Monthly Archives: September 2018

A S**t Week

Time to be totally honest.

This week has been hard to get through, it’s been a real downer, it’s been shit.  And yet, here we are again, we’ve reached another Sunday and I am facing the (self-set) weekly challenge of writing a nice post to put up here.  Truth is, I can’t really do it today.  I don’t feel very positive or inspired, and I don’t want to write about wonderful things when I don’t feel at all wonderful myself.  So, instead of faking my way through it and not doing anyone any justice, I thought I would just talk through what’s going on, and why I am feeling so down.  Maybe, hopefully, this will be some kind of therapeutic exercise for me, or it will be relatable for anyone out there who feels the same way.  So for now, I thank you for your patience in this, and look forward to writing something a little more uplifting next week!

We all have bad days, of course, it’s totally normal.  Perhaps, then, this week has just been a series of bad days for me, and they just all happened to come in a bunch together.  But, somehow, I am not content to just leave it at that.  My feelings aren’t those of being helpless and hopeless, I don’t feel like I just can’t do anything and have to wait for this tough period to pass.  Maybe that’s why this week has felt especially difficult – I still feel absolutely motivated!  I feel the need and energy to do things and get stuff done, I’m chasing up loose ends, getting out there and fighting the world.  But mixed in with this motivation, has been an ongoing suffering in my mind, and it’s having a horrible effect on me, so I want to figure out what is causing it and why.

I think I can identify my main negative emotion as stress.  It is very much in my nature to worry and over-stress about absolutely anything, so this is clear and not anything unusual for me.  However, I am normally able to keep my stress levels somewhat under control in a way that I haven’t managed in the past week.  Why?

Not to get too psychoanalytical here (although, why not..?), answering this question is difficult; it involves asking yourself really tough questions, even asking other people with more of a perspective those questions about yourself, and it also requires being really open-minded and allowing yourself the freedom to feel things you might not particularly want to feel!  After going through all of this, I have found that I can sort my stress into three different groups, each with their own sub-groups and secret side notes, and this has made understanding my feelings much easier for me and even improved my mood.

  1. Politics.  Along with a lot of people, I have felt deeply affected with this week’s proceedings in the Kavanaugh-Ford case.  I was humbled, moved and inspired by Ford’s testimony, but felt so shocked and betrayed by the way that she has been treated by the Republicans and people who hold ‘power’ over her.  This case has highlighted just where we are at in the treatment of women in our patriarchal society, and it makes me scared to integrate myself into that society, led by a man who thinks it is OK to sexually mistreat women.  Senator Kamala Harris articulates these sentiments more eloquently and powerfully than I could possibly write down here, so I very much encourage you to watch her speech if you haven’t already seen it.
  2. The Move.  It’s not surprising that my move, which is bearing down quickly upon me, is becoming such a huge source of stress for me.  The move itself is just the umbrella title; it encompasses the packing, getting rid of and selling all of our possessions, the business with our lawyer and my paperwork, the money, the daunting thought of living in a place I don’t know, finding a new house to live in, saying goodbye to Europe, adjusting to something that is as yet unknown, and all the many surprises that are to come.  I bet reading that list even stresses you out!
  3. General life worries.  These are all of the regular worries that never really go away.  Worries about my work, my finances, my relationship, my family, the future, what to do about dinner.  These are the worries that I think I have got good (or reasonable) at tackling on a daily basis, but paired with the other stress sources mentioned above, they have all, in turn, become exaggerated and augmented in my mind.  I feel like I am on the edge of a total overwhelming freak out at all times and anything could set me off!

Going into next week, I have planned to try out some new ‘self-caring’ strategies to help myself cope better and hopefully improve my mood.  I am going to read the news less – this week I have been glued to it and that probably hasn’t helped me – and read my book more.  I am going to get back into my normal gym routine – this week I couldn’t go as normal for various reasons, so hopefully getting back to my regular work-out schedule will help take my mind off bad things and make me feel better in myself.  I have also decided to try to live more slowly and intentionally.  I normally do everything I can, as fast as possible, and I think this makes me a stressful person!  I want to take a step back, and take more time over things like making decisions, working, walking and doing.  Maybe I will write a blog post on these thoughts.  Lastly, I am going to put a lot of my time next week into doing the kind of work that I love most, and I know I am privileged to be able to do that, so I feel very grateful that I can.  I still have a lot of work to do on my album which is work that I find hugely rewarding and fulfilling.  I also have new creative projects just beginning to take shape which I am SO excited about, and I am going to dedicate my time and effort to them, instead of stupid work and people.

