Visiting Russia without a visa

I haven’t watched a lot of the Football World Cup, currently in progress, but it’s been hard to avoid good news from travelling supporters and media that touring Russia has been an enjoyable experience and surprisingly almost, if not entirely, free of racist, far right, homophobic and state-legislated brutality (1). Obviously this is welcome, I’ve found the country to be enigmatic and intriguing with welcoming citizens generally happy to interact with few and far between foreigners. It’s almost enough to inspire another visit!

What I’ve encountered twice recently is a bureaucratic and painful visa process with high fees and fingerprints required. Obviously, I’m keen to reduce time and money spent, especially seeing as there doesn’t seem to be any reduction in the GBP 110 fee for children. A big loophole is the St Peter line ferry to enter St Petersburg from Helsinki. This gives 72 hours visa free, on the assumption you buy a bus tour from them – helpfully truncated in this case to a fifteen minute tour to the city centre from the port. This, intriguingly, leaves the rest of your time to your leisure.

Imperial orientation in St Petersburg

As the most European of Russia’s cities and with architecture more reminiscent of Vienna than a communist utopia, the Tsarist capital provides a decent starting point for 72 hours the country. It’s a guess, but a tourist bus would logically discharge passengers somewhere on Nevsky Prospect, an eight lane thoroughfare that connects all areas of interest including the Hermitage Gallery, an immense collection of mainly art, but also a good display of actually what happened in the revolution of 1917.

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St Petersburg is largely accepted as the trigger point of the revolution, the immense Palace Square that the Hermitage sits on feels revolutionary and an emblem of the aristocratic Russia that persisted until the start of the 20th Century. Follow this up with a visit to the Aurora Cruiser, the battleship that fired the first shot of the revolution, via a walk around the canals with a stop at the onion domes of the Cathedral of Spilled Blood and that’s a full day to get to grips with the origins of societal change in Russia.

Moscow’s socialist theme park

A night in the Venice of the East then an early train to Moscow presents the opportunity to see how things ended up. A poetic start would be Red Square with the embalmed remains of VI Lenin, father of the revolution. That he is encased in a mausoleum in a massive square overlooked by an immense presidential palace, the Kremlin, replete with turrets, should be some indication that equality was never the grand outcome of the revolution. At best, it could be said the Russians landed at a state with strong rule to guarantee stability rather than any sort of plurality.

Sustenance is probably in order for a tour of this political magnitude. I betrayed any sort of egalitarian principles by tucking into Salmon, Caviar with sour cream on blinis at Bosco Cafe, housed in state department store-cum-exclusive mall GUM. Bosco has a view over the famous onion domes of St Basils and the expanse of Red Square. I have since discovered Cafe Dr Zhivago, outside Red Square and overlooking the Bolshoi Theatre. It does classic Russian dishes big on ostentation and decor, though any Western wine is over fifty GBP a bottle. Try Crimean wine for a flavour not subject to embargo.

Practical notes

The ferry from Helsinki to St Petersburg takes somewhere between 11 and 13 hours and, helpfully, goes overnight with a 1900 departure in either direction. It leaves each port every other day, so you actually won’t get a full 72 hours, but a good-as three full days. The schedule I describe includes a day, an evening and a night in each city.

Until fairly recently train between the two cities was overnight or a full day, though the purchase of German high speed train technology means Sapsan trains can do this in a fraction under four hours. My disclaimer is I haven’t actually been on one before, though I have been on Russian trains and the German ICE trains they replicate and it’s as comfortable as it gets.

The contentious point here is I don’t know how legitimate this is. The 72 hours visa free arrangement is targeted at cruise, rather than ferry, passengers who tend to be highly chaperoned for a limited period. I’m not sure that hot footing it to Moscow is part of the Russian police’s expected itinerary and it would cause surprise. Indeed, whilst trying to be a bit smart with a 72 hours visa free opportunity in China recently I was woken by four policeman at my door to check papers. It might be a loophole, rather than what Russian security actually wants, and an odd papers request in Moscow, for skipping across a road, could end up in a whole world of trouble.

