Sunday, August 25, 2013

The city & the sea - A summer visit to Stockholm

I'm a nomadic creature and the older I get the harder it becomes to stay in one place for more than a couple of weeks. I had a lot of short trips planned for the summer instead of a longer vacation, but it was still not enough. Although I did not even bother to get my suitcase down to the basement for quite a while I sat one evening at home and felt trapped. I had just figured that the summer would pass by without me seeing an ocean and smelling the salty breeze of the sea. SHOCK! So not good! I suffered a bad case of claustrophobia immediatly and started thinking about what to do. It was clear I would need to travel on my own since all my road pals had other gigs or had to stay at home for some reasons.
Going to Croatia was out. I would only be able to travel for a long weekend and 3 days in Dalmatia do not make any sense. It's too short. What else? Barcelona - great place, but my heart does not really beat for it. Lissabon - I really want to go back but not alone.
While brainstorming I realized that it would make sense to find out where the bonus miles in my Miles & More account could take me - and there it was:  A special offer - for only 10.000 Miles (plus another 18.000 for fees and taxes) I could go to ... STOCKHOLM! How perfect was that? I was in Stockholm before and absolutely LOVED it. It's a extremely nice metropolitan city and it is a coastal town built on islands. One of the best things is that you need a just short boat trip out into the Stockholm archipelago and there is nothing around you except the sea, islands, sun, wind and clouds. That was EXACTLY what I needed and so I booked the flight and got myself a nice, affordable hotel room right in the city and .... shortly after off I was ...

When I arrived the weather was not that good - cloudy, windy, a bit of rain, but I did not care too much. I just loved to be back to Sweden and went on a short walk around my hotel (Bestern Western Hotell Kung Carl - I can recommned)  in the heart of fancy Östermalm. The location right where the main street Birger Jarlsgatan meets Stureplan and Sturegatan is ideal - lots of great places are in walking distance and the Tunnelbana (underground train) is super close, too.

A mandatory stop for every Stockholm tourist is Östermalm's market hall (Saluhall) - a beautiful food palace:

From there I took a short walk to the waterfront - I was there to see the sea, right? Right!

Then it was already adventure time. Hockey adventure time to be exact. August is not really a time where you can easily catch a hockey game, but I kind of managed to do exactly that. Due to pure coincidence I had chosen the weekend for my trip when Red Wing Niklas Kronwall was organizing his yearly charity game in Jakobsberg / Järfälla - a small town right outside of Stockholm. That was definitely a trip away from the usual tourist path, but the information on the website of the Järfälla Hockey Club, the easy to use website of the Swedish railway company and some friendly people at the main station in Stockholm made it possible that I found myself after a short trip in front of the Järfälla Ishall together with a few hundered fellow hockey fans and a couple of Stanley Cup winners

It was just a charity game and the players of course made sure that it did not get too serious, but it was hockey and in some scenes on the ice really nice hockey. Right before the game during the national anthem I also had some serious hockey butterflies in my tummy.

The Wings:

The Hawks (and more)

Drop the puck (damn do I miss shouting this):

After the game the players were posing for pictures. All of them were really nice and especially Johnny Oduya was a pleasure to watch playing and interacting with the fans:

The game ended relatively late and I had a bit of bad feeling in the stomach to go back through the empty park to the station, but stupid me -  we are talking summer in Sweden and when I got out of the ice rink close to 10 pm it still looked like that (Isn't the Nordic light amazing?): 

Saturday was my power day - action from dawn to midnight. I woke up fairly early to enjoy the hotel breakfast. It was really nice although not as delicious as at the Hellstens Malmgård Hotel at Södermalm where we stayed the year before.
After that and before I really started the day I went to the park next door - Humlegården. When you are traveling alone and cannot share your thoughts right away with a travel partner your need your private time to just go through all the fresh impressions. A beautiful park like this is the perfect place:

The amazing thing: Swedish people are obviously no morning people - this is 9 am and Sunday 10 am looked pretty much the same. You do not even need to try to do some serious shopping on Saturday before 11 am. Everything (at least at Södermalm) will be still closed. That is my type of people ;) 

Peaceful late morning at Östermalm:

And over an hour later still peaceful morning at Södermalm / Nytorget

Because it was clearly too early for the planned shopping I was just walking the streets in the hip neighborhood around Nytorget and relaxed with a coffee in the sun. That is what vacation is about anyway isn't it?
When it was finally 11 am I went for gift shopping and was quite succesful. It is always good when you know your friend's favorite shop in her favorite city ;). 

