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Street-life: the rhythms of Rio

Having just recently booked flights for my long-awaited return to South America (they say third time’s a charm!) I began taking a trip down memory lane:

Famed for Christ the Redeemer, the Olympics, Copacabana beach and bikini waxes therein, Rio de Janeiro is the city that effortlessly shifts from golden sands to verdant hills, from scorching sun to biblical rain, and from entirely deserted streets to drunken crowds.

But to focus on the natural wonders is to overlook the true essence of Rio. As I learnt, Carioca life is vibrant, musical and exists most purely on the streets.

The labyrinthine cobbles of bohemian Santa Teresa, which I called home, contrast the insanity that consumes the adjacent Lapa district. As crowds gathered beneath the imposing colonial aqueduct, we flocked to drink cheap caipirinhas and dance to impossibly eclectic music. The mysterious array of hanging, dusty bottles in the quaint ‘Casa do Cachaça’ street-side shack seems rather to belong on ‘Diagon Alley’; each fiery flavour warmed us up to hit the streets. On Friday nights, the crowds multiply tenfold. Any car brave enough to tackle these roads becomes trapped amongst the street-partying revellers.

I found a more relaxed buzz watching the waves, downtown at Praça Mauá. Dominated by the spaceship-style building that houses the ‘Museum of Tomorrow’, this spot remedies the eerie silence of the out-of-hours business district. Infused by the continent-wide penchant for sitting outdoors of an evening (which I adopted with aplomb), the plaza boasts unrivalled people watching! Skateboarders threw shapes, live bands accrued impressive audiences and post-modern security guards did laps on segways! Praça Mauá also offers the most spectacular sunset, followed by gazing at the twinkling headlights crossing the impossibly long bridge to Niterói.

Beyond partying and people watching, street markets can be found in most neighbourhoods come Sunday afternoon. Santa Teresa’s market offers a heavy vintage focus; down the hill, neighbouring Gloria’s stalls range from carefully displayed fresh fruits, to pungent fish and flea-market floor piles. For me, street market synaesthesia defines that “holiday feeling.” And if the sights and smells are too overwhelming, an abundance of deep-fried pastels and coxinhas offer some comforting beige!

Of a Sunday, my favourite spot is undeniably Praça Sao Salvador. Artistic stalls, food and booze edge of the square, yet the main focus lies on the central gazebo, crammed with musicians. Oldies, with the full orchestral spectrum of instruments, treat the surrounding crowds to a performance. Once they tire, a samba band takes up the reigns. Locals, young and old, welcomed us gringos to join the carefree fun in the sunshine.

Finally, perhaps most famously, Monday nights play host to the Pedra do Sal street samba extravaganza! Little more than a dead-end street in the middle of nowhere, thanks to its amphitheatre shape, abundance of street art and copious bunting, this party spot floods with people. Crowds come from far and wide to revel in the live samba and, as ever, to sample the creative drinks provided by street vendors.

Day or night, for shopping or dancing, the winding roads are much more than a means of traversing this diverse city. The streets are the thronging veins of Rio de Janeiro.

Dublin for a Day: the James Joyce edition

As enthusiastic readers of James Joyce (or at least aspiring to be so), we began with a shot of Jameson’s Irish Whisky before our obscenely early flight to Dublin. With just one day to soak up the culture, we had to start as we meant to go on!

A ridiculously short flight later and we hopped straight on a DART train out of the city. Through many stations that we couldn’t pronounce (several with Joycean claims to fame to excite us) we began our day as Ulysses begins: at the Martello tower in Sandycove, where Joyce, and his characters, lived. Now converted into a miniature museum, this impressive collection boasts of first editions, private letters, Matisse illustrations and even a plaster cast of Joyce’s dead face. Up some unsettlingly steep and narrow stairs, the rooftop gun deck quite literally blows you away, with high winds and lovely views to boot.

Back at ground level, we did some seaside rock clambering, as a wimpy substitute for plunging into the Irish sea at ‘Forty Foot Bathing Place’. Even an octogenarian, with a fag on, put us to shame.

A quick, small town breakfast, and it was back to the big smoke. This is where the ‘Alternative Tour’ of Dublin truly began. Following in the footsteps of Joyce’s plot lines (and a wonderfully enthusiastic academic) we nipped into the ornate and Latinate All Hallow’s church- through the back door of course.

If reading dense literature in situ isn’t entirely your thing, but you still fancy some James Joyce culture, there is nowhere more fitting than Sweny’s Chemist. Still decked out like the old-fashioned Candy Man’s shop in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and staffed by a man bearing an uncanny resemblance to Doc Brown, in a long white coat, this former chemist (where soap was dramatically purchased in Ulysses) is now dedicated to keeping literature alive. The proprietor is undoubtedly the highlight; the most eccentric man in Dublin, maybe the world. He’ll regale you with anecdotes of his life, show off about the number of times he’s read Ulysses and how many languages he speaks (37 and 6, respectively) and, if you’re truly lucky, he’ll serenade you in Gaelic. Who knew such a tiny shop could be so full of utterly bizarre delights?!

Through the dramatic and imposing grounds of Trinity College Dublin, down the Irish equivalent of Bond Street, and we reached ‘Davy Byrne’ bar and restaurant. Whilst I can only apologise for my incessant comparisons, this historical haunt struck me as a cosier version of ‘Cafe Tortoni’ in Buenos Aires (see previous blogs for my Argentine adoration.) Here we sipped our first Guinness, split a gorgonzola sandwich and ruminated on just how literary we were being.

Next stop: The National Library of Ireland. Almost entirely decked out in various shades of green, the domed reading room just oozes intelligence. Couple that with the poshest toilets I’ve ever encountered in a public building and we were onto a winner.

This was where we experience the first instance of our lecturer’s silver tongue. Determined to visit the exact locations described in the book, we somehow blagged our way into the librarian’s private office. Nice vaulted ceilings, but otherwise, an office.