(1) For the avoidance of any ambiguity, I’m confident in asserting the Russian state has full control over mass unsavoury illiberal behaviour in the country, whether this be fascism, fascism, homophobia, hooliganism or terrorism. The fact the World Cup has passed with perception of such tranquility is therefore unsurprising. This doesn’t mean that your typical Russian citizen doesn’t welcome foreign tourists genuinely, though, nor is the country inherently shut. Both parts to this apparent dichotomy are true in my experience. Why does the first exist in face of the second though? I’d say it’s a fairly well established pattern of divide and rule to retain absolute control of the country. Like I mentioned when I wrote about Iran, there is risk for tourists in minority cases and this rightly will see demand drop. Unlike Iran, a more common culture with the West, history of attempts at pluralism and this very event in progress might mean this regime is closer to change, in terms of travel at least.

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World food cook-off: Latin America

It’s my department’s biannual world food cook off competition in a few days. In 2016 I concocted a peanut butter stew from Zimbabwe, enough for second place, so I’m hopeful of going one better this year. As we’re more or less set now for the Latin America family-moon in a few months, the competition comes with the context of what is best to eat and drink on the continent and use that as a warm up.

Argentina: Multi-format red meat

Steak and Malbec are the first words that come to mind when invited to discuss gastronomy from Argentina. I’ve replicated Rump Tail and Sirloin barbequed in the last few years and I think got a method down that works. Pampas Plains are a UK based farm which does UK ingredient-replicas of sausages, cheese and other accessories, but most impressively, imports cuts of meat.

The Rump Tail seems to come in lumps of about 1.2Kg. I’ve found 20 minutes on a mid heat in the oven, 20 minutes on a stove top smoker, pictured, then an irresponsible flame out on the BBQ gives a smoky, charred lump of excellence served medium rare to rare. 450g Sirloin pieces I deal with the same way, but 5 to 10 minutes less at all stages of cooking. Resting under foil and tea towel is essential, it gets cold fast in the UK.

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BBQ facilities are limited in the City of London, unfortunately, so this is a non starter for the competition, so if it’s Argentina I pick it will be empanadas. Essentially a more Latin version of a small Cornish pasty, these are much easier to transport. It’s been a while since I’ve cooked them, but a very dry tomato chili con carnè mix is the base with chopped green olives, fennel seeds, cumin and boiled egg cubes encased in pastry.

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To get these, possibly ubiquitous, dishes instantly recognisable as Argentinian, the side sauce of Chimichurri comes into things. Strictly speaking, this is flat leaf parsley, olive oil, salt and pepper and red chilli. Whenever I have had this in Buenos Aires and Mendoza, however, there have been rich seams of oregano and something acidic. I add the fresh herb, only seemingly sold by Waitrose in the UK, and white wine vinegar with lemon juice. Garlic is a winner with roast meat, so chuck that in as well. Champion.

Uruguay’s evocative sandwich

It’s hard to imagine any country other than the UK being as devoted to the humble sandwich, though Uruguay’s Chivito commands near mystical devotion. This is a relatively simple construct with fillet steak, bacon, mozzarella, tomatoes and occasionally grilled peppers piled inside. It seems there are variations and although I am occasionally keen on clogging my arteries, my visceral feel is it needs travelling context to work. In other words, not competition material in the UK, but worthy of a pilgrimage in Latin America’s smallest state.

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Drink on the side from Chile

Pisco Sours have threatened, but never quite drawn level with, Aperol Spritz in the UK summer as the hipster cocktail of choice. A iconic Chilean cocktail, where bars are built around it, it’s an egg white construct with the titular Pisco a smoother tequila-like taste providing the backbone. Think Margaritas for the educated. We all know the risks of egg based cocktails in the heat, mind, so probably one for Friday afternoon in the office rather than Tuesday lunchtime. We’ve all been there and South America seems a better place to be there.

Image credit: Wiki Commons

Learning to drive: more opportunities

I’m writing this post from Birmingham, where I was born and lived until around 23, decamped with Becky and Bart, in order to learn to drive. Typically done in your late teens, learning something in your late thirties is a different affair. Ostensibly, this is being done now for baby logistics, but there are also travel possibilities for which it is useful, sometimes essential.

Differences of learning to drive late

Part of the reason I’ve come to Birmingham is it is far quieter than almost anywhere in London yet I have some familiarity with the area. The latter has definitely helped in the first two lessons. The biggest difference I noticed in the first lesson, however, is you know, and teaching and coaching experience I have had since has helped here, how to learn. Making mistakes, learning from mistakes, expecting things not to be perfect and being selective about what to focus on and what not is all helpful.

