Nottingham Vs. Birmingham

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Nottingham was not the first place on my list for a weekend trip, but being on the verge of missing out on seeing Bob Dylan play once in my life, I booked it right away. I have developed a recent a habit of travelling to different cities in different countries for the sole purpose of attending a concert. It’s a great way to plan weekends in places I’ve never been, and I can explore a little whilst I’m there. This was no exception. I never would have picked Nottingham, of all places, but I’m so glad that Bob Dylan happened to be playing there, and that I happened to want a ticket.

I arrived just in time to check into my hostel and grab some dinner before the show. I’d done a little prior research, and Purecraft Bar & Kitchen happened to be just around the corner from where I was staying. The giant burger and Oatmeal Stout did the trick, and the lovely staff were a great indication¬†of what was to come from the friendly Nottinghamers (is this the correct word? I Googled it and all I found were “Boggers” and “Scabs”). Nottinghamians?

I grabbed a quick porter in The Angel Microbrewery, accidentally making it in time for happy hour, which meant it was a little busy for me. Sitting alone drinking a beer is one thing, but standing alone with a beer is a tad more awkward. I appreciated the cheap beer, though! I snuck out and found my seat in the arena. Second row from the back. Should have brought my look-furthers! (Binoculars, if you didn’t catch on.) I soon became surrounded by excited oldies, grown-up sons surprising their dads, families with little kids, and groups of teenagers. I must say, I was impressed to see such a diverse crowd still buzzing over Bob Dylan after so many hundred years. (He’s how old?)

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The show was on the opposite end of the scale to¬†the heavy gigs I’ve been frequenting as of late. I must admit, I wished I’d had a coffee beforehand. Although it was slow and he kind of looked like a little old lady from where I sat, Bob Dylan was as captivating as ever. Maybe not so much for the people lucky enough to see him when he was younger, but being¬†my first time, it was something special. His voice was gravelly and old, but his passion was strong, and every now and then you could catch a glimpse of¬†that smooth voice from his youth. He never spoke between songs, never thanked the audience, never told stories about his songs. He didn’t need to. I had an interesting conversation about it later on with a stranger who had seen Mr. Dylan in Cardiff a couple of nights earlier, and I remember something he said. “He doesn’t allow himself to be defined. He’s just Bob Dylan.” For some reason that really stuck in my brain.

After the last song, and the encore (of Blowing in the Wind), Bob Dylan stood up, looked out into the crowd, then turned his back and walked off stage. I sat for another minute before the house lights came back on and people started to shuffle out of the arena. It was over. I stepped outside into the chilly air and watched the crowd form around a Bob Dylan impersonator bursting out all the hits that the real Dylan didn’t play, so they could live in the moment for a while longer. A man was selling tour shirts. I bought one, even though I had already bought one inside (sans tour dates). It was cold anyway, so three shirts were better than one.

I would have stayed longer and watched the busker, but my bladder got the better of me, so I made my way to BrewDog. I’m a big fan of their Jet Black Heart Stout, so I grabbed one and did the old “stand alone and drink a beer” thing once again. It wasn’t long before a friendly guy and his dad started asking how I liked the show. We started chatting, and, after explaining that he was married and that he wasn’t trying to be creepy, he offered to show me some other great beer spots around town. He happened to know people so I scored a couple of freebies (thanks, Gav!). The first place we went was Six Barrel Drafthouse, where I got a lovely coffee stout. Very smooth. The place seemed to have a great selection of local brews, and the atmosphere was friendly. Next up was the Keans Head pub, complete with a long list of great beers, even a huge selection of the Aussie Pirate Life! This is where I had that conversation about Dylan that I mentioned earlier, with one of Gav’s mates. Everybody in this town was so friendly and up for a good conversation, not just small talk. Gav and his dad headed off, then so did the others. I finished my milk stout and started walking towards my hostel, although I was having such a good time, I wasn’t sure I was ready to go home.

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I wandered along the street with all the people and went into a joint which I soon realised was the trashy pub of the town. Not my scene. I got out and twaddled in the direction of home when something caught my ear. (Can you say that, or just “caught my eye“?) There was a live band in The Pit & Pendulum¬†playing Nirvana and Pearl Jam covers. I was in. I ordered one of their strange sin-themed cocktails, which was affordable and frankly quite delicious. I only caught a couple of songs from the band, unfortunately, but I had to go to the bathroom, anyway. I followed the sign to the toilet, which pointed me downstairs and I couldn’t see it anywhere. I was busting! I asked the girl at the bar, to which she casually responded, “It’s just through the bookcase.” Oh, of course, I should have known!