Having caught the ‘we can get away with anything’ bug, the next stop was obvious: the National Maternity Hospital! Bearing around 10,000 babies a year, this is a popular, but far from touristic site. However, our need to see the brand board room, where Joyce’s characters enjoy a late night drinking session, was paramount. I was almost consumed by embarrassment as the hospital staff considered the bizarre request, but I confess, I never would have pictured such a grand dining hall whilst reading. A long way from hospital sterility, this room felt literary.

From here we walked all the way up into North Dublin, beginning to feel the aches that I can only assume Leopold Bloom was plagued with. The wonderfully photographic O’Connell Street splices the city, across the river, as only a monumental boulevard can. Unfortunately, Dublin is currently plagued with unsightly (and inconvenient) roadworks, so we once more took refuge in an atmospheric Irish pub.

Another Guinness later and we realised both the James Joyce Cultural Centre and the Writers Museum had closed whilst we were chatting. Thus we moseyed a little, past numerous cookie-cutter Georgian houses, the Jesuit schoolhouse of Joyce’s early life and up to Eccles Street, where a hospital (admittedly with a Ulysses plaque) stands in place of Bloom’s house. After a long day, we made it back to the beginning of the book; in empathy with our character, we came “home”.

To truly feel the journey of the book, we circumnavigated Dublin entirely on foot. Attempting to recreate a modern epic in just a day is perhaps an impossible task, but, with day-return flights from Leeds for less than twenty quid, it seemed rude note to! And, now that I know I can go on holiday in less time than it takes to get the train home, I’ll no doubt be back to sample the delicacies of the Temple Bar.

Fun at the Fringe; a long weekend in Edinburgh

Admire the views from atop ‘Arthur’s Seat’; play with medieval weaponry at the castle; scale the treacherous heights of the Scot memorial; these are all the things I intended to achieve on my first trip to Edinburgh.

Instead, I spent five days hidden from the sunlight (please allow my poetic license, after all, this is Scotland!) in dank, underground venues, begging people to entertain me. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival!

The streets are crowded by up-and-comers desperate to pass on their flyers (and as much information as they can convey in seconds), along with pop-up venues, street performers and fairy lights. There’s a fine line to be drawn between someone who has taken full advantage of the ‘drink until 5am’ Fringe-specific licensing laws, or an avant-garde performance artist. Anything goes and everything is constantly buzzing.

Edinburgh itself strikes budding photographers with its somewhat labyrinthine, multi-levelled streets; each lined with unanimously ‘ye olde’ buildings and bearing quaintly amusing names from yesteryear. But beyond these thick grey walls lie hundreds upon hundreds of Fringe theatre venues; from a pub, crammed full of garden chairs, to a pungent nightclub corridor, if you can fit more than ten people, you can put on a show.

Owing to my (not always voluntary) frugal lifestyle, I relished the abundance and variety of free fringe performances on offer. As expected, they request donations at the end, but they lack all pressures of forced enjoyment. Sometimes this, unfortunately, leads to an unenthusiastic audience and a comedian perturbed by their lack of response; but, other times, gems can be uncovered in the most unlikely of places.

Surviving, by and large, on word of mouth (unless you nab a copy of the ‘PBH Free Fringe’ programme) here’s a rundown of my free theatrical spoils:

‘The Simpsons taught me everything I know’: ideal for shamelessly fan-girl-ing the iconic show. Yianni Agisilaou teams flawless impressions, with crowd-pleasing quotes and unexpected trivia. Perhaps comedy is less daunting when you know the exact sense of humour your audience is seeking; and we lapped it up!

‘Jollyboat’: pun-tastic comedy musicians. Somewhat inexplicably dressed as pirates, this duo take pleasure in all things nerdy, through song! I can see the Pokemon and GOT numbers flying off the shelves; whilst The Bible, retold through rap, will be scaling straight to the top of the charts!

‘Mothers’: a Cambridge sketch comedy trio, these guys strike a balance between developing their own ‘Inbetweeners’-esque characters and some totally surreal sketch moments. Also relishing in several musical moments, the highlight was a poignant rap: ‘Living at Home’. This hit home which much of the twenty-something audience; observational comedy meets ridiculous, flamboyant flair.

‘Trevor Lock’: bizarrely enough, this hour-long stand up set contained not a single joke, or even attempt at conventional comedy. Purely based on deadpan delivery, brazening out some of the most mundane material, to the surprise and delight of the waiting crowd. Turns out, observational comedy can please the whole audience, when the only observations are set within that very room.

‘Viking Longboat’: shout out random words, throw your ideas into a hat and watch this improv troupe enact your brainchild, in desperate pursuit of a logical storyline. Silly, unexpected and certainly diverse!

‘Brickhead’: this mime comedian’s flyer showed such great promise, but in reality, his show was marred by the pumping salsa sounds from the club downstairs; that and the fact he relied on a single, unfunny movement sequence. We left before giving him the chance to get any better, so, by all means, try it for yourself- if you dare!

‘Positions’: I caught the first performance of this witty two-man play, so they were understandably a little jittery. The tale of a young couple, separated by oceans and language barriers, but together through Skype and choreographed movement sequences. Unfortunately, they too were intruded upon by the sound of an adjacent gig; but try not to let that put you off!

‘Free Footlights’: a mixed bag of student stand ups and sketch snippets. Around eight acts, for the price of one (well, free actually!), with a comedy compere, who often stole the show in between. As expected, some acts were distinctly better than others, across the two days that I frequented the showcase. Personal highlights included a sensationalised and eloquently written tale of “Broken Britain” from Adrian Gray, and some notably silly observations from Rob Oldham.

‘Made to Measure’: my first taste of performative Spoken Word. I braced myself for a preaching poet, with a brick wall back drop, but was gloriously surprised by this comedic duo. They followed a flowing narrative, with observational witticisms and effortless poetry, bringing multiple levels of meaning and emotion to a basic ‘journey to work’ tale. I was sold.

As one might expect from the second largest global gathering, after the Olympics (n.b. Just according to my friend, and unverified), the festival probably wouldn’t enjoy such long term success without a small fee charged by most of the shows. Picking and choosing from the thousands of shows on offer can be mind-numbingly tough, but, the odd sell out certainly makes some decisions for you!