Confidence is also a different matter. I can remember being overcome by surges of panic in 1997-2000 and this, for now, seems to have subsided. Partly this is just age, I don’t really care what a 40-something thinks of me now, and partly the effects of the knowledge of the previous paragraph. A result of cycling a lot in central London and regularly pedalling around Trafalgar Square is knowledge of how roads work and where space and potential dangers are.

What has been a bit harder is judgement of space. It might be my eyesight and peripheral vision has deteriorated but I’m occupying weird positions on the road. I expect this can be corrected. It’s also significant that there is some actual pressure to pass the test. When I was 20 this never existed and if that’s not a reason to learn then, I’m not sure what is.

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Why it’s important

Through an 18-year career driving to or as part of my job has never been a requirement and for the most part it’s not been needed for leisure activities either. I could say it would have helped getting to rugby matches I’ve played in, but it actually seems drivers get royally shafted on these pilgrimages and massively inconvenienced when it comes to the solution of the pains of playing rugby: several hours of hard drinking.

However, I can think of a couple of things I have sacrificed as a result of not being able to hire a car when I’ve travelled. The rural temple scene in Northern Japan I would have liked to have seen in Yamagata, Akita and Aomori prefectures and although possible by bus, it isn’t really that practical. Amalfi Coast in Italy and most of non-urban New Zealand are other examples of something that is technically possible on public transport, but clearly not intended to be done this way.

Most pressing in the near future is a drive to see King Penguins in Patagonia, Chile. This requires a batch of two hour drives on roads that are one step above wilderness. One twisted ankle from trying to get a picture of a Penguin or hoicking a baby around could be all it takes for me to have to drive for two hours in extremis. Could I do that now? I could probably just about manage to do it illegally. The immediate task for now is to be able to do it legally.

 

Shared Parental Leave: an interim assessment

The UK’s recent adoption of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) hasn’t met with 100% approval, for men especially, yet I think with a bit of consideration there are definite pluses to taking and using it. By utilising periods when both parents are on leave, it also opens up a world of travelling opportunities in London the UK and much further afield I’m just now starting to understand.

How SPL works

Before Bartholomew was born, six weeks ago today, I had a good knowledge of what the legal provisions of SPL were though not really any experience of what to do while on it. Legally, either 37 or 52 weeks are allowed to be shared between both parents. The delta between the larger and the smaller figures is unpaid.

Even with the smaller figure though, the biggest variable is how much your employer is prepared to pay for leave. My firm allows six months from birth fully paid, my wife’s less than this and for the bulk of her weeks she’s paid the statutory minimum. With this in mind, it makes sense for me to take a few batches of weeks off in the first six months, economically at least. There’s also nothing to say the periods can’t be simultaneous and it’s here where it moves from child care expediency to something more fun.

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UK opportunities

The first three week block of this opened up possibilities of weekday things to do in London. My vision of the first couple of weeks at home were of us red-eyed, exhausted and unable to leave the house. This is nonsense: not having to be up for work meant fatigue wasn’t an issue, a burst of sunshine incentivised us out and a proliferation of weekday lunch deals meant avoiding starvation wasn’t a concern. The parent and baby friendliness of The Grosvenor, space and pizza at The Kings Arms and half-price Malbec and steak at Buenos Aires all stood out.

I’m taking another three week burst of Leave in July and we’ve earmarked a day of that for the Picasso exhibition at Tate Modern. Accessibility for wheelchairs and prams is a virtue here and midweek, hopefully empty of locals if not tourists, could be a good quiet time to do it. The Tate Members deal comes with access to a room-cum-lounge, this could be useful for a lunch with splendorous Thames views.

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Also in July, Warwickshire, my home town cricket club, are in town to play Middlesex for whom I have disloyally bought a season ticket with a massive NCT membership discount. Even before this, I’ve regards four day domestic cricket as one of the best value sources of entertainment in London – if you like your entertainment in a deserted stadium and sedate. With, I estimate, 30,000 empty seats at Lords, that should be plenty of space for the stroller they only recommend you bring on quieter match days.

Having totted up my Tier Points on my BA Executive club membership, I estimate I’ll be a fraction short to retain silver going into next year. Musing a miles run and observing a family on my recent trip to Helsinki, I’m developing a hypothesis a domestic BA business class flight is best to do this. On three-seat rows, the middle seat is unsold, occupied by a removable drinks tray. It can be converted to a DIY baby seat on a non-seat infant fare. A one night trip to Belfast or Scotland could be my miles run next year.