So that was my week.  I would love to hear from you if you have also been feeling down about current events, and would be very interested to know what your coping mechanisms are for times like these – please let me know!

 

 

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Neuschwanstein Castle: How To Do It and Everything You Need To Know

Schloss Neuschwanstein is, without a doubt, one of the most breathtakingly beautiful and interesting castles I have ever visited – and I have lived in Europe all my life, I’ve been to a lot of castles.  Built surprisingly NOT that long ago in the second half of the 19th century by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, the castle is located deep in the heart of the Bavarian region of Germany, about two hours outside of Munich, towering above the small village of Hohenschwangau.  The castle itself was originally intended to be a quiet and remote refuge, just far enough away from Munich, where Ludwig II, who was somewhat of a recluse, wanted to live out his last days in peace and privacy.  As a personal homage to Wagner, the king adorned the interior rooms of the castle with stunning frescos that depict all of Wagner’s operas and, combined with strategically placed balconies that give truly awe-inspiring views, this is a REAL fairytale castle to behold.

 

 

For a long time now, I have been wanting and planning to visit Schloss Neuschwanstein, and I finally got the chance to last week.  After my visit, I came away with many thoughts about the whole experience, which I thought might be worth writing up in a blog post here, in case any readers may also be interested in visiting this castle.  I will say that a visit to this castle is definitely worthwhile and you SHOULD go.  However, there are some extremely useful things to know beforehand, some that I did and others that I wish I did, so I hope you find this post helpful.  * I will not discuss the castle itself or its history in this post, other than what I outlined in the introductory paragraph – this post will only cover how to visit the castle and what to expect when you get there.

The first thing to know about visiting Neuschwanstein, before you decide to go and start planning your trip, is that it is totally over-run with tourists.  I don’t say this to put you off going – I still maintain that a visit to this castle is worthwhile – but you have to keep in mind that the crowds and tour buses and selfie-sticks and cheap souvenirs are RIFE.  They try to get as many people through the interior room tour of the castle as quickly as possible, which means there really is no time to stop and admire the beauty of it all, except for a second, before being herded off into the next room (but more about the interior tour later).  So, if you are OK with dealing with tourists and crowds and crowds of people, then great, but if you know you cannot get on board with that, then I would suggest doing something else.

How to get there

The train

If you are travelling to Neuschwanstein independently by train from Munich, don’t worry, it’s not a complicated trip.  You will need to take a train from Munich Main Station (München Hauptbahnhof) to Füssen – it takes about two hours and Füssen is the last stop on the line so you can’t miss it.  By the way, the train journey becomes very scenic as you approach the mountains, so try to get a window seat!  Once you arrive in Füssen, you take a bus no. 78 to Neuschwanstein Castle – it will say this on the front of the bus and there will be hundreds of people taking the same bus (usually they actually provide a few buses leaving at the same time) so just follow the crowd if you aren’t sure!  The bus drops you off just at the bottom of the mountain on which the castle sits, and there will be signs to the ticket centre.

Buying the travel tickets

Very important: don’t fall into the trap of buying the VERY expensive full price train ticket from Munich to Schloss Neuschwanstein, which can cost over €100!!  If you are travelling alone or in a group of up to 5 people, get the Bavarian region ticket, or Bayern Ticket, available from any ticket machine.  This ticket allows you to travel anywhere within the region of Bavaria on any regional RE/RB train (so NOT an ICE train, which you don’t need for Neuschwanstein anyway), as well as on any local transport services, and it is MUCH cheaper.

For 1 person: €23

For 2 people: €31

For 3 people: €37

For 4 people: €43

For 5 people: €49

This ticket will get you all the way to the castle and back, and then to wherever you are staying in Munich city!  One thing to remember about the Bayern Ticket, is that it cannot be used before 9am – for getting to Neuschwanstein this means the first train you can take from Munich is at 09:52, arriving at the castle at about 12:20.

Getting up to the castle

Once you have acquired your tickets for entrance to the castle from the ticket centre, you may hike up the hill to the castle, which takes 35-40 minutes, take a horse-drawn cart, €7 to get up the hill and €3.50 to go down, or take the shuttle bus, also for a small fee.  Note: if you decide to take the horse cart or the bus up to the castle, you will be dropped off a little way down from the castle, so there will still be a bit of walking to do.  If you are travelling with someone who is disabled, they may find this difficult.

