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

 

UF:are – åk på internationella projekt med LSU!

Är du intresserad av att utbyta erfarenheter med andra unga i ett utvecklingsland?

Sveriges ungdomsorganisationer, LSU, är en paraplyorganisation för ungdomsorganisationer. Som medlem i någon av föreningarna – till exempel Utrikespolitiska föreningen – finns det olika möjligheter att engagera sig i LSU. Ett roligt sätt för dig som är intresserad av utvecklingsfrågor är att åka som workshopledare i ett av LSUs internationella samarbeten, till vilka det behövs många olika typer av kompetenser och intressen. LSU samarbetar med ungdomsorganisationer i exempelvis Libanon, Kenya och Kambodja. Rebecka Hallén från UF Göteborg åkte tillsammans med David Collste från CISV (en fredsutbildande organisation) till Kambodja för att hålla workshops om stresshantering respektive organisationsstruktur.  Workshopen hölls tillsammans med Youth Council of Cambodia (YCC).

Kambodja är ett land med en rik historia. För omkring 1000 år sedan blomstrade en högkultur runt templet Angkor Vat. Många kambodjaner är stolta över de fantasifulla stentemplen som fortfarande reser sig ur djungeln i nordväst och som sedan självständigheten pryder landets flagga. Landets moderna historia överskuggas av den terror som Röda Khmererna med Pol Pot i spetsen ställde till med i slutet av 70-talet, då en femtedel av befolkningen dog. Kambodja är kort sagt ett land med en dramatisk historia, som tydligt finns närvarande i landet. Trots detta möts man av idel leenden och varma människor och vi fick ett otroligt mottagande!

Workshopen ägde rum i Stung Treng som ligger i ett avlägset hörn av landet, nära gränsen till Laos. Första dagen höll David en workshop om organisationsförändring och demokrati. I workshopen diskuterades vad demokrati innebär i en organisation med exempel på några svenska ungdomsorganisationers struktur. En av deltagarna frågade -”Hur kommer det sig att medlemmarna är högst upp i de organisationsstrukturerna du visar upp, till skillnad från YCC där generalsekreteraren är högst upp”? Frågan satte fingret på att de förtroendevaldas makt måste utgå från medlemmarna.

Nästa dag höll Rebecka workshop om stresshantering, kommunikation och team work. Stress har länge varit ett stort problem för YCC och med det följer problem i arbetsgruppen. Under dagen diskuterades ämnena utifrån deltagarnas personliga erfarenheter av samarbete. Gruppen fann att det var ett nytt perspektiv att se individens roll i gruppen. Avslappningsövningarna i slutet av passet fick några av deltagarna att minnas sin tid som munkar vid templet.

Att genom LSU:s samarbeten träffa andra organiserade unga ger möjlighet att dela med sig och lära sig av varandra.

Är du intresserad av att delta på ett workshopuppdrag? Håll utkik på LSU:s hemsida http://www.lsu.se!

Text: Rebecka Hallén och David Collste
Foto: dalbera @Flikr

UF to Copenhagen: Day 3 – Christiania

Breakfast is a wonderful thing, and breakfast when you can sleep in for a while is even better. The two previous days had early morning planned hectic meetings and what we in Sweden call ‘fullt ös’, which basically mean non-stop all the time – all the time. Fitting then that our last day was had a few hours to spare in the morning for everyone to take their time before we set of for a guided tour of Christiania, the legendary hippie community in Denmark. We all had this idea of Christiania being a love pace and understanding kind of place. Lately, it has been under a bureaucratic siege where the powers that be are less than happy with the place. They argue that it’s less of a loving safe hippie community and more of a safe haven for criminals.

Our tour guide was an old hippie woman who moved there over 30 years ago, and true enough as we ventured the place every now and then an old face passed by nodding to us as a ghost of the past. Because from the outside looking in – the criticism looked true. Young guys in sportswear and hoodies loomed over small stands on Pusherstreet. No pictures, don’t talk to them – where was the love? The clientele spoke more of broken souls than free spirits. Alcoholics, homeless people, drug addicts, the bottom pile of society. Some 600 adults and 200 children live in Christiania proving that there is a schism between the alternate accepting community and the live fast die young generation. Times have changed, the 68-generation and ‘change the world’ mentality is a dying breed – literally. Modern liberal society places different normative demands on a good life, perhaps explaining the very clear presence of people that the original members have fought so hard to keep away. Our guide told us of the great purge in the late 70s where they threw out all the drug addicts and cleaned house from hard drugs. But seemingly, their battle was futile and she seemed clearly disturbed by the fact.

