Scando on a Budget

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Budget is probably not the first word that springs to mind when you think of Scandinavia. I had heard that it is one of the most expensive travel destinations in the world, so why were we including this in our budget plans?

For some reason Scandinavia had never been a destination that had appealed to me. I had naively thought only about freezing dark days all year round and canned fish for every meal. Well I was right about the freezing temperatures but what I hadn’t thought about was the beautiful architecture, welcoming and stunning people and the fact you can have Fika without fish!

We touched down at Copenhagen airport at around 2pm and had already made a lot of plans to fill what little time we have in the Danish capital. As Steve has a background in architecture there was plenty of sights he wanted to see in the city, the first being the ‘8 Tallet’ which was conveniently placed between the airport and the city. This is a huge residential complex all made in a figure 8 shape. Hard to describe so here’s a link 

A few months earlier back in Vancouver we were introduced to a friend of a friend who was a temporary resident of the city. Kate, was happy to meet us at the train station and have us to stay for the evening. Although we had only met one time before there was no need for awkward small talk, Kate felt like an old friend. She gave us a list of local tips for making the most of the city on a budget.

We were very pressed for time in Copenhagen and as this was my first time in the city I did not want to leave any corner unexplored. We made our way through the urban commune of Christiania, saw the beautiful coloured housed at Nyhavn, caught a seabus to see the statue of the little mermaid, observed the many sculptures at Superkilen and found cheap eats at the street food market.

The next day we ended our very brief visit to Denmark and caught the train over the Oresund Bridge to Malmo, Sweden. Malmo, may not exactly be a tourist destination but for Steve and I it meant catching up with his very good friend and old housemate Malin. IMO the best way to experience a place is through the eyes of a local and spending four days and nights with Malin was the absolute best way to experience Sweden. We were introduced to a few of her friends who we went out with, spent time at their apartments and even met one of their mothers (a lot in just four days).

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One highlight from our time in Malmo was our afternoon at Ribersborgs open-air bath, a traditional Swedish sauna. I was slightly apprehensive to visit as it had a zero tolerance for clothing meaning you had to be in a room of naked strangers; on top of this it was customary to take a plunge into the icy Baltic Sea. Well after the experience I cannot recommend it enough, the icy water pumped the blood through my body like it hadn’t ever before, plus the view of the ocean from the sauna provides a view to divert your eyes from the various exposed body parts around you (for me it was a nice distraction from the sweat dripping onto my back from the man behind me).

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Four days in Malmo was not enough it’s definitely on my list of places to return too. I thought I’d be leaving Scandinavia without a penny in my pocket but if you’re not out shopping every day or paying for accommodation then sticking to a budget is very possible.

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England on a Budget

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One keyword to sum up our three months of travel would have to be BUDGET. We were both well aware of the restraints we were faced with before we left Canada and what little money we had managed to save would need to be stretched across our months of travel.

Budget is also a great way to describe how this trip was originally conceived. After hundreds of different travel ideas we finally decided on heading back to the U.K. This is because Westjet had an introductory sale for their flights between Vancouver and London, just $250CAD per person! To put things into perspective we couldn’t even get a domestic flight to Calgary for that price. So with minimal hesitation the flights were booked and three months later we were ready to depart. It didn’t matter that there were no meals or screens on the flight, for $250 I wouldn’t have cared if I had to fly the plane myself.

Arriving back into Gatwick Airport for me was actually a little terrifying. Despite the fact that London was a city I had called home only a few years earlier I was not prepared for the millions of people at the airport. What made things even more difficult is that Steve and I were both traveling with around 40 kilos of luggage each. As we joined the long line to buy tickets to get back into London it became very apparent that being on a budget in London was going to be tough. A train ticket each was going to cost us 20 quid! As luck would have it a women in the line in front of me mistakenly purchased an extra ticket which she generously gave to me, cutting our travel costs in half.