When you arrive up at the castle, there will be many viewpoints and benches to sit and have a snack on, as well as maps and touristy souvenir shops.  You will have a tour time designated to you on your ticket and you can enter the castle at that time.  Upon entering the castle, your bag will be checked by a very friendly and jolly security team and if you are wearing a backpack, you will be asked to wear it front ways, so just be prepared for that.

What to do at the castle

Castle tickets

I would highly recommend booking your tickets to enter the castle online in advance, as the queue to buy them then and there went on for miles!  I know the website can be a bit confusing, but basically how it works is: you reserve the number of tickets that you want online, stating whether you also want to include the tour of the interior rooms, and provide your credit card info online in advance (you won’t be charged at this point).  If you choose to do the interior tour, you must select a time for the tour that is 90 minutes after you arrive at the castle, so that you have ample time to look around and get up to the castle entrance.  Therefore, at this point, you have to figure out your arrival times/train times.  We took the 09:52 train mentioned above, and had booked our tour for 14:50, and this gave us loads of time to have lunch, take it all in, take some pictures etc.  So I would recommend following a schedule like that.

When you arrive at the ticket centre, you may join the (much smaller and quicker) line for pre-reserved tickets – make sure you have your confirmation email of your reserved tickets to show the ticket person.  Then you are free to do as you like until your tour time!

If you have opted out of the tour, there is still plenty to do; you can hike up to the castle and around it to the Marienbrücke, you can rent a paddle boat and go out onto the gorgeous lake, have a picnic, stop at a Gasthaus…

 

 

The interior tour

OK – I’ll say it again, I really do think that seeing inside of the castle is worth it.  It is unlike anything I have seen; the murals and paintings depicting different Wagner operas are stunning, each room is different and decorated in a unique style and the views from the windows and balconies are absolutely amazing … it’s definitely a special place.

BUT.  What they really mean by ‘tour’, is that you will be in a group of about 100 people, and every person will be given their own audio guide (mine failed to work for the first few minutes).  The ‘tour guide’ will activate all the audio guides at the same time, to which we will all listen in silence.  Each audio clip for each room lasts about 3 minutes, before we are quickly herded into the next.  In most cases, as I was at the back of the tour, I didn’t even manage to squeeze into the room that the audio guide was telling me about at that moment, so the audio guide really became irrelevant to me.  The tour behind ours even began to overtake me, so there really is NO time to linger and look more closely at the artwork, which is SUCH a shame.

So, there it is.  If you are claustrophobic, or can’t stand that kind of treatment, this isn’t for you.  I feel somewhat conflicted because I hated it, but am still glad I got to see those brilliant paintings, which I will remember.  Also, good to know is that there are lots of windy narrow staircases, so if you have vertigo this might not be for you.

 

 

Marienbrücke

Leading off from the entrance to the castle, you have the option to walk over to the Marienbrücke – about a 20-minute hike that takes you to a bridge which gives you the best views over the castle.  Again, I did it, and I’m glad because I got some good photos, but you could barely move on the bridge at all because of the number of people who were on it.  We were all pretty much pressed right up against each other – not a nice experience and actually a little scary as you could definitely feel the dangerously thin-looking wooden planks under you wobble under the weight of all the people!

Practical info

What to eat

There are several options for what to do about food on your visit to Neuschwanstein.  First, you have the village of Füssen, where you arrived at by train.  There are several Gasthauses there.  I can’t say this for sure, but it looked to me like the closer you got to the castle itself, the more touristy and not very good the Gasthauses/cafes seemed to be! When you alight from the 78 bus near the ticket centre for the castle, you have more options for these kinds of cafes. They are all extremely typical Bavarian in style and food that they offer, and looked pretty expensive.  As you make your way up to the castle, you will have more of these options, as well as the chance to buy ice-creams and snacks from the little shops around the entrance to the castle.

What I honestly suggest is to bring your own picnic.  The nature of the place is what is most beautiful, and if you are lucky enough to go on a day with great weather, why not make the most of it!  There are lots of nice spots to set up in, which is what we did, and it felt wonderful to enjoy some food outside in that environment.

