The Displaced Nation

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Category Archives: Capital Ideas (series)

CAPITAL IDEA: Vaduz: A quick guide

Welcome to another “Capital Ideas”—our somewhat idiosyncratic, ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek guide to various world cities, perfect for the ever discerning readership of this blog.

We know our readers are always visitors, never tourists (an important distinction). Do feel free to contribute your own ideas or suggestions in the comments section, we’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

Capital: Vaduz.

Umm . . . I think I’m going to be saying this quite a bit, but why?  Because great things come in small packages.

No really, why? Why not?

No seriously, why? The element of surprise is wonderful, isn’t it?

It is? Oh, most certainly. Did you expect me to suggest Vaduz?

I have no idea what Vaduz is or if it’s real. Precisely. What a surprise that is!

I was rather hoping that you might do Rio this month. I’ve been watching the Confederations Cup and, civil strife to one side for a moment, my appetite is very much whetted for next year’s World Cup. I’ll bear it in mind, but today I thought we could discuss Vaduz.

Venezuela? Ha! That’s Caracas. You’re not even close continent wise.

Okay, clearly I have no idea. Just tell me where it is. It’s in Liechtenstein. Isn’t that exciting?

Not particularly, no! Oh, come on, it is a little bit.

Little seems to be the operative word. Vaduz must be one of the smallest capitals in the world. It’s certainly not large. It has a population of under 6,000.

So a pulsating nightlife must be on offer, then? Apparently, you could try a Club Z, Liechtenstein’s premier nightclubI’m sure it’s wild! But be warned: it does not have a dance ring.

Hmm. Was there any ulterior motive in your choosing Vaduz? Ulterior motive? Me? Why the very idea! Of course not!

Apologies for impugning your good name. That’s okay, you’re forgiven. I can assure you that there are no ulterior motives here. I absolutely was not struggling with a deadline and thought that a small city would mean that I could quicker meet that deadline.

A-ha, the plot thickens. Are you trying to shortchange me by fobbing Vaduz off me. Smaller city means less work for you. Unfortunately, it’s not true. A smaller city does not mean less work. There’s enough reason to visit Vaduz to more than fill up a post here. There’s charm and history aplenty. Who doesn’t want to stroll around a small town filled with medieval and baroque architecture?

Please, never ever use the word “aplenty” again. So how do I even get there? I’m assuming that there isn’t a direct flight from Heathrow or JFK. And you’d be right, but you can get a flight to Zurich and from there get the train from Zurich to Sargans where you can then hop on to a bus to Vaduz. More information can be found here.

And once there, do I need to worry about getting round town? No, this isn’t one of those entries where I tell you about how to navigate the local subway system. This is a town of five and a half thousand, after all.

What is there to see in Vaduz? Well, wherever you are in town you can’t really help but see Vaduz Castle. (You can see it in the above photo.) Set in a hilltop overlooking the town it really is picture postcard pretty. It’s the home to the reigning Price of Liechtenstein, Hans-Adam II. Unlike other European monarchies, the Prince of Liechtenstein has an extremely large amount of political power – he has, for instance, veto power over the government.

So I can’t visit the castle? No, and as the Prince of Liechtenstein is Europe’s wealthiest monarch with an estimated fortune of $4 billion, there’s no pressing need for him to open the castle up to get those tourist coffers in. But given that its presence in the city is all pervading, you’ll be able to take some wonderful shots of it from every street corner; and if you were to take a tour of the city – you know how much we love our walking tours here on The Displaced Nation – you’ll learn lots about the castle’s history.  Some more information can be found here.

What else can I do. Under six thousand residents? Sounds like it’s really a village in name only. Well even if he’s not letting you into his castle, you could always go and visit the wine cellars of the Prince.

I’m always up for some wine tasting, but I don’t recall ever having wine from Liechtenstein before. Is it any good? Liechtenstein actually has an ideal climate for wine. They’ve been growing wine in that region for over 2,000 years so it’s not entirely surprising that a bunch of grapes can be found on Vaduz’s coat of arms.  If you’re traveling by car, take a trip into the countryside and visit one of the many wineries. Sit back and have a refreshing glass of gewürztraminer – it’s a favorite of mine. Plenty of information can be found here.

And for a more cultural suggestion? Hey, I would contend that you can’t get more cultural than a wine tasting, but if you’re after something more artistic then you should visit the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein (Liechtenstein Museum of Fine Arts). An interesting piece of architecture in itself (an intriguing black cube, it has been voted one of the world’s ugliest buildings, but I absolutely don’t agree with that assessment), it houses an extensive collection of modern art from around the world as well as Liechtenstein’s national art collection. So to your earlier suggestion that Vaduz was a village in name only, this is precisely the sort of thing one would not expect to find in your local village. Vaduz offer more than a duck pond and a Spar shop. You could also visit the National Museum (Liechtensteinisches Landesmuseum). This is rather less imposing than the Kunstmuseum. Unlike that with all it’s modern architectural pizzazz, the National Museum is housed in a former tavern and customhouse. Covering the folklore and history of the principality, it’s well worth your time, particularly if you aren’t planning on doing an historical walking tour. Finally, if – like me – you are a sucker for visiting old churches, then you should pop into the neo-Gothic Cathedral of St. Florin.

