Travel In Budapest – A Gluten Free & Vegan Guide

Finally, I found myself in Budapest.  Well, I did not just find myself there I went there.  On purpose.  I have heard so much about it.  Lashings of adjectives like beautiful, romantic attached themselves to travellers summations of the spirit of Budapest.  But truth be told, it was reading my friend and fellow blogger Nicole of Vegan Nom Noms account of Budapest and who was gushing about the vegan food there and posting photos to tempt me, that was the tipping point.

Upon arrival I immediately noted the low cost of food, essentials, travel and entertainment.  I could not help but get a sense of freedom of not having to count every penny.  In contrast to say..Paris where hanging out in a cafe can be something you need to add to your budget as a costly excursion.  I took to sitting on walls with a bottle of water to people watch!  No need to do that in Budapest, it is a very affordable city. Budapest is a very walkable city, though it is fairly easy to get around with the metro, tram or bus covering most parts of the city, but I mostly walked.  All the main attractions are in a small area.  Nothing took more than an hour to reach on foot from my base up near the foreign embassies.  It is a good idea to go on one of the free walking tours to orient yourself and get a little background culture. The guides are also great at advising on the ‘must do’ activities and sites whilst you are visiting.  

Upon setting foot in the city I quickly familiarised myself with a few basic words.  Not easy though.  To say both hello and goodbye Hungarians say szia, pronounced seeya.  They also say ‘hello’ when bidding someone goodbye?! If you can get your head around the pronunciations of their 44 letters of the dictionary (for instance who’d a thought that the character dzs (not a typo) was pronounced like the English G?! ),  you are halfway there.  I wish I planned that far ahead.  I usually end up learning when I am in the thick of it.

When I go to a new city, I have no idea why, but their style of telephone box, metro signage, cab colour (all yellow by law) and post box somehow sum up and fix in my mind part of their culture. Yes, question that, I do!

I always enjoy seeking out the local street markets.  I bought a bunch of parsley, bound carefully with twine from this beautiful lady.  I was so taken with her gentle features that I enquired if the young girl next to me spoke English. She replied that she did so I asked her to translate, ‘you are so beautiful, please may I take your picture’.  The lady smiled so sweetly and nodded humbly.  This is one of several I captured of her.  She is like the generic kindly woman in a children’s storybook!  I wanted her to adopt me!



I spotted this.  It struck me as something I wanted to tell you about. What a genius and eco friendly idea.  Herbs and spices in simple paper bags.

Bio ABC was one of several well stocked organic stores in the city.  They had many gluten free and vegan  products.  A good range of organic vegetables.  Bulk bins.  A cake counter with traditional desserts and even some vegan and raw treats.

Bio Abc was one of a few places in the city where you can buy raw products by Elet Konyha ( Life Kitchen).  They provide raw vegan catering and host the most amazing pop up events.  

The buckwheat carob cup biscuits where so morish!  If I go back to Budapest this is the food item I will track down first!  I wish they shipped to the UK!!  Then I will book a table at their pop up restaurant. Bucket list.

One of the numerous Hummus Bar restaurants dotted around the city.  You are never far from your next bowl of pureed bean and tahini!  I had a topping (they have a host of toppings to choose from) of fried aubergine and carrot salad. I also opted for the fava bean instead of the ubiquitous chickpea hummus. So filling and utterly delicious.  Something about consuming hummus for me is so very grounding. Yum.

 

I only had one week in the city.  I did not get to try everything vegan that is on offer.  Vega City (it was Le Bar..and has now moved to larger premises just a few steps from its first incarnation) was one of those I missed this time. A friend told me the food there was good.  Served canteen style with some traditional Hungarian dishes. Smoothies, juices and desserts.  It can be a bit hit and miss, depending on the time of day you arrive as to the range of choice available.





The fisherman’s bastion is a must see on the Buda side. So called as an honour to the guild of fishermen who defended this stretch of the city walls in the Middle Ages.

Az Elet Etterme (once called Mannatural) meaning restaurant of life. A raw food restaurant that should be a torch light to all others in its affordability.  £5 for a large plate of delicious raw food?!  The sample plate was as suggests a bit of everything; raw crackers, ‘sour cream’, pickles, salads, and sprouted quinoa.  Lovely.  Olivia the server was a bubble of energy, so friendly and her English was impeccable.

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I opted for the raw lavender and apple cake, oh, and that little coconut energy ball.  The topping of the cake was lovely but the addition of the physilium husks in the base was a little too evident.  I left my plate clean though.  



Napfenyes Etterem (sunshine restaurant) is located on a quiet street just North of the Jewish district.  You walk downstairs into an underground space.  I expect it would feel really cozy on a wintery day.  The food is Hungarian inspired.  The menu is set everyday and listed on their website. One or two gluten free options appear most days.  I opted for the goulash and a selection from the cold salad bar. The food was comforting and flavoursome though a bit oily.  Most of the staff were friendly and one spoke good English. As with many of the restaurants they had an English menu you could order from.

 




Did you know a Hungarian invented the Rubik’s cube?  I never did master it. Perhaps I will in my dotage, if I sit down for long enough!  AND the biro. Yup, invented by a Hungarian.



Budapest has become quite famous for its Ruin Pubs.  Basically run down (some even have no roof) buildings in the Jewish district that have been turned into pubs and cafes.  Heatlh and Safety would never allow it in the UK!  At the weekends the Szimpla Ruin Pub houses cute and friendly little farmers market.  A great place to while away a few hours people watching and listening to the laid back sounds of the live music.



Dynamo Bake is a cute and friendly little cafe just off of the busy Muzeum Konut road .  It is a bike rental shop coupled with a bake shop.  The owner, Bea (pronounced like bear) returned from a time living in Portugal where she had grown accustomed to the Portuguese way and missed eating baked treats and pastries for breakfast.  She is singlehandedly attempting to bring the Hungarians around to her way of thinking.  Bea opened Dymano Bake once she decided to merge her two passions of biking and pastries. 

She had a small selection of vegan offerings.  I was excited to find a gluten free and vegan black bean brownie (this is my recipe from way back for fudgy black bean brownies).  The one I ate at Dynamo Bake had a crumblier consistency and a thick chocolate shell.  It was not overly sweet and her pastry school credentials shone through.  I was very happy, sipping my tea, nibbling on my brownie and enjoying the peaceful space.



Research also uncovered an ice cream parlour that was offering a selection of dairy, egg and gluten free ice cream.  Levendula (lavender) has two locations in Budapest.  I went along to the one on the Pest side which is located on the fringe of a large shopping centre.  I had a scoop of the red berry, coupled with the dark chocolate and chilli.  They even had gluten free cones.  I got very messy with it (very hot day) and looked like a (happy) chocolate covered toddler by the end of it. Delicious.

I did not get to try Atma Buda (yoga centre with vegetarian cafe) but it has good reviews on Happy Cow.


