Monday, 27 July 2015

Explore: Gothenburg | The Small Desk

Gothenburg Archipelago

View of Gothenburg, taken from next to Skansen Kronan

First off, I have to admit to something rather embarrassing... I thought we were going to Gotham... turns out that's not a real place, and they didn't base Batman in Gothenburg! What a clanger!

Gothenburg was the last city on our interrail journey around Sweden. I was very excited, as I've never been before and I've heard a lot of people raving about it. When we arrived at Gothenburg central station we were met by a sea of gypsies, and people pushing their spare change cups towards us. This was not what I had expected. I later looked it up and it turns out apparently Gothenburg is the first city in Sweden to offer free health care to those in the gypsy community without Swedish citizenship.

It is a city full of surprises, including innovative restaurants, shops that are setting the trends, accompanied by one of the most archaic museums I've ever been to, and a park that still plays host to a tank of seals. Let me introduce you to Gothenburg...

1. EAT
Lou Lou is my number one place to eat in Gothenburg, because the service is amazing. Despite it being a steak house they are incredibly accommodating towards pescatarians like me. We couldn't read the menu, as it was in Swedish, so our waiter stood and translated every meal on the menu for us. When I said I didn't eat meat and then requested the salmon, he kindly pointed out that it was wrapped in bacon, but that they could do it without. Then when I requested a cocktail and they had run out of one of the ingredients, they had one specially made for me and asked what my favourite fruit was. They really made us feel incredibly welcome and very special! 

Magasinsgatan is the same street/area that you can find Lou Lou's on. It is an area overflowing with niche designer boutiques, and some of them are even affordable! Some of my favourite shops around here were Grandpa, Pop Boutique, and Norrgavel. I couldn't believe they had a Pop Boutique in Gothenburg!

We stayed at the Clarion Hotel Post in the centre of Gothenburg. I booked it because it was a minute walk from the central station, and it literally is! It is also very conveniently right next to the tram station that takes you to the archipelago. It is a relatively expensive hotel, but if you book in advance you can get a good price. The pillows in the hotel are legendary, as are the breakfasts. Then there is the amazing restaurant, which is ridiculously expensive, but if it is raining and you're feeling flush, then it is a godsend! The staff are really accommodating and it was really quiet, tidy and clean. 

Slottsskogen park is one of the jewels in the crown of Gothenburg. It is 140 hectares of woodland, swathes of green grass, lakes and even animals! There is a penguin pool and a seal tank. I've never seen a public park with animals in like this; I wasn't really sure what to make of it, it felt a bit Victorian.

You can also walk up to one of the highest points in the park and see the moose. We saw the cage, but no moose, so I don't know how easy they are to spot, or if they are always there. The best bit about walking to the highest point, is the view. You can get a glimpse of the Alvsborg bridge through the trees; Gothenburg's own suspension bridge, which connects the north and south of the city. Maps are freely available in the park, and you can tell there isn't much trouble here by the size of the police station. Yes, that house above is a police station! Probably the prettiest police station I've ever seen!

The archipelago was probably my favourite part of our visit to Gothenburg. You can take the number 11 tram (or number 9 during summer) all the way to the ferry terminal. It takes 35 minutes on the tram from the central train station to the ferry terminal and your tram ticket is valid on the ferry.

Once you are on the ferry you can decide which of the islands to get off at. Some of the islands are more deserted than others. I can't remember the exact name of the island that we got off at but it had a cafe and a public loo! I think it was one of the bigger ones, as we weren't prepared with a picnic or anything. You can stay on these islands too, something I might consider doing one day. You can wander around the islands, or just use the ferry as a cruise.

I love my museums and art galleries. If we are in a city, the chances of me not going into a museum or art gallery are nil. In Gothenburg the most legendary museum is the Natural History Museum, and I can now tell you why! If you like taxidermy, then this is the museum for you! Everything, and I mean everything, is explained through taxidermy. They even still tell stories through very old school dioramas, noting that it is better than the internet! The photo above is of a real taxidermied elephant. Again, very Victorian! It is worth going to see the museum as a piece of history in itself.

The only place I would strongly recommend you avoid in Gothenburg is the Nordstan shopping centre. There are districts of Gothenburg that you are told to avoid due to high crime rates, but I'll let you look those up for yourselves, they are not really part of the tourist route anyhow. Nordstan shopping centre was recommended to us on a rainy day by the hotel staff. But this is the problem, on a rainy day, everyone goes there, including beggars, and you cannot move for being asked for money. It is also full of chain shops that you can easily find at home anyhow.

Have you been to Gothenburg, or would you like to go? Let me know in the comments!

