352. Belgian Waffles

The magical waffle itself

The magical waffle itself, in all its sugary glory

My first belgian waffle was just the most amazing thing ever. I didn’t realise that proper belgian waffles are actually made from a ball of dough, rather than a batter like pancakes. It makes for soft, stretchy, sugary, slightly chewy deliciousness. I was surprised in its quality, being from a festival stall, where generally the monopoly factor means all the food is crap.

Problem was, I wasn’t sure if I was being the most objective judge of taste, seeing as how it was 1:30am at a music festival. At that time/place anything could taste that amazing!

So of course I had to make another go at it. The bar had been set high, so I tried out some waffles at one of the Häagen Dazs cafes that seemed to be all over Brussels with people always sitting outside eating tasty looking waffle creations. Sadly it was really average (although the icecream was tasty) and I decided I should probably give up on my dream of ever enjoying a waffle as much. Unless I can somehow recreate the same combination of extreme hunger, slight drunkenness, the end of a great day of music and really low expecations of the food I was about to get…

Looks can be deceiving

Looks can be deceiving

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Redemption

349. Brusselicious 2012 in the Brussels Park

As part of the Brusselicious Food festical, a bunch of artists had made huge displays on a number of fixed, food related shapes in the Brussels park. For example there were mussels, chocolates, chips etc, with different artist’s creative impressions. It was quite cool, but a shame I went there as it was getting dark as the photos don’t quite do it justice!

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247. Vienna Jazz Festival

While I most definitely vow never to travel to touristy places in the peak of summer ever, ever again, a definite perk is that almost everywhere you go you stumble across all kinds of events and activities.

In Vienna it was the Jazz Festival, or at least a small part of it. At Rathausplatz, Near the Hofburg Palace we stumbled across an amazing food market with stages set up, music playing, little pop-up cocktail bars everywhere and an amazing selection of international food stalls. None of the live music was actually on while we were there, but the atmosphere was great, and to be quite honest I was much more interested in browsing the food stalls! 

It was definitely the most flash, high tech food festival type set up I had ever seen, and all of the stalls had beautiful, very well designed set ups. I only wish I had taken more photos of them! Too busy enjoying my mojitos and dumplings after a hard day of museum-going.

189. Berlin Jazz Festival

On arrival in what proved to be the best hostel ever (Grand Hostel Berlin, if you are interested), I was unfortunately a little early for check-in. Reception gave me directions to the Berlin Jazz Festival in the mean time, which happened to be very close. It turned out to be such a great stroke of luck! I’m not sure where the name comes from, though, as I ended up spending quite some hours there and not once did I actually hear jazz among all the music.

It was a really great festival though, and when the rest of the team arrived at the hostel a few hours later I took them down there too. There were all these amazingly intricate food stalls and bars, with gourmet food from all over the world displayed beautifully in front of you, and impressive cocktails being whipped up. The food and drink were really cheap too, and it was really nice to be able to wander up and down the streets and alleys with a delicious and cheap cocktial in hand! There were also a tonne of good stalls selling everything from second hand goods to jewellery to crafts. But of course, being Berlin, it was all really cool, trendy stuff, not junk on a table. As well as all of the stalls, the surrounding shops were also open, many of them really great vintage/second hand stalls.

One most laughable moment was when I discovered that yet again my market [stall] theory had not been disproved, even on the opposite side of the world: it simply isn’t a true market without someone hawking ponchos and pan-flutes. This one did have the spanner in the works of them being in different stalls, but I still found them. I’m really not sure how there is such a big market for ponchos and pan-flutes the world over, but hey – to each his own.

150. The Cosiest Music Festival

Danish culture tends to be very focussed on being “cosy.” Well to be fair, the Danish word for it doesn’t quite translate. “Hygge” (pronounced hu-geh) is a term that originated in Norway, though the Danes “embraced it like a fat baby.” Which kind of sums the term up. Hygge is used in many ways, as an adjective, whose best approximation is “cosy”, as a verb, to say something was really nice/friendly/cosy for example saying you had a nice time, as a noun – “tak for hygge” is often said to say “thanks for the nice time” and also as an adverb (hyggeli).

If you could combine a music festival with that term, Northside would be it. A relatively small festival near the centre of Aarhus, everything was laid out in a large circle – bars and restaurants around the edges, two main stages that alternated performances, and the part that really made it particularly hyggeli was all the seating areas, activities (like ping pong tables, art installations, creations made of recycled wood) and interactive tents of activities – from lego to photo booths. It was a relatively intimate seeming number of people with barely any queues for food and minimal ones for drinks.

There were two main stages, though only one band on at a time, meaning you never waited more than 5 odd minutes to hear more music and there was no need to prioritise who you did and didn’t want to see. The other aspect I particularly enjoyed was how environmentally friendly the festival was. From the giant Hollywood-esque ‘Northside’ sign that was powered with the same amount of electricity a toaster would require, to the fact that all drinking vessels (except for shots) were recycled, it was definitely a step in the right direction, and probably almost as good as you can get at a festival.

