Europe 2016: I did it, Norway! (Part 2)

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Bergen Centrum

Sept 28, 2016

I was supposed to hike Preikestolen, located in Stavanger City, Norway. Also known as pulpit rock, it is a square flat bed of rock sitting atop a mountain that overlooks Lysefjord below. I stalked #Preikestolen on Instagram for weeks, hoping it will be sunny when I get there. But then, the sooner my trip gets, the rainier and cloudier the pictures were. I was obsessed about being in Preikestolen that I even had my blog post prepared for it even when I wasn’t sure of going there.

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[Image not mine! Source: http://booking.dehistoriske.com/Pulpit-Rock%5D Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock)

I ditched my plan because: (1) I don’t want to betray my parents by going to a dangerous place alone – worse, when it’s raining hard. It is a 2-hour hike per way going to/from Pulpit Rock, average rocky trail with a few very steep paths, and on the rock itself, some 900++ meters sheer drop straight to Lysefjord below. There are no safety rails, and with the rain and clouds, the rock would be slippery and the surroundings – well, cloudy. (2) I’m quite nervous myself because I’m not even a hiker.

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Bryggen, Bergen

I initially planned for Bergen, anyway. I always see that UNESCO World Heritage site being projected on TVs for sale in the malls and in the lobby of our condotel where I presently rent. What a pleasant feeling when I see it now – “I have been there”, I secretly and proudly tell myself. On the other hand, I really didn’t plan on going to Oslo, Norway’s capital. Don’t get me wrong, Oslo is beautiful. I just chose to go to the countryside and see the fjords that the country is famous for.

Hence the Norway in a Nutshell tour. I know, it’s very touristy, and I like it that way. For a solo female Asian traveler who’s always mistaken for a teenager because of my height, I prefer to go to touristy areas instead of the “roads less traveled”.

I woke up at 330am and checked on my social media accounts, like a real millennial. I planned to go back to sleep, but failed because of a 3-inch spider that crawled under my bed. I waited for it to go out so I can bravely kill it, but who am I kidding? If it was my house, I’d probably burn it down and migrate abroad. I ended up sending a message to Sebastian telling him I will sleep on the couch in the living room instead. But I didn’t get my sleep back. I heard Sebastian’s footsteps and the noise in my room – he was looking for the spider but it was gone. He gave me an airplane blanket then went back to sleep and I just waited until 7am then I prepped up for my tour. (To be fair, the place is surrounded by trees so bugs and insects are common here.)

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My AirBnB’s living room at dawn

 

Norway in a Nutshell (NIN)

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[Image not mine! Source: http://en.visitbergen.com/things-to-do/norway-in-a-nutshell-r-p825223%5D Norway in a Nutshell Tour Route

It is a fully customizable tour that visits the fjords through a series of various transportation modes. The cheapest and most convenient route I found is a roundtrip Bergen to Bergen NIN. At NOK 1320 (around PHP 7800) it is indeed expensive for just a full-day tour but hey, it saved me lots of time and potential stress instead of booking the DIY version. I prayed for a better weather and mercifully, it was not raining. Still cloudy, but at least not rainy and windy like the day before.

First leg: Train (NBS) from Bergen to Voss (1 hour)

At 8am I was back in NBS Railway Station. It’s their regular commuter train that is part of the NIN tour. We rode the jam-packed train going to Myrdal (final station) but we are to alight at Voss station for the tour. The sun peeks every now and then – a good sign of a much better weather for the day.

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One of the NBS train stops

Second leg: Bus from Voss to Gudvangen (1 hour)

Upon arrival at Voss, we walked our way out going to the buses. They are not difficult to miss considering the influx of tourists I traveled with.

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Thank you Mr. Sun for shining! Sorry for the awkward selfie stick and my eyebags.

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When we reached Stalheim I cannot.. well, the photo obviously didn’t do justice to the real beauty. But man, the views are so breathtaking. From Stalheim the bus made its way down to Naeroy valley by passing sharp, sometimes scary bends. You have to experience it. You really have to.

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Going down the “hairpin bends of Stalheimskleiva” we passed along this waterfall

Third leg: Ferry boat from Gudvangen to Flam (2 hours)

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The bus dropped us off in Gudvangen Fjordtell where visitors were given time to have some refreshments and buy souvenirs before boarding the ferry. I bought a cup noodles at NOK 60 (around PHP 360) say what?! But I was really starving and I needed something hot to eat.

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Our ferry

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The more expensive ferry

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Expensive ferry ride or not, the views are the same.

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We were excited about the rainbow at first

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Flam

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I didn’t edit my photos, because I don’t have to! I wonder how it feels like to be living here.

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No way, how can a place be THAT pretty?

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NO WAY

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NOOOOO WAY

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We can’t get enough of Flam, OMG

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This is SO WORTH. EVERY. PENNY.