After this, I was promptly dragged into a group of friendly Nottinghamers who led me to The Bodega, where we pulled out all of our dorky dance moves¬†to the retro hits for hours. I hadn’t had this much fun (alone) in a long time. ¬†After four hours’ sleep, I was up, bright eyed and bushy-tailed, and went to Cartwheel for breakfast and a nice coffee before my bus to Birmingham. I wish I had planned on Nottingham being so lovely, so I could have allocated myself more time there.

I spent the day in Birmingham staying out of the rain and browsing the shops in the Bull Ring. I eventually made my way to my AirBnb and had a rest before checking out some of the places on my list. I started at The Stable, where I enjoyed a steak pie and a cider tasting paddle. It was nice to find a place with so many cider options (like a craft-beer bar, only cider!), although I still got that familiar tummy pain I get when I drink more than a pint of cider. I also started feeling sleepy again, so I made a bee-line for¬†Be At One¬†to get myself an espresso martini, stat! I would have tried some of the other cocktails on the extensive menu, but I felt uncomfortable in this environment alone. I mostly felt that way because someone asked, “Why would you come to a place like this if you’re by yourself?”. Sorry, but just because I’m travelling alone, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to try out the cool cocktail bars and things a city has to offer. Back to BrewDog I go. There seems to be one of these pubs in every city I’ve been to in the UK, and I can always count on a good Jet Black Heart to keep me going.

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The ciders @ The Stable. 

Maybe it was just luck, but I just wasn’t getting the vibe from Birmingham like I had the night before in Nottingham. The people were different, and I wasn’t a fan. I went to bed early and had the best sleep ever. In the morning I got a coffee and an avocado and egg brioche roll for breakfast at Yorks Bakery Cafe, which I thoroughly enjoyed. A kind man struck¬†up a conversation with me about breakfasts and music, and gave me a nice send-off of Birmingham before I left.

Had I been in the wrong mindset the night before? Is that why I didn’t enjoy my time in Birmingham? Were my expectations too high because Nottinghamers were so welcoming? Or are Brummies just not my kind of people? Or was it because I wasn’t wearing my Dylan shirt? I guess the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind…

 

*Side note* On the way home I picked up a copy of Amy Schumer’s book “The Girl With the¬†Lower Back Tattoo” and I finished it in the one day (which I don’t do very often nowadays). Some parts were hilariously entertaining, but some parts where she talks about what she’s been through are so sad and frightening. Every girl should read this book! She has some very interesting perspectives on life and body image which make you really think.

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An Un-Guide to a Spontaneous Madrid Weekend

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When your friend asks you if you’d like to join her for a weekend trip to Madrid, you say hombre, claro.¬†If, like me, you finish work early on a Friday, you should aim to get into the city just in time for the typical 9:30 P.M. dinner with a local. I happened to know one through our previous contact in Logro√Īo, so I was in luck. We feasted on¬†cachopo:¬†“A gooey meat feast from Asturias, Spain,” according to The Guardian. It’s a combination of steak, ham, and cheese, which is crumbed like a snitty (which pleased my Aussie gut immensely).

After dinner and a gin-tonic, I was left to fend for myself in Lavapi√©s, so I made a bee-line to the closest craft-beer destination. I can almost sniff them out nowadays (not really…I use Google Maps to ‘star’ the cool joints before my trip. Genius.). The lucky bar that got the pleasure of my presence this lovely evening was Chinaski, where I enjoyed a couple of nice stouts and accidentally joined a Couchsurfing meet-up due to a fellow Australian accent that stood out in the crowd. I had also walked past Madritallica earlier (yes, it utilised the Metallica logo on its sign) and I’d planned to go in for a beer later, but it will have to wait until the next Madrid visit.

In the morning, make sure you head straight to Toma Caf√©. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.¬†Order one of their creatively lovely¬†pan¬†options and enjoy your beautiful coffee. Grab a bag of beans to go, if you’re that way inclined (like me).

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Strawberries, goats’ cheese, and sunflower seeds. Can’t go wrong.

By this time, feel free to make your way towards the Plaza Mayor to meet your friend, who is due to arrive on her bus at anytime. I recommend standing at the statue in the centre of the plaza. That way, while you are waiting, you can photobomb everybody’s photos and have a good laugh. When your friend arrives after figuring out the Metro (go, Jill!), make your first stop¬†Chocolater√≠a San Gin√©s, where you can catch up over six churros and a classic Spanish hot chocolate combo for ‚ā¨4 each.

Next, if your body is ready, go to the Mercado de San Miguel¬†and squeeze through the crowds and enjoy some great Spanish food and drinks. We thought we should make it a complete tourist day and fill ourselves up on sangria and paella. Walk off some of your new kilos on your way to the Palacio Real de Madrid, and detour past the Catedral de la Almudena. Pay the donation (‚ā¨1 is sufficient) and check out the wondrous ceiling inside the cathedral. If you have access to them, bring along those special¬†belay glasses that allow you to look up without moving your neck (if you have no idea what I’m on about, check them out here. I need some for cathedrals, honestly.).

Spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the streets, and don’t be afraid to indulge on the occasional mojito. Wave goodbye to your friend in the afternoon and head to your next hostel, which you may need to do if your trip is spontaneous like mine, and the place you stayed the first night doesn’t have any beds available for the second night. I stayed in U Hostels the second night, which I was really impressed with. If you didn’t sleep well the first night, now is your chance to have a quick¬†siesta¬†before Saturday night gets underway.

I was conveniently located near Tierra Burrito Bar and I got there around 8:30, just before the line snuck its way out the door. After my scrumptious pork burrito, I was on my way to The Stuyck Co to enjoy some nice craft-beers, when I bumped into my friend from the night before! It was such luck that I had to follow his group of friends to their destination, Macera Workshop Bar, a bar that creates a huge number of specialty gins, rums, and more. Set in a really creative space that draws in the hipsters by their perfectly pruned beards, Macera uses the process of maceration to create the wonderful flavours of their drinks. I recommend the Rojo Fruto Ginebra (with tonic, of course).

 

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Photo taken from the Macera website (their photography is much better than mine).

Once you’re finished here, feel free to have an early night, or check out one of the many bustling bars in the area, then¬†let me know what life is like at that hour. If you had an early night, you’ll be up for a Sunday morning breakfast and coffee at HanSo Caf√©¬†in Malasa√Īa. If you still have an hour to kill, don’t miss La Bicicleta¬†Caf√©, where you can bathe in the hipster essence a while longer, sipping your short-black and listening to The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Elvis. If you want to hipster-up even more, ride your bicycle there, or take your sketchbook to keep yourself from looking like an outsider.

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I’ll leave you here. I have to tend to my succulents¬†whilst listening to a band you’ve never heard of.

-Monet

Become a Hipster in London in Two Days

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An Incomplete Guide to Hipster Life in London

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I arrived at the Victoria Coach Station just in time for lunch. I was starving. The first place I saw, I went. Being an Australian girl who has been living in Spain for the better¬†of six months, I didn’t hesitate in ordering the Steak and Ale Pie, which I paired with a colourfully-labelled craft beer of some description. It was two in the afternoon by this time, and I still hadn’t had my coffee fix, so I went to the first appealing caf√© that caught my eye. I ordered my large skinny latte from Tomtom Coffee House¬†and wound my way through the gorgeous streets, sipping my coffee and taking in the sun which I certainly had not expected from London.

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Pie of the century.

After wandering aimlessly for a while, I figured it was about time I headed to my hostel. I found the Visitors’ Centre, where I entered with the purpose of acquiring an Oyster card, and I left having acquired a bright smile from a great conversation about music and Shoreditch, where I was headed and was “sure to fit in” according to the salesman. I studied the tube map for a minute or two, before I set off for hipster town.

I got off at Old Street, proceeded to walk ten minutes in the wrong direction, gaping at the hipster bars and restaurants I’d been missing of late, before realising, and consulting Google Maps for assistance. The fifteen¬†minute walk to The Dictionary Hostel¬†was spent with a wide smile, making mental notes of places I wanted to visit later on. When I arrived I was greeted by the lovely staff, who didn’t mind me bopping along to their Fat Freddy’s Drop playlist while they checked me in. I grabbed a travel adaptor for¬†¬£5 at the desk, and I took some free earplugs, too. I browsed the “book swap” shelf, smiling at the great selection. I quickly put my belongings away, before leaving to explore Shoreditch.

The first place I went was Jones & Payne, where Craig helped me become more “Shoreditch”. The staff even brought out a little piece of caramel slice for me to enjoy whilst I was being transformed! I left feeling fresh and new, and grabbed a quick chilli dog and Snickers shake at The Diner¬†before getting ready for the gig later that night. I couldn’t resist a quick craft beer at The Old Shoreditch Station¬†en route to Old Street Station.

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I enjoyed my night at The Dome seeing We Are The Ocean’s last ever headline show, which was incredible. I went back to the hostel to put away my new band shirt and I ditched my coat, going downstairs to Translate, where I used my hostel discount to grab a Salted Caramel Espresso Martini for about¬†¬£6. It was one of the best cocktails I’d ever tasted! I met some people there, one of whom was a fellow Australian, and we followed each other around for a few hours. We noticed a karaoke pub across the road, where we accidentally crashed somebody’s 90th birthday party. Unfortunately the karaoke spots were full, so after singing along with the oldies for a few songs, we went elsewhere. The next few bars we went to were average, but the music was good enough to dance to, so we stayed a while.