Mid week I heard about a salt cave underneath a juice bar (Zold Turmix..green smoothie) in Pest.  I had to go and experience that.  It is a natural treatment said to treat respiratory and skin conditions, used to treat since ancient Greeks saw the benefits of the anti microbial action of salt. There was only two of us in there.  It was a strange air and when you breathed you got a slight sensation up your nose similar to when you get water up your nose.  It was very relaxing being down in the cave and the music they fed in in the hour I lay in my reclining massage chair was very chilled. Chilled as in relaxing. Not chilled as in cold.


Edes Elet Cukraszda (vegan cake shop and candy store) is not far from the bridge that crosses the danube and also takes you to Margaret Island (a small island where joggers, beach bums, tourists and locals escape the city for a bit of green space).  There are three vegan eateries in this small area.  So visit hungry! It is totally vegan and has lots of cakes, bakes and slices on display.  Sadly, they did not have any gluten free cakes on the day I visited.  I was reliably informed by a fellow traveler that they were super tasty.



I found this hipster coffee shop, Madal Cafe just on the next street.  They had some raw treats so I ordered a specialist green tea to go with a sweet macha morsel, took and seat and watched people come and go.  It was a popular spot.



The spas with medicinal waters are very popular in Budapest.  The Turkish occupation of the city in the 16th century saw many spas to enjoy the thermal waters. Whilst the Hungarians  then built several spas of their own, a few of the original Turkish bathing houses remain.  I choose to visit a lesser known and the oldest in the city Veli Bej (and therefore far quieter) spa which has a hospital built around it.  I bathed in the 38 degree waters, had a blissful massage, sweated and steamed many times in the infra red sauna and the steam room.  Throwing handfuls of ice on my body in between the two. A total of 3 hours and I emerged the cleanest person in Budapest, and the most chilled.   Recently refurbished to a very high standard it was total luxury. Bliss for around £20! 



A cute house.  One of many photos of buildings I took.  I will share one.  



Edeni.  A totally vegan, canteen style eatery situated in a buzzing intersection of restaurants on the hilly Buda side.  Inexpensive and simple food.  My Mexican chilli was very good.  My eating companions declared their choices were tasty too. They had authentic gylash (it is often thought, incorrectly, that goulash is their national dish but it is not, theirs is a soup style medley of ingredients, with a different spelling).  Lots of gluten free choices for dessert. The double decker style of cake popular in many of the vegan places I visited, was tasty and surprisingly light..not so for my friends chocolate torte, which though rich and delicious, had them beat!





Crazy Fruits. A fast food vegan smoothie and raw food and wrap cafe.  Sadly it was closed for the day when I visited.


Mid way through my stay I decided to get out of the city and see what the Hungarian landscape looks like free of concrete, brick and steel.  Under an hour, the train skirted the Danube and stopped at Visegrad a small town beside the Danube in an area dubbed by the locals The Bend.   The nearby quaint villages are popular with tourists but I wanted to visit the lush green vistas I’d seen in my Google searches.  There is a castle built after the Mongol invasion in 1240 to protect royalty against invaders atop a hill.  I had to take a little ferry boat that runs once an hour to the other side of the river and then climb up, quickly as the rumbling thunder was growing more threatening by the minute.


The climb was worth it. Ah, how serene.

I visited the Hungarian Ethnographic museum situated opposite the Parliament Building.  It had a fascinating exhibition with real sized examples of traditional Hungarian homes, churches, places of work.  Costumes and pottery.  One of the staff members is a keen photographer and had put together a fascinating collection of people in rural Hungary and their homes, surprisingly they live like this today! Basic needs are met and need none of our modern day frippery. 


The cool white stone of the Parliament Building.


The Shoes, honour the Jews killed by fascist militia in Budapest during World War II.  They were ordered to remove their shoes prior to being shot at the edge of the water.  The river consumed their bodies and carried them away.  The memorial was conceived by a Hungarian film director in honour of those who lost their lives.

Peas & Love is a little cafe recently opened by Rebeca, a young Romanian foodie who wanted to offer a more healthy and affordable (some might say it is all affordable) option of plant based food in the city.  The owner is super friendly and speaks English.

I chose a small selection of their salads to go with my beet burger.  Which I have to say was awesome.  So tasty and substantial!



She even has launched her own range of vegan supplements!



Balamber cafe is located in the area west of the Royal Palace, down a zig zag of steps.  It’s cutesy interior is bright and welcoming.  Owned by two friends, Rita & Panni, with no previous restaurant experience just a strong passion for healthy and delicious plant based food.  The menu is mostly vegan.  Two plates are on offer each day.  I chose a raw zucchini and tomato salad with sweetcorn fritters.  You do need to ask which is gluten free and vegan if that is your bag, too.



Delicious ‘three bite’ chocolate cheesecake.  It was lovely. I wish all places had smaller offerings so you can indulge freely.

A scene in one of the lovely parks.

I climbed up Gellert Hill to reach the Freedom Statue.  If you are not feeling so energetic you can take the 19th century Funicular Railway to the top of Castle Hill and then walk over.

View!

I loved my time in Budapest.  The Hungarian Forint can buy you a nice lifestyle  I would definitely hope to return one day and also explore more of Hungary.  If you are vegan or vegetarian you will be well catered for!  I wished I’d gotten around to trying all of the ones featured on Happy Cow.  Being gluten free does sometimes hinder my tasting adventures.  There is a totally gluten free restaurant that I will check out when I return.  It is not vegan but they cater for vegans.  If you go then give Koles a try.

Aside from the obligatory Happy Cow as reference I also got lots of information about Budapest from We Love Budapest  Budaveg Budapest By Locals Hipster Hostel and Indefinite Adventure

Top tips: Useful to print out and take with you before you go.

I am vegan and gluten free – en vagnok vegan es glutenmentes

For reference if you are gluten free say nem (no) to;

Buza – wheat

arpa – Barley

zab – oats

rozs – rye

bolgar buza – bulgar wheat

buzadora – semolina

tonkoly – spelt

malata – malt

kusz kusz – cous cous

malatacukor – maltose

vegan say NEM (no) to;

hus – meat

hal – fish

vaj – butter

tojas – eggs

sajt – cheese

tejtermekek – dairy

tej – milk

krem – cream

laktoz – lactose

zselatin – gelatin

allat – animal

zsir – fat or lard

mez – honey

say IGEN (yes) to;

vegetáriánus/vegan – vegan

glutenmentes – gluten free

vagyok – soy

cirok – sorghum

rizs – rice

nemzet – millet

bab – bean

kukorica – corn

len – flax

hajdina – buckwheat

amarant – amaranth

Posted in Arts, Culture, Eating Out, Events, Food, Fun & Free things to do in the City, Gluten free, History, Travel, travelling, Vegan, Vegetarian | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Travel In Germany – Leipzig

I arrived into Leipzig on the fast (70 min) ICE train from Berlin.  The fare was not cheap (costs between €29-40) and I could have taken the more leisurely 2 hour, €8 bus, but I was impatient to get here.  My first view of the city was the fun yellow and blue trams zipping in and out of the zone in front of the station.  

