Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas

I'm feeling uncharacteristically cheerful about Christmas this year. Having thought that I wasn't going to be able to go home, I actually am. And quite honestly, the idea of not being able to spend Christmas with my family made me realise how much I actually appreciate those five days spent in captivity.

So to follow a trend, here are:

Seven things about Swedish Christmas


1. Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve.

2. They eat ham, not a turkey.

3. They have a Christmas... goat.



4. Swedes have a Christmas Menora. Originally a pagan tradition, it was stolen by the Christians, who claimed that each light represented one of the days of the creation of the Universe (there are seven candles). 

5. Each Sunday of Advent is very big event. Friends and/or family get together, light candles, eat and drink mulled wine. But some important advice, don't be fooled by anyone who tells you that it isn't going to be a formal event and don't listen to them when they tell you there will be drinking. For a few hours you're going to sit around a beautifully dressed table eating equally beautiful food, sipping mulled wine from miniature teacups and struggling to understand what anyone is saying. Then you'll watch the Christmas Calendar.

6. The Christmas Calendar. A cult television series which screens only in December and works a little bit like an advent calendar. Cult, except that everyone watches it. Each day you get a 15 minute episode which adds to the story of the previous day and by the time you reach December 24, the story is complete.

7. Dancing around the Christmas tree. It looks a bit like this, only indoors, around a Christmas tree. And everyone does it. 



And a cheeky bonus number 8. Merry Christmas in Swedish is 'God Jul'. Jul pronounced like the English 'Yule' (and God pronounced like God.) 

Sunday, 15 December 2013

How to be broke in Sweden.

I am no stranger to being a bit strapped for cash and sometimes I quite enjoy it. There's an amusement and a challenge that exists when you're trying to work our how you're going to do something without spending any money. And I am fortunate in that there has only been one short period of my life where I was struggling to pay rent and financially in a horrific way. However, a few miserable months working in a nightclub, having no social life and living off cereal fixed that. And I did (sort of) learn my lesson, so when I came to Sweden, I had put some money aside to make the transition a little bit easier. But as we all know money doesn't last too long, and so, as I wait for my first paycheck, I'm going to tell you how I have been getting by.

Emma's Swedish Survival Guide:


1. Buy a bicycle
It's a key investment and one of the first things I did when I got here. I count the number of times I have taken the bus on my hands. Sure, it gets cold and it rains, but at least I know I'm never going to be stuck without a bus card or any money and have to make that long walk home. It's also an excellent way to explore the city.

Swedish buses only take mobile phone tickets or their equivalent of an oyster card. (I could rant about that failure of a system for hours).

2. Dumpster Dive
This is something which is borderline legal and there's also a lot of stigma around it, but it's nowhere near as grim as you might think. The food shops throw away is actually EDIBLE. That's right, completely edible and usually very good. Since I've been dumpster diving, I've been eating things I could normally never afford and there's a whole community around it too. People go dumpster diving together and then cook a large meal at someone's house with all the finds.

More info for Malmo based citizens here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/178622068889137/




3. Pants
No, this isn't some weird allusion to underwear. In Sweden Pants are recyclable bottles and cans, worth 1 - 2 SEK depending on the size. If you're really stuck, you can spend an afternoon wandering around university libraries and the town itself and collect enough cans to buy something small that you want/need (falafel/milk/deodorant/toilet paper).

4. Language 
Whether you've got money or not, if you move to a new country you need to learn the language. Scandinavia actually makes it very easy for you. They have a free Swedish course provided by for the state for any immigrants who have just moved to the country. They even decide on what kind of class you'll be in based on if you've had any formal education before (that is truly accommodating for everyone). However, I also highly recommend getting drunk and just talking to people.

5. A Good Night Out 
Before you attempt this one, you do have to do some groundwork. Make some connections. If you know people, they can get you in to places for free, or they can get you some 'small' work inside the club/bar which will mean you work for a couple of hours and get some free beers out of it.

6. Daytime 
There are a lot of free events in and around Malmo, covering a range of different subjects and often with fika included. They provide good opportunities to network with people who can help you bring your own ideas to life, get involved in the city and even find a job.