What should I read? Normally I use this part of a Capital Ideas post to expand from merely writing about whichever featured city we’re looking at so that I can highlight a larger national literature. This month that isn’t quite so easy. For why that’s the case I refer you to an interview with the Liechtenstein writer Stefan Sprenger, who was featured in the 2011 edition of Dalkey Archive Press‘s acclaimed Best European Fiction anthology series. In an interview translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman, Sprenger declares: “There is no Liechtenstein literature, and never has been.” Also worth a read is this interesting blog post on the subject.

What should I watch?  Again, I’m cheating a bit but as it’s about a small European nation still far too enthralled to a crusty almost farcical form of government that combines absolute and constitutional monarchy, but as it may be somewhat relevant, I’d suggest The Mouse That Roared, starring Peter Sellers, who plays both the Grand Duchess and Prime Minister of the fictional Duchy of Grand Fenwick. It’s a fun little British comedy from the late 1950s, which was based on a 1955 Cold War satirical novel by Irish-American writer Leonard Wibberley.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another installment in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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CAPITAL IDEA: Copenhagen: a quick guide

Welcome to another “Capital Ideas”—our somewhat idiosyncratic, ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek guide to various world cities, perfect for the ever discerning readership of this blog. We know our readers are always visitors, never tourists (an important distinction).

Do feel free to contribute your own ideas or suggestions in the comments section, we’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

Capital: Copenhagen.

Why? Because we got to get ourselves prepared for 2014that’s why!

What’s happening in Copenhagen 2014? Only the greatest thing ever! I’m talking Eurovision.

Oh dear, that was two weeks ago. Are you still withering on about that? Excuse me, if I’m still on a Eurovision high. And who wouldn’t be after the winsome, elfin like charms of Emmelie de Forest winning it for the Danes with her delightful song, “Only Teardrops.” I’ve been listening to it for two weeks straight. Having won this year’s Eurovision, Denmark will be hosting next year’s tournament giving us the perfect opportunity to go over and visit the Danish capital.

To be honest, I’m not that big a fan of Euro pop. What a sour puss! Still, there’s plenty of things for you to enjoy while I’m off getting my Euro groove on.

Such as? Grab a bike and cycle around the city.

Well, that sounds like a nice and easy way to tour around. It is! Copenhagen really is a bike friendly city. Some companies that you can rent from can be found here. In fact, you can cycle all the way to the statue of Hans Christen Andersen’s Little Mermaid, which sits on a rock in the harbor—it’s quite the tourist attraction, if a little underwhelming, but you don’t like to say as the locals are so pleasant and you don’t want to hurt their feelings as they really are proud of it.

You really are a true diplomat, aren’t you? If you find yourself really charmed by the Hans Christian Andersen theme then you can also visit the Hans Christian Andersen fairy-tale house. It’s operated by Ripley’s Believe it or Not!—so perhaps is best enjoyed if you’re bringing the kids. Although to be honest, just wandering around the New Harbor district is like stepping into one of the famed Danish writer’s stories.

And what about more adult-orientated options? Then you might want to consider visiting Freetown, Christiania—definitely best not to bring the kids if you’re going there.

What is it? A self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood of about 850 residents—well, that’s how it’s described on Wikipedia, though you might know it best as a commune.

Hardly sounds like a tourist spot. It is a fascinating place to visit in order to see the community that has grown up in the area. Just don’tto be glib for a changebuy any of the brownies.

So I really should go there to soak up the atmosphere but not inhale it? Exactly.

Anything else other than fairy tales and hippies for me to see? I’ve two recommendations for you and they both involve Carlsberg.

The beer people? Yes.

Great. What are they? Well the first is to visit the Carlsberg brewery. They have a Visitor’s Centre located at their original brewery that will detail the history of this famous beer . . .

. . . But will I get a sample of their product? I wouldn’t countenance recommending the Visitor’s Centre if they didn’t hand out samples.

So it’s probably the best Visitor’s Centre in the world? Yes, very droll. The cost of your entry fee is good for one sample and, considering the high cost of food and drink in that part of the world, it really is the cheapest drink you’ll find in Copenhagen, unless someone offers you a bottle of something in Christiania.

And what’s the other Carlsberg suggestion? It’s the “Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek”.

Probably best that I don’t try and pronounce that after a couple of pints of Carlsberg. True.