Drawn mostly by recommendations, knowing the cast members, or simply following the crowd, these lucky shows comprise my latest bank statement:

‘Margaret Thatcher: Queen of Gameshows’: a weird combination of political satire and glitzy drag cabaret. A big budget slice was clearly spent on glitter and, although there was a little too much audience participation for my liking, they nailed everyone’s favourite gameshow tropes. Not exactly ‘laugh out loud’, but, certainly cleverness compounded with impeccable impressions.

‘The Leeds Tealights: Tension’: another student sketch group, combining everything from Spanish sitcoms to the ubiquitous Brexit joke (this one particularly outdid many other Fringe attempts I reckon), via stupid outfits and prop comedy. A mental mixture of ‘what should I expect next?’

‘Boys’ by Aireborne Theatre: remember ‘Skins’? Well this is ‘Skins’, but with people who can actually act! Running at just under an hour in total, the piece necessitates exhaustingly high energy and highly-strung emotions from the six-strong cast. They all perform effortlessly and convincingly (which is no mean feat, considering the amount of “alcohol” and “narcotics” the script demands!)

‘Goodbear’: the best way to describe these two former Leeds Tealights is ‘silly’. Their incredibly accomplished sketch show runs fluidly, through their acute control of physical comedy and a seamless soundtrack. The characters presented are as varied as they are wacky, each one adding another layer to the lads’ performative repertoires. It’s a sell-out for a reason!

And finally, if you want to escape the smelly student riff raff, the Edinburgh International Festival runs concurrently to the Fringe. Staged in the “real” theatres, I had a delightful sojourn back into truly accomplished theatre, thanks to having a man on the inside (“yes I will take those free tickets off of your hands.”)

‘Shake’: This retelling of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’, almost entirely in French, regained the abundant sense of fun and comedy so often lost in studying the Bard. Sir Toby and the Fool compered the whole event, with musical interludes and even ventriloquism. The whole piece was strung together with multi-roling and on-stage costume changes, not only highlighting the underlying tropes of this cross-dressing tale, but also harking back to the fun and frivolous origins, as well as providing a sense of surprise at the end, which has been lost from the plot across four hundred years of repetition! That is not to undermine the honesty of emotion shown in scenes between the lovers; but this production certainly didn’t need to dwell on the soppy stuff! (As is probably apparent, this show was a highlight for me and my ongoing Renaissance literary love affair.)

Edinburgh has all the offerings of a huge city, in a compact, ‘carry on bag’ fashion. Thus, if you’re lucky enough to have a plethora of theatrical, ‘Fringe-enthusiast’ friends, be they performers or lowly audience members, you’re bound to bump into them time and again,  amongst the hoards of tourists. Thus, this trip was dedicated solely to long-overdue catch-ups and the unending search for new talent. The sightseeing can wait until next year!

London Life: Holidaying at Home

Not far from the suburban bliss of drinking red wine by my garden fireplace, an abundance of surprises line the London streets. It seems a crying shame that I so often skim over many of these wonders, until provoked to explore by a visiting friend demanding a tour guide. It took but a single afternoon to refresh my vision and rekindle my love affair with London Town. Turns out one’s travel bug can sometimes (very occasionally) be satisfied close to home.

It is universally recorded that the minute we Brits sample even a slither of sunshine, the shorts are on and everyone hits the streets. This first became apparent as our path was repeatedly interrupted by an inexplicably huge number of cyclists. Apparently there was some sort of city-wide celebration, all in the name of person-powered vehicles. However many wheels you had, whether you were reclining, upright, or backflipping on a BMX, PrudentialRideLondon was a bizarre people-watching moment (and one that almost convinced me to join in!)

First popping our heads in at St Paul’s Cathedral, we accidentally found ourselves ruining some glorious wedding photos and made a run for it; a picturesque run in fact, across the Millennium bridge, that leads directly into the Tate Modern.

Unbeknownst to me, the gallery had undergone an overhaul. It was a major struggle to find my way to my favourite, dimly-lit, womb-like comfort of the Mark Rothko room. However, this exploration lead not only past numerous iconic artworks, but also to the newly instated tenth floor viewing platform. A stone’s throw from St Paul’s, the Shard and all manner of other weird and wonderfully shaped skyscrapers, the Tate offers a new viewpoint of a view that never gets old.

Continuing along the sunny Southbank, we veered off into Gabriel’s Wharf for some lunch and respite. This cove of shops and restaurants is a trendy, arty haven from the bustling city streets. Whilst still bustling (after all, we were still in the capital on a weekend!) the wharf offers a distinctly different vibe to the streets of London proper. Most notably, it offered me a beer, in a square, under an awning: my very definition of a holiday.

The only thing that could have enhanced that holiday feeling was the very thing that happened next! Mere metres from our quaint lunch spot lay an inexplicable and overexcitable street festival, dedicated to all things Colombian. We sipped Aguila, absorbed the now comforting smells of arepas, empanadas and everything deep-fried and even browsed a market of souvenirs we both already owned from our time as honorary Latinos. The small ‘Colombiamente’ stage housed a lively cumbia band and even the Barranquilla Carnaval Queen herself! Despite being hosted in a distinctly smaller setting than she may be accustomed to, la Reina tried her very best to whip the crowd into a frenzy; luckily for her, a bunch of beyond-tipsy Latinos didn’t take a whole lot of convincing!

On the verge of impulsively booking flights back to our favourite continent, we thought we ought to escape. Little did we expect that, once again, a few steps further along the Southbank lay yet more summer fun! The National Theatre, renowned internationally for being the erudite home of British theatre, was the last place I would have anticipated to find an outdoor stage hosting a camp, drag queen extravaganza!

‘The River Stage’ at the National is staging a different takeover each weekend of summer, and we were lucky enough to stumble into the set from ‘The Glory’, a Haggerston-based cabaret club. Not normally being one who particularly enjoys drag acts, this array of drag queens (and kings!) joined together to surprise and delight me, with a celebration of all things camp and karaoke. The audience were just as flamboyantly attired and giddy as those on stage, making it clear that not everyone had arrived here by accident!