Leipzig is another town hailed as the ‘new Berlin’, I heard that about Budapest (I visited recently) as well, but seriously, no where can be the new Berlin. Berlin is Berlin, Budapest is cool and very inexpensive and Leipzig has a charm all of it’s own.  My curiosity, and my obsession with getting to grips with places that have a large vegan following (though that is becoming less and less unique..I am happy to say), were the driving forces behind my visit. I’ll give you a bit of background first and then we will delve a bit deeper and show you want you want to know…what I did I eat?.

The city of Leipzig borders a lush riparian forest, a forest which lies adjacent to a river, with towering trees. The Elster Saale canal runs alongside too. It is beautiful and surprisingly you can feel like some of the paths are leading you to the depths of nowhere, but the city is never that far away.  Leipzigers really enjoy this area, and a canoe or two are always gliding through the shaded waters. I did not do that, but I did have lovely bike lent to me and I took the bone shaking cobbled street from my apartment, through the beautifully landscaped Clara Zetkin Park for a bit of red squirrel and nordic walkers spotting, to the forest everyday for some ‘green time’.  I also biked to the Cospudener See, a large picturesque lake south of the city with white sandy beaches, where clothing is optional, or just biked along the canals that weave through the city.  I could not help but note whilst exploring Leipzig, just how clean it is. No litter droppers here!


Whilst the zentrum (centre) is glitzy, several high class shopping malls with designer shops and expensive restaurants I enjoyed the more alternative, artsy areas of Connewitz, Plagwitz and Sudvorstadt.  

 

My advice upon arrival is to get a map of the city.  I carry my iPad or iPhone around with me so I download Maps With Me for a detailed, offline  city map.  I’ve since discovered GPS My City which also includes walking tours of the city with points of interest. When I am out, I always pop into the tourist information or a hostel and pick up a paper map of the city to carry around too.

 

Plagwitz was the destination of my first venture out.

The converted industrial building housing WestWerk II a cultural music and arts venue on Karl Heine Strasse.  

My first vegan stop on Karl Heine Strasse but, oh no, Vleischerei was closed when I cycled up to it but I’d eaten at their Berlin cafe so I dined on the memory instead!  

A fellow Australian blogger and a Leipzig local accompanied me to S Kultur.  Located on a quiet street just north of Plagwitz.  It was a first time for all of us.

Vegan ‘meat’ was the show stopper here.  A bit more upscale than some of the vegan junk food eateries I’d been visiting.  We though we would see what this newcomer to the scene had up its sleeve.  We were surprised to discover the owners are actually Dutch.  The wife of the husband and wife team served us.  She was very friendly (English speaking…always helps) the service outstanding and food as fresh as it comes.  I ordered the gluten free sweet potato curry with vegan ‘chicken’.  I admit I poked at the ‘meat’ suspiciously like a child.  I had to ask three times to just check it wasn’t actual chicken.  I do not know what they do to make the plant based protein ‘meat’ look and taste like it does but the owners import this stuff from Holland and I’m telling you it is just like chicken.  Actually, though I ate it I was not at ease with it.  I loved the curry though.  Very flavoursome.


Miss Leipzig had the tagiettle with ‘chicken’.  She was gushing about it and she doesn’t usually like fake meats.

T’other friend, Mrs Australia ordered the satay.  Again, a hit.

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District – North of Plagwitz


I enquired about their ‘meat’ supplier and was shown press cuttings  about the vegan butcher in Holland.

The Vegetarian Butcher

The Vegetarian Butcher is the idea of Jaap Korteweg. Jaap Korteweg is an 8th generation farmer, who is dedicated to redefine the food industry with the Vegetarian Revolution together with concept creator and senator Niko Koffeman, chef de cuisine Paul Bom and a dedicated team. They found each other in the thought that vegetable meat substitutes should be of a spectacular structure, bite and taste. Their ideal is to show real meat lovers that they don’t miss a thing when they reduce their meat consumption. Their ambition is to become the biggest butcher in the world, on short notice.

I guess it won’t be long then before everyone will have a vegan butcher in their high street.  Now that is a concept!



Too many to list.  Leipzigs restaurants, bars and cafes are embracing the vegan scene wholeheartedly and many have vegan options.  The Connewitz neighbourhood and the arterial road that runs through it Wolfgang Heinz Strasse is awash with vegan eateries.  Deli, is a cute little vegan hipster bistro burger joint.  Sadly, I did not get chance to eat here. Their burgers are not gluten free but they have delicious looking fries with lots of sides and sauces and dips you could make a meal out of.  Word is that they serve very tasty food. 

La Cygne is a convenience store come coffee shop in Connewitz.  Open late and always buzzing with a crowd.


Cakes, cookies and bakes by Vegan Lonestar. No gluten free yet.  For sale at La Cygne


Symbiose has only been open for a couple of months.  

The menu is in German (well, I am in Germany) so I used a new app I had heard of called World Lens.  You hold up your device to the thing you want to understand and the words get translated to your desired language. I had varying degrees of success with it, not perfect but fun.  Crazy what can be done these days!


The ethos of Symbiose is to use local produce whenever possible.  They source their vegetables from an urban farm on the outskirts of Leipzig.  Of course vegetables grow seasonally so the menu is determined by what is growing.  I thought the dishes on offer were quite inventive.  I could not resist the roasted squash with a spicy chocolate sauce. Not quite mole but the sweetness of the squash was perfectly offset by the accompanying vinaigrette, dressed salad.  I’m a sucker for roasted aubergine, I love it’s silkiness so I ordered a side of that too.  The dish was absolutely delicious. The photo here does not do it justice, and you cannot see how the squash cubes were charmingly stacked in a wall.  It is said we eat with our eyes, well we do and our tastebuds too. I loved it.


Dessert was a chocolate mousse with berry coulis. There were other choices but this was the only gluten free offering.  It was a perfectly good mousse.

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District – Connewitz

 

Curry Sud is a fast food joint where you can get a quick, vegan junk food fix.

 

 

Connewitz is also home to a 100% vegan store.

 

Vegan Leben is owned by Thammi, a sweet and welcomingLeipzig native who travelled the world and came back to settle and open up a shop.  It is a relatively small space but you can get almost anything you need here.  They have a gluten free section, foods in the chiller, grains, drinks, pet food, toiletries and house hold products.  They also have organic vegetables supplied by an urban farm on the edge of Leipzig, who deliver once a week.  You can order products online.  Their website has great list of all cafes, bars, pubs and restaurants in Leipzig that serve vegan dishes. Not all of the places are vegan but I was surprised just how many places have a vegan option.