Here are a few examples:
CykelKoket is a free space to build or fix your bike.
STPLN is an open office area, for people who work from home that want to work away from home.
Cinema Politca organise weekly, free film screenings.
Bryggeriet Skatepark is a free indoor Skate Park and Café.
Kontrapunkt is a social space and cultural center which holds a variety of events.
Connectors are a group of people who'll help you find all these places through monthly salons and events, which allow you to bring your ideas to life.



7. Creature Comforts 
My number one piece of advice is just to make sure that no matter what, your rent money is there. In Sweden it is not acceptable to pay your rent late, something that I did pretty frequently in Paris (where the tenant is protected, not the landlord). If you're worried about food, or transport or anything like that, it can follow. Rent = a home = a place to sleep, a place to chill out and all the basic comforts.


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Home

It's now more or less two months since I first arrived in Sweden and I'd like to think I've come quite a long way. I've secured a job, albeit with somewhat precarious hours, made a nice network of friends and begun to work on several art-based projects (where my heart truly lies) and as that autumn/winter buzz sets in and the air becomes icily cold, I find myself feeling bizarrely contented.

My boyfriend has been staying in a different town, busy making a film (Excuse me whilst I drop a little publicity bomb here: https://www.facebook.com/Zon261?fref=ts) and so I've pretty much been left to my own devices. I've quickly discovered several hubs of artistic activity, all of which are free and open to the public - you pretty much just drop by one day wanting to create something and they give you tools, means, basic education and space to do so as well as numerous places for a good night out and some small cinema collectives. All of this aside, there is still a lot I have to learn about this city and there are still a lot of things I haven't found yet, which often leaving me longing for London, or even Paris. But it's a feeling I know well, the realisation that some of those home-comforts won't be there to comfort you anymore and when I notice it creeping up on me, I know how to shake it off.

But one thing is for certain, I am missing England more than I thought I would six years after having left. Whether I like to admit it or not, I am very much an Englishwoman. There is something about the culture there (both good and bad) which is so comfortable and easy. Unlike most of my international friends, I don't look at London with starry eyes but with a dull ache in my heart, like an old love I'll never be able to forget. When I think of visiting the town, I don't think of national landmarks, the river or the football teams. I think about back gardens tucked away in the south east, Oxleas Woods (which I know inside out), bus routes I love to loathe, the cheap pubs my friends work at and even cheaper cafes. I simply cannot help myself, even though I've been fighting to leave and have always been yearning to travel, there is something keeps drawing me back to the town I grew up in. And although I don't think I'll be returning for a while and I certainly can't see myself with a family there I know at some point, I'm going to have to go home.



Sunday, 29 September 2013

Shopping

I've noticed a rumor doing the rounds. It's a rumour that says Sweden is an expensive place to live. And whilst it's true that the taxes are high and that if you want a good night out you're going to wake up the next day with a hurty wallet, things that you actually need (and want) to buy seem to be inexpensive.

The standard of living is high. So I'm currently paying a very small amount of money to be living in a good sized, modern, comfortable flat. The big cities are small and virtually every road has a bicycle lane and so traveling by bike is a cheap (and common) alternative. I recently bought a second-hand bike for around 200 euros, which new would have cost 700 and because everyone in Sweden restores old things, I actually bought it 'like new'.

Food is cheap and there's a larger variety of it. Living in Paris I had to limit myself to very specific fruit and vegetables because I simply couldn't afford to eat whatever I wanted to. Here I can walk into a supermarket and be faced with a whole range of inexpensive and imported products.

And finally, my greatest learn about living in Sweden - The flea market. Knowing that another empty Sunday lay ahead of me, I did some research and found that there was going to be a flea market today, in the city center. So I woke my boyfriend up bright and early and dragged him in to town. Unlike most flea markets/car boot sales I have been to, people weren't trying to get a lot of money from what they had for sale. They weren't even selling it for it's face value. To them it was all old junk they wanted to get rid of and they just wanted it gone.

