listening to music watching the flow of people that kept streaming in. Even as we exited the bar, people kept coming, reminding me that the night was still young. All this helped negate my earlier prejudice that had led me to believe such partying only to possible in London.

The point I’m trying to get across: catch a flight to Krakow, because Poland is about to surprise you.

Text: Aiysha Varraich

Dubai – the Desert City

Mid-december and the sun stands high over Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai. The Pakistani taxi driver shoots through the traffic, zig-zagging the six lane highway that cuts the city lengthwise. Driving by the districts Downtown Dubai, Internet City, Media City, Dubai Marina I lose count on the number of skyscrapers we pass.

“If you would have come fifteen years earlier this would only be a desert”, the taxi driver says while pointing towards the Gulf as we take off at the last exit at Dubai Marina. The road we just got off continues south-west to United Arab Emirates’ capital – Abu Dhabi.

Thirty degrees and humid air surrounds me when I get out of the taxi on the Jumeirah Beach Residence’s and I begin to understand that Dubai city is truly the city of development. The concrete has merely dried on one side of The Walk and another one, closer to the beach, is occupied by rebar structures and construction cranes.

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Construction work at The Walk in JBR

This record-breaking city holds so many world records that the achievement in itself is a world record. The easiest one to spot is the world’s tallest man-made structure: Burj Khalifa. With its 829.8 meters Burj Khalifa leaves the world’s second highest structure more than a hundred meters below. So how do you start to build such thing?

The answer is money. Rumours have it that the building was initially named Burj Dubai. However, after a shortage of capital during the building process a sponsor, president Sheikh Khalifa of Abu Dhabi contributed with a humble amount of money. In return he wanted the building to be named after him. (Read more)

Burj Khalifa by night
Burj Khalifa by night

Another way to express extreme wealth in this country is by holding a low number on your license plate. Businessman Saeed Al Khouri might have taken this too far when he bought the coveted plate with number one on it. The price? 14.1 million dollars. (Read more)In this steaming hot environment, both in terms of the desert wind’s temperature and the economic growth, the inequalities and everyday differences between rich and the poor are clearly exposed. The contact between two different worlds makes Dubai a unique place on earth. Or as the Moroccan-French expat Maryam explained it “Here the Filipino waiter earns almost nothing when he serves some of the world’s richest people.” The question is to be addressed, who pays the highest price?

Moreover, the United Arab Emirates is estimated to be the safest country in the Middle East when it comes to order and security, and was placed fifth in the world on the Rule of Law Index given by the World Justice Project. (Read more)

The Sharia law is effective. In shopping malls, in the street or lounges you must obey the law of not showing overt display of affection. Meaning no hands are held and no kissing is allowed. If you are lucky enough to have found a partner on the dance floor or in the relaxing lounge sofas – or if you are here on vacation with your partner – you can be sure guards will make sure you do not show affection. This might be the preferred alternative since, strictly juridically speaking, showing affection could lead to jail. Having guards present in public places does, however, entail benefits. While sitting in a restaurant you’ll never have to worry about your handbag, cellphone or wallet. If someone happens to see an old friend they just leave their valuables on the park bench or dinner table, without a single remnant of doubt.

The 2nd of December UAE celebrated its 42nd national day since having become independent from the former British rule in 1971. This year, a couple of days prior to the 2nd of december, it was announced that Dubai will hold the world exhibition EXPO 2020, which means Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s city will be the world’s centre of attention. This was a very symbolic and important step for Dubai. The whole city was in ecstasy and Burj Khalifa turned into a burning volcano as the show of fireworks continued during the celebrations.

One of many reasons why Dubai was selected to hold the EXPO in 2020 is its geographical position. A circle with Dubai as its centre point and with a radius of an eight hour flight time covers almost two thirds of the world’s population: From Japan and Indonesia in the east, stretching over the Sahara desert down to South Africa in the southwest, over to the United Kingdom and Ireland and including both Scandinavia and a most parts of Russia in the north.

Aviators show their skills over Palm Jumeirah
Aviators show their skills over Palm Jumeirah

A well-suited man gives me a couple of minutes of his time. His name is Yossuf “I came here in 2006 and it felt like paradise, but after a while I realized something was missing.” He wanted to live in a “normal” city with parks and green areas. “So after a couple of years I went to South America. It was such a difference!”. But as time passed he wanted to go back to Dubai “I’m back now and I work at an insurance company. It’s good, but there are still no parks here. And no old people or teenagers”, he laughs while saying this, but inside I see he’s a bit sad about it. The lack of an old and a young population is just as noticeable, as it is strange – everyone you see are in their thirties, in the middle of their careers.

Maryam, the Moroccan-French woman again “I hold a masters degree in Public Relations. But in France I couldn’t find a job”. On the question why Maryam moved to Dubai, she answers “In France we have something called racism. French is my mother tounge but I have wrong name in the passport. So Dubai was a good option, I thought. Here racism is not a problem and I can hopefully find a job”.