Once the tiaras had been awarded, the show came to a close and we resumed normal touristing. This lasted all of one minute (“Look, there’s the London Eye”) before we were once again engulfed by a foreign and unexpected land: ‘The Wonderground’, to be precise. Apparently, each year the Southbank Centre hosts a circus spectacle, housed in a popup fairyland, not dissimilar to the Wild West; who knew?! The foodie smells, craft beers and twinkly set design transport you far from the Southbank; that is until you notice the looming glow of the London Eye overhead.

Back across the river, dancing to buskers and the chimes of Big Ben, brings you within walking distance of the glorious Porterhouse pub, in Covent Garden. (This was the first actually intentional station of my tour!) Hosting a hundred-odd international beers and a live gig three nights a week, this pub perfectly balances the vibes of ‘glamourous’ and ‘dingy’ and is one of my top spots in town. A little reminder that I was still on home turf.

The following morning saw us brave the crowded streets of Camden (apparently closing the Northern Line did nothing to deter the tourists!) for some fish and chips at a market stall and a lounge on the beach. Whilst this sounds distinctly more like a day trip to Brighton, what we saved on train fares, we spent at the bar on the rooftop terrace at the Roundhouse. Home to the annually beloved ‘Camden Beach’, one can drift off in the sand, to a land of laughter, Ibiza-beats and free Coca Cola; all under the watchful eye of the looming adjacent office blocks, so topless sunbathing is unadvisable!

This weekend reminded a self-confessed travel-junkie of the fun to be had on her doorstep (or, at least, within the reach of her Oyster card!) If you choose to sample some (or all) of the locally brewed and/or Colombian beers on offer, then an outing such as this ceases to be a cheap day out. However, each of the outlandish activities themselves were entirely free and gloriously unexpected. Had I come across any one of these events whilst travelling I would have been sure to gush about them in a blog post; thus I thought it only fair to give my home town a shout out of its own.

Brussels: through the blur of a billion Belgian beers

Our mini-break to Brussels felt somewhat cursed: booked to go during the famous Christmas Markets last November, we were thwarted by the city being under counter-terrorism lock down. Between then and now, our group dwindled in numbers (some simply getting the dates wrong and arriving a day late), our exchange rate plummeted and I had all but forgotten how to speak French. But, we pushed on undeterred and everything began to go our way from the minute we boarded the train.

Embracing the imminent bankruptcy of our currency, we threw caution to the wind and, between eleven of us, we sprawled across three private apartments and three king size rooms in the adjacent Radisson hotel. Whilst the Radisson ‘Red’ chain claimed to be aimed at youths, my backpacker lifestyle couldn’t have felt more distant as we cryogenically preserved ourselves with aircon, reenacted the Herbal Essences advert in our glamorous waterfall shower and inspected our actions from each night before, by casting photos onto our impossibly large Apple TV.

Having unintentionally arrived on Belgian National Day, my first glimpse of the city was provoked by seeing distant fireworks from our hotel window. New in town, we were totally unsure where to go, but ran as fast as we could towards the big flashing lights in the sky. The perfect welcome party. Naturally, this five minute sprint cost us around forty minutes of bemused wandering to find our way home. N.B. learn your address before any spontaneous excursions.

Luckily, the next time we braved the outdoors was en mass, and accompanied by locals who we picked up en route. Upon the recommendation of just about everyone I know who’s ever been to Brussels, we were headed for the infamous Delirium bar. Situated down a bustling, bar-filled alleyway, we were treated to live music, several unsolicited marriage proposals and a menu of over two thousand beers. It was a little intimidating at first, but I attempted filtering by price, and then by preferred flavourings, and simply got distracted as the unusually high alcohol content sneaked up on me.

Our first full day revolved, once again, around where we could stop for a drink. Luckily, we encompassed much wandering and sight-seeing (sort of) into this alcoholic exploration. As we lived a stones throw from Luxembourg Square, and in accordance with my rule that one simply isn’t on holiday until you’ve had a cold beer, in a square, under an awning, we sank our first enormous buckets of fruity beer here. We teamed this with looking over our shoulder at the European Parliament and strictly banned all talk of ‘Brexit’.

The streets of Brussels were unanimously quiet and picturesque. A stroll past the Palace of Justice, and some other impressive Corinthian columns, brought us to a glorious, sweeping view at the Mont des Arts and the mirage of a deckchair-laden, pop-up bar. The perfect spot to combine sight-seeing, street-drinking and people-watching; the favoured pose here being a romantic shot of lovers looking longingly at the view, comprised of a cityscape, some pristine gardens and a giant green horse’s arse.

Our final stop brought us ever closer to the famous Grand Place, but we caved in before we reached it and settled for stopping in a busy square, with yet another glamorous church and anywhere that was offering food more substantial than a box of macarons (delicious, but not ergonomically designed for lining stomachs.)

A glorious day of achieving very little and yet managing to see most of what Brussels had to offer. We congratulated ourselves with dancing both on the bar and in the rain at Cafe Depot, followed by a late night session in our intimately-sized sauna (basically a shed, in a changing room… but felt oh so swanky!)

Despite being away for such a short time, we made ourselves very much at home and luxuriated in a morning fry up at the largest of our apartments. Rejuvenated, we finally made it to Grand Place to marvel at the gothic monstrosities and the ornately golden adorned Starbucks; tick, tourism complete. Or it was, once we also found our way to the ridiculous (and underwhelming for most) statue of Mannequin Pis. It was exactly what it said on the tin: a tiny mannequin boy, having a wee in a fountain. Personally I was a little perturbed by the enormous crowds of tour groups fighting to get the perfect picture of this small boy, when the female version lay entirely unnoticed and uncelebrated, in a cage, at the end of the alleyway at Delirium. Where’s the equality in that?!

Luckily, to distract from my brief feminist outrage, I gorged on Belgian waffles and luxuriated in pick and mixing decadent truffles. Apparently, where there are tourists, there is chocolate; I certainly had no complaints about that.

Lying directly opposite the somewhat obscene fountain is another ideal spot for a beer. Whilst not quite offering 2000 varietals, Poechenellekelder has a drinks menu as eclectic as it’s decor. With walls covered in anything and everything, one barely knows where to look and ends up too distracted to contemplate which beer would be best! (I know this from experience, as I impulsively ordered a beer with ‘Trolls’ in the name, simply because it caught my eye.)