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*sigh*

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We also got tired of all the rainbows we passed through

Fourth leg: Train (Flamsbana) from Flam to Myrdal (1 hour)

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Oh look, another rainbow. Meh

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We had around 15 minutes to enjoy Flam before boarding the train.

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Here comes the Hogwarts Express este Flamsbana!

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Mall of Norway, because ganyan lang sila mag-mall.

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We then boarded the Flamsbana, which in 2014 was dubbed by the Lonely Planet as “the most beautiful train journey in the world”

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Kjosfossen Waterfall

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We have reached Myrdal! Now we’re going back to Bergen. This is the NBS train station.

Fifth leg: Train (NBS) from Myrdal to Bergen (2 hours)

Uhm, I don’t have pictures for the fifth leg, but I think I had an Instagram video. It was the same commuter train we rode at the beginning of the tour, but this time going back to Bergen. The view during the commute was still breathtaking and thankfully the afternoon sun was shining.

I was really amazed by how accurate the timetable is for all the modes of public transportation here. At exactly 6pm I was back to Bergen. I took a leisurely walk around then went to Floibanen to take the tram going up to Mount Floyen’s peak.

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The Bryggen wharf, a UNESCO world heritage site

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And this is how I capped off my last night in Bergen, Norway. I made my way down to the city at around 8pm, had burger and coffee at McDonald’s, walked some more to the bus station, and went back to my AirBnB at around 10pm. My hosts are happy for me because of the improved weather that day – they really sensed how disappointed I was the day before. Interestingly, while Sebastian and I were talking, the spider suddenly appeared near my feet. More interestingly, I was able to keep my calm while he captured it and freed it outside. (They’re not used to killing insects there. Wow.)

I played with baby Aaron and had a little chat with the couple, then went on to shower and arranged my things for the following day. My flight back to Stockholm was scheduled at 1130am the next day.

Whew! I did it, Norway!

oOo

You can read my other Europe 2016 posts here:

How I got my Schengen Visa
Europe 2016: Day Zero Shenanigans
Europe 2016: First Day [30000 feet] High!
Europe 2016: Stockholm Syndrome
Europe 2016: I did it, Norway! (Part 1)

UPDATE (Oct 27, 2016): I just computed my Europe travel expenses – europe-expenses

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Europe 2016: I did it, Norway! (Part 1)

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Rainy day in Bergen

 

Sept 27, 2016

Rean accompanied me to Cityterminalen, Stockholm’s central bus station which is a stone’s throw away from the apartment. I rode the Flygbussarna, an airport bus which takes around 45 minutes going to Arlanda Airport Terminal 2. I love the fact that they have many options to go to the airport, this being more affordable at 99 SEK per way (online price, less than PHP 600) than the 20-minute Arlanda Express at 280 SEK per way (around PHP 1600). I pre-booked 6 Flygbussarna rides for my sidetrips (from/to Arlanda Airport), first of which is Bergen, Norway.

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On the left, a Flygbussarna bus going to Arlanda Airport

With the Flygbussarna incredibly on time by the minute (as with all the other modes of transportation in most of Europe), I arrived 2 hours before my 930am flight. Terminal 2 is smaller than Terminal 5, because it caters for the smaller, short-haul flights. I already had the screenshot of my electronic boarding pass, having checked-in the night before. I went straight to security, and then found my gate. With some time to kill, I had breakfast first, and then answered an airport survey on an iPad as requested by a fellow Filipina who is working there.

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Helpful info: Being a first-timer in Europe, I thought this might help. There is no passport/immigration control within the Schengen area. Think of it like taking domestic flights – when we fly from Manila to Palawan, we don’t have passport control, right? Same in the Schengen area, you can fly from/to anywhere within the area without passport control (say Paris to Amsterdam to Brussels to Stockholm to Madrid to Rome, etc, as if the whole Schengen area is just one country), hence no passport stamps. But of course, being in a foreign land, always bring your passport with you.

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One ham and cheese croissant and tall pumpkin spice latte for Mehan! Mehan?

I also learned that arriving 2 hours before a “domestic” short-haul flight is an overkill here, because unlike in Manila, the queues to security and others are relatively faster. But then again I won’t risk it, since it’s better to be early than sorry (?).

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TIP: Always check-in online to get your electronic boarding pass on phone. In Europe (at least in the cities I visited), you simply put your phone (showing the boarding pass) underneath the scanner and it will read your QR or bar code. Actually, everything you buy with a QR/bar code (bus tickets, flights, entrances to museums, etc) you simply have to store in your phone and have them scanned.

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We finally boarded the plane (Finnair, PHP 8000 roundtrip) and I was grateful for the unlimited drinks offered onboard. The plane even had a dashcam and a flight tracker (interesting). Before we know it, we arrived in cloudy Bergen Flesland after a short hour. There is only one terminal in Bergen Airport. I followed the signs to Flybussen, this time an airport bus going to Bergen city center. I also pre-booked my roundtrip airport bus for this (NOK 170, around PHP 1000 roundtrip). The driver and his aide asked for my hotel, but I booked an AirBnB for this. Though I know where to get off and where to walk going to my AirBnB (thanks to Google Street View), the aide got a map and drew on it, and detailed how I am going to reach the address I gave him. At this point I realized that the rumors are true – Norwegians are really a nice bunch.