Text & photo: Mikael Boberg

Bangkok – The City of Angels

Ah Bangkok, my City of Angels!

Even before ever having visited Thailand’s capital city, you can marvel at the fact that its full name is included in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s longest place name. A glorious string of archaic descriptions, it literally means “The city of angels; the residence of the emerald Buddha; the great impregnable city; steadfast and thriving in its gracefulness; the grand capital of the world, abundant with the nine noble gems; a pleasant, happy city; the city which abounds with the enormous Royal Palace, that resembles the heavenly abode where the reincarnated god reigns; erected by Vishnu at Indra’s behest.”

If the name feels a bit overwhelming, it’s nothing compared to the sprawling, chaotic, wonderful urban jungle that meets the eye when you arrive. I use the word jungle intentionally, because the thing that struck me instantly when I first came to Bangkok, was how tropical and alive the place is. Yes: it is humid, messy, polluted and the traffic is madness. But everywhere you look, lush green foliage creeps between the buildings; moss softly covers roofs and gutters; and the grand Chao Phraya river courses like a life-vein through Bangkok, providing it with a steady heartbeat.

FOTO 1_Creative commons - Bangkok, Thailand, view from Golden Mt. - by Milei Vencel

Due to its vast, labyrinthine-like qualities it can be difficult to pinpoint a strict center in this city of 10 million people, with its flashing neon commercials, fine Thai architecture, street food sizzling in roadside stalls, friendly monks in orange robes and crowded markets. If I were to guide you, however, I would first take you to the main commercial area around Siam Square. It’s where the two most important BTS Skytrain lines intersect, creating a puzzle of concrete overpasses, underneath which the busy Rama I road teems with taxi’s, motorbikes, buses and tuktuks.

There’s something to say both in favor and against most of these modes of transportation: the Skytrain is fast, reliable, very clean and air-conditioned (a fact you will rapidly start to appreciate in Bangkok). On the downside, it is relatively expensive and covers only a limited number of stops. Taxis are comfortable, quite cheap compared to other countries and cover every single corner of the metropolis. They do however have to face the insane traffic jams that can occur around rush hours, while the fare meter keeps ticking… Local buses deal with the same traffic situation, but they are dirt cheap, quite rickety and thus offer a more adventurous way of travelling through town. However, their network is seemingly incomprehensible and includes a bewildering amount of bus lines. If you’re feeling reckless and free, I can highly recommend hopping on the back of a motorbike taxi. Just grab hold of a driver, negotiate a price with a mischievous smile on your face and prepare for the ultimate, stomach-churning kick. Helmets are obligatory, but many people don’t seem to bother – racing through narrow gaps in traffic jams, avoiding pedestrians by seconds, and breaking both laws of nature and traffic costs you only a few coins for short distances. The one mode of transport I would not recommend, is the well-known tuktuk. As a foreigner, you will invariably end up paying a fortune for a ride in these loud, noisy three-wheelers that offer next to nothing in the comfort or scenery department.

FOTO 2 _ Creative commons - Christian Haugen_Multicolored traffic jam in Bangkok

No matter how you get to Siam Square’s hustle and bustle, if you’re into shopping, you should wander around one of the many malls the area has to offer. They range from high class, exclusive Paragon and Central World Plaza, to the huge and more local-oriented Pratunam and Platinum – a Swedish friend used to go there with two empty garbage bags which would be stuffed by the time she got out. You have been warned. MBK is the place to go if you’re more into gadgets and electronics, with the top floors offering stalls where you can order illegal copies of entire seasons of your favorite tv series. Return an hour later, and the dvds will be waiting for you.

If you feel tired of the never ending, wordly capitalist craziness, you will be delighted to discover the small Erawan shrine on a busy street corner in Siam Square. This Hindu shrine celebrates the god Brahma and is frequented non-stop by pilgrims who drape the shrine with garlands, light incense sticks that perfume the air, and sometimes even hire dance troops to perform in honor of the gods. If your heart aches at the sight of the shrine birds locked into impossibly tiny cages, you can buy one and set it free with a prayer.

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Another option is to head for the more quiet area just west of Siam Square, to visit Jim Thompson’s house – a must-see for lovers of architecture. This house and its splendid garden are an oasis of calm and silence in the middle of Bangkok and used to belong to an American architect-turned-silkdealer. Thompson’s house is entirely built up of teak wood in the traditional Thai style and filled with many precious Asian art objects. Part of the allure of the place is perhaps also that the man himself mysteriously disappeared in the sixties in Malaysia while on a walking tour, never to be seen again. Whether he was murdered or not, his legacy lives on in this graceful museum.