Further afield

My final, and biggest, block of SPL will come in September with a month long family moon to Latin America. There were a litany of issues with this we’re gradually ironing out. One that’s kind of not quite there is the amount of baggage you get on various airlines and whether hand-baggage includes a baby car seat. We’re heading to South Chile on a trip to see King Penguins using gravel roads. While the hire companies offer 4x4s with baby seats included we’re not convinced it will work out. Does taking your own car seat around 10,000 miles to the furthest south you can get on continental land mass sound a great idea? More to consider.

Hong Kong also offered another opportunity we haven’t fully analysed: baby sitting in hotels. The Cordis (formally The Langham Place) is our favourite place in town, equally suitable for working, or, given the generous champagne and soft-shelled crab provision in the club lounge, having fun. As one day of next years 7s trip is going to involve a work, the baby-sitting service they provide caught my eye. A google search uncovered a lot of discussion board comments about whether or not they could be trusted. Given my good experiences at the hotel I’m inclined to believe – a less renowned institution would be another matter.

As with a lot of this piece, a lot seems to come down to how much you trust things will work out.

Tate Modern image credit WikiCommons 

Kanto and Western Honshu: Rugby World Cup cultural interlude

Watching Japan’s super rugby team, the Sunwolves, run a ragged Queensland Reds off their feet in a televised game from Tokyo recently revived my interest in considering matters around the Rugby World Cup in 2019, sparked by an opinion that a few days of culture on tour might be prudent.

Expediency and relevancy

Getting tickets has only been a partial success so far, though all is not lost as the next ballot window for individual sales is now open. I’m aiming for one of the England games in either Tokyo or Yokohama, plus the opening game in Sapporo. This restricts the tour to North and Central Japan, however, while arguably the most to see in the country is in the Western and Kanto regions, so a cultural visit this way is a good to break Rugby-based drinking and idiocy.

A metropolitan base

Kyoto is the first stop from Tokyo on the train, a journey of about two and a half hours. I detail a lot of the highlights from a recent trip I did there, but the city also makes a perfect base in terms of accommodation with Ryokans – Japanese style inns – plentiful. This is an attraction in its own right with elaborate and lengthy banquets, paper walls, tatami mat floors and stone communal baths. Be wary of attempting anything after eating at one of these establishments though, our attempts to go on an evening geisha-spotting walk were scuppered by the doping effect of a nine course meal after a hot bath and a heated floor. It’s perfect to do after a day of temple hunting.

I’ve never been to Nara, about an hour by local train from Kyoto, but something about King size temples in a more rural, or wooded, setting is something that appeals more with age. The town, like Kyoto, is a UNESCO world heritage site and was capital for a short period in the 700s, hence state buildings of some size. The point of difference here is deer roam around some of the buildings. Apparently legend dictates that a white deer was appointed from on high to protect the new capital, thus their modern descendants are granted a status similar to Hindu cows. Deer crackers are sold and distributed by humans willing to appease a god somewhere.

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Endurance and destruction

Go west of Kyoto, perhaps on a shorter bullet train journey, and a magnificent enduring castle dominates everything in the town of Himeji. It’s rare to see a castle this old in Japan, though there are a few modern reconstructions of archetypical castles. You can imagine Ninjas bouncing from the ramparts, indeed, Himeji was the backdrop to just these scenes in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. It’s half a day to explore so could be paired with a quick whizz round one of the metropolises of Osaka or the chilled out calm of Kobe. I had one visit in 2005 but was exposed to the sort of all day torrential rain common to Japan, as well as a hangover only Diet Coke would shift.

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Hiroshima has the same peaceful backdrop as a result of tradgedy, their’s being the atomic bomb in 1945. This demolished pretty much all the city with the exception of the twisted remains of the Genbaku dome, adjacent to an almost eerie peace park with the excellent museum. The museum and the stroll around the park is fairly heavy stuff. To decompress a visit to Miyajima, with more wild deer, has a very good tranquilising effect. With an early start, you could possibly get all this done in a single day, though a one night stop in Miyajima would be a good close to the day. Like Kyoto there are some good accommodation stops and Auberge Watanabe as I detail above had a great menu with enthusiastic English spoken by the hosts.