We only had four days in London which was filled with a number of free activities the bustling city has to offer. Borough markets, The Tate, Serpentine Gallery, Primrose Hill, Regents Park the list goes on. On top of this to save money we got meals from Tesco, the prices blew our minds after a year of North American supermarkets!

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We were also VERY lucky to have been provided accommodation from Kirsty and Phil who so kindly gave us an air mattress on their lounge room floor in Clapham Junction. If it weren’t for their help our budget would have taken a strong battering in our first few days on the road. Kirsty and Phil also get huge props for babysitting our beastly luggage leaving us to travel Europe with just 7 kilos of carry on.

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Serpentine Gallery

Four days after arriving we London behind to head North to Manchester. Thanks to Megabus we only had to pay a pound each to get there. Again, this was no way luxury travel at one stage I thought a brawl was going to break out between a tired chav and a Russian businessman over a reclined seat.

Although Manchester lacks the excitement that London is bursting with, I welcomed the slightly slower pace of life of the city. We checked into Hatters Hostel (the cheapest place we could find) and walked the blocks of the close by North Quarter. It was slightly heart breaking to browse shop after shop in the Afflecks complex and not being able to spend a cent. The reason behind out trip north to Manchester was to meet an old friend from Melbourne who was local to the area. Lucky for us she worked in a fashionable Asian fusion restaurant and gave us a generous discount on our meals.

Money wasn’t the only thing we were short on during our travels. Time was another restriction that we were faced with meaning each stop would be a rushed one and Manchester was no exception. Two days after arriving we were boarding budget flight number two bound for Copenhagen.

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Hatters Hostel Bathroom

 

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Dusting off the Cobwebs

Right-o here I go, literally blowing the dust off the keyboard that has been gathering for almost a year.

So last September, after months of swaying back and forward we decided to bite the bullet and ditch our two year working visas in Canada ONE year before they were due to expire. We wanted to leave on a high and the end of Summer seemed to be the perfect time to get out before that autumn rains set in for those six dark months to follow. In the lead up to our departure we planned our three months of travel down to the finest detail. We booked about ten different flights and reviewed our bank accounts with severe anxiety.

How are we going to travel across three continents over three months with less than $8000CAD between the two of us?

No bloody idea mate… Somehow we managed to make it work…

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The Long Way Home

 

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Coachella 2016

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Coachella is nothing but a tacky, poser-fest filled with narcissistic teenagers, all who seem to fed with a be- jeweled silver spoon. These kind of comments flow thick and fast from all corners of the internet at this time of year. After attending the festival for the second time I feel educated enough to say that these snarky remarks come from those who have probably never attended the festival themselves. The words they have written are fueled by a severe case of FOMO. It’s easy to tear into anything associated with Kardashians, the recklessly wealthy and god awful flower crowns but I want to provide you a truthful account of what I believe is one of the best three day events on the planet. If you have attended Coachella and not had the time of your life then you are either without a sole or stupidly snorted your way into a K-hole at the expense of your parent’s Amex.

To actually attend Coachella is not an easy task. For anyone living on the lower part of the globe the process begins at around 4am on a cold May morning when the tickets go on sale. If you hit the snooze button and sleep for an extra 20 minutes then you’ll be devastated to find you are too late, all 200,00 tickets will be sold out.

Then there is the cost. It’s around $550AUD for a ticket. If you’re staying in a hotel expect to shell out at least another $500 and I’m not even going to mention the price of flights to get your ass all the way to the U.S of A. This festival has already destroyed your bank account and it’s more than six months before the line up is even announced. This is when you’ll start to question what you’ve gotten yourself into.

Fast forward 11 months and all those worries would have melted away in the 40-degree heat of the Coachella desert. If your sensible like me you’ll be sipping a gin and tonic at the edge of your glamorous resort pool. If you’re stupid you may still be questioning your decision as you try to figure our how to camp in a very hot, very dry and dusty desert.

