Exploring bridges: burning them, building them, and what it all means.

I literally took a trip down memory lane the other day. I was asked to drop a file off at a building across from where I lived when I first moved to the city. At first, the thought of going there filled me with absolute dread – it had been a really weird time in my life when I lived in a grim, box-sized room. I had been overwhelemed by the city, threatened to be swallowed whole by the dirt and the noise; overstimulated but also lonely. I was young, with no coping mechanisms in place – it is not a time I remember fondly.

I saw the pub on the corner, the familiar trees on either side of the road. I walked slowly down the street, expecting that feeling of dread to fill and suffocate me. What happened next was weird – it didn’t happen at all. The large Georgian building made me feel next to nothing. I was merely an observer, and it was merely a building. I realised I’d given it so much power in my mind, only to realise it was just bricks and concrete.

It seemed that perhaps without the shadowing of subjective memory, all these bad times that I hold in the back of my mind with near reverence were the same, just times. Would it be the same for some of the other periods in my life? The flat in Greece we were burgled in, the inner-city hospital that saw my first big loss? The school I struggled to fit into? Have I been carrying all these bad memories, cards tightly held against my chest, for nothing?

As a third culture kid (TCK), I’ve become used to leaving places and likely never going back, leaving people and likely never seeing them again. It’s my modus operandi, my protection; never looking back was something I thought was beneficial. The other day made me realise, however, that sometimes going back is good. Sometimes confronting the skeletons in your closet, or the places that saw your perceived worst, can be beneficial in order to truly move forward. Sometimes, on closer inspection, they don’t actually look like skeletons at all.

Exploring darkness in the polar night – Tromsø, Norway

I went to Norway for an environment that made me feel small and insignificant. To be awed and inspired, to be close to the edge of the earth. Think that’s a pretty niche travel requirement? Let me explain.

I’m obsessed with landscapes of extremes, so far mostly deserts. This time, I wanted to try something different and visit the arctic circle, the most northerly of circles of latittude surrounding the north pole. I live in a big western European city, where we don’t see many extremes of weather. It sometimes feels, as a newly minted adult (I say newly, but I’ve had some years’ practice) that the world is on my shoulders. The city can be a fast-paced place of ego, where things happen mostly if you make them. It’s easy to get stuck in my head, stuck in a state of anxiety about some thing or another. Lather, rinse, repeat. Also, coming from the Southern Hemisphere, I still struggle with the deep darkness of a northern winter. I wanted to see what made people tick this far north, where lettuce certainly doesn’t grow all year round, and where for a couple months per year the sun barely tops the horizon all day.

The polar circle

When we landed in the dark on a Saturday night in the tiny Tromsø airport, my husband hilariously but also pretty aptly asked me ‘WHERE ARE WE?!’ It felt like in the three hour flight from Gatwick we had truly flown into the unknown. We went straight to the local supermarket, which I guess is a pretty brave choice, and stocked up on groceries for our Airbnb. A search for dairy-free milk involved desperate comedy-sketch levels of Google translating.

Dressing on morning one to head into town involved base, mid, top layers; two, three pairs of socks, and outdoor gear. Having to succumb to the weather gave me a vulnerability that felt different. This wasn’t scared walking home alone at night in the city, this was an adversary you could prepare for but that could also beat you with no effort.

We came to Tromsø at the tail end of the polar night, when at full midday the sun barely makes it over the top of the peaks surrounding the island Tromsøya that the city sits on. This daylight is a suspended dawn of blue light leading directly to a soft bubblegum dusk sky. 3pm felt like dinner time, 7pm felt like bed time. We were reduced to basic survival (millenial style, á là Airbnb): eating when we needed fuel, sleeping when our bodies told us to.

View from the harbour of Tromsø

We arrived with a far smaller itinerary than normal, I had very few things I wanted to actually do in Tromsø. I wanted to see the elusive Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), go see a nearby ice hotel, try spot a reindeer, and clear my head for the rest of the time.