Continue your journey to the old Rattanakosin area close to the river, where you will find the city’s most famous temples (“wat” in Thai) and perhaps Bangkok’s top tourist destination: the large compound which includes the former Royal Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo. The palace is a maze of halls and courtyards in a mix of European and Thai architecture, abundant with intricate details and gold-leaf. Today the royal family no longer lives there however it is used only for ceremonial events. In Wat Phra Kaeo’s dazzling interior, you can see a small, very famous and very holy Buddha statue (the emerald Buddha from Bangkok’s name!) that was carved from a single block of jade in the 14th century. Every season, the Thai king himself lovingly performs the important ritual of decorating the little statue in one of his three cloaks, to ensure good fortune for the nation.

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A ten-minute walk from these two sights, you find the more quiet Wat Pho, one of the oldest and largest temples of Bangkok. Allow yourself to soak up the peaceful atmosphere and enjoy seeing the 46-meter long golden statue of the Reclining Buddha, whose foot soles are decorated with auspicious scenes in mother-of-pearl. Wat Pho also includes the country’s leading massage school, so if you want you can book a treatment here. Beware! A real Thai massage can sometimes be anything but relaxing, with some serious, painful stretching included to improve your blood flow!

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Not far from the Royal Palace compound, you can stray into Yaowarat and suddenly find yourself in a completely different culture: welcome to Bangkok’s Chinatown. Walking along Charoenkrung Road, one store after the other sells vast quantities of shiny gold, interspersed by restaurants with all-Chinese menus or shady stores offering unrecognizable packages of medicinal herbs. Allow yourself to get lost here, without being surprised that Chinese temples FOTO 6astand side by side with portraits celebrating the Thai king;

or that a market stall seems to sell both bloody chickens, cheap underwear and sleeping dogs…

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If you feel you need a breath of fresh air, an excellent option is to hop on the nearby Chao Phraya Express Boat, a cheap and useful water ferry that crosses Bangkok’s main river. Not only is it a more efficient way to traverse the city than chartering your own long-tail boat, it also provides you with a nice view and a fun experience.

If it is now nearing sunset and you are up for a surreal experience, head to the seedy, carnivalesque red-light district of Soi Cowboy, just across the road from the Sukhumvit Skytrain station. Everyone knows about the Thai bar scene, frequented by middle-aged Western men with beer bellies and sorry life stories,

Wat Arun Sunset

and Bangkok is no exception. Writing about these areas is difficult, as they are a very ambiguous feature of Thailand. On the one hand, when you are strolling past the many venues with their pumping music and you are invited inside with the promise of attractions like “pussy cuts banana” or “pussy smokes cigarette,” you feel sick. You bite your lip and look away when you see girls dancing on bars, wearing nothing more than a bra and hotpants (or less), knowing that most of them are both very young and very poor, and often came from the arid northeast of Thailand in hopes of making a better life for themselves. At the same time, you are easily drawn to these areas, like a moth to a flame – whether to verify if the shameful stories of expat men leering at young bodies are true, to engage in gawping disaster-tourism or simply to have a drink in this most surreal area, surrounded by the energy and life of the city. I don’t know whether I should advise you to spend some time here so you know that the City of Angels includes all kinds of fallen angels, or to shake my head and lead you somewhere else.

FOTO 8 - Soi Cowboy_Wry2010_Creative Commons2

Let me finish with an almost magical, not-to-be-missed weekend destination: Chatuchak, or JJ Market! This is hands down the best market I have ever been to. I know Istanbul’s bazaars are famed, as are Morocco’s souks – but never have I been to a place where they literally have everything. Every single thing you can imagine: silk scarves, rusty Buddha statues, plastic flower lights to decorate your windows, t-shirts of Homer Simpson talking Japanese, bubble tea with cinnamon flavor, old maps turned into wallpaper, … You name it, you find it. The thing is that Chatuchak is so huge and confusing, that I can only compare it to Hogwarts – whenever you decide you like an item “but I’ll come back for it later so I don’t have to carry it around all day,” forget it. The chances are close to zero of you finding your way back to the exact stall you are looking for. Shopkeepers seem to magically vanish, little hidden alleys turn up where before there were none, and all the while you discover new, exciting trinkets that you didn’t know existed. That Homer Simpson t-shirt I mentioned? Yeah, I never did find it again and regret it until today. If you want the world’s most hardcore shopping experience, head to the north of Bangkok armed with a big bottle of water and a good pair of flip-flops, and go wild.

 

FOTO 9 - A Narrow Soi at Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok, Thailand_JJ Harrison Creative Commons

 Text: Eva Corijn

Bilder: Milei Vencel, Christian Haugen,Mark Fischer, JJ Harrison and Eva Corijn

 

Karachi – the city that still shines.

Out of the many loves that engulf my life, there is one that keeps flickering no matter how strong the winds blow, that is my love for Karachi. This city, no matter what the Western media says, is magical in its own dusty, humid and wonderfully sunny way.karachi

Not only was this the first capital of the newly formed country of Pakistan in 1947, today it is the financial hub of the country, where 18 million people live – partaking in the hustle and bustle the megacity offers in all its forms – from great food to brilliant art, and some of the most beautiful scenes the Arabian Sea has to offer.

