It’s been just over a month since you last heard from me, but I am finally home after an incredible 2 months of travelling throughout Europe. As you may of remembered the first part of my trip was spent mostly in Portugal and Spain. Neil and I fell in love with this part of the world, and Spain will forever be in our hearts because it is the place we got engaged. I am sure we will be back soon because there is SO much more we want to explore.
For the second part of our trip we ventured east to Budapest, Hungary. I had been to Budapest 2 years earlier and knew immediately it was a place I wanted to spend more time. What I enjoyed most was the authenticity of the city. Sure, it has it’s touristy spots, but you can easily avoid them and experience life like the locals do. People are very friendly and usually speak perfect english. Budapest has gone through a lot of horrible things (it was hit very hard during WWII and after when the Soviets occupied) but it now has so many fantastic things to offer any traveller. Food in this city is to die for, but be prepared to gain at least 5 pounds if you stay for more than a week! Life is short so eat as much goulash and stuffed cabbage rolls as you can if you go!
Another thing I like about Budapest is the crazy currency. They are on the Hungarian Forint which converts 215 to 1. This means that a very nice dinner for 2 might cost 10,000 ft but when you convert it, you realize it’s less than $50! Neil and I nicknamed them ‘ballar dollars’!
I have always heard that Budapest has a thriving arts scene which makes sense given the bohemian culture. Luckily during our stay we were able to check out WAMP (http://wamp.hu/en), which was an outdoor market in the centre of Budapest focusing on young emerging designers. Booths lined both sides of the street as far as the eye could see! I was very impressed with the quality and calibre of what was available. I spoke to a few designers who said that Budapest was a great place to be as an artisan because there are lots of markets for them to sell at and rent is very affordable so they can easily find a studio space. WAMP was extremely busy so I couldn’t chat with anyone for more than a few minutes but one designer in particular really caught my attention. Her line is Lengyel Suzsi (http://www.lengyelzsuzsi.hu) and it is absolutely gorgeous! She makes all her colourful bags by hand and uses only recycled leather and sells them out of her studio, online and boutiques around Hungary. I am still tempted to order one because I regret not picking one up at WAMP!
After 2 great weeks in Budapest it was time for us to fly back to Berlin to explore the city even more. One of the best things about Berlin is walking around and checking out all the incredible graffiti that covers a good part of the city (especially in the east). One place in particular that I wanted to revisit was Tacheles (www.kunsthaus-tacheles.de). It is a massive art studio building that was occupied by tons of amazing artists, but unfortunately shut down last year. Apparently there had been controversy for years about what to do with the building which is located in the trendy Mitte area of Berlin. I have heard rumours that the bank seized it to turn it into condos. It’s a shame because I remember from my visit 2 years ago than the graffiti inside was absolutely insane! The only part you can visit now is the backyard studio which is filled of unbelievable sculptures made from some of the remaining artists. Another must see is the East Side Gallery (http://www.eastsidegallery.com) which is part of the remaining Berlin Wall that top artists have painted amazing murals on.
The market I originally wanted to check out is called Handmade Supermarket (www.handmade-supermarket.de), but unfortunately it wasn’t open when we were in town. Our friend told us about another weekend market in Mauerpark (www.mauerparkmarkt.de) that was pretty rad. Mauerpark translates to Wall Park because the Berlin Wall once went right through it. I think this market is where the hipsters of the city go to buy their crazy outfits! The park is full of hundreds of booths selling vintage, Made in China crap and some great handmade stuff too. Since it’s Germany, there are a few beer gardens where you can enjoy a pint and some currywurst (cut up sausage with a curry ketchup sauce) if you get tired of shopping. Since it was a Sunday, Mauerpark was packed with thousands of young people who if they weren’t checking out the market, were having BBQs on the grass or watching the massive outdoor karaoke competition. I thought the market was cool and picked up a couple things from the handmade vendors, but I kinda thought it was a shame to have so much mass produced crap intermixed with the artists. When I asked a couple of artisans what they thought, they said it was very hard for them to compete especially since lots of the people who go to the market are tourist and probably don’t always recognize which stuff is handmade.