Vegan ‘meats’ are very popular in Leipzig.

The store was also selling a local guide book that has a genius scheme.  Now in its third year, Vegan Genieszen set a target to get a vegan option available all over the city. You buy a book containing vouchers and listings of the participants. Both vegan and non vegan restaurants offer a free vegan dish with one of the vouchers contained in the €10 book. Great idea. A win on so many levels.

 

Now for some record breakers.  Leipzig has the worlds largest panoramic work of art. The Asisi Panometer.  The panoramic scene inside this huge building changes periodically.  It is slightly out of the hub of Connewitz, I was looking forward to gaping at it in wonder.

HOWEVER, it is closed on Monday.  Do your research people, and don’t be like me.  I only got to see it from the outside.  But as you can see from the photograph I was not the only one to show up when it was closed (comfort in numbers)!


This is one of Europe’s tallest monuments. The Battle of the Nations. 
Völkerschlachtdenkmal

It is a huge monument to the three day war in 1813 by allied Austrian, Prussian, Russian and Swedish forces against Napoleon to bring down the last remaining French power in Germany. It reminded me so much of a Mayan temple from Mexico.  HUGE and also rising out of a forest.  Also just a mile or so from Connewitz.

Back to talk of food, all that history is making me hungry. 

Black Label is one of several places to eat vegan in Connewitz district.  It is also one of two  pubs that serve Atacoclypse Mexican Food.  Black Label has a food truck in their beer garden.


On my last evening a few new friends met me to eat at a bar in Connewitz.  Bill Hard and Black Label are two dive bars that showcase vegan food from Atacoclypse.  Black Label has their food truck inside its pub garden but Bill’s had tamales and I wanted tamales!


The dark interior dims the photo’s somewhat but if you can make the photo’s out, despite it being ‘pub’ food, it was thoughtfully plated.  Two friends opted for the seitan (a type of vegan wheat meat) satay, another had quesadillas (I forgot to snap that) and I had the tamales filled with jalapeños and vegan cheese.  We also demolished the largest basket of freshly made crisp and oily nachos I’ve ever come across.  The seitan satay and quesadillas where a definite hit with my dining companions.  The tamales..honestly, they were nice but I have made better myself.  Tamale recipe here. An app, if you want to make your own vegan ‘meat’ How To Make Seitan here. 

 

 I will rate it on our combined overall experience.

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District – Connewitz

 

Zest is a high class, destination vegan bistro also in Connewitz.  It was rather spendy and with so much to see I decided it was for another time.

One of the Leipzig’s famous Michael Fischer murals.


St Nicholas church has quite a history. Wagner was baptised here, Mozart played the organ here, Mendelssohn passed under its roof and Bach was Director Of Music, back in the 18th  century.  And now I was here!

I also took the opportunity whilst in this part of Germany to tick off an item on my Bucket List.  I look a train to Dessau, just 40 mins out of Leipzig.  Bauhaus.  One of the worlds first design schools and a powerhouse of creative ideas, built in 1926. Wow, it was strange to be there. I’ve been to many exhibitions around the world and seen little paper architect models, photos and postcards showing the building where Modernism all began. And there I was standing in front of it.  It was both awe inspiring and underwhelming at the same time.  Like, ‘wow it’s the Bauhaus building’ and ‘yeah, it’s just a building’.  Ah, the dualistic human mind.

It was fascinating though.  The light flooding inside the building and the intricate and well thought out detailing of the opening windows, right down to the simple, stylish chrome door handles.  Though I may not agree with founder Walter Gropius and his contemporaries, Corbusier and Van der Rohe utopian notions of the apartment block living, (brought home even more to me when cycling to the lakes around Leipzig and cycling though mountains of concrete), I do absolutely love their designs of single dwelling homes and their light filled simplicity.  It is still strange to me how a building style dreamed up in the 1930’s can look so futuristic when executed today.  It guess it goes to show just how long it takes for us to adopt new ideas.  Ikea thrives because of the birth of Modernism.



Other Must Dos in Leipzig and a little compilation of facts, if you are interested to know more.


History records 7th Century Slavs as the first settlers.  There has been a University here since 1409.  Here was printed the worlds first ever newspaper in 1650.

The arts – Bach, Goethe, Mendelssohn and Wagner.  Much of the city was reduced to rubble in 1943 during World War II.  The Monday (peaceful) demonstrations that took place here in 1989 led to the downfall of the communist government in East Germany. The World Cup was here in 2006.  Leipzig is host to the worlds largest annual Goth’s festival?!


Schiller House – Friederick Schiller wrote Ode To Joy in Leipzig. His house is open to the public but I’m darned if I could find it!  

Michael Fischer’s richly coloured, cartoon like murals.

NaTo – Kino and theatre

Opera – if you want to enjoy some opera, Leipzig has that too. It is the third oldest opera house in Europe.

Baumwolls Spinnerei – Art community in a converted cotton factory


Besides Happy Cow there are a few vegan bloggers.  Leipzig Vegan (German Language) is one and Deutschland Is Vegan is another beside of course A Vegan Obsession


And finally, if you are visiting at Christmas then Sudvorstadt has the Feinkost Termine – vegan weihnacht markt (vegan christmas market).


Enjoy!

Posted in city life, Culture, Events, Food, History, Travel, travelling | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Week One: Berlin

Upon your first visit to Berlin, Germany some things are going to immediately flag your attention.  Not just the language that, to me, makes little sense right now, or the strange feeling of spaciousness but other things.  They will be different to each of us.  What we notice depends of course upon what we have known. What can I tell you?  Well, three things appear to exist in Berlin in abundance.  Bikes. Bars, and Babies. More than you could throw a stick at. Of course for the former and latter, you wouldn’t want to. It may prove injurous.

Flying to Berlin from the UK is a breeze. I’m more used to gruelling schleps of 10 hours or more cramped in economy class, 33000 ft in the sky. I hopped over from London in less time it would take to watch Lord of The Rings, tea break included. This got my trip off on a good foot.  Though I swear I still felt some jet lag. My body stubbornly reminding me it is more natural for humans to walk.

I had had little time to research my destination.  Life can be like that sometimes. You wake up and suddenly it is time to stop what you were doing and get on a plane.  I felt the usual excitement/terror of flying to a new land and encountering offical signs written in a language I don’t understand.  The S-bahn train took me efficently from terminal to Prenzlauer Berg (the neighbourhood I’d read to be the hippest…and some rumour to have the highest birth rate in Europe).  Huge stone apartment blocks rose from a rather desolate landscape.  Then, hugging the tracks almost, a single strip of single-storied houses with the prettiest gardens, stocked with bright bobbing Dahlias and rampant garden vegetables.