Coachella

Personally, I attend this festival for two (rather contrasting) reasons: The fashion and the music. In preparation for Coachella I put a great deal of thought into how to combine practicality with style in order to give the impression I am trendsetter and not a follower. Although I wasn’t the best dressed you certainly wouldn’t find a flower on my crown, not a metallic tattoo anywhere near my body and certainly no culturally insensitive headdress or any kind causing a river of sweat to make my bindy slide down my nose. Instead I mix of ironically branded All Blacks gear (its a thing) and bold colored blouses designed for over weight, retired women.

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The Highlights

Without a doubt the music was the best thing about Coachella this year. With tickets being as expensive as they were the organizers can basically choose whomever they want to feature on the lineup. Even purchasing a ticket without knowing who you are going to see you can pretty much guarantee there will be at least one artist to make it worth your while. 2016 was no exception with likes of LCD Sound System, Sia, Shamir, Grimes and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero’s. That huge fee I paid for my ticket was suddenly worth every cent.

The Lowlights

Although I have stated that Coachella is one of the worlds best events it has certainly made me develope a new hatred towards the human race and the repulsive connection they have to their mobile devices. Example: I pushed and prodded my way to the front for Sia`s absolutely incredible performance. She had amazing guests, vocals, dancers and an intense multimedia presentation going on. The absolute tosser in front of me took (without exaggeration) 800 photos on her phone. Instead of watching this mind-blowing set with her eyes she watched through the lens of her shitty LG smart phone. What made it worse is that of those 800 photos, 400 were selfies. And even worse than that? Whilst standing there with Sia belting out Chandelier a few meters in front of her she was uploading these images to Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram being careful not to miss any appropriate hashtags #putyourfuckingphoneaway

Coachella 2016

The Weirdlights

It seemed a touch weird that Calvin Harris was picked as the act to close the festival. I mean he may be the highest earning musician in The U.K but this jerk is nothing more than a USB stick loaded with top 40 hits. He played Adele, Rihanna and Daft Punk. If I wanted to dance to that sort of music then I could have simply headed to the closest, grossest bar to my house back home. I don’t understand how someone that displayed no talent whatsoever can close one of the world’s biggest festivals.

Even though Coachella has left me broke, angry at the human race and a throat full of desert dust I regret nothing. Coachella is something every music, festival and party lover should attend. There is certainly nothing like it.

Coachella 2016

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Portland, Oregon

Have you ever seen the TV show Portlandia before? Basically it takes the piss out of the hipster culture that has grabbed hold of Oregon’s largest city. There are skits about enraged feminists, organic, free range produce and vegans products or every meal or outfit. What I had seen on that show was basically the only impression I had of what Portland was actually like. To a certain extent the city of Portland is portrayed accurately on Portlandia. We did witness first hand some very colourful characters and places that could have actually been on the show. This is my experience in Portland.

The drive down to Oregon from Vancouver was supposed to be about 6 hours. As we decided to leave on Good Friday we waited in a LONG queue of cars to cross the border into Washington State. That combined with the heavy traffic resulted in about a 9 hour journey from start to finish. Finally after arriving we ditched our bags and headed to one of the many dive bars listed marked out on the map. The first was B-Side Tavern, ironically this venue is an old AA meeting hall (very Portland) with pints of PBR for only $2USD! We followed this up with a trip to Sizzle Pie, a popular pizza joint right next door. At this stage it was about 10:30pm and the line for a slice was out the door. We opted to eat in and after a few more cheap beers and some tasty pizza I was ready to call it a night.

The next morning we crossed the bridge to head to Mothers for breakfast, a good recommendation from a work colleague back in B.C. Although the wait for a table for 40 minutes it was well worth it when the monster sized meals were delivered to our table. The next few hours were spent strolling through the stalls of the Saturday morning market, whilst there was nothing I was willing to shell out my hard earned US currency for there was definitely a few more Portlandia sites to take in.

One of the main reasons for heading down the coast for this particular weekend was to see a band called Hinds play. I had discovered Hinds a few months earlier when I had to write a review of their debut album ‘leave me alone.’ I fell in love with this group of indie Spanish girls and have had their album on constantly since my first listen. Before the gig at the Holocene my excitement quickly turned to nerves. What if the pedestal I put the band on was too high? I’m pleased to report this was actually one of the best shows I had been to in a long time. Unfortunately I failed to contain the fan boy within and asked a few of the girls for a photo after the gig. What can I say? I’m obsessed.