Berlin is such a cool city and I highly recommend spending at least 5 days there if you go. The reason is that it is so spread out because of the separation between east and west that it really is like 2 cities side by side. I also think it is a good place to know a local or go on a tour of some sort because otherwise it can be very overwhelming.
Our last stop in Europe was London. We were lucky to have been able to stay in Neil’s friend who is a well know artist named Dan Hillier (http://www.danhillier.com), who has participated in many markets. Unfortunately Dan was out of town during our stay, so I wasn’t able to chat with him about what it is like to be an artist in London, but Neil tells me he is doing extremely well. His flat is in the vibrant Stoke Newington area, and even though it was a ways out of the centre of the city we really enjoyed exploring the neighbourhood and trying all the delish ethnic restaurants.
London is a city that would take weeks to fully explore. There are so many distinct areas with their own flavour and subculture. Luckily the Tube is an easy and affordable way to get around (if you get the Oyster Card!) . I love just walking around, getting a bit lost and soaking it all in.
The 2 things I was most excited to do in London was to see musicals and check out the markets. One of the first things I did once we had wifi, was score some cheap last minute tickets to see Once and Rock of Ages. Both were excellent, but we especially enjoyed Rock of Ages because of the fantastic 80’s music. Even Neil was chanting ‘don’t stop believing’ by the end!
London is known for it’s amazing markets and there are a ton happening every weekend. The first one we went to was Camden. The whole area is made up of several markets and the one I enjoyed most was the Camden Lock Market (www.camdenlock.net) because there was lots of booths selling handmade items. Some of the other parts of Camden had very repetitive booths selling the same Banksy inspired tank tops I saw in Thailand 2 years ago. Only differene was that they were more than double the price.
The next day we checked out the Sunday UpMarket (http://www.sundayupmarket.co.uk) because it was the one Dan Hillier sells at and looking at the website it appears there would be more handmade and less imports. The market is in trendy Brick Lane and takes up a good part of an old brewery which serves very well as a venue. It was packed with people and this was especially the case around the food stalls. We had already eaten, but the food being sold looked amazing. I had been missing my juicer and was very excited when one of the booths was selling fresh juice made to order.
Overall there were some fantastic booths selling art, jewelry, clothing and accessories but again lots of cheap imports. I ended up buying a cool bag made from recycled leather and spent some time chatting with the designer’s sister. She said the import booths make it very difficult for the artisans to compete. Apparently a few years ago it was 100% handmade but now it was closer to only 50%! She mentioned so many of the people who come to UpMarket are tourist who love to buy anything cheap with a Union Jack on it. They often overlook the more expensive handmade booths. I think this is such a shame and felt bad for the artisans who are working really hard to make a living and have to deal with this kind of crap. Hopefully the market organizers start to realize this soon and put a stop to letting all the importers in.
London is truly one of the best cities in the world and I could easily live there. Yes, it’s expensive, but compared to the current cost of living in Vancouver, and the lower British Pound it seems more possible. I just love how there is so much history, culture and things happening at every moment. Plus the people are quite lovely.
After London, Neil and I flew to Portland, OR to recover from jet lag and attend the World Domination Summit (http://worlddominationsummit.com). It was absolutely fantastic and I will write a post about it soon with some of the nuggets-o-wisdom I gathered for you. Sign up for the WDS newsletter so you can find out when tickets go on sale for the next one.
I realize this post is super long and if you have made it this far, I am very flattered. In hindsight I wished I would have written smaller chunks more often, but sometimes when I travel I get very caught up with experiencing each moment, that I find it hard to reflect. Overall, it was an incredible journey and I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to travel with my honey. Each place we visited captured my heart and I will remember some of my experiences for the rest of my life. It was also enlightening and interesting to check out so many handmade markets and chat to artisans about what business is like for them and I hope you enjoyed reading 🙂
Now that we are back home in Vancouver, Neil and I are excited to get back to work on our Make It Happen documentary! We have already lined up some new great interviews and are about to get started screening t-shirts to send out to our fabulous contributors. I will keep you posted.
Here’s to a magical, beautiful summer!