What is it? It’s an art museum. Carl Jacobsen, the son of the founder of the Carlsberg brewery, amassed a vast collection of art that he gifted to the state. It has one of the largest Rodin collections in the world. It really is a wonderful place to lose yourself in.

Other recommendations? If you love a bit of royalty, then the Amalienborg Museum allows a glimpse into the regal side of Copenhagen. The Amalienborg itself (a square on which four identical palaces are located) is an amazingly relaxed place to visit and cycle around considering it is an official residence for the Danish royal family. I’d also recommend the Museum of Copenhagen for a fascinating overview of the history of the city.

What should I read? Well, Denmark’s golden age is marked by the writings of Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard. Do you want fairy tales or existential philosophy? The choice really is yours. More recently, Peter Hoeg is a Danish author who has had considerable international success with his novel Smilla’s Sense of Snow. Karen Blixen (who wrote under the name Isak Dinesen) is unarguably the most acclaimed Danish novelist of the C20th. Her best-known work, Out of Africa, is perhaps not the most evocative novel for someone planning a trip to Copenhagen on account of its Kenyan setting, but irrespective of that it is still very much worth your time.

What should I watch? Early Danish cinema is dominated by the figure of Carl Theodor Dreyer. Most of his great works—such as The Passion of Joan of Arc—were French productions after he moved there in order to find greater opportunities than offered by the early Danish film industry. Out of his Danish films, however, Leaves From Satan’s Book is a classic of the silent era. More recently, Danish cinema among an English-speaking audience has been synonymous with filmmakers such as Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg who came out of the Dogme 95 Collective. Out of all their work it’s Vinterberg’s film Festen that I would most recommend you watch. Of late, Danish TV dramas have also been receiving critical attention. Police procedural The Killing spawned a poor American remake, and the political drama Borgen has developed a loyal following on BBC Four in the UK and Link TV in the US.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another installment in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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CAPITAL IDEA: Bangkok: A quick guide

bangkokWelcome to another “Capital Ideas”—our somewhat idiosyncratic, ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek guide to various world cities, perfect for the ever discerning readership of this blog. We know our readers are always visitors, never tourists (an important distinction).

Do feel free to contribute your own ideas or suggestions in the comments section, we’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

Capital: Bangkok

That reminds me I saw The Hangover Part 2 recently. Great movie. Um, no, it isn’t.

What are you crazy? A chain-smoking capuchin monkey and that guy who is in The Office wakes up to a Mike Tyson-style face tattoowhat’s not to love? Its content? Anyway, why are you blathering on about The Hangover Part 2?

Because dude, it’s set in Bangkok. As is Bangkok Dangerous. What a surprise!

Anyway, you’ve got my attention. Those films have certainly piqued my interest in visiting Thailand’s capital city. Well, that is good to hear.

Yes, I think I could have a fun, hedonistic vacation. Is it as crazy as it seems in those films? It’s a city of over eight million. I’m sure you can find some craziness if you’re so inclined, but there’s far more to this city than some of your preconceptions.

Oh yeah, I’m sure that is the case, and I’m all ears regarding all that culture nonsense that I know you love, but still, I might want to take in a ping pong show in Soi Cowboy. How can you go to Bangkok and not see its seedy underbelly? Fairly easily. This is not a guide for sex tourists.

Oh, you’re such a square! Okay, what would you have me see? Take a ferry to the Old City. There you’ll be able to visit the ornate Grand Palace built in the 18th century for the Thai king and Wat Phra Kaew, where you can find Emerald Buddha. A trip to Wat Arun is also a must.

The Grand Palace, you say? They’re pretty big on their Royal Family, aren’t they? You can say that again. Indeed, you’ll find portraits of the current King, Bhumibol Adulyadej, as well as some of his predecessors, in most restaurants.

So jokes about the King probably won’t go down too well? No. In fact, lèse majesté, which is the crime of violating majesty, is enshrined in law, so no, probably not the best idea to make a joke about the Thai King as it could lead to a prison sentence.

Blimey! Kind of appreciate that I can make all those jokes about Prince Charles’s ears with impunity. Absolutely!

Anything else I need to know on this? Yes, Thai nationals have to stand for the national anthem by law.

I think I’m going to regret saying this, but what do you recommend? I’ve got one word for you—puppets.

Oh God, I wished I hadn’t asked. No, hear me out. Traditional Thai puppetry is fascinating. The Aksra Theatre in Bangkok puts on a great introductory show for tourists that also showcase traditional Thai music too. The puppets will depict scenes from the Ramakien, Thailand’s national epic. Go, you’ll love it, I promise!

Trust this guide to push some weird recommendation on me. What? Me? The very idea! … I think I might rather try my hand at the ping pong show. No!!!! Go with the puppet show.

I’m guessing I’ll eat well in Bangkok? You guess right. Really, you can’t go wrong. You don’t need to find out who the fanciest, trendiest chefs in town are, just take a wander and keep is simple. You’ll be able to eat very well and by spending very little.

