For those who’ve been following me on Facebook and Instagram, I’m sure you may have noticed my predilection—some might call it addiction—for tattoos these past few months. I’ve had one tattoo, and one only, for the past 10 years, and it was done as a tribute to a friend who had passed away. I had always wanted tattoos, but never felt strongly enough about anything to get it inked. So that first tattoo was a no-brainer: I would never regret commemorating the life of a dear friend. I’d heard the stories about how that first tattoo sends you spiralling into a never-ending cycle of other tattoos, but that wasn’t the case for me. I definitely wanted other tattoos, but again I had yet to find something that I absolutely needed permanently on my body.
What finally broke my 10 year tattoo dry spell? Funnily enough, this trip. Once I realized I was leaving Montreal indefinitely, without knowing whether I would return to live one day, I knew I needed to get something to immortalize the city I loved so much. Thus an appointment was booked—on the day of my flight out no less, which would become a bit of a tradition—and I was finally getting my first new tattoo in a decade. I decided to get the official logo of the city of Montreal. It was simple, timeless, and more than appropriate. Just read this description from the city’s official portal:
The emblem, which takes its inspiration from the city’s coat of arms, is a minimalist logo that is shaped like a flower, in which each petal forms the letters V and M, the initials for “Ville de Montréal.” The intersecting lines at the centre of the logo symbolize the city’s vocation as a crossroads of communication and civilization. The four heart-shaped petals signify the deep attachment Montréalers have to their city.
I meaaaaan, right?!
Not long after the appointment was booked, I was sitting on my patio with my friends Mélissa and Deb having a few drinks, and we joke that I should just start getting similar tattoos in the different cities I’d be visiting. And as we all know, inebriated ideas are the best ideas, and this one was no different. “I might just do that,” I say to Mélissa’s horror and Deb’s amusement. While the following morning’s sobriety did make me reassess the idea, as one does, it didn’t quell the little fire it ignited. I figured I would simply see where this trip takes me, and whether I would still feel strongly about this idea once I was in Europe. But I knew there would have to be guidelines, and so I mentally imposed a few conditions that would need to be met if I were to get inked in any given city:
- I would need to love the city, obviously;
- There had to be an emblem, landmark, or symbol that I connect with;
- I had to approve of the work of all the artists’ work at the studio I chose;
- Be able to book an appointment.
If all four criteria were met, then I would move forward with the plan.
As I made abundantly clear in my blog post about Stockholm, I fell deeply and immediately in love with the city, thus the tattoo project idea resurfaced. I only had a few days left and so I needed to act fast. My friends Jake and Sarah point out the three crowns that are perched atop city hall—or the Tre Kronor in Swedish. It’s the national emblem of Sweden, the name of the Swedish hockey team, and has represented a number of different things throughout Sweden’s history. Perfect, I had the idea. I started researching various studios, and found one that I particularly liked. I send off an e-mail to Zoi Tattoo explaining my idea and hope they’ll respond in time. While I’m visiting the Vasa Museum with my new friend Melissa, I get a response asking if I could stop by in the next hour for a consultation. We quickly finish our visit and make our way to Gamla stan—Stockholm’s old town—where the studio is located. I meet with Marcus and he’s ecstatic about my pasty white skin, and I’m told to come back in a few hours while he finishes with another client and drafts the image. Melissa has to run so I roam around for a while and make my way back for my appointment. This is also the tattoo appointment that made me miss my flight to Berlin, which you can read all about that here. But I was happy with the results, and thus my travel tattoo sleeve project was put in motion.
When I do finally get to Berlin, I’m invigorated by the project and the first jewel in my crown if you will—pun intended. I have no doubt that I will love the city, and I’m only there for three days, so I immediately start asking my friends for parlour recommendations. As I’m talking about my project to different people, I’m told I should definitely get the Berlin Bear, who appears on the official coat of arms of Berlin, and who just so happens to be usually depicted underneath a large crown. I’m immediately sold. As for studios, one name keeps popping up, and that’s AKA. The problem with trying to book an appointment within the next 72 hours at one of the most popular tattoo parlours in a tattoo-happy city is that they’re booked way in advance. But I decide to try my luck, and if I can’t get it there, then I won’t get it at all. All the artists at the parlour book their own appointments so I start sending off a few emails to no avail. The parlour is actually near where I’m staying, so I figure I’ll just pop by. I find it easily and like everything else in Berlin, it’s impossibly cool. Like, you have to ring a bell and hopefully bet let in. My interaction with the über cool British receptionist (ÜCBR she’ll hence be known as) goes something like this:
ÜCBR: Do you have an appointment (in a credulous drawling tone)
Me: No, you see I was just…
ÜCBR: We’re boo-king for No-vem-ber (in a now clipped tone with every syllable emphasized)
Me: I figured, but I’m only in town for a few days, and I sent a few e-mails…
ÜCBR: What was it that you wanted again?
Me: Well see I’m building a sleeve, and I’ve gotten these crowns *shows Stockholm tattoo* and I wanted to get the Berlin Bear underneath them.
ÜCBR: *takes a moment to assess me* That’s actually quite cute, let me see what I can do
She goes to the back and returns a few minutes later informing me that Julio had some time the following evening. I wait for him to come up for a quick consultation, and leave with an appointment. See guys, persistance works! It might have been very uncool of me, but I got what I wanted. I return the next day and Julio gets to work. We disagree on a few things, and we both end up compromising, and both end up extremely happy with the end result.
I’d been to a number of cities in between Berlin and Budapest, and while I enjoyed and appreciated all of them, none really stuck with me. But within my first day in Hungary, I knew I absolutely needed to get something done here. Budapest is fucking awesome and remains one of my favourite cities ever. Luckily my friend Gabriella, a fantastic tattoo artist herself so hit her up if you’re in Montreal, had spent a lot of time in the city and recommended a parlour there—I can obviously trust her judgement. But first I needed an idea, and thankfully one was staring at me, perched atop Gellért Hill. The Liberty Statue is a monument commemorating the lives of all those who’ve fought for “the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary.” Now the only trouble is that my e-mails to Fine Heart Custom Ink, the parlour I was recommended, were going unanswered. But as I did in Berlin, I make my way over and figure I’ll inquire in person. My experience was painfully similar to the one at AKA, but again my persistance and good old Canadian charm, plus the explanation of my project, won the owner over. Now the artist my friend had recommended wasn’t available, but Sándor, who specializes in the American old-school style I’ve adopted, had a free block the next day. Special thanks to Sándor for being a champ and working on me while battling a particularly bad cold.
It’s only the beginning
I’ll get into the story of my other three in the next instalment, and by then I’ll have a fourth one to discuss. I just got my first tattoo in India and I’m really excited about this one. Check out my Instagram to see the results.