 

 

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10 Things That Make Me Feel Really British

  1. TEA
    At all hours, day and night.
    Must be just the right shade of light brown.

  2. Calling “Cheers Mate” to the bus driver as you alight from the bus
    You met them once, they delivered you home, they are definitely your mate.  Also, yes, we say “alight”.

  3. Rainy Walks
    The British countryside offers some absolutely gorgeous walks.  Unfortunately, a walk that doesn’t involve some amount of rain is very rare.  It’s just part of the whole experience.

  4. A pint at the local pub
    My favourite pub in England is Dad’s local; ‘The Eddie’.  It is beautifully old-fashioned, with delicious beer on tap and good old board games on offer.

     

  5. A Sunday roast
    For some reason, Sunday’s are always incomplete without a tender piece of roast meat, little roast potatoes, veggies and, of course, a Yorkshire Pud.

  6. Hearing a wonderful melting pot of accents
    Wherever you go in the UK, you will hear a vast array of different accents and dialects of the English language, from the Geordies to the Scouse, the Welsh and Scottish, the West Country and the Cockney… And when a few of them come together in one conversation, it sounds like a marvellous, albeit slightly comical, musical symphony of language.
  7. MARMITE
    I love it.  You probably hate it.
  8. The feeling of pursing one’s lips, holding in your feelings, all to avoid an argument and keep the peace
    The British are experts at bottling up their emotions to avoid any embarrassing conflicts or public displays of emotions.  The neighbours are always watching, and what will they think?!

  9. “I’m desperate for the loo”
    Some of our shortened words and phrases are just brilliant, especially those used in connection to the bathroom: loo, bog, privy, spend a penny…

  10. Monster Munch
    My personal favourite.  These pickled onion flavoured crisps are mouth-wateringly good.

     

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Beautiful world, where are you?

Today, I simply want to share a stanza from a poem by German poet Friedrich Schiller, Die Götter Griechenlands – The Gods of Greece.

This poem, written in 1788 and later set to music in the form of an almost painfully beautiful song by Franz Schubert, is originally 25 verses long, although Schubert chose only one of these for his lied.  Having just spent some time in Liverpool, a city that is currently in the midst of its 2018 Biennial of Contemporary Art – a festival, set this year to the theme of Schubert’s particular chosen stanza, Schöne Welt, wo bist du? – Beautiful world, where are you? – I felt compelled to share these touching, emotional and very relevant words.

 

Schöne Welt, wo bist du? Kehre wieder
Holdes Blütenalter der Natur!
Ach, nur in dem Feenland der Lieder
Lebt noch deine fabelhafte Spur.
Ausgestorben trauert das Gefilde,
Keine Gottheit zeigt sich meinem Blick,
Ach, von jenem lebenwarmen
Bilde Blieb der Schatten nur zurück.
Fair world, where are you? Return again,
sweet springtime of nature!
Alas, only in the magic land of song
does your fabled memory live on.
The deserted fields mourn,
no god reveals himself to me;
of that warm, living image
only a shadow has remained.
English Translation © Richard Wigmore

The Biennial writes of this poem,  “Today the poem continues to suggest a world gripped by deep uncertainty; a world of social, political and environmental turmoil. It can be seen as a lament but also as an invitation to reconsider our past, advancing a new sense of beauty that might be shared in a more equitable way.” (Visit their website here)

 

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Going Blonde

Something that I love about my blog, is that I have the freedom to write about absolutely anything I want.  Whether I’ve been inspired by an art exhibition or a performance that I have recently seen, have stories to tell about a place that I have visited, or if I just feel strongly about a particular topic – anything goes here in my little nook.  Just now, my life is definitely on the stressful side; I have a huge impending move, bringing with it many difficult challenges, I haven’t been home for more than a couple of weeks in a long time and, well, I am a poor musician!  (Enough said!)  So, I thought that for today’s blog post I would take a step back, write about something fun and just keep it real.  The subject of today’s post is how I dyed my hair blonde.

Going blonde was quite an experience.  It took longer and a lot more work than I ever anticipated and I am still learning how to handle it.  So I thought I would document the process here – this will be a post that I would have wished to read myself before I began this blonde journey of mine.  And please, if you have any personal experience in this matter, any tips to add, I would love to read them, so do leave them in a comment below!