My finger jabbing at points on the map for directions met with a tumble of unfamiliar oral sounds, and gentle smiles. I never saw a station guard then, or since.  Tourist prompts were also scant.  For the first time I’m my travel history I’d packed only what I was sure to need, and a little less. Determined as I was to travel without having to pay extra for baggage or dislocate a shoulder dragging my possessions like a hoarding gypsy.  I was so glad I’d made this decision, being lost or in the process of finding where you need to be with a heavy case and wheels with minds of there own is now joke. Packing light from now on is the only way to traverse lands and run the gauntlet of unfamiliar airport terminals.

In my first week in Berlin I have discovered many of Berlin’s kiez (immediate neighbourhoods within districts).  Day one, I familiarised myself with my own. When staying in a new place for more than a few days I acquaint myself in a few ways. I run/walk the streets (keep fit, gain geographical awareness). Plot all vegan restaurants, good cafes and organic supermarkets. Fridge stocked, tummy satiated, I am then free to roam.  Day two, I needed an injection of historical information. New Berlin Tours filled in some (very large) gaps.  The guide, a young bearded guy (Chris P) from Wiltshire in the UK, with an accent all of his own.  Think British mixed with South African, German and sprinkled with the theatrics of an American and you may get a feel for it.   I hung off his every word.  I forgot myself and the fact I appeared to be the oldest in the 40-strong group (how is that possible?!..it’s not possible..is it?….no) I’ve never enjoyed a tour so much.  It was delivered with the aerial view of an academic historian. Philosophised. Considered. With unchained opinion.  We wondered around from points of interests, monuments, museums and one ugly domed church.  We got to hear about the Glass dome of the Reichstag (German parliament), the spot where Hitler committed suicide, now under a paved car park. The entrance to the infamous bunker, now a children’s sandpit.  The steel-grey concrete of the Memorial To The Murdered Jews. So much to absorb!

I walk around the city with comfort and ease.  The city breathes and air of openness, if you steer clear of the bawdy ugliness of the main tourist sights it feels inclusive, almost like you’ve been invited.  The TV Tower, looming like a giant hatpin and a useful point of navigation is never far from view.

Public transport is a dream.  Metro bus/trams the S & U-Bahn, pretty much cover every part of the city.  All are clean and efficient.  Biking is a choice of many.  It is reported 15% of all journeys are taken in the saddle.  I bought a bike.  I usually do when visiting any city for longer than 3 weeks.  It makes me feel at home.  Part of city life. It was a transaction via ebay  (classifieds).   It was marked at 55 euro.  I gave 50.  Since purchasing I’ve been adding to my asset though, in the form of a new tyre and inner tube (unbeknown to me it had worn perilously thin and the tyre exploded with a hair-raising BANG as I attempted to pump air into it) and a service on the gears (after peddling like the clappers in a thunderstorm..legs like pistons on turbo and getting nowhere this was a must!).  Cycle lanes seem to cover most of the city.  Quite a number on wide pavements, shared with pedestrians and safe from traffic.  What little there is of traffic. Driving here would be a breeze.  But why would you need to.  Berlin is as flat as a frying pan.

Another thing that notably struck me, despite Berlins newness (over 80% of Berlin was razed to the ground during the war) is lack of kempt and clip.  The plazas and parks are wild and overgrown.  I find myself (involuntarily) mentally clipping hedges and sweeping up mountains of brittle leaves.  I don’t know the reason for this. Perhaps they have far more important matters to concern themselves with.  Perhaps we in the UK are wrong to expend so much energy clipping everything to within an inch of it’s life.  Their way is a better reminder of the power of nature.

After a week, I’ve yet to find my ‘go-to’ cafe.  Though today, I write for the first time at Cafe Morgentrot (translates to red dawn) situated on a hip strip along Kastanienalle. It’s friendly, despite being uber cool, and the music is good.  Perhaps it may become my muse in the coming weeks. I already have that creeping feeling of attachment. So much to see and do. However slow your travel, unless you hang up your walking boots for good, there pervades the feeling of never really getting to know a place. How does one ever decide to commit, put down anchor and plug into somewhere new? For now, I’ll enjoy it for the time that I have apportioned here.

Here are a few snaps, taken in my first week.  More to come in the coming days..weeks.  I’m steadily building up a library of food and restaurant happenings too.

WikiPedia’s extensive take on Berlin

Fodor’s low down on Berlin’s diverse neighbourhoods

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A photographic Adventure In London

Want a perfect way to really see London, or just the space around you? Learn to capture it perfectly? Loose yourself for three & a half hours?  I did.  So I went on a (beginners) photography course.

A perfect rhythm of show & tell, then ‘go practice’.  The tutor, animated and talented photographer Lucie Goodayle, simplified everything and made you feel like a rockstar. Really! She was encouraging, inspiring.  Fun.  

When we were set free to scatter ourselves around the Southbank it felt like embarking on a childhood adventure.  You get so thoroughly absorbed in what you are doing.  Like a meditation.  You forget everything else.  My camera gave me super powered courage to approach the motley and marvellous characters that caught my eye.  Most people said yes, without question to my gentle requests of personal space invasion.  I thought it was like stopping to smell the blossoming roses in the park. But with humans, not flowers.

There were the ‘ones that got away’ too.  Like the girl with the full cotton skirt of imprinted sunflowers who ran past me giggling. Her arm held above her head, clutching a bobbing, bright orange balloon, the size of a giant tortoise. And the young Lithuanian transvestite who stood beside me at the Indian Street Food stand.  His face dotted with fluorescent balls. The piercings where what caught my eye first. Then I noticed the whites of his eyes, weren’t!  Fascinated, I struck up a conversation.  I tried not to recoil as I imagined the pain, when he explained his eyeballs were tattooed black.  ‘Oh my gosh’, I said.  ‘They look stunning (and a bit scary, I thought to myself), especially against your ice blue eyes’.  But he was so young, I worried for him.  What if he changed his mind?  What about when he got older and exchanged his goth boots for comfy slippers (or pink velvet mules)?  He assured me, he’d never regret it.  Perhaps it is me, I am too risk adverse when it comes to appearance.  I’ve had the same hairstyle for years, and stood down from the stiletto long ago in favour of comfy flats (perhaps that is why I am single!?).  He wouldn’t let me photograph him, unless I too was in the picture.  So I bowed out.  Left him as an uncaptured memory.  Most people were only too happy be under the scrutiny of my lens. I came away with the reminder that people are wonderful lone islands of wonder and story. I loved the chance of getting so close.

Frui run creative holidays, courses and events.  Their team appear to be bursting with knowledge, delivered with spirit. I wish I could experience all of their offerings. Now that would be a nice job!

Here are a bunch of pics I took on the day.  I am now decidedly less scared of my camera’s bells and whistles!

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Fun & learning.  A nice combo. 

 

 

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Monte Alban. Tripping through Mexico. [with slideshow]

The sun if soft on mismatched chairs.  ‘Goooaallllll,  real madrid’, is being screamed into the room from a TV screen.  Three waiters are transfixed, whilst in the corner the left arm of a gold Japanese plastic cat is waiving on a shelf, supposedly bringing the proprietors luck and fortune.