Sounds great, and how do I get around the city? The city has three rapid transit systems: the BTS Skytrain, the underground MRT and the elevated Airport Rail Link. They’re all pretty good if you’re going long distances across the city. For shorter distances just take a taxi. I would, however, give one warning on this, based on personal experience. Bangkok taxi drivers don’t have the best of reputationsdon’t allow yourself to be ripped off. Some unscrupulous taxi drivers will refuse to put on their meters and will quote you outrageous sums when you first step in their cab to get you to your destination, because they see you’re a farang. If they’re not prepared to negotiate to a sum you feel is reasonable, then don’t feel shy about exiting their cab and searching for another taxi.

What should I read to prepare for the journey? More than any other expat destination, Bangkok seems to have inspired cringe-worthy expat books about crime and sin in the capital or “hard man” accounts from Westerners who’ve ended up in Thai prisons for drug smuggling. They’re for the most part best avoiding. If you must have something that touches on the sin and crime of the city, then John Burdett‘s Bangkok 8 is an entertaining read for a flight over to Thailand. If you’re particularly ambitious you could also try reading The Ramakien (in translation).

What should I watch? You could watch the original Thai version of Bangkok Dangerous from 1999 if you were interested by the American remake. Also, in recent years a number of Thai films have gained attention at the Cannes Film Festival. Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady are worth investigating.

STAY TUNED for next week’s Displaced Nation posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Image: awindram

CAPITAL IDEA: Reykjavík: A quick guide

20130409-201825.jpg
Welcome to another “Capital Ideas” – our somewhat idiosyncratic, ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek guide to various world cities, perfect for the ever discerning readership of this blog. We know our readers are always visitors, never tourists (an important distinction).

Do feel free to contribute your own ideas or suggestions in the comments section, we’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

Capital: Reykjavík

Oh God, don’t even think about doing it. What?

You know what I mean — I can read you like a book. I’ve no idea what you’re referring to.

You’re going to try and lead off with the “my mum’s gone to Iceland” gag, aren’t you?  Really, you think that little of me?

Yes. Charming. The very idea! My gags are expertly crafted, and besides most of our readers have no idea about Iceland, the British frozen goods store, and their longstanding tagline — so there!!!

Okay, okay, let’s get this over with.  Blimey, you’re a bit glum today.

Isn’t that appropriate if you want to talk me about the land of the midnight sun? I thought most people ended up depressed or mad. Please, let’s leave the ridiculous stereotyping to me.

You’re normally very good at it. Stop trying to distract me. Reykjavík, you may be interested to learn, is the northernmost capital in the world.

So I’d need to pack my thermals? Yes.

Guessing this isn’t a beach holiday? No. At least, not in the conventional sense.

I normally like going somewhere hot for my vacation, somewhere I can relax. Then you’d be missing out if you dismiss this sort of vacation out of hand, you’d be visiting a truly wonderful city. But, hey, if you like relaxing in a hot pool, you could still give Reykjavik a try.

Hardly sounds like Club Tropicana. Think about it. Iceland is only there because it’s a mass of volcanic activity. Remember when Eyjafjallajökull grounded all transatlantic flights a few years ago?

Yes, still struggling with this. You’re suggesting I relax by the side of an active volcano in Iceland rather than my plan to relax by the side of a pool in Hawai’i? No, even though I may at this precise moment be tempted to push you into an active volcano. What Iceland does have is plenty of geothermal springs. You must visit the Blue Lagoon.

Is that the one with the creature or with Brooke Shields? Neither. It’s a geothermal spa located in a lava field outside of the city. Even if it’s a freezing night, the water in the pool averages around 100 °F. And there’s plenty of supposedly healing minerals that you can cover yourself in. It’s quite the experience.

Sounds it. Have you done it? Yes, and very enjoyable it was too. A little bit of wind chafing around the neck though. Your body might be enjoying the pool, but your head is still battered by the elements.

Okay, I’m definitely intrigued, but I think I need a little more than slapping mud all over myself and wandering into a geothermal pool. What else can I do? Well, from the centre of Reykjavík you can get a daylong bus tour to the Golden Circle.

I hear their cashew chicken is wonderful. No, the Golden Circle is a popular tourist route that will allow you to see the Icelandic countryside. You will see the stupendous Gullfoss (Golden Falls); Þingvellir (Thing Fields), a national park that was the site of Iceland’s first parliament in 930AD; and Geysir — the first geysir to be recorded in printed material (if Wikipedia is to be believed). Certainly, when it comes to geysers accept no substitutes. If you’re lucky, you might also see a pack of Icelandic ponies.

Aurora Borealis? I beg your pardon?