After 30 minutes I got off at Busstajon. I pulled my trolley against the cobbled walkway and found the NBS Railway station where, according to my *cheat sheet (travel-cheat-sheet-by-meanne), is where I should get my tickets to the Norway in a Nutshell Tour. After getting my tickets, I decided to drop my luggage first at my host’s place.

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This was where I figured out I should’ve booked a more-centrally located place. Don’t get me wrong, by European standards, the place is indeed walkable from the city center. However, being a girl too lazy to walk from SM Megamall Building A to B, this was quite a walk, not to mention that to get to the house one has to walk some steep paths. Carrying my luggage going up there amidst the strong winds and rain didn’t help.

My host was not around so I went to their basement laundry area to leave my luggage, and then made my way back to the city center. For some reason, the weather decided to be very uncooperative that day. I know it rains most of the time in Bergen, but I didn’t expect it to be that typhoon-ish level. I literally struggled while walking; I wished I was wearing a windproof/waterproof jacket, my umbrella almost broke, and it was freezing cold. So much for an introduction to Norway, eh? Don’t worry, the following day was perfection and all the misfortunes were paid off.

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Bryggen wharf as seen from inside the Bergen Visitor Center, a warm refuge (with WiFi) for tourists.

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How cute these kids are!

Anyway, I found a warm shelter by the name of Bergen Visitor Center. I stayed there for a good hour while thinking of what to do with the rest of the day. If I just booked a hotel, I probably went back there that afternoon. The downside to my AirBnb is that I agreed with the idea of 7pm check-in. The room is actually a playroom for the host’s kids during the morning, and transforms to a guest bedroom at night, and for the price of PHP 2000/night I think it’s fair enough. Visitors would spend the day outside anyway. My host told me they would be at home at around 6pm. I just had to find a way how to kill time until they get home.

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I didn’t have an itinerary for that day. I just wanted to get lost in the city, but the weather didn’t permit me to. I found myself walking (with great struggle) towards a familiar place – Starbucks. I had my second pumpkin spice latte for the day, and a very undesirable bagel sandwich as tasty as a rock. Good thing they have free WiFi, so I was able to document my sentiments on Instagram like a real millennial. Like a friend said, that’s what makes a solo trip memorable – all the imperfections will soon make up for a good story to tell and laugh off with friends.

The weather didn’t show any signs of improving. I headed to a mall (still struggling) and looked for a jacket. It was a real struggle to get from point A to B because the wind was keen on making me stumble. It must be my not-so-proper meals that I ended up really tired. I knew I was no longer thinking properly and I lost my appetite to eat. I just wanted to curl up on a bed and sleep and wait for that day to finish. I lurked around the mall and managed to buy myself a gray hoodie from H&M for NOK 199. It was cotton, not really waterproof but at least it has a hood. I wore it underneath my leather jacket (imagine how cold it was). I also bought water and sandwich from the grocery store so I can have something to eat if ever I felt hungry. Finding renewed courage to brave the wind outside, I went to the bus stop nearby and bought a ticket from a dispensing machine, boarded a bus that took me somewhat nearer to my AirBnB. I decided to stay inside the laundry area until my host arrived, and you can imagine how I felt that time. I just thought, at least I can sit there and stare outside. I was on the verge of crying. I was alone, hungry but no appetite, and dead-tired.

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Just a Norwegian forest cat rummaging through my things

It was just 5pm. My host was not yet around. The house is 3-storey and the lower floor is being rented out. I went to the lower floor and saw again the old man I saw earlier, in their living room and this time was kind enough to attend to me. The old man turned out to be a Filipino! He called his Norwegian wife on the phone to ask whether she can contact my host to come home early. He said he’s about to pick up his wife from work – and, probably torn between the thoughts of leaving a stranger outside their house versus bringing me along, he chose the latter. I was having my own doubts, too, naturally. It’s not a good idea to ride inside a stranger’s car in a faraway place. But I had no choice. My instinct told me the old man only had good intentions. So I got in the back seat and he drove to his wife’s workplace. At the back of my mind I was praying Kuya Jun will turn out to be a genuinely kind man like I assumed, and when his wife got in the passenger seat (and not an armed man in a bonnet and mask) all my doubts just disappeared.

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Kuya Jun’s wife, Bente (pronounced as Banta), is a beautiful, extremely chatty woman in her 50s. I told them why I got in Bergen instead of the capital Oslo and why I’m staying in their landlord’s children’s playroom instead of a proper hotel. Bente (I’d like to call her Tita) never ran out of questions and her own stories to tell. The couple welcomed me to their home where I met their 2 fat Norwegian forest cats and 16-year old dog (smelly dog as Tita puts it). Kuya Jun made a dinner of beef stew, rice and meat loaf and we had dinner like a small family. Their 2 daughters are already living on their own and making careers as artists in Oslo. They turn out to be a family of musicians. Kuya Jun even gave me a copy of their daughter’s album (CD).