Since I was speaking French, we also indulged in a cheese platter and an overwhelmingly sized bucket of mussels, washed down with white wine. Luckily, Belgian and French cuisine and culture seem to overlap, so I didn’t feel like too much of a Brit Abroad, doing it all wrong. (Although if you play enough loud games around the dinner table and laugh until it hurts at unintentionally lewd comments, one can gain that reputation regardless!)

As if our eleven-strong group wasn’t enough, we had been invited to fraternise with some honorary locals and jumped at the chance to not have to think for ourselves vis a vis directions. From our own back garden, to their equally glamorous apartment and onwards to a series of un-named bars (don’t worry, I wasn’t necessarily going to sing odes to them anyway.) It seems the bar culture in Brussels revolves mostly around drinking in the street outside the establishment; presumably something to do with the warm air, the cobbled streets and the chatty passers-by.

Where one isn’t allowed to loiter outside, however, is the thumping techno club Fuse. No European excursion would have felt complete without revelling in the continent’s favourite musical genre. But, by 7am, we were once more ready for the sauna.

Naturally, the following day, we made it no further than Luxembourg Square again, before collapsing in the glorious sunshine in the next park we came across. (Luckily there were no Pokemon fanatics swarmed there to judge us this time!) I’m not sure if I speak for the group as a whole, but Brussels had broken me. The perfect city to do nothing but wander, eat, drink and laugh; and we did them all, in swathes. A mere two hour train hop to London, the outdoor culture, surrounded by infinite glamorous buildings, epitomises the “holiday” vibe. Even our friend who doesn’t drink beer had fun; promise!

Glorious Glastonbury: an ode.

There are few events that could have dragged me away from the adventures and hedonism of South American traveller life, but the infinitely higher levels of hedonism on offer at Glastonbury festival is the one that brought me back across the Atlantic.

Leagues above any other music festival, the collective strength of feeling amongst a crowd of three hundred thousand like-minded revellers is the perfect place to position oneself in a week of Brexit and division. United we stood, jumped and danced; the ultimate expression of solidarity.

Unfortunately, for the first time in my six-year-strong Glastonbury stint, I experienced some uncommon negative vibes: namely, someone emptied our wallets, whilst we were asleep in our tent. But, for every asshole who flouts the trusting Glastonbury family rules, there were fifty people offering me financial aid, from near and afar, and a hundred more people face down in the mud- so I concluded that perhaps I wasn’t so unlucky after all! Once you float around the sprawling site, following wherever the mud flows, I found myself crossing paths with friendly faces left, right and centre; strangers, friends and even a reunion with some relatives, all worked to reaffirm my faith in humanity almost instantly. (The shock of being robbed was also allayed by a morning of mindless laughter and a pint of milk pouring from my friend’s nose; less of a hippy loving message, but still ranks on the cheer up scale!)

Whilst the weather held out for the most part, the week of preceding rain made this the muddiest festival I have ever experienced. Having said that, I probably used the fewest wet wipes to date, as everyone embraced the filth, gave up the fight for cleanliness and became a hybrid of man and land. Negative aspects of the mud included severe delays and often entire closures of some areas: the late-night, South East Corner fields were more overcrowded and over-sludged than I have witnessed in years previous, often rendering them a no-go. Thus sadly I never got to experience Hot Chip’s tribute to Prince; a loss perhaps worse than the £80 from my tent!

The mud also provided the trials and tribulations of never being able to sit down, but, beyond that, it provided unlimited hilarity. One night we found our friends ‘at the comedy tent’: an area of mud so deep that it attracted a hundred-strong crowd of spectators, as people sunk and face planted to their demise. One might expect this level of entertainment to wane fast, but with an unending stream of flamboyantly dressed party-goers, the show went on and on. Survivors joined us as audience members and mud-pundits. The method we learnt: tight wellies, don’t stop moving and, if in doubt, dab.

Of course, in amongst the unrivalled people watching and one too many free meals from the Hare Krishnas, there was some music too!

‘James’ kicked off the weekend, with a lead singer who made me slightly worried for his mental wellbeing! They were shortly followed by some Mancunian indie tunes from ‘Blossoms’, who unfortunately lacked much stage presence or the ubiquitous humility of Glastonbury performers.

Some of the best singalong sessions came courtesy of ‘The Smyths’ and ‘Squeeze’, playing non-stop crowd pleasers. Meanwhile, ’MØ’ took crowd-pleasing a step further and spent almost half of her set down in the hustle bustle, busting some seriously fierce dance moves; she exudes the very essence of “cool”.

Unlike many previous festivals, where I had a determined schedule, I dedicated a lot of time to seeing bands who I had never heard before, other than by recommendation. This brought some great, and diverse, new music to my attention: ‘Unknown Mortal Orchestra’ had a few microphone issues, but ultimately put on an enjoyable, largely instrumental, show. ‘Hinds’ proved that girlbands don’t have to follow the mould and can jump and scream with the best of them. ‘Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats’ had gloriously upbeat Sunday afternoon vibes, combining a ‘Mumford and Sons’ folky-rock with swinging brass and a token tambourine man (the subdued Bez, if you will). And finally, ‘Kwabs’ provided some very chilled out, but still boppy sounds- almost like if ‘Jungle’ took a lot of sedatives.

Sadly, ‘New Order’, amidst a superb light show, started their set a little flat and a little off; they picked up, with some classic songs getting the crowd pumped, but weren’t at the top of their game. Similarly, whilst I only caught the end, ’Beck’ did some strange things with his time of stage, and the crowd weren’t exactly lapping it up.

‘Half Moon Run’ put enormous amounts of energy into their show, considering how sleepy their music can sound; but with a string of melodic surprises and slight alterations to an album I know like the back of my hand, they were a highlight on Friday afternoon. Similarly, I have seen ‘Muse’ four times, across the last ten year period, and their headline set was like nothing I have ever seen from them before: never slowing down for some of their older, low tempo numbers, and not wasting time chatting to the crowd, the entire set was heavy and hugely exciting from start to finish. Yet, attempting to match their level of intensity, I completely lost my voice; I guess I ought to leave it to the professionals!