So for a total price of 8€50. I picked up the following:

Burberry trench coat - when the woman told me the price, I ran to find my boyfriend to make sure I'd understood her correctly. (5€)


An old phone. This phone isn't really anything special, but I've always wanted one and never been able to bring myself to spend the 20 - 30 quid people usually ask for them. I couldn't help myself. (3€50)


And for any action figure geeks, my boyfriend proudly came home with this 12" Uncle Sam. (15€)

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Sweden. # 1

I arrived in Malmo, Sweden around three weeks ago and it has to be said, my move here hasn't been without it's trials and tribulations. But to me all these little hiccups have just been part of moving to a new country and with the help of some very kind people (especially my boyfriend's friends) I have finally begun to settle into my new life here.

My number one problem has been immigration. This was unexpected. Despite being a member of the EU, Sweden (like the UK) seems to like to play by their own rules. At the moment, I have the right to live and work in Sweden for three months, but whilst I am working here I pay tax in the country I am still registered in, i.e France (and believe me, having lived in France for six years, in a year's time that is going to be a headache I don't want to deal with).
In order to be able to stay in Sweden for longer than three months, you have to apply for a residency permit (the easiest to obtain lasting two years). On my most recent trip to the Migrationsverket or Migration Office I was told that in a worst case scenario the permit could take up to a year to process and that's without guaranteeing it will even be approved. Now, all of this I accept as boring paperwork that you have to fill in to be able to stay etc.etc. but, why is this permit so important? Without the permit, you can't go to the tax office and get your own unique personnummer which in Sweden is needed for you to do pretty much anything. If you want to open a bank account - you give that number, if you want to get a mobile phone - you give that number, if you go to the doctors or a school or even the library - you give that number. It's a badge that follows you around, telling the government and the rest of Sweden what you're up to and without it most doors are shut. So living in the country without it, is a little bit like living in limbo. You're never quite able to settle down and really get stuck in to your new life, but you are... sort of able to.

Problem #2 was job-hunting. It is hardly a secret that looking for a job is an horrific and frankly quite demoralising experience. It is also no secret to anyone who reads this blog that I don't speak Swedish. I knew from the offset that without a good knowledge of the language my opportunities were going to be limited but I also knew I needed a job. I needed financial security and even more importantly I needed to start creating my own social circle and my own life, not just back-benching off the life my boyfriend already has here (no matter how wonderful his friends may be).
So a week or so after I moved to Malmo, I began walking around the town, talking to managers in shops and restaurants and handing out my CV. Most of the time I was told that since it was the low season, nobody was looking for new staff. I also discovered that Sweden's unemployment level was high, but I kept going. I visited and called a large range of places, ranging from warehouses to english teaching agencies to coffee houses. After one particularly difficult day, where I was told that I couldn't deliver letters without the Swedish language because that would mean I couldn't read the names or addresses either (?) and where I was informed I couldn't clean hotel rooms without the language either, I stumbled across an English pub. I had visited a few pubs in the town, but this one had escaped my attention. Hidden around the back, next to an old lighthouse I got lucky. For them, the language used wasn't nearly as important as the customer service. After a try-out yesterday, I now have a job.


lighthouse next to the pub

Sweden is a beautiful country and even as the days grow darker, shorter and colder I'm getting excited about living here. I'm in the third biggest city in the country and it's a ten minute bike ride to a beach with crystal clear water and a small café with a private bathing dock out back. And it's only a twenty minute bike ride to the city center. People keep telling me I'm going to get bored of this small town sooner than I realise, but I'm not sure that I will. It's nice to have escaped from the hustle and bustle of towns like London and Paris, even if it's only for a little while.

And if that's not enough for you they sell bread with anchors on it too. 



Monday, 9 September 2013

Brazil - A Final Word

Dear Readers,
It has taken me a very, very long time to get around to writing this post.
I left Brazil two weeks ago and flew directly to Sweden, my new home. Moving to Sweden has been far more complicated than I thought it would be, but you'll hear more about that in a later post.

Brazil is an absolutely stunning place. It's politics and ways of life are so incredibly complex and the reports that I read in the newspapers now seem so skewed and uninformed that I can only assume the people that wrote them have never visited the country. It was only through talking to people and asking questions that I began to understand how this country works and yet, for me, the most important thing I learnt was that despite their problems and the corruption people are proud to be Brazilian. Not in an obnoxious, my country is better than yours way, but in earnest and I found it refreshing.