My host Sebastian finally arrived and visited us while we were having dinner. He turns out to be a funny guy. He asked me why I brought that weather that day. Apparently, that strong rains and wind is a rare occurrence when there was no hurricane forecast in Bergen. The two Norwegians discussed something about the house and us Filipinos had our own Tagalog convo. A native of Negros Occidental, I learned that Kuya Jun has been living in Norway for 37 years already. He rarely comes home to the Philippines, but he’s updated with the news. As usual, we discussed about politics. I sensed that the couple missed having youngsters in their house with their daughters being away, so I gladly accepted their invitation to coffee even though I was already shy and grateful enough. Sebastian left and told me I can go upstairs anytime. I spent another hour with the old couple just watching tv and talking about things and stroking their cat’s fur. After thanking the couple a million times, I went upstairs to my room.

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My room strongly resembled our sala back home, what with all these toys. I suddenly missed my niece Xania

Sebastian gave me a folder with all the FAQs and presented me my cute little room filled with toys and the bathroom outside. I also met his stunning Japanese wife Eri and their extremely cute baby Aaron and beautiful daughter Amanda. The house was spacious and had a great view in the balcony. I arranged my things and had shower and changed to my fresh sleeping clothes and talked to Rean, then slept early because the following day will be my Norway in a Nutshell tour.

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View from the balcony. What a day! Good night Bergen!

Europe 2016: Stockholm Syndrome

Sept 25, 2016

No, not that syndrome. This post is about Stockholm, I was just trying to be artsy with my title. 😀

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We left for Gamla Stan (which literally means “old town”) at around lunch time on a Sunday. It was a good 20-minute leisurely walk from our apartment in Central. Autumn was fast approaching; it was evident as we braved the chilly weather and walked along the urban streets lined with shops and cafes, trees beginning to yellow.

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Walking along Kungsgatan. (“gatan” means street)

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We passed along a weekend market. Clothes, spices, second-hand books, paintings, antiques, luggages and other assortment of things were in sale.

Past the souvenir shops along Drottninggatan (“gatan” means street), we finally reached one of the bridges that led us to the majestic gates of the Old Town.

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The bridges going to Gamla Stan

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Before entering Gamla Stan

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Musicians along the street

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Gamla Stan is comprised of those familiar European small buildings painted in autumn colors (mostly orange, red and yellow), put up in a maze of narrow cobblestone streets and sometimes steep alleyways. There is something magical in walking these little streets lined with cute cafes with al fresco seats, shops selling waffles and ice creams, souvenir shops, and even specialty shops selling an assortment of vintage items.

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I spent some me-time the following day in Cafe Gramunken munching on nutella waffle and caffe mocha. This unassuming place has plenty of seats in its stunning underground interiors.

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I really felt like I was in Diagon Alley shopping for robes, wand, books and school supplies. I was half-expecting to see Ollivander’s (Makers of Fine Wands since 382 BC) and Gringotts Bank, and more pathetically, a pet shop where I can buy my own snowy owl.

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Looking for Leaky Cauldron pub…

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Nope, it’s not here. Just a little picturesque alleyway.

I was dragged back to reality when we reached Stortorget, the most photographed place in Stockholm. We actually emerged there from the side of “that famous red building”.

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Walking up to Stortorget

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The coffee shop in the red building

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Stortorget

 

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Some people are refilling their water bottles from here.

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There were many tourists because it was a Sunday – both Asians and Caucasians taking selfies and photos of the surroundings. Benches are plenty in the center of the square, beside the fountain, where you can sit while sipping your hot (and expensive) coffee and enjoy a quiet sunny afternoon, or you can even feed the doves. For some reason, the birds in Europe seem to enjoy the company of hoomans.

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Here we can also find the Nobel Museum.

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Facing the red building, there is an alleyway to the left going to the Stockholm Palace. Also called the Royal Palace, according to Wikipedia it is “the official residence and major royal palace of the Swedish monarch.” We didn’t enter it, but we were satisfied with its grand façade.

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Going to Royal Palace

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The facade

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It was around 2pm and we haven’t eaten yet so we decided to have lunch. Rean suggested to eat in T.G.I. Friday’s. We left Gamla Stan and walked through Kungstradgarden where the restaurant is.

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Kungstradgarden

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Kungstradgarden

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I didn’t notice how far we’ve walked since leaving the apartment; it became evident how tired we were when we ate our scrumptious food.

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TGI Friday’s Jack Daniels Beef Ribs. It changed my life. lol

After the pleasant refueling, we headed to Djurgarden, still by foot. Walking is actually a good way to explore Stockholm if you want to admire the beautiful buildings and parks.