Another particularly cosy and considerate moment was when the screens flashed with a message asking everyone to please stop pushing and move backwards, so no-one would get injured. Supposedly it was as a result of a horrible incident at Roskilde, definitely Denmark’s and possibly Europe’s biggest festival (an 8 day fiasco) where some people where badly injured in a crowd a few years back. It seemed about half the bands were british, the other half Danish, though there were a few from other countries (like Justice).

The Kooks, The Hives, and Kasabian were definite highlights that I was really looking forward to seeing. The Hives were particularly good as I was front row! And pleased to see they still perform in top hats and tuxedos. Though by the end of their set most of them removed their jackets and waistcoats at the very least! I had never actually seen Kasabian live, or even really watched the videos even though I love most of their songs, so I found it particularly entertaining that they completely conformed to the brit-rock sterotype: looking like the unkempt version of the beatles. Except for the guitarist who was exactly the kind of person Russell Brand takes the piss out of. Justice really exceeded expectations, as I had assumed it would be just another DJ set, but they had a pretty fantastic light show. It started out with two giant walls of speakers on either side of the stage, and later on i was revealed that the fronts of the speakers were all LCD screens. There was also what I think was meant to look like a giant mixing deck or audio equipment, but kind of looked like the CPU of a public school in the nineties. Still looked very cool!

Noel Gallagher and the High Flying birds weren’t bad, but should really just call themselves Oasis Lite. Snow Patrol was actually a lot better than expected too. I’m not really into their music, but they put on a pretty good show! Bat for Lashes, Noah and The Whale, James Blake and The Stone Roses were also great. I was really looking forward to seeing The XX, but they were actually a bit of a disappointment. They were on pretty late on Friday Night, and for some reason (possibly having heard some of their remixes) I thought they might put on a bit more of an upbeat show, but alas they were really mellow. On the upside they sounded really good – as though you were listening to their album. I think they would have been much better placed earlier in the afternoon instead of right before Justice. The final surprise was the Eagles of Death Metal. WIth a name like that I had written them off as not my thing at all, but it was a very misleading name and they were actually really good!

145. Design a Bar

As a total sucker for saying yes whenever anyone asks for help and any opportunity for a creative project, I volunteered to help design/decorate the Studenterhus Aarhus bar that was featuring at Northside Festival. The festival has this great system where sports teams and student associations can man bars in return for free tickets and exposure for their causes and they of course get free labour. On the food side of things, local restaurants and caterers provided the food, leading to fierce competition for the best food. So much deliciousness, hands down beating any festival food I have ever encountered.

The theme of the festival was sustainability, and Studenterhus wanted their bar to reflect that. One of the other great aspects of the festival was that there were a whole bunch of activities and initiatives throughout the whole area, not simply music and drinking. From the University having a tent promoting innovation and business ideas, to novel seating areas, to art projects, to Ping Pong tables from by favourite bar, Shen Mao. So of course they were being all very Danish and promoting sustainability.

My original proposal was to have the bar covered in grass – a really bright, visible way to promote the bar and the green theme and a relatively simple way to decorate it. What was a simple idea quickly became the kind of occasion where sayings like “a horse is a camel designed by committee” come from. From the festival continually changing how the bars were to be set up and all the measurements, to being accused of greenwashing and having to go through a process of investigating using real grass, to brewery reps who shat themselves the day before because they didn’t have enough visible branding, to having to include the city’s branded “with us” campaign.

Some of the inspiration:

The main issue was the sustainability/greenwashing one. Initially I had thought that a sustainability theme at a music festival was more a talking point than actually making the entire festival an environmentally friendly one. As it turned out, they did make a huge effort to have as many cups/bottles etc recyclable, though I’m not sure they could do much about food production, power usage etc. So the grass covered bar turned to investigating “environmental grafiti” – where you make a moss mixture and it grows exactly where you paint it. Unfortunately timing and logistics meant that one didn’t work either. I would still love to do something with it though!

Finally, with the help of the University gardener, we discovered the ivy that grows all over the main campus buildings was about to be cut down from one of the buildings and we could use some of that. Perfect! It was also fitting that being the University student bar, we would then be covering it with the University’s iconic ivy. So the day before we spent an hour or two hacking away at one of the buildings, and attached the ivy to chicken wire that was around the tent poles. When getting hardware materials we came across some grassy carpet that we used to cover the front of the bar (as instructed by the festival organisers), only to have a Royal Brewery Rep have a giant tantrum over covering their logo. Some quick thinking managed to smooth over that problem and we were good to go! The final touch was a hefty dosage of fairy lights, and I must say, we definitely had the best looking bar at the festival! And as predicted, everyone was too busy drinking and enjoying the music to care what materials it was made of. Nonetheless, I had a lot of fun, from coming up with the idea, dealing with all the various interests to come up with something that worked and actually installing it, despite it being quite different from the original vision.