The second night, I booked a last minute Aurora tour with Brynjar from Arctic Breeze. On the night of Imbolc, the Pagan festival of light in the darkness of winter, we saw the most fantastic display of lights within barely half an hour of leaving Tromsø itself. Surely this was not possibly real, I am still having to check the photos our guide took to remind myself. We celebrated with hot chocolate around a fire on a fjord beach, under the dull remains of the lights. The experience certainly felt real when the -15’C temperatures started settling in to our boots and our bones.

Photos from our tour taken by the guide, Brynjar

The following day we got on a bus south towards the Tromsø Ice Domes, a new-ish ice hotel in a valley around an hour away. As we peeled away from the steaming fjords (cold arctic air hitting the relatively warm water) and headed inland, we watched with grim glee as the temperature display on the bus dropped from -12’C. When we arrived at the ice domes, the reading was -18’C.

Inside the hotel

The tour was lovely, so was sitting in the ‘warm dome’ afterwards with soup and spirits (Glenfidditch for him, Baileys for me). The arctic cold was really starting to set in, and the novelty wear off. As the sun begn it’s descent below the mountaintops, the temperature dropped further. If I remember anything of this trip, it is the sudden change from hospitable to the opposite. My phone died, my digital camera died. My jacket zipper broke clean off, like when movie crooks break into a safe by freezing and smashing the lock. Any exposed skin, like my hands desperately trying to take last pictures, felt the burn of near-frostbite in just a few minutes. On the bus home, the temperature reading was -25’C. I could definitely believe it.

Wednesday brought the first overcast skies; one day of snowfall. Wednesday also brought on a cold I’d been fending off for weeks with Vitamin C. We stayed in and claimed a snow day with endless Netflix.

Snow in our neighbourhood of Breivika

Waking the day after a snow storm is so exciting still – although I’m sure the novelty must wear off. We took the Fjellheisen cable car to the top of a peak overlooking Tromsø. What looked from the bottom to be quite a height turned out to be the first of many small peaks towards the true summit of Mt Storsteinen. We walked to the next peak in single file through the shin-deep snow, falling in to the Fjellheisen summit canteen after for a burger and pints of pilsner.

View from the top of the Fjellheisen cable car

The Arctic Cathedral near the base of the cable car

It’s funny how pushing the body in the cold takes so much more out of you. We joked every night that the reason we couldn’t keep our eyes open at 8pm was because of ‘all the fresh air’ breathed that day. It’s true though; the tap water tasted glacial, the air a special brand of crisp. Facial moisturing started taking on as many layers as my socks had, the cold a different level to any I’ve felt before. Traffic lights changed especially quickly for pedestrians – almost to get them in out of the cold quicker.

Ski jump towers at the University of Tromsø

What will I remember the most? The lights from Tromsdalen twinkling at us from across the water. The taste of beer (we had to sample all of it of course), the sighting of reindeer on the university campus. The cut of the cold, the warmth on getting in to the flat, how kind the people were. The feeling of being somewhere different to anything else I’ve experienced, and the feeling of being ever so slightly changed and not knowing quite why.

London Rooftops: Peckham

One lazy sunny Sunday afternoon I needed something fun to do in the sun, but more than that I needed somewhere fun to eat. It’d been a weird week, one of stress at work and weird city humidity despite otherwise cloudy weather. Sometimes a gal’s just gotta treat herself after a hard Sunday morning doing some life admin!

So we found ourselves headed (after a moment of indecision about just going somewhere we know instead) to nearby Peckham, where two neighbouring buildings are head-to-head in the best rootop stakes.

#1: Frank’s Cafe, London

Offering the least-obstructed view of the city from the perfect vantage point of southeast London, Frank’s is an informal bar set atop the repurposed Peckham Multi-Storey carpark. It’s been an ever-popular evening spot, but now modern art installations combined with potentially the best views of London make the photo-worthy pink staircase (so many stairs…!) worth it.

We came here around lunchtime on a Sunday, which ended up being super quiet but great to explore the installations up top.

The drinks weren’t too pricey (around £7 for a cocktail) considering the view, we had so much fun perusing the skyline and testing our knowledge of the names of every individual building. This place seemed like it would get pretty busy later in the evening, but was pretty chilled at midday.


From here, we saw a neighbouring building with a similar rooftop bar so we went to check it out.