After a short break at the hotel to drop my bags and charge the cellphone I walked down to the waterfront to go on a 3 hours boat trip into the archipelago. I was looking forward to this so much. It was one of the main reasons I chose Stockholm for this short trip. We did a tour with one of the island ferries when I was there the first time and I loved it.
This time I had booked a round trip and it was gorgeous except the fact it was a guided tour. That is not in any way the fault of the touring company (Strömma - I can actually recommend). The trip was exactly like described, it was well organized and the food was nicer than expected. I had just simply underestimated my personal mood. I totally did not feel like listening to anybody including the tour guide (who did a good job - not his fault). I just wanted to be for myself and looking out on the water, the sky and the islands. But that is what BEATS earbuds and Biffy Clyro are made for. I just put them on, made the music pretty loud, found myself a sunny, wind protected spot on deck and all was good. 

The citizens of Stockholm are lucky, lucky people to have this paradise just in front of their doors and I was really envious of all the relaxed people you could see hanging out in lounge chairs in the gardens of their summer houses placed on one of the countless tiny islands. I so want a place like this. 

After almost three hours we slowly came back to the city. 

Djurgården's nostalgic amusement parc Gröna Lund:

Back in town: 

After another short break to change into fresh clothes and have dinner I went down to enjoy the golden evening light in one of my favorite parts of the city - The Old Town / Gamla Stan:

A gorgeous day like this needs a sundowner and I had mine in the outdoor area of the famous rock club Debaser Slussen - expensive (alcohol in Sweden costs a fortune) but awesome:

From there I walked over to Fotografiska - the museum for photography. I was there before but they change the exhibitions every few months and so it totally worth to stop there every time you are in town. During the summer the museum is open until 11 pm on Saturdays and you can go late in the evening. On my walk there the city looked absolutely beautiful in a stunning sunset

Highlight of the Fotografiska visit was the Helmut Newton exhibition, which had of course again a picture of my friend Andy ;). 

The exhibition of the Japanese artist Motohiko Odani looks way cooler in the pictures than it was in person, because part of the installation was sound and not music in an enjoyable sense but scratching record noises and sound bits. It was nervwrecking. 

Hakån Elofsson (Fotografiska has always at least one exhibition of a Scandinavian artist) finally was showing street scenes from India in a very pure way that made you almost feel like driving down that road where the pictures were shot.

As you can imagine I was deadly tired after such a long day and back in the hotel I was sound asleep within minutes. 

On Sunday I had half a day left before I had to go to the airport and although the weather was not the best I decided to go to Skansen - the big open air museum at Djurgården. It is like a huge park where you can walk around and see how people used to live in the different regions of Sweden and learn more about the country and the history. 

My favorite part was the djurgården (zoo) part of Skansen with the nordic animals. 

Around late lunch time I had to leave to pick up my luggage, but I walked back instead of taking the tram because I did not want to miss my favorite spot in the city center of Stockholm - Djurgårdsvägen (the bridge that connects 
Djurgården and Östermalm)

From there I just walked back home to my hotel to get my stuff and travel to the airport. It was very, very hard to say good bye to Stockholm. I think from all the cities in Europe I traveled (and the list is really long) this one stole my heart the most. It has pretty much all you can ask for and more. I already cannot wait to come back.

More lovely pictures you find in my Instagram stream:

Tack så mycket & hej då!