One of the iconic Aarhus University ivy covered buildings

Running off with our spoils

Ivy: From campus to Northside

Keeping with the City’s “With (Aarh)Us” campaign

Some quick thinking to keep the sponsors happy

The end result, minus the fairy lights in the evening

The neighbouring Innoside tent decided they quite liked our ivy too

The bar in action

…And with the lights at night

125. Aalborg Carnival

Aalborg is famous for its nightlife, largely because of one tiny lane crammed full of bars. Supposedly even a normal Saturday night is pretty crazy, let alone the annual street carnival that takes place there.

Upon arrival there were inebriated Danes running around in all kinds of costumes. After stepping off the train and seeing the streets teeming with happy hooligans I naturally assumed the street party must be just around the corner. However, we had to walk through many blocks of shenanigans and litter before we finally found the tiny little alleyway that was the centre of the action. The poor residents of Aalborg, I can’t imagine how much of a cleanup it must have been, as the entirety of the town was completely trashed!

As it turns out, the Danes are also a lot more historically accurate than the rest of the world. At least where viking hats are concerned. We searched far and wide for viking hats as our costumes, but couldn’t find them anywhere. We settled for equally ridiculous hats and an excessive amount of Danish flags instead.

Other carnival goers had some brilliant costumes – stereotyped mexicans, Top Gun outifts, men dressed as babies (and plenty of men dressed as women) and my personal favourite: giant hotdogs. So Scandinavian.

It reminded me very much of the Hyde St Keg Race, a highlight of the University of Otago social calendar. Hyde st, like the main strip in Aalborg, is a tiny lane with houses right on the footpath’s edge, all crammed together. However, instead of 30 themed house parties in close proximity, it was a similar number of bars/clubs in a similar space.

Despite the ludicrous amount of litter on the streets, I was really struck by the behaviour of the thousands of drunk people around. They were all still so happy and friendly. Although there was a news report of one assault, I didn’t see a single confrontation, let alone a fight. With that many drunk people in one spot, it is almost expected that there will be fights galore. Maybe less so in NZ, but the average night out in any Australian town would certainly be full of them. What else do you expect in one of the happiest countries in the world!

50. Celebrate murdering kittens

Before you judge me as a terrible person – I had no idea!

The week before last were a host of different events, all on different days, related to a holiday called Festelavn. While Wikipedia tells me it is meant to be the Sunday or Monday before Ash Wednesday, there was a Saturday night party at my college, a Tuesday night party at the Student bar on the main campus, another party at one of the other college and a Friday night party at the School of Business, among many others. In fact, I’m not even 100% sure I got those dates all correct, there were that many.

Originally we were told that Festelavn was Denmark’s Halloween, and the first few Danes I asked about it seemed to have no idea what they were actually celebrating/dressing up for. Wikipedia describes it as ‘Carnival in Denmark’ and the Friday night party was Mardi Gras themed (complete with beads being handed out). Was it Mardi Gras? Was it Halloween? Was it something else altogether? I didn’t know. But costume parties are always fun, why not give it a go!

Apparently the meaning has been murky since Denmark defected from Catholicism and became a Protestant nation. Anyhow, I found myself at the Tuesday night celebration and part way through the night we were all moved in to another room where we played a ‘game’ were a small barrel full of lollies was hung from the roof and everyone took turns at whacking the barrel once each until it burst and the lollies came out – much like a pinada. Some strategic placement in the line and clever aim and I managed to pull off the winning strike, but the victory was bittersweet when I learned what the barrel was all about.

Apparently back in the day they would put a black kitten in the barrel and beat it until the kitten was no longer alive. Sick. Supposedly warding off evil, whilst conveniently forgetting they were being evil themselves or something.

Last time I participate in any kind of celebration without a Wikipedia search at the very least!

I didn’t take my camera unfortunately, but as a consolotion prize here is a rather hilarious sad-cat-with-first-world-problems meme.

21. Celebrate La Chandaleur

One of the great things about being an exchange student is that you are surrounded by people from all different countries who are in the same boat as you – being in a brand new country and not knowing anyone. Which of course makes for instant friendships. It also means that you have to celebrate every single public holiday/festival in the world.

Our first such celebration was La Chandaleur, also known as Crepe day in English. It is usually celebrated 40 days after Christmas. About half of the exchange students are French-speaking (from France, Belgium, Canada) so it was only fitting we celebrate a French holiday first!

Initially, we were informed that it is a day early in February, this year falling on the 2nd, where everyone eats Crepes. Naturally, those of use who had never heard of it asked why it is celebrated, which drew a number of blanks. After consulting with Wikipedia we learned it was a religious holiday, celebrating the presentation of Jesus at the Temple. It is typically celebrated with a feast and in France, which means Crepes!

So the French members of our Skjoldhoj Kollegiet family made a huge and delicious collection of crepes, which were complemented very nicely with delicious European wines!