The Northern Lights. Will I see that during this bus tour? No, this is a day tour. There are night tours that will take you out in the evening in the hopes of seeing the lights. If you’re away from the city and the light pollution, your chances improve. Of course, nothing is guaranteed that you’ll see anything so don’t get too downhearted if you don’t see the lights. However, if you want to try and stack the cards in your favor then you could stay at The Northern Lights Inn.  One further advantage of this hotel is its convenient location to the Blue Lagoon.

And Reykjavík itself? What should I do there? No pun intended, but it is a really great place just to chill. Wander the streets. Take a walk by Tjörnin, a delightful lake in the center of town. As you wander the city, you’ll notice plenty of public art in the city. Walk down towards the harbor and check out Jón Gunnar Árnason (The Sun Voyager). Visit Hallgrímskirkja, the city’s impressive Lutheran church, and at all times keep yourself caffeinated. So many good coffee shops in the city for you to sample.

But what about the food? I hear fermented shark is popular. You mean hákarl. If you find it, you’re more than welcome to try it. Good luck with that. I think Icelandic cuisine has moved on from the shark and puffin stereotypes. Not surprisingly, you’ll be able to try some amazing seafood. If you really want to dine out, Siggi Hall is the most famous Icelandic chef, so you may want to try and get a reservation at his restaurant inside the Hotel Odinsve.

What should I read before I go? It’s Iceland, you should give some Icelandic sagas a try. They detail the early colonization of the land. Penguin has an anthology if you want to dip your toe in. Halldór Laxness is the only Icelandic winner of the Nobel prize for literature (nothing lax about him there). He won the prize in 1955, and as a result a lot of his work has been translated into English and remains in print. The Fish Can Sing and the two-part epic Independent People are easy enough to find. Mál og Menning is a bookstore in downtown Reykjavík has a good selection of Icelandic literature available in English translations. More recently, Hallgrímur Helgason’s 101 Reykjavík has probably been the most successful novel to come out of the country.

Wasn’t that made into a movie? Yes, back in 2000, so you could check that out if you so wished.

And I should listen to plenty of Björk? And don’t forget Sigur Rós, Of Monsters and Men, and Bjork’s original band, The Sugarcubes. If you happen to be visiting late October, you could go to Iceland Airwaves, the country’s biggest musical festival. It’s certainly a great city to scour record stores.

If only the beer were cheap. Well, you can’t have everything.

 

STAY TUNED for a new Displaced Nation post tomorrow.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Image: awindram

CAPITAL IDEA: Singapore: A quick guide

Welcome to another “Capital Ideas” – our somewhat idiosyncratic, ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek guide to various world cities, perfect for the ever discerning readership of this blog. We know our readers are always visitors, never tourists (an important distinction).

Do feel free to contribute your own ideas or suggestions in the comments section, we’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

Capital: Singapore.

Wait a moment, isn’t that an island? Well, it’s actually made up of 63 islands, but Singapore is, in fact, a city state.

Like the Vatican? There’s fewer Cardinals, but yes, the Vatican is an example of another city state.

All I know about Singapore is that chewing gum is illegal. As a confessed chewing gum addict, I think I’ll have to pass on this one. Some forms of therapeutic gum is allowed.

So I can get hold of gum? If a doctor or dentist sells it to you for health purposes, then yes.

What else is banned? Candy? No, in fact, when I was last there I noticed that Singapore immigration put out bowls of hard candy as you went through passport control.

That’s definitely preferable than dealing with Homeland Security.Isn’t it?

This still isn’t quite explaining why I should visit. Well, being a well developed, self-contained city state, it’s easy to get a sense of Singapore quickly and it’s easy to get around.

So I should go because it’s convenient? No . . . Well. . . Yes, I suppose it is. Everything is easy and doable. You won’t have aggressive taxi drivers trying to trick you over fares as you leave the airport. It’s a very well-run state. That’s interesting to see, and it means some of the more stressful elements of travelling, aren’t such a problem here.

Wouldn’t that be primarily due to Singapore’s soft authoratinism? Hey, I thought you only knew about the gum?

I’m smarter than I look. Considering your looks, that’s not too difficult, but to answer your earlier question, yes, Singapore’s laws can be draconian at times, and it’s these laws that make it, on the surface, a well-run state that you’ll feel very safe in for the duration of your visit.

What else do I need to know? Well, being a financial and business center for the region means that there’s a large number of European, American, and Australian expat communities in Singapore. 40% of Singapore’s residents are foreigners. Accordingly, no matter where you’re from, you’ll find something or someone to remind you of home. What’s also useful to remember is that English is one of Singapore’s four official languages. Don’t assume that that means that everyone speak it, but a large number of Singaporeans do, which does make it a more convenient destination in terms of being understood than most other Asian destinations.

Will I be able to understand Singlish? You’ll have better luck understanding a drunk tramp screaming at you on Sauchiehall street. The Singapore government strongly discourages Singlish, but personally we find it charming and a rich part of Singapore’s identity.