#2: Bussey Building Rooftop

We’re used to our local Brixton, Peckham’s more gentrified neighbour, so this was a nice chance to explore a similar-feeling area without all the added ‘jazz’. Peckham is more raw, less pretty and more attitude.

Up more steps we climbed, to the top of the Bussey Building where a cool oasis lay. Here was music (which sounded like one of my own playlists…) and a colour-block pop of fun. The drinks were slightly more pricey than Frank’s at around £8 for a cocktail (£5.50 for a glass of prosecco), and of course being behind Frank’s it does have a slightly more obstructed view. The vibe here was awesome though, really fun and summery. There was a food stall as well that served the BEST (but messiest) burgers I’ve ever had. 10/10 for fun

I’d recommend going to both to see which floats your boat more, but I get the feeling Frank’s is great for a night with a group of friends and Bussey would be my prefered place for a fun date night 🤗

The Hidden Mews of London

Fitzrovia, in west central London, is the quiet area hidden between Oxford Street and Regent’s Park. If upmarket Chelsea was a flamboyant socialite, then Fitzrovia would be the bookish cousin. Quietly grand buildings line quiet streets (including the famous Harley Street), and off it can be found a number of quiet mews. These are small streets, or courtyards that used to function as rows of stables with living quarters sitting above. Nowadays, these historical remnants have been refurbished and remodelled into unimaginably pricey townhouses, painted all the pastel colours you can dream of. I love strolling down these beautiful side streets, they both shelter from the hum and heartbeat of the city, yet instead of an escape, take you closer to the heart of it all.

Spare half an hour next time you’re in central London and find these gorgeous spots for yourself!

Spotlight: Katharina Grosse @ Gagosian Gallery, London

There is a gallery space hidden down Britannia street near King’s Cross station (so near, in fact, there is no excuse not to go). It opens up into a maze of compact but seemingly vast expanses of pure white walls interspersed with swathes of natural light. I’ve been to galleries before, but this was on another level of pristine purity.

Katharina Grosse is a German-born artist whose work involves paint, stencils and negative space to produce striking, geometric pieces.

In ‘Prototypes of Imagination’, Grosse reveals the ways in which painting catalyzes the unfolding of multiple dimensions on a single surface

– Gagosian exhibition pamphlet

One almost falls into the first installation, the small antechamber of the entrance hall opening up to the largest room with no warning, no ceremony. The largest piece was canvas hanging from the ceiling, almost like a waterfall. One could peek behind it as there was no wall directly behind it, which added to the drama and impact on arrival.


In the adjoining rooms, huge individual canvases dwarfed the viewer. I felt truly moved by the scale of these pieces, the energy and emotion that weaved its way through the collection. Some pieces were hard, jagged, abrupt with pointy, straight lines. Some had colours flowing around areas of negative space.

There is no boundary between reality and imagination. To imagine is to realize. My pictures are prototypes of this recognition; they try out – and dramatically compress – the characteristics of reality. I build prototypes of the imagination so they can be reenacted and applied to other fields of endeavour

– Katharina Grosse


One piece (not pictured), brought up feelings of dread from afar with brutal lines and use of grey. On closer inspection, one saw the lichen-like dabbing of acrylic, that the grey was actually a silver sheen, and that up close it behaved completely differently.


If this collection explores imagination, then it inspires as much as it has been inspired. All the pieces were unnamed, unadorned, unexplained. Part of me struggled with this, I needed to know why that drip was there, what that shape meant. What did the artist feel in the exact moment of that brush stroke? Not being titled, though, seemed to almost be the title piece itself. Allow your imagination to be explored, each canvas said, and tell me what you think. I think in that lies the real genius of this collection.

A Perfect Brunch

Salon is a small restaurant in a covered market area in Brixton, South London. Self described as ‘fine dining without the fuss’, we put its menu to the test one dreary and slightly hungover Sunday morning.

Outside

You would be forgiven for walking past it without even realising, so unassuming is the store front, I have myself walked past it for the last few years. What initially started as a pop up above an artisinal cheese store became a permanent dining space, followed by the acquisition of a wine store next door.

The vibe is smart and polished, but relaxed and unfussy. Downstairs is a bar area, but upstairs is the dining room overlooked. The convivial atmosphere seems perfect for any occasion, a relaxed lunch with friends or an intimate dinner for two.