I guess I should start by clarifying that my natural hair colour is a kind of darkish red – in winter it looks a little more brick-brown and in summer it tends to go a shade of strawberry blonde. I have experimented with dying my hair darker in the past; I first tried a tone just a little darker than my natural colour when I was about 16, and have since also gone a more chocolatey brown.  But I have always been curious to see what a true golden blonde would look like on me.  And the thing about hair is, it grows!  Nothing you do to it will ever require more than a short-term commitment!  To me, this just calls for creative experimentation.

So where did I begin?  Well, I decided first, being the cheap-skate that I am, that I would try to do it myself at home.  I first bought a semi-permanent box dye of a shade that was more of a dark blonde.  I would say, at this point, I was still unsure of the exact kind of blonde I wanted to be, and this is something I would suggest you really think about first if you are considering going blonde – it’s definitely a good idea to know the colour you really want to be before you start.  I also chose the 8-week wash-out dye, only because this is what I had done for going darker in the past and it had always worked really well.  Basically, this dye did nothing.  Maybe in some light it looked ever so slightly lighter… but you couldn’t really see any difference.  So I wrote this off as a fail.

Next, I decided to change two things; I would now try a permanent box dye, instead of the wash-out one, and I would pick one that looked super light blonde on the box (lighter than I had intended to go).  By the way, we have a pretty limited choice of box dyes in the shops here in Germany – I have since seen the selection of dyes in stores in North America, which is highly extensive in comparison – so both box dyes that I bought were L’Oreal, as this was pretty much the best option I had available to me.  After dying my hair with this second one, I found that it came out lighter than the first one, but it still wasn’t blonde!  My hair was now just a lighter version of red.

At this point, I realised that I was never going to get to a real blonde colour by myself at home.  So, with the help of my kind aunt, I arranged an appointment at a salon in Stratford, Ontario (where I was headed in a couple of weeks).  Before my appointment, I finally decided to choose a shade of blonde that I really wanted and the kind of look that I was going for.  I did some research online and found a picture of a style that I really liked, and I took that picture with me to the salon.

My Aunt and I, with newly blonde hair

The result: I LOVE my new blonde hair!  I have to say, my hairdresser was fabulous, she pretty much achieved exactly the look of the picture I showed her, and I can highly recommend Dudes and Dames Hairdressing Salon in Stratford! The appointment took about 4 hours in total, and most of that time was spent applying the dye individually to very small sections of hair (I have a lot of hair).  So if you are going to go through it, bring some reading material! I actually found my hairdresser’s technique for applying the dye pretty interesting; she would apply it in a V shape to some sections of hair, to achieve a kind of ombre look, before wrapping it, and then applied it directly from the roots in other sections, which she then folded and wrapped in foil.  She even left a few strands of hair all over my head out, so they stayed red, and the overall look creates so much texture and dimension.

Now, by this point, I had achieved the blonde that I wanted, and I was so happy.  However, I still had (and have) a lot to learn, because what I have discovered is that getting to the blonde you want is only part of the journey.  Maintaining the blonde is where the real challenge lies.  I have found that since going blonde, my hair has been very dry and brittle, and extremely difficult to brush.  I have been using L’Oreal Ever Pure Colour Care System shampoo and conditioner, followed by some coconut-oil-based serum and a frizz control product from Lush.  I brush my hair out with a wide tooth comb after I shower, as this has always been my strategy for dealing with my curls.  Again, if you have any suggestions for good products to use, I am all ears!

The other thing is that, of course, I knew my hair would grow quickly, and with this my roots would also grow out.  And it is happening very, very quickly!  I still absolutely love my blonde hair, but it is changing in tone every day as it grows, so I am always learning how to style it to make it look good and fresh, and constantly trying new things with it.

As of right now, I am not sure what my next plan will be; whether I will re-dye it, just touch up my roots at some point, let it all grow out altogether, or dye it a whole new colour!  I guess I will see how it goes and what happens over the next few weeks and months.  I will say that, for right now, I am really enjoying my new look and the feelings it gives me; it’s kind of like having a new character to play when I am out and about!  It feels warm and summery, friendly and bright, and I know that my red hair is lurking there, not far away, so I really don’t miss it!

So, if you are considering changing your hair colour, to blonde or anything else, I say do it!  It will satisfy that small curious voice in your head, and even if you hate it, it’s always good to try new things!

 

To Recap

What I learned:

  • Know exactly what colour and shade you want to dye your hair
  • Blonde hair needs a professional
  • Be prepared for lots of after-care!

 

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