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Along Strandvagen

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We reached Strandvagen, the cobbled baywalk that offers a scenic view of the bay, boats and distant buildings on one side, and the grandiose line of buildings and trees on the other.  There are a few cafes and restaurants along the walkway – and they’re probably busier in the evening because I often see them near-empty.

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Finally, we reached the bridge leading to Djurgarden. The majestic building of Nordiska Museet greeted us. “Hi! Mean and Rean!”, ganern.

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Across Nordiska Museet is the garden of our dreams.

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Autumn is coming

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We headed back to the apartment somewhat early because Rean had to go to work the following day. Also, it is getting colder after sunset and we were already tired after all the walking. Nonetheless, it was worth it! I was so impressed by Stockholm’s beauty I decided to roam around alone the following day.

Europe 2016: First Day [30000 feet] High!

Sept 24 2016

It was convenient for me to be in an aisle seat during that 11-hour flight from Bangkok to Stockholm, because I’m the type who likes to walk around. I easily get bored, so when I was awake and not in the mood for movies, I go to the lavatory just  to observe myself in the mirror, or to the galley where I can request for refreshments. I was awake when everybody was asleep, and though the plane was dark, for some reason I couldn’t sleep properly.

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8 hours after leaving Bangkok for Stockholm

TIPS:
-During a long haul flight, plan your “things to bring” in your carry-on baggage. You don’t need a lot of snacks because you’re gonna be well-fed there (but if you get hungry frequently it won’t hurt to bring some – I brought my favorite mini cheese breads and chocolates but wasn’t able to eat them onboard because I was always full). These are what I found useful: extra clothes, sleeping mask, common medicines (because what if you got headache due to lack of sleep, or for sudden allergy attack), hand cream, toothbrush/toothpaste, facial wash and wet wipes. I felt so hygienic and fresh onboard lol.

-Also, this is not the time for your flashy OOTDs because you’ll sleep mostly anyway, so wear your comfortable jeans/leggings and easy-to-remove shoes. I found my neck pillow useful but didn’t use it around my neck. I put it on my lower back (backjoy style) because the small pillow on the plane was not enough. They will provide blanket, so no need for your pashmina.

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[Image not mine! Googled “Thai Airways Onboard Meals”] This was similar to our dinner served during MNL to BKK flight. They also offer coffee/tea/wine after every meal.

-If you’re the type who’s easily bored, get an aisle seat. For me it gives me more freedom, though of course there are pros and cons. Cons are, people and carts would be passing beside you during daytime and it can be bothersome, but not much during my flight because it was night time. Also, you are the one to be bothered when your seatmates are going to the restrooms (I’m thankful for my seatmates who didn’t bother me that much). Pros are, at least anytime you feel like going to the restroom, you won’t have an internal battle whether to wake your seatmates up or not. Also, when you feel hungry you can get some refreshments anytime from the galley.

-Try to adjust your body to your destination’s timezone. I was trying really hard to sleep because the flight was sleeping time in Stockholm, but failed miserably. Adjust your watch to your destination’s time.

I was able to watch a movie in the morning (Mother’s Day starring Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, etc) just before they served breakfast. It was a sumptuous meal of croissant with jam/butter, omelette, potatoes, carrots, yogurt, coffee and juice. That omelette raised my omelette standards and the croissant was so good I got another one when the crew offered. It changed my life lol. I officially love Thai Airways. Whoever said airline meals suck?!

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[Image not mine! Googled “Thai Airways Onboard Meals”] This was similar to the breakfast served during BKK to ARN flight. That was the omelette that changed my life! Haha! Also I was bothered with that bread on the table.

And so the pilot announced what I’ve been waiting to hear: prepare for landing! Yey!! There goes the cheerful music in my mind again 😀 surprisingly we arrived in Stockholm Arlanda Airport Terminal 5 at about 0930am local time. I was expecting it to be around noontime because of the delay. It was a cold cloudy day. We headed straight to immigration. I was among the last in queue and regretted my slow walk immediately because I probably spent almost an hour before I reached the immigration officer. The area was hot and crowded with various nationalities. The officer I lined up to was a nice lady, she asked the usual questions then stamped on my passport. I have officially entered Europe! Welcome to me!

I went on to get my large luggage and got a little lost finding my way to Arlanda Express. I pre-booked my roundtrip tickets for this. Arlanda Express is the fastest way between the airport and Stockholm Central Station, the train ride lasts about 20 minutes. My boyfriend was already waiting for me at the Central Station. Good thing because I struggled with my large luggage 😀 His apartment is just walking distance from the station. I first withdrew some SEK (Swedish Kronas) from a blue Bankomat ATM (it doesn’t have Maestro or Cirrus logo but Rean said they were able to get cash from there so meh) because I failed to find the ATMs in the airport. I was greeted by the cold weather as soon as we stepped outside.