The next morning I got up nice and early and treated myself to some free peanut-butter toast from the hostel kitchen. I hadn’t had peanut-butter since leaving Australia, hence the need to mention this. I was so excited to stroll down Brick Lane, however it seemed 9 was too early. I kept walking and found myself at the Tower Bridge, realising I wasn’t far from Borough Market, where I found myself a “Chilli Con Carnage” pie from PieMinister¬†(how could I go past that pun-age?) and a long coffee line at Monmouth Coffee. Needless to say, I waited in that line and I was rewarded with a deliciously smooth latte to accompany me on my stroll further down the river.

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I had a quick sticky-beak at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, hoping for some free (or cheap) exhibition goodness, but disappointed by the ¬£13 entry fee, I continued towards the Tate Modern. Everything in the collection at the Tate is free, apart from the temporary exhibitions. I was quite satisfied with the collection on its own, and the current artists weren’t of any interest to me, so I passed on the temporary showcase. I grabbed a quick lunch nearby, before following my curiosity to Carnaby Street. I browsed in all of the expensive shops and pretended that I could afford the designer labels which I only lay my hands on¬†if they’re in an op-shop. The only thing I managed to buy was some hair product for my new do from Boots (still counts!). I treated myself to a health miracle vegan protein smoothie from The Detox Kitchen¬†(it was actually just a delicious avocado smoothie).

It was time now to head back towards Brick Lane to give it another shot. I went via Spitalfields Market, where I picked up a cute ring for¬†¬£10. Brick Lane didn’t let me down, although I was honestly sick of the overpriced vintage stores towards the end. I mean, I will never pay¬†¬£35 for a pair of somebody else’s old Converse sneakers! ¬°Por favor!¬†I did, however, find an underground vintage market filled with stalls by individuals, where I happened to buy¬†the coolest Wrangler button-up¬†ever.

I got 2 compliments on this on the first night.

The shirt got 2 compliments on its first night.

I slowly continued up the lane, finally resting my feet at BrewDog, where I enjoyed a decent burger and a Jet Black Heart Nitro Stout. I grabbed some bottles from the fridge for Sofar Sounds. This particular Sofar gig was set up in a gym, and although it felt wrong drinking beer whilst sitting on a yoga mat, the bands were incredible, as they usually are at Sofar! I met some great like-minded people at the gig, and I felt more hipster than ever before.

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Elder Island at Sofar Sounds

Take my advice. Go to London, even if you only have a weekend. Go to Shoreditch. Go to a Sofar Sounds gig (they’re all over the world). Ditch your diet every once in a while! Drink good beer. Open your eyes to the amazing hipster-ness around you!

 

-Monet

 

‘Every F***ing City’ – Paul Kelly

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Foolishly I followed you to Dublin
Like a ghost I walked the streets of Temple Bar
And all the bright young things were throwing up their Guinness in the gutters

And every fucking city’s just the same.

 

Sorry about the expletives, but it wouldn’t be the same if they were removed. This song has always been one of my favourites from Paul Kelly. It makes me laugh every time. While my boyfriend (pictured) travelled around Europe, I tried to do a few things from the song.

I followed him to Dublin.

I sent him an email when he reached the port of Amsterdam (and I made it sound like I wasn’t alone).

When I go on my own Europe trip at the end of this year, fingers crossed I can get to a nightclub in Helsinki, and they better bloody play ‘La Vida Loca’ (once again)! And it’s on my list to order sandwiches in seven different languages.

I took this photo in Temple Bar, Dublin. 

Arriverderci, au revoir, aufwiedersen, hasta la vista…baby.

Monet x

‘Little Pink Houses’ – John Mellencamp

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Well there’s a young man in a T-shirt
Listenin’ to a rock ‘n’ roll station
He’s got a greasy hair, greasy smile
He says: “Lord, this must be my destination”
‘Cause they told me, when I was younger
Sayin’ “Boy, you’re gonna be president”
But just like everything else, those old crazy dreams
Just kinda came and went
Oh but ain’t that America, for you and me
Ain’t that America, we’re something to see baby
Ain’t that America, home of the free, yeah
Little pink houses, for you and me, oh baby for you and me

I’m sure you’ve heard the song. I grew up as the youngest child of eight (born in 1994), so most of my music taste comes from my oldest sister (born in 1979) or my mum or dad (1954). I’m a big fan of John Cougar, John Mellencamp and John Cougar Mellencamp, although¬†I’ve never been able to tell the difference.

I took this photo in the town of Portree, Scotland. It was a beautiful place on the Isle of Skye. We caught the local bus to Uig, which was such a nice way to spend a day¬†there. We stayed at a Bed & Breakfast with¬†this stunning view, and the staff there were the nicest people I’ve ever met.

Two weeks in Scotland just wasn’t enough. I’m definitely going back. Where have you been in Scotland? Tell me your stories!

Much love,

Monet x