Many of you have heard of Pakistan, but Karachi, perhaps not. Karachi is located at the southern tip of the country, serving as the country’s primary sea-port. When you enter this city, the first thing that will catch your attention on the roads are the hand-painted busses that jingle their way past you. This is the main form of public transportation. However the roads will also offer you bizzarre scenes; such as the one depicted above where a donkey cart pulls a rickshaw on its way to the workshop for repairs.

Now let’s begin our tour. Let us begin with some landmarks, as these can many atimes be overlooked unless some event is taking place. One of the most beautiful buildings in Karachi is Frere Hall,408565_10151162044436377_1259259907_n not only does it host one of my very favourite book fairs but it is also home to the Sadequain Gallery. The name Sadequain is a household name in Paksitan and in fact many art lovers seek out pieces by the artist, however his work remains hidden from the Western mainstream media. Fun fact: it was Sadequain that illustrated Albert Camus’ The Stranger, a fact not many Europeans are aware of.  Surrounded by lush gardens, the Hall provides an oasis of tranquility in the midst of the hustle and bustle.


Another landmark and tourist magnet is the Quaid-e-Azam (Urdu for Father of the Nation) Masoleum, where the
16674_10151162052726377_1162269726_nfounder of Paksitan rests. A trip to the memorial is only complete with a trip to Guru Mandir’s food corner, known for its hunter-beef burgers from Hanifa’s. You drive up right infront of the street restaurant and place your order. To slurp it all down, the desert and cherry on top is the shareefa shake (sugar apple milkshake) that the neighbouring restaurant has on offer.

My other favourite place, that I visit almost every time I am in the city, is the wonderful museum of Mohatta Palace. As a centre of art it hosts exhibitions for a span of two years, ensuring there is always something new taking place; this is over and above the  supernatural hauntings that have become part of the urban legends surrounding the city.

72207_10151162051871377_1961045756_nA little well-kept secret (even from the locals) is a secret underground tunnel that leads from the Palace to a nearby Hindu Temple, (1km away)!

Let’s pause the landmarks. Let me describe the food scene. Being a foodie, a Karachi experience is incomplete without having performed the food pilgrimage. The one thing I long for the most, when not there, are the 3 am drives down to Boat Basin where we sit on the charpoys, leaning down on gao takkias (bolster pillows) while facing the lake awaiting our orders of halwa puri – all while sipping hot sweet chai (milk tea with cardemum). The halwa puri arrives! This sweet manna together with small fried breads are typically served with a potato and chickpea curry. It will knock you out, but that’s what a true late night out is meant for.

Then there are the infamously delicious chicken rolls. Signature to Karachi, they consist of a paratha (flatbread made with butter) stuffed with marinated pieces of meat or chicken, fresh off the skewers where they’ve been grilling. This is topped with whatever you want – mint chutney, garlic mayo, or simple cheddar cheese. The place to go – Khaddah market (in Clifton Cantonment area). These are the street foods that are a must. If you fancy to spend a little more (by Paksitani standards) then head over to BBQ Tonight. A landmark in its own right, you will find people from near and far; families, couples, locals, tourists – all in search for the same quest: the best grilled and barbequed food town has to offer. The good part: there are two outlets, one in Clifton and one in Malir Cantonement.

The one place that combines the food, the landmark status and just the right amount of crazy has to be the Itewaar Bazaar (Sunday Bazaar). Her you will find everything ranging from books, jewellry, household items and never-ending stalls of beautiful cloth. The market takes place, (you guessed it) every Sunday. 543931_10151162038576377_494625336_nFor people that enjoy markets, this is definitely one that needs to be visited; the market under the sun, where you walk on sand while browsing through prospective goods. Another market, that doesn’t receive the attention it deserves, is the Empress Market. Unlike the Itewaar Bazaar, it is both indoors and outdoors. Food, shoes, spices, toys, all in the heaploads. The building itself was erected in the 1800s and is one of the legacies of the British Raj.

Zainab Market – this is the one everyone talks about and  the place you want to be (for household items as well as clothing). The local khussas can be found in all designs and patterns (picture to the left). You will have a tough time deciding. Be warned, you have to be good at bargaining. This applies to all markets. The vendors can spot a newbie a mile away.  So, my best advice, either take a local bargaining master with you, or just stand your ground.

This bargaining skill can also come handy when at the beach, encountering the horse/camel vendors offering a ride. 486254_10151162053051377_1104076747_nThere are lots of beaches to choose from; Clifton Beach, Hawke’s Bay beach (where you can view the hawks bay turtle lay their eggs and then wander back into the sea), the French Beach and many more. If you have the energy, hop onto one of the camels, it always makes me laugh.