I initially planned to roam around Stockholm in the afternoon. However, jetlag beat me. You know that feeling after swimming, when you feel like your body is still in the water? It was like that (for me), except that I feel like I’m still on the plane. Also, I was a little dizzy and overly sleepy, because I never got proper sleep during the flight. So I just called it a day and decided to go the following day instead.

Yay. Stockholm. Zzz

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Thank you Thai Airways! See you in 15 days!

Europe 2016: Day Zero Shenanigans

Sept 23, 2016

I went to work as usual. The sun was shining and a cheerful song was playing in my head while I walk, just like  in the movies 😀 Haha. I had chicken satay for lunch, thinking it might still be after two weeks before I eat  another Asian food. Bottomline, I was crazy that day. After weeks of overthinking and preparation, this trip will finally materialize!

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Satay Set A with soup and peanut sauce in Makansutra, SM Megamall #MeanneEats

I arrived in NAIA Terminal 1 at 430pm, still early for my 8pm flight. After paying travel tax, I went to Thai Airways check-in counter. There’s already a long queue there, and a much shorter queue for those who already checked- in online.

TIP: Always check-in online! I have always wondered why people won’t do so when there’s always internet at every airport. After spending time in different airports for 8 times in 2 weeks, I realized that the goal of checking-in for your flight is not really for your “checked-in baggage” (which I have always thought, further thinking that those who don’t have checked-in baggage don’t need to check-in? LOL stupid me), but more importantly, for the airline to secure your seat by giving you your boarding pass. I’ve read somewhere in the internet that, if you don’t check-in, your seat will be “up for grabs” – in other words they will sell your seat if ever there are last-minute buyers or might give it to passengers going to the same destination but on a different time that day.

So anyway, I just checked-in there using my mobile phone while on queue. I took a screenshot of my boarding pass (there should be a code there – either bar code, QR code or raw alphanumeric code, and you should see the words BOARDING PASS, obviously). I waited until the check-in counter opened at past 5pm. I simply handed my phone with the screenchot to the lady, dropped my big luggage, and got my printed boarding pass for MNL-BKK flight and BKK-ARN flight. Welcome to the digital age. (Also, other airlines should keep up with this. I remembered when we went to Hong Kong via AirAsia and the lady got my printed boarding pass on bond paper, and told me I should have printed two copies, the other one for our flight back. Huh?)

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After checking-in, you go through security, then fill up a small sheet of paper for immigration, then go to immigration, then locate your gate and wait for boarding time. I still had 2 hours waiting time, so I had dinner first then called my banks.

TIP: When going to other country, you don’t have to go through the hassle of finding money changers to get your destination’s local currency. You can simply call your bank where your money is, tell them where you’re going to, and inform them that you will be withdrawing money from there. If you don’t call them beforehand, you might not be able to withdraw – it’s their security protocol, because why on earth would someone suddenly withdraw money from East Timor using your card? 😀 Call your banks! Chances are, you can withdraw from any ATM with Maestro or Cirrus logo. Check your ATM card if you have those. If none, I don’t know. LOL. The difference between exchange rates in money changers and ATMs should be negligible, though your bank will charge 3.5 USD per withdrawal and 0.5 USD per balance inquiry.

After not finishing my sumptuous (and expensive) dinner of rice/pork humba served on a styro that I ate while standing (kudos to that eatery in NAIA Terminal 1! Their food is delicious though understandably expensive), I went to my gate, then learned that our flight is delayed due to NAIA air traffic. And then at about 9pm we finally boarded the plane. You can imagine the smile on my face then. *kilig* I chose a window seat since it’s just a 3- hour flight to Bangkok. We were served dinner (I wasn’t able to take a photo because my phone was in my bag which was under the seat in front of me, and my table was already filled with food). I remembered it was pasta with some veggies, salad, and the super soft mamon-like cake I forgot what was that but it was so darn good. Didn’t finish everything (actually all of the airline meals I had, I wasn’t able to finish because the servings are too many for me). Also, the plane was a big one (3 columns) and each seat had built-in entertainment. There are new movies! But was not in the mood for movies, so.

 

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We arrived at Bangkok at around 11pm (BKK time), and realizing that boarding time for my connecting flight is just minutes away, I panicked. We had to ride a shuttle from where we were dropped off to the other side of the terminal. I ran like mad woman as soon as we got there. I ran, carrying my small luggage, neck pillow and travel bag. I asked the information counter where my next gate is, because it was not in the friggin’ monitor. I ran, and ran, got through security, ran again, contemplated why on earth did the designers of Suvarnabhumi Airport made it a long rectangular complex where you can host a marathon from point A to B. But that’s just my selfish opinion because I was running late for my next flight. And when I was finally seeing my gate, there was no queue, I thought I was REALLY late that they closed it already. I asked a Thai Airways staff and showed my boarding pass. We were supposed to leave at 1145pm, and then she informed me.