We ended up in a demonstration to legalize marijuana, a throng of white middleclass kids in their early 20s and higher teens roared out in unison to the reggae beats and pro green leaf artists. The notion for a better society, different economical structures, and more peace less hate was totally absent. This was a fight to keep Christiania for what it was to them – not a place to contribute too but a place for them to go too.

I am ambivalent to the legitimacy of their claim; did it not contradict the original purpose? But is it not the responsibility of the elders to inform the younger? Can they really be held responsible for the demise of progress? And with countries like Portugal, which has turned 90 degrees on its drug policies and legalized drugs and lowered their problematic drug use by 50%, aren’t these kids right?

Copenhagen itself is a buzzling city offering all kinds of cultural expressions. Beside the city centre, the city seems to be bombarded by graffiti and tags. And on more than one occasion I noticed artists contributing to the city walls out in plain daylight, a sight that is rare to see in Gothenburg where they are hunted torches and pitchforks. The day ended with a street festival with various artists ranging from indie pop, rock and rappers going wild in the streets throwing cut throat rhymes at the crowd to heart pounding deep beats. The city offers something for everyone and a must go place for everyone. As a last note now riding the ship of the line Swebus on endless highways back to Gothenburg I must recommend Sleep In Heaven Hotel, an amazing hostel with excellent service.

Over and out

Text: Daniel Brandt

UF to Copenhagen: Day 2 – Danida, UNDF and Concord

It’s the small things that make or break a city, small things that pile up and form a concept of breath – or death. As a Swedish cultural imperialist, I came with the notion of Denmark being nothing more than a country filled with drunks and criminals. (My former impressions of Copenhagen are mainly built on the movie Pusher, and to be honest I’m a tad bit disappointed by the lack of pit-bulls, gold chains and cocaine mountains). But gradually it got to me, the friendly smiles by shopkeepers, urban rustic life, cheap beer and good food. The subway stations in central Copenhagen looks like they were directly imported from Black Mesa and we checked all corners for face huggers.

As the day progressed and we visited Danida, UNDP and CONCORD, I noticed how they all, seemingly unknowing, shared a common issue. Danida is a part of the Danish Foreign Ministry with the responsibility of overseeing the Danish development funds, which is basically foreign aid. They have been around for decades and Denmark is one of five UN member states which lives up to the UN aid goal of member states investing 0.7% of their GDP on foreign aid.

Lately, they have been receiving a lot of bad press due to the economic situation. It’s hard to justify foreign aid spending when the rest of the country is being hit by cutbacks: “why spend on them when we can’t spend on ourselves?”.

But as Jacob Haugaard of Danida puts it: “it’s not spending, it’s investing”. It is in our own interest that foreign countries with a not-so-safe-state of affairs improve. Economic and human development growth is an essential part to bring peace and stability to regions which has none or little. In fact, one could argue that nationalist right wing parties should be the front runners of foreign development as it would surely decrease immigration.

Mette Fjällan of UNDP expressed a similar view, that economic and human development stands in the centre of progressing the world towards a more peaceful state. A veteran with more than 20 years of development work, she hammered us during the better part of an hour with its importance and pointed towards the fact that nowadays 90% of all kids are enrolled in school. Critics, rightfully so, points out that being enrolled and actually learning something are two very different things. But one step at a time, if she could wave a magic wand I’m sure she would do so. We are heading in the right direction, not all of the Millenium Goals have been achieved and there is still a 1000 days to go – but! each of them have been improved. We are not in the same boat as we were in the 1990s.