Every time I see ‘Foals’, ‘Wolf Alice’ and ‘Catfish and the Bottlemen’, they don’t disappoint. They were all in their element, perfectly tuned to their surroundings, considering British indie rock bands are pretty much what festivalling is built upon. Other repeat viewings for me included ‘New York Brass Band’ and ‘Tame Impala’- both bouncy and upbeat, the latter graced the Pyramid stage, with some psychedelic backing visuals, whilst the former can be found performing almost perpetually across the five day festival; how they have such boundless energy, I can’t fathom!

‘The Last Shadow Puppets’ were an as-yet unseen band for me until now, but by combining two of my favourite groups into one, they were bound to please! It’s a joy to watch bandmates really appear to enjoy one another’s company; yet they are far from being caught up in themselves, as both are incredible showmen.

Finally, the most quintessentially Glasto vibes were delivered by ‘Coldplay’s closing set. The crowd was unanimously happy and the famous flashing wristbands showed just how far we sprawled in every direction- we were a part of something enormous. Despite a somewhat bizarre interlude from Barry Gibb, Chris Martin whipped the crowd into a frenzy with the set list alternating between the classic, subdued Coldplay of yore and the newer, far more poppy numbers. Almost every song had a trick up its sleeve, with glitter and confetti cannons, giant balloons, infinite lights and fireworks.

‘Muse’ similarly used all of these tricks, but in a less colourful, more aggressively rock-orientated fashion. I for one was delighted with this allocation of this year’s budget, because, as my wisely drunk friend said: “no pyro, no party!”

Other highlights included: being served ale, in a wooden shack pub, by the guy from the infamous ‘Gap Yah’ video; an encounter with a man dressed as a bumblebee, on stilts, by the oldest tree on site; and greeting sunrise, vigorously at the silent disco and more relaxedly, whilst reclining at the Stone Circle. The delights on offer span all genres!

In accordance with tradition amongst my friends, we spent the first night upon Glastonbury’s own Hollywood hill, watching the twinkles below and the fireworks above. We were joined by a man who classed this glorious festival amongst the Seven Wonders of the World. Whilst I questioned some of his other “wonders” (the Channel Tunnel, really?!) I can’t help but agree that there is something very special about Worthy Farm and the atmosphere it promotes. Until next year, my lover x

My Top Travel Tips (for what to pack)

Whilst I obviously don’t need to stress the importance of basics like a waterproof, windproof jacket, some comfortable shoes and plenty of clean knickers, I’ve also discovered a few less immediately obvious things that have (or could have) made my trip all the better.

This list is by no means all-encompassing. Sadly, try as I might, I couldn’t find a way to pack several key things I missed from home: my dressing gown, my dog and a substantial supply of salt and vinegar crisps. But, the following came a substantial way to satisfying my other needs. Whilst I don’t claim to be any sort of travel guru, here are some personal pearls of wisdom, should you care to peruse them:

Penknife- common amongst all Bear Grylls types, a penknife isn’t solely for the intrepid. Scissors are always useful, but beyond that, often hostel kitchens don’t provide tools such as a corkscrew or tin opener; hence, the ubiquitous Swiss multi-tool. Also useful for making avocado sandwiches on the go!

Water purifying torch (SteriPen)- ignoring its unfortunately phallic appearance, this gift from my Mum was a magical surprise. Stir the UV light into undrinkable tap water for about a minute and voila! Saves money, plastic and avoids the slightly off taste of water purifying tablets. (Of course, remember to check if the tap water is already drinkable first, because then you can save on batteries and hassle!)

Sleeping bag (for buses)- whether you’re planning to camp or not, a small, lightweight sleeping bag can be a godsend. Often night buses blast the air conditioning to Arctic levels and, whilst others struggled to get comfortable, I was smugly cocooned in my sleeping bag. Slug chic.

Rucksack that opens sideways- all the practicality of a backpack, teamed with the ease of living out of a suitcase. Whilst top-opening bags tend to be the norm, they leave people only wearing the top layer of their packing and neglecting all that lies beneath; with a side-opening bag however, almost everything is visible and easy to find, without sprawling across a dorm room floor.

(Alternatively, I’ve met many people who rave about their ‘packing cubes’- bags within bags that enable ease of finding, with minimal sprawl.)

Portable charger- not only for use on the go! Often hostel dorms don’t have enough plug sockets for the number of people they’ve crammed in there, thus having a separate portable charger enables you to charge your phone without hogging the power supply. Beyond that, you’ll probably feel more comfortable leaving a battery pack to recharge unattended than having your phone further than arms length at any time!

USB or spare SD card- something I didn’t have, but wish I did. Not only did my phone not have enough memory on it, but there’s always the fear of it being lost/broken/stolen and all your months of memories going with it. Whilst using the Cloud or Dropbox was commonplace, that relies on the assumption of decent wifi- which is rarely available. Thus a physical backup device would have been really useful for stashing my photos. Also, when doing excursions like diving, rafting etc, often the tour company will get snap happy and then want to give you the photos at the end of the day; I however had no means of taking this kind offering, thus left with an email address and a promise!

Small sachet of your favourite spices- whilst I wouldn’t recommend whipping it out and risking offence to any restauranteur, a small spice kit takes up little to no room in a bag but can make the difference between ‘yet another bowl of pasta’ and ‘ooh, what are we cooking tonight?!’

Small roll of sellotape- I stumbled upon this by accident, but necessity is after all the mother of invention! I bought a pocket-sized roll of tape when the pages started to fall out of my journal and then discovered it had so many more uses. Not least, for resealing the aforementioned spices! And for scrapbooking- if you are so inclined.

Vaseline- without meaning to be a total brand snob, basic lip balm simply won’t cut it. At high altitude, your lips inevitably become uncontrollably chapped; Vaseline will become your new best friend at times like these.