Okay, so if I do decide to go, what should I do there? If you’re with young children then you need to make a visit to the Singapore zoo? They do an amazing night safari.

Really? The zoo? I was expecting an answer a little more imaginative than that. It is a nice zoo, though. You can also visit the botanical gardens that houses one of the world’s largest orchid collections.

Orchids? Don’t mock. You can see an orchid dedicated to Princess Di AND one dedicated to Margaret Thatcher.

Umm. . .sounds thrilling. The must-do is checking-out Orchard Road.

What’s that? It’s the main road through Singapore. It’s the social epicenter where people come to…and forgive me for using this phrase…shop til they drop.

Are they that into shopping in Singapore? Yes. Orchard road isn’t shop after shop, it’s high-end mall after high-end mall. It needs to be seen to be believed. For a not quite so high-end retail experience, but just as fascinating, visit the Mustafa Centre in Little India. You’ll be able to find anything in this department

I thought this site had cultural pretensions. All I’m hearing about is shopping, zoos, and flowers dedicated to Maggie bloody Thatcher. One of our favorite museums can be found in Singapore.

What would that be? The National Museum of Singapore. They really do an excellent job of presenting the island’s history. It will you a marvellous grounding in the Singapore. Once you’ve finished there you can head over to Raffles for a Singapore Sling.

Wasn’t Raffles a gentleman thief? You’re thinking of a different chap. This Raffles, is Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles a member of the East India Company who founded the city of Singapore. The Raffles Hotel is named after him. It’s an ornate colonial hotel that is worth a visit. It was also here that the cocktail the Singapore Sling was invented.

What’s in it? Gin, Cherry Heering, Bénédictine, and fresh pineapple juice. It’s a very attractive pink color. Drink it in the Long Bar. Bowls of peanuts are also provided in the bar, you’re expected – nay encouraged – to throw the peanut shells on the bar floor. It’s the only place in Singapore you’re allowed to litter. The Long Bar was a favoured hang-out of Ernest Emmingway and Somerset Maugham.

What other food should I try? Kaya toast is my favorite. Kaya is a fruit curd made from coconut and sugar, spread it on hot buttered toast and at with a runny, soft-boiled egg – it’s heaven. Also, if anything is made with pandan – be it bread or cakes – then gobble it down. Pandanus leaves make the most mundane item delicious. You should also go to Clarke Quay to try Chilli Crab, and Little India for some Fish Head Curry.

Fish Head Curry? Sounds gross. It’s an experience, and one I didn’t find unpleasant, though I don’t think I’d want to make a habit of it. The eyes are the best bit.

Should I eat durian? I would say, yes. It’s an experience, you should try it.

What’s it like? Initially, it tastes rather pleasant. There’s a creamy custard taste. It’s the second taste that may make you retch. I’d describe that second taste as being a mix of raw onions, halitosis, and burnt dog hair. In my experience, you may want to try it first as an ice cream flavor before you build up to the real deal.

What should I read? For fiction, A Many-Splendoured Thing by Han Suyin, King Rat by James Cavell, and Far Eastern Tales by Somerset Maugham. For history, try A history of Singapore, 1819-1988 by C.M. Turnbull.

Thanks, I’m off to try and find some durian ice cream. I’ve had garlic ice cream, can it be any worse? Careful what you wish for.

STAY TUNED for a new Displaced Nation post tomorrow.

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CAPITAL IDEA: Paris: A quick guide

Welcome to another “Capital Ideas” – our somewhat idiosyncratic, ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek guide to various world cities, perfect for the ever discerning readership of this blog. We know our readers are always visitors, never tourists (an important distinction). As it’s Valentine’s Day we thought it only right to take a look at the world capital of romance – Paris (not very original — ed.).

Do feel free to contribute your own ideas or suggestions in the comments section, we’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

Capital: Paris

Paris, Texas? Um, no.

Don’t be too quick to judge. I hear it’s lovely. I’m sure it is. I liked the movie, if that helps.

Not really. So I guess you’re this is all about the other Paris — the city of love? That’s the one.

Ahh, so this is an easy Valentine’s Day tie-in post? I’m disappointed. Could you have not gone with something a little more left-field for a romantic destination? Such as?

I dunno. Cardiff? Sacramento? Sometimes it’s best to stick with the tried and tested.

Why should I go? I think the British expat writer Lawrence Durrell put it well when he wrote the following about Paris:

The national characteristics … the restless metaphysical curiosity, the tenderness of good living and the passionate individualism. This is the invisible constant in a place with which the ordinary tourist can get in touch just by sitting quite quietly over a glass of wine in a Paris bistro.

But I heard Paris can send a man mad. You’re probably thinking about the likes of Toulouse-Lautrec and the perils of consuming too much absinthe.