And here is the common issue: Concord, an umbrella organisation for hundreds of NGOs, sees this quite often in the general public of Europe. We still conceptualize the world as it was in the 1960s. Africa is a poor mud dump in the middle of nowhere with people living in huts and are generally lazy. But on the contrary my dear sir/madam many of them are in reality the fastest growing economies in the world, some due to extraction of natural resources and some of them through rapid industrialization. We shouldn’t expect them to take the same route as the Asian tiger economies as their situation is quite different. That’s what a few hundred years of colonization and drainage of their human capital does for you. Never mind using the north of Sahara countries as our personal chessboard during World War 2. Hans Rosling often in his lectures emphasizes that infant mortality rates and the number of children per family have both decreased drastically the past 40 years. Mette from UNDP falls in unison and highlights that we are conforming worldwide and are today sharing more problems than ever before. Malnutrition is a serious problem both in the United States and Bolivia, one a super power and one a mid income country.

It’s a democratic issue where the Western Governments and the UN have spent far too little time to communicate and listen to the Western population to increase understanding and knowledge about the world around them. These things wont come automatically through magic. The Nordic Council flies very much under the radar with little public knowledge, and question is how democratic it is to have collaborations that no one knows about. Danida and UNDP suffers from this too, internally they know how important their work is but they seem to have a hard time communicating this to the common man and woman. How can a farmer in France relate to a bridge being built in Vietnam? It seems that in all this developing, the Western population have not been sufficiently included, even though they too are a part of the process.

We need more national and global debates that engage the regular people. The UN has taken a small step with the post 2015 goals by setting up a website where anyone can contribute to the post 2015 goals. One small step for mankind but one giant leap for the United Nation. A partnership is only legit as long as its constituents think it is a good idea. Head over to www.myworld2015.com and have your say!

Text: Daniel Brandt

UF to Copenhagen: Day 1 – The Nordic Council

The day began with all of us going from The Society of International Affairs Gothenburg, scavenging what remnants of the woken state of mind we could find as the morning sun bathed us with a little bit of extra d-vitamins. The bus trip from Gothenburg to Copenhagen takes roughly about five hours with a few stops along the way. The scenario which plays out before yours eyes changes from thick Scandinavian forest and mountains to a bulging farm country so typical of southern Sweden. A crisp blue sky and the sun as good friend lightened up the hazy eyes and soon jokes were hurled at each other.

And soon Öresund greeted us with wide arms, with the bridge that connects the historically geo-isolated Sweden from the rest of the continent standing tall in the horizon. A mark of human engineering traversing the sea, a monument of our determination to embrace our neighbours rather than to shone them away. A perfect symbol for our first visit to The Nordic Council: an organisation built on the very same ide of what they called ‘neighbourhood politics’. To foster Nordic relations, ideals, culture and values it has successfully established itself as a stable and prominent collaboration and platform to develop mutual projects and ideas.

It much flies under the media radar in the Nordic countries themselves, virtually unknown to the general public. But perhaps that is a consequence of deep collaboration that cause little drama, the oil in the machinery is seldom thought of or appreciated until you run out of it. The Nordic Council is deeply involved in the affairs surrounding the Baltic Sea and has offices in most of the surrounding countries. The historical political and cultural differences between the Nordic and Russia have made it crucial to speak with a unified voice rather than each to their own. The concept of trade and communication has made such good way that many other countries are looking their way and adopting it and developing similar organisations in Asia and Eastern Europe. EU, for example, has little power to do things for itself and often relies on external organisations. In that sense the Nordic Council plays a crucial part in the area around the Baltic Sea. Also it plays a role in the ever more contested Arctic. Iceland and the Faroe Islands naturally doesn’t have the same interest in the Baltic Sea and during our presentation of the council I got the impression that they might play a smaller role than the ‘bigger’ ones.

The future challenges seems to mainly lay in pushing the Baltics and Russia towards more a more open, progressive and economical stable society. Drugs, trafficking, criminal activities and other negative encounters of the more obscure shady character across the pond spread to the Nordic countries and as Kenneth Broman from Finland puts it “Threatens our way of life”. Education, economic progression and exportation of values and organisation is on the agenda and more people should take notice of this very active and integral part of the north. You can read more at www.norden.org.

Text: Daniel Brandt

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