Needle and thread- yet another thing that I didn’t have but found myself in need of. If, like me, you attempt to be a prudent packer, then it can be devastating when you rip your only sensible pair of trousers. A needle and thread takes up a lot less room than the extra layers you may need to prevent draughts from your newly holey clothes.

Silicone ear plugs: having always hated the expanding sensation of foam earplugs (I can only imagine it’s akin to drowning) I didn’t pack any defence against snorers. They are everywhere: in dorms, on nightbuses; you can’t escape sleep-deprivation! That was until a lovely woman in Colombia gifted me a pair of (unused) silicone earplugs. They mould to your ear, are remarkably comfortable and block out almost all annoyances.
Teaming these with an eye mask to block out light, I may have looked ridiculous, but boy was I well-rested!

Padlock: I personally like to believe that everyone in a hostel is in the same boat, thus they won’t rob me if I don’t rob them. Adhering to this philosophy, I didn’t even own a padlock for the most part of my trip. But, if you do have valuables you want to ensure are safe, most hostels offer lockers, provided you bring your own lock. Thus a small padlock can provide some peace of mind, if you’re not yet quite ready to sign up to my hippy, hope-for-the-best ideology!

Optional: The Rough Guide- for me, it’s the Bible; yet I know other travellers prefer to follow Google, or simply word of mouth. Admittedly it’s an added weight to carry, but undoubtedly aids with planning on the go, local knowledge and, if nothing else, gives you something to read on buses! (Largely identical to its more established brother, Lonely Planet, I personally found Rough Guide to be a little more youthful. Lonely Planet tends to attempt to cover every single place, however briefly; whereas Rough Guide will streamline, so it can give more info on certain highlights.)

Pack several pens, for filling out piles of triplicate immigration forms; pack enough insect repellent to last a lifetime (deet doesn’t tend to exist anywhere I’ve searched!); and try to pack some handwash solution, for when the laundry pile gets unmanageably desperate!

Clothes, toiletries and which medicines to stash are of course your prerogative (but do bear in mind that toiletries are often cheaper at home than when you arrive, despite everything else trending the other way.)

Other than that, check you passport, tickets, money, and you’re good to go! Buen Viaje!

Week twenty two: the end of a Latino era

Knowing that I have to resume real life all too soon, I have been thoroughly enjoying taking a holiday from my own brain. You know how the story goes: Girl meets boy; girl makes friends; girl makes everyone make her decisions for her. Aptly, in a city named after a river, I’ve been blissfully floating wherever the flow takes me.

Having said that, for this final week of my adventure, I had some very specific things left to tick off my list. These mostly involved climbing up tall things and dancing in the street at any chance I got (so pretty much just a repeat of everything the last 21 blog posts have detailed!)

First off, no self-respecting human could visit Rio and not head up to see Christ the Redeemer. Rising proudly over the city, atop mount Corcovado, we (somewhat foolishly) thought it a great idea to make our way there by foot. The mansion house and landscaped gardens at the entrance to the basecamp, Parque Lage, did nothing to prepare us for what lay ahead! Thick forest took us entirely away from the surrounding city and up an incalculably steep hill. Think less hiking, more hoisting yourself up a muddy trail using tree roots as handlebars, or, even at times, a chain to pull yourself up a sheer rock face. Exhausting, exhilarating, sweaty, but ultimately very rewarding.

Reaching the summit, we were surrounded by far less sweaty tourists who had enjoyed a nice train journey up; but I felt as though they hadn’t earned this moment and thus couldn’t possibly be as enthralled as I was. I was torn between which way to look: at the impressive view, at the looming wonder of the world, or simply at the obscene number of people taking snogging selfies! One can’t help but feel small, and a little humbled, by such a universally famous (and physically enormous) monument. (Plus there are great cafes at the top, serving all the deep fried goodness our work out had earned!)

Forever in the hunt for my next viewing platform, we also scaled the heights of the Sugarloaf mountain (in a cable car this time around!) Monkey-filled trees populate the peak of this dramatically protruding rock. Yet, much less rustic than our climb up Corcovado, there are a multitude of predetermined pathways to circumnavigate, offering 360 degree views of the city and sea sprawl. As with our trip to Christ however, we became acutely aware of our altitude thanks to the shift in weather; despite our first day of glorious sunshine for a while, the chilly wind whips around endlessly (and lifts skirts aplenty, be warned!)

After all of the climbing, much of the rest of the week focused on the beach and/or eating:

Despite the ever fluctuating weather, Copacabana and Ipanema continued to offer the perfect chill out spot. However, for a truly glorious spot to sit and watch the waves, I can recommend heading downtown, to Praça Mauá. Dominated by the spaceship-style building that houses the Museum of Tomorrow, this spot was a perfect remedy to the otherwise eerily quiet weekend streets. Those who weren’t ogling the architecture could enjoy skating, a live band, a spectacular sunset and unrivalled people watching. The only thing to detract from the buzz and romance of this spot are the security guards doing rounds on a Segway; the approaching sound is enough to snap even the most star-crossed, sunset-gazing lovers back to reality!

Food-wise, I have sampled some truly gluttonous treats. A quick afternoon tea in the impossibly glamorous Confeitaria Colombo gave the famous Cafe Tortoni (Buenos Aires) a run for its sugary money. An all you can eat/drink/dance barbecue on a local rooftop combined my love for twinkly city lights, with my love for piles of charred meats! Market stalls lined with deep fried pastels and coxinhas filled my arteries and transported my tastebuds back to Colombia and the month when I solely ate beige. Best of all though, a three day craving that Leo and I shared for ice cream was satisfied by a litre of the city’s finest flavours, devoured in the street, at night, in the cold weather; suffice to say, people stared!

Said market stalls were to be found in just about every neighbourhood come Sunday afternoon. Our beloved Santa Teresa had a market with a heavy vintage clothes focus; down the hill, in neighbouring Gloria, stalls ranged from carefully curated and displayed fresh fruits, to stinky fish and flea market floor piles; but, the best spot to find yourself has to be Praça Sao Salvador. Another quaint and arty market lines the edge of the square, yet the main focus is on the central gazebo, full of musicians. Oldies with the full orchestral spectrum of instruments in hand treated us to a performance. Then, once they tired and packed up, a samba band took up the reigns and carried on the party. Locals, young and old, inspired our eclectic group of gringos to join in the fun. Multiple street caipirinhas fuelled the afternoon of dancing in the sunshine; on this Brasilian Valentine’s Day, the very streets of Rio itself (and an international hostel family) were my date.