Due to the cheap beer I had no recollection of what actually happened after the gig. I was told we had a Thai dinner but I remember eating nothing.

The next morning my entire body was consumed with one of those hangovers. The ones where you are starving but the thought of eating anything makes you wanna spew. Yeah that made the journey back up the coast a lot of fun. One positive though, there was next to no line at the border. I guess no one is as interested as getting into Vancouver as they are to get out…

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Going Home

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After 14.5 hours on a plane

It’s pretty hard to believe that it has been over a month since I returned to Canada after visiting New Zealand for my sister’s wedding. I know I have been pretty slack at providing life updates so am going to try and nut this out.

On February 10th, one day shy of being at my new job a month I boarded a flight from Vancouver direct to Auckland. It’s obviously the fastest possible route to take and incredibly I had touched back down on the soil of Aotearoa in under 15 hours (thank god for business class).

Now if you are a born and bred Kiwi, you will know exactly I mean when I say that New Zealand is a very small place. This was backed up by the fact that whilst sitting in the lounge waiting to board my 7:45am flight to Christchurch I noticed my cousin was sitting across the room. I thought I was hallucinating from lack of sleep and had to double take. Also on that same flight was a friend from high schools older sister and New Zealand’s deputy Prime Minister.

Two hours later I was reunited with the rest of my family at Christchurch international airport. Stepping out into the rays of summer for the first time in almost a year was a massive shock to my senses. I ditched the beanie, heavy leather jacket and woolly jumper, rolled up my sleeves and embraced the unusual feeling of warmth outdoors.

Despite the fact I was delirious with exhaustion I was determined not to let the jet lag catch up with me. I had only ten days before my return flight to Vancouver and I was not going to waste one trying to adjust my body clock. We went straight for coffee (the first decent coffee I had tasted in eight months), followed by lunch (shit the food in NZ is GOOD), followed by another coffee, followed by a walk around the Christchurch CBD which was even more unrecognisable than it was a year before.

After the initial catch ups and a 10pm bedtime on the first night I awoke to the sound of screaming cicadas, nature’s soundtrack to a long hot summer. It was another blistering hot day filled with cold beer and ocean swims. This was pretty much the routine of the next week, swims in Cass Bay, Sumner and various pools, followed by beers in bars or on my sisters porch.

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The reason behind my trip back home to New Zealand wasn’t entirely to add some colour to my translucent skin. I was home to take part in my sister’s wedding as her ‘Man of honor.’ The wedding took place at Mt Vernon Lodge in Akaroa. The venue was up in the hills overlooking the turquoise ocean and uniquely New Zealand nature. In the lead up to the wedding I was given the responsibility of managing my sister phone and to respond to any messages or calls she might receive. At times I had four phones on me trying to coordinate everything that a bride shouldn’t be bothered with on her wedding day.

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The wedding went off without a hitch, although wearing a suit in 30+ degrees did result in me being covered in sweat… nice. There was I do’s, speeches, drinks, dancing, more drinks and a hazy walk up the hill to bed.

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When my time in New Zealand was almost up I was hit with a shocking epiphany. I have now been away from home for almost five years. For those first four I turned my back on the country I was raised in, New Zealand was boring, behind the times and lacked opportunity. To me New Zealand meant failure, why stay in the place that raised you when the world is filled with endless opportunities. Perhaps I’m just getting old or had over dosed on Vitamin D but something in me clicked. After this trip, New Zealand was no longer boring and lame. New Zealand is the world’s most beautiful country and I am filled with envy for all those friends I saw back home living the literal kiwi dream.

Now I am not going to stand up put my hand on my heart and sing the national anthem anytime soon. But let’s just say moving back home (eventually) may not be the worst thing in the world…

 

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