No, I mean modern-day tourists. Ah, then you’re probably thinking about Paris Syndrome; it is, in the words of Wikipedia, a transient psychological disorder encountered by some individuals (primarily Japanese tourists) when they visit Paris. It is characterized by a number of psychiatric symptoms such as acute delusional states, hallucinations, feelings of persecution (perceptions of being a victim of prejudice, aggression, or hostility from others), derealization, depersonalization, anxiety, and also psychosomatic manifestations such as dizziness, tachycardia, sweating, and others.

Sounds weird. It is. One of the contributing factors is that many Japanese visitors have an idealized image of Paris as the city of romance and sophistication and trying to reconcile that image with the rude and noisy metropolis they instead encounter is simply overwhelming.

Um, so you’ve written a guide extolling me to go to Paris as it’s Valentine’s Day and Paris is the city of romance and at the very same time you’re also telling me if I go with that expectation I could break down with a psychological disorder? Amazing. You know this would never happen in Sacramento. True, they are no reported cases of Paris Syndrome affecting visitors to Sacramento.

Well, if I go — and I manage not to break down with a psychological disorder — what should I do? The obvious tourist checklist is taking a walk along the Seine, having a wander around Montmartre, making a visit to Notre Dame, climbing the Eiffel Tower, and catching an unsatisfactory glance of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.

But I thought this site (and this nascent series) prided itself on shying away from the obvious? We do, we do. If you’re looking to uncover the “hidden” Paris you can take that suggestion literally and go to the Catacombs.

I see what you did there. Merci beaucoup! Catacombes de Paris were built following the removal and evacuation of the Saints Innocents Cemetery (Cimetière des Innocents) in the late 18th century as the medieval cemetery was no longer sanitary and was considered the cause of numerous infections in the area. On a related note, you may want to read Pure (2011), by the somewhat displaced English novelist Andrew Miller — about the breaking up of the cemetery.

Thanks for that, but can we move onto a different topic? I don’t think visiting catacombs is a particularly romantic move on my part. Do you have any romantic suggestions? I know a couple who spent the weekend trying to find the best macaroons in the city. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you may want to give that a try. Laudree is famous for theirs — in fact, they claim to have invented them, so you may want to start there. Another macaroon purveyor definitely worth trying is Pierre Herme. Indeed you’ll do well to resist eating all their pastries and sweets.

You’re going to try and convince me to go on a guided walk, aren’t you? You seem obsessed with them. I do think walking around a city rather than hopping from metro to taxi is a better way of getting to grips with a city, and if you can do that with a knowledgeable guide, so much the better. I’ve heard good things about Paris Walks, so you may want to give them a try. Alternatively, we are living in the age of smart phones. If you don’t want to be with a tourist crowd (and I totally understand why that may be the case), then why not download a walking tour direct to your phone? Invisible Paris offers three walking tours for you to download that are absolutely free. The walks highlight aspects of the city that other guides ignore.

What’s a must-do? Embrace the cliche and go for an evening stroll along the Seine.

Is it easy to get around? Yes, the Metro system makes getting round the city easy. As a visitor it’s well worth purchasing a Paris Visite Pass, which allows you access to all of the city’s public transport

And where’s good to eat? Any recommendations? It’s Paris. You won’t struggle for decent places to eat. You know the drill when it comes to avoiding tourist traps.

What should I read? If you want to brush up on Paris, then you may want to give Graham Robb‘s Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris (2010) a try. Also worth a look for the befuddled foreigner trying to make sense of the city is The Sweet Life in Paris, by displaced American food writer David Lebovitz — it tells the story of his move to Paris. For a solid historical overview of France’s capital city, try The Seven Ages of Paris (2002), by British historian and TCK Alistair Horne. And for a work of fiction sometimes the obvious is the most appropriate — and that’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (Notre-Dame de Paris, “Our Lady of Paris”), by Victor Hugo.

What should I watch? You can go all New Wave cool and watch The 400 Blows (1959, dir. François Truffaut), Breathless (1960, dir. by Jean-Luc Godard), or Bande à part (1964, also dir. by Jean-Luc Godard). The antithesis of these is the Old Hollywood glamor of An American in Paris (1951, dir. Vincente Minnelli). Of course, what I’d really advise you to watch is one of my all-time-favourite movies — Les Enfants du Paradis (1945, dir. Marcel Carné). In fact, as it’s Valentine’s Day today, watch it tonight!

But I have reservations at the Sizzler tonight! The Sizzler?

Hey, it’s Valentine’s. I thought, why not splurge? Hmmm, maybe Paris isn’t right for you after all.

STAY TUNED for a new Displaced Nation post on Monday.

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CAPITAL IDEA: London: A quick guide

LondonWelcome to the first “Capital Ideas”. It is a new feature here at The Displaced Nation. It’s our somewhat idiosyncratic, ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek guide to various world cities, perfect for the ever discerning readership of this blog. We know our readers are always visitors, never tourists (an important distinction).  Do feel free to contribute your own ideas or suggestions in the comments section, we’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

City: London

Where is it? On some damp, mildew-ridden island in the north Atlantic.