You might also like:
Gothenburg Eats
Explore: Copenhagen
Explore: Stockholm

Monday, 20 July 2015

Summer Picnic in Richmond Park | The Small Desk

Richmond Park is one of my favourite places in the world. I know, big statement, right?! But seriously, it is three times bigger than Central Park in New York and by the River Thames! It is one of the few places in London where you can go and feel like you can breathe. There are cycle tracks, footpaths and horse paths (is that a thing?!), all alongside the deer. There is Pembroke Lodge, which has a cafe and toilets. There is Isabella Plantation, which is a carefully and beautifully curated garden, and there are the pen ponds, two massive ponds in the centre of the park that reflect the most spectacular sunsets in the late summer evenings. There is so much to do and see in this glorious park, but the best thing of all is to simply sit and enjoy it. This is what I did last Sunday afternoon. 

Me and the boyf went to M&S and stocked up on some picnic treats and headed off on public transport to Richmond Park. We walked for about half an hour before we found a nice quiet patch behind Pembroke Lodge, on a hill looking out over the rest of the park, and toward Petersham. We laid out our picnic blanket, chatted and ate our lunch, and then lay in the sun reading our books. I could have stayed there for hours, but the boyf was eager for a walk along the river towards Richmond town centre. If you are in London there is no excuse not to visit Richmond Park. You can go for a walk, hire a bike, take a picnic or even book in a horse ride. Let me know if you've already been or want to go!


Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The Psychopath Test: Book Review | The Small Desk

One bleak Monday morning I decided I had had enough, and that I wanted to do something more with my life. I couldn't decide between writing a novel or training to be a counsellor. Either way I thought that perhaps if I went to Waterstones at lunchtime and bought some books about the mind and thinking, then I would stop feeling so pessimistic. I thought these books could help me with inspiration for a novel or help me decide on whether or not to pursue a counselling course. I can hear my friends laughing already; I am always telling them of the next thing I might try career wise and then never do it. I'm pretty sure I've said I want to do every career under the sun!

Whilst perusing the mind, self-help and popular science shelves I came across The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson. I thought it looked familiar and decided that perhaps I recognised the cover from the days where I used to work in publishing and checked the Amazon Top 100 at least ten times a day! I was later reminded by a friend that she recommended it to me after I told her I was interested in research that found that people at the top of large corporate companies are often seen to be psychopaths or have psychopathic traits.

The book is relatively short at 280 odd pages long. It took me exactly a week to finish it, and I'm pretty sure that other than Double Act by Jacqueline Wilson, this is the fastest I have ever read a book!

The Psychopath Test is a journalistic novel written by the same author who wrote The Men who Stare at Goats; a book I hadn't heard of but am assured it is very famous as it was even made into a film! The Psychopath Test explores what it means to be diagnosed as a psychopath, the people who have defined the concept and those who have defined mental illness. Jon Ronson looks at the difference between what people consider as mental illness and psychopathy, and even goes so far as to search out psychopaths to diagnose himself. This description is making it sound like an academic book, but it is far from that and Ronson reminds us of that throughout. He looks at the history of using LSD to 'treat' psychopathy, nude psychotherapy sessions, and various other cases but what makes this book such a page turner is the interviews with those involved with the psychiatry sector.

Ronson interviews a business man, known for being good at firing thousands of people, amongst this former corporate executive's collection of predator artwork. Early on in the book Ronson is introduced by a scientologist to a man who claims to have faked mental illness to escape a prison sentence. Bob Hare, the man who invented THE psychopath test used by psychiatric hospitals such as Broadmoor, also heavily features in this book. If this were not enough Ronson even meets a former MI5 spy who now believes he is Jesus.

What makes this book such a fascinating read is the people he interviews. Ronson is also a brilliant writer and brings a sense of humour to what is otherwise a very dark subject. Throughout Ronson is asking the reader: how mad is too mad?


Sunday, 5 July 2015

Why I want to write | The Small Desk

This may seem an odd way of getting into writing, but the first person who made me think, 'I want to write as beautifully as you', was Jonathan Glancey. He used to be the architecture and design correspondent for the Guardian.

I came across his work whilst working as an Editorial Assistant on one of his books. I started to read his writing online and immediately began to get lost in and transfixed by the articles, even when they were about things I wasn't really that interested in. This is the sign of an amazing writer, to keep the reader hooked even if it is a subject they are not normally interested in. This is Glancey talking about a new football stadium:

"This stunning white apparition rises like a porcelain bowl from a podium set in restored parkland, between the breakers of the Atlantic and the commanding backdrop of Lion's Rock, Devil's Peak and Table Mountain."