Practical matters

Conventional thinking is that the JR Pass is a great option here, though with the caveat it doesn’t include the fastest and most numerous bullet trains. My summary would seem to indicate that it is of some value but requires a bit of a calculation to see if you make your money’s worth on it – it could be that just buying tickets at the station is as cheap. What I discovered fairly recently that is also useful, JAL and ANA do flat rate tickets for internal flights for around £70 if you book your international flight into Japan with them or their partners. An a la carte option of a train in then a flight back from Hiroshima worked well for me.

It’s a familiar lament on this blog that train is often the most desirable way to travel offering more comfort and city centre locations, though flying is cheaper. I’ve seen this in Japan, Latin America and Scotland. I’d hope there’s some concerted effort for this to change at some point though it does lead you to think which of land or air travel is likely to make the biggest technological advances in the coming years.

Both images credit Wikicommons

An update of no travel

There’s a real end of term feel at the moment with three and a half hours of work ahead of four weeks of parental leave and vacation. Normally, I’d expect to be heading somewhere new with this long out of the office, but instead will be experiencing something dramatically new with Baby Taylor’s birth booked in for tomorrow AM.

An ugly smorgasbord post of themes, this piece serves as a follow-up to the previous one and a bookend ahead of a month off writing, I assume our forward-looking abilities will be reined in during April at a minimum. It’s also a download of where we are, we being a rather large group of people, ahead of travel plans to Latin America, Hong Kong / Cambodia and Japan for the Rugby World Cup in Autumn 2019.

Being out of your comfort zone

Last fortnight I wrote about travel, done the ‘right’ way, as being a good way to grow and develop. A management training course I’ve been on met for three days last week built on this theme. It would be more accurate to say the theme was really about working well under pressure, operating well outside your comfort zone.

To this end, 13 of us ended up presenting things we weren’t specialists in in front of senior management and for an alarming day, speaking into camera under the lights of a west end stage with peer review. As well as finding out what you default pressure behaviour is, it was interesting to learn what moving forward and backwards, hand expressions and posture do, independent of words. It’s something that breaks down language barriers. Tough work, but I felt far more skilled at the end of it.

Spending an, admittedly rare, three whole days with an international group gives you chances to learn generalities too. It’s popular belief that British and Americans can be polite to your face and vicious behind your back and with the biggest number of people in our group being German, there was time to compare and contrast.

One colleague took a role to offer improvements, even criticism, all done in a very constructive and iterative way, all improving our work. We discussed the application of this for Germany consensus politics against British and American adversarial structures. The trick for Travel, of course, is to know where other nationalities are.

Familymoon Latin America

Having come to terms with most of the queries I’d thought up for Latin America, we have since begun to book things up, and this seems to be progressing well. Traveling with small children independently seems to mean an Airbnb apartment is a good tip and that’s the plan for a chunk of the time in Santiago, Chile.

Telling the difference between two types of penguins in the extreme south of Chile, then visiting the rarer King Penguins (left) is now the biggest outstanding action. The Magellanic, penguins (right) are a bit more ubiquitous, therefore easier to see. It’s also very much a work in progress to see how easy it is to stay in speciality lodgings in Patagonia and whether the remote distances that need to be covered is better done by rented car or bus.

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Thoughts on the HK 7s

I’d previously come to the conclusion that getting tickets to the Hong Kong 7s was better done in combination with an expensive flight or hotel package, though I’ve rapidly rethought this while monitoring tickets on Viagogo, the official exchange. There has been roughly a 50% price drop from a month ago to now, supporting the view that tickets are superficially difficult for this event, but it’s a very transparent market.

This will also be pretty close to Baby Taylor’s first birthday so he’s probably due a birthday outing watching rugby as well. Tickets for the Friday only are £28. Is that a suitable occasion for a one year old? On the assumption this is in the dry stands on the quiet day rather than the riotous South Stand on a busy one? To review…

Rugby World Cup 2019

An early window of stadium and team ‘packs’ of tickets has recently closed with more failures than successes, though I am now the owner of a Kumagaya pass which guarantees some actually quite interesting looking tier two games including Argentina, USA and Georgia. There are more ticket sales windows to come including for Japanese residents and for Japan’s super rugby team, the Sunwolves’, supporters.

It’s required a rethink, but I’m still looking roughly along the lines of a Sapporo entry and then a move to Tokyo, probably including an Airbnb for the main part. Watching the Sunwolves on TV the other day, with around 15 internationals playing in front of a half full stadium, gives me hope that tickets won’t be the be all and end all, and that devising an itinerary regardless is the most prudent way to plan.