I think this is a good start to pique the curiosity of a wandering soul. Another little fun fact: a roughly 2 hour plane ride from Karachi, you will find the ruins of one of the oldest civilizations of the world – the Indus Valley Civilization of Mohenjo Daro.

Tips: more food: Mr. Burger (Clifton Cantonement), Chatkharay (Khadda Market, Defence Housing Authority Phase V) And because it deserves it, do pay a visit to the Karachi Port Area , after all this is what drives the country’s financial hub. And finally, Zamzama is where ice-cream is served up like art installations – frozen yoghurt meets Karachi. 320902_10151162044976377_1665301747_n

 

Lomé: the City of Thousand Contrasts

You might have never heard anything about Lomé. And I would not blame you because I think I would not know anything about the place if I haven’t lived there during my childhood.

However, according to my opinion Lomé is definitely worth a visit if you are traveling in sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, it is the capital of Togo, one of the smallest country of Africa and is located next to Bénin and Ghana, and below Burkina Faso. Despite a population of 6 million inhabitants, Togo rarely gets any media coverage in Europe, probably due to the country’s relative political stability. However, with its exceptional landscapes’ diversity, ranging from mountain views, arid grounds, green valleys to coastal areas, it has a lot to offer.

sunset2..

The capital Lomé is situated along the coast, which is its first advantage and is very enjoyable during the hot and dry season. The constant sea-breeze will always refresh you and make you able to spend endless times in the depths of the city.

You will certainly start your journey at the big market (‘Grand Marché’) to be introduced to the heart of the city. At that place, the visitor will instantly feel the African vibe. Indeed, the ‘Grand Marché’ is where everything takes place. Bordered by multiple small stalls, the streets are super crowded and there is of course always a baking sun. The main merchants are female, run their businesses brilliantly, and are called the ‘nana-benz’. You will find everything at the ‘Grand Marché’: fresh vegetables and fruits, spices, colorful loincloths, dry fish, medicinal plants and suitcases. There is also the big cathedral in this area, the cathedral ‘Sacré-Coeur’which deserves a visit. If you’d like to buy some artisanal products, there is a beautiful local production of jewelry, wooden masks and pieces of decoration, paintings and textile bags next to the Palm Beach Hotel on the Boulevard de la République.

There is another big market of a total different style – the ‘Akodésséwa’ market. I’ve never been to this one because I have a weak stomach. Indeed, it is the market where the fetishist-healers get their provisions- here you can find cats’ heads, goats’ hoofs, animals’ skulls and other unidentified substances and objects. This market is therefore not recommended to the fainthearted.

After this visit, if you want to have a blast of fresh air, just take a ‘zémidjan’ (moto-taxis) which will drive you to the harbor area, riding along the coast on the ‘Marina’. Be prepared to have a sportive trip – the Togolese driving-style is very … specific. Traffic lights work (or don’t work) but in any case it won’t change anything. The game is to move forward before the others. The harbor area is less crowded and offers a few restaurants where you can savor fresh fish dishes. Some of them also have a private beach, where you can enjoy the sun, have a wonderful view on the coastline with its coconut trees and the large waves of the Guinea Golf. However, be cautious because the water flow is very powerful and even an excellent swimmer would not be able to reach the coast again.

marina bien

If you prefer enjoying the beach in the city-center, you should definitely be in Lomé on a Sunday. Indeed, it is the weekly resting day and the Togolese people like enjoying the sunset at the beach. From the middle of the afternoon till the sun sets, people dance on typical African music, drink beers on improvised tables, play games, sing. You will easily find drinks and snacks among the numerous street vendors. You might try a ‘Fan Milk’ ice or juice. They are very sweet but also quite enjoyable.

Last but not least, try to make a visit to the peace dove ‘Colombe de la Paix’, and try to have a look on the CASEF area, where official administrative buildings are located and dominated by the 2nd February Hotel, a 102 meters building mainly used for African summits and meetings.

enfants village..

In short, if you have the opportunity to visit Lomé, don’t hesitate for one instant. The city has the potential to seduce all types of visitors. However, I would definitely suggest you to take the time to travel to other regions of the country because Togo has a lot of different wonderful places that you must see. As an example, on your way to the Togo Lake (‘Lac Togo’), you’ll see lots of small villages and smiling children, while on your way to the north of the country, such as Kpalimé or even Kara, you will have the chance to observe the Togolese landscapes’ diversity.

Text & Photo: Lauranne Beernaert

Vienna – The Pearl of Central Europe

If you want to go to a place where you can do everything, explore new options and enjoy maximally culture, art, beautiful nature, astonishing architecture and entertaining night life then Vienna is your city. It offers everything from relaxing walks in the parks and castles to opportunities to attend exhibitions in galleries, museums, opera, ballet, classical concerts and so much more.

vienna5First, let’s start with my first impressions from Vienna, when I arrived there during the Autumn. The weather was still warm, and the leaves on the trees were colorful, which created a very special and romantic atmosphere. The city itself is very comfortably organized, clean and its inhabitants are very friendly. If you get lost, don’t hesitate to ask about your destination, and you can rest assured that they will be more than happy to help you.