Continuing on a similar vane, my final night in South America happened to fall on a Monday, which happened to play host to the Pedra do Sal street samba extravaganza! Despite being little more than a dead end street in the middle of nowhere, thanks to its natural amphitheatre shape and kooky street art, bunting-clad vibes, this party spot floods with people. A live band play samba music and, as ever, street vendors get creative with their drinks (n.b. Passion fruit caipirinhas are purely heaven-sent.) It seemed everyone and then some were present, as Leo and I weren’t shimmying alone for long and were reunited with friends from Rio and BA alike. The perfect roundup of my time in Rio, in a neatly packaged final night (admittedly minus a few keys faces who had headed to the airport mere moments before.)

Rio is the city that transforms from golden sands to verdant hills, from scorching sun to biblical rain and from entirely deserted streets to drunken crowds, all within a fraction of a second. Whilst I have somehow managed to leave much yet unexplored, I grew so comfortable here, enough even to walk the streets in a cape fashioned from a sleeping bag! I left my heart, some dignity and my favourite scarf in Rio.

Weighed down with a variety of now useless currencies and the onset of the holiday blues, I rushed to swap between airlines in Frankfurt and my trip officially came to an end. I’ve observed a lot, learnt even more and met some truly wonderful fellow citizens of the world. The only thing holding me together on this cross-Atlantic homeward journey is the thought of my next trip… Watch this space!

Week twenty one: clouds and caipirinhas

My first week in Rio has been exciting and full of delights, but I have been plagued by feeling utterly useless! After more than five months being an independent, semi-Spanish-speaking survivor, I have regressed to being a totally useless and helpless gringa. I didn’t realise quite how much basic Spanish I knew, until I realised that I didn’t know a single word in Portuguese and couldn’t handle the most basic tasks. Beyond that, any attempts to learn a few words has failed me, thanks to the entirely unexpected pronunciational surprises.

Luckily, I have accrued a great group: several girls who I’ve met across my travels so far and several Latino beaus to help with the translations! With locals (or at least ‘temporary residents’) in tow, Rio, and especially its nightlife, has been our oyster!

Living in the bohemian, hillside neighbourhood of Santa Teresa, we are mere moments from the parties and insanity in the adjacent Lapa district. From our cobbled, impossibly winding roads, we descend to the square beneath the colonial aqueduct, where the crowds begin to gather. Multiple nights in a row spent in Lapa have proven as diverse as the city itself. Live music is abundant and ranges from traditional samba to old school rock classics. Bars range from casual, sit-down pizza joints, to the tiny Casa do Cachaca shack, decorated entirely with hanging bottles and serving a plethora of different flavours; we repeatedly set our lips on fire with this taste of local life!

On weekends, especially Friday nights, the crowds multiply tenfold. Any car or cab brave or stupid enough to hit the streets become trapped and entirely stationary, amongst the slow-moving, street-partying revellers. All parties spew out onto the pavements, where street vendors lap up the trade, offering impossibly cheap caipirinhas! When in Rome!

After so long feeling comfortably westernised in BA, Rio harks back to the crazy South American climes from earlier in my trip. I’m not sure whether it’s the humidity, the sunshine (which occasionally pushes through the clouds) or the general street-dwelling vibes, but I instantly felt ‘holiday-y’ again. Thus, despite the totally average weather, we headed to the world famous beaches.

With ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ spinning in our heads, we explored all the way to the other side of the city. Around every corner, it feels as though you’re in an entirely different city. Mountains and verdant hills spring from amidst packed-in skyscrapers; unexpectedly European, gold-clad, historical wonders appear downtown; and modern hotel blocks dominate the beachfront neighbourhoods.

The beach itself has the famous golden sands and aggressively powerful surf waves. Beach vendors populate the entire strip, branching out from the usual beers and sarongs on offer, instead peddling giant (seriously, enormous) fans, portable barbecues of mystery treats and an umbrella adorned with hundreds of bikinis. The people watching was top notch and the swimwear was so small to be practically nonexistent!

On even less sunny days, when rain repeatedly prevented us from climbing Christ the Redeemer, we hid inside various museums and galleries. The (questionable) highlight of which was an exhibition of unavoidably phallic monsters, made with real human hair, designed to question our preconceptions of beauty, evolution and some other unnecessarily deep thoughts.

My favourite art piece in the city (because I’m a tourist cliché) has to be the Selarón staircase. Stumbling upon it in the middle of the night, we had this usually crowded tourist hotspot entirely to ourselves. The vibrant colours and infinite variety accurately portray the ingrained Carioca vibes. My personal favourite tile, amongst all of the poetic tributes, inexplicably announced ‘Dog doo, snowcone in your eye’; riddle me that?!

As previously alluded to, my time in Rio has mostly been defined by the people I’ve surrounded myself with. Following my BA-buddy, Lexi, to her hostel, I dragged my newest friend Jenny all the way from Iguazu. Upon arrival, we were concerned and alarmed at the sheer number of triple bunks piled into our prison cell sized dorm! However, I’ve learnt that a hostel is heavily defined by the atmosphere, more than any of the facilities offered.

Some nights we have branched out to the local restaurants (which, bizarrely, often double up as clothes shops) to sample the Brasilian delicacies. Meat-heavy Feijoada, fish-based Moqueca and the ubiquitous farofa rice/sawdust concoction that comes with everything. However, some of my favourite meals have been cooked in the hostel, as a big family affair.

Somewhat less locally flavoured, one of my favourite nights was when my Argentinian pizza chef, Leo, came over and cooked up a storm for us all. We girls returned the favour on curry night and, if the homely vibes continue, I’ll be stuck here asking for ‘uno noche mas’ for even longer than I did in Buenos Aires! Throw in multiple live music jam sessions and I’m going to need a serious influx of motivation to catch my impending flight home!

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