Menu

The menu is super varied, utilising local and seasonal ingredients. This is not your typical ‘brunch’ fare early on a Sunday morning, there wasn’t a waffle or pancake in sight. The oat milk flat whites arrived; simple and unadorned, and the food served by the chef himself.

Clockwise top to bottom: buttery corn bread, sriracha, kale and smoked salmon royale, sweet potato hummus on sourdough with confit bacon lardons, and hash browns.

Lemon meringue pie

Our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomachs (we even shared dessert, I mean who has dessert at breakfast?!) but it’s so worth it – and at a fairly reasonable price. The flavours hung on the palate long after we’d left, this is not a meal you want to pop a mint after! It’s really special when you find a spot that really speaks to you, somewhere that you could both see yourself working in and yet also feeling like home. I look forward to visiting for dinner and a glass or two of organic wine!

We Came for the Porter: Tour of a Brewery in Hackney, London

At Christmas we were bought tickets for a tour of our favourite local brewery, 5 Points Brewing Company in Hackney, London.

Located down a small cobbled street, under the Victorian arches of a train station is a relatively small and unassuming brewery. Conceived only five years ago, this relative newcomer solidified it’s place in our hearts a few years ago after a particularly memorable afternoon of IPA at an outdoor event at their London Fields warehouse. 5 Points are strongly community-oriented: their brewery uses 100% renewable resources, and is a living wage employer. It’s clear that sometimes in business, small is better.

The selection

The tour started with tasting a selection of 5 Points beers at shared long tables, while members of the team talked about the history and brewing process. This was great as we got a chance to get stuck in and avoid any long lecture-style talks!

The four light beers

First up was the pils, robust and dry. This was followed by various iterations of a pale ale: XPA, pale and IPA. The surprise favourite at this stage was the XPA, or extra pale ale. It was crisp and bright with a citrus flavour and grassy smell. The pale ale packed a bitter punch, and the IPA was a welcome burst of almost creaminess with an almost perfumed finish. It’s worth noting that all the beers are unfiltered and unpasteurized, which is really evident in the strong character of all the brews on offer.

The resident packaging expert talking through the merits of cans vs bottles

Last up were the two darker options, the brick field brown ale and the all-time best: the railway porter. Both had rich, creamy coffee and chocolate flavours but the latter is just dessert and alcohol all in one neat package.

Brown ale

Most suprising was the relative small size of the brewery, the main floor occupying only one or two railway arches. We were given tbe opportunity to walk through the process from beginning to packaging (cans are superior for preservation than bottles due to better blockage of beer-damaing UV rays), leaving me feeling like I could hold conversation with even the biggest beer buffs.

The brewing process, from start to finish

Included in our tickets was a ‘beer haul’, AKA a goodie bag of cans to take home and continue our beer education. Beer homework, if you will. Possibly the best part of the goodie bag was the bag itself, a gorgeous sturdy tote perfect for next weekend’s farmers’ market!

We left having made new friends with two older east London gents, and with an extra free beer ‘for the road’ (I prattled on and on about the porter so one of the tour facilitators opened a ‘spoiled’ bottle for the walk home). The staff were really passionate and knowledgable; promoting an almost dream lifestyle of working with friends, being paid to drink beer, creativity and fulfilment.

Where do we sign up?

Sudden Stranger

A week of winter hibernation

We were on leave this week, and a planned Berlin trip scuppered by Ryanair cancellations lead us to have the sweetest week off at home. Doing next to nothing, hanging out, laughing, eating and sleeping. Little did I know that that was exactly what I needed after a very stressful and exhausting few weeks. I have just started a more senior role, and my final MSc module has just begun. It’s safe to say that I have had a decent amount of things on my to-do list.

The Saturday before our week off was my husband’s birthday. Family dinner at Ceviche (one of our favourite restaurants – try the Lomo Saltado flame-grilled steak and Don Ceviche) was followed by drinks in a craft beer pub with friends. This, of course, ended with a rowdy late-night pizza session at Voodoo Ray’s Dalston.