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Summer of Ink

The left arm
The letter: E for my niece Emina
The quote: I am a mountain / I am the sea - Biffy Clyro "Mountains". It's my mantra - the words that keep me with myself and my head above the waves when it is needed (I love you if you get the reference ;) ) 
The motif: Half writing quill (you are here so that's one for Captain Obvious ;) ) half lion (lovingly nicknamed "Kitty Cat"). The cover of "Mountains" shows two lions and my sister, my mom and several important people in my life are/were leos (zodiac) and it is a fascinating, powerful animal to me. 
Design & ink work by Mac / Kleine Welt Tattoos, Munich

The right arm
The letter: H for my niece Hannah
The quote: Light shall break and bring a bright sky - Biffy Clyro "Justboy". These are powerful words full of hope and they fit perfectly to Pittsburgh.
The motif: The winged horse and his twin brothers are sitting on top of the 16th Street Bridge (David McCullough Bridge) in Pittsburgh, which connects the North Shore with the Strip District. The skyline shape is based on a picture I took myself from even this 16th Street Bridge.
Design & ink work by Mac / Kleine Welt Tattoos, Munich

Both tattoos were made in spring / summer 2013 in a 5 hours session each, which is pretty much the maximum Mac and I can do in one go (each one of us from his / hers perspective).
And before you ask: Yes, it hurt. The inside of the lower arm is significantly more sensitive than the outside of the upper arm and shoulders where I have my other tattoos. In particular painful are the wrists and where you get around the arm to the outside (the feathers of the quill and the wing of the pegasus), but for me personally it was nothing I could not handle. 

My first tattoo tracks back to the year 1998 already. It was tiny but a big step for me. I chose the Three Snakes & One Charm cover design of The Black Crowes and it sits on my right shoulder. The symbol is at the same time related to the classic 45 rpm single adapter called puck (yes, the irony is not lost on me) as well as referencing the celtic triskel as symbol for the harmony of powers and elements. I chose it because the time the record was released was one of the best and then one of the worst times of my life. I very seriously fell in love but I had to learn that love is not everything - it is sometimes not enough to go your way together. I was emotionally shattered but survived and kind of felt the urge to make a statement for myself to remind me of my own strength
Up from then I added things every few years. A guitar symbol was the next one. Me and my lovely friend Gina had it designed for us by a tattoo artist on Long Island in 2001 symbolizing our shared love for music as one of the biggest powers in life. 

Again some years later I met Mac here in Munich and we started working together. Since then he is helping me to turn my rough ideas into designs and to connect them with the existing tattoos. I am happy he is still there for me because I'm really not an easy customer.
I am not the type of person who just gets tattoos because they are pretty (although they are in my eyes). Mine are always related to important things in my life which define who I am. I always think it through a lot because my life of course keeps changing, new influences are added, some others fade. Since a tattoo stays forever I can only go for things that will keep their meaning to me even if the acute situation is gone. This may be different for other people who are totally fine with just a beautiful design without a special meaning, but it is not my way.
While I am pretty good with defining the themes of my tattoos I am a total loser when it comes to visuals. I am a person of words (hence the quill), but I cannot draw or develop visuals. I can give the poor artist not much more to work with than my sometimes really weird thoughts and inspirations. Glady I have an artist who found a way to turn my brainstorms into stunning tattoo designs even if it cost him a good night's sleep more than once already.

This year finally was the year I decided to make quite some big steps forward. I think three things were playing into it. 
  • The first few years I intentionally placed my tattoos on the upper arm and shoulder where a regular t-shirt would make them invisble at work or other official occasions. At first I was really okay with that but lately I grew more and more unhappy with the fact that I barely got to see my own tattoos nor did anybody else. 
  • In Pittsburgh so many people are heavily inked and way more than here in Germany I was confronted with beautiful tattoos everywhere just being part of the normal life. I was a bit of a jealous, sad panda and remember one morning at Espresso A Mano I told my friend Gabi, that I at least want to have a shirt saying "I am inked, too." 
  • I am getting 40 years old this year and while I am not having a classic midlife crisis I am aware that my parents both got their deadly diagnosis not much later than that. I have no tangible fear that the same will happen to me (at least not more than everybodyelse) but it brings the finiteness of life more into the focus of conciousness. And with this conciousness I care less than ever if others think I am weird or what the so called society might expect from me. Instead I look more at what makes me happy - like my tattoos

So when I realized that I had collected already again some of those life defining things like the strong bond with Pittsburgh, rediscovering music as driving power of my soul or this blog that became part of myself, it was clear that it was tattoo time again and I knew this time I wanted it differently - significant in size (not that the others are small, but still ...) and more visible. The process is hard to describe - I almost can feel the presence of the tattoos before they are there or I even know the final design and this time my feeling was crystal clear ... at the inner sides of the lower arms. And here we are ... it is all done since last Thursday (see above). 