Why should I go? Because it’s one of the world’s great cities. An exciting modern city with a diverse population of eight million there’s something for everyone. With hosting the Olympics, 2012 was a great year for the city and infused it with a self-confidence unusual to the British. Quite simply, this is the perfect time to visit London.

So is it true that when a man tires of London he is tired of life? Not if he’s living in Dalston.

I don’t know anything about Dalston. You’re not missing much.

What are the must sees? Well, if you want to be that tourist, you know the one who wears pristine white sneakers and white socks, keeps their passport safe in their fannypack and planned their trip after taking out a Rick Steeves travel book from 1986, then the basic checklist is Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s, Tower of London. You can do all that by popping on one of those tourist trap sightseeing bus tours. You’ll get to sit on the top of a double-decker with other fannypack wearers — it’ll be beautiful.

Hmm, I don’t have a fannypack. Not to worry. You’re a The Displaced Nation reader, you want something a little more “not for tourists,” don’t you?

You know me so well. Tours can be good fun for the visitor limited in time. However, instead of those overpriced bus tours, we recommend London Walks. Brunel’s Thames tunnel, in particular, is one we’d recommend for a fascinating and sadly forgotten part of London’s history — it was once considered the eighth wonder of the world.

What about a walking tour that sounds a bit more “fun”? Well, provided you’re not traveling with kids, you could also do a pub crawl. That fun enough for you?

Absolutely. Any other suggestions? Spend a morning at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. There you’ll be able to visit two fascinating museums that are among our London favorites. There’s the Hunterian Museum (an C18th collection of anatomical specimens including the skeleton of Charles Byrne, known as the “Irish giant”) at the Royal College of Surgeons and across the fields is Sir John Soanes’s Museum (the former home of architect Sir John Soanes, the museum contains his extensive collection of antiquities and paintings). Or, if you’re in the city in the summer then venture to the north of the city and visit Highgate Cemetery. There you’ll be able to get a guided tour of the western cemetery – resting place of Michael Faraday and Christina Rossetti. In the eastern cemetery rests Karl Marx.

What’s a must-do? Spending time on the South Bank. Here you’ll find the National Theatre, the Royal Festival Hall, the Globe and the BFI Southbank (formerly known as the National Film Theatre). So the perfect place to take to showcase the city’s cultural merits.

Is the city easy to get around? Yes, although Londoners like moaning about the public transport, the city is home to one of the world’s best public transport systems. Familiarize yourself with the London Underground (known as “the tube”) and you can travel around the city easily and relatively cheaply. If you are a night owl then you need to remember that the underground stops running trains between 12.00am and 12.30am.

I hear the British cooking is awful. Do I need to pack sandwiches when visiting London? That outdated stereotype. London is home to some of the world’s best restaurants. And don’t forget how I mentioned earlier that London had such a diverse population, that’s reflected in the city’s restaurants. Whatever you fancy, be it Eritrean or Burmese, you can find it in London. Our recommendation is that you take a trip to Brick Lane for a slap-up Indian dinner.

Hmm, my mate John visited London last year and said the food still sucked. Did John stick with the tourist traps? New York is a great city for eating, but if you only go to restaurants at Time’s Square you’re not going to get that impression. One easy tip, never eat in an Angus Steak House.

So the locals don’t all eat jellied eels? No, but if you do want to experience an old cockney-style pie and mash shop, then we recommend Goddard’s at Greenwich. If you’re being really adventurous and want to unleash your inner pearly queen by having some jellied ell then this is the place to do it.

Have you ever tried it? Yes.

Did you like it? Let’s just say it was interesting.

What should I read? If you want to brush up on London, then we’d suggest Peter Ackroyd’s London for a nice, meaty read about the city, as well as his book The Thames. Other books we’d suggest are Iain Sinclair’s London: City of Disappearances, Henry Mayhew’s London and the London Poor and James Boswell’s London Journal. And, of  course, you can’t visit London and not be reminded of Dickens (do make a trip to the Charles Dickens Museum  , at 48 Doughty Street). We think Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend best show off  Dickens’s writing on London.

What should I watch? Notting Hill.

Really? Yes, it’s the most accurate cinematic depiction of the city.

I’m going to say this again, really? It’s so accurate that there’s even now a Notting Hill Carnival. This happens once a year where fans of the film get together and dress up as their favorite characters from the film and reenact their favorite scenes. Our top tip is that if you’re in London at the same time as the carnival, you should dress up as Julie Roberts or Hugh Grant and go up to people and tell them your favorite lines from the movie. They’ll love.

I really don’t think that’s what the Notting Hill Carnival is all about. Hand on heart, it’s true.

Hmmmm . . .

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a new Random Nomad interview.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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