I shall start this guiding tour with the first attraction that I attended: St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom), – one of the most significant buildings of the Middle European high and late Gothic period. It’s built in 1147 AD while its most recognizable characteristic, the diamond-patterned tile roof, was added in 1952. It has become a symbol of Vienna‘s freedom after World War Two. What I found most existing was to climb the 343 steps to the tower-keeper’s room and enjoy the magnificent view. If you feel tired after your climbing, you should take a break and definitely visit one of the cafeterias at Graben street. The origin of this street dates back to the old Romans and it is surrounded by popular alleys, streets and places, representing the typical flair, elegant tradition and gourmet pleasures: Stephansplatz, Kohlmarkt, Naglergasse, Tuchlauben and Petersplatz.

vienna4

Next stop: The Hofburg imperial palace, which is an impressive building at the Heldenplatz with long history. It is located at Vienna’s splendor boulevard, the Ringstrasse, and is reachable from there through the Burgtor gate.I’m recommending you to visit Sissi Museum and exhibition rooms of the Imperial Apartments. For those who are not familiar with Sissi, she was an Austro-Hungarian Empress, Elisabeth of Austria, the wife of Franz Joseph I, and popularly more well-known as Sissi. In her museum you should see her private artifacts, cloths and some of her own poems and thoughts.

vienna1If you want to enjoy an impressive exhibition, you should definitely visit the most popular galleria in Austria called Albertina. It contains one of the largest graphic art collections in the world with 44000 drawings and 1 million old master prints (Leonardo da Vinci, Michalangelo, Raffael, Rubens, Rembrandt, Dürer, Gustav Klimt). Albertina is located in the centre of the city, just 100 meters from the opera building, so after an hour at the gallery your next destination should be Vienna State Opera House. It’s a very impressive building and also a worldwide known opera house. With 1709 seats and 567 standing rooms there is plenty of space for the audience to watch daily opera performances, ballet shows, sometimes concerts and one time a year an operetta – that is the Fledermaus – as traditional New Year’s Eve performance.

After such a long cultural walk around the beautiful Austrian capital, most of you probably will need little break. I advice you to take a little breath at Burggarten –Vienna Garden, a famous place for relaxation. In the past was used as a private garden for the emperor, with an area of approximately 38.000 m². It is located directly by the Ringstrasse, beside the Hofburg and Albertina.

vienna2If you are a person who looks out for an adrenaline rush and entertainment, then your next attraction should be Vienna’s Prater with Giant Ferris Wheel or the most popular amusement park in Austria. Personally, I enjoyed this place during the night and it includes one of the biggest disco nightclubs in Central Europe. With several floors, this place should satisfied every musical taste, and the atmosphere is really very specific and makes you feel that the party will never end.

The last stop in our Vienna adventure is my favorite place. It is probably the most visited and famous tourist attraction in Vienna, as well as one of the most important cultural monuments in Austria: Schönbrunn Palace. The complex contains an imperial palace, a park with fountains, statues and a Zoo. Among Europe’s grandiose palaces, only Schönbrunn rivals Versailles, with over 1,400 rooms in the Baroque and Rococo styles. In room after luxurious room, the palace heralds the story of the Habsburg’s powerful reign. Here you could easily bring back time in your imagination and see yourself as being part of the royal world, where important events took place and decisions concerning the future of Europe have been taken.

Text: Ivelin Mindev

City Guide: London

”Do you like London? Well, neither does the English.” This is the first sentence of Berlitz’s travel guide for London published in 1987 to introduce the potential visitor to the city. The author spends the following paragraphs explaining how the English soul rests in the countryside and that their country-dwelling peers look upon the Londoners with something that can most aptly be described as pity.

Since then the British society in general, and the capital in particular, has undergone a spectacular change. The internet revolution came and went and an unprecedented influx of people from all over the world, not least from the Commonwealth, landed on Britain’s shores. Many of them headed straight for London, more than a third of today’s Londoners were born outside of Britain. The great deregulatory spree, embarked upon by Margaret Thatcher was in its infancy in 1987, with most of the reforms being put in place only a year earlier. They have arguably come to have the most profound impact as they brought about London’s return as one of the most important financial centers in the world. These changes have been the foundation for a new globalized environment in which the British capital has thrived. London today is the only truly global city in Europe and one of few worldwide.

London 1

Bearing this in mind when you go to London will keep you open to what really makes a visit worthwhile. The first time visitor will inevitably tick off the list of must-see-things first and with this out of the way will be ready for the rest of it. Being the city it is, London has acted as a magnet for talented people in all fields. So weather you are into art, theater or any genre (seriously, any kind) of music you are likely to be able to find something you like. The main stream events are quite well covered in for example time out (http://www.timeout.com/london), for more obscure gigs or shows you have to dig a little deeper.