I remember the first morning with Kitty Cat without the plastic wrap. I took the normal morning shower and my arm felt almost shockingly strange. I looked down on it like "Who you belong to, arm? What do you mean with you are 'mine'?"  It is a very significant change to my appearance, a new me and it is really nothing that should be underestimated, but I totally love it. I am sure my cat and my pegasus will be my friends and guardians for the rest of my life.

You are considering to get some ink, but did not get started yet? Then you may like my little guide to become happy with your tattoo(s):

  1. Take your time. You are changing your personal appearance forever. And I mean f.o.r.e.v.e.r.. There is nothing wrong when you have doubts, rethink it several times and maybe end up abandoning the idea. I personally prefer every person that conciously decides against a tattoo over a person that gets one without thinking about it seriously. In this sense tattoos are nothing for kids at all. It is good that you need to be at least 18 years old (older is better in that case).
  2. Think about your motif and get yourself informed about tattoo designs. There are a lot of different styles and techniques and it will be very helpful when you are choosing and working with your artist when you have a relatively clear picture of what you want and how you want it to look like.
  3. Make it your own! A tattoo should have nothing to do with fashion and you should really stay away from motifs that are "en vogue" - at the moment stars, infinity signs (I make an exception for the ones that come along with a pounding and shining heart ;)) and dandelion seed heads. And if there is really no way around for you and it HAS to be one of those let your artist personalize it at least a bit for you. A tattoo - anyway if it has a special meaning or is just supposed to be pretty - should be part of who you are if you want to be happy with it for the rest of your life and not just a few years. 
  4. Listen to your artist! Even if you are a super talented artist yourself and show up at the studio with a ready made design, you should let your artist do the likely necessary changes. Your body is no piece of paper. Positioning and sizing along the natural forms of your body are important for a great tattoo and your skin condition plays into it as well. I have for example super tricky, thin skin at the crook of the arms and at the wrists, while my shoulder is like leather ;) 
  5. Choose your studio carefully. Is  the place clean? Do you feel comfortable? Is there a good atmosphere? Are there books with designs of the resident artists you can look at? Are you treated nicely and with respect even if you are not yet covered from head to toe in ink? Have you asked friends or people with great tattoos for recommendations? All this helps to find the right place like in my case Kleine Welt Tattoos
  6. Choose your artist carefully. You will spend some pretty intense hours together and it is significantly easier when you like the person. And like I described above creating the perfect design needs your input as well as the artist's understanding of your ideas and his / hers design talent and technical experience. Good artists often have a waiting list and some patience is needed. If he / she is the right one for you then wait and use the time to safe some money. A good tattoo is not cheap. 
  7. Be aware of the pain. Lots of people give me a wink and say stuff like "Eh, you enjoy the pain, do you?" Like getting a tattoo was clearly hinting to a certain sexual orientation while it has really nothing to do with it. Sure, it hurts and you need to be aware of that. How much it hurts depends on where the tattoo is located and even more on your personal tolerance of pain. I for myself do not exactly like the pain but I embrace it as part of the process. You are changing yourself for good and it's just right that it is not THAT easy.  
  8. Allow yourself time to heal and deal with it. Getting a tattoo especially when it is a big one will cost you a lot of physical and emotional energy. Make sure that you have time to rest the day(s) afterwards. 
  9. Take care for your tattoo especially when it is really freshly done. Your artist will give you advice how to deal with it (wrap, cream, clean) and please do yourself a favor and listen to him / her. A fresh tattoo is a wound and needs to be treated as such to prevent infections and allow a quick healing process. It will take a while until it is fully healed and the skin is back to normal. Make also sure that you use plenty of sunblocker in summer. 

Enjoy your tattoo and your inked self!