I’m in Paris.  Not the country.  The cafe.  A cafe. One of the four or so I’ve discovered and where I’ve marked my territory.  Each one for a differing mood.  I come here, to its shabby chic interior and (usually) good flow of gentle music, to write.  The words in my head have been pushing against walls.  Frustration at not getting it all down.  Putting the experiences into font as I use the time to assimilate my life.  I flew down to Oaxaca.  Left behind the gentle caress of La Condesa, Mexico City.  I arrived to pollution, searing, beastly sun and tourists. Lots of tourists. I hated Oaxaca. Hated its smell, the feel of the place. As always though, time softens.

It unfolded.  Hate softened.  Morphed into respect.  I made the most of my time.  Gathered quite a few good memories, walked the tourist steps and then plotted my own course. One of the tourist sites that filled my imagination, fed the learning centre in my brain, was Monte Alban.  An archaeological Zapotec site, 20 mins outside of Oaxaca in a rattling, old bus.  $40 pesos, a return trip, to what was  a highly important Mesoamerica site.  The grandeur of Teotihuacan was lacking, but Monte Alban promised more.

I hired a short, solid looking local, with skin as dark as Oaxacan mole, to guide me around the site.  I knew I’d lacked the depth behind my visit to Teotihuacan.  Here, I wanted to know more.  A brief trot around the entrance and I enlisted a married couple from Nanaimo, Canada to share the $250 pesos fee for the guide.  £4.  A bargain.  His name was Coyote.  Named from the Mayan 18 month calendar.  Each month making an animal its talisman.  My heart fell for him.  He was gentle, full of knowledge and had marked up 46 years of kicking up the dust covering the once alabaster floor of the site.  Time had not dimmed his enthusiasm.  He was a well-spring of knowledge.  My attention caught.  He beckoned us to the centre, we stood and took in the pyramids and buildings that surrounded us.  He clapped.  His broad, solid hands creating brief, raps that reverberated around the site. We laughed as we followed suit.  I took the cap off my camera to start capturing what was before me.  I was devastated to find a message flashing on my picture screen, ‘no card in camera’!  Oh crap!  What a fail!   David, said nothing.  Just fished in his camera bag and held a memory card in front of me.  ‘Use this…I will email the photos you take’.  I issued a flow of ‘thank you’s.  May have even declared him my hero!

Monte Alban is a pre-Columbian archaeological site.  Sun bleached in the low mountains, a climbing drive, six miles from Oaxaca City, Mexico.  The site, levelled by hand long ago, got its name from the white stone that covered it – albino..alban. White Mountain. It is one of the earliest mesoamerican (meso means middle) sites in Mexico.  Thought to have been inhabited by the Zapotecs for a thousand years. Mostly used as a place of learning and, barbaric ritual, the Zapotecs were never thought to of used the site for residence.  Before my visit I kept reading or hearing about ‘ball parks’ and thought it meant something else, like a term for something.  I was wrong.  They played tennis in narrow courts, flanked by steeply rising stone bleachers.  The sport was not to entertain but to find the human sacrifice for the altar to the Gods.  Some ponder at whether the winner or the looser were used, perhaps the winner as some kind of honour?!  So glad I was born in modern times!  Who on earth ever had the idea that the Gods needed human blood to send a good harvest?!

David, Marg and I followed Coyote around the site.  I was in awe of him, and the tribe who’d created this place.  They have an pentagonal building to the South of the central quadrant of the site.  Used as a place of astronomical discovery and research.  Charting planets, stars and the movement of the earth.  They created their calendars and plotted the best times to sow and harvest their crops.  To the south east corner, here was where they studied anatomy.  Human figures, with deformities, organ deficiencies, and detailed reproductive system where carved in great detail onto large grey-stone tablets.  Even a figure masterbating had its own stone in the long ling of medical references.  Whether they were showcasing it as a natural human doing or a medical complaint I do not know!

These sights were rich.  After we walked back down past the line of huge trees and took shade in the onsite museum.  Bling of of turquoise and gold, dragged from the tombs and now in lit cabinets amazed me.   Their jewellery unfussy, geometric  and looked strangely contemporary.

I met with David and Marg’s travelling companions.  A group of 3 couples.  All who’d known each other since college. We swapped a few travelling stories.  Shared a moment, and I went on my way.  My heart glad to have shared with them such a dear and memorable excursion. Tinged with a familiar sadness for such a brief encounter.

David and Marg were true to their word.  Some of the photo’s shown are his.

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Taking dusty steps toward writing

My head is as hot as my feet.  Pounding with words and ideas.  As any writer knows, when you get the impulse to write, it doesn’t diminish if it is not immediately fulfilled.  It pounds incessantly on the door of your mind until you release a torrent of words.  I have just walked dusty, exhaust filled streets (calles) in Oaxaca, Mexico.  My arrow was pointed towards a funky cafe I’d read about.  I brave the unfriendly sun and walk with heavy computer bag to the designated street, only to find that in a space of 1/2 km there are two streets with the same name. I’d chosen the wrong one.

Now, with 8 minutes to spare before I watch Frida, the movie, at The Lending Library, a gathering space, mostly for retired North Americans, vacationing to the sun, I sit in the most expensive cafe I’ve visited since I entered Mexico, but not the one I wanted.  I write of my frustration.  It needs to be cleared, skimmed from the top to uncover the stories of ancient Pyramids, vivid colours, mole and more.

Slowly, as each finger moves over the keys I begin to unfold, rachet tight muscles.  I sit in front of the recognisable and watch a cursor give birth to the words that had bottlenecked in my head.  With a promise to return.

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Crear – Bringing into being, that which Action and Faith allow

I wonder if Freda Kahlo taught me something about art?  Not how to daub oil on canvass or turn a drawn line into story  ….but how to keep your art within, until it is ready to form itself.  When you hit a bump (or gaping whole in her case) how not to gossip, or wail about it, but to let it out in your own personal form of art.  When travelling around, and visiting galleries, buildings whose walls are open street side expressions of self, or to even see a woman, with bright red thread, forming a curling petal, the needle piercing the cloth and the cursory tug then measured pull, I am in awe of the power of the own faith in their own ‘voice’.  It is this voice I am wanting to unleash in myself.