In way of food the city’s diversity has been a blessing indeed. Berlitz’s guide writes on the topic: “in the average London eatery you may be faced with a tired piece of meat, swimming in a bleak sauce alongside vegetables that has been cooked to death several times over”. In London today you will find all conceivable kinds of food and it generally comes cheaper than in Sweden. A great way to experience it is through the classic London market. Borough Market, sitting in the shadow of the newly risen skyscraper “the Shard” currently Europe’s tallest building, is a great place to start. Go there the day after a night out to enjoy breakfast, lunch or best of all, both. You can spend hours walking around sampling Indian tea, Swiss cheese, South American salami or any number of other specialties on offer. If you prefer to combine food with shopping Brick Lane market is a great choice. On Sundays the street comes to life and is best enjoyed with a take-away plate of Ethiopian, Mongolian or Japanese food while you sample the ubiquitous supply of second hand clothing and pretty much everything else you would, or would not, consider buying.

Brick lane is also a good stepping stone into the Shoreditch-Hoxton area that borders the city of London to the east. This old working class part of the city has over the past decades gone from run-down to the new creative and preforming arts hub of London. Walking the area you will find galleries and hipster-riddled pubs and coffee-shops. Although slightly pretentious the area is a great night out.

In the otherwise relatively uninteresting area of Highgate, north London, you find Highgate cemetery. The idea of spending precious vacation time in a grave yard might not immediately appeal to you, but this is no ordinary cemetery. It consists of two parts, the eastern and the western. The eastern is open to explore for yourself and is home to a host of dead celebrities, the most famous of who is Karl Marx. But it is the western part that is the real treat. The overgrown Victoriancreation really gets your imagination going, it truly feels like the halfway house into the kingdom of the dead. You have to take the guided tour to get into this part and it needs to be booked in advance.

London 2

But London is ever-changing. Against the backdrop of its iconic landmarks, red buses and lavish parks there is a steady stream of new concepts, ideas and thoughts being tried and rejected or accepted and woven into the fabric of the city. This vibrancy is London’s biggest asset, and the single biggest reason for a visit. Dull and unattractive as it might have seen 30 years ago, London is now on a major high. Go and enjoy it while it lasts!

Text: Anton Ståhl
Photo 1: flickr
Photo 2: flickr

City Guide: Brussels

Although Brussels represents for many the political capital of Europe, it is rarely being praised as an attractive travel destination. The city’s most famous icons, the Atomium and Manneken Pis, have probably contributed to this view. While the former is located pretty far out and therefore is not as enchantingly omnipresent as Paris’ Eiffel Tower, Manneken Pis has notoriously disappointed Brussels visitors, who all have to find out at some point that this tiny statue is really it – really! However, Brussels is actually very worth a visit and appeals through its venturous architectural combination of Belgian small-town charm and postmodern European megalomania.

European Parliament

The European Quarter, where EU institutions and all kinds of affiliated organizations, representations and lobbying bodies gather, represents a world in itself. Above all, this world consists of colossal buildings and monumental steel constructions, often shaped in hardly any conventional way and covered in reflective glass facades. ‘Beautiful’ is probably not the most adequate word to describe this area of Brussels, and critics argue that the impersonal office blocks involuntarily reflect the distance of the EU to the European people, but one cannot deny being impressed the first time walking around the European Parliament and similar fortresses in the quarter. Besides that, the European Quarter also features a few remaining Art Nouveau houses and inviting green areas. The Cinquantenaire park (Dutch: Jubelpark) perfectly exemplifies how convenient this can be, when in the middle of the day hordes of office workers use its long paths for a run in their lunch breaks. At the same time, the park represents a noteworthy tourist attraction, as its center is dominated by a huge triumphal arch which also hosts Brussels’s army museum. As the admission is free, it is a great place to enjoy the view over the city by climbing the stairs inside the museum up to its roof top.

From Monday through Friday, the European Quarter is occupied by so-called Eurocrats and other business people that fill the streets with the clacking sound of their heels and especially the engines of their expensive business cars, creating massive smog problems throughout the year. In the morning of every European summit meeting, this recurrent traffic jam reaches its monthly peak point. The VIPs of European politics are then escorted by the police from their hotel to the European Council, which further prolongs the waiting time for everybody who had taken the rather unwise decision to come by car.

Grand-Place

When you are used to this hustle and bustle during weekdays, the European Quarter can appear like a ghost town on weekends, as this is the only time when its streets are mostly filled with silence. But take a walk towards the lower part of the city where the old town is located, and the closer you get, the more you feel exposed to the vibrant life one would expect in a capital like Brussels. Besides, you will come by many charming large-sized buildings from other epochs.

