Yesterday, whilst at a Travel Massive meet-up, I took part in what can only be described as an awesome photo project which is set to go viral. The brainchild of Mario Cacciottolo, a BBC journalist based in London, Someone Once Told Me has a simple aim: to document those words of wisdom (or anger, or affection) that have stayed with you and been etched into your brain. Having six years of experience under his belt, Mario is a great photographer with an eye for detail, but he admits it wasn’t always this effortless. “When I first started, I had this really old camera from communist Germany and I didn’t even know what an aperture was,” he says candidly. He soon learned the ropes, posting one photo a day on his website for five years, which built a huge back-catalogue of personal experiences and memories brought to life under the lens.
As today is Holocaust Memorial Day, I thought I’d show you the poignant memorial statue that I came across in Berlin, which focuses on Kindertransport – the process of evacuating Jewish children to safety, but sadly without their parents. What made it even more touching was that there was a little boy visiting the statue with a bunch of flowers, which he divided into small clumps and added carefully to each of the bronze children and to their suitcases.
The end of the statue’s caption is bleak but honest – it reads: Trains to life, trains to death. Whilst the children were whisked away to be taken in by British families, their relatives back home were left under Nazi rule and, most likely, transported to death camps. The horrible dichotomy of what a train journey could mean for the Jews is expressed simply but effectively.
We can’t always be having adventures in far-flung countries, as much as it pains me to say it, or we’d all be digital nomadic explorers. But we’re not, or at least, I’m not. So, how do you quench your travel thirst in between ticking another place off your Trip Advisor map, aside from doing practical things like catching up on sleep and, of course, getting yourself a kick-ass career? Here are a few of my suggestions.
1. Go to your local supermarket and find the ‘Beers of the World’ section. Then rejoice.
The more I travel, the more I become aware that it’s actually quite normal for tourists to visit graveyards, despite the fact that it jars with stereotypical Western attitudes to death (we tend to talk about the dead in hushed tones and use euphemisms such as ‘passed on’ and ‘no longer with us’, rather than confront the truth). Boston’s Granary Burial Ground is so embedded in the city’s Freedom Trail that it’s almost a travesty not to visit, so it’s the perfect place to test your tolerance for morbid thoughts. This is where I saw some very plain epitaphs for famous people and some very cool ones for the not-so-famous, amongst the estimated 5,000 bodies placed here.
So, here’s the thing (without trying to sound like Siobhan Sharpe from the spoof documentary 2012). I was going to do one of those Travel Wishlist posts, but it got so long that I started separating it into categories like Long Haul, then smaller categories, and things got a bit ridiculous. It seemed only right to kick things off by focusing on the one country that’s on everyone else’s mind right now, as well as my own, and that’s Peru. Land of Paddington Bear and his marmalade sandwiches, photographer Mario Testino and a snazzy new documentary on BBC4 with a presenter who fearlessly jumps on rafts in jeans… I’m intrigued – are you?
As promised, here are the more uplifting views of the Berlin Wall from my trip. I loved how individual each section was, with its own idiosyncrasies. Every time I put my camera down I’d come across another photo opportunity two seconds later, as more of the Wall emerged. I did feel like a brazen tourist, but it was impossible not to get snap-happy.
If you haven’t ever been to Berlin then I hope this post gets across how the Wall really is the focal point of the city, in a lot of positive ways as well as the obvious negative ones. It’s now full of things to photograph and you come away feeling like you’ve learned something from each piece (even if you just like the colours or the way they’ve transformed the space). There’s also something brilliant about seeing public art that really has a point. I think the city can be proud of it, rather than fear it as they used to.
It might be a bit stereotypical to focus on the Berlin Wall on my first post about the city, but I think you’re ignoring the elephant in the room if you don’t mention it.
This wall shaped everything in the city and in the divided country, for decades. The side you lived on dictated the car you drove, the clothes you wore and the rights you had. Being a member of Amnesty International, I can get a bit preachy about this kind of thing, but it was incredibly weird to explore the city without that boundary stopping you, yet knowing it was there all the time.
I was introduced to this quirky cafe by my cousin, who lives in Dalston and has a sixth sense for undiscovered gems when it comes to culture and eating out (she also introduced me to an amazing Turkish food chain called Tas, with baklava to die for). We headed over to the brilliantly-named Tina, We Salute You, for a seriously good coffee and some breakfast, and weren’t disappointed.
Even if the menu wasn’t worth talking about, you can hardly miss the unusual decor – I’ve never seen so many noses in my life, let alone mounted on a wall – as the cafe hosts art exhibitions which change every eight weeks. This means you never know what you’re going to find on the walls, which makes a change from the enforced kookiness of the artwork in Starbucks or Costa.
On my first night in Paris during a work trip, still getting my bearings and exploring the city with my boss, we stumbled across an in-store gig by a rockabilly band, Ghost Highway, which was a really unexpected introduction to the music scene here. I had no idea that there were many French rockabilly bands, or that they’d have such a hardcore following, but I’m really glad that we got to see them play.
Afterwards I did a bit of research about the rockabilly scene in France and it turns out that it’s definitely alive and well, with most bands adopting American names, such as Howlin’ Jaws, Curfew or Kathy and the Firebrands. One bizarre translation I learned along the way was that batterie is the French word for drums, which kind of makes sense but seems pretty violent as it reminds me of ‘assault and battery’ (“I’m afraid we’ve charged your son with assault and drumming, madam”, etc).
Rather than starting this blog with an introductory post that nobody wants to read, I’m diving in at the deep end with an unexpectedly cool place that I came across in central Paris. In the midst of high street advertising and desperate recession-bitten traders sat this artists’ squat, which occupied a beautiful old terraced block just minutes from some of the city’s big attractions.
I couldn’t decide whether it was heartening to see people fighting back against hard times, or whether it was pretty sad that they had (presumably) taken over someone else’s property. Either way, I was curious to see more. Each floor was divided into little sections holding several different artists’ work, from the more commercial pieces with business cards carefully placed in your line of vision, to the sprawling murals filled with rants against pretty much anyone and everyone and accompanied by stern signs banning photography.