Monday was his actual birthday, which brought us to St John Bread & Wine in Spitalfields after a lazy day at home; and a fabulous 4 plate sharing meal of smoked mackerel, ox heart & chips, butternut & pearl barley, and a beautiful lamb stew. We paired this with a dry (and strong!) crisp rosé.

St John Bread & Wine

Drinks at Black Rock Bar in Spitalfields never disappoints for whiskey fans. It was voted UK’s Best Specialist Bar 2017 in the Class Bar Awards, and this is definitely well deserved. The staff are always so knowledgeable, and they just do make the finest cocktails around.

Black Rock whiskey bar

Tuesday brought another cosy day in, followed by a Queens of the Stone Age gig at the O2 (this doesn’t sound like a very relaxing week so far, but I swear we did very little during the days!). They played a furiously tight and yet chaotic set, my favourites being ‘The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret’ and ‘Sick Sick Sick’. The sound was incredible, and even from our seats the heavy bass was deeper than anything I’d heard at a gig before.

QOTSA at the O2

Wednesday and Thursday were more home-based. I desperately needed to find time for some quiet so enjoyed having the TV off (once I’d finally finished Netflix’s Punisher), and listening to the birds out in the large oak tree in our garden. I tried a gym session but my body was telling me it needed rest, so I did more stretching-based movements instead.

Friday, we relished in another lazy lie-in, and a slow meal at a great local Pho place (apr and concisely named) Pho in Balham, South London. The spring and summer rolls (not pictured – eaten too quickly!) were fresh, tasty and just what we needed. The beef steak pho (look away vegetarians!) was so warming with plenty of five spice and star anise – of course I then add a good shot of sriracha to make things interesting! The lunch deal was fantastic, £20 for a two course meal for two.

Pho

We stopped in at Milk Cafe down the road for a relaxing post-lunch coffee. I was disappointed to find out their only milk alternative was soy, so opted for a black espresso instead. The vibe was great though, as was a cute little card served with our coffees explaining the flavour profile of the blend used.

Milk Cafe

Today was a day that felt lazy and like time wasted, but how often do people dream of an aimless lunch on a weekday, watching the world go by? We laughed and strolled and actually tasted the flavours of our food, more than I can say I’ve done in weeks.

Slow in the City – the beginnings of winter

Today we nipped out to Pop Brixton for some food. It is a lively market created from the skeletons of repurposed shipping containers, filled with nearly any kind of food stalls you’ve ever wanted to try. It’s somewhere we’ve always popped to as it is so nearby, but I never really took the time to take it in before. It definitely has settled in since it’s inception, and seems to fit right into the Brixton backstreet where it kind of stood out before.

There are also things I don’t like too much about the place (the whole idea of it feels a bit too hipster and like a symptom of gentrification at times, thus making me feel uncomfortable for being a part of that process), but there are things I like about it too. I like that it’s a place that is trying to give something, however small, back to the community it sits in. A lot of the stalls in Pop Brixton use compostable food packaging, and/or reduce food waste by donating extras to a local food pantry. Even if it is just a hipster fad, hopefully these little things will become the absolute norm in large city society.

Pop Brixton, made out of shipping containers

It was also a nice surprise to find a little herb garden out the back, like a return to something more simple than having an imported Belgian blonde beer alongside your Japanese gyoza. It may just be for that ‘rustic’ vibe, but I enjoyed perusing the chard, Thai basil, strawberry, coriander (nearly dead as usual – how does anyone succeed in growing one of them?!) and various salad leaves.

Top and bottom: makeshift planters at Pop Brixton

For him, the Miso pork ramen was on the menu from Koi Ramen; and for me some fantastic real-deal tacos from Maria Sabina (slathered in so much hot sauce that the chef showed concern. Edit: I not only survived but LOVED it!)

Koi Ramen Bar

Brixton Village market, a lot quieter than it’s newer, flashier cousin, had some pretty chilli peppers that I might go back for some day this week – I bet they’d make a mean hot sauce!

Brixton market chilli peppers

Walking home past Electric Avenue

 

Now to return home after a very low-effort afternoon, and think about the Thai basil I could be planting in my teeny-tiny window box ready for next summer.