Museum Garden - Mont des Arts

First, there is the Royal Square where you will find the Royal Palace, the adjacent Parc de Bruxelles, and what is commonly known as the ‘Mont des Arts’, a concentration of several of the city’s major museums, overlooking the lower town. Take the big steps down, cross the museum garden and continue your way towards the Royal Galleries, an elegant shopping mall modeled on the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. Their shops clearly cater to a different population stratum than students and low budget travelers, but these galleries take window-shopping to a whole new level and will leave you amazed by their timeless beauty, even without having spent a single euro. Exit the galleries into the ancient “Rue des Bouchers” with its countless seafood restaurants, and stroll through lovely narrow alleys in the direction of the heart of Brussels: Grand-Place (Dutch: Grote Markt). By entering the square from these tiny streets, you will probably experience a real “WOW” moment when finally catching sight of it. Surrounded by medieval buildings, this incredibly picturesque center of the old town almost feels like a journey through time. In any case, it definitely has some kind of magic to it. Obviously, this also makes it the main tourist area of Brussels, with prices steadily increasing the closer you get to it. Luckily, this also works the other way around, so you might want to buy your souvenirs in a safe distance from the Grand-Place.

If these striking contrasts have not fully convinced you yet, allow me to play my final joker, for all those among you who are as passionate about food as I am. After all, is there any better way of discovering foreign places than tasting mouth-watering local treats and specialties, which will always remind us of the place where we have tried them first?!

First of all, there is the phenomenon of French fries, which Belgians in fact claim to be a Belgian invention. At least the country definitely proves the point that fries can be much more than those floppy sticks that are being sold at McDonald’s under the same name. Although Brussels even has fancy restaurants which serve for example the famous Belgian dish “moules-frites” (mussels and fries), I can also warmly recommend the budget-friendlier option: fries stalls in the street. The best ones are on Place Flagey (Frit’Flagey) and on Place Jourdan (Maison Antoine). The queues can be surprisingly long, but waiting in front of Antoine’s will never leave you disappointed in the end: his fries are always deliciously crunchy and come with a huge variety of tasty sauces.

Parc du Cinquantenaire - triumphal arch

Now after having invested so much of your precious time in Antoine’s waiting line, you might feel a little dehydrated. In that case, just take your bag of fries and head to one of the closest bars. Otherwise, pretend to feel dehydrated and go there nonetheless. There is absolutely no need to feel thirsty to enjoy a good Belgian beer, which is always a real delight! Luckily, there is such a wide variety that it is almost impossible to get tired of Belgian beers. Leffe, Hoegaarden, Duvel, Kriek, Gueuze, Chimay, etc.: all of them Belgian, all of them distinct.

Last but not least, two absolute to-dos for anyone with a sweet tooth like me: invest in Belgian chocolates (quite expensive but totally worth the price) and savor a Belgian waffle with as much fruits, chocolate sauce and cream as you can get (impossible to eat but totally worth the disaster). After these experiences you will realize that even if Brussels might not be the most attractive city in Europe (yet), it definitely has the potential to bring you ultimate happiness.

Text & photo: Katrin Owesen

City Guide: Åbo

Staden Åbo är Finlands bästa sommarstad. Som Göteborgs systerstad lider hon av regn och dåligt väder men under sommaren blomstrar hon och drar till sig turister från olika håll och kanter. Åbo är framförallt en kulturstad. Det finns mängder av teaterkompanier i Åbo som hänger efter sina svåra framföranden på diverse hipster ställen som Bar Kuka på Slottsgatan eller Klubi där man får köpa dyr blaskig öl samtidigt som man lyssnar på ett jätte-underground indieband.

Åbo grundades under 1200-talet och har hunnit uppleva mycket. Staden har brunnit 1827, staden har varit under svensk kontroll, ryskt kontroll, förstörts under krig, byggts upp igen och överlevt stormarna. Åbo var den första och bästa huvudstaden i Finland tills år 1812, men på grund av Åbos läge ansågs det mer passande att ha huvudstaden närmare Ryssland och därmed började den eviga rivaliteten mellan Åbo och Helsingfors. Det starka svenska inflytandet kan ses i arkitekturen som har påverkats av nygustaviansk stil och jugend, samt det svenska språkets starka närvaro, trots att endast 5,3% av åboborna är svenskspråkiga.

myo?s postikorttinaMen det finns mycket att se i Åbo, speciellt på sommaren. Medeltidsveckan, Ruisrock-festivalen, konstens natt, Mumindalen (platsen existerar! Sök på Google), sexmässan, skärgården, fiskmarknaden, down by the laituri-festivalen (stadsfestival då åboborna flyr till landet och landsborna åker till Åbo) och så vidare.

Trots dessa events är dock det bästa med sommaren i Åbo att gå ner till åstranden, sätta sig på en åbåt (en båt som är en pub) och dela på en kall flaska vitt vin med sina vänner samtidigt som den nordiska sommaren ger en sol och ljus hela dygnet runt. Då är man väldigt lycklig.

Text: Rebecka Vilhonen
Foto: Hannu-Makarainenvintola @Flikr