And this is Glancey talking about the new routemaster bus:

"the new Routemaster looks as if it's wearing an eyepatch, a knowing reference perhaps to the days, a century ago, when fiercely deregulated London buses raced one other dangerously to pick up passengers, and were known as 'pirates'."

He gives character and personality even to a bus!

Another writer who inspires me is Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist.

"...she is caught short, the extraordinary sight within vanquishing all caution."

"Nella drops them quickly as if they have stung her..."

"...his whole body stupefied by the entwined figures of Marin and Jack."

Then there is Ernest Hemingway. I haven't read too much of his work, but I have read one of his shortest works, A Moveable Feast, again a highly descriptive yet captivating author.

"I wished I could put her in the story, or anywhere, but she had placed herself so she could watch the street and the entry and I knew she was waiting for someone."

"He spoke slightingly but without bitterness of everything he had written..."

I haven't had enough practice doing anything else creative other than writing, and from reading even just these few quotes, you can see how creative writing can be. I don't find exercise, my day-to-day job or socialising enough in life, I have to find some creative outlet and writing appears to be my chosen art form.

It is without a doubt a craft that can be played around with, re-worked, refined, and enable you to channel your emotions and experiences into creating artistic syntaxes, painted descriptions that gift to a reader a ticket to another world.

What does writing mean to you? Do you have another form of creative outlet? Do you know what I mean about having to have a creative outlet?


Wednesday, 1 July 2015

June Favourites 2015 | The Small Desk

Screenshot of my Instagram!

This month has felt LONG. Work has felt relentless, and combined with a three day intensive project management course I have often been at the point of breaking down. However luckily I have had some good times this month, and it is always important to me to share these with you. This is not a post where I want to brag, but a post that I find almost therapeutic to write. It helps me to remember the best parts of the month and not to focus on the worse parts.

I've been trying to make the most of my weekends this month and have been discovering more of London. Spitalfields, Broadway Market, Southwark, London Fields are just some of the places I've explored this month. I also bought some new shoes in the Cos sale, they were such a bargain, and someone told me they were so similar to Marni shoes... I have no idea if that is true but it sounded impressive! Anyhow, without much further rambling, these are my June Favourites...

1. Mum's birthday
This year we all decided to go rowing on a canal in Surrey. It was so much fun and I even found out that I'm actually not too bad at rowing!

2. Giving a talk at my old Uni
I was invited back to my old Uni to talk about my current job. It was completely surreal – I had to keep reminding myself I wasn't a student there anymore! I never thought I would be going back to my old Uni to give a talk at 27... bizarre.

3. Indoor picnic
One of my favourite things to do is to have a picnic. However one of my least favourite things to do is sit outside for a long period of time with no toilets nearby. Therefore an indoor picnic makes perfect sense to me! One day this month my bestie from Uni came over and we picked up some picnic treats from M&S and I got her into watching Pretty Little Liars!

4. Fumi Old Time Band at Foyle's
I blogged about this earlier in the month. By reading about it you will understand why it is in my favourites!

5. Hayward Gallery
I managed to drag the boyf to an art exhibition on the premise that it was meant to be like an adult's playground. The exhibition was Carsten Holler's 'Decision' at the Hayward Gallery. As soon as you enter the exhibition you walk straight into a pitch black tunnel that has corners and a slope. It freaked me out so much I put my iPhone torch on! The best bit for the boyf was going down the enormous slide at the back of the gallery... I didn't go I was too scared! This is basically in my favourites because I got to spend a whole day with the boyf!

6. Project management course
I have mentioned that this was really intense and hard work, but it is in my favourites because I love a new qualification on my CV! It was also a really enlightening experience and I am hoping that it will enable me to find my job a little bit easier.

7. Friend's birthday drinks
I haven't seen some of my old school friends for a while and I got to catch up with one of them at her boyf's birthday drinks. It's always so nice to catch up with old friends, they so often have the best advice and know you the best!

8. Pizza party at home
My Mum is an amazing cook, seriously, but on Sunday she invited us over for pizza because she'd been too busy to cook. I don't think my Mum has ever had anyone round for pizza, but it was so nice as we got to spend more time together and it was a nice and relaxed vibe.

9. Father's Day
On Father's Day I went through my pension plan with my Dad (fun times!) but also to the local Chinese. Sometimes there is nothing better than a plate of edamame beans and your favourite meal from a local takeaway!

10. Broadway market
My final favourite of the month is going to Broadway market. I also blogged about this – you can read more here.

What have been your favourites this month?

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