Here's a short list of things I learnt in Brazil, that you might find interesting or useful if you're planning on a visit sometime soon.

1/ People are not happy about the Olympic Games or the World Cup. This problem is not something that can be discussed in a small subsection of a blog post, one could easily write a book on it. I just think that everybody should take 20 minutes out of their day and read up on why. The feeling was so strong that I began to make a short documentary with some very kind couch surfers and a small production company called Torie Propaganda (which I'll be able to post online in the upcoming months).

2/ Most toilets do not take toilet paper. My Uncle's advice upon my arrival, was if in doubt, throw it in the bin. It being the toilet paper.

3/ The traffic jams are incomprehensible. Rush hour lasts a long time and you're better off staying out in town than attempting to go home if you're going to get caught in it. One thirty minute drive took my Uncle and I three hours because we left at the wrong time. (Note: in Sao Paolo, cars are only allowed to drive on certain days depending on their number plate because the traffic is so bad).

3a/ Traffic lights are more of a guideline, than an actual signal to stop.

4/ The buses are excellently designed. There's a lot of stigma around Brazilian buses for a whole host of reasons. The prices keep rising, they're dangerous etc.etc. There are three main forms of public transport in Rio; buses, vans and taxis. Taxis are safe and cheap. Buses are pretty cheap for the distance they travel and variably reliable, but I think the way they are designed is fantastic. They're not particularly up-to-date or clean, but most have air conditioning and they have a turnstile that the driver operates, making it very difficult for anyone to get on without paying. As for the vans I advise that you don't take them (as do most good travel books). They work on a pretty complicated system and I think you need to speak quite good portuguese to be sure that you're getting into the right one. They're also not entirely legal.

5/ Corcovado (Christ the Reedemer) - Go there first thing on a Sunday morning. Be there before 8am when it opens and buy your tickets online. Take one of the vans up to the top (these ARE legit) and then take the stairs not the lift. You'll be one of the first people to reach the statue. You might have to sit and have breakfast or browse the tourist tat shops whilst you wait for the clouds to clear, but it's worth waiting just for the view.


6/ The Brazilian staple diet is excellent. I'm a vegetarian, so obviously I couldn't enjoy the grilled meat, but the beans and rice tasted so good.

7/ Bonito. If you're going to Brazil, go to Bonito. Make sure you have a decent amount of money for this trip because once you pay for the hotel and the activities (which you simply won't be able to avoid) the cost will add up. But it's worth it. Just so you can go 'floating' in the crystal waters, climb in trees with the monkeys and dive into waterfalls. It sounds idyllic and it honestly is.

8/ Avoid the tourist traps. I never went to Copacabana or Ipanema, we mostly went to a beach near Barra di Tijuca. I would recommend going even further out though if you've got a means of getting there. Grumari is a beautiful, hidden beach right next to where all the surfers go. Places like Copacabana are nice, but it's insanely busy and it's expensive.


9/ Be street smart. Brazil isn't a dangerous place, unless you're silly. If someone asks for your wallet, give it to them, you can always recover your belongings later (this is advice based on the fact that the someone asking for your wallet might well have a gun). You'll also notice that a lot of the street performers who step in front of your car at traffic lights will do a turn lifting their shirt up - this is to let you know that they don't have any hidden weapons.

9/ Go to Lapa. I didn't really know what to expect on a night out in Brazil but Lapa certainly proved to be interesting. On arriving to the place I felt pretty intimidated, surrounded by prostitutes sprawled on cars, but it turned out to be the hub of Rio's nightlife. Most people don't even seem to bother entering the clubs or bars, spending their night on the street drinking and listening to the street musicians. Also, I'd advise a stop at the singing waiters bar at Barra di Tijuca. I forget the name but when I remember, I'll post it.

10/ Eat in the kilo restaurants. Here the food is priced by the kilo. They're cheap (about 5 euros for a large meal) and the food is good.

10a/ Buy the snacks that the roadside sellers offer. Especially the coconuts.




Sunday, 25 August 2013

A Week

Bonito taught me one thing: No matter how sad you think you feel, it's hard to actually be sad when you're lying in a hammock trying to ignore the midday sun and Monkey appears, steals some food from two domesticated Macaws and then is chased away by a lady with a broom. 