Sometimes, when I sit in fear.  Not physical, endangering fear, but the kind of fear that scouts ahead to your future and returns with unspecified, blanket tales of doom.  The former is welcomed (crucial), the latter is that part of me I try not to foster.  The ‘play with the devil you know’ voice that doesn’t want bad or better, but to just stay the same.  I have always loathed ‘sameness’.  Now, this is both true, and false.  It is true because I have a set childhood default that tells me I mustn’t copy my older siblings or they’ll ball me out about it…translating in life as a need to always TRY and be original.  But mostly failing (little in life is truly original). This leads me to do things that the majority wouldn’t, but also leaves me with a sense of never quite achieving because someone is always doing better than me.  Or, sometimes, not even bothering to start something because someone has already done it.  The other side to me likes to rack up a certain amount of ‘knowns’ before I even contemplate taking on something new.  This is frustrating. It cages me.  I miss opportunities.  Fear, fixes in front of my eyes like a pair of snow goggles. Blocks out the light, or the truth.  When I witness myself in this state, it then gathers momentum as ‘grumpy ass’ (the fear scout) tells me over and over that I am ‘never going to achieve all that I want to and I’ll always be an underachieving looser’.  As you can see, this voice I have is not the most helpful.  And supportive?  yeah, about as much as an old bra.

So, what do I do in these moments?  Those times when I have woken up into the great life I have created for myself,  but see it through a hall of mirrors that has distorted everything?  Making it wrong, contorted, enlarging minute details and misshaping massive ones?  Sometimes, I sit in it.  I look at emails, do a little research, take barely noticeable steps toward that I which long for.  I feel the nauseating, crushing flutter and bottlenecking of energy in my gut.  I take a shower, run, make tea, distract myself with a peek at Facebook…hoping for a ‘good day’ quote or story.  All the while I will be asking, over and over, what are you doing today?  what are you going to do to make it better?  why don’t you know what you don’t know yet?  where are you going to go?  why aren’t you perfect?  I brush my teeth, dress, breath, feel the grey mush it is all creating within me and grab my keys and go out the door.

As I gather momentum in the other field.  The field of hope, faith, gratitude.  ‘Fear Scout’ (I sometimes endearingly call, Grumpy Ass) starts to get drowned out.  Once I feel at a point of strength and perhaps balance.  Is it balance?  I wonder if Fear Scout has any valid points.  It usually has.  The fault is mostly with its delivery.

So, I try and turn around ‘why are you so useless?’ ( a very helpful statement, right!?) and see that perhaps I have been burying my head in the sand.  Not giving energy to making my dreams reality.  See, If I wait until my self esteem is strong and I have full faith in my abilities I will be breathing my last breath, perhaps.  I see I’ve not been doing all I can.  Perhaps I’ve been lying on the ground too long since the last imaginary butt kicking.  It’s time to get up.

What will I do?  I honestly don’t have a clue.  The GOAL looks all consuming and MASSIVE.  How can I possibly get, there?

And today, do you know what the answer is?  I haven’t a bloody clue.  I haven’t a CLUE!  Do I ever have a clue?  Rarely!

All I know is I need to acknowledge that I need to do SOMETHING.  My goal is to write a book.  I can see it, feel the flexible, satin cover in my hand, smell the fresh cut pages.  But not only one, in the other hand is a hard-backed book, thick and delightfully weighty.  I want them so much, feel the frustration of this expression, held up at the lights, waiting for green, it almost makes me sick.  Fear commingles with frustration.

I am TRYING to make it happen.  But at the same time…I see that I am NOT.

I travelled to Mexico.  Land of colour and expression with the hope I’d be detonated, exploded into artistic action. I’m still waiting.

So, dear reader, what of this post today? I have no moral of the tale to tell.  No wonderful conclusion to fill you with hope or cheer.  As I sit in a cafe, anonymous in a foreign land.  Every table fronted by a human, locked into their personal heaven, or hell.  Every table with a vertical silver screen, emblazoned with a lit silver apple.  A solitary bite taken from its shoulder.  Every table with a human, doing their best.  Pushing ‘something’ forward into their reality.  The hoped for clarity.  The strategy or ‘answer’ I hoped to find as I removed petals of words and placed them in my bitten apple, chased devil dogs of possibility down alleys made of tissues formed of  protein in my head, they seem to converge on a no man’s land of tumbleweed. Not even the breeze whispers a guiding light.  I see the word ‘CREAR’ written on the wall behind me.  The word scribbled above an exhibition of artist works; a black and white photo of a skateboarder hanging, mid-air over the edge of a ramp.  A lithograph of a man, eyes skyward.  A faceless human in a metal welders mask. A rising moon, painted on a section of door frame.  Flaking paint, delicate, fragile like the decaying wing of a butterfly.  A wind farm, pictured in a gathering storm.  Crear. It is a Spanish word.  It translates in English, as to ‘create, invent, or cause to exist’.

Creativity amongst the monotony of daily routine.  The nub where fear and, perceived, safety threaten to snuff out the light with a stained pillow. This is where you choose to take your power and the path to where you are creating what you want.

Perhaps it isn’t for us to know? The Future.  But dreams cannot exist on faith alone.  Action is needed.  A plan of sorts.  Even if it is just having the courage to look at what the ‘fear scout’ has written on his clipboard.

I want to some day (soon!) prove that you don’t have to experience the tortured life that Frida experienced, that never managed to snuff her spirit, to express yourself.  But she’s there, along with the graffiti artists, the singers, the people I pass on the streets wearing their art just by choosing what they wore today.  Those that will be themselves despite what others may say, do or think.

One day, perhaps I will believe what I have to say needs to find it’s voice. I’ll give my imagination space to create.  Ha, though I wonder will it ever, when I feel that even writing this makes me ashamed of my self-created, ‘privileged’ angst.  I feel this especially when I walk past people whose lives are lived on cold pavements, and under empty boxes reeking of piss.  When I see that, I know I (thankfully) don’t even have the slightest idea what feeling lost is like?!

Right now, I’m looking for the track to step back on and the ‘zoom-out’ button.  The big picture shows that my life is pretty darn good.  This is just one of those microfiche moments when I am forced to acknowledge that in this area of my experience something needs to change.

Have you found your voice?  What did you do to reach this point and free yourself?  Perhaps there never was any ‘freeing’ to be done in your life?  Please share your story in the comments below.

Perhaps…this could be one answer..?  http://zenhabits.net/impossible/

 

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Cooking School in Oaxaca

Cooking School in Oaxaca

If you are interested in my Food Blog. Here is my latest post.

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Oaxaca Captured

Oaxaca Captured

Art & Colour swim in the air!

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Hot Temazcal and Hands of a Thousand Fingers. Single Girl Travelling in Oaxaca.

When in Rome….or Mexico or wherever… I had flown down to Oaxaca to submerge myself into a culture of food and folklore.   My desire was to experience some traditional pastimes.  Everyone likes massage, I’ve tried most.  I’ve been needled, poked, pulled, pummelled in Asia, scrubed to within an inch of my life in Morocco, shouted over as a man made quite in-human noises to frighten away any bad spirits,  and had my hair pulled, scalp patted with finger tips and my temples bled of tension by an Indian on Tottenham Court Road in London.  Now I was ready for some Mexican action. Temazcal. A pre-Hispanic, type of sweat lodge.