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“I’m sorry Madam, but your flight is delayed.” She then wrote “0345am” on my boarding pass. I can’t believe my next flight is 4 hours delayed. I realized the people around are my plane-mates. Some are sleeping on the chairs. I breathed in, and out, and in and out again to normalize my breathing after my little fun run. So that’s why the flight was not in the monitor. I just sat there and connected to WiFi, informed Rean of the misfortune and that I will be arriving in Stockholm later than the planned time. I found a restroom (far far away) and did my nightly ritual of washing my face and brushing my teeth and changing my clothes, because I was so tired I was so in the mood for sleeping. Though I wasn’t able to do so. I was just awake until 0300am when they handed refreshments to compensate for the delay. (?) I’m not even mad. The pies and pastries were good. Shortly after that we boarded the plane. As soon as I was seated I got my shut-eye. I didn’t even remember my favorite part of the flight which is taking off. Everyone slept and didn’t care about anything else at all lol.

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You can check onboard where you are. Waze in the sky!

Wow this is so long. And we haven’t even reached Stockholm yet. 😀 #virtuallytalkative

Europe 2016: How I got my Schengen Visa

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Me, sporting an ube-langka theme and an overused jacket for Paris Fashion Week HAHAHA

Filipinos who want to go to Schengen area as tourists need a Schengen Visa. It’s a visa that covers about 25 countries in Europe (Schengen member states). Take note that not all European countries are covered by these, hence one should obtain a separate visa when planning to go there (i.e. Schengen does not cover United Kingdom, Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus).

My profile/story

I was driven to go to Europe primarily because my boyfriend was given a 2-month work assignment in Stockholm, Sweden. I thought I could take the chance to visit him there and at the same time, tour around, because it probably won’t happen again. I’m single, bunso (youngest), no responsibilities yet, no major bills, hence I should sponsor myself. Also, the fact that I planned to stay at my boyfriend’s place when in Stockholm probably played a major factor in my visa approval, I can’t really tell. He was issued a residence card/work permit. So really, don’t treat this blog post as a single source of truth. What I did, I read countless blogs and of course, checked the official embassy website and collected as many information and tips as possible.

Where to apply?
Normally a Europe tour will be comprised of more than 1 country and spans for a minimum of a week. But of course it will depend on you. I mean when I saw my airfare from Manila I wish I could afford to stay there for a year. “Para masulit ang visa”, you would say or, “yolo” lol. Where to apply? The rule of thumb is: you should apply to the embassy of the country to which you will spend the majority of your stay. If you shall spend equal number of days on two or more countries, say 3 days in France, 3 days in Italy, 3 days in Spain – please choose your port of entry (your first stop).

I planned that majority of my trip will be in Stockholm, Sweden. There is no Swedish Embassy in the Philippines, so I applied thru VFS Global for Norway (representing Sweden, Finland and Iceland in the Philippines).

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Flam, Norway as part of Norway in a Nutshell Tour (Bergen to Bergen)

Requirements
Though aiming for the same visa, the requirements slightly differ depending on which embassy you apply. Again, please visit the website of the embassy you wish to apply.

Upon deciding your choice of embassy, you also need to be sure which type of visa you will apply for, because there are many types of visa. I was slightly confused at first, because there are two options for me: tourist visa, or visit bf/gf visa. I eventually chose tourist visa.

The number of requirements are greater (and more expensive) compared to Korean/Japan tourist visa application, so yes this is like a preview to the expensive trip you’ll face in Europe lol.

Also please take note that many (not all) European embassies today outsource their visa processing services to VFS Global. If this is the case, you go to the respective country’s VFS Global office and not to the embassy.

I won’t discuss the list of requirements here because they are pretty self-explanatory. However, I do want to give you tips:

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Bryggen in Bergen, Norway – gateway to the fjords!

1. Be true to your intentions. When I was composing my cover letter, “kulang na lang ikwento ko buhay ko since birth”. Do not, in any slightest chance – lie. Do not fake your COE, do not fake signatures, do not fake your itinerary*, just do not fake anything. Because when they found out, aside from getting your visa denied, you can be a candidate for black-list.

*It’s okay if you haven’t finalized your itinerary yet prior to visa application, but at least have a solid idea on which embassy you would apply and REALLY go to their country. For instance, I’ve always read it is easier to get a Schengen visa from the Czech Embassy due to their relatively low number of applicants. I initially planned to apply there, though I’m certain I won’t last for more than 3 days out of my 16 days “if ever” I visit Prague. You see two things here? 1. I’m not even sure if I’m going to Prague 2. If ever I go there, it’s still not my primary European destination. Be firm and consistent with your facts – as they say, the truth shall set you free. lol

I haven’t seen any blogs about VFS Norway. Yet I chose to apply there because it’s the right thing to do. Truth be told, I’m initially intimidated by Norway (or Scandinavia as a whole, being one of the richest regions in the world) so I was finding reasons to apply to other embassies. But I had no choice anyway, so sticking to my humble requirements and relieved by the fact that there are no interviews, I finalized my appointment to VFS Norway.