Here are some photos from this week, to give you a vague idea what I might have been up to... 













Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Bonito

Before coming to Bonito, I spoke to my Grandmother about where I was going, saying that I was off to do some further adventuring. She replied that she knew exactly where I was going and that it was an awful place with huge snakes, crocodiles and all sorts of other beastly creatures. My Uncle helpfully added that there were piranhas too. Today I bought her this postcard:


So, yesterday my final week in Brazil began and yesterday, I took two planes and drove for four hours (including a 100km down a dirt road) to reach my final destination before flying home - Bonito.

Bonito is a strange city, next to the Pantanal and having got used to the 'if that's a bit of land that hasn't already got a house i'll build on it' attitude of Rio it's somewhat unnerving to be in a place where all the buildings are so spread out... and although in the town's center all the roads are tarmac, most of the roads leaving Bonito are dirt tracks. However, it's down these dirt tracks that Bonito starts to get interesting.

This morning, I went wandering through two absolutely stunning caverns/grottos/caves. I've never been inside a cavern/grotto/cave before, unless you count Chislehurst Caves in London, which despite being an extremely historical site is not at all comparable to the places I visited today. Unfortunately my ability to take photos is waining (probably due to copious caipirinha consumption) and so these are the best of the worst.







After exploring the caves, we drove to a place called the municipal baths. For any English person, this would imply a large communal swimming pool, but this wasn't the case. We paid a mere 15 Reais (5 euros) entry and spent the afternoon floating down a clear-water river and swimming with the fishes. There were also lots of monkeys and Macaw(caws) and very sadly a roadkill Armadillo (first time I've ever seen one).








Friday, 16 August 2013

Hang gliding.

Today I decided to throw myself off a cliff and pretend to be a bird. 

And all I have to say about the experience, is if you get the opportunity DO IT. 








Plus a monkey I saw driving through Tijuca National Park. 



Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Beach

Sunday was another lazy day and one which I wasn't actually planning on writing about. My Uncle and I decided that whenever we were both up, we'd head out to the beach - a nice, but not particularly special Sunday afternoon. However, when we got to the beach, I was in awe.

For miles, I couldn't see anyone in the water. From a distance the waves seemed a little violent, but nothing particularly out of the ordinary. Then, as we got out of the car, I noticed that everyone was sitting as far away as possible from the sea, without actually having to get off the beach - so most people were huddled around the fences which divided the beach from the road. Most of the time, the waves would break a good distance from all the beach goers, but every so often the sea would flood the beach reaching the dividing fence and then retreat again taking tables, plates, sandals and an assortment of rubbish with it. Which kept my Uncle and I amused for some time.

The waves themselves were magnificent. The water was white from the foam and as the water swelled and rolled over it became a stunning pale blue. Above the waves the sea spray, which could felt as far back as the road, spattered the sky with rainbows.


video

Oh and on the way back I saw some wild capybaras.





Saturday, 3 August 2013

Paraty & a day of rest.

As this week rolled in, it stopped raining and the weather started to heat up again. So on Wednesday morning my Uncle and I decided to make the four hour drive to Paraty, a small seaside town bordering the states of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, where the locals have wasted no time in making up merchandise playing on all possible variations of the Paraty - Pirate pun.

Paraty is a beautiful, old town, with cobbled streets which dip in the middle making a kind of natural gutter, which comes in very handy every spring when the sea's high tides flood the town. We had a wonderful time walking around the town, drinking a lot of caipirinhas and buying our faire share of artisan goodies and t-shirts.



  

We also decided to take a boat trip to some of the towns surrounding islands (yes, it would appear no matter where you are in Brazil, you will be plagued with idyllic scenery) and I invested in a snorkel and some flippers so I was able to jump off the boat and explore the underwater wildlife. The boat journey and the islands were beautiful, but sadly the underwater visibility was pretty poor.






We got back from Paraty yesterday and the temperatures in Rio have soared. Today it was 33° by 10am, which I guess is a fairly reasonable temperature for a Brazilian, but with my English blood I was dying. So we had a lazy day by the pool with a barbecue and dogs, one of whom decided to take a dip with us.