Is all this a bit insane? Planning away when you’ve got no idea what’s going to happen in the next year? I think it probably is, and they’ll be a disaster or two to recount along the way, I’m sure. Changing your perspective from experiences on the edge of your knowledge and seeing what you find out from being outside of you comfort zone, however, make me thing something serendipitous will happen. Definitely more likely than playing it safe and staying at home.

(All images credit Wiki Commons)

 

Creative Copenhagen: A tick list for a future visit

I recently visited Copenhagen for three days to speak at the IntraTeam conference and run a workshop, but I actually came away with a far better articulated reasoning for the benefits of travel and working internationally in the round. Further exploration of its breweries, the renowned and 1920s Art Deco style of Tivoli gardens plus museums and fantastically porky based food I will have to leave to a future visit.

Why Copenhagen? Why anywhere?

With the exception of nearly five years at PwC in the UK my whole career has involved close international working through some means, with countries in the Americas, Asia and most lately Germany. Clearly, there are differing styles and characteristics for each and its logical to want to get involved face-to-face. Conferences in London, Germany, Austria and now Denmark have provided me not only with real life demonstrations and talks about differences in approach and style, but mainly the chance to elaborate in a slightly longer form than a phone or video.

That networking is the prime reason for these events is generally accepted, though this doesn’t really create a compelling business case or a Cost Benefit Analysis for paying to attend them. However, a Scott D McArthur talk started to create this. An international phone call, email, video conference or even LinkedIn connection is usually a result of a reasoned process to contact that person, with a very specific ask in mind – even if you are proficient in cloaking this ask through well deployed small talk. This is, I have learnt, called level one networking and is basically a direct ask.

An event, however, doesn’t work on this principle. It’s basically a loose agreement to be open about experiences and expertise while picking and choosing some things to learn or investigate yourself. It’s far less direct and suggests a wider range of experiences. As Scott talked around, this wide field can go in ways you don’t expect. The best creative opportunities can and often do come from these random experiences. Put into my words, the best creativity and innovation comes from people right on them limits of your professional expertise, and sometimes beyond it.

Professionally, this took me into sessions about how AI headsets can provide learning opportunities, chat-bots as helpdesk operatives and news navigation and, as an experiment, whether there was anything I could learn from the technical implementation of an email client (for the record, way too technical for me and there wasn’t much there. But you have to be prepared to lose somewhere.) Stuck in a non-creative rut in the day job, getting some creative stimulation is at least a start on providing that CBA case for leaving the office.

It’s only really a hop, skip and a jump from this point to establishing that travelling is Level 2 networking on the assumption you do it to speak to different people and see what’s different, culturally, from home. I’d like to think I’ve been doing this for at least half of the last five years travel and certainly from the time span of this blog. It’s probably a leap to suggest it massively improves your creativity, but I’m certain it does open opportunities such as this project in progress, an early attempt to introduce baby Taylor into some international habits and the different opinions and insights on familiar subjects from these guys in Chicago.

It’s just a battle now to stop this sounding wildly pretentious or out of touch and more like it is intended: a positive expansive outlook and not a fearful retreat into oneself.

A tick list for a future visit

Of course, working on all this cerebral material meant I was, ironically, confined to the hotel where the conference was based and didn’t get out much at all. Perhaps this was wise: it was minus eight degrees at times and rumour circulated that windchill had made it feel like minus 17 degrees. Nonetheless, a walk over and along the network of rivers and islands in said conditions did offer the opportunity for dinner at the unintuitively named, cowboy-themed Rio Bravo for Danish specialities such as double pork stew with mega sized pork scratchings. It kept the cold out well and I’d opine that if a trip to Noma is on the agenda for Copenhagen, this is needed for balance.

This was my third ever trip to the Nordics, with the second being two weeks earlier and the first merely 90 minutes long and mainly confined to a bus. During these visits I have been tentatively cultivating the theory that the Nordics incorporate all the positive attributes of the Germans paired with more style. To this extent, the Art Deco pleasure Park feel of Tivoli Gardens might work as the centre piece of a Christmas Market trip at some point, the Christmas Markets being Germany’s finest contribution to the festive season. This, plus a hefty dose of anticipated creativity, is on the plan for someday.