Sudden Stranger, 2017

Lazy Beach Days: Ibiza Weekend

June brought a long-awaited trip to Ibiza for the wedding of two friends. I arrived to our house at Vadella Pueblo past midnight on my own, my own husband having arrived earlier for the stag party. The 40minute taxi ride to the little bay where we were staying for the weekend, Cala Vadella (Vadella Cove), was stressful conducted in my half-Spanish. It included many dead ends and wrong turns, literally, not linguistically, as the driver spoke to me in fast Spanish. I went to bed after checking all the closets for hidden intruders by torchlight, glad to put the journey behind me.

Cala Vadella, Ibiza

I woke up to the steady hum of cicadas, alone in the silence of our whitewashsd house, and able to actually see it in the light of day. I pottered around, looking through each of the rooms in turn. When I had left my hunger long enough in the empty apartment, I prepared to venture out En Español.

Barely a breeze

Walking down the quiet street towards the beach of Cala Vadella, I marvelled at the Balearic houses sitting perfectly in place under a flaring hot sun – whitewashed with cactus-lined pools.

The view from our front door

The road to the bay veered sharply to the right at the edge of a cliff, then wound steeply downwards. Through a break in the trees the sapphire bay opened up dramatically in front of me, and though it may sound corny it did take my breath away.

Cala Vadella from above

My husband joined me, and we spent our first afternoon together on the sandy beach eating bocadillos de jamón at Vadella Beach Bar and drinking fabulously strong mojitos para llevar from Restaurante Cana Sofia.

Cala Vadella

Laziness and hunger took us from our beach loungers to Cana Sofia when the sun started setting, where we had a meal of freshly prepared tapas under the vines. We sipped on ice-cold rosé wine and watched people walking the beach beside us.

We returned to our balcony to sip a €4 bottle of local cava, listening to the steady hum of crickets and cicadas and talking long into the night.

A long evening on our balcony

The heat woke me before sunrise, I returned to my spot on the balcony from the previous night, and watched the sky turn from navy, through light blue, to spectacular pink.

Timelapse of the sunrise

 

The second day was our wedding anniversary. To celebrate we did what we do best, headed down to the beach to do it all again. I swam through the azure water, one of my favourite things to do, and had a run-in with a rogue jellyfish producing a nasty sting. I had no idea at the time that this sting would ‘re-appear’ weeks later as the venomous stingers were still in my arm. We had a fantastic stone-baked margarita pizza from Cana Sofia (again!) which was covered in fragrant basil leaves the size of my hand.

We went home in the late afternoon to freshen up for dinner, and I was desperate to see a famous Ibizan sunset as clouds obscured the one the night before. On our walk back in to town for dinner, we stopped at the cliff, in a deserted parking lot. The sunset was better than I had hoped for, the sky seemed to be set on fire, and it gave both our faces a golden glow as we looked around. We could hear music, and walked closer to the cliff’s edge to see a huge sound system set up in a small cave below, the bass so loud I could feel it in my chest. Only two people danced around, and it felt like we had crashed a secret party.

All above: that golden glow

 

We concluded the night with an enormous, and first ever, paella, followed by a beer on the beach. I can still taste the flavour, it was so rich and savoury.

Ibizan sunsets: plenty bang for your buck

The next, and final, day was the wedding day. We struggled to a achieve any semblance of ‘pretty’ in a heavy heat, but made it to the other side of the island in time regardless. Experimental Beach was a venue within Las Salinas nature park, a UNESCO world heritage eco-system area, and a large exporter of salt. I knew we were drawing near in the taxi when we passed salt ponds and piles. We were greeted at the venue with a citrus-crisp white sangria, and we had enough time to look around before the wedding got started.

The venue before the guests arrived

After a beautiful ceremony where two friends were promised to each other for life, we ate and drank in the glare of the setting sun, and danced for hours under a navy blue sky.

The venue from the beach

 

Ibiza was a surprise, it was somewhere I hadn’t really planned to go to due to its reputation for a wild party island. What I saw was completely different, our quiet bay was such a refuge from City life, the local food so spectacular. I found the locals on ‘our side’ of the island to be some of the most friendly I’d ever met. I loved the peace and being close to nature once again.

 

 

 

By Mairead Daly