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Stortorget in Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

2. For first-time visa applicants, yes you have to submit your passport because they will stick your visa to one of the pages on your passport 😛 unless you don’t want to 😛

3. You will spend some 230 pesos for both the bank certificate and bank statement for 3 months, which brings us to the most commonly asked question: how much should you have in the bank?

Not surprisingly, Europe is expensive. Although, the Swedish Embassy requires you to allot at least 450 SEK per day (around 2500 pesos per day). So if you plan to stay there for 10 days, they are implying you should have at least 25k pesos in your bank. Wait, just 25k pesos? No, that’s like your daily allowance – you should add your airfare and hotel for 10 days, and that makes it around 100k pesos. Of course, it will be more relaxed if you have a guarantee that someone will be taking care of your accommodation.

I have emailed some bloggers who gladly shared how much they had in the bank when they applied for visa. Guess what? One had only 37k in the bank – actually she was denied visa at first, but filed an appeal so eventually she was granted a visa for her 4-day stay in one European country. On the other hand, most travel agencies that arrange group European tours will require the participants to have at least 200k in the bank.

These are all so confusing right? We can’t really gauge a definite amount, ha! Which brings us to tip no. 4:

4. Aside from one’s sufficiency of travel funds, it is equally important to submit your proof of rootedness in your home country.

What? Rootedness?

Basically, the embassy wants to be assured that you will return to your home country before your visa expires. They want to know you have a job or business here to return to. They want to be sure that you won’t become a TNT “Tago Nang Tago” in their country and add to their population and become an illegal immigrant. They want to be sure you won’t find work there or marry one of their citizens there or both.

Unfortunately, there are many Filipinos who are illegally living and working in other countries without proper documents, so really we can’t blame their governments for imposing visa policies on us. I hope someday this will change, to improve our credibility as a country 🙂

  • Going back, it is vital you submit proofs that you will return to your home country:
    -Request to have your COE customized by indicating the duration of your approved leaves
    -Photocopy of old passport stamps showing that you always return to your home country
    -Photocopy of your car’s OR/CR, land titles, paper assets and any other properties
    -If avid traveller, your confirmed flights for your next travels coming from your country

These are probably the most important things embassies are looking for: that you can afford your trip, and that you’re going back! Period!

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Zaanse Schans (Old Holland little village) in Zaandam, Netherlands

5. Hotel bookings need not be finalized. You can use booking.com to reserve hotels without payment and with free cancellation.

6. You will have to pay for a roundtrip flight reservation. It’s not a confirmed flight ticket, you don’t have to buy the actual ticket, but you need a reservation. Unlike your hotel reservation which you can cancel anytime at booking.com or any other websites, this flight reservation is kind of special. Some airlines accept unpaid reservations but only hold it for 48 or 24 hours. It’s not really useful especially when your visa appointment is days ahead. Personally I availed of an online service for this (I wish I was paid for this but no I’m not their endorser). It was the cheapest I found for 15 USD (around 730 pesos). They will email you your flight itinerary and booking reference number, which you can check at the airline website itself. I checked it at Thai Airways website and indeed, they “bought” the flight for me. Note that you don’t have to buy that flight (and embassies don’t advise you to buy a confirmed flight ticket when you don’t have a visa yet), you only need a reservation and it’s just for formality.

7. You will have to buy a travel medical insurance with 2.5M-peso coverage. I got mine from Malayan Insurance (again not an endorser) for around 1500 pesos for 24-day coverage, though I only planned for 16 days). It’s non-refundable. Or at least I didn’t try to refund it, but that’s insurance right, you buy it hoping you won’t need it 🙂

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Looking for Leaky Cauldron to get myself to Diagon Alley, but no I’m not in London. This is in Gamla Stan, Stockholm.

8. You will have to pay 60 euros (around 3200 pesos) to book an appointment online. This is mandatory. You can’t just show up to VFS Global without any appointment. Personally, I gathered my requirements first before booking my appointment.

As a summary of expenses, you will have to pay for 60-euro visa fee (around 3200 pesos), travel insurance (around 1500 pesos for me, depends on insurance company and length of coverage), flight reservation (around 730 pesos) and bank certificate/statements (around 230 pesos). Total of around 5660 pesos, plus optional courier fee (around 280 pesos – expensive but less hassle) if you want to have your passport delivered instead of you picking it up. One will spend roughly 6000 pesos for Schengen visa application, which you’re not even sure of passing but hey! Law of attraction! 😀

And be really, 100% whole-hearted, well-planned and well-prepared! If you think you can afford it and you are true to your intentions, and you submit complete requirements, there’s no need for you to worry. Schengen visa application is relatively easy 🙂 I got mine after 2 working days.

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Leidsegracht, one of the many canals in Amsterdam. In the far right, the bench where Hazel and Gus sat on (The Fault In Our Stars movie)

Europe posts to follow (in the coming days or weeks or months lol)! Stay tuned 😀