I did a little research and found four in the area.  Of course, sod’s law sometimes dictates the inevitable waste of time and shoe rubber, as I check out the first, have instinct tell me it is the ‘right’ one, but still proceed to check out three subsequent ones. That I find, are all twice the price. Devoid of atmosphere.  Sterile.

I conjured up the espanol via Google translate and texted an enquiry to the number on the flyer I’d picked up in town.  I booked for the following day.  Google Maps told me it was too far to walk in the devilish sun.  So I had a beat up street-taxi transport me across town and to the other side of a vast, dried up river bed.  Despite the lack of sitting water, a stagnant stench hung on the hot, dusty breeze.  Plump mocha skinned women sat propping up door frames, chatting intently.  Fat cigars of fragrant wild herbs slowly smouldered in earthenware bowls.  They did little to mask the rivers scent.

My taxi driver pulled the car into the shallow ditches, that served as a sidewalk, several times to look at the map I gave him with directions to the temescal.  He rotated it over and over.  Clockwise.  Anti-clockwise, in an attempt to decipher.  A passing tuk-tuk taxi, with three customers packed in the back, came to our aid.  After a torrent of words I mostly didn’t comprehend, he pointed down a dusty side road.

The pot holes aided to shake my anxiety free.  I was nervous.  *Stan Gotlieb, an ex-pat local writer,  had told tales of near searing heat and crippling claustrophobia inside the belly of the temazcal.  I worried I’d bail.  Fail.  Or worse, stubbornly remain and keel out from heat exhaustion.  Have to be pulled by my two ankles, unceremoniously from the hut which basically was probably not far off a human oven.

Destination finally found, I paid the pesos to the taxi drive as slight Mexican woman with sharp cheekbones and a calm haze came out and greeted me.  Delicate hands emerged from her white, medical-looking uniform pockets. One arrived in one of mine.  I attempted at Spanish.  She answered in rehearsed English.  She ushered me in and motioned for me to sit.  Then she disappeared off into a room at the back.  I could hear her busying herself behind the closed door.

The interior was a few degrees cooler than outside.  Everything was varying shades of brown.  Dust lay on every surface.  Nothing shone.  I resisted the urge to polish or finger a line in the dust. Wooden masks were nailed to the walls and ritual dolls made of stone reminded me of a film my brother and I had scared ourselves witless with when we were about aged about seven and nine.  We were forbidden to watch tv when our parents went out, but our big sister had been too busy snogging her boyfriend’s face off in the garden to notice.  The story was thus.  A woman had gone travelling, bought back a 6 inch high African doll that came to life one dark night and climbed out of her suitcase.  It chased her around her apartment with a shrill scream, holding aloft a glinting dagger and finally possessed her.  In the final scene she sat, waiting at the door for her lover (who, unbeknown to her, was out cheating on her). She bared two rows of tiny white teeth,  her arm moving mechanically like one of those Chinese lucky cats, gripping a very large kitchen knife that she was digging into the floor.  Her boyfriend was toast!  For weeks after my brother and I would scare the crap out of each other (and ourselves) by hiding under each others beds (sometimes for ridiculously long stints) and jumping out screaming when we knew our victim was restful and unaware.  I did this with glee, revelling in watching that split second of undiluted fear on my older brother’s face, despite the dead arm or Chinese burn I was inevitably rewarded with.

The decor pleased me and made me slightly nervous.  I felt the anticipation of waiting for a fairground ride.  After what seemed like an age the door opened again and she came out.  With a smile the young woman handed me a white sheet and showed me to el bano (the bathroom).  I was to strip and then stand under a cold shower.  Twenty seconds on my left and then twenty on my right.  Once done as bid, I padded back to the waiting room.  Unsure at what stage of nakedness I should emerge.  Finally, we were to enter the back room.  It was very dark, with the exception of diagonals of light entering from spaces in the bamboo roof.

I was to stand naked as she thwacked me with tied branches of  fragrant herbs. 20 of them in all.  Each one made to ‘cleanse me of blackness and toxins’.  I wondered if an evil person would begin rolling around the floor at this point as the purging began.  I could think of a few people I’d happily help with a good old herb thwacking.  I stood and enjoyed the subtle scents.  Next I was motioned towards a two foot high wooden door that opened into the temezcal.  Which itself looked like a brick igloo. Inside was dark, light only coming from a small terracotta burner with a tea light inside.  It was small but not as small as I’d imagined.  I could stand, just.  A sheet lay folded on a rush mat at its centre, in front of  a hearth of black smouldering stones.  I was instructed as to where I’d find the most heat.  On the ledge to the right, or to stand.  I was disappointed the heat hadn’t instantly embraced me.  A bowl of water and a scoop was there for me to ‘bring more heat’.  But the temperature lacked drama.  As soon as she’d closed the door behind me I set to work dousing the stones.  They hissed at me but I didn’t feel their sting.  I stood up.  My head got hotter.  After what seemed like seconds she called behind the door.  ‘ok?’.   I responded in the affirmative.  Her face appeared at the door and she shoved forward a bowl of freshly cut aloe vera. She directed me to massage into my skin.  ‘Hotter….mas calihante?’ I asked.  More water was delivered.  I stopped short of pouring it all on the heap of stones at once and lay down to enjoy the peace.  Or near peace…as disappointment needled me.  Maybe I am hardcore and the Oaxaquenan writer was just a wimp.  Perhaps all my evils were purged long ago rendering the ritual incessancy and without drama?!

It was all over too soon.   I crawled out backwards.  The sheet once more covering my nakedness.  A massage table stood just outside the door, covered with a worn-thin white towel.   She motioned me to lay face down and took my covering.  A fresh sheet was then expertly folded and placed on my body to maintain my dignity and spare her.  What followed was one of the most heavenly massages I’ve had the good fortune to experience.  Full-body massage was, for once, factually correct.  I could feel my muscles giving way with a near audible sigh.  The sounds of the breeze pushing through narrow, wooden slats and distant gossiping hens further pulled me into a happy place of waterfalls, deep grass and soaring birds.

Two hours later the experience came to a close.  I dressed.  I was a little wiser for my experience.  Lighter.  Head chatter was given the afternoon off.  I waited for my cab to arrive.  We passed many smiles between us as I waited.  I squirmed slightly from the awkwardness of feeling to make chat with someone whose language I barely had a grasp on.  I was failing miserably, my mind still away with the fairies post massage,  and a flutter of Spanish words tango’d in my head, not stopping long enough for me to even attempt at forming them into something comprehensible with my mouth.

Who would I recommend a temazcal to?  Everyone who has the good fortune to find themselves in Mexico, away from Ritzy, sterile hotels and with a practitioner with fingers that feel like a hundred warm marbles smoothly coursing over your body.  Next time though I’d tell her to turn up the heat.

 

*Stan Gotlieb –  http://www.realoaxaca.com    A good source for information about Oaxaca.

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